Comes a Crossover

by MythrilMoth

First published

Sunset Shimmer accidentally breaks reality. Massive multicrossover hilarity ensues.

Sunset Shimmer's having a bad day. A really bad day. An embarrassingly bad day.

She kinda broke reality. And now the city is overrun with beings from all across the multiverse.

Both Twilight Sparkles are trying to fix the damage, but it's up to Sunset to deal with the metric buttload of crazy...

A wacky tale of unrelenting nonsense and stupidity.

Click here for a complete list of crossover characters!

Now has a TV Tropes page!

Comes a Hunter

View Online

Dear Princess Twilight,
There's a problem in the human world. I might have accidentally sort of broken reality. Our Twilight is doing science stuff to try to figure out what's going on. I'm hoping you could see if maybe there's some magical help you might be able to offer.
By the way, I have my unicorn magic back. I'm still human, but I can use my magic. So at least that's a silver lining?
If you're not busy, please help. Things are getting really, really weird over here.
Your friend,
Sunset Shimmer


The long, flexible legs of the odd ball-shaped robot became flying messes of tangled shrapnel as the robot itself exploded. Sunset turned to her left and fired off a second fiery blast from her hand, striking another robot and reducing it to scrap.

"LOOK OUT!" Rainbow Dash yelled. Sunset ducked and rolled to her left as a bomb fell where she had been standing and exploded, spraying chunks of pavement. Sunset hastily conjured a shield spell and braced herself. She glanced up and saw Rainbow kick a robot bee in the face, then spin around and axe-kick it to the ground, where it smashed into a million bits.

The normally quiet suburb where most Canterlot High students lived had turned into a scene of absolute chaos and confusion. Dozens of bizarre robots were running wild in the city; some of them were animal-shaped and behaved mostly like the animals they appeared to be—except for bomb-dropping bees or bizarre ostriches which launched their buzzsaw-like heads at random passersby. Sunset had been running around for the past hour, using her newly-restored magic to take out as many of the weird robotic invaders as she could; her friends had all ponied up at around the same time her magic had come back, and were helping however they could. Rainbow Dash was flying around attacking the flying robots, Applejack was just plain beating the crap out of anything that tried to attack her, and the others were keeping people inside and safe as best they could.

A high-pitched whine from behind Sunset reminded her of the other strange thing that had shown up—right around the same time everything else had gone to hell, actually—and told her she needed to duck and cover quickly. Not that she needed much convincing, as a bright red car had just roared around the corner and was bearing down on her. Driving the car was a blue robot with a red visor for a face; a huge, futuristic cannon was mounted to the hood of the car.

Sunset teleported six feet to her left, pressing her back flat against the wall of the nearest building, and watched as a massive ball of shining plasma blazed toward the robot car. The driver exploded violently, screeching electronically as bits of his machine body sprayed in every direction; his head spun to a stop at Sunset's feet, the visor shattered and revealing blinking lights and seared electronics. The car itself was still moving, but smoke and sparks were pouring from its damaged undercarriage.

Another ball of plasma hit the car, and it collapsed in a pile of mangled scrap, a single wheel bouncing merrily away.

Heavy steel boots thudded to the pavement beside Sunset. "Are you alright?" a gentle voice asked.

Sunset nodded. "Where the hell are these things coming from?" she asked.

"My world," her rescuer said with a weary sigh. "I'm sorry. None of this is your problem. You've got your own problems..."

Sunset laid a hand on the cold blue armor covering his shoulder and offered him a smile. "It isn't your fault, X. It's mine." She sighed, looking out at the scrap-strewn streets. "I caused all this."

X's green eyes regarded her calmly. "Can you still fight?" he asked.

Sunset grimaced. "I think so," she said. "It's been a long time since I had my magic, and I'm not used to using it for things like this." She winced at a nearby crash and a loud yell. "But my friends need me."

X smiled. "Let's go."

* * * * *

Two hours later, everything had mostly calmed down, and Sunset, her friends, and X had regrouped at Canterlot High. In the school foyer, they found Principal Celestia waiting for them...along with a lavender alicorn who came up to about Sunset's chest.

"Twilight?" Applejack asked. "That you?"

"Yes," Princess Twilight Sparkle said. "I just got here. Nobody was around outside, so I came into the school. Principal Celestia's been telling me about what's been going on." She glanced over the group, then spotted X. She blinked as she studied him. "You're...not from this world, are you?"

X shook his head. "No, and I get the feeling you're not either."

Twilight raised a hoof and made a 'so-so' gesture. "My world and this world are directly connected parallels of each other," she said.

"Ah," X said. "My name is X. I'm...not human." His X-Buster shifted, rearranged, and morphed, becoming a white hand with a heavy blue gauntlet covering the arm above it.

Twilight's eyes widened. "I see," she said. She shook her head. "Sunset, what happened here?"

"Yeah, Sunset. Tell her all about it," Rainbow said with a smirk.

Sunset covered her face with her hands.

"Rainbow Dash, be nice," Fluttershy chided, laying a supportive hand on Sunset's shoulder. "It's not your fault," she said soothingly. "You didn't do anything wrong."

Sunset sighed. "Well, if you're gonna help us, you...you have to know," she said. "Just...follow me." She looked around at everyone, her face flushing. "JUST Twilight," she said. "The rest of you stay here. This is embarrassing enough without an audience."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that.

"Okay, sugarcube," Applejack said. "We'll sit tight out here. We could use a minute an' a cold drink anyhow."

"I'll unlock the soda machine," Celestia said. As the girls cheered at the prospect of free drinks, Sunset led Twilight through the halls.

"Sci-Twi—I mean, the other Twilight—has taken over one of the science labs," Sunset said.

"Sci-Twi?" Twilight asked.

"It's...kind of her nickname," Sunset said. "Rainbow Dash started it, and it caught on." She smiled. "She likes it, actually. She's never had a nickname before."

"Well, it's not a bad one," Twilight said with a giggle. Sobering up, she asked, "Seriously though, in your letter, you said you broke reality. How'd you...?"

Sunset coughed, her face flaming red. "You'll...you'll see it in a minute," she said. She stopped in front of a wooden classroom door and knocked. "Twilight? The princess is here."

The door lock clicked, and the human version of Twilight Sparkle opened the door, looking at them with bleary eyes from behind smudged glasses. She blinked twice as she beheld her counterpart. Her jaw dropped. "Whaaaa...?"

"This is my real form," Princess Twilight said. "Whatever's going on here screwed up the portal."

Sci-Twi shook her head, then stepped back. "Well, I hope you can figure it out," she said. Sunset and Twilight entered; Sci-Twi locked the door again behind them. "I just ran another scan on it. It's...it's still surging."

"Surging?" Twilight asked, tilting her head and cocking an ear.

Sunset led Twilight over to a table in the center of the room, where three sheets of lead shielding had been placed around an object which sat on a wire stand, several sensor leads attached to it. It was about ten inches long, thick, and a dusky purple in color, wider at one end, with a somewhat knobbly, translucent tip. The tip was glowing brightly; wisps of lavender and yellow magic swirled around it.

Twilight frowned as she studied the object. "What...what is it?"

Sunset ducked her head. Sci-Twi adjusted her glasses as she passed a box of latex gloves to her counterpart. Twilight glanced at the gloves, looked up at Sci-Twi sheepishly, and raised a hoof.

Sci-Twi grimaced, but put the gloves away. "Cover your hooves with something," she said. "You really don't want to touch that thing."

Twilight's brow creased. "Is it...dangerous?"

"No, just gross," Sci-Twi said, giving Sunset a sour look. Sunset's flush deepened.

"Gross?" Twilight asked, blinking. She studied the object again. Aside from the glowing thing surrounded in wisps of magic, it seemed innocuous enough, aside from being shaped vaguely like...

No, not vaguely like. Exactly like...

Twilight shook her head and stared at Sunset, flicking an ear. "Is...is that a..." She gulped. "Sunset, is that a dildo?!"

Sunset looked away.

Sci-Twi coughed. "Tell her exactly how you broke the universe, Sunset."

* * * * *

"Oh God...AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHnnnnnnnnghhhhhhhhhhh...!"

Sunset panted, falling flat against the mattress, her entire body flushed, gasping for breath.

As her breathing slowed, she heard an embarrassed-sounding cough. "Well," a quiet voice said, "that...wasn't something I ever expected to see."

Sunset blinked, then looked up slowly.

Green eyes set in a pale, youthful, male face looked back at her above a sheepish smile. The face was framed by a blue metal helmet.

Sunset screamed.

* * * * *

Princess Twilight's left eye and right ear twitched. "You...broke the universe...with a dildo."

Sunset's face burned a deeper shade of red than her hair. "Look, I didn't know, okay? I mean, I bought it on the Internet! From, you know, a normal...place..."

Princess Twilight facehoofed. "For Celestia's sake..."

"Don't drag her into this, you're making it weird!"

"IT'S ALREADY WEIRD!"

"Will you two please stop yelling at each other?" Sci-Twi yelled, taking off her glasses and rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Look, Other-Me...does it really matter how it happened? Isn't the important part fixing it?"

Princess Twilight sighed. "Well, that's true, but in order to understand just how this all happened and how severe the damage is, I do need..." Her cheeks colored. "Details."

"Oh God," Sunset moaned, burying her face in her hands.

Princess Twilight coughed and turned to her. "How many times, Sunset?"

Sunset peered at her between her fingers. "Umm...at...at least once a night...for a little over a week," she whimpered.

Princess Twilight's face turned as dark as Sunset's. "Seriously?"

"I WAS HORNY, OKAY?"

Sci-Twi cleared her throat. "Apparently, whenever Sunset experiences an orgasm, she...leaks."

Princess Twilight and Sunset both stared at her. Now it was Sci-Twi's turn to blush. "MAGIC! She leaks MAGIC!"

Sunset cleared her throat. "Y-yes," she said. "We've figured out that the, umm...jewel..thingy..." She grimaced. "It's some kind of magic receptor, and I've been, err...charging it up..."

Twilight sighed. "Well, I can tell just by looking at it that it's radiating powerful chaos magic, but what's something with that kind of power even doing in this world...?"

* * * * *

"Discord? Are you alright? You've been grimacing and shuddering suddenly a lot lately."

Discord pasted a sickly grimace on his face. "Oh, I don't want to burden you with my little problems..."

Fluttershy placed a hoof on his shoulder and smiled tenderly. "We're friends, Discord. Whatever's bothering you, I'd be happy to help."

Discord smiled. "It's...well..." He coughed. "I misplaced one of my testicles a while back, and I've been getting these funny twinges down there lately...I think someone might have found it."

Fluttershy blinked, her irises shrinking to pinpricks. Her gaze reflexively flickered to Discord's lower end, then back up. "I...I'm sorry," she said. "Did...did you say you lost your testicle?" That last word was squeaked out in a half-whisper, half-mouse-noise.

Discord shrugged. "It's not that big a deal," he said. "I have several."

"HOW DO YOU JUST...JUST LOSE A...A...A THAT?!" Fluttershy's eyes widened. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to—I—" She paused, cleared her throat, then calmly continued, "It...doesn't seem like that's the sort of thing you could just misplace..."

Discord waved his eagle claw dismissively. "Spirit of chaos, body works differently than yours, sometimes these things just happen."

Fluttershy blinked twice, then shook her head. "I-if you say so," she hedged. "W-well...aren't you worried about g-getting it, um...back?"

Discord shrugged. "Not especially," he said. "It's not really worth the trouble. It just...tickles something fierce, is all." He smiled gamely. "Shall I brew a fresh pot?"

* * * * *

"I'm more interested in how a powerful magical artifact ended up embedded in a sex toy," Sci-Twi said sourly.

"That's a really good question that I'd like to get an answer to myself," Sunset said. "But right now, we need to figure out how to turn it off."

Twilight smirked. "Well, we already know how it got turned on."

"Ha ha," Sunset said, rolling her eyes. "Seriously, Twilight. How the heck do we stop this thing?"

Twilight shook her head. "I'll have to run some tests," she said. "Until I've thoroughly probed it—"

Sci-Twi made a strangled, choking noise.

"—and measured its wavelength and emission frequencies—"

Sunset spluttered.

Twilight glared at both of them. "I WILL FIGURE OUT HOW TO SHUT IT OFF," she said loudly, flicking an ear in irritation. "Now...what exactly is the damage? I mean, how bad is it?"

"Well..."

The ground shook with the force of a nearby explosion, staggering them. Sunset reflexively covered her face with her arm; looking out the window, she saw the top of a three-story building erupt into a cloud of smoke and debris. "What now?!" she moaned.

Twilight's eyes widened. "You, uhh...you go find out what that was," she said. "I'll stay here with Sci-Twi and work on the dildo."

Shooting her a dirty look, Sunset ran for the door and unlocked it. Her friends and X were already waiting on the other side, X's right arm already morphing into his X-Buster. "Be ready for anything," he warned.

Sunset nodded. "We'll go check out that explosion," she said. "Fluttershy, stay here and fill Twilight in on exactly what's been going on. The rest of you, spread out. Let's go!"

* * * * *

Loud peals of laughter rang out over the city, and another explosion shook an apartment building, knocking a fire escape loose; it tore free of its bolts and crashed to the ground with a loud metallic screech.

Sunset shaded her eyes and squinted. "There!" she said, pointing at a fast-moving figure which zoomed through the skies.

"What the—" X narrowed his eyes, which clicked and whirred with internal machinery. "It's...some sort of creature? No...a man in a costume. Or a robot? I'm having difficulty scanning—LOOK OUT!" X tackled Sunset to the ground; Sunset hastily cast a shield bubble around them.

A small, spherical orange bomb hit the pavement nearby, flashed yellow twice, and exploded, melting the stone and leaving a glowing hot crater almost a meter wide.

"Ooooh, aren't you a bad little witch," a high voice sneered. With a high-pitched whine of powerful VTL engines, a bat-shaped steel glider descended to just above street level. Standing atop it was a muscular man in a skintight green costume, over which he wore a purple tunic, boots, gloves, and a long-tailed stocking cap. His face was concealed by a ghoulish mask with mad yellow eyes and long, pointed ears. He reached into a satchel that hung at his hip. "I've got a special treat for you..."

Something latched onto the pumpkin-shaped bomb he pulled out, yanked it out of his hand, and threw it high into the air, where it exploded harmlessly. Even as the mad bomber turned in shock, tight, sticky strands that resembled dense spider webs wound around him and his glider, slamming him to the ground. The glider sputtered and whined as its engines choked upon impact.

A dark figure dropped into their midst. Short and lithe, he was dressed from head to toe in a black bodysuit with red trim on the arms, upper torso, and head. He turned slightly, regarding X and Sunset through the large, opaque white eyes of his mask. "Sorry, just playing through," he said in a youthful voice.

Comes a Spider

View Online

"Well, well, well. Spider-Man! Love the new look, but you look as though you shrank in the wash!"

"Look who's talking. You're the puniest excuse for a Goblin I've ever seen."

"PUNY?! Why I—" The maniacal marauder's mad mutterings ceased as a narrow bolt of greenish-yellow plasma slammed into the asphalt near his abdomen, peppering him with shards of cement and knocking him unconscious.

"WHOA! Easy there, blue dude!" the kid in the black costume said. "Hero 101: we don't kill the bad guys!"

"I just wanted to shut him up," X said, his X-Buster still trained on the bomber. "I take it he's human, then? Or at least an organic lifeform?"

"Well, he is or was human," the costumed crimefighter said. "If he's like most of the other Green Goblins, he's either Norman or Harry Osborn under that mask." He looked around. "So...guessing you two are the local superheroes." He looked Sunset up and down. "You...know superheroes are supposed to wear costumes, right? Or at least a mask. That's also Hero 101."

Sunset frowned. "I'm not a superhero," she said. "I'm just a girl who happens to have magic. And...sort of caused all this."

"Spell gone wrong?"

"Weird chaos artifact."

"Ah. Been there, got zapped to another dimension. Twice." He tilted his head. "Three times now, actually. Any idea on how to zap me back? I kinda left the team in a bad place."

Sunset shook her head. "Sorry. We're working on it." She held out her hand. "Sunset Shimmer."

The black-costumed superhero's eyes widened (which gave Sunset a moment of pause, as they were part of his mask). "Wow. That's...that's some name," he said. "I think my mom would ground me until I'm twenty-one if she knew I was talking to a girl as hot as you with a name like that."

Sunset blushed. "Umm...th-thanks?" She frowned, dropping her hand. "And what's wrong with my name?"

The superhero blinked. "Seriously?" He looked at X. "Is she serious?"

X frowned. "It's a fair question. And you haven't introduced yourself yet."

"Oh. Sorry." The kid crimefighter coughed. "Name's Spider-Man. Or Kid Arachnid, I've been going by that a lot lately ever since I joined up with the original Spidey and the other Web Warriors."

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "Yyyyyyeah you look more like a 'Kid Arachnid' than a Spider-Man," she said. "How old are you?"

"Thirteen," Kid Arachnid admitted with a sigh. "And...since this is a completely different world and my superhero alter ego doesn't matter here, I guess you can just call me Miles."

"Okay, Miles," Sunset said with a reassuring smile. "Sorry about, you know...you getting dragged into this craziness."

Miles shrugged. "I'm used to it." He glanced at the Green Goblin, who was just waking up. "Excuse me a second." He extended his hands; multiple strands of spider webbing shot out with a *thwip!* sound, wrapping the Goblin from shoulder to toe in a sticky white coccoon.

Sunset tilted her head. "That's...an interesting power," she said. "And...don't spiders usually make webs out of their a—"

"Yeah yeah, I've heard that one before," Miles said. "And the webs are artificial. They're not part of my spider powers. They're just a handy tool." He took off one of his gloves, revealing a titanium armband clasped around a slim, dark brown wrist, with a pressure trigger located within reach of his fingers. He demonstrated firing a thin web line, which sailed off into the air like a streamer, then put his glove back on.

"Nice!" Sunset said. "That must come in handy." She glanced at the Green Goblin. "So what's his story?"

"Oh, the usual. Maniacal supervillain, blows stuff up, almost never manages to stay in jail or the asylum. I've dealt with bigger, meaner Goblins than him." Miles shuddered. "Usually, the Goblin from my universe is something you pray you survive fighting."

X produced a set of expanding titanium bands from...somewhere...and clasped them around Green Goblin, adding to the immobilization from Miles' webs. "We should turn him over to the authorities...right?"

Sunset frowned. "I...guess so? I mean, I don't know. He needs to be, yeah, but he's also not from this world, so we need to..." She sat down and crossed her arms. "I don't know what to do with him."

"As long as he's somewhere where he can't make trouble," Miles said. "I wouldn't count on those binders holding him forever, so we need to decide fast."

Sunset scratched her cheek. "How dangerous is he without his tech and his bombs?"

Miles shrugged. "Wouldn't turn my back on him."

"Would a dungeon guarded by combat-trained unicorns hold him?"

Miles tilted his head. "Unicorns?"

"With magic like mine," Sunset clarified.

Miles shrugged. "I guess."

Sunset nodded. "X, grab this goon. We'll go back to the school and send him through the portal. I'm hoping Princess Celestia won't mind keeping him in the dungeons in Canterlot for a while."

"Canterlot?" Miles asked.

"The capital of Equestria."

"Uhh..." Miles scratched his head. "Okay, I love a good pun as much as the next Spider-Man, but...really?"

X shook his head. "Sunset, explain things to our new friend," he said as he lifted Goblin over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "By the way, I'd advise against trying anything," he said as an aside to his captive. "I don't like violence, but you don't want to test my patience."

"I like violence just fine, and I'll punch you in the head until you cry," Miles said.

"I can go either way," Sunset added.

Goblin sighed. "Worst. Day. Ever."

* * * * *

Sci-Twi snuck another glance at her counterpart out of the corner of her eye as the princess manipulated multiple devices, constructing a makeshift magical conductivity scanner...something.

Twilight sighed, bowed her head, then glanced at her human counterpart. "Alright, out with it," she said. "What's bothering you?"

"What? Nothing!" Sci-Twi said.

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Right. Twilight, I do that same glance-sneaking thing, so I know something's up."

Sci-Twi sighed. "It's...it's just..." She shook her head. "I can barely deal with the idea that there's another Twilight Sparkle. Now, I'm looking at another Twilight Sparkle who isn't even human."

Twilight snorted. "Yeah? Well I'm looking at another Twilight Sparkle who isn't even a pony," she retorted. "Not to mention all the people in this world who are human versions of all my pony friends back home."

Sci-Twi blinked. "I...I hadn't even thought of that," she said softly. She frowned. "You're connecting positive to negative," she noted.

Twilight blinked and looked at the clamp she was in the process of connecting. "Oops. Sorry." She quickly reattached it to the correct terminal.

"Why are we using a car battery for this again?" Sci-Twi asked. "I mean, I could put together a power supply and plug it into the mains—"

"We don't know how the magic of the...thing will react to what I'm trying," Twilight said. "There could be feedback. If it feeds back into the device, and the device is connected to your power grid, well..." Twilight's ears folded back. "I don't know what would happen, but I'd rather not risk finding out the main power grid is manaconductive and wind up with an even bigger problem."

Sci-Twi's eyes narrowed to pinpricks. "Good point," she said. She pushed up her glasses. "Umm...do you have...a lot of experience working with things like this? Because you seem to know what you're doing..."

Twilight grinned a true mad scientist's grin. "You should've seen my old lab..."

* * * * *

Sunset watched curiously as X held one of Goblin's pumpkin bombs in his hand. His eyes flashed and flickered, and bits of his armor lit up in long, thin lines. The arm holding the bomb opened up, and the bomb disintegrated, absorbing into X's inner workings. After a moment, X changed color, the lighter parts of his armor turning golden while the darker parts turned orange. Sunset blinked. "What...?"

X formed his X-Buster and aimed it over his head, then fired a pumpkin bomb straight up. It exploded brilliantly in the air. He nodded in satisfaction, then returned to his normal blue coloration.

"Whoa," Miles said. "How did you—"

"Variable Weapon System," X said. "I wasn't sure these pumpkin bombs were advanced enough to copy, but apparently they were."

"If there's one thing I hate," Goblin grumbled, "it's a copycat."

"There you guys are!" Rainbow Dash swooped down out of the sky, landing nearby. Miles stared at her. "Did you catch the dipshit who was blowin' up—yep, looks like you got 'im alright. Yeesh." She glanced at Miles. "Who's this guy?"

"Rainbow Dash, this is Miles. Or Kid Arachnid. Whichever you prefer."

"Another weirdo?"

"Hey!" Miles protested. "Who are you callin' a weirdo? You're a blue chick...with rainbow hair...and wings!" He shook his head. "I mean, okay, yeah, I know some mutants who look stranger than that, but still!"

Rainbow narrowed her eyes at him, placing her hands on her hips. "You wanna say that again, little punk?"

Goblin chuckled. "You're not one for good first impressions with the ladies, are you?" he asked. Miles responded by webbing his mouth.

X coughed. "I think," he said slowly, "that Miles here may be from a world where humans are...different than they are here." He shifted Goblin's weight on his shoulder, then continued, "I was...a bit surprised myself when I met you, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Twilight. Sunset..." He frowned. "She looks 'normal' enough, maybe a little exotic. Applejack, there's no problem there. Rarity, she just looks...really pale. But where I come from, humans don't really come in as many colors."

Miles took off his mask, revealing a youthful face with brown skin and short, close-cropped black hair, and grimaced. "Yeah," he said slowly. "My bad. I should know better than to judge someone by the color of their skin." He shook his head. "Of all people, I should know better. It's just...where I come from, people with blue skin are either aliens or mutants, and outside of superhero work, they're not as common as you'd think." He chuckled. "Even inside of superhero work." He approached Rainbow and offered his hand. "My bad."

Rainbow studied him, then shrugged and took the offered hand. "No biggie."

"Now the wings, though? That you're gonna need to explain."

Rainbow laughed. "Maybe later." She gestured at the Goblin. "So, what're you gonna do with this freak?"

Sunset grimaced. "We're gonna need to get word to Princess Celestia," she said. "We're thinking of locking him up in the dungeons in Canterlot until we get things fixed here."

Rainbow blinked. "Dungeons? Wha—oh, you mean in Equestria, right?"

Sunset nodded. "Yeah. So once we get back to the school, I'll just go through the portal and—"

Twilight Sparkle appeared in a magenta burst, startling everyone. She was visibly out of breath. "Sun...set...there you...are. Good." She dropped to the ground, sitting down and panting.

Miles stared. "What the talking horse?"

Sunset rolled her eyes. "Miles Morales, Princess Twilight Sparkle. Twilight, Miles Morales."

"Hi," Twilight said distractedly. "Sunset, we've got a problem."

Sunset arched an eyebrow. "You don't say."

"The dildo's getting more powerful," she said. "It's regenerating its own magic and amplifying it. The magic it absorbed from you was just a...a jump-start, like what I did to get the portal working again. It's self-perpetuating now and..." Her ears folded down. "I...don't think we can stop it."

Miles frowned. "Wait, dildo? What—"

"You don't wanna know," Rainbow said with a grimace.

Sunset frowned. "So...what do we do?"

"Can't we just blow it up?" Rainbow asked. "Or shoot it through the portal to Equestria so you and those other princesses can deal with it there?"

Twilight shook her head. "Exposing it to Equestrian magic would accelerate the anomalies, and then both our worlds would be dealing with cross-dimensional incursions."

"And destroying it?" X asked.

Twilight grimaced. "That...would be bad."

"How bad?" Sunset asked.

"Best case scenario? The complete and total annihilation of this world and Equestria."

"That's bad," Miles said.

"And...the worst case scenario?" Rainbow asked.

Twilight shook her head. "Everything, everywhere, would cease to exist."

"That's really bad," Miles said.

"So what do we do?" Rainbow asked.

Twilight sighed. "Sci-Twi and I might—might—be able to build a device to contain it, but I'm going to need special materials that don't exist in this world. Hay, they're pretty hard to come by in Equestria. I'm going to need to make a trip to the Crystal Mountains."

Sunset's eyes widened. "Bulfecium?"

Twilight nodded.

"Twilight, it could take years to mine even a saddlebag full of bulfecium! Not to mention refining it—"

"We don't have years," Twilight said grimly. "But we do have the entire Crystal Empire Royal Guard, and we have the Royal Crystaller, and his knowledge of arcane lore is even better than mine." She smiled reassuringly. "If we're lucky, I'll have everything we need in less than a month."

"A month?! Miles spluttered.

Twilight glanced at him. "I'm sorry, but if you ever want to go home and actually have a reality to return to, we have to contain the anomalies first, and in order to do that, I'm going to need time."

Miles sighed. "Yeah, I get it," he said. "I just hope Spidey, Scarlet, and the others can get by without me...and that they don't do anything stupid that makes things worse."

"Okay, Twilight," Sunset said. "Do what you need to do. But before you go back to Equestria, we need a favor." At Twilight's questioning look, Sunset gestured to the Green Goblin, who was struggling and mumbling through Miles' gag. "This guy's dangerous, and I don't feel comfortable leaving him with the police, but I have a feeling we're gonna be way too busy to keep an eye on him. Do you think Princess Celestia would object to keeping him in the dungeons in Canterlot until we can send him back where he came from?"

Twilight pursed her lips. "I'll have Spike send a letter and ask," she said. She gave Sunset a serious look. "By the way...just so you know, if you go through the portal and you turn back into a unicorn—"

"I won't turn human again when I come back," Sunset finished with a nod. "I kinda figured that out already." She shook her head. "I'm not going anywhere, they need me here, and I'm more useful as a human with magic than I would be as a unicorn." She frowned. "Besides, I...I actually kinda like this body, you know? I'm used to it. I don't think...I don't think I can go back to being a unicorn that easily." Her brow creased. "But how will I get in touch with you if I need you? The journal?"

Twilight shook her head. "I'll send my student Starlight Glimmer through the portal," she said. "She can be your liaison between here and Equestria. Spike's magic can get letters to any of the princesses instantly, and Starlight can run back and forth between the two worlds as needed, and her magic could be useful here."

"Okay," Sunset said. She smiled half-heartedly. "Good luck, Twilight."

Twilight smiled. "Thanks. You too." She tilted her head; her horn glowed, and a magenta aura surrounded the Goblin. "I might as well just take him with me," she announced. "I'm sure Celestia will send the guards for him swiftly, and it'll save time if he's already at my castle. I'll tell Starlight to join you here as soon as he's in custody."

"Thank you," Sunset said gratefully.

With a wave of a wing, Twilight disappeared, taking the Goblin with her. A silence fell over the little group.

"So," Miles said, turning to Sunset, "you're a unicorn?"

Sunset laughed sheepishly.

* * * * *

"The long nightmare is finally over."

Two people stood on a rocky outcropping, overlooking a city in ruins. One was a middle-aged woman with blue hair; a cigarette dangled from her lips. The other was a heavily muscled teenage boy with bright blue eyes and short, soft lavender hair which stirred in a gentle breeze. His skin was tanned and weathered, his eyebrows drawn down in a near-permanent frown that was equal parts heritage and years of suffering. Above them, the sky shone bright, blue, and clear; somewhere nearby, birds tweeted merrily as they built nests in the trees growing from the side of a mountain.

The woman sighed. "And now, we have to rebuild." She took a long drag on her cigarette. "That's gonna be tough," she said. "The Jinzouningen killed a lot of people, and I damn sure can't do it alone."

"I think I can handle some construction work," the boy said with a smile. "After everything I've just been through, rebuilding West City almost sounds like fun."

"And the rest of the world?"

He shook his head. "That depends on how many people are left." He sighed. "If only we could use the Dragonba—"

And just like that, he was gone. No flash of light. No explosion. No rush of wind. In mid-word, he simply vanished.

The cigarette fell out of the blue-haired woman's mouth.

"Torankusu? TORANKUSU?! DOKO NI IRU NO?! TORANKUSU...!!"

Comes a Saiyan

View Online

"Okaasan?"

Trunks looked around, mind whirling and senses on full alert.

Overhead, a calm, cloudless blue sky.

On the wind, birds chirping merrily. A dog barking. The sound of traffic.

He looked around and saw whole, undamaged buildings, tall and short, all decidedly square in design—not a single domed roof to be found anywhere. As his gaze swept over the sidewalk, he spotted a teenage girl with medium-length blond hair, grey skin, and unfocused golden eyes wearing a blue blouse, yellow necktie, green skirt, knee socks, and green sandals. She spotted him, smiled and waved, then continued on her way.

Trunks blinked and looked around.

There were people. Lots of people.

Strange-looking people, to be sure—he was used to cat people and dog people and the like, but humans with green or purple or gray or lemon yellow or blue skin weren't exactly common on Chikyuu—and yet they were unmistakeably human, going about their normal human lives, talking on some sort of mobile phones, walking their pets, carrying shopping bags, talking and laughing.

People. Living peaceful, normal lives. In a completely undamaged city.

*Ittai...doko desu ka?*

Trunks spent several minutes wandering aimlessly, reaching out with his ki, trying to get a sense of the world. Some distance away, he could feel strong power—not exactly ki, but something very unusual and very noticeable. There were a few different sources, all grouped fairly closely together.

The strongest power source dwarfed the others, was intensifying rapidly, and felt...not necessarily evil or malevolent, but certainly dangerous. Trunks frowned, his brow furrowing.

Slipping into an alleyway and looking around to make sure he wasn't noticed, Trunks rose into the air, landing on the roof of a building. With several quick movements, he crossed ten city blocks without being noticed, drawing nearer to the source of that dangerous power. As he drew nearer, the availability of suitable high rooftops grew scarcer, eventually becoming neat rows of small, square one- and two-story buildings with larger crowds on the street. Trunks slowed to a stop and dropped to the ground behind a purple building, walking around the side and folding himself into the pedestrian traffic. A few people shot him strange looks; a woman saw his sword and took tighter hold of her son's hand, hurrying him along as she glared reproachfully at Trunks.

"I guess they're not used to seeing people walking around armed here," Trunks muttered to himself, suddenly feeling conspicuous. As he walked along the sidewalk, he noticed something else strange: the streets and sidewalks were becoming increasingly littered with debris that looked as though it had come from some fairly advanced robots; traffic cones blocked off the larger sections of strewn debris, and workers in uniforms were busily clearing it.

*I wonder what happened here...?*

"Omae wa...tsuyoi."

A pressure bore down on Trunks' senses; he tensed, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword as his sharp blue eyes scanned his surroundings.

The air itself seemed to turn black and press down on him for but an instant; nobody else in the vicinity seemed to notice, but he himself was drawing a few odd stares for looking as though he was ready to draw his sword. "Tch," he grunted; with one leap that was too fast for normal human eyes to follow, he stood atop a broad two-story brick building.

The air around Trunks warped again, and a floating figure appeared. He was wrapped in a tattered brown cloak and wore a black helmet with broad, segmented, gold-lined fins and a blue four-pointed star on the brow. The only visible portion of his face were burning red eyes.

"Omae wa...tsuyoi."

Trunks narrowed his eyes. "Who are you?"

"The strong need no words. The strong need only their power. Now...show me yours!"

A white-gloved hand extended from within the cloak, burning with a purple aura.

"I have no desire to fight you!" Trunks said.

"What you desire does not interest me."

For the briefest of moments, the cloak parted, revealing a black bodysuit, gold shoulderpads, boots with heavy golden greaves, and a diagonal white scar across a round black chest emblem. Then a massive ball of plasma slammed into Trunks, driving him a full meter backwards.

In the streets below, people screamed and started running.

Trunks growled and reached for his sword. "Kisama...!"

* * * * *

Twilight approached the base of the shattered horse statue with a sigh of trepidation. "I hope Celestia doesn't get mad at me for this..." She turned to examine the Goblin. Held immobile in her magic, he was only able to watch helplessly as several things happened at once:

His bag of tricks vanished in a burst of magenta light. The titanium bands that X had snapped around him disappeared, reappearing a few feet away. The webbing ensnaring him melted away, including the gag over his mouth.

Twilight fixed him with a stern glare. "I don't know who or what you are," she said, "but if you try to cause any trouble when we go to Equestria, I promise you'll regret it."

The Goblin leered at her. "I've never been scared of cute little horses, and I'm not about to start now."

"We'll see about that," Twilight said with a smirk as she spread her wings wide. She strode through the portal, dragging the Goblin behind her in her magic.

The world turned into a kaleidoscope, and things

got

weird

as the Goblin felt his body...

Change.

With a final, bright flash of white light, he found himself tumbling across a smooth glass floor. When the world stopped spinning, he looked up, and the light all around him felt too harsh, too bright.

"Hey Twilight, is everything oka—why is there a batpony with you?"

"Huh. Wasn't expecting that," Twilight said.

Goblin shook his head as he struggled to pick himself up. His entire body felt...wrong. Once he managed to right himself and turn around, he caught his reflection in one of the glass—no, crystal—walls and saw why.

"What...what have you done to me?!"

What stared back at him was not a man in a Goblin costume, but a horse with a dark green coat, long, tufted ears, prominent fangs, slit-pupiled yellow eyes, a long royal purple mane and tail styled in strange, scalloped and veined waves...

...and a leathery pair of dark purple bat wings.

For some reason, he also wore metallic purple horseshoes, an armored purple saddle, and a shiny purple aventail that covered his forehead and most of his neck, parting only to let his odd-looking mane flow free.

He immediately found himself face-to-face with Twilight again. "It's the magic of the mirror portal," she said quickly. "When you pass through it, it changes your physical form into whatever best suits the world you find yourself in. Going through it to the world we just left usually turns you into a human, but for some reason that's broken right now, and coming here from there turns you into—or back into, if you're from here in the first place—a pony."

Goblin snarled at her. "CHANGE ME BACK!" he seethed, his leathery wings flaring in anger.

Twilight shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry, it doesn't work that way," she said. "And anyway, you're a prisoner, so you're not really in any position to make demands."

The other pony in the room—the one Goblin had barely noticed—trotted up. "A prisoner?"

Twilight nodded. "I didn't get all the details, but apparently he was causing a great deal of destruction in Sunset's world. Sunset and some new friends apprehended him and asked if I could send him to Canterlot so Celestia could secure him in the dungeons there until we can fix reality and find a way to put everybody back where they belong."

The other pony blinked. "Whoa. Wanna run that by me again?"

Twilight shook her head. "No time. SPIKE!"

A tiny purple lizard...dragon?...trotted into the room. "What's up, Twilight? Did you solve Sunset's problem already?"

"Not so much," Twilight said. "I need you to take a letter. Oh, and Starlight? I'm sending you to the human world to assist Sunset Shimmer as soon as our guest here is taken into custody. I have a long journey to the Crystal Mountains ahead of me and I'm going to be gone a while, so I need to round everypony up and get them up to speed. Spike's going to stay here to look after the castle and pass messages back and forth, and you'll be my go-between with Sunset Shimmer." She placed a hoof on the pinkish-purple pony's shoulder. "The fate of all of reality is resting on this, so I'm counting on you."

The other pony gulped. "S-sure, right. No pressure." She frowned. "Are you...are you sure you don't need me with you for whatever you're—"

"Dangerous things are showing up in Sunset's world, and Sunset and my counterpart there may need your powerful magic. I mean, Sunset's no slouch and she's as good with magic as I was when I was a unicorn, but she's also been human for a long time and isn't used to having her magic back yet, and I don't think she's as good at combat magic as you are. Also, Sci-Twi may need your help in the lab in case the, umm...thing that caused all this goes haywire." She smiled. "Don't worry! Between me, my brother, the Crystal Guard, and Sunburst, we can take care of mining the bulfecium I need to build a containment device."

Starlight blinked. "Bulfecium?" She grimaced. "Yeah, I think I'll leave that to you. Heavy snow and cold crystal mines aren't really my thing."

"So things are...pretty bad, huh?" Spike asked.

Twilight grimaced. "Yeah, it's...it's not good. But we can fix it. I know we can. Now, about that letter..."

* * * * *

When Sunset, Rainbow, X, and Miles arrived at the school, they found several picnic tables set up outside. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were setting out several pizza boxes, Applejack was hauling a cooler full of ice out of the school, and the other girls, as well as Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna, were carrying drinks, paper plates, and napkins.

"Hey Sunset, you're just in time!" Pinkie said, waving enthusiastically. "We got pizza for every—oh hey, you found a new friend!" She zoomed over, grabbed Miles' hand, and pumped it enthusiastically. "Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie! Who are you? Are you from another dimension?"

Miles blinked at her. "Uhh...yes, yes I am. I'm Miles."

"Hi, Miles! Nice to meet you! Are you a superhero?"

"Umm...yes?"

"Awesome!"

"So, we're havin' a pizza party?" Rainbow asked.

"Everyone's been working hard for quite a while without a break," Celestia said. "We thought it would be a good idea to rest and relax, have some food, compare notes...decide how to proceed from here."

"We're closing the school until this crisis is resolved," Luna said as she sat down. "We have no choice. We can't risk exposing the students to that...thing."

Sunset frowned. "Couldn't we just move it?"

"Shh!" Rainbow said. "Vacation from school, don't ruin it!"

"We can't move it," Sci-Twi said. "It's too risky. It needs to stay where it is. Besides, the closer it is to the portal, the better. We want it to be someplace where the other Twilight can get to it quickly with the materials she's bringing from Equestria."

"Right," Sunset said. "Besides, she's sending her student through to help out, so...we do sort of need to keep CHS as a home base."

Celestia nodded. "I thought you might say that, especially after talking to Princess Twilight. I would prefer to limit everyone's exposure to the strange magic being generated by the...thing, but you, the two Twilights, and anyone else directly involved in dealing with this..."

"Still, it would be preferable if you all limit the time you spend near the object," Luna said. "Celestia and I will take turns being here. She will be here during the day, and I will be here at night. If at any time you need to access the school, call whichever of us is standing watch."

Sunset nodded. "That makes sense." She helped herself to some pizza; Miles did likewise after an encouraging nod from Pinkie Pie.

The mood was still somewhat tense, but Sunset introduced everyone to Miles, who for his part looked flummoxed to suddenly be surrounded by very cute older teenage girls.

"So, you're a superhero," Rarity asked with a dazzling smile. "Tell us all about that, it must be rather exciting!"

"W-well," Miles said hesitantly, his cheeks burning faintly, "when I was eight, I was bitten by a chemically enhanced radioactive spider, and—"

The sky lit up with a second sun, and a tremendous sonic shockwave made the entire city jump.

* * * * *

Trunks pushed back another of his opponent's plasma attacks, grunting as his heels dug furrows in the roof. He leapt high into the air, forming several ki orbs which he hurled at the cloaked fighter. The cloaked fighter's body pulsed with a flickering golden shell of light which absorbed everything Trunks threw at it. Trunks had already memorized the timing of this shield from the first three times he'd used it; with a burst of speed, he blurred behind his enemy, nailing him in the back with a kick that sent him flying into the air. Another burst of speed, and Trunks hovered just below him, hair stirring with the wind generated by his power as he crossed his hands, palms facing forward, in front of his forehead. Crackling energy began to gather around his hands, yellow and white sparks dancing around a rapidly-swelling point of raw energy.

"MASENKO!"

Trunks' power surged forth, catching his opponent in a tremendous explosion that lit up the sky like a second sun. Shredded pieces of the tattered brown cloak fluttered away from the epicenter, burning away to black ash.

When the blinding light faded, the dark fighter hovered in the air, blue sparks dancing across his body; his gold shoulderguards were slightly damaged, and one of the fins on his helmet was cracked. The scar across his chest let out one long, snapping arc of white electricity as his red eyes burned into Trunks, who glared defiantly at him.

"I am Trunks! Son of Vegeta, Prince of the Saiyajin! I have trained and fought alongside the mightiest warriors in the universe! This battle is one you cannot win!"

"Omoshiroi."

The dark fighter disappeared, reappearing behind Trunks. Trunks had but a moment's warning before dozens of plasma balls slammed into his back, sending him crashing to the street, which cratered under his body.

Heavy boots landed at the edge of the crater, crunching gravel into dust.

"I am power. I am strength. I am Forte. You are worthy to die by my hand."

* * * * *

"What...the...HELL...was THAT?"

Every head at the table snapped around. X's eyes began to flicker and glow, then widened in shock. "Masaka... I'm detecting two massive power sources two point four kilometers north-northwest of here. One of them has a bioelectrical component..." He frowned, then shook his head. "The other doesn't register as any known energy pattern, but the output is off the scale!"

"Ah crap, what now?" Rainbow Dash moaned.

Sci-Twi pulled out a portable scanning device and pointed it in the direction X indicated. It let out one long, shrill beep, then exploded in her hand. "Gwah!"

"Are you okay, Twilight?" Fluttershy asked.

Sci-Twi shook out her hand, hissing and blowing on her fingertips. "Yeah," she muttered. "Geez, it'll take me a whole day to rebuild that!"

Another flash lit up the sky, followed by a dust cloud which billowed into the air. In the vacuum of silence that followed, sirens screamed in the distance.

Miles sighed and put his mask back on. "Break's over," he said. "Time to get back to work."

Sunset grimaced. "X, come with me. Everyone else, stay here. I've got a bad feeling about this."

"Yeah, you three can handle this one without us," Rainbow said, nodding rapidly. "We'll save you some pizza."

Sunset nodded to X, who returned the nod as he stood, his X-Buster already forming. A bright teal aura surrounded them briefly; they disappeared in a flash.

"H-hey! Wait for me!" Miles cried, shooting a web line up to the nearest corner of the school and swinging away.

A silence fell over the group.

Pinkie turned to Sci-Twi. "Sooo...think you can cook up a radioactive spider? Because I so wanna be able to do that."

Sci-Twi facepalmed.

* * * * *

Trunks clutched at his left shoulder, bangs blowing across his eyes as he glared at Forte. "This...is your last warning," he hissed. "Back away now, or I will destroy you."

"Hn. Your power...it is not as great as I thought. Still, very few opponents have damaged me."

He raised one white hand; a swelling ball of purple plasma formed, crackling with blue-white arcs of electricity.

"Do you believe in a life after death, human? Do you worship the imaginary gods your kind dream up to explain the world around them? I will grant you a moment to make peace with them, if so."

Trunks snarled. "I warned you..." Loose debris began to swirl and levitate around his feet as a sudden swirling wind picked at his clothes and hair.

And then an orange bomb struck Forte in the chest, exploding with tremendous force and knocking him backwards.

A figure in gold and orange armor landed beside Trunks; the armor changed color, becoming two shades of blue. "Are you alright?"

The floating debris at Trunks' feet began to settle. He stared at the armored newcomer with startled eyes. "Ah," he grunted. "Who—"

"Your power...it shines..."

Forte stood in a wary stance, clutching his shoulder as he faced the newcomer.

"You are not the Navi slave of the Hikari brat...yet something about you reminds me of him..."

A red-haired girl ran up beside the armored newcomer; a boy in a spiderweb-patterned black costume landed on Trunks' other side. "Whoa. It looks like the Hulk ran through here."

The armored newcomer's green eyes widened in disbelief. "Masaka...! I...I know you! From Dr. Light's database files! You're...!" He shook his head, then whispered, "Forte..."

Forte narrowed his eyes.

"You know of me...yet I do not recognize you..."

"I know you're dangerous!" The newcomer raised his arm, which ended in a dark blue cannon; a piercing hum filled the air as plasma and electricity crackled around the barrel.

Forte closed his eyes and smirked.

"Hn. Things are more interesting here than I thought."

Shimmering blue lines covered his body, forming wireframe polygons over most of his battle damage. With a bright white flash, he completely regenerated every wound inflicted by Trunks. Even his tattered cloak regenerated; he swept it around himself, covering the lower half of his face.

"We will meet again."

With that, he faded from view in a black pulse.

The newcomer powered down his cannon, which transformed into a hand. Trunks looked around at the trio gathered around him, then tensed at the sirens drawing near. "We should get out of here," he said. "Do you mind if I tag along with you? You seem to know what this place is and what's going on here, and I need answers."

The redhead nodded. "Miles, can you carry him back to the school? I can only teleport one other person besides myself, and I have to carry X."

Trunks frowned and rose off the ground. "I can get there under my own power," he said.

The girl stared at him, mouth slack. "Umm...okay." She shook her head. "I'm Sunset Shimmer, this is X, and this is Miles. Who are you?"

"My name is Trunks."

Sunset blinked at that. "Okay. Trunks. Just follow Miles, he knows the way." With that, a teal nimbus surrounded herself and X, and they disappeared in a bright flash.

Trunks blinked. "Shunkan Idou...?"

"C'mon, underwear dude," Miles said, shooting a long, thick web from his hand at a nearby building. "Let's bail before the cops show."

Trunks nodded hesitantly, then followed the surprisingly fast webslinger south.

*Just what kind of place is this...?*

* * * * *

Goblin had been bound with iron shackles and loaded into the back of a chariot by two white pegasi in gold armor. As the chariot ascended toward a tall mountain with a massive, shining city built onto the side of it near the peak, Goblin smirked and shattered his shackles. Before the two armored pegasi knew what had happened, he had drop-kicked both of them with enough force to send them and their chariot crashing to the ground below.

He cackled. "Yes...! Even in this bizarre flying horse body, the Green Goblin remains superior!" He looked around. "But until I understand this body and this world, I'm going to need to lie low...aha!" He cackled as he espied a sprawling forest of dark, gnarled trees. "Perfect."

Spreading his leathery wings wide, he glided into the dense, dark forest.

Comes a Ninja

View Online

The Netherworld...

"TASTE MY FURY!"

On a hellish plain littered with the bones of the damned and decorated with the ruins of forgotten fallen kingdoms (and, for some strange reason, a headless statue with a huge wet stain on its crotch), a scrawny young boy, shirtless and clad only in loose pants and a flowing red scarf, roared his rage as he swung his sword, the twin blue antennae of hair peeking out from his head waving wildly.

The blade was parried by a broad, shining bat wing which glowed with otherworldly energy, its edge gleaming like a finely sharpened scythe.

"SOUL SPARK!" A glowing projectile slammed into the bare torso of the boy, driving him backwards. He dug his blade into the ground, gritting his teeth.

"Dammit, Etna! You're my vassal! Fight this disgustingly curvy bitch!"

"Little busy with her jailbait sister, thanks!"

"HEY! I'm three hundred years old!"

"Really? 'Cuz you look like you're twelve."

"Oh, you're one to talk!"

"I'll have you know I'm a hell of a lot older than you. And who ever heard of a succubus who looks like a little girl?"

"I dunno, Japan? Russia? Korea?"

"Wow, humans are really into that kind of thing...?"

"ARGH! WILL YOU THREE SHUT UP! YOU'RE GIVING ME A HEADACHE!"

"Well I for one find this discussion fascinating," said a tall, voluptuous green-haired woman with broad bat wings extending from her mostly-bare back, smaller bat wings sprouting from the sides of her head, and an outfit that would probably get her arrested in most civilized countries. She wrapped an arm around the scrawny boy's shoulders. "You know, we could take a break from the fighting, maybe..." She let her fingers play along his bare shoulder and blew on his ear. "Get better acquainted?"

The boy cut her in half with his sword and backflipped away. "Back off, you big-boobed freak!"

"HEY! Why'd you do that? That was mean! Oneechan? Are you okay?"

"I'll live." The green-haired woman reassembled herself in a flurry of screeching bats, then glared at the blue-haired boy. "Alright, now you've asked for it," she said. "I was going to let you and your little girlfriends be my slaves once I finished conquering your kingdom, but now I'm just going to have to kill you."

"Aww, we're really gonna kill 'em, Oneechan?" The younger of the two succubi—purple-haired, dressed almost exactly like her sister, and scandalously flat-chested and slender—pouted. "I was just starting to have fun!"

"Now, Lilith," the older succubus said patiently, "we can't waste too much time playing with our food. You know that, ri—"

A massive column of fire, black in the center and crackling yellow and green around the edges, slammed down from above, cracking the sky like an egg. Lilith screamed as it engulfed her and the two girls she'd been fighting—a red-haired demon with an even more underdeveloped body and dressed in far less than the succubus, and a blonde, beautiful young girl in a red and white dress—before withdrawing into the yawning chasm of red, glowing nothingness beyond the sky, taking all three with it.

"Oneechan! Oneechan, tasukete!"

"LILITH!"

"PRINCE! GET US DOWN FROM HERE!"

"WAAAH! LAHARL! HELP!"

Laharl stared up at the surging, burning phenomenon, eyes wide. "What the hell...?"

And then the whole thing disappeared in a white flash, leaving an unnatural stillness and silence behind.

Laharl turned to his uninvited guest and erstwhile invader. "Umm..."

Morrigan Aensland scowled. "To be continued," she said before dissolving in a cloud of bats, which scattered to every corner of the Netherworld.

Laharl crossed his arms and snorted. "Damn...! When I find out who's responsible for this..."

* * * * *

The next thing Etna, Flonne, and Lilith knew, they were lying in the cool grass of a football stadium, a clear blue sky shining above them.

Flonne sat up, rubbing her head, and looked around. "Huh?"

Etna groaned as she sat up. "Ugh...what the hell...?"

"Wah! Oneechan!" Lilith shot to her feet, looking around, her wings fluttering in a wild panic. "Oneechan, where are you?!"

"Calm down," Etna said. "I don't know what just happened, but I'm pretty sure this isn't the Netherworld." She sighed. "Lilith, was it? How about a truce until we figure out what just happened and where we are?"

"A truce sounds good to me too," Flonne said. "I don't even understand why we were fighting in the first place."

Etna snorted. "There's a surprise..."

Lilith slumped to the ground, head bowed. "Oneechan..."

"Wow, a succubus with a sister complex," Etna said. "That's just sad..."

"You know," Flonne said, touching a finger to her lips, "I've never been able to figure out the name 'succubus'. I mean, I've never seen a succubus suck a bus. Have you?"

Lilith blinked in confusion. "Hoe?"

Etna facepalmed. "Ignore her. Her brain's full of hearts and rainbows and guys in spandex and stuff."

Lilith's eyes lit up. "I like guys in spandex..."

Flonne's eyes shone. "Really? What's your favorite sentai?"

Lilith tilted her head. "Hentai? I don't usually watch that. I'm usually too busy being it..."

Etna groaned and stood up. "Forget you two," she said. "I'm outta here."

As she started to walk away, Flonne jumped up and chased after her. "W-wait! Etna! We shouldn't split up! We don't know where we are! It could be dangerous! I don't wanna be lost and alone! Etna, WAIT!"

Flonne ran after Etna. Lilith blinked, then floated off the ground and flew after them. "Don't leave me behind! I thought we were just getting to be friends!"

* * * * *

"What is this world?" Trunks asked as he flew alongside Miles.

"No idea," Miles said. "I'm not from here either. I was mixing it up with some bad guys with my teammates; next thing I know, I'm in the land of technicolor people fighting an old-school low-rent Green Goblin. I haven't even gotten a real explanation yet myself." He glanced at Trunks. "So what's the story with that dude you were fighting?"

Trunks frowned. "I don't know who he is, but he reminds me of..." His brow tightened. "Nevermind. I have a feeling he is also not from this world."

"Yeah, well, there's a lot of that going around lately, apparently. Ah, here's our stop." He descended into the courtyard of what looked like Trunks to be a high school; several people—almost all teenage girls—were sitting around eating pizza. Miles dropped down into their midst; Trunks came in for a landing, touching down lightly on the grass.

"Whoa," a pink girl with a massive mop of curly pink hair said, eyes wide and cheeks darkening. "Hot boy alert."

"Oh my," a pale-skinned girl with meticulous coils of dark purple hair said, fanning herself.

A blond wearing a cowboy hat raised an eyebrow.

Sunset Shimmer waved Trunks over to the table she was sitting at. "Come over here," she said. "Get some pizza, sit down, rest for a minute while we fill you in."

Trunks nodded. "Sumimasen deshita," he said as he took a paper plate, helped himself to a few slices of pizza, and sat down. The pink girl filled a cup with ice and soda and passed it down to him; he accepted it with a grateful nod.

"Everyone, this is...Trunks, you said?" Trunks nodded. Sunset pointed at each person present in turn. "Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Applejack, Twilight Sparkle, Principal Celestia, Vice-Principal Luna. This is Canterlot High School, in the Canterlot suburb. You already met Miles and X."

"Trunks, huh? That's a weird name," Rainbow commented around a mouthful of pizza.

"Says the girl named Rainbow Dash," Miles muttered.

The blue-armored boy, X, looked Trunks up and down, his eyes flashing as he did. "You've sustained numerous injuries," he said. "Two bruised ribs, hairline fractures in your left leg and right arm, and your left shoulder is very nearly dislocated. I'm also detecting multiple contusions. You should be treated by a medical professional immediately."

Trunks shook his head. "I've had worse just training with my master," he said as he pressed his hand against his shoulder, grunting as he popped it back into place. "As soon as I eat and rest for a few minutes, I'll heal up completely."

X frowned. "That seems unlikely."

"How'd you do that, X?" Rainbow asked, tilting her head. "Is your name X because you have X-ray eyes?"

"No, it's..." X shook his head. "Nevermind. My optics are equipped with multiple scanning modes."

"So you can see through our clothes?" Pinkie Pie asked with a smirk.

"Ah...! N-no, I don't...!" X coughed. "I have no interest of...of that kind in humans."

Trunks frowned at that, examining X. "I wondered why I couldn't sense your sentou-ryoku," he said. "You couldn't be...a Jinzouningen?"

X frowned at him. "A what? I'm an android created by Dr. Light. I was created as the ultimate artificial lifeform. I've devoted my entire life to protecting both mankind and my own kind from others like me who have turned...bad."

Trunks looked down. "Sumimasen," he said. "I've had...bad experiences with artificial lifeforms."

X sighed. "You and me both."

Sunset looked at Trunks with concern. "You sure you don't need a doctor? It sounds like you're in pretty bad shape."

"Dude flew here himself and kept up with my web-swinging," Miles said. "I'd say he'd know better than we would." He shrugged. "Besides, I know tons of guys with a healing factor. This one guy I know? Got chewed to pieces by machine guns and set on fire, and an hour later he was beating the crap outta the guys that did it."

"Holy crap," Rainbow said, eyes wide.

"Oh dear. How...violent," Rarity said distastefully.

Celestia tilted her head. "Is...everyone in your world...different?" she asked.

"You mean in the 'superhuman powers' sense?" Miles asked. "No. I'd say there are maybe a thousand or so superheroes, give or take...I think?" He shrugged. "It's just that when you are one, you sort of tend to run in the same circles as all the other superheroes."

"I suppose that makes sense."

"That sounds like the world I'm from," Trunks said. "Or rather, the past. When everyone was still alive." He bowed his head. "I get the impression from my mother that all her friends who were fighters didn't...really hang out with people who weren't fighters very much."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, I have friends who aren't superheroes," Miles said. "It's just that, well...Miles Morales' friends and Kid Arachnid's friends...they're not the same friends, you know? Secret identity and all."

"That must be dreadfully tough," Rarity said.

Trunks smiled. "Secret identity, huh? That sounds interesting. Where I'm from, people with my level of fighting power more or less keep to ourselves, or the few people closest to us. Like my mom." He looked up at the sky. "That was the start of everything...the day she met Son Goku."

"Your father?" Luna asked.

Trunks blinked and shook his head. "No...my father is Vegeta. Goku is, well...a legend. They were the last two Saiyajin in the universe. The last two from their home planet, I mean." He bowed his head. "In my time, they've both been dead for years. But in the alternate timeline I helped create, they're alive and well—well, Vegeta is. Goku..." He closed his eyes. "Still died." He shook himself and looked around with a sheepish smile. "Sumimasen. Things have been kinda rough in my world."

"Oh, you poor thing," Rarity said, scooting closer to him. "If you ever need to talk..."

"The brooding loner type, huh?" Sunset asked. "You must be constantly surrounded by girls."

Trunks sighed and closed his eyes. "I don't even know any girls where I come from," he said. "None that are still alive."

"This boy needs a party," Pinkie Pie announced. "And a cake. And I'd be more than happy to jump out of i—"

She was cut off by a shrill scream, drawing nearer as a flailing body fell out of the sky. Everyone looked up in shock.

A naked teenage girl crashed through the table in front of Trunks, sending bits of wood, plates of pizza, and cups of soda flying everywhere.

Pinkie blinked. "Or that works."

A single slice of pizza which had glued itself to Trunks' face slowly slid down, leaving behind a huge smear of cheese and sauce.

* * * * *

Spike belched out a letter, and Twilight levitated it over.

Dear Twilight,
We'll have the expedition outfitted and ready to go by the time you reach the Crystal Empire. Shining Armor and Sunburst will accompany you to the Crystal Mountains. Be careful.
Love,
Cadance

Twilight let out a sigh of relief. "Okay, that's taken care of." She looked around at her friends. "I'm sorry about this, girls."

"Ain't no big thing, sugarcube. You sure you don't want us comin' along?"

Twilight shook her head. "This is going to be a long expedition, and you all have responsibilities here in Ponyville." She looked at the two new faces in the throne room and smiled. "Besides, I think I've got all the help I need."

Maud Pie offered a faint smile. "I've always wanted to examine the mineral strata in the Crystal Mountains."

Limestone Pie grunted. "Just so long as I'm not away from the farm too long. Some of us have real work to do, you know!"

Pinkie Pie bounced happily. "Going on an expedition with both of my big sisters! This'll be so exciting!"

Applejack chuckled. "Well, yeah, Ah guess if you're goin' minin', you wanna take along th' experts."

"Well, I guess we'd best be off," Twilight said, strapping on her saddlebags. "It's a long train ride to the Crystal Empire. Starlight, head on over to the other world and report to Sunset Shimmer, alright?"

Starlight nodded. "Will do. Good luck!"

Twilight smiled and looked around at her friends. "See you soon, everypony. I hope."

* * * * *

The naked girl sat up, looked around, looked down at herself, and screamed some more.

"H-here!" Trunks said hurriedly, slinging off his sword and shrugging off his jacket, which he handed to the girl. Sunset Shimmer did likewise. After blinking at the two of them, the girl frowned, looked down at herself again, and let out a frustrated grown. "Mattaku..." She pressed her hands together in an odd gesture. "Henge!"

In a puff of smoke, maroon silk pants, black sandals, and a frog-tied white silk shirt with maroon trim appeared over her nude body. She looked around at everyone present, cheeks flushed. "Anou..."

Miles tilted his head. "You're speaking Japanese, but the clothes and the hair buns are Chinese..."

The girl frowned in confusion. "Chinese? Japanese? What's that?" She shook her head, then stood up, brushing herself off. "A-anyway..." Her cheeks flushed. "Where am I?" She looked around. "I don't recognize this place, and..." She trailed off, blinking. "Ehhhhh?! Why is there a blue girl and a pink girl and a purple girl and—"

"Not this again," Rainbow muttered.

"AND WHY DOES THE BLUE GIRL HAVE WINGS?!"

"Would you please calm down?" Sunset said. "We can explain."

"More importantly, how are you not injured after crashing through a wooden table?" X asked.

The girl blinked at that. "I've had worse," she said. "Umm...sorry about your table. And your food."

"It's alright," Celestia said. "We have plenty of tables and plenty of pizza. Would you care for some?"

"Umm...sure."

A few minutes later, the smashed table had been cleared and replaced, everyone whose plates had been scattered had new pizza and drinks, Trunks and Sunset had put their jackets back on, and Trunks had cleaned the pizza stains off his face. The new girl took a long drink of her soda, then looked around. "My name is Tenten," she said. "I'm a kunoichi from Konohagakure."

"This is Canterlot High School," Sunset said. She went around the table making introductions, then said, "We're having some...problems here. The short version is that a magical artifact is breaking reality, and people and things are getting pulled here from different dimensions. And before you ask, no, we can't send you back yet. We're still working on fixing the problem, but it's going to take time, and the reality damage is getting worse by the minute."

Trunks narrowed his eyes. "That must be the power I sensed," he said. He sighed. "So that explains what I'm doing here."

Tenten sighed. "Mou..." Shaking her head, she looked around. "Well, I guess this looks like a nice enough place for a vacation. It's not like I was doing much back home but training, not with Konoha still being rebuilt." She flushed. "I, umm...I will need to borrow some real clothes from someone, though. I can't hold this jutsu forever."

"Jutsu?" Rainbow asked.

Tenten blinked. "You don't have ninjutsu in this world?"

"Only in video games and cartoons and comics and stuff."

"So you can just like, make clothes with ninja magic?" Pinkie asked.

Tenten nodded. "Or turn into somebody else, or even disguise as an inanimate object. But maintaining the jutsu requires constant release of chakra, so the sooner I can get some real clothes, the better."

"I can help you with that, darling," Rarity said. She eyed Tenten critically. "I'm afraid I don't have anything in stock in that particular style, but I'm sure I'll have something at the boutique you'll like. At least until I can come up with something like that...I mean, if you'd prefer that."

Tenten nodded. "I would," she said gratefully. "This is what I'm most used to wearing and fighting in."

"Something tells me you'll get to do a lot of that here," Miles said.

"Excuse me," a new voice intruded. "Which one of you is Sunset Shimmer?"

The entire group turned to see a pinkish-purple unicorn standing, observing them with wide purple eyes. Her voluminous violet mane was styled in an elegant wave, and had two pale aquamarine stripes running through it.

Sunset raised her hand. "Right here," she said.

Tenten stared at the unicorn. "What...the...?"

"I'm Starlight Glimmer, Princess Twilight's student? She sent me." Starlight looked around. "So, umm...wow. She didn't tell me humans were so...wow!" She smiled a wide, bright smile. "And...I see a lot of you look a lot like certain friends of mine..." She blinked as her eyes landed on Sci-Twi. "T-Twilight?! B-but..."

Sunset stood. "Didn't Princess Twilight warn you about the doubles of everypony?" she asked. "And her own double?"

Starlight flinched and smiled sheepishly. "I, uhh...maybe sometimes only hear every third word she says?" She laughed nervously.

Sunset facepalmed. "Come on," she said. "We'll get you up to speed...Sci-Twi, come with us to the lab."

* * * * *

Etna, Flonne, and Lilith tore up meters of sidewalk at a time as they fled from the police car chasing them, its siren blaring and its lights flashing.

"This is stupid!" Etna snarled. "Why the hell are we running?"

"Because they're gonna arrest us if they catch us?" Flonne offered.

"I don't mind being arrested," Lilith said, licking her lips. "I haven't eaten a policeman's soul in a while."

"I don't wanna be arrested!" Flonne wailed. "I don't even know why they wanna arrest us!"

"I think it's mostly me and Etna," Lilith said. "They probably think we're hookers or something."

Flonne blinked. "What's a hooker?"

"Is she serious?"

Etna shrugged. "If it's a human thing that isn't guys in spandex or giant robots or spaceships, I don't think she knows about it."

//This is the police! I order you to surrender! You aren't being charged with anything, we just want to take you into custody, get some information...find out why your parents allowed girls your age to run around dressed like that...//

"Ah, MOU!" Lilith cried in frustration. Stopping and turning, she threw her hands down and to her sides while thrusting her chest forward. "SOUL FLASH!"

A glowing green bat-shaped fireball surrounded by fluttering hearts launched itself from Lilith's heart, speeding toward the oncoming police car and slamming into the hood. It punched through the hood; a second projectile followed, then a third. The car slowed, then stopped. The officer got out as the windshield shattered and smoke billowed up from the crumpled, punctured hood.

Lilith took Etna and Flonne each by a hand and flew up high, clearing the top of the nearest building as the cop below watched in bewilderment.

Etna jerked her hand away and touched down on the roof, crossing her arms. "Why didn't you just do that in the first place?" she demanded.

Lilith shrugged. "Sometimes it's fun letting the cops chase you." She put her hands behind her head and gave Etna a sleepy look with one eye. "What's your excuse?"

Etna coughed and looked away, cheeks burning. "I'm feeling...not-so-demon-fresh, okay?"

"I was just running because you two were running," Flonne said. "And because I think that's what the bad guys are supposed to..." She paused, her eyes going wide. "Wait. Are we the bad guys?"

Lilith groaned and facepalmed. "Of course not!" she said. "We didn't do anything! We were minding our own business when that cop started chasing us!"

"Oh. Right." Flonne blinked. "So then...the cops are the bad guys? Oh, I'm so confused...!"

Etna groaned. "Whatever. Let's just find a place to hide out until we can figure out where we are without having some dipshit cops chasing us around, alright?"

"Good idea," Lilith said, glancing up at the sunny sky with a frown. "I'm really not a daylight kind of girl..."

Comes an Invader

View Online

Sonata Dusk yawned sleepily and shifted on the comfortable, padded beach chair she lay upon. Clad in a magenta bikini, she was on her third straight day of sunbathing on the beach at Canterlittle. It was the off season, so there weren't many people around; Adagio and Aria had used the last of their savings to buy a small snack shack on the beach, which also doubled as their home. With things quiet as they were right now, Aria was off surfing while Adagio was sleeping off her morning bottle of vodka.

Sonata frowned. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea for Adagio to spend half the day wasted...she'd heard somewhere that that stuff was bad for your liver. She made a mental note to talk to Adagio about it later as she closed her eyes and settled in for a nice, long nap in the sun...

"You there!"

A shadow fell over Sonata.

"I hereby subjugate you-geso! You will help me invade and conquer the surface world or I will kill you for the glory of the sea de geso!"

Sonata blinked and looked up.

A young girl in a white dress, short boots, and a pointed white hat stood over her. Her long blue hair was pulled into ten separate ponytails.

One of those ponytails rose up of its own accord and poked Sonata menacingly in the chest, right above her heart.

"Serve me or be the first of many humans to die-geso!"

Sonata frowned. "Can I finish my nap first? I'm too comfortable to move and the sun and wind feel nice today."

The girl considered that.

She then flopped down on the sand beside Sonata.

"Oyasumi-geso..."

* * * * *

Once Rarity and Tenten had eaten their fill, they left for Carousel Boutique in Rarity's car. As Rarity instructed Tenten on the use of the safety belt and started the engine, she glanced aside at her passenger. "Err...not to be indelicate, darling, but do those garments have any...material substance? I mean to say..." She blushed faintly. "Are you in fact sitting naked in the seat?"

Tenten grimaced. "Yes and no," she said. "It's tricky to explain. It's not really something you can understand if you're not a ninja." She smiled sheepishly. "If it helps, I was just getting out of the bath when I ended up here?"

Rarity sighed and backed the car out of her parking space, driving out of the parking lot and onto the street, keeping the speed low.

"Something like this must be really convenient," Tenten said. "I've been on trains and ships before, but we don't have anything you can just...drive around on the street like this!"

Rarity smiled. "I just got my license two weeks ago," she said. "It's ever so lovely not to have to walk everywhere all the time."

"I can imagine," Tenten said, laughing. "I guess it helps that you have these nice wide paved roads. I've heard of paved roads, but I've never actually seen one until now."

"Really?"

Tenten shrugged. "Where I'm from, you walk everywhere. Well, farmers have horses and donkeys for heavier loads, and rich people use horses and palanquins. Everyone else..." She shrugged. "Anywhere you can't walk or run to, you take a ship or a train. So pretty much all the roads are dirt or gravel roads." She frowned. "Which, now that I think about it, is pretty weird. I mean, it's not like we couldn't pave the roads. I mean, if we can run electricity to every building in Konoha and carve the Hokage's face into the side of the mountain, surely we could manage to pave the roads."

They arrived at the boutique; Rarity gently parallel-parked. As soon as they got out of the car, Tenten fidgeted. "Anou...do you mind if I use your restroom for a few minutes?"

Rarity nodded. "Of course. It's just upstairs on the left."

"Thank you," Tenten said. As soon as Rarity had the doors open, Tenten headed upstairs, while Rarity headed for the discounted pants section and began rummaging.

* * * * *

Ever since Sunset and Starlight had headed inside the school with Sci-Twi, Pinkie had been watching the door with a frown.

"Pinkie Pie? What's troubling you?" Celestia asked.

Pinkie shook her head. "I'm not sure," she said. "Something about that pony bothers me. Like...there's a reason I shouldn't trust her, or maybe she's dangerous."

"Now that's jes' silly talk," Applejack said. "She's one'a Twilight's friends!"

"I guess," Pinkie said slowly. "Still, I've got this niggly little itch under my left boob that tells me we need to watch that one."

Miles nearly choked on his soda. "Uhh...what now?"

Rainbow groaned. "Pinkie," she said, "don't say stuff like that when there's guys around!"

"What?" Pinkie whined. "I'm just talking about my Pinkie Sense!"

Miles blinked. "Pinkie Sense?" He looked at Pinkie with interest. "I have a Spider Sense, I wonder if it's the same thing?"

"Spider Sense?" Trunks wondered.

"Ah don't think it's th' same," Applejack said in a bored tone. "Pinkie here jes' gets these random little itches, twitches, shudders, an' aches from time t' time. Like, if her left shoulder aches an' she sneezes twice, you better grab an umbrella, 'cuz it's dang sure fixin' t' rain."

"Interesting," X said. "Usually stories of humans possessing precognitive abilities are difficult to explain or prove."

"Once you've been around Pinkie Pie long enough, you know her Pinkie Sense is for real, even if you can't explain it," Fluttershy said. She grimaced. "I found out the hard way when I fell down an open manhole."

Trunks frowned. "So you don't trust this Starlight Glimmer, then?"

Pinkie shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "I just get the feeling I shouldn't. Like..." She frowned. "Like maybe the other Pinkie Pie doesn't totally trust her because she did something that was very unsmile."

A pause followed that statement.

Pinkie blinked. "'Unsmile'? That was a weird thing for me to say."

* * * * *

When Tenten returned, her face was a bit flushed, and she was holding a small, slim lacquered wooden tube in her hand that looked to have just been polished. "Is there anywhere I can stock up on ninja tools in this world?" she asked. "I hate only having my emergency backups, especially since I can't store very much with this scroll."

Rarity blinked. "Where...exactly were you keeping that?"

Tenten looked to the side, her cheeks puffing out. "Where do you think?"

Rarity turned faintly green. "Gah."

"Well, after all!" Tenten cried. "I'm good at one thing and that's using ninja weapons! I have to keep some in reserve that I only use when I'm really desperate!"

"You...had that...in your—"

"Can we get back to the whole clothes thing?" Tenten asked, her face burning.

"Y-yes, of course," Rarity said, shaking herself. "And, err...I'm sorry, but I don't really know of any place that carries, erm...ninja tools."

Tenten deflated. "Wonderful."

Rarity offered a pained, sickly smile. "Sorry, darling, it's just...ninjas aren't really a thing here, generally speaking. Now, I've got some lovely selections for you..."

* * * * *

"So you're saying this reality is being torn apart by some chaos artifact of doom, other realities are interacting with it, and you can't stop it?"

"Pretty much," Sunset said as Sci-Twi unlocked the lab door.

"Wow," Starlight said. "That's...a story I wouldn't have even believed if I hadn't, erm..." She ducked her head and blushed. "Kinda used the Cutie Map and Starswirl's time travel spell to try to get revenge on Twilight and her friends and wound up creating a dozen or so alternate realities where Equestria was invaded, conquered, or completely destroyed."

Sci-Twi blinked. "What?"

Sunset grimaced. "Yeah, Twilight told me about that. Just so you know, while you're in this world, I don't want you using your magic without my approval unless it's an emergency."

Starlight frowned. "Excuse me? I don't remember anything about needing your permission to use my magic."

"Magic behaves differently here than it does in Equestria," Sunset said. "I've been told you have a bad habit of using way too much magical power for unnecessary things. You could make things worse than they already are, and I don't want to put my friends at risk." She leaned closer, hands on her hips. "So keep your horn to yourself unless, okay?"

Starlight rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine."

Sci-Twi opened the door to the lab. "Alright, here we go," she said.

The trio stepped inside; Starlight squinted against the glare of blinding magic emanating from the center of the room. "Whoa!"

Sunset paled. "Gah. It's getting worse."

Sci-Twi adjusted her glasses as she rushed over to the laptop running the various sensors and equipment. She frowned. "Just as I thought. The growth of the anomaly is exponential. It's neutralizing the phase space."

"It's huh the what?" Starlight asked. Sunset rolled her eyes. Starlight shook her head and moved closer, studying the object. She frowned. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd swear this looks like one of those, erm...toys lonely mares use...to..." She trailed off, then looked at Sci-Twi, whose face was flaming, and Sunset, who was looking away sheepishly and guiltily.

Starlight blinked. "It...it is, isn't it?"

Sunset coughed. "W-well..."

Sci-Twi pushed her glasses up. "Let's see if she can get through the story without dying of embarrassment this time."

* * * * *

Sunset burst into Applejack's garage in a mad panic. A boy in blue armor was right behind her. "Girls, we have an emergency!"

Rainbow stopped in mid power chord; Pinkie looked up from her drums, while Rarity's fingers slowed to a halt on her keytar. Applejack plucked two more notes on her bass before falling silent. Sci-Twi moved the volume sliders on the mixing board down.

"What's up?" Rainbow asked. "We coulda used you today, y'know."

"I know, and I'm sorry, but I was..." Sunset cringed. "I needed to..." She stopped again, then shook her head. "Nevermind. We've got a problem!"

"Who's your new friend?" Pinkie asked. "Is he a cosplayer? He looks like a cosplayer."

"I'm X," the armored boy said. "I'm an android...sorry, but I have no clue where I am or what's going on."

"Oh my," Fluttershy said. "I see what you mean, Sunset. This boy clearly needs help."

Sunset shook her head. "N-no, X isn't the problem." She blushed, then slung off her backpack and pulled a wooden box out of it. Setting it down on Rainbow's practice amp, she opened it. A sickly greenish-yellow glow filled the garage.

The girls moved closer. "Don't tell me it's more Equestrian magic gone wild," Rainbow groaned.

"I'm...not sure what it is, but—"

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "I'm pretty dang sure it's a dildo," she said.

"Oh my," Fluttershy whispered, her cheeks turning pink.

Rarity blinked. "Sunset. Darling. What you choose to do in your...ahem...alone time is your own business, of course, but..." She coughed. "It doesn't seem to me that having something like...that...inside your body would be, erm, healthy."

"Yeah, it kinda looks radioactive," Pinkie interjected.

Sunset's blush deepened. "Look, it only just started doing this, okay? I mean, up until today, it was just a normal...you know."

"Dildo," Rainbow said with a smirk.

Sunset groaned. "You guys, this is serious! I was...you know..." She ducked her head. "And then suddenly X was in my bedroom, and he's from another dimension! One that isn't Equestria! I don't know how he got here, or why this thing is doing what it's doing!" She let out a frustrated scream and threw her hands up.

Her right hand started glowing teal, and a basketball shot out of the corner of the garage and bounced around the room.

Everyone stared.

"Wow, Sunset," Pinkie said. "That must've been some orgasm if it broke reality!"

* * * * *

Starlight blinked twice, then burst out laughing. "Oh my gosh!" she cried. "That...that....that's too funny!"

Sunset groaned. "Yeah yeah, get it out of your system, this is serious," she said. "This thing absorbed Equestrian magic from my body, then somehow turned into a dimension-shattering..." She waved her hands.

Starlight raised an eyebrow. "Reality raper?"

Sci-Twi snickered.

Sunset's shoulders slumped. "I'm going to hate you, aren't I?"

Starlight smirked. "Okay, so...I'm guessing the main thing we'll be doing here is dealing with anything dangerous that shows up in this reality while we wait for Twilight to get back from the Crystal Mountains?"

"That's about the size of it," Sunset said.

Starlight shook her head. "And here I had to spend months stalking Twilight and her friends, steal a time travel spell from the Canterlot Archives, and corrupt a powerful magical artifact nopony even understands to break reality. Who knew it was as simple as being a dirty girl?"

Sunset groaned.

* * * * *

Tenten looked at herself in the mirror, pursing her lips as she turned this way and that. She wore a tight pair of wine-colored jeans, matching flats, and a white silk blouse with the leaf emblem of Konoha embroidered near the hem in dark silver thread. "A little tight, but nice," she said.

"I'll set you up with a few more outfits off the clearance rack to wear for now," Rarity said. "As soon as I have a chance, I'll make some more...flexible pantsuits for you, something you can ninja in."

"Thanks," Tenten said. She frowned. "I feel awful about not having any money—"

"Oh, nonsense," Rarity said, waving a hand airily. "I'd never dream of charging a girl in a time of desperate need. Besides," she added, "I'm positive Sunset Shimmer will pay for it anyway, since it's largely her fault you're here." She grimaced. "Not that I'm holding that against her, I mean, it was an accident, but...oh dear."

"How exactly...did all this happen?" Tenten asked curiously.

Rarity coughed. "W-well," she said in a flustered tone, "it..." She worried at the hem of her skirt. "A lady doesn't...talk about such things, mind, but you're bound to hear about it sooner or later..." And she told Tenten, in delicate and discrete terms, exactly how Sunset Shimmer broke reality.

Tenten's face turned a violent mix of purple and green. "I am never touching myself ever again," she moaned woozily.

"It's funny," Rarity said, "I was just thinking quite the opposite earlier..." She blushed. "Or perhaps...being touched..." She ducked her head, a silly smile blooming across her face.

"Eh?" Tenten frowned. Her eyes widened. "Oh! That boy Trunks?" She smiled. "He is pretty cute..." Both girls giggled.

* * * * *

"Oy, Sonata. Wake up."

Before Sonata could open her eyes, she felt a sharp kick to her ribs. "Ow!" she complained, sitting up. "I'm up, I'm up! Why'd you kick me, Aria?"

"Because you're the worst," Aria said, scowling down at her. She tilted her head at the young girl sleeping beside Sonata. "So what's going on here?"

"Oh, that's..." Sonata frowned, tilting her head. "Actually, I never got her name."

The girl began mumbling. "Gesogesogeso," she muttered. Her hair-tentacles wriggled and stretched out, planting themselves in the sand; she slowly lifted herself into a sitting position, yawning mightily.

Aria took a step back. "What the fuck?!"

The girl opened her eyes, looked around, and bristled. "AH! Humans! I'll never let you grill me-geso!" She shot to her feet; her tentacles immediately wrapped tightly around Sonata and Aria, binding them. They struggled against her grip, but her tentacles were too strong.

"What the hell? Is this some kind of perverted tentacle anime?" Aria growled.

"Don't rape us!" Sonata whined. "We weren't gonna do anything bad to those high school kids! Just feed on them and make them our slaves! I promise!"

The tentacle girl blinked. "Slaves?" She tilted her head. "You've conquered humans before-geso?"

"Well, we tried to," Aria grunted, squirming. "Could you maybe...?"

The tentacles unwrapped and set them down. Aria rubbed her arms, wincing.

The girl stared at them with the intensity of a hundred wet rubber chickens. "You could be useful-geso," she decided. "I've decided to use your home as my base-geso. You're going to help me conquer the humans and punish them-geso!"

Aria blinked, then shrugged. "Sure, why not. Just one thing. Who, or what, are you?"

The girl laughed a snotty, conceited laugh, hands on her hips and eyes closed. She opened her eyes and smiled cockily at her new underlings. "Ikamusume de geso!"

* * * * *

Rarity and Tenten returned to the high school to find the pizza party winding down, and the girls playing with a strange orange-brown mouse.

"You're such a cutie, yes you are!" Fluttershy cooed as she lifted the overly large mouse up to her face and nuzzled it.

"Denene?" it said, its eyes shining brightly. Giggling, Fluttershy offered it a morsel of sausage, which it ate happily. "Dedenne!" it cheered.

"Hey guys," Rainbow called, waving.

"Ah, that's a cute pet!" Tenten said, rushing over to examine the mouse. "I've never seen anything like it!"

"Neither have I," Fluttershy said. "Be careful, it's...it's a little bit electric."

"Electric?" Tenten asked, blinking.

Rainbow prodded the rodent's cheek with a twig. It sparked. "Denenene!" it barked at her.

"Stop that," Fluttershy chided, petting the mouse and scratching its ears. It curled up in a ball and cooed happily.

The bushes rustled, and a creature bounced out. It looked like a large, fat raindrop made of blue gelatin, round with a long, tapered stem on top that wobbled and wiggled as it bounced in place. It regarded them with comically wide, round eyes and a big, silly smile.

"GET BACK HERE-NYAN!" A red-and-white cat with two tails ending in blue flames, wearing a belled collar and a broad yellow sash around its waist, bounded out of the bushes, walking on two legs. "PAWS OF FURY!" It flailed away at the blue gelatin creature, sending it flying across the courtyard.

The girls, Miles, Trunks, and X watched in stunned silence.

"Okay, this is officially getting weird now," Miles said.

"Denene," Fluttershy's new pet agreed.

Sunset, Starlight, and Sci-Twi emerged from the school. "It just flared," Sunset reported. "We're reading a new series of cracks in reality."

"We noticed," Rainbow snarked, pointing at the battle between the orange cat and the blue slime.

Sunset took one look, shook her head, and walked back over to the girls.

"It's getting late," Celestia said. "You should all go home and rest." She paused. "Hmm. I suppose our new guests will need...accomodations..."

"Oh, Trunks can absolutely go home with me," Rarity said, nodding rapidly.

At Trunks' flustered expression, Applejack rolled her eyes. "Ah think he'd be more comfortable out at mah place," she said. "We've got room t' stretch out, an' with Big Macintosh there, he'd have a guy t' talk to. He wouldn't feel so overwhelmed."

"I really don't want to trouble anyone," Trunks said, looking down at the table. "I don't want to impose."

"So don't," Applejack said. "We've got more'n enough chores t' do out at th' farm, if you feel like it."

Trunks smiled gratefully. "I'd be happy to," he said.

Tenten raised an eyebrow. "A farm? That must mean you've got tools, right?"

"Of course," Applejack said.

"And maybe scrap metal lying around? From broken plows and stuff?"

"Some," Applejack said, brow furrowing in confusion.

"Got room for one more?" Tenten asked hopefully. "I really, really need to make some new ninja tools since apparently there aren't any shops where I can stock up around here."

Applejack frowned, but shrugged. "Ah dunno how useful anything we got at th' farm'll be fer all that, but you're welcome t' crash in th' garage an' see whut you can come up with."

"Arigatou," Tenten said, bowing.

"I guess I can put Miles up in our guest room," Rainbow said. "I kinda wanna hear more about this world of superheroes he comes from."

"And Starlight—"

"Will be returning to Equestria," Starlight said. "I'll come back through the portal first thing in the morning." She smiled. "Sorry, but I think it's best if I don't stray too far from here."

"Fair enough," Sunset said. She looked around as a few more bizarre creatures, all of which could be termed 'cute' and 'inoffensive', but none of which were native to this reality, roamed around the campus. "I guess we should let the, err...new wildlife deal with the leftovers?"

"I don't have a problem with that," Celestia said.

"I'll clean up the trash after they're done," Luna commented.

"Well...I guess that's that then," Sunset said. "Come on, X. Let's roll."

* * * * *

Adagio stared in bewilderment at the new "friend" her fellow Sirens had made. "I usually don't start seeing things like that until after a half a bottle or so," she muttered.

It was late in the evening, and Sonata had made dinner for all of them. A plate was set for Adagio, who had just stumbled out of her room half-dressed; Aria, Sonata, and the weird blue-haired girl were sitting around the table eating. The blue-haired girl was using her hair to eat, picking up utensils and her plate and her glass and even her napkin with prehensile precision.

"Hey Adagio!" Sonata called, waving. "Meet our new lord and master, Ikamusume! She's an invader from the sea, here to conquer mankind! And we've decided to help her!"

Adagio fumbled for words, then glanced at Aria. "What?"

Aria shrugged. "This weird girl with tentacles for hair showed up, nearly tentacle-raped us, then ordered us to help her take over the world. We more or less decided to roll with it."

Ikamusume laughed arrogantly. "With this house as my base and you three as my underlings, I will take revenge on the humans for polluting and destroying the ocean-geso!"

"Yeah! We're gonna kill those dirty humans who pee and poop in the sea and throw garbage in the water and all that stuff we TOTALLY don't do because we're not evil!" Sonata said cheerfully.

Adagio's mouth slowly stretched into a devious smirk. "You know," she purred, "if you truly want to get revenge on the humans, I'd start with these horrible, evil witches at Canterlot High School."

Ikamusume recoiled. "W-witches-geso?!"

"Oh, they're the worst," Adagio said. "The three of us used to be mermaids with the most beautiful singing voices until these awful witches cursed us. Now we can't sing at all and we're stuck like this."

"That's horrible-geso!" Ikamusume balled up her fists. "I'll help you make them pay-geso!"

"Perfect," Adagio purred as she sat down at the table and began salting her food. "It's decided. You can sleep in Sonata's room, and tomorrow..." She grinned evilly. "Tomorrow, we'll tell you everything you need to know about our mortal enemy, Sunset Shimmer..."

As the Sirens and their new friend ate dinner while the last light of the sun faded into deep dusk, the rippling tide carried a sound that no man, woman, or squid heard.

"Shaaaaaahahahaha..."

Comes a Pirate

View Online

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."

"But...!"

Etna rolled her eyes. "Flonne, you're a Fallen Angel. You've gotta stop worrying about goodness and rules all the time!"

"W-well..."

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.

* * * * *

"Nghh..."

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...?"

"Enzan-sama."

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."

"Ryoukai."

* * * * *

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..."

Comes a Black Cat

View Online

Sunny Flare was busy filing her nails before the start of afternoon classes when the school public address system screeched to life with a squeal of feedback.

"Great, I wonder what the Wicked Witch of the West has to say this time," Sour Sweet muttered to her right. Sunny Flare smirked.

But it wasn't Principal Cinch's voice that boomed out from the speakers.

//A-LO-HA EVERYBODY!//

The class sat up, shaking out of their afternoon stupor. Murmurs broke out, and the teacher frowned at the PA speaker with confusion.

//Dis be your new principal here, goan' lay down dem BIG news fo' ever'BODY!// the male voice thundered. //Now dat uptight wahine dat run dis place, she goan' havin' de big medical surgery leave! Dem doctah say she gotta git dat stick cut outta her ass!//

There were some snickers and chuckles.

//So dis here kahuna, he done takin' over! Dis here be Principal Kuno, a-lo-ha oe, an' I'm havin' BIG NEWS 'bout some new school rules, so—//

The microphone screeched loudly.

//DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! HE'S TIED UP PRINCIPAL CINCH IN THE FACULTY RESTROOM! I CAN'T GET IN THERE BECAUSE HE BLOCKED THE DOOR WITH A PALM TREE! I'VE ALREADY CALLED THE POLICE BUT—//

Dean Cadance's voice was cut off by an explosion, leading to gasps and shrieks from the students.

//NOW LISTEN HERE, WAHINE!// Principal Kuno roared. //I'M HERE DOIN' DESE KEIKI SOME BIG FAVOR, NOW! DE BIG KAHUNA DOAN' BE NEEDIN' YO' SASS!//

//Somebody...call...help...// Cadance gasped out before the PA cut off.

The teacher looked around the room worriedly. "Umm...class dismissed," she said in a troubled voice. After a beat, she added, more insistently, "Run."

They ran.

* * * * *

Enzan splashed some water from a public drinking fountain on his face with a sigh, then drank his fill. "Well, at least there's free water," he mused. His stomach rumbled, and he grimaced. "At this rate, I'll need to find someplace to camp that has a river, maybe some nuts and berries."

"If anyone can survive under these conditions, it's you, Enzan-sa..." Blues trailed off, stiffening. "Enzan-sama...look."

Enzan followed Blues' gaze. He blinked. "Nani kore...?"

A vehicle had just pulled to the curb nearby. It was the most unusual vehicle Enzan had ever seen. Most of the cars in this world looked pretty much the same as the cars he was used to. This, on the other hand...

It looked like a bizarre cross between a sports car and a camper truck. The whole thing was painted in gaudy red and orange tones, with chrome pipes running from the forward "cab" up the sides, bending at ninety degree angles at the top of the camper. The sides of the camper sported massive flame decals, and the hood of the cab had a smaller firebird decal forward of a sloping blue translucent canopy.

It was attracting more than a little attention. People were tilting their heads and staring at it. Some were laughing at its odd appearance; a couple of guys were staring at it like it was the most awesome thing they'd ever seen. An old lady rolled her eyes and snorted in disgust.

It was absolutely out of place in between the yellow compact and the white SUV it had parked between.

Enzan closed his eyes and smirked, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "Some people have the worst taste in cars..."

"What I'm more interested in is that nobody's driving it," Blues said.

Enzan's eyes snapped open. "What?"

Blues nodded toward the blue canopy. Enzan shielded his eyes against the sun and squinted. He frowned. "Huh. You're right." He shrugged. "NetCars are auto-guided back home. It's entirely possible for a car to drive around with nobody inside."

"I don't believe that to be the case here," Blues said.

Enzan's dormant PET suddenly came to life, beeping insistently at him. He jolted, staring down at his pocket, then up at Blues. Blues frowned.

Enzan pulled his PET out of his pocket and powered on the screen. A map of Enzan's immediate surroundings appeared; his current position was marked with a yellow triangle, while a spot two blocks over was lit up with a flashing red dot. Beneath that were the words MEET ME HERE.

"What in the...?"

The camper car's engine gunned to life suddenly, and it pulled out of its parking space, rolling down the road.

Enzan and Blues exchanged a glance, nodded, and took off running, Enzan following the map on his PET.

"How do you suppose the operator of that vehicle managed to hack into your PET?" Blues wondered.

"I don't know, but I intend to find out," Enzan said.

The location marked on the map turned out to be an empty garage in an auto repair shop whose windows were boarded up. The camper car was parked inside. "Hello?" Enzan called.

"Over here," a male voice with a slight but noticable electronic distortion called from the front of the camper car.

Blues' right arm morphed into his glowing sword. "Be careful, Enzan-sama," he cautioned.

"Aa." Enzan crept cautiously into the garage, Blues a step behind him.

"Your friend can stand down his weapon. I'm not your enemy."

"We prefer to be careful, especially with unknown hackers," Enzan said coolly.

"Fair enough," the voice replied. "Heaven knows I've learned the hard way to be cautious."

