Review Replies!

Ri2: Aw, what's not to like about Steampunk? :D You gotta admit, Robotnik would build *amazing* steampunk stuff! XD That said, yeah that world ending thing and Sonic's impending death, they should probably get on that...please read on to find out how!

WeirdlyMemed: Heh, the steampunk flightcraft has the audience divided, it seems ;P There are a couple more twists and turns for our heroes to get through, so I hope you'll enjoy them to the end! Thanks for the review! :D

WhatIsThisDefiance: Aw, glad to hear it! Night Palace incoming now, and with some humour to boot! It's seven characters in one chapter now, writing this was like herding cats! XD But hope you like the result, please enjoy :)

AngelofGrace96: Yeah, I think both Rouge and Shadow are glad the other is there, too. XD And now with Robotnik onboard as well, there should be no shortage of acidic comments ;p Hope you like the new chapter!

Infinite's Ruby: An old fic, yeah, but one hopefully about to be completed soon! :) So glad you like, hope you enjoy the update!

lincoln time: No worries, plenty of badassery for the ending planned ;P

Draco Leo: Ahaha, glad you like! I do enjoy my references a bit too much, I admit. XD

silverheartlugia2000: Ah, I got a few *very * cool ideas for that, don't you worry :P First they need to make it this far, though, and if this chapter proves anything, it's that it's NOT going to be easy...! (I also loved (still do) NES - the author of the book is one of the most famous authors of my country, so my parents got me his books quite early - I can also heartily recommend his novel 'Momo'! :D)

Guest: happy to hear it, I do my best! :D

On A Happier Note: Aw, thank you for that encompassing review! :) I always wonder how differently the story will be perceived by readers who played the game and who didn't, so it's really interesting to hear from both sides. Some more creative licence coming up in this chapter, but replaying the game and always wondering how differently the level would play out if Sonic had all his friends along for the ride was immense fun :3 Did ya finish the game by now? How'd you like it? :D

Some Random Tosser: Can do! Glad you like this one meanwhile^^

KaminikaSaffire: SONIC! :D

Imaginary Color: Aw, thank you for the nice review! Some lighthearted adventure coming up in this one instead :) Please enjoy!

You Can Call Me Nora: Thank you! Always looking forward to your thoughtful reviews.^^ I have something pretty cool planned for the ending of the fic, I think. :) And no worries, updates will always be coming until this is finished - can't stand unfinished stories :p Hope you like the new chapter!

Snow-Soar: Aw, thank you! Hope you like!

YumeTakato: Heh, yeah, I always think Rouge and Sonic could have some interesting conversations if they only ever interacted in canon :p Glad you liked it!

Pi pi m: Well, "ASAP" might be pushing it, but an update you shall have! Please enjoy!

DEV: Tjaja, Sonic hätte das Geheimnis um seinen Zustand vermutlich liebend gern bis zum St. Nimmerleinstag aufrechterhalten, aber wo bliebe denn das das Drama? :p (und oh Gott, Zeitlimit, ja. Ich beneide ihn nicht^^°) Das Verschwinden der Märchenwelt hat ebenfalls Spaß zu schreiben gemacht, ich bin von sowas tatsächlich (wie Amy erwähnte) sehr von der unendlichen Geschichte beeindruckt gewesen ;p Sonic steuert da natürlich mit Shahra möglicherweise tatsächlich auf ein Desaster zu, aber er wäre ja nicht Sonic, wenn er nicht bis zum Ende jemandem ne Chance gibt...^^° Robotnik Screentime ahead, btw, jetzt wo er mit von der Partie ist, hat er natürlich auch seine Rolle zu spielen ;P Wie immer vielen Dank für das fantastische Review!

Guest: He can't, can he?! And yeah, one crazy ride it sure has been - a few more chapters in the works, but yes, final stretch of the road ahead, hope you like! :D

Kogarashi: OMG, yes, Discworld. Probably half the reason I ever started writing :3 And that scene IS probably my favourite scene of all his books :) Some more about the King's poem from last chapter later on, too! Hope you like and thanks for the reviews! :)

RLozermelamed: Aw, thanks! I try :)

WatermelonShark: Glad you think so! I think I have something pretty cool planned for the climax, so I'm hoping everyone looks forward to it :)

LoneGaurumon: I like Pratchett far too much XD Robotnik's engineering skills, of course, far surpass any world he's placed in, ever. Let's just hope that will be enough to save the Arabian Nights before they vanish (or before Sonic gives Robotnik an aneurysm, either one. XD) Hope you like the new chapter!


