The ancient, spooky castle with its grisly, forbidding skull exterior stood silent and imposing in the spot which had previously been occupied by Canterlot High School. In the courtyard, a group of students and extradimensional wanderers looked on with concern, confusion, and panic.
"What's going on?" Fluttershy wondered, eyes wide. She absently stroked the feathers of her agitated new pet. "Shhh. Calm down, Tomato. It's gonna be okay. I need you to be a big, strong boy for Momma."
X eyed the castle nervously. "Where I come from, castles shaped like skulls are always bad news..."
Brook stroked his chin. "I don't know," he said. "I feel a certain...spiritual connection to this castle."
X snorted. "You would."
"Twi? Twilight, are you okay?" Rainbow Dash yelled into her phone.
//Y-yeah...I'm good. Just...just really confused right now...//
"Hang on, we're comin' in to get you!"
//Not a good idea! This...place...it's radiating off-the-scale magic! There's some kind of barrier around it, my scanners can't penetrate it. Until I know what's going on, it's best to sit tight!//
//Just give me a few minutes to figure this out, okay? I'm fine, don't worry! Most of the school is still inside here, just...// Twilight went quiet for a moment. //It's just kind of merged into this...huge medieval castle...//
"More like medi-EVIL castle!" Rainbow cried. "You ain't seen the outside of this thing, Twilight! The whole front of it is a huge freakin' skull!"
There was a long pause. //Umm...w-well...you can't make assumptions based on something's outside appearance...// Twilight coughed. //L-Look, I'll be careful, okay? If I run into trouble, I'll call back.// She disconnected. Rainbow let out a frustrated groan.
"Friggin'...! We gotta do something!" Rainbow growled.
Fluttershy let out a sudden loud gasp. "Principal Celestia! She's in there too!"
* * * * *
Principal Celestia sat at her desk, half-asleep, a small bottle of fiery brandy sitting on her desk next to a glass that still had a generous swallow of liquor in it.
She'd felt the school shake, but when the walls of her office began to change into ancient, mossy stone and veins of strange, glowing crystals, she decided she hadn't had enough to drink yet and poured herself two more drinks. Now, she had a belly full of fire and a nice, relaxed sleepiness in her head.
A sudden piercing shriek invaded the comfortable numbness in her head. She opened blurry eyes to see a falcon with brown and blue feathers and a white crest swooping down at her, its eyes glowing. She could only make a mute noise of surprise before the falcon dove right into her chest. Her entire body suddenly seized up, a powerful white fire burning through her entire being.
She felt a presence in her mind. Another spirit, ancient and wise and powerful. She felt that ancient, powerful presence wrap itself around her own mind like a blanket, then...
Celestia opened her mouth and let out a piercing avian shriek. Her clothing exploded away from her body. New attire formed in its place: a white leotard with feathered trim at the hips and long blue sleeves that left her legs bare, with a deep V-neck and blue shoulder trim that sharply defined and shaped her bust, blue boots with white trim that fell just short of her knees, and a white-feathered cowl that framed her face in a brown-and-blue falcon's visage. A cape composed entirely of brown feathers hung behind her, attached to the lengths of her sleeves.
She blinked and clutched her face, massaging her temples. She looked down at her own hands, eyes wide. "What..."
A faint light shone from deep within her eyes. She froze for a long moment. When the light faded, she nodded thoughtfully. "Yes...I see."
Celestia stood from behind her desk, took a deep breath, transformed into a falcon, and flew out the window.
* * * * *
Cyborg was bored.
None of his systems would interface with this world's global Internet. He'd need equipment to build an interface that would let him connect.
And equipment that'd let him recharge, repair damage...
He sighed. "Man I'm bored." He checked his systems diagnostics for the tenth time, watched some squirrels and birds. Watched a few people wander by. Finally, with a deep sigh, he turned to his absolute last resort, activating his onboard sound systems and queueing up his favorite song. As the opening riff faded, he began singing along.
"I saw! You! Dance! From the corner!"
Passersby began drifting curiously closer; Cyborg couldn't listen to the song without getting physically into it. Unintentionally, he'd begun something of a street performance. Not that it mattered to him; he was completely lost in the sounds of the eighties.
A girl with long, wavy copper-and-gold hair stopped on her way past, glancing curiously at the spectacle. She nodded her head to the beat of the song, tapping her fingers against her thigh. As Cyborg began a second loop of the song, she drifted in closer, joining him in his impromptu performance, making it a seamless duet.
When the song ended anew, the crowd of onlookers applauded enthusiastically. Cyborg grinned. "Aw yeah!" he said. "Girl, you are good!"
