Disclaimer: If I owned this game, it would probably have been finished in 2020.

Review Replies!

Asher Tye: Of course it is! Updates occurr according to the lunar calendar, that is, once every blue moon. :p But as long as people are interested and comment, this'll be finished, no worries. Can we expect an update on any of your Sonic stories by any chance, btw? ;)

Some Random Tosser: Hey there, glad you liked it! :D Your description of Shadow's personality made me smile. XD As for him referring to Sonic as 'Faker'...we-ell, I believe they might have cut down on it in the more recent games, but this fanfic is set a few years back when it happened more often. As for him being too 'wordy' in the recent chapter, I went over it again, maybe you like it better now. Never let it be said that I don't listen to readers – thanks for the review and hope you like the new chapter! :D

jakeroo123: Heh, yeah, they can be quite idiosynchratic and silly in their eating habits. Still, it's fun to play around with. :p As for the differing speeds of the characters, while they might make them equally fast in the games for gameplay purposes, in my headcanon it's firmly established that Sonic and Shadow are the fastest, followed by Tails and Amy(where Tails may just be faster because he can fly and doesn't have to deal with obstacles), and Knuckles in fifth place. Knuckles, of course, may very well have more endurance than any of them apart from possibly Shadow. If you're looking for more Sonic fics to keep you entertained, my profile is of course only a mouseclick away ;)

Phaenur: So it does! :D Heh, another Tails fan, huh? ;p Yeeeeah, by now it's getting hard in this story to give every character their screentime, it's so. crowded. In this fic. But eh, brought that on myself, of course. (If you want to read more Tails-centric stuff, I can of course recommend my 'Five Things That Never Happened', 'Tails of a Samurai' and 'Tales of Shadows', of course/shameless plug) Glad you think it's readable for non-players! As always, if you come across any awkward sentences, don't hesitate to point them out and I'll try to fix them, thanks for commenting!

Soulpieces: Thanks! Always happy to hear that!

YumeTakato: Glad you liked it, thanks for the review as always!

KatieMonz: Hah, I hope not! I'm actually writing a fairly big amount of the time, I just have too many fics going on at once to update all of them in a timely manner XD

Kogarashi: Ah, thanks for the clarification! Yeeeeah, Sonic can be a bit...rash. XD But glad you like Shadow's characterization. After he grew up among a bunch of scientists, I like to imagine him a bit more...refined? than Knuckles, and his words more carefully chosen. And of course I already had a lot of practice writing that grumpy hedgie, so it finally pays off. ;) Hope this chapter didn't take too long for you!

Lilysash97: Badass with manners. Yes. XD Hope that concept of writer'sblock didn't scare you too badly...? ;)

ANgela: three rings left! And yes, we're *almost* complete...;p

Meridian Prime: Thanks, I try :)

CerberAsta: As it should :D Yeah, action should hopefully resume next chapter, still working on it. Meanwhile, have this one, with some more silliness thrown in ;) Thanks for the comment, always looking forward

to them!

Petite-dreamer: Err, yes, that was Knuckles.^^° Fixed the chapter so it's a bit more clear now, oh dear. But glad you liked it! :D I figured that in between my near-interminable update breaks people would probably need a reminder what is even happening in the story, so glad the recap worked as intended. XD As always, thanks for the nice review, hope you like the new chapter, too!

Serena the Hedgehog: Yup, always wanted to explain that one. I think the Chaos idea works rather well! (and yes, at least Sonic is safe..)

GameSpazzer: Quick! Catch it! (Or try to use an item. Just don't throw stones, 'cause that hurts. XD) Heh, glad you like the Shadow characterization. I had a LOT of practice writing him right in my 'Life could have been so different'-fanfic, that helps. ;)

Elemental Hybrid-Monster: Oh boy, are they ever. :p

Sesshomarusama3: Thanks! Will do! :D

Eggman hater: Hah! Read on to find out...;)

Shoy: Thanks! That's kind of what I was going for, I never managed to finish the *really* old classic Sonic games, so I was really grateful for some of the novelizations I found of them :) Hope you like the new chapter!

Inujisan: Threatened him with grievous bodily harm, probably ;)

death mega sega: Fanart always majorly appreciated! :D Thanks for the review!

