"This is one nifty movie." Rock said, grinning as they watched Evil Dead 2. It was hilarious, in a group. Alone, it was scary.
Forte was curled up on the sofa, drinking a can of coke. He grabbed the last of the popcorn, popping it into his mouth.
"Ain't it, though." He said indistinctly, and Rock reached for popcorn... only to find his fingers scraping the buttery, salty bottom of the bowl.
"Hey, you ate the last of it. You got to get more." He dumped the bowl on Forte's lap, who shook his head. That was the usual deal, whoever finished it got the rest... but...
"Would you pause the movie?" He asked. He didn't want to miss any of it. Rock nodded, pressing the button.
"Okay, but hurry." Forte stood with the bowl, going to the kitchen... but he grimaced when he heard voices inside.
Wily and Light were getting some coffee and food... he didn't really want to interrupt. For a moment he paused, considering... and spotted an odd glow from off to one side, in the lab room.
"...?" He tilted his head to one side, dark eyes narrowing, and decided to check it out. Putting the popcorn bowl carefully on a table, he stepped into the room.
...Odd... The machines were off, but that light was still here... hidden behind a table. He stepped around it to see... a pinprick of light, hanging in the air.
"What the hell?"
It wasn't turning out into one of the Robot Masters' better days. In fact, it was pretty awful. After being chewed out for near two hours by an overly cranky Wily, they were also forced to stay on the training field several hours more than usual.
Needless to say, they were pissed off. And when Robot Masters were pissed off, they tended to do a bit more destruction than usual. And since the only things they had on hand to destroy were each other, a large number of them were forced to stay at Medlab. And the long line to get themselves repaired only served to darken their moods.
Quick flexed his arm as he exited the infirmary, clenching his fingers into a fist. He was lucky that he was fast enough to prevent Drill from doing more damage to him after he nearly tore off his forearm.
Lucky shot. The speedster growled to himself with a frown.
Something to the side caught his attention, looked like a flash of light. Curious, he peered around the corner. If it was Flash in a bad mood and he got caught peeping, he was in deep shit.
Instead... it was Forte, looking around, disoriented.
Well, not that that made anything better. Forte was severely pissed today. He was the one that put a majority of the 'bots in the Medlab.
Quick turned to make his getaway.
"Quick? Is that you?"
He turned with a wide, nervous smile. "H-Hey, Forte! I thought you were off fighting Napalm."
All he got in return was a confused, gold look. "Who?"
There was a long pause.
"He hit you in the head?"
"Maybe you should go to Medlab, just in case." With a jaunty smile, Quick turned on his heel, wanting to put some space between him and the psychotic black 'bot. He was starting to get scared.
There was a tap at his shoulder before he could move.
"Um..." Forte looked a bit sheepish, "where's the Medlab?"
"..." Quick stared at him for a moment. "Napalm really hit you hard, did he? Uh, follow me." Quick decided it was best to humor the cobra, get him to the Medlab, and leave him there.
"Quick? You okay?"
"Oh, f-fine! Why do you ask?" He asked nervously, trying not to glance behind him. If he had, he would have seen an uncharacteristic, concerned and thoughtful expression on Forte's face.
"Nothing. You seem kinda nervous, is all." Forte just said, and Quick did look behind him then, to catch part of that expression... before Forte looked down.
"...." Quick walked faster, uncertain of what to make of this, and wanting to reach the Medlab quickly.
When they walked in, several of the Robot Masters were still getting repaired, and Forte glanced around with a puzzled frown. He didn't recognize several of these people, and he certainly didn't recognize this lab. He opened his mouth to say something... then closed it.
Maybe it would be wiser to listen and watch before putting his foot in his mouth.
"Hey, Ring? Can you check out Forte? I think Napalm must have given him one HELL of a concussion." Quick was glad to pass off the responsibility. From his expression, Ring would rather have handled a venomous cobra, but he left off fixing Pharaoh... who rated a bit below a venomous cobra... and went to look at the black 'bot.
"Okay, where does it hurt?" He asked, businesslike, and Forte shook his head.
"It doesn't hurt."
"Then why are you here?" Ring demanded, and Forte looked faintly... embarrassed.
"Uh... memory problems?" Not really, his memory was totally clear... but what else could he say?
"Oh, well, take off your helmet." Forte did so, and Ring suddenly blinked. "Where'd you get that?" Forte blinked, then reached up to touch the blue love-lock right above his temple. He suddenly didn't want to explain what it meant.
"Oh... dyed it." Along with his love, they had both dyed one lock of their hair... but Ring just gave him a disbelieving look, and shook his head.
"Well, whatever, let's scan..." Ring had noticed a difference. Forte was being unusually compliant... actually a good patient. Usually he was the type to curse and threaten.
The scans only took a few minutes, and came up totally negative.
"You seem to be in perfect working order. Come back if you get dizzy or anything, okay?" Ring took the scanner off him, and Forte nodded, getting up.
"Okay." He walked out of the room, still confused... but intending to quietly explore everything, and see if he could find out where he was, and what had happened...
He combed the place as thoroughly as he could without looking completely suspicious. But he was really confused as to what was going on. Some of the 'bots he knew, a lot of them he had never seen before, but they either steered clear of him or just stood back with ugly looks on their faces. And Cossack's 'bots... even they were here.
He groaned. What the hell was going on?
It was pretty late in the day when he finally circled back to... some place. He didn't know the official name, but he had been there before and labeled it the rec room since there were a couple pool tables, dart boards, TV, and several other fun bits in there.
He had mapped the place out in his head while he was walking, still had no idea where the place was, though, but never really saw any of the other robots doing anything. Idly he thought back to the Medlab, wondering why so many of them were there.
But that thought floated away when he entered the rec room a second time. It was decently filled with robots. A strange mix of reggae and jazz sang from the impressive sound system mounted on the wall while Turbo and some orange 'bot with what looked like a top for a his head sat before the TV, playing a video game with others cheering and throwing stuff at the screen.
Forte smiled a bit. This was nice. The atmosphere was much nicer than other places in the... this place.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a group of three around the pool table. Quick and Ring were there, as well as Crash. Forte felt a bit relieved. Well, some things never changed. The three musketeers, still together. He went over to join them.
"...I dunno, something's different. I mean, I don't really know what, but the structure -- ow!" Ring gritted, glaring at Crash who had not so gently prodded him with a cue stick. "What was that -- " he realized who was walking towards them. "F-Forte! I, uh, hey. What's up?" He finished with a lame grin.
"Nothing much." Forte flashed a quick smile. "Mind if I join you?"
The trio blinked for a moment, giving him odd looks before Crash handed him his cue.
"Go for it." He said. That was almost surreal. Forte had never touched the billiards before. Well, not after he did the first time, lost horribly and broke the stick over Sword, the resident pool-shark's head.
With another, thankful grin, Forte took the cue and studied the table thoughtfully. He didn't notice the three's nervous fidgeting.
Which, of course, only increased the more Forte played and the more near impossible pockets he made.
"Oh yeah," Quick said quietly to the others. "Something is definitely wrong with him..."
"I told you something was different." Ring muttered back, and Crash still looked dubious... and then Forte made his latest shot.
"Ah YES!" Everyone blinked and stared at the complicated ricochet that sent four balls into the pockets. Forte straightened with a bright smile, and glanced at them. "I can hardly ever do that... Crash?" Forte handed him back the cue, to let him have his turn, and watched with his hands behind his back as the Robot Master tried to save things for his team.
Shadow came into the rec room... and lifted an eyebrow, seeing Forte at play with his friends. He walked over to Ring and Quick.
"Hey Shadow... does Forte seem strange to you?" Quick asked, still watching Forte nervously. He was watching Crash with a small smile, completely calm... and only chuckled when Crash pulled off a shot that put his lead in question.
"I haven't seen him all day... until now." Shadow answered. "When did he learn to play billiards?"
"That's a good question." Crash rejoined them as Forte tried to puzzle out his next shot.
"I can't believe he didn't hurt me..." Crash said, still a bit astonished. His shot had been good enough to put Forte in serious jeopardy, but he didn't seem to mind a bit. He should have at least fumed a little. "What is... wrong..."
No one could keep from staring when Forte started to absently sing. It was a song no one knew, and he had a beautiful voice... it was just that Forte NEVER sang...
"Will someone please awake me, from the nightmare this must be... the arrow's broke, and endless mutiny cry of death to me. My people stand in peril, and I have no time to cry... no time to pray or ponder... Sent you off to die...." Forte sang the words quietly as he made another shot.
"At least it's a depressing song." Crash finally said.
"He's still SINGING!" Quick hissed to him.
"He has a nice voice, though." Ring said idly.
"But he's SINGING!"
"We know, Quick. You've established that." Shadow responded dully, carefully watching the cobra-crested 'bot.
Forte's ears perked at the voice. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he knew that voice. He glanced over his shoulder and confirmed his suspicions. "Hey, Shadow." He said nonchalantly, trying to split his focus between his shot and the dark 'bot behind him. "Try to quell the urge to mess up the shot, eh?"
The four blinked in confusion. Normally Forte just outright ignored Shadow. But to say that he would purposefully mess someone up...? Shadow frowned.
Forte cursed under his breath when his shot missed. "Man," he tsked, waving the stick at Shadow, "you're just bad luck." He held the stick back to Crash who took it in numb fingers. It didn't look like he could take anymore shocks today...
Ring and Quick exchanged a short glance before they scooted to the side. Neither of them knew when Forte's odd mood would suddenly wear off and he'd go on a rampage. Especially when it concerned Shadow. He wasn't Blues' 'twin' for nothing, he loved playing mind games. To which Forte had never enjoyed being a part of.
"Why, pray tell," Shadow asked lowly, "would you say that?"
Forte gave him an odd look before shrugging, but never really taking his eyes of the other. Which began to grate on Shadow's nerves. He never liked being watched, especially by someone that had a tendency of blowing him up just because he looked like someone else.
Forte, in the mean time, was thinking something along the same lines. Shadow was being amazingly quiet and still. In fact, the others weren't even paying attention to him at all, totally not worried about any tricks that he might pull on them. And now that he got a good look at him... Shadow looked familiar... like someone he should know...
Shadow's hands clenched as he tried to ignore the gold eyes watching him. Crash sent another ball into a pocket with a sharp crack. He almost breathed a sigh of relief as Ring cheered him on, taking Forte's attention away. The next shot hit nothing and the two groaned. Quick stepped to the table, measuring the shot.
Ring stole a quick glimpse at Shadow, surprised to see the kagemusha look so ruffled. Forte was talking to Crash, who was starting to warm up to the black 'bot, and the two even began to joke. Quick took a pause in his turn to look at Ring and Shadow. They all looked vaguely uneasy.
Finishing up, Quick handed the cue back to Ring, taking his place by Shadow.
"How many others have Forte encountered today?"
"Don't know." The speedster replied. "Just know he's been acting a bit weird after we got off the field."
The other hmmed. "I'll check around, see who else noticed a difference. Try to keep the others from noticing."
"Right." He said, though it was only heard by empty space. It always unnerved him how he'd do that. But he smiled softly. Well, he finally trusted him with an important seeming job. What'd ya know?
"Hey, Quick." He turned at the sound of his name. Forte looked at him with one brow raised. "Where'd Shadow go?"
"Oh, um..." He shrugged. "You know him. Always sneakin' around."
Forte laughed. "Yeah." And shook his head. "We've really gotta collar him."
Quick blushed at where that thought quickly turned to. Then he saw Forte looking at him with a gentle, teasing smile.
"Or maybe you could do that, privately?" Quick blushed a bit darker... surely Forte couldn't KNOW... no, it was silly. But he was certain Forte was teasing him, although he couldn't guess how Forte could know how he felt about...
"Uh... maybe." He hurriedly switched the topic. "What was that song you were singing?"
"Song?" Forte frowned, trying to recall. He just tended to sing at times, without thinking about what was coming out of his mouth. "Oh... Trio. Want to hear the rest of it?"
"... Sure!" Quick was more stunned by the offer than anything else Forte had done today, and the black robot closed his eyes before he began to sing.
"Outside cannot comprehend it, for the sight is like a blow... cold agony has stopped my breath, I stand mute in my woe. They all knew we had quarreled, now no one asks me why... they surely guess what I know now... I drove you off to die..." Forte hummed the musical notes for a moment... "I cannot think for heartbreak, and I cannot speak for pain. All my self-accusations sear my soul like fiery chains. My guilt is branded plainly, far too deeply to deny. I burned you both in anger... and I sent you off to die... It was my will that sent you, riding off to meet your fate. It was my anger drove you, and I see my wrong too late. It was my jealousy that scorched you off, still wondering why... And all that I can think now is... I sent you off to die..."
"Ouch..." Quick winced at the words. It was a beautiful song, but... what it described. "That's nasty." Forte nodded slightly.
"It has a nasty story behind it." He glanced at the billiard table. "But why dwell on it? I just like how beautiful it sounds. Angst is fun."
"If you don't take it to extremes." Quick said, thinking of Shadow. But Forte laughed.
"Like Blues, the angst boy poster child?" Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at him, unable to contain their surprise. Forte blinked his golden eyes at them, sensing he had made some kind of mistake. ".... What? Did I just grow something?" Ring blinked, then glanced down at the billiard table, going back to the game. Crash went back to watching him, although he couldn't help but glance up at Forte occasionally.
Forte turned his golden eyes on Quick again, this time vaguely worried. "Did I say something wrong?" He asked quietly.
"...Not really." Oh, he was so different today... Quick didn't want to explain that he was supposed to hate Blues with a passion. Actually, he vaguely hoped they could keep this new Forte. He was a pleasure to be with.
"Ah! My turn again." Forte took the pool cue from Ring with a smile, and started puzzling out his shot. Quick was just relaxing again when...
"Ah!" Quick almost jumped at the quiet voice. "Shadow, please!" The kagemusha ignored his reaction.
