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

Friend or Foe?

by nintendofreakgcn 1 review

Knuckles and Tails launch an assault on one of Eggman's convoys, but things get complicated with the entrance of a mysterious third party. A familiar face returns in this chapter.

Category: Sonic the Hedgehog - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama - Characters: Amy Rose, Knuckles, Miles "Tails" Prower, Rouge - Warnings: [!!] [?] [V] - Published: 2006-01-16 - Updated: 2006-01-16 - 9652 words

Chapter Three: Friend or Foe?

Our ancient ancestors were warriors without peer. They were unbeatable in one-on-one combat, and could hold their own even when severely outnumbered. This was a result of both their naturally superior bodies and the rigorous training they put themselves through. It was because of the ancient echidna's incredible martial prowess that their empire expanded so quickly and so far.

The greatest warriors amongst the ancient echidnas were those who were part of the Order of the Iron Claw. The order was so named because of the iron claws that each member wore on their fists. Not only did these claws add power to their blows, but they also proved quite effective in the rare instances when an echidna encountered a foe of martial prowess that was nearly equal to their own. These foes were, as was standard for the cowardice of their races, armed with weapons to improve their reach. Often, it was possible for them to attack without an echidna being in range for a counterattack. However, a member of the Order of the Iron Claw would be able to block the weapon with one iron claw, and then move in closer for a counterattack. Often, the opponent was so startled by this maneuver that they were slain within moments.

Alas, the great days of the Order of the Iron Claw are now long gone. It takes great skill and training to be able to wield iron claws effectively. Most individuals who simply tried to use them would only wind up causing harm to themselves. As a result of the fall of the Echidna Empire, our people have long since fallen from their former heights of martial prowess. To this day, no one has risen to rebuild the Order of the Iron Claw.

Knuckles slammed the book shut. He'd had enough reading for today. Knuckles stretched as he rose to his feet. After a quick glance at the sunset, he started to walk down the steps of the shrine of the Master Emerald.

It had been a week since Knuckles had left the city of Nachide. The events of the time he spent there still haunted him. There were many aspects of that time that clouded his mind. Some were easier to explain than others. One thing that was very easy to explain was Knuckles' increased fear of Shadow. Although he doubted that Shadow was a significantly better fighter than Sonic without the aid of a Chaos Emerald, there was one key thing that made Shadow a deadlier foe. Sonic would simply beat any living foe and leave them there, but it was clear that Shadow was willing and able to kill. What's more, Shadow was actually looking for a fight with Knuckles, whereas Sonic had never done so.

Knuckles frowned as he thought on these matters. He knew that he would have to face Shadow again someday. Clearly, Shadow was the primary agent whom Eggman had set on him. Knuckles needed to find some way of defeating him. It was unlikely that Knuckles could use the same trick he had used against Shadow during their battle in Nachide. The black hedgehog wouldn't be stupid enough to bring a Chaos Emerald to their next duel. Knuckles would simply have to beat him the old-fashioned way.

Of course, Knuckles' thoughts were not focused solely on his next battle with Shadow. Knuckles still couldn't help thinking about his encounter with the echidnas of Nachide. As much as he tried to avoid it, he wondered where they were now, and what sort of condition they were in. He had tried to tear his focus away from the echidnas of the present by focusing on the echidnas of the past through reading the book Rache-Lu had given him, but that just made things worse. Still, there was one fact he'd gleaned from that book that he was eager to investigate further.

Finally, Knuckles reached the bottom of the steps. He wasted no time as he began to walk around the shrine in a clockwise direction. Knuckles counted the stones in the side of the shrine as he went around. When he reached the seventh stone in the third row, which was at eye level, he stopped.

Knuckles placed a hand on the stone, and pushed. The stone, along with the first two stones in every direction from it, receded into the wall, and slid to the side to reveal an entrance into the interior of the shrine. There was no light source inside, but the light from the Master Emerald above poured in through the holes and cracks in the stonework, providing a faint but usable light.

Knuckles took a deep breath, and walked inside. It was stuffy and cramped, and the air had the faint stench of magma, a scent that managed to travel all the way from the Lava Reef Zone and still remain noticeable. A thin layer of dust coated everything but the ceiling. Knuckles guessed that the Master Emerald gave off some sort of radiation that prevented the dust from spreading as far as there. There were some stairs on the far side of the room that went underground, and eventually led to the Hidden Palace Zone.

Knuckles' attention soon turned to the centre of the hidden room, where there were two identical pedestals. The one on Knuckle's right was unadorned, but on the one on his left, there were two metallic objects. Each object consisted of a hemispherical sheet of metal, with two metallic claws sticking out of one end of each. In short, they were iron claws, or, as Knuckles had grown to call them, the shovel claws.

Knuckles had first discovered the shovel claws about five years ago, when he'd been exploring Angel Island. Ironically, he'd actually gone the long way around, by going all the way through the Lava Reef Zone, the Hidden Palace Zone, and finally coming out in the room in which he now stood. He remembered silently cursing himself when he found out that the way out emerged at the shrine of the Master Emerald.

There had been two pairs of shovel claws at first. Unfortunately, Knuckles had taken one pair with him when he'd gone to the ARK that fateful day. Eggman had taken them away upon his victory, since there was the faint possibility that Knuckles may have been able to use them to tunnel out of his cell. Now, only one pair remained

Knuckles walked over to the left-hand podium and picked up the shovel claws. For a moment, he just gazed at them. Knuckles couldn't but notice that somehow, they had no dust on them. Perhaps there was more to the shovel claws than he thought. Knuckles decided not to think on the matter. He put the shovel claws on. Although they couldn't possibly have been made especially for him, they somehow managed to fit perfectly. They kept Knuckles' hands clenched into fists, but that was probably intentional. Strangely, Knuckles had noticed during his time in Nachide that all the other echidnas had fists the same size as his own. Perhaps all echidnas had fists of the same size, and that was why this pair of shovel claws managed to fit so well.

