Categories > Games > Sonic the Hedgehog

Ghosts of the Past

by nintendofreakgcn 1 Reviews

Knuckles is haunted by ghosts. Hopefully better than it sounds. Please read and review.

Category: Sonic the Hedgehog - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Horror - Characters: Knuckles - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006/01/16 - Updated: 2006/01/16 - 6395 words - Complete

A/N: Here's a one-shot fanfic I wrote. Nothing too flash, but hopefully you'll enjoy it.

I use Australian English, so some of the words in this fanfic may be spelt differently to how you would spell them. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters or settings featured in this fanfic. They are owned by Sega/Sonic Team. The plot of this fanfic, however, and the actual document below, are owned by me.

This fanfic is dedicated to Dean Taka, a Year 7 boy at my school who died recently. I didn't know him personally, but it is always a great tragedy when someone so young dies. May he rest in peace, and may his family find solace and comfort somewhere in this difficult time.

Ghosts of the Past

"The ghosts of the past which follow us into the present also belong to the present moment. To observe them deeply, recognize their nature and transform them, is to transform the past."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

"How far do you have to go to find a soul haunted by ghosts of the past? Maybe not very far."

- Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm

*

The rain poured down over Angel Island, an island held floating in the sky by the power of the legendary Master Emerald. Every few seconds, lightning flashed in the night sky, with an accompanying clap of thunder soon after. A fierce gale blew across the island, tearing leaves off the trees and flowers out of the soil.

All the native animals, fearing for their lives, had long since taken refuge, whether it be in trees, in the many lakes or underground. All the animals, that is, except one. For on the top of the shrine of the Master Emerald, standing motionless in front of the massive gem, stood knuckles the Echidna, guardian of both Angel Island and the Master Emerald.

Knuckles stood a little over three feet tall. His body was nearly entirely covered in red fur, with the exception of his bald muzzle and a crescent-shaped streak of white fur across his chest. His head was crowned with red dreadlocks, which hung down around the back and sides of his large skull, in the trademark manner of his race. Knuckles' limbs were thin, which may have suggested weakness, were it not for his large, gloved fists, each with two prominent knuckles that jutted out like spikes from the rest of the fist. As always, Knuckles' expression was stern, giving no hint as to what he was thinking.

Truthfully, Knuckles was not concerned about this storm. He had stood at this exact spot through countless storms before, and had always emerged in one piece at the end. Even though this storm seemed slightly worse than the usual ones, he saw no reason why this should be different. No, although he may be ashamed to admit it, his mind was elsewhere.

When he had woken up this morning, Knuckles had realised that this day marked the one-year anniversary of Chaos' return to this world. It had been one year since the Master Emerald had first been shattered, and the horrors of the God of Destruction had been unleashed to the world. Knuckles had, of course, restored the Master Emerald, but Chaos had gone on to destroy the city of Station Square. Knuckles didn't know how many innocent people had died that day, but he knew that he was partly to blame.

However, it was not this self-pity that truly troubled Knuckles now. Instead, it was the reminder of what he had learnt during that time, what he had learnt about his ancestors. For as long as he could remember, Knuckles had been alone. He hadn't known whether there had been any echidnas before him, although he was sure that there no more living today. During that time, when Knuckles had been working to restore the Master Emerald, he had discovered the truth.

His ancestors had once been the unquestionable and unchallenged rulers of the world. Their empire had expanded rapidly, as they crushed other races beneath their feet as if they were mere insects. This had been revealed to him by the spirit of Tikal, Princess of the Echidnas at the time of their fall. The knowledge that his ancestors had ruled with an iron fist, caring nothing for the harm they caused others, angered Knuckles greatly. He was an advocate for freedom, which was why part of him disliked the fact that he was forever destined to guard the Master Emerald.

It was not until after the trouble with Chaos had ended, that Sonic, who had also been given visions by Tikal, confirmed Knuckles' worst fears about his ancestors. Right before their fall, Knuckles' ancestors attacked the shrine of the Master Emerald, which at that time had also housed the Chaos Emeralds. Tikal and the chao that lived there had tried to stop them, but it was a hopeless attempt. The Echidnas attacked them, too, and soon managed to reach the shrine. Little did they know the horror that was about to be unleashed. Chaos was there, and he had seen everything. As the then-guardian of the Chaos Emeralds, the Master Emerald, and the chao, as well as a good friend of Tikal, what Chaos had seen awakened a fury deep within him. He absorbed the Chaos Emeralds, assuming his most powerful form, and within the day, the entire Echidna Empire fell before Chaos' wrath, which also claimed the lives of nearly every other living thing on the planet. It was only through Tikal sacrificing her body that she was able to seal Chaos in the Master Emerald, as well as her own soul.

