Previously, on The Chaos Project…

[Eggman]: (As seen in Series Premiere Part 1) "I've been working on something, something world-changing. I call it: 'The Chaos Project.'… when all is done…I will rule over the entire planet."

[Sonic]: (He looks to his teacher with a smile.) "Thank you. For everything you've done for me. For us." (He glances over at Shadow.)

[Lords of Chaos]: (As seen in Series Premiere Part 2. They address Sonic's teacher.) "The Darkness will come…it can no longer be stopped… When the time comes…you will return to us…"

[Sonic]: (As seen in Series Premiere Part 4. He watches with tears in his eyes as his teacher's shield is shattered, and he is enveloped completely in a lethal attack.) "CHAOS!"

[Shadow]: "We have to go, now!"

[Tails]: (As seen in S1 E1) "Dr. Eggman used his robot army to take over the world… Sonic and I, and a small group of our friends, managed to retreat, and meet up in a secret location. We might be the only ones left who can fight back against Eggman."

[Omega]: "Eggman's robots must not be allowed to acquire the package."

[Sonic]: "Now what's in there that's so much more important than everything else…?"

[Omega]: (Later, with only Shadow there to watch.) "The package must be analyzed for damage." (The front of the capsule slides open, revealing Metal Sonic suspended inside.)

[Sonic]: (As seen in S1 E18.) "I lied. I tried to make sure that every single one of you believed Rouge was our enemy, so that Eggman could believe it too. I did it to protect her."

[Shadow]: "She's dying because of your lies!"

[Sonic]: "Shadow! Wait! We have a way…to fix…all of this."

[Shadow]: "And how do you propose we do that?"

[Sonic]: "By ending this war before it ever began."

And now, the continuation…


One Year Ago — December 31st, 0 B.E.

"The invasion has already begun. But I would like to cut you a deal, Sonic." Eggman pulls out a small remote device. "Surrender yourself and your one measly Chaos Emerald to me, and I will enter the code to deactivate every last robot I control. And I'm not talking for now. I'm talking for good. No more robots. Ever. And all you have to do is stay here for a few days, maybe a week or two, and then you'll be free to return to your friends. Just think about the millions, maybe billions of people who won't get hurt if you make the right decision. It's an offer you can't refuse."

Sonic says nothing for a moment. Tails shouts, "Come on, Sonic! You can't actually be thinking about this, can you?"

"Stay out of it, fox! This is between Sonic and I." Eggman turns back to Sonic. "Well then? What is your answer?"

Sonic remains silent a moment more. "…I don't know what it is that you're planning. I don't know what you want me for. What I do know is that you've never once kept your word to me. If you expect me to bargain with you after making a reputation like that…then you really are as dumb as you look! Tails, grab that remote!"

Before Tails can ever reach his goal, Eggman says, "Very well then," and presses a single key. The floor instantly parts open beneath the large machine, and it plummets back towards earth.

Sonic shouts "No!" Without hesitation, he dives straight into the opening after it.

"Sonic!" Tails dives out after him.

Eggman shakes his head in disapproval, and presses another button to close the hatch. He takes out a communicator. "Orbot, Cubot, set our course back to base. The Hedgehog has been taken care of."

As Eggman turns around, a voice responds briefly, "Yes, Sir." But Eggman freezes in place at what he sees behind him.

Sonic gives a smug salute. "Hey, Doc. Where were we?"


Sonic the Hedgehog: The Chaos Project

Season 2, Episode 1

Time Heals All Wounds

Written by ChaosProjectAuthor


Present Day

Emerald Canyon – The Rebellion Base

Sonic, Shadow, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy have all gathered in Sonic's tent. Tails questions hesitantly, "You don't mean…?"

Sonic nods slowly.

Knuckles objects, "You can't actually do that, can you?"

"Not alone, I can't. Shadow?"

Shadow leans against the back wall of the tent, not even looking at Sonic directly. "We can. That doesn't mean we should."

"What're you getting on about?"

"There are consequences to the kind of thing you're talking about."

Sonic seems to be growing irritated as well. "Well you know what!? Maybe some costs are worth putting an end to this war!"

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"I think I do. I've done this before, Shadow. There's always a way to make it work."

Shadow raises an eyebrow in surprise for a moment. But then he shakes his head. "You don't know that."

Tails comments, "Shadow has a point. There's…so many ways that can go wrong."

Knuckles agrees, "Yeah, haven't you ever seen the movies?"

Sonic shouts, "This isn't a movie! We're doing this to save the world!"

Amy finally speaks up, "I…don't understand. You aren't saying what I think you're saying, are you? How would that be possible?"

Sonic holds up the purple Chaos Emerald. Shadow looks down at the yellow one he holds. Sonic explains, "We finally have a second Chaos Emerald. If Shadow and I use Chaos Control together, we can open a Space-Time Rift. We go back in time to the day the war started, take Eggman out of the equation, and boom. No more war."

Knuckles questions, "Why go to when the war starts? Why not go back further, stop him from building his army in the first place?"

Tails adds, "Hypothetically, if you want to talk about efficiency, why not find Eggman as a child? Stop him from going evil?"

Knuckles picks up, "Or stop him from being born at all?" Amy gasps. "What? That's not the same thing as killing him, and it makes sure that he never–"

Sonic interrupts, "No. No, we can't…we can't get caught up in the what-ifs. The more we try to change, the harder it will be to predict how it'll affect the present. Like Shadow said. Consequences. The fewer consequences, the better. So we make just one change, stop Eggman from fighting the war, and leave everything else the same."

Shadow shakes his head. "I won't do it."

"But Shadow–"

"I said I won't! We would have to know everything. Everything that's happened in the world, to know how we would change things. We don't know. We can't know. So we can't take the risk."

"It is a risk. I'm not denying that. But we take risks every day in this war. Maybe we don't know how it's going to turn out, but if we don't, we have no chance of making things better!"

"We don't have the right to take this risk! We're not talking about risking our lives, we're talking about risking everything! We could destroy…everything…"

"Shadow…you're not talking about stopping Eggman…are you?"

Shadow looks down to the ground. "I went back in time…to set certain things right. But I made a change. I saved his life."

Sonic understands, "Blacklight…"

"Just one change. I thought…only about his life. His second chance. But I changed everything with that decision. He killed…so many people. He led Eggman's army. He started this war. I started this war. Our teacher, Chaos… Angel Island, destroyed… Rouge… All of it is my fault. One change…" He shakes his head and spits, "There's no such thing as 'one change'. So no. No, I won't make another. I won't repeat that mistake."

Everyone in the room goes silent.

"Shadow…don't you want a chance…to make that right?" Shadow doesn't answer. "Shadow, Rouge is still alive, but she won't be for long. Tails said she needs a miracle. We can make that miracle happen."

"Don't you dare…"

"Don't I dare what!? Believe it or not, Shadow, I want her to live, too! I gave that order! I'm the reason she's dying now! I want to fix that. But I can't do it without you."

Shadow remains silent.

Amy is the first to speak up. "I believe that you two can do it. You can change history for the better. Just like you always do."

Knuckles notes, "I'm not really caught up on this whole time travel thing, but…if something goes wrong…you can always try again, right?"

Tails looks to Shadow. "Shadow…I think you need to do this. Or at least try. Not for anyone else, but…just for you. You can't go on blaming yourself forever. You need to know that you've tried everything you can. Or you'll be stuck with this…Darkness."

Shadow closes his eyes. "It seems like I'm stuck with it no matter what I do."

"With that attitude? You probably are."

Sonic picks up, "No one is going to force you to do this, Shadow. But when we formed this Rebellion, we swore to do everything we can to protect this world. This is something we can do. This is something we should do. But I can't do it without you."

"If I choose to do this…it won't be for you."

"I don't expect it to be." Sonic suddenly lets out a long, drawn-out yawn. "Whatever you decide, I think it can wait until tomorrow. It'd be a bad idea to try something like this without any sleep."

There is a general murmur of agreement from Tails, Knuckles, and Amy. Shadow remains silent. Tails gives him a hopeful look.

Shadow shakes his head as he turns to leave. "You'll have an answer."

—–—

Rouge, still comatose, lies on a stretcher in the med tent, hooked up to outdated but functional medical equipment, monitoring her slow, weak heart rate.

Shadow sits in a chair beside her, still staring down at the Chaos Emerald in his hand. He asks into the silence, "What would you do, in my position?" He turns the Emerald over, as if to examine it from a different angle. "You never were one to be swayed from your position, Rouge. And yet…you were never afraid to take chances." He finally looks over towards her. "One too many chances, this time." He closes his eyes, and lets out a long breath. "You were the one person left in this world…that I could trust without any doubt. You kept me centered. But I didn't hold on to that trust. I let myself believe that you'd betrayed us. But it was me who betrayed you. Would you even give me advice after what I did to you? Could doing this ever come close to making up for it?" He sinks down, and shakes his head. "I don't know. I just don't know…"

"I guess I'm not the only one who couldn't sleep, huh Mr. Shadow?"

