"What the HELL WAS THAT THING?! Lilith screeched.
"What are you asking me for?" Etna cried as she yanked the red barb out of her stomach and threw it out the window. Flonne hastily cast a healing spell, closing the wound.
"Oh man, Mom and Dad are gonna be pissed," Flash moaned.
"I think they'd rather have you be alive and the house taken over by some kind of psychotic demon than you dead and the house...taken over by some kind of psychotic demon," Flonne said soothingly.
Flash sighed. "This sucks. Now what are we gonna do?"
"I say we ask her," Lilith said, nodding ahead. A block away, a distinctive head of red-and-gold hair flailed around as Sunset Shimmer stalked around her bike, clearly agitated.
"Wow, she didn't get far," Etna said.
Flash coasted to a stop behind Sunset and got out. She looked up, blinking. "Hey," she said.
"Bike trouble?" Flash asked.
"Yeah," Sunset said sourly. "Damn carburetor. It's been giving me problems for a month, I haven't had a chance to shop around for a replacement." She shook her head. "Guess I'll have to walk it back to your place—"
"Yeah about that," Flash said. "We've...got a problem."
Sunset groaned. "What now?"
"Something scary showed up in Flash's basement," Flonne said. "Something crazy and really stabby."
"Damn thing impaled me," Etna muttered. "I mean, I'm all for a good psychotic kill-crazed demon and all, but that thing...it was off somehow."
"Anything that scares Etna is bad news," Flonne said worriedly.
"I don't think it chased us," Flash said, "but, well..."
"You can't go home if there's a murder-happy demon in your basement, got it," Sunset said with a sigh. She looked the group over and grimaced. "I can only think of one person who's got enough space to put up this many guests on short notice who doesn't already have a houseful of interdimensional freeloaders...well, she has two. And they want to meet me anyway." She pulled out her phone. "Octavia? Yeah, listen...tell your houseguest I'll meet her as soon as we can get over there. Also, can you do me a solid? Flash and some out of town...guests...kinda just got run out of his house by a murder beast. Think you can spare a couple extra guest rooms? Sweet. I'll owe you one." She disconnected, then glanced at her bike. "Now, what to do about this..."
"I can help with that," Flonne said. She folded her hands in prayer and chanted in an echoey, angelic language. Sunset's eyes widened as her bike shrank. Flonne opened her eyes, picked it up, and handed it to her. "Here," she said. "I can put it back like it was when, y'know, you have it where you want it."
"Umm...thanks?" Sunset stared at the shrunken bike, shook her head, and tucked it into her jacket pocket, then climbed into the shotgun seat of Flash's car. "Okay, let's roll."
* * * * *
Octavia pocketed her phone. "Well, Sunset Shimmer is on her way here," she said.
"Oh, good," Elsa said. "I was agitated about having to wait to speak to her."
"Yes, well...she's bringing a problem with her," Octavia said. "Another classmate of ours has apparently been run out of his house by some sort of monster. As I understand it, we'll be having a few more guests." She bit her lip. "Things will be...rather cramped here for the time being."
"Oh my," Elsa said. "If you need us to leave, we can seek lodgings elsewhere..."
"No need," Octavia said. "As you've seen, this house is rather spacious. There are four guest bedrooms."
"We'll put Flash on the couch downstairs," Vinyl said. "He won't mind, he's a dude."
"The words you use in this world are quite odd sometimes," Elsa said. "That's twice now I've heard you say 'dude', what does it—" She didn't get to finish, as the lights began to flicker. The four girls looked around as the television cut off, various electronics in the room made unhappy noises, and thick motes of inky blackness drifted through the air on a slow, hot wind that stirred their clothes. "What in the world?!"
"Umm...this isn't...normal, is it?" Anna asked.
"It most decidedly is not," Octavia said, frowning as she drew closer to Vinyl.
A low groaning sound filled the air, followed by a cacophony of grinding, rattling noises. The house rumbled on its foundation, shaking plaster loose from the ceiling.
"What's going on?" Anna asked shakily, drawing closer to her sister. Elsa's eyes narrowed with focused determination.
Vinyl headed for the nearest window and drew back the curtains.
A fleshless, filth-encrusted skull thumped against the glass, rattling it. Vinyl jumped back, her shades sliding down her nose. She blinked even as Anna shrieked. She turned slowly on the spot, facing the other girls.
"We're boned," she announced.
* * * * *
Sunset held Flash's phone up to his ear as he concentrated on driving. Octavia lived in a completely different part of town, nearer to Crystal Prep than to CHS; Sunset had often wondered why the posh, proper cellist went to CHS instead of Crystal Prep, but she figured Octavia, like most CHS students, valued friendship and team spirit over reputation. Plus, her best friend and housemate went to CHS, which probably had a lot to do with it.
