Knuckles ran towards the robot horde. Nothing could stop him from reaching his goal. Yet, what his goal was, he wasn’t sure of. He could sense the Master Emerald’s power from within the giant metal fortress, but there was something else driving him. It felt like more than his lifelong calling to guard the giant Chaos Emerald. It felt like he was being driven solely by rage.
A large mechanized giant crashed down from above him. It raised a giant energy sword into the air, the hot plasma charging it causing the air around the blade to shimmer in the heat. With a great rushing noise, it swung down towards Knuckles. Then, everything went blank.
The real Knuckles woke up and bolted to a sitting position, panting for breath. He quickly looked around himself and saw that he was still in his cave home, on the bed he shared with his spouse, Shade, who was now stirring after Knuckles had made such a sudden movement.
“What‘s wrong?” she asked, somewhat drowsy, but still with the alertness of a soldier.
“Nothing, nothing,” Knuckles replied, slowing his breathing back to normal. “Just some weird dream, I‘m fine.” He turned so his legs went over the side of the bed, resting on the floor. Reaching over to a sort of table carved out of the rock wall, he grabbed a small clock, one of the few technological items they still had from when Shade first arrived. Seeing that it was getting close to the time the sun usually rose, Knuckles reached down and grabbed his shoes which were sitting beside the table. After living on the island his whole life, the Guardian’s internal clock was well tuned to the solar patterns of the floating island. In fact, if not for the nightmare, Knuckles probably would have woken up just minutes later anyway.
After putting on his shoes, Knuckles stood up, stretching and letting out a yawn. He turned to see that Shade, along with her normal dress, was also attaching two silvery bracelets to her wrists. After pressing a button on each, a dotted line around the center lit up a bright pink color. Knuckles knew that these were weapons developed by Shade’s people that could manifest energy from the bracelets into a powerful blade. He wondered, however, why she was putting them on, as generally, even when moving around the area, she generally relied only on her other fighting skills.
Sensing her partner’s questioning stare at her, Shade turned to face Knuckles as she slid on her black combat boots, which also possessed the strange energy that powered her bracelets. They were one of the few pieces of her battle suit that she still wore daily. The rest had either been destroyed, put to other purposes, or just waiting for a time when they could be used again. The simple form fitting black shorts and sleeveless shirt that she wore was better suited for the jungle environment where any of her battles would be fought, and allowed her to move even quicker than she could with the battle armor, which, while developed to be simple and lightweight, was still, after all, armor. “In case you‘re wondering,” Shade said as she clasped the top of the second boot shut. “I‘m planning on heading towards Sandopolis today while I get some supplies. We‘re mostly getting low on food, and for some reasons I really want some of those strange fruits that grow near the large oases.”
Knuckles nodded, knowing exactly what fruit she meant. He honestly had never really liked them, they were sour and had a strange aftertaste, plus they didn’t look too appealing after being exposed to the harsh conditions of the Sandopolis desert. But he figured that if she was going to head all the way to that part of the island, she must like it.
“So I figured I‘d bring the Leech blades with me, just in case I run into a large amount of trouble. We haven‘t been in that area recently, who knows what the enemy could be up to over there,” Shade finished, and walked towards the cave’s main exit. Knuckles followed her.
“True. Just be careful, okay?” he said, leaning in to kiss her good-bye.
“Should you really be worrying about me being reckless?” Shade asked playfully after they parted. She then walked into the dark cavern that led out of the cave, while Knuckles walked over to a strange rock that stuck up in the middle of the main room. He’d originally found this cave years ago, though it had been much smaller then, after falling down a concealed hole while exploring. The island was filled with secret passageways, and Knuckles had known them all. Or at least he thought so at the time. After finding his way out of the cave, Knuckles figured the passageway had taken him a distance of about half the total length of the jungle. Now, the shoot made for quick transportation from the cave, and helped to hide its location. Knuckles bent down, slid aside the flat rock that concealed the hole. He stepped over one edge of the stone rim, then jumped into the tube, curling into a tight ball as he shot through the subterranean channel at incredibly high speeds.
