Thick steam gushed from the dark, rusty bronze walls. Grated metal deck plates rattled beneath his feet.
He'd lost sight of them in the steam and the darkness. Wherever they were now, it was cramped, it stank, and what little illumination there was came from strips of angrily glowing red lights along the walls and ceiling.
And then there was the harsh, barking voice ringing out in between blares of a sharp, insistent alarm klaxon:
//—ghuHmoH—QuQ luj—Som moS—//
Shadows moved ahead of him; he turned a corner to follow, his sneakers pounding on the hard deck. In the low light and haze, he tripped; catching himself, he spared a glance at what he'd tripped over, then skidded to a halt, eyes wide. "N-nani kore...?!"
//Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!//
Sightless eyes stared up at him from a face that was not human. Tangled, matted black hair framed a large, prominent forehead with a massive plated crest, a broad, ridged nose, and a mouth full of jagged, sharp teeth.
The body was large, clad in some sort of leather and metal uniform. A fingerless-gloved hand was frozen in an eternal grasp for a long, curved blade that lay nearby, spattered in a bright mauve fluid.
Despite his urgent pursuit of his quarry, his natural instincts kicked in, and he gave the body a cursory glance. Large wounds criss-crossed the lower torso, with more of that mauve fluid crusting over the wounds and splattered across the alien's uniform.
"Blood..." He knelt down, examining the wounds. He glanced around, searching for an immediate apparent cause of death.
The corridor shook, and the warnings became more insistent. Biting back a curse, he left the dead alien behind, continuing his chase.
* * * * *
The wait for the older pegasus, Thunderlane, to return had been long and awkward. Rumble kept watching them curiously and shuffling his hooves, while Kanji kept starting to speak, stammering, clearing his throat, and rocking back against a tree. All the while, animals chittered angrily as the brush slowly burned.
"At least the fire isn't spreading rapidly," Naoto observed calmly.
Rumble turned a nervous gaze from the two humans to the dead, cooling body of the Turducken. "Umm...what is that thing, and...and did you guys kill it?"
"We don't know what it is, but yeah," Kanji said roughly. "It was spittin' freakin' fireballs at us. Coulda burned down this whole forest!"
"Such a strange creature," Naoto remarked. "And yet not the strangest thing here, I'm sure." She tilted her head. "Your world...it's inhabited by talking pegasi?"
"Pegasi, earth ponies, unicorns," Rumble said with a shrug. "Pegasi can't talk where you're from?"
"Pegasi don't exist where we're from," Naoto said. "They're a myth."
Rumble's brow furrowed. "Huh. Weird." He tilted his head. "And...and what kind of creatures are you again? I mean, you're not minotaurs, but..."
"HUMANS?!" a raspy voice cried from overhead. A rainbow blur dropped down into the forest. Overhead, several colorful pegasi pushed a group of thick grey clouds into position over the burning patch of forest. Naoto watched with fascination as the pegasi reared and bucked the clouds, which immediately dumped a fast, torrential rain squall on the forest, extinguishing the flames.
Kanji, however, had his full attention fixed on the blue-coated, rainbow-maned pegasus who stood in front of them, eyeing them curiously and with faint suspicion. His cheeks flushed. "Wh-whoa," he breathed. "You...you seein' this, Naoto?"
Naoto raised an eyebrow. "The living, breathing page out of a little girl's coloring book? Yes. Yes I am."
The rainbow-maned pegasus took a step forward, wings flared. "You guys start that fire?"
"Huh? Oh...no, no, it was that freaky bird monster," Kanji said distractedly, pointing over his shoulder. The pegasus followed his gaze and bristled.
"Oh CRAP, what's that doin' here?" she moaned. "I thought we left that freak and his pet freaky bird hidin' in the Everfree Forest!" She paused, frowning, and moved in closer, nudging the Turducken with a hoof. She let out a disgusted cry and drew back. "Yikes! Who killed this thing?"
"I'm afraid I did," Naoto said calmly. "It was attacking us and damaging this beautiful forest. It didn't seem to be a natural member of this forest's ecosystem, so I exterminated it."
The pegasus paled, looking from Naoto back to the Turducken. She swallowed. "W-well...sucks to be the bird," she said. "It's not like it's the first one we've hadda kill. Just...try not t' kill anything else if you don't gotta, okay?"
