- Earth -
- Forest outside Eggman's base -
During one of Shadow's brief moments of consciousness, he can see sunlight shining through tree branches overhead. The branches appear to be moving, or rather Shadow is the one that's moving.
Exhaustion and pain force him back to unconsciousness.
When he comes to, he finds himself propped against a tree in the woods. He can hear tree branches rustling in the wind, but no birds or sounds of other animals. He slowly opens his eyes and sees the back of a robot with massive arms. The machine slowly rotates its torso as it appears to be checking its surroundings.
He recognizes this robot instantly.
"Omega," he whispers.
E-123 Omega turns around to face the hedgehog and looks down at him with red electronic eyes.
"Shadow," he replies.
Pain shoots through him when he tries to move. Shadow realizes that he's still gripping his Inhibitor Rings. Fighting through the agony, he reaches down and reattaches them to his ankles.
"What are you doing here?" Shadow asks Omega.
"Completing my mission,"
"Your mission?" He suddenly feels angry. "The Doctor is escaping and you're wasting your time-"
"Terminating Eggman is not my primary objective, only secondary," Omega interrupts.
"And what was your primary objective?" Shadow asks while slowly trying to stand up.
"Locating you and securing your safety,"
Shadow is perplexed at the robot.
"Who put you up to this? Rouge?"
Shadow blinks and he feels more confused than ever.
"This mission was self-assigned," Omega explains. "When you went missing, I ceased tracking down Eggman and began searching for you instead,"
"We are allies, Shadow. Logic dictates that we aid each other in times of need,"
Shadow's jaw slowly opens as he stares at the robot for a moment before he looks away and closes his eyes.
When Omega went missing during the Marauders' attack, he searched everywhere for his robotic comrade. Sonic confronted him and questioned what he was up to and that's when Shadow admitted that he was looking for Omega, because he is his friend and ally.
To have that action reciprocated was something Shadow never expected, least of all coming from a robot.
"Hmph," Shadow folds his arms in front of him and avoids looking at Omega. "How did you find me?"
"Rouge informed me she sent you to find the Chaos Emeralds. My sensors recently picked up their energy signature and I began tracking you down to this location,"
Shadow takes one of the emeralds in his hand and thinks for a while. He should be able to use Chaos Control now that the Eggman Replica has been destroyed. The pain in his body gives him an idea.
He grips the emerald and activates Chaos Control. He manipulates time in order to accelerate his body's healing process. If Shadow weren't immortal, his body would age by the same amount of time it would take for his body to recover from his wounds naturally.
Once his injuries have healed, Shadow puts away the emerald, then realizes the cost of using such a trick.
Omega scans Shadow while the hedgehog stretches his muscles.
"Your body has become atrophied from lack of use during accelerated time. Regardless, you should regain maximum effectiveness momentarily,"
"Your mission is over, Omega," Shadow tells him.
The robot turns around and starts heading back the way he came.
"Preparing to destroy the remainder of Eggman's machines and robots, then I shall resume searching for him,"
As Omega walks away, Shadow dispels any doubt that Mephiles may have planted in him. It doesn't matter if Omega was created to contain Shadow. His friend chose to rescue him. Omega's loyalty is chosen, not programmed. A loyalty that Eggman threw away when he locked him up.
"You are the Doctor's greatest creation," Shadow says.
Omega turns his head around and raises his fist.
"I intend to remind him of that," he replies.
Shadow and Omega part ways. Th hedgehog continues to stretch his limbs while reflecting on his recent experience. A few questions have been answered and others have been raised, leaving Shadow unsure of what he should do next.
- - -
In the Third District, Amy Rose stares enviously at the statues of the Lady and the Tramp.
"Amy! We need your help!" Tails calls while Knuckles puts a wooden beam into position.
"Coming, Tails!" Amy sighs and prepares to hammer in another hundred nails.
All of the refugees, and visitors, to Traverse Town are hard at work repairing the damage after the recent crisis. Most of them have no choice since many houses and hotels were burned down during the attack. Either they help out or live on the streets with the Heartless.
Being the only Keyblade wielder in town, Mickey Mouse does his best to purge the districts of any Heartless he can find but they are constantly drawn to Traverse Town by the negative feelings the refugees are harbouring.
Their worlds were taken from them by a black hedgehog and they were almost burned to death by a pyrokinetic cat, who reportedly is still in town somewhere. Several angry survivors have begun a witch hunt for Blaze in order to vent their anger over recent events.
Luckily, they hid Blaze in the Mystical House within the Zero District. Tails believes the amount of water surrounding the abandoned hut should help contain Blaze's flames if she should lose it again. The Secret Waterway beneath the hut would serve the same purpose.
