Pyramid of Gloom

"Just Between You and Me", "In The Light", What Have We Become",© DC Talk Riddle of the Outlaw Bear © John H. Leeper

By K.M. Hollar

Illustrated version

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Prologue

Knuckles decided to go out to the Floating Island that day, and that started it.

Even with the relative freedom he had in the freedom fighters, he still liked to escape to the peace of the Floating Island every so often. They always let him go. All he had to do was remind his friends about being the island's guardian, and he got out scott-free.

Such was the situation as Robo Knux, the evil creation of Packbell's, announced his desire to see the Floating Island. He had long had a strange longing to see the mystical isle, but Packbell was reluctant. The freedom fighters had not yet learned of the robot, and Packbell wanted to keep it that way. Unfortunately for him, Robo Knuckles was stubborn and strong-willed. The day before, had had faced his creator defiantly and snarled, "You can't keep me in a controlled environment forever, Packbell. I am not Metal Sonic, and never will be, no matter what you do to me. I'm warning you -- "

So, even though he disapproved, Packbell sent a couple scout robots to analyze the island; giving Robo Knux an opportunity to outline his tour plan.

"I will approach from the east at sunset," the red robot said. A map of the gathered information was spread out on a table in Packbell's luxurious office. The robot had both clawed hands on it, and leaned forward slightly. "I will have the better part of the approaching nightfall to shield me." He glared up at the android standing over him. "No escorts, understand? This is to be a solitary stealth mission." He waited until Packbell had nodded, then lowered his green eyes to the map again. "I doubt my biological model will detect my presence. I intend to be there ten days at the most. If any longer and you have not heard from me, only then should you send backup."

"Eh, you sound very optimistic."

"I prefer to. If the Floating Island proves hospitable, I would like to capture it and make it a base of operations."

Packbell looked skeptical. The Floating Island would not fall to them without a battle. But Robo Knux didn't notice him.

"I will depart tonight. Inform no one -- it might get back to the enemy."

* * *

Purple dusk was settling over the island, deepening to soft indigo in the forests.

Knuckles had the island floating about a mile above the ocean's wrinkled surface. He had spent the day running all over it, checking for anything wrong. The riverbed needed patching, some of the palms looked diseased and unwanted trees had taken root in the Marble Garden ruins. Other than that, all was well.

Knux was reclining on the top peak of the island, lazily slapping at mosquitos and watching the sun go down. It was good to get out by himself once in a while. He loved being the island's guardian; it was his to take care of, as it had been his father's before him.

The sun had just slipped into the ocean, and the sky was a brilliant watercolor of red and orange. He wondered if there any stars out yet, so he swiveled around and looked east. Yes, there was one; bright and low to the horizon. He gazed at it, wondering faintly if it were a planet or a star. You could always tell -- stars twinkled, while planets didn't. Or was it the other way around?

Suddenly a sound reached his ears. It was faint and very distant, but it tugged at his memory. Sort of a high, jet-engine sound ... where had he heard it before?

Knuckles had brought his binoculars up with him, as he liked to watch the last sliver of sun out of sight with them. He lifted them in his big hands and scanned the blue-violet sky. No, the star wasn't there. It was lower, over the ocean, a tiny orange light. He watched it, unconsciously chewing his lower lip. That light, or whatever carried it, was producing the jet-sound.

It came to him. Metal Sonic? He felt as if his heart had fallen straight to his ankles, and gasped a little. Mecha? No! Metal Sonic had been destroyed! But then who was that? He remembered that peculiar sound well; while building the engines into Mecha's metal body. Had the robot been rebuilt, somehow?

The light was advancing toward the island in a straight line. The growing darkness and cool, sweet-scented breeze suddenly seemed frigid and hostile. Knux climbed to his feet, binoculars still trained on the light. Was it coming to the island? It looked like it.

"Great, just what we need," the echidna muttered through his teeth. "A resurrected Metal Sonic."

* * *

Robo Knux was speeding toward the island. He felt protected by the cover of night, and was confident all would go well. He flew fifty feet above the waves, wing-like arms out to the sides for balance. The jets in his dreadlocks and afterburner in his back pushed him along at a good clip. His green, half-circle pupils shown like the eyes of an animal, and were focused above, on the Floating Island. It drew nearer, a massive silhouette against the red-washed sky. Robo Knux rose toward it like a big insect, his green eyes beginning to shimmer with excitement. At last -- the famed Floating Island!

* * *

Knuckles stood near the rim of the island, panting slightly from his long downward glide, eyes fixed on the approaching thing. He could make out its eyes; two green points of light. Metal Sonic's had been red. Maybe this was a different robot. He felt relief, then tension. This one might be even more dangerous than Mecha had been.

Impulsively he stepped into the surrounding brush and dropped flat, pressing his body against the cool earth. Often robots would only scan at eye level and miss the ground entirely. Unfortunately, Metal Sonic had known this and always scanned in all directions. How much like him would this robot be?

The rushing scream of the jet engines drew nearer, rising toward the edge of the island from below. After a moment the robot appeared as it swept into view and landed. It had green eyes, and light shown from its back, but the darkness obscured the rest of its body. The engines toned down and shut off, leaving the robot standing silently in the trees. It was scanning. Knuckles lay motionless, dread shutting his breathing down to a minimum.

The robot spoke, its voice loud and out of place. "I see you. It's no use to hide any longer -- identify yourself."

Slightly embarrassed and terribly frightened, Knux jumped to his feet. Using a tree as cover, he asked, "Who are you, robot?"

The green pupils disappeared and flicked on again in a robotic blink. "I am Mecha bot four," he said. "I am known as Robo Knux."

The words hit Knuckles like a punch in the gut. First a robot Sonic -- now one for him, too. He swallowed, then said, "What do you want here?"

No answer.

He looked out of the trees, then all around. The robot was gone. It had slipped away silently -- Knux was alone.

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Pyramid of Gloom

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"Spike."

I dropped his knapsack at his feet. He looked at it, then up at me insolently. "What's this for?" he asked, nudging it with his toe.

"Don't play stupid," I said, trying to hide my annoyance and failing. "You signed up on the exploring team. Pack your stuff."

I turned away from him. Every time he acted like that I just wanted to scream; or better yet, do something physical and violent.

But not even Spike's bad attitude could dampen my enthusiasm today. Knux had put out an invitation to everybody in Knothole; he needed help on the Floating Island. There's a ancient pyramid out in Sandopolis that needed exploring. Knux had found an old manuscript somewhere that talked of the treasure hidden deep inside the pyramid. Me and Tails had been through it once -- just a hit and run thing, and I had always wanted to check it out again. So I was one of the first to sign up.

There were six of us altogether. Me, Tails, 'Rena, Sally, Slasher and Spike. Knuckles didn't count, 'cause he was the one leading us. We were set to leave tomorrow morning, so we were packing now.

I had finished already, so I headed over to Serena's. She was going through her stuff, deciding what and what not to bring. I leaned against the doorjamb and watched a minute. She was on her knees in the floor, junk all over the place, knapsack hanging open, half full. She brushed her hair out of her face and looked up at me. "Hey Sonic," she said. She sounded half-cheerful, half-exasperated. "You done already?"

I nodded. "Straight up, over and gone. You know, I can't believe Spike wanted to come."

She pulled her pack to her and took out several things. "You know Spike," she said. "He's allergic to work -- he breaks out in a run. This was a good excuse to get away from all that hoverbike maintenance Sal wanted him to do." She glanced up at me, then back down at what she was doing. "I know. It won't be any fun with HIM along."

"Hey Sonic!"

I turned. It was Tails. He came running up to me, slightly out of breath, his dark eyes bright. "What's up, little bro?" I said.

He took my hand and tugged. "I want ya t'lookit my pack before I check in with Sally. She'll make me take out all the good stuff, and I want to make sure I'll pass."

I turned and grinned at Serena. "See ya, Sis. Got work ta do."

At first, Tails hadn't wanted to help explore the pyramid. He hadn't liked it the first time. (I can't say I did, either.) But after I had talked about how we would have supplies and a map, and about the mysterious treasure, he changed his mind. Now he was almost as excited as I was.

I stepped into his hut. His pack -- stuffed to bursting, I might add -- was sitting on his bed. I grabbed one strap and tried to lift it. "Tails," I grunted, "what the heck is in this thing? A ton of bricks?"

Sheepish, he looked down. "Oh, just, just a few things."

I unzipped the top flap. Toys. Books. His treasured laser pistol. I looked up at him, a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth. "Tails, you're gonna be lugging this thing the whole trip. You gotta have room for your canteen and supplies."

"Oh." He slid the pack over and looked into it. "I guess I can nix most of this stuff. But I'm still bringing my gun."

"What for?"

He looked up at me soberly. "Sonic, there might be really big Spiders in there."

I chuckled. "Well, okay. Good thing you checked with me first -- Sally would have pitched a fit."

* * *

The teleporter beam faded away. We stood in tropical jungle, the bright green foliage all around and arching above us, birds making a joyful racket. We all drew in a deep breath of the warm afternoon air. Floating Island was a wonderful place.

I tossed the blue chaos emerald to Slasher, who caught it and dropped it into her pack. The emerald, when its power came up against the super emeralds in my belt, created and instant, accurate teleporter. It was the quickest way to get us all out to the island.

"Well," said Sally, looking up at the trees, "we're here. Where're we supposed to meet Knuckles at, Slash?"

Apparently Slasher wasn't sure. She leaped straight up into the air, wings unfurling. She cleared the treetops and beat her way skyward. We all stood and watched as she circled, half hidden by the trees, looking around. After a moment her voice floated down to us. "The river is about a mile northwest of us. Get a compass bearing, Sally, and let's move out!"

Sally pulled out her compass as Slasher landed. Slash could have flown the whole way in a few minutes, but it wouldn't have been fair to the rest of us.

Sally sighted along the compass's arrow, drawing a mental line. "Okay," she said, snapping it shut. "That way. Let's go!"

We set off. Sally led the way, I was behind her (though I would have preferred to lead), Tails behind me, then Serena, then Spike. Slasher brought up the rear, making sure nobody got lost. We all had our backpacks and sturdy foot-gear. (I wore the usual.) We looked like the explorers in those old-fashioned jungle movies.

I had been in a major adventure a while back. I went back in time with a couple guys and helped save Little Planet with the Floating Island. That was why the island was so fertile -- it had been drowned in volcanic ash. The pyramid had been built sometime between then and now; they hadn't seemed to be planning on it. What could the treasure be? Gold? Jewels? Weapons? Their technology had seemed just like ours, for being so ancient. Any of those, maybe all, I guessed.

The forest was warm, but not too hot. Just the same, we were glad to get to the river and refill our canteens. Slasher flew out over the water and gave that heart-stopping screech of hers, letting Knuckles know we had arrived. Serena, sitting beside me in the shade, poked me and said, "Good thing he's heard her do that before. Otherwise he might take off running in the opposite direction."

Slasher landed on the bank, folded her wings and plunged into the river. She didn't have to worry about clothing, being a velociraptor, and so enjoyed a swim while we could only watch.

After a while Knuckles hailed us from the far side of the river. He glided across to us without a thought and asked, "You guys ready to go?"

"More than ready," Tails answered for all of us.

"Good," said Knux with a good-natured smile. "Teleport us, Sonic. Otherwise we'd spend all day hiking out to Sandopolis." I agreed, as did the others. I took the blue chaos emerald, joined hands with the others and touched it to my invisible belt ...

* * *

The Sandopolis pyramid was build partly underground, and so was much larger than it appeared from the outside. We stood beside the entrance, staring up at the massive limestone blocks. It wasn't really much hotter than the jungle had been, but the yellow sand all around and the heatwaves in the distance, gave the impression of blinding heat.

Knuckles took out a piece of yellowed paper and looked at it. "This is the map," he explained to us. "I made copies in case something happens to this one. I found it rolled up and stuck between some boulders in the ruins in Marble Gardens." He glanced all around as he said this, as if afraid of being overheard by someone other than our group. After a second he continued. "The treasure is hidden in the exact center of the pyramid. Unfortunately, that puts it beyond the explored section. Everybody have plenty of light?" We all nodded. "Good. Well then, let's go in."

As we stepped in, we were met by the surprisingly cool air. It was dry, but musty. It smelled dark. It looked dark, too; I dug out my flashlight and flicked it on. That was better. Tails, walking beside me, pulled out his as well. I winked at him. We knew all about this place. We knew what it was like to wander aimlessly in the dark, wondering if we would ever see the light of day again.

