Categories > Games > Sonic the Hedgehog > Sonic Adventure 2: Dark Tomorrow

City of Death

by nintendofreakgcn 0 reviews

An unknown assassin hunts Knuckles.

Category: Sonic the Hedgehog - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama - Characters: Dr. Robotnik, Knuckles, Shadow - Warnings: [?] [V] - Published: 2007-05-01 - Updated: 2007-05-02 - 7153 words

A/N: I apologise for posting this chapter far later on this website than on some others. I have no acceptable excuse, but I will do all I can to make sure that such a delay is not repeated.

Chapter 8: City of Death

Shadow winced as the medical robot set his right forearm back in place. The left arm was already wrapped in plaster, making the limb almost impossible to move. As the robot began wrapping the right arm up, Shadow glanced around the sick bay. It hadn't been used in over 50 years, and it showed. Dust had gathered everywhere, and a few of the machines had become so clogged that they'd stopped working. The medical robot was one of a kind, and had only treated Eggman before. If anyone else ever needed medical attention, they were reminded of the unofficial motto of the Eggman Empire: "The weak must die off to make room for the strong".

Those details didn't bother Shadow in the slightest, but he was troubled. The room brought back far too many memories of Maria. When she was alive, she'd been in the sick bay far too often, owing to the terrible disease that had afflicted her in her life. He was supposed to have been the cure, but instead those vile humans had taken away that purpose. Of course, they'd left him with a new, grimmer purpose: revenge.

"Operation complete," the robot said. Shadow didn't even bother to look at his right arm. Instead, he sat up and got off the bed. He'd always hated lying down.

The door to the sick bay hissed as it opened. Eggman walked through. World domination didn't seem to have changed him that much, at least on the outside. He had put on a bit more weight, but with the amount he had, a little more was barely noticeable. His moustache wasn't quite as bushy as it once was, but it was still recognisable. His clothes hadn't changed at all.

Eggman raised his arms. "Ah, Shadow!" he said, though his features didn't portray any joy. "I trust you're feeling better?"

Shadow frowned. Why did Eggman insist on pretending that they actually cared at all about each other? "What I feel is irrelevant," he replied. "It's what I can do that matters, and right now, I am limited in what I can do."

Eggman stroked his chin, and nodded. "Yes, it is unfortunate that Metal Sonic had to have such terrible timing." He shrugged. "Still, who'd have guessed it was so powerful? Truth be told, I'd abandoned the project years ago after its countless failures, but now I wished I hadn't."

Shadow had a hunch that it was actually Eggman's fault that Metal Sonic had constantly failed, but he didn't voice it. "Sonic is dead, so Metal Sonic was pointless anyway."

Eggman grinned. "Oh, I'm sure I could have found a use for it."

A chill ran down Shadow's spine. Over the past year, it had grown harder and harder to tell what Eggman was thinking. "Regardless, I'll be back to full strength in a few days. I heal much quicker than any mere human."

Eggman raised his index figure. "Yes, well, while your healing ability is truly spectacular, I'm afraid those are a few days we simply cannot afford to lose. Since Knuckles destroyed Lambda, it's possible that Tails was able to hack into its memory core, if that survived the blast. If that's the case, then they know far too much about my plans."

Shadow raised an eyebrow. "I thought you said that they'd have a few words at most."

Eggman frowned, and stood rigid. "That's far too much. I must therefore have Knuckles eliminated, and quickly."

Shadow tried to clench his fists, but found that the plaster made that impossible. He resisted the urge to grit his teeth, as that was far too obvious. "I told you, I'll be able to get back on the job in a few days. Isn't that good enough?"

"Frankly, no. I cannot allow my enemies a moment's peace. Therefore, I've turned to another individual to handle Knuckles."

Shadow didn't like where the conversation was going. "Another individual?"

"Yes, someone who claims to be the world's greatest assassin. While I doubt the accuracy of that claim, his record is sound. I'm confident that he'll at least slow Knuckles down. You can rest easy Shadow." Shadow doubted that claim. Something in Eggman's pockets beeped. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other business to attend to. The guardian of the Chaos Stream won't find itself you know." Eggman left the room, and the door closed behind him.

Shadow was in trouble, and he knew it. Any hope he had of fulfilling his own plans was reliant on him remaining useful to Eggman. If Knuckles was killed by someone other than himself, that use would be gone. Metal Sonic was proof of what happened to supposedly useless henchmen. Shadow had to remain useful, but how? For now, there was nothing he could do. His fate was in Knuckles' hands. "Stay alive, Knuckles," he whispered. He had never thought he'd find himself saying that.