Inside the former Magician's Study, now simply an Empty Room, Blaze the Cat stares out of the window while deep in thought.
"I'm back, Blaze!"
The princess is startled by the voice until she recalls who it belongs to. Cream the Rabbit enters the house while carrying a saucer with a cup of tea in her hands. Cheese flies beside her and also brings a cup of tea.
Blaze isn't in the mood for tea, but she can't think of a good excuse, so she accepts the cup and sips from it. Cream takes the cup that Cheese is holding and sips as well.
"Are you feeling better?" Cream asks.
Blaze nods but says nothing. Her injuries have healed but she's deeply troubled. Cream notices the expression on her face.
"What's wrong? Can I help?" she asks.
The princess looks at Cream's innocent face, wondering how the little girl could possibly understand the pain inside her.
Blaze sighs and decides to try.
"I have always hated my flames. This curse has isolated me from everyone else, more than being a princess. Before you became my friend, I've always been alone,"
"But you're not alone now. Sonic, Tails, Cheese and everyone else are also your friends," she says with that happy smile on her face.
"Cream, look around you. I'm stuck in an empty hut, surrounded by water. They said it was to protect me from everyone, but it's also to protect everyone from me. This is the second time I've destroyed an entire town with my powers and I have no memory of it. There's something inside me that I can't control. I don't know what it is, but it could burn my entire world if I go back like this,"
Cream is too young to understand self-loathing, but her optimism never wavers after listening to Blaze.
"Don't worry. Me and Cheese will help you, just like before. Tails will find a way cause he's good at fixing things. You'll get better and then we can go on a trip together,"
Blaze sighs and shakes her head to herself. Cream is such a naive little girl. Despite that, Blaze smiles a little bit because her friend promises to help her. Cream beams when she sees Blaze's smile.
Together, they resume drinking their tea.
Mickey Mouse enters the Small House in the Third District and sits down in the only chair in the room, deep in thought.
Sonic arrives soon after and smiles when he sees the King.
"Thanks again for helping us hide Blaze,"
Mickey nods while staring at the table.
"What's wrong?" Sonic asks him.
"Everyone was so angry and that only brought more Heartless,"
"Doesn't seem like much of a problem for you,"
"Sonic, some of these people have lost their worlds to the Heartless before. They're stranded here and it was nine years before Sora brought their worlds back. They don't know if they'll be able to go back at all this time and someone just tried to burn the only refuge they have,"
"Blaze is complicated but she wouldn't roast us all if she could help it. Remember when she woke up? She said that there was something inside her that made her do it,"
Sonic taps his foot as he thinks.
"I think Shadow knew, cause he told us to find her once we caught up to him,"
Mickey looks up once he mentions Shadow's name.
"Speaking of Shadow, many people still believe it was him who unlocked the Keyholes of their worlds,"
Sonic is speechless for a moment, because he would be lying if he said that Shadow wasn't capable of destroying entire worlds, and yet…
"Shadow's saved our world a couple of times,"
"And Minnie believes he's not evil," Mickey admits once he remembers.
"Didn't Donald and Goofy say they saw someone who looked a lot like Shadow?"
Mickey nods. "They said that he said that light was coming and that Shadow would try to keep everything the way it is,"
"I don't know what to make of that, but he could have been lying to them,"
Mickey is silent for a moment before he gets off the chair and approaches Sonic.
"There's something else. I've found six Princesses of Heart without their hearts,"
Sonic raises an eyebrow. "What's a Princess of Heart?"
"I'll explain in a moment, but the important thing is that I think I know where to go next,"
- - -
Once Shadow regains full mobility, he wanders through the woods while still trying to clear his thoughts.
The Doctor's words continue to haunt him. Was he really brainwashed by Professor Gerald? Is that why he sought out revenge against humanity? The thing that unnerves Shadow the most is that he has no recollection of events after Maria sent him to Earth and prior to waking up on Prison Island fifty years later; and yet, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do: Convince whoever released him to collect the Chaos Emeralds, bring them to the Ark and activate the Eclipse Cannon.
"It doesn't make any sense," he tells himself.
Shadow hates this feeling of being unfamiliar with himself. Even worse, the Doctor intends to replicate whatever it was that the Professor did to him on his Replicas. Shadow doesn't know what it is or how to stop it.
Prison Island would be the first place he'd go to investigate, but Shadow, Eggman and Rouge blew up the island while hunting for Chaos Emeralds. The Doctor also claims to have extracted the data from the computer terminal before he left.