The light from outside didn't carry very far into the cold corridor. Before long all of us were toting lit flashlights. The hallway resounded with the echoes of our footsteps. Yeah, I remembered that. It had echoed so much Tails and I had never noticed Knuckles's behind us, or Metal Sonic's ... I shivered a little at the memory. Being stalked through this place was not much fun.

Knux signaled a halt as we came to an intersection. I looked back, but a curved blocked the light from the entrance. We were surrounded by total darkness. The others crowded around Knuckles and trained their lights on the map in his hands. The combined light reflecting on their faces and arms made it look like they were standing around a fire. I shown my light down the other two passages and listened to them talk.

"We go right here, right?"

"No, 'cause then we'd end up at the first sandtrap, see? It's the next intersection we turn at."

"Where do we end up if we go left?"

"Let's see ... you'd end up in the labyrinth, and we don't want to go there."

"Let's go straight, then."

"Yeah, good idea."

"This is gonna be fun," I muttered to Serena as we set out again, our shadows dancing on the floor and walls. "We'll have a conference every time we come to a new turn."

"I know," she replied, wiping a cobweb off her face. "We should let Slasher be the navigator. She never gets lost."

The passage began to slant gently downhill. The air was dark and stale. I wondered who was the last person to breathe it, and how long ago that had been. I shown my light up at the ceiling and watched the beam play over the curtains of dusty cobwebs and the cracks in the bricks. No bats, at least. Not that there had ever been any.

I worked my way to the front of our group and fell into step beside Knux. He was playing his light along the floor and walls, keeping alert. He smiled at me as I came up; he had been thinking of our last adventure, too. "Hey Sonic, remember how I scared the heck out of you and Tails?"

I chuckled at the memory. "Yep. That mask and cape you had sure were creepy. Fit right in with this place and those weird hyrogliphics." I shown my light at the wall, illuminating a sequence of flat pictures on the wall. He looked at them, too. "Yeah. Weird." All of a sudden he seemed nervous. He looked back, up at the ceiling, then down the hallway.

"Whassamatter?" I asked him. I hadn't thought the pyramid was threatening with all my friends here. He glanced at me, then down at the floor and drew a quick breath. "Tell you when we get to the next room." His voice was barely above a whisper. "I don't want everybody to know until later."

Know what? I restrained myself from asking. He would tell me eventually.

* * *

The 'next room' was several junctions later, which meant we stopped for directions at each one. I took to impatiently shining my flashlight on my watch whenever these sessions turned into arguments. It was usually Sally and Spike (who considered himself to an expert on navigation) against Slasher. Slasher usually won the argument, and so kept us on course. I don't know what we would have done without her -- gotten lost, I guess.

At last the tunnel widened and opened out into a large room. Our lights illuminated rows of towering statues along the walls and in the center of the room. They were intricately carved and adorned with jewels. All had rubies or emeralds for eyes, and white quartz for teeth. We walked among them, looked and trying not to touch anything; we all knew of the ancient booby-traps, many of which still worked.

I thought of the stone lion I had found in the ruins outside, during my first trip through Sandopolis. It had been nighttime, and that thing had scared the heck out of me. It had the same look and style as these statues. Some were ancient Echidna kings or pharaohs, seated on massive stone thrones, staring into the darkness. Others were animals or pagan gods, all with snarls or fiery expressions. I thought of how the Floating Island had began; the first Guardian, Robin Echidna, had certainly not been pagan. This stuff must have come in after him. I thought of his younger brother, Jay. I wondered if he had ever painted that mural in the pyramid like he had wanted to. Well, we hadn't explored all of it; he might have.

I switched my light off a moment and stood still, watching the others. Flashlight beams were playing all over the place, pausing on this statue or that, then moving on. Everyone was talking excitedly, and I could hear Knuckles put on his boring tour-guide voice and talk about certain ones. He was enjoying this.

I flicked my light on again and moved forward. Maybe now he would tell me why he was so worried. I found him standing in front of a particular statue, his light picking out certain statues, being a tour guide. I waited without interest until he had finished and the others had walked away. Then I walked up. "Hey, Knux."

"Hey yourself, Sonic. Cool, huh?"

"Yeah, though I've never cared much for pagan deities. You said you'd tell me why you're scared."

"Shh." He aimed his light at the floor, and I did the same. He waved me closer to him. "Did you know Robotnik built a replacement for Mecha?"

I stared at him, a strange feeling settling in my stomach. "No. I hadn't heard anything about it. What is it?"

Knuckles's eyes took on a listless, haunted look. "It's called Robo Knux."

The heavy feeling moved down to my stomach. "Did you see it?"

He nodded and gulped. "Yeah. Sonic, it -- it's here. On the island."

My heart stopped, then began ricocheting around my ribcage. "You sure?"

"I saw him. He may even be in the pyramid -- he's been hanging around Sandopolis."

"What's he look like?"

"As much like me as Mecha looked like you. He's red with green eyes. His dreadlocks have jet-engines in them, and he's got an afterburner in his back. His arms are real thick, and his knuckles are like THIS." He clenched one hand into a fist, then held the other about six inches away from his knuckle-spikes.

I glanced around the dark room. "He's got claws, you mean. Oh man. I see why you were nervous. Can I tell Slasher? She won't tell the others, and -- and she'll be able to watch for him." I thought of how quiet Mecha had been able to be. It was a deadly ability in the pyramid.

Knux glanced around, too, then nodded. "Go ahead. I'll feel better if she knows."

Trying to act casual, I moved up to Slasher, who was reading an inscription on one of the statues. I touched her arm to get her attention, then quietly repeated everything Knuckles told me. She looked at me gravely as I finished, her light aimed down. "Sonic," she murmured, "don't tell anyone else this, but I know already. I found oil on the floor back there; this 'Robo Knux' is in here someplace."

I caught my breath. "Slash, if he's anything like Mecha -- "

"Hush," she said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "I'll be on the lookout for him. He may not try to harm us as long as we're together. Will you stay by Tails? He's not enjoying himself."

She walked away, and I stared after her. He wasn't enjoying himself? I couldn't say I was, either.

I stepped around one of the statues, shining my light around, looking for Tails. Suddenly Spike stepped in front of me, his light off. His eyes were narrowed suspiciously. "What were you and Slasher talking about?" he growled. "Are we lost?"

"No," I replied, faintly irritated. I moved as though to step around him, but Spike blocked me.

"Tell me, Moronic."

I clenched my teeth, trying to keep from hitting him. "Don't call me that," I said, forcing my voice to remain calm. "And I'm not gonna tell you anything. Get outta my way."

To my surprise he did and let me pass. As I walked by him, he hissed in my ear, "I'm gonna find out, Moronic." I aimed a swift kick at his shin, but he jumped back and trotted away.

I found Tails sitting in a corner with his light shining on the wall. I sat down beside him, still vaguely irked at Spike. "How ya doin', little bro?" I asked him, trying to sound cheerful. He looked up at me woefully, the white fur on his muzzle standing out against the dark. "I donno why I came, Sonic. I hate this place." He rested his head in his hands. "It's almost as bad as last time."

I patted him on the back. "C'mon. It ain't as bad as that. I mean, we know where we are and have plenty of food and water."

He didn't stir, but said, "It was creepy enough with those old- fashioned graffiti-things on the walls. Now there's statues. What next?"

If only I had known what was next.

We left the Statue Room not long after that and continued our trek into the bowels of the pyramid. Cross passages and forks in the hallway became commonplace. I was glad for the map in Knuckles's hands; I never would have been able to find my way out, myself.

After what seemed like a long time, we stopped for lunch. My legs and feet were sore from walking on the hard stone floor, so I sat down against the wall and opened my pack. A hot chili dog sounded really good, but we couldn't cook anything while in the pyramid. I contented myself with a baloney sandwich.

As I was eating, Spike walked up and leaned against the wall beside me. He looked sulky, I noticed out of the corner of my eye. After a second he muttered, "I'm gonna find out, Sonic." He was still stewing about THAT? Gosh, the guy had a one-track mind. Trying to keep the peace, I asked, "Had lunch yet?" He jerked his head in what I assumed to be a nod. "Where's your pack?" He gestured up the hall. "Took it off." We were a short distance away from everyone else, I realized. A perfect place for him to start a fight ... that must be what he wanted.

Quietly I closed my backpack and zipped it. If he jumped me, I didn't want my stuff getting tore up. But something happened that freaked every bit of hostility out of us for the moment.

As I have said, Spike was leaning against the wall. He pushed against it to stand upright. I think his hand hit a loose brick, shoving it inward. I barely had time to see the niche in the wall the recessed brick had caused, when suddenly the wall moved. A section about eight feet long broke away from the the rest of the wall, one side angling out, the other angling in. The floor under us twisted with the wall, as if it were a turntable. The wall (with us on it) turned completely around. The edges locked into place, and Spike and I were sitting in a dark, musty place.

At first we were too surprised to do anything. We just sat there, staring into the inky darkness with our mouths open. Spike was the first to speak. "Sonic, what in the world happened?"

I found my tongue -- it had dried suddenly and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I swallowed and answered him. "I -- I think we triggered a trick wall, like in those mystery books. Can it turn back?"

I leaped to my feet and groped for a loose brick. Spike did, too, but the brick must have slid back out and stuck. "Sonic, are we trapped?" Spike asked. There was absolute terror in his voice.

"Maybe." My voice sounded just like his; I could feel myself going into a Modified Stationary Panic. An idea came to me. "Yell. Maybe they'll hear us."

Our shouts for help were closer to screams. I was dimly aware that our voices echoed, as if we were in a big room. After a minute I shushed Spike. We stood still in the darkness and listened.

Muffled and far-away sounding came the voices of the others. After a second they fell silent, and Slasher's voice called, "Where are you?" She pronounced each word clearly and loudly so we would understand her. Spike banged on the wall hysterically. "Here! We're in here!"

Her voice came again. "What happened?"

I explained about the wall, trying hard to remain calm. We heard some tapping and scraping, but nothing happened. Then Knuckles called, "It might be on your side. Look around for a button or something."

"Look?" Spike cried. "We can't see a thing in here!" I was about to say the same, but my foot collided with something soft. My pack! I crouched and opened it. My light was right in the top ... My fingers encountered the cold oblong shape. I snatched it up and clicked it on.

What magic light is. Spike and I were calmed by the sight of it. I felt I could breathe again. I shown the light on the wall and we looked for anything helpful. After a minute I shoved the light at Spike and used both hands to feel around. He watched me, fear in his eyes. At last I stepped away from the impenetrable wall. "Nothing," I called to the others on the far side. I hated like anything to admit it, but we were stuck. The others talked among themselves, puzzled. My eyes met Spike's. The same thought was crossing our minds: we wouldn't be leaving the pyramid any time soon.

Spike slowly turned, letting the flashlight beam sweep the room. It was big, all right; the size of a gymnasium. The room was round, the ceiling domed like an upside-down bowl. A sort of alter rose in the center, dark and cold. On the far side of the room was the dark entrance to a tunnel. The walls were covered with pictures, stories of things the Echidna clan had done. I moved a few steps into the room, checking it out. "Don't go, Sonic," Spike whimpered. "You'll get lost!" He sounded totally unlike the Spike I was used to. I turned and looked hard at him. "Spike, I'm scared, too." (I never would have admitted this to him an hour before.) "But if that wall won't open, we'll have to look for another way out. Now come on and -- "

He interrupted me with the kind of gasp that proceeds a scream. He pointed the light at the alter and made a funny sound. I whipped around, but saw nothing. Spike was frozen, his eyes locked on that alter. "What?" I demanded, fear adding to my frustration with him. He gasped like a fish out of water, his mouth opening and closing. Finally he managed to say, "It was up there -- on top of that thing! It had green eyes -- "

Terror stabbed through my heart. The robot! I snatched the light from Spike's trembling hand and pointed it around the room, searching. There was no sound other than what Spike and I made ourselves, but I knew that didn't mean we were alone.

Suddenly a stream of yellow sand struck Spike and I, knocking us down. It was coming from a hole in the ceiling, somewhere. We leaped out of the way. I had the presence of mind to grab my pack and sling it over my shoulder; we would need it. "Sandtrap!" I barked at Spike. "It'll fill the whole room. We've got to get out of here!"

