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Chapter 19 - Beyond the Lava Reef

Knuckles battles mysterious new foes bent on stealing the Master Emerald!

Meanwhile, Punchy and Rainbow have discovered Rainbow's sister... But is she an enemy?

Chapter 19 - Beyond the Lava Reef

Chapter 19 - Beyond the Lava Reef
GeneX - Knuckles the Echidna
Chapter 19 - Beyond the Lava Reef
Stage 11-12(Hero & Dark 6) - Molten Sands
Minor Boss 8 - Fera the Wolf

Note: Sonic the Hedgehog and related characters are (c) SEGA and
Sonic Team. You knew that, right?
GeneX and related fanchars are (c) 2BIT (TheGreatGator), the author.

The story thus far:
The Covenant of Despair and GUN have both arrived at the Sandopolis pyramid. Sonic and Kosmo each arrived as well, seeking their own kinds of answers.
Teaming up with Shadow, Sonic began to explore the pyramid. After losing track of Amy and Professor Pickle and passing through Lava Reef Zone, they found themselves face to face with the creature that Ridley identified as Shadow Chaos. After defeating Shadow Chaos, they continue searching for their friends and looking to pass the Trials of Sandopolis.
After running into Vortex, Kosmo was led into the pyramid and faced the second Trial of Sandopolis. Working together, the group managed to pass dangerous sentry statues and ghosts, but were then led into a trap by Vortex! The Covenant of Despair was waiting in the next part of Lava Reef Zone, looking to get payback on Silver for getting in their way!
Now, on to the next chapter!

Sonic, Tails, Shadow, Omega and SPOT found their way to a tablet similar to the one Rainbow had read about the second trial from. Tails had SPOT translate the tablet, and he read the translation to Sonic and the others. "Trial the Third: The Chasms Of Oblivion. Press Onward With All Speed, Show Your Conviction, Or Fall To Fiery Oblivion." he said. Sonic chuckled. "Pay up, Shadow! I told you those mummies were the second trial!" he grinned. "This doesn't prove that." Shadow pointed out. "Whatever..." Sonic said, looking ahead. There were several unstable-looking bridges teetering over the fiery lava pits of Lava Reef Zone below. The bridges were spaced out so that whoever crossed them would have to jump between them. "I guess those are rigged to collapse..." Sonic muttered. "Affirmative." Omega said. Sonic glanced at Shadow with a smirk. "Rematch? You kinda had to double back to rescue Omega last time." he said. "Maybe the others should wait here." Shadow suggested. "I will scan for alternate routes." Omega said. Sonic and Shadow started across the bridges, which rapidly started to crumble as their feet touched them! While Tails and Omega watched them, though, some robots started coming up behind them. They were GUN's Bomb Hawk robots, a variant on the large flying Hawk robots which was equipped to drop bombs! Omega and SPOT detected their approach and turned around, immediately aiming weapons at them! "Huh?? Waaa! GUN robots!?" Tails yelped when he looked to see what the commotion was. "Dr. Nammad has ordered this area cleared of interlopers! Prepare to be removed!" one of the robots said. Omega immediately blasted that robot, and the other robots started tossing bombs in retaliation! "I will show no mercy to hostile GUN robots!" Omega said. Tails jumped back to avoid the explosions as SPOT brought up a shield to protect him. "Thanks, SPOT, but I can handle this! Go into offensive mode!" he ordered. As SPOT retracted the shield, Tails jumped forward and whipped his tails at the nearest robot! "You asked for it, GUN!" he shouted. "Do not enter my firing range, fox boy..." Omega grumbled.

Sonic and Shadow sped through the bridges, jumping from one to another as they collapsed. With their speed, this test was a simple matter, and soon they landed on the other side of the chasms, Sonic stepping on the stable ground at the end mere seconds before Shadow. After the last bridge finished collapsing, they felt a loud tremor coming from somewhere below, and a platform attached to a cable slid out of the nearby wall, providing them with a way back. "Wait, there's no way forward?" Sonic stammered. "Sounds like some mechanism below was activated." Shadow muttered. Sonic peered down below. "You think Amy and the professor might head there?" he wondered. "It's our only clue." Shadow sighed. The two of them hopped on the platform and rode it back to the other side, where they found Tails, Omega and SPOT standing among a lot of busted robot parts. "GUN made it to the pyramid..." Tails panted. "Man, you guys sure slowed me down, Shadow." Sonic muttered. Shadow rolled his eyes. "Well, it seems the three Trials opened up something below. We'll have to find a safe way down." he said. Tails nodded. "I'm sure we passed some stairs leading down on the way..." he recalled. "What about Eggman's robots in the pyramid?" Omega wondered. Sonic, Tails and Shadow started to walk away, ignoring him. "I thought it was a valid question." SPOT's monitor read. "Stupid meatbags..." Omega grumbled.

