The third, final and probably least serious chapter of the 'Bruised' series. You'll probably be able to guess what this is about before even reading it if you have the game. Thank you very much to all those who have reviewed. Words can't describe how amazing it is to receive such wonderful criticism – I'm gonna cry! *ahem* Again, don't take it literally.

I don't own Sonic the Hedgehog or any other characters in this story, savvy? On with the story!

Water spray stung my face as I whizzed by at top speed. My feet hammered the golden sand beneath me, though barely touched the ground. Like I was gliding over the surface. The soles of my shoes must have been at incredible temperatures, but they never gave way. Tails did something to them a few days after we met, though I can't remember what. Something about resin. I zone out and start staring at the clouds whenever he starts explaining it to me. It's amazing how many clouds look like chilli dogs if you look long enough.

It was all Tails' fault I was running at 400 miles per hour along the coast at Wave Ocean in the first place. He only had to crash the plane during a fight with Egg-head on the day of the Sun Festival! I'd already be at Soleanna by now if I could have flown over the water, but I was stuck island-hopping for an hour. If I didn't drown first, he'd be getting a lot of rap when I got back to the workshop. Unless he had fixed the plane by then. Maybe I could forgive him in that case.

Or maybe not. Fixing the plane after I'd risked my butt running around the sea so that I could get pictures of the Sun Festival for him wouldn't make it alright.

He was going to come with me and take his own pictures at the start, but he had to stay back to fix the plane before it got too dark to see; partly because he didn't want to leave it looking like a pile of scrap metal, and partly because I wasn't going to let him leave it looking like a pile of scrap metal. Knuckles wouldn't see the Sun Festival either, but maybe that was for the best: he'd probably get in a fight and burn down half the city before night fall.

Amy would already be there. No doubt she'd be muscling her way through the crowd and swinging her hammer around to get the best spot. Why she refused to watch the fireworks from her apartment window, I'd never know, but who does with women? She'd probably want photos too. She'd probably want to spend the night at the Festival with me, God forbid, but at the rate I was going everyone would have packed up and gone to sleep by the time I got there!

I pushed myself harder, feeling the wind resisting my whole body with all its might like a barrier. I willed myself on faster, my legs moving so quickly they were almost invisible. Just when I'd thought I'd have to slow down again or lose all the skin on my face, the wind split with a BOOM and gave me passage. All friction disappeared, and it felt even more like I was gliding. Running was always more fun when you broke through the sound barrier. Just as long as I didn't trip over something I would half the amount of time it would take me to get to the mainland.

I took a risk and stepped out onto the water, barely skimming the surface with my feet. I left a huge spray of water churning out behind me as I hydroplaned across the sea, skipping the islands altogether and jumping over the waves. Why didn't I think of this sooner?! It was a lot faster than flying the Tornado. I guess I only think straight when I'm moving so fast there's no time to think at all. Weird, huh?

I could see the buildings of Soleanna rising out of the horizon like a fortress, forming giant silhouettes against the setting sun. At least I wasn't going to be too late – the Sun Festival didn't start properly until the sun actually set. I slowed down slightly, feeling the winds beginning their assault on my quills again. If I kept up this pace for too long, I'd knock half the city down in my slipstream. I'd already accidentally pulled that stunt with Tails' old workshop, or what was left of it. He had to bunk with me for few agonizing days, spent trying to dissuade him from taking apart my fridge because he didn't have any of his machines to tinker with. Never again.

I jumped back off the water, feeling my feet starting to sink beneath the surface, and onto solid ground. I wasn't on the beach anymore, so at least I didn't get a face full of sand when I ran. I pointed myself in the direction of Soleanna, smirking when I accidentally on purpose uprooted Rouge's and Shadow's tent and caked their machines in mud, escaping to a cacophony of threats and general yelling at my rear. They were probably on some kind of mission for the government. I'd rather see the Festival, personally.

Speaking of which, it was starting. I could hear the excited cheers of the crowds already, rising in pitch and volume with a jolt. The Princess had probably boarded the ship to carry her down the canals to the Altar of Flame. I picked up the pace again, the city walls drawing nearer, and readied my legs for a jump. I'd be stood on if I tried to enter the normal way, so I'd have to carve my own path. There were times I wished I was taller than everyone's waists, a view heightened by the numerous times that Knuckle-head had pointed out that a certain twelve-year-old hedgehog was more or less the same height as me while standing up straight and leering down at me from a few extra inches.

I leapt skywards, keeping myself on course as best as the winds would allow me, and skidded to a halt atop someone's house, much to the angry and loud displeasures of the family inside. I could see the boat from here, crawling its way through the waters like a whale. Dancers were dotted on the deck, dressed in brightly colored robes and waltzing to the music of a hidden band, probably to resemble the Flames of Hope, or whatever they were called. I'd seen this Festival several times before, and I still didn't have a clue what all the fuss was about! The Princess was on the highest part of the boat, but all I could see of her was a splash of white. I needed to get closer.

