Evening fell. Across Canterlot and Canterlittle, the various unlikely groups which had come together sat down to share a meal, regroup, and exchange information.
Down by the river, Ijuuin Enzan sprinkled some crushed herbs onto a fish which sat on a makeshift skewer, slowly roasting over a campfire. Blues sat nearby, ever vigilant, while Rodimus Prime sat across the fire, gleaming in the waning sunlight in his orange and red magnificence.
"My father is the president of IPC," Enzan said as he tended his fish while cracking a handful of nuts. "I've had accelerated tutoring since I was small. Most kids my age are in sixth grade; I'm already working on three business and engineering degrees."
Rodimus whistled. "Impressive. From what I know of humans, that's quite an achievement."
"Aa." Enzan munched on a few nuts. "My family is very well-off, but I don't let it go to my head like some of the other wealthy families." He snorted. "Like that spoiled brat from Gabcom." He shook his head. "When I was nine years old, I became an Official—a NetBattler who investigates and eliminates Net crimes."
Rodimus glanced at Blues. "I'm guessing the Internet in your world is vastly different from the Internet Earth has where I'm from."
"Probably," Enzan said. "This world's Internet is very different as well. It still seems to serve most of the same functions, but it lacks the level of sophistication Hikari Labs introduced to our Net society." Enzan turned the fish to allow it to cook more evenly. "Blues is my NetNavi. Normally, he exists as an artificial intelligence inside our Net. With his assistance, I investigate..." He trailed off, then smirked. "Iya. Blues is my partner. We investigate threats to the security of the Net, whether they're from virus outbreaks or criminals using NetNavis in illegal ways."
Rodimus raised an eyebrow. "The way you paused and switched track like that tells me there's an interesting story there."
Enzan closed his eyes and shrugged. "Truthfully? For a long time, I viewed Blues as merely a tool, an advanced program I had created to serve a purpose. In recent years, as Blues and I have come more frequently into contact with Hikari Netto and his Navi Rockman, I've begun seeing the relationship between Operator and Navi differently."
"Enzan-sama," Blues said softly.
"I see," Rodimus said. "So, what exactly does a NetNavi do?" he asked, turning his attention to Blues.
"All NetNavis have the basic functions of handling incoming and outgoing communications for their operators," Blues said. "Additionally, we navigate the Network—as implied by the term NetNavi—for whatever purpose the operator deems necessary. We engage in Net commerce, purchasing digital items our operators require and placing orders for goods to be delivered or services to be provided. A host of other functions are available depending on installed program extensions." He paused. "In my case, I was designed primarily as an investigation and combat Navi. I possess enhanced virus deletion capabilities and anti-crime combat operations. With the weapons, defensive systems, and autonomous combat operations installed, I can handle most virus elimination and low-level NetCrime independent of my operator. For more severe instances of NetCrime, Enzan-sama conducts my battle routines."
"We train together ten hours a day," Enzan said. "Very few NetBattlers can challenge us and win."
Rodimus hummed thoughtfully. "So you two are protectors," he said.
"Essentially," Enzan agreed. He tilted his head. "I've gotten the sense that's something we have in common," he added as he removed his fish from the fire and blew on it.
Rodimus nodded. "The Autobots have been at war with the Decepticons for eons," he said. "They're from Cybertron, like us, only they seek domination and conquest. They have no regard for life of any kind. Our war has dragged many worlds, including Earth, into the crossfire." He sighed. "Our leader and mentor, Optimus Prime, died in battle against Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons. At the time, I was..." He looked away. "A much less wise and capable Autobot. I was young, I was impulsive, I was reckless. I certainly wasn't leader material." He chuckled. "Sometimes I still wonder if the Matrix of Leadership made a mistake in choosing me."
"Matrix of Leadership?" Enzan asked.
