Twilight Sparkle, Sunset Shimmer, and Rainbow Dash sat in stunned silence, staring at Dean Cadance after her completely unexpected proclamation.
"Sorry, what?" Sci-Twi floundered.
Cadance sighed heavily. "I was six years old," she said, her eyes taking on a faraway look. "Our colony was attacked. The Nietzscheans." She shuddered. "Mama and Papa bundled me up and ran. We...we were rescued. We escaped aboard The Ponderous Orbit of Triton." She swallowed heavily. "The control systems were damaged just as we went into Slipstream. The ship slammed right into a temporal distortion...a wormhole that opened into the past.
"We came out of Slipstream inside Earth's gravity well. The ship barely survived landing." She sipped her tea. "The captain, he...he assessed the situation and helped us all integrate into society so we could live out our lives in peace." She shrugged. "Everything we ever knew and loved was gone, so we just accepted it and moved on. I don't know how well the crew of the ship adjusted, or what they did about Triton's AI." She frowned. "But how—I mean, I'm pretty sure there weren't any Nietzscheans aboard the Triton, unless..." She shook her head. "He was younger than m—" Her eyes widened. "He was born here," she realized.
The other girls looked at each other in confusion and uncertainty. Twilight adjusted her glasses. "So," she said tentatively. "You're...from the future?"
Sunset pursed her lips. "How, uh...how far in—"
"Our colony was attacked in the year 4865," Cadance said.
Rainbow's jaw dropped. "Bullshit," she said in disbelief.
Cadance shrugged. "I can't prove it, but it's true. I'm a refugee from a distant future where Earth is part of a vast interstellar republic." She chuckled. "I barely remember it, of course. But..." She shuddered. "I'll never forget the Nietzscheans that killed all our friends and neighbors." She drew in on herself.
"That's...wow," Sunset said, shaking her head. "And here I thought my bringing Equestrian magic to this world and breaking reality was crazy. Who knew something totally incredible was already walking around in broad daylight before I even got here?"
Rainbow leaned in. "But...you are human, right?" she asked. "You're not some kinda weird alien or anything?"
Cadance rolled her eyes. "I'm as human as you are, Rainbow Dash," she said. Then her eyes flicked to Rainbow's pony ears and wings. "Actually, more human than you are right now," she added with a quirk of her lips.
"And these...Nietzscheans?" Sci-Twi asked, adjusting her glasses. "They're—?"
"Genetically augmented humans," Cadance said. "To the point of being an entirely separate subspecies. Homo sapiens invictus." She shook her head. "I never really understood why they started a war with the rest of the Commonwealth, and by the time I was old enough to understand it kind of didn't matter anymore because this is my life now." She frowned. "I just...never expected to see another Nietzschean again in my lifetime."
"This...this is a lot to take in," Sunset said. "And with everything we've been through lately, that's saying something."
Cadance sighed. "Yeah..." She closed her eyes. "Sorry, girls, can I have a few minutes alone?"
"Yeah, sure," Rainbow said. "C'mon, everyone. Let's...let's go..."
When she was alone, Cadance stared down at the violet ring she wore. She pressed it to her forehead and bowed her head, eyes closed.
"Tirek Anasazi of Centaurus Pride," she said quietly. "For my home...for the Commonwealth...for the life your people stole from me..." She opened her eyes, which blazed with violet light.
"I will make you suffer."
* * * * *
A broad, torrential column of blindingly pink ki roared across the sky, catching Trunks and sending him flying. He braced himself against it as best he could, then quickly evaded the kick he felt coming from behind. He reappeared above Kinoa, firing off dozens of ki blasts which hammered into her, driving her back. With a yell, he dove in, exchanging a furious salvo of blows with her, all of which were blocked or returned in kind. He aimed a kick for her stomach which was caught; he yelled in surprise as he found himself flung straight at the ground with a fierce kiai.
Kinoa landed in front of him, arms crossed. As he stood up and readied himself for another attack, Kinoa sighed, her hair dimming back to its red color and falling as her aura faded. "That's enough," she said.
Trunks frowned, but relaxed his stance, dropping his own transformation. "So that's it? You attack me out of nowhere, then you're just done with the fight?"
