Author's Notes

Okay, first off a little explanation that I should have posted with the first chapter but didn't have time. I started writing this shortly after E3, when everyone was spazzing out over the new trailer and info on the Sonic next-gen game. It's based on the info that's been confirmed, plus some of my own speculation. :P I've tried to avoid incorporating the unsupported rumors flying around (such as the supposed spoilers posted on Sonic News, and especially all the crazy ones spawning at GameFAQs). But keep in mind most of this is just my own interpretation of how the story could go. I very much doubt it will, but it's fun to guess anyway. XD This chapter is much, much, much, longer than the previous two. In fact, it's probably the longest chapter I've made for any fic. o.o;

I made a fanart to go with a particular scene in this chapter. The link can be found in my profile.

Enough babbling for now, though. I'll explain more at the end. :P

- - - - - -

Chapter 3: Fire of Spirit

- - - - - -

I'm running to someplace, though I don't really know where.

Doesn't matter, anyway.

That's how it always is. I just go where my feet take me. Everything else will work out in the end.

So for now, I'm just enjoying the ride.

I cross forests, plains, mountains and…

Whoops! There's the ocean. Guess I'll have to go a different way.

But something catches my attention. Lights on the water. Can't be sure from up here, but it looks like a city extending into a bay.

Hm, never been there before.

And so I'm off again, racing down the mountainside to check this place out. It's no Station Square, but still a good-sized city in its own right. I have to stop running as I enter it—this place has canals in place of roads, and I don't exactly feel like going for a swim. There're plenty of brick paths to walk along though.

This time, I don't really mind taking it slow. It's a beautiful city, especially with all the nighttime lights reflecting off the water. The buildings are nice, too—kinda refreshing to have no towering skyscrapers. Wouldn't mind sticking around here for a while.

Though it's a little strange that no one's around…

I hear a whistle in the distance, followed by a burst of light in the sky. I look up and watch more fireworks explode in the air, and I can hear cheers coming from the same direction.

"Guess someone's having a party." I grin and casually make my way toward the center of the city, where all the fun seems to be happening. But that's easier said than done… without a boat, it seems there's no direct route to get there. So I meander around, turning every which way, frequently finding myself right back where I started.

Where's a map when you need one…

I feel even more frustrated when the cheers and fireworks cease, thinking that I've missed the party. Then I hear a girl's voice, echoing off the buildings and water.

"Sun of Soleanna, guide and watch over us with your eternal light."

Well, can't say I've heard that one before…

I'm not much of a spiritualist, myself. I have my friends and my own two feet, and that's all I really need to get by. I understand that not everyone shares my philosophy, though.

I continue trying to find my way when the cheering and fireworks start up again. I must be getting close, 'cause it seems like decorations have been put up in this area. I break into a jog, hoping to at least catch the end of the festivities.

That hope's shattered by the sound of an explosion and a multitude of screams.

Not good!

Looking around quickly, I spot a narrow alley and run over to it, jumping from wall to wall to reach the roof. I was right—I'm not too far from the city center. I can see the smoke billowing and people running around in a panic. There're also some things flying through the air…

oh man…


I hear a familiar, gloating voice echoing over the water that confirms my suspicions.

Never fails… just when I think I've caught a break…

But there's no time for that now. Getting a running start, I leap from rooftop to rooftop and make my way toward the disaster.

And I can't help but feel a little excited…

- - - - - -

The red-haired girl backed away in fear, three robed priests surrounding her protectively as the machines descended in front of her. Upon a hovering platform stood an obese, bald man who was bent in an eloquent bow.

"I do apologize for crashing your lovely little festival," he began, straightening and eyeing the girl. "But I'm afraid I have some important matters to discuss with Princess Elise."

The princess trembled, but swallowed her fear enough to speak. "Who are you? What do you want?"

The man smirked, causing his bushy moustache to twitch upward. "I am Dr. Eggman, the greatest scientific genius in the world. I've come here to obtain the secret of the Flames of Disaster from you," he explained, gesturing to himself with one hand. "…and to take the miracle gems that are the key to this secret…"

Elise gasped, clutching a glowing green gem tightly to her chest. Eggman's smirk spread into a grin. "Ah, the Chaos Emerald! I see I was correct in assuming you possessed at least one of them. That makes things much simpler. Now Princess," he bent slightly and gestured to the machine on which he stood, "this way, please."

The priests stepped forward to defend their lady. "If you wish to take her, you shall have to go through us!" their leader cried.

Eggman gazed down at them, clearly not impressed. "Very well." He turned to his flanking robots. "Kill them."

Without a moment's hesitation, the machines raised their rifle-arms and fired at the defenseless men. Elise screamed in horror as they fell dead before her. The robots advanced, lowering their weapons and extending mechanical hands to seize her. She trembled with fear, backing away even as she realized there was no escape.

And then a miracle happened.

Suddenly a blue wind circled around her, blowing the robots away and tipping Eggman's hover machine backwards. Instinctively she recoiled, still gripping the Emerald protectively. The wind departed from her and flew to the left. Chancing to open her eyes, she followed its movement to the top of the now-extinguished torch adjacent to the large central one. Then it was as if the wind had stopped and gathered into one place.

And there it transformed into a blue hedgehog, smiling confidently down at her.

She stared up in awe at this unexpected angel—surely it was a blessing from the gods. The angel switched his gaze to the man behind her, hardening his expression despite the grin that remained on his face.

"Playing hardball this time, are you?" he shouted.

Eggman scowled as he picked himself up. "You!" he yelled, clearly having lost all of the composure he had before. "Why is it that no matter where I go, I always run into you!"

The hedgehog placed a finger to his chin in mock contemplation. "Funny… I was just gonna ask you the same thing."

The mad scientist scowled again before yelling at his remaining robots. "Get him!" he ordered, indicating the hedgehog. "And take the princess, too!"

Green eyes narrowed, and the hedgehog crouched into a ready stance. "Not today, Eggy."

In the blink of an eye, he became blue wind once more. This time, however, Elise felt herself swept up and carried away by it. The world became a blur and all she could see clearly was this blue guardian that held her in his arms.

"AFTER THEM!" Eggman shouted furiously. The robots complied, igniting their jet engines and flying after the hedgehog.

Having to weave his way through the crowds, it didn't take long for the robots to catch up. He gritted his teeth as they started firing around him, clearly aiming to slow him down rather than risk harming the princess.

I've gotta lead them out of the city before more people get hurt…

He tightened his grip on the girl, picking up speed. "Hang on tight—it's gonna be a bumpy ride." She responded by curling up tighter, tensing her body.