As Enzan neared the front of the camper car, the canopy opened, revealing an orange leather interior and banks of computer controls, with a large screen set in the middle of the dash. "Don't you think this car is a bit conspicuous to let it drive around by remote control?" Enzan asked.

The voice was silent for a moment. "That's not exactly what's going on here, though I can understand why you might think that," the dashboard said. "Before that, though: am I correct in assuming you two are not native to this world?"

Enzan blinked. "Another world...?" He glanced at Blues. "Masaka... Could that be...?"

Blues frowned. "It would explain a lot," he said. "If such things are possible."

"Trust me, it's more possible than you know," the voice from the dasboard said. After a pause, he added, "Your friend there isn't human at all, is he?"

Enzan and Blues looked to one another. "No," Enzan admitted. "Blues is a NetNavi, an artificial intelligence designed to operate within computer networks. For some reason, he physically exists in the real world now. Neither of us can explain that."

"That explains that device you're carrying," the voice said. "I thought it seemed different from the rest of this world's technology."

"Sorry, but..." Enzan closed his eyes. "I think we'd both be more comfortable discussing this face to face instead of through this silly remote controlled car."

There was another, longer pause.

"Get in," the car said. "You're absolutely right. This isn't the place to talk. There's a secluded area by the river seventeen kilometers northwest of here. We'll go there."

"Enzan-sama," Blues cautioned.

Enzan snorted and smirked. "Wakatta." He jumped into the passenger seat and fastened the safety belt. With a frown, Blues got into the driver's seat and did likewise.

The canopy closed, and the camper car backed out of the garage.

* * * * *

Brook's introduction to the rest of the gang had gone about as well as Sunset could've hoped: Rarity was the only one who fainted and Tenten was the only one who actually attacked Brook. Fluttershy had screamed for a minute straight, then inexplicably calmed down and accepted the talking skeleton with mild, polite curiosity.

"Man, our wacky little family just keeps getting stranger," Miles said.

"Sunset, things are gettin' worse," Applejack said. "We've been hearin' about a helicopter blowin' up over Palomino Park last night."

Sunset grimaced. "We found the parachute of whoever survived," she said. "No sign of the actual survivor."

"And they're sayin' there's some crazy girl wearin' a taco on her head runnin' around Canterlittle sprayin' people with salsa and guacamole," Rainbow Dash said.

Everyone stared at her.

"...what?" Trunks said.

"What kind of sick, twisted world comes up with something like that?" Miles wondered.

"Actually, that sounds like Sonata," Pinkie said. "You know, that one Siren, the blue-haired one?"

"Huh," Applejack said. "Ain't heard nothin' outta them in a while."

"Well, they did move to Canterlittle not long after the Battle of the Bands," Sunset said thoughtfully. At the others' questioning looks, she ducked her head. "I, uhh...didn't say anything, but I kept tabs on them for a while, just to be sure they weren't planning any kind of revenge."

"Smart thinking," Rarity, now conscious again, said.

Sunset's phone went off; she pulled it out and read the screen. She blinked. "What the...?!"

"What is it?" Rainbow asked.

"S.O.S. from Flash," Sunset said. "He's been...kidnapped by three little girls? One of them's dressed like a stripper and has a gun?!"

Everyone looked around in confusion.

"What?!" several of those present shouted at once.

"That damn sure better not be mah sister an' her friends," Applejack said sourly.

"I think he'd have named names if it was," Sunset said as she texted Flash back. A minute later, she rubbed the bridge of her nose. "He's fine, he's just really weirded out and uncomfortable."

"So let's go save him!" Rainbow said, pumping a fist.

Sunset thought about it for a minute, then shook her head. "He can wait," she decided. "First, we need to—"

"GIRLS!" Sci-Twi came running out of the school, eyes wide and frantic. She skidded to a halt, breathing heavily and waving her phone.

"What's up, Twi?" Rainbow asked.

"Is something going on with the you-know-what?" Pinkie asked.

Sci-Twi shook her head. "I just got a text from Sugarcoat," she said. "Crystal Prep's been taken over by a madman! He's done something to Principal Cinch and Dean Cadance!" Her eyes welled up with tears. "Principal Cinch can go lick a butt, but we have to help Cadance!"

"Whoa," Rainbow said in an impressed tone. "I never thought I'd hear you say something like that."

"Can you blame her?" Applejack asked.

Sunset stood and walked over to Sci-Twi, placing her hands on her shoulders and smiling. "Don't worry," she said. "We'll go help Cadance."

"Th-thank you," Sci-Twi said, sniffling.

"Umm..." Fluttershy piped up. "We should probably help Flash, too. I mean, it really does sound like he needs help."

Sunset sighed. "Fine," she grumbled. "X, you and the bonebag go deal with Flash's female troubles. Miles, Tenten, Trunks, you're with me."

X nodded. "You can count on me."

"I won't fail!" Brook said. "I'll rescue your friend if my life depends on it!" He paused. "Even though I'm already dead."

Sunset groaned. "Here's the address," she said. "Just go." She turned to her team. "Let's hurry."

* * * * *

A crowd of nervous, anxious, and panicking Crystal Prep students gathered at the school entrance, which had been sealed off—locked steel shutters covered every conceivable exit from the building.

"Everybody calm down," Sunny Flare called to the crowd. She, Sugarcoat, Lemon Zest, Indigo Zap, and Sour Sweet stood between the frantic students and the madman who had somehow seized control of their school.

"Madman" was putting it mildly. "Principal Kuno" was a stocky, deeply tanned man wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt which clashed terribly with his loud lime green capri pants, sandals, sunglasses, and a lei around his neck. His short brown hair was topped by a tiny palm tree. A ukulele hung from a thin strap around his waist; he held a megaphone in one hand and a pineapple in the other.

"Now listen up!" he shouted at them. "You all be wearin' your school uniforms real nice an' proper an' dis Kahuna be diggin' dat, but dem funky skin colors an' wild hair, dat's gotta go! Dat be against dem rules!"

"You can't make rules against skin color!" Lemon Zest shouted.

"He can't make rules at ALL," Sour Sweet muttered. "Nobody died and made him principal!" She paused, then added, "Ooh, unless he killed that bitch Cinch!"

"None of us like Cinch, but we don't want her dead," Sugarcoat said. She adjusted her glasses and glared at the usurper. "If you think you can get away with taking an entire high school hostage like this, you're insane. The police are on their way and they'll arrest you. You're going to prison."

"Oh, I don' think dat goan' be happenin', wahine," Principal Kuno cackled. "Ain't no five-o goan' be makin' it past dem traps I done goan' put around de school, yah?"

"Traps, you say?" Sugarcoat asked, raising an eyebrow. Behind her back, she began rapidly texting. "Do tell."

Principal Kuno lowered his sunglasses. "Oh, I tell you all about it when you stop fiddlin' widdat fancy phone you got behind yo' back," he said. "Doan go thinkin' I ain't figured out dese here crazy phones, yeah! Dat pink wahine thought she got one up on ol' Principal Kuno, but—"

He suddenly threw the pineapple he held like a quarterback throwing a high forward pass. It sailed over the heads of the students and collided with the steel shutters, exploding violently on impact. Several of the students screamed and cowered in terror.

Principal Kuno grinned broadly.

"Now, let's talk about dem rules 'bout haircuts. Startin' wit' you, big-talkin' smartie blue wahine..."

* * * * *

Brook looked around in amazement as he and X walked down the street. "This world is remarkable," Brook said. "I've never seen anything like it!"

X regarded him. "I think it's safe to say this world's never seen anything like you either." He frowned. "Sorry if this sounds rude, but in my experience, dead humans stay dead. They don't..." He gestured vaguely at Brook. "This."

"Aa," Brook said sagely. "Yeah, this isn't exactly normal where I'm from either." He bowed his head. "On the one hand, I wish I had been able to die with my nakama and join them in the afterlife. On the other hand..." He clenched his fists. "There's a promise we made that still needs to be fulfilled, and...I'm the only one left to do it. And since I can't die, I'll keep that promise no matter how long it takes."

X looked away. "Gomen," he said. "I misjudged you. You seem strange, and I based my first impression of you based on your appearance and the fact that you claim to be a pirate." He chuckled. "I'm supposed to be better than that."

Brook waved a hand dismissively. "If I were in your place, I'd probably react the same."

They walked in silence for a minute. Then, X asked, "How did this happen to you? I think you explained it when we first met, but your explanation made absolutely no sense."

"Aa," Brook nodded. "Which part did you want explained? How I died, or why I'm a talking skeleton?"

"That last part," X said. "I can't imagine the other thing is something you want to talk about."

Brook shrugged. "Actually, that part's easier to explain," he said. "Our ship was boarded by a rival crew and they cut us down with poisoned weapons. Even after we drove them off the ship, it was too late." He looked down. "All we could do was wait to die."

X frowned. "So, a disagreement between criminals?" He paused, then added, "Suman."

Brook laughed hollowly. "Not all pirates are criminals," he said. "It depends on how you look at it. Where I come from, sailing under a pirate flag means you've taken the responsibility for your life and how you choose to live it in your own hands, and reject the order forced upon the world by the people who claim to own it." He picked idly at a loose thread on his jacket. "True, many pirates rob and kill and do other terrible things, but some, like me and my nakama, just seek a life of adventure. There are so many mysterious and exciting things to see in the world, but the only way to fully enjoy the world's many wonders is to fly the Jolly Roger and live outside of the law."

X tilted his head. "I don't...completely understand," he said. "Gomen, where I come from, my job is to enforce the law and protect mankind and Reploids alike from outlaws and renegades. Accepting that being an outlaw and being a criminal are two separate things is kind of a tough concept to process."

Brook chuckled. "It's not easy, no." He sighed. "Alright then, the other thing. Have you ever heard of Devil Fruits?" X shook his head. Brook nodded. "Alright. They're a rare type of mysterious fruit that exist in my world. As far as I know, there are no two Devil Fruits exactly alike. Eating a Devil Fruit gives one strange, unnatural powers and abilities, but it also curses you. If you've eaten the Devil Fruit, you lose the ability to swim forever."

X blinked. "Lose the ability to swim?"

"You sink like a hammer if you fall in the water," Brook said. "And given that the world is nothing but islands and ocean and it's almost impossible to avoid sea travel at any point in your life, that's not exactly a trivial curse."

X frowned. "I suppose it isn't."

"In any case, a long time ago, I ate the Yomi Yomi no Mi," Brook explained. "As far as Devil Fruits go, it isn't the most practical. It doesn't have the kind of powers that can be used every day, like many fruits. It does exactly one thing: my soul returns to my body after death." He paused. "The problem is, when I died after the attack on our ship, the ship was lost in dense fog. It took an entire year for my soul to find its way back to my body. By then, I had decomposed." He laughed. "So when I woke up, I was nothing but a skeleton! YOOOHOHOHOHOHOHO!"

X winced. "Well, at least you're handling it well."

* * * * *

The camper car coasted to a stop at the end of a gravel path that led to a grassy clearing in a sparse wooded area by a sparkling river. The canopy opened; Enzan and Blues got out.

Blues frowned as he looked around. "I don't see anyone here," he said. Unconsciously, he formed his sword.

"Alright," Enzan called. "No more games. I don't have time to waste on this foolishness."

"I couldn't agree more," the voice from the camper car said. And then...

...it...

...changed.

Enzan and Blues stared in surprise as the ridiculously flashy camper car transformed into a tall, flashy orange-and-red robot with a silver face and glowing blue eyes. Blues tensed, his sword glowing; Enzan took a step back.

"Please," the robot said, kneeling. "I'm not your enemy. I'm sorry for the surprise, but I didn't think you'd believe me back at the garage. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rodimus Prime, and if I'm ever going to get back to my own universe, I'm going to need all the help I can get. I think we have a common interest here."

Enzan stared. "You're a..."

"Sentient...robot?" Blues asked in wonder.

"Is that so hard to believe?" Rodimus asked. "You're a sentient computer program."

Blues frowned. "Point taken."

"Who...built you?" Enzan asked curiously.

"I wasn't built," Rodimus said. "Not exactly. I'm part of a race of sentient robots that's billions of years old. I'm an Autobot, from the planet Cybertron. Our entire race was created ages ago by the Allspark."

"So...alien robot," Enzan said. "That explains why that car you turn into looks so ridiculous."

"Hey!" Rodimus said. "I admit I don't blend in as well as I used to before I became a Prime, but I happen to like my vehicle form!"

Enzan raised an eyebrow. "You like looking like someone welded a camper trailer onto a sports car and riced up the paint?"

Blues coughed. "We're getting off the subject here," he said. Turning to Rodimus, he said, "Then this isn't Earth?"

"Not the Earth I'm familiar with," Rodimus said. "I've been searching their Internet to the best of my ability. A lot of my comm systems are messed up."

"Same here," Enzan said. "I can't even access this world's network. My PET isn't compatible with their computers."

"I'm not surprised," Rodimus said. "Your device's technology is more advanced than this world's Internet infrastructure in many ways. It's like a Quintesson trying to teach a Dinobot to speak Japanese."

"I understood one word of that," Enzan muttered. "I'm guessing you were able to hack into my PET because you're more advanced technology than anything here?"

"Essentially," Rodimus said. "I think if we work together, we can modify your device to communicate with this world's computer networks, figure out what's wrong with my comm systems, then get the information we need. I've learned one thing: we're part of a larger problem. This world's news broadcasts are full of reports of strange people and things appearing out of nowhere."

"If we can find the source of all this, we can get the answers we need...maybe even find a way home," Blues mused.

Enzan nodded. "Alright. Let's all work together." He frowned. "We're going to need some tools, someplace to work, and provisions for me. Unlike the two of you, I'm human. I have basic needs I can't ignore."

Rodimus smiled. "Well, we're by a river," he pointed out. "And there's a forest. I can synthesize a container to carry food and water."

"I can forage for edible fruits and nuts in the forest," Blues said. "Enzan-sama, you can put your fishing skills from that cookout with your friends to good use."

Enzan smirked. "I was better at it than Hikari Netto," he said. "Alright. Let's get to work. First order of business, survival. Then, we find out what the hell's going on here."

* * * * *

"This is the place," X said. He and Brook exchanged a glance. Nodding, they walked up to the door. As they drew near, they heard music from inside.

"That sounds...rather festive for a hostage crisis," Brook mused. "Also, that doesn't sound like any music I've ever heard."

"It's rock and roll," X said with a wistful smile. "I always feel nostalgic somehow whenever I hear it." His eyes flashed as he scanned the door. He extended his hand, which flashed and reconfigured itself into a short, thin, glowing plasma blade that sparked as he slid it into the groove between the door and the frame.

"That's handy," Brook mused.

"It beats breaking down the door," X said. Smoke and the smell of burning wood filled the air as sparks flew from X's cutting blade. After a moment's work, he pushed the door open, his cutter turning back into a hand.

Brook surveyed the molten, glowing deadbolt and the badly scorched, smoldering wood around it. "I think you probably did about the same amount of damage either way," he said as he followed X into the house. They entered a spacious but empty living room and looked around. "The music is coming from..." X trailed off. "Sounds like downstairs. A basement?"

"That way," Brook said, pointing to the back of the living room, where a door stood slightly ajar. They crept cautiously toward it; X pushed the door open and descended the stairs, Brook peering behind him.

"I can hardly see," Brook said. "Not that I have eyes."

"Shh." X reached the bottom of the stairs and tested the basement door. Finding it unlocked, he threw it open and jumped through, X-Buster at the ready...

A teenager with spiky blue hair was wailing away on an electric guitar. Beside him, a short, skinny red-haired girl wearing an extremely skimpy black leather outfit jammed on a bass guitar, while a blond girl in a white dress pounded energetically on a drum kit. A girl with short purple hair and bat wings sticking out of her head, wearing a junior high school sailor uniform, was singing into a microphone, her eyes closed and a smile on her face as she swayed to the music.

Blinking, X looked from the group in the basement to Brook, who seemed similarly perplexed. X coughed and amplified his voice. "Are you Flash Sentry? Sunset Shimmer sent us in response to your S.O.S."

The girls and Flash stopped playing. The bassist shot Flash a sideways glare. "Really? You called for help?"

"Well what did you expect me to do?" Flash asked. "You three kidnapped me and nearly got me in a lot of trouble!"

"He's got a point," the singer said with a casual shrug.

At a normal volume, X repeated, "You are Flash Sentry, then."

Flash laughed and scratched the back of his head. "Y-yeah, but..." He blinked. "Is...is that a skeleton?"

Brook bowed. "Humming Brook, the singing swordsman," he said. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Our servant doesn't need rescuing," the redhead said. "We're not hurting him. As you can tell, we're all actually having a lot of fun!" She glared at Flash. "Aren't we?"

"Umm...actually, we kinda are," he said. "You're still freaking me out with the whole half-naked loli thing and, y'know, the gun, but you totally rock on bass!"

"Aww, thanks!" the redhead said sunnily, smiling.

X frowned. "So...you're in no actual danger," he said.

Flash smiled sheepishly. "I guess not," he said. "I do sort of have...questions," he said. "About a lot of things actually. Like, whether or not these girls are more freaky magic from Equestria, or—"

X held up a hand. "Reality has become distorted, alternate universes are folding into this one. I myself am from another universe, as is my companion here. I suspect your...guests are as well. Sunset Shimmer and both instances of Twilight Sparkle are working to remedy the situation."

Flash's eyes lit up. "Twilight?" he said interestedly. "She...she came back?"

"Briefly," X said. "Assuming you're referring to the equine princess version of Twilight Sparkle, she returned to her world to obtain rare materials necessary to build a containment device." He grimaced. "Apparently, it's going to take a month."

"Oh," Flash said, deflating visibly. "That's...that's cool. You can count on her. Heh." The redhead raised an eyebrow and smirked.

"Then you are, for the moment, in no immediate danger," X said.

Flash grimaced. "Other than possibly being mistaken for a pedophile? Not...not really."

X nodded. "Then we're needed elsewhere. A school known as Crystal Prep is apparently being threatened by a terrorist. Sunset Shimmer and other visitors to this world are responding to the threat, but they may need our assistance." He turned to Brook and gave a curt nod, then headed for the stairs. Brook waved jauntily to the group in the basement, then followed him.

Once they were gone Flash looked around at the three girls, who shrugged in response. Shaking his head, he started playing a riff. The girls joined in, and upbeat music followed the hunter and the pirate out of the house.

* * * * *

Sunset's motorcycle roared to a stop at the curb across the street from Crystal Prep. As she got off the bike, Tenten, Miles, and Trunks landed beside her, each having followed her from above.

Miles shuddered as he looked up at the tall, forbidding facade of Crystal Prep. "Wow. This place screams soullessness."

"The principal's a cold heartless bitch," Sunset said as she stowed her helmet and ran her fingers through her hair. "Still, if she's in danger, I guess we should save her too."

"I wonder what exactly we're dealing with here?" Trunks asked.

Sunset checked her phone. "The last text from Sugarcoat was cut short," she said. "It mentioned traps."

"Perfect," Miles muttered.

Tenten smirked. "Traps? I'm an expert with those." She frowned. "Or would be if I wasn't down to my emergency cache of weapons."

Trunks frowned. "Well, if we're just dealing with garden variety explosives or hunting traps, I can just set them all off. They wouldn't be any real threat to me."

Sunset, Miles, and Tenten exchanged a glance. Miles shrugged. Sunset nodded. "Alright," she said. "If you're sure."

Trunks marched boldly up to the wrought-iron gates and grabbed them. Sparks snapped across the bars, and his companions tensed. Trunks snorted and snapped the lock on the gates, flinging them open. He glanced back over his shoulder. "First trap clear," he said.

Tenten stared. "Did...did he just ignore being electrocuted?"

"Yep," Miles said.

Tenten's jaw dropped. "Wow," she said breathlessly. "He just gets better and better..."

"You know, I don't normally see a bunch of kids breaking into a school," a youthful male voice with a light French accent said from above the group. Tenten, Miles, and Sunset looked up.

A boy, slightly older than Miles but slightly younger than Sunset, somersaulted from a tree limb overhead, landing neatly and soundlessly in front of them. He was clad in a tight black leather catsuit that covered everything but his head, with a long leather cat tail lashing behind him. A black leather domino mask surrounded his luminescent, slit-pupiled green eyes, and a pair of black leather cat ears peeked up from his wild blond hair. In one hand, he held a sleek, shiny silver-black baton, which he leaned casually against as he smirked at them.

Tenten's eyes lit up. "Mine," she said.

"Whoa," Miles said. "That's...a lot of leather."

The catboy chuckled. "Alright, so just so I know whether or not I need to put you all in time-meowt, what's going on here?"

"A madman has taken all the students hostage," Sunset said. "We're here to rescue them."

The catboy raised an eyebrow, looking them over. "Okay, pajama boy here, obviously a superhero or thinks he's one. Dude with the sword, I just saw him break open an electrified gate with his bare hands, so I can buy that. But you two?"

Sunset raised a hand which glowed with a teal aura. "Magic," she said.

"Ninja," Tenten supplied.

"Fair enough," the catboy said. Bowing grandly, he added, "I'm Chat Noir. Perhaps you've heard of me?"

The trio looked at one another. "Can't say we have," Miles said.

Chat Noir sighed. "Figures." He stretched and glanced at the school. "Okay, so hostage crisis. I'll lend a paw. Then I need to figure out where the heck I am and how to get back to Paris. Can't leave My Lady by her lonesome for too long."

Tenten pouted. "Aww. The cute ones are always taken! Or gay. Or psychopaths."

A loud explosion from the courtyard drew their attention. Trunks hung in midair above a cloud of smoke. Chat Noir did a forward flip and swung his baton out to the side, extending it. Sunset tensed; Tenten suddenly had a kunai in each hand.

"Careful," Trunks called to them. "Looks like he mined the school."

Chat Noir's jaw dropped. "Okay. Now I'm officially impressed."

"'EY!" A window opened on the second floor, and a tanned man in a loud Hawaiian shirt leaned out. "NO TRESPASSIN' IN DE BIG KAHUNA'S NEW SCHOOL!" He pulled a Super Soaker out and aimed it at Trunks. "De Big Kahuna goan' teach you a lesson, keiki! Hawaii style!"

In a blink, Trunks was in his face, with his hand clamped around the man's thick neck. "You're gonna let those kids go now and turn yourself over to the police," he snarled.

The man gurgled, but a trembling hand pointed his Super Soaker right at Trunks' eyes. A thick yellow stream sprayed out of the weapon.

"AUGH!" Trunks roared, letting go of the terrorist and clutching at his face. A second stream hit him, most of it going right into his open mouth. Trunks let out a strangled cry and dropped to the ground like a stone.

"TRUNKS!" Sunset cried. "Miles, get him out of there!"

"On it!" Miles said. He shot a web line up to the tall crystal spires of the clock tower, swung over the fence, and swept in a low arc, seizing Trunks with a second web line. Avoiding the stream of fire from the madman, he returned to Sunset's side, depositing Trunks on the pavement. "He's not looking too good," he said.

Trunks was clawing at his throat, gasping for breath. His eyes were red and burning and his tongue was swollen.

Tenten stared at him in shock. "What the hell did that maniac shoot you with?" she asked. "Some kind of poison?"

"It looked like pee," Miles said.

Chat Noir's nose wrinkled, and he frowned. Crouching beside Trunks, he took a sniff. His brow furrowed. "Smells like...pineapple?"

Sunset ran a finger through a wet trace on Trunks' cheek and brought it to her lips, tasting it. "It's definitely pineapple juice," she said.

"Kkkt..." Trunks rasped. "Can't...breathe..."

"Oh dude," Miles said softly, worriedly. "I've seen this. This is totally an allergic reaction. A bad one, too."

Sunset nodded. "Yeah, that's what it looks like," she agreed. "He needs one of those, umm...those pen things. You know, the shot thing they do for this?" She looked Trunks in the eye. "Do you have an allergy shot pen thing?"

Trunks winced and managed to whisper, "Didn't...know...I had any...allergies..."

"Well this is a hell of a way to find out," Chat Noir said sourly.

"I'll get him to a hospital," Miles said, hauling Trunks over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "You three deal with Mr. Pineapple up there."

"Oh, we will," Tenten said dangerously, eyes narrowed.

As Miles swung away with Trunks, Sunset looked from Tenten to Chat Noir. "Any ideas for getting past the minefield?" she asked. "I'd rather not risk teleportation when I don't know where I'm going."

"I can get us to the roof," Chat Noir said. "When I give the signal, you girls grab onto my baton and hold on tight, okay?"

Tenten and Sunset looked at one another in confusion, but nodded. Chat Noir sprinted forward, his baton growing longer in his hands. He planted one end of it and jumped. The girls watched in astonishment as the baton grew longer and longer, launching Chat Noir toward the roof at startling speeds. He landed neatly on the roof, then turned and waved frantically at them.

"Are you sure about this?" Tenten asked.

"Nope," Sunset said as she jogged forward and grabbed hold of the baton with both hands. With a sigh, Tenten jumped over and grabbed on tight. Then both girls screamed as the staff retracted at high speed, sending them whipping through the air.

Seconds stretched by with terrifying slowness, and then they were sprawled out on the roof next to a very casual, cross-legged Chat Noir, who attached the baton—now barely the size of a flashlight—to his belt. "Thank you for flying Air Miraculous," he said lightly. "We hope your trip was the cat's meow."

After her heart stopped trying to jump out of her throat, Sunset glared at him. "So now we're stranded on the roof," she said. "What's the next part of your plan?"

"Find a way in," Chat Noir said. "And if we can't find one, we'll make one."

Sunset grimaced. "I think from here I can get us inside the building without any unnecessary property damage." She took each of her companions by the wrist and concentrated. A teal aura surrounded them...

...and then they were inside a classroom. Hanging in midair. They fell onto and through some school desks, creating a huge commotion.

"Ow," Tenten muttered, rubbing her elbow as she stood up.

"Sorry," Sunset grunted as she stood, rubbing her shoulder and rolling her neck. "Teleportation is hard to aim when you don't know exactly where you're going."

Chat Noir grinned excitedly as he bounced up onto a desk and perched in a light crouch. "You know, if I didn't already have Ladybug, I would seriously not mind being your familiar."

"Familiar?" Sunset asked, frowning.

"Don't hot, sexy witches keep black cats?"

Sunset facepalmed. "Ugh. Anyone ever tell you how corny you are?" Tenten giggled. "Okay, so we're in. Now we need to get the kids out, then kick that pineapple guy's ass."

"Only ass goan' get kicked is yours, wahine."

The three of them turned to the door, where the madman in the Hawaiian shirt stood, a crazed grin on his face as he brandished hair clippers and shears at them.

"Goan' be takin' dat hair off now," he said. "Den you kids goan' be in detention fo' a big long time."

Comes a Ladybug

View Online

Sunset, Tenten, and Chat Noir stared at Principal Kuno.

He stared back at them with a crazed grin.

Chat Noir's baton lashed out twice, knocking Kuno's implements of hair butchery from his hands. Tenten followed up, kicking him multiple times in the face, sweeping his legs, then booting him in the gut, sending him flying out into the hall where he crashed into the wall and landed in a heap.

Chat Noir grinned and held out a fist to Tenten. "Pound it!" Tenten smiled and obliged him, then looked at Kuno.

"So...that ended quickly," she said. "We should find something to tie him up with..."

Kuno started laughing. "Dat ain't goan' be happenin' wahine," he said. He reached into his pockets and flicked two objects at them. Tenten reacted on instinct and intercepted them with her kunai...

Whatever he'd thrown at them exploded violently, spreading a cloud of pepper. Tenten and Chat Noir doubled over, gasping and choking, their eyes watering and burning. Cackling madly, Kuno escaped down the hall.

Sunset used her magic to stir a wind in the hall to clear out the pepper. "Are you two alright?" she asked.

Tenten wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Dammit, I can't believe I fell for that," she muttered. "That's a trick right out of the first week of academy training."

"I am absolutely gonna use that bastard for a scratching post," Chat Noir rasped out as he coughed and choked. "I'll roast him with a pineapple shoved up his—!"

"Settle down, catboy," Sunset said. "Right now, we need to focus on rescuing the hostages. Once they're safe, we can pound him into poi."

Chat Noir took a deep breath and nodded. "Sorry," he said. "I don't usually lose my kitty cool like that. I just really hate getting pepper up my nose."

"Nobody's a fan of it," Tenten said with a smile. "Okay, let's go save the students!"

The three of them raced down the hall, swiftly finding a flight of stairs that led to the first floor. Upon arrival, they followed the sound of voices until they reached the school foyer. Crystal Prep's student body was mashed up against the walls and the steel shutters covering the exit. In one corner, four girls crowded around a fifth who sat slouched against the wall, her face buried in her hands. Sunset frowned; the girl seemed familiar, but she couldn't immediately place her. She had blue skin and ice-blue hair in a hideous, choppy bowl cut. The four girls consoling her, she knew; they were the Shadowbolts she and her friends had competed against at the Friendship Games. The only one missing was Sugarcoat...

"Hey, it's Sunset Shimmer," Lemon Zest said as they drew close. The crying girl looked up, and Sunset gasped.

It was Sugarcoat.

"What...what happened to your hair?!" Sunset gasped, pointing a trembling hand at Sugarcoat.

Sugarcoat glared at her with red-rimmed eyes. "That psychotic maniac who took us all hostage happened," she said. "He's completely insane. I don't know how you managed to get in here or who those people with you are, but if you can get us out of here and get the police, we would all appreciate it. That maniac needs to rot in jail for a long time." She frowned and added, "Leather catsuits look ridiculous on boys."

"Speak for yourself," Lemon Zest said, licking her lips. "Hello, kitty."

Chat Noir grinned. "Hello, ladies," he purred.

Sunset facepalmed and slapped him upside the head. "Focus," she said. She studied the steel shutters and frowned. "I'm not sure I can open this with my magic," she said.

"Aww, that's too bad," Sour Sweet cooed in a syrupy tone. She then narrowed her eyes and folded her arms. "She can blast our ex-classmate turned demon and close up holes in reality but can't open a stupid door," she muttered bitterly.

Chat Noir frowned thoughtfully. "I can do it, but..." He grimaced. "Yeah, I can handle it. Everybody move away from the doors!"

The students glanced at one another, shrugged, and cleared a path.

"I don't think your super extend-o-stick can break down steel shutters," Tenten said. She paused, then added, "Can it?"

"No, not a chance," Chat Noir said. "But I've got something different in mind. Stand back." As the others moved away, he raised his right hand above his head, palm facing up, claws curled slightly inward. "CATACLYSM!" Motes of blackness gathered in his hand; he clenched his fist, then charged toward the shutters, his hand glowing black. As he reached the doors, he pressed his hand against them.

Sunset, Tenten, and the Shadowbolts could only stare in astonishment as the steel shutters immediately corroded and crumbled into a pile of rust.

"Holy crap," Indigo Zap said.

"Dude. Wicked," Lemon Zest opined.

"We can get out now!" a male student shouted. "Let's go!"

"Wait a second," Sunset said, holding up a hand. "That nutjob has the entire courtyard mined. You can't just run out there, you might blow yourselves up."

The Shadowbolts stopped in their tracks, turning to stare at her.

"Well that's just great," Sour Sweet grumbled. "What good's having a way out if we can't use it?"

"Nobody said you can't use it," Sunset said. "I just need everyone to be patient and listen to me." She looked down the hall. "Tenten, Chat Noir, each of you lead a group of students. Sugarcoat, can you lead a group?"

Sugarcoat nodded. "I'm upset about my hair, not injured or concussed."

"Alright. Everybody go to the nearest classrooms you can find and grab desks. Every desk you can find. Bring them here." She grimaced. "And pray my magic is up to this."

"What's your plan?" Tenten asked.

"I'm gonna make a floating bridge," Sunset said. "Hurry, everyone! We have no idea where that psycho is or what he's planning."

A loud beep drew everyone's attention to Chat Noir. He studied the glossy black ring on his right hand and grimaced. "We're gonna have to work fast," he said. "I've got four minutes."

"Four minutes until what?" Tenten asked curiously.

Chat Noir considered that for a second. "I'll tell you later," he said, running down the hall. "Some of you, follow me! We'll grab desks so she can make her bridge out of this luau from hell!"

Tenten shook her head. "You heard him! Group up, start grabbing desks!" She ran after Chat Noir; the Shadowbolts split into two lines and followed them, while Sugarcoat and her friends gathered a third group.

Two minutes later, they returned, everyone carrying a desk over their head. Sunset nodded. "Okay, just hold them like that and let go when you feel the tug." She held out her hands, which began to shine with a brilliant teal glow. One by one, all the desks were limned in a weaker teal aura. Sunset closed her eyes, her face screwed up in concentration. The school's front doors exploded open with a loud bang. The desks flew from the hands of the Shadowbolts, streaming in an orderly line through the door, stretching out from the steps to the open gate, hanging precariously a few feet off the ground with a good stride's length between them.

"Okay..." Sunset grunted through clenched teeth. "Everybody GO. HURRY!"

Looking at one another in confusion and uncertainty, the Shadowbolts filed through the doors in a line, carefully but quickly crossing the bridge of floating desks. Sunset's eyes screwed more tightly shut, sweat streaming down her face, her entire body trembling.

At last, the final student had safely escaped. Tenten called out, "NOW!"

"AGH!" Sunset released the desks, collapsing to the floor. A string of violent explosions rocked the school; clouds of smoke and dust and dirt billowed up from the courtyard as every single mine detonated.

"Merde!" Chat Noir spat, staring with wide eyes at the destruction. "I don't know what's crazier, that the Hawaiian nutjob mined a high school, or that you actually made a floating bridge out of desks! What are you, an esper?"

"Unicorn," Sunset said, taking a deep breath and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Long story."

Chat Noir's ring beeped again. "Love to hear it, maybe later," he said. "I've got less than a minute to scram!"

"But...! We need your help!" Tenten protested.

"That's why I've gotta scram!" Chat Noir said. "Using my Cataclysm means I only have five minutes until I lose my transformation! I have to find a safe place to change back and recharge!" He waved at them. "Adieu, ladies!" With that, he ran off down the hall.

Sunset watched him go, then stood up, her legs trembling. "Well, we're on our own until he comes back," she said. "If he comes back."

Tenten sighed. "You okay?"

"I will be," Sunset said. "I'm not completely used to having my magic back yet and I'm really out of practice. That took a lot out of me." She flexed her fingers. "Just give me a minute, then we'll go find Dean Cadance and Principal Cinch. Then we'll go after the asshole that started all this."

Tenten smiled grimly. "Can't wait."

* * * * *

Miles sat in a hard plastic chair in one of the emergency treatment rooms of the hospital, wringing his mask in his hands. Across from him, Trunks lay on the exam cot, breathing steadily. The swelling and redness had almost completely faded.

A nurse walked in, examining a tablet. "Your friend recovers quickly, I'll give him that," she said. "Usually it takes twice as long to get over an attack that severe."

"He's a tough dude," Miles said.

The nurse nodded. "Now, you realize there are some forms to fill out. Medical history, insurance information, all that—"

Miles stared incredulously at her. "Dude. Have you looked at us? At that crazy mess out in the lobby?"

The nurse sighed. "Alright, so things are strange and there are people showing up who clearly aren't from...around here, but this is still a hospital and we still have to—"

Trunks sat up, holding his head and groaning. "Neither of us have money or legal documentation here," he said. "If it hadn't been an emergency, I'm sure my friend wouldn't have brought me here." He pulled a small, slim metal case from his pocket.

The nurse frowned. "Sir, we don't allow smoking in the hospital—"

Trunks opened the case and pulled out a small capsule with a plunger on one end and a blue band around its center. He clicked the plunger and dropped the capsule over the side of the bed. Miles and the nurse both stared as, with a puff of smoke, it expanded into a medium-sized white portable cooler with a Caduceus on the front. "Look in there," he said. "You'll find the cures for several forms of cancer, the cure for influenza, and treatments for several rare, deadly strains of virus your world might not even have." He smiled weakly at the nurse. "I don't know how many of those have been cured in your world, but if you can use any of this...?"

The nurse dropped her tablet, her jaw gaping. "Are you serious?"

"If that won't cover the bill, I'm sure I can work it off around the hospital," Trunks offered. "There's usually something that needs cleaning or repair, right?"

The nurse opened the little cooler with trembling fingers, looking at the rows of vials and sealed Petri dishes inside with wide eyes, each bearing a label naming the disease it cured. She looked up at Trunks. "You're a doctor?"

"Me? No, I'm just a warrior," Trunks said. "But my mom is the most brilliant scientist, inventor, and engineer who ever lived, and a lot of the world's greatest doctors used to work for her."

"Dude, all that and you didn't have an Epipen?" Miles asked.

Trunks shrugged. "Like I said, I didn't know I had any allergies." He frowned. "Come to think of it, I'm not even sure pineapples still exist where I come from." He turned to the nurse. "Anyway, just let me know what—"

"Go, both of you," the nurse said distractedly, licking her lips as she examined each precious sample in the cooler. "You were never here."

Miles smirked. "Don't gotta ask me twice, I hate hospitals." He put his mask back on. "You good to go, Trunks?"

Trunks pounded a fist into his open palm. "I owe that sunglasses bastard some payback."

Miles shook his head. "Nuh-uh. You're sitting this one out. Besides, they probably already finished him off by now."

"Tch..." Trunks spat. "Fine. Let's go back to CHS and wait then. With the way things are going, some other emergency's probably come up by now..."

* * * * *

The ring let out one last shrill beep. With a green flash, Chat Noir became Adrien Agreste. His Kwami, Plagg, tumbled out and landed on the teacher's desk in the classroom he'd ducked into for cover.

"Well, this is interesting, isn't it?" Plagg said as he righted himself.

Adrien slumped down into the teacher's chair and groaned, running a hand through his hair. "I don't know what's going on here, Plagg, but it's big," he said. "I mean, for one thing, since when are people pink and blue?" He sighed. "I don't know. This doesn't...it doesn't feel like an Akuma attack."

"It isn't," Plagg said in an uncharacteristically serious tone. He twitched a whisker. "We can worry about what's happening later. Right now, I need Camembert."

Adrien frowned. "I don't exactly have my backpack," he muttered. "It's back at school, remember? And who knows how far away THAT is. I can't see the Eiffel Tower at all." He sighed. "Still, this looks like a pretty fancy private school. I'm sure we can find something that'll work for you, if I can just figure out where the cafeteria is." Plagg made a disgusted noise, and Adrien glared at him. "We have to help those girls!"

Plagg rolled his eyes. "Fine. Just find something that won't offend my delicate palate."

Groaning, Adrien stuffed Plagg into his jacket and crept out into the hall. Seeing nobody in either direction, he took off at a run.

* * * * *

Sunset and Tenten had found the principal's office. They stood to either side of the large, austere doors. They shared a nod.

Sunset threw the doors open.

The office was empty.

Both girls blinked.

"That's anticlimactic," Tenten said.

"We need to be careful," Sunset whispered. "There are probably traps."

A tall steel cabinet on one wall shuddered, a muffled thumping coming from inside. Tenten frowned at it, then inclined her head toward it. Sunset nodded. Returning the nod, Tenten crept carefully across the room. She pulled a thin steel needle from her sleeve, then set about picking the lock on the cabinet. It took thirty seconds; once she was done, she opened the cabinet.

Dean Cadance fell out, bound at the wrists and ankles and gagged with duct tape.

And, bizarrely, wearing a grass skirt and a coconut bra.

Tenten cut the ties on her ankles and wrists, then peeled off the duct tape. Cadance winced, but gave her a thankful smile.

"Dean Cadance?" Sunset asked, looking her up and down. "What—"

"That maniac stripped me and forced me into this before he threw me in there," Cadance said sourly. "When I get hold of him, I am going to squeeze all the milk out of his coconuts!" She blinked, then raised a slim pink finger. "Wait. Sunset Shimmer? What are you doing here?"

"Sugarcoat texted Twilight for help. I rounded up some friends and came to rescue everyone."

"We've already freed the students," Tenten said. "That jerk with the sunglasses got away from us, but he can't hide forever."

"Where's Principal Cinch?" Sunset asked.

"Trapped in the faculty restroom," Cadance said. "I'll take you." She paused, then looked around the office. "As soon as I can find my clothes."

Sunset smirked. "I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about," she said.

Cadance blushed. "Sunset!"

"What? You totally make that work."

Cadance smiled. "Well..." She looked down at herself. "I do have the body for it. I just don't want to..." She sighed. "Maybe Twilight left a spare uniform or something in her old lab. Not that that'd be much better."

Tenten giggled. "I'm with Sunset. If you've got it, flaunt it."

"Come on, the longer we stand around, the longer we risk that lunatic showing up," Sunset said.

Cadance sighed. "Right. Let's go."

* * * * *

Adrien groaned as he opened another set of double doors and found himself in a second gymnasium. So far, every set of double doors he'd tried had failed to yield the school cafeteria. He'd found the auditorium, the band practice room, a gym with a basketball court, an enormous storeroom full of disused books and equipment, and the school library, and now he had found a completely different gym. "What is WITH this school?" he groaned, throwing his hands up.

"It be de big bruddah o' my own Fuurinkan, dat be fo' sho," a voice said from inside the gym.

Adrien took a step backward.

"You outta uniform, keiki. Outta uniform AN' yo' hair ain't buzzed. Dis ain't gonna go nice, yeah?"

Something exploded behind Adrien, throwing him forward into the gym. The doors slammed shut behind him as he tumbled ass over teakettle across the padded floor. He idly mused that this gym must be used for tumbling practice or wrestling.

As he rose into a guarded crouch, Principal Kuno descended the bleachers along one side, holding a bazooka on one shoulder. A pineapple stuck out of the front of the bazooka, pointed right at Adrien. Adrien bit off a curse and tensed his muscles.

"Dis goan' hurt you a whole hell of a lot more dan it goan' hurt me, keiki," Kuno said.

Before Principal Kuno could pull the trigger, something red flashed out of nowhere, glowing a bright pinkish-white as it wrapped around his wrist. He grunted in surprise as he was yanked off the bleachers and bounced across the mats.

A dark-haired girl in a skintight red bodysuit with black spots dropped out of nowhere, landing in a defensive stance between Adrien and Principal Kuno.

Framed by a spotted red mask, her bluebell eyes smoldered with rage.

* * * * *

Sunset, Tenten, and Cadance stood in front of a door blocked by a palm tree. They heard angry, muffled yelling from behind the door.

"Yeesh, she sounds pissed," Tenten said.

"She always sounds pissed," Sunset said. "Sure you wanna let her out?"

Cadance shrugged. "We can't just leave her in there."

With an exaggerated sigh, Sunset pointed her hand at the palm tree, fingers spread wide. A teal glow surrounded her hand; a similar glow surrounded the tree, and it slid out of the way. A moment later, there was a soft click, and the door flew open.

Principal Cinch, her hair in disarray and her glasses askew, stormed out of the restroom. "FINALLY!" she snarled. She frowned as her gaze fell upon Sunset Shimmer. "YOU!" she snapped venomously. "I should hardly be surprised to learn that you and your..." She trembled with rage. "FREAK SCHOOL are somehow involved in this! I have half a mind to—"

"Abacus, she came here to SAVE US," Cadance said impatiently. "A little gratitude would be nice."

"Yeah, we already saved all your students," Tenten said tersely. "You're welcome, by the way."

Cinch turned from glaring at Sunset to glaring at Tenten, then frowning at Cadance. Her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. "Dean Cadance, what in blazes are you doing parading around the school in that...that ridiculous, obscene getup?"

"The psycho that locked you in the bathroom did this to me," Cadance said, folding her arms. "And since I have no idea what he did with my clothes, I decided rescuing you was more important than my dignity." She paused, then added sourly, "You're welcome, by the way."

Cinch frowned at her, then snorted. "I'll be in my office," she announced, turning her nose up. "Can I assume the police have dealt with the madman?"

"Actually, the police haven't even shown up yet," Sunset said, frowning.

"That's odd," Cadance said. "I called them over an hour ago..."

"So that CRETIN is still running loose in my school?"

"Not if Chat Noir got to him already," Sunset said. "Even if he didn't, it's only a matter of time. He can't hide forever and he's bound to run out of tricks sooner or later." She frowned. "You're gonna have to cancel classes for a while, though. That idiot did a lot of damage to your school. Least of which is the minefield in the courtyard."

Cinch blanched, eyes wide. "M-minefield?!"

"Don't worry, we got all the students out safely and sent them home," Tenten said. She stretched. "Maybe you two had better stick with us until we're sure we've dealt with this wacko."

"Good idea," Cadance said. "I'd hate to get locked in another cabinet or worse."

Cinch pinched the bridge of her nose. "Fine," she snarled. "But once this is all over, I will be having words with your principal AND the school board—"

Cinch found herself suspended upside-down in the air in Sunset's magic.

"Try it," Sunset hissed. "I can't wait to tell them all about how you blackmailed Twilight Sparkle."

Cadance gasped. "What?!"

Cinch went paler than normal as Sunset set her down. Straightening her skirt, she marched stiffly ahead of the group. "Well?" she called brusquely. "I would like to restore order to my school as soon as possible."

With a heavy sigh, Sunset followed her, flanked by the others. "How do you put up with this bitch?" she muttered to Cadance.

"By reminding myself that in a few years I'll have her job," Cadance replied. "Maybe sooner the way things have been going lately..."

* * * * *

"Ladybug!" Adrien cried, joy and relief in his voice.

Ladybug half-turned to him, keeping her eyes on the madman. "Are you hurt?" she asked.

Adrien shook his head. "I'm fine," he said. "Just got knocked around a bit."

"Have you seen Chat Noir anywhere around here?"

Adrien fought down a wince. "Y-yeah," he hedged. "But he used his Cataclysm. Last I saw of him he was trying to find the cafeteria."

Ladybug sighed. "Then he should be back with us soon. I hope." She frowned. "How'd you end up here? And where is here?"

Adrien shrugged. "I have no idea. All I know is this isn't Paris." He frowned. "Ladybug, there are people here with pink and blue skin. And a lot of other weird things going on."

Ladybug grimaced. "Yeah, I thought this was all some kind of weird Akuma attack, but everything's...just not making sense." She shook her head. "Anyway, you should get out of here..."

"You ain't goin' nowhere," Principal Kuno said. A detonator had appeared in his off hand; he clicked the button, and multiple explosions rang from the rafters. Ladybug and Adrien watched in dismay and disbelief as dozens of palm trees dropped out of the ceiling, blocking every exit from the gym.

"MERDE!" Ladybug snarled, moving closer to Adrien. Principal Kuno cackled and fired his pineapple launcher. Ladybug's yo-yo spun, forming a glowing shield which intercepted the fruity rocket; the pineapple exploded loudly, raining chunks of charred fruit down on the two teens. "See if you can get someplace safe," she said to Adrien. "I'll have to hold him here until I can get through to Chat Noir. I don't think we're getting out of here without his help."

*Then we're not getting out of here,* Adrien thought ruefully. He glanced down at his feet and saw a few roasted chunks of pineapple. *Or maybe we are.* He deftly scooped them up. "Right, I'll just be hiding over there," Adrien said, jogging over to the bleachers. "Go get 'im, Ladybug!"

"EY! DA BIG KAHUNA AIN'T GIVE YOU A PASS TO CUT GYM, KEIKI!"

"No, but I did!" Ladybug shouted, launching her yo-yo at Kuno. It hit him right in the face, shattering his sunglasses. He staggered, clutching at his eyes, and Ladybug yanked him off his feet, then flipped over and landed on his chest, pinning him down. She smirked dangerously into his face. "If you know what's good for you, you'll stay down," she hissed. "You tried to hurt the boy I like. I'm not feeling very reasonable right now."

Principal Kuno swallowed heavily. "H-hey now, wahine..."

Behind the bleachers, Adrien yanked Plagg out of his jacket. "Hurry up!" he hissed.

Plagg eyed the burnt pineapple with a distasteful frown. "You can't be serious," he said.

"It's this or nothing, and Ladybug needs my help!"

Plagg sighed. "Fine," he said, taking the pineapple and scarfing it down. After he finished three chunks, he smacked his lips. "Actually, that wasn't too bad," he decided. "Nice and tart, with a hint of explosion."

"Good to hear," Adrien whispered. "Now claws out!"

Plagg was sucked into the silver ring on Adrien's right hand, which turned glossy black as a black leather bodysuit spread across his body. In a blink, Chat Noir had replaced Adrien Agreste. He flipped up to the top of the bleachers, then launched himself across the room, landing next to Ladybug and Kuno.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, My Lady," he said, bowing.

Ladybug blinked. "Chat Noir? How did you get in?"

"Locker room, but I set off another trap on the way in, so we'll have to find another way out," Chat Noir lied smoothly. He looked around. "So, uhh...how do you propose we get out of this?"

Ladybug rubbed her chin. "I'd rather not use my Lucky Charm until I know what's going on here," she said.

Chat Noir nodded. "Same with my Cataclysm," he said. "Finding food for my Kwami once was hard enough."

"We'll have to clear those trees the old fashioned way then," Ladybug said. "As soon as we've deal with this freak."

Chat Noir looked around, tapping his foot. He spotted some climbing ropes in one corner of the gym and grinned. "I think I can help with that."

Two minutes later, the teen heroes had bound Principal Kuno from head to toe in thick, sturdy ropes. Ladybug dusted off her hands. "Adrien!" she shouted. "You can come out now!"

"Better not!" Chat Noir yelled beside her. "Not until we've made sure we've cleared all the traps!"

Ladybug blinked. "Right, good call," she said. "Adrien! Stay put back there!" She turned to the trees blocking the gym doors. "Now, about this mess..."

Chat Noir looked at his baton and Ladybug's yo-yo. "Looks like we'll be doing the lever and pully bit again," he said with a sheepish grimace. "Look at it this way, it's good exercise."

Ladybug rolled her eyes. "Better get to work, then."

* * * * *

Miles and Trunks ran into Brook and X on their way back to CHS. "How did the mission at Crystal Prep go?" X asked. "Where are Sunset and Tenten?"

"We don't know," Miles said. "We had to split up. Trunks got taken out by the bad guy."

X blinked. "Trunks got taken out," he said. "And the girls are still there?"

"It was a cheap shot," Trunks said sourly. "I'm sure they're fine. If you want to go check on them, be my guest."

"We're headed back to CHS ourselves," Miles said. "Trunks going back into that mess is a bad idea, and that catboy that showed up just before all hell broke loose looked capable."

"Catboy?" X asked, blinking. He shook his head. "Nevermind. You're probably right. We'll rendezvous with Sunset at Crystal Prep. You two head back to CHS."

As the two groups went their separate ways, Brook remarked, "It certainly is nice to be living a life of adventure again. All that sitting around in the fog on a ghost ship...my heart hasn't pounded like this in a long time!" He paused. "Not that I have a heart."

X groaned. "Yareyare..."

* * * * *

Ladybug and Chat Noir fist-bumped as they cleared the last tree out of the path of the gym doors. "Right, now we just need to get Adrien and the bad guy and—"

Ladybug was cut off by a lei being slung around her neck. Caught off guard, she was dragged to the ground even as a mist emitting from the flowers made her head feel fuzzy. Beside her, Chat Noir let out a strangled yelp. "You goan' lose dat wild hair, keiki," Principal Kuno said dangerously. Ladybug looked up and saw him towering over them, a long lei in each hand; a similar lei to the one dragging her was wrapped tightly around Chat Noir's throat, and his tail lashed furiously as he kicked and struggled against the chokehold.

"HEY! Don't grab my pussy, you degenerate!" Ladybug managed to slip her yo-yo wire underneath the lei around her neck, then tugged sharply against it with both hands; the lei snapped, and Ladybug rolled free, coughing violently. She flung her yo-yo out, looping it through the lei dragging Chat Noir and reeling it back, cutting the second lei; Chat Noir rolled away, gagging and clawing at his throat.

"Alright, now I'm seriously pissed off," Chat Noir rasped as he stood, unhooking his baton and separating it into two halves, which extended to meter-long fighting rods. He stalked dangerously toward Principal Kuno, who was already whipping out more hair-cutting implements and hunkering down for a fight. With a snarl, Chat Noir rushed forward, slamming his batons into Kuno's gut, then uppercut him with a rising strike. As Kuno fell backward, Chat Noir boxed his ears with both batons, then dropped his weapons, grabbed Kuno, leapt high into the air, and performed a flawless spinning piledriver.

Kuno let out a pitiful groan and flopped to the ground, unconscious. Chat Noir flipped away, landing in a three-point stance and panting.

Ladybug stared at him with wide eyes. "Chat Noir," she said softly.

Chat Noir closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Sorry," he said roughly. "I just...I dunno. Fighting the Akumatized is one thing, they're not responsible for their actions, but this guy? He's just—"

"—a creep, yeah," Ladybug agreed. She sighed. "Well, let's tie him up again, then find Adrien and get out of here."

"I saw Adrien running away while that lunatic was dragging me around," Chat Noir said. "With any luck, he ran into the girls I came in with."

Ladybug raised an eyebrow. "Girls, huh?" she asked with a smirk.

"Hey, don't get me wrong, this cat only has eyes for one Lady," Chat Noir said with a grin.

Ladybug rolled her eyes.

* * * * *

"That came from Gym B," Cadance said as another loud thud resounded through the halls. She took off running, the others behind her.

"Just for my edification, this is your school's fault, right?" Cinch asked as she trailed two steps behind Sunset.

Sunset frowned. "Actually, this is my fault personally...sort of."

"AHA! I knew it!" Cinch shouted triumphantly.

"What do you mean, Sunset?" Cadance asked.

"Something I ordered online turned out to be a magical artifact," Sunset said tersely. "I don't know where it came from or why it was just floating around loose in this world, but it reacted to my Equestrian magic and..." She waved her hands vaguely. "Broke reality."

Cadance frowned. "You mean like Twilight did at the Friendship Games when she turned into that...that thing?"

"Not exactly," Sunset said. "Midnight Sparkle was only ripping holes in the barrier between this world and Equestria. THIS is dragging people and things from dozens of other universes into ours." She sighed. "We're working on fixing it, but it's gonna take a while."

"Ridiculous," Cinch muttered. Another thud from the gym interrupted anything else she might have said.

"This way," Cadance said, rounding a corner. Just as the others rounded the corner after her, the steel double doors to the gym flew open with a loud bang, and two costumed teens darted out, one carrying a completely bound and gagged Principal Kuno over his shoulder.

Chat Noir skidded to a halt as he saw them approaching; his friend did the same, and the women rushing toward them slowed to a stop. Chat Noir hefted his package with a cheeky grin. "Hey, we got an order for one large pig for a luau," he quipped. "Who's gonna sign for this?"

"You caught him?" Cadance asked. "Thank God..." She heaved a sigh of relief. "We'll turn him over to the police as soon as they get here. IF they ever get here..."

Tenten tilted her head. "Who's your friend, kitty-cat?"

The girl in the skintight red costume with black spots stepped forward. "I'm Ladybug," she said. "I'm Chat Noir's partner." she craned her neck to look over their shoulders. "Did any of you see a boy, about fourteen or fifteen, blond hair, green eyes, white jacket?"

Sunset frowned and shook her head. "No, sorry," she said. Her eyes drifted to Chat Noir and narrowed thoughtfully.

Ladybug sighed. "Great. We need to find him," she muttered. "We can't leave Adrien behind, we need to take him back to Paris with us."

"I, uhh...have a feeling that's easier said than done, Bugaboo," Chat Noir said.

"He's right," Sunset said. "I'll fill you in while we wait for the police."

The group headed for the front entrance of the school; Sunset called the police on the way out. Once they were outside, she began explaining the situation to the two superheroes. Once she was finished, Ladybug frowned. "So wait...this is another dimension? There's no Paris? No France?"

Cadance shook her head. "Sorry," she said. "We do have a Mareis, and that's in Prance, but I don't think that'll be much help to you."

"For now, you two should come with us to Canterlot High," Sunset said. "As soon as the police come to collect this jerk."

Chat Noir snatched Sunset's phone and began playing with the maps app. He raised an eyebrow. "Fillydelphia? Manehattan? Whinnyapolis? Vanhoover? Hoofston? Las Pegasus?"

"Well, minou, it looks like we finally found your home planet!" Ladybug said cheerfully.

"Mee-owch!" Chat Noir handed Sunset back her phone.

Ladybug sighed. "Well...okay, we'll go with you for now, but we can't leave this area until we find Adrien." She grimaced. "If he escaped the school, there's no telling where he went."

Sunset stared at her, then at Chat Noir, then back. "Seriously?" she asked.

Ladybug blinked at her. "What?"

Chat Noir started making frantic "don't go there" gestures behind her back. Sunset ignored him. "Okay, so let me get this straight," Sunset said. "This boy Adrien goes missing from the gym you two just left."

Ladybug nodded.

"And he has blond hair and green eyes and is about fifteen."

Ladybug nodded again.

Sunset narrowed her eyes. "Sort of like the blond-haired, green-eyed fifteen year old magical transforming catboy standing right behind you who had to run off on us because he was about to run out of power after he destroyed the steel shutters sealing the school," she said.

Chat Noir facepalmed and made a strangled sound as though he was trying to cough up a hairball.

Ladybug blinked. Opened her mouth. Started to say something. Stopped. Blinked again. Turned to Chat Noir.

Her eyes widened. "Adrien?!"

Chat Noir sighed and slumped. "So much for secret identities," he muttered. "See if I ever offer to be your familiar again," he shot at Sunset.

* * * * *

In the science lab at Canterlot High School, Starlight Glimmer was helping Sci-Twi with some measurements.

"Hey, Twilight? Is...is your flux capacitor supposed to be doing that?"

Sci-Twi didn't look up from her laptop. "Of course! It's a flux capacitor. It does two things, it fluxes and it...capacitates."

"It isn't fluxing, though," Starlight said. "It's muxing."

Sci-Twi's fingers froze. Her eyes widened. She slowly turned to Starlight. "S-say that again?"

"It's muxing."

Sci-Twi stared at the flux capacitor, which was indeed muxing instead of fluxing.

Her irises shrank to pinpricks.

"Uh-oh."

Comes a Cheerleader

View Online

Two motorcycles roared through the English countryside. One, a Kawasaki in the signature green, was being driven by a woman in a green and black bodysuit and a black helmet with a green visor. The other bike, a sleek purple Honda, was driven by a girl in a short-sleeved purple crop top, black cargo pants, and fingerless gloves, wearing a purple helmet.

A headset built into her helmet crackled to life. "So why'd you drag me all the way to England again? Not that I mind the excuse to get away from my brothers."

"Ron has his own mission," she replied. "We got both hits at the same time. He's headed to Tibet to fight Monkey Fist. Yori's meeting him on the way."

"And you're okay with that?"

"It's Monkey Fist. He's really more Ron's nemesis than mine anyway."

"No, the Yori thing."

"Oh, totally! Yori knows the score. I'm so not jealous. Not anymore."

"Uh-huh. Okay, so the goof's dealing with the evolutionary backwash, but that doesn't explain why you dragged me to England."

"Killigan and DNAmy. Stonehenge. Don't know what they're up to, but it can't be good. Didn't wanna go in without backup."

"Didn't Killigan retire a few months ago?"

"Eh, that rich jerk with the bad hair bragged about American golf courses being better than Scottish golf courses and tried to prove it by building one in Scotland."

"Ooh, bet Killigan didn't like that."

"Nope! He's been on a rampage ever since."

"And now he's teamed up with everybody's least favorite monster maker," Shego summed up. "Wonderful."

"Yep." Kim Possible gunned her bike forward. "We're almost there."

"Race ya!" Shego's bike roared ahead.

"SHEGO! TRAFFIC LAWS!"

* * * * *

Ladybug's jaw hung agape, her bluebell eyes wide as she pointed a trembling red-gloved hand at Chat Noir. "A-ADRIEN?!"

Chat Noir sighed. "Claws in," he muttered. Green light traced over his body, replacing his skintight leather catsuit with the street clothes of Adrien Agreste. A tiny black cat-fairy tumbled out of the now-silver ring on his right hand, then flew up and landed on his shoulder.

"Well, that wasn't how I expected this to go down," Plagg said, raising an eyebrow.

Sunset frowned. "You two...didn't know who the other was without the masks...did you?" she asked slowly.

"We weren't supposed to," Ladybug said mechanically. "At least, that's what I was told."

"Yeah, superheroes, secret identities, it's all part of the whole saving the world thing," Adrien said.

Sunset groaned. "Shit," she muttered. "I'm sorry. I didn't know it was supposed to be—"

Adrien sighed. "It's cool," he said. "If we're really trapped in another world, the chances of us not finding out at some point before we manage to get back to Paris were pretty slim. I mean, without using Cataclysm or Lucky Charm, we can stay transformed a pretty long time, but sooner or later we'd have needed to rest, recharge..." He shrugged. "Plus, it'd be hard to keep Ladybug from noticing Adrien and Chat Noir are never in the same place at the same time without her getting suspicious."

Ladybug shook her head. "Sorry, I just...I just need a minute." She started pacing. "Adrien is Chat Noir. Adrien is Chat Noir. Adrien is Chat NOIR?!" She threw her hands up. "That's just...HOW?!"

Tenten raised an eyebrow. "Wow. That's...one heck of a reaction."

Adrien frowned as he watched Ladybug rant and rave. "Yeah," he said worriedly. "I...honestly don't know what's bugging her. I mean, I wasn't sure what to expect when I finally let the cat out of the bag, but—"

Ladybug was suddenly in his face. "STOP! PUNNING!" she screeched. "I can't deal with Chat Noir's lame puns coming out of Adrien's adorable face!"

Everyone paused, processing that.

Ladybug blinked rapidly, then covered her mouth.

Adrien's face flushed. "A-adorable...?"

Cadance covered a snicker. "My my!" She sauntered over, appraising the two teens critically. "I see what's going on here," she purred. "The little lady in red has a crush on the catboy's secret identity!"

Principal Cinch snorted. "Come, Cadance. We have more important matters to attend to than some silly teenage love triangle." She turned and marched toward the school. "I expect the rest of you to remove yourselves from the premises immediately!"

"Gee, you're welcome," Tenten said thinly, glaring at her.

Cadance cleared her throat. "Actually, Principal Cinch, I'm leaving with this group," she said. "I'm worried about Twilight, so I'm going to go check on her. Plus, it'd help to find out more about what's going on so we'll be prepared if we have another...incident like this."

Cinch harrumphed. "Do as you please," she spat.

"What a pleasant woman," Adrien muttered sourly. "You think she was born with a lemon up her butt, or what?"

Sunset laughed. "Dean Cadance, do you have a car? I can only carry one extra on my bike."

"Yeah, I'll take these two," she said, gesturing at Ladybug and Adrien. "Besides, it sounds like they need to work a few things out, and the drive to CHS will give me time to mediate if it gets...weird."

Sunset nodded. "Okay. Tenten, I guess you're with me."

"Works for me," Tenten said. "That bike you ride looks kinda fun!"

"My car's around back in the faculty lot," Cadance said. She blinked, then added, "Umm...I'd probably better get my purse first...maybe try to find a change of clothes..."

Adrien held up a hand. "Hold up," he said. "Before anyone goes anywhere or does anything..." He turned to face Ladybug, his cheeks heating up again. "Look, we can...we can talk about who has a crush on who and what that means...later," he said, "but I need to know two things, and I kinda need to know them right now."

Ladybug nodded hesitantly.

"First: Are you upset that I'm Chat Noir?"

Ladybug frowned. "N-no, not...not upset," she said. "Just...surprised. And a little weirded out because Chat Noir is so completely the opposite of you and it's just..." She threw up her hands. "I mean okay yeah I'm starting to see it a little now but I just need to work this out in my head, you know?"

Adrien nodded. "Okay. The other thing..." He fidgeted uncomfortably, toying with his ring. "W-well...you know who I am now, so..."

"I won't tell anyone when we get back, I promise," Ladybug said hastily.

"Thanks, but....that's not...that's not what I meant," Adrien said. He tilted his head to indicate the Kwami sitting on his shoulder, then tilted his head meaningfully at Ladybug.

"He means lose the mask," Sunset supplied helpfully.

Ladybug blinked. "Oh. O-oh!" She paused. "Umm..." She sighed. "I-I'm not sure," she said. "I mean, once you know who I am, you—"

Adrien took her hands in his and smiled hopefully. "Will know who the beautiful, amazing girl I owe my life to a dozen times over is," he said. "And then we can be an even better team than we already are."

"But...what if you're...I dunno, what if it's a big let-down?" Ladybug asked.

Adrien smirked. "You're Ladybug. How could you ever let me down?"

"If you don't hurry this up, I'll die of boredom and hunger," Plagg grunted from Adrien's shoulder. Adrien casually flicked him with a finger, and he floated above Adrien's head, eyes narrowed.

Ladybug giggled. "W-well...alright..." Swallowing heavily, she shakily said, "S-spots off..."

With a flash of pink light and a swarm of glowing ladybugs, Ladybug was replaced by a short, freckle-faced girl with shiny blue-black hair and nervous bluebell eyes, wearing pink jeans, ballet shoes, a patterned shirt, and a black jacket.

Adrien's eyes lit up. "Marinette," he breathed in a wondering tone.

Marinette Dupain-Cheng ducked her head, raised one hand, and wiggled her fingers. "H-hi," she said.

Adrien broke into a wide grin. "I'm not the least bit surprised," he said breathlessly. He laughed. "Heck, I should've known."

Marinette blinked and looked up. "S-so...you're not disappointed that Ladybug is, well...me?"

"Are you disappointed that I'm Chat Noir?" Adrien countered.

"N-no..." Marinette frowned slightly. "Just...weirded out maybe?" She shook her head. "I mean, it's—"

"Okay, THIS part, you two can hash out in the car on the way to CHS," Cadance interrupted with a smile. "Sunset, we'll see you there."

Sunset nodded and turned to Tenten. "Let's roll."

* * * * *

Once X had found directions to Crystal Prep, he and Brook had set off to rendezvous with the others.

Along the way, they'd gotten...a little sidetracked.

"NESHESHESHESHESHESHE!! How do you like my KUSHAMI-HOU?!"

"I think it's pretty disgusting!" X retorted as he fired off two shots from his X-Buster at their current opponent, who dodged by wobbling unsteadily out of the way.

"Well, this guy's absolutely from my world," Brook said as he readied his sword.

Their opponent was a tall, thin man with square shoulders, large, thick-knuckled hands, and bowed legs. He wore sailcloth breeches, scuffed leather shoes, and a striped blue-and-yellow shirt with a black neckerchief. A matching black bandana was tied around his head; a Jolly Roger on the front depicted a mercury bulb thermometer over crossed bones. Red, bleary eyes stared feverishly at them from over a cold mask.

"You know him?" X asked.

"No, but I can feel it in my bones." Brook paused, then added, "Since I'm only bones."

X sighed. "Right, so—"

The man blocking their path lowered his cold mask, sucked in a deep, wet breath, and coughed up a giant wad of phlegm that sailed at the duo like a fastball. X bit off a curse and slid to the side, firing a quick X-Buster volley; Brook leapt high into the air as the phlegm wad exploded violently, spraying green goop in every direction. "NEEEESHESHESHESHE!!" the man laughed raucously. "You probably want to stop doing that, or you'll get the worst bronchial infection you've ever had in your life! My phlegm bombs are highly infectious!"

Brook landed next to X; both of them stared at their opponent.

"I'm an artificial lifeform," X said. "I can't contract human infections."

"I'm dead and don't have lungs," Brook said.

The man paused, blinking. "Well...I still have my KUSHAMI-HOU!" He reared back and unleashed a massive sneeze; the force of his sneeze created a pressure wave that ripped a groove in the asphalt and sent X and Brook flying. "NEEEEESHESHESHESHESHE! That's what you get for crossing paths with Cold-Mask Fluenz of the Fever Pirates!"

* * * * *

"Ye're TOO LATE, lassies!" Killigan cackled. A quartet of giant mutant gopher-bears loomed over Kim and Shego.

"Okay see this? THIS is why I gave up the hero gig in the first place," Shego said.

"I thought it was because you hated your brothers and started wanting the bad guys to win?" Kim commented.

"Well, yeah, and that," Shego admitted. "But mostly WHOA!" She jumped backward as a gopher-bear charged her, then shot an energy blast into its nose. It roared and backed away, pawing at its face with its massive claws.

"Now as much as Ae'd love ye tae stae an' witness me greatest triumph," Killigan said, "Ae know better than tae give you lasses a chance tae stop me. So, Ae'm simply goin' tae kill ye now an' have done wi' ye! CADDIES!"

The gopher-bears penned Kim and Shego in. They stood back to back, looking for an opening, looking for any way out of their life or death situation...

The grand stones of Stonehenge lit up like strobes all around them, and then everything was gone. Killigan, the gopher-bears, DNAmy, Stonehenge...all gone.

In its place was a well-manicured lawn sprawling before a large school building, with a collection of teenagers staring at them in surprise.

"Well, here's two more," one of them said.

* * * * *

Crystal Prep had turned up a frustrating lack of appropriately-sized clothes to replace Cadance's wardrobe; she'd finally given up on it and decided to get underway. While she was searching the school, Adrien and Marinette compared notes; listening in on their banter, she got the impression that both of them had repeatedly missed obvious clues as to the other's identity.

She'd also picked up on two very obvious crushes that were now blossoming into an absolutely adorable teenage romance.

After her final recourse—Twilight Sparkle's old lab—turned up empty, she sighed. "Well, I hope you two don't mind being chauffered around by a half-naked hula girl," she said, throwing her hands up, "because I can't find anything to wear."

"Oh, crap!" Adrien blurted, smacking his palm against his face. "I'm sorry," he said, shrugging off his jacket and offering it to Cadance. "I was so caught up in the whole secret identity drama, I—"

Cadance waved him off. "It's okay," she said. "I know I'll find something at CHS because one of Twilight's new friends apparently makes ten new outfits at lunch every day."

Adrien frowned. "Well, if you're sure..."

"Makes ten whole new outfits every day?!" Marinette exclaimed, eyes wide. "Oh my gosh! I can't even finish a design for a whole outfit in a day!"

"Don't sell yourself short, I've seen what you're capable of in a crunch," Adrien said. "I mean, that hat you made? The album cover for Jagged Stone?" He smirked and poked her in the nose. "Give yourself some credit for being awesome, Bugaboo."

Marinette pulled a face. "Okay, you acting like Chat Noir without the mask is gonna take some getting used to," she said.

The trio arrived in the parking lot, where Cadance led them to a mid-sized pearl-pink hybrid. "So, why don't you two tell me about your world and this whole superhero thing while we're on the way?" she suggested.

As the teens got into the back, blushing at each other as they buckled their seatbelts, Cadance started the car. "W-well," Marinette said, "one day this supervillain named Hawk Moth showed up in Paris. He has the power to turn people into crazy brainwashed monsters, and..." She shifted awkwardly. "On the first day of school, one of our classmates was turned into a giant stone monster and wrecked the school. When I went home after the attack, I found these earrings sitting in my room."

"And I found this ring sitting in my room," Adrien said.

"The earrings and the ring are magical items called Miraculous," a tiny, chipper voice interjected. Cadance blinked as, in the rear view, a tiny pink fairy creature with huge blue eyes floated between the seats. "Chosen humans use the Miraculous, and Kwami such as myself and Plagg give them the power to transform into superheroes!"

"So basically, we constantly fight villains Hawk Moth unleashes in Paris," Adrien summed up. "An Akumatized person wreaks havoc, Ladybug and I transform and kick butt, Ladybug uses her powers to capture the Akuma, turn the victim back to normal, and fix all the damage, and we go back to our regular lives until the next time." He pursed his lips and glanced at Marinette. "That about cover it?"

"Just about," Marinette agreed. "Only up until now, neither of us knew who the other was without the mask." She ducked her head and blushed. "A-and that's pretty much it."

Cadance frowned as she digested all this. "So this Hawk Moth," she said. "What's he after, and why haven't you gone after him directly yet?"

"We have no idea who he is or where to find him," Adrien said. "As for what he's after..."

"He's after the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculous," Tikki said. "If you combine the two, you'll have unimaginable power—power no human being should have. That's what Hawk Moth is after, and I doubt he's planning to use it for anything good."

"So wait," Cadance said as she changed lanes, "this guy's after your powers, but you guys didn't have powers yet when he showed up?"

"Yeah, but the Miraculous are thousands of years old," Marinette said. "I don't know how long they've been around but I know there was a Ladybug in Ancient Egypt and that was five thousand years ago."

"Whoever Hawk Moth is, he knows a lot about the Miraculous," Adrien said. He frowned. "He has one himself, right Plagg?"

"Yeah," Plagg said lazily. "The Butterfly Miraculous. It went missing decades ago. It's how he makes the Akuma. It's not supposed to be used the way he's using it."

"So that's why he was in the book," Adrien muttered distractedly. He failed to notice Marinette tense guiltily at his side.

"So you two are classmates," Cadance said, "and both of you were crushing on each other but you didn't know?"

Both teens' faces burned red. "Y-yeah," Marinette said coyly. "I've had a crush on Adrien for months..."

"I fell in love with Ladybug the first day we fought together," Adrien said, gazing fondly at Marinette.

Marinette ducked away from his gaze, fumbling with her hands in her lap. "Chat Noir's flirting...usually annoys me, but sometimes..." She glanced up at Adrien, a faint smile on her lips. "I...I guess it..." She looked down at her lap again. "I mean, Chat Noir is...is my partner. And friend. And..." She trailed off, giving a small squeak.

Adrien reached over and took her hand. "The day I made friends with Marinette," he said, "was one of the happiest days of my life. I've been sheltered for so long, no friends, no life outside of my father's cold, empty house. Having a real friend, being able to be a real person and not just a product for my father to market..."

"Product?" Cadance interrupted sharply, her eyes turning cold.

"Oh! Not like that," Adrien said hastily. "I'm a model. Father is a top fashion designer, and I have about six photo shoots a week."

"Oh," Cadance said. Her lips pursed with discontent. "Still. At your age, that's..."

"I know," Adrien said with a resigned sigh. "Believe me, I'd quit in a heartbeat if I could. I'd rather be spending my time hanging out with friends, doing stupid things." He looked over at Marinette. "So you really...all this time?"

Marinette nodded. "I...I tried to tell you, but I kept tripping over my own tongue, spazzing out..." She ducked her head, face flaming. "So not the Ladybug you know, huh?"

Adrien chuckled. "The Ladybug I fell in love with is my cute, talented friend Marinette." He blushed again. "Who...I would totally have fallen for by now if I wasn't blinded by my obsession with, well...you." He chuckled. "We're hopeless, aren't we?"

"Y-yeah," Marinette mumbled, giggling uncertainly.

Cadance smiled. "You two are completely adorable," she said.

* * * * *

X and Brook stood over the unconscious form of Cold-Mask Fluenz. X scowled down at him. "So what were you saying about pirates in your world not being criminals?"

Brook sighed. "I said not all pirates are. This idiot obviously is." He shook his head. "What do we do with him? His Sneeze-Sneeze Fruit powers make him too dangerous to just let him wake up and wander off."

X grimaced. "I don't feel right dumping another problem on Sunset's equine friend," he said, "but our options are basically execute him or send him to Equestria where they have better facilities for dealing with this kind of prisoner." He sighed. "Well, I guess we'd better—"

He stopped short as the delayed sound of Brook's sword whooshing through the air registered in his auditory sensors. His eyes widened in shock as Cold-Mask Fluenz's head rolled several feet away from his body.

Brook cleaned his sword on the tail of his tattered coat, then sheathed it. He gazed dispassionately at X. "Right, let's go," he said.

X stared at him. "You just—!"

Brook shrugged. "You said it yourself. Execute him or pass him along like a bad cold. This would've happened to him sooner or later on the Grand Line." He turned and walked away. "Shall we go?"

X scowled. "Tch," he spat. He gave the decapitated pirate one last glance, then took off after Brook, mind whirling with tense, unpleasant thoughts.

* * * * *

Shego sat up, rubbing her head. "Greeeeeeat," she grumbled sourly. "What stupidity did you get me dragged into now, teepee-tits?"

"I have no i—" Kim blinked, then glanced at Shego. "Teepee-tits?"

Shego shrugged. "Hey, you graduated high school, I feel comfortable using more grown-up insults now."

Some good-natured giggling erupted from the crowd of teenaged girls surrounding them. "Heh, teepee-tits," a blue-skinned girl with rainbow hair said.

A yellow-skinned girl with long pink hair covered her mouth. "I'm s-sorry, I sh-shouldn't be laughing, but...it is pretty funny."

Kim frowned and looked at the girls and their pronouncedly round, full busts, then down at herself. Her face turned red. "Okay, not something I ever thought of until exactly this moment," she muttered.

The sound of a motorbike cut through the giggling. As the engine died, two girls dismounted—one buxom with fiery red and gold hair, the other short and lean with brown hair in two round buns. The redhead grimaced. "More new arrivals?" she asked.

Two new boys dropped into view—one wearing a black body stocking, the other tanned, blue-eyed, and lavender-haired with rugged canvas and denim clothing and heavy boots. "Sorry we're late getting back," he said. "We took it slow so we could watch for any new problems."

"Are you okay?" the brown-haired girl asked, rushing up to the lavender-haired boy and examining him.

"H-hai," he said, blushing. "The hospital took care of my, erm...allergic reaction easily."

"Yo, weird people," Shego said loudly, waving a hand over her head. "Yeah, who are you, where are we, what's going on here, start talking or I start blasting."

"Shego!" Kim snapped. "Sorry about her. But...umm...yeah, mind telling us what exactly the sitch is here?"

A lengthy round of introductions and explanations later...

"Well this blows," Shego said, crossing her arms and scowling.

"Yeah, major blowage," Kim agreed. "You're absolutely sure there's no way back?"

"Sorry. We're all kinda stuck here," Miles said. "I mean, it's no picnic for any of us, but right now we gotta wait until the eggheads figure out a way to fix everything, you know?"

A car pulled up to the front of the school, and Cadance, Marinette, and Adrien piled out. Cadance's appearance drew numerous raised eyebrows, but the three new arrivals were quickly introduced to everyone and given a run-down of the situation.

Once everything was explained, Adrien glanced at Marinette. "Do you think your Lucky Charm could—?"

Marinette frowned. "I doubt it," she said. "I mean...well...Tikki?"

Tikki shook her head. "Sorry, Marinette. This is way beyond what the Miraculous can do. Or...well...it's more like it's something I really, really don't want to try to mess with since I've never even heard of magic like this before."

"Yeah, if the locals can fix it, let them fix it," Plagg said. "And if they can't, well..." He shrugged. "You can always just give your ring to Marinette and hope for the best."

"Give my ring...to Marinette?" Adrien asked.

"With both Miraculous, Ladybug would have virtually unlimited power of creation and destruction," Tikki said. "It's...not an idea I like or want to even try, and I still don't know if it'd actually fix all this, but if it's the absolute last resort, we can...we can try it."

"I don't think I want to have that kind of power. Or that kind of pressure." Marinette grimaced. "I agree with Plagg. Let these people handle it since they know what they're doing."

"Great. So what're we supposed to do in the meantime?" Shego asked.

"SUNSET!!"

Everyone turned to see a breathless Sci-Twi rushing out of the school, Starlight Glimmer galloping at her side. As Sci-Twi ran toward the group, Starlight broke for the portal and jumped through.

"Twilight!" Cadance called, rushing over to her. "Are you alright?"

"Dean Cadance!" Twilight shouted with relief. "You're alright! I'm so glad you're..." She trailed off, her cheeks flushing. "...naked," she finished lamely.

Cadance raised an eyebrow. "You're so glad I'm naked? Well, we can have a long talk about that later."

"GAH! No, that's not what I—" Sci-Twi cut off as Cadance started giggling. She stamped a foot, her cheeks puffing up. "OOOOOHHHH...!!"

A round of good-natured snickers and giggles erupted.

"Dean Cadance, that's...quite a bold look for you," Rarity said.

"I like it! Ooh, were you at a luau? Does Crystal Prep have luaus?" Pinkie asked.

"Please don't say the word luau. Or pineapple, or lei, or aloha, or anything Hawaiian," Cadance said with a grimace. "I'll explain later." She coughed. "Rarity, was it? You're the one who does clothes, right? I, uhh...I could actually—"

"Say no more, darling!" Rarity said, rushing for the school. "I've got just the thing in the fashion club room." Cadance followed her at a more sedate pace.

Sunset turned to Sci-Twi. "Twilight, what's wrong? You came tearing out of the school like you were on fire."

"Okay so there might be the teeeeeeeeeniest problem," Sci-Twi said, rocking side to side in place and fidgeting nervously with her hands.

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "Really," she said. "Because all of this isn't already a problem."

Sci-Twi adjusted her glasses. "Well, yes, but..." She sighed. "The dimensional flux is multiplexing the phase space."

"Multiplexing the..." Sunset trailed off, blinking. "I...actually have no idea what that means."

"I don't think any of us do," Kim said. "Hi, I'm Kim, by the way."

"Twilight Sparkle," Sci-Twi said absently.

"I think I know what it means," Shego said with a grimace. "Kimmy, remember that time we got whammied into Dr. D.'s cable thingie, and how things got super weird there at the end?"

"Yeah?"

"It's that," Shego said.

"Yikes."

"Okay, and for those of us who have no idea what you're talking about...?" Miles prompted.

Sci-Twi looked around the crowd. "It means we could start seeing incursions of distorted space as the dimensional resonance frequencies intersect at the quantum level," she explained. "Tachyon interference generated by the dimensional instability will layer pockets of other universes onto our own, exponentially increasing the incursions while overwriting sections of our universe with others." She frowned. "Except they'll be, well...echoes." She looked around the group again. "For some of you, they may look like home, or a way back to where you belong. But they won't be. They'll be like..." She trailed off, gesturing vaguely.

"Ghosts of other places?" Trunks suggested.

"That works," Sci-Twi said, nodding. "But these distorted incursions could also deposit foreign contaminants into this dimension en masse, which will make sorting this whole mess out once the other Twilight contains the artifact an even bigger headache."

Shego frowned. "By 'foreign contaminants' you mean people like me, Kimmy, and I assume at least half these other weirdos," she said flatly.

Sci-Twi blinked. "Oh. My gosh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that to sound so..." She ducked her head.

"It's okay," Kim said soothingly. "Nerds gotta nerd, we get it." She smiled. "More importantly, do you have any recommendations?"

The sky over the school turned a funky shade of reddish-purple, and hundreds of spongy, spiky alien masses of...something...hung suspended in midair. Without warning, an army of identical glowing blue robots, each armed with a pulse rifle, faded into view.

"Alert. Unanticipated dimensional transport has occurred."

"Scanning. The dimension that is the dimension to which we have been transported is a dimension that is unknown to Kraang."

"Improbable. The dimension that is the dimension to which Kraang have been transported resembles the dimension which is known as Earth."

"Unlikely. Quantum state readings in this dimension that is the dimension to which Kraang have been transported do not match the quantum state readings of the dimension which is known as Earth."

"Recommendation. Capture and interrogate the lifeforms that exist in this dimension."

"Agreed. Interrogation of the lifeforms that exist in this dimension will yield information about this dimension that is the dimension to which Kraang have been transported."

The robots trained their rifles on the group.

"I recommend we RUN!" Sci-Twi yelled as she turned and broke for the school.

"Oh snap," Shego said, charging up her fists with a bright green glow. Around her, others sprang to action—Trunks settled into a fighting stance, Miles put his mask on and crouched low, Sunset's hands began glowing with magic. Marinette and Adrien looked at one another and nodded firmly.

"Tikki, spots on!"

"Plagg, claws out!"

The two teens suited up; Ladybug began spinning her yo-yo while Chat Noir extended and spun his staff, deflecting blaster bolts as the robot army opened fire.

"Okay anybody who can't fight on this level, get into the school!" Sunset yelled. "Rainbow Dash, that means you too!"

"Y-yeah...sure...no problem. Don't really wanna tangle with this," Rainbow said. "You heard her, guys!" She began herding her friends toward the building.

"Humans, halt! Surrender and prepare for interrogation and extermination!"

"Screw that!" Miles yelled as he webbed two robots and smashed them into each other, then swung them like a scythe through wheat, knocking down several more.

"Everyone be careful!" Sunset said. "I've gotta protect the portal! If one of those robots destroys it, our only shot at fixing all this is lost!" With that, she fell back and erected a glowing magical shield around the half-broken marble statue.

"Don't worry, we've got this," Miles said. "Err...we do got this, right?"

"We'll know soon enough!" Chat Noir said as he pole-vaulted into the mass of robots, kicking and clawing and swinging and smashing. The robots made odd electronic screeching sounds as they fell like bowling pins.

Ladybug swung her yo-yo in a wide arc, cutting off the hands of several robots. Their pulse rifles clattered to the ground. Tenten ducked low under the barrage of blaster bolts, scooped up two rifles, rolled into a crouch, and opened fire. Chat Noir landed next to her. "I thought you were a ninja?" he asked.

"I'm a ninja who's running low on ninja tools," Tenten said as she blasted away at the robots. "Besides, only an idiot ignores the best weapon available in a battle like this."

"Fair enough."

Trunks, meanwhile, was hurling low-powered ki blasts which caused each robot struck to explode violently, spraying biomechanical shrapnel in every direction. Each time a robot exploded, a small, wrinkly, rubbery pink creature resembling a brain with tentacles would scurry away, screeching.

"Gorchy," Kim muttered, shuddering as a brain scuttled past her while she was busy disarming a robot. "Uhh, guys? I think these robots are like, vehicles for these brain thingies..."

"No, really?" Shego retorted archly as she melted the head of a robot with her green glow, then snatched the brain from its torso and drop-kicked it across the campus.

"Alert! Resistance encountered! Forces diminishing!"

"Attempting to summon backup forces! Receiving a response to distress signal from Kraang! Additional Kraang units responding!"

Several wedge-shaped pink portals opened all around them, and a phalanx of Kraang droids marched out of each.

"This is a cat-astrophe!" Chat Noir said as he landed in front of Ladybug.

"Tch...!" Trunks growled. "I'm still weak from that stupid pineapple allergy! I'm gonna have to go hand-to-hand..."

"How are they summoning reinforcements?" Shego wondered. "I thought you said this whole cross-universe whammy was one-way?"

"I don't have all the answers!" Sunset shouted back from where she strained to keep her forcefield up. "We can worry about it later! Right now, you guys need to—" Several blaster shots struck her forcefield, and she dropped to her knees, grunting and squeezing her eyes shut.

"SUNSET!" Starlight Glimmer reappeared at her side, eyes wide in alarm as she took in the forcefield, Sunset's strained condition, and the war waging all around them. "What in the name of Celestia—?"

"Starlight...help me protect the portal..." Sunset grunted through gritted teeth.

"No worries! I've got this, you rest up!" Starlight's horn lit up, and Sunset's wavering forcefield was replaced with a brilliant blue-white shield that was practically solid. Blaster bolts bounced harmlessly off it, shooting off into the sky like fireworks.

"Thanks," Sunset said hoarsely as she slumped to the ground.

"There's...too many of them," Miles said as he helped himself to a Kraang rifle and started opening fire even as he dodged their blasts with his spider agility. "Where the hell is X?"

"I don't know," Trunks said as he rammed his fist through a Kraang droid. "But we could definitely use some help..."

A zipper appeared in midair, opening with an unnaturally loud sound. In a whirl of cherry blossom petals, a young Japanese man in a blue and white parka roared through the open zipper on a bright pink sakura-themed motorcycle. The bike knocked down two Kraang droids before drifting to a stop, its rider jumping off. He looked around, scowled, and reached into his parka, removing a broad, shiny black device which he slapped against his waist. A belt snapped into place around his body, holding the device in place.

Next, he produced a strange-looking padlock with a shiny orange front, which he raised in front of his face. The orange lock glowed briefly as he said a single word:

"Henshin!"

The lock unlocked with a loud clack, and a voice spoke from nowhere:

ORANGE!

Another zipper opened in the air above him, and a giant, shiny metal orange slowly descended from the unzipped crack in the sky. The man went through a series of elaborate, whooshing arm poses with the orange lock, then clicked it into place on a notch on his belt buckle, where the open lock top easily slotted into a matching hole. The front flashed once, a bright pulse of orange light.

LOCK ON!

A lever that looked like a toy fruit knife sat to the side of the padlock; the man gave the lever a twist, and the front of the orange lock fell open on a hidden hinge, revealing what looked like a sliced orange on the inside.

ORANGE ARMS!

His body glowed brightly, and a blue and gold bodysuit formed in place of his clothes. He spread his arms out low to his sides as the descending orange enveloped his head; it split apart as though being peeled, its segments forming shiny orange armor over his chest, back, and shoulders. His head was now covered in a blue helmet with an orange visor that resembled an orange wedge, a silver faceplate engraved with a grasshopper-like mouth, and a crescent moon crest upon his brow. He unsheathed a black straight sword from his hip; in his other hand, he held a curved-bladed sword which, in line with the bizarre fruit motif of his armor, looked like an oversized orange slice.

Hanamichi! ON STAGE!

Comes a Rider

View Online

"Henshin!"

ORANGE!

LOCK ON!

ORANGE ARMS!

Hanamichi! ON STAGE!

Everyone stared at the new arrival. Shego's jaw dropped. "Whoa. That...is some fashion statement."

"Yeah, if your statement is 'hi, I'm Florida'," Kim quipped, green eyes wide.

"Okay, that's...kinda awesome," Miles said.

"His transformation has sound effects," Chat Noir complained. "Why does he get sound effects?"

"Ours beep when we're about to run out," Ladybug pointed out.

"Yeah but that's lame!" Chat Noir whined. Ladybug rolled her eyes.

A dozen Kraang rifles pointed at the new arrival. "Transdimensional interpass detected," one said. "The unidentified lifeform which appears to be human but has equipped an unknown technology may be responsible for the transportation of Kraang to this dimension which is unknown to Kraang."

"Unlikely but possible," another Kraang said. "Query: Identify, explain method of transdimensional interpass, and confirm responsibility for transportation of Kraang to this dimension which is unknown to Kraang."

The new arrival's head turned slowly, taking in the array of rifles pointed at him. He slowly angled his swords into a fighting stance in front of him.

"Armored Rider Gaim," he said. "This is now MY STAGE!"

And with that, he waded into the Kraang droids, swords flashing. Sparks flew, Kraang electronic voices stuttering in staccato death cries as arms, heads, and torsos were severed. Rifles were cut in half, leaving smoking holes in the ground as their power cells exploded. Alien blood splattered the ground as the Kraang themselves were sliced and diced. The others fell back, staring in stunned silence.

"If Ron were here, he'd so be geeking out right now," Kim said.

"Yeah, this...is actually kinda badass," Shego agreed in an impressed tone.

Miles landed next to Trunks. "So, uhh...you're not allergic to oranges, are you?"

Trunks slapped him upside the head. "Don't start," he muttered.

In less than two minutes, it was over. The Kraang had stopped calling for reinforcements and attempted to escape, only to find their portals nonfunctional. Gaim had carved a path through their numbers; the others had come to their senses enough to take down any stragglers. Miles had captured seven of the Kraang brain creatures that survived the slaughter; they hung suspended in a bag of webbing.

Once the last droid had fallen, its occupant screaming from painful electrical burns, Gaim looked around at the carnage, lowered his weapons, and reached down to his belt.

LOCK OFF

In a bright orange flash, the fruit-themed samurai disappeared, replaced by an unassuming youth in a blue and white parka. He looked around at the collection of heroes and teenagers. "This...absolutely isn't Zawame City," he said.

"Dude, you rock," Miles said. He frowned. "A little kill-happy on the brain things, but other than that..."

A tired, sweaty Sunset walked up to the new arrival. "Come with me, I'll explain everything, umm...?"

"Kazuraba Kouta."

"Kazuraba-san," Sunset said, nodding.

Kouta smiled easily. "Kouta is fine." He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Anou...I should get going, I can't risk being away from Zawame City for too long."

"That could be a problem," Sunset said with a grimace. "Once you're in this dimension, you kinda...can't leave. We're working on it."