Knuckles knew that the implications of those events ran through to this very day. It even strayed beyond the most recent incident with Chaos. Nearly every single one of the insidious Dr Eggman's plans had used the Chaos Emeralds, and those inevitably resulted in harm, in some way shape or form. It was also because of his ancestors' actions that Knuckles was now destined to guard the Master Emerald forever.

Ever since Knuckles had discovered the truth about his ancestors' actions, he had resented them for what they had done. Part of him wished that he had never found out, that he had continued in his state of ignorance forever. Now that he knew what he did, though, another part of him felt a need to learn more. He wanted to know why his ancestors had done what they'd done. He wanted to know if they could give any explanation as to why they had doomed countless innocents to death, and their own descendent to a lonely existence.

"If only I could speak with you," Knuckles whispered, his voice barely audible, even to himself, amidst the noise of the storm.

At that moment, Knuckles felt weaker somehow, and he became aware of increasing warmth behind him. He turned around, and saw that the Master Emerald was glowing brightly. Knuckles gasped. This had happened several times before, and it had always been a sign of trouble.

Then Knuckles became aware of another thing: the storm had stopped, or at least it had stopped around the shrine of the Master Emerald. Rain still pelted down in the distance, lightning could still be seen in the skies above, and the rolling thunder still echoed in the night, but none of the rain or lightning came anywhere near the shrine. Knuckles knew that this was not natural.

Then, Knuckles heard a faint whistling, almost as if the wind had picked up again, but there was none. He shivered, for even though there was no wind, somehow, all the warmth seemed to vanish from the air.

Knuckles gasped, as he saw a most unnatural sight - a pearly-white figure rising out of the shrine of the Master Emerald. As it rose before him, Knuckles recognised the figure. It was a being whom he loathed even more than Dr Eggman. It was Pachacamac, Tikal's father, and former ruler of the Echidna Empire.

Apart from the fact that his whole body was now a faint white, Pachacamac still looked exactly as he had in the visions Knuckles had received from Tikal. Pachacamac was much larger than Knuckles, both in height and in width. In fact, he was most definitely overweight. The elderly echidna had a bearded muzzle, with accompanying bushy eyebrows. He wore many ornate decorations on his body, and Knuckles assumed they were to show his rank. Pachacamac carried a staff, also adorned with various decorations. Then Knuckles recognised one more difference - where Pachacamac had had normal eyes, he now had empty black sockets that seemed to bore into Knuckles skull, penetrating the barrier of his thoughts.

Knuckles frowned. This figure was definitely Pachacamac. "Pachacamac," Knuckles growled, as if to confirm his point.

"Indeed, Knuckles, it is I," Pachacamac replied, in his deep, gruff voice. Knuckles shivered once again. What was it about this being that made him feel so eerily cold?

"How do you know my name? We've never even met!" Knuckles hoped that Pachacamac wouldn't make the obvious reply to that statement. Knuckles really didn't feel like discussing his experiences with Tikal with her beast of a father.

Pachacamac maintained a calm aura, which unnerved Knuckles to no end. "It matters not, Knuckles. All that matters is that I am here tonight, and I've brought some allies with me."

As if on cue, Knuckles heard more whistling sounds behind him. He whipped his head around, and saw six more pearly-white figures rising from the floor. Each one took the form of an echidna warrior. They all had similar appearances. All of them were bigger and more muscular than Knuckles, but from what Sonic had told him, they had been much slower in life. They all wore simple loincloths, and a few small pieces of jewellery. Certainly, they weren't as ornately decorated as Pachacamac. Their faces were expressionless, and they too had empty black sockets for eyes.

Knuckles grinned as he turned back to face Pachacamac. "You know what?" he asked. Pachacamac gave no response. Knuckles continued. "I'm glad you came." He cracked his knuckles. "I've been waiting a long time for this."

