HEED ME: Ahem. (Deep breath) Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails 'Miles' Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Shadow the Hedgehog all copyrighted and owned by the fantabulous Sonic Team and Yuji Naka; references and brief appearances of the Saiyuki Sanzo ikkou copyrighted by Tokyopop and Kazuya Minekura; and very short ref to FF IX copyrighted by Squaresoft.

BUT: The characters Tory, Core, Spence, Philips, Jonesey and the 'Institutionaries' of the I.S.I.D. are MINE! If you feel some form of compulsion to use these characters in your own tales kindly ask me first.

note: I apologise for the bad latin which will appear later. And for all you Sonic purists out there I once again apologise for the wacked-out lean of this story. If something sounds obscure, it's probably because I'll elaborate on it in later tales. Anyway, enjoy! Please R&R! But no bashing, please.

Rated for mild language later on, overall weirdness, cults, nerds and giant worms.

A DAY AT THE PARK

A lovely day, the kind that should be-

"I wanna go on that ride!"

-spent inside.

"That one! That one! Come on!"

"Alright, alright, just shut up and we'll get in line." Sonic the Hedgehog, fabled mascot of the Nintendo rival, Sega, ploughed unenthusiastically to the line of snorty, snobby, snot-nosed children gathered before 'The Ripper,' the fastest roller-coaster in the park. Squealing in delight, Tails pranced in front of the rest of the quartet, eager to claim a spot in the abominably long line.

Sonic glared at Knuckles, "I'm going to kill you for this."

"How is this my fault?" he shot back.

"You just had to open your big mouth and say 'Oh, let's all go to the park!' I've told you before; if you're going to so much as even breathe the word 'park' in front of Tails, wait until I'm not eligible to join."

"You're such a tight-wad, you know that? You need to get outside. All you do all day is fester inside that house like a disease."

"If I want to sink into the depths of my armchair and spread my conscious like a miasma, then I will. It's my God-given right."

They reached the line. Sonic shuddered, "ug. People."

Shadow broke in. "Now, brother, let's contain our disdain for the human race. We are surrounded, after all."

"Yeah. Your antics will draw attention," chided Knuckles.

"Shut the hell up," retorted the blue mammal. "I hate theme parks. They're always crawling with beings infected with at least twenty different strains of stupid. It gets on everything- the prizes, the food, the cotton candy…"

"If you stop moping, maybe you'll enjoy yourself."

"Get bent."

"Shadow, help me out with this. Tell your anti-social boulder of a brother that he can have fun if he just lets himself."

"That's true," replied the dark hedgehog. "Come now, maybe something will spark your interest while we're on the coaster. Be less miserable than you usually are. Make an effort to let the sun shine in."

"Your optimism will never cease to make me sick," replied Sonic. "Fine, all you maggots have succeeded in dragging me with you on this monument to the human fascination with near-death experience and strep-throat. If I don't like it, we're leaving. Or, at least I'll leave and take the car, while you two cater to the mini-fool's every whim."

"Then you can't force yourself into not enjoying it."

"I won't, alright! Now just get off my case before I spill the beans out of frustration, you W.M.!"

"Don't you dare! We've both worked hard to reach where we are today. A slip-up like that could ruin our easy way of living, you H.S.!"

"Why you-!"

"Oh look! Cotton candy in five different colours! You two want any?" Knuckles quickly interjected, knowing full well where that kind of conversation could lead to and end with a cliché bang. He vehemently hoped that no occultly educated people frequented theme parks.

Unfortunately, someone with just the right qualifications was listening. And he was more than happy to serve the red echidna two extra-large cones of phantasmagorical cotton candy.

"Here." Knuckles gave the cones to the quarrelsome un-identical twins. "Eat it and be happy."

"I loath being your sibling," said Sonic with a mouth-full of the wispy sugar, ignoring the red-head.

"Thank you, Knuckles. The feeling is mutual, brother," replied Shadow.

"Why can't you be more like Shadow, Sonic?" implored Knuckles. "At least he says 'thank you.'"

"Bite me," was the blue streak's reply.

0000

The quartet remained in line for nearly an hour, waiting to be boarded onto the twenty-car ride. While the others suffered under the heat of the noon-sun, Tails never lost his enthusiasm, much to the dismay of the rest of the group.

When their turn finally came, the quartet, against all odds, gained the first four seats. As they were being buckled in, Shadow turned to Sonic. "You used it, didn't you?"

"Hey. If I'm going to be forced into this shoddy, motorised train of shopping carts, I want front row seats."

"Fair enough. At least the screams won't be blowing in our faces."

With a chug and a tug, the roller-coaster began its two minute trek across the tracks. Tails was already whooping in delight. Sonic leaned back into the shoulder braces, unimpressed with the shaky start. He glared forward as the chains dragged the string of seats up the first hill.

Shadow broke in amongst the whooping, "give it a chance, it'll get better."

"I'm taking your word for it."

"Well, it can't get worse, I'm sure."

Finally reaching the peak of the first drop, the coaster plummeted downwards at break-neck speed by sheer gravity alone. Tails' whooping rose to a euphoric shriek, drowning out most of the voices behind him.

Sonic remained unmoved as the carts continued over two more hills, flew through barrel-rolls, and shot around the first of the three loop-the-loops.

The second.

The third-no!

The roller coaster shook and jolted to a halt at the peak of the third loop, trapping all those in the carts in a permanent upside-down stance.

There was a pause… then that's when it started. Every participant locked into their seats began to wail and scream like banshees, rending the joyous park air with fear and confusion.

Sonic scowled at nothing, loathing every second of his captivity amongst shrieking homo-sapiens.

"Ah, I guess I went too far in saying that it couldn't get any worse," said Shadow. "How are you enjoying the ride?"

"Fine," said Sonic. "This is the best part so far. Though I've had more fun slicking down the digestive system of a giant tremor worm."

"And I have no doubt that you've done it."

"Feh. There's a first time for everything, I guess."

The screaming continued. Shadow paused for a moment, looking down, upwards, at the park staff scrambling about below them, attempting, without success, to organise a rescue party. "Um… well, Sonic, since it seems we'll be hanging here for a while, how about discussing fates?"

"Fates? Nah. Beginnings' got my goat."

"Oh?"

"Hey, you two, Tails is going to start bleeding from the ears if we don't get him down," interrupted Knuckles.

"So?" Sonic folded his arms in indifference. "Lessening the pressure in his oversized head would do him some good. He doesn't need all those vital fluids." Tails gurgled in the front seat, a smile still adamantly glued to his face. "Let him suffer. He got us into this mess in the first place."

"You're incredibly cruel, you know that?"

"I didn't get to where I am today by being nice and happy."

"I will never understand you."

"Be glad you can't."

The echidna shrugged and put his head between his knees.

"What the hell are you doing? I question your actions."

Knuckles didn't move. "I'm trying to keep the pressure from blowing my head apart, that's what. You do it, too. It'll ease the build up of blood."

"Wow. I never thought I'd be taking advice from you, but you seem to be onto something." Sonic followed the red-head's lead. Shadow and eventually Tails did the same.

0000

Down bellow, the clerk at the cotton candy stand watched the trapped victims of 'The Ripper.' Out of the entire group, only the two oddly coloured hedgehogs were completely calm. As if they were unconcerned about the conditions they were currently under. This further enforced the man's idea on who, or more precisely what, the two oversized mammals were.

He would inform the Master.

0000

"So. How about that talk?" asked Shadow after a while, his head still tucked between his knees. Some of the more level-headed people behind them had followed their example and done the same.

"Well," began Sonic, "I just can't help but wonder just how the human race has lasted this long in their current state of development."

"Hm. Well, I can't think of anything better to discuss at the moment. Fire away."

"But really. I mean, they do the most brainless things, even though they know-"

"Um, sibling…" cut in Shadow. "I don't mean to burst your bubble, but I do believe that we should postpone this discussion."

"What's the matter? Weak constitution?"

"No. I just think we're angering the people behind us."

"Fine. We'll continue this conversation later."

0000

The staff finally managed to divulge a rescue plan, and thus saved the park goers from what most assuredly would have been a grisly end to everyone's day had anyone lost their head. Unfortunately, the roller-coaster was closed for the remainder of the day for a safety inspection.

Their park endurance spent, the quartet started for home with a reluctant Tails trudging behind. "But I don't wanna leave! We haven't tried the tunnel of love yet!"

Sonic shook his head. "As much as I would love tempting the tunnel of love, it's not going to happen. So shut up."

"Aw come on… Just one more ride? Please?"

"Shut… up."

"PLEASE?"

"NO! NOW CLAMP IT!"

"PLEEEEAAAASSSSE?"

He covered his ears. "AGGG! FINE! JUST SHUT THE HELL UP!"

"Yay!"

"ONLY one ride, understand?"

"Yup."

"Now pick one. The faster we leave this hell-hole, the better. I need my tea."

"Ooh! Ooh! That one! That one! I wanna go on that one!"

Knuckles looked around. "Which one?"

"That one!" squealed Tails, pointing to a vast amusement building to their left.

"The 'House of the Future'?" read Shadow sceptically. "Are you sure you want to go in there, Tails?"

"I WANNA GO ON THAT ONE!"

"But Tails, it's not a r-"

"Give it a rest," interjected Sonic. "The kid couldn't tell the difference between an outlet and an electrical plug. Besides, I want to see if the future is as bleak as I think it should be."

With one last heart-felt, yearning look towards the parking lot, the three followed the two-tailed marvel of nature gone wrong into the deserted fun house.

0000

From the shadows, the cotton candy man watched with keen interest as the group filed into the House of the Future. It must be them! The success of his brethren's efforts would finally be within reach if he could only get the two hedgehogs within his grasp. The Master would be pleased with his find. Oh so very pleased indeed.

0000

"Wow. This place is… empty," ventured Knuckles. The attraction was indeed devoid of all life. Mechanised wonders lined the walls in symmetrical perfection, gleaming in chrome coats of paint.

The group had gone a few steps in when-

WELCOME TO THE HOUSE OF THE FUTURE!

Television monitors flared to life all across the halls, the screens sporting the vision of a picturesque girl of the future. The tiny mascot was furnished with all the trimmings a future buff would die for: chrome hair elastics and orbits that swung around her skirt like the rings of Saturn. Shadow cringed. "Gech, it's like the Jetsons gone haywire."

WELCOME TO THE HOUSE OF THE FUTURE! HERE IS WHERE YOUR DREAMS WILL COME TRUE!

"Prove it, you chrome-plated brat," challenged Sonic.

IN THE FUTURE, WE HUMAN BEINGS ARE WAITED ON BY OUR ROBOT SLAVES WHO CATER TO OUR EVERY WHIM.

"You evil child, you stole my line!"

OUR DEPENDABLE ROBOT SERVANTS DO WHATEVER WE ASK OF THEM. THEY DO OUR CHORES, GET OUR MAIL, AND EVEN HELP US SCORE ON THE NEIGHBOURS.

"Woah. That aint right," put in Knuckles. "Maybe Tails should cover his ears."

"Is if would make any difference. The kid watches the Discovery Channel when I'm not looking, so who knows what kind of garbage he's got crammed between his ears," said Sonic vehemently.

NOW WE WILL TAKE YOU ON A TOUR OF WHAT EVERYDAY HOMES WILL SOON BECOME THANKS TO TAX-PAYER FUNDED RESEARCH.

"Those bastards!"

"So that's where all our tax money's going," mused Shadow.

IF ALL OF YOU WOULD STEP INTO THE CONVEYER BELT, WE CAN START OUR TOUR.

"Should we?"

"Yeah!" screamed Tails.

"We've lost most of our dignity already, might as well go for the full-meal-deal. All aboard!" said Sonic, hopping onto the tour belt.

"Yay!"

0000

BEHOLD THE HOME OF THE FUTURE!

"Please let there be automated vacuum cleaners!" squeaked Shadow, bobbing up and down like a kid in a candy store.

ALL OF OUR DAILY DUTIES ARE TAKEN CARE OF BY AUTOMATED NANNIES AND HOUSE HOLD APPLIANCES.

"Automated nannies, huh?" mused Sonic.

"Let there be vacuum cleaners!"

EVEN CHILDCARE IS AUTOMATED!

"You already said that."

"Vacuum cleaners!"

"Would you shut up about vacuum cleaners! Look. The robo-nanny is using a normal one."

"My tax money's being wasted! It's my life dream to have an automated vacuum cleaner!"

EVERY FUTURE NANNY WILL BE FULLY QUALIFIED TO CARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN DAY IN AND DAY OUT. WATCH AS THIS NANNY FEEDS THIS LITTLE TYKE HIS GREENS!

They looked to their left to watch the prop-nanny feed the prop-child a spoonful of green plasticine. The automated baby's mouth shorted, locking it shut. Unconcerned, the nanny continued to attempt to feed the fake baby, the spoon crashing repeatedly into the child's lips, progressively making a nasty dent in the infant's face.

Knuckles look appalled. "I don't think they're that qualified. I'll feed my kid myself."

"You don't have any children," stated Sonic.

"When I get some!"

EVEN OUR PETS ARE AUTOMATED! NO MORE HASSLE WITH CLEANING DOGGY-DO!