"Metal noticed Forte poking around all kinds of places today, places he normally doesn't go. Elec spoke to him a moment, and says that Forte was unusually polite. And Freeze says that Forte was examining some of Wily's new technical plans, and seemed interested. That's it." Quick bit his lip. It was plenty. The Forte they were used to didn't know or care much about technical plans...
"You should have heard what he said..." Quick quickly related the comment about Blues, wondering how Shadow would interpret it.
For a moment, all he did was stand there with his usual blank expression. And then, amazingly enough, one edge of his lip began to twitch and his shoulders jerked forward. Shadow quickly put a hand to his mouth and looked away.
"H-Hey..." Quick then realized... he was laughing?
Well, not so much as laughing, more like quietly snickering and trying to hide it. Slowly, Quick's own lips formed his familiar, ready smile, softening to something truer. He liked the way Shadow laughed, the way his face seemed to brighten, coloring his pale skin.
Then something prodded his back, catching him off guard and stumbling against Shadow, pressing him against the wall. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Forte standing behind him, the butt of the cue being what had poked him.
"Geez, guys." Forte said with a wide grin. "Get a room!"
Ring looked completely, well, very nearly mortified by the comment and Crash let out a near choking sound, having to bite down on his knuckle to keep from laughing out loud. Quick, however, blushed deeply and Shadow, thoroughly embarrassed and hating having to be so, shoved the red 'bot away from him and, face closed into a tight expression, stalked out of the rec room.
Forte winced at Quick, the other's expression hurt and forlorn. "Hey, I'm sorry." He admitted sheepishly. "I didn't mean to shove you into him, really. Just wanted to get your attention."
"Hey, don't worry about it." He said with a forced smile, not looking entirely phony. "Not your fault he can't take a joke."
The others relaxed slightly, and Forte returned the smile with his own. But in the back of his head, he was worried about the two.
It was relatively late when they decided to call it a night and head back to their quarters. Some of the others didn't even make it out of the room, sprawled on the floor, the late night B-movie on the TV, beers scattered on the floor.
Forte just ignored them, trying his best to linger behind so the others wouldn't realize he had no idea where his room was. He had followed them to the long hallway, which he recalled led to the barracks. Quick and Crash broke off when they had reached the hall labeled '2nd Wing'. Ring left Forte's side soon after in the 4th Wing.
And Forte had no idea on where to go.
He had looked at the doors earlier in the day, each door was marked by a six spaced code. Three letters and three numbers. All of which meant absolutely nothing to him. With a frustrated sound, Forte pressed his hands against his helmet.
"Why the hell don't I remember any of this? Where the hell am I?"
With an angry huff, he marched down a random hallway, trying to get his bearings. Then he heard a bark...
"Gospel?" Well, wherever Gospel was, was probably his room. He finally found it... off in a corner. He opened the door, stepping inside. Gospel sat up, his tail wagging, and Forte smiled.
For a moment. Then Gospel sniffed the air, his tail stiffening and ears laying back. A small growl rumbled out of his throat.
"Gospel...?" Forte tried to step closer, and the growl intensified. Gospel sniffed the air a few more times... then started to advance on the uncertain black robot. Forte backed up, biting his lower lip.
Gospel had never acted like this before.
"Boy...? Calm down, it's o -- augh!" Forte jerked backward violently as Gospel snapped at his legs, trying to drive him away. "Gospel! I -- " Forte's eyes widened as the dog tensed...
And he stepped out and slammed the door shut, just in time to hear the thump of Gospel hitting the door. There was a yelp, then a lot of angry growls and barks.
"Dumb dog..." Forte whispered, leaning against the wall. Tears stung his eyes, and he suddenly felt horribly bereft, completely alone.
If you couldn't count on your dog, what could you count on?
He sighed, straightening, and considered where to go. Back to the rec room sounded like a good idea. Several people were sleeping there, it wasn't unusual. Not very comfortable, but what else could he do?
He was halfway there when a pair of robots appeared in front of him. Forte recognized one... Pharaoh, and someone else with a weird magnet on his head. Forte almost sighed to himself. Wily and Light did tend to come up with quirky designs. He was glad he'd been blessed with a relatively normal one... and cute, according to his love...
"Hey Pharaoh." He waved, not bothering to hide his lack of enthusiasm for basically everything. "What are you up to? And who's this?" He glanced at his red companion, managing to startle them both.
"Napalm must have rattled your brain." Pharaoh said with a laugh that suddenly got Fortes attention. It wasn't a nice laugh. "It's Magnet, moron." Forte frowned slightly. There was a nasty edge to Pharaoh's voice he wasn't used to. He'd never been really pleasant... sort of a jerk... but not like this.
"Yeah, that's great for him... Excuse me?" Forte started to force his way between them, and was shocked at the rough shove from Pharaoh. "Hey! What gives?" He looked at Pharaoh, bewildered and angry.
What did they think they were doing?
The Egyptian grinned evilly behind his mask, his sun-spun eyes narrowing in gleeful malice. "Hn. We heard that you were acting oddly. Didn't think they meant this odd."
Magnet crossed his arms, chuckling lowly. "We saw your little display in the rec room. Acting any odder, we would think you were replaced by a very bad actor."
Forte swallowed. He didn't know about the red 'bot, but he seemed pretty strong and capable in a fight. And Pharaoh he knew was tough. And the odds didn't seem to be falling in his favor at the moment.
Pharaoh leaned forward, forcing the other to back up several steps. "Look, Magnet. Forte's afraid of us!"
"I've just seen a horseman ride by and it wasn't Centaur." The other replied in a mock thoughtful position. "But, if you ask me, he's not as afraid as he should be. Not like the others are."
"No, you're right. It's been a long time coming, and we won't be taking half-assed results."
The two stepped forward for every one Forte retreated. That is, until his back hit up against the wall, trapping him. He swallowed again as they towered before him.
"W-What do you want?" He winced as his voice wavered. He didn't feel up for a fight, but he certainly wasn't going to take it if they started swinging punches.
The smile that suddenly curved on Magnet's lips, not entirely cruel, but darkly secretive, sent chills over Forte's spine. "The same thing we take from everyone else. You've been an exception for a long time because of Wily. But now that you've been falling out of his grace..."
A hand snaked to his chin, pulling his gaze from Magnet to Pharaoh who had gotten even closer, his breath warm on his cheek. "Now, you're fresh for the taking."
A cold fear broke through him. They couldn't... possibly...
The voice cut through the tension, giving Forte room to breathe as Pharaoh backed off slightly. Behind the two stood Shadow.
"What do you want, Short Stuff?" Pharaoh asked, annoyed. The little shadow slinker had a habit of coming in at the wrong time.
"Wily wants you two in his lab."
The two stiffened. Wily's lab. Late at night. Not a good combination.
Shadow looked at them with stern eyes. "Now."
No room for argument there. If they had Flash, and if he was fast enough with the Time Stopper, maybe... but not when the place was dark- Shadow's battlefield.
With snarls, the two trudged off, grumbling to themselves and cursing kagemusha in general.
Forte let out a relieved breathe. "Thanks." He said. "What does Wily want with them?"
Shadow looked at him for a moment with long, hard eyes. He then turned away when Forte began to fidget. "Go back to your room and stay there. I've taken Gospel out of there so you'll have a place to stay. I suggest you don't leave until someone goes to get you."
The black 'bot watched, slightly shook up as the other left. Apparently Shadow didn't save him by chance...
The next morning, Forte was tired, unhappy, lonely and bored as he sat in his room. He wished he was home. He'd known from the start that he was in a strange place, but now it seemed like a hostile, dangerous place as well. He had spent most of the night thinking about that, thinking about what had almost happened.
His gaze trailed unhappily over the objects in... "his" room. It was nothing like what he'd had at home. Of course, Rock had been responsible for a lot of the mess there, but... it had been a cute mess. This place...
There were only a few books, and Forte had stopped perusing them when he realized they mainly had to deal with some nasty themes. Not that that kind of book wasn't interesting, but he wasn't in the mood at all. There was nothing light, none of the fantasy collection he'd amassed.
And the big poster of a blue robot, with the red X over him, was just severely puzzling. Forte couldn't figure out who the blue robot was. The armor was totally unfamiliar.
The only familiar thing in the room was the Hornet. An ornate dagger displayed on the other wall. Forte touched it, then took it down. He turned it around to see...
"..." His eyes dimmed as he looked at the back of the leather sheath. There was no inscription. He knew what should have been written there...
Merry Christmas, Forte!
Here there was nothing. He carefully replaced the dagger, and sat back on the bed, letting his mind wander. Then he started to sing again, a song that seemed to cover his feelings right now...
"I'm still young... but I know my days are numbered... One two three four five six seven and so on... but a time will come when these numbers have all ended. And all I've ever seen will be forgotten... Won't you come to my funeral when my days are done... life's not long..." Forte sang the sad song, wishing he had a synthesizer to accompany it with. He wasn't the best piano player ever, but it wasn't a hard song.
He stopped singing as he heard a faint knock on the door. Forte glanced up warily... but anyone with evil intentions wouldn't knock, would they?
"Come in." A faint smile crossed his face as he saw it was Quick, and Forte relaxed a little. At least he was sure Quick was okay. "Hi Quick."
"Hi Forte. Want to come for breakfast?" Forte nodded, realizing he was very, very hungry. He hadn't eaten in a long time, besides a bit of popcorn last night.
"Yes, please." Forte pushed himself to his feet, following Quick out. "Quick? I was wondering..." Forte paused, not sure how to phrase it. He KNEW it was true, where... where he came from, but here, well... Shadow's reaction...
"What?" Quick tilted his head, looking at Forte curiously. Forte blushed faintly.
"Aren't you and Shadow lovers?" There, he'd said it. Blurted it out, really, but at least he'd said it... But he didn't really expect the sort of reaction he got.
"W-W-W-WHAT??" Quick was so flustered that at that moment, looking indignant, stopping, turning around and blushing at the same time proved too much for his mind to handle and he ended up sprawled on the ground.
Forte winced, putting a hand over his eyes. Well, here he was still a klutz, too. He giggled faintly.
Quick, however, failed to see the humor of the situation. "What the hell is that question about??" He yelled, flushed in mortified anger.
Forte stuttered, caught off guard. "I-I just thought, well, I mean the way you act around him..." He flushed himself. He didn't know how the two were here, but they seemed rather close.
"Oh God..." Quick hid his face in his hands, sitting up against the wall. "Is it that obvious?"
"I... eh?" Forte blinked. "W-What?"
A disbelieving look was shot at him. "What do you mean, what? You seem to know I -- " he blushed, "I l-like him."
Forte blinked again. Wait... he paused to think. Obviously Quick's towards the darker robot was apparent. Well, when he was like this. But the way that scene was acted out...
"So... you're not together?" Forte asked slowly.
"No." Came the forlorn answer. "I can't tell what's going on with him. It's driving me crazy! I mean, he doesn't talk to the others as much as he does with me, but even that's a rare fact! I don't know how he feels about me." He curled up, looking like, for all the world, he was waiting for the ground to swallow him.
Oh man. That was lot different than from what he remembered. The Shadow he knew... well, he basically forced Quick to admit he like him. Mainly by bullying and tricking the words from his mouth. But now? Now he seemed... seemed...
"Like Blues!" Forte said in shock. He couldn't believe he never noticed the resemblance before!
Forte flushed. "Oh, uh. Nothing, never mind."
Quick, however, didn't look like he'd be letting it go anytime soon. He crossed his arms, glaring at Forte from the floor. "Why are you so different all of the sudden? You're like a completely different person. I mean, not like I'm arguing or anything, but still. It's so strange."
The other let out a dark laugh. "If I knew what was going on, trust me, I wouldn't be feeling as lost as I do right now." Forte offered Quick a hand, pulling him to his feet. "I think it's time to talk about it, but it would be quicker with everyone together."
"Okay... I can't wait to hear about it." He led Forte to the room they had picked to get together in.
It was strictly the Robot Masters they felt could be trusted... Shadow, Ring, Crash, Elec, Slash and Metal. They were all sitting around, enjoying a simple breakfast of toast and cereal. They all looked up as Quick and Forte came in. Everyone was a bit nervous, wondering if Forte's "condition" might have worn off during the night.
But apparently not, since Forte seated himself with a smile, taking a bunch of toast... and marmalade jam. That was always his favorite.
"So." Shadow leaned forward as soon as Forte started munching. "I think you should explain what is going on with you." Forte swallowed the toast, and nodded.
"I guess so." He paused, thinking about where to start. Well, the beginning. "Hmmm... I don't know what's up with this place, exactly, but it's nothing like what I'm used to. I was created by Dr. Light and Dr. Wily." He glanced around, seeing the pure disbelief, but forged ahead. A small frown crossed his face. "Things were kind of unstable when I was created, which is why I have arms and armor, although I've never fought before. Unless you count a few spars with Blues." He glanced up at Shadow as he said that, but the kagemusha's face was closed off, impossible to read. "Now I'm more or less a lab assistant and defense. At least, I was."
"Rock and I were watching a movie, and I went to get some more popcorn, when I noticed a light in one of the labs. The lights were off, so it was strange. I went in to see... and there was a kind of... pinprick of light." Forte felt himself flush. This part of the story really was unbelievable... although Quick was frowning. "I reached out to touch it, there was a flash... and the next thing I know I'm half blind, stumbling over things that aren't in the right place, and I see Quick here." He motioned to the red robot.
"Quick? Did you see anything strange?" Shadow asked, and Quick hesitated, then nodded.
"...Yeah, I saw a flash of light. That was why I looked into there." He admitted. "But that was all." Forte sighed, looking down at his plate.
"...I don't understand this place. So many things are the same, but so many are different. Why are there so many robots hanging around here? Where's Dr. Light and Rock?" He missed the universal reaction to that name, looking at the table. "Gospel knows I'm not his master. How did I get here?" It just seemed so wrong...
The other Robot Masters looked at each other, obviously not buying the story entirely. Elec gave a heave of breath, templing his fingers together. "Well, not implying that you're lying to us, but you do know that it's a bit hard to believe."
