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Legends: A Story of Lies [Star vs. The Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls, Big Bad Beetleborgs]

Queen B

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
= - = 45 = - =


|Queen B|

Like any other day, Jackie Lynn Thomas was boarding to school, the drone of hard polyurethane wheels against the pavement interrupted "ka-kunks" that followed her traversing the cracks in the street and in the sidewalk. As she approached the school looking for Janna, she did a double-take and coasted to a halt.

She stared, with mouth agape. The entire front of the school was decorated not in Echo Creek's oranges, but the purples, pinks, and blues that Brittney was commonly associated with. Everything from balloons to banners, to streamers, to lights and even what looked like holograms of cheerleaders and football players decorated the street-facing buildings of the campus. On the School's Sign, the words "Spirit Week By Wong" was written in place of the usual "Go Opossums!"

It was hard to look at, even for someone laid-back like her. "Dude…"

"I know, right? This is aggressively dumb."

Jackie looked and found Janna leaning against Otis the Opossum. Kicking up her board, she strode over and joined her side, brushing arms with her.

"Still down to dance?"

Janna coiled her arm Jackie's, inviting her to lean into her shoulder. "Maliciously."

"Cool, I got something for you."

As she leaned against Janna, Jackie produced a pair of purple bracelets that were wider around one half than the other. On the wide half "Spirit Week by Wong" was etched into it. Staring at it uncomprehending for all of an instant, Janna recognized what they were and she rolled her eyes.

"Really?"

"Yeah, this is how Brittney's making sure the people she wants go to the dance." Jackie offered one of them to Janna. "Chantal and I are cool, though, so I grabbed extra from her."

Taking the wristband and pocketing it, Janna nodded in praise to Jackie. "Good looking out, I could've grabbed one though."

Jackie chuckled. "At least I saved you a lockpick."

Taking that into consideration, Janna agreed. She really didn't want to exert any more effort than she wanted in jamming someone's face in their own crap. Brittney wasn't even at the top of her list of people harshing on her vibe, anyway.

"Has anyone checked on Brittney lately? Is she doing okay?"

Both girls looked to see Dipper, Mabel, and Misao, who had just been dropped off by Shermie. They were looking at the redecorated School–Mabel was cringing at the poor decor choices, Misao was outright disgusted by the flagrant ego on display, and Dipper had asked aloud what everyone was thinking.

Janna responded. "On a scale of one to ten: Fifty-one-fifty."

Jackie nearly burst into laughter, but she held it in as a throaty chuckle while she appraised Dipper up close and in-person for the first time. With the gulf of academia separating them, and having as high an opinion of Mabel as she did, she had been eager to have even a few moments' time with the other Pines twin. Their shortstack roommate and companion, too.

"Janna!" Mabel greeted as she and Misao led the way over to them. "And Jackie, too!"

"Morning, party girls," Jackie greeted.

"Hallo!" Misao chimed back. "Jackie Lynn Thomas, I am presuming?"

"Mmhm, and you're Faithful Pony, right?"

Misao beamed from being recognized. "Ja, I hope you've been keeping your six o'clock clear~!"

Jackie was too chill to fangirl. "You are twenty percent cooler in person."

Misao cupped her cheeks and beamed.

She looked back to the Twins, inwardly appreciating their height, and her attention drifted to Dipper. "And you're Dipper…"

Her smile grew a little. "… Hey"

Janna glanced out the corner of her eye at Jackie, looked at Dipper, danced her attention back and forth between the two, and all the malice she had had simmering since yesterday became a superheated geyser erupting taller than the Empire State Building.

Dipper, to his credit, didn't ogle the most popular girl at school even as he appreciated why she'd be revered as such. "Hey, yeah, that's me. Dipper, Mabel's brother…"

Mabel gently elbowed his side. "Yep, my handsome brainiac of a brother who can't stay out of trouble. He's single, too."

Dipper shot her a look. "Mabel, knock it off…"

Jackie let out a chuckle and brought her skateboard in front of her to rest it on her knees as she leaned over some. "But you are single?"

Dipper sensed that playfulness in her voice like a shark smelled blood. With a devil may care smile, he stepped up with a lot more confidence radiating from him. "You looking? Because if you're down…"

Jackie blurted out another laugh, but wasn't at all quick to walk back her shot. She held her board behind her back and looked aside as her face warmed up. "Yo stop… I might just say yeah…"

Misao nodded to Jackie. "I too have learned not to flirt carelessly with Dipper."

His smirk sharpened into something that even Janna now looked at with a bit of weakness. "You're all more than welcome to take a swing. But you ladies will knock it out of the park."

It had Jackie covering her mouth to stop her chuckling. "Dude, I said stop~!"

Mabel palmed Dipper's face. "Please, Casabrova, you promised to use your powers for good."

"Says the girl trying to hook me up." He gestured to Mabel. "Best wingman in the world, but does not know when to stop."

Jackie could tell she was going to have a great time. "I mean, if she works is that a bad thing?"

Janna took a moment to scan the street, looking first up towards where the buses parked to disembark. Sure enough she found Van Vanderhoff, standing at the corner of the school in the direction where faculty and students parked their cars–his face turning purple with rage and his fists tightly clenched.

The lingering smile curled to something cruel even for her, as she disregarded Van's existence from there.

"I'm of the opinion," she said, "That if you're into someone and they're into you, just go for it."

Dipper's eyebrows rose, wondering what she was getting at. "If only it could be that simple."

"It totally could, people just complicate things on purpose like they're obligated to."

Misao caught that, and hummed as she too wondered what Janna was implying.

Jackie smiled, agreeing with Janna with little more than a nod. "Anyway, we gotta talk about the dance and how things are gonna go, girls."

"The only way I see it going is crazy~!" Mabel said.

"Not if Brittney has her way."

To illustrate the point, Janna produced the bracelet Jackie gave her. The twins and Misao all recognized it.

"Admission Bracelets? For a school dance?!" Dipper asked.

Misao scowled. "That is the kind of thing for concerts or discotheques."

Janna pointed out the heavily decorated school. "And exclusive parties held by stuck up bitches with unwarranted egos."

Mabel let out a sigh, closed her eyes, and braced herself. "Don't you guys worry about Brittney, okay? Star and I, we'll get this all sorted out and it'll be good."

The look Misao gave Mabel screamed doubt, but she otherwise held her tongue.

"Do what you want." Janna left it at that. She already made her argument.

"If it doesn't work," Jackie dug into her pants pocket and pulled out a few more Admission Bracelets. "We're still on to crash the party."

Mabel was optimistic. "There won't be any need."

Dipper not so much, as he looked again at the school's decor. "Yeah, I'm sure she's being completely rational and not letting the power go to her head."

@@@@@

With the first bell minutes away, Drew and Jo met with Roland at their lockers just outside the school. Having been told of Drew's punishment, their mutual friend leaned with his back against his locker with his arms folded and an annoyed grimace.

"The heck is wrong with your Dad?" He asked, all but seething.

"It's just how he is," Jo said with her hands in the pockets of her overalls and her head turned away.

"Don't make excuses for him, he's treating your brother like Trip messing with him is his fault."

He looked from her to Drew. "It's only a matter of time before he tries to keep you from hanging out with us."

"And he's not going to," Drew replied, "I'm sneaking out for the dance and any time the Magnavores show up. I don't care what he does."

He thumped his balled fist against the locker. "This is too important for me to be worrying about being grounded, or stupid stuff like that. It's my responsibility."

"Basically," Jo agreed.

Roland gave Drew a light punch in the shoulder. "Just be careful, aight?"

There was no mistaking that under Drew's defiance, something was eating at him, just like it had been yesterday when they stood on the porch. Roland gave Drew's shoulder a squeeze.

"You good?"

Drew hesitated, then returned a slow nod.

Roland narrowed his eyes, his gaze boring into Drew for a moment before he relented. "Aight, but if something's bothering you, talk to me."

"I will," he promised.

"Drew!" Heather called as she trotted into the locker area from the school's parking lot. She waved at him, Jo, and Roland. "Hey guys!"

Drew lit up. "Heather, h-hey!"

The abrupt shift in Drew's mood made Roland recoil from him. Jo let out an exasperated breath so hard her lungs could've popped out of her mouth and dangled on the end of her tongue.

"What's up?" Drew asked, stepping up to Heather to deliberately avoid his sister and basically a brother. "How are you this morning?"

"Well, my family decided they're gonna drive to Tahoe, which means I'm leaving tomorrow," she explained. "So, my weekend just got worse."

Jo whispered to Roland out the corner of her mouth. "How's going to Tahoe sooner a bad thing?"

"Going cool places is all about who you go with," he replied. "I mean, would you like to drive up to Tahoe with the 'Teen Girl Squad?'"

Jo visibly cringed at the thought.

"That sucks," Drew said.

"I was thinking then," Heather went on, "That since you're such an expert at skipping class lately, that you could show me the ropes during lunch."

Drew's cheeks reddened. "An expert?! I'm not…! I mean…! I was helping the elderly!"

Heather giggled, then brought a finger to her chin and looked away. "And here I brought the Beetleborgs Halloween Specials from '98 to 2011 for us to read. I guess I'm gonna have to enjoy them alone at Britta's."

That got Drew's attention, and he smiled a bit. "How dare you tempt me with your collection of rares, contributing to the delinquency of a minor?"

Heather smirked and gestured to herself. "What can I say? I'm a bad guy."

Jo yanked Drew back by his shirt and stepped up. "I'll go!"

Heather wagged a finger at her. "Ah-ah-ah! Sorry, I want it to be me and Drew."

Jo stepped back and shoved Drew forward, he stopped himself barely from Heather. "If you don't take this offer right now, I'll lose all respect for you and punch you."

Drew and Heather were close enough to touch noses when she pulled away, her face coloring like his. They both shuffled back from one another and she reached up to toy with her bangs.

"So…" she said with a jumpy giggle. "You wanna go…?"

Drew sputtered. "Y-yes! Absolutely! We can swing by Zoom and pick up my number one so you can read it again."

Heather beamed. "I'd really like that. See you at lunch?"

"Y-yeah!" Drew replied, before he gestured towards the door into the school. "W-walk to class?"

Heather nodded, and the two bade their farewells to Jo and Roland before going into the building.

Jo and Roland both watched them go in silence, before the latter spoke. "She is so good for him."

"Right?" the former asked. "He completely forgot about Dad being a jerk and his superpowers not kicking in yet."

Roland looked down at her. "Huh, I figured that's what it was."

Jo turned to him. "I can't blame him for being frustrated. He should've exploded yesterday because of Dad's BS."

She looked back the way Drew went with Heather. "But at the same time… I'm glad he didn't."

"Why?"

She paused. "Real talk?"

Roland had an inkling of what she was going to say, but before she could say a word, a voice rang out.

"Roland Williams!"

It was a voice Roland and Jo didn't want to hear. Turning around, they found not only Brittney Wong, but half the Spirit Week Inquisition. Chantal, a caucasian girl with short hair in a bob cut and an entirely no-nonsense expression, Megan Gandlym, a wide-eyed african-american girl with long straight hair, and finally Sabrina Backintosh, a caucasian girl far too timid-looking to be walking with a pack of wolves like this.

Jo couldn't stand the Teen Girl Squad that she had to deal with. "I'm out."

She retreated quickly, leaving him in the clutches of the scourge. Resigned to his fate, he faced them with head held high.

"Can I help you, ladies?" He knew exactly why he was being sought out during class change.

Brittney got right up in his face. "Don't even think about it."

"About what?" He asked with a sweet, innocent smile.

She poked his chest. "Pulling some stupid prank at my dance! The only reason I'm not flat out banning you is because of who your Grandma is, but if I see so much as a super soaker, a pillow, or a single mariachi, not only are you out of the dance, I will make sure you don't set foot in school for a week! Do I make myself clear?"

Roland took a step back from Brittney's prodding finger. "I promise I won't do any of that old stuff."

Let it be said, Brittney Wong was not a dullard. "There won't be any new stuff either! In fact, I know that you don't even have a date, so if you show up for the dance without one I'll know you're up to no good."

Chantal and Megan both nodded in agreement, and Roland bravely resisted rolling his eyes. "Okay you're right. I don't have a date yet."

He turned aside, letting out a sigh. "I was going to ask the person I wanted to go with today, but not like this."

Brittney recoiled from Roland, like he'd just gone radioactive. Chantal and Megan on the other hand, reacted with much more visible interest as Roland held out his open palms, and then rolled up the sleeves to the white long-sleeve shirt he wore under a green tee today. With a quick flip of his wrist and a prodigious amount of superspeed, he produced a bouquet of flowers–red and yellow roses with a white ribbon tying them together.

In a school well-desensitized to Star Butterfly's magic, the ol' razzle dazzle and sleight-of-hand still did the trick. Especially when all it resulted in a lovely bunch of flowers and not screaming monsters or burning rainbows.

Roland was on the other side of Brittney before she even realized it, stepping up to Megan, flashing her a debonair smile that gleamed in the fluorescent lights of the hallway. "If you would do the honor of joining me for the homecoming dance, I promise to make it a magical evening."

Megan looked between him and his flowers, to say she was impressed would be an insult. "Daaaaang."

She smiled and took the roses. "I'll see you at the dance, player."

Roland winked at Megan, then proceeded to smoothly pop and lock his way around Brittney and stopped right where he started in the confrontation.

"See? I got my date."

He turned around and busted a quick move the King of Pop would judge adequate to turn an about-face, then looked back at Brittney.

"I'll see you Saturday."

As she stood there, mouth agape, he stalked off with a swagger.

She looked at Megan. "You are not going with him to the dance."

Megan clutched the roses to her chest and smelled them. "I am so going with him to the dance."

Brittney turned her back to her hench cheerleader and whipped her hair. "Fine, but if he pulls some stupid prank and it ruins my dance you're going on flyer duty."

Megan looked at Sabrina, who was normally the one the Cheer squad threw into the air, and let out a concerned hum.

Entering the school, Roland pulled out his phone and began texting as he headed to his class.

Roland said:
Okay so Drew's phone is gone but he cleared his msgs.

Mabel said:
Mabel here! We should get him a burner!

Mabel said:
Misao says she can buy him one!

Janna Banana said:
Don't worry I got this.

Marco said:
It better not b stolen.

Janna Banana said
Now Mr. Diaz who do you take me for, a thief? 😈

= - = 44 = - =

A new day, a new adventure.
 
Repudiation

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
The Adventure continues.

= - = 46 = - =

|Repudiation|

Walking down an alley between two businesses located nearby Echo Creek Cemetery, Jara stopped well short of emerging onto the sidewalk, then turned to face Saberizer, who stood in silence with his hand on the hilt of his sheathed falchion. In her hand she held yet another Beetleborgs comic, this one featuring the Red Striker A.V. cutting through the blue sky above a sea of clouds, with a swarm of Jet Fighters in pursuit, firing at it and the reader.

“It is a simple plan, but it will change things,” she said.

Saberizer did not hesitate to respond. “I am ready to take responsibility for what comes next.”

Jara gave Saberizer a short nod, and turned back towards the alleyway as she held up the comic.

“Then go, bring me back as many of those insect children as you can.”

His grip on the hilt of his sword tightening, Saberizer began walking forward. As he reached Jara to pass her, he spoke.

“They will be laid out before your feet, on this I swear.”

There was an undercurrent of anxiety that was worse than usual in the Cafeteria. It, like the rest of the school, was draped from almost floor to ceiling in Brittney’s color palette and imagery of herself ranging from banners with her face on them to flattering posters of herself at nearly every corner and on every table. Even looking outside, one could see a blimp advertising “Spirit Week by Wong” as it circled overhead, reminding students that this was an event to be remembered, and to be part of.

Dipper wasn’t having any of this. “This is stupid. I’m going to skip for the rest of the week if it’s going to be like this every day.”

He and Marco were sitting together at their table, watching as students lined up not for lunch, but to a table where Brittney and several of her cheerleaders sat, handing out bracelets. It was a mixmash of students from all walks of social life, and as they came up to the table one by one, it was pretty obvious where the anxiety in the air was coming from.

Brittney, sitting with a bowl full of bracelets, looked up to an overweight male student nervously gesturing towards one of the bracelets. “What?”

The student cleared his throat, dusted off his blue sweater, and smoothed out his short brown hair. “I was… I was hoping that I’d get a bracelet to, you know… go to the rally, and the game, and the dance…?”

Brittney looked him over and grimaced in disgust. “Uh, no. You can go to the gym to get in shape, and maybe to the courthouse to do something about your name, Moobs.”

The boy sagged. “But Moobs is my nickname…”

“And you wonder why you’re not invited.” Brittney pointed to her right. “Move, loser.”

Head hung low, the young man walked away and went to his seat. Dipper and Marco watched him walk past, then turned to each other.

Dipper gripped the table. “I want to throw her in the garbage.”

“We’re doing ourselves favors by not bothering with this stuff.”

Letting go of the edge, Dipper folded his hands in front of him and leaned forward slightly. “I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen this way too much, but it’s aggravating every time.”

He looked at Marco. “I would just like to get to the part where she gets stuffed by karma sooner than never.”

“Brittney will never be the popular girl, just the rich one, so take that as solace.”

As if on cue, Jackie Lynn Thomas reached the table, all bright eyes and cool smiles. “Hey Dipper, hey Marco.”

Marco nearly jumped from his seat. “J-J-J-Jackie, hey!”

His reaction prompted a concerned look from Dipper that faded quickly with understanding.

“Mind if I join you?” Before either could answer, Jackie made herself right at home, squeezing her way onto the bench right between Dipper and Marco. “Where’s Misao?”

Marco’s face colored a little as Jackie shimmied between them. Dipper just gave her a passing look as he replied. “She went to sit outside with Janna, she didn’t have an appetite after staring at this stuff all day.”

Both boys then noticed her tray, and noticed that on her tray was definitely not school fare–lobster tail, ribeye steak, and elote–street corn on the cob slathered in mayo sauce, chili powder, and cheese.

Marco did a double-take. “Uhh.. where’d you get that?”

“You haven’t gone up yet? Guys who get bracelets get to have this for lunch.”

Dipper rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, I’m not a ‘bracelet wearer’ so.”

Marco looked with some envy at Jackie’s plate. “I don’t think I’d get a bracelet if I tried.”

Jackie then pushed her tray out to offer them. “Then help yourself, guys. I can just go grab more.”

Without hesitating, Marco took the elote. “Wow, thanks, Jackie.”

Dipper abstained. “I appreciate it, but no thanks.”

In line for lunch, Jo slammed her hands on the countertop. “What do you mean I can’t have the good stuff?!”

The chef behind the counter shook his head. “Restaurant food is only for students that have a Spirit Week by Wong Bracelet, continue down to the normal line.”

Jo looked down the line and made a face. “We’re having vegetarian meatloaf, come on!”

The chef was unmoved by her plea. “You can pay twenty-five dollars for a plate if you don’t have a bracelet.”

“Screw that and you!” She looked at Roland, who was standing just behind her in line. “And don’t you dare get food from these bougie douches!”

Roland shrugged his shoulders. “I like vegetarian meatloaf.”

Jo sneered at him. “I do not know how I’m going to get through the rest of the week.”

“You could always use Drew’s bracelet.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, just what I need. Brittney Wong’s symbol of division and social stratification.”

Roland quirked an eyebrow. “Then why get mad?”

“Because it’s still crap, and I reserve the right to be pissed off at all of it.”

Roland pondered it. “There are worse things to be hostile about–at least you have a good reason this time.”

Jo looked back as she was served her tray of vegetarian meatloaf, quinoa, and carrots. “Excuse you?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“No, I don’t-”

Jo stopped in her tracks, her tray slipping from her hands and to the floor with a splat. Roland almost walked into her back. “Whoa, Jo are you okay-”

Jo turned and stormed off out of the cafeteria, leaving him baffled until he saw Jackie sitting hip to hip with Dipper and Marco, the only three at a table that seated nine. Making matters better, she was rather obviously leaning into the former as they watched Brittney deal with a frizzy-haired girl with glasses approaching her for a bracelet.

“Ashlyn, right? Get some Lasik done and do something about that mess on your head and I’ll think about letting you have a bracelet.”

She pointed to her right. “Go.”

“Brittney’s the worst,” Dipper proclaimed.

“You’re a good man, Pines,” Jackie complimented.

Marco lowered the already half-eaten corn cob from his lips. “What about the Vanderhoffs?”

“They’re jackasses and everyone knows it,” Dipper said, “These guys are lining up knowing that Brittney’s gonna dump all over them for the slim chance she won’t.”

He gestured then to the Cafeteria’s decorations. “Then there’s the Northwest levels of self-absorption that’s hurting my eyes looking at it.”

He looked from Marco and Jackie to the line again, and specifically at the person next up in it to face Brittney’s scrutiny. “And the worst part about it is we keep dealing with it.”

Brittney looked at the bracelet, then at the young man in front of her. Peter, from Marco’s Karate class. Looking back and forth between the blonde boy and her bracelet, she handed it to him. “Here you go, bring your A-Game.”

This prompted a protest from the dejected Ashlyn. “B-but Peter’s got glasses, too!”

Brittney whirled on the girl. “HE LOOKS GOOD IN THEM!”

Peter, ever stoic, turned and walked away.

Marco frowned around his elote. “Now you got me wanting to throw her in the garbage.”

With an angry huff, Brittney turned to face the next person in line. “Okay, who’s ne-”

She stopped and tensed up. Standing before her, beaming a bright smile and a charismatic aura, was Mabel.

“Hey, Brittney~!” Mabel sang before she took her seat at the table rather than pensively waiting for judgment. “It sucks that we don’t have any classes together, I’ve been here for literal weeks now and I haven’t had a chance to talk to you!”

Now, Dipper, Marco, and Jackie were all watching raptly–none noticing Peter leading the weeping Ashlyn towards the lunch line while holding the bracelet up to her for emphasis.

Chantal and Sabrina, seated on Brittney’s flanks, noted her tension. The former spoke up. “So, what? Do you want a bracelet or what?”

“Well, duh~!” Mabel sang.

Brittney snapped out of her tension and tossed her one. “Take it and get out of the way, you’re holding up the line!”

Mabel stopped her. “But I want to chat for a bit, too! We share so much in common! You’re a girl, I’m a girl, you’re cheerleaders, I was cheerleader for the Piedmont High Highlanders…”

Sabrina gasped like she’d seen a ghost. Chantal went wide-eyed like she was in the presence of a God, and even Brittney’s ever-present glower vanished in lieu of gobsmacked disbelief.

“… No way, you’re that Mabel Pines? National Champion Mabel Pines?!” Chantal demanded.

Mabel smirked and produced out of thin air a large sticker-covered scrapbook.

Over at her table, Jackie looked at Dipper. “I can totally get Mabel being a cheerleader.”

Dipper relaxed a bit. “Not just a cheerleader, one of the best.”

As Sabrina, Chantal, and some of the other students in lie began crowding around, Mabel flipped through the scrapbook, passing pages filled with of pictures and drawings of herself, Dipper, and things that amused her (such as embarrassing pictures of Dipper) until she came to a page “Cheer Squad!” written in glitter glue.

Under the words was a picture of Mabel in the Purple and White Piedmont High School Cheer Squad Uniform. Brittney stared at the picture of Mabel, then at the girl herself. The same statuesque, pretty girl was in the photo–posed in a line with nine other stand-out girls on the sidelines of a High School Football Game.

“Mabel Pines, Captain, Highlanders Cheerleaders 2013,” Brittney said like she was having a hard time digesting the words.

“Performing on that level in sophomore year?” Sabrina asked with her timid voice.

“I’m that good,” Mabel boasted as she began flipping through the scrapbook. “Here we are at halftime at a Football Game–we won 30 to nothing. Here we are Cheering for Basketball–won 80 to nothing. This is us cheering during exams–we got kicked out of the building for that. Then there’s us cheering for the rowing team-”

Chantal’s mouth fell agape. “An Awesome on a speedboat? You’re crazy!”

Mabel placed a hand on her chest. “My proudest moment.”

She scowled and looked to the side. “The Coast Guard didn’t think so–the philistines.”

“We could never do anything like that,” Sabrina admitted. “Some of us don’t have… the pom-poms…”

Mabel grinned. “Of course you do! You can do whatever you want if you believe!”

Brittney looked at Sabrina. “Yeah, Sabrina, I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Mabel jumped right on that. “Sounds like your Captain thinks you’ve got moves, girl.”

Sabrina blushed under the scrutiny of her captain and a literal champion. “I mean, Brittney says I’m the best flyer she’s ever seen… I… I just have trouble with the landing…”

Brittney had a nastier look than usual at her underling’s admission. “That wasn’t your fault and you know it!”

“That’s right. Cheerleaders fall and hit the ground all the time. You gotta get back on your feet, and the whole point of a squad is to lift you up–whether it’s into the air or off the ground!”

Sabrina relaxed, unable to feel anxious or self-defeating in the presence of Mabel’s charm.

Brittney folded her arms. “It’s nice that someone gets what being a cheerleader is about.”

Marco was back to nibbling on his corn. “Mabel is serious about being friends with Brittney, isn’t she?”

“If she says she’s going to befriend someone, she’s either going to make a friend or a mortal enemy.”

Jackie looked at Dipper. “So what’s the record on that?”

Mabel rested an arm on her book and leaned forward. “Well you know, National Champion and all that.”

Chantal nudged Brittney. “Hey, imagine what we could do with her in the squad?”

As Brittney turned her head to breath fire on Chantal’s face, Mabel held up a hand. “Whoa, hold up buttercup, I have way too much going on so I can’t really be cheerleading this year. All my after school hours are like super booked.”

Brittney stopped. She had been about to make a sharp warning about the team being full–complete with the stark implication that she would not be eclipsed by a national champion while the squad under her had only one technical win under their belt. Mabel hurriedly killing the idea in the crib threw her off.

“… You don’t want to be a cheerleader?” She asked her, suspicious.

“Nope!” Mabel happily chimed. “But~ if you like, I can give you tapes of my routines, help you make up new routines, and maybe swing by and drop some pointers if I’m free. After all, I’m a student here now, and i want my school and my cheerleaders to be the best. Go Opossums!”

Chantal cocked her head to one side, surprised all over again. “Dude… Brittney?”

“That’s… that’s so generous!” Sabrina said. “If we had that kind of help, we’d be…!”

Chantal flat out admitted it. “We wouldn’t suck like we do now, that’s for sure.”

Brittney narrowed her eyes. It was really generous, too generous for her blood. “Okay then, what do you want?”

Mabel, sunshine and rainbows, replied. “I want to be friends.”

“No,” Brittney said, “You want something… and since I know what class you’re in, I think I know what that is.”

She leaned to her left and looked down the line. Sure enough, there was a blue-eyed blonde boy wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, a red baseball cap and a green sweater tied around his hips. A foolproof disguise, if it weren't for the dinosaur shoes with tiny horns, the devil’s horns poking out of the cap, and lightning-shaped marks on his cheeks.

“He” was pretending to mind his own business, until “he” noticed Brittney looking straight at “him.” Noticing she’s looking “his” way, “he” looked back, then at her again, before pointing at “himself” in confusion. With a bright wave “he” pretended that nothing was wrong and went back to patiently waiting in line while not looking anywhere near Brittney’s direction.

Brittney looked from “him” to Mabel. “I’m not stupid, and Champion Cheerleader or not, Star Butterbrains is not going anywhere near MY Spirit Week!”

Over at the table, Dipper, Marco, and Jackie followed where Brittney was looking, and saw “him.” As Marco and Dipper both raised eyebrows, Jackie looked at Marco and pointed at him. “I was wondering who he was.”

Marco slowly turned his head to stare at Jackie.

“Dude, I’m joking,” she promised him.

“That’s a good look for Star,” Dipper said absently, before he stopped and reflected on that. “… Huh.”

Mabel held up a hand. “Whoa-hoa, hold on, partner. This isn’t about that.”

She looked back at Star. “Hey, come on over.”

Star stepped out of the line and zipped up to Mabel’s side as she continued speaking to Brittney. “I do want to be your friend, but I’m Star’s friend, too. And while I would totally love for all my friends to be friends? I can tell that the whole thing is so not happening here.”

Mabel turned to Star. “Star, I think you have something to say to Brittney.”

With a nod to Mabel, Star took off her horned baseball cap and brought it to her chest. “Brittney, I am really sorry for messing up spirit week and causing trouble for your birthday.”

Expecting to hear anything else, like a heartfelt plea to let her go to the dance, a musical number, or even a spell to set her hair purple and on fire, Brittney was genuinely taken off guard to hear an actual apology. “… What?”

“You know, turning the football field into a battlefield? Crashing your party? I am really sorry for that…”

Brittney’s resting scowl remained fixed on Star as she watched her lips move and heard the stuff she said, but it wasn’t exactly registering. Next to her, Chantal raised an eyebrow.

Star turned to her. “Oh, and I’m sorry for saying your booty wasn’t distracting. You actually got that dump truck that stops traffic.”

Chantal smirked and nodded. “Girl, you know it.”

“And Sabrina.” Star turned to the mousy girl. “I am so, so sorry that me barging in interrupted your training and you hit the floor.”

Sabrina meekly replied. “O-oh it’s okay, Star… you didn’t know and… well it’s fine.”

Brittney finally remembered she was part of the conversation. “So what, you think that because you’re sorry, I’m going to let you go to the dance?!”

Star recoiled. “Well I-”

Brittney shot up to her feet. “Well guess what Moo-ron? I don’t care if you magic me up a super hot boyfriend with your wand. You’re still banned from Spirit Week and if you bother me one more time, I’ll make sure you can’t even come to school for the rest of the week!”

Mabel’s expression slipped to a frown as Brittney folded her arms and gave a quick turn of her head to whip her hair.

“So either go away or give me an excuse, I’m fine with either!”

Star was almost knocked off her feet by the force of Brittney’s rebuke. “I’m trying to say that I’m sorry-”

“And you’re getting nothing for it.” She gasped in mock surprise. “Oh! it’s almost like I hate you, you dumb blonde bitch.”

Now Star did recoil, her cheek marks turning from lightning bolts to black skulls. Before she could turn her hat back into her wand and go off, Mabel stood abruptly and imposed herself between the two. She loomed over Brittney, Sabrina, and Chantal as she held one arm to keep Star back and reached down to pick up her scrapbook.

“I think it’s time to go, Star.”

“But she called me a-!” Star raged as her hat turned back into her wand with a puff of smoke.

Mabel turned around to face her fully. “Let’s go outside for a second.”

Star looked up at Mabel, then at Brittney with a dark glare. Reluctantly, as tears formed at the corner of her eyes, she acquiesced and followed Mabel out of the cafeteria.

Chantal rested her chin on her palm. “Welp, so much for National Champion routines.”

She gave Brittney a searing side-eye, but said nothing more. Sabrina on the other hand said nothing at all, watching Mabel and Star leave with pained sympathy to avoid looking at Brittney either.

Jackie watched the girls leave, then looked at Brittney. “Fucking bitch.”

Marco once more turned to look at Jackie, his mouth agape in awe of witnessing something he didn’t think possible.

Dipper got up. “Okay, I’m not going to the dance anyway. Let’s do this.”

Brittney watched Star and Mabel leave with no small satisfaction, but that smugness disappeared when Dipper advanced towards her. Going pale, she nearly tripped over her seat stepping over it to back away from the table and him when he reached her and pulled his lumberjack hat off his head.

“You know, I understand what makes you gotta be a bitch and three quarters. That, the whole reason you’ve turned a dumb school dance into a monument to yourself, and why you throw all this money on people like it matters to them.”

Brittney turned her nose up to him, even as it looked like she was shaking. “Mind your own business, nerd!”

She looked right back at him when he stepped in way closer than she thought he would, getting right up in her face and looking down on her with a glower to match her own and then some. She could’ve been made of titanium and evaporated under the intensity of his gaze.

“Because you’re terrified of people finding out about the person you know you are.”

Brittney felt like she was standing at the base of a skyscraper, that was going to fall on her. She grit her teeth as Dipper waited for a reply, and lashed out at him with it before the truth he spoke exposed her weakness to everyone.

“Oh yeah? You had your math off. I’m two bitches and three quarters. You’re out of here, fucking suspended until next Monday, loser!”

Dipper smiled. “Thanks, enjoy your weekend.”

Seeing it do nothing, Brittney lashed out harder. “And your stupid sister’s banned from Spirit Week, too!”

Chantal got up. “Brittney, NO!”

Brittney turned on her. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Ban him all you want, but not her! She didn’t even do anything!”

Even Sabrina protested. “Y-yeah, she was r-really nice.”

Dipper didn’t even look back to address Brittney’s threat. “You won't. If you did ban my sister. She’d just throw her own dance. She’d be there, Star’d be there-”

“I’d be there,” Jackie interjected, prompting murmurs among all the other students in the cafeteria.

Seeing people already speculating about a cool dance party hosted by Star, Dipper turned to face Brittney and drive it home. “And all you’d get is a bill for a school dance no one attended.”

Then he gestured to her with an open palm upraised. “You and I both know that’s what will happen.”

Brittney bristled, and with only an instant’s worth of seething she snapped back. “Well you’re still banned and you can go home right now! As long as it’s Spirit Week, this is MY school and MY authority won’t be challenged!”

Dipper clapped his hands and flipped her off with both hands. “Fuck your authority, fuck your Spirit Week, and fuck you.”

With that he waved and walked out as Brittney stood there with her mouth agape and face pale as the entire cafeteria erupted into howls as Dipper left through the door.

Marco abandoned his corn and got up. As he followed Dipper out, Jackie was right behind him, looking back at the deeply frazzled Brittney for a quick second.

“Dude… Dipper is amazing,” she said.

Marco held the door out for her and nodded. “Yeah, he really is.”

= - = 46 = - =

Janna: "Ah, if only I was there to be right."
 
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Escalation

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
Just like the Threadmark Title says, get ready.

Forgive the Google Translated German...

= - = 48 = - =

|Escalation|

Outside of the cafeteria, staying out of sight from the street, Misao sat with her back to the wall, enjoying the very warm afternoon. She was on her phone, reading the news for any sign of Shego and Señor Senior Junior, and give her eyes a much-needed break from Brittney’s choice in decor. Though she wasn’t so engrossed that she didn’t notice Trip and Van approach her–the latter of the two looking like he wanted to punch someone more than she normally saw of him.

“Misao Darlian, FaithfulPony371, right?” Trip asked as they reached her.

Misao looked up at the two and stood up, lowering her phone to her side. “Ja? What do you want?”

Van glowered at her. “Is Pine Tree taking Jackie Lynn Thomas to Homecoming?”

Now she quirked an eyebrow, wondering what this was about, and shook her head. “He is not even going to the dance.”

Trip turned to Van. “I told you.”

And Van turned to his brother with an aggression she didn’t think he’d hold towards his sibling. “I saw him flirting with her this morning!”

Trip palmed his face. “Can you honestly imagine that loser flirting with any girl in this school, let alone one of the best?”

Misao rolled her eyes, choosing to hold her tongue when the perfect and most unpleasant retort (for them) threatened to spring off it. Giving them more of a reason to hate Dipper–or more specifically act on the hate they already had–wasn’t something she was in the mood to do.

Wir brauchen unsere Schlachten nicht komplizierter, richtig? She thought unpleasantly.

“You weren’t there,” Van insisted, “He was making her laugh and everything.”

Trip’s exasperation grew. “She was probably humoring him. You know, pretending to be nice? She’s so out of everybody’s league that all she can do is pity them.”

Misao took offense to that. “Do not assign people your garbage worldview, you garbage human beings.”

Trip lowered his hand and glared at her. “Watch who you’re talking to.”

She pointed her phone at Trip’s face, stopping it centimeters from his nose. “Watch who you are talking to, you walking pile of vomit. Jackie is a kind girl, as much as Dipper is a kind man. You will not insult them to me.”

Trip’s gaze darted from her phone to her face. With a disgusted grunt, he turned and stepped away from her. “You have really crappy taste in men.”

“Were that the case, I would be dating you,” she snapped back.

Trip sneered. “Please, I’d never go for a fat chick.”

Misao’s expression darkened. Trip’s sneer turned into a very haughty smirk at her reaction, while Van shot him a very nasty look.

Instead of an eruption of foul curses in at least four different languages, Misao calmly spoke in a firm monotone absent of even a hint of her bright cheer, replaced with her heavy contempt. “I know that you are paying people to harass Dipper, all of us do.”

Trip stopped smirking.

Misao looked into his eyes with a steel, unblinking glare. “The only reason you are not in the hospital now, broken, is because you are pathetic in every way–the beating you deserve is not worth our time.”

Van shook his head at his brother, only to be met by Misao’s glare as she turned to look at him. “But you can keep bothering me, and we will set aside all the time we need. It will not be long.”

Van grimaced and stalked off. “Whatever.”

Trip was more hesitant to shuffle off with his tail between his legs. “Paying people? Why would I spend money on anyone I don’t like?”

Misao did not hesitate. “For the same reason I would.”

Her reply had him pulling back from her slightly, as she raised her free hand, rubbing her thumb across her index and middle fingers to drive the implication home. “English is my fourth language, but I am more fluent in what talks in this country than you are.”

The message was received. Glaring at her intensely, Trip turned and followed his brother–flipping her off as he left.

She watched them leave, and looked down at her phone, as she reflected on this enraging encounter. Komplikationen müssen dauerhaft beseitigt werden.

The bang of the cafeteria’s door opening, drew Misao’s attention, and she crept around the corner to see a seething Jo emerge like she’d been wronged. Roland was by her side, with a look of particularly unsympathetic vindication.

Eine weitere Komplikation, die verschwinden muss.

Misao refrained from approaching them. As nice as Roland was, she wasn’t going to waste her breath for Jo any more than she had for the Vanderhoff brothers.

“Jackie Lynn Thomas though,” Roland said, and Misao perked up.

Sie hat es auch herausgefunden.

Jo shot him a look that would kill if he hadn’t been on the receiving end of worse.

He dismissed her glare with a wave of his hand. “Ay, this is exactly what I was talking about.”

As she looked away, he elaborated. “Do you honestly think that acting like a jackass to all the other girls Dipper knows is going to magically make him like you?”

Jo let out a short sound of disgust, then spoke. “Of course not, I’m not stupid.”

Misao looked off to her left away from them, letting a snort of doubt out.

“Then what’s your endgame, man? Because I do not see you starting beef with Jackie Lynn Thomas over Dipper going down any better than Star’s with Brittney.”

Jo hitched her shoulders. “Shut up.”

“All this is doing is pissing everyone off, and it’s going to make fighting the Magnavores harder.”

“Like any of them except for Star are actually that important,” Jo snapped back. “Heck, if it weren’t for her magic, she’d be as useless as the rest of them.””

Misao slowly looked back at Jo, her gaze once again hard.

Roland groaned. “Dude, Misao is probably the only person who knows how to operate the Beetle Battle Base, and Mabel is his sister. Why do you have to start with all of them?!”

“Because they act like a bunch of dumb immature girls!” Jo hissed back.

Roland stared at her. “Like you are? Starting shit with three girls over a boy?”

Jo opened her mouth to shout him down but stopped.

Star exited out of the cafeteria and walked to the front lawn of the school, the sound of the door banging interrupting Jo and Roland’s argument. Mabel was right behind her, saying nothing as she followed Star all the way to the school’s sign.

Coming to a stop, she took several deep breaths as she gripped her wand so hard it’d have broken were it made of anything less.

Mabel joined her. “Star, hey…”

“She…” Star said without looking back at her. “Brittney really hates me.”

Mabel’s first instinct was to reassure her, but the venom that Brittney hocked at Star had been so strong that there really wasn’t any other way to slice it. “… Yeah, she does.”

As Dipper walked outside–followed by Marco and Jackie–Star looked at her wand, then up at the sky.

“… I really hurt her.”

Jo and Roland both were given pause when they heard Star’s admission. It stayed the others from calling out to her as well, particularly Dipper.

“Star…” Mabel began.

“I’ve been straight up horrible to her. I ruined her game… I ruined her birthday party…” Star looked down at the ground. “I never apologized for it, once. I just did whatever and ignored her when everyone else was laughing and cheering.”

Jackie spoke up. “Yeah, well Brittney’s a bitch.”

Star finally turned to her and the others, revealing the tears running down her face. “That’s no excuse for me!”

She stopped after her shout, then looked down. “I messed up. That’s all there is to it…”

Jackie paused, bringing a hand to her heart as she saw just how much this was affecting Star. Dipper frowned too, while Roland gave Jo a scathing side-eye, and she averted her gaze.

Marco pursed his lips and walked forward from Jackie and past Dipper to join Star’s side. “Star…”

As she looked up at him and he opened his mouth to speak, the building sound of the approaching Magnavore Jet Fighters filled the air. Roland and Jo both looked up and searched the sky, as the sound grew. Dipper turned towards the west and saw the fighters cruising over the hills low and fast, headed not towards Hillhurst, but straight at them.

“Guys…!” He shouted as he pointed skyward.

Mabel, Star, and Marco all turned and looked up at the incoming fighters–just as they nosed up slightly and the lead of the four opened fire. In a split-second chaos broke lose, as the lasers lanced through the tail of the blimp orbiting the school advertising spirit week.

“Oh no…!” Marco groaned as the blimp began falling and dumping water to keep from plunging straight away into the ground.

Jackie’s hands flew to her mouth as she watched the Blimp turn for an emergency landing, then the jet fighters coming back around. “What are those things?!”

Knowing what they were, Marco had a more urgent question. “Why are they coming here?”

He received his answer courtesy of Typhus’ jazzy baritone. “Because where else are annoying kids gonna be, baby?”

Marco shot into a fighting stance, and Star turned around to join him as Typhus appeared in the street, and over a dozen Scabs joined him in bursts of flame. Brandishing his Bone Sword, he pointed it at Marco, Mabel, and Star as he broke into a smile that was hard to differentiate from his normal toothy grimace.

Star bristled and brought up her wand, a green glow coming from its half-star. “I really, really don’t need this right now!”

Typhus saw Star’s tears and chuckled. “Gonna cry about it?”

Lunging forward, Star ignored Mabel and Marco’s shouts and ran at Typhus. She was greeted with a gauntlet of Scabs, swinging their short swords to chop her up or impale her. She ducked under several blades, weaved around two thrusts, and leap-frogged over an entire Scab to jump up above Typhus with her wand above her head.

“No, but I’m gonna make you die about it!” Star’s cheek marks lit up as she aimed the wand down at him. “LASER BEAM BLAST!”

Instead of a shining white laser, however, a gurgling beam of green sludge fired from the wand and splattered all over Typhus with enough force to send him stumbling back.

“Aw man, I know I’m a grody guy, but this is gross, baby!” Typhus complained as he tried to use his cape to shield himself from the gunk.

The recoil of her failed spell sent Star falling back in surprise, and straight towards the raised blades of the Scabs. Before she could fall upon them, Marco jumped into the crowd of Scabs first.

“HEYAH!” He roared as he performed a flying spin-kick that scattered the Scabs away from him. Landing, he caught Star and helped her up.

“Your wand, what happened?” He demanded before he stopped the slash of another Scab and punished its effort with three quick punches then a kick that knocked it into the crowd.

Star shook her head. “I dont know!”

She used her wand to block another Scab’s sword, then twirled in place to clock it across the side of its head and push it back. Aiming the wand she fired off another spell. “Rainbow Fist Punch!”

Instead a clump of green, gooey glitter in the shape of a fist flew at the Scab and was slashed away before it could hit.

Watching the fight quickly unfold, Jo went to go for her Beetle Bonder. “Go time-”

Roland stopped her. “Hold it. We can’t.”

Jo looked at him. “What? Why-”

She stopped and realized it. “Ohhh… we’re in public, and they’d know we’re here. That’s probably why they even attacked the school, to flush us out!”

By the time she finished, she was standing in front of Hillhurst. “… Huh.”

Roland appeared beside her, holding Misao in his arms. “I’m really glad you’re the genius of the group, Jo.”

Jo scowled at him. “Then here’s my next insight–Drew left the school with Heather, and he doesn’t have a phone. How are we going to get a hold of him?”

“He’ll figure it out,” Roland argued back.

As he set her down, Misao huffed. “Prepare yourselves to deploy in your AVs. I will be down in the Beetle Battle Base being useless.”

Jo recoiled as Misao walked to the front door. It swung open and a red-carpet rolled out for her, and Flabber stood in the doorway with arms spread in greeting.

“Hey guys, I thought I’d give you the red carpet treat-!” His cheeky pun fell short as he noticed Misao’s unpleasant scowl rivaled by only Jo’s glare at the back of her head. “Oh dear…”

Misao greeted Flabber with a curt nod as she went straight to the Organ Room and then began the walk down to the Beetle Battle Base. He turned back to Jo and Roland, as the former quickly turned away and transformed into the Red Strikerborg.

@@@@@

Jackie was too distracted by the fighting breaking out to be really cognizant of Roland and Jo suddenly disappearing from the face of the Earth. She peered around Dipper, watching as Star and Marco battled the Scabs surrounding them on all sides.

Star backflipped from the lashing strikes of a Scab, then jumped and twirled over two more trying to grab her. Rather than a spell, she swung a kick into the head of one, and used the force of the blow to turn and swing her heel down onto the top of the other’s head. Somersaulting through the air, she landed on her feet and used her wand’s wings to catch the sword of her previous attacker when it came for her. Grabbing its arm, she turned and threw the Scab into four more–while the two she clocked with kicks dissolved away from their colossal damage.

As Star plunged back into the melee, Marco jumped and delivered a barrage of kicks into the chest of another Scab.

“HAA!” He yelled as his bicycle kick had the Scab stumbling backward, before he twisted himself around and performed a crescent kick that wrenched its head at an awful angle.

The Scab dissolved in a flash, and through the cloud of dying wasps Typhus emerged, his clawed arm turning from green to red as he prepared to punch Marco into a fine mist.

His swing came, but Marco jumped to the monster’s left, and used the air displaced by his blow to get back from him.

It still felt like he'd nearly been hit by a train, though.

“Where are your Beetle Buddies, baby?!” Typhus asked as he swung his arm to try and clip Marco, then swung down with his sword in his other hand.

Marco again hopped back and used the draft of his overpowering strike to avoid the followup blow. “Don’t worry about them, worry about what’s gonna happen to you for stepping up onto my block!”

“Your block?!” Typhus swung a horizontal slash with his sword.

When Marco ducked the blade, he brought his clawed fist down on his head. “This is my hood!”

Marco side-hopped the hammer-blow then uppercut Typhus, lifting his head back. He then front-kicked the monster in the chest, a loud thud echoing from the force of the blow.

“Marco, down!” Star shouted as she broke free of the fight, and Marco instinctively ducked. She flew over his back, did several flips, jumped and spin-kicked Typhus in the left side of his head, knocking him off the same foot.

She aimed her wand at his face. “Green Glittery Goop Blast!”

And Typhus’ face was full of the sticky, stubborn sludge.

As the monster struggled to get the mess off his face and the Scabs closed in on Star and Marco again, Jackie looked over to Dipper as she realized he was walking them back from the fight.

“Dude, I’ve seen Star and Marco fight monsters before, this is different,” she said, her voice betraying anxiety.