With a roar, Knuckles leapt at Pachacamac bringing a fist back as he did so. As he reached Pachacamac, he aimed a punch straight at his heart. To Knuckles' surprise, his fist passed right through his foe. Unfortunately, there was no stopping Knuckles' leap, and in an instant, his whole body passed right through Pachacamac's, with the older echidna showing no sign of having even noticed. Knuckles was so dazed that he couldn't keep his footing as he landed. He stumbled, and soon found himself tumbling down the steps of the shrine, not stopping until he hit the bottom with a thud.

Knuckles panted as he rose to his feet. A quick shake of his limbs indicated that none of them were broken. That, at least, was something to be grateful for. Looking up towards the top of the steps, Knuckles saw Pachacamac float towards him, still maintaining distance and height, so he could look down on him.

Pachacamac laughed in a manner so evil that it chilled Knuckles to his very bones. "Didn't you realise that we're ghosts? You can't harm us, you fool!"

Knuckles maintained his composure, being sure not to show any weakness. He had indeed underestimated his opponents. He had faced creatures that he had assumed to be ghosts before, but he had always been able to harm them. Still, they had never assumed the form of any creature he knew, so maybe those creatures hadn't been ghosts at all. All Knuckles knew was that he was thoroughly outmatched. He couldn't hope to defeat these foes.

Then, an idea crept into Knuckles' mind. He smiled ever so slightly. "I guess you're right, Pachacamac," Knuckles said as he walked up the steps of the shrine. "I can't hope to defeat you. Fortunately for me, it doesn't matter. Since I can't damage you, that means you can't damage me." Knuckles had reached the top of the shrine. He passed right through Pachacamac and walked towards the Master Emerald. As he turned around, he leaned back casually on the massive gem. "That means that the worst thing that's going to happen as a result of you being here is that I'm going to have to put up with your stupid laughter." Knuckles' grin grew broader. That insult would have put Sonic to shame.

However, Pachacamac matched Knuckles' grin with his own. "Do you honestly believe that, Knuckles? We're ghosts! We've conquered death, the sole thing that has remained unconquerable to every being and empire! Do you honestly think that we can't conquer you?"

Knuckles kept his composure, but part of his mind faltered. Truthfully, he had never seen anything like the beings that now stood before him. Had he bitten off more than he could chew?

As if to emphasise that point, Pachacamac laughed maniacally once more. "Very well then, Knuckles. If you think you're up to it, then witness our true power!"

At that instant, all of the echidna ghosts, except for Pachacamac, leapt at Knuckles, screaming with ghastly delight. Their unearthly screams chilled Knuckles' very soul, rooting him to the spot. The result of this was that he couldn't dodge as they reached him.

Without hesitation, the ghostly echidnas penetrated Knuckles flesh, knocking him to the ground as convulsions spread through his body. He screamed with a voice that was not his own, that seemed to be the screaming of hundreds. His eyes lost all focus, and his pupils and irises disappeared, leaving nothing but blank white orbs in the sockets. Knuckle's vision was now just a swirl of random colours that seemed to form an image of pure pain.

After a moment that seemed like an eternity, Pachacamac himself entered through Knuckle's wide-open mouth. The pain increased tenfold. The colours swirled even faster through Knuckles' mind. His heart pounded in his ribcage. Knuckles let out one final scream that echoed through the night. Every muscle in his body went limp, and his eyes rolled up in their sockets.

Then everything went black.

*

Knuckles had no idea how long he had been out when he regained his senses. It was a slow process, but gradually his body regained its feeling. Knuckles felt cold, colder than he had ever felt in his entire life. He didn't know why, but all warmth seemed to have vanished from his body. Eventually, he forced himself to open his eyes, hoping that the last events he remembered had been a mere dream.

What Knuckles saw shocked him, perhaps more than he had ever been shocked before. He seemed to be floating in total nothingness. All he could see around him was pure white. His legs hung down limply, his feet not touching any solid surface. Knuckles had glided through the sky many times before, and had even enjoyed the experience, but right now all he wanted was to have his feet on the ground.

As if on cue, Knuckles fell a short distance and landed on an invisible barrier. His eyes bulged slightly. How had he done that? That was just one of the questions that were flowing like a great river through Knuckles' mind at the moment. What he really wanted to know right now was where he was, how he got here, and what had happened to Pachacamac and the others.