Knuckles eyed the abandoned warehouse. Dilapidated didn't even begin to describe it. Most of the paint had peeled off the walls. There wasn't a single window intact. The roof had been torn off by something a long time ago. There wasn't even a door, just a rectangular empty space that could be walked through with relative ease. It didn't look like it could contain anything of value, but his sources had led him here, and it was as good a place to look as any.

Knuckles pulled the fringe of his hood down over his eyes, and wrapped his cloak tightly around his body. Even in this desolate part of the city, there were wanted signs bearing his face on every building, and even in the middle of the night, someone could get a look at something and discover his identity. He picked up a full sack from the ground, and held it under his cloak. That stash would surely attract attention if he didn't conceal it.

After taking a quick look to make sure that there was no one around, Knuckles walked through the hole in the wall, and into the warehouse. It was pitch black inside. He felt his way through the darkness, eventually reaching what he thought must be the middle of the single room that made up the ground floor. He remained perfectly still, listening for any sound. The room was silent. Knuckles took a deep breath, and said, "To be, or not to be." It was what he'd been told to say. It didn't stop him from feeling like an idiot.

"That is the question," said a voice. Instantly, the room filled with light, blinding Knuckles. Out of instinct, he dropped the sack, and raised his hands to cover his eyes. As his vision returned, he realised his mistake, and quickly brought his hands back under the cloak. On the opposite side of the room from the entrance, there was a makeshift desk. A chubby, balding, unshaven man sat behind it. In his hand, he held a rifle, which was pointed straight at Knuckles.

"I'm really getting tired of this situation," Knuckles muttered, but the sound seemed to carry with unnatural efficiency.

The man recoiled slightly, but kept a firm grip on the rifle. "Really? I don't recall dealing with you before."

Knuckles shook his head, though the motion remained unseen. "Nah, the other time was from someone completely different."

The man nodded. "Anyway, what do you want?"

"Hang on, I'll get the list." Knuckles put his hand into sack and pulled out a slip of paper. He held it up to his eyes, while still managing to keep most of his hand and face hidden. "Okay, I want a... a... a..." He shook his head, and lowered his hand. "You know what, I can't even pronounce this stuff. I'm getting the stuff for a friend of mine, and it's all technical gibberish." He knew the items would upgrade Tails' scanners, in an attempt to find the echidnas of Nachide, but that was all. Knuckles needed information on the Chaos Stream, and if anyone knew about that stuff, it would be them.

"Why didn't he come and get it?"

"Well, let's just say I hate to rely on others."

The man frowned, and was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, "Alright, bring it over. You can't pull a fast one on me when you're that slow." Knuckles clenched his fists, but remained silent. He strode over to the desk, which he could barely see over. "Gee, you're a short guy, aren't you?" Knuckles responded merely by putting the piece of paper on the desk. The man put his rifle down, but in such a way so that it was still pointed at Knuckles' head. The man's eyes skimmed down the list.

"Well, can you help me?"

"Maybe, but first I've got to know how you'll be paying for this."

Knuckles kept his head hung low. "I don't have money, but I heard you might be willing to do a trade."

The man made a snide laugh to himself. "I doubt it. The stuff you're wanting doesn't come cheap. I really doubt you've got enough stuff in that sack of yours, unless it's filled with jewels."

"Not quite." Knuckles held the sack over the desk. He regretted that he had to put his distinctive hand in the open to do that, but the man would soon have something else on his mind. Knuckles tipped the bag upside down. Two dozen packets of cigarettes spilled out onto the desk. "I've heard this stuff fetches a decent price nowadays."

The man's jaw dropped, and he sputtered incoherently for a moment. He cleared his throat, and assumed a stern demeanour. "Where did you get this merchandise?"

"Let's just say I have friends in low places." The cigarettes had come in the shipment of supplies from GUN. Knuckles hadn't seen what possible use that poison could have, until that moment. "Will it be enough?"

The man picked up a packet and stroked it with his quivering hands. He put the cigarettes down, and became still. "Yeah, it will do brilliantly - I mean it will pass." Knuckles grinned, though he knew his face remained unseen. He'd oversupplied, but he'd be glad to get rid of the cigarettes. Amy had been constantly afraid that Cream would find them and consume them. He had pointed out that Cream would be more likely to notice the capsule containing the frozen corpse of her mother, but that hadn't exactly improved the situation.