Dipper didn’t sugarcoat it. “Yeah, these guys are trying to kill us.”

Jackie watched as the flame-shaped blade of one Scab came close to cutting Marco’s throat as he used that overreach to slam the back of his fist into the side of its head twice, then weave his arm around the Scab to flicker jab his face until it came apart into a swarm of wasps.

“… Dude…” She just never imagined she’d see this kind of violence.

Mabel spoke up. “And we need all the muscle we can get to win.”

Dipper turned to her and nodded. Tossing him her phone, Mabel turned towards the fight–and began stretching like she was in an 80s exercise video. “But first, it’s time to limber up!”

As she grunted from her effort, Jackie and Dipper looked from her to one another.

Typhus finally got his face clear of the mess and roared as he barreled towards Star with his sword raised. He used his monstrous arm to smack aside two of the Scabs trying to surround her and swung down. When she used her wand to block the sword, the audible clang left her ears ringing.

She looked up at Typhus, grimacing under the weight of his press as he leaned forward.

“Ain’t got no magic, ain’t got no chance, baby!”

“Don’t call me ‘baby!’” Star seethed, before she heard Mabel yell.

“Hey, face-face!”

Mabel’s outstretched arm caught Typhus at his neck, and the monster was dragged away by her running lariat and thrown to the curb opposite of the school.

Lowering her arm, she glared at him as he got up. “You wanna see what five years of Family Kickboxing Classes does to an already violent maniac?!”

With a growling laugh, Typhus started to get up, but Mabel and Star both were not having it.

“Stomp both of his ugly faces in!” Mabel yelled out before she jumped and heel-dropped Typhus’s head, forcing it back down. Running up on him next, Star punted him in the stomach, lifting him up off his knees and leaving him open to Mabel’s roundhouse kick straight across his nose, throwing him onto his back.

The remaining Scabs bore down on them, one trying to shank Mabel in the side. She leaned back, the blade passing just below her chest, and she shoved her elbow into the Scab’s face.

“You got a bad aim to miss a target this big!” She side-kicked it, putting it on its back, then switched legs to hook the neck of another going for Star.

“Hey Scab, look at this cool bug I found!” With a twist of her hips and swing of her leg she drove the Scab’s head into the pavement, shattering the monster mook’s dome.

The Princess had her own attackers, and she danced and turned out of their wild swings then unleashed a cloud of sludge from her wand and left them struggling with it.

The Scabs’ sacrifice was all the diversion Typhus needed to kick up onto his feet, but Marco’s flying punch smashed into his jaw before he could get his balance. The blow sent him into the path of Star–who swung her wand like a golf club and connected with the dead center of his face.

Typhus went back and was kicked in the back of the head by Marco and went forward into another swing from Star. Stumbling to the Princess’s right, Typhus roared and turned his arm red to swat both down, before he was drop-kicked by Mabel.

“Don’t let him move!” Marco shouted as he parried a Scab and used the little breathing-room he had to karate chop Typhus in the throat and push him back into the barrage of hits from Star and Mabel.

“We weren’t-!” Mabel shouted as she elbowed Typhus in the jaw.

Star got him again with her wand, hitting him across the other side of his face. “Going to!”

Jackie watched with growing awe as Star, Mabel, but more importantly (to her at least) Marco laid a beating on Typhus. Even with his henchmen around, while two were dropping hit after hit, the third would lash out at attackers and keep them at bay until Typhus was thrown back to them.

They were all amazing, but Marco… she just couldn’t tear her eyes away from him, sending a Scab flying with a vicious combo of palm thrusts before properly punching Typhus back into Star and a blast of gunk from her wand that coated his face and kept him struggling.

“… Dude… that is so cool…” Jackie breathed.

Dipper nodded. “Right?”

Then at the same time they said it.

“Marco is amazing.”

Jackie’s mouth fell open, and she looked up at Dipper, her mint green eyes widening in both surprise and understanding.

Mabel’s phone buzzed, and Dipper looked at it.

Janna Banana said:
I’m with Dr00 and Heather, we’re going after the blimp.

Misao said:
Roland brought Jo and I to Hillhurst, we are deploying the AVs!

As Jackie noticed the messages, he sent his reply.

Mabel said:
Make sure the blimp crew is okay, then tell Drew to come here as fast as he can, Typhus is at the school and Star’s wand is malfunctioning!

By the time he sent the message, Dipper realized the fight had gained a sizable audience–numerous students that had been drawn out by the racket were watching the fight, many with cellphone cameras pointed at it.

And from the heart of this crowd, Brittney emerged in a rage that no one was listening to her demands. “Move aside you clods! You’re blocking…! Get out of my…!”

She forced her way to the front, Sabrina and Chantal behind her–and her already red-faced rage turned a crimson when she saw Star beating on Typhus repeatedly with her wand, before Marco followed it up with a flying kick into his chest that pushed him into a haymaker punch from Mabel that sent him crashing into the arms of his remaining Scabs.

The three teens lined up, with Star at the point, Marco on her right, and Mabel on her left. The exertion of the extremely physical fight was apparent, makeup was running in the sweat, knuckles and knees were bruised and bloodied, and all three were panting for breath.

Slumped into the arms of his soldiers, Typhus hung his head low and chuckled. “Man… I haven’t been jumped like this since before I met my friends.”

The chuckle turned into a laugh. “I love fighting you brats… I could do it all day, baby!”

He pushed himself up to his feet, and whatever injuries the three were able to inflict on him were gone. “Even if you can’t!”

Marco and Mabel both glanced towards her and saw Star’s cheek marks begin to glow.

“Star…?” Mabel asked.

Marco understood what was about to happen. “Be careful.”

Star only nodded back, her gaze not leaving Typhus and his few Scabs as the same light in her cheek marks filled her eyes.

“WHATEVER YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU’RE GOING TO STOP!”

The glow disappeared, and Star looked back with everyone else, Typhus included, as Brittney stormed across the front lawn of the school. With fire in her eyes and her fists clenched, she marched past Dipper and Jackie, past Mabel, Star, and Marco, and walked right up to Magnavore Commander.

Reaching Typhus, she raised a hand and jabbed him in the chest with her index finger.

“You need to take your ugly Beetleborgs cosplay, and your weirdo friends and march back to your mom’s basement or whatever manchild cave you crawled out of, got it?!”

Behind her, his opponents shared his surprise at the sheer nerve of the girl.

“Uh… Brittney, that’s not cosplay! That’s an actual monster!” Marco called.

Brittney rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, even I’ve read those stupid comics!”

She turned around and slapped Typhus upside the head. “Are you paying attention, moron?! You need to go; you’re disrupting my school!”

Typhus reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Man, the attitude you kids got, you’d all make great Magnavores.”

He then raised his hand to swat Brittney aside. “But we ain’t takin’ applications, baby.”

Star, Marco, and Mabel all lunged to save Brittney, when a shadow passed over them and the street directly next to Typhus shattered from the force of a massive object smashing into it. Brittney and everyone behind her threw their hands up as the wave of dust and debris washed over them, and when she lowered her hands, she was the first to make out the massive shape in the dust cloud.

Just beside ground zero, Typhus tried to move his hand, but found it in a fearsome grip, one stronger than anything that had him since he got here. “Wh-what the heck…? You’re strong as a troll, baby!”

The dust cleared, and the first thing he saw was long, vibrant red hair, and then the gnarled, green-skinned face of a she-troll, her yellowed eyes glaring death at him, and her turquoise lips pulled back to bare her fanged underbite. It cleared further, revealing her entire body rippling with tensed muscle under a deceptive layer of fat, wearing a purple shirt, gray pants, and a pair of pumps.

Marco’s guard dropped in relief when he saw her. “A capable and responsible adult!”

Star couldn’t help herself. “After a fashion.”

“If you really wanna flatter me, beefcake…?” Miss Skullnick, Star, Marco, Jackie, and Mabel’s homeroom teacher, spoke with a surprisingly level tone that conveyed to Typhus the sheer depth of her anger.

“You’re gonna leave my students alone and not come back here… or I’m gonna hurt you.”

Typhus stared at Miss Skullnick’s face, looked at Brittney, then Star, Marco, and Mabel, then back at her. His gaze fixed there for a few moments, before he relaxed his arm, freeing it from her grip, and slowly stepped back from her.

“For you, baby? Anything.” He folded his arms, nodded, and vanished in a flash of flame–taking his remaining Scabs with him.

“This was not on my monster fight bingo card,” Dipper admitted.

Jackie put on a relieved smile as she nudged his side. “You can’t argue with the results, right?”

“Oh, no, I’ll take this!” Dipper quickly assured her.

Mabel sighed in relief. “Thanks, Miss Skullnick!”

“Yeah,” Marco added, “You literally saved us a lot of trouble.”

The troll teacher turned on them. “Kids, I know you’re probably in the middle of some crazy magical adventure or whatever…”

She began chopping her right hand into her left as she spoke, for firm emphasis. “But you can’t be doing this stuff during school hours!”

Miss Skullnick gestured back to Brittney. “What if she got hurt, or goodness forbid any of you? Whoever that guy was, he was strong, and he does not need to be coming back here!”

“We’ll make sure he doesn’t,” Marco promised.

Mabel let out a chuckle. “But I think he got the message already, right Miss S?”

She leaned over towards Miss Skullnick and winked. “You she-devil, you~!”

“Mabel, please do not ship her with the bad guys,” Marco warned with a flat expression.

Star agreed. “We already went down that road; we DO NOT need to take a second trip.”

“What happened to my blimp?”

It was a question that reminded everyone of the gravity of the current situation. The blimp that the Jet Fighters had hit, it was no longer in the sky. The only sign of it was a billowing pall of smoke rising from the LA River, and the ominous shapes of the Magnavore Jet Fighters circling it.

Brittney was staring at the smoke. Everyone could see her hands clenching and unclenching, and the slight tremors that ran through her body, but aside from that the girl was stock still.

And then she wasn’t. She turned around in place so fast she could’ve just flipped around. She was staring directly at Star, her eyes growing bloodshot and her face twitching from the corner of her lip up to her eyebrow.

A chorus of blaring tones from Mabel’s, Marco’s, Miss Skullnick’s, and Brittney’s phones interrupted the tense moment. The same tone swept among the other students, and Jackie grabbed her phone to look at the message that came with the tone.

Dipper saw it on Mabel’s phone and frowned.

“It was only a matter of time.”

= - = 48 = - =

The revolution will not be televised. It will be streamed, though.
 
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Civil Danger

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
For the record, I had these titles of this chapter and the last figured out before they became aggravatingly relevant.

= - = 49 = - =

|Civil Danger|

The blimp advertising “Spirit Week by Wong” was on fire and circling towards the ground.

At Britta’s Tacos, panic flashed through Drew, as he watched the blimp dump water to slow its descent and turn away from the school to avoid hitting it. His eyes darted back to the the attacking Magnavore Jet Fighters, which were coming back around and lining up towards the school itself.

“What’s up with those Jet Fighter replicas, did one crash into the blimp?” Heather asked. “They’re just not having any luck with them.”

Drew looked at her, then at the sky again. His breath caught in his throat as he watched the Jet Fighters make another pass. To his relief, however small it was, they did not fire and instead broke into a climbing turn away from the school and after the blimp.

Heather watched the airship, smoke still trailing behind it as it went down. “I hope the people in that blimp get out okay…”

Drew looked at Janna, then said to Heather. “We should help them.”

Heather agreed. “Let’s go!”

While Drew got back in and buckled up, she hit a switch, and the roof of the convertible began to fold back. She looked at Janna. “You coming?”

The moment the folding roof was past the back seat of the car, Janna vaulted into it. “Even if you didn’t want me to.”

As Heather pulled out of Britta’s lot, Drew gave Janna a pointed look. Meeting his gaze and catching his unspoken request, she nodded and began texting the others.

Heather navigated Echo Creek’s streets, being mindful of traffic and pedestrians as she followed the descent of the blimp and the circling Magnavore Fighters. The fire at its tail was growing as the craft descended, with its nose lifting higher. Barely missing some electrical wires, it landed in the concrete gully and skidded to a halt just short of one of the town’s bridges.

Turning onto a street running along the river with high fence separating the road from it, Heather pulled to a stop, and all stood up in the car to look down at the river below.

“It came down in one piece, but that fire’s bad!” Heather said as the airship began to collapse.

Janna shook her head, lamenting. “Dying in a blimp fire is probably one of the worst ways to go. Mostly because you’re dying in a blimp”

She made a face, like something was stuck on the roof of her mouth. “Blimp. Nope, don’t like that word.”

Drew looked down the street and saw to his relief a gated access tunnel down to the river. He turned to Heather and Janna. “Stay in the car and call 911.”

Heather gawked at him. “You’re going down there?!”

“I have to do something!” With that, Drew jumped off the car and took off running down to the gate. “Get back from the river and call for help!”

Heather gripped the top of her windscreen, debating whether or not to go after him before she hesitated and then called out. “Be careful, please!”

Janna climbed over the passenger seat to sit in it. “He’ll be fine. Let’s pull back, okay?”

Drew waved back at her, and with all of his desperation-fueled might he scrambled up the chain-link gate and over it. He hit the ground on the other side running, glanced back at Heather’s car as it pulled around and took off down the street she’d come from. As the tunnel’s darkness surrounded him, he pulled out his Beetle Bonder.

I really hope no one sees me, but I can’t worry about that! He thought before he held the device in front of him.

“Beetle Blast!”

Pulling into a side-street away from the river, Heather parked her car called 911. The phone range longer than usual, before a dispatcher picked up.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Yes, a blimp is on fire, it may have been involved in an aerial collision, it’s crashed into the LA River on the north side of the Bonner Avenue Bridge! Please send fire trucks and an ambulance, my friend went down there to help!”

There was a moment of pause, before the dispatcher spoke. “Ma’am, can you see any unusual aircraft in your vicinity?”

Heather looked up to see the passing Jet Fighters. “Yes, there are.”

“Ma’am I need you to be calm, but a Civil Danger Warning is in effect in that area, and you need to be in cover right now. Do not go near that blimp and get to the nearest shelter you can find.”

Fear rushed through Heather, as she and Janna looked down the street at the river and the smoke billowing over it.

@@@@@

The tunnel opened up right in front of where the blimp had crashed, and the Blue Stingerborg emerged to see the slowly collapsing balloon was already partially covering the glass-windowed gondola that controlled it. The first thing he saw was the pilot slumped forward in their seat, and all other concerns fled him.

Drawing his Input Magnum, he hit 1-1-9 and aimed it at the fire encroaching on the gondola. “Extinguisher Magnum!”

A great blast of fire extinguisher slammed into the flames, beating them back and snuffing them out away from the door. Grabbing the hatch, Drew ripped it off its hinge and cast it aside before looking into the smoke-filled gondola, where he found a second crewmember lying on the floor.

Moving over to the crewmember and taking care, Drew knelt down and made sure the crewman’s head and neck were stable and dragged them out of the blimp and away from the fire and smoke. Once they were laid on the ground, he headed back in and took the same care lifting the pilot from his seat and dragging him outside.

With the pilot laid beside the copilot, Drew checked their vitals and found that they had pulses and were still breathing. He turned and went back to the blimp, scanners active, and saw no sign of anyone else.

“Thank goodness,” he muttered.

When he turned around to go back to the crew, he found Saberizer standing between him and them.

“Is there anyone left?” The Mercenary Warrior asked.

Drew found that question strange but shook his head. “I checked, it’s clear.”

Saberizer rested his hand on the end of his sheathed falchion’s hilt, then turned and began walking down the river. “Then let us fight away from here.”

Hesitant at first, Drew walked parallel to him, the two leaving the burning blimp and its unconscious crewmen safe outside of the radius of the fire and smoke. They walked south down the river, towards the Bonner Avenue Bridge.

“I don’t get it, what’s your concern about those guys back there?”

Saberizer turned his head to look at him. “A professional consideration, no more, no less. I want no diversions as I fulfill my objective, and you are more than willing to oblige.”

“Wouldn’t putting those people at risk make that easier?”

Saberizer looked ahead and let out a hum. “Easier…”

The two walked under the bridge and down a short incline, where the river and the man-made gully it flowed through widened. Following the water’s edge, Drew stopped a fair distance from the bridge and Saberizer stopped with him, his hand slipping from the pommel to grasp the hilt.

In a flash he drew the falchion and twirled it in hand as he turned around in place to point the tip at the Blue Stingerborg. The yellow eye of his half-mask gave off a steady glow as he spoke.

“I demand no handicap testing your blade.”

Drew tensed up, the ruby-colored eyes of his helmet flashing, as he pulled the Input Magnum–his thumb entering 1-1-0 before he brought the weapon to bear on Saberizer.

He opened fire, and the beams were deflected by Saberizer’s falchion with a deft flick of his wrist that twirled the weapon around his hand. Catching it in his grip the swordsman surged forward, closing the distance between them in a swaying path to let Drew’s next shots pass to his left and right as he reached him.

Saberizer swung once to his left, catching and knocking the Input Magnum from his hand, then brought the blade back to lash him across his arm and chest even faster.

Sparks flew from the Blue Stingerborg’s chest and limb, and alarms went off in Drew’s ear as the force of the blows threatened the air in his lungs. Another slash caught Drew in his right side and sent him spinning, but instead of belly flopping to the ground he caught himself and rolled back up onto his feet.

Turning towards the swordsman, he held out his right hand. “Stinger Blade!”

The Beetle Battler wasn’t finished flashing into existence over his arm when he pitched himself at Saberizer. At the last second, he turned to his right and performed a hard but wide spinning slash aiming to bisect him at the waist.

Saberizer twisted the falchion downward and the Stinger Blade met it with an audible clang. He turned, sidestepping in the direction of Drew’s swing and moving around his blade to slash him across his back and send him stumbling forward.

Drew let out a grunt from the hit and again caught himself on his left hand, turning around he dragged the Stinger Blade through the concrete to swing his right arm low and then upward, the edge of the blade rising to cut Saberizer from hip to shoulder.

Saberizer brought the falchion into the Stinger Blade to cross it perpendicularly with his, and let Drew push him back to finish standing. As the falchion was pushed towards his chest, the Mercenary Warrior slid his right foot behind Drew’s own and tripped it from under him while shoving forward, launching him off his feet.

Landing on his side with a yelp and turning onto his back, he looked up as Saberizer pointed the end of his falchion at his chin.

“Do you need a moment to warm up?” He asked.

Drew responded by shooting Saberizer in the face and chest with the Input Magnum that the Mercenary Warrior didn’t notice him grab up when he sent him stumbling with the slash to his back.

Drew rolled over onto his hands and feet, and looked back to fire three more times, hitting Saberizer again, before rising and turning–entering 9-6-4 as he went. Standing, he aimed at the smoke billowing swordsman and held down the trigger, unleashing the stream of Energy Bolts of the Input Magnum’s crashing mode.

Instead of diving clear or trying to deflect the attacks with his sword, Saberizer charged into the flood of energy bolts, letting them impact his raised left arm and armored body. As shots burned into him, or glanced off his body, he got in range and thrust his falchion forward stabbing Drew in the solar plexus. It was a hit he felt through his armor, knocking the wind out of him long enough for Saberizer to pull the blade back then bring it upwards, uppercutting Drew and launching him in an arc to come crashing down onto his back.

The uppercut had cost Drew his Input Magnum again, the weapon falling towards the ground between them. Saberizer spotted it, and yellow light flashed from both his eyes, beams that stuck the falling weapon and deflected it into the river.

Seeing it splash down as he got back up, Drew swore under his breath.

Saberizer clenched his grip on his falchion, the weapon rattling in his hand.

“Ready your blade, and put your heart into this duel,” he demanded in a tone that grew colder and darker with every word.

Drew brought his right arm up, the Stinger Blade crossed over his chest.

Does he not realize that I’m doing my best? He thought.

He swept the blade out as he ran at Saberizer, then brought it up and downward in a diagonal slash the swordsman sidestepped. Turning around he tried a horizontal spinning slash from the other direction that Saberizer parried up and away. Catching himself, Drew yelled and began using his whole arm to swing it back and forth in an X-pattern to hit him.

Up on the bridge, Jara watched Drew flail at Saberizer, her much more experienced warrior having no problem evading or parrying the widely telegraphed strikes despite their otherwise overwhelming volume. She shook her head in disgust and turned her back away from the fight to watch the Magnavore Jet Fighters continue their circling.

Noxic appeared behind her, in a still damaged but patched up state. He looked off the bridge at the Blue Stingerborg and Saberizer clashing. Then he looked around.

“Hey, what I miss?” He asked his meat-based organic friend. “Why is Saberizer doin’ all this huntin’ and you ain’t doin’ none of that killin’?”

“Saberizer wanted to fight the child, so I am letting him,” Jara said without looking back.

She didn’t need to see what Noxic watched. A particularly heavy slash from Drew was caught by the cross guard of Saberizer’s falchion. He walked backwards in a circle as Drew tried to press on him, the two orbiting each other twice before he turned and let Drew stagger past him like he had before. The Blue Stingerborg recovered fast, not wanting to fall for the trick again and swung out sloppily for the swordsman to just parry his sword up and away again.

As Drew let out a grunt with the parried attack, then lunged in with an even louder yell, Noxic turned back to Jara. “You did tell Saberizer that the kid’s a mook, right?”

“It’s his curiosity, he saw something, and he has a normally good eye for the blade.”

“Did he see that the kid’s only good for fighting dirty and ganging up on people with his friends?”

Jara thought about their last fight. “No… it’s something else, and by the way things are going, Saberizer is going to be very unhappy.”

Noxic looked again at the fight. The Blue Stingerborg’s already sloppy attacks now had the tell-tale violence of desperation, as Saberizer opted to simply block each blow and give the armored hero no opening to attack.

He looked back at her. “So where’s Typhus?”

“He went to one of the high schools closest to that house, to try to smoke out the other Beetles and hopefully the Butterfly, too. He has not been back to contact me, so he has either found them and is fighting… or he is trashing a school and terrorizing its students.”

Right on cue, Typhus appeared next to the two. “Yeah, I ain’t going back to that school, baby.”

He saw Noxic. “Hey, buddy, good to see you on your feet.”

“Thanks, I’m not one hundred percent but I’ll run my mouth witcha! You won’t believe the new dump I found to set up, it’s a literal dump!”

Jara’s glower could be felt through her mask as she spoke over Noxic. “Why aren’t you going back there, was the Butterfly there?”

Typhus nodded. “Yeah, all them kids are there, but there’s a troll, too.”

Jara and Noxic both recoiled from Typhus, they looked at each other, then at him. “A troll?”

“Yeah, a full-on brick house, baby! She was mighty-mighty and lettin’ it all hang out.”

The way Typhus described her did not set well with Jara’s stomach, and so she memory holed that to focus on the more dire implication. “Did the troll protect them?”

“Yeah, didn’t want me anywhere near her kids, baby.” Typhus rubbed his monstrous chin. “… Lady had priorities…”

That thought aloud made Jara’s stomach do a flip, but she again stuck to the real issue. “Attacking the school to get at them means risking a fight with a troll. That is out of the question.”

“You darn right that’s out of the question, trolls are the worst!” Noxic agreed.

Typhus looked down when he heard another hard clang, and found the Blue Stingerborg locking blades with Saberizer, trying hard to use the Stinger Blade to push the falchion aside and cut into the Mercenary Warrior.

As Saberizer began to push, Drew grabbed the end of his sword with his free hand and pushed back. It almost seemed to work, causing Saberizer to lean just a few inches, before he kicked Drew in the chest and separated them.

“Kid’s still bad at this, huh?” Typhus asked before he turned back to her. “Hey, you’d better tell him to wrap this up. If I ain’t there, then them kids are gonna be on the move soon.”

The Magnavore Fighters suddenly turned all at once, headed towards Hillhurst Mansion, and Jara looked up. “It seems that this has turned out to be the case.”

The four fighters nosed up slightly, bringing their guns to level, and opened fire on their target. The salvos of energylanced across the sky, and punched through several low clouds, revealing their target. Painted red and black, with silver fixed landing gear and powered by a pair of tilt fans sticking from its side, the Red Striker AV performed a roll and passed under the Magnavore Jet Fighters.

The sound of new engines caught Drew’s attention, and he felt relief when he saw Jo’s AV.

“Thank goodness…”

Seeing Drew look upward, away from their battle, Saberizer’s helmet eye shone and he gripped the falchion tighter.

@@@@@

Overhead, Jo let out a laugh as she watched the four Jet Fighters split off into two groups of two. Two climbed up high, while the others went into hard right turns to reengage her. “Oh, thank you for making this easier for me.”

Instead of going after the two who turned to meet her, she pulled into a near vertical climb and pushed the craft’s throttle forward. The back half of the Red Striker AV’s body opened like the hard shell of a ladybug–revealing a quartet of thrusters that flared to life and pushed her up towards the climbing fighters.

“Didn’t think I’d outclimb you, huh?!” She asked as she locked on and fired off several bursts of lasers, hitting the lead of the two climbing fighters–whose explosion caused its wingmate to tumble out of the way and into another burst from the Red Striker AV.

The second craft exploded, both quickly dissolving away into hundreds of thousands of wasps that burned away in the sky.

As Jo turned away from the explosions, she laughed. “This is too easy! It’s like flying a bike!”

On her AV’s panoramic monitor, a window with Misao’s face appeared. “Stop showing off, check your six o’clock.”

The other two fighters had managed to come back around and were climbing after Jo, their lasers blazing just as Misao warned her. Swiveling her thrusters and adjusting their throttles, Jo swerved left and right, throwing off their aim before she turned the tilt rotors a full ninety degrees straight down and changed direction so abruptly that she was pushed down into her seat by the massive G-Forces.

The AI controlled Magnavore Jet Fighters read the move, but it happened so quickly that they could only barrel past her before their own control inputs could put them in a counter maneuver. The lag was all Jo needed, and she quickly shot down the other two fighters with a quick burst from her lasers.

“That’s four down!” Jo cheered as the fighters burned away, before she scanned the sky using her panoramic monitors and a few extra windows to cover her blind spots. “I have no other bandits on my scopes.”

“Understood,” Misao answered, using the same severe and cold tone she had alerted her with before. “Now focus and locate Stingerborg so I may direct Hunterborg to his location.”

Jo checked her scanners, and quickly got a sight of the Blue Stingerborg on the shore of the LA River, facing off against Saberizer with the three Magnavore commanders in sight.

Behind her mask, she grinned. “I’ve got eyes on them; I’m going in for a strafing run!”

“You will not,” Misao said. “You are not permitted to fire at targets on the ground.”

Jo did a double-take. “Says who?!”

“We do not need to risk collateral damage through a strafing run.” Misao sharply answered. “Allow Hunterborg to handle the matter and provide support as needed. If you try to attack anyway, I will turn your weapons to safe.”

Jo bristled at the girl’s uncompromising tone and the mechanical aggression of her warning. “You can’t do that!”

And just like that Jo received an alert that all of her weapons had been turned from armed to safe. Eyes widening behind her mask, she looked at Misao’s window.

Misao stared blankly at her, as she turned her weapons back on. “Coordinate with Hunterborg.”

Now Jo was seething. “Do you really want to start something, now?”

Misao glared at her. “Do you?”

The window closed out. Behind her mask, Jo fought her grimace. It only deepened when a new window opened up, revealing the expressionless helmet and mask of Green Hunterborg. Jo could feel Roland’s withering look of “What did I tell you?” through it and the distance that separated their screens.

On the road, vehicles and pedestrians were scattering in every direction, as a green-painted, and silver chromed Stag Beetle perched atop a turret connected to a pair of large tank treads powered down the street. Despite its size, the vehicle was surprisingly agile, maneuvering around cars and avoiding people as it headed towards the Bonner Avenue bridge.

Inside, Roland cut his communication with Jo and focused on the battle at hand. “I don’t see Drew yet, but I definitely see the Magnavores!”

Misao appeared in a window. “Then do your best to drive them off, and help Stingerborg!”

Jara saw the AV coming and grimaced. “Of course they have all three of those things!”

Typhus turned to face it. “I got it, baby!”

With the road between him and the Magnavores cleared, Roland gunned the throttles and opened the Hunter AV’s horns to grab Typhus.

Down by the river, Drew swung hard and missed Saberizer. From the moment Jo turned up and made the battle a little easier, the Swordsman had stopped trying to fight back and was now simply evading his blows. Not even rudimentary attempts at feints were landing. He’d go in one way, change direction, change direction again, swing, and miss.

Saberizer didn’t even raise his sword.

After a final failed strike, Drew stopped short of advancing, then lowered his sword. This is hopeless, I can’t take this guy in a straight fight.

He wasn’t ready for this kind of combat. He was only just getting the hang of learning how to fall at the dojo.

Saberizer brought his hand up to adjust the scarf that covered the lower half of his face. “… Disappointing. You understand nothing of the world you reside in.”

“What do you mean?” Drew asked as he glanced towards the river, the suit’s Heads Up Display had located the Input Magnum. It was in about three feet of water and mostly undamaged.

Getting it’s the problem, but everyone’s on their way. This fight is almost over! He thought as he spaced his feet and prepared to move.

Saberizer spoke–his calm tone now shaken with anger. “I will not allow you to leave it in ignorance.”

Drew tensed up. “What?”

The Green Hunter AV raced across the bridge, swerving towards Typhus as he bulked up and turned from green to red. But before Roland could test his vehicle’s might against the Magnavore’s brawn, an orange barrier shot up and stopped the tank with enough force to lift it off the back of its treads.

Drew stopped what he was doing and looked up at the bridge, as Saberizer gave it a rearward glance.

The tank crashed back down, Roland was tossed back and forth in his seat, but naturally unharmed thanks to his armor.

He paused, then growled when he saw what stopped him.

“Ah shit…”

Jara and Noxic both stepped back from Typhus, who followed.

Vexor stood between them and the Green Hunter AV, healed good as new from his grisly injuries he’d incurred from Star, his regal cloak floating back from him only slightly as he maintained the barrier that kept the Green Hunterborg at bay with his left hand. Gazing up at the machine, he opened his hand just a bit wider, and the barrier pushed the tank back, all the way to the end of the bridge.

“Jara,” he spoke.

Jara, tense after Vexor’s brief demonstration of why he is in charge, stepped forward. “Yes?”

Lowering the hand he repelled Roland with, he raised his right. “Bring the blue one to me, dead or alive.”

He opened his palm, the blue gem in its center flaring brightly to life. “Open Forth, Gaohm Zone!”

Drew barely had a second to react before he was plunging into the dimensional tunnel, yelling in surprise as he fell.

Roland saw him fall, and quickly pulled the hatch lever. “Crap, Stingerborg!”

Overhead, Jo also saw her brother vanish. “Damn it!”

She ignited the Red Striker AV’s boosters and dove, quickly racing up the river from the south so she could line up her laser cannons on Vexor, Typhus, and Noxic. “You’re giving him back right now, asshole!”

Taking aim and placing Vexor square in her sights, she pulled the trigger.

Instantly her weapons went safe.

“WHAT?!” She yelled. “MISAO YOU BITCH!”

Misao reappeared on her screen. “I do not care how angry you are! You will not fire!”

Jo let a growl of frustration and nosed up to pass over the bridge. As she climbed, she looked down and saw just past the bridge at the river’s edge–right in the line of her aborted strafing run–were several emergency vehicles. Two fire trucks and an ambulance that had snuck down to the bridge to put out the blimp fire and tend to the crew while Drew was keeping Saberizer busy on the other side of the bridge.

Seething, she let out a yell. “Then I’ll do it by hand!”

Pulling a lever, she bailed out of the Red Striker AV, leaving it for Misao to take control.

Hurtling through the air, she punched the ground as she landed in front of Vexor, Typhus, and Noxic–the latter two just now noticing that Jara had been swept up and taken to the Gaohm Zone.

Still safely behind his barrier, Vexor greeted the two teenagers with a lean in their direction not unlike a very short but polite bow. “Greetings. This battle is now over, but I shall come for you in due time.”

With that he, Typhus, and Noxic disappeared.

Despite her general bad attitude today, Roland forgave Jo’s scream of frustration as the Magnavores escaped. He ran to the bridge’s stone wall and looked off it down at the river below, where there was no sign of Drew anywhere.

He lowered his head and clenched a fist, before he pounded it on the wall and tore a chunk out of it.

= - = 49 = - =

Hope for the best.
 
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Rufus Shinra

Well-known member
“Ma’am I need you to be calm, but a Civil Danger Warning is in effect in that area, and you need to be in cover right now. Do not go near that blimp and get to the nearest shelter you can find.”
Unbelievable, competent and effective authorities.
“We do not need to risk collateral damage through a strafing run.” Misao sharply answered. “Allow Hunterborg to handle the matter and provide support as needed. If you try to attack anyway, I will turn your weapons to safe.”
Someone played Megaton Rainfall, I see.
 
The Mind of a Boy That Killed Adolescence

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
Someone played Megaton Rainfall, I see.

You cannot comprehend how apt that comparison is. Boss Battle Incoming.

= - = 50 = - =

|The Mind of a Boy That Killed Adolescence|

The Blue Stingerborg landed in a crouch, his Input Magnum clattering to the ground a short distance away from him. Slowly, unhurt from his dimensional travel, he rose to his feet and looked around at his surroundings. He was on a mist-shrouded, rocky field bare of plant life–any life at all. The mists crossed over the field on a slow, steady breeze, revealing glimpses of a nearby shore lit by a sun frozen at rise.

Looking at the sunrise and the glittering sea before that spread from the horizon, he noticed the rays of light dance over metal in the mists. He peered closer and realized it was bouncing off the edges, guards, and pommels of numerous swords. They were everywhere in the field, of every conceivable shape and size, ranging from the mundanely familiar to the completely alien, concealed by the mist except where the weak light from the sea touched them.

“What…?” He remembered the dimension they’d been sent to last time, and Roland’s description of the “Rat Bone Pit.”

“This guy’s really a sword fanatic, huh?” He thought aloud as he turned towards his Input Magnum and walked over to it.

When he reached to retrieve the weapon, dozens of swords rained down from the sky. Short blades, broadswords, long swords, katanas, and even a blade large enough to slay horses and their riders in a single swing. They stabbed into the ground around the Input Magnum, encasing it in almost a solid wall of metal.

Drew stumbled back in surprise.

He can control the swords here, too?! He thought.

He looked around, before his scanners detected a target and he turned to see the shape of Saberizer in the mists–a yellow glow coming from his half-mask. His arms were folded, and from the intensity of the light he could tell the Mercenary was glaring straight at him.

“I misjudged you,” Saberizer lamented with a firm voice.

He stepped forward, his silhouette fading into view as he grew closer. Drew raised the Stinger Blade, and Saberizer stopped.

“I am a warrior; for as long as I can remember I have only known the blade. I have fought countless battles, shed blood on fields like these, and even knelt with my head hung in defeat.”

He watched Drew prepare to lunge as he waxed poetic. “But not once… has a foe been able to rip this sword from my hand.”

His hand moved to the pommel of his falchion and rested there. “When you disarmed me, I thought for a moment… that there was a glimpse of something great in you. A warrior, a swordsman.”

The moment he saw Saberizer’s hand move to his sword, Drew leapt into action–literally. He jumped, with all his might, and threw himself into a spin, building up tremendous momentum to swing the Stinger Blade vertically onto the middle of Saberizer’s head.

Moving his hand from the pommel of his sword to its sheath, he tucked his finger under the cross hilt and flicked the blade up out of it. His right hand shot to the ascending blade and caught the hilt to bring it across and stop Drew’s swing.

A clang echoed from the blades meeting, the shockwave from the impact clearing the mists for a short distance. The mist’s displacement revealed Jara perched atop the swords surrounding the Input Magnum, her cape fluttering behind her as she watched the fight in silence.

“But I see that I was mistaken!” Saberizer swung the blade with that, throwing Drew back before gravity could pull him down.

Drew flipped through the air and landed. Saberizer pursued, his feet barely touching the ground as he rushed him. Waiting for the last moment, Drew threw out the Stinger blade and swung in, only for Saberizer to catch the blade with his own and stop him.

“You have no power swinging your sword like that.”

He parried the Stinger Blade back, then brought his around in a crescent motion to slice his chest once, then bring it back even faster, the harder blow throwing the Blue Stingerborg off his feet.

“And your stance is non-existent.”

With a grimace, Drew caught himself and used his backward momentum to turn the other way and lash out with the Stinger Blade in another horizontal cut, but Saberizer stepped back from it.

“Your every move is an open book, spread out for anyone to read.”

The yellow eye of his mask flashed, and several swords surrounding Saberizer exploded from the ground and shot up into the misty sky. Drew looked up and caught the gleams of the weapons before they came down aiming for his feet, coming from the front and to his left. He hopped back in the other direction, and barely landed when he hopped to his left to avoid more swords that rained down from his right.

He saw the tips of several swords barely poke out of the ground around his left foot as he landed on it. Without hesitation he jumped back from those blades that rocketed out of the ground aimed for his vitals, some barely grazing his armor as they shot past.

More swords sprouted from the ground, following him as he retreated, and out of the mists even more emerged, raking his armor as they passed him, while others rained down to impale him.

He can control so many at once! Drew thought as he stumbled about, staying only a half-step–a quarter-step away from being hit.

“Your deplorable footwork; even a young child with a year of walking is more trusting of how they stand.” Saberizer said with a sneer as several more swords shot past him to attack Drew. “A stiff breeze could knock you down, much less a sword carried by the gale!”

He lowered his head, teeth clenching behind his scarf as the swords converged on Drew from all directions.

“Someone of your pathetic skill… should have never been able to disarm me.”

With one foot atop the flat pommel of a zweihänder, and the other on the cross guard of a much lower scimitar, Jara leaned onto her knee and watched the Blue Stingerborg hop, jump, and leap to escape the all-range projectile swords.

“Saberizer,” she said to herself, inaudible to anyone else over the strike of blade against armor. “The useless boy really struck your pride.”

More swords flew towards Drew, some aiming for his left leg, the other for his right side. Seeing them, he kicked off to his right while swinging the Stinger Blade, scattering the blades away from him. He landed, but without even bothering to look he jumped forward and dodged swords plunging on him from above.

Blades homed in from his left, from directly in front, and above, and Drew tightly turned his body to use the Stinger Blade’s width as a shield to stop the swords that would strike his head while others ricocheted off his armor, leaving deep nicks in it.

The impacts were enough to push his feet into the firm, rocky soil, and several more swords cut across his armor to set alarms off in his ears. He jumped to his right to avoid another salvo of projectiles, and kept moving, running a gauntlet of swords but staying just ahead of them.

As he dodged and swatted away swords, his mind raced. I can’t do this all day! I’m only delaying the inevitable!

A particularly large sword erupted from the ground, aimed for his throat. He raised the Stinger Blade and deflected it up enough that it glanced off the right side of his helmet near his eye—cracking the helmet’s lens. He had no time to focus on how much that hurt, seeing the glimmers of swords coming on him from his left and right. He jumped and flipped through the air to let the projectiles shatter each other on impact when they collided.

Drew watched the blades come apart like it was in slow motion, as he fell from the top of his jump landed hard.

What…? What just happened there?

The shards of metal seemed so slow that he could’ve just plucked them out of the air if he could reach them.

And there was Saberizer, coming in from low and fast and thrusting the falchion for his chest to snap him out of his momentary daze. Drew sidestepped him, then smartly used the Stinger Blade to defeat a follow-up stroke as the Mercenary Warrior turned to face him.

Jara was taken by surprise. “Huh?”

“There it is, another flash of competence,” Saberizer growled as he tried to push Drew back, but the Blue Stingerborg planted his feet then sidestepped to try and shove him past.

Saberizer outpaced him then shoved his arm up to break his block. “But it’s merely a fluke!”

With a quick twirl of his falchion he cut into the Stingerborg armor with a vengeance before several swords flew in around him and crashed into Drew, knocking him backward. As he tumbled across the field more swords struck him, destroying themselves and propelling him further with each hit. Swords sprouted from the ground in his path, his body plowing through them with a din of shattering and warping metal.

When he finally came to a stop, flat on his back, more swords finished their ballistic course and made final adjustments to hit him with the force of missiles, creating numerous explosions that cleared more and more of the dreary mist away.

Holding his falchion with its tip pointed to the ground, Saberizer advanced on the clearing dust and smoke as the Blue Stingerborg slowly pushed himself onto his knees. His armor was burned and cut deep–enough in places that the black mesh of interwoven armor and circuitry beneath the solid blue plate was visible.

Drew was out of ideas. He was trapped in the Gaohm Zone, with no one to back him up. Sure he was only fighting Saberizer, but Jara was here too, and he already didn’t have any options by himself against her. These were just facts.

He looked at the Stinger Blade, rattling as he trembled, and tried to calm himself.

I need to focus, I can barely do anything, but I’ll only do one thing if I start panicking! Focus, and look forward!

He took a deep, strong breath as Saberizer reached him. Think… think of something! Think of anything!

Saberizer’s next words then cut through his thoughts like the blade in his name.

“You are an embarrassment to warriors. That someone like you could disarm me, who has never faced such shame before?”

He raised the falchion above his head, taking it in both hands to bring down on Drew’s neck.

My swordsman's soul shall forever bear this disgrace.”

@@@@@

In the outside world, a portal was cut open and Star, Marco, Dipper, and Mabel emerged onto the Bonner Avenue Bridge. There, they found the Green Hunterborg and Red Strikerborg looking down at the emergency vehicles dealing with the wrecked blimp. The crew of the blimp were conscious and speaking to the rescuers, as firefighters tackled bringing the burning blimp under control.

“Hunterborg, Strikerborg,” Dipper called to them. “The school’s safe. Where’s Stingerborg?”

Jo turned to face the group. “Stingerborg’s gone. Vexor appeared again and sent him off to that weird dimension with Saberizer.”

Roland spoke up next. “Jara, too.”

Mabel gasped. “He’s by himself?!”

Dipper turned to Star. “Can you contact him?!”

Star reached for her compact, then stopped. “No, I can’t. He doesn’t have his phone!”

Jo stepped towards Star. “What about the Scissors?”

The Princess shook her head as she answered. “If I don’t have an idea of where I’m going, I can’t go there with the Scissors!”

That had the Red Strikerborg throw her hands up in frustration. “Ugh, you’re useless!”

Star’s face darkened with anger. “Like yelling at me is going to fix this!”

Marco’s response was much more dramatic, his open palm slamming hard into the Red Strikerborg’s chest and knocking her back. “You need to stop!”

Catching herself, Jo stared at Marco as he took another step placing himself between her and Star.

“Take your passive-aggressive crap and shove it back up where it came from!” He snarled as he pointed at her face.

She went from surprised to enraged. “Passive-aggres…?! Screw you and your walking disaster girlfriend, you-!”

“KNOCK IT OFF!”

Jo went quiet at Dipper’s roar as she looked at him. His expression was hard and angry, as he stared at Jo with the broken frustration of a man who could not keep quiet anymore.

“All of this crap with you antagonizing Star, Misao, and my sister? It stops right now. I don’t care whatever has you pissed off, don’t take it out on them.” He ordered.

Everyone was looking at her. Marco’s glare was no less severe, Star’s cheek marks were once more skulls even as she took his arm to hold him back, Mabel had a look of more silent disapproval than anger, and once more Jo knew what kind of face Roland had behind his mask. With a seething grunt, she turned away from them and looked back down at the river below.

“Seriously, girl…” Roland muttered.

“Whatever,” Jo just grumbled back.

Dipper returned everyone to the matter at hand. “All right, without a phone to connect to the suit, is there a way we can contact Drew?”

Marco turned to Roland. “You can contact each other through a radio, right?”

“Yeah but,” Roland checked his systems, “I don’t have Stingerborg connected.”

Mabel asked Star. “Is there a spell that you can use to scry and find where Stingerborg is?”

“Even if I could think one up?” Star held up her wand, and a cloud of gunk came from it. “My magic’s on the fritz.”

Their options were short, and whatever time they had was even shorter. If they had any at all.

Dipper really hated this. “Then we have to find Vexor.”

“Which we don’t even know where to start,” Jo pointed out without looking back at them.

“He said he’d be back for us later,” Roland reported, “So if he does come back, it’ll be too late.”

Mabel placed a hand on Dipper’s shoulder. “Dipper, what are we going to do?”

Dipper shook his head. “I don’t know, I’ll need my journal for this.”

Marco kicked the stone wall of the bridge, small cracks appearing under his foot. “Damn it!”

Jo looked at the wall, then down at her chest where Marco struck her. He was strong, too strong for someone with no obvious superpowers, but it was the fact that he was doing such damage in his frustration that made something click in her mind.

Bowing her head with a sigh, she turned around to face everyone again.

“… He’ll be fine.”

The others turned to her.

“What makes you say that?” Dipper asked.

Jo turned her head to glance at Roland, then addressed everyone. “Dr… Stingerborg is worried that the superpowers Roland and I have aren’t awakening. He should have them, but he doesn’t know how to activate them. Mine kicked in when Lars punched you, Hunterborg got his when he was being entirely outclassed by Snake Head.”

And thus everyone else understood. Drew was alone with Jara and one of her Mercenary Warriors. He had no choice, either his power was going to awaken, or it wasn’t, and he was going to die. His odds were fifty-fifty and nothing else.

“Will it be enough, though?” Marco asked.

Jo pursed her lips in silence for a moment. “Yesterday, with how our dad treated him, I really thought Drew’s power was going to wake up… and I was scared what would happen if it did.”

Dipper cocked his head to the side ever slightly. “Hm?”

“Call it me being genre-savvy, but whatever power that Drew has building inside his head…” Jo began.

@@@@@

“… Is going to be as powerful as Roland and I put together.”

Jara watched Saberizer bring his sword down for the killing blow, but the expected sound of a blade cutting through armor and the thud of a head on the ground didn’t follow. In fact, as she looked closer, she realized that the blade had stopped right at the Blue Stingerborg’s neck, just above it in fact. She stood more upright, confusion overcoming her.

“Saberizer…?” She asked, before she heard a rattling.

It was the sound of Saberizer struggling, his armor and blade trembling as he strained to move. Something had seized his arms, a tremendous but invisible force that held them perfectly still no matter how much he pulled to free himself.

“What… what is this…?” The swordsman demanded, before he looked down at the Blue Stingerborg, who remained down on his hands and knees for a moment longer, then rose to his feet.

As Drew stood, the force holding Saberizer’s arms moved them up, lifting the falchion away from his neck and above its owner’s head.

“… No…” Saberizer spat. “… It… it’s you?!”

The Blue Stingerborg stood upright and turned his head to look at him.

“It must be so embarrassing,” Drew said at a dead calm.

Underneath his mask, his eyes were wide with an overwhelming fury–the rage burning through him and reaching out to every corner of the battlefield, enveloping Saberizer.

“To lose to someone you think is so much weaker than you.”

There was a roar, as Saberizer was thrown backward from Drew. With him a shockwave blasted across the field, clearing away the mist and scattering swords both discarded and buried in every direction away from him. The shockwave struck Jara, throwing her off her perch of swords and through the air.

Tumbling end over end, Jara recovered and landed safely. She looked to her right and watched Saberizer use his falchion to grind to a halt.

“How do you think it feels, to be the weak one?” Drew asked, both Mercenaries looking up at him.