"Are you going to stand there all day, you fool?" asked an all-too familiar voice behind him. Knuckles spun around to find himself face-to-face, and mere inches from, the ghostly form of Pachacamac. Knuckles would have gasped, were he not surprised beyond any form of sound by the fact that Pachacamac was hanging upside-down. It was almost as if he was attached to the ceiling, if there had been a ceiling in the first place.

"Where are we, you fiend?" Knuckles shouted, although it was rather a waste to do so.

Pachacamac realigned himself so that he was standing the right way up. He laughed a loud, sinister laugh, and the sound echoed throughout the void. Knuckles had no idea how echoes could exist in a place without solid surfaces, but the echo sent a shiver down his spine. Then, he saw his answer, as the six other echidna ghosts entered his field of vision. They were all laughing, too.

"Isn't it obvious, Knuckles?" Pachacamac asked. Knuckles' silent response urged the ghost to continue. "We're inside your mind." Knuckles jaw dropped. He tried to deny it. How could this be happening? Meanwhile, Pachacamac was looking around the void, seemingly amused. "I must say, it's a frightfully empty place."

Knuckles scowled. He felt every muscle in his body - if it was possible to call it that - tighten, as he struggled to keep his cool. Searching for an outlet for his rage, Knuckles said, "I'd rather have an empty mind than one as foul as yours."

Pachacamac simply grinned. "How do you know I have a foul mind? As you said before Knuckles, we hadn't met until tonight. You've based your entire opinion of me off of the visions granted to you by my daughter."

Knuckles frowned. How did Pachacamac know about those visions? Even as Knuckles dwelt on this, images of the various visions spread through the void, fluid-like, as if someone was trying to paint the ocean.

Pachacamac seemed mildly amused by this. "You're forgetting that we're in your mind, Knuckles. Everything you think becomes common knowledge to all of us. So don't even try to hide anything."

Knuckles knew that he'd have to work off instinct, which he hoped didn't make itself open within the confines of his mind. "What reason would Tikal have to lie?" he asked, speaking the first thing that popped into his head.

"I never said she lied," Pachacamac replied, "but you have to bear in mind that those visions were based off of my daughter's perception of events. She was young and naïve then, and couldn't possibly see the truth of the situation."

Pachacamac turned away, and reached out with his right arm. Rotating it in a clockwise direction, he slowly began to swirl the barriers of Knuckles mind. Colour began to appear in the liquid-like barrier, and slowly but surely, an image started to form. It was a unique experience for Knuckles, as the image formed both within the mind in which he was standing and inside the head of the body he currently inhabited. Suddenly, Pachacamac stopped swirling the image, and it formed a clear image.

The image was of a large, ancient city, seemingly boundless. The structure of the buildings was much like those in the Mystic Ruins, only grander, more spacious and more ornate. Trees grew plentifully in the large gardens, and the fruits on them looked like they would always be ripe. Knuckles could even see echidnas walking peacefully through the streets, laughing jovially. The sky above was cloudless and bright.

"This," Pachacamac said, pointing towards the image, but looking Knuckles straight in the eye, "is the society which we hoped to build, all those years ago. A utopian society, where no one would go without. A society of eternal peace. This is the society we, and you as well, would have had if we had gotten the emeralds. Alas, it was not to be." With a swish of Pachacamac's hand, the image began to swirl once more.

The image that formed was one that couldn't help but shock even Knuckles. It was an image of a city similar to the one in the previous image. This city, however, was in ruins, with many buildings and trees burning. The smoke floating up dyed the sky a thick, sooty black. The corpses of hundreds of echidnas lay in the streets, their blood forming a red stream that ran through the city. Knuckles was shocked to find that many of the dead echidnas were children. It was one of the most horrid images that Knuckles had ever seen.

"This," Pachacamac said, "is what we got for our efforts. As you know, when we went to get the emeralds, my daughter and the creatures she associated herself with stood in our way. We tried to persuade her to move aside, but she would not budge. We couldn't have that. It was necessary for us to get those emeralds. So we did the only thing we could think of - we went through them."

Knuckles growled. "By which you mean you slaughtered the chao and almost killed your own daughter."

Pachacamac was unmoved. "Perhaps, but we deemed those losses to be small and necessary sacrifices. However, we did not foresee the rage that our actions bestowed in the beast that dwelled at the shrine. As a result, he destroyed us."