Shadow looks up more in confusion than surprise. "Cream."

Cream walks past him, explaining, "I wanted to check on the Chao." She reaches the back of the tent, where a pinkish Chao cocoon sits, putting off a very faint glow. "I've never seen a Chao regenerate for this long before."

Cheese flutters down onto the table, and puts a hand on the cocoon. "Chao…"

Cream looks back to Rouge. "I hope they're both okay."

Shadow seems to be debating whether or not to tolerate her presence. A thought seems to occur to him, though he shakes it off just as quickly. Regardless, he begins to ask, "If you…had the chance to make everyone in the world happier…but you would make everything worse if you failed…would you try anyways?"

Cream immediately becomes perplexed. "Oh…well, I guess…umm…my Momma always told me…that you only fail when you stop trying. So…if you never ever give up no matter what, then I think you can make everyone in the world happier."

"I figured you'd say something like that…"

"Mr. Shadow…" Cream has silently moved much closer to Shadow, which momentarily startles him. "…you're really strong, you know? I think if there's anyone who can keep trying no matter how hard it gets, it's you."

Shadow shakes his head slowly, muttering an unconvincing, "Thanks."

The tent entrance flaps open, and Charmy sticks his head in. "Hey, am I late for some sort of party in here?"

Instantly pushed past his point of tolerance, Shadow promptly stands and storms out, shoving past Charmy as he goes.

Charmy looks over to Cream. "Was it something I said?"

Cream gives an innocent shrug.

—–—

Daily Log…hopefully the last. Sonic the Hedgehog reporting.

Shadow made his decision. He said he'll do it, as long as he can get behind the whole plan. But it's pretty simple, really. We've narrowed it all down. I know exactly where Eggman's going to be, and when he's going to be there, effectively unguarded. We grab him and take him back to the present with us, and the present we come back to will've lived a year without any Eggman. Altogether, it should only take a few minutes. No risks, no distractions.

I can't help thinking about what else we could change…but it isn't worth it. No risks. No distractions. We're not trying to make things perfect. Just better than they are right now.

—–—

Omega, still severely damaged from the last battle, has been moved outside, with several scattered parts lying around his deactivated form, the beginnings of an attempt to repair him. It appears to still be before dawn.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get him up and running in time to see you off," Tails says to Shadow.

"It's fine," Shadow answers. "When we're done, he'll never have been damaged at all."

Sonic pats Shadow on the back. "That's the spirit. This'll all go great, just you wait and see."

Shadow throws a glare at Sonic. Sonic takes a step back, holding his hands up innocently.

"Let's just get this over with."

Sonic nods in agreement.

Tails notes, "Remember, your communicators are designed to send signals through time and space, so we can still keep in contact while you're in the past. At least…until you make a significant change to the timeline. I…have no idea what happens after that."

Sonic holds up his Chaos Emerald. "It won't take long to find out."

Shadow holds up his own next to Sonic's. "Chaos…"

Sonic echoes, "Chaos…"

They conclude at once, "Control!"

A swirling white light rises into the air from between the Emeralds, rippling outwards as it opens into a chaotic blue vortex. Sonic and Shadow look to one another for a moment, before leaping in together, as Tails waves them off.

—–—

One Year Ago

Sonic shouts "No!" Without hesitation, he dives straight into the opening after the falling machine.

"Sonic!" Tails dives out after him.

Eggman shakes his head in disapproval, and presses another button to close the hatch. He takes out a communicator. "Orbot, Cubot, set our course back to base. The Hedgehog has been taken care of."

As Eggman turns around, a voice responds briefly, "Yes, Sir." But Eggman freezes in place at what he sees behind him.

Sonic gives a smug salute. "Hey, Doc. Where were we?"

"What!? You–!?" Eggman looks frantically back towards the sealed hatch that Sonic had just disappeared through.

"Now, Shadow!"

Before Eggman can react, Shadow appears in the air beside him, kicking the remote out of his hand. It shatters to pieces as it hits the floor.

Sonic rushes in with a Spin Attack, striking Eggman directly in the chest, and knocking him to the ground.

Sonic and Shadow stand over Eggman, both of them wearing looks of satisfaction on their faces. Eggman holds his hands up protectively near his face. "N-now, l-let's talk about this like civilized folks, shall we?"

Sonic rolls his eyes. "Oh, I am so tired of hearing that."

Shadow pulls out a length of rope. "Allow me."

While Shadow binds and gags Eggman, Sonic looks over to the closed hatch. "There's a whole war being fought down there… If we just…"

Shadow tightens the rope around Eggman's mouth. "No distractions. The mission is complete. Let's get out of here before something goes wrong."

Sonic hesitates a moment before giving a nod. "Right." He takes out his Chaos Emerald.

Shadow holds his own beside it. They chant together, "Chaos Control!" A Space-Time Rift opens.

Eggman manages to spit out the rope in his mouth. "You'll never get away with this! My army will stop at nothing to find me and set me free."

Sonic lets out a chuckle. "You still haven't figured out where we're going? Your army won't have anything to find."

Shadow grabs Eggman by the arm. "Let's get moving."

Pulling Eggman with them, the two hedgehogs leap back into the portal.

Meanwhile, in the Mystic Ruins…

Chaos the Hedgehog steps out from the Temple of the Lost World, and immediately turns his attention skyward. "Another one…?"

—–—

Present Day…?

The Space-Time Rift spits Sonic and Shadow out onto the cold, rocky ground. Shadow looks around in confusion. "I thought the plan was to take him back to base. What is this?"

Sonic shares his confusion. "That was the plan. And this is the base." He takes a long look around at the grim, barren landscape. "This is Emerald Hill." He slowly reaches up for his communicator. "Tails? Tails, this is Sonic. Do you read me?" After a few moments of silence, he shakes his head. "Nothing."

Shadow glares back at Eggman. "What did you do?"

"Me? What could I have done? You were the ones who kidnapped me and…" He glances around for a moment. "…took me to the future?"

As Sonic continues to take in the surroundings, he jests, "Did it really take you that long to catch on?"

"Was my rule really that hard for you to tolerate?"

Shadow looks to Sonic questioningly. "Permission to punch him in the face?"

Sonic shakes his head. "Give it some time. It'll be easier to figure out what's changed with him conscious."

Eggman notes, "I prefer it that way as well." Sonic and Shadow both turn to glare at him, and he shrinks back. "Not…that anyone asked…"

Sonic looks down to his Chaos Emerald. Its edges show as a dull grey, as if its color were receding into its center. "What's going on with this?"

Shadow answers, "That's our timer. We can't stay for long in a timeline that isn't our own." He takes out his own Emerald. Unlike Sonic's, its color pulsates in a slow, predictable rhythm.

"And what's going on with that one?"

"It means there's a duplicate of this Emerald. Not far from here, by the looks of it. We should investigate, it's our best bet of figuring out what's going on in this new timeline."

"Lead the way."

—–—

Sonic and Shadow tread carefully along the side of a cliff wall, dragging Eggman along behind them. "This is humiliating," Eggman mutters.

Ignoring him, Shadow voices, "We're getting close."

A powerful laugh booms, "Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

All of Shadow's muscles tense up at the sound. "I know that voice…"

Sonic gasps, "Could it be…?"

They both cautiously peek around the corner to get a look at the source of the voice. Floating above the ground, enveloped in the shadowy aura of his Super Form, is Blacklight the Hedgehog. And he isn't alone. Standing side-by-side across from him is an alternate pair of Sonic and Shadow. Blacklight declares to them, "Finally come to grovel for your pathetic lives? I never imagined it would take an entire year to finally lure the two of you back out."

The alternate Sonic takes a step forward, pleading, "You have to stop this, Blacklight! Even you must see that you can't keep this up forever! Look around you! You're almost out of life to take!" The end of the shout seems to leave that Sonic short of breath, and he sways a bit on his feet.

Blacklight demands in return, "Why should I stop!? After everything this planet has taken away from me, this is my revenge!"

The alternate Shadow begs more somberly, "What happens when you're the only thing left? The ruler of an empty world? I know that this energy is the only thing keeping you alive. If you keep using it when there's nothing left, you'll die! It isn't worth it, Blacklight!"

"Oh, so now you care about me, brother!? I was waiting for you to really care. Waiting so long! Well I gave up waiting. And there's only one way to prove me wrong." He slowly offers down a hand. "Share this power with me, Shadow. Give me something else to live for. If you don't, then you die here today. Maybe both of us."

The alternate Shadow looks down to the ground.