Down in Lava Reef Zone, Kosmo, Silver, Rainbow and Whisk were surrounded by the Covenant of Despair, led by Fera. Zeke, Vortex and Zipp were there as well as some additional uniformed grunts. Fera glared at Kosmo with her good eye. "So here you are. How dare you defy my orders and run off!" she growled. Kosmo was silent, so Rainbow decided to try her luck. "Um... Howdy. Can I ask you something?" she said. Fera scoffed. "I'm busy, girl! Leave me be if you know what's good for you!" she shouted. Silver looked like he was about to speak up, but Kosmo did instead. "Stuff it, Fera!" he snapped. "Wh-what!?" Fera gasped, "Oh, I see how it is. That hedgehog over there has been messing with your head." she said, pointing at Silver. "I think you're the ones messing with people's heads!" Silver growled. "Yeah! Let my sister go!" Rainbow shouted. Fera stared at them. "Your sister...? Kosmo, what rubbish are they telling you?" she asked. Kosmo looked taken aback. "They don't have to tell me anything! Fera! Why would the covenant abandon an innocent fur and leave her for dead?" he growled. Fera crossed her arms. "Hm? Don't be so naive Kosmo. This is war. Casualties are inevitable." she said. "Duh!" Zipp chuckled. Kosmo started to growl furiously. "You... are no different than that snake Gunner!" he snarled. Zeke shook his head. "I'd watch what you say, Kosmo. She's no wimp like half the Covenant of Despair!" he muttered. However, that warning came too late. Fera was fuming! "Y-you... c-compare me... to GUNNER!?!?" she stammered. Vortex backed away a bit. "Sssshoot, hit the deck..." he hissed, while the other Despair grunts followed suit. Fera's body erupted in dark energy, and she hurled a ball of darkness straight at Kosmo! "I'll teach you some respect!!!" she screamed. Kosmo was knocked backward into Zeke, who pushed him away. "Grah! Now you've done it, morphy!" he grunted. Whisk raised her hand nervously. "Do I have to be caught up in all this, too?" she whimpered. "What do you think, traitor sympathizer!?" a random grunt shouted. "Hey! Leave her alone!" Vortex yelled. The Despair members started moving in to rough up Kosmo's friends, while Fera planned to punish him herself!

"You will learn your place! Kneel before the Covenant of Despair!" Fera had charged some dark energy, and fired it at Kosmo from her hands as a black beam of darkness! He quickly morphed into a bat and started to fly around, evading the beam and heading towards her! She ceased firing her beam and started tossing dark energy balls at him, knocking him away as he got close! As Kosmo fell to the ground, he changed into a bull and started to charge at her! "Are you kidding?" she smirked, jumping on his back and hanging on as he tried to shake her off! Meanwhile, Zeke had charged at Silver, only to be psychically tossed into the other Despair agents! A uniformed frog, Corky, jumped out of the way and hopped towards Rainbow. "Hello, girly! Whose side you on?" he grunted. "Not yours, Mr. Toad." she said. Corky bared his creepy sharp teeth in rage. "Mr. Toad!!? I hate people callin' me dat!!" he shouted, lashing his tongue at her! However, Rainbow caught his tongue and gripped it tightly! "Hah! I knew a toad would do that!" she chuckled. "I'b nogh a thoad!!" Corky protested with his tongue stuck outside his mouth. "I can't understand you, Mr. Toad. Give up, or I'll stick your tongue in one of those steam holes!!" she threatened. At the same time, Zeke was leading the minor Despair grunts in a charge at Silver and Whisk! "Bwaaaa!! What's happening!? Why are you gymnasts attacking me!?" Whisk yelped. Silver used his powers to toss some of their magical and weapon projectiles back at them, but some were getting close! Finally, Vortex couldn't watch anymore. He stepped in front of Whisk and raised his arms. "Sssstay away from her, you ssscum!" he hissed. Zipp's jaw dropped, and he wasn't sure how to react. "Dude, Fera'll kill you!" he stammered. "That wolf isss not my massster!!" he shouted, firing Chaos Inferno at some Despair mutts as they got a bit too close to Whisk! All the while, Kosmo kept trying different forms in his fight with Fera, but her dark powers did well to keep him at bay. Now, he was tossing his tail transformed into a mace at her, while she teleported around him! "Stay still, Fera!" he growled. "You seem to be tiring, Kosmo. Perhaps you are not as powerful as our master thinks." she taunted. Suddenly, she noticed the sorry state her allies were in after being battered by Silver, Vortex and Rainbow. "Grrrr! Those weaklings!" she snarled. Kosmo glanced back and chuckled. "I'm still better than most of your covenant." he said. Fera sighed. "Fine, Kosmo! Do as you like! I have more important things to do than mess around with an idiot like you!" she said, "Those of you who are NOT creations, come with me!" she shouted, leading most of her reinforcements away. "H-hey!! What about me, Fera!?" Zeke stammered as he was left behind. "Do you know what she's up to?" Kosmo asked him. "You kidding? She trusts the experiments about as much as you do." Zeke sighed. Rainbow went up to Zeke excitedly. "Oooh! What's your number?" she asked. "No way. I've heard about you. You're not calling me 'ten, ten, ten...'" he said hastily. "Good to meet ya, Ten!" Rainbow smiled. "Let'ssss jussst follow her trail." Vortex suggested. Kosmo stared at him, but Whisk smiled. "He's got my vote!" she said. "Can I come?" Zeke asked. "No way!" Silver shouted. Zipp fluttered beside Zeke as the others started after Fera. "Guess it's you and me, Zekers." he said. "I'm gonna find Fera. You go shoot yourself for calling me Zekers." he growled.