The girl pointed a finger straight into the sky. "Grandma said this," she said. "Of all human inventions, only music is the most perfect and most enduring." With that, she turned and walked away, raising a hand in a farewell salute.
Cyborg watched her go. "Huh. Cool gal." He went back to waiting for his friends to return, tapping his fingers on his metal thigh and humming "The Night Begins To Shine" idly to himself.
* * * * *
After the tale of how Sunset Shimmer broke reality had been related once again, Sarada's cheeks were furiously red—as were Tenten's. Batman, for his part, cleared his throat a number of times, looking studiously in any direction but at the girls.
A long, awkward pause later, Shego coughed. "So. Gonna tell us your real name, Bat-boy?"
Batman squared his jaw. "Not an option," he said gruffly.
Kim rolled her eyes. "In case you hadn't noticed, you're not in your own world. The odds of you running into anybody who knows you—"
"Just went up," Batman said, pointing from Sarada to Tenten. "Not taking any chances."
Sarada rolled her eyes. "Just trust them," she said. "You can't keep that mask on forever. You told me who you are."
Batman raised his eyebrow. "Only to convince you I'm actually a human being under here," he said.
"Is he cute under there?" Tenten asked Sarada. Sarada made a 'so-so' gesture.
"HEY!" Batman cried indignantly. Kim and Shego laughed.
"Well well," a sonorous voice said. "If it isn't the fabled Dark Knight of Gotham."
All eyes turned. A powerfully built man, covered head to toe in thick cloth and lightweight military body armor, landed nearby. His rugged outfit was divided up the middle into black on one half and a burnished metallic orange on the other where it wasn't covered with grey kevlar and bandoliers of weapons and ammunition. His hood, which concealed every inch of his head and face, had only one eye opening and a few thin slits for ventilation over his mouth.
"Or is it?" he asked, tilting his head. "You're much smaller than I expected. I thought Batman was taller, more...buff." He hummed thoughtfully. "Nightwing, perhaps? Or another one of the Robins?"
Batman frowned. "Who are you?" he asked.
The man folded his arms. "My my. I would've expected the legendary detective to recognize me immediately. I suppose that means you're not Batman after all."
"Oh, I'm Batman," Batman growled, snapping a hand out and producing a Batarang. "If you don't start talking, you're gonna find out just how much Batman I am."
"Hmm...tempting," the man said. "But if you're not Bruce Wayne, I'm afraid I have no interest in you. I'm only interested in the real Batman."
Without warning, he whipped a large, hi-tech pistol from his belt and fired several shots which expanded into webs of electrified cables. Nobody had time to move; Batman and all four girls were snared in snapping, sparking webs and thrown to the ground.
The man holstered his weapon with a derisive snort. "Pitiful. You disappoint me." He cracked his neck. "I suppose I'll need to look elsewhere in this strange city for something to amuse me." He turned to walk away, the steel soles of his boots clanking loudly on the pavement, his hands folded behind his back. Several steps away, he paused, glancing back over his shoulder. "By the way, they call me Deathstroke," he said conversationally.
Batman glared at him. "I'll remember it," he growled.
"I'm sure you will." Deathstroke walked calmly away.
* * * * *
"So are we ever gonna go back down to the beach and kick those guys' butts?"
Tron, Kooh, and Monica were sitting around their hotel suite, as they had been since their embarrassing retreat from the New Arlong Pirates. Monica sighed and shook her head. "I honestly want to? But...I don't really see the point." She stood and began pacing. "I mean, why? Just because they made fools of us?" She threw out a hand. "That's literally the only thing they've done. They haven't raided the town, hurt anybody...they just raised hell on the beach and fought us, then they dropped off the radar again."
"That's true," Tron pointed out. "I mean, yeah, our pride kinda took a beating, but I've...well...I've learned that sometimes, you just have to let your pride go, or you wind up in an even bigger mess."
Kooh let out an annoyed grunt. "I just hate that we turned tail and ran from those freakshow bimbos and that shark freak."
"Yeah, I hate it too," Monica said. "But I can't go and pick fights just for the sake of picking fights, and—"
The window exploded. A storm of blue tentacles shot into the room, wrapped tightly around Monica, and dragged her outside. She screamed and flailed, struggling against her assailant to no avail.
Tron and Kooh exchanged a glance.
"Looks like we're—"
And then they were knocked off their feet as something crashed into the hotel, shaking the entire building to its foundation.
* * * * *
Rainbow Dash tensed up as a blue, brown, and white falcon soared out of the castle, letting out a piercing shriek. "What now?" she wondered.
The falcon swooped down, landing before them, and transformed into Principal Celestia...wearing a truly bizarre costume.