The hedgehog increased speed, winding around buildings and leaping over narrow waterways. Elise yelped occasionally at the abrupt shifts in direction, clenching her eyes shut to fight off the sense of vertigo. The robots had the advantage here in that they were able to fly straight over the buildings and aim their shots in front of him. But the blue one still managed to leap over and around them with little decrease in speed.

And his speed paid off—already they were at the edge of the city.

Now I just need to lose these eggheads.

Reaching more open terrain, he ran even faster. The world became of blur of macabre colors, and the princess had to turn her head away from the intense wind to even open her eyes. In doing so, she noticed several lights fast approaching them from behind.

"Look out!"

The hedgehog glanced over his shoulder then immediately dodged to the left. A missile screamed by his right, landing directly in his previous path. He glanced back again, seeing that the robots were still keeping up with him.

"Guess he's made a few improvements. Great…" He scowled slightly, wanting to go faster but knowing he couldn't while carrying his fragile cargo. He weaved around trees and explosions, mind racing to find a way to shake these guys off his tail. Then, like a light bulb turning on in his head, he became aware of a green glow below his chin.

Of course!

"I'm gonna need you to trust me, okay?" he yelled over the wind. He saw her nod out of the corner of his eye. Shifting his grip, he slid the arm that was supporting her legs forward and extended his fingers. "I need you to put that Chaos Emerald in my hand."

She hesitated a moment, then carefully did as he asked. He gripped the Emerald and grinned. "Now brace yourself."

What happened next she never could have been prepared for.

"Chaos Control!"

Blinding green light filled her vision, and the sense of vertigo increased tenfold as they rapidly decelerated. Just as quickly, the light faded and an image of the world returned.

But that was it.

There was no sound, no movement.

Even the robots and their missiles were frozen in space.

The hedgehog had slowed to a jog by now, panting heavily. "Phew," he huffed. "That still takes a lot out of me!" Elise merely stared in awe at the frozen world and the Emerald that caused it, which she noticed was glowing brighter than before. "Can't keep it up for long—we need to get out of here." Feeling a little lightheaded, he scanned for an escape as he ran. If he didn't find one soon, he'd lose his hold and the robots would easily overtake them.

As they neared some old ruins, the Emerald glowed even brighter and seemed to be tugging him to the left. Acting on instinct, the hedgehog followed its guidance and turned toward a rocky outcropping. The light of the Emerald revealed a cave entrance shrouded in vines and foliage.

Smiling with relief, he set the princess down in front of it and pulled back the hanging vines. "This'll have to do. Hurry." She obediently ducked inside, and he followed right on her heels. Seeing by the Emerald's light, they continued down the tunnel until the entrance was no longer visible. Then the glow faded and the hedgehog collapsed against the stone wall.

Elise gasped and quickly steadied him as the sounds of the night returned to their ears. "Are you all right?"

He smiled weakly, leaning on her for support. "Yeah, I'm just ready for a nap right about now." He laughed tiredly. "Man, what a workout!"

His smile quickly faded as the sound of jet engines drifted down the tunnel. They looked back the way they had come with bated breath, waiting as the sound grew louder. Elise quivered fearfully, but dared not move or make a sound until, finally, the engines passed and faded back into the night.

Sighing in relief, the blue hedgehog straightened and started slowly down the tunnel again. "I think we're safe for now, but we should probably go deeper in for the night." The princess followed suit, glancing back over her shoulder nervously.

Soon they could see light ahead, and the sound of voices singing drifted their way. Elise thought they sounded like children, but they sang in a strange language she had never heard before. It was soothing somehow, calming her despite their circumstances.

"Well, whaddya know?" the hedgehog laughed as they reached an opening into what resembled a small haven. Surrounded on all sides by rock, it consisted of an open grassy area flecked by palm trees and ruins, with a small waterfall feeding into a pond on the right side. Most notable, however, were its small inhabitants. Abruptly halting their song, a swarm of chubby creatures ran up to the pair. "Never guessed there'd be a Chao Garden out here."

"Chao?" Elise breathed. "Children of Chaos?"

The hedgehog shrugged. "I guess you could call them that." He looked down at the little ones jumping at his feet. "I think they want this," he stated, indicating the Emerald in his hand. He looked to Elise questioningly.

The princess nodded her assent. "I suppose it rightfully belongs to them, anyway."

"I don't know," he responded as he handed the gem to one of the Chao. It squealed with delight and led its companions off to the center of the garden. "I'd say the Emeralds belong to anyone who'd use their power for good." He grinned at the princess. "And just in case you weren't sure, that does not include Eggman."

Mention of that name brought reality crashing back down on her. Adrenaline rush subsiding, she suddenly felt ill and weak. Her legs gave out under her, and she sank to her knees.

Instantly, her guardian was crouching next to her. He placed a supportive hand on her shoulder, concern evident on his face. "Hey, you okay?"

Shivering violently, she slowly shook her head. "What just happened?" she asked, sounding near hysterics. "He killed them. They died right in front of me. They were good men…" Tears began to slip down her face. "Why would anyone do such a thing?"

"Eggman's a maniac bent on world domination. And I guess he means business now…" the hedgehog said quietly. Then he wrapped one arm around her shoulders comfortingly. "But listen, you're safe now. I'm not gonna let anything happen to you."

Elise continued to tremble and sob, her head filled with terrifying images of metal monsters and dead bodies. She felt herself sink beneath this nightmare, until a lifeline came in the form of a song. It was the same child-like song she had heard before. Blinking away tears, she looked up and saw the Chao seated in a circle in the middle of the garden. The Chaos Emerald hovered at the center, spinning and pulsating in rhythm with their singing.

As though enchanted by the sight and sound, gradually her tremors and sobs subsided. "You see?" She looked at the blue hedgehog, who smiled reassuringly back at her. "Everything's gonna be all right."

She stared in wonder at this hedgehog, whose confidence inspired a genuine sense of security. "Who are you?"

He half-pretended to be shocked. "You mean you haven't heard of me?" Then he grinned broadly, winking at her. "I'm the world-renowned Sonic the Hedgehog!"

A small smile crept across the princess' face. "I'm afraid I don't hear much about the world outside Soleanna."

"That's okay." Sonic shrugged nonchalantly. "I'll forgive you."

She giggled at his play-acting. "I am Elise, Princess of Soleanna."

"Pleased to meet you," he replied, backing away and shaking her hand. "Now how about we get out of this drafty doorway?"

She nodded and allowed him to help her to her feet. They walked over to a large rock closer to the center of the garden, where they sat down to watch the Chao. They sat in silence for a short while, engrossed in the display before them.

"Thank you," Elise spoke suddenly. "For saving me."

