Protector of Chaos 2: The Rising Nebula – Chapter 3: The Alternator
Alter had been journeying through the skies for quite some time now. Every now and then, he would pass by other ships moving to their destinations. Onyx Island and Voltage weren't that far apart from Neo Soleanna, so he knew it wouldn't take him much longer to reach the city's gates. Still, he had to be cautious to avoid unnecessary attention. He inserted a few commands into the ship's control panel, causing the entire aircraft to cloak itself, becoming invisible. At ease, Alter rested back in his seat.
So long as I stay under radar, I should be--
Alter quickly leaned forward, noticing the ship was suddenly decreasing in velocity and then rapidly moving downwards without his doing so. Assuming the autopilot program of the ship was malfunctioning, he tried to override it and take over, but nothing seemed to work. Peering through the front window shield, Alter could make out a red haired Mobian wolf with his hand aimed at the ship. His eyes were a deep shade of ruby, his fur a light brown. Spherical devices were equipped to the golden gauntlets on his wrists and shins, which were embedded with glowing red circuits in a wavy style. Diamond shaped symbols shined brightly on his gloves, located on both the dorsal and ventral parts of his hands.
Alter didn't understand how he could see his ship. It was still in cloak mode, and yet this boy was fully aware of it. The ship continued to soar down, finally coming to a stop in front of the newcomer, being held in midair. The device on the boy's arm began to produce a wave of energy that disrupted the ship's cloaking, completely exposing it.
"I recognize this ship..." the boy muttered. "You work for Voltage!"
He must be a psychokinetic like Silver... "So much for the stealth approach..." Becoming intangible, Alter phased through his ship and stood opposite the boy. "I am not here to fight," he said calmly. "I was requested to come here by the guardian of Onyx Island."
"Laila sent you, huh?" the boy queried, releasing Alter's ship which morphed back into its sphere form and returned to Alter. "Who are you anyway?"
"I am Alter the Wolf, Protector of Chaos and... I am not currently working for Voltage."
"The Protector of Chaos..." Alter observed as the boy looked off in another direction, deep in thought. "Forgive me for interrupting your flight, but I take no chances when I sense a ship approaching Neo Soleanna, especially when that ship was cloaked. You looked pretty suspicious."
"About that," Alter began, "How did you know I was there? Are you a psychokinetic?"
The boy grinned. "No. I can only control metal. I felt you coming nearly a mile away. It's called magnokinesis. I've been able to utilize it ever since I was able to perceive my thoughts and set them into motion, just like any other kinetic. I'm Gizmo, by the way." He extended his hand for Alter to shake.
"Happy to be of acquaintance," Alter said, shaking Gizmo's hand. "Can you take me to Laila?"
Gizmo looked over Alter. "It wouldn't be a very good idea, at least, not with that Voltage uniform. Are you trying to cause a panic?"
Alter felt foolish. He hadn't thought about that. When people see him walking through Neo Soleanna, they'll think he's there on business for Voltage. Both cities have been long time enemies ever since Voltage appeared. Voltage wants to change the world while Neo Soleanna prefers to maintain the tradition that's been governing the land for so many centuries. Alter had always sided with Voltage, but now he has to respect Neo Soleanna's customs or he won't make it to Laila. But with his uniform, he knew he wouldn't even be able to make it through the main gates leading into the city.
Gizmo could tell Alter was uncertain of what to do next. "There is a way around this..." he began. "I may not look it, but I'm one of Neo Soleanna's top geniuses. I've invented many things to help preserve plant and wild life, and I've also recently founded a way to change one's appearance instantaneously."
"Change one's appearance? What do you mean by that?"
Gizmo grinned again. "You'll see. I haven't released this invention out to the public yet, but I'm sure it'll work fine with you. May I see your hands?"
"Sure..."Alter held his arms out, hands bawled in fists. Gizmo studied the gems on the back of Alter's gloves, then aimed the device on his arm at them. Alter stared in wonder as the circuits on his jacket and gems started blinking, then died out, no longer glowing. "What did you do?"