"Yeah...sorry about that," Kinoa said. She sat down on the hood of a car, her face scrunched up in a confused study. "You're definitely Trunks, you fight like Trunks and you're as strong as Trunks and you have all the same moves. But...your rhythm is off. You're not the Trunks I know."
"Aa," Trunks nodded. "Possible. My younger self will not grow up in the same timeline I come from. It's only natural that his fighting rhythm would be different from mine—"
Kinoa snorted. "No, I've met that brat," she said. "He doesn't take fighting seriously the way you and the Trunks I know do."
Trunks blinked. "Wait. But that means..." He frowned. "A third timeline?"
Kinoa shrugged. "I think you're just from before I met you...except I met you in your timeline, where you dressed like that..." She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "I don't pretend to understand the messed-up ways screwing with time works. I just go where they tell me and fight who they tell me."
"They?" Trunks echoed.
"The Time Patrol," Kinoa said. She frowned. "Guess I should probably introduce myself, huh?"
"Anou...that'd be helpful," Trunks said sheepishly.
Kinoa chuckled. "My name is Kinoa. I'm a Saiyajin and a Time Patroller from Age 850. I was recruited by, well...you."
Trunks blinked. "Me?! But...how? I mean...Age 850? I'd be almost ninety years old!" He shook his head.
Kinoa smirked. "Time travel, remember? The Time Patrol is based in Age 850, but Time Patrollers come from across time and space. You—or the Trunks I know, I suppose—recruited me and put me to work stopping distortions of the timeline. We all answer to Toki no Kaioushin."
"Toki no Kaioushin..." Trunks bit his lip. "I know Kaioushin, he came to me about Babi-di and Dabura and Buu, but...Toki no Kaioushin?"
"That's right," Kinoa said. "Either you're a version of the Trunks I know who hasn't met me yet, or you're a different Trunks from another timeline." She shrugged. "Either way, that explains why you don't know me."
"Sorry," Trunks said. "And...sorry for mistaking you for someone else." He tilted his head. "Though now that I look at you, the resemblance isn't that strong after all."
"Oh?" Kinoa asked. Trunks pulled out his photograph of Sunset Shimmer and handed it over. Kinoa studied it, nodding thoughtfully. "Okay, yeah, I can see where you'd mistake me for her, kinda." She tilted her head. "She your girlfriend or something?"
"What? No! It's...complicated," Trunks said. "There are two Sunset Shimmers in this world. The one that broke reality is from another dimension and is working with her friends to try to fix things. The one that belongs in this dimension lives somewhere in this city and got hold of something that gives her superpowers. I came here to look for her, but...well, I keep getting sidetracked by superheroes from other universes or helpless young women who need saving from their terrible bosses or Saiyajin who are supposed to be dead..." He shook his head. "It's hard enough finding one human in this huge city without all the distractions."
"Sou ka," Kinou said, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "Sounds like things are pretty interesting here." She shrugged. "Well, I've got nothing better to do until the Time Patrol comes looking for me, so I'll help you find this girl." She examined the photo again, then snorted. "I'm way sexier than her," she said, flicking the photo back at Trunks.
"Uhh..." Trunks coughed. "Right, well—"
"What? You don't think I'm sexier than her?" Kinoa grinned smugly. "The Trunks I know doesn't have any complaints..."
Trunks flushed scarlet. "Wh-what?!"
Kinoa laughed. "I'm kidding." Then, with a wicked grin, she purred, "Or am I?" Cackling, she took off flying.
Trunks shook his head and flew off after her, his entire face burning red. "She's worse than the younger version of my mom..."
* * * * *
Thin columns of earth and stone erupted skyward in a series of blue flashes, each higher than the next, circling the perimeter of Midgar. Once the upthrust stones had covered half the circumference of the disc, Edward Elric began leaping from one stone to the next, ascending to the upper plate with the speed of a seasoned parkour athlete. When he reached the last stone, he clapped his hands together and thrust his right arm out. A long, thin wire with a loop on one end shot out from his automail hand; he latched it around a jutting protrustion of steel and hauled himself up onto the plate proper, then reconfigured it into the thin steel plate that formed the back of his hand. As he tugged his glove back on, he frowned up at the massive red, bat-winged monster that flew over the city. "I'd almost be impressed by this thing if I wasn't pissed," he muttered to himself.