Novathehedgehog: So does Amy, probably. XD

IHJTMQ: There you go! Only took a...couple of months...?

Darks8728: Thanks, that's what I was going for :3

AngelofGrace96: Heh, to be honest, I would love to, but too many fanfics on my plate already, at least for now.^^° Glad to hear you like the 'darker' side of my writings, but as for the Werehog, I think my one-shot 'Days of the Wolf' and my co-op story 'Advent of Equinox' is all I can offer at the moment. If you also play Zelda, you might like my one-shot of 'Running with Wolves' :) As always, thanks for the lovely review!

Lord Xamweth Oudeis:Whelp, I miscounted! Chapter is fixed, now. Thanks for catching that!

EnderMagic979: Mostly practice and a lot of reading other people's fanfic and then generally wondering what makes stories work. Also, I like to remember fun ways of putting things and then using them in my fanfics, slightly tweaked. ;) Glad you like it! Some more updates coming soon, too :)

Guest: What else would he be?

Guest: Yupyup. You'd think that when I buy a Sonic game I'd want to play with Sonic characters, right?!

Clockwork: Hahah, glad you like it! Even if juggling so many characters is an actual nightmare for me. XD Well spotted with Shadow's skates though, I think someone will have to do something about that...:P

Aurawarrior13: Weeeelll, maaayyyybe. Depends on how soon I finish my actual other fics before I start anything new.^^°

EnerjakWho: Hah, wrong gender! But leaving reviews is a good start ;)

HaventLoggedIn: Totally Bait, well spotted. :P


Chapter 34: Into the Heat

Shadow the Hedgehog was annoyed. This was actually a rather common state of being for the black-furred Sapient (or rather, his middle gear in between smug and homicidal) but right now, the Ultimate Lifeform also felt that he had the proper justification for it. Because right now he was annoyed that he didn't have access to as much Chaos energy as he wanted, annoyed that he was stuck in a strange, foreign world where there was sand everywhere, annoyed because he was also stuck with Sonic, and lastly...

...annoyed that this thrice-damned coconut was proving so incredibly stubborn.

Shadow stared down at the brown thing that was supposed to be his breakfast, but was proving somewhat harder to consume than he had expected. While the blue hedgehog and his girlfriend-of-sorts had re-enacted their ridiculous ship scene, the fox kid had collected these nuts off the palm trees behind the dunes and told Shadow that he should be careful when he broke it open, so as not to spill the milk.

He just had conveniently forgotten to tell Shadow how to open the damn thing.

Of course, he could have gone over to the others and asked, but if you thought that was a viable solution, you probably hadn't known the black hedgehog for long. No. He had methods to solve this problem. He would make this coconut talk.

Shadow cleared his throat and shook his head as he briefly wondered where that thought had come from and whether his brain was perhaps more damaged from the whole Captain Jack ordeal than he had previously thought. He scowled. He would focus on the issue at hand.

Placing the coconut firmly in front of his crossed legs in the sand, he raised a hand, took a breath and began,

"CHAOS-!"

"Shadow, NO!"

"What? Why not?" the black hedgehog looked around irritably where Sonic had dashed to the top of the dune behind him just in time. "I still have enough Chaos energy to open a damn nut," he pointed out.

"That's kind of not the point, Shads," Sonic said in a lecturing tone as he slid down the sandy little hill, and started sauntering over to the black hedgehog,"It's like – opening a coconut with a Chaos Spear would be like performing brain surgery with a power drill – first very messy, and then nobody wants to eat the result." Nodding sagely, Sonic ignored the utter WTF-face Shadow was pulling at this particular simile, and instead scooped up the coconut with a smile.

"No, there's actually a much better technique to get at the inside of a coconut. It took me years to perfect it, but it's simply unmatched in both finesse and effectiveness."

Shadow looked at the blue hedgehog who had stolen his coconut somewhat resentfully.

"...fine. I'll bite. What kind of technique?"

"Easy," Sonic grinned – and then tossed the coconut right over the dune with deceptive precision, shouting, "Hey Knux! Look up!"

"Wha-argh!"

There was a very definite bonk from the other side which was very possibly the sound of one coconut hitting a (to be fair, probably a lot harder) echidna skull. This was followed by a

"What the hell!" from probably the same anteater.

