Aqua lounged in a corner of their cell, curled up the way only cats seem to manage. Silver was pacing around, still thinking.
He didn't bother Silver. He'd never been big on planning things out.
A new scent touched his nose, and he sat up, sniffing.
"Someone new coming," he announced.
"I said, there's someone I don't recognise coming."
"Oh." Silver thought some more. "Who?"
Aqua stared at him.
"Oh yeah. Don't recognise. Sorry, was miles away."
"I can tell."
There were some creaks, a distant yelp of pain, some typically Eggman evil laughter, and then the ceiling of the cell opposite them swung down, depositing a black and red hedgehog into it, then the ceiling closed again. It seemed unusual that Silver and this hedgehog looked so alike.
Silver seemed to recognise him, too.
"Tails? What happened to you?"
"I thought I'd come help you out, and nick the emerald shard Eggman's got."
"Was that part of you plan?" he indicated the cell.
"I made a mistake and got caught." Tails spotted Aqua. "Who's your friend?"
"Aqua. He's a tiger. He helped me get out from where I found my shard. There was just a bit of water there."
"Just a bit? You call that, just a bit? It was enough to almost cut all the light out."
"Yeah, just a bit. Hardly anything to worry about."
Tails laughed, "You're sounding more and more like Sonic."
"My little cat here tells me it suits me."
"Who was laughing about almost falling off those pillars to a painful end earlier?" Aqua asked.
"What's this almost falling off? I made them all perfectly. Nothing to it."
* * *
"Alright. Try it now."
Liam examined the fake shard again, prodding it a few times. It didn't react.
"That's got it. Thanks Shadow."
"You know, I think I'm getting the hang of your magic."
"Simple once you realise how it works, isn't it?"
"Not all of it."
"Oh, of course it is. You take raw magic, filter it through your mind into what you want it to do, and unleash it."
"Isn't that the same thing Silver told Knuckles?"
"Psychic powers work in much the same way. It just uses raw mental power instead of raw magic."
"Maybe you should teach some people how to use magic again. Bring it back to the world."
"I considered it a few times. I eventually decided against it. Too many risks to match the benefits." Liam hit the shard with a rock. It had no effect. Shadow took the rock from him, and smashed the shard for him. "Thanks."
"Not as strong there, are you?"
"I don't mind it too much. I got the chance to go back to youth, even if it's just Tails' youth borrowed."
Knuckles dropped down in front of them, hanging upside down.
"Mind if I drop in?"
"And us too!" Charmy and Rouge landed nearby.
"What are you two doing here?" Shadow asked.
"Knuckles found us, and we found the emerald shard you're missing."
"So where is it?"
"Espio has it. He, Vector and Omega are still on the way, we flew on ahead to find you."
Shadow almost got to reply, when everything went cold and dark again. He could see Liam's point about visions happening at irritating or inconvenient times.
When his sight cleared, he saw himself. Well, Tails in his body.
Tails seemed to be in some kind of cell, and just opposite, Sonic. Silver, of course. And someone else. Liam's memories supplied that it was a young tiger, Aqua, who'd been accidentally caught by the side effects of Liam's magic when younger, and had grown gills.
They seemed to be talking, though Shadow couldn't hear what. It also seemed to be the present, not the future this time, though he couldn't quite place how he knew this.
Then it cleared again, and he saw normally. Everyone was watching him, Liam with a curious look.
"Tails and Silver need a helping hand. I think I'll help them this time."
"Both of them? What happened to them?"
"I think Eggman got them both. They're in cells of his, at least."
"I'll keep watch for you, Shadow." Knuckles laid a hand on his shoulder. "You go ahead, if you're sure you can do it."
"Of course I'm sure." He translocated himself to a place above ground, near to where he thought the vision had been, and instantly regretted it. He forgot how nauseous it made him.
When his head cleared, he looked around. He recognised exactly where he was.
Deadman's Hill. The remains of the small hut he'd been in, in the memory earlier, weere still here. Rotting, and falling apart, but still there.
Clearly, nothing had changed much since that memory. Everything was still clearly dead. It gave a haunted quality to the area.
