Elsa frowned at the amount of leg her sister was showing. Anna wore a pair of indigo shorts that barely reached mid-thigh, white socks, white canvas shoes with laces, and a pink shirt with a pattern of sheet music across the front in a dark shade of violet. Elsa herself wore a pair of comfortable cornflower blue fleece pants with a matching hooded shirt and similar socks and shoes to what her sister wore. "Are you absolutely certain about that outfit, Anna?"
"Of course!" Anna said. "It's comfy, it's easy to wear, and I look good in it!" She struck a saucy pose. "Besides, this is how people dress in this fascinating place!"
"Vinyl's about to make a food run," Octavia said as she walked back into the room. "What would you two like?"
"Oh, we couldn't impose," Elsa said.
"Nonsense," Octavia said. "You're my guests. Besides, I insist you stay the night at least. It wouldn't do to have you wandering around the city without any sort of plan or any idea where you're going. I highly doubt taking one night to rest, conserve your strength, and make some sort of plan is going to—" She paused as her phone chimed in her pocket. She pulled it out and glanced at the screen. She pursed her lips. "That settles it," she said. "You are staying here, I'll hear nothing else."
Elsa frowned. "What is it?"
"That was Sunset Shimmer," Octavia said. "She's the...well, sort of authority on magic in this world. I briefly explained your situation earlier, and she just texted me back asking me to keep you here."
"Keep us here?" Anna echoed.
"Hang on, there's another text," Octavia said, holding up a hand. She read it, her brow furrowing. "Hmm. Oh dear. I see."
"What's going on?" Elsa asked.
Octavia typed a brief reply to Sunset, put her phone away, and sighed. She nodded to Vinyl, who was standing by the door; Vinyl gave a thumbs-up and headed out. Octavia looked Anna and Elsa in the eyes. "Sunset Shimmer and her friends are dealing with the source of all this madness," she explained. "The pertinent part is that for the moment, there is no way for you to return to your home."
Elsa gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. "No..."
"For the moment," Octavia emphasized. "They are working on the problem, and she estimates roughly two and a half to three weeks before they are able to return every visitor to our world to wherever they came from."
"Three weeks?!" Elsa cried. "That is unacceptable!"
"Calm down, Elsa," Anna said, though she also looked quite stricken.
Octavia sighed. "Look...I understand your frustration. If Sunset Shimmer says it's going to be three weeks, it's going to be three weeks. I suggest you rest here for tonight, then tomorrow, if you must have a more thorough explanation, we can go see Sunset Shimmer and have her explain everything in detail."
Elsa took a deep breath. "Very well," she said. "We will accept your hospitality this one night. Tomorrow, we will meet with this Sunset Shimmer and I will insist on answers."
"Sunset Shimmer," Anna echoed with a smile. "That's a pretty name. Don't you think that's a pretty name, Elsa?"
Elsa shot her sister a sharp look. After a moment, she relented. "It...does have a certain poetic quality," she said with a wry smile.
* * * * *
"You know, it just dawned on me," Etna said suddenly in the middle of their third movie of the evening. She turned to Sunset and smirked. "Your name, Sunset Shimmer...isn't that kind of a stripper name?"
Flash choked on his soda.
Sunset stared at Etna. "What?!"
"Etna!" Flonne cried.
"What? It's totally a stripper name!"
"Well, of course it is! But you shouldn't just blurt it out like that!"
Lilith giggled. "Now that you mention it..." She looked Sunset up and down. "She even kind of looks like a stripper!" She gave Sunset a teasing smile. "Are you a stripper?"
Flash coughed. "Umm...gonna go...bathroom..." He quickly fled the room.
"Seriously?" Sunset asked, facepalming. "We've got a half-naked loli in a leather tube top over here and I'm suddenly the stripper?"
"Well, you do have the body for it," Flonne pointed out. "And the name!"
Sunset squeezed her eyes shut and double-facepalmed. "Aaaaaaargh...!"
"Oh, come on, it's a compliment!" Etna said cheekily. "I mean, with those tits and those hips? You'd make a whole lot of money at the club!"
Sunset opened her mouth to protest, then paused, her brow furrowed. "Huh," she said. "That's...huh." She sat back, lost in thought. "Might have to think about that when college comes around..."
* * * * *
"So how was your day at the Technicolor People Mall?" Shego asked when Kim came 'home' that evening.