"Hey Mom. Listen, I've got some bad news." Flash took a deep breath...
"There's something loose in the house today
I don't know what it is
A thing I can't recognize
It stabbed my brand new bassist in the stomach, yes it did
It might claw out my eyes!
So I'm crashing with a friend!"
Etna burst out laughing. "Dude, are you...are you singing the bad news to your mom?"
Sunset rolled her eyes. "River takes bad news better if Flash sings it to the tune of Nipmuc songs," she said. "Flash and his dad are the only normal people in his whole family."
Flonne giggled. "That sounds like so much fun!" she said.
Lilith tilted her head. "So how often do you have to sing bad news to your mom?" she asked once Flash fell silent and nodded for Sunset to take the phone away.
"Not that often, thankfully," Flash said. "Once, maybe twice a year. Not counting that whole mess with Sonata, that..." He sighed. "I had to give Mom a whole concert to explain that shit."
"With me and my friends as his backup band," Sunset said with a grin. "Man, that was messed up."
"I still wanna know whose idea it was to give Twilight that giant paper fan," Flash muttered, his hands tightening on the wheel. Sunset burst out laughing.
"Sounds like you two have some funny stories to tell," Flonne said brightly. "I—" She trailed off, her eyes going wide and her face going pale. "Oh no."
"What's up, Flonne?" Etna asked.
"Don't you feel it, Etna?" Flonne shifted in her seat.
"I feel it," Lilith said miserably, the wings on the sides of her head folding back. "Something really nasty is—"
Sunset's phone rang. She held up a hand for silence, then pulled out her phone, glancing at the screen. "Hey Octavia. We're almost—" She broke off, her eyes going wide. "—WHAT?!" She listened for a long moment, then swore under her breath. "Okay. Okay, don't worry. We're almost there, I think I've got some pretty good fighters in this bunch, if not I can call in reinforcements. Just sit tight, okay?" Sunset hung up, then pinched the bridge of her nose. "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck."
"What's up?" Flash asked.
"Skeleton army," Sunset said resignedly. "Octavia's house is surrounded. They're trying to break in. They're all armed with like, medieval weapons."
"Ooooh, sounds like we're crashing the best kind of house party!" Etna said, her eyes lighting up.
"Anou...what happened to your whole 'fuck it, I'm on vacation' thing?" Lilith asked.
Etna shrugged. "Hey, I just got impaled by a crazed murder beast and I don't even know what the thing was. Not only that, but we had to leave one kickin' crash pad because of that." She pounded a fist into an open palm and cracked her knuckles. "I could use a good old fashioned brawl."
"That explains the evil feeling I'm sensing," Flonne said worriedly. "It...it feels different from the Netherworld demons. It feels...really nasty."
"Yeah, I don't like the vibe here," Lilith said worriedly.
"Well, whatever's going on, we've gotta put a stop to it, or we won't have anywhere to put you guys tonight," Sunset said. "You can all fight, right?"
"Hah! You bet your bacon-haired stripper ass we can!" Etna said.
"I'm pretty good in a fight," Flonne said.
"I love a good rumble," Lilith said. In a purring giggle, she added, "Almost as much as I love a good tumble!"
"Right," Sunset drawled. "Okay, Flash? Floor it."
* * * * *
Forgotten in the dust on a quiet stretch of road in a quiet suburban neighborhood, a sharp thorn of twisted red and black sinew quivered. It began to bend and writhe, melting into a diseased puddle that resembled blood mixed with tar.
A creature, roughly humanoid in shape, landed on the road. The blood-tar mess on the road wriggled, then shimmied up into the creature's body like quicksilver. Needle-sharp teeth dripping with slimy saliva grinned a grisly grin as glowing demonic white eyes narrowed.
"YoU doN'T gET aWAy FRoM caRNAgE sO EAsilY..."
Letting out a peal of high-pitched, deranged giggling, Carnage dissolved into a mass of sinewy ropes of blood and tar, cackling into the darkening sky as he flung himself from tree to tree to streetlight to rooftop down the lane in search of his prey.
* * * * *
Glass shattered. A skeletal hand reached into the living room, its owner moaning and groaning.
"This is intolerable," Elsa said. "First that horrid forest full of monsters, and now this?! What madness has taken us?!"
"If it helps at all, this is hardly normal for us," Octavia said. "Well...we've seen our share of strangeness, mind you, but skeletons attempting to break into my house is rather offputting."
"Should we...maybe go upstairs?" Anna suggested. "Away from the hordes of the risen dead?"
"You're forgetting, Anna," Elsa said, cupping her hands together. In a bright flash and a swirl of magic, a huge ball of ice materialized between them. She flung it forth; it expanded, growing sharp shards and fractals as it flew toward the skeleton. It tore through the bones of his arm and ribcage like a cannonball, then exploded with a sharp crack against a large tree in the yard.