Naoto nodded once, eyes closed. "Of course. My apologies if I overstepped my bounds."
The pegasus sighed. "Nah, probably saved me a headache. What about—was there a kinda battish, green and purple pony—"
"If you're referring to the Horse Goblin, as he called himself, he fled in what I assume to be an easterly direction once the arrival of reinforcements was mentioned." Naoto tilted her head. "The name 'Rainbow Dash' specifically seemed to agitate him. Can we assume he was referring to you?"
"The one and only," Rainbow Dash said. "So, ol' Gobby's still afraid of me after the last time I whupped his butt, huh? Heh." She let her wings settle. "So, back to you two. What're two humans doin' out this far in the Whitetail Woods?"
"We don't know," Naoto said. "I'm afraid we have no idea where we are or how we got here."
"We uh...we kinda got lost in the fog," Kanji said. "Back where we live, it used to get foggy all the time, but...well...bad things started happenin' whenever it got foggy. Then me, Naoto, and our friends, we got to the bottom of it an' took care of it, and since then it ain't been foggy as much."
"But whenever the fog does set in, we take turns going out in pairs to patrol the town, just in case," Naoto said. "After everything we've been through, it seems...prudent to be careful, even though we know the source of our troubles is behind us." She adjusted her cap. "In any case, we wandered into a particularly thick fog bank, and when we found our way out of the fog, we were in this forest."
Rainbow frowned, her ears twitching. "Crap," she muttered. "That sounds like what's goin' on in the other world. If that kinda crap's happenin' here now..." She snorted. "Gotta let Starlight know, get a message to Twilight..."
"If we might impose," Naoto said, "would it be too inconvenient for us to seek shelter in the nearest settlement, assuming you have such shelter to offer? At least until we can get our bearings and figure out how to return to our own home."
"Huh?" Rainbow asked, blinking.
"Ya got a town around here, somewhere we can crash while we figure this shit out?" Kanji interpreted.
"Oh! Oh, yeah. Actually, you should come with me anyway, Twilight might want me to send you guys through the portal to that other world." She lifted off the ground, gently flapping her wings. "Come on, it's this way!"
"Dude," Kanji said aside to Naoto as they followed Rainbow Dash. "A whole village of cute talking ponies..."
Naoto smirked. "Try not to get too excited, Tatsumi-kun..."
* * * * *
"Aniki," Vodka said hesitantly as he looked around at the dead and dying aliens littered around the metal deck, "this...it couldn't be—"
"Fascinating, isn't it?" Gin said in a tone of almost wonder, kneeling beside a dead body, examining it. "I never believed in such things as alien life, and yet...these things are clearly not human." He frowned, looking around. "This is a spaceship," he decided. "And while I don't understand that language, I know warnings when I hear them. We need to get off this ship."
"Uhh...we don't have spacesuits," Vodka pointed out. "And...how did we get on board an alien spaceship, anyway?"
"We can figure that out later," Gin said. "Judging by the weapons these fellows are carrying, I doubt we want to run into any that are still alive." He snorted. "Not under these circumstances, anyway." He swept away from his study, his longcoat swirling at his feet and disturbing the haze. "We need to find an airlock, or—"
"Damn," Gin growled. He turned, aiming his gun through the haze. Red lights glinted off the lenses of a child's glasses.
"Masaka...!" Vodka gasped. "He followed us here?!"
"Of course he did," Gin grunted. "We tried to kill him and failed. He'd chase us through the gates of Hell." He fired off three shots, two of which pinged off the deck plates. The third was rewarded with a loud, sharp hiss. Gin smirked. "Grazed him. Now—"
A green energy ray passed just left of Gin's head, its heat making sweat bead on his face. His eyes widened.
"Che...come on, we're getting out of here." He glanced back into the haze. "Another time, Kudou!" He turned and ran, Vodka's heavy, thudding footfalls shaking the deck behind him.
A short, messy-haired boy with glasses pounded into the junction the two men had fled, fury in his blue-grey eyes. An alien weapon he'd picked up off the deck was held ready in one hand; the sleeve of his other arm was slowly soaking up blood from where Gin's bullet had grazed him. "Chikushou...!" He started to follow, but was caught up short when a rough, strong hand seized his ankle. He stopped, jerked back, and looked down.