The last few hours had been confusing for Ed. Waking up in a dirty steel slum underneath a giant plate, with no idea where Al was...that, he could honestly imagine happening to himself at some point or another. It really wasn't that far of a departure from his everyday life since becoming a State Alchemist.
But the city he was in now, it was doing something to his alchemy. Everything felt off, like having a rash that wouldn't stop itching or having an ant running around in your shorts that you couldn't get rid of.
He was also pretty sure somebody in the city was attempting to make a Philosopher's Stone, and whatever apparatus was in play, he was tapped into it, because he barely had to put any effort into even the most massive feats of transmutation.
All of that had quickly taken a back seat to the more immediate concern of the giant crab monsters infesting the city, of course. And when they'd all retreated to the outside and piled together to form the giant flying dragon...crab...thing, well...
"Alright, you big flying bastard," Ed growled as he stared up at the monster. "How do I bring you down?"
A helicopter rose up out of the heart of the city. Streaks of fire and reports of thunder split the air as the twin miniguns mounted on it opened fire on the monster. The monster turned and spat a stream of energy at the helicopter. Without warning, it exploded in a massive fireball.
"Dammit!" Ed snarled. "What's it..." He frowned. "Oxygen," he mused, recalling the behavior of the earlier monsters. "When I fused barriers without oxygen, they held against...!" His eyes widened. "Now I get it! This thing destroys oxygen at the molecular level!"
"Interesting hypothesis," a deep, cold voice said from behind him. Ed turned to see a tall man dressed all in black, with long, flowing silver hair, glowing pale eyes, and the longest sword Ed had ever seen. "So you're familiar with this creature? You know what it is?"
"Whoa, hey," Ed said, holding up his hands. "I don't know anything about anything. I just woke up under this crazy metal city and before I could try to figure out where the hell I am all these demon crabs showed up!"
The silver-haired man closed his eyes. "I see. So you're not connected to the monster."
"I just said I'm not!" Ed retorted hotly. "I've been busting my ass fighting this damn thing ever since I got here, I don't know where my brother is, I don't know where the hell I even am, and I left some poor girl locked up in a cage in a church under the city and I don't even know how the hell to get back to her!"
"A girl in a church?" another voice asked sharply. Ed felt the edge of a sword press against his neck. "You'd better not have hurt her."
Ed pushed the blade away slowly with his automail hand and turned to face the shorter, spiky-haired man behind him. He forced himself not to show surprise or fear at the sheer size of the blade he'd just been threatened with. "I saved her from this thing," Ed said.
The spiky-haired man drew back. "Oh," he said. "Uhh...thanks." He looked to the other man. "Well?"
The other man lowered his head thoughtfully, eyes closed. "I'm intrigued by this child's hypothesis about the destructive power of the monster," he said. "It may prove to be the key to destroying it before it can damage any of the Mako Reactors."
Ed frowned. "I'm guessing that'd be bad," he said.
The tall man pointed his sword at the nearest of the eight massive steel pillars that ringed the city, billowing glowing steam into the air. "The eight Mako Reactors power all of Midgar," he said. "A loss of production at any one reactor would cripple an entire sector of the city. Moreover, the reactors are property of Shinra Electric, who we happen to be employees of."
Ed sized them up, frowning. "Okay, so...an electric power company has its own private army?"
"Something like that," the spiky-haired man said. "Where we come from, Shinra pretty much rules the world. I mean, people can't live without the products and services—"
"Enough, Zack," the silver-haired man said impatiently. He turned to Ed. "Such things do not concern you. Will you assist us in destroying this monster?"
Ed's brow furrowed in thought. "Yeah, sure," he said. He held out his hand. "Edward Elric."
The tall man shook it firmly. "Sephiroth."
"Zack Fair. Nice to meet you. Now let's go kick that thing's ass."