The Sonic beside him encourages, "Don't let him get in your head, Shadow. We…we can take him. We can win this fight."

"Sonic…what's there left to fight for?"

"Shadow, what're you saying!? We fight for what's right!"

"Right for who!?" Shadow looks up, tears in his eyes. "There's no one else left, Sonic! We're the only ones! Us…and him. There's no point…"

Blacklight questions, "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"No one else has to die." Shadow slowly begins to step away from Sonic, towards Blacklight.

Blacklight cheers, "Ah, there you go, Shadow! I knew you had it in you!"

Shadow stops beneath Blacklight, turning around to face Sonic. "These…sides…they're meaningless now. If you have any sense left, Sonic…you'll stop fighting too."

Sonic clenches a fist. "…You don't want anyone else to die, Shadow? Well I guess that's too bad. Because I'll die before I stand with the Darkness."

Blacklight shrugs as he looks down to Shadow. "Well, I hate to say it, but if that's what your friend wants, I'm afraid that I must ask you to give it to him." He produces a yellow Chaos Emerald, and casually drops it. Shadow catches it out of the air. He gazes for a moment at the strange patterns of pulsation it shares with its counterpart from the other timeline. Blacklight continues, "This is the only way you can prove to me that you really mean it this time. Kill him."

Shadow looks slowly up to Sonic. "Don't make me do this, Sonic. You know you're too weak to fight me."

"Yeah. I know." He tenses up for a fight. "But that doesn't mean I'll be holding back."

"You're forcing it to this, Sonic. This is on you." In a blur of motion, Shadow attacks at full speed, landing his first strike.

Hidden behind the cliffs, the real Sonic and Shadow retreat farther back to avoid being seen. Shadow glares down to Eggman. "I see what's going on here. You really did kill him, didn't you? After he practically took over the world for you?"

Sonic tries to interrupt, "Shadow, you–"

Shadow stops him. "I need to hear this. Eggman?"

"What? Me? I would never—" He is cut off by an especially intense glare. "Okay, so I was planning on betraying him. But it looks to me like I'd be doing the two of you a big favor."

Not asking for permission this time, Shadow throws a hard punch at Eggman's face, knocking him to the ground.

Sonic complains under his breath, "Shadow!"

"What? He deserved it."

"That's not the–" With a growling sigh of exasperation, Sonic tries again. "Shadow, you know a heck of a lot more about what's going on than I do. What do we do from here? How do we fix this?"

"How do we…?" Shadow pauses as he processes the question. "I don't know." He places his hands over his head in a sudden frustration. "I don't know."

"Need you to do better than that, Shadow. We can't stick around here long."

Eggman, finished flexing his jaw to ensure it isn't broken, begins, "If I might make a suggestion–"

Sonic and Shadow agree, "No."

Meanwhile the battle between the alternate Sonic and Shadow wages on behind them. Sonic is clearly on the losing side. He struggles just to stay on his feet as Shadow keeps up an onslaught from all sides, though he manages to dodge a few attacks.

But Shadow lands an especially hard kick from behind, knocking Sonic flat on his stomach. Looking down at Sonic on the ground, Shadow finally relents. "It's over, Sonic."

"Not…not yet, it isn't!" Sonic jumps to his feet, flinging himself at Shadow with all the speed he can muster.

Realizing Sonic's ploy a moment too late, Shadow lets out a rushed, "Chaos–"

Sonic is a moment faster. "Chaos Control!" He grabs onto the Emerald in Shadow's hand just as Shadow finishes his own shout, and the two disappear in a flash of light.

A fraction of a second later, one Hedgehog reappears where there were once two. The Hedgehog who is both Sonic and Shadow clenches his red and green eyes shut as two voices, slightly out of sync, growl at one another, "What…did you…do!? Get…out of…my…head!"

Blacklight rolls his eyes. "This guy again? I don't like this guy."

The Hedgehog continues to argue with himself, "You have to…think about this! I'll…make you…see… You…I…you…" His words grow incoherent as his thoughts become too greatly conflicting to form them.

Blacklight muses, "Hmm…I suppose I could just kill him." He takes another look at the fused Hedgehog, who clutches at his head as if trying to tear himself back in two. "That's a lot of power he's giving off." He looks down at his own hand. "And I…do need a recharge." He looks back up. "But…Shadow…my own brother…" He thinks on that for another moment. "Yeah…better kill him now." He floats down to The Hedgehog, and taps him on the shoulder. "Excuse me?"

The Hedgehog turns to face him in a blind confusion.

"Great, thanks, that's all I needed." Blacklight suddenly jabs three open fingers into The Hedgehog's exposed chest, releasing a strange pulse of green energy from the point of contact as The Hedgehog gasps for breath.

Somehow, the aura of energy surrounding The Hedgehog is slowly drained away. But Blacklight doesn't stop there. The Hedgehog's skin begins to wrinkle and recede, as if the very life were being drained out of him. Looking into Blacklight's eyes, he only manages to gasp out, "Why…?"

The real Sonic and Shadow watch in horror as their counterparts are reduced to nothing but two piles of dust.

Eggman shouts loudly, "How in the world did he–!?"

Blacklight turns sharply towards the source of the voice. "Who's there!?" He flies around the corner of the cliff to look for himself. The only person there is Eggman, who glances around in sudden concern.

Blacklight greets warmly, "M.J.! You're alive!"

"Uhh…yes! Yes I am alive! And…thank goodness you found me! Those cursed hedgehogs kidnapped me!"

Blacklight shakes his head in agreement. "The nerve of those guys…"

"So, perhaps you could…untie me?"

"You know, I'd love to, but, uhh…I don't really want you taking my power away, so…I think I'll just kill you instead. Okay?"

"What!? No! Not okay! Definitely not okay! Noooooooo!"

From their new hiding place behind a large nearby rock, Sonic and Shadow can clearly hear Eggman's final scream. Sonic holds up his Chaos Emerald. "Time's up Shadow. We're doing this right now. Chaos…"

Sonic has to drag it out an extra moment before Shadow reluctantly echoes, "Chaos…"

"Control." The Space-Time Rift opens between them, and Sonic leaps inside.

Shadow takes one last glance backwards. As Blacklight looks up from yet another pile of dust, he meets eyes with Shadow. "Shadow?"

Shadow quickly leaps into the rift, and it begins to close behind him. Blacklight flies at him, but by the time he gets there, he passes through only empty space. Stopping to stare for a moment into the spot where Shadow disappeared, he suddenly shouts into the sky, "Again!?"

—–—

One Year Ago

Sonic and Shadow are dropped into the darkened heart of a dense forest, surrounded by the ambient sounds of night. Sonic wipes the sweat from his forehead. "Whew…that was…something."

Shadow starts to look around in a slight confusion. "Where…when…?"

Sonic answers, "Back to when the war started. Mystic Ruins, first place I could think of. I brought us back an extra day, that'll give us plenty of time to rest, and come up with a new plan." Before Shadow can ask, he continues, "We're time-travellers. No need to rush things, we literally have all the time in the world, right?"

"Yeah, I…I guess so."

"Shadow, are you feeling alright? You really froze up out there, what's going on?"

"I'm just…" He looks up at the dark canopy of trees above. "…confused."

"I don't blame you." Sonic takes a seat on a fallen log nearby. "This time travel stuff is really–"

"That's not what I meant. It's…" He shakes his head as he trails off.

Sonic indicates for Shadow to take a seat beside him.

Shadow seems hesitant. But after a moment, he does. "Aren't you…?"

"Aren't I what? Mad? Because you were upset that Eggman killed Blacklight? Because you punched him for it? I think that I, of all people, have no right to be angry about that."

"No, that's not–…" He stops as he thinks about that for a moment. But then he shakes his head. "I sided with Blacklight. I tried to kill you. You watched yourself die with your own eyes because of that decision. Doesn't that concern you at all?"

"What are you talking about? That wasn't you."

"Of course it was me! That was Shadow the Hedgehog! Up until this day, he lived the exact same life that I did!"

"He did. But after that, we have no idea. He had experiences that you and I can hardly imagine. Sure, he made a decision that I wouldn't want you to make, but neither of us knows why. Maybe that Sonic did the same thing I did. Maybe he lied to Shadow. Maybe someone got hurt because of it. Maybe worse. You can't just judge a person because of decisions they might or might not make. You aren't him, because you didn't make his decisions. That was all him."

"I wanted to."

Sonic has no immediate response.

"I've wanted to give up that fight. To join Blacklight. And I've certainly wanted to kill you on more than one occasion."

"Uhh…"

"These thoughts are something that I can't control. Thoughts of…of doing…terrible things…"

"Shadow…it sounds like you're talking about a lot more than what we just saw. Is there…something you need to tell me?"

Shadow goes silent for a moment. Then he shakes his head.