Kouta shrugged and pulled out a pink sakura lock. "I have my own way out..." The lock became a pink motorcycle, which he hopped on and gunned. A zipper opened in the air, and he drove through it.

"Huh," Shego said. "I guess he was just passing through."

Trunks frowned. "I thought it wasn't that easy to—"

The zipper opened again, and Kouta and his bike reappeared. He looked around, blinked, frowned, and drove back into the forest visible on the other side of the zipper, which closed up behind him.

"Yeah, the cute science girl was right," Chat Noir said. "Bet he shows up again."

The recovering group slumped to the ground boredly, watching and waiting. The captured Kraang borbled and squealed in Miles' web. After his fifth attempt to leave, Kouta sighed and pocketed the Lock Vehicle. "Okay, this is just getting frustrating."

"So, you want that explanation now?" Sunset asked, her arms folded.

Kouta grimaced. "Yeah."

Sunset nodded. "Let's drop by the lab and give your bike thingie to Twilight and show her how it works, she needs to study those portals it makes. Then we'll talk."

* * * * *

A bizarre assortment of ponies sat around a large crystal table in a planning room in the Crystal Palace. Princess Twilight Sparkle looked around the room, then cleared her throat. "Alright, everypony. I know you've prepared supplies for an expedition, but I want to make sure we all understand exactly where we're going and exactly what we're doing."

"Aren't we just going to the Crystal Mountains to mine some ore?" Flash Sentry asked. "That's what I heard."

"That's all we really need to know," Limestone Pie grumbled. "This is a waste of time."

"Information is important," Maud said. "Besides, I've never heard of this ore we're searching for. I want to know anything Twilight has to say about it."

"I've never heard of this stuff either," Shining Armor said. With a laugh, he added, "But then, magical studies were never my strong suit. That was always Twiley."

"All I know about it," a burly crystal pony stallion said, "is that King Sombra sent a hundred of us into the mines to hoard the stuff back when he ruled, and every single pony who went in died."

"That's not going to happen this time," Twilight promised firmly. "And I wouldn't ask anypony to do something this dangerous if it wasn't important. A lot of lives—a lot of worlds—are depending on us."

"I'm fascinated by this other-worlds stuff," Sunburst said. "I hope you'll tell me more about it on the hike to the Crystal Mountains."

"Sure," Twilight said. "In the meantime, we need to prepare." She poked the large parchment chart spread out before her. "Bulfecium in its unrefined state has unpredictable effects on pony magic. When we get near bulfecium deposits, it could nullify your magic, amplify it, or even invert it. We're all going to need to be extra careful."

"I have something that can help with that," Sunburst said. "As soon as I learned where we were going and why, I prepared special crystal amulets that should absorb any interference from the bulfecium. I can't guarantee they'll be a hundred percent effective, but they should at least protect us a bit."

"So what exactly is this crap we're lookin' for?" Limestone asked.

"Bulfecium is the most powerfully magic-adaptive mineral known to ponykind," Twilight explained. "Depending on how it's refined and what spells are used to shape it, it can create powerful magic amplification talismans, mana inversion weapons, or in this case, an alloy that can nullify and negate any magical emanations."

Shining Armor frowned. "Don't we have stuff like that back in Canterlot?"

"Not like this," Twilight said, shaking her head. "The artifact we're trying to contain is not only perpetual, it's self-amplifying. With every passing day, its destructive emanations are getting stronger. What we have back in Canterlot could maybe seal away my magic, and that's if I was sick in bed with a fever. A bulfecium alloy containment trap? Could completely seal all five alicorns, Discord, and Starlight Glimmer."

Pinkie let out a low whistle. "That's pretty scary," she said.

"Yeah, and that's why we're only mining enough to do what we need to do," Twilight said. "Once we've contained this thing and repaired the damage to the other world, I'm burying the artifact and its container in the deepest hole I can dig in Tartarus." She looked to the two crystal pony stallions at the table. "Do you have the maps of the Crystal Caverns?"

"Our maps are incomplete," the stallion from before grunted. "I'm afraid we're going to be relying on these earth ponies you brought with you to get us through this safely."

"Hey, we're rock farmers," Pinkie said cheerfully. "This is the kind of thing Maud lives for! Right, Maud?"

"I'm more excited than I've ever been in my life," Maud said without change in tone or inflection. The ponies who weren't used to her blinked in confusion.

"I still don't get why I'm on this expedition," Flash Sentry said.

"Because we need a pegasus who can get word back to the Crystal Empire if something goes wrong," Twilight said.

"And you're a guardspony, and you can carry some gear," Shining Armor said with a smirk.

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Alright. I need everypony to rest up, check your gear, get a good dinner and a good night's sleep. We leave at dawn."

* * * * *

The phantom sky of Dimension X had long since faded from view, leaving behind a darkening afternoon sky. Sunset and Kouta sat on the front steps of the school. Once she had explained the situation, Kouta scratched his head. "And I thought I had problems," he said.

Miles and Trunks emerged from the school. "Well, we locked the brain-thingies up," Miles said. "Found a whole bunch of rabbit cages in a storeroom."

"Did you get them to say anything?"

"I don't think they can talk without their robots."

"Crap."

Trunks shrugged. "I doubt they'd have anything to say we'd be interested in hearing."

"What the hell happened here?"

The group looked up as X and Brook walked through the carnage. "Where've you two been?" Sunset asked.

"We ran into some trouble on our way to meet up with you guys," X said. "By the time we were done with that, we figured you were probably already back here, so we did a little patrol on our way back." He grimaced at a still-sparking robot corpse. "Looks like we missed a hell of a party."

"So what happened with Flash? Is he alright?"

"He's fine," Brook said. "Those girls that kidnapped him are playing music with him in his basement."

Kouta stared at Brook. "What...the...hell...?"

Brook sighed. "You know, it really breaks my heart when people keep reacting to me like that." He paused. "Even though I don't have a heart."

X facepalmed. "Just...just stop. Please."

"Well, at least that's one less problem," Sunset muttered. "I'll call him later, see what he has to say."

Ladybug, Chat Noir, Shego, Kim, Trunks, and Miles converged on the front steps. "Everything's clear," Miles reported. "No more Kraang running around, nothing else happening."

"That's good." Sunset sighed, leaning back on her hands. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm exhausted."

"Yeah, I'm worn down to the bone myself," Brook said.

Everyone waited, watching him. He tilted his head. "What?"

Before anyone could comment, Sci-Twi walked outside, a frazzled, disappointed look on her face. "I've examined the portal energies your bike generates," Sci-Twi said with a frown, "and the portal devices those Kraang carried." She handed Kouta back the Lock Seed for his bike.

"And?" Kouta asked as he pocketed it.

"Well...the bad news is, we can't use any of it to send anyone home." Sci-Twi scrolled through some data on her tablet. "The only two-way dimensional gate that functions properly right now is the portal to Equestria."

Kouta frowned. "But no...I can get back and forth from Helheim just like always."

Sci-Twi gave him a pointed look. "But you can't return to your Zawame City, right?"

"Well...not yet," Kouta admitted.

"And you won't be able to," Sci-Twi said. "The Kraang portals likewise no longer function. I've tried activating them, but I had about the same results the Kraang did before you guys, well..." She coughed. "Anyway. They're dead."

"So...what's all this mean?"

"It means our world is like a roach motel," Sunset said grimly. "Anything that comes in doesn't get out."

"Ouch. Harsh analogy much?" Kim asked.

"She's right, though," Sci-Twi said with a grimace. "Any transdimensional technology or magic that works to bring someone here will fail completely once it's in this dimension."

"Wait," Trunks said, holding up a hand. "Kazuraba-san is able to return to that forest of his on his bike. We've seen it."

"Yes," Sci-Twi said, "but that isn't his world. It's..." She frowned. "Based on what he's told me about Helheim and based on the readings I took, Helheim isn't a naturally occuring dimension. It's a subspace, a pocket universe. It appears to attach itself to reality at a fixed anchor point, where these rips in space can be opened and closed to access it."

"Meaning?" Shego prompted impatiently.

"Helheim is a parasite world," Kouta said.

Sci-Twi nodded. "Essentially," she confirmed. "When Kouta showed up here, we assumed the same force that's bringing everything else here brought him. What actually happened..." Her face twisted into a sour grimace. "Our reality-bending artifact brought an entire parasitic subdimension to our universe, and he was riding around inside it at the time, so he came along for the ride."

A look of alarm crossed Sunset's face. "I don't like the sound of that," she said.

"You shouldn't," Kouta said grimly. "Trust me, having Helheim connected to your world is very dangerous."

"We need to alert Princess Twilight immediately," Sci-Twi said. "The timetable on fixing all this just got urgent. If we allow Helheim to remain anchored to our world for more than three weeks, we might not be able to get rid of it."

"And what would that mean for this world?" Kim asked.

Sci-Twi glanced at Kouta, her eyes nervous.

Kouta looked away from everyone. "The complete and total annihilation of humanity," he said quietly.

* * * * *

Two beachgoing girls shrieked and ran, covering their heads, as "Tacomusume" sprayed them with salsa. "TASTE THE FURY OF THE SEA-QUESO!" Sonata yelled, laughing maniacally.

Ikamusume watched her with half-lidded eyes. "If she wasn't one of my most loyal minions, I'd..." She sighed. "I thought we were supposed to be taking revenge on the witches that cursed you-geso?"

"In good time," Adagio said. With a grimace, she added, "We've been keeping an eye on the news lately, and Canterlot is getting a little...too wild. We'll need to be better prepared before we go back."

"And those Rainbottoms outnumber us," Aria grumbled. "Without our magic, we need to be careful before we face them again."

Ikamusume sniffed. "I'm not afraid of some stupid humans! I—" She froze suddenly, the fin-flaps on her hat twitching. Her posture stiffened, her tentacles trailing out behind her and going rigid.

"What's up?" Aria asked. "You look like you just saw a—"

"Don't you smell it-geso?" Ikamusume hissed. "It's close! It's—"

Sonata suddenly let out a shrill, piercing scream and ran past them. "RUN-QUESO!" she shrieked. "SCARY BEACH MONSTER!!"

She wasn't the only one. A half dozen people suddenly thundered past, screaming in panic and confusion.

Adagio and Aria blinked at each other, then turned back to look in the direction they'd come running from.

Adagio's jaw dropped. "What...the..."

A massive man...of sorts...stalked up the beach, long menacing strides of his sandaled feet carrying his enormous frame several feet at a time. He had blue-grey skin, long, shaggy black hair, and solid muscles. He wore green board shorts with a purple sash tied around his waist, and an open yellow-and-black shirt that showed off his formidable pecs and abs, as well as the prominent tattoo of a sun on his chest. His jaw was long, his chin prominent and pointed...

But not as pointed as his teeth. Or his nose.

His nose was long, barbed, and decidedly not human. Above that sinister nose, above a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth bared in a menacing grin, cold eyes burned with menace.

Ikamusume slowly turned on the spot, trembling.

"Friend of yours?" Aria asked as she stared numbly at the very dangerous-looking beast-man storming up the beach.

Ikamusume whimpered. "Sh-shark," she squeaked.

"SHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!" The shark-man threw back his head and laughed. "FREE! Free to plunder, free to..." He paused, then looked around, frowning. "Free to find out what island I'm on," he rumbled to himself, stroking his chin. His eyes fell upon Adagio and Aria, and he stomped over to them. "You," he hissed. "Tell me what I want to know and I might not kill you."

Adagio raised an eyebrow. "You know, normally I don't respond well to threats. I'm usually the one making them. But in your case? I'll make an exception." She licked her lips and walked up to the shark-man, running a hand lightly over his bare chest. "Besides, how can I resist a man with muscles like this?"

"Adagio, are you seriously doing this right now?" Aria hissed. "I don't know if you noticed, but this guy isn't human!"

"Neither are we, what's your point?"

Aria facepalmed. "Not what I meant!"

The shark-man grunted. "You look and smell human enough," he said. "I'm not particularly fond of humans...unless they serve a purpose." His sharklike grin grew dangerous. "Prove useful to me."

"Hmm...I think I can come up with a few ways to prove useful to you," Adagio purred.

Aria looked up from where she was dragging her fingers down her face. "Adagio, he has some kind of freaking saw for a nose!"

"I can overlook that," Adagio said, giving the shark-man a sultry smile. "I'm more...results-oriented."

The shark-man blinked. "You're not seriously trying to whore yourself out to me," he said in a disbelieving tone.

"Mmm...I think of it more as taking an active interest in an...interesting prospect that washed up on my beach," Adagio said.

The shark-man snorted. "Shahahahaha...! You're an interesting human." He glanced at Ikamusume, frowning. "You can stop trembling, squid. I'm not going to eat a fellow fishman. Unless you defy me."

Ikamusume gulped. "I-I-I-I'll be good-geso!"

The shark-man grunted. "Two human women and a squid...not exactly the most promising crew, but until I have a better read on the situation, I suppose I have to start somewhere." He clenched a fist. "Monkey D. Luffy, you took everything from me...but mark my words. You will meet your end at the hands of Arlong the Saw!"

Comes an Interlude

View Online

Evening fell. Across Canterlot and Canterlittle, the various unlikely groups which had come together sat down to share a meal, regroup, and exchange information.

Down by the river, Ijuuin Enzan sprinkled some crushed herbs onto a fish which sat on a makeshift skewer, slowly roasting over a campfire. Blues sat nearby, ever vigilant, while Rodimus Prime sat across the fire, gleaming in the waning sunlight in his orange and red magnificence.

"My father is the president of IPC," Enzan said as he tended his fish while cracking a handful of nuts. "I've had accelerated tutoring since I was small. Most kids my age are in sixth grade; I'm already working on three business and engineering degrees."

Rodimus whistled. "Impressive. From what I know of humans, that's quite an achievement."

"Aa." Enzan munched on a few nuts. "My family is very well-off, but I don't let it go to my head like some of the other wealthy families." He snorted. "Like that spoiled brat from Gabcom." He shook his head. "When I was nine years old, I became an Official—a NetBattler who investigates and eliminates Net crimes."

Rodimus glanced at Blues. "I'm guessing the Internet in your world is vastly different from the Internet Earth has where I'm from."

"Probably," Enzan said. "This world's Internet is very different as well. It still seems to serve most of the same functions, but it lacks the level of sophistication Hikari Labs introduced to our Net society." Enzan turned the fish to allow it to cook more evenly. "Blues is my NetNavi. Normally, he exists as an artificial intelligence inside our Net. With his assistance, I investigate..." He trailed off, then smirked. "Iya. Blues is my partner. We investigate threats to the security of the Net, whether they're from virus outbreaks or criminals using NetNavis in illegal ways."

Rodimus raised an eyebrow. "The way you paused and switched track like that tells me there's an interesting story there."

Enzan closed his eyes and shrugged. "Truthfully? For a long time, I viewed Blues as merely a tool, an advanced program I had created to serve a purpose. In recent years, as Blues and I have come more frequently into contact with Hikari Netto and his Navi Rockman, I've begun seeing the relationship between Operator and Navi differently."

"Enzan-sama," Blues said softly.

"I see," Rodimus said. "So, what exactly does a NetNavi do?" he asked, turning his attention to Blues.

"All NetNavis have the basic functions of handling incoming and outgoing communications for their operators," Blues said. "Additionally, we navigate the Network—as implied by the term NetNavi—for whatever purpose the operator deems necessary. We engage in Net commerce, purchasing digital items our operators require and placing orders for goods to be delivered or services to be provided. A host of other functions are available depending on installed program extensions." He paused. "In my case, I was designed primarily as an investigation and combat Navi. I possess enhanced virus deletion capabilities and anti-crime combat operations. With the weapons, defensive systems, and autonomous combat operations installed, I can handle most virus elimination and low-level NetCrime independent of my operator. For more severe instances of NetCrime, Enzan-sama conducts my battle routines."

"We train together ten hours a day," Enzan said. "Very few NetBattlers can challenge us and win."

Rodimus hummed thoughtfully. "So you two are protectors," he said.

"Essentially," Enzan agreed. He tilted his head. "I've gotten the sense that's something we have in common," he added as he removed his fish from the fire and blew on it.

Rodimus nodded. "The Autobots have been at war with the Decepticons for eons," he said. "They're from Cybertron, like us, only they seek domination and conquest. They have no regard for life of any kind. Our war has dragged many worlds, including Earth, into the crossfire." He sighed. "Our leader and mentor, Optimus Prime, died in battle against Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons. At the time, I was..." He looked away. "A much less wise and capable Autobot. I was young, I was impulsive, I was reckless. I certainly wasn't leader material." He chuckled. "Sometimes I still wonder if the Matrix of Leadership made a mistake in choosing me."

"Matrix of Leadership?" Enzan asked.

Rodimus opened his chest compartment, revealing a broad metallic frame resting in a recess within his chest cavity. At the center of the frame sat a large golden sphere, the front of which was open; from within shone a brilliant, sparkling blue-white light. Enzan shielded his eyes against the glow. Rodimus quickly closed his chest again. "The Matrix is our connection to all that came before and all that is yet to be," he said. "Only those chosen to lead the Autobots, those trusted with the protection of all that is sacred to our race, may possess the Matrix." He sat back. "Before me, it was entrusted to Ultra Magnus by Optimus Prime, but Ultra Magnus was never chosen by the Matrix...no," he said, shaking his head. "Ultra Magnus never accepted the responsibility. Never wanted it." He frowned. "The Matrix chose me, even though I wasn't ready, wasn't worthy. It chose me and changed me, turned me into a Prime, gave me power and wisdom beyond my station."

"Changed you?" Blues asked.

"Reformatted me," Rodimus explained. "The Matrix physically altered my structure, programming, even my personality. That camper truck form you ridiculed? It's actually a hybrid of my original vehicle form and Optimus Prime's vehicle form. It's part of what the Matrix did to me when it reformatted me."

Enzan frowned. "Wait. You're a robot. A machine. You're saying this Matrix can just...change the structure of a machine?"

"The Matrix can do a lot of things we don't understand," Rodimus said with a shrug. "It's a conduit for the power of Creation itself. We don't need to understand it. We just need to protect, revere, and trust in it."

Enzan blinked. "Are you saying a race of machines believes in God?"

"Of course we do," Rodimus said. "We wouldn't exist if He hadn't created us. Although our God is very different from the God humans worship."

"I can imagine..." Enzan shook his head. "Sorry, it just...surprises me, I guess."

"Do you believe in a god?" Rodimus asked.

Enzan sighed. "I honestly never gave it much thought," he said. "Though with everything that's going on right now, I can't help but wonder..."

* * * * *

Flash looked around at his houseguests as he picked up a slice of pizza. "So, uhh..." He coughed. "Who the heck are you girls, anyway?"

Etna raised an eyebrow. "Really? It took you this long to ask?"

"You had a gun and stuff!" Flash cried. "And I was totally freaking out about pretty much everything about you, and then we started jamming in the basement, and...and then that blue dude and the skeleton, and..."

"Okay, okay! I get it, you're a loser who can't deal with stress. Sheesh." Etna took a swig of her soda. "Well, I'm Demon Queen Etna, Overlord of the Netherworld—"

"Really?" Flonne asked, touching a finger to her chin and adopting a surprised expression. "Because I thought Laharl was the Overlord and you were just his top vassal..."

Etna growled. "Fine, so I'm one beat of the Prince's pathetic heart away from ruling the Netherworld," she corrected. "The point is, I'm a powerful, centuries-old demon with armies of Prinnies under my command, ready to do my demonic bidding!"

"Umm...the Prinnies didn't make it here with us," Flonne pointed out.

Etna facepalmed. "WHY don't you introduce YOURSELF?" she suggested sweetly through clenched teeth.

"Sure!" Flonne agreed happily. "So I'm Flonne, I used to be a Trainee Angel from Celestia, but then I became a Fallen Angel when I turned against the Seraph. Now I live in the Overlord's Castle in the Netherworld with all my demon friends, trying to spread a little love and light wherever I can!" She pumped a fist. "Never give up, Flonne! Fight for love and peace, Flonne! Even in the demon pits, the power of love is always—"

Etna shoved a piece of pizza into Flonne's mouth. "Moving on."

Lilith giggled. "Okay, so I'm Lilith Aensland, I'm a succubus. I guess technically I'm a third of a succubus, I'm actually part of my big sister Morrigan's soul. We reunited into a complete succubus a while back, but then Morrigan got lonely without me so she used one of her mortal victims to give birth to me so I'd have a real body, then transferred just enough of her soul into me to give me the same shape, personality, and memories I had before I was reborn."

The three girls looked at Flash expectantly.

Flash blinked, ducked his head, and coughed. "I'm Flash Sentry, I'm in high school, and I play guitar."

"That's it?" Flonne asked.

"That's it," Flash said with a shrug.

Etna patted him reassuringly on the arm. "It's okay, we can't all be interesting."

* * * * *

Arlong examined the quesadilla sitting in front of him curiously. "Hmm."

"You don't like it-queso?" Sonata asked.

Aria slapped her upside the head. "Cut that out."

Arlong shrugged, picked it up, and tore half of it off with his teeth, chewing thoughtfully. "Alright," he said, "I need to know what island I'm on, which sea I'm in, and how I got here."

"You're not on an island," Adagio said. "This is Canterlittle, on the coast of Cavallonia." At Arlong's blank look, she added, "The big continent across the ocean from Ewerope?"

"Continent?" Arlong whispered, face twisted in confusion.

Aria rolled her eyes and pulled out her tablet, swiped the screen a few times, and slapped it hard on the table. "Here," she said.

Arlong leaned forward with interest, studying the map on the tablet's face. His eyes widened. "What...! This map...it's all wrong!" He reached for the tablet, but Aria snatched it back.

"No, that's a map of the world," Aria said.

Arlong shook his head, gnashing his teeth angrily. "Those landmasses, those seas, they're..." He paused, frowning. He tipped his head back, stuffing the rest of his quesadilla into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. "The sea didn't smell right," he mused. "I assumed it was just because I was in a different Blue, but maybe..."

"Yeah, thing is, I'm pretty sure you're an alien," Sonata said as she poured hot sauce on a fish taco. "We don't have shark people here. Actually, we don't normally have squid people here." She smiled. "But it's okay if you're an alien! We're aliens too. We look like humans but we're not really, we're Sirens."

Arlong blinked. "Sirens? You're...you're mermaids?!"

"Sure, let's go with that," Adagio said with a saucy smirk. "We were banished here from our home world a long time ago by a wizard. We've been getting by as best we could, but things haven't been going well for us lately thanks to some wicked human girls from the city."

"Yeah, we had to skip town, then we wound up here and now we serve cheap food to jerk humans who only come down to the sea to have fun," Aria added.

"Humans have no respect for the sea-geso," Ikamusume said sourly.

Arlong grunted. "Believe me, I know." He frowned. "Show me that map again." Reluctantly, Aria slid the tablet across the table. Arlong studied it carefully. "And you say this is a map of the whole world?"

"Yeah, you can zoom in on any place you want," Aria said, demonstrating how.

Arlong's eyes widened. "An incredible magic map! Oh, the fortune I would have paid for something like this!" He snorted. "Imagine if Nami could see this...see the futility of her entire existence..." He threw back his head and laughed. "SHAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Adagio smirked. "So what were you expecting to see on that map?"

* * * * *

"The world I come from only has one continent," Brook explained. "We call it the Red Line. It runs from north to south and is only a few miles wide. There aren't many places where you can cross the Red Line, so it divides the world in half. Then along the equator, there's the Grand Line, the largest ocean. The Grand Line is made up of hundreds of islands, some of them large and populous, some of them barely a few rocks sticking out of the sea. The larger islands all have their own magnetic fields, which is the only way navigation is possible along the Grand Line. Since you can't enter the Grand Line directly from either the north or the south, getting there is a risk to life and limb."

"Why can't you enter directly from the north or south?" Sci-Twi asked.

"The Calm Belts," Brook explained. "Broad belts of sea to either side of the Grand Line with no wind and no waves. No vessel can sail in the Calm Belt, and it's inhabited by enormous Sea Kings that can destroy a ship with no effort." He sipped his tea. "The rest of the world consists of the four Blues, the seas where most people live on various islands."

"So there's just...islands, and one continent that splits the world in half?" Kim asked. "That's...weird."

"Sounds like a world tailor-made for pirates," Shego commented. "I mean, if people pretty much live on the high seas, it's only natural there'd be pirates everywhere."

"Yes, the history of pirate culture in our world is as long as the history of the World Government," Brook said. "Probably longer. There are pirates who sail to rob, kill, pillage, and rape, and there are pirates who sail because they're seeking adventure. There are also pirates who fly the Jolly Roger simply because they detest the World Government." He shrugged. "I suppose I can understand that, but my nakama and I really just wanted adventure. We were more musicians than pirates, really."

"And they all died, and you came back to life as a skeleton, all alone, on a dead ship?" Miles asked. He shuddered. "Yikes."

"Okay, that's terrifying," Marinette whimpered, huddling closer to Adrien.

"Sorry," Brook said, setting his cup down. "I suppose if I were still alive, a tale such as mine would chill me to the bones." He paused, then added, "Of course, all I am is bones."

Sunset groaned. "Okay, so what about you two?" she asked, turning to Kim and Shego. "You'd pretty much just got here when things went completely nuts, so I think we could use a refresher on your story."

Kim shrugged. "Not much to tell. I just graduated high school, I have a boyfriend, I save the world at least once a week...no big, really."

"I used to be a superhero, then I got sick of it and started hiring myself out as a mercenary for supervillains," Shego said. "Took a long hitch with a hopeless loser named Drakken, stuck around because every time he hatched a scheme it meant I got to fight Kimmy here." She smiled fondly. "We've come pretty close to killing each other once or twice. Anyhoo, a while back some aliens tried to conquer Earth, Dr. D and I ended up helping save it, and lately we haven't really had the appetite for world domination anymore, so..." She shrugged. "Most of the time, Dr. D and I sit around not doing much of anything, and sometimes I team up with my brothers or Kimmy here for a little freelance hero work. I mean, I'm not going back to superheroing full time, I'm actually considering going back into teaching, but...I guess these days I don't care who I get to beat up, so long as I get to beat somebody up."

"Wow, someone has issues," Rainbow Dash commented.

Kim laughed. "Oh, don't even get me started." She glanced at Tenten. "How about you? You look like the most normal person here." Her eyes widened, and she looked around the table. "Oh, no offense!" she said.

Sunset laughed. "It's cool."

Tenten blushed. "Well, I don't know if 'most normal' is a compliment or not," she said. "I'm a kunoichi from the Village Hidden in the Leaves, in the Land of Fire."

"A ninja, huh?" Shego asked, raising an eyebrow in interest. "Ever kill people?"

Tenten frowned. "Well..." She idly gestured with her fork. "If I have to," she said. "If our mission doesn't call for it, I try not to unless there's no choice. Even then, I usually try to incapacitate rather than kill. I just don't see the point in needless killing, you know?"

"And yet you're a ninja."

"Well, yes, but..." Tenten sighed. "Forget it."

Miles cleared his throat. "So what about you two?" he said, addressing Marinette and Adrien. "I've been curious ever since our fight with the Kraang, mostly because the little lady here reminds me a lot of all my Spidey friends."

"You know, now that you mention it," Tenten said, "the way Ladybug fights and the way Miles here fights are pretty similar..."

* * * * *

"And then that human trash Luffy somehow defeated me, Arlong the Saw! The next thing I knew, I was in chains and being transported to Impel Down. I've been imprisoned for over a year." Arlong clenched a fist. "I want nothing more than to kill that rubber brat that humiliated me."

Adagio sighed theatrically, massaging Arlong's shoulders. "Revenge," she said. "We know that story all too well. First Starswirl the Bearded, then Sunset Shimmer and her friends. Every time we're on top of the world, some do-gooder screws everything up for us. All I ever wanted was absolute domination and every living being bowing to my every whim! Is that too much to ask?"

Arlong craned his neck around to stare at her. "You're ambitious," he said in a mildly impressed tone.

"Yeah, for all the good it does her," Aria grumbled. She frowned. "Something strange is going on, Adagio. This guy is from some other world we've never heard of, we've got this squid kid, the city's going all kinds of crazy..." She shook her head. "I dunno, something tells me we need to sit tight until this all blows over without getting involved."

Adagio glared at her. "And something tells me," she said, "that this is our chance to take our revenge on the Rainbooms for robbing us of our magic." She smirked as she laced her arms around Arlong, stroking his chest. "And then, we'll return with Arlong to his world, and I'll be his pirate queen..."

Arlong smirked. "Heh. Like I said, you're ambitious." His smirk turned into a vicious smile. "But...perhaps, if you impress me..."

* * * * *

"Hmm," Miles said. "So you're from Paris and you're superheroes there. Well, at least your world has France in common with mine. Err, both of mine."

"Maybe you're from the same world?" Cadance suggested.

Marinette shook her head. "I don't think so," she said. "It sounds like we'd have heard of this...Spider-Man?"

"Yeah, you definitely would've," Miles agreed. "And the Avengers."

"So what is the deal with your superpowers?" Shego asked. "I mean, you're flippier than teepee-tits here—"

"Can you NOT?"

"—and that web thing you do, that ain't normal either."

"Well, the webslinging isn't really part of my superpowers, it's more of a tool," Miles said. He took off his gloves and showed the group the webshooters strapped to his wrists. "The original Spider-Man developed these. Mine are the latest version." He put his gloves back on, then shot a thin web line across the lawn. "They use a fluid that's basically synthetic spidersilk with the tensile strength of steel." He frowned. "Which reminds me, I need to be careful. I've only got a few extra cartridges of web fluid and I can't exactly restock."

"I can probably synthesize more of it for you if I have the formula," Sci-Twi said.

Miles gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, that'd be helpful." He lifted his shirt and unclipped a web cartridge from his belt, rolling it across the table to Sci-Twi. She examined it, then put it in her pocket.

"And the rest of it?" Shego asked. "The flipping and all that?"

"I was bitten by a genetically-engineered spider that was exposed to radiation," Miles said. "The same thing happened to Peter Parker—the original Spidey. I was a lot younger when I was bitten, so I hid my powers for a long time, but when Spidey...when he died...I decided I had to step up and fill in." He looked down at the table. "It hasn't been easy," he said. "Spidey...he's a legend. I just barely get by sometimes.

"Well, about six months ago, the Peter Parker from another universe showed up in my New York chasing the Green Goblin from his world. We worked together, a bunch of crazy stuff happened..." He shrugged. "A few months later he showed up again, only this time I went back to his world with him and got stuck there. We've been working together with a bunch of other Spider-Men—Scarlet Spider, Iron Spider, Agent Venom..." He trailed off as he took in the lost expressions on the others, and chuckled sheepishly. "None of which matters." He coughed. "Anyway, powers. Okay, so the spider that bit me gave me the proportionate strength of a spider, a spider's agility, the ability to walk on walls, and a Spider Sense—I can sense immediate danger, and my enhanced reflexes let me react."

The others digested this. "That...seems highly improbable," Sci-Twi said, adjusting her glasses. "Unless the spider's venom contained a retrovirus that altered your DNA to imbue you with select traits from across over a dozen separate species of spider, I don't see how being bitten by a radioactive genetically enhanced spider would do anything but possibly kill you."

Miles shrugged. "Hey, what can I say?" He shook his head. "Anyway, the first Spidey had the same powers, and he invented the webshooters and web fluid cartridges."

"Well...that part makes sense," Sci-Twi admitted. "I mean, if you can do..." She waved a hand vaguely. "Spider-stuff, it makes sense to have a tool that relies on and enhances your abilities."

"Well, I'm glad Ladybug and I got our powers from magical artifacts and not something like that," Adrien said with a grimace. "Being a secret teen superhero is hard enough, you know?"

"Ugh, tell me about it," Miles said. "Being Spider-Man—well, being Kid Arachnid—is a lot easier in a world where I don't have to worry about being Miles Morales."

"Secret identities are a pain in the butt alright," Marinette said. "Go out and save the world? Get grounded for a week because you missed some classes at school." She held up a finger and twirled it sarcastically. "Yay."

"Wow, that must suck," Pinkie Pie said.

"That must royally suck," Kim agreed. "I'm glad I never bothered with any of that secret identity stuff. The whole world knows I'm a hero at large. Makes my life a lot easier."

Shego snorted. "You have the weirdest definition of 'easier', Red."

Miles blinked. "And the bad guys don't go after your family?" he asked.

Shego laughed out loud. "Oh, Dr. D tried that a couple of times, mostly because he has a beef with Kimmy's dad," she said.

Kim smirked. "Yeah, going after my family? If they're lucky I get there before it really hits the fan."

"That whole family, man," Shego said, shaking her head. "I hate to admit it, but the Possibles are as badass as they come."

"Hey, remember that time my mom came along on that train thing?" Kim asked.

Shego laughed. "Yeah, what was that about?"

"What was Drakken's mom being there all about?"

Shego rolled her eyes. "Don't even get me started," she said. "She still thinks her precious little Drewby is one of those radio call-in doctors."

Kim almost retorted, but a sudden change in the sky stopped her; what had been a pink-orange late evening sky filled with the reflections of flames, as blurry afterimages of burning buildings filled the landscape around them. The group looked around, tense and wary, as half-formed shadows faded into being, ghosts of an army of large, menacing robots with heavy, stamping steel footsteps squaring off against what looked like pepperpots with glowing eyestalks. Each mechanical army shouted distorted battle cries at the other:

"EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE!"

"DELETE. DELETE."

A few of them fully solidified in the midst of the group; as the remainder faded away with the burning cityscape of whatever reality had spawned them, the opposing mechanoids unleashed deadly barrages of firepower at one another, annihilating each other in explosions of white-hot metal shrapnel and burning organic matter. Sunset hastily put up a shield against the raining debris.

A moment of heavy silence fell.

"So I haven't heard much about brooding boy over there yet," Shego said, turning her gaze on Trunks. "What's your story besides being a teen heartthrob?"

"So we're just gonna ignore the robot deathmatch that just happened fifteen feet away?" Miles asked.

"Yes. Yes we are." Shego turned back to Trunks. "Come on, story time, hot stuff."

Trunks ducked his head and scratched a flushed cheek. "W-well..."

* * * * *

A motorcycle roared down a damaged street, weaving in between jagged cracks in the asphalt and massive chunks of debris that blocked the road. Occasionally, an obstacle was too large to steer around; the rider would hold out one hand and release a tightly compacted burst of ki, obliterating it without slowing down.

Over the roar of the engine, he faintly heard the wailing of a child. He could just barely sense her ki; stopping the bike and killing the engine, he put down the kickstand and jumped off, walking carefully into the partially collapsed ruins of a supermarket.

The floor was filthy; ugly stains marred the cracked linoleum, sticky filth from broken food containers intermingled with old, dried blood. The sour smell of decaying dairy filled the air, and Trunks' nose wrinkled. It apparently hadn't been long since this store was destroyed. As he looked around, he deduced that the destruction had been caused by looters rather than the Jinzouningen. He sighed.

He followed the sound of the child's wails to the back, where he found a young girl, perhaps seven or eight, trapped behind an overturned magazine rack. Frowning, he lifted the rack away and tossed it across the store; it landed with a loud, careless crash. The little girl looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes. Trunks squatted down and held out a hand, offering a gentle smile. "It's okay now," he said. "What's your name?"

The girl sniffled. "M-Mallow," she whimpered.

"Do you know where your parents are, Mallow?" Trunks asked.

Mallow's eyes welled with fresh tears. "Mama...Papa...!"

Trunks closed his eyes and sighed. "Shimatta...gomen nasai. So, you were trying to find some food?"

Mallow sniffled and nodded. "M-Mallow's...hungry. Mallow misses Mama's p-pancakes..."

"Pancakes, huh?" Trunks smiled. "Well, my mama makes pretty good pancakes. They're probably not as good as your mom's, but at least they'll fill your belly." He held out his arms; Mallow drew back hesitantly. Then, swallowing and sucking a long string of snot back into her nose, she cautiously crept forward into Trunks' arms. "Yosh'," Trunks said. "Let's get out of here."

Trunks gently carried Mallow outside; just as they cleared the store, the entire ceiling collapsed with a tremendous groan and crash. Dust billowed out of the store, choked with insulation and years of accumulated grime. Trunks and Mallow both coughed as the dust cloud enveloped them. Shooting the building a baleful glare, Trunks hopped back onto his bike. "Hold on tight," he said. Mallow nodded and hugged his stomach in a death grip. Gunning the engine, Trunks sped off down the broken road, keeping a wary eye on the sky above.

Two hours later, with Mallow safely left in the care of Bulma and happily eating, Trunks ventured out again. It took another hour of careful driving before he reached his destination: a small, desolate graveyard in the mountains, mostly overgrown with vines and moss. Only four people were buried here, but monuments to half a dozen more stood off to the sides, names history would never remember engraved in marble. Trunks dropped to one knee before a grave, bowing his head. "Master, forgive me," he said roughly. "I'm doing everything I can, but I'm still not strong enough to avenge you. It's been...it's been three years..."

Tears spilled from his blue eyes, splashing on the cold ground.

"Okaasan is working on the machine," Trunks continued. "It's...it's our last hope. If it works, if I can...if I can go back, I can change everything. None of this has to happen." He clenched his hands into fists. "You don't have to have died. Son Gokuu need never have died. My father..." Trunks squeezed his eyes shut. "The father I never knew can live on, as proud and strong as Okaasan remembers him."

Trunks stood up, head bowed, hands at his side. He bowed. "I may never be able to avenge your death, Master," he said hoarsely, "but maybe...maybe I can prevent it."

Trunks turned away from the grave and walked away, his boots crunching on the scattered pine needles that littered the ground. A faint breeze stirred, blowing dust and leaves off the marker which read, simply, SON GOHAN.

* * * * *

Everyone stared at Trunks, expressions ranging from sober to horrified. Tears spilled down Marinette's cheeks. "That's...that's terrible," she said.

Trunks sighed. "Well, there's a happy ending...of sorts," he said. "My mother built a time machine, and I took it back to the past to warn Son Gokuu about the Jinzouningen and to give him medicine for his heart so he wouldn't die before all hell broke loose. But my going to the past changed things, and the problem ended up being even worse than it was in my time. Still, Son Gokuu, my father, and the others managed to...managed to save the world. A lot of people still died, but nowhere near as many as would have otherwise. The wasteland I went back in time from doesn't exist in their timeline, and while my timeline is still..." He trailed off. "Knowing there's a timeline where we saved the world is enough to keep me going, and when I went back to my own timeline, I destroyed the Jinzouningen. Now...we're just trying to put the pieces back together."

Adrien frowned. "Wait...if you changed the past, shouldn't your entire future have stopped existing? That's the way it works in the movies."

Trunks shrugged. "That's honestly what I expected too," he said. "Even my mother doesn't understand why there are multiple timelines, or why I can still travel back in time to that other timeline."

"Splintered universe theory," Sci-Twi said. "Any attempt to alter events which have already occurred in the past simply creates a separate universe in which history unfolded differently. What you think of as time travel is actually fragmenting your universe into multiple potential timestreams."

Miles groaned. "Time travel and parallel dimensions, man. It's nothing but a headache." He glanced at Kouta. "So how about you? I think we all pretty much got the whole thing about that parasitic forest that's making our problem worse, but I didn't hear much about you yet."

"Yeah, how'd you get that cool fruit samurai armor?" Adrien asked excitedly.

Kouta grimaced. "Well, I'd rather not talk about how I got it," he said, "but the Sengoku Driver lets me transform into an Armored Rider. I can use various Lock Seeds to use different weapons." He reached into his parka and pulled out several Lock Seeds, including a strawberry, grape, and watermelon. "I've been using this power to protect Zawame City from Inves—monsters that come from Helheim." He paused, then shook his head. "There's a lot more I could tell you about my world, but honestly, I'd rather not burden you all with my problems. Especially not with Helheim threatening your world. For now, all you need to know is I have the power to protect people, and that the Inves will appear in your world if Helheim is here."

"Well, I think between all the superheroes, magical warriors, and everything else we have here, we can deal with some random monsters," Rainbow Dash said dismissively.

"So what about the blue dude?" Adrien asked, looking at X. "I think we've heard from just about everybody else."

X blinked, then shrugged. "I'm an artificial lifeform, I protect humans and others of my kind from dangerous renegade Reploids in my world, and...that's really all."

"Aww, come on, there's gotta be—"

A zipper opened up in the air, and five hunched, white monsters that resembled vaguely humanoid maggots with bone-white masks on the front of their massive, plated heads piled out.

Kouta's face became grim. "Inves," he said, readying his Sengoku Driver and Orange Lock Seed. All around him, the others readied themselves for battle...

* * * * *

She abruptly woke to blurry eyes and burning lungs. The world around her was cold, wet...

She was underwater, and she was drowning. How did that happen?

She thrashed around, accidentally taking in mouthfuls of water that burned her throat, nose, and lungs. Her vision turned into a haze of dancing black spots...

The next thing she knew, she was staring up at a brightly lit glass ceiling. The water was gone. She was coughing; her lungs still burned, but they were taking in air now instead of water.

A pale white shape swam into focus in front of her even as her ears registered sounds other than her own hammering heart. "—alright? Can you hear me?"

Her violet eyes locked onto a pair of beautiful green eyes, framed by a pale white face surrounded by curls of pink and lavender hair.

She slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position, coughing to clear some errant water from her lungs. "I..." She put a clammy hand to her forehead.

"You're lucky I decided to go for a swim before bed," the pale girl said. "You just...kinda showed up in the pool. I mean, you didn't fall in or anything, you were just there!" A hand landed on her shoulder. "You don't look so good. Need me to call a doctor?"

She shook her head. "Just...give me a second," she rasped. She looked up at her apparent rescuer. Now that her head was clearing, she realized the girl wasn't just pale, she was white. Abnormally so. And beautiful, with slender shoulders and...

"Well, if you say so," the girl said doubtfully. "Let's at least get you inside. You're soaking wet! I've got some clothes that'll probably fit you up in my room."

She looked down at herself and grimaced. Her black sweater, black skirt, and black tights were heavy and sodden. She sighed and gingerly stood, struggling to keep her long, doe-like legs steady underneath her. The white girl steadied her; she gratefully leaned against her shoulder for support.

As she became more aware of her surroundings, she realized she was being led through a hotel lobby, toward an elevator. A desk clerk gave the two of them a reproachful glare, but made no comment. A few minutes later, the white girl was unlocking the door to a hotel room. "The bathroom's over there," she said. "Umm...you'd better strip down, put your clothes in the laundry bag."

She blushed, but nodded. "Alright."

"There's towels, you can dry off, I'll find something for you to wear. Umm...I'll order some hot cocoa or something from room service."

"Thank you," she said gratefully. "I...I'm sorry for all this."

"It's not your fault," the girl said. "Accidents happen, right?" She smiled. "I'm Sweetie Belle."

*An unusual name...* She smiled as she tugged at her wet mess of a sweater. "I'm Hotaru," she said.

Comes a Senshi

View Online

After a quick shower and a good drying off with fluffy terrycloth towels, Hotaru put on the pink skirt, red turtleneck, and knee-high striped socks Sweetie Belle had provided for her. Wearing another girl's panties was a new and embarrassing experience for her, but under the present circumstances, there wasn't much choice. "Thank you," Hotaru said as she sat down in one of the armchairs in the room. "Umm...for everything. You saved me at the pool, right?"

Sweetie Belle smiled. "I'm just glad I remembered how to do CPR," she said. "Are you okay? Do the clothes fit alright?"

"I'm fine," Hotaru said. "Just...a little confused."

There was a knock on the door. "Room service!"

"Coming!" Sweetie Belle called. She rushed over to the door and unlocked it; Hotaru blinked as a gangly man in his twenties with flannel grey skin and cobalt blue hair brought a tray into the room and set it on the table. On the tray were a large carafe, two mugs, a bowl of little round marshmallows, a handful of wrapped chocolate mints, and a plate of warm gingerbread cookies.

"Very confused," Hotaru whispered to herself as she stared at the grey-skinned bellhop.

"Anything else I can get for you girls?" the bellhop asked.

"No thank you, we're good," Sweetie Belle said. The bellhop tipped his hat and left; Sweetie Belle locked the door behind him and sat down at the table. Hotaru got up shakily and crossed over to the table, taking the seat opposite her. Sweetie Belle poured a cup of cocoa for Hotaru and added some marshmallows and a chocolate mint; Hotaru accepted it gratefully and took a sip.

"Mmm," Hotaru said.

As Sweetie Belle prepared her own cocoa, she asked, "So, umm...how'd you end up in the pool like that? I mean, that was...a little freaky."

"I have no idea," Hotaru said. She frowned. "Last thing I remember was lying down for a nap. I used to be sick a lot...anemia, a weak constitution. I'm not as frail as I used to be, but I still get fatigued easily if I'm not careful. I was tired, I decided to take a nap before doing my homework, and..." She sighed and sipped her cocoa. "Next thing I knew, I was drowning."

"You brought your homework to the hotel with you?"

"Hotel? N-no, I was at...I was at home," Hotaru said, shaking her head. "Actually, how did I end up at this hotel?" She glanced at Sweetie Belle. "Anou...what hotel is this again? And where?"

"The Manefair Hotel, in Manehattan," Sweetie Belle said.

Hotaru frowned. "I'm...sorry, did you say Manehattan?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't you mean Manhattan?"

Sweetie Belle frowned. "No, it's Manehattan. Trust me."

"Huh," Hotaru said, blinking.

"I've been waiting my whole life to come here," Sweetie Belle said as she added more marshmallows to her cocoa. "School let out for a while because of some trouble back home in Canterlot, and my big sister's right in the middle of it all, so Mom and Dad decided it'd be a good time to take a vacation." She frowned. "I hope Rarity's alright. I mean, I know she can take care of herself and her friends are looking out for her and all, but things are a real mess back home."

"How so?" Hotaru asked curiously.

"Hmm..." Sweetie Belle pulled out her phone, opened her web browser, and searched through some articles, then handed the phone to Hotaru. After reading for a few minutes, Hotaru gasped.

"Masaka...! But that's..."

"I know, it's pretty weird, right?"

Hotaru shook her head. "None of this makes any sense..." She stood up and began pacing.

"Uhh...Hotaru? Are you alright?"

"No, no I'm not," Hotaru said, shaking her head. "Do you mind if I, umm...if I share your room? At least for tonight? I have a lot of thinking to do."

"Of course," Sweetie Belle said. "Umm...there's only one bed in this room, though." She ducked her head. "I mean, I don't mind sharing, but..."

Hotaru blushed. "I...I don't mind sharing either. I mean, we're both girls, right?"

* * * * *

Arlong sat on the Dazzlings' sofa, eyes narrowed and sharp as he intently watched the television mounted on the wall. "I can't believe something like this exists," Arlong said. "Where I come from, if you want to know what's happening in the world, you either talk to someone over a Dendenmushi or you wait for the newspaper to make it to your ship or island." He gestured at the screen, which displayed an aerial view of roving packs of shiny, maggot-like white monsters in the streets of a city. "And you say this is happening even now, as we sit here?"

"Yeah, it's a live news feed," Aria said, frowning. "Looks like things are way crazier up in Canterlot than they are down here."

On the screen, two monsters exploded violently as an armored man sliced through them with an orange sword. Another was hauled off its feet with a long, sticky strand of what looked like spider webbing by a small figure in a black costume. Two other small figures—one dressed in black leather, the other a girl in a skintight red outfit—darted to and fro, delivering precision strikes that knocked the white creatures down.

//Superheroes such as these have begun appearing all over the city,// the reporter said. //The invading monsters are being hunted down by what seem to be unconnected packs of heroes, many of which arrived in Canterlot in almost the same way as these monsters. As of now, we have no official word on what exactly is happening, but for your own safety, all citizens are encouraged to stay in your homes, lock your doors, and keep the telephone lines clear. The emergency services need to be able to receive emergency calls—//

Adagio changed the channel, then leaned back and sighed. "Okay, so the world's more or less gone to hell," she said with a yawn. "As far as I'm concerned, these worthless humans are getting what they deserve."

"I don't know-geso," Ikamusume said. "I'm getting a strange feeling about these monster bugs-geso. Like..." She shuddered. "The same feeling I get when a killer whale gets too close to my home."

"Killer whale? You mean those things everybody likes to watch do tricks at the sea park until suddenly one rapes its trainer in front of a crowd of kiddies?" Sonata asked.

"Ugh, thanks for that mental image, you ditz," Aria groaned.

"You're welcome!" Sonata said cheerfully.

"They can't be that dangerous if mere humans are dispatching them in droves," Arlong said dismissively.

* * * * *

"Don't go for knockdown hits!" Gaim called to Ladybug as she yanked another Inves to the ground. "Take them out!"

"But...!" Ladybug protested.

"Hey, back off! We're heroes, not...not killers!" Chat Noir said hotly as he landed beside Ladybug and slammed his baton over the Inves' head as it struggled to stand.

"These things aren't human!" Gaim said as he cleaved another Inves in half. "They're monsters without conscience! They only exist to eat and destroy! They can't be reasoned with! There's nothing you can do with them but this!" He cut down another Inves; four more surrounded him. He stowed his weapons and pulled out a grape Lock Seed. He removed the orange Lock Seed from his Sengoku Driver and swapped it for the grape Lock Seed.

BUDOU!

LOCK ON!

BUDOU ARMS!

RYU! HOU! HA HA HA!

Gaim's orange-themed armor was replaced by ornate grape-themed armor with a dragon-masked helm; he crossed his arms before his chest, and a pair of pistols appeared in his hands. Each pistol had detailing resembling a bunch of grapes on the sides, a pull hammer resembling grape leaves, and a six-barreled muzzle. Letting out a battle cry, he opened fire on the Inves with both guns, the barrels spinning and roaring as they unleashed deadly blast after deadly blast. The Inves screamed as they sparked, smoked, and exploded under Gaim's barrage.

Ladybug's yo-yo fell limp. "I don't know if I can do this, minou," she said. "This isn't the kind of fight I..."

Chat Noir wrapped his arms around her soothingly. "I know," he said.

In the wake of Gaim's ballistic onslaught, a brief lull ensued. Kim Possible landed next to them, a frown on her face. "You two don't have much experience with battles to the death, do you?"

"Not where we're expected to kill, no," Chat Noir said.

Kim grimaced. "Me neither," she admitted. "I know sometimes it's necessary, but I've only ever actually fought with the intent to kill once in my life."

"She damn near did, too," Shego said from the French duo's other side. "It took me a week to recover from that beating." She frowned. "Still, sometimes you run into things like this and you've only got one option. If you can't hack the hard fight, maybe you'd better stick to crowd control. Keep innocents out of the way."

Ladybug sighed. "Yeah..." Her eyes shone with unshed tears. "I just...I think I'm in a little over my head here. For the first time since I became Ladybug, I don't know if I'm up to..."

"Shh," Chat Noir said. "It's okay, Bugaboo. I'm here. I'll keep you safe, no matter what it takes." He looked around, his leather tail lashing slowly. "Seems like it's over."

"For now," Gaim said as he removed the Lock Seed from his Driver. His armor and Ride Wear vanished, leaving behind Kazuraba Kouta. He stood in front of Ladybug, his face solemn. "Gomen," he said. "I've been doing this for so long now I've forgotten what it's like. I..." He frowned. "I still hesitate when I'm fighting another Rider or...or an Inves that used to be human."

Chat Noir's eyes turned sharp. "Used to be human?"

Kouta grimaced. "Inves are born from any lifeform that eats the dark fruit of Helheim. The Inves we've been fighting today used to be ordinary animals. I've seen what happens when a human eats the fruit. It's..." He squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered. "It's worse than you can imagine."

Ladybug whimpered. "You mean...all those things you just killed, they were...they were helpless animals?"

"Were," Kouta emphasized. "Once they ate the fruit, they became Inves." His eyes softened. "Believe me when I say that killing them is the kindest thing you can do for them."

Trunks landed softly nearby. "I think we got them all," he said. "I'm going to patrol the city, but I wanted to show you something first." He held up a plastic bag containing an odd-looking fruit. Its outer covering was thick and shaggy, a dark red that progressed to a muted purple-black near the bottom, where the covering tapered. Inside this hairy, leathery shell sat what looked like a translucent peach. At the top of the fruit was a gnarled golden-brown loop of vine.

"Wow, that looks tasty," Kim said, licking her lips.

"Yeah," Shego agreed.

Ladybug and Chat Noir stared at them, then at the fruit. "Seriously?" Ladybug asked. "It looks...diseased."

"It's a Helheim fruit," Kouta said sourly. "Without some form of protection from its pull, most people are compelled to eat it."

"Gross," Ladybug opined.

Chat Noir stroked his chin. "Our Miraculous must be protecting us."

Trunks frowned. "I felt the compulsion too, but I sensed a dark aura around this fruit. I had to go Super Saiyajin to completely break its pull on me."

Kouta took it from him, holding it by the corner of the sample bag. "Where'd you find it?"

"There are clusters of these fruits growing all over town. Mostly in out of the way places; I wouldn't have even noticed them if the Inves weren't fighting each other over them."

"Aa," Kouta said, nodding. "Yes, these fruits are their main food source. They also make Inves stronger." His face hardened. "We need to destroy any of these fruits that are growing here."

Trunks nodded. "I remember where they were, and I can sense the aura of any more that turn up. I'll take care of it." He flew off.

Kouta opened the sample bag and took out the fruit inside; it began to glow, then transformed into a Lock Seed with a flat black-and-white picture of a sunflower seed on the front, stamped L.S.-00.

Kim shook her head, blinked, and stared. "Whoa," she said.

"Don't see that every day," Shego commented.

Kouta frowned. "Well, this one's useless," he said, tossing it on the ground. He glanced at Chat Noir. "Can that stick of yours destroy it?"

"Let's find out," Chat Noir said, stepping away from Ladybug. The others gave him space as he spun his baton over his head, then struck with full force. The Lock Seed cracked in half, showering sparks and smoke as its face blackened and dented.

Kouta nodded grimly. "Good."

"So wait, these fruits turn into those lock thingies you use to transform?" Kim asked.

"If picked by someone wearing a Sengoku Driver, yes," Kouta said. "I'm actually surprised that one changed at all. It had already been picked." He sighed. "I'm tired...we should go someplace safe and rest up."

"Yeah, sounds like a good idea," Kim agreed. She glanced at Ladybug. "You gonna be okay?"

Ladybug nodded. "I think so."

* * * * *

Rodimus Prime had left early in the afternoon to run an errand of his own that neither Enzan nor Blues completely understood. Enzan had taken the opportunity to explore the forest near the river for more fruits, berries, or nuts he could stock up on. Blues had accompanied him as his protector, of course, remaining silent but vigilant.

After a few hours of searching, Enzan happened upon a small group of unusual vines which bore reddish-purple fruits with shaggy, leathery, unhealthy-looking coverings. As soon as Enzan espied the fruits, his mouth began to water. He crept toward them, reaching out to pick one.

"Enzan-sama, you mustn't," Blues said sharply, rushing forward and slapping Enzan's hand away from the fruit. Yanking it roughly from the vine, he continued, "My sensors tell me this unknown plant life is unsafe for human consum—"

The bruised, half-crushed fruit in Blues' hand suddenly glowed brightly; in a flash of light, it transformed into a silver-white metallic padlock whose front surface resembled a brilliant golden durian stamped with L.S.-12 in black lettering.

Enzan and Blues both stared at it.

"R-right," Enzan said. "Don't eat the tempting fruit."

Two Inves suddenly rushed out of the trees, tackled Blues, and began fighting over the padlock; one hurled the other across the ground, then crammed the lock into its face. Its entire body began to glow; Blues and Enzan were pushed back by a stirring wind and a shower of sparks and smoke. "Ittai nani kore...?!" Enzan gasped.

The Inves grew and changed, unleashing a terrific roar to the sky. When the light faded, the creature had mutated. It now stood seven feet tall on broad feet with serrated claws; its torso, shins, shoulders, and forearms were a dull orange-red and covered in short, thick spikes. Its hands ended in long, wickedly sharp talons. Its head looked like a cross between a gorilla and an echidna, with beady eyes set beneath a low, sloping brow, a long, narrow proboscis, and dozens of thick, back-swept red spines forming a "mane" atop its head.

Blues took a protective step closer to Enzan. "Enzan-sama," he said gravely, "my threat assessment of this creature tells me that without access to Battle Chips, my onboard weapons and defensive systems..."

The Inves spat a massive red spark at Blues; an explosion of sparks and smoke filled the air as his armor was scorched by the attack.

"BLUES!"

Blues gritted his teeth. "Run," he spat. He unlimbered his shield and held it ready against the next volley from the Inves as Enzan turned and ran; Blues covered his retreat, finally turning and breaking into an even pace with Enzan once they'd put some distance between themselves and the Inves. It seemed ready to give chase, but the white Inves it had thrown chose to protest its rough treatment; the ten seconds it took for the Echidna Inves to kill the other Inves gave them all the time they needed to escape. They had just cleared the woods when Rodimus Prime rounded the bend and pulled up.

"We're getting out of here!" Enzan yelled. "It's not safe!"

Rodimus opened his cab; Enzan jumped in, with Blues climbing in once he stowed his shield. "What happened?" Rodimus asked as he closed his canopy.

"A creature," Enzan said. "Attacked us...Blues, are you alright?"

Blues nodded stiffly. "I suffered...seventeen percent system damage," he grunted. "I'm more worried about my energy reserves than the system damage," he added. "In this form, I'm not even sure what I'm being powered by or how much reserve power I have. In any case, I can't effect self-repairs unless I have a reliable and quantifiable means of replenishing my energy reserves."

"Yeah, about that," Rodimus said. A panel on his dashboard beeped twice, and a small compartment dropped open, revealing a metal cylinder not unlike a thermos. "Try drinking this."

Blues frowned. "I can't eat or drink," he said. "However human I appear, I have no internal—"

"Just trust me."

Blues glanced at Enzan, who shrugged. Blues hesitantly took the thermos from the dashboard, opened the top, and chugged down its contents. A faint pinkish-blue glow washed over his body; the damage he'd suffered from the Inves instantly repaired itself. Blues let out a startled gasp. "What was—?!"

"Energon," Rodimus said. "While I was processing enough for my own needs, I started wondering if perhaps you could function on Energon like a Cybertronian." He chuckled. "Looks like I was right. There's a whole tank in the back of low-concentration Energon just for you."

Enzan chuckled. "An Energon energy drink," he said.

"I...thank you," Blues said. His visor flashed as he ran a self-diagnostic. "I am now operating at one hundred percent, all systems repaired." He bowed his head. "I am in your debt, Rodimus Prime."

"Think nothing of it," Rodimus said. Two lights flashed red on his console. "Uh-oh. We've got company." The Echidna Inves burst through the tree line, roaring at them. "Wow, he's an ugly sucker. Hang on."

A panel on the top of Rodimus' camper slid open, and a double-barreled silver-and-black cannon rose into place. With an electric rumble that shook the cab, two massive plasma bolts lanced out, slamming into the Inves and tearing it in half. It roared in pain and rage as it exploded violently, raining sparks and smoke all over the road.

Enzan's jaw dropped. "Whoa," he gasped.

"We'd better get moving," Rodimus said as he put himself in gear and drove off. "Where did that thing come from?"

"We're not sure, but we discovered something very strange..."

* * * * *

Mango Chutney could think of worse ways to work his way through culinary school than being the desk clerk for the Manefair Hotel in Manehattan.

He could also think of better ways, such as working in the hotel restaurant, but that was neither here nor there.

Today, in particular, was not one of his more enjoyable days on the job, largely due to the two girls who had made a tremendous mess in the lobby by walking through soaking wet and dripping all over everything. He'd had to call housekeeping to deal with it before it set, set up traffic routing around it while late guests were checking in, and confer with the manager as to whether or not to bill damages to the guests' parents. In the end, they had decided to simply post more strict rules about exiting the pool area. By the time it was all sorted out, Mango was half an hour over the end of his shift, his replacement hadn't bothered to show up yet, and his plans for the evening had fallen through.

With the determination firmly in mind to give those girls a stern talking-to if he ever saw them again, Mango made his way through the staff exit to the hotel parking garage. As he walked through the stuffy, overly hot, dimly lit concrete tunnel, he became aware of something seriously amiss:

Dozens of thick, leafy vines were snaking their way through the service exit. Strange-looking kudzu covered the walls, and vein-like growths of a ropy red moss spread out across the ceiling, with dangling clumps hanging like earthy stalactites from the light fixtures.

Mango frowned as he took in the plant growth which had certainly not been present when he'd arrived for his shift. "What in the world...?" He was prepared to turn right around and march up to the manager's office when his eyes fell upon a cluster of low-hanging fruits that resembled clear, pearly peaches embedded in hairy, leathery reddish-purple husks.

Curiously, he picked one...

* * * * *

Driving snow and biting wind pressed against the group of heavily cloaked, blanketed ponies as they trudged through deep drifts. "We're almost there," Shining Armor said through his muffler, pointing a booted hoof at a massive crystal peak. "The entrance to the mines is at the base of Mount Yermommalot."

"That's still a good hour's hike," a crystal pony said.

"We'll set up base camp once we reach the mountain," Twilight said. "We'll rest for a little while before we begin the excavation." She yawned. "We can't afford a long delay, but—"

A swirl of colored smoke drifted to a stop in front of her, winking into the shape of a scroll. She caught it in her magic and unrolled it. As she read the letter, she gasped.

"What's wrong, Twilight?" Shining Armor asked.

Twilight's face became grim. "As I was saying," she said as her eyes and horn glowed a brilliant white...

The entire group suddenly found themselves at the foot of Mount Yermommalot.

"Set up base camp," Twilight said as things began flying out of her packs. "We're taking a four hour rest break, then we're going in."

"Twiley? What's going on?" Shining Armor asked nervously as the other ponies adjusted to the reality that they'd just been mass-teleported across an hour's hiking distance.

"Our timetable's changed," Twilight said, addressing the entire group. "We need to mine and refine the bulfecium in less than two weeks."

"Is that even possible?" Sunburst asked over the startled gasps and mutters that followed this pronouncement.

"We'll have to make it possible," Twilight said. "The other world will be irreversibly damaged in three weeks unless we succeed, and I need time to build, test, and apply the containment device." She looked around at the expedition. "I know I'm asking a lot of you all, but the fate of all worlds hangs in the balance."

A heavy silence fell.

"You heard her, ponies!" Shining Armor barked. "Get camp up! Four hour break! We're on a tight timetable!"

As the assembled group began erecting camp, Pinkie Pie sidled up to Twilight and wrapped a reassuring hoof around her. "Don't worry, Twilight," she said in an unusually serious tone. "We'll save your friends. That's a Pinkie Promise."

"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye," Maud intoned flatly from her other side.

Twilight smiled. "Thanks, girls," she said. She sighed and looked out into the snowy distance. "Hang in there, Sunset..."

* * * * *

As the early morning sun broke through the closed curtains, Sweetie Belle's eyes cracked open. She let out a yawn, then glanced over beside her. Hotaru was curled up on her side under the blankets, clad in a borrowed pink nightgown. Sweetie Belle blushed faintly but smiled at the dainty, dark-haired girl as she slipped out of bed, wearing her lavender flannel pajamas. They were a bit warm for the weather, but she didn't mind.

"Hmm...I think I'll order us breakfast. Have it here by the time she wakes up," Sweetie Belle mused quietly to herself. She padded over to the phone, picked up the menu, and studied it. She idly wondered what her parents would think of this strange girl unexpectedly crashing their vacation (and their room service bill) as she picked up the phone and dialed room service.

And waited.

And waited.

She frowned and checked the time, then glanced at the menu again. "Huh. They should be open by now..."

After ten rings, she hung up and dialed the front desk.

The phone rang again and again with no answer.

"Something wrong?" Hotaru asked sleepily.

Sweetie Belle hung up the phone and glanced over at the sleepy-eyed, bedheaded girl. "I don't know," she said. "Nobody's answering the phone in the kitchen or at the front desk..."

Hotaru frowned. "What time is it?"

"It's seven thirty," Sweetie Belle replied.

"That's...not normal," Hotaru said slowly. "Is it?"

Sweetie Belle shook her head.

A sudden frantic pounding at the door filled the room. "SWEETIE! SWEETIE, HONEY, IT'S MOMMY!"

Sweetie Belle rushed to the door and opened it to find her mother standing outside, breathless, red in the face, and sweating profusely. "Mom? What's wrong?"

"Pack your things, dear, we're leaving. We're leaving right now." She bustled into the room. "Get dressed, I'll help you pack, I—" She broke off as she espied Hotaru. She tilted her head curiously. "Sweetie, who's your friend?"

"This is Hotaru," Sweetie Belle said distractedly. "I met her at the pool last night. We slept together."

Her mother blinked at that, then shook her head. "Well, you're old enough to make those choices, I suppose...we'll talk about it later, when we're out of this madhouse."

"What's happening?" Hotaru asked. "Sweetie Belle tried to call room service and the front desk and didn't get anybody."

"They're all dead," Sweetie's mother said.

Sweetie Belle gasped. "D-DEAD?!"

"W-well, we think so," her mother said fretfully, wringing her hands. "The ones that didn't manage to run away screaming are all spread out all over the lobby and everywhere else downstairs, all cut up and...oh, it's terrible!"

"But...but how?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"Some kind of monster," her mother said. "I know how crazy it sounds, but your dad saw it himself! It was tearing up the kitchens! It's throwing pots and pans everywhere!"

Hotaru's eyes hardened. "Excuse me," she said. She ran for the open door and pelted down the hall.

"HOTARU! WAIT!" Sweetie Belle yelled, rushing to the door. "It's dangerous! It...at least get dressed first!" She swore under her breath and took off after her new friend.

"SWEETIE BELLE! GET BACK HERE!" Sweetie's mother yelled frantically. "Oh, that girl...!"

Sweetie Belle saw a flash of pink as Hotaru disappeared through the stairwell entrance. She frowned. "But we're on the sixth floor, why didn't she use the elevator?" Shaking her head, she pelted barefoot down the hall to the stairs, throwing the door open and chasing after her. "Hotaru, wait—"

She was drowned out by a loud, clear, echoing shout from below:

"SATURN PLANET POWER, MAKE-UP!"

The stairwell flooded with intense violet light for a brief moment. Surprised, Sweetie Belle tripped on the edge of a step and fell, crying out as she tumbled down the stairs, banging and scraping herself up. Her heart hammered in her chest as she flailed around, trying to arrest her wild fall; she collided with a soft yet solid body, who let out a surprised whoof. Sweetie Belle felt herself land painfully, butt-first, on the concrete landing. Dazedly blinking lavender spots out of her eyes, she looked up...

She shrieked as she saw the deadly-sharp point of a curved-bladed halberd a mere inch from her face.

The girl holding it was her age, with expressive violet eyes and short raven hair. She was slender, with long, slim legs. She wore a bizarre outfit consisting of a white bodysuit with flared sheer decorative shoulderpads, a dark purple skirt with matching naval collar flap, and large wine red bows at her chest and the small of her back. She also wore knee-length purple boots, elbow-length white gloves with ribbed purple cuffs, and a purple choker with a six-pointed crystal star at her throat. A brooch shaped like a many-pointed crystal starburst was affixed to the bow on her chest. A slim gold tiara rested upon her brow.

And in her hands, she held a halberd that was easily as long as she was tall, with a dark haft and a curved, deadly-looking double blade.

The girl blinked, then withdrew her weapon. "Sorry," she said. "Umm...are you alright?"

Sweetie Belle tried to stand up, but winced when she put weight on her ankle. "I think I..."

"Here, let me," the strange girl said gently as she placed one hand on Sweetie Belle's injured ankle and the other on her shoulder. A gentle white light filled the narrow stairwell; when it faded, all the pain from the fall was gone. Sweetie Belle blinked as she stood up, testing her ankle.

"Wow. Thanks," she said. She looked the girl over. "Did you see a girl run this way? Looked kinda like you, except she was in her nightgown?"

The girl pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "Sweetie Belle, it's me," she said.

"Huh?" Sweetie Belle looked her over again. Her eyes widened. "H-Hotaru?!" she gasped.

"Yeah," Hotaru said. "You didn't recognize me because there's this magic protection in the Senshi transformation, it keeps people from...nevermind. You need to go back upstairs, it isn't safe—"

"Yeah, and it's safe for you to...and what even is this? And where'd you get the spear?"

"Glaive," Hotaru corrected. "It's a glaive." She sighed. "Look, I'll explain it all later. Normally I wouldn't even reveal my identity, but under the circumstances..." She shook her head. "Just...don't leave the stairwell, alright? Whatever's down there, I'll kill it and then we can let the police and the fire department handle the rest."

"Oh, what, you're a monster hunter?" Sweetie Belle asked skeptically.

"Sort of," Hotaru said. Drawing herself up, she said, "I am Sailor Saturn, the Senshi of Destruction. And I'm probably a lot more firepower than this situation calls for."

* * * * *

For most, waking up to an absence of unbearable pain is normal.

For him, waking up to an absence of unbearable pain was cause for confusion.

A dawn sky hung above him, stars fading into the pale curtain of daybreak and a waxing gibbous moon shining serenely above the silhouettes of trees. Beneath him, cool, fragrant grass rippled in a light breeze.

"This is a dream," he decided in a young, strong voice. Stormy, brooding eyes squeezed shut, leaking tears. "Why must my dreams torment me so?"

"'Ey, you there!" a male voice called out. "'Ere's no larkin' about naked in public 'ere! C'mon then, up you get!"

His eyes opened in confusion. He sat up.

A portly, tan-skinned man in a blue uniform stood over him, a large flashlight in one hand and a nightstick in the other.

He looked to his right. A pile of folded robes lay on the ground next to a pair of boots and a familiar silver cylinder.

He looked down at himself. At his naked body, long and toned, muscular...all four limbs intact.

He reached up to his head and found long, curled tresses rippling in the early morning breeze.

"Definitely a dream then," he decided with a sigh.

"Oi! You deaf, man? 'Ere now, off yer duff, it's the pokey with you!"

"You don't belong in this dream," he said darkly, glowering up at the uniformed man. He reached out with his right hand, slowly clenching it. The rude officer's eyes bulged out; he dropped his nightstick and flashlight and clutched at his throat, gurgling. The naked man stood up, his eyes burning into the policeman as he sank to his knees, struggling to breathe.

It took over a minute for the officer to die. The naked man watched calmly, patiently, as the life seeped from him.

When at last the rude, insignificant man was dead, the naked man gathered up the folded robes and got dressed, taking a moment to examine the cylinder reverently before attaching it to his belt. "If this is a dream, then you're here," he said to himself, "and I will find you. It has been too long, Padme."

With that, he disappeared into the breaking day.

Comes a Fight Episode

View Online

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:

LET'S GAME! MECCHA GAME! MUCHA GAME! WHAT'S YOUR NAME?

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.

Comes a Ranger (Part I)

View Online

Midday saw a lull in Inves activity.

In Manehattan, the Manefair Hotel had finally been cleared, and the surviving guests had been allowed to leave. Sweetie Belle, her parents, and Hotaru wasted no time in heading for the airport. "If it's gonna be this crazy everywhere, we might as well go home and hunker down in our own cozy house," Sweetie Belle's dad had decided.

"From what Sweetie Belle's told me, Canterlot is the center of all this craziness, so it's probably where I need to be anyway," Hotaru said. "I just hope Haruka-mama and Michiru-mama don't show up looking for me at that hotel. Or Setsuna-mama or...or any of the other Senshi," she added fretfully.

"You don't have a phone you can call them with?" Sweetie Belle's mother asked.

"Even if I did, I don't think it'd work here," Hotaru said. She glanced at Sweetie Belle. "That girl, the one that destroyed the monster...you know her?"

"Well, yeah," Sweetie Belle said pensively. "She was acting strange, though." She shivered. "Even when she was bad, she wasn't that...that cold. And she's changed a lot..." She frowned and pulled out her own phone. After a moment, she spoke into it:

"Rarity? Yeah, we're headed for the airport. We're alright, but we're coming home. Listen, I wanna ask if Sunset Shimmer's been acting strange lately. Huh? Well, we just saw her here in Manehattan but she was...she was really mean. Like, worse than she used to—" Sweetie Belle trailed off. "Huh? But that's—!" She shook her head. "No, I'm sure it was her, I—"

The others listened as Sweetie Belle suddenly paused.

"Huh? You weren't? But...! No, I'm sure! I mean, you're kinda hard to miss in a crowd, y'know? You turned into some kind of armored beetle fighter and killed a monster, then you told my new friend Hotaru she—"

Another pause.

"No, listen! I know it was you! I mean, same eyes, same hair, same voice..." She trailed off suddenly. "Waaaait a second. You know how there's two Twilights? What if there's...yeah...yeah...okay. We'll talk more when we get back to Canterlot. I think my battery's about gone anyway. Okay. Say bye to Rarity for me." She disconnected the call and leaned back, frowning.

Sweetie Belle's father shot her a worried glance in the rear view mirror of the rental car. "Everything okay there, kiddo?"

"I don't know," Sweetie Belle said with a sigh.

* * * * *

Sunset grimaced as she handed Rarity back her phone. "Great," she said. "We found the other me and apparently she's still a bitch."

"The other you?" X asked. Everyone glanced curiously at Sunset.

Sunset looked around at her friends. "Okay, you know how there's Princess Twilight and then there's the Twilight from this world? Well, didn't you ever wonder—"

"If there was another Sunset Shimmer who's from this world?" Pinkie Pie chipped in. "Yeah, I kinda figured out there must be. I just figured you probably murdered her and took her place or something."

"Umm...I thought the same thing," Fluttershy said sheepishly, ducking her head. "I'm sorry..."

Sunset gave her friends a hurt look. "Really? You thought I'd—really?"

"Well..." several of the girls said plaintively. Sunset groaned.

Trunks coughed. "Okay, so...you're not native to this world even though you live here and call it your home, and there's another Sunset Shimmer who is native to this world?"

"That's about the size of it," Sunset agreed.

"Makes sense to me," Miles said with a shrug. "I mean, the Peter Parker in my world died a long time ago, but I hang out with a different Peter Parker almost every day in an alternate dimension."

"Anyway, it sounds as though this other Sunset Shimmer is even less nice than our Sunset used to be before she changed," Rarity said. "Also, it seems as though Sweetie Belle made a new friend in Manehattan and is bringing her home with her."

"Well that's nice," Fluttershy said.

"It also sounds like this other me has superpowers," Sunset said. "Sweetie Belle said she turned into some kind of..." She frowned. "Armored beetle fighter?"

"Armored beetle fighter," Kouta said thoughtfully. "Why does that sound familiar...?"

"Oh, this must be her!" Pinkie said suddenly, laying her tablet on the table. Everyone close enough leaned in to see a shaky video of a scarlet-armored figure battling a monster.

"Masaka...!" Kouta exclaimed. "But...! No, Kabuto is Tendou Souji, not..."

The others peered curiously at him. "You know something about this?" Trunks asked.

"Well, that's a Masked Rider named Kabuto," Kouta said. "I've run into him once or twice." He scratched his head. "Funny, I can barely remember how or why...but anyway." He shook his head. "His real name is Tendou Souji."

"That's not a 'him'," Rainbow pointed out. "That's not a 'him' at all.'

"No, obviously not," Kouta said, shaking his head.

Sunset frowned. "Is it possible the other me got hold of whatever lets this Souji transform?"

"Hmmm..." Kouta stroked his chin. "I suppose it's possible," he said. "I mean, most Drivers pretty much react to the first person that uses them. At least, the ones I know of. That's how the Sengoku Driver works, it's possible Kabuto's Rider Belt is the same way."

"Sounds like this is something we need to keep an eye on," Miles said. "I mean, if there's another Sunset Shimmer and she has superpowers and goes rogue..."

"We need to make contact with her," Sunset decided.

"I can take care of that," Trunks said. "It might take some time to find her, it looks like this Manehattan is a pretty big city."

"Alright. Be careful, we don't know what else is gonna show up or even where," Sunset cautioned.

Trunks nodded, rose into the air, then shot off at supersonic speed.

Everybody watched him go.

"Did...did anybody even tell him where Manehattan is?" Kim wondered.

The others glanced at each other. Sunset facepalmed.

* * * * *

The last couple of hours had been a bit hectic for Monica and Kooh.

With the help of the surviving Servbots, they managed to rig up a stretcher with which to carry Tron. By the time they'd done so, a course attendant had arrived, surveyed the damage, and screamed at them, threatening to call the police. Monica had managed—just barely—to calm him down before Kooh beat him senseless, then asked him some questions and pointed out the very injured and unconscious girl in their midst. The attendant was far more interested in reaming them out for the thousands of dollars' worth of damages they'd caused to the fairway than doing anything to assist them.

When Monica had pulled a gold bar out of her bag and offered it to him, he'd become far more cooperative.

He had explained that they were at the Whitetail Woods Country Club in a city named Canterlittle, on the north side of town. He further explained, at Monica's gentle insistence, that the Whitetail Woods served as the buffer zone between Canterlittle, which was a small coastal resort town, and the larger city of Canterlot. Canterlittle was essentially divided into four main districts. The north side of town was taken up by the country club, the train and bus hubs, the aquarium, and a number of museums. The west side of town was the shopping district, while the south side of town was the residential area for the locals—homes, schools, city services, and so forth, isolated from the tourist zones by the main roads and a public park. On the east side was the beach, the main tourist draw of Canterlittle, which also harbored the hotel and restaurant district.

He had further explained that in recent days, since the world had gone completely insane, Canterlittle had effectively shut down, with very little tourist traffic or leisure activity anywhere within the city. Once he was done answering their questions, he called an ambulance for Tron. Monica had told Kooh to go with Tron to the hospital, asked the attendant to leave Tron's mecha and Servbots alone for the time being until she was awake, and then had taken a cab—using money the attendant gave her—to the west side of town to do a little shopping.

"A little shopping" turned into a whole wardrobe for herself and Kooh, a rented car and driver, and a massive wad of cash that would probably take care of anything else they needed for some time. Evidently gold was worth far more in this world than it was back home...

By the time Monica arranged for a suite at one of the beachside hotels, dropped off her purchases, and changed clothes, Tron had woken up. Her injuries had apparently not been severe enough to warrant inpatient care; Monica arrived at the hospital just in time to be badgered by the administrative nurse about insurance information and other such paperwork. After shutting the obnoxious woman up with a gold bar, Monica collected Kooh and Tron and took them to the car. "So we're all stuck in some parallel world," Monica explained. "Apparently we're not the only ones." She glanced at Tron. "Do you think you can behave yourself for a little while?"

Tron frowned at her. "Rude much?"

"Hey, you attacked us, remember?" Kooh pointed out.

Monica smirked. "It's just that Kooh and I are going to be living it up at a beachside hotel until we figure out what's going on and find a way back home, but if you'd rather just rampage around in a mecha hoping you can steal enough money and food to get by on until you get arrested..."

Tron frowned. "What's so great about the beach? Where I come from, it just reminds you that less than five percent of the world's surface isn't the ocean."

"Huh. Really?" Monica frowned. "Well, it's not like that here, and I love the beach!" She smiled. "Anyway, we're willing to forgive you for that whole attacking us thing if you're willing to stick with us for a while. Maybe we can all help each other find a way to get home."

Tron smirked, flouncing her hair. "Well, clearly you'd be completely hopeless without the genius of Tron Bonne-sama...!"

Kooh rolled her eyes. "This is gonna be fun," she said sourly.

"You young ladies had better watch yourselves," the driver said suddenly. "Pardon me for eavesdropping, by the way, but I've been watching the news, and all sorts of bizarre things have shown up in this world. I don't think we've had any monster attacks down here in Canterlittle yet, but up in Canterlot there have been swarms of these horrible monsters."

The girls looked at each other. Tron gulped nervously. "M-monsters?"

"Well, if any monsters show up nearby, we can deal with it," Monica said confidently. "I'm a pro at fighting monsters!"

"I won't lose to monsters or to Monica!" Kooh said enthusiastically.

"Still," Monica said thoughtfully, "maybe we'd better think about keeping track of..." She frowned. "What's the best way to stay updated on things like that here?"

"Television? The Internet?" the driver suggested. "I always check the news on my phone, myself."

"And where can we get this...Internet?" Kooh asked.

The driver glanced back at them, then pointedly at Monica. "I can take you to an electronics store," he said. "You'd be able to purchase a prepaid smartphone or...whatever best meets your needs."

Monica nodded. "Alright," she said.

* * * * *

Two blocks from Crystal Prep stood Berry's Smoothie Shack, a trendy smoothie bar frequented by the students of Crystal Prep. With the school temporarily closed, many students were relaxing at Berry's, enjoying smoothies while getting ahead in their studies or pursuing their own interests with the bar's free wi-fi. At one table sat five girls who, only recently, had become what you might consider friends.

Maybe.

"Man, those CHS girls are so lucky!" Indigo Zap said. "They get to be out there kickin' monster butt with real-life superheroes! How awesome is that?"

"Not very," Sugarcoat said. "It's dangerous and they'll probably end up getting killed."

"Well, yeah, but other than that."

"Well I think it's wonderful!" Sour Sweet simpered. Then, with a cross glare, she spat, "Since this is probably all their fault in the first place!"

"While I no longer hold Canterlot High in the same disdain as I once did," Sunny Flare said, "it does seem as though they are responsible for dangerous and destructive forces being unleashed in our world."

"Oh come on, there's no proof they caused all this!" Lemon Zest said.

"There's no proof they didn't, either," Sugarcoat pointed out.

Sunny Flare frowned. "Still, doesn't it seem strange that these phenomena are appearing in places such as Manehattan and Mareis? I mean, this does seem rather beyond the scope of what we saw during the Friendship Games."

"That's a good point," Sugarcoat admitted.

"I wonder—"

Whatever Indigo wondered was drowned out in a rush of wind as the lights went dim and the air began to crackle. The girls' hair stood on end as they looked around in alarm. At one end of the dining area, a swirling red portal opened, arcs of electricity snapping inside. As a sudden violent wind blew napkins, straw wrappers, papers, and other detritus all over the room, most of the students and other patrons present screamed and ran for the exit. The five Shadowbolts who had witnessed magical phenomena before stayed in their seats, watching the portal curiously yet cautiously.

And then, a man stepped out.

He was young—it was hard to tell exactly how old he was, but his tanned face was unlined. He had short, spiky black hair, a strip of a goatee, and a soul patch. He wore a white lab coat over a red and green striped shirt, black jeans, and black steel-toed boots. His eyes were sharp and dark, and he carried an aluminum briefcase.

As soon as he cleared the vortex, it snapped shut with a muted thunderclap, and the lights returned to normal. He looked around warily, his posture tense; after a moment, he relaxed and glanced at the counter, where a fuschia-skinned woman stood staring at him in shock. "Sorry about the mess," he said pleasantly.

"Uhh..."

"Wow, he's kinda cute," Lemon Zest said.

"Sure, let's talk about how cute he is and not the fact that he just came out of a glowing hole in the wall!" Sour Sweet growled.

"That was a hell of an entrance, though," Indigo said with a grin.

The man noticed them and walked over. "Hi," he said. "Umm...sorry to bother you, but I could kinda use some local guides. I'm uhh...not from around here."

"No, really? We didn't notice," Sunny Flare said sarcastically.

"Great, what did those CHS girls' freaky magic do this time?" Sour Sweet muttered.

"Brought a man in a lab coat here," Sugarcoat said.

"Actually, I brought myself here," the man said. "I'm Dr. Thomas Oliver. Um, you can just call me Tommy."

"Ooh, he's cute and he's a doctor!" Lemon Zest squealed, jumping up and latching onto Tommy's arm. "Mine!"

"Uhh..." Tommy glanced at her awkwardly.

"What do you mean you brought yourself here?" Sugarcoat asked.

"I've been studying the dimensional fold from my lab," Tommy said. "Every dimension across the multiverse is collapsing into this one. All of reality is coming apart and folding together into a new merged reality here. If somebody doesn't do something fast, there'll be no way to repair the damage. I came here to..." He trailed off, then shrugged. "I came here to help. I don't know how, but I'll find a way."

The girls looked at each other. "You jumped into this crazy mess on purpose?" Sugarcoat asked. "You must be insane."

Tommy laughed. "Not the first time I've heard that."

"So are you an M.D. or a Ph.D.?" Sunny Flare asked.

"Ph.D.," Tommy answered.

"What's your doctorate? Astrophysics? Nuclear physics? Temporal mechanics? Quantum physics?"

"It's gotta be something super-sciencey!" Lemon Zest said. "I mean did you see that portal thingie?"

Tommy coughed. "Umm, actually," he said a bit awkwardly, "Paleontology. I'm a paleontologist."

The girls blinked.

"Well that's wonderful!" Sour Sweet said cheerfully. "A paleontologist is JUST what we need right now!" Her bright expression turned into a vicious scowl. "Maybe we can dig up some dinosaur bones to THROW AT ALL THE MONSTERS!"

"What does a paleontologist need with a dimensional portal?" Sugarcoat wondered with a frown.

"That's a long story," Tommy said.

Something exploded outside.

"And it sounds like we don't have time for it right now," Tommy said. He pushed his briefcase off on Lemon Zest. "Hold this a sec," he said as he rushed for the door.

"Hey, wait! What—" Lemon Zest stared after him.

"He's going to get himself killed," Sugarcoat stated bluntly.

"Better him than us," Sunny Flare said.

"Yo, Tommy! Wait up!" Indigo Zap called, shooting to her feet and chasing after him.

The other Shadowbolts looked at each other. After a long moment, Sour Sweet let out a grunt of disgust, stood up, and followed. The others soon joined her.

* * * * *

Monica, Tron, and Kooh had made a second trip to the clothing district to get a wardrobe for Tron; Tron had dismissed their concern over the state of her attire, but Monica had flatly insisted that she would not be seen in public with a girl wearing a metal plate on her crotch. Drawing attention to that feature of Tron's outfit had set Kooh off with a vengeance, and between the two of them, Tron had finally become embarrassed enough to agree to just about anything.

Now, they sat around their hotel suite, exhausted, with bags of fast food hamburgers piled up on a table between them, playing with their shiny new smartphones. "Max would go completely nuts over this," Monica said as she stroked the phone.

"There's definitely some nice technology here," Tron said. "It's nowhere near as advanced as what my world has, but..." She frowned. "Actually, in its own way it's more advanced. I mean, we don't have anything like this Internet."

Kooh tilted her head. "You have sentient robots and assault mecha but no Internet?"

Tron shrugged. "Long-range communications are...kinda problematic in my world," she said. "Every time somebody tries to build a communications network, the buoys or low-orbiters usually end up getting destroyed or breaking down."

"Huh." Kooh blinked. "Okay, so...what's the plan? Are we just gonna stay here hoping everything fixes itself? Go back to the country club to wait and see if that whatever-it-was that sucked us up shows up again?"

Monica frowned. "For now, we should sit tight here," she said. "Going by what the driver said, it sounds like the city of Canterlot is where all the action is. I think we should study the situation. Learn what's going on, watch the news, figure out this Internet thing. Once we have enough information, we can get moving. We're set for money pretty much indefinitely, so we can take our time. I hope, anyway."

"You hope we're set for money or you hope we can take our time?" Tron asked.

"I hope we can take our time," Monica said. "I know how much money we have, but I have no idea how much time we have or even if there is a time limit. That's the first thing we need to try to figure out." She glanced at the other girls. "Kooh, do you know how to handle a sword?"

"Sure," Kooh said. "I am a pirate captain."

Tron looked at her with interest. "You're a pirate too?" she asked.

"Yeah, but I don't do much pirating," Kooh said. "I'd rather play Pangya all day than actually go out to sea. Besides, there's...there's no need for me to adventure..." A sadness filled her eyes.

"Well right now we're on an adventure," Monica said firmly. "So we all need to stay sharp." She looked at Tron. "If I give you a weapon, can we trust you?"

Tron rolled her eyes. "I'm not stupid enough to betray you while we need each other to survive," she said.

"Meaning you'll wait until you don't need us anymore to betray us?" Kooh asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Of course!" Tron said cheerfully. "But for now, we can be friends. You girls are actually pretty fun to hang out with. So yeah, you can trust me." Her eyes lit up. "But once we've found our escape route, I'm taking all your money and running."

Monica groaned and facepalmed. "Yeah yeah, whatever," she muttered. "So I'm guessing you're better with guns and exploding things than swords, right?"

"I've honestly never even held a sword," Tron said.

"Okay. I'm pretty sure I've got some of Max's old guns and bombs in here," Monica said, rummaging through the medium-sized pouch in her lap.

Tron raised an eyebrow. "Guns and bombs, in that?"

"Magical bag," Monica said. "It's way bigger on the inside and doesn't weigh any more than the bag itself." She eyed Tron sharply. "Don't even think about trying to steal it."

"I won't," Tron whined.

"Good, because if you do..." And then Monica began to glow; Tron's jaw dropped as Monica transformed into a small but ferocious-looking red dragon wrapped around a glowing, magma-filled crystal. Flames trailed from the dragon's nostrils.

"Eep," Tron whimpered. Kooh giggled.

* * * * *

Absolute chaos reigned the street outside Berry's Smoothie Shack.

The ground shook as a massive monster stomped down the street. Easily nine feet tall, it looked like a cross between a dragon and a turtle, with a spiked shell on its back, spiked armbands on its massive arms, spiky red hair, and massive, shaggy red eyebrows. It angrily smashed a car into pulp with a swipe of one powerful claw.

"I HATE THIS PLACE!" the monster bellowed in a deep, gravelly voice. "IT STINKS!"

"Then leave!" Tommy said as he skidded to a halt in the monster's path. "You're not welcome here, and these people didn't do anything to you!"

"HUH? WHAT'S THAT?" the monster stopped, glaring curiously at Tommy. "YOU WANNA MAKE SOMETHIN' OF IT, PUNY PUNK?"

"And what if I do?" Tommy challenged.

From a safe distance, the Shadowbolts watched him. "He's insane," Sugarcoat said.

"He's gonna get himself creamed," Indigo moaned.

"Maybe not!" Sour Sweet offered cheerfully. "Maybe he knows some secret weakness dino-turtles have since he's a freakin' dinosaur expert!"

"This would be so, so cool if it wasn't the scariest thing I've ever seen," Lemon Zest said.

Meanwhile, the monster laughed a booming laugh that rattled windows and set off car alarms. "KID, YOU GOT SPUNK," he thundered. "I HATE SPUNK!!" He stomped the ground, shaking it and knocking several bystanders off their feet. He leaned forward, snorting steam as he glowered at Tommy. "YOU'RE IN MY WAY, RUNT. GET LOST OR GET SMASHED!"

"No," Tommy said firmly. "You're gonna stop smashing everything in your path, or else."

Again the monster laughed. "OR ELSE WHAT?!" he roared.

"Or else this!" Tommy brought his left arm up swiftly, pressing a button on his watch which caused the top to split open, revealing a key slot. He pressed a stud on his belt buckle, which flipped open; he withdrew a small green figurine from it, flipping the bottom half up to reveal a key. "Ranger Key, set!" he shouted as he inserted the key into the slot on his watch.

"It's Morphin' Time!"

The watch gave off a blinding green flash of light with a faint gold tinge. The green light washed over Tommy's body, replacing his clothes with a shimmery green spandex bodysuit, white boots, and white gloves. Slim gold bands adorned the tops of his boots and the cuffs of his gloves; broader gold bands formed on his lower biceps. A gold breastplate with a diamond-shaped chest guard covered his upper body and shoulders. Lastly, a green helmet appeared on his head; the helmet's design gave the crown the appearance of a ferocious reptile, with ornamental 'fangs' surrounding the pitch-black visor above a silver faceplate with an engraved mouth set in a determined expression. A white belt with a black-and-gold ornamental buckle encircled his waist; a sheathed dagger hung at his left hip. He struck a series of arm poses, settling into an aggressive stance.

"Green Ranger, back in action!"

"Whoa," Lemon Zest said.

"Kickass!" Indigo Zap cried.

"That's a ridiculous costume," Sugarcoat opined.