Knuckles shook his head. Scientific thoughts were best left to Tails. Knuckles turned around and walked towards the exit of the secret room. As he walked through the doorway, he poked the makeshift stone door, and it closed of its own accord behind his back. Knuckles had never quite figured out how whoever had built the shrine had managed to put such a device in place, but it didn't trouble him. That was one mystery that he had no real desire to know the answer to.

Knuckles noticed that the sun had now set, and the stars were appearing in the night sky. Of course, he knew better than to look up. The sight of the broken moon was depressing. Instead, he simply walked over to a wide open patch of grass, not far from the shrine. This was his training ground. He hadn't undergone any fighting practice in nearly a month, and Knuckles couldn't help but feel that it was only a matter of time before that began to show.

Knuckles took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Since he had never had a sparring partner, he had learnt to fight imaginary foes. Even as Knuckles' eyes closed, a battle began to form in his head.

A large force of robots stood in front of Knuckles, E-1000s to be precise. They all had their guns aimed at him. Knuckles dived into a roll as they fired, and their shots all missed. He broke out of his roll at the foot of the front rank. He slashed at the legs of the robots on either side of him, snapping them effortlessly. The robots' torsos fell, their now-erratic shots taking out several more robots in the process. Knuckles paid this no mind, and rose to his feet, and started smashing his way through robot after robot. They all fell with ease before his punches, but the E-1000s were starting to regroup and encircle him. There were simply too many for his old approach to work.

Then, Knuckles realised that he didn't have to use his old approach. Now that he was armed with iron claws, he could fight with grace instead of just pure power. To test his theory, he leapt into the air and used the iron claws to slash the two nearest robots across the chest. They immediately started vibrating erratically. Knuckles ran away just before they exploded. He grinned at the thought of this newly found strategy.

Knuckles ran in an out of the group of E-1000s, destroying them with lightning speed. It wasn't long before all that remained was wreckage. Knuckles had won.

Knuckles opened his eyes. It was clear that he still had what it took to take on groups of inferior foes. Unfortunately, what he was really worried about was his ability to win in a duel. Knuckles closed his eyes again, and prepared to enter the next stage of his training.

A shadowy figure appeared before Knuckles. It was about his height, and clearly humanoid, but it was impossible to make out anything beyond that. Knuckles assumed a defensive stance, deciding to let his opponent make the first move. For a moment, both fighters were still.

Then, the opponent leapt at Knuckles. It launched a kick right at his head. Knuckles sidestepped, and aimed a punch at his opponent's defenseless form. Much to his surprise, the opponent maneuvered in midair with impossible agility. Before Knuckles could react, the shadowy creature had sent him flying with a kick at his midsection.

Knuckles somersaulted as he flew through the air, and managed to land on his feet. He was now a good distance away from his opponent. Knuckles flinched as he saw that his opponent was now flying with its newly sprouted wings. It rose high into the air, and then began to swoop.

Knuckles couldn't help but feel that there was something familiar about this opponent, but there was no time to think about that now. Instead, Knuckles stood his ground, and stared at the rapidly approaching figure. He would have to time this just right.

Just before the opponent reached him, Knuckles leapt up into the air. As the figure passed under him, Knuckles summoned all his strength and kicked it in the back. The blow sent the figure careening into the ground, where it rolled several times before coming to a stop.

Knuckles knew better than to assume that that was the end of the fight. He was upon the opponent within moments. He used his left arm to hold it down, and held his right fist menacingly above its head. Knuckles took one moment to look at his opponent before he finished it off.

Knuckles gasped as he realised the identity of the figure that lay beneath him. It was a female bat. She had white fur on her face. She wore a black leather outfit, with white boots and gloves, and a pink, heart-shaped shirt. This opponent was none other than Rouge the Bat, the jewel thief who had stolen the Master Emerald nearly a year ago.

Knuckles forced himself to open his eyes, in order to bring himself out of this trance. He panted as he was brought back to reality. As he rose to his feet, Knuckles shook his head a few times, but the image of Rouge lying prone beneath him wouldn't go away.

Knuckles had no idea why the imaginary opponent had taken the form of Rouge. Knuckles had barely given her a passing thought sine he'd finally gotten the Master Emerald back after his fight with her aboard the ARK. It was fortunate that he had saved her life that day, or the pieces of the Master Emerald that she'd possessed at that time would have been lost forever. Still, right now Knuckles wished that he'd shoved her into that pit of lava immediately afterwards, since she had been working for Eggman at the time.

Ever since that day, Knuckles couldn't remember having even a passing thought about Rouge. She just didn't seem particularly important to him when compared to all the other things that were going on. Still, Knuckles couldn't help but wonder what Rouge was doing nowadays. It was with mixed feelings that Knuckles soon realised that she was probably still working for Eggman. It was the only logical thing for her to do nowadays. Knuckles scowled and clenched his fists even tighter than the shovel claws forced him to. If he ever met Rouge again, then he would give her a sample of the hell he'd been through in the past year.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught Knuckles' attention. He turned his head slightly, and saw Tails running towards him. The young fox was using his tails like propellers to speed himself along, as he had done in the days when he used to run after Sonic. "Hey, Knuckles!" Tails yelled.

"Yeah, what is it, Tails?" Knuckles replied.

Tails screeched to a halt right in front of Knuckles. He stared at Knuckles' fists for a moment. "I thought Eggman took your shovel claws."

"Well, I found another pair," Knuckles growled. He had never told anyone about the secret room beneath the shrine of the Master Emerald, and he had no intention of starting now.

Tails shrugged. Knuckles knew that the fox knew better than to intrude into other people's business. "Anyway, I think I've found us a mission."