* * * * *
Minutes later, Knuckles emerged from a similar hole. As usual he came to a stop just short of bursting out of the ground like a geyser. Slowly lifting the rock lid, he looked for signs of any robot presence. Seeing that the coast was clear, he stepped out of the rock, quickly concealing the hole again. He was now in a small clearing, though partially in an effort to keep the secret passage concealed and mostly due to robot problems, the undergrowth of the jungle was beginning to fill it up. Looking up through a hole in the trees, Knuckles found the direction the sunlight was coming from, turned so it was shining on his right and began to head south. He wanted to see how things were on the edge of the jungle, and for that matter, the edge of the island. And this time, any scouting parties would be much easier to get rid of.
Traveling through the jungle in the early morning was much easier than at night. The light from the just rising sun gave enough light for Knuckles to see, especially thanks to his sensitive echidna eyes, yet the long shadows of the trees gave him cover from roving robots. Yet for this reason Knuckles still didn’t leave the cover of the trees. While it would certainly be much easier to just glide along the air currents towards his destination, it would also make him easer to spot. So he simply jumped from branch to branch, high up in the trees. Rarely did he lose track of where he was, he knew the island like the back of his knuckle-spurred hand. After all, he’d lived on it, alone, for almost his whole life.
The trees soon began to shorten in height, though their thickness didn’t increase. Knuckles stopped suddenly on one tree branch, perched like a cat waiting to pounce. He looked around, checking his surroundings before jumping onto the soft ground below. He walked slowly to where the trees, and the ground, ended and the sky began. He sat down, his legs dangling off the cliff, and he looked down.
Far, far below, the sea glistened up at him, and here and there a cloud drifted by. To the average person, such a sight would be beyond their thinking, but to the echidna it was nothing new. Still, he thought as he laid back on the ground, it was a beautiful sight. When he managed to get peaceful moments like this, they reminded him of the days when he hardly knew there was a world outside his home, and hardly anyone knew of him. Back when it was just him, the small animals of the island, and the Master Emerald. But when he thought of this, always his mind would return to the day when all of that began to change. When the emerald he had guarded with his very life fell into the hands of Dr. Robotnik…
* * * * *
The day had started off peaceful as any other. The sun was shining, hardly a cloud in the sky, or on the ground, and everything seemed at peace. Knuckles leaned back on the side of the sheer cliff that towered over him, as he sat on a large flat rock jutting out from the side of it. He crossed his arms behind his head as he looked out at the island. To his left he saw the small separate island nestled in the mountains that were the ruins of an ancient shrine to the Master Emerald, the jewel of infinite power that not only controlled the seven mystical Chaos Emeralds, but also kept Angel Island airborne. Of course, the Master Emerald was no longer kept there. It had been moved not long ago after an increased pressure from others wishing to possess it.
It had been just over a year ago, nearly a year after the incident aboard the space colony ARK. Knuckles had returned to Angel Island with the Master Emerald and went right back to guarding it. No news came to him by way of his former allies, and fortunately neither his enemies. For a time, the Island seemed to have returned to its days of being just a legend, and Knuckles could go about his business in peace, knowing the Master Emerald was safe. However, the past soon caught up to him, and unfortunately it involved his enemies.
Small groups of robots, made by none other than the infamous Eggman that Knuckles had fought against on numerous occasions, began to land on the island. Knuckles did his best to fight them off, though his main priority was to stay near the Master Emerald, which was easily exposed in its open environment. The squads being dispatched to the island quickly grew larger and more frequent, with such a ferocity that Knuckles had never seen from the doctor. They had already reestablished a base deep in the mountain valleys where Eggman had already constructed a launch base for his Death Egg the first time he’d come to the island. And now they were beginning to expand their territory. Knuckles knew that if he were going to battle this threat alone, he’d need to move the Master Emerald to a more secure location.
