Bare feet slipped and skidded across rough glass that had, moments earlier, been fine white sand. "Dammit!" a girl hissed, hop-skipping from one foot to another. "That hurt!"
A second, younger girl frowned. "If this guy wants to play with fire, I can oblige him," she said.
"Uh-uh. This one's mine. Sorry, but I got a score ta settle here."
Hovering above the beach, a gaunt, pale-skinned, elfin man with long, pale hair, pointed ears, and doleful eyes, dressed in medieval garb, adjusted the thick brown gloves he wore. "Hn. Foolish," he grunted. "You can't even touch me. What do you expect to do against my dark magic? You should've fled while you had the chance."
A fist cracked the glassed beach. With a yell, a pressure wave sent dozens of shards of glass flying at the dark wizard at near mach speeds. He cursed as thin lines of blood seeped from his cheeks, and put up an arcane barrier to protect himself.
The attack let up. A teenage Japanese girl with stormy blue-grey eyes and cherry red hair tied in a tight pigtail stood in a loose, flexible stance, a ferocious scowl on her cute face. She was short, but busty, and the cutoff jean shorts and loose orange tank top she wore emphasized her alluring figure.
Beside her, another Japanese girl, also with red hair, stood at the ready. This girl's hair was a lighter, almost strawberry hue, tied in a much longer braid. Her eyes were fiery rubies in a sharp, serious face. She was much shorter and decidedly less well-endowed than the other girl, and her pink one-piece swimsuit, bunny rabbit flip-flops, and flower print sarong clashed severely with the magical longsword she held in a steady grip.
"Two impudent human girls in their underwear," the pale wizard sneered in an amused tone. "To think you would actually draw blood from the King of Demons where entire armies of knights have failed. I would have your name, wench!"
"Th' name's Saotome Ranma, ya pointy-eared nutsack! Now get ready for a beatdown!"
* * * * *
"Put on some normal clothes."
Tron Bonne blinked innocently. "What?" she asked. "These are my normal clothes."
Monica sighed tiredly and favored her with a long-suffering glare. "I mean normal for this world," she said. "I refuse to be seen in public with a girl who's wearing a stainless steel snatch hatch!"
Conan spat orange juice clear across the room.
"A what?" Tron cried. "What are you—" She glanced at the full-length mirror in the corner of their suite, and broke off, blinking. "Oh." Her cheeks turned pink. "Oh. Wow. I...never actually noticed that before. Huh." She tilted her head, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "Why is that there?!"
"Seriously?" Kooh asked, laughing. "You never—I mean—seriously?!"
Tron's blush grew more fierce. "Shut up!" she snapped. "Look who's talking, Little Miss Jailbait! I mean, you're either practically naked or you're a walking panty shot!" She stomped off to the girls' bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
Monica sighed. "She does have a point," she said. "I didn't want to say anything, but is it really okay for a girl your age to wear skirts that short?"
"Can I just say, for the record, that I really hate this conversation?" Conan put in, coughing into a napkin.
Kooh snorted. "What, is my sexy body too much for your teenage mind to handle?"
"SO!" Monica interrupted loudly as she packed away her clothes in her little magic travel bag; today, she was wearing beige capri pants, white flats, and a black sleeveless top with spaghetti straps, and had her hair up in a high ponytail with a black scrunchie. "The express train leaves in an hour, and we'll be in Canterlot after a quick two hour train ride."
"I can't get over this world's weird horse obsession," Conan said as he checked his various gadgets. "Canterlot, Fillydelphia, Whinnyapolis, Hoofston..." He shook his head. "This place is weird."
Monica giggled. "Honestly? I think the whole Canterlot/Canterlittle thing is worse," she said.
Kooh blinked. "I hadn't even noticed that," she said. "That...that is pretty bad..."
"It's like this world runs on bad puns or something," Conan said as he stuck a red bowtie into the pocket of his jeans.
Tron emerged from the bedroom wearing knee-length jean shorts, ankle-high black boots, and a pink velour shirt. "There," she said somewhat tartly. "No more 'snatch hatch'. Just a zipper." She frowned. "Which...is actually worse if you think about it too much..."
"No it's not," Monica and Conan both said at the same time. Kooh snickered.
