Protector of Chaos 2: The Rising Nebula – Chapter 6: A New Brother [Part 1/2]
Later That Night – G.U.N. Base: Mercury; Titanic Resort
Once the battle with the Voltage Kraken was concluded, the group relocated to one of the various bases operated by G.U.N. – Mercury – located within Titanic Resort. In the infirmary station left to rest on a medical bed was the still unconscious Alter the Wolf. Also present in the room was Gizmo, Silver and Shadow.
Shadow eyed Alter as he began to stir in his unconscious state, his closed eyes tightening. "He is beginning to awake."
Everyone gathered around the bed as his eyes began to slowly open, blinking a few times to adjust to the room's lighting. "Mmm...?"
Gizmo was the first to greet him. "Alter! Glad to have you back!" he said elatedly, clasping a hand on his shoulder and giving him a thumbs up.
"I'm back... from where...?" the Protector said through yawns.
"Blaze sorta knocked you out," Silver said with a shy smirk. "But we think it was the dark power from that necklace that did most of the work."
"Oh, right..." Alter said lowly, staring down at the artifact hanging from his neck. "Where are we?"
"This is Mercury, one of several G.U.N. bases established throughout the six sectors of Neo Soleanna," explained Shadow.
"Then we're still in Titanic Resort?"
"Yes," the hedgehog confirmed.
"How long have I been out?"
"Just a few hours," Gizmo answered. "We thought you would still be unconscious for the next few days. The amount of power surged into you from the necklace was too much for your body to handle, which is why you collapsed so easily after Blaze attacked you."
"It has been a while since I last used the dark power..." admitted Alter. "Speaking of Blaze, where is she?"
"She ran off after the battle with the Voltage Krakens was determined," Silver replied. "She's likely in pursuit of Voltage, trying to get the Jeweled Scepter back to her world, all on her own..."
"It doesn't matter now," Shadow joined in. "She's just going to march right into the enemy's territory and get herself captured, or worse. That's her problem now, not ours."
"Father! How could you say that?!" Silver remarked.
Ignoring Silver's statement, Shadow turned and walked to the door. Before leaving, he said, "You should get ready, Alter. We will be contacting Laila momentarily."
Once the door closed behind him, Alter had a puzzled look on his face. Gizmo elaborated further. "Laila came into contact with us not long after we defeated the Voltage Krakens."
"We updated her on the mission's success," continued Silver. "She said she wouldn't talk further without you being present, so we all agreed to recontact her once you were awake."
"Alright, let's do it."
As Alter swung his feet from the bed preparing to stand, both Silver and Gizmo rushed to his sides, intriguing Alter. "What are you two doing...?"
"Well, you see..." Gizmo started. "It's like I said before, using that dark power really took a toll out of you. Most of your energy was nearly depleted to nothing."
"But I feel fine..." Alter insisted, taking a stand. To his surprise, his legs gave away. He would have fallen if Silver and Gizmo hadn't caught him from behind in time. His heart was racing intensely, sweat beading from his forehead. Alter had never felt this exhausted before. He had hardly noticed it until he made that simple action. "Great... I'm going to need crutches..."
"Not quite," Gizmo continued. "You should be fine in just a little while. But you still have to start slowly, so Silver and I will assist you for now."
"Just don't step on our toes," the psychic hedgehog joked.
"Ha-ha..." Alter grunted sarcastically. "Maybe I could--"
"No cryokinesis either," Gizmo interrupted, interpreting Alter's idea. "You've got to spare all the energy you can if you want to get better soon. Silver and I also have to resist using our powers."
"We're all wiped out from that Voltage Kraken battle, but you got it much worse than all of us combined because you overused the necklace's power," Silver said.
"Yeah, yeah – I get it," Alter mumbled, allowing them to hoist him on their shoulders. "But you have to admit I put on quite the show," he smirked.
Silver and Gizmo chuckled in response, then slowly guided Alter through the door leading out of the infirmary. They made their way across the empty hallway, entering an elevator just as the doors were closing, and they weren't alone. Already inside was Rouge, a delightful smile coming to her mouth.
"Well, well! It seems you've finally awoken," she greeted Alter, who's eyes widened after seeing her. "What? Surprised to see me still kicking after all these years? What a tease!"
"But... how...?!" was all the wolf could spurt out. He examined the bat from head to toe, and there was no mistaking it. She hadn't aged a day since they last saw each other two-hundred years ago. How was that possible?
A soft musical tune rang through the elevator's speakers signaling that it would proceed to its next destination... fifty floors from where they were currently, giving Rouge plenty of time to explain her story.
"Well, there's not much to say, really... But this is basically what happened: Many years ago, back in the good old days, I developed a rare illness that the Earth has never seen before. G.U.N. had me hospitalized and under intense care while doctors all over the globe searched for a way to cure me, but nothing seemed to work. They were pretty sure I wasn't going to make it. Shadow was the most devastated by the news. It wasn't easy to tell, but I knew him better than anyone. I could see his concern for my life growing by the second. He remained by my side day and night, even when visiting hours had ended. Nothing was more precious to us than spending our last moments together, and I wouldn't have wanted to go down any other way. Well, maybe the same scenario, but locked in a jewel chamber... Mmm, hm hm... Jewels, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies..."
