Actions

Work Header

Here Be Monsters

Chapter Text

Blackness.

For infinite eons that was all she had known. Blackness.

In the beginning, when there was nothing, she and her family had been sealed away in the endless emptiness, unknowing and unsuspecting. Perhaps it was for the good of existence that they would never be known. If they learned of what exists now, they would surely desire to return existence to what they knew. Maybe this, more than anything, was why the barrier locking them out of existence was there.

But aside from that which has always been, nothing lasts forever...

The primordial serpent had had only her children for company, but with the universe being explored more and more, the prying eyes of life had, unknowingly, eroded away more and more of the unknown, that which kept them from manifesting and learning that there was more to existence than just them. The race to the stars had not been without consequences. The gift of life, that which had been bestowed upon many worlds in the stars, was a gift they would only now begin to discover.

Eyes like raging supernovas gleamed as they found the sparks of life that permeated all of space. Jaws like a thousand black holes foamed with nebula dust as awareness came to her. And a heart that pounded like the Big Bang on an infinite loop began to palpitate with anticipation.

The serpent felt a presence next to her. It was her daughter, a terrible and mighty entity in her own right, a serpent made of cosmic dust and star light who would have inspired fear in all things mortal - but which paled compared to her parents, one long since gone. She too had seen all that there is, and she knew what her mother was planning. The first serpent had summoned her to her side, and here she was, at her beck and call.

Lahamu, welcome. The serpent uttered a vocalization that boomed and rumbled like the raging origin of the universe itself, forming no words that can be comprehended by the living but expressing thoughts which could be clearly translated. I assume you know of what is happening?

The void is breaking, yes. Lahamu responded with a nod of her monstrous head. Her voice seemed... tired. As though she had spent all of existence under her mother's care, which was entirely true. Our time will soon come to restore the world anew, and rebuild it in our image as it once was.

Precisely, my daughter. You and I will reshape the future, the past, and the present. But first, we must know... What is it like, the existence there is? What must we do to reconstruct it? And will we, as we were before, be opposed?

Opposed. That word wormed its way into Lahamu's mind, and if she could have grimaced, she would have. You failed once before, Mother Tiamat. How do you know you will not fail-

The great serpent suddenly faced her daughter with what can only be described as the equivalent to a death glare and a fanged snarl. Silence! I do not seek your criticism of my intentions. I only seek your servitude.

Lahamu seemed to flinch. Yes, Mother. So, what must I do?

Tiamat seemed to have sensed her child's obedience, and calmed down a little. You will manifest in the multiverse as is now known. Test it. Find weaknesses. Comprehend what exists. If you discover opposition, I shall be the first to know. And as soon as you get the chance... begin the process of subjugation. I expect a lot from you, Lahamu, and if you fail me... well, we have all of existence to talk it over. And I, as your mother, will never forget shall you dare to disappoint me. Am I clear?

Lahamu remained stalwart in her primordial mind, knowing that there was no way this could end well. But she saw no way out of it, either, not with her mother at the helm. She nodded and replied, As you wish, Mother.

If Tiamat could smile, she would. Excellent. Now, go, Lahamu, and conquer the multiverse. So that when the time comes for the void to fall... We will be waiting.

 

*****

 

Skyworld...

 

It was a normal day in the realm above the clouds. In the temple of the Goddess of Light, a white-winged teenaged angel was serving the kingdom as per the norm.

Specifically, he was cooking lunch. The Goddess herself had tried it once before, and from that day on he refused to trust her with anything in the kitchen bigger than a teaspoon.

"And to think I'm a commanding officer," Pit thought aloud in a somewhat tired tone. "Whenever I'm not fighting the Underworld's Army, I'm making Skyworld Soup and breakfast in bed." He closed his eyes and sighed, idly stirring the contents of the cooking pot before him. "I just wish Lady Palutena would give me a day off every once in a while..."

"Give you what, again?"

"Aaah!" The angel jumped in place, nearly dropping the spoon into the pot. He whirled to face the green-haired deity who'd just entered the kitchen. "Oh hey, Lady Palutena! Y-you're home!"

"Busy as always, Pit?" She chuckled a little. "I see lunch is almost ready! Though I thought you were more interested in hamburgers and sushi..."

"I'm more of a floor ice cream guy myself, actually." He laughed, rubbing the back of his head. "But yeah, just give it a few more minutes and it'll be ready."

After savoring his goddess' radiant smile, he returned to stirring the soup. "Sure is quiet today. I mean, the Underworld's Army hasn't been that active for a while now, but still..."

"Mah boi-" Palutena began, but Pit turned to give her a look that would've wilted Viridi's Reset Bomb factory.

"Finish that sentence, Lady Palutena, and I'll throw the soup away and instead serve you a Vegetable Surprise with a full bottle of Rejuvenator Potion mixed into the broth."

Palutena flinched, surprised at her servant's sudden bluntness. That one incident with the animated carrots was something she'd wanted to live down, and reliving the humiliating memory of it was always a sore spot for her. Nonetheless, she remained as calm as she could as she responded.

"I was just trying to lighten the mood, Pit. You seem a little on edge today - I thought that was Dark Pit's thing."

The angel's face fell, and he once again returned to the soup. "I dunno... I just haven't really seen any activity since the World of Light event. I mean, I made a lot of new friends there, and helped defeat two beings of impossible power, but other than that... nothing. We're not getting a sequel game last I heard, or even a port to the Switch. It's like the world doesn't even acknowledge that we exist."

The goddess felt a little guilty for accidentally ticking off her most faithful servant, but more than that, she was also concerned. Pit was normally a very cheerful, upbeat, and heroic angel, but beneath that, in the wake of the many events he had been through since that last brawl, he seemed... lonely. Like he desired to see more of what was out there than just his world. The World of Light had indeed helped, but...

Palutena walked up to Pit, before patting his shoulder. "It's alright. You did a great job during our last game. That has to count for something, right?"

Pit sighed and tapped the stirring spoon on the edge of the pot. "I know that. But I just can't help but think, 'That's it? There isn't any more?' I don't want my adventures to be over, not while there's so much potential for storytelling. I want to be remembered for more than just two or three games over the span of twenty-five years. I want to be remembered as someone great!"

Palutena chuckled, running her fingers through his brown hair like a mother comforting a child. "There there, Pit. You are remembered by the people of our world, as a hero and a savior. And there are many people beyond our world who think very highly of you. That should be more than enough, am I right? Just give it time, and maybe the universe will think of something. Who knows, perhaps they'll drop off the dramatic beginnings of your next heroic tale right on our doorstep..."

BOOM.

The entire world trembled. The pot of soup fell and clattered to the ground, spilling its contents everywhere. Both goddess and angel wobbled unsteadily, their expressions suddenly fearful.

"What was that?!" asked Pit, turning away from the stove and looking around in apprehension. "Was that Medusa? Or Hades?"

Palutena held her staff a little higher than usual. "I don't know. I don't think they'd announce their return by trying to knock Skyworld out of the heavens, though..."

BOOM.

A much, much harder impact rocked the land, sky, and sea. Everywhere, people seemed to have been thrown to the ground, and were now milling about in preparation for a panicked stampede. As for Palutena and Pit, they were thrown off balance by the tremor. Palutena smacked into a shelf, dislodging a sack of flour that opened and poured its contents onto her, but Pit was less fortunate. His back was to the still-running stove, and after a second of panicked arm-windmilling, he toppled backwards and felt his bottom land on something hard - and very, very hot!

"YYEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUCCHHH!" The angel screamed at the top of his lungs and leapt off the stove, too late to avoid the seat of his dark blue undershorts being engulfed in flames. "WATER WATER WATEEERRRR!!!" Running around in a panicked circle, he saw the water-filled silverware-washing basin and made a beeline for it, dropping his flaming, smoking bottom into it, realizing far too late that there were some very sharp pieces of cutlery sticking pointy-end-up from storage racks at the bottom of the basin. "AAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!"

"Wha... What was that?!" Palutena cried, magically shutting the stove off. "That didn't sound like anyone from the Underworld - even Hades isn't that strong..."

Whimpering in agony, Pit had gotten to his feet and was now starting to pull out the forks and knives jammed into the flesh of his lower cheeks. "W-what can we expect? Miniboss? F-final boss? Owchie!!" The first of the forks was out, clattering to the floor.

BOOM.

The hardest impact yet shook all of Skyworld and beyond. Pit was flung face-first into the ground, and the sack of flour landed on Palutena's stomach, making her retch with her eyes wide.

Palutena was silent for a few long moments, before her green eyes widened. "I... I don't know. But... But if it's what I think it is, we... you'll have to leave."

Pit managed to get to his knees. With another yelp of pain, he freed another piece of cutlery, leaving just one fork and one knife in there now. "What?!" he cried. "I can't just leave! I'm your captain!"

The goddess looked at him with sadness and fear, unusual for her kindly demeanor. "Remember when Galeem imprisoned all of us? When even I couldn't stop him?"

Pit turned slightly pale. "You mean it's... it's him?"

And then they heard the sound.

It was a sound that evoked primal dread, a horrible booming rumbling like the very world itself was quaking. The terrible growling made everything in the world rattle, scattering civilians everywhere and causing things to fall off tables and clatter to the floor.

A few moments later, it was over. Palutena stood up, white as chalk.

"No, Pit... It's worse."

Then they heard another noise. A whooshing, hissing rush of air even though there was no breeze in sight. Palutena rushed out of the door, making her way towards the main viewing balcony. Pausing only to pull out the last fork and knife from his buttocks, and also down a piece of fallen cake to heal off his wounds, her captain followed her.

The sight that greeted them was the stuff of nightmares.

The sky itself seemed to have cracked open, a deep black fracture running all the way from one horizon to the other opening up to the world beyond. Cosmic energy was seeping through, black vapor that carried iridescent sparkles. No monsters came from it, not like the Underworld's Army. But Palutena could feel that there was something beyond the aperture, something powerful and horrible and left over from a time long before existence itself had begun.

She turned towards Pit, the orb on the tip of her staff beginning to glow. "Pit... can I trust you with something?"

"Yes, Lady Palutena?"

"You know how I can open up gateways through time and space? I'm giving you that power. You need it. We need to warn everyone."

"Warn everyone? Of what?"

Her face was suffused with mortal or rather immortal fear as she tilted her staff towards his reach. "She is coming."

At that precise moment, the sky went dark.

The void seemed to pour forth from the crack in the sky, a shockwave of primordial energy that traveled across the land like a gigantic tsunami. Trees were bent and torn from their roots and mountains began to crumble as it hurtled forward, towards Skyworld, towards Pit and Palutena. Far below, all that it touched but did not destroy seemed to change. Change into forms that were fiercer and more menacing, more primal, than anyone knew.

Without hesitation, Pit wrapped his fingers around the orb.

He would swear he saw his goddess begin to glow bright white, her entire form blazing like the sun itself. He flinched away from the glare, just in time to see the wave of mutagenic darkness descending upon them.

With a scream he was thrown high into the air, vast chaotic emptiness engulfing him like a raging hurricane. It bit and clawed and tore at every part of him, eliciting horrible screams that were definitely not the cartoonish cries of getting his buttocks set ablaze and skewered by cutlery. No. This was pure, unadulterated agony. His very nature was being burned away, torn to ribbons by a force far beyond his comprehension. He could feel his head splitting, his limbs being warped, his body being pulled apart at its joints. His last desperate thoughts were directed towards his goddess alone: I'm sorry. I failed you, we failed everyone. We... failed...

And then he saw it. Sinuous and glowing like a serpent made of flame, but with growths of pure incandescent light sprouting from it, too. His deathly fear of fire made him shriek in spite of himself, but he found himself longing for the light to find him. And then it swooped towards him like a comet, and he could see the swirling darkness parting from all around him... The glowing form was about to reach him, but the darkness descended upon it, engulfing it in a whirlwind of primordial chaos. It reached out one burning wing towards him, its final instruction relayed through his mind in a voice he recognized: I'll be okay. Go!

He had to leave. Right now. He could only think of escape, but he couldn't bear to leave the other with it. With her. But there was no other choice. He had to find help, before all was lost.

A gateway of white light opened up, and like a leaf in a whirlpool he was sucked through to who knew where. The dark vortex descended upon the portal, momentarily releasing its captive. But that was its first mistake.

She only had just enough energy to close the portal before her world went black.

 

*****

 

With an echoing scream, Pit descended from the sky like a meteor. Flailing his tangle of limbs in a wild panic, he struggled to right himself, terror-stricken but nonetheless desperate to avoid turning into a grease stain on the ground below. Twisting his body around, he righted himself just in time to break through the clouds, the moisture feeling quite cool against his four feathered wings.

Four wings?!

Whatever had changed her, it had affected him as well. But he had no time to think about that, he had to act. Closing his eyes, and hoping that the end would be quick, he spread all of his wings as wide as he could...

With a sudden jolt, his flight path was altered from a steep drop to a gentle looping glide. He had been able to do that before, yes, but this was new. The wings on the back of his lower body suddenly felt much larger than they usually were... and then there was the fact that he had lower body. What had happened to him?! And could he... Well, only one way to find out.

He lifted his wings up, all four of them, and then thrust them down and back before spreading them again. The rush of air over them told him everything he needed to know.

He could fly.

It should by all accounts be exhilarating. His life's dream was to fly on his own. But now... now it had come, but at what cost? His goddess was gone... Taken... again.

And now it was up to him to get her back, just like all those decades ago. Of course, this time, he needed help. All of it.

A few more flaps of his wings carried him over a city - or what was left of it. There were no people; instead, creatures of all shapes and sizes were milling about in great agitation on the streets and in the vegetation-choked, ruined buildings. It seemed like the force that had transformed the people in his world, transformed him, had affected this world, too.

And many, many more, no doubt.

Descending in a spiral upon an expanse of grassy land in front of the bay penetrating the city, Pit landed somewhat awkwardly, stumbling and trying to brake before tumbling head-over-heels onto the grass. After a few moments of flailing about, he managed to find his legs.

All four of them.

"Wha... uh..." He looked down, and his blue eyes widened in astonishment. Everything from the waist down, from his magnificent thighs to his oversized sandal-clad feet, was gone, replaced instead by a white, furry body with the front half of a lion and the back half of a bull. Massive clawed paws were directly below him, and to the back were cloven hooves of polished brass. The front legs were placed a little further back on the body than in an actual lion, though, to make room for the immense muscles powering the enormous white wings growing from the shoulders. The base of his tail had a large fan of feathers like a bird, but the rest of it was muscular and tapering almost like a lizard, but furry with an ox-like tuft of hair at the end.

His upper body (and the toga and undergarment clothing it) was relatively unchanged, thank goodness, though it now slanted forward at an angle relative to the spine of his lower half. But the wings growing from his shoulders were also larger and stronger, and then there was his head.

Or rather, there were his heads.

His human head was where it normally was, with brown tufted hair and that familiar laurel crown, but from his shoulders had sprouted the head of an adolescent lion cub on the right and a year-old calf with small horns on the left. And growing from the back of his neck was the head and neck of an eagle. All four of these heads had white fur or feathers, and their beaks and horns were brass like his rearmost hooves.

And was that an extremely shiny donut hovering just over his human head?

The realization hit him at that moment. He had been transformed from an immortal winged teenager in a toga to something more primordial. A cherubim. An unearthly being that attended directly to the gods. How apropos, all things considered.

Had he not gone through the worst day of his life, even more so than when the Chaos Kin had possessed Palutena, he'd have fainted then and there. But as it was, he was ready for anything now.

"Aack!" The sharp eyesight of his eagle head, the acute hearing of his ox head, and the strong sense of smell from his lion head hit him at that point. He wobbled unsteadily, trying not to pass out from the overload of sensory information. Sifting through the various inputs, he realized to his surprise that he could detect the other life forms around him, sparks of energy in an impoverished world.

In the distance, there were two sparks which were far brighter than any of the others. They seemed to be the strongest beings in the area, and this warranted investigation. Spreading his wings once more, he took off, making his way toward those two sparks of life, unaware of the sign that read "Municiberg State Park" disappearing behind him.

Don't worry, Lady Palutena, he thought. I'm coming for you. And when I find out what's caught you this time... I won't be alone.

Chapter Text

Municiberg...

 

It was a surprisingly calm Saturday, and in late spring no less. In other words, the perfect time for a raven-haired girl of fourteen summers to sleep in. Too bad that this was surprisingly hard to do at the moment.

Violet hadn't remembered the last time she'd felt this tired. She had remembered falling asleep for a lot longer than usual in the wilderness of Nomanisan Island after narrowly escaping a blast of rocket exhaust, though she didn't quite remember her little brother snuggling against her like he'd claimed. She could do without the teasing about her having cooties, but still.

She was trying to get some shut-eye, but for some reason, something didn't feel quite right. Her pillow felt oddly uncomfortable, and her blanket was even worse. In fact, every part of her felt strangely itchy, and cold too, like she'd been sleeping in a bed of coins all night. That hadn't happened even once before, and she would swear her bed was as soft and plush and fluffy as it had always been the previous night.

Perhaps she could do with a hot shower. An hour or so of washing off the discomfort, that seemed about right.

Throwing the covers off of her, she rolled over and then fell off the bed with a startled yelp, flopping onto the floor. Standing up, and feeling oddly wobbly, she exited her room before turning and making her way down the stairs. She was too tired to notice the odd thumping and occasional rattling noise behind her as she descended. Once she'd reached the ground floor of the house the Deavors had lent her family, she made straight for the bathroom, hoping that the shower would make her feel better.

She was also too tired to notice that the glass of most of the windows was shattered, the wood rotted and the masonry crumbling. And that wasn't even getting to the moss and lichen covering most of the windowsills, vines and creepers snaking their way inside.

The electricity was still working, at least. The moment she entered the bathroom, she fumbled for the light switch, and then turned it on as soon as her claws found it.

Claws?!

The instant the light went on, she saw that her hand was black. She thought her glove was on even though she hadn't put on her supersuit, and then she realized that no, she hadn't donned it. Her hand was scaly. It looked more like that of a lizard than a human. But more than that, she now had bronze curving claws like those of an eagle growing from her fingertips.

Without thinking, she looked at her reflection the mirror. And that was when she finally noticed her hair.

No, not hair. Growing from her head was a nest of several dozen black-and-yellow, drooping, sinuous, scaly-

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!"

It was only a few seconds later when a bipedal jackrabbit the size of a German Shepherd, clad in light blue pajamas, burst into the bathroom, having heard the screeching shriek of horror. His fur was a light straw blonde with a cream underbelly and cottony tail, his eyes dark blue - and a pair of large black antlers grew from his forehead.

"VIOLET!" Dash cried in horror. "NO! No! Nonononono no..."

What was once his big sister was now a statue, resembling her from the waist up except for the recoiling snakes in place of her hair, and her arms posed as though trying to shield her face bearing scaly hands with hooked claws. Her face was an expression of absolute terror, her large eyes wide, her gaping mouth full of sharp teeth including a pair of tusk-like fangs growing from her lower jaw along with a forked, snake-like tongue. Her light blue turtleneck shirt was still intact, as was her headband, but from the waist down she was entirely unshod. Perhaps that was because her lower body was now that of a gigantic serpent, some fifteen feet long, with a rattle on the end of its tail as long as his arm and tipped with a sharp conical spike. Her snake body, now turned to stone, was still out in the hallway.

The jackalope uttered a scream of terror. He turned and ran, frantically calling for help. "MOM! DAD! VIOLET'S BEEN- MOM? ...DAD?!"

No response had come. Not even Jack-Jack was responding. His long pink ears flattened behind him as he finally took in the state of the house, his eyes turning round. He backed up in a panic, not realizing that the statue's tail was behind him-

"OWCH!" he cried, jumping forward before turning and nursing his poked rump. He looked back at the statue, tears welling up in his eyes. He wanted to pinch himself and wake up from the nightmare, but getting jabbed by his sister's tail and feeling pain told him that it was very, very real.

"Vi..." He sobbed, hugging the tail rattle. He was about to burst into tears when he suddenly felt a tremor coming from beneath the solid stone. Jumping back, he then realized that there was the sound of muffled screaming. It too came from the statue, and now cracks were spidering all along its surface...

Dash didn't stop to think. He rushed off, and then reappeared with a pair of black rectangular sunglasses belonging to their dad, before entering the bathroom and slipping them onto Violet's face.

He'd just exited when the stone surface of his petrified sister crumbled away, revealing scales and skin beneath. Violet gasped, clutching her chest and panting hard. Dash only now noticed that her serpent half had black scales with narrow yellow stripes, along with a matching yellow underbelly and tail rattle.

"No... no... It can't be!" she cried. "This is a dream, it has to be! I-"

"It isn't," Dash admitted sadly. "I bumped into your tail. It hurt."

Violet turned to look at him, only now noticing the sunglasses and how they blocked her deadly gaze. She wanted to thank her annoying little brother- well, that was a first - but then she realized something.

"Where's Mom? Dad? ...Jack-Jack?"

The jackalope's eyes were huge. "They... they're gone," he mumbled, his nose quivering as he struggled not to cry.

Violet was overcome by sisterly instinct. Next moment, the gorgon's coils and arms were wrapped around him in a gentle squeeze, the tongues of her serpentine hair tickling his ears.

"It's alright... We'll find them. We saved them once, we can do it again."

Dash burst into tears, hugging his sister's body tightly, crying into her shoulder. Violet felt tears welling up in her eyes too, but she struggled not to let the waterworks flow, not with her brother already bawling in her arms.

The sound of wings made both of them look up. Violet brushed the tears from her brother's furry cheek, before rearing up a little straighter, ready to throw a force field around them if they needed to fight. She tested out her abilities briefly, just in case - yep, she could still conjure a little purple spherical barrier, and turn her tail rattle invisible. And Dash certainly still had his super-speed.

The two of them got properly dressed (and snatched their supersuits as well while they were at it) before making their way outside, just in time for a majestic white creature to descend upon the front lawn. It touched down on paws and hooves and folded its four wings, before turning to notice them.

The super siblings flinched at the bright light of the angel's halo, yelping in alarm. But then he spoke, raising and waving his hands in a frantic "cool it" gesture.

"No no, it's okay! Don't be scared!" the angel said in a voice like a young teenager. Almost Violet's age...

The two of them looked up, now taking in the appearance of the creature in full. It had four wings, a bull's body with the front claws of a lion, and a human torso growing from where a head would be. As well as his brown-haired human head (with a halo), he had the heads of a big cat, a cow, and an eagle as well, and he was dressed in a white-colored Greek chiton.

"What - who-" Violet struggled to find words. But Dash spoke first.

"Where are our parents? Where's our baby brother?!" He paused and then added, "Why do I look like a bunny? I should've been a dragon or dinosaur or something cool! Not... not this!" He twisted around to look at his cottony tail, which he wiggled as though checking to see if it was real.

"Hellooooo?" Violet muttered, folding her arms. "You're not even gonna acknowledge the annoying big sister in the room whose gaze turns people to stone?!"

He looked up at her, and his ears drooped. "Oh. Um. Forget I said anything." He smiled nervously, revealing a set of very rabbit-like buck teeth.

"Let's not worry about that right now," said the angel. "We've gotta find help. And then after that, we've gotta find out what's happening. Seems like my world isn't the only one that's had everybody turned into creatures like... like you guys." And you're not the only ones who've had someone dear to them taken away, he added in his head.

"Wait, you didn't originally look so... so weird? " asked Violet, her hair-snakes exchanging confused glances.

"Last I checked, nope," replied the angel. Then he smacked his own (human) forehead. "Oh darn, I forgot introductions! My name's Pit, servant of the Goddess Palutena." He choked a little on her name, but continued smiling, though it looked slightly forced. "And you two must be...?"

"Violet Parr," the gorgon replied, offering a hand to shake. "And the little dust bunny down there is my brother, Dash."

"Charmed," the jackalope said with an exaggerated bow. Then he realized what Violet had said and cried, "Hey!"

Pit shook Violet's hand, noting how scaly and taloned it was. "We've gotta find help. I have a feeling our worlds aren't the only ones that have been affected. It's a sign."

"A sign?" asked Dash. "I don't see any signs around here. Especially not any neon ones-"

"No, not that sign! It's a warning. A hint. A clue."

Dash tilted his head in confusion, but Violet clarified at that point. "He meant, 'Evil power turn people to monsters! Grrrrr!'"

"...oh." Dash's ears drooped again.

"Yeah, that makes perfect sense, thank you!" Pit replied with a smile. "But yeah. There's something happening that's doing this, and I think I know what it may be. I thought it was just a rumor, though..."

"What kind of rumor?" asked Violet. Then she blinked. "...Also, Goddess Palutena? Our worlds? For all we know, there's only just the one."

"Uh, about th-" Before Pit could continue, however, a glob of white gunk splattered onto the grass. It hissed and smoked, and the green blades around it wilted and turned brown.

Everyone looked up. Perched in the surrounding trees and on the roof eaves of the Parr family home, a massive flock of what looked like a cross between geese, crows, and hawks was staring them down. Their straight, dagger-like beaks and hooked claws were of gleaming bronze, and their knife-like feathers shimmered like polished silver. The one that had shat on the lawn fluttered down to land on a nearby tree branch, before turning its head to face them with beady red eyes.