Kosmo, Silver, Rainbow, Vortex and Whisk continued through Lava Reef Zone, and came across a series of lava streams, with chunks of rock floating along the streams. "Oh, neat. Rafts. We don't have to fly across!" Whisk said. "It doesssn't look very sssafe, but Dessspair mussst have passsed here." Vortex said. "Well, thanks for the info. I guess we're going that way, too." said Espio as he and Charmy came up behind them. "What the!? Oh... It's only you, Espio..." Silver muttered. "Hey, why's this crowd hanging around Kosmo? Aren't you scared he's gonna EAT ya?" Charmy wondered. Kosmo growled softly and turned to the lava streams. "That's it! This place is too crowded for my taste! I'm going ahead!" he said, jumping to one of the rock chunks floating in the lava stream. "Oooh, wait! You can fly me across if the platform melts!" Rainbow shouted, jumping after him. "Come on, Charmy..." Espio said, jumping to the next rock platform. "Hey! We were here firssst!" Vortex hissed, leaping after them. With Silver and Whisk following behind, the group started a race from platform to platform across the lava floes, none wanting to be overtaken by the others. Eggman's Gohla robots were floating around the edges of the streams, and tried to fling their fireballs at them as they jumped by! "Whoa! Bad robot! I'm gonna sting you!" Charmy shouted, flying after one of the Gohlas in frustration. Whisk teleported to another of the robots and kicked it into the lava. "Ooops, I hope no one comes looking for that ball..." she muttered. Kosmo morphed into an echidna, and he and Rainbow started to glide ahead of the others. "Follow me, guys! I think we're almost there!" Rainbow giggled. There were still more robots along the way, but Espio went to work taking them out with his ninja stars. "Sssshow off!" Vortex hissed. Soon, they reached the other side of the lava streams, and as Silver floated to solid ground last with his psychokinesis, he noticed everyone stopped, looking nervous. "What's up?" he asked. There were piles of metal GUN crates ahead of them, meaning GUN had set up camp nearby.

Arriving in Lava Reef Zone, Sonic found the GUN camp quickly. GUN Agents were gathered around a cavern where the rock walls seemed to change to a bluish crystal color. "That must be our destination." Shadow said. "It looks like the Hidden Palace..." Tails realized. Sonic stayed back, out of the GUN Agents' sight. "So, how should we get in?" he wondered. "Eliminate all impediments in our path!" Omega suggested. "They're GUN, Omega! They can't help it if they're getting orders from Gunner!" Tails protested. Suddenly, the GUN Agents started to leave their posts, heading over to check out someone else nearby! It was Agent 16, Kosmo's GUN Agent disguise! "Well, they obviously weren't expecting to see that guy..." Sonic muttered. "Let's hurry by while they're distracted!" Shadow said. While Kosmo was chatting with the guards, he noticed Sonic, Tails, SPOT, Shadow and Omega sneaking their way to the cavern. "Wha....ooooh, is that the time? Uh, yeah, I'm under orders to relieve you guys now." Kosmo stammered. "What... by yourself?" one of the agents muttered. "Well, who's gonna make it down here? You guys should move up to the pyramid..." he replied. However, a loud crash was heard as Omega stumbled over a GUN crate. "Stupid human clutter!" he yelled, forcing Kosmo to point frantically to maintain his cover. "DUDES!! It's one of Eggman's robots!!" he shouted. "Where!?" Omega stammered, making Sonic and Tails slap their foreheads in annoyance. "You, Omega..." Shadow sighed. "It's Sonic! Don't let him reach Dr. Nammad!" one of the GUN Agents shouted. "SHOOT! It's Experiment 3!! I'm outta here!!" shouted Kosmo, quickly morphing back to normal before the GUN Agents could turn around. "Gaaaah!! Monster!! What've you done with Agent 16!?!" they shouted. "Wha? He ran, didn't you hear him?" Kosmo stammered. Sonic and the others proceeded into the cavern, only looking back briefly. "Did... Kosmo just help us??" Sonic stammered. Shadow shrugged. "Anything's possible..." he said with a knowing smirk.