Sonic shrugged. "Well, somebody had to. I'm just glad I was in the neighborhood."

The princess smiled back at him. "Me too."

The hedgehog's face reddened slightly. "So," he started, hoping to change the subject. "Why was Eggman after you, anyway?"

Elise looked away. "I… don't know. I guess he was just after the Chaos Emerald."

Sonic didn't completely believe her, but decided not to press it any further. "Guess so."

There was an awkward silence, broken when the girl asked her own question. "What about you? What brings you to Soleanna?"

"Just passing through," he responded easily. "I run a lot and this happens to be where my feet led me." He laughed. "Funny how things work out sometimes, huh?"

She gazed at him, puzzling over what manner of creature this was. "It certainly is." Her gaze turned to the stars, and she wondered if this hedgehog really was an angel sent by the gods. Then something struck her as she looked at the sky. "Are you sure we're safe here? What if one of those machines flies overhead and sees us?"

"Don't worry," Sonic assured her. "Chao Gardens have a funny way of keeping things hidden. They won't find us." He slid down the side of the rock to sit on the ground, leaning back with his arms folded behind his head. "They'll probably be gone by morning. For now, just try to get some rest."

Elise looked around, soon deciding that she would have to sleep on the grass for lack of better accommodations. Slipping to the ground, she lay down on her side with her back against the rock. It was uncomfortable, especially compared to the luxurious bed she was used to. But the music and pulsating glow of the Emerald eventually lulled her to sleep.

Sonic remained awake, continuing to watch the Chao. But he was really lost in his own thoughts. Even he had to admit he was unsettled by Eggman's actions. He'd never seen the Doctor so ruthless in his pursuits before. It made him angry, worried, and even… sad.

You've changed, Eggman.

But why?

A quiet whimper to his right snapped him back to reality. He looked down at Elise, whose head was resting about a foot away from him. Her face was contorted into a frightened expression, and it didn't take much for him to guess what she was dreaming about. He was about to extend a hand to wake her when a purple Chao with long wings waddled up to her. It snuggled up against the princess, and gradually her face relaxed.

Sonic chuckled quietly. "You guys are pretty amazing sometimes." It was then he noticed that the rest of the Chao had broken from their circle, many of them heading toward their visitors. Several white Chao and a few multi-colored ones headed straight for the blue hedgehog. He was used to this—Hero Chao always seemed to be drawn to him. "Hey, careful! That tickles!" he laughed as they started curling up next to him.

He looked down at Elise to see if she was suffering the same fate. She was still sleeping soundly, despite the number of Chao that were cuddling against her. Then he noticed something odd.

Most of them were Dark Chao.

He furrowed his brow, wondering why they'd be attracted to her. Usually they preferred people like Shadow, Rouge, or Espio. Admittedly he'd only just met her, but she just didn't strike him as the "dark" type.

Maybe it's just a weird Chao thing…

The last Chao to approach them was a rare Light Chao. It carried the green Emerald and settled itself right between Sonic and Elise. The hedgehog smiled and closed his eyes.

Everything will work out in the end, just like it always does.

- - - - - -

Elise woke to the sound of many small voices shouting happily. Sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes with a gloved hand, she turned in the direction of the voices. Peering around the rock, she saw most of the Chao jumping excitedly at Sonic's feet. Sonic himself was vigorously shaking a tree near the pond, trying to dislodge the fruit it held.

One fruit fell and was quickly snatched up by a hungry Chao. The others' cries grew in intensity. Sonic placed his hands on his hips and tapped his foot, glaring up at the tree. "This is taking way too long." Backing up a few steps, he leapt and curled into a spin, striking the trunk near the top of the tree. Yellow fruits rained down all around, much to the glee of every Chao gathered there. The hedgehog dusted his hands off smugly. "Much better."

It was at this opportune moment that a stray fruit fell from the tree and landed squarely on his head.

"Oww!" Sonic yelped, rubbing the sore spot. A laugh to his right drew his attention. He saw Elise with a hand over her mouth in a vain attempt to hide her mirth. He folded his arms and looked away in mock indignation, though he was inwardly relieved to see her in higher spirits. "Laugh it up, Princess!"

"Sorry," she apologized, though she couldn't help giggling again. "Oh! Thank you."

Sonic looked back at her to see the purple, winged Chao handing her a fruit. Turning fully, he glared at it. "Oh sure, give her one!" He scanned the now barren ground around the tree. "Thanks for saving me one, guys!" he yelled to the garden at large. However, they weren't all gone. The hedgehog picked up the bruised fruit, glaring at the blemish that was not unlike the one forming on his head. "Well I guess I'll have retribution at least."

Elise chuckled again as Sonic huffily strode over and sat down to her left. "Looks like you've been busy."

The hedgehog snorted. "I was originally trying to get us breakfast. Guess these guys had a different idea."

The princess smiled wryly. "And not an altogether bad one, I'd say."

"Sure, side with the munchkins." He took a vicious bite out of the bruised fruit. Swallowing after a moment, his mouth twisted into a satisfied smile. "Ah, it's true what they say—vengeance is sweet."

It was an awful pun, but it nevertheless elicited a laugh from Elise. She, too, took a bite (albeit a much smaller one) out of her fruit and smiled at its sweetness. "Mmm, this is delicious!"

"Yup," Sonic agreed, swallowing another bite. "And they only grow in Chao Gardens. Makes 'em a rare treat."

"Then I'll make sure to relish the moment," the princess replied with a grin. They continued their breakfast in relative silence, both absorbed in the tasty yellow fruit. Sonic finished first, standing and patting his trim belly.

"Ah, that hit the spot. Now I'm ready to face a new day!" He squatted and began doing some leg stretches. "I'm gonna go scout around and make sure the coast is clear," he said over his shoulder. "Then I'll take you back to the city, okay?" Elise nodded then winced at the muted cracking sound made as the hedgehog straightened. "Ooh," he cooed with a shudder. "That felt good."

Elise giggled again, shaking her head at his antics. She was amazed at how infectious his happy-go-lucky disposition was. His carefree attitude seemed to effortlessly drive her worries away, like a wordless assurance that all was right with the world.

"Right then." Sonic turned to leave as he finished his stretches. "Be back in a flash."

"Be careful."

The hedgehog looked down at her, noticing immediately the genuine concern on her face. He grinned and winked confidently. "Don't worry about me. I can handle anything ol' Eggy can dish out." And with that he dashed out of the garden in a gust of wind.

The princess sighed, unable to stop a slight feeling of anxiety from creeping up on her in his absence. Hoping to shake this feeling, she stood and walked over to the pond. Kneeling at its edge, she removed her long gloves and gazed into the water's surface. Upon seeing her reflection, her face flushed. Her hair was an absolute mess, and her face bore a few smudges of dirt and soot.