"I saved your current appearance in data files I just created in your gems," Gizmo explained. "You'll be able to revert back to this uniform whenever you please. Now for the fun part."
Alter's gems and circuits started to glow again, but not with the usual green glow. They were radiating with a white light that quickly enveloped Alter from head to toe. It felt very warm, but also quite comforting, like a gentle breeze along the shores of a beach. When the process finished, the light began to fade away until Alter's form came completely back into view.
His former clothes and been replaced with a more upgraded and teched-out version of his attire. He still retained a long black coat and black boots, but they were now more slick in appearance and were embedded with even more circuits than before that glowed red instead of green. The sleeves of his new jacket now covered his arms entirely. His lime green cuffs had become a darker red, as had the ends of his jacket and the stripes and soles of his boots. His gloves were probably the only things that remained unchanged, with the exception of two new glow circuits that arched out around the gems. Alter felt completely transformed. He couldn't help himself from smirking as he embraced his new look.
"I'm at a lost for words... What do you call this invention?"
"I still haven't come up with a name for it, so it hasn't even been patented for public use yet. But it did wonders with you...Wait a sec...!" Gizmo's eyes suddenly sparked with enlightenment, and a big smile appeared on his face. "How does 'the Alternator' sound? I decided to name it after you since you were the first outside the lab to test it."
Alter felt bashful, but said, "That would be a perfect name for it. I'm honored."
"You know, it can do more than change your clothes," Gizmo went on, "It also has the potential to change your hair color, eye color and fur color too. I haven't tried testing different hairstyles though. But it's definitely a possibility to explore."
Alter stared at his gems, already knowing what he had in mind. "I'd like to try something." Accessing his new Alternator function, the white light welcomed him again. Alter was certain that this was what he wanted to do. This was what he needed to do. Once the light faded, Gizmo's mouth dropped at what Alter had just done. His hair had been cut much shorter than it was before, a task Gizmo didn't know the Alternator could perform, at least, not without a few tweaking.
"But... Why...?? How?!" was all he could say.
Alter just chuckled. "I didn't think it would work, but it did. I left my hair and eye color the same because I still want to be me. I'm not running away from that at all. I figured if I'm going to have to wear these new clothes just to get into Neo Soleanna, I should change my hair too so that I'm not that familiar to the citizens. I'm sure they've seen me with Voltage before, and now I'm someone else entirely."
Gizmo was still speechless.
"Like I said," Alter continued, "I'm not here to fight. You said it yourself — I can always go back to my former look just by accessing the Alternator. Now, can you take me to Laila before the Sun Festival starts?"
Gizmo nodded. "Yes; there's not that much time left. Follow me."
Lucky for them, Gizmo had stopped Alter not that far from the main gates of Neo Soleanna. The two approached the massive doors where two G.U.N. soldiers were stationed. The G.U.N. of the future was much more technology enhanced than the G.U.N. of the past. Their name had even changed slightly over the last two hundred years. Previously, they were known as the Guardian Units of Nations, but their tasks has expanded to other worlds since then, so now they've opted to call themselves the Guardian Units of Nebulas. Alter was curious about that. Perhaps they were connected with the Rising Nebula event Le Oracle had warned him about, but he couldn't worry about that now. He had to get to Laila.
The soldiers stared down at the two Mobians. Of course they recognized Gizmo, but Alter was a new face to them. Gizmo assured them that he was a friend and that he was just here to observe the Sun Festival. The soldiers glanced at each other, then stepped aside and allowed them both to enter, having no need to doubt Gizmo. Alter sighed with relief. Gizmo must really be well known here after all.
He lead Alter deep into the city. Alter had only been to Neo Soleanna a few times, usually on duties with Voltage, so he rarely had the opportunity to look around and enjoy the sights. He was surprised with how many psychokinetics they passed by. Both people and Mobians were using it like second nature. He noticed how a little boy had lost hold of his balloon and watched as it began to rise into the skies out of his reach, only for the boy to will it back down into his hold, grinning at his friends. Alter had a hunch that Silver was likely one of the more advanced users of psychokinesis. He probably out-skilled most of the people here.