Disclaimer: If I owned this game, Shahra would probably make noises like Navi.

Chapter 42: Two Minutes to Midnight

"…woah." Amy's eyes were wide as they entered the palace. Their gazes travelled over the splendour in front of them, a broad, airy corridor with arches and pillars on both sides stretching out in front of them, the white marble it was made of appearing hewn straight from starlight, glowing silver underneath the full moon. The floor they stood on was polished like the finest mirror, the night sky visible through the arches being reflected beneath their feet as if the Palace contained the universe.

Even more parts of the citadel were visible in the distance, as if they were currently on a balcony high up within it, glancing at the other towers rearing up around them, floating impossibly on the clouds far below.

"This looks…amazing," Amy breathed.

"Hmph. From a fortress perspective, the defensive capabilities of this layout are ludicrous."

"Yeah, Buttnik. Once I've laid down the smackdown on Erazor, I'm sure the two of you can exchange some evil overlord pointers," Sonic said wryly as they wandered into the great entrance hall of the palace, Robotnik having finally extracted all the gear he needed from the flight craft and now looked about as decked out as an overweight home improvement store.

Robotnik huffed. "Exchange pointers? I hardly would think such a rank amateur as this djinn would know anything about evil lair design that I didn't."

"Well, he at least has the sense not to plaster his oversized face on everything he can get his hands on, that's an improvement in my book," Sonic grinned, enjoying Robotnik's outraged gasp of air far more than he should, but before the scientist could shoot back-

"Will you two quit fooling around and letting down your vigilance?" Knuckles snapped at them. "Just because it looks pretty we can't let down our guard for even a second."

"Indeed," Shadow said, also studying the castle walls carefully. "However, if we need to get to Erazor at the centre of this palace quickly…can't we just smash through these walls, if they're glass?"

"Well…" Shahra hesitated a bit. "Some of them do look like it, but they're…not quite glass. Technically, the Night Palace is made of dreams. They're a lot harder to destroy…"

"What, a castle made of dreams? That sounds even more beautiful," Amy sighed. "Man, who does this Erazor think he is, taking something this wonderful and making it some sort of evil place…"

Knuckles raised an eye ridge at her. "You sure that was his doing? You know, whenever someone promises dreams can come true, they always forget nightmares are dreams, too."

"Yeah, yeah, Knucklehead, way to bring the mood down," Sonic waved him off. "But alright, if we can't just smash our way to the Palace centre, then we'll just have to get to Erazor the old-fashioned way – meaning, let's go!" he yelled and was glad that at least that familiar rush of finally moving came to him as easily as always; his body exploded into action, strong legs driving him forwards and the shining ground began to rush past him, the clatter of feet of his friends following after his own at his back.

Yes. We can do this, Shahra, just you wait! He thought, relishing the cool night air rushing past him and into his lungs as he skidded around a corner, turning into another corridor just as elegant as the last one; he tore through it, just heard Shahra's mental cry of caution in his mind as he could also see that the floor of the corridor abruptly ended in thin air not too far in front of him –

"Don't you worry, Shahra! Just watch! Whoo!" Sonic whooped, pushed himself against the ground one last time and then simply ran, right up the right wall and continued on running horizontally where the floor of the corridor had disappeared, heedless of the bottomless pit of darkness below.

He could see there was a ledge along the wall soonish – one just broad enough that he could probably stop running horizontally, drop down onto it and shuffle the rest of the way along on it sideways – but he ignored it, accelerating instead to be able to keep running along the wall, pushing his body to the limit.

He wasn't about to burn out.

Right?

(And besides, that ledge looked like it would crumble under his feet the moment he dropped down onto it, anyway – if he didn't get impaled by the spikes surely hiding in those holes just above it first. Seriously, how stupid (or suicidal) did this Erazor think he was?)

"There! Made it!" Sonic shouted in triumph as he reached the other side of the pitfall, dropping down from the wall onto the floor, and raising a fist in the air. His heart was beating faster than normal, but he ignored it. Adrenaline. He was just keyed up because Erazor was finally about to get the butt-kicking he deserved.

Not a heart working too fast because an arrow was torching it to death.