Mortified, she quickly dipped her hands into the water and began scrubbing at her face as best she could. Then she went to work on de-frizzing her hair, mind churning over what Sonic must have thought of her in her current state. Satisfied that she at least looked presentable now, Elise turned her attention to her dress. She sighed at the grass stains that marred the white silk and attempted to brush them off. Finally she gave up, realizing that there was no helping it.

She was slipping on her gloves just as Sonic burst back into the garden. "Not a 'bot in sight," he reported triumphantly. "Looks like we're good to go."

"Wonderful," Elise replied, standing and brushing herself off once more. "Though I must admit I'm reluctant to leave these little ones." She indicated the Chao scattered throughout the garden.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. But we can always come back and visit."

"True." She met him at the entrance to the garden. "I'm ready when you are."

A small cry called their attention to the Light Chao waddling toward them. It arrived at their feet and held the green Emerald up to them. Sonic looked to Elise and noticed a shadow of something resembling apprehension cross her face. Just as quickly, however, it was replaced with a smile as she kneeled down before the Chao. "No, you can keep it. I think it will be safer here, anyway."

The Chao retracted the Emerald and gazed at her with its solid green eyes. Sonic could have sworn there was a hint of sadness in its demeanor as it did so. "You sure that's okay?" he asked the princess.

She nodded, standing up again. "It's better this way," she answered vaguely. She turned toward the exit. "Shall we go?"

The hedgehog nodded, though he wasn't really reassured by her answer. They walked through the tunnel to the valley outside. The sun was still fairly low in the sky, just peeking over some of the mountains to the East. The light that filtered through served to give the ruins surrounding them an even more majestic appearance.

"Well, you ready for a ride?" Sonic asked, grinning at the princess.

She smiled nervously in return. "Can anyone ever truly be ready for that?"

The hedgehog laughed. "Maybe not. But ready or not, here we go!" And with that he swept her off her feet, rocketing off through the valley despite her startled cry.

- - - - - -

Of all the receptions he'd anticipated, this was not one of them.

Standing amidst a circle of angry spears pointed straight at him, the hedgehog's face was a mixture of annoyance and exasperation.

Elise on the other hand, was clearly outraged. She whirled on a man in a black uniform, standing apart from the other guards. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Do not worry, your highness," the well-built man assured her. "I will personally make sure that this criminal is imprisoned immediately."

"What?" she said incredulously. "For what crime?"

The captain looked at her as though it should have been the most obvious thing in the world. "Kidnapping, of course."

Sonic laughed out loud at the accusation, while Elise stared at the man in disbelief. "Kidnapping? This hedgehog saved me from the madman that attacked our city!"

He did a double-take. "Wh—what?"

Scowling, she whirled to the armed guards surrounding her rescuer. "Release him at once! That's an order!"

Regaining his tongue, the captain shouted to his men. "Do as she says!"

Immediately the weapons were lowered. Sonic rolled his eyes as he strolled over to Elise. "Thank you."

The princess turned back to the captain. "Sonic is to be treated as an honored guest while he is here," she sternly instructed him. "Is that understood?"

He bowed apologetically, face flushed. "Yes, Princess. Please forgive me."

Sonic casually patted the man on the shoulder, grinning amiably at him. "It's all right. No hard feelings."

"Elise! Oh, thank the gods you're safe!"

The hedgehog and princess turned to see a short, elderly woman running toward them. She was clad in a long-sleeved, brown dress with a white apron tied around her waist. Her gray hair was tied in a neat bun on the back of her head. "Isabel!" Elise cried in return, embracing the woman.

The portly woman squeezed her tightly, tears slipping from the corners of her eyes. "I was so worried! We feared the worst when you disappeared in the attack…"

Elise pulled back and smiled warmly down at the matronly woman. "There's no need to worry now. I'm fine." She turned to Sonic, who had been watching the happy reunion with a warm sense of accomplishment. "Let me introduce you to Sonic the Hedgehog. He's the one who saved me from that Dr. Eggman."

Sonic extended a hand. "Pleased to meet--"

He was cut off when the woman enthusiastically took him by the shoulders. "Oh, bless you!" She kissed him on one cheek, then the other. "Bless you!" He stood mutely as she stepped back, caught off guard by the gesture.

The princess giggled at his expression. "Sonic, this is my nursemaid, Isabel."

"Uh, hi," he greeted with a nervous smile.

"Forgive me," the elder woman apologized, wiping a stray tear from her eye. "You just don't know how grateful I am to have our Elise home safely."

"As am I," Elise concurred, smiling at the hedgehog. "That is why Sonic will be my personal guest for as long as he's in Soleanna. You will stay, won't you?"

"Sure," he replied after considering it for a moment. "I'm overdue for a little R 'n R." That was only half true, however, since he rarely ever indulged in the 'hero treatment'. He very much doubted that Eggman would give up so easily and felt it prudent to stick close to the princess for a while longer.

"Wonderful!" Elise exclaimed. "Isabel, will you see to it that arrangements are made for Sonic's stay?"

"Certainly," the woman replied, taking the girl's arm. "But first I am going to see to it that you are taken care of. You look dreadful!"

She blushed embarrassedly as her nanny dragged her toward the Venetian-styled palace. "Nana…" she complained.

"No 'Nana'ing me today, young lady! I'm cleaning you up personally, and that's that!"

The princess looked over her shoulder at Sonic, issuing a silent plea to rescue her from the woman's 'tender mercies'. He merely shrugged apologetically, an amused glint in his eyes. The captain of the guard stepped up next to him and indicated that they should follow the two women. The hedgehog complied, matching the taller man's stride.

"My deepest apologies for the misunderstanding, Mr. Hedgehog…" he said, head inclined toward his well-polished boots.

Sonic waved a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. Wouldn't be the first time it's happened to me," he said, thinking back on the G.U.N. incident. "And please, just call me Sonic."

The dark-haired man smiled beneath his bushy moustache and bowed his head slightly in Sonic's direction. "Very well, Sonic. I am Amadeo, captain of the Royal Guard of Soleanna."

The hedgehog whirled so he was walking backwards and shook Amadeo's gauntlet-covered hand. He was a somewhat aged man, black hair showing the first traces of gray. However, his bright blue eyes held a warmth and energy that seemed to defy his age and occupation. Barely breaking his stride, Sonic turned forward again.

