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

Down in the Dojo
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 27 = - =

    |Down in the Dojo|

    Hill-Trank Plaza was a shopping mall not too far away from Zoom Comics, serving as a halfway point between the comic shop and the neighborhood Marco and Star lived in. It wasn’t a place Drew, Jo, or Roland normally stopped by of their own free will–its only shops being a record store, a frozen yogurt place, a bar, and a Tang Soo Do Karate dojo–but from this day forward they were going to become very familiar with it.

    “I don’t think I’ve actually been to any of these shops,” Roland said as they walked along the sidewalk in front of the store fronts.

    Drew glanced into the window of a record store, a place that only survived thanks to hipster inertia and nostalgia from Gen Xers. “Dad comes here like once a month and buys at least a hundred dollars’ worth of records.”

    Roland found that interesting. “What, and he has the nerve to get on you for reading comics?”

    “Yeah, funny how that is,” Jo said.

    In front of the Hill-Trank Plaza Dojo, a dimensional scissor portal opened, and Marco hopped out, dressed in a white karate gi and headband, a green belt tied tightly around his waist. The abrupt appearance of the portal took the trio off guard, and they quickly looked around as it shut behind him.

    “Wait, is that okay?!” Drew asked.

    Marco noticed them. “Oh, hey guys. Ready to get started?”

    Roland gestured to the closing portal behind him. “You’re just portaling around in public?”

    Marco looked back as it completely vanished. “I was running a little late today. Don’t worry, it’s fine. It’s not the weirdest thing this Dojo’s seen.”

    Drew and Roland reluctantly accepted it, while Jo rolled with and asked more important questions. “So, is it gonna be okay for us to start now?”

    Marco pushed open the door. “Of course. I’m just going to ask Sensei if I can run you through the basics separately and work you up to catch with the rest of the class.”

    Jo looked back at him as he let the door close and followed them. “Don’t you think we’re a little past the basics?”

    “No.” Marco’s blunt reply hit hard as a hammer. “None of you guys can actually fight, and the only way you’re going to learn is from the ground up.”

    “Take good care of us, then,” Drew awkwardly began to bow, when Marco stopped him.

    “Hang on, you haven’t actually become part of the school yet. You still need to sign up, show Sensei the waivers–you got the waivers filled out, right?”

    When Drew, Roland, and Jo presented signed papers that Marco had given them earlier, he nodded. “And I need to pay your sign-up fee.”

    “You don’t need to do all that,” Roland said.

    Drew agreed. “Yeah.”

    Marco waved it off. “Relax, I’ve got it. Plus it’s my way of showing Sensei that I’m serious about teaching you.”

    The school was well-furnished for something set in a strip mall, with tatami mats on the floors and wood finished walls and ceiling. It looked like something that one would right away think of when the word “karate dojo” came to mind, with the exception of bleacher style seats that were arranged along the back wall for spectating.

    There were already several other students present, ranging from Marco’s age to just about half that, though most were just hanging out and socializing as class had not begun. Who wasn’t present was the sensei, which caught Marco’s attention.

    “Huh… where is Sensei?” Marco murmured. He looked over at another student, playing on his phone on the bleachers. “Hey, Sensei’s here, right?”

    “He went next door for some froyo, he’ll be back,” the student said without looking up from his phone.

    Jo raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh…?”

    Marco didn’t think anything of it. “Well, this’ll give me time to introduce you to the others. Cool phone kid is Peter.”

    Peter, a blonde boy with glasses, looked up and did a double-take when he saw Jo. “Oh, righteous. Sup, Jo.”

    Jo responded with a silent nod. Marco gestured over to a short dark-skinned boy with messy hair practicing roundhouse kicks on a heavy bag. “That’s Hunter.”

    Drew recognized him. “Oh, he’s in our class.”

    Hunter looked over and saw Jo, Drew, and Roland. “Whoa… Captain Falcon herself is here.”

    He called to Marco. “Hey, are they joining the school?”