"But – your friends, they can't-!" Shahra started and interrupted the thoughts Sonic was just about to clamp down on, but then fell silent, mostly because behind him, Rouge and Tails had caught Shadow and Amy in their leaps effortlessly, now swiftly carrying them across the pit. Knuckles had simply launched himself into the air in a glide, only once latching onto the wall Sonic had run along on to pull himself a few metres higher to regain the altitude he'd lost before pushing off again. All of them touched ground only a few moments behind Sonic, their movements as simple and elegant –

"Will…you…quit…running…so…fas-oh, for heaven's sake, what is this?! A giant pit in the middle of a corridor?!"

The troupe looked over.

At the other side of the large pit, currently Robotnik was standing, hands on his knees, and panting like he'd just run a marathon. Noticing their glances, he immediately straightened and glared at them.

"And what are you looking at, you numbskulls?!" he snapped. "I don't watch you having difficulties with quintic equations, do I?!"

"Well, duh, that's because I can solve them," Tails called back, arms crossed as he hovered in the air. "You kinda suck at this adventuring type thing, huh?"

"You little-!" Robotnik seemed for one moment to go as red as his outfit, but then remarkably quickly seemed to calm down again. "I do have the means to get across this chasm, fox boy, and unlike you, I do not have to resort to the means of a propeller attached to my bottom."

"Well there's an image I could have done without," Knuckles muttered (drowned out by Tails' offended outcry) but Sonic ignored him, stepping up to the edge.

"Yo, Egghead!" he shouted, "We're kinda running out of time, here, so if you can't keep up, just stay there and be nice until we'll pick you up when we're done, kay?"

"Au contraire, Sonic," Robotnik seemed to have gotten his breath back and was now seemingly adjusting the belt he wore, toggling a few things on it. "If you think I'll give you even the slimmest of chances to defeat the Erazor Djinn and escape the book to leave me imprisoned here, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed," he said – and then finally gripped the sides of the belt, pressing down with his thumbs on something, and what looked like four miniature rockets ignited at the side of it, letting the human scientist slowly hover into the air like the most grotesque balloon at the fair. Robotnik tilted the control units in his hand and began to hover toward them, slowly but surely.

"Great," Sonic looked at Robotnik approaching, counting the moments until they could finally move on, "If every pit takes this long, maybe Erazor will have died of old age before we get there, or something…"

xxx

As it turned out, dying of old age wasn't going to be a concern for Erazor, but plainly 'dying' was certainly what he was wishing to happen to the troupe of Mobians in his Palace.

"Woah! Look out, there's more of his evil spirits!" Tails called, hovering a few feet above Sonic's head as they had been running through the moonlit castle for not even five minutes, Sonic in the lead keeping his speed deliberately low so even Robotnik could keep up.

At least that was the reason he told himself.

"Pheh," Shadow scoffed as they halted on top of a broad staircase briefly, watching the mass of dark, puppet-like, hovering monsters take form and assemble in the wide corridor below. "Does he really think those would pose a challenge after the countless we have wasted already?"

"Hm, I dunno," Sonic gave an easy shrug. "Wasn't there some human scientist who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Not that you'd know anything about that, wouldya, Egghead?" he added with a grin and a wink to Robotnik just catching up now, and then was already leaping toward the spirits below.

"…as…soon…as…we get out of this book, hedgehog, I will show Erazor how it's done and incinerate you…right as I get my…breath back, you insufferable…Duracell hedgehog…" Robotnik ground out (tone impressively still rather threatening despite the shortness of breath). The Mobians beside him were paying him little heed, though, following their leader into battle as one.

…although if you wanted to get technical, 'battle' wasn't quite the right description for the absolute massacre of Erazor's spirits that followed.

"One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Whoo! Let's see you top that many in one homing attack series, Shadow!"

"Gladly."

Shadow's response had been frosty, but the pace of the battle wasn't; Tails and Rouge soared and dove, Knuckles and Amy charged with brutal strength; all the while Sonic and Shadow leapt and swerved and danced across the battlefield, tearing through monstrous spirits with deadly grace. All of their figures reflected in the white floor polished like a marble mirror, the light of torches in the elegant high arches gleaming golden on the combatants, the architecture surrounding them seemingly not made for the brutal fight taking place within it.

Within minutes, Erazor's minions had been reduced to the already-familiar glowing pearls of light, bursting apart as soon as their monstrous casing had been destroyed.