* * * * *
It took almost fifteen minutes for Kinoa to come to a realization. They'd been flying aimlessly across the city when she abruptly stopped and turned to Trunks, who braked in midair beside her. "Wait a second," she said.
"I have no idea where I'm going."
Trunks facepalmed. "Yareyare..." Shaking his head, he pulled out several things: his map, his hand radio, and a twin-pack of granola bars. He tossed one of the latter to Kinoa, then pressed a button on his radio. After a long moment, a mousy voice issued from the tiny speaker. //Trunks?//
"Coco," Trunks greeted. "How's it going? Holding down the fort?"
//Yes,// Coco said softly. //I've been watching the news. Things are getting worse everywhere—//
"Aa," Trunks agreed, nodding. He glanced at Kinoa, looking her up and down thoughtfully, brow furrowing. "We...might be leaving Manehattan sooner than I expected. I need to confer with the Titans first."
//Eh? You found Sunset Shimmer?//
"Not exactly," Trunks said, "but I might've found something better. I'll be back in about..." He bit the inside of his cheek. "Twenty minutes?"
Trunks disconnected and pocketed the radio. Kinoa raised an eyebrow. "Girlfriend?" she asked.
Trunks shook his head, his cheeks heating up. "Just a local I helped out of a bad spot," he said. "She wants to leave this city and I can't honestly say I blame her, so I promised I'd take her to Canterlot when I go back." He pulled another device out of his pocket and, after a moment, spoke into it. "Robin? It's Trunks. There's been a new development. I'll be dropping by in a few minutes." Pocketing this new device and folding his map, Trunks nodded to Kinoa and took off into the city at top speed. She followed, studying him intently.
They soon landed at the foot of a massive, expensive-looking hotel. The doorman surveyed them curiously, frowning. Trunks walked up to him, pulling an ID badge on a lanyard from under his shirt. "I'm with Coloratura-san's entourage," he said.
The doorman sniffed, but opened the door. Trunks bowed and entered, Kinoa following behind him. Once they were inside the richly-appointed lobby, Kinoa asked, "What the hell was that all about?"
* * * * *
"Sumimasen. I don't have enough supplies to last five people long-term," Trunks said. "My money is as useless in this world as yours."
The Titans sat around, munching morosely on a selection of snacks Trunks had provided. Cyborg idly worked on repairing some of his armor. A solar generator hooked up to his systems was slowly but steadily recharging his power supply.
"So what do we do?" Beast Boy wondered. "I can't live as a hobo, yo!"
"You, at least, can turn into a pigeon and scavenge in the park with the other pigeons," Raven pointed out, eliciting a glare.
"We might have to get jobs, Titans," Robin said sourly.
"How would that even work, though?" Cyborg wondered. "We don't exactly have identification, Social Security numbers, documentation..."
"We work for room and board," Raven said. "It's been a tradition of the desperate and in need since the dawn of civilization."
"Man, I hate working," Beast Boy complained.
"But you like eating," Cyborg pointed out.
"But for what manner of employment are the five of us even suited?" Starfire wondered. "I can move of the heavy objects, Cyborg can repair broken technology, Beast Boy can...beast?"
Trunks scratched his cheek. "With this world falling apart the way it is, I'd imagine there are probably rich or famous people in desperate need of bodyguards who are on the same level as the dangerous things showing up. Especially with supervillains and random monster attacks becoming a regular thing."
Robin raised an eyebrow. "So basically, what you're saying is...we should hire ourselves out to do the exact same thing we already do all the time for free?"
Trunks shrugged. "It's a survival game. You get by however you can..."
* * * * *
"It took us the better part of a day, but we found this guy who was desperate to hire security for a singer named Coloratura," Trunks said. "The Titans—"
"YOU!" A man in a rumpled blue suit stormed up to Trunks. His red tie was askew, there were blotchy stains on his mustard yellow shirt, and his round-framed pince-nez glasses were askew. His milk-white skin was flushed an angry red, and his curly strawberry blonde hair was in disarray. "Your friends are FIRED!" he snapped in a nasal voice. "I'm revoking ALL your clearance for—"
A heavy purple platform boot with a spiked heel and a diamond-studded cuff bounced off the back of his head, sending him sprawling to the marble floor. "The only one fired around here is YOU, Svengallop!" declared the woman who had thrown the boot. Kinoa could only stare in disbelief. Trunks, for his part, was flabbergasted, confused, and embarrassed.