Knuckles raised an eyebrow. He and Tails hadn't performed a generic mission since shortly before they'd rescued Amy. Knuckles had almost begun to think that they'd never get back into the swing of things. "What sort of mission?"

"Destroying one of Eggman's convoys. Come back to my workshop and I'll tell you more." With those words, Tails sped off in the direction of his workshop. Knuckles sprinted after him, barely managing to keep up. Tails' speed nowadays was comparable to Sonic's jogging speed, which was still ridiculously fast.

It wasn't long before Knuckles and Tails reached the fox's workshop. As they walked in, Knuckles noticed that Amy was standing near the computer, staring at the screen intently. Knuckles frowned. Although Amy appeared to have grown more reasonable since the events in Nachide, she was still prone to disagreeing with him.

Knuckles walked in Tails wake as they walked towards the computer. Knuckles' body was slouched in a vain attempt to avoid being noticed. Amy glanced in their direction, but said nothing.

Tails sat down in the chair in front of the computer and pressed a few buttons. A map of what appeared to be Central America appeared on the screen. Some of that area had been destroyed by the Eclipse Cannon along with North America, but most of it remained relatively undamaged. Eggman had been quick to put in measures to prevent the lava from the massive crater flowing into other areas. It was as close as he'd come to a humanitarian act.

Tails pressed another button, and a glowing red dot appeared on the southern edge of the landmass on the screen. "That dot represents the convoy, if you hadn't already realised." Knuckles hoped that that comment was directed at Amy, since Knuckles had planned more than enough assaults on convoys to know how one was represented on the computer.

"Do you have any idea how big it is?" Knuckles asked. He sincerely hoped it was small, but he had a bad feeling it wasn't.

"Well, sensors show approximately fifty cargo vehicles, which, at a guess, would mean a guard of about 200 E-1000s.

Knuckles' jaw dropped. He noticed that Amy was also agape at this large figure. Eggman had never displayed any desire nor need for forces that size. He had every army disbanded soon after he rose to power, and had every gun confiscated, in an attempt to eliminate any possible threat. The result was that no one could stand up to him, so he could get away with spreading his troops rather thinly in places. "Please tell me you're kidding."

Tails frowned. "Trust me, Knuckles, I'd like to, but that's what the sensors show."

"But why on earth would Eggman have a convoy that big in this area? Where are they going, anyway?"

"North-west, but probably with the intention of going north once the land allows them to."

"Why would they go there? There's nothing in that direction but Eclipse Crater." Seeing Amy's blank expression, Knuckles added, "That's what we call the crater where most of North America used to be." Amy nodded in recognition. Knuckles pondered the question of where the convoy could be going, but no answer came to mind.

"Tails, is Eggman building any new bases in that area?" Amy asked. "The convoy could be taking construction supplies." Knuckles and Tails stared blankly at her, amazed that she'd come up with that idea before they had. Tails then turned back to the computer screen and pressed a few buttons. The display zoomed out to show Eclipse Crater and the surrounding area.

Tails studied the display for a moment, and then said, "I'm not picking up anything like that on the scanner." He looked at the screen for a moment more. "Wait a minute. There seems to be an area the scanner can't penetrate."

"That could mean Eggman's trying to hide something," Knuckles muttered. "Where is it?"

"It's right around there." Tails pointed at an area near the western edge of Eclipse Crater.

"Isn't that around where Prison Island used to be?" Knuckles asked casually.

Tails was silent for a moment. "No, it's exactly where Prison Island used to be." Tails refused to make eye contact, as he kept his eyes fixed on the screen.

"What a weird coincidence," Amy said. She wasn't the only one with that opinion, as Knuckles found it very odd as well.

"Guys, I don't think it is a coincidence. I think there's something there that Eggman wants."

Knuckles and Amy were as close to laughter as it was really possible to be in this day and age. "Tails," Knuckles said, "Prison Island was destroyed by Eggman before he even fired the Eclipse Cannon. Anything there would have been destroyed twice."

Tails still seemed unconvinced. "Guys, Prison Island was where they locked up Gerald Robotnik. Everything he worked on, with the exception of the Eclipse Cannon, was probably kept there as well."

Knuckles shrugged. "So what? The guy may have been a genius, but even his stuff couldn't survive a blast from the Eclipse Cannon."

Tails still seemed unconvinced. "Look guys, I hope you're right, but that's the only reason I can think of for Eggman to put his base there."

"Maybe he just wants to look like a big shot by putting his new base right over what used to be the greatest military stronghold in the world," Amy said.

"Look guys, this isn't getting us anywhere," Knuckles interjected. "Why don't we just say that whatever Eggman's planning, it's big? What's important now is stopping that convoy. Tails, where are we anyway?"

Tails pressed a few more buttons, and the screen scrolled down to cover the northern area of South America. "We're around there," he said, pointing to an area in the ocean that covered the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

"Do you think we can intercept them?" Truthfully, Knuckles had no idea how fast the Tornado 3 or Eggman's convoys moved.

Tails stroked his chin as he studied the computer display. "We should be able to, if we leave soon. Look, Knuckles, are you sure we should be doing this? That convoy's bigger than any we've ever attacked before."

"Yeah, I know that, but like I said, Eggman must be planning something. We can't assault the base he's building, but I think we can take this convoy on if we use our heads."

Tails turned to face Knuckles. "By that, you mean if I use my head, right?"

Knuckles nodded. "That's the plan. You do the majority of the thinking, and I do the majority of the fighting. It's a good arrangement."

Tails sighed and turned his head back towards the screen. "Well, let's see, we can obviously only afford to attack them piecemeal. That means we're going to need to make an ambush."

Even Knuckles knew that that was a statement of the obvious. "Is there any good terrain for it?"