They had already arrived at the stone steps leading up to the palace entrance, whose large wooden doors were open and waiting for them. As they passed through the archway, Sonic let out an impressed whistle that echoed off the domed ceiling. The interior design was even more intricate than the exterior. Almost every visible foot of stone wall was covered in relief sculpture or other carved designs. The dome itself had stained-glass panels embedded between the arcing stone supports, casting a kaleidoscope of colors onto the marble floor.

Perhaps most prominent, however, was the large tapestry that hung on the wall opposite the door. The lower portion depicted a fairy tale styled kingdom surrounded by mountains and ocean that Sonic recognized as the same that bordered Soleanna. Its focal point was a golden bird situated above the central castle. Its wings were outstretched as though embracing the sun above its head. Sonic glanced at Amadeo, recalling that the same bird emblem was embroidered on his uniform.

"Now come, my dear," Isabel said, ushering Elise toward a stairwell on the right side of the entry hall. "Let's not waste any more time."

"But… what about Sonic?" she protested, looking over her shoulder at the hedgehog hopefully.

"I will see to it that Sonic is entertained while you take care of the princess," Amadeo assured Isabel, an amused smile twitching at his lips. Elise shot him with a look of utter betrayal.

"Then that's settled." Isabel smirked triumphantly. "Now off you go!" The pair of women continued up the stairs, Elise's shoulders slumped in resignation, and soon both were out of sight.

"Ouch, that was harsh," Sonic commented with a laugh.

The older man chuckled. "Yes, well I can't let all that power go to her head, now can I?" Sonic grinned, realizing that this was probably Amadeo's retribution for the scolding he'd received. Then the man's demeanor sobered. "At any rate, I was wondering if I might have a word with you?"

Sonic cocked an eyebrow. "Sure."

"Good. But let's go somewhere a bit more comfortable."

Amadeo led him through the palace, occasionally pointing out a room or piece of décor they passed and explaining something or other about it. It was apparent that he had other things on his mind, however, as his descriptions were half-hearted at best. They eventually arrived at a large room that must have served as a library. It spanned two floors with shelves and shelves of books, scrolls, and parchments. Small tables with finely upholstered chairs were scattered throughout the center of the bottom floor and along the tall windows that made up the far wall on both floors.

"Don't tell me you're gonna give me a reading assignment," Sonic joked as Amadeo closed the double doors behind them.

He raised an eyebrow and smirked at the hedgehog. "Did you want one?"

Sonic raised his hands defensively. "No, no. Not at all."

The man chuckled again. "Let's have a seat, shall we?" He walked over to one of the tables set against the window and sat down, Sonic following suit. The window overlooked a huge garden behind the palace, making it a peaceful and relaxing spot to read or simply think.

"So…" Sonic looked across the table expectantly. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"Yes, though unfortunately my reasons are not purely social. First off, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude for saving Princess Elise." The man sighed. "I consider it a personal failure that neither I nor my men could do so ourselves."

"Hey, don't beat yourself up over it," the hedgehog said encouragingly. "Eggman's no small foe. Even the United Federation's military can't stand up to him all the time."

Amadeo nodded, though if anything he seemed more concerned. "That's why I want to talk to you. Our small kingdom has isolated itself from the rest of the world for ages, and we've had uninterrupted peace for the past ten years. We've never had to deal with anything even resembling terrorism, so this Eggman caught us completely off guard. I was hoping you could tell me everything you know about him so that we can be prepared if he returns."

"Not if. When." Sonic looked at him seriously. "I'll tell you right now that when Eggman wants something, he's not gonna give up until he gets it or gets thrashed trying. Apparently you guys have something that he wants, so I guarantee he'll be back."

The man folded his hands on the table and stared down at them. "Then Elise is still in danger."

"Yeah, I'd say so," the hedgehog spoke quietly.

"Then what do we do?" he looked at the hedgehog intently. "How do we defend ourselves against him?"

"Well if the best weapons you have are spears and swords, then honestly you don't have a snowball's chance," he replied frankly. "Eggman has the most technologically advanced army on the planet. The only organization that poses any real threat to him is G.U.N., and even that's a stretch sometimes. If you want any chance of defending yourselves, you're gonna have to break out of your isolation and get some outside help."

"We can't do that."

Sonic cocked an eyebrow questioningly. "Why not?"

"It's… complicated," he replied with a sigh. At Sonic's skeptical look, he continued. "Tell me, before you came here, had you ever heard of Soleanna?"

The hedgehog thought for a moment. "Now that you mention it, no."

Amadeo nodded knowingly. "There's a reason for that. Our existence has been kept secret from all but the leadership of our neighboring countries, the United Federation included. They understand and have agreed to our desire for secrecy, keeping all knowledge of us restricted to only the higher-ups in their government and military. If we were to ask for military assistance, they would have to reveal us to their people."

"But why all the secrecy? I don't get it."

"It is… a long story," Amadeo responded evasively.

Sonic frowned until realization dawned on him. "It has to do with the thing Eggman's after, doesn't it?" He guessed from the way Amadeo shifted uneasily that he was right. "You've been trying to protect some weapon or something by hiding yourselves from the rest of the world. But Eggman found out about it and has come looking for it. Am I right?"

The man seemed to debate whether or not he should admit the truth, but finally he caved in with a sigh. "Yes. And the last thing we need is more power-hungry fools coming after it if our existence is made public."

"Any other 'power-hungry fool' that would want it pales in comparison to the kind of danger Eggman poses," Sonic argued. "How many people died at the hands of just a few robots? How many more do you think will die when he brings a whole army of robots here?"

Amadeo shook his head and spoke quietly. "There's more at stake here than just our kingdom."

Sonic furrowed his brow. "What exactly is it that Eggman's after?"

"I can't say."

He shook his head in disbelief. "Don't you get it? The most twisted maniac on the planet already knows whatever secret it is you're hiding. Keeping up this secrecy is only going to hurt you now!"

He sighed sadly. "You don't understand."

Sonic laughed sardonically. "And I won't understand if you won't tell me anything. How do you expect me to help you if I don't know what's really going on here?"

"All you need to know is that Elise must be kept safe at all costs," he replied with a tone of finality.

The hedgehog sighed resignedly. "Look, I'll do what I can to help you guys out. But even I can't be everywhere at once."

A creaking sound caused them both to turn their heads to the opening doors. Elise's head poked through, her face lighting up when she saw them. "I thought I might find you in here," she called to them, opening the doors fully.

Amadeo stood as she entered, and Sonic quickly followed suit. "Please don't mention any of this to her," he said lowly, a pleading look in his eyes. The blue hedgehog nodded slowly.

The princess swiftly crossed the room to them, now looking immaculately clean. She wore a long white dress with gold trim that fit much more loosely than her previous one. Gone were the long gloves and jewelry, and her high-heeled shoes were replaced with lower gold slippers. Sonic surmised that this must've been the royal equivalent of "casual wear" for use around the palace.