"I know." Forte replied, trying not to sound as defeated as he felt.
"That light you saw could've erased your memories and replaced them with some others." The eldest continued. "One of Wily's older projects did something like that. I don't think it was ever finished, but that doesn't mean that he never got around to completing it."
"But that doesn't answer why Gospel doesn't like him." Ring countered, tearing off a bit of crust before popping it in his mouth.
Shadow turned to Quick. The latter blushed finely, still not completely over the questions Forte had asked earlier. "Did you take a reading on the light?"
"I-I... no, I didn't." He looked away, cursing himself to get in control of himself.
In a move that surprised both Forte and made Quick blush even more, Shadow reached over to pat his hand. "It's alright. You didn't think it was a big deal." When Shadow's attention was drawn elsewhere, Forte elbowed Quick in the side, giving him a wicked grin. Which earned him a quick kick to the shins.
Forte just waved off Metal's question with a pained smile. "It's all good."
"Supposing that this guy's story is true," Slash said, pointing at Forte with a milk dribbled spoon, "then where's our Forte?"
Silence reigned over the table. Finally, Crash spoke up. "If your world is as inexperienced with fighting robots as you make it sound, they're in deep shit." A general consensus went up with the other Robot Masters. "Our Forte is bad tempered with a hell of a lot of fire power and the experience to blow up a small country in under five hours."
Forte gulped down a dry piece of toast, reaching for a mug of coffee. "Is he really that bad?"
"Very. He was the best robot Wily made. Created specifically to be Mega Man's equal, if not superior. Everyone here is afraid of him when he gets in a bad mood. He's really violent, even when he's being 'nice'."
He shivered at the drill bomber's description of his... other self. His hands clenched, hoping upon hope that Rock and the others would be okay. "I... I need to get back home... I have to make sure that the others are okay."
"Before you worry about 'getting back'," Elec said, "first you should worry about yourself. Shadow told us what happened last night. You need to know who to stay away from. And you might need better training on how to protect yourself. When we train, Wily will be able tell something's different from you if you aren't up to speed."
Shadow nodded. "Elec's right. He, Ring and I will try to figure out how you got here and if there's a way to get you back. Slash and Crash are the ones built for fighting, here. They'll help you train. Quick and Metal will fill you in on this world, they'll tell you who you should avoid." He frowned slightly as he regarded Forte. "You may be a better robot than the one that we're used to, but you don't belong here. And your world doesn't deserve the problems our Forte gets into."
"You might be surprised." Forte said, shaking his head. "But the lab sure doesn't, even if Roll can probably take care of him... What?" Everyone was staring at him again, but this was probably the greatest display of shock he'd seen yet. Even Shadow looked white.
"R-R-Roll?" Slash managed to choke out, and Forte glanced around with a puzzled expression.
"When the troubles first began, Roll volunteered to be changed into a warrior 'bot. She was always my main sparring partner, and she's good at it. Why?" There was a long silence, then a smothered giggle as Quick tried to control himself.
"R-R-Roll?!? A fighter? What color is her armor, pink?" All the Robot Masters were getting over their shock, and starting to look amused. Forte colored slightly, embarrassed.
"Y-yeah, but if you ever meet her, don't make any comments, she'd kill you. She's kind of a bit psycho. But she wasn't at the lab when I was... whatever. She was out on a mission." That worried him. Roll could probably take care of his double, or at least severely cramp his style... but Rock, Light and Wily would have to take care of him alone, at first. Forte bit his lip, shaking his head.
"Well, never mind... let's get started."
Forte listened to the story of this world, a little stunned. Wily had gone insane? Rock became a fighter?
"That's a fork. Roll became a fighter in my world." He commented at that.
"Yeah, hush and listen." Then Quick and Metal explained about the Wily Wars, and how Rock, as Mega Man, had consistently managed to destroy the Robot Masters and defeat Wily.
"Why didn't he just kill Wily after the first time?" Forte wondered out loud, and Metal shrugged.
"The laws of robotics insist that a robot never kill a human being. And he's... well, he's Mega Man. You know him, don't you?" Forte nodded.
"Yeah... and I see what you mean. He wouldn't kill someone, even if they deserved it...not like Roll. She doesn't sweat the legalities." Forte smiled slightly as he thought of his pert, spunky and extremely violent half-sister. "Wily must be a lot stupider than ours, too. I can't imagine him failing once, let alone several times."
"If you say so." Quick finished the story, telling Forte about his own creation, and what had happened after that. Forte committed it all to memory. It explained a lot of things that had been inexplicable before. He was in an armed encampment, not a normal lab...
"Now, for the people you want to avoid." Metal looked awfully serious... and slightly pained. Forte focused his attention on him, concerned. "Pharaoh is the worst. But you want to avoid Magnet, Skull..." He named several of the Robot Masters, and Forte noted the names, although he didn't know some of the people attached to them.
"I knew about Pharaoh and Magnet... I owe Shadow a big one for showing up when he did." The thought of what they'd been planning to do still gave Forte chills. Would they really have...? He didn't know. He only knew that he'd have fought to the death to prevent it. He still found it hard to comprehend. "Pharaoh isn't like that in my world. He always was a jerk, and I never liked him, but not... like that." This was a quantum step beyond mere jerkdom.
"You're lucky, then." Metal said sadly. "So... we better get you started on training."
Forte wasn't having a very good time. He crouched on the ground, panting, waiting for dust to disappear and his opponents to emerge again. A throbbing pain burned in his shoulder joint, from where he'd wrenched it fighting Slash.
On the other hand, he wasn't doing too badly. It was two against one, but he was holding his own. Maybe he'd be able to pull this off.
An observer had a different opinion.
Shadow shook his head, standing beside Elec.
"He's good... really good." Elec was surprised, given the peaceful nature of the place Forte lived.
"He is. And it's almost worse than mere ineptness." Shadow said dully, watching the battle progress. Elec shot him a startled glance.
"What do you mean?" He asked, and Shadow waved at the battle.
"Watch his moves, his style. Ignoring what he looks like, would you think that this is Forte?"
"....No." Elec admitted, and that was the problem. This Forte had been trained by Blues and... Roll. He fought well, for someone who had only practiced, but his style was more like Mega Man than the Forte everyone was familiar with. The most obvious difference was that he was less violent, and cleverer.
He also had a nasty habit of throwing knives. They were tiny blades, carefully hidden in his armor, and he put them to good use. But their Forte didn't have anything like that.
"It's a problem." The knives, they could get him to refrain from... but the entire fighting style was wrong. Shadow nodded.
His lips pulled down into a frown, almost snarling. "We might have to get extreme if we're going to pull this deception off."
"What do you mean?"
Shadow didn't say anything, but stepped out into the field. "All right guys! Change of tactics!"
At his voice, the others, about to charge in attack, stopped, and stood back. Shadow picked up one of the throwing knives, admiring the craft and weight distribution. "Nice knife." He said, handing it back to Forte. "But don't use them. Our Forte never uses knives."
"Uh, okay, thanks."
He turned to the other two. "You guys rest up but don't go anywhere." Turning back to Forte, he said, "We're going to try a different approach to this. You're a pretty good fighter, but the problem is you don't move like our Forte. He's aggressive, reckless, he prefers strength and raw skill over speed or techniques." He spread his feet out. "I'm going to attack you like our Forte would, maybe you'd get a better idea of what you need to do."
Forte set his jaw. "All right." He was caught by surprise, though, when a fist sized rock bounced heavily off his chest plate. He could feel it against his chest. "What -- "
"Be glad I don't have an arm cannon like Forte does." Shadow said. "He fights dirty. So long as he wins, he doesn't care what methods or tricks he has to take. Let's try again."
Forte nodded, immediately launching into the air, using his boosters to dodge the other rocks thrown at him. He reached for a throwing knife, then hesitate as he remembered he wasn't supposed to use them. Another rock knocked him out of the air.
"You okay?" Came the concerned question.
"Yeah. Old habits die hard." He stood a bit shaky. "Let's go!" This time he charged forward, changing his arm into its canon. Though he hadn't used it in so long a time, it seemed to be the only attack 'Forte' was throwing at him. Not the best attack to depend on, I hope I can use others. A few feet away from his target, Forte once again took to the air, flipping over his opponent and reading for a low level blast. Only to be knocked down by a viscous spin kick to the jaw.
The others winced as Forte was slammed into the ground. Shadow stood above him. "He does more than just shoot." He paused in consideration as Forte groaned painfully. "If you want to stop -- "
"No..." he panted. "I don't want to have you guys save me every time an ass tries to pick a fight with me. I'm ready." He immediately launched into a punch, nearly catching Shadow in the face.
That is, if the other didn't move his head and bring his hand up to grab the wrist, pull it down, behind Forte and -- he gasped at the pain in his shoulder, the same one he injured against Slash -- immediately the hold was broken and the push against his shoulder just sent him stumbling a few steps instead of breaking the joint as it was meant to. He looked back at Shadow in surprise.
The other looked a bit embarrassed. "Um, sorry. That was me. You caught me by surprise." A pause, then they both exchanged wiry grins. He may have a lot of work ahead of him, but he was catching on fast.
"Slash, Crash." The two stepped back onto the field. "We'll do this a bit at a time. Crash will fight first. You attack him like our Forte would with his arm cannon. Basically it'll be a maneuverability and shooting contest. After Forte gets the hang of that, Slash will fight like our Forte does hand-to-hand. His speed is better than our Forte, but his reactions are a lot slower, so begin easy on him." Shadow walked over to Elec. "We'll check to see how Metal's faring on hacking into the security net. And we'll send down Ring with a med-kit."
That went on for quite a while, and Forte made pretty fair progress. But he finally ran down, panting.
They decided to call it off when he responded to an attack from Slash instinctively, and threw a knife that raised a cut on Slash's cheek. Forte went white when he realized what he'd done.
"Oh! I'm sorry, I got caught up in things..." He felt awful, and almost a bit scared. He really had been aiming for Slash's eye, and that told him more than anything that they needed to quit now. He was so tired he was loosing control. "Maybe we should stop now."
Slash growled, feeling shaken, and wiped away the thin trail of blood. The knife had gone near enough to his eye to make his skin crawl, and he hated that feeling.
"Yeah, maybe that would be best." Crash broke in. He'd been watching. "You're doing much better, if you can stop using those knives." Forte flashed him a grateful look, for breaking in.
"It's hard... Roll taught me to use them, and drilled me hard." Forte admitted, then drew out a larger knife... it had been hidden against his hip, almost invisible until you saw him draw it. It was a very thin, very flat blade... but long enough and wide enough to do serious damage. "I also have these, but they're mostly for when nothing else is useful." They required getting very, very close. He slid the blade home again.
If it weren't for the fact that Forte didn't use weapons, he'd use them in the unarmed combat... ah well.
The three of them settled down to rest for a little while, and Forte tilted is head.
"I was wondering if you could tell me... there's a lot of people here I've never heard of, who don't exist in our world." He still didn't know half the Robot Masters, and that was critical knowledge. Crash nodded.
"Okay..." For a long time, they talked, and Forte learned. Pretty soon, he had the names and descriptions paired up. Sometimes they were all laughing at the descriptions... the ones being described would no doubt have been annoyed.
Forte leaned back, looking up into the sky.
"Look... a bunny rabbit." He pointed at a cloud. The two Robot Masters stared at him a moment, then looked into the sky.
"...I see it." Slash said slowly, then pointed to another cloud. "That one looks like a sailing ship." Crash squinted.
"You think?" Forte smiled contentedly. This was very nice, very familiar... almost like home...
"I miss home." He said suddenly, staring into the sky. "I miss Light, Wily, the guys I know... I even miss Roll, and she's crazy... most of all, though, I miss Rock." Both the Robot Masters stiffened at that name, and Slash snarled slightly.
"Why do you miss HIM?" Forte glanced over to him, seeing the hatred... but not in any way sharing it.
"He's my lover." He said simply, and tugged off his helmet, revealing the blue lock. "We both dyed our hair, a love lock, it's called..."
The two took in the information quietly. Then Crash turned his head, a hand to his mouth to smother a cough that was covering up a chuckle. Sure, he was a bit of a romantic at heart, and he had a rather large imagination, but the idea of Forte -- well, the one he was used to -- and Rock... that was just really funny...
Slash, however, didn't take it so easily. "Y-You're what??" He sat up in shock. "You -- " so many words wanted to come out of his mouth at the same time he wound up just spluttering for a moment. "You're sick! You're absolutely disgusting!"
That hurt. A lot. Forte sat up as the other climbed to his feet. Crash looked uncertain about the entire ordeal.
"How could you care about someone like HIM?? He's a bastard! He doesn't know what we're going through! He thinks by not killing us, he's doing us a favor! He thinks he's bound to not kill Wily! That little asshole is the most worthless, annoying, stupid piece of -- "
He was cut off of ranting when Forte grabbed him roughly by the collar, his face twisted in familiar fury. "Don't you dare talk about Rock like that! I love him with all my heart and soul! I won't let anyone, especially the likes of you talking trash about him!"
"Maybe the reason I do is because he is trash!"
"You sorry son of a -- "
The sharp light of blades being drawn flashed on top the hill, and then halted as a drill bomb rose up right between the two's noses.
"Calm down, kiddies." Crash said calmly, the drill taking the place of his hand, slipping between the two. A knife and claws almost scraping uncomfortably against the bomb. "We have enough people to fight, we don't need to start turning on each other." A happy, yet dark smile spread across his lips. "Now, how about some apologizes, huh?"
Forte looked down, shifting slightly. "I-I'm sorry. I may have overreacted."
"Good. Slash?" The other didn't say anything, just looked away. Crash frowned. "That isn't our Rock, Slash."
The clawed Robot Master tensed, looking as if his pride and common sense were warring with each other. Finally, he snarled, let out a gravely 'Sorry', and then stormed back inside the compound.
