Red Dawn Towers, Castle Town, Soleanna - September 19, X014, 12:02 AM UTC
It was already roughly past midnight by the time Shadow and Rouge had settled themselves in the hotel room provided to the bat, free of charge for the night. Fortunately for Shadow, there was enough room for him to stay, though he would have to cover his expenses himself in exchange. The ebony hedgehog was now leaning by the ledge of the balcony, wordlessly staring at the moon all the while.Though he probably would never admit it out loud, he was quite content with how life was at this moment. After several years of pain, anger, and suffering, Shadow had finally been able to move on from the tragedy that was his past and start anew. Ironically, one of the first things he did was to join GUN, the same organization that had done him wrong, in order to continue upholding the life-long promise he had made to the late Maria Robotnik, who was like a sister to him, long ago.
Life on Earth has gotten a lot better since those days, the ebony hedgehog thought to himself with melancholy. ...I just wish you could live that kind of life too, Maria.
"You alright, Shadow?" the voice of the white bat had suddenly sounded off from behind, causing the ebony hedgehog to snap out of his thoughts and quickly turn to her. "You're not getting moody again, are you?"
"No, I'm fine. Just reminiscing is all," Shadow sighed with a bittersweet smile, trying to brush off his missing his surrogate sister from his days at the ARK.
"Well, in any case, you better get some rest," Rouge replied to the ebony hedgehog, completely unconvinced. "It's already quite late, and we need to meet at the rendezvous point by sunrise."
"Of course," the hedgehog replied firmly. "You can go on ahead, Rouge. I won't be long."
The ivory bat then left Shadow to his own devices once more. All by his lonesome once more, he then took a deep breath and spent a few more minutes taking in the fresh air before returning inside the room and lying down on his bed. I wonder... am I doing right by you? Have I been keeping that promise? the ebony hedgehog thought to himself as he drifted off to sleep.
Kingdom Valley, Soleanna - September 19, X014, 5:49 AM UTC
Kingdom Valley. An ancient, ruined landscape found in the outskirts of Soleanna, just beyond Sunhigh Woods. It was at this flooded valley where Shadow and Rouge would be rendezvousing with a few of their fellow colleagues at GUN, along with another of their close comrades. It wasn't long until the mostly-silent valley was finally met with the sound of a space-time rift opening up before the two GUN operatives popped out from it, ending up on one of the higher peaks of the valley.
"Is this the place, Rouge?" Shadow asked the ivory bat, holding one of the Chaos Emeralds - specifically, the green one. "Doesn't look as grand as the name implies to me."
"Maybe so, but yep. This is Kingdom Valley," Rouge answered as they both looked upon the ruined landscape. "Our rendezvous point is by that old castle over there."
Shadow then looked at the direction that Rouge was pointing towards, and saw the old, abandoned castle she was referring to. "So, you want me to warp us there, or do you wanna get there the old-fashioned way?" the ebony hedgehog turned back to the ivory bat.
"Since you asked, I'd like to go sightseeing a little," Rouge responded as she examined her surroundings. "Wanna see who gets to the rendezvous point first?"
"You'll lose," Shadow responded in a matter-of-fact-esque manner.
"Maybe... but not if I get a head start!" the ivory bat promptly proclaimed before swiftly announcing, "Ready, set, go!"
At the blink of an eye, Rouge had immediately taken to the skies and was already a fair distance ahead of Shadow! No doubt, she had only further improved her flight capabilities since the Black Arms incident a few months back. The ebony hedgehog merely shook his head with a soft laugh before launching himself forward.
A quarter-hour had passed when the two GUN operatives had finally made their way to the courtyard just ahead of the old abandoned castle. Unsurprisingly, despite Rouge having had a head start, Shadow had managed to make it there first with the ivory bat less than roughly thirty seconds behind.
"I thought the flooded ground would have slowed you down by some margin for sure," the spy commented as she landed behind the ebony hedgehog. "Thought you would've needed a hovercraft to get through or something."
"Running right through the water definitely would have slowed me down," Shadow replied, still maintaining a blank expression. "Thankfully, there was still plenty of high ground for me to traverse through with ease. Now, if you don't mind me asking, what exactly happened to this place?"