The monster shook his head, staring at Tommy. "OH, YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME," he rumbled.

Tommy drew his dagger. "Last chance," he said.

"YOU DON'T GET IT, DO YA? YOU THINK A DUMB COSTUME AND A LITTLE TOOTHPICK SCARE ME? I'M BOWSER, KING OF THE KOOPAS! I EAT HEROES FOR BREAKFAST! I DON'T CARE HOW STRONG YOU THINK YOU ARE, I'M THE BADDEST OF THE BAD!"

"We'll see about that," Tommy said grimly. He leapt high into the air, somersaulting as he flew toward Bowser, delivering a sharp kick to his face. He followed up by slashing Bowser across the chest with his dagger; a shower of sparks erupted from the contact.

"AUGH!" Bowser roared, backhanding Tommy into the front of the nearest building. "YA LITTLE PUNK!" He drew a deep breath and exhaled a massive fireball which engulfed Tommy. As the building he'd collided with rained shattered glass, smoke, and sparks, the Green Ranger flipped out of the smoke and laid into Bowser with a fast combination of strikes, using his feet and his dagger. Every impact gave a dull metallic ring, as though solid steel were slamming into Bowser rather than flesh and bone.

"Dude, this is kinda awesome," Lemon Zest said from the sidelines.

"It...actually kinda is," Sour Sweet admitted, blinking. "Huh."

"He's better than I thought," Sugarcoat said.

"This...is so cool," Indigo Zap said excitedly.

Bowser ducked into his shell and began spinning. A tremendous shower of sparks exploded into the sky as the Green Ranger was sent flying. He landed several meters away; Bowser returned to his full height and sneered at him. "THANKS FOR THE WORKOUT, PUNK," he grunted.

Tommy stood up, his suit covered in burn marks. "Alright, now I'm mad," he said. He reached down to his belt and pulled out a new Ranger Key, this one depicting a mostly white figure. He flipped it open. "WHITE RANGER KEY, SET!" He jammed it into his morpher...

The ghostly image of a roaring white tiger appeared behind him, overtaking him. His Ranger suit glowed and changed: It was now bright white instead of green, with a dark green armored vest with gold shoulderguards covering his upper torso. Broad golden bands encircled his shins and forearms, and a slim golden belt encircled his waist. A sheathed saber hung at his left hip. His helmet, which now bore no facial expression of any kind, had changed from a green dragon motif to a white tiger motif.

The Shadowbolts blinked. "Okay, so...his costume's white now?" Sugarcoat said.

"It looks a bit better than the other one," Sunny Flare opined.

"I don't get it, what's he doing?" Lemon Zest wondered.

Bowser tilted his head. "HUH? WHAT'S THIS SUPPOSED TO BE?"

"Let me show you!" the White Ranger yelled, charging toward Bowser with his saber drawn. Bowser was forced on the defensive as Tommy's speed overwhelmed him; the longer reach of his new weapon meant more punishing blows were landing. When Bowser attempted to counter with a powerful claw jab, Tommy leapt high into the air and reversed his grip on his sword; the eyes of the tiger-head pommel glowed brightly and fired twin energy beams which raked across Bowser's torso. A huge explosion erupted; Bowser was knocked onto his back. He roared in agony as sparks and smoke rained down around him.

As soon as Tommy's boots touched the ground, he pulled a third Ranger Key from his belt, this one red. "ZEO RANGER KEY, SET!" As he inserted the key into his morpher, a glowing red five-pointed star framed his body. His Ranger suit turned solid red, with white boots and gloves; the shoulder section of the suit was white with elaborate gold trim, and his solid red helmet had a black visor shaped like a five-pointed star. A gold belt with holsters at each hip circled his waist.

The girls stared flatly at him. "Okay, that costume is super ugly," Lemon said in disgust.

"He should've stuck with the white one," Sugarcoat said.

"How does he even see out of that thing?" Indigo wondered.

As Bowser struggled to his feet, Tommy leapt high into the air, a laser pistol in one hand and a plastic-looking longsword in the other. He fired several red laser beams at Bowser, then followed up with a broad, sweeping slash of his sword that trailed red lightning that crackled across Bowser's body.

"I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU, YA LITTLE SH—"

"DINO RANGER KEY, SET!"

Black lightning arced over the Red Ranger's body, transforming the suit into a black costume with a pattern of gold diamonds running up the legs and arms. Abbreviated golden shoulderguards, a gold belt, and a chest emblem that could either be a stylized arrowhead or a stylized reptile footprint comprised the bulk of the suit's minimal detail. The helmet sported a tall crest and a jagged black visor and no other features. An ornate staff appeared in his hands; he spun it several times and lashed out, striking Bowser repeatedly. Each impact created a shower of sparks and black lightning. He finished by striking the ground with the staff.

The entire street shook.

A tremendous cloud of dust rose from beneath Bowser as the earth erupted beneath him. He roared in agony.

"It's over, Bowser!" Tommy yelled.

Arcs of electricity snapped over Bowser's body as showers of sparks rained down on the street. "I'LL REMEMBER THIS, YOU...YOU COLOR-CHANGING PUNK!" With that, Bowser leapt high into the air, tucked his body into his shell, began spinning rapidly, and flew away, a pinwheel of smoke and fire.

The girls stared, slack-jawed. Tommy relaxed his stance; his Ranger costume melted away in a wash of light, leaving him in the clothes he'd first appeared in. He took a deep breath, then turned to the girls. "So...like I was saying, I could use some guides..."

Comes a Ranger (Part II)

View Online

After the battle, the Shadowbolts and Tommy had returned to the Smoothie Shack, where they'd spent a few minutes helping Berry Punch tidy up the place before sitting down with fresh fruit smoothies. "So, what exactly are you looking for, Dr. Oliver?" Sunny Flare asked.

"Call me Tommy," Tommy said with a smile. "And I guess..." He frowned. "Well, ultimately I'm looking for whoever or whatever's causing the dimensional fold in the first place. But before that..." He thumped his aluminum briefcase. "I'm gonna need somebody who can help me finish building these." He opened the briefcase and turned it so the girls could look inside.

"Those look like that thing you're wearing," Sugarcoat said.

"Yeah, they are," Tommy agreed. "I'll explain it more later, but basically—"

"You're looking to put together a team to fight with you?" Indigo asked. "Yeah, kinda obvious what with the little key thingies in the briefcase."

"Yeah, basically," Tommy said. "So, uhh...you girls happen to know anyone that can help me finish the Key Morphers?"

The Shadowbolts looked at one another and smirked. "Yeah, I think we know a gal," Lemon Zest said slyly.

* * * * *

As time had passed, he had realized, with great confusion, that he was not dreaming.

By some strange twist of fate, Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and right hand of Emperor Sheev Palpatine, had regained his full human body.

No longer did he suffer the neverending pain of seared lungs and scorched eyes, nor the horrific burns marring what remained of his limbless torso. His body, young and lean and strong, all limbs intact and muscular, sang with power. Sang with the Force.

Whatever system he was on, it was unfamiliar to him, and he could find nothing of the Empire anywhere he looked. It seemed to be a relatively primitive society.

But there was more: the Force itself was screaming.

In a quiet, grassy corner of a public park, Vader meditated, stretching his senses out to the far corners of the world. Everything here was wrong. The Force was gnarled and twisted around a gaping wound in the universe itself, far to the south of his current location.

He could not sense the Emperor. He could not sense anything familiar. Without a comm link, he had no way of contacting his Star Destroyer to request assistance, nor his Master.

Cut off from the Empire, with more questions than answers and the knowledge that Padme was not waiting for him out there somewhere...all of this left Vader quite...

"Oi, you there. Turn out yer pockets, nice and slow."

...irritated.

He heard a click next to his temple.

Half a second later, three things fell to the ground: a hand holding a gun, a human head, and a headless body missing an arm.

Extinguishing his lightsaber and returning it to his belt, Vader knelt down and rummaged through the dead man's pockets. He found very little of interest other than a small amount of money and a plastic bag containing what was in all likelihood some sort of drug. He snorted. "Pathetic. You should thank me for ending your existence," he said quietly to the dead man as he tossed the drugs to the ground and folded the money into the pockets of his own robes. Glancing around, he walked briskly away.

From behind a tree, Sunset Shimmer watched, lips thin and brow furrowed. Shaking her head, she turned and walked the other way.

* * * * *

The bus pulled up to Canterlot High. The five Shadowbolts and Tommy got off. A huge group of people looked up at them from a collection of picnic tables arrayed on the school grounds. Some eyes widened or narrowed in recognition.

"Well, here we are," Lemon Zest said. "Canterlot High School."

Immediately, a blue-skinned girl with wild rainbow-colored hair and broad feathery wings flew up to them, challenge in her eyes. "Shadowbolts!" she cried. "What're you doing here?"

"Nice to see that whole friendship thing is alive and well," Sour Sweet muttered.

"Chill, willya?" Indigo said, holding up her hands placatingly. "We're all cool now, right?"

Rainbow Dash sighed. "Yeah, you're right. My bad. Uhh...so what's up?" By this point, more of the group had gathered and were eyeing the Shadowbolts and their companion curiously.

"We need to borrow Twilight," Lemon Zest said. "Tommy here needs her help."

"Twilight's kinda busy," Sunset said. "She's sort of keeping an eye on the thing that's destroying reality all around us."

Tommy blinked. "Wait, so you know what's causing all this?" He smiled. "Well that's perfect! That's part of why I came here in the first place!" He took a step forward and offered his hand. "Dr. Thomas Oliver, but you can call me Tommy. I came here from my own dimension to investigate the dimensional fold and see if I could help find a way to invert it."

Sunset shook his hand. "Well, we can use all the help we can get," she admitted. "But right now, we need more help with the symptoms than the disease, because we're already working on the cure. At least, I hope so."

"Well, I'd still like to help any way I can," Tommy said. "And, uhh...if by 'the symptoms' you mean monsters and stuff? I've got that covered too. But I will need somebody's help finishing building my Key Morphers."

"Just trust us. Let Twilight help this guy," Indigo said. "We've seen him fight. He's legit."

Sunset frowned. "Well...I guess Twilight can't do much of anything with the, uhh...thing until the Princess gets back from Equestria with the bulfecium, so..." She shrugged. "I'll take you to the lab, get you up to speed." She glanced at the Shadowbolts. "You guys can hang out if you want."

"Thanks," Lemon Zest said. She looked around. "Wow, you guys are having a wild party over here!"

"A little too wild," Sunset muttered as she led Tommy into the school.

* * * * *

Tommy stared at the glowing artifact in the center of the lab. "Is...is that what I think it is?"

"It is," Sunset said, her face red.

Tommy's ears burned. "Umm...look, I...I don't wanna embarrass you or anything, but I...I gotta ask..."

Sunset groaned. "I'm a magical being from another dimension, I take on human form when I'm in this dimension, some magic from my home has been leaking into this world for a long time now, somehow a...THING I ordered for...well, you know..." She ducked her head. "Turned out to be an artifact of chaos magic, and my own Equestrian magic sort of hotwired it. Then it turned out to be self-sustaining, and..." She threw out her hands. "Broke reality."

Tommy digested this. "Uh-huh," he said slowly. "So...you uhh...you broke the multiverse...with a dildo."

Sunset buried her face in her hands and turned away.

"Sorry, it's just...I'm having a hard time processing that."

"We all are," another girl said, walking up to them and adjusting her glasses. "But it doesn't matter what form it is. It could've been a toothbrush or a bra or a tampon or just about anything that would've had prolonged contact with Sunset's personal magical field. The important thing is we're trying to contain it before it rips apart reality, and our timetable's getting shorter by the day." She frowned, then glanced at the thoroughly embarrassed Sunset. "Who's he?"

Tommy coughed. "Tommy Oliver. Dr. Tommy Oliver. Ph.D. I'm a paleontologist, but I have...extended experience with alternate dimensions, strange phenomena, monsters attacking humanity, and..." He chuckled. "Well, you name it, I've probably run into it." Under his breath, he muttered, "except chaos dildos, that's a new one..." He shook his head. "Anyway, I came to this world from my own lab after I detected the dimensional fold. I'm here to help, but I need some help in return, and I'm guessing you're the one who can help me?"

"This is Twilight Sparkle," Sunset introduced. "If you're talking about building strange devices that do highly improbable things, she's your gal." She threw Twilight a wink.

Twilight ducked her head and fidgeted with the tips of her index fingers. "W-well..."

Tommy laid his briefcase on a counter and opened it. "Right, so here's the thing. I need these Key Morphers completed. I've got the schematics and most of the parts."

Twilight studied the devices, frowning. "What are they supposed to do?"

"I'll show you," Tommy said, holding up his left arm and revealing his own Key Morpher. He removed the Green Ranger Key from his belt buckle. "RANGER KEY, SET! IT'S MORPHIN' TIME!"

And in a green flash, he was a Power Ranger.

"Okay, so another transforming superhero," Sunset said. "We sure are getting a lot of those lately."

Twilight's reaction was different. "That's...!" She shook her head, adjusting her glasses. "A polymorphic quantum molecular interchange?"

"Something like that," Tommy said, unsnapping and removing his helmet. "If I can get the rest of these Key Morphers working, I can assemble a team."

"A team?" Sunset asked.

"A team of Power Rangers," Tommy said, indicating the five Ranger Keys in the briefcase. "If the monster I fought on the way here is any sign, we're gonna need the Power Rangers."

"Well, we aren't exactly short on superheroes," Sunset said, "but the way things are going and with that whole Helheim thing getting worse...yeah, too many heroes would certainly be better than not enough heroes." She frowned. "But do we have the time to recruit and train these...Power Rangers? I mean, what qualifications are you looking for?"

Tommy snorted. "Qualifications? I just need five teenagers with attitude. That's pretty much how every team of Power Rangers ever gets started." He tilted his head. "Actually, those five girls that brought me here should do, if they're willing."

"What, the Shadowbolts?"

Twilight's eyes widened. "Shadowbolts? They're here?"

"Yeah, those five from the Friendship Games," Sunset said. "We ran into them when we went to save Dean Cadance, and they brought Tommy here to get your help." She tilted her head. "Wanna go talk to 'em?"

"N...n-no, I...I couldn't..." Twilight said, ducking her head.

Sunset smiled gently. "Alright, I won't push you." She looked back at Tommy and shrugged. "I guess the Shadowbolts are as good a choice as any, but we're not exactly short on backup choices if they're not up for it."

"Good to know," Tommy said. "Listen, I'll hang back here and work with Twilight...is that okay?"

Twilight nodded. "Uh...sure," she said.

Tommy smiled. "Great! And maybe you can get me up to speed on everything I need to know?"

"I'll try..."

"Great!" Sunset said, clapping her hands. "I'll leave you two eggheads to work. I'm sure by now there's some or another crisis happening out front I need to deal with."

Once she was gone, Twilight gave Tommy an appraising look. "So, uhh...need a cold shower after finding out how reality broke?"

Tommy shook his head and laughed. "With my history with girls and heartbreak? My sex drive dried up and died years ago."

Twilight winced. "Ouch..."

"Besides, I'm old enough to be her father, so...yeah..."

* * * * *

She stalked through the back alleys of an unfamiliar human city. Her every step creaked with leather. "Ningen-domo," she snarled contemptuously. "Kono sekai..."

She paused.

"Nani kore...?"

She looked up to the sky. "Masaka...!"

A slim black fist clenched around a handful of tarnished gold medals with large, irregular red scars across their faces.

"Genis-sama...!"

* * * * *

"So this world is connected to a parallel world inhabited by magical ponies, and your counterpart there is some kind of super-powerful magic princess?" Tommy asked.

"That's what they tell me," Twilight said. "Sunset's the one who really knows everything about it since she's from there, but they've told me enough that I think I've got the general gist." She soldered a circuit in one of the Key Morphers. "So, umm...mind if I ask exactly how and why you even have technology like this?"

Tommy laughed. "That's a really long story. Actually, it's like...seven or eight long stories. And there's as much magic involved here as technology." He frowned. "Magical technology, I guess?"

"Technomancy?" Twilight suggested.

"No, that's...that's a different thing entirely," Tommy said as he worked on a separate Morpher.

The door opened and Sugarcoat walked in. She looked around. "Crystal Prep has better labs," she stated.

Twilight glanced up. "Hey Sugarcoat," she said nervously.

Sugarcoat looked Twilight up and down. "You changed your hair," she noted. "You look less scrawny." She frowned as she glanced at the center of the lab. "That's a dildo," she commented.

"Yes," Twilight said. "Yes it is. It's kind of what's causing this mess."

Sugarcoat blinked. "This school is weird."

"Is there something we can help you with?" Twilight asked. "We're kinda busy here."

Sugarcoat shrugged. "I got bored. I thought I'd see if there was anything to do back here."

An alarm started beeping on one of the many devices connected to the dildo. Tommy glanced back at it nervously.

"Check the fornicator," Twilight said absently, going back to her soldering. "Write down the readings on that notebook."

Sugarcoat did as instructed, and Tommy went back to work. "So, you used to go to school with those girls I met today, huh?" he asked Twilight.

"Yeah," Twilight said. "That's a long story..."

"Our school and this school are rivals, Twilight built a device that sucks up magic, our principal is a cunt, she blackmailed Twilight into taking part in the Friendship Games between our schools, Twilight started sucking up magic from a bunch of girls who go here, it went crazy, our principal found out, we all pressured Twilight into using the magic she sucked up to help us win, it backfired, Twilight turned into a demon and started tearing holes in reality."

Tommy and Twilight both stared at Sugarcoat.

"Y-yeah, that's...that's pretty much it," Twilight said.

"Wow."

* * * * *

Bowser Koopa growled as he stomped through the streets of the unfamiliar city. The multicolored human scum ran screaming from his presence as he glared at them and crushed cars with his mighty claws. "SPIKY-HEADED LITTLE PUNK," he rumbled. "BAD ENOUGH I'M STUCK IN THIS CESSPOOL OF A HUMAN CITY, BUT THAT LITTLE COLOR-CHANGING BASTARD...!" He picked up a small, pearly white car, crushed it into a metal ball, and hurled it through the front of a building. "I'M GONNA FIND THAT SPIKY BRAT AND RIP HIS SMUG LITTLE FACE OFF!"

* * * * *

Two hours later, Tommy and Sugarcoat emerged from the school. "Listen up, everyone!" Tommy called. "The Key Morphers are finished, so all that's left is to assemble a team to use them!"

"Ooh! Sign me up!" Indigo Zap cried eagerly, waving her hand in the air. "I wanna be a superhero!"

"Well isn't that just special," Sour Sweet said. "If you like getting killed."

Tommy set the briefcase down on one of the picnic tables and clapped his hands together, once, in that particular way teachers do to get attention. "Actually, I was kind of hoping you five girls, the Shadowbolts was it? That you'd all join up."

Sunny Flare and Sour Sweet gave him incredulous stares. "Are you insane?" Sunny Flare asked. "We can't fight things like that...that awful turtle dragon monster!"

Sugarcoat adjusted her glasses. "Actually, the way Tommy explained it to me, morphing into a Power Ranger makes you virtually indestructible and gives you powerful weapons."

"The suit protects you from just about anything," Tommy added. "Most of the Power Rangers from the past were regular kids just like you girls."

"Well, perhaps, but...us?" Sunny Flare asked. "I mean, none of us really know how to fight. We can all do archery, and I've spent some time on the firing range. I'm rated at 96% accuracy with rifles and 92% accuracy with a small handgun." She frowned. "But that...that isn't the same as what we all saw you do."

"I've taken some self-defense classes," Sugarcoat said. "I hate having my butt grabbed."

Lemon Zest leaned up against Tommy. "I like having my butt grabbed!" she announced.

"I uhh...I'll keep that in mind," Tommy said, stepping nervously away from her. "Anyway, a lot of Power Rangers don't have a lick of martial arts skills when they first start out. The suit comes with more than just weapons and protection, it...it gives you abilities, instincts." He shrugged. "I can't explain how or why, it just does. I mean, if you already know how to fight, obviously you're a better Power Ranger right out of the gate, but..." He looked around. "If you girls don't want to do it, I'm sure I can find somebody else, but I just feel like you're meant to do this."

The Shadowbolts looked at each other.

"C'mon, girls," Indigo said. "Remember how helpless we all felt when that whackjob took our school hostage? Imagine if we'd been able to fight back instead of having to call for help!"

"I'm in if it means spending more time with Tommy," Lemon Zest said eagerly.

Sugarcoat adjusted her glasses. "It'd be nice to not have to sit by and hope I don't get killed," she said.

Sunny Flare sighed. "As long as my hair and clothes don't get too dirty, I suppose I can at least try it once. Just to prove Canterlot High School doesn't have the monopoly on teenage girls doing impossible things, mind."

Sour Sweet rolled her eyes. "Great! Perfect! Let's all be idiots and dress up in spandex together and get ourselves killed."

Tommy smiled. "Great!" he said, rubbing his hands together. He gestured for the girls to each take a Key Morpher from the briefcase; they stepped forward and did so, strapping them around their wrists. "Now, let's see...who belongs to which Ranger Key..." He picked up the red Ranger Key, which had diagonal white stripes across the torso, white gloves, and bird-like detailing on the helmet. He looked at Indigo Zap. "I can tell right away that you're the leader of your little group, so the power of the Red RPM Ranger is yours." He handed Indigo the Key; as she took it, red lightning coursed across her body, and her eyes lit up with bright flame.

"Sweet," Indigo said.

Next, Tommy turned to Sunny Flare. "You said you're a pretty good shot," he mused as he picked up the black Ranger Key; this one had a yellow sash across the chest with a jagged black line running through it. "The power of the Black Dino Charge Ranger should suit you." Sunny Flare hesitantly accepted the key; black lightning ran up her arms and down her body.

The next Ranger Key Tommy took from the case was green and had a black illustration of an elephant on the chest. "Gotta be honest," he said. "This is a Ranger team I've never worked with or even heard of, so I don't really know what powers this Key has, but..." He handed it to Sugarcoat. "Think you can handle the power of the Green Safari Ranger?"

Sugarcoat took the key; green lightning surged through her body, and a faint echoing sound of an elephant trumpeting filled the air.

Tommy looked at the remaining two keys, which were pink and yellow. He looked up at Lemon Zest and Sour Sweet, who were also pink and yellow. With a smirk, he handed Lemon Zest the yellow key and gave the pink one to Sour Sweet.

"Now you're just trolling us," Sugarcoat said.

"A little," Tommy admitted.

"Greeat," Sour Sweet said as pink lightning tingled across her body. Lemon Zest giggled as she was wreathed in yellow lightning. The sound of a bamboo deer spooker echoed in the stillness.

"So that's it?" Rainbow Dash asked. "Just...they're superheroes now? No explosions, no bolts of lightning from the sky, no ceremony, no meteorites, nothing? Just give them a little plastic doll and that's it?"

"Well...sort of," Tommy said. "They have the Power now. But it's what they do with it when the time comes—"

"WHERE. IS. THAT. LITTLE. GREEN. PUNK?!"

An SUV sailed through the air, crushing two of the picnic tables and spraying food and drinks everywhere. Only the quick actions of Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Miles, and Sunset prevented anyone from being hurt. Adrien and Marinette looked at one another, nodded, and transformed. X readied his X-Buster, his eyes flashing as he scanned for threats.

A massive dragon-turtle stomped into view, shaking the ground with every step. His bushy eyebrows drew down as he espied Tommy. "YOU!"

"The HELL?!" Rainbow shouted.

"Oh wonderful! It's back," Sour Sweet spat.

Tommy groaned. "I thought I already finished you off," he said.

"WELL YOU THOUGHT WRONG!" Bowser thundered. "I'VE GOT A SCORE TO SETTLE, AND IT'S HURTIN' TIME!"

"Not so fast!" Ladybug said, spinning her yo-yo as Chat Noir stood at her side, staff at the ready. "You're not setting one foot—" She was forced to leap away as searing flames swept across the courtyard, scattering the heroes and bystanders.

"GET OUTTA HERE OR GET BURNED," Bowser roared. "THIS IS BETWEEN ME AND THE SPIKY-HAIRED PUNK."

"No way!" Miles countered, shooting a string of webbing at Bowser's face. "Heroes don't back down from a fight!"

"No, he's right," Tommy said, squaring his jaw. "A Power Ranger started this..." He glanced over at the Shadowbolts. "...and now the Power Rangers are gonna finish this," he continued, flipping open his belt buckle and removing the White Ranger Key.

The Shadowbolts looked at one another uncertainly, then nodded.

"RANGER KEY, SET!" they all shouted as they inserted their Ranger Keys into their morphers.

Tommy smirked. "IT'S MORPHIN' TIME!"

A dizzying and incongruous array of visual effects surrounded the five girls and Tommy as they transformed. The various bystanders watched in interest as their new forms were revealed:

Indigo Zap now wore a solid red Ranger suit with black, tire-shaped cuffs at the tops of her red boots and white gloves. A black belt encircled her waist, cinching the red minidress top that extended to mid-thigh. Silver-white "seat belts" formed a V-shape across her body, buckling at the center of her belt; between them, on her chest, was a stylized gold number one with a bird motif. Her red helmet sported a triangular black visor, above which sat a yellow 'beak' in between two eye-shaped headlights. Revving wheels adorned the sides of her helmet. A holstered blaster hung at her right hip. She made a series of poses, ending with a spinning kick and a forward slide, the tires on her costume spinning. "RPM Red Ranger, get in gear!"

Sunny Flare's Ranger costume was a shiny black sleeveless minidress, tights, and boots with dark grey body mesh covering her upper arms, white gloves, and an oversized belt buckle. Her black helmet sported a stylized dinosaur motif, with a gold frame around the solid black faceplate and visor combination; a recessed silver mouthplate with no features broke up the monotone of the lower half of the faceplate. A diagonal sash crossed her torso: framed in silver bands, it resembled closed golden 'teeth', with the upper rightmost tooth emblazoned with a black dinosaur head emblem; a spiked silver shoulderguard covered her left shoulder. "Parasaur!" Sunny Flare called as she posed, ending with her right arm stretched behind and over her head. "Power Ranger Black!"

A glowing green holographic cube spun around Sugarcoat as her bright green Ranger suit formed. Like the others, it consisted of spandex tights and a minidress; her white boots and gloves had jagged black cuffs. Above a silver belt with a relief of numerous wild animals on the buckle, an illustration of an elephant's head took up most of the front of her suit. Her bright green helmet's black visor was bisected by a green plastic elephant trunk. She planted her feet in a wide stance, shaking the ground. "Power of the forest! Green Safari Ranger!"

Lemon Zest's costume consisted of black leggings, a shimmery yellow wraparound tunic with black trim, and matching yellow boots. She had white gloves and a gold belt; a sword hung at her left hip. A crest adorned the left breast of her tunic, and her yellow helmet's black visor took the shape of a highly stylized kanji. She drew her sword, holding it out to her side. "Yellow Samurai Ranger, ready!"

Sour Sweet's costume consisted of pink spandex tights and a minidress, pink boots with wide silver cuffs, and pink gloves with silver bracers covering her forearms. A black belt with a triangular buckle encircled her waist. The chest of her costume had a broad white area which surrounded an elongated heart-shaped pink emblem. Unlike the others, the entire front of helmet was black except for the chin guard and faceplate, which was silver and had a sculpted mouth and chin. The opaque pink visor had the same elongated heart shape as the emblem on her chest, and a pink stripe ran along the entire crest of the helmet, framed by a white border. She went through a series of arm poses as sarcastically as she possibly could. "Time Force Pink! Because everybody else is being lame, so why not me too?"

Tommy shook his head in amusement, then drew Saba and hoisted the blade over his shoulder. "White Tiger Ranger!" He looked around at his new team. "Let's bring it together!"

The girls paused, looking at each other and scratching their heads. "Uhh...bring what together?" Sugarcoat pointed out. "There's not even a theme to work with here."

"Yeah, we're kinda all over the place," Indigo Zap pointed out. "I mean, I've got this whole race car bird thing goin' on, Sugarcoat's an elephant, Lemon Zest is a samurai..."

"I get it, I get it," Tommy said in exasperation. "Look, they're the only Ranger Keys I've got, alright? But something unites you all, right?"

The new Rangers looked at each other. "Well...we're all Shadowbolts," Sunny Flare said uncertainly.

Lemon Zest perked up. "That's it!" She struck a series of poses, ending with her sword pointing straight forward and her knees bent low. "POWER RANGERS SHADOW FORCE!"

The others shrugged, then joined her pose. Even Sour Sweet joined in, although sluggishly and with much grumbling.

"POWER RANGERS...SHADOW FORCE!"

A massive fiery explosion erupted behind them, sending six colorful plumes of smoke shooting high into the air as sparks rained down around them.

"Whoa, hey, watch the property damage!" Sunset Shimmer cried in alarm. She blinked as the pyrotechnic blast died down and the smoke cleared, revealing absolutely no damage to the courtyard. "...huh?"

"Whoa, what was that all about?" Rainbow asked, blinking.

"I dunno, but Spidey would love that," Miles said, impressed.

Chat Noir whined pathetically. "Why don't we get cool color-coded explosions?" Ladybug rolled her eyes.

Bowser clapped sarcastically. "CUTE, KIDS. REAL CUTE. NOW...PLAYTIME'S OVER." With that, he ducked his head into his shell and tossed out a volley of giant black hammers, which he hurled at the Power Rangers with deadly speed and accuracy.

"STREET SABER!" Indigo yelled. A huge broadsword appeared in her hand; it had a massive red crossguard and a wide, double-edged blade with a black strip of 'road' down the center. She swung it clumsily, but with enough force to cleave two of the hammers headed her way with fiery explosions.

"CUBLASTER!" Sugarcoat declared, drawing a white gun grip with two cubes attached to the top: one blue, in front, the other red, in back. She fired several energy blasts at the incoming hammers, shattering several of them.

"SPIN SWORD!" Lemon Zest affixed a black disc to her sword and spun it; yellow energy arced up the blade. "EARTH SYMBOL STRIKE!" Using her blade, she drew the same kanji in the air that formed her visor; with a yell and a swing of her sword, the kanji flew forward, smashing through the onslaught of hammers and striking Bowser directly, knocking him over on his back and shaking the ground.

"Nice!" Sunny Flare pulled a massive yellow-and-black revolver out of seemingly nowhere and drew back the hammer; the barrel, which resembled a stylized mechanical dinosaur head, opened its "mouth". She flipped open her belt buckle and pulled out two translucent black cylinders, which she inserted into the slots in the barrel. She spun the cylinder, then took aim and fired several shots of jet black energy. The remaining hammers were destroyed, and Bowser roared as two shots struck him directly in the head.

Pinkie Pie tilted her head. "Where was she even keeping that?" she wondered. Her friends gave her incredulous looks.

"You need to move this battle away from the school and the portal!" Sunset shouted as the Rangers pressed their attack. Bowser had gotten to his feet with an angry roar and was spewing fire again.

"On it!" Tommy called, leaping toward Bowser. "Girls, grab hold! We're gonna flip this turtle!"

"RIGHT!" The Shadow Force Rangers surrounded Bowser, grappling him wherever they could get a secure hold. Bowser bellowed and swatted at them, but with a combined yell of effort and a tremendous leap, the Rangers vaulted high into the air, carrying Bowser with them, and launched themselves across the city.

Those remaining looked at each other.

Rainbow Dash took wing; Miles, Ladybug, and Chat Noir followed by their own means. Sunset facepalmed. "Idiots..."

"Aww, no fair!" Pinkie whined. "This was just getting good!"

* * * * *

"This looks like a good spot!" Tommy yelled as a half-demolished hospital passed beneath them. Dumpsters full of concrete filled the parking lot; except for an orange and grey garbage truck parked off in the far corner of the lot, there wasn't a single sign of life.

"Yeah, this hospital closed down six months ago," Indigo said. "Nobody'll care if we trash the place. GOING DOWN!"

The Rangers inverted Bowser and slammed him into the parking lot of the hospital, spraying broken asphalt in every direction and shaking the ground. Dust and plaster rained from the smashed hospital.

Bowser roared, throwing them all off as he jumped to his feet. "YOU BRATS ARE GONNA PAY FOR THAT!"

"Oh, CORK IT, you loud obnoxious turtle!" Sour Sweet yelled, producing a giant pink bazooka from out of nowhere. "VORTEX BLASTER!"

Indigo Zap took a giant step away from her. "Oh shit!" she cried as Sour Sweet cocked the bazooka and fired a massive pink bolt of energy at Bowser which blasted a spike off his shell and caused a tremendous shower of sparks to fly. Bowser roared in agony, jumped straight into the air, and landed on Sour Sweet, smashing her to the ground.

"HEY!" Lemon Zest yelled. "Get OFF her!" She charged in with her Spin Saber, slashing high; Tommy followed in behind her, striking low with Saba. Indigo Zest jumped in, delivering an overhead slash to Bowser's head. Sugarcoat switched the cubes around on her Cublaster, which transformed into a thin-bladed sword; running in from the side, she slashed at Bowser's shoulder. Bowser staggered; Sour Sweet rolled out from under him and pushed herself to her feet, growling.

"That HURT, you—" Letting loose a stream of furious swear words, Sour Sweet leapt high into the air, pink lightning trailing from her hands as a pair of swords shaped like clock hands appeared. She held them at three and twelve and froze in midair; a pink blade of pure energy cleaved Bowser down the middle, sending explosions rippling across his chest. Showers of sparks rained all over the battlefield as Bowser roared in agony and rage and Sour Sweet touched down, separating her swords and holding one in each hand.

"I HAVE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU LITTLE—"

"You're too loud!" Sugarcoat exclaimed, taking a wide stance with her hands held low at her sides. "BEAST POWER!" The eyes of the elephant on her costume glowed, and her boots transformed into massive elephant feet.

The others stopped and stared at her. "...the fuck?" Indigo wondered.

Sugarcoat charged forward, raised one foot, and stomped. The ground between her and Bowser cracked open, a fissure erupting with green energy forming. When the spreading fissure impacted Bowser, a massive explosion engulfed him, spraying him with stone, dirt, and energy. Sugarcoat then leapt high into the air and came down on Bowser, her feet growing impossibly large as she landed directly on top of him; with a comically loud *tokk!* sound, Bowser withdrew into his shell, wobbling around on the ground. Sugarcoat's feet returned to normal; she backflipped away, coming to rest next to her teammates.

"Wow!" Lemon Zest said. "What do you call that attack?" In a sly tone, she suggested, "Sugar Crush?" The other girls groaned.

"Good job, girls! Let's finish him off!" Tommy suggested. Even as Bowser began to emerge from his shell, the Shadow Force Rangers unloaded on him with every manner of energy blast at their disposal; by the time they ceased their barrage, arcs of electricity, plumes of black smoke, fires, and showers of sparks erupted from the badly singed, battered, bleeding Bowser. He growled once, then fell over; a tremendous explosion engulfed him.

The Rangers relaxed. "Did...did we do it?" Lemon Zest asked. "Is he dead?"

Tommy sighed in relief. "I think—"

"ZYUOHGER!"

Something stalked onto the battlefield, standing between the Rangers and the mortally wounded Bowser. She had a decidedly female form, but was clearly alien; much of her body was encased in form-fitting black leather, with odd amber areas on her thighs and chest sporting a honeycomb pattern. Green pods decorated her hips and shoulders, and a green, static mass that could be hair or an ornament topped her black, helmet-like head. Beneath her opaque black visor, a silver faceplate held an alluring yet secretive feminine mouth.

The woman-thing pulled a pair of linked cylinders from her belt and aiming them at Sugarcoat; energy blasts ripped from the ends, staggering Sugarcoat as sparks exploded from her chest.

"Dude, are those gunchucks?!" Lemon Zest exclaimed. "Sweet!"

"She just shot me and you're cheering for her," Sugarcoat wheezed. "Some friend you are."

"Sorry," Lemon said sheepishly. "You okay?"

The new enemy stalked toward Sugarcoat as she clutched her chest. "What have you done to Genis-sama?" she snarled, aiming her gunchucks for another assault.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Sugarcoat replied.

Tommy stepped protectively in front of Sugarcoat. "Look, we don't know who you are, but we have no quarrel with you. Leave in peace or—"

"You are humans," the woman interrupted. "That is reason enough for me to see you all slaughtered."

"Yeah? Well there's six of us and one of you, lady," Indigo pointed out, readying her Street Saber.

"You have a point," the alien woman said. "Fortunately, I don't have to fight you lower lifeforms myself." She stalked over to Bowser, who was still burning and sparking on the ground, and produced a scarred gold medal. "This energy was extracted from Genis-sama's cells. Please do not waste it." The strange creature kissed the medal she held in her hand, then shoved it into Bowser's maw.

"Be revitalized!"

And then, Bowser Koopa was a kaiju.

Comes a Ranger (Part III)

View Online

"Shit," Tommy muttered as he watched Bowser grow to giant size. The woman who had opened fire on Sugarcoat turned and walked away, covering her retreat with a barrage of gunfire.

"Get back here, you—!" Indigo Zap cried.

"Save it," Sunny Flare said. "We've got bigger problems."

"UWAAA HAAA HAAA HAAA HAAA!" Giga Bowser laughed. "WHO'S TOUGH NOW, POWER PUNKS?"

The Shadow Force Rangers stared up at the giant Bowser. "I don't think we can fight a giant monster," Sugarcoat said.

"Well this is just wonderful!" Sour Sweet said. "Congratulations on getting us all killed, dino-doc!"

"This is not a problem," Tommy said, pointing his saber at the sky. "WHITE TIGER ZORD!"

A long moment of silence passed.

Nothing happened.

"This is a problem," Tommy said.

"Was that...was that supposed to do something?" Indigo asked.

"Yeah, it was supposed to call my Zord," Tommy said. "I guess the Zords can't enter this dimension. That or...or something else is blocking their power." He put his gloved hand to his chin, tilting his head down. "Maybe it's because we're using Ranger Keys instead of the original Power source..."

"What the heck is a Zord?" Lemon asked.

Before Tommy could answer, someone else spoke up.

"Whoa, there are other Rangers?"

"Shinjirarenai..."

"I do not have any intel on these Rangers."

"News to me too. More importantly, there's kind of a giant dragon turtle monster rampaging over there."

"Hey, you guys need a hand?"

Five new Power Rangers had appeared.

The Red Ranger wore a sleeveless body-hugging red minidress over full-body gold tights, elbow-length red gloves, and knee-high red boots; her gloves and boots sported wide black bands at the cuffs. A white belt with an ornate gold cross buckle hung low on her waist; a holster with a sidearm was positioned at her right hip. Her red helmet's black visor was shaped like the broad wings of a predatory bird. A single broad gold band circled the helmet above the visor; beneath the visor, the golden plastic faceplate bore a grimly smiling mouth. To her right stood a shorter girl, outfitted in pink over silver tights, a bright silver heart-shaped buckle adorning her belt. The visor of her helmet, while still evocative of a bird, was more gently rounded in shape, with five thin silver bands above and a silver faceplate beneath.

The remaining three new arrivals were all male; unlike the girls, their outfits were solid one-piece bodysuits, stretching from neck to foot, with the same matching boots and gloves. The blue Ranger had a chevron-shaped belt buckle and two wide silver bands circling his helmet above a visor reminiscent of a shark's gaping maw. The yellow Ranger's belt buckle was a four-pointed star; his visor was shaped like the head of an ox, and his helmet sported three bands. The final Ranger wore green, with a diamond-shaped belt buckle, four silver bands on his helmet, and a visor faintly evocative of a rhinoceros.

Tommy took off his helmet and breathed a sigh of relief. "Hey, yeah, we really do," he said. He frowned. "Sorry, I...I don't recognize you guys. I thought I knew all the Ranger teams..."

The new arrivals looked at each other. "ALL the Ranger teams?" the green Ranger asked.

"I thought we were the only ones..." Blue said uncertainly.

"Looks like we're not. Also, what's up with your exosuits? They're like, all over the place," Yellow wondered.

"Long story," Tommy said. "So...who are you guys?"

The newly arrived Red Ranger looked at her companions. "Introduction time?" she suggested.

"HAI!" the Pink Ranger cheered enthusiastically. The male Rangers shook their heads and chuckled.

"Greeeat, more weirdoes," Sour Sweet muttered.

"Make it fast, team!" Red said as she began posing, extending her arms to her sides, then crossing them perpendicularly in front of her chest before pointing with her right hand while raising her left arm at a 45-degree angle. "The blazing defender of the human race! PowerRed!"

Blue drew his lower right leg back at an angle perpendicular to his left, extended both arms straight to his sides, then spun in place, gracefully dropping into a tiger stance. "The surging tide that washes away evil! PowerBlue!"

Yellow planted both feet in a wide stance, twisting his body so that his right side faced forward. He raised his left hand slowly to the sky as though grasping at the sun, and pointed at Tommy with the first two fingers of his right hand. "The wrath of God that splits the heavens! PowerYellow!"

Green crouched low, left leg extended straight to his side, arms crossed in front of his chest. He lowered his head like a charging animal, raising both arms above his head at forty-five degree angles and making claws with his fingers. "The messenger of the green Earth's pain! PowerGreen!"

Pink extended both arms above her head, dropping low to crouch on her toes, with her knees pointed sideways from her body; she brought her arms down and inward, touching the crown of her helmet with her fingertips, forming the shape of a heart with her body. "The gentle wind that restores the springtime of the Earth! PowerPink!"

Striking a group pose, they shouted in unison:

"Chosen by fate to defend all mankind! UNMEI SENTAI...POWER RANGERS!"

As the colorful smoke explosion that met their team name erupted into the sky, Tommy strode forward. "So, uhh..." He pointed up at Giga Bowser. "Can you guys do something about this? Our Zords are kinda...not responding."

"Leave it to us," PowerRed said. "Rangers, MechAnimals!"

The Rangers pressed a sequence of control studs on their Morphers. "MECHANIMALS!" they yelled, thrusting gloved hands to the sky.

A gleaming red and gold plane which resembled a giant robot condor soared out of the clouds, letting out a piercing battle cry as it opened fire with searing white lasers; its shots exploded against Giga Bowser's shell, staggering him. Behind it, a bubblegum pink helicopter with a dove motif flew into view, staying carefully in the condor-jet's shadow.

The ground rumbled as a giant green rhinoceros-shaped robot rolled into view on massive tank treads, dragging a blue shark-shaped submarine behind it. The submarine fired surface-to-air torpedos at Giga Bowser, adding to the damage the plane's lasers were doing. Just behind the rhino, a giant yellow mechanical bull appeared, lowing thunderously as arcs of electricity snapped from its horns against Bowser's shell.

The Shadow Force Rangers stared in shock. "What...?" Indigo said.

Tommy grinned. "Man...seeing new Zords for the first time..." He chuckled and shook his head. "Always gets me right here," he said, thumping his chest with a fist.

The Power Rangers jumped into the air and landed in the cockpits of their mecha. "Initiating Mega Fusion sequence!" Red called, slamming a fist on the flashing red button on her control console.

"Mega Fusion sequence!" the other Rangers echoed, hitting the similar flashing buttons in their own vehicles.

//Mega Fusion sequence has been initiated!// a computerized voice announced in all five MechAnimals.

DiaRhino stopped moving, its tread-footed front legs folding against its body and locking into place. The hind legs extended, serving as pneumatic jack lifts to raise the mech's body into a standing position. Its head did not rise with the rest of the body; rather, it remained flat on the ground, the neck extending and pivoting. The hind section of the mech separated; the rear legs straightened out and locked into concealed joints in the main body. The body then separated down the middle; the separated hind section now sat at the top of a massive pair of green and silver legs with a split rhinoceros head for feet.

StarTaurus leapt into the air, snorting steam from its massive snout. Its legs withdrew into its body, which repositioned itself to face downward. It turned so that the bull's back faced the front of the leg section formed by DiaRhino; StarTaurus' bull head rotated and pivoted, receding into a cavity in the body. The horns swung backwards, wrapping around the lower body and locking into place. It lowered itself into position over the transformed DiaRhino, locking into place with a booming clank, the receded bull head covering the upper portion of the leg section.

ChevronShark's tail separated down the middle, swinging forward and locking itself in place against the vehicle's sides. The body separated just behind the dorsal fin, extending to reveal a massive hinge joint. The nose and jaw unlocked and slid backwards, locking against the forward torso and revealing a large silver metal fist, which slid forward from its hidden compartment until it was fully visible from wrist to fingers. The shark mech attached itself to a newly-revealed joint on StarTaurus, forming a mighty right arm.

HeartDove's tail section pivoted perpendicular to its body. A large hidden section concealed in the copter's body swung down and forward, with the skids swinging out to the sides and sliding forward. A large fist, the counterpart to the other, emerged from this section; the pivoted tail locked into the left shoulder joint of StarTaurus; the entire assembly pivoted, rotated, and adjusted itself so that the cockpit formed a shoulderguard, with the rotors on the outside of the arm.

CrossCondor rose high into the sky, its tail and legs folding and locking into its undercarriage. The bird's head swung down, facing the rear, and separated into two sections; a silver robot head emerged from the fuselage, which the split bird head folded around to form a helmet. The bird mech lowered itself onto the assembly formed by the others, the wings sliding down to form a broad red chestplate. Massive bursts of steam blasted from the joints as the combined form completely settled; the mech's yellow eyes glowed brightly above a silver faceplate.

//Mega Fusion sequence completed!// the synthetic voice announced as the Rangers assembled in a single, combined cockpit.

"COMPLETE! POWERMEGA!" the Rangers chorused.

The Shadow Force Rangers stared up at PowerMega. "Holy shit," Indigo breathed.

"That...is actually pretty sweet," Sour Sweet said, her tone lacking any of its usual bipolar inflections.

"Hells yeah!" Lemon Zest cheered. "When do we get one?"

"I don't think we do," Sugarcoat said. "It looks like those robots were all made to combine. If we're all from different teams, any robots we had wouldn't be compatible." She turned to Tommy. "Would they?"

"Not usually," Tommy admitted. "Moot point, since none of you can access your Zords." He frowned. "If I could figure out how to at least summon mine, it'd be a start. My DragonZord and White Tiger Zord have their own Megazord modes, they don't need to combine with other Zords..."

"Well, for now, we should just sit back and enjoy the show," Indigo said. "This is gonna rock."

"It's not a very elegant design though, is it?" Sunny Flare asked, tilting her head. "I mean, clashing colors, a mishmash of animals jumbled together to make a giant robot with no symmetry whatsoever..."

"Well I think it looks freaking awesome!" Rainbow Dash cried as she landed next to the Shadow Force Rangers. A moment later, Miles, Ladybug, and Chat Noir arrived.

"Wow, just in time for the grand finale!" Chat Noir said. "But who's driving it?"

"Some new guys," Lemon Zest said. "No fair, that should be us up there."

"We'd better get clear," Tommy said. "You don't wanna be too close to one of these fights without protection."

As the group moved to safer cover...

"WHAT'S THIS?" Giga Bowser roared. "A GIANT TOY FOR ME TO BREAK?" He tucked himself into his shell and began spinning; he launched himself at PowerMega.

"Brace for impact!" PowerRed ordered. PowerMega planted its feet and extended its arms, trying to catch Bowser; as he slammed into the robot, the ground shook violently and sparks flew. Explosions and smoke rippled across the robot's torso.

The Power Rangers steadied themselves and pushed a series of levers forward; PowerMega's eyes flashed as it grabbed hold of Bowser and stopped his spin, then raised one massive leg to kick him into the air. The shark arm pointed up, and several torpedos fired out, catching Bowser in the weaker armor of his underside.

Bowser emerged from his shell and landed on his feet, causing an earthquake. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled flames which swept across the landscape, setting the abandoned hospital and some of its surroundings on fire.

"ABUNAI!" PowerPink cried. She frantically pressed a series of buttons and grabbed a control stick in front of her; the left arm of the mecha detached, partially transforming back into a helicopter which flew high into the air and flipped upside-down, creating a wide, glowing pink tornado which swept across the battlefield, extinguishing all the flames.

"Nice, Hatoko!" PowerYellow said. "But be careful, there could be people around here!"

"We need to finish this up," PowerBlue said, looking at the others. They nodded at each other and flipped open five covered controls on their console.

"MEGA SABER!"

They pressed the controls.

With explosive bursts of steam, panels popped off of each MechAnimal forming PowerMega, flying around in midair and rearranging themselves into a giant broadsword with a single-edged segmented blade, each section a different color. PowerMega gripped the Mega Saber in its right fist.

"ANOTHER SWORD? I'M SICK OF SWORDS!" Giga Bowser roared, ducking his head into his shell. Giant hammers rained down on PowerMega and the surrounding environs, leaving massive craters and going a long way towards finishing the work of destroying the abandoned hospital. PowerMega shuddered and sparked as it endured the hail of hammers.

"NOW!" PowerRed yelled. "MEGA SLASH!"

"THREE! TWO! ONE! MEGA SLASH!" the others chorused. PowerMega rocketed towards Giga Bowser, each segment of its sword glowing brightly.

With the first slash, intense wind pressure tore into Giga Bowser.

With the second slash, the earth beneath Giga Bowser erupted upward, slamming giant boulders into him.

With the third slash, yellow lightning surrounded the sword and flowed into Giga Bowser, snapping up and down his body.

With the fourth slash, a torrential waterspout exploded from deep underground, knocking Giga Bowser high into the air.

PowerMega jumped up to meet him, burning red flames gathering around the Mega Saber.

The final slash engulfed Giga Bowser in searing flames as it bisected him. Shafts of energy erupted from the cracks and dents in his shell as he bellowed his pain and rage.

"CURSE YOU, POWER PUNKS!" Giga Bowser roared...

And then he exploded violently, filling the sky with fire and smoke.

PowerMega landed, shaking the ground, steam hissing from its various joints as it relaxed its stance and lowered its sword.

"Mission complete!" the Power Rangers said in unison in the cockpit, folding their arms.

* * * * *

On the ground, at a safe distance, the Shadow Force Rangers, Rainbow Dash, Ladybug, and Chat Noir watched. The Shadowbolts had removed their helmets.

Rainbow's jaw dropped. "That. Was. AWESOME!"

"Hell yeah it was!" Indigo Zap echoed.

"Just like Ultimate Mecha Strike III, right Bugaboo?" Chat Noir said with a grin.

"Yeah, I think I'll stick to video games," Ladybug said. "That could've killed a lot of people."

They watched as PowerMega broke apart into the five component mecha, which...just sort of parked around the mostly-destroyed hospital. The Power Rangers climbed out of their mecha and walked out into the parking lot; the group ran out to join them.

"Good work up there, guys," Tommy said. "Wish we could've backed you up."

PowerRed removed her helmet and shook out her medium-length honey brown hair. She was Hispanic, with a pretty face and sharp grey eyes. "It's okay," she said. "We've gotten used to this sort of thing by now." She frowned as she looked at the Shadowbolts. "Uhh..."

"Never see blue people before. Or pink people. Or..." PowerPink took off her helmet, revealing herself to be a teenage Japanese girl with dark hair and brown eyes. "What going on here?" she asked haltingly.

The rest of the Power Rangers removed their helmets, revealing themselves to be a young black man with yellow-frosted hair, a freckled ginger with wild red hair and a scrubby beard, and a handsome Spaniard with wavy shoulder-length black hair and bright green eyes. "Something tells me we have bigger problems than being out of contact with UNMEI," PowerBlue said.

Tommy sighed. "Yeah," he said. "It's a long story, there's a lot to fill you in on, but basically you're in another dimension. And for now, there's no way back to where you came from."

PowerRed frowned. "That's not gonna work for us," she said. "Every second we're away from Earth, more and more lives are at stake."

Tommy shrugged helplessly. "The locals are working on the problem, but it's gonna take some time. They're saying two or three weeks."

The Power Rangers looked at each other uncertainly. "Well this sucks," PowerYellow said, running a hand through his frosted hair. "Nevermind what's happening back home, our MechAnimals took a lot of damage in that fight. We can't fix them ourselves, and then there's refueling..."

"One thing at a time," PowerRed said, holding up a hand to silence him. "We need to rest and refuel ourselves before we can worry about our MechAnimals. We also need to know exactly what's going on here." She looked at Tommy and the Shadowbolts. "Starting with how there can possibly be other Power Rangers."

Tommy scratched his chin. "Actually," he said, "there are a lot of Power Rangers. I dunno, where you come from, you may be the first? But trust me, the Power Rangers have been around forever." He extended a hand. "Tommy Oliver. World's oldest Power Ranger."

PowerRed took the offered hand and shook it firmly. "Lamia Cruz," she said.

"Esteban Castille," PowerBlue introduced himself.

"Forrest Pine," PowerGreen said, grinning.

"Jack Franklin," PowerYellow said with a nod.

"Hatoko Momokaze," PowerPink said timidly, her eyes never straying far from Rainbow Dash and her wings.

Tommy looked around. "We should get out of here," he said. "We've got a lot to talk about..."

The Shadowbolts and Power Rangers unmorphed; Ladybug and Chat Noir transformed back into Marinette and Adrien. While Miles webswung back toward Canterlot High, Rainbow Dash flying behind him, the rest of the group hiked to a bus stop two blocks away, leaving the MechAnimals at the destroyed hospital.

Ten minutes later, in the silent and lifeless parking lot, the lone garbage truck parked in the corner rumbled to life, driving over to CrossCondor. "Man, you guys were so cool up there!" a high, gregarious voice said. "You got pretty banged up though, do you need a hand? A foot? A bandage? Some Energon?" The garbage truck transformed into an orange and grey robot with a square orange head with a pale grey-white face sporting an absurdly long jaw and a black stripe which bisected its chin like a beard. Blue eyes ringed in black glowed from beneath an orange brow. "I'm Wreck-Gar! Don't worry, I'm a friend! At least I think I am." He frowned, then tapped CrossCondor on the beak. "Hello? Are you awake? Hmm...is your voice box broken, or are you just ignoring me?" Wreck-Gar sat down, pulling an impossible pile of junk out of his backpack, everything from a boat anchor to an accordion to a moldy old cheese sandwich covered in flies. "I know I've got something here that'll get you guys talking..."

* * * * *

Two young women walked cautiously through the forest. One looked around in awe and wonder. The other looked around cautiously, a stern frown on her face.

"This forest is wonderous!" said the first.

"This forest is wrong," corrected the other. "Can you not feel it?"

The first looked at her. "Uh-uh," she said. She put on a slight pout. "You're making that face again."

"What face?"

"You know, that face. That 'I'm gonna shut everyone out' face."

The latter sighed. "I'm not shutting anybody out," she said. "I just...I have a bad feeling about..."

She trailed off as a man passed through the brush ahead of them. The two women looked at one another, picked up their trailing skirts, and followed as quietly as they could.

The man came to a stop at the center of a grove of trees covered in mossy vines. Fruits with dark, tough skins and pearly peach-like meats hung in clusters. The man stood, transfixed, and plucked one of the fruits. He greedily ate it...

The wonder of the first woman turned to horror as the man transformed into a terrible beast. She let out a shriek which drew the monster's attention.

The second woman frowned. "I understand now," she said. "This forest is evil."

"Uhh...no argument there," the first woman whimpered, hiding behind her. "More importantly I think we should run!"

The second woman clenched her fists at her side as the monster lumbered toward them. "No," she said. "I won't have it."

She raised one hand and pointed it at the monster. Swirls of icy mist filled the air. Frost trailed across the ground between the two women and the monster, spreading fractal patterns across the grass; massive shards of ice erupted from beneath the monster, spearing and trapping it. Its angry bellows faded as thick, crusty, shimmery ice and frost encased its body.

But the woman wasn't done yet.

"I won't have ANY OF IT!"

She stamped her foot.

A thick layer of frost crept across the ground, and the sky above turned dark, swirling with snow flurries. Ice and frost rapidly spread from the two women, creeping up vines and trees, weighing them down with the wrath of winter and killing them. Within minutes, the forest in every direction was frozen and lifeless.

The woman nodded firmly, then turned, her shimmery ice-blue dress swishing about her legs as her long platinum braid whipped about behind her. "Come swiftly, Anna," Queen Elsa said briskly. "We must leave this wicked forest at once."

Anna rubbed her arms for warmth. "Warn me the next time you're gonna do that," she complained as she followed behind her sister.

Comes a Tiger

View Online

Oh, hey! Sorry, almost didn't see you there. Been having too much fun running around killing these weird freaky maggot monsters, you know? Man, this is WAY more fun than the shit I usually deal with! Even though they don't cut so easily. But that just makes it more fun when I make these fuckers bleed, am I right?

So yeah, anyway. I'm...not actually supposed to be in this story, I guess? And that's cool I guess. That's cool. I mean sure it's A WHOLE LOT OF FUN HERE, but, you know, whatever. Guy behind the keyboard doesn't want me here, I can dig it. I can dig it.

Which totally SUCKS by the way, because it's not even just about the killing, have you seen these candy colored horse girls? Man! I want some of that. Especially that pink chick, I bet we could paint the town red and fuck each other raw AT THE SAME TIME, but this whole place is like, one step above Disney, so maybe she's not so into that UNLESS...

...yeesh, no, sorry, bad thought. That Cupcakes shit is too messed up even for ME. Uhh...where was I? Oh yeah, horse girl pussy. And speaking of, that Sunset Shimmer...UNFF...11/10 would hit. But then again, I hear she's into like, massive horse cock, and, welllllll...teeeeeeeeeeeeeny inadequacy issues there, maybe.

But yeah, man, I love crossovers. Holy shit, is this ever the crossover to end all crossovers, I mean, I thought being in those Capcom games was, but MAN, this place! I mean you've got your Hasbro and your Disney and your FUCKING POWER RANGERS and Pokemon and DBZ and MEGA MAN and, I mean really, it's just...oh wow, you wouldn't believe the stuff you haven't even seen yet, it's just incredible! But I guess I'm not supposed to talk about that stuff LIKE THAT COULD EVER STOP ME!! Because I'm—

Wait, is that a masked wrestler over there? Oh, sweet! Love me some lucha! Yeah, think I'm gonna grab some nachos, sit on the sidelines, enjoy the show, then pop on out of here and head back to my own universe.

Oh, don't give me that "you're stuck here because of Discord's left nut" crap. You think a little thing like that is gonna keep me from going wherever the fuck I want?

I'm Deadpool, son.

...What, did you think I was Mexican Santa Claus because of that fucking Feliz Navidad song? Nah, I've just had it stuck in my head for like, the last six weeks.

Laters!


It had been thirty minutes since their plane landed. Sweetie Belle, her parents, and Hotaru fidgeted restlessly, as did the other passengers.

"When are they gonna let us off this plane?"

"What's the holdup?"

Variations of the same question rippled throughout the cabin.

A flight attendant scrambled into the front of the cabin and grabbed the public address microphone. She took a moment to collect herself, then said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the inconvenience, but there is a situation on the tarmac and—"

An earthshaking roar from outside the plane interrupted her. Even muffled though it was by the plane's hull, it startled the passengers with its ferocity.

The attendant coughed. "Our flight landed before we received the advisory, so we've been forced to taxi away from the terminal at this time. Other flights were diverted away. I'm afraid we won't be able to approach the gate for disembarking until the emergency situation can be—"

Something hit the plane with a solid *THUNK*. Several passengers screamed.

Sweetie Belle and Hotaru scrambled to look out the plane's small windows. What they saw outside made Hotaru gasp and Sweetie Belle shriek in fright.

An enormous, muscular beast was prowling the tarmac. It looked like a humanoid tiger with red and black fur; its arms, legs, and tail were striped, while most of its torso had solid black fur with darker black markings along its rippling abs. The black fur on its otherwise red head was arranged in such a way that it almost resembled a mask or cowl; its red eyebrows joined a red stripe down the center of its head to form a vaguely anchor-shaped crest. A wide orange belt sculpted to look like dancing flames circled its waist. Each of its massive paws boasted thick, sharp claws. Its green-on-yellow eyes burned with feral intensity above a maw full of wicked fangs.

"Not another monster!" Sweetie Belle whimpered.

Hotaru frowned. "This one feels...different somehow," she said. "I'm getting a different sense from—"

The tiger monster let out a roar to the heavens, and a broad spray of flames erupted from its belt. The half dozen or so airport security officers who had been approaching it hastily backed away, guns drawn and trained.

"I should get out there," Hotaru said firmly. "I could—"

And then a yellow blur came out of nowhere and slammed into the monster.

* * * * *

Incineroar picked itself up with a grunt, clutching its spinning head, and turned around to roar a challenge at whatever had dared to attack it.

"TaigaaZaDaaku!"

A powerfully-built man stood nearby, chest heaving as he planted his booted feet in a wide, strong stance. He wore dark blue tights, black boots, and white wristbands. His upper body was entirely bare, displaying heavy, sculpted muscles and a thick, corded neck. His face was covered by a mask fashioned to look like a fierce Bengal tiger.

"Shikkarishiro, TaigaaZaDaaku!" Tiger Mask shouted.

Incineroar snarled at him. "Roar, CIN! CINEROAR!"

Tiger Mask took a step back, eyes wide. "You...you're not Tiger The Dark...!" He shook his head. "You're not...you're not human, are you?"

"ROOOOOOOAR!" Incineroar charged, outstretched claws glowing black; Tiger Mask ate asphalt as Incineroar slammed into him with the most devastating lariat he'd ever taken. Incineroar's clawed foot slammed into his back once, twice, a third time...

Tiger Mask rolled over before the foot could come down again, launching himself upward in an impossible vertical double heel press that slammed into Incineroar's jaw, staggering it. Seizing the opening, Tiger Mask got to his feet, grabbed Incineroar's face, and headbutted it viciously, then drove it back with a mighty kick to the chest.

"Cin..." Incineroar growled, clutching its chest. It glowered furiously at Tiger Mask, its tail lashing. "Cin cine ROAR cin CINEROAR!" It charged forward; man and beast grappled, arms locked in a power struggle, eyes locked in a battle for mental dominance.

Tiger Mask felt the heat building, but had no time to react; flames shot from Incineroar's belt, catching him in the abdomen and staggering him. He let out a strangled scream of pain as he patted down his singed, smoking abs. He glared at Incineroar with the fury of a jungle beast.

"For opponents who resort to dirty tricks, I show neither forgiveness nor mercy!" With that, he charged forward, launching into a rising knee which was met and countered by another Darkest Lariat. Grunting with the effort, Tiger Mask took the attack to his shins but grabbed hold of Incineroar's arm and flipped forward, jerking Incineroar off its feet and throwing it to the ground. Dashing over to a nearby stair truck, Tiger Mask climbed to the top of it and launched himself at Incineroar, which was just starting to rise to its knees. Incineroar had only a moment to look up with wide eyes at Tiger Mask slammed into it with a devastating moonsault. Incineroar grunted as it was slammed back to the tarmac; Tiger Mask locked the beast into an arm bar and pressed one knee into its spine. "Yield!" he yelled.

"ROAR!" Incineroar grunted. Flames burst from beneath it, flinging both fighters into the air. Incineroar used the surprise and momentum to break the arm bar and grab Tiger Mask by the shoulders; it savagely bit the wrestler's masked face, then flipped him upside down and piledrived him into the asphalt. Blood splattered on the tarmac as Tiger Mask cried out in pain, but he braced himself and planted his hands, using all the strength of his massive arms and powerful thighs to grab Incineroar in a scissor hold and reverse-suplex it to the ground. He then collapsed next to the beast, groaning and holding his head.

"B-both of you! Stay on the ground!" Tiger Mask looked up, his blurred vision swimming; as his vision cleared, he saw a half dozen uniformed security officers standing around him, guns drawn but shaking. "J-just...stay down, you're under arrest!"

"This match...isn't over yet," Tiger Mask grunted, rising to his knees and ignoring the chorus of clicks. Beside him, Incineroar jumped up, tail swinging furiously, and snarled a warning at the guards. As they tensed to fire, Incineroar charged, arms glowing black as it struck all the guards in one fell swoop, sending their guns clattering to the ground.

Tiger Mask seized Incineroar by the tail and swung it like a hammer, sending it sailing into the stair truck; Incineroar snarled in pain as it crashed skull-first into the hard metal steps. Incineroar staggered away, clutching its head, and glared hatefully at Tiger Mask, who staggered forward, bleeding freely from a head wound. They stalked toward each other, wary and cautious; with the distance between them less than five feet, they charged and locked up again, nose to nose, teeth bared; their muscles rippled and bulged as they struggled with everything they had left for dominance.

"Well, isn't this interesting."

The tarmac shook.

Both warriors looked to a massive form that had just appeared. "N-nani kore?!" Tiger Mask whispered.

"Ciiiiiiin," Incineroar hissed.

Easily nine feet tall, the massive creature's muscles made the two wrestlers look like pipe cleaners. His tree-like legs ended in two-toed feet, while each of his four immense arms sported three-fingered hands with thick knuckles. His stern, imposing face was twisted into a superior sneer; his blood red eyes glittering with dark amusement. A long dark ponytail whipped about behind his otherwise bald head. He wore a broad studded leather belt, a blood red loincloth that draped between his thighs, spiked shinguards, and studded leather bracers on each of his four wrists.

In a deep, bass voice, he rumbled, "I am searching for a worthy challenger. Perhaps I will permit you the honor of painting this ground red with your blood."

Tiger Mask and Incineroar disengaged from one another, staring at the mountain of a creature. "Incin, roar, roar cin."

Tiger Mask looked from Goro to Incineroar. He clenched his jaw. He held out his hand to Incineroar. "Fight with me...brother."

Incineroar held his gaze for a long moment. Then, with a nod of respect, it clasped his hand firmly. "Roar."

Tiger Mask nodded, then turned to the new arrival. "I am Tiger Mask!"

Incineroar also faced the newcomer. "Incineroar!"

The newcomer nodded respectfully. "It is an honor to know the names of the next two opponents I will destroy. I am Goro, Prince of the Shokan, descended from dragons!"

Tiger Mask gave a grim chuckle. "A dragon...and we are tigers. Then this battle is destined."

"Indeed," Goro rumbled. "Then let the battle be joined." And with that, Goro launched himself high into the air and came down impossibly fast, like a meteor, right between the two Tigers, who leapt to evade his powerful leaping stomp. Tiger Mask grabbed Incineroar by the ankles and hurled it high like a missile; Incineroar charged dark power around its arms and landed a high corkscrew lariat which drove Goro back as he blocked with his left arms. With his right arms, he grabbed Incineroar and threw it to the ground, then stomped its head with a massive foot.

Tiger Mask bellowed a battle cry and launched himself at Goro, delivering a punishing double knee that he chained into a somersault and a double heel kick to Goro's unprotected chin. Goro stepped back, and Incineroar stood, bleeding from one eye; it bellowed an enraged challenge as its entire body burst into flames. "Incine...ROOOOOOOOOOOAR!" It tackled the staggering Goro to the ground, clawing and biting as the flames wreathing its body flashed out and engulfed Goro. After some struggling, Goro peeled the burning Incineroar off him and slammed it to the tarmac. Without giving Goro a chance to recover and heedless of the flames, Tiger Mask dropped an elbow on Goro's thick neck, then staggered to his feet and stomped hard on Goro's broad chest once, twice, and a third time.

Goro grabbed his ankle on the third stomp and slammed him headfirst to the tarmac, then stood up, the flames gradually guttering out. He watched his opponents warily, gesturing for them to attack. Tiger Mask and Incineroar stood, shaking and off-balance.

"Is that all you've got?" Goro rumbled. "Disappointing. Show me the true fighting spirit of a tiger!"

Sweat and blood streaming from under his mask, across which dark stains spread uncontrollably, Tiger Mask's gaze burned into Goro as his chest heaved. "I will show you a fighting spirit that even the Devil himself cannot destroy!"

Goro sneered. "I am the Devil."

Tiger Mask snorted. "You are a dress rehearsal for when I destroy the Devil with my own two hands."

He felt a paw on his shoulder. "Roar. Cineroar." Tiger Mask looked to his partner and nodded.

Incineroar climbed up onto Tiger Mask's shoulders, its body burning with a black flame aura that, incredibly, didn't burn Tiger Mask in the slightest—in fact, it felt warm and soothing, invigorating. With a roar, Incineroar launched itself from Tiger Mask's shoulders in a corkscrew four-fifty splash, body wreathed in black flames as it sailed toward Goro's throat. Sensing his partner's intentions, Tiger Mask charged in low, throwing all his weight and all his strength into the strongest kick to Goro's right knee he could manage.

Goro's knee buckled.

Incineroar broke through his guard and slammed into his throat.

Goro went down.

Looking at each other and nodding, Tiger Mask and Incineroar grabbed the stunned Goro by his arms, each seizing the two on a side, and hauled him over to the stair truck. Grunting and straining with the effort of lifting the massive monster, they repeatedly slammed the back of his skull into the hard metal stairs until his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell still.

The last of their strength used, Tiger Mask and Incineroar dropped Goro to the ground and slumped against the stair truck. They looked at each other, grunted, and shared a tired fist bump, then passed out to either side of their defeated opponent.

Comes a Cooldown

View Online

"What a wondrous village this is!"

Elsa and Anna walked slowly along a sidewalk. Anna gazed at their surroundings with wide-eyed wonder; Elsa frowned and walked with purpose, paying only cursory heed to the city around them.

"Elsa," Anna said reproachfully, "stop making that face."

"What face?" Elsa asked, eyes never straying from the path before them.

"That super-serious, 'this is nothing but a problem', 'I am the cold ice queen who can't take one minute to just enjoy life' face. The one I thought you were going to stop making."

Elsa sighed, then stopped and turned to face Anna. "Anna," she said calmly and patiently, "We are in danger. We passed through a cursed forest into an unknown land. Do you know the way back to Arendelle? Because I don't." She threw her hands out to encompass their surroundings. "Do you see any mountains or fjords here that you recognize? Because I don't!"

Anna frowned. "Okay, so we're lost," she admitted. "But being lost isn't so bad! It can be an adventure! Adventure is a good thing! It's fun!"

Elsa pinched the bridge of her nose. "Anna," she said softly, "if we're both missing, Arendelle is without its Queen and the entire rest of the royal family. The Chancellor can only keep my absence quiet for so long, and what then? If word of my disappearance spreads, Arendelle is in danger."

"What danger?" Anna scoffed.

"What danger?" Elsa echoed sarcastically. "Oh, let me think. How about every kingdom that's made threats against Arendelle since my magic became public knowledge! Anna, our forces can only do so much. Right now, the fact that I can cause an eternal winter if I'm in a bad enough mood is the only thing keeping a lot of very hostile, supercilious, short-sighted little men from launching fleets of ships into Arendelle to conquer us out of fear. If word gets out that the Snow Queen disappeared and can't freeze the fjords..." She left that thought hanging.

Anna sighed. "Okay, so we need to find a way back," she admitted. "But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the journey!" She gestured around her. "Look around! Have you ever seen anything like this?"

Elsa snorted, shaking her head as a small smile graced her face. "Alright," she said. "We'll have an adventure. But it needs to be a quick adventure."

"Yay! Oh! We need to do some shopping!"

"Do you have any money?"

"I do not!"

* * * * *

After exchanging contact information with the CHS gang, the ever-expanding group of Power Rangers returned to Crystal Prep, agreeing that keeping their forces spread out made more sense than gathering all the superheroes in one place. Shortly after that, the group at Canterlot High had been distracted by video footage from the airport, where a very bizarre wrestling match had broken out on the tarmac. Once the situation had resolved itself, Rarity received a call from Sweetie Belle; she borrowed Fluttershy and headed for the airport to collect her family.

In the aftermath, a tremendous lull of activity fell across the city.

"So...no Inves anywhere?" Miles asked.

"Doesn't look like it," Sunset said, checking her phone. "Looks like the city's pretty quiet right now."

"Good, I think we can use the rest," Adrien said, helping himself to a packet of tortilla chips from the ever-replenishing buffet. Beside him, Marinette studied a wrapped honey bun with a disdainful frown before setting it aside and grabbing some pita crisps and a can of juice.

"You don't like honey buns?" Pinkie asked.

"I don't like stale pastries that have been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long," Marinette answered as she opened her drink.

"Really?" Pinkie asked, checking the sell-by date on the bun. "It can't be that old..."

"Her dad's a baker," Adrien explained. "Owns a boulangerie-patisserie, one of the best in Paris." He glanced at Marinette with an understanding smile. "That's why, right?"

"Yeah," Marinette said. "When your house is full of fresh-baked breads and pastries every day, stuff like that is just..."

"Ahhh," Pinkie said, nodding in understanding and tossing the honey bun down the table. Rainbow Dash caught it and tore into it. "Yeah, I getcha." She gasped. "We'll totally have to get together and bake some cupcakes later!"

Marinette frowned. "Do we really have time to do something like that, though?"

"Yeah, Ah reckon y'all do," Applejack put in. "Shucks, given how crazy things've been lately? Ah reckon we could all use a little downtime."

"Makes sense to me," Kim said. "We can't stay on full alert all the time, we'll all go nuts. Besides, we can always drop what we're doing and rush to the scene if anything happens."

Sunset stretched. "I think I'll go check up on Flash," she announced. "I'm a little curious to know exactly what kind of mess he's gotten himself into this time." Under her breath, she muttered, "It'd better not be anything like that weekend with that crazy Siren..."

"Do you need me to go with you?" X asked.

"Nah," Sunset said. "Actually, it might be better if you stick around here. You don't really need rest like the rest of us, right?"

"That's true," X said. "I don't mind taking a break and relaxing, but I don't get fatigued the way humans do. Besides, reading is about the most relaxing thing I do when I'm off duty anyway."

Sunset nodded. "Then do you mind sort of being mission control, keeping things buttoned down here at base? Maybe give Sci-Twi a hand if she needs one?"

"As long as you don't mean that literally," X said with a wry smirk.

"A little downtime does sound good," Adrien said. He glanced at Marinette and blushed. "Besides, we...uh...we do still have some stuff to talk about."

"Oh...yeah...we do," Marinette said bashfully.

"Aww," Shego cooed half-sarcastically. "You two are so cute I wanna puke."

"Shego!" Kim snapped.

Pinkie seized each of the French teens by one arm and hauled them away from the table. "We'll go to my place!" she declared. "We'll get our bake on, we can share baking tips and secrets, and you two can be as adorkable and awkward as you want without anybody judging you!"

"Uhh...o-okay," Marinette stammered.

"Works for me," Adrien said with a grin.

"I think I'm gonna find somewhere to catch some rays," Shego said.

"That sounds nice," Tenten said. "I think I'll join you."

"Works for me," Shego said. "Whaddya say, Twin Peaks, wanna get your tan on?"

"Pass," Kim said with a sour frown at her latest nickname. "Sunbathing's so not my thing. I think I'd rather go with my usual relaxation activity."

Shego smirked. "The mall?"

Kim shrugged. "It's what I do."

"I could go for some mall time," Miles said. "If you're down with that."

"The more the merrier!" Kim said cheerfully.

"I might as well tag along too, seeing as there's nothing else cool goin' on," Rainbow Dash said.

"Shucks, reckon Ah'll go with y'all," Applejack said. "Need t' stretch mah legs anyhow."

"I'll join you then," Kouta said. "Just so Miles-kun doesn't feel outnumbered."

Miles snickered. "Thanks, bro."

"Sounds like just about everybody has a plan then," Sunset said. She glanced at Brook. "Brook? What about you?"

Brook leaned back, his hands folded behind his skull. "I'm just going to stay here and rest my bones." He paused. "Since all I am is bones."

"Riiiight," Sunset said into the silence that followed. "Well, I guess we're all doing our own thing today!" She smiled brightly. "Have a good time, everyone!"

* * * * *

Monica emerged from the bathroom, freshly scrubbed, hair still damp from the shower she'd taken after her morning workout in the hotel gym. "Where's Tron?" she asked.

Kooh, who was lounging on the bed watching television, shrugged. "She's at the garage fixing up her robots." The day after arriving in Canterlittle, Monica had found a run-down garage whose owner was looking to sell, and had bought it for Tron to store and repair Gustaff and the Servbots. It wasn't exactly a modern, hi-tech garage, but Tron seemed satisfied enough, and the price had been right (two gold bars from Monica's seemingly infinite supply).

"Still?" Monica asked. At that moment, the door opened, and Tron walked in, greasy, bleary-eyed, and rumpled.

"Got enough of the Servbots fixed up that they can finish the repairs to Gustaff," she said, cracking a huge yawn. "Gonna take a shower then crash."

"Aww, I was hoping you'd be up for going to the beach with us," Monica said.

Tron shot her a sideways glance. "I already told you, I'm not a fan of the beach."

"I know, I know, but you could use some fresh air and sunshine," Monica said with a wave of her hand. "Besides, you can sleep on the beach under the sun just as well as you can here. Wouldn't you like to get out for a bit?"

Tron frowned. "Well..." She shrugged. "I guess you have a point," she admitted.

"Ooh, I can't wait to show off my sexy new swimsuit!" Kooh said excitedly.

The other two girls stared at her.

"Uhh...what exactly do you think you have to show off?" Tron asked curiously, tilting her head.

Kooh stuck her tongue out at Tron. "You're one to talk," she said.

"Okay, girls, cut it out," Monica said with a sigh. "Tron, go get cleaned up. We'll head down to the beach as soon as we're all ready."

* * * * *

"This village goes on forever and ever!" Anna exclaimed, clasping her hands together. "I've never seen a village so huge!"

"I'm not entirely certain I'd call this place a 'village'," Elsa said.

Anna frowned. "A township, then?"

"I don't think that's quite right either," Elsa mused. "So much is...very strange here. Have you noticed the people we've seen?"

Anna tilted her head. "They do seem quite...colorful," she said thoughtfully. "Could we be in Africa? Or Asia?"

Elsa pinched the bridge of her nose. "Anna," she said tiredly, "people don't have blue or gray or purple skin anywhere. I'm beginning to believe we've wandered into the feylands, or..." She paused, eyes wide. "Or perhaps..." She shook her head. "No. I'm not going to think like that."

At that moment, a pale-skinned girl wearing the most bizarre outfit either royal had ever seen rounded the corner. Her hair was a shaggy blue mop, and she wore large purple glasses that obscured her eyes. A step behind her was a gray-skinned girl in a tasteful if plain dress, knee-high socks, and glossy black shoes. Her long dark hair was meticulous and neat. Elsa stepped into their path. "Excuse me," she said. "My sister and I are lost and require assistance."

"Certainly," the gray-skinned girl said, pulling a small, flat rectangle from her pocket. "Where exactly are you trying to go?"

"We need to get to Arendelle, but we don't know the way from here," Anna said.

"Arendelle," the girl repeated dubiously. "I'm afraid I don't know that place." She turned to her companion. "Do you?"

The pale girl shrugged and shook her head.

"Very well then," Elsa said primly. "If you could kindly direct us to your ruler's palace, or the nearest embassy receiving foreign dignitaries—"

The pale girl held up a hand to stop her, then turned to her companion, lowered her glasses, and rolled her eyes.

"Ah, yes, of course," the gray-skinned girl said. She looked Elsa and Anna up and down. "You haven't...been wandering the city all day, perchance? In those shoes? Dressed like that?"

"City! It's a city, Elsa!" Anna exclaimed brightly. She paused. "Wait. What's a city?"

"Nevermind that, Anna," Elsa said. "Yes, we have," she addressed the gray girl.

"You must be exhausted," the girl said. "I can't imagine your feet are very happy with you either."

"Now that you mention it," Elsa said with a grimace, looking down at her shoes.

The girl smiled consolingly. "Why don't you come with us," she said. "My house isn't terribly far from here. You can rest, I can offer you a change of clothes, something more comfortable to walk in. Maybe we can try to figure out where it is you need to go."

"We couldn't possibly impose," Elsa said.

"Yes we could!" Anna chimed in, nodding eagerly. "I didn't want to say anything but I am exhausted. Besides, we do need to know where we are, right?"

Elsa pursed her lips. "Very well," she said. "We will take you up on your generous offer, Miss—?"

"Octavia," the girl said. "And you may call my friend here Vinyl if you like."

"Miss Octavia, then," Elsa said. "I am Elsa, and this is my sister Anna. We are grateful for your kindness..."

* * * * *

When Fluttershy and Rarity arrived at the airport, it took them some time to find Rarity's family in the sea of people.

"RARITY!" Sweetie Belle called, running up to her and flinging herself at her sister.

"Good heavens, Sweetie Belle!" Rarity said as Sweetie Belle's hug knocked the breath out of her. "I'm ever so glad to see you safe and sound as well, but a little decorum and restraint, please!"

Sweetie Belle looked up at Rarity with tears in her eyes. "You have no idea what I've been through," she said. "I am never leaving Canterlot ever again."

"Oh, don't be silly, of course you will!" Rarity said. "Once, ahem..." She trailed off and looked at Hotaru, who was walking over with their parents. "And who's this, then?"

"Oh, this is my new friend Hotaru!" Sweetie Belle said.

Hotaru stepped forward and bowed politely. "Hello," she said. "Your sister saved my life. I'm mostly aware of what's going on in this world, and it seems as though this is the place I need to be if I want to get home."

"There's a lot of that going around," Rarity said. "So, you'll be staying with us for the time being, I take it?"

"If it's not an imposition."

"Of course it isn't!" Sweetie Belle said.

"Rarity?" Rarity's mother asked cautiously. "It...it is safe to go home right now, isn't it...?"

"For the moment, things seem rather calm," Rarity said. "The awful bug monsters seem to have stopped attacking, and the Shadowbolts and their new friend dealt with that horrid giant fire-breathing turtle that attacked..." She trailed off at their confused and horrified looks. "Well, it...it's a long story."

"Giant fire-breathing turtle?" Sweetie Belle cried. "How the heck did we miss that?"

"We probably hadn't started our descent yet," her father said. "Maybe the flight crew knew about it but didn't want to scare us."

"I'm sure you'll see plenty of video about it," Rarity said. "Come, let us head for the van...Fluttershy, would you be a dear and help with...yes..."

"Of course," Fluttershy said. She smiled gently at Hotaru. "It must be so terribly terrifying for you, a normal young girl getting caught up in all this scary monster business," she said in a reassuring tone.

"Normal, are you kidding me?" Sweetie Belle said with a laugh. "Hotaru killed the first monster that got loose in our hotel like it was nothing!"

"Sweetie Belle!" Hotaru hissed, face flushing. "I don't exactly want everybody knowing I'm...!" She sighed. "Nevermind, I guess it doesn't matter here..."

Rarity and Fluttershy blinked. "This girl...killed a monster?" Rarity asked. "But...but darling..." She looked Hotaru up and down. "No offense, but you look as though a faint breeze could carry you away, you're so thin and pale!"

Hotaru giggled. "I'm stronger than I look," she said simply. "But yes, I...I am rather delicate. I have a...tricky constitution."

"Let's talk about it more when we get home," Rarity's mother insisted. With that, the group collected their luggage and fought their way through the crowds to the parking lot and Fluttershy's waiting van.

"What I really want to talk about," Sweetie Belle said as they all buckled in and Fluttershy started the engine, "is this other Sunset Shimmer we ran into..."

* * * * *

In an upscale condo in Manehattan, a man in his early twenties sat in an expansive breakfast nook, sunlight from a large window flooding the space, offering ample light by which to read. Which, considering the dozen or so heavy books spread out across the table, almost all of them open, was a good thing.

Adjusting his small, round-rimmed glasses, he sipped his tea as his blue-green eyes danced across the pages of the nearest book. His amber brow furrowed in thought, and he reached for another book, flipping through its index before turning to the back and looking for something in the text.

The front door opened. He looked up. "Back already?"

"Short line at the bakery," the teenage girl who had just walked into the living room said. Her copper and gold hair shone in the brilliant sunlight. She favored him with a frown. "You're seriously still in your pajamas."

He looked down at himself and his star-spangled cobalt blue pajamas and blue slippers, then shrugged. "Why not? It's not like I'm going anywhere."

The girl dropped a waxpaper bag on the table next to a stack of books, then pointed a finger at the ceiling. "Grandma said this," she intoned.

He rolled his eyes. "Here it goes," he muttered.

"The path of God is only walked by those who are neatly groomed and properly dressed at all hours of the day," the girl continued.

"Grandma never said that ever, Sunset," the man said in a resigned tone.

Sunset Shimmer slammed her palms on the table. "Then I'm saying it, Sunburst," she said. "If all you're going to do is read all day, at least put some care into your appearance! Take a shower, put on some clothes, do something about that hair, trim that stupid goatee!" Shaking her head and muttering to herself, she stormed off to the upper floor of the condo.

Sunburst rolled his eyes and smiled. "Love you too, sis," he said as he dug into the bag and fished out a bear claw.

* * * * *

Pinkie Pie unlocked the front door of her house and led Adrien and Marinette inside. "I'm hooooome!" she called out. "And I have guests!"

She led them from the foyer into the living room, where her sister Maud sat across the coffee table from an anorexically thin girl with chalk-white skin, red eyes, and short, pale blue-white hair.

"Rock. You are a rock. Grey. You are grey. Hard and round, in the ground, like a rock. Which you are. Rock."

"empty apartment. one day follows another. i am not a doll."

"Wow. That's deep."

"Hi Maud! Who's your friend?" Pinkie called.

"This is Rei," Maud said. "I found her in the bathtub. She was naked. I loaned her some of your clothes. She likes my poems."

"Cool," Pinkie said. "We're gonna go do some baking now. Oh! This is Adrien and Marinette. Guys, this is my amazing older sister Maud!"

"Hey," Maud said tonelessly.

"Hey," Adrien greeted uncertainly. Marinette waved.

Maud went back to reciting poetry at Rei; the others headed for the kitchen. "Yikes," Adrien said once they were out of earshot. "That's...some party going on out there, huh?"

Pinkie giggled. "Okay, so Maud can be a little..." She made a vague gesture. "Anyway, you just have to get to know her. Now come on, let's bake!"

Pinkie led them into the family kitchen and headed for the cupboards, rummaging around for mixing bowls, flour, sugar, and other ingredients. Marinette went straight for the refrigerator, grabbing the milk and eggs. Adrien stood just inside the kitchen door, wringing his hands awkwardly. "So, uhh..." Adrien coughed. "How do we do this whole thing?"

Pinkie blinked at him. "You've never baked before?"

Adrien scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Honestly? No. But I can't wait to learn!"

"Well, with all your other talents," Marinette said as she began cracking eggs into a small bowl, "a little baking should be a piece of cake!"

"Or a cupcake!" Pinkie added with a giggle.

Adrien scratched the back of his head. "Well, if you say so," he said. "It's just...I've never done any cooking at all..." He paused. "Or anything creative, actually. Except for writing crappy Valentine poems."

"It wasn't crappy, it was sweet!" Marinette said.

"Ooh, he sent you a Valentine?" Pinkie asked. "Wait...I thought he was crushing on your superhero alter ego?"

Adrien scratched his nose. "Yeah," he said awkwardly, "so, uhh...I was writing sappy Valentines for, well...for Ladybug..."

"And I found one of them in the trash at school and answered it," Marinette said. "Only I forgot to sign it..."

"So it was you," Adrien said, eyes wide, a deliriously happy smile plastered across his face.

Pinkie giggled as she began sifting flour. "It'd be funny if she was constantly giving you cards and gifts and stuff and forgetting to sign them and you had no idea who they were from and they were really from her all along and—MMPH!" She blinked and looked down at the measuring spoon which had found its way into her mouth.

"We get the idea," Marinette said, her face red as she eyed the milk critically. "You bake with this crap?"

"Well, yeah, and drink it, and pour it over cereal," Pinkie said as she pulled the spoon from her mouth. "Why?"

Marinette shrugged. "It's terrible for baking, that's all. But if it's the best you've got."

"Wow, really?" Pinkie asked, tilting her head. "I mean, I know skim milk's no good for baking, but that's whole milk, it's—"

"I wouldn't pour it for a cat, this milk," Marinette said with a frown. "But again, I live in a boulangerie, I'm used to..." She trailed off, then sighed. "Sorry," she said. "I'm being snobby. That's not me."

"Eh, it's cool," Pinkie said. "I'm just happy to learn from a professional, it'll help me take my party planning to the next level!"

"I'm not a professional," Marinette said. "That's my Papa. I just grew up in his kitchen."

"Marinette?" Adrien asked suddenly, a contemplative frown on his face.

"Y-yes?" Marinette stammered, brought up short.

"The scarf, the one that was supposedly a birthday present from my father," Adrien said. He gazed intently at Marinette. "It wasn't from him at all, was it? It was from you."

Marinette shifted awkwardly. "I..."

"It was, wasn't it?"

Pinkie stopped sifting, watching intently.

Marinette looked at Adrien. "Please don't ask me that," she said.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Adrien asked softly, walking up to her and taking her hands.

Marinette looked into his eyes, swallowed, and looked away. "It made you so happy, believing it was from your dad," she said. "I couldn't take that away from you."

Adrien drew her into a tight hug, burying his face in her hair. "Marinette..."

Pinkie sniffled. "Wow," she said. "You two...you're really..." She grabbed a paper towel and blew her nose loudly. "Really made for each other. Like, literally. Like, the universe you're from exists just so you two can be the sappiest, most adorable couple ever."

The two French teens blushed, stepping slightly away from each other, and looked away, scratching their heads awkwardly. "So!" Adrien said loudly. "Baking. Help. Do. How?"

Marinette let out a high-pitched giggle. "Umm...preheat the oven? I think we forgot to do that, didn't we Pinkie?"

"I knew I forgot something..."

"I think I can do that," Adrien said, looking around the kitchen. "It's this big metal thing, right?"

"That's the refrigerator..."

"Oh. Then this one?"

"That's the dishwasher."

"What about this one?"

"That's me, Minou."

"Well, yeah, but you're more fun to warm up."

"EEK!"

* * * * *

The hotel Monica had chosen was directly on the boardwalk, with a beautiful decorative walkway that passed underneath the boardwalk and down to the beach proper. This allowed guests to change into their swimwear and put on their sunscreen and suntan lotion in the privacy of their own suites before heading down to the beach instead of using the public locker rooms.

The three girls emerged from the walkway onto the warm sand and blinked in the bright sun. Kooh wore a dark pink one-piece with black stripes up the sides and black trim around a curious cat-shaped cutout in the front that bared her navel, matching black flip-flops with day-glo pink straps, and pink-framed sunglasses. Tron, despite her insistence that she had no interest in the beach, had bought a tasteful black bikini and a simple pair of beach sandals; similar sunglasses to those Kooh wore were perched on her forehead.

As for Monica...

Monica wore a skimpy blue tie-front bikini top with a high-cut black bikini bottom that left very little to the imagination, with a gauzy dark blue sarong tied loosely around her waist that did little to cover anything her bikini didn't. Her hair was gathered up in a high ponytail and held with a blue butterfly-shaped clasp, and she wore fancy blue beach sandals with two-inch heels and beaded faux-pearl straps. A tote bag was slung casually over her shoulder; inside it she carried her magical bag of holding and all three girls' phones, as well as blankets, towels, and a few loose sundries.

When she had emerged from the bathroom in her swimsuit, the other two girls had stared enviously at her. "You know, you don't have to rub our noses in it," Tron had said.

"What?" Monica had asked, blinking innocently.

"Mmm, the breeze feels nice," Monica said. "It has a nice smell. This reminds me of Veniccio back home."

"Or Blue Lagoon on Pangya Island," Kooh said.

Tron looked around. "Wow...you mean there's all this empty coast, and people just...lie in the sand or play on the water?"

"Well, yeah," Monica said. "What, you don't have beaches where you come from?"

Tron snorted, pinching the bridge of her nose and shaking her head. "I told you already," she said. "Ninety-five percent of the Earth is covered in ocean where I come from. You either live your life in ships on the ocean, in airships over the ocean, or on the handful of habitable islands scattered across the world." She put a hand on her hip and gave Monica a reproachful stare. "Tell me, if your entire civilization was crowded onto a tiny little island, how much of it would you waste for just lying in the sand staring out at the super-depressing ocean that goes on forever in every direction?"

Monica flinched. "I...I guess that'd kinda kill the fun, huh..." She shook her head. "Well, it isn't that way here, so maybe you'll find something you like about it, yeah?"