What didn't fit in though, was an unusually lighter coloured tree. Shadow tapped it, and it made a metallic sound. When he pushed it, it fell over, revealing a tunnel entrance, the walls of which had a very familiar stylized face on it. Eggman clearly hadn't gotten any better at hiding his bases.
The alarm was triggered as he entered, but he ignored it. He already knew what he was going to do.
The tunnel opened into a larger room, already filled with guard robots awaiting his arrival.
"Stop where you are," one announced over the din of all their engines and other noises.
"Looking for me?" Shadow asked innocently. "I'm sure I have something for you." He held out the palm of his hand, concentrated briefly, and lightning arced from it, to the nearest robot, and formed a chain reaction to all of the others. In a few moments, they all lay inactive, electronics fried.
Shadow walked over them nonchalantly, humming tunelessly as he went. He knew where he was going, Eggman was nothing if not predictable.
The door, of course, was locked, but a fireball from the other hand melted it out of his path. He could get to like magic, he decided.
He left a trail of chaos behind him, completely ignoring the security alarms, and almost happily eliminating whatever threat arose, almost before it did so.
In the distance, he heard someone throwing a childish temper, and smiled. Eggman had finally found out what was going on.
He headed for it, still humming, still completely at ease, and still throwing magic around. Always making sure he avoided the dark magic, just in case. He doubted he'd need it.
He found the command room in complete disarray, with Eggman shouting orders all over the place. Shadow silenced him with yet more magic, dealt with the rest of the room, then turned back to him.
"Eggman. What a surprise to see you here."
Eggman tried to say something, but was still influenced by the silence.
"No, don't say anything. I know how you like to keep that voice of yours safe."
Eggman glared, and punched at random commands, probably hoping to summon some kind of help. Shadow already knew what was going to happen. He'd left one of Eggman's robots intact and working in preparation.
The two shards of the Master Emerald were held by a pair of grasping claws.
"Ah, I see you kept the shards safe for me. How nice of you. I'll relieve you of them now. I'm sure you don't mind."
Eggman's punching commands grew more frantic, as he watched the two shards release themselves, and float down to Shadow.
Metal Sonic, repaired since his meeting with Sonic, entered the room.
"Stop where you are," he commanded.
Shadow grinned. His little plan was working exactly as he expected.
"Oh, there you are. I was beginning to think you'd got lost."
Metal Sonic and Eggman both seemed to be confused.
"I thought I'd just leave you both with a parting gift. On behalf of me, Shadow, Sonic, and all their friends." He unleashed the magic he had ready, passing it through Eggman, then Metal Sonic, then the guard robot and back to Eggman. Then he left it to work, and went off in search of Silver, Aqua and Tails.
* * *
Metal Sonic had blanked out. He was clearly still active, but something was wrong. Eggman could tell that much. The odd light the boy had hurled at them blinded him temporarily, then when it cleared, he was looking at himself, and a guard robot.
Something wasn't right.
He looked down.
He wasn't surprised when Metal Sonic's voice rang out with his yells.
On his right, the guard robot got up. It connected to him, as he'd made all his robots able to communicate as such.
"What are you doing in my body?" it asked.
"Your body? You're Metal Sonic? So who..." they both looked at Eggman's body.
"Oh no," they both echoed each other.
* * *
Silver and Tails exchanged a look. They'd heard all kinds of noises, but the laughter that was coming closer neither of them recognised. It wasn't Eggman, for sure.
Then Shadow wandered down the stairs, and stopped, looking at each of them in turn.
"Liam!" Aqua called.
"Ah, not quite," he replied. "Liam's actually somewhere else, I'm borrowing his body."
"Like Silver is Sonic's? And Tails is Shadow's?"
"Just like that." He glanced at Tails. "How did you manage to get caught with my body?"
Tails shifted from foot to foot guiltily. "I made a mistake."
Shadow laughed again, and shook his head. "No harm done. Why are you still in the cells?"
"The bars kind of make it difficult to get out, you know."
"Why, so they do? Why don't I do something about that?"
The bars abruptly lost their shine, and seemed to collapse into a pile of dust. Aqua touched a paw to it, then licked.
"Well, I had to change it to something safe, didn't I?"
"Why not tuna?"
"Because I'd never be able to pull you away then, would I? I've got the two shards. Why don't we all head back?"
"Are you going to do that disappearing thing, and reappear where we're going?"