Knuckles tried not to think, but it was unavoidable. Pachacamac's apparent goals seemed to be worthy ones. The notion that Knuckles would have been a member of that utopian society seemed particularly dear to him. All of his life, Knuckles had been plagued by responsibilities that he had never asked for. He had blamed his ancestors for this, but Pachacamac had given no sign of wishing this upon him. Indeed, at the moment Knuckles was slowly starting to view him as the father he never had.

Knuckles knew that Pachacamac and the others were seeing his every thought in images around his mind, but he didn't care anymore. All he wanted right now was to hear more, and he wanted to know how and why Pachacamac had come here.

"Do you see now why we did what we did, Knuckles?" Pachacamac asked. Knuckles nodded. "All we wanted was for our race to live in peace and harmony. Our dream was shattered by interference, but now we have returned to show why we did what we did. I sincerely regret any pain we may have caused you, but it was necessary to show you this."

Knuckles barely remembered the pain these ghosts had caused him. All he cared about now was hearing what Pachacamac had to say. "Tell me, how did you get to this world?" Knuckles asked.

"Knuckles, you clearly still have a lot to learn. Did you not remember when you said that you wished to speak with us? Do you not remember how brightly your emerald glowed after you said that?" Pachacamac spoke with more passion and fury now than Knuckles had ever seen him speak with before. "Do you not see? You brought us here!"

Knuckles was speechless. He had never known that the Master Emerald had so much power. To him, it had been simply a means of controlling the Chaos Emeralds in times of crisis. To think that it had the power to bring back the spirits of the dead. That was, to put it mildly, unbelievable.

Pachacamac appeared to have been whipped into a frenzy beyond what Knuckles had ever seen in any being. His mouth was in a wide grin, showing his now eerily white teeth. If his eyes had been more than just black sockets, then they would have been glowing with excitement. "Do you see now the power contained within that emerald of yours? It contains more power than all the nations of this world put together! Power beyond imagination!"

In that instant, Knuckles' eyes were opened. Knuckles had seen that grin, had heard those words, had seen it all before. "You know, Pachacamac," Knuckles said, remaining calmer than he though possible in the situation, "that 'beast' that stopped you at the shrine of the Master Emerald has a name. His name is Chaos. He was, and I suppose is to this day, the guardian of the chao. All those years ago, he also seems to have been the guardian of the Chaos Emeralds and the Master Emerald. Although I hated him when I first met him, I now realise that we are quite similar. For now, because of your actions, I am also a guardian, just like him. I am the guardian of the Master Emerald.

Pachacamac's expression seemed to falter. Going with the flow of the moment, Knuckles continued, this time with more conviction. "I never asked for this duty, but it was the duty that was assigned to me. I don't even claim to have performed my duties adequately. I have lost the Master Emerald multiple times, and have been tricked more times than I would care to admit, but no more!" Taking a deep breath, Knuckles shouted, "Do you think that I, who have been used by Dr Eggman before, would now fall for the tricks of one even more evil than him?" Calming down, Knuckles grinned. "I see now that Tikal was right about you. You don't give me much credit, do you, Pachacamac?"

Pachacamac frowned. "So, you will not aid us?" he asked, though it could barely be considered a question.

Knuckles nodded. "That's right, and without me, you have no way in which to bring your reign of terror to the world. It's a nasty setback of being dead."

Pachacamac laughed. Though that laugh no longer sent a chill down Knuckles' spine like it did before, it still unnerved him. "You're wrong, Knuckles," Pachacamac said. "You will aid us, just not willingly. For you see, we now have complete access to your mind. We shall conquer it, and in turn, conquer you."

"You can't do that!" Knuckles was trying to sound tough and confident, but in truth, he was starting to feel fear for the first time in a long while. He still had no idea what sort of powers these echidna ghosts had. For all he knew, they may be able to do what Pachacamac was proposing.

"Can't we? It has already begun, Knuckles. We have been slowly chipping away at the barriers of your mind since we entered this place. We took it slowly because we hoped that we could convince you to join us. Since you have refused to join us, there is no reason for us not to up the ante."

With those words, the ghostly form of Pachacamac was surrounded by a dark aura. In an instant, Knuckles felt a pain worse than nay he had ever felt before, even worse than when the ghosts had first entered him. It felt like his mind was being torn to shreds. He collapsed under the strain, clutching his head. He writhed about in agony, and screamed until he was sure he would die from lack of air. Unfortunately for him, the form he was currently in did not need air. Random snippets of memory flashed before his eyes, but each image was gone in an instant.

