Chapter 5: Boss Level

Shadow smashed his wrist communicator against the concrete. At least, he tried to. Glass shards born from the crash took most of the damage to his hand.

"I am the Ultimate Life…" He stumbled sourly, just staring at the starless sky. "Why me?"

In a bubble of armoured self-pity, Shadow wished for a peaceful snuggle, Chaos cola, and the key to Station Square's self-destruction switch. The city was like a coffee stain on his perfect face. And yet, only Black Doom had wanted to wash it clean. Good luck bringing him to finish the job after the brutal beating he gave the alien. Aliens, the ethical fodder.

He'd have to hold thoughts of mad fun for another night. A defenceless, sleeping female hedgehog awaited him a few floors below. Not very exciting for a secret agent with more than fifty years of experience, but she was essential to double-crossing Eggman.

Frail composure, if not fatigue-induced peace of mind, helped him stand up to scan the area. Most of the cops have left the building, so it was safe to make a straight jump to Amy's room. Shadow decided to descend one floor at a time. He knelt down, pushing his feet over the edge, and let go with the first windowsill in sight.

One click of the soap shoes, so he would…

A forceful click of the shoes and some banging together for good measure, yes.

To his horror, Shadow's rocket boost fizzled out of order. The hedgehog tumbled past the seventh floor, only breaking the ledge with his nose, and slipped off the sixth with bits of tin and tile in his hands. Thankfully, level five brought the disaster trip to a halt: someone left the window wide open. The horizontal frame held out his weight right in the middle.

"Have mercy, Maria!" he cried in a high-pitched voice before blacking out for a spell.

When Shadow regained consciousness, he couldn't feel anything below his belly button. The legs still functioned, and he'd get plenty of opportunity to check out the rest after the mission.

Carefully, the spy crawled to the joint for a light dismount onto the sill plate below. He sighed at the feel of firm material under his feet. Amy's room could require some work to enter, so he crouched down to slide off, holding onto the ledge above his head while the rest dangled by the target floor.

He was so close he could taste the windowsill. Or was it tobacco? Shadow sniffed the air in hope the nasal injury was pulling his leg, but no, there definitely was a smoker on the fifth floor. They had opened the window to fool the smoke detector and were now towering above him.

Shadow gulped as the smell intensified. Deep breaths, Shadow, relax. No, don't breathe in! Just relax. Relax without breathing. Wait, that's impossible.

The thought soup stirred by noxious fumes made it difficult to concentrate on the mission. When tiny ash flakes floated by, the hedgehog knew what was coming up. Gerald would shake it down once the bud carried too much ash to its weight. That time, Shadow would get to roleplay as the carpet. He didn't want to roleplay as a carpet. He hated roleplaying. And he hated carpets. That's why they had no carpets back at the space station.

A large puff of smoke rose above, followed by the faintest thud left by the powder bun. It rolled silently down the edge till Shadow could see it. The evil residue lingered on the sill as if mocking the hedgehog. In fact, it looked like the roll stopped dead in its tracks, and the puffs were over.

The smoker flicked the bud out the window and reached out to close it. Shadow preyed to the next best deity, Maria, so the person wouldn't see him. They didn't. The window just sealed shut, followed by awkward silence.

Shadow chuckled to himself, not noticing that the gust caused by the closing pane gave the hot ash the boost needed for a date with his face. The notice came loud and clear with a stinging sensation in his ear. He couldn't afford two fires in one day. Shadow panicked, hitting his head with one hand in hope of getting the ash off, but it only made things worse.

Sizzling noises drove him to the brink. Shadow scratched the precious ear with one hand while brushing the rest off his fur with the other. Some of the looser ash floated off. The ear canal just wouldn't stop tormenting him. Earwax joined forces with the invader, making it impossible to clean via regular means.

There was one thing to do. Shadow clenched a fist, huffed loudly and uttered the words: "Chaos Spear."

10,000 volts of ear-cleaning goodness evaporated the gunk. Shadow trembled during the process like a hedgehog normally would, but catharsis overwhelmed discomfort. The pain, the smoke, all uncomfortable sensations subsided. They gave rise to something new, fresh and clean.

Five storeys of sinking feelings.