Inside the cavern, they found themselves in the Hidden Palace where Sonic first laid eyes on the Master Emerald. Not far from the entrance, they found Professor Pickle standing before an open doorway, one that Sonic and Tails definitely didn't remember. "Professor!" Sonic shouted to get his attention. "Ah, Sonic... You're just in time!" he said. "The GUN blockade outside seems to imply we're late!" Shadow said. Professor Pickle nodded. "Well, it's a matter of perspective. Amy couldn't wait for you any longer and ran into this secret room here." he said. "Amyyyy...." Sonic sighed. The professor had a dire look on his face. "The... um... others got here first. Sonic, I'm afraid Amy is in danger!" he informed them. "Then we'd better hurry inside!" Tails said. Sonic glanced back. "Kosmo will be here any moment, I bet..." he murmured, "So, SPOT, you better stay with the professor. Get him outta here if Kosmo seems dangerous." he said. SPOT stepped beside the professor and sat down. "I will do my best." his monitor read. "Right... Well, then, I'll stay here and investigate this part of the ruins a bit." the professor muttered. Tails glanced at Sonic. "Kosmo just helped us. Do you really think he'd harm the professor?" he asked. "This talk is wasting time! Eggman's robots could be in there right now! We must proceed!" Omega declared, stomping into the secret doorway. Shadow shrugged. "There's enough to worry about without worrying about Kosmo. Let's keep moving." he said.

Kosmo, Silver, Rainbow, Vortex, Whisk, Espio and Charmy entered the room moments after the others headed through the secret doorway. "Some stealth back there, Kosmo..." Espio muttered. He and Charmy hurried through the secret doorway without stopping to notice Professor Pickle, but Kosmo stopped and glanced at him. "What's with you?" he wondered. The professor looked over at him and smiled. "Ah, did you come to research the ruins, too?" he asked. Silver scratched his head. "Um... no. C'mon, Kosmo, let's go." he said. "Ah, so you're this Kosmo Sonic was talking about..." Pickle muttered, "You don't appear dangerous." Rainbow's eyes lit up. "Oooh! Speedy's still here! He can help us!" she said. As they started toward the door, the professor spoke up. "I wouldn't go in there. There are GUN Agents and menacing animals in black uniforms... Perhaps you should wait out here with me and SPOT. It'll be safe here. We can discuss the mysteries of the ruins while we await Son--" he was interrupted by Kosmo. "I'm not afraid!" he said. "Maybe Whisssk sssshould wait here, though." Vortex mumbled. Pickle nodded. "Merely a suggestion. I only want to help you." he said. Kosmo glanced at him curiously. "Why would you do that? ...You don't know me... or any of us." he said. Pickle smiled. "I'm a teacher. It's in my nature." he explained. "Hm? Your... nature...?" Kosmo muttered. "Yes... Think about it, Kosmo. What would you say is your nature?" Pickle mused, turning back to his examination of the nearby ruins. "Huh...? This guy... He's asking me questions like Shadow..." Kosmo thought as he and the others started into the secret doorway. "...Strangely nice, for a human..." he mumbled. The professor smiled to himself as they peacefully walked past him. "You know, SPOT, I think he actually has a good nature. Perhaps he just needs people to approach him with kindness rather than fear..." he said.

The secret door first led to a familiar mural, depicting a certain hedgehog battling it out with a massive machine holding the Master Emerald. However, this was a duplicate mural, and there was a path beyond it leading to an even more elaborate display... but that display was rapidly being demolished by the actions of the people who'd gotten there first!

To be continued...


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