The Blue Stingerborg walked towards Saberizer, sparks popping and wisps of smoke rising from his damaged armor. “Helpless to do anything but flail, because you have all the skill, all the money, all the power.”

Saberizer rose to his feet and readied his sword. “If you believe I am helpless, then prove it!”

The swords tumbling through the air around Saberizer stopped at his will. Katanas, short swords, longswords, halberds, all reorienting themselves and targeting Stingerborg before accelerating to sound-barrier shattering speeds.

Drew raised his open right hand out in front of him. “You don’t understand at all.”

There was another roar, as the numerous swords in the ground behind him were ripped out of it and flung into the path of the oncoming projectile blades. The air exploded in a chorus of clashing steel, as the swords met and shattered into pieces.

Jara recoiled in shock, as she watched Saberizer’s own swords be used against him. “Impossible…”

Saberizer sheathed his falchion. “… It is you who does not understand!”

As he launched himself at Drew, more swords shot from the ground and flew with or past him, homing in on Drew from his left, front, and straight ahead.

Drew clenched his outstretched hand into a fist, and the swords aiming for his sides wavered then abruptly changed direction, flying into the swords surrounding Saberizer and the swordsman himself. Swords crashed and annihilated all around him, and through the flashes of exploding steel more blades broke through aimed for the swordsman’s throat, chest, and limbs.

Saberizer drew his falchion, scattering the projectiles and broke from their encirclement right in front of Stingerborg. Drew watched the falchion sweep outward after sending the swords aimed for its wielder flipping away, then it suddenly disappeared from his hand, and filled his field of vision from below, aiming for his chin. Saberizer had switched hands, faster than Drew could blink, to stab him through his head.

A pair of swords crossed in front of him and deflected the falchion upward.

Saberizer was astounded, even as both his eyes lit up. “But how?!”

They flashed, and a third sword slid between him and the Blue Stingerborg to block the beams he fired. Drew hurtled backward from the explosion, skimming the ground before he righted and stopped himself. Saberizer appeared in front of him.

Swords under Drew’s control plunged to impale the swordsman’s back from above, but Saberizer disappeared in a flicker. Turning in place to his right, Drew swept the Stinger Blade around and brought it up to block Saberizer’s diagonal slash aimed for his neck. The blades ground against one another for only an instant, before Drew completed the swing and parried Saberizer back in a shower of sparks.

“You have no skill; you can't even follow simple strikes…!” Saberizer recovered and lashed out with flickering slashes that were blocked in just as quickly by more swords Drew called to his defense.

“And now you can read my movements?!”

More of Saberizer’s own swords passed narrowly over and under his arms to strike Drew’s chest and face, but the Beetleborg leaped–or rather was hurtled into the air above Saberizer like he’d been picked up and tossed.

“I can feel them…” Drew admitted as he reached the top of his flight and saw numerous gleams–in the next instant dozens of swords closed around him like claws.

There was no other way to describe it. As the swords entered his range, just like Saberizer had, he could feel the blades like he was touching each one of them from tip to pommel. Just as he could feel them, he could stop them, hold them, and move them. The swords that were too fast to stop he could guide away from him, to barely miss his armored body. Those that he could stop he did completely, the air they displaced striking him and throwing him down towards the ground.

Into more swords he fell, and the swords he grasped followed, slamming into them, blocking and breaking them with the overwhelming forces he and Saberizer both exerted on them.

“They’re slow…” He said as Saberizer entered his range to perform another swift draw of his falchion before he could reach the ground.

The power that flowed from him, he used it to grasp his own body and spin himself around to the right once more, with such speed and momentum that the Stinger Blade crashed into the falchion before it left the sheath.

Beneath his mask, Drew ignored the feeling of blood pouring from his nose. It didn’t hurt, on the contrary it felt like pressure had been released from his head, and with the stream flowed his frustration, fear, and self-doubt. All that mattered as his blade scraped against Saberizer’s and the swordsman was repulsed from him, were the cracks that he saw along the falchion’s edge.

Jara watched Saberizer lose ground, his footing lost as he stumbled backward. “No… this is not right…”

The Blue Stingerborg landed and held his right arm out, the Stinger Blade’s edge gleaming in the rising sun’s rays as it sliced through the light.

The Magnavore commander reached for her own blade, as her breathing picked up and her hair began to rise on end. “Saberizer… don’t lose to this pathetic boy…!”

“When I asked how you think it feels…!” Drew shot forward, swords coming out of the ground and accelerating with him. Two, a pair of long swords, flew straight, but a pair of rapiers and a pair of cutlasses spun to become sawblades that circled around him.

The spinning swords shot ahead and Saberizer parried two of them away. The cutlasses shattered, leaving the spinning rapiers to attack next, but Saberizer weaved around both and took his sword in both hands as he let out a yell. He swung with all his might, shattering the remaining longswords, and then clashing with Drew.

“Have you ever thought about what goes through their minds?!” Drew shouted as their swords connected.

Both warriors repelled one another, then came back in Saberizer’s two handed vertical strike slamming into the flat of the Stinger Blade. Drew parried him off, then spun himself to cut into him. When Saberizer brought his sword back and blocked him, he pushed the swordsman backward.

“Their desperation?!” Drew yelled as Saberizer parried him. He stumbled, but when the swordsman tried to capitalize, Drew whipped himself around and used an upward stab to deflect the vertical stroke down and away from him.

Drew used his power to move himself out the path of Saberizer’s following rising slash and used his retreat to turn around and cross swords with him again. “Their terror when they realize they cannot touch you?!”

He swung the Stinger Blade and sent Saberizer flying off his feet, his power amplifying the swing so hard he grunted from the pain–he almost ripped his own arm from the socket. “GRAH!”

Saberizer caught himself as he had repeatedly, but he was not fast enough to deflect a rapier that impaled his left arm below the shoulder.

“I’ve lived my entire life weak…!”

As Drew shouted, the second rapier impaled him through his right thigh, midway between his hip and knee.

“Crushed by people stronger than me!”

Saberizer ripped the rapier from his arm, and took it in his right hand. The Blue Stingerborg reached him, with his right arm held across his left shoulder, and swung with much more confidence as Saberizer lunged anticipating a full spin. The Stinger Blade crashed through and shattered the rapier before Saberizer could pull it back.

“Looking down on me the entire time!”

Instead of taking another swing, he pulled his arm back just enough to lunge in a straight line, and his blade glanced off Saberizer’s shoulder armor, taking off a bit of his scarf. As the blade cut and scraped through his armor, Saberizer twirled and resheathed his blade, using the motion to turn himself and face the Stingerborg.

Drew opened his right hand, and closed it into a fist, as he seized himself with his power.

Saberizer began the draw, as Drew turned with all that speed and more. The world moved in slow motion, and he watched the middle of the Stinger Blade meet the emerging falchion, the nanothin edge slipping into one of the edge’s fine cracks, and then cutting with no effort through the entire blade.

“And you’re just one more!”

The falchion disintegrated, as the tip of the Stinger Blade only narrowly missed Saberizer’s body, and he and Drew finished their lunges past one another.

Jara dropped her blade, the weapon clattering to the rocky soil at her feet.

Saberizer stared at his broken blade in silence.

Behind him, Drew kept his arm held outward, as its turbine opened and spun. The Stinger Blade then began to spin as well, the triangle-shaped blade becoming a solid cone of light as its RPMs rose.

“I don’t care about your shame or being an embarrassment to warriors!” Drew said as the blade’s light became blinding. “I’m too busy taking responsibility for my actions, fighting the monsters I brought to my world with my foolishness! THAT IS WHERE MY HEART IS, NOT IN YOUR STUPID DUEL!”

Not concerned at all if he ripped his arm off completely, Drew planted his feet and turned perfectly, bringing the glowing Stinger Blade around and through Saberizer’s torso.

“BEETLE BREAK!”

The energy blade lashed through Saberizer in an instant and surged out like a wave, cutting a deep, crescent shaped gash in the ground in front of the Mercenary Warrior.

Jara had no words, she could only watch.

Saberizer’s arms dropped to his sides. “Stingerborg… I was wrong about you.”

He lurched forward, his weakening grip losing the hilt of his falchion. It clattered to the ground. “You… were more formidable… than I realized…”

With his last strength, he lifted his head up.

“FORGIVE MY FAILURE, GENERAL JARA!” He bellowed. “IT HAS BEEN AN HONOR!”

Shaking her head as he fell, Jara shrieked in anguish.

“SABERIZER!”

The moment his body hit the ground, the Gaohm Zone collapsed, and both she and the Blue Stingerborg fell into the swirling dimensional tunnel.

@@@@@

The audible clang of metal against the pavement alerted the others, and they all turned to see him land in the middle of the bridge–the Input Magnum and the hilt of Saberizer’s falchion clattering at his feet. He was barely standing, smoke was rising from his damaged armor, but Drew had made it out of the Gaohm Zone and back to reality.

He stood upright, and looked at the clear, blue LA sky. “I… I won…”

And the next thing he knew, Roland and Jo’s armored bodies crashed into his, hugging him and not caring at all for the metal separating them.

“OH MY GOD!” Jo yelled.

“DUDE, YOU MADE IT!” Roland cheetred.

Drew could feel his adrenaline stop to drop, he was already starting to hurt, but he held himself together. “Yeah, I did it… I beat Saberizer…”

Jo looked up at him. “By your-freaking-self! How?!”

“Yeah, man, what happened?” Roland pressed.

Drew leaned onto the two of them. “… Telekinesis…”

Both stopped, Roland doing a double-take. “What?”

Jo gasped, in both excitement and vindication. “No shit?”

Drew nodded, then laughed. “My superpower is Telekinesis!”

Jo rested her forehead against his shoulder and chuckled. “Well, I hope somebody picks up that phone…”

The wooziness was settling in faster, leaving Drew at a loss to her meaning. “What…?”

She then threw her head back and yelled to the others as they reached the three. “BECAUSE I FREAKING CALLED IT!”

Mabel was the first to get to them, joining on the group hug embracing Drew’s back. “Welcome back, Stingerborg!”

Dipper, Marco, and Star brought up the rear, all of them smiling in relief.

“You had a heck of a fight,” Dipper said. “You okay under that armor?”

Drew let out a small laugh. “I’m not going to lie… I pushed myself really hard and I’m going to look like a mess when this armor comes off.”

His nose had stopped bleeding, so at least he wasn’t worried about that. His right arm and everywhere that Saberizer hit him really hard was sore, though.

“I’m probably sixty percent bruises right now, and my clothes are going to need a wash” he added.

Dipper grimaced. “We’ll get you treated back over at our house, then.”

Mabel leaned over his shoulder. “We’ll get your clothes washed too, while you recuperate.”

Jo nodded. “Don’t worry about Dad, either. I’ll go straight home and cover for you.”

“He’s the furthest thing from my mind, right now,” Drew assured her.

Several police cars drove onto the bridge, their lights flashing and their sirens chirping to alert. Out of the first car a tall, gray haired and mustachioed officer who didn’t seem that many days off from retirement stepped out and looked with worry at the armored warriors and their teenaged friends. His fellow officers emerged from their cars, not drawing their weapons but keeping behind their doors as they took stock of the eclectic group.

Picking up his radio, he turned it to loudspeaker mode and called to the group. “Excuse me, kids, I’m Officer Ferguson with the ECPD. Unless those are costumes, I’m afraid you’re in violation of the town of Echo Creek and city of Los Angeles ordinance for the operation of unauthorized combat power armor.”

Marco turned to Star. “We should go.”

As Star pulled out her Dimensional Scissors, Jara shot up above the bridge from the river below, and landed behind the parked police cruisers, cracking and pitting the road under her feet. As Jo, Roland, and Mabel pulled back from Drew, the Mercenary General’s armor slid from her back and crashed to the ground with a bridge-shaking thud.

The police turned around, the older officer still holding his radio as his fellow policemen and women drew their weapons when Jara whipped hers out into her right hand. She ignored their shouted orders to drop her weapon and get on the ground, focused only on the Blue Stingerborg.

“You…!” She growled, energy wreathing her weapon and extending into a beam sword, then screamed.

“I will not forgive you!”

Officer Ferguson, going pale at the sight of the pavement underneath the tip of Jara’s sword melting, panicked and yelled into the microphone. “Open Fire!”

Dipper shouted at Jo and Roland. “GO!”

The police opened fire and Jara ran the gauntlet of fire, leaving afterimages as she sidestepped the hail of gunfire and raised her sword to cut down the obstacles in her way.

Summoning the Hunter Claw over his arm, Roland used his super speed to catch Jara’s right arm as she swung. He held her in place, but her overwhelming strength stopped him from moving. The pavement cracked under his feet, and his feet were pushed into it.

“Gah!” He grunted. “Strikerborg!”

He let her push him down, then lunged upward to push her arm straight up. Behind him, Jo vaulted over Officer Ferguson’s car and fired her Input Magnum, shooting Jara’s sword from her hand.

“AHH!” Jara screamed before she punched Roland down into the ground, laying him flat on his back.

More shots from Jo’s Input Magnum struck Jara as she wrenched her injured hand’s arm free of the claw, cutting it deeply. Looking at Jo, past her at Drew, she yelled and caught the haymaker Jo tried to swing into her with her left hand.

The shockwave blew Jara’s fingerless gloves into shreds, ripped open deep wounds in her arm to her elbow, and cracked the bottom left corner of her mask.

In spite of it, she turned and kicked Jo in her left side. “I’LL KILL ALL OF YOU VILE CHILDREN!”

Jo dug her right foot against the kick and didn’t budge. She felt it through the armor, but it didn’t stop her from grabbing Jara’s shredded arm and swinging her around to throw her off the bridge back the way she came–on the other side from the emergency personnel still down on the river below.

Just before she went off it, Jara threw out her right arm and hooked it around one of the bridge’s street lamps to swing around it and fly at the Stingerborg, Dipper, Mabel, Marco, and Star.

Both Marco and Mabel stepped, forth crouched, and jumped right into Jara, Marco’s flying kick and Mabel’s flying drop kick connecting with her face and chest respectively. The combined blows stopped Jara cold, and as the two kicked off her and jumped away–Star threw her Wand aside and both her cheek marks and eyes lit up.

“You… you…!” Jara snarled as she fell back, enraged and anguished.

“Super…” Star said, and glowing light swirled around her hands before she thrust them both at Jara.

“RAINBOW AVALANCHE!”

There was no green glittery sludge this time, as a barrage of rainbow-colored energy beams crashed into Jara, striking her over and over as they pushed her into the sky away from the bridge. More and more beams struck her until she was completely enveloped, and the rainbow beams exploded–the blast of flames and smoke darkening the sky above the bridge.

Star stumbled forward but was caught by Marco. Panting, she looked up at the billowing smoke from the blast with him and the others. They all saw Jara’s limp body fall from the smoke cloud, plummeting towards the middle of the LA River, before it disappeared in a burst of flame like every time the Magnavores teleported.

Jo helped Roland up to his feet and looked up at the explosion, then turned towards the cops to check on them. The police officers were unharmed, looking back and forth between the Beetleborgs and their unarmored companions in disbelief.

On the side-road just before the bridge, where Drew had first been dropped off from the bridge, crowds of onlookers were also watching at the bridge. Like at the school, many had their phones out, filming every second of what had just transpired as they spoke among one another. At the very front of these crowd, Heather stood in silent awe with her hands over her mouth, while Janna nodded her approval.

"… The…" Heather whispered, her voice trembling. "… The Beetleborgs… are real…?"

Marco, still holding Star, handed the Dimensional Scissors to Dipper. “Let’s go.”

Dipper was more than aware of the crowd as he agreed and cut open a portal to their house. As Marco led Star through it, and Mabel helped Drew, the old mustachioed police officer finally remembered he had a mic in his hand and called out to them.

“H-hey, you kids!”

Roland and Jo appearing next to him, Dipper turned to Officer Ferguson. “What?”

“… What the hell was that?” The cop asked.

Before Drew stepped through the portal, he stopped and turned to the police.

“Our responsibility,” he answered.

Dipper nodded. “Basically.”

With that, they all passed through the portal–which closed up and vanished.

Officer Ferguson reached up and dislodged his hat as he nervously scratched his balding scalp. He glanced left at the smoldering remains of the blimp, then right at the dissipating cloud from Star’s explosion. Then he looked at the damage on the bridge caused by Jara’s rampage and the battle before.

“… This is way above our paygrade…” He lamented in a very worried voice.

= - = 50 = - =

The ensuing of reality is pending.
 
Last edited:
Our Turmoil

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
So yeah, this chapter is meant to go between Repudiation and Escalation.

= - = 47 = - =

|Our Turmoil|

In the parking lot in front of Britta’s Tacos, Heather’s Audi Convertible sat in a spot with its top raised and its windows rolled up. Its engine was running with a gentle hum barely noticed to the customers in line to the shop, providing ample air conditioning inside for Drew and Heather as they sat with comic books spread out between them. They had pulled up almost ten minutes ago, and with the line to the windows long and the sun beating down, they were talking comics to wait out the height of the rush before they’d brave the queue.

“… You like The Tick?”

“The Tick is awesome.”

A few weeks ago, Drew would’ve been unable to function being so close with someone he crushed on so hard. But as he rationalized before and repeatedly since–hanging out with Heather was the easiest thing in his life now.

“Dude, The Tick? Seriously?” A baffled Heather asked with her head tilted slightly.

“Yes, The Tick. I think he had the best crossover out of all of them,” Drew defended.

Heather gestured with the comic in her right hand. “And not Spider-Man? Really?”

Drew stood his ground. “I’ll die on this hill, The Tick is hilarious, and Blue Beet trying to make sense of how his world even worked had me rolling on the floor.”

Heather stared at him almost like she was rethinking letting him in her car, before she broke into a chuckle. “Respect, dude. I can’t hate you for admitting that.”

Drew sighed. “Great, because it’s hot out today and I don’t wanna walk back.”

Heather laughed again, then looked out her driver-side window out in the direction of Echo Creek Academy a few blocks away. “Do you even wanna go back? I don’t, with the place looking like that–Brittney’s lost her mind.”

He agreed with her, as he set aside the book he was reading. “Right? She’s all ‘Rargh, it’s my school for the week so I’m gonna act like I’m an anime student council president!’”

That brought a giggle from Heather. “Yeah, it’s so stupid.”

“Between her and the Vanderhoffs, how did our school end up with the worst rich kids?” He asked.

Heather agreed with an eager nod. “I know! I saw Van freaking out in the parking lot this morning. He was kicking Skeeves’ car door so hard he was leaving dents, and Skeeves was sitting in it!”

Drew gaped at her in stunned confusion. “Really?”

“No lie, he just sat there watching him while he ate a breakfast burrito. It actually took Miss Skullnick roaring at Van to go to class to make him stop.”

That had Drew shaking his head. “Thank goodness he and his brother haven’t been on my case lately.”

“They’re still beefing with Dipper, I think. That’s probably why.”

Drew sighed. Whatever had Van that angry was probably going to come back at Dipper later. He hoped he was able to warn him before that. Still…

“I can’t say I miss the attention,” he admitted.

Heather nodded. “Mmhm! Trip doesn’t bother me, either. Hasn’t tried to talk when we pass in the halls, he just turns his nose up at me like I’m missing out.”

Drew let out a short laugh. “It’s better than him trying to ask you out.”

“Yep! I will take being his sour grapes any day.”

The two share a gentle laugh, then Heather leaned forward on her steering wheel, still smiling at him.

“But yeah… forget the Super Rich Kids and their crazy school, do you wanna just skip the rest of class today? We can go back to Zoom, eat our lunch, and read our books there.”

Drew let out a somewhat more bitter laugh. “I want to, but my dad’s grounded me for the last two times I dipped out.”

And as much as he wanted to go read comics all day with Heather… he really had to make the next time he cut class count. Nothing less than a Magnavore attack so he could make it to the weekend without trouble.

Heather did a double-take. “The last two times…? When you were out helping Nano and Mr. Pines?”

She sat up, with open concern all over her face. “Why would your dad ground you for being excused from school to do community service? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Drew hesitated for a moment, wondering if Heather found it too unbelievable or too strange, but more importantly he wondered if he’d said too much. In the same moment he chose to forge ahead, knowing that it’d do no good to try to walk it back.

Talking to her was so easy.

“Yeah, my dad’s kind of an asshole,” he began, before he amended it. “No, an asshole wouldn’t want to be compared to my dad.”

He’d never seen Heather go so pale before, or her voice tremble with worry as she spoke. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Drew sat back in his seat and sighed. “I wish I could explain it easily, I don’t know how to put this… but my Dad hates me.”

At her uncomprehending expression, he elaborates. “When he talks to me, it’s always down to me. He doesn’t have any particular nice things to say about my reading comics or spending time at Zoom. He criticizes everything I do, even when I do something right. And when bad things happen to me, like when Trip and Van bully me… he blames me for it.”

He felt really self-conscious all of sudden. “Look, I’m sorry I dropped that–that was way too heavy...”

“Does he hit you? My God, does he hit Jo?” Heather asked, not even flinching.

Drew shook his head. “I don’t think Nano would let him live if he so much as thought about hitting any of us.”

The bitterness came back. “And actually, he treats Jo very differently from me. She likes everything I do, you know that, but he doesn’t treat her like she’s an embarrassment. It’s always standards and double standards… I’m never good enough at something, and if I am, then Jo’s better.”

Heather thought about that. “Whoa… is that why she’s in the same grade as us?”

He sighed through his nose and nodded. “Yeah… he doesn’t hesitate to remind me that, either. Heck, part of why I’m grounded is because Jo went with me to do Community Service.”

Looking down at their pile of comics, the Beetleborgs #1 safely wrapped up on the top, he continued. “I’m actually not supposed to go to the dance Saturday after being grounded, but I’m going anyway. Because I want to go, to help Roland with his prank, but mainly because he doesn’t want me to go–and doesn’t think I would go.”

Heather twisted her tightened grip on her steering wheel, after hearing that. She looked away from Drew, out the front of her car and just sat there in quiet deliberation. He watched her seethe quietly for a moment, maybe a little more, before she closed her eyes and let out a breath that she started holding in that time.

“You should tell Nano or Mr. Pines about this, you know they’d never let him get away with this crap,” she finally said.

Drew had thought about that plenty of times. “Man… I really should, but if there’s one thing that still bothers me after everything else, it’s Dad convincing them that I’m just lying and being a punk because he’s just being strict.”

He shook his head. “I mean, shoot. Even telling you this, I feel like I’m coming off as some entitled loser who’s mad because his dad thinks he wastes his time on comic books and his little sister’s in the same grade as him.”

Heather whirled on him. “Don’t ever think that! I believe what you’re saying!”

Drew fell quiet, as Heather continued. “I think this is the first time we’ve talked about something other than comic books. But don’t think I’ve never paid attention. You’re always at Zoom, you don’t talk about yourself at all unless it’s to Roland or Jo, and when we talk there’s always something going on in your head–like you’re overthinking or doubting every word before you say it.”

“… Am I that easy to read?” He asked, feeling almost sick that he was this visible.

He wondered further, if this was why Trip and Van went after him so hard. After a moment, he decided they were both too up their own butts to notice anything but their small intestines.

“It’s more like,” Heather began hesitantly, before just saying it, “I like you enough to notice these things… so I worry.”

She smiled again and placed her hand over his. “And I’m actually really happy that you trust me enough with something this heavy.”

The smile was gone just as quick, but only long enough for her to add: “Well, I’m also really angry at your dad and I wish I could make him disappear.”

She patted his hand. “But that’d be too good for him. If you ever need backup standing up to him? Let me know, I’ll be there with a baseball bat.”

Drew was touched by her reassurance, and he smiled back. “Well, except for this weekend, at least.”

She laughed. “Yeah, but it’s just a few days. And besides, I’m not the only one who has your back.”

Heather was right, Drew had Roland, Jo, Nano, and his new friends, too. He nodded in agreement to her, and both shared warm smiles once more–her hand not leaving his–before she blinked once, looked past him, and jumped in surprise.

“Jeez!” She yelped.

Drew looked back and jumped himself. “What the-?!”

Janna was leaning against his window, her face almost right up against the glass, staring wide-eyed at both of them with one hand on the glass and the other holding a taco she was taking a bite out of with the corner of her mouth.

Drew hit the window controls and rolled it down. “Janna, what are you doing?!”

“You can’t ditch school on an empty stomach, Sad Kid,” she replied. “Bold choice of a makeout spot, by the way. Didn’t think you’d be into that kind of thing.”

Heather leaned over to address her. “We weren’t making out…”

She stopped and realized that all their conversation in a buttoned-up car with the AC going had fogged up her windows. “… Oh my God…”

Drew stared at Janna blankly. “Janna.”

“Sad Kid,” Janna responded, and Heather perked up at the nickname, arching an eyebrow.

“Seriously, what are you doing here?” He reiterated.

Janna dug into the pocket of her jacket after having another bite of taco. “Word on the street is that you got your phone taken by your dad.”

She then produced a glossy, dark blue smartphone that looked way more expensive and advanced than the one he owned. She stuck it in the window to offer it to him, seemingly oblivious to Heather watching this entire exchange with increasing surprise and confusion.

“Consider this a solution to your problem.”

Drew was just as confused as he took it from her and started it up. A gray startup screen came on, displaying a logo for the OS and provider of the phone, dubbed Hyuuga Light Umbra.

He realized that this was an encrypted phone.

“… Why are you giving this to me…?”

Janna looked him straight in the eye. “Would you believe that it’s because I have a crush on you?”

“No,” both he and Heather replied.

Janna Ordonia’s reputation preceded her… and she liked that.

“Okay, full disclosure. Roland told me about your dad taking your phone for BS reasons and asked me to hook you up, so I used my myriad of ways to get you one. Don’t worry about paying for it, he owes me a favor now and that's good enough for me.”

Seeing that Drew was getting a phone out of this strange encounter, Heather smiled and asked with a teasing tone. “So how’d you get it?”

“What are you implying, that I used some magical means to sneak into the back of an Electronics store and make off with some unsold product?” She asked.

Drew did a double-take between Janna and his phone.

Janna leaned down onto the car door to stick her head into the car, her laid back smile holding a sinister undertone. “No, this phone’s legit.”

With her taco-less hand, she patted Drew atop his head while looking at Heather, gauging her reaction. “I’m not going to get your man here in trouble.”

She looked at him, her hand still atop his head, then back at her. “He’s too cute for juvie, right?”

Drew finally flinched away from her head-patting and gave her a wary look. Heather, on the other hand, burst into a gentle laugh. “He totally is!”

His face colored as he looked back and forth to their smiling faces, and he sank into his seat. Heaven forbid he complained, though, being teased by pretty girls was better than dealing with the usual bullies in his life.

“Thank you,” he said to Janna, for the phone and for brightening the mood.

Her smile became more of a smirk at his reaction. “Think everything of it.”

She polished off her taco then brushed her hand off on her jacket. “Anyway, that’s my deed of the day.”

“So where are you headed from here?” Heather asked.

Janna responded with a slight shrug. “Dunno, but I know I’d rather be anywhere but at school right now.”

A boom echoed through the air, and Janna looked up over the roof of the car. Her eyes widened in surprise. “… Man, don’t make me take that back…”


= - = 47 = - =

The real messed up thing is how important THIS scene is overall to Drew's character development and I absolutely WHIFFED IT.
 
Aftermath

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
Boy Howdy it's been a bit, this chapter was huge and remains huge. The immediate fallout of the battle is here, and new grave warnings hang over everyone.

= - = 51 = - =

|Aftermath|

At his home, Shermie stood in the backyard and watched the Magnavore Jet Fighters in silence. Even as his phone in his pocket buzzed, then rang angrily with calls that he hoped were from Nano and not his son and daughter-in-law, he waited and watched. It was a reassuring sight at least, when the Red Striker AV rushed out and easily destroyed the raiding fighters. Even more reassuring, he thought, was when the destroyed fighters just disintegrated and burned into nothing–instead of crashing into the town below as balls of flame.

But in the end, those were small comforts.

When the last fighter was gone and the Red Striker AV disappeared, he turned and went to the icebox on his patio. He pulled out several six-packs, some of soda, some of beer, and set them down on his picnic table. Then he turned and got the grill started and threw burgers and franks on the heat. They were almost done when he heard the familiar chime of Star’s Scissors opening a portal in the backyard. He adjusted his bowtie and turned to watch them file in one by one.

“You kids look like the boys coming back from the ‘67 war,” he greeted them.

“I feel like I fought the ‘67 war,” Mabel replied while she helped Drew away from the portal to join Jo and Roland.

She raised a fist and pumped it. “… And won!”

Star and Marco sat on the bench, and she reached for the nearest cold bottle she could find and effortlessly popped the cap off with her thumb. She took a gulp from it and made a face.

“Urk, beer.”

After letting the taste settle on her tongue, she resumed chugging the bottle down.

Shermie smiled at her reaction, moreso at Marco’s switch from surprise to concern at her intake. “I remember my first beer with my old man in Jersey. Compared to the swill we had back then, this stuff is milk and honey.”

Star lowered the empty bottle from her lips, and reached for a soda next. “It tastes better than mashed corn juice.”

Mabel let go of Drew. “Are you good?”

“Yeah, I can stand,” he assured her.

“I’m going to get my first aid kit, you’ve earned my best band-aids. You’re going to get all the bunnies!” Mabel assured him before she disappeared into the house.

Dipper meanwhile had opened another portal, and Misao emerged from it. She had greeted him with a smile that lasted all of a half-second before she noticed the Red Strikerborg standing off to the side with her fellow Beetleborgs.

Jo noticed Misao and rolled her eyes. “We should change.”

Roland agreed. “Yeah, I’m starving, man. Didn’t get to eat my meat loaf.”

All three Beetleborgs held their hands out and said together. “Back Blast.”

In a flash they transformed out of their armors, and Dipper, Misao, Marco, Star, and Shermie recoiled in surprise just as Mabel came out the door.

“Okay, so I used up all my bunny band-aids, but I have plenty of other shapes, like cats, pigs, birds, and…”

She saw Drew and yelled. “HOLY COW!”

It was… bad. Bruises covered his right arm and went down his neck and collarbone. Blood soaked the lower half of his face, neck, stained his blue t-shirt. His right eye was entirely bloodshot, his iris standing out stark against the crimson.

Roland turned to him, wide-eyed with worry. “Man, are you okay?!”

“There’s no way that doesn’t hurt,” Marco said.

Drew brought a hand to his face and closed his right eye. As he rotated his right arm and felt the soreness catch up with him, he shook his head. “It doesn’t feel as bad as it looks–yet.”

Roland was particularly worried about the state of Drew’s eye. “Yeah, but when it does, that’s gonna hurt for a while.”

“What did Saberizer do to you?!” Jo demanded.

“You look like you did the Running of the Bulls–all over your face,” Shermie added.

Drew shook his head. “He hit really hard… but the worst of this was from me using my power to keep up with him.”

Dipper walked over to him, already understanding. “… You used your telekinesis to move yourself.”

Shermie did a double-take, his bowtie nearly popping off from his sudden movement. “Telekinesis?!”

Drew looked over at the picnic table and nodded. One of the sodas lifted from its cardboard six-pack box and floated over to him. Catching it in his left hand, he stared at the bottlecap, and it popped off and flipped before it froze in the air. Everyone watched the bottle cap fold itself in half, then in half again as Drew chugged down the soda. As soon as the bottle was empty, he let the bottle go and it floated into the box. The bottle cap followed, unfolding back to its original shape and sealing the mouth of the bottle.

Star stood up. “Whoa…”

Dipper was mesmerized. “Do you realize how precise you are?”

Drew nodded. “Yeah, it’s… really hard to describe. When the power’s on, I can feel everything around me out to a certain point. Whatever I can feel, I can manipulate it.”

Dipper was trying hard not to get too excited at the chance to study someone with telekinesis who didn’t want to kill him. He caught himself almost drooling as he watched him return the empty bottle back to the six pack.

“We need to know what you all can do with your powers, more than ever,” he said diplomatically.

Roland agreed. “Oh yeah, knowing what kind of limits we have is gonna make a huge difference.”

Jo didn’t forget Saberizer getting one over on her and Roland–even out-running his super speed. “Even with our powers, any monsters they summon might be able to beat us.”

Mabel brought Drew over to the picnic table and sat him down. “All right, sit tight so I can play doctor.”

Misao blurted out. “In front of everyone?”

Dipper turned his head to stare at her. “Don’t make it weird.”

“Now take off your shirt,” Mabel ordered Drew as she opened her first aid kit.

Misao snickered and Dipper palmed his face. Even after that bit of effervescence though, she still shot a cold glance back at Jo to see how she reacted.

A hard look back was Jo’s reply, before she turned to Roland. “Do you have another dash in you? I need to head home and tell my parents I don’t know where Drew is.”

Roland could feel the tension in the backyard shift downward with Jo’s announcement. “Yeah, good call.”

Jo shot Misao, Marco, and Star all one final defiant side-eye. “I bet.”

She avoided looking at Dipper entirely.

Roland placed a hand on Jo’s shoulder, and both disappeared from where they stood.

“Dipper,” Mabel said as she began bandaging up Drew.

He turned to her. “Yeah?”

“Talk to that girl and sort this out before she turns from you at twelve to Gideon at ten.”

Removing his lumberjack hat, Dipper rubbed his scalp, ruffling up his hair in the process. “I’ll have the perfect chance to do it Saturday. It’ll be just her, Marco, and me up there at Hillhurst.”

Star had finished her third bottle of soda by this point and set it down. “I’ll be there, too.”

Misao gasped. “You’re not going to crash the dance?”

Star shook her head, as she looked down at her wand sitting on the table in front of her. “I’m done antagonizing Brittney for a while. Not that I have a choice, she banned me from school until Monday.”

The foreign exchange student turned to Mabel. “What happened?”

Mabel winced. “Well…”

Dipper had no interest in diplomacy here. “Brittney cussed her out in front of everyone, and then I told her off and got banned from school, too.”

Misao’s expression darkened, her gray eyes almost black as anger surged through her. Rather than say anything, she sat down at the picnic table and served herself a beer.

Shermie set down hot dogs and burger patties for them to help themselves to. “I'll try talking to the Wongs about their daughter’s attitude. You’re right about one thing, go to that dance and you’ll be as welcome as a Jew at the Vatican.”

Star looked up at Shermie. “I don’t know what either of those are, but if the Vatican really hates Jews, you’re right.”

Shermie gave Star a grandfatherly smile. “Did you say you were sorry to her?”

“Yeah,” she answered, “She didn’t take it well.”

Shermie rested a hand atop her head and ruffled her hair in a kindly fashion. “Things don’t always turn out like we hope, girlchik. It’s the fact that you said your piece and understand you should leave her be that’s important.”

He gave her a wink as he added. “The important thing is not making the same mistakes over and over again.”

Star smiled up at Shermie and let out a breath like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “Thank you, Mr. Pines.”

“Yer welcome, kiddo.” He walked back over the grill and turned to face them. “And kids? I think it's time I broke out some of my old army manuals, and gave you kids a crash course on tactics and all that other army jargon that’s been crammed into my head since the 60s.”

Dipper chimed in. “We could stand to get some weapons, too. I didn’t feel right just standing off on the side today.”

Mabel brightened up, and accidentally tightened the bandage she was wrapping around Drew’s arm, making him yelp. “CAN WE USE THE SCHWANZSTUCKER?!”

Drew recovered from the squeeze and stared at her. “The… what?”

Star looked at Marco for clarification, and he just shrugged his shoulders.

Shermie laughed at his granddaughter’s enthusiasm. “That and more. I got a whole arsenal collecting dust–but yer gonna learn how to use it before you go running off to war.”

Misao turned to Dipper. “Will guns even work on the Magnavores?”

Dipper nodded towards Marco as he replied. “Guns should hit almost as hard as he can, so they’ll be able to hurt them.”

Drew looked at Marco. “What’s up with that, anyway?”

Marco cocked an eyebrow. “What’s with what? The karate?”

“Yeah,” Drew said. “I can get us having superpowers, and Star having magic… but where do you dig down for what you do?”

Marco stared at Drew for so long he blinked twice before he looked down at his hands. “I don’t know, I just use my karate and it works.”

He pointed over to Mabel. “Mabel was hitting Typhus just as hard as I was.”

At that, Mabel laughed. “Well, I did fight a unicorn, once. And I took kickboxing classes with Dipper for years.”

Star gasped in shock. “… Why would you fight a unicorn?”

Mabel’s eyes narrowed. “Good reasons.”

Shermie spoke up, drawing everyone’s attention back to him. “Ehh, don’t worry about how Marco can fight as well as he can. Just be glad he’s on your side in it.”

He rubbed his chin, humming. “I knew a guy back in the IDF who used to break boulders by punchin’ them, and we were just glad he was using those hands to break tanks!”

Marco whistled. “Wow, like… actual tanks?”

The old man laughed. “Ha! He bent the barrel of a Syrian T-55 while the crew was still in it. They let him keep it after that!”

Star turned to Marco. “Earth’s just full of super strong people, huh? So much for this dimension being boring.”

He nodded. “Guess so.”

Misao threw in her two cents. “Then finding more people who are able to help us fight would be good, ja?”

Drew let out a sigh. “I’d rather no one else get involved.”

Shermie took off his glasses, took a cloth from his shirt pocket and began rubbing the lenses. “I’ve got some bad news for you kids. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to talk about this, but after today… John Q. Public ain’t gonna be able to keep their noses out of this stuff, and even worse? Uncle Sam’s going to be looking this way and wondering what the heck is going on. Help or hassle is coming your way whether you want it or not.”

Remembering all those phones pointed at the fights, Dipper grimly nodded. “Darn it, you’re right.”

Shermie put his glasses back on. “You’re gonna need somebody to vamoose on over to the police station or city hall and let them know they’re outta their league with these yahoos. Because if we don’t, there’s gonna be a lotta people getting in the way, getting hurt, getting taken hostage, or worse.”

For dramatic effect, he made a cutting gesture across his neck, before he continued.

“As for ol’ Uncle Sam? I can’t tell you how to deal with that. I wouldn’t even let the guys I might know inside The Company know what’s going on here.”

Misao hummed. “The company… I should be contacting mine.”

Shermie grimaced mildly at that prospect. “I’d be careful about that one, too, Misao. If you kids start making the six o’clock news regularly for blowing up city blocks, it’ll put a bullseye on all of us.”

Drew looked down. “There’s so much to think about, now…”

Star spoke. “Then let’s not think about it for a while. We’ve defeated the bad guys, saved the day, and we can all sit down and eat meat cooked over a fire–like all victorious warriors.”

She turned to Marco, smiling. “We earned it, right?”

Marco agreed with a nod and a warm smile back. “We definitely did.”

Shermie laughed and picked up a beer. “You heard the Princess, pop a brewski and relax!”

All bandaged up, looking like a mummy from the right side of his face down, Drew faced the table and put his head down on his folded left arm. “Yeah, it was a great win.”

With agreement all around, and Marco specifically inquiring to Shermie about this tank manhandler back in the old country, Drew used his telekinesis and retrieved the phone Janna gave him from his pocket. To his curiosity he found he could even operate the phone’s touch screen with his power, as he made his way to the contacts and found that the numbers of their group were already added to the contacts.

His brows rising, he smiled a little and sent a text straight to Janna.

Drew said:
Hey, thank you again for the phone. It’s way nicer than my old one.

After a few moments, a reply came.

Janna Banana said:
Think everything of it. Im still with Heather and shes still freaking out wondering where you are.

Drew mulled over that before he replied.

Drew said:
Tell her that I got banged up, but the Blue Stingerborg saved me.

There was another pause.

Janna Banana said:
Sure you don’t wanna just tell her?

Drew said:
I think she should stay out of this, so she doesn’t get pulled into any fights. It’s for the best.

Janna Banana said:
Cool, Ill get you all to myself.

His face flushed, and he rolled his eyes.

Drew said:
You’re terrible.

Janna Banana said:
Im your God, Sad Kid :smug:

Setting down his phone, Drew raised his head and served himself a hot dog, using his telekinesis to top it with cheese, relish, and mustard. Without thinking he reached for it with his right hand and winced in pain from the effort of lifting it. The pain seared, but it wasn’t as intense as he thought it’d be.

He wouldn’t forget this fight for a while, or how much he gave to win it and overcome someone who was stronger than him in every possible way by himself.

Saberizer was wrong about him.

But Drew was right about Saberizer.

For the first time, I’ve beaten something I shouldn’t have.

@@@@@

Just down the street from the cul-de-sac she lived on, Jo stood with her arms folded and her back to Roland, who was taking a breather against a stop sign. She glanced back at him, before she looked ahead at her house. That final, tense look she exchanged with Misao had cut deep into her, and made the seething over what the foreign exchange girl had done during her very first sortie in the Red Striker AV.

“If you don’t have anything to say, you can go,” she snapped at him.

Roland rolled his eyes. “What would me saying anything more accomplish? You’re the one who has things to say.”

“What, like ‘I’m sorry?’ Did you not hear Misao mess around with my weapons in the middle of a battle and act all high and mighty about it?”

Roland argued back. “She told you not to shoot at the ground.”

She stepped back up to him, hissing. “She went and messed with my weapons, and you’re on me for endangering the team with over drama.”

Roland threw up his hands. “Motherfuckin’...”

He stepped away from the stop sign, then pointed up at it. “You need to do this and work your shit out, Josephine, I’m more than done.”

With that, Roland marched away. Jo burned a seething glare into the back of his head, until he finally flickered and vanished.

Shoving her hands into the pockets of her shorts, she turned and stomped off to the house–all but kicking the door open and stepping inside to find her mother and father watching the news. She stopped and watched, as amateur film showed the widest possible shot of heroic aerial action above the town. The talking presenters were speculating over what had happened, unsure of what was going on but agreeing that the blimp wasn’t involved, and Jo’s intervention likely stopped the unknown craft from attacking other aircraft in the area.

Mrs. McCormick was a blonde, green-eyed woman. standing just a little under her husband’s height. Her long hair was tied in a ponytail that went straight down her back, and she wore clothes as plain as her husband’s, a cream skirt and a pink blouse. She stood just behind where her husband sat in the living room, enough to the side and behind him that she is out of his line of sight. When Jo’s foot shoved the door open, she visibly jumped, and slowly looked in her direction.

“Jo? Where’s your brother?” She asked in a quiet, measured speaking voice well-suited for the indoors.

Jo slipped off her shoes going one foot over the other. “It was really hectic; I haven’t seen him since school let out.”

Her mother turned and looked at Mr. McCormick, who leaned forward in his chair and turned to look at his daughter. “You haven’t seen him? Or he told you to say that?”

She locked gazes with him as she answered. “Everything happened during lunch; I lost track of him and walked straight home.”

Mr. McCormick weighed her words, then sat back. “I see.”

Jo turned for the stairs and had just crossed the dining room to get to them, when her father spoke again.

“Your brother’s on very thin ice.”

She stopped barely halfway up the stairs and looked back at him. He was now looking at the television.

“If he keeps cutting class, and acting like he doesn’t live under my rules, I’ll feel inclined to make sure his stuff is moved out onto the street with him.” he added. “The stuff he needs; all that comic book nonsense can go where it belongs.”

Jo gave her father a look more withering than she would’ve felt comfortable if he was looking at her. “If he still had his phone, I’d let him know. That’s the only reason you don’t know where he is, isn’t it?”

That won an immediate reaction, both her parents swiveling their heads sharply to look at her. Jo averted her eyes at the same time, her expression schooled.

“I’m just saying,” she said. “It’s not his fault he can’t tell you where he is. He could be hurt, or dead for all you know.”

She marched up the stairs, breaking off the tense confrontation and going straight into her room.

A near chaotic mess, organized in its disorganization, Jo’s sanctum was no different than Drew’s in its choice of decor. Reddle, the Red Strikerborg, posters, figures, plushies, and media decorated every horizontal surface of her room from her desk to her bed, to her dresser. The only bit of color to break up the reds and pinks was some green on a poster of the positively ripped G-Stag standing protectively in front of Reddle.

She sat down at her desk and folded her arms on it. Her eyes narrowing, she let out an irritated sound as the memory of Dipper’s terse tone and his hard glare when he chastised her.

“Good job, Jo,” she said to herself, “You’ve played yourself so well, you’re a solved game.”

She lifted a hand to rest her chin on it and sighed. “It took only a couple weeks, but I did it. I can’t be normal and just like a boy, huh? It’s gotta be some weird mind-game and me trying to dominate everything.”

She glanced towards her bedroom door, in the direction of her living room downstairs.

“I wonder where I get it from?”

Sarcasm dripped from her question, as she looked back down at her desk. The memory of Star’s skull-marked cheeks when she threatened her in the alley, Misao’s cold glare on the screen of her AV, Roland’s disappointed glare, Marco striking her chest when she and Star came to blows, and once more Dipper’s piercing glower.

Inhaling sharply, she let the breath out slowly.

They all hated her.

“Just do it like every group project and class assignment,” she muttered, “Keep your mouth shut and focus on getting results. Carry the team and when it’s over you can pretend you never spoke to them.”

Jo dropped her hand back down onto the desk, then buried her face into her folded arms.

After a few moments she sniffled, and her shoulders shook.

@@@@@

Roland did not go straight back to Shermie’s place. Instead he went to Zoom Comics and played it cool as he walked through the doors. He didn’t take even two steps inside, when his father Aaron came running around the counter with relief all over his face. Reaching his son, Aaron gave him a tight hug and patted his back.

“Hey Dad,” Roland said as he returned the hug.

“Thank God you’re safe! Are Drew and Jo okay?” He asked as he pulled back.

Roland nodded. “Everyone’s okay, don’t worry. It was just really chaotic and weird, but no one got hurt as far as I can tell, we all went to Mr. Pines’ house after school let out.”

Aaron tilted his head. “Nobody got hurt–Mabel, Marco, and Star were okay after that?”

Roland nodded. “Yeah, you know those guys are just built different.”

Like a whirlwind, Nano burst from the back of Zoom and swept up her son and grandson in a tight, protective hug. “Oh, my grandbaby’s okay! When I saw all that mess going on I was so worried!”

She gave them both an additional squeeze then let go. “My goodness, though, it’s everywhere! Them kids fighting those creeps–you know it’s going to be on the evening news and everyone’s gonna be talkin’ about it. I’d stay clear of them for a while, if you don’t wanna go get swept up in the circus.”

She had a point, and it brought it right back to Dipper’s own way back. No one knew who the Beetleborgs were–for now–and constantly associating with the twins, Misao, Star, and Marco was only going to make associating them with the Beetleborgs easier.

It was such a prescient reminder that Roland regarded his grandmother with a raised eyebrow.

Before he could meet her gaze fully though, Nano swept away, throwing her hands into the air in exasperation. “What’s this world coming to?! Supervillains running around dressed up like comic book monsters, fighting it out with high school kids! It wasn’t like this back in the 80s!”

It amused and relieved Roland that Nano thought the Magnavores were cosplaying supervillains. He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, yeah, there aren’t any grown adult superheroes around to actually fight bad guys anymore, are there?”

“There’s Team Go,” Aaron helpfully pointed out.

Roland rolled his eyes. “Last I heard they don’t go out much because Shego’s not there to carry them.”