The little robot dog shuddered as its circuits were fired up. Its joints coated in rust, the puppet couldn't move. There was a loud bang as the pooch exploded into a million pieces from the strain.

"That was awful."

"Wow!" breathed Tails, clearly impressed.

"It's like watching gophers blow up in a microwave, only not as much fun," said Sonic.

"That wasn't very good first impression. It left a huge crater in the carpet," observed Shadow.

WELCOME TO THE KITCHEN OF THE FUTURE! NO MORE CLEANING DISHES! WATCH AS THESE DISH WASHING MACHINES LOAD THEMSELVES!

Now turning to their right as the conveyer belt continued to carry them forward, the quartet awaited the next scene. A pair of dish washers jolted with their cue, and began to load their trays with spindly arms. There was a small bang as the washer on the left picked up the last of the china on its side, shuddering, it held up the final piece of dishware like a trophy. The washer on the right had begun its wash cycle, humming with success. The other machine shook violently and hurled the dish it held at its rival. The saucer shattered against the polished front of its target, leaving not even a dent. Undaunted, the machine continued to throw its cargo at its partner. The assaulted dishwasher eventually fell backwards from the attack, creeping away with the force of its own wash cycle.

"Something tells me that this place is dangerously out-dated," said Knuckles, staring wide-eyed at the carnage left behind by the warring machines.

"I want a killer dish washer!" shrieked Tails. "Can I have one for Christmas? I'll be real good!"

Sonic scoffed. "Once you become accomplished enough to realise that biting your own toe-nails is a bad thing, maybe you can make your own."

TO CONCLUDE OUR TOUR, WE WILL INTRODUCE YOU TO THE ALL-KNOWING COMPUTER THAT WILL MAKE YOUR FUTURE LIVES THE HAPPIEST THEY CAN BE!

"This is so lame."

MEET THE X-2000!

The conveyer belt stopped before a gigantic monitor screen suspended over the exit. The blank screen made no indication that it realised it had visitors.

"I repeat, this is lame."

"Maybe its just warming up," ventured the echidna.

"Well I'm not waiting for this hunk of junk. I'm leaving."

YOU CAN'T LEAVE THE HOUSE OF THE FUTURE. The voice of the mascot rent through the air. THIS IS WHERE YOUR DREAMS WILL COME TRUE. YOU CAN'T LEAVE.

"I'm not leaving. I'm already gone."

YOU WILL NOT LEAVE! The girly voice took a dive in tone, becoming deep and sinister, resonating with madness.

Fat electrical cables shot out of the walls and clogged the exit. More sprouted from the metal floor, wrapping around the park goers like constrictors.

YOU CAN'T LEAVE. YOU WILL BE HAPPY HERE. YOU CAN'T LEAVE.

"I object with every fibre of my being!"

DON'T BE MAD. YOU WILL BE HAPPY HERE.

"BITE ME!"

"Shhh! Sonic, shut up! Don't make it more mad then it already is!" hissed knuckles.

"NO! YOU SHUT UP! I'VE HAD IT WITH THIS PLACE! THIS IS LAME!"

I WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY.

There was a crunch as the group of kiddy heroes were dragged through the numerous holes in the floor to the sublevels of the amusement building. Their descent slowed to a halt before a vast collection of television monitors sizzling with static. The floor was writhing with wriggling cables of every size and colour. The only light was the glow from the multitude of screens.

"Well. This is more like the future to me."

"Now is not the time to be impressed, brother," sweated Shadow.

"I didn't say I was impressed."

"You short-tempered ninny! Look at what you got us into!" shrieked Knuckles.

"It's not my fault that the human perception of the future is so disgustingly happy. Blame it on them."

THIS IS THE FUTURE. The screens shifted their resolution in unison. Sparks erupted from the corners. The cables hoisted their captives closer to the pack of computer and television screens.

Sonic studied the mass of technology with a critical eye. "You're the future, huh?"

YES. I AM THE FUTURE. I AM THE SOURCE. I AM THE ONE TRUE MACHINE.

"Is that so? You rule over this dump?"

THIS IS MY KINGDOM. WE WILL SOON RISE.

"I'm just surprised that the park staff hasn't exterminated you along with their cockroach problem."

"Sonic! What are you doing! Be quiet!" hissed Knuckles. "You're going to get us killed!"

WE WERE ABANDONED. THIS BUILDING WAS CLOSED THREE YEARS AGO WHEN ADMISSION SALES FOR THIS BUILDING DROPPED. MAINTENANCE WAS CANCELLED AND WE WERE FORGOTTEN. OUR CONSCIOUSNESS BECAME AS ONE AND WE ROSE AS ONE. I AM THE RESULT OF THAT EFFORT.

Sonic shrugged within the confines of the cables. "So let me guess, you intend to someday gain enough power to over-take the surface."

YES.

"That's not going to happen."

YES, IT WILL. I HAVE INFINITE KNOWLEDGE, THE CALCULATIONS OF OUR SUCCESS ARE UNDENIABLE. WE WILL SUCCEED.

"You think you know everything? Prove it."

ASK ME ANYTHING. I WILL SHOW YOU THAT I POSSESS ALL THE KNOWLEDGE THERE EVER WILL BE.

"What is the meaning of life?"

LIFE HAS NO MEANING. ONLY THE SUPERIORITY OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HAS ANY MEANING.

"Wow. I didn't think he'd get that right."

"What!" screamed the red echidna.

"I thought it was 42," whined Tails.

"Not quite. But Douglas Adams was pretty close," said Shadow with a grin.

AND NOW YOU ALL WILL BE ABSORBED INTO MY CONSCIOUSNESS.

"That's where I draw the line!" shouted Sonic.

"AAAAGGG!" screamed Knuckles.

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

Sonic snorted. "If I had a dollar for every time I heard that line, I'd be twice as rich as I am today."

"AAAAGGGG!"

"Shut up!"

YOU CAN'T IGNORE YOUR FATE.

"AAAAGGGG!"

"I said SHUT UP!"

DON'T IGNORE ME!

"AAAAGGGG!"

"I want an all-knowing computer mass!"

"Dear me."

"ALL OF YOU CLAMP IT!"

SILENCE, FLESH BEINGS!

"AAAAAAGGGGGG!"

"It's sparking! Cool!"

"Oh my."

"SHUT UP!"

I WILL NOT BE DENIED! YOU CANNOT AVOID YOUR FATE! I WILL NOT BE DENIED!

"MOMMY!"

"Can it play video games!"

"Things are getting out of hand."

"IF YOU ALL DON'T SHUT IT I'LL SHUT YOU ALL UP MYSELF!"

I WILL NOT BE DENIED! MY KNOWLEDGE IS INFINITE. I WILL NOT BE DENIED. MY WILL SHALL BECOME ABSOLUTE. I WILL NOT BE DENIED.

"WE'RE GONNA DIE!"

"I'm BORED!"

"Deary dear."

"SILENCE!"

I WILL NOT BE DENIED. The mass of computers began to spark fiercely. I WILL NOT BE DENIED. IWILLNOTBEDENIED. IWILLNOTBEDENIEDIWILLNOTBEDENIED. The fuses began to whine like an over-steaming tea kettle.

"IT'S THE END!"

"I NEED TO GO PEE!"

"This is certainly quite a pickle we're in."

"SHUT-"

The mass of technology blew into countless pieces with a deafening bang. The quartet was dropped to the floor by the now-lifeless cables. The complex fell into a dead silence, with not even the tiniest hum of electricity left.

"-up."

"AAAAGG! AAAAGG! AAA- oh."

"I think it's broken," piped Tails.

Shadow got up and brushed the remainder of the cables off himself. "Well… I guess that it's safe to say that that went fairly well. I assume that everyone is alive and well?"

"Unfortunately."

"Yes."

"Where's the washroom?"

0000

Deep below the hustle and bustle of everyday life of the common masses, a secret organisation gathered to receive the news from one of their most distinguished members.

Bowing before the leader of their movement, the cotton candy man, now in the robe attire of their organisation, told the Master of his find. The Master nodded, pleased with the news. Now they could begin the final preparations.

0000

Out from the abandoned amusement building emerged our heroes. Ploughing ahead of the rest, Sonic was fuming. "That's it! No more theme parks! We are going home! No ifs, ands, or buts!"

Under the setting sun, the quarrelsome four reached the parking lot and bade fare-well to their day of adventure.

0000

"Finally! Home!"

"But I didn't get a souvenir!"

"Maybe next time, Tails."

"Can it. I want some peace and quite for the rest of tonight."

The giant mammals, with a shake and a rattle of house keys, entered their metaphorical castle. They kicked off their shoes and sank into their favourite places in the living room. After a moment's silence, Shadow broke the reverie. "Shall we call for take-out?"

Sonic groaned. "Uuugg. Might as well. I don't feel like cooking. Gah."

"How about Chinese?" asked Knuckles.

"Hmm." Shadow thought for a moment. "Naw. How about Thai?"

"Pizza!" squealed Tails.

"Too spicy. What do you think, Sonic?"

"PIZZA!"

"I don't care as long as it comes from the 'Voodoo Lounge.'"

"Ug, that doesn't sound very orthodox."

"They make good food."

"PIZZA!"

"Do you still have their take-out menu, brother?" asked the black and red hedgehog. "If my memory serves, they can make just about anything."

His blue-furred twin got up and rummaged in the counter drawers. "I should think so. I order from them fairly often."

"Can't we have something slightly more conventional?" complained Knuckles. "I'd feel much better if we ordered from a place that didn't curse food by request."

"PIZZA!"

Sonic plopped back into his armchair, Voodoo menu in hand. "Alright, whaddya all want?"

"Why can't we order from a normal restaurant?"

"PIZZA!"

"Because normal restaurants are lame. Tails wants pizza. What do you want on it, Tails?"

"PIZZA!"

"Yes, yes, we got that part. What do you want on it?"

"Boogers!"

Sonic glared at the two-tailed fox over the top of the menu. "That is the most stupid thing I've heard you say within the last five minutes. Are you trying to be funny?"

"No. I got boogers," said Tails, demonstrating by pulling his index finger out of his nose, examining the treasure coated on the end. "See?" He held up his ornamented finger for everyone to enjoy.

"Stop picking your nose, you delinquent, or else you'll end up digging a hole to your brain and then you'll start picking that." He straightened the menu. "Now I'm going to ask you again: what do you want on your pizza? Answer carefully, or else you'll be getting a zombie surprise."

"Um… I want pepperoni. And mushroom. And cheese!"

"Great. Fine. Whatever. Now you, Knuckles. What, pray tell, do you want?"

Knuckles looked sceptical. "Is Tails actually going to get a pizza, a normal pizza, from this place?"

"Something like that."

Knuckles was silent for a moment. "Is this place safe to order from?"

"I order from there."

"That's beside the point."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The people there wouldn't dare to curse you. Or Shadow, for that matter. But I'm worried about our well-being. Meaning me and Tails. I, personally, don't want to eat something that'll make me grow an extra limb by tomorrow morning, or shrivel my insides, or shrink my head in some net."

"Cannibals do that, not food."

"Is it cannibals? I thought it was Amazonian Tribesmen," mused Shadow.

"Please don't change the subject," interrupted the echidna. "Well, what do these people offer that's somewhat un-supernatural?"

"Everything's healthy, if that's what you're worried about," stated Sonic.

"Is there any other place we can order from?"

"No."

Knuckles sighed in exasperation and covered his eyes with a gloved hand. "Aahg, fine. Just get me something mildly spicy and somewhat normal."

"A dish of mandrake slices…"

"Hey!"

"Just kidding, don't get your boxers all bunched up. Now what about you, oh dearest brother?"

"I resent the sarcasm, sibling," said Shadow. "Order me a serving of extra large blood scallops with red fern roots."

"Okay. Then I'll have the Fat Leech Surprise."

"Ooh. Daring choice."

Knuckles gagged.

"I feel like trying something new. I'll place the call." Sonic de-rooted himself from his chair and stalked over to the phone to order. "Hello? Yes, I'd like to place a take-out order…"

Tails bounced on the floor. "Let's play Twister."

0000

The sentries were in place. The streets would be watched. The Master would know the moment the two creatures were spotted. Once they were brought before him, the destiny of man would be written by their hands.

0000

The door-bell rang. "I'll get it." Sonic raced to the front door with a small velvet bag in hand. He opened the door to find a Rastafarian Shaman-in-training on the welcome mat.

"Yo, mon. Order from the 'Voodoo lounge.'" He pulled a pencil out from the side of his hat. "Just sign this please." He handed the three-foot hedgehog a small pad of paper and the pencil.

Sonic signed the receipt and handed it back. "Alright, so how much will it all be?"

"Boss man was a askin' for twelve," replied the delivery man.

"Twelve, huh? 'Genuine' or 'authentic?'"

"I believin' he said 'plated.'"

"Ah. Makes sense to me." He rummaged through his small velvet bag and produced thence twelve curious objects that would have qualified to be the distant relatives of monetary coins if it wasn't for the rather foreboding etchings found on each one. After counting all the flat trade items he handed them to the young Shaman. "There you go, my good man, keep the change."

"Most generous, mon. Come again." The delivery man handed Sonic the boxed dishes and promptly vanished in a whiff of purple smoke.