Tails frowned. "Unfortunately, the only thing I can find that might work is quite close to Eclipse Crater." Tails pressed a few buttons, and the display zoomed in on an area around the bend of Mexico. "We've got what's basically a mountain range here. While they weren't exactly high and steep by regular standards before the Eclipse Cannon shot, they should be high enough to cause some problems now. In fact, the only area that's suitable for travel around there is pretty narrow and bordered by mountains on both sides."

Knuckles grinned slightly. "Perfect."

Tails shrugged. "It will have to do, I suppose. Like I said, it's cutting a little bit close. Eggman could easily send out reinforcements, especially if he is actually building a base in Eclipse Crater."

Knuckles' expression remained firm. "Well, it's a risk we'll have to take. We can't let those supplies get through. We'll just have to hit them hard and fast."

Tails no longer appeared to be paying any attention to Knuckles. Indeed, he appeared to be staring off into nothingness. As his gaze came back to reality, he had an eagerness in his eyes that Knuckles hadn't seen in quite a while. "Knuckles, I think I've got an idea."

Knuckles glanced at Amy awkwardly. Whenever Tails got that look in his eyes, it meant that any plan he was about to propose was unbelievably complicated. "Um, what is it?"

"Well, I just fixed the missile launchers on the Tornado 3, and I think I can put them to use here. If I fire a missile at a weak point on the mountains on either side of the valley, I should be able to cause a massive amount of boulders to fall down right into our not-so-little convoy. Not only will that cause a lot of damage, but it will hopefully make it impossible for the convoy to get through. Even E-1000s will have a tough time getting through. At worst, we'll cause a sizeable delay in Eggman's plans. What do you think?"

Knuckles shrugged. "Well, given that I don't have to change my fighting style, I think that it's a great plan. Just try and make sure none of those boulders crush me, will you?"

Tails shrugged. "I'll try, but I'm not making any promises. Anyway, I guess we'd better be going."

As Tails rose out of his chair, Knuckles took a deep breath. He then turned towards Amy. "Look, Amy, I know now that you can hold your own in a fight, but this mission's way too big to start you off on. Not only that, but we really need someone keeping an eye on the whole battle from here, just in case reinforcements show up. There's no way me and Tails are going to be keeping an eye on those things when we're in the middle of a battle."

Amy sighed, and nodded in a noncommittal manner. "Okay, then," she whispered.

Knuckles was silent for a moment. He didn't know why, but he felt a need to justify his choice further. "Look, Amy, I promise that as soon as a smaller mission pops up, I'll bring you along, okay?" Amy's eyes brightened slightly at these words, but she gave no response.

Knuckles turned and walked away, having satisfied whatever urge he had to pander to Amy's wishes. Suddenly, Tails grabbed him by the shoulder, causing Knuckles to stop in his tracks. He turned and around and saw Tails holding a communicator. "You'll need this, Knuckles," he said.

Knuckles raised his fists, so as to clearly display the shovel claws he wore. "Um, you know I can't exactly hold one of those while I've got these on, don't you?"

Tails shook his head. "You don't need to hold one of these anymore, Knuckles. I made a strap so you can just put it on you wrist." Tails turned the communicator around, revealing the strap. "This way, you won't have to sacrifice fighting ability to be able to communicate with us."

Knuckles nodded. "Nice work." Knuckles held out his right arm towards Tails. "Um, could you put it on? I don't want to have to take these off." Tails quickly obliged, strapping the communicator to Knuckles' right wrist.

With all their business sorted, Knuckles and Tails left the cabin. Knuckles had a brainwave, and stopped in his tracks, this time of his own accord. "You go get the Tornado 3 ready, I've just got to go get something," he said. Knuckles sprinted towards the shrine of the Master Emerald. He can't believe he'd nearly forgotten to take it with him. He was up the steps within moments.

Knuckles waste no time. He used his left to shovel claw to pry off the right one. Knuckles left the claw as it clattered to the ground. He grabbed the Master Emerald in one swift motion. It promptly shrunk, and Knuckles slipped it under his right glove, as he always did. Meanwhile, Angel Island had fallen the short distance into the ocean, splashing loudly as it did so.

With his work done, Knuckles sprinted towards the runway on the other side of Tails' workshop. The Tornado 3 was there, looking as resplendent as always. Tails always made sure that the plane was kept clean. Knuckles had never understood why he did that. Still, at the moment, he was glad that Tails did keep the Tornado 3 so clean, because the sight of such a magnificent machine lifted his spirits ever so slightly.

Tails was already seated in the pilot's seat. If the humming sound of the engine was anything to go by, he was ready to go. Knuckles leapt into the next seat back and strapped on his seatbelt. Tails always insisted on following the proper safety protocols. "You ready, Knuckles?" he asked.

"I sure am," Knuckles replied. Satisfied with that response, Tails pushed forward on the throttle. The miniature rockets on the side of the Tornado 3 activated, accelerating the plane at an incredible rate. Knuckles and Tails ignored the intense G-forces, as the plane roared down the runway.

As the Tornado 3 neared the end of the runway, Tails pulled back on the joystick. The plane ascended, and began to head towards its destination: battle.


The journey passed all too slowly for Knuckles. He knew that Tails was making the Tornado 3 go as fast as it could, but even that seemed too slow to Knuckles. He had never been one who liked waiting for a battle - he vastly preferred to get it over and done with. Waiting for a battle only gave him time to think of everything that could possibly go wrong.

Eventually though, the Tornado 3 reached the mountain range that Tails had talked about. It looked rather puny compared to the mountains that Knuckles had seen before. Still, he knew that was what happened when man tried to play god.

Tails began to circle the Tornado 3 over a valley, which Knuckles presumed to be the one the fox had mentioned back on Angel Island. The only thing in the valley was dry soil. No plant life grew there at all. Knuckles found that incredibly odd, as it looked the terrain looked decent for plant growth. He presumed that Eggman had cleared it away to allow his convoys to move with greater ease, or perhaps radiation from Eclipse Crater had something to do with it. "Well, here we are," Tails said, stating the obvious.

