The flight down in the shuttle was a lot quieter than the flight up to the Space Colony. A lot slower, too, and shaky.
Warily Knuckles watched Sonic and Tails out of the corner of his eyes as the fox nursed the damaged shuttle through re-entry, the blue hedgehog supporting with pointing fingers and quick flicks of switches. The friction of the atmosphere was a red haze against the windscreen, and Knuckles thought he could feel it get hotter in here by the second.
The tension let off slightly when the turbulence died away and Tails could settle the craft into a gentle decent. From this altitude, the planet was still obviously round, the clouds still shapeless blurs in the far distance. Knuckles tried to compare the view to what he was used to see from his island. It didn't add up, it didn't help in guessing how far up they still were, and thinking of his home only reminded him that it wasn't drifting through the clouds as should be, that it had fallen, again, and this time, it had been his fault that it was not already safely back in the air where it ought to be.
Shattering the Emerald had been a quick decision, a momentarily impulse made in a split-second, when he'd seen himself unable to keep it out of Eggman's grasp by any other means.
It had been a stupid thing to do, stupid and irresponsible, made without using his damn head. He'd been already hanging on to his last straw after that bat had stolen the Emerald, treating it as a game of some sort, and then Eggman had come, and the anyways terrible day had gone all the way to hell in just an instant.
He could have gotten it back another way, chased after Eggman, beaten the living daylights out of him and that blasted bat and –
Knuckles sighed, clutching the shrunk down Emerald in his fist, feeling the firmness of it under his hold, the sharp, near painful sting where the tip of it dug into his palm in reply to his tight grip on it.
Solid. Whole. Undamaged. No danger now.
Maybe he could have found another way, but even now when he had some idle time to think about it, he didn't know if any alternative course of action on his part would have led to any less awful results.
In the end, he – and the Emerald – had ended up, somehow, right where they had to be to stop the Chaos Emeralds. There was some complex irony in the way fate had played out this day, but Knuckles was too tired to want to think about it.
Everyone else seemed tired, too. Tails and Sonic in the pilot and co-pilot seat hardly exchanged any words not related to flying the shuttle. Amy was alternating between staring out the window at the blue planet below and staring at Rouge. The white bat had not looked his way, or the way of the Master Emerald for that matter, since they had sat down in here; she was twirling the gold ring in her fingers that Sonic had brought back, apparently lost in thought. Each in their own way, everyone was.
The red echidna shot a short look to the back of the shuttle where Eggman sat on a sort of emergency seat that folded out of the wall near one of the hatches. The long legs stretched out across half the length of the cabin. Eggman, too, was staring out the window, or it looked like he was, it was hard to tell with these reflecting goggles on. But right now, not even Eggman looked like he had anything up his sleeve. Perhaps this odd truce born of desperation at their all certain doom would hold long enough for them to all get out of this shuttle after all.
Knuckles turned back around, wondering not for the first time if they had lost or won, who had lost and who had won, or if so simple, superficial terms even applied here.
It had been easy, before. Once, everyone who came after the Master Emerald was an enemy. Carefully, gradually, he was willing to consider those that would help him protect it, one way or the other, allies, friends maybe.
Today, enemies had turned into allies within minutes. Knuckles was quite aware of the temporary nature of this peace, but it had blurred the lines between black and white, between good and evil, heroes and villains so thoroughly and completely that all that remained was a disturbing mash-up.
They had saved the planet from destruction, stopped the Eclipse Cannon, stopped the Finalhazard. It should feel like victory.
For a moment, it had.
But they'd lost Shadow. Nobody on the unlikely team had even actually known him, he'd been fighting them from the start, had been at least partly responsible for starting this whole mess, but that didn't matter, because he'd been out there, with Sonic, sharing Chaos Emeralds and powers and as willing to sacrifice himself as the rest of them.
Nobody had thought through that one day, one of them could actually not come back. They knew it was a possibility, sure, accepted it, each in their own way. Knuckles had known all his life, as long as he remembered anyway, that he might give his life for protecting the Master Emerald, or that he at least might die trying. If the guardian died trying, what good was the protection? It seemed an unsolvable dilemma.
He was sure also Sonic knew, somewhere deep down under all that snark and casualness, that the next evil entity or giant robot might be his last to stand up against. It was, in some twisted way, part of their all reality, but suddenly it felt so much more real. Something had scored a hit close to home for all of them, and it was tangible in the heavy silence that had settled over the group.