"That didn't take long," Sonic said with a grin, carefully masking any hint of the seriousness of their previous conversation.

"I may have… hastened Isabel a bit, though she wasn't very happy about it," Elise said carefully. She smiled at Amadeo wryly. "Plus I knew exactly where to look for you."

The man laughed. "What the princess means is that she thinks I'm a stuffy old bookworm," he explained to Sonic.

She smirked at him. "Well what do you expect me to think when you practically live out of this room?"

"You'd do well to make use of this room once in a while too, your highness," he countered, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

The princess smiled sourly. "Careful, Captain, or I'll have you arrested for slander."

"But then he'd have to arrest himself, wouldn't he?" Sonic threw in suddenly, a comically contemplative look on his face. One look at him and they both burst into laughter.

"Touché, young friend," Amadeo said to the hedgehog once he had regained his composure. "I suppose I'd best remove myself from temptation before it comes to that." He bowed and made to leave. "I'll leave you in the princess' capable hands."

"Seeya 'round." Sonic waved casually as the man made his way to the door.

"Hopefully not soon!" Elise called impishly.

Sonic laughed as the door clicked shut behind the man. "You two seem to get along well."

"Yes, we do," she said in a way that spoke volumes about the bond they shared. She looked out the window thoughtfully then turned back to the hedgehog with a smile. "Shall I show you the gardens?"

"Works for me," he replied with a shrug. He followed her out of the library and down a few corridors, eventually arriving at a balcony that opened into the large gardens.

"It may not be as nice as the Chao Garden," Elise began as they walked down the stone path that wound in between the trees and shrubs, "but it's still my favorite place on the palace grounds."

"It's cool," Sonic assured her, admiring some of the beautiful flowers.

She smiled. "When I was little I would sometimes hide out here among the bushes." Her smile spread into a grin. "Isabel would get so mad when she found me."

Sonic laughed. "I better watch out before you get me in trouble!"

This time it was Elise's turn to fold her arms indignantly. "You make it sound like I'm some sort of delinquent!"

"Well let's see… ditching your babysitter, aiding and abetting a kidnapper…" He ticked off each one on his fingers, grinning slyly. "Sounds pretty risqué to me."

"You're worse than Amadeo!" she exclaimed.

"Why, thank you," he replied with a mock-bow.

Elise shook her head in exasperation and sat on the edge of the fountain they had come to. Sonic however, chose to lay down on it with legs crossed and arms folded behind his head.

"Ah, I could do with a little sunbathing," he said, closing his eyes and smiling.

She sighed with an amused smile on her face. "Are you always like this?"

He opened one eye and peered up at her. "Yup, pretty much."

She laughed, but inwardly felt a little envious. Here was someone without a care in the world, shirking off worries as though they were little more than falling leaves. In many ways it was a painful reminder of the type of life she would never have.

Sonic, noticing how she suddenly fell silent, opened both eyes and gazed up at her. There was a forlorn look on her face, and he was startled to see how much older she looked than just a moment ago. He was reminded of Blaze, a cat from another world that had lived as though she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders—a notion which, he mused, wasn't entirely untrue. However, she was convinced that it was a burden she had to bear alone. Fortunately, he'd managed to change her ways, with a little help from a certain young rabbit. Gears already whirring in his head, he decided that if he did it once, he could do it again.

"So," he broke the silence in a conversational tone. "Isabel and Amadeo… you seem to be pretty close to them. They family?"

Elise looked down at him, startled out of her reverie. "Well… yes and no," she answered with a small smile. She looked out at the garden sadly. Sonic sat up slowly, sensing that things would only go downhill from here. "My parents died ten years ago in an… accident."

The hedgehog's ears drooped sympathetically. He had figured as much when there was no sign of them at her homecoming. "I'm sorry."

She nodded appreciatively before continuing. "Isabel pretty much raised me from that point on. Amadeo was a close friend of my father's and has been like a godfather to me. I guess he took it upon himself to look out for me ever since. That's why he's so protective."

"Too protective?"

Her eyes darted to him. The question was straight-forward, with no undertones of accusation. It nevertheless put her on guard. "No, not at all," she assured him quickly. "His duty as captain of the Royal Guard is to ensure the safety of the royal family. Seeing as how I'm the last of our bloodline…" She trailed off with a hint of sadness.

"Then that makes it all the more important to protect you," Sonic finished for her. "I get it." He still suspected that there was more to it than that, but he didn't want to back her into a corner by further questioning. "So does that mean that you run everything around here?"

Elise shook her head, visibly relaxing at the change in subject. "I won't be old enough to officially take the throne for a few years yet. Currently our kingdom is led by a council that usually acts as a panel of advisors to the king or queen."

Sonic grinned devilishly. "So would that make you just a pretty face for the cameras?"

The princess looked positively scandalized. "You scoundrel!" she accused, reaching down and playfully flinging some water at him.

The hedgehog laughed, lowering his own hand into the water. "So you wanna play that way, huh?"

An all-out water fight erupted, getting them both wet from head to toe in a matter of seconds. Neither seemed to mind though—they were both having far too much fun to notice when they were completely drenched. But their game was abruptly halted by the sound of a mortified shriek nearby. Looking up they saw Isabel standing a short distance away, mouth agape as she stared in disbelief at Elise.

"Uh-oh," Sonic murmured with a nervous smile.

Elise paled as Isabel approached her, mortification quickly turning to reproach. "Princess Elise! Just what on Earth do you think you're doing?"

She lowered her head shamefacedly. "We were just--"

"That is no way for a lady to behave!" the older woman interrupted. "Oh, just look at your dress!" Indeed, the whole front side of her dress was soaked through, Elise realized with a blush. Sonic stifled a laugh at her sodden appearance, only to jump in alarm when Isabel suddenly turned on him. "And don't think you'll get off so easily, young man!" He gulped at the fierce look she fixed on him. "We're preparing a special feast in your honor, and guest or not, you'll not show up looking like a drowned rat!"

"Whoa, wait, there's no need for all that…" he said quickly, raising his hands placatingly.

"Don't be silly!" she retorted harshly. "We owe you a great debt of thanks, and I'll not have anyone thinking the people of Soleanna are ingrates! Now come, both of you." She grabbed them both by the arms and began to drag them back to the palace. Sonic made to protest but was immediately silenced by a piercing glare from Isabel. Elise, however, knew better than to argue when her nursemaid got this way.

"Told you you'd get me in trouble," Sonic whispered behind Isabel's back. Elise responded by sticking her tongue out at him. The two bore an uncanny resemblance to a pair of scolded children as they trudged along behind the older woman.