We darted toward the other shaft. I looked back, up at the hole in the ceiling that the sand was coming out of. I was pretty sure we hadn't triggered it ... Someone else had. Then we were in the tunnel, and I had to concentrate on where I was going.

We ran for a long time. The passages were dark, cold and still. Our footsteps echoed loudly, making it sound as if an army of SWAT-bots were after us. Everywhere I looked I saw green, crescent eyes ... Remembering last time, I kept myself from staring into the shadows; if I did, I would lose my nerve completely. Spike didn't know this, and constantly looked back, into the thick darkness. "Don't look back," I panted to him. "Makes it worse -- " He ignored me.

It was when we hit the first fork in the tunnel that we stopped. I said right, he said left. Neither of us wanted to split up, so there we were stuck.

I sank down against the wall, and he did the same. "Well, what do we do now?" he wanted to know. I looked at him. Running had gotten the preliminary adrenaline rush out of his system, and he was calmer. I was, too. I shrugged in reply to his question. "I donno. We can't go back now. I just hope nothing happens to the others."

A strange look passed over Spike's face. "The others? How can you worry about THEM? We're the ones who're lost, Sonic. Duh." He stared at the circle of light on the wall my flashlight created. "Do we have any supplies?"

I pulled off my pack and opened it. I was glad I had packed an extra liter of water, now. I listed off what I had to him. "About a week's worth of food, two liters and one pint of water. Extra flashlight batteries, and some first-aid stuff." I looked up to find him looking at me. "What?"

He looked down. "Nothing."

I re-zipped my backpack and put it on again. "We should be okay for a while. At least until we run out of water."

"Or that thing gets us." He looked at me again, glaring. "You know what it was, don't you?"

No reason not to tell him, now. I nodded, then told him about Robo Knux. He listened coldly. As I finished, he said, "You could have told me before. I wouldn't have blabbed."

"No," I replied pointedly, "you would have panicked."

We sat silent for a minute. Then he looked at me and said, "Why do you have to be such a jerk all the time? You always say something like that."

I glared back and snapped, "If you weren't such a geek I wouldn't."

He retorted with something just as sharp, and I flung back one of my own. Soon we were both on our feet, facing each other in unrestrained anger, ready to fight to the finish. I put down the flashlight, and we both took our fighting positions.

The instant before we started duking it, there came a sound behind us, in the direction of the room with the sandtrap. In the silence of the pyramid, someTHING whooped with unholy laughter, its voice echoing off the wall. Without having to say it, we both knew who it was. I snatched up my light and pack, and we fled down the right-hand passage, all resentments forgotten.

* * *

We spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly. We heard nothing more of the robot, and figured that maybe he had left us and was watching the others.

The passages were all the same. We either took all the right turns, or there weren't any big rooms in this part of the pyramid, for we found none. The occasional 'old-fashioned graffiti' broke up the monotony of the drab brick walls, and once in a while a rat or something would scurry down the hall ahead of us. I wished I had brought a gun; like Tails had worried, there might be really big spiders in here.

Night came. Not that we could tell -- the darkness around us remained unchanged. But my watch said it was eight o' clock, and we were both exhausted.

Spike decided our resting place by collapsing against the wall and saying defiantly, "I'm not going no further."

"Okay," I replied placidly. "This spot's as good as any." I pulled off my pack and let it fall, then flopped down beside my rival. Again, I felt him looking at me strangely, but ignored him.

I sat up and pulled two blankets out of my knapsack. I handed one to Spike, who looked at it with scorn. "What's this for?"

"The floor's not exactly clean and warm," I explained, faintly nettled.

He dropped it beside him. "Forget it. I ain't usin' it."

I shrugged, trying to be as indifferent as possible. "Suit yourself. I'm putting my pack and the light right here, against the wall. Okay?" He nodded. I flicked off the light. We were plunged into total darkness. I pulled my blanket up around my shoulders and curled up on the floor.

A few minutes passed. Spike stirred, moving around. I heard him grab the blanket and wrap himself in it. I smiled into the darkness. Tough guy. Well, now to sleep ...

* * *

I snapped awake. Spike was standing over me, shining the light down the hall. I sat up. "What's wrong?"

"I heard something."

I had no idea how much time had passed. I could have been anything from a few minutes, to several hours. I glanced at my watch, but the dimness kept me from seeing what it said.

Suddenly Spike whimpered way down in his throat. I looked up. Far down the passage, where the wall of darkness began, was a pair of green crescent-eyes, something like Metal Sonic's. I leaped to my feet. Funny, the blankets and my pack were gone. Spike didn't have them. "Spike, where -- " I began. But he grabbed my arm in terror; the green-eyed robot was moving toward us. "Run!" he shrieked.

We turned to flee. There were more turn-offs than I remembered; we seemed to be moving in circles. And always behind us were those green eyes.

Spike had fallen a little behind me. (I had the superior speed, you see.) All of a sudden he let out a horrible scream. I stopped and turned. A big red robot was crouched over him, pinning him to the floor like how a cat does a bird. Spike struggled, but to no avail. I tried to help him, but I couldn't move. All I could do was stand and illuminate the scene with my flashlight.

The robot looked up at me, his eyes burning like green torches. He looked something like Knuckles, but instead of hands, he had gigantic claws. They were held longwise against Spike's shoulders, keeping him down. "Hello, Sssonic," he spat. "Hold the light for me, please." And he began to literally rip Spike apart. I won't describe it, for this narrative would quickly become too gruesome.

My feet unglued themselves from the floor, and I sprang forward. I don't remember much about the fight, but I do remember watching the robot retreat into the darkness, red dripping from his long claws. Then I was on my knees beside Spike, cradling his head in my lap. He was alive, but going fast.

He looked up at me, dry-eyed, his breath coming in ragged gasps. "Sonic," he wheezed, "I -- I'm sorry. Sorry -- " His eyes began to close.

"No!" I said, shaking him. "You can't die! Not here -- not now!"

His lips moved as his eyes rolled back in his head. "Just ... watch ... me."

"Spike," I said, grief beginning to hit me, cracking my voice. "No, please ..."

His eyes were closed now, his breathing subsiding. "Sonic," he whispered. "Forgive me ..." His head drooped sideways, and the breath left his body in a long sigh.

He was gone.

"NO!" I cried in horror. I didn't care if the robot heard me or not. "NOOOO!!!"

Suddenly light fell on me. Startled, I looked up, tears standing in my eyes and blurring everything. Had I been found? A familiar form danced toward me, the light coming from around and behind it. I stood up in disbelief. It extended a hand to me. I took it, feeling the warmth of its palm. "Sonic," it said. I replied with its' name. "Nights?"

The dream changed there, but I don't remember much of it. I remember Nights carrying me and asking him why we weren't bonding, and his reply was something like, "I didn't come to play. I came to get you out of Nightmaria." He said more, but I simple cannot remember it. The next thing I knew he was telling me to return to consciousness, and that he would see me again soon. The dream faded away. I slept a while longer, then woke up for real.

* * *

I opened my eyes. I was as dark as a power failure in Robotropolis. I had expected a change, for some reason. Thinking of my dream, I sat up and reached toward the spot where Spike had been sleeping.

He wasn't there.

I don't know how I knew he was gone. For all I knew, he could have simply moved out of reach. But I knew. I felt for my pack and flashlight, but they were gone, too. He had taken everything and left me.

I huddled against the wall, staring into the dark. How dare he! Anger and fear rushed in at once. On one hand I was furious that he had had the nerve to abandon me. On the other, I had this primeval fear of the dark, of the unknown. I guess everybody does. I really didn't want to stay there, but I didn't want to walk around in the dark, either. Well, it was sink or swim.

After a moment I stood up blindly. He wouldn't have gone back the way we had come, I was sure. So I began to grope my way down the corridor, letting one hand brush the wall. Every so often that hand would encounter empty space. I would stop and feel around blindly, trying to figure out if it were simply an adjoining passage, or an entire turn. If it was a turn I would follow it. If it was an adjoining passage, I would pause and think hard -- would Spike have entered it? Vaguely I had noticed that he always wanted to go left, then right, then left, then right. Well, I had my right hand on the wall. He always went left first. But I didn't know if I had passed any left-hand passages or not. Better skip this one.

I took to following every other right-hand passage I came to. I knew that I really had no chance of ever finding Spike, but I had to keep moving. If there was one thing I was incapable of doing, it was simply giving up without a fight. And I intended to go down fighting.

If not for the darkness. My eyes made out absolutely nothing. I thought of blind fish and crabs that lived in caves; they had no eyes and needed none. My eyes felt dead, useless. I was totally blind, and didn't like it. I thought of my emerald belt; oh, if only I had kept it on! I always took it off at night. It was in my pack, and I doubted if Spike knew about it.

I wandered for hours. My had and fingers became raw from contact with the rough wall. I couldn't see my watch, so I had no idea how much time had passed. I thought of the ancient torch-switches Tails and I had found before. We had seen none while with the group. I might have passed dozens of the pull-bars and never known it. I could walk with one hand above my head ... naw, too impractical. I was tired enough already ...

At last I couldn't walk anymore. I dropped to the floor, curled up and slept. Nothing had changed when I awoke; it was black as pitch and quiet as a tomb.

I lost all sense of time and direction. The only way I could tell time was passing at all was that I became terribly thirsty. My energy slowly drained, and the darkness worked its way into my eyes and my head. I nearly forgot what the sun looked like, or what the moon or stars were. I began to feel oppressed, sickened, half-asleep. Again I collapsed to the floor, slept and arose. I felt like a zombie, doomed to wander in the depths of the pyramid until I died.

Three more times I dropped, slept and awakened. The last time I got up and faced into the blackness, I felt a change inside me. I was sick of wandering aimlessly. I wanted to do something different. For the first time I allowed myself to think of the tons and tons of solid rock between myself and daylight, and of the thick darkness that filled the gaps. The thought consumed my mind, terrified me. Being crushed, pounded to nothing under the weight of the massive marble pyramid --

I was running. I don't know how I started, but I couldn't stop. I held both hands out in front to keep from hitting a wall, and ran like a wild thing. The longer I ran the faster I went until -- smack. Solid wall. I picked myself up, my body smarting from the blow. Another tunnel to my left. I headed down it at a dead run.

My sanity was in a delicate balance during this time. My mind had become short-circuited by the wandering through the silent darkness. I thought nothing coherent; all I wanted to do was flee, to run from the blackness, try to escape. I couldn't of course, and that fanned my desperation to a frenzy. I went nuts.

I hit wall after wall, each impact numbing my body a little more. I was able to wreck at greater and greater speeds. I was simply a beast in a trap, flinging itself at the bars of its cage repeatedly with no care for what happened to it.

The last time I hit a wall, I came up with a mouthful of blood. I could feel it running down my face and into my eyes from a cut on my forehead, dripping from my nose. I couldn't stand. Exhausted by my headlong rush, I began to crawl on my hands and knees, my mind still clouded with unreasoning fear and despair. At last I was too tired to even do that anymore. I crumpled onto the cold brick floor, thinking I was still crawling forward. At last, after laying there for some time, bleeding from my wounds, merciful sleep claimed me.

I slept for a long time. I think I dreamed of Nights again, but I'm not certain. All I know is, when I finally returned to consciousness, my mind was clear again, and the words to a strange song were on my lips. I must have been murmuring them in my sleep. As soon as I awoke I forgot the tune, but I retained some of the words. Without trying to rise, I lay there and muttered, "I want to be in the light, as You are in the light ... I want to shout like the stars in the heavens ..."

Saying 'light' so many times was comforting, somehow. I wondered if Nights had taught it to me.

I hurt all over. Most of my bleeding had stopped, but I was terribly weary. My thirst was awful, now; my tongue was dry and swollen, and my throat felt like it were full of sawdust. Every breath I drew was dull pain. "I'm dying," I thought with indifference. "Well, I can't help it now ..."

Time passed. I lay where I had fallen in a sick stupor. I had given in to despair; I would never get out alive, and was waiting for death to come. I grew cold and shivered, but I would not get up. What was the use? Might as well stay put for once in my life.

"Sonic ..."

I heard it the first time, but my deadened senses didn't register.

It came again. "Sonic ..."

That time it got through. I lifted my head, wondering how big it had swollen. It was so heavy. My entire body was weighted ...