The landing was, to his utter surprise, rather soft and easy. Tails and Sonic turned to each other, exchanged a grin and a careful high-five. It was nowhere near the exuberance Knuckles knew of them, had grown almost familiar with over their last encounters, but it seemed a start, and it served to shake everyone else out of the muted lethargy enough to make them file out of the shuttle.
Goodbyes were quick. Eggman just left, muttering something about seeing them later. It had nothing on the loud, obnoxiously shouted promises that he'd soon come back and conquer something. For a strange moment, Knuckles almost missed it. There would have been security in the familiarity.
Rouge mumbled something about reports to file as she took off, the golden ring glittering around her wrist in the afternoon sunlight.
Knuckles stood to the side and watched Amy talk to Sonic and Tails for a moment. Unlike expected, it didn't end with Sonic running away and Amy trailing him with the hammer held high. There were nods and careful smiles and hands waving hesitant goodbye as the pink hedgehog left.
In his fist, the Master Emerald pulsed up, nudging against his hold on it. It needed a good deal of the guardian's concentration to keep it shrunk down to this tiny size and by now he was hanging on to a mere thread of it, but it would be hard to carry it over a larger distance at full size, not to mention conspicuous, and he had still a long way to go, preferably without being waylaid by someone who got the idea to make a grab at the Emerald. He closed his eyes, trying to channel some of his failing energy into a proper focus.
It was giving him a headache.
Distantly, he became aware someone was calling his name. "Knuckles?!"
He pushed down on the straining Emerald energy with nothing but willpower alone and opened his eyes. "What?"
"I thought you were going to fall asleep on your feet there," Sonic said, standing rather close and wearing an actual grin on his face. At least for the moment, it succeeded in making the hedgehog look less groggy than Knuckles felt.
It also succeeded in just fuelling Knuckles' irritation. He had a rather fragile leash on his temper on good days, and he was running on empty here.
For a second instinct was to snap back at Sonic that he wasn't tired, but that was a lie. "I wasn't sleeping," he growled instead and the hedgehog's eyebrows rose in surprise at the tone.
"Wow, chill it, will ya. I wasn't going to step on your toes. ...dude." Sonic's hands lifted in a gesture of peace and innocence, and somehow it actually managed to settle the echidna just a bit.
He was almost about to apologize for snapping at Sonic, but the blue hedgehog, as usually utterly immune to Knuckles' moods, had already turned to Tails who was standing slightly to the side. "You sure you want to make the detour? Someone's grumpy."
"Ah, Sonic. Stop it." Tails shook his head, but he was smiling, and Knuckles found he had no idea what was going on anymore. The Master's energy was building up to a steady burn against his palm and he was beginning to consider checking if it was actually scorching a hole into his glove or if it was just frying his nerve endings.
Belatedly he realized Tails was talking to him and he struggled to focus on the words. "- quite a long way to make on foot, we could take you along if you like."
Sonic smiled, although he looked a little like he did when he was about to declare Knuckles an idiot for one reason or the other. "Chaos… Someone's slow today again. We happen to have that nice plane, and we could give you a lift, back to your island. If you want."
"I checked with the computer after we landed, it's a good 300 kilometers from here. The Tornado can get there rather quickly, and we can shortcut over the sea. You'd have to go round it on foot." Tails was still wearing a patient, gentle smile.
"Don't you have anywhere to be?" Knuckles frowned. Surely they too would want home, and as sketchy as his grasp on surface geography actually was when it came to details like this, he was fairly sure that was the other direction.
Sonic just shrugged. "Nah, not really."
"It's no problem, honest." Tails' twin tails played animatedly behind his back. "You just have to say yes."
Now that they were offering, it was really hard to say no. "If you have the space? I… I don't think I can keep the Master Emerald shrunk down for much longer."
"I was wondering about that," Tails said, tilting his head aside as he studied Knuckles. "Compressing it has to be quite an energy drain on it."
It was more of a drain on him than on the Emerald, but Knuckles didn't feel like explaining control and focus and whatever else, so he just nodded. "Yes."
"Come on then!" Tails immediately set off to open the shuttle's cargo bay, Sonic hot on his heels. At least for the moment, they were back to near enthusiastic activity.
