"Who are you?" Rainbow demanded in a challenging tone, readying her ring and moving protectively in front of Cadance. "What makes you think you can just threaten us and get away with it?"
The muscular red man sneered contemptuously. "I am Tirek Anasazi of Centaurus Pride," he growled. "You are as beneath me as an ant, and as easily crushed. I have no particular desire to kill you, so it would be best if you simply give me what I want and be on your way."
Cadance paled, her eyes falling upon the backswept spikes protruding from Tirek's forearms, which she'd initially assumed were simply part of the bracers he wore. "You're a Nietzschean," she whispered. "But...that's impossible..."
"He's a...what now?" Rainbow asked, confused.
Rather than answer, Cadance fired a blinding blast of violet light straight into Tirek's eyes. "RUN!" she yelled, flying away from the yellow barricade at a downward angle. Rainbow hesitated, looked at the furious Tirek who was snarling and rubbing his eyes, and followed.
A full minute later, a thoroughly pissed Nietzschean took off after them.
* * * * *
"You seem surprised to see me, White Ranger," Zedd rumbled.
"You could say that," Tommy said. All around them, the other Rangers were busy fighting the mind-controlled Zeddheads. "Last time I saw you, Zordon's healing wave had turned you and Rita completely human and purified you of evil. You'd left Earth to live in peace!"
Zedd visibly shuddered. "A fate I would not wish on any self-respecting evil tyrant," he growled. "Rest assured, I stand before you at the peak of my power and evil!" Zedd gripped his staff tightly. "You, however, are much older than you were when last we met. No doubt a side effect of the chaos vortex that brought us both to this place. We are clearly from different points in our world's timeline."
"Yeah, pretty much," Tommy agreed. He brandished Saba at Zedd. "Look, Zedd—we don't have to do this here and now. There's nothing to gain from this. The world's falling apart all around us. We should be working together to get back where we belong!"
Zedd threw back his head and laughed. "And why would I ever do that?" he asked. "Before me lies a chance to conquer an entirely new world! To subjugate the innocent and punish those who stand against me!" He made a sweeping gesture with his staff. "This confused world is filling with more and more heroes by the hour—heroes I can delight in grinding to dust beneath my heels! This, my dear White Ranger, is PARADISE!"
Tommy's grip tensed on Saba, his entire body trembling with anger. "The Power Rangers beat you once before," he said. "Trust me, I'm more than enough to finish you off myself!"
"Oh?" Zedd seemed amused by the prospect. "Then come at me, Tommy Oliver. Come at me with everything your pitiful human body has to offer." He took a step back, settling into a stance. "Come, so that I can break you in half! My name will be the last sound on your lips—your death scream!"
* * * * *
Two motorcycles roared through the gates into Sector 01 Lower, the only part of Midgar proper that extended below the plate to serve as Shinra's ground access to the outside world. As soon as they were inside, Sephiroth leapt off his bike. "Seal the gates!" he snapped to the guards on duty. "Put all defenses on alert!"
"What's wrong, sir? What did you find?"
Zack pointed out the large bay windows near the gates. "Take a look for yourself," he said.
The guards looked outside. They paled. "What the hell?"
"Alert the President," Sephiroth said calmly. "We need immediate authorization to mobilize all defenses. Those creatures are dangerous."
Outside, dozens of enormous crablike beasts advanced on the city. Energy beams lashed against the windows. Ribbons of cracks spread across the tempered, bulletproof glass. The guards scrambled to attention, rushing to alert the President and raise the alarm. Sephiroth, meanwhile, stalked over to a large red phone set into the wall by the security desk, jammed a key into the phone base, and picked up the handset.
"Mobilize SOLDIER at Gates 01 and 02," he ordered. "Issue extreme force Materia. The city is under attack."
* * * * *
Rainbow Dash screamed as a yellow blast tore through her energy shield and knocked her out of the sky. "RAINBOW!" Cadance yelled. She fired off a disc of violet energy which caught Rainbow and safely suspended her flight, then turned her gaze, full of venom and fury, on Tirek. "Monster," she snarled. "I'll never forgive you."
Tirek fired another yellow blast at her. She blocked it with a shield, then summoned a sword made of light and flew at Tirek, letting out a yell of rage. He met her charge with a light blade that covered his forearm, parried, and ducked in with a slash from a second light blade.