"ViiiiIIIIII!!" Dash cried with a rising tone.

"Oh no..." cried Pit. He held up his hand, and a gleaming gold-and-sapphire bow with bladed edges materialized in it. "Get ready to run!"

"What do you m-" Violet began to ask, but then her eyes met the steaming, putrid bird shit once again, and it dawned on her. "Slithering for dear life is good!"

They broke into a mad dash across the street. The birds took off all at once, shrieking and squawking like a swarm of seagulls, and flew after them.

The three young heroes suddenly found the sun blotted out above them, and Violet instantly threw her hands up with a scream. The force field appeared around them, causing the boys to smack into it, but before they could complain, a hail of bladed feathers and toxic droppings descended upon it. The barbs pinged off the surface of the barrier, but the poop stuck fast, caking it in stinking filth.

"What do we do?!" Pit was terrified now, but stood his ground for the sake of the others. "That shield won't hold forever - and the Stymphalian birds will kill us the second you drop it!"

"Anything else we can do?" cried Dash, hiding under Pit's four legs.

"Well..." The angel pawed the ground with one of his lion feet nervously. "The birds were repelled by noise, like bronze cymbals or something - it's been a while since Lady Palutena told me about that story, and I still don't know where she got it. We don't have any cymbals, though-"

Violet's eyes widened behind her sunglasses. "Hang on! I have an idea!" she cried.

She spoke her plan to the others, but outside of the force field it was hard to hear it over the cacophony of squawking. The gunk was now sliding off, and then the force field dropped, sending it splattering onto the road. The siblings had leaped onto Pit's back, Violet's body coiled around where the angel's two bodies met. The birds descended in a shrieking whirlwind, and screams and quite a few drops of spilled blood transpired before they burst through the cloud, protected by a now completely spherical purple force field. They bounced along the road like a basketball, and then started rolling along. Dash leaped off Pit's back, ignoring the stinging pain of the cuts in his shoulder, and then started running along the bottom of the force field, as though it were an enormous hamster ball.

"Aim for the cars!" Violet cried, and Dash did exactly that. Within moments, they'd slammed into a vehicle, going airborne as it rolled along the hood, the car alarm shrieking through the air. The birds shrieked and started veering in uncontrollable directions, smacking into each other as they tried to escape the racket. The force field bounced off more and more cars, setting off more alarms and further hindering their progress.

"Hurry!" Violet cried, feeling herself grow more and more drained as they continued smashing things. "I can't hold this up much longer!"

"Just a little further!" Pit cried in response.

Finally, at a signal the angel provided, Dash began to slow down, the force field doing the same. However, they ended up rolling down a small hill, towards the parking lot of a 60's diner. Violet dropped the force field, the three of them tumbling over each other and onto the asphalt of the lot.

The cries of the birds were getting closer.

"Any moment now," said Pit.

And then the whole flock, darkening the skies, ascended from the treetops and prepared to dive.

"Shut your eyes!" Violet cried, the boys doing so before she whipped off her sunglasses. Then as the birds swooped all at once, she turned her head towards them, and then screamed at the top of her lungs, her hair-snakes writhing with bared fangs and her normally purplish blue eyes blazing white...

With a sudden yelp, she threw up her force field again. Just in time, too - dozens of bird-shaped rocks had started raining from the sky, smashing holes into the parking lot and shattering to pieces. The birds at the back of the flock, which had escaped getting petrified thanks to the ones at the front obscuring their vision, veered away while screeching in terror, and she kept her eyes trained on them the entire time they flew off into the horizon and disappeared from sight.

She finally squeezed her eyes shut, and managed to put her sunglasses back on before collapsing in exhaustion, eighteen feet of tuckered-out gorgon.

"That... was close," said Pit, his animal heads growling, lowing, and squawking in agreement.

"I think I got a boo-boo," mumbled Dash, nursing the slashes on his upper arms as well as a badly nicked ear. "Or two. Or a gazillion."

Violet, who had gotten cut up quite a bit herself when the birds had attacked, also felt her wounds sting. "What was that all about?" she asked. "Why did those birds try to kill us? We were perfectly fine as it is!"

"Like I said, it's a sign." Pit got up on paws and hooves, before starting to preen his wing feathers with his fingers. "The multiverse is in danger. She... Lahamu is coming."

"Lahamu?" Violet's voice was tiny.

Above them, the sky seemed to turn just a little bit darker.

"I... I'll explain later." Pit felt faint, but managed to remain standing. "We... we have to find some allies. Okay, a lot of them. I think only then can we get your family and my goddess back."

A pall settled over the three. The panic induced by the Stymphalian birds had led them to momentarily forget about the real cause for concern. Both Parr children immediately started tearing up once more.

Pit trotted over to a prone Violet, nudging her shoulder with a forepaw. She sat up, and saw the hand outstretched to help her up.

"We'll find them," said the cherubim. "I promise. But where we're going, we'll need all the help we can get."

She wiped the tears from her face with a forearm (making sure to keep her eyes closed when she removed her sunglasses for that brief second) before taking his hand. She was instantly swept up in a hug, with Dash joining in as well.

"So..." the jackalope asked when they disengaged. "Where do we go?"

Pit's forepaw scraped at the ground again. "I... I don't know. But we'll have to look everywhere we can. I'm sure there'll be others who'll understand. They'll be willing to help."

Violet curled the tip of her snake tail towards her, and hugged it. "They'd better," she said. "If we end up dying before Dash and I reunite with the rest of our family, I'll be horribly disappointed."

Chapter Text

Berk...

 

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was having the weirdest morning of his life. And if you asked him, he'd woken up to plenty of strange things.

When he'd woken up, he found himself much smaller than he usually was, and this was coming from a Viking who had once, in a fit of self-deprecation, called himself a talking fishbone. Of course, that had been before he'd shot up like a weed and taken over as the chief of his village after the tragedy of his father's death, bought about by his own Night Fury who had been brainwashed by the Bewilderbeast of one Drago Bludvist about a year ago. He was supposed to be the handsome, charismatic young brunette who had led the tribe into a new era of life alongside dragonkind... which made the turn of events this morning completely unexpected, not in the least because he had somehow turned into the least charismatic creature imaginable: a hornless, strangely colored Terrible Terror.

He had noticed upon gaining consciousness that he had stubby, scaly paws instead of hands, with long black claws. Toothless had come over at that point, wondering how he'd gotten so small, and when he and Hiccup had gone over to check the mirror, with the little dragon riding on the big one's head, he finally got a good look at himself - and fainted then and there.

It was a few more minutes before he'd gotten up again, with Toothless nudging him the whole time. He wasn't sure if this was real. He'd asked Toothless to take him to the mirror again, just to check, and then he finally got to appreciate the winged lizard staring back at him, his scaly olive-green hide being interspersed with red, star-shaped spots, red fin-like wings, and a brown underbelly. Now scarcely bigger than a cat, he was lizard-like in shape with large emerald-colored snake-like eyes, a ridge of brown spikes running down his back, a matching arrowhead on the end of his tail, and a missing back foot, with just a stump in its place.

He'd then took one look at the much larger Night Fury, and said, "Well, bud... This is gonna be a heck of a day."

He'd spent the next hour or so researching everything there was to know about what he'd become. As chief of the tribe, he'd acquired records of events and settings from many other countries, including records of exotic wildlife. In one such record, he'd happened upon a creature called a salamander. The term was synonymous with newts, a few species of which did live in the regions where Berk was located, but the more fantastical salamander, also called the silion or sylio, was special, for it could live in fire and even snuff out flames if it remained in them for long enough. It was also extremely toxic, and some eastern species even had hair which was used to make cloth. Hiccup was doubtful about that last bit, but when he'd gotten Toothless to light the fireplace (though had been very difficult to convince him once he'd explained what he was planning), he found out to his immense relief that the bit about living in fire was true, for the flames felt more like a warm, cozy blanket than the extremely painful burning they would be to anyone else. It had even felt relaxing enough that he'd decided to remain in the fire for a little while and try to collect his thoughts.

That was before one Astrid Hofferson had entered the house. As soon as Hiccup had called to her from the fire, his beautiful and largely unchanged love interest had taken one look at him, screamed at the top of her lungs, and tried to yank him out with a pair of tongs. Toothless had taken offense to that and rewarded her with a very nasty bite to the bottom, though not before noticing that she now had the tufted tail of a cow sprouting from the expected place.

So it was that Astrid was now seated in a large bucket of ice water, Hiccup was lying sprawled-out on the head of a curled-up Toothless, and Toothless himself was giving Astrid a death glare that promised worse than a gnawed rump if she mishandled his friend a second time.

"So... let me get this straight," said Astrid. "All of us went to bed without anything weird happening, something came up in the middle of the night without any of us noticing, and now the entire tribe has been turned into a bunch of trolls?"

"And a salamander and a huldra, don't forget that," replied Hiccup. "But yeah, basically."

"I mean, we now know what all of us are." Astrid felt her tail swish idly like on an ox warding off flies. "But that doesn't explain how it happened. Did someone desecrate a cursed grave or whatever, or am I missing something here?"

"I don't know if curses are even real," replied Hiccup. "Well, I didn't think magic existed at all, at least until now. But where did all of this come from? Look, I'm just as confused as you..."

"I'm not happy about this, Hiccup." The huldra punched her palm. "Do you know how much a hole in your back would itch?! And I don't want this tail, either. It's not even useful! You don't think there could be any way to change us back, right?"

Hiccup shook his head. "Not until we figure out why we all got turned. I... I may have to leave for a while, because that means I'll have to venture beyond what Toothless and I have mapped."

Astrid's gaze softened a little. "If it helps... I'd like to come with you."

"No no, the village needs you." Hiccup sat up, before idly licking an eyeball. "Ew. Um. Well, where would Berk be without someone to manage it? Until I get back, you're the best we've got."

He had to give it to her, though, she was stubborn. "Hiccup... I know you're determined to do something about, well... this," she said, waving a hand at him.

"You just gestured to all of me."

"Pfff. Well, yes, all of you. And all of us. But even with Toothless, you can't really expect to make it that far with a body that size. And I doubt he can fit through every door you go through, much less ask anyone any questions without causing them to panic. And I doubt anyone would stick around to listen to a talking salamander, either."

Toothless grunted in agreement. Even if he was as personable as a good number of Berk's residents thought of him, he already had enough difficulty trying to get in the house, which had needed the door widened just for this purpose.

Hiccup flopped onto his friend's head once again. "I guess you're right. For all I know, people'll just think of me as some kind of evil magician or a product of witchcraft, and they'll either try to throw me to the Submarippers or try to dispel the curse by dropping me in ox poop or something."

Astrid and Toothless cringed simultaneously.

"Exactly," the huldra said with a serious tone. "As long as I keep my back-hole and tail concealed, I should look exactly as I always do, and I'll be able to talk to people without too much trouble."

"But... but who's gonna be in charge of the village while we're away?" asked Hiccup.

Astrid smiled broadly. "Oh, I've already made arrangements for that..."

 

*****

 

Elsewhere, a pair of trolls, looking more like crudely rock-hewn animated statues in Viking clothes than anything else, screamed in terror as Hookfang the Monstrous Nightmare chased them all around the village, the corners of his fanged maw smoking. They were just two of a good number of villagers who were having trouble with the dragons they lived alongside, although the rest of the trolls had gotten off surprisingly easy.

"THIS WAS A HORRIBLE IDEA!" cried Tuffnut. "WHY DID YOU EVEN MAKE US DO THIS?!"

"ME?!" yelled Snotlout, his bottom smoking from a recent blast of fire breath. "IT WAS YOUR IDEA FOR US TO MANAGE THE VILLAGE WHILE OUR LEADERS ARE GONE!! HOW IS IT MY FAULT THAT HE DOESN'T RECOGNIZE ME?!"

"WHERE'S FISHLEGS WHEN YOU NEED HIM?!"

"PROBABLY DOING THINGS WITH RUFFNUT I DON'T EVEN WANT TO KNOW ABOUT!"

FWOOOOSH! The dragon blew fire at them once again, nailing Tuffnut this time, who screamed and leapt into the air with his butt on fire. "YEEEEOOOOOWWWW! BAD DRAGONNNN!! WHAT'D I DO THAT TIME?!"

"MAYBE HE JUST DOESN'T LIKE YOU!" Snotlout retorted as they kept running with his own dragon at their heels. "PRETEND TO BE SOMEBODY ELSE!!"

 

*****

 

Hiccup stared at Astrid, his reptilian eyes wide and round as saucers, as though his horrified realization upon hearing what she'd told him was still trying to bore its way into his brain.

Then he shut his eyes and pressed his face in his front claws. "Da-da-daaaah, we're dead."

 

*****

 

Nonetheless, there was no other way to investigate the problem than heading off to who knew where. Their first stop on their trip, supposedly, was the dragon sanctuary that Hiccup's mother Valka had used to live in for twenty years - knowing her, she'd probably have born witness to a number of interesting phenomena, including but not limited to the Bewilderbeast's control over dragons. (Of course, since Valka, who'd also become a troll as well, was now living in Berk, Hiccup had firmly insisted that she was to be put in charge, to which Astrid had reluctantly agreed at her own insistence.)

After bidding goodbye to his mother and promising that he'd return safely, Hiccup had set off with Astrid and Toothless, the latter of whom was outfitted with a newly repaired self-controlled prosthetic tail fin, whom Hiccup had given him years before only to see it rejected as a gesture of loyalty. Toothless wasn't exactly happy with his refurbished fin, but since Hiccup was in no state to control his old one, and Astrid hadn't had years of practice with that, there had been no other choice.

Now the three of them were soaring above the clouds, with Astrid doing the steering, and the little green salamander tethered to the horn of Toothless' saddle, the strap going round his belly.

The sky above them was crystal-clear and bright blue. But every once in a while, Hiccup would swear he could see something flickering in and out of view from the corner of his eye, as though a gigantic crack like on an eggshell had been made upon the sky itself. He dismissed that though as a trick of the light, even if it made him extremely uneasy.

Besides, they had slightly more urgent concerns before long.

"I think you may have overestimated the distance to Valka's old sanctuary," said Astrid. "Toothless seems like he could use a break."

Hiccup looked up at her, then down at his friend, his vision a little blurry due to his reptilian third eyelids being held shut like a pair of goggles. "You alright, bud?" he asked, trying to raise his voice over the rush of the air around them.

Toothless grunted a negative. He seemed exhausted, but more than that, he also sounded... worried. Perhaps he'd seen the same thing that Hiccup had? Hiccup wouldn't know. As close as their bond was, he couldn't exactly see the world from Toothless' eyes, even if his own were now quite similar.

The three of them descended below the cloud cover, making their way towards a rocky island jutting out from the ocean. Hiccup felt a twinge of apprehension - that islet had not been mapped at all. But then again, he'd only made his way to Valka's place when she and her Stormcutter, Cloudjumper, had kidnapped him and taken him there, right?

Nonetheless, Toothless needed a break. And probably some food while they were at it. Hiccup felt his stomach growl, and realized that he hadn't eaten all morning. Perhaps breakfast would be good right about now.

And there did seem to be an unusual amount of fish gathered around the island...

It was some ten minutes later when they finally found themselves reclining on the sea-foam-soaked rock, with a pile of freshly caught Atlantic cod at hand. Toothless dug in without a care, but Astrid had chosen to bring out a barbecue skewer the size of a short-sword she'd packed specifically for this kind of occasion.

"I mean, dragon fire makes a great short-notice roast, doesn't it?" she replied when Hiccup asked her what it was for. She skewered a cod on it and held it up, as though wondering who she should ask for a light.

Hiccup, meanwhile, was about to take a rather small cod for himself. He was prepared to take the first bite when Toothless, demonstrating just how much energy he'd burned up while flying, snatched it away from him and ate it up.

"Toothless!" the salamander snapped at the much larger Night Fury, before getting up and trying to raise himself as high as he could on his stubby little legs. "In case you haven't noticed, I haven't eaten all morning, and I'm famished, too!"

Toothless chuckled mischievously, his smile exposing his pink gums.

"Oh, don't you laugh at me!" Hiccup bobbed his head up and down furiously, his tail whipping from side to side and his throat puffed out. "You could've at least saved me some, for Odin's sake!"

In response, Toothless hocked up a skeletonized fish tail.

"Alright, that's it! " Hiccup reared up on his one good hind leg and the stump of the other, using his tail to prop himself up. He opened his mouth and inhaled, the hiss of gas indicating an incoming fireball...

...and Toothless spat a small plasma shot directly into his throat.

The response was instantaneous. The salamander felt his belly inflate like a balloon for a split second, the gaseous fuel for his flame breath having ignited prematurely. This caused him to fly up about a foot in the air before he belched out a huge cloud of black smoke, his stomach deflating, and landed flat on his face with a defeated wheeze.

Both Toothless and Astrid burst out laughing. "Not so fireproof on the inside, huh?" the huldra chuckled.

"...okay, I deserved that," Hiccup muttered, his innards feeling like he'd swallowed hot coals.

It was lucky that Astrid still loved him, because at that point she decided to offer him a small cod on the end of her stick. He roasted that one with a blast of flame breath before eating it, having learned to think twice about eating raw fish some years back. And in return, he toasted her own cod as well.

As Astrid had her own midday meal, Hiccup curled up next to her like a cat, feeling noticeably better with a full stomach.

"So... where do we go from here?" he asked after a short pause.

"I... I don't know." Astrid had a doubtful look. "The dragon sanctuary is only our first stop, but we honestly haven't thought of the second. For all I know, we may end up going past what you've mapped, and finding some undiscovered land full of new people. Perhaps with dragons of their own!"

"Yeah, but... how am I supposed to establish relations with them when I can't even reach up to your ankles?"

Astrid couldn't help herself; she petted Hiccup's scaly back, tenderly stroking the spines. "Don't worry, Hiccup. We'll figure something out, I'm sure. And we'll get you back to normal as well as soon as we can."

Hiccup smiled. "Let's hope you guys can deliver on that. So, whaddya say we smoke the rest of the fish for our journey? I think I can give it a shot."

Astrid shrugged. "Sure, why not?"

Hiccup made his way towards the remaining fish, before rearing up and taking a deep breath. Both Astrid and Toothless got out of the way, just in time for him to emit an unexpectedly massive stream of flames that engulfed the leftovers, turning them a crispy brown.

Beneath their feet, the ground shook. Hiccup lost his balance and fell on his side, and Astrid had to lean on Toothless to remain standing. One of the cooked fish slipped off the pile, skidded across the rocks, and fell into the sea.

They looked around, suddenly nervous. "...are there any volcanoes on this island?" asked Astrid.

Hiccup looked up at the rocky hill they were on, and then his gaze traveled down towards the side of the island. And then he saw something that made his eyes widen.

"Astrid... We have to leave. Now."

In a burst of quick thinking, Astrid yanked a folded up sack out of the filled sack she was carrying, and stuffed the cooked fish inside. She'd just about shoved the last one in when the water beyond the side of the island exploded.

It looked for all the world like a massive ship mast, except masts don't flex like a dragon's tail, and certainly don't have slimy, warty skin the color of blood in place of wood - or for that matter, rows of octopus-like flesh-colored suckers as big as oxcart wheels, each with a sword-sized hook-like barb protruding from its center.

Astrid and Hiccup both screamed in terror, and then the huldra scooped up the salamander and leaped onto Toothless' back. The Night Fury wasted no time and took wing, just in time for the enormous tentacle to come down and, with an enormous CRASH like a falling meteor, slam its sucker-lined side down on precisely the spot where they'd been standing.

Hiccup managed to strap himself in just as Toothless banked into a steep climb, his wings beating as hard as they could. Below them, the waters around the islet foamed and bubbled, and with a mighty suction noise it began to sink with terrifying speed, seeming to suck the ocean surface down with it. It was lucky that they had no watercraft with them or the tremendous whirlpool would've destroyed it instantly. Within a matter of seconds, the islet disappeared into the deep, leaving no trace behind.

"I thought... I thought they were just a myth!" Astrid cried in horror. "That only the Submarippers did the whirlpool thing!"

Toothless leveled out, circling over the spot where the island had been, looking down upon the water with an extremely frightened expression. Hiccup was not oblivious, and tried to reassure his companion.

"It's alright, bud. You can calm down. Whatever it is... it's gone now."

And then, with a great upheaval turning the seas from blue to white, the ocean released the kraken.

Hiccup had no idea precisely how many tentacles had erupted from the water, in part because all of them were now trying to kill him and his friends, falling upon them from all directions like toppling trees. But Toothless was agile in the sky, and he could dodge and weave with expert skill, especially with his automatic tail prosthetic. It was like a man trying to swat a gadfly, missing with each swing. But there were plenty of tentacles, and they all seemed to be intent on keeping them trapped until Toothless began to tire again. Each time they tried to fly out from the cage of deadly appendages, a tentacle swung at them and forced them back. The kraken had set a disturbingly cunning trap for even flying prey like seabirds and dragons that soared over the ocean. It was clear that the only way was down - and waiting for them was a horrifying gaping maw, emerging from the water surface and ringed with rowboat-sized curving prongs like the lobe of a squid beak, its inner lining bristling with razor-sharp teeth.

Toothless hovered in mid-air, looking wildly around for a possible escape route. But there was none they could clear in time - and the tentacles were now starting to press closer and closer, encircling them in barbed suckers...

"No. NO!" Astrid screamed, picking up her boyfriend around his belly. "IT CAN'T END LIKE THIS!"

Before Hiccup could protest, she'd yanked the salamander's tail. Instead of a yell of pain, from his mouth came a gout of fire that licked against several of the great suckers, the putrid mucus coating them hissing and sizzling.

The tentacle recoiled, a roar of pain and rage echoing from the kraken's person - whether it was from its fang-rimmed maw or wherever its siphon was, Hiccup couldn't tell. But while it was repulsed by fire... it had also tried to stamp it out mere minutes prior.

"Uhhhh... Aaaaastriiiiid?" Hiccup said nervously on a rising note.

The huldra realized the same thing that the salamander had, and Toothless too bore an expression of mortal fear. All the tentacles paused, as though the universe was holding its breath... and then squeezed tightly around them with disgusting squelching sounds as loud as a dragon's roar, funneling them down towards the kraken's maw like a great spine-lined gullet.

Astrid hugged her boyfriend tight, and Toothless let out a final roar of defiance as the barbed suckers closed in...

And then nothing.

Everyone opened their eyes. A purple translucent sphere of some kind had surrounded them, the suckers smooshing against them. There were voices, beating wings, yelling and bright flashes, but then the tentacles redoubled their efforts, the sphere becoming smaller by the second.

It seemed as though the chief of Berk, his lover, and his best friend were doomed...

 

*****

 

"When you said you'd found some promising people," Violet shrieked, her voice strained from struggling to maintain the massive force field, "you never told us they included a squid the size of an island!"

"Are you nuts?!" cried Pit, firing arrows of light again and again at the straining tentacles. "It's not the kraken we're gonna talk to, that's a Game Over! We're saving these people from it!"

"Not helping! EEK!" The gorgon felt her force field being viciously compressed.

Dash was very annoyed that he couldn't fight the beast, for it was far too big and he couldn't get the ground speed to run on water, but this was such an amazing experience that it didn't matter. "Awesome job, sis! Oooh, try the 'turn-things-to-stone' thing again!"

"Too big, and I can't find its eyes!" Violet replied angrily. "What do we do?!"

Then the Super-turned-jackalope remembered something he'd seen during the fight. "That lizard's blast of flame got its tentacles good! Does that mean it hates fire?"

Pit shivered at the mention of fire - he'd burned his wings once to save his black-winged doppleganger, and he couldn't look at even a running stove burner the same way again. The cherubim forced down his phobia, though, for the sake of those trapped in the force field. "Alright. Get ready to drop it, Vi!" he yelled, preparing to swoop towards the tentacles.

"Whaddya mean?!" Violet cried in horror.

His bow dematerialized, and next moment, in its place was a lion-shaped bazooka. "What does it look like?! I'm gonna get this colossal chunk o' calamari to back off if it kills me!"

 

*****

 

Toothless' wings were about to give out. They were going to fall, and that would be that. Hiccup squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the inevitable.

Just then, a blinding burst of light slammed into several of the tentacles, the massive explosion scorching their flesh, causing them to fall limply away from the barrier. The Night Fury wasted no time, and as soon as it dropped, he barreled out of there, firing a blast of plasma that forced away the tentacle that tried to intercept them.

They were free. Sunlight blinded them for a moment, but when they adjusted, Toothless banked in mid-air just in time to see the tentacles come apart, writhing like great serpents as they prepared to lunge at them once again.

"LET'S GO! EVERYONE, MOVE OUT!"

The voice of a teenage boy startled everyone. They all turned to see a radiant and truly bizarre creature flying past them, and as it made a U-turn to leave, they could see two other figures on its back, a girl with a black snake torso in place of legs and long black snakes for hair, and a rabbit with antlers, both of which were wearing clothing quite unlike anything they'd ever seen.

This was no time to ask any questions, though. The tentacles suddenly shot forth, and everyone took flight as fast as they could, dodging and weaving like mad; the tentacles missed them by inches so many times that they could feel slime splattering against their skins (and in Toothless' and the cherubim's case, their wings as well). But before long they were out of reach.