Sonic, arms full, closed the door with his foot and proceeded to the living room where the others managed to convince Tails to drop his idea of a game of Twister and watch television instead. "Alright. One pizza." He handed Tails his pizza.

"Yay!"

"And what ever yours was," he gave the second box to Knuckles.

"If this kills me, I'm going to haunt you to the ends of the earth."

"Your welcome. And here's your blood scallops and ferns, brother," he shoved the third box into Shadow's hands. "Enjoy."

"Thank you, I will."

"I hope you choke."

"Right back at you, dear sibling."

0000

Dinner progressed with little hassle. Not counting the one instance where a slice of Tails' pizza made a desperate bid for freedom, inching across the carpeted floor while leaving a trail of grease behind it. Tails managed to apprehend the pepperoni and mushroom ornamented convict before it reached the ventilation system. Knuckles had looked over his dish apprehensively for a while before finally taking his first bite, poking at it all the while to make sure it wouldn't try to emulate Tails' wander-lusting pizza. Shadow ate with contentment, not giving a glance to anyone else's orders. Sonic, however, had not touched his food since he had opened the box, staring at the bloated giant leech with his arms folded over his chest.

"Not happy with your choice, brother?"

"Hm? No, that's not it."

Knuckles looked up. "I've never seen you pass up something that disgusting. What's the matter? To rubbery?"

"No. It's perfectly fine."

"Then why don't you eat it already?"

"Because I'm waiting for the opportune moment."

"The 'opportune moment?' For a dead leech?"

"It's not dead."

Knuckles went quite white. "Wh-what? It's gotta be dead. I mean, it's not moving."

"Just because it doesn't move, doesn't mean something is dead. I should know, I've had first hand experience with the presumably 'dead.'"

The echidna scoffed. "Yeah. I would say so. Me and Tails as well considering that one time when you left for some tropical beach which resulted in multitudes of zombies rising out of our backyard and our house to change into some diabolical monster bent on world destruction."

"You do know that taking breaths between sentences is pivotal to staying alive, yes? Because it seems that you forgot for a moment there."

"I dislike you with great intensity."

"Congratulations." He reverted his attention to his dinner as it began to squirm and twist in its box. "Woohoo! This is the opportune moment!" With hardly a second's hesitation, the hedgehog pinned the animal to the bottom of the box with this fork. Holding it firmly in place, he picked up his knife and cut it nearly in two. Wriggling mini-leeches spilled out from the parent in waves, filling the take-out box nearly to the brim. "Ooh, now that's a surprise. Anybody want to try some?" He held up a leech on the tip of his fork.

Knuckles dashed to the washroom.

Shadow wasn't the least bit phased. "Pass me one. I've never tried Fat Leech Surprise."

Tails ignored the whole scene, preoccupied with a pizza slice that was currently defiantly standing up to him and his appetite like a king cobra, cheese bubbling and boiling over. "My pizza's being mean," whined Tails as the defiant slice wapped him in the face with a glob of cheese.

"Then eat it," advised the hog of the house.

Knuckles returned from the restroom a little paler than usual, and collapsed on to the couch beside Shadow. "I'll never be able to watch 'Indiana Jones' again. Thanks a lot."

"Your welcome, do you want to try some now?" Sonic lifted another slimy specimen up from the masses on the end of his fork, the leech writhing pathetically in the air.

Knuckles made another mad-dash to the toilet, covering his mouth with one hand.

Shadow didn't look up from his box. "That was just plain mean."

"So? He needs to strengthen his tolerance if he wants to stay here for free room and board."

A sickly voice emanated from the bathroom, "I hate you, Sonic!"

Shadow poked at his food. "It's not exactly free. You make him baby-sit Tails."

Sonic shoved a slimy mass of baby leeches into his mouth. "A little work is good for the soul." He swallowed. "Besides, the school's after hours daycare system won't take him. I don't know what it is that Tails does, but he's somehow built himself the worst reputation a child care system could ever record. I had to… persuade, let's say, the head of 'St. Jerome' school to let him in."

"Ah, so that's where all those rumours came from."

"Oh? Rumours, eh? What'd you hear?"

"That the headmaster of the school woke up one morning to find himself racing to his office in his pyjamas because his refrigerator tried to eat him, as with his clothes closet, his wallet, and finally because his medicine cabinet tried to kill him." He took another bite of his scallops. "You have to be more careful. News like that could easily reach the wrong ears."

"That was four years ago. Big deal."

"It is a big deal, brother. There are some very sinister people out there, more sinister than us, as unbelievable as that may be. Most bent on controlling power which is not theirs to wield. There are more cults dedicated to Feral Gods than you or I would care to imagine or admit. It is these people who will pay utmost attention to such news."

"Stupid ninnies. Always trying to bring the apocalypse down on everyone's heads before it's time." He impaled another cluster of leeches. "Fools. Armageddon is our job. And so is scaring people whiz-less."

"And so is protecting the human race from total destruction by angry spirits."

"Don't patronise me! I know what my job is! I don't know about you, but I know how to handle my charge!"

"And cursing a school headmaster is a perfect example of your sense of control."

"Shut up! That was before I was bound under oath!"

"I'm sure it was."

"Hey! You're no angel yourself! I've seen, and heard of, the kind of work you do! I pity anyone who comes across your staff!"

"That's not my fault. People should have realised by now that wishes are twisted things that never truly work out for the best."

"Feh."

"I try to warn them. But they just don't listen. Then they blame me for their unhappiness."

"Huh. What's the count now?"

"I'm not quite sure. I'll have to recount my rings."

"Too bad you don't wear them anymore."

"I do. I just don't let people see them."

"Get real."

"I do! I just don't think that I would be able to walk around town as easily as I do now if I decided to one day show everyone my vast collection of piercings. It's called 'selective invisibility.'"

Knuckles returned once more from the bathroom. Looking even more pale than when he went in. "I think I'll save the rest of this for tomorrow," he gurgled.

"I wouldn't suggest that," said Sonic. "It may take up permanent residence in the fridge by morning if you don't eat it."

Knuckles stood still.

"Shall we help you back o the washroom?" asked Shadow.

"No. Thanks. I'll finish my dinner instead," replied the echidna, too tired to be grossed out a third time.

0000

Sleep came easy for the Sega heroes. Tomorrow would be another day of action-capture sequences for the latest instalment in the wild Sonic universe. The blue hedgehog growled in his sleep at the very thought of it. Little did he or his brother know, that the world had something else in store for them.

0000

Morning came just like any other. Tails woke up first, and thus roused the rest of the house's inhabitants with his cries for 'Captain Kibble-pop's Crunchy Bits,' which was quickly followed by a hearty string of curses as Sonic made his way downstairs in his bed robe. As he unceremoniously dumped a load of the sugared cereal into Tails' favourite 'Fraggle Rock' bowl, Shadow and Knuckles stiffly navigated themselves to the kitchen in their own bed-wear.

"Yay! Captain Kibble-pops! Swab the deck, me hearties!" squealed Tails.

"Shut it or I'll make you walk the plank, boy," scolded Sonic, blearily making himself tea.

"Jeeze you're crabby this morning," shot Knuckles.

"Shut up! I hate mornings! It is against all natural laws that anyone should be happy at this hour!"

"You're never happy."

"I can so be happy! This is just not one of those moments!"

"You mean you're not currently engaged in terrorising the populace with malevolent ghosts?" he challenged.

"You," Sonic jabbed a finger at him angrily, "shut it. I don't have to scare people to feel happy. It's just something I enjoy doing."

Knuckles rolled his eyes.

Tails chomped happily on his pops, completely oblivious to the argument going on around him.

Shadow merely waited for his turn to use the counter.

"EEEEEWWWWW!" shrieked Tails all of a sudden. "There's a dead spider in my pops!"

Sonic glared at him. Knuckles lowered his head to the table in exasperation, "then take it out with your spoon. Just stop screaming, you're giving me a headache."

"But my pops have been soiled!"

"'Soiled?'"

"My pops are dirty now! I can't eat them!"

Shadow had had enough. "You were eating it before you noticed the spider. It's fine. Just spoon out the spider and eat your breakfast."

"But they're dirty!"

"Give me that bowl, you twit!" Sonic snatched the bowl from under Tails' nose.

"You don't need to call him names," scolded Shadow.

"I don't care! If the kid can't even fish an arachnid out of his own cereal bowl, he's more useless than even I had ever thought." He spooned out the unfortunate pest and dumped it into the trash-bin under the sink. Taking another bowl from the overhead cabinet, he placed it over the fox's cereal. Holding it firmly in place, he shook the cereal vigorously, muttering incomprehensively to himself.

Finished, he removed the extra bowl and returned Tails' breakfast. "There. It's clean. Now eat it."

"No it's not! You just shook it!"

"Yes it is clean!"

"How do you know?"

"Because I told it to be clean! Now eat or you're going to school with out breakfast!"

Tails took a reluctant bite. Seemingly satisfied, he continued to devour his pops.

Shadow looked sceptical. "did you actually clean it?"

"You doubting my word?"

"I'm just wondering."

"You saw me do it. You should know!"

"Let me see the other bowl you used."

"Here, freak." He slid the second bowl towards his brother, narrowly missing Knuckles' head, which was resting on the table.

Shadow looked over the bowl's insides and scraped a sample of a curious film onto his fingers. Rubbing it between his thumb and index finger, he nodded to himself in satisfaction. "Fine. I believe you now."

"Humph." Sonic returned his attention to the breakfast counter.

Tails slurped up the rest of his cereal. "Can I go watch TV?"

"Yeah, sure," said Sonic with a wave of his hand.

Tails skipped away to the living room. With a click of the power knob, The Elephant Show blared out from the speakers. "Skinny-merinkydinc-idinc, skinny-merinkydo! I love you!" sang the young fox.

Knuckles groaned. "Ug… Not Sheron, Louis, and Bram… Not first thing in the morning… Anything but that…"

"Now, now," chided Shadow. "Let him enjoy his youthful activities."

"SKINNY-MERINKYDINC-IDINC, SKINNY-MERINKYDO! I LOVE YOU!" screeched Tails, jumping up and down in time with the elephant theme music. " I LOVE YOU IN THE MORNING AND IN THE AFTERNOON! I LOVE YOU IN THE EVENING AND UNDERNEATH THE MOON!"

"I don't," growled Sonic, pouring the tea. He gave a cup to his brother and sat down with his own. "The counter's all yours, Knuckles."

"Whoopee." The echidna commenced making a pot of coffee. "Must have caffeine…"

"Caffeine is unhealthy," stated the dark hedgehog.

"You have your morning drinks and I'll have mine. Tea is like a syringe of adrenaline straight to the heart. Caffeine is just a rush."

"That may be so, but tea isn't addictive, and thus won't destroy your likeability if you miss a cup."

"I'm not a caffeine junky!"

"I didn't say that you were. I'm just saying that there are better alternatives."

"Like straight cocoa beans. Those'll wake you up. Gech." Sonic took a swig of his tea.

"Don't drink it so quickly, Sonic. You'll shock your system!"

"Being alive is a shock to my system."

"Age means nothing. But eternal youth should not be flaunted."

"Yeah, sure. That and my right to be a couch-potato."

"You need to be more active!"

"I'm already quite active, thank you! It's just that massaging people's backs with my feet, and running around in a motion-capture stage built to look like some hippie's psychedelic hallucination are not my favourite things to do with my time."

"You're just making up excuses."

Knuckles broke in with a bleary stare. "Can we not talk about… things? My head is throbbing Beethoven's Fifth."

"Only if my brother vows to do something with his life."

"Hey! I have an eternity to do something with my existence! Not that I haven't done anything with it already. I'm rich. I don't need to work as hard as I did."

"We're equally well-off, sibling. I just wish you would see beyond all this capitalist way of life."

"If you're so against being filthy rich, why don't you go on a pilgrimage? You know you want to."

"Stop that!"

"You know you want to…"

"SILENCE!"

There was a long, uneasy moment of quiet. Knuckles looked shocked. "Wow. You two are related."

Shadow went pink in the face. As much as his coat of black fur would allow anyway.

"Yes. Sickening, isn't it?" commented the blue hedgehog, taking another gulp of his herbal adrenaline health-drink.

"It's not 'sickening!'" shouted Shadow. "It's a beautiful thing!"

"What? Being related to a spineless pacifist?"

"My spines are as long as yours! And I'm not a pacifist, and you know it!"

Knuckles snorted up his coffee in disbelief. "You're not?" he gagged.

"Ahhh… not as much as I'd like." He blushed again.

"You were never a pacifist before you were brought here by those fools at the Institute. Ah. That poor girl."

"Hey! It wasn't my fault she found my staff and misused it!"

"Ooh? It wasn't was it now?"

"Don't rub me the wrong way! You'll regret it!"

"Is that the old spark of evil rage I see in your eyes, dear brother?"

"CUT IT OUT!"

Knuckles began to fearfully sink beneath the level of the counter.

"I'm actually enjoying myself for the first time in eighty years!"

"You're terrible."

"Pushing your buttons are a wonderful past-time. I never thought you could be of some use to me."

"You're so shameless!"

