• Published 20th Jun 2016
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Comes a Crossover - MythrilMoth



Sunset Shimmer accidentally breaks reality. Massive multicrossover hilarity ensues.

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Comes a Fight Episode

Author's Note:

I'm going to own up to something right here and right now, before we get into this chapter: I'm pretty much inventing my own "Ultimate Sailor Saturn" for the purposes of this story. The plain truth is that unlike the other Senshi, we don't actually see her fight that often, and when she does, 99% of her attacks define overkill. Plus, well...Takeuchi. So I'm basically ignoring almost all canon battle data on Sailor Saturn and doing my own thing here.

Also, there is now a blog post that tracks the list of characters introduced so far. It will be updated when each chapter is posted; the character introductions for the two most recent chapters will be spoilered out.

It didn't take long for Sailor Saturn to find the source of the problem.

A shrieking woman with a nasty gash on her face came running across the hotel lobby just as Saturn reached the bottom of the stairwell. Saturn intercepted her, which led to a fresh round of screaming. "Ma'am, it's okay," Saturn said softly. "It's okay. Here, let me help you."

"S-stay back," the woman whimpered, but she was unable to prevent Saturn touching her face. A soft lavender-white light shone from Saturn's gloved palm...

The woman blinked, reaching up and feeling her face. "W-what...?"

Saturn smiled. "That would've been a horrible disfiguring scar," she said. "Isn't this better?"

"Th-thank you," the woman said numbly. Shaking her head to clear it, she glanced back at the kitchens. "It's not safe here," she said. "We need the police. Or the army!"

"Please head for safety," Saturn said. "I've got the situation under control."

The woman looked around at all the maimed bodies littering the floor. Some were still alive. Many were not. "You call this under control?"

"Well, I just got here!" Saturn said defensively. "Even the police don't always make it in time to stop...things like this. Now go!"

The woman nodded and ran for her life, trying hard not to look at what were probably some of her friends and co-workers. Saturn looked around the lobby and sighed. "Monster first. Then I'll help anyone who can still be saved." Taking a firm grip on the Silence Glaive, she headed for the hotel kitchens.

What she found when she got there was...wrong. Every fiber of her being felt its wrongness. It was wrong in all the ways the Deathbusters had been wrong. It was horribly, familiarly wrong, like that crawling, itching black fire that scraped at her brain with razor claws when she was possessed by Mistress Nine.

But past that, it was a six-foot-tall, spindly green bug that looked like a cross between a grasshopper and a praying mantis. It stood on four legs, the back two of which were bent at the angle of a grasshopper's powerful jumping legs. Its forelimbs ended in massive, wickedly serrated scythes. Its head was somewhere between the two, featuring the eyes and mouth of a grasshopper, but the triangular shape of a mantis. Two long antennae jutted from its head. A pair of broad, scaly wings flared behind it, buzzing erratically as it turned to face her. It let out a ghastly screech and slashed through a stainless steel counter, which tore apart with a horrific shrieking of tearing metal.

"Oh great, I'm in one of Shingo-kun's Sunday morning toku shows," Saturn muttered to herself. In response to the Inves' show of force, she casually swiped her Glaive through the nearest steel counter.

It parted cleanly without a sound. The edges of the cut immediately began to rust.

"Your rampage ends here!" Saturn declared, pointing her Glaive at the Inves. "Protected by Saturn, the planet of Destruction!" She struck a pose. "The Guardian of Silence, Sailor Saturn!"

The Inves hissed and rushed her, slashing with its powerful scythes. She blocked the first strike, then countered the second, cleaving through the Inves' arm. It screeched in pain as its scythe was sent flying, the flesh decaying rapidly. The severed arm landed on the ground as a rotted mass of putrid flesh. The stump of the Inves' arm necrotized and crusted over with ugly brown tumors even as it pressed its attack in a blind, pain-fueled rage.

Unimpressed, Saturn weaved in between its strikes, then cut off its head in a single strike. The Inves' body slumped to the ground, hideous rot creeping down its neck as its head rotted away where it landed.