"Ah, a bit curious, I see," Rouge commented, slightly surprised at the sudden question, before beginning, "Well, according to some sources I had looked through before heading to mountains, there was a big accident that caused this castle and everything else in Kingdom Valley to crumble ten years ago. It also ended up killing the late Prince Albus Soleanna, the duke of Soleanna before Prince Friedrich Luminosa."
"...what caused the accident?" the ebony hedgehog inquired after a brief pause.
"That particular detail has remained unconfirmed even today, I'm afraid," the ivory bat answered with a sigh. "The common rumor is that it was caused by an experimental device of sorts that ended up going haywire. I believe this experiment was called Project: Solaris."
Shadow remained silent for a few moments, likely to reflect on the eerie similarities between this so-called Project: Solaris and the series of experiments conducted at the Space Colony ARK that led to his birth, down to the eventual deaths of Professor Gerald and Maria mirroring Prince Albus' death. Perhaps some things simply haven't changed... the ebony hedgehog thought with grimace on his face.
"...oh, Shadow, I'm sorry, did I-" Rouge quickly apologized after watching Shadow's expression.
"It's fine. I was the one who asked," the ebony hedgehog immediately cut her off before walking off towards the rendezvous point. "Come on. The others are likely to have been waiting for some time by now."
Unable to find any more words to say to him, the ivory bat let out a heavy sigh of worry as she followed Shadow from close behind.
Ancient Castle, Kingdom Valley, Soleanna - September 19, X014, 6:26 AM UTC
The walk towards the rendezvous point had been deathly-silent, not a single word coming out from either Shadow or Rouge. The ivory bat was sure that she had upset Shadow by bringing up the accident in the first place. Granted, he was the one who initiated that conversation - even admitting it so, but she couldn't help but feel guilty nonetheless; the ebony hedgehog was a dear friend to her, and she hated seeing him be genuinely upset, as much as she didn't want to admit it out loud.
I guess spending all that time with Big Blue and his friends may have rubbed off on me, Rouge thought to herself as they kept walking. ...but I'll be damned if I'm not glad it did.
Her thoughts were immediately cut off as Shadow suddenly motioned for her to stop. As she did so, she discovered that she could hear a myriad of noises - most of which sounded like gunfire - sounding off from a distance. "You hear that too, Rouge?" she heard the ebony hedgehog ask from out of the blue before nodding in response.
Gradually, the noises seem to draw closer when, all of a sudden, a familiar-looking robot with a red-and-black chassis came flying out of nowhere and crashed hard onto the ground, as if something had knocked him away with a lot of force. The two immediately recognized the robot as their recently-repaired comrade, E-123 Omega.
"Omega!" Shadow immediately called out as he rushed towards the downed robot, while Rouge chased after him. "Hey, are you alright?"
[Shadow the Hedgehog, Rouge the Bat - Identified.] Omega began in his usual monotone as the ebony hedgehog helped him up. [Negative. We were intercepted by Dr. Eggman and our means of communication were jammed. Ergo, we could not contact you on time.]
"Dammit, Eggman's here? He must be here for the Dark Grimoire then," Rouge cursed under her breath. "Omega, where are the others? Are they alright?"
[Inconclusive. Dr. Eggman is holding them hostage, though I am unaware if he has done anything else to them.] Omega answered the ivory bat right as a swarm of Badniks showed up, with Dr. Eggman - the mad doctor himself - in his Egg Mobile as per usual, leading the pack.
"Ah, well if it isn't Shadow and Rouge. Fancy seeing the two of you here," Eggman began as he gave off his unmistakably-evil grin. "I believe we have some unfinished business from last night."
"Where are the others, doctor?!" Shadow immediately cut in, assuming a fighting stance while Rouge and Omega followed suite.
"Alive. Bound and gagged, but alive," the mad doctor answered as he gently stroked his moustache. "I've let a few of my Badniks keep them company in case they make any funny moves, but if you hand over the Dark Grimoire right now, I'll let them go."
Shadow immediately glanced back at his teammates, trying to figure out what to do. Predictably, however, Omega had already decided on what to do as he immediately primed the missile launchers on his arms to fire! [Denied. Target locked. Fire!] the walking arsenal declared before firing off the missiles towards the doctor's minions, who opened fire in response!