The man stood up. He tried to look at Knuckles, but his eyes kept darting down to the packets on the desk. "I'll go get you the stuff," the man managed to say. He pressed a panel on the wall behind him, and a hidden door opened. Knuckles could just make out some stairs behind it. The man turned on the spot, and ran down the stairs.

Knuckles shook his head. He'd never understand people. It seemed like he fought every day just to stay alive, and yet some people willingly poisoned themselves. Maybe they didn't know any better. Maybe they just lacked a reason to live. That would be the greatest tragedy of all. Even with all his hardships, Knuckles had something to fight for. It was a hopeless goal, but it was something to put his mind towards every day, and that was enough.

The man came rushing back up the stairs, carrying a full bag. He handed it over to Knuckles, who swiftly stowed it in the sack that he still held in his right hand. "Thanks," Knuckles said.

"No worries," the man replied. He opened up one of the packets, and pulled out a cigarette. He popped it in his mouth, and pulled out a lighter from his pocket. He flipped the cap open, and a flame appeared. He put the flame to the cigarette, and let out a contented sigh.

Knuckles sighed too, but there was no content as he shook his head. He turned away, and walked to the door. The lights turned off, and Knuckles was once again left in darkness as he left the warehouse, and stepped out into the cold night. He turned to his right, and began to walk down the street. He didn't want to spend another minute in the city. He'd burrowed in past the outer defence walls, and he wasn't sure how long the tunnel would last. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped.

The streets were empty, and this only added to Knuckles' worries. It was rare for there to be lots of people around, but there were usually a few: beggars, wanderers, even the occasional street gang. No one was around now. Something or someone must have driven them away, but what or who?

Knuckles unconsciously sped up, until he was walking at well over twice his normal speed. A gust of wind blew by, chilling him to the bone, but he didn't slow down. In spite of the cold, a trickle of sweat ran down his brow. His fingers wriggled irritably in his gloves. What was it that had him so worried? For once, he'd come into this city fully prepared. He wasn't going to take on Eggman's forces. His only goal was to get in, get the stuff, and get out. It should have been easy, and it had been so far. What was the problem?

Knuckles got his answer with a loud clank behind him. That was all he needed to hear. Someone was following him. He kept walking for a few moments, not wanting to give that knowledge away to his stalker. He was only a couple of blocks away from his escape tunnel. He had no idea what sort of foe he could wind up fighting. The solution was obvious.

Without warning, Knuckles broke into a sprint. He wasn't as fast as Sonic or Shadow, but he could still outrun any car, and thus any pursuer that wasn't Shadow. If it was the black hedgehog, then Knuckles knew he was in trouble anyway. Within half a minute, he had reached the alley where he'd entered the city. He turned, and sped down it. He screeched to a halt as he saw a whole new problem.

The tunnel was gone. It had been filled in with dirt. Knuckles didn't have his shovel claws on him, for fear that they could set off some sort of metal detector. He could dig a tunnel himself, as he had done in the first place, but it would take far longer than he'd wanted. First, though, he wanted to know who had done this.

Knuckles turned on the spot, just in time to see a shuriken headed straight for his head. He sidestepped the projectile, but it cut through the thin string that held his cloak together. The garment fell to the ground. A gasp emanated from the right wall of the alley. Knuckles dropped his sack. He knew he was crazy, but he leapt at the right wall and ran along it. He barged into something that he couldn't see, sending both it and himself plummeting to the ground.

Knuckles rolled and wrestled with his invisible opponent. Knuckles was far stronger, and managed to pin his unseen foe to the ground with his left arm. He held his right fist menacingly over surprisingly dangerous thin air. "Alright, you fancy giving me your E-number now, or should I just destroy you and find out that way?" he asked. It was the only explanation Knuckles could think of for his foe's invisibility. A gagging noise defied that logic. "What are you? Show yourself!"

There was a rippling effect as Knuckles' foe became visible, revealing the form of a young, male, purple chameleon. His horn was broken, and it looked like it had been for a long time. As the chameleon's eyelids opened, they revealed a pair of yellow irises that shook Knuckles to his core.

On instinct, Knuckles leapt to his feet and backed up against the wall. It took him a moment to catch his breath. "Espio?" he whispered. He'd met and rescued Espio before. The chameleon had then helped him stop one of Eggman's plots.