Knuckles nodded. "You know the plan, don't you?" he asked.

"Knuckles, I made the plan. I'm more worried about whether or not you know the plan."

Knuckles shrugged. "Hey, I know what I've got to do, and I have a vague idea of what you're going to do. That's enough for me." Knuckles pressed a button on his communicator, a difficult feat while he was wearing his shovel claws, and began to speak. "Home base, this is Red Rad. Me and Fox Boy are about to deploy. Activate scanners and contact me when the enemy arrives."

"I hear you, Knuckles," Amy replied over the communicator. Knuckles cringed. "Scanners are activated. What's up with those nicknames, anyway?"

Knuckles rolled his eyes. "They're for security. Why don't you try and use them from now on? Over and out." Knuckles was grateful that there was no response. He really didn't feel like having another argument with Amy right now. "Everything sorted on your end, Tails?"

Tails glanced at the various displays in front of him, and then nodded. "I'm ready when you are, Knuckles."

"Okay, let's move out!" Knuckles hit a button on his seatbelt, and it loosened instantly. Knuckles shook the seatbelt off, and climbed onto the edge of the Tornado 3. He took a deep breath, and then leapt off. For a moment, he just fell, but Knuckles soon gained control of his descent, and began to glide towards what he believed to be the ideal ambush spot. It was shortly before the exit of the valley. Such a position would allow Tails to do a great deal of damage with his attack, while Knuckles knew that he would be about as safe as it was possible to be in the middle of a battle.

When he was nearly directly above his planned ambush point, Knuckles stopped gliding. He immediately began to fall. As he did so, Knuckles repositioned his body, so that he was falling headfirst. Then, he positioned his shovel claws so that they were below his head. Finally, Knuckles began to spin his body at an incredible speed, effectively turning him into a powerful drill. He closed as his eyes as he did this, to keep himself from becoming nauseated.

As Knuckles hit the ground, he formed a hole several metres deep. Knuckles stopped at that point. He opened his eyes. He could see the sky, but nothing else. Hopefully, Eggman's robots wouldn't notice his presence. Given that Eggman's cargo vehicles hovered several inches above the ground, they were unlikely to pay much attention to what essentially amounted to a pothole.

Knuckles held his communicator near his mouth. "This is Red Rad," he whispered. "I'm in position."

"This is Fox Boy," said Tails. "I'm just setting down on the other side of the mountain. I'm ready to strike whenever it's time."

For a moment, there was silence. Then, Amy said, "This is Amy - I mean home base. The convoy is near the southern entrance to the valley."

"Copy that," Knuckles replied. "Tell us if any reinforcements arrive, but keep quiet otherwise. Over and out." Thankfully, there was no reply on the other end. Knuckles could just make out the sound of what must have been the convoy approaching. Loud thuds could be heard to the south. Those must have belonged to the E-1000s. The valley was quite long, though, so it would be a while until it was time to attack. Knuckles twiddled his thumbs as he waited for the inevitable.

About five minutes later, Knuckles began to hear a faint humming sound amidst the thuds. The convoy must have been getting close. Knuckles tensed his muscles and looked up at the sky. For another minute, that was all he did. The noises grew louder.

Then, in one instant, a shadow was cast over Knuckles. The first cargo vehicle was directly overhead. Knuckles used all his strength to leap out of his makeshift burrow. He tore through the hull of the vehicle with a flying uppercut. He'd smashed his way through the roof before he could even see what was inside.

Knuckles landed on the roof of the vehicle, but only stayed there for a moment. He leapt off the box-shaped vehicle, just before it exploded. The force of the explosion sent Knuckles hurtling towards the near-vertical mountainside. He flipped in midair, and pushed off the makeshift wall. His target was the nearest E-1000. As Knuckles hurtled towards it, the robot opened fire on him. Acting on instinct, Knuckles used the shovel claws to deflect the bullets.

A split second later, Knuckles tore right through the E-1000. It exploded moments later. The other E-1000s had noticed the fight, though, and had begun to open fire on him. Knuckles back-flipped over the flaming wreckage of the cargo vehicle. As he flew through the air, he swung his fist in a wide arc, slicing through the head of an E-1000 like butter. The robot collapsed, disabled.

A loud boom resonated through the valley. Knuckles held himself rigid against the mountainside. He noticed that the E-1000s were no longer firing at him, and had instead turned their attention skyward. Knuckles dared to look up, even though he already knew what he was going to see. His suspicions were confirmed, as he saw massive boulders tumbling down one of the mountains. Another boom tore through the air, and this time Knuckles could see the explosion. Sure enough, it had been caused by a missile shot from the Tornado 3.

Knuckles grinned as he saw the chaos the boulders were causing. The E-1000s had no idea what to do. Some opened fire on the boulders, but their puny machine gun shots barely scratched the massive pieces of rock. Some tried to run, but they had no where to go. It didn't matter in the end, for the boulders smashed through them all. Whether they were E-1000s or cargo vehicles, none seemed able to survive the onslaught. Explosions tore through the valley, creating an impenetrable haze of smoke and flame.

For a moment, Knuckles dared to hope that the battle was won. That dream was shattered, however, when massive bursts of machine gun fire erupted from within the smoke. Knuckles threw himself against the ground. Bullets whizzed over his head. Those robots had no sense of aim, but neither did Knuckles in this haze. Still, he knew that the only way he could beat these robots was at close range. The problem was getting there without getting hit.

Then, Knuckles had a brain wave. He whirled his fists at an incredible speed, and with the help of the shovel claws, he was able to burrow under the ground. He only burrowed down a few metres, but he then began to move towards the location of what little remained of the force.

