For some time, Naria stalked the back alleys of the human city, cursing her fate, cursing her enemies, cursing the human race, and mourning the disappearance of her beloved master.
After a time, she reached the muddy bank of a drainage creek, where she found a white monster—one of the Inves, apparently left over from the earlier invasion and forgotten—foraging for food. She smiled and walked up to it, lovingly fingering a Continue Medal.
"You seem lost and hungry," she said. "Feed on the cells of Genis-sama and find a new purpose as my pet..."
The Inves greedily ate the Continue Medal. Green arcs of energy coursed over its body, and it shrieked unintelligibly as it exploded upward, becoming a skyscraper-sized version of the same white, leathery maggot-like monster.
"Go forth, and avenge Genis-sama!"
* * * * *
Outside Grayskull, a small group of the castle's new residents were either standing guard or loitering outside for fresh air. They collectively looked up, wary, as exuberant, wild shouting drew nearer to the castle. Weapons were released and stances relaxed as Rainbow Dash landed on the jawbridge. "Whoa," Miles said, blinking and tilting his head. "What are you wearing?"
"Dude, did you just go and make yourself a superhero suit?" Spyder asked.
"A pretty awesome one," Kim said, looking Rainbow up and down. "Not the colors I'd have imagined you'd go for, though."
Rainbow Dash wore a form-fitting black bodysuit which covered her completely from neck to toe, except for her wings, which flapped freely behind her. The knee-high boots and elbow-length gloves of the costume were emerald green, with white trim stylized as lightning bolts along the cuffs. A broader patch of emerald green stretched from her groin to her shoulders, shaped like a wide, stylized lightning bolt; the center of her chest sported a white cloud-shaped emblem, lined in black, with a lightning bolt in three different hues of green stabbing down from its base. An emerald green symbol, like a stylized lantern, rested in the center of the cloud. To complete the outfit, a dark green mask in the shape of flight goggles covered the upper half of Rainbow's face. Her eyes blazed a bright viridian, and a shining green ring sat upon the ring finger of her right hand.
"Hey guys, check me out!" Rainbow said. "How awesome is this?"
"Whoa," Terry said, eyes wide. "You found a Green Lantern Corps power ring?"
"A what now?" Rainbow asked.
Terry gestured to Rainbow's ring and her costume. "The ring. I recognize it from my world. It's the symbol of the Green Lantern Corps. Well, more like it's their primary weapon...tool? It's complicated." He stroked his chin. "And you say it was just in your bag when you got home?"
"Yeah, the ring and this funky lantern," Rainbow said.
"Keep that lantern somewhere safe," Terry advised. "It's the source of the ring's power. Well, the..." He frowned, tilting his head. "Think of it like a phone charger."
"Oh...kay..." Rainbow said. She looked down at the ring. "So, you know what this thing is, where it came from?"
"Yeah," Terry said. "The Lantern Corps are sort of an intergalactic police force. Or, more like..." He frowned. "More like special agents, really. They look out for hotspots in their patrol sectors and keep the peace. We're talking big stuff here, like alien warlords, nuclear meltdowns, extinction level events, supervillains...of course, they deal with lower-level stuff too. It's pretty much left to the judgment of each Lantern."
"Nuclear meltdowns?" Rainbow asked, eyes wide.
"Those rings are really powerful," Terry said. "Basically, the stronger your will and your imagination are, the more you can do with the ring." He held his hand out in a beckoning gesture. Rainbow drew back, clutching the ring protectively. "I'm not gonna keep it," Terry said. "Just gonna show you something."
Rainbow frowned, but took off the ring and placed it in Terry's palm. The green costume she wore faded away, replaced with...a bath towel.
Terry blinked. "Uhh..."
"Just hurry it up so I can change back again until I grab some clothes," Rainbow snapped, cheeks red.
"R-right," Terry said. He coughed, then slipped the ring onto his finger. His eyes lit up green; an electric green glow traced up his body from the tips of his toes to the top of his head, covering him in a deep forest green version of his Batsuit, with a white bat on the front that had a small Lantern Corps emblem in the center, all outlined in black. He clenched a fist and thrust it skyward. A green aura surrounded him, and he rose into the air. He aimed the ring at several trees around the courtyard and fired off dozens of bat-shaped green light blasts, which cut through the tops of the trees and neatly severed several small branches. He dropped back to the ground and took off the ring, reverting to normal. "Hm, this one doesn't like me," he muttered, handing it back to Rainbow Dash. "It wouldn't do half what I wanted to try."