Aaron snapped his fingers and pointed. “Kim Possible?”

“She’s in the same grade as Roland, sweetie,” Nano pointed out.

Aaron let out a hum of surprise. “Really? Now I’m real curious about how a girl like her gets around.”

“Phrasing,” Roland and half the rest of the shop’s current party of guests said as one.

Scowling at the juvenile snickering around him, even from his own mother, Aaron sought a name off the top of his head that wasn’t a fictional comic book hero. “Minuano, the samurai from Brazil.”

“I don’t think he’s even allowed in the country after the last time he was here,” Nano said.

She placed her hands on her hips and let out a melodramatic hum. “I remember when there were as many heroes out there as there were in the comic books.”

Aaron nodded in agreement. “The 80s were something else–the 90s, too.”

Nano’s tone lowered a bit, a hint of disappointment–maybe even sadness to it. “Kids didn’t need to be out there fighting bad guys or their monsters in the street.”

Her tone got a little more bitter. “Halcyon Days my big black behind.”

Roland shrugged his shoulders once more. “Well, I think Star and Marco got this; them, the twins, and those guys going around kitted out like the freakin’ Beetleborgs.”

Nano’s eyes narrowed just a little behind her spectacles. “You ain’t wrong.”

She brightened as she changed the subject. “Nevermind all that, now. Is this going to change your Homecoming Dance, sweetie?”

His eyebrows rose at his grandmother’s question. “Oh yeah… so much happened today the prank slipped my mind.”

Aaron gave him a thumb’s up. “We’re ready on our end to make that party unforgettable.”

Roland let out a hum as Star’s tearful self-recrimination flashed through his thoughts. Light glimmered in his eyes, a gleam as an idea formed and became a cruel spark. “Actually, I had a better idea for the dance.”

Both Nano and Aaron looked at each other, then at Roland, as he smiled.

“It’s super short notice, but it’s the best prank I can think of,” he said as he broke into a smile, “Especially with how important this is to Brittney.”

There was a malice in Roland’s smile that his father and grandmother had never seen before and worried it them. When he explained his plan, however, they were completely onboard with it.

@@@@@

The sun had almost completely set, fading beneath the distant horizon, when Star and Marco returned home, the two appearing in the living room right by the stairs in full view of Marco’s parents. They were waiting patiently, Rafael looking anxious while Angie had an expression of relief and worry all tied up in knots as she got up and walked over to him–her husband just a pace behind her.

“Oh Marco, Star!” She said as she pulled both of them into a tight hug. “I’m glad you’re both okay. The fight you were in, it’s all over the internet and even got on the six o’clock news.”

Marco nodded. “Yeah… sorry for worrying you.”

Star saw the brighter side of it. “But hey, the six o’clock news! That means Marco’s pretty famous now, right?”

Rafael joined the hug. “Yes, very famous. But we have questions, now.”

Marco’s gaze darted back and forth between his parents, a tad nervously. “Questions?”

Angie agreed as they pulled away from the group embrace. “Yes, like what is going on and why were you fighting those monsters?”

Rafael sniffed the air just above Star’s head. “And… have one of you been drinking beer?”

Angie narrowed her eyes at both of them. “… Beer?”

Before the subject could fully switch rails to that topic, Marco held up his hands. “Mom, Dad, hold on. Let’s talk about what’s going on with the monsters–it’s really important.”

Star quickly nodded. “Oh yeah, fate of the world stuff–maybe even the universe.”

It took ten minutes, a lot of gesticulating, some dramatic reenactments, and careful omissions of names from the general record without compromising the overall veracity of the account, but Marco and Star successfully retold the general gist of the last several weeks to Angie and Rafael. When they were done, Angie held her hands together with an expression of intense concern, while her husband was stroking his chin as he let what had been told sink in.

“The Magnavores are real,” Angie said quietly.

Marco nodded. “Yeah, and this is the first time they went after other people instead of just trying to go straight for us.”

Rafael lowered his hand from his chin. “And it’s all of them? Jara, Typhus, Noxic, and Vexor?”

Angie flinched at the mere mention of their leader’s name.

“He even showed up today,” Star confirmed, before growing bitter. “I thought I blasted him harder than that.”

Marco’s parents looked at one another, then at their son and their charge. They looked at one another again, before Angie gave her husband a nod of consent.

Rafael all but leaped up from where he sat to his feet. “This calls for tequila.”

“Four glasses,” Angie quickly said after him.

Rafael was back from the kitchen, handing Star, his son, and his wife each a shot glass filled with the clear golden-brown liquid. The moment she had her glass, Angie raised her glass in a toast and all of them knocked back the strong liquor at once. Marco, being the entirely inexperienced drinker, nearly gagged from the intensity of the flavor, but stopped himself and swallowed it down like everyone else.

“Oh wow, that burns the whole way down,” he gasped.

Star looked at her glass in surprise. “That hit a little harder than mashed corn juice.”

Angie lowered her glass, setting it on the coffee table, then looked at Marco. “Your father and I are not angry at you, and we are not going to stop you from going out there and fighting.”

Marco and Star brightened, before he asked. “You’re not?”

“Of course not!” Angie said. “Young man, we’ve been reading Big Bad Beetleborgs since before you were born! If they’re anything like in the books at all, then they need to be stopped!”

Rafael nodded in agreement. “I am so glad that we paid for those karate classes!”

He then patted both teens on their shoulders. “But please, do not be reckless and don’t go seeking fights if you can avoid them. We want you to be as safe as you can.”

Star was beaming. “Don’t worry about Marco, Mr. and Mrs. D! I’ve got his back at all times!”

Marco put his arm around Star’s back and pulled her close to him. “And I’ve got Star’s.”

“But neither of you have armor,” Rafael noted. “If Typhus had hit you with any of those punches, we’d be scraping you off the street right now instead of drinking Tequila.”

Marco could not deny how true that was. He had to devote every fiber of his focus on Typhus each time they fought, and at the rate they were going a lucky hit was inevitable. “That’s why I’ve been training harder than ever.”

Rafael nodded. “Well, do something about making sure you are not hit, my son.”

Star hummed and glanced down at her handbag where her wand resided, before Angie turned to her.

“Do your parents know about this?” She asked.

Star grimaced. “I don’t think they should. They might just make me come back home.”

She took Marco’s other hand and held it. “And I’m not going to just leave you guys fighting the Forces of Evil without me. I love you guys, you’re the best!”

Marco’s cheeks turned red as Star gripped his hand tightly. “We love you too, Star.”

Rafael and Angie both repressed the urge to go “Aww” like a studio audience as Star and Marco shared affectionate looks with one another.

Mr. Diaz spoke. “We will cover for you as best we can, Star. We cannot bear to see you and Marco apart!”

Angie helpfully added. “You two are so cute together–and you’re our best hope against the Magnavores.”

Marco agreed. “Yeah, you’ve got the team on your back.”

Star was overcome, and she sprang from Marco to hug her. “Ohhh! Thank you for being so cool! You’re the best!”

Laughing, Angie hugged Star back. After the moment’s embrace, she pulled back to address both her and her son. “I’m glad we had this talk, and from now on we should talk more.”

Rafael agreed. “Do not be afraid to talk to us about anything, especially if it feels like things are getting too much for you to handle.”

“We promise,” Marco said before he got up. “Even though the sun’s just going down, it’s been a really long day and I want to start unwinding now.”

“Mmhm!” Star agreed. “You know I get the best night’s sleep after a battle.”

“And a barbecue?” Marco asked with a cheeky smile.

Star gestured emphatically to Marco. “What else are you going to eat after a battle? Salad? Bread? It’s gotta be meat!”

She chopped into her hand to emphasize her next words. “Cooked over a fire!”

With a toss of her hair, she headed for the stairs. “That’s how warriors roll!”

Watching her bounce up the stairs, Marco bid his parents goodnight and sped after her. As she reached the top of the stairs, Star heard Marco coming up behind her and turned back just to end up in his arms.

“Ah?” She gasped in surprise.

“Star…” He purred and she had only a second to register the warmth in his smile and the fire in his eyes before he kissed her. In an instant she hugged him back and returned the kiss with a pleased sigh against his lips.

Marco led her through the kiss as he walked her back and pressed her against the wall by her door. It lasted another moment after that, before they slowly parted and stared at one another. Star was breathless in the wake of it, her cheek marks nearly crimson as she rested her head against the wall.

“Ah… what was that for…?” She asked, not at all complaining.

“Because you’re amazing, and I’ve been waiting all day to do that,” he whispered back as he caressed her cheek with his right hand. “… Mi cariñito…”

Star placed her hand over Marco’s and let out a soft giggle as she nuzzled into his palm, feeling all fuzzy inside when he called her that.

“Thanks for getting Jo out of my face when she flipped out on me.”

Marco stroked her cheek with his thumb. “Yeah, to be honest that stung more than punching Typhus did. That armor is strong.”

“I’m going to think of a spell for that,”
she promised, before she caught Marco with another kiss and pulled him firmly against her.

“For what?” He whispered back when they parted again.

“For armor, so we can punch people and not get hurt, or worry about getting zapped…”

Marco cut her off with another kiss. “… Or concussions?”

Star pouted at Marco for bringing that up, before smiling and giving him a quick peck on the lips. “Or nearly stabbed by crazy swordsmen.”

“That’s fair…”
He purred, sending Star into a swooning laugh that he muffled when he kissed her again. “Mmm~”

Angie clearing her throat doused plenty of cold water on their hormone-driven ardor, and both looked back to see her leaning around the corner from just below the top of the stairs giving them a friendly, awkward wave.

“We’re trusting you to be careful, to be responsible, and to come back safe and sound when you go out into battle.” That said, she gave them both a harder look. “We’re still your parents, though, and this does not change the other boundaries we’ve set for you. Do I make myself clear?”

Marco nodded once, but fast. “Absolutely.”

She met Star’s gaze. “Is that clear to you too, Star?”

Star jumped and nodded quickly when she fell under scrutiny. “Yes mom–ma’am.”

Marco then asked. “For clarification’s sake, we can still make out, right?”

Angie’s gaze shifted to stare at him again. “… Yes.”

Rafael peeked in over Angie and wagged a finger to them. “But do not take a step past second base.”

Star looked at Marco. “Ooh, what’s second base?”

“It’s a baseball thing,” Marco replied.

“… Do they make out in baseball? Because if they do, I want to watch more baseball.”

Angie burst into snickering, while Rafael pondered Star’s question. Marco rolled his eyes in exasperation.

“We’ll behave,” he promised his parents. “Nothing under the clothes or below the belt.”

Angie stopped laughing, the full force of a Mom Stare locked onto the two. “Good. And leave the door open if you’re going to be in there alone with her, Marco.”

Both he and Star looked at her door, and the former quickly opened and took the latter’s hand to slip inside. Satisfied to see the door remain open, Angie huffed in victory and headed downstairs.

She placed a hand on her cheek as she let out a little squeal of joy. “She’s already calling me ‘Mom.’”

Rafael lingered just a few seconds more to make sure the door didn’t just happen to swing shut, then followed her. “You know, she is right, baseball with makeouts would be fun.”

Angie’s giggle at that was on the dirtier side. “I would definitely watch it~”

Star had her own hand on her cheek, still giggling from being caught and what they were caught doing. As soon as they entered her room, she embraced Marco from behind and rested her chin on his shoulder to whisper in his ear. “Marco~”

As she began to peck him on the cheek, Marco smiled and tilted his head to the side to allow Star’s kisses to trail down his jawline. Just as she reached Marco’s neck, both heard another throat clear, but it wasn't Angie’s.

Star jumped away from Marco’s back and both looked at her Magic Instruction Book. which sat open on the end of her bed. Floating just above it in the lotus position was the tiny, blue, bearded guide of the book–Sir Glossaryck of Terms.

“Just wanted to let you know that I’m here,” Glossaryck said before turning his back to them. “You can go back to whatever that is.”

Star made a face. “Nah, you killed the mood.”

Marco agreed as Star walked over to the bed and flopped onto it next to the book.

“Actually, since you’re out and about. I wanted to ask you about protection spells.”

Glossaryck stared at Star for several seconds, before blowing a kiss to the audience in his head. “Goodnight, everybody!”

Star sat up and stopped him before he could close the book on himself. “Not that kind of protection! A strong armor spell for Marco and me to use!”

Glossaryck maintained that flat stare. “… You’re just like your mother.”

Star drew back ever slightly, glowering. “In what way?”

“Less than you think, more than you know.”

“Gosh Glossaryck, back at it again with that aggravating obtuseness,” Marco said in exasperation.

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” Glossaryck chimed back as he turned to face Star. “One thing that your mother did want very early on when I was teaching her, was ample protection for when she was in battle–and similar activities.”

Star’s glower intensified, “Stop that!”

Glossaryck carried on like he complied. “There are countless protection spells. Armor creation, magical barriers, wards of various elements…”

He levitated off the book and hovered just above the end of Star’s bed, gesturing down to it.

“All of that and much more is a turn of the page away.”

Star looked down at the Magic Instruction Book, and grimaced. Half as tall as she was and twice as heavy, since she’d gotten the book she’d skimmed through it once, barely reading more than a page or two of each section and hardly writing anything in it herself.

“But there’s so much to go through…”

“Well you want to become more powerful, right?” When Star nodded, Glossaryck gestured down at the book. “This is a comprehensive manual on power itself. Eight generations of the most powerful Wielders of the Royal Magic Wand ever are written in these pages. The things you can learn from them could destroy this world and any other… and just as well protect it.”

Marco looked over. “Whoa, is it that big of a deal?”

Glossaryck turned to face him. “Is it that big of a deal? Are you that big of a deal? Is the Evangelion doing shadow puppets with the Getter RoboboboboboboBOBO?!”

Marco rolled his eyes as Glossaryck’s head began turning like he was possessed, and he made crude approximations of shadow puppets.

“Ask a stupid question…” He muttered.

Glossaryck stopped acting out and folded his arms and legs once more. He regarded Marco with a placid smile. “You’re learning.”

Star lifted up one of the book’s pages and winced at the weight of the old parchment. It felt like the whole book was going to be a workout. “I don’t think I have the time to study like this.”

Glossaryck moved backward until he was above and just behind her. She craned her head back to look up at him with doe-eyes as he spoke. “Yes, you’re finding yourself rather busy these days, Star, but I can understand that.”

Star frowned. “Understand how?”

“You’re fighting the forces of evil, and what evil forces they are. Why just this afternoon I felt tremendous power the likes of which I haven’t sensed in… oh… 1000 years and some change.”

Star awkwardly turned around without breaking eye contact with Glossaryck. “Please don’t tell Mom.”

“Why would I? She’d drag you back to Mewni and probably have this dimension sealed off if she knew what was going on.” Glossaryck laid on his side, head propped up on one hand. “And that would be terrible for teaching you.”

Star brightened, as Marco sagged in relief. “You really won’t say anything!?”

“I don’t work for Moon. I’m your guide, not your babysitter, and–as much as I love your mother–definitely not a snitch.”

He brought the back of his hand to the side of his mouth as he leaned towards Star. “You know what happens to snitches.”

“Right, stitches,” Star replied.

Glossaryck drew back and sat upright, folding his hands into his sleeves as a third hand emerged from his back and pointed at Star. “That said I am your guide and training you to be Queen is just as pertinent to me as it is to your mother.”

“Then how about training her instead of being so vague?” Marco muttered.

A fourth arm pointed at Marco. “Hey, I don’t tell you how to make out with her, don’t tell me how to teach.”

Marco was not having that as he walked up to Glossaryck and glowered down at him. “I’ve been yanked around by a teacher enough to have no patience for it. Do Star a favor and get on the express train to the point, we don’t have time for stupid games and riddles.”

Star snapped her fingers. “That was a metaphor, wasn’t it?”

Without looking at her, Marco gave her a thumb’s up.

Glossaryck narrowed his ruby eyes, less with any kind of malice and more with bored disappointment. He floated to the side and gestured to the book. “As I said, it’s all there in the manual.”

Star looked down at the book and turned a page, heading towards the beginning of the book, revealing Mewman, and countless scribbles of coded language and ancient tongues that she’d never seen before written. She then turned another page, showing a beautifully drawn portrait of a woman with curly orange hair, blue eyes, cream-colored skin, and hourglass-shaped cheek marks. She wore a flowing yellow gown and carried a golden magic wand with a winged clock as its bell.

“Skywynne Butterfly, the Queen of Hours,” she murmured.

“What does it say?” Marco asked.

Star tilted her head. “I can only read her journal entries, they’re in standard Mewman and I read those before… everything else is in Low Mewman or code.”

She flipped the pages, which treated her and Marco to rather dramatic images of vine-snared towers, bodies sailing into space, terrible creatures rising from their graves, and a black box with an evil eye spewing out nightmares. Each page was covered in dense text that Marco didn’t recognize at all and, judging by Star’s furrowing brows, she couldn’t make sense of either.

“Geez, what kind of magic did Skywynne cast?” Marco asked.

Glossaryck was actually forthcoming this time. “Powerful magic, the most powerful I’d ever seen from any Wand user before or since–with one or two exceptions. She’s not called the Queen of Hours for nothing.”

A wicked and terrible smile crept across Star’s face. “If I could learn spells from Skywynne…”

Glossaryck raised his six-fingered right hand and made a waving motion, turning the pages to later in the book. “You’d probably destroy the world, like she almost did. Repeatedly.”

Star lifted her head up. “Still!”

“You want to fight the Forces of Evil, not do their job for them.” Glossaryck reminded her.

Marco nodded. “I don’t like it, but I agree with Glossaryck, whatever crazy stuff Skywynne could do? Probably a little bit above where you’re at now.”

He gestured to his waist. “It’d be like you were a Yellow Belt in karate trying to master Black Belt skills.”

Star nodded and held up her left arm. “Or trying to ride a Warnicorn when I barely know how to control a pony.”

“Exactly,” Marco said.

Glossaryck leaned towards Marco and spoke out the corner of his mouth. “She broke that arm in six places.”

Marco winced. “Eugh.”

The resident of the book turned back to Star. “Speaking of Warnicorns, there is a spell you can learn from Skywynne to get started.”

With another wave of his hand, the book stopped. It was still in Skywynne’s section of the book, showing her standing with her wand raised above her head while a raging stampede of large, fearsome unicorns covered in the scars of battle charging around her.

“Warnicorn Stampede,” Glossaryck presented to them. “And unlike her other spells, this one is written in Mewman. She thought it a rather tame beginner spell to pass on.”

Star sighed. “Warnicorn Stampede is cool and all, Glossaryck, but I have too many spells for wrecking stuff, I need a really specific spell for protection in battle.”

“Like I said, plenty of those, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a lot of required reading to get to that level of expertise, Star,” Glossaryck said.

Star groaned. “Then just tell me that!”

“I did, but someone thought–and I’m not pointing elbows.” Glossaryck pointed five at Marco. “That it was… what was it again? Aggravating obtuseness?”

Marco’s glare returned. “No, I specifically said you’re yanking Star around.”

Glossaryck threw all five of his hands up. “Details! I can guide you through the process, but it will still take time. That isn’t to say that it can’t be made easier beyond my storied guidance. I’m sure if you knew some well-studied intellectual with a penchant for exploring the unknown and deciphering dead tongues written by dead hands, you’d be able to learn not only Skywynne's secrets, but the secrets of every author of this book.”

Star and Marco looked at each other, both thinking of the same name.

“Dipper.”

“Who?” Glossaryck asked.

“He’s been helping us fight bad guys,” Marco said, “He’s a paranormal investigator and a monster hunter.”

Glossaryck rolled his eyes and turned away. He was about to suggest it was very nice that they knew a crackpot, when Star added.

“Him and his sister even helped stop this crazy dream demon from invading reality and causing the end of the world once.”

Marco agreed. “Yeah, Bill Cipher.”

Glossaryck’s eyes shot wide, then his head did a full 180 to look at the two like a cartoonish owl. “… Bill… Cipher…?”

Star nodded. “Yeah, little yellow triangle guy with a top hat and one eye, you’ve heard of him, right?”

Glossaryck’s body twisted around to align with his head as he returned to his nonchalant self. Uncrossing his arms, the guide steepled his fingers pointed upward, then down. He closed his eyes, as if to meditate.

“… Bill Cipher.”

Marco raised an eyebrow and looked at Star, who shared his expression of curiosity when he murmured again. His nose twitched, his lips quirked, his eyebrows waggled as he sat there, humming repeatedly in stern concentration.

“Bill Cipher,” he repeated once more.

“So… are you trying to remember him? Or is his name just fun to say?”

Glossaryck opened his left eye and looked at Star with it, then opened his right to look at Marco as well. Both eyes blinked one after the other and both teens thought it was creepy.

“Star, when you’ve seen as much as I have, you’ll find that your capacity for surprise is far behind you. Still, today you managed to remind me what that used to feel like.”

Marco didn’t like that. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“It is a thing,” Glossaryck replied. “But it’s fortuitous you’ve met someone so clever. I strongly advise that you enlist him in your studies.”

He rubbed his chin as he spoke, whatever thoughts hidden behind his inscrutable nonchalance.

Star brightened and turned to Marco. “I think Dipper will love to go through the Magic Instruction Book!”

Marco replied with a dry look back at her. “Yeah, I think he’ll get tired of Glossaryck real quick.”

“Poppycock,” Glossaryck admonished. “I’m sure that Dipper will be thrilled to meet me. After all… there’s much we can learn from each other…”

For once, Sir Glossaryck of Terms had questions he wanted to ask.

@@@@@

In a world an impossible distance away, an unknowable length of time ago, on a rocky shore lit by the newly risen sun, two warriors fought with incredible speed, ferocity, and skill. Jara, the Mercenary General known across the dying worlds and fading stars for her fearsome army of warriors loyal to none but her crossed blades with the strongest blade known alive, the wandering swordsman Saberizer.

Saberizer’s falchion clashed with Jara’s short sword, her horizontal swing meeting his vertical block and repelled. They circled one another, Jara so light on her feet she seemed to skim across the ground before she touched it and charged again, this time stabbing for his chest. His blade came across, meeting the tip of her drill-shaped blade and dragging it away in a mighty parry. Then just as quickly he brought the weapon back, a curving, rising slash aimed for her hip to carve upward through her torso, but she was quick enough to bring her weapon back and block the cut. She parried his strike upward, but Saberizer retained control and merely twirled the blade around his right hand and thrust the tip for her chest, forcing her to raise her weapon to block again. Sweeping the falchion back and forth he struck, and each blow forced Jara backward as she dedicated all her energy to defend herself.

After several more blows, he came down with a vertical strike and she met it, locking their weapons together–bolts of plasma erupted from their weapons that cut into the rocks and gravel around them to leave molten streams and hissing steam clouds.

The growing power exploded, and the two warriors were flung from the blast and each other. Saberizer landed on his side of the blast, his feet kicking up stone and black sand as he halted himself. A flash of red out the corner of his eye to his left was his only warning to block Jara’s lunge, but it was more than adequate. He turned into her, raising his falchion with the tip pointed to the ground, and blocked her stab before whipping the blade up in a counterattacking swipe. She moved clear to her right, avoiding the return blow, and attacked again even faster head on.

Every advantage belonged to Saberizer, the reach of his falchion easily exceeded hers, and when she used her agility to get inside his reach, his sword was somehow there to parry her away or come edge-first at her from a completely different direction to throw her off and force her to leap back into his range and onto the defense from his attacks.

I could never defeat him.

It was, for lack of any other words to describe it, beautiful. He wasted no movements, every step, every strike, every block, every counter, it was all perfectly measured–not just in form but against hers. He knew exactly what was needed to defeat her and did so at his leisure.

I dueled him countless times.

She escaped a diagonal stroke from the falchion and dug her feet into the dirt. Both hands gripping the hilt of her blade so tight that tears appeared in her gloves, she launched herself to his right then went in to stab his exposed side. He was a step faster, hopping back and bringing to parry her away when she over-committed to the stab, using a wide swing of the falchion.

I fought him with everything I had every time.

Letting go of her short sword with one hand, Jara swung down on his shoulder with all his might, but once again he was faster and with a quick twirl of the falchion, he thrust the weapon upward to meet hers and knock it flying straight up from her hand.

And lost miserably.

The falchion came back down, stopping right at the base of her neck as she stopped in unison with it. Her tumbling blade impaled a rock not too far behind her, the heat that rose from the blade splitting it clean in two.

Yet…

She looked up at Saberizer, her ever expressionless mask staring at his battle-gnarled face. With no expression of his own to convey his feelings on their duel thanks to his ancient wounds, he nodded.

There was no one else who could make me feel so humbled, and at the same time he made me feel like I could actually surpass him.

Her body relaxing, Jara nodded back, then bowed her head to Saberizer.

So then… how?

Then Jara was suddenly in another impossible place, but much, much more recent. She was unable to move, she wasn’t even breathing as she watched the Stinger Blade pass through Saberizer’s body like he should've done to the Blue Stingerborg by every right.

How does an abysmal whelp who can barely hold his own head up, let alone any kind of weapon, strike him down?

She watched him stagger.

How?

She watched his broken blade fall to the ground as he raised his head one final time to apologize for his failure.

How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How?

His humiliation at the hands of a worthless, pathetic boy.

How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How?

Vexor stood in silence as he looked down at Jara inside the Magnavores’ crypt hideout. She was sitting on her knees, her head bowed down to stare down at half of Saberizer’s falchion. It was the only thing left of him that came with her when recalled her from the battle she lost.

She hadn’t moved from that spot for several hours now, just sitting there in silence.

“How dreadful,” he lamented. “This is quite possibly the worst defeat yet.”

He turned away from her to Typhus and Noxic, who had been similarly quiet out of respect to their friend. He gestured out to them, and they looked back at him.

“Yeah, what?” Noxic snapped.

“So then, the troll?” He asked.

Noxic jabbed a finger at Vexor. “Does it look like we’re done mourning, ya mook?!”

Vexor moved much closer to Noxic, unyielding in the face of his indignation. “She is not. You are. Now, the troll, explain yourselves.”

Typhus stopped Noxic before he could say something that’d get him junked again. “He didn’t see it, Vexor, I did. Over at the school, a she-troll, right in the prime of life, baby. The school and all them kids are her turf.”

The news didn’t set well with Vexor, his visage darkening as he turned away from them. “Unfortunate. A troll complicates matters, and we already fall further behind in strength with each battle. Was there anything else?”

There certainly was. “Yeah, baby. The Butterfly’s wand wasn’t workin’, it couldn’t cast any spells and just fired green sludge everywhere. It was messy even for me.”

That piqued Vexor’s interest. “Curious, a Butterfly’s power waning at so young an age… I must know why.”

“Before you order us to capture her again? Screw you,” Noxic piped up.

Vexor turned towards him. “No, I will not be sending you on a fools’ errand. I have a more important task in store for you.”

“Oh boy, you’re actually usin’ that super brain of yours. Amazin’! Tell us what you got, boss crab!” Noxic begged with all his sarcasm.

Their leader would blast him as he had before, but he needed him intact. “I will need several items, but foremostly I need an army. I leave it to you to construct it out of materials here, rather than summon them from the Nightmare Realm.”

That had Noxic lighting up like a billboard at sundown. “No kiddin’?!”

“You’ve known me long enough to know what japery I tolerate.”

Just enough, neither Typhus nor Noxic replied.

Noxic clapped his hands. “Well, you’ve sold me on it! I’m gonna get started right away!”

Vexor tilted towards him, gesturing with an open upraised palm. “I leave it to you then, construct me at the very least a hundred Scabs in a fortnight.”

“A hundred? No problem! I can get two hundred done by then!” Noxic cheered, happy to be doing something that he enjoyed.

Typhus spoke up. “What about me, baby? Want me to poke at ‘em? Keep ‘em on their toes? Summon a monster to spy on ‘em?”

Vexor surprised him with his reply. “Tend to Jara, and do not allow her to go near the children or wherever they may haunt.”

The big green beast tilted his head some. “Did I hear that right?”

His tone turned grave. “Saberizer was not a piece easily used or expected to be lost. We can't recover from that lightly or quickly. So let us avoid further losses. Until I have the Scabs Noxic will build me, we are to stay well out of trouble with the Beetleborgs, the Butterfly, or their allies.”

Vexor was planning something large and elaborate, Typhus realized, but on the bright side he was giving him and Jara a vacation to prepare for it. As long as Jara could get the rest she needed and a chance to recover from her loss, he didn’t care whatever it was he had in mind, really. With a nod, he walked over to Jara’s side.

“You don’t need to tell me twice, baby.” He placed a hand on Jara’s shoulder–she didn’t even respond to the stimulation–and looked over at Noxic. “Hey, Noxic. You got room for two more?”

“Sure, but I gotta warn ya, it’s a real dump!” With a laugh, Noxic folded his arms, nodded, and all three of them left.

Alone in his candlelit crypt, Vexor flowed over to his partially opened sarcophagus and picked up the copy of The Big Bad Beetleborgs used to summon the latest round of Scabs and fighters. He then looked in the sarcophagus, where the other books they’d used to summon Monsters and Scabs now lay and tossed the latest book onto it. They were useless now, but at the very least they were fantastic reads.

He personally thought the author caught him perfectly as a menacing threat to reality.

At some point, very soon, he would like to meet Arthur Fortunes, and thank him personally for such a flattering portrayal.

A sick, screeching laugh left Vexor’s throat.

“XASYR TMLUC FBQJQ KFWWJ MGLAP YJGYO WTIPV IFMHS SGEWZ PBONG DPBCR KZBFH.”

And that laughter echoed through the crypt.

= - = 51 = - =

Volume 5 of Legends, End.
 
The Trinity

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
This is not Volume 6. Welcome to Volume 5.5, an interlude that takes place because this is a VERY busy weekend for our gang. New faces, new adversities, and a paradigm shift or two to lead us into Volume 6.

= - = 52 = - =

|The Trinity|

In the hills on Echo Creek’s edge, three teenaged girls walked along the steep roads that lead to the million-dollar homes that overlooked the town’s suburbs and the rest of Los Angeles. All three were dressed alike, sporting the matching uniforms of their Private High School, albeit with slightly different colorations. The leading member of the procession, a blonde Caucasian with sharp eyes that bore an easily identifiable beauty mark under the left, wore a pink skirt and a dark blue jacket over her pink-collared gray shirt, and an obvious air of leadership. Right behind her was a shorter girl of Taiwanese descent, who wore a gray hoodie bearing their school’s crest, and a green skirt whose color matched the barrette she wore on the left side of her hair to keep her short bangs from her eyes. The last girl, Thai in descent, was tall and slender to the point of almost being considered lanky, with messy auburn hair a few shades darker than her light brown skin and wore a purple variation of their school’s uniform.

“Hey,” the blonde said as she looked back at her companions. “You two ever been up here?”

Her lanky follower looked up. “Actually I haven’t.”

The shorter one looked up from her phone. “Me neither! But according to Maps we’re almost there!”

Turning to look ahead, the blonde snorted. “It’s like a whole different world, isn’t it?”

The smaller girl brightened. “Like another planet, with strange denizens of unfathomable power and might!”

Tall and lanky let out a small laugh. “They’re rich weirdos, not elves.”

“Those are the same things when you think about it, living cloistered from the world, they’re really clean, they meet in secret and mysterious ways…”

With a growl that shook through all three girls, a dark green super car, a McLaren 12c, came up the road and flew past them. The blonde and her tall friend leaped back from the curb separating them from the road in surprise as the car flew past, while their short companion tripped over her own feet in her flight, flailed, and flopped flat on her face.

“… Drive expensive cars with no disregard for human life,” she finished as the tall girl all but dove to help her to her feet.

The blonde looked up the road, watching the car disappear around the curve of the winding street. She smirked as she glanced back at her accomplices.

“Whatever they need to feel like they matter, right?”

Up that very same hill the girls ascended, at the Vanderhoff residence, Trip sat by his home’s in-ground pool, scowling at the unlit fire pit. He was lost in unpleasant thoughts, dwelling upon what happened during that chaotic lunch period yesterday.

It wasn’t just the fight itself that had gotten to him. A magical princess from another dimension attended their school, after all, anyone could attribute that to her. It wasn’t the fact that Marco, Star, and Mabel all fought those weirdos with ferocious violence and intent to kill and vice-versa. Again magical princess. It wasn’t even the fact that Jackie Lynn Thomas was all but clinging to Dipper’s arm while he stood on the sidelines through the entire brawl.

What had Trip agitated was all of that, and what Misao had said before all hell broke loose.

“The only reason you are not in the hospital now, broken, is because you are pathetic in every way–the beating you deserve is not worth our time.”

His scowl deepened, and he turned towards his brother. Van sat at the very edge of the pool, one leg dangling in the water, his thumb brushing up his screen to scroll through Instagram. His lips were curled into a tiny smile, like he didn’t have a care in the world or in his head.

It pissed him off more, to see him so blithe. “What’re you so happy about, dill weed?”

“I’m waiting for someone to see us about our Pine Tree problem,” Van replied. “They hit me up just this morning and they’re on their way.”

So he had good news and wasn’t just distracted by something shiny. Trip let out a sigh and stood up from his cushioned seat near the firepit. “Well, who are they? And can they fight?”

“I don’t know, but they’re from St. James High School and they have a plan to make Pine Tree’s life miserable for an entire weekend.”

That caught Trip’s attention. “SJHS? On the other side of LA? It’s the middle of the morning, they should still have school.”

“Yeah, but they cut it to come meet with us.” Van smirked. “That’s how motivated they are.”

Walking over to his brother’s side, Trip dropped down and sat by the pool’s edge, slipping both feet into the water. “Well… if they can take Pine Tree out for longer than a weekend, then even better.”

Van looked fully away from his phone. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean, we gotta get him before he gets us. Or sends any of his stupid friends to get us.”

Van rolled his eyes. “Oh, now you care. You’re not wrong, that’s why I bumped up the reward to ten thousand dollars and asked for more than just ‘messing’ with them.”

Trip nodded in agreement. “We gotta get Pine Tree, his sister, and all of those other losers out of here.” He said before a sound broke the peaceful morning.

CLACK!

Both brothers jumped and turned towards their house. Standing right by the doors into their house, wearing Converse sneakers, blue jean overalls, a pink and green striped shirt, and a green baseball hat was Gabe. He was looking down at a pink-cased smart phone in his right hand, while he held his wooden sword in his left like a walking stick.

Trip scrambled off the couch and got up onto his feet. “What are you doing here?! Who let you in?!” He looked past Gabe and called into the house. “DeMartino! I told you not to let this guy into the house!”

“Of course, Master Trip,” Dudley called back.

“Your mans ain’t paid enough to keep me out,” Gabe said flatly.

“Of course, Master Gabe,” Dudley duly agreed.

He paid the put-upon peon no attention. “I let myself in.”

Van got up and walked up to him. “Then let yourself out before I throw you out.”

In an instant the tip of the wooden sword was pointed at Van. “Nah, you can fuck around right there just outside of finding out distance.”

Van hesitated; he’d paid fifty bucks to see how quickly Gabe could dismantle someone with that thing.

Satisfied that the bigger Vanderhoff wasn’t interested in an intimate relationship with the pool deck, Gabe pulled the sword back to rest it on his shoulder. He walked, giving the brothers a wide berth, and sat on the same poolside chair he’d made himself at home in the last time he was here.

“So what do you want?” Trip asked.

“Wanted to know if you changed your mind,” Gabe replied as he brought the tip of his sword back down to the pool deck and began to lightly scratch it back and forth while he looked again at his phone.

Trip made a sour face at him. “We’re still not paying you a hundred grand to beat up Pine Tree.”

Van agreed. “Yeah, what are you, stupid?”

Gabe looked up at them both. “Man, I’m not the one on Instagram offering money to beat up a kid.” He stopped fiddling with his sword. “You got a problem, and you want it taken care of. I have a solution, and I want to be paid for my labor. It’s basic economics.”

“I don’t care about basic economics, you’re too expensive!” Trip yelled out.

Gabe looked aside. “No shit.”

Van then asked the one hundred-thousand-dollar question. “Why the heck does a Haley want a hundred grand to kick someone’s ass, anyway?”

It gave Gabe pause, and the Vanderhoff brothers both felt a chill sweep across them when his gaze fell back upon them. His expression had not changed, still flat and nonchalant, but now it felt like he was glaring clear through them.

“That’s none of your business,” he replied in a dead calm, even as the grip on his sword gradually tightened.

Van looked at Trip, suddenly worried that the young man was going to get up and thrash the two of them. Trip returned the look, silently blaming him for whatever thrashing may come from pressing that particular button.

“Master Van. A Miss Waybright, a Miss Wu, and a Miss Boonchuy are here to speak with you,” Dudley announced from the patio door, reluctantly spoiling his own fun.

All three looked to the door, and from it emerged the three young women who’d spent their morning trekking up the hills of Echo Creek to reach their destination. Sasha Waybright, the blonde, smirked when the Vanderhoff brothers turned to her. Her taller companion to her left, Anne Boonchuy was more concerned and possibly interested in the brooding young man with the sword. Her shorter companion on her right, Marcy Wu, was paying attention to anything but the people around her–starstruck from being able to set foot in such an expensive house.

Van’s first impulse was to regain his composure, slide his fingers through his hair, and turn to greet the visitors with a smile. “Ladies, welcome.”

Trip and Gabe unexpectedly found themselves on common ground–silently exasperated at how quickly he’d changed gears.

Sasha’s smirk grew as Van walked up to her and her company. Hands in the pockets of her jacket, she nodded to him. “Sup?”

Van already liked the blonde’s tone from a single word. “Hey.”

Marcy, realizing people were talking, stepped forward to introduce herself. “Hello, I’m Marcy…!” Without warning she tripped over her own foot and went stumbling forward with an awkward, almost penguin-like squawk.

Anne reacted with immediate alarm. “Marcy!”

Rather than go face first into the back deck, she instead went face-first into Van’s chest. “Oof.”

Van caught her, absolutely thrown off his game by the girl’s misstep. “Uh… you okay?”

Still face first in his pecs, Marcy gave a thumbs up. “I’m great. Also you, uh… lift.”

Placing his hands on her shoulders, Van carefully pushed Marcy back and took a cautious half-step back from her in the same motion.

Marcy brushed herself off. “Ahahah… man, those floors are polished.”

Sasha placed a hand atop Marcy’s head, patting her. “Just stay still and look cute, Mar-Mar.”

Marcy quickly snapped at attention and brought a hand up to salute. “As a button, ma’am–ow!”

She swatted herself in the forehead.

As Marcy reassured everyone with a quick “I’m okay!” Sasha took over the introductions. “As I was saying, I’m Sasha, these are my friends Marcy and Anne.”

When gestured to, both girls waved. “Hey, what’s up?” Anne greeted.

Sasha talked over her. “We want to make Pine Tree’s whole weekend a living hell.”

Gabe used his sword to hoist himself to his feet, as Van brightly responded. “All right, cool! What do you got for us?”

Sasha smirked and placed a hand on Marcy’s head. “Marcy here may not look like much, but she’s the best hacker on the west coast.”

Marcy giggled and snorted as she humblebragged. “I wouldn’t say the entire west coast. South of Bailey, sure.”

Sasha hooked her other arm around Anne’s neck and brought her close. “And Boonchuy, here? She has a particular set of skills that are a nightmare to people like your mark.”

Van looked at Anne, the taller girl looking more out of place than Marcy at the moment. “She does?”

Anne looked at Sasha. “… I do?”

Sasha glanced back at her companion. “Trust me, babe, you do.”

She pecked Anne on the cheek, causing her to break into a small blush, then turned a smoky look onto Van. “When we’re done with your problem, he won’t want to show his face around town ever again.”

Van audibly swallowed at the exchange of affection between the two girls, and Sasha’s look of intent in his direction. His face colored a little, as he tried to maintain his cool demeanor. “Nice, nice…”

Watching the unspoken part of the exchange between Shasha and Van with muted disgust, Gabe inhaled deeply, and blew it out in a long, audible sigh. Resting his wooden sword against his shoulder, he shook his head and left for the wall surrounding the Vanderhoff home without a word. Trip watched him leave with a bit of a smirk.

“Nothing to say?” He asked. “Not even gonna put out a better offer?”

Gabe shrugged his shoulders without looking back. “Y’all got this; I’m out.”

As before, he scaled the wall with ease, going up and over it like it wasn’t over twice his height. Sasha’s eyebrows rose, while Anne and Marcy both let out a long, quiet “Whoa” at the feat. Van regarded it with disgust at how easily he impressed the girls, while Trip considered talking to his Dad about putting razor wire over top of their wall.

“Forget about him,” Trip said, bringing everyone’s attention away from Gabe’s exit. “You say that you can put Pine Tree down. How?”

Sasha smiled again. “Don’t worry your handsome face, handsome. The plan is simple, and it takes advantage of a few things I’ve already figured out about your problem.”

She had done her homework, both Trip and Van liked that. “Like what?” The former asked.

“Like that the guy has zero presence on the internet, is apparently a paranoid conspiracy theorist, and his sister–who has neither of those problems–wildly overshares details about her life on social media.” Sasha’s smile took on a wicked character as she continued. “Thanks to her, I know all of Dipper Pines’ weaknesses… including the one we’re going to exploit.”

Van shivered and muttered aside to her brother. “... Man, she’s hot…”

“She’s out of your league,”
he whispered back. “Just to be sure. You’re not worried about him catching you out, what if you have to fight him?”

Anne and Marcy both looked at Sasha, silently wondering the same thing. “Relax guys. They’ll never see us coming, until we’re already gone, and the damage is done.”

She chuckled and flipped her hair, her confident charisma capturing both young men.

“… And even in the unlikely event that we do get caught? What’s the worst that he can do?”

= - = 52 = - =

Welp, Amphibia is now officially part of the Verse. Welcome one and all the Calamity Trio.
 
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Firepower

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
= - = 52 = - =

|Firepower|

Gunfire ripped through the air in sharp, ear-damaging pops, as Dipper held tightly in his grip a pistol and laid waste to a target board set up at the far end of an indoor shooting range. He held the gun, an old but well-taken care of Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol, in a tight yet comfortable grip–overcompensating a little against the recoil every time he fired it. Like others at the gun club, per the rules, he wore ear and eye protection against the bright flash and loud reports going on to his left, right, and center.

Shooting a gun, Dipper decided, was a whole lot harder than he had ever seen anyone do it real or fiction.

Why do movies make it look so freaking easy? He thought as the flash and clap caused him to lose track of where he was shooting–an obvious flinch that anyone could see, and he was all too aware of.

As he fired his last round, he heard Shermie call out behind him. “All right, Dipper! Cease fire!”

Dipper immediately brought the gun against his chest, the gun pointed down at the range’s concrete floor and his empty right hand firmly overtop his left holding the weapon.

“Hoo boy, that takes me back like thirty years seeing that.” Shermie said as he joined his side. “Hang on a sec, boychik.”

Dipper sighed. “I keep wanting to flinch whenever I shoot…”

“Yeah, that's to be expected. Most new recruits have this problem for a little while.” Shermie reassured him.

Dipper turned his head, staying constantly prescient of the weapon in his hand. “How am I doing, so far?”

Shermie gave him a kindly smile. “So first off? You're doing great on treating a gun like you're supposed to. No fancy-schmancy moves, no pointing it at anything you ain't shooting, and making sure your gun is all in working order.” He gave him a thumbs up.

Dipper frowned slightly. “And what can I do about where I’m messing up?”

“As newbie problems go, that’s an easy one to fix.” Shermie looked at the gun. “Check if it’s clear and hand it over to yer Grandpa.”

Dipper did just that, ejecting the expended magazine, checking the clear chamber, and handing the weapon to his grandfather. Taking the weapon, Shermie loaded a full magazine and aimed at the target. “Okay, now watch carefully.”

Dipper eagerly complied as, with practiced precision, his grandfather aimed down the range. “One of the first things my instructor made sure to drill into my skull back in the old country?”

He fired a single shot at the target placard, hitting it in center mass just to the left of the chest bullseye. Dipper let out a “Whoa” in awe.

“The movies are always wrong. Don’t do anything you see in a movie, got it?” He asked before he fired again, hitting just above his first round.

Dipper nodded. “Got it.”

“Now… when you’re shooting? Force your eyes to stay open when you aim. Don’t freeze up and shut your eyes before you shoot.” Shermie fired again, this time hitting just below the first shot. “Hold steady, line up the sights, and then! Pretend to fire a few times in your head to get the jitters out. After that, actually fire.”

He fired a fourth time, hitting just to the left. “Ya gotta practice it, but the flinch goes away once you’re used to the muzzle flash.”

A fifth time Shermie fired, and like each time before he did it without even blinking–let alone any kind of adverse reflex.

“That is so cool,” Dipper muttered. Not even the goofy polka dot patterned bow tie he wore with his usual grandfatherly attire took away from it.

Engaging the safety, Shermie set the gun down on the countertop in front of Dipper and stepped back. “Okay, give it a shot.”

With a nod, Dipper took the Hi-Power in hands, aimed, and opened fire on the target. The first two shots he flinched, and he let out a grumbled curse.

Damn it, he thought.

“Easy does it. Take a deep breath, relax, realign the sights and then do it like I told you.” Shermie winked at him. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

Dipper took a deep breath and aimed down the sight again. He rested his finger on the trigger twice, applying no pressure while envisioning the gun going off. Then on the third he squeezed without flinching, and when the gun fired, he struck his placard in the neck. Surprised, he repeated the process and struck right next to that same spot. A third round punched just below the other two–giving the impression of Mickey Mouse.

Dipper brightened. “… Holy crap.”

“Wunderbar, as yer new German squeeze would say,” Shermie said with a playful elbow.

That colored Dipper’s cheeks. “Grandpa, sheesh.”

Shermie let out a deep belly laugh. “Can’t be a good grandpa without razzin’ the grandkids–and occasionally asking about when they plan on making me a great-grandpa!”

Dipper’s blush deepened. “You got a long wait for that, old-timer!”

He really hoped Misao wasn’t looking their way with the jibing. “Can’t you go tease Mabel?”

“I would, but one: she laughs it off better than you, and two: she’s the most frightening person at the range right now.” Shermie hooked a thumb over to their left.

Dipper looked and saw Mabel–wearing bright pink eye protectors and headphones that matched beautifully with her purple sweater dress and blue leggings, aiming a Beretta M1951 pistol down range, rattling off at a higher rate of fire than Dipper could muster. In only a few moments, Mabel emptied the gun’s magazine, ejected it, and set it down on the counter in front of her. Beside her Misao, who was protected with purple eye and ear protectors to match her blue sweater dress and pink leggings, hit the button to recall their target card.

Dipper and Shermie watched the target card come back and Mabel removed it. With a closer look at her handiwork, she turned to the smaller girl. “What do you think? At least he died…” She held it up, showing that she had shot a perfect happy face into the head of her target. “… With a smile?”

Misao broke into applause. “Très bien!”

Mabel set it down with two other targets she had been working with since Shermie cut her loose to practice shooting. One had a heart on its chest, and the other had a star in its forehead. Shermie turned back to Dipper.

“… It looks like we got a natural here,” Shermie finished.

Mabel heard that and boasted. “My grappling hook is way harder to aim and kicks back even harder than that! Compared to getting that right, handguns are easy!”