Espio groaned as he rose to his feet. "It's been a while, Knuckles," he replied.

Knuckles returned to his senses, and raised his fists. He scowled. "That's not generally the first thing you say to someone after you've tried to kill them."

Espio bent over, and panted heavily. With one hand, he clutched his stomach, and he held up the other in a feeble attempt at defence. He raised his head, showing the grimace on his face. "Knuckles, you have to trust me, I had no idea that you were my target. I'm not one to forget a debt so quickly."

Knuckles raised an eyebrow, but it swiftly dropped again. "Your target? You do this sort of thing often?" The pair of katana strapped across Espio's back seemed to back up that suspicion.

Espio nodded in between gasps. "You could say that. If you must know, I'm an assassin now."

Knuckles clenched his fists even tighter, and gritted his teeth. He'd had quite enough of assassins recently. "So what, you just go around killing people for money? Aren't you ninjas supposed to have some sort of code of honour or something?"

"You think I wanted to do this? I was fine just running a detective agency with Vector and Charmy."

Knuckles relaxed slightly, and a bemused expression spread across his face. "Vector and Charmy? You joined up with those two? Why?"

Espio shrugged. "Two heads are better than one, and Charmy can fly, so that makes up for his lack of brains. As for Vector, he's smarter than he seems."

"So why aren't you still doing that?"

Espio frowned. "No market for it. Everyone's involved in crime now, so no one wants the crimes solved. There are still people who want others dead, though."

"That's no excuse to do it."

Espio's frown turned to a glare. "I'm just trying to keep myself and my friends alive. You'd do the same thing."

Knuckles unknowingly copied Espio's expression. "I wouldn't betray everything I stood for. Your whole life was supposed to be about honour, and it ain't anymore."

Espio rose to his feet. "I still have that honour. You want me to prove it?" Knuckles nodded. "Then follow me, and we'll try and track down my client."

"Who's your client?" Knuckles asked. He sure the trail would lead back to Eggman eventually, but he wasn't sure who was doing the dirty work. Shadow seemed unlikely, since he was more than a match for Knuckles, anyway. Besides, Shadow wanted the Master Emerald, and Knuckles didn't have that with him. Shadow was smart enough to know that risk. He'd be looking for the Master Emerald, not its guardian.

"I don't know. Vector's the one who handles the administrative stuff. We'll be able to get the info out of him." Espio walked towards the street. Knuckles didn't budge. Espio turned back. "Don't worry, Knuckles, Vector wouldn't have taken the job if he knew you were the target, and he'll drop it when he finds out the truth." Espio walked out onto the street. Knuckles picked up his cloak, tied it up again, and put the hood over his head. He picked up his sack, and followed Espio.

Espio turned, and walked in the opposite direction to the way they'd come. Knuckles followed a few steps behind. He still didn't trust Espio entirely, and he hated himself for it. The chameleon was his friend. There should be trust between them, but until Knuckles knew more, that could never be. He hated to admit it, but he wished Tails was with him right now. It would help to ease his nerves.

Knuckles and Espio walked through the city. Knuckles memorised the route they'd taken. While his escape route had been compromised, he was sure it was still the best chance he had of getting out of a tight spot if one arose. After all, dirt was a lot easier to dig through than pavement.

People slowly began to move back onto the street. A few nodded at Espio, not seeming at all concerned by the fact that he wasn't human. Knuckles had no idea what had suddenly drawn the people back onto the street. "I'd paid those people to keep off the street around the time I was inadvertently hunting you," Espio said, as if he'd read Knuckles' mind.

A scrawny, malnourished boy dressed in rags walked past, and took an all-too-long look at Knuckles. Espio gripped the handle of one of his katana, and shook his head. The boy gulped, and kept walking. Knuckles walked up beside Espio. "Looks like you've developed a reputation around here," the echidna whispered into his ear.

"Yeah, well we're right near our headquarters, so it's not surprising." As if on cue, Espio turned and walked down a dark alley. Knuckles followed, and looked up. A shabby sign at the end of the alley read, 'Chaotix'. The words 'Detective Agency' had been crossed out with a single line of black paint. "Home, sweet home," Espio mocked.