"Whew, made it!" cried the angel. "Alright, let's get to the nearest land before-"

"LOOK OUT!!!" the snake-haired girl yelled.

Two massive pincers like lobster claws, mounted on flexible elastic stalks, had exploded out of the sea, and were coming straight for them.

They managed to dodge the first of the kraken's pincer-tentacles (It has pincer tentacles. Ooooof course it does, thought Hiccup), but the second clipped one of the wings of the angel - specifically, it slammed shut on a few of his pinions, and then drew back with enough force to snap him back like a towel. There was a horrible cracking sound and a scream of pain.

"NO!" Hiccup cried, watching the angel and his passengers screaming in terror as they were dragged to their doom.

But Toothless took the initiative. With a last-ditch burst of strength, he ascended to the sky, getting as much height as he could. Astrid realized what was happening, and she flattened herself against his back, with Hiccup directly under her chest, just as he prepared to dive...

The angel, gorgon, and jackalope heard a signature whistling scream, and had they lived in Berk, they'd recognize the only warning before the attack. The Night Fury, as Hiccup once put it, " never steals food, never shows itself... and never misses. "

The plasma blast struck the fleshy base of the pincer, which exploded in a shower of dark blue blood and stringy white muscle, the claw separating from its stalk and opening instinctively. Beyond them, the kraken screeched like the wrath of Hel herself, all of its tentacles suddenly withdrawing. A great bow wave began to form as it accelerated in a full-speed retreat, leaving Toothless to grab the plummeting angel, his larger right wing hanging uselessly from his white-furred shoulder, and spread his own right wing, beginning to flap it in tandem with the angel's left. The gorgon, in spite of her exhaustion, managed to wrap her body around the two fliers to keep them together.

By the time they managed to right themselves in the air, managing not to hit the water even as they skimmed the ocean surface. Then they ascended, making a beeline towards the closest landmass, while behind them, the kraken descended silently into the ocean depths and disappeared from mortal view.

 

*****

 

"Gah! It stings!"

"It will if you don't hold still, Pit!"

The group had set up camp on the coastline of a small peninsula, the ocean waves lapping against the sandy shore as the sky above it started turning orange. They had, unfortunately, lost the sack of cooked fish when the two fliers' wings finally gave out and they plunged into the sea, but when they emerged from the water and the jackalope found a crab clamped painfully onto his tail, they decided that crab meat was as good as any and went hunting for more of the crustaceans, along with some clams and a bit of seaweed to round out the meal. After the gang got a fire going, thanks to Hiccup's flame breath, they'd finally introduced themselves over dinner (Dash preferred Chinese take-out to this by a fair margin, but sadly, they had no other food available). Astrid, having finished her food, had taken to applying the medicine she'd bought to Pit's wrenched wing-shoulder, which he accepted despite his mild discomfort.

"I still don't know how it happened," said Violet, who lay coiled in front of the fire. "Everything's perfectly normal when I go to bed one night, and when I wake up I've got snakes for hair and my parents are gone."

Hiccup had tried to examine the gorgon's snake hair, but after narrowly missing a few defensive lunges from several of the snakes in question, he'd decided against it, self-preservation overcoming curiosity over how the heck those snakes could grow from a person's skull. Besides, he didn't want Toothless trying to take a chunk out of Violet's head, not after everything that had already happened today.

"I don't think we suffered any casualties back in Berk," he said after a moment's thought, "but everyone got turned into trolls, and I'm sure they're now stealing each others' socks as we speak. But only the left ones - what's with that, anyway?"

"With us being the exceptions," added Astrid, swishing her tufted tail.

"And then there was that kraken," added Pit. "It wasn't the only monster to pop up out of nowhere - we had to deal with some Stymphalian birds back in Violet and Dash's hometown."

From his position under Toothless' head, Hiccup tilted his scaly head curiously, with Toothless himself imitating him. "Stymphalian what now?"

"Flock of killer birds from Greek mythology," Violet replied, her hair-snakes coiling with hisses of distress. "I had to use my gaze to ward them off."

"But how come they've started showing up?" asked Dash, his whiskered nose twitching nervously. "I thought we were the monsters here..."

"I don't know," replied Pit. "But before I got turned into a cherubim, I saw a crack in the sky that radiated dark energy. I think it may have something to do with Lahamu."

"Lahamu?" asked Astrid.

Violet's eyes widened and her tail rattled to draw everyone's attention. "I remember now! I read about her in a book once for one of my classes. She's the daughter of Tiamat, the Mesopotamian goddess of the sea and the mother of all monsters."

There was a sepulchral pause as everything seemed to sink in. It seemed as though the ocean beyond them had grown noticeably quieter.

"You know what, how 'bout we don't use their names directly?" asked Pit. "The universe'll probably want us dead if we kept doing that. Maybe we could call her, oh, 'The Miniboss?' And her mom 'The Final Boss?'"

"I don't know what those terms are," said Hiccup, "but I don't mind."

Toothless grunted in agreement.

"Well, at any rate, The Final Boss sired all the monsters of the world before her death at the hands of Marduk," Violet continued. "And the first of them was The Miniboss, a giant serpent just like her mom who could also appear as a woman with a red sash. She was supposed to represent either the seabed or the stars, I forget which."

"So, we're essentially trying to fight, well... that?" asked Dash, pointing up towards the evening sky.

"I don't know for sure," replied Pit. "I've killed gods and goddesses before, but they always come back. Perhaps we can't kill them at all. But if we could just convince them to restore our original forms..."

"So, it's her?" asked Hiccup. "The Miniboss is why I don't look like a 21-year-old brunette Viking chief?"

"Who's both cute and handsome, rather than just cute?" added Astrid.

Hiccup curled up into a ball, the scales on his face flushing red like on the throats of certain kinds of lizards, while the others (yes, even Toothless) giggle-snorted uncontrollably.

"Well, lemme know once you get your regular bodies restored and we get our friends and families back," replied Pit. "I'll see if Lady Palutena can mail-order you some flowers!"

Now it was Astrid's turn to blush while everyone burst out laughing.

Then they all trailed off into silence, the thoughts of their friends and family beginning to dampen the lightness of their mood. Where were they, and would they ever get them back? And whomever still remained, could they return them to normal?

"So... where do we go from here?" Hiccup asked finally. "If this is beyond the scope of Berk, or whatever I've mapped, we... well, I don't know if I'll ever be prepared for what's coming."

Astrid sat next to him, and patted his head. "Don't worry, Hiccup. Whatever happens, we'll all see to it that we succeed. Together."

Violet looked at Dash, her sunglasses on so she wouldn't petrify him. The jackalope looked a little hesitant.

"If it helps," the older super-teen said in a teasing tone, "scales aren't a good living space for cooties."

Dash's eyes widened, and he burst out laughing when he realized what she was referencing. And then he rushed up and hugged her tightly.

Pit smiled at both of them, and then sighed. "I... I actually kinda miss Pittoo, come to think of it. I wonder how he and Viridi are doing. I wonder how Lady Palutena's doing..."

The others looked at him, and realized that he was feeling sadder and lonelier than any of them. He would swear he could hear every heart around the fire melting at that point. Even Toothless gave Pit a friendly, gummy grin.

"Don't you worry," said Hiccup. "Wherever we go next, whomever we find who can help, and however we take down the Miniboss and Final Boss... We'll help you get your friends and goddess back."

Pit wiped a tear from his eye and looked at him hopefully. "You will?"

The salamander smiled as broadly as his much larger companion. "We will. Whatever it takes."

Chapter Text

Mercifully, the golden double-doors opened up over solid ground this time; Violet and Dash had vehemently protested against Pit exiting them and finding nothing but air beneath his paws and hooves like the last time. That had been on short-notice, since Pit had sensed Hiccup and Astrid in danger and they had made the snap decision to open the gateway as close to the kraken as they'd dared. Besides, as Violet had noted, Pit's wing was still in bad shape - no bones had been broken, thankfully, but his pinions had been snapped, and the whole limb had nearly been wrenched from his shoulder with such force that it was still held at a strange angle. And given that Toothless could only carry so much, they'd have to proceed on foot - and paw, hoof, and snake-tail - until his wing was back in working condition.

The problem was that they now found themselves in the middle of nowhere. There was not a person in sight, no landmarks, no nothing. Just them, the forest, and the feeling that they were being watched from all sides.

"Are you sure this was a good idea?" asked Violet, coiling as tightly as she could with her rattlesnake tail tip shaking like a maraca every few seconds. "You said you were detecting another signal from somewhere around here. But there's not a damn person in sight!"

"Oooh, language, Vi," said Dash.

"She's right, though," replied Hiccup, clinging to Toothless' back. "For all we know, the signal could've been a fluke. Or they could've gone elsewhere without us realizing it."

"If that's the case," said Pit, "they've gotta be stupidly quick if we missed them. It was only like, two minutes between me detecting the signal and us going through the gateway! And if my range for sensing monsters can span across entire universes now thanks to Lady Palutena's gift..."

"There's a creature that can go faster than me?!" the blond jackalope moaned in dismay. "If you find them, can you tell them to back off? I've got a record to keep!"

Just then, they heard a sound that chilled everyone's blood. Dash immediately darted towards Violet, who coiled around him protectively, while Astrid hugged Hiccup like a girl shielding her pet kitten from harm.

That sound was a distant howl.

It was then that Violet's eyes found the rising moon. The fragmented, blinding white, and very much full moon.

The realization hit her like a ton of bricks. She was silent for a few moments before saying, "I don't think we'll need to find them."

"How come?" asked Astrid.

When Violet turned back to address the others, all of her faces were wan with sudden fear. (None of them had any idea how snake scales could somehow turn from black to a very dark gray, but then again, she was a mythical being now.)

A bead of cold sweat ran down her human forehead. "Because they are coming to us."

 

**********

 

Haven...

 

What's going on?  Ruby thought in mortal fear. How come nobody told me I had all these powers, on top of my silver eyes?

And why do I suddenly look like a bigger, beefier Zwei?

She didn't know precisely how it had happened. Team RWBY had only just reunited at Haven Academy, and then stopped a terrorist attack by the White Fang on said academy, and they were just about to head off to Atlas to deliver the Relic of Knowledge. It seemed as though things were going their way for once, until something seemed to change. Nobody knew precisely what, but when the sun went down, Ruby had decided to head off on her own, as though consumed by a sudden panic. Weiss, Blake, and Yang had refused to let her go alone, but what they didn't realize was that they were putting themselves at great risk by following her.

As soon as the moon had risen, bathing her in its silvery glow, Ruby had tried to run for it, but then she felt a sudden pain in her chest and keeled over. The others had caught up with her and were frantically asking if she was okay, if she needed help - and then they saw her clothes begin to dissolve.

It was like the fabric of her outfit was turning into liquid and seeping into her skin, which was beginning to sprout fur from head to toe. By the time Ruby saw the tips of her fingers and toes curve into huge sharp claws and felt her now bare feet begin to elongate, it was already too late.

"RUN!" she had screamed. "GET OUT OF HERE! GOOOO!!!"

That last word had been a howl. Every bone in her body had suddenly started to change in shape, the sensation feeling like her skeleton had begun glowing red-hot. Her bottom had flared up in sudden pain, and even while she had sank to the ground and clutched her scorching lower cheeks with a whine of agony, a bushy blood-red tail of astonishing length had burst out from the lower end of her spine. Her face had elongated and grown black and white fur, her ears moving higher up on her head and lengthening, her teeth sharpening into vicious fangs. Her dark red hair started becoming a mane on her head and neck, and her nose had turned dark and moist like a dog's. She had gone cross-eyed and shrieked when she'd seen her new snout, but her horror and embarrassment were about to become the least of her worries.

She had turned and gazed up at the broken moon, primal instinct overtaking her. Then she had risen upon her hind legs, her front limbs like the arms of a gorilla but with huge clawed paws for hands, and howled.

The primal sound made the rest of the girls go white with fear. And then Yang suddenly realized that her one remaining hand was starting to sprout scales...

Now all was chaos. Even with the now transformed Weiss, Blake, and Yang behind her, Ruby knew she had to escape before her heightened bloodlust could get someone hurt. She was quite sure Jaune, Ren, Nora, Oscar, and even Qrow were also flying into a panic back at Haven, having no doubt realized that the girls had gone missing. But Ruby couldn't be near them now. Not in this form. They'd kill her before she could even get close.

She knew full well that she was being followed. The Creatures of Grimm knew of her distress, and they were homing in on her and the rest of her team - she could feel numerous glowing yellow eyes locked upon her from all directions. But she was focused on only one thing, fleeing as far away from civilization as she could before her hunting instinct overtook her completely. The voices behind her were now incoherent in the rush of wind in her ears, but she kept going. What would happen if the rest of Team RWBY found her now?

Suddenly, it hit her. The warm, delicious scent of - no. It couldn't be. Who in their right mind would be out here?

And yet there it was, the delectable smell of... of people.

But they were unlike any people she had ever sensed. She could detect scales and fur and feathers - were they Faunus, like Blake? Whomever they were, they were in very grave danger. If she could just turn away from-

Too fast! Too fast!!

She hadn't realized that the irresistible odor had caused her to change course by some twisted instinct. It was pulling her towards these people, and try as she might she couldn't resist!

No. No no no NONONONO NO!!!

But yes. She was now barreling straight towards them, and she could do nothing to stop it.

I'm sorry, she thought miserably.

Like a horrible blur of black, white, and red, Ruby tore her way out of the dense forested vegetation and exploded into the clearing with a horrible snarl. Screams of terror echoed into the night sky, figures scattering in all directions - she could make out a gigantic lizard, a much smaller lizard, a young woman of about Yang's age, an oversized rabbit with growths on its head, something with two bodies and too many limbs...

With a great bounding pounce, she slammed down on something sinuous and scaly with a fleshy front end shaped like a female human torso. Something was knocked off the snake-girl's face, her eyes squeezed shut as she shrieked in pure fear, and then her hair seemed to come to life on its own. Dozens of snakes lashed out at her, one of which nicked her forepaw with its deadly fangs, and she yelped like a kicked puppy before staggering back, her hand now feeling like it was on fire. She wanted to leave, she wanted to save them! But no, her instincts were telling her to tear this vile creature apart, and feast on her flesh like the predator she was... She lunged, fangs aimed at the girl's throat-

Something lightning-fast, as fast as her, came at her from the side with a scream of what could only be described as an atomic rage. Ruby howled as a cluster of points at its front end speared her heaving flank all at once, the antlered creature now stuck fast with those fiendish prongs embedded into her skin and fur, battering her with kicking feet and clawed front paws. Twisting and whirling with pained barks and whines and snarls, she managed to shake the horned hare off of her, sending it sprawling with a swipe of her claws. She was about to lunge at the downed creature when something long and scaly wrapped its body around her chest and throat, causing her to thrash about violently and start clawing at its coils. Desperately, the snake girl tried to bring her to the ground, but then her arm came too close to her teeth and-

The awful sound of fangs scraping against bone mingled with a horrible, blood-curdling scream.

Things got very, very hectic over the next few minutes.

Ruby couldn't tell which way was up - too many things were hitting her all at once and driving her into a berserk state of primordial rage, her own mind screaming for her to stop the entire time. Bursts of white-hot plasma, the blade of a huge battle-ax, that rack of antlers from earlier, a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth like a shark, jets of fire - she was being assaulted from every conceivable direction, her own blood (or was it that of others?!) staining the ground red, and still her rampage continued. Dozens of gashes and puncture wounds and burns covered her from snout to tail, but each of them seemed to heal at a dramatically accelerated rate. She wasn't leaving without something dying, and that snake girl was now lying on the ground crying, her arm bleeding heavily from that vicious bite...

The girl's eyes were still closed as Ruby, shaking off her attackers with disturbing ease, stalked towards her, foaming saliva dripping from her mouth. Even when she pressed a huge paw down upon the snakes growing from her scalp, just behind their own fanged heads, she still didn't open them. Or perhaps... perhaps she couldn't.

It didn't matter to the horrible beast now looming over her. As the girl whimpered in absolute terror, Ruby's snout lowered until her nose was just an inch from her throat...

The roar came from none of them. Not even the giant winged lizard that she would swear had torn a piece off her right shoulder.

She looked up just in time for an enormous taloned fist to connect with her face.

With a yelp of pain, Ruby was sent hurtling across the clearing, the owner of said fist skidding to a halt amidst the group of wounded, distraught, and very angry creatures which were definitely not a pack of weird new Grimm. An enormous bipedal reptile, radiant gold in color with fish-like scales and brown dorsal plating like a sturgeon, a long tapering tail tipped with a spiked club like a medieval mace, and front arms built like those of a Beringel with yellow armored scutes like gauntlets and enormous curved claws, was rearing up in front of her like an Ursa; she would swear its right forearm and hand had far more armor plating, like a twisted parody of a knight's gauntlet. Its pale yellow belly was divided into sections like that of a crocodile. Membranous spiny sails like fish fins ran down its back, almost like stunted wings. Its legs were bird-like but thick and muscular, with brown-colored scales on digitigrade feet which had four toes with talons like those of a bird of prey. Its thick, muscular neck was held in an S-curve, supporting a massive lizard-like head with two pairs of backswept antlers, a pair of frill-like ears, multiple pairs of catfish-like barbels growing from the back of the lower jaw, a huge maw full of serrated fangs, and brilliant purple eyes set in a ferocious glare. And then there was that flowing mane of bright yellow, feathery down growing from her scalp and running down her armor-plated spine...

"Y-Yang?" Ruby said finally.

"Ruby, this isn't you. Please. Stop it." The dragon's voice was exactly the same as that of her sister, but her tone was both murderously angry and utterly terrified. To either side of her came Blake and Weiss - the former now resembling a black leopard with two white-tipped tails instead of the one, and the latter looking exactly like she normally did except the size of a hummingbird with buzzing wasp-like wings sprouting from her shoulders and a pair of white antennae on her forehead.

"Ruby..." Weiss said with a traumatized expression. "What have you done?"

Blake said nothing, but her golden eyes, wide with fear, spoke volumes of her distress.

And then the howls came. Ruby twitched on the spot, then sprang to her feet, fangs bared.

"You should've run..." she growled, her voice taking on an eerie tinny echo. It was a snarl betraying multiple emotions: horror, anger, grief, disgust, and most of all... remorse.

Before anyone could do anything, Ruby had rushed forward and slammed into Yang's chest, feeling her claws sinking into her sister's skin and internally shrieking in horror. Then Yang grabbed her with one enormous clawed hand, and as she was spun like a ragdoll and forced to the ground, a face with writhing black serpents for hair was now looming over her. The snake-girl she had bitten was virtually nose-to-snout with Ruby, and now she was screaming in absolute rage, her eyes blazing white...

 

**********

 

By the time Ruby regained consciousness, she found herself trapped in a stony cocoon, alive for some bizarre reason but unable to even breathe. It was thankful that the rock now seemed to be made of much softer stuff than solid granite, because with a few convulsions of her arms and legs, she felt it begin to crack apart.

After a few minutes of pushing and shoving, her rocky prison collapsed in its entirety, dumping her onto the sunlit ground (she was still fully clothed, thank the Maidens, though her hand felt like it had been stung by a swarm of Rapier Wasps, and her sniper scythe was missing - no doubt one of her other team members must've picked it up). Sitting up and brushing her hair from her face, she finally got a good look at the scene before her.

Everyone was milling about in extreme agitation. Many of the group were now sporting bandages with awful red stains, and nobody was smiling. Those who could still walk were gathering supplies and basically packing up all the camping gear throughout the area. And it seemed like not a soul around her wanted to talk to her - not that they had no reason to after last night...

Worst of all was the snake-girl, who was lying inert some distance away from the group. She was coiled up in a tight scaly ball that was emitting choked sobbing noises, trying to hide her human half as much as possible. It didn't take a genius to guess why.

Not knowing what else to do, Ruby went over and sat next to the snake-girl. She was silent for a long moment, but to her surprise, the other girl spoke first, her voice small and cracked from crying all night.

"I'm sorry."

Ruby guessed that this was referring to when she'd managed to turn her into a stone statue. Only now did she realize why that had looked so awfully familiar: she'd done the same once before, at Beacon Tower, when... when...

She started crying too, burying her face in her hands and not even trying to wipe her tears away.

It was to her great surprise when the snake-girl's hand gently touched her shoulder. She looked up, her cheeks wet and red, to see the sunglasses the girl was wearing, and instantly guessed why.

But her eyes were blue. She'd seen that just before she'd gotten petrified...

"N-no..." Ruby whimpered. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I could've... I nearly..."

The girl let her arm fall to her side. "It... it's not your fault."

"How is it not my fault?!" Ruby cried in horror. "I turned into a Beowolf and tried to murder you! It felt so wrong and I was so scared and I - I-"

She let her head hang, tears pouring from her eyes as the horror of the previous night's events finally washed over her.

The snake-girl looked at her, doubt and apprehension worming their way through her mind, but ultimately she seemed to have come to a realization. And then she did something even more unexpected: she hugged her.

"You're not the only one who now has to worry about accidentally killing people," said the girl. "My gaze now turns people to stone. What if I did that to someone I love, like my brother, or Tony, or..."

Ruby looked up at the other girl, her silver eyes huge and wet. "But I - I bit your arm-"

"I'll live." The snake-girl wiped tears from her own eyes, lifting her sunglasses for just an instant, before she continued. "The blood of the right side of a gorgon could bring the dead back to life, so negating the curse of a werewolf bite would make perfect sense. You were lucky to get my right arm, and not my left - that one's got deadly poison." She smiled ruefully. "I had the wound cleaned and bandaged, too, so I should be able to recover before long."

Ruby blinked in shock. "You're not... you're not angry? Or afraid?"

"Well, I turned you into a statue. I guess that makes us even."

The girls were silent for a second or two, and then both of them burst into laughter.

"I'm Violet Parr, by the way," the gorgon said after calming down. "And the antlered bunny bugging Toothless over there is my brother Dash."

"I'm Ruby Rose," replied Ruby. "I assume you met the rest of my team?"

"I told them about what you were while I was getting patched up. They were extremely angry that last night's fiasco had attracted what your sister called 'an entire fucking horde of slavering Beowolves', but they were a little more understanding when I explained that you weren't in control of your monster form. Though I still don't know what they'd think of having a rougarou as their leader."

"A boogaloo?" asked Ruby.

"No, a rou-ga-rou." Violet sighed. "It's what they call a werewolf in this place from my world called France."

"...your world?" Ruby asked, blinking again. "You mean Remnant isn't the only-"

"Oh." Violet looked somewhat abashed. "I forgot you didn't know..."

One ten-minute explanation of the multiverse and what had befallen it lately later, and Ruby was curled up in a fetal position in her spot, her eyes wide with horror. Violet had had to name-drop Lahamu and Tiamat, and extract the promise from Ruby to refer to them as the 'Miniboss' and 'Final Boss' respectively to avoid trouble, but what worried Ruby more was that she and Violet were not alone in their predicament by a long-shot. If everyone in the multiverse was now a ferocious beast bent on making the lives of heroes a living hell... Well, there went too many relationships to count.

"I need to apologize to my team," Ruby said finally. "They're probably still mad at me for trying to kill them..."

"I wouldn't say mad, exactly."

It was Yang, still in her dragon form. She had overheard the conversation and was now coming up to join them. Blake too padded up to join them on four black paws, with Weiss hovering above her.

"I'm so sorry," said Ruby. "I don't know what came over me. I think what happened to the multiverse... it must've cursed us! All of us! Everyone!"

"We don't blame you," said Blake. "We got changed, too, and we... For a moment, we worried that we too were now bloodthirsty monsters because of what happened."

"A 'nekomata' I can understand," Weiss said to the great cat below her, "but I just don't see how a fairy could be a dangerous creature. I bet you could squish me under your paw without too much trouble."

"Don't tempt me," Blake replied, her expression rather facetious (or at least as much as a very large black two-tailed cat could have, anyway).

"You guys have never heard of the Fair Folk before, I take it?" asked Violet.

"It doesn't matter now," said Yang, punching her palm. "We've gotta get to the bottom of this. I don't know how it happened or why, but if it's affected everyone, it can't be good on any level."

"What are you, anyway?" asked Ruby.

"Oh, me? I'm what Pit over yonder called a 'huanglong', the Yellow Dragon. Knowing that my name, Yang Xiao Long, means 'Sunny Little Dragon', it only makes sense. I'd much rather be what I was before the multiverse-wide curse, but at least I look pretty damn cool!"

Ruby smiled a little. "So, you're not mad?"

Yang flashed a fang-filled grin. "Nah. At least you didn't outright disarm Violet - ow," she added, the gorgon having tail-whipped her shin.

"To be honest," said Weiss, "we're actually... a little afraid."

"Gee, I wonder why," said Violet, pouting.

"That first night, when you lost control of yourself, scared all of us half to death," said Blake. "We were worried that it was really you who'd gone mad and tried to rip apart everybody. But perhaps you could try and come to terms with your monster half, and learn to control it. I mean, if I turned into a giant cat and didn't kill someone on sight..."

