A/N: G'day all! Sorry for the wait, but I've been bogged down with assignments and a shitload of writer's block. =_=;

Sorry about the excessive fluff and Shadow's extreme out of charcter-ness last chapter... I promise that from now on there will only be one or two moments of extremely mild fluff from now on... at least until I get to Silver and Blaze, then there will probably be a fluff overload... ^^;

Duskzilla: Hmm... interesting idea, but I'm sorry to say I won't be using it. Unfortunately, I only have an extremely limited amount of knowledge about Tails Doll (as in I know it's name and only one or two other random things) so I won't be incorporating him (it?) into the story. Not only that, I said that this is going to be a short fic (nearing the climax at this point) and I stand by that. But thanks for trying to give me ideas anyway. :)

Two more deaths, and much violence ahead, as well as an unexpected appearance. Enjoy, guys!


The Darkness Returns

A Small and Bittersweet Victory

Hours later…

Afternoon

House of Amy Rose

"Damn! This place is a bust too!" Shadow snarled, slamming a fist into the white painted wooden doorframe he was standing next to.

Rouge winced at the large hole the hedgehog's fist imprinted on the object's wooden surface. "Cool it Shadz, there's only one more place left." She said, hoping to placate him, if only a little.

The Ultimate Life form ground his teeth and removed his fist from the ruined doorframe. "Let's hurry, then… c'mon Omega!"

"Affirmative." Was the robot's immediate response to the order.

Team Dark exited the home of Amy Rose and, as had been their routine for the past few hours, Rouge and Omega each grasped one of Shadow's hands. The hedgehog then powered the rockets in his shoes and the trio shot off towards their final destination.

Once the three were out of sight, Mephiles detached himself from the shadows of the surrounding forest and chuckled. "Fools. They are already as good as dead!"

The darkness manipulating being's body melted into a thick dark goo and sunk into the ground.

It was time to slaughter the fat cat and the rabbit girl.


Moments later…

Afternoon

House of Vanilla and Cream the rabbits

Mephiles reformed outside a quaint cottage painted a comforting light beige and looked up.

A thin and fragrant trail of smoke floated lazily from the residence's chimney and his muzzle creased with a triumphant smirk. Just as it was before he'd left.

His ears detected anguished wails and sobs within the house's walls and his mouthless smirk broadened. It seemed that news of Sonic and the pink hedgehog's deaths had finally reached them. Their anguish would make it even simpler for Mephiles to infiltrate the cosy house and eradicate the pair. The abomination transformed his body into a dark mist and proceeded to float through the chimney.


Mephiles' short journey through the chimney went by smoothly without any obstructions, and only the rising heat from whatever was cooking brought him minor discomfort.

At the end of the chimney was a large opening and he paused at it to make sure that his exit was all clear. He was in luck. A womanly figure was in the process of moving away from the opening, hands lightly dusting over a crisp white apron.

Mephiles' misty form left the pizza oven, equally quick and cautious, and reformed behind the woman whose back was facing him.

As if detecting his presence, the rabbit woman stiffened before whirling around to face him.

As soon as their eyes locked, the woman's widened in surprise and she opened her mouth to scream.

One of Mephiles' crystallized hands slapped itself over her mouth, cutting off the scream before it could be vocalised. Her eyes widened further with terror and she raised a hand to slap him. Mephiles swatted away the hand in a bored manner, repeating the action twice more before growing impatient and gripping Vanilla's wrist tightly.

She emitted a muffled scream and tried to yank her wrist out of his grasp. Mephiles leered at her and applied more pressure to her wrist, excited chills running down his spine as her muffled screams grew louder and her struggling more pronounced.

He was pondering on how to increase her suffering when an innocent child's voice thick with tears and concern reached his ears. "M-mother? Are you alright?"

Mephiles narrowed his eyes in annoyance. 'Careless!' he berated himself, only half aware that his grip on the woman's wrist had increased in pressure. Quickly, he dragged the struggling rabbit woman deeper into the kitchen and halfway into the open stand-in pantry.


"…Mother?" Cream called again, more uncertain this time.

"Maybe she went outside." Her friend and companion, a purple cat that was large in many senses, suggested in his slow dopey voice. The little rabbit girl frowned and chewed at her lower lip, lowering her gaze to her shoe clad feet. "Yes… maybe." She murmured, clearly unconvinced.