"Sonic ..." It sounded like a sob. The voice was so faint I could only just hear it -- it must be miles away. I tried to clear my head. I thought I recognized the voice.

"Oh Sonic ..."

That's who it was. Spike. But hadn't Robo Knux killed him? No, I remembered slowly, that had been my dream. It seemed ages ago.

I wanted to call a reply, but I could speak nothing above a whisper. Why was he calling for me, and where was he? I pushed myself up off the floor, my forehead and lips throbbing. Gosh, I felt sick -- I made it to my knees, where I rested. As the pain slowly subsided, Spike's voice came again. "Sonic."

The thick clouds in my head began to drift away, and my thoughts began to flow smoothly again. Why was he calling me when he had left me behind? Was he lost like I was? I thought of the water I had carried. If Spike hadn't guzzled it, there should still be some left. I needed a drink like anything.

Slowly I dragged myself to my feet. What do you know, I could still stand. I turned my head and listened intently for the call. It came again. I noticed that his voice seemed almost despairing, matching how I felt. It came from the direction I had come. I stumbled toward it, groping for the support of the wall. I reached a corner. Turn here? No, further down. I kept going.

I hate to think what would have happened if he had quit calling my name. But he didn't, and I was able to home in on him.

My starved eyes detected the light while I was still three turns away from where he was. I hurried toward it and took those last three turns at a gallop, so eager was I to see light and another living person again. And then I came to the last doorway.

The flashlight was aimed at the ceiling. At first it was too bright for me, and I had to retreat a little ways to give my eyes a chance to adjust. Bit by bit I crept back to the doorway again and looked in. This time I saw not only the light, but my pack lying beside it. It was a small room with bright paintings on the walls; the first room I had seen in a long time. I looked around for Spike, but didn't see him. I couldn't figure out where he was until he called for me again. Then I realized the predicament he had gotten himself into.

There was a big hole in the floor. You couldn't see it until you were right on top of it, and apparently Spike hadn't seen it. I walked to the edge and looked in. He was crouched on a fifteen-inch ledge about six feet down, unable to climb the smooth brick wall. Beyond him, the shaft dropped into bottomless darkness. It reminded me of the one Tails and I had fallen down to enter Lava Reef. Spike looked up, ready to call again, and saw me. He gasped and jumped involuntarily, nearly falling off his precarious perch. "Sonic!" he yelped. "I don't believe it! Can you help me?"

I nodded dumbly. I couldn't speak -- for some reason, a lump had grown in my already dry throat at the sight of him.

I turned away and grabbed up my backpack. Yes, there was a liter and a half left. I took the half-empty one and downed most of its contents in one swig. I felt the sawdust in my throat fade away. Life drained back into me -- I felt strength pour into my arms and legs. I reached for the other bottle, but checked myself. We both needed that one to survive. Reluctantly I rummaged through the pack. I pulled out my emerald belt; I didn't have any rope.

I tossed one end down to him. "Spike," I said huskily, "climb slow. I ain't very strong right now."

There was a heavy tug on the belt, and I struggled to hold it. Then it slackened, and Spike's hands gripped the edge of the shaft. He pulled himself up.

I put on my belt with relief. Spike made a dash for the waterbottle, as I had, but only took a few swallows. He had apparently been conserving the supplies. He turned and looked at me, intending to thank me, I think. He froze, his eyes riveted on my face. "Sonic?" he queried. "Is ... is that you?"

I nodded. "Who do you think I am?"

"Sonic ... you look ... awful. What happened?"

Gingerly I touched my face. It was sensitive to pressure. "I ran into a wall," I said simply, unwilling to explain about going berserk.

Spike sat down next to the backpack, pulled out some of our rations and awkwardly held them out to me. He was obviously very uncomfortable. I took them and sat down facing him. I was starved, now that my thirst had been slaked, and I mean literally. I tore into the food. Spike pulled out some for himself, but just sat there and watched me without opening them. He looked like he was going to be sick.

I ignored him as much as I could until I had finished eating. (I felt as if I could have consumed the rest of our supplies with ease, but again restrained myself.) Then I allowed myself to meet Spike's gaze.

"Well," I said. "We're both thinking the same thing. Do you, ah, want to explain yourself?"

Instantly Spike dropped his eyes. It was an annoying habit; he did it whenever you asked him a tough question. I waited. When I said nothing more, he looked up at me again. He drew a deep breath and seemed to be searching for words. "Sonic -- " he began, paused, then stumbled over the next phrase. "I'm ... sorry."

Just like in my dream.

Now that he had gotten over that part, his words tumbled out in a torrent. "I've never liked you very much, Sonic, so when I realized you were asleep, I thought, 'Here's a way to get him off my back for good.' So I grabbed up everything and left. But ... I'm sorry, Sonic. When I fell into that hole -- " he threw a glance at it and shivered. " -- I realized that I can't make it out of here on my own. I'm really sorry I left you."

I patted him on the back, careful not to let his long spines stick me. "It's okay, I guess."

I stood up and walked to the doorway. It seemed the darkness of the pyramid was piled up out there, waiting to rush in and flood us as soon as we extinguished the light. I looked back at Spike, who had finally begun to eat. "Well," I said with a tinge of bitter humor, "we're right back where we started. Lost. Together, but lost, just the same. How long have we been in here?"

"Three days."

I was astounded. It seemed like weeks. "How much food do we have left?"

He glanced into the open pack. "About four days worth."

I gulped. What would we do when we ran out of food and water?

* * *

It wasn't too long after that we grabbed up our supplies and headed into the endless maze again. It had become something we had to do. To stop and not move would be admitting we were licked ... I had almost given in myself. Without having to say it, we both knew we would keep looking for a way out until our supplies gave out. Then ...

We took turns leading and carrying the flashlight. At the beginning of the expedition I would never have trusted Spike to lead me, but now his guess was as good as mine. As I walked behind him, the dark dogging at my heels, I realized that I had treated Spike like dirt ever since I had met him. I had never thought about it from his point of view before. But now that we had been lost by ourselves, we had been brought to the same level.

Wordlessly we stopped. He handed me the flashlight, and dropped behind me. The sober look in his eyes told me he had been thinking close to the same things. We kept walking. I stopped a couple times to ask him what direction he thought we should go; something I never would have done before. He knew it, too, and always gave me his honest opinion.

We stopped for a rest a couple hours later. The flashlight was getting a little dim, so I flicked it off. We sat down with our backs against the cold wall. Our breathing seemed loud in the stillness. I closed my eyes and imagined Nights flying through the passage toward us, the brilliant stars streaming from his fingertips ...

"Sonic."

I opened my eyes and turned toward Spike, although I couldn't see him. "Huh?"

"Sonic, just between you and me, I've got something to say. I wanna get it straight before the sun goes down."

"You can't see the sun in here."

"Before night, then." He sounded listless. "Just between you and me, confession needs to be made ... reconvention's my way to freedom, now."

"Well then, say it." He sounded like he was quoting someone.

"Sonic, I -- I'd like to ask your forgiveness."

"But you already apologized."

"I didn't mean for that. I mean ... for how I've treated you ever since I came to Knothole."

"Oh." That was a whole different ballgame.

"I've been rotten, Sonic, just awful to you."

I was glad I couldn't see his face, and he couldn't see mine. He never would have been able to say this, otherwise.

"The first day, when I wrecked my hoverbike ... I was humiliated. I've never actually rolled a bike before, and I did it in front of a bunch of strangers. So I wanted to fight you. If we had fought right off the bat, I think my pride would have been able to heal itself. But we didn't, and I walked around resenting you. We never made amends. And I ... I'd like to do that. While we have the chance."

I took a breath and let it out slowly. "I'll accept your apology if you'll accept mine."

"Oh? What do you have to confess?" He sounded surprised.

I was glad for the darkness -- I could feel my face burning. This would be tough. "Spike, I haven't been perfectly cordial to you, either. I've treated you like scum. I've had lots of opportunities to make up, and I never used them. And I'm ... I'm sorry for that."

We sat in silence for a while. I could feel a certain heaviness lifting from my chest. What had Spike said ... 'reconvention is my way to freedom'? It truly was. We were both free, for we had been forgiven.

Suddenly Spike said, "I don't think I ever told you why I was on a brake-less hoverbike in the middle of the woods."

"No, you haven't," I said. "I've wondered."

I heard Spike making himself more comfortable. "I might as well tell it from the beginning. The reason I had a hoverbike at all was because I lived in Robotropolis."

I felt myself staring toward his voice. "You LIVED in Robotropolis?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"Well, you see, I lived in Mobitropolis before Robotnik took it over. When he came in, my parents made my brother and me flee to our secret hiding place in the city. It's still there; an old cellar beneath one of the big skyscrapers. We waited for our parents to come ... and waited and waited. They never came."

"Oh Spike," I said sympathetically. His voice had become flat and dry; he still felt pain at the memory. He plunged on with his story.

"I left my brother and went to the palace. Robotnik had captured it, and it was swarming with SWAT-bots. Me'n my friends had snuck in to see Sally dozens of times, so I used one of the hidden entrances she had showed us."

"You liked Sally?"

"Sure. She was a kid, too, after all. She'd come out with us and play kick-ball in the streets ... anyway, I got inside and wandered until I found where the robotizer was set up." His voice went dry again. "They had just put mom and dad in. I rushed into the room and attacked the controls. I stalled the machine, then the SWAT-bots jumped on me. I had so much adrenaline pumping that I just threw them off, then got mom and dad out of there. (They were in partial shock from having the machine quit halfway through.) They were both about half robotized. I got 'em as far as the hidden entrance, then turned back and fought off the SWATs coming after us."

"How?"

"I closed and barricaded every door between me and them. I ripped off a couple of the robots' hoverbikes, and helped my parents get out of the city."

This was different from any story any other refugee had told. "So your parents are alive?" I asked incredulously.

"Uh huh. Ya know about that place ay up in the mountains where escapees from Robotnik built their own fortress?"

I had heard of it once or twice. "Yeah."

"That's where they went. They told me to stay behind and wait for them, and to watch out for my brother." He stopped abruptly, and it was a few minutes before he began again. His voice was even drier than before.

"I went back to where I had left Chad, but he wasn't there. I searched for him all over, all night long. I found him ... at ... dawn ... the next morning." He was having trouble controlling himself for the first time. "There were some robots Robotnik had then. He discontinued them after capturing Mobitropolis, but not before. They were big robot dogs with claws on the insides of their front legs. They were made exclusively for killing people. And they ... they ..."

He couldn't finish. I reached over and put an arm around him. No wonder he was so guarded -- he was hurt deep inside. I felt bad for having been so mean to him.

Spike was determined to finish his story. "I learned all about SWAT-bots; how they work an' stuff. I lived on a hoverbike. I learned to survive in a city meant for robots only. The only reason I left was because Packbell energized some Ultra SWATs and sent them after me. I shook all but one, and he chased me right into the woods. Packbell had somehow disabled the brakes on my bike, too. Somewhere along the line the SWAT turned back but I didn't know, and kept going 'til I wrecked."

* * *

Night came. Not that we could tell; it was always night inside the pyramid. But this time Spike and I had no ill-will between us, and slept soundly side by side. It was the first really refreshing sleep I'd had in a long time.

I dreamed of summertime and the green of the woods. I dreamed of swimming in the river, and of sitting on Slasher's back as we soared over the clouds. I dreamed of Serena, and of teaming up with her and attacking the others with water balloons. I dreamed of Jay and Robin, and of their pride in being Time Rippers, and of walking all over the Floating Island before it was completed. Last of all, I dreamed of meeting Nights in the air.

We greeted each other like old friends. Then he told me something that puzzled me. He said, "Sonic, I have been bidden to tell you this. Beware the treasure of the pyramid. The real treasure is not what you will find, but what you have already found. Be cautious, lest the former steal away the latter."

When I asked him to explain, he only said that I would soon understand. Then I heard Spike's voice and felt him shaking me. The dreams faded away, and I awoke.

I sat up and looked around. The flashlight was on, and Spike looked wide awake. "Sonic!" he said excitedly. "You'll never guess what I found!"

I jumped up. "An exit, or the treasure, maybe?"

"I wish. No, something else. C'mon!" He was practically jumping up and down. I grabbed up my pack (he had the flashlight) and followed him. He led me a little way down the hall and through a wide doorway in the wall. "I didn't want to wake you up right away," he explained, "so I went scouting up and down the tunnel a bit. And I found this room!"