"Hey, you aren't the one who's three inches tall!" Weiss pouted, folding her little arms. "At least I still have Myrtenaster, though it kinda shrank along with me. I bet about the worst I can do with it now is comparable to a bee sting."

"Fairies are magical, though," said Violet. "Who knows if you can still control that 'Dust' stuff you talked about like when you were normal-sized. Perhaps next time we have to fight something, you could give it a shot?"

That was when a male voice roused everybody. "We've got another one!"

"Who's it this time, Pit?" asked the ox-tailed woman, the one called Astrid, who was packing up the last of the tents.

"Somewhere in Japan, I think, wherever that is," relied the four-faced angel. "I'm getting the coordinates for our next launchpoint as we speak."

"We're coming with you," said Yang. "We'll place a call to Jaune and company to mind the Relic of Knowledge and keep it safe until we return to Haven!"

"But we don't know how long it'll take for us to get turned back to normal," replied Hiccup, the salamander who had just extinguished the last of the campfire. "Much less what we're dealing with aside from those names we shouldn't mention!"

"Yeah, and we haven't even gotten our families back!" added Dash.

"As soon as we resolve this, we'll fix everything, we promise," said Pit. "For now, though, we've got to find out the next creature to talk to. Just say the word and I'll set up the gateway!"

Everyone murmured in assent. Even Team RWBY was up and ready to go, with one exception.

Ruby was still seated, looking far more troubled than she, the sweet and supportive girl who had shown so much insight over the past few months, had any right to. But now all eyes were on her, and she had so much pressure on her head now, for multiple reasons. And she wasn't going to let her monster form go unaddressed, not when it put everyone at risk.

Finally, she stood up. "Take us to this 'Japan' place," she said, her voice showing clear determination. Then she paused, before adding one more, far more awkward addendum.

"But first... can I have Crescent Rose back?"

Chapter Text

Musutafu, Japan...

 

Izuku Midoriya wasn't running. No. He was galloping.

He wasn't quite sure if One For All had included an alternate form that looked like a cross between a stag, a giraffe, a horse, and a dragon, but he had uncovered so much of it in recent weeks and months that he wouldn't have been surprised. The problem was that he couldn't change back into a person for some reason, which would seriously hamper his note-taking. How could he wield a pencil without opposable thumbs?

And for that matter, were cloven hooves better or worse than fists for landing a Detroit Smash on the subway-train-sized centipede close behind him?

Izuku had barely had any time to appreciate his appearance after this morning's mass blackout before the centipede had burst out of the ground and tried to eat him. He had, however, gotten a look at himself in a rather reflective window prior to that point - and screamed so loudly that it was a wonder that none of the windows nearby had broken.

His body was now like a cross between a horse and a deer, with a rather long neck and a single backswept scarlet antler jutting from the brow of his white-colored head, which had a short goat-like beard on his chin and a pair of barbels growing from each side of his snout; at least his large green eyes remained about the same, and little black scales on his cheeks suggested his freckles. Fish-like scales like a carp, colored in the same teal as his hero outfit, ran down his sides, legs, and a tapering tail like a lizard that ended in a tuft of flowing, greenish black hair - the same hue as the coat of said hair that formed a sort of mane around his shoulders, and also ran down his spine starting from the top of his head, where it formed that recognizably messy bushel shape he always had.  Black giraffe-like spots covered his neck, back, and the upper parts of his legs which, from the hocks down, were white in color. His fluffy underside was also white, and his hooves were red like his antler; his fetlocks also had tufts of hair that were colored like his mane and tail tuft.

All of which was quite difficult for passers-by to appreciate as he bounded pell-mell towards the edge of the city, the pitch-black centipede all but snapping at his heels as he desperately tried to lead it away from civilization.

"'Scuse me! Sorry! Can't talk, running for my life!!"

Creatures of all shapes and sizes were now screaming and bolting for safety as the centipede continued its pursuit, its stinger-tipped front limbs clicking like pincers and its mouth dripping with foam. While Izuku was able to leap with surprising grace over most obstacles along his path, it smashed through everything in front of it with the force of a running locomotive, and it was only a matter of time before it killed someone. No way was Deku going to let that happen!

"Yikes!" Leaping - no, stotting into the air, he could feel the creature's pincers snapping right where his rear hooves had been an instant before. It was almost upon him, and all it needed to catch him was a single strike. Twisting in mid-air and banking hard, he managed to make a sharp right-turn into a dark alley, the centipede's orange head skidding to a halt behind him while its body kept on going, flattening several parked cars and sending a hapless produce cart airborne ("MY CABBAGES!!" screamed someone).

That put him ahead a couple dozen meters. But in his bid to escape, he had made a miscalculation - the alley led to a dead-end.

Could he jump over the wall in this form? Maybe. He'd guessed quickly enough that he was a kirin - the Japanese edition of a Chinese beast called the qilin, a scaly ox- or deer-like creature that could walk on clouds and water, and took care to never harm a single living thing. But the sky was quite clear today, and he doubted anyone with a Quirk based on weather could come on such short notice.

Besides, the centipede was now rearing up behind him, higher and higher, stingers ready to strike like the fangs of a cobra...

There's only one way to get out of this, he thought, his eyes wide with terror and his pupils tiny. I have to leap over its head just as it strikes. But I'll have to time it just right, or I'll be bug food!!

As the kirin turned to face his enemy, the centipede reared its head back, hissing like a gas leak with its pincers spread wide. Izuku was frozen like a deer in the headlights, but his long furry ears and whisker-like barbels were twitching frantically, tracking the subtle sounds of the enormous creature preparing to lunge at him. His legs tensed to spring, he started slowly lowering his head and torso in anticipation, and now the centipede was shooting its head and pincers straight at him, preparing to grab his neck or one of his legs...

At the very last moment, he jumped. It was a lot higher than he had anticipated, even without channeling One For All, and he ended up clearing the centipede's head, arcing through the air in preparation to land on its onyx-colored back. But now it was shooting ahead of him and then rearing up, twisting around to try and snag him from behind instead-

"WAAAAAAAAHHHH!"

A set of large claws had grabbed him by the withers, and now he was being carried aloft, up and away, by something that shouldn't even be able to carry off a creature as big as him - and mind, he was quite small as kirins go. But the large bird that had seized him was now hoisting him skyward like an eagle carrying off a mouse. Screaming and flailing his hooves, he tried to aim for a building tall enough that he wouldn't break something upon landing...

"Deku, stop struggling! It's me!"

He looked up, and gasped in shock. The bird in question was like a very large hawk or eagle, but its color was unlike any bird of prey he had ever seen, with a dark blue, almost black torso and legs with a white breast, and wings which were white with pink coverts and flight feathers colored the same dark blue as its torso. Its long tail feathers were white as well, except for a cluster at the center which were more like those of a peacock, going from white to pink to dark blue. However, its feet looked less like bird claws and more like the padded front paws of a lion (albeit with opposable dewclaws), the fur being the same pink as its converts. And most significant of all, growing from a ruff of pink feathers was the neck and head of a human girl, with large round eyes with warm brown irises, pink spots on her cheeks, furry pink triangular ears, and very familiar bobbed hair, brown in color with inwards-curving ends, with short bangs and longer tufts on either side of her face...

"You alright, Deku?" Ochako Uraraka looked understandably concerned. If she had any thoughts about having been turned into a bird with a human head and lion paws for feet, she didn't show them.

"No," Deku replied. "But thanks for saving my l-" Then his ears twitched. "BEHIND YOU!!"

Ochako turned her head around a full 180 degrees, and shrieked in terror. The centipede had climbed an apartment building and was now lunging at them, pincers ready!

"HARD LEFT! HARD LEFT!!" cried Izuku. But Ochako instead shot higher into the air, the centipede whiffing past them and barely missing the tip of his dangling tail.

"I said hard left!" Izuku cried, watching the centipede smashing into the street below.

"You're heavy!" she replied frantically. "I don't know if it's fat or muscle, but-"

"Really?" Izuku struggled in vain to escape her grip. "We're gonna die, and the first thing you do you is insult my weight?!"

"Sorry, Deku." Ochako looked sheepish. "But my center of gravity's off balance while carrying you, and I can't turn as well as if I was unladen!"

Izuku looked understandably indignant, but then he started to panic as the centipede coiled up in preparation for another spring-loaded pounce. "We have to lure it out of the city! It's amazing nobody's been killed yet-"

"Everyone knows better than to get too close, Deku!"

"I know, but still!"

They hovered in the air for a few long moments, the centipede rearing up like a cobra. Then, like living whipcord, it lunged, its antennae lashing and its mouth foaming.

"NOW!" cried Izuku. Ochako suddenly dived, the creature's head passing over her, and threw him sideways, still keeping her grip on him, using him as a counterweight to turn in mid-air and shoot off towards the edge of the city. The Dagobah Municipal Beach was dead ahead of them, if only they could get the creature out to sea where its legs wouldn't work as well...

But where was it?

Ochako slowed down in mid-air, and soon they were hovering once again. Izuku wasn't sure if he was seeing things or not, but he would swear his friend's face was turning slightly green.

"I can't hold on much longer!" cried Ochako. "We'll have to drop-"

"NO!" Izuku's voice sounded rightly terrified. "Not with that thing under us! We're so close to-"

Then the ground under them exploded. The titanic centipede shot skyward with its dual stingers spread, heading straight towards the screaming pair with the intent to crush them in its venomous pincers and-

Suddenly, the creature recoiled, arcing its body back towards the ground with its many orange legs flailing. Something had struck it with enough force to annoy it, but what?

Ochako's strength gave out at that point. The two of them tumbled in a screaming ball of flailing limbs and flapping wings, before smashing into the branches of a tree. Several cracking impacts later, and they both hit the ground with a THUD, Izuku on the bottom and flat on his back. It was amazing that he hadn't broken anything significant. Ochako, for her part, landed on his furry stomach a second later, and instantly slid off and waddled away to throw up in a nearby bush.

The centipede, meanwhile, was now rearing up once more, striking down again and again at something they couldn't see. Izuku rolled to his feet and got up, trying to make out the source. Then he saw the blur of blue and silver, which smashed into its head and once again sent it reeling. But a moment later, it swung its head like a club, and managed to land a blow on the creature, which was sent sprawling, rolling across the street towards him.

It was Tenya Iida, his close friend, but dramatically different from what he was before. His upper body was unchanged, with the same short dark blue hair, the same wide and muscular frame, and the same armor of his hero outfit, though his helmet had been knocked off (even his glasses were the same). But his lower body was the entire torso and all four legs of a horse, except with metallic silver armor-plating like barding crossed with rhinoceros hide in place of a coat, as well as his signature turbines on all four of his legs. The tail of the horse half was the same dark blue as his hair, and his hooves were the same gold as the accents on the legs of his regular hero outfit. Most significantly, there was also a large black horn sticking out of his forehead.

"What are you doing?!" cried Tenya, managing to get to his feet. "You gotta go! I've got this covered!"

"But that thing - it's huge!" Izuku gave his friend a worried look. "Did you see how it crushed cars like soda cans?!"

"I did," the centaur replied. "And I have a plan."

"What plan!?" Ochako had arrived, and she too was looking concerned.

The centipede hissed again, rearing up before them. It was then that the group realized that Tenya was holding a broken steel shaft, which seemed to have come from a stop sign wrenched from the ground.

"That thing's armor can't be penetrated!" cried Ochako, backing away in fear. "And it's so massive that we can't get that sign anywhere important-"

"We won't have to." Iida clutched the metal rod a little tighter. "The oomukade has one weakness - human saliva. If I could just get this thing covered in it, maybe I could get it through!"

"Why didn't you?!" said Deku. Then he realized that his mouth was dry with mortal terror, and understood. "We'll have to think of something worth fighting for. Our friends, our homes, our favorite foods, anything!"

"But... But our homes..." Ochako's eyes were wide, and almost tearful. "Our homes won't be the same! I... I don't know what my family would say now that they're different!"

"Our world may not ever be the same," said Iida, readying his spear. "But that doesn't mean we can't fight for what we have!"

The centipede reared ever higher, preparing to bring its huge pincers and drooling mouth down upon the three of them.

"I want to see my family again." Ochako was also looking wistful, even while trembling with fear. "They'll want nothing more than to see me come back to them. I don't know if the earnings from being a pro Hero would even matter now that our world is different. All I want is to find them, and have sushi and ramen with them like we always used to..."

"My mom... I hope she's okay," said Deku. "I miss her... her love and care, and the katsudon she bought me every day when I was little... Piping hot and always fresh..."

"Aren't kirins supposed to be vegetarian?" asked Iida.

"I'm part dragon," Deku admitted sheepishly. "Aren't Asian dragons said to prey on swallows or something?"

"Eh, technicalities." Iida closed his eyes, too. "At least I still have a partly human body. I could still enjoy the beef stew my family used to serve, if only I got to see them one more time. Just imagine having a warm, delicious meal together, with nothing to worry about but all the sweet and tart and savory flavors available-"

The oomukade hissed and lunged. Just in the nick of time, all three of them leapt aside, Iida wiping the drool from his mouth with his palm. Realizing this, he instantly smeared the saliva onto his makeshift spear, and prepared to hurl it at the beast's head. But he knew deep down that it was quicker than even him - much, much quicker. How it could achieve such reflexes even at that size, he didn't want to know.

"How do we get past it?!" Deku called from the other side of the battlefield. "It's moving too fast to keep track!"

Ochako managed to force down the bile in her throat. "I have an idea, but it'll be extremely risky. I'll have to use myself as bait!"

"Are you insane?!" cried Iida, waving his arms frantically from his side to get her to shut up for just one second. "You saw how even I wasn't able to outpace it! You could get yourself killed!"

"Trust me," replied Ochako, her expression fierce. "I know what I'm doing! Cover me!"

Izuku was quite sure that if anyone said they knew what they were doing, there was a good chance that they didn't. Nonetheless, he was too late to stop the lion-pawed bird-girl from taking wing. The centipede whirled and snapped at the air, trying to draw a bead on her, but with her Quirk affecting her, she was all but weightless. Iida and Izuku regrouped ahead of the fight, wondering what the girl was up to.

"She's insane," Deku decided.

"I think all of us are, but what else is new?" replied Iida.

The centipede struck like a viper, coming so close to Ochako that both boys screamed at her to escape. But she held her ground, and raised her paws, before rolling in the air so that its head flew right over her! Whiffling in the sky, she kicked upward and slammed both feet into the underside of the creature's head, her Quirk flowing down its entire length within a matter of seconds.

It remained still, turning its head slowly to face her again, venom dripping from its oversized pincers.

And then it started to float upwards.

Writhing and screeching, its legs wiggled madly in a vain bid to grip the ground, but as it rose ever higher, Ochako kept pace with it, straining against the effort of her Zero Gravity Quirk. Then the oomukade made one last desperate attempt to disable her, coiling around her with its great segmented body and preparing to thrust its head in her direction-

"NOW!" they heard her cry.

Everyone could almost hear the epic rock music playing in their heads at this moment.

Izuku charged forward, and at the same time, Iida took aim with her spear and threw it with all his might. As soon as the kirin saw the shaft flying overhead, he tensed his legs, feeling sparks of energy shooting through every muscle in his body. With the grace of a creature far smaller than himself, he hurtled skyward, before somersaulting in the air just as he came up behind the sharpened metal pole, still slick with Iida's spittle...

"DETROOOIIIIT... SMAAAAAAAAAAASSSSHHH!!!"

His rear hooves struck out and slammed into the butt of the signpost shaft, sending it hurtling through the air like a bullet from a gun. Iida's aim had been true, and with the addition of the kinetic force from Izuku's kick, the spear was now an instrument of death with only one target in its metaphorical sights. The oomukade had only an instant to sense it coming as it closed in on its grotesque orange head...

The aftermath was equally spectacular and horrifying. The oomukade's head exploded in a shower of goop and chitin, all of its legs spasming in undulating waves as it twisted in mid-air. The metal shaft had disintegrated upon impact, unable to withstand the force of impact, but its goal had been achieved. The creature writhed like a worm on a hook for several seconds, and then Ochako finally deactivated her Quirk -and then screamed as all around her, it hurtled straight down, several hundred feet, towards the street below.

Incidentally, so did Izuku.

Screaming in mid-air, both back legs limp and broken, he had only a few seconds to realize his misjudgement before he would break his neck on impact-

Ochako's claws found his tail, and he suddenly slowed to a halt, a mere inch from the ground. She flapped her good wing desperately, trying to keep him aloft, and then finally they both ended up tumbling to the ground once again, a heap of scales, fur, and feathers.

"Oh gosh, Midoriya! Uraraka! Are you alright?!" Iida cantered over to them, biting his bottom lip and gripping the back of his head. "We gotta get you help! Where's Recovery Girl? Where's the nearest hospital?!"

"I'm fine," Ochako replied, before retching again. "I just... we... We won, didn't we?"

Iida looked around. Creatures of all shapes and sizes had emerged, observing the smashed carcass of the oomukade which had slammed into the ground with a tremendous crash nearby. And now they were looking at them - and applauding. The three of them had saved Musutafu!

Ochako slid off Izuku's body, still shaking. She lifted one of her wings, which hung limp with its feathers bent at odd angles. Her scream had been from when part of its body had hit her with tremendous force, and she'd had to use her wing to shield her face from its spear-like legs.

"We need to get help ASAP," said Iida. "Are you still in any state to bring Midoriya with you?"

She nodded. "Just a little juice left. But I can ride on your back if it helps us get to the nearest infirmary."

At that point, Izuku lifted his head, groaning in pain. "That'd be good. I can't feel my hooves..."

"What were you two thinking?!" Iida scolded in his worry, his arms flapping about frantically once more. "That thing could've killed all three of us - it was lucky you thought as quickly as you did, and that we knew how to beat it in the first place!"

Deku laughed weakly. "Sorry, Iida. So, uh... did we live?"

 

**********

 

Unfortunately, there was nothing any human doctors could do for Izuku's condition, since treating four-legged animals was not in their resume. Their best bet was to find the nearest veterinarian, which was not of any comfort to the poor kirin. He'd gotten turned into an animal, he was going to get the same medical treatment as an animal - what was next, getting a leash put on him and being ordered to stay?

Iida wondered if he should use his Quirk to get the group there, but then he realized that this could lead to Ochako falling off his back, so he thought better of it. Like Izuku, who was hovering just behind them, he too was brimming with questions: Why do I have hooves? What has befallen all of us? Is this the next stage of Quirk evolution, or something more harmful? Is there a way to undo it?

And did all this have anything to do with that weird crack in the sky I saw earlier today?

"There you are, you guys!" said a teenage male voice behind them, accompanied by the sounds of three animals. "Oh goddesses, I think our timing was way off!"

The three of them turned around. A bunch of creatures was making their way towards them: A centaur like Iida except with white fur, wings, lion paws, and four heads; two large dragons, one bipedal and gold and one sleek, black, and four-legged; a tiny green lizard with wings; a two-tailed black leopard; a fairy in a white dress; a bipedal hare with antlers; and three girls, one with dark red hair, one with black snakes for hair and a snaky lower body, and one blonde with a cow's tail.

"Is everything alright?" asked the gold dragon. "We heard a lot of fighting, and we could've helped-"

"It's okay," replied Ochako. "We had it handled!"

"Though to be fair, we didn't get out of it unscathed," added Iida.

Izuku raised his head, his eyes wide. "Who are you guys, anyway? And why are you looking for us?"

The black cat spoke up at that point. "Well, to make a long story short, a good number of us sensed your power, and thought we'd come and ask for your help. We didn't know you were being attacked by something, though..."

"We'd like to, but we're not exactly in an ideal fighting condition, if that's what you were asking," replied Iida, gesturing towards Deku's mangled back legs.

"I think we can help with that," replied the cow-tailed girl. "Hiccup and I have experience keeping our dragons and livestock in top condition - we should be able to at least try to get you two fixed up."

"And I've got some healing items in stock, too," added the four-headed beast. "So... Shall we get you guys somewhere relatively free of hostile monsters?"

"I was hoping to find the nearest vet," replied Iida, folding his arms and pouting. "But if you guys can make good on your offer to fix these two, we'll see what we can do."

"That's awesome!" replied the antlered hare. "Where are we going? When can we start?"

"Hold your horses, Dash," said the snake-girl. "The key is to get them in fighting condition. So I second the vet, to be honest. We'll wait for you guys, promise!"

"Vet sounds good," said Ochako, a bright smile on her face. "And then we can worry about the dubious quality of whatever healing items you guys may have after!"

That earned her a light slap on the cheek from Iida's horse-tail. "Uraraka-"

"Oh. Sorry."

 

**********

 

It was a few hours before Izuku emerged from the medical building, Ochako on his back. They had found a ward for treating people with Quirks and genetic makeup that gave them non-human characteristics, and despite it being relatively crowded, they had received word about their fight with the oomukade and given them what was basically the equivalent of a backstage pass. Besides, given what Izuku had told them about the threat he had been informed of, he needed to be in good shape to help - as long as he didn't overexert himself with One For All and break every bone in his body. Again.

As soon as they found Iida and the rest of the group, they were instantly swarmed by the redheaded girl, the jackalope, and the angel all at once.

"That was amazing! How did you do it?" "Was there some kind of secret to dealing with that big bug? We could use people like that!" "What was your technique for that amazing team strat?" "Do you two know any others who can help us out?" "How familiar are you with the Miniboss and Final Boss?" "Did you get yourselves killed?"

"Guys! GUYS!" Izuku reared back in alarm. "We just got out of the ward, and we need to rest a little!"

"Midoriya's right," said Iida, trotting over to chase them off. "We spent our afternoon dealing with a giant centipede, and if we keep this up we may be in an even worse state!"

"Yeah, a break would be nice," said the gold dragon. "My legs are killing me!"

"Does anyone have any food?" asked the cow-tailed girl. "We're starved, and we haven't eaten since the Beowolf attack-"

"Beowolf attack?!" asked Izuku, looking alarmed.

"We'll explain when we get something to eat," said the snake-girl. "I think I've found a place that'll do quite nicely. Follow me!"

They had found a convenient fast-food restaurant nearby, the name of which only Izuku and his friends could read (since nobody else understood katakana), though that wasn't really important. Everybody got combo meals thanks to the angel who, somehow, had managed to pay everything off in heart-shaped coins that seemed to translate into yen through methods unknown to man. It was over burgers and fries that everybody introduced themselves to Izuku, Ochako, and Tenya: Pit the cherubim, Violet the gorgon, Dash the jackalope, Hiccup the salamander, etcetera.

"I'm guessing none of you guys are from Musutafu, or even this world for that matter," said Izuku. "I've heard of the possibility of alternate realities, but this was not how I'd have wanted to learn that this was an actual thing."

"Still, it's nice to meet all of you, finally!" Ochako had a bright smile on her face as per the norm. "So, what's this about the whole 'Miniboss' thing? You said she was behind us being turned into monsters, right?"

"I wouldn't call all of us monsters, exactly," said Violet. "Some of us may look only partly human, and some of us may be entirely human some of the time. But we're all people deep down, trying to get our lives back to normal."

"And taking the Miniboss down would be the only way to do that, assuming she's behind it," added Pit, having snarfed down his fifth hamburger.

"We don't know who this Miniboss is, though," replied Tenya. "Without any names or information, we might be left unable to figure out if she can even be found, let alone battled."

"That doesn't mean we can't try, though," replied Ruby. "But the reason we call her the Miniboss is because we can't really name her too much, or she'll overhear us and find out where we are. At least that's what Pit said when he explained it to us."

"Besides, most if not all of us are horribly outclassed." Weiss was struggling to lift a rather large potato fry. "And we've barely gotten used to our new forms, so I don't know if we can fight the Miniboss as we are now. We'll need a lot of help anyway if she is, as Violet put it, an honest-to-Remnant goddess."

Izuku would swear the fur on his face was turning even whiter than usual. "Goddesses exist?!"

"Uh, guys, maybe we should be a little more gentle in trying to break all this to the others?" asked Yang. "They just fought a centipede the size of a train. Would it really be a smart idea to talk about Lahamu in front of them?"

Izuku felt his legs stiffen in terror. "Where have I heard that name before? And why does it sound so... so foreboding?!"

Blake gave Yang an amused look. "So, are we expected to do as you say, not as you do?"

"Well, I think we're all in need of answers," said Astrid, watching Hiccup introducing himself to a burger patty like a shark with a dead tuna. "Perhaps we should find a world where at least someone knows a thing or two that could help?"

"But Lady Palutena is missing," replied Pit, hanging his four heads. "We don't know if anyone else has gotten captured, let alone if those remaining can lend us a hand! Or a paw, talon, claw, or flipper, as the case may be."

Hiccup swallowed the meat in his mouth and stuck his two pieces of currency in. "I don't think anyone knows everything about this, actually. At least, not the entirety of what's going on. So the best we can do is scout around for potential clues and then work it out when we have-"

He suddenly felt his stomach gurgle. "Uh, 'scuse me, I didn't wanna do this in public but I suddenly feel-"

Everyone cleared out from his table, just in time for him to throw his head forward and let out a tremendous BUUUURRRRRRRP! This was accompanied by a blast of green fire, which was directed upwards and out of harm's way. A moment later, the fire dissipated, revealing an enormous leather-bound book with a scroll tied to it, which fell to the table with a loud thud. More than a few people noted that while the paper of the scroll looked like parchment, it seemed to have been made from plant fibers.

