The smooth rock-faces of the canyon walls would prove challenging to most climbers, he imagined. Rust worn towers of stone touched the sky above him, the wind catching tufts of dust as it went into the dying light of the day. It took thousands of years for nature to carve her signature into these rocks, and he wondered how many seconds it would take him to ascend them. It was a challenge that made him smile.
Leaping straight up at the wall, spiked fists burrowed into rock as easily as they would butter. Time-tested muscles pulled him up and across the curves of the wall as Knuckles the Echidna ripped and leapt his way into the clouds. It wasn’t long before the ruby guardian had reached the overhang of the cliff, the last and greatest challenge of the climb thanks to the way it hung over him. Swinging his feet out into the nothingness of open sky, Knuckles punched free from his ascent, flipping himself into the air above the ledge. The fading sunlight warmed his body as he stretched out to catch himself in his glide down. Gracefully, he touched down on the peak of the canyon wall and let the silence of the scene envelop him. No one else around to cloud his thinking, no one else around to task him with helping them out when they would likely not do the same for him. Finally, a spot where he could be at peace, or as close as he could be so far from his home.
How the red-furred brawler had found himself a world away from his rightful posting was more than an annoyance that crawled under his skin. It was a pain, an ache in the chest, which he had caused himself by smashing the Master Emerald to protect it. As long as such an awesome power was in pieces and useless to anyone else, Knuckles could focus on recovering them again. But it was not supposed to have been a choice he needed to make, as the echidna should’ve been able to defend his duty alone. Such was his burden, his purpose in life. Everything else was secondary.
Now, he was atop a canyon wall, breathing fresh but foreign air. As unnerving as that should have been, he had to admit, there was a tranquility here. Knuckles could feel the Master Emerald, and by extension, the planet that created it, within the winds. As he was climbing the walls, it was like the steady pulse of the world was behind the rocks, letting him know the state of things as they were, and how the stellar vessel viewed its own outlook.
He wasn’t sure how long his violet eyes had been closed in thought, only that the sun was barely peeking out over the horizon when, “You know, there are much easier ways to ascend the canyon.”
It was a voice he had never heard before, clean and well spoken. Yet there was something beneath that, the primal growl of someone who had seen battle before. “That was kind of the point, didn’t think anyone would follow. Hell, or that anyone could get up here besides me, maybe Shads.”
“Oh, I have been scaling these rocks since I was a pup. I was even able to carve out my own path and incline along the opposite face you took to get up here,” his visitor replied, peaking Knuckles’ interest enough to crack an eye open. And sitting next to him was an equally crimson hybrid of lion, wolf and intellect. Etched into its fur in black were multiple brands and tattoos, the most standout being simply the number ‘XIII’. Most unusual for any quadruped that the echidna had encountered was a tail that flicked and swished with a glowing tip.
“Wait, you live out here with the humans? And they haven’t tried to chase you off or eat you?” the echidna asked with confusion.
Red XIII shook his head, making his mane rattle, “Nothing of the sort. Cosmo Canyon is my home and under my charge, so I protect it. This place is a beacon of life for those who need sanctuary. And judging from the looks of your friends when you crashed, you all most certainly need it.”
That made Knuckles scoff, “Yeah, not exactly what I wanted to do today. Have to track down the rest of the Master Emerald before that fatass maniac Robotnik does something dangerous and stupid with it.”
“I heard one of your other party members mention something about that, and I was wondering what that actually meant,” Red cocked his head to meet Knuckles’ gaze, surprising the latter when he saw that the former only had one good eye. “Damn, what happened to you? Looks like you’ve been through some shit too.”
The ruby hybrid shook his head and looked away, “The product of another time. Though, I suppose that losing that has helped me see things more clearly sometimes. After all, as long as the Planet is safe, even an eye is a small sacrifice.”
Knuckles paused for a moment, as Red had hit on something. Time and time again, evil had sought to steal or destroy that which he was charged with protecting. And over and over, the blood-red brawler trusted only himself to save his heritage. Sure, Knuckles had allies, even friends, and he had come to trust them. But no one else, not Sonic, not Tails, not even Shadow, really understood the weight of duty and tradition like he did.
Yet this fellow crimson beast, soft-spoken but hardened, understood it. Understood the cost of honoring commitment, accepted the burden of tradition. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Even if it does cost us a lot, it’s a bigger cause than just us.”
Red nodded, “But that does not mean we must stand alone. After all, I carry the pride of my father, the knowledge of my grandfather, and the heart of this place within me wherever I am, so I am never alone. Do you follow similar mantra?”
“Uhhhh, kinda. I guess,” the echidna started, running a hand across the dreadlocks at the back of his head. No one had ever asked him this before, so to put it into words was an interesting new idea, “I guess I do too, in a way. I just do it literally sometimes.” He pulled out a shard of the Emerald, making the lion-wolf’s ears raise. “The whole of my race’s history is in here. Or at least, the ancient stuff. I’ve learned a lot from it. Meditation, how to fight and climb…the useful stuff.”
Red cocked his head to one side, “I find that rather sad, that you did not have the luxury or comfort of another in your youth while you trained. Your distance now becomes much more understandable. You are not like the hedgehog, who removes himself from company out of anger and self-loathing. You return to your world of comfort, where you can best commune with your ways.”
Knuckles chuckled a bit at that, violet eyes flicking over the canyon peaks to see a black speck atop one a fair distance away, brooding. “Yeah, Shads’ got more problems that most, but he’s also one tough sombitch.” The brawler looked back at Red, “I imagine you’re no slouch either, given all that.”
“If need be,” the tattooed quadruped replied before laying on his belly, “But I much prefer things here, even if I must defend it. I can hear the Planet best here. Her songs, her voices, her memories. On a clear night, when the air is still, I can talk to my grandfather and I know he will answer.”
The echidna smiled at that. Countless were the nights he’d spent talking to the Master Emerald, basking in its warmth and absorbing tidbits of knowledge. He’d seen the strength and devotion of his ancestors, but what would they say now, seeing their last progeny so far from home? “It’ll be dark soon.”
“Indeed. Perhaps being here is precisely where you needed to be to receive the wisdom you seek. Or, should you not like what you hear, one of our residents is a brew master. I imagine some of our shared party will be partaking.” Red XIII proposed without looking up. The wolf-lion was quite comfortable where he was, as many past nights of conversation with his father where conducted from there.
“Maybe in a bit.” Knuckles answered, gaze locked heaven-ward watching the twilight peel back its cloak to reveal the first stars. “For now, I’ve got some thinking to do.”
So, a long time ago (in a lifetime far, far away), I began a story that, while enjoyable in concept, proved overly ambitious. Ultimately, this became its downfall, as I just couldn’t make the pieces work. But, with the recovery of those old files, and some polishing, I thought why not share some of those to see just how that stack up. And maybe to get a wee bit of nostalgia rush 🙂
I hope you all enjoy.