We stepped inside. The flashlight beam illuminated a large rectangular room with two statues in the center. The walls were richly painted. Spike walked into the room. "Look at the floor around these statues and tell me what it's made of." I followed him and gazed at the floor inside the flashlight's circle. It was a bright yellow metal, finely engraved. It took me a second to recognize it.

"Gold?" I yelped. "Cool!"

"Yeah, that's what I said," Spike agreed affably. "Look at the statues."

I looked. Then I stared.

Two echidnas, both in their late teens, stood with folded arms, looking down at us, almost smirking. I stared into their faces, gasping. "It's Robin ... and Jay!" I finally managed. "But they're older than I am!"

Spike snickered. "Sure they are. They've been dead for a long time."

"No -- I mean -- " I struggled to explain, then stopped. What was the use of trying to explain time?

Those statues. Their workmanship was different from the idols we had seen. They looked alive. I looked closer at their waists. The sculptor must have tried to stay true to life, because Jay wore a belt studded with strange instruments. Robin did not. "Of course," I muttered. "Robin became the first guardian and quit the Time Rippers. I see ..." They were both almost grown up. When I had seen them last, Jay had been about twelve, and Robin sixteen. Now they were around eighteen and twenty-two. "Time flies," I observed profoundly.

Spike shown the light at the walls. "Look at this. Ain't it cool?"

I recognized the mural that had been destroyed in Marble Gardens. In a sort of stained-glass window style it depicted me, Tails and Knuckles as we battled Robotnik for possession of the Master emerald. "So Jay DID paint it in the pyramid," I said, glancing back toward the statues. I explained to Spike about the mural and how Jay had known to paint it. We looked at the other walls too.

There was only one other series of pictures that held my attention. It showed the blue spiky figure that represented me, facing a green spiky figure with a black face. I followed along, entranced, as the green figure wounded the blue one, then itself was attacked by a red thing and a blue thing I didn't recognize. The blue figure, along with an enormous drawing that I couldn't tell the identify of, fought off the blue and red things and saved the green one. "Strange," I thought. Spike didn't notice the significance of it all, and wandered back to look at the statues.

Suddenly he cried, "Sonic!"

The terror in his voice made me spin around. "What?"

He pelted toward me, his eyes huge. He thrust the flashlight into my hands, pointed toward the doorway, then ducked behind me. I shown the flashlight in that direction ... then almost dropped it.

Framed in the doorway stood the creature of my nightmares, green pupils like cat eyes in the gloom. He had apparently been watching us for a while, for he leaned against the wall casually. He had hands, not just claws, I was relieved to see. True, his Knuckle-spikes were about eight inches long and gleamed like daggers, but they were not exactly as I had pictured them. I aimed the flashlight on him and looked him over.

Robo Knux was a bright cherry-red all over. His feet and legs were just like Metal Sonic's, but his arms were thin and flat, shaped like airplane wings. He had shoulder-length, segmented, triangular dreadlocks that swung a little as he moved. He bore a painted V on his chest; a mockery of Knuckles' crescent. Now he stood up and stepped forward, into the room. "Hello, Sonic and Spike," he said with cold friendliness. "At last, I get to meet the infamous Sonic Hedgehog."

I kept the light trained on him steadily. "Who are you, and what do you want?"

"I am mecha bot four. My civilian name is Robo Knux." He was slipperier than Metal Sonic. And, unlike Mecha, he had a sense of humor. "You two are lost, no?

I didn't answer him. He ventured a few steps nearer. I lowered one hand to my waist and touched my emerald belt, but didn't move otherwise. He recognized the motion and stopped.

"Sonic," he said, almost reproachfully. "What do you expect me to do? I will not lay a hand on you or your friend."

"Then why do you keep coming?" I asked through my teeth.

"Because," the robot purred, "I am getting your flashlight within range of my tractor beam."

Instantly the light was jerked from my hand, whipped across the room and smashed into the wall. There was a tinkling of glass breaking, and darkness enveloped us.

I lunged backward, forcing myself and Spike into a corner. Then I pulled him down and hit the floor myself, and just in time. A series of red flashes lit up the room. Tracer bullets pinged off the brick just above our heads. "He's gonna kill us!" Spike hissed in my ear. I didn't have a chance to answer him, for something like a torpedo hit the wall a few feet away. The concussion blasted me and Spike apart and sent us skidding across the room.

I felt as if a bomb had gone off inside my brain. The dark world was spinning and reeling crazily about me, fire alarms screeching in my ears. I was dimly aware of Robo Knux's evil laughter. But he wasn't concentrating on me; he was going to attack --

I drunkenly dragged myself to my feet. I felt exactly as I had after I had beaten myself senseless against the walls. I could hear the robot moving, but I was so disoriented I couldn't tell where he was. If the ground would just hold still for a minute --

Light blazed into the room. Robo Knux had lifted one hand, and light was shining from a beam in his wrist. He had his back to me. Just beyond him was Spike, lying motionless on the floor. He must be alive -- the robot wouldn't bother with him, otherwise. There was a faint whirring sound, and Robo Knux's other arm opened to reveal a gun like a SWAT-bot plasma cannon. He aimed it at Spike.

I lunged forward, grabbed the robot's metallic dreadlocks and pulled with all my might. Robo Knux's head was jerked back, and his arm swerved and fired at the ceiling. Then he whirled to face me. His green eyes rippled and wavered as if they were underwater. I found myself staring at them, wondering how they did that. It was a mistake. That instant was all Robo Knux needed.

His hand flashed out at me, then down. My head was knocked sideways from the force of the slap, and I staggered backward. He extinguished his light. In the sudden darkness, as I held the side of my face, he chuckled, "I am a robot of my word. I promised not to lay a hand on you or your friend. And I have not!" Then he was gone.

I sat on the floor, staring around in the darkness. That had hurt. The whole side of my face was wet and sticky. It was bleeding so much I couldn't tell where it was coming from. All I could do was sit there and press my hands against the wound.

Spike groaned my name, sounding something like, "Owwaaahonic."

"I'm over here," I replied. I still felt dizzy and a little sick. I heard him move around. He was recovering fast.

"Sonic? What happened?"

"I donno. I kept him from shooting you, but he ripped my face open. It hurrrttss ..."

"Where's the light?"

"Over against the wall somewhere. The bulb's broke, I think."

"Heck."

Silence a moment.

"Sonic, do you have your belt? Turn it on."

I'm such an idiot. I should have thought of that! I crossed my wrists against the front of the belt and snapped them back. The activated emeralds poured their unlimited power into my body, enhancing my vision and lighting up the room, driving the darkness totally away. My head cleared. The pain faded from my wounds, old and new, but my face continued to bleed.

Spike was standing unsteadily, bracing himself against the wall. He threw up one arm to shield his eyes from my brightness, then slowly lowered it. He limped up to me. "Sonic! Your face!"

"Told you," I said abruptly.

He knelt beside me and gingerly touched my head. "He got you good," he said grimly. "Those spikes of his cut you from here -- " he touched my temple " -- to here." He touched my chin. "You're bleeding bad. Where's the pack?" We looked around for it, then realized it was still strapped to my back. I took it off and handed it to him.

He rummaged through it and produced a roll of gauze and adhesive tape. "Good thing Slasher had us pack food and stuff," I said.

Spike pulled out some gauze and gingerly wiped the blood away. "Go ahead and scrub," I told him. "I'm invincible; I can't feel pain."

So he doctored me up. "Well," he said as he finished, "it's not professional, but it'll hold for the time being."

"C'mon," I said, climbing to my feet. "Let's get outta here."

I had long ago learned to control the supers, and could even tone down their power so much that I only glowed and was invincible. I did this now. The energy stars that encircled me faded and became an occasional spark now and then. I followed Spike across the room, wondering faintly if Robo Knux would jump us.

On our way to the exit, I detoured and walked to the statues of Jay and Robin, wanting to see them one last time before we left them in darkness for another century. As my feet touched the circular gold plate, I felt myself create a closed circuit. Energy flowed from one foot into the metal, and then back into my other foot. It was a strange feeling, akin to being electrocuted. I only felt it, usually, when I attacked a robot or a ship as Hyper Sonic.

Suddenly a grinding sound filled the room, as if a massive boulder were being dragged across stone. Spike froze and watched me. I was a bit startled, myself. I looked all around, but couldn't locate the source of the sound. After a moment, though, we discovered what it was.

The big gold plate beneath my feet shifted and began to slide sideways. I leaped off and stood beside Spike, watching apprehensively. The plate was being moved aside by some mechanism I had triggered, sliding sideways, on top of the rest of the floor, As it moved, we saw the black space beneath it. It widened as the plate slid further and further. A musty odor began to seep into the room. Then, while the hole was only a third of the way open, the plate stopped and the grinding died away. Silence ruled once more.

Spike and I looked at each other. What was in that hole? "Uh, you look," he said to me nervously. "You're invincible."

I was about to protest, but stopped. He was right. I edged up to the dark pit, my wild imagination picturing all the things I might see. A shaft, like the one Spike had fallen into. A cobra pit. A spike pit. A sacrificial pit full of the bones of many victims ... I looked in. To my relief, there was only a circular staircase. It started at my feet and wound down into darkness.

Spike heard my relieved sigh, and cautiously approached. "Stairs?" he demanded when he had seen. "That's IT? Nothing COOL?"

I ventured down a few steps. "They seem solid enough. You want to see what's at the bottom?"

He frowned. "I donno, Sonic. Could be a trap."

I hit upon the most convincing argument I have ever used. "Or the treasure could be down there."

His attitude flip-flopped. "Yeah! I didn't think of that! Let's go!" He plunged past me recklessly.

"Wait up!" I called. "You can't see without me!"

We clattered down the steps. They wound like a big snail shell. My lighted body shown like a star in the darkness, providing enough light for both of us to see by. After a while we both had to stop and rest. Those steps seemed to go on forever. "How far ... do you think ... we've come?" Spike puffed.

"I donno," I gasped from a few steps above him. "But we're both ... gettin' ... a total body workout!"

We took off a few minutes later. The stairs wound to the left and wound to the left until we were so dizzy we had to stop again. I was beginning to get exasperated. "We've got to be a million miles underground," I complained to Spike. "Hey, I know. I'll curl up and roll to the bottom. Whaddya think?"

Spike shrugged uncertainly. "Well Sonic, you'd get there all right, but you're our light. I ain't gonna go down these steps in pitch-dark."

Yeah, that could be a problem. I stood up. "Well, lets keep going. We've got to get somewhere after a while."

And we did, if you count 'somewhere' to be further down the staircase. An hour passed and there we were. We were both beginning to feel claustrophobic, and Spike agreed to let me go on ahead, but on one condition. He would hold one of the activated emeralds and use it for light. I saw nothing wrong with that, and removed the white super from my belt. He took it, then told me to get going so I could get back. I rolled into a ball and shot down the stairs.

I've never gotten sick doing a spindash, but that 'dash brought me very close to it. Not only was I spinning, I was spiraling left and dropping at the same time. There was no possible way to stop. I went faster and faster, the only sound being the rushing of air moving past my ears. It was something like a very violent amusement park ride. The longer it went the worse it got, and the more you wished it were over.

For a full eight minutes I free-fell -- or free-rolled, -- gaining speed as I went and slowly getting sick to my stomach. And then, at last, I reached the bottom of the stairs.

Another thing I'd never done was, hitting my head hard enough to render myself senseless while powered by the supers. I came to lying flat on my back with my head resting against the cold wall, staring at the ceiling. "Ow," I muttered, sitting up. I wasn't hurt, thankfully. The impact must have been too much for my invincibility to absorb.

My glowing body illuminated a wide circle, and I was able to look about with ease. The stairs began about five feet from where I sat, winding up into darkness. I thought of Spike up there, all by himself in the dark, with only one small gem for light ... I shivered. I climbed to my feet, walked to the foot of the stairs, cupped my hands to my mouth and shouted, "Hello!" I waited for a response. A moment passed, then another. Maybe he was out of hearing --

"Sonic!" His voice was miles away.

"I'm at the bottom!" I hollered. After a moment his reply echoed down. "Good! Now come back!"

"I'm gonna look around a little first," I called back.

"Okay," he replied, sounding less than thrilled.

I turned my back on the stairs. I seemed to be in a small alcove built around the foot of the steps. Outside was ...