- - - - - -

No sooner had the door to the dining hall closed behind him than the blue hedgehog was tugging at the bowtie he had been "coaxed" into wearing. He was immensely grateful that their ample supply of clothing did not include anything else fit for a hedgehog. All the grooming and primping he had to go through was bad enough as it was.

"Need some help?"

He looked up from his futile attempt to remove the tie and smiled embarrassedly at Elise, who was now donning a short dress that was nearly identical to the one she had worn the day before. "Please."

The princess smiled in amusement and untied it for him, removing it with appreciable speed and ease. "I take it you're not big on formal events?"

"No way," he responded, rubbing his neck. "Remind me not to rescue any more princesses any time soon."

She laughed. "Not even for blueberry pie?" she queried, recalling how quickly that particular dessert had disappeared.

"Mmm," he hummed thoughtfully, patting his slightly bulging stomach. "Ya got me there."

"Well I'm glad you enjoyed the meal, anyway," she said with a grin.

"Ohh," he groaned. "I don't think I've ever seen so much food in my life! I won't be able to eat for a week!"

"Good," she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "Because if you ate like that every day we'd have a famine on our hands."

"Ha ha," he responded dryly.

The door to the dining hall opened again behind them, Isabel emerging from it. "Ah, there you are. I think it's about time I sent you both off to bed!"

Sonic looked out a nearby window and was startled to see that it was already dark. I guess that banquet really did last forever, he mused.

"Now off you go dear," Isabel urged, shooing Elise away. "I'll show Mr. Hedgehog to his room."

"I'm going, I'm going!" she insisted as she turned to leave. "Good night, Sonic!"


The princess made her way through the palace and up to the third floor where her room resided. Nodding absently at the guards that stood outside her door, she entered the spacious bedroom and sighed tiredly. She took off her high-heeled shoes and snuggled her feet into a pair of comfortable slippers positioned near the door. Following her usual bedtime routine, she changed into a long nightgown, removed her jewelry, and brushed her hair.

Just as she was setting the brush down, she felt a cool breeze from the open balcony doors. Wrapping her dressing robe more tightly around her, she walked over to shut it but paused at the view before her. Instead she stepped out onto the balcony and gazed at the Sun Monument visible at the center of the city. Or rather, what was left of it. One of the three torches had collapsed along with the metal arches that encircled the central torch. Many of the surrounding buildings also bore some evidence of the explosions that shook the whole area. She hugged herself tightly, feeling an uncomfortable chill as memories stirred to life again.

A knock at her door distracted her for a moment. "Come in." She looked over her shoulder to see Amadeo enter and gestured for him to join her on the balcony. He did so, standing next to her with his hand clasped behind his back.

"I've stationed extra guards around the palace as well as on this floor," he informed her. She nodded silently, gazing across the channel to the monument again. After a few moments of silence, he spoke to her more softly. "Elise, are you all right?"

She inhaled deeply and replied without looking at him. "How many, Amadeo?" He hesitated, knowing exactly what she meant but not wanting to burden her with the answer. She looked up at him with sad eyes and asked again. "How many?"

He lowered his head in an attempt to avoid her gaze. "Around twenty, not including the injured."

Elise nodded slowly, leaning forward on the stone railing and bowing her head. "How many more must die because of me?" she whispered.

The pain in her tone wrenched at his heart and he immediately wrapped a comforting arm around her trembling shoulders. "No, Elise! This wasn't your fault!"

She lifted tear-filled eyes up to him. "Isn't it? First mother and father and now this… how is it not my fault?"

He embraced her fully, allowing her to cry into his chest as he had done so many times before. "You had no control over what happened, Elise," he reassured her, stroking her red hair. "Not then and not now."

For a long while he just held her as she continued to sob quietly. The sound drifted up to the roof where a blue hedgehog sat, brow furrowed in concern over everything he'd just heard.

- - - - - -

Sonic laid back on the rooftop, gazing pensively up at the starry night sky. Elise's room had gone dark several hours ago, so he assumed she was sound asleep by now. He, on the other hand, could not find sleep so easily. Shortly after Isabel had left him in his room, he decided he'd feel more at ease staying where he could watch over the princess. It was with this thought in mind that he went roof-hopping until he found her balcony. He remained out of sight on the roof so that he could keep a lookout without disturbing her.

He hadn't intended to eavesdrop on her conversation with Amadeo—he felt a little guilty about it even now. But what was said worried him. The fact that she blamed herself didn't surprise him too much; if he was in her position he'd probably be feeling the same way. But there was something else, something deeper. Just what is she hiding?

Whatever it was, it had to be big if it warranted Eggman's attention. And if it was related to the death of Elise's parents, then it was clearly dangerous, too. If only I knew what it was, and more importantly, what Elise's connection to it was…

That was what worried him most. Eggman was after more than just the Chaos Emerald—of that much he was certain. No, he wanted her. But why? A sudden chill ran down his spine. And what would he do to her if he caught her?

In all his previous battles, one thing he could count on was that Eggman never resorted to outright cruelty to achieve his goals. But now… he wasn't so sure. An icy knot formed in his stomach at the thought that he might actually go so far as to torture Elise to get what he wanted.

No, he told himself. I won't let that happen. He clenched a fist, a fiery determination burning in his eyes. You may be playing by different rules, Eggman… but I'll still win in the end.

And then Fate chose to test his promise.

An explosion in the distance immediately sent him flying to his feet, and in a flash he was down on the balcony. To his relief he saw that Elise was all right, though the sound had awakened her. He turned back and fixed his gaze on the plume of smoke rising up from the far side of the city. He gritted his teeth.

A diversion.

"Sonic?" Elise sounded startled to see him as she stepped onto the balcony. "What's happening?"

He looked back at her, seeing her pale noticeably as she took in the scene before her. "It's Eggman," he growled, quills bristling. Dots of light were flying around the smoke, creating smaller explosions, and he was grateful that Elise's less sensitive ears probably couldn't pick up the faint screams. Every instinct told him to go, to run out there and destroy those robots. But he knew that doing so would be playing right into Eggman's hands, leaving Elise defenseless. He couldn't just stand by and let the destruction continue, and he couldn't abandon Elise to Eggman. He was torn.

"Please, stop them!" Sonic looked up at the princess. She was clearly frightened, but mixed in with that fear was a deep grief that tore at his heart. "You can save those people, I know you can." Her voice took on a desperate tone. "Please go!"

Staring up at her pleading face, he remembered the grief in her voice as she asked how many would have to die for her sake. He didn't want to make her go through that pain again or blame herself for any more deaths.