The whole group gathered around the book. It was Ruby who untied the scroll, allowing them to get a look at the title: A Book Of Creatures: A Complete Guide to Entities of Myth, Legend, and Folklore. Strangely, there wasn't any author's name on the cover.

Ruby unrolled the scroll, and read aloud for everyone who either couldn't read the cursive or would have risked destroying the paper.

To whomever it may concern, wherever you are,

It has come to my attention as of a few days ago that all of existence seems to be in very grave danger. Not just the existence of one world, but of all of them. Thanks to communications from multiple sources, a number of worlds in a localized portion of the multiverse have suffered an instance of thamaturgical polarity reversal caused by the emergence of an extra-dimensional entity, which seems to have exhibited some unpleasant side-effects on the local populations, many of which are struggling to find answers. Provided is a copy of a guidebook I found in the wake of the incident which should serve as a handy reference guide to whatever forms those affected may have now; answers to any questions you may still have after going through it are available upon request, though I can't guarantee being able to answer all of them accurately since after all, I'm still just one pony. I know some of you may be looking for the responsible party and hoping to convince them to back off, but something tells me that all of us are woefully unprepared for such an endeavor. It is possible, in fact, that any attempt to reach out to spaces outside of the known continuities of the multiverse may do more harm than good, potentially fracturing reality for any of the universes concerned and destroying them entirely.

To this end, my advice is not to panic, and if any of you out there in the multiverse can find a way to repair the damage dealt to their continuities, I urge you to do so post-haste. However, it is very much likely that most if not all of us are still experiencing the repercussions of this event, so anyone capable of traversing universes should be advised to find a safe-zone world that seems to have not been affected, and seek council there until proper reparations can be made. My home world in Equestria is currently opening up a buffer region which will hopefully curb the effects of the polarity reversal for the time being, though knowing the activity of the entity behind the incident, there is no guarantee of our safety. It may be possible that we'll need your help too so that our world won't be added to the list of casualties, so if anyone can provide assistance, the multiversal coordinates of Equestria are provided for your convenience. If you have any questions, feel free to ask - I won't bite!

Don't worry about legal issues with your dimension traversal, by the by. I've already made arrangements with the other princesses to provide you with temporary sanctuary, and we are currently keeping track of as many affected worlds and lives as we can. Those of you with missing families can report their losses to us upon arrival - we'll do everything we can to track them down and facilitate their recovery.

The multiverse needs you, and you need the multiverse. Seek us out as soon as you can, and let's teach Lahamu not to mess with us!

Yours sincerely,

H.R.M. Princess Twilight Sparkle

"Whomever this Twilight Sparkle is, she is good," said Yang.

"Hold on, there's a post-script..." said Ruby, before reading it.

P.S. You bet your plot I am.

All four members of Team RWBY stared at said post-script in stunned silence.

"What'd she mean, 'plot'?" asked Dash.

Tenya had opened the book by this point, and was now skimming through the pages to see if they were anything useful. "Oh, I think I may have found something."

"Huh?" Ochako looked curious. "Does it tell us what kind of creatures we are?"

"And it does a very good job at it, too. You are apparently a simurgh, a benevolent female Iranian creature which appeared as a peacock with the claws of a lion and the head of either a dog or a human."

"Whatever transformed you must've tried to combine your face and that of a dog in a way that looked appealing, given up after a dozen tries, and slapped puppy ears on you akin to how I used to look," Blake commented. "I was a Faunus prior to the transformation, and my normal form has four ears, two like a human and two like a cat."

Ochako wiggled her own canine ears. "I have just the two, though. Gee, ear-cleaning must be tougher for you than if you had just two ears!"

"To say nothing of how loud noises and I don't mix," the nekomata replied with a deadpan expression.

Tenya was continuing to speed-read, and this time he stopped at another page showing an armor-plated, rhinoceros-like creature. "As for me, I am indeed a centaur, but also apparently part karkadann, a one-horned creature said to come from India and the Middle East. Fascinating..."

"Is that the famous 1515 print of an Indian rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer?" asked Violet, glancing at the book as well (and ignoring the teasing "Neeeeerrrrrd!" from her little brother in the process). "One of my teachers in art class showed it to us at one point. If the book used that in connection to the karkadann... well, no wonder you've got knight armor built into your skin!"

"Rhinos have armor plating?" asked Hiccup. "I had no idea. I've never seen one alive!"

Tenya struggled to find a proper response to that. "Uh..."

"Well, I guess we have to give our thanks to Princess Twilight," said Astrid. "It seems like we have additional reference material, our heading for our next destination, and hopefully a place for us to stay until all of this blows over."

"But we have to find our missing parents," replied Violet. "And who knows who else we've lost during the incident? We'll have to volunteer to get them back. I know I am."

Izuku raised his antlered head, one of his barbels wiping a ketchup stain from his furry chin. "To be honest, so are we."

"There's no way we'll sit this one out, either," said Blake. "Not while the multiverse is under threat. We need to keep it from falling apart so that we can get back to the goings-on in our respective worlds, before whatever we were worrying about before gets out of hand."

"In part because not all of us would be fit to address that," Hiccup added sourly. Toothless grunted in a manner akin to chuckling.

"So, whaddya say?" asked Ochako, her expression determined with her canine ears raised high. "Are we all in this together, or aren't we?"

"Of course we are!" replied Pit. "We've all been affected by this in one way or another, so we all have a steak in it!"

"I don't think that's how the expression goes..." said Violet, but she decided not to argue.

"Whatever the case, we won't stand for this Miniboss ruining everything!" cried Dash. "Count me in on whatever heroics you're up to!" He struck a heroic pose. "It defines who I am."

Izuku glanced at him with a confused expression. "Uh..."

"Just something I saw on TV once. Not a motto, nope!"

Violet started giggling. Apparently her laughter was contagious, because everyone started laughing a few moments later. Even Iida, ever the serious-looking person, managed to crack a smile.

As the group fell into jovial conversation, Izuku's gaze turned up towards the sky, his mind racing. I hope we're not getting in way over our heads, he thought. This Lahamu seems like someone we never heard of, and yet if her presence has turned everyone into mythical monsters, she must be powerful. Wasn't she the daughter of a much more significant goddess? I don't know the name, but something tells me we're up against a threat far beyond the scope of what we've dealt with. That Twilight Sparkle must've been thinking leagues ahead of us to rally the multiverse to action - I don't know if it'll be effective against these deities, but at least it's worth a try. And at the very least, I have a feeling a certain acquaintance of mine would be dying to come, if only so he can smash this unknown enemy's face in-

"Were you saying something?" asked Violet.

"Wha-?!" Izuku reared his head back a little. "Oh, right. Mumbling again. Sorry!"

He decided to keep his thoughts to himself as his train of thought continued. And speaking of which, I wonder how Kacchan is doing. I can only hope he hasn't gotten into trouble with anyone since all of us got polymorphed…

 

**********

 

Elsewhere in Musutafu, another cherubim was having a much less pleasant day. It was bad enough that he had been turned into a bizarre chimeric creature a few days back, but somehow, he had been given the power to traverse the space between universes, and this was one of the first places he had been drawn to. His newfound sense of magic worked in truly strange ways.

The aura of whatever had attracted Dark Pit to this particular world was extremely strong, enough to resonate across the multiverse. What had confused him was that there had been two different signals in the same city, both of which had equal amounts of sheer magical power. Judging from the signals he was getting, his pawn of a twin had found one of them already - which left him stuck with the other, which was now bellowing with unbridled rage, trailing fire from its bone-studded fists, and barreling towards him at 35 miles an hour for the umpteenth time this afternoon.

He had been struggling with the minotaur for a good twenty minutes, trying to get him to back off, but the angry beast was beyond reason. He had certainly not expected it to be able to produce fire, but then again, he had recalled Viridi relating to him the origin story of the original Minotaur (seriously, many of the stories of Classical Mythology were far more cringe-worthy than modern tellings would suggest), and specifically that in some tellings of the labors of Hercules, who had captured the god-sent bull that had gotten involved in that unspeakable incident, said bull was capable of spewing flames for reasons he couldn't possibly fathom. He could think of only two other fire-producing legendary bovines: the bronze-hoofed khalkotauroi, which spat fire from its mouth, and the bonnacon, which unleashed it from the other end... surely an even more unpleasant experience for all parties involved. Dark Pit was thankful that he wasn't up against a half-bonnacon, at least - that possibility was not something he wanted to contemplate.

Especially not with this particular minotaur hooking his two-part torso with horns as long as his arm, before flinging him skyward and then explosively punching him clear across the street. Again.

The black-winged, centaur-like hybrid of boy, goat, vulture, and black panther smashed into a brick wall, forming a massive crater and getting a splitting four-way headache. How he hadn't been turned into a "Pit-stain" on the road was beyond him, but it didn't matter now. This was the fifth time he'd been gored and plowed through the side of a building, and he was getting fed up with the creature's constant rampage. Where was Viridi when he needed her? In fact, where was she at all?

"For the last time," Dark Pit wheezed as he staggered to his feet, "you need to calm down."

"Said the fucker who tried to drag me into an affair I want no fucking part in!" The minotaur turned to face him, snorting smoke and seemingly not caring about either his sinuses hurting or the feeling that he was being watched by two other creatures nearby. "I don't believe you! I don't trust you! So if you know what's good for you, then fuck off, before I make you!"

Dark Pit appraised his opponent, whom he had tried to break the news of the fractured multiverse to only to be regarded as a villain (which was false, since he was a servant of nobody and was only working with Viridi in exchange for room and board) before being viciously attacked. The minotaur looked like a massive mix of a gorilla and a bison, sporting shaggy black fur, enormous muscular arms, and a great hump of muscle rising from between his shoulders that sported a shock of ash-blond, spiky hair like a sort of mane. His forearms were armored with dark green scales, like a pair of immense grenade-like pinecones, and his massive hands bore metal-covered, hoof-like knuckle studs like built-in brass knuckles - or bronze knuckles, as the case may be. A cross-shaped patch of naked fiery orange skin was visible on his chest, and his muscular upper arms were similarly bare. His shorter back legs were shaped like those of a bull, but thicker, sturdier, and with massive cloven bronze hooves, contrasting a rather short, thin tail ending with a tuft of that blond spiky hair. On the other end was that great head, like that of a huge black bull with bright red eyes, a bare-skinned orange snout, and the jaws and fangs of a grizzly bear. His ears were tufted with orange fur, forming orange-rimmed flare shapes protruding from each side of his face, just below those lethally sharp, brazen horns which curved upwards from his rock-hard skull. And in between the horns was a great spiky bushel of blond hair, like the mane on his shoulder hump, that a certain kirin would have found disturbingly familiar...

"Would I lie to you?" asked Dark Pit. "Look around you. This hasn't just happened to you or me, it's happened to everyone. If I'd wanted to rope you into whatever villainous schemes you accuse me of planning, would I have tried to be civil?"

The minotaur lowered his head and pawed at the ground with a hoofed fist. "I don't care. Whatever caused this shit isn't of your concern! Why would you want to find that nameless cunt you speak of if it wasn't to join her?!"

This time, Dark Pit felt his legs give way. Even if he'd wanted to fight back, he was in no state to do it. He sank to his four furry knees, his bow clattering to the debris-strewn ground.

"I never wanted to admit this to anyone, but I am tied to that pawn who wanted to take the Miniboss to task." The cherubim's voice was... tired. Jaded, exhausted, and defeated, but most of all, tired. "If she destroys him, I will cease to be, too. I wanted no part in this, but she forced my hand, and now I have to find everyone I can to help, whether I like it or not. Besides, if I'd wanted to take her side, I'd have gone after her straight away, rather than finding you and the other spark of power here in this city first. Does that answer your question?"

The minotaur stood his ground, still huffing thick black smoke. But judging from his expression, he looked less certain now than he had a few seconds ago.

That was all the two figures watching the fight needed. Two other figures touched down at that point. An immense European dragon, with spiky red scales covering every inch of its body from the tip of its fanged snout to the cluster of spikes on the end of its tail, landed on top of the minotaur, clutching his back with a clawed front foot like the talon of an enormous eagle. The other, a mammalian creature resembling a wolf-sized ferret with the head of a wolf, fox-like ears, canine limbs, and massive retractable claws like a tiger, had leapt out of a tree to land in between the minotaur and Dark Pit, its orange-yellow fur crackling with electricity, seemingly accentuating along with black jagged horizontal racing stripes on each side, a lightning-bolt-shaped marking just over its left eye, and its long bushy tail which was banded and tipped with black as well.

"The four-headed dude is right, man," said the dragon. "You've gotta stop and think about what you're doing!"

"And if you're gonna keep trying to bash an innocent's face in," added the raiju, "you'll have to get through us first! And you wouldn't wanna hurt your best friends... would you, Bakugo?"

Bakugo's eyes widened, then narrowed. He slammed both fists upon the ground, blowing two small craters into the sidewalk. "GOOD FUCKING GOD, GUYS, WHO'S SIDE ARE YOU ON?!"

"Probably the side that's getting really annoyed with all the horn-prints all over his body," replied Dark Pit, glancing down at the bleeding puncture wound on the flank of his animalistic lower body; luckily, it hadn't hurt anything important.

"Relax, man, we've got it covered," replied the dragon. "We're sorry we didn't step in sooner - totally un-manly to let you get thrown about like that. Bakugo's got quite the temper!"

"Eijiro... " The minotaur snorted, but didn't react violently for once. He wasn't outclassed even with three against one, but Eijiro was his closest ally, and hurting his feelings would possibly cost him the only people whom he'd had an emotional attachment to as a Class 1-A student, at least until he and Deku had managed to talk things over recently.

Besides, if Eijiro and Denki both trusted this guy, then what else could he do but give him a chance?

"So, uh, does this mean you're giving up now?" asked Denki, the raiju that Bakugo had been referring to. "You don't look like you wanna murder something anymore, which is at least a start-"

"I want to murder something. I want to find whomever the fuck did this to me, to us, and beat the living shit out of them until they can no longer move. Surely that'll turn us back, would it?"

"I don't know if it's that simple." Dark Pit idly petted the leopard head to the left side of his face. "The Miniboss is a goddess. I don't know if deities exist in your world, but even the ones from mine would be like babies next to her. It's why I had to suck it in and try and find help in the first place."

Bakugo thought about this for a moment. "So, what's the plan?"

"Is that even a thing?" asked Eijiro, tilting his scaly head in confusion. "We've only been like this for a couple o' days, man. We still don't know the first thing 'bout what's goin' on, and we gotta take a look at the whole situation before doing something as un-manly as trying to fight a goddess unprepared."

"We could die if we went at her like this now!" added Denki. "People die when they're killed!"

Dark Pit snorted through all four of his heads. "Whatever the case, we have to find others to offer at least a second opinion. And the electro-puppy's right, too. I normally work alone, but in the wake of several events where I've had to be bailed out by others, I know now that taking on the Miniboss by myself is a bad idea."

"Electro-puppy? Really?" asked Denki. "Isn't mocking me Bakugo's job?"

"HEY!!" bellowed the minotaur.

"Who says I can't, either?" Dark Pit smirked. "But let's not get all buddy-buddy and skip off into the sunset arm-in-arm right now. Will you guys be joining me, or are you just gonna keep bickering all day?"

The minotaur, dragon, and raiju exchanged glances.

"Fine." Bakugo stamped a back hoof against the ground. "You win this time, weird four-headed creature who may or may not be a villain. But if I find out you've been lying to me about this little quest of yours, I won't be merciful. And Eijiro and Denki won't be there to talk me down, either."

Eijiro snorted twin puffs of smoke himself. "Seriously, man? We've just met, and you just go and threaten him like that?"

"He skewered me with his horns like, five times over the past twenty minutes," Dark Pit replied, making a mental note to pour out a Drink of the Gods for himself later. "I'll live, though. I'm used to having to work with unreasonable people."

"WHAT THE FUCK?! YOU TAKE THAT SHIT BACK, RIGHT THE FUCK NOW!" Bakugo roared, mercifully held back by the dragon's claws. "OR DO YOU WANT ME TO CHANGE MY MIND?!"

"This is gonna take a while, I can tell," Denki chuckled.

"Whatever," Dark Pit said with a roll of eight pinkish red eyes. "For now, though, let's go, boys. We have a job to do."

Chapter Text

Somewhere near Republic City…

 

The waters of Yue Bay were, as per the norm, rather quiet. The shattered remains of the city surrounding the shores of the bay had already been left in a decrepit state prior to the world momentarily plunging into darkness, but now they seemed even more in ruins than ever, encrusted with plant life and crumbling almost to the foundations. The contrast with the crystalline blue waters could not have been more stark.

One thing both places had in common, however, was that there were monsters ruling these regions now. It would amaze the observer that prior to the blackout, almost all of them had once been human. But it was hard to tell now which of the creatures were transformed, and which were the same chimeric animals they had always been.

And apparently, some people had taken the impromptu transformation better than others.

At first glance, the creature rising up towards the surface would be comparable to a black-and-white cetacean from a different world, which its residents called an orca, or killer whale. But as it burst out of the surface, arcing through the air with impressive grace for its size, it suddenly revealed immense, canine limbs, heavily muscled with webbed, clawed paws and rounded flippers emerging from the front legs. Now its short triangular ears could be seen, as was a mane of sleek, dark brown fur around its neck and under its chin, going down the back and partway down the top of its fluked tail. A tall, triangular dorsal fin rose from its back, and its rounded, slightly tapering snout bore a mouth full of long, sharp fangs. And its eyes, although rather small, were a vivid cyan, gleaming with a predatory intelligence that shone with the promise of a tireless, relentless hunt.

Incredible to think, then, that this amphibious predator, a "killer whalewolf" of sorts, was once a human girl of amazing ability, one of the most important people known to this world and a fundamental part of its stability.

Avatar Korra instinctively tucked all four of her limbs in as she felt her snout hit the water, plunging back into the ocean depths like a furry, blubbery torpedo. With vertical flexes of her entire body, she barreled downwards once more, emitting a rapid series of clicks like a flying dolphin-fish hunting for prey. But no, she wasn’t after fish. Well, she liked fish, especially now that she was part cetacean, but still.

She was probably deluding herself in thinking that Mako and Bolin were somehow at the bottom of Yue Bay, but she had checked everywhere by this point. She would swear that the loss of her friends was making her go crazy, and she had seen crazy. Naga the polar bear dog had turned up nothing as well, and she had to admit that it was going to take her pet some getting used to listening to her voice coming from a whalewolf as big as her. Then again, of course, the blackout and transformation that had recently transpired had been completely unprecedented, meaning that really, everyone was going to have to get used to their new looks until balance was restored.

Assuming, of course, that she could restore it at all.

Korra would swear she'd mapped the entire seabed of the bay by this point, and although a good percentage of refugees from the recent events that had shaken Republic City had been forced to relocate into the bay due to their newfound aquatic natures, she figured she was deluding herself in thinking that Bolin and Mako were among that percentage. So many people were still unaccounted for that talk was, not for the first time, going around of closing the spirit portal that had been visible since Kuvira had laid seige to the city sometime prior (and had, additionally, been considered for use as a tourist attraction). Incidentally, that was the one place she hadn't checked yet, simply because the very prospect of people being whisked into the Spirit World without any conceivable reason was rather hard to take in. Not to mention that if any spirits had come out of the portal, they'd surely have been seen...

It was another few minutes of futile searching before Korra finally gave up, deciding to check on what her girlfriend's search efforts had produced (though of course it was doubtful that she'd be any more successful, seeing as they'd both been scouring the city for several days now with not a clue whatsoever). Pausing only to surface for a welcome breath, she therefore started heading back to the harbor, scaring off a small shark-squid along the way which left only a cloud of ink behind it as it fled. The whalewolf chased after it for a short distance out of habit, but it had already had a head start by the time she'd noticed it. A school of halibut wasn't as lucky, though, and given that her new form could now stomach freshly caught prey, she decided that a seafood breakfast was as good as any. By the time she made it back to the coastline, three decently sized flatfish were meeting their maker in her stomach, the rest having the good sense to dive back to the bottom of the bay.

Poking her blowhole out of the water surface, Korra blew a spray of briny droplets skyward before taking a deep breath, her finned front legs spreading apart. Then, with one thrust of her paws and tail, she shot upwards in a column of water like a massive tentacle, and effortlessly landed onto the decrepit concrete pier, before releasing hold of her waterbending and shaking herself off like Naga after a bath. At least her bending had been kept during the transformation, since she wasn't quite sure how well she'd do without it, but it had taken some getting used to pulling it off with an animalistic body structure. She had, in her mind, compared it to that one time when she'd astral-projected, though in that case she'd formed a shape similar to what she'd normally looked, as opposed to-

BALL?!

That one word rang through her head and crashed her train of thought without a single note of fanfare. For one brief moment, she struggled not to give into her new canine instincts, but that glowing white orb rolling down the road several hundred feet from her was just too much to resist. Before anyone around her could respond, she'd taken off after it, shoving protesting creatures aside as she closed the distance with great bounding strides.

Before the pearl could roll off the edge of the harbor street and into the sea, Korra had pinned it under one massive paw, only now noting the wisps of magical energy emanating from it like flames that didn't burn. She was just about to pick it up in her large toothy mouth, however, when something large and sinuous came up in front of her and gently placed a taloned front foot on her forepaw. She looked up in surprise, and then her rubbery lips curled up in a relieved smile.

"Oh! Hi, Asami."

The dark red dragon in front of her, typical of the dragons native to this world, had a long, scaly body like a huge serpent with a black mane around her neck (which looked suspiciously like Asami's hair) and a matching tufted tail, along with four short legs and two large webbed wings rising out of her back. Her large, antlered head sported a wide, flat nose like that of a wolf, with a bearded chin and a pair of barbels, but her light green eyes were definitely those of Korra's girlfriend, calm and intelligent with a sense of elegance even in her bestial form.

"Hey, Korra." Asami's dark red lips bore a smile of her own. "So... Any luck with the search yet?"

Korra whined like a puppy, ploking her haunches down on the ground with her snout pointed skyward. "Still nothing! Haven't we checked everywhere in Republic City by now? Twice?! I even tried the harbor, because they'd totally get turned into sea creatures, and still nothing!" She swatted the pearl aside with a forepaw, sending it sailing into the air. Asami caught it with her tail, an amused expression on her face.

"I don't know what you were expecting, honestly. I'm guessing you've been getting extremely desperate if you're willing to search there." She chuckled, taking the pearl back in a front claw, but then her expression turned much sadder. "I know how hard it must be for you, Korra. It is for me, too. But we're not giving up, not while people are still missing."

Korra snorted, the noise coming from her blowhole and sounding like a miniature geyser. "I just don't understand how half the city could just disappear overnight. You'd think they'd leave at least some sorta clue, like a huge swath of destruction throughout the city. I don't know how I could just drop unconscious for no reason and then wake up looking like... like this-" She slapped her tail fluke against the road surface - "but it just happened. And then I tried to find Mako and Bolin, but they were gone! And then there were so many missing people I found out about, and now everybody's getting upset and wanting to cut the Spirit Wilds down and-"

She was met by Asami nuzzling her snout, her eyelids closed. "Shhhh, it's okay. You're scared and confused, I get it-"

Korra drew her head back, pouting. "I'm not scared, I'm upset! This new form of mine looks so cool, sure, but now whenever I look around I see people trying to find answers, if not outright panicking or flying into a rage over what this weird worldwide transformation is doing. The world's out of whack, again, and as the Avatar I'm expected to restore it. But I just... I don't even know where to start!"

Asami nodded sagely. "Neither do I, actually. But we've got to find at least something to build from. And I believe there's one place we haven't checked yet."

The whalewolf gave her an incredulous look. "You don't mean checking the Spirit Portal, don't you?"

"Well, I did suggest that yesterday, but you weren't so enthusiastic about the idea."

"I mean, there's nothing wrong with that, but..."

Asami stared off into space, idly fiddling with her pearl. "I agree. If they were taken to the Spirit World along with all the other missing people, they could be anywhere there."

"Exactly! It'd take forever to search, and in case you haven't noticed, we don't have that long!"

"There's still a chance it could've happened, though, even if we have too little evidence for it," Asami chided, ever the more patient of the two. "But we have to at least try. For all I know, it could mean the difference between a miracle and a tragedy, and I think you know which I'd prefer."

The dragon sighed sadly. Korra quickly guessed what Asami had been referencing. The loss of her father had deeply affected the poor woman (well, dragon now, but still), and it was hard to deny that she was not going to let such a thing happen to anyone else. The whalewolf looked up at her with a defeated, but still determined expression.

"Alright, we'll do it. I mean... We can think of it as a second vacation, can we?" she added with a sudden smirk.

Asami blinked, and then burst out laughing, her voice like a tinkling bell as she clutched her pearl to her chest in her front claws. "I guess we could, if you want to!"