Crash sighed. "Oh well. Guess that's the best we can do." He turned back to Forte. "Sorry about that. He doesn't act like it most of the time, but he's really very high strung. The wrong word, or, in this case, name is enough to make him freak. A lot of us are worried about what'll happen when he finally snaps."
Forte frowned, watching the door in which Slash had entered. "How did he get to be that way? What happened to him?"
The other shrugged. "I don't really know the whole story myself. It was before he was first pitted against Mega, I know that. He was out of the compound without permission, ran into a little girl. Apparently, he took a liking to her and would sneak out every chance he got to see her. Eventually, though, Wily found out about it and installed a chip in all of us that if we left the compound for more than a half-hour, we'd begin to choke. Mega Man was caught in a fight near the place the girl lived and Slash went out to save her. Don't really know what happened then. All I know was that the girl was killed when her building crumbled in the attack and Slash was passed out only a few feet away from where her body was found. When he woke up back in the laboratory, he snapped and started thrashing the place. Damn near tore out his own eyes to kill himself before he was sedated. They're very sensitive, so he gets paranoid when anything gets too close to them." His face was set grim remembering and Forte winced. "He blames her death on Mega, Wily and himself, and he hates them with a passion. He's torturing himself because of that, gets panic attacks, nightmares... ain't nothing anyone can do about it, either. Us 'cause we don't know what to do, and Wily just doesn't care."
Forte looked at his feet, feeling like utter crap. "I-I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I wouldn't have gotten so upset if I had known..."
"Hey, don't worry about it." Crash slapped Forte's back. "Even if he has a reason to get upset at Rock's name, that doesn't give him the right to insult another man's man. Especially if that one hasn't done anything wrong."
"Un." He smiled weakly at the older robot. "Are there any other things I should know about the others? I don't want them to get mad at me, too."
"Oh, in that case, you should know something else about Slash." With a wicked grin, he leaned forward. "He's homophobic. Always freaks out when some of the guys get it on in front of him. He's one of the only ones that hasn't been taken by either Pharaoh or Magnet yet is because he ripped off Magnet's arm when he realized what they were planning on doing. Totally freaked."
Forte laughed at the thought. "Well, now I know who to get when they start bothering me again."
Crash stretched. "Hmm. As far as the others go... I'm not so sure about the stories for them, but Metal's deathly afraid of pitch darkness and spiders. Well, less so on spiders, but he really hates the dark. You'll have to maybe ask Elec on that. They, in case they're not in your world, are an item. Just letting you know."
"And Shadow really hates to be compared to Blues. He was built from Blues' prints, but he's been spending a lot of time trying to distinguish a separate identity from Blues. He doesn't hate the guy, just gets annoyed with being forced to try to be his equal. Shadow's good, he's got all the skills and techniques, but he doesn't have much else asides from that."
"So he's basically trying to make a life for himself."
"Yeah. Really sucks to be in a greater person's shadow. No pun intended."
"No, no, I get it. In my world, though, Shadow's a bit of a prankster. Likes playing jokes on people. Actually, he and Quick are a couple. Comparing them to the ones here is really weird. I'm used to Shadow being the more energetic of the two. Quick's actually the one that has to keep tabs on him."
Crash laughed. "That's gotta be an interesting sight."
"You have NO idea. That's why I was watching Shadow a lot, when I first saw him. I was expecting him to stick a sign to my back or something." Forte stretched, reaching down to pick up his helmet. "You seem pretty much the same as the Crash I know. I really wish I could meet Roll here, and compare her to the one I know. If you ever meet her, seriously, don't make fun of her armor. She taught me how to use knives, but only the techniques I would learn."
"Meaning...?" Crash tilted his head to one side, and Forte grimaced expressively.
"I didn't want to know her "jack the ripper" attacks." He put his helmet back on, hiding the blue lock. Crash's eyes widened.
"What do THOSE do?" This was an even stranger concept... a psychotic Roll... but it sure sounded like it.
"Oh, about what you'd expect. When she's finished, the person isn't dead though. Dying. I've only seen her use it once, and that was when someone asked if she was a pink power ranger." Forte sighed. "And it was Halloween too. She needs Prozac."
"Ewww..." Crash shook his head. "Maybe your world isn't as idyllic as we thought."
"No, not really. The tension is just different. Politics, some ugly wars, and Roll sells her services to all kinds of secret organizations. It's all going to go up in flames someday, probably." Forte shrugged. "But nothing we can do about it. Hmm... shall we go see how Elec and Shadow are doing?"
A pinprick of light appeared, slowly expanding into a glowing disk. And from it came a robot in red and grey armor, a shield slung over his back, and a visored helmet.
Behind him was a girl in matching armor. It was pink and white, but with the same kind of helmet. Golden hair streamed behind her, and she had no shield. But she did have tiny, white knives hidden all over her body...
"Well, this is it." Blues glanced around. They were in a forest. "...Might not be the place Forte came out, though."
"No shit. Fraggin' boring forest in the middle of nowhere." Roll kicked a rock absently. "Hey Blues?"
"Yes?" He asked wearily, already feeling a familiar mental fatigue. It set in whenever he had to deal with Roll for a long time.
"Wasn't that portal supposed to stay open?" Blues turned around to stare behind them. There was nothing but empty air.
"Yeah, that's what I figured. Oh well, let's go kill something." Roll drew a knife, testing the edge.
"...." Blues shook his head.
They might be as lost as Forte, now.
Metal stretched as he got up off the seat, letting Elec take his place. It had taken him an hour to hack into the security net, another hour to find the right grid and a little less then that to get to the right time frame. He was glad to be standing.
Behind him, Elec was going through the sensor readings at the time with Shadow looking over his shoulder. Ring had left soon after they arrived to see how badly the others beat each other. Casting another look over his shoulder, he decided to go get drinks for them all. They might be standing around for a while.
He walked back to the security room after picking up a six pack energy drink when he saw Ring treating Slash in the hall. He had several small cuts along his arms and one across his cheek, right under the eye. The burn marks on his armor, though a real pain to get out, didn't look like they were very painful. Metal unhooked two cans and made his way towards them.
"Hey, guys." He said, giving them each a drink.
He took their distracted tones and tired voices in stride. With all the weirdness going on lately, he wasn't surprised. "So how did Forte fair?"
"He's pretty good." Slash said, not really watching the white bandage wrapping down his arm. "He doesn't move like our Forte. Learning fast, but he's still being too cautious. Wily will know he's hesitating right off."
"Ah well. What do you expect from someone that was partially trained by Blues? I mean, look at Shadow. He wasn't even really trained by him and he can think us into submission. Doesn't even have to raise a finger."
He just huffed.
Ring and Metal exchanged quick glances. The latter leaned forward. "Is something bothering you, Slash? You seem a bit... upset."
His jaw clenched. "I... blew up at Forte. I didn't mean to, really, but..."
"Why did you?"
"He and Rock... in his world, were lovers. He started to go on about how much he loved Rock and how close they were..." His fist clenched tightly until Ring smacked his wrist, wanting to finish the burn received on his knuckles. "I just have a hard time remembering that he's not our Forte. That he doesn't know what happened to us, he doesn't know what's really going on. I just kinda... snapped. Nearly attacked him if Crash wasn't there."
"Yeah, we all have to be careful." Ring said, patting Slash's thigh as he stood up, finished. "But, you also have to think about what he's going through. Taken from everyone he loves, everything he's familiar with, and then dumped here. I mean, I don't even want to be here and I'm used to it. Think how it's like to just suddenly being saddled with all this."
"All the stress of trying to keep from being suspicious, the shock of meeting Pharaoh and Magnet like he did," Metal shook his head. "He's been holding up pretty well, I'm surprised. Forte's always been a survivor."
"But he still doesn't deserve to be here. He's much too nice for that."
"Mm." Slash agreed around the can he was drinking from. "Speaking of which, did Elec or Shadow find anything, yet?"
"I don't know." Metal said. "They were still looking when I went to get them drinks." He stood up, passing his counterfeit clearance card through the security box at the side of the door. The other two followed him in. "Guys find anything?"
Elec leaned back in the chair, the screen light playing on his smooth face. "Yeah, but we have no idea about what to make of it. The readings are so incredible, some of them even go off the scale. If those readings have to be mimicked in order for Forte to return to his world, I have no idea how we could pull it off." Something on another screen caught his eye. "Hey... where are they going?"
The others followed his gaze and watched as Gyro, Flash, Snake and Pharaoh flew out of the side gates and into the forest. Shadow narrowed his eyes.
"Check to see if there's anything in the forest. That's not practice formation they're in."
Elec complied with a nod, scanning the passed hour for any anomalies. And what he found took his breath away.
"Another portal opened in the forest no more than half an hour ago!"
Everyone looked boggled. Another portal? Elec was immediately bombarded by questions.
"Is it still there?"
"Do you know who came out?"
"Where was it?"
"Quiet!" He shouted, shaking his head. "It's long gone. Only opened for a few seconds, but the readout is the same as the other. I can't get a visual on it, but judging the trajectory, that's where the others are headed."
Shadow cursed as he strode quickly out the room. "All right. Slash, Ring, you're with me. We'll have to go check it out ourselves. Where are Forte and Crash?"
"They were still at the field when -- "
"We're right here."
They turned. Crash and Forte were standing in the hall. "What's going on?"
"You guys are coming with us. Another portal just opened up and whoever came out is going to have some rough company if we're not fast enough."
"Yes!" Forte said fiercely. He hated to think of any of his family in danger... and Rock might be there. He had no arms or armor, but he could be very, very determined. He might have insisted. "Let's hurry."
Roll was glancing around, as Blues worked feverishly on a small laptop.
"Dammit, the uplink isn't working." He grunted, trying something else, then shaking his head. "No good. That theory was incorrect." He made a note to tell Dr. Light that his "interdimensional communicator" was a bust. But then, it had been invented in a tearing hurry... it might just be a bug. He carefully closed the laptop, sliding it back into his backpack.
"Okay, Roll, let's... hmmm?" Some robots were approaching them. Blues tilted his head, watching.
Pharaoh he recognized, as well as Flash and Snake, but who was the other one? He filed him away for later.
The group came to a stop in front of them, and Pharaoh looked them over. Blues frowned at him... he'd never liked the Egyptian robot. And he especially didn't like the way he was eyeing them now.
"What's this, Blues? Getting... lonely?" Pharaoh said, eyeing Roll up and down. Blues' lip curled in disgust, but Roll burst out laughing.
Blues surrendered to the temptation, and had Pharaoh off his feet, holding onto his collar.
"She's my SISTER, you shit." He growled, and dumped Pharaoh onto the ground. The other robots were all surprised by that revelation.
"Your sister? Roll?" Snake hissed, then laughed derisively. "What's she supposed to be, the pink power ranger?"
Blues froze for just a second, then turned to look at Roll. She gazed at Snake for a long moment....
"Snake... run... quickly." Blues managed to suggest.
"YYAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!" Two blades flashed as Roll exploded into a frenzy of activity. A horrible scream rang out as she slashed and cut, blood flying and splattering everyone.
It took only a few seconds, and then Snake was flung to the ground, bleeding profusely from some very artistic mutilations. Roll's blades both dripped blood, and her armor was splattered with it. She turned to look at the others with a malicious smile, and they stepped back. It was the way blood had sprayed across one cheek...
"Who's next?" She purred softly, stepping forward. She sheathed one knife in favor of her arm cannon, keeping the other out.
It was then when Ring, Forte, Shadow, Slash and Crash arrived...
"Holy shit." Ring blanched as he saw Snake lying in a pool of his own blood, looking like the subject of a careful dissection. And a pretty girl robot, wearing pink armor and blood... a lot of blood...
"That's her "jack the ripper" technique..." Forte stared at the body, feeling queasy. Some of Roll's tactics never failed to horrify him... and this was one of them.
Crash held an arm against his stomach. "No wonder you didn't want to learn that move..."
It wasn't long until attention was directed towards them.
Flash jabbed a hand towards Roll. "You've seen what she's done! Kill her!"
Behind her helmet, Roll's eyes widened. "Blues, that's -- "
"I know. Forte!"
The black 'bot stiffened. Shit, if they blew his cover before they could find a way to get him back home... He raised his arm cannon and fired a shot low, purposefully missing their knees. "You won't get away with killing one of ours!"
Blues and Roll weren't the only ones shocked by Forte's actions. "Forte, what are you -- "
The other cut Ring off in mid-sentence. "If they give away that I'm not the real Forte..." he saw the realization dawning in the red robot. "I'll keep them too busy to talk, you guys take care of the others. I trust you know how to manipulate memory?"
Ring grinned behind his mask. "But of course." He leapt towards the other group of Robot Masters, his boomerang at ready. "Heads up!" Which was, of course, the last thing one wanted to do when something was aimed at them. As Gyro was painfully taught.
Flash snarled. "Traitors! We'll kill you along with the others!" He prepared his Time Stopper before he was bombarded by Crash Bombers and tiny throwing knives.
"No stopping this time around, Flash!"
One was dead and two were quickly being overwhelmed by superior numbers, but Pharaoh had his sight set on someone for his own. He launched himself at Shadow, murder in his eyes.
"You fucking asshole! You tricked us!"
Pharaoh, though good at fistfights and brawling, was no good against someone always prepared in hand-to-hand combat. Shadow let the Egyptian robot fall at him, collapsing and rolling on his back at the impact, tossing the other unceremoniously to the ground and flipping himself over to land, feet first into Pharaoh's gut. The other gasped painfully, trying to sit up to gain leverage, only to have his head caught by one of Shadow's hands and reintroduced firmly to the ground, knocking him unconscious.
The other two were disposed of in a similar, quick fashion. So long as they were being attacked to quickly to move, they were put into easy submission. Forte looked curiously at the shadow slinker.
"What did he mean by tricking him? He seemed pretty pissed off."
Shadow looked up mildly. "Oh. The night I interrupted him and Magnet."
"You said Wily wanted to see them, though."
He shrugged. "Not really. But he found a use for them since they were there."