"Alright," Monica said, looking around. "Are we ready? Everything packed up?" She stood up and arched her back, stretching her arms over her head. "Then let's get going!"
* * * * *
A council of war, of sorts, had convened in the cafeteria of Castle Grayskull. Sunset Shimmer held court over a significant portion of the gathered superheroes and her friends. Tommy was on conference call from Crystal Prep, and Trunks was on a video call via Coco's phone.
"Alright, I just want to touch base on a few things," Sunset said. "Trunks, what's the situation in Manehattan?"
//Handled for now,// Trunks reported. //A superhero team called the Teen Titans are there taking care of things. They're pretty good, I think they can manage most of the city by themselves. That other Sunset Shimmer is probably going to keep doing what she did at that hotel, but doesn't seem interested in teamwork.//
"That sucks," Rainbow muttered. "Sounds like she hasn't gotten the same friendship rainbow smackdown our Sunset got."
Sunset coughed. "Alright. What about that warlord you guys reported fighting?" she asked Tommy.
Tommy scowled. //Lord Zedd is a major threat,// he said. //Especially with limited access to Zords. He could easily throw an army of giant monsters at us and overwhelm us. I need to find a way to bring my Zords here and do something about Zords for the girls. If we don't have Megazord support, we don't have a chance.//
"I'll do what I can to help with that," Sci-Twi promised.
"Then we've got that jerk with the yellow ring," Rainbow said sourly. "I couldn't touch the dude."
"And Cadance has been..." Sci-Twi frowned worriedly. "She hasn't been herself ever since then."
"I tried to use my magic to get that ring away from her," Sunset said. "It...didn't work. Actually, I think I'm lucky the ring didn't kill me in self-defense." She rubbed at her hand, shaking out her fingers. "I still can't use my magic..."
"That weird metal city that showed up north of here worries me," Terry said. "Call it a hunch, but something about it just...has me on edge."
"Ah'm more worried about that black pyramid out by Camp Everfree," Applejack said. "That thing screams evil."
"Things have calmed down in Canterlittle," Octavia reported. "I've been keeping an eye on the news, and after that strange alien ship showed up and that hotel evacuated, all the craziness there just...stopped."
"Helheim is still dead," Kouta reported. "At least, the only thing alive in there are the Inves Overlords. As long as we don't agitate them, they won't leave the forest."
//Has there been any sign of that being I fought when I first got here, that Forte?// Trunks asked.
"Not that I've heard," Sunset said. She sighed. "Okay, so for now, we have a general idea of who and what we need to watch out for and what we need to keep an eye on."
//We'll be back in Canterlot in a few hours,// Trunks reported, then disconnected the call.
"I'll keep an eye on Cadance," Sci-Twi said. "Tommy, send me any data on your robots you have, I'll see what I can figure out."
"So...I guess now we just wait for the next big crisis?" Miles asked. Everyone looked around at each other and shrugged.
"That about sums it up, yeah," Sunset agreed. "Alright. Rest up, everyone. I'll check with Starlight and Princess Twilight to see how things are going in Equestria."
* * * * *
Princess Twilight Sparkle sighed as she crunched down another carrot and returned to her report. She would much rather be with the mining expedition in the caverns, but between the latest changes in the situation and her brother's concern for her safety, she'd been politely but firmly forced to stay at base camp and coordinate, mollified only by a promise to call her if they ran into something that needed an alicorn's magic.
The incursions had spread into Equestria. Already, seven separate incursions had been reported, beginning with the two teenagers currently residing at her castle in Ponyville. Most were benign, but two of the incursions were creating a headache for the griffons and the dragons.
She was preparing a progress report and summary to send to Canterlot and Ponyville when a faint noise from the caverns caught her attention. Her ears twitched and perked up. "What the—?"
The noise grew less faint; Twilight winced, her teeth grinding and her eye twitching at the horrible sound of crystal grinding against crystal. She stood up and followed the sound, cringing at each sharp grind which shook the tunnels.
A tunnel wall cracked open in front of her, and a human woman stepped out. She had a severe face, dark hair in a rigid style, and wore a dark green uniform with broad metal shoulderpads. The wall closed behind her, the crystals weaving together in a crude stitchlike pattern.