Kim sighed. "So not relaxing," she said. "We ran into more trouble at the mall, and..." She shook her head. "I kept getting the strangest feeling I was being watched."
"What kind of trouble?" Shego asked.
* * * * *
Kim, Miles, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Kouta had spent three hours wandering the mall, and were now at the food court, chowing down on unhealthy junk food.
"You know, it's funny," Kim said. "The stores here are all different from the ones I know back home, and yet somehow, they're all the same. I mean, you've got Navy Blue, we've got Old Navy, you've got Cool Story, we've got Hot Topic, you've got Club Pineapple, we've got Club Banana..."
"Club Banana?" Miles asked. "Not Banana Republic?"
"Sounds like a minor difference between your worlds," Kouta observed.
"An' they all sell th' same overpriced crap," Applejack said in a bored tone.
"Whoa, harsh," Kim said.
Applejack shrugged. "Ah'm a gal with simple tastes. Ah ain't much fer th' actual shoppin', jes' th' hangin' out an' people-watchin'. An' th' mall food."
Miles blinked. "You like mall food? Dude. Nobody likes mall food!"
"AJ does," Rainbow said with a smirk. "You'd think she'd hate it, what with how good she eats at home. I mean, Granny Smith is the best cook anywhere, Applejack can bake a tasty apple pie in her sleep, even her little sister makes better fried chicken than Colonel Cajun!" She shook her head. "But any time we go to the mall, she loads up and pigs out."
"That's...weird," Kim said, staring at Applejack. "Anyway—"
The lights went out with a loud snapping sound. People started screaming.
The group's heads snapped up and searched the area around them. "What now?!" Rainbow groaned.
"Ah thought you liked all this crazy playin'-superhero nonsense," Applejack said.
"Well, yeah, some of it," Rainbow said. "But right now I'm just tired an' I don't wanna deal with anything stupid while I'm chillaxin'!"
Two amplified voices cut through the darkness and the panic:
"PREPARE FOR TROUBLE!"
"AND MAKE IT DOUBLE!"
"Aaand we've got villain sign," Kim said boredly.
"TO PROTECT THE WORLD FROM DEVASTATION!"
"TO UNITE ALL PEOPLES WITHIN OUR NATION!"
"TO DENOUNCE THE EVILS OF TRUTH AND LOVE!"
"TO EXTEND OUR REACH TO THE STARS ABOVE!"
A lone spotlight illuminated a teenage girl wearing a white miniskirt, a short open white jacket over a black tube top, thigh-high black leather boots, and shoulder-length black gloves. Her long maroon hair was impossibly styled in a stiff, swept-back wave that curled inward at the end. The front of her jacket had a red letter 'R'.
A second spotlight illuminated a teenage boy who bore a passing resemblance to Trunks, if Trunks had fair skin, larger, brighter eyes, and his hair was more blue than lavender. Also if everything about him screamed "I am outrageously gay." This boy wore white pants with calf-high black boots, a white jacket over a black T-shirt, and black gloves that extended halfway to his elbow. The letter 'R' was also present on his jacket, and he held a rose to his nose.
They posed together.
"TEAM ROCKET, BLAST OFF AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT! SURRENDER NOW OR PREPARE TO FIGHT!"
A small, cream-colored catlike creature with a shiny golden coin on its forehead landed between them. "Meowth, that's right!" it said.
"Holy crap these guys," Miles said with a disbelieving laugh.
"You know these bozos?" Kim asked.
"Well, yeah, but..." Miles shook his head. "They're from a cartoon. One I grew up on, then outgrew about three years ago. Jessie and James...Team Rocket...man."
"Are they...dangerous?" Kouta asked.
Miles snorted. "Not really," he said. "Besides, they're Pokemon thieves. I don't think there's anything here they'd be interested in."
"What's a Pokemon?" Rainbow Dash wondered.
"Oh, you know, they're..." Miles paused. "No, I guess you don't know," he said. "I mean, I think a few of them showed up back at...the...school..." He trailed off. "Crap, how'd I miss that?"
"Oh, we know there aren't any Pokemon here, little boy," Jessie said as the lights came back up and Team Rocket landed next to their table.
"Even if there were, we're no longer employed," James added.
"After all, our boss is in another dimension."
"A little detail that's certainly worth mention."
Miles frowned. "So...why're you pulling your whole motto gimmick then? I mean, if there's no Pokemon here and you know you're in another dimension, then...what's the point?"
Jessie laughed. "Why dear boy, we've taken up a new line of work!"
