CHAPTER ONE: Going Places, Doing Things

Through a dust storm in the middle of the arid Shamar desert, Doctor Eggman, Orbot, and Cubot were trekking through the shifting sand. Rubbing his fingers along the edges of his grotesquely large mustache, Eggman looked to be in deep thought. Or at least what qualified for deep thought in his case. His companion robots knew that, though he claimed to have an IQ beyond measurable standards, the Doctor rarely thought of anything that would illustrate his genius.

"Sir, couldn't we have taken one of your vehicles," Orbot asked, "instead of walking through this desert?"

"I already told you that we're going for inconspicuous here," the Doctor said, "and besides, it's not like you get tired." The robot turned it's head toward the ground. Like the Doctor could even be inconspicuous. If the giant mustache and oddly egg shaped body didn't give him away, his robot companions would. But Orbot knew better than to point that out to him.

"I suppose, Doctor, but the sand gets in my joints, and I don't want my hardware to melt in this heat..."

"Stop your whining, we're almost there."

"Why are we even coming here anyway? This place doesn't have one of your lairs or anything?" Cubot asked, his voice still as annoying as ever. Eggman kept trying to replace the voice chip, but this annoying squeal was, unbelievably, the easiest to put up with.

"Let's just call it a package pickup," the Doctor replied, grinning evilly with all of his teeth showing. Something was up the Doctor's sleeve, something that he probably thought particularly ingenious... but the robots knew that he didn't have the best track record. Off in the distance, Cubot noticed a small village. "Is that the place there, Eggman? Finally!" "Oh thank goodness, I can get some oil again. These dry environments start to wear on the parts after a while after all..."

"Will you both shut up? Honestly, I'm at a loss for why you're not scrap metal yet." Eggman was looking slightly irritable, and true enough, the edge of his mustache was beginning to fray. The three of them walked off their annoyance until they reached Shamar, the one piece of civilization they found in a vast desert. Eggman donned a cloak to try and hide himself as he walked through the market. Back when the world was split into pieces because one of Eggman's more chaotic attempts at taking over the world, there was only one show here that sold essential supplies. However, now that it had been stable for some time now, the community had developed a much larger marketplace, filled with merchants selling everything from local delicacies to rugs that were obviously priced with gullible tourists in mind. But what Eggman was looking for wasn't exactly something that got sold in public, a fact that became obvious when he turned down a dark alleyway and met with a hooded figure.

"It is nice to see you again, Doctor..." the cloaked man said, a Spagonian accent seeping through the words. "I have what you asked me for. I trust you will honor our agreement."

Orbot and Cubot shared a glance. Doctor Eggman was evil, yes, but these backdoor dealings seemed even shadier than usual. Eggman paid them no mind as he replied, "Yes, Professor. The agreement will be honored, so long as you hold up your end of the deal."

The cloaked man chuckled. "Yes. Well then, follow me, and we'll make the exchange." The man tucked around a hidden corner and opened a door. The Doctor and the Professor walked in together, two very confused robots in tow.

Meanwhile, on a different corner of the globe entirely, a blue hedgehog was going for a nice jog. Of course, a jog for Sonic typically meant going at speeds of Mach 1 at least, but after spending all of yesterday at his birthday party - not to mention fixing a crack in the space time continuum that threatened the fabric of the universe itself and racing, of all people, himself- he figured he should keep to subsonic speeds for the time being. Besides, though it wasn't as fast as he could run, there was something about the pounding of shoe on dirt, the light strain of his lean muscles, the feeling of cool air rushing around his face, that made him feel more... alive? Happy? What was the word he was looking for?

He didn't ponder long before he saw a figure in the distance. Unlike Sonic, whose feet tended to hit the ground so fast that the tapping blurred into a continuous whir, this figure glided across the terrain, his shoes lighting up with Chaos energy fueling his speed. He also had a black leather bag slung over his shoulder.

"Yo, Shadow! Long time no see!"

The black hedgehog turned his head towards the blue and scowled. Sonic rolled his eyes. Shadow was always grumpy. Still, he turned around so that he could run side by side with the black hedgehog. It wasn't like he was going anywhere anyway.

"You know, it's polite to respond when someone talks to you."

"I'm busy."

"Doin' what?"

"I don't have to explain myself to you, faker."

"GUN made you their delivery boy?"

"Of course not you imbecile!"

"Then what's in the bag? You might as well tell me."

Shadow gave him a strange look, then snapped back to his normal, brooding expression. Was that a blush the blue hedgehog saw? Naw, he thought. Must have been a trick of the light.

"It's none of your damn business. Stop following me," the black hedgehog replied gruffly. Sonic sighed.

"Can I at least run with you for a while?"

"Wha- No you may not!" Shadow replied hurriedly turning his head away from the Hero of Mobius. "Get away from me!" A burst of Chaos energy propelled the black hedgehog forward, and he accelerated quickly. Sonic could've caught up to him easily; the blur blur couldn't think of a time when he'd lost a race against Shadow. But he let him go instead.

Shadow's acting awfully weird today, he thought. In fact, now that I think about it, he's been acting weird for a while now. Why, only yesterday, Shadow challenged the hedgehog to a fight. Even when the world was falling to pieces, he pushed so hard for one more chance to take him down. And when Sonic did finish the fight, coming out victorious, Shadow didn't snap some retort as he usually did, but only faced the ground, not showing his face. Sonic had wanted to ask if he was okay or why he wanted to fight, but with a ticking clock, he had left Shadow behind, instead rushing to restore the world.

I never did explain myself for that, did I? Sonic frowned to himself. That was another thing he'd have to talk to him about. If only, for once, there was a time where one or the other of them weren't always flitting from place to place, trying to stop some disaster or save somebody. The Hero of Mobius gladly accepted the responsibility that came with helping others, and Shadow seemed to as well, but with the world being as it was, there was hardly ever a moment when they could just be alone...

Sonic looked up into the horizon. The last streaks of light painted the sky in reds and purples, with a few flecks of yellow as a reminder of the sun which had already set for the night. It was quite beautiful, so much so that the normally hyperactive hedgehog took a few moments to admire it. He stood alone in the silence of the green meadows, and he smiled.

Maybe Shads is looking at this same view.

Sonic wondered why he thought that, but quickly shoved it aside. He was starting to get twitchy, and he knew that Tails was probably waiting until he got back to have dinner. After a few more seconds of taking in the sky of many colors, Sonic took off towards home. The wind blowing by made a hollow sound, but otherwise Sonic was completely alone with his thoughts.

He then realized how running made him feel. Free, he thought. Running makes me feel free. But all of the sudden, it made him feel empty too.