Saturn sighed, shook her head, and walked back out through the hotel lobby, the click of her heels echoing on the tiles. She looked around, watching intently for movement, breathing, any sign of life from the victims. Each time she identified a still-living victim, she rushed to their side, doing what she could to stabilize them.

"Hotaru? Is...is it over?"

Saturn looked up from where she was treating a man with a deep laceration across his chest to see Sweetie Belle standing there, fully dressed and holding her phone. "Call an ambulance," she said. "I can only buy these people more time. Most of them have some sort of blood poison from that monster. I can't heal them all the way."

"You can't?" Sweetie Belle whimpered.

Hotaru shook her head. "My healing powers have limits and burn me out a lot faster than my destruction powers." Even as she said this, her knees gave out; she stumbled, leaning against the Silence Glaive to steady herself.

"Hotaru!" Sweetie Belle rushed to her, but Saturn held up a hand to stall her.

"Call that ambulance," Saturn said. "And..."

A pulse of lavender light enveloped her, and her Senshi fuku exploded away from her body in a cloud of dark purple ribbons, leaving only Tomoe Hotaru in a borrowed pink nightgown. Sweetie Belle caught her as she swooned and gently carried her to the elevator. "Hello, I'm at the Manefair Hotel, there's been—yes. Alright. N-no, I think the thing that did all this is dead. But there's a lot of hurt people and d-dead people. We need...we need ambulances...lots of them..."

* * * * *

"I just don't get it," the gas station manager said, scratching his head. "Yesterday I closed down 'cause of all the road closures. Came in this mornin', whole place was wrecked! Then there's all these vines all over everywhere. An' on top of all that, all my tanks are drained dry! I ain't got a lick'a gas!"

The officer taking the report frowned, looking around at the damage. "All things considered, that's probably a good thing," he said. "With this much damage, this whole station could've gone up in a fireball, burned down half the block."

The manager frowned. "Well...I guess that's a good point. But still, somebody stole damn near twenty thousand gallons of gas right out from under my nose!"

"Well, it'd be awfully hard to hide that much stolen gas for very long, even with the whole city going nuts," the officer said. "I'll file the report. You might wanna call your insurance in the meantime."

The manager grumbled.

Across the street, X frowned. "Now that's just odd," he said. "Who could steal all the fuel from his underground storage in one day?"

"Yeah, twenty thousand gallons is an awful lot of gas to make off with without anybody noticing," Sunset Shimmer agreed. She looked down at the gauge on her bike and sighed. "In the meantime, we need to find another gas station. I'm running on fumes."

Forty minutes later, they arrived at CHS to find Rarity in hysterics. "What's going on?" Sunset asked.

Fluttershy fretted nervously. "Some of those Inves showed up in Manehattan," she said. "They trashed the Manefair Hotel and killed..." She shuddered. "Killed a lot of people."

Sunset gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. "Rarity's family...?"

"Alive," Fluttershy said. "Her mother called a little while ago and said they're alive, but they're stuck in the hotel with all the other guests until the police clear the scene." She put an arm around Rarity's shoulder. "It'll be alright," she said.

"I don't like this," Trunks said. "This is getting worse. This Manehattan is...how far away from here?"

"Pretty far," Rainbow said.

"Oh, it's worse than that," Applejack said. "There's crazy shit showin' up as far away as Trottingham an' Neighpon."

"Chikushou," Kouta spat, clenching a fist. "My world's problem shouldn't be affecting your—"

"Now hold up there," Applejack said. "It ain't all this evil forest crap. A lot of it's just th' same kinda crazy we've been puttin' up with here all week."

"Yeah, I don't think Helheim has spread farther than the mainland yet," Rainbow said.

"And we've got other problems," Sunset pointed out. "I mean, the Inves are a huge problem, but bad things are showing up from places other than your world. And until Princess Twilight gets back from the Crystal Mountains, there's nothing we can do except deal with any new problems that come up the best we can."

"Speaking of which, I need to go on patrol again," Trunks said. "Those fruits are popping up again already."

"We also need to investigate a gasoline theft," X said.