Rodimus opened his chest compartment, revealing a broad metallic frame resting in a recess within his chest cavity. At the center of the frame sat a large golden sphere, the front of which was open; from within shone a brilliant, sparkling blue-white light. Enzan shielded his eyes against the glow. Rodimus quickly closed his chest again. "The Matrix is our connection to all that came before and all that is yet to be," he said. "Only those chosen to lead the Autobots, those trusted with the protection of all that is sacred to our race, may possess the Matrix." He sat back. "Before me, it was entrusted to Ultra Magnus by Optimus Prime, but Ultra Magnus was never chosen by the Matrix...no," he said, shaking his head. "Ultra Magnus never accepted the responsibility. Never wanted it." He frowned. "The Matrix chose me, even though I wasn't ready, wasn't worthy. It chose me and changed me, turned me into a Prime, gave me power and wisdom beyond my station."
"Changed you?" Blues asked.
"Reformatted me," Rodimus explained. "The Matrix physically altered my structure, programming, even my personality. That camper truck form you ridiculed? It's actually a hybrid of my original vehicle form and Optimus Prime's vehicle form. It's part of what the Matrix did to me when it reformatted me."
Enzan frowned. "Wait. You're a robot. A machine. You're saying this Matrix can just...change the structure of a machine?"
"The Matrix can do a lot of things we don't understand," Rodimus said with a shrug. "It's a conduit for the power of Creation itself. We don't need to understand it. We just need to protect, revere, and trust in it."
Enzan blinked. "Are you saying a race of machines believes in God?"
"Of course we do," Rodimus said. "We wouldn't exist if He hadn't created us. Although our God is very different from the God humans worship."
"I can imagine..." Enzan shook his head. "Sorry, it just...surprises me, I guess."
"Do you believe in a god?" Rodimus asked.
Enzan sighed. "I honestly never gave it much thought," he said. "Though with everything that's going on right now, I can't help but wonder..."
* * * * *
Flash looked around at his houseguests as he picked up a slice of pizza. "So, uhh..." He coughed. "Who the heck are you girls, anyway?"
Etna raised an eyebrow. "Really? It took you this long to ask?"
"You had a gun and stuff!" Flash cried. "And I was totally freaking out about pretty much everything about you, and then we started jamming in the basement, and...and then that blue dude and the skeleton, and..."
"Okay, okay! I get it, you're a loser who can't deal with stress. Sheesh." Etna took a swig of her soda. "Well, I'm Demon Queen Etna, Overlord of the Netherworld—"
"Really?" Flonne asked, touching a finger to her chin and adopting a surprised expression. "Because I thought Laharl was the Overlord and you were just his top vassal..."
Etna growled. "Fine, so I'm one beat of the Prince's pathetic heart away from ruling the Netherworld," she corrected. "The point is, I'm a powerful, centuries-old demon with armies of Prinnies under my command, ready to do my demonic bidding!"
"Umm...the Prinnies didn't make it here with us," Flonne pointed out.
Etna facepalmed. "WHY don't you introduce YOURSELF?" she suggested sweetly through clenched teeth.
"Sure!" Flonne agreed happily. "So I'm Flonne, I used to be a Trainee Angel from Celestia, but then I became a Fallen Angel when I turned against the Seraph. Now I live in the Overlord's Castle in the Netherworld with all my demon friends, trying to spread a little love and light wherever I can!" She pumped a fist. "Never give up, Flonne! Fight for love and peace, Flonne! Even in the demon pits, the power of love is always—"
Etna shoved a piece of pizza into Flonne's mouth. "Moving on."
Lilith giggled. "Okay, so I'm Lilith Aensland, I'm a succubus. I guess technically I'm a third of a succubus, I'm actually part of my big sister Morrigan's soul. We reunited into a complete succubus a while back, but then Morrigan got lonely without me so she used one of her mortal victims to give birth to me so I'd have a real body, then transferred just enough of her soul into me to give me the same shape, personality, and memories I had before I was reborn."
The three girls looked at Flash expectantly.