One of the aliens, slumped against the bulkhead, looked at him with fierce eyes. "You have courage, for a human...especially one so young," he rasped thickly, his voice guttural.
The boy blinked.
The alien fixed him with a ferocious, piercing gaze. "Those humans...have they dishonored you?"
"You...could say that," the boy said slowly.
The alien grumbled something to himself, nodding thoughtfully. He unsheathed a wicked-looking dagger from his belt and pressed its grip into the boy's hand, curling his fingers around it and squeezing tightly. He gave the boy a firm nod of respect. "Qapla'," he said. Then, his head slumped slightly forward, the light dimming from his eyes.
Mouth set in a grim line, Edogawa Conan gently extricated himself from the dead man's grasp, then continued his pursuit, clutching the alien dagger tightly.
* * * * *
It took over half an hour to reach a deceptively large, if rustic, town full of brightly colored houses and buildings with thatched roofs and simple country construction, laid out haphazardly along a system of sprawling dirt roads. Ponies of all shapes, sizes, and colors looked on with curiosity as Rainbow Dash led the two humans into the town proper. "Welcome to Ponyville," she said.
"Ponyville, huh?" Naoto said with a small smile. "A...fitting name."
"Oh man," Kanji said wonderingly. "This place..." His eyes darted to and fro. "So many cute, cuddly, fuzzy ponies..."
Rainbow Dash tilted her head, her brow furrowing. "Uhh...is he alright?"
Naoto smirked. "Tatsumi-kun is easily distracted by cute things, especially of the animal variety. Which, from our perspective, your species qualifies readily as both."
"Oh," Rainbow said, blinking. "Huh. You know, I have a friend who's exactly like that."
A pegasus with a butter yellow coat and a long, cherry blossom pink mane fluttered up to them, concern in her eyes. "Rainbow Dash! I heard about the fire in the Whitetail Woods, is everything okay? Oh...you have some...new friends..." Her already soft voice trailed off uncertainly as she looked the two humans over, biting her lip.
"And speak of the devil," Rainbow said with a snicker. "Hey Fluttershy. Yeah, that Turducken got loose in the forest. Fire's out, Turducken's dead. These guys are humans. You know, like Twi's friends in that other world? They were wandering around in the forest and got attacked."
Fluttershy gasped. "Oh my goodness!" She dropped to the ground, hiding behind her mane as she examined the two humans. "So this is a human?" Her ears folded down. "I didn't know they'd look so..." She tilted her head. "So not like anything I've ever seen before actually." She frowned. "Another Turducken? Oh dear. I suppose I'd better visit Zecora and see if we need to...umm...search for a nest or...or something. I don't like to hear about poor innocent creatures being killed just because they can't stop spitting fire at ponies and other creatures."
Rainbow sighed. "Yeah, those things are kind of a menace. It's the same one that Horse Goblin guy was ridin' around on, though. According to these two, he's...pretty peeved."
"Oh," Fluttershy said. She glanced the two humans up and down, worrying at her lip. "And...and you just...killed it?"
"Uhh...yeah," Kanji said roughly. "We're...we're awful sorry about that. We're not in the habit of goin' around, y'know...killin' animals. It was pure self-defense, honest!"
"Oh, I believe you," Fluttershy said. "Umm..." She shuffled her hooves.
Naoto stepped forward. "My name is Naoto," she said. "This is Kanji. I'd give you our surnames, but I feel that might only confuse the issue."
"Oh, umm...I'm Fluttershy," Fluttershy said. She blinked. "Umm...Mr. Kanji, was it? Why are you...looking at me like that?"
Rainbow snickered. "Apparently this dude's the human version of you. Y'know, about cute fuzzy things. Which I guess is what we are to them."
"Oh," Fluttershy said. "I...guess I can understand that?"
"Can I...can I brush your mane?" Kanji asked, his voice hitching. Naoto groaned; Rainbow snorted.
Fluttershy smiled. "Well, alright," she said. "Umm...once we get you two to the castle, I mean. That's where we're headed, right Rainbow Dash?"