As Shadow tries to recall the Professor's plan, he remembers that he managed to program the Ark from his cell on Prison Island to crash onto the Earth once all the emeralds energized the cannon.
"There could still be something there," Shadow mumbles as he looks up towards the sky. A clue or some piece of data.
Feeling a heavy weight on his heart, Shadow activates Chaos Control and warps to his first home.
He reappears inside the observation deck on the space colony Ark with Keyblade in hand. He doesn't know what he would expect upon returning to the familiar room; but once he realizes that he's alone in the dusty room, Shadow lets his weapon disappear.
Returning to the Ark has become harder for Shadow since his experience in Castle Oblivion. He closes his eyes as the memories from his life on the space colony have become so fresh and vivid. He opens his eyes and recalls how this room, with its beautiful view of the planet below, holds so many positive memories as well as his most painful. Maria died in this very room.
Fighting the tide of emotions in his heart, Shadow approaches the computer in the corner of the room and starts it up. He accesses Project Shadow and types in the password: Maria.
The thief left a calling card. An emblem appears on the screen, resembling a mad scientist with a moustache.
"Damn you, Doctor," Shadow says with a clenched jaw.
At the bottom of the screen are the words:
Shadow accesses Project: Gizoid and finds all the data from that experiment missing as well. That doesn't surprise him. The Doctor was very interested in copying Emerl's abilities for his own robots.
He accesses Project: Limbic next and he's rewarded with completely intact data on the screen. Eggman must not have found this experiment important enough to steal.
Strangely enough, the details and formulas he's reading remind him slightly of the research he found in Radiant Garden and in the Castle That Never Was.
Shadow shifts through the data until he finds notes written by Professor Gerald Robotnik. With nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, Shadow starts reading the work left by his creator.
Gerald's Report 1
The creation of life is a responsibility that must not be taken lightly. My failures with the Artificial Chaos and the Biolizard have revealed to me that if one does not take proper steps to cultivate the proper mental and emotional states of synthetic living creatures, the result could cause disaster if their violent tendencies are exploited.
As a father and grandfather, I understand how important it is to nurture and care for something you helped bring into this world.
Which is why I have begun Project: Limbic. I will devote more time and energy to understand the brain and its link with the heart so that the next organism I create will not only know peace of mind, but will be capable of thinking and interacting with others on the level of a sentient creature.
Shadow stares at the screen as memories of the Professor fill his mind. He was always kind and wise. Shadow trusted him as much as Maria.
Gerald's Report 2
I have often looked to the past for guidance. Our knowledge today only comes from the learnings of wise men and women of yesterday.
I have also been fascinated by legends and obscure myths of ancient cultures. The Artificial Chaos are an example of my attempts to replicate the guardian god of the Chao.
What is relevant to this project is a very old tablet I have read about. It came from a meteor that was strangely elastic and rubber-like in texture. The inscription made numerous references to seven hearts of pure light. One might assume this refers to the Chaos Emeralds; but upon further translation, I have since learned that the writings refer to what is called a Princess of Heart, one who does not possess darkness of any kind.
Most people believe that darkness is evil and light is good, but what they fail to realize is that if one is exposed to too much of either one, the end result is blindness.
But for the sake of simplifying my reports of this experiment, I will humor the outdated notion of light and darkness.
This is not hubris, but the result of extensive psychological study. It is my belief that my granddaughter, Maria, is a member of this generation's Princesses of Heart. I will not deny that I feel pride knowing this.
I will base my research on Maria so that the next organism I create will possess a heart just like hers.
I do not know for certain what the United Federation intends to do with my research on Project: Shadow, but if the next prototype can feel like Maria, then surely it will bring peace to the world.
Shadow once believed that he and the Gizoid were merely living weapons, but Rouge explained to him that the Professor was not interested in violence. She told him that if weapons could choose not to fight, then maybe it could bring an end to war.
Which is why the Professor programmed Emerl with a free willed emotion-based AI and gave Shadow a heart like Maria's.
Feeling more emotional with every passage he reads, Shadow presses on.
Gerald's Report 3
Black Doom has given me the genetic components I need to complete Project: Shadow, but I do not trust that alien creature.
He requests that I deliver the seven Chaos Emeralds to him in exchange for his blood. We both share knowledge of the space-time warping technique of Chaos Control, which is why I know that with all seven emeralds, he could teleport something as big as the Black Comet down to Earth.
What he doesn't know is that I will use the research of Project: Limbic to ensure that our creation will not only be able to think for itself, but become as gentle and loving as Maria.
Black Doom's weapon will refuse to obey him and his plans for invasion will fail.