Cream felt something small and comforting pat her shoulder and she looked up in surprise to see her blue Chao friend, Cheese. The little creature continued to pet her shoulder with one of his soft bubbly arms. "Chao chao!" he squeaked encouragingly in his high pitched voice, causing the young rabbit to smile. "Yes Cheese, I suppose you're right."

The creature smiled and puffed out his chest slightly, proud that he had managed to coax the facial expression from his owner.

The smile was quickly dropped however, and the little girl stared at her bright shiny shoes once more.

"Chao…" Cheese squeaked in a somewhat sad manner, fluttering onto Cream's shoulder and clutching softly at her ear.

"I'm sorry, Cheese." She murmured, reaching up to pet his head. "I'm just so sad that so many of our friends are… are… gone because of this disease." She sniffled and rubbed at her eyes. "And now they're… n-never coming b-b-back!" she began to sob uncontrollably, placing her face into her little gloved hands and soaking them with her anguished tears.

Big made to comfort her but an odd sound caught his attention, causing one of his long ears to twitch. "Hm? What was that?" he wondered aloud.

Cream slowly removed her face from her hands. "Wh-what?" she hiccupped.

"I thought I heard something…" the cat said, tilting his head slightly in the direction of the kitchen. His ear flicked again. "There… did you hear it?"

Cream nodded stiffly. Yes, she too had heard the faint snapping noise, and it had sent frightened chills down her spine. "What do you th-think it could be, Mr Big?" she whispered, eyes glued to the closed door of the kitchen. The cat shrugged. "I dunno…"

Cream swallowed uneasily and clutched Cheese close to her chest.

Big noticed and gently petted her head with one of his big gloved hands. "I'll look for your mama and see if she's ok."

Cream smiled up at him gratefully, "Thank you, Mr Big."

He smiled down at her in return and lumbered to the kitchen.


"Mrs Vanilla?" Big called softly as he opened the kitchen door and attempted to squeeze his massive bulk through the small opening. The fact that there was no reply, and that the kitchen was empty confused the cat and made him feel uneasy. But since he was such a slow and somewhat dim-witted creature he ignored his ill feelings and fearlessly lumbered around the kitchen, calling for Cream's mother.

He was midway through the action of opening a cupboard to see if she was hiding in there when a faint noise made his ears lift. It sounded like fabric sliding softly over the ground.

"Mrs Vanilla?" he called again.

Silence.

Big shrugged and went back to looking for Cream's mother in the cupboard.

The weird noise returned.

Puzzled, he ceased his fruitless search of the cupboard and lumbered around in slow aimless circles, keeping his large ears and little eyes open for whatever was making the noise.

Eventually, dizziness caused him to stop spinning.

Big blinked away his tilting double vision so he could get a proper look at what was in front of him. Once the disorientation passed, the cat frowned. Before him was the rabbit family's stand-in pantry, the door ajar and some pale pink fabric with white trim peeking from the gap.

For reasons he could not fathom, Big felt extremely frightened by the sight.

He gulped nervously and cautiously approached the pantry, despite his instincts which screamed for him to turn tail and run away as quick and far as he could.

He couldn't run. No, he wouldn't. He'd promised Cream that he would find her mother and that was what he intended to do, crippling fear or no.

One large gloved hand pressed gently against the wood of the door and cautiously pushed it open.

When the interior of the pantry was revealed, it took five full seconds for what Big was seeing before him to register, and when it did he was too frozen with abject fear to move.

"So glad that you could join me…"

The silky voice made Big's fur stand on end.

"I hope that you can offer me some… entertainment!"

A multitude of crystals shot out at the cat.


A loud yell of pain coming from the kitchen caused Cream to flinch and squeeze Cheese closer to her chest. "Cheese… I think that was Mr Big." She whispered.

The chao emitted a scared whimper and burrowed his head into her arms. She squeezed him tighter ever so slightly. She was just as scared.

Sounds of a struggle floated out from the open kitchen door, further adding to the pair's fright. "What do you think-" Cream began, cutting off her own question with a gasp as her wide eyes took in the sight taking place on the opposite side of the open kitchen doorway.

A dark chunky crystal shot past the opening, skewering the opposite wall.

Cream clambered over the back of the couch and ducked behind it, cowering. "I-it's the disease that killed Amy and Mr Sonic!" she exclaimed, recalling the newspaper article that she and Big had been reading only minutes earlier.

A frustrated snarl accompanied by an angry growl made Cream stiffen.

Never before had she heard a voice filled with so much malice behind it. It terrified her.