"It's not all that different from when we worked for that jerk," James added.
"We rob from everyone else and give to ourselves."
"Everything you own, we'll stock on our shelves!"
Kim stood up, cracking her knuckles. "And you'll get away with this...how?"
"Yeah," Miles said, putting his mask back on. "You just crashed the wrong party, Team Suck-It."
"Oh, you'll pay for that," James said. "Team Rocket has a new routine!"
"When two become one, we become twice as mean," Jessie added.
"We fight together like never before!"
"By the time we're done, you'll be eating this floor!" Jessie turned to James. "Go!" she called as she slapped a large device to her waist. The front was red and had two slots at the top, backed by a silver and white device with a ton of visible circuitry.
Kouta's eyes widened. "Masaka..."
A similar device appeared on James' waist. He jumped high into the air, landing on the second floor of the mall; Meowth joined him. As James landed, he pulled a green flash drive out of nowhere. "CYCLONE!" he yelled as he slammed it into a slot on his belt with his left hand.
The green flash drive suddenly materialized in the same slot on Jessie's belt. With a catlike smirk, she held up a purple flash drive. "Joker," she purred.
She slotted the drive into the opposite slot on her belt, then pushed the two red levers at the top of the device down and to the sides. With a sharp click, the red front of the device spread open, forming a stylized W shape.
"Henshin," Jessie said dangerously.
Above, on the second floor, James fainted dead away. Jessie spread her arms wide, and a hard rubber suit of armor formed over her body, a vertical silver line up the center from crotch to crown dividing the armor into two visually distinct halves: the right half was bright green, with gold bands at the ankle, wrist, and shoulder, and a gold chevron on the right breast. The left half was a deep purple-black, with lighter purple bands mirroring the gold detailing on the right. Bright red grasshopper eyes took up most of the armor's mask, with a W-shaped antenna crest seated directly above them; that and the strange belt with the W-shaped driver device at the front were the only symmetrical details of the armor.
Kouta paled, standing up. "Kamen Rider...Double..."
Rainbow looked between him and the transformed Jessie. "Bad?" she asked.
"We are Kamen Rider Rocket," the Rider said in a doubled voice. "Surrender now or prepare to fight!"
"It's not good," Kouta said, slapping his Sengoku Driver to his waist and pulling out his Orange Lock Seed.
Rainbow Dash sighed and ponied up while Miles readied his webshooters and Kim got into a fighting stance. Applejack, for her part, grabbed the steel folding chair she'd been sitting on, folded it up, and thanked her lucky stars Big Macintosh liked watching wrestling.
* * * * *
Shego raised an eyebrow. "So a couple of low-level mooks who regularly get their asses kicked by a kid and his electric rat got hold of one of those power armor belts and now they've gone full supervillain?"
"Pretty much," Kim said with a sigh.
"So what happened?"
Kim shrugged. "You've seen Kouta fight, right? Those Riders are on a whole other level from what you and me can handle. I mean, it's like fighting Lorwardians. I ended up on crowd control with Miles and the girls while Kouta dealt with Team Rocket. I actually missed most of the fight..."
* * * * *
Kamen Rider Rocket, armor covered in burn marks and arcs of energy snapping and crackling over it, leapt to the second floor of the mall. "This isn't over!" Rocket yelled in that doubled voice, before the armor exploded away in a flurry of polygons and pixels, leaving behind Jessie, who sank to her knees beside James, who stirred groggily awake.
Miles swung in from above, snagged all three members of Team Rocket in a web sack, and flung them through the skylight.
"LOOKS LIKE TEAM ROCKET'S BLASTING OFF AGAIN!" they yelled.
Below, Gaim sheathed his blades. He'd endured sigificant battle damage himself; when he dispersed his Rider armor, Kouta looked exhausted. "I really, really hate fighting other Heisei Riders," he panted.
"Come on," Kim said as she and the others returned to the food court. "Let's get out of here. Pretty sure the mall's closing for the day anyway."
Nobody noticed the lone dark-haired young girl who had sat quietly at a corner table during the entire fight, sipping a smoothie. Once everything had quieted down, she stood up, adjusting her glasses as she threw away her empty cup and left the mall.
High above, a dark shape disappeared through one of the mall's skylights...
* * * * *
"After that, Kouta headed back to the school, I came back here, and everybody else went wherever they go. I think he said he was gonna check out that forest again, figure out why the monsters aren't attacking lately."