The door squeaked as Espio pushed it inwards. He and Knuckles walked inside, to be greeted by a pistol being pointed at them. "Why does everyone in this town do that?" Knuckles whispered to himself. The pistol was being held by a bulky crocodile with light green scales and a yellow underbelly. A pair of headphones sat on his head. He looked a little dirtier and grimmer than the last time Knuckles had seen him.

"Hey, Vector," Espio said. Vector nodded, and lowered the pistol. Espio turned to a newspaper that appeared to be standing on its own. "Hey, Charmy."

"Aw, nuts!" said a high-pitched voice. The newspaper slipped down to reveal the form of a very young male bee. His trademark shirt had grown a little worn, and he looked a bit older, but he was still recognisable. Knuckles grinned as he remembered the mischief Charmy had always gotten up to. "I was trying to master that way of invisibleness thing you're always talking about."

Espio grimaced, and shook his head. "The word is invisibility, and you failed because I could hear your breathing. The way of invisibility also includes the way of silence, which does rather limit your potential as a ninja."

Charmy pouted, and Knuckles took the moment of silence to glance around the room. To put it simply, it was a dump. The wallpaper was peeling, and some unnatural stench filled the room. Vector sat behind a desk that was so covered in papers that he could have hidden all sorts of weapons under there and no one would ever have found them. The sofa that Charmy sat on had holes all over its surface. Some had been patched up, but many more hadn't. An old TV sat on a wooden crate in the corner, but Knuckles wasn't sure if it was still working. A fan whirred noisily as it spun around on the ceiling.

Vector coughed to draw everyone's attention. "Okay, Espio, two questions," he said. "First, how did the mission go, and second, who the hell is that guy with you?"

"Actually, I'll answer both those questions," Knuckles replied. He pulled back his hood to reveal his face. Vector and Charmy gasped.

"Knuckles!" Vector shouted gleefully. He leapt out of his chair with unnatural speed, and was soon shaking Knuckles' hand vigorously. "Great to see you again! What brings you to this dump-filled berg? Shouldn't you be guarding that giant emerald of yours, or did you finally realise that you could sell it for a wad of cash?"

Knuckles frowned. "I'm still guarding the Master Emerald, as I will for the rest of my life. I was in town to pick up some supplies. As for what brings me here specifically, Espio brought me... after he tried to kill me."

Vector let go of Knuckles' hand, and leapt back. He collided with the desk, sending half a dozen pieces of paper flying. He panted, and stroked his snout. "I have a bad feeling about where this discussion's going."

Espio frowned. "You should," he said. "It turns out Knuckles was the target."

"Oh croc." Vector held his arms out in front of him, forcing Knuckles to keep his distance. "Look, Knuckles, I did not know that. You have to believe me. There are loads of things I'd do for money, but not that."

Knuckles folded his arms across his chest, and stared Vector down. He could see fear in Vector's expression, but not the sort he generally associated with lies. Still, there was only one way to make sure. "If you really mean that, then you'll tell me who the client was." Vector's eyes darted around the room, and he twiddled his thumbs. "Vector, tell me. Now."

Vector sighed. "I didn't get a name, but it was a robot."

Knuckles scowled. "You do realise that there's only one guy who sends out robots to do his bidding, right?"

Vector nodded. "I know, I know: Eggman. You don't have to tell me that stuff. I live in this world. I know how things work around here."

Knuckles clenched his fists. "So you willingly accepted a job from Eggman?"

"If you must know, yes, but you should have seen the paycheck he offered. It's huge. Even more than the reward they're offering for your head, although I didn't make the connection at the time."

Knuckles gritted his teeth. "And that makes it right to work for a bloody dictator?"

"Knuckles, I don't think you quite understand what it's like. Ever since Eggman came to power, we've been living on the edge of poverty."

Knuckles stamped his foot, cracking a floorboard. "And things will be like that forever if guys like you cave into every demand that Eggman makes! You want that?" He walked towards Vector. "Do you?" Knuckles batted Vector's outstretched arms away. "Do you?" With a roar, Knuckles punched Vector, sending the crocodile right through his desk and into the wall. Vector collapsed in a heap with his eyes screwed shut.

Espio grabbed Knuckles's arms from behind. "Calm down, Knuckles," Espio whispered. "This isn't solving anything." Knuckles relaxed his body, and Espio let go. The chameleon returned to Knuckles' side. "Look, Vector, we'll judge our lifestyle later. For now, let's get this robot off Knuckles' back. Tell us where we can find the robot."