She was tall and elegant, with pale greyish-mint skin and long bleached-white hair in a high ponytail which was streaked through with lavender and plum. She was livid, her dark aquamarine eyes snapping with fury from a pretty face caked with half-applied makeup.
She was also practically falling out of a short terrycloth bathrobe and wearing only one slipper.
Raven and Starfire showed up a moment later, the former wrapping a large bath towel around the woman while the latter glared angrily at the prone man. "Shall I remove this zorrgnarg from the premises, Rara?" Starfire asked coldly.
"I believe he can find his own way out," the half-naked woman said. She glanced at Trunks and blushed. "S-sorry you had to see that," she said.
Trunks' own blush deepened even as Kinoa looked between the woman identified as 'Rara' and the unkempt man on the floor. She casually poked him in the ribs with the toe of her boot. "It's...alright," Trunks said. "What—"
"I'd rather not get into it," Rara said. "Suffice to say we've had sudden, violent creative differences and I'm pleased to say Svengallop is no longer my manager." She grabbed hold of the two girls at her sides and hugged them tightly (Starfire beamed while Raven rolled her eyes with an uncomfortable expression). "Raerae and Kori are the bestest besties a pop diva all on her lonesome could ask for in this mean city!"
"Uhh...right," Trunks said, even as Kinoa raised an eyebrow and stifled a snicker.
"You'll regret this, Coloratura!" Svengallop snarled as he stood up and stormed snootily out of the hotel.
Once he was gone, Coloratura deflated. "Probably," she admitted. "But at least if I go down in flames, I'll do it as myself, not as..." She shuddered.
"Let's...let's get you back to the room," Raven said awkwardly. She glanced at Kinoa, pursed her lips, and tilted her head at Trunks.
"She's with me," Trunks said. "She's a new friend."
Raven nodded and held a hand out over the floor. "Azarath, metrion, zinthos!" A large, glowing black hole opened in the floor. Starfire gently lowered Coloratura into it; Raven glided through it. Trunks swallowed and made to follow, motioning for Kinoa to do the same.
"It's...a bit disconcerting," he said. "But it's safe."
Shaking her head, Kinoa followed Trunks down the disturbingly glowing black hole. Her insides squirmed and tried to climb out through her throat, and she could swear she could hear the screams of a thousand demons scraping against her eardrums...
...and then she landed on a comfortable leather sofa in the most elegant, plush room she'd ever seen.
* * * * *
"So this 'Mako'," Ed said. "What exactly is it?"
Ed, Zack, and Sephiroth had commandeered a transport helicopter and were following the monster's path of destruction across Midgar, watching for an opening to strike while avoiding detection. "That's classified," Sephiroth said.
Zack snorted. "It's common knowledge, man," he said with a shake of his head. "It's...a kind of geothermal energy, except it's something more." He offered a handful of gleaming marbles for Ed's inspection. "The lifeblood of the Planet is filled with the memories, knowledge, and...I dunno...I guess souls of everybody who ever lived. There are places in the world where it just wells up on its own and crystallizes into this. We call it Materia."
"Materia," Ed repeated, examining the tiny spheres.
"Depending on the Materia, equipping it can give you abilities beyond the normal," Zack continued. "Magic, skills, even the power to summon beasts—"
"Summon Materia hasn't been working properly since we arrived here," Sephiroth interrupted.
"Oh yeah, right," Zack said, running a hand through his hair. "Anyway, these Materia form in natural Mako springs, but Shinra found a way to build reactors that refine Mako directly from the Lifestream and convert it into energy."
Ed frowned. "That sounds...extraordinarily bad for the planet," he said.
Sephiroth grunted. "There are many from our world who feel the same, but it's irrelevant," he said. "Opposing the will of Shinra is futile, and nothing as crude as a system of Mako reactors is going to do lasting harm to a planet where humans live and die on a regular basis."
