Lilith, Etna, and Flonne huddled up in the warmest corner—relatively speaking—of a mostly vacant warehouse. Flonne had scrounged up some smelly blankets from somewhere; apparently, the place had been squatted by the homeless at some point. Lilith had managed to acquire some food and water from a nearby convenience store; the naughty look on her face dissuaded Etna from asking exactly how, not that she cared in any case.
Etna glared at Flonne. "You should strip to your underwear and suffer with us," she said.
Flonne gasped. "What? No! I couldn't possibly do that in a public place!" She tilted her head. "Besides, why should I suffer because the two of you dress like skanks?"
Etna spit out the water she'd just drank. "WHAT?!"
"Well, she's not wrong," Lilith said. "Though in my case, I take it as a compliment." She beamed happily at Flonne. "Thank you!"
"No, it's...I'm just amazed Flonne even knows that word!"
"Fufufuuuu~n," Flonne laughed nasally, closing her eyes and tilting her nose into the air. "I know a lot of words you don't know I know."
Etna snorted. "Still," she said, "we do kinda have a problem. If we're gonna find a way back to the Netherworld, we need to be able to move around in the open without getting chased by the stupid human cops."
Lilith frowned. "Well...that's not so hard for me," she said. Her clothing exploded away from her body, becoming dozens of tiny leathery bats; after a very long moment of the nude succubus spinning around gracefully in the air, the bats covered her body again, transforming into a junior high school girl's sailor uniform.
"WOW!" Flonne said, clapping cheerfully. "A real life henshin! That's amazing!"
Lilith smirked. "What, that? It's just a minor ability."
Etna frowned. "I didn't know succubi could do that," she said. "Actually, you and your sister seem to be able to do a lot of things succubi shouldn't be able to do."
"Well, maybe the succubi from your pitiful little Makai realm can't," Lilith said, "but the Aensland sisters aren't your average succubi."
"So now all we need to do is find some clothes for Etna," Flonne interjected. She tilted her head. "You don't think we'll have to...steal, do you?"
Etna shrugged. "I don't have a problem with that."
Etna rolled her eyes. "Flonne, you're a Fallen Angel. You've gotta stop worrying about goodness and rules all the time!"
Lilith yawned. "Worry about it in the morning," she said. "I need to sleep so I can sneak into some human dreams and..." She licked her lips. "Recharge."
* * * * *
"Should we really be out this late?" Bon Bon asked. "I mean, things have been really, really weird lately. I'm not sure it's safe."
Lyra snorted and waved a hand dismissively. "It'll be fine!" She laced her fingers with Bon Bon's and squeezed tightly. "Besides, when was the last time we just went for a walk in the park and sat on a bench together?"
"W-well..." Bon Bon trembled slightly. "Alright, but...wouldn't it have been better to do this during the daytime?"
"Eh, Mom's riding my ass pretty hard lately," Lyra said with a grimace. "With school cancelled, she wants me studying or working or doing chores or something all day long. It was all I could do to get out for a movie and a late dinner with you, and since we don't have school tomorrow, I want to stay out late and enjoy our date."
Bon Bon smiled. "Alright."
High in the sky, bright orange fire bloomed brightly. "Look, fireworks!" Lyra said happily.
Bon Bon frowned. "Umm, Lyra? That...that wasn't fireworks. That looked like an explosion."
The ball of orange flames winked out abruptly, trailing smoke across the starry sky. Lyra frowned. "Huh. I guess it was. Wow, I hope nobody's hurt."
"Umm...if an airplane or something exploded, I'm pretty sure somebody's hurt. Like, dead hurt."
"Excuse me, young ladies," a voice called to them from the trees lining the path.
Lyra stiffened. Beside her, she felt Bon Bon tense. They turned to the right.
A ghastly skeleton with an afro, wearing a ragged black suit and top hat, stepped out into the lamplight. "May I see your panties?" it inquired politely.
Lyra and Bon Bon screamed and ran for their lives.
* * * * *
In a quiet, tree-lined park on the northwest side of the city, a crumpled parachute shifted as a figure trapped beneath began to stir. Slowly, the fabric of the parachute was folded away, and a boy emerged, sitting up and rubbing his head. "Wh-what happened?"