Rainbow stared at him, one eyebrow raised. "A gas theft?" she said. "All this crazy shit goin' on and you're worried about some stolen gas?"

"Twenty thousand gallons of it from the underground tanks of a gas station?" X countered. "And nobody noticed?"

Rainbow blinked. "Okay, that...does sound kinda..." She trailed off.

"Whoever did that must be the god of blowjobs," Pinkie mused. Everybody stared at her. "Whaaaaat?"

"Uhh...Ah really doubt they used th' ol' siphon hose trick," Applejack said flatly. "Hell, Ah stole five gallons out of a parked car one time an' Ah was sick as a dog for two days."

Everyone stared at her.

"You stole gas," Sunset said. "You."

Applejack blushed. "Now dang it all, we was drivin' Apple Bloom t' th' hospital an' th' truck ran out! An' mah phone was dead!"

Miles coughed. "I'm uhh...I'm gonna go ANYWHERE else where a bunch of really hot girls aren't talking about sucking on things."

"Yeah, me too," Adrien said, his face red.

Kouta coughed. "So, what about the Inves in...Manehattan, was it?"

"Well, apparently it's been taken care of," Rarity, who had finally calmed down somewhat, said. "My sister Sweetie Belle has made a new friend who appears to be yet another fortutious superhero..."

* * * * *

Hotaru pressed a fresh warm, wet cloth to her face. "This is so embarrassing," she said. "The other Senshi don't pass out like that."

"Have you been able to get hold of your parents yet, Hotaru dear?" Sweetie Belle's mother asked.

Hotaru grimaced. "I...don't have parents," she said. "My guardians, well..." She sighed. "I somehow doubt I'll be able to get in touch with them."

"I don't think she's from around here, Mom," Sweetie Belle said. "You've been watching the news, right? About all those superheroes and things?"

"And Rarity has mentioned some...interesting new visitors to Canterlot, yes."

"Well, Hotaru's probably like all those others. Just...kinda showed up from somewhere else."

Hotaru nodded. "That's what I think happened," she said. "It's the only thing that makes sense." She frowned. "That monster I fought...it felt wrong. Alien. It felt like it was the opposite of alive."

"You mean dead?" Sweetie Belle asked.

Hotaru shook her head. "Not dead. More like...it was unlife. Like..." She frowned and made a vague gesture. "Acids and bases."

"Or oil and water, perhaps?" Sweetie Belle's mother offered.

"Or matter and antimatter?" Sweetie Belle suggested.

"That," Hotaru said firmly. "That's exactly what it's like." She shook her head. "Anyway, I want to thank you for looking out for me. I know you're leaving as soon as they unseal the building. I'll...I'll figure out what to do after that."

"Nonsense, dear," Sweetie Belle's mother said. "You're coming with us."

"I couldn't—"

"I'm not leaving you alone here," Sweetie Belle said. "I know you can take care of yourself, but I saw the way you were after you helped those people downstairs. You need somebody close by to keep an eye on you." She smiled. "Besides, we're friends now, right?"

Hotaru smiled softly. "Thanks," she said, her cheeks faintly pink.

The door burst open, and Sweetie Belle's dad rushed in, eyes wide. "Another monster," he said. "Outside. It's..."

The hotel shook from a nearby explosion.

* * * * *

"Fufufu~n...! Looks like you fell a little short, Princess!" a young girl with long raven hair tied in two pigtails tittered into her hand. Crimson eyes gleamed as she smirked confidently and twirled a massive spiked mace in one hand. "Now I'm going to finish this match in one shot!"

"I'm not done yet!" a teenage girl with long pinkish-red hair tied back in a tight ponytail said, bright greyish-pink eyes shining with defiance as she leaned against a massive reddish-gold broadsword with a forked tip. "You're a hundred years too early to defeat me, wannabe pirate!"

"Kono...!" the younger girl growled. "Take my final strike to Hell!" With that, tremendous power built up in the head of her mace as she leapt back, then sprang forward in a spinning dive, her body parallel to the ground and her pigtails streaming behind her. Demonstrating impossible agility, she landed in a three-point crouch as she struck, the impact of her mace echoing like a cannon shot...