"Break that thing for me in half, would ya?" Sonic shouted cheerfully, before then triumphantly grinning at Shadow. "See?"

The coconut did break eventually, and Shadow was very pleased to note it did so while bouncing off the blue hedgehog's head.

xxx

"Okay. Now what?" Shadow asked, as they were clearing away the remnants of their breakfast, while Sonic was still gingerly rubbing the new bump on his head. The blue hedgehog looked up at him.

"Well, if Knucklehead here doesn't decide to snap my neck before we get going-" he threw a glare at the echidna which the Guardian ignored - "then we're going to head back to the factory we came from, get inside, and then use the water blue Ring from Captain Behemoth to weaken the Ifrit golem inside so we can defeat it. Which will hopefully yield us another World Ring."

"Bringing our total up to five," Shadow noted. "But there's one thing that doesn't make sense to me."

"Yeah? What?"

Shadow crossed his arms."Why send us to collect the rings? This Erazor Djinn could likely get them himself. Why on Earth would you send your enemies to find objects of great power for you?"

"Uh."

Shadow looked at the collected troupe, who had all gradually stopped working as he spoke and were now looking at him. His gaze passed over each face whose epressions were now ranging from actual surprise to beginning confusion. The black hedgehog raised an eyeridge.

"You mean to tell me that none of you questioned that set-up, don't you."

"Erm...well..." Sonic tried, a bit floundering as usual when someone pointed out a flaw in one of his it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time-plans. The Ultimate Lifeform pinched the skin above his snout.

"Brilliant. I mean, I know the echidna is supposed to be gullible, but I'd at least have thought the fox kid would be smart enough to smell a trap there-"

"Now you listen-!"

"Relax, Knux!" Sonic stepped in between the black hedgehog and the echidna, gesturing at the latter in what he hoped was a calming manner. "Don't let him get to you, okay? And you," he said, turning around to Shadow and pointing to a palm tree grove a couple of metres away, "Are coming with me for a moment. No arguments."

For a moment, it seemed as if the black hedgehog would object on the pure basis of refusing to be ordered about, but then curiosity apparently got the better of him and he only muttered a 'fine' under his breath before he followed the blue hero away from the others. Once they had reached the relative privacy of the small clump of trees, Sonic had already whirled around.

"Okay, rule one. Don't insult my friends." He paused for a moment, before adding, "Specifically Knuckles, because that's my job."

Shadow snorted. "I'll stop saying what I think the minute you turn green, faker." But before Sonic could protest, he had already raised his hands. "But very well. For the peace of the group, I shall remain civil," he said, coating the last word with some sugary-sweet disdain. "But my argument still stands. Erazor's actions don't make sense. It's like the doctor ordering you to collect the Emeralds, which would be inane even for his standards."

For a moment Sonic didn't reply, merely returning Shadow's gaze in tense silence. Before the black hedgehog could ask what was the matter, though, his counterpart had already glanced over to see whether any of the others were listening. Since Knuckles still appeared to be (loudly) going on about hedgehogs and what he'd like to do to striped ones in particular, Sonic then merely sighed and gave Shadow a tight-lipped grimace.

„There is a prophecy that the life of the rings' collector has to be sacrificed in order to unlock their true power when you have all seven. That is why Erazor wants me to do it.." He looked to the side. „Amy doesn't know it yet, which is why I didn't want to talk about it in front of her."

Shadow cocked his head. "...I see. That is different from what I thought. From a different perspective, I figured that it simply had a certain charm to make your enemy do the legwork, actually." Shadow waved a hand a hand as Sonic blinked. "You know. Showing he controls you. Now giving you extra work by summoning that Ifrit, which would have been completely unnecessary for his plans for world domination – he could have burnt those pages by himself, after all."

Sonic glared at him: "Yeah, thanks. I'd appreciate it if you'd sound less impressed with my enemy's plans to destroy my life, thank you."

Shadow gave non-committal shrug. "I'm just saying it's...interesting. I don't think we've ever had an enemy quite so..." he waved a hand. "Well. Sadistic."

"You can say that again,"Sonic muttered, crossing his own arms and looking at the far-away smoke cloud at the horizon, indicating the location of the foundry they had to return to. He glanced back at Shadow, a bit wary. "So, yeah. We don't have a better plan yet than finding the World Rings first and figuring out how to defeat Erazor later. Only that Ifrit guy, he's..." Sonic paused. "He's pretty tough. So...good to have you with us." He favoured Shadow with a bit of a dry smile. "Even if you probably don't want to be here any more than Knucklehead, I know."