Vector groaned as he rose to his feet. He swayed slightly, but managed to keep his balance. He was tough, and Knuckles knew this. If he hadn't, then he might not have acted so rashly. Vector clutched his chest, and opened his eyes. They promptly bulged until it looked like they would pop out of their sockets. "Oh no," he whispered. His knees wobbled.

"Oh yes, Vector," Knuckles said. "Tell us where the robot is, or I'll make you feel some real pain. I don't wanna do it, but you're hardly one to talk about methods."

Vector pointed at Knuckles, or it may have been beyond. "Behind you!"

Knuckles screamed as two sharp objects sliced through his cloak, past the fur on his back, and tore through his skin. The cuts weren't deep, but they hurt a lot. Even that pain was nothing compared to what he felt a split second later, as a sharp stinging pain spread through his body. It nearly felled him, but he managed to remain standing. His body grew numb as he turned on the spot.

Knuckles' vision blurred, and all he could see before him was a fuzzy black shape. He'd seen enough of Eggman's robots before to recognise one, though. He took a step towards his foe, but his legs buckled, and he fell to his knees. As he looked up, he saw Espio, katana in hand, leap at the robot. The ninja sliced the robot's head off with a single stroke. He followed it up with two more slashes that left the robot in pieces on the floor.

Using all his remaining strength, Knuckles rose to his feet. His body gave out on him, and he fell backwards. He hit the ground with a thud, but he felt nothing. His whole body had lost all feeling. He thought he heard a voice cry out to him. Whoever the voice belonged to, they were too far away to help him. As Knuckles gazed at the spinning fan, his vision began to spin with it, until all his vision became a white blur.

In an instant, white turned to black.


Espio rushed to Knuckles' side. The echidna lay sprawled on the floor. His eyes were shut, and his mouth hung limply open. Espio put a finger to Knuckles' wrist. The pulse was faint, but still present. The echidna's breaths were long but shallow. He was still alive, though, and for that, Espio was grateful.

Espio rolled Knuckles onto his stomach, and ripped the cloak off. The echidna's back was a mess. The wounds weren't deep, but the fluids that had leaked from them had stained his skin yellow. The wounds were fresh, but already they had scabbed over. Ordinarily, Espio would be grateful for that, but the scabs weren't ordinary. They weren't red like normal scabs, or even scarlet - they were pitch black.

Charmy, with tears in his eyes, hovered over Knuckles' limp form. Vector edged towards the group. His body quivered, which was rare. "Is he... is he..." he whispered.

"He's alive," Espio replied. He frowned. "But something's not right here." He pointed to the wounds on Knuckles' back. "These wounds aren't deep. Knuckles should have been able to take them. And the colouring's not natural, either."

Vector frowned, but his wide eyes suggested fear as much as anything else. "So what, you think he's been poisoned or something?"

"Well, technically I think it would be a venom rather than a poison, but yeah."

Vector threw his arms up in exasperation. "So what do we do?"

"Well, remain calm for a start." Vector dropped his arms and took some deep breaths. "Knuckles must have an ally we can contact."

"Wasn't there another guy on his wanted posters?" Charmy asked, pushing back his tears.

"Yeah, I think he was called Tails," Vector said, "or maybe it was Miles." He scratched his snout. "But how can we get in contact with him?"

Espio pointed at a strange device strapped to Knuckles' wrist. "Maybe with that?"

Vector leaned over to get a better look. "I have no idea what that is."

Espio shrugged. "We'll soon find out." He pressed a button on the device. A faint series of crackles emanated from it. Espio grabbed Knuckles' limp wrist and held the device up to his mouth. "Hello? Is anyone there?"

There was a moment of silence. Finally, a youthful but masculine voice said, "Who is this?"

"The name's Espio, and I'm a frie - acquaintance of Knuckles."

Another moment of silence. "I don't know anyone named Knuckles." There was a faint quiver in the boy's voice.

Espio gritted his teeth. "Look, Tails or Miles or whatever your name is, we know you know Knuckles. We've got Knuckles here, and he's in really bad shape. We need your help."

The boy chuckled, but the quiver in his voice was even more audible now. Whoever he was, he wasn't a good actor. "I'm telling you, I don't know anyone named Knuckles. I think I'd remember a name that weird."

Espio growled. "Look, if we don't do something soon, he's gonna die! You really want to deal with a friend's death? You really want to live with the thought that if you'd lived your life just a little bit differently, he might not have had to die? I'm looking at that thought right now, and trust me, it sucks! Now are you gonna help or not?"