"Uhh, Rouge?" Silver whispered to get her attention.
"You were saying?"
"Oh! Right. Where was I?"
"It was just you and Shadow..." Alter said, growing impatient.
"Ah, yes. I swear I may still look young and vibrant, but my mind is often off on an adventure entirely its own. But anyways... Oh, and sapphires!"
"Rouge!!" Alter and Silver said in union, Gizmo giggling.
"Alright, alright!" the bat snickered amusingly. "To sum up the rest, I didn't want to die, of course, and Shadow wasn't willing to go through what he did with Maria again, so he offered to donate a sample of his Black Arms blood to the doctors. They transfused it into me, unsure if it would help my condition or worsen it. At this point, it was all or nothing! Now, my heart did stop for a bit, but the heart monitor started to pick up responses again as I slowly came back to life. Shadow described it as witnessing a butterfly hatching from its cocoon and taking flight for the first time on its beautiful, newly grown wings. Because like a butterfly, I had changed into what you see now before you. I became immortal, my body was sheathed by these red Black Arm markings, my eyes turned from green to a topaz hue and I can even access the Chaos Force directly like Shadow can and use Chaos Control! Never before has the world seen such a jewel heist..."
Alter was almost speechless. "Wow..."
"I know right?!" Rouge continued. "You should've been there. Your intangibility would've given me quite the advantage!"
"I was referring to your transformation and recovery, not the jewel heist..." Alter grinned.
"I guess that was pretty neat too," Rouge shrugged with a smile. "Oh, here's our stop."
The elevator came to a halt on the fiftieth and final level of Mercury: the observation deck. As they stepped out the elevator, Alter could see that the G.U.N. base was actually a massive skyscraper similar to the Voltage Towers, but not quite as complex in design. At the edge of the deck's railings peering down at the ruined resort currently being repaired by engineers was Shadow, Omega in his company.
"They have arrived," Omega alerted.
Rouge moved to Shadow's side and also gazed down. "Boy, those Voltage Krakens really did a number on Titanic Resort."
"Yes..." Shadow agreed, distantly.
"Fortunately we have the technology to have all of this fixed up by morning," the bat went on. "Something like this would've taken months to repair back in the day. Ahh... We've had it good these last two-hundred or so years. What's in store for us now?"
"That's what I want to know," the black hedgehog replied, turning to Alter as he, Silver and Gizmo neared. "Something is going on that involves this Voltage Empire. G.U.N. will not be left in the dark any longer. I want Laila to explain it to us now."
"I'll get in touch with her," Silver said, focusing his telepathy. A few seconds later, a spiritual image of Laila's soul projected from Onyx Island manifested before the group, her entire form levitating and glowing with a blue light. She immediately turned to Alter.
"Laila..." the wolf whispered.
"I see you are slowly recovering," the guardian verified. "This isn't much, but it will at least help you to walk on your own."
With a snap of her fingers, twinkles of light gently descended from the rays of the moon, partially restoring Alter's energy. To test it, both Silver and Gizmo carefully released him. Alter wobbled a bit on his own two feet, but quickly regained control and remained stabilized where he stood, causing him to smirk with delight. "Thanks, Laila."
"Don't mention it."
Shadow stepped forward. "We want to know what's going on with Voltage."
"That is none of your concern," Laila said sharply.
"I beg to differ," Shadow countered. "They attacked Titanic Resort, one of the sectors of Neo Soleanna, a country under the protection of G.U.N., and if my sources are correct, they recently invaded Onyx Island and forced you to retreat and scatter the Nebula Emeralds. They are our problem as much as they are yours, guardian. Now isn't the time for us to be keeping secrets. Will you form an alliance with us?"
Laila glared at him, but she couldn't deny that without an army of her own, she would be overwhelmed if Voltage struck the island again. But with the Nebula Emeralds scattered, their focus would be elsewhere for the time being. Still... "Very well," she said at last. "But keep your forces off my island unless I say otherwise."
"Understood," the hedgehog agreed. "Now tell us what you know."
Laila sighed, flipping her hair from her eye. "Alter and the others already know this, but the Voltage Empire are seeking to unleash the power of the Nebula Emeralds."
"Why is that?"
"They wish to expand their empire throughout the world, but the process isn't moving fast enough for their leader. By harnessing the power of the Nebula Emeralds, it can be done almost instantaneously. But I can't help wondering if that is all they are hoping to accomplish with the Emeralds..."
"Alter, you spent time amongst their ranks, correct?" Shadow queried. "Do you have any knowledge of their true motives?"
"To be honest... no," the wolf denied. "Expanding the empire was all Volt ever talked about. I'm afraid I don't know anymore than that."
"There's definitely something not right about that," Rouge spoke next. "I don't like it one bit."
"I concur," Omega said.
"So we know they're after the Nebula Emeralds," Shadow continued. "How many have you found so far?"
"Well, we were able to locate two of the Emeralds, thanks to Gizmo," Alter said, giving Gizmo a pat on the shoulder.