Knuckles wondered where in the world they took their energy from. Sonic had been exhausted already after that Chaos Teleport, struggling to remain upright for the first moments there with Knuckles in that corridor, not to mention the mental and physical strain of a super transformation and teleporting the whole ARK. That hedgehog defied all logic. What was he running on?
Before Knuckles caught up with them properly, they had the Tornado set on the ground and were already sorting through a collection of things they had pulled from a small cargo compartment in the aircraft's tail.
Tails was trying to untangle an armful of ropes of some sort. "Here, the Emerald won't fit into the cargo hold, but we can tie it to the wing so it can't fall off!"
Sonic was sorting through another box. He was chewing on something, and reached into the box in his hold when he spotted Knuckles. "Hey, want a chocolate bar? We have cookies, too, and nuts, and – " He looked at a package he'd pulled out. "Mint candy, obviously." A grin was shot in Tails' direction and Knuckles suspected he was missing on some important part of a conversation between the two that didn't even involve words.
Tails' reply was a flash of teeth and a shrug, as good as he was able to shrug with both hands full. "Touch them and you walk."
"Aw, you wouldn't." Sonic pouted, but gave up on it after just a few seconds to rip open one of the many little packages in his box, biting a large piece off something brown. "Chaos, I'm starving," he said through the mouthful, swallowed quickly before finishing the bar off with a second, hasty bite.
"I can imagine," Tails said. He had by now managed to get the knot of ropes into a tidy roll slung around his shoulder and turned to Knuckles. "Here, why don't you put the Emerald up there and we can see how to fix it in place?"
The echidna nodded, deciding to ignore all the randomness in their behavior for now. He climbed up onto the slanted wings of the plane. "Here?"
"Just put it down; we'll figure it out."
Knuckles nodded and crouched down, lowering his hand that held the Master Emerald, opened his fist, palm up. For a moment he stared into the deep green of the Emerald light, feeling the sting of it in his eyes, then he let them fall closed, focused on the energy, felt the Emerald slowly float up to hover slightly above his hand, and finally let go.
The Emerald sprang back into its original size with a jolt, a sudden release of energy that crashed over Knuckles as a tidal wave, sharp and tingling. He shivered, a hot tremor that washed down from his head to his toes, raising hair and spines as it went. A rush of dizziness followed it and he stumbled, dropped onto his tail hard enough that it hurt, instinctively clutching the edge of the wing to keep himself from falling off.
"Wow, what was that?!" Sonic's surprised shout brought Knuckles back to his senses enough to remember he wasn't alone and his eyes shot open.
At first, he could only blink into the bright green glow directly in front of him. It pulsed, slowly and familiar, and he lifted his hand to it, not to shield his eyes from the light, but to brush over the surface. The light flared in reply to his touch and the sharp burn on his hand eased into a low tingle.
"That's some party trick, you know?"
Knuckles turned to look at Sonic, the Emerald shine warm on his cheek. "So?" Suddenly he found himself unable to really care what the hedgehog said.
Sonic was apparently still eating whatever exactly it was he kept finding in this box of his. "'s cool," he said between quick, hungry bites.
"Really cool, yeah." Tails was staring, and a detached part of Knuckles was relieved that they seemed apparently too amazed by the resized Emerald to mention the utter lack of grace he'd just displayed here. "How'd you do it?"
Knuckles frowned. He had no idea how to say it even if he'd been willing to speak about it. "I… I don't think I can explain it."
"I can't explain how a ring dash works, either." Sonic shrugged, gazed down into his box, and yawned hugely. "You guys still want something? We're at last calls, here."
"I'm not too hungry," Tails said, his double tails spinning and lifting him off the ground. "Knuckles? You want a snack?"
The echidna shook his head. He suspected he was off better if he waited until he was back on the island. He would have all the time to snack then.
"More for me, then." Sonic grinned again, but it was coming off less overexcited as just a few minutes ago.
Leaving the hedgehog to his food, Knuckles and Tails quickly had the Emerald tied securely in place on the wing. There was a brief discussion between Sonic and Knuckles over who got to ride on the wing, because apparently it was Sonic's favourite spot and he always rode the plane up there, but Knuckles was unwilling to move away from the Master Emerald's side.
Tails ended the argument with an annoyed look and the pointed remark that Sonic could fly on the wing on the way back from the island.
