Edited January 2

All characters belong to Sega.

Reincarnate

Chapter 13: The Release

Despite the defeat of the Ghost Dragon, the group in the Tornado is silent as Tails begins to descend, spiraling towards the rocky ground and landing near the blackened crater. Robotnik has fallen silent, but Amy is willing to bet that he is preparing to flee at this very moment. Apparently Sonic shares her view, because he says, "Come on – if we hurry we might be able to catch Eggman before he escapes."

With that he takes off at a sprint towards the heavily damaged fortress, the rest of them following as closely as they are able. Amy hops over the rubble, all that remains of what was once the entrance to Robotnik's mountain base, and stays close to Shadow as they enter the dark chamber where the Soul Machine sits, inactive except for a few blinking lights and the glow of the monitor. Is it just her, or has the black hedgehog slowed down a little so that she can keep pace? Suddenly she becomes aware of a distant clanking sound, but even as she opens her mouth to say something about it Sonic hears it too and moves off to the left.

They go as quickly and quietly as they can, and the sounds get louder and more persistent. Then, as they enter a wide corridor made of metal, which rattles under their feet, the clanking stops. In the sudden, eerie silence that descends, Amy feels a shudder trail down her spine. She is overwhelmed by the sensation that they are not alone here…

Without warning a section of the wall at the end of the corridor slides up, and Robotnik, now sitting in his own version of Tails' Tornado, walks – or clanks, rather – through. It explains the sound, at least. Sonic steps forward.

"Trying to escape, eh? Well, you're not going anywhere, Eggman," he says, easing into an attack stance.

"Wrong," the doctor says with a horrible smirk. "I believe you're the ones who won't be leaving. You may have defeated the Dragon, but you're forgetting I have other weapons on my hands, weapons you would most certainly hesitate to destroy."

The memory of the pale yellow hedgehog flashes in Amy's mind, and as it does several more doors between the group and the evil doctor slide up, and an assortment of people file into the hallway, quickly creating a living barrier between Robotnik and the others. They range in species from human to mouse, but all of them have the same wide, blank eyes.

"Hahahahaha! Destroy them!"

And the wall of creatures surges forward, hands, paws, and claws alike outstretched. As Amy whips out her Piko-Piko hammer, she sees Robotnik's machine fold up into the familiar hovercraft. A second later he has disappeared, and in her distraction a dark-furred dog has seized the opportunity to lunge towards her. Sharp nails dig into her shoulder and abdomen, and with a cry of pain she brings her hammer down on its shoulder. With a loud crack, the canine staggers and drops, and then someone has a hand clamped firmly around her wrist and is dragging her backwards. After a brief moment of panic, she realizes that it's Shadow who is dragging her away.

"Come on," he says urgently. "We need to get back to the machine!"

"What?"

She allows him to drag her back through the maze of hallways that had gotten them to the wide metal corridor.

"The machine," Shadow repeats. "Tails reconfigured it so that it would draw the souls back in."

Of course!

"Oh!" she exclaims. "I get it – you want to release those souls! Then the doctor won't be able to control those people anymore."

"Exactly."

The two of them burst into the dark room and run over to the Soul Machine. Shadow glances at the complicated rows of buttons and switches, and at the assorted numbers and letters on the screen.

"How the heck are we supposed to know how to let the souls out?" Amy groans after a long moment of trying unsuccessfully to figure out what to do. "We don't have much time!"

Shadow glances at her, the gleam of an idea in his scarlet eyes. "Who says we need to know? The souls are all here, so why not just open the machine by force?"

"Sounds good to me," Amy says, a small grin spreading over her face in spite of the seriousness of the situation, and takes aim with her hammer. The first punishing blow sends up a shower of sparks, but to her dismay hardly leaves a dent. She slams her hammer into the machine again, even harder this time, but still only leaves the slightest of marks.

"Looks like he thought ahead," Shadow muses. "Perhaps…stand back, Amy."

The pink hedgehog quickly scuttles over to the side. Shadow closes his eyes, no doubt concentrating furiously as energy begins to crackle in the air around him. His eyes snap open and he barks, "Chaos Spear!" The power that has been building up, which was enough to make the air in the chamber hum, is released, and strikes the slightly damaged spot on the machine with a devastating force. With a crack and a burst of light, the exterior of the machine splits wide apart. A barely perceptible pause, and then a torrent of souls pours out of the machine. They swirl around, forming something resembling a whirlwind, and then speed off in the direction of the battle, Shadow and Amy following in their wake.

A minute later they're sprinting into the corridor, the metal rattling loudly under their footfalls. Amy breathes an explosive sigh of relief to see that the fighting has halted. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, all with their share of bruises and scratches (Tails had, no doubt, been the target of the animals that could fly thanks to his machine, which would have kept him safe from grounded creatures), but none of them looking seriously harmed, look over at their arrival. The rest of the hall's occupants are all standing absolutely still, staring into space. Then, quite suddenly, life floods back into their eyes and they look around in confusion and fear, confused babble filling the space.

"What happened?"

"Where are we?"

"My shoulder…"

Amy recognizes the dog whose shoulder she had hit with her hammer. Pacing over to him, she says, "I'm sorry – we can explain all this!"

