Tails landed his plane on a small strip of beach beneath rocky cliffs. A large crevice at the bottom had formed a cave-like shelter, and out from it ran Amy and Sticks. Dawn jumped out of the plane and wearily accepted their embrace.
"Oh, Dawn, you're okay!" Amy exclaimed. "We saw what happened to the village and just ran, we didn't even think if you, Sonic, or Knuckles would be okay."
"Yeah, that was real terrifying." Sticks added. "But we're glad to know you're okay, Dawn."
"What about Sonic and Knuckles?" Tails asked. "Do you know what happened to them?"
Dawn wondered if they knew about the nightmare Sonic and Knuckles' true nature, and they were only asking her to not appear suspicious. But she just went along with it and answered, "Yeah, they're...they're not themselves."
"What do you mean, not themselves?" Amy asked.
"How 'bout we go sit inside the shelter?" Sticks suggested. "Dawn can explain then."
Dawn's guard rose as she followed them into the small space formed by the crevice in the rocks. She sat with her back against the wall, with Tails on her right and Amy and Sticks across from her. As she recalled the events that unfolded since she entered this world, she felt her heart begin to ache. She didn't belong in this never-ending nightmare, she wanted out of it.
She could feel tears forming in her eyes, but she blinked them away, not about to show weakness in front of the potential threats that resembled her friends.
"That sounds terrible." Tails said.
"Yeah, that doesn't sound like the Sonic and Knuckles we know at all." Amy agreed.
"And it's not just the village that's gone hostile." said Sticks. "It could be the whole island."
"What are we gonna do, guys?" Dawn said. "How are we gonna fix all of this? Mom, Dad, the island, everything."
The mood suddenly changed. Tails, Amy, and Sticks no longer appeared concerned, they now looked at Dawn with disappointment, which made her perk up in alarm.
"Oh, Dawn. Have you learned nothing since you entered this world?" Tails asked unpleasantly.
Dawn shot to her feet and readied herself for a fight. "I knew it! I knew you weren't my real friends!" she exclaimed. "You're more horrors of this world disguised as the ones I hold dear."
"Hmm, you are as clever as we thought." Amy said. "Unfortunately for you, this is where your journey ends."
Amy and Sticks' eyes glowed red. The former pulled out a giant spiked hammer, the latter, a metal bo staff with knife blades on both ends. Metallic enforcements covered several parts of Tails' body, and his eyes glowed electric blue. His new armored gloves had razor-sharp steel claws, which he raised and prepared at slash at Dawn with.
"Those knuckle spikes of yours won't hold a candle to my high-tech weapons." he said.
"You can tell yourself that," Dawn said, "but this is my journey, and I won't let it end by fake copies of my loved ones!"
As Dawn took on her false friends, Shadow continued his fight against Metal Sonic. He dodged another attack from the robot, then roundhouse kicked him off his feet. He sped towards the robot, ready to jam his fist into his metal hide, but Metal Sonic turned at the last second and grabbed Shadow's wrist. The dark hedgehog cried out in pain as Metal Sonic twisted his wrist in an attempt to break it, but he punched the robot away with his free hand. He stretched and shook out his injured wrist-it didn't seem broken, but there was likely a sprain.
Metal Sonic fired multiple rockets at Shadow. The dark hedgehog dodged them, but the rockets suddenly started blinking red lights and flew back towards him, homing in on their target. The second they were close enough, Shadow kicked them towards Metal Sonic. The robot flew out of the way, and the rockets exploded against the roof.
Metal Sonic grabbed Shadow and flew them both over the ocean with blinding speed. A struggle ensued, in which Shadow managed to land a few blows on the robot, but hurt himself in the process. They landed hard on a small beach, and Shadow pinned Metal Sonic down and tried to break into his torso compartment. But Metal Sonic turned them both over, the dark hedgehog now below him. The robot aimed a rocket at Shadow and prepared to fire it, but Shadow brought his legs up and kicked Metal Sonic off of him.
As he sped in toward the robot to attack again, Dawn countered and dodged the false Amy and Sticks' weapons. She ducked as Sticks swung the bladed end of her staff at her, then swept her legs out from beneath her. She kicked Amy in her midsection, knocking the wind out of her, then countered Tails' metal claws with her knuckles spikes. She heard Sticks getting up behind her and ducked, making Tails claw the badger in the face, blood splattering on the ground and the rock walls.
Dawn elbowed Tails in the back and kicked Sticks in her wounded face, then grabbed the handle of Amy's hammer, stopping its momentum. She swung Amy, who was still gripping the hammer, around in a circle before slamming her into the wall, triggering an avalanche of rocks. She ran out into open land as the rocks increased in size, the false copies of her friends pursuing her, but slowed by their injuries.
"Get back here, Dawn!" Tails said, his anger hindered by pain and soreness. "You are never getting out of here ali-!"
His sentence was cut off as a giant boulder landed on him, Amy, and Sticks.