Shego scowled. "Poking the anthill with a stick? Funny, he struck me as being smarter than that..."
* * * * *
After returning to the city, the group of eleven Rangers filled up half of Berry's place. Berry seemed rather nervous about their presence, but as they were paying customers, she relented.
Tommy had explained, for the benefit of both the new arrivals and his own team, the history of the Power Rangers in his world. When he was finished...
"So you're like...forty," Jack said.
Tommy chuckled. "Yeah."
"You don't look it at all," Lamia said. "I honestly would've guessed you were maybe twenty-eight, twenty-nine."
"Thanks," Tommy said. "Chalk it up to clean living and lots of exercise."
"So you've been part of four different teams of Rangers?" Forrest asked.
"Well...five actually," Tommy said. "I think. I've sort of lost count. I was two different Red Rangers, but right about that time the entire team was..." He gestured vaguely. "In transition."
"And you say you got your powers from an evil witch and a floating head in a jar?" Indigo asked. "Freaky."
"So what about you guys?" Tommy asked the new Rangers.
Lamia shrugged. "We were chosen by a secret government agency to become Power Rangers to fight invaders who occupied Earth a few months ago." She frowned. "Legions of Arquilons have occupied every major city. They march up and down our streets, terrorizing everyone. When we go out on clean-up missions, the invaders send an Arkhaider to battle us. Some of our battles have been...intense."
"Scary," Hakoto added.
"Dude, they dropped a whole invasion force on you?" Lemon Zest asked. "Harsh."
"Well, unfortunately, we're all stuck here for a few weeks," Tommy said. "But that might be for the best, because this world..." He frowned. "Kinda needs the help."
"Things are very weird right now," Sugarcoat agreed.
"But it's so wonderful that we're all able to fight now! Because risking my neck fighting monsters is just what I wanted to do with my teen years!" Sour Sweet snarled.
"What we need to do," Sunny Flare said imperiously, "is arrange lodgings for our out-of-town guests. Lamia can stay in my guest room. Hatoko can go with one of you girls...Lemon Zest, I think you'd be best suited to look after her." She chewed her lip. "Dr. Oliver and these other three boys, we'll need to—"
"Tommy can stay at my place," Lemon Zest said quickly.
"No, he really can't," Sunny interjected.
"Dude, he's old enough to be your dad," Indigo said in a nauseated tone.
Lemon shrugged. "So?"
Sugarcoat cleared her throat. "My brother and his fiancee have plenty of guest space," she said. "Two of them could stay with them."
"My bro's man-cave is free," Indigo said. "Dad won't let Mom mess with it so it's just there."
"Then it's settled," Sunny said decisively. "I suggest we all make the appropriate arrangements, then break to get everyone settled in and rested up. Whatever work you five need to do on those robot vehicles of yours, you can get started tomorrow morning."
"I don't like the thought of leaving the MechAnimals out in the open and unguarded overnight," Lamia said fretfully.
"Eh, I don't think we have anything to worry about," Jack said. "What's the worst that could happen?"
* * * * *
"What. Did. You. DO?!" Rodimus snarled at Wreck-Gar.
"Oh, no need to thank me," Wreck-Gar said cheerfully. "This just makes it easier for us all to be friends, right?"
Enzan pinched the bridge of his nose. "I think you're missing the point..." He looked at the new group of robots, his brow furrowed. "So...this is the effect of that Allspark thing you mentioned, Rodimus-san?"
Rodimus sighed. "So it would seem," he said. "Mind, I've never...never seen machines come in direct contact with the Allspark before. Actually, I've never seen the Allspark." He frowned. "I'm beginning to think this Wreck-Gar may not be from my universe."
"Perhaps he's from one similar to yours, where your Cybertron exists, but things are different from what you know?" Blues suggested.
Rodimus nodded slowly. "That...would explain a lot." He looked at the five transformed MechAnimals, who were examining themselves in confusion and interest. "Still, I can't shake the feeling that even where this Wreck-Gar comes from, this kind of thing isn't exactly normal. After all, Cybertronians are born from protoforms infused with Sparks, not...not this."
"We're MechAnimals, not Cyber...whatever you said," said a blue and silver robot with a severe, predatory face. His chest mostly consisted of a shark's terrifying visage; most of a shark's tail hung from the back of his head like a long, thick ponytail, and a shark's dorsal fin, split along the middle, had folded down over his shoulders.