Unfortunately, the ground was not very stable, and as Knuckles began to tunnel his way through, the soil behind him collapse. He instantly saw the problem, and began to tunnel faster and faster. He pushed his body to the limit, and just managed to outrun the collapsing tunnel.

When he could take no more, Knuckles tore through the surface. Luck was on his side, as he managed to smash through an E-1000 in the process. The air was thick with smoke, and Knuckles could barely breathe. The smoke was clearing, but not fast enough. Knuckles could just make out the silhouettes of some E-1000s scattered about the area. He still couldn't tell for sure how many were left.

Knuckles coughed loudly as he began to choke on the fumes. It was too late when he realised his mistake. All the E-1000s in the area turned towards his locations and resumed their attack. Knuckles dove out of the way, narrowly dodging the massive stream of bullets. He held his breath as he darted through the wreckage. Knuckles tripped a few times on stray of bits of rock and metal, but he always pushed himself off the ground within seconds. He had to get away. There was no way he could fight in these conditions.

When the sound of the shots became distant, Knuckles collapsed. The smoke was far thinner down there, and it was nearly clear at that point anyway. Knuckles panted heavily as his lungs struggled to take in the clean air his body desperately needed. Finally, his breathing steadied. Knuckles didn't notice that the sound of machine-gun fire had died down.

"Knuckles, come in!" Amy shouted through the communicator.

Knuckles grimaced. Amy was a slow learner over many things. Knuckles turned his attention towards the communicator. "This is Red Rad," Knuckles wheezed. "What is it, home base?"

"I just picked up new energy signatures on the scanner."

"Oh no," Knuckles groaned. Although he'd been expecting reinforcements, he'd hoped that they wouldn't come until after he and Tails had made a getaway. "Okay, we'll leave immediately. What direction are these hunks of junk coming from, anyway?"

"Knuckles, they're in the valley right now! It's like they popped up out of nowhere!"

"What?" Knuckles shouted. He and Tails hadn't planned to counter something like that. "How is that -" Before Knuckles could finish his sentence, the communicator was blown to smithereens. Knuckles' eyes darted upwards, and he found himself staring straight down an E-1000's gun barrels. Knuckles glanced around. Much to his dismay, he found that he was completely surrounded by about twenty E-1000s. Nearly thirty more stood in a defensive formation around the area.

Knuckles slowly rose to his feet and held his arms up in the air. He knew he couldn't get out of this one easily. He was grossly outnumbered, even without those new reinforcements. Knuckles couldn't even see this latest batch of robots, which suggested to him that they were hiding in advantageous sniping positions. He knew that he would have to wait for the right moment to strike.

Suddenly, the circle of robots parted at one point. Another robot stepped into the gap, but this one was unlike any that Knuckles had ever seen. It stood a head taller than the others, and most of its body was concealed by a long, black cape, which stood up slightly behind its back. Its long, thin head was crimson in colour, and the eyes were just glowing green slits. Knuckles had a bad feeling that he was facing an E-100 robot.

"Drop your weapons," the robot said in a deep, cold, artificial voice.

"I can't exactly do that," Knuckles replied calmly. "My fists are my only weapons, and I can't just remove them." Knuckles sincerely hoped that he hadn't just given this force of robots the idea of removing his fists.

"That statement is incorrect. Those metal claws on your fist are weapons. Dispose of them at once."

Knuckles flinched. The shovel claws were probably his best bet of getting out of here alive. He couldn't just discard them. He needed to stall until he thought of a plan, or until Tails bailed him out again. "Are you an E-100 robot, by any chance?" Knuckles couldn't believe that he was attempting to start a conversation with a robot that looked ready to kill him, but it was the only way he could think of to buy time.

"That is correct. I am E-109 Kappa."

"E-109?" Knuckles asked before Kappa could continue. "What happened to E-107 and E-108?"

"Units Theta and Lambda have been destroyed. It matters not, as they, along with all units before me, were inferior models." Knuckles really didn't like the notion that this robot was tougher than Eta. Kappa must have had a glitch in its hard drive. There was no way it could be that tough when it didn't even have any weapons. "We know who you are, so the introductions are complete. Now, drop your weapons."

Knuckles knew he was out of options now. He slowly lowered his fists, hoping for some help to arrive. Then, Knuckles wedged the claws that extended from his right hand into the narrow gap between his left fist and its accompanying shovel claw. He took his time with the job, making it look far more difficult then it actually was.

Before Knuckles could do anything more, several E-1000s exploded. Knuckles looked up, and saw that blasts of energy were raining into the valley from seemingly every direction. "Destroy them!" Kappa shouted. "Leave the echidna to me!" The E-1000s scattered in every direction as they attempted to hunt down the enigmatic assailants. Knuckles didn't who they were, but right now, he was just glad that he only had to deal with Kappa.

"How do you intend to fight me without any weapons?" Knuckles questioned. It had been a while since he'd actually had any confidence going into a duel, but he was certain he could pull this one off.

Kappa didn't answer. Instead, it brought its right arm out from under the cloak. The arm was crimson, just like Kappa's head. It was thin, and almost skeletal in appearance. It didn't look like it could take much damage. Eggman must have been having some serious problems if that was the best robot he could find to lead this convoy. Kappa's arm reached towards the studs on its cape. In one swift motion, Kappa tore the cape off its body, and threw it aside.

Knuckles raised his right eyebrow as he saw that Kappa's entire body was as skeletal as its arms. He was almost ready to laugh. Knuckles doubted that Kappa could even take one blow from him. He raised his fists, and Kappa raised its arms in reply, but unlike Knuckles, its arms moved up past its head and over to its back. Knuckles noticed that there were two strange handles sticking out of Kappa's back. The robot grasped them, and yanked them out.

Knuckles gasped as he realised that Kappa now held a pair of four-foot long swords in its hands. Knuckles had limited knowledge of weaponry, but he was sure that they were katanas. The swords gleamed in the light cast by the ensuing melee that was erupting around two combatants.