Rainbow quickly put the ring back on, taking a deep breath as her costume returned and her eyes lit up green. "So you can talk the talk but you can't walk the walk?" she asked cockily.
"No, I've handled a Lantern ring before," Terry said. "But the rings are kind of, well, alive. And they choose their wielders. Your ring just...doesn't like me." He shrugged. "Doesn't matter, I can still give you pointers on how to use it." He smirked. "Maybe over dinner?"
Rainbow gaped at him, then slugged him in the shoulder. "Perv," she muttered. Before Terry could retort, a massive explosion further into the city heralded the appearance of a giant White Inves.
"Oh god, not this crap again," Miles moaned.
"We'll take care of it," Lamia said. "Rangers, let's morph and move!"
"We'll meet up with Ryan back at Mech-X4 and back you up," Mark said. "Come on guys, let's move."
"I'll provide cover fire," Rodimus Prime said, transforming into his truck form and roaring off down the road.
"I'll help!" Rainbow declared confidently. "Time to test out my new awesomeness!"
"I wouldn't," Terry said. "You've had that ring what, five minutes? You're not ready for that kind of fight yet. Trust me."
Rainbow sputtered. "B-but! You said—"
"You need training," Terry said firmly. "And experience. Do you even know how to use that ring yet?"
Rainbow blinked. "W-well...I guess...not so much?" She sighed. "Fine," she groused, folding her arms. "So what do we do while the guys with the big robots fight that?!"
A massive, ghostly projection of Celestia suddenly appeared above the castle. Her eyes were full of grave alarm. "Everyone! I sense evil—!"
* * * * *
"Impressive," a deep, gravelly voice growled from behind Naria. "Sloppy, but I see potential."
"Who dares—" Naria began, spinning on her heel, her gunchucks drawn and ready. She stopped suddenly, gasping in shock and taking a step back. "Masaka...! You...you're a myth! You're not real! You...you can't possibly—"
"Oh, I assure you, I am quite real," the gravelly voice rumbled, thick with dark amusement. "And as proof...a demonstration of my power!" A skinless hand bound in skeletal steel armor, tipped in gleaming steel claws, held a chromed staff aloft. Blood-red lightning shot into the sky, creating a spinning vortex of black clouds...
* * * * *
Thick clouds gathered in the sky above Castle Grayskull. Arcs of blood red lightning danced, lashed, and crawled across the city. The students and defenders ducked inside the castle, whose natural defenses repelled the onslaught.
"What the hell's going on?" Shego shouted.
"Bad stuff," Kim said, eyes wide.
The red lightning storm ended as quickly and suddenly as it came, the clouds dissipating, leaving the sky a heavy grey. Everyone waited, tense and nervous.
The ground erupted.
Dozens of monsters, each the size of a cow, exploded into being. Burly, with skin that looked like wrinkled burlap pocked with diseased-looking pits and craters, each massive beast had eight thick, stubby, jointless legs which ended in a number of thin, pale claws. The apparent head of each monster lacked eyes, looking instead like a set of folds and wrinkles surrounding a round tube which ended in some sort of serrated proboscis tipped with a number of short, stunted barbs.
"Oh, GROSS!" Marinette complained, her nose wrinkling. Fluttershy screamed and disappeared into the castle, Tomato cawing madly as he spat meteors at the monsters, which seemed content to shuffle about awkwardly in the courtyard.
Miles blinked. "Are those...what I think they are?"
"It sure looks like it," Sci-Twi said. "But...that's impossible, right?"
The beasts finally took notice of the gathered humans...and began slowly lumbering toward the castle gates.
* * * * *
"Well? Do you doubt my power?"
Naria dropped to one knee, bowing her head, fighting not to tremble in abject terror. "Forgive me, My Lord," she said.
The skinless, chrome-wrapped figure grunted darkly, studying her, tapping his talons against the grill that served as his mouth. "Yes," he decided. "You'll do nicely. Swear your allegiance to me. Say my name!"