"Calm down, ChevronShark," the green rhinoceros-themed robot said. He had a broad, linebacker-like build and a wide head with a broad, flat, ponderous face. "Clearly we have undergone a metamorphosis we were never designed for. We have attained sentience." He looked around. "We need to stop for a moment and think this through."
"I agree," the female robot who had identified herself as Airazor said. "And the rest of you need new names." She looked DiaRhino up and down. "For some reason, I want to call you Rhinox."
"I have no objection to that," Rhinox said.
"You're our leader," the other female robot—pink and white with a slight build, a round torso formed from a helicopter cockpit, and a dovelike face—said. "You decide on names for us."
"Very well," Airazor said. "ChevronShark, let's call you...hmm...Sky-Byte."
Sky-Byte snorted. "Whatever."
"StarTaurus, I believe we'll call you Longhorn."
The yellow-and-black bull-themed robot nodded, remaining silent.
"And HeartDove, I'll call you...Moonracer." Airazor folded her hands. "Alright, that's out of the way. Now..." She looked at Rodimus. "Nice paint job, by the way."
"Uhh...thanks," Rodimus said. "So..."
"Airazor-san," Enzan said suddenly. "Earlier, before this happened, you and your team combined into a giant robot and battled a kaiju here."
"Yes," Airazor said. "That is our purpose, the destruction of kaiju sent by invaders seeking to conquer Earth. Our pilots are the Powerrangers." She frowned. "Strange how I seem to remember so much about our many battles together."
"We have a lot of data accumulated in our databanks," Rhinox said. "I suppose that translates to memories."
"It's more than that," Longhorn said in a soft, ponderous voice. "Raw data wouldn't translate to the...emotional associations I have for Jack."
"I know what you mean," Airazor said. "I'm worried about Lamia. And annoyed at her for just leaving us here like this."
"Maa, Airazor," Moonracer said placatingly. "Our friends needed rest, food, shelter. If you look around...they couldn't have found any of that here, and we were pretty banged up in that fight."
"We don't exactly have our repair bay either," Sky-Byte grumbled. "Or our refueling station."
"That's going to be a problem," Rhinox rumbled. "But for now, perhaps we should focus on the larger question of how and why this happened to us."
"Do you think..." Moonracer began hesitantly. "Do you think Hato-chan and the others will be angry at us for this?"
"Why would they be?" Sky-Byte asked. "First of all, this isn't even our fault. Second of all, aren't we even more useful to them as partners like this?"
"That's a good point," Airazor said. "Now that we're self-aware and can transform into robots on our own, we're more powerful and can fight with the Powerrangers in a new way." She smacked a fist into an open palm with a loud metallic clang. "And I owe that bastard Skullcaesar one for blowing a hole in my wing the first time Lamia fought him."
Longhorn snorted. "Why am I not surprised you have a fiery temper?" Shaking his head, he turned his attention to Rodimus and Wreck-Gar. "So...exactly what did you do to us?"
Rodimus frowned, stroking his chin. "I don't completely understand this myself, but it seems that Wreck-Gar here was carrying around fragments of the Allspark, which is the source of all life on our homeworld." He shook his head. "The Allspark being in pieces disturbs me, but it's not my Cybertron, so I guess it's not my problem." He looked at Wreck-Gar. "Am I correct in assuming that any normal vehicle or machine infused with an Allspark fragment comes to life where you're from?"
Wreck-Gar shrugged. "I dunno. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to me, but my memory's not exactly...y'know...memorable."
"Wait," Sky-Byte said. "So you're saying there's something that can just take a machine and...and overhaul it? Make it able to do things it wasn't able to do before? Give it sentience and life and a personality?"
"That would seem to be the case," Enzan said. "I find it more fascinating that you're all aware you were simple machines before this happened."
"Kid, there wasn't anything simple about us," Airazor said.
"I suppose there are certain things we're simply going to have to accept on faith," Rhinox said thoughtfully. "Whatever the reason, however unlikely, this is who we are now, and we're going to have to deal with it as we go. Still, we're definitely going to have a fuel problem this far from base."
"I hear ya, friend," Wreck-Gar said. "Gotta be honest, I'm feelin' a little run-down myself."
"I can help with that," Rodimus said. "I've got a supply of Energon. I...didn't expect to need to ration it out between seven bots, but it should last until we can find a second supply."
"Energon?" Airazor asked.