The skeleton looked down at his severed arm and shattered ribs, clicked his jaw, and clambered through the window, pushing himself with his intact arm.
Elsa took a step back. "Um. That...I was not expecting."
The front door buckled and splintered. Anna let out a shriek as it burst open, smashed by axes wielded by armored undead. Shields held at the ready and axes aloft, they stormed into the room. Elsa began flinging bursts of raw ice magic left and right.
The skeletons kept coming, heedless of her efforts to freeze them.
"Uh, I don't think ice works on these guys," Vinyl offered.
"I noticed," Elsa bit off. "I'm open to suggestions."
Vinyl snorted and moved in front of the group, sliding her headphones onto her head. Her feet and hands began to float as she loosened up her stance.
"Miss Vinyl, what are you—" Anna began.
"If you see a weapon go flying, grab it!" Vinyl shouted. A skeleton roared and swung its axe at her; she slid out of its way without lifting her feet, pivoted her body, and let her hand drift through its spine, severing it neatly. She then lifted one knee almost casually, disarming the skeleton as its torso fell. The axe slid toward Anna; she blinked at it, then picked it up, holding it in a shaky grip.
"Hold things down here," Octavia called as she headed for the stairs. "I shall return momentarily!"
Elsa held out her hand and concentrated. With a sharp crackle, a spear made of ice formed in her hand. She tested its weight, then held it at the ready.
* * * * *
"Her house is just ahead," Sunset said. "Take a right, it's at the end of the block."
"Got it," Flash said, taking a hard corner without heeding the stop sign. In ten seconds, he slammed on the brakes, screeching to a stop outside the gate of a three-story house on the corner.
As soon as the car stopped, a skeleton landed on the windshield, chattering its rotten teeth at them. "GAH!" Flash exclaimed.
Sunset clenched her jaw, teleported the skeleton off the front of the car, and set fire to it once it was deposited some feet away.
"Oi, that's not very sporting!" the burning skeleton complained.
Etna jumped out of the car and pulled out a very long spear. "Eat it, punk," she snarled as she leapt high into the air. The tip of her spear glowed with power as she descended.
The skeleton looked up at her, dread in its eye sockets. "Oh bugger."
The street shook with the force of a gas explosion. Fragments of bone went flying in every direction, as did dust, leaves, and bits of pavement.
Sunset stared, slack-jawed. "Umm. Wow."
"Yeah, no kidding," Flash said. "I told you she was a little murder-happy."
"Oh, this is nothing," Flonne said cheerfully. "Wait until she really gets going!"
A tumultuous clamor sounded from inside the gate to Octavia's house. As the rest of the group got out of the car, a mass of angry skeletons boiled out into the street, axes, swords, spears, and shields raised in challenge.
Etna grinned, twirling her spear. "Let's do this," she said.
"Fu~fuuuun," Flonne giggled, pulling a massive longbow out of nowhere.
Lilith's seifuku exploded away from her body as a cloud of bats, reforming into her preferred fighting costume as she cracked her neck.
Magic limned Sunset's fists.
Flash leaned against the driver's side door of his car. "Umm...yeah. Good...good luck," he said.
The girls looked back at him.
"Seriously?" Etna asked. "You'd let a bunch of defenseless little girls fight an evil undead army while you just stand there?"
"Defenseless?!" Flash cried. "What the actual fu—oof!" He grunted as he struggled to catch a heady broadaxe which Etna had just chucked his way.
"Yeah yeah, just make yourself useful," Etna said as she turned her attention back to the undead army. Flash sighed and adjusted his grip on the axe.
The skeletons charged. Spells and arrows flew. Weapons clashed.
* * * * *
Anna clumsily held her own with her borrowed weapon. Elsa kept breaking ice spears fighting skeletons, forcing her to either fall back and reform them or give herself breathing room by flinging ice balls into the undead horde. Vinyl danced through the army, hands, knees, elbows, and feet gliding through bone as she bobbed her head to the beat only she could hear.
"Sorry to keep you all waiting!" Octavia called from the stairs. Elsa spared a glance over her shoulder...and nearly got skewered by a skeleton in her shock.
Octavia had traded her prim, proper dress for a black leather miniskirt held up by thin suspenders, an off-white tank top, heavy black ankle-high hiking boots, and rugged fingerless gloves with reinforced knuckles and leather wraps that covered her forearms to the elbow. She leapt down from the middle of the flight of stairs and smashed the skull of the nearest skeleton with a well-placed kick, then dropped into a crouch and smashed the pelvis of one that tried to impale her with a sword. With each movement, her chest—much larger than Elsa had believed due to her earlier modest attire—heaved dramatically, barely constrained by the thin tank top she wore.