"Shadow…these…thoughts that you have… They don't define who you are. We all have… I mean…we all…think…about certain things. Things we wish we didn't. Believe me, I'd love to tell you that my inner thoughts are all sunshine and rainbows, but that's not the way it works. I wouldn't have…a rule against killing…if I didn't have thoughts about breaking it first. We can't possibly know what making a choice will mean if we don't consider making the alternative first. And that's exactly the point. It's the choice that matters. No matter how dark your thoughts get, there's always another choice. A choice to live by what you know is right. Maybe it's the harder choice. Maybe making that harder choice over and over again, every single time, can start to feel impossible. Maybe it is impossible. After all, nobody's perfect. But we just have to go on trying. Because that's what defines who you are."

"If it's impossible…if I know I'm going to fail eventually…what's the point of trying?"

"There are billions of people on this planet, including yourself. Pick any point you want. Choosing not to give up, choosing to be a better person, that's the only way we have to make lives better. You're not thinking of giving up on me, are you, Shadow? Because I still need you. The future still needs you. I think we'd both rather forget about what happened back there, so let's start working on how to fix it."

A strange yet somehow nearly-identical voice answers from the shadows of the forest, "I think we can help with that."

Sonic hops to his feet, taking a defensive stance. "Who's there!?"

The source of the voice slowly steps out into the light. "Fellow time-travelers." Though he has a taller stature, darker fur, longer quills, and visible creases in his skin, giving him a more aged appearance, he is unmistakably Sonic the Hedgehog. A Shadow steps up beside him, not noticeably aged at all, though with shoes far more scuffed and worn. The Sonic continues, "We're not too early, are we?"

Sonic takes a step back in surprise. "You…you're…"

The older Sonic finishes, "You. From the future. Well…sort of."

"Sort of?"

"This'll take a while. You might want to sit back down."

—–—

Future Sonic appears to have started a small campfire, as he tends to the piece of wood on top using a stick.

Present Sonic holds his hands up near his face, deep in critical thought. "Okay, so let me get this straight. You went through…all the stuff that we just did. But then you kept trying to fix the timeline for…years?"

Future Sonic stands back upright, taking a moment to stretch his back. "You got it. Well…I think years, anyways. Time's gotten a little hard to keep track of."

"That still doesn't explain what you're doing…here."

Future Sonic stares down into the fire, letting out a brief sigh. "Everything just went wrong for you. So…what's your next move? What's your plan?"

Present Sonic glances over towards his Shadow, who still sits beside him silently. "Well…we said we'd do this just one change at a time. We weren't accounting for how Blacklight would change things, so I guess our next step is to take him out of the equation, just like we tried with Eggman. Right?" Shadow doesn't answer.

Future Sonic shakes his head slowly. "That's what we thought. But it was the wrong choice."

Present Shadow suddenly stands, turning to walk off.

Present Sonic calls after him, "Shadow! Where you going?"

He answers without stopping, "I need some air."

"But…we're…outside…"

Future Sonic says, "Let him go. Trust me, he needs some space right now."

Present Sonic looks over to Future Shadow, who leans back against a tree a fair distance away from the fire. "Will he be alright?"

Future Shadow gives him a disinterested look.

Future Sonic scratches at the back of his head. "Oh, uh…Shadow…doesn't talk much anymore."

Present Sonic cocks his head to the side in confusion. "Oh, that's…probably not a good sign. What exactly happened to you guys?"

Future Sonic takes a seat on the log, letting out a long, exhausted sigh. "Well, picking up where you left off…I pushed Shadow to come up with a plan. One change that could safely take Blacklight out of the equation." He slowly shakes his head. "One change. There's no such thing." With another sigh, he resumes, "We tried. Ended up right back in the Eggman Empire—without any sign of Eggman himself. And half the world destroyed by the Death Egg."

Present Sonic visibly winces at the understanding.

"Everyone was dead, just like the last attempt. Shadow stopped giving his opinion after that. Just waited for me to figure out how to clean up the mess I'd forced him into making. And I tried." He briefly looks skyward. "Lords know I tried." He closes his eyes and shakes his head. "One change. Then another. And another. I lost count a long time ago. Every single time, something terribly wrong. Owned by some conqueror, destroyed by some monster. Take your pick, I've seen 'em all. And we've gotten close, once or twice. A world that…doesn't seem to be in any obvious danger…but…too many sacrifices to get it that way. So many sacrifices…" Whatever it is that he sees when he closes his eyes causes him to grimace. "Eventually, we…gave up on trying to fix the world. Just started trying to put it back the way it was before we started screwing with it."

"So…why haven't you done that already?"

Future Sonic looks over to his present self. "Because you went and made it impossible on us."

"Wait…what?"

"It's funny. We're time-travellers. You'd think going back and fixing a stupid decision would be easy. But we couldn't have made that task any harder on ourselves. In our zeal for getting in and out as quickly as possible, we didn't leave ourselves any time."

"I…still don't understand…"

"It was just a couple hours ago for you, wasn't it? That you tried to grab Eggman, set this whole thing in motion? Well…we paid that version of you a visit. Tried to convince him to give up what he was doing. But there wasn't enough time. You remember what he was thinking, don't you? Deadset on his plan, on getting it done in seconds flat. He couldn't be convinced. He needed to see for himself. Well, now you've seen. Happy with yourself?"

Present Sonic clutches at his head with both hands. "Wait…but…that never…wouldn't I…?"

Future Sonic cracks a smile. "You have a lot to learn about time travel. Or…on second thought…I hope you never have to."

Present Sonic holds up a hand. "Okay, okay, so…hold on…assuming that I follow what's going on here…I still don't understand what you're doing…here. Why not just…try again with…me from two hours ago? Why come to me now?"

Future Sonic leans backwards. "Yeah, it was gonna get to that eventually." Slowly, he takes out something. A dull grey Emerald. "We're out of tries." He suddenly holds it out and drops it onto the ground. "Unlimited power. Completely used up."

As if in response, Future Shadow pulls out his own, just as lifeless, and tosses it into the pile.

Future Sonic continues, "Opening all those Space-Time Rifts, draining as we stayed in future timelines…I guess they had to hit their limit sometime."

Present Sonic questions, "I mean, they're not stuck like that, are they? Won't they–"

Future Sonic suddenly gets up and slams his foot down onto the two hollow gems, shattering them like glass.

Present Sonic gasps.

"They won't. They were just rocks, nothing left to recharge. One more failed attempt, and it all would've been over. The world would be stuck with whatever hellscape we ended up making."

Present Sonic raises his eyebrows in surprise.

"That's why we need you. We need working Chaos Emeralds, the more charge, the better. Two hours ago, you wouldn't have let us use them. But you know better now. You know that we need to do this. Together."

"The Chaos Emeralds? That's it?"

"Of course that's not it. If the Past you is going to hesitate for even a second, he needs to hear it from someone he can still see himself in, or he won't believe a word of it. I know full well that I'm too far gone for that."

Present Sonic looks more closely at his future self, perhaps seeing for the first time that they don't share quite the same light in their eyes.

"And that's why, when all this is over…it needs to be you who makes it back, not me. Our friends are waiting for you, not me. We didn't come to you for your help, we came to offer ours. I don't want you to become me. You've suffered enough already."

Present Sonic ponders this silently for quite some time. "It's…hard to object to that."

"Good. I was afraid your chivalry might stop you from seeing reason here."

"You say that like it would be a bad thing. Don't you want to go home, too?"

"If I say 'no,' will that stop you from considering it? It needs to be you. Trust me."

"…Fine. You be the hero, then."

"That gets us past the easy part, then. You're not gonna like the hard part."

"Hard part?"

"I already said that Past you isn't willing to change his mind about what he's doing. You aren't going to change that. You'll just get him to hesitate. That's when you'll have to kill him."

Present Sonic bursts out laughing. "Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! Kill my past self and wipe us both out of existence, you almost had me going there for a second there! Ha ha!"

Future Sonic shakes his head slowly. "Time travel doesn't work that way."

Present Sonic suddenly stops laughing. "Wait…what?"

"Things don't just stop existing. At least, not in the way that you're thinking. Changing the past doesn't 'transform' the future. It just…redirects the path you take to get there. The old path still exists, you just can't take it anymore."

"And…how does that…?"

"Think about this way. You just made a change to the past. As a result, the Sonic from this time went through a couple new experiences, and ended up dead. He was your past self, but he died, and you're still here. The moment his timeline changed, he wasn't you anymore. Now think about what I'm telling you. Obviously, you weren't killed in your past, so if you kill your past self, he'll be dead in a new timeline, and you'll be fine."

"You…you're actually serious about this, aren't you?"

"I told you that you wouldn't like it."