Flash blinked, ducked his head, and coughed. "I'm Flash Sentry, I'm in high school, and I play guitar."
"That's it?" Flonne asked.
"That's it," Flash said with a shrug.
Etna patted him reassuringly on the arm. "It's okay, we can't all be interesting."
* * * * *
Arlong examined the quesadilla sitting in front of him curiously. "Hmm."
"You don't like it-queso?" Sonata asked.
Aria slapped her upside the head. "Cut that out."
Arlong shrugged, picked it up, and tore half of it off with his teeth, chewing thoughtfully. "Alright," he said, "I need to know what island I'm on, which sea I'm in, and how I got here."
"You're not on an island," Adagio said. "This is Canterlittle, on the coast of Cavallonia." At Arlong's blank look, she added, "The big continent across the ocean from Ewerope?"
"Continent?" Arlong whispered, face twisted in confusion.
Aria rolled her eyes and pulled out her tablet, swiped the screen a few times, and slapped it hard on the table. "Here," she said.
Arlong leaned forward with interest, studying the map on the tablet's face. His eyes widened. "What...! This map...it's all wrong!" He reached for the tablet, but Aria snatched it back.
"No, that's a map of the world," Aria said.
Arlong shook his head, gnashing his teeth angrily. "Those landmasses, those seas, they're..." He paused, frowning. He tipped his head back, stuffing the rest of his quesadilla into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. "The sea didn't smell right," he mused. "I assumed it was just because I was in a different Blue, but maybe..."
"Yeah, thing is, I'm pretty sure you're an alien," Sonata said as she poured hot sauce on a fish taco. "We don't have shark people here. Actually, we don't normally have squid people here." She smiled. "But it's okay if you're an alien! We're aliens too. We look like humans but we're not really, we're Sirens."
Arlong blinked. "Sirens? You're...you're mermaids?!"
"Sure, let's go with that," Adagio said with a saucy smirk. "We were banished here from our home world a long time ago by a wizard. We've been getting by as best we could, but things haven't been going well for us lately thanks to some wicked human girls from the city."
"Yeah, we had to skip town, then we wound up here and now we serve cheap food to jerk humans who only come down to the sea to have fun," Aria added.
"Humans have no respect for the sea-geso," Ikamusume said sourly.
Arlong grunted. "Believe me, I know." He frowned. "Show me that map again." Reluctantly, Aria slid the tablet across the table. Arlong studied it carefully. "And you say this is a map of the whole world?"
"Yeah, you can zoom in on any place you want," Aria said, demonstrating how.
Arlong's eyes widened. "An incredible magic map! Oh, the fortune I would have paid for something like this!" He snorted. "Imagine if Nami could see this...see the futility of her entire existence..." He threw back his head and laughed. "SHAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Adagio smirked. "So what were you expecting to see on that map?"
* * * * *
"The world I come from only has one continent," Brook explained. "We call it the Red Line. It runs from north to south and is only a few miles wide. There aren't many places where you can cross the Red Line, so it divides the world in half. Then along the equator, there's the Grand Line, the largest ocean. The Grand Line is made up of hundreds of islands, some of them large and populous, some of them barely a few rocks sticking out of the sea. The larger islands all have their own magnetic fields, which is the only way navigation is possible along the Grand Line. Since you can't enter the Grand Line directly from either the north or the south, getting there is a risk to life and limb."
"Why can't you enter directly from the north or south?" Sci-Twi asked.
"The Calm Belts," Brook explained. "Broad belts of sea to either side of the Grand Line with no wind and no waves. No vessel can sail in the Calm Belt, and it's inhabited by enormous Sea Kings that can destroy a ship with no effort." He sipped his tea. "The rest of the world consists of the four Blues, the seas where most people live on various islands."
"So there's just...islands, and one continent that splits the world in half?" Kim asked. "That's...weird."