At first he attempted to simply shrink it to a more manageable size to keep with him when he went into battle, but this proved harder than expected, and Knuckles couldn’t keep the emerald small for long while fighting at the same time. He moved it into the Hidden Palace, though he still kept a close eye on it, as Robotnik already knew of its location and would likely send a scout to the cavern shortly. When Knuckles returned from destroying a robot outpost in the Ice Cap one day, he found a small scout droid floating about the Emerald Chamber. He destroyed it, then took the Master Emerald to find a new hiding place.
Now, it was hidden in a cave dug out entirely by Knuckles deep in the Red Mountain range. He was positive no robot would find it, as he had then concealed the cavern with rock, and so he was able to fight against the Eggman Empire more freely and frequently. And thanks to the strange link he shared with the Master Emerald, Knuckles could always keep tabs on its location, and would know if it had been moved.
Stretching, Knuckles stood up. He’d overheard a commander robot the previous day giving orders to start building outposts near the Hyrdocity ruins. There always seemed to be one flaw in Eggman’s machines, and in this case it seemed to be the lack of non-vocal communications systems. Now with the advantage of knowing their plans, Knuckles could destroy the outpost, eliminate the robots there, and still have time for lunch. Confident in his plan, and sensing the Master Emerald remained untouched, Knuckles jumped off the rock edge, plunging through the air. After free falling for a few seconds, Knuckles stuck his arms out in front of his face, his dreadlock spines fanning out as he caught onto an air current. With a little help from the chaos energies that he could control as Guardian, he was soon gliding towards the lake region where the ruins of an underground city lay partially submerged beneath the waters.
Slowly he began to grow closer to the jungle canopy as he descended through the air at a fairly consistent angle. He could see the ruins and signs of construction near them about a half mile away. Careful not to make too much of a disturbance, he landed on top of a tree and climbed down to the ground. He continued the rest of the way on foot, the trees thinning into bushes and undergrowth as he neared the lake. In the distance he could hear a waterfall and a running river, and the low level of vegetation after the jungle being set ablaze during the first Robotnik invasion told him he was headed in the right direction.
Soon he could see clearly through the plant life at the Hyrdocity area. Sure enough, a small squad of robots was busy constructing a small base of operations. There were about three or four constructors, simple robots with low armor and almost no weaponry apart from their building tools. And standing guard were five spiked Orb-bots and two humanoid robots that appeared to be of G.U.N. design. “Not even using his own ideas these days. This‘ll be too easy.” Knuckles commented to himself as he watched the scene for a while. “Maybe a little too easy. Knowing Eggman, he‘s probably got something hidden or a larger force close by. Though I highly doubt that the robot I overheard was a trick. Robotnik may have been a genius, but he was never that clever.”
Knuckles walked sideways slowly, till he was in line with the two bi-pedal robots who were pacing back and forth. Waiting for the right moment he watched as the robots passed each other, and one began to walk towards him. Smirking with the anticipation of a nice quick fight, Knuckles waited for the robot to reach the end of its pacing. Timing it just right, Knuckles burst from his hiding place just as the robot turned its back to him. He jumped on its shoulder, wrapping his legs around its head. He pulled his weight backwards quickly, snapping the robot’s head off. He then jumped off and did the handstand to get back on his feet. Just as he’d anticipated, the other pacing robot now turned and began to fire at him. Knuckles grabbed the falling body of the robot he’d just dispatched and spun around, throwing it with incredible force at its partner. The two collided and flew backwards, exploding.
As Knuckles watched the impact, he felt something flying towards his head. He ducked just in time as a spiked mace ball flew over him. Rolling to the side, he turned to face the Orb-bots, they’re spike balls rapidly orbiting their simple spherical bodies. He charged at them as they began to launch their projectiles at him, one after the other in quick succession. Knuckles weaved in and out of the spiked horde, until all that stood before him was the five, non-spiked, black robotic balls with eyes. Which soon ceased to exist, as he threw them one by one at the constructor robots.