Knuckles had not expected it to work, but it did, and soon they were in the air. He sat on the wing, facing backwards, the wind a sharp pull on his quills, the Emerald a steady light at his side.
Sonic's strange excitement had worn off as suddenly as his hunger for snacks, it seemed. Knuckles suspected exhaustion was finally catching up with him now he sat idly in the seat behind Tails; he was crashing, and he was crashing hard from the sheer speed of it. Just a minute after the take-off, the blue hedgehog's head dropped to rest on his chest, ears drooping ever so slightly, breath soft through a slightly open mouth.
Looking up at him from his spot behind the controls, Tails followed Knuckles' gaze, turning around over his shoulder to look at Sonic. "Finally," he mumbled as he sat back, the blue eyes flicking up to Knuckles on the wing. "You know, I'm glad we're taking you; I was worried he would fall off the wing if I couldn't talk him out of it somehow."
Knuckles raised a brow, again studying the blue hedgehog, dead to the world for all it seemed. "Is it a common problem, then?"
Tails made a sound that wasn't sigh, groan or chuckle, but somehow a bit of everything. "I could tell you…"
Now that he thought about it, Sonic seemed to be able to fall asleep a lot quicker than Knuckles had ever managed, more so, sleep seemed to be a state he could slip in and out of effortlessly and incredibly quickly. It could almost make you jealous… And he seemed a heavy sleeper. Knuckles wasn't sure if he would be able to sleep through the riot the engine was making, then again, maybe, if he was tired enough? It was a steady noise. Nothing to compare to rain or the gurgling of a creek, but still.
Focusing back on Tails, Knuckles waved a lazy hand at Sonic. "He was practically bouncing a few minutes ago, and now he's all but comatose."
Tails grinned cheekily in sudden, relaxed humour. "You know, he's sort of a digital person. He's either on, or he's off, there doesn't seem any alternative and hardly anything in between. Of course, I know that it's not quite that extreme, not all the time, but it's a good approximation."
Knuckles just hummed in response. It was one of the statements the fox made that somehow flew over his head, even though it didn't really contain any technical details. Just a short while ago, it would irritate the heck out of him, now he found he had gotten used to it. Overall, Tails was much less irritating company than Sonic, especially on his own, but with Sonic, Knuckles found he at least understood what he was saying more often, even if half of it ended up riling him up.
Gaze darting back briefly to the hedgehog's sleeping form, Knuckles had to admit in this moment of quiet contemplation that even Sonic didn't annoy him as much and as completely as he used to. There had been something different between them this time. They had fought together before, but Sonic had trusted him with Tails' and Amy's safety, and Knuckles had not really been surprised by it. Not near as much as he should be.
He really was getting used to them. He thought he should have an opinion on this process, but he didn't, really, not right now.
It just was.
Chaos. Another twist, another change, another bit of flow and time and –
Damn, he was tired.
Struggling to pull himself out of his straying thoughts, the echidna managed an utterly eloquent "Huh?" in comeback.
Tails smiled up at him, and somehow Knuckles had the suspicion that the little fox knew exactly not only that he had totally zoned out on him, but also that he was nearly as tired as Sonic. Now that he looked more closely, also Tails looked tired, ears a bit low, eyes a bit glassy, and he thought a bit of a dark shadow was shining through the white fur on his muzzle under the eyes.
"There's something I wondered, and I never got to ask, but now we have time and –" Tails shifted slightly in his seat. Not scared, uncomfortable, embarrassed, maybe? "Can I ask you something?"
The last time Tails had asked permission to ask him something, Knuckles remembered well, had been when he'd been five, piloting a slightly damaged Tornado down to the Floating Island after he and Sonic had caught Knuckles when Sky Sanctuary went down, and in the midst of post-battle adrenaline, exhaustion and bafflement over his world having been turned over, Tails had smiled up at him innocently and asked him if the spikes on his knuckles were real or a part of the gloves, because apparently he thought they were "super cool".
Sonic had laughed his head off.
Warily he studied the fox. "Yes?"
Tails blinked, apparently he'd expected a negative for some reason. "Oh, cool. Um." He paused, one hand leaving his plane's control stick to brush back his bangs, There was no need to do so, the wind was doing a fairly good job at it as it was. "You see, I've been thinking, and, I wondered… what do you do, up on your island all the time?"