"Umm...excuse me," Twilight said. "Would you mind...not doing whatever it is you're doing? You could bring down the whole mountain and I kind of have a lot of friends down in the mine, so..."
The woman stared at her and drew back, eyes wide. "A spirit...!"
"No, no!" Twilight said, raising a hoof. "I'm not a spirit, I'm a pony! My name is Twilight Sparkle, I'm a princess of Equestria. And you are...?"
The woman blinked at her, mouth working soundlessly for a moment. "Kuvira," she said simply. "My name is Kuvira." She looked around. "I thought this was part of the Spirit Wilds..."
"Wherever you were before, you're not there now," Twilight said. "The short version: All of reality is coming apart at the seams, and bits and pieces of other universes are collapsing into this dimension. Well, and our parallel universe counterpart, which is where all this started and they've got it a lot worse than we do right now." She ruffled her wings. "We're working on fixing it. I can't make any promises about how long you'll be stuck here, but there's no way for you to go back where you came from. Sorry."
Kuvira considered this for a long moment. "That's fine," she said. "I...have very little to return to, now." She bowed her head, clenching her hands into fists at her sides. "Heh. Perhaps this is for the best..." At Twilight's inquisitive look, she shook her head. "Nevermind, it's not important."
"If you say so," Twilight said. "Umm...if you're hungry, we've got some food back at base camp."
"Thank you," Kuvira said politely. Twilight led the way back to camp, Kuvira studying her with interest. "So, you are a Princess," she said. "Then this land you speak of—"
"Equestria," Twilight supplied.
"Equestria," Kuvira echoed with an amused snort. "It is a kingdom?"
"Sort of," Twilight said. "I mean, technically? Not that we have a king or queen. Equestria is ruled by Princess Luna and Princess Celestia. My sister-in-law Princess Cadance rules the Crystal Empire, the part of Equestria we're in now. I..." Twilight waved a hoof vaguely. "I don't rule anything specific myself, but I have pretty much the same level of authority, I just don't...really exercise it outside of official functions."
Kuvira frowned in confusion. "So why does no one Princess succeed the Throne? Become Queen?"
Twilight shook her head. "That's just not how Equestria works," she said. "Technically Princess Celestia ruled alone for a thousand years, but even then she never once took the title Queen. She...she never wanted to imply she was better than her sister, even during the thousand years Luna was...absent."
When they reached the camp, Sunburst was there, resting by the fire and drinking tea. He looked up and blinked. "What—?"
"Incursion," Twilight said simply. "Found her in the tunnels. Kuvira, Sunburst."
Sunburst's muzzle worked soundlessly for a moment. "Fascinating," he said at length. He paused, then added, "Oh, uh, Twilight? Maud thinks we hit a vein of pure bulfecium. If it runs as deep as she thinks it does, we could be done in two days."
"That's great news," Twilight said. "That just leaves the other problem. Anything yet?"
Sunburst shook his head. "Until I can get to the Canterlot Archives? Sorry. Even my own library doesn't have what I need."
Kuvira leaned in with interest. "I've never heard of a princess accompanying a mining expedition before."
"Well, it's an unusual mining expedition," Twilight said. "Plus, we're trying to save all of reality, so I'm needed here a lot more than I am back in Ponyville."
"We're mining a rare magical metal," Sunburst said. "We're on kind of a short timetable because we need to refine it and research the right alloys we need in order to make the device that'll do what we want instead of..." He grimaced. "Exploding all of reality or something."
"And the research could take even longer than the mining, and we're running out of time," Twilight said miserably. "The collapse of reality is speeding up faster than we expected. We don't really know how long we have."
Kuvira considered this. "Well, if that's the situation, I think I can speed up the extraction at least," she said. "You said it'd take two days to mine this ore?" At Sunburst's nod, she stroked her chin. "I can probably earthbend it out in a matter of hours, if you'll show me what to look for."
"Earthbend?" Sunburst and Twilight both asked.
Kuvira slapped her hand down on the cave floor. A line of stalagmites erupted between her and the nearest wall. She stood and stomped, and the stalagmites launched themselves into the ceiling.
The two ponies stared. "What...what was that?" Twilight asked. "That wasn't any kind of earth magic I've ever heard of."