"Yeah," Zack agreed. "Souls come into the world, souls go out of the world. Circle of life, it never breaks. That's why Mako energy is infallible. The only way you'll ever run out of it is if people just stop being born and dying."
Ed bowed his head. "I understand now," he said softly. "This entire city...it's one massive Philosopher's Stone." He looked down at the city below. "That's why my alchemy has felt strange since I got here, why I've had that weird feeling about this whole place."
"A Philosopher's Stone?" Zack asked, tilting his head. "Hell's that?"
"An old legend from a bygone era," Sephiroth said dismissively. "Odd that you would compare Midgar to—"
"It ain't no legend," Ed said. "I've seen it. I've tried to find the formula to make one for years. When I finally found out what it is, I..." He clenched his flesh-and-blood fist. "I was horrified." He looked out over the city, at the glowing smoke billowing from the Mako reactors.
"Umm...okay," Zack said in the heavy silence. "So look...kid...you gonna be alright? You sound like you're goin' through some shit."
"Yeah yeah," Ed said dismissively. "Can't do nothin' about it right now and I'm startin' to get the idea this isn't even my world, so I might as well take advantage of the fact that we're flying over a giant freakin' Philosopher's Stone to cut loose and kill the big ugly thing." He shuddered. "Besides, if that thing's about to try to feed on this? I don't wanna think about how that's gonna end."
"You believe yourself capable of slaying this demon?" Sephiroth asked.
Ed grinned. "Only one way to find out." He grabbed a parachute, strapped it on, and jumped out of the helicopter. Zack and Sephiroth exchanged a concerned glance, then did likewise. Three chutes opened one after another, and three hardened warriors landed on the scaly red back of the beast.
* * * * *
"We got rid of the drugs," Robin said as he entered the room, scrubbing at his hands. "Is that slimeball gone?"
"Like glorrk at the end of the first day of Blorthog," Starfire said with satisfaction.
"Drugs?" Trunks asked.
Cyborg sighed. "That Svengallop jackass had a whole other side business going on, was usin' Rara to front it."
"It's thanks to Beast Boy we found out what was going on," Robin said.
"How is he?" Raven asked, showing genuine concern.
Cyborg shook his head. "Still too soon," he said. "I think he'll be alright, but..."
"I'm so sorry, you guys," Rara said, rearranging her robe and sinking into an armchair with a heavy sigh.
"It's not your fault," Robin said. "I knew something was off about that Svengallop the moment I laid eyes on him."
"Yeah, same here," Cyborg agreed. "But I thought it was just 'cuz he was a slimy agent, not...that." He noticed Kinoa and frowned. "Have we met before?"
"Oh! I am sorry, I did not notice your friend," Starfire said, looking Kinoa up and down. "Is this the her? The Sunset Shimmer person?"
"Not as such," Trunks said.
"No, definitely not the same girl in the picture," Robin agreed. "Could definitely be related, though. A sister or cousin or something."
"Actually, Kinoa-san appears to be from my universe," Trunks said. "She's a Saiyajin, same as me, and when we first met, she recognized me. I...don't know her, but given my own encounter with Raditz, it's possible I simply haven't met her yet in my own timeline."
"Oh. Well, nice to meet you," Robin said. He went around the room making introductions.
"So you guys are superheroes, huh?" Kinoa asked.
"Most of the time," Cyborg agreed.
"Minna, I've made a decision," Trunks said. Everyone looked at him. "I believe it's time to call off the search for Sunset Shimmer."
"But why?" Starfire asked.
Trunks paused to collect his thoughts. "I feel like I'm needed back in Canterlot more," he said. "The worst of everything coming into this world is focused around that area. You five are more than capable of dealing with anything that shows up here in Manehattan, and I'm confident if you can find this other Sunset Shimmer, you can get her on your side." He looked down at his hands. "Besides, I made a promise to Coco. She's comfortable enough in my Capsule cabin, but she needs to move on with her life. I promised to take her to Canterlot."
"And what about your promise to Sunset Shimmer, to find her doppelganger here?" Raven asked.