The red-haired wolf blushed embarrassingly as all eyes turned on him. "It was nothing, really... The amethyst Emerald appeared near me in Castle Realm not long after Laila's retreat from Onyx Island. We analyzed it with my computer in Mega City to identify the location of the next Emerald which was here in Titanic Resort, the moissanite transparent Emerald."
"How did you find it?" asked Laila.
"That's the interesting part..." Gizmo began. "I could see these mysterious, glowing symbols on the ground, but Alter couldn't. When I directed him over to it, he used Chaos Control and the Emerald appeared from a portal formed by the symbols, and they cracked and vanished once the Emerald was claimed."
"So that's how Chaos Sparge works..." the guardian said to herself in deep thought.
"Chaos Sparge?" Alter and Shadow queried.
"That's the technique I used when I was preparing to banish the Emeralds from our world," Laila explained. "But as you know, they were scattered when Volt attacked me and I'm assuming each of them were sealed away in special places. The thing I don't understand is why Gizmo is the only one who can see these seals."
Again, every turned to Gizmo, putting him on the spotlight. "I haven't the slightest idea myself. Really..."
"It's nothing to be spooked about," Laila assured. "If anything, it's a great advantage that Voltage doesn't have."
"I wouldn't be so quick to say that," Shadow began. "They have to have some method of tracking the Emeralds too. How else would they have known exactly where Alter was as soon as he and Gizmo found the second Emerald?"
"That is something to think about..." Laila mused. "Alter, you did leave behind your Voltage administration badge before the Sun Festival, right?"
"Yes; I made sure I did," the wolf confirmed. "It doesn't add up. They shouldn't have known where we were."
Silver, who had been quiet for some time, decided to finally speak up. "I can't believe you guys! Not once have any of you brought up Blaze! Aren't any of you concerned about her?"
Shadow scowled at him. "I told you before, it's her problem, not ours. She chose to run off on her own. Her being here will make your mission a disaster. She is putting her personal objectives before yours, and that makes her a liability."
"You speak of her as if she's not even a person!" Silver snapped. "Her entire world is at risk of collapsing without the Jeweled Scepter. Wouldn't you risk anything and everything to save our world if it was in that sort of danger?! That's how Blaze feels."
Knowing that Silver's words beared truth, Shadow gritted his teeth, unable to find the words to argue back. Rouge chuckled silently behind him.
"She's the only one she can truly rely on," Silver continued. "...But not anymore."
As Silver turned his back to leave, Laila appeared in front of him. "And what help do you think you will be in your current state? You will just be getting in her way. You need to stay here and recover with Alter and Gizmo."
"But... Blaze...! She'll need help!" Silver asserted.
"Rest assured, I've been using the Master Emerald to track her movements," the echidna said calmly. "She is safe."
"Where is she?"
"She's back in Castle Realm seeking shelter for the night. I'm sure she will be on the move again first thing tomorrow morning."
"Okay... Just promise me this: keep watching over her and keep her safe. "
"You have my word. I will see to it that no harm comes her way."
Laila moved aside, allowing Silver to re-enter the base. With that settled, she turned her attention to Alter. "I must be going now, but before I leave, I have something to tell you, Alter."
"I'm all ears," he said.
Without saying anything, she phased through him and disappeared into nothingness. Before she was completely gone, Alter could hear her voice in his mind saying, Silver knows something about Le Oracle. Try to get the information out of him as soon as you can. It may help to unravel the mystery behind the Rising Nebula, leaving Alter with mixed feelings of curiosity, doubt and suspicion. What could Silver know about Le Oracle that even Laila didn't know?
After a few moments of silence, Gizmo approached Alter. "Are you okay? What did she tell you?"
"I have to speak with Silver..." the Protector responded.
"Knowing Silver, he likely ran off to the hot springs to collect his thoughts," Shadow speculated. "Being near water helps him think better."
"You can find the hot springs northwest from the ruined water park," Rouge spoke. "It's one of the few places in Titanic Resort unaffected by the Voltage Kraken battle."
"Thanks; I'll be off now." As Alter started walking back to the elevator, he was surprised to hear footsteps following him from behind. "Gizmo? You don't have to come with me, you know. You should stay here and rest."
"I know, but..." The red-haired wolf shyly looked down and kicked a foot back and forth. Alter could guess what was on his mind.
"You're worried I'll exert myself too much trying to get to the hot springs and pass out."
"Yeah..." Gizmo confirmed, returning his gaze to Alter's. "Something like that."
Alter had been feeling a strange connection with Gizmo ever since the younger wolf intercepted his flight at Neo Soleanna's gates. He couldn't quite comprehend what it was. There was just something about Gizmo that made him precious to him, almost like a brother, and he didn't know why. Perhaps Gizmo felt the same attraction towards the cryokinetic wolf. He sighed. "Alright, Gizmo. I'll be glad to have your company."
Seeing Gizmo's eyes light up with excitement made Alter feel warm inside. He had never made someone so happy just to be able to spend time with them. Not many were voluntarily willing to befriend a loner like Alter. Indeed, there was something special about this one.