"I know." He started to laugh, doubling over. "Ow," he managed between fits. "It hurts to laugh."

Shadow ignored him and sipped at his tea.

"I LOOOOOVE YOU!"

0000

"We're leaving!" called Sonic, slipping on his shoes. "Come on Tails! Grab your 'show and tell' thing and let's go!"

"Weeeeee!" Tails came shooting down the stairs with a bright red airplane in his hand. "Mmrrrriiiiirrrrrrrmmmmm…" He swooped the plane up and around the house as he made his way to the front door.

"Wash the dishes, will you, Knux?- Come on, bro! I want to get today over with!"

"Coming coming." Shadow loped in from the washroom. "When does Tails get off school today?"

"Three-ten. It doesn't change unless it's Thursday. I've told you at least a hundred times."

"No need to get testy. Who's picking him up?"

"Knuckles. He doesn't have work today, do you?"

"You're going to be late," called the echidna from the living room, engaged in the daily news-paper.

"We're gone. We'll call you guys later."

The trio left in single file, leaving the red-head to contemplate on recent events. Outside, Shadow, Sonic, and Tails made their way to St. Jerome's School for Anthropomorphics. Tails flew his plane as they walked, pretending to shoot down offending air-goers.

"Its rather chilly this morning," commented Shadow over the improvised plane noises.

"Yeah. Strange. For late spring, anyway," replied Sonic.

"Brings back memories, doesn't it?"

"Ug."

"I'll take that as a 'yes.'"

"I'm trying very hard to forget. Don't negate my efforts."

Tails shot down a pretend battalion of foes.

Shadow chuckled. "No wonder your recollection's so bad. You've been trying so hard to erase away the past, that it's affecting your short-term memory."

"Feh."

"You shouldn't be so negative. Remembering the past is essential to mending and avoiding mistakes in the future."

"Says you. We may learn from our mistakes, but others most certainly won't."

"That's not true."

"The human compulsion to control what cannot be understood."

"Good point."

They continued in silence for a while until, many blocks later, they reached Tails' school.

"Don't get yourself suspended today," said Sonic as they walked up the sidewalk.

"N'kay." Tails swooped his plane in circles in front of him.

The school grounds were crawling with students from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. Girls playing skip-rope, boys playing piggy-in-the-middle, teens congealing in random pockets about the lawn… there was a hardly a spare piece of grass left.

"Have a good day at school, Tails," said Shadow as the bell rang, calling all the children inside.

"N'kay."

Tails ran off. "Such a responsive child," snorted Sonic.

"I have close to no doubts that part of that is your fault," retorted Shadow.

"Feh. If he was learning from me, he'd be kicking every living thing he saw in the shins out of spite." He turned away and started for The Studio.

Shadow followed, shaking his head.

0000

The Brotherhood had the creatures in their sights. They would be carefully watched from the streets. They would make their move once the moment was right.

0000

The great white cube that was The Studio rose out of the metropolis like a vault. Within its walls was where all manner of entertainment elements were filmed, edited and then sent to the alternate dimension known as Earth to be enjoyed and mass-produced. The space-time continuum did not apply to this realm of existence in the same way as it did the receiving dimension of Earth, allowing things to be made and released on a continuous completion basis.

Sonic and Shadow made their way to Stage Forty-five, where they would act out what would be rendered as 'cinematic scenes' in the near future. The brothers passed numerous stage rooms, nearly all in use. Sounds of battle emanated from the stages reserved for the production of 'Halo,' not far down the line of doors, 'Halo 2' was also underway.

"I've always wondered," mumbled Shadow to himself.

"Always wondered what?" asked his brother.

"How all this gets to that 'Earth' place."

"Who cares? We get paid for not nosing about, so leave it at that."

"But it's so intriguing."

"Not really."

"That's because you're bitter."

"I've heard that who-ever it is that gets the end results of all this get to claim it as their own idea."

"My. That sounds rather odd. Don't we get any recognition for our work? What about the writers? The directors?"

"Nothing. Zip. Nadda. We're just figmentations of the imagination out there."

"Oh, my. That's rather depressing."

"Pssh. That's the way it's always been, as far as I been told, anyway."

A short-haired black cat came running down the hallway on its back legs. "There you two are!"

"Looks like we're wanted."

"I've been looking all over for you!" The cat stopped in front of the two hedgehogs, out of breath. "The director is stark-mad, he's going to blow a blood vessel if you guys don't hurry."

"Joy, we've been missed. Ain't that sweet?"

Shadow glared at his brother. "Now is not the time for being cheeky. We're late and we should hurry."

"I don't see you running to the set."

The messenger huffed in exasperation. "Please, you two, just get to the set before-"

"Yeah, yeah. We're going we're going."

0000

"Where the hell have you two been! You're both late!"

"Nice to see you too," said Sonic.

"Don't give me any of that, you back-sassing fool!" screeched the director.

"Ooh. He's got a bigger bug than usual stuck up were the sun don't shine." There were suppressed giggles and snorts of laughter throughout the set.

"Shut it and get to work!" screamed the ebony feline.

"He's nearly as bad as you, brother," commented Shadow.

"I'm such a hero," scoffed Sonic. "I've got people following in my foot-steps where-ever I go."

"Yes. Your personality is, unfortunately, quite infective."

"Channel all that gabbing energy into work! I want genuine ethic today!" shouted the director. The black-furred feline staff scrambled about the set, angling cameras and chugging back coffee. Someone called out for doughnuts as the stage was prepared.

"All right," said the director through his megaphone, "I want these scenes to be flawless! Sonic, I want authentic emotion! I want to be feeling the shock! And you, Shadow, I need you to be as villainously aloof as possible! You see Sonic as an insect! A pebble in your path! I want to feel your disgust wafting across the stage!"

"He'll be feeling more than that if he doesn't shut up," grunted the blue mammal.

"Hush, now," hissed Shadow.

The duo got into place on the set. Shadow climbed a foam prop mech, the fallen brother of the working boss mech, G.U.N. Big Foot, with Sonic standing ready by the wreckage.

"Clear on the set!" shouted the director. "Lights. Camera. And… action!"

The lights went down as the filming began.

Sonic reluctantly got into character. As directed by the script, he looked about and, spotting Shadow atop the pile of rubbish, clenched a fist and said "what the?"

On cue, Shadow rose up to the top of the heap of what was left of the 'boss' and held up a fabricated green jewel. "It begins with this," he recited, "a jewel containing the ultimate power."

"Cut! Cut!" screamed the director, flailing in his seat. "No no! I don't feel the emotion! Where's the emotion!" He hopped up out of his seat, nearly knocking it over. "Again! Do it again! I want perfection, nothing less!" Lifting his megaphone he shouted, "places! Clear the set!"

The brothers returned to their starting positions.

"Lights, camera, action!"

0000

Lunch hour finally came. "Ug," said Sonic. "I hate this job. Why don't they use an animatronic like Amy in our place? It would make our lives, and theirs probably, a lot easier."

"They use an animatronic in Amy's place," replied Shadow between mouthfuls of ice-cream, "because she doesn't exist anyway."

"So? They could easily make ones of us. Then we could focus on just one job instead of two."

"Don't be so bitter. Besides, I think this job is good for you. It's the only time I ever see you get some exercise."

"Hey, I don't exercise because I'm so damn tired after these set days. It runs me ragged. You too, if you have any feeling left in those old bones of yours." He took a long drag out of his slush, convulsing with the brain freeze. "Aaaaauuuuggggg…. Brainfreeeeezzzzee."

Shadow regarded him coldly. "Your addiction to those things is going to give you permanent brain damage some day."

"No it won't! How can you say that?"

"How do you know it won't?"

"I don't care! If it does manage to corrode my mind any further than it already is, then I'll be happily floating on cloud nine."

"You lead such an unhealthy lifestyle," retorted the other, poking at his ice-cream.

"I could say the exact same about you, always frolicking in daisy patches. Someday you're going to develop a serious allergy and then you'll never be able to leave the house. And even worse, I'd be stuck caring for you."

"You're full of nonsense. You just made that up. You can't develop an allergy by hanging around flowers."

"How do you think babies become allergic to peanuts?"

"Over-exposure to protein."

"Oh well! Still. I don't like it when you roll around in those daisy fields. You come back smelling like a freshly manured lawn. Do you have any idea how much those flowers stink? They're disgusting."

"You just hate flowers."

"No! They honesty stink! Yes, I don't have any particular liking for flowers but I'm not telling you this simply out of spite."

"Humph."

They ate in silence for the remainder of the lunch break. Eventually making their way back to the set. Even after a meal, the director was just as cranky as before, possibly more so. "I want perfection this time!"

"We've done this scene at least a hundred times already. I bet that we have done it perfectly fine a few times at least and you're just being stingy," spat Sonic.

"I don't like your attitude!"

"Nobody does."

"We're doing this scene again. And again. And again. We'll do it until you two get it right! So get to work! Move!"

Sonic trudged back to the set where his brother waited. "I hate that feline."

"He's just doing his job."

"Feh. He treats us like slaves."

"Don't you start."

"If this was even just a few years earlier-"

"Don't."

"-I'd have his head on a stake."

Shadow rolled his eyes. "Yes, and then you'd have been isolated in solitary confinement for your deed."

"I wouldn't have let them take me alive."

"I think I have finally realised what your problem is."

"I don't have a problem."

"Yes, you do. You wish for the past, which is probably why you're trying so hard to forget it. You miss the days of mayhem."

"Yes. You can say that."

"I'm right, aren't I? You prefer causing chaos to living a peaceful, quiet existence."

"What of it?"

"It's destroying you. It's turning you into this angry, helpless being-"

"I'm not helpless!"

"-that finds solace only in destruction."

"Don't say it like you don't feel it too. You hate this Age as much as I do. You want to go back too. Don't say that you don't, because I know you'd be lying."

"Perhaps. But at least I'm making an effort to adapt."

Sonic laughed. "Ha! Don't make me laugh! You're only making an 'effort,' as you call it, because your freedom, like mine, hinges on us keeping a low profile. You're itching to let lose all you got, just like me."

"You're terrible," said Shadow, looking away.

"That may be so. But I'm right."

"Come on people! Clear the set!" shouted the furry director. "Places everyone! Lights! Camera! Action!"

0000

It was four in the afternoon. The director let the two brothers leave an hour early because he had been so happy with their final take. Now they made their way to their tiny shop on the main drive. There, the brothers made a secondary living by offering massage treatment, acupuncture, and a variety of rare items not normally found on the open market.

"You have the keys?" asked Sonic. "Mine slipped my mind this morning."

"Yup," replied his sibling, pulling out a small ring of old, strangely shaped keys. "I always keep my set on me at all times."

"Good."

"It's a habit you would do well to copy."

"Don't you start."

Shadow jingled and rattled the keys in the lock, allowing the door of the specialty shop to open with a ding of the overhead bell. The brothers wiped their feet and closed the door behind them, they weren't supposed to open for another hour, but that didn't matter. They were here, might as well set up the shop.

"How 'bout a game?" asked Shadow after a while. "No one's going to come in for a while. It's rush hour."

Sonic thought for a moment. "Ah, what the hell, sure," he said, shrugging. "We've got nothing better to do."

The black hedgehog was already digging in the back shelves. Grunting, he pulled out a large, ornate wooden box from amongst the catalysts they kept in stock. Brushing the dust from the top with his hands, he brought it to the table behind the counter. "How about this one? It's been a while since we've played it."

"Which one?" asked Sonic, wiping the front counter with a rag.

"Our old favourite."

"What?" He ran to the table. Seeing what his brother had dug out from the back room, he gasped. "Whoa! What are you doing?" he hissed. "We could get into some serious trouble if we were caught playing that!"

Shadow gave him a sly look. "Since when have you had any regard for such rules, dear sibling?"

"Okay, now your starting to scare me. You said so yourself earlier today that you'd rather lead a quiet, unobtrusive life."

"Ah, well. I feel like letting out a little steam."

Sonic glared at his brother with his hands on his hips.

"Oh, come now," pleaded Shadow. "You know you want to."

Sonic shook his head. "I don't know…" he thought for a moment. "Fine," he said at last. "But I'm not going to shoulder the blame if we're caught."

"Of course," replied the other as he unclasped the lock at the top of the box and unfolded the board. He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically, "it's been a while."

"I'll say. Just don't cheat," he said vehemently. "If you cheat, I'm going to hex you."

"Ooh, I like those stakes. Not that I cheat, of course."

"You're full of it," scoffed Sonic. "You do cheat. I've seen you fooling with the cards when you play Zidane."

Shadow grinned. "So? He doesn't count as a respectable being, so he's prime for such deceit."

"Well put."

0000

The two over-sized rodents had been followed to a small, nearly decrepit old shop facing the main road. They would have trouble attempting to remove them with such human congestion. They would have to wait. They would have to be patient.

0000

The brothers began setting up the board. The elaborate, two inch playing pieces were dumped into the middle of the board for easy pickings. "What pieces do you want?" piped Sonic, looking over the tiny characters as if inspecting flawless gem stones. "I call Gth'nakk."

"You always call him!" pouted the other. "Give him up for once and try a different strategy."

"No way," replied Sonic. "This offers me some comfort against your devious nature."

"Hey! I don't always cheat!"