"Professor, where did you go wrong?" Shadow asks.
He's nothing like Maria and he hates himself for it.
Gerald's Report 4
I have watched Shadow come to life on board the Ark and introduced him to Maria. I am hoping that exposing him to her gentle character will help him emulate her remarkable traits.
I am pleased to report that Shadow does indeed possess the mind of a sentient being and that he has not lashed out violently unlike my past failures. He appears capable of thinking, making decisions and emotional responses.
I am worried, however, that I will not be able to remain objective during this experiment. Shadow is more than the Ultimate Life Form, he is family. Maria loves him and so do I. He is a son to me and I can not treat him like a test subject.
Project: Limbic must continue, therefore I will do my utmost to observe him, not only as a researcher, but as a father.
Gerald's Report 5
Since acquiring the Gizoid, I have been evaluating its ability to mimic the patterns and abilities of others and determined that such a robot could cause wide spread destruction if misused.
I have since chosen to incorporate my research from Project: Limbic into Project: Gizoid so that neither Shadow or the Gizoid can become weapons if they value life and friendship.
The Gizoid is not my creation and no computer can properly analyze it without crashing. It will be extremely difficult but I must understand its programming better so that I can alter it enough to grant emotions and free will.
Gerald's Report 6
During some tests, I have been gauging Shadow's emotional responses and the results are mostly positive, but I am concerned.
He has grown very attached to Maria, perhaps too much. He is overprotective of her, something I can certainly understand and empathize with but there was an incident he has chosen not to share with me.
I have learned from the staff and from Maria that during one of her checkups at the hospital, which Shadow often visits with her, he took the syringe out of the doctor's hand and threatened him with it before he could draw blood.
He told the physician that he will not let Maria suffer any more pain and that if she should suffer, the doctors will suffer as well. Maria managed to calm him down and convince him that what her doctors were doing was important. He reluctantly gave the syringe back but continued to glare angrily as he held Maria's hand.
I did not anticipate he was capable of aggression. I should have but I was so arrogant and believed my research was enough.
Where did I go wrong?
The memory comes rushing back to Shadow. He was so angry and he was more than capable of stabbing the doctor with the needle. Maria was too important to him. He would not see her get hurt in any way and she was in so much pain whenever they performed their tests.
Maria was always so strong and he admired her for it. So young and yet she could take anything while still loving everybody she knew. Shadow now realizes that the doctors loved her too and wanted to help her.
Gerald's Report 7
I have come up with several possible theories for Shadow's aggressive behaviour.
My research into the mind and the heart was incomplete and I failed to replicate a heart so much like Maria's; or perhaps by creating a heart of pure light, the opposite held true and his heart contains pure darkness as well.
Perhaps the answer lies in Black Doom's DNA. I should have studied it more carefully to determine if aggression is coded genetically in the Black Arms species.
The answer could be all or none of the above. What's done is done.
What troubles me most is that we are running short on time. If something should happen to Maria, I don't know if I or Shadow could handle the grief.
Gerald's Report 8
I must suspend Project: Limbic, perhaps indefinitely. There are far more important matters to deal with than looking into the mysteries of the heart and mind.
The government has threatened to cut off funding for my experiments. I have no choice but to deliver the Gizoid to GUN to buy us more time.
Maria's doctors have sent me the latest prognosis. I refuse to believe or accept it. Shadow can save her, I know he can. It's one of the reasons I created him. He is immune to NIDS. I must use whatever resources I have left to find a cure.
Shadow will be more than willing to help and I love him for it. Despite my misgivings, he has a good heart.
End of final report.
Confusion and a mounting sense of dread rises within Shadow as he searches for Maria's file in the hospital databanks.
Patient name: Maria Robotnik.
Diagnosis: Neuro-Immune Deficiency Disorder (NIDS)
Shadow's jaw falls open as he gazes at the computer screen.
"She was going to die," he mumbles.
She was going to die no matter what. Even if she wasn't shot to death, he was still going to lose her.
Many questions fill Shadow's head. Was he the only chance she had at survival? Did his existence hasten her demise? What if he couldn't save her and her NIDS killed her anyway?
These and more questions plague him with pain and doubt until he reaches the point where he summons his Keyblade in his hand.
"It doesn't matter anymore!" he shouts before smashing the computer with it.
The Keyblade buried inside the terminal, Shadow lets go of it and walks away while clutching his head. He drops to his knees.
"It doesn't matter anymore. Maria is gone,"
Saying the words breaks his heart, but then something yells at him from deep within his memory.
"It doesn't matter! Nothing matters anymore, Shadow!"