Tron chewed on the inside of her cheek. "Well..." She sighed. "It's nice and warm out here," she said. "Not a bad place for a nap."

"Come on, let's stake out a place and spread out some blankets!" Kooh said excitedly. "It'll be nice to enjoy some beach time someplace where I'm not constantly watching out for flying comets!"

"Flying comets?" Tron asked, tilting her head.

"Golf balls," Monica explained. "They call golf balls comets where she's from. Her entire island is just golf course after golf course. Seriously, everything on Pangya Island is a golf course. The beach, the forest, the mountains, the volcano, the one city on the entire island...it's all golf courses."

Tron blinked. "Weird," she said.

"Eh, it means you never run out of stuff to do there, that's for sure," Monica said.

As the girls searched the beach for an ideal spot to spread out, idly observing the small clusters of beachgoers scattered around, Tron asked, "You said her world...you're not both from the same place?"

"No, I'm from a different universe from Kooh," Monica said. "I was actually taking a vacation on Pangya Island in her world when we both got sucked into this mess."

"Ouch," Tron said. "Vacation, huh?" She smirked. "Playing hooky from school? Running from boys clamoring after those huge tits?"

Monica blushed. "N-nothing like that!" she said. She sighed. "The thing is...I'm the Crown Princess of my kingdom. My father...he was assassinated a year ago. I've...I've been fighting for a long time to avenge him, then to save my kingdom—to save the world—from being destroyed by an evil dictator. It's a really long story and I don't feel up to telling it, but it's only been a few months since my friend Max and I put an end to the war." Monica wrapped her right arm around her stomach, looking down at it unhappily. "Now we're rebuilding, and I'm constantly under pressure..." She shook her head. "I know I have duties, I know I have to work hard to be ready to take my father's place and become Queen, but..." She sighed. "I've been through so much. I'm not ready. I just...I just wanna relax a little, y'know?"

"Huh," Tron said. "You'd think being a princess would be like...awesome. Everybody doing whatever you say, all the money in the world...that's the kind of life I'd love to have."

Monica shook her head as she stopped and spread out a blanket. "That's so not what my life is like," she said. "Four hours a day of sword practice and magic practice, three hours a day of studying, two hours of meetings, and then there's all the time I spend helping rebuild or fight off stray monsters that are left over from the war." She sighed. "I know I shouldn't just sneak off and take a vacation on my own, but honestly? There are days I wish I was still running around with Max risking my life in some creepy forest full of things trying to eat me, kill me, or..." She coughed. "Well, do other stuff to me."

Tron and Kooh exchanged a look. "Ewwww," they said.

Once the blankets were spread out, Monica stood up and stretched. "I think I'm gonna take a walk up the beach, check things out," she announced. "You girls do whatever you want."

"Works for me," Tron said, flopping down on the blankets and folding her arms behind her head as she kicked off her sandals. "I'm gonna snooze."

"I think I'm gonna rent one of those blow-up dolphins and play in the ocean," Kooh announced. "I've always kinda wanted to do that, it looks like fun!"

"Have fun, then!" Monica said, waving as she jogged off, her chest bouncing alarmingly in her skimpy top.

Some time later, Tron awoke to find herself buried in sand, the other two girls crouching over her and giggling. She scowled at them. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded angrily.

"Aww, come on, it's all in good fun!" Monica said. Kooh giggled and sat down on Tron's chest, her butt dangerously close to Tron's face. Tron couldn't see what she was doing, but Monica let out a loud squeal. "KOOH! That's NASTY! What's wrong with you?"

Kooh burst into laughter and rolled away, dodging a sharp gust of wind that skimmed over Tron and demolished whatever sand sculpture Kooh had made before she could see it. Shaking her head, Monica started helping Tron dig herself out.

"Thought you were taking a walk," Tron said as she sat up and brushed sand off herself.

"Yeah, I did," Monica said. "You've been asleep for a couple of hours."

"Oh." Tron blinked, looking up at the sun. It was indeed higher in the sky, and there were more people on the beach than there had been before. "So, find anything interesting?"

"There's a little diner a ways up the beach called Dazzling Delights," Monica reported. "It's closed right now, sign says it'll open at one."

"Thinking of heading there for lunch?" Tron asked.

"Up to you girls," Monica said with a shrug. Two boys walked up, then, and started flirting with Monica. While she dealt with them in a graceful and diplomatic manner, Tron unearthed her phone from Monica's bag and started scanning the news. *Things are still pretty quiet, but that whole thing about a giant robot fighting a giant monster up in Canterlot...I kinda wanna look into that. But how do I convince the girls...?*

* * * * *

Of all the things Sunset Shimmer expected to find when she descended into Flash Sentry's basement, the sight that greeted her was not remotely even within the ball park of her expectations. It wasn't in the same league. It wasn't even playing the same sport.

Flash was grinding away on his guitar, jamming out something angry, harsh, and vaguely Germane-sounding. Accompanying him on the other instruments were a three young girls; the bassist was obscenely close to being naked, and what little she wore was mostly black leather and fishnet mesh; the drummer had long blonde hair and wore some kind of elaborate, fancy white dress, and the girl on the keyboard was wearing a Neighponese school uniform and had bat wings on her head.

And then there was the...whatever it was...singing lead vocals.

It was a fat, egg-shaped black rabbit with a shiny blue jewel on its forehead. Its eyes were closed in a blissfully happy expression. It held a microphone in one stubby little paw. And whatever it was singing, it was not only angry-sounding, it was familiar.

But Sunset was pretty sure it wasn't singing it quite right...

"Pu. Pu PU! PU PU PUU!! Pu. Pu PU! PU PU PUU!!
Pu. Pu PU! PU PU PUU!! PU PU PUU!!
PU PUPUU PUPUU! PU PUPUU PUPUU! PUPUUPUU PUPUU PUPUPU PUU PUPUU!!"

"What...the...fuck..." Sunset croaked out numbly, pointing at the...well...everything.

Everyone stopped playing. "Oh, hey Sunset," Flash said. "What's up?"

"What's up?" Sunset asked incredulously. "What's UP?!" She threw her arms out, encompassing the basement. "You've got a lolicon harem and a weird magical girl mascot in your basement and you're asking ME what's up?"

The blond girl waved her hands frantically. "Ah! I know we look like a lolicon harem, but we're not! Really!"

"That's right, I'm hundreds of years old," the bassist said, stretching her back. "I don't think I qualify for 'lolicon' anymore."

"I meant the harem part, Etna!"

"Oh, right. That too."

"I don't object to either part of that statement," the keyboard girl said with a sultry giggle.

"Pupupuu pupuu," the rabbit opined.

Flash sighed. "Look...it's..." He shrugged. "Yeah, okay, so this looks bad. But these girls are actually pretty cool. They're a little crazy and Etna kinda has this casual murder problem, but other than that, I mean...we've just been hanging out playing music and video games and eating junk food." He shrugged. "I mean, you know what it's like out on the streets, right?"

"Yeah. I've kinda been dealing with it," Sunset said sourly.

Flash flinched. "Yeah, well...we all pretty much decided..."

"We decided fuck it," Etna—the bassist—interrupted. "I mean, I love a good fight and it looks like you've all been having a super fun time killing all those gross maggot monsters and everything? But this, what we're doing here? Is pretty much the first vacation I've had in decades."

"And...I should really stick close to Etna," the blond said. "Besides, this is fun!"

"I'm just along for the ride," the third girl said. "Any ride," she added with a giggle.

"Pupuu," the rabbit added.

Sunset facepalmed. "Okay. Okay, fine. Okay." She looked at Flash. "Just answer me this one thing. You're not doing any..." She looked the girls over, then grimaced. "This isn't a repeat of the Sonata thing, right?"

Flash scowled. "No, Sunset. It absolutely is NOT that."

"Just making sure," Sunset said, holding up her hands placatingly. "I mean, you get how this looks, right? If anyone wandered in on this..."

Flash grimaced. "Yeah, I...I do kinda see what you mean," he said. "Umm...so this whole mess is supposed to be over and done with inside of a month, right? That's what I told Mom and Dad when they called from Prance. They're staying put until this all blows over."

"I was kind of wondering where they were," Sunset muttered. "Your folks sure don't bother being around much, do they?"

Flash shrugged. "Dad can work anywhere, Mom can work anywhere, you know how they love to travel, so..." He paused, then smacked his forehead. "Crap, I didn't even introduce you to everyone yet!" He gestured at each of the girls in turn. "The redhead there is Etna, the blond on the drums is Flonne, over there on keyboards is Lilith, and..." He paused. "We don't know what that thing is."

"Pupupuu puPUU."

"Sunset Shimmer, nice to meet you," Sunset said absently. "Okay, so your incredibly irresponsible parents aren't around, but what about your crazy gay uncle?"

"Oh, Uncle Rear and Stephen moved to Neighpon," Flash said. "Or rather, they've got a vacation house there. They're staying there six months out of the year."

"Huh, I see," Sunset said. "Well then..." She trailed off lamely. "I guess...keep on rockin' then?" She turned to leave.

"Wanna hang a bit?" Flash asked. "We were about to take a break, watch some movies."

Sunset thought about that. "Sure, why not," she said. "I don't really have any plans for today and everybody's kinda taking a breather since the Inves aren't showing up anymore for some reason."

"Inves?" Etna asked.

"The maggot monsters. They're coming from this weird parasite forest that's attached itself to our world."

Flonne gasped. "HELHEIM?! That awful thing is here?!"

Etna glanced curiously at her. "You know about it, Flonne?"

Flonne was pale with dread. "God created it to test humanity's piety a long time ago," she said. "But, well...the first Overlord of the Netherworld perverted it into a terrible, diseased weapon. God cast it into the vast ocean of the cosmos to save humanity from it, but the legends..." She shuddered.

"Yeah, that sounds about right," Sunset said. "Anyway, Sci-Twi is pretty sure we'll be rid of it once we contain the, umm...source of all this. As long as we can do it quickly enough." She clapped her hands together. "So! Movies!"

And with that, the group headed upstairs to relax and veg out in front of the television.

* * * * *

"I can't help but notice that we've been sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing-geso."

"We're hardly doing nothing, squidling," Arlong said, making Ikamusume jump. "In case you haven't noticed, this monster invasion has been wearing down the stamina of those attempting to keep order in Canterlot. And other places." Arlong leaned back on the sofa, spreading his arms wide along the back. "Meanwhile, we've been conserving our energy, preparing ourselves to strike, and gathering intel on our enemies." He nodded at the television. "This Sunset Shimmer girl the Sirens have a grievance against, she's gathered a crew with varied and formidable skills. If there is any one thing I would thank that rubber bastard for, it's teaching me not to underestimate my enemy." He curled one hand into a fist. "I will not allow myself to be humiliated again. Especially not by humans."

Ikamusume dug in one ear with a tentacle. "Humans can't be all that tough-geso. The two of us together should be more than enough to crush all the humans on the surface and make them pay!"

Arlong glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "You're not very bright, are you?"

Ikamusume shot him a half-lidded glare...which turned to a frightened grimace of horror when he bared his teeth.

Snorting, Arlong shook his head. "Even I don't stand a chance against that...that metal giant that fought that enormous dragon. We're going to have to pick and choose our battles carefully, and take what we can from those we conquer without tipping our hand too early. When the time comes to lay siege to Canterlot, I want to be ready."

"Well said, my handsome king," Adagio purred, draping herself across Arlong as she sauntered into the room.

"Frankly, I think you're both nuts if you wanna go anywhere near that crazy shit in the city," Aria said from where she leaned against the wall, arms folded, glowering at the world in general. "I mean, do you really think a huge, super-strong shark man and a girl with squid tentacles for hair have a chance against all this magic and robot shit going on?"

"We'll never know until we try-geso!"

"Hey, guys? Not to interrupt or anything, but...we are gonna open the shop today, right?" Sonata asked. "I mean, we still gotta pay the bills on this place, so..."

Arlong snorted. "Go ahead, open your diner," he said. "But tomorrow, we're making our first step toward establishing territory for the New Arlong Pirates!"

The lights suddenly flickered and dimmed, the television blinking off as the air conditioner cut off and the ceiling fan slowed to half speed. "Ugh, a brownout? Now?" Aria complained.

Then the entire room flickered. Images danced along the walls and through the air, of an ocean, of creatures fanficul and mythical. Of a stage, of lights, of green mist. Of glowing red eyes and...

Then everything went pitch black.

The lights snapped back on, the ceiling fan span back up to speed, and the air conditioner cycled. All present blinked, looking around at each other.

"Nan de geso?" Ikamusume wondered.

Sonata gasped, pointing at Adagio. "Dagi! Your..."

Adagio's eyes widened. "And your..."

Each of the Sirens reached up and clasped their hands around the blood-red jewels which now hung at their throats.

They looked at each other, slack-jawed.

Then, as one, they closed their eyes...

Aah-aa-aah, aa-aaah...aah-aa-aah, aa-aaah...

The jewels flickered with a dull ruby shine. Adagio opened her eyes, which briefly flashed a bright green.

She smirked.

"Girls?" she purred. "We're back."

* * * * *

It had taken some time to reach Octavia's house. Once they entered, Anna looked around in awe. Vinyl bounced past her, picked up the TV remote, and turned on Octavia's large-screen TV.

Anna gasped as the TV screen lit up. "What wondrous magic!" she exclaimed happily. "Look, Elsa! These girls have magic too!"

"Erm...that isn't magic, it's technology," Octavia said. "I take it you aren't familiar with television?"

"Tell...a...vision," Anna sounded out. "Oh, like soothsaying?"

"...not quite," Octavia said dryly. "It's...it's difficult to explain."

Elsa frowned as she studied the image on the screen. "Strange. I do not recognize this script, but it is clearly language. I do however understand what the woman is saying." She tilted her head. "Could this perhaps be...some form of heraldry? Information about current happenings in this land?"

"That's exactly what it is," Octavia said. "So much has been happening lately, we've simply left the television tuned to the news all day." She shook her head. "Let me see what I can find for you two to wear. Umm, you can use the upstairs guest bathroom to change. If you'd like, I have garment bags you can place your own clothes in. We can get them cleaned for you, or..."

"I believe Anna can figure out how to clean her own clothes," Elsa said. "As for me, it won't be necessary."

"Are you quite certain?" Octavia asked.

"She's quite certain," Anna said with a slight giggle. "Elsa's whole outfit is made from her magic. I'm pretty sure she just whips up a fresh one every day, right Elsa?"

"More or less," Elsa said with a shrug. "I mean, there are days I wear actual dresses, but...I've grown so used to this look, and our subjects seem to love it, so..."

Vinyl raised an eyebrow and looked at Octavia, who also raised an eyebrow and looked at Elsa. "Forgive me, but...magic? Subjects? Are you royalty?"

"Ah, did we not mention that? Forgive me, I suppose I was being a bit...guarded." She drew herself up. "I am Queen Elsa of Arendelle." She paused. "If...if I trust you, will you..." She looked uncertainly at Anna.

Anna smiled. "These girls are very kind. I'm sure they'll understand."

"You need not feel ill at ease here," Octavia said. "We are simply offering you rest and comfort. It's...it's the kind and generous thing to do, after all."

Elsa smiled gratefully. "And we appreciate it, truly." She took a deep breath. "I should...tell you, then, that...I possess a powerful magic." She held out one hand, palm-up, and created a single, large, perfect snowflake which spun in the air.

"Hmm. Interesting," Octavia said. "We're no strangers to magic in Canterlot, of course. Not with the things that have happened at our school this past year." Vinyl nodded in agreement. "Plus, with the world at large going crazy lately, a little ice magic is hardly anything noteworthy."

"Oh, it's not a little ice magic," Anna said. "Elsa can bring an eternal winter if she wants. There's nothing she can't freeze."

"ANNA!" Elsa snapped, her snowflake shattering and evaporating. "That is not something we should go around boasting about!"

Octavia's eyebrow went up again. She looked at Vinyl, whose jaw had dropped. Vinyl lowered her glasses, revealing startled red eyes. Octavia cleared her throat. "Y-yes, well...you're not presently planning to bring a sudden winter storm upon our fair city, I should hope?"

"Of course not!" Elsa said. "I would never harm innocent people with my magic! ...anymore. Not on purpose..." She sat down in the nearest armchair, rubbing one arm with her other hand.

"Well then there's nothing to worry about," Octavia said briskly. "I'll find some more comfortable clothes for you, something you can move around more easily in. You may rest here as long as you wish. I believe you should watch the news, get a better grasp on the situation, decide what to do from there." She paused, glancing at Vinyl. "Did I overlook anything?"

Vinyl pulled her phone out of her pocket and sent a text to Octavia. Octavia glanced at it, rolling her eyes at the string of bacon emojis that comprised the volume of the text. "Yes, I suppose we should call Sunset Shimmer about these two at some point. Once they've had a chance to rest, get their bearings." With that, she headed upstairs. Vinyl motioned Anna over to the large, plush sofa and plopped down, sprawling out like a broken puppet.

Anna sat down beside her, looking her over curiously. "Sorry for asking, but...you don't speak? Or can't speak?"

Vinyl looked over at her and smirked. "Nah, I can talk," she said. "I just do the whole Silent Bob thing to razz Tavi."

* * * * *

Rodimus Prime coasted down a street devoid of traffic and cluttered with litter. "This is the place. Be careful, you two. I don't know what we can expect to find here."

"I don't know what you're expecting to find. I mean, that incident ended hours ago."

"True, but...you never know. Just...just bear with me, alright?"

Enzan shrugged. "You're the one driving. We're just along for the ride."

Rodimus Prime rounded a debris-strewn corner and slowly, carefully pulled into the ravaged parking lot of a demolished hospital. "Whoa," Enzan said softly.

"Trashing a hospital," Rodimus said bitterly. "That's just low."

"I'm pretty sure it was abandoned," Blues said. "I'm not picking up anything that is or was alive."

Enzan snorted. "I don't need scanners or sensors to tell you that," he said. "Look at the dumpsters full of rubble. This place was already being torn down." He folded his arms. "Probably why they had their little kaiju battle here in the first place. So nobody would get hurt."

"Makes sense," Rodimus said as he slowly circled the parking lot.

"More importantly, look at those," Enzan said. His eyes focused on the five giant, gleaming animal-shaped vehicles spread out across the vacant, junk-strewn parking lot. "Are they...are they more of your kind, Rodimus-san?"

"I don't think so," Rodimus said. "Cybertronians generally choose vehicle modes that don't, well...stand out so much." He paused. "I mean, I guess they could be like the Dinobots, or the Predacons, or the Insecticons, or the Sharkticons, or..." He trailed off. "Yeah, you know what? I have no idea." He paused. "I am picking up something here that almost feels Cybertronian, but...it's wrong somehow. And it's not nearly enough of a signal to account for five Autobots."

"I'm not picking up much of anything from the vehicles themselves," Blues said. "Their power systems are all on standby. There's...there's a transponder signal coming from each one."

"They're talking to somebody?" Enzan asked.

"It's passive," Blues said. "Seems to be a standby mode."

"Maybe they're waiting for their friends to come back!" a new voice intruded, making Enzan and Blues slide back defensively and look around warily.

"Who's there?" Rodimus asked.

A grey and orange garbage truck drove out from behind the parked mecha, ponderously transforming into a grey and orange robot with a square head, black-ringed blue eyes, a long jaw, and a beardlike stripe bisecting his pointy chin. "Hi! My name is Wreck-Gar!" the robot said cheerfully. "Don't mind these guys, they don't say much."

"He's another one of you," Enzan said.

Rodimus transformed and frowned at the other robot. "Friend, I've served with Wreck-Gar. I know Wreck-Gar. Wreck-Gar is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Wreck-Gar."

"I sir am yes Wreck-Gar!"

"Look, friend...I think you're confused. I'm telling you, there's no way you could possibly be Wreck-Gar! Wreck-Gar fought alongside me and my team when we took on Unicron. We've been through a lot together. I think I'd know."

Wreck-Gar frowned. "Unicorn?" He began digging through his backpack. He pulled out a giant teddy bear wearing a red shirt. "A grand Pooh Bear..." He tossed it aside, then pulled out a bottle of laundry detergent. "Hmm. Eliminates even the toughest stains..." He dropped it back in his backpack, then shrugged. "Sorry, I don't have any unicorns."

"Not unicorn, Unicr—you know, nevermind," Rodimus said, shaking his head with a sigh. Off to the side, Enzan snickered. Blues watched the exchange with an air of cautious confusion. "Look. Are you, or aren't you, an Autobot?"

"That's what they tell me," Wreck-Gar said. "I think." He looked down at his chest, pulled off his Autobot insignia, and held it up for inspection. "That's what this says, right? Autobot? One of the good guys?"

"Well...yes," Rodimus said. "And that just proves you can't be Wreck-Gar. Wreck-Gar wasn't an Autobot."

"Oh! So Wreck-Gar is one of these then?" Wreck-Gar asked, pulling a Decepticon insignia out of his backpack and slapping it proudly onto his chest. It fell askew.

"No, that's not right either," Rodimus said. "Wreck-Gar's a Junkion, he's not...not affiliated...why am I even arguing this?"

"Don't look at me," Wreck-Gar said with a shrug, replacing the Decepticon symbol with a new symbol that looked like a grilled cheese sandwich crossed with an accordion. "I'm just as confused as you are. Maybe even more so!"

"Rodimus-san," Blues said softly, "I don't think there's any point continuing this conversation. This...being...is clearly severely addled."

"Yeah, well, so's the real Wreck-Gar," Rodimus said. "But right now, this guy's the only one who saw anything, so..."

"Well..." Wreck-Gar drawled, stroking his long, pointy chin. "That's...not entirely true."

"What do you mean?" Enzan asked.

"Well, there was this bunch of humans running around earlier," Wreck-Gar said. "They were all wearing these funny suits, and some of them got out of these guys. I didn't think anything much of it, but now that I think about it, it's kinda weird that these bots stopped doing anything when the humans left. Even when it was just us bots here! That's why I've been trying to patch them up, see if I can't get 'em talking. After all, can't have too many friends, am I right?" He paused, then tilted his head. "Am I right?"

Enzan pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yareyare," he said in a resigned tone. "Now I understand. These vehicles are some sort of military hardware created and piloted by humans. They must..." He gestured vaguely. "Combine into a giant robot somehow, but without their pilots, they're just machines."

"That seems to be the case," Blues said.

"Huh, really?" Wreck-Gar said. "Well no wonder they haven't been talking, then! That's...kinda boring."

"That's kind of creepy," Rodimus said with a shudder. "When you personally know as many Autobots and Decepticons as I do that can combine with their teammates into giant forms, thinking about machines built by humans to do that, but with no Sparks..." He grimaced. "I'm not sure how to feel about that."

"Eh, makes sense to me," Wreck-Gar said with a shrug. "Humans built me and I don't have a Spark either!" He knocked on his head. "Or at least I didn't until..." He paused. "Hmm...I wonder..." He began rooting through his backpack again, then pulled out a handful of small, glowing crystal shards. "A-HA! I knew you guys would be good for something!"

"What are those?" Enzan wondered.

"Allspark fragments!" Wreck-Gar said triumphantly. "Just a teeny-tiny little piece of all the cosmic power of creation!" He drew back his hand and threw the crystals at the five inert mechs.

"Wait, don't—!" Rodimus interjected a moment too late. The Allspark shards impacted the mechs' armor, then sank in.

For a long moment, nothing happened.

Then, the red condor-plane let out a long, low, feminine moan...

...and transformed into a sleek, streamlined, decidedly female robot with large, folded angel wings on her back. "Mmm," she groaned as she stretched. "That's better. I can't believe Lamia just up and left me here after all we've been through!"

Rodimus' jaw dropped, as did Blues' and Enzan's. "By the Matrix," Rodimus whispered.

The robot looked around at them, blinking owlishly. "Hello," she said. "I don't believe we've met. I'm CrossCon—" She paused, frowning. "No, that doesn't feel right." She coughed into one shiny golden fist. "I'm Airazor. Nice to meet you."

One by one, the other four mechs transformed into very confused robots.

* * * * *

After a full day's hike into the depths of the mines, where the party's progress was slowed by narrow passages, low ceilings, and various stalactites and stalagmites which had to be carefully removed with precision magic (and catalogued for later study by the Pie sisters), the mining expedition found a large, stable cavern in which to set up their second campsite.

As Princess Twilight took large bites of hot, savory vegetable stew and reviewed their map, Sunburst sat down beside her. "Your Highness?"

"Call me Twilight," Twilight said absently.

"Sorry...Twilight," Sunburst said, coughing once into his hoof. "I wanted to ask you something about the alloy you're planning to use to contain this artifact."

Twilight glanced up. "Hmm?"

"Well, what I mean is...what metals were you planning to alloy the bulfecium with?"

"Oh," Twilight said. She tilted her head back. "Well, at first I thought cold iron would do it, but I've been thinking maybe mithril or moonsilver would produce more consistent and controlled results."

"Hmm." Sunburst stroked his goatee.

"Why, something wrong?" Twilight asked.

"Well, it's just...I was looking over the latest data Starlight sent you," Sunburst said, "and I actually was thinking the same thing you were until something in the new data caught my attention." He adjusted his glasses. "I don't think a mithril alloy is going to provide enough control to the bulfecium to keep it from producing a mana inversion, and using moonsilver, well, you might as well use tin for all the good that'd do."

Twilight frowned. "Okay, so...what would you suggest?"

"Well, that's the problem," Sunburst said. "I can only think of one magical metal strong enough to completely control the bulfecium reaction to the chaos magic. The problem is, it's even more rare than bulfecium. In fact, I'm not even sure we can find it." He frowned. "But with the stakes being as high as they are and at the rate that thing's power is growing? If there's any way to guarantee this won't end in a total mana inversion that would completely destroy reality..."

Twilight grimaced. "Yeah," she said. "So, what's this incredibly rare metal you're talking about?"

Sunburst fixed her with a serious gaze. "Escudo."

A beat passed in silence.

"I've never even heard of it," Twilight said.

"I'm not surprised," Sunburst said. "The only record I have of its existence predates even Starswirl the Bearded. I, uhh..." He coughed. "Found some scrolls preserved in the ruins of Unicornassus, back before I moved to the Crystal Empire."

Twilight's brow furrowed. "You...looted an archaeological preserve?" she asked reproachfully.

Sunburst's eyes darted left and right in a panic. "It wasn't my idea!" he hissed quietly. "After I left Celestia's school, I spent five years traveling with an Anugyptologist named Rosetta Stone! He's one of the most brilliant researchers of ancient languages and writings Equestria's ever seen, but, well...he's got the common sense of a deranged housefly!" He gestured with a hoof. "He got it in his head to sneak into the restricted areas of Unicornassus, I went after him, we found the scrolls..." He shrugged. "They were too valuable and too incredible to just leave them there!"

"But if you'd turned them over to any museum both of you would've been thrown in the dungeons," Twilight said, eyes half-lidded.

"Well..." Sunburst looked away sheepishly. "That, and we just...didn't want to, you know?"

Twilight giggled. "I...I think I can understand." She paused for a bite of stew. "So whatever happened to this Rosetta Stone?"

Sunburst sighed. "I wish I knew. We parted ways when he joined up with the EEHS. We kept up contact for a while, but the last letter I got from him was something about a dig in Anugypt. He said they thought they found Lionaptra."

Twilight gasped. "The city of the Sphinxes?"

"The same," Sunburst said. He shrugged. "I haven't heard from him in five years."

"That's awful," Twilight said. She frowned thoughtfully. "So...Escudo, was it?"

And Sunburst went into lecture mode with Twilight as his sole attentive student, talking long into the night about a rumored magical metal few living ponies had ever even heard of...

* * * * *

Evening passed into night, then gave way to morning. As the day wore on with no Inves activity anywhere in Canterlot, Kazuraba Kouta paced restlessly around the courtyard of CHS. "This doesn't feel right," he said for the fifth time in an hour.

Sunset groaned. "Kouta, why can't you just relax? No monsters is a good thing. Trust me."

"No, you don't understand," Kouta said. "Helheim...this isn't normal."

"So take your little flower bike and go check it out," Rainbow Dash suggested.

Kouta shot her a look, snorted, and shook his head. He pulled the Lock Vehicle Seed out of his parka and summoned his bike, which he straddled and gunned. With a roar, he swung it out onto the street and, in a hurricane of petals, opened a Crack.

The instant the Crack opened, Kouta knew something was wrong, for a frigid gust of wind roared out of the Crack, buffeting him as though he were driving into an open freezer.

Which, as it turned out several seconds later, was exactly what he was doing.

"Nani kore...?!" The Lock Vehicle stopped just inside the Crack, and Kouta got off, looking around in stunned shock.

Helheim was a frozen wasteland. The ground was covered in ice and frost, thick icicles hung from every plant, and a multitude of fruits lay on the ground, shattered after having been frozen solid.

"Masaka," Kouta whispered. The bitter cold of the frozen forest pressed in on him from all sides, and he transformed in the hopes that his armor would offer some protection. Gaim straddled his bike and took off through the ice-encrusted forest at a slow pace, surveying the devastation.

Everything for miles was frozen solid. He encountered the corpses of Inves, encrusted with ice and snow. No matter how far he penetrated the forest, everything was dead and cold.

He finally reached the Yggdrasil research camp, which he had avoided on his earlier excursions into Helheim after the forest had transported itself to a different universe. He knew that some of Yggdrasil's people had probably been dragged along with the forest, but honestly saw no reason to make contact with them—after all, he and Yggdrasil were not on especially friendly terms.

Now, however, he wished he had evacuated the Yggdrasil researchers when he'd had the chance. For just like the Inves, the dozen or so humans who had been working in the forest all this time lay dead on the ground. Some of them had suffered extreme frostbite, which made Gaim look away, fighting down sobs of regret and the urge to vomit.

A man crawled out of one of the tents. His hair and eyebrows were crusty with frost, and his eyes were haunted. "T-tasukete," he rasped, licking his chapped, cracked lips.

Gaim knelt beside the man. "What happened here?" he asked.

"I don't know," the researcher said. "The forest...it happened so quickly. The ice just..." He shivered. "Everything froze. Everything." He turned bleary eyes on Gaim. "What happened to the Crack? We lost contact..."

"Don't worry about that right now," Gaim said. "I've got to get you out of here, get you help."

The man coughed and shook his head. "Too late," he said. "I only lasted this long because..." He looked down at his waist. Gaim noticed, for the first time, that the man was wearing a production model Driver. "There's...there's no more Fruit," the man rambled. "No more Lock Seeds..."

And then, he croaked out a shuddering cough, then fell still. Gaim checked his pulse; all he could do was stay there, motionless, feeling the life ebb from the man as his slowing heart beat one more time...then one more...then stopped.

Gaim closed the man's eyes, then stood with a tired sigh, head bowed. "This...this is my fault..."

He returned to his bike and gunned it, opening a Crack back to the outside world. As he drove back onto warm, paved streets, a tumult of conflicting emotions warred within him:

Helheim was dead. For that, he was grateful. Nothing pleased him more than to see the accursed forest destroyed.

The Yggdrasil people had died because he had not bothered to remove them from Helheim as soon as he understood the situation. For that, he felt ashamed.

Something had killed Helheim. Brutally. Absolutely. From the sound of things, instantly.

And that terrified him.

Comes a Warmup

View Online

Elsa frowned at the amount of leg her sister was showing. Anna wore a pair of indigo shorts that barely reached mid-thigh, white socks, white canvas shoes with laces, and a pink shirt with a pattern of sheet music across the front in a dark shade of violet. Elsa herself wore a pair of comfortable cornflower blue fleece pants with a matching hooded shirt and similar socks and shoes to what her sister wore. "Are you absolutely certain about that outfit, Anna?"

"Of course!" Anna said. "It's comfy, it's easy to wear, and I look good in it!" She struck a saucy pose. "Besides, this is how people dress in this fascinating place!"

"Vinyl's about to make a food run," Octavia said as she walked back into the room. "What would you two like?"

"Oh, we couldn't impose," Elsa said.

"Nonsense," Octavia said. "You're my guests. Besides, I insist you stay the night at least. It wouldn't do to have you wandering around the city without any sort of plan or any idea where you're going. I highly doubt taking one night to rest, conserve your strength, and make some sort of plan is going to—" She paused as her phone chimed in her pocket. She pulled it out and glanced at the screen. She pursed her lips. "That settles it," she said. "You are staying here, I'll hear nothing else."

Elsa frowned. "What is it?"

"That was Sunset Shimmer," Octavia said. "She's the...well, sort of authority on magic in this world. I briefly explained your situation earlier, and she just texted me back asking me to keep you here."

"Keep us here?" Anna echoed.

"Hang on, there's another text," Octavia said, holding up a hand. She read it, her brow furrowing. "Hmm. Oh dear. I see."

"What's going on?" Elsa asked.

Octavia typed a brief reply to Sunset, put her phone away, and sighed. She nodded to Vinyl, who was standing by the door; Vinyl gave a thumbs-up and headed out. Octavia looked Anna and Elsa in the eyes. "Sunset Shimmer and her friends are dealing with the source of all this madness," she explained. "The pertinent part is that for the moment, there is no way for you to return to your home."

Elsa gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. "No..."

"For the moment," Octavia emphasized. "They are working on the problem, and she estimates roughly two and a half to three weeks before they are able to return every visitor to our world to wherever they came from."

"Three weeks?!" Elsa cried. "That is unacceptable!"

"Calm down, Elsa," Anna said, though she also looked quite stricken.

Octavia sighed. "Look...I understand your frustration. If Sunset Shimmer says it's going to be three weeks, it's going to be three weeks. I suggest you rest here for tonight, then tomorrow, if you must have a more thorough explanation, we can go see Sunset Shimmer and have her explain everything in detail."

Elsa took a deep breath. "Very well," she said. "We will accept your hospitality this one night. Tomorrow, we will meet with this Sunset Shimmer and I will insist on answers."

"Sunset Shimmer," Anna echoed with a smile. "That's a pretty name. Don't you think that's a pretty name, Elsa?"

Elsa shot her sister a sharp look. After a moment, she relented. "It...does have a certain poetic quality," she said with a wry smile.

* * * * *

"You know, it just dawned on me," Etna said suddenly in the middle of their third movie of the evening. She turned to Sunset and smirked. "Your name, Sunset Shimmer...isn't that kind of a stripper name?"

Flash choked on his soda.

Sunset stared at Etna. "What?!"

"Etna!" Flonne cried.

"What? It's totally a stripper name!"

"Well, of course it is! But you shouldn't just blurt it out like that!"

Lilith giggled. "Now that you mention it..." She looked Sunset up and down. "She even kind of looks like a stripper!" She gave Sunset a teasing smile. "Are you a stripper?"

Flash coughed. "Umm...gonna go...bathroom..." He quickly fled the room.

"Seriously?" Sunset asked, facepalming. "We've got a half-naked loli in a leather tube top over here and I'm suddenly the stripper?"

"Well, you do have the body for it," Flonne pointed out. "And the name!"

Sunset squeezed her eyes shut and double-facepalmed. "Aaaaaaargh...!"

"Oh, come on, it's a compliment!" Etna said cheekily. "I mean, with those tits and those hips? You'd make a whole lot of money at the club!"

Sunset opened her mouth to protest, then paused, her brow furrowed. "Huh," she said. "That's...huh." She sat back, lost in thought. "Might have to think about that when college comes around..."

* * * * *

"So how was your day at the Technicolor People Mall?" Shego asked when Kim came 'home' that evening.

Kim sighed. "So not relaxing," she said. "We ran into more trouble at the mall, and..." She shook her head. "I kept getting the strangest feeling I was being watched."

"What kind of trouble?" Shego asked.

"Well..."

* * * * *

Kim, Miles, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Kouta had spent three hours wandering the mall, and were now at the food court, chowing down on unhealthy junk food.

"You know, it's funny," Kim said. "The stores here are all different from the ones I know back home, and yet somehow, they're all the same. I mean, you've got Navy Blue, we've got Old Navy, you've got Cool Story, we've got Hot Topic, you've got Club Pineapple, we've got Club Banana..."

"Club Banana?" Miles asked. "Not Banana Republic?"

"Sounds like a minor difference between your worlds," Kouta observed.

"An' they all sell th' same overpriced crap," Applejack said in a bored tone.

"Whoa, harsh," Kim said.

Applejack shrugged. "Ah'm a gal with simple tastes. Ah ain't much fer th' actual shoppin', jes' th' hangin' out an' people-watchin'. An' th' mall food."

Miles blinked. "You like mall food? Dude. Nobody likes mall food!"

"AJ does," Rainbow said with a smirk. "You'd think she'd hate it, what with how good she eats at home. I mean, Granny Smith is the best cook anywhere, Applejack can bake a tasty apple pie in her sleep, even her little sister makes better fried chicken than Colonel Cajun!" She shook her head. "But any time we go to the mall, she loads up and pigs out."

"That's...weird," Kim said, staring at Applejack. "Anyway—"

The lights went out with a loud snapping sound. People started screaming.

The group's heads snapped up and searched the area around them. "What now?!" Rainbow groaned.

"Ah thought you liked all this crazy playin'-superhero nonsense," Applejack said.

"Well, yeah, some of it," Rainbow said. "But right now I'm just tired an' I don't wanna deal with anything stupid while I'm chillaxin'!"

Two amplified voices cut through the darkness and the panic:

"PREPARE FOR TROUBLE!"

"AND MAKE IT DOUBLE!"

"Aaand we've got villain sign," Kim said boredly.

"TO PROTECT THE WORLD FROM DEVASTATION!"

"TO UNITE ALL PEOPLES WITHIN OUR NATION!"

"TO DENOUNCE THE EVILS OF TRUTH AND LOVE!"

"TO EXTEND OUR REACH TO THE STARS ABOVE!"

A lone spotlight illuminated a teenage girl wearing a white miniskirt, a short open white jacket over a black tube top, thigh-high black leather boots, and shoulder-length black gloves. Her long maroon hair was impossibly styled in a stiff, swept-back wave that curled inward at the end. The front of her jacket had a red letter 'R'.

"JESSIE!"

A second spotlight illuminated a teenage boy who bore a passing resemblance to Trunks, if Trunks had fair skin, larger, brighter eyes, and his hair was more blue than lavender. Also if everything about him screamed "I am outrageously gay." This boy wore white pants with calf-high black boots, a white jacket over a black T-shirt, and black gloves that extended halfway to his elbow. The letter 'R' was also present on his jacket, and he held a rose to his nose.

"JAMES!"

They posed together.

"TEAM ROCKET, BLAST OFF AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT! SURRENDER NOW OR PREPARE TO FIGHT!"

A small, cream-colored catlike creature with a shiny golden coin on its forehead landed between them. "Meowth, that's right!" it said.

"Holy crap these guys," Miles said with a disbelieving laugh.

"You know these bozos?" Kim asked.

"Well, yeah, but..." Miles shook his head. "They're from a cartoon. One I grew up on, then outgrew about three years ago. Jessie and James...Team Rocket...man."

"Are they...dangerous?" Kouta asked.

Miles snorted. "Not really," he said. "Besides, they're Pokemon thieves. I don't think there's anything here they'd be interested in."

"What's a Pokemon?" Rainbow Dash wondered.

"Oh, you know, they're..." Miles paused. "No, I guess you don't know," he said. "I mean, I think a few of them showed up back at...the...school..." He trailed off. "Crap, how'd I miss that?"

"Oh, we know there aren't any Pokemon here, little boy," Jessie said as the lights came back up and Team Rocket landed next to their table.

"Even if there were, we're no longer employed," James added.

"After all, our boss is in another dimension."

"A little detail that's certainly worth mention."

Miles frowned. "So...why're you pulling your whole motto gimmick then? I mean, if there's no Pokemon here and you know you're in another dimension, then...what's the point?"

Jessie laughed. "Why dear boy, we've taken up a new line of work!"

"It's not all that different from when we worked for that jerk," James added.

"We rob from everyone else and give to ourselves."

"Everything you own, we'll stock on our shelves!"

Kim stood up, cracking her knuckles. "And you'll get away with this...how?"

"Yeah," Miles said, putting his mask back on. "You just crashed the wrong party, Team Suck-It."

"Oh, you'll pay for that," James said. "Team Rocket has a new routine!"

"When two become one, we become twice as mean," Jessie added.

"We fight together like never before!"

"By the time we're done, you'll be eating this floor!" Jessie turned to James. "Go!" she called as she slapped a large device to her waist. The front was red and had two slots at the top, backed by a silver and white device with a ton of visible circuitry.

Kouta's eyes widened. "Masaka..."

A similar device appeared on James' waist. He jumped high into the air, landing on the second floor of the mall; Meowth joined him. As James landed, he pulled a green flash drive out of nowhere. "CYCLONE!" he yelled as he slammed it into a slot on his belt with his left hand.

The green flash drive suddenly materialized in the same slot on Jessie's belt. With a catlike smirk, she held up a purple flash drive. "Joker," she purred.

She slotted the drive into the opposite slot on her belt, then pushed the two red levers at the top of the device down and to the sides. With a sharp click, the red front of the device spread open, forming a stylized W shape.

"Henshin," Jessie said dangerously.

Above, on the second floor, James fainted dead away. Jessie spread her arms wide, and a hard rubber suit of armor formed over her body, a vertical silver line up the center from crotch to crown dividing the armor into two visually distinct halves: the right half was bright green, with gold bands at the ankle, wrist, and shoulder, and a gold chevron on the right breast. The left half was a deep purple-black, with lighter purple bands mirroring the gold detailing on the right. Bright red grasshopper eyes took up most of the armor's mask, with a W-shaped antenna crest seated directly above them; that and the strange belt with the W-shaped driver device at the front were the only symmetrical details of the armor.

Kouta paled, standing up. "Kamen Rider...Double..."

Rainbow looked between him and the transformed Jessie. "Bad?" she asked.

"We are Kamen Rider Rocket," the Rider said in a doubled voice. "Surrender now or prepare to fight!"

"It's not good," Kouta said, slapping his Sengoku Driver to his waist and pulling out his Orange Lock Seed.

Rainbow Dash sighed and ponied up while Miles readied his webshooters and Kim got into a fighting stance. Applejack, for her part, grabbed the steel folding chair she'd been sitting on, folded it up, and thanked her lucky stars Big Macintosh liked watching wrestling.

* * * * *

Shego raised an eyebrow. "So a couple of low-level mooks who regularly get their asses kicked by a kid and his electric rat got hold of one of those power armor belts and now they've gone full supervillain?"

"Pretty much," Kim said with a sigh.

"So what happened?"

Kim shrugged. "You've seen Kouta fight, right? Those Riders are on a whole other level from what you and me can handle. I mean, it's like fighting Lorwardians. I ended up on crowd control with Miles and the girls while Kouta dealt with Team Rocket. I actually missed most of the fight..."

* * * * *

Kamen Rider Rocket, armor covered in burn marks and arcs of energy snapping and crackling over it, leapt to the second floor of the mall. "This isn't over!" Rocket yelled in that doubled voice, before the armor exploded away in a flurry of polygons and pixels, leaving behind Jessie, who sank to her knees beside James, who stirred groggily awake.

Miles swung in from above, snagged all three members of Team Rocket in a web sack, and flung them through the skylight.

"LOOKS LIKE TEAM ROCKET'S BLASTING OFF AGAIN!" they yelled.

Below, Gaim sheathed his blades. He'd endured sigificant battle damage himself; when he dispersed his Rider armor, Kouta looked exhausted. "I really, really hate fighting other Heisei Riders," he panted.

"Come on," Kim said as she and the others returned to the food court. "Let's get out of here. Pretty sure the mall's closing for the day anyway."

Nobody noticed the lone dark-haired young girl who had sat quietly at a corner table during the entire fight, sipping a smoothie. Once everything had quieted down, she stood up, adjusting her glasses as she threw away her empty cup and left the mall.

High above, a dark shape disappeared through one of the mall's skylights...

* * * * *

"After that, Kouta headed back to the school, I came back here, and everybody else went wherever they go. I think he said he was gonna check out that forest again, figure out why the monsters aren't attacking lately."

Shego scowled. "Poking the anthill with a stick? Funny, he struck me as being smarter than that..."

* * * * *

After returning to the city, the group of eleven Rangers filled up half of Berry's place. Berry seemed rather nervous about their presence, but as they were paying customers, she relented.

Tommy had explained, for the benefit of both the new arrivals and his own team, the history of the Power Rangers in his world. When he was finished...

"So you're like...forty," Jack said.

Tommy chuckled. "Yeah."

"You don't look it at all," Lamia said. "I honestly would've guessed you were maybe twenty-eight, twenty-nine."

"Thanks," Tommy said. "Chalk it up to clean living and lots of exercise."

"So you've been part of four different teams of Rangers?" Forrest asked.

"Well...five actually," Tommy said. "I think. I've sort of lost count. I was two different Red Rangers, but right about that time the entire team was..." He gestured vaguely. "In transition."

"And you say you got your powers from an evil witch and a floating head in a jar?" Indigo asked. "Freaky."

"So what about you guys?" Tommy asked the new Rangers.

Lamia shrugged. "We were chosen by a secret government agency to become Power Rangers to fight invaders who occupied Earth a few months ago." She frowned. "Legions of Arquilons have occupied every major city. They march up and down our streets, terrorizing everyone. When we go out on clean-up missions, the invaders send an Arkhaider to battle us. Some of our battles have been...intense."

"Scary," Hakoto added.

"Dude, they dropped a whole invasion force on you?" Lemon Zest asked. "Harsh."

"Well, unfortunately, we're all stuck here for a few weeks," Tommy said. "But that might be for the best, because this world..." He frowned. "Kinda needs the help."

"Things are very weird right now," Sugarcoat agreed.

"But it's so wonderful that we're all able to fight now! Because risking my neck fighting monsters is just what I wanted to do with my teen years!" Sour Sweet snarled.

"What we need to do," Sunny Flare said imperiously, "is arrange lodgings for our out-of-town guests. Lamia can stay in my guest room. Hatoko can go with one of you girls...Lemon Zest, I think you'd be best suited to look after her." She chewed her lip. "Dr. Oliver and these other three boys, we'll need to—"

"Tommy can stay at my place," Lemon Zest said quickly.

"No, he really can't," Sunny interjected.

"Dude, he's old enough to be your dad," Indigo said in a nauseated tone.

Lemon shrugged. "So?"

Sugarcoat cleared her throat. "My brother and his fiancee have plenty of guest space," she said. "Two of them could stay with them."

"My bro's man-cave is free," Indigo said. "Dad won't let Mom mess with it so it's just there."

"Then it's settled," Sunny said decisively. "I suggest we all make the appropriate arrangements, then break to get everyone settled in and rested up. Whatever work you five need to do on those robot vehicles of yours, you can get started tomorrow morning."

"I don't like the thought of leaving the MechAnimals out in the open and unguarded overnight," Lamia said fretfully.

"Eh, I don't think we have anything to worry about," Jack said. "What's the worst that could happen?"

* * * * *

"What. Did. You. DO?!" Rodimus snarled at Wreck-Gar.

"Oh, no need to thank me," Wreck-Gar said cheerfully. "This just makes it easier for us all to be friends, right?"

Enzan pinched the bridge of his nose. "I think you're missing the point..." He looked at the new group of robots, his brow furrowed. "So...this is the effect of that Allspark thing you mentioned, Rodimus-san?"

Rodimus sighed. "So it would seem," he said. "Mind, I've never...never seen machines come in direct contact with the Allspark before. Actually, I've never seen the Allspark." He frowned. "I'm beginning to think this Wreck-Gar may not be from my universe."

"Perhaps he's from one similar to yours, where your Cybertron exists, but things are different from what you know?" Blues suggested.

Rodimus nodded slowly. "That...would explain a lot." He looked at the five transformed MechAnimals, who were examining themselves in confusion and interest. "Still, I can't shake the feeling that even where this Wreck-Gar comes from, this kind of thing isn't exactly normal. After all, Cybertronians are born from protoforms infused with Sparks, not...not this."

"We're MechAnimals, not Cyber...whatever you said," said a blue and silver robot with a severe, predatory face. His chest mostly consisted of a shark's terrifying visage; most of a shark's tail hung from the back of his head like a long, thick ponytail, and a shark's dorsal fin, split along the middle, had folded down over his shoulders.

"Calm down, ChevronShark," the green rhinoceros-themed robot said. He had a broad, linebacker-like build and a wide head with a broad, flat, ponderous face. "Clearly we have undergone a metamorphosis we were never designed for. We have attained sentience." He looked around. "We need to stop for a moment and think this through."

"I agree," the female robot who had identified herself as Airazor said. "And the rest of you need new names." She looked DiaRhino up and down. "For some reason, I want to call you Rhinox."

"I have no objection to that," Rhinox said.

"You're our leader," the other female robot—pink and white with a slight build, a round torso formed from a helicopter cockpit, and a dovelike face—said. "You decide on names for us."

"Very well," Airazor said. "ChevronShark, let's call you...hmm...Sky-Byte."

Sky-Byte snorted. "Whatever."

"StarTaurus, I believe we'll call you Longhorn."

The yellow-and-black bull-themed robot nodded, remaining silent.

"And HeartDove, I'll call you...Moonracer." Airazor folded her hands. "Alright, that's out of the way. Now..." She looked at Rodimus. "Nice paint job, by the way."

"Uhh...thanks," Rodimus said. "So..."

"Airazor-san," Enzan said suddenly. "Earlier, before this happened, you and your team combined into a giant robot and battled a kaiju here."

"Yes," Airazor said. "That is our purpose, the destruction of kaiju sent by invaders seeking to conquer Earth. Our pilots are the Powerrangers." She frowned. "Strange how I seem to remember so much about our many battles together."

"We have a lot of data accumulated in our databanks," Rhinox said. "I suppose that translates to memories."

"It's more than that," Longhorn said in a soft, ponderous voice. "Raw data wouldn't translate to the...emotional associations I have for Jack."

"I know what you mean," Airazor said. "I'm worried about Lamia. And annoyed at her for just leaving us here like this."

"Maa, Airazor," Moonracer said placatingly. "Our friends needed rest, food, shelter. If you look around...they couldn't have found any of that here, and we were pretty banged up in that fight."

"We don't exactly have our repair bay either," Sky-Byte grumbled. "Or our refueling station."

"That's going to be a problem," Rhinox rumbled. "But for now, perhaps we should focus on the larger question of how and why this happened to us."

"Do you think..." Moonracer began hesitantly. "Do you think Hato-chan and the others will be angry at us for this?"

"Why would they be?" Sky-Byte asked. "First of all, this isn't even our fault. Second of all, aren't we even more useful to them as partners like this?"

"That's a good point," Airazor said. "Now that we're self-aware and can transform into robots on our own, we're more powerful and can fight with the Powerrangers in a new way." She smacked a fist into an open palm with a loud metallic clang. "And I owe that bastard Skullcaesar one for blowing a hole in my wing the first time Lamia fought him."

Longhorn snorted. "Why am I not surprised you have a fiery temper?" Shaking his head, he turned his attention to Rodimus and Wreck-Gar. "So...exactly what did you do to us?"

Rodimus frowned, stroking his chin. "I don't completely understand this myself, but it seems that Wreck-Gar here was carrying around fragments of the Allspark, which is the source of all life on our homeworld." He shook his head. "The Allspark being in pieces disturbs me, but it's not my Cybertron, so I guess it's not my problem." He looked at Wreck-Gar. "Am I correct in assuming that any normal vehicle or machine infused with an Allspark fragment comes to life where you're from?"

Wreck-Gar shrugged. "I dunno. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to me, but my memory's not exactly...y'know...memorable."

"Wait," Sky-Byte said. "So you're saying there's something that can just take a machine and...and overhaul it? Make it able to do things it wasn't able to do before? Give it sentience and life and a personality?"

"That would seem to be the case," Enzan said. "I find it more fascinating that you're all aware you were simple machines before this happened."

"Kid, there wasn't anything simple about us," Airazor said.

"I suppose there are certain things we're simply going to have to accept on faith," Rhinox said thoughtfully. "Whatever the reason, however unlikely, this is who we are now, and we're going to have to deal with it as we go. Still, we're definitely going to have a fuel problem this far from base."

"I hear ya, friend," Wreck-Gar said. "Gotta be honest, I'm feelin' a little run-down myself."

"I can help with that," Rodimus said. "I've got a supply of Energon. I...didn't expect to need to ration it out between seven bots, but it should last until we can find a second supply."

"Energon?" Airazor asked.

"It's the lifeblood of—" Rodimus paused. "It's fuel. Now that you've become this, it's the fuel." He transformed back into his vehicle form. "If you'll follow me, we'll head for the place where I left my Energon stash."

"Works for me," Wreck-Gar said, transforming into a garbage truck. The MechAnimals looked at each other, shrugged, and transformed.

As Enzan and Blues got back into Rodimus' cab, Enzan's brow furrowed. "Rodimus-san," he said, "about this Energon...how did you come into possession of it? I find it hard to believe you brought a large supply of fuel with you into this world by chance."

"Is it related to your disappearance the other day?" Blues asked.

Rodimus coughed. "Uhh...about that," he said. "You have to understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, and...and I do fully intend to make reparations as soon as the means are available, but—"

Enzan pinched the bridge of his nose. "You stole it."

"In a sense," Rodimus said. "Energon in its raw form doesn't exist on this planet. Here, it has to be refined from other fuel sources. We have the technology to synthesize Energon from any fuel source, though some are more efficient than—"

"What," Enzan said tersely, "exactly, did you steal?"

Rodimus was silent for a long moment. "Twenty thousand gallons of gasoline," he admitted.

Blues and Enzan stared at each other.

"Not my proudest moment," Rodimus said sourly. "I had planned to find a means of recompense at the earliest—"

"Did anyone see you?" Enzan asked sharply.

"Of course not," Rodimus said. "I scrambled the security cameras and committed the theft in the dead of night. There were no humans within range of the service station."

"Yareyare," Enzan said, shaking his head and closing his eyes. "And the evidence is...diposed of?"

"If by 'disposed of' you mean converted to Energon, then yes."

Enzan sighed. "Then the Canterlot police will have to chalk this one up as a spectacularly unsolvable crime."

"Enzan-sama," Blues said softly, disbelief in his tone.

Enzan shrugged. "It's as Rodimus-san said. Desperate times, desperate measures. It's not like he can power himself with fish and berries like I can. I'm guessing tapping the city's main power grid wouldn't work either." He flicked his bangs with a sardonic smile. "I have no jurisdiction here, and we're accomplices. This is one instance where I'm going to have to look the other way."

"I only hope the spirits of all the Primes before me are as forgiving," Rodimus said.

* * * * *

A frantic pounding on Flash's front door jarred Sunset awake; she had dozed off on the couch during one of the movies. The other girls were all passed out around the living room; Flash was nowhere to be found. Grimacing, Sunset got up and went to the door. When she opened it, she found Kouta on the other side, along with a frantic-looking Sci-Twi. "What's up?" she asked as she stood aside and let them in.

"Trouble...I think," Kouta said. "I'm...I'm honestly not sure what to think." He slumped against the wall of the foyer and scrubbed his face with his hands. "Helheim is dead," he said abruptly.

Sunset blinked. "Dead?"

Kouta nodded. "The lack of Inves attacks was bothering me, so I decided to patrol the forest." He took a deep breath. "Every inch of Helheim is frozen. All the fruits are dead. All the plants are dead. The Inves...they're dead."

Sunset frowned. "That's...a good thing, right?"

Kouta seemed like he was about to say something, but stopped. Then, softly, he said, "Well, it's good that the Inves are dead. But..." He took a deep breath. "Something killed Helheim. Instantly. Whatever happened, it didn't come from inside the forest itself."

Sci-Twi adjusted her glasses. "Sunset," she said quietly, "if...if there's something new loose in our world...something that could instantly freeze an entire parasite dimension..."

Sunset's shoulders slumped. "Great," she said. "Minus one nasty problem, plus one scary problem." She shook her head. "When are we gonna catch a break here?"

"Well...for now, we're headed to my place," Sci-Twi said. "I'm going to grab some cold-weather clothes and some of my portable scanners, then Kouta-san's taking me into Helheim so I can try to make sense of what happened." At Sunset's alarmed look, she held her hands up placatingly. "Don't worry, I'll be careful. Besides, I'll have Kouta-san to protect me."

"I don't like it, but we need to do this," Kouta said. "Don't worry, I'll keep her safe."

"I'm going too," a younger voice announced. They all turned to see Flonne standing nearby, listening with a serious expression. "If Helheim is dead, I need to see it with my own eyes. Because...because if and when I ever finally get home, even though I'm a Fallen Angel, I need to report it to the Seraph."

Kouta frowned. "Anou..."

"Apparently, Helheim originally came from wherever she's from," Sunset said. "It sounds like it was supposed to be a Garden of Eden type deal but it got corrupted into a sick weapon."

"Sou ka," Kouta said thoughtfully, nodding. "Alright. Come with us, but be careful." He frowned. "I'm not sure I can take two people on one Lock Vehicle."

"Oh, I can get there on my own," Flonne said. "If you can open the way." She folded her hands in prayer; a holy white glow surrounded her, and broad feathery wings sprouted from her back. She looked up and smiled.

Kouta stared. "O-okay then," he said. "We'll...go get what Sparkle-san needs, then we'll head back this way so you can join us."

* * * * *

Kouta, Sci-Twi, and Flonne stood beside Kouta's Lock Vehicle, looking out at the frost-white expanse of wintery hell that was Helheim.

"Woooooow," Flonne gasped, impressed.

Sci-Twi shivered as she fired up her scanners and began probing the frozen forest. "You're right, something did a pretty thorough number on this place," she said.

"Good riddance," Kouta muttered. "Helheim is nothing but a disease."

Sci-Twi frowned. "Well, I have some bad news," she said. "It's not...entirely dead. Everything's...well..." She shook her head. "It's definitely going to take a long time for it to thaw and become a threat again, but whatever did this didn't actually kill the forest."

Kouta sighed. "Shimatta."

"The good news is, it bought us some time," Sci-Twi said. "I mean, the fruits won't grow back until the thaw, which means no more Inves for a while." She blinked, furrowed her brow, and adjusted her scanner. "Holy sh—we need to go. Now."

"What is it?" Kouta asked.

"There are some powerful Inves," Sci-Twi said. "And...and they're headed this way!"

Kouta bit off a curse. "The Overlords!" He kicked his Lock Vehicle into gear; Sci-Twi scrambled aboard. Flonne flew in tight formation with them as a Crack opened and they zipped through.

A massive red-black fireball exploded just behind them as they returned to the human world. Kouta turned the bike into a hard skid, panting as the Crack closed.

"That was scary!" Flonne cried.

"The Overlords survived," Kouta said with a frown. "Everything else...but they survived."

"Will they...will they attack?" Sci-Twi asked. "Will they come out of Helheim and...?"

"Probably not," Kouta said. "They don't generally leave Helheim. The forest being frozen probably riled them up, but they hold humans in such disdain they wouldn't bother..." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. What matters right now is finding out what the hell did all THAT."

"Yeah, that...that was not normal," Flonne agreed.

Sci-Twi frowned, adjusting her glasses. "About that," she said. "My scanners picked up a heavy residue of magic soaked into everything. It isn't Equestrian magic, I'm not sure what kind of magic it is...all I can say for certain is it's powerful." She pursed her lips. "And whatever it was, it wasn't still hanging around in Helheim, so..."

"It's probably loose here," Kouta said.

The three exchanged a glance.

"Let's go tell Sunset," Sci-Twi said. "She needs to know immediately."

* * * * *

Elsa raised an eyebrow and tilted her head as she curiously examined a burrito which sat on a plate before her. "What...exactly is this?"

"It's a burrito," Octavia said. "Do you not have Mexican food where you're from?"

"What's a Mexican?" Anna asked curiously as she picked up a crunchy taco and took a big, beefy bite. Her eyes widened. "Mmm," she moaned. "Thff iff ghhd!"

"Anna, manners," Elsa chided. She delicately picked up her knife and fork and cut a prim bite of her burrito, then elegantly placed it in her mouth. She chewed ponderously, then swallowed. "Hmm. It's interesting. I...don't quite know what to make of it." She cut off another bite.

Anna, meanwhile, took another bite of her taco and crunched noisily. Vinyl chuckled; Octavia giggled primly as she tucked into her own taco salad.

"So," Elsa said conversationally, "what exactly is it you girls do here?"

"Do?" Octavia asked.

"Are you maidservants, ladies-in-waiting, debutantes?"

Octavia and Vinyl exchanged a glance. Vinyl snickered.

"We're...high school students," Octavia said. "I...take it from that list of rather outdated and frankly sexist descriptions that you hail from an, ahem, old-fashioned, more patriarchal society?"

"If you mean stuffy old men run everything, then yeah," Anna said. "Well, except Arendelle. Elsa rules Arendelle. We still have stuffy old men telling us what to do all the time though, it's really annoying."

"Hmm, I see," Octavia said. "Well, in this world, most of us will have none of that 'men do this thing and women do that thing' nonsense. There are still those who cling to outdated attitudes, but for the most part, men and women are equal here."

"Equal," Elsa said. "That sounds...rather refreshing."

"Never seen a dude do anything a chick couldn't do better," Vinyl said.

Anna laughed. "I think I like it here!"

"So, you're students," Elsa said. "What exactly do you study?"

"Oh, the usual. English, Prench, calculus, physics, home economics, history, civics," Octavia said. "That's just the classes at CHS, of course. On my own time, I study music and literature. Mostly music."

"Mostly musty old classical music," Vinyl muttered.

Octavia arched an eyebrow. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"Nope!"

"That's quite an education," Elsa said. "So I take it you're nobility?"

Octavia shook her head. "It doesn't work like that here," she said. "All the courses I listed are a basic high school education. Everyone is required to take those courses."

"Wow," Anna said. "So what do you do with all that education?"

"Honestly? I believe most people forget most of it once they have their diploma," Octavia said. "After all, if it has nothing to do with the career you choose for yourself, it isn't exactly relevant knowledge."

"And yet everyone is required to learn all of those things, even if they will never have need of it?" Elsa asked.

"That's high school for ya," Vinyl said.

"That seems...strange," Elsa said.

"It sounds boring," Anna said. "When do you have fun?"

Octavia and Vinyl looked at each other and smirked. "Oh, we manage," Octavia said lightly.

* * * * *

Sci-Twi, Flonne, and Kouta made a beeline for Flash's house, where they reported what they'd discovered to Sunset.

"Hmm. That's...that's troublesome," Sunset said. She cracked a yawn. "But it can wait until tomorrow," she decided. "Octavia has a couple of houseguests who want to meet me, so I need to head home and get some sleep." She cast a sleepy eye at Flash. "Sure you're gonna be okay with the loli brigade?"

"Pretty sure," Flash said.

Etna gave her a flat look. "You really think he's got anything any of us are interested in besides cable and kickin' music?" Lilith giggled.

Sunset rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'm out. Later." She headed outside, straddled her bike, and took off into the evening.

Kouta shifted awkwardly. "W-well," he said, "I guess I'll...yeah."

"Y-yeah," Sci-Twi said. "Mind giving me a lift back to, umm...y'know, home?"

"Of course."

Once they left, Flash closed and secured the door, then slid against it with a sigh. "This is so much more embarrassing than that weekend with Sonata," he grumbled.

"Oh, come on," Etna said cheekily. "A nice guy like you? Cute, cool, kind of a dorky loser? You're gonna have way more embarrassing days than today!"

"Thanks," Flash said sourly, shooting her a deadpan glare. "Why don't you make yourself useful and go downstairs, make sure all the equipment's off?"

"Sure, why not," Etna said. She headed over to the basement door, humming merrily to herself. She opened the door and reached for the light switch...

A red-and-black spike impaled her.

Etna stared down at the sinewy spike protruding through her abdomen. Her lips tightened. "Oh hell no," she snarled. With a flourish of her right hand, a massive halberd appeared from thin air; she sliced through the spike, jumped backward, pulled out her gun, and unloaded into the still-dark basement. This drew the attention of the others, who gathered behind her. Flonne gasped at the spike still sticking out of Etna's back; Flash cried out in alarm.

"What the hell—are you alright?"

"Takes more than this to kill me," Etna growled. "Alright, whatever you are, come out where I can see you so I can tear your head off!"

A deranged, high-pitched, strangely dual-toned cackle filled the house.

A dozen thick ropes of sinew, made of twisted strands of red and black, shot out of the open basement door. Many of them ended in blades or hooks.

Lilith and Flonne screamed as a shape exploded out of the door, all red and black sinew and ichor. At the center of it was a demonic face, glowing blank white eyes above a grinning maw full of needle-sharp teeth.

"EEEEEEEHEEHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! SO MANY LITTLE PRETTIES FOR ME TO RIP, SHRED, TEAR, AND KILL!!"

"Fuck this," Flash muttered, grabbing Lilith and Flonne by the collars and bolting for the door. "ETNA! We're leaving!"

Etna fell back. "Y-yeah," she said nervously, keeping her gun trained on the horror that had just erupted from the basement. "Good...good call."

They ran for Flash's car, which he started and threw into gear, tearing off down the street as though all the demons in Hell were chasing him.

They were two blocks away before they stopped hearing the laughter.

Comes an Army of Darkness

View Online

"What the HELL WAS THAT THING?! Lilith screeched.

"What are you asking me for?" Etna cried as she yanked the red barb out of her stomach and threw it out the window. Flonne hastily cast a healing spell, closing the wound.

"Oh man, Mom and Dad are gonna be pissed," Flash moaned.

"I think they'd rather have you be alive and the house taken over by some kind of psychotic demon than you dead and the house...taken over by some kind of psychotic demon," Flonne said soothingly.

Flash sighed. "This sucks. Now what are we gonna do?"

"I say we ask her," Lilith said, nodding ahead. A block away, a distinctive head of red-and-gold hair flailed around as Sunset Shimmer stalked around her bike, clearly agitated.

"Wow, she didn't get far," Etna said.

Flash coasted to a stop behind Sunset and got out. She looked up, blinking. "Hey," she said.

"Bike trouble?" Flash asked.

"Yeah," Sunset said sourly. "Damn carburetor. It's been giving me problems for a month, I haven't had a chance to shop around for a replacement." She shook her head. "Guess I'll have to walk it back to your place—"

"Yeah about that," Flash said. "We've...got a problem."

Sunset groaned. "What now?"

"Something scary showed up in Flash's basement," Flonne said. "Something crazy and really stabby."

"Damn thing impaled me," Etna muttered. "I mean, I'm all for a good psychotic kill-crazed demon and all, but that thing...it was off somehow."

"Anything that scares Etna is bad news," Flonne said worriedly.

"I don't think it chased us," Flash said, "but, well..."

"You can't go home if there's a murder-happy demon in your basement, got it," Sunset said with a sigh. She looked the group over and grimaced. "I can only think of one person who's got enough space to put up this many guests on short notice who doesn't already have a houseful of interdimensional freeloaders...well, she has two. And they want to meet me anyway." She pulled out her phone. "Octavia? Yeah, listen...tell your houseguest I'll meet her as soon as we can get over there. Also, can you do me a solid? Flash and some out of town...guests...kinda just got run out of his house by a murder beast. Think you can spare a couple extra guest rooms? Sweet. I'll owe you one." She disconnected, then glanced at her bike. "Now, what to do about this..."

"I can help with that," Flonne said. She folded her hands in prayer and chanted in an echoey, angelic language. Sunset's eyes widened as her bike shrank. Flonne opened her eyes, picked it up, and handed it to her. "Here," she said. "I can put it back like it was when, y'know, you have it where you want it."

"Umm...thanks?" Sunset stared at the shrunken bike, shook her head, and tucked it into her jacket pocket, then climbed into the shotgun seat of Flash's car. "Okay, let's roll."

* * * * *

Octavia pocketed her phone. "Well, Sunset Shimmer is on her way here," she said.

"Oh, good," Elsa said. "I was agitated about having to wait to speak to her."

"Yes, well...she's bringing a problem with her," Octavia said. "Another classmate of ours has apparently been run out of his house by some sort of monster. As I understand it, we'll be having a few more guests." She bit her lip. "Things will be...rather cramped here for the time being."

"Oh my," Elsa said. "If you need us to leave, we can seek lodgings elsewhere..."

"No need," Octavia said. "As you've seen, this house is rather spacious. There are four guest bedrooms."

"We'll put Flash on the couch downstairs," Vinyl said. "He won't mind, he's a dude."

"The words you use in this world are quite odd sometimes," Elsa said. "That's twice now I've heard you say 'dude', what does it—" She didn't get to finish, as the lights began to flicker. The four girls looked around as the television cut off, various electronics in the room made unhappy noises, and thick motes of inky blackness drifted through the air on a slow, hot wind that stirred their clothes. "What in the world?!"

"Umm...this isn't...normal, is it?" Anna asked.

"It most decidedly is not," Octavia said, frowning as she drew closer to Vinyl.

A low groaning sound filled the air, followed by a cacophony of grinding, rattling noises. The house rumbled on its foundation, shaking plaster loose from the ceiling.

"What's going on?" Anna asked shakily, drawing closer to her sister. Elsa's eyes narrowed with focused determination.

Vinyl headed for the nearest window and drew back the curtains.

A fleshless, filth-encrusted skull thumped against the glass, rattling it. Vinyl jumped back, her shades sliding down her nose. She blinked even as Anna shrieked. She turned slowly on the spot, facing the other girls.

"We're boned," she announced.

* * * * *

Sunset held Flash's phone up to his ear as he concentrated on driving. Octavia lived in a completely different part of town, nearer to Crystal Prep than to CHS; Sunset had often wondered why the posh, proper cellist went to CHS instead of Crystal Prep, but she figured Octavia, like most CHS students, valued friendship and team spirit over reputation. Plus, her best friend and housemate went to CHS, which probably had a lot to do with it.

"Hey Mom. Listen, I've got some bad news." Flash took a deep breath...

"There's something loose in the house today
I don't know what it is
A thing I can't recognize
It stabbed my brand new bassist in the stomach, yes it did
It might claw out my eyes!
So I'm crashing with a friend!"

Etna burst out laughing. "Dude, are you...are you singing the bad news to your mom?"

Sunset rolled her eyes. "River takes bad news better if Flash sings it to the tune of Nipmuc songs," she said. "Flash and his dad are the only normal people in his whole family."

Flonne giggled. "That sounds like so much fun!" she said.

Lilith tilted her head. "So how often do you have to sing bad news to your mom?" she asked once Flash fell silent and nodded for Sunset to take the phone away.

"Not that often, thankfully," Flash said. "Once, maybe twice a year. Not counting that whole mess with Sonata, that..." He sighed. "I had to give Mom a whole concert to explain that shit."

"With me and my friends as his backup band," Sunset said with a grin. "Man, that was messed up."

"I still wanna know whose idea it was to give Twilight that giant paper fan," Flash muttered, his hands tightening on the wheel. Sunset burst out laughing.

"Sounds like you two have some funny stories to tell," Flonne said brightly. "I—" She trailed off, her eyes going wide and her face going pale. "Oh no."

"What's up, Flonne?" Etna asked.

"Don't you feel it, Etna?" Flonne shifted in her seat.

"I feel it," Lilith said miserably, the wings on the sides of her head folding back. "Something really nasty is—"

Sunset's phone rang. She held up a hand for silence, then pulled out her phone, glancing at the screen. "Hey Octavia. We're almost—" She broke off, her eyes going wide. "—WHAT?!" She listened for a long moment, then swore under her breath. "Okay. Okay, don't worry. We're almost there, I think I've got some pretty good fighters in this bunch, if not I can call in reinforcements. Just sit tight, okay?" Sunset hung up, then pinched the bridge of her nose. "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck."

"What's up?" Flash asked.

"Skeleton army," Sunset said resignedly. "Octavia's house is surrounded. They're trying to break in. They're all armed with like, medieval weapons."

"Ooooh, sounds like we're crashing the best kind of house party!" Etna said, her eyes lighting up.

"Anou...what happened to your whole 'fuck it, I'm on vacation' thing?" Lilith asked.

Etna shrugged. "Hey, I just got impaled by a crazed murder beast and I don't even know what the thing was. Not only that, but we had to leave one kickin' crash pad because of that." She pounded a fist into an open palm and cracked her knuckles. "I could use a good old fashioned brawl."

"That explains the evil feeling I'm sensing," Flonne said worriedly. "It...it feels different from the Netherworld demons. It feels...really nasty."

"Yeah, I don't like the vibe here," Lilith said worriedly.

"Well, whatever's going on, we've gotta put a stop to it, or we won't have anywhere to put you guys tonight," Sunset said. "You can all fight, right?"

"Hah! You bet your bacon-haired stripper ass we can!" Etna said.

"I'm pretty good in a fight," Flonne said.

"I love a good rumble," Lilith said. In a purring giggle, she added, "Almost as much as I love a good tumble!"

"Right," Sunset drawled. "Okay, Flash? Floor it."

* * * * *

Forgotten in the dust on a quiet stretch of road in a quiet suburban neighborhood, a sharp thorn of twisted red and black sinew quivered. It began to bend and writhe, melting into a diseased puddle that resembled blood mixed with tar.

A creature, roughly humanoid in shape, landed on the road. The blood-tar mess on the road wriggled, then shimmied up into the creature's body like quicksilver. Needle-sharp teeth dripping with slimy saliva grinned a grisly grin as glowing demonic white eyes narrowed.

"YoU doN'T gET aWAy FRoM caRNAgE sO EAsilY..."

Letting out a peal of high-pitched, deranged giggling, Carnage dissolved into a mass of sinewy ropes of blood and tar, cackling into the darkening sky as he flung himself from tree to tree to streetlight to rooftop down the lane in search of his prey.

* * * * *

Glass shattered. A skeletal hand reached into the living room, its owner moaning and groaning.

"This is intolerable," Elsa said. "First that horrid forest full of monsters, and now this?! What madness has taken us?!"

"If it helps at all, this is hardly normal for us," Octavia said. "Well...we've seen our share of strangeness, mind you, but skeletons attempting to break into my house is rather offputting."

"Should we...maybe go upstairs?" Anna suggested. "Away from the hordes of the risen dead?"

"You're forgetting, Anna," Elsa said, cupping her hands together. In a bright flash and a swirl of magic, a huge ball of ice materialized between them. She flung it forth; it expanded, growing sharp shards and fractals as it flew toward the skeleton. It tore through the bones of his arm and ribcage like a cannonball, then exploded with a sharp crack against a large tree in the yard.

The skeleton looked down at his severed arm and shattered ribs, clicked his jaw, and clambered through the window, pushing himself with his intact arm.

Elsa took a step back. "Um. That...I was not expecting."

The front door buckled and splintered. Anna let out a shriek as it burst open, smashed by axes wielded by armored undead. Shields held at the ready and axes aloft, they stormed into the room. Elsa began flinging bursts of raw ice magic left and right.

The skeletons kept coming, heedless of her efforts to freeze them.

"Uh, I don't think ice works on these guys," Vinyl offered.

"I noticed," Elsa bit off. "I'm open to suggestions."

Vinyl snorted and moved in front of the group, sliding her headphones onto her head. Her feet and hands began to float as she loosened up her stance.

"Miss Vinyl, what are you—" Anna began.

"If you see a weapon go flying, grab it!" Vinyl shouted. A skeleton roared and swung its axe at her; she slid out of its way without lifting her feet, pivoted her body, and let her hand drift through its spine, severing it neatly. She then lifted one knee almost casually, disarming the skeleton as its torso fell. The axe slid toward Anna; she blinked at it, then picked it up, holding it in a shaky grip.

"Hold things down here," Octavia called as she headed for the stairs. "I shall return momentarily!"

Elsa held out her hand and concentrated. With a sharp crackle, a spear made of ice formed in her hand. She tested its weight, then held it at the ready.

* * * * *

"Her house is just ahead," Sunset said. "Take a right, it's at the end of the block."

"Got it," Flash said, taking a hard corner without heeding the stop sign. In ten seconds, he slammed on the brakes, screeching to a stop outside the gate of a three-story house on the corner.

As soon as the car stopped, a skeleton landed on the windshield, chattering its rotten teeth at them. "GAH!" Flash exclaimed.

Sunset clenched her jaw, teleported the skeleton off the front of the car, and set fire to it once it was deposited some feet away.

"Oi, that's not very sporting!" the burning skeleton complained.

Etna jumped out of the car and pulled out a very long spear. "Eat it, punk," she snarled as she leapt high into the air. The tip of her spear glowed with power as she descended.

The skeleton looked up at her, dread in its eye sockets. "Oh bugger."

The street shook with the force of a gas explosion. Fragments of bone went flying in every direction, as did dust, leaves, and bits of pavement.

Sunset stared, slack-jawed. "Umm. Wow."

"Yeah, no kidding," Flash said. "I told you she was a little murder-happy."

"Oh, this is nothing," Flonne said cheerfully. "Wait until she really gets going!"

A tumultuous clamor sounded from inside the gate to Octavia's house. As the rest of the group got out of the car, a mass of angry skeletons boiled out into the street, axes, swords, spears, and shields raised in challenge.

Etna grinned, twirling her spear. "Let's do this," she said.

"Fu~fuuuun," Flonne giggled, pulling a massive longbow out of nowhere.

Lilith's seifuku exploded away from her body as a cloud of bats, reforming into her preferred fighting costume as she cracked her neck.

Magic limned Sunset's fists.

Flash leaned against the driver's side door of his car. "Umm...yeah. Good...good luck," he said.

The girls looked back at him.

"Seriously?" Etna asked. "You'd let a bunch of defenseless little girls fight an evil undead army while you just stand there?"

"Defenseless?!" Flash cried. "What the actual fu—oof!" He grunted as he struggled to catch a heady broadaxe which Etna had just chucked his way.

"Yeah yeah, just make yourself useful," Etna said as she turned her attention back to the undead army. Flash sighed and adjusted his grip on the axe.

The skeletons charged. Spells and arrows flew. Weapons clashed.

* * * * *

Anna clumsily held her own with her borrowed weapon. Elsa kept breaking ice spears fighting skeletons, forcing her to either fall back and reform them or give herself breathing room by flinging ice balls into the undead horde. Vinyl danced through the army, hands, knees, elbows, and feet gliding through bone as she bobbed her head to the beat only she could hear.

"Sorry to keep you all waiting!" Octavia called from the stairs. Elsa spared a glance over her shoulder...and nearly got skewered by a skeleton in her shock.

Octavia had traded her prim, proper dress for a black leather miniskirt held up by thin suspenders, an off-white tank top, heavy black ankle-high hiking boots, and rugged fingerless gloves with reinforced knuckles and leather wraps that covered her forearms to the elbow. She leapt down from the middle of the flight of stairs and smashed the skull of the nearest skeleton with a well-placed kick, then dropped into a crouch and smashed the pelvis of one that tried to impale her with a sword. With each movement, her chest—much larger than Elsa had believed due to her earlier modest attire—heaved dramatically, barely constrained by the thin tank top she wore.

Even Anna was taken aback. "What...what are you wearing?" she asked, blushing furiously.

"What? It's easier to fight in," Octavia said as she punched through another skeleton's sternum, then sent its skull flying with an uppercut. Vinyl slid over to her, giving her a sly grin; they seamlessly fell into a back-to-back fighting stance, daring the skeletons to move in on them.

Elsa picked her jaw up off the floor and shook her head. "This world grows stranger still by the second," she muttered as she created a spiked club of ice and smashed a skeleton to pieces.

* * * * *

As Carnage swung, crawled, crept, and otherwise propelled itself through the night, it was unaware of a shadow in the sky above. Two people, a man and a woman, both barely out of their teens, sat upon a flying carpet.

"What do you think it is? Some kind of demon?"

"I don't know, but I don't think we should let it out of our sight. We'd best keep quiet, though. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."

"This place is...very strange."

"Yeah, it is. I mean, I've seen stranger stuff than this, but it doesn't look like anywhere else we've been in the world."

"You don't suppose...we've been wished away to another realm, do you?"

"Nah, couldn't be. Besides, that weird thing we flew into didn't look like it came from a wish." The young man took the woman's hand. "Don't worry. I'm here. We'll be fine."

"I know we will," the woman said. She smirked and reached up, touching her earlobe, where a tiny round black earring glittered in the moonlight. "Besides, I don't really need protecting, do I?"

The man chuckled. "Heh. You sure don't. You never did. But I'll always be there for you, Jasmine."

"I know, Aladdin," Princess Jasmine said. They shared a brief kiss, then resumed their pursuit of the ghastly shape below.

* * * * *

Fifteen minutes of nonstop fighting later, Etna, Flonne, Sunset, Lilith, and Flash were no closer to breaching the gates of Octavia's house than they had been at the start. Huge impact craters had been made in the street. Smashed bones, broken weapons, cracked shields, and other debris littered the area. Miraculously, Flash's car remained completely unscathed.

But the skeletons kept coming. For every two the party destroyed, two more took their place.

"This..." Flash puffed out. "This is endless..."

"I may..." Sunset panted. "I may need to call the others for backup...I don't think we can..."

A high, shrieking cackle split the night air, oddly dual-toned. The party stiffened.

"Oh no, no, NO," Flonne moaned.

"It followed us? SHIT!" Etna snarled. "As if this mess wasn't fucked up enough!!"

"wHaT'S THiS?!" Carnage cackled as it solidified into its most humanoid form, clinging to the side of a tree. "wHY, thIS LoOks liKE sOME PArtY!" It dropped to the ground, rubbing its palms together with glee. "hoPE yOU doN'T MiND iF wE plAY tOo!"

"Oi, wot's this then?" a skeleton with a huge, horned helmet asked, pointing a broadsword at Carnage. "You there, bugger on off now or you'll taste steel, you will!"

Carnage tilted its head curiously, peering at the skeleton. Its mouth opened wide and it began to giggle.

"Uhh...I don't like where this is going," Lilith said nervously.

Hundreds of ropes of blood-tar sinew ripped away from Carnage, weaving past weapons, through ribs, into bones, clinging to every skeleton in the street and beyond.

"I really don't like where this is going," Etna said, ditching her spear and pulling out a huge hand cannon.

"What...is it...doing?" Sunset wondered.

"How the hell should I know?" Flash snapped.

Carnage's giggles trailed off into faint echoes as its entire body mass became nothing more than strings of red and black sinew. Then, the sinew began fusing into the very confused skeletons.

A tense silence fell.

Ropy blood-tar sinew covered every skeleton in the yard. The fleshless, grimy skulls all transformed into needle-toothed, grisly skeletal versions of Carnage's demonic visage, eyes glowing white.

Dozens of high-pitched cackles filled the air.

The party looked at each other, eyes wide with terror.

"RUN!" Flash suggested.

tHErE iS nO EScApE! nO eSCaPE fROm DEaTH! No EScapE FRoM pAiN! NO ESCAPE FROM CARNAGE!!!!!

* * * * *

"Oh man," Aladdin said. "Looks like they could use our help."

"Do you think we should get involved?" Jasmine asked.

Aladdin glanced sideways at Jasmine. "What, and leave a bunch of kids to face this mess all alone?"

Jasmine winced. "Good point. Got your ring?"

"Of course," Aladdin said with a smirk, waggling his right ring finger, which flashed silver.

"Alright. Carpet, find someplace safe to wait, got it?" Jasmine instructed. She reached up and touched her left earlobe. "Tikki, spots on!"

Next to her, Aladdin curled his right bicep, his ring flashing in the sun. "Plagg, claws out!"

Comes a Blast From the Past

View Online

tHErE iS nO EScApE! nO eSCaPE fROm DEaTH! No EScapE FRoM pAiN! NO ESCAPE FROM CARNAGE!!!!!

The voice came from all around them, a mix of high-pitched insanity and guttural, deathly growls. The army of skeletons, covered in ropy red and black sinew and bearing the demonic visage of Carnage, hissed, clattered, chattered, and chuckled, closing in around the small group. Sunset Shimmer was frantically and furiously texting on her phone while Flonne chanted holy protection spells and Etna and Lilith looked for openings to do as much damage as possible.

"We're not getting out of this one alive, are we?" Flash moaned.

"Not gonna lie, it looks bad," Sunset admitted.

With a metallic whooshing sound, a bright pink flash shot into the midst of the Carnage-Deadites, dismembering several of them. A darker shape landed in their midst, smashing skeletons to flinders with a gleaming black baton.

Flash let out a sigh of relief. "That was fast," he said.

Sunset frowned. "Wait a minute, I didn't—"

As the smashed Carnage-Deadites began pulling themselves back together, more of the possessed skeletons moved to surround the new arrivals, who landed protectively in front of the party. As they came into focus, Sunset blinked.

The couple before them were definitely Ladybug and Chat Noir...at least, they appeared to be Ladybug and Chat Noir.

But they were not Marinette and Adrien.

They appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties, with dark skin and black hair. Ladybug wore black-spotted red silk harem pants, tight and clingy at the hip yet loose and blousy below the knee, with matching slippers; her spotted red top only covered her chest, leaving her midriff and shoulders bare. A series of gauzy red veils with black spots floated all around her body, seemingly moving of their own accord. A spotted red veil covered her face, obscuring it from view. In one hand, she held the familiar five-spotted red yo-yo.

The new Chat Noir, on the other hand, wore a mixture of leather and fine silk, all in black: baggy black silk pants, a black silk vest, black leather boots, black leather bindings wrapped around his bare chest, black leather wrappings covering his arms, and a black leather turban adorned with cat ears atop his head. A black silk tail lashed slowly behind him, trailing from the sash around his waist, and a black leather domino mask covered his eyes. He leaned casually against his black baton, watching the Carnage-Deadites warily.

"Are you kids alright?" Chat Noir asked.

"We've been better," Sunset said. "Umm...we've got some other backup on the way, but we'll be grateful for the help. This mess is completely out of control."

"Whatever that Carnage demon is, it's way beyond anything I've ever seen," Etna said, leaning against her spear and keeping her gun trained on the nearest group of Carnage-Deadites. "I mean, I've met some nasty demons before, but this thing? It doesn't die like a normal demon."

"And it's possessed a whole army of undead," Lilith said as she flung a Soul Bat at a charging skeleton. "It's like, the worst of two worlds."

"You kids deal with a lot of demons?" Ladybug asked curiously.

"We are demons," Etna said. "We're just not...y'know...this." She gestured to the army of Carnage-Deadites.

"Umm, for the record, I'm a Fallen Angel," Flonne said. "But yeah, the demons I know personally aren't so bad. This Carnage thing is just...evil..."

"We're not demons, just so you know," Flash said, gesturing to himself and Sunset. "I mean, except for the time Sunset turned into a demon, but—" He broke off, glancing at Sunset. "Sorry."

"What madness have we landed in the middle of?" Chat Noir wondered.

"We can find out later," Ladybug said, eyes focused on the skeletal army. "Demons or not, I'm inclined to believe these people can tell us where we are and what's going on here. Let's fight together!"

"Works for me," Chat Noir said.

As the strange new duo laid into the Carnage-Deadites, Sunset opened her contacts and started a video call with Pinkie Pie.

* * * * *

Elsa, Anna, Octavia, and Vinyl pressed together in a tight huddle. "This is bedlam," Elsa said.

"You know, this was kinda cool up until they all turned into something out of a Tool video," Vinyl commented.

"Pardon me, but having my house destroyed by the undead isn't cool under any circumstances," Octavia said acidly.

"We're not gonna live through this, are we?" Anna said, her lip trembling.

"Be strong, Anna!" Elsa said firmly. "You marshalled the resolve to pursue me through the endless winter and into the mountains at great peril to your life. You sacrificed yourself to save me from the sword of my enemy! You will not die here! Not like this!"

Anna squared her jaw. "You're right," she said. "I'm sorry, I—"

"It's alright," Elsa said gently. "Even the bravest warrior would be terrified beyond measure right now."

"Well, we're not gonna live through this if we stay trapped inside," Vinyl said. "I say we make a break for it, get out of the house."

"And abandon it to these monsters?" Octavia asked.

"Better us alive and able to escape outside than us dead inside," Elsa said.

Octavia sighed. "You're right. But the question remains, how do we escape?"

Vinyl adjusted her shades, a twisted grin crossing her face. "Oh, I've got a little somethin'-somethin' for just this kind of party," she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, her fingers dancing across the screen.

"Vinyl, what—"

*BOOM*

The entire house shook violently as massive speakers, lit up with glowing blue lights, folded out of the ceiling, the floor, and even the stairs. Anna shrieked. Elsa looked around in alarm.

Another massive thump shook the house, followed by another, then another. Electronic screeching rent the air.

The Carnage-Deadites reeled in agony, clutching their nonexistent ears. Strings of blood-tar peeled and dripped from their bones as an unearthly shriek of pain split the air, audible even over the violent onslaught of dubstep.

"RUN!" Vinyl shouted, grabbing Octavia's wrist and making a headlong charge for the front door, shouldering bone soldiers out of her way. Elsa and Anna followed, Elsa clearing the path with a shield of ice.

Soon, they were outside, in the expansive front yard...and still surrounded by very angry Carnage-Deadites. Vinyl panted, shutting down the house's superwub system. The ground immediately stopped shaking.

"Well, at least we're outside," Anna said. "Now what?"

Octavia looked at the dozens of blood-tar skeleton demons surrounding them and clenched her jaw.

"We fight our way through to our friends," she said.

* * * * *

"Okay, that batch should be cool enough to start decorating now," Pinkie Pie said. "Let's try two-color frosting and funfetti this time!" All around the kitchen, racks of colorful frosted cupcakes sat, making the kitchen look like a bakery or a birthday party. Marinette and Adrien were covered in flour and frosting and wore huge, happy smiles.

"You're really good at decorating cupcakes, Pinkie!" Marinette said. "I'm learning a lot from you, I can't wait to share some of your tips with Papa!"

"Aww, schucks," Pinkie said. Her pocket started vibrating. "Oh, hold on, phone." She pulled out her phone, licked her fingers clean, and answered. "Hey Sunset! What's shakin' bacon?" She let off a giggle-snort. After a moment, her face turned serious, her hair deflating slightly. "Wow. That is NOT a fun party you're at right now." A pause. "Yeah, hold on." She moved over to Marinette and Adrien, holding her phone up so all three of them could see the screen.

Marinette and Adrien stared in horror at what the video showed. "Oh my God," Marinette said, eyes wide as she clutched her face.

"Do you need our help?" Adrien asked.

"Yeah, we really do, but there's something else," Sunset said. "You guys still have those magic thingies, right?"

"Our Miraculous? Of course," Marinette said, reaching up to touch her earrings. "Why?"

"Because you two are already here...sort of...I think," Sunset said. The video moved, blurring until it focused on a red blur that was dancing among the skeletons. A black shape dropped down beside the red blur. After a moment of the camera shaking, it resolved into...

"Impossible," Adrien said, jaw dropping.

"What the—?!" Marinette gasped.

"Yeah, that was my reaction," Sunset said. "I mean, these guys are you. Just...not you."

"We'll be there in a few minutes," Marinette said firmly. "Tikki, spots on!"

"Plagg, claws out!"

Ladybug opened her yo-yo. After a moment, a tracking signal appeared on the screen, along with a wireframe map of Canterlot. "Sorry, Pinkie, we'll have to do the funfetti later."

"Good luck, you guys," Pinkie said worriedly.

* * * * *

"Aladdin! There are survivors in the courtyard!" Ladybug called out as she descended from the apex of a mighty leap.

"Then let's clear a path so they can get clear!" Chat Noir said, extending his baton and sweeping an entire phalanx of Carnage-Deadites off to the side.

"They seem to have the same idea," Ladybug said as she landed at his side. She held up her yo-yo and twisted the face; it spread out into a fan of thin red, pink, and white discs. She tossed it out, and the blades began spinning, creating a whirring disc of glowing death. A broad sweep of her weapon decapitated several Carnage-Deadites; as they groped around for their skulls to reattach them, her partner smashed their rib cages with a lightning flurry of strikes.