As Omega immediately switched to his twin miniguns and let out a hail of bullets on the enemy, the ebony hedgehog called out, "Rouge, get to the others! Omega and I'll keep ‘em busy!"
Rouge swiftly nodded before launching herself into the air and began to fly her way towards the rendezvous point, where their fellow colleagues at GUN were being held hostage, while holding on to the Dark Grimoire as tightly as she could! Meanwhile, Shadow rushed into the fight and performed a rapid series of Homing Attacks on as many Badniks as he could while Omega continued raining hell upon the rest!
The ivory bat was gracefully weaving her way through the airborne Badniks in front of her, who all tried to gun her down with little success. Meanwhile, a smaller group of flying Badniks came up from behind the bat, who then swiftly turned to their direction and threw a volley of Bat Crackers at them, the resulting explosion of which caused the robotic minions to burst into scrap metal.
As she turned herself back to her previous direction, however, another Badnik that had approached her from there fired its rifle at Rouge, prompting her to try and stop it with another Bat Cracker. Unfortunately, she had thrown it just half a second too late, as the explosion caused from the rifle bullet impacting the bomb was close enough to her that it resulted in her being blown back a small distance, knocking her out from the force of the explosion and loosening her grip in the Dark Grimoire in the process!
After dealing with a few more Badniks, Shadow immediately turned to see the ivory bat and the grimoire falling straight down! He had to act quick, lest he risked losing his closest comrade or the objective of their mission. Having come to a decision, the ebony hedgehog loudly cried, "Omega, boost me up!"
[Acknowledged.] the heavily-armed robot bluntly as he set himself up to launch the ebony hedgehog into the air as he sped towards him before jumping right on top of Omega! Shadow then felt the robot swiftly lifting him upward, prompting him to launch high into the sky towards Rouge, clutching her into his arms before landing on the ground with a loud skid.Meanwhile, Omega turned towards the still-falling grimoire and immediately dashed towards it while Eggman, having finally noticed it, desperately did the same by launching out a mechanical arm from his Egg Mobile! Unfortunately for the both of them, they had acted too late as the Dark Grimoire landed hard on the ground, with the crystal on the front cover having shattered from the impact as it let out a shockwave that caused all of the surrounding Badniks, Omega, and the Egg Mobile to suddenly short-circuit.
"Augh! No...!" Eggman cursed and pounded his fist on his currently non-functional pod in frustration as it fell to the ground. Meanwhile, Shadow approaches the now-damaged Dark Grimoire and picked it up as he examined the shattered shards of the crystal that once adorned its front cover.
"Ah, damn. That's a shame," Shadow remarked with a frown on his face. Just as he had said that, however, a shadowy mist quickly materialized and quickly spread itself around the immediate area. With the grimoire damaged and the situation seemingly about to get worse, Eggman quickly restarted his Egg Mobile and his Badniks before quickly calling for a retreat! "Dammit, get back here, docto- Agh!"
The shadowy mist had suddenly surrounded itself through the ebony hedgehog, effectively cutting him off as it began to seemingly bond itself with him. "Shadow, hang in there!" Rouge immediately cried out as she tried to rush in to save the ebony hedgehog, only to feel herself grow weaker the closer she got.
Shadow felt his ability to breathe slowly ebb away as the dark mist continued to envelop him. He struggled as much as he could to break free, but it was no use. The mist had soon completely covered the ebony hedgehog and stayed latched onto him for a few moments before removing itself from him in a manner similar to a slimy liquid and falling onto the ground.
The ebony hedgehog then fell onto the floor with a thud and, as he struggled to sit upright, the puddle of darkness began to change shape once more. This time, however, it would appear that it had taken Shadow's exact form, though its features were quite different - its fur was a dark grey, its streaks an eerily-pale blue, its skin taking on a lifeless shade of grey, the irises of its eyes having a pale green hue with slit pupils, and a notable lack of a mouth on its muzzle.
The strange entity - taking on a distinctly-slouched form - then slowly turned its eyes towards Shadow, not uttering a single word or even blinking its eyes - assuming it could even blink - as it did so. If there was one word that could describe what the ebony hedgehog was feeling right now, as much as he hated to admit it, it would have to be fear.
-Shadow: Stage 2 - End-