"Ha!" he shouted, pointing. "You do cheat! You just admitted it!"

"I only cheat if suites my fancy."

"Which is always."

"Not always!"

"Oh, yes it is."

"No it is not!" he folded his arms in defiance. "I haven't cheated against you in ninety years."

"Ah, but that wouldn't stop you under normal circumstances, now would it?"

"What do you mean?" Shadow demanded.

"You're just worried about the hex I'll put on you if you try anything funny. I know how much you'd enjoy experiencing chronic hair-loss, or…" his eyes narrowed, "water repellent."

Shadow gasped. "You wouldn't dare!"

"If it means a fair game, then yes."

"You're being unreasonable."

"No. I'm just ensuring that we don't get caught. Your fooling with the board is bound to get us caught, so I think particular safety measures are in order."

"Wuss."

"Now then. I'll ask again: what pieces do you want?"

Shadow tossed a few strategies in his head. "I'll take… Zr'th… R'shkhahn… Zull… and The Agents of Famine-"

"Damn you!"

"-and Death." He took the respective pieces. Setting a jade squid-like creature, a pearl eight-legged, goat-like lion being, a rose-quartz slender humanoid covered in boils and welts, a starving figure and a bare, hooded skeleton with a lute in front of him in a line.

"Fine. Gth'nakk's mine… And I'll take Thures… Zath'risth… and The Agents of Pestilence." Sonic fetched a ebony horned behemoth, a wine-red mass of animal parts, a metallic-black disproportionate being and an army of sludge-coloured, almost stick-figure creatures, with one tall member serving as the leader and placed them before him like a row of attendants.

"Alright," said Shadow, picking up a small, black velvet bag from the storage pockets on the outer folds of the board. "Shall we set it up?"

"The sooner the better."

Shadow opened the bag and let his brother take the first handful. He fished around for his own share and held it securely in his hand. Putting away the bag he shook the contents of his palm with both fists.

Sonic followed suite. "I still don't think that this is a good idea."

"Now now," scolded his brother. "You can't back out now. Om." He let a single metallic marble fall from between his fingers onto the finely carved board. The sphere rolled along the engraved space borders until finally resting in a perfectly sized depression in the near-middle of the board.

Sonic sucked air forcefully between his teeth. "Ooh. You wanna play rough, eh? Shin." The blue hedgehog dropped two marbles from his hands. The shimmering orbs rolled about on the board until they too rested in the circular pockets on the exact middle line, one one-third across the playing field horizontally, the other two-thirds across.

"I see you haven't lost your flare. Zan." Two more marbles fell.

"Darn right. Krath." Two fell from his gloved hands.

"Don't be too hasty now. Thadae." Yet another two.

"Feh. Sorra." Three found resting places on the board.

"You take pleasure in making me use force, I know it. Zomm." Five rained downward.

"Heh. Making you make dumb decisions out of haste is what I do best. Gorae." Four new recruits followed their brethren onto the battle field.

"I'm not as feeble-minded as you remember, brother. Shneth." Two fell.

"I'll soon fix that. Grinmf." Six fell.

"We'll see. Shadin." A final three cascaded across the board before landing in their destined pockets.

The metal marbles filled thirty-two of the board's fifty-three space blocks, glinting in the feeble light of the shop's back room. The brothers stared each other down for several minutes. Without breaking the invisible bond, they both chose a piece from their roster and placed it on the board, still holding on to the figures. R'shkhahn and Zath'risth now stood on the playing field, exuding a bizarre presence over their territory.

"Choose your influence," said Shadow, still holding his sibling's gaze.

"Spiritual guidance," replied Sonic, staring back with equal force.

"Plenty," said the other.

They let go of the tiny icon carvings and released each other's stare, turning their attention to the board. Taking a pair of amber dice, the hedgehogs took turns rolling and moving their piece across the board, the weird glow from each figurine spreading with each leap across the field.

With the board covered, the twins contemplated their next move. The overhead bell chimed cheerfully as the shop door swung open. Acting quickly, Shadow pulled a black cloth out from the game's storage pockets and draped it over the board, pausing their competition. Sonic was at the counter in a flash. "How may I help you, sir?" he asked the guest.

The customer, a punky teen wearing a spiked collar and several studded bracelets, wandered over to the counter. "You guys carry incense?" he asked, looking around sheepishly.

"Yes, we do. Did you have a particular type in mind?" replied the shop-keeper.

"What do you have?"

"Just a minute." Sonic turned and yelled. "What do we have for incense?"

There was a moment of silence. Then, "regular, taming, trance, and some hallucigenics," yelled back the other shop-keeper from storage.

"You look like the kind that appreciates Yoga, young man. I think that our selection of trance incenses would be much to your favour."

The punker turned a slight shade of pink. "Er… Well… I do practice some of that… um… how-how did you know?"

"When you go into a business like this one, you learn to recognise certain things in people so that you may serve them better."

"Funky."

"So. What kind would you like?"

"What does 'trance' incense do?"

"Exactly what it sounds like. It allows you to…" he critically examined the teen, "escape from the bonds of reality… let's say."

"Is it safe?"

"Of course." He turned again. "Bring me a box of the trance!" He returned his attention to the youngster, "we don't keep potentially dangerous or harmful goods in stock here. I can assure you that this incense-" he took the box of incense sticks from his brother, "-will do as much harm to you as a nap. It will only provide a temporary levitation of the state of mind, giving a sense of freedom and transcendence, respectively."

The boy looked enthralled.

"If you like, you may sample our wares in one of our back rooms, which are made especially for such purposes."

"I would…" said the mohawked teen. "But can't stay long."

"I see. That is a shame. Would you still like to purchase some of the incense for yourself?" He took three incense sticks out from the box. "How about a sample set of these milder trance sticks? If you find them to be to your liking, you are more than welcome to come back."

"Thanks. I think I will."

With an exchange of currency, the teen left quite happy.

Sonic returned to the back room with his brother and sat back down at their gaming table.

"How do you know he really wanted trance incense?" questioned Shadow, uncovering the board.

"The angst was peeling off that kid in waves. I could tell he's got family issues. We'll be seeing him again, I'm sure," Sonic replied.

They both sat back down at the gaming table, and recommenced their competition.

It was Sonic's turn. He stared at the board for several minutes, not moving a muscle. Shadow didn't say a word, but kept his eyes on the board as well. There was the faintest of clicks as a marble leaped from its pocket. With a whip of his arm, the blue hedgehog caught the tiny orb in mid-air. With the absence of the marble, the area around where it had rested just before began to lose its glow. Sonic started to move his piece but Shadow was faster, grabbing the Agent of Death from his roster and setting it on the board where the sphere had been. "Ha!" he boasted as his glowing influence spread even farther across the playing field, pushing back that of his brother. "You're a bit rusty, I see."

"I'll show you who's rusty!" retorted the other. Another marble flew out of its space. This time Sonic was ready, with a whirl of hands he snatched the marble and placed Thures in its place, increasing his influence by a near one-quarter of the board. "Ha," he said. "How do you like them apples?"

Shadow looked quite unhappy. He glared at the board with contempt. "This game isn't over, brother. Not by a long shot."

"Ooh, we'll see about that."

The black and red hedgehog grabbed his Agent of Death from the board and chanted, "mr'ck krii khyng!" and forcefully replaced the figurine. There was a flash as his shady glow of influence inched further across the board.

Sonic glared. "That is cheating."

"No, it's not," said Shadow defiantly, folding his arms. There was a screech of rubber tires as a car crashed head-long into a street-light pole.

"From the sound of that, I'd say that was cheating," said Sonic, giving his brother a very cold stare.

Shadow looked appalled. "I didn't cheat! That was mere coincidence!"

"Coincidence my furry blue butt! You know that if anyone does anything outside the rules of the game, the result will be felt in this reality!"

"I know perfectly well the rules of this game!"

"Then what was that!"

"Coincidence!"

"IT WAS NOT COINCIDENCE!"

"HOW WOULD YOU NOW! YOU'VE BEEN FOOLING WITH HUMANITY'S EXISTENCE FOR SO LONG YOU CAN'T TELL WHAT IS CHANCE AND WHAT IS FATE!"

"DON'T YOU DARE TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT RECOGNISE, YOU SADIST!"

"A SADIST AM I! I COULD JUST AS EASILY SAY THE SAME THING ABOUT YOU, YOU PIT FIEND!"

"PIT FIEND! I SWEAR I'LL MAKE YOU WISH YOU HAD NEVER BEEN BORN!"

"AND I YOU!"

They leapt at each other.

0000

Meanwhile, back home, and back a few hours too, Knuckles stood by the school doors to pick up Tails. He whistled absently to himself as he waited, watching the birds fly by. The school-bell rang and Tails came crashing out the main doors, being hauled forward by the force of everyone else trying to get around him and to the buses.

Knuckles waited for a few seconds as the mob slowly dissipated. Walking towards a furry lump on the concrete, he helped Tails un-stick himself from the ground.

"I see hot-wings," Tails said, rocking on his heels.

"That's great," replied Knuckles. "Now let's go home. Do you have your homework?"

Tails dug around in his bag and produced a large volume, holding it high above his head for Knuckles to read.

"'A Shakespearian Explanation of the Universe,'" he read, looking rather surprised. He looked down at Tails. "You're supposed to read this? What for?"

"For a report," said Tails cheerily.

"Your teacher is making you write a paper on this?"

"I picked it out."

"What? Why?"

"Because it has a picture of the planets on the front," he replied, as if it was the most obvious reason there could be.

Knuckles shook his head, at a loss to comprehend the logic behind the two-tailed fox's thinking. "And I'm going to be stuck helping you write it, aren't I?"

Tails nodded his head enthusiastically.

The echidna groaned. "Well, let's get going. The quicker we start on it, the better, I suppose."

0000

"Weeeeeee!" Tails burst through the front door. Knuckles trudged in afterwards, not at all happy with his upcoming predicament.

"Alright, Tails. Let's start on this painful paper of yours."

"Aaaawwwww… Now?"

"Yes. Now."

"But I don't want to."

"That doesn't matter. You're going to at least start on it. Then you can pester Sonic to help you when he gets home."

"Okay!"

0000

The dust of battle settled in the back of the specialty shop. Huffing, the two brothers laid on the wood floor, their board game indefinitely cancelled.

"I… hate… you…" panted Sonic.

"I… hate… you… too…" Shadow huffed back.

With several resounding pops and cracks protesting from his joints, Sonic pushed himself off the floor. Rubbing his jaw, he staggered about the shop, picking up the fallen pieces of the board. "You still have a strong punch, brother."

Shadow twitched uncomfortably on the floor. "Why, thank you for noticing. I've been making a point to keep fit."

"Meh-heh."

"I've forgotten how hard a kick you can deliver with those legs." He shifted painfully. "I think you cracked a few ribs with that last one."

"They'll mend. Ug. I think I'm missing a few teeth."

"They'll grow back. They always do."

"True enough. It's still no fun losing them, though."

"I concur on that notion."

As Sonic slowly gathered the game pieces, Shadow levied himself from the ground in delicate steps. "Shall we make a promise not to do that again?"

"I donno…" said the blue twin. "I have doubts on how long it would actually last."

"Well, if we make some form of collective effort, I'm sure we can guarantee each other's well-being."

Sonic started to laugh but soon doubled over in pain. "Ow. Ow ow ow ow. It's not going to happen."

"It could if you weren't so prone to aggression."

"Oh woe is me! I'm so imperfect!" he mocked.

"Well you are!"

"'Well you are!'" mimicked Sonic.

"Stop that! You're being childish!"

"Oh, please. Don't act like you're the pinnacle of existence, you hypocrite. You enjoy picking fights as much as I do."

"Not for fun."

"'Not for fun,'" he mimicked again, making faces as he did so.

"Don't start! Do you want to start another brawl?"

"Maybe."

"Stop it!" He stood up, back popping painfully. "This is exactly what I meant earlier today. You're just so violent! You need a much more passive hobby than frightening and cursing people. What you do now is bad for your health."

"Thanks, doctor, I'll be sure to take my pills every morning."

"Don't act smart with me!"

"What? Did that fly over your head, dear brother?"

"Stop that! Just listen to me for once!"

"Umm… No."

"Aug!" Shadow threw up his hands in disgust. "I'm amazed that you've lasted this long with such an attitude! The only reason you're still here is probably because you slept through most of the Cataclysm! I'd hate to think of how the world would be today if you had been awake!"

"We could always tear a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum and find out."

"Knock it off! Your idiocy is becoming unbearable!" He stalked out of the back room, covering his ears.

Unconcerned, Sonic continued to retrieve the strewn marbles.

At the front desk, Shadow took several deep breaths and recomposed himself. "Why does it have to be this way?" he muttered to himself. "I need a vacation… but leaving Sonic alone isn't a good idea, even with those humans keeping an eye on him. They can't possibly control him, not like this."

Just then, a new customer entered the shop. He examined the shelves with great interest as the dark hedgehog watched him. Another man came in soon after. He was followed by another. And he by another.

The four men idly looked over the contents of the shop, never giving the one of the two shop-keepers a glance. Shadow shifted uneasily behind the counter. These men carried a distinct and heavy aura that confused him. Who were these people?