Kappa swung the right sword at Knuckles left arm, and the left sword came down in an arc at Knuckles' head. Acting on instinct, Knuckles blocked both of the blows with his shovel claws. He began to push hard on the swords. He knew that if he didn't push them back, they would cut him to ribbons. Kappa refused to budge, though, and Knuckles found himself losing as his fists were slowly pushed closer to his body. He didn't know how Kappa got its strength, but he did know that he had to change tactics now, or he would die.

Knuckles fell back, and as he did so, the right sword passed harmlessly by. As he hit the ground, he rolled out of the way of the incoming left sword. Knuckles slashed at Kappa's leg. Kappa parried the blow with ease. Knuckles barely managed to block the counter attack. He leapt away from Kappa, just as the robot swung its swords in a move that would surely have severed both his arms.

Knuckles frowned as he stared at Kappa. He knew that he would have to press the attack if he was going to win this, but he also knew that that idea presented great risk. Nevertheless, Knuckles charged at Kappa. He roared as he launched a flurry of light blows. Kappa parried them all.

Knuckles stumbled as his foot hit a rock. Kappa swiped at Knuckles' legs, and he was forced to leap off the ground. Kappa used its other sword to strike at Knuckles in an overhead arc. Knuckles raised a shovel claw to block it. No sooner had he done this then Kappa's other sword came from below. Knuckles blocked this blow as well, but the result was that he was trapped between the two weapons. He wrapped his torso and legs up in a tight ball to prevent them from being cut off. As Kappa began to push with his swords, Knuckles could feel his arms gradually giving way. He was sweating at the strain, and he felt ready to scream.

When Knuckles could take no more, he dove out of the gap. As he fell Kappa launched a kick that connected with Knuckles' chin. The blow sent him flying into the mountainside. Knuckles hit the wall of rock with a loud thud, and tumbled down until he hit the ground. As he pushed his battered body off the ground, he saw Kappa walking towards him. The battle was still raging around them, but neither of them cared anymore. All they cared about was the duel.

Knuckles panted as Kappa walked towards him. The robot had more martial skill than any opponent he had ever faced. Where most had used pure firepower, this robot had a combination of strength, skill and speed that was both unexpected and seemed to be unbeatable. Every attack that Knuckles made was blocked and countered with greater force. Knuckles didn't know if he would win against such a foe, but there was no way he was going to run away. He knew that if he couldn't beat this foe, then he couldn't hope to defeat Shadow and Eggman.

Knuckles' thoughts turned to the book he had been reading mere hours ago. As much as he hated to admit it, his ancestors did truly appear to be warriors without peer. Yet sometimes, they hadn't shown superior martial abilities to their opponents. Instead, they had simply taken their opponent by surprise. They'd done it with iron claws, but that wouldn't work for Knuckles. Kappa seemed to know every professional fighting move in the book. Then, like a blow from the robot itself, the solution hit Knuckles. If he was going to win this battle, he would have to sink to the level of an amateur. It was time to do something so stupid that it couldn't possibly be in Kappa's databanks.

Kappa was about ten metres away. Knuckles shouted a battle cry, and charged straight at the robot. As he neared Kappa, he dived. Kappa placed a blade right in his path. Then, Knuckles smashed his right shovel claw into the blade, using it to support his entire body. He still possessed so much momentum from the charge that he moved right up the sword. Kappa brought its other katana down on top of Knuckles, but he swiftly blocked it with his left shovel claw. There was nothing that could stop Knuckles' path. As he reached the end of the swords, Knuckles aimed a double-footed kick straight at Kappa's head. He snapped it off effortlessly.

Knuckles fell to the ground. As he did so, he used his shovel claws to cut Kappa's arms. When Knuckles landed, he swung his fists in a wide arc, severing the robot's legs. Finally, he brought both of his fists together, and smashed Kappa's plummeting torso away.

Knuckles fell to his knees. His head sank, and he closed his eyes as he panted. He still couldn't believe that he had performed that maneuver, or that it had worked. He would definitely have to commit it to memory. Knuckles had no idea how Kappa had possessed such skill, strength and agility, but he was certain that Eggman would design more robots with those qualities.

"Knuckles?" said a voice that Knuckles hadn't heard in over a year, but that was all too familiar to him. Knuckles opened his eyes and lifted his head. Sure enough, he found himself staring into the eyes of Rouge. She seemed surprised to see him, but only in a pleasant way. "Long time no see. What are you doing here, anyway?"

Knuckles gritted his teeth as he stood up. His fists were clenched so tightly that he could swear his palms were oozing blood. In an instant, every moment of suffering Knuckles had experienced in the past year flashed before his eyes. In an instant, all his anger burst out, as Knuckles pounded Rouge in the side of the head. Her limp form sailed through the air.

Knuckles turned and began to run after his prey. He could have killed her with one blow from his shovel claws, but he didn't want to. No, Knuckles wanted to make her feel even a fraction of the pain he had felt because of her. As he pursued Rouge, the unseen assailants from before opened fire upon him. He dodged their shots with ease, and he barely needed to slow down. He didn't stop to think about why they were shooting at him. As Knuckles let out a primal roar, it was clear that he wasn't thinking at all anymore, or at least that his only thoughts were of revenge.

When Knuckles reached Rouge, he found her lying against the charred remains of one of Eggman's cargo vehicles. Knuckles wasted no time, and aimed a punch straight at her midsection. A loud clang resounded as Rouge blocked the blow with her steel-tipped boot. Knuckles threw a punch with his other fist, but this was blocked, too. Knuckles pushed with all his might, and Rouge's legs began to buckle under the strain.