Shadow gasps and opens his eyes, like he had awoken from a nightmare. He knows that voice and it terrifies him. That was the voice of his creator, but not the same man that he knew and loved. It was the voice of a broken madman who had lost everything.
Within the dust on the floor is the photograph of Maria and the Professor that Shadow threw away. He picks it up and gazes longingly at the figures in the picture. Right now, Shadow feels angry at himself for wishing for the past again.
"How disappointing," says another voice in the room.
Shadow clenches his fist when he realizes he's not alone. He turns towards the computer screen and sees the one winged form of Sephiroth standing in front of it, watching him with Cloud's blue eyes.
"You… What are you doing here?" Shadow asks him as he stands up.
Before Sephiroth can respond, Shadow shakes his head and brushes him off as he approaches the computer terminal, walking past him.
"Never mind. Just don't waste my time," he says before pulling his Keyblade out of the machine.
He turns and walks towards the door at the end of the observation deck.
"Where will you go?" Sephiroth asks him.
Shadow hesitates before answering, "Anywhere that's not here,"
"You have all the time in the universe to waste. Why not humor me with a few minutes?"
Shadow stops and looks over his shoulder at the swordsman.
"Why would I do that?"
"Curiosity. You will answer my questions and I will answer yours,"
Feeling irritated, and all of his leads exhausted, Shadow turns around and walks back to the window next to the terminal and stands beside Sephiroth.
"Fine, but I go first. Who is Mephiles?" Shadow asks him, expecting no answer.
"I don't know who or what he is, but I do know where he is," Sephiroth replies.
"And I will show you after our conversation. Now it is my turn. Do you believe there is more than one of everything?"
"No," Shadow responds immediately. "There's an original and there are fakes," he says, thinking of the Replicas.
"Like a clone?" Sephiroth asks.
When Shadow nods, Sephiroth follows with, "Are you a clone?"
"Hmph! Someone tried convincing me that I was, but he lied,"
The swordsman is silent for a moment, then Shadow asks,
"Why are you still following me? I thought you had your fun at Castle Oblivion,"
"Aren't you forgetting something?" he asks cryptically.
"Answer the question!"
"Like I said, curiosity. When I looked at your past within the castle, I felt a small familiar sensation. You were created by a professor using the genes of an ageless alien life form."
"Have you ever seen the river Styx underneath the Olympus Coliseum?"
Shadow was not expecting that question. He glances at Sephiroth and answers, "Yes,"
"A river of souls flowing underneath the world. When I saw it, something stirred inside of me. I know that I have never seen something like that before and yet I could not shake the feeling that I have. Do you know what I mean?"
Shadow blinks as he starts to feel doubt. "Yes. I feel the same thing whenever I see Mephiles,"
He starts explaining, "The Doctor said that feelings last longer than memories. He believes Mephiles is from another timeline,"
"If there's another timeline, that means there might be another you,"
Shadow frowns. "Perhaps,"
He doesn't want to admit that he's wrong, but he's seen pieces and memories of that other timeline when he went back to Castle Oblivion.
When he looks at Sephiroth's reflection in the glass, he could almost see him wearing a different face, one with catlike green eyes, but when he blinks, Sephiroth resembles Cloud again.
"Why does this matter to you?"
Sephiroth looks down at him out of the corner of his eye.
"I am just a dark memory and I refuse to remain one,"
"Hmph. Fine, I have another question. What did you mean by disappointing?"
"I believed that you were moving on from your past, but it seems I was wrong. You and Cloud are more alike than I thought,"
"I've put the past behind me,"
"And yet, here you are, digging up secrets about yourself,"
"I needed information,"
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
"… Not exactly,"
"That must have been disappointing for you,"
"Grrrr. Change the subject!"
"Very well," Sephiroth takes a moment to consider his next question. "If you had a chance to get what you've always wanted, what would stop you from getting it?"
Shadow closes his eyes and looks away from Sephiroth. He waits a long time before answering.
"Guilt," he admits.
For the first time, Sephiroth smiles.
"Thank you, Shadow. As promised, I will show you where to find your enemy,"
Shadow looks at Sephiroth, who continues to speak.
"But first, I have a present I've been meaning to give Cloud for a long time,"
"A present?" Shadow asks, confused.
Sephiroth nods. "Despair,"
Shadow's eyes widen with alarm. Sephiroth turns his head and looks down at him.
"Would you like to come see? It might stir up some memories of yours,"
Sephiroth vanishes and Shadow teleports after him.
Sparks fly from the smashed in computer terminal; but otherwise, the Ark becomes silent and empty once more.