"..." Forte scratched his head. He didn't know if he should be upset that the two had to deal with a more pervert Wily or if he should be extra thankful for the help.
Slash tapped their shoulders to get their attention. "Um... I think someone needs to tell Roll that if they're not moving, they won't be going anywhere for a long time."
"Good idea. You tell her."
"No way, she scares me."
She, however, was about to get a lot scarier. Roll glared bloody death at Forte, who suddenly found himself facing her wrath alone as Slash found something very interesting in the bushes several yards away.
"You sorry son of a bitch..."
"Um, I-I can explain, really..."
"We came all this way to save you and you ATTACK us??"
"It was just to keep you guys from saying anything -- "
"Not only do you attack us, but you attack us HORRIBLY!"
"Well -- "
"WHO THE HELL TAUGHT YOU TO SHOOT SO BADLY!?!"
"Uh..." he faltered. Was that all she was upset at? "I-I didn't want to hurt you guys."
"THEN WHY WERE YOU AIMING AT US TO BEGIN WITH!" She smacked Forte with her arm cannon, sending him sprawling.
"Oof..." he moaned. "Not so hard. I didn't have a chance to get looked at after all that training..."
"I'll show you training, you dumb shit! I swear, I'll take as much time off my job as it takes... you are pathetic!" She snarled, then glanced at the unconscious Robot Masters. "I'll be with you in JUST a second." And she started to stalk over...
"Roll! What are you doing?" Blues said sharply, and she glanced at him coldly.
"Eliminating the morons, what else?" She replied icily, and the remaining Robot Masters stepped back a pace. She was really scary. "You got a problem with that, Blues?"
"I have a problem." Blues stepped close to Roll, tension singing between them. His gaze at her was hard as iron, implacable and demanding. "I am running this mission. You kill when I tell you to kill, not before. You understand me?" There was a long, deathly silence. A sense that the two were measuring each other, testing, and the threat of imminent violence hanging in the air.
Roll finally broke it, turning away. "Fine Blues. We'll play the game your way. But you might regret it." Blues shrugged ever so slightly, then turned to the other Robot Masters.
He frowned slightly when he spotted Shadow, tilting his head to one side. He immediately spotted the similarity... but at the cool look from Shadow, decided not to mention it. For now.
"I don't suppose you could fill us in on what's been happening here?" He asked quietly, but Forte broke in.
"Wait! What happened at the lab with my double? Is Rock okay?" Forte asked anxiously, his golden eyes worried, and Blues smiled faintly.
"Oh, he's fine, just a little bruised and shaken. Your double freaked out the instant he saw Rock, and tried to kill him." Blues paused meditatively, as Forte whitened. "He was quite sadistic, apparently, and when he realized Rock was helpless he started... savoring things. That was when Wily nailed him from behind with a sedative."
"...At least he didn't pose as me." Forte was thankful for that. He could only imagine the pain his double could have inflicted on Rock if he'd had the presence of mind to do that. It didn't bear thinking on. "Then what happened?"
"Oh... at first they thought you had caught a virus again." Forte suddenly grimaced, as if remembering something unpleasant. "But as soon as they scanned him, they realized the problem was more complicated. The readings were about five percent off, and there were some large discrepancies."
"Like the love lock?" Blues looked a little startled.
"...Yes, I suppose so, but what I meant was your logo."
"Logo?" Forte simply stared at him, confused. The Robot Masters were confused, too. As far as they knew, Forte didn't have a... logo. Blues glanced around at them.
"You didn't know, any of you? Your Forte had one, and you probably do too. Forte, take off your helmet." Forte did, wondering if it was a good idea... and was started as Blues walked behind him, pushing up his hair to expose the back of his neck. "Right there, just before his hair starts. It's faint, but can you see it?" Everyone squinted, trying to see what he was talking about.
"...Wily/Light Labs." Ring finally managed to read off. Forte jerked out of Blues grasp, turning around.
"I have a LABEL???" Astonishment, outrage and amusement fought for supremacy, and amusement won by a narrow margin. "I... I guess I should be glad its not a bar code...!" Blues shrugged.
"The Forte we received had Property of Dr. Wily written there." There were several strangled coughs, as the Robot Masters tried hard not to laugh. "In any case, did someone want to fill me in... Roll. Would you quit harassing Slash?" The Robot Master had been getting more and more nervous, since the psychotic girl seemed to be watching him...
"Is it harassment to watch a good lookin' guy, now?" She demanded, making Slash blush deeply. Blues tilted his head.
"I suppose not... but may I ask, why him?" The others were certainly good looking enough.
"Because he's the only one out of the lot of you who isn't gay or at least bi."
It was the others' turn to blush as Forte turned his head and coughed, a faint smirk on his face. To the side, he heard Crash say something about boredom and being around no one but guys.
"Oh, don't be cross," Roll said, siding up to the drill bomber. "I'm open minded. I don't mind being in the middle." To which Crash blushed, scowled, and turned away, arms crossed.
"Hurry up with the damn head manipulating, Ring." He said tightly, "We gotta be heading back before Wily realizes that we're missing."
"But we have to figure out what to do with Blues and Roll, first." Shadow said. "We can't bring them into Skull Fortress and we can't very well leave them wandering around the forest."
"Well," Ring said, not looking up from the panel he had opened in Gyro's head, "there's a small town not too far from here. I'm sure they have a hotel or something they could use."
Blues frowned behind his visor. "Where is it? We don't have any currency on us, either."
"Slash should. He's been there several times before, he knows the place like no one else. And he picked up some money there, too, if I remember correctly."
Everyone looked at the startled Slash, whose face was soon covered with a dark look. "Ring..."
"That was a long time ago, Slash. You can't keep running forever."
"I can sure as hell can try!"
"But what about chip Crash told me about?" Forte asked. "The one that chokes you when you stay off the compound for too long?"
Ring smiled. "That was years ago. We've found a way to shut if off for a while. So long as he's not for too long, Wily won't notice that it's not on."
"Dammit, didn't anyone hear me? I'm not going back there!" Slash shouted. Only to be stopped when something grabbed his arm. "Eh?"
Roll had attached herself to him, proving that she did have a figure. A rather nice... full... He flushed deep enough to be nearly purple. "Come on, cutie!" She batted her lashes at him playfully. "Do you want someone as delicate as me to be wandering alone and afraid in some strange, violent world?"
"Keep it up, Roll, I don't think you've kissed his ass enough, yet." Blues flatly.
"Shut up, old man. Girl at work, here."
The com set in the Robot Masters' helmets crackled on.
"Guys, Wily's beginning to wonder where the others are. He might try scanning the area soon. I suggest you get out of there."
Shadow gave a curt nod. "All right, no more time for arguing. Slash, you take Roll and Blues and wait outside the north exit for me. Ring, Forte, you two meet up with Elec and Metal, fill them in on what happened here. Crash, you get Quick, we're going to have to make a new plan now."
Slash opened his mouth. "But I don't have -- "
"That's why you're waiting for me." The other said quickly. "I'll get the money out of your room."
"Oh, okay. Wait, how do you know -- " He shut his mouth with an audible click. Shadow just looked over his shoulder with a faint smirk, one that reminded Forte of the other shadow slinker he knew so well.
Roll chuckled softly, running a nail up Slash's arm. "Show us the way, cutie?"
"Shut up, Blues. We're not lovers anymore, and you better not play protective brother." She snarled at him, and Slash's eyes widened. That was a very... disturbing... thought. He gave Blues one short, horrified look, and the kagemusha flushed a brick red, muttering something and grabbing his backpack.
"Let's just go."
"Ohh, I like it!"
"Roll, it's a trash motel and a biker bar. Although that is your kind of music." Blues regarded the place they were staying with distaste. He, Roll, and Slash were finding a hotel room within their limited means, and this seemed to be the only option. But it wasn't a place he'd have normally gone.
They were all in street clothes. Blues was rather normal, in a red t-shirt and jeans. Slash looked much the same... but Roll was a little different. She wore leather pants, soft and supple, that clung easily to her body, and a tight black shirt. That was nothing compared to what she would do when she had the chance, but Slash was already having trouble as it was...
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Roll dragged them both in. "Wait for me!" As soon as they got the key to the room, she was off, up the stairs.
"Let's find a seat. She probably won't be back for about a half hour." Blues was familiar with Roll's efforts to look beautiful. They found a corner seat, out of the way of the smoke and most of the noise. Blues looked around distastefully. "I hate places like this."
"Sorry, best we could do." Slash said, rubbing his forehead. Being around Roll was... interesting... to say the least. "Uh, Blues."
"No offense, but... what's with your sister?" Blues blinked, then smiled slightly.
"That's a hard one. She's just... herself." Well, perhaps he should explain that... "She's a warrior for hire, a mercenary who sells her services to the military, the Mafia, the CIA... anyone who wants her. God knows how many she's killed by now."
"...Oh." Slash paled a little at that resume, although Forte had said... "But... what about the laws of robotics?" If Dr. Light had made her, why wasn't she bound by them? Blues shrugged slightly.
"She was made into a warrior to defend the lab from humans. That would have been foolish... ah." Slash looked up to see...
A beautiful vision, an angel risen from hell. Roll had taken her original outfit, and done wonderful, terrible things to it. A kind of leather bodice was laced up overtop of her black shirt, and tiny throwing knives were held in rows against the leather. Wrist sheaths graced her arms, the blades shining silver in the dim light. More knives lived at her hips, and in the high leather boots she had donned.
Her lips were like blood, and delicate blue eye shadow shaded her eyes. The top of her hair had been pulled up into a small ponytail, the rest allowed to flow freely. A wicked smile on her face, she walked through the crowd, attracting glances as her hips swayed... and double takes at the knives. A silver cross glittered at her throat.
"Hi guys. Miss me?" Blues smiled at her display, and glanced at Slash, to see how he was taking it. The overall effect was a dominatrix meeting a Soldier of Fortune pinup... only to see that he was two tugs away from fainting.
Blues found that to be rather humorous, actually. He told his younger sister with a smile, "Careful, Roll. You'll break him."
"Oh, come on. He's tougher than that, aren't you handsome?" She deposited herself on Slash's lap, one hand tracing idly beneath his jacket against the taunt black shirt beneath. "You're so much better than the Slash I know. Great sense of humor, but he's such a bigot." She grinned, pulling lightly on a lock of long hair to pull him closer to her. "But you're much adorable, much better looking."
Slash's eyes widened as his face closed in on hers. "W-W-Wait, I -- "
She pouted at Blues' stern voice. When he got to use that tone, he didn't like to be ignored. "Fine." Tersely she got up and took a seat in between the two.
"Sorry about that." Blues said.
"Why are you apologizing?" Roll questioned hotly.
"Because you won't."
"I was just teasing him. No big deal."
"Doesn't look like it to me. It won't do to make someone helping you too uncomfortable to do any good." He gave a small indication with his head.
Not only was the clawed Robot Master ill at ease, he was tense enough to snap. Roll was speechless, she didn't think he would take her so seriously.
"H-Hey, now. You're not upset, are you? You knew I was only fooling, right?"
With a sharp movement, Slash abruptly stood up. "I should be leaving. I'll be by to pick you up tomorrow and tell you what's going on."
The two just watched him leave.
"I told you."
"After all this time, you'd think you'd learn to listen every once in a while."
"Just, shut up!"
Outside, Slash pressed the button on the Flash Case, calling out his armor. "Metal, I'm ready to transport back."
"All right. All clear. You don't sound too great, something wrong?"
"Don't even get me started." He replied gruffly.
"Okay, if you say so." Came the humored answer. "Transportation, execute."
Slash put a hand against his mouth, still able to feel her breath moving against his lips. And frowned as he transported out of the vacant lot.
Elsewhere, maybe a few hours later...
A new portal was opening, this one over a vast expanse of calm, blue water. This one, though, was much, much larger than the ones before...
Not surprising, since it had to admit something very large. The giant robot glided out easily, hover engines pulsing on strange wings.
It looked like a very large, robotic war machine, and that was what it was. Inside was a pilot, guiding the monster, and perched on the machine's shoulder was another machine.
"So, this is it! Well done, Rock." Shadow laughed, holding on tightly as the war machine wavered. "Woah, watch your driving!"
"And turn on your external speaker, dunce." Shadow grinned, guessing what the problem was. The crackle that answered his words confirmed it.
"...Oh yeah! Shadow, can you swim?" Rock asked, voice anxious, and Shadow blinked.
"Yeah... why? This thing flies." He said, surprised. There was a muffled sound from behind them... in the net hooked to the robots back. "Shut up Forte." The black robot squirmed around enough to glare at his captors. He was bound hand and foot, his mouth gagged tightly. Although he still kept trying to escape.
"Only for a few minutes before it needs to come down, so the engines don't overheat."
"Oh... bugnuts." Shadow sighed as the armor splashed into the water.
"MRFFF!" Forte's protest went unheeded as they all hit the water. The armor sank like a rock, but slogged through the shallows easily. Shadow was quicker, reaching the shore first.
"Good aim those guys had on that..." He was protesting when Rock came to shore. "I'm a mess, just look at me." Rock laughed.
"Imagine how Forte must feel!" Rock said with a giggle. This Forte had not earned his love. Shadow grinned, looked... and lost the grin immediately.
"I'm imagining, and I don't like it a bit."
"He's gone." The net had been torn open, and the black robot was missing.
"What?!? How?!? That's impossible!" And yet it was true. They hadn't been attacked yet, so apparently Forte had split.
But where could he have gone?
Forte was doing his first real sparring, in front of all the Robot Masters. It couldn't be put off any longer, and he hoped he was doing well... although he had the feeling they were noticing something. Slash had said he was too tentative, but it was hard to make himself be what he was not.
It was also hard not to use the knives. He kept reaching for them instinctively, especially when he felt very threatened. He might lash out again, without thinking, if someone drove him too far.