Rainbow flew up behind him and landed on his back, digging in with all her strength. She spun violently in the air and threw Tirek; he tumbled for a long moment, disoriented. Both girls hurled volleys of razor-sharp light projectiles at him, cutting gashes in his hide and uniform. He bellowed in pain and spun around, unleashing a sweeping golden crescent at them which forced them to scatter.
For a long, tense moment, the three hung in midair, staring each other down. Tirek grunted. "You have spirit," he rumbled, folding his arms. "I respect that." He paused. "It seems your rings would be useless to me. Keep them. Weak as you are, you no doubt need their power to survive." He turned and lazily flew away.
"GET BACK HERE, YOU ÜBER BASTARD!" Cadance screamed, charging up her ring. A green orb enveloped her.
"Whoa, girl!" Rainbow said, bodily dragging Cadance to the ground. Cadance struggled, blasting ineffectually at Rainbow's barrier, before dropping on her butt and hugging herself, trembling.
"Nietzschean bastard," she whispered, more to herself than Rainbow. Rainbow, confused, tired, and worried, gently hauled Cadance over her shoulder and flew slowly, listlessly back to the castle.
* * * * *
The fight to defend Midgar was going...poorly.
Sephiroth scowled as he cut down one of the monsters, only for two more to pounce on him, releasing deadly energy blasts that ripped miniature explosions across his magic shield. Far too many Shinra troops and SOLDIER elite lay wounded and dead. The perimeter wall around the slums had long since fallen.
The things were inside the city.
Of course, there was no possible way the creatures could ascend to the upper plate, so for the moment, only those dwelling in the slums were in any danger. By default, that meant the President and his board were unwilling to commit more resources to the extermination of the swarm than they already had.
Zack fell against Sephiroth's back, his body tense with energy. "This is seriously fucked up," he grunted.
"For once, I agree," Sephiroth said grimly. "I've never seen anything like these monsters."
"Yeah? Well there's something worse," Zack grunted. "I don't know if you've noticed? But some of them are starting to merge together."
Even as he said this, a massive piece of twisted debris sailed over their heads, thrown by a creature that had to be at least thirty feet tall. A number of the smaller creatures were gathering around it and scaling its hide...and disappearing.
Sephiroth and Zack stared up at it.
"Shit," Sephiroth muttered.
* * * * *
Tommy's sword clashed against Zedd's staff, raining a shower of sparks. All around them, the Rangers fought an increasing number of Zeddheads. For every Zeddhead they released from Zedd's control, two more took his place. Naria had taken to prowling around the perimeter of the fight, taking occasional potshots at the Rangers; after several minutes of this, Lamia and Indigo had gone after her directly, and were chasing her around the block in a running firefight.
"Give it up, White Ranger!" Zedd snarled. "You can't win! These pathetic Rangers aren't even up to the original Pink Ranger's level, and she was—"
Saba cut through one of Zedd's tubes. "Don't you dare talk about Kimberly," Tommy said dangerously.
Zedd laughed darkly. "Good, White Ranger! Show me that anger you had when you were my evil Green Ranger!"
"Oh you wanna see a Green Ranger? I'll show you a Green Ranger," Tommy said. He backflipped away, then took the Green Ranger Key from his belt. "RANGER KEY, SET! IT'S MORPHIN' TIME!"
"What?!" Zedd roared as, in a flash of green dragon fire, Tommy became the Green Ranger anew. "How is this possible?"
"Oh, I've got more where that came from, believe me," Tommy said as he leapt forward, dagger drawn, and kicked Zedd in the face. He flipped away and did a somersault in the air, his body crackling with green energy. "HUP! SOIYA!" he yelled as he executed an impossible diving kick, his feet wreathed in green fire. He caught Zedd in the chest; Zedd roared as a massive green explosion charred his flesh and knocked him back several feet.
"DINO RANGER KEY, SET!" Black lightning arced across Tommy's body as his Black Dino Thunder Ranger suit replaced his original Green Ranger suit. He spun his staff and charged, striking Zedd repeatedly. Each impact shook the ground with the force of a thunderclap; black sparks and smoke rained from Zedd's staff and body with each blow.
"You...human...PEST!" Zedd roared. His body flared with crimson light, and a wave of sheer force exploded away from him, ripping through all the Rangers. Sparks and smoke exploded from their bodies as arcs of red lightning snapped across their suits. They were thrown several blocks away from the tower by the blast; when they landed, all of them had demorphed and were groaning in pain.