It was then that Amadeo, still in uniform, burst into her room and rushed out onto the balcony. "Elise, are you alright?" he questioned, grasping her by the shoulders.

"Yes, I'm fine," she replied and looked back at Sonic, as though reiterating that fact for him.

He breathed in deeply, knowing what he had to do. "Amadeo," he said, calling the other's attention. "Take Elise to the most secure place in the palace and stay there 'til I get back." He looked at Elise earnestly. "I'll be back soon."

She nodded and allowed Amadeo to quickly lead her inside. Sonic whirled and leapt off the balcony, taking off at top speed toward the site of attack. He forced himself not to look back, knowing that doing so might cause him to change his mind.

What took only a few minutes felt like an hour as he arrived at ground zero. Without slowing down, he launched himself at the first robot he saw. It shattered on impact, mechanical parts flying and disabling some nearby robots. He had barely landed when he leapt at another one, destroying it with just as much ferocity. The remaining robots made futile attempts to shoot at him, but he was simply moving too fast for their targeting sensors. He continued to tear through one after another with incredible speed until, a few minutes later, there was nothing but scrap metal remaining.

It was as he was finishing off the last machine that the sound of another explosion reached his ears, this time coming from the palace. He whirled and felt his heart freeze at the sight of the new plume of smoke drifting skyward.


He raced back, praying the whole way that he wasn't too late, that wherever Amadeo had taken Elise, it would stall Eggman just a little bit longer…

He practically flew through the front doorway of the palace, which had been blown open from the outside. Coughing from the smoke that filled the area, he looked around for Eggman's trail.

Then he heard the scream.

Her scream.

Now truly panicked, he ran in the direction of the sound, cursing himself for not being fast enough and Eggman for causing all this in the first place. He picked up the trail of destruction and followed it into the banquet hall. A gaping hole had been blown through the floor in the center of the room, opening into what must have been an underground level of the palace. Just as he approached it, a pair of the humanoid robots flew out and hovered above him.

Sonic leapt back out of their immediate range, spines raised as he readied himself for attack. Then the upgraded Egg Mobile he had seen before rose through the hole carrying Eggman himself and the princess, held captive by yet another robot.

"Elise!" Sonic cried, his own fears magnified by the terror apparent on her face.

"Sonic! Help me!" she shrieked desperately, tugging at the machine's immovable grip.

Eggman's arrogant laugh echoed through the remains of the hall. "I'm afraid you're too late this time, Sonic," he jeered. "But it was a valiant effort. The game is won…" He took Elise's chin in his hand, sneering triumphantly at her. "…and now I claim my prize."

Sonic's face twisted into a furious snarl. "Let her go, Eggman, or I swear I'll--"

"You'll what?" the mad scientist interrupted, looking down his nose at the bristling hedgehog. "Kill me? Please. We both know you're too noble for that."

His green eyes narrowed dangerously. "Watch me!" He jumped at the hovering machine, curling into a ball and aiming straight for the doctor. The robots hovering nearby were too slow to stop him as he spun toward their master, but they needn't have tried. Mere feet from his target, a translucent barrier appeared and deflected his attack. It sent him crashing back into the floor with a yelp of pain.

Mocking laughter filled the room again. "You're in over your head this time, hedgehog. Stay out of my way, if you know what's good for you."

Just as Sonic was getting to his feet, Eggman pressed a button on his machine that launched a missile up into the ceiling above. Still a little dazed, the hedgehog couldn't react fast enough to dodge all the debris that fell down around him. One particularly large hunk of wood hit his head and sent him back to the ground. As darkness overcame him, the last thing he remembered was Elise's terrified voice calling his name.

- - - - - -

"Sonic! Sonic!"

Gradually Sonic returned to the waking world, aided by the urgent shaking someone was giving him. He blinked wearily, trying to focus on the dark shape hovering over him. Slowly the image formed into the man he recognized as Amadeo, who looked like he had taken a beating as well. Sonic pushed himself upright, wincing at the throbbing pain it caused in his head.

"Sonic," he repeated, gripping the hedgehog by the shoulders. "Elise… where is she?"

He stared at the man's face and could see from the grief in his eyes that he already suspected the answer. The memory of her abduction quickly resurfaced, causing his fists to clench tightly again. "Eggman… he got her…"

Amadeo sank to a sitting position, his arms falling limply to his sides. "No…" he whispered despairingly. He bent forward and beat the ground with a fist. "No!"

"I'll bring her back." The man looked up to see Sonic standing fully, gazing down at him with green fire in his eyes. "You have my word."

The words were spoken with such intensity, such confidence, that he couldn't doubt the hedgehog would succeed. He nodded, a tiny glimmer of hope chasing away some of his fear.

Sonic turned and dashed out of the palace, out of the city, and into the surrounding valley.

You think you've won, Eggman, but I'm not out of the game yet. If you wanna play hardball then I'll surely oblige.

He grinned as the first rays of sunlight illuminated the tell-tale trail of robots through the valley ruins.

"Let's do this!"

- - - - - -

And so begins a brand new adventure of…


- - - - - -


Yup, that's the end. What? You expected there to be more? Sorry. :P (dodges bullets)

Okay, okay. XP So like I said in the beginning, this was intended to just be a prologue to the game. Each chapter was supposed to be like an intro to the story for each playable character. The title actually has double-meaning in that sense, referring to both the Iblis Trigger and the motives that "trigger" each character's involvement in the story. That said, each chapter was supposed to have a similar format and (cough) similar length. . ; Clearly that wasn't quite the case with chapter 3. n.n; It started out in a similar style to the previous two… but then my inspiration kinda ran away with me. I felt that the formation of the friendship between Sonic and Elise was something that needed to be told to really get a better grasp of what's driving Sonic as he sets out on a new adventure. And, well, it turned out to be a lot more in-depth than I expected. o.o; And perhaps a bit mushy… . You can certainly infer a romance forming between Sonic and Elise, but I tried to keep it only implied so it can be interpreted either way. n.n; Plus if I tried to write real romance it'd probably turn out really lame, if this isn't already. XD

So basically, the intention is that this would be the end of the fic. You would have to play the game to get the rest of the story. ;) I do have some ideas for how it could continue, and I actually have an ending planned out in my head. But presently I am nowhere near prepared to continue this in full. Perhaps once more aspects of the game are revealed I'll get more inspiration. But for now, this story is finished.

Thanks to anyone who reads this, and thanks to everyone who's kept Sonic going for 15 years, creators and fans alike. This story is dedicated to you guys and of course that blue speed-demon, Sonic the Hedgehog! May he continue his Eggman-thrashing for another 15 years! ;)