"It's the lifeblood of—" Rodimus paused. "It's fuel. Now that you've become this, it's the fuel." He transformed back into his vehicle form. "If you'll follow me, we'll head for the place where I left my Energon stash."
"Works for me," Wreck-Gar said, transforming into a garbage truck. The MechAnimals looked at each other, shrugged, and transformed.
As Enzan and Blues got back into Rodimus' cab, Enzan's brow furrowed. "Rodimus-san," he said, "about this Energon...how did you come into possession of it? I find it hard to believe you brought a large supply of fuel with you into this world by chance."
"Is it related to your disappearance the other day?" Blues asked.
Rodimus coughed. "Uhh...about that," he said. "You have to understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, and...and I do fully intend to make reparations as soon as the means are available, but—"
Enzan pinched the bridge of his nose. "You stole it."
"In a sense," Rodimus said. "Energon in its raw form doesn't exist on this planet. Here, it has to be refined from other fuel sources. We have the technology to synthesize Energon from any fuel source, though some are more efficient than—"
"What," Enzan said tersely, "exactly, did you steal?"
Rodimus was silent for a long moment. "Twenty thousand gallons of gasoline," he admitted.
Blues and Enzan stared at each other.
"Not my proudest moment," Rodimus said sourly. "I had planned to find a means of recompense at the earliest—"
"Did anyone see you?" Enzan asked sharply.
"Of course not," Rodimus said. "I scrambled the security cameras and committed the theft in the dead of night. There were no humans within range of the service station."
"Yareyare," Enzan said, shaking his head and closing his eyes. "And the evidence is...diposed of?"
"If by 'disposed of' you mean converted to Energon, then yes."
Enzan sighed. "Then the Canterlot police will have to chalk this one up as a spectacularly unsolvable crime."
"Enzan-sama," Blues said softly, disbelief in his tone.
Enzan shrugged. "It's as Rodimus-san said. Desperate times, desperate measures. It's not like he can power himself with fish and berries like I can. I'm guessing tapping the city's main power grid wouldn't work either." He flicked his bangs with a sardonic smile. "I have no jurisdiction here, and we're accomplices. This is one instance where I'm going to have to look the other way."
"I only hope the spirits of all the Primes before me are as forgiving," Rodimus said.
* * * * *
A frantic pounding on Flash's front door jarred Sunset awake; she had dozed off on the couch during one of the movies. The other girls were all passed out around the living room; Flash was nowhere to be found. Grimacing, Sunset got up and went to the door. When she opened it, she found Kouta on the other side, along with a frantic-looking Sci-Twi. "What's up?" she asked as she stood aside and let them in.
"Trouble...I think," Kouta said. "I'm...I'm honestly not sure what to think." He slumped against the wall of the foyer and scrubbed his face with his hands. "Helheim is dead," he said abruptly.
Sunset blinked. "Dead?"
Kouta nodded. "The lack of Inves attacks was bothering me, so I decided to patrol the forest." He took a deep breath. "Every inch of Helheim is frozen. All the fruits are dead. All the plants are dead. The Inves...they're dead."
Sunset frowned. "That's...a good thing, right?"
Kouta seemed like he was about to say something, but stopped. Then, softly, he said, "Well, it's good that the Inves are dead. But..." He took a deep breath. "Something killed Helheim. Instantly. Whatever happened, it didn't come from inside the forest itself."
Sci-Twi adjusted her glasses. "Sunset," she said quietly, "if...if there's something new loose in our world...something that could instantly freeze an entire parasite dimension..."
Sunset's shoulders slumped. "Great," she said. "Minus one nasty problem, plus one scary problem." She shook her head. "When are we gonna catch a break here?"
"Well...for now, we're headed to my place," Sci-Twi said. "I'm going to grab some cold-weather clothes and some of my portable scanners, then Kouta-san's taking me into Helheim so I can try to make sense of what happened." At Sunset's alarmed look, she held her hands up placatingly. "Don't worry, I'll be careful. Besides, I'll have Kouta-san to protect me."
"I don't like it, but we need to do this," Kouta said. "Don't worry, I'll keep her safe."
"I'm going too," a younger voice announced. They all turned to see Flonne standing nearby, listening with a serious expression. "If Helheim is dead, I need to see it with my own eyes. Because...because if and when I ever finally get home, even though I'm a Fallen Angel, I need to report it to the Seraph."
Kouta frowned. "Anou..."