The ball burned like a meteorite as it rose into the air, its speed creating visible slipstreams. At the apex of its ascent, it froze...then rocketed back down, striking the ground with enough force to leave a scorched impact crater and a trail of flames as it skidded backwards and rolled into the cup.

The girl stood up, brushed off her miniskirt, and turned to flash a victorious smirk. "You were saying?" she asked teasingly as she hefted her mace over her shoulder.

The older girl sighed. "Alright, alright," she said good-naturedly. "Good game. I'll win the next one, though!"

"So you keep saying."

"Hey, I'm still pretty new at this, remember? This 'Pangya' game of yours is a lot different from the Spheda we play back home!"

"That's your excuse every time," the younger girl said, sticking out her tongue. "I think you just don't wanna admit those huge tits get in your way."

The older girl blushed. "H-hey! Don't bring my body into this, you...you ironing board! Besides, Arin's way bigger than me and she beats you every single time..."

Before the younger girl could retort, the sky overhead suddenly turned blood red, and the entire island shook. "Wh-what's going on?"

"Is it the volcano? Or did the Navy decide to—"

The ground beneath the two girls caved in. They barely had time to scream before they fell down, down, down, into the abyss...

...then into bright sunlight...

...and then onto a neatly groomed fairway.

"Oof!"

"Ow, my butt!"

The girls stood up, brushed themselves off, and looked around. "Uhh...Kooh? I don't recognize this course. Is it new?"

"I don't think so," the younger girl said. "In fact..." She took a deep breath, then frowned. "The air smells different. It smells...it smells like a city." Her frown deepened. "Monica, this isn't Pangya Island."

"Then where—?"

A cannon shell exploded between the two girls, driving them to the ground.

"OOOOOHOHOHOHOHOHO!"

Monica and Kooh looked up with wide eyes and dropped jaws.

A two-tone blue mecha towered over them, easily the height and width of three grown men. One hand was a white steel fist; the other was the cannon that had fired at them. Upon its chest gleamed a round emblem resembling a stylized skull.

And where its head should be sat a teenage girl with short brown hair that flared out in the back, wearing a pink blouse and a short black jacket. She stared down at them with a superior smirk.

Surrounding the mecha were at least two dozen tiny blue robots with cylindrical yellow heads and comical faces.

"Tron-sama's on a rampage!" one of them said in a high-pitched voice.

"If you value your lives and property, you'll surrender or flee in terror!" said another.

"What the hell is that?!" Kooh wondered.

"It's a Ridepod...I think," Monica said, standing up with a grim expression. "I'll deal with this." She readied her sword even as the gleaming armband on her left arm glowed brightly.

"What, you think I can't take care of myself?" Kooh retorted, swinging her mace and adopting a light, springy stance.

The girl in the mecha raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You want to fight, do you? Very well...GUSTAFF! FULL POWER! ATTACK!!"

* * * * *

Sweetie Belle, her parents, and Hotaru joined the evacuation of the hotel, standing behind the police barricade. In the middle of the street stood a tall, bulky monster with broad, clawed feet, long, scaly arms, and a head that lay somewhere between 'snake' and 'alligator' on the creepy reptile index. Its entire body was covered in scales that faded from dark green at the head to dark brown at its feet. It had a long, thick tail which ended in a spiked ball; it held the end of its tail in one clawed hand and swung it over its head like a meteor hammer.

Hotaru hissed. "It's just like the other one," she said. "That same feeling..."

"Can you kill it?" Sweetie Belle asked.

Hotaru pursed her lips. "I can't transform yet," she said. "I need more time..."

Out in the street, Manehattan's SWAT were barricaded behind an overturned taxi. Occasionally, they would rise from behind their barricade to fire gas grenades at the monster. The street was choked with gas, but the Inves remained unaffected. Each volley of gas was responded to by the Inves swinging its tail overhead and flinging it out at the taxi, sending clouds of sparks into the air.

"Target is resisting the gas!" the SWAT commander barked. "Change operation! Deadly force!"