Shadow blinked for a moment. For the blue hedgehog to admit that his help was needed and welcomed...

"I'll live," the black hedgehog said eventually, eyeing the other a bit curiously, but Sonic didn't seem to give off a vibe other than his usual friendly self. Shadow took a breath. Well. This would most likely be the perfect time to breach that other topic on his mind, before everyone would find out anyway. He looked to the side, not quite able to meet Sonic's eyes.

"Even if I won't be much use to you without my skates."

The blue hedgehog blinked. "Huh?"

Shadow gestured down at his pirate boots, looking irritated now. "My skates, faker. I don't have them. Without them I can't run."

Sonic looked back at him, surprised. Shadow had gotten rid of most of his pirate gear except for the leather boots, the belt and the gold rings that for some reason encircled his wrists and ankles even in this incarnation. Now he noticed they looked oddly loose without the cuffs of his shoes and gloves beneath them. "Really? You ran just fine as Captain Jack Shadow." He cocked his head. "Well. I mean, utterly ridiculous, but fine."

The black hedgehog for a moment looked like he considered throwing his other pistol at the hero's head.

"Whatever I may have done during my tenure as a fictional character, I don't remember it. As it stands now, I won't be able to achieve even a tenth of my usual speed," Shadow replied, lips drawn tight with disdain. When Sonic still looked puzzled, he waved a hand.

"My DNA was partially derived from a being without legs. When I was growing up, I had trouble even keeping myself upright before my creator gave me the hover skates as an aid. Now my muscles and body are far too used to this way of moving for me to learn to run normally in a day."

"...oh. right..." Sonic scratched his head at this information, seemingly a bit puzzled what to make of it. Shadow could feel himself tense, wondering whether any moment now he would be ridiculed – he knew it was coming, it had been on his mind the entire time ever since he had awoken in this strange place without his things or memories, the simple knowledge that soon enough his flaws would become apparent, and he would make a fool of himself in front of the others, be seen once again for the weird alien creature he was-

"Well," Sonic finally interrupted Shadow's thoughts spiralling off and into paranoia territory, "Not too different from me then, huh?"

Now it was the black hedgehog's turn to blink. "What?"

Sonic gave an amiable shrug. "Well, let's just say you're not the only one in need of particular footwear, Stripes." The lips of the blue hedgehog twitched. "It's just that while you might do a facefault into the sand, I would likely burn my feet off through sheer friction heat without these." Sonic gave a little kick against a miniature sand dune at their feet, raising his sneakered foot for Shadow to glance at. And yeah, come to think of it, he hadn't ever seen Sonic without these, had he...?

"Hnh," Shadow replied non-committally, quickly trying to cover up his surprise. "Never judge someone until you've run a mile in their shoes, I suppose?"

Sonic poked his tongue out. "Hey, we're specialists, nothing wrong with needing specialist gear. Hey, Shahra!"

"Yes?" the genie appeared in a puff of smoke as soon as her Master had called her. "Is there anything you need?"

"Actually yes. Thanks again for restoring Shads' memories, but the dude needs his shoes, too."

"His shoes?" Shahra looked a bit perplexed.

"Yes." Shadow nodded. "They enable me to travel at speeds similar to your Master's."

Now the genie's face positively lit up. "Oooh, you own Seven League boots?"

Shadow felt this conversation had taken a distinct wrong turn somewhere. "Not...exactly..."

It took a while (and a bit of drawing in the sand, plus a sort of ice skating pantomime) to explain, but eventually, Shahra seemed to begin to understand.

"Oh yes, now I remember! I saw them in your memories!" the genie exclaimed, clapping into her hands. "They were given to you on your first nameday, after-"

"Yes," Shadow cut her off, before Sonic could start looking even more curious, "Those. I need them. Can you get them for me?"

"That is a wish I can fulfill, Captain Shadow," Shahra smiled, completely oblivious to her master's snickering and the black hedgehog's cringe at the address. "Just hold still..."

