A huge chunk of flaming science-y stuff crashes down inches in front of him, blasting him with scorching hot air. He backpedals through the doorframe of the lab without a single ounce of the grace that made him famous, but he manages not to fall. He can feel something happening in his body, unasked for pressure that’s gnawing on his bones, chewing him up into little pieces, but he dares not rest yet.
Through ringing ears and blurring vision, he clutches the turtle creatures closer to his chest and sprints down a series of hallways and out through a door marked “EXIT” by a glowing neon sign. Good to know this Draxum fellow follows workplace safety regulations.
He finds himself in the open air of the Hidden City, a strange tower suspended above a chasm that he can’t see the bottom of. It’s so much more beautiful than the inside of the Battle Nexus--everything is glowing and floating like jellyfish in an aquarium, pockets of light drifting all around.
Below him, the sides of the lab sprawl downwards in unforgiving ridges. Another round of explosions from the lab push him off his feet, and he’s grateful for the training of his youth when he intuitively relaxes his body and cradles his little burdens close as he rolls down, down, down, until he hits a ledge with a crunch.
He’s sprawled on his side, stunned into stillness. Crunch? He looks down, nausea clawing up his throat. Thank goodness, that horrible sound must have been him, not the little creatures, who are looking around in confusion and distress.
He grunts, trying to lift his head off the ground, but he feels that horrible gnawing again, paralyzing him. Like it was waiting for him to relax. The sensation races through his body, leaving more crunching and squelching noises in its wake. It hurts. He screams.
He blacks out.
Consciousness comes courtesy of another deafening explosion. He must not have been out long. Heat still presses down from above. Adrenaline keeps him from falling asleep, sends his heart back into overdrive.
He moans, utterly spent, his body hurting in ways he didn’t think possible. But he must move. He cannot stay. Disappear into the shadows , he hears, a memory resurfacing after years of ignoring it.
Tiny hands press against his face. This time, when he opens his eyes, two of them are there, making small noises.
No time. He’s still out in the open.
But when he tries to pull his little creatures back into his arms, something is wrong. Wrong enough for him to look down and see oh god what happened to his body . His jumpsuit is like a bedsheet on him. Where are his arms and legs? He flexes his fingers and toes, assuring himself they’re at least… there… but he finds himself panicking as he frees them from the fabric.
As it usually does in moments of real danger, his brain has no trouble making connections faster than he can put the thoughts into words, remembering the rat that bit him as that weird goo covered him: rat rat rat rat!
“Okay then,” he says aloud, voice shaking. “Move now, freak out later.”
A shout from above, barely audible over the still-roaring fire.
No time no time no time. He punches his new arms and legs through convenient places in his jumpsuit, ties the excess fabric around his waist, gathers the little creatures--more like medium-sized creatures to him now--and looks for a way to escape.
A steep drop on all sides. The only exit, seemingly, is the bridge to the main entrance of the lab. That’s no good, he’ll get caught.
A low growl interrupts his thoughts.
He turns to see one of the creatures he freed from the lab, a sort of cat with wings. It growls again and whips its tail. It looks at his little green babies and licks its lips.
He forces his breath out in a sigh and holds his hand out, trying to soothe the cat best he knows how. “Pspspspsps… don’t eat the turtles, sweet kitty. Shoo.”
The cat thing blinks at him, turns tail, and jumps down into a passing glowing patch, and vanishes entirely.
He blinks. “What?”
Then the cat jumps up out of the glowing thing onto the ledge with him, blinks again, and goes back through the glowing portal thing. Then its head pokes out of the portal, meows impatiently at him, and then disappears once again.
He nods with understanding, makes sure he’s holding his turtle creatures as tightly as he dares, takes a deep breath, and jumps.
He trips over his new legs and falls with a shriek.
Then there’s a mouth grabbing the back of his neck, and he’s carried through the portal and dumped on the ground. Shaking, he sits up, looking around. He’s on the side of a mountain, a shimmering pink mass covered in trees. He thinks he might be able to see the tower he escaped from on the horizon, but it’s hard to be sure.
He looks down at his arms. One, two, three, four. They’re all still here, though one of them seems to be shaking uncontrollably. He can relate.
He lifts his head to look at the winged cat creature. It’s sitting across from him, licking its paws.
“Thank you,” he says, bowing his head, and gets to his feet. “Good kitty. Pspspsps.” He reaches out to pet the cat, and it lets him stroke behind its ear for a second before it meows at him, leaps, and disappears into another portal above.
Nothing for it now. Time to run.
It’s hard. His body is a completely different size than it has been for decades. Like the first time he played a video game and he kept mashing the wrong buttons. He half-trips and stubs his toes and bumps into things. Despite all that, though, he manages not to faceplant.