He ran a hand through his short hair, which was white on top where it was longer, and black in the back and on the sides. He dug at the corners of his blue eyes to remove accumulated crust, which he then wiped on the camouflage pants he wore. With a grunt, he stood up, smoothing out his black shirt and red vest. He pulled a red plastic device out of one of the heavy pockets on his pants. "Blues, what happened?"
After a moment, he frowned, studying the screen. What he expected to see was missing; additionally, much of what was present was garbled, and a number of warning icons flashed, demanding his attention. "Nani kore...?"
The boy's head snapped sharply to the left at the crunch of grass underfoot and the voice calling his name. His eyes widened.
The man calmly approaching him was not much taller than himself. Except for his face, his entire body was covered in a skintight black and gray bodysuit. He wore red boots and gauntlets, as well as a red chestplate and helmet; the helmet had a long, backswept red fin at the top, and a broad white band around the crown. A black visor which resembled angled sunglasses covered his eyes. Long, flowing silver hair spilled out from the base of his helmet, stirring lightly in the cool morning wind. In the center of his chestplate was a round emblem, a stylized yin-yang, surrounded by a gold rim. The same emblem was present on the back of each gauntlet.
Ijuuin Enzan's breath hitched in his throat. "B-Blues?!"
"I'm relieved you're awake," Blues said, going down on one knee and bowing his head. "I've been patrolling the immediate surroundings ever since—"
Enzan backed away, eyes wide. "H-how?" he whispered. "This...this is impossible..."
Blues stood. "Hai," he said. "I've been trying to figure it out for myself, but my functions seem to be...limited." He grimaced. "The pilot didn't survive. The helicopter exploded before he could jump."
Enzan closed his eyes. "Shimatta..."
"At some point during your descent, I attained physical form," Blues reported. "I sustained 5% overall system damage from the explosion and a further 3% upon landing. The damage is minimal, but..." He grimaced. "Moushiwake arimasen, it appears that my ability to self-repair is limited now that I am no longer linked to your PET. I can only assume this also means it is no longer possible for me to use battle chips."
"Nevermind that," Enzan said, shaking his head. "HOW are you...real?"
"I don't know," Blues said. "It happened within point five microseconds of the explosion. It took a further seven hundred four milliseconds for me to process my spontaneous materialization, and far longer than I will admit for me to come to terms with the fact that I now possess a physical body." He smirked. "This sort of nonsense normally only happens to Hikari Netto and Rockman."
Enzan closed his eyes. "Heh." He shook his head. "So? Where are we?"
"Unknown," Blues said. "We are in a park. It is sunrise. Beyond that, I have no data." He paused, then added, "Enzan-sama...while my abilities are severely restricted by the current situation, I have detected the presence of that Navi."
Enzan's eyes widened. "Are you sure?"
Blues frowned. "One does not forget his aura." He clenched his fists. "If I may make an assumption, it is possible he has also become a physical entity."
Enzan paled. "Masaka...! If that's the case, then...!" He shook his head. "We need to find help. Quickly."
* * * * *
Ikamusume tilted her head. "This seems...wrong somehow-geso."
Aria snorted. "I don't know," she drawled. "I think it's just about right."
Adagio groaned and shook her head. "Only Sonata," she mumbled, facepalming.
"What?" Sonata asked, blinking innocently. She stood in the center of the Dazzling Delights Diner, wearing a dress and boots similar in style to Ikamusume's, only the color of nacho cheese with brown trim, and a hat shaped like a giant taco, complete with all the fixings. She had two large plastic tanks strapped to her back, which were connected to twin Super Soakers by long, flexible hoses. One of them was full of hot sauce; the other was full of guacamole. "I'm Tacomusume-queso!"
"I feel like I'm being made fun of de geso," Ikamusume said, pursing her lips and squinting in annoyance.
"I'm not making fun of you-queso!" Sonata insisted. "I'm your new sidekick-queso! I've got my sauce cannons here, see?" She smiled brightly. "I'm ready to help you take over the world-queso!"
Aria groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Let's just roll with it," she said. "It's pointless to try to tell her how stupid this whole...whatever it is she's doing is."
Sonata planted her hands on her hips, tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and laughed smugly: "Quesoquesoquesoqueso."
Ikamusume scowled. "I'm definitely being made fun of-geso."
* * * * *
Sunset awoke to an insistent knocking on her door. Groaning, she pulled herself out of bed, rubbed her eyes, and shambled into the living room, where X sat on the couch. "What, you didn't think of answering the door?" she grumbled.