Sonic dropped to the floor again, dusting off his hands and grinning. (And that battle had gone well, hadn't it? Though once or twice he'd wondered whether the others hadn't just kept a tad too close to him, watching him when they thought he wasn't looking, taking out any spirits they thought he hadn't seen or reacted too slowly...)

Sonic crushed that train of thought with extreme prejudice. He cleared his throat instead, taking care to let his voice sound as cheerful and carefree as it usually came naturally.

"Heh. Now that's what I call teamw- hey! Have you even thought about contributing here?!" he asked, expression abruptly peeved as he crossed his arms and glared at a certain human scientist, who appeared to have not moved a single inch from his position atop the staircase.

Robotnik frowned at the question. "What? I'm an evil genius," he raised his eyebrows and stroked his moustache. "Situations like these are obviously what one has minions for."

"Oh really-" Sonic began, quills slowly rising as he stepped toward Robotnik, actually not quite sure himself about what he intended to do when –

"Sonic!" Tails called out, "look, there's more!"

Sonic's head turned to where Tails pointed, and he wished he could pretend that there wasn't a miniature flinch on his face as he did – there were more of Erazor's spirits approaching, a heaving, black and grey mass, and while he was certain that they would be able to defeat them just the same, by now he also couldn't deny his heart was still beating faster after that last battle than it should be….

"Hmmph," there was a scoff from Robotnik's side, Sonic not quite sure whether he had imagined the short, almost contemplative expression that Robotnik had briefly seemed to show, looking at him – but then, the human was already back to his usual aloof demeanour as he reached into one of the pockets of his belt.

"I can already see that if I don't take matters in hand, we will be here forever. Oh well. Hup!" he called out – and simultaneously flung a small sphere into the air above their heads, where it hovered for a moment, then expanded…

…and then each of Erazor's spirits, as well as each of the Mobians, suddenly had a very distinct red spot hovering straight above their hearts.

"I suggest you duck," Robotnik said smoothly. "In three, two, one…"

There was a flash of lighting as the sphere exploded, and from within it burst a hundred streaks of lighting, each securely aiming for one of the red spots on its targets. Sonic and the others managed to dodge just in time, but the lightning tore straight through each and every single one of their enemies, letting them burst apart like so many balloons.

In the aftermath of burnt bits of monster puppets slooowly drifting down (and a bunch of slightly shell-shocked Mobians getting to their feet again) Robotnik was now the one who crossed his arms.

"Well? Do I even get a thank-you?"

Xxx

"I'm going to kill him."

"You should wait until we're out of the book for that, Rouge," Shadow replied evenly as the group, a little while later, was once more on their way deeper into the Palace. "I mean, while I generally approve of murder as a way to solve problems-"

"Excuse me? Thanks to me, all of that djinn's sorry excuses for minions in a one-mile radius have been destroyed," Robotnik huffed. "And none of you showed even the slightest gratitude!"

"Yes," Amy grated, "That is because thanks to you, all of us were almost killed!"

"Oh, claptrap," Robotnik grunted, face abruptly turning sour. "Believe me, I know very well how adept you all are at dodging my weapons with targeting implements. There wasn't a single doubt you would avoid getting hit."

"Yeah, that would sound more reassuring if you didn't sound like you regretted that bit," Sonic said, flatly. "Seriously, next time you decide to pull a stunt like that-"

He broke himself off as they came to a halt on a balcony, the corridor ending on a platform bordered by a handrail with no other exits in sight. In front of them, the bottomless courtyard stretched on, towers and walls in the distance, but seemingly no way to get to them.

That was, until they discovered the flying carpet seemingly patiently waiting for them just beyond the railing, apparently ready for a flight through the parts of the Palace ahead.

"Huh. I guess next up, we go for a walk on the air?" Sonic grinned, near-death of a few minutes ago thankfully already not seeming as important anymore as soon as there was a new venture ahead, some distraction from his other thoughts. "A proper carpet ride instead one of Egghead's rocket powered monstrosities? Should be fun!"

In the manner of all statements by overly-confident protagonists, this did not turn out to be true.

Xxx

"Agh-will you move some of your lard out of the way, I swear, Egghead-!"

"I would, if your infernal quills left any space!"

"Hey! Quit shoving, or else I will throw you both over the edge!"