"You're insane!" Present Sonic slowly begins to take a few steps backwards. "I don't care whether or not it affects my present, I can't just go murdering some guy!"

"It's not murder, it's…umm… Look, just–… If you were to realize, right this second, that sacrificing your own life was the only way to fix the timeline, you'd do it, wouldn't you?"

"Yeah, but he's–"

"You! He is you! You have the right to decide your own fate, don't you?"

"Well is he me, or isn't he!?"

"Both! You'd be sacrificing yourself, you just…happen to be able to survive the process. That's a good thing, isn't it? Look, we…we can work this out. It doesn't have to be you, necessarily, it just…please. I know, everything is completely insane right now, but that's what we're trying to fix. That can't be done without your help. Look, I'm…" Future Sonic slowly gets down onto his knees. "I'm begging you, see? Please, stay, and hear me out on this."

Present Sonic hesitates for a long time. But finally, he responds, "You're going to have to answer a lot more questions."

Future Sonic shrugs. "We have all night."

—–—

Shadow walks in silence until he can't walk any farther. He's reached a sheer cliff edge, looking out over miles of dense forest farther below. He steps right up to the edge, staring straight down as a few bits of rock and soil are kicked over the side, tumbling down below. He grumbles angrily into the abyss, "I don't need their advice. I don't need their opinion." He closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly. "I shouldn't be here at all…"

"At least that much, we can agree on."

Shadow turns to the source of the voice with a start, immediately losing his balance over the edge of the cliff. A hand reaches out to grab his, pulling him back to safety.

"Careful there, Outlier. You may be durable, but that would not protect you from breaking your neck in a fall like that."

Shadow immediately takes a step back as he finally gets a good look at his dead teacher. He gasps, "C-chaos…y-you…"

Chaos the Hedgehog gives him a smirk. "What's the matter, time-traveller? You look as though you have…" He has to stop and think for a moment. "…seen a ghost. That's the phrase, right?"

"Wait, wh–…time-tr–…h-how do you–…?"

"A Space-Time Rift causes an immense disturbance in the flow of Chaos, and there's quite a nasty disturbance surrounding yourself. Let me guess. This was the Controller's idea?"

"Well…yes, but–"

"Nothing to do with myself I hope?"

"No, but–"

"Then that's all I need to know."

"Need to know about what?"

"About the conversation we're about to have." Chaos takes a seat, cross-legged on the ground. He invites, "Come, sit down."

Shadow, looking more confused than ever, slowly obeys, sitting across from his teacher.

"You're troubled. Very troubled. More so than I've ever seen you before. Why is that?"

Shadow looks over his shoulder, out past the cliff to the sprawling forest beyond. "It's…a long story."

"How long?"

"I…" He shakes his head. "I don't even know anymore. My whole life, maybe."

"Well, I doubt we have time for your whole life's story. Give me the short version."

"Sonic did something that I can't forgive. He's trying to fix it. And he's failing miserably."

"Well…it seems that he's going to rather extreme lengths to make it up to you. What does that make you think of him?"

"That he's desperate."

"Desperate to please you. Why is it you find that so frustrating?"

"Because…because… I…"

"Ah, see, now we're getting somewhere. Keep thinking. Think hard. Is this really about what the Controller did? Or is there something…more?"

"Of course there's more. There's always more. Every time I try to–…" Shadow trails off.

"Try to what?"

"…Every time I try to trust someone. I end up suffering for it. It doesn't matter who, it doesn't matter how many times."

"Every time?"

"Every time. So why should I trust anyone at all?"

Chaos looks down slowly. "I see…I was afraid that something like this might happen."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You think that I can't see my own contribution in this dilemma of yours? You're from another time. And your reaction upon seeing me…confirms from which. Confirms what I knew to be true from the moment I began my life in this world."

Shadow suddenly stands, reeling back a step. "You…you knew…"

Chaos remains calm. "I knew that I came to this world to protect the Controller's life. I knew that would mean the cost of my own, when the time came."

Shadow's distress only increases. "You lied. You told us you would be fine. But you knew…"

Chaos scratches at the back of his head. "Well, I…haven't experienced that yet, so I can only speak in the hypothetical when I say that…what I did…I can only have done…for your own good. To ensure what needed to happen. To ensure that the two of you could survive this crisis."

Shadow shouts in a sudden fury, "That's exactly the problem! For my own good, always, for my own good! What ever happened to having a choice!? To deciding my own fate!? It's always the same with you people! You swear to me that I have a choice! And then you take that choice away!" Tears begin to stream from his eyes. "I didn't ask you to die for me! I didn't ask Maria to leave everything to me! I didn't ask to be created!"

"Outlier…"

"When I died…I didn't ask to be brought back. Sometimes…I think I'd be better off if I wasn't." Shadow looks off towards the cliff. "At least that way…it would've been my choice…"

"And so we have our answer. This has naught to do with the Controller. This is about you. And your misconceptions about the world."

"What!?"

"You claim that your friends are those who take choice away from you. But that is exactly where you are wrong. Each friendship is a choice that only you have the power to make. In truth, the ability to choose the people one surrounds himself with is the single greatest amount of control one can have over his own life. It is one's greatest duty to himself…to surround himself only with those people who will make him better. Who will bring out the best in him. And hence, you choose your own path in life."

"But then–"

Chaos holds up a hand to stop him. "But then, a friendship is not so simple as proximity. By choosing to be a person's friend, you choose to value that person, and so be valued in return. And if you truly, selflessly value a person…then you will inherently place their well-being above your own. And sometimes…that necessitates making a decision on their behalf. Decisions that…though made to their benefit…they would not make for themselves…for their value of you. That is the sign of the truest kind of friendship. It is a…how you say…two-way street. And that brings us to you."

"I–"

Chaos stops him once again. "You allowed yourself to become friends with the Controller because you came to realize that he understands you, true?"

"Yes, but–"

"And that understanding is something that you still value in him, is it not?"

"I… …yes."

"And you understand that his courage, his strength of will, and his pure intentions are qualities that you would respect in any person, qualities that you could stand to improve for yourself?

"…Yes."

"And you understand full well that he places nothing but the highest value on you?"

"Yes."

"Well then, the choice of friendship remains to you. And in making this choice, there is something you must understand. Trusting a person to be your friend means trusting them to support you. Although some choices will be left to them, it will still be you who chose to place that trust in them. And if that trust is something you cannot place…the alternative is solitude. Speaking from personal experience…there really is no comparison. A true friend will do you better every time."

"I still–"

Yet again, Chaos interrupts, "Yes, there will be trials. You will encounter Darkness in your life. Hopelessness, despair. That is true no matter what choices you make. But there is Light on the other side. Light that can be shared with your friends, should you choose to have them, and so you may all find Balance together. I'm certain that even you understand the difference."

"How do you–…" Shadow waits to be cut off, but this time, he finally isn't. "…Have I ever told you…how much I hate that you always know exactly what to say?"

Chaos gives a smile. "You may have mentioned it once or twice."

Shadow gives a faint smirk in return. "Well…I didn't really mean it. I've missed having your wisdom to turn to, old friend."

This causes Chaos' smile to grow even brighter. "So what will you do now, Outlier? The choice is yours."

Shadow looks off towards the forest where he came from. "I should get Sonic. He…he's had a rough time without you. He deserves a chance to talk to you again like this."

"Hmm…as much as I would wish to agree…I'm not certain that's such a good idea, given the circumstances. I'm…concerned about what decisions he would try to make, faced with the opportunity. But I suppose, as his friend, you will have to make that choice for him." He gives a wink.

Shadow rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. You're always right, you don't have to rub it in."

"Regardless, the Controller and yourself are presently training about a mile in that direction, and approaching quickly." He indicates a direction with a movement of his head. "If our time together is really so limited…I believe I should be ready for them."

Shadow breathes a slow sigh. "There's no way I can ever thank you enough…for everything you've done for me."

"I believe you just did. However…if you'd really like to show it, then there is a message you can pass along for me."

—–—

Present Sonic continues his line of questioning. "So…if all the different timelines are able to exist independently…then what exactly is draining the Chaos Emeralds when we go into a new timeline?"

Future Sonic scratches at the back of his head. "Yeah, Shadow's guess was…actually pretty off on that one. I still don't really know for sure, but I think that it's some sort of…failsafe. The Emeralds like to make sure that there's always exactly one of each. If they end up duplicated, there are two possibilities for why that happened. If an Emerald has been brought to the future, or the past, it'll be out of sync with the Emerald it's duplicating. In that case, the attractive force between the Emeralds is drastically increased, and if the two duplicate Emeralds touch, they'll open a rift into the Flow of Chaos, so the Emerald can be sent back to its own time, resolving the conflict. But if the two duplicate Emeralds are in temporal sync, that can only happen if it's been brought to a new timeline. It can't be sent back to where it came from anymore, so it's power just…drains into the other Emerald until there's only one working one left."