With the shifting and shuffling, Knuckles had expected some kind of uncomfortable, awkward question, not something like this. He blinked. "I… guard the Master Emerald?" Surely Tails knew that well enough by now?
"Yes, of course." The little fox looked away, looked back at him again, brow furrowing. "I know that. But… You can't always just stand around next to the Emerald waiting for someone to come over and steal it, right? What do you do when it rains or snows? Do you stand next to it during a storm getting all soaked? You'd die of exposure or something! Or when you get tired? You do sleep, right?"
"Sure I sleep." Knuckles shook his head at the childish ridiculousness of the question.
"Then… Do you sleep next to it, like, on the floor? That would be really uncomfortable. Do you have a house or something? Do you go exploring on your island sometimes? Sitting around next to the Emerald has to be all sorts of boring." Obviously, the embarrassed contempt had worn off, and it was apparently not just one question Tails had been waiting to ask.
It was odd, to think someone would actually sit down to wonder what Knuckles did with his time. It was unexpected, but not entirely uncomfortable. He'd probably just glare at Sonic if it were the hedgehog asking, but something about a barely eight-year old asking these things with bright blue eyes gazing up at him made it…. endearing?
"It's not boring," he started, trailing a long look over the Master Emerald next to him. "You see, it's really important, and you don't get bored doing something important, do you?"
"Suppose not," Tails allowed.
"It's not all I do, though," Knuckles continued. "I am the guardian, not only of the Master Emerald, but also of the entire Floating Island. A lot of things on the island are very old and need to be looked after well. The dams and tunnels circulating the water, the bridges, things like that."
Tails nodded, sudden mischief lighting up in his eyes. "And the buttons to step on and activate the death traps." He grinned.
Finding Tails had apparently forgiven him using many of those death traps on him and Sonic all those years back when they first came to the island, Knuckles grinned back. "Naturally, those too."
"Because you need them to chase off intruders and Emerald thieves." Tails still grinned.
Knuckles nodded, but the grin was fading off his face again at the memory of the last of those thieves, alluring shapes and flirty smiles, and nothing but another thief underneath. "Yeah," he muttered.
Catching the swing of mood quickly, Tails frowned up at him. "Is it common? I mean, do many people come up to try and steal it?"
The echidna shrugged. He had no idea how to define the numbers. One coming up to try was more than too much in his book. "Nobody came until Eggman came that first time. Now it's…" He looked out over the sea that was sparkling beneath the wings for a moment. "Sometimes nobody comes for months. You can never know when someone will come. There are bounty hunters. Sometimes they are after old treasure of my people, sometimes after the Emerald, sometimes both."
"How do you know where they are? The island is huge, and you're up there all by yourself. Do they sneak up on you in your sleep?" Tails stared.
"I know where they are, and when they arrive, anywhere on the island. It's… I just know." He sure hoped nobody would sneak up on him in his sleep ever again, one time had been more than enough, and the memory of the Chaos monster standing over the broken Master Emerald had been enough to keep Knuckles awake at nights for a long time afterwards.
Tails nodded. "That explains how you always found Sonic and me, that first time. I was wondering."
Wondering was one of Tails' favourite things to do, it seemed.
"Do you think she'll be back, going after the Emerald again?"
Knuckles' gaze returned to Tails. "I have to expect it."
He would always have to expect it.
Tails was watching him. "You know, you don't have to do everything alone. You can give us a call if you ever need help with something."
He was halfway through opening his mouth and say no, but it seemed utterly impolite if Tails was just being friendly. "It's fine, Tails."
The two-tailed fox shook his head. "No, really, I mean it. We're friends, we'd like to help, it's no hardship." There was something remarkable in how easily he spoke for Sonic along with himself, with absolute certainty that the hedgehog would give his agreement, as if he'd given it in advance. Maybe he had?
Studying him, Tails suddenly smiled. "Know what, you don't have to think of it as a free gift or something if that's trouble for you. Think of it as a deal. We'll help you if you ever need us, and we'll come to you if we need your help, how's that sound?"
It sounded easier, a deal, a truce, an agreement. Knuckles understood they wanted to see him as friend, probably already did so, but it was such an abstract concept, so hard to grasp, and so without precedent. In a way, he liked them, their company, trusted them, to a bigger degree than he probably should, but trust was hard, such a fragile ground to tread on, for the guardian no less, and he wasn't sure what he could offer if it actually came down to it.