It was a small room with a closed stone door in one end. The walls were covered with writing, divided neatly into columns. There were no pictures, as in other parts of the pyramid; only script. I moved to the stone door and examined it. It had no lock or knob of any sort, but it did have a single gold panel in the center. Thinking of the gold disk in the room over head, I left it untouched.

Slightly disappointed, I walked around and looked at the text on the walls. I had been expecting to find the treasure. Instead, all I had found was a graffiti library. I scanned the writing. Each column was a different language, it seemed. Faintly hopeful, I examined each one to see if there was one in English. All right, there was! It was tucked away in one corner, as if nobody expected anyone to see it. The letters curved and looped in old-fashioned calligraphy, but I could read it.

"Greetings, Stranger.

Welcome to the outer chamber.

You have made it this far,

And are

Worthy.

One last warning;

Heed it, and you may live to see another morning.

Only those who resist the treasure's power

Will last the final hour

And finally exit

The pyramid."

I felt a chill snake down my spine. What was this treasure, anyhow? This was the second warning I had received about it. I recalled Nights's words: "Beware the treasure of the pyramid. The real treasure is not what you will find, but what you have found. Be cautious, lest the former steal away the latter."

What treasure had I already found? The super emeralds? Sure, I had found them a long time ago. I wracked my brains for anything else, but Spike and I had not found anything worth keeping. Oh well, maybe I would figure it out later.

* * *

I hallooed at the bottom of the stairs as I started up, but Spike didn't answer me. Thinking I hadn't called loud enough, I settled into the easy, fast glide the supers gave me, and began to spiral my way up. After a while I called again. Still no answer. I began to worry, and increased my speed. Why didn't he answer? Did he fall on the steps and break his neck? Did he lay down and go to sleep? (Highly unlikely.) Or (and this one made me break out in a cold sweat), what if Robo Knux had come upon him in the dark and attacked him for the emerald?

Up, up, up, the darkness receding before me and closing behind me. It was nice to spiral right for a change, but soon it was just as monotonous as going left. Once in a while I would call Spike's name. The walls would fling my voice back at me as if I'd shouted inside a bell, but never carried back an answer. I felt as if I were playing 'marco polo'. I was shouting 'marco' over and over, waiting for the reply of 'polo' that never came.

I rounded the last bend and nearly tripped over him. Spike was lying lengthwise along one of the steps, eyes closed. I saw the blood on the floor before I saw where it was coming from -- one of his arms looked like a police-dog-in-training had mauled it. I thought of my dream and knelt beside him. "Spike! Speak to me, pal!"

To my relief he opened his eyes and looked up at me. "Sonic," he said brokenly, "he wanted the stone. He wanted it. I tried to fight him, but he said he'd take my arm off. It hurts, Sonic -- " He was in shock.

I ripped off my pack, opened it and pulled out the bandages. Those gashes really should be washed, but our water supply was limited. I needed to get the bleeding stopped. Thinking quickly, I pulled off my belt without deactivating it and wrapped it around his upper arm. It was better than a tourniquet; the power of the emeralds transferred from me to him, dimming my colored glow, but making him glow a warm ultra-violet color.

He sat up slowly, the glazed look leaving his eyes. He watched wordlessly as I wrapped up his arm with gauze and taped it securely. "There, feel better?" I asked as I put away the remaining first-aid stuff.

He nodded dumbly, then said, "Sonic, he got away with the white super. What will we do?"

"Nothing," I replied calmly. "He'll come back for the rest of them. He can't make it do anything while it's supplying my power, so he'll think it's a dud. We'll be fine as long as I stay energized. Can you walk?"

He slowly stood up. "I think so. How far to the bottom?"

"About ten miles."

"That close, eh? Well, let's go."

We began the downward descent, step by step. It was slow and torturous, and I wondered if it were some ancient execution; make a prisoner walk down a trillion winding steps. Spike's wound just wouldn't stop bleeding. He was exhausted from loss of so much blood, and we were forced to rest many times.

After another three centuries, we finally made it to the bottom. Spike and I collapsed on the floor, too weary to go on, even with the emeralds. We made camp in the alcove at the foot of the stairs, and retired without even eating. I was asleep almost as soon as I hit the floor.

Spike told me afterward about something I did that night, but I don't remember it. He said we were both so tired he didn't think anything could wake us up, but something did him. He said he sat up and saw Robo Knux walking toward us from the stairway, apparently going to take the belt. He said he tried to wake me up, but Robo Knux only laughed and demanded the other supers. That's when I jumped up and attacked the robot. Spike said he couldn't believe how much energy I had, because I punched that robot around like he was made of styrofoam, then chased him back up the stairs. Spike said I came back, grunted something at him, lay down and went back to sleep.

Like I said, I have no memory of this. I couldn't figure out why Spike kept looking at me so weird the next morning, and he had to tell me of what I had done in my sleep. I was as surprised as he was.

As we ate breakfast and drank our routine three gulps of water, Spike said, "Hey Sonic, I need to tell you something. As I was coming down the stairs, before the robot got me, I saw some writing on the wall."

I looked at him. "Could you read it?"

"Yeah, it was kinda weird. I hadn't seen anything readable before, and I could read it plain as day."

"What'd it say?"

"It was short, like a riddle, um ... oh it said, 'Pyramid of darkness, pyramid of gloom. The treasure is concealed in the inner room. Treasure-hunters and thieves beware -- one wrong move will be your worst nightmare.'"

I shivered. "Ooo, strange. I found something like that in this other room. Come'n see it."

As Spike read the rhyme on the wall, I took my belt off his arm and strapped it around my waist. His glow faded, but he didn't seem to notice. "Wow," he said, turning to me. "Sounds like it's cursed or something!"

"I know," I replied. "Any ideas as to what the treasure could be?"

He shook his head, making his long spines sway. "I donno. A chaos emerald or two?"

"Maybe," I said. I hadn't thought of that possibility.

A moment later I showed him the stone door. He looked at me and grinned. "Touch it and see what happens!"

I had been wanting to do that. I extended both hands and pressed them against the gold panel.

There was the same rumbling, grinding noise we had heard in the room above, like ancient machinery was turning. After a moment I felt the door tremble. I let go and stepped back. We watched as the door slowly lifted up into the ceiling, dust sifting down. Spike and I eagerly peered into the space behind it. To our disappointment, there was only a long tunnel leading away into the dark. As soon as the door had opened and the rumbling had stopped, we stepped in and looked around.

"Sonic, look!" Spike said, grabbing my arm in excitement. I looked where he was pointing. On the wall, to the right of the doorway, was a large, white plaque with writing on it. But as I looked at it, the writing shifted and changed, and I could read it. It said, "Follow the seven steps. Remember, always seven."

I met Spike's eyes. This was starting to get weird.

After a moment of staring at it, Spike said, "I get it. Look at what's carved beside it."

I looked. There were seven different characters there -- what I guessed to be the numbers in an ancient language. A little further down, the first one was carved into the wall; the one. "Memorize those shapes," I said. "If we can follow these things in order, we'll end up at the treasure!"

We fixed our attention on the strange letters, engraving them in our minds, nearly dancing with excitement. This was why we were in the pyramid in the first place, right?

A minute later Spike said, "Okay, I've got 'em. Let's go, Sonic!"

"All right!" I responded.

We hurried down the hall to the big number one. The wall was featureless and solid. I was all for continuing down the hall, but my companion had a brainwave. "Feel around for a loose brick!" he said, running his good hand over the wall. Seeing his point, I did so as well. My hands encountered it just below the 1. "Found it!" I exclaimed. We both leaned against the wall, and I shoved the brick inward.

Just as before, the wall pivoted and rotated, putting us into a room on the other side. We stepped away from the wall and looked around. It was a high, narrow corridor, dusty from years of neglect. Jeweled-eyed creatures stared from the wall and floor; they reminded me of the statue room, way back at the beginning of the pyramid. The others! I hadn't thought of them in ages. They must be worried sick about us --

The corridor was a dead end. "Spread out," I said to Spike. "The next one's got to be around here somewhere." We circled back, peering into the shadows behind the carvings, watching for the 2. After a moment Spike gave a shout -- he had found it. I rushed over to him. The symbol was high on the wall, and a row of jeweled snakes before it prevented us from getting to it. As we stood and looked up at it, a thought occurred to me. "Spike," I said, "let's check out these sculptures."

Catching my drift, he walked down to the end of the row and began feeling the serpents all over. I started at the other end and did the same.

The stone was cool and smooth to the touch. Many of them were cobras with spread hoods and open mouths. With their jewelled eyes, they almost looked alive. I kept expecting them to hiss at me.

My hunch was correct. One of the cobras had a fine seam that ran all the way around its neck. I pushed it, pulled it, then tried twisting. The snake's head turned easily, and the wall with the 2 on it swung silently inward. I gave Spike a high five, and we entered the dark passage.

Number three was on the ceiling a little way down. A bit of searching revealed a small gold plate on the wall. I touched it, and a staircase dropped downward. A rush of musty cool air hit us, and we bounded up the stone steps.

Number four took a little more effort to figure out. It was carved on the wall, and we were pretty sure it was a rotating panel. Unfortunately, it didn't have a loose brick as a trigger. Spike and I scattered throughout the big room, looking for a lever of some kind.

I had happened to glance out the entrance into the hall, and nothing was there. So it was a bit of a surprise to turn back a second later and see Robo Knux's green eyes staring straight at me. I must have gasped, for Spike turned, saw and froze.

The robot stepped into the room, an air of hatred about him. He glanced at Spike only once; the majority of his attention was directed to me. "Hello, Sonic," he purred. His voice sent a fine chill through me. There was something about him that was different. I son found what it was. "I want the other emeralds."

"Sure, like I'd just give 'em to you," I retorted. As I spoke, I put myself directly between the robot and Spike. Robots had a way of taking your friends hostage to get what they wanted. If Robo Knux noticed my action, he gave no indication of it. He stepped forward, but I stood my ground. "Give them to me, hedgehog." He was consumed by the lust for power. I hadn't seen that look often, but I recognized it in this robot.

"Can't touch me while I'm hyper," I told him. "I'll fry your tail to a crisp."

"Now now, you wouldn't do that to ME, would you?" he said softly. "It's only six little gems ..."

"That contain a power you want," I finished for him. "Over my dead body, R.K."

He nodded. "Or perhaps your friend's?

Spike yelped, Sonic!" I heard a clicking sound behind me, and then the grating as the false wall began to move. I whirled. Spike must have found the trigger. He was already dashing for the opening wall. I followed him, and so did Robo Knux.

We ducked through just in time. The wall clicked into place, and the robot thudded into the brick on the other side.

"He scares me, Sonic," Spike said as he leaned against the wall. "Let's get outta here. He's short-circuited or something -- lost his mind."

"No," I replied grimly, "he's found the emeralds. He'll get evil fast, now. That's how Metal Sonic became Metal Sonic -- he discovered the power of the emeralds. Let's juice."

We fled down the hall, scanning the floor, ceiling and walls for the 5. Behind us came the muffled sound of Robo Knux trying to break down the wall. Spike and I exchanged uneasy glances. That robot was MAD.

Another room. It was larger than it was wide, like the last one, but had only paintings on the wall. "Five, five, five," I panted, my eyes sweeping the room. "Where's it at, Spike?"

"I donno," he gasped, winded.

From back down the hallway came the sound of blows and rock crumbling.

"We'd better find it, quick," I said. "Mister red devil'll be here any minute."

"You're hyper. What're you worried about?"

"YOU."

We searched frantically. I finally found it; it was in one of the paintings, camouflaged. A careful examination revealed the button just above it. A slab in the floor slid aside. Spike and I tore down the stairs beneath and into the musty darkness.

We couldn't find number 6. We ran through passage after passage, looking everywhere, but seeing nothing but the smooth stone walls. Robo Knux was somewhere behind us; we could hear his engines, but he never came within line of sight.

Thank goodness, a room. We dove in. It had a stone door that was standing open. I muscled it closed and leaned against it. Then I saw our problem.

The room was small and had four stone doors set in the opposite wall. Each one had a trip lever before it. The handles were each made of a different material; stone, wood, glass, and iron. Every door was marked with the figure 6. Spike whirled and stared at me. "Which one is it?" he said, bewildered. I looked all around, and spotted another white marble plaque on the wall. "There!" I said. In unison we read it aloud.