Gizmo came to a stop at a circular building with a light blue roof by a long river that stretched far out into the city. Alter could see many people lining up on the bridges and along the sidewalks, pacing by and waiting in anticipation for the Sun Festival to begin. Alter was here earlier than he thought.
"This is the place," Gizmo said.
They both leaped to the building's roof where Laila was waiting, along with both Silver and Blaze, all turning as soon as the wolves arrived. Alter could tell they were surprised by his new look.
"Is that really you, Alter?" Silver queried.
"I suppose so..." Alter wasn't expecting Silver and Blaze to be here too, especially the latter considering she's from another dimension. Had Silver already forgiven him for the invasion on Onyx Island? Last time they saw each other, they weren't exactly on friendly terms... Perhaps Laila had filled him in on the situation.
"It's been a long time, Alter," Blaze joined in.
"Likewise," Alter concurred. "But enough catching up for now. Laila, what did you want to tell me about the Nebula Emeralds?"
Everyone turned to Laila and waited for an answer. She appeared to have recovered from her battle with Trinity, but she seemed to have been lost in thought. Eventually, she simply sighed, then mumbled, "Pay attention. The Sun Festival is about to begin."
"But, Laila..." Alter started.
"Don't worry. I will explain everything. Just keep watching," she assured.
Alter sighed, and he and Gizmo sat alongside the others at the edge of the roof. He noticed immediately that this was the same place Le Oracle had showed him in the vision of Neo Soleanna wrapped in flames. Was that why Laila asked him to come here? Was the event about to occur right before their very eyes? He shook his head to clear his mind, but he couldn't help but wonder.
It didn't take long for the firecrackers to light the skies with their flaring sparks, reflecting on the river's dark surface, signaling the start of Neo Soleanna's Festival of the Sun. The people below them clapped and cheered as a long, fancy boat appeared from under the main bridge. The current sovereign of Neo Soleanna — Queen Oliga — stood at the head of the boat, waving to all the citizens.
She bears a strong resemblance to her ancestor and current monarch of the past Soleanna, Princess Elise the Third. The dress she wore was in honor of the Sun God, Solaris. Glamorous silver wings greatly identical to the wings of Solaris swayed with the Queen's movements. Like most of the other people of Neo Soleanna, her clothes were embedded with circuits, hers glowing a bright gold.
Behind Oliga, two robed maids stood, one holding a torch lit with a flame. Groups of female dancers twirled in circles and skipped around on the deck of the boat in tune with the orchestra that played before them. As the boat docked against the center stadium, Queen Oliga advanced forward with her maids following suit. Two robed men stood on either side of a Count, who greeted Queen Oliga as she neared closer and stopped at the center of the stadium. The maid with the torch held it out for the Queen to take, Oliga bowing her head as she did so.
Gazing into the flames, the Queen could see hope for the future generations of Neo Soleanna, causing her to smile. She bowed once more to the Count and his robed men who bowed back, then began to recite the traditional prayer that was given each time the Sun Festival was held. Everyone quieted down as she commenced.
"We give thanks for the blessed flames. May we always continue to have peace. Sun of Neo Soleanna, guide and watch over us with your eternal light..."
With the final words said, Queen Oliga made her way to the Neo Soleanna Cauldron and used the torch to set it alight. Flames raced all around the twisted design of the Cauldron, lighting it entirely. The citizens cheered again and more firecrackers were launched. Queen Oliga waved once more to her people, then vanished in flashes of light with her maids.
"Gets better every year..." Gizmo said wistfully.
"Yes..." Laila agreed, catching Alter's eye. "Alright, Alter. I'm ready to explain now. All of you, listen up." Everyone gave their undivided attention to Laila. "As you all know, there was an invasion on Onyx Island by the Voltage Empire. Their goal was to find the location of the Altar of the Emeralds, and then steal the Nebula Emeralds. By using a tracking beacon that was installed in every administration badge of Voltage, they were able to pinpoint the location of the altar and launch a direct attack on me. With no other option, I prepared to banish the Nebula Emeralds from our world, but the leader of the Voltage Empire — Lord Volt — delivered a powerful attack that somehow penetrated my defenses."