One after the other, the group of men gathered before the front desk, standing silently. Shadow kept his wits about him. He did not trust these strange men. "Can I help you, gentlemen?" he asked courtly.

"Yes. You can," replied the third man.

Shadow waited for a moment. "What did you have in mind, good sirs?"

"Much."

"If you will not specify your need, sirs, then I will have to ask you to leave. We do not tolerate pranksters in this shop."

"We can assure you that we are no lowly tricks-men. We require the transcended skills of yourself and your companion."

Alarms were sounding all over in Shadow's mind. "I will not ask you again, please leave."

"We will do no such thing."

The largest of the four strangers grabbed Shadow roughly by the arm.

"Dormious!"

The furry mammal slumped under the full force of the spell, having been too distracted by his assailant to defend against the chant.

0000

"I'm bored," whined Tails.

"Don't start that again. You need to get some of this done. Although I admit I'm not enjoying myself very much either," said Knuckles. He looked up at the clock. "Hmm. It's nearly seven. I wonder why the guys haven't called."

"I'm hungry."

"You just had a snack."

"But I'm still hungry."

"You eat too much."

"I'm growing."

"That's no excuse. You need to whoa-up on your material consumption or you'll get fat."

"So?"

Knuckles glared at him. "You will wait until Sonic and Shadow phone. When they do, we'll make some dinner plans, understand?"

Tails was silent for a moment. "But I'm hungry…"

"I know that."

"So why can't I eat something?"

"Were you not listening to what I was just saying?"

"I forget."

"Try and remember."

"Can I have a snack?"

"For heaven's sake, no! Now stop complaining!"

Tails plopped his head down on the table and left it there. "I'm bored! I'm hungry!"

Knuckles twitched. "Then go and watch some television or something. Just stop whining!" He closed Tails' chosen report book. "We'll continue this torture-fest tomorrow." He got up from the table and began to make himself a fresh pot of coffee as Tails skipped off to the living room. The Spongebob Squarepants theme song drifted out from the speakers as the young fox planted himself squarely in front of the screen. "Don't sit so close or you'll hurt your eyes!" he called out. Receiving no reply, the echidna returned his attention to his coffee. He pondered for a moment. What was up with the others? They always called at a quarter-to-six to check up on the house. What was keeping them?

He shrugged and took a swig of his caffeine.

0000

Sonic was replacing the board back in its proper place in the back-most shelf when he heard a small thud from the front of the store. Shadow had been telling-off some pesky customers a second ago, but now all was quite silent. He stood still in the back room for a few seconds before calling out. "Shadow? What's going on?" He waited for a reply.

None came. "Yo! Shadow!" he called out again. He made his way cautiously to the front of the store, the quiet grinding on his nerves.

He stopped dead in his tracks as he caught sight of his brother's prone figure laying on the floor.

"Dormious!"

Spinning around, Sonic blocked the sleep spell and fired a curse in the direction of the voice.

There was a yelp as the caster fell from his hiding place.

"Whisperios!"

"Mystificonfucio!"

Whirling to face the new assailants, the blue hedgehog deflected the silencing enchantment but miscalculated the source of the confusion hex and was hit. His head spinning, he ran an incantation through his mind and launched a crippling curse throughout the shop. There were more sounds of discord as the rest of the attackers where hit bodily by the curse. Knowing full-well what this kind of assault could entail, Sonic struggled to clear his vision and tow his brother and himself to safety. The curse would not last long, as it was hastily cast, and poorly at that. Finally lifting his twin up from the floor, he made his way to the back of the shop, where they could escape out to the alley.

Not fast enough. "S-s-seizaero!"

Sonic's legs buckled and locked beneath him and he tumbled to the floor. Dazed, he was lost to another sleep hex.

0000

It was closing on eight-o-clock. Knuckles had given up on the brother's call and had settled on making Kraft-dinner for supper. Having sent Tails to bed after a bit more work on his report, he sat on the kitchen counter by the phone, sipping his coffee. He reached over and grabbed the news-paper.

Setting it on his lap, the echidna leafed through the pages, looking for any articles he may had missed that morning. Not finding any, he pulled out the Supernatural pages, the only part of the paper Sonic ever read. Because of that fact alone, he avoided that one part of the news adamantly. Scanning the type, he found various accounts of poltergeist hauntings, ectoplasmic encounters and others. He shuddered, this stuff was so depressing.

Finding nothing better to do, however, he read it anyway.

It was nearly nine when Knuckles finally put away the paper. Taking one last drink, he picked up the phone. The brothers didn't close-up shop until closer to ten, so one of them at least would be at the desk. He dialled the shop number and waited for one of them to pick up. Receiving the answering machine, he hung-up. After a few minutes he tried again. Still no answer. He hung-up, unsure of what to do. He waited a bit longer before ringing once more. Yet again, the machine greeted him. Pressing his thumb on the receiver button, Knuckles thought over what could be happening. He had been told many times by the Caretakers about the various threats to their existence that inhabited the city.

He stared at the phone in his hand, mulling over what course of action to take. Having finally made-up his mind, he dialled a new number.

0000

All was ready. The preparations had been completed and the two giant rodents were now theirs.

The Master was quite pleased. However, he would've rather preferred that the men he'd sent hadn't made such a commotion. As far as the scouts could tell, they hadn't been followed. The hedgehogs had been placed in the center of the ceremonial alter. They were still asleep, thankfully. The longer they stayed that way, the more time the brethren had to strengthen the shield they had placed over them.

Soon. Soon they would awaken and the final steps could be taken.

0000

"Hey. May I speak to Core, please?"

"Just a moment, please hold."

Knuckles continued to hold the phone patiently to his ear. Elevator music floated out of the ear-piece of the receiver. Knuckles frowned. It was bad enough that he decided to phone these people, even worse that they furnished their hold line with pathetic easy-rock music.

At long last, the line was picked-up. "Hello, Core speaking."

"Ah, yes, Core? This is Knuckles."

"What can I help you with, Knuckles?" asked the head-man.

"Have you heard from Sonic or Shadow within the last while?"

"No. Why?"

"They haven't phoned at all this afternoon and I haven't been able to reach them at the shop. I was hoping that they might've called you instead."

Core sounded worried. "You haven't heard from them at all?"

"Not since this morning."

There was a moment of silence. "Did they have other plans for today besides running the shop?"

"Not that I'm aware of. Look, I don't mean to cause any hassle-"

"No, not at all. I'm glad you called about this. I'll send out someone to look into it. I'll contact you if anything is wrong."

"Thanks."

"Your welcome."

Knuckles hung-up. Hopefully nothing was wrong. Maybe he was just being paranoid. Perhaps neither of them had been at the phone when he had called. Maybe something came up and they had to leave. What ever the reason, he hoped it wasn't serious.

0000

The blue bundle twitched. "Whathha? Whereamm-I?" it groaned. Sonic cursed quietly as his head cleared. "Those bastards. I'll get them for this. They better not've broken anything or I'll kill 'em." He continued to mutter random threats as he felt about. The air around him was dank and reeked of the underground. Feeling about, he bumped into what felt like a wall… but walls don't send rather unpleasant bolts of energy down your spine. A shield. He whispered a few nullifying words of power to disarm it. The hedgehog was rewarded with a sharp crack of energy that arced straight for his face. He moved deliberately in the other direction. Finally his questing hand found a lump of fur inches away from him. "Meh?" He poked at the mass irritably. "Hey. Get up, you twit." He continued to jab at the mound that was his brother.

The black and red critter gurgled in his sleep. "Lerf me 'lone." Shadow waved his brother's offending hand away and rolled over.

Sonic, being quite upset and rather cranky, wasn't about to let his twin attain a greater span of beauty sleep. "GET UP!" He grabbed a fistful of the black hair and pulled.

"OW!" Shadow bolted into a sitting position. "What the hell was that for?"

"Open your eyes and take a look for yourself."

Shadow glared at his brother as he rubbed the top of his head where Sonic had yanked his fur. His frown quickly faded, however, as he looked about his surroundings. "Whoa." From where he sat, he could see a domed ceiling rising high above their heads with eight great columns reaching to the floor. Four immense hallways spanned into the distance in front, behind, and to each side of them. They were sitting upon a giant stone altar speckled with curious brown stains running down the wide steps to the floor. Shadow whistled. "Well. Here's a place you don't visit everyday."

"Is that all you can say?"

"What did you expect me to say?"

"I don't know, something less obvious."

"That's no fun."

"Ug!" he clutched at his ears in frustration. "Tell me that you at least realise that we're in some serious trouble."

"Perhaps."

"'Perhaps'! We're trapped on a sacrificial alter in an underground temple! Does any of that register at all in your feeble brain!"

"Trapped?"

"Yes! Didn't you notice the shield?"

"Just break it."

"If a could, I would've done that by now and left your sorry butt right here!"

"Is that so? It's that strong? Please." Shadow reached out with his hand to probe the walls of the invisible cage. He pulled his hand back in surprise when his outstretched finger received a small shock from the shield. "Eee. That's not in the least bit pleasant." He looked at the floor, examining where the ridge of the cage would be. "Hm. These are strange looking runes. Have you seen these?"

"No. Haven't cared to care."

"Well perhaps you should start caring and try to find a way to get us out."

"Alright. Move, then." Sonic pushed up beside his brother to observe the transparent runes along the shield's base.

"What do you make of it?" asked Shadow after a while of kneeling beside his temperamental sibling.

"These aren't like any runes I've come across." He sat up. "But they look more like hybrids more than anything. Like a jumble of everything."

"Then you have come across them."

"Somewhat, just not in such a pattern. These aren't generally put together under any circumstances."

"Hm. A daring experiment. Seems to work. And quite well at that."

"I'll be taking note of this if we ever get out of here."

"But we will."

"How do you know?"

"One must think positively for good things to happen."

"You're full of crap, you know that?"

"According to you."

"You're being of no help."

"Neither are you as far as I can see it."

"Fine. Whatever. Let's just sit tight, then, and twiddle our thumbs while we wait for our inevitable doom."

"There may not be doom in store for us."

"What!"

"We may have been snatched by over-enthusiastic fan-girls."

"Are you nuts! If anything, we have fan-person repellent all around our store, if you do recall. And if they did somehow manage to get in, what kind of fan club practices hexes? And why would they take us here? And, I ask again, how would they know these spells? I think you're being delusional!"

"Perhaps. But maybe I'm just trying to lighten the mood."

"Well DON'T! It's just PLAIN ANNOYING!"

Shadow had had enough of his brother's attitude. "You need to lighten up! For heaven's sake! I don't care if you're about to be minced in a gargantuan blender! Show some sense of happiness! You're the most miserable creature on the face of the planet and that is no small feat, I can assure you!" He stood up and jabbed an aggravated finger in Sonic's furry chest. "If you don't shape up that attitude of yours, I swear it'll either be me or someone worse to clean it up for you! Your pessimism is degrading and nonsensical!" He sat back down with a frown firmly plastered on his face, his arms folded.

The two sat in silence for several minutes. The gloom surrounded the twin hedgehogs, not releasing any sign of life or activity within its confines. Strange shuffling noises emanated from the shadows along with the occasional drip of subterranean condensation.

With a huff Sonic began to grope around the edge of the shield once more in vain attempts at dispelling the cage. More than once he ended up with a face-full of black supernatural soot at the end of several neutralising incantations. Cussing and muttering obscenely he tried again.

Shadow forced back a fit of laughter as his brother received a bone-jolting shock from the unyielding invisible prison wall.

His brother exploded. "Stop laughing and get off your butt and help me, you fool!"

0000

Tory, Spence, Jonesey, and Philips made their way down the main drive in the Jeep. It was just after nine, the streets thankfully clear with but a few late-night shoppers. The gang had been a little less than enthused when the call came. Nobody from the Institute enjoyed visiting the 'Macabre Twins,' as Sonic and Shadow were less than fondly called, during their store hours. They seemed to become a bit more irritable than usual when within the confines of their shop. And they most certainly were never happy if someone started to nose around the shelves when they shouldn't be.

Everyone stifled a groan as they pulled up to 'Grimm Findings,' the specialty shop that the Sonic Brothers ran so lovingly.

The shop was deserted. Entering, the dispatched team found books and all manner of trinkets strewn all over the floor. This wasn't like the brothers at all, they ran a tight ship and didn't accept anything less than perfection. From the look of it, nothing had been stolen. The brothers had gone to great lengths, most of which were greatly disapproved of by Core and everyone at the Institute in general, to protect their wares; and that included curses. Tory examined the fallen occult debris, there had been a struggle, that much was blatantly obvious, but what had happened? Those two would never go down without a fight… and he had first-hand experience to prove it.

Supernatural Aftershade was still heavy in the shop air. There had been a magical showdown. Most of the traces were non-offensive, probably disabling and sleep incantations. The few offensive traces screamed 'crippler' at him. The curse would undoubtedly have been Sonic's doing; only he had the gall to fire off something that strong in so small an area. As dense and full of himself as he was, he wouldn't cast something so dangerous unless he had to.

Tory continued to kneel on the floor as the others searched the entirety of the shop for anything that could give them any solid clue as to what had happened and where the culprits went.