He forced a nod. "Yeah, okay."
Tails beamed up at him. "Cool!"
The island was resting in the sea, almost resembling a regular island, if it wasn't for the fact the socket was not entirely submerged. It stood on the tip, tilted a good twenty degrees to the side. It had crashed at a shallow spot, the edge of it still quite a distance above the water surface. It was also quite a distance from the nearest coast, which was good, because it would have kept explorers away.
He was suddenly glad he accepted Tails' offer to give him a ride, because time efficiency aside, he would have had to swim rather far, or organize a boat, and then he'd have to climb up all the way, too. This was easier.
Tails circled once, and it was enough to give him an overview of the island that was enough to put his mind slightly at ease. There didn't seem to be any unfixable damage.
"Where do you want me to put you down?", Tails asked.
"Anywhere near the temple would be great." He looked down the side of the wing. The impact of falling had knocked loose a rockslide near the volcano crater at the top, which in turn had torn down a good number of trees in its wake.
That would take weeks to clear up, not to mention many, many years for the trees to grow back.
The Tornado descended slowly, letting the scar in the mountain side fade from Knuckles' view. Minutes later, the plane touched down on the field of grass just outside the Temple of Chaos.
Knuckles scrambled off the wing as fast as his tired muscles would let him. Sonic didn't even stir, but Tails was surprisingly eager to help him untying the Master Emerald and they had freed the gem quickly. Knuckles hoisted it up over his head, making up the stairs with his precious load.
The light pulsed under his fingers as he made it to the top and released it. It floated briefly before sinking into its designated spot. The energy discharge at the connection blew Knuckles' spines back behind his shoulders and all but knocked the wind out of him.
He gasped, struggled for some semblance of concentration and the required presence of mind it needed of its guardian now. His eyes fell closed against the glare of light even as he raised his hands to it, breathlessly mouthing the ancient chant in an effort to cling to his teetering focus.
It was enough, the energy at home here, and it flowed easier, softer than it had up there in space. A dizzying rush of weightlessness shot through his stomach as the island responded to the Master's pull, rocking upwards to free itself of the water's drag on its socket.
There was a low rumble, deep in the ground, another jolt, and then it was rising, floating, ascending steadily up into the skies.
Knuckles dropped his hands, resting his right palm against the Master Emerald's surface for moment, feeling the energy vibrate lively under his fingers, and let out his breath in a sigh.
"It's a shame Sonic is sleeping through this. I think that'll never stop being so cool. One day, you'll have to tell me how it works."
Startled at the sudden words, Knuckles whirled around to find Tails standing on the stairs, not completely at the top, not anywhere in Knuckles' way, but close enough.
The echidna blinked at him. He'd forgotten he was even still here for a moment.
Tails raised an eyebrow at him. "You alright?"
Knuckles nodded. The island was still rising, the ground beneath his feet was thrumming with chaos energy again and the Master's light, whole and complete and no longer misplaced, was warm on his back. He smiled. "Yeah." If it came out a tad too much like a sigh, maybe he could blame that on tiredness, too.
Tails smiled back. "Good. I'll be going then. If I'm to be honest, I really look forward to doing a Sonic right now." He shot a look back at the plane, sitting quietly on the meadow with the exhausted hero safely curled up on the backseat.
"Sounds like a good idea," Knuckles allowed. "Bye, Tails. And thank you."
The fox grinned at him. "No thing." He hopped down a few treads before turning back around, twin namesakes twirling, and he looked slightly hesitant to continue. "See you around?"
Knuckles leaned back against the Emerald's solid warmth. "Yes. See you around." He smiled. Suddenly, it seemed easy.
Tails shot him another wide grin that was all teeth and perked ears and shining blue eyes, before he returned to his plane, not running, but flying with spinning tails.
Knuckles dropped to sit on the topmost tread of the stairs and watched the plane as it took off again. Tails circled once, low over the temple, waving at Knuckles and shouting goodbye loud enough to be heard over the engine noise; surprisingly he didn't end up waking Sonic.
The guardian waved back, following the small plane until it had disappeared from view. He took a slow breath, flopped back full length on the ground, the green Emerald glow bleeding into the sky above his head in a blinding swirl of colour.
Knuckles slowly blinked against the light. "See you around," he repeated quietly into the silence. "You know where to find me."