"Apparently, Helheim originally came from wherever she's from," Sunset said. "It sounds like it was supposed to be a Garden of Eden type deal but it got corrupted into a sick weapon."
"Sou ka," Kouta said thoughtfully, nodding. "Alright. Come with us, but be careful." He frowned. "I'm not sure I can take two people on one Lock Vehicle."
"Oh, I can get there on my own," Flonne said. "If you can open the way." She folded her hands in prayer; a holy white glow surrounded her, and broad feathery wings sprouted from her back. She looked up and smiled.
Kouta stared. "O-okay then," he said. "We'll...go get what Sparkle-san needs, then we'll head back this way so you can join us."
* * * * *
Kouta, Sci-Twi, and Flonne stood beside Kouta's Lock Vehicle, looking out at the frost-white expanse of wintery hell that was Helheim.
"Woooooow," Flonne gasped, impressed.
Sci-Twi shivered as she fired up her scanners and began probing the frozen forest. "You're right, something did a pretty thorough number on this place," she said.
"Good riddance," Kouta muttered. "Helheim is nothing but a disease."
Sci-Twi frowned. "Well, I have some bad news," she said. "It's not...entirely dead. Everything's...well..." She shook her head. "It's definitely going to take a long time for it to thaw and become a threat again, but whatever did this didn't actually kill the forest."
Kouta sighed. "Shimatta."
"The good news is, it bought us some time," Sci-Twi said. "I mean, the fruits won't grow back until the thaw, which means no more Inves for a while." She blinked, furrowed her brow, and adjusted her scanner. "Holy sh—we need to go. Now."
"What is it?" Kouta asked.
"There are some powerful Inves," Sci-Twi said. "And...and they're headed this way!"
Kouta bit off a curse. "The Overlords!" He kicked his Lock Vehicle into gear; Sci-Twi scrambled aboard. Flonne flew in tight formation with them as a Crack opened and they zipped through.
A massive red-black fireball exploded just behind them as they returned to the human world. Kouta turned the bike into a hard skid, panting as the Crack closed.
"That was scary!" Flonne cried.
"The Overlords survived," Kouta said with a frown. "Everything else...but they survived."
"Will they...will they attack?" Sci-Twi asked. "Will they come out of Helheim and...?"
"Probably not," Kouta said. "They don't generally leave Helheim. The forest being frozen probably riled them up, but they hold humans in such disdain they wouldn't bother..." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. What matters right now is finding out what the hell did all THAT."
"Yeah, that...that was not normal," Flonne agreed.
Sci-Twi frowned, adjusting her glasses. "About that," she said. "My scanners picked up a heavy residue of magic soaked into everything. It isn't Equestrian magic, I'm not sure what kind of magic it is...all I can say for certain is it's powerful." She pursed her lips. "And whatever it was, it wasn't still hanging around in Helheim, so..."
"It's probably loose here," Kouta said.
The three exchanged a glance.
"Let's go tell Sunset," Sci-Twi said. "She needs to know immediately."
* * * * *
Elsa raised an eyebrow and tilted her head as she curiously examined a burrito which sat on a plate before her. "What...exactly is this?"
"It's a burrito," Octavia said. "Do you not have Mexican food where you're from?"
"What's a Mexican?" Anna asked curiously as she picked up a crunchy taco and took a big, beefy bite. Her eyes widened. "Mmm," she moaned. "Thff iff ghhd!"
"Anna, manners," Elsa chided. She delicately picked up her knife and fork and cut a prim bite of her burrito, then elegantly placed it in her mouth. She chewed ponderously, then swallowed. "Hmm. It's interesting. I...don't quite know what to make of it." She cut off another bite.
Anna, meanwhile, took another bite of her taco and crunched noisily. Vinyl chuckled; Octavia giggled primly as she tucked into her own taco salad.
"So," Elsa said conversationally, "what exactly is it you girls do here?"
"Do?" Octavia asked.
"Are you maidservants, ladies-in-waiting, debutantes?"
Octavia and Vinyl exchanged a glance. Vinyl snickered.
"We're...high school students," Octavia said. "I...take it from that list of rather outdated and frankly sexist descriptions that you hail from an, ahem, old-fashioned, more patriarchal society?"
"If you mean stuffy old men run everything, then yeah," Anna said. "Well, except Arendelle. Elsa rules Arendelle. We still have stuffy old men telling us what to do all the time though, it's really annoying."