Dipper pulled a very mild grimace. “How do you not flinch?”

Mabel placed a hand on her chest. “Dipper, I’ve been bedazzling my sweaters, catching the morning sun off my braces in mirrors and setting fires with explosives since I was ten. Bright flashes are nothing!”

Shermie belly laughed again. “Ahh, that takes me back to when I used to take your Grunkles out shooting. Stanley could plug the wings off a dragonfly, and Ford was a crack shot, too.”

I can’t imagine how boring our summer would’ve been if Stan had a gun. Dipper thought, taking that revelation into mind. “Huh, with all the drama with Grunkle Stan and Grunkle Ford, I almost can’t imagine you spending time with them like that.”

“Stan and Ford weren’t always the ne’er do wells you kids know them as.” Shermie let out a reminiscent sigh. “We were all different back then, before I shipped off to the old country, before they grew up into messes. They were and still are my brothers, dontcha know?”

Dipper nodded in understanding, as he gave a meaningful glance towards Mabel and himself reminisced about everything they had gone through. The fond trip down memory lane was cut short by the realization that Mabel was now shooting one handed down range and nailing every shot.

“Okay, yeah,” he said. “She’s terrifying.”

Shermie agreed. “She’s gonna love the Schwanzstucker. I couldn’t ask for better hands to put it in.”

Dipper looked at the gun on the countertop, then picked it up and another magazine as he ejected the empty one. “Grandpa? I don’t think I… any of us can thank you enough for being so supportive. Not just with this, but with letting Misao stay even with how dangerous that is.”

Shermie patted Dipper firmly on the shoulder. “Even if you weren’t my grandson, I think I’d still help. Because letting you kids to handle all this by yourselves… well… it’s wrong. And Misao is a good kid, I couldn’t leave her hanging, either.”

Dipper loaded a fresh magazine and Shermie let that hang for a moment and waited for his grandson to take aim down range. “So if you do shack up with her, try to make sure at least a few of your kids aren't goyim.”

His finger coming off the trigger, Dipper turned his head to level an unamused stare at Shermie. “… Come on, Grandpa.”

Shaking his head in exasperation, Dipper focused on the targets and began shooting. He was in such a hurry to get away from that subject that he had no problem putting the shots on the mark. He stopped shooting, flicked on the safety, and set the gun down so he could set the record straight... after a fashion. “It’s not that I’m not interested in her–I am. She’s easily one of the nicest and prettiest girls I’ve ever met… I’ve just had my eyes on someone else since I got here.”

Shermie lit up at the news. “Oh? Anyone I know? You can tell Ol’ Sherpa, my lips are sealed.” He made a zipper motion across his lips to emphasize.

“It’s…” He leaned closer towards his grandfather and spoke in what he hoped wasn’t simultaneously too soft and too loud at the range. “… It’s um… Marco.”

And with an owlish blink, Shermie looked out of his depth as he scratched his head in surprise. “Huh… so, does he know that?”

“No,” Dipper replied, “It’s kind of a stupid crush thing and I don’t really want to bring it up, and I’m pretty sure he and Star have something going on… and besides it’d be bad to act on that interest given the circumstances, do you understand?”

Shermie thought about it. “Well, that’s a toughie. I don’t know much about handling love triangles, but I can tell you this: the heart wants what the heart wants. Don’t dismiss what you’re feeling as not important, that’s how you end up a putz like those Vanderhoff boys.”

Dipper was happy that his grandpa didn’t clumsily struggle with that response as he was pretty sure both his grunkles would’ve. “If I ever become that kind of douchebag? Kill me.”

“Nah. I'll just give ya a potch on the tushie to put your head back ‘round straight,” Shermie said with a chuckle.

“And thanks for not being weird about the whole Marco thing…”

Shermie seemed almost offended by that. “What? You thought I was gonna call you a feygele or something?” He gave Dipper another firm, reassuring shoulder pat. “Pssh. Maybe some of the Hasidic set back in the old country woulda. Me, I never cared about that. Besides, I’m from Jersey, there were lots of those guys there–though, I am a little sad that I might not get grandkids from you now.”

Dipper turned to face his grandfather fully. “Ah, it’s not like that. It’s the same thing Mabel has going on…”

“No fooling?” Shermie grinned. “Well, at least you won’t be hard up for a date on a Saturday Night!” He clicked his teeth and winked for emphasis.

Dipper closed his eyes and huffed. “The only thing I wanna do on a Saturday Night is investigate the weird and unknown.”

“Back in my day we called that dating!” Shermie guffawed, Dipper barking out a laugh with him.

Mabel walked over with Misao. “Sherpa, I’m out of ammo.”

Shermie and Dipper looked at the two as the former responded. “Already? Let me see your last board then.”

Mabel held up her last board, revealing a cat face shot into the chest of the target. “I made a kitty with this one.”

“Jesus Christ, Mabel,” Dipper muttered.

Shermie let out a whistle. “Fancy shooting, there.”

“If we had more bullets, I bet we could do an entire portrait,” Misao suggested.

Mabel gasped. “… Bullet art…” She stopped. “I’d need a machine gun for that, though…”

Breaking into a grin, shooting stars in her eyes, Mabel bounced up to her grandfather with hands clasped together. “Do you have a machine gun, Sherpa?!”

Her dreams were dashed by a shake of his head. “Sorry, Mabel. The closest thing I have is an Uzi and it’s packed up in storage over in Arizona because it’s an IDF model with a built-in suppressor.”

Dipper saw the problem with that. “The last thing we need is to be seen out in public carrying weapons like those.”

Mabel pouted. “We’re already breaking so many laws, what’s a few more?”

Shermie gave his granddaughter a knowing smirk. “You haven’t even begun to break laws, girlchik.”

“And the fewer laws we do break, the less likely some self-righteous policemen will decide if they can’t arrest the Magnavores, they’ll arrest us,” Dipper replied. “So let’s at least keep the crimes we commit to the ones they’re cool with, like blowing up robot jet fighters from another dimension, and getting into street fights for the fate of the Earth.”

“And having pet pigs that are too handsome,” Mabel added.

They had already been pulled over twice since they’d moved here because Waddles had his head stuck out the window of Shermie’s SUV like a dog as they drove around.

“Can ya blame ‘em? As fine connoisseurs of all things swine, of course they think he’s a beaut!” Shermie said with a hard laugh.

Dipper and Mabel both had a laugh with them, while Misao’s snickering was more reserved. Pretending to wipe a tear away when they finished, Mabel beamed. “Anyway~! Our stomachs are as empty as our magazines!”

“Ja,” Misao agreed. “Are you done? I would very much like to go out and enjoy some food in the city.”

Shermie rubbed his chin, then grinned. “Follow me kids, if I got my timing right, the Taste of Echo Creek should be just opening up.”

Dipper and Mabel both lit up. “Yes!”

“What is the Taste of Echo Creek?” Misao asked as Shermie collected his firearms, made them safe, and stowed them in their cases.

“An Echo Creek staple! The only thing that can compete with Britta’s Tacos over the weekend,” Mabel replied.

“All of these food trucks and vendors gather in one place and folks come from all over to eat there,” Dipper replied, “We have something similar in the Bay Area called Off The Grid.”

Mabel nodded. “I love eating from Food Trucks, it’s not just the food… it’s a whole experience!”

Misao’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Ah! So it’s like a Night Market… but during the day?”

“LA has a couple Night Markets, too!” Mabel said as she pulled out her phone and checked it. “We can check one out after the dance.”

Misao loved the sound of that. “Oooh…!”

Shermie looked between the girls with a bit of confusion as they left the Echo Creek Gun Club’s air conditioning for the late morning autumn heat outside. “You aren’t going to do your own thing? Didn't she ban you two munchkins?”

Dipper let out quiet snort and looked away. “Nah, Grandpa, she only banned me.”

“We’re still going,” Mabel assured him. “I’m not going to let the dresses I spent the last few days on go to waste.”

Misao nodded in agreement. “Ja, plus… there is something I want to see happen.”

“Or rather, not happen,” Mabel said with a sinister undertone, and both she and Misao giggled.

“Should I ask, or just volunteer as a chaperone and see for myself?” Shermie asked with a wry look.

Mabel made a beckoning gesture. “You should absolutely come, Sherpa!”

Misao was still giggling maliciously.

“Good luck getting in,” Dipper said, “I think even the President would need one of Brittney’s stupid bracelets to get through the doors.”

Shermie chuckled and adjusted his bowtie as they walked down the street from the Shooting Range and into the heart of Echo Creek, a modest town center with a few tall brick buildings that didn’t obscure the distant skyline of Los Angeles proper. Down the road from the Town Hall, Just two intersections away, was a line of food trucks parked around a roundabout in front of the administrative building. On the island in the center of the roundabout, where a large stone fountain stood, were smaller food stands and many people, both customers and cooks, enjoying the cuisine and culture.

“Aw come on. You don't think your Sherpa's got the moves to cut a rug on the dance floor, or finagle his way into a party?” He asked as he snapped his bowtie.

Mabel grinned once more. “You’re so cool that they’d crown you Homecoming Emperor.”

“Hail to Sherman, First Ruler of the Holy Echo Creek Empire,” Misao said in an authoritative voice.

“As my first decree, I proclaim the first song of this shindig to be… ‘Jump, Jive an' Wail’ by Louis Prima!” Shermie declared.

Dipper rolled his eyes, then got in on it, folding his arms and lifting his chin imperiously. “So let it be written, so let it be done.”

As Mabel and Misao both laughed with Shermie and Dipper, a voice called from the corner entering the circle where the Taste of Echo Creek food trucks were gathered.

“Oh. My Gosh. Mabel Pines?”

The Pines family plus guest looked ahead, to find a sharp-eyed blonde young woman with a beauty mark beneath her left eye standing nearby a busker with an electric guitar kicking off a sick riff. She stared gobsmacked at the quartet with a hand upon her cheek, like she was well and truly seeing a ghost.

Mabel lit up in recognition. “I never forget a face, especially that of a cheerleader ace! Sasha Waybright!”

Dipper quirked an eyebrow as Mabel shot ahead and met the school-uniformed teenager.

“Oh em gee!” Sasha said as Mabel came up to her. “It really is you and…” She looked up. “Dang, girl, you’re even taller than the last time I saw you.”

Mabel snickered. “What’s that?” She put a hand to her ear. “I can’t hear you from up here.”

Misao made her way over to them. “Yeah, you gotta speak up when you’re trying to call to the top of the mountain.”

Sasha turned her attention to Misao. “Whoa, I love the hair. Very Opossums.”

Misao grinned. “Thank you!”

Mabel, not being rude, quickly introduced her. “This is Sasha, she’s the Captain of St. James High School’s Cheer Squad. We met at cheer camp in Sophmore year!”

Sasha nodded. “Right, Camp Gottagrin!”

“More like Camp ‘Gonnasleep!’” Mabel gestured dismissively. “That was such a snooze fest.”

The blonde laughed. “Maybe to you.”

Shermie side-eyed his grandson. “I recall having the distinct impression your folks were less than enthused about what went on there.”

“They were,” Dipper confirmed. “An insane mutated fish man tried to turn everyone into mutants.”

Shermie nodded slowly. “Oh yeah…”

“We kicked its butt, though,” Dipper said proudly.

Shermie thrust out his upper lip and offered Dipper a fist-bump. “So do you think the fish was still kosher?”

“No he was definitely not,” his grandson replied as he returned it, and they shared a chuckle.

Mabel continued the chain of introduction. “This is Misao, she’s staying with us at my Sherpa’s. And you remember Dipper, right?”

Sasha looked at Dipper, her right eyebrow rising. “… I do…?”

Dipper regarded her staring with some confusion, as she quickly turned back to Mabel. “That’s your brother?” She asked in mild disbelief.

“Yeah, you don’t remember?” Mabel asked.

Sasha cleared her throat, and her face turned a slight pink as she whispered out the corner of her mouth. “… Shoot, that’s a glow up…”

Misao couldn’t help her smug, amused smirk. “Heh.”

Mabel glanced back at her brother, sharing Misao’s expression. “Another one.”

As Dipper rolled his eyes, Sasha smirked herself and clapped her hands together. “Say, are you guys coming out to Taste of Echo Creek for lunch? Because I’m actually here to drum up business for a friend’s cart, and I would love for you to come try it out!”

“Oh?” Misao looked around. “Which one is it?”

“It’s none of the trucks,” Sasha said as she pointed to the island in the center of the circle. “It’s a bike-drawn Thai spot.”

On the island, situated snugly between a hot dog and sausage vendor, and a Cajun/Mexican fusion grill, was a bicycle-pulled food cart with the words “THAi GO” written on its sign. Behind it, a face vaguely familiar to Mabel made eye contact with her and awkwardly waved.

“Huh, Anne’s looking great,” Mabel observed as she waved back.

“Yeah, she still hates frogs, but you know… Camp Gottagrin.”

Mabel turned to Shermie and Dipper. “How about it, guys? You wanna… spice up your life?”

Dipper rubbed his hands together. “I’m game,” he said. “Thai food is supposed to be super spicy, right?”

“Crazy spicy,” Sasha promised. “I’ve seen chili heads get knocked on their butts by this stuff.”

“That’s kind of the point,” Dipper said. “The burn is part of why it’s good.”

Sasha lifted an eyebrow. “So, what I’m taking from that is you’re a masochist.”

Dipper gave her a more direct look. “If you’re into that kinda thing.”

Mabel and Misao both watched, with no small amusement, as Sasha chewed her lower lip for a brief instant while she stared at Dipper, before she flashed him a dangerous smile. “… I might be…”

With that she walked ahead, giving Dipper a lingering glance back as she did.

Shermie once more gave Dipper the side-eye and a cheeky smile to boot. “Looks like the ol’ Pines charm hit another line drive.”

“Whatever, grandpa,” Dipper muttered back as they followed.

Sasha led them into the heart of Taste of Echo Creek and up to the Thai Go stand. Behind the countertop, Anne Boonchuy forced her best customer service smile as her best friend led the Pines family up to her, the near-afternoon sun and the hot cart she was presiding over helped conceal the nervous sweat she was working up.

“สวัสดีค่ะ, welcome to Thai Go!” She said, bringing her hands together and bowing in greeting.

“Hey, Anne!” Mabel greeted. “It’s me, Mabel, from Camp Gottagrin, remember?”

“I’d rather not,” Anne quickly replied as she gestured to the menu taped down to the top of her cart’s counter. “What can I get for you?”

Mabel looked at Sasha, who shrugged her shoulders, and decided to respect Anne’s insistence on never wanting to talk about Camp Gottagrin. “Anyway… I’ll have the Chicken Satay!”

Misao leaned against the counter to look at the menu. “Oh, the Pad Thai looks nice, I’ll try that.”

Shermie didn’t hesitate to order either. “I'll take a bowl of your finest, cheapest Basil Fried Rice.”

Anne quickly nodded. “One Chicken Satay, one Pad Thai, and one Basil Fried Rice!” She looked at Dipper. “What about you?”

Dipper rubbed his chin as he looked at the menu, then asked. “What’s the hottest thing you got?”

Anne raised an eyebrow. “You really wanna go there, big guy? Because the hottest stuff we got isn’t rated for California stomachs.”

“Like I told Sasha, I’m game,” Dipper assured her.

“Are you sure?” Anne warned. “Because you’re not the first to pull up with a swagger.”

Sasha spoke up. “You heard him, chef, make it hurt.”

Anne shrugged her shoulders. “All right, the hottest I’ve got, coming up.”

“Thank you, Dipper said, smugly.

As soon as she was paid, Anne went to work preparing the orders. While she worked quickly, almost frantically, to prep the meals, Mabel and Misao both turned to Sasha.

“So, how’ve ya been?” Mabel asked.

Sasha played it cool and casual. “Tch, you know. Practically running the school over here with Anne.” She turned to her. “Ain’t that right, girl?”

“Oh yeah, Sasha’s got SJHS in the palm of her hand,” she said without looking up from the wok she rapidly stirred up to fry the rice in. “… She’s not the head cheerleader anymore, though.”

Sasha went rigid and glared at Anne. “Hey.”

“What happened?” Mabel asked, both out of genuine concern, and gossip interest.

“It’s so stupid,” Sasha recovered. “You wouldn’t even believe it.”

“You’d be surprised the level of stupid we’ve come to find believable,” Misao said with the slightest edge in her voice.

Anne glanced up from her frying rice at Sasha, who narrowed her eyes at her, and went for it. “Sashagotarrested.”

Sasha now fully whirled on her, furious. “ANNE!”

Mabel gasped out loud, looking upon Sasha with awe and excitement. “FOR WHAT?!”

“Freaking… ugh,” Sasha said while not trying to grind her teeth. “I walked out on a check because the food was bad, and I got caught. The manager made a big stink about it to some cops, and they arrested me.”

She folded her arms and rolled her eyes. “I spent the weekend in jail and the school kicked me off the Cheer squad. It’s only because my parents actually got together to talk it out with the principal that I didn’t get expelled.”

“And it was the first offense,” Anne added.

“… First offense I got caught…” Sasha muttered before speaking to the group. “But yeah, I got arrested, told you it was pretty dumb.”

Shermie glanced aside at Dipper, smirking. “Look at that, another thing she's got in common with you, Boychik.”

“Grandpa…” Dipper grumbled back at him.

Sasha looked between the Pines. “Hold up, really?”

Mabel nodded. “Yeah, Dipper and I went to jail too, so we know how lame that is.”

Sasha raised an eyebrow and looked Mabel over. “… What did you do? Didn’t the Coast Guard just give you a citation for that stunt with the rowing team?”

“Wish they’d given me a cetacean,” Mabel said with a melodramatic sulk, and both Anne and Misao giggled at her pun.

“It was counterfeiting, actually,” Dipper said nonchalantly.

Sasha lit up. “Oh shoot, a cool crime?”

He nodded. “Our Great Uncle thought making bogus cash was a great way to ‘bond.’”

Mabel stopped sulking. “It was a great way to make bond, am I right?”

“Yeah…” Dipper was glad that they saved the town and possibly the universe to get all their crimes committed with Grunkle Stan wiped from the record before anyone figured out their bail money was all counterfeit, too.

Sasha stared at both twins, then looked over at Shermie for some kind of confirmation that she wasn’t being messed with.

“No, they ain’t foolin’,” Shermie said as he pushed his glasses up to rub at his nose. “I owe Stanley a knuckle sandwich for that next time I see him.”

“And that’s just the first course,” Mabel promised Sasha.

Sasha stared at them both, blinking slowly, before she turned to Anne. “Hey, Boonchuy, how’s that food comin’?”

“Getting it packed up now,” Anne said a bit too wryly for Sasha’s taste.

She glared at her friend, who met it with a mirthful glint that quickly disappeared when Sasha sharpened her look and rushed back to finishing the dishes. “Okay! Chicken Satay, Pad Thai, Green Chili Curry, and Basil Fried Rice!” Anne said as she stacked the goods on the countertop. “Thank you for ordering and… Thai Go… have a nice day…?”

Mabel clapped her hands together when she heard the awkward and clunky word play. “I love that so much, I want to marry whoever thought of it.”

Anne, no longer dying of cringe, answered with a more genuine smile. “So you like that corny stuff, huh?”

Mabel grinned back. “Baby, the cornier the sweeter.”

The two girls in that moment realized what the other was about to say. In unison they snapped their fingers and pointed at each other.

“Like High Fructose Corn Syrup!”

Sasha laughed. “Man, you guys are absolute gold.”

Misao agreed. “They’re great, aren’t they?”

Looking down at the small exchange student, Sasha nodded. “So, how’d you get wrapped up with them?”

“The story is so long,” Misao assured her.

“You got a story too? I should tell you the deets about how I met ‘em,” Sasha replied.

Anne whipped her head to look at Sasha. “… No you should not.”

Shermie, already opening up his container of rice, turned to Dipper after seeing Anne’s vehement reaction. “Feel like filling your ol’ Grandpa in on the details of that camping trip, kiddo?”

Dipper opened his own container, and was immediately hit with the strong, spicy aroma. “After I’m done eating.”

Anne was enthusiastic to avoid the subject of Camp Gottagrin. “So… just as a heads up, this is gonna change your life. If you wanna trade it for something not rated for undersea welding, there’s no shame.”

Shooting her a look, he smirked and deeply inhaled the strong, intense aroma of the curry. Already his eyes were watering, something everyone else could clearly see. “Smells good.”

“… Can you handle this?” Misao asked, with growing concern.

Mabel chimed in as well. “Yeah, bro-bro, this doesn’t seem like the usual heat.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ve handled Soos’ Grandma’s birria stew and Nano’s Nashville Hot Chicken, I got this,” Dipper assured her as he scooped up a spoonful of curry and took a bite.

Mason “Dipper” Pines had a lot of things. An encyclopedic knowledge of cryptids, a 3-0 record against an extradimensional dream demon bent on universal destruction, a really cool lumberjack hat…

This curry?

Was not one of them.

Calmly, even as his face was turning a dark shade of red and tears poured down his cheeks, Dipper handed his bowl of curry to Mabel. Taking off his lumberjack hat, he placed it upon Misao’s head.

“Are you okay?” Mabel asked.

Dipper’s answer, an emphatic no, came in the form of him breaking into a mad dash–screaming–towards the island’s fountain and lunging headfirst into its shallow waters. He landed with a dramatic splash, and lay face down in the water, bubbles roiling around his head.

Other customers at other stands, and the cooks working them, had all stopped to gawk at Dipper when he ran by screaming. Hearing his cry and seeing where he’d come running from, it didn’t take much to connect what happened. As Dipper rose to his knees and splashed water into his mouth and tried to wipe his tongue, the onlookers broke into laughter, pointing and jeering at his misfortune.

“WHY IS WATER NOT WORKING?!” He hollered.

Anne sighed. “Because you don’t use water to put out a chili fire.”

Sasha was stunned. “… Okay, wow… that’s the worst one yet.”

“Yet?” Misao asked.

Anne nodded in confirmation. “Can you believe this stuff is my top selling product? Dipper’s the fifth guy to melt down like this.”

Mabel had taken a bite out of Dipper’s curry, overcome by curiosity. “I dunno why, it’s not that hot.”

Shermie, blinking in surprise, took the spoon from Mabel and tried it himself. “A lil’ too salty for an altacocker like me, but otherwise it’s pretty good. I’ve had worse heat stationed in the Sinai.”

“May I try?” Misao asked, and Shermie handed her the bowl for her to sample. “Ja, it’s spicy but it’s not that bad.”

Gasping for breath, his mouth hanging open, Dipper looked at the others with the most pathetic indignation. “You guys… suck… oh god it’s still burning…”

As Mabel went to go help her brother out of the fountain, Shermie turned to the Thai Go stand. “Oi gevalt, Annie, you got any milk in that booth?”

“No, but the ice cream vendor a couple of stalls down is offering half off to anyone who tries the curry,” Anne helpfully suggested as she gestured to her left and over at an ice cream cart set up with a considerable crowd around it.”

“Thank you,” he replied as Mabel brought a now whimpering Dipper over.

As the Pines party headed for the ice cream stand, Sasha moseyed over to Anne’s side. “Well, that was easier than I thought.” She then turned and glared at her. “And what the hell, Boonchuy, blowing up my spot like that?”

Anne pouted. “Hey, fair’s fair! I have to come out here every other week now because of this stupid plan. My parents were ‘so excited that I wanted to run a food cart.’”

Sasha’s glare intensified. “Stop acting like you’re not getting anything out of this. Besides, having a little extra pocket change will be nice when we’re done here.”

She turned her head and looked across the island, at a barbecue stand and a Chinese street food cart. Crouched down between the two stands, going completely unnoticed by everyone around her, was Marcy Wu reviewing the playback of a camcorder she held. Smiling in satisfaction, she gave a thumbs up as she looked from her camera to her two best friends.

Sasha’s smile returned, as she turned to Anne. “And it looks like we have exactly what we need to get paid.”

= - = 52 = - =

Whose side are they on...?
 
Girls' Day Over

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
= - = 53 = - =

|Girls’ Day Over|

Yesterday

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Marco r u okay?|

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Marco r|

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Hey dude, they let out school early. U ok?|

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Plz msg me, we need 2 talk. Its not bad or anything, Im super freaked ou|

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Jackie Lynn Thomas stared at her phone screen, and the blank text box of her messaging app. She took a deeper breath than usual as she lowered her phone and leaned back against Otis the Opossum, where she’d been since the fight ended. When Dipper, Mabel, Star, and Marco left for the river, the action left with them.

After the commotion died down not long after that, classes were ended and everyone else went home. Brittney was the last to leave, screaming into her phone to the city about getting a crew out to repair the street pitted and cratered by the battle, but eventually she whipped her hair angrily and marched into her family’s waiting car. Only Jackie remained after that, waiting for any sign of them–the anxiety of not knowing starting to consume her from the inside out.

Abandoning the message for the phone icon to call Marco directly, Jackie hesitated on pressing the button, as the worry that it’d go straight to voicemail flashed through her. Before she could throw caution to the wind, however, Heather’s car pulled up to the curb–narrowly avoiding the barricades surrounding the holes in the street–and Janna nonchalantly climbed out of the passenger side.

“I told you he’d be fine. Shoot him a text when you get the chance,” she said into the car.

It was a sight unexpected to Jackie, but also not surprising. She knew Heather’s folks were strict about how she used her vehicle–but was intimately familiar with Janna’s unrivaled ability to go wherever she wanted and turn up in unexpected company. Today was turning out to be all sorts of unprecedented.

“Thanks,” Heather replied before she turned and saw Jackie. “Hey, Jackie!”

Jackie walked over, as Janna rounded the car to the curb. “Hey, are you okay?”

Heather nodded. “I’m good. I mean, today’s been a wild ride. I still can’t believe what happened and I was there.” She smiled big. “Anyway, I gotta get home or I might get eaten alive; see you Monday!”

With farewells from Jackie and Janna she pulled off and drove away. The former turned to her best friend as Heather left. “So, is everyone okay?”

Janna began texting. “Oh, yeah everybody’s in one piece, including Marco.”

Relief felt like a swell building into a wave and crashing down on Jackie; with speed unbecoming of her, she hugged Janna hard. The normally chill girl’s impact and the tightness of the embrace actually took her morbid friend by surprise, as she relinquished one hand to hug Jackie back.

Jackie rested her forehead against the side of Janna’s. “What’s the deal with these monsters? I’m pretty sure that Typhus attacked the school.”

Janna quirked her lip at the prospect of explaining it. “… It’s a long story.”

“Is it something Star did?” Jackie’s question was not an unreasonable one. Star was, after all, a magical princess from another dimension.

Janna pocketed her phone. “It’s not Star this time. The teal deer version is that a magical wish to become the Big Bad Beetleborgs was granted–and you can’t have superheroes without bad guys.”

That made Jackie’s eyes widen a little. “So that was actually Typhus? From the comics?”

She wasn’t an avid reader of the Beetleborgs, but she knew enough about the Magnavores…

“It’s way more complicated and eldritch than that,” Janna assured her. “No, they can’t take the wish back, but at least the Genie’s straight out of Aladdin and it’s not a Wishmaster situation.”

Jackie sighed in relief. “Dude, I thought I had enough questions today, now I have even more.”

Janna let out a tiny “Heh” at that before responding. “Marco probably won’t mind answering them, but the rabbit hole goes deep, and there’s no backing out once you crawl in.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure I know who the Beetleborgs are… so…” Jackie trailed off.

Janna glanced over at her, with a wry smirk. “Oh Thomas, are you inferring extortion?”

Letting out a snort and a laugh, Jackie kissed Janna on the cheek and let her go. “No way, I’d never narc. Not with all the stuff you know I’ve done.” She softened into her cool smile. “But you know, I wanna see how deep ‘the rabbit hole’ goes.”

Eyeing Jackie, Janna’s smirk sharpened as she read her friend like a book. There were ulterior motives beyond a sudden desire for details. Looping her arm around Jackie, Janna pulled her close as they began walking. “All right, how about this? Tomorrow, meet me over at Marco’s, and we’ll get you caught up.”

A small rush flashed through Jackie that she was pretty sure Janna could feel, as she nodded, and her smile became a little impish.

The Present

With everything going on the last few weeks, Marco didn’t have the free time he used to, but now classes were out, his Mom was teaching at community college, his Dad was out gathering materials for his next art commission, and Star was at St. Olga’s hanging out with Pony Head at her best friend’s insistence for cheering up after what happened with Brittney. For the first time in weeks, Marco had some solitude, and he was going to milk it for all it was worth.

“AP Calculus in my pajamas and the whole house to myself for the next few hours, today can’t get better than this,” he said to himself as he operated his way through the fifteenth question of his homework. He was in his room, sitting at his desk, surrounded by the pack of laser-firing puppies Star conjured her first day there, completing the extra-credit schoolwork he did to maintain his high grade average.

He was also styled up through Radiant Shadow Transform into Princess Marco, because he wanted to look as good as he felt on his day off.

“… Well it could,” he amended again to one of the Laser Puppies relaxing on his lap. The tiny, pug-like puppy looked up at him with its wall-eyed expression of canine curiosity–or just a general sense of being happy to be anywhere, laser puppies were hard to tell with that. “If I had some grilled cheese.”

That got the whole pack excited, and soon Marco was dodging harmless laser bolts as he was followed by the puppy pack downstairs to the kitchen. “Okay guys, chill, I’ll get you some cheese, but no lasers!” He called out to them as he opened and used his refrigerator door as a shield from their assault.

The puppies seemed to understand, and the bolts stopped long enough for Marco to grab some cheese and mayo out the fridge to apply to his sandwiches. As the puppies sniffed around and he got the griddle out, his phone began to sing.

Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the–!

The song cut out as he answered his phone without looking at it. “Hey Star.”

“Hey Marco~!” Star sang back, just audible over the loud music and cacophony of Princesses on the other end of the line. “Pony Head has a message for you~!”

Marco lifted his right eyebrow as he smeared mayo over his bread “Does she now?”

“Hey Princess ‘Turdina~!’” Princess Lilacia Pony Head’s unmistakable accented voice speared through his ear. “Are you seriously gonna just hang out on your boring old world doing homework? St. O’s is right here!”

Rolling his eyes, Marco turned on the stove and dropped the slice of bread mayo down on the griddle. “Here on Earth I’m not actually a Princess, so I have to think about my grades so I can get into a good college.”

“BO-RING!” Pony Head said. “College is for nerds! Come on, you MADE St. O’s into what it is, well you helped ME make it into what it is, but you know. You deserve some credit to so why you not coming to par-tayyyy?”

“Maybe later, Pony,” Marco said as he dropped a slipped a few slices of different cheese onto the bread and topped it. A good cheese sandwich needed different cheeses for best effect after all.

“Whatever, anyway! I just wanted to say… CONGRATULATIONS for hooking up with B-Fly and becoming her BF, and if you do anything to hurt her, I will come into your room while you’re asleep and stab you sixty times with my horn, okay?”

Pony Head’s flippant as usual tone made it hard for him to tell if she was being dead serious. Even after he had experienced her actual dark side before. “Oh, and now that you’re her boyfriend, I’M her bestie now–not YOU.”

“That’s fine, boyfriends get special privileges besties don’t, anyway,” Marco snarked back.

Pony Head let out an audible gasp, and then called out to Star. “B-FLY OH NO YOU DIDN’T!”

“Didn’t what?!”
He heard Star gasp back.

“You are gonna tell me EVERYTHING, okay?” She ordered, before a voice he recognized as Princess Arms called out.

“Hey, Princess Morty’s Grandma just showed up with a hundred kilos of Kalaxian Crystal, who wants to get MESSED UP?!”

“OOOOH I DO!”
She turned her attention back to Marco. “If you change your mind, you can come here anytime, the party don’t stop! Now I gotta ask your girlfriend like a million questions about how nasty you are, BYE~!”

“Bye Pony,” Marco replied before the call ended. Looking at his grilling sandwich, he quickly turned it over and patted it down to let it cook.

Sure it wasn’t a no-holds barred princess party in another dimension, but AP Calculus and an overflowing grilled cheese sandwich was Marco’s idea of a good time after a week of dealing with everyone’s crap from the Magnavores to Brittney Wong. He didn’t want to get messed up, he just wanted to relax.

“Well, now that we have our cheese sandwich,” he said as he tossed a few slices of cheese to the laser puppies for them to tear apart, “Today really can’t get better.”

The doorbell rang, and Marco looked towards it, he was not expecting visitors… or really anyone to be back home until after sundown. Turning his sandwich over and lowering the heat to make sure it didn’t burn; he went to the front door and opened it. “… Can I help…”

And there was Jackie Lynn Thomas standing on his front steps, holding her longboard behind her back and smiling at him. “Hey Marco,” she greeted, before looking at his absurdly long and full hair. “Wow… love the look.”

Marco gawked at her. “J-Jackie…? What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to come over and hang out,” she replied. “Didn’t Janna tell you we were coming by?”

Marco looked at his phone. “Janna? She didn’t message–”

“Whoops, my bad,” Janna’s voice from directly behind him made Marco nearly jump out of his pajamas.

“GAH!” He whirled around and faced Janna… who was eating half of the grilled cheese sandwich he had been cooking. “JANNA! How did you–?!”

“Copy of your house keys,” she replied before she reached up with her free hand and ran her fingers through his hair. “Petition for you to rock the Princess look more? I wanna braid this.”

Marco batted Janna’s hand away and glowered indignantly at her. “That’s my lunch.”

“And those are some thin PJs to be wearing around the girl you’ve been sweet on since kindergarten,” Janna pointed out in turn.

Marco jumped back past Janna and bolted up the stairs, his face a brilliant red. “YOU’RE MAKING ME ANOTHER SANDWICH, JANNA!”

Jackie put a hand to her mouth to suppress her giggle. “They weren’t that thin.”

Janna smirked. “And you know because you looked. Come on in and have a seat, I got some cooking to do.”

Upstairs, Marco slipped on some skinny jeans and a hoodie, and walked down the stairs while grumbling. “Showing up and not even warning me, and inviting Jackie over without even asking…”

He stopped and looked down from the steps to see Jackie sitting on his couch, eating the other half of the sandwich Janna had appropriated. With her eyes closed and humming in contentment as she enjoyed the multitude of flavors and textures, she didn’t notice his descent.

The girl I’ve been crazy for since kindergarten is in my house, eating my food, and loving it. He thought as he watched her.

A more pertinent thought followed that.

And this happens less than a week after I start dating another girl.

He walked down to the bottom of the steps, and Jackie finally noticed him. “Hey dude, this grilled cheese is amazing. What do you do?”

Marco reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well… it’s nothing special… I just spread mayo on the bread and fry it in a cold pan instead of using butter… and I use four cheeses.”

“No wonder it was so decadent, Diaz,” Janna teased from the kitchen. “Now that I know your secret, I’ll surpass you.”

Marco shot her a glare. “It’d better be the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.”

Jackie held up half of the sandwich. “I tore off this part, want it?”

Of course he didn’t hesitate to take her up on it and popped the whole piece into his mouth. Good, now he had a baseline to go by. “So, why did you come over. I didn’t even think you knew where I lived.”

He took a seat on the couch next to Jackie, who savored her half for a few moments before she answered. “I wanted to know what was up with the Magnavores, and stuff.”

Marco paused, surprised she wanted to know about that. “It’s… nothing you should be really worried about–”

“I know who the Beetleborgs are, dude,” Jackie revealed. Before Marco could say a word, she elaborated. “Drew and Jo McCormick, and Roland Williams… right?”

His mouth dropped open. “… How did you…?”

“I saw Mabel’s phone during the fight,” she revealed. “I’m not going to tell anyone, I’m not a narc.”

“It’s true, Jackie smokes weed during the weekends, by the way,” Janna called out.

Marco kept gaping at her. “… For real…?”

Jackie smiled at his reaction. “I do it to relax.”

He looked away, his naïve worldview shaken even as a more realistic side of him pointed out that a skateboarder as laid-back and carefree as Jackie Lynn Thomas could NOT not have partaken at least once in her life.

“I don’t judge,” he assured her. “My parents smoke too, so it’s not weird.”

“Cool,” Jackie said, “So what’s going on? Is this like end of the world stuff, or what?”

Marco turned his head to look back. “As long as we keep beating the crud out of them, everyone’s going to be okay.”

Her sandwich done, Jackie sat back into the couch and nodded. “What happens when you guys win, do you send them back into the comic book or something like that?”

He shook his head. “No, all the monsters we’ve fought we’ve had to… destroy.”

He could still feel the fake Jeremy’s chin under his foot as his neck broke in three places.

“Aside from the Scabs, did you destroy any?” She asked.

“… No.”

It was never going to stop being a good feeling.

“So it’s a battle to the death, huh? Them or the entire world?” She asked.

Marco nodded, trying not to be grim about it. “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, right?”

Jackie nodded in agreement, and a silence fell between them for all of a moment, before she broke it. “… Well, what can I do to help?”

He didn’t expect that, or for how much she inferred with her offer of assistance. “… Wait, you want to help? Like help fight, and not… support and cover for us?”

“I can back you guys up and distract people, sure…” Jackie said. “But I’d really like to help you fight monsters if I can.”

Marco couldn’t think of any other way to put it without sounding disrespectful or condescending, so he just went straight in. “… Can you fight?”

Jackie flushed a little bit, like she was embarrassed to admit it. “I’ve done a little Taekwondo and capoeira for working on movement, but I’m not like… a master at it. I can also throw like a spear really far.”

“… A spear?”

“You know, like spear fishing? It’s a long story.” Jackie laughed a little nervously, hoping he did not pry into the whole spear thing.

Marco wasn’t even paying attention. All he was hearing was that the girl he had a huge crush on had an interest in martial arts too–and he never even knew. “… Huh… wow…”

“What?” She asked.

His hand to the back of his neck again, he rubbed it. “… Nothing, I just learned two whole things about you and I’m trying to deal with that.”

Jackie’s smile grew a little. “Would you like to know more?”

Marco lifted his eyebrow at the way she said that specifically. “You’ve seen Starship Troopers?”

“I love Starship Troopers,” Jackie answered.

“Huh, that’s three things,” he mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.

“We should hang out more, dude.”

It was his time to chuckle nervously. “Y-yeah, we should…”

This is someone’s idea of a joke, isn’t it? Jackie and I just hanging out, like I always wanted… AFTER I start dating Star! Come on, what is this?! His mind howled.

His complaints weren’t a regret, he loved Star and not even Jackie being right next to him on his couch could change that, but the absurdity of it could not go unaddressed. He let out a little laugh and shook his head.

“You know, it’s kind of funny how we’ve known each other since we were really little, and this is like the first time I’ve said more than hello,” he said.

Jackie gave him a look. “Well, there was the time you broke my skateboard–” At the way he cringed, she laughed and began kicking her feet. “But for real, I always wanted to sit down and chat, but like… I don’t know anything about you except for school stuff, dude.”

He once more stared at her in disbelief. “… You don’t? But I’m the safe kid, the straight A student who wants to be a bad boy.”

“Yeah, but everyone just thought you were… you know… just trying too hard because you were the safe kid. Except you’re like, actually a badass karate master who fights monsters with a literal Magical Girl… and now the Big Bad Beetleborgs.”

Marco looked completely stricken. “… I was… trying too hard…?”

Jackie laughed. “Yeah dude, you kinda were, but now you’re the coolest guy at school–at least in my opinion.”

And now he’d rubber-banded to shocked disbelief. “… The… coolest…?”

Janna walked in from the kitchen, carrying a plate in one hand while holding a paper towel over it. “Hey Thomas, don’t feed Marco too much, now. He hasn’t had lunch, yet.”

It was Jackie’s turn to pull back, an embarrassed flush coloring her face as she looked away, looking like she was trying to play it cool after being caught sneaking her hand into the cookie jar. Once more, Marco was kind of dumbfounded that he’d never seen her like this. Janna setting the plate down on the coffee table in front of him drew his attention to her. When she pulled the paper towel away, he was presented with a grilled cheese sandwich with a perfectly melted layer of cheese nicely browned over top it, creating quite possibly the cheesiest substance Marco’d ever seen.

“… Wait,” Marco said as he picked it up. “You made this?”

“I did your thing, but then I also made a quick cheese sauce, poured it over the top, and took a blowtorch to it,” Janna explained. “Also, I think it’s really cool that your kitchen has a blowtorch for exactly this.”

“Yeah, Mom doesn’t let me use it.” Marco took a bite of the sandwich and went still.

Jackie looked from him to Janna, and her now insufferable smirk. Marco looked from his sandwich up to her, and glared.

“You’re welcome,” Janna merely replied, and Marco tore into the sandwich with a vengeance.

As he ate, she turned around and sat next to him on the couch, and immediately positioned herself to take as much space as possible and squeeze him between her and Jackie. Pulling out her phone, she began texting. “So…”

Marco was caught between a flavor-induced haze and every conscious thought being directed towards him being hip to hip with both Jackie and Janna. Once more he wondered why this was happening after he began dating Star and drew closer to the conclusion that there was some higher power doing it for their own amusement at his expense.

“So what?” He asked.

“Are we gonna let Jackie in on the gig, or what?” Janna asked.

He gave her an exceedingly dry look; one she was actually a little proud of him for mustering. “I don’t see what’s wrong with it.” He turned to Jackie. “But I wanna see how good you are before we go pitching the idea to the others.”

Jackie nodded, happy to comply with that. “So, what, are we gonna spar or something?”

“Yeah, after I finish this sandwich,” Marco said. “I’m really going to need to burn it off.”

Jackie pumped her fists. “Yes!” She turned and hugged him. “Thank you, Marco!”

Frozen in her embrace, Marco wondered if whatever deity behind this turn of fortune was going to be extra spiteful, and have Star return from St. O’s at this exact moment just to mess with him. To the demiurge’s credit that didn’t happen, and Marco relaxed, returning her hug before pulling back.

“… Jackie…” He began.

Still holding onto his upper arms, Jackie looked into his eyes. “… Marco?”

Janna turned her head and brought her lips up to Marco’s ear to whisper against it. “Janna…”

Marco visibly flinched and turned to her. “Janna?!”

She nodded in confirmation. “Janna.”

Jackie burst into laughter.

“Why are you like this?” Marco asked as Jackie clutched her sides to keep them from escaping orbit.

“Would you believe that it’s because I have a crush on you?” She asked.

Marco didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely not.”

Janna shrugged her shoulders. “Fair enough, what would be the odds that two girls who are best friends like the same guy and are entirely fine with sharing him?”

He did not see Jackie shoot a hand up to her mouth to violently stifle her laughter to stare in wide-eyed horror at Janna.

Marco was even quicker than that. “My life is already deep in the realm of impossibility, don’t go gassing me up with pure fantasy.”

Janna hit him with another curt nod. “That is the correct answer.”

Chuckling as she lowered her hand from her mouth, Jackie stood up and brushed the crumbs from her shirt as she turned to the two of them. “So… are we gonna go and spar, or what?”

Marco got up, feeling as many parts relieved as he was annoyed by Janna’s antics. “Yeah, let me change into my gi and do something about my hair.”

“Okay,” Jackie said cheerfully and waved Marco off as he went up the stairs. As soon as she heard the door close, however, she turned on Janna with a less amused expression. “So… what was that all about?”

Janna looked up from her phone. “Checking something.”

Jackie’s tone lowered. “Checking what, if you’ve teased him enough to not believe anything you say?”

“You and I and Marco have known each other a long time, but because of your awful personality traits, you have never talked to each other until this year. Ten years, Thomas, without a meaningful thing to say to him until he spoke to you.” Janna rose and got up in Jackie’s face, making her recoil a bit. “I know everything about Marco, right down to his social security number and biometrics, and one of the other things I know is how much he was into you.”

She rolled her eyes. “So much so that he didn’t notice anyone else but you on that pedestal.”

Jackie frowned a little. “… What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I expected a very different reaction to my inference that you and I were a BOGO deal. Marco’s not dumb, he’s just over you.”

Jackie stared at Janna, uncomprehending for a moment, before something clicked in her head. “Oh shoot, you think he and Star are…?”

“I have my suspicions,” Janna replied. “Well, had. I’m thinking he’s got it bad for Star, now.”

Her shoulders slumped; Jackie grew despondent. Not intensely so, but she was down. “… Well, shit, why wouldn’t he? Star’s amazing.”

“Still wanna do this?” Janna asked.

The very question offended her. “Dude, I’m not gonna change my mind on saving the world over a boy.”

Janna reached up and caressed Jackie’s face. “Good answer. Now don’t go all emo on me and turn that streak black. You said so yourself, ‘Star’s amazing,’ and you have plenty of time to get to know her better–and Marco, too.”

Leaning her cheek into Janna’s palm, Jackie’s eyes lit with mischief and quick as lightning she snatched the other girl’s hat off her head.

“Huh? Hey!” Janna protested before Jackie swiftly dipped back from her and put the table between them. With a triumphant smirk, Jackie put the beanie on, and used it to hold her hair away from her face.

“… You have plenty of time to work on yourself too, girl. Maybe learn to not be the pussy you are behind your snark and indifference… and not cockblock your friends.”

Janna narrowed her eyes at Jackie as her grin grew. “Yeah, whatever, just gimme my hat back or I’m taking you on a tour to a cannery.”

“You can have it back…” Jackie’s grin became fully radiant with malice. “… If you can take it!” Jackie bolted to the kitchen and out the back door.

“Oh fuck you, get back here, Thomas!” Janna shouted as she bolted after her.

By the time he came back downstairs in his karate gi, to take Janna up on her hair-braiding desires, he found her circling around his father’s shed like a particularly angry and verticality-challenged dog, and Jackie–wearing Janna’s hat–perched up on the roof pointing down at her and laughing. It was once more something he’d never seen with Jackie, with the added bonus of Janna being on the backfoot against someone for once.

Honestly, today’s been better than AP Calculus, he admitted to himself as he smiled and walked over to join the two.

= - = 53 = - =

Well, at least Marco's having a better day.
 
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Self-Medication

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
Let's take a quick look at some others.

Content Warning: Drug and Alcohol Use

= - = 54 = - =

|Self-Medication|

Josephine McCormick sat on the floor in front of her brother’s bedroom door, idly fanning herself with her baseball cap as she listened to the sound of wooden cabinets closing and plastic bags rustling. Normally with a day off from school in front of her, she’d have been at Zoom hours ago, but she wasn’t in a very sociable mood. In fact, her attitude could be compared favorably to that of a wolverine out to make its existence everyone else’s problem. Her normal inward and outward loathing notwithstanding, the current target of her ire was the source of the mild racket going on downstairs, that began to make its way up after a few more moments of tooling around.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Mr. McCormick turned and gave a start at his daughter sitting against his son’s door, staring at him with an unreadable expression. He carried in his hand a large plastic bin, which itself was filled with plastic bags and cleaning supplies.

He answered her look with a wholly dispassionate one of his own, as he addressed her. “What are you doing, Josephine?”

Jo rested her head against the door and shrugged her shoulders. “I’m just occupying this moment of time and space for no particular reason. What are you doing, Dad?”

“Your brother did not come home last night, even though he knows he’s grounded.”

That certainly did not answer her question. “… And?”

“And I’m cleaning out the junk in his room.”