"What exactly does…temporal sync mean? Like, how would the Emerald keep track of that? How would it know which one belongs and which one doesn't?"

"That's…beyond my understanding. Sometimes I wonder if it's…sorta like a…computer, I guess. Maybe it has, like, a…savestate, a snapshot of where it came from, so it knows how to recognize when it is or isn't there." Future Sonic stares off into space as he ponders, "Maybe it even has an idea of how to get back there. Wish I knew how to ask it…"

"A computer inside the Chaos Emeralds… Tails would sure love a chance to study that." Present Sonic slowly lowers his head, looking to the ground. "Tails…"

"Hey." Future Sonic places a hand on Present Sonic's shoulder, startling him slightly. "Tails and the others are still out there, remember? We just…haven't found our way back to them yet."
"You're really sure about that?"

"Well…I don't know for sure, but…it sure helps me sleep better at night, thinking about it that way."

"And…what about all the other timelines? The world I went to…all life wiped out…they're still out there, too. Dead. That can never be undone. And I'm the one who did that to them…" He suddenly collapses his head into his hands. "I'm a monster…"

"I…try not to think about it that way…"

Present Sonic looks slowly back up to his future self with a look of pure disbelief on his face. "Just how many worlds have you destroyed…?"

Future Sonic retains his confidence. "Too many. Right now, you only have one on your shoulders, and I'd like to keep it that way. You aren't backing out on me, are you?"

"I…I don't know…"

Shadow's voice declares, "Really, Sonic? I've never known you to be indecisive before."

Both Sonics look up in surprise. "Shadow?"

Present Shadow nods in greeting. "Hi. We…have a few things to talk about."

Getting up and walking over to him, Present Sonic says, "No, I-…I need to go first." Stopping right in front of Shadow, Sonic begins, "Shadow, I…I need you to know how sorry I am, that I dragged you into this, I had no idea what a mess I'd be making, and I…honestly, all I wanted was…to make up for…everything. I miss us being friends. And…I let that sway my…" Sonic looks up as he realizes that Shadow's smirk has grown increasingly large the entire time he's been talking. "What's that look about?"

"It's because I wanted to say the same thing. I'm sorry. I'm the one who tried to give up on our friendship. And I finally realize what a mistake that was." He offers out a hand. "If you can forgive me, then I know I can do the same."

Present Sonic appears completely shocked. "Wow." Cautiously, he takes Shadow's hand. "Did you have a nice walk, or what?"

Present Shadow gives a smile. "You could say that. I'll catch you up on it later."

Future Sonic comments to future Shadow, "Aww, aren't they sweet? Why can't you and I get along like that?"

Future Shadow rolls his eyes.

Present Shadow continues, "So, what did I miss? Are we doing this?"

Present Sonic turns back to the visitors from the future. "Good question. Because I had one more of my own."
Future Sonic scratches at his forehead. "Uhh…what haven't we talked about at this point?"

"What are you still hiding?"

Future Sonic is taken aback. "Hiding? I'm not hiding anything, what could I be hiding?"

"Your story doesn't add up. You can't have done everything you claim you have. So fess up."

"I-I swear, I d-don't know what you're talking about…"

Even Present Shadow is able to confirm, "He's lying."

Future Sonic glances around nervously, unsure of what to say.

Present Sonic crosses his arms. "You want to prove us wrong? Then tell me. If the timeline you end up in is determined by what changes you've made, then how could you be here now? If you tried to stop us from grabbing Eggman, then you wouldn't be able to find the 'us' who never experienced that. We should remember you. But we don't. How is that?"

"We–…Uhh… We were able to–"

"Able to choose which timeline you ended up in? No no. You'd be home already, if you could do that."

"Y-you don't understand–"

"I think I do understand. You wanted to push your crazy idea on me, and you knew I wouldn't listen unless I thought it was the only option. But it isn't. You've never even tried to go back to that time. Well you can forget it. We're out of here." Present Sonic turns to leave, waving Shadow along with him. "Let's go."

Future Sonic looks frantically back towards Future Shadow. But Shadow hardly even looks at him. He looks back to present Sonic, who continues to walk farther and farther away. "W-wait! Please!"

Present Sonic holds up a hand in farewell. "Thanks for all the advice. We'll take things from here."

Future Sonic's anxiety grows by the second. He takes another glance at Future Shadow. This Shadow gives the slightest subtle shake of his head. Future Sonic bites his lip for just a moment. But finally, he shouts, "We'll do it your way!"

This is enough to get Present Sonic to stop.

Future Sonic repeats, "We'll do it your way. Your plan. Your rules. We'll do whatever we can to help. Just…please. Let us help. We can't afford for this to go wrong. Please."

Present Sonic looks to his own Shadow.

Shadow answers, "Can you still trust him after that?"

Present Sonic turns all the way around, finally facing his future self. "We all want the same thing here. So as long as we can get it the right way…we're better off doing it together."

Future Sonic breathes a long sigh of relief. "Thank you." He glances over towards Future Shadow once again. Shadow's glare is calm, but unquestionably disapproving.

—–—

One Year Ago — Several hours later…

Future Sonic steps up to the controls of Eggman's battleship, cracking his fingers in preparation for his work. Metal crunches behind him as Future Shadow crushes the head of an Egg Pawn beneath his foot.

Future Sonic takes another moment to look over the controls. "Let's see here… Aha!" He gets to work, flipping various switches and buttons until an alarm finally blares above their heads. Sonic nods in approval. "That's always a good sound. Ship should be on a crash course, should be enough to convince them that things are already changing. It's crazier than anything we would've tried back in our first few attempts, eh?"

Shadow provides no answer.

Sonic leans down over the controls, closing his eyes. "Shadow, I…I'm sorry. I know this isn't how you wanted all this to go down, but…we've taught them everything we can. They know better than we did, so…maybe, even if this goes wrong, they can still get it all figured out faster than we could. That's the most we can ask for, right? I mean, why should we care how long it takes? It'll get done. That's what matters."

"Chaos…"

Sonic turns around with shock at hearing his voice. "Wh—"

Shadow concludes his attack with his hand pressed flat against Sonic's chest. "Spear."

—–—

Past Sonic gives a smug salute. "Hey, Doc. Where were we?"

"What!? You–!?" Eggman looks frantically back towards the sealed hatch that the Original Sonic had just disappeared through.

"Now, Shadow!"

Before Eggman can react, Past Shadow appears in the air beside him, kicking the remote out of his hand. But another Shadow appears in the air to grab it. An alarm blares above them.

Past Sonic charges in for a Spin Attack, but he collides with another Sonic who does the same.

As he lands on the ground, Present Sonic shouts fervently, "Stop, you're making a mistake!"

Past Sonic takes a step back in surprise. "You…you're…"

"I'm you from a day in the future, and I'm telling you that this is a bad, bad idea!"

Eggman looks across the four hedgehogs around him with utter bewilderment. "There's more of them…?" He starts to creep slowly away. "I think I'd better get out of here…"

Past Shadow steps in his way. "You're not going anywhere."

Present Shadow steps between them. "Let him go. The future depends on it."

"You think that I'm going to stand by and watch you protect Eggman!? Think again!" Past Shadow dives into his present self, tackling him to the floor. As they grapple for dominance, a button is pressed on the remote in Present Shadow's hand, causing the cargo hatch on the floor nearby to reopen, adding a torrent of wind to the chaos in the room.

Present Shadow, momentarily pressed to the ground, pleads, "Just listen to me! This plan is going to fail!"

"And why should I trust you?"

"Because we both saw how this was going to end from the moment Sonic suggested it."

Past Sonic shouts at his present self, "Why would you be getting in our way!? We're trying to save the planet!"

"You're trying to change history, and it isn't going to work! You'll only make things worse!"

"How can it get any worse!?"

"I've seen it. I know. And you know, too. You know, because our teacher told us…that there was only one path that could lead to things getting better. He knew the time, he knew the place. And this…this isn't it. We can't change what happened. But we can always change what will happen. The right way. The only way."

Past Sonic slowly relaxes his stance, hanging his head down. "I wanted this to be the way. I wanted it all to finally be over."

"But it's never really over."

"…Yeah. I guess you're right." Slowly, Past Sonic takes out his Chaos Emerald staring down at it for a while. "So…what exactly do we do about…all this? Who goes home?"

A Shadow's voice answers, "Not you."

Past Sonic looks up in surprise, a moment too late to react before Future Shadow's kick nails him in the head, sending him flying back. Future Shadow snatches the Chaos Emerald out of the air that was dislodged from Sonic's hand.

Eggman, halfway out the door, stops and glances back. "Another Shadow!? Just how many of them are there…?"