    “That’s the plan,” Marco replied.

    Hunter nodded. “Sweet! Now that we have two monsters, maybe this place’ll stop being treated like a daycare.”

    Drew watched Jo preen under the praise being spooned onto her and couldn’t help but feel inadequacy claw at him. We haven’t even signed up and all the attention is on her.

    She was riding high after dispatching Lars, and thanks to the circumstances of the fight, she had escaped any punishment for putting him in the hospital.

    Roland looked from Hunter to Marco. “Daycare?”

    Marco narrowed his eyes and seethed. “Yeah, there’s one student I need to warn you guys about in advance-”

    “Hey Marco, showing some newbies around?” Spoke a child whose condescending, overprivileged voice triggered similar grimaces in Drew, Jo, and Roland. They turned and looked down at a freckled-faced, buck-toothed eight year old who radiated a cheerful malice.

    “This,” Marco said stiffly, “Is Jeremy.”

    Oh I already hate this kid. Drew thought.

    “But you can call me Jeremy-senpai. Since I’ve been here longer than you and am the best student in Sensei’s class.” He looked up at Marco. “Right Marco?”

    Jo shared her brother’s disgust. Great, I may have to throw hands with a child.

    “Rrrr…” Marco glowered at him. He was not about to let this brat flex on him in front of the guys. “Whatever, Jeremy.”

    Jeremy chuckled. “Oh Marco, there’s no need to be humble on my behalf. Tell them all about how I’ve whupped your butt in every spar we’ve had.”

    Drew, Jo, and Roland looked back and forth among one another, and nodded in agreement. Drew gestured for Roland to take it away, and he was off.

    “HA!” Roland laughed, causing Jeremy to recoil. “You know he had to hold back on you, right?”

    Jeremy scowled up at Roland. “What was that?”

    Marco was caught off guard himself by Roland.

    “I bet he’d cry if Marco actually tried to hit him,” Jo said to her brother.

    Drew nodded in agreement and looked at Marco. “So, do we have to buy our own gis, does the school supply them… or what?”

    Marco was trying to process this. Wait, wait, what’s happening here?

    “I’ve actually fought him!” Jeremy insisted.

    “Whatever,” Roland said.

    “Buzz off,” Jo said to him with a shooing motion.

    Jeremy’s face turned red. “You can’t tell me to buzz off, I’m your Senpai!”

    “Man, he’s what seven? Eight?” Roland asked Marco before looking to Jo and Drew. “There are so many worse things to worry about than karate brat. Ignore him.”

    “Don’t ignore me!” Jeremy shrieked.

    Drew did anyway and faced Marco. “So yeah, are we gonna get gis or what?”

    “Huh…?” Marco murmured, still surprised at what happened.

    Marco glanced at Jeremy, who looked stuck between bursting a blood vessel and bursting into tears. Letting that settle in his head, he remembered Trip Vanderhoff’s tear-streaked, impotently angry glare the other day when he and Star broke up his confrontation with Dipper Mabel, and Misao.

    It came to him, like a moment of clarity for a deeply drunk man. Oh, that’s the kind of loser he’s going to grow up into.

    With that comforting thought, he ignored him, too. “There are gis here that you can use, and you can use the bathrooms to change.”

    The Dojo’s front door opened, the school’s black sleeveless gi-wearing sensei walked in holding several carry-out carts worth of drinks. “Students, your sensei has returned, and he has brought smoothies to prepare you for today’s journey down the path.”

    “Oh, cool, he’s back.” Marco gestured for Drew, Jo, and Roland to follow him over, as the other students quickly gathered around their instructor.

    “All right, I’ve got a double banana for you Pete, Chocolate raspberry protein for you, Hunter. Strawberry chilled for Everett…” He looked at Marco as he reached the gathered students. “Marco, what took you, bro? I didn’t get you a smoothie, but I left some cash with Monica next door. You can go grab one before class starts.”