Naria swallowed heavily. "Z-Zeddo...sama..."
* * * * *
"The HELL ARE THESE THINGS?!" Rainbow Dash cried in revulsion.
"Tardigrades!" Sci-Twi said, pushing up her glasses and taking a step back.
"Micro-animals!" Sci-Twi clarified, looking around in both horror and fascination at the slow-stepping herd of horrific beasts. "But this doesn't make any sense! Tardigrades live pretty much anywhere, but they're only half a millimeter in size at most! They can't even be seen with the naked eye!"
"Yeah? Cuz my eyes are plenty naked and these things are flippin' huge!"
"With everything else going on lately, is it really that hard to fathom some giant tardigrades?" Sunset said wearily. "Look, it's...it's just another monster horde we have to deal with. They're mindless animals but they might be able to do some serious damage, so let's...let's do what we do, alright?" Her hands glowed with magic. "Take 'em out before they become a problem."
Terry frowned. "I'm useless without my suit against something like this. I'll go inside and round up anybody that can help." He sprinted into the castle as Miles checked his webshooters, X armed his X-Buster, Brook drew his sword, Shego charged up her green glow, Kim dropped into a ready stance, and Rainbow concentrated on her new powers. Sci-Twi bit her lip and followed Terry into the castle.
Within moments, Jasmine, both Chat Noirs, Queen Elsa, Blues, Gaim, Etna, Flonne, Lilith, and Starco poured out of the castle. "Bleuch," Etna observed, pulling a face. "Gross!"
"Eww, total grossfest," Starco agreed.
"I grow weary of this world and its endless supply of murderous beasts and monsters," Elsa said. She closed her eyes and called upon her powers, spreading a blanket of freezing ice over the herd of tardigrades.
The ice did nothing to impede them.
"Umm...that's not gonna work," Miles said. "Tardigrades can survive temperatures approaching absolute zero. You literally can't freeze them to death."
Elsa drew back. "Oh. I...I see..."
"Just do what you did back at Octavia's place," Etna said as she pulled out a huge demon spear with one hand and a massive hand cannon with the other, twirling both. "Make stabby things out of ice and wade in."
"I'll herd them away from the portal," Sunset said gamely, teleporting from the jawbridge to the statue. "Guess defense is about all I'm good for lately..."
"I think I'll help you," Flonne said, joining Sunset and readying her longbow. "I'll snipe from back here while the others draw aggro."
"Do tardigrades even have aggro?" Miles wondered as he crouched on the side of the castle wall, surveying the herd.
Suddenly, one of the lead tardigrades reared and spat an angry bolt of red lightning at Elsa, sending her flying back into the castle gates with a scream.
"THEY HAVE AGGRO!" Etna yelled, taking aim and firing rapidly. Her shots caromed off the thick skin of the attacking tardigrade, denting it but not penetrating.
"Umm...something tells me these tardigrades got an upgrade," Rainbow said.
"Yeah, they don't look all that tardy to me," Adrien quipped. "More like they wanna hold us back a grade."
"Ugh," Marinette groaned, facepalming. "Not today, minou."
"It seems we have our work cut out for us," Jasmine said as she spread her yo-yo into its fanblade configuration and sent it whirling into the fray. A tardigrade let out a shrill, unearthly screech as one of its lateral filaments was sheared off; it turned to face Jasmine, its proboscis expanding and contracting.
"How'd you do that?" Marinette gasped, eyes wide.
Jasmine blinked at her. "You mean you can't do that yet?" Marinette shook her head mutely. "I'll teach you after we get through here," Jasmine promised.
Adrien dropped down next to Aladdin, who had his baton extended into a staff longer than his body. "What about you, anything cool you wanna teach me?"
Aladdin smirked. "How about this?" he asked. He let out a yell and swung his baton down sharply; a jet black blade grew out of either end.
"Whoa," Adrien said, eyes wide. "Now that's what I call claws out." He tilted his head. "How do I do that?"
"Can you fight with intent to kill?" Aladdin asked.
Adrien frowned. "I...I'm not sure," he admitted. "I mean, once or twice I've felt...when Ladybug was in danger or I thought...thought she was dead..."