A circular window opened up to show Hedgehog Village-the real Hedgehog Village back home, not the madhouse she ran through to escape the psychotic version of her mother. She tentatively reached out to touch it, and it felt cool and smooth as actual glass. She was comforted by the sight of her real home, and as the window closed, the realization came to her.
She knew what she had to do to escape.
Shadow was thrown to the ground, but as he was standing up, Metal Sonic grabbed him again and punched his midsection, making him gasp. He then punched Shadow in the face, leaving small but deep cuts beneath his right eye. The robot wrapped his hands around Shadow's throat, cutting off his air supply. As the dark hedgehog gasped for breath, Eggman came flying up in his Eggmobile, laughing evilly.
"Well, wouldn't you know it." he teased. "The powerful Shadow the Hedgehog can't stand up to Metal Sonic without the help of the little blue rodent or his pesky little girl! Looks like your time is up, Shadow, and Dawn will spend her life in a nightmare she'll have no idea how to wake up from! Such a shame you'll go out knowing you failed her!" He ended with another evil laugh.
Through his weakened, oxygen-deprived state, Shadow heard every word of that, and he could feel his anger and hate for Eggman rising. His mind flashed back to when he first encountered Dawn, the silent promise he made to watch over her, stepping in to help her, accompanying her for her journey, fighting alongside her, bonding and growing closer to her, the valuable lessons she taught him. He needed to see her smile again, hear her laughter again, observe her prowess as an aspiring hero again.
Which was why he wasn't about to be stopped here.
Shadow reached up and loosened Metal Sonic's grip on his throat. "N-No." he said in a strained voice. "I...refuse...to fail her!"
In a rage, Shadow ripped off one of Metal Sonic's arms and repeatedly swung it at him, heavily damaging the robot, cracking his eyes, taking off one of his legs. As the robot fell, Shadow jammed the arm through his neck, beheading him. What was left of his eyes dimmed to black and his body briefly twitched before going completely still.
"What?!" Eggman exclaimed in disbelief.
Metal Sonic's chest compartment opened to reveal a syringe filled with the serum that put Dawn in the nightmare world. Shadow grabbed it and looked threateningly up at Eggman. "When Dawn and I wake up, we'll make you regret everything you've done." he said, then hurried back to her.
Eggman looked dejectedly at Metal Sonic's remains. "Charlie and Belinda won't be happy about this." he said.
Shadow returned to the cottage where Dawn lay comatose. He gently scooted her to the side and laid down next to her. He injected himself with the serum and took Dawn's hand as he followed her into the nightmare world.
We'll finally be reunited, Dawn, he thought before slipping away.
The sun was setting as Dawn walked across a flowering field. Although she eager to leave this world, she wasn't looking forward to the battle she would need to win to escape it. She couldn't wait to return home to everyone she cared about. Her parents, her friends, Shadow-
Dawn stopped in her tracks when she suddenly realized who stood ten feet in front of her. Shadow. Her travel companion and protector. Finally here.
"Dawn." he said, smiling and reaching out to her.
Another window appeared behind him, like the one that formed after the fake copies of Dawn's friends were killed. It was smaller, but Dawn could make out the beach she and Shadow spent the night at, when she first felt her feelings for him stirring inside her. Her heart began to rise, her smile formed, and she started walking towards him.
"Shadow." Dawn's voice was quiet at first, but then spoke louder as she walked faster. "Shadow! Shadow, it's you!"
Dawn jumped into Shadow's embrace and started to cry. It was really him, Shadow was finally here with her. She was no longer alone. They were reunited at last, and they hoped they would never be separated again.
"Oh, Shadow, I missed you so much!" Dawn said through her tears.
"I missed you, too, Dawn." Shadow said, stroking her quills. "What I had to go through to see you again. But it was worth it."
When they finally pulled back, Dawn noticed the cuts below Shadow's eye. "Why are you hurt?" she asked.
"Eggman rebuilt Metal Sonic and sent him to attack me." Shadow explained. "It was a difficult fight, but I managed to pull through and injected myself with the serum to get to you."
As Dawn tentatively placed her hand on the injured side of Shadow's face, he suddenly became lost in her eyes. Standing there, finally back together after everything they'd been through, one emotion rose above the many others he felt. He also felt a strong urge to kiss her, but he decided against it and focused on the matter at hand.
"Dawn, I know how to get you out of here." he said. "We need to fight and win against your greatest fears."
"I know. I've figured it out." Dawn said. "I fought the fake versions of my friends before you came. After I beat them, I saw a sort of window showing the real Hedgehog Village. If we win against the fake copies of my parents, we can get out of here." She frowned. "I know they're not my real parents, but I'm still not looking forward to it."
Shadow took her hand. "I know you're not, but I'm here now. We'll take them on together and leave this world of nightmares. I'll be beside you the entire time."
Dawn squeezed Shadow's hand and returned to Hedgehog Village with him, thankful to have her partner back. And thankful that she no longer had to face the terrors of this world alone.