The procession crested a hill which overlooked the bustling heart of the town. As they did, the spires of a gleaming crystal castle which shone blue, purple, and pink in the sun came into view. Naoto's eyes widened, as did Kanji's. "Whoa!" Kanji exclaimed. "Dude, what the heck?!"
"I've...I've never seen anything like that," Naoto said.
"Heh, yeah, Twilight's castle is pretty one-of-a-kind," Rainbow said. "Wait till you see the inside."
"We're seriously goin' in there?" Kanji asked.
"It's pretty much Weirdness Central," Rainbow said. "And with all the crazy crap goin' on lately, it's important we get you two near the portal to the other world, and someplace where we can keep in touch with Twilight right away."
"Oh, I hope they're having good luck with the search," Fluttershy said. "If the same thing's starting to happen here that's been happening in Sunset Shimmer's world...I don't know how Equestria will survive!"
"Yeah, I don't get all the fancy magic crap, but even I get that this stuff happenin' here too is bad," Rainbow said.
Naoto frowned. "You keep mentioning another world and a disaster there. Can you tell us anything about that?"
The two pegasi shared a glance. "Well, Starlight Glimmer is the one you wanna ask about that, she actually understands all this crap," Rainbow said. "But basically? There's this magic mirror that connects to a parallel world that's full of human versions of everypony here in Equestria, and Twilight's friend Sunset Shimmer lives there. Something freaky happened there and, well..." She shrugged.
"Reality started breaking down," Fluttershy said. "Umm...I understand chaos magic slightly better than the average pegasus since I'm best friends with a chaos spirit. The way I understand it, the barriers that keep different realities separate are falling apart, and things from other realities are sort of...falling into Sunset Shimmer's world, with no way to get back where they came from. Every new report we get from over there says it's getting worse. Our friend Twilight Sparkle—umm, she's an alicorn princess—took a team into the Crystal Mountains to look for a rare magical material she needs to build a containment device to, umm...to stop all this."
Kanji blinked. "Uhh...wow. Did...did you get all that, Naoto?"
Naoto shook her head. "I'm not that deeply versed in science fiction," she said. "But I do think I get the basic idea. If you allow for the existence of dozens, perhaps hundreds or more, of alternate worlds which are completely different from our own..." She frowned. "It's like if you go into the candy store and start throwing candies from different bins into the bin with the lemon drops. Until somebody comes along and spends time sorting out the mess, the lemon drop bin is just going to stay like that, full of candies that don't belong there."
"Ohh," Kanji said. "That makes sense." He nodded. "I think."
"It's a weak analogy, I admit," Naoto said, "but this situation is so far beyond anything I've studied I'm having a hard time simply grasping it. I mean, even our own adventures with the TV world pale in comparison to what's apparently happening here."
* * * * *
Vodka wiped sweat from his brow as he pounded after Gin, squeezing past dead aliens in the narrow corridor. They passed through a wedged-open metal door into a long, narrow passage that led to what appeared to be the ship's bridge. Gin stopped, glancing around, and bit off a curse. "Shit," he muttered. "This is a dead end..."
Ahead of them, a viewscreen flickered with static. As Vodka began circling the bridge, prodding at various controls on the stations, the screen suddenly lit up brilliantly, flooding the compartment with secondhand sunlight. Wincing against the sudden glare, Gin peered at the screen, frowning. "What the—?"
"Sorry, I think I turned on the TV or something," Vodka said.
"No," Gin said slowly, frowning. "A spaceship's bridge wouldn't have a giant television...I believe this is an electronic window. A projection of what's outside the ship..." He moved over to where Vodka was standing, pushed him aside, and glanced at the unfamiliar controls. He experimented with a few of them.
The image on the screen cleared up and shifted position. As it did so, the constant warning klaxons and guttural alien warning message suddenly changed.
//Non-Klingon lifeforms detected on bridge. Internal sensors confirm non-Klingon lifeforms are the only lifeforms aboard that are not incapacitated or dead. Universal Translator engaged for emergency instructions. Attention: To all hands aboard, unknown structural damage to seventy percent of this vessel. Hull integrity severely compromised. Status of engine unknown. Oxygen atmosphere detected outside vessel. Federation classification of atmosphere, Class M; capable of sustaining human life. Recommendation: Abandon ship. Abandon ship.//
Vodka blinked. "The hell...?"