"Sometimes glitters, but often not.

May be cold, or may be hot.

Ever changing, though the eye can't measure

Hidden within are many treasures.

Some find safety beneath it's gate,

While some my die beneath it's weight.

Old and broken it brings forth life."

We stared at each other, puzzled. After a second I realized what it was for. "The handles!" I said. "If you can figure out which one the riddle's talking about, we can open the right door!"

"Right," said Spike. He looked at the handles. "Sometimes glitters, but often not -- "

Something struck the door to my back with great force, nearly driving it open. I hurled myself against it, holding it closed. The robot backed off, then slammed himself against the door again. I flinched, but managed to keep my place. "Hurry!" I gasped to Spike. "Talk it out!"

He began to pace up and down, the wheels in his head turning furiously. "Sometimes glitters, but often not ... could be glass."

"Glass ALWAYS glitters," I grunted, holding off another assault.

"May be cold, or may be hot. Wood when you burn it?"

"It said 'may', not 'is'," I replied.

"Yeah," he shot back, "but trees are always changing, though the eye can't measure!"

"Tell me what tree -- ahh, stupid robot -- contains hidden treasures."

"True." He began to pace again, eyes darting from the riddle on the wall, to the handles and back.

"Some find safety beneath it's gate, while some may die beneath it's weight. That could be metal. You use guns and stuff to protect yourself, but if scarp fell on you, you'd die."

"Stone -- would -- too," I grunted, throwing my weight against the door. "Hurry, man! I can't hold him off forever!"

"Right, right. Old and broken it brings forth life. What the heck does that?"

"Think, Spike! All those things have one thing in common, and it's one of those four! Argh -- " Robo Knux was getting more and more violent.

Spike stood stock still, staring down at those levers. He had a look of intense concentration on his face. Robo Knux's energetic attack caused me to look away from him. The robot hit the door so hard it was flung open an inch or two. Instantly he stuck his long knuckle-spikes through the crack. Then he began to pound his body against the stone, wedging those spikes further and further. "Ahh, hurry, Spike!" I gasped. I grabbed one of the sharp spikes, letting my power electrocute the robot. He made a sound, struggled, then yanked them away. The door slammed to.

"I got it!" Spike yelled.

"Tell me first!" I yelled back.

"Stone! Sometimes glitters, but often not. Rocks fit that one!"

"Keep going," I responded. Yeah, that one DID fit.

"May be cold, or may be hot. Rocks in the shade are cold, and in the sun they're hot!"

"Go on," I prodded, hearing Robo Knux strike the other side of the door with his fists.

"Ever changing though the eye can't measure. Rocks are always eroding, but we can't tell. Hidden within are many treasures is talking about rubies and gold and stuff!" He was all set to pull the stone lever as soon as he finished. "Some find safety beneath it's gate, while some may die beneath it's gate. If you dig under a rock and hide, you're safe. If one falls on you, you're dead. Old and broken it brings forth life. Rocks turn into soil, and plants grow out of it." He spun and looked at me. "Well? Am I right?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "Hurry and pull it. He's taking the door apart, now."

Spike yanked the lever back. There was the grinding sound of gears turning, and the door slowly lifted open. He ducked into the passage beyond, and I let go the door and followed.

The passage had a very high ceiling, I noticed, and the walls were covered with bright, elaborate paintings. I would have stopped and looked at them if I hadn't been fleeing a ferocious enemy. Spike was just ahead of me, running his hardest and holding his bandaged arm against his side. I was thinking of loaning him the belt again, when we came to the end of the hall.

It was a dead end.

Spike and I slid to a halt and stared in disbelief. "No!" Spike cried. "That was the answer -- I was sure!"

"Me too," I agreed. "What gives here?"

There came a dragging, grinding sound as Robo Knux forced the door open. We both looked back, then at each other. For some reason, I moved closer to the wall and looked up again. This time I saw the gold plate with the figure 7 on it. "Look!" I exclaimed.

Spike did. "Oh good, we're not dead. Touch it, man!"

I slapped both energized hands down on it. Without warning, the floor opened up beneath our feet. We went down with a yelp.

It was a steeply slanted shaft, only a couple feet wide. We rolled and slid down. I wondered why, of all the species in the world, we had to be a hedgehog and a porcupine. I was glad I was invincible; otherwise, most of Spike's spines quills have transferred themselves to my person. Unfortunately for Spike, though, he wasn't invincible from MY spines.

The shaft ended, and we dropped out of it and onto the floor. For a minute or two I just lay there, thankful to have gotten out of there alive. Spike had more on his mind. He jumped up. "Robo Knux'll come down after us," he panted. "Quick, fill the opening with these bricks. We'll trap him!"

I climbed to my feet. The shaft exit was about three feet up in the wall and sure looked like a tight little hole. I didn't have time to see much else, because Spike shoved two heavy bricks into my hands.

I slid them into the shaft, took two more from Spike, put them in, then two more. He was taking them off a large stack of bricks, and I figured we wouldn't run out of them.

It wasn't until we had most of the shaft blocked up that I began to notice our surroundings. I began by wondering why the bricks were so darn heavy. As I shoved them into the shaft, I looked at them. They were too cold to be cement; metal of some kind. Yellow metal. like brass. Then I stopped dead, staring at the ones in my hands. Spike was still taking them off the stack as fast as he could, so my halt messed him up. "What?" he demanded, dropping two with a clunk. "Why'd you stop?"

I looked at him. "Do you have any idea what these are made of?"

He shrugged. "Whatever bricks are made of. Why?"

"These are gold!" I exclaimed.

His jaw dropped halfway to the floor.

I turned and looked around the room. It was one of the biggest I'd seen, with a high, vaulted ceiling. But what held our attention was what covered the floor.

Gold. Jewels. Pearl necklaces. Coins of all shapes and sizes. Gold cups, plates, even a couple crowns. The light I cast picked out certain pieces, making them glitter indescribably. Awed, we both drifted toward the treasure. It looked like a dump truck had just piled it haphazardly all over the floor. Spike picked up a ruby that was as big as his fist. It flashed like fire as he turned it over in his hands. I found an emerald the same size, and green as grass. After a moment we set them down. Incredible wealth lay everywhere, like old produce. All we could do was walk around and stare at it.

I could think of nothing to say. Spike fumbled for words a couple times, but couldn't say anything, either. We picked up piece after piece, looked at it and set it down again. The only thing I can possibly compare it to if finding a beach covered in rare shells, piled five feet deep. You don't keep any, because the next one is always more beautiful than the last.

At last Spike found something to say. He stopped and looked at me. "Is this what all those warnings were about?"

I looked around and shrugged. I was coming back to reality. "Well, I'm not gonna kill for it. This stuff ain't ours. And it's not going to help us get out of the pyramid."

My words were like cold water in the face for both of us. I hadn't really been aware of what I was saying until I had said it. We looked at each other. "You're right," Spike said simply.

Oh, if only we hadn't walked around a little more! We rounded a large pile of glittering gold and gems, and saw it. At the far end of the room was a low pedestal with light shining on it. There seemed to be a hole in the ceiling above it somewhere. Curious, we walked up to see what was on the pedestal.

Laid across it was a sword in a jeweled sheath. It was about two and a half feet long. The hilt was made of gold -- there seemed to be a lot of it in this place -- and set with sapphires. The sheath was leather, trimmed with gold and a few small gems. Little knowing of the danger, I said, "Cool." I picked it up and pulled the sword out of the sheath.

It came out with an easy whisk, not sticking at all. But the blade, instead of being metal, was green stone. It was highly polished and transparent, like cool green ice. "Wow," Spike said as I held it up. "That's neat. We ought to keep that one."

As I lifted it, the beam of light brushed the gleaming blade. To my surprise, the sword began to glow fiercely, a thin thread of light appearing inside the stone. As I looked at it, I felt a surge of intense power flow through the gold hilt and into my hands and arms.

What happened next was what Spike and I had been warned about. I'll try to describe it, though it won't be easy.

The world faded to white. I could see nothing but my hands and that glimmering sword. I held it out before me, wondering what the heck was happening. Suddenly a vision appeared before me. Myself, bearing the sword, battling my way into Robotropolis, hacking down SWAT-bots right and left. Attacking Robotnik and Packbell, killing them, freeing the city. Later, when all had calmed, becoming a mercenary for the king, slaying all enemies, my sword and my speed making me extremely dangerous.

At about that point my defenses against the sword's power went down. The images before me became increasingly bloody and violent. I began to have words whispered in my ears; there was no voice, just thoughts appearing in my head. "Speak your mind, look out for yourself," I was told. The treasure appeared before me. "The answer to it all is a life of wealth. Grab all you can, because you only live once." The sword again, cutting down all who opposed me. "You've got the right to do whatever you want." The freedom fighters going down one by one. "Don't worry about others or where they came from." Myself again, now a ruthless killer with eyes as cold as the sword's blade. "It's not what you were. It's what you've become."

"Sonic, what's the matter with you?"

That was Spike. His voice was far away, but it cut through the hazy visions before me. Slowly I turned to face him, dimly aware that the images were super-imposed over the room around me. A coldness had settled over my spirit, and the sword was nearly too bright to look at. Spike was staring at me fearfully. As if from a distance, I remembered that he was my friend. But somehow, the sword in my hands had taken away all feeling from my soul. I was becoming the world's only living heart donor.

"Don't worry about others ... it's what you've become," filled my head. The visions brightened again, showing me attacking Spike. I could do that. "You've got the right to do whatever you want." I paced toward him, still holding the sword out before me.

"Sonic ... don't do this, please," he said, lifting a hand and backing away.

"Do it," the sword replied.

I leaped at him, raised the sword and slashed it down. He jumped aside, and the glowing blade hit the floor with a shower of sparks. I had it up again in an instant, and again advanced slowly. "Sonic, please," Spike said tremulously. "Can you put that thing down?"

Rage filled me at the very suggestion, probably produced by the sword itself. I lunged at Spike again. This time he grabbed up a big gold shield, and the blade hit that.

Then I was attacking, my moves guided by the power of the sword, overwhelming Spike's defence with a whirlwind of rushes. My head was constantly filled with,"You've got the right to do whatever you want. Kill him. Kill him, and no one will dare oppose you!"

Spike was down, cowering behind the shield. I yanked it away with ease and pressed the blade against his throat. "Sonic," he begged, gagging a little from the pressure on his neck. "What about the others? What about Serena and Slasher ... "

The visions were coming back. "Kill, kill!" the sword commanded. But something deep inside was fighting back. "This is wrong!" it cried. Probably my conscience. "What about love? What about mercy, compassion, and selflessness?"

"They have no place," my possessed mind retorted. But my conscience kept up the fight.

"Why kill your own friends? They care for you! They love you! What are you thinking? Do this evil deed, and you will be no better off than Robotnik and Metal Sonic!"

I dropped the sword like it was red-hot. Spike sat up, staring into my face. I was trembling all over. The visions were gone, and the world was solid once more. I felt drained, exhausted. "Spike," I said wearily, "I -- I'm sorry. It was the sword -- it did something to my mind -- "

He nodded and sighed with relief. "I knew there was something wrong with you. Your eyes looked really weird."

I lifted a hand to my forehead. "I'm so sorry ... I didn't know what I was doing. I wasn't in control. That THING was."

Suddenly I felt the super emeralds deactivate. The light faded from my body, leaving me my cool shade of blue. The room darkened, and the only light came from the opening above the pedestal and the sword on the floor, which was still faintly lit. "What the -- " I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. "Did the sword do that, or -- ?"

I was interrupted by the clatter of numerous object hitting the floor. We whirled and stared toward the shaft. We were just in time to see Robo Knux drop to the floor. He was dirty and his frame was dented, but his eyes burned in the dimness like headlights. He walked toward us, hunched forward, arms dangling. Somehow he had decharged the one super he had, and that in turn had shut off the others. Spike and I backed away, defenceless. I had been hyper for too long, I realized. Being normal now held a kind of horror for me. I could get hurt! I couldn't move like lightning!

"Yes," the robot growled, as if reading my thoughts. "I figured out how to deactivate the stone. And now I can get the rest of them." He charged. We ran.

He came after me, knowing that I carried the belt. I ducked around the piles of treasure, climbed over some and slid down the other sides, trying to outrun. He came after me relentlessly. He had those jets in his dreadlocks fired up, and he was a lot faster than Mecha had been.