"Yes, but the Emeralds still vanished," Alter interrupted. "You succeeded... right?"
Laila looked down at her swinging feet over the edge of the roof, then replied, "No."
Everyone was shocked. "What do you mean?" Silver asked.
"What happened?" requisitioned Blaze.
"When Volt attacked me, he corrupted the flow of the process..." Laila elaborated. "Instead of the Nebula Emeralds being banished from our world, they were scattered."
"So they're still here..." Alter whispered. Gizmo was the only one who seemed unsurprised by the news, so Alter asked, "Do you know something, Gizmo?"
Gizmo turned to Laila, waiting for her approval to reveal what he knew. The guardian nodded. "Not that long ago, I came across one of the scattered Nebula Emeralds." Laila withdrew it and held it out for the others to see. It was the amethyst purple Emerald, the very same Emerald that Alter made contact with. "I knew something was wrong right away," Gizmo continued. "Laila showed up soon after I found the Emerald."
"So what do we do now?" Silver asked.
"Now... I have to ask a favor," Laila began. "Onyx Island cannot float without the Master Emerald at its altar. I have to return to Onyx Island to resume my duties as the guardian. So..."
"You need someone to collect the Nebula Emeralds for you since you will be occupied on Onyx Island," Alter finished.
"Exactly," Laila confirmed. "I refuse to leave Onyx Island free for Voltage to continue to thrive about. I will have to stay and guard Onyx Island. Using this Nebula Emerald, you will all be able to track down the remainder Nebula Emeralds. Once you've found all seven, bring them back to me and... I'll decide what to do with them from there."
Blaze sighed. "I didn't come to this timeline for that..."
"Blaze..." Silver uttered.
"Believe me, I know how important it is for your world's set of Emeralds to be together," she continued. "It preserves harmony and keeps the world in balance. Banishing them isn't a good idea, no matter how stuck in a situation you may be."
Laila glared at her. "You have no idea what destruction those gems could bring to this world... our universes! These are not your average set of Emeralds. They are the evolved Chaos Emeralds, capable of far greater mayhem than you could possibly imagine. If that power gets into the wrong hands, I... I could never forgive myself..."
"I understand that, but hear me out," Blaze pleaded. "It's not easy being the guardian. I know that from my experience of being the guardian of the Sol Emeralds. You're expected to bring miracles and carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. My world is in a predicament now because a very important item was stolen... the Jeweled Scepter."
Alter's ears perked at the mention of the Jeweled Scepter. He knew of its fate, but he chose not to interrupt just yet. There was no telling how Blaze would react.
"The Sol Emeralds have lead me to this timeline, so I know it's here somewhere," Blaze continued. "I must retrieve it at all costs. That is my mission."
Laila flipped her hair and said, "Why don't you tell her what happened to it, Alter?"
Alter felt everyone's eyes locked on him. Looks like there was no way out of this one. He had to tell the truth. "It was stolen by Voltage..." he said lowly.
Blaze leaped up to her feet, anger rising. "And how do you know that?"
"Because he used to work for them," Silver answered.
Blaze rushed over to Alter while quickly saying, "Where is it?! What have they done to it?!"
Before Alter could answer, a stream of dark energy was launched at the roof. Everyone avoided the blast by jumping out the way and landing on the ground. Both Alter and Laila knew exactly who had conjured up that attack, and it was hard to believe it. Yet, there she was, standing on a nearby bridge that was now full of people fleeing to escape the foreseeable battle. The white rabbit stood confidently, her violet eyes scanning the five Mobians before her, her mouth curled with a cunning grin.
"Who is that?" Blaze queried, her hands already crackling with flames.
"Trinity..." Alter and Laila said in union.
Silver came to their side. "She's one of Voltage's top admins."