    He noticed the trio accompanying him. “Whoa, are these new students?”

    Marco nodded. “I texted you about them Sunday, remember?”

    Sensei handed off the last smoothie and checked his phone. “Oh, right! Sorry, I was spaced out that whole weekend.”

    “Huh?” Marco asked.

    “Expanding my mind, Marco. Engaging upon a spiritual quest to broaden my mental, physical, and spiritual horizons.”

    Roland and Drew glanced at each other, while Jo rolled her eyes.

    “Right,” Marco said himself, “Anyway, these are Drew and Jo McCormick, and Roland Williams.”

    “Williams…” Sensei looked closer at Roland. “You wouldn’t happen to be Nano’s grandson, would you?”

    “I am,” Roland said.

    Sensei pressed a fist into his palm and bowed to him. “It is an honor.”

    Drew and Jo both glanced at Roland, who took the respectful gesture in stride and returned it. “Uh thanks…”

    “They’ve got their waivers signed. All they actually need to do is finish filling out their paperwork and they can start today.” Marco continued.

    Sensei nodded. “Very good, where are they in terms of skill?”

    “Rank amateur,” Roland said.

    “I apparently don’t know how to make a fist to punch,” Drew said.

    Jo folded her arms. “I’ve won some fights.”

    Before anyone could correct her, Sensei closed his eyes and shook his head. “It does not take much to win a fight–a lucky blow, a surprise attack, a simple difference in strength. So saying that means very little.”

    Jo opened her mouth to refute that but stopped. Both Drew and Roland gave her smug looks, daring her to say he was wrong.

    As she pouted in defeat, Marco spoke to his master. “About that, since they’re going to be behind most of the other students… I was thinking that I’d give them some personal training separate from the rest of class, and then we’d roll them into the group when they’ve caught up-”

    Sensei was struck with surprise, and he clapped his hands onto Marco’s shoulders. “Marco, are you telling me that you wish to become… an assistant instructor?”

    Jeremy, who was sipping on an orange and mint smoothie, nearly choked on it and looked towards Marco and Sensei. “What!?”

    “Assistant instructor…” Marco repeated, and the thought of him being a teacher–even if just in the assistant role–filled his mind with wonder. All he wanted to do was just give hands on instruction to his friends. “… What–really? Me? Y-your assistant? I’d… I’d be able to… lead classes in your absence…?”

    “Marco, you have no idea how awesome it would be for me to have another assistant instructor, and it’s even better knowing it’s someone who I can rely on as a responsible, pragmatic, safety-minded person who doesn’t randomly flake out at crucial times for strange reasons.”

    Drew hummed and leaned aside to Roland and whispered. “That’s really specific…”

    “Well, he did mention wanting another assistant… what happened to the last one?” Roland wondered.

    Behind them, Jeremy had dropped his abominable smoothie for a smartphone. He rapidly swiped a message on it, glancing up from it to glare daggers at Marco and his friends every couple of seconds, and pressed send.

    Marco thought Sensei was being really specific, too. He was also a little concerned about the whole flaking out thing. The Magnavores weren’t going to be too concerned about what they all had going on in their lives–after all.

    On the other hand? Assistant Instructor means he’d have some authority in the dojo… even Jeremy would have to do what he said!

    “I’ll do it!”

    “Awesome! Just what I wanted to hear.” A shrill ring came from Sensei’s gi, and he reached into it. “Oh, hang on bro. Gotta take this one. Get the new students the paperwork they got to finish, and into gis and we’ll get to introductions.”

    “Yes, Sensei!” Marco obeyed before gesturing for the three to follow him to Sensei’s office.

    Taking them to the back, where a well-kept desk, filing cabinet, and copy machine sat, Marco went into the filing cabinet and began rifling through papers. Checking the door after closing it, Jo leaned against the frame and spoke. “So… what happens if the Magnavores start interrupting classes for you, Mr. Assistant Instructor?”