At one point I hit an empty part of the room and was running flat out with him behind me. I could tell he was getting close, so I swerved right, trying to shake him. He overshot, yes, but as he went by he leaned hard to the side and flung out one long arm. His talons raked the back of my head and caught in my quills. I was yanked backward and dragged along as he slowed down. That hurt, let me tell you! Then he was standing over me triumphantly, demanding the super emeralds.

I stalled, hoping Spike would come to my rescue. "What are you gonna do with them?"

He threw back his red head and laughed. "A fool you are, Hedgehog! Install them to my engine core, of course! Then I will become invincible, destroy the freedom fighters and all resistance! I will -- "

I groped around on the ground, not daring to look away from his metallic face. If I could only find something I could use as a weapon! Nothing to my right. I reached out with my left and felt something sharp and cold. I felt along it. Long. Hard. One end had a handle -- Suspicious, I risked a very short glance. The sword. Well, I could use it for a minute -- just a minute. I wasn't hyper, either, so maybe it wouldn't be able to take over my mind.

Spike said later it was remarkable how fast I moved. I grabbed the sword's hilt, lifted it, added my other hand to my grip, and drove the blade into the robot above me with all my might.

The green blade cut through Robo Knux's chest like it was made of aluminum foil. I drove it in until it stopped, then lay there, panting. Robo Knux sort of slumped forward, leaning on the sword. He looked down at it, touched it gingerly, then looked at me. "Clever," he said flatly. "You must have forgotten I am not flesh and blood. I am a ro -- ro -- ro -- " His voice died away, and his metal body shuddered.

I scrambled to my feet and pulled the sword out of his chest. He collapsed to the floor, a little dark oil spilling from the cut. Now HE was at MY mercy. "Hand over the super," I commanded, not sure if he would understand me. He lifted one hand, and a small panel opened. The stone dropped out into my hand.

I stood still for a moment, working the super back into its place with relief. I was safe again. Then I backed away from Robo Knux, still holding the sword. It balanced wonderfully in my hand, so well it seemed weightless. And it didn't glow at all. I decided that it was only dangerous when it glowed.

"Sonic," came Spike's voice from behind. I turned. He was holding the sword's sheath. I took it and inserted the sword. "Thanks," I said. "That thing is really sharp -- went right through the robot. We should probably leave it -- "

Something hard hit the back of my right leg, slicing into the muscle. I stumbled forward, then whirled. Robo Knux was just dragging himself to his feet, the claws on one hand damp and red. My leg burned like fire; it wouldn't support my weight. I could already feel the warm blood beginning to seep out. I sank down, still clutching the sword. "There," said the robot, pressing a hand to the hole in his chest. "Now we're even."

Thundering fury welled up inside me. That had been a BIG mistake. I brushed one hand across the belt, activating the supers. Once I was hyper and the pain had faded from my leg, I leaped to my feet, drew the sword and held it above my head. "Prepare to die, robot!" I cried. Then I attacked, insane with rage.

Well, Robo Knux had the sense to realize I was more than a match for him. He fled. I tore after him, slashing the air just a couple inches from his back. Spike stood in the center of the room and watched us race round and round, hoping we wouldn't decide he was an easy target.

Robo Knux was seriously afraid for his life, but he was wounded. I had cut a fuel line (an artery to a robot) and his fuel was slowly leaking into his machinery. His motion controls went wacky because of this, and he would turn and slam into the wall, or race across the room, without meaning to. This made him difficult to follow, but I managed to get him with the sword a couple times.

An intelligent robot can feel fear, I discovered. I had never thought about it before, but I was fierce enough to scare him. But he was only a robot, and fear does not consume and confuse a robot. With what nerve he had left, he stopped dead, turned and cut me sharply across the eyes. It didn't hurt me, but the force of the blow sent me reeling backward. As I recovered and lifted the sword again, the robot attacked the wall desperately, driving his knuckle-spikes into the cracks between the bricks, chipping away mortar.

I had no idea what he was doing, so I stood a moment and watched him, wondering if he was trying to commit suicide. But after a minute, he tugged away several bricks, revealing an empty space behind them. Another tunnel, blocked up! He must have found it with his scanner. I charged at him. He saw me and flung himself through the opening he had made. It was too small, of course, but he was so afraid of me he struggled and forced his way through, knocking bricks loose as he did so. I hacked and stabbed at his back and legs, but he made it. Impulsively I ducked my head and followed him.

It was a good thing Spike was close behind me. I was cooling off, yes, but all my attention was focused on the robot. I wasn't even aware of the porcupine's footsteps behind me. All I could think of, as I shot down the passage, was how I was going to cut that robot down to size. The sword was beginning to glow again; just a little, but it was visible. Conscious of this, I carefully guarded myself against thinking too highly of myself.

The passage sloped up, snaked this way and that, dropped and rose again. Robo Knux was really hauling, and I had to use the super glide to keep up with him. I knew I could have got him in a few seconds, but he seemed to be going somewhere. He never paused to consider which way he would go; he always knew in advance.

We ran for quite a while. I became aware of Spike's presence when he grabbed my arm and had me tow him. He couldn't run anymore. I clutched his hand and pulled him along. He rode on my strength and was able to keep up.

Suddenly I heard a sound, as if someone had shouted. Thinking it had been the robot, I kept straight on. I didn't see the figure as we passed him by, but Spike did. "Sonic, stop!" he yelled in my ear.

"No!" I called back. "Not until I've cut him off at the knees!"

"But Sonic, that was -- "

I swerved into another tunnel and cut him off. But this passage didn't fade into black, as all the others did. It had light at the end. A second later I plunged out into it.

Heat struck me in the face, and sunlight blinded me. Spike let go and fell behind, but I kept right on going. So drunk was I with the thrill of the chase and keeping the robot in sight, I didn't notice I was out of the pyramid. I think I would have chased him all the way back to Robotropolis if I hadn't been stopped.

I was far out in the desert, nearing the eastern side, when a shadow fell over me. A voice I knew well barked, "Sonic! Stop right now!" It was a reprimand, and cut all the way through me. I slid to a stop, kicking up sand and dust, looking around. As soon as I stopped I realized I was no longer in the pyramid, that I was burning up and really thirsty, and that I had brought the sword with me.

The shadow passed over me again, and Slasher dove down. She landed beside me, holding her wings out to cool her body. "Sonic," she said again. "What in the world do you think you're doing?"

"Chasing Robo Knux," I said innocently.

She gazed into my eyes searchingly. "Sonic," she said quietly, "decharge yourself."

I obeyed. Again I looked up at her. "What's the matter?"

"Are you all right?"

As she asked the question, pain stabbed through my right leg. I collapsed to the ground. "No," I replied softly. "He cut my leg open."

She knelt and picked me up in her arms. She didn't carry me like that very often; usually when I was sick or really, really tired. I relaxed and closed my eyes. I was safe now ...

I felt Slasher's warm breath on my ankle as she looked at the gash. "It's deep," she remarked gravely. "We need to get you back to where I can sew it up."

I looked at her with alarm. "Sew? I need stitches?"

"Yes," she replied, "It it's going to heal properly."

As she bounded into the air and began to fly, she gazed into my face again. I looked back at her. She seemed glad to see me, but worried at the same time. "Whassamatter?" I asked her. "Why do you keep looking at me like that?"

"Because," she replied, "you're not Sonic."

I felt a queer sort of dread spike through my middle. "What? What do you mean?"

"There's something wrong with you. It's in your eyes. I can tell by the way you're acting. You don't seem to care that you and Spike made it out of the pyramid safely. You're very hard. What happened?"

The sword. I still had it clenched in one hand, and couldn't seem to let go. Even though we were out in the noonday sun, I could see the faint glow inside it. "Slasher," I said, "take the sword. It's evil. It messes up my mind. Get it away -- "

She pulled it out of my hand. As soon as it left me, I felt a sort of ice inside me melt. A bunch of little muscles in my face and arms relaxed, and I went totally limp.

"There," Slasher said, relieved. "That must have been it. Guy, this thing is heavy. You carried it all the way out of the pyramid?"

I looked up at her questioningly. "But Slash, it's not heavy, and it balances really well. I could carry it all day."

"Could you now." She looked at me with one eye. She said nothing more until we landed in front of the pyramid.

"Oh Sonic!" The first person to greet me was Serena. She threw her arms around my neck and nearly hugged me to death. "Gently," Slasher told her. "He's hurt." Instantly 'Rena stepped back, letting me breathe again. She had large dark circles under her eyes, as if she hadn't slept in a while. She was none too clean, either, and her clothes looked as if she'd slept in them.

The others closed in. I knew I could never answer all the questions right off the bat, so I settled with hugs and handshakes.

Tails looked worse than Serena. He just stood back with Spike and bawled with his hands over his face, so glad we were both safe.

Sally was pretty close to tears, herself, but managed to wink them back as she hugged me.

After a moment Knuckles came jogging up, all smiles. Apparently he had been the one I had nearly mowed down. He pumped my hand up and down, pounded me on the back and asked me how I was. "Fine," was my standard reply, although I was clearly not fine.

It was a relief to get off the Floating Island and back to Knothole.

A few days slipped by. I got six stitches in my calf, and was forced to walk with a crutch. The double cuts on my face were taken care of, but I would probably have the scars for a long time.

Spike's entire outlook on life had changed. He was cool to be around. The shell he had built around himself had been breached. He told the entire story of what had happened three times before I got a chance to say a word.

We were both told of how the other group had finally got the revolving door to open, only to be met by the sand that had driven us out. They couldn't follow us, and had no idea how we'd gotten out. (We found out later that Robo Knux had led Spike and I through the labyrinth, and from there, out.)

But I wanted another matter cleared up. What of the sword? Why did it possess my mind, and goad me into murderous rages? And what was to be done with it?

I put these questions to Knuckles, who did some research, then answered them.

We sat in my hut. I lay on my bed with my foot stretched out and my hands behind my head, while Knuckles read from his notes.

"The sword of the Echidna Clan was made by Marty Echidna, who cultivated and grew the Master emerald. He originally intended it to be used in the defence of the emeralds."

Knux paused and looked up at me. "Good thing I didn't have it when we fought in Hidden Palace, hey?"

I nodded, and he continued.

"But the power crystals he took the sword's blade from had the power to magnify all evil in a given person. It was activated only when brought into contact with one who was powered by the super emeralds."

I shivered.

Knuckles went on, reading from the paper in his hand. "The Emerald Palace was open for forty years, and during that time, no one had cause to wield the sword. But, at the close of those forty years, there came an echidna who was bent on taking possession of all the stones. One of the current Guardians took the Sword, but it overwhelmed him with its power, and he killed the intruder, several guards, and ten members of his own clan before he was stopped.

"For this reason, the Emerald Palace became Hidden Palace, and the sword was hidden in a secret place on the Floating Island. Many have sought it, but none have found it ... " Knux looked at me. "Until now."

I sat up. "So what do we do with the thing? Can it be destroyed?"

Knuckles slowly shook his head. "Nope. Power crystals are almost indestructible. The best we could do is to cut it up; but you don't want to do that."

"Why not?"

"What if somebody got ahold of one of the pieces?"

"Ah. I see."

We sat in silence a moment, staring jointly at the floor. After a little he looked up. "Look, the only one who is trained to use it is you. It's too heavy for anybody else. I'll take it back to the island with me and hide it. What do you think?"

I thought that was a good idea, and told him so. Knuckles said he would do it right away, and walked out.

I lay back on my bed and thought. I had finally figured out what Nights had meant when he warned me of the treasure. The sword was the dangerous part. The treasure I had already found was Spike's friendship. We were no longer enemies. And, I suppose, that was reason enough to get lost in a pyramid for a week.

And as for Robo Knux? Well, he limped home to Robotropolis and hadn't been seen since. But somehow, I don't think I'd seen the last of him. He was the kind of person who always showed up again. And there was that one mural I had seen in the pyramid. The one I certainly hadn't done yet.

A green thing with a black face ... have to be on the lookout for anyone matching that description.

The End.

(For Now ... )

Other stories:
Sonic 3 and Knuckles
Daylight Savings
The Return of Metal Sonic
Sonic and the Time Rippers
Sonic CD
Trapped in Nightopia
Pyramid of Gloom
Sonic R
Terbium Moon
Flicky Island
Emerald Madness
Something to Write Home About
True Colors