Future Shadow steps up to the limp form of Past Sonic, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him off of the ground to hold him out above the open cargo hatch.

Present Sonic shouts, "Shadow, whaddaya think you're doing!? He already agreed!"

Future Shadow looks only at the unconscious body in his hand. "I'm doing what needs to be done." He lets go of the body, and it disappears into the abyss below.

"No!"

Escaping from the hold of Past Shadow, Present Shadow runs at Future Shadow, grabbing him by the shoulder and turning him around as he shouts, "That wasn't part of the plan!"

Future Shadow scoffs. "Sonic's plan? His plan to make everything he's put us through amount to nothing? I won't allow that. And we don't need him anymore."

Present Shadow takes a hesitant step back. "What…what happened to your Sonic?"

Future Shadow responds with a terrifying smirk. "Two down." He looks over to Present Sonic. "One to go." He begins to step towards him.

Present Shadow blocks his way. "Have you completely lost it!? Why are you trying to get rid of Sonic!?"

"Don't act so surprised. I'm only doing what you've always wanted to do."

"Speak for yourself! Sonic is my friend, and I won't let you harm him!"

"Don't you understand? Sonic holds us back. He stops us from doing what needs to be done. Without him, you and I can set the timeline right. We aren't limited by time and aging like he is. We can wait across all of time if that's what it takes, we can correct every event as it comes, to create the perfect timeline! So stand by me. Or get out of my way."

"You're making a mistake."

"No. I'm making a choice." Future Shadow suddenly strikes Present Shadow out of his way, and runs for Sonic.

"Whoa!" Sonic dives out of the way of the attack, but Future Shadow changes direction the moment he passes him, and strikes him from behind. Sonic quickly leaps back off of the ground, just in time to avoid a kick that slams into the ground where he had just been. "Hey, come on, we can talk about this, can't we?" He makes a quick step to the side as Future Shadow rushes past him with another attack.

Future Shadow stops for just long enough to answer, "I was done talking to you a long time ago." He rushes in for another attack.

Sonic tries to leap out of the way, but a sudden shuttering of the ship around them causes him to lose his balance. The room begins to tilt. Sonic braces himself to be hit.

"Chaos Shield!"

A thick golden barrier suddenly appears around Future Shadow, trapping him inside. With an enraged growl, Future Shadow tries to strike at the inside of the barrier, failing to damage it.

Sonic looks over in surprise. "Shadow!?"

Present Shadow stands with his hands outstretched and his Inhibitor Rings on the floor, glowing with an aura of energy, holding the barrier in place. "There's nothing you can say to him. He isn't going to listen."

Inside the Chaos Shield, Future Shadow calmly removes his own Inhibitor Rings, and his own aura flares to life. With enhanced strength, he strikes at the barrier again. This time, Present Shadow voices a loud grunt at the exertion of holding the barrier in place.

Completely bewildered, Past Shadow finally voices, "Can someone explain what in the world is going on here!?"

Present Shadow gives a soft chuckle. "He doesn't understand yet. But he will." He winces against another assault on the shield, before looking momentarily to Sonic. "Take him and go home."

Sonic yells, "Shadow, what're you talking about!? What do you think you're doing!?"

"I'm doing exactly what Chaos did for us. I'm making sure that Sonic and Shadow both survive." The next attack on the barrier leaves a wide crack running through it. "He has a message for you."

Sonic lets out a quiet gasp.

"He wanted me to tell you that he knows you're ready. Ready for whatever comes next. Ready to move on without him. And he also wanted you to know–" Another attack spreads the cracks even wider. "He wanted you to know how sorry he is...that he couldn't tell you what he was planning. That he didn't give you the chance to say goodbye. That he didn't give you the choice." And after a moment, he adds, "And I'm sorry for doing the same thing to you now."

"Shadow…"

"Now go." The barrier is on the verge of breaking. "I said go!" Present Shadow drops the barrier holding Future Shadow in place, turns around, and creates a new one, a flat one, using it to push Sonic and Past Shadow off of their feet, and out through the open cargo hatch, just as Future Shadow can be seen crashing into him from behind.

Sonic and Shadow plummet through the foggy morning air. Above them, the battleship veers drastically off to one side, heading straight for a nearby mountainside. Sonic reorients himself in the air, shouting as loudly as he can, "Everything's going to be fine! We're going home!" He pulls out his Chaos Emerald.

Shadow objects, "But what about–!?" He looks around in every direction, unsure of exactly what it is he's objecting to.

"Not a lot of time to argue before we hit the ground!"

Looking straight down at the rapidly-approaching earth, Shadow seems to agree, rapidly reaching for his own Emerald. He reluctantly begins, "Chaos…"

"Chaos…"

"Control!" The two disappear instantly as they fall into the Space-Time Rift generated beneath them.

Eggman's battleship collides with the mountain, going up in a fiery explosion. A small Egg Mobile flies out just ahead of the wreckage.

—–—

Daily Log, December 26th, 0 A.E. This is Tails reporting.

Sonic and Shadow have been gone for more than twenty-four hours, now. I…I don't want to assume the worst, but…if we were ever gonna see them again…why wouldn't they've come back to the second they left from? I guess…something must've gone wrong. I…I don't really know what that means, but…maybe, if I run some… …some calculations… … …I don't know.

I guess it doesn't really matter. If they came back now, they'd be too late, anyways…

—–—

Emerald Canyon — The Rebellion Base

A Space-Time Rift opens in the heart of the canyon. Sonic falls out through the bottom, slamming face-first into the dirt. Shadow lands a bit more gracefully beside him.

A recording device clatters onto the floor. Tails stands in complete shock. "Guys…?"

Sonic plucks his face out of the ground. "Tails…?" With a sudden burst of speed, he runs up to Tails and embraces him in a tight hug. "Oh, you have no idea how happy I am to–" He suddenly pushes back and stares Tails intensely in the eyes, gripping him forcefully by the shoulders. "Wait, the day, what day is it!?"

Looking a bit flustered, Tails manages to stutter out, "It's, uh, uh, the 26th, December. You left yesterday."

Sonic takes a step back. "Yesterday? Oh, shoot, I forgot I wasn't supposed to–"

Shadow suddenly shoves Sonic aside. "We've been gone an entire day!? Rouge, is she–"

"Did someone say my name?" The entrance flap of the nearby med tent opens, and Rouge takes a step out from inside, showing no sign of injury. "You boys had better hurry. It's happening."

Tails complains, "Rouge! I told you, three days off your feet, you shouldn't be up!"

Sonic and Shadow turn to each other. Shadow voices, "The timeline…"

Sonic finishes, "We must've changed it after all…"

Tails bursts out laughing. "Timeline!? Come on, guys. This was just me working another one of my medical miracles. Come on inside, I'll explain." Tails follows Rouge into the tent, waving for Sonic and Shadow to come with him.

The inside of the med tent is extremely crowded, as the entire Rebellion has gathered around to watch the brightly-glowing pink Chao cocoon that has been moved to the center of the space.

Knuckles greets, "Looks like you guys are just in time."

Sonic groans, "Knuckles, please, no time travel puns today."

Tails begins explaining, "When a Chao reaches an old age…or goes through some kind of extreme trauma, like this one did when its mutation was removed…it enters a regenerative state, where it…basically transforms into a newborn again. And that's how it came to me. Well…came to Charmy, technically."

Charmy chuckles a bit. "What can I say? I'm full of good ideas."

Knuckles mutters under his breath, "You're full of something, alright…"

Tails continues, "Charmy asked why we couldn't put Rouge in a cocoon like the Chao, which…isn't exactly possible. But it helped me realize that the unique enzymes involved with Chao regeneration could be exactly what we needed to kickstart Rouge's healing process. And…it worked."

Shadow raises an eyebrow skeptically. "So you injected her with Chao blood?"

"No, not…not exactly…"

Sonic questions, "Is that safe?"

"We're…not quite sure."

Rouge adds, "No side-effects yet."

Shadow questions, "Is that ethical?"

Tails has to think on that one for a moment. "Probably…not…according to standard medical practice. I didn't want to try it without consulting you guys first, but…we ran out of time. You were too late."

Rouge notes, "No complaints here."

Amy suddenly calls out, "Guys, look!"

In the center of the room, the Chao cocoon has reached a peak intensity of brightness, and now begins to dim as the outer casing fades away, revealing a shiny new Chao egg inside. The egg begins to shake, then cracks from the inside. Finally, the shell is pushed away by the newborn Chao inside. "Cha…?" It looks around at the many eager faces staring at it from all sides, recoiling timidly from the attention. "Cha…"

Rouge reaches out to gently lift the Chao, holding it up to show it her soft smile. "Everything's going to be okay, little one. You're finally home." She pulls it closer, and it happily nuzzles into her.