    Marco looked back at her. He frowned and went back to looking through the papers. “I don’t know.”

    “We can avoid burning that bridge when we get to it,” Roland said.

    “And while we’re on the subject of things that burn easily, that piece of garbage out there.” Jo sneered. “How much do you wanna bet he’s one of Trip’s illegitimate brothers or something?”

    “Yeah, probably,” Roland said with a small laugh.

    “Ignore him,” Drew said, “We have to focus on our training, not dojo drama.”

    Marco pulled up the sign up forms folder, and found only the hard copy. “I told Sensei to make more copies…”

    He went across the room to the old copy machine and started it up. “Man, I can’t believe I let Jeremy get under my skin for all this time.”

    “Sometimes you just need people backing you up to stand up to bullies, you know?” Roland asked.

    Marco recalled him and Star punking the Vanderhoffs and smiled. “Hah, yeah.”

    “Speaking of the Magnavores,” Drew said, “It’s been pretty quiet since we last fought them.”

    “We trashed them pretty good, they’re probably still recovering,” Jo pointed out.

    Roland wasn’t too concerned either. “Besides, Dipper said he’s got his ear to the ground, remember? If anything pops up, he’ll let us know.”

    Drew sighed. “I hope they aren’t up to anything that could do a lot of harm, then.”

    “Hoping is all we can do,” Roland said.

    “Hoping, and training,” Marco said as he set the forms on the desk. “You can use pencils but write dark so I can make readable copies.”

    Within a few minutes, the four emerged from the office, Marco shuffling the printed signup forms together with their waivers, so he could grab his wallet. “All right, all we have to do now is get you changed, and we can start.”

    It was much quieter now, the other students, Jeremy included, lined up at the edge of the training mat. In front of them, Sensei took a deep breath and turned his head to call over to him. “Mr. Diaz, I need to have a word with you.”

    Marco brightened and whispered aside to Drew. “I guess he’s making it official…”

    Handing the papers to him, Marco jogged over to Sensei and bowed to him. “Yes, Sensei?”

    Sensei turned in place and looked down at his student. “Earlier, I had expressed interest in making you my assistant instructor.”

    Marco nodded. “Yes, Sensei.”

    “You are one of my most capable students. Diligent, hard-working, disciplined, and one I can count on to represent this Dojo at all times within and without its hallowed walls.”

    “Yes, Sensei!” Marco repeated with more energy.

    “That said!” Sensei closed his eyes and breathed in, bracing himself. He opened his eyes and met Marco’s gaze. “… I cannot grant you the position of Assistant Instructor at this time.”

    Marco’s face fell. “W-what?”

    “He changed his mind?” Drew whispered.

    “Bruh, doing this in front of everyone?” Roland asked.

    Jo narrowed her eyes but said nothing as her gaze swiveled towards the lined up students.

    Marco sputtered. “W-wait, wait, wait… Sensei, you just said-”

    “I know what I said Marco!” Sensei turned away from him with dramatic flourish and clenched his hands into fists. “But my decision was rash, motivated by my zealousness to have another assistant, and I forgot that while you are a great student, and I would gladly have you as an assistant officially… you are not qualified for the position of Assistant Instructor yet.”

    “Y-yet?” Marco asked.

    “Marco, in Tang Soo Do Karate, one must be at the very least a Red Belt in order to begin leading classes as an assistant. The belt around your waist signifies that you are not ready yet.”

    Marco looked down at his belt, then up at Sensei. “Sensei, I’ve been a Green Belt for five years, doesn’t that count for anything?”

    “It means that you are ready to advance to Red Belt, but until you do, I must withdraw my offer to promote you to my assistant instructor.”

    Sensei hung his head. “I am sorry, Marco. I raised your hopes and dashed them, this is my shame too.”

    Marco lowered his head. “Yes. I understand, Sensei.”

    “You are still permitted to train up the new students, but you will do so as their senpai. Until you have achieved the rank of red belt, you will still be regarded as a student of this dojo.”