"Uhh...Principal Celestia?" Rainbow asked, blinking. "What..." She shook her head. "What are you wearing?! She tilted her head. "Did you just...were you a bird just now?!"
"Indeed I was, Rainbow Dash," Celestia said distractedly. She looked around at the assembled group, who were all staring at her in surprise, then back at the castle. She frowned deeply. "This is bad," she said. "The defenses...! If only the jawbridge stands as the last line of defense, then Grayskull..."
"Uhh...hold up," Rainbow said. "Let's back it up here. Our school just turned into a freakin' castle. Twilight's trapped inside. You just came out the window as a bird." She flexed her own wings. "There's a little bit of, uhh...NONE OF THAT MAKIN' ANY SENSE we gotta talk about."
Celestia took a deep breath. "Another being has merged with me," she said. "She calls herself Sorceress. She is apparently the guardian of this castle." She spread her arms wide. "Grayskull is an ancient stronghold which safeguards a great power, the power to master the land of Eternia for all time. To bring it eternal peace or eternal ruin. The power of Grayskull has slept in peace, waiting. Evil forces threaten its walls on a constant basis, seeking its power. The Sorceress keeps watch..." She shook her head. "Nevermind that. The chaos magic of the artifact within our school touched the very heart of Grayskull's ancient secrets. There was a...resonance. An amplification." She looked up at the castle, then far out into the city, her eyes focused on something unseen. "The collapse of reality has accelerated. It is no longer merely individuals and the specters of other worlds which are collapsing into this dimension. Foci of power and relative importance to their home dimensions will now begin to collapse into the fold."
Rainbow felt herself go numb. "Meaning...?"
Celestia closed her eyes. "Grayskull is but the first full intrusion of another universe into yours. Places of power, places of significance to other universes will begin to manifest here, physically a part of this reality." She bowed her head. "Also, the singularity is now affecting the land you call Equestria..."
"That's...that's bad, right?" X asked.
Celestia nodded. "It is a catastrophe." She squared her jaw. "I must inform Sunset Shimmer and bring her here with all haste. All of you, secure Grayskull. It must be protected at all costs." She fixed her gaze on the front of the castle; with a great grinding sound, the massive wooden drawbridge lowered, revealing the yawning chasm of the ancient castle's great hall beyond. "Inside, quickly. I will see to it that your needs are provided for. Be wary of where you wander—the castle protects itself and its secrets, but it should not harm you as you are under my protection." With that, she transformed into a falcon and flew off into the city.
"Kweeeh," Tomato said.
Fluttershy bit her lip. "We...we have to go in there?" she whimpered.
Rainbow sighed. "I guess...we'd better."
* * * * *
Terry McGinnis, Kim, Shego, Tenten, and Sarada sat around a table at an outdoor restaurant. They were all in a sour mood. Once they'd recovered from Deathstroke's surprise attack and freed themselves from his electric webs, Batman had decided the need to go "incognito" was more important than his secret identity, and had quickly appropriated some civilian clothing that fit neatly over his Batsuit. In the process, he'd shed his cowl and revealed his identity to the girls.
As a waiter delivered an extra-large, extra-greasy pepperoni pizza to their table, Kim asked, "So, Terry...any idea who that jerk was?"
Terry frowned. "Well I do sort of recognize the name Deathstroke, but he was way before my time," he said. "I mean, we're talking Justice League archives here."
"Justice...League?" Shego asked, raising an eyebrow sarcastically.
"Yeah, I know, the name blows, but the League are legendary heroes," Terry said. "All of Earth's greatest superheroes have belonged to the League at one time or another. Superman, Batman—both Batmen—Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Cyborg, the Flash, Green Lantern, all of them." He shook his head. "Anyway, I haven't memorized every villain and creep the League ever fought—hell, I can't even keep most of the original Batman's enemies straight—but I think I know the name Deathstroke."
Sarada frowned. "So...he's from your world's past, just like Tenten-san is from my village's past?"
"Seems that way," Terry said. "What bothers me is he knows the old man's real name." He looked around at the girls, then sighed. "Slag it. Decades ago, Bruce Wayne was the original Batman. He was...he was a legend. Every criminal in Gotham was terrified of him. Hell, half the Justice League was terrified of him. They called him the Dark Knight.
"Well anyway, a few decades ago, he...he quit. Something happened, and...and he quit. He still hasn't told me what the breaking point was, and I don't think it was just because he got old. Anyway, I found out his secret by accident. Then..." Terry closed his eyes. "Then my dad was murdered. I found out his boss, the jackass running Wayne Enterprises, had him killed. I...broke into the Batcave and stole the suit to get my revenge." He clenched his fists. "After I...well, Wayne and I came to an understanding, and I sort of took over as the new Batman."