Even Anna was taken aback. "What...what are you wearing?" she asked, blushing furiously.
"What? It's easier to fight in," Octavia said as she punched through another skeleton's sternum, then sent its skull flying with an uppercut. Vinyl slid over to her, giving her a sly grin; they seamlessly fell into a back-to-back fighting stance, daring the skeletons to move in on them.
Elsa picked her jaw up off the floor and shook her head. "This world grows stranger still by the second," she muttered as she created a spiked club of ice and smashed a skeleton to pieces.
* * * * *
As Carnage swung, crawled, crept, and otherwise propelled itself through the night, it was unaware of a shadow in the sky above. Two people, a man and a woman, both barely out of their teens, sat upon a flying carpet.
"What do you think it is? Some kind of demon?"
"I don't know, but I don't think we should let it out of our sight. We'd best keep quiet, though. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."
"This place is...very strange."
"Yeah, it is. I mean, I've seen stranger stuff than this, but it doesn't look like anywhere else we've been in the world."
"You don't suppose...we've been wished away to another realm, do you?"
"Nah, couldn't be. Besides, that weird thing we flew into didn't look like it came from a wish." The young man took the woman's hand. "Don't worry. I'm here. We'll be fine."
"I know we will," the woman said. She smirked and reached up, touching her earlobe, where a tiny round black earring glittered in the moonlight. "Besides, I don't really need protecting, do I?"
The man chuckled. "Heh. You sure don't. You never did. But I'll always be there for you, Jasmine."
"I know, Aladdin," Princess Jasmine said. They shared a brief kiss, then resumed their pursuit of the ghastly shape below.
* * * * *
Fifteen minutes of nonstop fighting later, Etna, Flonne, Sunset, Lilith, and Flash were no closer to breaching the gates of Octavia's house than they had been at the start. Huge impact craters had been made in the street. Smashed bones, broken weapons, cracked shields, and other debris littered the area. Miraculously, Flash's car remained completely unscathed.
But the skeletons kept coming. For every two the party destroyed, two more took their place.
"This..." Flash puffed out. "This is endless..."
"I may..." Sunset panted. "I may need to call the others for backup...I don't think we can..."
A high, shrieking cackle split the night air, oddly dual-toned. The party stiffened.
"Oh no, no, NO," Flonne moaned.
"It followed us? SHIT!" Etna snarled. "As if this mess wasn't fucked up enough!!"
"wHaT'S THiS?!" Carnage cackled as it solidified into its most humanoid form, clinging to the side of a tree. "wHY, thIS LoOks liKE sOME PArtY!" It dropped to the ground, rubbing its palms together with glee. "hoPE yOU doN'T MiND iF wE plAY tOo!"
"Oi, wot's this then?" a skeleton with a huge, horned helmet asked, pointing a broadsword at Carnage. "You there, bugger on off now or you'll taste steel, you will!"
Carnage tilted its head curiously, peering at the skeleton. Its mouth opened wide and it began to giggle.
"Uhh...I don't like where this is going," Lilith said nervously.
Hundreds of ropes of blood-tar sinew ripped away from Carnage, weaving past weapons, through ribs, into bones, clinging to every skeleton in the street and beyond.
"I really don't like where this is going," Etna said, ditching her spear and pulling out a huge hand cannon.
"What...is it...doing?" Sunset wondered.
"How the hell should I know?" Flash snapped.
Carnage's giggles trailed off into faint echoes as its entire body mass became nothing more than strings of red and black sinew. Then, the sinew began fusing into the very confused skeletons.
A tense silence fell.
Ropy blood-tar sinew covered every skeleton in the yard. The fleshless, grimy skulls all transformed into needle-toothed, grisly skeletal versions of Carnage's demonic visage, eyes glowing white.
Dozens of high-pitched cackles filled the air.
The party looked at each other, eyes wide with terror.
"RUN!" Flash suggested.
tHErE iS nO EScApE! nO eSCaPE fROm DEaTH! No EScapE FRoM pAiN! NO ESCAPE FROM CARNAGE!!!!!
* * * * *
"Oh man," Aladdin said. "Looks like they could use our help."
"Do you think we should get involved?" Jasmine asked.
Aladdin glanced sideways at Jasmine. "What, and leave a bunch of kids to face this mess all alone?"
Jasmine winced. "Good point. Got your ring?"
"Of course," Aladdin said with a smirk, waggling his right ring finger, which flashed silver.
"Alright. Carpet, find someplace safe to wait, got it?" Jasmine instructed. She reached up and touched her left earlobe. "Tikki, spots on!"
Next to her, Aladdin curled his right bicep, his ring flashing in the sun. "Plagg, claws out!"