"Ah, I see," Gin said, nodding. "This ship's computer detected us and apparently is capable of speaking our language." He rubbed his chin. "But if..." He shook his head. "Nevermind. More importantly, we still need to find a way off this ship."
//Emergency manual escape hatch for bridge positioned beneath captain's station.//
"Helpful, isn't it?" Gin mused. He stalked around the bridge, finding the large leather chair in the center, and searched around the base of it. He found a set of release levers; after a few minutes' work, he managed to figure it out. With an explosive hiss, the captain's chair was blown halfway across the bridge, and three layers of deck plating swung open with grinding metallic groans. A short ladder led down to a hatch with two large mechanical release levers. Gin grunted with the strain of releasing them; a loud banging noise and a tremendous hiss of steam and escaping atmosphere accompanied the sudden sunlight which flooded the bridge from the escape hatch. Gin peered cautiously out, frowning. "There's asphalt down below...looks like a roof," he said. "Bit of a drop..."
"Che!" Gin swung himself down into the hatch, holding onto the last rung at the bottom. "Come on, Vodka! The sooner we're off this ship, the better!"
"Right behind you, Aniki!" Vodka said with a grunt. "Just...making it harder for Kudou to follow us!" Vodka grabbed the ejected captain's chair and, with effort, hauled it over to the door to the bridge, wedging it firmly in the opening. He grinned as he saw their pursuer pounding up the accessway. "Goodbye, brat!" he taunted, ducking under a disruptor blast and scrambling for the escape hatch. He climbed down the ladder and looked down. Gin was already on the roof below; taking a deep breath, he let go and threw himself down, landing painfully on one shoulder.
Just as he landed, something on the ship exploded, and the bridge section lurched wildly, the connecting passage—a long, thin tube—bending alarmingly and swinging out over the edge of the roof...
* * * * *
The silver-black blade of Monica's sword flashed in the sun as it cleaved through Ikamusume's tentacles yet again. Two more tentacles shot around from behind her, the air pressure of their passing slicing the lattice straps of the sleeveless red top she wore.
"Give it up-geso!" Ikamusume taunted. "My tentacles grow back faster than you can cut them off-geso!"
Tron and Kooh burst out of the front of the hotel, armed and ready for battle. The first thing they saw was Monica and Ikamusume, who had jumped down onto the beach from the boardwalk. An odd shadow loomed over the beach.
People all around them were ignoring the fight, looking up and pointing and recording video. The two girls looked into the sky and gasped. "What the hell?!" Tron cried.
A massive spaceship had not so much crashed into the upper floors of the hotel as fused with them. The bulk of the ship's hull was fused into the northwest corner of the hotel at an awkward angle. Its broad wings, green and with imagery of bird feathers painted on the surface, stuck out, one pointing skyward and the other bent at an odd angle as it scraped against the wall of the hotel. A long, slender "neck" connected the foremost part of the ship, a smaller ovoid hull, to the body; this part was pointing skyward at a low angle, jutting out over the roof of the hotel.
Kooh scratched her head. "So that's what that shaking was," she said. "How do you reckon it got stuck like that?"
"Good question," Tron said. "But that can't be good for either that ship or the hotel. I mean, there's bound to be some structural integrity iss—"
The neck of the ship snapped with an alarmingly loud groan, swaying out over the edge of the roof, dangling the forward hull precariously over the beach.
Down below, Monica looked up at the disaster above, distracted from her battle with Ikamusume. Her sword hung limp in her grasp as her eyes widened. "What the heck?!"
"An opening!" Ikamusume cried triumphantly. Monica turned halfway toward her, blinking; a tentacle sliced through the last lattice strap holding her top together, and it gave up the ghost, taking her strapless bra with it. Monica yelped in embarrassment as, once again, her breasts bounced free, bare to the world.
Before she could process what was happening, something small and warm crashed right into her chest, knocking her to the ground...
* * * * *
Conan snarled as Vodka ducked out of sight. Glaring at the massive chair he'd wedged into the doorway, he knelt down and cranked up his power kick shoes to maximum, then charged forward and, with a yell of rage, gave the chair a mighty kick. It went flying, crashing into the forward viewscreen. Conan pelted across the bridge, glancing around warily, disruptor and dagger at the ready. The sunlight streaming up through the floor drew his attention; he rushed over and knelt down, staring into the short tunnel leading to an open escape hatch. Down below, he could see Gin and Vodka racing across what appeared to be a rooftop.