'I hope Mr Big is okay…'

Suddenly, realisation struck her. "Mr Big is in there!"

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a window smashing penetrated her ears.

Throwing caution to the wind, the little rabbit girl poked her head over the top of the couch to peer at the kitchen door. She was in time to see Big stumble out from the kitchen, bleeding from multiple wounds inflicted by the same type of crystal she had seen earlier. Her eyes widened, "M-Mr Big… what..?"

A spear of dark chaos energy shot out from the wall, slicing Big's shoulder and making him yelp.

Cream immediately scrambled over to her large friend. "Mr Big!" she cried, distressed at his injuries.

"Cream… hide!" the cat wheezed.

"B-but…!"

Another spear of chaos energy, this one missing Big's head by millimetres.

He gave her an urgent shove towards the stairs that led to the second story of the house. "Hurry!" he whispered, casting an urgent look over his shoulder.

"But what about-"

A third spear lodged itself into the carpet next to Cream's shoe, cutting her off.

She squealed and ran.


Mephiles growled with annoyance and turned into mist, floating through the smashed kitchen window. 'That worthless tub of lard is strong…' he grudgingly admitted to himself as he reformed inside the destroyed kitchen. 'He needs to be disposed of quickly.'

His pointed crystallised legs tapped melodiously over the tile floor, muffled only when he stepped into a small puddle of blood.

'Yes… once the cat is no longer an obstruction, I can easily extinguish the life of the little one.'

A pleasurable shudder rolled through him.

If his kills so far had excited him, he could only imagine how good killing Shadow would feel.

He smirked in his mouthless way and emerged from the kitchen.

In the living area, the bloodied cat wobbled to his feet, the rabbit nowhere in sight. Mephiles snorted contemptuously. 'Foolish mortals…'

"You cannot win. Submit to the embrace of death." He stated, forming a churning orb of darkness in each hand.

Big picked up the couch from the side and hefted it over his shoulder like a baseball bat, a determined look on his face.

Mephiles scowled at the cat's defiance. "So be it." He growled, legs dissolving into mist.

Big froze, shocked by the sight, giving Mephiles time to fly towards him. He recovered quickly however, and ducked as the abomination slashed at his head. The orb in that hand leapt forward eagerly despite missing its target and something exploded behind Big.

The cat gave Mephiles a hard shove, sending him crashing through a wall. As he flew, the remaining orb flew out of Mephiles' grasp and soared past Big's shoulder where it connected with a vase, causing it to explode in a cloud of dust and tiny shards of porcelain.

Big hefted the couch a little higher on his shoulder and charged at Mephiles head on.


Cream fumbled clumsily with the lock on her door, all too aware of the sounds of battle downstairs. After what felt like an eternity, it clicked, signifying that she had succeeded.

Quickly she bolted her window closed and leapt to the centre of the room, eyes flitting about frantically for a hiding place in the semi-darkness. After a particularly loud explosion sounded, her eyes settled upon her chest of toys. She stumbled towards it and threw open the lid, quickly removing her collection of dolls and stuffed animals from it and piling them on the floor. Once it was empty she threw open her dresser and carried over armfuls of toys at a time, dumping them all inside unceremoniously.

The evil voice from before gave a loud and animalistic snarl, causing Cream to accidentally shut the door of her dresser with more force than necessary. She hoped and prayed with every fibre of her being that the evil one hadn't heard.

The fighting below continued without pause and she sighed with relief.

"Quickly Cheese!" she whispered, crawling into the wooden chest.

The chao zipped in after her. He didn't need to be told twice.

Cream folded her body into a ball, pressing Cheese close to her chest and closed the lid of the toy chest, plunging them in complete darkness.

"Please be ok, Mr Big…" Cream whispered.


The front door of the rabbit residence exploded outwards, taking Mephiles with it.

The wooden object crashed to the ground, the impact sending a small spark of pain in the centre of its passenger's back. Mephiles growled with annoyance and slowly rose to his feet.

Pain was not the issue.

A wheezing Big squeezed his bulk out the ruined door frame, dragging the half broken couch after him. Mephiles' hands curled into fists, his pointed fingers drawing a small amount of blood. "Ridiculous!" he hissed to himself, angered that of all his victims the only one to properly fight back was a fat half wit. Not only that, the brute was actually pushing him back, even with the severe injuries he had already received.

The cat grunted and heaved the ruined couch over his shoulder again and Mephiles' eyes narrowed.

It was this cat that was the problem. He needed to go… now!