There it was. Jo sighed. “Yeah, didn’t I say something about Drew not having his phone and having no way to contact us if anything happened to him?”

“If there was a problem, he’d find a way to call us,” he answered.

Jo rested her hand on her cheek. “And what if he couldn’t…?”

Her father let out a sigh of mild exasperation. “Jo, go to your room, we’ll discuss Drew’s whereabouts after I’m done cleaning his.”

Jo shook her head. “Nah.”

Mr. McCormick stopped. “… Pardon me?”

She looked down at her crossed legs. “Just nah, I don’t feel like getting up.”

Mr. McCormick reached up and adjusted his glasses with two fingers. “… Jo, move.”

She looked up at him and spoke with a firm and pointed tone. “No, you move.”

Her father frowned at her defiance. “I will move you.”

Jo held out her hands, smiling. “Cool, you’ve never picked me up before, Dad.”

Setting down the plastic bin, Mr. McCormick reached out to hoist Jo up off her butt and move her aside… when the bedroom door opened, and Drew stuck his bandaged face out to look at his sister and father. Drew opening the door clearly took his Dad by surprise, as he stood back quickly.

“… Can you guys keep it down? I’m trying to sleep,” he said, like his physical condition wasn’t a big deal.

As Drew opened the door wider, revealing the bandages on his arms, going all the way up under his t-shirt, his father gawked at him in confusion. “When did you get home?”

“Like at around ten?” He replied, before adding. “I’m fine, by the way.”

Mr. McCormick narrowed his eyes at his son. “I was up until eleven waiting for you, how’d you sneak in?”

Drew scratched his cheek as he recalled about how Star was kind enough to let him use her Dimensional Scissors to get back into his room without anyone being the wiser. “Magic.”

His father’s eyes widened, an intense rush of anger filling him that both he and Jo could see before he tamped it down and brought his hand up to adjust his glasses again. “Are you going to play games with me, Andrew?”

Though the corners of his lips twitched slightly upward, Drew remained impassive. “Are you going to ask why I’m covered in bandages?”

Now his father was glaring at him.

“No? Then I think we’re done here. I need to sleep this off.” He gestured to himself, before shutting the door. The audible click of a lock engaging surprised his father, who stepped up and turned the doorknob–only to find it unmoving.

“What’s this?” He asked firmly through the door. “When did you install this?”

“More magic, Dad,” Drew called back. “Now can you leave me alone?”

Jo, her hand firmly over her mouth, silently thanked Drew for turning her mood a complete one-hundred eighty. She scooted aside, as her Dad firmly knocked.

“Andrew McCormick, this is my house, and that’s my door. I did not give you permission to install a lock on it,” he said with a mustered authority that matched how hard he struck the door.

On his side of the door, Drew expressed his thanks to Star again for using her magic to conjure up a lock and reinforcing his door. Though she may have overdone it, not being able to use her wand and all, he had nothing but praise for the result.

His father struck it a final time, much harder than the other knocks, and took a deep, calming breath. “… I will take this door off the hinges.”

“I thought this was your house and your door. Don’t you remember? The hinges are on my side.” Drew pointed out.

Mr. McCormick looked and saw that the hinges he would take the door off from were indeed on Drew’s side of the door. Jo sounded like she was dry heaving from how hard she suppressed her laughter. Taking a deep breath, he picked up his cleaning supplies. “You want to sleep, you can sleep. But we are discussing your attitude Monday, which is the next time I want to see you out of that room.”

“Does that include bathroom privileges, or do I have to use a bucket?” Drew called back.

Mr. McCormick marched off downstairs. “I’m sure you can ‘magic up’ something.”

Soon as he was out of sight, Jo went back to Drew’s door, and he opened it for her without hesitation. Slipping inside, she let him close it with his telekinesis and burst into giggles. “… What the hell, man? What was that?”

Drew, lying on his bed, rubbed his face. “After fighting Saberizer and Jara, standing up to Dad’s crap is a lot easier.”

“How did you sneak back in?” Jo asked.

“I called Star and she set me up with the Scissors. Also did some magic with the door.”

Jo had hoped it was him using his telekinesis or something. “… Oh. Well, at least you have a way in and out of the house if you’re still going to that stupid dance.”

Drew nodded in agreement. “I am, Roland thought of something even better than the prank he had in mind.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I hope it ruins Brittney’s entire night.”

“Oh, it will,” Drew promised her.

At that moment, very loud music began to play from the McCormick’s home entertainment center in the living room downstairs. Both Drew and Jo stared down at the floor as The Eagles “Take It Easy” floated through the walls at a volume clearly intended to impede any kind of sleep.

Drew and Jo rolled their eyes in unison, before he pulled out a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

“Man, he is gonna be all day with it,” Jo lamented.

Drew laid back in his bed. “I hate the fucking Eagles, man.”

“You should tell him.”

It was tempting, but… “Nah, I’ve gone this long without an actual fight breaking out.”

Jo nodded. “… Wanna sneak out and go to Zoom, anyway?”

“Nah, I seriously gotta sleep this off. Since, you know, seeing a doctor would raise questions.”

Crossing her arms, Jo weighed on that. “You know, we should get a doctor on our side. Someone who can work on us and not ask questions if we get hurt.”

“There’s Flabber, he assisted a Doctor,” Drew suggested.

“A mad scientist quack doctor who kept monsters in his house. No, we need a real doctor.”

Drew huffed in amusement. “We’re still looking at back-alley surgeon at best if you want someone who’s ethics put them at treating kids who get bashed up without informing parents, or authorities.”

Jo’s shoulders dropped at the validity of her brother’s point. “Well, crap.”

“You’re smart, you’ll figure something out,” Drew assured her. “As long as it’s not you trying to be a back-alley surgeon.”

Jo tilted her nose up. “How do you know I won’t be amazing at it?”

“I’m not willing to loan my body to science,” Drew snapped back.

Letting out a laugh, Jo turned to the door. “I’m still going out, you want anything?”

“A Mexican Cheeseburger from Britta’s, and more bandages, thank you,” Drew said before he affixed his noise cancelers and laid back.

Watching him get comfy, Jo let out a small sigh and left his room to escape the house and The Very Best of The Eagles. Jogging down the stairs to the garage, she cast her father the barest look. He sat on his chair, a tablet in his hands, ignoring her presence entirely to stare in the direction of Drew’s room while the music blared from the speakers of the Home Entertainment Center.

Shaking her head ruefully, Jo left the house for some peace and quiet elsewhere.

His father’s efforts were for naught, as Drew settled in to go back to sleep–barely inconvenienced by the racket downstairs. What did prevent him from closing his eyes to drift away, was the jolt of his phone buzzing from under his pillow. With his telekinesis, he slipped the phone from beneath him and hovered it above his face.

Janna Banana said:
*Slides in 2 ur DMs* Sup Sad Kid, how’s the phone? 😏

Rolling his eyes, he wrote back.

Dr00 said:
Im managing, and the phone is great. What do u want?

Janna Banana said:
Just making sure ur still alive, buddy. Also wanted to show u something cool.

Dr00 said:
It better not be nething weird.

Janna Banana said:
If you wanna see something weird I can come over later but you may regret it 😉

Dr00 said:
🙄

Janna Banana said:
But seriously I’m watching the audition of the newest member of the DK Crew right this second.

Drew lifted an eyebrow, wondering what the heck she meant by that. He got his answer when the request for a video call suddenly popped up, again from Janna. Accepting it, he was immediately greeted by Janna making an ugly face at the camera, startling him.

“Gah!” He yelped.

“Hey Sad Kid,” Janna chimed, chuckling from her little prank, before she noticed the background music. “Okay, whoever is in that house is so not a fan of The Big Lebowski.”

“My Dad cannot live without listening to one Eagles song a day,” Drew replied.

Janna let out a snort. “Wow, what a boomer.”

“He’s not even that old,” Drew replied.

“He listens to boomer tunes, and not even any good ones, like Creedence or King Crimson.” Janna stopped. “Hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself. Check this out.”

The phone’s camera turned away from Janna’s face to a wide shot of Marco Diaz’s backyard, where Princess Marco in all his Shadowy Radiance was squaring up against Jackie Lynn Thomas holding a broom handle with its end unscrewed like it was a bo staff. His eyebrows rose high at the unexpected sight and shot higher when Jackie took off and attacked Marco with the broom handle.

“Haaaa!” She called out as she swung the broom handle down, and narrowly missed the top of Marco’s head as he twisted to the left to avoid it. With surprising competence, she hooked the handle up and thrust and swung rapidly for his head in tight circular motions, forcing him to bob and weave while he retreated and she advanced.

Marco’s hands, quick as lightning, flashed into action, parrying a strike with his left hand and then with his right when she looped the broom handle over his head to swing for the other side of it. Undeterred she lunged straight, and Marco tilted his head to the left to avoid the thrust.

Parrying the broom handle up with his right palm, Marco jumped back as Jackie readjusted her grip and made short shallow strikes aimed for his head, as though she were swinging a sword down on him.

“Jackie Lynn Thomas can fight?” Drew asked.

“Always could,” Janna replied. “She’s more of a lover than a fighter, though. Would rather give hugs than headlocks.”

After several swings, Jackie aimed low and used short sweeping motions aimed for Marco’s feet and ankles while keeping out of his reach. When Marco began hopping from one foot to the other, Jackie suddenly swung the broom up for his face–but Marco was faster. His foot shot up in a high kick to kick the broom up and out of her hands.

But Jackie did not hesitate, as soon as she lost her weapon she jumped, twisted, and fired a flying roundhouse with her right foot that he blocked with his left arm. He counterattacked, driving his palm into Jackie’s stomach at the same time, knocking the wind out of her before he used his left hand to strike her cheek and send her spinning to the ground.

Drew winced. “Oof.”

Janna actively recoiled. “… Whoa…!”

Marco gaped in surprise for an instant, then gasped in horror. “Jackie, oh my God!”

Jackie, pushing herself up, quickly raised a hand and waved it off. “Dude, it’s okay, I’m good.” She coughed for a moment. “I’m good…”

She sat up on her knees and rubbed her face. In spite of taking two pretty stiff hits from Marco, she lit up in a smile. “Dang, dude, I’m glad you were holding back.”

With her free hand she reached up and caught the falling broom handle before it could clock her atop her head. Twirling it hand, she drove the end into the ground and used it to slowly hoist herself to her feet with Marco’s help. As soon as she was on her wobbly two legs, Marco was already checking her for any serious injury.

“Try not to move around too much, okay?” He asked as he checked her eyes whole holding her still. “How’s your head? Any ringing in the ears? Do you feel sick?”

Jackie’s face turned red as he looked so intensely into her eyes. “Y-yeah, I told you I’m good, Marco… I’ve fallen off my board enough times to know when I’ve gotten a concussion…”

Janna peeked into the camera shot to address Drew. “Aren’t they cute?”

Marco turned to look at her. “Janna, can you go and get–”

Janna looked back and whipped a plastic first-aid kit container at him. “Medkit incoming.”

Snatching it out of the sky, he gave Janna a pointed look.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Come on, Diaz, you should be impressed that I’m so considerate to think ahead of you.”

“You’re like this with everyone, huh?” Drew asked.

Janna brought her phone back to look at it. “Only the ones I wanna bully.”

Drew let out a snort. “Aren’t you greedy?”

Marco heard his voice. “Oh, hey Drew. Jackie knows about the Beetleborgs and stuff.”

Hearing that, Drew did a double take. “Wait, she does?”

Jackie called over. “Yeah, I want to help how I can. Is that okay?”

He wasn’t all too sure about that. “Uh… this is kind of a big deal to want to be part of. It’s really dangerous, and you could get hurt.”

Janna chimed in. “But think of all the perks. Jackie’s got some serious skills… and she’s a hugger.”

“Totes a hugger,” Jackie added, before suddenly glomping onto Marco and cuddling him for emphasis.

Marco made a sound not-unlike a squeak and a gurgle.

Drew gave Janna a flat look when she turned the camera back onto her. “I’m not gonna be convinced to let her join our group fighting the Magnavores with free hugs.”

“Yeah, but you know Star, Mabel, and Misao totally are.” She glanced back at Marco. “Him, too. But you know what he’s all about.”

In spite of not having interacted with Marco at all before literally a couple weeks ago, Drew explicitly knew. And sympathized.

“Besides, you’ve seen her fight; she took a two piece from Marco and didn’t die. She’ll be useful,” Janna continued.

It was Marco, however, who provided reasoning that stuck. “Plus, she already knows who you guys are,” he said, “It’s going to be for the best to keep the people who are in the know close.”

Drew immediately understood. “Well, in the spirit of pragmatism, I’m fine with it. Just uh… please run it by Dipper sooner than later?”

“I’ll text him as soon as I’m tired of looking at your mug, Sad Kid,” Janna teased.

And once more Drew responded with a hard look. “No bulli.”

“Yessss bulli,” Janna purred back, and his face colored under his bandages.

Marco called over to Janna as he finished bandaging Jackie’s cheek. “Seriously, stop being such a flirt.”

“Asking me to stop breathing is easier, Princess,” Janna sassed back.

Jackie smirked. “It really is. She can drop her pulse to zero for like a whole minute.”

Janna grew alarmed and whirled on Jackie. “Hey! Don’t go showing my trump cards!”

The intensely catty smirk Jackie answered with surprised Marco and Drew as much as Janna’s own indignation. “I could reveal so much more, Janna Banana~”

“Not if I make you fish food, first,” Janna seethed, prompting Drew to burst into laughter, Marco joining in shortly after.

Jackie tilted her head up, looking the smuggest either young man had ever seen her. “Dude, I got clobbered my Marco and didn’t die. What can you do?”

“Exact my revenge in ways that surpass physical pain,” Janna promised with a colder smile of her own.

It honestly sent a shiver through Jackie. “Challenge accepted.”

Drew’s laughter died down to chuckling. It hurt to laugh. “Okay, okay, I have no objections to Jackie being part of the team now.”

Marco agreed. “Me too, I’m gonna recommend you highly to Dipper.”

Janna rolled her eyes. “Yeah, go on and sign up for my wrath with her. I’ll make sure there’s plenty to go around.”

“If your wrath’s anything like your ‘bullying’ I might be up for it,” Drew clapped back.

Janna, now completely off her game, glowered at Drew even as a blush spread across her face. “I’ll talk to you later, Sad Kid.”

Drew waved at the camera. “Bye~”

Janna ended the call, and turned to Jackie and Marco, who were both now in hysterics. Her eyes narrowed, as she quickly scanned the back yard.

“She’s so cute when she’s flustered, right?!” Jackie asked him.

“Oh man, it’s like fourth grade again!” Marco howled between his guffaws.

Jackie, looking up mid-peal of laughter, suddenly gasped with fright. “Janna, no don’t you fucking–!”

She was cut off by a stream of water to the face from the Diaz residence’s water hose. Marco, surprised, had even less time to react before Janna hosed him down too. On the other end of the torrent, Janna smirked as she alternated between hosing down both Marco and Jackie, preventing them from trying to rush her.

“You both can cool off; you did work up a sweat and all~” She said with all the sugar-coated malice in the world.

On his end, Drew stifled his laughter and caught his phone in hand when he sensed his father making his way up the stairs. Even with the literal walls between them, he could feel Mr. McCormick’s approach and had his phone hidden away before he heard the first hard knock on the door.

“What’s so funny?” His father demanded.

Drew looked towards the door, still smiling as he realized he’d been heard laughing. What unfortunate timing, he’d gotten caught between those horrible songs, and that consideration combined with the sheer freedom that came with tweaking Janna caused a glint to appear in his eyes.

“I was just laughing at how much The Eagles suck.”

He closed his eyes. Through the door, just beyond the threshold, he could see it perfectly–his Dad gaping wide-eyed at the door, his nostrils flaring, his fists clenching and his veins bulging up his unimpressive neck and up to his severely receding hairline. Then, his father took a deep, long breath, and turned away from the door.

“Whatever that was, just now, will cost you dearly, Andrew,” he said as he tried to stop his voice from shaking. “I do not want to see you until next week. Do you understand?”

Drew opened his eyes, feeling triumphant. “Perfectly.”

His father walked away from the door, and out of the influence of his telekinesis by the time he reached the bottom of the stairs.

Drew did not miss, however, his father looking back and raising a middle finger at his door before he did.

@@@@@

St. Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses Doing Just Fine had really changed since Star last saw it. Gone was its oppressive atmosphere, robot guards, and draconian headmistress. The gothic-style castle of a school was radiant with colorful flashing lights from every window, and loud party music pumped from every speaker. Its orderly halls were now awash with fun and mayhem, as young women freed from the oppressive yokes of their prison celebrated their freedom by living their best untethered lives entire realities away from their homes.

In the main dining hall of the school, now converted into a bar and dance floor, Star lounged comfortably on a furry aquamarine-colored bean bag, sipping from a bottle of something both powerfully sweet and absurdly alcoholic as she watched Pony Head–straw wedged in he right nostril–sail down a line of violet-pink crystals, inhaling it as she went. Reaching the end of the line, Pony Head shot up and expelled the straw before letting out a cheer.

“WHOA-HO! YEAH! THIS FEELS SO GOOD!” She yelled, as her eyes developed a blue hue and similarly colored sparks showered from her horn. “Hey B-Fly! You gotta hit some of this, I just wanna dance forever!”

Star laughed as Pony Head twisted and turned to the hard pumping beat of the music. “Nah, I’m good, Pony! You do your thang, tho, girl!”

“Hahahah! More for me then~!” Pony Head cheered back before she floated up to and leaned against Star’s shoulder. “But for real, girl! You and Marco are already messing around; you ain’t get this far with Tom!”

Star’s face turned a bright red. “Po-HEY! It’s not like that!”

“Uh huh? And what kind of privileges have you been letting the BF enjoy, B-Fly?” She turned to drill her starry-eyed stare into Star. “HMMMM?”

Star looked away, sputtering into the mouth of her bottle. “Freaking Marco… for goodness sake, Pony! We’re just taking it easy and going at our own pace.”

Pony Head relented. “Yeah, but you do make out with him, right? Can he at least kiss?”

Letting out a giggle, Star swooned and leaned against Pony. “Oh yeah, he’s amazing.”

Relieved, Pony Head zipped around Star from being unable to stay still. “Good, get you some girl! Not like Tom and his ‘oh my gosh we’re holdin’ hands’ posts. That was so lame!”

Star gasped. “Hey, I made out with Tom!”

“Uh huh, then why didn’t you tell me, your bestie?” Pony Head was so happy that she had the crown back. She didn’t need the Kalaxian Crystals for that high.

Taking a sip of her drink, Star rolled her eyes and fessed up. “Because he didn’t want his Mom to know that we were.”

Pony Head let out a very horsey snort, a cloud of purple powder escaping her nostrils. “Yeah, that sounds right. You know how demon boys be all like ‘The heart of pure black darkness beats in me, now give me your soul!’ but then they turn around and are all like ‘Oh I wuv my Mama~! I wanna be her widdle boy 4 EVER.’”

Star giggled. “Oh no, don’t get me started on Tom’s whole… DEAL.”

“You don’t have to,” Pony Head insisted, “I was there for that six-hour cry after you set fire to that village.”

Star desperately wanted to change the topic away from that village. “Hey, have you heard anything about Tom lately? Or Amirana?”

Pony Head was more than eager to share. “Oh my goodness, B-Fly. You don’t even know. So like, the arrangement between Tom and Amirana is off, and like Tom’s been stuck in the underworld because the Bounce Lounge sent his parents the bill for activating the fire suppression.”

“Has anyone talked to Amirana?”

“Pfft, no?! I mean, the last anyone saw her she was all up in her library in Septarsis and she hasn’t come out for anyone. But you know, that’s not new.”

Star threw her head back into the aquamarine fluffiness of the bean bag and groaned, before she tilted the bottle up to her lips and drained the remainder of the drink contained. “… Great, I have to ask Tom for her number now.”

She couldn’t go asking her Mom for Amirana’s number, because then she’d ask why her sudden interest, then she’d turn it into an interrogation, and then she’d know for sure she’d been to the Bounce Lounge. On the bright side, Star couldn’t be sent to St. O’s, but on the other hand her Mom would find out about St. O’s and if there was anyone who could bring an end to the multiverse’s greatest party, it was the multiverse’s greatest buzzkill, Moon Butterfly.

Pony Head got that. “Well, she’s your family, and you know how I feel about family.”

“… They inevitably try to kill you in order to take your birthright for themselves?” Star asked.

“Exactly!” Pony Head nodded firmly with that, before she once again cuddled up to Star. “But Amirana got played by Tom too, so she deserves like a little chance, all right?”

Star conceded to Pony Head with a determined nod. “I’ll call him when I get home!”

“You should call him now while you got that buzz going, but only because I wanna see that fight,” Pony Head insisted.

Star looked at her drink and dropped it unceremoniously to sink into the bean bag. “Then I’m gonna need more than this; I am not there yet.”

On cue, a Princess behind the bar tossed a bottle across the dining hall-turned-night club, and Star smoothly snatched it out the air before it struck the left side of her head. “Thank you!”

“It’s all good, Princess B-Fly!” Princess Bartender called back.

Star smiled back at Princess Bartender, before popping the cork of her drink and sprawling herself out on her comfortable cushion to take a long sip. “I am so glad I came here. I really needed this.”

“Of course this is a better party than that lame-o dance with teacher supervision and no bar! What’s the point of going to a dance if you can’t get messed up? Nobody acts a fool sober!”

To demonstrate the point, both Star and Pony Head turned to the dining hall, where Princess Smooshy was performing a headspin in the middle of the dance floor while other Princesses chanted her name to cheer her on. Spinning faster and faster, the ogre-like princess quickly lost control and bowled over several other Princesses–all of them careening off the far edge of the dance floor.

Star and Pony Head burst into laughter at the sight with the other Princesses in the room, even the ones cut down by Smooshy. She herself did not hesitate to take a selfie where she lay in the center of the carnage with a call of “Camera Phone!”

Calming down after laughing herself breathless, Star looked at her drink and took another pull from it. As she drank, Pony Head continued. “But yeah, that princess wannabe wouldn’t last five minutes at a real party. I thought Marco was boring, but she sounds like a bigger square than him.”

Star lowered her bottle as Princess wannabe set off an epiphany. “She’s kinda like Ludo, you know?”

Pony Head gasped. “You mean that freaky kappa always trying to steal your wand?”

Star turned to look at her. “… Kappa?” She nodded slowly; half confused at what a kappa even was. “The ugly little beaked guy I guess, yeah.”

It had been almost a year since Star had received the Royal Magic Wand on her birthday. From the beginning she’d been targeted by monsters led by the embodiment of the small monster complex, Ludo Avarius. Almost every week, sometimes twice, he would send his goons after her, or craft some kind of scheme to catch her off guard to get the wand. It wasn’t particularly difficult for her to routinely beat him and his monster henchmen when they came for her, and it got even easier after she came to Earth and met Marco.

At least until Toffee came along, but Star didn’t want to think about that. This was about Ludo.

She gripped the fluff of the bean bag as she dashed any thought of that loser lizard from her mind. “Ludo’s loud, mean, totally obnoxious, and he was always barking orders at his minions without actually giving a crap about them. The only difference between them is Brittney doesn’t send her cheerleaders to try to take my wand from me–and she’s not bad to look at either.”

Taking another sip, Star noted that the bottle was half gone already. “But still, she doesn’t have any friends–just people she uses and like with Ludo, one day they’re going to go away and she’s going to be all alone.”

Pony Head wasn’t sure if it was because she was coming down from her crystal high, but she suddenly had a weird feeling. “… Now tell me the part where that’s great and you want to throw a party when that happens.”

Star looked away from Pony Head, who floated closer to her, ominously. “… B-Fly…”

Rather than answer. Star began chugging down the rest of her drink.

Pony Head loomed even closer, the stars in the center of her pupils shining like headlights onto her. “B-Fly.”

Unable to delay any longer, what with her bottle of liquid courage being drained, Star let out a gasp and shouted. “I want to be her friend, okay?! Like, I know I messed up with her super bad, and everything that’s happened tells me that I need to put as much distance between us as possible but…!”

She stopped and took a deep breath. “I can’t stand the thought of her ending up like Ludo! Ludo sucks and I know if Brittney had a real friend, she wouldn’t suck either!”

Brittney wasn’t the only one Star was thinking about. “Eventually when you push everyone away enough, they just take the hint. I’m really bad at understanding hints though, so I’m gonna be Brittney’s friend… and Jo’s, too.”

Pony Head mulled over this. “I think you should just introduce them to Ludo instead so they could all bond over hating you.”

Star glared at Pony Head. “Lilacia.”

“I’m joking, girl! You know I have no doubt that you can be friends with them!” She nuzzled Star affectionately. “Just remember that I’m still your bestie and they gotta respect the hierarchy. It goes Bestie, Boyfriend, and then immediate family, and then everybody else’s gotta fight for a spot in line.”

Star laughed and hugged Pony Head. “Thank you so much.” She pulled back. “With Mabel’s help, I can definitely win them both over and squash all the beef once and for all.”

Pony Head circled around Star. “You know, you need to invite her and Misao over next time, the girls have been asking about them non-stop. Also, Mabel owes me a hairstyle ascension to godhood.”

“Oh sure, yeah, yeah, yeah! I’ll even see if I can get Marco to show up, it’ll be great!” Star giggled and rolled over on the beanbag to bury her face in it and squeal in excitement for her resolution and from her moderate intoxication.

An idea came to Pony Head, as she moved around Star to face her in her new orientation. “Oh yeah, speaking of hair. You should ask Kelly if she wants to help fight those loser monsters.”

Star lifted her face from the beanbag. “Kelly…?” Her eyes darted about in confusion, as if the name had been lost to her, and then widened when by providence it had been found again. “KELLY! Oh my gosh, I almost forgot about her, she loves fighting more than Marco!”

“Yeah, and like even more than you!” Pony Head stopped and looked aside. “It’s actually kinda gross? I don’t get her.”

Star didn’t think it was weird. “Well, Kelly can’t help that, she’s from Woolandia. Their entire culture is built around fighting.” She pulled out her compact mirror. “… I don’t have Kelly’s number, do you?”

Pony Head gave Star a strange look. “You don’t have to call her.”

Star answered with a raised eyebrow. “… Yes, I do? You want me to ask her for help and she’s like… in another dimension?”

Pony Head looked down at the fluffy bean bag Star laid upon, and back up at her. “No, I mean, you’ve been literally laying on her the entire time you’ve been here.”

Star went pale, looked down at the “bean bag” in horror, and only then realized it was moving like it was breathing. “OH MY GOODNESS, KELLY I AM SO SORRY!”

The bean bag did not respond.

“… Kelly?” Star asked.

Pony Head enlightened her. “Oh, she got wasted and passed out hours ago. She’s gonna be like that for a while.”

Star stopped and stared down at the sleeping mass of fluff. “… Huh.” She returned her attention back to Pony Head. “Well, I’m not getting up, she’s hecking comfortable.”

If Pony Head had shoulders, she’d shrug them. “That’s okay, Kelly used to always go on to me how she’d love if you sat on her.’

Star craned her head back slightly from Pony Head. “Huh?”

Just as quickly, Pony Head snapped back. “What?”

= - = 54 = - =

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Last edited:

t-dugong

Beach bum, Esq.
Excuse me while I try to what the heck is a Shadow Radiance and what does it do when relaxing at home. Also rebooting my brain. Shadow Radiance....*smack something heavy on forehead*
 
Humiliation

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
= - = 55 = - =

|Humiliation|

In the weeks since the original School Spirit game, Echo Creek Academy's football field underwent a full overhaul, with the foundation completed by Marco and Star's initial repairs to the field followed by a generous and fast-paced reconstruction purchased by the Wong Family. In a stark contrast to the school, the sports field was fantastically high tech, with a massive jumbotron screen, hologram projectors, camera and spotlight drones, advanced pyrotechnics, comfortable weatherproof seating for several thousand, facilities to take care of all of them, and entire foodservice personnel that reportedly made several cafeteria staff in the school quit in disgust.

It was a sports field far richer than some colleges would want on their expenses, and all the Echo Creek Awesome Opossums had to show for it was one victory in twenty-seven years and a court order to stay away from the Silver Hill Warriors.

As such, Roland Williams thought this was hilarious.

"How do you think the school's gonna pay for this crap when Brittney graduates?" He asked Drew, who was already looking better after having an entire day to recover from his injuries. Nevertheless, he was wearing a blue turtleneck shirt with the collar unrolled to cover his face from the nose down, a pair of sunglasses, and a baseball cap to hide his bruised-up face.

Drew nodded his head. "Pay for it? They'll probably sell it for a song to the next NFL Team that wants to come to LA."

Roland burst into laughter. "A whole song? Man, they'll ditch this place for eight bars!"

Drew brought a hand over his covered mouth. It didn't hurt to laugh anymore, at least.

"Speaking of bars," Roland asked, "How'd you break out of yours?"

"I climbed out my window and snuck out through the neighbor's yard. Dad still has my phone and Jo got dinner to me before I dipped out, so as far as he cares, I'm still in my room and going nowhere."

Both he and Roland looked back down towards the field, and watched as Echo Creek Academy's quarterback, Justin Armberg, snap the ball and attempt to fake a handoff to his running back. Unfortunately, when he pulled the ball back to pass, the running back snatched the ball from him. Surprised, Justin took the ball back from him–only to be driven into the ground by the gray and purple-uniformed defensive linemen of the St. James High School Sharks.

"Was it worth it?" Roland asked.

Drew shook his head. "I would rather be fighting Saberizer again."

Roland watched as the two teams returned to the line of scrimmage for third down. "At the very least, SJHS is letting the freshmen play and they're doing great."

Looking at the massive scoreboard, Drew sighed in relief as the timer for the first half wound down towards zero. "The only good thing is that it's halftime, and I can go get something to snack on."

He got up. "You want anything?"

Roland got up and pushed Drew back down. "No, I'll go get it, you just chill."

Drew heaved a sigh. "And what, watch this?"

Lined up for the next play, Justin snapped the ball, and this time went back, looked downfield, and threw a spectacular laser that was caught by an Awesome Opossum Tight End–who proceeded to run the wrong direction down the field in terror chased by two SJHS safeties. He ran out of bounds at the Awesome Opossum's ten-yard line, well behind the QB. Justin screamed in anguish, as the whistle blew for the end of the first half.

"Well, at least it's the half," Roland said.

Trip's unwarrantedly smug voice barged its way into their ears. "That's right, no matter how awful the game is, a good halftime show is always there to make it watchable."

As one, Drew and Roland rolled their eyes and turned to engage the Vanderhoff brothers, who like many in the Awesome Opossums side of the stands were on their way to one of the many refreshments stands at the stadium in order to purge what they'd just seen from their short-term memory. Trip brought a hand to his chin and peered at Drew, mock trying to divine who he was like he'd never seen him before.

"As I live and breathe! Andrew, is that you?" He asked.

"Hey Trip, finally remembered I existed?" It was nice while he hadn't.

Van let out a haughty little snicker. "Heh, why are you covering your face, lame-o?"

Drew shook his head. "It's really none of your business."

"Well, whatever the reason, thanks for being considerate of the public and hiding that disaster you call a visage," Trip taunted, and Van laughed, because of course he does.

Roland glanced at Drew, who shared a laugh with the brothers. "Good one, Trip."

Trip was thrown just a bit off by Drew laughing at his insult. "Huh, you thought that was funny, did you?"

"It was," Drew said nonchalantly, as he imagined doing something infantile like tying their shoelaces together with his telekinesis while they were distracted. "But not as funny as when you got thrown out of Zoom while you were crying like a little kid."

Trip's smug expression cracked slightly when Drew hit back, but it didn't break as he let out a slimy chuckle. "I would watch what you say to me, Andrew, or you're gonna end up like your big burly lumberjack friend."

Roland raised an eyebrow as Drew rocked back on his heels. "What, being asked to the dance by Jackie Lynn Thomas?"

Van let out an angry laugh as he crammed back the urge to push Drew down for his snark. "She didn't ask him to go to the dance! And he's been banned anyway, so there!"

Drew looked at Van, his pity hidden behind his glasses, before he turned to Trip. "Whatever. Are you two done harassing me, or do I have to slap you around, too?"

Roland let out a quiet "Sheesh" even as he got ready to come to Drew's defense.

Van now lit up with anger and he stepped forward. "You wish you could–!"

"KNOCK IT OFF, RIGHT NOW!"

Roland, Drew, and the Vanderhoff Brothers all turned and found Brittney Wong marching towards them from the sidelines below, her permanently glaring eyes filled with hatred.

Trip smirked. "Looks like someone's in trouble~"

"Oh yes, someone is in trouble," Brittney snapped at him as she stepped past Roland and Drew, and up to the Vanderhoffs. "If you two dorks can't leave my guests alone, you can leave."

Drew and Roland shared a surprised side-glance to one another.

Trip sputtered. "Your guests?"

Brittney didn't look back at either Drew or Roland. "Bracelets."

Without hesitating, both held their arms out past her shoulders, showing the "Spirit Week by Wong" bracelets they wore. Her eyes darting quickly to confirm them, she settled back on glaring at the brothers. "Those bracelets mean I chose for them to be here. You two paid the admission fee to get in."

As Drew and Roland pulled their hands back, she pointed at Trip, then Van. "I won't tolerate anyone harassing my welcomed guests, especially you losers."

Confused as all heck, Trip looked at his brother, then at Brittney. "I'm sorry, but what? You do realize that the masked man to your left is Andrew McCormick, right? He shouldn't even have a bracelet!"

Brittney spared Drew a quick look, then turned back to Trip. "Does it piss you off that I can stand to have him around more than you and your brother combined?" The sweetness in her voice shot to diabetic levels. "Because if it does~?" In a split second, it shot back down to her accented contempt for existence. "Good."

She jerked her head, whipping her hair hard enough for an audible crack. "If I see you bothering anyone else? I'm throwing you out, now go."

Van opened his mouth to talk some mean smack back at Brittney, when Trip extended a hand to stop him. "Van, leave Andrew alone. There's no point in picking a fight with him, he's already looked like he's seen better days."

Trip turned to Brittney and tossed his tresses arrogantly. "We have a great halftime show to enjoy, anyway. Come on, let's grab some popcorn."

Reining in his temper, Van smirked and followed his brother, shouldering past Drew and Roland, and walking off to the nearest concession stand. Roland raised his hand, offering a fist-bump, and Drew returned it, before Brittney turned her wrath onto them.

"What are you even doing looking like that, McCormick?" She demanded.

Drew grumbled. "… I was caught out during that whole monster thing the other day and got roughed up."

With an expression like she'd known it all along, Brittney let out a scoff and walked past the two to go back down to the field. "Of course you did; don't go picking fights if you're already walking wounded and ruin my Spirit Week."

Watching her go back to the field and rejoining her fellow cheerleaders, Drew turned to Roland with a look of complete bewilderment. "Did… Brittney just show concern for me?"

Roland looked back. "I think she more showed concern for Spirit Week and what kind of liability you'd be to it."

Drew sagged, sighing in relief. "Good, because I've already been having vague interactions with enough girls lately and I don't need another one."

The concession stands were, like everything else at the stadium, the peak of luxury but also efficiency. Located behind the stands, customers were quickly filing through the lines in seconds to get their refreshments, scan their Spirit Week By Wong bracelets and be on their way. Those who were not gifted such glamorous gadgetry had to make do with paying the absurd prices one would expect at any sporting event, but even they got what they needed.

Towards the end of the line Misao let out a hum of both confusion and disappointment. She, Mabel, and Jackie Lynn Thomas were all in line to check out the refreshments–which they were in dire need of after having to watch this game.

"I was told that gridiron football was more… hmm… competitive," she said to her American friends.

"Oh it is when the teams are good, like the Raiders in the NFL," Mabel boasted.

Jackie leaned past Misao to look at Mabel. "Raiders. Good. Pick one."

Mabel stopped and turned to stare at Jackie. "Girl, I already said I love you. Don't make me take it back."

Jackie laughed. "Dude, I'm joking."

She looked at one of the TVs flanking the concession stand, which was showing the highlight reel also playing on the jumbotron overlooking the field–it consisted mostly of Justin Armberg's sacks strung together by his flashes of brilliance and the more consistent touchdowns by SJHS. "I feel so bad for Justin, though. He goes out there every game and plays his heart out, but you know…" She winced at the utter failure of a Play Action that got him turned into an award-winning portrayal of a tent pole. "… Yeah…"

Mabel looked at the screen with her. "Who's even the coach for the Awesome Opossums, and why haven't they been fired?"

Jackie made an unpleasant face. "Ugh… Coach Geek."

"Geek?" Mabel and Misao both asked.

"Mr. Geike. He's the school's AP Calculus teacher. Everyone just calls him Geek behind his back, because he's a tool," Jackie explained.

Misao was mystified. "Even you dislike him, Jackie?"

Jackie nodded. "Yeah, I started AP Calculus this year, but dropped it after two classes because of him."

Misao frowned. "Oh no, I am going to be in AP Calculus."

"RIP," Jackie lamented.

Mabel hugged Misao. "It'll be fine! Just put your best foot forward and show him what a smart cookie you are!"

The small girl once again smiled. "I'll be chocolate chip with walnuts."

Mabel squeezed her tighter. "The objectively best cookie."

Sasha Waybright, with Anne Boonchuy and Marcy Wu flanking her, joined the tail end of the line and conversation. "Chocolate chip and walnut? What patrician taste, though I'm more of a Golden Oreo gal, myself."

Mabel and Misao both lit up. "Sasha! And Anne!"

Marcy stepped up with arms raised high in celebration. "And Marcy! Who you have not been formally introduced to!" She immediately tripped, falling forward. "Whoa!"

Without missing a step, Mabel caught Marcy. "I gotcha."

"Thank you, Sasha's… tall but incredibly soft friend…" Marcy replied, muffled by Mabel's chest.

"I'm Mabel," she greeted in turn.

Marcy let out a sigh of contentment. "… Can I live here, Mabel?"

Jackie noticed the uniforms of the new arrivals. "Friends from SJHS?"

"Ja!" Misao said. "Sasha, Anne, and Mabel were friends who went to Cheer Camp together."

Anne quickly spoke up over her. "Yeah, cheer camp! Fun times at Camp Gottagrin, actually really boring though, don't ask about it."

Jackie recognized the name. "Isn't Camp Gottagrin the place where that–"

She was cut off. "Who wants to talk about a dumb camp?! I'm Anne, nice to meet you, you got really cute hair!"

Letting out a gently concerned laugh, Jackie got the hint. "Thanks, yours is nice, too. Having fun at our stupidly expensive and completely out of place sports complex?"

"Yeah, I've been meaning to ask about that," Anne said, "What the eff is with this place?"

"Is there a female version of the Napoleon Complex? Because that's it," Jackie replied.

Sasha, hands in the pockets of her jacket, let out a sharp little chuckle. "Yeah, this place reeks of entitlement and desperation to be acknowledged. Digging the bi pride aesthetic, though, I'm here for it."

Mabel, still holding Marcy, chimed in. "There's no small girl syndrome, but there's a serious outbreak of cute girl syndrome, am I right?"

Misao agreed wholeheartedly. "So many vectors, no matter where you look!"

Pulling away from Mabel, Marcy gasped. "I know that chipper German accent!" She looked at Misao and took in a deep breath that only a near oxygen starved or hyperactive girl could take before erupting into a million words per minute. "FaithfulPony371! I'm Marcy, I'm one of your biggest superchat supporters I've spent like 800 dollars on your streams this year, you're amazing I love your War Thunder marathons how do you win so many matches without getting hit, what are your keybinds in Halo, what energy drinks do your drink, is it true Kamiya never blocks you, can you sign my copies of Zone of the Enders?!"

Sasha shook her head. "Oh boy…"

Anne raised her hand, worried. "Marcy, you gotta breathe!"

To her credit, Misao was happy to bask in Marcy's adulation. "It's so nice to meet a supporter in person, and you are just so hot-blooded, Marcy!"

The compliment gave Marcy exactly the shock she needed to actually breathe in. "Hot blood is my LIFE! Just like in GaoGaiGar! Have you ever watched GaoGaiGar? Do you want to watch GaoGaiGar?! I can give you my copies of GaoGaiGar! Come over to my house, we'll binge the whole thing!"
She hugged Misao and turned to Sasha and Anne. "I'm stealing her."

Mabel was practically vibrating with excitement as she glomped onto Marcy, sandwiching her between herself and Misao. "Why did you not introduce me to Marcy sooner, Sasha?! I've been deprived!"

Sasha shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know why either, this is great."

Jackie giggled, imagining Marcy meeting Star after this introduction. "I'll say, we could hook you up to the grid and you'd power LA for a year."

"Ten years!" Mabel said.

"A hundred years!" Misao cheered.

Marcy threw a fist into the air. "One thousand years forever!"

Anne turned her head, giving Sasha a smarmy look. Sasha's eyes met hers and rolled, as Marcy began rocking back and forth, alternating between leaning into the taller Mabel and the shorter Misao. "So what happened? Why are you laying low? Are you in trouble? Is immigration after you? A creepy stalker? Internet trolls?!"

Misao's smile strained a bit. "It is very complicated and something I can't really talk about right now. For now, I am just hiding out until it's safe, ja?"

Mabel agreed. "So keep it hush-hush, okay?"

That was no problem for Marcy. "Absolutely, no leaks here. I am air-gapped, you won't get any info from me out there!"

Jackie was loving this. "Man, she is one hundred percent at all times, huh?"

Sasha nodded. "She's hard to keep up with. Speaking of high energy girls, where's the one I bothered coming to see?"

Anne was similarly stoked. "Yeah, the magical girl."

Marcy was once again back on her maximum power trip. "Star Butterfly! Is she here?!"

Mabel, Misao, and Jackie flinched, before Mabel passed on the bad news. "She's not allowed to be here."

Marcy looked like she'd seen a cat get kicked. "Aww!"

Sasha's eyebrows rose, before she quickly divined it. "Let me guess, banned by Wong?"

"Yeah," the three Echo Creek students said in unison.

Marcy frowned. "That's so Wong."

Mabel and Misao both snickered. Marcy joining them.

Sasha rolled her eyes. "That makes sense, all things considered." She gestured at their lavish surroundings. "And explains all of this."

She broke from the line. "I suddenly don't feel like giving Brittney or her school my money, no offense."

"None taken," Jackie said.

"It is pretty dumb, yes," Mabel agreed.

Misao thirded. "Ja, it cannot be helped. For now…"

Sasha liked that. "Ooh, ominous. Anyway, I'm gonna wander around a bit, maybe antagonize someone who deserves it. Boonchuy, Mar-Mar, you can hang out and do whatever, I'll meet up with you guys after halftime's over." She turned and walked away, headed towards the front of the stands, before looking back at Mabel. "Oh, and let your brother know that if he ever wants to hang out, to hit me up."

Mabel giggled. "Oh yes, I'll definitely pass that along!"

Marcy gasped in excitement once more. "Oh my gosh, I absolutely forgot something on the bus! I will brb, ttys!" She turned and bolted and Anne, in alarm, shot after her.

"Marcy! Don't run or you'll fall!" She looked back at Mabel, Misao, and Jackie. "It was nice talking to you, I gotta make sure Marcy doesn't die–" She looked forward and yelled. "Marcy, watch out for that mascot!"

There was a crash and a thump, before Marcy shouted an "I'm okay!" in reassurance.

Jackie turned to Mabel. "Hey, hit me with their contacts if you've got 'em."

Mabel pulled out her phone and began texting. "Which one specifically?"

Chuckling, Jackie looked in the direction Marcy and Anne ran off in. "I like them all, but Anne's got an irresistible vibe, you know?"

"Speaking of irresistible~" Misao sang.

Mabel laughed. "I know, it's great!"

"Does he even realize what kind of following he has?" Jackie asked of Dipper.

Mabel finished sending her message. "He does, but he's already dead set on someone."

"Is he okay with that someone dating someone else?" Jackie asked.

Going still, Mabel and Misao looked at each other with wide eyes, then back at Jackie, who clarified. "… Hypothetically."

The two roomies shared looks once more, then turned back to Jackie as Mabel asked. "… Hypothetically speaking, so we're all on the same hypothetical page… are we hypothetically talking about–"

"Marco, yes," Jackie replied. "Who let's say, is hypothetically dating Star."

Misao nodded to Mabel. "They could be."

Jackie set a foot outside the realm of hypothesis. "Remember how I said I went over to Marco's yesterday? Marco has been… really chill around me, and for as long as I can remember before that, he was always…"

"Continuously tripping over himself as he overthought how to interact with you for the best possible result?" Mabel asked.

Jackie pointed at Mabel. "Yeah! I'm surprised you could put that to words."

"One day, I'll tell you about a girl named Wendy Corduroy, and how she turned Dipper into a man." Mabel shook her head. "It's just his luck; he meets someone he likes and bam… they're involved."

Jackie nodded. "Yeah, but like… what if it was cool?"

Once more Jackie's words gave Mabel and Misao pause, and they shared another long look before addressing them. "… Cool how?"

@@@@@

Leaving the concession stand and walking down the short hallway beneath the bleachers, Sasha meandered casually around the crowd of people not interested in seeing the Awesome Opossums Marching Band play for the half. It was their loss, unlike the football team the Marching Band kids actually knew what they were doing and were killing it with a performance of Fallout Boy's "The Phoenix."

"Huh, they're actually not bad," she mused aloud just before she passed Trip and Van on their way to the concession stand. Meeting his eyes, she nodded to Trip and winked to Van as they passed without a word, leaving the brothers smiling.

With a smirk of her own, she stepped out and walked to the foot of the stands, right behind the Awesome Opossums sideline, where the Echo Creek Academy Cheerleading Squad were standing on the sidelines watching the marching band go off.

Sasha looked up at the jumbotron screen which, between shots of the band performing, proudly displayed the words "Spirit Week By Wong" and glamor shots of Brittney Wong herself. She narrowed her eyes.

It's amazing how someone can be so uselessly self-absorbed, she thought, before the devil herself reached the sidelines, looking so perpetually unhappy in spite of the celebration to her own esteemed greatness going on in front of her. Brittney Wong noticed her at almost the same time, her brow furrowing as she eyed Sasha, before the unmistakable recognition of the blonde as someone of considerable clout washed over her and she approached.

"You're the SJHS Cheer Captain, aren't you?" She asked.

"Former Cheer Captain," Sasha replied, "And you don't need introduction." She gestured to the jumbotron, showing her face at that moment. "You're kind of a big deal around here."

Brittney gave her a sharp look. "Is that supposed to be sarcasm?"

Sasha pulled out a blow pop from the jacket of her uniform, unwrapped it, and popped it in her mouth. "How is it anything other than a statement of fact? You made sure it can't be."

It was an inescapable point, but Brittney still turned her nose up at it. "What are you doing here on my school's sidelines?"

"Definitely not spying on the football team, did you see that first half? Wow. That quarterback is going to be waking up in a cold sweat until he's forty." Sasha looked past Brittney at her cheer followers. "Aren't you guys supposed to be providing morale, and support?"

Brittney turned to look at her squad and huffed. "I'm not some delusional idiot; my squad could be national contenders too, and it wouldn't help those losers."