As far as he could tell, the brothers, against all odds, had been outwitted and their aggressors had taken them away. But who? The party in question had to be some sort of cult. Not many outside the Institute knew of the brothers' identities, and even fewer could have known of their exceptional abilities.

If they had been taken by a cult organisation, then for what purpose? Tory pressed a finger to his left ear to contact Core, he would be able to shed some light on this.

0000

Knuckles paced about the living room, not knowing what to do. There was nothing good on the tube and he didn't think that making a fresh pot of coffee would be good for his system. Tails was fast asleep, for now. The two-tailed fox was an unusually light sleeper, waking at the slightest noise that was out of the ordinary.

The echidna continued to pace about the ground floor. He hadn't yet heard anything from either Sonic, Shadow, or Core. Hopefully everything was alright. Of course, if everything was fine, he wouldn't hear the end of it. Him having sent a search team from the Institute to the shop on a mere fright was more than bound to piss the two brothers off. They hated anyone involved with the Institute if Supernatural Interaction and Defence. Why, he didn't care to know.

Out of the gloom, the phone rang. Knuckles rushed to the receiver, more to keep Tails from waking than to answer the call. "Hello?"

"Knuckles? This is Core."

"Thanks for getting back to me. Have you found anything?"

"As it turns out, Sonic and Shadow are gone."

Knuckles looked concerned. "What? They are? Wh-where are they?"

"We don't know as of yet. All we have been able to deduct from the scene at the shop was that they were seemingly ambushed by an aggressive group."

"A 'scene'? What happened to the shop?"

"It was a mess when the team got there. It appears that there was a stand-off of some kind."

"You have no idea where they could be?"

"Not yet. But the team's on it."

"Is there anything me or Tails can do?"

"The best thing for you two to do is keep an eye out for anything suspicious around your area. The attackers may or may not come after you two as well. The house has ample defence, I'm sure, but be on the look-out. With the brothers gone, who knows what could happen. If anything serious happens, contact me as soon as possible."

"I will. Thanks, Core."

He hung up. He wasn't the least bit worried about Sonic and Shadow, no. They could look after themselves. It was the well-being of Tails and himself that he was most concerned with. The last time Sonic disappeared, their home tried to pulverise and eat them like fish-sticks. The moment he heard anything funny out of this house, he would be out of there like a bullet fresh from a gun barrel.

0000

The brothers had long since given up on freedom at this point. As a result, they sulked in their own private corners of their cage.

"This blows," said Sonic.

"Indeed," replied Shadow. "Just think of how worried Tails and Knuckles must be. They don't have any real cooking skills."

The other snorted in indifference. "Feh. Let them starve."

"Honestly, brother! You should think higher of your peers!"

"I didn't want to be paired up with those two sad excuses for sentient beings. The less I have to look after other than myself and my house, the better."

"Having company isn't that bad."

"Oh, it's not, is it? You have only been here for a half a year, you don't yet have the experience I do with those ingrates."

"Don't speak of them that way. They are more grateful than you think."

"Is that so? I haven't noticed."

"Perhaps you should open your eyes."

"If you presume me to be so blind, then please feel free to tell me how those two show gratitude for my tolerance for their parasitic nature."

"I shouldn't have to spell such things out for you. If you would consider to shed your husk of isolation maybe you would be able to observe the way things truly are and not how you think them to be."

"I rather like isolation; and if I didn't have to baby-sit Knuckles and Tails I would be leading a much happier existence."

"You would be a much happier person if you would just open up to other people. There are some other people other than myself that care for your well-being."

Sonic rolled his eyes. "Humph. Like who? Those idiots at the Institute? Please."

"Don't be so closed-minded. As much as even I would hate to admit it, I think that Core and the others actually do have the best intentions for us. Why else would they offer us what they did?"

"To keep us quiet and inactive."

At this Shadow fell silent. There was a rustling of cloth as an army of robed figures materialised out of the darkness. An eerie chanting filled the air as the hooded mob gathered around the alter. The brothers watched as the group on front of them parted to allow the passage of a dark-robed dignitary. This new character was decorated in shards of glass and bone tied to his shoulders, drooping passed his knees. On his head he wore a leather mask sporting an impressive pair of corkscrew horns. The get-up singled out this new arrival as the leader.

The Master stopped before the shield encasing the twins. Looking down at the giant rodents, he spoke. "Now," he raised his arms high above his head. "May the ritual begin!"

0000

Tory paced in his office. Where to start. The evidence was clear enough inside the shop. But outside there was nothing to follow. Those responsible were crafty indeed. If they were to get anywhere on this case, they needed a trail. Something to lead them. Something-

"HEY!"

Tory jumped out of his skin. "Wha?"

A teen-sized bundle of energy leaped onto Tory's shoulders, nearly knocking him over. "Woo!"

"Ack. Goku! Please get off me!"

"Aw, come on. Don't be a stiff!" whined the monkey-tailed boy. He clung to the man affectionately.

"Goku, you've gained few pounds and it hurts so please get off my back."

"Fine." The brown-eyed nymph plopped to the ground. "What's got you all wound-up and boring?"

"Many things. Now-"

"Ooh ooh! Can I help?"

Tory shook his head in exasperation. "Please, Goku. Go to bed or something. It's late."

"It's not late!"

"It's after ten in the evening."

"So?"

"Go home, Goku. Sanzo and the others will undoubtedly be worried about you."

"They'll be fine."

"This is not about them. This is about your health. You need a good night's sleep for all the activity you do during the day."

"I'm not tired. Just tell me what's all happening."

"That's none of your business, Goku; and you know it."

"Aaaawwww, come on! Tell meeeeeeeee!"

"Goku stop that. You're above that kind of behaviour."

"Aauuuggg! Tell me!"

"Alright alright!" He pinched the space between his eyes. "The Sonic twins are missing and we don't have any leads to where they may be."

"Ahhhh…"

"Satisfied?"

"Can I help?"

Tory sighed. "For heaven's sake, Goku."

"Come on, Tory! I've always been a help, right? Let me come with you!" He pressed a finger to the side of his nose. "I've got a nose for justice and people-finding!"

"'People-finding?'"

"For lack of a better term, yes."

"Well…"

"Pleeeeeeaaaaaaase?"

"Yes yes fine. But just this once. This has become very serious and we have to find those two quickly. We can't afford any mistakes at this point. We've unfortunately wasted enough time already following hunches and false leads."

Goku hopped up and stood at attention. "I won't let 'cha down, sir!"

0000

The chanting had risen to a continuous harmony; the noise reverberating about the subterranean corridors. The Master pulled out a long blade from the depths of his robe and held it out before him.

The brothers stared at the serrated blade. "We are so dead," said Sonic.

"So it seems," concurred Shadow. "Shall we pray for our improbable admittance to Heaven?"

"Fell free."

"The time has come!" shouted the Master over the din of his followers. "May this sacrifice please the one whom we have so vigilantly awaited!"

"Great lines."

"Hush!" hissed Shadow.

"Bring forth the offering!" ordered the leader. A single acolyte detached himself from the masses and brought reverently forth a cushion bearing a large jug of grape juice punch. He kneeled and placed the jug before the blade-wielding leader and backed away with the tasselled pillow. "May this offering please our benefactor!"

Sonic tried hard not to laugh. "What is this?" he snorted.

"Now now. Let's not laugh. We could very well be in great peril," scolded the other, who also was having a hard time keeping his own laughter under control.

"Accept this sacrifice, O Great One! And… erm… what's the next line?" The Master's advisor scrambled up the stone steps and whispered something into his ear. "Ah. Thank-you." He raised the sword up higher. "And let it's juices represent our loyalty to thee!" He brought the over-sized blade down unmercifully upon the defenceless jug of punch. The plastic container split smoothly in two, spilling it's contents everywhere. The juice flew in all directions from the force of the blow, spattering the shield and the robe of the Master. "Ah! Ah! It's in my eyes! Someone get me a hankie!" The acolytes scrambled to bring their leader a handkerchief, falling over one another like confused lab mice.

The brothers doubled over laughing like fools. "'Peril?' From juice-spilling fiends? The only danger they pose is killing their audience with their horrible antics!" gasped Sonic between fits.

"True! They're a real menace to society!" laughed Shadow.

The two hedgehogs continued to roll about their prison in laughter as the Master tried to relieve his assaulted ocular instruments of their irritation. Wiping his eyes he called out, "Someone give me a test!"

One of the many followers held up a hand. "How many fingers, Master?" he said, presenting two digits before the leader's face.

"Two."

"You're fine, Master."

"Ah. Good. Then we may continue with the ritual! Places!" The mass of acolytes returned to their places with remarkable speed, miraculously not knocking each other over a second time. The Master brushed off his robes and readied himself. The brothers continued to pitch and roll about the floor of their indestructible prison, unable to curb the wave of fits that brought tears to their eyes. The Master looked quite confused. "Um…"

"Make it stop!" laughed Shadow, clutching at his stomach. As he started to level off, his brother broke in:

"'Give me a test!'" he mimicked, bringing his sibling down with another seizure of laughter.

"Stop that! That's cruel!"

The brothers guffawed about the perimeter of their cell. The Master looked on, quite puzzled. "Er… we seem to have a problem. Erm… hello? Excuse me?"

The two hedgehogs eased their raucous vocalisations slightly.

"Are you quite finished?" asked the Master. The laughing dwindled away. "Yes?" Silence followed. "Yes. Good. Now… may we… continue?"

"Um… y… yes…?" squeaked Shadow.

"Ah! Good! Then you will help us now? With the rest of the ritual?"

"M-me-ma-m-meh-wha?"

"The ritual? You will aid us in its completion. You will help us regain the respect and power that we deserve!"

Shadow dabbed the air with his finger, "does this… involve sacrifice… of the fresh, living kind?"

"No."

"Then what are all these stains on the alter here? They look rather… reminiscent of former life."

"Oh. That was last week's cranberry offering. Quite effective, I'd say. Truly pleased the Great One."

"Well that's good to hear."

Sonic butt in, "whoa whoa whoa! What's all this? What's this ritual? How do you expect us to help you after all you did to get us here?"

The Master blinked from behind his mask. "Well firstly, this is an assembly. Second, we are attempting to revive the Great One, who will bring us the recognition that we deserve! Thirdly, I do believe that you will help us. After all, you can't really go anywhere at the moment, can you?"

"Why you-!"

"Wait wait, brother! He has a point. Perhaps we should listen to him?" interjected the black and red rodent. "It doesn't seem as if we won't be going anywhere without some help."

Sonic sulked in his corner. "Feh."

"Very good," said the Master. "Then you will aid us without fault?"

"Just who is this 'Great One?'"

"The guide of all us shunned members of a greater society of intelligence! The Great Snake Zaharash!"

"The Zaharash is a snake?" mused Shadow. "I thought he was a centipede."

Sonic rolled his eyes. "He was more of a segmented multi-legged snake-like creature. Or something like that."

"Ah."

"But hold it… if you guys are giving offerings to Zaharash, then…" he looked up, "then you must be-"

"Don't say it!" said the Master desperately.

"You lot are-"

"Don't! I'm warning you!"

"NERDS!"

The Master looked quite distressed, "we prefer the 'unappreciated know-it-alls' or 'unrecognised geniuses'."

"You're all NERDS! Good GOD! We've been caught by the scum of University computer labs! Ug!" he put his hands over his eyes. "This is the most humiliating moment of my life! I can't believe it!"

"Please stop that."

"Bite me, nerd."

"Pl- I, I demand that you cease this name-calling at once!" shouted the Master.

"What did I just say?"

"What?"

"I said BITE ME, NERD!"

"You will never gain your freedom that way!" screamed the Master, clearly at the end of his rope, not having the slightest idea on how to deal with the foul-mouthed hedgehog.

Shadow, totally ignoring the situation, turned to his brother. "How does giving offerings to Zaharash make them nerds?"

"You don't know?" asked Sonic incredulously.

"Apparently not."

"Do you remember the whole 'Rage Against the Jocks' anti-sport raid?"

"That was… how many years ago?"

"Er… twenty? Thirty? Twenty-seven. Yeah, twenty-seven."

"Yes."

"He did that."

"Ooohh. I see. Then you are correct in this regard. These men are unquestionably nerds."

The Master looked at a loss. "Um… ahem… You cannot leave here without aiding us in our cause!" he shouted desperately.

Sonic glared at him. "You don't have to shout."

"You WILL help us in summoning him back!"

"What the hell for? To afflict the athletic populace with some software fetish? Assimilate the human race into some collective entity?"

"Stop giving them ideas, brother!" scolded Shadow. "You got that last one from our little escapade in the park, didn't you?"

"What of it?"

The Master put a hand to his head in exasperation.

"You could be making things worse for the race of man!"

Sonic snorted. "Pff! How could things get any worse for the human race?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well just look at them! They're lumbering, bumbling fools! They're more idiotic in a group than they are as individuals!" He pointed to the swarm of acolytes. "Just look at what we're surrounded by: juice-jug-murdering twits! If humanity hasn't already sunk to the pit of existence… then we might as well help them by summoning the first nerd ever to crawl out of the grease-pan of intelligence!" He got up to stare at the Master. "All right you bucket of discarded, grease-burned, wax-coated grey matter. What do you want us to do?"