He had lucked out, though. He was currently up against Needle, not too hard of a fight. The only real thing he had to worry about was dodging the projectiles, which was one thing he was rather good at. Firing his arm cannon at the same time, though, was a bit different than throwing a weapon. He hoped that he was still doing all right. His eyes flickered to the side, seeing a couple of the Robot Masters talking amongst themselves. Apparently the fight had been going on too long.
He steeled himself, ready to pull of a move he recalled Slash doing on him earlier. A particularly painful move. He ducked beneath the next batch of needles, doing a crescent shaped dash and slide the final arch, catching Needle in the middle with a booster propelled kick, ending it with a rising star kick that landed the wide Robot Master flat on his back. Forte grinned to himself. One thing he was happy for was the fact that this Forte was just as agile as he was.
Wily, from where he was seated above the arena, growled into the loudspeaker. "Forte! You're slow! You have to be quicker than that if you hope to kill Mega Man!"
Forte winced internally at the thought, trying to think of how the other Forte would respond. Quick had given him a crash course on Forte's personality and he did not like how big a jerk he'd have to be.
So he decided to go for a mood that would reinforce his excuse. He snarled, tucking his chin towards his chest. "Screw you, old man. You want the blueberry gone, either do it yourself or shut up." He turned on his heel and stalked to the sidelines, praying his acting had been convincing.
Thankfully, it was enough.
"Che. Great, must've done another 'Kill Mega' all-nighter."
"Nah, he's probably worn out. Heard he got into another fight with Slash."
"Again? Man, I thought they got over all that. It was nice those two months they stopped biting each other's heads off."
"Probably because Wily's getting on Forte's case again. All the time, 'Kill Mega', 'Kill Mega'. I'd want to kill something if I had to hear that everyday."
He let a covert sigh of relief and stole a quick glance at the ones that had helped him out. Shadow, Ring and Slash were waiting their turn to fight on the other field, Elec already called out against Turbo with Metal cheering him on. Quick and Crash, near the front of the sideline, caught his eye, giving him discreet thumbs up. He smiled slightly. Stretching, he walked over to get a refreshment by the door, only to have something jump down in front of him and grab him by the throat. His gold eyes widened as he realized he was looking down the barrel of a slowly charging arm cannon.
Specifically, Forte's arm cannon.
He heard someone cry out and everything else stopped. The familiar, yet strange face before him was twisted into the most furious snarl he had ever imagined
"So you're the bastard that took my place, are you? I'll blow your fucking head off..."
The others were too surprised to move, and his friends... they couldn't risk making a move without... the Forte they knew harming the other.
The other, he had about enough of all the bullying and fighting. "You want your place?" He asked, voice in a low growl. "Fine, take it. I don't want to be here anymore than you want me to. I just want to go back to where I belong."
"Oh? To that fucker Rock, huh? The damned blueberry and all his idiot friends."
"R... you... If you've done anything to Rock..."
"What're you gonna do? Cry on me?" Forte grinned, his fangs flashing maliciously. "He was lucky I wasn't paying attention to the damned corpse. I woulda torn him apart wire by wire."
Which was precisely the wrong thing to say to his double. He reached for the long blades hidden against his leg and lashed out, catching the tip of one against Forte's side, ripping diagonally down his stomach. With a curse, Forte jumped back, lessening the damage that could have been caused and fired a wild shot that barely grazed the other's shoulder.
"If you think you can take me in a fight, I'll be more than happy to pound you into the ground." With that, he blasted his boosters into overdrive, attempting to tackle his double into a smear on the floor. That is, if the other hadn't leapt out of the way. They both turned, one firing off rapid fire shots, the other filling the air with tiny daggers.
The alternate Forte realized pretty quickly that he was in over his head. His double was agile enough to avoid getting hit in a bad spot by the daggers, and they didn't do much damage unless he could hit something good, like the eyes.
Forte lunged toward him, murder in his eyes, and the alternate countered with a viscous slash... But Forte anticipated it, and ducked, his fist slamming up.
The blow knocked him off his feet, sending shooting pain and bright stars through his head. He hit the ground hard... and rolled just in time to avoid a powered up shot. It still grazed him, knocking him away, but didn't do the damage it was supposed to. But several more low powered shots hit him before he could regain his feet, sapping his power before he could flip up.
Another blast hit the alternate in the chest, as he regained his footing, and he cursed, dodging frantically and throwing several more daggers.
And got lucky.
Forte screamed, one hand going to his face as a dagger found its mark.
"You little BASTARD!" Alternate Forte wasn't prepared for the mad lunge, and was tackled to the ground... where he was pummeled mercilessly. A fist slammed into his face, over and over...
"I'm going... to kill you..." Forte growled out, charging his arm cannon. But the alternate had one ace up his sleeve.
"...No." Suddenly a blade, the second one from his other hip, was pressed firmly against Forte's stomach. "Kill me, and I'll kill you."
Forte stopped, the cannon's charger slowly dying down as blood continued to slip down his face. He knew that look in his double's eyes well enough to know that he was serious and Forte sure as hell didn't want to die until he saw the two people he hated most dead at his feet.
Suddenly, rough hands grabbed Forte from behind, professional fingers disarming his arm cannon as another two pairs pulled the other Forte away, pulling the blade from his grip. Pushing them forward, Guts, Tengu, Gemini and Stone brought both Fortes before Wily.
"Just what," the old man said, "is going on here? How can there be two of you?" He turned to one of them. "Who are you?"
He didn't say anything, just frowned, trying to keep from trembling. The other one, however, started howling in rage.
"He pokes my fuckin' eye out and you're just standing there like nothing happened! What the hell's wrong with you, cruddy old geezer??"
"Shut him up." The doctor said idly as Guts carelessly smacked the back of Forte's head, jarring it and increasing the headache that was starting up. "Take off their helmets, we'll see which is really mine."
And when the helmets came off, it was obvious which one was the fake right off the bat.
"W-What is this?" Wily screeched, pointing at the blue dyed hair in Forte's face.
"'S a 'love-lock'. Got it dyed along with his slut, Rock as a symbol of love." The other snarled, his lips twitching into the semblance of a grim smile. Several grumbled curses and insults arose from the crowd and the alternate couldn't help but blush.
Oh God... he was beginning to panic as Stone's grip on his arms tightened painfully. He needed help; he wanted the others to save him. Why weren't they saving him?
He knew the reason. It was painfully obvious but... his breath hitched. He didn't want things to end like this.
"I wonder..." Wily leaned forward, "since you're so much like our Forte, if whatever energy pulse that happened earlier and the destruction of Snake was because of someone looking for you? According to those that returned, it was Blues and Roll. It they be your friends?"
Forte looked down, not saying anything, but his jaw twitched slightly. That trickle of blood flowing out of his mouth was starting to tickle and he was too tightly held to do anything.
"Centaur, Gravity, Shadow, Search, go into the forest and find these two." He leered down at the third bot as they stepped out. "And I'm sure you can prove your worth, this time." The kagemusha's jaw clenched, but other that, he just nodded before he and the others left.
Pharaoh and Magnet, however, realized Wily's wrong choice for a searcher. But were stopped before they could say anything against it as two Quick Boomerangs rested their sharp edges against their throats.
"Now, we wouldn't do anything to get my dear friend into any trouble, now would we? I'm sure Wily wouldn't want to hear any whining from the two of you after you had bothered him last night." They snarled but kept their mouths shut, eyes glaring at the grinning Quick.
The grin faded as Wily was heard saying: "Take the imposter to the labs. I want to take a look at him." The comment was followed by a wicked grin that made Forte's legs tremble. The other was taken towards the Medlab, escorted by two medical specialists. Quick looked over and caught Shadow's eye just before he left through the door. The moment he had the chance, ditch the other three and get some back up.
In the form of Blues and the psycho pink power ranger.
Blues was trying to sleep. It wasn't easy. He could hear the thumping of the bass from the biker bar, the sound of raucous voices even through the floor. He wasn't like Roll and Rock, who seemed to prefer falling asleep to the sound of music. That had been a large argument between him and Roll, during the brief time they had been lovers. She insisted on playing music, if only faintly, as she fell asleep. Rock was the same way, according to Forte... unless he was exhausted in another way. But Roll always wanted some ambient noise.
Right now, she was just enjoying the bar. She might have enjoyed it more with Slash, but that was too bad. Blues smiled faintly thinking about it. Slash's reaction had been a bit amusing, in retrospect. It was nothing like the way Slash in their world would have reacted... but then, everyone in his world knew Roll. If the Forte who had arrived in their world hadn't been so uncooperative, he might have gotten to know Roll too, in the biblical sense.
Blues was just falling asleep when the door opened, awakening him again. He opened his eyes to see Roll glide in smoothly. It wasn't obvious, unless you knew what to look for, but he knew. She was buzzed.
"Hey brother." She sat at the foot of his bed, and Blues frowned slightly.
"Hey Roll." He said neutrally, watching her. She lay down at his feet, picking at the covers... she seemed to be in a playful mood. Not necessarily a good thing. "I thought you'd still be down there, dancing."
"It was getting boring. I wanted to do something else." Suddenly she squirmed up, sandwiching herself between him and the wall, and reaching up to touch his hair with a grin. "Hmm?"
Blues caught her hand. "If you want that, why didn't you just pick up one of those bikers?" He asked, although he knew the answer... Roll preferred other robots for her passions. She could sometimes hurt humans, if she got carried away.
"Awww... I don't know where they've been." She pouted, and Blues had to admit that was a valid point, in a place like this. "I know where you been." She nuzzled him, and Blues shook his head.
"You're horny, I'm available... not flattering, Roll." He said softly.
"Was it meant to be?" Roll breathed, lowering her face for a kiss, and Blues didn't stop her --
A beeping stopped her. She looked up with an annoyed snarl. "What the hell is that?"
"That... that's the laptop!" Blues was suddenly gone, and Roll grumbled, left alone in the bed. "Someone's trying to contact us." He flipped open the laptop, setting it on the rooms rickety desk, and pulling up a chair.
"No shit?" Roll sat up, interested despite the timing. "Who is it?"
"Let me see..." Blues found what had been activated... the internal communicator, which could only mean... "Someone followed us." And he found the message.
Blues, this is Rock, if you can hear this please answer.
"It's Rock." Blues started to type.
I'm here. When did you arrive?
Hours ago. It's me and Shadow, we landed in a lake when we arrived, it was a pain. Blues, we had Forte with us, but he escaped somehow!
Blues bit his lip. This was not good news. But...
What armor are you using, and what did you have Forte captured in? He had an idea...
I'm in the Mark IV robot ride armor. It's got a portal generator in it, it turned out that the generators can't go through the portal their generating. We had Forte in one of those Kalithium nets. Why? Blues blinked at the information on the generators. It made sense, though, and Light and Wily had obviously given them a way home in Rock's armor. But for the other...
Kalithium nets are electrified, Rock. I'm only surprised you didn't electrocute him. He would have thought that a far more likely outcome than what had actually happened, Forte being freed.
...Omigod I am so sorry. I should have known.
Even if you had, what could you have done? Don't worry about it. But Forte could be in serious trouble now. Our Forte, I mean. The duplicate they had received appeared to be a complete bastard. Do you have any idea where you are?
No, that's the problem! And no one will give us directions, they run away screaming! We barely managed to escape from a weird blue robot, too. Blues felt his lips quirk. He'd learned a little bit about this world.
That was probably your counterpart.
No! Really?? He shot at us!
Well, you do look like a refugee from Machines of War. Rock, I can use this to send out a homing signal. We'll wait until you get here. And hurry. They would need more firepower, but every delay could cost Forte pain.
Right away! Blues tapped a few buttons, sending out the homing signal.
Now all he could do was wait.
Forte wasn't happy. He'd been chained down tightly, enough so to make him wince. He rubbed his cheek ineffectively against the table, trying to wipe away the blood that had trickled from the side of his mouth, and ease the itch.
He wondered what kind of tests Wily would put him through. The thought was frightening. The only tests he'd been through in his life had been gentle, if sometimes tedious. When a scan had to be done, yet would be painful, he'd been drugged unconscious for it.
He had the strong feeling that this Wily wouldn't bother.
"What are you going to do to me?" He asked the mad scientist, proud that his voice never wavered, despite his fear.
The old man just smiled, a small, fear inducing smile and turned to the tray laden with various instruments. Forte gulped back a shiver, but continued to keep an eye on Wily.
Finally, he turned back to his captured company, a sharp scalpel in his gloved hand, his smile growing ever wider as he placed a mask over his mouth. The way he was being looked at, Forte really wished he was drugged right now.
"Now... let's see how much of a genius your creator is..."
His screams could be heard echoing down the corridor.
"You got their position?" He asked in surprise. He really didn't expect to be able to contact Roll and Blues. After all, some crazy people shooting at them, chasing them half way back to the lake yelling profanities, and they lost the psycho Forte. The only thing that could make it better would be to get through to the others. And low and behold! They did! Shadow chalked it up to him not being the one touching the com unit. Damn machines...
"Yeah, but we're going to have to be a bit more discreet, this time!" Rock shouted over the wind as he ran the armor through the forest.
"I don't suppose he had any idea who the asshole who shot at us was?" Shadow asked, careful not to fall off the shoulder. Rock's face blushed slightly in the dark, not wanting to say that it was his double that attacked them. The other yelped when a branch sideswiped him. "And will you take it easy with the not really avoiding things? I'd like to make it through the ride without bleeding to death!" Rock maybe be the one to get for computers and such, but he was an awful driver. "You know, that's probably why the guy shot at us!"
"It's not my fault! It was a stupid place to put a statue!"
"And a fountain, and a building, oh, and you can't forget about the fire hydrants and the effin' police station!"
"Shut up or I'll throw you off!" Shadow quieted, but Rock was still certain he could see that smug smirk underneath his mask. Rock grumbled. "Damn backseat drivers..."
It took a bit more effort than he had originally thought to shake the others in the search party, nearly thirty minutes or going off one direction, searching thoroughly, back tracking, going around the building twice and treetop jumping to finally get them off his back. Of course, just to be safe, he took a roundabout way to get the hotel. Shadow was glad he got the bearings of Slash's last transportation before everything fell through.