That last retort had been snapped by Knuckles, and in response, both Sonic and Robotnik gave the echidna a glare, and then all three of them yelped as the flying carpet took another sharp turn, nearly dislodging the entire troupe.

"Ugh. I'm pretty sure this thing was designed as a one-hedgehog-carpet, this is the worst…and you, stop laughing!" Sonic snapped at Amy, Tails and Rouge (although Shadow seemed to have some trouble with twitching lips as well). The reason the four others were as amused was mainly that neither of them had to share the (indeed very small) flying carpet, this being due to Tails and Rouge carrying Amy and Shadow, and flying alongside the magical tapestry.

And giving a running commentary on the fight for space on it all the way.

"This is like a demented game of Twister. When I catch Erazor, I will feed him this damn thing," Sonic growled, trying to shift so he wasn't pressed alongside Robotnik quite as tightly, all without falling over the edge and into the black abyss the carpet was rushing over. Well, at least he couldn't complain about not being distracted enough anymore...

"Incoming!"

"ON IT-!" Knuckles responded to Tails' sudden shout, leapt over Sonic and there was an ear-deafening crack as the echidna swung and quite literally punched another one of the spiked steel balls that had been rushing toward their carpet path to pieces in mid-air.

"There. Erazor will need to come up with something better than that if he wants to stop us," Knuckles said, cracking his namesakes calmly. Sonic at last felt a small grin creep onto his face, this time genuine.

"Heh, yeah. I get the feeling this palace wasn't designed for someone bringing his friends along."

"Probably not. And let me assure you, if heroes do end up bringing along sidekicks with unexpected skill sets, it is highly annoying," Robotnik grumbled, "And I'm speaking from experience."

"You do realize that in this case, this would make you my side-kick, right?" Sonic cast a glance back at him, lips twitching and had the very satisfying view of Robotnik's face for a moment looking like the human had the biggest toothache in history.

"I know."

(This was of course the point where more spiky steel balls were soaring toward them, there was a lot of scrambling on the carpet, and the entire debate was forgotten for the next two minutes).

After that, when the carpet ride had levelled out again - still flying along at a speed far faster than Robotnik's booster belt could have hovered, but fortunately, not too fast for their flying members to keep up – Sonic, Robotnik and Knuckles had finally managed to shuffle into semi-comfortable positions on the carpet and were now watching the scenery go by again, Sonic again feeling somehow effortlessly drawn in by the beauty surrounding them, wanting to see more, as long as he still could.

Above them, there was a full, unseeing moon illuminating the night sky; the windows of the towers they cruised past alight with a golden glow but the rooms behind them were empty; all characters of the poem of the King's Tears long since erased.

"Oh, but this is beautiful," Amy breathed as they soared past the splendour of fire-lit pillars and intricately carved window lattices; careened narrowly past thin spires atop minarets and towers that seemed to reach for the starlit sky above. Sonic knew he generally preferred the beauty of untouched nature to anything man-made, but even he could feel his lips stretching into a smile.

"Yeah, right? Check out the view!"

"We are not here to go sight-seeing, Sonic," Robotnik growled. "So focus."

Sonic raised an eye ridge, turning his grin over his shoulder. "Heh, what's gotten your quills in a twist, Egghead? Not getting airsick, are ya?"

"Me, airsick? Hardly," Robotnik scoffed. "I merely stand by my word. As a fortress to be defended, this place is preposterous." He crossed his arms and turned his head away, grumbling more quietly: "So if you stopped being impressed by it, I would appreciate the gesture."

"What the – no way," Sonic began, grin now once again genuine and about to grow even wider, "Don't tell me you're jealous of Erazor's-"

Which was the point when Tails yelled "FIRE DJINN INCOMING EVERYBODY DUCK-!" and there were suddenly flames roaring toward them, the entire troupe on the carpet only saved from a rather crispy death by a very well-aimed Chaos spear and piko piko hammer, which effectually shut the entire debate down until the end of the ride.

Xxx

"Alright. If I ever have to get on a flying rug again in my life, that is still too early," Knuckles grumbled as they had finally disembarked after the carpet had gently drifted down on another part of the Palace, a wide balcony shaped like a perfect half circle, in front of them what looked like the front hall of a citadel, inside a tall open door with ethereal light shining from it.

"Yeah, think I prefer Extreme Gear, too," Sonic commented, leaping easily off the carpet and onto the balcony (where a grateful Rouge and Tails had also deposited their passengers). Amy was staring at the open door with wide eyes.