* * *
Knuckles and Liam were examining the remains of the fake shard. It was filled with all kinds of odd technology.
"Do you know what any of it is?"
"Me? I just guard the Master Emerald. What do you know of it?"
"I have no idea. We'll have to wait until Shadow gets back."
"Or Tails. He'd know what this is too."
"They're on the way back."
"How do you know?"
"Shadow just told me. That, and I can feel the presence of magic again, which means he's not far away."
"Or right behind you," a voice broke in brightly.
"You almost startled the life out of me Shadow." Liam turned. "Well, someone's in a good mood."
"Oh, I just decided it was more interesting to have a little fun with Eggman. Don't worry, I didn't do anything permanent to him. Well, nothing that he won't be able to undo, anyway. Eventually."
"I just gave them to Sonic."
"Sonic's in Knuckles' body, which makes him the Guardian, so he's the one who has to put it back together again."
"I guess that answers that question," Knuckles said to no one in particular. "What happens then?"
"When he puts it back together? I think we all go back to normal."
They all looked over to the foot of the stairs leading to the top of the shrine. Sonic was there, evidently trying to figure out how to reassemble the Master Emerald. Amy was sat watching, not far away. Aqua had curled up nearby, and was enjoying having his ears scratched. Obviously she liked him.
"I guess I should help him out. I've had to do it twice before."
Tails and Silver joined them after Knuckles left. He, Liam and Shadow sat watching Sonic and Knuckles.
"Does this mean it's over?" Silver asked.
"Oh, not yet. We still all have to be present when Sonic finishes with the Master Emerald, I think."
"Oh good. I think I'm going to go enjoy myself some more while we wait." Silver dashed off again.
"I think he liked being Sonic," Tails commented.
"Like you do me, you mean?" Shadow grinned slyly.
"Good point. I think I'll give him a good race." Tails went after Silver.
"You know, much as I liked using your magic, I think I could do better without it."
"It's not so bad really, is it?"
"No. Just got to watch out for those dark ones."
"And the inconvenient visions."
Liam laughed. "Oh yes. Always dropping in when you least expect them."
"How about you?"
"Hm? Oh, I think I've had my share of being this young over again. Maybe sometime I'll see if I can finally get the hang of transformation magic, and pretend to be Tails again sometime."
"I thought you couldn't use that kind of magic on yourself?"
"Oh, there are limits, but I'm always trying to push back those limits. Always looking for new ways to use it. It helps pass the boring years when there's nothing much to do except sit in that cavern and warn people."
"You ought to get out more."
"I do get out a lot. It's not like I have my own grocery store up there, you know."
"I've been meaning to ask you about your cavern actually. It's magic itself, isn't it?"
"It took you that long to figure it out?"
"So, couldn't you just move it to another rock face?"
"One more easily accessible, so you can all come visit more often?"
"What about the lake?"
"I'm sure you'll figure something out."
* * *
Sonic slotted the last piece into place. The only thing missing now was the bottom of it.
"I think that's it. Almost it, anyway."
"I'll go get the others. You take it on up. Be careful with it."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Don't wanna make it worse."
Knuckles watched Sonic shift the Master Emerald. He decided instead of wandering around looking for everyone, he'd make use of the Psychic powers one last time, and let everyone know that way.
Only Silver actually responded.
Going to miss being able to do this?
Maybe a bit. But Liam said everyone has access to it, they just have to unlock it.
You'll have to practice hard to get up to my level.
What else have I got to do? I sit around all the time waiting for something to break the Master Emerald again.
Fair enough. Maybe I'll stop by sometime and help out.
* * *
Silver and Tails stopped outside Tails' workshop.
"I'm going to miss being able to do that," he told Tails.
"So am I. It's kind of fun."
"I know. I can see why Sonic's the way he is."
"You've been acting a lot like him, you know."
"I know, it's hard not to. He's contagious."
"We better head back."
"Race you there?"
* * *
Sonic waited at the top of the shrine. Shadow was first to arrive. Shadow was clearly in an unusually good mood. Maybe he'd smile or laugh more often now.
Liam came in next, dropping down from flying somewhat unsteadily. He still hadn't managed to get the hang of it.