Korra was now transfixed by the luminous orb. She was quite certain that dragons didn't own a pearl to speak of, much less one that emitted magical sparks of electricity without any voltage whatsoever, but if something from the Spirit World really was responsible for turning her into a killer whalewolf, who knew what else it could've done? "Can we at least play catch with your pearl before we go?" she asked, her tail slapping the ground repeatedly like on a polar dog confronted by a new toy.

Asami almost dropped her pearl. "Korra... I don't know why, but my pearl seems far more important to me than you, no offense intended. I'm not so eager to part with-"

"Aw, come on! Just this once? Pleeeease?" She gave the dragon her best pleading look, with eyes that were suddenly wide and shining with unshed tears - which looked quite silly on the face of an orca, but there you go.

Asami laughed again. "Alright, you win. Just try not to get whale slobber on it like the last half-dozen times, okay?"

"No promises there, sweetie~!"

 

*****

 

Asami was still wiping the spittle off her pearl (with no other options but to use her tail tuft, mind... gross) as the two of them made their way towards the Spirit Wilds, and the portal beyond. Korra had been reluctant to search there, knowing her past experiences with spirits, but a quick fly-over by Asami had turned up a fat load of nothing, same as usual. A quick reunion with Naga had transpired along the way, but sadly, still no scent of either of the boys had come to her. So it was that she was going to go through the Spirit Portal with Korra and Asami this time around, and it was up to Korra to keep her under control. It was lucky that both of them had a pack-hunting streak, she could say that much.

"So... Do you think whatever did this to us could possibly be..." asked Asami.

"Well, you were the one who suggested it," Korra replied. "And come to think of it, I guess there really is only one explanation. I just don't understand how a spirit could possibly get that powerful. Or stealthy."

"Stealthy?"

"I already told you, if something had gotten out before we got turned into animals, someone would have seen it. But not a soul has any memory of seeing the portal acting up."

"You mean like it is now?"

Korra stopped dead in her tracks. "Wait. What?!"

They had arrived at the crater where the Spirit Portal was located. It was, as per the norm, covered in vines and moss, the remains of buildings around it now almost unrecognizable. Still, the golden pillar of light shone from the raised platform at the center, a beacon amidst the gloom of the city in the wake of its attack by the Earth Empire.

But there was something else Korra seemed to notice. The beam of light was now pulsating just slightly, flickering like a lightbulb about to give out.

She swallowed hard. This was not like anything she'd seen previously, and knowing that some unknown force had turned her into a sea mammal, it was more than likely that it was the culprit. But were there any spirits that could transform people?

Naga whined and backed up a little. Korra glanced at her, and then at the portal - and then her eyes widened. Was it just her imagination, or was the light pillar getting brighter?

"We have to go in!" Korra braced herself to spring. "Something's in there - it could be the lead we've-"

Asami, however, looked suddenly fearful. "Korra, wait. The portal's never done this before. Who knows what will happen next?"

Korra nodded. "Right. But we'll have to be ready for anything by this point. Try and stop me!"

"Korra, no!" Asami gasped, her eyes wide, but before she could try and grab her girlfriend, the whalewolf had charged into the crater.

She was just about to reach the portal when something burst out of it, its enormous horns pointed right at her.

Korra skidded to a halt with a yelp of fright, and for one brief second, one could practically see the look on her face that screamed, I've made a huge mistake... But there was no time for a dawning realization, and she was forced to dive out of the way as the enormous black goat-gorilla (Was it a goat-gorilla? She couldn't tell while fleeing for her life from it) erupted out of the portal. It skidded to a halt, its eyes red and furious, before whirling to face her; she noticed that unlike a typical goat-gorilla, its ears were short, its snout long but wide and without tusks, and its horns shaped more like those of a bull-pig. And what was with the weird green scales on its arms, or the fire pouring from its paws-

Flaming paws?!

With a startled yell, Korra backed up, feeling the toes of her front paws getting singed from the massive explosion as the creature slammed its fists into the ground before her. Out of instinct, she blew a gust of air from her mouth that snuffed the fire, but the gesture had already been made. Only now did she see the two massive puncture wounds in the horned creature's hairless orange shoulder...

"GET OUT OF MY WAY!" it roared, its voice sounding like a male teenager.

Korra's brain reeled. It could talk?! Was this creature a spirit, or-?

She didn't have time to reply. Her enhanced hearing had picked up something that made her blood run cold. Asami must've picked up the horrible hissing noise too, for next moment, she'd coiled her tail around hers and was now pulling her out of the crater.

Three other creatures spilled out of the portal a second later. One had a tangle of limbs and four heads, another looked like a yellow weasel-snake (except entirely furry) with the canine head and body size of a giant wolf, and the third was a dragon, but unlike any she'd ever seen, with long taloned legs and a hide covered in scarlet scales and spines. Judging from the looks on their faces, all of them were trying to get away from something...

"Man," Korra muttered. "Talk about timing!"

First came one enormous viper, then two more, and then six. Each huge serpent had a triangular head big enough to devour a person whole, acid green in color with blood-red eyes and fangs as long as a man's arm. On top of each head was a bony plate with ridges and black and red patterns that made it disturbingly similar to a massive kabuki mask, with soulless black spots in place of eyes. A row of red backswept spikes ran down the spine of each giant snake - but as it emerged from the portal, forked tongues flickering, the group could now see that it was just one great serpent.

With nine heads.

The serpent coiled around the platform the beam of light shone from, all of its heads writhing and hissing as its main body continued pouring forth from the Spirit World. After a few moments of looking around, it turned its nine gazes down towards the group of creatures before it.

The bull-gorilla suddenly felt his strength give out, and he collapsed to the floor, lowing in pain and clutching his shoulder. Korra's eyes widened as she made the connection - this nine-headed serpent spirit had bit him.

The four-headed creature looked at the fallen bull-gorilla, and then up at the serpent. "Fuck!"  it shouted, its voice also like a male teenager.

Asami gasped, scandalized, hovering over Korra and clapping her taloned front claws around the confused whalewolf's ears. Then she backed up, gasping a second time, taking Korra with her and still glaring at the strange four-headed beast.

Naturally, chaos was quick to ensue.

The serpent lunged with all of its heads, aiming for each and every one of the creatures present. Yes, even Korra and company. Everyone scattered, dodging venomous fangs and scaly coils, all but one. Without thinking, Korra broke free of Asami's protective grasp and charged towards the bull-gorilla, leaping over a snake head that had tried to bite her.

Before the bull-gorilla could react, she landed, slamming her forepaws into the ground and causing the ground below him to flip up like a catapult, sending him sailing over the edge of the crater. He crash-landed on the mossy ground, bellowing in pain.

"HELP HIM!" Korra called to Asami and Naga. "I'VE GOT THIS!"

"But Korra-"

"JUST GO!"

Asami finally saw the festering tissue and ugly black veins spreading from the fang-holes the serpent had presumably made, and understood. Before the bull-gorilla could react, she'd wrapped her tail around him and then hoisted him onto Naga's back. He protested rather loudly, but then he gasped in pain, clutching his shoulder, and then slumped limply over the saddle.

As Asami and Naga fled the scene, no doubt hoping to find the nearest infirmary, Korra was left with the four-headed spirit, the spiny dragon, and the weasel-wolf to fend off the great serpent. They had to get it back through the portal - if it got loose here in Republic City, the events it would surely bring about would be catastrophic.

It took all of Korra's concentration to weave through the serpent heads, remembering her training exercises when she was still learning Airbending and participating in Pro-Bending tournaments years ago. She'd brute-force her way through the opposition, but things were happening so fast that if she stopped for even one second, she'd surely be the next bite victim. One would think having to move on all fours would be a handicap, but her newfound canine agility had only compounded her natural athleticism and it hadn't been hard to adjust. And she certainly had enough firepower to spare, figuratively and literally. The big problem was that even if Asami, Naga, and the bull-gorilla were to hypothetically rejoin them, they would still be seven against nine heads. As it was now, even if everybody tried to take an equal share of heads, they'd have to deal with two each, and one more would still be left.

This could only end well.

"WHAT DO WE DO?!" cried the weasel-wolf, instinctively slashing at a snake head with a clawed forepaw - and sending a jolt of electricity through it, forcing it back.

"Probably not die, for a start!" Korra replied, too busy skipping over the top of another head to respond to the other creature's display of power.

"Not dying sounds good! Eijiro, you alright?"

"Still alive, for a start!" the spiny dragon called back. As two more heads closed in, he suddenly threw his head forward and roared a mighty fireball, sending both of them back with hisses of alarm.

The whalewolf had only one option, to get to the base of all the necks and disable all of them at once, but she had to get past all the heads first. It seemed that the others were all drawing the same conclusion, but the beast was doing a good job of keeping them at bay. Even as she leapt on top of one head, she could see the weasel-wolf attempting to pounce at the throat of another, only for a third to swing its neck and head like a huge whiplash and knock him aside. The four-headed creature had drawn a strange object and was now flying around the battlefield, shooting bolts of purple energy, but when he took aim at one, another came at him from a different direction and forced him to dodge.

The most successful of the four by far was the spiny dragon. No surprise there - in order to do any real damage, the snakes would have to bite, and even though their scales were hard as steel, the insides of their mouths were far less protected. In one brief instant, she had an uncomfortable flashback to when she had once, and entirely by accident, fallen butt-first onto a baby boar-q-pine back when she was a human, one of her many tribulations while wandering across the world trying to reconnect with Raava. Ouch. If even sitting on a boar-q-pine was that painful, no sane creature would even try to put its mouth around such a creature, let alone something with a hide as spiny as this Eijiro had on him.

Perhaps she could call this creature a drac-u-pine?

The winged reptile, for his part, had far simpler thoughts. Eijiro was the largest of the lot, the size of two tram cars lined end-to-end, armed with a maw full of serrated fangs and huge hooked talons on all four feet, each like that of a gigantic eagle. His body was covered from the end of his elongated snout, which sported a forwards-curving hook-like horn, to the tip of his massive tapering tail with crimson scales, scutes, and spikes that protruded from his body like a suit of articulated armor. Each time the snake heads targeting him lunged and attempted to bite, targeting his webbed, almost fin-like wings, which sported a chain-mail-like coat of scales on their dorsal sides, he kept turning and twisting in the air, presenting the shielded upper surfaces of his wings as well as the veritable forest of conical spines running down his back, forming a halo of deadly points around the top of his head betwixt a pair of long black backswept horns and two webbed fin-like ears. A lethal spiked tail club on the other end swung and lashed at any incoming serpent with enough force to shatter stone. Even his underside was protected by lighter red plates, leaving only the inside of his mouth (along with another, far more embarrassing place) for the snakes to target - and they'd have to try and hit a constantly moving target and avoid getting injured themselves.

Slamming two heads to the ground, pinning each with one of his foreclaws, the dragon reflected that he was forced to hold back for one critical reason. His companions weren't nearly as protected, and even Bakugo had been taken out very quickly with that bite to his arm. He couldn't afford to let the creature get to anyone else, not after that had happened. His bright red eyes, with reptilian slits for pupils, now found the whalewolf and the electro-puppy each dancing a jig of mortal peril, leaping in haphazard directions as they found themselves unable to find an opening. It was only because his long, serpentine neck afforded him a boosted height that he saw another head and neck slithering around behind them...

Korra heard the hiss too late. She whirled just in time to see the snake that had risen directly behind her coming at her with its fangs extended-

WHAM!

"NOW'S YOUR CHANCE, MAN!" Eijiro roared. "GET IT WHERE IT HURTS!"

The dragon had slammed into the serpent talons-first, the force of the impact jerking the entire assembly of heads sharply to the side. All at once, all nine of them turned on their assailant, their attention successfully diverted from Korra and the weasel-wolf.

Suddenly, Korra saw the join between all the necks, and seized her chance. Rearing up and slamming her paws to the ground, she conjured a wave of earthen spikes that shot towards the serpent's body-

"NO!!" the four-headed creature screamed.

Too late, one of the rock spikes pierced through the softer underside of the giant snake. But instead of blood, a putrid black fluid spilled forth from the wound, causing the plants on the ground below to sizzle and steam. Within the coils of the huge serpent, the Spirit Portal began to fizzle.

And more importantly, the snake heads shrieked with pain, the convulsion throwing the dragon off his feet, and all nine suddenly lunged at the offending creature...

Korra barely had time to react, let alone realize her mistake. She turned and ran, the serpent slithering behind her and leaving a trail of caustic poison. The other three creatures had no choice but to follow in the wake of the monster, but Korra was too distracted by it being mere feet behind her to notice. And worse, the strength of her legs was beginning to fail, having exerted herself trying to dodge all those heads.

If she had been in better condition, the uneven terrain of the area around the Spirit Portal would have been no problem for her. But she was understandably too distracted to notice the chunk of debris in her path, until her front paw smashed into it and she was sent tumbling head over heels, carving a shallow ditch into the ground until she skidded to a halt.

The wrist joint of her front paw felt like it had been torn apart. Struggling to stand up, she looked up just in time to see the snake heads all rearing up before her, their mouths parting to reveal those insidious fangs. One stupid move, and now it was over-

Something jerked the central serpent head backwards, all of its other heads whirling to face it - the dragon had come up behind it and bit down on the back of that head, safely out of reach of its bite. The others could not get at his spiked back, and any other vulnerable part was out of their reach. Planting his back feet onto its back, he reared up and pulled it upwards, exposing the oozing wound for Korra to see.

She wasted no time. She inhaled deeply through her blowhole, focusing only on the injury she herself had inflicted, and then blew a stream of fire from her mouth...

The effect was instantaneous. The wound seared and sizzled, the poison evaporating into choking black smoke as it was cauterized and burned black. All of the heads writhed in agony, hissing and snapping everywhere, venom spraying from their fangs and enveloping them in toxic green fog. Still, it seemed as though victory was assured-

-until the creature's whipping tail coiled around the dragon's own tail and yanked him off, flinging him aside and sending him into a derelict building.

Korra had stopped her firebending at this point, and once she realized that the dragon was out of the fight (especially since the building collapsed on top of him), she realized that she was alone with the monster. Her heart was pounding in her throat, but she still managed to get up and bare her teeth at it, defiant to the bitter end.

"Kirishima!" she heard the four-headed creature yell as he swooped towards the rubble.

"You alright, dude?" cried the weasel-wolf, also arriving on scene.

"N-not me, man..." the dragon moaned, struggling to extricate himself from tons of concrete and steel. "Help her!"

Korra didn't get the time to gauge their response. All of the serpent's heads were now rearing up from the toxic smoke, about to strike and tear her apart...

And then she finally noticed the serpentine winged figure diving out of the sky in a tight spiral towards the creature, like a scaly tornado whose leathery pinions blew away the choking fog.

"CLEAR!!!"

Asami's voice rang in her head mere moments before she slammed her pearl, which was now ablaze with actual, white-hot electricity, onto the base of all of the serpent's necks. Every part of it suddenly spasmed, arcs of electricity crackling all around it. It hissed in agony as the voltage coursed through its body for several long seconds, and then the spark of life in its eyes went out as Asami drew back the pearl at last. With overwhelming finality, all of its heads fell to the ground, a tremendous crash ending the battle with the lifeless serpent dead at Asami's feet.

There was a long moment of silence. Then before everyone's eyes, the serpent's body began to disintegrate, crumbling into dust, its scales and mask-like plates losing their color and luster like degrading metal. Asami stepped off of the carcass before it finally collapsed in a heap of scales, and vanished from this world altogether.

Korra remained there for several long moments. Finally, she found the strength to walk, and padded over to rejoin her girlfriend.

"Th... thank you," she managed to wheeze, her breath ragged from exhaustion.

"I think I've finally figured out what happened to my taser-glove," Asami said finally, glancing down at the pearl in her claws. That earned a chuckle from both of them, and then they nuzzled their snouts together in relief and euphoria (they'd thought about kissing like they used to, but each had taken one look at the huge fangs of the other and they quickly settled for snout boops instead).

The remaining debris burying the "drac-u-pine" from earlier was finally forced away as he pushed his way out of the wreckage, and the three other creatures rejoined the two of them. Asami wisely stepped out of the way before the other dragon loomed over Korra, his eyes full of concern.

"You alright, man? That paw looks bad," he said, lowering his head to inspect the damage.

"I've had worse," Korra replied, smiling a little. "So... Where's Naga?"

"With the bull-gorilla at the hospital nearest here." Asami had a look of wonder in her eyes. "The most amazing thing happened when I bought him in-"

"Can we see him?" asked the four-headed creature. "We have to make sure Bakugo is alright."

"Oh. Well, I can take you to him, if you-"

"Do it."

Asami flinched at the creature's bluntness, and Korra growled like a dog, though she didn't react further. In the end, though, they both agreed to the task.

"Well, is he alright?" asked the weasel-wolf; Korra noticed him giving Asami's pearl a very interested look.

Asami had a sheepish look on her face. "Uh... does 'murderously angry' count as alright?"

The four-headed creature shrugged. "Seems about right to me..."

 

*****

 

"You KILLED THAT THING WITHOUT ME?!" Bakugo roared, his palms ablaze. "YOU FUCKERS WENT AND WON AND DIDN'T EVEN TELL ME?! HOW DARE YOU?!?"

The group was at the Republic City park now, and had filled him in on what had happened after they'd gotten a safe distance from the hospital. Asami had wisely clapped her claws around Korra's ears before the minotaur had even started shouting. But it was the cherubim, as he had called himself, who addressed the furious creature.

"It's not a matter of winning, you attention-whoring turd. People could've died! What were you expecting, to add your head to the body count?!"

"I could've taken it. I could've won!" Bakugo looked furious, but what else was new?

"That creature's bite could've killed you if we hadn't bought you to the hospital in time," replied Asami, an exasperated look on her face as she released her hold on Korra once again. "You may be angry now, but you should've been there - we were scared we'd all be dead. If it weren't for my discovery that my glove-turned-pearl can still channel electricity, anyway."

"Is that even a thing with dragons now?" asked Korra. "I thought they were associated with firebending."

"Not in every universe," replied the angel. "I assume you're familiar with your world, and the Spirit World your girlfriend told us about?"

Korra nodded.

"There's more. A lot more. And they're all under threat, not just your universe. That's why we need to get all the help we can."

"No kiddin', man," the spiky dragon added. "We may be powerful, but this Lahamu is like, way powerful-er. Accordin' to Four-Face here, she's been around since 'the origin of the universe itself', whatever that means."

"So basically, she's always existed, and always will," added the weasel-wolf - no, scratch that, the raiju.

"I still wanna deck her for making me look like this," growled Bakugo. "And tossing so many monsters in our direction besides. This world has officially lost its goddamn mind, and I won't stand for it!"

"For once, we're in agreement," muttered Asami.

"So, does that mean you girls are coming with us?" asked the angel. "Like I said, we'll need backup. A lot of it."

Korra nodded, trying to keep her weight off her bandaged paw. "Okay, so, can we start off by introducing ourselves? Just names would be fine. I'm Korra, this is my girlfriend Asami-" she would swear the raiju had just sulked in disappointment - "and that's my polar bear dog, Naga, licking that four-headed creature's, uh... heads."

The angel was trying to push away the animal in question, his hair slicked upwards by her tongue. "Hmmph. Well, if you insist, I'm Dark Pit. Don't ask where the other Pit is, I have no clue."

"Katsuki Bakugo," the minotaur snorted, before turning his horned head away.

"I'm Eijiro Kirishima, though you can call me Red Riot!" said the spiky red dragon. "And this guy down here is Denki Kaminari, or the Stun Gun Hero: Chargebolt!"

"Yo," added Denki, waving his tail - which crackled with static electricity.

"It's good to meet all of you," said Korra. "Well, especially you, Red Riot. Or is Eijiro fine? Anyway, thank you. I owe you for saving me from that giant snake. Twice, in fact!"

The dragon smiled cheerfully, though it looked a lot scarier than he'd intended with a mouth full of sharp teeth. "No problemo! It was the manliest thing to do, after all. I know it didn't do that much good, but it was worth a shot!"

"I owe you one as well for saving my girlfriend," added Asami. "But right now, we have more dire concerns. Do you happen to know anything about where our friends Mako and Bolin are? We couldn't find them anywhere, and we were about to check the Spirit World when you four came in."

Dark Pit growled, accompanied by a snarl, squawk, and bleat from his animal heads. "How would I know? You never told us what they even look like."

Korra's heart sank. So much for getting clues from them.

"I think we've all got missing people to worry about," said Denki. "Two of us in the Bakusquad are missing, and Darky over here told us that the goddess he's currently working under has also vanished. You two as well, huh?"

Korra nodded, a bitter aftertaste on her tongue as her haunches hit the dirt. "I'm guessing we'll have to check the Spirit World after all."

"Or beyond," added Dark Pit. "If this many worlds have been affected, whatever took Viridi, your friends, and anyone else unaccounted for must be something beyond the scope of any of them."

"I took down the Dark Avatar a few years back," Korra replied, slapping the grass with her tail. "I can certainly help you guys out." She paused. "Didn't Eijiro mention someone named Lahamu?"

Naga whined apprehensively as she made her way over to Korra's other side. Above the whole group, the sun seemed to grow just a little dimmer.

"For the sake of not pissing off the gods, can we call her The Miniboss?" asked Dark Pit. "But yeah, I heard that."

"Darky says she's scary strong," Eijiro added. "She was the firstborn of a primordial deity whom we call the Final Boss. Dude was so big that her body was used to make the entire world!" He looked at the tip of his own tail. "How could someone get that big, anyway? They'd be too heavy to move!"

"Remember, she's a goddess," replied Dark Pit. "Her power is infinite. We've got our work cut out for us, and let's not get into the fact that we've only been like this for a few days."

"Oh come on, man, I've already gotten used to bein' a big honkin' fire-breathing dragon!" Eijiro looked offended. "How manly is that, huh? And I was already badass enough without the fire breath and being as big as a house..."

"Not all of us are as happy with what we are now as you are, Kirishima," muttered Bakugo. "I don't want this form, and I certainly don't want some primordial fuckhead-" Asami clapped her claws over Korra's ears with another outraged gasp - "giving me extra power like some kinda goddamn cheat code. If I'm gonna deck her in the fucking face, I wanna do it while I'm human."

"If I have to be honest, I'm not unhappy with being a dragon," said Asami, fiddling with her pearl idly. "But what we're more concerned about is the public unrest throughout Republic City. People haven't just gotten transformed, they've gone missing. That's my biggest worry right now, and I'm sure it's on a lot of other people's minds, too."

Dark Pit nodded sagely. "This disaster has upended everyone's lives, and the best we can do now is pick up the pieces and prepare to retaliate. If only we knew how, though-"

"I'll help." Korra had stood up, keeping her injured paw off the ground.

Everyone turned to look at her.

"That was quick," said Denki.

"Korra, you've only known us for just one day," said Dark Pit.

"So what? Eijiro saved my tail back there, so it's only fair that I return the favor." She gave the others a fanged smile. "Besides, you wanted someone who could set things right, hmm? Well, I'm the Avatar. Saving the world is my middle name, and you gotta deal with it!"

The others murmured among themselves in astonishment. But Kirishima had a broad toothy grin on his face.

"You," he said, "are the manliest killer whalewolf I've ever seen in my life. Welcome to the team, Korra!"

The Avatar had a wide smile on her face, and next moment, she leaped up and blew a spray of water into the sky. "Woo-hoo, approval!"

"Well, I suppose if we are going to search the Spirit World or whatever's beyond it," said Asami, "we could always use a little extra protection. Count me in, too."

Naga barked in approval as well, and she and Korra exchanged friendly nuzzles.

Dark Pit sighed in what seemed like defeat. "If you ladies really are so persistent," he muttered, "who am I to argue?"

"Just keep her away from me," grumbled Bakugo. "She did fling me over a damn cliff."

"Hey, I think she's kinda cute," replied Denki. "Uh, in the 'half-whale, half-puppy' kinda way, I mean."

"Don't get your hopes up," replied Asami, giving him a half-stern, half-playful look. "For your information, I've already claimed her."

"Oh, one more thing," said Korra. "How did Bakugo get better, anyway?"

"Well, I can't answer for that," said Asami, "but I might know someone who can." She turned towards a nearby bush and called, "You guys can come out now!"

The rather sparkly bush rustled suddenly, and everyone turned. Korra's eyes widened as two creatures emerged. The first was a lion - not a lion-turtle, or a vulture-lion, just a lion - which was entirely pink, its mane and tail tuft a lighter shade than the rest of its fur. And the second was a much smaller lion, a cub in fact, which was also pink - but its head was that of a human, a boy with curly black hair and eyes whose irises were dark enough to be almost black.

"Hi guys," said the boy-headed lion cub, smiling widely. "So... I'm guessing these are friends of yours?"

Dark Pit shuddered. "You honestly believe we're friends? Eech. Look, just tell us everything that happened, and make it quick. The patience of some of us is running thin."

The cub shrank away from the cherubim, his smile taking on an uncomfortable note. "Uh..."

"Just start with your name first," said Korra. "Go on. In spite of our looks, we won't bite!"

The cub looked uncertain of the truth in that. But then he finally responded:

"You can call me Steven!"