"Ugh...what just happened?" Indigo complained.
"I'm hurting all over," Sugarcoat groused. "I'm surprised we didn't just die."
"Oh man," Tommy grunted as he sat up, wincing and rubbing his chest. "He's at full power...this is gonna be a tough battle..."
"Who was that?" Lamia asked as she sat up. "He seemed kinda familiar, but..."
"That was Lord Zedd," Tommy said. "The single deadliest enemy the Power Rangers have ever faced."
"Was scary," Hatoko said. "What he do to those people, and..." She shuddered. "Very very bad..."
"Yeah," Tommy agreed. "Very very bad." He sighed and stood up. "We need to get out of here, rest up."
"But...that skinless freak—!" Indigo protested.
"Isn't going anywhere," Tommy said gently. "And if we rush back in there and try to fight him again now, we will die." He sighed. "We need rest...and we need help."
* * * * *
Aerith stumbled and slipped back against the wall.
Three of the awful creatures had broken into the church, shattering the front wall. They stood around her, mandibles twitching, leering at her with menacing, glowing eyes.
She'd seen what these things could do. She had no illusions about surviving this.
"Zack...please...come save me..."
The creatures let loose the horrible shriek that signalled death.
A shadow fell over Aerith.
A blue light flared.
A solid metal wall appeared, blocking the shrieking creatures. On the other side of the wall, Aerith heard things exploding. Then she heard more shrieking, along with someone yelling.
The wall slid away with a grinding sound. Aerith slowly, shakily stood up, staring.
The church was wrecked. The flowers were trampled. Two of the creatures lay dead, twisted and broken. The third was nowhere to be seen.
A boy stood in front of her, his back to her. He was short, with long, braided blond hair. He wore a long red coat with a strange symbol on the back, black pants, and black boots. He was pulling a white glove onto his right hand that matched the one on his left.
He turned to her and smiled a cocky smile, his gold eyes shining.
"Sorry about your flowers," he said. "I think I can fix 'em...more or less. You okay?"
Aerith nodded shakily.
"Great. Stay put, I'll be back," the boy said. He clapped his hands together and pressed them to the ground. A lattice of thin metal bars split the church in half, trapping Aerith in the back. "You'll be safer in here!" the boy yelled before turning and running out into the streets.
Aerith sat down heavily and frowned.
* * * * *
The black-clad man smiled grimly as he watched one of the creatures attempt to burrow through the steel pillar encasing the Sector 05 Reactor. "So...that's what you're after," he mused grimly. "How fascinating."
The creature stilled and turned, facing him. Its mandibles twitched. It hissed and spat a destruction beam at him.
With a flash of gold on the soles of his feet, he sprang straight into the air. Then, almost comically, he began bouncing higher and higher, off the side of the pillar, off anything he could bounce against, all the way up to the plate above. He reached into his coat and pulled out a floppy black circle. Just as he neared the plate, he threw the circle up at the bottom.
He passed straight through it. A moment later, it peeled off and fell limply to the ground, far below.
On the plate, the residents of Midgar Sector 05 were startled as a man dressed all in black suddenly appeared in their midst. He looked around at those who had observed his arrival and smiled mirthlessly. "Good day," he said with a tip of his hat before meandering down the street. His abrupt appearance was quickly forgotten, and the residents of Upper Midgar went about their business, unaware of the danger the city was in...
Unaware of the danger they were in.
For outside the city, the increasingly large monster SOLDIER had been fighting a desperate losing battle against had just transformed into a flying demon with multiple wings, a long, barbed tail, and a vicious horn protruding from its head. As the defenders of Midgar watched in horror, it took wing and soared up above the city, turning the focus of its attack to the upper plate...
* * * * *
"Oh my gosh, Dean Cadance!" Sci-Twi cried as Rainbow carried Cadance through the castle. A loose gaggle of concerned, curious onlookers gathered behind her; Rainbow gave them all a stare that warned them off. Sci-Twi hurried up to Rainbow's side, staring at Cadance in confusion and embarrassment. "What...what happened? What is she wearing? Why is she unconscious? Why—"
"Twilight, stop," Cadance groaned. "My head...ugh..." She motioned for Rainbow to stop, then gently levitated herself out of Rainbow's grasp. She frowned down at her ring and closed her eyes. A violet band of light swept over her, replacing her revealing costume with simple cream-colored trousers, a dark blue blouse, and blue heels. She held her head as she leaned on Rainbow's shoulder for support. "Wugh. I need to lie down..."