Espio thought he heard a sob on the other end, but it was gone in an instant. "Yeah, I know that feeling, and you're right: it's not good at all. I've got a fix on the communicator's position right now, so just stay where you are, and I'll be there within ten minutes."

"How will we know it's you?"

"Trust me, there's a reason they call me Tails." With those words, the line went dead. Espio sighed, and closed his eyes. How had this happened? How had he become nothing but a pawn in Eggman's diabolical game of chess? He'd betrayed what he stood for, and now Knuckles was suffering for his mistake. Espio's sensei would surely be rolling in his grave.

Espio opened his eyes, and shook his head. He rose to his feet. He turned his head, and glared at the remains of the accursed robot. Espio turned back, and grabbed Knuckles feet. He dragged the echidna's limp form to the sofa. "Vector, find some softer bedding, and soak a few towels in cold water, just in case this venom gives Knuckles a fever." With a quick show of strength, Espio flipped Knuckles onto the sofa. The echidna now lay on his back, and Espio was forced to look upon the face of the one he'd hurt.

In the short time they' spent together years ago, Espio and Knuckles had gotten to know each other quite well. Although their methods of thinking and fighting were different, their spirits were the same. Within each of them burned the fire of a warrior. Espio knew that it would be his fault if that fire within Knuckles was put out. It felt worse than hurting a friend - it felt like he'd hurt a brother.

Charmy sat down on the arm of the sofa. Through his tears, he gazed down at Knuckles. "What have we done?" Charmy asked.

Espio knew that he should say something profound, or at least something that would make Charmy feel better, but his mind couldn't come up with anything. There was only one thing he could say: "That's what I'm wondering."


Ten minutes later, a loud thud from the alley shook the room. Vector leapt out of his seat. Charmy ducked for cover behind the sofa. Espio opened his eyes, and rose to his feet. "Um, who invited the heavy artillery?" Vector asked.

Espio frowned. "It could be the kid," he replied.

Vector stared at Espio. "If it's the kid, he's huge, and should have a way higher price on his head than Knuckles does."

"I'll check it out. You two stay here, and try not to do anything stupid." Espio shuddered as his body turned invisible. It had always been an unpleasant experience, but that night it seemed even worse. Espio walked out of the room, and into the dark alley.

Espio could just make out a silhouette in the alley that had not been there before. He wasn't sure what it was, but he was sure it wasn't natural. That could mean only one thing. With his right hand, Espio pulled a shuriken from the holster on his left wrist. His left hand gripped the handle of one of his katana. He was about to attack when he saw something move in the silhouette. Something leapt out of the top. Espio drew his katana, silently cursing the subtle noise it made. The smaller silhouette paused for a moment. He held up an object, and flicked a switch.

Espio was blinded by a bright light. He managed to hold onto his katana, but the shuriken fell to the ground with a clatter. As his eyes adjusted to the light, the silhouette became clearer. It took the form of a young male fox. Espio flinched when he saw that the fox had two tails, but then let out a sigh of relief. "Tails, I presume?" Espio asked.

The fox leapt back a foot. "Who said that?" he asked. "Who's there?"

Espio scratched his head with his right hand, and sheathed his katana with the left. He'd forgotten he was still invisible. He repressed another shudder as he became visible again. The fox leapt back another foot. "The name's Espio, and you were right: there's a very good reason they call you Tails."

The fox sighed. "Well, I don't really like my real name. Still, I can see there's a reason you're called Espio."

"About time someone figured that out."

Tails frowned. "Can I see Knuckles?"

Espio nodded, and pointed to the open door. "Come in. I should warn you, though, it's not a pleasant sight." Espio walked through the doorway, and Tails followed. Vector and Charmy looked at Tails, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Tails glanced at Vector and Charmy, but his eyes soon fell upon Knuckles. "Knuckles!" he cried. The fox ran to his friend's side. Tails grasped Knuckles' hand. "Is he... is he..."

"He's still alive, but I'm not sure how long he's gonna stay that way."

"Yeah," Charmy said, pointing to the remains of the robot, "that robot over there poisoned him!"

Espio held up his hand in a feeble attempt to get attention. "It was more of a venom actually. The robot had envenomed blades on its arms."