"Sounds like a world tailor-made for pirates," Shego commented. "I mean, if people pretty much live on the high seas, it's only natural there'd be pirates everywhere."
"Yes, the history of pirate culture in our world is as long as the history of the World Government," Brook said. "Probably longer. There are pirates who sail to rob, kill, pillage, and rape, and there are pirates who sail because they're seeking adventure. There are also pirates who fly the Jolly Roger simply because they detest the World Government." He shrugged. "I suppose I can understand that, but my nakama and I really just wanted adventure. We were more musicians than pirates, really."
"And they all died, and you came back to life as a skeleton, all alone, on a dead ship?" Miles asked. He shuddered. "Yikes."
"Okay, that's terrifying," Marinette whimpered, huddling closer to Adrien.
"Sorry," Brook said, setting his cup down. "I suppose if I were still alive, a tale such as mine would chill me to the bones." He paused, then added, "Of course, all I am is bones."
Sunset groaned. "Okay, so what about you two?" she asked, turning to Kim and Shego. "You'd pretty much just got here when things went completely nuts, so I think we could use a refresher on your story."
Kim shrugged. "Not much to tell. I just graduated high school, I have a boyfriend, I save the world at least once a week...no big, really."
"I used to be a superhero, then I got sick of it and started hiring myself out as a mercenary for supervillains," Shego said. "Took a long hitch with a hopeless loser named Drakken, stuck around because every time he hatched a scheme it meant I got to fight Kimmy here." She smiled fondly. "We've come pretty close to killing each other once or twice. Anyhoo, a while back some aliens tried to conquer Earth, Dr. D and I ended up helping save it, and lately we haven't really had the appetite for world domination anymore, so..." She shrugged. "Most of the time, Dr. D and I sit around not doing much of anything, and sometimes I team up with my brothers or Kimmy here for a little freelance hero work. I mean, I'm not going back to superheroing full time, I'm actually considering going back into teaching, but...I guess these days I don't care who I get to beat up, so long as I get to beat somebody up."
"Wow, someone has issues," Rainbow Dash commented.
Kim laughed. "Oh, don't even get me started." She glanced at Tenten. "How about you? You look like the most normal person here." Her eyes widened, and she looked around the table. "Oh, no offense!" she said.
Sunset laughed. "It's cool."
Tenten blushed. "Well, I don't know if 'most normal' is a compliment or not," she said. "I'm a kunoichi from the Village Hidden in the Leaves, in the Land of Fire."
"A ninja, huh?" Shego asked, raising an eyebrow in interest. "Ever kill people?"
Tenten frowned. "Well..." She idly gestured with her fork. "If I have to," she said. "If our mission doesn't call for it, I try not to unless there's no choice. Even then, I usually try to incapacitate rather than kill. I just don't see the point in needless killing, you know?"
"And yet you're a ninja."
"Well, yes, but..." Tenten sighed. "Forget it."
Miles cleared his throat. "So what about you two?" he said, addressing Marinette and Adrien. "I've been curious ever since our fight with the Kraang, mostly because the little lady here reminds me a lot of all my Spidey friends."
"You know, now that you mention it," Tenten said, "the way Ladybug fights and the way Miles here fights are pretty similar..."
* * * * *
"And then that human trash Luffy somehow defeated me, Arlong the Saw! The next thing I knew, I was in chains and being transported to Impel Down. I've been imprisoned for over a year." Arlong clenched a fist. "I want nothing more than to kill that rubber brat that humiliated me."
Adagio sighed theatrically, massaging Arlong's shoulders. "Revenge," she said. "We know that story all too well. First Starswirl the Bearded, then Sunset Shimmer and her friends. Every time we're on top of the world, some do-gooder screws everything up for us. All I ever wanted was absolute domination and every living being bowing to my every whim! Is that too much to ask?"
Arlong craned his neck around to stare at her. "You're ambitious," he said in a mildly impressed tone.