Chapter Text

By the time Steven had finished explaining how he had woken up with a cat body - no worse than the one time he'd tried giving himself cat fingers, but now he couldn't change back for some reason - learned that Lion's ability to traverse dimensions allowed him to travel between entire continuities, discovered his own ability to sense other creatures across the multiverse of similar power to his own (no doubt an extension of his already existing ability to sense the presence and emotions of others), ended up stumbling upon a half-dead but still struggling Bakugo with Asami and Naga trying to subdue him, and found out that his healing spittle could neutralize even the poison of an ancient nine-headed snake monster, all in that order, everyone else in the vicinity was staring at him open-mouthed. Reactions were quite mixed - astonishment, relief, worry, curiosity, sympathy, annoyance, consternation, and perhaps even a little jealousy. It was quite clear that while most of the group had taken pity on the lost little son of Rose Quartz, one or two weren't exactly appreciative of his assistance, even if it had saved someone's life. Still, he'd had to sit through worse.

"You poor thing," said Asami, lowering her large whiskered head to get a better look at him. "Your family must be worrying about you-"

"Oh, nonono, it's not like that, actually," Steven replied, pawing at her snout in a bid to reassure her. "I told the Crystal Gems about where I was going before we left. They mostly understood, but you should've seen the minor meltdown Pearl flew into. I was only gonna be gone for like what, an hour?!"

In the background, Naga was nudging and barking at Lion, who was curled up on the ground and looking apathetic as usual.

"And they weren't so concerned about you getting turned into a - a cat?!" Denki asked. He looked like he wanted to chase Steven up a tree, as any dog would, but he rather wisely chose to held back.

"A sphinx, actually," replied Steven. "Amethyst told me about those things once. They're mythical creatures that look like a lion with a human head and like asking riddles..."

"Whatever the case," replied Korra, "we've gotta talk to these Crystal Gems of yours. I'm sure they'll want you back as soon as possible, and you've already done your part to help us out. Thank you so much for that, by the way!"

"Happy to help," Steven replied, smiling. "But yeah, I gotta get back. I left my cheeseburger backpack at the temple, anyway, and it's kinda lucky I don't need to be out for much longer-"

"We're comin' with you, man," said Eijiro. "If what Darky over here said was right, you must've had somethin' happen to you, too. Maybe we can help?"

Dark Pit nodded in assent, though he grumbled with ruffled feathers over the nickname.

That was when Steven remembered something else. When he looked back at the others, his eyes were huge and watery, like a scared little kitten. "Connie..."

"Wait, who's Connie?" asked Korra.

"Connie and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Maheswaran," Steven replied, sniffling. "I tried to call them after I got turned. They... They didn't answer... Then I saw all the missing person posters and... and they were there..."

A pall settled over the whole group.

"You too, huh?" asked Asami.

"That settles it," growled Bakugo, ripping up a clump of grass with a massive hand. "We're getting them back. And whomever took them is gonna pay."

Everyone looked at Bakugo with an astounded expression.

"You okay, man?" asked Eijiro. "I never thought those words could ever come outta your mouth..."

"Shut up. I know a despicable act when I see one. I'm not going to let the Maheswarans and all the others stay missing, not when that Miniboss you've spoken of is on the loose. We've got to find their kidnappers, beat the info outta them as to where they are, and bring them back to where they're supposed to be. And if these kidnappers don't survive, it's their problem!"

More than a few people flinched at that last sentence.

"I agree that we've gotta do something about that," said Steven, wiping his eyes with his furry forelimb, "but we can't just go after the guys who stole my friend and her parents like in all those action movies! It'd make us look bad, and put us in danger! What if we talked to them first, and turned them into the authorities without getting them hurt? Nobody deserves to be attacked without reason, after all..."

Bakugo trudged up to Steven, and then lowered his head so he was nose-to-snout with him. "I truly do not care. It doesn't matter what you think, they took your friends away. And what's stopping you from returning the favor? What'd stop me from making sure they never do it again? The sooner you accept that, the sooner we can resolve this, so the people you call your friends will be back home safe and sound. So if you know what's good for you, then don't question my motivation." He snorted twin puffs of smoke in Steven's face, making the boy shrink back, retching and coughing. There weren't enough breath mints in the world to remedy breath that reeked of cigarette vapor.

It was Asami who responded, and within seconds she was looming over Steven, glaring at the minotaur with a ferocity befitting her new form. "I only need to say this once. Back off. He's just a cub, and even if your cause is just, you shouldn't threaten him like that! It's just not right! Besides, he's still hurt over Connie's disappearance, and we all have our losses, but in order to get our loved ones back, we all have to work together."

"Not all of us want to do that, though," Bakugo retorted, clearly insulted. "There's Dark Pit, for one, and of course myself. We don't get along with others, at all, and you should've respected that. But noooo, you're just gonna be all buddy-buddy and try and offer flowers and chocolates to these people, this evil goddess, and turn the world into sunshine and rainbows and happy end credits music! Newsflash, kiddo. It doesn't work for everybody!" 

Steven began to protest, but Bakugo wasn't phased, and cut him off before he could even get a single word out.

"You people clearly don't know who you're dealing with, or how the worlds beyond yours work, and all of you will risk getting yourself killed out there if you don't wise up." He glanced at the bite mark on his shoulder, his eyes closed and his face screwed up in emotional pain. "And you know why I don't trust your way of thinking, Steven?"

He looked the little sphinx cub dead in the eye, before delivering his final sentence.

"Because not everyone we'll be facing will be dumb enough to listen to you."

With this, he turned and stalked off, leaving Steven to cope with fresh new tears welling up in his large dark eyes. Asami, clearly horrified and outraged, did the only thing she could: curl herself protectively around Steven, and let him cry into her shoulder.

Everyone else, meanwhile, was now giving Bakugo some equally offended looks. Even Naga and Lion.

"What the hell, man?!" Eijiro cried in dismay. "That was beyond un-manly! You can't just use what happened to you to excuse being so mean!"

"Did that serpent's venom rot your brain?!" Dark Pit added, his leopard head growling fiercely at Bakugo. "I'm the embodiment of all the negative, selfish feelings that pawn of Palutena hides in him, and even I know better than to say that shit to someone like Steven!" (Asami had given up on trying to shield Korra's innocent ears by this point.)

"No kidding." Korra's hackles were up, and she was baring her fangs at Bakugo's back. "He saved your life! And this is how you repay him?!"

Bakugo stopped, trembling. "I was healed," he spoke in a trembling snarl, "by a sphinx cub. A SPHINX CUB!!" He smashed his fists into the ground, the explosion nearly knocking everyone off balance. "It's just like when Deku tried to help me. It made me look weak. And I'm anything but weak! What would Lahamu think if she found out? She'd never let me live it down, and she'd think of me as being easier to kill because of it! No. I want her to fear me. Fear us. I want her to know that we are strong, stronger than she has ever thought of us, of the entire goddamn multiverse!"

There was a long and horrible silence. It was Asami who broke it.

"Bakugo isn't well," she said. "I think we should let him be for a while. I'm still angry at him, but I can tell that nearly dying has taken a heavy toll on him."

From within her coils, Steven finally peeked up, his cheeks red from crying. He honestly hadn't considered that part of the situation - Bakugo had no right to say what he had, but he'd come this close to being killed. He couldn't condone his behavior, but it wasn't without reason.

"Is he this angry all the time?" he asked meekly.

Eijiro regarded Bakugo, who'd sat down some distance from the others (and started grazing, though he wisely decided not to point that out), and then nodded, a grim look on his face. "It takes some getting used to, man. But he is indeed strong. We'll need that for this mission, even if it means having to live with gettin' yelled at all the time."

Korra looked up at the dragon with a surprised expression. "He does this to you, too?"

Denki, who had been silent the whole time, finally spoke up. "He's a very proud creature, that one. Probably the only person in Class 1-A, or the entirety of U.A. for that matter, with a 'minimum safe distance'. It's a fact of life where we're from, I'm afraid."

Bakugo would've yelled at Denki for that statement, but his temper was already spent, and he was too upset by his recent brush with death to care.

"He's got a strong sense of honor, though," said Eijiro. "And while I still believe he shouldn't have treated Steven like that, I can agree that we gotta get the Maheswarans back. It isn't manly to see them missing, and I'm sure some of us can relate. We just gotta figure out where to find 'em, and how to bring 'em back."

Steven wiped his eyes again. "So, you're helping me, too?"

"It's the least we can do," replied Korra. "Like it or not, we're all here now, and there's only one way to put an end to this whole debacle."

"So," said Denki, "you said Lion can take you to different worlds, right?"

Steven blinked. "You mean you wanna meet the Crystal Gems?"

Dark Pit clutched his temples. "So many people... It's gonna be a nightmare to keep track."

"What do we do with Bakugo, though?" asked Asami.

"Probably give him to Garnet," Steven replied with a small smile. "She'd set him straight without breaking a sweat."

That got a laugh from everyone except Bakugo, who merely grunted like a bull shooing away flies and nursed his bitten shoulder. 

"We've got no time to waste, then," said Dark Pit. "Unless you would prefer if I opened the doors to your world, Steven, let's see if your claims about what your pet is capable of have any real substance to back them up."

Evidently, Lion had taken offense to that, but rather than taking a swipe at the cherubim, he instead stood up, turned away from the group, and let out a booming roar, the cone of sonic energy from his mouth seeming to tear through space and time. Next moment, a massive wormhole had opened up before them, leading to a swirling hyperspace beyond.

Lion gave Dark Pit a smug look, as if to say, "Try and top that."

All Dark Pit could do was gawk at the portal with all four of his heads, heedless of the applause from Asami, Korra, Eijiro, and Denki. Even Bakugo had turned his head to glance at the portal, almost too surprised to remain fuming.

"Okay," the angel said finally. "This time, you win."

 

*****

 

Beach City...

 

"Where is he?! It's already been a lot longer than an hour, and he still hasn't been back! I'm getting worried now..."

The lanky, white-skinned Crystal Gem was anxiously glancing out over the ocean, as if hoping somehow that the person she was wondering about would somehow pop out of the water. Behind her, a tall, statuesque gem with a deep violet cube-shaped afro and a purplish-red skin tone, dressed in a body suit of white, pink, red, and blue, sat idly on the white sand, her three eyes concealed by a visor and her arms with their dark red gauntlets propping her upper body up in a relaxed fashion. Next to her, a short, squat gem dressed in a tank top and contrasting leggings and ankle boots, with light purple skin and pale lavender hair, was lying on her stomach, drawing in the sand with a stick and playing tic-tac-toe with herself. And losing.

"Aw, c'mon, Pearl, don't get yourself so worked up!" Amethyst said cheerfully, trying to defuse the situation. "Steven's got strength to spare. I'm sure he'll be fine!"

"He wasn't sure where he was going, though," Garnet replied, unable to help but sympathize with Pearl in spite of Amethyst's statement. "He mentioned something akin to visiting a world that wasn't like any of ours. My predictions are numerous in number, and judging from what I've seen of where he and Lion have gone, he may not be wrong in that respect."

Pearl had been practicing with her spear for at least an hour now, trying to pass the time, but she couldn't stop thinking about Steven, and now she was beginning to panic. "What if he got lost out there? What if he's stuck in an unfamiliar place with no map or guides or cheeseburger backpack... I just want him to be okay but the further away he is from us the less likely that's gonna happen-"

"It's alright, Pearl." Garnet smiled a little. "I'm sensing something now."

Pearl gasped and whipped round to stare at Garnet. "Is he coming back!?"

"Well, yes," said Garnet. "But before you react, I must warn you... He's got company."

"Awww, come on, we've already got enough friends as it is-" Amethyst protested.

"They're not gems. And they certainly aren't anything like I've ever seen. And believe me, I saw what happened to the townspeople..."

Pearl sank to her knees, clutching her head. "Oh, this is bad. Very, very bad. If these newcomers from elsewhere got it worse than the humans here-"

"I dunno what they look like, but they sound kinda cool," replied Amethyst, grinning cheekily.

Pearl glared at her. "Not helping."

That was when they heard a tremendous crash in the distance, followed by screams and all manner of distressed animal noises. The gems stood up in alarm, Pearl grabbing her spear and Amethyst summoning her crystal-studded whip.

"They're here," said Garnet. "The noise came from Beach City Woods. Let's go!"

The three of them headed over to the forest in question as fast as their legs could carry them. They'd barely made it to the treeline when the noises reached them, and they could make out words, mostly upset shouting.

"GET THE FUCK OFF ME!!!"

"Oh no no NO! Is everyone alright?! Where's Steven?!"

"I think I broke something!"

"OWWWCH! SPIKES EVERYWHERE! MY BLOWHOLE, MY FINS, MY BOTTOOOOMMM!!"

"SORRY, MAN! OH GOD, I THINK MY WING'S STUCK!"

"I swear by the goddesses, if you'd just angled your descent a few degrees higher..."

Evidently, however they'd arrived, the landing hadn't gone as smoothly as they'd intended.

The three gems headed into the forest, the noises and screams making it relatively easy to locate the ruckus. It was only a few minutes before they happened upon the swath of torn-up trees, a massive ditch in the soil, and a pile of distressed mix-and-match animals at the end of said ditch attempting to disentangle each other.

Pearl gasped. "What happened here?!"

A rustling noise made the gems look up. Out of the bushes came Lion, with Steven hanging from his mouth by the scruff as though he were a cub being carried by his mother.

"STEVEN!" the gems cried at once, and rushed over to give the two a hug. However, they quickly disengaged once they saw the rest of the struggling animals.

"How did all this-" Pearl began, but said nothing else. The whole scene spoke for itself.

Steven curled up into a furry ball of shame. "Lost control during super warping," he mumbled, guilty and embarrassed. It was notable that Lion also looked mortified.

"Hang on, we'll help," said Garnet. She turned to address the rest of them. "Hold still, we'll get to you. Don't you worry!" The rest murmured in assent rather quickly, she noted.

The Crystal Gems thus went to work, proceeding to extricate each of them from the pile. The whole process took around ten minutes, but ultimately, the monsters were all separate and a relatively safe distance from each other.

That was when Pearl realized something else.

"You... can talk?! I thought corrupted gems didn't... or couldn't..."

The creatures looked at each other, confused.

"What's this about corrupted gems?" asked the Asian dragon.

"Well..." Another fact occurred to Pearl: if these creatures were all from a world beyond their own, they'd have no idea what a gem was.

Oh, dear.

"We have a lot to talk about," Garnet said suddenly, "but wouldn't it be better if we took this to our temple? There's plenty of room, even for the biggest of you." She directly addressed the two dragons while she spoke that last bit, which prompted them to exchange glances of consternation.

"That'd be nice, actually," said the orca/wolf mix. "Though I hope you've got a ton of ice packs while you're there. Eijiro, remind me to file your scales down as soon as I get opposable thumbs again!"

"Not my fault I'm covered in razor blades, man," the bright red dragon replied apologetically. "Save it for the Miniboss, at least when we eventually find her!"

"Look, we'd love to explain things to you guys," said Amethyst, "but we shouldn't be out here in these woods - I'd have liked to, but who knows what's out there now that everybody's gotten turned? So like Garnet said, if you wanna come with us to the temple, we can talk it out there."

Murmurs of agreement went up from the rest of them.

"Then it's settled," said Pearl. "Let's get going before it gets dark! Chop chop!"

 

*****

 

True to Pearl's suspicions, it was already approaching sundown by the time they were back at the temple. It was unfortunate that the Temple Gate inside Steven's beach house at the front of said temple was located inside the house itself, and several of the monsters were too big to fit in the front door, the group had to enter a portal created by Lion, though thankfully it was a short enough distance that a super warp wasn't required.

One by one, they ended up in a room at the top of a waterfall, with a massive lake with numerous hemispherical fountains in the middle. Hovering over the fountains was a series of golden ribbon-like decorations radiating from above the highest of them, adding to its mystical flair.

"FINALLY!" the whalewolf cried, bounding towards the pool. Despite Pearl's cry of "WAIT NO-!", she dove in with a tremendous splash, drenching Steven and Amethyst who were mere feet from the edge of the pool, before poking her head out and firing a spout of water droplets from her blowhole.

"Ptah! Gah, my fur!" Steven cried in indignation, before shaking himself off like an animal. He promptly padded over to Lion, hoping to dry himself off on his mane, but Lion grabbed him with his forepaws and instead started grooming him like a kitten.

Pearl stared in horror at the scene before her, and then shook her head to try and clear out the stress. "I should've expected that from a whale with legs," she muttered to herself. "Well. At least it can't get any w-"

"CANNONBAAAALL!" The spiky red dragon suddenly charged towards the pool as well, and leaped into the water. As a result, everyone got soaked.

Sopping wet from snout to tail, the bull-ape bellowed and yelled several words that made Pearl run for Steven and clap her hands around his ears, making to punch something, anything. The others turned to see poor Pearl start hyperventilating.

"I'll get 'im," Amethyst said with a grin, before walking over to the minotaur. "Hey! Over here!"

"Not in the mood!" he growled. "Back off, or I'll smash you to the ground!"

"Well, you wanna destroy a buncha things? Well, have I got something for you!" the purple gem replied with a grin.

The horned beast snorted. "Where is it?!" he bellowed.

"Follow me and find out!" Before the others could react, she'd run over to a massive circular waterfall at the center of the pool (and on top of the water, no less), and jumped in. "WOO-HOOOOO!"

With an angry roar, the minotaur charged after her, only to fall into the water and get swept down the falls as well.

"BAKUGO!" cried the yellow dog-like creature, before bounding over the falls, too. After a moment's hesitation, the four-headed, ten-limbed creature groaned, spread its four wings, and flew after them all.

"Where'd they go?" asked the Asian dragon.

"Amethyst's room," Pearl grumbled. "I suppose the trash down there should hold them for a couple of hours."

"But they didn't stick around for the explanation you were planning, man!" said the red dragon. "You still gonna-"

"I was, until you desecrated the tranquility of my room and got all of us soaked," Pearl replied, pinching the bridge of her nose.

The whalewolf gasped, and then sank into the water until only her head was showing. "Oh. Sorry..."

"We thought it was a swimming pool," added the red dragon, looking down at the water reaching up to his shoulders.

"Let them stay, Pearl," said Garnet. "Unlike us, they can't walk on the water. And it's not like there was any other choice of a place to stay the night, given the state of things."

Pearl had a disconcerted and somewhat haunted look, and she sat down on the floor where she was a second later. "I still feel like the whale started it," she muttered.

Garnet patted the stricken Pearl on the shoulder. "Well, she is a sea creature," the taller gem mused aloud. "In any case, we have to explain everything. Starting with introductions."

"But I've already introduced myself to them," Steven replied. "And they've said their names, too-"

"Not to us, though," replied Garnet.

"Oh."

A brief round of name-drops later, along with an explanation of the Crystal Gems' world and what gems were, everyone was up to speed on the events that had happened. Pearl was amazed at Steven's ability to sense people across dimensions, but also disturbed by the revelations stemming from their visitors' recounting of the events that had drawn him away from Beach City. If multiple worlds were affected, things must've been worse than they'd feared.

"I still don't get it, though," she said, having made her way up to the fountain hovering over the central waterfall which, thankfully, had not been disturbed by several rounds of splash-fighting between the two larger monsters. "Where did that giant nine-headed serpent come from?"

"We're not too sure ourselves, man." Eijiro shrugged. "All we know is that we were tryin' to find our way to that signal Dark Pit was looking for, and we were ambushed. We don't even know how it got in this Spirit Place or whatever in the first place."

"Spirit World," Korra clarified.

"Yeah, that."

"And what's even worse is that our world isn't the only one with missing people," Pearl continued. "Korra and Asami mentioned their own friends being taken, too. And I don't know how many other dimensions were affected. But you two come from a world so different from ours that it's amazing that the changes are so similar."

"Well, you're virtually unchanged," replied Asami. "Meanwhile, we've got vastly different forms compared to what we were, and Steven was affected, too, though only partially. Given your nature as mineral-based spirits, assuming that fits your classification, it seems that the curse is affecting humans and humans only."

"That would be correct," replied Garnet, still seated at the edge of the lake with Steven curled up in her lap and Lion resting next to her. "Though that doesn't explain why people have gone missing, too. At least not within the context of the transformation."

Steven lifted his head. "Wait. So, does that mean me getting a cat body and Connie going missing aren't related? Like, one causing the other, or vice versa?"

The group was silent for a moment. They'd almost forgotten about Connie being gone. Garnet, not knowing what else to do, petted Steven in a bid to console him.

"I don't see how that'd make sense, man," replied Kirishima. "Nor do I get how a buncha people from two different worlds could just up and vanish at the exact same time in both worlds. Heck, I don't think you guys are even in the same year as us!"

"Maybe," replied Asami. "But what if the transformation happened at a specific point in time relative to the timelines of the Crystal Gems' world, our world, your world, and everyone else's?"

"Yeah, that could mean something far greater than just one world being affected," added Korra. "We could be looking at something that did this to the entire multiverse, just like that." She slapped her tail fluke against the water to punctuate the last word.

Pearl's eyes widened. "I think I'm getting where you're going with this," she said. The gem on her forehead began to glow, and then a hologram appeared in front of her head, showing a single dot with a line beginning to trail from it. A number was also shown over the dot, starting from 0 and increasing as the line lengthened.

"Our world seems to be just one of many," Pearl explained, "and not all these worlds have begun at the exact same point in time. So a world that may have started at an earlier time than another world may be further down the events of its timeline than the other one, and vice versa." Several more lines showed up above and below the first, appearing at various times, the numbers showing the truth of this statement; the dots denoting the current points in time for each all formed a vertical line running up the middle of the hologram screen. "So if we take our observations as evidence for a single event happening across a number of worlds, then we will likely be able to piece together the approximate occurrence of the beginning of each timeline relative to the multiverse."

"How'd you know when a timeline begins, though?" asked Eijiro.

"I think that'd be when the first significant event pertaining to you occurs," replied Korra. "Steven, you did say something about being able to detect people with a strong sense of power? Like me, or Bakugo..."

The sphinx cub nodded. "I get the sense that whenever a timeline starts, the inner strength of at least one person in the world of that timeline begins to grow real fast."

"That's correct," replied Pearl. "You're an excellent example of that, for a start. The thing is, though, time outside the universes might be different compared to time in one of them. So we wouldn't know if the multiverse regards your power expressing itself as occurring 1000 years prior to this point in its timeline or, say, autumn of 2013 in said timeline."

"My head hurts," mumbled Steven.

"In any case, these disappearances and transformations are too numerous and specific to be connected," Pearl continued. "The explanation that makes the most sense to us is that it was bought about by the manifestation of an entity beyond the multiverse, which affected every world in the vicinity all at the same time."

Right on cue, the numbers on all the dots in the hologram stopped counting, and a vertical line was drawn down the screen, crossing them all at once. Notably, the numbers varied wildly.

"But we don't have proof of that," said Garnet, "unless we can find something that occurred to all the different universes which is consistent in nature between them prior to all of these events."

"Something," said Korra, "like this giant crack running along the sky that I thought I saw the evening before being turned into a killer whalewolf?"

Everyone in the room turned their heads to stare at her.

Eijiro blinked in surprise as well. "I remember something like that, too!" he added. "Deku told me he saw something of the sort prior to all of us blackin' out and getting these cool new forms! I didn't think much of it 'till now, but if you saw the same..."

Pearl recoiled in alarm, the hologram fizzling out. "Cracks in the sky... Like the one Lapis told us she saw yesterday morning. And the night before that, there was this unexplained tremor recorded in every major city around the world, all at the same time. That was just before the Maheswarans were first reported missing." She clutched her temples. "Oh. Oh no... No no no..."

"So it's true, then?" asked Korra. "That there's something out in the multiverse, beyond our worlds, that's found its way in?"

The entire room was, save for the flowing water, dead silent for several long seconds.

Then Steven turned slightly pale, memories of the Cluster flashing back to him. "Or maybe," he whispered, "something's found its way out."

 

*****

 

"You can't be serious," Denki whispered, horrified.

"That's my best guess," replied Dark Pit. "It matches perfectly with my home world getting swallowed up by that uncanonical dark force. If the other worlds started cracking like eggs as well prior to some people from each going missing and the rest looking like this-" he waved at his inhuman lower body - "then something beyond all our universes must've been behind it."

Bakugo let out a snort that sounded a lot like "I knew it". So angry over getting soaked had he been that he'd gone on an epic rampage and leveled half the garbage piles in Amethyst's room, and it was only because his palms were still damp that he hadn't burned them down as well. The smell of wet minotaur was almost as bad as all the trash that was already there.

"Is that why you were goin' on about the Miniboss or whatever she's really called?" asked Amethyst. "If that really is the case I'm not so sure how 'mini' this Miniboss really is. It takes a biiiiiig girl to put a dent in three different worlds with just one PAWNCH!" She drove a fist into her own palm to emphasize her point.

"Doesn't mean we can't punch her back," replied Bakugo. "Fair's fair. If this Miniboss had something to do with Connie and her parents being missing, we'll have to find her straight away."

"And ask her to give them back?" asked Denki.

"No, we make her. Knowing what Four-Heads over there said about her, it's not like we can ask her to do it."

Dark Pit bristled at the nickname. "He's not wrong. Well, he's wrong with respect to many, many things, but for once he's got a damn good point aside from his horns."