Narrowing his eyes, Conan shoved the alien's knife into his jacket pocket and the ray gun into his pants pocket, then took off his glasses, folded them, and slipped them into his shirt pocket. He climbed down the rungs...
The entire ship lurched violently. Conan nearly lost his grip; he let out a string of curses as the world around him swayed with an alarmingly loud groan of metal. Up above, the alarms and computer voice abruptly died. He looked down through the open hatch, and his eyes widened in alarm.
The already-steep drop to the asphalt roof was now a deadly plummet to a beach far below. "Chikushou!" Taking a moment to breathe and calm his racing heart, Conan unhooked his suspenders, tying them firmly around the lowest rung of the escape hatch ladder. Testing the knot, he secured himself to the other end of the suspenders, then took a deep breath...
...and threw himself clear of the hatch.
For seconds that stretched into infinity, he fell through the air, wind whipping at his clothes and hair. The ground rushed up to meet him at an alarming rate.
Then, abruptly, his fall was halted as the elastic suspenders reached their maximum stretch capacity and snapped back, sending him swinging dizzily through the air at the end of an impossibly long tether. He took a moment to survey his situation.
He was still at least thirty feet off the ground. People down below were staring up at him or at the ship. He was close enough to the beach that, if he angled it right before cutting the cord, he could throw himself onto the relatively soft sand or, preferably, into the sea. With determination, he began fighting for control of his swing, building momentum and angling himself toward the shore. Once he felt he'd built up just enough momentum to survive the fall, he pulled the dagger from his jacket and cut the suspenders. He let out an involuntary yell as he went sailing toward the sands below, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his entire body tense.
He collided with something unexpectedly soft.
He heard a surprised exclamation, felt the sensation of falling less dramatically, with another body falling underneath him. His face was pressed against something soft and warm.
He slowly opened his eyes.
He saw a generously large pair of bare breasts, which his head was nestled between.
"Gurk," he managed to sputter as blood burst from his nose.
* * * * *
Twilight studied the readings on her portable scanner intently as she roamed the halls of Castle Grayskull. "Fascinating," she mused. "I can't wait to interpolate—"
Voices reached her ears from around a corner, ringing off the cold stone walls. She hesitated, pressing herself flat against a wall and straining to listen.
"—telling you, B-Turd, this place is giving me the willies, seriously."
"Will you please stop calling me that?!"
"Pssh. Well you ain't B-Fly no more, and you sure ain't Earth Turd either, so what am I supposed ta do?"
"Umm...you could try maybe dropping the Earth Turd thing, for starters?"
"Hahahahahahahahahaha, good one! Oh wait, you're serious? No. No, we're not doing that."
The other voice sighed. Twilight noticed that it sounded strange...like some bizarre mix of a girl's voice and a boy's voice, not quite a doubled tone, but overlapped somehow into an unnatural sound. "Fine," the voice grumbled. "But seriously, come up with anything better than 'B-Turd', it just sounds...wrong!"
The other voice snorted in annoyance. "Okay. Fine. What would you like me to call you, then? Starco? Does that work for you?"
There was a pause. "Eh. I guess it...kinda works." Another pause. "Come on, we need to get moving."
A teenager rounded the corner. Twilight blinked.
The teen that rounded the corner had faintly tanned skin, and wore knee-high purple boots with curved, rhinoceros-like horns on the toes and thick soles patterned like jagged animal teeth; pairs of eyes decorated the sides of the heels. Striped tights disappeared up into a green skirt, which then disappeared into a red hoodie. The teen had one blue eye and one brown eye; a single pink heart decorated her left cheek. A red headband with a pair of devil horns on it topped an unruly mop of shoulder-length brown hair with multiple blond streaks and blond tips. The teen held a ridiculously childish toy magic wand in one hand.
She spotted Twilight and blinked, holding up a hand and waving. "Uhh...hi," she said.
"Hi," Twilight returned, blinking and waving.
And then a disembodied unicorn head with sparkly glitter trailing out of its stump floated into view behind the teen. "Oh hey!" it said in a thickly Latina voice tinged with indifference.