"Yeah, for all the good it does her," Aria grumbled. She frowned. "Something strange is going on, Adagio. This guy is from some other world we've never heard of, we've got this squid kid, the city's going all kinds of crazy..." She shook her head. "I dunno, something tells me we need to sit tight until this all blows over without getting involved."
Adagio glared at her. "And something tells me," she said, "that this is our chance to take our revenge on the Rainbooms for robbing us of our magic." She smirked as she laced her arms around Arlong, stroking his chest. "And then, we'll return with Arlong to his world, and I'll be his pirate queen..."
Arlong smirked. "Heh. Like I said, you're ambitious." His smirk turned into a vicious smile. "But...perhaps, if you impress me..."
* * * * *
"Hmm," Miles said. "So you're from Paris and you're superheroes there. Well, at least your world has France in common with mine. Err, both of mine."
"Maybe you're from the same world?" Cadance suggested.
Marinette shook her head. "I don't think so," she said. "It sounds like we'd have heard of this...Spider-Man?"
"Yeah, you definitely would've," Miles agreed. "And the Avengers."
"So what is the deal with your superpowers?" Shego asked. "I mean, you're flippier than teepee-tits here—"
"Can you NOT?"
"—and that web thing you do, that ain't normal either."
"Well, the webslinging isn't really part of my superpowers, it's more of a tool," Miles said. He took off his gloves and showed the group the webshooters strapped to his wrists. "The original Spider-Man developed these. Mine are the latest version." He put his gloves back on, then shot a thin web line across the lawn. "They use a fluid that's basically synthetic spidersilk with the tensile strength of steel." He frowned. "Which reminds me, I need to be careful. I've only got a few extra cartridges of web fluid and I can't exactly restock."
"I can probably synthesize more of it for you if I have the formula," Sci-Twi said.
Miles gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, that'd be helpful." He lifted his shirt and unclipped a web cartridge from his belt, rolling it across the table to Sci-Twi. She examined it, then put it in her pocket.
"And the rest of it?" Shego asked. "The flipping and all that?"
"I was bitten by a genetically-engineered spider that was exposed to radiation," Miles said. "The same thing happened to Peter Parker—the original Spidey. I was a lot younger when I was bitten, so I hid my powers for a long time, but when Spidey...when he died...I decided I had to step up and fill in." He looked down at the table. "It hasn't been easy," he said. "Spidey...he's a legend. I just barely get by sometimes.
"Well, about six months ago, the Peter Parker from another universe showed up in my New York chasing the Green Goblin from his world. We worked together, a bunch of crazy stuff happened..." He shrugged. "A few months later he showed up again, only this time I went back to his world with him and got stuck there. We've been working together with a bunch of other Spider-Men—Scarlet Spider, Iron Spider, Agent Venom..." He trailed off as he took in the lost expressions on the others, and chuckled sheepishly. "None of which matters." He coughed. "Anyway, powers. Okay, so the spider that bit me gave me the proportionate strength of a spider, a spider's agility, the ability to walk on walls, and a Spider Sense—I can sense immediate danger, and my enhanced reflexes let me react."
The others digested this. "That...seems highly improbable," Sci-Twi said, adjusting her glasses. "Unless the spider's venom contained a retrovirus that altered your DNA to imbue you with select traits from across over a dozen separate species of spider, I don't see how being bitten by a radioactive genetically enhanced spider would do anything but possibly kill you."
Miles shrugged. "Hey, what can I say?" He shook his head. "Anyway, the first Spidey had the same powers, and he invented the webshooters and web fluid cartridges."
"Well...that part makes sense," Sci-Twi admitted. "I mean, if you can do..." She waved a hand vaguely. "Spider-stuff, it makes sense to have a tool that relies on and enhances your abilities."
"Well, I'm glad Ladybug and I got our powers from magical artifacts and not something like that," Adrien said with a grimace. "Being a secret teen superhero is hard enough, you know?"