"EVERYONE!" Sonic yells, cupping his hands around his mouth to serve as a makeshift megaphone. At the sight of the famous hero, the crowd quiets down, and Amy marvels at the faith people must put in Sonic, if his mere presence is enough to ensure them that things are in order.

"Er…" It seems Sonic hadn't expected anyone to listen. "If you'll just listen for a minute, I think we can explain what you're all doing here. See, what happened was…"

And he recounts everything that had occurred, from Robotnik building the Soul Machine to the battle with the Ghost Dragon, and then explains the short but intense fight here in the corridor.

"So to all of you with injuries, we're sorry," Amy interjects. "Of course we didn't want to hurt any of you, but we had to defend ourselves while we got your souls out of the machine. We'll make sure you get treated right away."

"Right," Sonic says with a nod. There is a general murmur of forgiveness.

"And now," Tails calls over the increase in volume, "I think we should all get outside the fortress. I've just contacted the police, and they're coming with vans and the like to take everybody home."

Sonic, Amy, Tails, Shadow, and Knuckles all lead the way out of the fortress. The crowd stands outside, looking around, and within minutes the sound of engines becomes audible.

"Look!" someone calls, pointing up. A group of helicopters is drawing nearer, and soon vans appear in the distance as well. In ten minutes the group has been organized into injured and uninjured, the former being transported to hospitals by way of the helicopters, and the others piling into the vans. Someone clears their throat from behind the group of five, and they turn as one.

The pale yellow hedgehog, whose body Shadow had occupied for a brief time, is smiling at them all.

"Thank you so much for saving us all," she says, her green eyes exuding warmth. "And I'm sorry if I attacked any of you…I can't really remember anything that happened."

"It's cool," Sonic says, and the rest of them nod. The girl looks over at the helicopters and says, "I have to go. I just wanted to thank you before I left."

"No problem," Tails says, and the girl waves, turning away.

"Wait a minute," Amy calls, suddenly curious. "What's your name?"

"Maria," the girl calls over her shoulder, and then is led away by a man in uniform. Amy looks at Shadow, unsure of what to say, but to her relief his expression is one of peace, carrying no traces of painful memories.

"Tornado transforming," Tails says, breaking the silence, and once it has become the plane they all pile in, Amy no longer feeling annoyed in the slightest at being slightly crowded against Shadow, whose arm has found its way around her. No, not annoyed in the least…

-

Two days later, Amy's suitcase is packed and impeccably organized as usual. She is sitting on the train heading back towards Station Square and her own home. She can't help but be both happy and sad to be leaving, but she knows it's the right thing to do. Shadow, too, is leaving, off to see what he can of the world in this, his second chance at life. She has come to realize just what a beautiful and special gift it was for Shadow to be able to come back and be able to live again – a chance probably given only to those who need, or possibly deserve, it the most. She smiles at the memory of her departure.

"Well," she said awkwardly, standing at the bottom of the porch steps outside Tails' lab. Shadow, who had ignored her protests and was holding her suitcase for her, just looked back at her, his expression unreadable.

In the past, she would have left the lab when Sonic had the day before, chasing him over the Green Hill Zone, perhaps, intent on making him hers forever. Funny how something like that could change in so short a time, but at least they had parted on good terms. Better, actually, than was the norm. She had nothing to complain about at all as far as her hero (and yes, he was still her hero even if he wasn't the object of her affections any longer) was concerned.

But this hedgehog was proving a little more difficult to say goodbye to.

"Well," he said finally, a small smile tugging at his mouth. He was mocking her, no doubt about it, but she didn't mind.

"If you get a break from your sightseeing," she blurted out after a moment, "Come and see me sometime. I gave you my address, right?" Her face was burning, all her words coming out a little too fast.

"I have it," he said, producing the slip of paper covered with her writing. "And I will, soon."

Another pause, this one not so awkward.

"So…I guess I'll see you around then," Amy said, all of a sudden feeling teary.

"Have a good trip home," Shadow answered. Just as she was thinking that she had wanted this goodbye to be a little less casual, he set down her suitcase and wrapped his arms around her.

"And thank you," he said, his voice a little muffled against her quills, "For everything."

She looked up at him, unable to think of anything she could add to that. "You too. …I'll miss you, Shadow, very much."

He didn't say anything else, but the kiss he gave her seemed to speak volumes as it was. Funny, almost, how much she had dreamed of this moment with someone else, and yet her imagination had yielded nothing quite as nice as this.

Amy shifts a little in her seat, breaking out of her reverie. She realizes she's been staring dreamily into space and smiling at nothing at all for the past few minutes, but the amused stares of those near her aren't embarrassing at all. She can see the skyline of Station Square in the distance and releases a happy sigh. She has returned home from adventures many times, of course, but this time with a sense of completion.

Twilight has descended by the time she exited the train station, and she breathes in the air blowing in from the sea, prepared to watch the stars gleaming over Emerald Coast until they have faded, wondering whether Shadow can see them from where he is, too.

Sayonara, Shadow the Hedgehog. I'll see you again soon.

- FIN -

So long, and thanks for all the reads! (Gotta love Douglas Adams…)

Not An Elf