When the SWAT officers emerged from behind their barricade again, they held assault shotguns. The deafening roar of high-powered shotgun blasts filled the air. Sweetie Belle shrieked and covered her ears.

The Inves roared in rage. Its eyes flashed, and a stream of fluid gushed out of its mouth, striking the taxi. Immediately, the car turned to stone. The Inves let its tail fly again, and the petrified taxi shattered, peppering the SWAT officers, their backup, and several bystanders with stone shards.

"Fall back!" the commander yelled. "Focus on getting the people out of here safely!" Even as he said this, he fired a flash grenade right at the Inves' face. Hotaru winced and shielded her eyes as it exploded, dazing not only the Inves, but half the bystanders. The Inves screeched in fury. Just as Hotaru's vision cleared, a smoke canister went off, filling the area with smoke.

Three officers grabbed hold of Hotaru and her new friends, whispering reassurances to them as they manhandled them away from the scene. Hotaru continued to watch as she was led away; as the smoke cleared, the Inves struck out with its tail again, smashing through the panels of a police van. With a snarl and a mighty swing of its tail, it threw the van past the escaping bystanders, creating a junked metal barricade. With an overturned bus full of trapped and wounded passengers already blocking half the street, the addition of the van effectively cut off the only escape route that didn't go straight past the Inves.

"DAMN!" a female officer yelled. "We need to get the street cleared!"

"We can't!" another officer said. "There are too many people still stuck in that bus!"

And then, Hotaru heard a loud, electronic voice that filled the air, audible even over the chaos and confusion:

I'M A KAMEN RIDER!

Hotaru stared past the Inves at the most bizarre thing she'd ever seen. Some kind of video game mascot or something stood in the middle of the road, wearing bits of white armor over a black bodysuit and a gaudy neon purple and green belt buckle. The chestplate of the armor looked like a left-handed video game controller, and the figure had a goofy face that looked like huge goggles, cartoonish red eyes with white pupils, and spiky purple plastic "hair" in a distinctly anime-inspired style. All in all, it looked like a short, chubby otaku wearing a spectacularly demented Stormtrooper cosplay. Or like an 8-bit video game character come to life.

"What...the...heck?" Sweetie Belle said.

"I have no idea where I am or what's going on here, but I'll clear this with no continues!" the newcomer said, pointing dramatically at the Inves.

The Inves stared at the squat, goofy-looking new arrival. Its eyes flashed, and a stream of fluid gushed out of its mouth...

The new arrival turned to stone. The Inves raised its meteor-ball tail over its head, swung it around and around, and let it fly. Before Hotaru could react, the petrified newcomer was shattered. "No," Hotaru gasped, covering her mouth in horror.

As the fragments of the shattered newcomer rained down, a plastic green-and-purple device clattered to the ground, sparks and smoke erupting from it as a smaller device shot out of it, bounced across the ground, and exploded.

GAME OVER

Sweetie Belle gasped. "Is...is he dead?"

"Tch. Serves that fool right," a voice said from behind Hotaru. A black-clad person strode past her, clutching a shiny metallic red toy beetle in one hand.

[url=https://youtu.be/pVFApeE5WBk"Henshin."

* * * * *

The fairway was completely destroyed.

Cannon shells had gouged out huge holes in the ground. Uneven clumps of dirt and grass were strewn everywhere. Moreover, smashed and smoking Servbots littered the battlefield, crying out plaintively for repairs.

Kooh and Monica stood side by side, panting and sweating. Their clothes were ripped and dirty, Monica's hair had come undone from its ponytail, and Kooh's mace was missing a few spikes.

Their opponent was hardly unscathed. The blue mecha had huge dents in its armor and scorch marks in various places, and the pilot was singed. "I'll admit, you two put up a good fight," she said. "But Gustaff can last a lot longer than you! You're almost out of stamina, and my power reserves are barely drained!"

"Then if we can't beat the robot," Monica began. She charged forward, leaping high into the air just as a cannon shell impacted directly behind her, giving her leap extra lift. She let out a yell as she landed atop the mecha, grabbed the pilot by the shirt, and threw her at Kooh.