"Ugh, tell me about it," Miles said. "Being Spider-Man—well, being Kid Arachnid—is a lot easier in a world where I don't have to worry about being Miles Morales."
"Secret identities are a pain in the butt alright," Marinette said. "Go out and save the world? Get grounded for a week because you missed some classes at school." She held up a finger and twirled it sarcastically. "Yay."
"Wow, that must suck," Pinkie Pie said.
"That must royally suck," Kim agreed. "I'm glad I never bothered with any of that secret identity stuff. The whole world knows I'm a hero at large. Makes my life a lot easier."
Shego snorted. "You have the weirdest definition of 'easier', Red."
Miles blinked. "And the bad guys don't go after your family?" he asked.
Shego laughed out loud. "Oh, Dr. D tried that a couple of times, mostly because he has a beef with Kimmy's dad," she said.
Kim smirked. "Yeah, going after my family? If they're lucky I get there before it really hits the fan."
"That whole family, man," Shego said, shaking her head. "I hate to admit it, but the Possibles are as badass as they come."
"Hey, remember that time my mom came along on that train thing?" Kim asked.
Shego laughed. "Yeah, what was that about?"
"What was Drakken's mom being there all about?"
Shego rolled her eyes. "Don't even get me started," she said. "She still thinks her precious little Drewby is one of those radio call-in doctors."
Kim almost retorted, but a sudden change in the sky stopped her; what had been a pink-orange late evening sky filled with the reflections of flames, as blurry afterimages of burning buildings filled the landscape around them. The group looked around, tense and wary, as half-formed shadows faded into being, ghosts of an army of large, menacing robots with heavy, stamping steel footsteps squaring off against what looked like pepperpots with glowing eyestalks. Each mechanical army shouted distorted battle cries at the other:
A few of them fully solidified in the midst of the group; as the remainder faded away with the burning cityscape of whatever reality had spawned them, the opposing mechanoids unleashed deadly barrages of firepower at one another, annihilating each other in explosions of white-hot metal shrapnel and burning organic matter. Sunset hastily put up a shield against the raining debris.
A moment of heavy silence fell.
"So I haven't heard much about brooding boy over there yet," Shego said, turning her gaze on Trunks. "What's your story besides being a teen heartthrob?"
"So we're just gonna ignore the robot deathmatch that just happened fifteen feet away?" Miles asked.
"Yes. Yes we are." Shego turned back to Trunks. "Come on, story time, hot stuff."
Trunks ducked his head and scratched a flushed cheek. "W-well..."
* * * * *
A motorcycle roared down a damaged street, weaving in between jagged cracks in the asphalt and massive chunks of debris that blocked the road. Occasionally, an obstacle was too large to steer around; the rider would hold out one hand and release a tightly compacted burst of ki, obliterating it without slowing down.
Over the roar of the engine, he faintly heard the wailing of a child. He could just barely sense her ki; stopping the bike and killing the engine, he put down the kickstand and jumped off, walking carefully into the partially collapsed ruins of a supermarket.
The floor was filthy; ugly stains marred the cracked linoleum, sticky filth from broken food containers intermingled with old, dried blood. The sour smell of decaying dairy filled the air, and Trunks' nose wrinkled. It apparently hadn't been long since this store was destroyed. As he looked around, he deduced that the destruction had been caused by looters rather than the Jinzouningen. He sighed.
He followed the sound of the child's wails to the back, where he found a young girl, perhaps seven or eight, trapped behind an overturned magazine rack. Frowning, he lifted the rack away and tossed it across the store; it landed with a loud, careless crash. The little girl looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes. Trunks squatted down and held out a hand, offering a gentle smile. "It's okay now," he said. "What's your name?"
The girl sniffled. "M-Mallow," she whimpered.
"Do you know where your parents are, Mallow?" Trunks asked.
Mallow's eyes welled with fresh tears. "Mama...Papa...!"