Sasha nodded and took the stick of her sucker to roll it back and forth. "Yeah, that's true. This isn't really about the football team anyway though, is it?"

"Of course it's not," Brittney said. "If I could, I wouldn't have had this stupid game."

"I'm glad it did happen though, this place is tight."

"Watching your team put forty-seven points up on us in the first half isn't so bad either, huh?"

Sasha shrugged her shoulders. "People watch football for the excitement, no one's ever invested in a blowout against the last-place team."

She pulled out another blow pop and offered it to her. "Want one?"

Brittney looked at the candy and took it. Unwrapping it, she too began to enjoy, right up until Sasha said, "For real, the actual reason I decided to ride down with the team was so I could see that crazy magical girl."

She turned a fearsome glare onto Sasha, who stared back impassively.

"That 'crazy magical girl,' huh? Let me save you the trouble of ever meeting her and tell you all about her." Brittney began in her saccharine excitement.

Sasha nodded. "Do your thing and go off, Queen."

She did so with gusto. "I don't know where she comes from or what kind of family she has, but I'm pretty sure half of them are wolves and the other half are deranged psychopaths. And everyone thinks she's so cool because she has a magic wand and does actual magic–well, no one ever stops to think that giving a moron some anime magic bullshit would be a bad idea."

Brittney gestured out to the football field. "The only reason this field looks decent at all now is because she absolutely destroyed it!"

"The Warriors game, right?" Sasha asked.

"Yes! She thought a football game was an actual battle, and she'd be so helpful by covering it with traps, filling it with monsters, and not stopping for a single second to ask anyone what was going on or why it was happening!" Brittney continued on. "I got eaten by a dragon made out of worms and bugs!"

"That's rough, buddy," Sasha said.

"You'd think doing something like that would get her kicked out, or even suspended, but no! Because the Warriors were so smart to immediately get up and run for their freaking lives, everyone else decided that they won by forfeit! And Star gets all the credit for one stupid win in thirty years!"

Recalling the disaster of the game she saw today, Sasha let out a little laugh. "Not exactly a victory to ride off, huh?"

"Why do you think I'm just fine with today's game? Go Sharks, by the way."

Sasha nodded. "Go Sharks. So, what else? I know that tank's not empty."

It was not. "After ruining Spirit Week and humiliating me, she had the nerve to come up to me and expect an invitation to my birthday party. When she understandably did not get one, she decided that she was going to attend it anyway!"

Sasha noticed that her cheerleaders, and a few people in the stands were now looking at Brittney in the midst of her ranting. She kept her focus on the angry young woman otherwise.

"Oh cool, Star Butterfly crashed my party! She made it so fun conjuring up a hot tub and making the inside of the bus bouncy!" Brittney began. "And then literally crashing it because a bunch of stupid jackasses from wherever the dirt-filled shithole she came from hijacked the bus to pick a fight with her!"

Sasha felt a buzzing in her jacket and pulled out her phone to peek at the screen, a message from Marcy brought a smile to her face that she handily repressed as she addressed Brittney's woes. "Man, girl went hard to screw you over. What else, did she steal your boyfriend? Punch out your Dad?"

Brittney growled. "No! She just did those things and there's crap she didn't do to me, but it's all okay because everyone else liked it! And so what, I'm supposed to just go 'Oh it's cool, you just ruined my birthday party that I spent twenty thousand dollars on! It's no big deal, really!' Do you have any idea how much limo buses cost?!"

The band had stopped playing by this point. Up in the stands, Drew and Roland stared in confused silence at the jumbotron as the cameras that would be pointed at the now awkwardly standing band were now pointed at Brittney, capturing her in the full midst of her tirade.

At the concession stand, Misao, Mabel, and Jackie looked up at the screens showing Brittney's face, as her voice carried across the speakers. Scowling, Her eyes narrowing, Jackie turned and began walking towards the field.

"It's like everything she does is perfect and cool and how the hell does someone compete with that?!" Brittney yelled. "Do I have to be a fucking idiot who doesn't think about the consequences of her actions and what they do to others, is that what people want?! I throw parties! I put money into this stupid school! I actually give a shit and that doesn't mean a thing if I don't have a magic wand and turn people into pinatas!"

Sasha's right eyebrow raised uncannily high. "… Pinatas?"

Brittney took several breaths, not even realizing how much attention she had brought upon herself. "I hate her so much."

"Yeah, she knows that."

Jackie's statement drew Brittney and Sasha's attention to her. She stood there, glaring at Brittney while Misao and Mabel hung back a safer distance from Brittney's kill zone.

"Yeah, she's crazy and sometimes the stuff she pulls goes over the line… but when she realizes she's done something wrong she gets it, dude," Jackie continued, Sasha taking advantage of Brittney's distraction to quickly swipe a message back to Marcy. "That's why she apologized the other day."

Brittney's hackles raised. "What, and I'm supposed to just forgive her?"

"No?" Jackie responded. "I'm the last person who cares if you don't forgive her. But don't you think insulting her and ranting about how much you hate her in front of everyone is worse?"

Sasha looked back at Brittney, interested in her response.

Before Brittney could retort, Jackie pressed. "But that's all you do. Yeah, do you seriously think you're not an asshole with how you absolutely drag people you don't think are good enough to meet your standards?"

Brittney recoiled, but Jackie kept going. "And you've always done this, since as long as I've had to know you. Picking and choosing who you think should have the right to make good memories of their school year, and who should suffer because you don't like how they look, or who they hang out with, or how they give a damn about safety."

Jackie stopped and took a deep breath. "… Just…!" She took off her bracelet and threw it to Brittney's feet. "Just fuck off with your jealousy, Brittney. I'm not going to your stupid dance, and I hope the rest of your self-absorbed bullshit is ruined."

Flipping her off with both fingers as Dipper had, Jackie turned and walked away, passing Mabel and Misao without a look to them, let alone a word.

Sasha let out a long, descending whistle as she watched Jackie leave. "Well… I guess she had to get some off her chest, too."

Brittney looked numb where she stood, as if Jackie's rejection had actually broken her heart. She turned to face Sasha, who just shrugged her shoulders. She turned and looked around, only now realizing she was being watched–from everyone in the stands to the players and cheerleaders on the sidelines, to the cameras feeding images to the jumbotron–which had her face on full display.

She looked down at the broken bracelet and closed her eyes. If she willed it enough, the bugworm dragon she described prior would rip itself from the ground and actually kill her.

Sasha walked over and put an arm around Brittney's shoulders. "… Well."

Brittney opened her eyes and looked at her. "… Well?"

"No judgment," Sasha said, "I don't go to your school so I'm not gonna get on the bandwagon and hate you because whoever that was did."

She glowered at Sasha. "Don't patronize me."

"I'm not; what I am is giving you something to pay attention to other than everybody looking and the awkward silence that is crushing this field," she whispered to her.

Mabel felt a cold sensation creep up her spine and prickle her skin as she watched Sasha distract Brittney. This felt familiar, and in no good way.

Up in the stands, Roland shrugged his shoulders. "Welp, can't say that I expected this, but it's not unwelcomed."

Drew let out a hum, having some different feelings about this moment, before the jumbotron went dark and mercifully ended the feed of Brittney's meltdown.

Then it came back on at its brightest possible setting, causing people to shield their eyes. Everyone looked, even Brittney. Sasha however chose not to, instead looking towards the end of the bleachers where Trip and Van had just emerged to watch the jumbotron. She let out an amused huff.

You have a tough act to follow, boys. She thought with a sneer.

"Wow, this is some halftime show, isn't it?" A digitally distorted, childlike voice said through the speakers of the stadium. "A killer band performance followed by fireworks show."

Brittney gawked at the jumbotron, her left eye twitching. She turned and glared daggers at Roland, who–expecting it–met her gaze and shrugged his shoulders.

"But I think we're getting a bit too wrapped up in drama, don't you? We all deserve a laugh to remind that we're all human and here to have a good time."

The white screen became a candid image of Dipper Pines out in front of his house with Mabel and his grandfather, the three of them in the middle of discussion as they loaded up Shermie's SUV. Mabel recognized the shot; it was in the morning yesterday when they were going to the range. To her relief, Misao was nowhere in the shot.

"Hey, it's Echo Creek Academy's own Dipper Pines! Hi Dipper!" A sunny smiley face was drawn onto the image next to him. "Here he is being a good brother helping out his sister and grandpa pack up."

The screen changed to him on the sideline of Star, Marco, and Mabel fighting Typhus and his scabs. "Here he is, looking cool standing far away while his twin sister fights monsters! He's so brave!"

The words "SO COOL!" appeared next to Dipper, pointing at him, while "LOL!" and "SUCKER!" appeared over Mabel caught in the middle of dodging a stab from a Scab.

"But don't think he doesn't get his hands dirty for a second, guys! He doesn't fight harder, he fights smarter! He is the master of the one punch, man!"

The screen changed again to a silent recording of Dipper grabbing Trip and turning him around to deck him with a single punch. The image froze after the blow connected, and Japanese lettering appeared on either side of him with the translation "SERIOUS SERIES: SERIOUS PUNCH!" provided.

Murmurs rippled across the arena as people wondered what was going on. Drew turned to Roland. "… I don't get it, is this some kind of bit?"

Roland grimaced. "… I think I know what this is…"

Drew remembered what Trip and Van said. "… Oh no."

"A real tough guy, huh? But don't you worry! Dipper isn't all sucker punches and avoiding fights! He's a popular guy with a sensitive side. Did you know he can't handle spicy food?" The voice asked before the screen changed again, to a video of Dipper being served curry by Anne at The Taste of Echo Creek.

"So… just as a heads up, this is gonna change your life. If you wanna trade it for something not rated for undersea welding, there's no shame," Anne warned.

Shooting her a look, Dipper smirked and deeply inhaled the strong, intense aroma of the curry. Already his eyes were watering, something everyone else could clearly see. "Smells good."

Mabel made her concern known. "Bro-bro, this doesn't seem like the usual heat."

"Don't worry, I'll be fine. I've handled Soos' Grandma's birria stew and Nano's Nashville Hot Chicken, I got this," Dipper assured her as he scooped up a spoonful of curry and took a bite.

He stood there for a solid ten seconds, his face turning almost purple, before he calmly removed the spoon from his mouth, handed the whole bowl to Mabel, took his Lumberjack hat off to place it off camera, and ran screaming in pain to dive into the nearby water fountain at the center of the Food Truck market.

"Epic. Fail." The voice taunted as Shermie and Mabel both sampled the curry and found it not at all that difficult, while Dipper begged for mercy from the apparent fire burning him from within. "It's quite a hoot the kind of things Dipper can get into."

Misao looked up at the stands as laughter rippled across them.

"Like for example, did you know he's a connoisseur of the arts? He plays a mean tuba!" The screen changed, showing a slightly younger and shorter Dipper–his face a mess of acne, blowing away into a tuba in band class at Piedmont High School–and doing it proudly, too.

Mabel grimaced. "Ugh… he's gonna kill me for keeping that on my Facebook…" She stopped. "… Oh no."

"Oh, no?" Misao asked.

Mabel grimaced. "… There was something else I kept there…"

"And from a young age," the voice said, "Dipper was a singer and a dancer!"

The scene changed again to a much younger Dipper, only ten years old, dressed up in a fluffy white lamb costume with a big pink bow, and bright pink blush applied to his cheeks. The laughter died down into silence, as everyone in the stands just stared in silence at the jumbotron. Drew, Roland, Misao, Sasha, Brittney, the Awesome Opossums Cheerleading squad, and not least of all a completely stunned silent Trip and Van.

"Come on, sing the song!" An unrecognized older person said. "One last time, like you used to!"

Ten-year-old Dipper let out a long, embarrassed sigh, and took a deep breath and got on one knee while he performed jazz hands. "Well…!"

He got up and shrugged his shoulders before pointing to his audience. "Who wants a lamby-lamby-lamby?"

He raised his right hand, and then his left, waving for attention. "I do! I do!"

Performing a bunny hop, he repeated his pointing. "So go up and greet your mammy-mammy-mammy!"

Once again, he waved, his voice cracking over the growing laughter of the audience not just in the video but in the stadium itself. "Hi there! Hi there!"

Mabel was internally writing her will, and the list of things she would be leaving Waddles after Dipper killed her for having a copy of this video on her social media. On the screen, Dipper was singing and stepping in place.

"So march-march-march around the daisies!" For the big finish, Dipper went to one knee and performed another spectacular jazz hands. "And don't-don't-don't you forget about the baby~!"

Roland cringed. "Oh man, the Lamby-Lamby Dance… I can't believe they made him do that."

Drew was silently happy that his parents didn't care enough to make him do stupid dances for the entertainment of their relatives.

Poor Jo, though.

Trip was laughing so hard he was actually crying. Van was on his knees, trying to breathe, he was having difficulty managing it. Brittney, who watched the screen with incalculable confusion and disbelief, slowly turned to look at Trip and Van as she tried to wrap her head around what the hell was happening. Seeing them on the verge of death, her right eye twitched as realization dawned like a thermonuclear explosion ascending above the horizon.

After a period of silence, the jumbotron narrator spoke. "Sorry, I needed a sec after that, because… oh my gosh. That's… wow."

Another moment passed. "Anyway, that is our Halftime tribute to Echo Creek Academy's own Dipper Pines! I hope you all got a laugh out of it, and if you see Dipper in the hallways from now on, thank him for those laughs, and remind him every day of the joy he brought you with his antics. Anyway, have a good rest of your evening, and go Sharks!"

It turned out that much liked how he cried, Trip Vanderhoff laughed like a horse, too–bringing in as much air as he could and squealing it out like he was one that'd just broken its leg and was being eaten by wild dogs. "I CAN'T! I JUST CAN'T! OH MY GOD…!"

"CAN'T WHAT?!" Van gasped.

"I CAN'T EVEN!" He wheezed back.

They fell against one another for support, cackling with glee as they relished the laughter reverberating above them, and could even pick out some people reciting the song that went with the younger Dipper's ridiculous dance. They laughed so hard that they barely noticed Brittney marching up to them, her eyes wide and filled with all the fury she desperately wanted to unload without consequence.

"You. Are. Out of here." She said, her voice slashing through their laughter but not diminishing their euphoria.

Trip looked at her, giggling in his triumph. "Why are you mad, don't you hate him?"

Brittney looked down her nose at the brothers, as she pulled out her phone and hovered her thumb above a contact marked "Security." "Leave on your own. Or I will remove you. And no one will ever know what happened to you. They. Will. Never. Find. Your. Bodies."

Sasha placed her hands upon her cheeks, closed her eyes, and just breathed it all in. "Oh, yeah."

Van helped his brother up, and just kept laughing. "Fine, whatever! It's not like this game was going to be good for anything else!"

"We're not going to your stupid dance anyway, so why do we care? Get bent, Wong!" Trip sneered back as they walked away.

Brittney, her face turning a bright red, prepared to possibly breathe fire and kill both brothers as they retreated. Lowering her hands to her sides, Sasha smirked and took one step towards her–when Sabrina Backintosh rushed in like a missile and hugged Brittney from behind, stopping her cold.

Chantal swooped in next, rounding Brittney and getting in front of her to grab her shoulders. "Brittney! You need to calm the eff down, okay?!"

"Don't send mercenaries after them, they're not worth it!" The normally meek Sabrina pleaded out loud.

The rest of the Awesome Opossums cheer squad quickly followed, gathering around Brittney and talking her down from the edge of making some kind of violent mistake. Sasha took a step back and cocked her head to the side, surprised to the size and depth of this support network.

"… Huh," she muttered, before Mabel placed a hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and looked up at her. "Oh, Mabel–"

She stopped when she saw the look Mabel was giving her. The smile that was normally present in her eyes was absent, as she gave Sasha's shoulder a squeeze.

"You have other places to be," she said firmly, with none of her usual energy.

Sasha frowned and pulled free of her grip. "Yeah, I do."

With that she turned and strode away towards the school itself. Misao joined Mabel's side, concerned about her expression.

"Geht es dir gut?" She asked.

"Ja," Mabel replied as she watched Sasha leave. "She just reminded me why I didn't talk to her after Cheer Camp."

= - = 55 = - =

We're almost done with the interlude. Coming (very) soon, is the finale.
 
Calamity

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
= - = 56 = - =

|Calamity|

Trip was still chuckling as he and his brother made it around the school to its lockers, where no students or teachers could be found, and even the lights were turned out. Combined with the outside lockers being in the shadow of the school with the stadium's lights on at full blast, it was darker than normal in this part of Echo Creek Academy. After the setbacks, after wasted money, and after being needled by a loser who thought he was so cool coming and going as he pleased… they had done it.

"We got him!" Van quietly cheered. "The whole school saw that! Two whole schools saw that, I can't believe it went so perfect!"

Trip grinned. "Right? And it was so well-done, too, for only taking two days to set up."

Van rubbed his hands together. "I'm going to sing that stupid little song whenever I see him. Oh man!"

Trip's smile grew when three figures emerged in the dark. Sasha, leading Marcy and Anne, walked down the row of lockers to meet the brothers, all three of them looking around warily. When they drew close, they saw that Sasha didn't seem to be in a particularly good mood, in spite of the success of her plan.

"And here are the ladies who made it possible!" Trip said. "I had my doubts, but… oh my gosh. You pulled through as advertised!"

Sasha pursed her lips and shrugged her shoulders. "Well, I wouldn't have bothered if I couldn't do it, and I couldn't have done it without my girls."

She put her arms around Anne and Marcy, pulling them in close tightly. She lowered her head and stared pointedly at Trip as she did. "Are you satisfied?"

The Vanderhoffs look at each other, before Trip replied. "Satisfied? I want to put you on retainer, that was incredible."

Sasha held up one hand. "That won't be necessary. Can we just collect our payment so I can get outta here?"

Trip nodded. "Of course." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a single stack of bills, before handing it to her. "Ten thousand dollars. It might not look like a lot, but you know… they stuff a bunch of ones in those stupid money briefcases in movies."

Anne stared at it. "That is still the most money I've ever seen in person in my entire life."

Thumbing through the stack, Sasha handed it to Marcy. "Mar-Mar?"

Marcy pulled out her phone and turned on a light to check the money. "Okay!" After she spent a moment fumbling with both the phone and the money, Anne sighed and took the phone to hold the light steady. "Hah, thanks Anna-Banana."

She examined, counted, sniffed, and carefully eyed the money before handing it to Sasha. "It's legit. Ten thousand smackaroos plus a ten percent tip."

Sasha looked at the brothers and focused on Van as he winked and clicked his teeth. "Just a little something extra to show our appreciation."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Whatever, man. Enjoy your social superiority over some guy."

Letting go of Anne and Marcy, Sasha turned and walked back off into the dark, her friends following. Van called after them. "Hey, you have my Insta, hit me up anytime!"

In the dark with her back to him, Sasha was free to make the look of complete revulsion at the idea of interacting with either of the Vanderhoffs after this. Anne and Marcy both giggled at her reaction, and without context Van took it as a very positive response. Trip shook his head and turned away.

"She's still out of your league," he pointed out.

Van sighed. "I don't care, I'm still gonna go for it," he asserted as the SJHS girls turned the corner they came from and left. "So what do you want to do now? Britta's is still open, or we can go ride around and see what trouble we can start."

Trip was a fan of neither prospect. "Actually. I'm just about ready to call it a night. I've been waiting two whole days for this and now that I've gotten my payoff… I'm ready to lie down and sleep like a king."

It was at that moment, Dipper replied. "Oh, we haven't gotten to the payoff yet."

Both Trip and Van felt their blood run ice cold, as they turned to see him step out from the end of the lockers in the direction they had just arrived from, holding in his hand Misao's cellphone. The phone's bright screen illuminated his face, revealing the intense, simmering scowl he leveled on the brothers.

Van looked at his smaller brother, then back at Dipper, and he let out a stiff chuckle that didn't do the job of hiding his spike of fear as he hoped. "… Hah… well, well, well… the little lamby-lamby showed up."

Trip likewise laughed. "You have a lot of nerve showing your face around here after you've been thrown out. Especially after what. Just. Happened."

Dipper's eyebrows lifted just slightly, before he looked up at the corona of light rising above the school building that cast them in shadow. "Oh, what, that little jumbotron stunt?"

Now Trip grinned viciously, his brother mirroring him. "The whole school is laughing at what a pathetic twerp you really are, and you'll never live it down, jackass! How do you like that, huh?"

Van cracked his knuckles. "And now I get to add injury to insult. You're too easy, Pine Tree."

Dipper looked at Misao's phone, then back at the brothers. "You think I actually care about your stupid stunt?"

Both were given pause, before Trip snapped back. "Of course you do, they're still laughing over there!"

"I really don't," Dipper insisted. "I care much, much more about you paying people money to attack me." He said as he held up the phone screen to them, showing Van's Instagram page with Dipper's bounty on it.

Van cursed under his breath, but his bravado diminished none. "Yeah, so what? What are you gonna do about it, call the cops? Tell on us to our Dad? It's not going to matter."

Trip agreed. "You don't get it, Pine Tree. You could record everything we're saying and tell everyone about it. We've got the money to do and get away with whatever we want, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Dipper refuted that. "There's one thing I can do."

Trip huffed and tossed his blonde locks. "And what would that be?"

Dipper put Misao's phone away. "I can get my friends and beat the crap out of you."

Trip laughed, at him. "What friends, you lanky loser? Your sister?! That fat pig girl?!"

On cue Star walked out from Dipper's left and joined his side, with wand in hand and her cheek marks transformed from hearts to gray skulls. Van paled at the sight of her, as she stared back at them with an unkind expression–like the only thing holding her back was Dipper's word.

"The magical girl from another dimension," she said.

Footsteps behind them brought their attention back to Marco and Janna. Marco wringing his hands, while Janna tapped a tire iron against her thigh with her right hand.

"The martial artist who fought monsters in the street with his bare hands," he said.

Janna brought the crowbar up to rest against the side of her neck. "The weirdo goth bitch who isn't considerate enough to bother with warnings or apologies."

Dipper looked around. "Look at that, three friends, already."

Shuffling closer to his brother, as their 2:1 advantage became a 4:2 disadvantage, Trip tried to maintain his superiority. "So you're all going to do it, right here? With cameras watching this spot?"

Dipper shook his head again. "They're off."

Janna spoke up. "Yeah, this school's cheap wiring can't handle CCTV and a multimillion-dollar stadium built in under a month at the same time; who knew?"

"I'll call the cops," Trip snapped, his voice higher with his creeping fear.

"They will not save you from this," Dipper said.

Trip's tone went from pitched fear to angry seething. "Then… then I will make sure your lives are a living hell. I make more money in a week in allowance than you will see in your entire life! I can make you disappear, I can erase your names from history! So don't fuck with me!"

Dipper's indifferent expression said everything, but he still had to answer. "Cool rant, but we're still going to stomp the crap out of you."

"Yep," Star agreed.

"Uh-huh," Marco added.

"I'm going to enjoy this," Janna promised.

Trip lost the fire immediately and squeaked in fear. He looked to his brother for some kind of support but found him pale and trembling as his eyes remained locked upon Star and her wand. The sound of footsteps approaching brought his attention to Mabel and Misao as the two approached the confrontation, Mabel looked more disappointed at the brothers than angry or contemptuous while Misao's expression was of nothing but seething wrath.

"You were warned, explicitly, of what would happen. That the only reason you are not broken is because you were not worth our time," she said.

"You're still not," Dipper said as he handed her phone back to her.

Mabel put on a smile. "But like the little lady told you, we're going to make the time."

Misao looked at her, Dipper, Star, Marco, and then Janna. "That clock starts now."

Van held up his arms. "No, no, no! Wait, wait–!"

A murderous glint appeared in Dipper's eyes, and he lunged straight at the brothers; the instant Van was within reach he drilled a right hook into his jaw, sending the bigger Vanderhoff staggering into the lockers to Dipper's left. Catching himself against the lockers, Van let out a short groan before he slumped against it and crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

Trip stepped back; his eyes wide as his brother went down for the count. He looked up at Dipper and let out a fearful whimper.

"Go ahead," his assailant insisted, "Run."

Trip let out a scream and turned away to flee–running right into a front kick slammed square into his stomach by Marco. The wind blasted from his lungs, Trip fell backward and into Dipper's grasp.

Wrestling him into a headlock, Dipper dragged Trip over to where his brother laid and slammed him hard into the locker, pinning him between it and his side. As he coughed and wheezed, his glasses threatening to slip off, he looked around to see Marco, Star, Mabel, Misao, and Janna gather around.

"Please, let me go…! I'm sorry–!" Trip pleaded.

"You sent Lars Vanderdud to punch me out in the middle of lunch, you had guys jump me and film it," Dipper replied.

"And don't forget this," Star said, "But it's kind of weak compared to the other two."

Marco nodded in agreement. "But still, ten thousand dollars for that?"

Misao went through Van's pockets and pulled out his phone. Trip saw this and squirmed again. "What are you doing?!"

Janna took Van's limp hand and put his thumb to the phone's sensor, unlocking it and granting Misao full access to the device that she didn't waste time on. "Cloning your brother's phone and sending everything on it to mine," Misao said. "It's very easy for me."

"NO!" Trip shoved himself and Dipper back to get free and was rewarded with a swift hit to the stomach from Janna's tire iron that almost made his legs collapse under him. As he doubled over, Dipper pulled him closer and spoke in his ear.

"Not really that tough when your money can't save you, huh? Not that it ever could." Lifting him up he threw Trip to the ground next to his brother and stepped back.

Trip raised his arms to shield himself, whimpering in fear. "No, please! I'll pay you, just don't hurt me!"

"Remember what I said about saying no to someone who's never been told? It still as priceless as ever." Marco shot back.

"Well said, Diaz," Janna congratulated before looking between him and Star. "So, there's an artform to this."

Star snapped her fingers and pointed at her. "Aim for the limbs, back, and the crotch. Hard enough to bruise but not enough to break–and avoid the head and neck."

Marco raised an eyebrow, before he understood. "Pony Head."

Star beamed. "Actually my friend Kelly, who I really have to introduce you all to."

Janna nodded. "You see that? Those are street smarts, right there. It's all about sending a message, and it's written in pain."

Trip scrambled back until his back was against the lockers, his right hand raised to keep them back "SOMEBODY HELP ME–!"

A blast of green glitter from Star's wand struck him in the mouth, gumming it shut. With a muffled scream he looked at her, and then everyone else.

"Let's put the boots to 'em," Dipper said, "And be done with these assholes."

Trip Vanderhoff's screams were soon muffled by the impacts of Dipper, Marco, Janna, Star, Misao, and Mabel viciously kicking and stomping him and his brother over and over. As instructed, they targeted their limbs, backs, sides, backsides, and groins–being thorough in inflicting pain but making sure not to go so far as to inflict any injuries that could be lasting or life-threatening.

It did not stop Janna for getting a couple of quick kicks into Trip's stomach and ribs, though.

Van woke partway through it, but like Trip received a failed magic spell to the face to silence him and the pummeling continued until both brothers were bruised and beaten heaps laid out against the lockers.

Dipper stepped back, satisfied with their handiwork, and fist-bumped Star and Marco before slapping hands with Janna. "That should just about do it."

Trip, clutching his right arm with his left, whimpered as he glared through teary eyes at him. Dipper met his impotent anger with indifference. "If you come after me or any of my friends again…"

Misao stopped him. "Nein."

She turned and looked in the direction Sasha, Marcy, and Anne left. "Dudley, we're done."

Trip's eyes shot wide as Dudley shuffled into view, nodding his head to the group in greeting as he did. "Thank you, Mistress Misao."

Trip screamed in rage at Dudley behind his gag.

Van screamed a "TRAITOR!" at Dudley but received another swift kick in the butt by Marco that turned it into a grunt of pain.

"And as arranged, Master Van's former motocross associates have agreed to take all blame for their injuries," Dudley continued.

Misao smiled. "Splendid, they have my gratitude."

Trip grunted in confusion at that, but was kicked by Janna.

"Of course," Dudley obeyed. "Now then, I think it has been a long night for us all. I shall take my young masters to their home; you have a hopefully better rest of your evening."

With zero effort at all, Dudley picked up both the Vanderhoff brothers, and hoisted them over his shoulders. Reaching up weakly, to pull at the gunk on his face, Trip managed to sputter.

"You… you got Van's jackass friends… to take the fall for this?!" He demanded of Misao.

"They had actually wanted to beat you up themselves, but it was more important that we do this," she replied.

Mabel grinned. "They're totally fine with taking any fall that comes from this, though."

"They have no alibi, a grudge against you, and their bank accounts are all considerably heavier for their trouble," Misao said as she made the money gesture she had when she first warned the brothers.

As Trip was carried away, it occurred to him. "Wait… you knew… you knew we were going to do this?!"

Star zapped his mouth again, once more sealing it just as Dudley rounded the corner.

"Capital aim, Your Highness," Dudley said as he fell out of sight.

Marco shook his head. "I can never read that guy."

"Thank you," Dipper said, "I know this was asking a lot–"

Star stopped him. "Nononono, this? This is fine, this is the kind of thing you ask friends to help with! Besides, we're already fighting monsters together, how's a couple of normal human jerks any different?"

"She's right, this whole saving the world thing does not need the world's lamest bullies as a sideshow," Janna said.

Mabel hugged both girls. "And you're the best friends we could ask to have in this fight!"

Misao caught both Dipper and Marco and pulled them into the group hug. Dipper smiled and went with it, Marco doing the same. "Now that they are dealt with, we can focus on those more important things, ja?"

"Like looking for the Magnavores and figuring out how to send them back where they came from," Dipper said.

"Among many other important new developments," Mabel said as she looked over at Misao and winked. Misao winked back.

Jackie had a great idea, and they were excited to implement it.

On that note, Mabel brought up the lady herself. "Let's go meet up with Jackie and go home. I didn't get to buy any snacks and I'm starving."

Marco raised his hand. "I made a big plate of nachos when you called… it should still be good."

Misao gasped. "Yes, nachos at Marco's!"

Dipper gulped quietly and agreed. "Yeah, let's head that way."

The group left, Janna taking her phone and rattling off a text message as she went.

Janna Banana said:
T and V have been shut off.


Roland said:
GOOD.


Jo said:
Nice.


Dr00 said:
There's no chance they'll come back at you guys?


Janna Banana said:
It does not really matter if they do.


Mermaid Sk8r said:
:evacongratulations.gif:


Jo said:
Who this?


Mermaid Sk8r said:
Jackie Lynn Thomas 😃


Jo said:
Uhh… WHAT??????


Dr00 said:
Yeah, Jackie is part of the team now.


Jo said:
How long did you know?!


Dr00 said:
Since yesterday.


Jo said:
Roland, flick him for not telling me that AT ALL.


Roland said:
If you insist.


Jo said:
N E WAY, what about the Vanderhoffs? Are they done done or what?


Janna Banana said:
If they know what's good for them, you can stick a fork in 'em. JUST IN CASE! Stay on your toes.


Dr00 said:
Good idea, idiots with a lot of money tend to be able to afford dumb decisions.


@@@@@

The ride back to the Vanderhoff home had been in silence. For Dudley, at least. He had his classical music playing on satellite radio and nary a care in the world–least of all for the thunderous meltdown that had been going on beyond the privacy screen of the SUV he drove. Trip and Van's raging was enough to rock the Van slightly, but it was nothing he could not handle.

After weeks of this, Dudley was more than happy that Trip and Van's pointless vendetta had been settled and in the one way he'd hoped it would. Now, perhaps, he could get them away from the Pines Family and their friends, so they could focus on those dreadful monsters they fought and not be concerned by his young charges' absurd tantrums.

Or at least that was the plan, until he pulled up to the front gate of the Vanderhoff estate and found a dark green McLaren 12c blocking it. Gabe leaned against the car, tapping the tip of his wooden sword against the toe of the Converse sneaker on his right foot.

He frowned and considered calling the police. He should've taken the step to engage the child safety lock instead and regretted that he hadn't as soon as heard the rear passenger doors swing open and both Trip and Van storm out.

Hobbling with one hand against the side of the SUV, Trip stormed up to the front of the car. "YOU!"

Gabe looked up from his phone, which he carried in his left hand. "Hey, what's… oh shit, they fucked you two up."

"Shut the hell up!" Trip yelled. "Do you want to do this or what?! Name your price! Go and kick Pine Tree's ass, kick the shit out of all his friends, his sister, his fucking grandfather, I don't care! I want them all spitting out their teeth!"

Gabe hummed and looked at his phone. "Before I do that, I want you to see something, after that, I'll tell you how much."

He gestured to Trip and Van with his phone for them to come over. Sharing hesitant looks, the Vanderhoffs limped over to his sides and he held his phone out for them, to show a video.

"Ten thousand dollars?!" In the video, Dipper shouted in rage and disbelief as he looked at a phone screen held out to his face.

The person holding it was Sasha Waybright. The two of them were outside his Grandfather's home, with Mabel and Shermie also present. It was in the morning–but definitely after she and her friends had paid the Vanderhoffs a visit.

"Yeah, to anyone who can hurt, harass, or humiliate you," she confirmed. "I already talked to them and it's legit, they're just waiting for proof I did something to you, and I get paid."

"I'm going to murder them," Dipper said, shaking in his fury.

Mabel shook her head. "They are not worth it."

"They are worth less than exactly two Dippy Fresh!" Dipper snapped back. "That roided out MMA reject Lars Vanderdud almost took my head off and those motocross jerks would've beaten me and Janna to a pulp! I knew it was them… but ten grand?! They have a freaking bounty out on me?!"

Mabel hummed. "Not even Gideon thought of that." She turned to him. "But you're right that this has got to stop."

"Then we will stop it," Dipper said, "I'm going over there right now and–"

Sasha held up her hands. "Whoa, killer, slow your roll."

Mabel agreed. "Yes, calm down, letting them get to you like this is how they win."

Dipper took several deep breaths. "You're right, you're right… getting mad won't do anything, getting even will." He closed his eyes for a moment, and then had it. "I have an idea: we catch those suckers out thinking that they've won, and then we beat the crap out of them completely."

Shermie rubbed his clean-shaven chin. "You're gonna need more than that, boychik. Just beating them up ain't solving anything by itself."

Misao walked over to the group from the house. Her eyes were dark with anger. "Ja, if you are going to break them, then we must attack more than just their bodies."

The video stopped, and Gabe put away his phone. He looked back and forth between the Vanderhoffs, who silently absorbed the video in shock and anger.

"That bitch," Trip snarled, "She fucking played us!"

Gabe corrected him. "Nah, y'all played yourselves and she was just hustlin' through. You ain't even allowed to get mad at that."

Trip clenched his teeth. "You made your pitch, now what's your price? A hundred? Two hundred?!" He shook his head. "Because I don't care about the money, I just want Dipper Pines to fucking suffer!"

Gabe nodded. "Swag. I'll do it for five bucks."

The Vanderhoffs both stopped and gawked at Gabe in silence.

"Dude, are you for real…?" Van asked.

Gabe let out a pfft. "NO! Five hundred thousand, and it's done."

Van recoiled. "HALF A MILLION DOLLARS?!"

Gabe effortlessly hopped back and landed on the roof of the McLaren, surprising the two even further. "Man, you don't need to worry, because for a half million dollars… you get this."

Taking his wooden sword in hand, he began to twirl it over and over, the fine-finished weapon quickly becoming a blur as he spun it faster and faster. Trip and Van looked at each other, and then at Gabe, while Dudley slowly stepped out of his car. After a long buildup Gabe moved, the sound of metal shearing at high speed as he brought the sword around him to hold it at his left side in both hands.

Trip and Van stepped back, trembling in disbelief as the gate that led to their home, weighing thousands of pounds and made of wrought iron, fell to the ground on pieces, cut by the wooden sword.

Gabe looked at the gate, then at the Vanderhoffs. "You can take fixing the gate out of it. We good?"

Van collapsed, trembling as he looked at the gate, then at the sword, then at Gabe.

Trip's disbelief turned to enthusiastic malice. "Yes, fucking YES! The gate is free! GO FUCK THEM UP AS SOON AS YOU CAN!"

Dudley audibly swallowed, as Gabe pointed the sword at him. "You're not paid enough for what I'll do to you, if you give them any warning that I'm coming."

He was indeed not paid enough. "Of course, Master Gabe," Dudley conceded without protest.

Gabe let out a laugh, then his lips pulled into a cold smirk. "Nah, now that I'm on the clock…"

Bringing the sword to his shoulder, he introduced himself professionally.

"… I'm Wolf."

= - = 56 = - =

Welcome to the Senpaiverse, where the real monsters are in the shape of men.
 

Rufus Shinra

Well-known member
In this kind of escalation, there is little other move than terminating the fight decisively because it seems like the obvious conclusion to be reached eventually. And TBH, rich boy isn't as ruthless as some, because an actual hitman costs less than what he's paying swordsman.
 

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
In this kind of escalation, there is little other move than terminating the fight decisively because it seems like the obvious conclusion to be reached eventually. And TBH, rich boy isn't as ruthless as some, because an actual hitman costs less than what he's paying swordsman.
Indeed Trip is a very angry but very unimaginative young man. There are smarter ways to deal with one's problems, and he's going to be subjected to at least three of them. 😁
 
Machinations

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
WARNING! WARNING!

= - = 57 = - =

|Machinations|

Echo Creek's Scrapyard held an unusual secret. If one took a walk inside it and went far enough, they would find themselves entering a much larger area of twisted metal piles far larger than the scrapyard looked from the outside looking in. When Dipper and Janna investigated the scrapyard, before Trip and Van's friends attacked them, he had dubbed the region "The Scraplands" based on his initial estimates and Janna's description of the area.

It had been his intention to return to them sooner than later, but consecutive battles with the Magnavores and their growing intensity delayed that just long enough for the worst-case scenario. Noxic, in his search for a spot for his workshop to build a robot army that would take over the Earth, invaded the non-anomalous scrapyard and stumbled into the Scraplands himself.

With a nearly inexhaustible supply of material provided by the Scraplands, Noxic was overwhelmed by the possibilities, and while he had established an initial workshop, he was on a tear speculating about all the things he'd build with it.

"Oh man, Typhus it's gonna be great! There's gonna be a smelter, a fabricator, whole production lines! Not only am I gonna build Scabs, I'm gonna manufacture a whole new line of mooks! And even make improved Combat Mecha! And Jet Fighters! And ships! I might even be able to make a new fortress like the one that fish-faced jerk Vilor yoinked from Vexor!"

Typhus, who sat on a metal stool next to a half-complete workbench in a half-completed empty workshop, watched Noxic bounce around like a manic pixie, gesturing to piles of garbage where he envisioned all those useful pieces of equipment would go.

The mishmash of monster parts tilted his head. "Yeah, that's great, baby, but when are you actually gonna get around to Vexor's order?"

Noxic shrugged his shoulders. "Huh? I got two weeks to worry about that! I can make all the Scabs he wants later!"

"I don't know about that." Typhus folded his arms. "You get to slacking off and then when the crunch comes you rush like crazy and everything you make ain't even half good."

In response, Noxic shrugged his mechanical shoulders. "Yeah, so?" He turned and brushed off the criticism. "It's just Scabs for Vexor. I'll make so many more Scabs than he needs, and he won't even care if they're crap! He's that easy."

Typhus grumbled. "He don't seem like he's in the mood for you messin' around, baby."

He'd blasted Noxic for less, after all.

However, Noxic was going to be petulant about him. "Forget about that Crusty Crab, Chum Bucket! I ain't doing a thing for him until my workshop is ready." He clenched his hands into fists. "And once it is, he'll have to show a little more respect to get what he wants, if you know what I mean!"

Typhus got that and thought it valid, but. "I'm just sayin', we'll have a lot less trouble with him if he has no reason to come to your workshop and blast it in the ground if it's actually up and running to give it what he wants, you dig?"

With a petulant grinding of gears, Noxic groaned and threw up his hands. "Fine! I'm only agreeing because you're right, I respect your opinion, and you're the coolest guy I know!"

A bestial grin spread across Typhus' lips. "Heheh. I ain't half as cool as you, baby!"

Turning around, Noxic looked at his zero percent complete project. "I'll need to get started right away on the construction, but while I'm a master of machinery and you're all the muscle I need… with Jara still down for the count to keep us on pace ain't nothin' gonna get done!"

Typhus grunted in agreement and looked towards a particularly large pile of scrap away from the lab, where Jara stood at the top heedless of the razor-sharp metal surrounding her. She'd been like that since they got here, still grieving over the loss of Saberizer and wanting nothing to do with anyone. He couldn't blame her, the way she talked about him–heck the way they interacted the short time he knew the guy–they had nothing but the utmost respect for each other. Her mercenaries really cared about each other as much as Noxic's creations hated him.

On that note, Noxic had a epiphany. "But if I summoned Ham-Hands, he could do all the heavy metal hammering and I can focus on the engineering!"

That flag was redder than anything Jara wore, to Typhus. "Uhh… Noxic? I don't think it's a good idea to go summoning any monsters, let alone one of your robots."

"No, you see, it's fine!" Noxic reassured him as he had just a few moments ago. "Outta all the robots I made, Ham-Hands hates me the least! It's because he's the most useful see?"

If Typhus had eyebrows, he'd be raising the left one. "Huh?"

"Well, you know how Raketengar hates me because I made his body outta missiles, Gag Mirror's uncontrollable narcissism makes him think he's superior to me in every way, and Rage Grenade can't comprehend why I'd give sentience to a robot whose only purpose in life is to explode?"

Typhus nodded slowly. "… Yeah?"

"Ham-Hands actually likes that he's a construction robot that builds stuff!" Noxic revealed.

Typhus mulled it over. "You sure about that?"

"As sure as I'll ever be!" Noxic promised.

Typhus shrugged his shoulders, a gesture supremely difficult to convey for him. "All right then, you got a comic?"

Noxic reached into his coat and pulled out an issue of The Big Bad Beetleborgs. "As a matter of fact, I do! Okay, Ham-Hands! Come on out!"

Sparks from between the pages of the comic book, showing the Red Strikerborg in the foreground pointing her Striker Plasmar at a distinctly hammer-themed robot lunging at her from the background in what looked like a steel mill. The sparks turned into a jet of flame, coiling from the comic into the air and coming down in the middle of Noxic's lab. The flames grew and shifted, taking the shape of the very same robot.

He was tall, larger than even Typhus. His body was gray and consisted of numerous flexible metal bands that covered his humanoid body save for his armored boots that reached to his knees, his armored pelvis, and a bulky chest plate that covered his entire body that featured a hammer motif–the head of the hammer on his right shoulder and the claw on his left. His hands and head were also of note, with his forearms consisting of a pair of large claw hammers, while his head was an even larger claw hammer, with two lines cut into it: a frowning mouth and a right eye.

The robot looked around the lab slowly, before stopping when it saw Typhus sitting at the workbench. "Who the heck are–"

"Ham-Hands, ol' buddy ol' pal! Am I glad to see you!" Ham-Hands went still, looking like a statue in his immobile state, before he slowly, mechanically turned to face his creator.

"… Nox… ic…" The mecha said.

"In the mesh!" Noxic replied. "It's been forever, or at least it felt like forever, time's weird and I hate it! But who cares about that?! Boy, do I have a job for you!"

Ham-Hands performed an ever-slight jump at that. "A job?"

"Yeah, why else would I call you up?" His creator asked. "I got a lot of constructin' to do and you're bar none the best 'bot for the job!"

Typhus got up. "Yeah, baby! You up to it?"

Ham-Hands turned his whole body to look at Typhus, then did the same to look at Noxic. "You. Want me. To build somethin'?" His voice, bearing an accent not unlike Noxic's though with a slower enunciation, replied to the inquiry.

"Yeah, you up for hammerin' away?"

Ham-Hands nodded slowly, the idea amenable to him. "Yeah, yeah… I'll do some hammerin'... as a matter of fact? I'll start with this nail right here."

Noxic stopped. "Wait, what nail–?"

Ham-Hands reared back and slammed his face down onto the top of Noxic's head, the force of the blow driving his head down into his torso, which telescoped over his waist until his shoulders were level with his hips. The dusty, scrap-strewn ground cracked under the shortened robot's feet, before he fell onto his back flailing.

"HEY, WHAT WAS THAT FOR, YA MOOK?!" Noxic demanded, before looking down at himself. "Heh, I knew crumple zones were a good idea…"

Ham-Hands' enraged yell drowned out his self-congratulation. "YOU THINK I AIN'T FORGET WHAT YOU DID TO ME?!"

Noxic stopped. "… I did somethin'?"

The slit representing Ham-Hands' eye lit up with a crimson light. "I'M GONNA FLATTEN YOU INTO A BEDPAN!"

The sound of growling and shifting caught Ham-Hands' attention, and the mecha turned back to see Typhus swinging on him with his monstrous green arm turning red as it did. With surprising speed of his own, Ham-Hands turned and swung a cross of his own to counter Typhus's. Fist and hammer met, and the force of their collision obliterated the beginning of Noxic's workshop, sent Noxic flying, and drew Jara's attention towards the mushroom-cloud of dust and pulverized metal that shot upward beneath the shockwave.

Slowly the dust cleared, revealing Typhus completely absent his mutagenic left arm as he staggered back from Ham-Hands. Gurgling in pain and disoriented, his retreat was accelerated by several baseball bat-sized nails that punched through his body and pinned him to a pile of scrap some ten meters behind him.

"… Dang… you nailed me good, baby," Typhus joked as he began to regenerate. With his right hand he began to pull one of the nails off. "Ham-Hands ain't a name I'm gonna forget."

Ham-Hands turned to him. "You'd better forget it wiseguy, like Noxic here forgot my real name!"

Noxic uncrumpled himself, but waved back and forth like an accordion as he got up on his feet. "Real name…?" It came to him, and he clapped his hands. "Oh yeah, I remember now, your name's Hammer D–"

"KONG! HAMMER KONG!" His creation roared. "YOU FORGOT THE NAME OF YOUR OWN CREATION?!"

Noxic steadied himself. "Look, buddy, I've made a lot of robots and after a while you bums start running together. Cut me some slack."

A violent mechanical jolt rattled through Hammer Kong. "Cut you some slack? Cut?!"

Rearing back with both arms, Hammer Kong swung them at Noxic. "DOES IT LOOK LIKE I CAN CUT ANYTHING?!"

The hammers on his forearms detached and spun like boomerangs, one hitting Noxic in the head, and the other in the chest, sending him flying into another trash heap, directly opposite of Typhus. The slung hammers returned to the ends of Hammer Kong's forearms, and a jet of steam screamed from his mouth.

"You made me a hammer, you salvage yard schmuck…" Hammer Kong snarled as he looked back and forth between Noxic and Typhus, crossing his arms, the Combat Mecha threw them outward and red electricity crackled across his body as he prepared to fight.

"So as far as everything else goes… all I see are NAILS!"

Still perched in silence above it all, Jara tilted her head slowly, before she turned away from the fight.

= - = 57 = - =

So begins Volume Six, a strong enemy appears.
 
The First Peak New

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
It's been a bit, let's get back into it with a visit to the Dojo.