"I didn't want to presume too much or give any visitors the wrong impression," X said. "Besides, I don't know the girl standing outside."
Sunset grunted, then headed for the door and opened it. She found Lyra standing on her doorstep, looking freaked out. "What's up, Lyra?"
Lyra bounced twice on her feet. "Sunset! Last night, Bon Bon and I...! We were attacked in the park!"
Sunset blinked, suddenly alert. "Attacked? What happened?" She stood aside to let Lyra in.
Lyra walked in, blinking at X. "Umm...if you're...busy..." Her cheeks flushed.
Sunset's flushed as well. "It's not like that!" she said hastily. "He's not—we're not—" she dragged a hand down her face. "Nevermind! What happened to you and Bon Bon?"
"Oh! Right!" Lyra shuddered. "It was creepy and scary," she said. "We were walking in the park, you know, up in the city, and..." She closed her eyes. "And this creepy talking skeleton came right out of the bushes and asked to see our panties!"
Sunset blinked. "Talking...skeleton?"
"Yes! A talking skeleton in a torn-up old suit! With an afro!"
Sunset narrowed her eyes. "A skeleton. With an afro."
"Sunset...we've seen stranger things than that lately." X frowned. "Though admittedly, human remains moving around asking to see girls' underwear is fairly high on that list."
Sunset pinched the bridge of her nose. "Right, fine," she said. "Are either of you hurt?"
Lyra shook her head. "Just really creeped out," she said.
"Alright," Sunset said. "Stay home, stay safe, don't go to the park again. As soon as I have time, I'll look into it."
"Thank you," Lyra said, breathing a sigh of relief. She waved to X. "Nice meeting you!" With that, she hastily left.
Sunset slumped into her favorite chair, groaning. "Perverted talking skeletons with afros now. What next?"
* * * * *
Twilight grimaced as she reread Starlight's letter, then folded it into her saddlebag.
"What's wrong, Twilight?" Pinkie asked.
Twilight rubbed her eyes with a hoof. "The criminal I brought through the portal escaped from the guards," she said. "Apparently, he's taken refuge in the Everfree Forest."
Pinkie sighed. "Well, that's no fun," she said. "But you know, it doesn't really surprise me. I mean, if Celestia's royal guards were worth anything, she wouldn't constantly be asking us to solve all Equestria's big nasty problems, would she?"
Twilight's mouth worked silently for a moment. "You know," she said slowly, "I never once actually thought about it until you said that. Now, I honestly can't remember ever seeing the royal guards do anything useful. Huh."
"Well, except your brother," Pinkie pointed out. "Shining Armor? Useful. The pegasus guards? Laaaaame!"
"That isn't a very nice thing to say, Pinkie Pie," Maud said calmly. To Twilight, she said, "I'm sure your other friends in Ponyville can handle the problem."
"Yeah, Twilight, don't worry about it!" Pinkie said. "Rainbow Dash and Applejack can kick anypony's butt, Fluttershy's in good with the critters, and don't forget Zecora! I'm sure she won't be too happy about having her home invaded by a bad guy."
Twilight smiled. "You're right, Pinkie Pie," she said. "I'll leave it to them and concentrate on the bigger problem." She laughed softly. "Besides, he's just one batpony. How much harm can he really do?"
* * * * *
"How—" Rainbow Dash cried as she dove swiftly to the left. An explosion shook the ground behind her. "—the HAY—" she flew straight up as a fireball tried to roast her feathers. "—did this jerk—" She created an updraft to divert an exploding egg which was headed straight for Fluttershy. "—find and TAME—" She dove in fast and hard, punching the Goblin's avian mount in the beak before diving to the left. "—a Turducken in just one night?!"
"Quobblck," the Turducken declared before laying another exploding egg and kicking it into the midst of the group of ponies.
Atop the Turducken, the Green Goblin laughed maniacally. "That's it, my pet! KILL THEM ALL! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
* * * * *
Enzan leaned against the wall of a convenience store, arms folded, head bowed, and eyes closed. "Well, this complicates things," he said.
"Unfortunately," Blues agreed, adopting a similar pose at his side.
The door opened, and the store's manager poked his head out. "And NO LOITERING!" he shouted.
"Mattaku," Enzan sighed, shuffling away from the wall and walking down the sidewalk, Blues a step behind him.