"Heeeeeeeh," Sarada said, blinking.
"Wow," Kim said. "That's...a heck of a backstory."
"Dark, brooding...I like," Shego said. With a smirk, she added, "Even sounds like a more serious version of your boy toy, doesn't he, Kimmy?"
Kim blinked slowly. "Huh. You know, now that you mention it, his voice is a lot like Ron's when he's in a really bad mood." She shook her head. "Weird."
"Uhh, guys?" Tenten said suddenly, staring at a phone. "I...I think a new problem just cropped up."
Kim blinked. "Where'd you get the phone?"
"Rarity hooked me up," Tenten said. She laid it on the table; everyone leaned in to watch the news report.
"Canterlot High School transforms into ancient stone castle," Terry read from the screen. He frowned. "Black pyramid sighted northeast of Camp Everfree?"
"Giant metal city appears out of thin air near Appleloosa," Shego added. "Wherever that is."
Sarada adjusted her glasses. "It sounds as if things are getting worse," she said.
"No doubt," Kim said, eyes wide. "We'd better regroup with Sunset and the others." She bit her lip. "Umm...assuming we have somewhere to regroup..."
Just as Tenten put the phone away, the last news screen had the caption:
"Mysterious Spaceship Fuses With Resort Hotel in Canterlittle"
* * * * *
A pair of humans made their way through the undergrowth of a sparse, leafy wood populated by small woodland animals, who seemed more curious than afraid at the unfamiliar arrivals.
"Friggin'—how the HELL did we end up here, anyway?" the taller of the two snarled in a rough, manly voice. He wore black boots, dark pants, and a black tank top with a flaming skull on the front. Various tattoos covered his bare arms, and his brushed-back hair was bleached. He crashed through bushes and shrubs to clear a path, while his companion simply strolled casually along.
"It is curious," the shorter human said. This human wore dark blue pants, well-polished leather shoes, a lighter blue long-sleeved shirt, and a dark blue policeman's cap. Intelligent eyes framed by dark bangs took in everything around them. "The air here is so clean and pure. Even in the countryside back home, the air isn't this clean."
The bleached-haired teen sighed, squatting down and putting his hands on his thighs. "Man, I don't get this," he complained. "This don't friggin' make any sense."
"I agree," his companion said, looking around. "Of course, I admit when it comes to nature, one forest is the same as any other to me. Still..."
"Nah, this place ain't nowhere close to home." The wiry, tough-looking teen stood up. "There's bushes here that don't grow anywhere close to—hell, they don't even grow in Japan." He looked around. "You think...you think we're in that other world again?"
The other teen replied with a shake of the head. "No. There's no fog. No sense of danger or wrongness."
"Oh yeah...yeah, you're right." The thuggish-looking boy took a deep breath. "Man the air here's clean! Smells really earthy." A rabbit hopped right up to him and took a curious sniff; with a faint blush, he knelt down and gave it a pat on the head, then scratched between its ears. "Soft..."
His companion smirked.
The rabbit's ears suddenly twitched. It sniffed the air, whiskers quivering, then took off running. All around, other small animals began scurrying into hidden burrows and warrens or taking wing and flying away. The bleached-haired teen frowned. "Dammit."
The other teen tensed. "Something's wrong. These animals were ignoring us, didn't seem afraid of us at all. Something else startled them. But what...?"
"What in the—?! Humans?! HERE?!" A voice thick with madness called over the trees. "I knew it! These blasted equines...they DID THIS TO ME!"
The teens looked up, and their eyes widened. "What the hell?!"
A creature that looked like cross between a miniature horse and a bat swooped overhead, covered in coarse green hair with a veined, wavy purple mane and tail and leathery purple bat wings. Its eyes were yellow and slit-pupiled, and it sported prominent fangs. It glared at them with crazed malice.
"No matter," it said, as though to itself. "I have come to prefer this...strange equine form. Come, my pet! Show these interlopers why it is unwise to cross paths with the HORSE GOBLIN!"
"The, uh...the what?" the bleached-haired teen said dumbly, floundering as he stared at the flying bathorse.
"We've seen stranger things than this," his companion pointed out dully.
And then a giant bird chimera that was part turkey, part chicken, part duck, and entirely ticked off crashed through the trees, spitting fire at them as its red eyes burned with murderous rage.
"BullSHIT!" the wiry teen snarled as he ducked out of the way. "Okay I may not know where the HELL we are or what the HELL'S goin' on here, but I ain't about to be barbecued by a big ugly bird...thing!"