Kooh smirked and swung her mace, catching the mecha pilot in the midsection. She let out a surprised and pained whoof as she was batted directly into the chest of her mecha. She collided, fell to the ground, and slumped to the grass, unconscious.

Monica jumped down and checked on her. "She's out cold," she said. "She's probably got some broken bones and stuff. I guess...maybe we should find a hospital or something..." She frowned. "Damn, I wish I'd studied some healing magic. Maybe I could at least fix her up enough to get her on her feet."

"Why don't we just leave her?" Kooh asked, slinging her mace over her shoulder. "I mean, she did just try to blow us up..."

One of the surviving Servbots ran toward her, flailing its little arms and wailing. "Don't let Tron-sama die!" it whined. "She's not a bad person, honest! I mean yeah, she's a pirate and she blows a lot of stuff up and sometimes she tortures us because we're worthless, but other than that, she really isn't bad! She's just violent and a little psychotic!" The Servbot sniffled. "Besides, we...we don't even know where we are, or what happened to Tron-sama's brothers, and...and..."

Kooh blinked down at the crying robot. "Okay, okay, sheesh," she said. She shook her head and sighed. "Well, Princess, I guess it's up to you."

Monica grimaced as she stowed her sword. "Alright, let's...let's see if we can't rig up some kind of stretcher or something, and then we'll try to figure out where we are and if there's a doctor or a hospital nearby." She sighed. "Guess we're gonna miss the tournament, huh?"

* * * * *

The last few minutes had been a chaotic mess.

The police had focused their firepower not on the Inves, but on the shiny silver-and-crimson armored figure who was calmly ignoring the onslaught of gas grenades and shotgun rounds, instead focusing on the Inves, who was trying to batter this new opponent down with its meteor hammer tail and was having little success. The new arrival, however, was struggling to hold back the monster, limited to sluggish close-up physical attacks that were hindered by the bulk of its armor. The warrior was doing the most damage using the bladed butt of the sidearm it carried like a small hand-axe, but even that wasn't enough to penetrate the Inves' thick scales.

The SWAT commander finally called for all officers to stand down once he realized they were shooting at a potential ally, and the police had redoubled their efforts to find a viable escape route for the civilians. All of this had given Hotaru an opportunity to slip away, transform, and return as Saturn.

Now, Saturn stood on the opposite side of the Inves. Once she saw an opportunity, she swung the Silence Glaive upward in a fast, sweeping motion.

"DEATH RIBBON REVOLUTION!"

For a brief moment, the entire area went dark; a bright pulse of blue-white magical force ripped through the street, hurtling toward the Inves. When it connected, the Inves was thrown into the air. It roared as sparks and smoke exploded from its body even as violet arcs of lightning snapped across its torso.

The silver-armored warrior turned to Saturn, nodding once. The horn of the beetle on its belt buckle popped out; arcs of electricity and pulses of energy and steam surged upwards through the armor as each segment released explosively. The warrior grasped the horn and flipped it to the side like a switch.

"Cast off."

CAST OFF

The silver armor exploded away from the warrior's body, its various segments slamming into the Inves and driving it back as it struggled to recover from Saturn's attack. What was left was a more compact, more streamlined crimson breastplate over a sleek black leather bodysuit. The center of the helmet slowly flipped up, forming a rhinoceros beetle horn that bisected the blue visor and gave the helmet a striking, distinctive look.

CHANGE BEETLE

"Clock up."

CLOCK UP

The warrior suddenly vanished. The Inves shrieked as it was buffeted back and forth by some unseen force, the heavy thuds of impacts ringing out from its scaly hide. It screamed in agony, its eyes flashing as it tried to lock onto something, anything to attack, to destroy, to turn to stone and crush.

CLOCK OVER

The red warrior reappeared, firing several shots from its sidearm, all of which bounced off the Inves' hide. The Inves roared, a stream of petrifying acid gushing from its mouth...

"SILENCE WALL!"

Sailor Saturn skidded in front of the red warrior, holding her glaive at an angle. A violet energy shield snapped into place, absorbing the Inves' acid spray. When the spray abated, Saturn dropped the wall, leapt forward, and brought her Glaive down in a vicious overhand thrust. The Inves blocked with its tail, but the meteor-hammer end was sheared off and sent flying.