"It's not magic, it's earthbending," Kuvira said. "I guess bending isn't a thing...wherever this is. Hmm." She shook her head. "Anyway, I'm no stranger to hard work. If you can arrange food and shelter for me once we're out of these mines, I can easily extract your ore."
Twilight considered this. "You have a deal," she said.
Kuvira smiled. "Excellent. Let's get to work."
* * * * *
Magus knelt in a defensive crouch on the beach. The layer of glass had been sheared away, and the sands had been upheaved repeatedly. Blood dripped from the corner of his mouth, and his face swelled with darkening bruises. He panted heavily, glaring up at the two girls. "I...commend you," he rasped. "To have come this far against the Great Demon King, the mightiest wizard of the age..."
Ranma and Hikaru were just barely standing. With all the fire magic, ice magic, and proximity to water, Ranma's curse had been triggered so many times that he'd lost track of which body he currently wore. For the moment, he was male, towering over Hikaru and sporting burns, bruises, blisters, and a number of shallow cuts inflicted by Magus's scythe. Hikaru's swimsuit had suffered significant damage and had ultimately given up the fight; she was naked from the navel up, and only her sheer focus on the fight prevented her from succumbing to modesty.
Magus stood slowly, grimacing in pain. His opponents tensed.
"Hn," Magus smirked. "We will meet again." He drew his cape around himself and vanished.
Ranma and Hikaru sagged, dropping to the beach, finally succumbing to exhaustion. "Man, that was tough," Ranma complained. He looked over at Hikaru, then blushed, realizing what condition her outfit was in. "Uhh..." He peeled off his sweaty, seawater-soaked tank top and tossed it to her. "Here."
"Thanks," Hikaru said, shrugging into it. She practically swam in it; in its soaked condition, it certainly didn't actually cover what it was meant to. She glanced down at herself and blushed. "Sh-shimatta..."
"Uh..." Ranma coughed. "S-sorry about—"
Hikaru peeled off the wet, sweaty tank top, tossed it back to Ranma, and unwrapped her sarong, which had miraculously escaped with only slight burn damage, from her hips. She folded and tied it into a makeshift tube top. "That'll have to do," she said with a sigh. "So, what now?"
Ranma grimaced. "Find a place ta crash, then head north, I guess? I mean, I honestly don't much care about goin' back home right now, but th' way my luck runs, I'm better off headin' toward all hell breakin' loose than waitin' for it ta come ta me."
"North it is," Hikaru said, nodding. "I was thinking that myself, but I wouldn't just take off and leave you behind. We're the only two Japanese here from the same world, we need to look out for each other."
"Heh, yeah," Ranma said with a chuckle. "Hey, sorry about that whole thing with Kunou," he added. "You'd think th' jerk'd be able t' tell th' difference between you an' me. I mean..." He coughed. "Uhh..."
Hikaru ducked her head and blushed. "Y-yeah," she said. She cleared her throat, adjusting her makeshift tube top. "He went off on some tirade about 'the demon sorceror Saotome' and 'punishment by diminishing my beauty' and at that point, I just stopped listening and attacked. I mean, he interrupted kendo club at my school, I wasn't really about to stand around and listen to him rant and rave."
Ranma laughed. "I only caught th' tail end'a that beatin' you gave him, but man." He shook his head. "So, uhh...ready to move?"
"Not just yet," Hikaru said. She frowned at her sword; it vanished in a flicker of fire, disappearing into a round red gem she wore on a chain around her neck. "I'd really like to know where my armor went," she muttered. "I mean, at least I have my magic and my sword, but I'd feel a lot safer if my armor made the trip with me." She kicked off her flip-flops and flopped back on the beach with a sigh, lazily making sand angels. "Let's...let's just rest here a bit," she said. "The ocean breeze feels nice..." She closed her eyes; in seconds, she was snoring softly.
Ranma shook his head, chuckled, and lay down a respectful distance away, pillowing his head on his folded arms.
* * * * *
"Shitshitshitshitshit, dammit Zack, floor it!"
"I'm already flooring it!"