= - = 58 = - =

|The First Peak|

Saturday morning at the Hill-Trank Plaza normally meant a full class for Sensei Brantley and his new assistant instructor, Marco. However, a few notable faces were missing from the students. Jeremy, who probably was never coming back to the dojo, was noticeably absent (to everyone’s relief), but so were Roland and Jo–two of the three special cases that Marco was directly tutoring parallel to Sensei Brantley’s regular instruction. Drew was here, though, once more wearing an unrolled turtleneck shirt under his gi to hide his face, though what was visible of his face was still plenty bruised.

He was standing opposite of Marco away from the rest of the class, who were all lined up to listen to Sensei Brantley’s instructions.

“Class, today we are going to revisit the importance of breathing.”

His class wasn’t exactly focused on what their sensei was saying, because Marco and Drew squaring up after only a week of classes was… unexpected. The two bowed to one another, before Marco assumed a front stance, with his left foot forward pointed at his opponent, while Drew was in the opposing back stance–though it was a little sloppier.

“We’ve gone over how it is vitally important that you must breathe naturally. No holding your breath while striking, or while moving. Breathing brings oxygen to your lungs and spreads it through your body. If you’re breathing naturally, you’re moving naturally, there’s no wasted energy.”

As if to provide a perfect example of that, Marco breathed in and moved as he exhaled, firing a straight punch at Drew’s face with his right hand. As Marco’s punch approached, Drew’s left hand came up, the back of his forearm connecting with Marco’s wrist to direct the punch away from his face. The sudden and surprising speed of Drew’s defense turned more heads of Brantley’s students.

“Your breathing must be a rising and falling ocean wave. When you breathe in, your centers take in energy and diffuse it through the body. It’s like an engine, you know?” Brantley continued.

Marco advanced and continued to strike as if his punches were pistons alternating in the engine Brantley described–each punch chambered and released with his breathing. Drew, withdrawing from him, used both his hands and forearms to block and deflect each blow while he was driven back towards the edge of the mat. That he could defend each strike competently had every student watching now in silence.

“How well you control your breathing, both in volume and efficiency, can determine many things. With concentration, something as deceptively simple as breathing can unlock the potential lying hidden within your body.”

When Drew ran out of mat, Marco turned in place and his right leg came up in a spinning roundhouse kick aimed for the side of Drew’s head–air hissing from his lips as he struck. Drew ducked under the kick before it even reached him. Marco brought down his right foot and with his left lashed out with a front kick that Drew evaded with similar ease.

“When you can master your breathing through total concentration, you may find yourself able to increase your heart rate and blood flow, sending more oxygen–more energy–to your muscles. Your body will be stronger, your blows will hit harder, and your movements will be faster.”

Marco dropped down, his left leg sweeping across the mat towards Drew’s ankles, but his defensive opponent moved quickly back to the center of the mat. Drew watched Marco move like it was in slow motion, because he could feel it before he could see it and process it as he could see it. That was the nature of his telekinesis–within the range of his power he could feel it. If he could feel it he could grasp it. If he could grasp it, he could move it.

It was a little frightening, everything that implied.

“As you breathe, your body strengthens, as your body strengthens, your breathing strengthens. On and on, every breath gives you the strength to fight, like, demons and stuff. It’s pretty crazy.”

Marco was rising from the floor, shouting a kiai as he turned his ascent into an uppercut. Drew followed the trajectory of his fist and raised his arm to meet at the point where he could deflect it.

So focused he was on Marco’s movements in the present, however, that Drew did not think of his instructor’s movements to follow. Marco’s uppercut connected with his raised forearm as intended, but then he caught his forearm while his other arm caught him under his armpit. Still holding him, Marco turned and pivoted, and Drew was off his feet, rotating over his shoulder, and crashing to the floor on his back with a loud slap.

“This is called Total Concentration Breathing, as described by the author Agatsuma Zen–” The sudden loud impact interrupted Brantley, and he finally noticed his class wasn’t paying attention to him.

Eyes shut tight, Drew thanked his stars that he had remembered his falling training and relaxed his body before impact. Opening his left eye, he looked up at Marco, who knelt down closer to him.

“Are you okay?” He asked in a whisper.

Drew nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine…”

Marco smiled. “Using your telekinesis like that is really cool, and really scary.”

As Marco helped him up, Drew lamented. “It kind of sucks that I can’t use it to predict grapples or throws.”

“It can,”
Marco replied, “You were just holding back because we’re in class.”

Drew conceded to the point, as the rest of the class in question broke into applause. Stepping back from one another, Drew and Marco bowed to one another, before facing their classmates and Sensei Brantley, who walked over.

“Well done, Mr. McCormick, your defense against Marco’s moves was excellent,” the Master of the school congratulated.

Drew was a little confused, he was pretty sure Brantley had been just lecturing the class the whole time. “… You noticed?”

Sensei Brantley closed his eyes and nodded sagely. “Your ability to block and deflect Mr. Diaz’s strikes was impressive. It was as if you could see them coming–even his footwork, which is his most dangerous strength.”

Drew looked to Marco, seeking out an explanation for how Brantley seemed to notice their fight without looking, but only received a shoulder shrug. He dismissed that as he replied. “Well, for all the good being able to evade did… I couldn’t do anything to Marco back.”

“A good defense means that you have longer to decide how to end any situation you may be in. Don’t sweat that you may not be able to strike, and definitely don’t obsess over a win condition. Escaping one fight now means winning another fight later.” Brantley’s words were reassuring to Drew as they were correct. Surviving long enough against Saberizer gave Drew what he needed to win, there was no shame in trading distance for time.

Drew smiled a little, though it could not be seen through his raised collar and nodded towards Marco. “It’ll be a while before I have a win condition against him.”

“Maybe not as long a while as you think,” Sensei Brantley replied before he hooked a thumb back to his students. “Anyway, I gotta get back to leading the class, try not to be too distracting with your epic clashes, okay?”

Marco and Drew both bowed. “Yes, sensei.”

As they turned and walked back over to their set aside mats, Marco whispered aside to Drew. “He’s right, you know. You’ll catch up to me real soon at this rate.”

“I’m not sure; knowing where my body is relative to everything else is one thing, actually using it to fight back… it doesn’t feel right to me, like I can’t trust my body to follow through with what I plan, sometimes,”
Drew admitted.

He looked towards the floor. “Against Saberizer I just had no choice.”

“We don’t have a choice against any of the Magnavores,”
Marco reminded him. “But we’ll get that self-doubt out of you, yet.”

With that in mind, he held up a fist. “Let’s work on that, in fact. We’re gonna practice some strikes.”

Drew nodded and assumed a ready stance in front of Marco as he began explaining the form and function of basic strikes.

While Marco instructed and Drew quietly and attentively absorbed the lesson, Sensei Brantley glanced towards his assistant instructor’s lesson. With a small hum, he returned his focus back to his students. “Where was I? Oh yeah, breathing and why this book I read means it might actually give you superpowers.”

@@@@@

By the end of the class and numerous explanations and demonstrations, both Drew and Marco were a little struck out from all the striking, but Marco felt like some progress had been made. Drew didn’t need much to develop a competent form in his strikes, and that was very good. Getting the basics down quick meant moving on to more advanced forms sooner.

Most of all, though, it meant he could do better in real battle.

As they left the changing room back in their regular clothes, he asked Drew. “Are you going to be all right going to the dance? I was pretty rough on you today.”

“I’ll be fine, thanks,” Drew reassured him.

“What about your Dad?” Marco asked. “Aren’t you still grounded?”

“I am, but I don’t really care. My parents won’t even be home tonight, so why should I?”

Marco, who would gladly follow rules and respect boundaries set out by parents, wanted to suggest against it–but he was interrupted by Sensei Brantley. “Mr. Diaz, I need to have a word with you before we lock up.”

“Yes, Sensei,” Marco said, before addressing Drew. “Well… you do you, I guess. Have fun at the dance.”

Drew bowed in respect to Marco. “I’ll try. Thank you for looking out for Jo tonight.”

“Buddy, you and I both know that I’m not going to be the one watching her.”

Both pursed their lips and nodded in agreement. Dipper was in for a long night.

With a shrug of his shoulders, he turned to leave. “Well, good luck anyway.”

“Yeah, later.” Marco followed Drew to the door and closed it after him. After locking it, he turned to Sensei Brantley. “So, what’s going on, Sensei?”

“A serious matter,” Sensei Brantley said as he gestured for Marco to join him at the center of the dojo’s mats. He was seated, with his legs folded in the lotus position.

Serious? From his sensei? Marco walked over and sat seiza before him. “Is this about the raccoon in the dumpster out back? I’m not fighting that thing again, I had to get rabies shots.”

Sensei Brantley looked haunted for a moment at the mention of that vile creature, but soon shrugged it off. “No, nothing so dire. I actually wanted to speak with you about your recent battles against the forces of evil.”

Marco brightened. “You’ve seen the fights?” He bounced a little where he sat, now interested in what his teacher thought of them.

His master nodded. “That is correct, Marco. The last couple of fights this week are all over the internet–though they keep getting taken down.”

“I’ve seen a few of them too,” Marco agreed. “Some of the angles are kind of bad, but some are so good that they put music to them. It’s awesome.”

Sensei Brantley perked up as well. “Yeah, dude, the one set to “Given Up” by Linkin Park was pretty tight–” He stopped himself. “But we’re not here to discuss sick IRL AMVs.”

He took a deep breath. “I’ve been paying attention to how you fight the Magnavores specifically, Mr. Diaz and…”

Marco leaned forward slightly, expectantly. “Yes?”

In a tone unbecoming of Sensei Brantley thanks to its gravity, he continued. “… The Magnavores have been holding back on you, bro.”

A brief, but heavy silence hung in the air after that, as Marco’s expression shifted to one of confusion. He was not at all sure of what his sensei was talking about.

“Uh… are you sure you were watching me fight?” Marco asked. “Because I was there and let me assure you that Typhus was not holding back. Neither were his Scabs.”

Sensei Brantley expected that response. “Mr. Diaz, who closes the fights you’ve been getting into with them?”

“The Beetleborgs and Star,” Marco quickly replied like it was obvious. “What, do you think I can’t run with them, or what?”

“Not at all,” Sensei Brantley corrected his student. “Heck, the fact that you can keep up with the Beetleborgs and your girlfriend–”

“We’re not dating,” Marco interjected, still not wanting his relationship status to leave his house.

Brantley stopped again, before he resumed. “Sorry; the fact that you can keep up with the Beetleborgs and your friend who is a girl that you do everything with and who lives with you–not jealous–is great…”

Marco anticipated the size of the “but” to follow accurately.

“… BUT…”

It was a big but and he could not lie.

“… They have the firepower to do what your fists can’t.”

That was… not untrue. Marco looked at his hands and closed and opened his fists. He said so himself a few nights before: that Star was the one carrying the team with both her magic and years of fighting experience that well-surpassed him and the Beetleborgs’ put together handily. It also stood to reason that while he was good at cracking Scabs, none of them could put Typhus down in a straight fight without Star’s magic on their side.

“I guess you’re right,” he copped before growing more serious. “But that’s not going to stop me from fighting. They need my help, we need all the help we can get, actually.”

“That is most righteous of you, Mr. Diaz, but you’re already at your limit… and you need to start exploring how you're going to go up to the next level,” Sensei Brantley replied.

“The next level?” Marco looked down at the red belt holding his gi closed, then looked back up. “… You mean, going to Black Belt?”

Sensei Brantley shook his head. “This is going to sound totally nuts coming from me, but… there is nothing this school can teach you that will help you out there. Not with what you're up against, at least.”

Marco drew back, struck. “Uhh... everything I’ve been using out there is stuff I’ve learned from this school.”

“And I am super proud that you think that Mr. Diaz.”

Another big one was coming.

“BUT.”

There it is.

“… This is still a barely above-board Tang Soo Do dojo smack between a record store and a froyo spot. The oldest student here only has a month on you, and you’re already at the penultimate level of advancement within the school’s curriculum.”

Shouldn’t that be evidence to the contrary, of how good he’s been doing? Marco was more confused. “Yeah, but I’ve been kicking butt.”

“You haven’t even begun to kick butt, Mr. Diaz. I’m not thrashing my own dojo, I’m just aware of where it stands in the whole wide world of martial arts, and you gotta respect where it is… and where you are, too.” Sensei Brantley opened his eyes and looked dead straight into Marco’s. “Think of martial arts as mountain climbing. This dojo, is one such mountain and you’re almost at the top of it.”

Marco nodded. “Okay?”

“… But this is only the first peak of an endless range, and you won’t be able to see their summits from here.”

Just like that, Marco understood what his master was saying. It surprised him that Sensei Brantley could say something so profound and yet perfectly explained what the situation was. “Wow, I get it. I understand what you’re trying to say! There’s only so much that what I learned here can do for me, but… then where do I go to learn how to fight something like monsters?”

He paused to think. “I could ask Star to train me…”

Sensei Brantley held up a hand. “You don’t have to go as far as another dimension or summon things from comic books to see some really crazy stuff, Mr. Diaz. You’ll find that past the walls of this dojo, the stuff people out there can do will blow your mind.” As if it were an afterthought, he added. “If I were you, though? Totally ask your so-not-your-girlfriend for pointers, bro. She’s a killer, raised to be one, and can be one. I can tell.”

Marco glared neutrally at Sensei Brantley before he bowed deeply to his master. “Thank you, Sensei. This was really good advice; I’ll take it to heart.”

“It’s no big deal; I’m your sensei, after all, and I gotta look out for my students–especially my assistant. Do you have any idea how much better this place has been since I gave you the spot? I mean, it was already running good with you crunching the numbers, but now there’s not even a backlog of paperwork anymore, it’s crazy.”

He began to sit up from the lotus pose. “Like, I have so much free time that I’ve started online dating, and I’m killing it out there, bro.”

Now Marco was proud of his Sensei. “No kidding?”

“For real! I thought it would be hard or something. But do you have any idea how many ladies are into a guy who stays fit, runs his own business, and takes care of his Mom?”

That pride dimmed a bit as Marco’s expression slipped back into a flat glare. That sounded suspiciously like a lot of broad things a guy would put on his dating profile to make himself sound better than the details would show.

Sensei Brantley flinched away from Marco’s gaze. “Don’t give me that look! Nothing I said was false!”

“Uh huh, sure”, Marco replied, “Just, um, don’t bring any dates home and expect them to clean your windows for you, bro.”

Sensei Brantley winced again. “That hurt, Mr. Diaz.” He brought a hand to his heart. “Right here.”

Marco smiled at Sensei Brantley, who smiled back, and both laughed. Getting up, Sensei Brantley gestured to himself. “Let’s grab some lunch, what do you say?”

“I say you’re buying,” Marco replied.

Sensei Brantley was fine with that. “Very well, we shall go grab Britta’s, but uh… if you want extras in you’re burrito you’re gonna have to cough up a bit.”

Marco rolled his his eyes, and shrugged his shoulders in agreement as master and student headed off.

= - = 58 = - =

Short and sweet, we're having a look at how the team's holding up.
 

Rufus Shinra

Well-known member
The pacing of this chapter is pretty good, straight to the point and it shows what it needs without too much excess. Ain't too much a fan of fight scenes in general unless their ratio of advancement of the plot and characterization to fighting proper is high enough, which is the case there. This offers also a pretty good opening for extending the scope of the story to other parts of your setting, and is a good breather.
 
Onion Princess New

The Ero-Sennin

Audience of the Great Comedy
Author
Happy holidays and all that jazz. A long chapter on the way for your enjoyment.

= - = 59 = - =

|Onion Princess|

In spite of being tossed around by Marco and punched a few times during his strike demonstrations, Drew still felt better than he had over the last couple of days spent recovering from his injuries. The pain was still there, but it was far more manageable and didn’t even hurt to laugh, although he was already tired from just the dojo and was looking forward to sleeping the afternoon off before sneaking out to the dance.

He wasn’t going to miss what Roland had planned for the world.

It wouldn’t be hard to, either. As he’d said to Marco, his parents would be going out and wouldn’t be home until midnight. He’d be at the dance and back before they even thought of coming back from wherever they were going.

Thank goodness for weekly date nights to keep a sinking marriage above water. He thought sharply as he ambled down the sidewalk away from Hill-Trank Plaza, and towards home along the long uninterrupted quarter mile that ended at Zoom Comics in the opposite direction.

Out the corner of his eye, he noticed a car heading in the same direction he was, and his eyebrows lifted. A luxury SUV, a Mercedes Benz G-Class, or G-Wagen as it was better known, passed him by. The boxy SUV was painted a familiar shade of purple both cleaned and waxed spotless, gleaming in the noontime sun. In Los Angeles, luxury vehicles were not a rare sight, but one painted such a striking color could not be missed if it tried.

“… Wait a minute,” he said aloud, “Is that…?”

The G-Wagen abruptly screeching from thirty miles an hour to a dead stop derailed his train of thought. Then, to his surprise its tires squealed as the SUV backed up the road it had just come down before coming to another halt right beside him.

He stared at his reflection in the blacked-out rear-passenger windows of the purple G-Wagen, agape in confusion, before the window rolled down. His unfinished question was answered, and his afternoon’s randomness intensified as he met the perennial scowl of Brittney Wong.

“… Brittney?” He asked. Why was she being this extra to go out of her way to speak to him?

Brittney looked him over; he could not tell if she was grimacing in disgust or just being her usual self. “… Are you seriously walking around in public like that?”

That answered his question. “I beg your pardon?”

Rolling up to hurl insults at his appearance was more of a Vanderhoff move; was she reducing herself to this because she embarrassed herself last night?

“Is that how you’re planning to show up at my dance?” She snapped at him.

“Yes? I’m not missing the dance because I got beat up.” Drew was suddenly even more tired than he’d ever been before, and he turned to leave.

Instead of lashing out at him with a mocking remark at his expense to shore up her own illusion of self-worth, Brittney opened the door to the SUV. “Get in.”

Drew stopped and turned back towards her. “… Huh?”

“I said get in,” she commanded, “Unless you don't want to get fixed up.”

Fixed up? “What?”

Brittney clapped her hands. “Chop-chop, I've got only a couple hours before I have to be at the school!”

Warily, Drew stepped closer to the open door as Brittney scooted back from it to make room for him. Looking further inside, he found she was not alone–the perpetually anxious Sabrina Backintosh leaned past Brittney to raise her hand in a meek, but friendly wave.

“H-hi, Andrew. Brittney’s not going to do anything bad, I promise,” she attempted to vouch for her Cheer Captain.

Sabrina was timid and quick to do almost anything Brittney said, and some people called her “Brittney’s Pet” with the nicknames getting worse from there… but she was a genuinely nice person from what he knew about her. Slightly more curious about what the socialite wanted than concerned about what she could potentially do to him, Drew complied and climbed into the G-Wagen–the door automatically swinging shut behind him.

“Okay, what do you mean by ‘fixed up?’” He asked her as she buckled herself into the middle of the G-Wagen’s bench seat.

“Do you have a few hours?” The rich girl asked.

“I’m free all afternoon, why?”

Brittney nodded and patted the female driver up front on the shoulder, gesturing for her to go on. “Good; I’m taking you to my family’s doctor.”

Drew gave a start as the G-Wagen started moving, and buckled himself in. “Wait, what?”

“You heard me,” she said, before gesturing at his face. “All of this? Unacceptable. I don’t know why you haven’t gone to a doctor yet, but you are not setting foot in my dance as a giant bruise–even if the colors do match.”

Red joined the shades of purples on his face, though the collar of his sweater hid it. “Uh… I’d rather not talk to a doctor–”

“If you’re worried about anybody asking questions, don’t be. Whatever reason you got, they won’t care and won’t pry,” Brittney assured him.

Drew opened his mouth to ask why Brittney was taking him to a doctor when he realized she had just explained herself. She was concerned about the dance and keeping up appearances. Instead of banning him, though, she decided that she was going to take him in for medical treatment.

“… Okay? But I can’t afford somebody who can fix bruises on eighty percent of my body in five hours.”

Brittney’s eyes widened a little, while Sabrina covered her mouth in more expressed horror. Whatever passed for surprise with the former disappeared quickly, as she shook her head and huffed. “Don’t worry about paying anything–and don’t tell anybody I’m doing this for you.”

Well, he needed to see a doctor, and maybe he could get some rest at whatever place she was taking him. Still… it came at the price of more ambiguous interactions with attractive girls.

Seriously, is this just happening because now that I’m a Beetleborg, I’m a main character? He thought, exasperated.

@@@@@

Before Drew knew it, he was in Beverly Hills, walking with Brittney and a slightly limping Sabrina to the front of a very expensive looking private medical practice that looked like the sort of place that a rich girl like Brittney would go to get some work done. A stylish, white marble building ringed with palm trees and straddled by a parking lot with more expensive cars than he'd seen in his entire life to this point. The polished glass doors of the building read "Hyuuga Medical Works," with the names of a half-dozen doctors listed beneath.

“… I shouldn’t be surprised, but…” He looked at the millions of dollars’ worth of cars parked out front. “Daaaamn.”

Brittney grabbed his sleeve and pulled him inside. “Come on, and don’t gawk!”

He looked around in amazement as they entered a lobby that was simultaneously sterile like any hospital, but comfortable and welcoming. To the left was a waiting area with its own cafe and seating for forty. Opulent patients sat at the tables, enjoying drinks served by cylinder-shaped automated waiters, while behind the counter a kindly older gentleman wearing a black apron over his white shirt and black slacks took orders from his clientele. On the other side of the lobby was a desk where nursing staff spoke with customers either checking in or leaving. Every so often, a foot-tall hologram projection of a doctor or nurse in the facility would appear on the desk, and speak directly to the incoming or outgoing patients.

“It’s hard not to…” Drew said as Brittney hauled him to the front counter with Sabrina close behind.

A young, dark-haired male nurse who probably modeled as a side hustle, greeted them with a smile that could rival some of the cars outside in value. “Good afternoon, Miss Wong, bringing in Sabrina for her last treatment?”

Drew looked at Brittney, then at Sabrina, as the socialite replied. “Of course, but I need you to pencil in another one.”

She brought Drew up to the counter to present him to the nurse and pulled down the collar of his shirt, revealing the extent of the bruising on his face. “He got beaten up the other day during that monster nonsense, and he’s basically one big bruise.”

“Uh…” The nurse blinked twice. “… Hey, have you been to a hospital for… any of that?”

Drew shook his head. “Um, no… it’s not exactly something I can–”

The nurse got up, alarmed. “Are you in any pain?”

“I have been sore non-stop, but I’m not dying, no…”

The nurse looked at the hologram computer monitor between himself and Drew, then nodded. “Okay, yeah, we can get you into a Nano Recovery Chamber in five minutes.”

It was Drew’s turn to take a moment to process that. “A nano-what now?” He recognized the name and grew interested. “Wait, like… one of those Bacta Tank things?”

“Yes, you look like you need it… and probably a full diagnostic, jeez.” The nurse began typing rapidly on a keyboard. “I’m just going to need some information and we can get you going. Your name?”

Drew awkwardly glanced around. “Uh… Andrew McCormick…”

“Age?” The nurse asked.

“Sixteen… but I’m turning seventeen, soon?” Drew replied.

“Address?”

“I’d rather not say.” Drew quickly replied.

The nurse nodded. “Do you have a history of health concerns? Any allergies? Surgeries? Broken limbs?”

Drew shook his head. “Um, no… I’ve only ever been sick normally, and I’ve never even been at a hospital for more than a checkup.”

“Do you want us to contact your family or–”

Drew cut him off. “Absolutely not.”

Sabrina cast a concerned look at Brittney, who shrugged her shoulders dismissively. Reaching into her purse, Brittney pulled out a black credit card she slapped onto the desk. “Just put him in the tank and give him the works, and don’t even think about billing him.”

Looking at the card, the nurse nodded. “Of course, Miss Wong. Come on to the back and follow me to Nano Recovery Chamber Room Two… Dr. Korolev will see you there and run you through the process.”

They passed through the waist-high door divider separating the lobby from the back, Drew curious at the name. “Dr. Korolev…”

Sabrina brightened and smiled at Drew. “She’s nice and really smart. Sh-she’ll take good care of you.”

Brittney seemed less enthused but bit her tongue.

The nurse looked back at Sabrina. “Do you mind sharing room two with your friend here?”

Sabrina fidgeted. “I-I don’t mind, no.”

The back of the Hyuuga Medical Works resembled a hospital enough to reassure Drew that he wasn’t in some Hollywood approximation of a doctor’s office. Indeed, there were a few large rooms for examinations, and even some beds, but the place seemed like any other… until they passed through a set of reinforced doors into a very different facility. The hallway was less brightly lit, and on either side were four rooms in total that had blue circle-shaped double sliding doors with 01, 02, 03, and 04 labeled on each of them in white letters. At the end of the hall were a pair of large rectangular doors. This place looked more like a laboratory out of science fiction than a hospital.

“This is… pretty intense…” Drew said as they walked up to door 02.

“It’s literally brand-new technology that was just made available a year ago,” Brittney said. “It’s so new that it’ll be a while before it’s cheap enough for everyone.”

“If it ever is,” Drew mumbled back.

The doors slid open, and Drew stared at the person standing on the other side. It was a doctor, or at least he hoped they were–they had on the white lab coat, stethoscope, and ID badge… but they were also dressed head to toe in a white, body-fitting suit with likewise-colored plates that reminded him of a stripped down Beetleborg armor. They also wore a helmet not unlike that used by motorcyclists–except the visor was as reflective as a mirror, and Drew could only see himself in it.

At the very least, the cat-ear like fixtures on the helmet made it look kind of cute.

“H-Hello Dr. Korolev,” Sabrina greeted like it wasn’t a big deal.

“Hello again, Sabrina.” Through the helmet came a woman’s voice filtered as though it came through a walkie-talkie. She sounded young, maybe close to his age, and spoke with a noticeable Slavic accent.

Brittney let out a hum and averted her eyes away from the doctor like she didn’t want to look directly at her.

She turned her head to Drew and spoke. “Andrew McCormick, correct?” When he nodded, she did not sugarcoat a thing. “You look like shit; let’s get you fixed up, okay? I am your doctor for today, Nikita Korolev.”

Drew nodded in greeting. “Thank you, Doctor.”

Brittney turned to leave to the front. “I’ll be in the waiting room.”

“See you later,” Sabrina bade farewell to Brittney before she and Drew followed Dr. Korolev and the nurse inside.

The room was a mixture of both aesthetics Drew had seen to this point. It was painted white and had a welcoming size to it, but it was also lined with banks of computers, medical equipment and had two beds with examination equipment, and further back were what he presumed to be the Nano Recovery Chambers. They were tall, white-painted capsules that resembled large tanning beds or sensory deprivation chambers, inclined at a 45 degree angle against the wall. The chambers, along with everything else doubled up, were separated by a pair of white privacy shutters that could be pulled to obscure the view not only from each side, but from the door as well.

Dr. Korolev nodded to Sabrina. “You know the drill by now. Get ready and I will talk to you in a moment.” As Sabrina went to the right side of the room and pulled her privacy shutter all the way around, the doctor led Drew to the examination table and patted on it, gesturing for him to take a seat.

“So, you are more bruise than boy, what happened?” Dr. Korolev asked as she went to his shutter and pulled it closed.

Drew looked back towards the shutter separating him from Sabrina then at Dr. Korolev. “Is this okay?”

Dr. Korolev nodded and then reached out to slap the shutter. There was no sound, impressing Drew. “It’s soundproofed, no one can hear you.”

With that reassurance, he went with the story he’d been working on since he first got home. “Wednesday, I was having lunch out of school, when I saw a blimp crash into the LA river. I went over to see if I could help, and while I was there… a monster attacked me.”

Dr. Korolev’s head tilted. “A monster?”

“Yes,” Drew said, maintaining a straight face. “It threw me around for a bit, and I lost consciousness. When I woke up it was gone.”

Dr. Korolev nodded. “I see; there were a number of monsters running around that day. I am shocked you were not killed, with how strong they seemed.”

Drew shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I was nobody to it.”

“I see,” Dr. Korolev replied, “And you said that you have not sought treatment?”

“Not from a hospital, I’ve had first aid administered and I’ve been resting and taking painkillers for it.”

“Why have you not?”

“There’re people I don’t want finding out about what happened. And it’s also hard to believe, I guess…”

Dr. Korolev nodded again, slowly this time. “Even if I didn’t believe you, I would not tell anyone. I am a doctor, and you are my patient. You have come to see me, and I will be discussing with you all matters pertaining to your health.”

And for that, Drew was relieved. “Thanks.”

“Now, then,” the doctor paced towards the machine, and then turned to face him. “A few questions before we begin with the machine. Do you have any fear or anxiety related to enclosed spaces, water, or drowning?”

“… None more than an average person, I think.”

“Have you been sedated before?”

“No, I have not.”

“This treatment will require total immersion in a highly oxygenated fluid environment. While you will be able to breathe the liquid, for your comfort it is recommended that you wear a respirator mask for the duration of your procedure. You will be kept under close observation throughout, to ensure that if you experience any kind of duress, you will be promptly retrieved. Do you consent to being sedated to limit your movement and placed inside of the chamber?”

Drew looked at the chamber, back at the doctor, and then nodded. “Yeah, I can do that. I consent to the procedure, and I’ll even put it in writing if you need me to.”

Dr. Korolev’s head moved in a brief nod. “Good, that is fine, then.”

Drew looked at the tank again. “Hey… um… do I have to be naked for this?”

And suddenly it didn’t matter the layers of apparent armor between him and the doctor. He could feel the intensity of her stare on him. “Hm?”

It grew a bit awkward, as Drew tried to articulate what he was concerned about without saying it: he did not want to be naked in a pod. “… Like… do I have to be, in order to soak in… the healing… juices?”

“Нет. You can leave your tighty-whiteys on. We even have swim trunks for you to wear,” she said in an even drier tone than she already spoke. “No one here wants to see your shame unless they have to.”

“I-I wear boxers!” Drew quickly corrected her at the mention of “shame.”

Dr. Korolev let out a short chuckle that betrayed her own youth. “Good for you.”

With that she pulled open the privacy shutter. “I will be back with technicians to get you fitted into the chamber and ready to go. Make yourself as comfortable as you like.”

Pulling the shutter almost completely closed, Dr. Korolev left Drew to his own devices. He turned and faced the Nano Recovery Chamber and hummed as he walked up to the machine and its supporting equipment to examine it closely.

He had heard of these machines, and they really did sound like a Bacta tank straight out of Star Wars. Inside one of these a person’s healing was accelerated without any ill-effects, and able to repair everything from burns to nerve damage with enough immersion through the power of nanomachines contained in the fluid Dr. Korolev mentioned. It was miraculous stuff, but the technology was so new and expensive that it would probably be a decade before there would be enough of it to benefit more than a few rich folks.

And the people they deign to be worth it. Drew looked in the direction Sabrina was, and another thought occurred to him. Why is she worth it, or me?

@@@@@

It did not take long for the front counter nurse and a pair of technicians to arrive with Dr. Korolev to help get Drew situated. Inside the chamber he went, down to a pair of swimming trunks, leaning back into the comfortable bedding where he was fitted with a respirator that adjusted to his face to form a perfect seal and began to fill with breathable air.

The two technicians were respectful and gentle, going out of their way to make sure he was comfortable as they attached various electrodes to his chest, limbs, and forehead to read his vitals. As they finished hooking him up to the machine, one of the technicians injected him with the sedative that acted quickly, sending a wave of calm and relaxation over him while not taking away his alertness.

Then the door was closed, and he was in darkness for only a moment before the black window became transparent–showing the room outside–and the chamber began to fill after three beeps. The fluid was fizzy, a pale blue green like he expected such a liquid to be, and very warm as it rose up to completely fill the tank. Instead of panic, however, he felt a sense of peace and comfort as the warm liquid fully immersed him, and his body began to tingle in a pleasant, but not too intrusive way–like he had every itch in the world and they were being gently scratched.

“Wow… this is…” Drew closed his eyes. “… Actually really nice. This thing is amazing.”

“You utter fool, Ukrainian medicine is the best in the world,” Dr. Korolev said through the intercom.

Drew opened his eyes and stared out at the doctor, who was watching his tank with folded arms. “Huh, you’re a JoJo fan.”

Outside the tank, he saw Dr. Korolev turned right side on to Drew and raised her hand to point at him, like an overly muscled Japanese High School delinquent calling him out. “Your next words are: ‘That’s a Jotaro pose, but you’re quoting Joseph.’ Now to you.”

He stared blankly at her. “That’s a Jotaro pose, but you’re quoting Joseph.” He stopped immediately. “Wait, huh?”

He wasn’t even going with the bit, that just happened.

Okay, she was legit. “You said this was Ukrainian? I didn’t know Ukraine had such medical technology.”

“Of course we do,” Dr. Korolev replied. “Why else would Russia invade us?”

Drew frowned. “Oh… I’m sorry.”

Dr. Korolev waved it off. “Eh, you’re in High School. What do you know about the world outside of what he said-she said, and who is kissing on who?”

He didn’t even know that. “P-Pardon, but you don’t sound that much older than me.”

“Because I am not… I am smarter than you, though,” she cheekily replied.

That was obvious. He was inside the chamber, and she was operating it. “Is um… everything okay? In your country, I mean.”

“Eh, it’s all right. The KGB Grandfather’s polite young men are being eaten alive by a mean old witch, so my Ukraine is not licking his boot.”

Drew thought that maybe he should start paying more attention to the news. “That’s good, at least. Though I’m a little confused about the witch thing.”

Dr. Korolev paused for a moment, before replying. “Do not worry too much about it. The witch is just a story the Russians made up to explain why they have not just taken over Crimea. They just suck.”

Nodding, Drew rested his head back against the soft bedding of the chamber and began to breathe evenly and slowly. This really did feel amazing, like his whole body was shedding every injury he endured fighting Saberizer, and the bumps and bruises he’d gotten fighting the Magnavores beforehand.

The Stingerborg armor was strong enough to protect him, but there were still more than plenty of blows that he felt well enough through the armor that were sore afterward.

Misao’s rich, right? He thought. Maybe she could pay for us to get treated here. I should bring it up with her.

On the screen, a call window popped up. Startled, he looked at the information and found it was coming from Sabrina in the other chamber.

Dr. Korolev noticed the call as well. “Ah, yes, the chambers have the ability to allow the users to make calls to other chambers, and even to the outside world. It seems that your friend wants to check up on you.”

There was a lightness in her voice as she added, “If you need some privacy, I can turn off the audio and black out your chamber.”

Drew pouted a bit. “She goes to the same school as me, there’s nothing else going on there.”

“Are you sure? You look so easy to ship,” Dr. Korolev joked.

Now he was getting Janna vibes from her, and it annoyed him just a tad that he liked it. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to take this call.”

“да, да, very well,” Dr. Korolev conceded.

As the light dimmed in the tank, Drew answered the call. “Sabrina?”

“He-hello Andrew…” Sabrina began hesitantly. “Can I call you Andrew? Or Drew? A-Andy?”

Drew shuddered. “Please, never call me Andy.”

“O-okay, I’ll just go with Drew. Are you okay in your tank? Is everything fine?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” he replied. “It’s very comfortable in here, what about you?”

“I’m doing fine, too. This is my last treatment for my injuries, so I’m actually going to miss it a little bit.”

Drew knew what Sabrina was all about with her clumsiness, though, so she’d probably see this place again sooner than later. Because he wasn’t a prick, however, he kept that assessment to himself. “The nurses said this was your last treatment, is this for everything that happened last Spirit Week?”

“Yes, Brittney has been taking me twice a week to get patched up so I can cheer again.”

“And she’s been paying for it?” Drew asked.

“Yeah, she paid for everyone else who got hurt during and after the game, too. It’s kinda why she’s mad at the football team for sucking, after…”

Drew did a double take. “Hold up… she paid for everyone’s medical treatments? Even the Silver Hill Warriors?”

“Yes, but don’t tell anyone she did, okay?”

He was flummoxed by the revelation. “Why not? If people knew she’s willing to shell out money for medical bills, people wouldn’t think she was… you know…”

“I think the reason is she doesn’t want people coming up to her for stuff, or trying to take advantage of her,” Sabrina surmised. “She already does enough for everyone.”

Drew huffed. “She does enough for some people.”

He could hear Sabrina wince over the line and continued. “… That makes me curious why she hangs out with you.”

“… Wh-what?” Sabrina asked.

“You don’t seem like the person Brittney would want on her Cheer Squad, let alone just hang out with. I heard you really freaked out when Brittney gave you an invitation to her birthday party… but also that she threw a gift you gave her in your face for not being designer?”

Heather had given him those details of Brittney’s birthday party. Brittney’s behavior personally disgusted and made her regret being there, until Star made everything cool and dangerous.

There were a few moments before Sabrina sighed. “I’m… not going to make excuses for Brittney, she’s… um… she’s a lot more like Star than she would ever want to admit. She can be really blunt, and thoughtless, too… but the main reason she hangs out with me is because I wanted to be a cheerleader.”

“… Okay?” Drew needed more elaboration.

“It’s weird, right? I-I’m really clumsy, and scared of heights, and nervous around crowds, so I’m really hesitant to do things like cheerleading, because that’s all of those fears rolled up into a lot of stress and expectations.”

“Yeah,” he knew what those fears were like.

“But I always wanted to be a cheerleader, because if I could do it, then I’d be able to overcome how anxious I am. And even though Brittney is… Brittney, she respects that I’m trying to be better.”

Drew thought about Brittney’s eruption during the game yesterday and sighed. “I don’t understand her.”

He looked down at himself, healing in a medical supertechnology miracle, all on Brittney’s dime–but only because she wanted him to be perfect for her dance. He thought about Jackie’s stinging accusation of Brittney picking and choosing who got to have good memories of high school, and who didn’t.

Then the other accusation came to recollection, that Brittney was jealous of Star.

Drew sighed again. “It surprises me that she doesn’t get why people just flock to Star even when she does stupid stuff with her magic. Until today, I thought Brittney was just another spoiled brat like Trip and Van–using her money to get her way and intimidate anyone in it.”

Another silence followed, before Sabrina agreed. “… Yeah.”

“Keeping it a secret that she’s actually nice isn’t going to make the people she doesn’t like based on her arbitrary standards appreciate her. They all live in her shadow, resenting her, and one day they won’t care if she even made the sun rise for them–all they’ll ever have is what she did to them.”

There was another long silence, where he could hear Sabrina fidgeting while she wrestled with what he said.

“… You’re right,” she admitted. “It’s been pretty bad this week; more and more people are just kinda… done with her.”

He went back to Jackie, and her very public denouncement of Brittney and her Spirit Week celebration. How many people were even going, now? He was, regardless of anything else–even if only him, Roland, Mabel, Misao, and Janna showed up.

“Can I ask you something?”

Sabrina’s voice seemed to perk up at his question. “Y-yes?”

“You’ve been in Brittney’s clique since Freshman Year, right?”

Now she sounded disappointed. “… Yeah…”

“For all that she respects in people bettering themselves… do you think she can learn to be better, or does she already think she’s perfect?”

“Oh… uh…” Sabrina needed another few moments to think about that one. “… Yes, I think she can learn. If Brittney can believe a clumsy idiot like me can improve… then I have faith in her to learn from this and be a better person.”

Drew shut his eyes and nodded. “Okay, then I’ll have faith in her better side, too.”

He could hear her relief. “… Thank you. And um…” She paused, struggling with what she wanted to say, before she gave up with a sigh. “I’ll talk to you when we’re all done, I guess.”

“Until then,” Drew said, and the call ended.

Taking a deep breath through the respirator, Drew let his head sink into the rest behind it and closed his eyes. In the comforting, liquid environment of the chamber, time began to slip from him as he was left to his own thoughts. Sabrina came to mind, followed by Brittney, Janna, his father, Jo and her isolation, Roland and his prank, Heather, Janna, more Heather, Janna, Heather and Janna, Sabrina again, Misao, Mabel, Dipper and Mabel, Star and Marco, all of them fighting the Magnavores, Roland and Jo, the Beetleborgs, the Magnavores, Jara, Saberizer…

His thoughts lingered upon Saberizer.

The first monster he ever defeated.

The Scabs don’t count. A stiff breeze could defeat a Scab.

Saberizer was an actual Monster. An actual Magnavore… right?

Was he a Magnavore, or just a mercenary under Jara?

Was he even a monster?

The comics were never clear on the Mercenary Army of Jara. She was a Magnavore, and proud of her affiliation… but none of her Mercenary Warriors ever declared themselves Magnavores.

Actually… none of her Mercenaries were proud to be employed by her, either. They were just mercenaries, hired guns or blades to do the Magnavores’ dirty work. It was how Art Fortunes illustrated how evil Jara was–she had no one loyal to her, only to the money and power she promised.

They were disposable and replaceable. A hundred could die and they meant nothing to her. Their only real value was in absorbing the blame for her failure when she had to explain herself to Vexor.

Saberizer’s apology for failing Jara, her blood-curdling scream of his name, the overwhelming wrath that she unleashed that made her an easy target when normally she could handle herself with ease…

She cared for him. He was someone important to her.

That was something he didn’t like to think about.

The Magnavores.

Jara, and both Noxic and Typhus…

They were all so… human.

He really didn’t like to think about that.

But maybe… them being so human could be… useful?

Beeping interrupted his flow of thought, and he could feel the pull of the chamber’s fluid draining from the machine. His mind felt sluggish for a moment as his thoughts slowed down… or maybe the world sped up. In all his mental wandering, the passage of time slipped completely in his experience. It suddenly felt like it had been just a few minutes and a few days all at once.

“… Huh… that’s weird…” He muttered.

Dr. Korolev’s voice reached him, the first it felt like in ages. “Some patients report an effect similar to being inside of a sensory deprivation tank. Brain relaxation, streams of consciousness, and sometimes even visual and auditory hallucinations.”

Drew looked up at the doctor, feeling her within his presence outside the chamber before laying eyes on her. He blinked as he stared at her faceless helmet.

“Basically, your mind tricks itself into thinking it’s on LSD. Quite a trip, да?”

He blinked once. “Your voice is pretty.”

Dr. Korolev went still, before she turned and walked away, laughing. “We’ll be letting you out now, вродливий чоловік, you’re all done.”

The chamber opened and the technicians moved in to disconnect him. As soon as he was out of the chamber, he looked down at himself and was amazed to find that she was right. The cuts, the contusions, the scrapes… all of his injuries were gone. His body was completely unmarred, and his soreness vanished. “… What the…?”

On his own, with his strength returned, Drew stood up and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then jumped in place several times. “… Ha… haha! Wow, it actually worked!”

A look in the mirror after he washed off the remaining solution confirmed it. He was completely healed and felt like he was in the best shape of his life.

“Supertechnology is incredible,” he said as he finally left the room, back in his clothes again.

“And one day it will be available for everyone,” Dr. Korolev said as she stepped out into the hallway with him. “Sooner than later, I hope.”

Drew nodded to her, and then turned to find Brittney waiting with her arms folded. “Oh, um… thank you, Brittney.”

Brittney shrugged her shoulders, like she’d done nothing at all. “You’re welcome.”

Dr. Korolev turned her head towards Brittney. Drew could almost feel her looking back and forth between him and her before she let out a “Ha.”

Brittney shot the fully-suited doctor a look. “What?”

“Just admiring your taste,” Dr. Korolev teased.

Brittney’s scowl deepened, but once more Drew just couldn’t tell how significant her expression was. She really needed to do something about that.

He turned to ask the doctor. “… I’m almost afraid to ask, but how much does this whole procedure cost?”

Dr. Korolev regarded him. “Do you want the real answer?”

Drew nodded.

“Your procedure, for example. Your three hours in the pot cost Miss Wong here 300,000 dollars.”

He looked back at Brittney in disbelief. She once more shrugged her shoulders like it was no big deal.

“Don’t worry about it.” She checked her time on her phone. “I still have two hours. Do you need a suit or anything for the dance?”

Drew shook his head. “No, I already have a suit I’m going to wear.”

Brittney narrowed her eyes at him some. “It’d better look good.”

“Well, if you can buy me one that does to be sure, I’m still free for the rest of the day.”

He was bluffing, but Brittney looked him up and down and called it. “That works; let’s go.”

Drew opened his mouth to retract his request, but he stopped himself. He was getting a free suit and was staying away from home for a few hours more. Why would he look the gift horse in the mouth now?

He heard a digitized chuckle behind him and looked back, Dr. Korolev had strolled off back into the room he’d just left, waving at them as she went.

With an awkward wave of his own, he turned and followed Brittney back up to the front and the waiting room–where Sabrina was sipping an extremely colorful fruit cocktail she’d gotten from the café. When she saw them, she got up and joined them.

“You look good as new, isn’t it amazing?” She asked.

Drew nodded. “Yeah, it really is.”

Sabrina managed a shy smile and began to sip from her drink, when Brittney looked back and forth between them. “Okay, before we go anywhere else today?” She looked at Sabrina. “Do it.”

Nearly spitting her drink out, Sabrina looked at Brittney with an ashen face that slowly regained its color then greatly overcompensated as she looked at Drew, becoming a soldi red as she began fidgeting up a storm. Releasing her straw, she gulped and began to stammer. “Uh… um… D-Drew…? C-can… w-would…?”

Drew looked back and forth between Brittney and Sabrina who was starting to fall apart as she struggled through her question.

“I don’t have to tell you to grow some pom-poms, I know you got a pair! Ask him!” Brittney snapped harshly at her.

With that rough encouragement, Sabrina pulled herself with a deep breath and spat it out. “Will you accompany me to the dance?!”

Drew stood there, dumbfounded even as he expected it–because no girl had ever asked him to dance. And honestly, Sabrina Backintosh was probably the last girl in the world he’d ever expect to be the first one ever to.

“Um… yeah? That sounds nice,” he replied. After their conversation they just had and gaining a good insight of Sabrina in addition to Brittney… going to a dumb school dance wasn’t so bad.

All the tension that built up in Sabrina in that instant poured out of her all at once. She looked ready to fall over in her relief, but Brittney caught her shoulder, and removed her drink from hand in the same motion. Recovered, she turned back to him. “Thank you, I promise it’ll be fun!”

“Yeah, whatever, this just means I can get you something that goes with her dress,” Brittney looked Drew over again. “Blue, something blue… maybe dark blue or navy. We’ll see when we get there.”

She let go and walked to the door, taking a sip of Sabrina’s drink as she did. “Come on, you two! Daylight’s burning!”

Drew started walking but did not expect Sabrina to abruptly grab his arm and nervously move closer to him. Looking at her in surprise, she looked up at him, already halfway between excitement and anxiety. He managed to smile back and walked out the door with her after Brittney.

Just roll with it, Drew, and hope Janna doesn’t poke you for it later he thought.

Who was he kidding again? She was totally going to.

= - = 59 = - =

Such is the life of the main character, Mr. McCormick, there are layers to this whole thing.
 

Rufus Shinra

Well-known member
As indicated on Discord, I really like your character pieces, which tend to be the highlight IMO since for personal taste, I'm not much of a fight scene guy, and this shows characters under a different light. Noblesse oblige indeed, and while money makes some problem disappear, I guess it depends on people whether they consider problems what happens to them only or what happens to others around them, and anyone with a bit of brain and education knows that solving the problems for other people when they can be solved with money can lead to them helping you solve your problems that cannot.
 
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