Trunks closed his eyes and sighed. "Shimatta...gomen nasai. So, you were trying to find some food?"
Mallow sniffled and nodded. "M-Mallow's...hungry. Mallow misses Mama's p-pancakes..."
"Pancakes, huh?" Trunks smiled. "Well, my mama makes pretty good pancakes. They're probably not as good as your mom's, but at least they'll fill your belly." He held out his arms; Mallow drew back hesitantly. Then, swallowing and sucking a long string of snot back into her nose, she cautiously crept forward into Trunks' arms. "Yosh'," Trunks said. "Let's get out of here."
Trunks gently carried Mallow outside; just as they cleared the store, the entire ceiling collapsed with a tremendous groan and crash. Dust billowed out of the store, choked with insulation and years of accumulated grime. Trunks and Mallow both coughed as the dust cloud enveloped them. Shooting the building a baleful glare, Trunks hopped back onto his bike. "Hold on tight," he said. Mallow nodded and hugged his stomach in a death grip. Gunning the engine, Trunks sped off down the broken road, keeping a wary eye on the sky above.
Two hours later, with Mallow safely left in the care of Bulma and happily eating, Trunks ventured out again. It took another hour of careful driving before he reached his destination: a small, desolate graveyard in the mountains, mostly overgrown with vines and moss. Only four people were buried here, but monuments to half a dozen more stood off to the sides, names history would never remember engraved in marble. Trunks dropped to one knee before a grave, bowing his head. "Master, forgive me," he said roughly. "I'm doing everything I can, but I'm still not strong enough to avenge you. It's been...it's been three years..."
Tears spilled from his blue eyes, splashing on the cold ground.
"Okaasan is working on the machine," Trunks continued. "It's...it's our last hope. If it works, if I can...if I can go back, I can change everything. None of this has to happen." He clenched his hands into fists. "You don't have to have died. Son Gokuu need never have died. My father..." Trunks squeezed his eyes shut. "The father I never knew can live on, as proud and strong as Okaasan remembers him."
Trunks stood up, head bowed, hands at his side. He bowed. "I may never be able to avenge your death, Master," he said hoarsely, "but maybe...maybe I can prevent it."
Trunks turned away from the grave and walked away, his boots crunching on the scattered pine needles that littered the ground. A faint breeze stirred, blowing dust and leaves off the marker which read, simply, SON GOHAN.
* * * * *
Everyone stared at Trunks, expressions ranging from sober to horrified. Tears spilled down Marinette's cheeks. "That's...that's terrible," she said.
Trunks sighed. "Well, there's a happy ending...of sorts," he said. "My mother built a time machine, and I took it back to the past to warn Son Gokuu about the Jinzouningen and to give him medicine for his heart so he wouldn't die before all hell broke loose. But my going to the past changed things, and the problem ended up being even worse than it was in my time. Still, Son Gokuu, my father, and the others managed to...managed to save the world. A lot of people still died, but nowhere near as many as would have otherwise. The wasteland I went back in time from doesn't exist in their timeline, and while my timeline is still..." He trailed off. "Knowing there's a timeline where we saved the world is enough to keep me going, and when I went back to my own timeline, I destroyed the Jinzouningen. Now...we're just trying to put the pieces back together."
Adrien frowned. "Wait...if you changed the past, shouldn't your entire future have stopped existing? That's the way it works in the movies."
Trunks shrugged. "That's honestly what I expected too," he said. "Even my mother doesn't understand why there are multiple timelines, or why I can still travel back in time to that other timeline."
"Splintered universe theory," Sci-Twi said. "Any attempt to alter events which have already occurred in the past simply creates a separate universe in which history unfolded differently. What you think of as time travel is actually fragmenting your universe into multiple potential timestreams."
Miles groaned. "Time travel and parallel dimensions, man. It's nothing but a headache." He glanced at Kouta. "So how about you? I think we all pretty much got the whole thing about that parasitic forest that's making our problem worse, but I didn't hear much about you yet."