"Jasmine and I have had to kill a lot of our enemies," Aladdin said soberly. "Sometimes there's no other choice. When you accept that you're in a fight to the death, you can use the Miraculous' deadlier force."
Adrien scratched his head. "Wow," he said. "I...I don't know if I can do that." He shook his head. "You two must live in pretty dangerous times."
Aladdin smirked wryly. "If you've never had somebody seriously try to kill you, then I envy you," he said. He sighed. "I wish I'd never had to kill."
"Hey!" Etna shouted. "Are you guys gonna actually do something? Just because these things are barely moving doesn't mean they're not dangerous!" Even as she said that, a tardigrade spat red lightning at her which blew her off her feet, slamming her into the castle wall. The two Chat Noirs nodded grimly to each other and leapt into the fray, batons flashing.
* * * * *
The Maximals and Rodimus Prime approached the Mega Inves and transformed. Rodimus immediately began laying down cover fire from the triple point lasers mounted on his forearms; Airazor spread her crimson angel wings wide and flew up above her team. "Maximals, transform and combine into PowerMega!"
Rodimus watched the Maximals assemble into their giant robot form, never letting up on the distraction he provided. Mech-X4 flew into view and landed hard, shaking the ground.
Despite its ponderous size, the Mega Inves had no more fighting ability or power than a normal larval Inves. With two giant robots pounding away at it with brute force and charged plasma weapons, the fight only lasted a few minutes; Rodimus let up his cover fire and stood back, watching in admiration.
*Humans and robots fighting together like this...I think Optimus would approve, even if that blue one has no Spark.* He watched Mech-X4 fire off a searing plasma burst that bored a hole through the Inves' mask, causing it to reel as its head sparked and exploded. *For humans to build a weapon that powerful, though...in the shape of a robot...that worries me.*
As soon as the fight ended, Mech-X4 jumped a far distance across the city, while PowerMega disassembled. The Maximals transformed back into robot form and landed near Rodimus, while their human partners leapt gracefully clear and landed in a group on the roof of a building. "Fight was too easy," Hatoko said. "Something not right."
"I agree," Esteban said. "That battle felt too...simple."
"Well, the thing you fought was an unmatured Inves," Rodimus said. "They're monsters native to a parasitic subdimension that's attached itself to this world. The way I understand it, the unmatured ones aren't very strong...well, in relative terms. They're stronger than normal humans, but easily killed by anyone with strong enough weapons or powers. I guess making it giant didn't increase its relative strength."
"Then what was the point of that?" Airazor wondered. "Why make a giant monster that's that easy to kill?"
"Something's been bugging me about that last thing we fought here," Forrest said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "I mean, I know how these things usually work back where we come from, and Tommy pretty much said it's been the same way with every enemy he's faced as a Power Ranger, so..." He looked around at the others. "Whatever we're dealing with, whatever's creating or sending those giant monsters...I don't think it has much to work with."
"So like, raiding the junk drawer?" Lamia wondered.
"The Shadow Rangers said something about a monster woman who seemed pretty pissed off at them," Jack pointed out. "Maybe she's a leftover from some old enemy of the Power Rangers, and she's just working with whatever shows up here that she can turn into a monster?"
"Bit of a leap of logic, but it makes about as much sense as anything," Rodimus said. "Maybe you five should search the city for this monster woman. Better yet, get a description of her from the Shadow Rangers."
"We can have them search too," Lamia decided. "If she's where the monsters are coming from, we need to take her down."
"Let's get back to CHS for now," Airazor said. "We can get together with the Shadow Rangers and make a plan."
* * * * *
"Really wish...I had an instruction manual...for this thing," Rainbow Dash grunted. With difficulty, she'd managed to summon a green energy shield and was using it to protect everyone from the red lightning the tardigrades were spitting.
So far, the defenders of Grayskull had been fighting the tardigrades for half an hour, and had made very little progress in thinning the herd. The tardigrades were ridiculously resistant to damage, be it from blades, impalement, bullets, energy blasts, or magic. Elsa had given up and gone inside when she discovered her ice weapons merely shattered harmlessly against the beasts' skin. For their part, the tardigrades seemed content to shuffle aimlessly in one spot and occasionally spew red lightning. All said, it was rapidly turning into a battle of attrition: the gathered heroes couldn't do much damage to the tardigrades, and the tardigrades didn't even seem to be consciously aware of their own offensive capabilities or interested in pursuing their attackers.