Still, this was too slow for Knuckles. His rage needed to be satisfied soon. Knuckles leapt off the ground. His feet landed on Rouge's boots. They fell into the ground under the weight. The force sent the rest of Rouge's body flying up towards Knuckles. He blocked it his right shovel claw, and placed the left against her back. In his unstoppable rage, he began to dig into the flesh of her back, but he didn't notice anymore. He just stared into her terrified blue eyes.

Knuckles drew his right fist back. He grinned maniacally. He had waited a long time for this. Knuckles' mind told his fist to move forward, to end this now, but something held him back. He forced himself to relive every moment of agony he had experienced in the last year, and to remember that Rouge was one of those responsible for that pain. "This..." Knuckles panted, "is... for... all... the... pain... you...caused..."

Once more, Knuckles tried to bring his fist forward, but he still couldn't do it. This time, though, it was a physical force that held him back. Knuckles turned his head towards his fist, and saw that someone else was holding his arm back. He knew he could overcome the strength of the figure, but part of him didn't want to.

The figure looked humanoid, but it wore a full suit of camouflaged combat armour. It was relatively lightweight, but all the vital organs appeared to be protected by metal plates. The figure's face was covered by the helmet's visor, so it was impossible to tell whether they were male or female.

At that instant, Knuckles felt the unmistakable sensation of a gun poking him in the back. It only felt like a pistol, but even those were deadly at pointblank range. Knuckles remained perfectly still, for he knew that even the slightest movement could be seen as a threat. These people, whom he assumed to be the same ones who had attacked the E-1000s earlier, were still a relatively unknown quantity to him. They certainly weren't on Eggman's side, but that didn't mean that they were on Knuckles' side, either.

"Alright, hot stuff," said a masculine voice from behind Knuckles, "why don't you just calm down and release her?"

Knuckles' jaw dropped. "You would just let one of Eggman's agents escape?" he asked.

"What are you talking about?"

"She's working for Eggman!" Knuckles shouted, his anger boiling over once again. "Can't you tell?"

"That's what this is about?" Rouge asked incredulously. Knuckles turned his head to face Rouge. She had leant forward, away from his shovel claw, and was currently rubbing her back. When she brought her glove between them, it was smeared with blood. "Well, that probably explains a bit. I just thought that you were still mad at me for stealing that stinking emerald of yours."

"Oh believe me, I am," Knuckles growled. "But you more or less made up for that, so it's hardly worth killing you over. But if there's one thing I hate more than a jewel thief, it's someone who works for Eggman."

Rouge rolled her eyes. "How dumb are you, anyway?" Knuckles gritted his teeth. "You want to know why I was working for Eggman back then? I was spying on him! I'm a government agent, or at least I used to be. We don't exactly have any use for spies nowadays. It's impossible for us to get inside Eggman's operations, since he only uses robots and Shadow nowadays. I'd still be on the inside, though, if my position hadn't been... compromised."

Knuckles raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that Shadow found out I was a spy."

Knuckles nodded. That certainly would explain why Rouge was no longer working for Eggman. "Okay, that explains a few things. But why didn't you stop Eggman? You just let him go around blowing up military bases and getting Chaos Emeralds!"

Rouge frowned. "I wasn't just trying to find out about Eggman's plans. I was also trying to find out about Shadow. Since I was able to tell GUN about the attack, they were able to perform an evacuation and keep casualties to a minimum. Apart from a few people who got lost amidst the chaos, the only one who died was the pilot of one of GUN's mechs. Unfortunately, it was necessary in order to have me trapped in a safe. We needed to know whether Shadow could use Chaos Control. It turns out that he can. Trust me, though, I didn't like what I had to do any more than you."

"But there had to be a way you could have stopped Eggman!"

"You think I didn't try?" Rouge shouted. "I originally planned to take the Chaos Emeralds from him at the last minute, but when Shadow found out I was a spy, there was no way I could get away with that. If it hadn't been for the fact that Shadow hadn't had to go hunt you down, I probably would have been killed. As it stands, I survived."

Knuckles scowled. "This is ridiculous. Do you honestly mean to tell me that there was nothing you could have done to stop this disaster, or at least lessen its impact?"

Now it was Rouge's turn to scowl. "There was one thing I did do, Knuckles." Seeing Knuckles' blank expression, Rouge added, "Did you ever think it was odd that the generator on the ARK just happened to break down?"

Knuckles jaw dropped, and he shook his head in disbelief. "No, you couldn't have done that."

Rouge rose to her feet. "Well, I did. I had to hide for three months on the ARK. I had to live off leftover scraps of food from Eggman. I had to avoid Shadow's steps at every turn. If he had wanted to capture me, he would have, I think. Beats me why he didn't. One night I managed to get to the ARK's generator, shut it down, and make my escape. I knew you'd managed to escape when I spotted the wanted sign with your picture on it a few months later." Rouge seized Knuckles' arm. "Now, come on, you're leaving with us, before Eggman sends reinforcements. Sergeant, get the speeders ready."

"Yes, ma'am," said a voice from behind Knuckles.

"Wait!" Knuckles shouted. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what you're doing here, who these guys are, what you found out about Shadow and generally what the hell is going on."

Rouge groaned. "Look, all I can tell you is that these guys are part of what remains of GUN, and we came here to attack Eggman's convoy. If you want to know anything else, you've got to come with us." Rouge looked around. "Now where's that fox boy friend of yours? If you're coming, he'd better come too."

"My name's Tails, and I'm right here," said a voice. Knuckles turned around, and saw Tails about twenty metres away, walking towards them in the Cyclone. "Can someone tell me what's going on here?"

Rouge and the GUN soldiers all turned towards Knuckles. He was silent for a moment. Truthfully, this was one of the hardest decisions he had ever had to make. He knew he shouldn't just trust a strange group that he had only just met, especially when that group contained Rouge. Still, they appeared to know valuable information, and Knuckles couldn't just let that information slip through his fingers.

Finally, Knuckles managed to whisper, "It looks like we've found a new ally."
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