And then, before Shadow could even reply, there was already a white swirl of wind enveloping him, the genie softly murmuring words in an unfamiliar language under her breath as she moved her hands in a pattern in time with the vortex. The whole thing was over in seconds even though it seemed far longer to Shadow, but when the swirl died away and he looked down, the wonderfully familiar sight of white, black and red metal, rubber and synthetics greeted him and he couldn't help but give a sigh of relief.

"Hey, cool! Do they work alright?" Sonic's voice piped up, and Shadow merely smirked, relishing in the feel of calling up the Chaos, weak though it was, and briefly lifting himself off the ground, scorching the sand grains black.

"Yes, I dare say so."

"Awesome! Great work, Shahra," Sonic gave the genie a thumbs-up and turned toward Shadow with a wink. "So, now that that's sorted, you up for going against a fire spirit?"

The Ultimate Lifeform threw him a look. Really, it shouldn't be possible for someone to make you feel almost okay with being abducted into a book, brainwashed and having your gear temporarily taken away, but right now, the Ultimate Lifeform couldn't help but let the edge of his mouth twitch into something that almost resembled a wry smile.

"This morning I discovered I have rings pierced through my ear, blue hedgehog. I'm up for anything that involves massive amounts of damage right now."

xxx

It was about mid-afternoon, when Shadow was seriously beginning to regret that statement. They had spent most of the morning running, making their way inland toward the factory where the fire spirit was waiting for them. Neither Knuckles nor Tails nor Amy were as fast as Sonic or Shadow, of course, but they were still fast and experienced endurance runners, so they had reached their destination before half of the day was over. Once there, Sonic had grabbed Shadow to run up the wall, sneakers finding far easier purchase than hoverskates. They vaulted inside the entrance, Knuckles climbing up the wall and Tails flying Amy up after them. When they dropped down to the floor of the entrance hall, Shadow looked at the mess of destroyed traps, robots and machines inside.

"...I gather you already had fun in here."

Sonic flashed him a grin. "And we didn't even have Amy with us at the time. Let's go!"

Inside, they had dashed through what Shadow would have classified as a sort of nightmare in a steampunk universe, copper-brown colours rushing past them as they shot through corridors lined with corroded metal pipes and creaking iron Stege beneath their feet par for the course. It was hot inside, if possible even hotter than out in the desert, but the Ultimate Lifeform, able to function in both extreme heat and minus degrees, found that he didn't actually mind that much. He did prefer to be inside, surrounded by corridors, walls and ceilings, instead of out in the open that for his taste was still too vast and too empty.

His thought process was interrupted by their first obstacle, a pit that Tails had to fly them over in pairs, Amy (of course) grabbing a hold of Sonic and Shadow closing a hand around Knuckles' ankle, a familiar maneuver for all of them during their fight against Metal Sonic. Shadow briefly thought he could feel a short jab somewhere inside himself as he remembered that the last time he had flown in this formation it had been with Rouge and Omega, but then ignored it. As long as their abilities were the same, who his comrades were should not matter. This was only rational.

Right?

Next, he was already distracted again as they veered around a corner in the sandstone building, scorchmarks of explosions and broken metal golems littering the floor in places silent reminders that the others had been here before.

He could tell that from the blue hedgehog's movements too, little sidesteps here and there for apparently no reason at all, but which Shadow suspected were most likely due to previous experiences they had had when running through here. He knew that the blue hedgehog, like himself, had an excellent memory for the layouts of racing courses, which was an absolute necessity when running at super sonic speeds. So Shadow did his best to follow in his footsteps, except when even for a careful eye there really didn't seem to be a need for evasive action...

There was a loud and resounding thud! When the Ultimate Lifeform very firmly was attacked by a door.

"Ow! What the-!"

"Ouch. Sympathies," Sonic winced. He had skidded to halt and was now looking down at an absolutely bewildered Shadow sitting on the floor in front of the door-thing that had been pressed flat against a wall and was now angrily swinging back and forth, creaking aggressively.

"Happened to me too, you know? If you ask me, Erazor Djinn has gone so far round the bend he's coming back from the other side.." The blue hedgehog rocked back and forth on his feet, his tone jovial. Then cocked his head.

"Of course, I don't really mind seeing as you running into a door is still pretty funny."

Red eyes narrowed at him.

"...first one to reach this Erazor Djinn wins."

And Sonic lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Oh, You're on!"