"Hmm, I see," Octavia said. "Well, in this world, most of us will have none of that 'men do this thing and women do that thing' nonsense. There are still those who cling to outdated attitudes, but for the most part, men and women are equal here."
"Equal," Elsa said. "That sounds...rather refreshing."
"Never seen a dude do anything a chick couldn't do better," Vinyl said.
Anna laughed. "I think I like it here!"
"So, you're students," Elsa said. "What exactly do you study?"
"Oh, the usual. English, Prench, calculus, physics, home economics, history, civics," Octavia said. "That's just the classes at CHS, of course. On my own time, I study music and literature. Mostly music."
"Mostly musty old classical music," Vinyl muttered.
Octavia arched an eyebrow. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"
"That's quite an education," Elsa said. "So I take it you're nobility?"
Octavia shook her head. "It doesn't work like that here," she said. "All the courses I listed are a basic high school education. Everyone is required to take those courses."
"Wow," Anna said. "So what do you do with all that education?"
"Honestly? I believe most people forget most of it once they have their diploma," Octavia said. "After all, if it has nothing to do with the career you choose for yourself, it isn't exactly relevant knowledge."
"And yet everyone is required to learn all of those things, even if they will never have need of it?" Elsa asked.
"That's high school for ya," Vinyl said.
"That seems...strange," Elsa said.
"It sounds boring," Anna said. "When do you have fun?"
Octavia and Vinyl looked at each other and smirked. "Oh, we manage," Octavia said lightly.
* * * * *
Sci-Twi, Flonne, and Kouta made a beeline for Flash's house, where they reported what they'd discovered to Sunset.
"Hmm. That's...that's troublesome," Sunset said. She cracked a yawn. "But it can wait until tomorrow," she decided. "Octavia has a couple of houseguests who want to meet me, so I need to head home and get some sleep." She cast a sleepy eye at Flash. "Sure you're gonna be okay with the loli brigade?"
"Pretty sure," Flash said.
Etna gave her a flat look. "You really think he's got anything any of us are interested in besides cable and kickin' music?" Lilith giggled.
Sunset rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'm out. Later." She headed outside, straddled her bike, and took off into the evening.
Kouta shifted awkwardly. "W-well," he said, "I guess I'll...yeah."
"Y-yeah," Sci-Twi said. "Mind giving me a lift back to, umm...y'know, home?"
Once they left, Flash closed and secured the door, then slid against it with a sigh. "This is so much more embarrassing than that weekend with Sonata," he grumbled.
"Oh, come on," Etna said cheekily. "A nice guy like you? Cute, cool, kind of a dorky loser? You're gonna have way more embarrassing days than today!"
"Thanks," Flash said sourly, shooting her a deadpan glare. "Why don't you make yourself useful and go downstairs, make sure all the equipment's off?"
"Sure, why not," Etna said. She headed over to the basement door, humming merrily to herself. She opened the door and reached for the light switch...
A red-and-black spike impaled her.
Etna stared down at the sinewy spike protruding through her abdomen. Her lips tightened. "Oh hell no," she snarled. With a flourish of her right hand, a massive halberd appeared from thin air; she sliced through the spike, jumped backward, pulled out her gun, and unloaded into the still-dark basement. This drew the attention of the others, who gathered behind her. Flonne gasped at the spike still sticking out of Etna's back; Flash cried out in alarm.
"What the hell—are you alright?"
"Takes more than this to kill me," Etna growled. "Alright, whatever you are, come out where I can see you so I can tear your head off!"
A deranged, high-pitched, strangely dual-toned cackle filled the house.
A dozen thick ropes of sinew, made of twisted strands of red and black, shot out of the open basement door. Many of them ended in blades or hooks.
Lilith and Flonne screamed as a shape exploded out of the door, all red and black sinew and ichor. At the center of it was a demonic face, glowing blank white eyes above a grinning maw full of needle-sharp teeth.
"EEEEEEEHEEHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! SO MANY LITTLE PRETTIES FOR ME TO RIP, SHRED, TEAR, AND KILL!!"
"Fuck this," Flash muttered, grabbing Lilith and Flonne by the collars and bolting for the door. "ETNA! We're leaving!"
Etna fell back. "Y-yeah," she said nervously, keeping her gun trained on the horror that had just erupted from the basement. "Good...good call."
They ran for Flash's car, which he started and threw into gear, tearing off down the street as though all the demons in Hell were chasing him.
They were two blocks away before they stopped hearing the laughter.