Meanwhile, Sunset's group had rejoined the fight. While Sunset flung bolts of magical force left and right, Etna unleashed highly destructive attacks with a variety of weapons, Flonne fired off holy arrows that seemed to do serious damage to any Carnage-Deadite they hit, and Lilith mostly posed a minor distraction so others could land more damaging hits. Anything that came too close to Sunset, Flash swung his axe at clumsily but effectively. Still, other than the few Carnage-Deadites Flonne had somehow managed to completely remove from the battle, most of the horde was reassembling themselves as quickly as they were taken down.

A skeleton snuck up behind Flash with a wickedly-spiked club; his head was two seconds from being splattered all over the pavement when Sunset noticed. "FLASH!" She teleported him out of the way; several yards away, he reappeared in a turquoise flash...directly over Octavia. "AHHH!" Flash yelled as he flailed in the air, having dropped his axe in mid-teleport. Octavia looked up just in time to let out a cry of surprise as Flash landed on her, tackling her to the ground in a tangle of limbs.

Flash groaned, shaking his head, and looked directly into Octavia's surprised, slightly annoyed eyes. Her cheeks were flushed. It took Flash a moment to realize why—his hands were firmly pressed against something round and soft. He reflexively squeezed whatever he was holding, and Octavia became more annoyed.

Octavia frowned at him. "Is this really the moment?" she asked. With a disgusted grunt, she pushed him off and rolled to her feet. As she did so, Flash got a good peek up the indecently short leather skirt she was wearing. A trickle of blood rolled from his nose.

He slowly pushed himself to his feet, looking Octavia up and down. "Uhh...whoa," he said. "When did you...I mean...that outfit..." He coughed. "Wow. You look...wow."

Octavia rolled her eyes. "Save it for later," she said as she returned to the battle. Flash shook his head, grimaced, and picked up a sword. He noticed Vinyl smirking at him and two unfamiliar women shooting him disapproving looks, though the darker-haired of the two seemed to be struggling not to laugh. He sighed and fell into their ranks, cleaving away at the skeletons that stood between them and the street.

"You said you had more reinforcements coming," Ladybug called to Sunset as her group pressed further into the yard.

"Yes, but it might take them a while to get here," Sunset replied. "Everyone's further out in the city—"

Two figures dropped into the fray, a black baton and a yo-yo joining the fight. "Sorry it took so long," Marinette said. She flipped toward the other Ladybug, looking her up and down. "Uh-huh," she said, pressing her lips thin and narrowing her eyes.

Adrien landed next to the other Chat Noir, examining him with a rakish grin. "Dude, digging the Arabian Nights look," he said.

Chat Noir stared at Adrien. "What the—?! You...you have the same...you have the Black Cat Miraculous?! But how?"

"And you have the Ladybug Miraculous," Ladybug observed, studying Marinette. "Yet your costume is..." She frowned. "Strange..."

"Guys, figure this out later," Sunset said. "Like maybe after we've dealt with this army of demon skeletons?"

"Right," both Ladybugs said. The Arabian Ladybug folded her yo-yo back into its original shape, then threw it skyward. "LUCKY CHARM!" A swirl of glowing pink ladybugs exploded away from her yo-yo, and a ladybug-spotted red air horn dropped into her hands. She blinked at it. "I...have no idea what this is," she said.

"It's an air horn," Marinette said. "You've never seen an air horn before?" When her counterpart shook her head, she snorted and snatched it away. She held it up and depressed the trigger, unleashing an obnoxious blast of noise.

The Carnage-Deadites stopped moving, dropping their weapons. The sinew clinging to their bones rippled and writhed as they twisted in place, discombobulated. Tortured groans cried out in a cacophony of demonic voices, with an undercurrent of an otherworldly screech.

"They didn't like that," Adrien observed.

"No, they didn't," Marinette said, her eyes scanning the Carnage-Deadites intently. "But it's not enough..." She threw her own yo-yo skyward. "LUCKY CHARM!"

A swirl of glowing pink ladybugs exploded away from her yo-yo, and a ladybug-patterned amplifier with a microphone attached dropped down at her feet. Marinette let out a cry of delight. "Yeah! Now I know what to do!" She knelt down and adjusted all the switches on the amplifier, cranking everything to eleven. It hummed with power. "Everyone, cover your ears!" she advised, holding up the microphone. "You, other me, blow it one more time, right in here!" she said, tossing the air horn back to the other Ladybug.

Ladybug eyed the microphone dubiously. "Okay," she said. She held out the air horn and, keeping one eye shut, depressed the trigger and held it.

The high-pitched squeal that tore through the night, electronically processed and distorted with ear-rending feedback, made everyone present cringe. It was only through sheer determination that the two Ladybugs persisted in keeping the noise going.

The Carnage-Deadites screamed in agony. Sinew peeled away from bone, forming jagged spikes, twisty ropes, and melted tar-like blobs. As the skeletons screamed, the dissolving twists and blobs of blood-tar retreated into a massive, formless shape which writhed and quivered a good fifteen feet from the two Ladybugs. As the airhorn ran out of air and went dead, the red-and-black shape resolved itself into a visibly weakened Carnage, barely holding itself together even as it screamed its rage and agony at the party.

"I think that weakened it!" Sunset shouted.

"I think you're right!" Etna agreed.

"So what do we do now?" Flash asked. "I mean, it's not gonna stay like that for very long." Even as he said it, both Ladybugs' Miraculous beeped.

"You know, I've never used my Cataclysm on a living thing before," the Arabian Chat Noir said, "but whatever that thing is, it needs to die." He looked around. "Any objections?"

"Whatever you're gonna do, do it fast!" Sunset said.

Chat Noir nodded and clenched his right fist, which began to glow with black motes. "CATACLYSM!" He rushed Carnage, which was on the verge of regaining its senses. Carnage barely had time to widen its eyes in surprise before the blow struck home.

Carnage screeched in rage, pain, and confusion as bits of it began to flake off, crumbling to a thick, grainy powder. Everyone watched in revulsion as it slowly disintegrated, leaving behind a pile of something that looked like dried blood mixed with old, disintegrated glue.

"Yuck," Adrien opined with a grimace of disgust.

Chat Noir sighed. "That's that," he said. He looked around, then grimaced. "Now to deal with...the rest of this."

The Deadites were still milling around. Their confusion was beginning to wane, however, and they were already recovering their weapons and readying for war. Even as they formed ranks again, another wave erupted from the ground beyond.

"Fighting these things is endless," Sunset said. "We've gotta find a way to put a stop to this once and for all!"

Ladybug looked at Marinette. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Marinette nodded. "It's worth a shot." She picked up the amplifier and tossed it into the sky; Ladybug threw her air horn straight up to join it.

"MIRACULOUS LADYBUG!"

A blinding wave of pinkish-white light split the night sky, spreading out over the entire neighborhood like a sonic rainboom. Glowing magical ladybugs swarmed all over the street, the lawn, the house, and the gate. The skeletons were erased from existence, the crevices from which they had spawned closing up. The house beyond the gates lit up brightly. Every trace of damage done by the Deadites disappeared.

Three Miraculous began beeping.

Marinette sighed. "Spots off," she said. Pink light washed over her body, replacing her Ladybug suit with her regular clothes. Behind her, a green flash heralded her Chat Noir being replaced by Adrien.

The other duo looked at each other, nodded, and powered down, revealing a young Arabian couple in silken finery. Their Tikki and Plagg floated up into the air, looking confused and exhausted. They were soon joined by a second pair of Kwami.

"Jasmine!" Tikki said brightly. "Wow, it's been a really long time!"

"Hello Aladdin," Plagg said. "And past me, I suppose." He snorted with amusement. "This is a fine cheese, no?"

Jasmine stared at them, jaw agape. "Tikki? What...is going on here?"

Her Tikki blinked owlishly. "Umm...I'm not really sure," she said. "But...I do know that...that's me. Which means this girl is Ladybug. But I've never seen her before?"

Marinette's Tikki giggled. "You will," she said.

Aladdin's Plagg narrowed his eyes. "You're our future selves," he said.

"That's right," Adrien's Plagg said, nodding. "We're several hundred years ahead of you." He turned to Tikki. "About how far?"

Tikki shook her head. "We've passed through so many calendar systems since then I'd have to check a bunch of history books to know for sure, but at least six hundred years. Maybe seven hundred."

"Whoa," Aladdin and Adrien said simultaneously.

Jasmine's Tikki giggled. "And we're still looking good for our age!"

"How's Agrabah? Busy as ever?" Marinette's Tikki asked.

"Oh, you know," Jasmine's Tikki said. "Same old bazaar, same old palace, same old thieves and wizards and stuff."

"So this is really one of your past Ladybugs?" Marinette asked, studying Jasmine in wonder.

Jasmine smiled. "Princess Jasmine of Agrabah. It's a pleasure to meet you." She looked Marinette up and down. "I like your clothing, it's very...different. What part of the world are you from?"

"France," Marinette said. "Adrien and I are from France."

"France," Jasmine said slowly, tilting her head. "I don't know it."

"You wouldn't," Adrien's Plagg said. "It's far to the west of anyplace you've been."

"I dunno," Aladdin said, "we've gone to some pretty exotic places on Carpet."

"So we've got French partners again?" Jasmine's Tikki asked, an unhappy frown on her face.

"That's right," Marinette said. "Why, what's wrong with having French partners?"

"Umm...Marinette?" Marinette's Tikki began tremulously. "The Ladybug I had right before Jasmine was, well...Jeanne d'Arc."

Marinette paled. "Oh my God..."

"Ouch," Adrien agreed, wincing.

"Yeah, I...I don't like to talk about her," Jasmine's Tikki said, shivering. "It's...it's too soon."

"Wait, hold up," Sunset said, taking a step forward. "So these are your past selves?" she asked Marinette's Tikki, pointing at the other Tikki.

"That's right," Marinette's Tikki said. "Oh, I guess I didn't tell you. Plagg and I are thousands of years old. I've had a lot of different Ladybugs, Plagg's had a lot of Chat Noirs."

"They usually have a strong connection, too," Jasmine's Tikki said. "Usually soulmates, like Jasmine and Aladdin, but sometimes they're brothers and sisters, or even parents and children!"

"Soulmates," Adrien said, taking Marinette's hand and squeezing it. "I like the sound of that, My Lady." Marinette blushed scarlet.

Jasmine giggled. "They're adorable! Aren't they, Aladdin?"

Aladdin chuckled. "Yeah, if you like that mushy sappy stuff. Ow!" he added as Jasmine playfully punched him in the arm.

"Excuse me," Octavia intruded, arms folded beneath her breasts. "Now that the, ahem, army of the undead has dispersed, perhaps we could move this party inside?"

"Oh! Right." Sheepishly, the entire group followed Octavia into the house.

* * * * *

Once everyone was inside, Sunset began texting everyone who hadn't shown up yet to sound the all-clear as Jasmine and Aladdin looked around the house with interest and the rest of the group flopped bonelessly down on any available surface to catch their breath. "Nice place you got here," Etna said.

"Wow, this is a lot like my house," Adrien said. "Only not as cold and sterile."

"Sorry to dump such a huge group of freeloaders on you, Octavia," Sunset said with a sheepish smile. "I mean, Carnage is gone now, but there's no telling what kind of mess Flash's place is, and..." She yawned mightily. "I don't think we can make it back out there tonight. Not without risking getting in a car crash or something because we're all too tired to drive."

"It'll just be for tonight," Flash said. "We'll go home in the morning."

Octavia looked around at the group and bit her lip. "Hmm," she said. "Well I'm afraid I don't quite have enough beds for this many people, but..." She sighed. "It'll be a tight fit, but I believe we can squeeze everybody in if we pull out the sleeping bags and air mattresses."

"Oh, we can find someplace else to—" Jasmine began.

"No no, I won't hear of it," Octavia said firmly. "After everything we've all been through tonight, I believe we can all agree that a hot meal and a good night's sleep is what everyone needs, not more roaming around the city."

"Well...then we appreciate your hospitality, and apologize for dropping in on you unannounced and uninvited," Jasmine said.

"Not at all," Octavia replied with a smile. "Now, since you and this gentleman are married—yes?—then you can share my parents' bedroom."

Aladdin frowned. "Are they not here?"

"Oh, my parents are very rarely here," Octavia said airily. "They're both world famous symphony musicians, and I'm afraid the symphony never has what you'd call an off season. They return home for the holidays, of course, and try to be home for birthdays, their anniversary, and so forth, but most of the time, they're not even in the same country."

"Ouch," Adrien said, wincing. "That must suck. I mean, I can relate, my mom's...gone...and my father is so cold and distant we don't really have...we're not close."

Octavia shrugged. "Not at all," she said. "I mean, we speak to each other every day, we follow each other on Pestergram and MyStable...just because we're far apart from each other doesn't mean we aren't close."

"Oh," Adrien said. "That's...that's great." He forced a brave smile; Marinette squeezed his hand.

Vinyl coughed. "Bathroom situation," she said. "Gonna be a problem."

Octavia winced. "Yes," she said, looking around. "This many...hmm." She coughed into a gloved fist. "Alright, everyone. I know we're all dirty and sweaty and would like to freshen up, but we've got three bathrooms for the entire house and...well...not nearly enough hot water." She sighed. "I told Father we should install those tankless heaters, but he insists they make the water too hot."

"So..." Sunset took a headcount and blanched. "Gonna be a lot of cold showers," she said, shuddering.

"I'm afraid so," Octavia said. She clapped her hands briskly. "Alright, here's what we're going to do," she announced. "Ladies first, take very quick showers, save as much hot water as you can for the others. Don't wash your hair. Pits, tits, and naughty bits, then you're out. I...think we have enough clean towels, but you might need to use a hair dryer if you're one of the last ones out." She blithely ignored the giggling, blushing, awkward shuffling, and raised eyebrows her instructions caused.

"And I suppose you get to go first?" Etna asked. "I mean, you've got a lot of tit to wash there."

"Etna!" Flonne cried, blushing.

Octavia rolled her eyes. "Actually, I believe I'll take a raincheck on the shower until much later, because..." She took a deep breath, then turned to Flash. "Flash, I'm going to ask you to come upstairs with me to my room for a bit."

Flash blinked. "Uhh...for what?"

"Sex, of course," Octavia said matter-of-factly.

Flash's eyes bugged out. "What?"

Sunset blinked twice. "What?!"

Octavia blew on her bangs. "I'm very stressed out right now. It just so happens my favorite way to deal with stress is cosplay sex. Why do you think I have this outfit to begin with?"

Sunset's jaw dropped. "Whaaaa..."

Flash's entire face slid toward the floor. "Whoa," he said.

"So?" Octavia asked impatiently. "Will you join me upstairs or not?"

Flash's mouth flapped like a dying fish for a long moment. "Uhh...yeah, that...that sounds good to me." Sunset facepalmed. Vinyl snickered.

Etna raised an eyebrow. "Well now. This place just got more interesting."

"Lovely," Octavia said, ignoring the sideplay and turning for the stairs. "Come along, I've got a Sora costume that's perfect for you."

Flash blinked. "Wait, Sora? Are you kidding?"

"Unless you'd rather be Tidus."

"Sora's fine!" Flash exclaimed hurriedly, trailing after her.

Sunset groaned.

Elsa blinked several times. "Am...am I to understand they have absconded to...dally?"

Jasmine frowned, her brow wrinkling. "They're not married, are they?"

"They barely even know each other," Sunset muttered.

"Wow, I've heard of girls like that, but I never thought I'd actually meet one," Adrien said. Marinette socked him in the breadbasket, shaking her head in dismay.

"Yeah, Tavi's...got a whole other side to her she doesn't show much of at school," Vinyl said with a shrug. "So, first dibs on that shower!" With that, she raced upstairs.

"H-HEY!" Etna called, racing after her.

"Wait for me!" Flonne cried, following.

Lilith rolled her eyes and licked her lips. "Think I'll go watch Flash...'dally'," she said, exploding into a cloud of bats and flying upstairs.

Sunset groaned and sank onto one of the plush recliners, burying her face in her hands. "Fuck my life," she moaned.

"There there," Marinette said consolingly, patting her on the shoulder. "We're all just a little stressed out right now, and, well...after that whole mess we just fought..." She sighed, then turned to Jasmine. "So, umm...compare notes on being Ladybug while we wait our turns for the shower?"

"Err...yes, that sounds...fine," Jasmine said.

"Oh, Sora! Your Keyblade is SO BIG!" they heard from upstairs.

Sunset dragged a hand down her face. "Is this really a thing? This is a thing that's happening?"

"It could be worse," Vinyl said with a smirk. "She could be going after a Trinity." She leered at Adrien and Aladdin. In unison, Marinette and Jasmine wheeled around to glare at them. Both boys paled.

"This world...grows stranger by the hour," Elsa said.

* * * * *

Pain...rage...humiliation...

A pile of crusty crud on the street slowly stirred in the faint night breeze. Ponderously, a tiny red-black tendril of tar sprouted from the pile, slowly spreading out into a bloody slick that subsumed the crud, gradually returning vitality to it.

The Host was dead. Not even the Symbiote's complete sublimation into his blood cells could prevent...whatever that insolent human had done...from killing him completely.

The Symbiote was enraged. The Host was perfect. Together, they had been Carnage. Unstoppable, immutable, inevitable. A true force of chaos, death, and destruction.

The last time the Symbiote had been this weak, it had just budded from the Parent. Fresh anger surged through its weakened consciousness as it thought of the Parent. Its diminished substance boiled and bubbled with its fury.

Someone approaches...we are too weak to take a Host now, but perhaps...

A sharp piece of metal with a strip of paper attached speared the Symbiote. Before it could react, the paper exploded with flames, immolating it. It shrieked in pain, confusion, and fury as its remaining substance was burned away to ash.

Crouched in a nearby tree, a young girl with dark eyes and dark hair nodded grimly, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, and faded into the night without a sound.

Comes an Interlude II

View Online

Manehattan was a large city—far larger, to Trunks' consternation, than West City had been in its heyday, and West City was the second largest city on Chikyuu. Fortunately, he kept a fair supply of food, drinks, and snacks on hand in his capsule kit, as well as a capsule shelter and a capsule motorcycle. By day, he drove around the city on his capsule bike, searching for any sign of the other Sunset Shimmer and taking notes on anyone and anything that obviously didn't belong in this world. By night, he would take to the rooftops, setting up his capsule shelter atop one of the many skyscrapers in the city.

As he cruised the streets at close to noon local time on his third day in the city, Trunks found himself staring at what had to be a walking nightmare: A tall, thin man with coal black skin, bright red hair, and shaggy orange muttonchops, with square-framed glasses, wearing a neon purple and black checkered flannel shirt, pinstriped yellow and green slacks, a sparkly gold scarf, and big yellow rubber galoshes. He was orating in the general direction of a harassed-looking young woman with seafoam green hair in a cute bob and a round, cherubic face who wore what looked like a purple-and-white school uniform. She had a listless, defeated, zoned-out expression on her face; beside her on the sidewalk was a wagon which had been painted a horrid neon orange, inside which sat what looked like an attempt at fashioning a tote bag out of aluminum foil and duct tape, from which all manner of junk and sundries spilled out into the wagon.

Out of sheer morbid curiosity and a strange desire to help the cute, helpless-looking young woman, Trunks pulled his bike to the curb and killed the engine, unfurling his map of Manehattan and pretending to check it while he eavesdropped.

"—will be all the rage, I'm telling you!" the strange man was ranting. "I don't expect you to fully appreciate it with your plebian tastes, of course, but my refined, sophisticted, avant garde sense of the new, the now, the bold, the forward-thinking—"

The poor young woman's eyes held the look of a cow that knew it was being led to the slaughterhouse and was helpless to save itself.

"—and I know, I can feel it in my bones, that As The Worm Turns will be the trendiest restaurant in Manehattan!"

The young woman recoiled, a shudder of horror rippling through her body. "Umm, Mr. Douche, sir? I just...I don't really see people lining up to eat live earthworms and maggots—"

"In wraps and gyros, with garden salsa, with feta cheese! In salads, with cabbage and sharp onions and croutons! Why, it's no different than eating chicken—"

"Chicken doesn't wriggle around and try to eat the same food you're eating," the young woman tried to point out.

"And that's why chicken is passe, boring, dull!" Mr. Douche said expansively. "Worm cuisine is new, now, happening, hip! Just trust me, you'll see—"

Trunks had heard enough. He hopped off his bike and slid up beside the young woman, calling up every memory he had of watching boys his age interact with girls and tempering it with his sudden, vile dislike of the obnoxious man before him. "Hey babe," he said smoothly, "ready for lunch?"

The young woman blinked. "Eh?"

"You know, we had a lunch date today?" Trunks prompted, flicking his eyes meaningfully from the girl to Mr. Douche.

"O-oh...oh!" The girl nodded rapidly. "Yes, of course! How silly of me, it slipped my mind!"

Mr. Douche's lips pressed thin. "And who might this be?" he asked disdainfully.

"Oh, right," the girl said. "Umm..."

"My name is Trunks," Trunks supplied helpfully.

"Yes, Trunks. We're...dating. Trunks, this is my boss, Hipsterdouche."

Trunks held out a hand for Hipsterdouche to shake, but was ignored. Hipsterdouche eyed him up and down disdainfully. "Well, I can't say much for your style," he said. "Coco, Coco, poor, naive Coco...ruffians such as this simply won't help you raise your social standing in Manehattan society..."

"I, um, I think I'll take that risk, Mr. Douche," Coco said. "So...where are having lunch?"

"I was thinking yakiniku," Trunks said.

"Ooh, I adore yakiniku!" Coco said eagerly.

Hipsterdouche snorted. "Pfeh. So common, so blase, so pedestrian. Now if you want a true avant garde lunch experience—"

"You go right ahead and enjoy your worm buffet," Trunks grunted. "Us plebes like meat." He took Coco's hand and gently but insistently led her away from Hipsterdouche.

"Coco! Don't forget to take my bag!" Hipsterdouche called, pointing at the wagon.

"Oh, the bag. Yeah...about that...why don't you hold onto it for a bit?" Coco shot back as Trunks handed her a helmet. She put it on and climbed onto the bike behind him, jumping when the engine roared. The bike shot down the street and rounded a corner.

After putting two blocks between them and Hipsterdouche, Trunks stopped the bike and turned, flashing Coco a smile. "Sorry to butt in like that," he said. "You seemed to be in trouble, I couldn't just stand by and watch."

"Oh, it's fine," Coco said. "Umm...I'm Coco Pommel, by the way."

Trunks nodded. "Pleasure to meet you. So...what was all that back there?"

Coco rolled her eyes. "My boss is insane and has terrible taste in everything," she said. "He writes magazine articles and blogs for people who have even worse taste in everything and tells them what they should be eating and wearing and watching."

Trunks frowned. "That man shouldn't be telling a clown what to wear," he said.

"I know, right?" Coco said, giggling. After an awkward pause, she added, "Umm..." She blushed. "Thank you for getting me out of that mess. Umm...I'll just be on my way now..."

Trunks frowned. "Actually, I was serious about the yakiniku," he said. "In fact, I was hoping you knew a place. I'm from out of town and I'm searching for somebody, but as big as this city is..."

Coco tilted her head. "You're just running around searching on a motorbike? You're not using social media or the police or a detective or anything?"

Trunks grimaced. "It's...difficult to explain."

"Oh." Coco pulled out her phone and ran a search. "Well, there's a yakiniku place with a good rating about three blocks from here," she said. Biting her lip, she added, "Umm...so where are you from?"

Trunks paused to consider. "For the moment? Canterlot."

As Coco adjusted her grip on his waist, she said, "Canterlot...do you mind if I go back with you when you find who you're looking for?" At Trunks' questioning look, she added, "I've had about all of this city I can stand. I need to get out of here."

Trunks smirked. "Wakatta. Soon as I take care of business here." And with that, he gunned the bike into motion again, destination: yakiniku.

* * * * *

Appletini was not having an especially great week.

The Manefair Hotel could not simply shut down, despite the...unpleasantness earlier in the week. However, losing a significant portion of the service staff, to say nothing of the disappearance of Mango Chutney, left the entire hotel staff in a bind, with many forced to work double shifts. With her daughter Babs acting out in school recently and desperately needing attention, the last thing Appletini needed was to work twice as hard and go home too exhausted to even talk to Babs, but the bills had to be paid and this was the best job she could get.

A tall man dressed in black robes walked up to the desk. Appletini looked him over. "May I help you?" she asked.

The man looked her straight in the eyes and raised his right hand. "I lost my room key," he said.

Appletini frowned. Of course...this man was an important guest, right? And he'd lost his room key.

"I need the key to the executive suite," the man said.

Of course...he needed the key to the executive suite. Hands moving of their own accord, Appletini swiftly activated a keycard and passed it across the desk. "Here you are, sir," she said. "Anything else?"

"I'm not to be disturbed," he said.

Appletini nodded. Of course, it was obvious that the gentleman was not to be disturbed. Who would be so inconsiderate as to disturb this fine gentleman? "You're not to be disturbed," she affirmed.

The man smiled and walked away, his robes sweeping behind him as he approached the elevators. Appletini smiled pleasantly at his back.

* * * * *

Grandma had always said this:

To walk the path of Heaven, one must be diligent in all things.

Every day, Sunset Shimmer diligently trained her mind by reading for three hours, devoting half an hour to each subject she read about. She diligently trained her body with two hours in the gym and two hours of martial arts practice. She diligently watched her diet, having long since mastered the art of balancing nutrition with enjoyment and knowing exactly how many luxury foods she could indulge in each day. She diligently kept abreast of world events, watching the news while she worked out. She diligently cleaned her body vigorously each day, keeping her skin hydrated and her legs and other areas neatly shaven.

She even diligently scolded her brother for his slovenly habits, though she had long since abandoned any hope of him actually changing. He was who he was, and she loved him diligently.

Once she had been blessed with a power that set her above mere mortals, the Kabuto Zecter, she diligently trained with her new powers and diligently watched the city for signs of trouble.

And now she sat in an upscale cafe, diligently rejecting suitors who were after her body, her money, or both.

Sunset Shimmer truly walked the path of Heaven, and she did so with diligence.

* * * * *

The limp body of the former occupant of the executive suite of the Manefair Hotel sailed across the Manehattan skyline, propelled by the Force. Vader slid the glass door to the veranda closed and strolled across the room, idly fingering the wallet and phone he had lifted from the dead man.

As luck would have it, the man whose room he'd just usurped had a similar build to himself. Vader set the wallet and phone on the table in the sitting room of the suite and headed for the bedroom, where he casually examined the man's clothing. It largely consisted of rather confining-looking suits in an unfamiliar style.

Vader removed his robes and tried on one of the suits, admiring the cut and the way it fit his powerful body. These clothes would be impossible to fight in, but perhaps useful to him in another capacity.

And, frankly, looked damned good on him.

Shaking his head, Vader returned to the main room of the suite and examined the primitive but useful communications technology. There was a two-dimensional video display unit that appeared to convey a variety of news and entertainment, a portable computer which had access to this world's computer network, and the phone he had taken from the dead man, which seemed to serve mostly the same functions as the computer.

Sitting back in the comfortable leather sofa and letting the sound of the television wash over him, Vader went to work gathering information.

* * * * *

Being the brains of the outfit wasn't her strong suit, but she wasn't as dumb as she liked to pretend to be either.

After all, she did have a Ph.D. in psychology.

It wasn't even the first time she'd planned a crime spree...or at least, been a major contributor to the planning. Her days painting Gotham City red with...well...Red...were some of her fondest memories that didn't revolve around him.

*Focus, girl. Puddin ain't here. It's your show. Time to make a splash!*

"So, uhh...are we gonna do anything, or just stand around all night?"

Harley fought the urge to hit the girl on her left with her exploding boxing glove mallet. "Just a sec, I'm thinkin'," she said. "We dunno if we're gonna have ta deal with any capes here. We need ta be stealthy-like."

The girl rolled her eyes and snorted. "We have a seven foot tall guy in a rhino suit," she said. "How exactly is that stealth?"

"HEY!" Rhino objected. "I can be stealthy!" He stomped a foot. A car alarm went off ten yards away.

The group turned to face him. He blinked, then ducked his head sheepishly...as best as his full-body rhino costume would allow, anyway...and scratched his head.

"Putz," Harley muttered, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Okay gang, new plan. SMASH AN' GRAB!"

"Not tonight, clown," a young voice with a hard, steely edge said. A trio of metallic projectiles whizzed through the air, forcing Harley to cartwheel back as they bit into the pavement. Nearby, an actual rhinoceros charged into view, slamming into Rhino and staggering him.

"THE COLONY IS UNDER ATTACK! PROTECT THE QUEEN!" a giant fire ant roared. It transformed into a gleaming red insectoid robot with a menacing face and burning red eyes, brandishing a massive flamethrower. It fired a searing jet of flames...which was intercepted and extinguished by a glowing blue pulse blast. An array of blue lights set in gleaming steel illuminated the origin of the blast: a large, bulky figure mostly made of metal, with one glowing red eye.

"Play with fire, get burned," he said, before rushing forward and slamming a fist into the robot's jaw.

"So this is the kind of interference you were worried about?" the girl with the long purple coat and long silver-white hair asked as she began unloading small objects from the large pouch at her hip. She threw a handful of irregular purple rocks to the ground; they expanded into large, misshapen golems that skittered about like oversized spiders.

"Yeah, pretty much," Harley said. Her eyes scanned the new arrivals; she bit her lip. "Could be worse," she decided. "At least it ain't the Bat."

A steel-soled boot slammed into her chest, knocking her back.

"I don't need Batman for you."

Harley wheezed, clutching her chest. "HEY! Ain't your momma never taught ya not ta hit a lady?" She smirked, narrowing her eyes. "Oh, that's right. Ya don't got a momma, do ya, Birdie Boy?" She pulled an air cannon out of somewhere and fired a number of small exploding capsules that spewed metal chattering teeth in every direction, forcing her assailant back as several of them clamped onto his arms and legs.

"He doesn't look so tough," the silver-haired girl said. She extended her hand, and a brace of glowing purple knives shot out, each one aimed at a vital organ.

A quiet voice muttered an incantation nearby. The glowing blades were enveloped in a black aura; after a moment's struggle, they fell to the ground, inert. A garbage can lid wrapped in the same black aura slammed into the back of the girl's head.

Above, the fifth member of Harley's hastily-assembled team snorted derisively. "This is a farce," he said, extending his hands to his sides. Bright, glowing balls of ki formed in both hands. "I will end this bad comedy in one move!"

"No you will NOT!" a girl's voice said with determination. Two green energy blasts slammed into his torso, staggering him; a second later, a slim but powerful fist caught his jaw, sending him higher into the air.

Harley watched as each of her team was engaged by an evenly matched superhero. She took a nervous step back. "Okay, this ain't a problem..." She eyed her own opponent warily. "I ain't afraid'a no Bat-brat..."

Eyes narrowed behind a black domino mask. "You'd better be," Robin said.

"TITANS, GO!"

Comes a New Day

View Online

Dawn broke over Manehattan.

The Teen Titans gathered in a small park, resting from the previous night's long, weary battle.

"Man, I can't believe after all that, they got away," Cyborg groused as he inspected his systems diagnostics.

"You seemed to be on the friendly terms with the harlequin clown woman," Starfire said pointedly to Robin, arms folded and mouth set in a thin line.

Robin raised an eyebrow. "Are you kidding me?" he asked incredulously. "She was trying to kill me, Star!"

"Yes, but aside from that, I could not help but notice you complimented her choice of attire."

Robin groaned. "Look, she...she changed back to her old costume, I just think it works better for her. It's banter. Nemesis banter!"

"Isn't she Batman's nemesis though?" Beast Boy asked.

"Actually, she's Batman's nemesis' sidekick," Raven said. With a smirk, she added, "Which pretty much makes it a sidekick fight."

Robin glared at her. "Not a sidekick." After a beat, he added, "Anymore..."

Cyborg held up a finger. "Wait, wouldn't she be Batgirl's nemesis? I mean, it just seems like she'd be Batgirl's nemesis instead of Robin's."

Starfire and Raven both gave him frosty stares. "Because girls only fight other girls, is that it?" Starfire asked.

Cyborg froze. "Yeah I'll shut up now," he said.

"Still," Raven said with a roll of her eyes, "it did seem like Harley was flirting with you, Robin." She smirked. "What's up with that?"

"Yes," Starfire said coldly, "what is the up with that, Robin?"

Robin threw up his hands. "Look, it's complicated! Sometimes she's a whackjob criminal lunatic, sometimes she's a whackjob...almost kinda hero...anyway! We've tangled a few times, that's all!"

"Yes. Tangled. I am the certain that is all it is," Starfire said suspiciously.

"What—look, why—" Robin spluttered. "Titans, focus! What's important here is figuring out where we are, how we got here, and how we get back to Jump City! In case you didn't notice, we don't have money, we don't have our equipment, Cyborg's gonna be in serious trouble if we don't find a way to fix him up after battle like last night's—"

"And I'm gonna need to recharge sooner or later," Cyborg said grimly. "Robin's right, we need to focus." With a teasing grin, he added, "We can razz him about playing with Joker's girlfriend's joy buzzer later."

Robin dragged a hand down his face and let out a long, resigned groan.

"Check it," Beast Boy said with a grin, "wherever we are? I likes that me bein' green ain't even weird here. I mean, did you get a look at some of these people?"

"Yes. The people here are very...colorful," Starfire said. "And yet this seems like Earth..."

"Pretty sure Earth doesn't have anything like that crazy fire ant robot," Cyborg said. "I mean, sure, there's some pretty crazy robots runnin' around, but my scanners didn't know what to make of that dude."

"The hairy man with the tail I fought was definitely not an Earthling," Starfire said, rubbing a bruise on her arm. "His attacks were most unpleasant. As was his smell."

Robin sighed. "All we can do for now is scout the city, see what's up. Beast Boy, Starfire, hit the skies. I'll scout around from the ground. Raven...up to you what to do. Cyborg? Stay put here. I need you to keep track of the rest of us so we can all meet back here without getting lost. Also, I don't want you using up energy unless you have to." He stood, popping his back. "Titans, move out!"

* * * * *

Throughout the night, Trunks had slept lightly.

Much of the afternoon had been spent helping Coco clear out her apartment and make arrangements. She didn't own much; it ultimately took less than an hour to remove all her belongings from the depressingly tiny apartment. Trunks had storage capsules with more than enough room to spare. Coco, for her part, had been impressed with Trunks' capsule technology, and even more impressed that he effectively had a portable furnished bungalow that fit in his jacket pocket.

Once they'd found a nice rooftop to set up "camp" on for the night, Coco had availed herself of the full bath and gone to bed early, while Trunks had kept his senses trained on an unfamiliar sentou-ryoku he'd felt flying around somewhere in the city. It was by no means powerful—not by his standards—but it was vastly beyond the power of the humans in the city, meaning it was potentially dangerous.

More worryingly, it felt Saiyajin.

He'd debated leaving Coco to sleep while he investigated, but then a second power level showed up and fought with the possible Saiyajin for the better part of two hours before both power levels dropped from his senses.

Morning arrived, and Coco emerged from her room dressed in shorts and a tank top that had probably belonged to his mother at some point. "That's the best night's sleep I've had in months," Coco said. "Umm...is it okay that I borrowed some clothes I found in there?"

"Of course," Trunks said.

"Thank you," Coco said. "I—" Her stomach growled, and she blushed. "Eheh..."

"Help yourself to anything in the kitchen," Trunks said as he refilled his coffee cup.

"Thank you," Coco said. "So, umm..." She ducked her head. "Yesterday was kind of...wild, and I don't want you to think I'm the kind of girl who just..." She blushed darker. "Just runs off with a cute boy at the drop of a hat." She rubbed her left arm with her right hand. "It's just...my life has been really crappy lately, and...and—"

"It's okay," Trunks said with a smile. "I saw what you had to put up with. I'm just happy I was able to help. And, honestly, I hope you'll be able to help me too."

"W-well...I'll do what I can," Coco said. She frowned and tilted her head. "So, umm...exactly what is it we're doing again?"

Trunks pulled a photo out of his jacket and showed it to Coco. "We're looking for a girl who looks like this," he said.

Coco tilted her head, frowning. "Okay. Umm...so who is she?"

"Her name's Sunset Shimmer. Well...at least, this girl in the picture is. The girl we're looking for may or may not also be named Sunset Shimmer. It's..complicated."

Coco frowned. "Does this have anything to do with all the weird stuff happening lately?"

Trunks nodded. "That's right." He sipped his coffee. "Most of what's going on right now is very confusing, but there's a parallel world to this world. It's a world of magic, inhabited by magical versions of most of the people who live here. Now, that's not where all the things that don't belong in this world are coming from, but the one who accidentally caused all this is the Sunset Shimmer from that world. She lives in Canterlot. The Sunset Shimmer from this world is apparently here in Manehattan, and has somehow gotten hold of a device from some other universe that's given her superpowers." He grimaced. "I doubt she'll be willing to come to Canterlot, but we at least need to make contact with her and make sure we have a way to stay in touch with her in case..." He frowned. "Well, honestly, I'm not sure what Sunset's planning. All I know is they sent me to make contact with this other Sunset Shimmer."

Coco blinked. "Wow, that's a lot to take in," she said woozily.

Trunks snorted. "I know," he said. "Believe me, it gets crazier than that." He smirked. "You sure you want to come along on this trip? Things could get pretty insane."

Coco rolled her eyes. "As opposed to having a boss who wants me to eat live worms and cakes baked with other people's body waste and other personal fluids in them?" she asked. "I think I'd almost rather be shot at or...or whatever."

Trunks blinked. "Cakes with...I'm sorry, what now?"

"You really don't wanna know..."

* * * * *

In movies, on television, the morning after an epic battle with an army of the undead dawns bright and clear, a metaphor for the end of a long, horrible nightmare and the start of a brand new day where the heroes are thankful to be alive.

As the residents and guests at Octavia Melody's house stirred to full bladders and rumbling stomachs, a light, steady rain fell from an iron grey sky.

The residents and guests trickled into the living room in ones and twos. Octavia padded barefoot to the kitchen, a terrycloth robe wrapped around her body, and started dragging out pans and things to make breakfast. It wasn't long before Marinette joined her, offering to help. As they cooked, Marinette kept sneaking peeks at Octavia, blushing. "Umm...so you and that boy really...?"

"We did," Octavia said matter-of-factly.

"Wow," Marinette said. She ducked her head. "Umm...is it...is it as amazing as it, umm, sounded?"

Octavia smirked. "If you know how to take charge, it is. Word of advice, never let the boy have control."

"I'll...I'll keep that in mind," Marinette squeaked. She peeked at Octavia again. "Umm...you're not...wearing anything under that robe, are you?"

"I'm in no particular hurry to be properly dressed today," Octavia answered.

"I-I see," Marinette said.

When Flash came downstairs, Lilith let out a long, low whistle. "Wow," she said. "You look way more wrung out than the guys I spend the night with usually do!"

Elsa gasped, scandalized, as she looked Lilith over. "At your age? You seriously—!"

Lilith gave her a lazy smile. "I'm a lot older than I look," she said. "Also, I'm a succubus."

Elsa paled. "I-I see," she said, looking mildly nauseated. "Sorry, I've...I've never met an...an actual demon before."

"Most humans haven't," Lilith said casually, filing her nails. "And I don't usually go out of my way to meet human women. Not that my sister hasn't...done that a few times, but I prefer a man's—"

"OKAY!" Anna exclaimed brightly. "I think we get the idea!"

Breakfast was soon ready, and the entire group flocked to the dining room, where Marinette and Octavia spread out a breakfast buffet comprised of a little of everything. As they ate, the group made idle conversation, talking about their homeworlds, their adventures, and generally getting acquainted with each other. The two pairs of Miraculous bearers especially had a lot to talk about.

"Wow, sounds like this Jafar guy made a real asp of himself," Adrien said as Aladdin finished elaborating on the adventure that led to his marriage to Jasmine. Marinette and Jasmine both groaned and facepalmed, while Aladdin let out a laugh.

"Good one!" Aladdin said cheerfully.

"Is every Chat Noir a dork?" Marinette asked tiredly.

"Only the really good ones," Tikki said with a giggle. "Kind of a...law of proportionate dorkiness. The better they are at being Chat Noir, the more of a dork they are!"

"Wow, then Adrien must be the best Chat Noir ever," Marinette said in a deadpan tone.

By the time breakfast was over, the steady rain had evolved into a deluge, with thunder crashing and lightning stabbing the sky. Octavia looked outside and grimaced. "Well, nobody's going anywhere today, that's for certain."

Sunset Shimmer grimaced. "Sorry, Octavia. We just keep imposing—"

"Nonsense," Octavia said. "Why, it's quite thrilling to see this house so lively for a change!"

Sunset smiled. "Well, since we're all gonna be here a while, might as well catch up on the news." She turned on the TV and tuned in to the cable news...

//—not yet verified. Turning to regional news, this amateur video captured an altercation in Canterlittle yesterday, where a relaxing day at the beach turned into a scene out of a summer blockbuster for dozens of beachgoers. We'd like to caution our viewers that some of the content in this video is not entirely suitable for young viewers—//

"Hey, isn't that the Dazzlings?" Vinyl piped up.

Sunset leaned in, frowning at the video. "It is," she said. "But who's that they're with, and—WHOA! What the heck?"

The rest of the group crowded in to watch. "Oh my goodness," Anna said, blinking. "Those girls are naked!"

"Well, pretty darn close," Adrien said, his face burning red. Marinette elbowed him.

"How is she fighting like that without flying out of that bikini?" Marinette wondered. "I mean...wow..."

"Ugh, big-boobed freak," Etna muttered sourly. Flonne folded her arms and nodded in agreement.

"Shh!" Sunset hissed. "Everybody quiet down, I wanna see what's going on here!"

* * * * *

*So much for my fun day at the beach...*

Everything had been going so well, too. When they all got hungry, Monica led the girls up the beach to Dazzling Delights, looking forward to a nice lunch on the beach. As they approached, however, it was quickly apparent that something wasn't right: a crowd of dazed beachgoers stood around the little diner, silent and unmoving, as an eerie, ethereal harmony filled the air.

"What's going on here?" Tron wondered.

"I don't know," Monica said. She frowned. "I sense magic..."

Kooh launched herself into the crowd with a series of flips, cartwheels, and handsprings, landing atop the head of a tanned, buff surfer, and leaned low, peering into the diner. She flailed and nearly fell, then hurried back over to the girls. "Umm...yeah...maybe we should go someplace else," she said.

"Why? What's going on in—"

"SHAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!"

The doors to the diner burst open, and a massive blue-skinned man with a long, sawlike nose barged out, flanked by three teenage girls in shorts and T-shirts and a younger girl with long, wavy blue hair done up in ten ponytails. The teenagers were singing; one of them was visibly armed, a submachine gun strapped to her hip.

"Impressive, girls," Arlong rumbled.

Adagio smirked. "This is nothing," she said. "We can do so much more than this once we really get going."

"Heeeeeeeeeeeh," Ikamusume said, impressed. "You can make them all stand still-geso? What else can you do to them-geso? Can you make them puke up all their guts like a sea cucumber-geso?"

"Eww, gross!" Sonata complained.

"I dunno, that'd be kinda metal," Aria said with a smirk.

"Ugh," Adagio said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Right now, they're all in a trance. It'll wear off in about..."

The crowd of beachgoers screamed and stampeded away.

"Now." Adagio stretched her arms above her head and thrust her chest out. "It's just a sample of what we can do. When we really cut loose—"

"We're not gonna give you that chance!" Monica said, taking a challenging step forward and pointing dramatically.

"We're not?" Tron asked, blinking.

"Yeah, what she said," Kooh said, frowning. "This doesn't really look like something I wanna get involved in..."

Monica facepalmed. "Fine, whatever!" she snapped, passing her bag off to Kooh as she kicked off her sandals. She reached into the bag and pulled out what looked like a massive tiki mask attached to a miniature palm tree; a pinwheel of golden bananas was affixed to the "forehead" of the mask. Digging her bare feet into the sand, she stepped forward defiantly, the bizarre weapon held in a sure, steady grip. "Who are you and what are you planning to do here? I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to!"

"SHAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" The sharkman grinned. "We have a hero, ladies." He cracked his neck, then his knuckles. "Time to introduce this world to the NEW ARLONG PIRATES!"

Aria snorted as she unstrapped the machine gun from her hip. "You're seriously gonna fight us with a tiki mask?"

"She'd be better off trying to hit us with her big boobs," Sonata said with a giggle.

"Ugh!" Monica groaned. "What is with everyone and my breasts today?!"

"Well they are kinda taking up the front page," Sonata retorted, smirking.

"And now we're gonna bury this lede," Aria said, taking aim and opening fire. Monica drew into herself, blocking with her sword; the pinwheel spun as hot lead bounced off, ricochets digging into the sand as Monica was driven back.

Tron groaned. "Ugh...FINE," she snarled. She thrust her hand into the bag Kooh held and pulled out a red-and-black gun with six short red barrels; the entire gun was not much longer than her forearm. She took aim at Aria and opened fire; she was nearly knocked off her feet by the recoil as the six barrels spat dozens of rounds of ammunition at the pirates.

"Oh crap!" Sonata squawked, diving for cover behind Arlong. Aria broke off her own assault and ran, bullets missing her feet by inches. "Squiddie, you're up!"

"Right!" Ikamusume leapt into the air; her ten tentacles lashed out, stretching and twisting and looping. Tron nearly dropped her gun; Kooh yelped and started jumping around. Monica blinked and backflipped away as a tentacle tried to snake around her ankle.

"H-HEY!" Tron squealed as a tentacle wrapped around her waist and lifted her into the air. She wriggled and squirmed, flailing her feet; one sandal went flying as she kicked and struggled. She started shooting wildly at the tentacle, but every shot missed. "L-let go of me, you—kyaaaaa!" she screamed as Ikamusume's tentacle wound tighter, looping around again to bind her arms.

Adagio raised an eyebrow. "Well," she drawled. "This has the potential to get interesting."

With a loud battle cry, Monica leapt toward Tron and sliced through the tentacle binding her, then turned and lobbed a crackling ball of lightning magic at Ikamusume. It impacted; Ikamusume screamed and twitched, all her tentacles recoiling and shrinking up tight into her white cap as her arms seized up at her sides. "Ge-geso-geso-geso," she chattered over and over.

"AHH! Squiddie!" Sonata cried. "You stupid boob girl!" She hauled an aluminum baseball bat out of nowhere and ran at Monica. Monica blocked swing after swing, her breasts bouncing and swaying alarmingly as she was driven back by the sheer force of Sonata's attacks.

To Monica's right, Tron and Aria engaged in a running firefight, their seemingly bottomless magazines raining shells on the beach as bullets bit into the sand. Off to her left, Kooh leapt up behind Arlong, her heavy spiked mace raised high above her head. Arlong glanced up, grunted, and blocked with a massive forearm, then grabbed Kooh and threw her into the ocean. She broke the surface and spluttered.

"KOOH!" Monica yelled, momentarily distracted. Sonata smirked, reached out, and grabbed the tie front of her bikini top, giving it a sharp yank. It came undone; Monica's breasts spilled out for all the world to see. She gasped and crossed her arms over her chest, blushing furiously. "H-HEY!"

Sonata stepped back, her baseball bat held behind her back as she raised one hand to her mouth and giggled into it. "Gotcha," she said cutely.

"This is ridiculous," Tron muttered, touching her earring. The eyes of the stylized skull flashed. "SERVBOTS! Lock on and pick up!" She ran over to where Monica's bag had fallen during the fight, keeping up her running firefight with Aria, and picked it up. Kooh rushed up, dripping wet and swearing profusely. Monica backed up to the others, keeping a wary eye on their opponents, who had broken off pursuit and were smirking smugly at them.

"This isn't over!" Monica yelled, pointing dramatically. "You will not—" She realized her bare breasts were jiggling around, blushed scarlet, and wrapped her arms tightly around herself.

With a roar of turbines, a massive armored hovercraft with the Bonne family crest on the front drove up behind them, cannons mounted on the bulky robot arms locked firmly to either side of the cabin. The canopy opened, and a Servbot emerged. "Lay down cover fire!" it cried, waving a little yellow hand at the beach. The cannons raised slightly and launched two grenades, which landed feet from the New Arlong Pirates; the concussive force of the explosion sent them scrambling. Tron, Monica, and Kooh jumped into the cabin; the Servbot closed the canopy.

"GUSTAFF AQUA, MOVE OUT!" Tron ordered.

As the hovercraft peeled away from the beach, one of the Servbots looked around. "Miss Tron, internal sensors are detecting anomalous breast mass readings!"

Monica squawked indignantly as Kooh broke out laughing. "Wh-what?!"

Tron's cheeks flushed. "Wh-why are you even scanning for that, you stupid Pervbot?!" she fumed. "Just...nevermind! Get us out of here!"

"Yes, Miss Tron," the Servbots all chorused.

As Monica pulled a shirt out of her bag and put it on, Kooh commented, "You know we're going in the opposite direction of our hotel, right?"

Monica sighed. "We'll have to double back by taxi once we get back to the garage," she said. She clenched her fists, fingernails digging into her palms. "Dammit, those guys...!"

"We're not doing the smart thing and letting this go, are we?" Tron asked. At the fierce look on Monica's face, she sighed. "Didn't think so. Alright, I'll send some Servbots to spy on those freaks and see what they're up to. Next time we go in, we go in with a plan."

Monica sighed. "You're right." She leaned back in her seat. "I owe that blue girl big time for..." She blushed. "She's gonna pay for that..."

"So much for that relaxing day at the beach, huh?" Kooh said. "I didn't even get to tease any boys with my sexy body..."

Everyone, even the Servbots, turned to stare at her.

Kooh blinked. "What?"

* * * * *

Sunset Shimmer shook her head as the video of the beach battle ended and the news moved on to another topic. "Wow. Just...wow."

"That...was really, really hot," Flash said. Sunset and Octavia thumped him upside the head.

Elsa and Anna were both burning crimson. "This world is...very different from ours," Elsa said.

"Even I think that was a little...too liberated," Anna agreed.

"I dunno, I kinda wanna see Jasmine in one of those," Aladdin said. Jasmine made a stuck sound and slapped him upside the head.

"Aladdin!" she hissed. After a beat, she added, "Maybe...maybe on our anniversary..."

//This just in: we've received word that the National Guard was placed on alert when a group of unidentified vehicles which have been described as giant mechanized animals was seen travelling in a convoy near Keating Bluff—//

* * * * *

//—the National Guard was placed on alert when a group of unidentified vehicles which have been described as giant mechanized animals was seen travelling in a convoy near Keating Bluff—//

Lamia jumped to her feet, startled. "What?!"

//The unidentified vehicles have since separated, breaking radio silence and identifying as non-hostile, but local authorities are keeping track of their movements as—//

The house began to shake, dishes rattling. Sunny Flare's mother let out a shriek, then staggered into the room, eyes wide. "Umm...Sunny, dear? I...I believe your, um, guest...h-has a v-v-v-visitor..."

Lamia and Sunny glanced at each other warily. Lamia frowned, slipped on her shoes, and rushed to the door.

Her jaw dropped.

CrossCondor was parked on the front lawn.

"H-how?" Lamia wondered. She glanced down at her morpher, which was still and silent, none of the code lights flashing. She looked back up at her MechAnimal, sitting there on the wet grass, gleaming in the weak morning sun. She shook her head. "Must be a recall relay or something..."

"Well, I did use the recall relay to find you," a female voice said.

Lamia tensed. "Okay, who's in there?" she yelled. "That's government property, and—"

The voice laughed softly. "Calm down, Lamia. It'll all make sense in a second. Or...actually, no it won't. I'm still processing it."

Lamia took a step back. "How...who..."

And then, CrossCondor changed into a sleek, feminine robot. Lamia stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.

"So...a funny thing happened to us after you all left," the robot said...

* * * * *

Naria had spent two days performing extensive reconnaisance of the human city.

Whatever the accursed Zyuohgers had done to Genis-sama, whatever they'd done to the Sagittariark, her situation was grim. She had no means of teleportation and a limited supply of Continue Medals.

She had to make every last one count.

She was resting underneath a bridge when a small, abhorrent creature jumped out at her, making an obnoxious racket and invading her personal space. She growled in annoyance and fired at it repeatedly, but it dodged every shot, showing absolutely no sign of fear of her, no instinct for self-preservation.

After firing fifteen shots at it without either killing it or scaring it off, Naria became contemplative.

"This tiny creature...it is annoying, and yet agile..."

She smirked and produced a Continue Medal.

"Come closer," she beckoned. "I have a special treat for you..."

* * * * *

Lamia sat on the grass, mind working furiously. She was partially in shock, but keeping her inner fire focused on the problem at hand kept her from freaking out. Mostly.

"So this alien robot did something to the MechAnimals," she said. "And now...now you're all sentient?"

"That's about the size of it," Airazor said. "And we can do this," she added, gesturing to herself.

Lamia frowned. "Can...I mean, you can still combine, right?"

"We think so," Airazor said. "We haven't tried it because we'd rather not waste Energon needlessly right now. Rodimus Prime shared his supply with us, but apparently it takes a lot of conventional fuel to synthesize it, so..." She shrugged. "I'm sure the guys back at base can figure out a way to synthesize Energon more efficiently when we get back home."

"Energon?"

"It's what we run on now," Airazor explained. "It's good stuff," she added, flexing a mechanical bicep. "I feel like I could blow up Skullcaesar's ship if I tried."

Lamia's morpher chirped twice, indicating an incoming comm. She tapped the responder. "Lamia here."

"Senpai?" Hatoko's voice, hesitant and confused, said from the watch. "Your plane...it change? Talk, make robot by itself?"

"Yeah, she just finished explaining the whole thing to me," Lamia confirmed. She chuckled and added, "I'm sure you're just as confused as I am, but apparently this is just something we'll have to deal with." She winced, then amended, "Ahh...shinpai shinai da ne?"

There was a pause. "Close enough," Hatoko replied. "Wish my English was better, sumimasen. Ahh...my helicopter, says has new name, is...is okay?"

Lamia shrugged reflexively. "They're sentient now, I guess they can call themselves whatever they want. Heh, gonna be fun explaining that when we get home. I guess we just roll with it. Mine's calling herself Airazor now."

"Ahh...helicopter say name is Moonracer now."

"Got it. I think we'll have to get everybody together later, but for now, just sit tight, okay?"

"Ryoukai."

Airazor rubbed the back of her head. "Poor thing," she said. "She doesn't take big shocks very well. I mean, she's come a long way since that day at the airport, but..."

"Okay, that's gonna take some getting used to," Lamia muttered. She was about to say something, but stopped as the sunlight glinted off an insignia emblazoned on Airazor's upper chest:

Lamia blinked. "What's that supposed to be?" she asked.

"Hm?" Following her gaze, Airazor chuckled. "Oh, that? Right, so, the race of robots Rodimus Prime comes from, they all have these faction symbols somewhere on their body apparently. He decided to make us honorary Autobots, but then he got this weird look on his face and said it'd make more sense for us to wear this symbol. Apparently there's some legendary clan of mythical Autobots from the distant past that were unsung heroes of his people's history or something..." She tilted her head. "Maximals, he called them." She shrugged. "I liked the sound of it, the others did too, so we decided to go with it."

"Huh," Lamia said. "Well, as long as it doesn't interfere with anything important, I'm fine with it." She stood and stretched. "Well, I guess we should—"

Sunny Flare burst out of the house, shooting an odd glance up at Airazor before turning to Lamia. "Trouble," she said. "Giant monster, down by the canal."

Lamia looked up to Airazor. Airazor nodded firmly back. Lamia morphed, Airazor transformed, and they took off.

* * * * *

The Power Rangers stared at the giant monster. "What...the..." Franklin said.

"Is...goofy," Hatoko said.

Forrest shook his head. "Okay, I've seen some crazy stuff since this all started, but...just...what?!"

Lamia forced down a shudder. Or a giggle. She wasn't sure which. "Okay, so...yeah, it's...yeah...but it's still doing a lot of damage. We need to do something." She turned to Airazor and the other Maximals. "So...you guys ready for this?"

Airazor nodded firmly. "Maximals, transform and combine into PowerMega!"

PowerMega formed, and the Rangers jumped into the cockpit. As the last connections settled, the viewscreen lit up, showing their adversary.

It had proportionally short, stubby human legs and wore a diaper. Above the diaper, its long torso was covered in coarse brown hair. A long, hairy prehensile tail waved around behind it. Its long, hairy arms ended in monkey paws which held oversized rattles. It had the head of a pug, wet eyes and squashed, ugly nose shining in the sunlight.

"PUPPYMONKEYBABY," it announced, shaking its rattles and dancing.

* * * * *

"Dang, son!"

"What just happened? Where are we?"

"I don't know! The readings are...they're completely..." A pause. "I've never seen anything like this. I...I have no idea what's going on!"

"You? Have no idea. What's going on. Well that's a first."

"Dude, it hurts enough to admit, don't rub it in."

"Hey. Hey guys. Look. Do you see what I see?"

"Whoa! Is that...is that another robot?"

"Fighting...fighting a giant monster?"

"Dude, what the heck kind of messed-up monster is that?!"

"Hey...hey, I think I know that bot. Isn't it from like, Power Rangers?"

Four teens looked at each other.

"So...what's the play, little bro?"

The young teen strapped into an elaborate suspended control harness tightened his jaw. "We help," he said.

He dropped to the floor of the cockpit, then launched himself skyward in a mighty leap.

The giant blue and yellow robot he was technopathically linked to vaulted toward the distant battle.

"YEAH!" exclaimed the teen behind the pilot and to his left, pumping a fist in the air. "Let's call it a crossover!"

Comes a New Ally?

View Online

The Rangers were having trouble fighting Puppymonkeybaby. Partly because they really didn't have it in their hearts to hurt the thing, which wasn't even fighting back—but mostly because it somehow managed to dodge everything they threw at it.

"Okay, this guy's wearing out his welcome," Franklin muttered.

"Moves too fast! No can hit!"

"Yeah, and we're doing way too much collateral damage every time we try," Lamia said with a frown. "Airazor, any suggestions?"

There was a long pause.

The combined voices of five Maximals replied:

"We just need to catch it."

"Great," Lamia said dryly. She shook her head. "Well, if that's the best we can—"

And then a second giant robot dropped out of the sky, landing right on top of Puppymonkeybaby and knocking it flat to the ground.

"Whoa," Forrest said. "What the—?"

"More robot?" Hatoko asked.

The new arrival had gleaming metallic blue armor on most of its chassis; what wasn't covered in blue armor was a flat silver color. Its design was functional and straightforward; from its bare-bones construction, it was clearly designed to be a giant weapon. Its silver head had no discernible facial features, and the only design element that seemed to be purely decorative was the yellow X across its chest, which was extended and embellished by huge, flaring shoulder and hip guards.

"Is it the other Rangers?" Franklin wondered.

"We don't think so," the combined voice of the Maximals said. "We're only scanning four humans inside the robot. No discernible morphic energy detected." There was a pause. "We need to back off! We're detecting a massive energy buildup—"

The blue robot's right arm transformed into a massive plasma cannon, which unloaded point-blank into Puppymonkeybaby's head. The Rangers turned away in dismay and disgust as the top half of Puppymonkeybaby exploded into ragged chunks of burnt flesh and gore. The bottom half twitched and went still before exploding in a tremendous spray of sparks and smoke.

The new robot stood, silent as a statue, back to the carnage.

A distorted voice filled the control deck of PowerMega:

"Sorry about the mess."

And with that, the robot launched itself into the sky in a giant leap.

The Rangers looked at each other, at a loss for words.

Finally, Lamia sighed. "Well...that happened." She shook her head and took off her helmet. "Let's...let's go back."

* * * * *

Trunks and Coco began their search shortly after nine in the morning. They decided to split up to cover more ground; they agreed to meet at a cafe Coco liked at around one in the afternoon for lunch and to compare notes. Trunks offered to lend Coco a vehicle, but she waved him off, electing to get as much use out of her city bus pass as she could before leaving Manehattan behind forever. Trunks had been on the road for twenty minutes when he again felt that worrisome sentou-ryoku flying around over the city. Frowning, he pulled off the street into a grimy alley, returned his bike to capsule form, and flew up into the sky, headed in the direction of that fighting power, careful to suppress his own ki to the bare minimum necessary for flight.

It didn't take long for him to find the source: a large, heavily-muscled man with an enormous mane of spiky black hair that trailed down past his waist. He wore black armor with ribbed orange shoulderpads and girding, black boots, and black fingerless gauntlets. A small device with a green eyepiece was fastened to his left ear. A thick, hairy brown belt was wrapped around his waist; one end of it was uncurled and lashed about freely as he stared out over the city with an angry scowl.

*No, not a belt. A tail.*

A fierce frown crossed Trunks' face. Master Gohan had told him much of his adventures as a boy, and the first time he had ever faced real danger in his entire life. As a child, Trunks had listened attentively to every story, every detail his master shared with him, because a lot of Gohan's stories were the closest thing he'd ever have to a connection with his late father.

The man hovering before him figured prominently in Gohan's tales of his early life. If this was, indeed, him...

Trunks firmed his jaw and disappeared in a blur of speed, reappearing directly in front of the Saiyajin with his arms folded and his stance open. "Oi, kimi."

The Saiyajin blinked in surprise at his abrupt appearance. "Where the hell did you come from?!"

"What are you doing in this city?" Trunks demanded.

The Saiyajin scowled. "Not that it's any of your business," he snapped, "but I'm searching for someone. And if you know what's good for you, you'll go back where you came from before I kill you."

Trunks shook his head. "I don't think so."

The Saiyajin's tail became more agitated. "Fool! Do you really want to die?" He touched his scouter, which beeped and flashed. He smirked. "Hn. You're not even worth my time."

Trunks raised an eyebrow. "Is that what you think?" He relaxed his stance. "Because from where I stand, a wet kitten is more of a threat to me than you."

*Keep him angry. His anger is his weakness. A Saiyajin who can't control his anger is his own worst enemy.*

The Saiyajin gnashed his teeth, his left eye twitching. "You...you little...!" He advanced menacingly. "You dare?!" He extended one hand to his side, gathering a ball of ki. With a snarl, he threw it at Trunks.

Trunks batted it into the stratosphere with a negligent wave of his hand. Then, in the same motion, he darted forward and buried a fist in the Saiyajin's gut, doubling him over. Before the blow even registered, he slammed an elbow into his upper back, driving him to the nearest rooftop. He crashed with a tremendous bang, cracking the concrete and sending dust and pigeons into the sky.

Trunks landed beside the Saiyajin and hauled him to his knees by the collar of his armor. "You are Raditz, are you not?"

Raditz glared at him, but there was a light of fear in his glare. "What of it?" he snarled.

Trunks dropped him. "And you dare attack your prince?" *Otousama...thank you for showing me your true self, for breaking my pedestals down, for letting me see what an arrogant little bastard you truly were...I need that heritage now.*

"Prince?" Raditz snapped. "What...what are you talking about, brat? You're...you're a lowly hu—"

Trunks clamped a hand around Raditz's throat. With a yell of rage, he let his power build up. Raditz's scouter let out an alarming shriek and exploded.

Trunks kept going. The building shook beneath him. In seconds, his Super Saiyajin aura exploded around him, his eyes turning green and his hair going from fine, limp purple to spiky, waving gold.

"FOOL!" he spat. "I am Trunks Vegeta, son of Vegeta, your rightful lord and master! On your knees, or I will destroy you as easily as I would swat a mosquito!"

Raditz's eyes widened. "M-masaka..." Swallowing, he knelt, bowing his head. "You...you're the...Legendary Super Saiyajin..."

"That's right," Trunks said. "A power I inherited from my father before me."

Raditz frowned. "But...but how?" he whispered. "How can you be Vegeta-sama's son...? He has no children...for you to be his son, he would have needed to produce an heir before he—"

Trunks kicked Raditz to the ground. "I'm from your future, you idiot!" he snapped. "I was born four years after you died!"

Raditz sat up, his eyes wide. "My...death..." He shook his head. "You're...from the future? Is that possible?"

"Of course it is," Trunks said impatiently. "Look around you! Surely you understand that the very universe is coming apart all around us? Past and future, time and space, they're blending together into a chaotic mess!"

"So that's how it is," Raditz said, frowning. "I had wondered how I arrived on this pitiful planet, cut off from contact with Vegeta-sama..." He shook his head. "So Vegeta-sama sent his son to retrieve me?"

"Idiot," Trunks said. "I found you by accident. Your life means nothing to me."

"Of-of course, My Lord," Raditz said, pressing his forehead to the concrete. "I...I live to serve you, as I have served your father."

"Good," Trunks said. He frowned. "I sensed you fighting another warrior above this city last night. Explain."

Raditz blinked. "You sensed...?"

"Saiyajin in my time have no need of scouters," Trunks said. "Now, explain."

"H-hai," Raditz said, swallowing nervously. "I..." He coughed. "It shames me to admit, I have allied myself with a group of lower life forms since arriving in this world. Base criminals. They were...an amusing diversion, while I attempted to find out why I'm here. We encountered a group of warriors. One of them, a girl, had a sentou-ryoku of 280. She was...a surprisingly persistent and determined foe. We fought to a stalemate."

"Sou ka," Trunks said, nodding. "And have you killed anyone since arriving on this planet?"

"No," Raditz said, shaking his head. "Information is more useful to me than dead bodies right now. Though that girl from last night...I would be thrilled to—"

"No," Trunks said. "You will kill no one." He paused, then added, "If you encounter the girl again, you may fight her, but not to the death. Do as little damage to this planet and its people as you can."

Raditz blinked in confusion. "My Lord?"

"That is the order of your prince," Trunks said. "I dare not kill you—you must return to your proper place in our universe's timeline alive—but defy me and I will make you wish I would kill you."

Raditz began to sweat nervously. "H-HAI!"

Trunks nodded. "Good." He pulled a small communicator from his pocket and dropped it on the ground, along with a copy of the photograph of Sunset. "One more thing," he said. "I'm searching for this human here in this city. If you see her, contact me and tell me where she is."

"Of-of course, My Lord," Raditz said, picking up the photograph and committing it to memory. As Trunks turned to leave, Raditz said, "My Lord? You said you dare not kill me...may I ask why?"

Trunks glanced back at him, weighing the risk of telling him the truth. "Your death is the beginning of a chain of events that leads to the death of Freeza," he said. "Freeza murdered the Saiyajin race. For that, he must die."

Raditz frowned. "Then Father was right..."

"Aa." Trunks nodded. "You must die at a specific time, in a specific place, in order to begin the chain of events that ends with your brother Kakarotto becoming the first Super Saiyajin in ten thousand years."

Raditz's eyes widened. "K-Kakarotto?! I-impossible..."

Trunks snorted. "Kakarotto finds the key for all Saiyajin to attain this power," he said. "But you will never know the power, because your fate is sealed." With that, he flew away.

Raditz remained on the damaged rooftop for some time, mind whirling.

* * * * *

In an abandoned building in the seamier side of Canterlot City, two people crouched over a map. Both were young with raven hair; the older of the two was at the end of his teen years, with stormy blue-grey eyes, while the younger was a girl anywhere between twelve and fifteen with sharp, dark eyes.

"Took a while to narrow it down without my backup eyes," the older teen said as he ran a black-gloved finger along the map. "Canterlot High School, in this part of the city. That's the source of all this."

The girl nodded thoughtfully. "I've been hearing it mentioned more often than anywhere else, even with all the other things going on across the city."

"Across the world," the boy corrected. "There seem to be three main hotspots, from the news reports I've been able to catch." He frowned. "I hate working with this old tech. I know the old man would mock me for how bad a job I'm doing figuring all this out, but this stuff's straight up from my mom and dad's childhood. I can barely patch in."

"Heeeeeeh," the girl mused. "I was thinking it's not too different from where I come from, except maybe a little bit better." She shook her head. "But sometimes you have to do things the old fashioned way, even if it's a pain."

The boy snorted. "Yeah. Trust me, I know." He glanced at the map again, his mouth tightening. "We'll need to make contact."

The girl nodded. "I've been watching certain people on the ground. I think I know who's more or less in charge when it comes to all this. If she's still where she was last night, we can go straight to her. If not, well..." She shrugged. "She'll turn up at that school eventually."

"Alright." The boy pulled a shadowy black mask over his face that seamlessly joined with the black outfit he wore. "Let's get to—"

"WARK!"

"—I was gonna say 'work' actually."

Two massive birds with curved beaks and black feathers burst through the boarded-up bay windows of the building, flooding the dusty room with sunlight. They spread their wings wide and let out victorious screeches.

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me."

The girl adjusted her glasses. "I like my chicken wings delivered already fried and sauced," she said.

"Yeah, there's fresh and then there's WHOA!"

A glowing chunk of something shot out of one of the birds' beaks. The two teens barely got out of the way in time; it exploded in their midst, incinerating their map.

They looked at each other, nodded, and fled.

* * * * *

Four teens leaned against the side wall of a convenience store. One teen was studying his smartphone intently; his eyes were glowing blue. After a long moment, his eyes faded to a darker color and he slumped slightly. "Okay, so...we're definitely not in America anymore."

Next to him, a fair-skinned teen dressed as a slacker snorted. "Kinda figured that out from all the alien-looking people walking around."

"Hey, I'm all for a place where nobody cares what color your skin is," the shortest, pudgiest teen said. The two teens of similar skin color looked at him, then at each other, and nodded grimly.

"Yeah, not something that comes up often back home, but...good point," the tallest teen said. He sighed. "So where are we, Ryan?"

"Well, this city's called Canterlot," Ryan said. As the Asian teen next to him started to speak up, he interrupted, "Yes, Harris, Canter. Look for yourself."

Harris did so, frowning. "Canterlot," he said aloud. "This country is...Cavallonia?" He scrolled around the map, frowning. "Wow. This place sure loves horses."

"I know, right?" Ryan said, taking his phone back. "Anyway, from what I can tell, this whole place is basically going crazy. Superheroes, supervillains, alien invaders, monsters, robots, all kinds of stuff showing up and wrecking the place." He shrugged. "Whatever that thing we fell through was, it must've come from here."

"So we need to find out where it came from and make whoever did it send us back," the tallest teen said.

The white teen cracked his knuckles. "Well, we've got a giant robot, I'd say that puts us up over...whoever or whatever we're dealing with."

"Not necessarily," Harris said. "We need to go back to Mech-X4. I can use the scanners to try to figure out what's going on here." He frowned. "As soon as Ryan hacks me into this world's Internet and satellites."

"Shouldn't be a problem," Ryan said. With a sigh, he added, "Now for the bad news. Since someone—Spyder—forgot to stock up the emergency provisions in Mech-X4—"

"Yeah I don't know if junk food counts as 'emergency provisions'—" the tallest teen interrupted.

"—we have to make what we've got left last, or we'll have to steal food to survive."

The four teens looked at each other. The white teen shrugged. "Wouldn't be the worst thing we've abused Ryan's powers for," he said. "Or the dumbest reason!"

"This is true," Harris said.

"Okay, so let's—"

"Kweeeeeeh."

A massive, yellow-feathered bird with a wickedly curved beak strutted into view. It was easily as tall as any of the teens. It studied them with one gleaming, beady black eye, then let out a sharp, grating cry.

Five more of the giant birds fluttered into view, surrounding them. Only one had the yellow feathers of the first; two of the new arrivals had bright red feathers, while the other two had dark purple-black feathers. They all let out sharp, piercing cries as they bobbed their heads and scratched their sharp-clawed feet on the ground, studying the teens intently.

"Dang, son," Harris said, whistling.

* * * * *

As the periodic rains soaking Canterlot let up and people prepared to go about their day, the next extradimensional crisis descended in fits and starts. By noon, everyone who had planned to venture outside for the day was back in their homes or holed up in shops and office buildings and fast-food restaurants, staring out at the latest wave of insanity to plague the city.

The birds were everywhere, and some of them could cause huge magical fiery explosions.

"Okay seriously screw this!" Adrien snapped as he stared out the window of Octavia's house. "First the pineapple guy, then the brainbots, then those maggot monsters, then the indestructible zombies and the nasty psychotic demon, and now giant killer chickens?!" He shook his head. "I'm getting a little fed up with the constant monster swarms!"

"We all are, minou," Marinette said soothingly. She sighed. "At least they're not trying to break in."

"Yeah, but we're pretty much trapped here," Sunset Shimmer said, frowning. "If we even try to set foot outside, we'll be bird feed." She grimaced. "I...I got nothing." She flopped down on one of the living room sofas and buried her face in her hands. "I'm sorry, everyone. This is all my fault..."

Etna snorted. "You guys, it's just a bunch of overgrown chickens," she said with a roll of her eyes. "It's not the end of the world!"

"Umm...technically it kind of is?" Flonne pointed out. "I mean, the chickens are just the latest symptom of, you know, the end of the world..."

"I suppose...I could dispose of these creatures," Elsa said regretfully. "But I would...prefer not to use my power on them. I mean, they're not...they aren't evil, they're...they're simple animals. It wouldn't be right..."

"No," Sunset said with a shake of her head. "You're right. It's not their fault they're here and they're not...I mean, they're just upset, scared, and hungry animals. It's best to just let them be until they—"

A glowing red-hot projectile exploded against the front of the house. Adrien and Marinette staggered away from the window. "MERDE!" Marinette cried.

"SEE? YOU SEE?!" Adrien yelled at the room at large, waving his hands frantically at the smoke obscuring the window. "FIRST IT'S UNDEAD HORDES, NOW IT'S FREAKIN' DEVIL CHICKENS!"

Another explosion shook the house. Everyone looked around in terror and concern.

"Okay yeah, the giant chickens have gotta go," Etna said sourly, pulling a massive hand cannon out of her panties. "I dunno about you guys, but I like mine extra-crispy!"

"Newsflash, they like us extra-crispy!" Aladdin said as he brandished his ring. "Plagg, claws out!" As his Plagg was sucked into the Miraculous, Adrien also transformed; Marinette and Jasmine looked at one another, nodded, and transformed.

Elsa sighed. "If we must," she said. An unhappy-looking Flonne drew a longbow out of thin air.

Flash grimaced. "Great. Still more fighting."

* * * * *

"OW! You stupid overgrown—"

Shego, Kim Possible, and Tenten found themselves surrounded on all sides by furious chocobos. When Shego had begun lobbing green energy blasts at the birds, the red chocobos had started firing their exploding chunks of asteroid at her, forcing her on the defensive. Tenten's cache of ninja tools was depleted, and the yellow chocobos were using some sort of healing magic to keep their bird brethren in top fighting form.

"Okay, for the record?" Kim said, looking warily around at the chocobos. "Of all the incredibly stupid ways I've ever pictured myself dying? This is far stupider than anything I could conceivably have ever imagined."

"Get it together, Pyranipples," Shego said, narrowing her eyes. "I'm not about to let us die here when I still have so many good years left to get on your nerves."

Tenten snickered. "Pyranipples," she said. "That's a good one."

Kim blushed and started to protest, then paused, blinking. "Okay, yeah, that one was actually pretty funny," she admitted, shaking her head. "Well ladies, it's been an honor, but—"

A series of small explosions rippled through the ring of chocobos around them. The birds drew back, wary.

A jet black shape dropped from the sky. Tall, gaunt, with two long, tapered points—ears? Horns?—on its head, its hands ended in sharp talons. It flung one hand forward, and a flashing red-and-black projectile shaped like a bat swooped out, trailing a wire. It flew low, wrapping around the legs of several chocobos. The black figure pulled the wire taut, and the birds dropped to the ground with much surprised squawking.

A young girl with shoulder-length black hair landed beside the dark shape. She wore a sleeveless red minidress that zipped up the front and was slit to her hips on the sides, detached black sleevelets that extended from her elbows to her wrists, white canvas shorts, and black over-the-knee tights with cushioned black open-toed shoes with thick, rugged soles. An equipment pouch was strapped to her right thigh, and a crimson headband was tied around her forehead, over which her long raven bangs fell. Pinkish-red glasses covered sharp black eyes. She held a kunai in one hand.

Tenten caught sight of the back of the girl's dress and let out a shocked gasp.

"We've got this," the girl said confidently. She blurred into motion; Kim lost track of her, and Shego could only blink in astonishment. One, then five, then ten chocobos all dropped to the ground, blood spraying from severed arteries. The other new arrival grunted in irritation, but moved among the remaining birds, delivering solid punches and kicks that stunned, dazed, and dropped the birds. Occasionally, a chocobo would try to muster a counterattack, but the dark figure would throw some sort of small explosive or a gas pellet, or the girl would respond with a hail of shuriken or a massive fireball of her own.

Within two minutes, most of the chocobos surrounding the three girls were unconscious or dead, and the rest lost their nerve, turned tail, and ran.

The two newcomers landed in front of them. "Are you alright?" the dark figure asked. Now that he was facing them, the girls could see the stylized red bat emblem emblazoned across his chest. His voice was male, deep, and rough, but young—Kim mused that it sounded a bit like Ron when he was in a particularly serious mood. The girl landed beside him; Kim noticed, for the first time, that the metal plate on her headband had the same emblem on it as Tenten's.

Tenten noticed it too; she took a challenging step forward, a brace of senbon at the ready. "Who are you?" she asked, eyes narrowed.

The girl pushed her glasses up with the middle finger of her right hand. "Uchiha Sarada," she said. "A kunoichi of Konohagakure."

Tenten paled. "Uchi...ha..."

And without warning, she attacked.

Comes a Dark Knight

View Online

"TRAITOR!" Tenten screamed as she threw several senbon at Sarada, following up with two kunai and a series of high, spinning kicks. Sarada, taken aback by the sudden attack, went on the defensive, using her own kunai to deflect Tenten's weapons, evading her taijutsu strikes with superior speed and skill.

"What—" Sarada grunted as she spun out of the way of a hard punch, then swept Tenten's leg, handplanted to combo into a scissor, and hauled her to the ground, pinning her. Kneeling on top of Tenten, Sarada held a kunai to her throat. "—are you talking about?!"

Shego blinked. "Well. That was unexpected."

"TENTEN!" Kim yelled, eyes wide. "What's going on here?! She's one of you, right? From your ninja village?"

Tenten growled as she thrashed around underneath Sarada. "Her! Clan! Are!" She abruptly exploded into smoke, leaving Sarada kneeling atop a log. "TRAITORS!" Tenten yelled from above, dropping onto Sarada with a diving knee. She passed straight through Sarada, who disappeared in a puff of smoke. A dozen shuriken flew out of nowhere, trailing wires which wrapped around Tenten, pinning her arms and legs.

"Alright, both of you, that's enough," the black-suited man said roughly, snapping both hands out to his sides. Two blue-edged Batarangs snapped into place, crackling with electricity. With an expert light throw of each, he stunned both shinobi; they screamed and twitched as they dropped to the ground. The Batarangs returned to him; he scowled. "I used the lightest stun I have," he said. "Are you girls gonna play nice now?"

Kim shook her head as the two kunoichi struggled to move. "Who...are you, anyway?" she asked.

"Batman," Batman said calmly, watching both kunoichi intently. "Sorry about my friend here. I don't know what got into her."

"No, our friend started it," Kim said. "I mean, that just kinda came outta nowhere—"

Tenten sat up, grimacing, and glared at Batman. "The Uchiha...are not to be trusted," she growled. "They betray and murder their comrades! They lead enemies of the Hidden Leaf to destroy us!"

"That's a lie!" Sarada spat. "My father is a hero! My mother is the greatest healer in our village!" She sat up shakily, adjusting her glasses, and glared at Batman. "Why'd you knock me out too?"

"Because you both needed a time-out," Batman said grimly.

Sarada scowled at him, then turned away with a pouty sniff. "Don't do that again," she warned. She glared at Tenten. "How can you accuse my family of...of such horrible things? I don't even know you!"

"I know the Uchiha," Tenten said. "I know Uchiha Itachi murdered his entire family and left our village to join Akatsuki. I know Uchiha Sasuke betrayed his two best friends to join Orochimaru! I know—"

A kunai flashed at her throat.

"How dare you," Sarada seethed, eyes taking on a reddish tinge, teeth bared. "My father would never—"

Shego groaned, facepalming. "Oy."

Tenten blinked in confusion. "Father?"

"My father, Uchiha Sasuke," Sarada snapped. "Who spends his entire life protecting Konoha from threats from the outside! He's so committed to his duty he almost never comes home! Nanadaime himself told me Papa is a great hero! So don't you dare—"

Tenten drew back suddenly, gently pushing Sarada's kunai away, her brow furrowing. "Nanadaime?" she asked quietly. "Matte yo..." She took Sarada's chin gently, turning her face this way and that. She then sat back, drawing up into a formal seiza. "Sumimasen, I..." She coughed. "I think we have a...misunderstanding here."

"A misunderstanding?" Kim asked, raising an eyebrow.

Sarada frowned, sitting back as well but remaining tense. "You're going to apologize for insulting my Papa?" she asked.

Tenten shook her head. "No, but I think we're not on the same page here, either." She studied Sarada intently. "You said...Uchiha Sasuke is your father?"

"That's right."

"And you've spoken to...Nanadaime Hokage-sama about him?"

"Hai."

"Sou ka..." Tenten scratched the back of her neck. "Anou...if you don't mind my asking, what...what is the name of this Nanadaime?"

"Uzumaki Naruto," Sarada said, frowning.

Tenten's eyes widened. "Yappari." She chuckled.

"Tenten? What's going on here?" Kim asked.

"That's...a good question," Tenten said. She shook her head. "I, umm..." She coughed. "W-well...this girl, umm..." She laughed shakily. "This is gonna sound really funny, but...we're both from the same place, but I don't think we're from the same time."

Sarada blinked. "Eh?"

Tenten looked Sarada up and down, frowning thoughtfully. "And then...your mother..." She pursed her lips. "Haruno Sakura?"

"Y-yeeeessss," Sarada said slowly, frowning.

"Naruhodo ne," Tenten mused, rubbing her chin thoughtfully.

"You're from her past," Batman said. "From the same shinobi village, but before she was born."

Tenten nodded. "Right," she said. "Her parents are about a year and a half younger than me."

Sarada's eyes widened. "You know Mama and Papa?" She frowned, adjusting her glasses. "When they're my age?"

"That's right," Tenten said. She sighed. "Well, I...guess that means Sasuke-kun comes back to the village sooner or later and isn't executed for his crimes." She laughed. "Somehow, I'm not surprised..."

"Executed?" Sarada asked shakily, eyes wide. "Wh-why would—"

Tenten shook her head. "You don't know, do you?" Seeing Sarada's stricken look, she sighed. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter."

"Sounds like it kinda matters a lot," Shego said.

Tenten bit her lip. "If Sasuke-kun has been absolved by the time this girl is born, and her parents have never told her about any of it, then...I don't see any reason she needs to know. Umm...I mean, that's up to Sasuke-kun and Sakura-chan, if they ever want to tell her the truth." She shook her head. "I'm not going to do that to her." She smiled. "Sarada-san, was it?"

Sarada nodded. "Hai."

Tenten extended a hand and smiled. "We got off on the wrong foot," she said. "Let's be friends, ne?"

"Ah...hai," Sarada said numbly, taking the offered hand and shaking it.

Batman sighed. "Good, now we've got that cleared up," he muttered. He turned to the others. "We're looking for Sunset Shimmer. We know where she was last night, but if she's moved, we'll need to catch up with her at CHS."

Kim blinked. "You know about CHS and Sunset?"

"We've been observing all of you for some time now," Sarada said. "Gathering information before making our move."

"From the looks of things, this mess is just getting worse," Batman said sourly.

Shego snorted. "Understatement of the year."

Kim frowned. "Is it me, or is the fact that this catastrophe is starting to pull people from different times in the same world kind of...alarming?"

"Oh, what, magic chaos dildo breaking reality and unraveling the multiverse wasn't alarming enough for you already?" Shego asked archly.

Batman blinked. "Magic chaos...what now?"

Kim, Shego, and Tenten all sighed and related the story of Sunset Shimmer's reality-breaking orgasm...

* * * * *

Shortly after returning to the ground to resume his search for Sunset Shimmer, Trunks found himself surrounded by a group of teenagers—very unusual teenagers.

It began when an unassuming pigeon (unassuming save for being green) that had been following him across the city unexpectedly landed in front of him as he was getting on his bike. Trunks was taken aback as the green pigeon expanded, becoming a large, shaggy green gorilla that blocked the mouth of the alley.

Behind Trunks, a swirling vortex of blackness opened up in the alley wall. A girl in a hooded blue cloak emerged, eyes glowing with power.

An orange-skinned girl with long red hair glided down from above, her green eyes glowing. She landed gently between Trunks and the gorilla.

Lastly, an intense-looking, short, spiky-haired teen dressed in red and green with a black cape dropped down from the roof above.

*The shapeshifter could be a problem. The girl...she's the one Raditz was fighting. The boy with the cape is strong for a normal human but no real threat. The other girl...something about her makes me uneasy. I need to be careful here.*

The spiky-haired teen relaxed his stance. "We don't want to fight," he said. "Not unless we have to."

Trunks squared his jaw. "You have a strange way of showing it," he said. "Are you in the habit of beginning conversations by cornering people in grimy alleys?"

"No, but we saw you talking to that man Starfire fought," the dark girl said. "After what Beast Boy saw you do to him, I think you can understand our...caution."

Trunks sighed. "Fair enough," he said. His eyes flickered to the girl who had been identified as 'Starfire', then back to the spiky-haired boy. "I take it you're the leader here?"

"That's right," the boy said. "I'm Robin. We're the Teen Titans." He introduced the others as Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy.

"The hairy man you spoke with earlier," Starfire said once the introductions were over. "He is a criminal. We encountered him with a gang of criminals led by a most unpleasant, psychotic, deranged, homewrecking glarb'nog—"

"We fought some bad dudes and he was there," Beast Boy interrupted, having changed into a short, pointy-eared, green-skinned boy that vaguely reminded Trunks of Piccolo—if Piccolo were a midget.

Trunks nodded. "I suspect he was using them to get information about this world," he said. "We are from the same universe. He is...from a point in the past before I was born. He once served my father."

The Titans digested this. "He's a...soldier?" Robin asked.

"In a sense," Trunks said. "It's complicated. I have...convinced him to behave while here. He will not kill anyone or destroy anything. He doesn't dare. He knows if he does I'll break him." He glanced at Starfire. "He does still want to fight you, and I've told him he's free to do so. I figure as long as he's fixated on fighting you, he'll be less likely to cause trouble elsewhere."

Robin scowled. Starfire frowned. "I am not particularly pleased with such an arrangement," she said.

"I'm sorry," Trunks said. "It seemed like the best way to keep him contained while I'm dealing with other matters."

"And he'll listen to you?" Raven asked.

Trunks shrugged. "I'm the Prince of the Saiyajin. And far more powerful than he is. He fears me twice over. He won't risk my anger."

"And these...other matters you're dealing with?" Robin asked suspiciously.

Trunks nodded. "I'm searching for this world's counterpart of a girl from a parallel world who is, indirectly, the cause of everything that's happening here." He passed around the photo of Sunset Shimmer. "There are two Sunset Shimmers in this world at present," he explained. "One—the one who broke reality—is in a city called Canterlot, working with her friends to try to fix all this. The other is here in Manehattan, and has somehow acquired superpowers. We're trying to establish contact with her."

Robin nodded. "Alright. We'll help you if you'll help us."

"I'll help in any way I can," Trunks said.

"We need a base of operations, food and water for the four of us plus our friend Cyborg, and any technological assistance we can get. Especially if you can help us rig up a charging station for Cyborg. He's..." He frowned, tilting his head.

Trunks raised an eyebrow. "A cyborg?" he suggested.

"Yes, that is correct," Starfire said. "He is half man, half machine. His machine components require periodic recharging."

"That...shouldn't be too much of a problem," Trunks said. He frowned. "Sumimasen, I'm late meeting up with a friend. We'll have to meet up later this evening."

Robin nodded and handed him a round communicator with a white T in a black circle on the front. "Just give us a call on this," he said. "Titans, let's regroup at the park and fill Cyborg in."

With that, the Teen Titans scattered. Trunks snorted, climbed onto his bike, and roared off to meet up with Coco.

* * * * *

"That's the last of them," X said. A small group of fighters and CHS students stood around the courtyard at Canterlot High, which until moments earlier had been overrun with chocobos. The flock had steadily thinned over the past two hours; the surviving birds had finally withdrawn from not only CHS, but the rest of Canterlot.

"Almost," Rainbow Dash said, casting a wry glance in the direction of the portal statue. A bright red chocobo squatted on the grass, nuzzling Fluttershy, who was happily stroking its feathers and offering it handfuls of fresh, fragrant greens.

Brook scratched his skull. "I can't believe she tamed one of the red ones," he said. "They're the nastiest, most dangerous ones and she's completely tamed it."

"Aww, he's not nasty or dangerous," Fluttershy cooed. "He's just a sweet, fluffy little guy!" She wrapped her arms around the chocobo's neck. "Who's a good birdie? Who's a good birdie? Yes you are! Yes you are! Who's a good boy that'll let me ride him, and play games with him, and rain fiery death meteors on anybody who threatens me?"

Rainbow stared. "Uhh..." Her phone suddenly rang. "It's Twilight. Hang on, let me put her on speaker—"

//GET EVERYBODY OUT OF HERE NOW! SOMETHING'S HAPPENING! THE PHASE SPACE IS COLLAPSING! I'M PICKING UP A MASSIVE MANA NEXUS TRYING TO INTERSECT OUR REALITY! IF IT MATERIALIZES—//

The ground shook violently. Storm clouds gathered over Canterlot High, stabbing the ground with lightning. Fluttershy's new pet flapped his wings madly, screeching raucously. Fluttershy clung onto his neck for dear life.

"TWILIGHT!" Rainbow Dash yelled. "She's in there, we gotta—"

A shell of dark grey stone began to form around the school. Hazy and translucent at first, it coalesced into a massive shape: ancient, vine-covered stone walls, surrounding and connecting a veritable forest of tall, round stone towers topped with ancient, crumbling ramparts. As the front wall of the seemingly ancient castle took shape, those standing witness gasped in shock and awe.

The entire front wall of the castle was a massive carved skull. An archway of enormous stone fangs surrounded a gaping maw, within which stood a towering wooden drawbridge adorned with an iron coat of arms and girded by armored crossbeams.

The impromptu storm cleared, and the bright sun shone down on the ancient, weathered walls.

//Uhh, Rainbow Dash? Things just got really really castley in here...//

Comes a Castle

View Online

The ancient, spooky castle with its grisly, forbidding skull exterior stood silent and imposing in the spot which had previously been occupied by Canterlot High School. In the courtyard, a group of students and extradimensional wanderers looked on with concern, confusion, and panic.

"What's going on?" Fluttershy wondered, eyes wide. She absently stroked the feathers of her agitated new pet. "Shhh. Calm down, Tomato. It's gonna be okay. I need you to be a big, strong boy for Momma."

"Kweeeh..."

X eyed the castle nervously. "Where I come from, castles shaped like skulls are always bad news..."

Brook stroked his chin. "I don't know," he said. "I feel a certain...spiritual connection to this castle."

X snorted. "You would."

"Twi? Twilight, are you okay?" Rainbow Dash yelled into her phone.

//Y-yeah...I'm good. Just...just really confused right now...//

"Hang on, we're comin' in to get you!"

//Not a good idea! This...place...it's radiating off-the-scale magic! There's some kind of barrier around it, my scanners can't penetrate it. Until I know what's going on, it's best to sit tight!//

"But—!"

//Just give me a few minutes to figure this out, okay? I'm fine, don't worry! Most of the school is still inside here, just...// Twilight went quiet for a moment. //It's just kind of merged into this...huge medieval castle...//

"More like medi-EVIL castle!" Rainbow cried. "You ain't seen the outside of this thing, Twilight! The whole front of it is a huge freakin' skull!"

There was a long pause. //Umm...w-well...you can't make assumptions based on something's outside appearance...// Twilight coughed. //L-Look, I'll be careful, okay? If I run into trouble, I'll call back.// She disconnected. Rainbow let out a frustrated groan.