The Shinra jeep bounced over uneven terrain at dangerous speeds, kicking up dust from its tires. Behind it, surrounded by an even bigger dust cloud, was a massive buffalo stampede. The lead beast, massive and dark-furred, seemed to have a personal grudge against the three men in the jeep, as he changed course to follow them no matter which way Zack jerked the wheel. The rest of the herd followed him unerringly, creating a massive wall of heavy, muscular hooves and flesh that would doubtlessly trample the jeep and its occupants flat without breaking stride.
"How did we even end up in this ridiculous situation?" Sephiroth wondered, eyes closed, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation.
"Can't you use your freaky alchywhatsit to get us out of this?" Zack shouted.
"I'd have to get out of the jeep to do it and I'm not sure anything I can do would be enough to stop this crazy stampede!" Ed replied.
"Are you freaking kidding me?" Zack asked as he jerked the wheel hard to the right to avoid a large rock on the path ahead. "You turned a giant cannon into a giant freaking harpoon back in Midgar—"
"Yeah, when I was tapped into the Mako grid!" Ed countered. "My alchemy was powered up twentyfold in the city! Out here it'd take a lot longer to do a lot less! I mean, I'm the best there is, but even I have my limits!"
"And if I can buy you some time?" Sephiroth asked calmly as the jeep lurched, nearly tipping over.
"I dunno, maybe?"
Sephiroth nodded, then stood up, unsheathing his sword. Heedless of the bouncing and swaying of the jeep, he turned to face the rear, focusing his entire will on the stampeding buffalo. "Slow."
A broad field of magic engulfed the swarm, and a strange slow-motion effect swept over them. They were still running at full speed, but their movements and even the dust cloud surrounding them slowed, all the sound coming from the stampede stretching out and deepening in pitch. Zack hit the brakes and swung the jeep around to face the herd, which was now advancing much more slowly.
"Whenever you're ready," Sephiroth said calmly.
"Uhh...right," Ed said, boggling at the slow-motion buffalo stampede. He jumped out of the jeep and landed in a crouch halfway between the jeep and the buffalo. Clapping his hands together, he slapped them flat on the ground. Bright blue light flashed from his hands, spreading out to either side, creating a broad arch of blue lightning. The ground shook as a massive wall of dirt, scrub roots, small stones, and dust rose from the ground ahead of the herd. Zack and Sephiroth could just see the lead buffalo's eyes widening comically in slow motion before the wall grew too tall to see over; after a full minute, the ground stopped shaking. Ed's wall was twenty feet high at the center, tapering off as it spread to the sides; at its lowest, it was still a good five feet high, and it spread almost three quarters of a mile in width. As the wall shed some loose dust from its top, time returned to normal for the buffalo; the trio could hear hooves screeching to a halt and a lot of confused lowing and snorting. The wall shook as at least one buffalo slammed into it, then everything went still.
"I...guess we're clear," Zack said.
"Yeah, let's get outta here before they realize they can go around it," Ed said, jumping back into the jeep. Zack put it back in gear and adjusted course back for Canterlot.
* * * * *
Princess Skystar sulked as she swam, alone, through one of the more desolate straits of Seaquestria's outer reaches.
"Stupid Mom," she pouted. "She didn't have to yell at me like that...it was only a little fire..." She snorted. "If anything, she should be proud of me, I mean, I managed to start a fire at the bottom of the sea..."
"Ah, the pain of a misunderstood child suffering from an overbearing parent," a deep, throaty voice said from the murky depths. "Music to my ears..."
Skystar drew to a halt, looking around with wide, startled eyes. "Wh-who's there?" she asked nervously.
"Mmm...a friend," the voice purred. "I'm new to these waters, and I must say, you seaponies are fascinating. How about a trade? I'll listen to you vent about your mother, and you tell me what I want to know about this undersea kingdom of yours. Does that sound fair?"
"I...I guess?" Skystar hedged. "Umm...no offense, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable talking to you if I could see you. We've had a lot of weirdos down this way lately...it's kind of why we're all down here to begin with..."
"Oh, of course, forgive me," the voice said with a throaty chuckle. A creature swam into view whose appearance was so startling Skystar nearly bolted with a frightened shriek.