    Marco nodded. “Yes, Sensei, thank you.”

    Jeremy clicked his teeth and drew in a slow, audible breath through them. “… You hate to see it.”

    He grabbed the black belt around his gi and tightened it. “Guess there’s only so far you can get by on that Green Belt, eh Marco?”

    The bespectacled phone junkie Marco introduced to the trio as Peter looked at Jeremy with visible disgust and shook his head. “You know what? I can do better with my Fridays, later.”

    Grabbing up his bookbag, the teenager walked out of the dojo and headed over to the record store next door. Marco and Sensei watched him leave, and the door swing closed in silence.

    After a long, awkward pause, Sensei turned to his students. “All right everybody, if no one else has anywhere better to be, we’re going to proceed with today’s lesson.”

    “Wow, what a great start to our first day of lessons,” Jo whispered to her brother and Roland… while hoping she could set Jeremy on fire with her glare.

    Drew went over to Marco’s side, as Marco walked over towards the locker room of the dodo. “Marco, you okay?”

    Looking up, his right hand gripping the back of his neck, Marco brightened. “Oh, I’m fine…” He looked forward. “It’s just…”

    Roland joined them. “Kinda screwed up that he’d offer that position to you, then snatch it away?”

    Marco agreed. “Yeah… but it’s not a big deal.”

    Jo brought up the rear, glancing again at Jeremy out the corner of her eye. “He just kinda punked you in front of the whole class. How is it not a big deal?”

    “I can get my Red Belt as soon as Monday, that’s how,” Marco argued. “Sensei’s kind of like that, but he didn’t mean to disrespect me.”

    Jo rolled her eyes. “Yeah, because this dojo’s all about respect.”

    Marco tensed up, then gestured to the locker room. “Spare gis are in there, just look for a size that fits you, and we can get started with stretches and what I intend to teach you going forward.”

    Jo huffed. “Yeah, sure.”

    She walked off into the girl’s side of the locker rooms.

    Marco watched her go and sighed. Drew patted him on his shoulder. “For what it’s worth, if Jeremy or anybody here could see what you can do, you’d be running this dojo.”

    Roland was in full agreement. “Yeah, we got your back.”

    “Thanks. It’s not about running it or being in charge of anything.”

    Marco sighed. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve only got so much time before we might have to go back to ‘work,’ you know?”

    Drew and Roland both agreed and headed to the boys side of the locker room to get changed for practice. Marco headed back over to the corner of the mat where he’d be training the trio and took a deep breath to center himself. Out the corner of his eye he looked over at his sensei, eyeing the red belt tied around his gi.

    “Don’t worry about it, Marco…” He told himself before taking a deep breath. “… Focus on the lesson and teach.”

    As Marco began walking them through his stretches, Jeremy watched him and let a wicked little smile spread across his lips. This was going to be fun.

    = - = 27 = - =
     
    Last edited:
    Snake in the Angel's Shadow
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 28 = - =

    |Snake in the Angel’s Shadow|

    Down the road at Zoom Comics, Dipper sat at a table tucked close to a corner near the shelves of the comic shop, scrolling through Mabel’s phone. He didn’t like using the internet. People put their whole lives on or lived them through the web, leaving behind a trail for anyone with ill-intent to follow along every detail. But it was those qualities, and the ubiquity of smartphones and their cameras, that worked in his favor.

    Bringing a hand up to rub his eyes, he sighed. How can people stare at these things at every given opportunity?

    He glanced up from his phone and across the shop, Mabel and Misao were sitting in the Manga section, reading manga about handsome boys and letting out perverse giggles. Looking back at the screen, he considered asking Mabel for help because for all of his searching, there didn’t look like anything that could be Magnavore activity.

    The possibility that they could’ve been that badly hurt in the last fight didn’t escape him, but he’d seen Typhus regenerate from the damage he’d taken, too. At the very least he could be up to something, and that could be anything.