"So…I'm guessing we have to go in there…? Why is there light spilling out of it?"

"I don't know. Smells of a trap, though," Rouge said, regarding the door suspiciously.

"It very well might be. It's also the only way through," Knuckles said grimly, frowning at the door. "The carpet just disappeared so we're stuck on this balcony and I don't see any other doors leading into this part of the Palace." He gestured at the wing in front of them, indeed looking a bit more like a fortress than the other, window-dotted, airy segments had. Robotnik clapped his hands together and started rubbing them.

"Finally! This looks at least like we're getting somewhere where someone is keeping something worth guarding! Getting closer to Erazor Djinn's Headquarters, no doubt…"

"Well, where he's right, he's right," Sonic said, shrugging and looking at his non-enthusiastic friends. "Let's see what's in store for us next…."

He took a step inside the citadel and toward to the door with the ominous light spilling out of it, but as soon as his foot had crossed the threshold, the door moved.

"Woah! What the-?!" Sonic began, but before he could even finish his sentence, the citadel was now stretching around them, elongating itself as if spacetime had been contorted by the pull of a black hole, the glowing door now a good deal further from them at the far end of what at this point was more a giant tunnel than a hall.

"The room – stretched-!" Shahra commented breathlessly (Sonic thinking he overheard Robotnik mutter something along the lines of how he'd heard Clippy the Word assistant being more helpful…).

As they still watched, transfixed by the contortion of physics around them, a large barrier made from dark stone suddenly dropped from thin air above, hitting the white marble floor of the room with an ear-deafening crash and letting the heroes stagger backwards at the impact.

"Ah! What the heck, is Erazor trying to crush us to death now? Does he want us to bring him the rings or not?!" Amy cried out, clutching at Sonic's arm to regain her balance. Before them the stone barrier was now rearing up, reaching high beneath the ceiling of the room and exuding an aura of…dark otherness that made it clear attempting to climb it might not be a wise idea.

"It seems he still might. There is a sort of portal in it, look," Knuckles pointed at a dark purple, misty swirl in the middle of the barrier, ominous violet tendrils emanating from it and beckoning. The echidna's eyes narrowed. "If I had to guess, this is just another gauntlet he put in the way that's supposed to weaken and make us suffer as much as possible before we get to him."

"If it is, it's the first rational decision he's made in his dilettante fortress design all day," Robotnik huffed. "I was beginning to think that djinn was completely hopeless."

"Yeah, hope you don't get any ambitions about taking him on as apprentice or something," Sonic quipped, "I hear that doesn't usually end well for evil overlords." He grinned and stepped into the portal.

Again, his first touch of the threshold seemed to trigger a complete transformation in the room around them. There was a flash, gasps from several members of the group and when the world came back again…

They were standing in the universe.

The building, the entire Palace had disappeared, the only thing remaining a translucent crystal walkway beneath their feet. Around them, they were looking at…infinity, distant stars and swirling, luminescent nebulae, entire galaxies spinning in silent symphony above their heads.

"What…what is this…?" Amy whispered, clearly as awestruck as the rest of them. "How can we be in space?" She turned around to Shahra, eyes wide. "Is this real?"

"It's a dream, story teller," Shahra smiled at her. "Of course, that doesn't mean it's not real."

"I can tell you what's real!" Knuckles called out abruptly, pointing at something above their heads, "Those giant spears coming at us! RUN!" he yelled, just as everyone was already flying, skating, gliding and spin-dashing (and, in one case, flailing, huffing and puffing…) for their lives.

xxx

"Is…is this what your adventures…always are like?" Robotnik asked a few minutes later, gasping and pulling himself on all fours onto the last platform at the end of the (now partly destroyed) crystal walkway, rasping and looking at Sonic (who had already been sitting there for a while, watching his approach). He wrenched himself up on his arms, looking at the hedgehog with a drawn, perturbed face, "This constant...running?"

Sonic tilted his head. "A…lot of the time, yeah," he said. Then he grinned. "Why, Eggman, not to your liking?"

Robotnik didn't reply immediately, only pulled the rest of his body up onto the platform and collapsed there on his back. "In this case, I…think I…shouldn't bother to kill you anymore," he grunted. "Your life is evidently miserable enough as it is."