Somehow, in spite of all the pain he was feeling, Knuckles heard a faint voice in his head, telling him to fight back. Knuckles knew that voice - it was the voice of Tikal. He wasn't sure if she was really there or whether he was just going insane, but either way, the voice was an inspiration to him. Trying his best to ignore the pain, Knuckles calmed his body down, taking deep breaths and biting his lips so as not scream. The pain was still as strong as ever, though, and it was taking all of Knuckles' willpower to fight the urge to slip back into spasms. He began to focus his mind, closing his eyes so as to block himself off to whatever Pachacamac and the others were doing. Then, he began to use all the power of his mind, using every ounce of concentration in an attempt to force these intruders out of his mind. It was a futile attempt, but it was able to slow them down, and lessen the pain slightly.

Knuckles knew that he couldn't afford to lower his guard now, but once again, curiosity got the better of him. "Why are you doing this, Pachacamac? What use can it possibly be to take control of me?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

"Knuckles, you don't give yourself nearly enough credit. Although you are a fool and a weakling, you still have a body, and bodies are what myself and my fellow echidnas need right now. I will take your body for myself, and then we shall go and find others to possess. Perhaps your friends will do? They possess great power, and if we have that power, then I shall be able to rule the world once more."

This inspired new fear in Knuckles. He knew for a fact that he didn't want Sonic or the other to have to go through what he was going through. He would barely wish such a fate on his worst enemy, and certainly not those who he, at times, was willing to call friends. "You'll never beat Sonic. Trust me, he's the most stubborn creature I've ever met. You won't be able to conquer his mind. Then of course, there's the fact that you wouldn't be able to catch him in the first place."

"Oh, won't we? You're forgetting that your body will soon be mine, Knuckles. What will that puny hedgehog think when he sees his old friend appear before him? He won't see anything suspicious. He'll be lulled into a false sense of security, and that's when we shall strike."

Knuckles began to realise how hopeless the situation was. There wasn't anything he could do now to stop Pachacamac taking control of his body and mind. Once he fell, the entire world would be doomed.

"Do you see what I mean, now, Knuckles? You will aid us, whether you like it or not. In fact, you have already aided us. After all, it was you who used the power of your emerald to bring us back."

The realisation of what he had done hit Knuckles like a splash of cold water, awakening him to the truth. It was all his fault. Because he had been foolish enough to make an idle wish in the presence of the Master Emerald, the whole world was now going to be brought to its knees. For the first time in his life, Knuckles shed a tear, as he realised the extent of his failure.

The lapse in Knuckles' concentration allowed the echidna ghosts to make a renewed assault on his mind. Knuckles could feel his mind collapsing beneath their powerful supernatural assaults, but he no longer cared. It was useless to resist. Darkness slowly crept through his mind.

Then, the darkness slowly retreated, to be replaced with a blinding light, as Tikal's voice spoke to Knuckles once again. "Knuckles," she said, "remember the power of the Master Emerald." Then, in a flash, the darkness was gone, as Knuckles realised that there was still a faint hope. He would have to act fast, though, as his mind was still slowly being worn away.

Knuckles slowly stood up, ignoring the incredible pain that it caused to do so. He opened his eyes, although they weren't focused on anything. Even so, he could still see that the entire world of his mind was currently enveloped in flame. Then, he whispered, "Master Emerald, come to me." It was his only chance. Since the Master Emerald had brought these ghosts of the past here, then perhaps it could banish them as well. It appeared to be a forlorn hope, though, as the Master Emerald did not appear.

Pachacamac laughed louder than ever before. "What do you hope to accomplish, Knuckles? We are in the confines of your mind; your precious emerald has no power here. Why do you even bother trying?"

Ignoring Pachacamac's taunts, Knuckles said once more, "Master Emerald, come to me." Nothing happened.

"You poor fool, placing all your hope in a saviour that will not come. It is just as well that you will be mine soon, as I don't think even I could bear to watch such a pitiful display for much longer."

Even now, Knuckles could feel the walls of his mind being worn away. They were near breaking point. It was now or never. "Master Emerald, please!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "I know I haven't been an adequate guardian. I know I've failed many times, and I know that, not too long ago, I was letting myself get tricked by a foul fiend who would like to see you in his control. But please, Master Emerald, I beg of you, during my darkest hour, come to me!"