Mephiles flexed his fingers a couple of times, the movements causing them to click and crackle.

Big suddenly charged forward with a determined yell. Mephiles simply stood in place, staring intently at the approaching cat.

'Two more seconds…'

The cat had already crossed the halfway mark between the two of them and was steadily gaining more momentum as he ran.

'One…'

The cat was almost within striking distance, and he began to swing the couch at Mephiles.

Mephiles slowly, almost leisurely, lifted his left hand, palm facing the oncoming cat, and quickly charged chaos energy.

Big's eyes widened. He realised his mistake, although it was of course, too late. He was going too fast to stop, and even if he tried, his momentum would just keep propelling him forward.

'I'm sorry I couldn't stop him Cream…'

A quick dark blur of chaos energy shot out of Mephiles' palm and skewered Big in the forehead.


The abomination yanked his fist back, severing its connection with the spear of chaos energy, which immediately dissipated.

The cat wobbled precariously on his feet for a second before falling forward and crashing into the dirt. Mephiles stalked past his corpse and threw it a contemptuous glare.

If he had a mouth, he would use it to spit on this fat piece of trash.

As he walked closer to the house, Mephiles' pace began to increase and his growing anticipation made him shudder. All thoughts of the time he had wasted on Big vanished, replaced by images of the little girl he was about to kill and how he would go about it.

He wouldn't snap her neck like the girl's mother… she wouldn't have time to scream. He didn't want that… oh no. He wanted to hear her loud agonised screams as she died.

Every. Last. One.

He smirked mouthlessly and began to climb the steps leading to the upper floor of the cottage.

Once he had ascended the last step, a small hall stretched before him, each smooth wall marred by three doors.

Mephiles cocked his head slightly and hummed to himself. "Decisions… decisions…"

He paced slowly to the first door on the left, staring at it long and hard for a few seconds before blasting it to pieces with a dark orb and stepping into the room.


It took all of Cream's willpower to force herself to not scream at the sound of the explosion.

A clamped hand over Cheese's mouth also helped ensure that the chao didn't make any noise to give away their position.

A deafening silence followed the loud noise and Cream felt that if she so much as breathed too loud, the evil one would instantly find them. Cheese shuddered and Cream gave him a gentle squeeze to assure the chao that they were ok. For the moment anyway.

A second explosion sounded and the pair flinched.

Cheese whimpered and Cream quietly shushed him, perking her large ears to make sure the evil one hadn't heard the small noise. As the deafening silence stretched into an agonising eternity, the rabbit child was left wondering if their luck had finally run out.

A third explosion.

No. Not yet.

Although, now that she thought about it, there were only three rooms left, including her own.

Still, she was extremely thankful that her room was located at the end of the hall. At least that bought her a little more time before she was found.

'Someone please… hurry!' she silently begged, tears sliding down her face.


"Warning! Mephiles the Dark detected."

Shadow's smooth pace was broken by his surprised stumble due to the sudden statement.

A surprised Rouge and Omega both teetered with the hedgehog as he hastily tried to right himself.

"Where?!" Shadow growled as soon as the threat of falling had passed.

"Approximately thirty seconds north-east." Omega answered.

Shadow ground his teeth and applied more thrust to his skates, propelling the trio forward faster.

"Let's hurry then." He growled, voice only just audible over the rushing of wind. Rouge squeezed his hand tighter and Omega forced more power out of his jets, further adding to their already insane speed.

Shadow never believed in God or any other such entity, but at that moment, he prayed with all his might to whatever greater power that existed that they would find the cat and the rabbit in time.

'Hurry… hurry… save… danger… Cream… help…!'

This sudden bombardment of a multitude voices made Shadow's head throb, causing him to hiss with pain and squeeze his eyes shut. 'W-what…?'

'Danger… hurry… Cream…' the voices whispered urgently.

'I know! I'm almost there.' He thought back, somewhat irritated and confused at these sudden voices in his head. The voices kept jabbering as though they hadn't heard him. 'Save… Cream… hurry… save… danger… Mephiles!'

Shadow's eyes immediately snapped back open at the mention of the abomination.

'C'mon Shadow! Get a move on!'

His crimson eyes widened further with disbelief. "Faker…?"

Rouge tilted her head in his direction, frowning. "Say what?"

Shadow ignored her, his attention fixed on a transparent blue hedgehog which grinned cheekily at him whilst running backwards through the air ahead of him.

'C'mon Shadow, you're almost out of the woods!' Sonic encouraged, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching break in the tree line to emphasize his point.