(It was only a short while later that Shahra also made a wish, and it was that they had never, ever found the single other hedgehog that could possibly keep up with her insane master, and also similarly did not particularly seem to care about lava below, or stompers above, or death traps anywhere else).

Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, of course, had not been whisked away like the (now very unhappy) genie tethered to the ring on Sonic's finger, but instead left behind in a whirl of dust, watching two spiky backs accelerate away. They looked at each other for a second. Knuckles crossed his arms.

"...yeah, I vote we leave them to fight that sodding Ifrit alone."

"Uh-huh." Amy nodded. "It's probably character building and everything."

"Knuckles! Amy!" Tails protested. "They're gonna need our help!"

"Well, then maybe they shouldn't have run off without us," the echidna grunted, rubbing the heel of his palm against his forehead, "Chaos, I hope they run into a spikeball or something..."

"Hey!" Amy interrupted the impending rant, having suddenly brightened up again. "Actually, I just had an idea that may get us there ahead of them," the pink hedgehog winked, "Because up ahead I saw something they missed..."

xxx

"Oy! Stop shoving, ledgehog!" Sonic was grinning as he raced next to Shadow on the narrow metal catwalk, avoiding stompers, falling debris and bursting bubbles from molten metal all at once. They had been head-to-head for the past few minutes, neither ever really pulling ahead, until both of them were now speeding toward the last corner where they would turn into the huge hall with the basin, the giant melting kettle that was the lair of the Ifrit. Currently it was Sonic in the lead with just two feet, having dodged around Shadow with a maneuver that would have probably stopped his genie's heart if she had had a physical one, and if he could only keep up this lead for just a few more seconds -

"Hey guys!"

….which was just before Sonic's eyes widened almost comically when around that very corner, Tails, Knuckles and Amy were already waiting, leaning against a wall in a way that was clearly just showing off.

The hero of Mobius screeched to a halt in surprise, mouth opening to form the first question he could think of.

"What?! How did you-?"

And it was at this point, of course, that Shadow, coming around the corner, barrelled into the blue hedgehog at full tilt from behind. When the whole hedgehog pile had stopped rolling and giving exclamations of general pain and discomfort, Amy bent down to Sonic's eye level, smiling down at the groaning hero.

"There, there. Now, what does that teach you about running off without your girlfriend?"

"Amy, you're not my...oh, forget it," Sonic winced as he struggled to get to his feet again. "How'd you guys get here before us in the first place anyway?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Amy pointed at the round, hovering, stony contraption at the other end of the walkway they had come from. "Plotholes, duh!"

xxx

It had taken a few moments for the hedgehogs to collect themselves again, but when they had, the way the group collectively moved now, Sonic in the lead, flanked by both Shadow and Knuckles, Tails and Amy as the youngest of them as well as air support and long-range party members making up the outer edges of their V-formation, it was all too easy to forget that they had been nothing but a squabbling hogpile until a few minutes ago. Sonic glanced at their faces one last time, receiving serious, curt nods from both sides, which was all the confirmation he needed, before then shooting off through through the high, towering doorway behind which the lava basin awaited them.

"Sorry to keep you waiting!"

Below them, not much had changed. It was still a high, kettle-like chamber, illuminated like Dante's ninth circle of hell by a sea of molten metal as its floor. A circular contraption made of metal plates protruded from the glowing mass, possibly the remnants of some ancient stirring mechanism, now serving as a ring-shaped walkway just above the liquid level. Sonic landed on it lightly, seemingly not bothered by the severe heat radiating from the metal beneath him in the least. He rubbed a finger beneath his nose, giving a grin.

"Hey there. Sorry, didn't mean to leave you hanging earlier. You're not still mad at me, are you?"

The Ifrit's answer, predictably, was a furious roar as it erupted from its searing ocean. Red eyes glowed like furnace fires in its metal skull as it stared down at the blue hedgehog, who was now looking positively minuscule in front of the fire spirit encased in the metal golem's broken flesh. Its lower half seemed to have fallen off, the thing now only consisting of a torso with a blackened skull and two giant arms protruding, like the nighmarish body of a mechanized crawler undead. It had lifted itself from the sea of molten metal by grabbing onto the same walkway that Sonic was standing on, the span of its arms wide enough that it bridged the entire metal circle. Its hands were clamped onto both sides with its torso dangling in the middle just above the molten metal as it bore down onto the hero of Mobius stubbornly staring up at it. Sonic crossed his arms.