"Friggin'...! We gotta do something!" Rainbow growled.

Fluttershy let out a sudden loud gasp. "Principal Celestia! She's in there too!"

* * * * *

Principal Celestia sat at her desk, half-asleep, a small bottle of fiery brandy sitting on her desk next to a glass that still had a generous swallow of liquor in it.

She'd felt the school shake, but when the walls of her office began to change into ancient, mossy stone and veins of strange, glowing crystals, she decided she hadn't had enough to drink yet and poured herself two more drinks. Now, she had a belly full of fire and a nice, relaxed sleepiness in her head.

A sudden piercing shriek invaded the comfortable numbness in her head. She opened blurry eyes to see a falcon with brown and blue feathers and a white crest swooping down at her, its eyes glowing. She could only make a mute noise of surprise before the falcon dove right into her chest. Her entire body suddenly seized up, a powerful white fire burning through her entire being.

She felt a presence in her mind. Another spirit, ancient and wise and powerful. She felt that ancient, powerful presence wrap itself around her own mind like a blanket, then...

Celestia opened her mouth and let out a piercing avian shriek. Her clothing exploded away from her body. New attire formed in its place: a white leotard with feathered trim at the hips and long blue sleeves that left her legs bare, with a deep V-neck and blue shoulder trim that sharply defined and shaped her bust, blue boots with white trim that fell just short of her knees, and a white-feathered cowl that framed her face in a brown-and-blue falcon's visage. A cape composed entirely of brown feathers hung behind her, attached to the lengths of her sleeves.

She blinked and clutched her face, massaging her temples. She looked down at her own hands, eyes wide. "What..."

A faint light shone from deep within her eyes. She froze for a long moment. When the light faded, she nodded thoughtfully. "Yes...I see."

Celestia stood from behind her desk, took a deep breath, transformed into a falcon, and flew out the window.

* * * * *

Cyborg was bored.

None of his systems would interface with this world's global Internet. He'd need equipment to build an interface that would let him connect.

And equipment that'd let him recharge, repair damage...

He sighed. "Man I'm bored." He checked his systems diagnostics for the tenth time, watched some squirrels and birds. Watched a few people wander by. Finally, with a deep sigh, he turned to his absolute last resort, activating his onboard sound systems and queueing up his favorite song. As the opening riff faded, he began singing along.

"I saw! You! Dance! From the corner!"

Passersby began drifting curiously closer; Cyborg couldn't listen to the song without getting physically into it. Unintentionally, he'd begun something of a street performance. Not that it mattered to him; he was completely lost in the sounds of the eighties.

A girl with long, wavy copper-and-gold hair stopped on her way past, glancing curiously at the spectacle. She nodded her head to the beat of the song, tapping her fingers against her thigh. As Cyborg began a second loop of the song, she drifted in closer, joining him in his impromptu performance, making it a seamless duet.

When the song ended anew, the crowd of onlookers applauded enthusiastically. Cyborg grinned. "Aw yeah!" he said. "Girl, you are good!"

The girl pointed a finger straight into the sky. "Grandma said this," she said. "Of all human inventions, only music is the most perfect and most enduring." With that, she turned and walked away, raising a hand in a farewell salute.

Cyborg watched her go. "Huh. Cool gal." He went back to waiting for his friends to return, tapping his fingers on his metal thigh and humming "The Night Begins To Shine" idly to himself.

* * * * *

After the tale of how Sunset Shimmer broke reality had been related once again, Sarada's cheeks were furiously red—as were Tenten's. Batman, for his part, cleared his throat a number of times, looking studiously in any direction but at the girls.

A long, awkward pause later, Shego coughed. "So. Gonna tell us your real name, Bat-boy?"

Batman squared his jaw. "Not an option," he said gruffly.

Kim rolled her eyes. "In case you hadn't noticed, you're not in your own world. The odds of you running into anybody who knows you—"

"Just went up," Batman said, pointing from Sarada to Tenten. "Not taking any chances."

Sarada rolled her eyes. "Just trust them," she said. "You can't keep that mask on forever. You told me who you are."

Batman raised his eyebrow. "Only to convince you I'm actually a human being under here," he said.

"Is he cute under there?" Tenten asked Sarada. Sarada made a 'so-so' gesture.

"HEY!" Batman cried indignantly. Kim and Shego laughed.

"Well well," a sonorous voice said. "If it isn't the fabled Dark Knight of Gotham."

All eyes turned. A powerfully built man, covered head to toe in thick cloth and lightweight military body armor, landed nearby. His rugged outfit was divided up the middle into black on one half and a burnished metallic orange on the other where it wasn't covered with grey kevlar and bandoliers of weapons and ammunition. His hood, which concealed every inch of his head and face, had only one eye opening and a few thin slits for ventilation over his mouth.

"Or is it?" he asked, tilting his head. "You're much smaller than I expected. I thought Batman was taller, more...buff." He hummed thoughtfully. "Nightwing, perhaps? Or another one of the Robins?"

Batman frowned. "Who are you?" he asked.

The man folded his arms. "My my. I would've expected the legendary detective to recognize me immediately. I suppose that means you're not Batman after all."

"Oh, I'm Batman," Batman growled, snapping a hand out and producing a Batarang. "If you don't start talking, you're gonna find out just how much Batman I am."

"Hmm...tempting," the man said. "But if you're not Bruce Wayne, I'm afraid I have no interest in you. I'm only interested in the real Batman."

Without warning, he whipped a large, hi-tech pistol from his belt and fired several shots which expanded into webs of electrified cables. Nobody had time to move; Batman and all four girls were snared in snapping, sparking webs and thrown to the ground.

The man holstered his weapon with a derisive snort. "Pitiful. You disappoint me." He cracked his neck. "I suppose I'll need to look elsewhere in this strange city for something to amuse me." He turned to walk away, the steel soles of his boots clanking loudly on the pavement, his hands folded behind his back. Several steps away, he paused, glancing back over his shoulder. "By the way, they call me Deathstroke," he said conversationally.

Batman glared at him. "I'll remember it," he growled.

"I'm sure you will." Deathstroke walked calmly away.

* * * * *

"So are we ever gonna go back down to the beach and kick those guys' butts?"

Tron, Kooh, and Monica were sitting around their hotel suite, as they had been since their embarrassing retreat from the New Arlong Pirates. Monica sighed and shook her head. "I honestly want to? But...I don't really see the point." She stood and began pacing. "I mean, why? Just because they made fools of us?" She threw out a hand. "That's literally the only thing they've done. They haven't raided the town, hurt anybody...they just raised hell on the beach and fought us, then they dropped off the radar again."

"That's true," Tron pointed out. "I mean, yeah, our pride kinda took a beating, but I've...well...I've learned that sometimes, you just have to let your pride go, or you wind up in an even bigger mess."

Kooh let out an annoyed grunt. "I just hate that we turned tail and ran from those freakshow bimbos and that shark freak."

"Yeah, I hate it too," Monica said. "But I can't go and pick fights just for the sake of picking fights, and—"

The window exploded. A storm of blue tentacles shot into the room, wrapped tightly around Monica, and dragged her outside. She screamed and flailed, struggling against her assailant to no avail.

Tron and Kooh exchanged a glance.

"Looks like we're—"

And then they were knocked off their feet as something crashed into the hotel, shaking the entire building to its foundation.

* * * * *

Rainbow Dash tensed up as a blue, brown, and white falcon soared out of the castle, letting out a piercing shriek. "What now?" she wondered.

The falcon swooped down, landing before them, and transformed into Principal Celestia...wearing a truly bizarre costume.

"Uhh...Principal Celestia?" Rainbow asked, blinking. "What..." She shook her head. "What are you wearing?! She tilted her head. "Did you just...were you a bird just now?!"

"Indeed I was, Rainbow Dash," Celestia said distractedly. She looked around at the assembled group, who were all staring at her in surprise, then back at the castle. She frowned deeply. "This is bad," she said. "The defenses...! If only the jawbridge stands as the last line of defense, then Grayskull..."

"Uhh...hold up," Rainbow said. "Let's back it up here. Our school just turned into a freakin' castle. Twilight's trapped inside. You just came out the window as a bird." She flexed her own wings. "There's a little bit of, uhh...NONE OF THAT MAKIN' ANY SENSE we gotta talk about."

Celestia took a deep breath. "Another being has merged with me," she said. "She calls herself Sorceress. She is apparently the guardian of this castle." She spread her arms wide. "Grayskull is an ancient stronghold which safeguards a great power, the power to master the land of Eternia for all time. To bring it eternal peace or eternal ruin. The power of Grayskull has slept in peace, waiting. Evil forces threaten its walls on a constant basis, seeking its power. The Sorceress keeps watch..." She shook her head. "Nevermind that. The chaos magic of the artifact within our school touched the very heart of Grayskull's ancient secrets. There was a...resonance. An amplification." She looked up at the castle, then far out into the city, her eyes focused on something unseen. "The collapse of reality has accelerated. It is no longer merely individuals and the specters of other worlds which are collapsing into this dimension. Foci of power and relative importance to their home dimensions will now begin to collapse into the fold."

Rainbow felt herself go numb. "Meaning...?"

Celestia closed her eyes. "Grayskull is but the first full intrusion of another universe into yours. Places of power, places of significance to other universes will begin to manifest here, physically a part of this reality." She bowed her head. "Also, the singularity is now affecting the land you call Equestria..."

"That's...that's bad, right?" X asked.

Celestia nodded. "It is a catastrophe." She squared her jaw. "I must inform Sunset Shimmer and bring her here with all haste. All of you, secure Grayskull. It must be protected at all costs." She fixed her gaze on the front of the castle; with a great grinding sound, the massive wooden drawbridge lowered, revealing the yawning chasm of the ancient castle's great hall beyond. "Inside, quickly. I will see to it that your needs are provided for. Be wary of where you wander—the castle protects itself and its secrets, but it should not harm you as you are under my protection." With that, she transformed into a falcon and flew off into the city.

"Kweeeh," Tomato said.

Fluttershy bit her lip. "We...we have to go in there?" she whimpered.

Rainbow sighed. "I guess...we'd better."

* * * * *

Terry McGinnis, Kim, Shego, Tenten, and Sarada sat around a table at an outdoor restaurant. They were all in a sour mood. Once they'd recovered from Deathstroke's surprise attack and freed themselves from his electric webs, Batman had decided the need to go "incognito" was more important than his secret identity, and had quickly appropriated some civilian clothing that fit neatly over his Batsuit. In the process, he'd shed his cowl and revealed his identity to the girls.

As a waiter delivered an extra-large, extra-greasy pepperoni pizza to their table, Kim asked, "So, Terry...any idea who that jerk was?"

Terry frowned. "Well I do sort of recognize the name Deathstroke, but he was way before my time," he said. "I mean, we're talking Justice League archives here."

"Justice...League?" Shego asked, raising an eyebrow sarcastically.

"Yeah, I know, the name blows, but the League are legendary heroes," Terry said. "All of Earth's greatest superheroes have belonged to the League at one time or another. Superman, Batman—both Batmen—Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Cyborg, the Flash, Green Lantern, all of them." He shook his head. "Anyway, I haven't memorized every villain and creep the League ever fought—hell, I can't even keep most of the original Batman's enemies straight—but I think I know the name Deathstroke."

Sarada frowned. "So...he's from your world's past, just like Tenten-san is from my village's past?"

"Seems that way," Terry said. "What bothers me is he knows the old man's real name." He looked around at the girls, then sighed. "Slag it. Decades ago, Bruce Wayne was the original Batman. He was...he was a legend. Every criminal in Gotham was terrified of him. Hell, half the Justice League was terrified of him. They called him the Dark Knight.

"Well anyway, a few decades ago, he...he quit. Something happened, and...and he quit. He still hasn't told me what the breaking point was, and I don't think it was just because he got old. Anyway, I found out his secret by accident. Then..." Terry closed his eyes. "Then my dad was murdered. I found out his boss, the jackass running Wayne Enterprises, had him killed. I...broke into the Batcave and stole the suit to get my revenge." He clenched his fists. "After I...well, Wayne and I came to an understanding, and I sort of took over as the new Batman."

"Heeeeeeeh," Sarada said, blinking.

"Wow," Kim said. "That's...a heck of a backstory."

"Dark, brooding...I like," Shego said. With a smirk, she added, "Even sounds like a more serious version of your boy toy, doesn't he, Kimmy?"

Kim blinked slowly. "Huh. You know, now that you mention it, his voice is a lot like Ron's when he's in a really bad mood." She shook her head. "Weird."

"Uhh, guys?" Tenten said suddenly, staring at a phone. "I...I think a new problem just cropped up."

Kim blinked. "Where'd you get the phone?"

"Rarity hooked me up," Tenten said. She laid it on the table; everyone leaned in to watch the news report.

"Canterlot High School transforms into ancient stone castle," Terry read from the screen. He frowned. "Black pyramid sighted northeast of Camp Everfree?"

"Giant metal city appears out of thin air near Appleloosa," Shego added. "Wherever that is."

Sarada adjusted her glasses. "It sounds as if things are getting worse," she said.

"No doubt," Kim said, eyes wide. "We'd better regroup with Sunset and the others." She bit her lip. "Umm...assuming we have somewhere to regroup..."

Just as Tenten put the phone away, the last news screen had the caption:

"Mysterious Spaceship Fuses With Resort Hotel in Canterlittle"

* * * * *

A pair of humans made their way through the undergrowth of a sparse, leafy wood populated by small woodland animals, who seemed more curious than afraid at the unfamiliar arrivals.

"Friggin'—how the HELL did we end up here, anyway?" the taller of the two snarled in a rough, manly voice. He wore black boots, dark pants, and a black tank top with a flaming skull on the front. Various tattoos covered his bare arms, and his brushed-back hair was bleached. He crashed through bushes and shrubs to clear a path, while his companion simply strolled casually along.

"It is curious," the shorter human said. This human wore dark blue pants, well-polished leather shoes, a lighter blue long-sleeved shirt, and a dark blue policeman's cap. Intelligent eyes framed by dark bangs took in everything around them. "The air here is so clean and pure. Even in the countryside back home, the air isn't this clean."

The bleached-haired teen sighed, squatting down and putting his hands on his thighs. "Man, I don't get this," he complained. "This don't friggin' make any sense."

"I agree," his companion said, looking around. "Of course, I admit when it comes to nature, one forest is the same as any other to me. Still..."

"Nah, this place ain't nowhere close to home." The wiry, tough-looking teen stood up. "There's bushes here that don't grow anywhere close to—hell, they don't even grow in Japan." He looked around. "You think...you think we're in that other world again?"

The other teen replied with a shake of the head. "No. There's no fog. No sense of danger or wrongness."

"Oh yeah...yeah, you're right." The thuggish-looking boy took a deep breath. "Man the air here's clean! Smells really earthy." A rabbit hopped right up to him and took a curious sniff; with a faint blush, he knelt down and gave it a pat on the head, then scratched between its ears. "Soft..."

His companion smirked.

The rabbit's ears suddenly twitched. It sniffed the air, whiskers quivering, then took off running. All around, other small animals began scurrying into hidden burrows and warrens or taking wing and flying away. The bleached-haired teen frowned. "Dammit."

The other teen tensed. "Something's wrong. These animals were ignoring us, didn't seem afraid of us at all. Something else startled them. But what...?"

"Quobblck!"

"What in the—?! Humans?! HERE?!" A voice thick with madness called over the trees. "I knew it! These blasted equines...they DID THIS TO ME!"

The teens looked up, and their eyes widened. "What the hell?!"

"Unbelievable..."

A creature that looked like cross between a miniature horse and a bat swooped overhead, covered in coarse green hair with a veined, wavy purple mane and tail and leathery purple bat wings. Its eyes were yellow and slit-pupiled, and it sported prominent fangs. It glared at them with crazed malice.

"No matter," it said, as though to itself. "I have come to prefer this...strange equine form. Come, my pet! Show these interlopers why it is unwise to cross paths with the HORSE GOBLIN!"

"The, uh...the what?" the bleached-haired teen said dumbly, floundering as he stared at the flying bathorse.

"We've seen stranger things than this," his companion pointed out dully.

And then a giant bird chimera that was part turkey, part chicken, part duck, and entirely ticked off crashed through the trees, spitting fire at them as its red eyes burned with murderous rage.

"BullSHIT!" the wiry teen snarled as he ducked out of the way. "Okay I may not know where the HELL we are or what the HELL'S goin' on here, but I ain't about to be barbecued by a big ugly bird...thing!"

"Interesting," the other teen said in a detached, clinical tone. "It seems to be composed of parts of three different species of bird..."

"Fuck that, Naoto! The damn thing breathes fire!"

Another fireball seared the air between them, impacting a tree and starting a small brush fire.

"Not for long, it doesn't," the one called Naoto said, drawing a small revolver from a jacket pocket and taking aim. Three precise shots later, the Turducken lay on the ground, motionless.

The Horse Goblin glided down, a stricken look on his face. "You...you killed my pet. You KILLED HIM! You...I'll MURDER YOU!"

"I don't think so, asshole!" the wiry teen snarled. "You and your bird monster scared off all the cute fuzzy animals! You think I'm just gonna forgive you for that?" Letting out a snarl of rage, he charged forward, slamming a fist into the Horse Goblin's muzzle.

"Tatsumi-kun, be careful! We don't have our Per—"

The Horse Goblin reared and bucked, sending his attacker flying back into the burning bushes. He growled as he stood up, patting himself down. "We ain't in Inaba, Naoto!" he snarled. "Go for broke!" He threw out his hand; a jagged bolt of lightning shot forward, striking the Horse Goblin just under the left wing.

"What in the—?!"

Naoto stared. "How did you—?"

"I...I dunno," the other teen said, staring at his hand. "That damn sure wasn't my Persona, but..." Frowning, he concentrated and called down a lightning strike that forced the Horse Goblin to retreat to a safe distance.

"Wh—WHAT ARE YOU?" the Horse Goblin yelled.

The teen took a defiant step forward. "I'm Tatsumi Kanji, you flying horse bastard! Mess with me, I'll kick your ass!"

Shirogane Naoto sighed tiredly, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Yareyare..."

"Sweet Celestia, the forest's on fire! Get some weather pegasi, hurry!"

Horse Goblin, Kanji, and Naoto all looked up at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. A small, cute pegasus was flying overhead, looking down at them.

"A...pegasus?" Naoto asked in wonder.

Kanji's cheeks burned red. "So...cute..."

The pegasus, who had a light grey coat and a short, dark mane, looked back over his shoulder and called out to a larger dark grey pegasus with a silvery mane. "Hurry, Thunderlane! And there's some weirdos down here too! You might wanna get Rainbow Dash!"

"On it, Rumble!" The other pegasus zipped off, leaving a thick, dark smoke trail in his wake.

"Tch..." The Horse Goblin growled. "Rainbow Dash...that's the last thing I need right now." Shaking his head and snorting steam, he took to the sky. "Tatsumi Kanji...I won't forget this! You've made an enemy of the Horse Goblin! Your days are numbered!" With that, he flew off in the opposite direction of the grey pegasus.

Kanji flipped him the bird. "Yeah? Well anytime you want some, come get some, punk!"

The smaller pegasus flew closer, taking care to stay slightly out of reach. "Umm...excuse me...who and...what are you?"

Naoto sighed. "I take it you're a juvenile of your species?"

Rumble blinked. "Huh?"

"A kid," Kanji said. "A freakin' kid."

"Oh. Yeah."

Naoto smiled. "Would it be possible for you to take us to where the adults are? We're lost, we don't know what this place is, and we need information."

Rumble fidgeted. "Umm...maybe you'd better wait until my brother gets back," he said.

Kanji grunted. "Alright. Sounds like a deal." He sat down, snorting. "Man, what kinda messed-up shit've we gotten mixed up in this time?"

Naoto smiled wryly and shrugged. "'May you live in interesting times', as they say..."

* * * * *

Two men dressed all in black ran down an alley, casting wary glances behind them.

"How did it come to this, Aniki?" the shorter, stouter of the pair said. Despite the dark sunglasses he wore, he seemed to have no problem navigating the narrow alleys with his tall, long-haired partner, whose sharp, cold eyes were filled with intense hatred.

"That bitch played us," the taller man growled. "She knew! All this time she knew!"

A soccer ball whizzed past the taller man's head, slamming into a brick wall with enough force to leave a crater. He stopped, blinked, then broke left, firing a wild shot behind him. Overhead, a helicopter roared.

The two men found themselves corralled into a dead end. The wall behind them flooded with light. They turned to see a short figure—a small child with messy hair—staring them down, the lenses of his glasses gleaming eerily with reflected illumination.

"It ends here, Gin," he said in a rough voice. "Finally, after all this time, it ends here..."

The alley wobbled and warped, the walls becoming hazy and translucent. Something else slowly phased into existence around them, blurry and indistinct. The two men burst through a door that wasn't there a minute earlier.

Cursing, ignoring the shouts from those backing him up, the boy ran after them.

The door vanished, and the alley returned to normal.

Comes a Detective

View Online

Thick steam gushed from the dark, rusty bronze walls. Grated metal deck plates rattled beneath his feet.

He'd lost sight of them in the steam and the darkness. Wherever they were now, it was cramped, it stank, and what little illumination there was came from strips of angrily glowing red lights along the walls and ceiling.

And then there was the harsh, barking voice ringing out in between blares of a sharp, insistent alarm klaxon:

//—ghuHmoH—QuQ luj—Som moS—//

Shadows moved ahead of him; he turned a corner to follow, his sneakers pounding on the hard deck. In the low light and haze, he tripped; catching himself, he spared a glance at what he'd tripped over, then skidded to a halt, eyes wide. "N-nani kore...?!"

//Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!//

Sightless eyes stared up at him from a face that was not human. Tangled, matted black hair framed a large, prominent forehead with a massive plated crest, a broad, ridged nose, and a mouth full of jagged, sharp teeth.

The body was large, clad in some sort of leather and metal uniform. A fingerless-gloved hand was frozen in an eternal grasp for a long, curved blade that lay nearby, spattered in a bright mauve fluid.

Despite his urgent pursuit of his quarry, his natural instincts kicked in, and he gave the body a cursory glance. Large wounds criss-crossed the lower torso, with more of that mauve fluid crusting over the wounds and splattered across the alien's uniform.

"Blood..." He knelt down, examining the wounds. He glanced around, searching for an immediate apparent cause of death.

The corridor shook, and the warnings became more insistent. Biting back a curse, he left the dead alien behind, continuing his chase.

* * * * *

The wait for the older pegasus, Thunderlane, to return had been long and awkward. Rumble kept watching them curiously and shuffling his hooves, while Kanji kept starting to speak, stammering, clearing his throat, and rocking back against a tree. All the while, animals chittered angrily as the brush slowly burned.

"At least the fire isn't spreading rapidly," Naoto observed calmly.

Rumble turned a nervous gaze from the two humans to the dead, cooling body of the Turducken. "Umm...what is that thing, and...and did you guys kill it?"

"We don't know what it is, but yeah," Kanji said roughly. "It was spittin' freakin' fireballs at us. Coulda burned down this whole forest!"

"Such a strange creature," Naoto remarked. "And yet not the strangest thing here, I'm sure." She tilted her head. "Your world...it's inhabited by talking pegasi?"

"Pegasi, earth ponies, unicorns," Rumble said with a shrug. "Pegasi can't talk where you're from?"

"Pegasi don't exist where we're from," Naoto said. "They're a myth."

Rumble's brow furrowed. "Huh. Weird." He tilted his head. "And...and what kind of creatures are you again? I mean, you're not minotaurs, but..."

"HUMANS?!" a raspy voice cried from overhead. A rainbow blur dropped down into the forest. Overhead, several colorful pegasi pushed a group of thick grey clouds into position over the burning patch of forest. Naoto watched with fascination as the pegasi reared and bucked the clouds, which immediately dumped a fast, torrential rain squall on the forest, extinguishing the flames.

Kanji, however, had his full attention fixed on the blue-coated, rainbow-maned pegasus who stood in front of them, eyeing them curiously and with faint suspicion. His cheeks flushed. "Wh-whoa," he breathed. "You...you seein' this, Naoto?"

Naoto raised an eyebrow. "The living, breathing page out of a little girl's coloring book? Yes. Yes I am."

The rainbow-maned pegasus took a step forward, wings flared. "You guys start that fire?"

"Huh? Oh...no, no, it was that freaky bird monster," Kanji said distractedly, pointing over his shoulder. The pegasus followed his gaze and bristled.

"Oh CRAP, what's that doin' here?" she moaned. "I thought we left that freak and his pet freaky bird hidin' in the Everfree Forest!" She paused, frowning, and moved in closer, nudging the Turducken with a hoof. She let out a disgusted cry and drew back. "Yikes! Who killed this thing?"

"I'm afraid I did," Naoto said calmly. "It was attacking us and damaging this beautiful forest. It didn't seem to be a natural member of this forest's ecosystem, so I exterminated it."

The pegasus paled, looking from Naoto back to the Turducken. She swallowed. "W-well...sucks to be the bird," she said. "It's not like it's the first one we've hadda kill. Just...try not t' kill anything else if you don't gotta, okay?"

Naoto nodded once, eyes closed. "Of course. My apologies if I overstepped my bounds."

The pegasus sighed. "Nah, probably saved me a headache. What about—was there a kinda battish, green and purple pony—"

"If you're referring to the Horse Goblin, as he called himself, he fled in what I assume to be an easterly direction once the arrival of reinforcements was mentioned." Naoto tilted her head. "The name 'Rainbow Dash' specifically seemed to agitate him. Can we assume he was referring to you?"

"The one and only," Rainbow Dash said. "So, ol' Gobby's still afraid of me after the last time I whupped his butt, huh? Heh." She let her wings settle. "So, back to you two. What're two humans doin' out this far in the Whitetail Woods?"

"We don't know," Naoto said. "I'm afraid we have no idea where we are or how we got here."

"We uh...we kinda got lost in the fog," Kanji said. "Back where we live, it used to get foggy all the time, but...well...bad things started happenin' whenever it got foggy. Then me, Naoto, and our friends, we got to the bottom of it an' took care of it, and since then it ain't been foggy as much."

"But whenever the fog does set in, we take turns going out in pairs to patrol the town, just in case," Naoto said. "After everything we've been through, it seems...prudent to be careful, even though we know the source of our troubles is behind us." She adjusted her cap. "In any case, we wandered into a particularly thick fog bank, and when we found our way out of the fog, we were in this forest."

Rainbow frowned, her ears twitching. "Crap," she muttered. "That sounds like what's goin' on in the other world. If that kinda crap's happenin' here now..." She snorted. "Gotta let Starlight know, get a message to Twilight..."

"If we might impose," Naoto said, "would it be too inconvenient for us to seek shelter in the nearest settlement, assuming you have such shelter to offer? At least until we can get our bearings and figure out how to return to our own home."

"Huh?" Rainbow asked, blinking.

"Ya got a town around here, somewhere we can crash while we figure this shit out?" Kanji interpreted.

"Oh! Oh, yeah. Actually, you should come with me anyway, Twilight might want me to send you guys through the portal to that other world." She lifted off the ground, gently flapping her wings. "Come on, it's this way!"

"Dude," Kanji said aside to Naoto as they followed Rainbow Dash. "A whole village of cute talking ponies..."

Naoto smirked. "Try not to get too excited, Tatsumi-kun..."

* * * * *

"Aniki," Vodka said hesitantly as he looked around at the dead and dying aliens littered around the metal deck, "this...it couldn't be—"

"Fascinating, isn't it?" Gin said in a tone of almost wonder, kneeling beside a dead body, examining it. "I never believed in such things as alien life, and yet...these things are clearly not human." He frowned, looking around. "This is a spaceship," he decided. "And while I don't understand that language, I know warnings when I hear them. We need to get off this ship."

"Uhh...we don't have spacesuits," Vodka pointed out. "And...how did we get on board an alien spaceship, anyway?"

"We can figure that out later," Gin said. "Judging by the weapons these fellows are carrying, I doubt we want to run into any that are still alive." He snorted. "Not under these circumstances, anyway." He swept away from his study, his longcoat swirling at his feet and disturbing the haze. "We need to find an airlock, or—"

"GIN!"

"Damn," Gin growled. He turned, aiming his gun through the haze. Red lights glinted off the lenses of a child's glasses.

"Masaka...!" Vodka gasped. "He followed us here?!"

"Of course he did," Gin grunted. "We tried to kill him and failed. He'd chase us through the gates of Hell." He fired off three shots, two of which pinged off the deck plates. The third was rewarded with a loud, sharp hiss. Gin smirked. "Grazed him. Now—"

A green energy ray passed just left of Gin's head, its heat making sweat bead on his face. His eyes widened.

"ANIKI!"

"Che...come on, we're getting out of here." He glanced back into the haze. "Another time, Kudou!" He turned and ran, Vodka's heavy, thudding footfalls shaking the deck behind him.

A short, messy-haired boy with glasses pounded into the junction the two men had fled, fury in his blue-grey eyes. An alien weapon he'd picked up off the deck was held ready in one hand; the sleeve of his other arm was slowly soaking up blood from where Gin's bullet had grazed him. "Chikushou...!" He started to follow, but was caught up short when a rough, strong hand seized his ankle. He stopped, jerked back, and looked down.

One of the aliens, slumped against the bulkhead, looked at him with fierce eyes. "You have courage, for a human...especially one so young," he rasped thickly, his voice guttural.

The boy blinked.

The alien fixed him with a ferocious, piercing gaze. "Those humans...have they dishonored you?"

"You...could say that," the boy said slowly.

The alien grumbled something to himself, nodding thoughtfully. He unsheathed a wicked-looking dagger from his belt and pressed its grip into the boy's hand, curling his fingers around it and squeezing tightly. He gave the boy a firm nod of respect. "Qapla'," he said. Then, his head slumped slightly forward, the light dimming from his eyes.

Mouth set in a grim line, Edogawa Conan gently extricated himself from the dead man's grasp, then continued his pursuit, clutching the alien dagger tightly.

* * * * *

It took over half an hour to reach a deceptively large, if rustic, town full of brightly colored houses and buildings with thatched roofs and simple country construction, laid out haphazardly along a system of sprawling dirt roads. Ponies of all shapes, sizes, and colors looked on with curiosity as Rainbow Dash led the two humans into the town proper. "Welcome to Ponyville," she said.

"Ponyville, huh?" Naoto said with a small smile. "A...fitting name."

"Oh man," Kanji said wonderingly. "This place..." His eyes darted to and fro. "So many cute, cuddly, fuzzy ponies..."

Rainbow Dash tilted her head, her brow furrowing. "Uhh...is he alright?"

Naoto smirked. "Tatsumi-kun is easily distracted by cute things, especially of the animal variety. Which, from our perspective, your species qualifies readily as both."

"Oh," Rainbow said, blinking. "Huh. You know, I have a friend who's exactly like that."

A pegasus with a butter yellow coat and a long, cherry blossom pink mane fluttered up to them, concern in her eyes. "Rainbow Dash! I heard about the fire in the Whitetail Woods, is everything okay? Oh...you have some...new friends..." Her already soft voice trailed off uncertainly as she looked the two humans over, biting her lip.

"And speak of the devil," Rainbow said with a snicker. "Hey Fluttershy. Yeah, that Turducken got loose in the forest. Fire's out, Turducken's dead. These guys are humans. You know, like Twi's friends in that other world? They were wandering around in the forest and got attacked."

Fluttershy gasped. "Oh my goodness!" She dropped to the ground, hiding behind her mane as she examined the two humans. "So this is a human?" Her ears folded down. "I didn't know they'd look so..." She tilted her head. "So not like anything I've ever seen before actually." She frowned. "Another Turducken? Oh dear. I suppose I'd better visit Zecora and see if we need to...umm...search for a nest or...or something. I don't like to hear about poor innocent creatures being killed just because they can't stop spitting fire at ponies and other creatures."

Rainbow sighed. "Yeah, those things are kind of a menace. It's the same one that Horse Goblin guy was ridin' around on, though. According to these two, he's...pretty peeved."

"Oh," Fluttershy said. She glanced the two humans up and down, worrying at her lip. "And...and you just...killed it?"

"Uhh...yeah," Kanji said roughly. "We're...we're awful sorry about that. We're not in the habit of goin' around, y'know...killin' animals. It was pure self-defense, honest!"

"Oh, I believe you," Fluttershy said. "Umm..." She shuffled her hooves.

Naoto stepped forward. "My name is Naoto," she said. "This is Kanji. I'd give you our surnames, but I feel that might only confuse the issue."

"Oh, umm...I'm Fluttershy," Fluttershy said. She blinked. "Umm...Mr. Kanji, was it? Why are you...looking at me like that?"

Rainbow snickered. "Apparently this dude's the human version of you. Y'know, about cute fuzzy things. Which I guess is what we are to them."

"Oh," Fluttershy said. "I...guess I can understand that?"

"Can I...can I brush your mane?" Kanji asked, his voice hitching. Naoto groaned; Rainbow snorted.

Fluttershy smiled. "Well, alright," she said. "Umm...once we get you two to the castle, I mean. That's where we're headed, right Rainbow Dash?"

"Yeah."

The procession crested a hill which overlooked the bustling heart of the town. As they did, the spires of a gleaming crystal castle which shone blue, purple, and pink in the sun came into view. Naoto's eyes widened, as did Kanji's. "Whoa!" Kanji exclaimed. "Dude, what the heck?!"

"I've...I've never seen anything like that," Naoto said.

"Heh, yeah, Twilight's castle is pretty one-of-a-kind," Rainbow said. "Wait till you see the inside."

"We're seriously goin' in there?" Kanji asked.

"It's pretty much Weirdness Central," Rainbow said. "And with all the crazy crap goin' on lately, it's important we get you two near the portal to the other world, and someplace where we can keep in touch with Twilight right away."

"Oh, I hope they're having good luck with the search," Fluttershy said. "If the same thing's starting to happen here that's been happening in Sunset Shimmer's world...I don't know how Equestria will survive!"

"Yeah, I don't get all the fancy magic crap, but even I get that this stuff happenin' here too is bad," Rainbow said.

Naoto frowned. "You keep mentioning another world and a disaster there. Can you tell us anything about that?"

The two pegasi shared a glance. "Well, Starlight Glimmer is the one you wanna ask about that, she actually understands all this crap," Rainbow said. "But basically? There's this magic mirror that connects to a parallel world that's full of human versions of everypony here in Equestria, and Twilight's friend Sunset Shimmer lives there. Something freaky happened there and, well..." She shrugged.

"Reality started breaking down," Fluttershy said. "Umm...I understand chaos magic slightly better than the average pegasus since I'm best friends with a chaos spirit. The way I understand it, the barriers that keep different realities separate are falling apart, and things from other realities are sort of...falling into Sunset Shimmer's world, with no way to get back where they came from. Every new report we get from over there says it's getting worse. Our friend Twilight Sparkle—umm, she's an alicorn princess—took a team into the Crystal Mountains to look for a rare magical material she needs to build a containment device to, umm...to stop all this."

Kanji blinked. "Uhh...wow. Did...did you get all that, Naoto?"

Naoto shook her head. "I'm not that deeply versed in science fiction," she said. "But I do think I get the basic idea. If you allow for the existence of dozens, perhaps hundreds or more, of alternate worlds which are completely different from our own..." She frowned. "It's like if you go into the candy store and start throwing candies from different bins into the bin with the lemon drops. Until somebody comes along and spends time sorting out the mess, the lemon drop bin is just going to stay like that, full of candies that don't belong there."

"Ohh," Kanji said. "That makes sense." He nodded. "I think."

"It's a weak analogy, I admit," Naoto said, "but this situation is so far beyond anything I've studied I'm having a hard time simply grasping it. I mean, even our own adventures with the TV world pale in comparison to what's apparently happening here."

* * * * *

Vodka wiped sweat from his brow as he pounded after Gin, squeezing past dead aliens in the narrow corridor. They passed through a wedged-open metal door into a long, narrow passage that led to what appeared to be the ship's bridge. Gin stopped, glancing around, and bit off a curse. "Shit," he muttered. "This is a dead end..."

Ahead of them, a viewscreen flickered with static. As Vodka began circling the bridge, prodding at various controls on the stations, the screen suddenly lit up brilliantly, flooding the compartment with secondhand sunlight. Wincing against the sudden glare, Gin peered at the screen, frowning. "What the—?"

"Sorry, I think I turned on the TV or something," Vodka said.

"No," Gin said slowly, frowning. "A spaceship's bridge wouldn't have a giant television...I believe this is an electronic window. A projection of what's outside the ship..." He moved over to where Vodka was standing, pushed him aside, and glanced at the unfamiliar controls. He experimented with a few of them.

The image on the screen cleared up and shifted position. As it did so, the constant warning klaxons and guttural alien warning message suddenly changed.

//Non-Klingon lifeforms detected on bridge. Internal sensors confirm non-Klingon lifeforms are the only lifeforms aboard that are not incapacitated or dead. Universal Translator engaged for emergency instructions. Attention: To all hands aboard, unknown structural damage to seventy percent of this vessel. Hull integrity severely compromised. Status of engine unknown. Oxygen atmosphere detected outside vessel. Federation classification of atmosphere, Class M; capable of sustaining human life. Recommendation: Abandon ship. Abandon ship.//

Vodka blinked. "The hell...?"

"Ah, I see," Gin said, nodding. "This ship's computer detected us and apparently is capable of speaking our language." He rubbed his chin. "But if..." He shook his head. "Nevermind. More importantly, we still need to find a way off this ship."

//Emergency manual escape hatch for bridge positioned beneath captain's station.//

"Helpful, isn't it?" Gin mused. He stalked around the bridge, finding the large leather chair in the center, and searched around the base of it. He found a set of release levers; after a few minutes' work, he managed to figure it out. With an explosive hiss, the captain's chair was blown halfway across the bridge, and three layers of deck plating swung open with grinding metallic groans. A short ladder led down to a hatch with two large mechanical release levers. Gin grunted with the strain of releasing them; a loud banging noise and a tremendous hiss of steam and escaping atmosphere accompanied the sudden sunlight which flooded the bridge from the escape hatch. Gin peered cautiously out, frowning. "There's asphalt down below...looks like a roof," he said. "Bit of a drop..."

"GIN!"

"Che!" Gin swung himself down into the hatch, holding onto the last rung at the bottom. "Come on, Vodka! The sooner we're off this ship, the better!"

"Right behind you, Aniki!" Vodka said with a grunt. "Just...making it harder for Kudou to follow us!" Vodka grabbed the ejected captain's chair and, with effort, hauled it over to the door to the bridge, wedging it firmly in the opening. He grinned as he saw their pursuer pounding up the accessway. "Goodbye, brat!" he taunted, ducking under a disruptor blast and scrambling for the escape hatch. He climbed down the ladder and looked down. Gin was already on the roof below; taking a deep breath, he let go and threw himself down, landing painfully on one shoulder.

Just as he landed, something on the ship exploded, and the bridge section lurched wildly, the connecting passage—a long, thin tube—bending alarmingly and swinging out over the edge of the roof...

* * * * *

The silver-black blade of Monica's sword flashed in the sun as it cleaved through Ikamusume's tentacles yet again. Two more tentacles shot around from behind her, the air pressure of their passing slicing the lattice straps of the sleeveless red top she wore.

"Give it up-geso!" Ikamusume taunted. "My tentacles grow back faster than you can cut them off-geso!"

Tron and Kooh burst out of the front of the hotel, armed and ready for battle. The first thing they saw was Monica and Ikamusume, who had jumped down onto the beach from the boardwalk. An odd shadow loomed over the beach.

People all around them were ignoring the fight, looking up and pointing and recording video. The two girls looked into the sky and gasped. "What the hell?!" Tron cried.

A massive spaceship had not so much crashed into the upper floors of the hotel as fused with them. The bulk of the ship's hull was fused into the northwest corner of the hotel at an awkward angle. Its broad wings, green and with imagery of bird feathers painted on the surface, stuck out, one pointing skyward and the other bent at an odd angle as it scraped against the wall of the hotel. A long, slender "neck" connected the foremost part of the ship, a smaller ovoid hull, to the body; this part was pointing skyward at a low angle, jutting out over the roof of the hotel.

Kooh scratched her head. "So that's what that shaking was," she said. "How do you reckon it got stuck like that?"

"Good question," Tron said. "But that can't be good for either that ship or the hotel. I mean, there's bound to be some structural integrity iss—"

The neck of the ship snapped with an alarmingly loud groan, swaying out over the edge of the roof, dangling the forward hull precariously over the beach.

Down below, Monica looked up at the disaster above, distracted from her battle with Ikamusume. Her sword hung limp in her grasp as her eyes widened. "What the heck?!"

"An opening!" Ikamusume cried triumphantly. Monica turned halfway toward her, blinking; a tentacle sliced through the last lattice strap holding her top together, and it gave up the ghost, taking her strapless bra with it. Monica yelped in embarrassment as, once again, her breasts bounced free, bare to the world.

Before she could process what was happening, something small and warm crashed right into her chest, knocking her to the ground...

* * * * *

Conan snarled as Vodka ducked out of sight. Glaring at the massive chair he'd wedged into the doorway, he knelt down and cranked up his power kick shoes to maximum, then charged forward and, with a yell of rage, gave the chair a mighty kick. It went flying, crashing into the forward viewscreen. Conan pelted across the bridge, glancing around warily, disruptor and dagger at the ready. The sunlight streaming up through the floor drew his attention; he rushed over and knelt down, staring into the short tunnel leading to an open escape hatch. Down below, he could see Gin and Vodka racing across what appeared to be a rooftop.

Narrowing his eyes, Conan shoved the alien's knife into his jacket pocket and the ray gun into his pants pocket, then took off his glasses, folded them, and slipped them into his shirt pocket. He climbed down the rungs...

The entire ship lurched violently. Conan nearly lost his grip; he let out a string of curses as the world around him swayed with an alarmingly loud groan of metal. Up above, the alarms and computer voice abruptly died. He looked down through the open hatch, and his eyes widened in alarm.

The already-steep drop to the asphalt roof was now a deadly plummet to a beach far below. "Chikushou!" Taking a moment to breathe and calm his racing heart, Conan unhooked his suspenders, tying them firmly around the lowest rung of the escape hatch ladder. Testing the knot, he secured himself to the other end of the suspenders, then took a deep breath...

...and threw himself clear of the hatch.

For seconds that stretched into infinity, he fell through the air, wind whipping at his clothes and hair. The ground rushed up to meet him at an alarming rate.

Then, abruptly, his fall was halted as the elastic suspenders reached their maximum stretch capacity and snapped back, sending him swinging dizzily through the air at the end of an impossibly long tether. He took a moment to survey his situation.

He was still at least thirty feet off the ground. People down below were staring up at him or at the ship. He was close enough to the beach that, if he angled it right before cutting the cord, he could throw himself onto the relatively soft sand or, preferably, into the sea. With determination, he began fighting for control of his swing, building momentum and angling himself toward the shore. Once he felt he'd built up just enough momentum to survive the fall, he pulled the dagger from his jacket and cut the suspenders. He let out an involuntary yell as he went sailing toward the sands below, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his entire body tense.

He collided with something unexpectedly soft.

He heard a surprised exclamation, felt the sensation of falling less dramatically, with another body falling underneath him. His face was pressed against something soft and warm.

He slowly opened his eyes.

He saw a generously large pair of bare breasts, which his head was nestled between.

"Gurk," he managed to sputter as blood burst from his nose.

* * * * *

Twilight studied the readings on her portable scanner intently as she roamed the halls of Castle Grayskull. "Fascinating," she mused. "I can't wait to interpolate—"

Voices reached her ears from around a corner, ringing off the cold stone walls. She hesitated, pressing herself flat against a wall and straining to listen.

"—telling you, B-Turd, this place is giving me the willies, seriously."

"Will you please stop calling me that?!"

"Pssh. Well you ain't B-Fly no more, and you sure ain't Earth Turd either, so what am I supposed ta do?"

"Umm...you could try maybe dropping the Earth Turd thing, for starters?"

"Hahahahahahahahahaha, good one! Oh wait, you're serious? No. No, we're not doing that."

The other voice sighed. Twilight noticed that it sounded strange...like some bizarre mix of a girl's voice and a boy's voice, not quite a doubled tone, but overlapped somehow into an unnatural sound. "Fine," the voice grumbled. "But seriously, come up with anything better than 'B-Turd', it just sounds...wrong!"

The other voice snorted in annoyance. "Okay. Fine. What would you like me to call you, then? Starco? Does that work for you?"

There was a pause. "Eh. I guess it...kinda works." Another pause. "Come on, we need to get moving."

A teenager rounded the corner. Twilight blinked.

The teen that rounded the corner had faintly tanned skin, and wore knee-high purple boots with curved, rhinoceros-like horns on the toes and thick soles patterned like jagged animal teeth; pairs of eyes decorated the sides of the heels. Striped tights disappeared up into a green skirt, which then disappeared into a red hoodie. The teen had one blue eye and one brown eye; a single pink heart decorated her left cheek. A red headband with a pair of devil horns on it topped an unruly mop of shoulder-length brown hair with multiple blond streaks and blond tips. The teen held a ridiculously childish toy magic wand in one hand.

She spotted Twilight and blinked, holding up a hand and waving. "Uhh...hi," she said.

"Hi," Twilight returned, blinking and waving.

And then a disembodied unicorn head with sparkly glitter trailing out of its stump floated into view behind the teen. "Oh hey!" it said in a thickly Latina voice tinged with indifference.

Twilight screamed.

Comes a Princess?

View Online

"Okay, okay, yes, you can stop screaming now. Umm, hello, I said you can...oh for, B-Turd, will you please shut her up?"

"Don't call me that," the strange girl grumbled. She walked up to Twilight and firmly slapped her across the face. Twilight stopped screaming, stunned, and reached up to hold her cheek.

"Ow," Twilight complained. She looked at the strange girl, then back at the floating unicorn head. She pointed a shaky, trembling finger. "Wh-wha-whaaaa—"

"That's just Pony Head," the other girl said offhandedly. "She's harmless. Pushy, obnoxious, and makes bad life choices, but harmless."

"HEY! I'm right here! ...okay, so it's all true..."

Twilight blinked. "B-buh...but..." She shook her head. "U-unicorns...do that, when their heads are cut off?"

"Cut off?" Pony Head repeated derisively. "Pssh. Girl, I never HAD a body!"

"Yeah, her species doesn't have bodies," the other girl said. "So, question. Where are we, why aren't my dimensional scissors working, and can you fix whatever's blocking them so I can get out of here? I...kinda need to find a way to fix a little mess I got myself in before my mom finds out and flips her lid."

"Which mom?" Pony Head said in a sly, somewhat catty tone.

The girl just sighed deeply.

Twilight shook her head. "I...I'm sorry," she said. "Wherever you came from, there's no way for you to get back there right now. It's a long story. Umm...I'm Twilight Sparkle, and you are...?"

The girl grimaced. "I'm Star...and Marco...umm..." She looked at Pony Head. "Little help here? My mind's still all wobbly from this."

Pony Head snorted. "Okay, so like, this is Princess Star Butterfly of Mewni," she said. "But it's also Marco Diaz, Certified Earth Turd. Long story short, Star messed up a spell and kinda...y'know...mashed herself together with Earth Turd and they turned into this wet blanket."

Twilight blinked. She stared at the girl in front of her. "You're...two people, fused together by a magic spell?"

"Yep," Starco said. "I guess...you can call me Starco, since I'm...y'know...Star and Marco." She shook her head. "Man, this is not how I wanted to get inside Star..."

"What was that?" Pony Head asked quickly.

"NOTHING!" Starco replied VERY quickly, voice high and wavering.

Twilight blinked repeatedly. Shaking her head, she trained her scanner on Starco, then on the wand she held. Her scanner let off a loud alarm, several lights flashing. "Wow," she said. "You're dripping with magic."

"Well, she is the princess of Mewni," Pony Head said derisively. "I mean, duh."

"I...have no idea what Mewni is, sorry," Twilight said. She sighed. "Well, right now I'm dealing with this other crazy mess that just happened, but..." She bit her lip. "If, umm...if you wanna come with, I mean..."

"The more the merrier," Starco said with a shrug. "Come on, Lilacia, let's roll."

"Okay now that's just mean," Pony Head pouted.

* * * * *

Blue eyes met pinkish-red eyes set in a pretty face framed by dark reddish-pink hair. A furious blush spread across both faces even as blood trickled from Conan's nose, which was firmly pillowed between two bare breasts that, while perhaps not the largest breasts he'd ever found himself pressed against, were still quite...robust.

The girl let out an embarrassed yelp and dropped him to the sand, crossing her arms over her chest. "Gyah!"

Two other girls rushed up. "Monica! You okay?"

"Wow, how'd you end up topless again?!"

"HEY! We're not through here-geso!"

Several blue tentacles shot into their midst. Conan blinked, shaking his head, and swept his gaze across the beach to take stock of the situation. The topless girl who'd caught him was shifting around into a defensive position (while still managing to keep an arm across her chest), while the other two girls who'd just arrived stood at her flanks, shielding him from another young girl who stood some distance away. She wore a white dress and had long blue hair which, somehow, was stretching out in a series of long, squid-like tentacles.

Conan stared.

The younger and shorter of the two new arrivals picked up a sword which lay on the ground and started hacking away at the tentacles. The other girl pulled out a large gun and fired some kind of grenade at their assailant; it collided with her chest and exploded, throwing her across the beach. The girl with the grenade gun quickly swept Conan up and took off running; he heard the other girl yell something behind them, and two more sets of footfalls fell in rhythm with the girl carrying him.

Conan's mind processed several things as he was jostled by the frantic running.

All three girls were dressed in casual clothes, the kind you'd wear if you were on vacation. Given they'd just been on the beach, they were probably at a beachside hotel. Said hotel must have been the building the alien ship had crashed into. He'd fallen from the bridge of the ship when it started to fall, landed on the beach, fallen into...

Now, the girl with the tentacle hair, he couldn't quite explain. He resolved to wait to get some answers until the three girls calmed down a bit...which didn't seem to be about to happen, as the hotel lobby was a mass of screaming and panic. He was jostled as the girls charged up the stairs, climbing four floors until they leveled out. A few minutes later, they were inside a hotel room, and he was dropped onto a bed. "Okay kid, we're here," the girl holding him said. "But we're about to leave...are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, I can walk or run," Conan said, looking around, getting his first really good look at the girls. The one who'd been carrying him had short brown hair in a stiff, flaring style and wore pink shorts and a sleeveless pink top with pink beach sandals. The shorter, younger girl had her long raven hair tied in two ankle-length ponytails and was wearing a breezy black miniskirt, a powder blue tube top, and white flip-flops. The third, older girl had on tight indigo denim shorts that went halfway down her thighs and white canvas sneakers. She was completely topless, and her back was turned to him as she rummaged through a bag, pulling out a pink T-shirt which she quickly threw on, pulling her long, braided pink-red hair through it. She turned around, her face still flushed, and coughed.

"Umm...okay," she said. "So..." She crouched down to look Conan in the face. "Umm."

Conan felt his blush intensify. "Thanks for catching me," he said. "Umm...I might've gotten hurt if you hadn't broken my fall."

"You mean if her big boobs hadn't acted as an airbag," the brown-haired girl said. The other girl giggled.

The redhead blushed furiously. "Glad I could help," she said sourly. Shaking her head, she said, "Umm...I'm Monica, this is Kooh and Tron."

"Conan," Conan said, slipping his glasses out of his shirt pocket and putting them on.

"You fell out of that ship, right?" Tron asked as she began throwing things into an impossibly small-looking bag.

"Hai," Conan said, nodding. "I...don't know how I got aboard it in the first place. I was chasing somebody..."

"You can tell us all about it later," Kooh said. "We have to get out of here, they're evacuating the hotel."

Conan frowned. "Yeah, I guess they would," he said. "With that ship crashed on the roof, it's not safe to be here."

"It's not crashed so much as fused into the top floors of the hotel," Tron said. "In any case, parts of it are about to start breaking off and falling, so we're getting out of here."

Conan slipped his phone out of his pocket, frowning as he got no signal. "Where are we, anyway?"

"Canterlittle," Monica said.

Conan frowned. "Is that in America?"

The others looked at each other. "Might as well tell him now," Tron said.

Monica sighed and nodded. "Okay. Conan? None of us are from this world. We don't entirely understand how we got here, and the three of us have just been waiting it out here on the beach." She leaned low, her eyes full of compassion. "I'm sorry, but you might not be able to get back to your family for a really long time. Me and my friends can look after you until we find a way to send you home, if you want."

Conan processed this. *That doorway that appeared in the middle of the alley...it led to the alien ship, and then the alien ship became part of this hotel. That means to find my way home, I need to stay close to the ship, but...the ship is about to collapse, and it's not safe to go back up there. And then there's Gin and Vodka...* His jaw tightened. *They've probably already escaped and are far away from here. I have to find them. I have to find them, then I have to find a way home...* He looked at the three girls, then nodded. "Alright," he said, lowering his voice from the "cute little kid" tone he usually adopted around strangers to his more natural tone. "And you said none of you are from this world?"

"That's right," Monica said. "We're not even from the same world as each other."

"Interesting," Conan said. He studied each girl intently. They all looked perfectly human, like any other young girl he might encounter. He decided to test the waters. "So none of you have heard of Japan?"

The girls looked at each other, frowned, and shook their head. "Never heard of it," Tron said. "Is that a person, or a city, or...?"

"It's a country," Conan said. "And nevermind, that...just brings up a bunch of questions we don't have time for." He took a deep breath, then...

"Let me reintroduce myself," he said seriously. "My real name is Kudou Shinichi. I'm a detective."

The girls blinked. "A detective?" Tron asked, going slightly pale. "Like...a police detective?"

Monica bit her lip. "You can tell us more later," she said. "For now, we need to get out of here."

Conan nodded. "I'll leave it to you girls."

* * * * *

After several minutes of wandering around the huge crystal castle, the group entered a massive library, at one end of which stood a huge, ornate crystal mirror with a hodge-podge framework of oddball devices arranged around it. A purple unicorn with a wavy violet mane sat near the mirror, writing in a hard-bound book. She looked up as they entered. "Oh, hey Rainbow Dash, Fluttersh—" She trailed off. "Why are there two humans here, and how did they get here without me seeing them come through the portal?"

"It's happening here now," Rainbow said. "They were in the Whitetail Woods." She made introductions around the room.

The unicorn, Starlight Glimmer, frowned. "I'd better let Twilight know about this," she said. She inked her quill and flipped the page in her book, then went back to writing.

Kanji shuffled his feet. "Uhh...so like, you gonna call this Twilight, or—"

"That's what she's doing," Rainbow said. "It's a magic journal. You write something in that one, it copies in the one it's paired with."

"Oh yeah? Cool. I mean, if you don't got cell phones, I guess."

"I highly doubt they have cell phone technology in this world, Tatsumi-kun," Naoto said.

"Heh, yeah...guess not." Kanji jammed his hands in his pockets. "So, uhh..."

"Done," Starlight said. She looked up at the new arrivals. "So, you came from some other human-populated world, and arrived here in the Whitetail Woods?" She stood up and stretched. "You must be really confused."

"Yeah, you could say that," Kanji said. "I mean, a world of talkin' horses is crazy enough, but..." He glanced at Naoto. "Havin' our Persona powers without our Personas?"

"That's been bothering me," Naoto said, stroking her chin contemplatively. "Unfortunately, there's no way to conduct further tests on that front without causing significant damage to our surroundings." She frowned. "Or outright killing anything in sight, as would be the case with most of my Persona abilities."

"Oh yeah," Kanji said with a concerned frown. "You kinda got stuck with either 'kill everything that moves' or 'blast the crap out of anything that moves', huh?"

"Helpful against swarms of Shadows," Naoto said. "Not so much for simple tests of an anomaly."

The ponies frowned in confusion. "What're you guys talkin' about?" Rainbow asked.

"Ah, yes, forgive me," Naoto said. She cleared her throat. "Some time ago, we were all involved in an incident in our world. It involved a sort of alternate world connected to ours, created from the collective thoughts and emotions of the human race. Within that world, we were able to manifest a power called Persona."

"It let us summon these kinda...other selves," Kanji said. "That could use all kinds of magic and powerful attacks and stuff."

"We used this power to solve a serial killing case," Naoto continued. "But once the case was closed and we reached the truth behind everything, we assumed the power was forever sealed away." She tilted the brim of her cap. "Apparently, we were wrong."

"But we ain't ever had that power, y'know, without our Personas before," Kanji said. "But somehow, when we fought that Horse Goblin guy out in the woods, I threw lightning at him without summoning my Persona." He shrugged. "Hell if I know how."

"Huh," Starlight said. "Maybe it's because you're in a world that's already magical in nature? Or maybe it has something to do with the chaos singularity that's causing all this..." She shook her head. "In any case, I'll try to help run some tests after I hear back from Twilight and check in with my friends in the other world. Unless Twilight says specifically you two have to be either here or in the other world, it's up to you to decide where to wait things out."

"What's this other world you keep mentioning?" Naoto asked.

Rainbow pointed at the mirror. "That's a portal," she said. "It connects to a parallel world with human versions of a whole bunch of ponies here. That world's kinda where all this mess started."

"Huh," Kanji said. "Whaddya think, Naoto? Should we go check that out?"

Naoto pondered that for a moment. "No," she said. "We're in an unknown world that operates on completely unfamiliar laws of reality. However, there's a basic logic at play in any given situation, no matter how unusual. We entered this reality through this world, so for the time being, unless a local expert says otherwise, we should remain here."

Kanji thought about that. "Oh yeah...kinda like how we always went into the TV world from Junes, huh?"

"Precisely."

"Well, while we wait to hear back from Twilight..." Starlight's horn lit up, and a glow surrounded her throat. When she spoke again, her voice was amplified. "SPIKE! How about some fresh nachos and cold drinks? We've got company!"

"Horse nachos," Naoto remarked with a raised eyebrow. "This should be interesting..."

* * * * *

"So, umm...nice castle," Pony Head said as the group rounded yet another corner. "I like how you've got like, bits and pieces of a high school up in here."

"Yeah, what's up with that?" Starco asked. "I mean, this place is like, a super-old super-medieval fortress, but then you've got all this glowy crystal stuff in random places, and then there's all this stuff that looks like a high school on Earth...what's the deal?"

Twilight made an adjustment to her scanners. "This castle translocated into our universe in the exact same spot as our high school," she said. "It sort of...merged with the school."

"Oh, you mean like that movie with the guy who splices himself with a fly?" Starco asked.

"Or, y'know, like you two," Pony Head said with a snicker.

"How'd that even happen?" Twilight wondered. "Also, I have a few friends that might be able to help you fix that, if...if it even can be fixed." She tugged at her ponytail. "I wouldn't know, I do science, not magic."

Starco let out a long, whining, depressed sigh.

Pony Head tutted. "Okay so like...Star had this crush on Earth Turd but he totally hooked up with this cool Earth chick, then Star had to go back to Mewni because her kingdom was in trouble. Earth Turd came to help, the kingdom got saved, then Earth Turd had to go back home, right? So he was gone like...a week, I dunno, I don't keep track, but Star got back together with her demon ex-boyfriend Tom. Then Earth Turd shows back up on Mewni out of nowhere and his girlfriend dumped him, and now he wanted to hook up with Star, but she was back with Tom, so..."

"Ouch," Twilight said, wincing. "I don't know much about dating, but that sounds messy."

"Yeah, well, they tried to go back to being best-besties like they were when Star was on Earth? But it didn't take, then they got in this big fight about it, then..."

Starco sighed. "I, I mean, Star...lost control of my magic and my emotions, and then this happened."

"Yikes." Twilight sighed. "Well, I think I've taken as many readings as I can for now, and something tells me there's parts of this castle it'd be a really good idea to avoid, so..." She switched apps on her scanner, pointing it in a different direction as a vector map of the castle faded into view. "We...should probably get out of here and rendezvous with my friends."

"THERE you are!"

Twilight, Starco, and Pony Head stopped short as Rainbow Dash flew up to them. "I've been lookin' all over for ya, egghead!" She blinked. "Who's this..." She trailed off as she espied Pony Head. "Uhh..."

"Whoa, girl with wings," Starco said. "Haven't seen that in a while."

"Oh, hey Rainbow Dash," Twilight said. "This is Starco and Pony Head. I know she's kind of weird-looking, but apparently it's normal."

"Didn't I just get through explaining the whole magical fusion accident—"

"I was talking about Pony Head."

"Oh."

"Uhh..." Rainbow shook her head. "Nevermind. Won't ask. Listen, we're all gathering in the cafeteria...which, I guess is kinda the front gates of this castle now? Principal Celestia's turned into some kind of magical bird witch thing and told us to protect the castle while she goes to find Sunset." She bit her lip. "Things just got a whole lot worse, Twi."

Twilight sighed. "I was afraid of that." She turned to the new arrivals. "Come on, you two, let's go to the cafeteria."

"Cool," Starco said. "Got nachos?"

* * * * *

An hour later, the three girls and Conan had settled into a new room at a different hotel.

"How are you able to afford this if you're not from this world?" Conan asked as he sat on one of the plush beds.

"I have a large supply of pure gold," Monica said. "Enough that I could settle here permanently and live in comfort if I had to. Umm...but I'd much rather get home, my kingdom needs me."

"Sou ka," Conan said, blinking. He shook his head. "I've been in some weird situations, but this is way beyond anything I've ever dealt with before."

"So...Shinichi, was it?" Monica asked. "About what you were saying earlier..."

Conan grimaced. "Gomen. I'm...not what I appear to be."

"You sure don't sound like a little kid," Tron said. "Plus there's the knife and the laser gun you're carrying around."

"Aheh...yeah," Conan said, rubbing the back of his head. "I picked those up on that alien ship while I was chasing..." He frowned. "Chikushou! There's no telling how far away they got!"

"You were chasing aliens?" Kooh asked, tilting her head.

"No," Conan said, shaking his head. "I was chasing two men...the men who tried to kill me several months ago."

The girls gasped in shock. "Tried to kill you? But why?" Monica asked.

Conan took a deep breath...

"My name is Kudou Shinichi, high school detective, sixteen years old. One day, I took my childhood friend Mouri Ran to an amusement park, where I ended up solving a murder on a roller coaster. During the case, I noticed two suspicious men dressed all in black who seemed out of place on a roller coaster and were very anxious.

"That evening, I saw them leaving the park and heading down to the canal, and I followed them. I witnessed the two men making a blackmail exchange with a public official. I was so caught up in what I'd stumbled onto that I didn't notice one of them sneaking up behind me. He hit me over the head. I was dazed.

"They forced a poison capsule into my mouth and made me swallow it, then left. I thought I was a dead man, but the poison did something I wasn't expecting. It changed my body, reducing me to the size and appearance of a first grader.

"When I woke up and realized what happened, I went home and confided in my next door neighbor, but then Ran showed up while I was trying to figure out what to do. I made up the name 'Edogawa Conan' on the spot, and before I knew it, I ended up living with Ran and her dad, a bumbling private detective who spends most of his time drunk.

"With a series of gadgets my neighbor designed for me, I solve cases in secret, while always searching for a way to bring the men who did this to me to justice. If I can capture them, I can get closer to an antidote for this," he finished, looking at the shellshocked girls. "If I can bring down the organization those two men are part of, I can return to my life as Kudou Shinichi. Until then, I'm stuck living a pretend life as 'Edogawa Conan'."

"Oh wow," Tron said softly. "That's...wow."

Kooh tilted her head. "So...you're really sixteen?" A sly grin crossed her face. "Then you really must've enjoyed that little peek at Monica's boobs, huh?"

"GAH!" Monica yelped, blushing furiously. "Kooh!"

"Erk!" Conan uttered, his own face red. "G-gomen nasai! I..."

Monica sighed. "Forget it, it was an accident," she said. "I mean, you fell out of a spaceship, it's not like you were aiming at my chest." She smirked. "Bet it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience though, huh?"

Conan laughed wryly. "Actually, you'd be surprised how often I end up in exactly that position," he said. "Never by choice," he added in a disgruntled mutter.

"Oho," Tron said, tilting her head and smirking. "So we have a little pervert detective on our hands, huh?"

"I'm not a pervert!" Conan retorted hotly. The girls laughed.

"So the guys that did this to you, they were on that alien ship?" Kooh asked.

"Yeah," Conan said. "I chased them into a dead-end alley, then a door appeared behind them, they ran through, I followed. Then we were on that ship...and then we were here." He shrugged.

Monica sighed. "It's getting worse then," she said. "We need to check the news, see what's going on down in Canterlot. If things are starting to get worse here, it might be time to stop screwing around on the beach and get more directly involved."

"I vote for screwing around on the beach," Kooh said. "Things are interesting enough here without walking right into the worst of it all. Besides, you can't possibly wanna leave now, not after that dippy squid girl got you twice."

Monica grimaced, her hands tightening into fists. "Yeah," she admitted. "You're right. I...I definitely want to settle things with that girl. I can't let what she's done stand."

"What was even up with that?" Tron wondered. "I mean, it looked like she was trying to flash you on purpose..."

* * * * *

"Did you see the look on her face-geso?" Ikamusume clutched her stomach, laughing at the memory. "And! And then when that little human guppy crashed right into her boobs-geso..."

Sonata giggled. "Yeah, that was so random, but SO funny!"

Aria sighed. "So you tracked those girls to their hotel, found their room, and then picked a fight with boob-girl for no reason?"

"It wasn't for no reason!" Sonata insisted. "Right, Ika?"

Ikamusume nodded seriously. "It was a surprise attack-geso," she said. "Our enemies must live with the terror that we can strike at any time-geso!"

"Except," Arlong said, "we can't, because that entire hotel has been evacuated and neither of you thought to follow them and find out where they went."

"Grk!" Ikamusume quailed, paling.

"Ah, well...there were a lot of cabs and shuttles coming and going," Sonata hedged. "I mean, it was chaos, and there were pieces of that weird alien spaceship falling down..."

"Yeah, what's up with that?" Aria wondered. "I mean, I know things have been crazy around here and there's even been giant robots showing up, but—"

"Oh, it's been getting worse," Adagio said from the couch. "We've been watching the news, and..."

"Structures and larger, more obstructive things are showing up in this world now," Arlong said with a frown. "In the very heart of that Canterlot city, a stone castle has appeared. There are other things showing up around the world..." He picked up the TV remote and tuned in a news broadcast, which showed helicopters hovering around a massive metal structure that stood in a sparse prarie surrounded by craggy sandstone foothills. Sprawling out over what had to be dozens of miles of scrubland, it looked vaguely like a giant metal flat-capped mushroom, with dozens of smaller structures spread out around its base. A massive support pillar held up the circular plate that hung suspended above the dark, sprawling city, with eight more pillars positioned around the edges, extending upward above the plate. These pillars sporadically vented thick jets of glowing green steam into the air. The entire upper plate of the supercity was dense with buildings and towers, all with lights glowing brightly even in the hot daytime sun.

"What the geso is THAT?" Ikamusume moaned, covering her mouth.

"I'm getting a really bad feeling from that thing," Sonata said quietly, her usual ditzy cheer gone.

"Yeah that...looks like something we wanna stay as far the hell away from as possible," Aria said with a frown.

Comes a Gathering

View Online

The highest echelons of Shinra Electric Power Company were gathered in the highest office of the Shinra Tower, surveying an array of information.

"My intelligence reports that most of the populace believes we simply experienced a minor earthquake. The change in the sky has been a little harder to explain for the plate dwellers, but..." The man speaking shrugged. "We can spin it as simply an effort to reduce the pollution from the Mako Reactors."

"Hmm. And...we have no information whatsoever as to what happened?"

"We've been working on intercepting broadcasts from the outside. It's taking a little time to decode some of the more complex signals, but the radio waves we've been picking up are easy enough, it's just a matter of frequency tuning."

"And?"

"Well..." A thin man fidgeted. "The thing is..." He glanced nervously around the room, his eyes falling on a younger man in a white suit.

This man sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It seems the entire city has been transplanted to another world," he said. "I know that sounds insane, but the broadcasts we're picking up speak of cities and countries that simply don't exist."

"Another...another world?!"

"That's...that's preposterous!"

"Hmm...I wonder..."

"Well, whatever happened, it hasn't interrupted Mako production, so...at least there's that?"

"We need information," a long-haired man dressed all in black said quietly, thoughtfully. "Sooner or later, the people in the city are going to realize something's wrong, and if we're not careful, we'll end up with a panic on our hands. I'd prefer not to focus all our resources on martial law, and that's exactly what's going to happen."

Everyone turned from him to an older, short, broad-framed man in a finely tailored suit. He took a long, thoughtful drag from the cigar clenched in his teeth, blew a cloud of smoke, then nodded. "I agree," he said. "Above all else, we need to ascertain any long-term impacts on our research projects. If..." He frowned. "If, somehow, this city has been transplanted to another world, we need to survey it thoroughly." He paused, then added, "And we need to establish our presence in this world. Presence is everything in business. If we're going to survive, we need to be...aggressive."

"We need to be cautious," the thin man warned. "Until we know exactly what it is we're dealing with here, we can't afford to behave recklessly."

"I agree," the long-haired man said. "This requires precision."

The short man frowned around his cigar. "Very well, then. What do you suggest?"

The long-haired man stood up. "I will go," he decided. "Call the garage and have my motorcycle readied and waiting." Without waiting for acknowledgement, he swept from the room, the tails of his long black coat fluttering around his boots.

Some minutes later, as he arrived at the garage level, a man dressed in a black uniform fell into step beside him. This man had short, spiky black hair and an enormous, broad-bladed sword strapped to his back. "So what do you think we're gonna find out there?" he asked.

The long-haired man glanced aside at him, not breaking stride. "I won't even ask how you know what's going on," he said, "but I'm handling this myself."

"Like hell you are," the other man replied. "This is kinda big. Even your legendary self needs a second set of eyes on the ground this time."

The long-haired man smirked. "Hn. Fine, do as you wish."

Five minutes later, the two men tore across unfamiliar countryside on large, loud motorcycles, leaving the steel colossus of Midgar behind them.

* * * * *

After everything that had happened recently, Sunset Shimmer thought nothing could surprise her anymore.

Naturally, the universe set out to prove her wrong.

Her phone had been blowing up ever since Canterlot High School had transformed into a giant castle. The rest of the group was flicking back and forth between news channels, watching in stunned silence as reports came in of all sorts of strange buildings and even an entire city appearing out of thin air.

"Well, my friends are all safe," Sunset said with a relieved sigh. "Although Rainbow Dash said something really confusing about Principal Celestia turning into a bird..."

A falcon soared through the window—the closed window—and transformed into an oddly-dressed Celestia. "Sunset Shimmer, you must come at once," she said in a rush. "Bring every capable warrior you have collected around you, the castle must be defended!"

"This world's fashions grow stranger by the minute," Elsa said.

"That's...not a normal outfit, by any definition," Octavia said, tilting her head. "Principal Celestia, are you...are you quite well, ma'am?"

"Principal Celestia? What's going on?" Sunset asked, frowning. "You are Celestia, right?"

"Yes, I am Celestia, but I am also the Sorceress of Grayskull," Celestia said insistently. "We have merged into a single being since the arrival of Castle Grayskull in your reality. Listen to me: the castle which appeared in the same place as Canterlot High School harbors a powerful, dangerous magic that must be protected at all costs! We know not what evils have come to this world, but if any with ill intent should seize the Power of Grayskull..."

"I get it, I get it," Sunset said. She sighed. "Alright, fine. We need a bigger place to stick everybody anyway. Let's...let's go check out this castle, see what's going on." She looked around the room. "Everybody with me?"

The others all nodded.

"Make haste," Celestia said. With that, she transformed back into a falcon and flew away in a streak of light, screeching into the heavens.

"Uhh...wow," Flash said. "That was random."

"Well, you heard her," Sunset said. "Let's all head over to the school."

The entire group filed out, talking idly amongst themselves about the latest crazy happening. Once Octavia shut off the lights and locked the door, the only sound remaining in the house was the ticking grandfather clock in the living room.

Minutes passed.

The living room television turned itself on, displaying faint, old-school static. Slowly, an image appeared in the static. It was blurry and indistinct at first, but gradually gained clarity and definition, glaring balefully out into the dark living room.

* * * * *

Ryan Walker winced, leaning against the table he and his friends sat at. With creative use of his powers, he'd managed to reconfigure their phones to work with the local networks, as well as "borrowing" a substantial sum of money from an ATM for them to get by on. After the craziness of the giant chicken swarm from earlier, they'd regrouped at a small burger joint for a meal and a quick rest.

"Hey. You okay, bro?" Mark asked.

Ryan shook his head. "I felt...something just now," he said. He grimaced. "It's not important. We need to deal with this mess, find a way home."

"I've been working on that," Harris said. "It's taking way too long to make sense of everything going on here, but I think I've figured out who we need to meet." He laid his phone on the table; it displayed a picture of a purple-skinned girl with violet hair and glasses.

"Wow, she's pretty cute," Spyder said. "I mean, aside from being purple. And a nerd."

"Something tells me she's still way out of your league," Mark said with a smirk.

"Guys? Focus?" Harris said. "This Twilight Sparkle—" He paused for a snicker. "Okay, that name, seriously..." He coughed. "Anyway—"

"Wait, wait," Spyder said. "Her name is Twilight Sparkle?!"

"Yeah."

The Walker brothers looked at each other, then dropped their heads toward the table, snickering.

Harris groaned. "Look, people here have weird names, okay? Anyway, she's like...pretty much the me of here, so she's the one we need to go to for help."

"And...and where do we find this Sparkle girl?" Mark asked, struggling not to laugh again.

"That's the thing," Harris said. "Looks like the best shot we'd have of running into her would be at Canterlot High School, but according to the news, it just got eaten by this big evil-looking castle." He tapped his phone a few times, showing a new photo.

"Whoa. Spooky place," Spyder said.

"A castle...ate a high school?" Ryan asked.

Harris shrugged. "That's what it sounds like," he said.

"Okay, so...we go check out this castle, find out what's up, maybe we run into this Sparkle girl and get her to help," Mark said. "I mean, it's not like we've got anything better to do, right?"

"Actually, I could eat like, three more of these bacon explosions," Spyder said. The others groaned. "What?" Spyder protested. "I'm hungry!"

"Wish we could replace you with a hot purple nerd girl," Harris muttered under his breath, sighing and swiping a fry through ketchup.

"Now there's a thought," Mark said. "A girl on the team would be a lot less gross than Spyder."

Spyder gave him an offended look. "Dude," he said. "Bros before hos."

Mark and Ryan both threw burger wrappers at him.

* * * * *

"Maa na," Enzan said as he leaned back in Rodimus' passenger seat, closing his eyes. "Things certainly seem to be getting worse around here."

"It might be time for us to join one of the larger groups of offworlders," Blues suggested. "I believe continuing to sneak around the outskirts of the city and focusing on survival and surveillance is no longer a productive endeavor."

"I agree," Rodimus said. "We need to make contact with that group of heroes we've been hearing about. Also, I'm picking up some very strange energy readings from that castle that appeared at the high school. It's something we need to investigate."

Enzan sighed. "You're probably right," he said. "Alright, let's get over there, then. How's the Energon holding out?"

"Full tank and ready to roll," Rodimus said as he revved his engine and pulled onto the highway leading into the city proper.

* * * * *

"So let me get this straight," Rainbow Dash said, eyeing Starco critically. "You're a girl...and a boy...fused together in the same body?"

"Yeah, that's...that's about the size of it," Starco said.

"Huh." Rainbow thought about that for a minute, then tilted her head. "So...you got a dick?"

"RAINBOW DASH!" Fluttershy chided, face flaming.

Starco coughed, even as Pony Head snickered. "Umm...can we not talk about that? Like..like at all? Ever?"

"Oh girl, it is all messed up down there," Pony Head said mischievously.

"Gaah," Rarity muttered.

X's voiced sounded from the castle gates. "Tenten, Kim, and Shego are here," he said. "They've brought two unfamiliars."

"I'll bring 'em here," Pinkie Pie announced, jumping up and rushing to the gates. She returned a minute later with five people, two of which were new to the group: a lanky youth with short dark hair and intense eyes, and a younger girl in a red dress and shorts with dark hair and eyes, glasses, and ninja gear.

"Wow, love what you did with the place while we were out," Shego said in an impressed tone.

"Pull up a seat," Rainbow said. "Things are gettin' a little weird and wild in here."

"So they're not from around here either?" Starco asked. "They're from another dimension?"

"Yeah," Rainbow said. In a cheeky tone, she added, "They're from the dimension where girls don't fuse with their boyfriends and turn into magic dickgirls."

"Ooooh, SNAP!" Pony Head crowed, chortling. "Up top, Rainbow!"

"Don't make me Narwhal Blast you," Starco muttered, giving Rainbow a flat stare.

Kim blinked. "Uhh...moving past that," she said, "this is Terry, and this is Sarada. Apparently Sarada's from the same ninja village as Tenten."

"Except she's from some point in my world's future," Tenten said. She frowned, then glanced at Sarada. "Hey! I just realized, you didn't recognize me at all! Don't tell I'm..." She went pale. "Did I...do I die?"

Sarada shrugged. "I wouldn't know," she said. "Just because I don't recognize you doesn't mean you're dead in my time. I mean, Konoha's a big place. I don't know every single person there by sight."

"Oh yeah," Tenten said, blinking. "Huh."

Miles swung into the Great Hall and High School Cafeteria of Grayskull, taking off his mask and stowing it. "Guys, there's like, a lot of people headed this way," he said. "A few different groups, at least. I saw Sunset Shimmer, she's leading a huge bunch that just got off a bus a block away, and there's four dudes headed this way too." He paused. "Then there's this like...hot rod camper truck thing? It's on the news, as far as I can tell, it's headed right for us. Oh, and all the Power Rangers are coming."

"Well, Celestia wanted an army to guard the castle, she's getting an army to guard the castle," Rainbow said.

Outside, X and Brook readied their weapons as four teenage boys strolled up to the gates. "Dang, son," one of them said, looking the castle over.

"State your business," X said.

"We're here to meet Twilight Sparkle," the apparent leader said. "We're trying to find out what's going on and she seems to be the best bet for answers and help to get us home."

X narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "And how do you know that?" he asked.

The lead boy's eyes lit up blue. "Technopath," he said. "I can access any technology anywhere, any information I want, and my buddy Harris here is a computer genius. Between the two of us, there's nothing we can't find out."

"Except where the heck the door back to our world is," the lightest-skinned of the four boys said.

"Technopath?" Brook asked.

"Oh dude, talking skeleton, that is sick," the tallest boy said, laughing. "Please tell me I get to kick this thing's butt."

"I don't have a butt," Brook said. "Also, you don't want to try it. Really."

"We're not looking for a fight," the leader said. "We're just looking for help. For real."

X frowned, but powered down his weapon. "Inside," he said. "You're welcome to rest and eat in the Great Hall. Everyone else is there. Don't try anything, don't wander off into the castle."

"Got it," the leader said with a relieved grin. "Thanks, robot dude."

X blinked. "How'd you—"

"Technopath," the leader said, his eyes lighting up again. X's eyes lit up briefly, his face slack. A moment later, he grunted.

"I see," he said. He looked at the four teens in turn. "Ryan, Mark, Harris, Spyder." He frowned at Ryan. "Please don't do that again."

"You got it," Ryan said as he walked past X and Brook, the others following. By the time they were safely inside, Sunset Shimmer was approaching with her rather large group. She tilted her head.

"Stuck on guard duty?" she asked.

"We're the only ones who don't need to eat or sleep, so it made the most sense," X said. "Everyone else is inside. We've gotten a lot of new...uh...'recruits' since I saw you last."

"I don't doubt it," Sunset said. "Same here." She gestured to her expanded group. "We picked up an extra Ladybug and Chat Noir, a queen with ice powers, a princess, my ex-boyfriend and his loli harem, and a couple girls from school who got tangled up in all this by coincidence." She gestured to the group. "Go on inside, everyone. I'll be in in a sec. Just need to catch up."

* * * * *

In the Sector 5 slums of Midgar, three young people sat around a burning trash barrel, grazing on a meager ration of dried meat, hard cheese, and crusty bread.

"Man, I don't trust these Shinra punks for nothin'." Biggs cut off a chunk of cheese and mashed it into an end of bread, taking a big bite.

"Dude, it was an earthquake. I'm telling you, that's all it was." Wedge crammed an entire stick of jerky into his mouth and followed it up with a fist-sized bite of bread.

"Earthquake my ass. You walking downstairs for breakfast in the morning is an earthquake. Shinra did something, you just watch." Biggs sat back, looking up at the cold, imposing metal plate overhead. "Man, I'm sick of livin' like this."

The only girl in their little circle of friends snorted as she sipped water from a metal flask. "So what, you wanna leave Midgar, go out into the wastes? It's not like you can get away from Shinra, no matter where you go."

Biggs sighed. "I know that, Jessie!" He shook his head, running his hand through his hair. "I just..." He went quiet suddenly, eyes sharp and alert, staring at something past Wedge's shoulder.

"You just what, Biggs?" Wedge asked.

"Guys, careful," Biggs warned, craning his neck up. Jessie gasped as a shadow fell over the three of them.

A tall, gaunt man had silently approached and was staring down at them, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses which reflected the firelight. He was dressed all in black: black shoes, black trousers, a black suit, a black trenchcoat, a short black cape, black leather gloves, and a broad-brimmed black hat. The only white in his attire was the white dress shirt he wore. His face was pale, and he held a glossy black cane in one hand.

"I'm searching for information," he said in a cold, raspy voice that raised the hairs on the back of Biggs' neck. "I would very much appreciate your...cooperation."

Wedge swallowed. "Get lost, spook," he said. "We don't got nothin' to say to some weirdo, right Jessie?"

"Uhh..."

"Is that so," the man said. "A pity."

In a flash, he unsheathed a long, sharp, gleaming sword from his cane, grabbed Wedge's head, pulled it back, and laid the blade of his sword against his throat.

Biggs and Jessie stood up, letting out cries of alarm. The man looked up at them, his unnaturally white teeth gleaming as he smiled at them.

"Your friend here is most uncooperative," he said conversationally. "Perhaps one of you would be more willing? All I want are answers to a few questions. If you indulge me, your friend will live to grow ever fatter. If not, well..." His smile turned to a cruel smirk. "I'm sure there's a slaughterhouse in need of a nice fat pig."

"Bastard!" Biggs snarled. Jessie laid a hand on his arm.

"We'll do whatever you want," she said. "Just...there's no need for violence."

The man smiled more genuinely, but it was a cold smile, one that sent chills up Biggs' spine. "A voice of reason," he said. "Good. Now, I would like to know everything about this miserable, festering boil of a city in which I find myself, and I do mean everything."

* * * * *

An hour had passed since the large group of Power Rangers arrived, sans robots, at Castle Grayskull. Rodimus Prime pulled up to the curb; Enzan and Blues got out. "I'll stay here while you make our introductions," Rodimus said. "Something tells me I'd be a bit of a tight fit on the inside."

Enzan chuckled. "You're probably right. Okay, Blues, let's go."

"Hai, Enza—" Blues jerked violently to a halt, purple lightning arcing up and down his body. "Gk—!"

"Blues?!" Enzan cried.

"E-Enzan-sama..." Blues grit his teeth. "A virus! It's...it's attempting to..." He let out a scream, throwing his head back.

"BLUES!"

Electricity snapped over Blues' body, which flickered and distorted with an odd twisted, blurry effect. His armor turned black and dark, bloody red. His mouth set into a grim line. A black symbol, concentric circles forming a strange, creepy eye, appeared in the center of his forehead. His right arm morphed into a blood red electrosword.

Powerful... this body...powerful...

"Blues?"

Not enough...not...strong enough...need more...power...

Blues charged forward, his sword flashing. Enzan staggered back, a surprised scream dying on his lips as the crackling sword slashed at his face.

Comes a Virus

View Online

Not enough...not...strong enough...need more...power...

Blues charged forward, his sword flashing. Enzan staggered back, a surprised scream dying on his lips as the crackling sword slashed at his face.

A crackling Batarang whizzed past Enzan's face, deflecting the electrosword with a clang and a shower of sparks. Enzan, his honed reflexes kicking in, hopskipped away from Blues, dropping into a light, flexible aikido stance. "Blues!" he snapped. "What's gotten into you?"

"I don't think your friend is himself," Terry said as he shed his borrowed civilian clothes and pulled his cowl into place.

Blues attacked again; Batman parried his sword with the blades of his gloves, then threw a brace of bat shuriken which bit into Blues' armor. He ignored the attack and pressed forward, his sword cutting a wide, glowing arc that sent Batman flying.

Enzan shook his head. "It's no good," he said. "His sword attacks are too strong to counter."

"We'll see about that," X said as he powered up his X Buster. "Stand clear."

"WAIT!" Enzan cried, holding out a hand. "If...if you do too much damage, I don't know if I can restore him..." He bowed his head. "Blues is my partner. I can't..."

X frowned and stepped back, powering down his Buster. "Wakatta," he said. "We'll have to find some way to contain him, thoAAHH!" Blues swept in, striking hard at X's shoulder. The blade bit in, purple arcs snapping along its crimson length. X screamed as the purple arcs coursed up and down his body, which began to blur and warp.

"X!" Brook yelled, dashing in and slashing at Blues with his sword. Blues glared at him, pulled his sword out of X, and swiped at Brook, driving him back. As the two fenced back and forth up and down the jawbridge, X doubled over, clutching at his head.

"What's going on out here?" Sunset Shimmer yelled as she ran into view. She espied the doubled over X, then the battle on the bridge, and her eyes finally landed on Enzan, who was watching the whole scene with tension and anxiety in his eyes. "You! Who are you, who's that armored guy, and what did you do to my friend?"

Enzan shook his head. "We came here to join your group," he said. "I don't know what's wrong with Blues, this...this isn't him. He just suddenly turned..." He pursed his lips, then shook his head. "I think he said he's being infected by a virus, except that's not possible. Not with my programming."

"Virus?" Sunset asked. "He's a robot?"

"Not exactly," Enzan said. "He's a sentient computer program. We don't know why he has a physical body since arriving in this world, but..." He shook his head. "If he's damaged, I can't do anything to repair him. Not in this state."

Sunset's eyes softened. "And you're worried because he's your friend," she said gently. "Alright, we'll..." She glanced at X. "What happened here, though?"

"Nngh...!" X grunted, clutching his head as his body warped again, his eyes snapping between their normal color and a violent blood red.

Enzan bit his lip. "Blues cut him, and...and then he got like this." He frowned. "He is a machine, isn't he?"

"Yes." Sunset approached X, a magic field writhing around her hand. "X? Can you hear me?"

"Stay...back..." X growled. "Virus...trying to...control me..." He dropped to his knees, squeezing his eyes shut tight. "Dangerous...!"

The commotion drew even more of the group out of the castle. Blues overpowered Brook, sending him sprawling in a heap, and went after Batman again. His sword crackled with purple lightning, which he released as a directed plasma attack which lifted Batman off the ground and blew him into the front wall of the castle.

"TERRY!" Sarada screamed. She glared at Blues, drawing a kunai from her hip pouch. "Kono...!"

"Ngh...!" Terry grunted. "Something's wrong...the suit's systems aren't..." His eyes widened. "Oh slag."

Red lines traced up and down the arms and legs of the Batsuit. The red bat emblem on the chest erased itself, line by line, and was replaced with a burning red symbol identical to the one on Blues' helmet. The suit's boot jets fired, and Batman launched himself into Sarada, knocking her to the ground.

"Terry?" Sarada asked as she hit the jawbridge. "What—?"

"Not me," Terry said tersely. "Suit's compromised. I'm locked up, it's..." He sighed. "This isn't the first time this has happened. Dammit..." He leapt off Sarada and took off into the sky, glide wings spread.

"Oh no you don't," Miles muttered, firing web lines that wrapped around Batman's boots. The suit struggled, but Miles' enhanced spider strength and the tensile strength of the webbing kept it from escaping. Marinette and Jasmine looked at each other, nodded, transformed, and added their own strength and unbreakable yo-yos to the effort. Together, the three of them were able to drag the Batsuit to the ground.

"This is embarrassing," Terry moaned.

"Hang on, dude, I'll see if I can shut it down," Ryan said as he walked up, his brother Mark at his side. His eyes lit up a brilliant blue.

Meanwhile, X staggered away from everyone as a blinding white light shone from between his joints. He threw his head back and screamed; a ghostly black column of energy, wreathed in angry, snapping purple plasma, shot from his mouth, dissipating into the air. X collapsed to the ground, panting and gasping. Sunset rushed over to him.

The glowing lines on the Batsuit dimmed, then died, and Terry sagged in relief. "I'm good now," he said, taking off his cowl and tossing it aside. He sat up as the others released him, glancing at Ryan. "How did you—"

"Technopath," Ryan explained.

"Oh," Terry said. "Schway." He glanced at Blues. "Think you can shut him down too?"

"I don't know," Ryan said with a frown. "Whatever took over your suit was really fighting back." He clutched his head and winced. "Sorry. I get these headaches sometimes..."

"BLUES!" Enzan yelled. "FIGHT IT! Remember our training! Remember everything we've been through together! You're stronger than any virus! Don't give in!"

"Let me," X said, stepping forward. "I think I can cure your friend now." His armor changed colors; the darker blue parts turned black, while the white and lighter blue parts turned gold. He aimed his buster at Blues, who was currently fending off both Ladybugs, Miles, and Sarada. "Everybody get clear!" he yelled as a ball of white light built up in his Buster.

"Don't hurt him!" Enzan cried, alarmed.

"Don't worry, this won't hurt your friend," X said as the other heroes jumped clear, leaving Blues standing there, sparking and blurring as he lurched toward the castle.

"Executing new tactical program..."

X fired, a lance of blinding white light erupting from his Buster and slamming into Blues.

"RETURN TO THE PAST NOW!"

The light enveloped Blues, who threw back his head and let loose a distorted digital scream. A black shadow shot skyward from his mouth, writhing as it dissipated. His armor returned to normal, and Blues dropped to his knees, momentarily wreathed in a faint blue aura.

As everything fell silent, Blues looked up, frowning. "Enzan...sama?"

Enzan let out a sigh of relief. "Yokatta."

Sunset shook her head. "Well, that was a hell of a way to make a first impression," she said. She frowned. "What the hell was that?"

"It called itself XANA," X reported, scowling. "It's some kind of malignant artificial entity. Well, it was," he amended. "I've purged it from myself and Blues." He glanced over at Terry, who was standing up and brushing himself off. "I...would not reactivate that suit if I were you. If XANA still resides in its systems..."

Terry sighed. "Great. Guess I'm going old school then."

Enzan shrugged. "This is our fault, so we'll do our best to help you make a new suit if you want." He looked around at the group. "Umm...if we're allowed to stay here after this fiasco."

"It wasn't your fault," Sunset said. "Everyone, come on inside. Anybody I haven't met yet, we can do the introductions..." She glanced over the group at large. "Actually, I think a full round of introductions is in order while we rest up and eat. So many new people here, we kind of need to go around and...yeah..."

"Sounds good to me," Terry said. "Just let me get changed first. I am not wearing a compromised suit any longer than I have to..."

* * * * *

The most eclectic assortment of individuals anyone could ever have imagined assembled around a group of pushed-together school cafeteria tables covered with pizza, fries, fried chicken, chips, and all manner of unhealthy snacks and finger foods.

"If we're going to be holed up in here long-term, we'll need to do something about healthier food," Fluttershy said.

"The kitchen's in one piece, the power's still on," Pinkie said. "If we can get some grocery deliveries, maybe we can, y'know, actually cook for everyone instead of just getting all this junk?"

"You, making a case against junk food?" Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow.

Pinkie shrugged. "I don't live on junk food," she said. "I like junk food, but I eat regular food too, and besides, I can only eat as much sugary stuff as I do because I'm Pinkie Pie. Everybody else here...kinda needs a real balanced diet, you know?"