He hit the pavement of the empty lot with his boosters blasting, leaving dark streaks on the ground as he flew. Now, he thought, to find the room... It didn't take him too long. He flitted silently by the windows, peering into all the ones with the lights still on. On the second floor, he paused in surprise as he noticed not only Blues and Roll were still up and already armored, but someone else was with them. Shadow narrowed his eyes, trying to get a better look. Was... was that... Mega Man?
He saw something flicker in the glass pane.
Metal screeched against metal as he whipped out his sword, fending off the down blow from a metallic quarterstaff.
"Now, now, not nice to go around peeping on people." A... somewhat familiar tenor said. Shadow looked up at his attacker, surprised by the sight of ice violet eyes.
Could... could this be --
The other pulled back his staff and swept it forward, causing Shadow to flip backwards, sword at ready. He finally got a good look at him. Lose the sword, scarf, star on his helmet and the silent treatment, he'd be just like...
"What's going on here?"
Shadow stuck out his tongue beneath his mask, not too happy with being interrupted. The other three had just come out, leaning out the doorway. "Good thing I was out here. Caught some high class voyeur."
Blues and Roll looked at the stuttering figure, the latter laughed. "That's no voyeur! Well, unless he's hiding something from us! Mr. Cold-n-Silent!"
Blues scowled at the both of them. "That's..." he frowned. "Shadow, this is Rock and... our Shadow. Um, that's the Shadow of this world." He explained lamely.
He whistled. "Really? This is my double, then? Hn. Not what I expected." The other just remained wary.
"Don't mind him. He's a prankster. Is there something wrong? Why are you here so late?"
Shadow stood, sheathing his sword against his back. "Our Forte's returned." From the grim set in their face, it appeared that they already knew. "Yours has been captured by Wily."
"We gathered." Blues said calmly. "Your Forte is quite lucky. Hitting the water in an electrified net should have killed him, not freed him."
"Yeah, too bad." Roll said wistfully. "I'da loved to see him corn-fried, the twit. Well, we better hurry. All ready, Rock?" Rock nodded, a violet lock of hair sliding over his face. He seemed to have no armor... he was only wearing a blue shirt, and blue shorts.
Shadow gave him a slightly disbelieving glance. "Like that? Where is your armor?" Rock colored slightly.
"I... don't have any. I'm not a warrior." He admitted, then gestured to the front of the hotel. "My robot ride armor is parked outside."
"Not that you can drive it!" The duplicate Shadow laughed, slapping Rock on the shoulder.
"Oh shut up. It's my first time in one of those!" Rock flushed, looking very embarrassed.
"Yeah, I could tell. So could everyone else that's why they were running in terror. And why that blue guy showed up, I tell you. Geez, there were building bits everywhere!"
"Would you get off my back???" Rock snarled, stalking away to the ride armor.
"Che, sensitive. Wait up!" Shadow ran after him, a bounce in his step. He seemed endlessly cheerful, full of energy. A greater contrast to the real Shadow couldn't be imagined. "I want to ride your back again!" There was a smothered giggle from Rock, the joke instantly improving his mood.
"Come see this." Proto led Roll and Shadow after the two... and Shadow got his first glimpse of the Robot ride armor.
"...Impressive." It was easily ten feet tall, and quite wide. The whole thing had been painted a deep purple, and it looked grim and deadly. A missile launcher graced one arm, while a laser cannon was equipped on the other. Some weapon he couldn't name sat on one shoulder. Hover jets of some sort were installed on folding wings, on the back. Rock climbed up the armor easily, sliding into the cockpit, while Shadow quickly found a place on the monster's shoulder.
"It is. State of the art military hardware, meant to be piloted by humans." Blues said, watching as the armor started up, a low grumbling sound of the engine charging. The gawkers from the motel murmured at that. "So. You know the fortress. Where should we go?"
"Follow me." Shadow led the way, the armor bumbling along behind...
Forte's screams had died into whimpers, tears sliding down his face, mingling with the blood.
He felt horrible. He'd never known such pain in his life, even when Roll had beaten him severely in training. His whole body burned with it, and his mind felt fuzzy. It was hard to think, but did he really want to? He swallowed hard.
Wily didn't care if he lived or died. He didn't want to die...
"How interesting." Wily was examining the information he'd gotten, that was why the torture had stopped. "Very interesting..." Forte didn't ask what was so interesting about himself. He really didn't care what the mad scientist might be learning from him, he just hoped Wily would stay away from him for a while.
A faint hope. Forte whimpered again as Wily walked over, lifting his chin thoughtfully to look into his eyes. This Wily was... enjoying this...
"Let's see what else you have to tell me."
The screams started again quickly...
Forte grinned, drinking in the screams of his alternate, fingering the patch that was covering his eye disdainfully. "Oh yeah... that prick deserves every bit of this..."
Ring, however, looked as if he was about to lose it. He and Freeze, two of the medical specialists, were with Forte in a room adjacent to where Wily was torturing the other Forte, keeping an eye on the impulsive, aggressive robot.
"I-Isn't it... disturbing?" Freeze asked. Ring was glad to know he wasn't the only one affected by the scene. "I mean, you're watching him take apart someone that looks like you."
"Looks like me, yes." Forte replied, never taking his gaze off the sight. "But he isn't me. That's the difference."
The two exchanged glances, apparently not taking joy in the screams. Ring clenched his hands. He wanted to help Forte so badly, but until some help came, or someone came up with a plan, his hands were tied.
A sign, Shadow... He thought tightly. All he needed was a sign...
The siren rang loudly in the room as the lights cut and re-lit the room in flashing red.
"Intruders are attacking the West Gate! All available units converge on West Gate! An unidentified airborne weapon is attacking the West Gate! Repeat, all available units converge on the West Gate!"
Wily snarled, stopping in his dissection and storming out the door, throwing his rubber gloves on the floor. Ring blinked. Well, can't get a bigger sign than that... He and Freeze would be escorting Forte back to the Medlab -- he still wasn't in any shape to fight -- so he could lose the two in the crowd and slip back in to fix up the other Forte.
Shadow... He shook his head, I don't know how you do it, but you really know how to make an entrance...
And that he did. In fact, he was making several in the form of cracks running along the side of the fortress. "Whooo-hooo!" He cheered, aiming another round at the forces that had just come out of an opening gate.
"Shadow, would you calm down?" Rock shouted. All that moving around he was doing above him with the gun was making him nervous.
"Calm down? Are you kidding? I'm having a blast! Haven't had this much fun without threat of KP duty in YEARS!"
From the other shoulder, Roll grinned, aiming her own weapon that the cannon fodder Wily was spewing at them. She loved Shadow; he was her favorite brother. Love of destruction and flare, what more could one want in a sibling? If he wasn't so much like herself, she would've marked him as hers. That, and if he wasn't flat out gay...
"C'mon, Rock!" She shouted. "Time to turn this baby around and go for another pass!"
The small bioroid slowly grinned. Their enthusiasm, no matter how morbid it was, was intoxicating. "Right!"
On the ground, Shadow melded into the scene, Blues following just as silently behind. The plan was for the two to infiltrate the premises, find Forte, and then divert Wily's attention from the other three long enough to send the group back to their own world. Of course, they both knew that neither Roll or the other Shadow would listen when they said, 'No matter what, no matter how long it takes, do not come into the fortress!'
Even Rock might not listen. The fortress suddenly shook as a large explosion slammed into it.
"Someone's using the rail gun." Blues murmured into Shadow's ear. He knew the capabilities of the Mark IV power armor. It was slow, but a juggernaut, and very effective either with other Mark IV's, or smaller, more mobile units to cover its flanks.
He just hoped Rock watched his aim. The rail gun was hardly a toy... and it had an impressive backlash and sonic boom.
"You DIPSHIT!" The armor had been flung back by the recoil of the main gun. Rock had barely managed to regain control, and Roll was furious. "Don't you know anything about this armor?!?"
"No, okay?" He shouted back. "It seemed like a good idea!" He hadn't known it had a vicious kick and a sound that could shatter glass.
"I'm deaf!" Shadow yowled, still firing. "That thing's evil! Look what it did!" The hyper velocity bullets had carved a brutal path out of the fortress. "Woo hoo, do it again!" Rock blinked, still trying to keep the armor on course.
"Hell yeah!" Roll was suddenly more pleased as she surveyed the devastation. Rock blinked again.
His brother and sister were very strange. The robot armor hit the ground, and Rock flexed the legs to absorb the impact. He'd learned his lesson on that the first time he'd done a big jump, and ended up sprawled out.
Shadow and Roll both leaped down from the armor, leading the assault on Skull Fortress with a joyful, homicidal mania.
It was really a lot of fun.
Blues and Shadow managed to avoid the running Robot Masters... and finally reached the laboratory.
There was a soft moaning, coming from inside. And another voice.
"Shhh... I know it hurts. Here..." The moans died down. That voice... Ring? Blues thought he had identified it, continued. "I'll start fixing you now, Forte. Just hang on." Blues nodded to himself, glancing at Shadow, before they both entered the laboratory.
The sight there would have stopped Rock's heart. Forte had been... mutilated was the best term Blues could think for it. Someone had obviously been taking him apart, piece by piece, with no concern whatsoever with his pain. Tears slid down the black robot's cheeks, mingling with the blood, as Ring worked at putting him back together. The sight made Blues feel tight inside.
"Damn him..." He couldn't believe this Wily could be so... sadistic. It was nothing like the intense, dedicated, but scrupulously honest and fair man he knew. This was insane... "Forte?"
Forte opened his eyes, looking at Blues. For a moment, his eyes were foggy, unfocused, but then he blinked, seeming to come back to reality a bit.
"...Blues?" His wondering, hopeful tone made that knot inside Blues feel even tighter. "I'm not... dreaming, am I?"
"No." He said softly. "We'll get you out of here, I promise." He'd keep that promise, no matter what.
He smiled, a tear slipping down his face. "I-I don't want to die here, Blues. I want to see Rock again. Just once, please... let me see Rock..."
Blues clutched Forte's hand to his chest, watching out of the corner of his eye as Ring and Shadow fought to put Forte back together. "I promise. I'll bring you back to him. You'll stay with him forever, just like you promised, waking up to him everyday. Remember, you promised me you'd take care of him, that way Roll and I wouldn't have to stick around? You've never gone back on your promises before, right?"
"Then don't start now or..." he gulped back tears, clenching his fist around the hand, "Or I'll let Roll make you learn the rest of her knife moves."
"Oh..." Forte chuckled weakly, "anything but that..."
Quietly, Ring stood next to Blues, whispering in his ear, "I want to shut him off for a while, let his pain receptors recuperate for awhile while I repair his body. The only problem is if his mind will want to restart itself after all that."
Blues bit his lip, casting another look at Forte. He seemed to be on his last leg as it was. Hesitantly he nodded. "All right. Do it. Even if he doesn't wake up... it's better than having to deal with the pain he's going through now. Besides," he said with conviction, "I know he'll wake up. Because he has to see Rock."
Ring nodded and knelt down besides Forte, speaking a few quiet words to him. Forte nodded and closed his eyes and Ring shut him down. The hand in Blues' grip fell limp and it was all he could do to keep from crying at that moment.
"You know," Shadow cried as he blocked and countered another attack with his quarterstaff, "maybe this wasn't such a good idea!"
"Since when was any of your ideas 'good'?" Roll said, the two stood back to back, Rock between them, trying to stay out of their way.
"I didn't hear you arguing when we were running, guns blazing!"
"We were causing carnage! You ever hear me say something against causing carnage?!"
The three were blown off their feet when the ground heaved itself upwards. "WHOA!"
"Crap, the hell was uprooted!?" Shadow cried. "You guys okay!?"
"If you don't get off my foot, you won't be!"
Rising from the ground, his vines whipping about furiously, Plant grinned toothily at them. "The three of you caused this much trouble? I'm surprised!"
"Jeez... we're being attacked by the rose bush! Wily's running low on ideas!"
Before either party could move, a powerful blast rocked Plant, burning a good portion of his body as Shadow swiped at his legs and brought the staff hard on his head. He turned to Roll. "Was that you? Since when did you have an arm cannon?"
"That wasn't me!"
"Then who was it?"
"That was me!" They craned their necks and looked towards the voice. A small bioroid stood, his cannon at ready, his blue armor glowing eerily in the attack. "You're the ones I was chasing down earlier!"
Shadow lifted his hands. "That wasn't my fault! He was driving!" He pointed to Rock.
"Well you were!" He yelped as another blast nearly took off his legs should he have still been sitting in that same position. "Hey, we don't want to fight you! We just want our brother back!"
Mega narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?" He began to charge for another blast. "You're Shadow, one of Wily's creations and you're causing a lot of damage. I'd rather not fight you, but if you continue like this-"
"Hey!" They turned to look at Roll, "that's Rock! I mean, this Rock! The Rock from this world!"
"Is it? Hey, yeah, it is!" Shadow then smacked his little brother in the head. "Fool! Your double was trying to get us killed!"
"It's not my fault!"
Mega looked confused. "What are you talking about?"
Roll grabbed his arm. "No time to explain! The Robot Masters are after our heads and we just want to rescue a couple people trapped inside the fortress! You're the hero, right? So help us rescue them!"
"I-huh?" Mega looked sadly confused... even moreso when he got a good look at the girl holding his arm. "Who ARE you?"
"Roll, dammit, and he's Rock! C'mon, help us out here!" She practically dragged him after her, deeper into the fortress, with Rock right beside him and Shadow taking the end.
Rock yelped as several laser blasts licked out... until Roll and Mega destroyed them with a few well placed daggers and blasts.
"Jesus Rock, stop being a wuss!"
"Excuse ME? I don't have any armor or weapons! Excuse me for being a little worried!" Rock shot back. This situation was starting to get to him. He was worthless and scared silly. Mega stared at him wide eyed.