He vanishes into a copse of glowing trees in the foothills. He does not stop. If he knows Draxum’s type, he will be thorough and check the surrounding areas sooner or later. Besides, as exhausted and pained as he is, nothing can compare to the feeling of running through the woods after years of being locked up. No one watching him, no one to please. Just him. And these turtle creatures, but they don’t count. They’re babies or something.
He does a flip over a log just because he can, and then definitely flubs the landing, but it’s worth it. He’s free to live in peace and just… rest. Vanish into the shadows, Yoshi.
At least, if he can get out of this alive. It will be a good while yet before he and his contraband creatures would be safe.
Eventually he arrives in the city proper. He can acknowledge that even though being a rat is not ideal for a whole host of reasons, it's probably for the best right now. There are flyers and ads everywhere offering bounties for the return of Big Mama’s prized Lou Jitsu. No one will be dragging him in looking like this any time soon…. Though the remains of his outfit may prove a problem.
“Tch… I haven’t even fought in her games in years, but she’ll still go to great lengths to get me back,” he grumbles to his new companions. “She’s a hoarder, but for people.”
He swipes a little jacket hanging on the back of a cafe chair as he passes, sending a silent apology to the owner. Life or death, right?
He pulls off his jumpsuit in a small alley between buildings and jumps into the jacket, its size more than enough to engulf him, but it leaves his legs free to move. He rips the sleeves of the jacket off, freeing his arms, and uses the fabric along with his discarded jumpsuit to wrap his little creatures up into one secure bundle, their heads just barely poking out. They make noises of protest, especially the one with purple markings, but they settle in soon enough.
Perfect. Now he looks like a tiny rat man carrying a single baby, and not a mutated Lou Jitsu smuggling four baby turtle things. Now to get all of them somewhere that Draxum would never find them again.
Disappear , the voices of his family whisper, silent for decades until today. Become one with the shadows. Does he have a concussion or something? Why is he remembering this so vividly right now?
Regardless, he isn’t sure how to do that anyway, but at the very least he could go back to the human world. That would be a great start. But how? He was brought here against his will, and he wasn’t exactly versed in travelling between worlds.
He leaves the alley, trying to look as unsuspicious as possible and failing hard, racking his brain for ideas.
He seems to be in some sort of shopping area. Restaurants, shops, and food carts stretched around as far as he could see, which is admittedly not very far--how bizarre to be the butt of his own short joke. Everyone else is so tall compared to him now, towering over him, seeming to either not see him at all or look down in annoyance like he’s an obstacle.
It makes something slimy grow in his chest, but this is exactly the reaction he needs from everyone right now. Blend in. Disappear.
“Hey, has anyone seen some mutated freaks of nature, particularly four green baby things?” a shrill voice calls over the crowd. “Maybe also Lou Jitsu?”
Another voice. “Anyone seen four green little guys? Very small? Snack-sized?”
When a pair of bear yokai pass, he can see the two gargoyles that took him from the Nexus--their names escape him and he doesn’t care--flying over the crowd, bothering passersby.
“There’s been a terrible kidnapping! If you see any suspicious creatures, particularly four ugly green snacks or famed warrior Lou Jitsu, please let us know! You will be financially compensated!”
They fly closer. He ducks down under the roof of a food cart, pretending to look at the menu. His stomach growls, and he grimaces.
One of his creatures makes a loud, sad sound, reaching little green hands towards the smell of food.
A couple heads turn to glance at him.
“Shh,” he whispers. “We’ll eat--” He doesn’t have any money. “--at some point. Later.”
“Four green little... thingies! Big bounty!” The gargoyles are close. “Way bigger than Big Mama’s bounty, we promise!”
He hides himself behind some of the taller yokai. They don’t seem interested in ratting him out yet.
A slime yokai leans closer. “Those look like four little green thingies you got there.”
He swallows, clutching his bundle closer. “Uh, actually, these are… a new breed of dog. Cross between a chihuahua and… a lime,” he says, patting one on the head with a gentle claw, eliciting a laughing sound that makes his heart turn itself inside out.
He’s met with bewilderment from the surrounding yokai.
“What’s a dog?”
“What’s a lime?”
“What’s a… chingada?”
The slime yokai turns towards a gargoyle that happens to be flying close. “Hey, what crime did you say it was?”
Several other yokai stop and listen.
“A kidnapping!” the jagged-toothed one cries.
The slime yokai hums disinterestedly.
“Stolen intellectual property!” cries the other.
“Infringing on copyright laws?” a bull yokai growls, popping his knuckles and giving the little green bundle a wicked look. “Now that’s worthy of a thrashing.”
“I know, right!” the jagged-toothed gargoyle cries.