Broad and large, the creature looked like a cross between a minotaur (except the nose was all wrong) and an octopus. She—for Skystar was certain this was a she—had pale blue-violet skin, short white hair, thick lips painted a bright ruby red, and five-fingered hands with painted nails. She wore a black dress which flowed from her expansive minotaur-like chest seamlessly to her octopus lower half. Around her immense throat, she wore a golden nautilus pendant.
"No need to be alarmed, my dear," the creature said. "I won't harm a hair on your pretty little head. Now, come, tell Auntie Ursula all your woes, you poor unfortunate foal..."
* * * * *
Ranma woke up to see a dark-skinned child with short, shaggy red hair crouching over him, staring down at him with wide eyes. He blinked, sitting up. "Uhh..."
"Aww, you woke up," the child complained. "Now Ed can't eat you..." The child stood up and spun around on the toes of one bare foot, arms spread wide, making airplane noises and laughing.
Ranma tilted his head. "...huh?"
"Oniichan, I don't wanna open the hangar for the airplane," Hikaru murmured in her sleep.
Ranma groaned. "Man, no matter where I go I'm surrounded by weirdos." The dark-skinned child abruptly sat cross-legged on his head. He sighed. "Oi, Hikaru. Wake up already."
"Weirdo, beardo, get your rear in gear-do!" the kid sang, laughing.
Hikaru sat up, moaning as she popped her neck and adjusted herself. "Nnn...what time is it—" she blinked, then stared at Ranma, blinking rapidly. "Anou...Ranma-kun...you've, umm...you've got a...kid on your head..."
"No, really? Hadn't noticed," Ranma said dryly. He flicked his eyes upward. "Hey. You. My head ain't a stool. Get off, willya?"
"Nya!" the kid jumped off Ranma, running a circle around the two of them and giggling. "Sleepy heads, silly heads, fishie heads, make a stew, Pikachu!"
Hikaru giggled. "Wow, someone's full of energy."
"Hey kid, you lost or somethin'?" Ranma asked. He chuckled. "Like I'm one t' talk."
The kid skidded to a halt, digging furrows in the sand, arms pinwheeling. "Ed was in space, then Ed lost a race! Now Ed's in this place! Can Ed draw on your face?"
"Uhh...no," Ranma said. "So, your name's Ed, huh? I'm Ranma."
"I'm Hikaru," Hikaru said, smiling sweetly. "Is there anybody you need help finding?"
"Ed doesn't need help finding things, Hikki-tikki!" Ed said. "Ed finds..." With arms spread wide, Ed continued, "ALLLLLLLL kinds of things! Satellites, papas, cowboys, bounty heads, Ranmas, Hikki-tikkis...oooh, seashells! Ed's gonna find some seashells! Seashells, salty smells, little bells, use three in the bathroom!"
Ranma and Hikaru stared at each other. "Is it me, or is he not right in the head?" Ranma asked.
Hikaru frowned. "Maa, Ranma-kun...that's a bit mean. I mean, maybe he's a little...odd..."
"Ed isn't a he!" Ed suddenly said, popping up in front of Hikaru. "Ed's like this one! All girl downstairs, no titties upstairs!" Giggling, Ed ran off down the beach, searching for seashells, leaving Hikaru spluttering and blushing.
Ranma stared after her with thin eyes. "Yeah, let's go," he said.
"Matte," Hikaru said, shaking her head. "I...I don't think we should just leave her here. I mean..."
Ranma started to protest, then sighed, slumping. "Fine," he said. Loudly, he called, "Hey Ed! We're gonna head north, you wanna come with?"
Ed raced up to them, skipping and flailing her arms. "Okay! Ed will go with Ranma-person and Hikki-tikki!"
"Great. Let's go get cleaned up an' changed, then we can head out," Ranma said. "It's gonna take a while t' get t' this Canterlot place..."
* * * * *
In the vast darkness of space, several light years out from the Horsehead Nebula, an object streaked through the void with determination, with purpose.
It sought a world rich in magic and life, a world it would take for its own, making its nest deep within the core, extending its influence into the elements, the evolution of life, the very course of history. It would destroy whatever existed now and sleep, deep beneath the frozen wastes above, as the climate recovered from its arrival and life began the slow climb back to civilization.
All the while, it would feed. Feed...and wait. As it had done before, and would do again, over the hundreds of millions of years of time...