"Miserable? I think you're misspelling entertaining," Sonic poked his tongue out. "Like, for example, watching you attempting to run through a loop-de-loop," he said, nodding toward the structure in the crystal walkway. "That was highly entertaining."

(Which was entirely correct. After the giant spears from nowhere had started to rain down on them, all of the heroes had scattered, zig-zagging and dashing madly along the walkway, leaping over and avoiding the parts where the crystal of the floor had been shattered by the projectiles, scrambling to evade the flying shards of wreckage. At the end of the walkway there had indeed been a large loop-de-loop, most of the Mobians running up and down along it easily (or simply circumventing it entirely by flying). Sonic and Shadow had been the first to make it to the final platform where the spears had stopped raining down and then turned around to watch the others making it to safety as well – the last, of course, being Robotnik.

At the loop-de-loop, the scientist had actually apparently managed to stop his run too late, flailed, and then fallen onto his back. Sonic and Shadow had exchanged a glance at this point – mainly a No-you-get-him – but, to his credit, Robotnik then actually had managed to get up, briefly pressed his hands into his back with a curse, and then hobbled over to the side of the walkway where the loop-de-loop was coming down again, carefully stepped over the small gap between the two walkways (or rather, the gap where the same walkway doubled up on itself) and then finally managed to make it to the rest of them, shuffling and cursing all the way.)

"Bite me, hedgehog," Robotnik grunted into his moustache.

"Be thankful we waited for you to get here, at all" Sonic said, jerking a thumb at the giant hourglass standing on the platform they were on. "I think that's the switch to get us back to the regular Palace. At least, it looks like the hourglass switches I saw in Pyramid Cave and they usually helped me get ahead…"

"It does," Knuckles nodded. "Care for me to hit it?"

"Be my guest," Sonic nodded and stepped backwards, making space for Knuckles to walk up to the pedestal the large hourglass stood on, draw back a fist and then smash it into the socket of the glass clock. The force let the hourglass whirl and spin violently around its mid-axis, but then it settled pin-point perfect on its empty bulb, sinking down again on its socket while sand began pouring out of its top compartment into the one below.

"There," Knuckles nodded. "Now what-?"

Before he could finish speaking, their surroundings had already transformed again. Gone was the swirling, vast and endless universe around them and they were seemingly back in the long-stretched room they had come from; the hourglass suddenly flying away from its perch and settling somewhere at the far end, newly existing pillars concealing it from sight.

"Hey-!" Amy called out after it, then turned worriedly back to the others – "Is that a good thing? I mean, it's an hourglass, what exactly happens when the sand runs out again-?"

"We probably need to reach it before it does; I'll get it," Shadow said curtly, and before anyone could object, his skates were already flaring to life, the black hedgehog dashing off toward the far end of the room, dodging the pillars in the way easily.

"Show-off," Sonic muttered, glaring after the black hedgehog, and refusing to wonder whether he'd still be able to reach that top-speed, stomach cramping up at the idea that he might not. Not quite facing any of the other members of their troupe (Robotnik at last back on his feet again), he only waved at them briefly. "Come on, after him, let's g-"

That was as far as he got before they all saw the bright red mist suddenly wafting up at the other end of the room. Shadow, who was almost at the hourglass at this point, didn't stop, plunging right into it – and then immediately stumbled, hands grasping for his throat as he doubled over, choking; next he had already collapsed motionlessly onto the floor, lying unmoving within the red mist.

The red mist which then started expanding toward them, moving quickly as if a thing that was alive.

"Wha – Shadow!" Rouge cried out, face aghast, at the same time as Tails yelled,

"It's poison gas! Fall back!"

"Fall back where?!" Amy cried, all of them having stopped in their tracks, staring in horror at the contorted body of their friend, as she pointed behind them, "The door we came through disappeared!"

"Dammit. I suppose you don't have an air filter in that belt of yours, Eggman, huh?" Sonic asked, voice pressed as they all instinctively retreated the few steps they could, but they all could see the miasmic cloud would be on them within less than a minute.

"Funnily enough, Sonic, I don't," Robotnik replied, and his voice sounded just as stressed, his face pale as he stared at the advancing gas, transfixed like the rest of them. Sonic could feel the wall of the room brush against his back quills, informing him there was no more room to move. And the miasma was coming closer…

To be continued…


Happy Sonic's Birthday, everyone! :D Hope you had a great day, enjoy the update and here's to 27 more years with the fastest thing alive! :)