Trunks glanced at Kinoa, then back at the Titans. "Honestly? I don't think she'll mind as long as I bring back something better," he said. "And less confusing, too. I mean, Kinoa-san isn't as easy to confuse with our Sunset Shimmer as the one from this city would be."
The Titans digested this. "Makes sense," Cyborg agreed.
"So...you're taking this Kinoa girl back to Canterlot with you, then leaving finding the other Sunset Shimmer to us?" Raven summed up.
Trunks stood and bowed. "Onegaishimasu."
"Excuse me," Rara said, holding up a hand and studying her phone with the other. "You said you're looking for someone named Sunset Shimmer?"
All eyes turned to her. "That's right," Trunks said.
"Because I've got her address right here," Rara said. She looked around the room at all the stunned faces. "What, none of you thought to try the Internet?"
* * * * *
"So what's the plan, kid?" Zack grunted as he slashed at one of the smaller crab-things that skittered along the back of the flying demon. Off to the side, Sephiroth conjured bolt after bolt of lightning against more of the smaller monsters, which seemed to form, break apart, and reform endlessly from the monster's hide.
For his part, Ed was crouched between them on the beast's back, hand pressed against its scales. "There's no one single creature," he said. "This huge monster, these little crab things it keeps throwing at us, it's all made up of millions of tiny creatures."
"Seriously?" Zack asked.
"Then they function with a collective will," Sephiroth mused. "Like a living version of the theoretical nanomachines Shinra has been researching." He smirked. "Impressive."
"Yeah, I don't think we've got time to be impressed," Ed said. "Bottom line is, unless we can find a way to kill all the parts, we'll never kill this thing."
Zack scoffed. "Is that all? Piece of cake." He ejected the Materia from his sword and replaced it with a pair of new Materia. "Cover me," he said, closing his eyes to cast a spell.
A vast cloud of toxic green mist enshrouded the monster, seeping into its hide and every crab-thing crawling around on it. Ed reflexively covered his mouth and nose. Sephiroth snorted with cold amusement.
The cloud faded, and the monster roared in rage. Ed blinked. "Uhh...okay. So what...?"
"We need to get off this thing before it dies," Zack said nonchalantly. He leapt down onto the nearest rooftop; Sephiroth and Ed followed. The three of them began racing toward the nearest Mako reactor, which the monster was now making a beeline toward.
"Keep its attention away from the reactor," Sephiroth ordered. "As long as we keep it busy, Bio will do the work for us."
"If you say so," Ed said. He eyed a large cylindrical protrusion of steel jutting out of a group of warehouses at a forty-five degree angle, surrounded by cranes and heavy chains. "That over there, is anybody gonna bitch if it gets a little dented?"
Sephiroth frowned. "I was not aware they were constructing a second Mako Cannon here in Midgar."
"Mako Cannon? You mean Scarlet's vanity project from Junon?" Zack asked.
"The same," Sephiroth said. He shrugged. "Do as you please."
"Great," Ed said, grinning. He veered off from the other two and leapt high, catching one of the chains and landing on the giant cylinder, sliding down it and clapping his hands together. He slapped his palms on the metal, and blue lightning crackled along its length. It lengthened and narrowed, a giant barbed spearhead forming at the end.
Zack stared. "He can't possibly be—"
The enormous steel spear launched itself skyward, catching the monster straight in the belly and erupting out its back. A thick tangle of chains trailed behind it, each anchored to one of the construction cranes welded to the plate. The chains jerked taut, and the monster was pulled from its flight path; it let out a roar of rage and loosed its oxygen destroying blasts across a wide swath of the city. Explosions and flames roared into the air, billowing clouds of black smoke. The monster melted in mid-flight, reforming into two skyscaper-sized demon crabs with glowing yellow eyes.
Sephiroth snorted. "I think he got its attention."
Blue lightning raced up the chains, and the giant harpoon reshaped itself into two enormous sickles, which swung around and hooked the twin monsters around the backs of their heads. They screeched in confusion as they were dragged to the ground. Sephiroth loosed a Flare spell, while Zack cast another round of Bio.
