It was late afternoon when Dawn woke up. At least, that was what it looked like, she really wasn't too sure. She started to sit up, but nearly fell back, wincing, when she felt a sting of pain on her upper arm. Someone caught her.
"Be careful." said a male voice that was somehow smooth and rough. "You're still injured. Don't exert yourself too much."
Dawn looked up and saw that the voice belonged to a black hedgehog with red eyes and red streaks in his spiky quills. She couldn't help but think of how much he looked like her mother.
"My name is Shadow." the black hedgehog said before Dawn could ask. "I brought you here and tended to your wounds after you passed out."
Bandages were wrapped around Dawn's arm and leg, and she remembered them getting singed by volcanic lava. She and Shadow were on the shore of a wide, rushing river-its rocky landscape reminded Dawn of the canyon back home.
"Thank you for saving me." she said to Shadow. "I'm Dawn." She frowned. "But...why did you do it? We've never even met before."
Shadow hesitated. This would not be easy to explain, not even to himself. "Well, you see, Dawn..." He shook his head and looked away. "You'll hate me when I say this."
"You just saved me. I won't." she reassured him.
His courage slightly renewed, Shadow continued. "Your mother, Sonic, and I, we.....we have a rivalry." He hurried on when Dawn's expression turned shocked. "It's not always bitter. We respect each other to a certain extent. And we don't attack each other unless provoked. I swear it."
Dawn processed the information, slowly nodding. "If you're rivals with my mom, then...why did you save me?" she asked again.
Shadow was once again hesitant to tell her, but he had to. "I..." He sighed. "I don't understand why, but...even though you're my rival's daughter, I somehow feel obligated to watch over you. To make sure you're safe."
Dawn was surprised and touched by this, but then Shadow frowned and stood up. "But I understand that this is your solitary journey. I'll be going then." He turned to leave.
"Wait!" Dawn stood up and grabbed his arm, ignoring the pains in her arm and leg. "I appreciate you looking out for me, I really do. And I want you to keep doing it for me. Better yet, I want you to come with me on the rest of my journey."
"Are you sure, Dawn?" Shadow asked.
"Going alone isn't the purpose of my trial. Proving myself is. I don't need to be by myself to prove my worth."
Shadow nodded confidently. He found himself starting to admire Dawn, like her even. "Well, then, where to next, aspiring heroine?"
Dawn and Shadow found a metal boat-like contraption, which they pushed out onto the river. Despite its heft and material, it held above the water. The swift current caught on after they boarded, and it carried the two down the river.
Shadow watched Dawn as they went, trying to figure things out. What he said to her earlier was true-he somehow felt as though it were his duty to protect her. Perhaps it was because she was Sonic's daughter, and he wasn't here to watch over her, but that confused him even more. For one, they were rivals, and Shadow didn't owe him anything.
Even more confusing, he always took teamwork as a sign of weakness, and he initially admired that Dawn was traveling on her own-with no allies-yet when she asked him to come with her, he accepted. Something about her was making him take actions and make decisions against everything he believed. What was it? What was so special about her?
"Shadow?" The black hedgehog became aware of Dawn's voice just then. "Why are you watching me like that?"
"Oh, sorry, Dawn. I was thinking." Shadow replied.
"About what? Me?"
"Yes. I...have these thoughts I can't make sense of. About you, and me, and...your mother." He looked away. "I don't understand why I feel like I need to protect you, especially knowing you're my rival's daughter. And I don't exactly believe in teamwork, I don't even know why I'm accompanying you. It's all so...so..."
Dawn placed a hand on top of his before he could overwhelm himself. "It's okay. I get it. Sometimes we feel things we don't understand, like how you feel the need to protect me even though my mom is your rival." She gazed distantly up at the sky. "I wonder what he's doing right now. And my dad and friends."
"Knowing your mother, he might be boasting on about something foolish." Shadow said bluntly. But then he flinched, worried about how that sounded. Luckily, Dawn didn't take it the wrong way, and she laughed.
"Yeah, he's probably causing a scene over chili dogs or video games. Or maybe he's totally showing off his abilities for when the village gets attacked." Dawn shook her head. "Man, Mom thinks so highly of himself sometimes."
Those tendencies with Sonic usually annoyed Shadow, but he couldn't say that in front of Dawn. "Your mother is quite.....spirited." That was a good, safe word. True, but without negativity.
"That was one of my earliest memories." Dawn said. "Mom brought to the beach outside our home..."
She was sitting up in her stroller, watching as her mother worked on his coordination and agility, which he hadn't done since he was pregnant with her. Everyone came out to meet them, and Sonic paused to wipe away some sweat that had collected. Knuckles reached into the stroller and tickled Dawn, making her giggle.
"Getting in shape again, Sonic?" Tails asked.
"You know it!" Sonic said, stretching out his limbs and back. "I can't wait till Eggman attacks again! Now that I'm not carrying Dawn anymore, I can fight again!"
"About that." Amy came up to Sonic with a small white board. "We've worked out a system for who's gonna watch Dawn when Eggman attacks." She handed it to Sonic for him to study. "We'll take it in turns."
Dawn later learned the order: Knuckles, Sonic, Amy, Tails, Sticks. Although with the case of the last mentioned, it was probably a good idea for someone to help her in watching Dawn. Who knew what would happen if she were left entirely to the well-meaning but ultimately paranoid badger?
"Dawn!" She was startled out of the memory by Shadow's panicked voice. He pointed to something up ahead, and Dawn gasped in fright.
The river was ending at a waterfall. And they were most likely very high up.
Dawn carefully climbed onto the boat's edge. "We have to jump onto solid ground!" she said. "You ready?"
"Yes!" Shadow said, positioning himself on the opposite side.
In unison, Dawn and Shadow jumped from the boat and landed safely on the rocky ground. They watched as the boat plummeted down the waterfall, dropping a long way before landing with a loud crash.
After a few seconds of watching in silent shock, Dawn said, "How 'bout we see what's down there?"