"Wait... you look like ME! What is this?" He was looking at a face that was his mirror... except for a lock of purple hair... "It's insanity. You've finally lost it, Mega Man! Totally gone to la
la land!" Shadow laughed, exploding into action as Magnet was foolish enough to show himself.
"Shadow, what -- AUUUGHHH!" Taken by surprise, that fight didn't last very long, especially when Roll pitched in with her long blades.
Mega stared at the mess for a moment, suddenly pale. "You... killed him."
"No shit sherlock!" Roll shot back. "And we'll be killing a lot more! C'mon blueberries, let's get Forte!"
"You're here to kill Forte?" Mega said, sadly confused as they ran.
"No!" Rock gasped out. "SAVE Forte! Our Forte, that is, the other's a jerk!"
Blues, meanwhile... the real Blues... was also trying to figure out what was happening. He'd seen the devastation, heard the explosions, and was working his way into the fortress. He made it to the laboratory, before hearing familiar voices... and one that made him frown.
He slipped in silently. The occupants were too busy with... Forte... to pay him proper attention. But one of them made him stare.
He, himself, was standing over there, touching Forte's hair and holding his hand. It was... a perfect copy. Wily had made copies before, and the only one that had come close was Shadow... and then he'd given Shadow an individual appearance.
What was this? Was Wily making another copy?
He decided to listen, and find out.
"Woo HOO!" Shadow cracked another Robot Master over the head with his quarterstaff, the dark metal stained with blood and other, less easily defined fluids. "God this rocks! I -- " He was about to strike at someone else when...
He froze, staring at the face in front of him. Quick was just as startled, eyes wide.
Shadow couldn't move, couldn't strike, even though he knew Quick was probably an enemy here...
"Shadow!" He blinked in surprise as the speedster wrapped him in a tight hug. "Thank God you're safe! When the attack started, I was so worried that they'd get you! C'mon, Metal's found Forte! We have to get him before the others -- " Quick was cut off when the other pulled him into a deep kiss. Wh-What was he... in the middle of a crisis... but... but... oh... oh, yeah, this is nice...
"Yo, Don Juan." Roll said, poking him in the back. "We have a guy to save, now get your lips offa him!"
Shadow pulled away, giving Quick's lips a last, tiny lick. "Never bothered you before, what's up this time?"
"Hey, if I can't get any here, why should you?"
Quick blinked, his skin thirty times redder than normal. "What... what are you talking about?" He looked at the group. Roll was there, so was Mega -- though he looked as if he were about to pass out -- and... a -- another Mega? No, he didn't have armor, but he looked just like him...
Shadow gave him a wicked, albeit guilty grin. Wait... since when did he --
Quick yelped as he was suddenly yanked from Shadow's arms into... Shadow's arms? What the!?!
With a flash of silver, Shadow had his sword point a mere half inch away from his double's nose, his face set in the angriest snarl Quick had ever seen.
The other's grin widened. "Oh, so now I get a reaction out of you!" He chuckled. "Possessive little bastard." Which only served to make Shadow growl deep in his throat.
"Wh-what's going on, here?" Mega asked, totally confused at the sight of the two dark Robot Masters.
Roll sighed. "Long story short, a couple of us are from another reality, brought here by mistake. Me, Rock, and Shadow the Casanova over there are looking for our Forte, the nice guy, along with the party pooper, Blues." She looked at the other Shadow. "Speaking of which, where is he?"
"He's with Ring, Metal and Forte in a lab. I came out to get the rest of you guys, and," he growled again, flicking his sword forward slightly, causing the alternate the back up a bit, "you."
The other wasn't deterred by Shadow's surly mood and raised a hand to his lips. "Just as I thought. Tastes as good as my Quick." Quick blushed and Shadow occupied himself by trying to run his double through. "Hey, hey! Hold on now! We need everyone we can get in one piece! Otherwise it'll be harder for us to get out of here alive!"
Finally, defeated by the logic, he turned to Quick. "Fine. Where're the others?"
"Securing us a way out of here. How's Forte? What'd they do to him?"
Rock's ears pricked up. "What do you mean? What happened to Forte!?"
Shadow looked away. "It, it's not good. Wily was taking him apart without anesthesia. Ring's doing the best he can, but we're not certain he's going to make it."
The small robot burst forward. "Where is he!? Take me to him!"
He slammed into another body. He looked into the reflective visor of Blues.
"Blues! Please, how is he? Is he okay?"
He looked up at the others and saw Shadow's eyes narrowing suspiciously. Blues just turned, one hand on Rock's shoulders. "I don't know. He's staying alive for you. You have to be strong for him, Rock."
Rock nodded, tears starting to well in his eyes as he expected the worse. The group followed him into the lab and the first thing they noticed was...
He looked up at his name to see... himself standing at the door.
"Rock! Guys!" He said in surprise. He cast a quick look at Forte. "It's not good, Ring's almost finished repairing him, but..." he trailed off, unable to take his eyes off himself.
Rock was by Forte's side in an instant. "Oh God, Forte..." he began to cry. "Forte, what'd he do to you? How could anybody be that cruel?"
Roll closed her eyes to the sight and Shadow's jaw clenched at the scene. "And you guys have to put up with this madman?"
"He doesn't always dismantle his robots, but yes, we have to learn to get by." Metal replied as he tweaked something in Forte's upper arm. "That one's finished."
"Torso's done. All we have to do now is give him the command to restart himself and hope he agrees to it." Ring nodded. "Elec and the others will be contacting us once they have an escape route."
The real Shadow looked at Blues, still standing by the doorway, a grim look on his face. "Why are you helping us?"
"I saw what Wily did to Forte, I know their story." He turned to look at his own, personal copy. "I'm not doing this for you, or them. I'm doing this because Wily can't get away with that sort of treatment."
"Hmmm." Everyone watched as Forte was given the command to restart.
For a long, anxious moment, there was no reaction. Then his eyes fluttered open...
"...Rock...?" He murmured, sounding drugged, dreamlike. Rock suddenly hugged him, tears running down his face.
"Oh, Forte... I was so afraid for you. Are you okay?" He kissed Forte gently, and Forte slid a hand behind his head, making the kiss a lingering, intimate thing.
"Feel fine... I was afraid I'd never see you again, blueberry." A choked laugh met the use of his pet name for Rock, and Rock gently tugged on Forte's love lock.
"Silly. C'mon, let's get you out of here." Rock helped Forte up, supporting him as he wavered on his feet. Mega, meanwhile, had made some connections and was looking very white.
"He... he... they... can't... that... gh..." Roll and Shadow both turned to look at him curiously.
"What, never seen a couple before?"
"I think he's having a heart attack. Shadow, get ready to do AR." Roll said with a wicked grin.
"Ohhh, my pleasure!" Shadow replied with a matching grin. Mega scrambled away from both of them, still white as a sheet.
Elec suddenly popped his head in. "We have the way clear for you to leave. You better hurry, though."
"It leads to the ride armor, right? We can't get home without that." Rock asked anxiously. Although the fact that the armor would have to be left behind for them to leave was still troubling. It could cause serious problems in the future, if not for them, and Rock didn't like that idea.
But he liked what had been done to Forte a lot less. He was managing to stand, barely, but felt weak as a kitten.
"Yes, just follow me." The whole group jogged out of the fortress. Ignoring the fact that several of the Robot Masters were helping them, the fight had just gone out of most of the defenders. Letting this strangers take what they wanted was wisest, especially now that the real Mega Man was involved, even if he was getting dragged around by an impatient Roll.
"Ah, yes!" Rock immediately climbed into the war machine, carrying Forte, as soon as they reached it. There was a charred corpse beside it, of a Robot Master or drone who'd been stupid enough to try to override its security. "All set and ready to go!"
"...It was you who caused all that property damage!" Mega suddenly yelped.
"He didn't mean to, he just can't steer worth beans." Shadow said gaily, jumping up onto the ride armor and finding a place.
"Isn't that thing only meant for one person?" Roll suddenly mused. "Comfy in there, Rock?"
"I'm not leaving him outside." Came the determined reply. "Let's get out of here!"
And so they did.
It didn't take long for them to put a fair bit of distance between themselves and Skull Fortress. It was anyone's guess if Wily would be able to organize a pursuit, and if he'd even want to. He'd lost a lot this day.
"Unh, somebody help me? Forte's unconscious and I can't move with him on top of me." Came Rock's embarrassed voice from the machine.
Shadow couldn't help but giggle. "Oh, that sounds like so much FUN!"
"Shut up." Roll was giggling, too, and Blues just shook his head before climbing up the armor to give Rock a hand. They had to lever Forte out carefully... he was deep in a dreamless, comatose sleep, as his body tried hard to finish the repairs.
Quick stood atop the armor, looking out over the lake to where the portal was still swirling. "So that's it, huh? Figures."
Mega looked up at the speedster. "Hey, be careful!" He called up. "It's a long drop!"
"Huh?" Quick looked down and one foot slid across the rounded portion of the shoulder. "Whoa!"
"I got ya!" He was pulled into an embrace from behind. Turning, he saw Shadow's grinning face leering at him over his shoulder. "Mmm, we really have to stop meeting like this."
He was yanked once more from his grasp by Shadow who kicked his alternate off the armor.
"Whoop!" The other Shadow flipped in the air, turning on his boosters so his descent would be slowed. "Aw, now that's not nice!"
"Keep your hands to yourself!" Quick blushed, trying not to lean back into the shorter Robot Master.
"Come on, guys." Blues, well, one of them said. "We're going to have to figure out what we're going to do from here."
The other nodded. "Right. From here on, you and the others are going to be going back to your world. But that doesn't answer what's going to happen to the armor. It's too dangerous to just leave around. And also," he looked at Shadow and Quick, "what about you guys? I'm sure someone saw you helping them out instead of trying to detain them. Wily won't be going easy on you considering how hard he was hit."
Rock's face turned pale. He didn't want anyone else to go through what his Forte had. "Come with us!" He blurted out. "We can find a place for you guys! You won't have to worry about Wily anymore!"
The two looked at each other. Quick rubbed the back of his neck.
"I... don't think we should."
"What, is it about the chip?" Roll asked. "We can yank that out. Did it with Forte, the ungrateful bastard."
They blinked. "Y-You took it out? Really?"
"Yup. It took us a while to realize what was wrong with him, but it's out."
Quick frowned, tempted by the offer. As it was, he and Shadow didn't have much time left before theirs started working.
"We can't." Shadow said firmly. "There's already a Quick and Shadow in your world, you don't need more. And we can't leave the others."
"That's right." Quick agreed. "Elec, Ring, Metal, Slash, Crash... they helped out just as much. If they were punished while we just roamed free... what kind of friends would we be?"
Blues frowned. "I wish there was some way we could repay you guys. You've done so much to help us and Forte. We're forever in your debt."
Suddenly, a grin tweaked Shadow's lip. "Well, as Slash, and in this case, Blues would say, so long as Wily gets what's been coming to him, any punishment is worth it."
"Will ya look at that?" His double said. "He actually has some dry wit!" Shadow glared at him, causing the other to chuckle. "Damn. You know, Blues, I think he acts more like your -- "
Shadow and the two Blues shot him with a flat glare, saying with eerie precision, "Shut up."
"Okay, that's too freaky, even for me."
An idea came to Roll's mind and she slapped the side of the armor. "How 'bout this?"
"The Mark IV? We can't take it back with us and it's a killer ride! Why don't we have Shadow and Quick take it back. Say they trailed us until we abandoned the ride armor and they took it back when they realized they couldn't catch up to us?"
"That might work." The alternate Blues said. "He's so power hungry and he lost a lot of his forces. He might take it and curb your punishment a bit."
"What about all the weapons?" Mega asked, not sounding too found of the idea that he might have to fight against it one day.
"Why don't you let Blues take it?" Said the alternate Shadow. "He's obviously not on Wily's side. That way, in case you have to go up against the sucker, you'll have back up with some kick-ass firepower."
The four looked at each other.
"O-okay, I guess that'll work."
In the course of a few minutes, they dismantled most of the big guns from the ride armor, letting Blues and Mega carry it.
"You sure you guys got it okay?"
"Yeah, we're fine.
"Thanks a lot for your help. Couldn't have done it without you."
Rock quickly went through the controls with Quick, though both Shadows knew that the mediocre teaching the hyper adrenaline junkie safety tips couldn't led to anything good. The Mark IV hovered out to the middle of the lake, letting the others climb into the portal one at a time.
Blues went in with one final smile and nod, followed by Roll who stopped, an odd look on her face. "Hey guys? When you see Slash next time, tell him... that I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get him upset." She smiled slightly. "It was great knowing you all."
Shadow, next in line turned to Quick, only to find his double standing in front of him, a frown on his face. Shadow sighed with a wiry smile. "Gee, I wanted to give this to Quick as a way to tied me over until I got to mine, but..." he leaned forward, placing a sweet kiss on Shadow's lips, feeling him tense. "If you were only hurting yourself by not saying anything, I wouldn't care. But you're hurting Quick, and that's unforgivable." He patted a surprised Shadow's cheek. "Try to let your feelings out a bit more, eh?"
The two blushed as he jumped through. Rock stepped up to the portal, Forte in his hands, and he turned around.
"Thank you guys, for everything." He gave a watery smile, his eyes beginning to tear up again. "If anything had happened to Forte, I'd..." he bowed as best he could under the burden. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I'll never forget this."
As the final members parted through the portal, it closed in on its self, leaving two Robot Masters on a ship hovering above the water and two bioroids standing on the shore.
Blues shifted his load. "C'mon, Rock. I'm sure Light has somewhere to store this stuff. I don't want to have to worry about anyone stealing it."
Quick continued to stare at the empty sky for a moment when something tugged at his hand. Shadow was looking away, a slight flush on his face, but in his hand he held a couple of Quick's fingers. He smiled, closing his hand around Shadow's.
"Ready to head back?"
The armor roared to life and shot back towards what was left of Skull Fortress.
"Woooohoooooo! Now THIS is a rush!"
"Watch out for the trees!!!"