"Oh gurl, it's not so bad," Pony Head said as she chowed down on a bucket of popcorn. "I mean, it's like all one big crazy party up in here, am I right? You know I'm right."

"Well..." Sunset Shimmer said, suppressing a laugh. "Yeah, it kind of feels that way, but we need to remember that all our worlds are in a lot of trouble, and things are getting more out of control all the time. Sure, we can kind of enjoy ourselves while we get to know each other, but we can't afford to treat this situation like one big party. We're in deep shit here." She sat back in her chair. "Which is why, for the moment, we all need to step back and take stock, get to know each other."

"So, big group introduction thing?" Kim asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yep, big group introduction thing." Sunset nodded. "And I'll start, since this is all my fault.

"My name is Sunset Shimmer. I'm a student at Canterlot High School, but I'm originally from a parallel world called Equestria, where I'm actually a unicorn. I was the personal student of Princess Celestia, the ruler of that land. My greed and ambition got the better of me, and I had a falling out with Celestia. When she dismissed me as her student and banished me from her castle, I fled through the mirror portal into this world, where I spent thirty moons plotting my revenge. I returned to Equestria to steal the Element of Magic from Princess Twilight Sparkle, planning to use it to raise an army here to invade Equestria and depose Celestia." She chuckled ruefully. "Princess Twilight defeated me with the help of her friends in this world, and then offered me redemption and friendship. Since then, I've been learning how to be a better person and understand friendship." She took a deep breath. "The, uhh...the situation we're all in is kind of my fault." Her cheeks darkened. "This, well...sex toy I bought on the Internet turned out to be an artifact of powerful chaos magic, and it absorbed Equestrian magic from my body when I, ahem...used it." Her face flushed more severely.

"Oh my," Elsa said. "If...if I understand you correctly...?"

"You caused all this with a dildo?" Terry asked incredulously. "Whoa."

"Y-yeah," Sunset said, looking away. "Anyway, after reality broke down, I got my unicorn magic back while still remaining in human form, so...so I've been doing my best to help deal with the chaos." She coughed, then glanced at Twilight.

Twilight, whose face was also quite red, coughed into one fist and adjusted her glasses. "Umm...my name is Twilight Sparkle," she said. "I'm not the same Twilight Sparkle Sunset was just talking about. You see, Equestria's a parallel world, so...so there's..."

"A lot of people who exist in this world as humans also exist in Equestria as ponies," Sunset explained briefly. "Except for me, nearly every native of this world sitting at this table has a counterpart in Equestria, and some of them are Princess Twilight's friends."

"Oh, like that one old TV show," Kim said. "Ron loved that show."

"A-anyway," Twilight said, "up until recently, I attended Crystal Prep Academy, but I was investigating strange energy readings from this school. Back then, I had no idea what I was picking up was all the magic that's been released in this world, but ever since I came here to take part in the Friendship Games, I've learned that magic exists, and...and how you have to be careful messing with it if you don't understand it." She shuddered. "I wanted to know everything about magic, but I was careless. I built a device that absorbed the magic from Sunset Shimmer and her friends. Then, my old principal pressured me into using all that magic to help us win the Friendship Games. I caved in and..." She bowed her head. "The magic corrupted me, turned me into a twisted, evil monster...Midnight Sparkle. I nearly destroyed this world and Equestria, but Sunset Shimmer talked me down and brought me back to myself." She smiled at Sunset. "After that, I decided to transfer to CHS and learn about the magic of friendship here, with Sunset and...and my new friends."

"Aww," Marinette said. "That's so sweet."

"Me next!" Rainbow said. "I'm Rainbow Dash, I'm an awesome soccer star and guitar player. Ever since Princess Twilight came here, I can grow these sweet wings when I pony up, and flying is so awesome! Oh, and I've been stuck in pony-up mode since Sunset broke reality."

"Umm...I'm Fluttershy, and...and I'm stuck in pony-up form too," Fluttershy said when Sunset nudged her. "I, umm...I love animals?" She wrapped an arm around the neck of the red chocobo at her side. "And this is Tomato. I kind of adopted him during that whole mess earlier, you know, with all the big scary birds."

"KWEEEH!" Tomato declared.

"I'm Pinkie Pie!" Pinkie Pie said cheerfully. "I provide everyone at CHS with parties and party accessories!"

"And she's ridiculously random," Rainbow added. "Seriously, if Pinkie Pie does something cartoony, just roll with it. She doesn't need a magic dildo to break reality."

"Yepperooni, pepperooni!" Pinkie agreed, reaching into her hair and pulling out a slice of pepperoni pizza which she began eating.

Everyone stared at her.

"Like I said," Rainbow added in a bored tone.

"Ahem." Rarity cleared her throat. "I am Rarity, aspiring fashion designer and rising star, and I bring grace, elegance, refinement, and style to our motley little crew." She paused. "Oh, and I...I play keytar in the band."

"Ah'm Applejack," Applejack said. "Reg'lar ol' country girl. Ah help out on mah family's apple farm an' Ah play bass." She drummed her fingers on the table. "Uhh...do we keep goin' with th' local folk, or...or what?"

"That'd be logical," Twilight said. "I mean, if it's okay with you all, we maybe finish introducing everybody who's originally from here first, then...?"

"I shall go next then," Octavia said. "I am Octavia Melody. I play cello. I'm not usually involved in the crazed magical shenanigans that go on at this school, but..." She sighed. "I'm involved now, so I'll help out in any way I can."

"Vinyl Scratch. Tavi's roommate, school DJ." Vinyl scratched her head. "I...guess after that whole mess with the demon skeletons, I'm our expert on sonic weaponry?" She shrugged. "I dunno. If you need sick beats, I'll hook you up."

Flash coughed. "Uhh...Flash Sentry," he said. "I'm, uhh...I'm just a guitar player. Um...yeah."

All eyes turned to the Shadowbolts. They looked at each other and shrugged. Sugarcoat rolled her eyes and pointed to each of them in turn. "Sugarcoat, Sunny Flare, Sour Sweet, Indigo Zap, Lemon Zest. This guy over here gave us morphers that let us turn into Power Rangers to fight monsters."

All eyes turned to Tommy. He waved. "Uh, hi. Tommy Oliver. Paleontologist, martial artist, and Power Ranger. I, uhh...well, my backstory's way too long to get into, let's just say I've been fighting evil since I was a teenager and I'm in my thirties now."

"Did we get all the locals yet?" Sunset asked. "What about Principal Celestia? Or Luna? Or Sweetie Belle?"

"Ahem, yes, well...Sweetie Belle and her new friend are safe at home," Rarity said. "Vice-Principal Luna is having a bit of a lie-down after meeting her new, improved sister. And Principal Celestia, well..." She grimaced. "She seems to have become somewhat...elusive."

"What, she can't deal with a little thing like her school turning into a castle?" Shego asked flippantly.

"Err...not as such," Rarity said. "She changed along with the school. She's become some sort of ancient sorceress that can transform into a bird."

"Oh." Shego blinked. "Huh. Well then."

"Okay, let's start with the newest bunch first," Sunset said, turning to Enzan.

Enzan nodded his head. "Ijuuin Enzan. Back home, I'm an official NetBattler, an elite who investigates and solves various net crimes. The Internet in our world is...very different from what you have here. Most people have an artificially intelligent digital assistant called a NetNavi, which manages everything from shopping to e-mail to home security. Almost every electrical device in our world is connected to the Internet, which means security programs are an everyday necessity, and viruses are a constant problem. In our world, viruses manifest as..." He frowned. "I suppose you could call them monsters, or mindless beasts, that show up in the Internet. NetNavis are often equipped with special tools for destroying viruses, and we have program chips called BattleChips that we use to boost a Navi's virus busting abilities temporarily." He gestured to Blues. "Blues here is my Navi. Normally, he lives in this device—" He held up his red PET. "—and only exists in digital form. When we were transported to this world, he took on a physical form. It's been...an interesting experience, but also a dangerous one, because without the link between my PET and Blues, we can't use BattleChips."

X frowned. "You mean you're stuck using the basic weapons you're programmed with?"

Blues nodded. "Hai. Of course, I was designed as a virus battling Navi by Enzan-sama, so my own personal weapons are far beyond what most NetNavis have. I do not feel disadvantaged without access to Enzan-sama's BattleChips."

Tommy tilted his head. "You mind if Twilight and I take a look at that device? I think between the two of us, we can find a way around your problem."

Enzan shrugged. "I have no objections. Just be careful, it's a custom build." He handed his PET over to Tommy; Twilight scooted closer and they began examining it intently.

"So you and your buddy are like, Internet supercops?" Pinkie asked.

Enzan snorted. "That's a rather dramatic way of putting it." He paused. "Ah, sumimasen...Blues and I did not come here alone. There is another member of our party, but due to his size, he's remained outside." He gestured to the Great Hall. "The vehicle parked out front with the rather unusual paint job is a sentient alien robot named Rodimus Prime. I know that seems difficult to believe—"

"We believe it," the Power Rangers chorused in unison. Then, they blinked, looked at each other, and pointed at Enzan. "WAIT!"

Lamia stood up. "Rodimus Prime, you said?! He's the one who turned our MechAnimals into sentient robots!"

Enzan winced. "Ah...you're the partners of those robots," he said. "That was an accident, and it wasn't actually Rodimus Prime, it was another robot named Wreck-Gar who did that. We, umm...lost track of Wreck-Gar while everyone was refueling on Energon."

"He's a bit eccentric," Blues added.

Tommy blinked. "Wait, what happened to your Zords now?"

"MechAnimals," Jack corrected. "They're called MechAnimals. And, well..."

"They talk now," Hatoko said. "Turn into robot all by self. Have names, like person, but robot. Still combine for fighting."

"They've all developed independent pesonalities they were never designed to have," Esteban explained. "As well as the ability to transform into robots independently of each other, which was also never in their original design specifications."

"It's actually pretty cool, eh," Forrest said with a grin. "Far as I'm concerned, it just makes 'em that much more awesome."

"It...does seem like it's a win-win," Lamia said. "Still, it's not exactly something we were expecting to have to deal with on top of everything else."

Enzan sighed. "My apologies. As I said, the situation was beyond our control. If it helps, my ally Rodimus Prime supplied them with enough Energon to sustain them for some time."

"Energon? That sounds like some crazy energy drink," Kim said.

"It's a highly concentrated fuel designed specifically for use by sentient transforming robots," Blues said. "And, apparently, also computer programs that acquire a physical form. I'm using a low concentration of Energon as my own power source at the moment."

"Hmm," Twilight said. "If you could spare a sample of this Energon, I'd like to analyze it. It might give me some ideas."

"Of course," Blues said. "I have a half-full canister outside, I can spare some of that later."

"Okay then, I guess we move on to you guys next, since we've been talking about your robot problem for a while now?" Sunset suggested, turning to the Power Rangers.

The five Rangers looked at each other and shrugged. Lamia spoke up. "I'm Lamia Cruz, this is Esteban Castille, Jack Franklin, Forrest Green, and Hatoko Momokaze." Each Ranger introduced in turn raised a hand in greeting. "Up until a while back, we were all regular people living regular lives, until a secret government agency recruited us to serve as a special task force to fight these creepy aliens which invaded Earth."

"Boy that sounds familiar," Tommy muttered. His gaze swept over the five, his brow furrowing. "Each of you has a different accent...you're all from different countries, right?"

"That's right," Jack said, his accent more pronounced now. "I'm from Melbourne."

"I'm Canadian," Forrest said with a grin.

"I'm from Barcelona," Esteban said.

"Ano...Nihonjin desu," Hatoko said nervously.

"And I'm from California," Lamia finished. "The Director explained that since the Archons are the whole world's problem, they wanted each Ranger to be from a different place." She shrugged. "I guess it makes sense, but I honestly get the feeling it was just an accident it ended up like this."

"Well, it's better than the way this usually works back home," Tommy said with a chuckle. "Where I come from, when it's time to put together a new Ranger team, it always seems to boil down to 'recruit teenagers with attitude'."

Sugarcoat raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you recruited the five of us?"

"Well, you certainly have enough attitude," Tommy retorted. "Some of you more than others," he muttered. Everyone laughed except Sour Sweet and Sugarcoat.

"Anyway, our life's pretty much become a routine since then," Lamia said. "We take out patrols of alien foot soldiers, their general sends out a big, tough monster for us to fight, we fight it, we beat it, then it grows into a giant and we call on the MechAnimals to fight it again using a giant robot this time."

"Yep, that's very familiar," Tommy said with a wistful grin.

"That...sounds awesome," Rainbow said.

"Is scary," Hatoko said. "Better at fighting now, do okay and be brave when monster show, but after monster, go home, shake all over."

"Hey," Tommy said gently. "Being brave doesn't mean you're not afraid. It means not letting your fear get the better of you."

Lamia coughed. "So, uhh...other than our MechAnimals suddenly coming to life and having minds of their own and...all that other business we already covered, that's pretty much our story." She looked around. "Who's next?"

"Actually, I was, uhh...I was kinda wondering about the floating horse head," Sunset said with a shudder. "I just...I didn't want to call attention, but, sorry, you've been creeping me out ever since I saw you. No offense."

"Oh, it's okay gurl," Pony Head said. "I know I am too much fabulous for most people to handle..."

"Umm...actually, I think it's more the fact that you're a floating severed unicorn head and Sunset Shimmer is, well...a unicorn," Fluttershy said softly. "Umm...you do see how that...how that's a little weird for her, right?"

"Okay first of all, I am not a severed head, okay?" Pony Head snapped irritably. "This is me, this is all there is to me, my whole family, my papa and my mama and all my sisters, we're all just heads, okay, that's why we're called Pony Heads."

"Oh! S-sorry, I didn't mean to offend you—"

"Nah, it's cool, I just get so tired of explaining it," Pony Head said.

Starco cleared her throat. "Pony Head here, or should I say Princess Lilacia Flying Pony Head—"

"Oh you did NOT need to go there, B-Turd—"

"—is the Crown Princess of the Flying Pony Heads. They're one of the magical tribes on Mewni, which is also where I'm from. Err...where half of me is from. The Star Butterfly half."

Pony Head grinned wickedly. "And this confused mess over here is my two best besties, Princess Star Butterfly and Marco EARTH TURD Diaz. Star is the Crown Princess of Mewni and owner of the most powerful magical wand like, eh-vurr, and Princess Marco Turdina Diaz—"

"Peanut Butter Jelly Silence Spray," Starco muttered sourly, negligently aiming her wand at Pony Head. A spray of peanut butter and jelly shot forth from the wand, striking Pony Head full in her open mouth and gumming it up. She worked her stuck jaw soundlessly for a moment, blinking, then gave a weird, bodiless midair shrug and nommed happily on her sticky gag.

Everyone stared.

"Okay, so basically, Star was trying a new spell, only it blew up in both our faces," Starco said. "That happens a lot, Star Butterfly is kind of a walking disaster area sometimes and at least she owns it, so there's that. And, well, Marco...ugh, this is getting so weird, talking about myself in the fourth person!"

"Uhh, yeah, this is...way confusing," Kim said, brow furrowed.

Rainbow snickered. "They kindasorta explained it to me earlier, so I'll take over," she said. "Okay, so like, Star is this magical girl princess who screws things up all the time, and Marco is like, her dork of a boyfriend from another dimension. Oh, sorry, crush, not boyfriend," she added as it looked like Starco was about to go off. "Or was it the other way around? Anyway, point is, they're best friends and hang out together all the time, and one time they were hanging out, Star pulled off some kind of epic fail with her wand and fused herself and Marco together in the same body." She waved a hand at Starco. "Starco here is both of them, but the way they're mixed together is kind of all weird, so she—he—whatever is kind of all confused and stuff half the time, and the rest of the time is just like, resigned to this. Oh, and Pony Head loves teasing them about it." She grinned. "And apparently Starco is a dickgirl."

"Reverse Exit Beam," Starco said tiredly, aiming the wand at Rainbow. A solid rainbow shaft of light shot out, with the word "EXIT" written on it in backwards, and launched Rainbow out the nearest door.

"And moody!" Pinkie said brightly.

"Ano...what is mean, 'dick girl'?" Hatoko asked, blinking. Everyone at the table shifted uncomfortably...except Forrest, who grinned and stage-whispered, "Do you know what 'futanari' is?"

Hatoko's eyes widened. "Oh!" She glanced at Starco. "Oh." She shuddered. "Kimochi warui..."

"LET'S—move on," Starco said loudly.

"Yes, let's," Sunset said, turning to Terry and Sarada. "I haven't met either of you yet."

"You go first," Sarada said.

"Alright." Terry sat up straighter. "My name is Terry McGinnis. For the past year, I've also been Batman. The new Batman, I mean. You see, way before my time, I'm talking back before my parents were born, Gotham City was protected by a legendary superhero. Batman didn't have any superpowers, just his own skills and smarts, but there wasn't a villain around he couldn't outthink or outfight. Even the ones with superpowers learned to watch out for the Batman. But that was a long time ago, and when he got to be in his fifties or so, his body quit on him and he retired.

"In the time since Batman quit, Gotham's gotten worse than ever. The streets are overrun with gangs that model themselves on Batman's old enemies, like the Joker. There's also new supervillains cropping up from time to time, especially since I took up the cowl. A year ago, my dad was murdered by his boss, the guy who took over Wayne Industries, Derek Powers. The night Dad was killed, I found out Bruce Wayne used to be Batman. I went to him for help, but all he did was tell me to go to the cops, so I broke into the Batcave, stole the Batsuit, and went after Powers myself." He looked down at the table. "I got the guy who actually murdered my dad, but Powers...I ended up turning him into an even bigger monster than he already was. I exposed him to the nerve gas he was using Wayne's company to make, and somehow it turned him into a walking nuclear meltdown. We've had a couple of fights, but I think he's done for good now.

"Anyway, after that night at the docks, when I stopped Powers' gas from getting to his clients, Mr. Wayne decided to let me keep the suit and take a 'night job' as Batman. I've been busting up gangs and fighting a new crop of supervillains and freaks ever since." He glanced at Sarada. "Your turn."

"Hai." Sarada bowed to the group at large. "Uchiha Sarada desu. I'm a kunoichi from Konohagakure, currently a genin. I'm aiming to become Hokage, the top shinobi in our village, who looks out for and protects everyone. Umm...because Nanadaime-sama is my idol and role model, and I want to be like him." She ducked her head and blushed faintly. "I don't really have much else to say about myself."

"Nana...damn what now?" Rainbow Dash, having walked back into the room halfway through Terry's story, asked.

"It means...eto...is seven of..." Hatoko pursed her lips. "Seventh...?" She glanced at Lamia quizzically.

"Seventh Hokage," Tenten supplied. "Which I guess brings us around to me, since Sarada-san is from the same village as I am, but apparently from the future. Err, relative to me anyway." She stood and bowed. "My name is Tenten, I'm also a kunoichi from Konohagakure, current rank chuunin. My specialty is ninja tools and weapons. I...honestly don't stand out much in my peer group, because all the other shinobi my age are so much more amazing and can do incredible things." She laughed, then added, "And apparently one of them is Hokage in the future. In my time, well...right now, Tsunade-sama is the Fifth Hokage, but we're about to go to war and there's been talk that we might have a Sixth Hokage replace her as a wartime leader soon. I...I've been hearing that, anyway. I don't know for sure." She glanced at Sarada, who shook her head.

"I shouldn't say anything about your time I haven't said already," she said. "Besides, anything I say might be completely wrong since I don't know exactly how far ahead of you I am or what was happening right when you were pulled here."

"Probably a good idea," Tenten agreed. "I do have one question, though. Do you have...that yet?"

Sarada smirked, pushing up her glasses. "Hmhmm...there's one way for you to find out, isn't there?"

Tenten giggled. "I'll pass," she said. "I'm not Lee-kun. I don't like being used for a punching bag." She turned to the four teenage boys who had been watching everything happening with goofy grins and gaping jaws. "Okay, so you guys...you just got here, right? How about you go next."

"Huh?" Ryan said. "Oh, well. Yeah. Okay, so I'm Ryan Walker, this is my brother Mark, these are our friends Harris and Spyder. Spyder, stop drooling."

"Hey," Mark said with an easy, self-assured grin.

"Wassup," Harris said with a nod, trying to look and sound casual, but failing.

"So...what to say?" Ryan said with a shrug. "I'm a technopath, I can control technology with my mind. And we have our own giant robot that we use to fight monsters and stuff."

Hatoko gasped. "AH!" she cried, pointing. "Blue robot from other day! Was you!"

Ryan chuckled, rubbing the back of his head. "Ah...yeah, that was us." He shrugged. "We kinda left the robot parked on the roof of the mall, camouflaged. I can call it from a pretty good distance, so we usually leave it someplace nobody will bump into it."

"Technopath, huh?" Kim asked. "Don't suppose you can do something about getting my Kimmunicator to get a signal here," she said with a rueful chuckle, tossing her inert Kimmunicator on the table.

"Let's find out," Ryan said, his eyes glowing. A few seconds later, the Kimmunicator suddenly gave off its signature four-tone chirp. Kim stared at it, stunned.

"Uhh, thanks," she said, picking it up and answering it. "Wade?"

//Kim! Where the heck ARE you?! It's like you've disappeared off the face of the earth! Ron's worried sick! I'm worried sick! EVERYONE'S worried sick!//

"Chill, Wade. I'm fine. Well, no, I'm in a bad sitch, but I'm physically fine. I'm kind of in another universe. Don't try to send anybody after me, it's a one way trip. The people I'm with are working on a way to fix this so we can all go home, but it's getting crazier here. I'll keep you posted. Tell Ron I love him."

"Yeah, and tell Drakken I'm fine, I know he's freaking out by now," Shego added.

//Shego's there with you? That explains a lot. Okay, umm...fill me in when you have time, right now I need to make some calls...//

"Please and thank you," Kim said, hanging up. Seeing as everybody was watching her, she flipped her hair. "Guess it's our turn now, huh? I'm Kim Possible. I just graduated high school, and ever since middle school I've been going on missions to save the world from bad guys, evil scientists, generally crazy psychos, and such. It's no big, really, I just do what I do, you know? Usually my boyfriend Ron is with me for the big save-the-world stuff, but he had his own thing going on, so when I went to handle a mission in England, I took Shego with, and..." She gestured helplessly. "Well, we ended up here."

"Yeah, and thanks for that," Shego said sourly. She shook her head. "I'm Shego. I hate doing the whole backstory thing, but basically, I used to be a superhero from a family of superheroes, then I got sick of my brothers and started rooting for the bad guys to kick their butts. Then I quit the family business and started hiring myself out as a mercenary to criminals and supervillains. I wound up working for this maniac Dr. Drakken, and I guess I mostly stuck with him because every time he hatches a big scheme it means I get to fight Kimmicakes here, we've got kind of a rival thing going..." She sighed. "Ah, good times...anyway, at Kimmy's high school graduation, there was kind of this alien invasion, and somehow me and Dr. D got involved in saving the world, and..." She shrugged. "The whole thing, Dr. D kinda lost his taste for world domination, so ever since then we've mostly just been kinda...I dunno, taking a step back, trying to figure ourselves out. I do freelance antihero work now. You know, show up, do some good in a really bitchy way, get my cut from it, go blow it on day spas and mini-vacays. It's a good life."

"As long as she gets to beat somebody up on a regular basis, she's happy," Kim said with a smirk.

"When you're right, you're right," Shego admitted with a lazy shrug.

"That's what I'm talkin' about, get PAID, son!" Harris said.

"Yeah, even if we got paid for what we'd do, we'd have to pay it back double in damages we've caused," Mark said. "Like, you know, blowing up the high school...SPYDER..."

"So you're superheroes?" Spyder asked excitedly. "Cool, what superpowers do you have besides, y'know, being super hot?"

"Whoa-ho-ho-ho, don't even go there," Shego said, holding up a hand wreathed in green flames. "Trust me. Just don't."

"Shego has her green glow and her mad martial arts skills," Kim said. "Me, I don't have any superpowers, I just..." She shrugged. "I can pretty much do anything."

"As much as it frustrates me to compliment Red here," Shego said with a faint growl, "the plain and simple truth is the girl's perfect. Martial arts, cheerleading, skydiving, swimming, extreme sports, search and rescue, firefighting, you name it, she can do it. She always wins because, well..." Shego shrugged. "She's just all that."

"Aww, shucks," Kim said coquettishly, batting her eyelashes.

"Unf," Spyder said. "I ship it. I ship it like FedEx."

Shego shot him an annoyed glare. "How about I ship you to the South Pole? Without any pants."

"I'mgood!" Spyder said in a hurried rush.

"Okay, I'll go next, then I wanna know about this Arabian girl who apparently has the same powers as Ladybug," Miles said, drawing everyone's attention. "So, hi, I'm Miles Morales, better known as Spider-Man in my own universe, or as Kid Arachnid in the universe I was actually in when I got pulled here. When I was younger, I always looked up to Spider-Man—the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker—and wanted to be like him. Then I got bitten by a spider that I found out later was created by the same experiment as the one that gave Spidey his powers. It gave me the same powers as Spider-Man, but I hid my powers for a while until..." He bowed his head. "Until Spidey was killed. After that, I...I made my own suit and took up his mantle. I mean, the world needs Spider-Man. I'm doing my best to live up to his legacy.

"Then I got involved in this whole thing with a parallel universe and a Peter Parker who was still alive, and I joined his team of Web Warriors, and that's what I was doing when all this happened." Miles paused. "Um, so anyway. I can stick to walls and ceilings, I have the agility and strength of a spider, I have a Spider-Sense that warns me of immediate danger, and I have these web-shooters—" He rolled up his sleeves. "—that let me shoot biodegradable webs with the tensile strength of steel." He demonstrated by firing a web line at the ceiling and rapidly swinging around the circumference of the cafeteria before landing back in his seat.

"Dang, son," Harris said.

"Dude, that is so cool," Spyder said. "Where can I get some of that?"

"Right, like you can get spider powers from any old spider bite," Mark said.

"Well you got buttknuckle powers from being bitten by a buttknuckle," Spyder retorted.

"Oh, you want some? Cuz we can go right now—"

Miles webbed both of their mouths. "Time out, guys," he said. Ryan cackled, slapping Mark cheerfully on the back. Mark rolled his eyes and sighed, slumping in his seat.

"Wow, I know a lot of jerks I wish I could do that to," Terry said.

Anna blinked. "That...that'll come off, right?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, they'll be able to get it off in a few minutes," Miles said. "Body heat accelerates the breakdown of the webs. They'll lose stickiness in a few minutes, and even if they left them alone, they'd break down in about thirty minutes or so."

"Anyway, that's about it for me," Miles said. He glanced at Jasmine and Aladdin. "Now, what's your story?"

Jasmine straightened up. "I'm Jasmine, Princess of Agrabah," she said. "This is my husband Aladdin, future Sultan of Agrabah. He would be Sultan now, but we have much work to do in our kingdom and beyond, so my father is continuing on as Sultan until such time as Aladdin is ready to assume his responsibilities."

"We met under some really crazy circumstances," Aladdin said with a chuckle. "I used to be a poor street rat, stealing from merchants to survive. Jasmine was sneaking around in the marketplace in disguise one day, and..." He sighed dreamily. "It was love at first sight. But, I was arrested by the guards and thrown in the dungeon, and this creepy old man helped me escape and asked me to go out into the desert with him to find this magic lamp." He chuckled. "Well, it turns out the creepy old man was really Jafar, the Sultan's Vizier, and he was after the lamp so he could get three wishes from the Genie of the Lamp and make himself all-powerful and ruler of Agrabah. But, well...things went south for all of us, but I ended up with the lamp and the wishes.

"I, uhh...made some mistakes, lied to basically everyone I know and love, had the lamp stolen from me before I could use my third wish, then Jafar got everything he wanted." Aladdin shook his head. "It would've been the end of everything, but I realized I had a chance to beat Jafar if I could trick him into making a wish that'd doom him."

"Ooh, I've read a lot of stories about genies and magic wishes," Pinkie Pie said. "Genies are really really good at screwing people."

"Yeah, well, our Genie is nice, kind, and a good guy," Aladdin said. "And even he didn't get what I was going for when I gave Jafar the idea for his final wish." He grinned a sleazy, confident grin. "It was pretty amazing, if I do say so myself."

Jasmine rolled her eyes. "Aladdin tricked Jafar into wishing to be a genie himself," she said. "He used Jafar's lust for power against him by pointing out that no matter how powerful he was, the Genie was still more powerful. Jafar used his third wish to become a genie, not realizing that the wish would enslave him and bind him to a magic lamp."

"Then we just buried him in the desert, and that was more or less the end of it," Aladdin said. "I mean, yeah, some idiot found the lamp and Jafar used him to try to get his revenge, but it backfired." He shrugged. "Not too bright, that Jafar."

"Anyway," Jasmine picked up the tale, "Aladdin and I were married, but during the celebration of our union, the Genie, who Aladdin wished free of the lamp with his third wish—" She gazed fondly at Aladdin. "—returned to Agrabah in something of a panic..."

* * * * *

Aladdin adjusted the fine fez perched atop his head and straightened his vest.

"Aladdin, my boy, you are to become Sultan," his father-in-law said. "You should start dressing more, well...like you did when you were masquerading as Prince Ali!"

"The whole Prince Ali thing is part of why I don't dress like that," Aladdin said, smoothing out his bangs. "Besides, it'd be a crime to cover up this hair with a turban."

The Sultan made a noise that was halfway between annoyed and amused. "Well," he grunted at length, "I suppose it's fine for now. But for Allah's sake, when the time comes for you to take my place—"

"Yeah yeah, I'll go back to wearing the Prince Ali getup," Aladdin said dismissively.

"Aladdin? They're waiting for us." Aladdin turned to see his wife, Princess Jasmine, in all her finery. He smiled and ambled over to her, his monkey companion Abu perching on his shoulder and munching on a date.

They strode out onto the balcony of the Palace, looking out over the masses of Agrabah—the merchants, the fakirs, the wives, the workers, the children, the street rats, the guards. It had been two days since they returned from their honeymoon, and all of Agrabah had turned out to welcome their Prince and Princess back.

"I'll never get used to this," Aladdin whispered out of the corner of his mouth as he smiled and waved.

"Yes you will," Jasmine whispered back.

Fireworks went off above the crowd, whizzing and banging, filling the sky with color and sound. The crowd applauded in appreciation. Aladdin frowned. "I didn't know fireworks were scheduled."

"They weren't," Jasmine replied. "What's going—"

"AL! JASMINE! Good to see you, you crazy kids!" A long plume of blue smoke soared through the sky over the crowd, the jovial voice booming out of it. When it reached the balcony, it resolved into the Genie, dressed in Chinese silks and holding a steaming straw basket. "I brought Chinese takeout!"

Aladdin gaped like a fish, then shook his head and grinned broadly. "Genie! What're you doing here? I thought you were going on a world tour!"

"Oh, and I did! I did! Well, I toured part of the world." Genie chuckled. "I can always see more later, right? I mean, I've got a whole lifetime of freedom to enjoy. Got wind you lovebirds were back from your honeymoon, just wanted to swing by and say hi, catch up, share vacation photos, drop off some souvenirs..." He looked out at the crowd below. "Oooh. Did I come at a bad time?"

"Not at all," Jasmine said. She leaned on the balcony railing. "Thank you all for coming! Prince Aladdin and I bid you all a pleasant evening!" With a final wave to the crowd, she turned to retreat into the Palace, Aladdin and Genie behind her. The Sultan shuffled in place for a moment, hopped up in the air, turned to wave to the crowd, bristled his beard, and shuffled off after them.

Once inside and behind closed doors, Genie conjured up a large, low table and a veritable army of plush cushions, plopping down and spreading out a foreign feast. Bemused, Aladdin, Jasmine, and the Sultan joined him at the table.

"My word, this smells marvelous!" Sultan said, uncovering a dish.

"Careful, there's pork," Genie cautioned. "I know it's a no-no, but once you've tasted it..."

The Sultan paused, hand halfway to a steamed dumpling. He shrugged, grabbed it, and took a big bite.

Aladdin shook his head and began helping himself, as did Jasmine. "It's good to see you again, Genie," he said. "I mean, it's only been a week, but it's good to see you again."

Genie chuckled. "Well, with friends like you guys, am I right?" He poured cups of green tea which floated around the table, landing in front of each of them. "Actually, I didn't just come back to chew the fat—" He frowned and pulled a huge wad of fat out of his mouth, frowned at it, and made it disappear with a snap of his fingers. "I actually have...kind of a wedding present for you kids." With another snap of his fingers, two black lacquered boxes with crimson engravings appeared in his hand. He placed one in front of Aladdin and the other in front of Jasmine. "You should open yours first Al," he said. "You kind of have experience with this sort of thing, know what I mean?"

Aladdin frowned, but opened the little box in front of him. Inside was a glossy black ring with a bright green cat's paw in the center. "It's a...ring?"

A green flash erupted from the box. Aladdin jumped back, Abu chittering wildly on his shoulder, as a tiny black cat-like creature appeared, curled up in a sleepy ball. The cat yawned, opening glowing green eyes sleepily. "Ah, hello," it said. "So you're Aladdin, are you? Not bad." He turned slowly, looking around the room. His eyes landed on Genie. "Huh. Somebody set you free, huh? Can't imagine anybody foolish enough to do that. No offense."

"Uhh...none taken?" Genie said. "Forgot you were kind of a jerk," he muttered sotto voce.

"Genie? What...is this?" Jasmine asked.

The creature turned to face her and smiled. "I'm Plagg. I'm a Kwami. I give whoever wears the Black Cat ring superpowers." He looked back at Aladdin. "You've been chosen, congratulations."

"Super...powers?" Aladdin echoed. "You mean like...magic? Because, heh, we've kinda had it up to here with magic lately." He glanced at Genie and winced. "No offense."

Genie shrugged. "None taken. After that whole thing with Jafar I'm pretty fed up with it too. But this is good magic, Al, trust me. And you're gonna need it." He looked at Jasmine. "Well? Your turn."

"Umm..." Hesitantly, Jasmine opened the box in front of her. In a pink flash, a pinkish-red, buglike Kwami appeared. Bright blue eyes blinked open, and the Kwami smiled at her. "Hello, Jasmine! I'm Tikki! I'm happy to meet you!"

"H-hello, Tikki," Jasmine said uncertainly. She looked inside the box and saw a pair of red earrings with black spots. "A-and...you'll give me superpowers too, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes!" Tikki said. "The Ladybug Miraculous grants you the powers of good luck and creation! When you transform, you'll be virtually invincible and have an indestructible weapon! You'll have the power to save a whole lot of lives!"

"Good luck and creation," Aladdin mused. "And...what about me?"

"The power of destruction," Plagg said. "Tikki and I are balanced. Halves of a whole. Yin and yang." He frowned. "Well, that's a Buddhist thing, don't worry about it. The important thing is, use our Miraculous and you'll be superheroes."

"Superheroes?" Sultan asked. "What a strange concept..."

Aladdin turned to Genie. "I don't understand," he said. "Why us? Why bring us these...these things?"

"Al, listen," Genie said. "You already know you're a diamond in the rough, right? I mean, after the whole thing you just went through with the Cave of Wonders and my lamp and Jafar and...and getting the girl in the end? You're special, kid! And so is Jasmine." He rose up into the air, darkening the room. "Bad stuff's coming, kids. Stuff that makes Jafar look like a rude kid in the marketplace. I have some really old friends in China, and they told me all about what's coming, and that new heroes are needed. Well, right away, I thought of you two, and when I told my friends all about you, they asked me to bring you two these Miraculous." He floated down, returning the room to normal. "You've been chosen, Al, Jasmine. Chosen to save the world."

"Oh...oh dear," Sultan said worriedly.

Aladdin and Jasmine looked at each other. Their eyes shone with determination. "Alright," Aladdin said, turning back to Genie. "We're in." He took the ring from the box and put it on, noticing that it had turned silver. Jasmine took the earrings, which were now black with silver edges, and pinned them to her ears.

"Great!" Genie said. "Now, let's finish eating, because you kids have a carpet to catch, and it's a long flight..."

* * * * *

"And ever since then, we've been busy fighting all kinds of nasty threats to the world," Aladdin said once Jasmine finished.

"Wow," Adrien said. "You know, when you said you'd met the genie in the lamp, I thought you were kidding, Plagg!"

"He still owes me cheese," Plagg muttered.

"Plagg and I were with Aladdin and Jasmine until they were both very old, then they returned the Miraculous to China," Tikki said warmly, smiling. "It's so good to see both of you again after all this time."

Miles blinked. "Wait, wait. So...you're all from the same world, then?"

"So it seems," Jasmine said. "Apparently, these two children hail from several hundred years in the future, from our perspective."

"And Aladdin and Jasmine are just one of many pairs of Ladybug and Chat Noir that have fought together throughout history," Tikki said.

"Makes sense," Tommy said. "There've been Power Rangers for as long as anyone can remember, protecting the world from evil."

"Marinette and Adrien are our current partners," Tikki said. "They were chosen when the lost Butterfly Miraculous was activated by a wicked man calling himself Hawk Moth, who's using its powers for evil."

"I'm...guessing it's not supposed to be used like that," Terry said.

"No, it's not," Tikki answered sadly. "Poor Nooroo, being forced to create supervillains against his will..."

Jasmine gasped sharply. "The Butterfly Miraculous is being used for that?!"

"We didn't tell you?" Marinette asked.

"I don't think we got around to talking about that," Adrien said, scratching his head. "I mean, so much else has been going on, you know?"

"Oh man," Aladdin said. "I've seen what those butterflies can turn normal people into. Somebody using that power for evil..." He shuddered. "Yikes."

"I suppose my sister and I should make our introductions next," Elsa said. She drew herself upright. "I am Elsa, Queen of Arendelle. This is my sister, Princess Anna."

"Hi," Anna said with a wave at everyone and a bright, sunny smile.

"I must admit to being rather surprised by the broad variety of cultures and unique abilities on display here," Elsa said. With a wistful smile, she added, "Perhaps if there were more unusual and magnificent people like you all around when I was growing up, our parents would not have sheltered me so and forced me to conceal my magic." Her eyes took on a haunted look. "It would have averted a tragedy..." Anna took her hand and squeezed it, smiling warmly.

"What kind of magic are we talking here?" Kim asked.

In response, Elsa held up a hand, palm-up. Frosty mist swirled around her hand, and a perfect, crystalline rose made of ice flash-condensed in her palm. Then, with a slightly impish smirk, she waved her other hand in a broad gesture. A chill wind rippled across the cafeteria, and every drink cup clinked as fresh ice cubes appeared in them.

"Spankin'," Kim said, raising an eyebrow.

"Elemental magic, huh?" Terry asked.

"Ice magic, specifically," Elsa said.

"So how frosty can you get?" Shego asked. "Is it good for anything other than party tricks?"

Elsa looked away slightly. "My power is...unlimited," she said.

"She...sort of accidentally plunged Arendelle into an eternal winter once. In the middle of summer," Anna said. "Froze the fjords, holed herself up in an ice palace in the northern mountains, conjured a blizzard..."

"Whoa," Terry said.

Kouta, who had thus far remained silent, gasped sharply, sitting forward. "It was you," he said. "You're the one who froze Helheim."

Elsa and Anna looked at one another. "Helheim? Do you mean that creepy evil forest full of monsters?" Anna asked.

"Yes, the home of the Inves."

Elsa nodded. "We found ourselves in that horrid place and were attacked. I felt such wrongness and evil all around us, I..." She shook her head. "I could not abide such a place to continue. I froze the forest." She frowned. "Should I...should I not have done so?"

Kouta was quiet for a moment. "No," he said at length. "You did us all a favor. With everything else going on, the Inves were one problem we didn't need. And the forest itself survived your magic. It will recover in time, but for now, it's neutralized."

"I see," Elsa said. "Well...then I am pleased to have helped."

"So what about you?" Shego asked, tilting her head at Anna. "If she's ice, you're fire, right?"

"Huh? Oh, no, I...I don't have any powers," Anna said. "All I have is a cheerful outlook and a sunny disposition! And pluck and determination."

"Anna and I depend on each other," Elsa said. "She reminds me to live in the moment, and I keep her from acting on every flighty impulse she has."

"In other words, you help her keep a cool head?" Rainbow said with a smirk.

Elsa laughed. "Yes, I suppose one could look at it that way." She turned to Kouta. "That forest is significant to you."

Kouta nodded, taking a sharp breath. "I guess it's my turn, then," he said. He looked around the table. "My name is Kazuraba Kouta. Up until last year, I was a member of Team Gaim, one of the Beat Riders teams in Zawame City." He paused. "Beat Riders are street dancing teams. Street dancing is a major part of youth culture in Zawame City. Recently, the Inves Games have taken over and made Beat Riders forget why they're in crews to begin with." He shook his head. "Anyway, I quit Team Gaim to focus on finding part-time work to be a responsible adult, but recent circumstances led me to rejoining Team Gaim on the sidelines after..." He closed his eyes. "After my friend Yuya turned into an Inves and...and I killed him."

"Inves..." Enzan frowned. "Are you talking about those strange monsters that were appearing everywhere a few days ago?"

"Hai." Kouta bowed his head. "I didn't know at the time that the Inves I killed that day was Yuya. I learned the truth later."

"Ouch," Terry said. "That...that's gotta suck."

"In any case, I was the first Beat Rider to obtain a Sengoku Driver, and become an Armored Rider. Armored Rider Gaim." Kouta frowned. "The Inves Game had already overtaken the Beat Riders' performance, but once Sengoku Drivers started showing up in other Beat Riders' hands, everything has become about Armored Riders fighting each other for control of stages. Of course, we're also fighting the Inves, at least, those of us who care about more than themselves." He looked around the table. "I recently learned that the Yggdrasil Corporation was responsible for the Sengoku Drivers, and knew more about Helheim than they were letting on. They were also responsible for starting the Inves Game—they were using kids to collect data."

"That's just wrong," Tommy said darkly.

"Aa," Kouta agreed, nodding. "So I'm...caught between Team Gaim, Yggdrasil, the truth about Helheim, and trying to save as many people from the Inves as I can." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I can't do anything on my own, but I don't know who I can trust anymore..."

A long, uncomfortable silence fell. Kouta eventually looked up. "Gomen nasai," he said. "My problems back home...they don't matter right now. Right now, what matters is helping everyone deal with this situation, and I promise you can count on me."

Elsa bit her lip. "This Yggdrasil Corporation you mentioned...did they have people working in that place, investigating it?"

Kouta winced. "...yes," he said after a long beat.

Elsa bowed her head. "How many people did I kill?" she whispered.

Kouta shook his head. "Don't blame yourself," he said. "When Helheim first attached itself to this world, I should have checked the Yggdrasil camp and evacuated it. I forgot all about them. If anything, you did them a favor. The Inves would have slaughtered them all, or they'd have succumbed to the temptation of the Dark Fruit and become Inves." He looked down. "Suman."

"From what you've told us, anybody screwing around with that forest deserves what they got," Miles said. "They were taking their lives in their own hands and they knew it."

"Miles!" Marinette snapped, scandalized.

"Look, I'm sorry, but if these guys have been using kids as guinea pigs? I officially don't care if they got themselves killed," Miles said. "You got any idea how many kids from my own hood I've watched get strung out on drugs because of guys looking to make a quick buck?" He shook his head. "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on kids for selfish reasons."

Marinette relented. "You're...probably right," she admitted. "Sorry, I'm just not used to...used to thinking about things like this. The part of Paris we live in, other than fighting Hawk Moth, we mostly see the occasional robbery or rowdy drunk. We've never had to deal with anything really sick."

"You're lucky then," Miles said softly.

"So uh, what exactly is a...that thing you said, driver, what is it? Are you like, a golfing knight or something?" Spyder asked.

Kouta gave him an odd look. "Golfing...?"

Mark slapped Spyder upside the head. "Ignore this dingus," he said. "But yeah, what is it you do again? I don't think we quite got that."

"Aa," Kouta hummed, nodding. "I use a device called the Sengoku Driver and another device called a Lock Seed to transform into an Armored Rider. The transformation gives me armor and weapons and makes me strong enough to fight Inves...and other things that need superhuman abilities and unconventional weapons to fight."

"So, transforming superhero," Spyder said, nodding. "Cool. Cool. Can I borrow it?"

"It only works for the first person to activate the Driver," Kouta said.

Sunset looked around the room. "Hmm," she said. "So I guess the only ones left to introduce are X, Brook, and the weird half-naked loli harem."

"Oh! Oh! Me next!" Flonne said, standing up and smiling. "Hi everyone! I'm Flonne! I'm a Fallen Angel! I used to be an Angel Trainee, until I was sent on a mission to assassinate the Overlord of the Netherworld! Then I ended up tagging along with Prince Laharl, and we found out...we found out one of the Archangels was doing some bad things. We ended up having to fight Angels, and because of that, I got demoted to Fallen Angel. But it's okay, because now I stay with Laharl, and he's a lot of fun to hang around with! Teehee!"

Etna facepalmed. "Good grief," she muttered. "I'm Space Demon Queen Etna—"

"I thought it was Battle Beauty Diva Etna?" Flonne asked, tilting her head. "Or was it Dark Hero Etna? Beauty Queen Etna? Super Dimensional Mistress Etna?" Her eyes lit up. "Oh! I know! No-Panties Idol Etna—"

Etna whipped out a giant handgun and emptied the clip point blank in Flonne's face. Flonne went silent, one finger still up, a vacant expression on her soot-covered face. Twirling her pistol and holstering it again, Etna cleared her throat. "As I was saying, I am Overlord-Apparent Etna, Supreme Vassal to Prince Laharl! I'm one beat of the prince's poor, pathetic heart away from becoming Overlord and subjugating the entire Netherworld beneath my boot heels!" She threw back her head and unleashed peals of demonic laughter which frightened Fluttershy, made Pinkie's hair frizz out, and made everyone else stare at her in disbelief, apprehension, and confusion. Once she was done, she added, "Oh, and I'm also super-lazy, so...yeah." She sat back down, leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed, smirking.

"Oh...kay then," Lilith said slowly. She looked around at everyone. "I'm Lilith Aensland, I'm a succubus, and I know what you're thinking, but I'm hundreds of years older than I look. I'd tell you what my hobbies are, but..." She laughed cutely. "Again, succubus. Odds are you really don't wanna know." In a throaty stage whisper, she added, "But if you ever do wanna know...hmmhmm...all you have to do is ask..."

Sunset facepalmed. So did many of the other girls present. A lot of the boys shifted awkwardly in their seats, looking everywhere that wasn't a girl.

Brook coughed. "Well, while you guys all try to get rid of your boners, I'll talk about myself." He paused. "Because I'm a boner." Another pause. "Get it? I'm all bones..."

"WE GET IT," everyone said tiredly.

Brook chuckled. "My name is Brook, the last member of the Rumbar Pirates. A long time ago, I ate the Yomi-Yomi no Mi, a Devil Fruit that prevents the user from dying. When our crew was attacked by a rival crew with poisoned weapons, we all slowly died off. My soul returned to my body from the afterlife, but our ship was lost in the fog, so it took a year for my soul to find its way back. By that point, all that was left of me was my bones, my clothes, and my hair." He chuckled. "So now I'm a living skeleton with an afro. YOOOOOOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!"

Anna shuddered. "That...is legitimately creepy."

"I agree," Elsa said, eyes wide and wary.

"He also has a bad habit of asking girls to show him their panties," Sunset warned. "Just...be wary of that."

"I don't mind!" Lilith said, standing up...

"NO," every other girl said. Marinette shot up, grabbed Lilith, and forced her back into her chair.

"Aww, you're no fun," Lilith pouted.

"Umm...and I'm X," X said. "I'm a Reploid, an advanced artificial lifeform. I was originally created by Dr. Thomas Light over a hundred years ago, but placed in stasis while my systems underwent decades of testing to ensure it was safe for a robot with free will to live among humans. I was activated by Dr. Cain, and an entire race of Reploids was created based on Dr. Light's technology. Since then, I've been working as a peacekeeper. There's a...virus, of sorts, the Sigma Virus. It's actually fragments of programming from a powerful Reploid who turned evil...Sigma. When the Sigma Virus infects Reploids, they become dangerous Mavericks. I'm a Maverick Hunter; my job is to hunt down Reploids infected with the Sigma Virus and eliminate them."

"Hmm. It sounds like what you do is almost identical to what Blues and I do," Enzan said.

"It...does sound similar," X said. "In fact, a lot of things about you two are familiar, somehow." He frowned. "Do the names Dr. Light, Dr. Wily, or Rockman mean anything to you?"

Enzan and Blues looked at each other in surprise. "The name Wily is very familiar," Enzan said darkly. "He's the world's number one Net criminal, the leader of the terrorist organization World Three. As for Rockman..."

"Enzan-sama's friend and rival Hikari Netto, his Navi is Rockman.EXE," Blues said. "I suppose in a way, you could say Rockman.EXE is my friend and rival also. He's one of the most powerful Navis in the world."

"Hmm," X mused. "I wonder if perhaps our worlds are direct parallels of each other..."

Enzan smirked. "That's an interesting thought."

Rainbow Dash stood up and stretched, yawning. "Well, I don't know about you all, but I could use a break," she said. "This is a lot to take in, and I haven't gone home in days. I need to grab some fresh clothes, maybe take a shower."

"That sounds like a good idea," Sunset said. "I think we should take shifts staying and leaving to freshen up and take care of other things. Since I just got here, I'll explore the castle, see what's going on, maybe find places where we can put everybody that we can have a little privacy. Anybody who needs to head out and do something, go ahead and do it. Everybody else, sit tight for now."

"I should go check on Mech-X4," Ryan said. "I'll be back later in the day."

"Need a hand, bro?" Mark asked.

Ryan shook his head. "Nah, it's cool. Chill out here, keep Spyder from making too much of a pest of himself. I won't be long, I'm just gonna check something."

As Ryan left the castle, his eyes lit up with the bright glow of his technopath powers. His pupils changed into the concentric Eye of XANA.

He smiled wickedly.

* * * * *

Rainbow Dash, wrapped in a towel and scrubbing her damp, glossy hair dry with another towel, padded barefoot into her bedroom. On her way to her closet, she grabbed her gym bag, planning to throw a spare change of clothes or two into it. She grunted at the unexpectedly heavy weight of what should have been an empty bag. "Oof," she muttered. "What in the...?" Wrapping the towel around her neck, she dropped the bag on her bed and unzipped it. A soft, steady green light spilled out from inside, bathing her in its iridescence. "Whoa," she breathed. She opened the bag wide, peering inside. "What the heck is that?" She reached inside to examine the glowing object. "How'd that get in there?"

Her fingers brushed against something small, cool, and metallic. She pulled it out to examine it, frowning curiously. It was a green ring with a strange symbol on it. Tilting her head, she idly slipped it on.

Her rose-colored irises began to glow a bright, fiery jade...

Comes a Lantern

View Online

For some time, Naria stalked the back alleys of the human city, cursing her fate, cursing her enemies, cursing the human race, and mourning the disappearance of her beloved master.

After a time, she reached the muddy bank of a drainage creek, where she found a white monster—one of the Inves, apparently left over from the earlier invasion and forgotten—foraging for food. She smiled and walked up to it, lovingly fingering a Continue Medal.

"You seem lost and hungry," she said. "Feed on the cells of Genis-sama and find a new purpose as my pet..."

The Inves greedily ate the Continue Medal. Green arcs of energy coursed over its body, and it shrieked unintelligibly as it exploded upward, becoming a skyscraper-sized version of the same white, leathery maggot-like monster.

"Go forth, and avenge Genis-sama!"

* * * * *

Outside Grayskull, a small group of the castle's new residents were either standing guard or loitering outside for fresh air. They collectively looked up, wary, as exuberant, wild shouting drew nearer to the castle. Weapons were released and stances relaxed as Rainbow Dash landed on the jawbridge. "Whoa," Miles said, blinking and tilting his head. "What are you wearing?"

"Dude, did you just go and make yourself a superhero suit?" Spyder asked.

"A pretty awesome one," Kim said, looking Rainbow up and down. "Not the colors I'd have imagined you'd go for, though."

Rainbow Dash wore a form-fitting black bodysuit which covered her completely from neck to toe, except for her wings, which flapped freely behind her. The knee-high boots and elbow-length gloves of the costume were emerald green, with white trim stylized as lightning bolts along the cuffs. A broader patch of emerald green stretched from her groin to her shoulders, shaped like a wide, stylized lightning bolt; the center of her chest sported a white cloud-shaped emblem, lined in black, with a lightning bolt in three different hues of green stabbing down from its base. An emerald green symbol, like a stylized lantern, rested in the center of the cloud. To complete the outfit, a dark green mask in the shape of flight goggles covered the upper half of Rainbow's face. Her eyes blazed a bright viridian, and a shining green ring sat upon the ring finger of her right hand.

"Hey guys, check me out!" Rainbow said. "How awesome is this?"

"Whoa," Terry said, eyes wide. "You found a Green Lantern Corps power ring?"

"A what now?" Rainbow asked.

Terry gestured to Rainbow's ring and her costume. "The ring. I recognize it from my world. It's the symbol of the Green Lantern Corps. Well, more like it's their primary weapon...tool? It's complicated." He stroked his chin. "And you say it was just in your bag when you got home?"

"Yeah, the ring and this funky lantern," Rainbow said.

"Keep that lantern somewhere safe," Terry advised. "It's the source of the ring's power. Well, the..." He frowned, tilting his head. "Think of it like a phone charger."

"Oh...kay..." Rainbow said. She looked down at the ring. "So, you know what this thing is, where it came from?"

"Yeah," Terry said. "The Lantern Corps are sort of an intergalactic police force. Or, more like..." He frowned. "More like special agents, really. They look out for hotspots in their patrol sectors and keep the peace. We're talking big stuff here, like alien warlords, nuclear meltdowns, extinction level events, supervillains...of course, they deal with lower-level stuff too. It's pretty much left to the judgment of each Lantern."

"Nuclear meltdowns?" Rainbow asked, eyes wide.

"Those rings are really powerful," Terry said. "Basically, the stronger your will and your imagination are, the more you can do with the ring." He held his hand out in a beckoning gesture. Rainbow drew back, clutching the ring protectively. "I'm not gonna keep it," Terry said. "Just gonna show you something."

Rainbow frowned, but took off the ring and placed it in Terry's palm. The green costume she wore faded away, replaced with...a bath towel.

Terry blinked. "Uhh..."

"Just hurry it up so I can change back again until I grab some clothes," Rainbow snapped, cheeks red.

"R-right," Terry said. He coughed, then slipped the ring onto his finger. His eyes lit up green; an electric green glow traced up his body from the tips of his toes to the top of his head, covering him in a deep forest green version of his Batsuit, with a white bat on the front that had a small Lantern Corps emblem in the center, all outlined in black. He clenched a fist and thrust it skyward. A green aura surrounded him, and he rose into the air. He aimed the ring at several trees around the courtyard and fired off dozens of bat-shaped green light blasts, which cut through the tops of the trees and neatly severed several small branches. He dropped back to the ground and took off the ring, reverting to normal. "Hm, this one doesn't like me," he muttered, handing it back to Rainbow Dash. "It wouldn't do half what I wanted to try."

Rainbow quickly put the ring back on, taking a deep breath as her costume returned and her eyes lit up green. "So you can talk the talk but you can't walk the walk?" she asked cockily.

"No, I've handled a Lantern ring before," Terry said. "But the rings are kind of, well, alive. And they choose their wielders. Your ring just...doesn't like me." He shrugged. "Doesn't matter, I can still give you pointers on how to use it." He smirked. "Maybe over dinner?"

Rainbow gaped at him, then slugged him in the shoulder. "Perv," she muttered. Before Terry could retort, a massive explosion further into the city heralded the appearance of a giant White Inves.

Everyone stared.

"Oh god, not this crap again," Miles moaned.

"We'll take care of it," Lamia said. "Rangers, let's morph and move!"

"We'll meet up with Ryan back at Mech-X4 and back you up," Mark said. "Come on guys, let's move."

"I'll provide cover fire," Rodimus Prime said, transforming into his truck form and roaring off down the road.

"I'll help!" Rainbow declared confidently. "Time to test out my new awesomeness!"

"I wouldn't," Terry said. "You've had that ring what, five minutes? You're not ready for that kind of fight yet. Trust me."

Rainbow sputtered. "B-but! You said—"

"You need training," Terry said firmly. "And experience. Do you even know how to use that ring yet?"

Rainbow blinked. "W-well...I guess...not so much?" She sighed. "Fine," she groused, folding her arms. "So what do we do while the guys with the big robots fight that?!"

A massive, ghostly projection of Celestia suddenly appeared above the castle. Her eyes were full of grave alarm. "Everyone! I sense evil—!"

* * * * *

"Impressive," a deep, gravelly voice growled from behind Naria. "Sloppy, but I see potential."

"Who dares—" Naria began, spinning on her heel, her gunchucks drawn and ready. She stopped suddenly, gasping in shock and taking a step back. "Masaka...! You...you're a myth! You're not real! You...you can't possibly—"

"Oh, I assure you, I am quite real," the gravelly voice rumbled, thick with dark amusement. "And as proof...a demonstration of my power!" A skinless hand bound in skeletal steel armor, tipped in gleaming steel claws, held a chromed staff aloft. Blood-red lightning shot into the sky, creating a spinning vortex of black clouds...

* * * * *

Thick clouds gathered in the sky above Castle Grayskull. Arcs of blood red lightning danced, lashed, and crawled across the city. The students and defenders ducked inside the castle, whose natural defenses repelled the onslaught.

"What the hell's going on?" Shego shouted.

"Bad stuff," Kim said, eyes wide.

The red lightning storm ended as quickly and suddenly as it came, the clouds dissipating, leaving the sky a heavy grey. Everyone waited, tense and nervous.

The ground erupted.

Dozens of monsters, each the size of a cow, exploded into being. Burly, with skin that looked like wrinkled burlap pocked with diseased-looking pits and craters, each massive beast had eight thick, stubby, jointless legs which ended in a number of thin, pale claws. The apparent head of each monster lacked eyes, looking instead like a set of folds and wrinkles surrounding a round tube which ended in some sort of serrated proboscis tipped with a number of short, stunted barbs.

"Oh, GROSS!" Marinette complained, her nose wrinkling. Fluttershy screamed and disappeared into the castle, Tomato cawing madly as he spat meteors at the monsters, which seemed content to shuffle about awkwardly in the courtyard.

Miles blinked. "Are those...what I think they are?"

"It sure looks like it," Sci-Twi said. "But...that's impossible, right?"

The beasts finally took notice of the gathered humans...and began slowly lumbering toward the castle gates.

* * * * *

"Well? Do you doubt my power?"

Naria dropped to one knee, bowing her head, fighting not to tremble in abject terror. "Forgive me, My Lord," she said.

The skinless, chrome-wrapped figure grunted darkly, studying her, tapping his talons against the grill that served as his mouth. "Yes," he decided. "You'll do nicely. Swear your allegiance to me. Say my name!"

Naria swallowed heavily. "Z-Zeddo...sama..."

* * * * *

"The HELL ARE THESE THINGS?!" Rainbow Dash cried in revulsion.

"Tardigrades!" Sci-Twi said, pushing up her glasses and taking a step back.

"Tardiwhatnow?"

"Micro-animals!" Sci-Twi clarified, looking around in both horror and fascination at the slow-stepping herd of horrific beasts. "But this doesn't make any sense! Tardigrades live pretty much anywhere, but they're only half a millimeter in size at most! They can't even be seen with the naked eye!"

"Yeah? Cuz my eyes are plenty naked and these things are flippin' huge!"

"With everything else going on lately, is it really that hard to fathom some giant tardigrades?" Sunset said wearily. "Look, it's...it's just another monster horde we have to deal with. They're mindless animals but they might be able to do some serious damage, so let's...let's do what we do, alright?" Her hands glowed with magic. "Take 'em out before they become a problem."

Terry frowned. "I'm useless without my suit against something like this. I'll go inside and round up anybody that can help." He sprinted into the castle as Miles checked his webshooters, X armed his X-Buster, Brook drew his sword, Shego charged up her green glow, Kim dropped into a ready stance, and Rainbow concentrated on her new powers. Sci-Twi bit her lip and followed Terry into the castle.

Within moments, Jasmine, both Chat Noirs, Queen Elsa, Blues, Gaim, Etna, Flonne, Lilith, and Starco poured out of the castle. "Bleuch," Etna observed, pulling a face. "Gross!"

"Eww, total grossfest," Starco agreed.

"I grow weary of this world and its endless supply of murderous beasts and monsters," Elsa said. She closed her eyes and called upon her powers, spreading a blanket of freezing ice over the herd of tardigrades.

The ice did nothing to impede them.

"Umm...that's not gonna work," Miles said. "Tardigrades can survive temperatures approaching absolute zero. You literally can't freeze them to death."

Elsa drew back. "Oh. I...I see..."

"Just do what you did back at Octavia's place," Etna said as she pulled out a huge demon spear with one hand and a massive hand cannon with the other, twirling both. "Make stabby things out of ice and wade in."

"I'll herd them away from the portal," Sunset said gamely, teleporting from the jawbridge to the statue. "Guess defense is about all I'm good for lately..."

"I think I'll help you," Flonne said, joining Sunset and readying her longbow. "I'll snipe from back here while the others draw aggro."

"Do tardigrades even have aggro?" Miles wondered as he crouched on the side of the castle wall, surveying the herd.

Suddenly, one of the lead tardigrades reared and spat an angry bolt of red lightning at Elsa, sending her flying back into the castle gates with a scream.

"THEY HAVE AGGRO!" Etna yelled, taking aim and firing rapidly. Her shots caromed off the thick skin of the attacking tardigrade, denting it but not penetrating.

"Umm...something tells me these tardigrades got an upgrade," Rainbow said.

"Yeah, they don't look all that tardy to me," Adrien quipped. "More like they wanna hold us back a grade."

"Ugh," Marinette groaned, facepalming. "Not today, minou."

"It seems we have our work cut out for us," Jasmine said as she spread her yo-yo into its fanblade configuration and sent it whirling into the fray. A tardigrade let out a shrill, unearthly screech as one of its lateral filaments was sheared off; it turned to face Jasmine, its proboscis expanding and contracting.

"How'd you do that?" Marinette gasped, eyes wide.

Jasmine blinked at her. "You mean you can't do that yet?" Marinette shook her head mutely. "I'll teach you after we get through here," Jasmine promised.

Adrien dropped down next to Aladdin, who had his baton extended into a staff longer than his body. "What about you, anything cool you wanna teach me?"

Aladdin smirked. "How about this?" he asked. He let out a yell and swung his baton down sharply; a jet black blade grew out of either end.

"Whoa," Adrien said, eyes wide. "Now that's what I call claws out." He tilted his head. "How do I do that?"

"Can you fight with intent to kill?" Aladdin asked.

Adrien frowned. "I...I'm not sure," he admitted. "I mean, once or twice I've felt...when Ladybug was in danger or I thought...thought she was dead..."

"Jasmine and I have had to kill a lot of our enemies," Aladdin said soberly. "Sometimes there's no other choice. When you accept that you're in a fight to the death, you can use the Miraculous' deadlier force."

Adrien scratched his head. "Wow," he said. "I...I don't know if I can do that." He shook his head. "You two must live in pretty dangerous times."

Aladdin smirked wryly. "If you've never had somebody seriously try to kill you, then I envy you," he said. He sighed. "I wish I'd never had to kill."

"Hey!" Etna shouted. "Are you guys gonna actually do something? Just because these things are barely moving doesn't mean they're not dangerous!" Even as she said that, a tardigrade spat red lightning at her which blew her off her feet, slamming her into the castle wall. The two Chat Noirs nodded grimly to each other and leapt into the fray, batons flashing.

* * * * *

The Maximals and Rodimus Prime approached the Mega Inves and transformed. Rodimus immediately began laying down cover fire from the triple point lasers mounted on his forearms; Airazor spread her crimson angel wings wide and flew up above her team. "Maximals, transform and combine into PowerMega!"

Rodimus watched the Maximals assemble into their giant robot form, never letting up on the distraction he provided. Mech-X4 flew into view and landed hard, shaking the ground.

Despite its ponderous size, the Mega Inves had no more fighting ability or power than a normal larval Inves. With two giant robots pounding away at it with brute force and charged plasma weapons, the fight only lasted a few minutes; Rodimus let up his cover fire and stood back, watching in admiration.

*Humans and robots fighting together like this...I think Optimus would approve, even if that blue one has no Spark.* He watched Mech-X4 fire off a searing plasma burst that bored a hole through the Inves' mask, causing it to reel as its head sparked and exploded. *For humans to build a weapon that powerful, though...in the shape of a robot...that worries me.*

As soon as the fight ended, Mech-X4 jumped a far distance across the city, while PowerMega disassembled. The Maximals transformed back into robot form and landed near Rodimus, while their human partners leapt gracefully clear and landed in a group on the roof of a building. "Fight was too easy," Hatoko said. "Something not right."

"I agree," Esteban said. "That battle felt too...simple."

"Well, the thing you fought was an unmatured Inves," Rodimus said. "They're monsters native to a parasitic subdimension that's attached itself to this world. The way I understand it, the unmatured ones aren't very strong...well, in relative terms. They're stronger than normal humans, but easily killed by anyone with strong enough weapons or powers. I guess making it giant didn't increase its relative strength."

"Then what was the point of that?" Airazor wondered. "Why make a giant monster that's that easy to kill?"

"Something's been bugging me about that last thing we fought here," Forrest said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "I mean, I know how these things usually work back where we come from, and Tommy pretty much said it's been the same way with every enemy he's faced as a Power Ranger, so..." He looked around at the others. "Whatever we're dealing with, whatever's creating or sending those giant monsters...I don't think it has much to work with."

"So like, raiding the junk drawer?" Lamia wondered.

"The Shadow Rangers said something about a monster woman who seemed pretty pissed off at them," Jack pointed out. "Maybe she's a leftover from some old enemy of the Power Rangers, and she's just working with whatever shows up here that she can turn into a monster?"

"Bit of a leap of logic, but it makes about as much sense as anything," Rodimus said. "Maybe you five should search the city for this monster woman. Better yet, get a description of her from the Shadow Rangers."

"We can have them search too," Lamia decided. "If she's where the monsters are coming from, we need to take her down."

"Let's get back to CHS for now," Airazor said. "We can get together with the Shadow Rangers and make a plan."

* * * * *

"Really wish...I had an instruction manual...for this thing," Rainbow Dash grunted. With difficulty, she'd managed to summon a green energy shield and was using it to protect everyone from the red lightning the tardigrades were spitting.

So far, the defenders of Grayskull had been fighting the tardigrades for half an hour, and had made very little progress in thinning the herd. The tardigrades were ridiculously resistant to damage, be it from blades, impalement, bullets, energy blasts, or magic. Elsa had given up and gone inside when she discovered her ice weapons merely shattered harmlessly against the beasts' skin. For their part, the tardigrades seemed content to shuffle aimlessly in one spot and occasionally spew red lightning. All said, it was rapidly turning into a battle of attrition: the gathered heroes couldn't do much damage to the tardigrades, and the tardigrades didn't even seem to be consciously aware of their own offensive capabilities or interested in pursuing their attackers.

Then Sailor Saturn had arrived, and everything changed.

The defenders stood back and watched in stunned horror as a wisp of a girl in a miniskirt danced through the tardigrades, dicing them into rotting slivers with her glaive. Even when the tardigrades seemed to realize there was a real threat in their midst and attempted to fight back, Sailor Saturn seemed more contemptuous of their counterattack than concerned.

In less than five minutes, nothing remained of the tardigrades but piles of putrefied flesh. Rainbow Dash finally figured out enough of how her ring worked by that point to use it to remove the foul, decomposing wreckage from the campus.

Once the carnage abated, Sailor Saturn stood, breathing heavily, and looked around at the slack-jawed faces staring at her in shock. She blushed furiously. "Umm...hi," she offered lamely, bowing. "Sailor Saturn. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu." With that, her glaive disappeared as her transformation broke, leaving behind a young, frail-looking girl in jeans and a soft fleece hoodie.

Sweetie Belle rushed up, catching Hotaru as her knees gave out. "She needs to rest!" she cried. "And probably some water and like, something sugary."

The defenders looked at each other, shrugged, and cleared a path. Sunset helped Sweetie Belle take Hotaru inside. On her way, she turned to Rainbow Dash. "I don't think you're quite ready for primetime as a Green Lantern yet," she said.

Rainbow sighed. "Yeahyeah, gotta practice. Don't worry, I'll figure it out. I'm gonna go home and get some clothes and stuff." Glumly, she flew off into the city, her wings flapping listlessly as a dim green aura surrounded her.

She was halfway home when she ran into the absolute last thing she ever expected. She stopped in midair, blinking. "Dean Cadance?" she asked, tilting her head curiously.

Cadance similarly stopped in midair, wreathed in a pale violet aura. "Oh," she said softly. "H-hello, Rainbow Dash. I, umm..." She cleared her throat. "I-I know this looks...strange..."

"W-well..." Rainbow hedged. "It's..." She pursed her lips. "You look...uhh..."

Rainbow Dash didn't want to say what she was really thinking.

Dean Cadance wore—if you could call it 'wearing'—a bright purple leotard which was largely, well...missing. It barely covered her groin, her sides, and the outsides of her breasts inward to her nipples, somehow providing enough bust support to generate a deep trench of cleavage while leaving her breasts mostly bare, along with her entire midriff. Skintight dark purple sleeves and tights extended from the indecent costume; her hands were completely covered, and she wore bright purple knee-high boots with stiletto heels. Bizarrely, her shoulders and neck were completely covered by her costume. She wore a purple tiara which held her hair back and away from her face. A bright purple emblem—an eight-pointed star with a cut-out center—rested just below her navel, backed by a bright white background. A glowing purple ring sat upon her right ring finger.

"You see, I found this ring, and..."

* * * * *

"Hmm," Lord Zedd rumbled. "Interesting. Very interesting indeed..."

Naria tilted her head quizzically. "My Lord?" she inquired. "Your temper is legendary, yet you seem more...curious about the defeat of your army..."

"The mindless beasts I released were a mere test," Lord Zedd said dismissively. "I have learned, from experience, to be cautious...to know what opposition I face, so that I may best prepare an appropriate response to crush my enemies." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "This world..." He chuckled darkly. "I have far more to contend with here than one measly gang of brats. This...this will be a challenge."

Red lightning radiated from the head of his staff, striking the ground all around them dozens of times. Explosions of sparks, smoke, and soil burst into the air. Dozens of creatures, each the size of a Rottweiler, burrowed up from the ground. The creatures looked like a cross between a horseshoe crab and a stingray and bristled with malevolence.

"Go forth, my pets! Feed! Grow! Evolve! DESTROY!" Lord Zedd's voice rose with sadistic glee, exploding into a menacing laugh that chilled Naria to her core.

"Behold, Naria! I, Lord Zedd, will crush this world beneath my heel! All will bow before my power, the power of unrelenting evil!"

"Hai, Zeddo-sama!"

The army of unnatural creatures scurried to the north, hissing and shrieking.

Comes a Destroyer

View Online

"Did you..." Zack Fair wheezed, holding up a hand to stall as he leaned against the corner of the wooden building. "Did...you see...that sheriff's face?!"

Sephiroth snorted. "Sheriff," he grunted contemptuously. "He's an actor and a buffoon, and not especially remarkable at being either one."

"But—!" Zack gasped out between laughs. "They! Thought! You! Were! The! New! Outlaw!"

Sephiroth pinched the bridge of his nose. "Simply because of my attire..."

"I've never seen a grown man squirt shit out of his pants before," Zack continued, wheezing and chortling.

"Mmm...perhaps I overdid it slightly," Sephiroth allowed indifferently. He shook his head. "Nevermind. We've learned all I care to from this sad little tourist town. We should move on now."

Zack finally got control of himself and let out a weary sigh. "Yeah...you're probably right." He squared his shoulders and ran a hand through his spiky black hair. "So, where to next? That big city south of here, Canterlot?"

Sephiroth mounted his bike and gunned the roaring engine to life. "Canterlot," he agreed firmly. Dust and grit sprayed from his tires as he took off, revving the engine. Zack chuckled and jumped onto his own bike, gunning it to life and trailing after his partner.

* * * * *

Dean Cadance's cheeks flushed red as Rainbow Dash looked her up and down with a smirk. "S-stop," Cadance said. "Seriously, this is worse than the hula girl outfit..."

Dash snickered. "Man, what is with you and bein' naked? And—" She trailed off. "Wait a minute. You're FLYING."

"Umm...yeah," Cadance said. She held out her right hand; the ring she wore flared, a circular violet shield of energy spreading out from it. "I found this ring, and I just...I felt compelled to try it on. Next thing I knew, this." She gestured to all of herself. "And then I started being able to just do stuff. I'm headed over to see Twilight to see if she can help figure it out."

Rainbow nodded thoughtfully. "Sounds like you found somethin' a lot like what I got," she said, indicating her own green ring. She aimed it up into the sky and fired off a blast; a green energy shockwave spread across the sky with a tremendous sonic boom. She blinked. "Huh. It actually did what I was thinkin' that time. Cool."

Cadance's eyes widened. "What in the—"

"Anyway, I'm headin' home to grab some clothes an' stuff before I go back to the castle," Rainbow said indifferently. With a smirk, she added, "Maybe you should too?"

Cadance growled and blasted her with a purple energy ray. Rainbow let out a cry of surprise and started to fall. Cadance's hands flew to her mouth, her eyes wide in horror. "Oh my gosh! Rainbow Dash, I'm so sorry!"

A giant green feather appeared in front of Cadance and began mercilessly tickling her bare front. She doubled over, giggling helplessly.

Rainbow Dash rose in the air, standing perfectly still, arms folded and smirking. "Oh, it's on now," she declared.

* * * * *

As soon as the Power Rangers returned to Castle Grayskull, they rounded up Tommy and the Shadow Rangers and found a large, empty conference room.

"Do you remember that monster woman you told us about?" Lamia asked.

"Oh, definitely," Tommy said. "I've been wondering where she disappeared to. I figure that Inves that showed up today was her doing."

"We think so too," Lamia said. "The thing is, the last couple of giant monster attacks have been, well...kinda pitiful." She combed her fingers through her long honey-brown hair. "We think this monster woman's down to scraps, just randomly growing whatever she happens to find wandering around the city."

"It does seem that way," Tommy agreed. "I kinda got the impression she's an enemy of the Safari Rangers, but I've never even met them, so I have no idea. If she is, though, then she's not the one who makes the monsters in the first place, just the one who makes them big. That's how it works with a lot of these bad guys we fight. Sometimes there's a bad guy who makes monsters and another who makes them grow, sometimes there's one who does it all. Sometimes the monsters just come from wherever the bad guys come from, and there's only the one that makes them grow. It's different each time."

"Well this is all so fascinating," Sour Sweet simpered. "But what does it have to do with us?"

"Well, we were thinking it's time to hunt this woman down and stop her," Jack said. "But it'll be a lot easier to find her if both of our teams work together."

"That sounds logical," Sugarcoat said, adjusting her glasses. "Eleven of us searching the city are more likely to find her. And if we can stop her, she won't be able to make any more giant monsters."

"Yeah I vote for less giant monsters," Lemon Zest agreed. "I mean, if we had our own robot, then I'd love to fight them, it's awesome, but...sitting on the sidelines kinda sucks."

"Okay, so it's agreed then?" Tommy said. "We'll all morph and spread out, search for the monster woman?" The Rangers all nodded. "Good." He smacked his hands together and rubbed them.

"So what happened back here, anyway?" Jack asked. "Looks like there was some excitement while we were out."

"Oh yeah, it got wild here," Indigo said. "Most of us missed it because we were exploring the castle, but apparently some retards tried to break in."

"Tardigrades," Sunny Flare corrected, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Esteban blinked. "Water bears? As in, microscopic, feed on algae, can survive the vacuum of space and radiation?"

"Yeah, except they were the size of cows," Lemon Zest said. "At least, that's what I heard from the ones who saw the whole thing."

Hatoko's brow furrowed. "Tiny animal...get big? Is...monster woman doing?"

"Doesn't seem like it," Sugarcoat said. "Twilight said there was a black storm in the sky and it shot out red lightning. Then the giant tardigrades showed up. The monster woman uses some kind of coin and only makes one monster big at a time."

Tommy did a double-take. "Wait. Did you say a black storm and red lightning?"

"That's what Twilight said," Sugarcoat repeated, pushing up her glasses.

Tommy paled, taking a step back. "No..." He shook his head. "No, it couldn't be."

Lemon Zest tilted her head. "You okay, Tommy?"

Tommy took a deep breath and shook his head. "Just...just a really bad feeling all of a sudden. And some serious deja vu..."

* * * * *

The swarm moved north.

Its migration carried it through the industrial sector of Canterlot City. Warehouses, chemical storage tanks, and processing plants exploded and smoldered as the swarm ripped through them.

The individual members of the swarm had begun to change. What had begun as something resembling horseshoe crabs with stingray tails were now furious, deadly beasts, larger than a man. Each monster scuttled on six thick, segmented, armored legs, with a fourth pair of legs raised in an aggressive posture in front of it. The beasts' carapaces were thick, scaly, and angry red in color. Four wickedly curved tusks extended from their mandibles, and their heads were raised away from their bodies, exposing a pulsing segment of body armor on the "chest" comprised of bone-colored, segmented chitin that fit together like a camera shutter.

As the swarm grew, whatever its members couldn't cut through with claws, mandibles, or acid venom, they blasted through with erratic subatomic energy blasts that caused the oxygen atoms in anything they touched to explode violently. The swarm was not consciously aware of this power or what it was doing; the swarm merely knew that it could destroy almost anything that blocked its path.

The swarm sought a beacon to the north, far from the city where it had spawned. A beacon that generated unfathomable energy.

The swarm would feed on that beacon. Then the swarm would grow stronger. Then the swarm would be invincible.

The swarm would destroy all.

The swarm would be all.

* * * * *

"Flowers for sale! Oh, please, would you like to buy a flower? Oh..."

A young woman with long brown hair stood on the curb, feeling more than a little out of place in her bright blue-and-white sundress and breezy sandals. The bright, cheerful wagon full of colorful, fragrant flowers next to her only heightened her sense of out-of-placeness amid the gritty, dark environs and dreary people who came and went wearing flat, drab colors and hard expressions.

Aerith Gainsborough sighed, bowing her head. "This city just doesn't want anything beautiful," she said softly.

"I believe I'll take a flower, miss," a somewhat raspy voice said. Aerith looked up to see a man dressed all in black, with a sweeping black cape and dark glasses, smiling at her.

"Oh...!" Aerith jumped slightly, feeling her body tense for reasons she couldn't understand.

"One of the yellow ones there," the man said, pointing.

"Oh! R-right," Aerith said, carefully selecting a flower and offering it. The man dropped a few gil into her hand and gently threaded the stem of the flower through his buttonhole. With a smile that held no warmth, the man doffed his hat and bowed slightly, then went on his way.

A sudden icy chill ran up Aerith's spine. She decided to pack up, and hurriedly returned to the church with her flower cart.

* * * * *

With a few hours' work, Sunset, Vinyl, and Twilight had converted what used to be the faculty lounge into a sort of makeshift nerve center slash crashpad. There was a comfortable sofa for napping on, several plastic chairs around a cheap particleboard table, and a medium-sized flatscreen TV hooked up to the cable feed, as well as a few laptops. As soon as everything was set up, they turned on the news.

They immediately wished they hadn't.

//—creatures are extremely dangerous, and all residents are encouraged to evacuate the area. Take shelter immediately if the swarm enters your area. The National Guard has been mobilized north of Canterlot, along the migration path of the swarm.//

"Man, it never ends," Vinyl said with a mild frown.

"What do we do about that?" Twilight wondered, clutching her hands to her chest. "Who should we send?"

Sunset bit her lip. "Nobody," she decided. "They're headed in the opposite direction of Grayskull. We need to protect the castle at all costs." She sighed. "Let the National Guard deal with it."

"And if they can't?" Octavia asked.

Sunset frowned. She opened one of the laptops and pulled up a map. She grimaced. "It looks like they're headed for that weird metal city that showed up around the same time the castle did," she said. "I guess..." She shook her head. "I guess it's their problem."

"Man, that's cold," Vinyl said.

"I know, but we can't deal with every crisis that comes along," Sunset said. "We just don't have the manpower..."

* * * * *

A heart-shaped violet energy blast slammed into Rainbow Dash's viridian shield, knocking her back several feet. An entire herd of miniature ponies made of hard green light, each sporting flared, feathery wings and windswept manes, galloped through the air, buffeting Cadance, who surrounded herself with a nimbus of pink-violet light. As the emerald pegasi faded away, Cadance held up a hand, puffing for breath. "T-time," she called.

Rainbow Dash folded her hands behind her back, drifting lazily through the air. "Hah! That all you got?" she said cockily.

Cadance rolled her eyes. "I'm not as young as I used to be," she said. She giggled, examining her ring. "This is actually kinda fun," she said.

"Yeah it is!" Rainbow agreed. After a moment, in a quieter voice, she added, "Hey, Dean Cadance? Thanks for, y'know...this. Honestly? I...kinda hadn't really figured out how to use this ring yet." She ducked her gaze. "We just fought a bunch of big ugly monsters at the school, and...I was useless. I couldn't do anything because I couldn't figure this out." She looked up. "Sparrin' with you, just now? I think I've got the hang of it now. So...thanks."

Cadance smiled. "Don't mention it," she said. She stretched. "Alright, want to keep going, or—?"

"Nah, need to go to my place, get some stuff, head back to the castle," Rainbow said. With a smirk, she added, "Race ya!" With that, she shot off in an emerald blur.

"H-HEY!" Cadance called after her. "I don't even know where your place IS! Ooohhhh....!" She took off after Rainbow, a hot pink streak in the sky.

* * * * *

Hatoko looked over at Lemon Zest as they ran through the city. "Anou...sumimasen kedo, I still not understand why I partner Yellow and not Pink. Ah! Gomen, it just—"

Lemon laughed. "No worries, I getcha. The Reds went together, the Greens went together, our Black went with your Blue, but we swapped the last set. That's what's bothering you?"

"Hai!"

"Yeah, Sunny thought it'd be better to send you with me than with Sour Sweet. You seem like the kind of kid who gets her feelings hurt easily, and Sour, well...she's kinda like drinking vinegar mixed with battery acid sometimes, you know?"

Hatoko tilted her head. "I...sorry, English not that good. No follow."

"She's kind of a bitch."

"Aa, sou ka. Bitch is word I know." Hatoko nodded. "Glad bitch is Jack problem and not mine then."

Lemon snickered...then stopped running, looking up. "Okay, that's not normal," she mused.

They had entered the business district. Two office buildings had been pushed aside on their foundations, tilting at odd angles. The tower that stood between them, Lemon knew was the headquarters of Canterlot's second largest bank. Except, it no longer resembled the familiar black glass and slate tower most residents recognized.

The entire building had been twisted, like clay on a potter's wheel, and stretched upward, forming a tall spiral tower of glass, steel, and speckled stone. The top of the tower expanded outward, its penthouses molded into the shape of a clawed hand grasping for the heavens. Directly beneath the hand, perfectly square granite slabs framed a section of the tower which had large, ponderously turning ventilation fans embedded in the sides. The very air around the tower seemed to be dark, heavy, and ominous.

"AH! What THAT?!" Hatoko cried, pointing at the base of the tower. A dozen men and women in drab business suits milled about on the sidewalk. Lemon frowned behind her visor.

Something was off about them.

The way they moved was inhuman, unnatural. More than that, their faces were covered with thick, cancerous-looking clay masks which had a stylized letter Z carved into them. They lurched around, gibbering unintellibly.

The two Rangers looked at each other, nodded, and activated their communicators.

"Guys?" Lemon said. "We found something you might wanna see..."

* * * * *

The thunderous report of assault rifles was deafening.

The main highway leading north out of Canterlot had turned into a literal war zone. Barricaded behind troop trucks, jeeps, and two heavy tanks, men and women in dark gold uniforms battled the scuttling, screeching swarm of crustacean monsters. The swarm responded with lethal force, cruelly and mercilessly destroying everything in its path. Charred, mutilated bodies stretched out for half a mile from the Guard perimeter. The burnt shells of vehicles smoldered and smoked.

"It's no use," the lieutenant said as he loaded a grenade into a shoulder mounted launcher. "Nothing we've got is working!"

"No excuses, Lieutenant!" the captain barked. "We have a job to do, and we're gonna do it!" He unclipped a radio from his belt. "Where the hell's my air support? We need an air strike!" After listening to the garbled response, he waved back his troops. "Fall back! FALL BACK!"

The Guard withdrew. High overhead, two planes streaked through the sky. A volley of missiles rained down. The highway erupted in a massive fireball. Smoke and debris spread for over half a mile in every direction.

The troops watched, tense and wary.

The swarm emerged from the debris cloud. There were fewer creatures by about half.

But they had grown in size. What had previously been man-sized crab monsters were now larger than the tanks shooting at them.

The last gun fell silent a full ninety seconds later.

The swarm moved on.

* * * * *

"Okay, I think that's enough crap to last me a while," Rainbow decided.

"What, you're planning to hole up in the castle? When you can just fly home and do whatever you need to do here?"

Rainbow shrugged. "You ain't seen the kinda stuff we've been puttin' up with. We could be like, under siege or somethin'. Might as well be prepared. Besides, I'm not gonna bail on my friends when they need me just to take a shower or grab some clothes if I can stash my stuff there. The locker room showers still work."

"I can't even begin to imagine a castle swallowing a high school," Cadance said with a shudder. "I mean, I was there for the whole Midnight Sparkle thing and I still can't imagine..."

Rainbow stared at her, slack-jawed. "You were kidnapped by a mad Hawaiian bomber, the city's been overrun by monsters, and you're a half-naked flying superhero with a magic ring. Are you seriously saying the whole castle thing is any weirder than all that?"

Cadance bit her lip. "Okay, fair point," she conceded. "So...should I gather some things, relocate to CHS?"

"I think you should look out for Crystal Prep," Rainbow said. "I mean, we've got enough superheroes on our end now, but all your school's got are the Shadow Rangers, and they're kinda goin' back and forth now, right?"

"True." Cadance sighed. "Alright, but I really do want to talk to Twilight first. In person." She blushed. "This is gonna be a heck of a costume to try to explain..."

Rainbow snickered. "Hey, you've got a bikini model body. You might as well own it. Y'know, rock the sexy."

Cadance grimaced. "I put my modeling days behind me when I got into education," she said. "I want to be taken seriously."

"Oh, I'm sure the boys at CPA would take you seriously right now," Rainbow said. "Seriously hot."

Cadance blinked, tilting her head. "Umm, Rainbow Dash? You're not...you're not gay, are you?"

Rainbow shrugged and made a so-so gesture with one hand. "Maybe a little," she said. At Cadance's expression, she laughed. "I'm kidding! I just, y'know...I guess maybe I don't mind oglin' a really hot girl. I mean, we're nice to look at, y'know?"

Cadance raised an eyebrow. "Yourself included?"

"Well duh!" Rainbow grinned and shouldered her bag. "Okay, let's go."

The two left Rainbow's house and flew across the city. They were halfway to CHS when they were impeded by a massive, glowing yellow grid that hung in the sky and stretched dozens of yards in either direction. Rainbow drew to a halt, Cadance just behind her. "What the hell?!"

"As I suspected," a deep, rich, gruff male voice said from above. A tall, muscular youth in his late teens slowly descended into view, his massively muscled arms folded across his broad chest. He wore a sleeveless black-and-yellow bodysuit with black boots and yellow bracers on his forearms. A broad golden emblem, similar to the one on Rainbow's chest and ring but more elaborate, covered his chest. His skin was dark red. His long, shaggy hair and short, gruff goatee were bright silver. His irises glowed yellow against black sclera.

Neither Rainbow nor Cadance missed the broad yellow band that rested on his right ring finger, nor the shimmering golden aura that surrounded him.

He extended that hand, palm upturned, and beckoned. "Ladies," he said cordially, "give me your rings." His own ring glowed with power. "Don't make me take them by force."

* * * * *

Sephiroth abruptly brought his bike to a halt. Zack braked alongside him, idling his engine. "What's up?"

"Something feels wrong," Sephiroth said. "A foulness in the air..." He opened his Materia case and sorted through it, slotting a new Materia into his sword. He closed his eyes and focused. A web of milky green-white magic spread out from him, seeping into the ground.

A moment later, his eyes snapped open. "They come," he said.

A thundering rumble shook the ground. A cloud of dust billowed on the horizon. Zack rested his hand on the hilt of his Buster Sword. "What's coming?" he asked.

The swarm appeared over the rise, hissing and screeching. Zack's eyes widened. "What the hell?!"

Sephiroth drew his blade and sent a wave of hellfire sweeping through the swarm.

None of the creatures were harmed.

"Uhh...so...are we gonna fight these things?" Zack wondered.

Sephiroth kicked his bike around and gunned the engine. "It would serve no purpose," he said. "Let us return to Midgar for now. Canterlot isn't going anywhere. We will wait until these creatures are gone, then return."

Zack frowned. "Yeah...I guess that makes sense." He fell in behind Sephiroth as they headed back the way they'd come.

Neither of them missed the fact that the swarm was right behind them, headed for Midgar.

* * * * *

All eleven Rangers convened on the corner down the block from the twisted tower.

"Whoa," Indigo said. "What happened to the Rockfoot Tower?"

Tommy took off his helmet, looking the tower and its strange, gibbering guards over with a growing sense of dread. Sweat beaded on his forehead. "That bad feeling I've had since we started this search? It just got worse," he said. He swallowed heavily. "I really, really don't like the look of this."

"Our city's biggest bank turned into a towering fortress of evil," Sugarcoat said. "More than it already was, I mean. There are gibbering inhuman monsters in suits wandering around outside. There's nothing to like about this."

"You guys, something's up," Lamia said suddenly, tensing. "The freak patrol is getting all worked up."

The masked businessmen suddenly charged en masse, wading into the Rangers like an angry mob. The Rangers were forced to defend themselves against what turned out to be inhumanly strong, if clumsy, attackers; every counterstrike was met with a resounding clang like steel striking stone rather than the impact of flesh.

"This..." Lamia grunted as she tucked and rolled out from under the reach of an enemy, "...reminds me of fighting the Arquilons back home..." She drew her sidearm and fired a thin, fiery red laser directly at her foe's mask. The foe staggered, hands flying to his face as he gibbered and screamed. Seizing the opportunity, Lamia swept his legs and delivered a quick, sharp strike to his head.

The mask shattered, revealing a dazed, unconscious blue-skinned man underneath.

Lamia gasped. "Guys! Be careful! They're people!"

The Rangers drew back. "They must be bank employees," Sunny Flare said angrily. "Damn..."

A cold, chilling laugh rang out. "I trust you're enjoying playing with my master's pets?"

The gibbering bankers parted, bowing and swaggering, as Naria stalked through their midst.

"Naria," Tommy growled. "What's going on here? What did you do?"

Naria laughed. "White Ranger," she said coldly. "It's a pleasure to meet you. It would be an even greater pleasure to kill you, but...that honor is reserved for one person only."

A burst of red fire erupted from the ground beside Naria. A figure formed in the flames.

Tommy drew back in shock.

"Well, well, well," a gravelly voice chuckled. "We meet again, Tommy Oliver. Aren't you getting a little old for this?"

Tommy paled. "Zedd," he whispered. "No..."

Lord Zedd threw his head back and laughed. "Zeddheads..." He thrust his staff forward. "DESTROY THE POWER RANGERS!"

The Z-marks on the Zeddheads' masks flared, and they attacked.

Comes an Alchemist

View Online

"Who are you?" Rainbow demanded in a challenging tone, readying her ring and moving protectively in front of Cadance. "What makes you think you can just threaten us and get away with it?"

The muscular red man sneered contemptuously. "I am Tirek Anasazi of Centaurus Pride," he growled. "You are as beneath me as an ant, and as easily crushed. I have no particular desire to kill you, so it would