"In fact, she's second in command right behind their leader," Gizmo added.
"Oh my. I had no idea I was so well known!" Trinity said in a sassy tone.
"So you're part of the organization that stole the Jeweled Scepter from my world? I'll burn you alive!" Blaze declared.
"Ha! You'll be the one getting burned by the time I'm through with you!" Trinity boasted. "But I'm afraid that will have to wait for some other time. I have what I came here for."
And with that, Trinity jumped into the air and escaped, using her cloud form to zip away. Blaze was steamed. Laila came behind her and put a hand to her shoulder. "Calm yourself, Blaze. Do you not see what you have to do to get your answers? If you help with collecting the Nebula Emeralds, you are sure to cross paths with Voltage. Which means you'll be getting closer and closer to the Jeweled Scepter."
"Yes..." Blaze said, her temper residing.
"And Alter," Laila continued. "Along the journey, pieces of the Rising Nebula will begin to unfold. Don't forget your duties as the Protector of Chaos. I have my suspicions, but I'm positive that Trinity was eavesdropping on our conversation, hence why she just fled. It's just a matter of time before word reaches Voltage that the Nebula Emeralds are still in our world. You have to do what's right and stand against them. Fight with us."
Alter could still remember the talk he had with Volt clearly. He knew this was his calling. There was no turning back now. "You don't have to worry about me. I don't think Volt will be too happy to learn that we already have one of the Emeralds."
"There's something else too..." Laila said, lifting her palm. Everyone watched as energy began to gather over it, revealing an object that Alter thought he would never see again. In Laila's hold was the Necklace of Darkness, a powerful relic that was used to seal Mephiles the Dark who was now nothing more than a single sphere of darkness with no conscious to call his own. Alter felt a chill run down his spine at the sight of it. Silver and Blaze recognized it too, having witnessed Laila and Tikal seal the dark spirit. Gizmo had no idea what the strange necklace was, but he could tell that it was not something the others were eager to see, judging from their worried and shocked expressions.
"Laila, what are you doing with that?" Alter asked.
"You should take this, Alter," Laila said, offering it to him, but he made no effort to claim it. Alter had once been a host to resurrect Mephiles. He didn't want to go through that again. Still, Laila beckoned for him to take it. "I promise you, it's perfectly safe. In fact, I'm sure it will help you on your journey. This is the one thing Voltage doesn't know about. It's the only thing they aren't expecting."
"She's right, Alter," Silver joined in. "I'm fully aware of how dangerous and risky it would be if something were to go wrong with that necklace, but I trust in Laila, and she believes in you. She knows what she's doing."
Alter nodded slowly. "Yeah..." Taking the Necklace of Darkness, he placed it around his neck where it hung over his chest fur. Curiously, the two gems of the necklace flashed twice seconds after, worrying Alter again.
"Just as I thought..." Laila mused out loud. "You're still connected to it. I think you'll be surprised with what that thing can do, but I won't spoil it for you. You'll have to discover what that necklace is truly capable of on your own."
Voltage Empire; Voltage Towers – Volt's Office
Just as Laila predicted, Trinity had returned to the Voltage Empire and was now reporting everything she had learned while eavesdropping on Laila's revelation. Volt was especially pleased to hear that the Nebula Emeralds were still in their world, though he was also disappointed that Alter had decided to side with the enemy.
"This changes everything," Volt began. "We'll be going back to the original plan. We still have the Jeweled Scepter and Iblis, so Eggman Nega will continue to serve us until the Nebula Emeralds are all in our possession. Trinity, you have done an outstanding job. I knew I was right for choosing you to be second in command of the Voltage Empire. You continue to impress me."
Trinity was very flattered and honored to receive praise from her master. "I live to serve the Voltage Empire, my sire. You will never have to worry about me betraying you or our people. I am loyal to you."
"You always have been. Now, send out the troops and prepare the ships for takeoff. We have much work ahead of us, and great resistance to eliminate. We must be ready to do whatever it takes to obtain the Nebula Emeralds. The future of Voltage depends on it."