Looking over his completed job, Knuckles was about to turn back towards the mountains, when he was stopped by a sound coming from just behind him. It sounded like a hover engine, which could signal nothing other than an incoming robot. However, the situation seemed to grow more tense as a clanging of metal sounded in a rhythmic pattern, almost like slow clapping. And then came the voice, cold, metallic, and villainous. “Well done, Guardian, well done.”
Knuckles quickly turned around to face his new foe. What met his eyes shocked him more than he’d expected. Standing before him, hovering just above the ground, was a robot he never thought he’d see again. It was the height of the average animal, with a generally red color scheme. Coming off the back of its head were several long exhaust ports/flight stabilizers, and its hands were clawed and possessed two long spikes on the back of each hand. And on its chest was a white crescent, identical to the one on Knuckles’. Knuckles smirked as he looked at his robotic counterpart. “Well, never thought I‘d see you again, Metal Knuckles.”
“Actually, it’s Metal Knuckles m.k. II. I have had some improvements since we last met,” Metal Knuckles replied, landing on the ground.
“Yeah, whatever, that‘s what all you Eggman robots say. So, you here for a fight?” Knuckles asked, cracking the knuckles on his fingers for emphasis. “Cause I‘ll be sure to make it a quick one.”
“As much as I‘d love to prove my superiority, eliminating you is actually only my second mission objective. Though when the time comes for that, I‘m sure it will be a quick fight.”
“Well then, if I‘m not who you‘re after, then what are you here for?” Knuckles asked.
“Really, is it that hard to figure out? What else could I be here for?”
“You don‘t mean you plan on taking…” Metal Knuckles nodded. “Well, you‘re never going to find it. Its hidden in a completely different location, and only I know where it is.”
“That would be true, and the Emperor Robotnik assumed this after scouts reported that both the Master Emerald Shrine and Hidden Palace where empty. Which is why he had me equipped with this.” Metal Knuckles reached to his side and opened up the casing on his body, revealing his inner workings. Pointing to a strange glowing piece, he continued. “A Chaos Energy tracker. With this, finding your precious emerald should be a simple job. And then I‘ll come back to take care of you.”
Knuckles closed his eyes and faced the ground, chuckling. “You really think it‘ll be that easy? Its not like I‘m just gonna let you go free!” Suddenly Knuckles jumped at his metallic doppelganger, throwing a well aimed fist at his still exposed chest cavity. Metal Knuckles reacted quickly and caught Knuckles’ fist and shut his casing. Knuckles attempted to hit Metal with an uppercut, but this two was blocked. However, Knuckles had expected this and twisted his body around, picking up Metal Knuckles and throwing him towards the jungle.
Metal Knuckles engaged his hover engine and righted himself midair, landing on the ground. He slid back, his feet digging two shallow trenches in the soft ground. He paused for only a second before blasting back towards Knuckles, throwing a couple of punches of his own. Knuckles side stepped them, holding his fists close in front of his face. Watching Metal Knuckles timing, he found an opening and managed to hit him in the face, throwing the robot off balance. Before he could orient himself, Knuckles pounced, grabbing onto Metal’s arms and flinging him into the air. Knuckles jumped after him and grabbed his feet, throwing him towards the lake.
Metal Knuckles hit the water with a heavy splash as Knuckles landed back on the ground, crouching. He waited for a minute, then stood up and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Like I said, it‘d be a quick fight. Though I will admit, that was the most challenge I‘ve had in a long time.” Knuckles turned and was about to walk away from the area when he was once again stopped, this time by the sound of water splashing.
“Well, then, why don‘t we continue this fun!” Metal Knuckles called from where he floated in the air above the lake. “Over in Red Mountain. Where a certain Master Emerald is hidden. Let‘s see who‘s really fit to be its Guardian. Knuckles the echidna, or his metal twin.” And with his mocking complete, Metal Knuckles turned towards the mountains, and blasted off through the sky. Without so much as the slightest though, Knuckles chased after him. The race for the Master Emerald had begun.