Shadow flailed his hands to latch onto the wall, which rejected his pitiful attempts. It was stupid of him to forget, and Shadow kicked himself mentally just like the last time he forgot, which resulted in half of the moon exploding.

Flashbacks eclipsed the painful drop. He must have made a little crater, judging by how deafening the thud was. The hedgehog sensed no discomfort, only darkness. He loved darkness. It reminded him of the early years spent in a cosy stasis capsule, a simple life devoid of having to conquer the world on request…no insatiable urges of breaking the speed limit. Night, night, Shads. People will read about me in blogs tomorrow.

Seconds passed without making a difference. He wiggled his toes impatiently. Was he done for by now? Impatient to see it happen, Shadow opened an eye. A frightening abyss glared back at him. It had a precise recollection of his sins: the flag, the leash, broken bottles and helicopter noise. In fact, it looked awfully like the spot next to the hotel's entrance seen from a suicidal hedgehog's perspective.

The perspective was being pulled away from him, though. Shadow found himself hoisted by a mysterious captor into a room on the fourth floor. Still in a slight daze and facing the wall, he couldn't see the one responsible.

Shadow turned around hesitantly. Amy was standing behind him.

"Act three," he whispered.

Amy said nothing. At first, it worried Shadow as he skipped static boss camp, but the moonshine in her pupils erased signs of inconvenience: she was sleepwalking. To be precise, she was standing in her sleep.

He walked up to the hedgehog and waved a hand in front of her blank face. "Long time," he snickered, still waving, "no see. No see at all… Perfect. The Chaos energy must have fried your brain."

Shadow sneaked past her, feeling good about himself. He scanned the room for clues. The container was definitely there, but its aura spilled all over the place, so he couldn't pinpoint its location just yet.

"If I were a mixture of an imbecile and a hormonal fangirl, whom I never was and never will be, where would I hide a highly explosive toxic substance…" Shadow pondered. "Gee, it's a lot harder than I thought. Maybe, it'll help when I look without thinking. Yes, an excellent idea! Brain, off."

He fell to the floor in an instant, seething with embarrassment. Shadow sighed to calm down. "You've got this, Shadow. ULF, ULF, go."

Since not thinking failed miserably, he picked a more thorough approach. All of Amy's clothes were neatly folded on a bedside cabinet and nothing in the wardrobe looked a bit suspicious. Shadow found her purse under the bed. A strong sense of Chaos was coming from it. At least, Shadow hoped it was Chaos. He didn't have much experience with handbags before. After choking on the contents of Maria's purse when he was little, Shadow had a fear of rummaging in other people's stuff installed.

As he dug in the seemingly endless sea of accessories, flashbacks with Gerald's lectures bombarded him. The Chaos essence wasn't there, but he found something sticky and a Sonic radar. Shadow turned it on. There was a hedgehog-shaped blip on the screen.

"Clever girl," he noted while downloading the data.

The tracker wasn't the source of his compliment, though. Amy's done a good job hiding the objective from him. Perhaps, she really was as crafty as Eggman believed her to be.

Looking back at the idle pink statue, he quickly rejected the thought. There was one more spot secret enough that he could check, the dreaded Piko-Piko hammer. Shadow's been hit by it more times than he could remember. Poor Sonic…

A heavy beast, Shadow thought as he lifted it. Still, it wasn't as heavy as a hammer of this size should feel. In fact, the head felt hollow. Upon closer inspection, he noticed a turnable cap on the less battered side. A few twists of the wrist and Shadow was free to peer inside.

There were a number of items in the hammer. Most of them were probably there to add punch to the blow. He could see pictures of himself and a few other hedgehogs with a red stamp: "Not Sonic. Forever ignore."

Someone scrawled "Big was here." on the side of the casing. Shadow didn't know anyone named Big, and if he did, he'd shoot them for having a stupid name. Looking farther still, Shadow managed to get half-inside the hammer. A frightening thought dawned upon him: the girl could stuff Sonic in there!

He leaped out of the hammer, breathing heavily. The essence wasn't there. He'd just search for it somewhere else. Plenty of time as long as the pink monster was deaf to the world.

Slightly relieved, he checked back at where the unconscious girl used to stand. Wait, she wasn't there anymore…

"Uh, Amy?"

Should have taken the Egg Carrier option.