Fireworks exploded overhead, drawing cries of awe from the gathered spectators. Sparklers and neon lights were held high, creating a sea of colored dots that dazzled my eyes. I leapt down from the rooftop I was perched on, wincing slightly when I came to a heavy impact with the concrete road, and sped off after the boat. The paths were deserted, the revellers following the progress of the parade, and I could move at a fairly high speed. Compared to the humans, anyway, who were so slow they were either at a standstill or in reverse by my standards. I paused briefly, catching sight of the vessel towering above me, and looking for another free road to run on. Seeing none, I opted for the more dangerous but fun option, and headed straight into the crowd.

I thundered over a brightly lit bridge, narrowly avoiding clipping people on the legs, grinning at the wave of shouts I left behind me. Several people lost their sparklers, floating down into the waters like injured doves, and I almost got an embarrassing view of one lady's underwear when her dress blew up. I thought I caught a glimpse of a three-foot tall splodge of pink and red with a giant mallet, but by the time I'd registered that fact I was long gone.

I laughed to myself, seeing how close the boat was to me. I could almost touch it if I reached out far enough, but I had a better idea!

Jumping out across the thin strip of water between the boat and the road, I landed gracefully on the deck; I probably moved too fast for anyone to notice my perfect poise and posture, but it was their loss. I landed in with the dancers, barely stopping for breath before I cannoned up the sides to the Princess. I dashed past her; she was too busy waving to the crowd to notice the blue blur that was almost close enough to touch, her face obscured by her startling ginger hair.

Three times I'd been to the Sun Festival, and not once had I managed to see her face.

I sped past her and, taking a deep breath in case I missed, launched myself through the air at the Altar of Flame. If Knuckles had been there he would have died with all the disrespect I was showing! I sprung off the structures that made up the Altar, feeling the strange ethereal chill of the metal, even through my shoes, and jumped straight off. If I hung around too long, someone might see who I was, and I'd probably be arrested, and then who would be there to make a spectacle out of the parade?!

The Princess was staring up at where I'd been only a second ago, still facing away from me, her hair tousled by the wind, one of her feathers missing. I'd probably knocked it off as I sped past. Oops. Now I'd probably be done for assault as well, knowing the paranoid idiots who ran the police force! Two of her Ladies in Waiting approached her, whispering words that were drowned out by the screams and cheers of the crowd, even to my sensitive ears. The Princess looked confused, her eyes scanning the area as if to find the brief glimpse of the spectre she'd seen, but I was well out of sight.

She turned back to the crowd, waving politely, the incident forgotten in the heat of the moment. I was used to coming and going, with people completely unaware of my presence or actions, but it caught me off guard a bit. I'd have to make more of a spectacle next year. Her missing feather drifted up on the winds to my perch high above the city, where I was sitting with the camera Tails had given me. A lot of the paint had been ripped off when I was running with it, but it was still mostly intact. I watched the feather dance off into the sky, fading until it became a mere speck amongst the stars, the moon watching over the parade with a mother's eye, not a single cloud in sight. It was a beautiful night indeed. It made me wonder who else was looking up at the sky at that time.

I tore my gaze away from the sky when the crowd erupted with noise, the Altar alight with flames that touched the sky. I wasn't sure what it represented, but I knew the fires would burn until a week before the next Sun Festival, when the rainy season would extinguish it. Whatever it symbolized, it meant an awful lot to the people of Soleanna.

Of course, they didn't know it was all a lie. I'd seen inside the castle, breaking in out of sheer curiosity to the areas where the public wasn't allowed. If I had been chased, then it would have just added to the excitement, but it was uneventful to the point of being boring. I snuck through the deserted corridors, to the area where the Flame of Hope was kept. Tails told me later that they lit the Altar of Flames with the Flame of Hope, and that it was kept burning constantly, a symbol of their everlasting hope. And when I got there, the room was empty. There was no 'Flame of Hope'. It had been blown out long before the start of the reign of Princess Elise. They had to use a match to light the Altar of Flame now.

It was all just a pretence.

Not that it meant anything to me. Sure, it was pretty, but it was just a fire. I saw loads of them after I blew Eggman's bases to kingdom come. I suppose, as long as it kept the people of Soleanna happy, they could what they wanted. The magic was missing, though, and it kinda spoiled the whole event. The Princess' smile was slightly forced, obviously aware that she was playing one huge game with the city. Only, if they found out, the results would be catastrophic. We wouldn't need Knuckles to burn half the city down. The angry citizens would manage just fine on their own.

Sighing, I clicked the shutter on the camera, capturing the moment in film.

It was all just another big game.

Whoever blew out the Flame of Hope was the biggest idiot in existence.


Deficit (noun): where something is lacking something essential; insufficient; inadequate.