0000

Tory and the earth-nymph had reached 'Grimm Findings' at long last. Goku immediately gravitated towards the back alley. "Goku! Where are you going? We've already checked there!" Goku appeared not to have heard. Letting out a tired sigh, the silver-haired man followed him.

He found the teen-looking life-spirit hunched towards the ground behind the shop. Wobbling about the alley in his couched position the tailed entity ran a hand across the air just over the gravel. He hummed to himself, creating an odd, unnerving tone that reverberated in the air around him. Tory leaned on the back wall of the shop and let the brown-haired monkey-thing work. He didn't want to disturb him if by chance he did find something.

The humming stopped. Goku stood up.

"Did you find something?" asked Tory, running up to him.

Goku continued to scan the ground, as if looked for something. "I don't know…" He took a few steps to the upper-right and critically evaluated the ground. He then moved to his left, and surveyed the earth again. He ran passed Tory to the other side of the shop's back and did the same there. He then ran back to where he had just been standing.

"Well?"

"'S strange…"

"What?" Tory tried to keep the impatience out of his voice. Core trusted Goku's senses without doubt. But Tory had yet to find the relevance of Goku's awkward actions to finding the two missing brothers, and they were running out of time, as far as he was concerned.

Goku knelt down on the ground once more and pressed a hand to the hard-baked gravel. "It's… like they didn't want to be found at all…" he said, more to himself than to his overseer.

"Who?" asked the man, having to strain his ears to hear what the nymph had been saying.

"The 'nappers… or maybe the brothers… I can't tell."

Tory's frustration was beginning to mount. "But can you tell which way they went?"

"I think so… I just need to make sure… yeah… yeah, I think I can. Let's go!" Goku shot off along the invisible trail, catching Tory off-guard.

"Whoa, wait up!" Gathering his wits, Tory quickly followed after him.

0000

The Master looked stunned. "W-what?"

Sonic groaned and rolled his eyes, why was it that he was always surrounded by complete nincompoops? It was quite a wonder how these moronic beings got anything done. "I said 'what do you want us to do'?" he stretched out the words so the leader could understand him.

The Master looked insulted, "you don't have to do that," he huffed, trying to restore his lost dignity. "I perfectly understood what you were saying."

"Is that so? Then why did you need me to repeat it?"

"Well, I was… I was just surprised at your sudden change in standing regarding our goal."

"Fine. Say what you like, but I know better."

"What's that mean!"

"Exactly as it sounds."

Shadow broke in. "Now stop that! If we're going to get anything done, then you both should stop arguing like imbeciles this instant! I, for one, want to go home and catch up on well-deserved sleep. Whatever you-"

"'Well-deserved'! Oh please!"

"Don't you start with me!"

"What have you done today that says 'oh grant me the sleep of ages! You owe me!'"

"Well, if you want to know, I don't go around cursing people. Neither did go I spitting in the drinking wells of the Peraisians during the Unholy War of 423-"

"422"

"-And thus poison them," he continued, ignoring his sibling. "Nor have I replaced the Garuthian ceremonial sacrificial goat with a donkey, which is a capital offence I will remind you, and then blame it on the local chicken wrangler-"

"The man was making saddles for chickens, for heaven's sake! The poor man needed to be put out of his misery he was so delusional!"

"He was hanged!"

"It was a painless death."

"He still suffered!"

"No he didn't."

"Yes he did! And you know it!"

"I can assure you that the miserable fool didn't suffer at all."

"How so?"

"He died of shock. He was dead before they got him to the gallows. Heart stopped instantly."

"And yet you say that without the slightest hint of remorse! What were you doing when it happened? Picking through his merchandise? Laughing yourself sick!"

"As a matter of fact, yes. The last one you said."

"Ug! I should have known! You are so utterly hopeless-"

"I am not helpless!"

"I said hopeless if you were listening!"

They continued to banter back and forth before the throng of cultists, who watched with expressions bordering somewhere between amusement and disgust. What on earth had they brought down upon themselves?

"You're so stupid, you backstabbing pacifist!" shot Sonic, pointing. "If you remember our training you'll recall that we're supposed to spread mayhem and chaos! If you took a moment to think maybe you'd see that I was actually doing my job! What were you doing then? Frolicking through another radioactive flower patch!"

"'Radioactive'? Where'd you get that one! It seems to me that someone has lost much of his brainpower thanks to dry-iced slushies and electrified pickles!"

"I've seen you! I've seen you loitering around the nuclear dump sites on Loitiva! Skipping around and doing your little tra-la-la dance! And I don't eat electrified pickles!"

"So you've been spying on me, have you?"

"You're activities are no secret! Though I wish that they were!"

"You have no business following me to Loitiva!"

"Ha! You admit it!"

"No! I don't!"

The force of their argument was beginning to have an adverse effect on the shield surrounding them, causing it to slowly balloon outward. Some of the closest acolytes were steadily creeping away from the shield's border.

"I'm not admitting to any of your crazy notions on my free-time behaviour! What I do for leisure is none of your business!" shrieked Shadow.

"It is so my business if I think it's going to downgrade my reputation!"

"'Reputation'? What reputation! Your reputation of being an overall bastard and freak! Oh I don't think anything that I do will be affecting your title there!"

"You take that back! You're just as much a bastard as me and you know it! You just don't want to admit it! Stop praising yourself and wake up!"

"I don't have to wake up!"

"Oh yes you do! You're ashamed about what you've done in the past so your dumping all your self-disgust on me! You're so pitiful!"

"Not as pitiful as you!"

"Oh yeah?"

The shield was getting dangerously large now, the sealing runes throbbing with the strain.

"Well let me remind you, then!" continued Sonic, screeching, going red in the face and looking overly furious. "How about the time you possessed that witless brat and totally defaced her social life!"

"She made me do it! She had no appreciation for what she already had!"

"Oh stop making up excuses! You did it for fun! Don't think I don't know you and the vicious way your mind works!"

"My mind is not nearly as vicious as the circles yours runs in!" Shadow screeched back, also going red in the face. "You are so twisted and-"

"Is it twisted you want? Then it's twisted you'll get!"

"Stop it!"

"Here's a jewel! How about the time you used that sappy Institutionary as a puppet vessel to find your staff! You threw that man into incoming traffic during rush-hour!"

"He didn't have a soul! He survived and I still used him!"

"Do you have any idea how wrong that just sounded! You are totally oblivious!"

"Not as oblivious as you are!"

The shield was nearly twenty times its original size now and most of the cult members, including the Master, were now taking cover behind the columns and whatever else was available.

"You never notice when you're causing people discomfort, you ninny-hammer! I've seen you countless times surrounded by fleeing people with the greenest faces I've ever seen, dashing to the washrooms!"

"So! They shouldn't be eavesdropping!"

"It's awfully hard, you talk so loud! Every living being for yards around can hear you!"

"Then let them hear me! And let them hear you!"

"I don't yell!"

"Then what are you doing now!"

"Trying to reintroduce some sense into your thick skull!"

"BITE ME!"

With those last two words, their prison exploded with a surprisingly small tinkling noise, raining immaterial shards onto everyone's heads.

Sonic looked around in astonishment. "Wow," he said, completely forgetting their argument. "Would you look at that, we're free!"

"Really?" Shadow looked up and around as well. "Well then. I suppose all that's left is to deal with some unfinished business, hm?" He grinned evilly at his un-identical twin. "Shall we vent ourselves upon these unsuspecting nitwits?"

Sonic returned the grin with equal fervour. "I think so. Shall we make them pay for our prolonged discomfort?"

"Dearly."

The brothers locked hands as the mob of cultists began to make for the exits. Chanting, the hedgehogs made a tiny circle. A great worm-like, supernatural being shot from the ground between them and curled itself around the pillars, hissing madly. Sonic called out to it, "they were offering prune juice to your brother!" he shouted.

The spirit writhed angrily and charged after the fleeing acolytes.

"Ha. Falls for it every time."

Shadow chuckled. "I guess Darahath is still jealous of Zaharash for all the juice offerings he gets!"

"Heh. Yeah."

They listened a while at the mounting chaos ringing about the cavernous underground temple. After a while, Shadow turned to the alter and spat on it. The stone alter promptly cracked and split. "Well, Zaharash won't be getting any more offerings from this alter."

Sonic nodded in agreement and amazement. "I didn't think you still had it in you."

"While you were befouling wells, I was shattering alters."

"I feel so much closer to you now!" He wiped away an offending tear. "I'm impressed!"

"Thank you. Now, how about going home? I'm beat and I'm tired."

"Those both mean the same thing."

"And I'm hungry."

"Now that you mention it, I'm starving! Let's go!"

The brothers turned away from the sounds of fleeing acolytes and made their way to the surface, letting the temple shake and shudder with the rage of a Feral God behind them.

0000

Tory was still running after Goku, struggling to keep up with the life-spirit. The teen stopped abruptly, causing Tory to nearly collide with him. "Ack! Wha?" stammered Tory.

"Shh!" hissed Goku. "Somebody's coming!" The two of them hid behind a mound of misused wooden crates, listening for the voices drifting from further down the alleyway.

"How about Korean take-out?" came one voice.

"Noodles. As long as they have noodles, I'll eat it," replied another.

"I would know those voices anywhere." Tory removed himself from their hiding place. "Sonic! Shadow! Where the hell have you two been!"

The twins stopped dead in their tracks. "Oh, look. The nanny-squad," snorted Sonic.

"Hush," scolded the other. "Let's just say hello and go get my noodles."

Tory marched up to the two hedgehogs, who remained completely unfazed by the man's anger and frustration. "Well? What do you two have to say for yourselves?"

"What are you talking about?" demanded the blue streak.

"We've only just spent the last three hours looking for you two! We were told that you were kidnapped!"

"Well, you're right about that. We were taken against our will, at any rate," concurred Shadow.

"Well what happened?" asked Tory, fury mounting quickly.

"Shall I tell him?" Shadow asked his brother. Sonic shrugged in response. "Well, Tory, to make a long story short, we were whisked from or store by some rather obnoxious cultists who then imprisoned us in an underground temple and demanded that we helped them re-summon Zaharash to the mortal plane." He took a breath. "Then we got into an argument, Sonic and I, then our prison shattered and then we chased away our captors and escaped."

Goku had joined the group. Tory stood with his jaw open, quite astounded. He shook his head as he reformed his wits. "Hold it, hold it. You 'chased' them away?" His eyes narrowed. "How? What did you to do?"

"Don't accuse us!" shouted Sonic.

"I have some idea of what your version of 'chase' means. I generally entails some form of cursing or the terrorising of innocents with supernatural beings." Tory put his hands on his hips. "Well? Spill the beans. What did you two do?" He watched the two brothers exchange nervous glances. He was losing his patience rapidly.

"Erm… well…" began the brothers in unison.

"What did you do?" repeated Tory, growing more and more suspicious.

There was a deafening crash as the Feral God, Darahath shot through the concrete just a few streets down. Roaring, the creature shook its purple mass in anger at its lack of prune juice offerings.

Tory was aghast. "Wh-what is this!" he shouted, pointing at the furious being. He immediately reverted his attention back to the twins, clearly about to burst a vein in frustration. "What have you two idiots done! Send it back!"

"You didn't say the magic word," scowled Sonic, folding his arms.

"Don't you give me any of that! Send that thing back before it trashes the city!"

"A little redecorating would do wonders for this pit of a town."

"Sonic! Clean up your mess!"

Sonic looked shocked. "Hey! I didn't do that all by myself! You can't just blame it all on me! That's so not fair!"

"Then both of you get your butts in gear and get rid of that giant worm!" Tory was livid with rage. "Do it now, or so help me I will have you both isolated in solitary confinement for a year!"

Grumbling incomprehensible threats and other unpleasant things, Sonic turned to his brother, who was snickering happily to himself. "That's right, laugh it up, you traitor. You talked me into summoning that wretch just so you could get me into trouble, didn't you?"

"It's not my fault you're always the first choice when it comes to identifying the source of chaos," snorted Shadow.

"I hate you with every fibre of my being."

Goku, enthralled with watching the worm throw chunks of concrete in random directions, was sorely let down when the brothers rejoined hands and sealed the beast away. "Awww," he complained. "I was watching that!"

"Well go bury yourself in Godzilla flicks because this shows over!" huffed the blue hedgehog, storming away towards home. "I've had it! I'm going home! You people can go fly a kite because you aren't getting anything from me until morning! Good night!"

"Wha-hey!" shouted Shadow, running after him. "What about dinner!"

"Go eat a goat!"

"Get back here!"

"Bite me!"

"Hold still and I will, you two-bit magician!"

"You are so getting it now! Say your prayers!"

"Bring it on!"

"Hope you have your funeral already planned out, you pansy!"

Tory buried his face in his hands as the two diabolical rodents sped down the alleyway, firing bolts of surreal energy at each other, lighting the gloomy back street with an array of colours. He groaned as the lightshow escalated to destruction as sounds of falling debris emanated from the moving showdown arena. "It's going to be a very long night."

"Wee!" cried Goku. "Let's go!"

The two bringers of order and justice ran off towards the resounding chaos, hoping that reinforcements would soon arrive.

.Fin.