Behind the Inves, the red warrior pressed three buttons on its belt.

ONE - TWO - THREE

Electricity coursed up and down the red warrior's body.

"Rider Kick."

RIDER KICK

The Inves turned around just in time to eat an explosive standing roundhouse kick to the face. Saturn was forced to leap backwards and cover her face as the Inves exploded in a fireball which shattered windows up and down the block.

The SWAT officers and spectators all watched in stunned silence. As the flames subsided, the red warrior stood calmly in the middle of the street.

Saturn stared at the red warrior. "Who...who are you?"

The beetle attached to the warrior's belt suddenly separated and took flight, disappearing into the sunny Manehattan sky. The warrior's shiny red beetle armor vanished in hexagon-shaped segments, revealing a teenage girl in dark grey jeans, black cowboy boots, a white T-shirt, and a black leather jacket. Long, wavy copper and gold hair spilled down her back. Her sharp teal eyes burned into Saturn with intensity. "You're not needed here," she said coldly. "Go back where you came from." With that, she turned and walked away.

Sweetie Belle's jaw dropped. "Sunset Shimmer?" she whispered in disbelief.

* * * * *

Rows of computer monitors lined a circular lab. Graphics flashed and scrolled and streamed across them. In the center of it all, a solitary man stood, taking it all in with great focus and intensity. With his short, spiky black hair, soul patch, and thin, scraggly strip of a goatee, along with his youthful, unlined face, anyone could be forgiven for mistaking him as a member of some rock band, or the kind of guy you'd see hanging out at a skate park or headbanging at some concert.

But his eyes were too sharp, too intense, and too old for all that.

"A dimensional collapse," he mused as he studied one readout. "No...a fold. It's as if all the different worlds are being folded together..." He turned to another screen. "Folded into...that one." He crossed to a console and began typing rapidly, studying the changes in the readout above it. Flashing red and blue wireframe models filled the screen along with dozens of equations and streams of data. He frowned. "Should have just about enough left..." He laughed softly. "One-way trip."

He sighed.

"There's no such thing as retirement..."

Crossing the room, he pulled a panel off the bottom of one console to reveal a safe with a biometric lock. Once it scanned his fingerprint and retina, it opened, and he removed two medium-sized aluminum briefcases. He took them over to a wide table along the side of the room and opened them up. Inside one lay a wide belt with a mechanism built into an elaborate buckle, into which four emblems had been engraved. Next to that was a wristwatch with a black strap and an overly large face. Lastly, four small plastic figurines sat in velvet grooves. They looked like cheap toys on a black plastic backing; each depicted a similarly-dressed figure in a different color: green, white, red, and black, with slightly different details present for each.

The second case held five similar watches which lay in varying half-assembled states. None of them were fully assembled, and various parts filled a clear plastic bag next to them. The top half of the case had five velvet grooves, each containing another small plastic figure: red, green, yellow, pink, and black, each with a different detail scheme from one another.

He sighed. "There's no time to finish. I'll have to find someone there who can do it." He closed the second case back up, then returned his attention to the first. He removed the belt and strapped it around his waist. Pressing a switch on the side made the front flip open, revealing a rotating mechanism, not unlike the chamber of a revolver, with four slots. He gently inserted one of the figures from the case into each slot, then closed the front panel of the buckle. Pressing a different switch made hinges on the front panel swing open, revealing one of the figures inside; he pressed another switch on the top of the buckle, and the chamber spun once, twice, a third time. Satisfied, he closed the front panels, then slapped the watch around his wrist.

He crossed to another console and typed away at it. The lights in the room changed from bright white to blood red and a warning klaxon sounded. The monitors at one end of the room flashed red, then went dark; with a loud grinding and ratcheting sound, the entire end of the room opened up, revealing a swirling red vortex with lightning arcing inside it. A powerful wind blew through the lab, stirring his lab coat.

"Well...here goes nothing." He picked up the aluminum briefcase, took a deep breath, and charged into the vortex.

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