"Forgive me, Enzan-sama, but I am at a loss," Blues said. "With no means to access the Internet, we cannot withdraw funds from your accounts, and—"
"Somehow, I don't think we'd be able to access my accounts even if we had an Internet connection," Enzan said, pulling a handful of coins from his pocket and staring at them morosely. "We're in a country that doesn't take zenny, but that shouldn't be possible, because it's been a global currency ever since the Network Age began."
They stood in silence for a long moment, surveying the few early morning cars and bicyclists moving about.
"Then there's the fact that the manager of that store was lime green," Enzan said. "Any way you look at it, that isn't normal."
Blues grunted. "I've spotted an orange person, a blue person, and a grey person in the last five minutes," he said.
Enzan chuckled softly, closing his eyes and smirking. "I don't remember the helicopter flying over any rainbows, do you?"
"Rainbows?" Blues blinked. After a moment, he snorted. "That reference is too childish for you, Enzan-sama."
Enzan shrugged expressively. "Shoganai na," he said. "Even I can't ignore the fact that I'm twelve years old. Especially not at times like this."
"Aa." Blues fell silent, watching as more people began moving around. "So...what's your strategy?"
Enzan shrugged. "Do our best to gather information. Sooner or later, we'll come up with something." He smiled. "I'm an Official NetBattler, and you're the number one ranked Official NetNavi. We've been in worse situations than this."
* * * * *
Flash Sentry had been in worse situations.
Damned if he could remember any of them.
"So here's the deal," the half-naked redhead who couldn't be more than twelve or thirteen said in a voice far too mature for her age. "My friends and I? We own you now. Your car, your house, all your money. Or else." She snapped her gloved fingers, and her purple-haired friend in the Neighponese sailor suit started screaming again.
The modestly-dressed blond girl that was with them bowed her head and clapped her hands together. "I'm so sorry, mister!" she said.
"That's enough, Lilith," the redhead said. The purple-haired girl immediately stopped screaming, giving him a sunny smile.
All around, people were staring and muttering. Phones were out and aimed at the four of them.
Flash waved his hands in a mad panic. "Wh-wh-what...what are you...?"
The redhead smirked, then raised her voice in pitch and volume. "But mister! We're too young to be sex slaves! I know we owe you a lot of money, but isn't there another way?"
"WILL YOU STOP?" Flash cried. "You're gonna get me arrested and I didn't even DO anything!"
A burly, middle-aged man stormed up to them, fury in his eyes. "Hey kid," he growled. "What the HELL are you doin' to these little girls?"
The redhead glared at him. "Buzz off, old man," she said. "We're in the middle of a meeting here."
"Look, kid, let an adult handle this, alright?" the man said. "I'm gonna beat this snot up for you, then call the cops and get you girls back where you bel—"
The little naked redhead pulled a gun out of nowhere and shot him dead.
Flash stared. The crowd gasped.
"So like I was saying," the redhead continued dispassionately, "we own you now. Got it?"
Flash swallowed heavily. "Uhh...g-got it," he said.
The blonde bowed politely. "Thank you very much," she said. "Oh, hold on." She clasped her hands together and bowed her head in prayer. A bright white light shone down upon the dead man; after a moment, he sat up, blinking dazedly.
"Yeah, we'd better get outta here," Lilith said.
The girls got into Flash's car; a second later, he got in, started it up, and sped away.
* * * * *
Sunset and X prowled the park, looking for signs of anything strange.
X prodded a discarded parachute in a quiet corner of the park. "Well, looks like someone jumped out of a plane here," he said.
"And left their chute behind?" Sunset asked.
X's arm opened up, the circuits blinking as he touched the chute. With the whip-zip sound of shuffling, folding nylon and vinyl, the chute was sucked into his inner workings; his armor briefly turned red and white.
Sunset raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"
X shrugged. "It might come in handy..."
A scream drew their attention. Two joggers and a bicyclist sped across the park, straying from the usual path. "RUN!" one of them, a middle-aged woman, yelled.
Sunset and X exchanged a glance, nodded, and went in the direction from which they fled.
"Be careful," X said. Sunset nodded.
The most desolate corner of the park was quiet. Too quiet.
Except for rustling bushes, and a worried mutter:
"Oh dear...it seems I scared them out of their skin. Probably because I don't have any skin. OHOHOHO, OHOHO...YOHOHOHO, YOOOOO-HOHOHO!"
Sunset and X drew up short, turning to each other and blinking in confusion. "What the...?" X asked.