The giant monsters slowly began to dissolve; smaller horseshoe-crab monsters spilled down from their hides like pebbles, clattering as they landed. Even as the smaller creatures scattered across the city, they too began dissolving. Within minutes, Midgar had fallen eerily silent; save for the still-burning fires and thick clouds of smoke belching into the sky, the crisis was over.
Sephiroth and Zack landed next to Ed, who was crouched on the ground, panting and sweating. Zack twirled his sword and sheathed it, chuckling. "Kid, you are nuts," he said jovially. "What kind of messed-up magic are you packing in that scrawny body?"
"It's...not magic," Ed huffed between breaths. "It's alchemy."
"Interesting," Sephiroth said. "I believe I'd like to know more about this 'alchemy'." With a dangerous gleam in his eyes, he added, "Perhaps our superiors would be interested as well."
Ed looked up at him, then slumped. "Great," he said. "I know a 'you're under arrest' when I hear one."
"No, not an arrest. An...invitation," Sephiroth said. "One you won't be permitted to decline."
Ed groaned. "Fine. Let's get this over with..."
* * * * *
Sunset Shimmer stood, arms folded, staring at the group of people parked on the steps of her condo.
"So that's the story," Trunks finished. "Originally I was sent to bring you to Canterlot by a Sunset Shimmer from a parallel world. However, with the danger to this world rapidly increasing, it would be better for everyone concerned if you were available to help other heroes, such as the Teen Titans, who will be remaining here in Manehattan to protect the city." Trunks bowed. "Please, lend us your power."
Sunset slowly, deliberately raised one arm, pointing a finger at the sky. "Grandma said this," she declared loudly. "Rely on your own strength. Looking to others instead of looking to yourself will only lead to ruin." She lowered her hand, then turned her back to them and walked toward the doors. As she rested her hand on the handle, she paused. "I will protect this city with my own strength," she declared. "What I do or don't do has nothing to do with you." And with that, she went back inside. The tinted glass door closed behind her.
The Titans, the two Saiyajin, and the diva stared in stunned silence at the dark door.
"Well she's a bitch," Kinoa said lightly after a long, awkward pause. "Who's hungry?"
"I could eat," Cyborg said.
"Umm...so...the very person we've spent literally all week searching for just slammed the door in our face," Raven said. "And...what now?"
Robin sighed. "Now, we...go back to the hotel, watch the news, deal with anything that happens," he said. "I mean...what else can we do?"
The ground shook violently as a building two blocks over exploded, a massive column of smoke and flames rising into the sky.
"We can find out what that was," Trunks said, taking off. Kinoa flew behind him, Starfire not ten seconds behind.
* * * * *
"So that's the story," Ed said, looking at the group of men and women seated at the round table all around him. Many contemplative glances were directed his way, some shrewd, some contemptuous, some calculating.
The man at the head of the table took a long drag from his cigar. "I see," he said. "The world you come from sounds...interesting. As you may have surmised yourself, this entire city has been transplanted from our world to another. We are...withholding that information from the general populace at the moment, of course. It would start a riot."
Ed snorted. "Like giant monster attacks aren't already?"
"Mind your tongue, whelp," an obnoxiously fat man snapped. The President held up a hand to silence him, then leaned forward.
"I believe we're in a position to help each other, Mr. Elric," President Shinra said. "We're currently investigating this world, attempting to discover how we arrived here and how to return where we came from. It seems to me you're probably going to want to know the same thing."
Ed nodded. "Yeah."
"Join us," Shinra said. "Work with us to uncover the truth of all this. Work with us to find the path back to our own worlds." He folded his hands on the table. "A young man of your intelligence and unbelievable power and skill...there could be great opportunities with the Company for you."
Ed snorted. "I've heard that line before," he said. "Ordinarily, I'd tell you to go screw yourself and bust outta this steel nightmare." He leaned back. "But, as it so happens..." He closed his eyes. "You're right. I ain't gonna get jack done for gettin' back to Alphonse if I don't even know where the hell to go or have a place to sleep and eat." He sighed and shrugged. "What the hell, I already sold my soul to one state military, what more can I lose doing it again?"
The President chuckled heartily. "You've made the right choice, Mr. Elric. Welcome to Shinra."