Then Sailor Saturn had arrived, and everything changed.
The defenders stood back and watched in stunned horror as a wisp of a girl in a miniskirt danced through the tardigrades, dicing them into rotting slivers with her glaive. Even when the tardigrades seemed to realize there was a real threat in their midst and attempted to fight back, Sailor Saturn seemed more contemptuous of their counterattack than concerned.
In less than five minutes, nothing remained of the tardigrades but piles of putrefied flesh. Rainbow Dash finally figured out enough of how her ring worked by that point to use it to remove the foul, decomposing wreckage from the campus.
Once the carnage abated, Sailor Saturn stood, breathing heavily, and looked around at the slack-jawed faces staring at her in shock. She blushed furiously. "Umm...hi," she offered lamely, bowing. "Sailor Saturn. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu." With that, her glaive disappeared as her transformation broke, leaving behind a young, frail-looking girl in jeans and a soft fleece hoodie.
Sweetie Belle rushed up, catching Hotaru as her knees gave out. "She needs to rest!" she cried. "And probably some water and like, something sugary."
The defenders looked at each other, shrugged, and cleared a path. Sunset helped Sweetie Belle take Hotaru inside. On her way, she turned to Rainbow Dash. "I don't think you're quite ready for primetime as a Green Lantern yet," she said.
Rainbow sighed. "Yeahyeah, gotta practice. Don't worry, I'll figure it out. I'm gonna go home and get some clothes and stuff." Glumly, she flew off into the city, her wings flapping listlessly as a dim green aura surrounded her.
She was halfway home when she ran into the absolute last thing she ever expected. She stopped in midair, blinking. "Dean Cadance?" she asked, tilting her head curiously.
Cadance similarly stopped in midair, wreathed in a pale violet aura. "Oh," she said softly. "H-hello, Rainbow Dash. I, umm..." She cleared her throat. "I-I know this looks...strange..."
"W-well..." Rainbow hedged. "It's..." She pursed her lips. "You look...uhh..."
Rainbow Dash didn't want to say what she was really thinking.
Dean Cadance wore—if you could call it 'wearing'—a bright purple leotard which was largely, well...missing. It barely covered her groin, her sides, and the outsides of her breasts inward to her nipples, somehow providing enough bust support to generate a deep trench of cleavage while leaving her breasts mostly bare, along with her entire midriff. Skintight dark purple sleeves and tights extended from the indecent costume; her hands were completely covered, and she wore bright purple knee-high boots with stiletto heels. Bizarrely, her shoulders and neck were completely covered by her costume. She wore a purple tiara which held her hair back and away from her face. A bright purple emblem—an eight-pointed star with a cut-out center—rested just below her navel, backed by a bright white background. A glowing purple ring sat upon her right ring finger.
"You see, I found this ring, and..."
* * * * *
"Hmm," Lord Zedd rumbled. "Interesting. Very interesting indeed..."
Naria tilted her head quizzically. "My Lord?" she inquired. "Your temper is legendary, yet you seem more...curious about the defeat of your army..."
"The mindless beasts I released were a mere test," Lord Zedd said dismissively. "I have learned, from experience, to be cautious...to know what opposition I face, so that I may best prepare an appropriate response to crush my enemies." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "This world..." He chuckled darkly. "I have far more to contend with here than one measly gang of brats. This...this will be a challenge."
Red lightning radiated from the head of his staff, striking the ground all around them dozens of times. Explosions of sparks, smoke, and soil burst into the air. Dozens of creatures, each the size of a Rottweiler, burrowed up from the ground. The creatures looked like a cross between a horseshoe crab and a stingray and bristled with malevolence.
"Go forth, my pets! Feed! Grow! Evolve! DESTROY!" Lord Zedd's voice rose with sadistic glee, exploding into a menacing laugh that chilled Naria to her core.
"Behold, Naria! I, Lord Zedd, will crush this world beneath my heel! All will bow before my power, the power of unrelenting evil!"
The army of unnatural creatures scurried to the north, hissing and shrieking.