Knuckles questions, "Does...that mean we're keeping it?"

"Where else does it have to go? Eggman is the closest thing to a caretaker it's ever had."

Tails smiles. "I think we should. It can be like our mascot."

Sonic shrugs. "Why not?"

Amy questions, "So what do we call it? It seems like...Discord...might be a little insensitive."

Rouge thinks on that for a moment. "What about...Chadis?"

Knuckles objects, "Kay…diss?That sounds like a girl's name. Didn't you say Discord was a 'he'?"

"I don't know, I thought that Chao didn't have genders."

Cream notes, "That's true."

Cheese cheers, "Chao chao!"

Sonic nods. "Chadis sounds good."

Amy asks, "So when do I get to hold it?"

Charmy complains, "You can wait, I've never gotten to hold a Chao before! Let me hold it, I wanna hold it!"

Chatter in the room increases as the mood finally seems to relax. Amidst it all, Shadow turns silently for the exit.

"Where do you think you're going?" Rouge's comment turns all attention to Shadow.

Shadow pauses for only a few moments. "I'm...glad you're alright." With that said, he exits.

—–—

Shadow stands in front of the large tree at the end of the camp, staring at the simple memorial carved into its bark. A fluttering sound behind him announces the arrival of Tails.

"Shadow, I… …Sonic said he couldn't do any good for you right now."

Shadow doesn't turn as he answers, "He isn't wrong about that. But then, he would know, wouldn't he?"

"He tried to catch me up, at least a little bit. Is it really true? That you just left for the past ten minutes ago?"

Shadow nods his head down once.

"But Sonic…he had a whole day. A nightmare of a day, by the sounds of it. W-what exactly…how did that…?"

"Why don't you ask him?"

"Because I wanted to talk to you."

Shadow pauses for a few moments. "Tails…I don't know who I am anymore."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I just watched…myself…throw away everything in anger. Anger at the world for taking everything away from him, in a desperate attempt to take it all back. But I also watched myself…sacrifice his own life…to do the exact opposite. To stop that rage, to keep what's left. Both of them were me. But which one of them am I?" He suddenly pounds the side of a fist against the tree. "I just don't know anything anymore. What is my purpose for being here?"

Tails twiddles his thumbs as he ponders exactly what to say. "I…I didn't see what you did. But…it sounds to me…like those two Shadows had a lot in common. The same passion, the same conviction. The only difference between them is…what they chose to use it for. And in a way, that's…sort of comforting, isn't it? Seeing proof that…you have a choice?"

"Do I have a choice? Or will my fate be decided by whichever of their lives happens to be closest to mine? Whichever path the next tragedy pushes me on?"

Tails chuckles a bit awkwardly. "You know, I'd love to debate philosophical metaphysics with you sometime, but…if this isn't proof of choice, then nothing is. You're here because you choose to fight for the people of this world. And as long as that's your choice, this will always be the best place to be. Around the people who…are all choosing to do the same."

"… … …Why would I choose to stay here when I can't trust the man who leads us?"

"Shadow, you're still…I mean…everything turned out alright in the end, didn't it?"

"Not through any effort on his part. His plans have been causing nothing but disasters. It seems as much luck as anything else that he never seems to face any consequences for it. Whatever it is that happened to him while he was in the past…that wasn't his plan. That was everything going wrong in every way possible. And by some miracle, it all turned out perfectly fine. He acts like he knows exactly what's best for everyone else, but he doesn't have a clue. Where does it end? When does it become fair to say that he's gone too far? After everything's already broken beyond repair? His luck won't hold out forever."

"Well…nobody knows exactly what's going to happen. But somebody needs to make those decisions anyways. And if…if you…don't want that…" Tails sniffles a bit. "…you have the other choice. You…you can leave." He self-consciously starts to wipe at his eyes. "I-I mean, I don't want you to leave, but…if that's what you want…I'd support that choice."

Shadow's eyes move back to the carving on the tree, and he stares silently for some time. "… …You're a good friend, Tails."

Tails can't help but smile. "I do my best. …And…you know, maybe…maybe after some time passes…you'll feel differently."

Shadow shakes his head slowly with a soft chuckle. "You don't have to worry. I'm not going anywhere right now."

Tails' face lights up. "Really!?"

"Really. But I am keeping an eye on Sonic. I'm going to hold him accountable. And…I guess I'll be there to clean up his mess the next time he screws up."

"He'll be glad to hear that…I think?"

"Glad or not, that's what I'm choosing." Shadow slowly looks skyward. He repeats, "That's the path I'm choosing."

—–—

The next day…

Sonic finishes explaining, "That was the last thing Shadow said before he pushed us both out. And that was the last we saw of him."

Tails seems to be struggling hard to understand. "Wait, so…you…and Shadow…aren't from the same timeline anymore?"

"I don't know, I guess? Look, if I ever suggest time-travel as a solution to anything ever again, I want you slap me." He points to his cheek. "Right here, see? In fact, let's make it a rule. No time travel. Period."

Tails laughs off the joke. Then he shakes his head, marveling slowly, "Wow…I can't even imagine. All of that…really happened?"

Sonic closes his eyes and shakes his head. "I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'm never trying anything like that again." He takes a breath out. "That was then. Today, I'm just trying to keep my feet on the ground."

"Yeah…it's been a crazy couple of months."

"Any word on…?"

Tails gives a smile. "Doing fine. I can guarantee a full recovery."

"At least something good came out of all this."

"At least. So…what do we do now?"

"Same thing we've always done. We keep fighting. No shortcuts."

—–—

Eggman's Hidden Base – Location Unknown

"Have you confirmed the readings?" Emperor Eggman watches over Orbot's shoulder, examining a screen full of incomprehensible data.

"Yes, sir. It's nearly identical to the one from yesterday. It must be a Space-Time Rift."

"And you were able to triangulate the location of the second Rift?"

"Affirmative, sir. Emerald Canyon."

"One point of entry, and one point of exit. This must be the day they went back…"

Behind them, Cubot questions, "Hey boss, didn't we already know where their base is? How come we're trying to triangle it now?"

"We may know where they are now…but soon, they will no longer have any way to hide from us."

Orbot shakes his head skeptically. "Do you honestly expect them to attempt time travel again after what you saw?"

Eggman straightens up. "Perhaps not. But if they ever try, we'll know. And more importantly…this is a monumental first step in the research of the Flow of Chaos. We've never truly been able to analyze it with standard technology before. But with this information, we may soon learn to trace even an ordinary Chaos Control. Perhaps even more. The Chaos Project is far from finished."

—–—

One Year Ago

"I said go!" Present Shadow drops the barrier holding Future Shadow in place, turns around, and creates a new one, a flat one, using it to push Sonic and Past Shadow off of their feet, and out through the open cargo hatch, just as Future Shadow crashes into him from behind.

"You're ruining everything!" Pinning Present Shadow down, Future Shadow savagely strikes him across the face. "You've always ruined everything!" Tears of hatred stain his eyes.

Taking each hit calmly, Present Shadow even looks up with a smile. "You mistake what is perfect for what is right. In just a few seconds, this ship will crash, and we'll both be gone. This is what is right."

"You may be content to die here…" Future Shadow draws his stolen Chaos Emerald. "…but I have no such plan. Chaos…"

Present Shadow grabs for the Emerald. "Chaos…"

"Control!"

—–—

? ? ?

Two Shadows stand across from one another in an endless void of black.

"What did you do…?"

"We did this. You and I. Darkness and Light."

"How is that possible? I'm not…"

"You are everything that I reject about myself. And I am everything that you have chosen to forget. Together, we are whole. A more perfect Balance than any that has ever existed." One Shadow begins to step towards the other. "You feel it too, don't you? The Balance? Calling us?"

"The Balance…?"

"Beyond Light and Darkness… Beyond anything of this world… We no longer belong here…"

"We can use this power…"

"No. It is not our place to disrupt the Balance."

"Not our place…"

Shadow stops, slowly reaching out with his hand. "I accept you as a part of myself."

Shadow looks down at his own hand. "I…accept you…as a part of myself." He slowly begins to reach out.

"We will become as one. And we will ascend beyond this world."

Their fingertips meet. There is only one Shadow the Hedgehog standing in the void.

—–—

A fiery explosion spreads through the ship at an impossibly slow rate. Shadow the Hedgehog watches it calmly, a faint glow beginning to surround him.

To be continued…


Hello, puny mortals! It is I, Blacklight, speaking to you directly at this very moment! That's right, not even death is enough to keep me down! On this day, I am officially taking over The Chaos Project! Hop on over to our official website at SonicChaosProject{dot}wordpress{dot}com to join us for fun and festivities to celebrate this beautiful day, all leading up to a special Q&A session where we'll be answering YOUR questions! Get there soon! You don't want to miss it!