Knuckles had already wandered up, and was floating nearby. It was slightly odd, watching him lean on empty air.
Twin blurs shot in on either side of him, and Silver and Tails finally showed up, both sporting matching grins.
Liam looked round. Everyone except Sonic was sat down, or leaning against something, to be ready for it this time. "Alright," he said finally. "We're all here. Go ahead Sonic. Whenever you're ready."
He dropped the Master Emerald onto the last piece, and it reattached with a click. It rose up, started spinning, and it's glow returned, bathing them all in it's light. Sonic quickly sat down as he felt it take hold, and start returning them to their right bodies.
It had been an interesting adventure, he decided. Maybe if Knuckles wanted a change, they could get Liam to do something, and he'd look after the emerald so Knuckles could go out and do things without having to worry.
Don't think it isn't tempting, Knuckles' voice murmured before the switch back again took place.
* * *
Two weeks later
Liam leaned back. He'd decided to take Shadow's advice, and had moved the cavern's main tunnel to a rock wall near Tails' workshop. He hadn't had the trouble he'd been expecting, of people continually visiting just to see what they saw in the water, which surprised him - a rare thing for him.
He glanced into the water, and saw the same sight he always did. He didn't like it, but he was used to seeing it. He couldn't bring himself to believe, he could ever abuse his magic to the point of becoming it though.
Aqua had stopped by recently, and returned the amulet Liam had given him long before, the one he was meant to use when helping Silver. He'd re-tasked it, and given it back, now if Aqua tapped it, it'd let Liam know he wanted a hand.
Things were quiet now, so he let his mind wander, and see what everyone else was up to.
* * *
Eggman was furious. He couldn't do any work properly like this, and Metal Sonic was useless as he was. The security robot that was stuck in his body was hopelessly clumsy.
Still, they were making some progress. Maybe if he finally finished this machine, he could then somehow use it against Sonic. Maybe he'd even use it himself with Sonic, and see if he could damage the hedgehog's reputation.
Or Shadow, maybe. The ultimate life form, with the world's greatest scientist inhabiting it. Only a genius could truly appreciate it.
He went back to the machine, and shouting at everything. Or trying to. He decided Metal Sonic needed to be able to shout.
* * *
"Hey Knuckles. Whatcha up to?"
"Listening to a psychic hedgehog do impressions of Sonic?"
Silver laughed and dropped down beside him. "I thought I'd stop by."
"You're too kind. I'm just trying to rebuild this old shrine a bit."
"I thought it looked like that, but you're not putting too much effort into it. You haven't even got up."
"I'm also practicing to see if Liam was right about everyone having Psychic powers."
"Done anything yet?"
"I gave myself a headache. Does that count?"
Silver laughed again, and shook his head.
"Mind if I help out?"
"I think I'd do better that way."
* * *
Shadow stopped outside Tails' workshop. Tails was outside anyway, working on the Tornado again. Like usual when he was working on something, Tails was completely oblivious to things happening around him.
His hand reached out from under the plane for a wrench. Shadow handed it to him.
Tails tried to sit up, and banged his head, giving a yelp of pain, then he finally got free.
"Oh, it's you."
"Well that's nice."
"Sorry. I was distracted."
"You look like you need a wash, too."
"Oh, that's just because there was a leak. It'll clean right out." As if to emphasize, he took out a cloth and started wiping some of his fur clean.
"So, did you try it?"
"Yep. I didn't get too far, but I managed it."
"See, what'd I tell you?"
"It's not as easy though."
"Just that you can Chaos Control at all is good though."
"Means I can keep up with Sonic too."
"Or overtake him?"
"Nah, I don't want him to get jealous that I can still do it, and he can't. He doesn't know I can do it yet, anyway." Tails finished cleaning himself off, and looked up. "You're looking better than usual."
"You were right, not being so serious all the time is good for me. I even managed to hang out with Sonic earlier. I let him beat me in a short race though."
"I felt like it. Besides, Silver was also right – Sonic's attitude is contagious."
* * *
Liam brought his mind back and smiled. He already know Sonic shouldn't be bothered. He and Amy were at home. She'd finally cornered him and gotten him to give in.
Everything was back to normal again. Just as it should be.
He felt a vision come on, and laughed when he saw what would happen. At least it'd get them all together again.