Shadow gave his head a quick shake and added another quick burst of speed to compensate for how much he had lost due to the sudden appearance of this Sonic apparition.

The Ultimate Lifeform's eyes narrowed slightly at his dead rival. "What's the meaning of this?" he growled, certain that this was another of Mephiles' mind tricks. Sonic's face became a mask of seriousness. 'I'm dead Shadow… and so are lots of our friends...'

The gaggle of voices from before returned, whispering urgently inside his skull, but he blocked them out, focusing instead on Sonic. 'We want to make sure that no more join us.' Sonic continued, giving Shadow a hard look. 'If you don't hurry, then pretty soon Cream's gonna join us.'

Shadow's jaw clenched and he gave Sonic a curt nod. The dead hedgehog's expression softened and his body quickly began to fade. 'Good luck!'

"Shadow!" Rouge yelled in warning. The hedgehog blinked, seeing that they were rapidly approaching a light beige cottage scarred by a recent battle. He immediately turned off the jets in his shoes and dug his heels in. Omega and Rouge quickly followed suit, bringing them to a halt in front of the broken down front door.

'Hurry… danger…!' the voices whispered with growing urgency.

Shadow yanked out of his team member's grasp and bolted into the house.


The sixth and final door exploded.

Cream curled up into an even tighter ball as chunks of wood scattered throughout her room, some of them banging against the outside of her toy chest. Her ears picked up the sound of the evil one's strange feet tapping slowly against the wood of her floor and she squeezed her eyes shut, allowing a few stray tears to slide down her face.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are…" the silky voice of the evil one called in a sick sing-song voice. Cream squeezed her eyes shut even tighter as she heard the evil one slowly pacing around her room, humming quietly to himself. "You cannot hide from me." The evil one chuckled from somewhere around the right of the room.

More tapping of the evil one's odd feet then a pause. The sound of a door slowly creaking open made Cream's stomach drop. He'd opened the cupboard.

"Aha…!" it was impossible to miss the triumphant note in the evil one's voice. He'd found the soft toys, which meant he was going to crank open the toy chest she had balled herself and Cheese into. The evil one's footsteps made their way towards the toy chest.

'Mummy…' Cream thought, shoulders shaking with barely repressed sobs.

The lid of the toy chest slowly began to rise.

A sudden angry snarl that sounded somewhat familiar caused the evil one to drop the lid and plunge her into complete darkness once more.

The evil one cried out in shock and anger right before something loud thudded against the floorboards with enough force to rattle Cream's compromised hiding place. The unmistakable sounds of flesh smacking against flesh arose, accompanied by low growls and snarls. Cream flinched at every noise and squeaked when something was smashed into what sounded like the window. More flesh pounding ensued until one of the combatants grunted, followed closely by a large impact. In the brief silence that followed, Cream heard something that vaguely sounded like tar bubbling in a pit.

"This will not be the last you see of me!" the evil one hissed in a slightly distorted voice.

"Wait! You coward, come back!" Cream's saviour yelled, enraged.

"Don't worry… we shall see each other very soon. Farewell until then."

The bubbling noise stopped and a heavy silence enveloped the room.

The lid of the toy chest was suddenly ripped open, making Cream shriek fearfully and curl into a tighter ball.

A pair of strong hands began to lift her out of the cramped space and she immediately flailed about, fear and panic fuelling her movements.

"Hey! He's gone now, so calm down."

Cream ceased struggling and peered up at her saviour with tear blurred eyes. "M-m-m-mister Sha-dow?"

The dark hedgehog nodded once and pressed her close to his chest. "It's ok… he's gone. You're safe now." He soothed her as best as he could in his gruff voice. Cream buried her head in his chest fur and began to wail.

As Shadow quietly murmured assurances to the little rabbit that she was ok, he stared across her destroyed bedroom at Sonic. The dead hero smiled sadly back at him.

One person had been saved, but two more had died. It was truly a small and incredibly bittersweet victory.


A/N: Man... this is the longest chapter to date. It's also been the biggest bitch for me to write... T.T

Hopefully my writing doesn't look too slack at the end, if it does tell me and I'll try fix it, along with any other errors you guys happen to pick up.

Oh yeah... I'm working on art for the story cover at the moment!

I've already got a pretty solid idea of what I want, but feel free to give me some ideas anyway.:)

As always, your reviews are greatly appreciated so please leave one if you have the time.

Sayonara 'til the next chapter!