"Okay, guess I'll take that as a 'yes, definitely still mad'. You really need to learn to be more patient, you know?"

"For the Master Emerald's sake, will you get ON with it already?!"

A shout for a moment drowned out even the dull banging and thudding of the machinery in the background, leaving Sonic to wince briefly and then give a sheepish smile upwards. High overhead, on the ledge near the top of the kettle-like chamber where they had entered, the others were still waiting. Shahra had cautioned them that this was supposed to be Sonic's story first and foremost, and he was also the only one immune to the flames due to the fire arrow in his heart. And so, the four of them had remained, Tails and Amy kneeling at the very edge of the platform, hands clamped around its side in tension, Shadow crouching a little bit farther off, face as usually impassive as he observed, and Knuckles...well. Fact was, there was at least one of them currently standing at the edge of their metal protrusion and feeling like he wanted to tear out his dreadlocks, so you take a guess who it was.

"This isn't the comedy awards, hedgehog, so-!"

"Yeah, yeah, alright!" Sonic shouted back upwards, almost absent-mindedly doing a leap sideways to avoid a swipe of the Ifrit's mechanical hand.. "Would love to chat some more, buddy, but my friends kinda want to get on with stuff, so..." he reached back into his quills with a flourish, hand immediately reappearing to hold out the light blue ring that only yesterday he had had to forcefully wrestle out of 'Captain' Jack Shadow's hands. The Ifrit's metal face didn't move in the slightest to indicate whether the spirit had any idea what the object in Sonic's possession was, but the blue hedgehog also found he cared very little. Raising the World Ring as high overhead as he could, he shouted,

"Now, Ring of Water! Bring forth a mighty storm!"

For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then, somebody spoke:

"...'bring forth a mighty storm'? Really, faker?"

"Hey!" Sonic whirled around again, pointing upwards at Shadow, who was looking distinctly unimpressed. "You try this weird lingo, grandpa! It's the Arabian Nights! It's supposed to sound all ancient and dignified and stuff!"

Next, there already was a sound of faint despair from Knuckles, but then all of them fell silent, as another noise started, one they all knew all too well. It began as a low rumble overhead that sounded as all-encompassing and as primal as the world itself, before the air pressure suddenly seemed to change like a hammer falling down, and the humidity hit them with the force of a steam train.

"Wha – it's working! Look!" Tails shouted, pointing high overhead, and even the Ifrit looked up as they could all see, unmistakeably, a sky of dark stormy clouds gathering just below the ceiling.

And then the rain came down. The Ifrit screamed as soon as the first droplets even made contact with its metal skin.

"Legendary Hed – Sonic! Look! The Ifrit is getting weaker!" Shahra called, appearing in a puff of smoke as she pointed at the metal golem now briefly flailing in the indoor rainstorm.

"Yeah! We rock, Shahra!" Sonic couldn't help but grin and give his genie a thumbs-up. Shahra smiled back at him, her eyes bright and open, hands in front of her mouth as if she was embarrassed for her now instinctive wide smile, at his encouragement, and just for a moment the hedgehog wondered whether all of the moisture on her cheeks was really rain,

Damn, Shahra...if it takes so little to make you happy, what on Mobius happened to you to make you this *unhappy* before this whole thing started?

"Sonic! Watch out!"

It was Amy's scream that tore him from this train of thought, and next, the hero of Mobius already had to perfom a backflip to avoid an exploding barrel crashing down right in front of him. The Ifrit seemed to have recovered somewhat from the rain that was now slowly abating, but the spirit now also definitely seemed pissed enough to begin the battle in earnest.

"Alright." Sonic grinned. "That rain didn't put out my flame. Now who's gonna rock this place, buddy?"

And even while the Ifrit gave another screech that sounded like metal being tortured, the hero of Mobius had already leapt at him straight on.

To be continued...


Hi there! We-ell, it didn't take a year to update this time, so that's...good? I think? Maybe? More updates for other stories to come! And if anyone is interested in a Doctor Who/Loki crossover fic, also putting that up at the moment ;) Thanks for reading, and if you read, please review? :D