"Was it your ring?" Rainbow asked. "Did it...I mean, did you wear yourself out?"
Cadance shook her head. "No," she said soberly. "No, it was that..." She glanced between the two girls, then grimaced. "Can we talk in private somewhere? And can I get something to drink maybe?"
"Of course," Sci-Twi said. "Come to the faculty lounge. Sunset Shimmer's making tea."
When they reached the lounge, Sunset took the three of them in and bit her lip. "What happened now?" she asked tiredly.
"Short version? Cadance has a power ring like mine, except hers is pink. We were practicin' usin' 'em and then we got attacked by this big-ass red dude with a yellow ring. Somethin' about him freaked Cadance out, like...like she knew him or somethin'. We had this big fight, he was kickin' our butts, then he just left. Then Cadance kinda passed out." She frowned. "What was up with that? You just...you totally freaked out."
Cadance sighed. "Sorry, it's just...I haven't seen a Nietzschean since I was a little girl." She bit her lip. "They...they're not supposed to exist in this time."
"In this time?" Sunset asked.
Cadance looked between the three girls. Twilight Sparkle, to whom she'd been a supportive big sister figure for years. Sunset Shimmer, who as she understood it was an alien from another dimension and the expert on all the strange magical incidents to happen in recent years. Rainbow Dash, who like herself had inherited a mysterious power ring and become a superhero, and who had possessed magic powers even before that.
She looked down into her cup and sighed.
"I've never told anyone this before," she said. "I'm...from the future."
* * * * *
It had taken nearly a week, but Trunks had finally found Sunset Shimmer in Manehattan.
Except...he'd found her flying over Manehattan.
And something was...not quite right.
"Yo, Trunks!" the girl who was Sunset Shimmer yet not quite Sunset Shimmer said, waving. She flew over to him, and he looked her up and down as she talked.
"Thank God I finally found you," she was saying. "I was returning to Toki Toki City from my last patrol when suddenly the time teleport went crazy, the time machine exploded, and next thing I know, I'm...wherever this is."
She was wearing black boots with purple laces and trim, an orange miniskirt, and a black gi with a magenta undershirt and matching fingerless gloves. Her normally copper-and-gold hair was almost completely red, shiny and spiky, with the spikes giving off pale gold highlights.
"Anou..." Trunks uttered, pursing his lips and furrowing his brow.
Sunset frowned, tilting her head and folding her arms. "Trunks? What's wrong? You look like you don't recognize me..."
And then there was her sentou-ryoku. It felt...off. It didn't belong to Sunset Shimmer, and he doubted it belonged to the Sunset Shimmer he'd been searching for.
"Are you...really Trunks?"
And then there was the purple scouter she was wearing over her left eye.
"Your power...it feels like Trunks," she said suspiciously. "But..." Her face drew down into a tight scowl. "This is another one of Mira's tricks," she said in a hard, dangerous tone.
Trunks blinked. "Mira? What...Sunset, what are you talking about? And how are you flying? And—"
Her eyebrows drew down. "Sunset? Is that supposed to be some kind of cute nickname? I didn't think you were into that kind of thing."
"H-huh? What—?!" Trunks felt more confused than he'd ever felt in his life. He drew back from the angry redhead in front of him, feeling the heat of her teal gaze burning into him as she crossed her arms. "Look...are you Sunset Shimmer or aren't you?"
Now it was her turn to look confused. "Who's Sunset Shimmer?" she asked.
Trunks shook his head. "S-sumimasen," he said. "I...I mistook you for someone else."
The girl's lips thinned. "I think I've mistaken you for someone else too," she said. "Which...shouldn't be possible, because you look like Trunks and you have his sentou-ryoku..."
Trunks blinked. "Anou...I am Trunks," he said. "I just...have no idea who you are."
"Is that so," she asked coldly. She flew closer, leaning in and peering suspiciously into his eyes. "Then let me remind you," she said.
A fist slammed into his gut, followed by a kick to the nose that sent him reeling. As he recovered, the girl flew higher up, curling her arms at her sides.
"My name is Kinoa," she snarled.
And then she became a Super Saiyajin.