Things are not going according to plan. He tries to flee, but a deer yokai grabs his arm in a silent, menacing grip. One of his creatures starts to make a sound, and he presses the whole bundle to his pounding heart, hoping to mute the sound.
He looks up at the eyes framed by navy, glinting antlers, frozen in dread. The deer yokai does not let him go, nor does she alert the gargoyles.
“The nerve of that guy, stealing from Baron Draxum, only the coolest boss and buffest nerd you’ve ever seen!” the smooth-beaked gargoyle says.
A hush falls over the group.
“Draxum?” the slime yokai asks, voice flat.
Everyone goes back to their business pointedly.
The gargoyles give each other a sad shrug and fly to another area, resuming their calls.
The deer yokai doesn’t let go, and instead drags him to the side of the food cart, looking at him down her nose. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I hate Baron Draxum.”
He nods shakily, grateful that he hasn’t been caught yet. “I’ve only known him for a couple hours, and I agree wholeheartedly.”
Then she chuckles and lets go of his arm. She breaks off a piece of the sandwich in her other hand and holds it over the little bundle of creatures, who all snap hungrily for it like baby birds. She laughs again and drops the piece into one mouth, and starts breaking off more pieces of the sandwich and getting everyone fed. As she does this, she explains in a hushed voice, “Whoever you are, and whatever Draxum was doing with these strange creatures, I’m sure you were justified in taking them. Where are you trying to go?”
He blinks back tears of gratitude. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Where are you trying to go?” she repeats sternly.
The slime yokai looks back over at them. Hungrily.
“The human world,” he whispers. “We should be safe there.” His little creatures, now sated, curl back up and go to sleep, nuzzling into each other against his chest.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she says. She presses the rest of her sandwich into his hand. “Follow me.”
Choking back more tears of gratitude, he does as she says, stumbling after on his short legs, head down and trying to hide his little creatures as he nibbles on the rest of the sandwich, too ravenous to save any for later.
They don’t walk far, just down a few blocks to a blank wall.
The deer yokai takes out a handful of talismans and hands him one. “In case you ever need to come back,” she says.
He’s about to ask what the token thing does when she draws a glowing pattern on the wall. A bright, pulsing circle grows in its place, more than big enough to step through, even if he were his usual size.
“Wow,” he breathes.
She looks at him curiously, but does not comment. “Good luck. You should probably go.”
“Yes, yes I….” he stutters. “Thank you. Thank you so much, I owe you my life, kind stranger.”
“Anything to ruin Draxum’s day,” she replies easily. “Take care of your kids, okay?” she asks.
The gargoyles’ voices become audible again.
“My kids...” Splinter repeats to himself, surprised to like the sound of it.
Without warning, she pushes him through the portal.
A strange buzzing feeling washes over him, tingly and cold.
Then he’s crashing to his knees in a muddy puddle. He looks up. The GWB looms on the other side of an ugly office building. He’s under a fire escape, hidden in the dark shadow cast by a bright neon-blue sign advertising something called an X-Box.
“Great, New York,” he mumbles sarcastically.
He gets to his feet, but barely. He’s shaking. His new legs are like toothpicks that he can’t control or even feel.
He takes one step toward the street, and then another. Shelter. Help. Just these last few steps and then he can finally, finally just rest.
The sun is going down. The streets outside of the shadow he’s in are still teeming with people, and they’ll stay that way through all hours of the night.
He looks down at his furry claws on the ground, his vision going in and out of focus. Right. He can’t be seen by anyone in the human world, either. Not like this.
Become one with the shadows. Disappear.
He steps backward, back to where he was, and turns around and keeps going, down into an alley full of trash. There has to be somewhere to hide, just long enough to rest.
The alley doesn’t lead anywhere. A dead end full of wonderful street art but nothing that would help him.
Some loud teens exit the Box shop, heading back towards him.
He looks around frantically.
A manhole cover, that would have to do.
He puts down his bundle and wedges his fingers under the cover, lifting for all he’s worth. From how it barely budges, he isn’t worth much.
One of his creatures mewls, woken up by the cold air. The teens get closer.
He lifts again, growling under his breath. Miraculously, somehow, he lifts it, shaking, and drops it to the side with a loud crash. He hears the teens swearing in shock as he grabs his bundle and scampers down into the dark.
Being the ladder expert he is, he’s able to get down to the bottom in record time, far enough from the light above to be completely invisible.
“Did we seriously just witness a giant rat stealing a baby?”
“New York. …What a town.”
“Oh well. I’m sure it’s fine.”
Being the helpful teens they are, they return the manhole cover to its correct location, locking him and his bundle in the dark.
Exhausted, he collapses against a tunnel wall, bundle clutched tight.
My kids, he thinks to himself again, turning the phrase over in his mind. Yes, he likes the sound of that.
He’s out in seconds.