Tails didn't seem to be listening. Instead, he gazed at the pile of debris in the corner, and scowled. He left Knuckles' side, and walked over to the pile. After a quick rummage, the fox picked up the robot's chest plate, and stared at it. "E-112," he whispered. "That would be... Nu." Espio, Vector, and Charmy stared blankly at Tails. "These robots have been causing us trouble for a long time. One of them nearly killed Knuckles. Now it looks like this one may go all the way." The silence was deafening. "Do you have any idea what sort of venom it was?"

Espio shook his head, though he was pleasantly surprised that someone had paid attention to his correction. "I was never taught about this sort of stuff. It's a cowardly way to kill your foe. And since I don't know what caused it, I don't have a clue how to heal it. Frankly, I was hoping you might know something."

Tails shook his head. "I'm just a mechanic. I can fix any machine, and build a fair few from scratch." Tails stared at the floor. "Right now, I'd trade all that for a knowledge of venoms, but I can't."

Espio lowered his head. "Then I guess we'll have to live with this for the rest of our lives." He grasped the handle of his katana. Seppuku was the only suitable punishment for such dishonour.

"Actually," Vector said, "we might not." Espio lowered his hand, and raised his head.

Tails looked up. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Vector leant his chair back until his head rested against the wall. "Well, if Eggman gave the robot that poison - I mean venom - then he must have something that can heal it."

Tails raised an eyebrow. "You mean an antivenin? Why would Eggman need one of those?" He scowled. "He's a bad guy. He doesn't care if innocent people get hurt."

Vector closed his eyes and raised his index finger. "He would have one because he wouldn't want that venom to get used against him, or that black hedgehog that always seems to do his dirty work. He rules the world, so he would want to play it safe."

Tails shrugged. "Maybe, but I'll tell you one thing: that antivenin's not on that robot. Believe me, it was the first thing I looked for. The only liquid apart from oil is on those daggers."

Vector slammed his fist against the wall. "Blast!" He sighed, and shrugged his shoulders. "Oh well, it was worth a shot."

Espio almost agreed. "If the robot doesn't have it," he said, "then that just means there'll be some in every base in the area."

"Yeah," Tails said, "but there's no way any of us can break into one of Eggman's bases. Knuckles tried it once, and he almost got killed."

"I can, and I will." Charmy and Tails both stared at him. Vector fell out of his seat. "I have to."

Vector rose to his feet, and brushed the dust off his arms. He pointed at Espio. "You're crazy," Vector said. "The kid's right, you'll never get in and out alive, let alone get out with that anti-whatever."

Espio folded his arms across his chest, and stared Vector down. "You're not going to stop me Vector. My honour says that I've got to do this. I got Knuckles into this, so I'm going to do all I can to get him out." Espio shrugged his shoulders. "Besides, it's about time I put all that ninjitsu to good use."

Charmy leapt into the air, and hovered there. "Well, you can't go alone!" he shouted. "I'm coming too!" Espio grinned. He doubted that Charmy would be much help, but any help would be better than none at all.

Vector shrugged. "Well, I know when I'm beat," he said. "If both you guys get killed, then I'm as good as dead anyway. Might as well go down with style."

Tails waved his arms to get everyone's attention. "Um, guys?" he said. "Do you actually have a plan?"

Vector shook his head. "Not really, we just tend to figure it out as we go. It works surprisingly well." Espio and Charmy nodded in agreement.

"Well, I think I can coordinate a full attack from here. It will boost our chances a lot."

Vector shrugged. "Whatever. The important thing is that all of Team Chaotix is in this together." Vector held out his hand.

"Yeah!" Charmy shouted. He flew to Vector, and put his hand on top.

Espio rolled his eyes. Vector and Charmy were the cheesiest duo he'd ever met, but he wouldn't have it any other way. Espio put his hand on top of both of theirs and whispered, "To the bitter end."

Charmy looked up at Espio. "That's not gonna be anytime soon, right?"

Espio and Vector looked at each other. "Only one way to find out, Charmy," the crocodile said. "Only one way to find out."


Next chapter: With Knuckles' life hanging in the balance, it's a race against time as the Chaotix break into Eggman's base in an attempt to find the antivenin. It's tough as it is, but when Eggman unleashes his secret weapon, they'll all be tested to their limits... and then some. It's a fight to the finish in Chapter 9: The Final Lesson.

A/N: Just for the record, Microsoft Word's spellcheck implies that katana is both the singular and the plural.
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