"Yeah, how'd you get that cool fruit samurai armor?" Adrien asked excitedly.
Kouta grimaced. "Well, I'd rather not talk about how I got it," he said, "but the Sengoku Driver lets me transform into an Armored Rider. I can use various Lock Seeds to use different weapons." He reached into his parka and pulled out several Lock Seeds, including a strawberry, grape, and watermelon. "I've been using this power to protect Zawame City from Inves—monsters that come from Helheim." He paused, then shook his head. "There's a lot more I could tell you about my world, but honestly, I'd rather not burden you all with my problems. Especially not with Helheim threatening your world. For now, all you need to know is I have the power to protect people, and that the Inves will appear in your world if Helheim is here."
"Well, I think between all the superheroes, magical warriors, and everything else we have here, we can deal with some random monsters," Rainbow Dash said dismissively.
"So what about the blue dude?" Adrien asked, looking at X. "I think we've heard from just about everybody else."
X blinked, then shrugged. "I'm an artificial lifeform, I protect humans and others of my kind from dangerous renegade Reploids in my world, and...that's really all."
"Aww, come on, there's gotta be—"
A zipper opened up in the air, and five hunched, white monsters that resembled vaguely humanoid maggots with bone-white masks on the front of their massive, plated heads piled out.
Kouta's face became grim. "Inves," he said, readying his Sengoku Driver and Orange Lock Seed. All around him, the others readied themselves for battle...
* * * * *
She abruptly woke to blurry eyes and burning lungs. The world around her was cold, wet...
She was underwater, and she was drowning. How did that happen?
She thrashed around, accidentally taking in mouthfuls of water that burned her throat, nose, and lungs. Her vision turned into a haze of dancing black spots...
The next thing she knew, she was staring up at a brightly lit glass ceiling. The water was gone. She was coughing; her lungs still burned, but they were taking in air now instead of water.
A pale white shape swam into focus in front of her even as her ears registered sounds other than her own hammering heart. "—alright? Can you hear me?"
Her violet eyes locked onto a pair of beautiful green eyes, framed by a pale white face surrounded by curls of pink and lavender hair.
She slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position, coughing to clear some errant water from her lungs. "I..." She put a clammy hand to her forehead.
"You're lucky I decided to go for a swim before bed," the pale girl said. "You just...kinda showed up in the pool. I mean, you didn't fall in or anything, you were just there!" A hand landed on her shoulder. "You don't look so good. Need me to call a doctor?"
She shook her head. "Just...give me a second," she rasped. She looked up at her apparent rescuer. Now that her head was clearing, she realized the girl wasn't just pale, she was white. Abnormally so. And beautiful, with slender shoulders and...
"Well, if you say so," the girl said doubtfully. "Let's at least get you inside. You're soaking wet! I've got some clothes that'll probably fit you up in my room."
She looked down at herself and grimaced. Her black sweater, black skirt, and black tights were heavy and sodden. She sighed and gingerly stood, struggling to keep her long, doe-like legs steady underneath her. The white girl steadied her; she gratefully leaned against her shoulder for support.
As she became more aware of her surroundings, she realized she was being led through a hotel lobby, toward an elevator. A desk clerk gave the two of them a reproachful glare, but made no comment. A few minutes later, the white girl was unlocking the door to a hotel room. "The bathroom's over there," she said. "Umm...you'd better strip down, put your clothes in the laundry bag."
She blushed, but nodded. "Alright."
"There's towels, you can dry off, I'll find something for you to wear. Umm...I'll order some hot cocoa or something from room service."
"Thank you," she said gratefully. "I...I'm sorry for all this."
"It's not your fault," the girl said. "Accidents happen, right?" She smiled. "I'm Sweetie Belle."
*An unusual name...* She smiled as she tugged at her wet mess of a sweater. "I'm Hotaru," she said.