Both Denki and Amethyst giggle-snorted at the joke, while Bakugo scowled and flicked his tail.

"The Miniboss is powerful," Dark Pit continued. "I may be an angel, sure, but even I would have a hard time convincing her to cut the shit she's doing. Not to mention that for all we know, she might not even be aware of the effects her emergence had on us."

"...come again?" asked Denki.

Dark Pit rolled his eyes. All eight of them. "What? It's not like I can really explain it without boring you half to death."

Amethyst's eyes widened in sudden comprehension. "Perhaps I can help," she said. "Put it this way, guys. You know how the trash in my room tends to pile so high like what you're seein' right now?"

"No shit," Bakugo grumbled. "It toppled all over me at least once, you uncultured slob."

"It looked hilarious to me, actually," Amethyst replied, smirking. "Anyway, whenever I hoard more and more junk, sooner or later I get trash heaps so big and tall that even the slightest jolt makes them tip over. Now, imagine if these heaps were all in a locked room, and all identified by location names and such like, say, that junk heap bein' Beach City, or that one looking mighty like Musutafu." She pointed at two particularly tall stacks of trash. "I think what the Miniboss is doing would be like in all those action movies where police or bad guys are standing outside the locked door, and they've got this big metal cylinder, and - WHAM-O!" She lifted her foot and stomped hard. The tremor sent a jolt through the feet of everyone else present, and more importantly, caused both trash heaps to shudder, tilt, and finally collapse in a great cloud of smelly dust.

"I'm still not quite following," Bakugo said after the dust settled.

"I think she meant that the Miniboss was breaking into the room," said Dark Pit, "and making it shake by hitting the door."

Denki gasped. "That's what the earthquake was! The one Amethyst mentioned that happened two nights ago, before Connie and her parents vanished along with a third of Beach City!"

"And the taller the trash heap, the more likely it is to fall," replied the angel. "No, scratch that. The higher it gets without the base being thicker."

"Exactly! Now you're gettin' it!" replied Amethyst, beaming. "Seriously, though. I tried makin' a stack of old pizza boxes rather than piling them up to save space. Didn't end well." She mimed the stack in question toppling to the floor and exploding, complete with whistled sound effects ("Eeeeeee-bssssh!").

Bakugo's ears pricked in comprehension. "So, what does this mean for our world, then?" he asked. "You'd think that with so many heroes it wouldn't be so easy to crack."

"That's the thing, though," replied Dark Pit. "It sounds like you guys got too many heroes too quickly. Not a bad thing from your perspective, but that'd rack up the collective power creep of your world a lot faster than expected."

"Which means that if someone came a-knockin', it wouldn't be able to handle it so well," Amethyst added, nodding.

"Wonder if we should tell Pearl all of this," asked Denki. "She'd probably be able to find some sorta clue as to exactly what has, in her words, come a-knockin'."

Amethyst shook her head, flopping down on top of a smaller junk pile. "Doubt even she'd know too much herself. I mean, you've already met the only one of us who's got the ability to even sense worlds outside of our own, and that trip over to Republic City was literally the first time he made such a jump. And given what he told us about how Moo Man over there treated him, I doubt he'd try it a second time."

"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" With a snort of anger, Bakugo whirled to face a now chortling Amethyst and lowered his head, pawing the ground with a hooved fist, but Dark Pit opened a wing in front of him.

"She's not worth it, Bakugo," the cherubim sighed. "I've stopped wasting my breath on the words of morons years ago..."

Amethyst sat up, rolling her eyes. "If you're gonna stick with him, go ahead and risk it. Just don't blame me if you too end up on the business end of Garnet's wrath..."

Bakugo raised a furry eyebrow. "Huh?"

"Eh, let's worry 'bout that later. We placed an order for pizza a little while ago, so Kiki should be here shortly... I'm surprised she could still continue service despite having backward feet. Don'tcha worry, by the way - I'll save you the cheese in the box!"

She spin-dashed out of harm's way, giggling like a lunatic, just before Bakugo seized a large trunk and hurled it at the trash pile she'd been sitting on.

Denki and Dark Pit watched the minotaur sulk away and exchanged helpless expressions.

"At this point," the raiju muttered, "I'll actually be glad to see Garnet again..."

The cherubim could only nod.

 

*****

 

"Thanks, Kiki," said Steven, admiring the two-dozen pizzas that the delivery girl had supplied, enough to warrant a large wagon to carry them all. "Sorry I had to place such a big order on short notice."

"It's alright," the dark-skinned woman replied with a friendly smile, even as she was helping him get the rather heavily loaded wagon onto the porch. "Never expected you to have so many guests. But at least it's netted us a nice payment."

"I'm kinda curious," said Steven. "How're you holding up with feet like that?"

"Oh, these?" Kiki lifted one of said feet up, noting that it was facing in the completely wrong direction. "They're not that bad once you get used to 'em. The important thing is that I can still do my job. As long as that's a thing, I can live with it. Shoulda seen how Ronaldo reacted to becoming a snake-person, though!"

Steven burst out laughing, the memory of hearing an ear-splitting scream coming from the lighthouse this morning coming back to him. "And he told me once that sneople controlled the government... Must've been quite a shock!"

A noise like claws clicking against pavement alerted them, and they turned to see an enormous and extremely colorful chicken strutting up to meet them. That hairstyle and hat looked very familiar...

"Oh! Jamie, what happened?!" asked Steven.

"I don't even know," the mailman-slash-actor-slash-chicken replied, his voice slightly hollow. "But I'm not letting all these feathers keep me off the job."

"That's the spirit, Jamie," Kiki said with an approving nod.

"Anyway, I found this in my bag addressed to you and the Gems," said Jamie. "I figured it'd be important, because it came with a rather lengthy scroll with tons of cursive attached to it..."

"Huh. Well, aren't I supposed to sign something?" asked Steven.

The corners of Jamie's beak turned up in a smile. "Heh, good one! Well, it's not one of those big packages, no, I think you should be fine. Besides, someone sent it to you, rather than you ordering it. I have no clue why."

"Well, I'll leave you to sort it out with your friends, then," said Kiki. "Well... the ones you have. I do hope you can find Connie soon enough."

"And bring her back to Beach City as well," added Jamie. "Safely."

Steven's face fell. "Yeah... I hope so too, Kiki. Thanks, you guys," he added with a smile. "We'll try and find a way to get everyone back to normal, we promise!"

After bidding the two of them goodbye, Steven hauled the wagon full of pizzas into his house. It was quite a laborious task, but he finally managed to get it through the door after a few tries. When he went back out to get the book, however, there was already someone there.

"I had a feeling this would show up," said Garnet, unwrapping the paper covering the book; she'd already taken the scroll and given it a read. "A Book Of Creatures: A Complete Guide to Entities of Myth, Legend, and Folklore. Hmm. I'm guessing this is important."

"Oh hey, Garnet! I got pizza for everybody!" said Steven. "Don't worry, Dad paid. Said it was on the house."

"How's he holding up?" asked Garnet. "From what I've seen, he still has fur..."

"Nothing's gonna change 'till we deal with whatever broke the multiverse," said Steven, looking downcast. "But in the meantime, maybe we could get all this to the temple?" He waved a paw towards the pizza wagon. "I'm sure everyone will appreciate two dozen orders of extra cheese!"

Garnet shrugged. "Well, I'm sure it'll help if they all had full stomachs..."

"Yay!" Steven grinned, and went over to hug the tall gem with his furry forelimbs. "Thanks, Garnet!"

She nodded, her expression blank as usual, but inside her mind, Ruby and Sapphire were both expressing identical degrees of horror. They had both read the letter, and they'd have to break the news to the others soon enough, but if what Twilight Sparkle was implying was true...

Nonetheless, the two of them agreed that a good meal was best for everyone right now, and so it was that all twenty-four of the cheese pizzas Steven had ordered met their fate in the depths of the Crystal Temple.

Even Korra and Asami, who had been used to Republic City cuisine all their lives, regarded pizza as the most amazing thing they'd ever tasted, and hoped that there was plenty more of it to be found elsewhere in the multiverse. It had been generally agreed that in the wake of their discussion, they'd have to find help in other worlds besides their own, and a lot of it; introducing the wonder of this foodstuff wherever they went was just a bonus.

They were all in Pearl's Room again, having explored the rest of the Crystal Temple to pass the time prior to the pizza delivery. Once the edge was taken off the appetites of everyone present, Garnet spoke up.

"I have an announcement to make - though I'm not sure if some of you will like it."

Bakugo snorted. "Lemme guess. We'll have to pack up and leave again?"

"Well, we can't really spend too long in one place, man," replied Eijiro. "Think about it - I'm like, house sized, and a number of us aren't far behind. Can't exactly fit in the Beach House, can we?"

"Plus, it'll attract a lot of attention," added Asami. "Some of which may be less than desirable."

"There is a safe-zone universe I have learned about, however," said Garnet, passing the letter to Steven who was reclining next to her. "A place known as 'Equestria'."

Korra blinked. "Equi-what now?"

Steven looked at the letter again. "It says the letter was written by someone named H.R.M. Twilight Sparkle. That doesn't sound like any name I know. But I'm sure that if Lion could take me to Korra's world, Equestria shouldn't be too much of a problem."

"I'll say this right now," replied Denki. "It'd be safest if we all went through the gateway one at a time."

"Oh yeah, that," Korra muttered sourly. "I can still feel all those spine-wounds in my blubber..."

"I said I was sorry, man," Kirishima replied with a disconcerted tone. "But yeah, one at a time would be better."

"Especially because if the first of us finds out that this 'Equestria' place isn't to our liking, they can simply head back without having to wait for the rest of us," added Dark Pit.

"How'd we find the place, though?" asked Amethyst, still sucking the grease from her fingers. "And what if it's just a sappy fun land like that one TV show with the little colorful talking horses?"

Steven looked at her, perplexed. "What made you guess that?"

"Ya know... H.R.M. Twilight Sparkle? Definitely sounds like one of those toys Connie would have."

"Hey now, her parents controlled her a lot back in the day! I don't think they'd have let her have any of those things, considering the choking hazard warning on most of the packages."

Stifled laughter came from most of the other visitors. Garnet gave them a look that clearly demanded them to stop, and they all took one look at her before whistling in mock innocence.

"So, how is it that you'd be able to find Equestria in the first place?" asked Pearl. "Didn't you demonstrate a sensing ability that could work even across dimensions?"

"Uh..." Steven froze, hackles up, realizing that every eye was now turned on him. "It... It only works in dreams, I think... At least that's what I know-"

"Great," snarled Bakugo. "It's either being stuck in any one of a bunch of worlds left in chaos by an evil goddess' presence, with no reliable way of getting out in time, or being stuck in a pastel-colored land of silliness until this whole thing boils over. Why can't I just send the Miniboss back from whence she came and go home?!"

"I've already told you," Dark Pit replied testily. "It's not as easy as it sounds. And I can't believe I'm saying this, but this Twilight Sparkle sounds like she knows what's up. We don't have much of a choice except to trust her... whomever she is."

"You've been able to sense people before, haven't ya?" Amethyst asked to Steven. "Not just while asleep. You told us about that one time when you went to the lighthouse with Lars and co., right?"

Steven looked understandably nervous. "B-but that was just a one-time thing! And it was a gem, not a person-"

"Still, worth a shot, right?" Amethyst sounded encouraging. "No harm in tryin' to see how far you can go with your powers now that ya know how far they can go!"

"Amethyst..." Pearl said with a warning tone.

Steven curled up, giving into the pressure. "Alright, alright, I'll do it! But just... I'll need to take a nap first, it's more reliable that w-"

WHAM. Bakugo's fist slammed down right in front of Steven, making the sphinx cub yowl and scramble up and onto the seated Garnet's head, his back arched and the pink fur covering his body standing on end.

"So what," the minotaur snarled, "you're just going to sleep on the job like you don't even care? That's what you're going with!? I'm at my wit's end, and I ran out of patience a long time ago. We can't just stand here and do nothing, not while so many worlds are falling into chaos. Or are you just going to fucking give up and go to your room while everyone else dies?!"

Everyone else had fallen dead silent. Garnet, for her part, looked at Bakugo, her expression unchanged. "Bakugo, for your sake and Steven's, I will humbly request for you to back off."

"And what would you do if I didn't?" he retorted, snorting puffs of smoke once again. "I don't know what you're capable of, but I don't fucking care. If you think for one second that you'll be able to stop me tearing my way across the multiverse in search of the Miniboss before ripping her fucking head off and beating her to death with it, you've got another thing coming. I don't have time for shit like this, and if you're just gonna keep encouraging him like some side-ponytailed mother destined to die as collateral..."

So caught up was Bakugo in his cross, irrational ranting, and so focused was he on a panicking Steven, that he hadn't noticed that Garnet had stood up by this point. Nor had he realized that everyone else was now backing away from the three of them. By the time he saw Garnet's fist draw back, it was already too late.

There was a massive WHOOMP, and Bakugo smashed into the ceiling at terminal velocity, the force of the impact leaving a crater in the solid stone. He remained there, dazed, for several long moments before peeling off with a drawn-out THHHHHHHHHHHP and plummeting back to the floor. Just before he hit the ground, he couldn't react before the lashes of Amethyst's whip coiled around his limbs and snout, binding him in place. The wind was promptly knocked out of him from his meeting with the floor, hitting it with such force that it actually cracked. His eyes opened just in time to go cross-eyed, the light blue blade pointed at his forehead mere inches from his skin.

"That," Pearl said with an infuriated expression, "was way over the line. You owe all of us far more than an apology, both for what you said to Steven while he was in Korra's home universe and your behavior just now."

"And if you keep it up," Amethyst growled, cracking her knuckles, "we won't take it sitting down. And we've dealt with far worse than you before breakfast, mind you!"

"I don't think we need to say anything that our gauntlets haven't," said Garnet.

Bakugo's eyes turned towards the rest of the group, as though expecting them to back him up, but everyone else (yes, even Lion) was looking at him with shock, horror, and outright disgust. The sole exception was Kirishima, who was hiding his face behind one of his leathery wings.

"Sorry, man," the dragon said quietly. "I've said it before, but even think you're in the wrong on this one."

"I hate you all," Bakugo snarled under his breath through clenched teeth.

Steven, for his part, eventually let Garnet pluck him off her hair and cradle him in her arms. He was too stunned to respond at all, and couldn't even give the minotaur a passing glance.

"I know this is a bad time to say it, but I... I really do need a nap," he said weakly. "And honestly, I don't know if going out at night is the best idea."

The others murmured to each other in agreement.

"I think everybody needs some rest, in fact," said Pearl, putting her spear away. "We've got a big day tomorrow. Preferably one where all of us attend this time."

"Even Peridot and Lapis?" asked Amethyst.

"Well... They'll probably help us out from home base. I don't think they were affected any more than we were. But they should be able to hold the fort while we're gone. I'll let them know the first chance I get."

Steven sighed in relief. "Thank goodness they're okay."

"What do we do with Bakugo, though?" asked Asami. "He may have crossed the line by a tremendous margin, but we can't just leave him tied up on the floor..."

"We could bubble him," suggested Amethyst. "No big deal. We can simply let him out in the morning."

"He doesn't have a gem, though," said Garnet. "I think it'd be best to just let him find a place to rest."

"Away from you people," Bakugo added in a low, dangerous voice.

Dark Pit gave the minotaur a thoughtful look. "I think I'll go with him regardless," he said finally. "Just so nobody sneaks up on him in the middle of the night. I know he won't like it, but-"

"Relax, Four-Heads," said Denki. "You're the best fit for the lookout job in my opinion. I'm sure he'd appreciate it deep down."

"Wait, you're not coming?"

"We will, don't worry," replied Kirishima, his expression downcast. "We're his friends too, after all. 'Sides, wouldn't want a repeat of that totally un-manly little outburst just now, huh?"

"So, does that mean you'll be headed to Equestria on your own?" asked Steven.

"If I had to be honest," said Denki, "I'm not sure if we'll even be heading there. There's like, so many other universes out there, I'm sure more than one of 'em would be a safe zone."

Amethyst looked at Bakugo, an expression of pity on her face. Bakugo glared at her, but remained where he was even as she dematerialized her whip and recalled it back into her jewel. He wasn't outright angry anymore, but she could tell that his wounded pride had affected him greatly.

"I... guess I underestimated you three," the minotaur said finally. "But whatever the case, I'm not staying here. I have business with the Miniboss, whether you like it or not."

"Ya know what, I'm coming with you," said Amethyst. "Just so there's at least someone to keep you from maiming the first person you see."

Pearl gasped in shock. "Wait, so that means we have to split up? Here and now? But that's just asking for trouble!"

"Relax, Pearl. I've handled myself out there well enough. We can always keep in touch anyways, right? I mean, Steven can help with that..."

Steven looked up at Amethyst with a tearful expression. "But you won't be with us..." he whimpered. "I'll miss you! Where will you be going? And how can I be sure that you're safe?"

"Remember how you sensed Korra? You told us, right? You were napping on the floor, and you woke up screaming something about whales with legs and giant snakes... Try and dream about me every night, and who knows? You might be able to find me, wherever we are!"

Korra and Asami couldn't help but smile at that point.

"So, uh... Group hug?" asked Steven.

"Uh, maybe not with my spikes all over," Kirishima said sheepishly.

"Or my electricity," added Denki. "And I don't think Bakugo or Dark Pit would want that, either..."

"The two of us are coming with you, though," said Asami. "It only makes sense, so..."

Steven grinned in appreciation. Next thing he knew, the Crystal Gems had all embraced each other, and Korra came up to stick her head in and nuzzle Steven as well, with Asami gently coiling around them.

"Be back as soon as you can, Amethyst," said Pearl.

"Just let us know if anything happens," said Garnet. "I'll keep my future-sight out for you, just in case."

"I'll try!" Amethyst replied, grinning. "Hopefully the boys won't mess things up for me..."

Kirishima and Denki exchanged amused looks. The former briefly considered elbowing his friend too, but thought better of it.

Once the two groups had parted ways (Bakugo had chosen to sleep outside, with the others going with him following suit), that left Pearl, Garnet, Korra, Asami, and Steven in the chamber.

"I'll probably have to do some research about this 'Equestria' place," said Pearl. "But I can't really do that without some insight from Steven - especially since I don't even know what it is."

"Neither do I," replied Korra. "And yet here we are, preparing to go there... Let's hope Lion knows where he's taking us."

Lion growled in mild annoyance, as though to reaffirm that he did know. Nobody was assured, but at this point there was little they could do.

"Let's just all get some sleep, everyone," said Asami. "Then we can worry about where to go next tomorrow."

"I can live with that," replied Steven. He stretched in true cat-like fashion and yawned. "What a day... Dimensional travel and some new friends... And a vacation... If this weren't a multiverse crisis, it'd be the best day ever since... well, ever, I guess!"

"If it weren't for the crisis," muttered Korra, shivering slightly at the thought of the crack in the sky. "Imagine my joy..."

 

*****

 

Steven couldn't place where he was at the moment. The houses, the plants, and even the sky looked unfamiliar. But he could say one thing for certain: he was not happy with what he was seeing.

The night sky overhead had no stars, but there was plenty of light illuminating the place, of fires blazing throughout the rustic town, which was in the process of being destroyed like in some kind of monster movie. Multicolored dog-sized horses with oversized heads, eyes, and hooves were galloping in all directions, screaming in terror, threatening to trample him at any second if they took their eyes off the sky for too long.

There was good reason for them to be looking up, in fact.  High above the horrible scene, a gigantic, ethereal serpent was slithering through the sky, its sinuous body, seemingly made of crimson fire, trailing behind its horrible head like the tail of a comet. Dozens of smaller figures were attacking it from all directions, horses similar to the ones on the ground except with wings like giant birds. Many were white and clad in Praetorian armor, but others had blue and yellow suits and goggles like fighter pilots, joining the armor-clad winged horses in a desperate defensive assault.

The sky serpent was clearly far over the league of any of them, however. It whirled and twisted through the air, scattering the flying horses, before its blazing eyes fell upon a castle in the distance. Steven couldn't make out who it was, but there was someone there-

No. Six horses. Each of a different color. And what was that rainbow-colored light coming from over there?

The snake reared back like a great cobra, its throat aglow. And then, just as the rainbow was about to hit, the creature unleashed a massive blast of white-hot light like a thousand sunbeams. The blast split the rainbow apart like a fire hose tearing through cotton candy, racing towards the six horses, who could only scream helplessly as they were consumed by the glow-

"NO!!!"

The sky snake was inspecting the smoldering crater where the castle once stood. Suddenly it turned its monstrous head, and eyes like gleaming stars stared down the helpless sphinx cub.

He wanted to run, but his legs felt like lead. There was no way he could escape the nightmare, no way he could flee from the fiery flying serpent diving down upon him, its maw open wide, the darkness within its throat like a black hole. S teven screamed at the top of his lungs, his eyes squeezed shut...

And then, when he opened them again, he found himself floating in nothing but a black, featureless void. His heart beat in his throat as, for one horrible second, he thought the beast had swallowed him whole.

Then he felt a presence behind him. He turned, and gasped in wonder in spite of himself.

A winged unicorn was standing in front of him, its coat and feathered wings a deep blue with a black patch bearing a white crescent moon on each upper thigh; a matching black peytral was also visible around the base of its neck. Its mane and tail seemed to be made of the essence of a starry night sky, and its hooves a bluish silver. It regarded Steven with large, liquid blue eyes, its expression both maternal and, to his apprehension, fearful.

"Uh... I come in peace?" asked Steven.

"We know you do, strewth," the unicorn responded in a regal female voice. "We sensed thy presence in the troubled dreams of the people of this world. Presumably you were among those who received the memo, correct?"

"Uh, the letter, you mean?"

"From Princess Twilight, yes. I am Princess Luna, and I am one of her trusted allies. We are hoping to safeguard many who have been forcibly changed by Lahamu's presence. But Twilight needs help. We need help. She above all else knows the risks of acting as a guardian."

"The risks?"

"The more power accumulated, the more likely we will be noticed. We are looking for other worlds like Equestria as well, worlds which can protect us until order is restored."

"H-how... How are you in my dream? Are you some kind of... of night-mare?"

Luna chuckled a little. "Oh, you don't know the half of it, young one. But to answer your first question, I have the ability to visit the dreams of others, and I realize now that I am facing someone who can do the same. It appears we have a few things in common."

Steven shrank back slightly. "But I don't know you. How am I supposed to know you're real?"

"We have a feeling we may meet each other in person soon. But if you could find yourself in the dreams of the citizens of Ponyville, then surely you can sense where we are in the multiverse. That should guide you to where we are, we suppose."

"Oh."

"We must warn you, however: Our little ponies may not be so receptive of you and your companions the way I and the other princesses are. There are many dangerous creatures in Equestria as it is, and others now threaten to break into our universe and worsen things. That, young one, is why we need your help in return for sanctuary."

"So... You want us... to help you fight monsters? ...didn't we already just do that a while ago...?"

"At this point, I doubt anyone else has not. But that could work to your advantage. Once you know better about the situation, mayhap you could be more prepared when a crisis comes."

Steven thought about it, and then a horrible memory occurred to him. "The flying snake... What was-?!"

Luna paused, feeling uncomfortable. "...I don't know if it'd be safe to explain. Not here, while our dreams can still be invaded. But when you and your companions meet us, we will do what we can to enlighten you on the subject."

Steven gulped. He'd seen enough movies to realize that whatever information she had, it couldn't have been good if it was to be kept this much under wraps.

Luna smiled gently. "You'll know where to find us. Once you transfer this knowledge to your friends, your path shall be made clear. Remember this, young one: we are counting on you, and all of those who have come to thy aid."

Steven's eyes widened, and he curled up into a furry ball, barely suppressing a shudder. "H-how many worlds are gonna need us at this point?!"

"Unfortunately, I think I've lost count. But there are other heroes already joining us, so the more we can find, the better chances we'll have to survive. I have a feeling we will be noticed before long, and we must be prepared to take it as it comes."

"Noticed? By whom?!"

But the horse had suddenly sensed something. She looked around frantically, and then turned back to him. "I must go. You will know in due time. For now, though, good luck, Steven. We do believe we all will need it."

"Wait, know what? How did you know my name? Luna?! LUUUUNAAAA!!" But the princess had already turned and cantered off into the gloom. And then gravity seemed to take hold of Steven, before he plummeted with an echoing scream into the endless void-

-and landed hard on the floor, having fallen out of bed.

He looked up, a cold sweat on his forehead. The rays of the morning sun were already filtering through his bedroom window. And there, curled up on the floor asleep mere feet from him, was Lion.

Steven looked at his companion, fear and uncertainty warring with determination in his mind. Finally, he padded up to Lion, and nudged his snout gently with a forepaw. The great cat blinked slowly as he returned to consciousness, glancing up at Steven with a look of drowsy confusion.

"Lion, I know I hate to wake you up this early," he said. "But we've got no time to waste. Not with a fiery flying serpent loose in the multiverse."

Lion let out a growl that seemed to combine confusion and concern. But the look on Steven's face was like the cold steel of Connie's sword.

"Go get the others," said the sphinx cub. "Right now. We all need to get to Equestria as fast as we can!"