"Interesting," the other teen said in a detached, clinical tone. "It seems to be composed of parts of three different species of bird..."
"Fuck that, Naoto! The damn thing breathes fire!"
Another fireball seared the air between them, impacting a tree and starting a small brush fire.
"Not for long, it doesn't," the one called Naoto said, drawing a small revolver from a jacket pocket and taking aim. Three precise shots later, the Turducken lay on the ground, motionless.
The Horse Goblin glided down, a stricken look on his face. "You...you killed my pet. You KILLED HIM! You...I'll MURDER YOU!"
"I don't think so, asshole!" the wiry teen snarled. "You and your bird monster scared off all the cute fuzzy animals! You think I'm just gonna forgive you for that?" Letting out a snarl of rage, he charged forward, slamming a fist into the Horse Goblin's muzzle.
"Tatsumi-kun, be careful! We don't have our Per—"
The Horse Goblin reared and bucked, sending his attacker flying back into the burning bushes. He growled as he stood up, patting himself down. "We ain't in Inaba, Naoto!" he snarled. "Go for broke!" He threw out his hand; a jagged bolt of lightning shot forward, striking the Horse Goblin just under the left wing.
"What in the—?!"
Naoto stared. "How did you—?"
"I...I dunno," the other teen said, staring at his hand. "That damn sure wasn't my Persona, but..." Frowning, he concentrated and called down a lightning strike that forced the Horse Goblin to retreat to a safe distance.
"Wh—WHAT ARE YOU?" the Horse Goblin yelled.
The teen took a defiant step forward. "I'm Tatsumi Kanji, you flying horse bastard! Mess with me, I'll kick your ass!"
Shirogane Naoto sighed tiredly, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Yareyare..."
"Sweet Celestia, the forest's on fire! Get some weather pegasi, hurry!"
Horse Goblin, Kanji, and Naoto all looked up at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. A small, cute pegasus was flying overhead, looking down at them.
"A...pegasus?" Naoto asked in wonder.
Kanji's cheeks burned red. "So...cute..."
The pegasus, who had a light grey coat and a short, dark mane, looked back over his shoulder and called out to a larger dark grey pegasus with a silvery mane. "Hurry, Thunderlane! And there's some weirdos down here too! You might wanna get Rainbow Dash!"
"On it, Rumble!" The other pegasus zipped off, leaving a thick, dark smoke trail in his wake.
"Tch..." The Horse Goblin growled. "Rainbow Dash...that's the last thing I need right now." Shaking his head and snorting steam, he took to the sky. "Tatsumi Kanji...I won't forget this! You've made an enemy of the Horse Goblin! Your days are numbered!" With that, he flew off in the opposite direction of the grey pegasus.
Kanji flipped him the bird. "Yeah? Well anytime you want some, come get some, punk!"
The smaller pegasus flew closer, taking care to stay slightly out of reach. "Umm...excuse me...who and...what are you?"
Naoto sighed. "I take it you're a juvenile of your species?"
Rumble blinked. "Huh?"
"A kid," Kanji said. "A freakin' kid."
Naoto smiled. "Would it be possible for you to take us to where the adults are? We're lost, we don't know what this place is, and we need information."
Rumble fidgeted. "Umm...maybe you'd better wait until my brother gets back," he said.
Kanji grunted. "Alright. Sounds like a deal." He sat down, snorting. "Man, what kinda messed-up shit've we gotten mixed up in this time?"
Naoto smiled wryly and shrugged. "'May you live in interesting times', as they say..."
* * * * *
Two men dressed all in black ran down an alley, casting wary glances behind them.
"How did it come to this, Aniki?" the shorter, stouter of the pair said. Despite the dark sunglasses he wore, he seemed to have no problem navigating the narrow alleys with his tall, long-haired partner, whose sharp, cold eyes were filled with intense hatred.
"That bitch played us," the taller man growled. "She knew! All this time she knew!"
A soccer ball whizzed past the taller man's head, slamming into a brick wall with enough force to leave a crater. He stopped, blinked, then broke left, firing a wild shot behind him. Overhead, a helicopter roared.
The two men found themselves corralled into a dead end. The wall behind them flooded with light. They turned to see a short figure—a small child with messy hair—staring them down, the lenses of his glasses gleaming eerily with reflected illumination.
"It ends here, Gin," he said in a rough voice. "Finally, after all this time, it ends here..."
The alley wobbled and warped, the walls becoming hazy and translucent. Something else slowly phased into existence around them, blurry and indistinct. The two men burst through a door that wasn't there a minute earlier.
Cursing, ignoring the shouts from those backing him up, the boy ran after them.
The door vanished, and the alley returned to normal.