For a few moments, Knuckles' voice echoed across the confines of his mind, with no response. Then, a faint green light appeared before him. It increased in size considerably, eventually taking the shape of a massive emerald. Knuckles let out a sigh of relief, for standing before him was the Master Emerald. His hope had been restored.

Pachacamac, however, appeared to be feeling true fear. "Knuckles, don't be a fool!" he shouted. "If you try to do anything with that emerald, you will surely die. Its power requires a living being to harness it through. The amount of energy it would need for this act would kill you. Didn't you learn anything from the folly of my daughter?"

Knuckles grinned. "I learned that sometimes, in order to do what is right, you have to make some sacrifices. Besides, I'd rather die than be controlled by one as foul as you." Without saying anything more, Knuckles reached towards the Master Emerald. "The Servers are the seven Chaos..." Already, he could feel his energy draining. He hoped he could last long enough.

"Stop him!" Pachacamac shouted, in a state of blind fear. "Bring down his mind! Let me take control of him!"

Knuckles flinched slightly as the attack on his mind reached new levels. The pain was incredible, but he somehow managed to ignore it. Right now, all he could do was focus on the task at hand. "Chaos is power; power is enriched by the heart. The Controller is the one that unifies the Chaos..."

Knuckles eyes widened as, in an instant, the walls of his mind collapsed. He was no longer aware of anything, save for the glowing emerald that stood before him. He no longer knew who he was, or what he was doing. Something deeper than his mind drove him, however, as he somehow managed to shout out, "Master Emerald, banish these fiends to the pits of hell!"

Knuckles' strength left him in an instant, as the Master Emerald flashed a brilliant bright green. He heard screams, but he didn't care about those things or anything else as he fell. The last thing he saw before blackness claimed him was one ghost lunging towards him...

*

For the first time in what felt like an eternity, Knuckles felt something approaching warmness. He felt weaker than he had ever felt in living memory, but as long as that warmth was there, he knew that he had to pull through, that there was something worth living for.

Mustering reserves of strength that he didn't know he had, Knuckles slowly opened his eyes. He breathed a sigh of relief at the sight before him. He was on Angel Island, at the shrine of the Master Emerald. It was morning, and Knuckles could just make out the peaceful melody of a dove. More important than such things, however, was the fact that the Master Emerald still stood at the top of the shrine, sparkling as its rays scattered through the morning dew.

Knuckles sweated as he attempted to stand up. It took a lot of effort, but he was able to do it. Once he had done so, he reached out a hand towards the Master Emerald, touching its smooth surface. He smiled at the feeling - this wasn't a dream. A cynical voice in his head reminded him that the aching pain he felt throughout his body right now had served as a guarantee of that anyway, but this feeling was much more real to Knuckles.

The memories of what had happened in those last few moments confronting Pachacamac were hazy at best. He definitely remembered that he had seen Pachacamac's ghost lunging at him when he fell, but he was sure that the fiend was now no more. Knuckles felt so peaceful right now, that there simply couldn't be such a monstrous evil left in the world. Knuckles had always felt in tune with the world on some deeper level than what would be considered normal, which was why he rarely felt truly happy. Right now, though, he felt happier than he had ever remembered feeling.

Indeed, everything seemed right with the world now. There would still be evil in the world, of course, but those things seemed distant and irrelevant to Knuckles now. He knew that the future was uncertain. To worry about what was to come wouldn't accomplish anything. For Knuckles, the past had always been more important. He had been alone for as long he could remember. It had only been natural for him to wonder what his ancestors were like. When he was younger, he had dreamt that they might have been great heroes who had died defeating a great evil.

Knuckles frowned slightly as he reflected on how different from his dream Pachacamac and the others had been. They had been monsters, and Knuckles found it hard to believe that he was descended from such foul beings. He was sure that not all of the echidnas were like that, but truthfully he no longer felt disheartened by his race's fall. New empires would always rise to take the place of the old, and all anyone could hope for was that the new rulers would be more benevolent than those who had come before.

Knuckles smiled as he realised that, although he may be the last echidna, he would never be alone. The Master Emerald would always be with him. Although some may feel that Knuckles had been cursed, he now knew that he had instead been blessed with greater companionship than anyone could ever hope for. With the help of the Master Emerald, Knuckles had finally destroyed the ghosts of the past. Now, all that remained was to face the uncertainties of the future, together.
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