"Is that...is that...singing?"
The singing stopped.
"Oho? Is someone there?" The bushes rustled...
Sunset drew back. X readied his X-Buster.
A tall skeleton stepped out of the bushes, dressed in a ragged black suit hundreds of years out of style, with a huge blue ruffle tie. Atop his head was a huge, bushy afro, atop which sat a top hat. A cane hung by the crook from his left arm. "Oh, hello," he said jovially, tipping his hat. "It's a pleasant day, isn't it? This sun feels so warm on my bones. Even though I'm nothing but bones!"
"What...the hell..." Sunset said flatly, staring in disbelief.
"If you wouldn't mind," the skeleton addressed Sunset, "I'd like to ask you two questions."
Sunset and X shared a glance. X shrugged. "Sure," Sunset said guardedly.
"Thank you," the skeleton said. "The first question is, where am I?'
"You're in Palomino Park, in Canterlot City," Sunset said.
"Canterlot City, hmm? I see," the skeleton said, rubbing his jawbone thoughtfully. "I have absolutely no idea where that is."
"We kinda figured as much," X said.
"My second question, lovely young miss," the skeleton said seriously, "is may I see your panties?"
Sunset blinked. "Ex...cuse me?" She shuddered. "No! Just...no!" She clenched her fists at her side. "You can't just go around asking girls to show you their panties! It's wrong, it's disgusting, and it's creepy!"
"Oh. Alright." The skeleton bowed. "I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Brook, of the Rumbar Pirates." He doffed his hat and bowed his head. "Well, formerly," he added somberly.
Sunset tilted her head. "You're from a crew of skeleton pirates? You mean like in that movie?"
"Oh no," Brook said, waving a hand. "We were all human and very much alive. I only came back to life because I ate the Yomi Yomi no Mi, and by the time my soul returned to my body, I'd decomposed." He laughed.
Sunset frowned. "You're not making any sense."
"The word 'pirate' is all I needed to hear," X said, his mouth set in a grim line. "Pirates are bad news when they're alive. A dead pirate..."
Brook raised his hands. "Ohohoho! You don't need to be afraid. I wouldn't lay a finger on anyone. I'm a pirate, yes, but I'm really a musician." He reached into his pants, pulled out a violin, and began playing a jaunty yet melancholy tune. Despite themselves, X and Sunset lowered their guard, X standing down his X-Buster.
"That's...actually pretty good," Sunset said. She shook her head. "But I still don't understand how a skeleton can be walking around and talking, and...and...!"
Brook put his violin away and shrugged. "The world is full of mysteries, you know? Don't worry too much about things like that." He laughed raucously, his entire skull rattling.
Sunset facepalmed. "Whatever," she said.
Brook stopped laughing. "I do have to admit I'm confused," he said. "For the three years since I came back to life as a skeleton, I've been alone on my ship, just me and the remains of my nakama, drifting at sea. Last night, I went to sleep, and I woke up in this park." He shuffled his feet. "As lonely an existence as it is, I don't feel right just abandoning my ship after all this time..."
"Reality's broken," Sunset said. "We're working on trying to fix it, but lots of things from lots of different worlds are ending up here."
"Ah, I see," Brook said. "Well, would you mind if I tag along for a bit? It's been a long time since I heard a voice other than my own. Honestly, I was starting to go out of my mind." He paused, then added, "not that I have a mind to go out of!" He chortled at his own joke.
Sunset glanced uneasily at X. "Uhh..."
Brook coughed. "Please," he said seriously. "My sword and my musical talents are at your disposal. All I ask is the company of other people, even if it's just for a little while."
Sunset could feel the loneliness and despair in his voice, and she sighed heavily. "Alright," she said. "I guess...it won't hurt to let you tag along. Besides, it beats having you freaking out random joggers in the park."
"Wonderful!" Brook cried, laughing jovially.
"But you have to apologize to my friends for scaring them last night," Sunset admonished.
Brook bowed. "Of course. I am, after all, a gentleman skeleton."
"Are you sure about this?" X asked sotto voce.
Sunset shrugged. "He seems friendly enough." She held out her hand and smiled. "Sunset Shimmer."
Brook accepted her hand and shook it. "A pleasure to meet you," he said. "And may I add that your beauty makes my heart race." He paused. "If I still had a heart."
Sunset felt a twitch coming on. "Thanks..."