    As he mulled over what villainous plot or scheme the Magnavores could come up with, Heather walked over and set a cup of iced tea beside him. “Large cup, no sugar, right? Or were you just trying to be cool, last time?”

    Dipper looked up at her and smiled. “Thanks.”

    “Don’t worry about paying for it either, it’s on me.” She pulled out a chair and sat down. “I heard what happened at lunch Monday, and that sucks.”

    Dipper shrugged his shoulders. “Not as bad as it did for Lars. You weren’t there?”

    “No, I eat in first lunch. Kind of a shame the cafeteria’s all closed for repairs.”

    “Sorry for that.”

    “It’s cool. I usually eat lunch in my car, anyway.”

    Dipper perked up. “You have a car?”

    Heather nodded. “I got it for my sixteenth birthday. Though I can basically only drive it between home and school.”

    For the briefest moment, Dipper considered the possibility of having access to another vehicle besides Shermie’s. It was a fleeting thought, downed by Heather’s strict guidelines. “Your parents are really strict about how you can use it, huh?”

    She giggled. “Yeah, real strict. My family barely lets me do anything, I can’t even drive it to work.”

    “Why even get it for you?”

    “Who knows?” With another gentle laugh, she looked at the empty desk in front of him, save for the phone and the tea. “So, you bought a few comics last time you were here, how’d you like them?”

    “All right, I like the Beetleborgs comics the best, though. I really couldn’t put them down.”

    Heather smirked a little. “You could grab some more…”

    Dipper raised an eyebrow. “Do they give a commission for book sales here?”

    “Nope!” She pointed a finger to the ceiling. “I’m just a giant comic nerd and I want everyone else to be comic nerds, too!”

    She brought her hand down and patted the table. “You’re sitting here, surrounded by pop culture’s greatest contribution to mankind, and you’re staring at your phone!”

    She closed her eyes and shook her head. “It’s a crying shame.”

    Dipper wondered why Drew and this girl weren’t dating already. “I’d love to sit down and start reading, but I’m working on a personal project. You know, related to my Mystery Shack days.”

    Heather rested an elbow on the table and stared intently. “I’ll forgive you for not picking up a comic book, if you’ll tell me you found something stranger than Star Butterfly.”

    “That’s the thing, I haven’t. I’m checking social media and news reports. I’ve even been listening to my Grandpa’s police scanner at home at night, and nothing really stands out.”

    “Well, you’re forgiven anyway.” Heather hummed. “Did you hear about what happened on Rodeo Drive yesterday?”

    “No, what happened?”

    “Power went out for like two hours on the whole street. It was on lockdown for the entire day, because power doesn’t go out at one of the most expensive places in Beverly Hills for no reason.”

    An expensive shopping district didn’t seem like something the Magnavores would knock over. “That seems more like a job for an electrician than a paranormal investigator. Unless it’s ghosts that are messing with the power.”

    Heather brought her hand to her chin. “What if it was?”

    “Then it would be a case of… Haunt Couture,” Mabel said as she and Misao arrived at the table.

    Dipper stared at his sister. “Ha.”

    Mabel responded with a big laugh at her brother’s reaction to her foul wordsmithery.

    Heather giggled as well, before she had another idea. “Oh, did you hear about the snakes?”

    Dipper was interested. “Snakes?”

    “It was trending like Wednesday morning. People in Beverly Hills, Burbank, and even near here were seeing these giant snakes slithering around. The police and animal control looked all over for them but didn’t find any sign of a snake.”

    Dipper looked at the phone and entered “snake” in the search bar of Twitter. Sure enough he found a whole slew of hashtags about a giant snake in different parts of Los Angeles. “Wow, a lot of people saw these snakes…”

    “Did anyone get any pictures?” Misao asked.

    Dipper looked at each tweet. “No one was able to. By the time anyone got their phone out to look, it was gone…”

    Heather nodded. “It’s weird, right? As usual the internet is full of opinions about what it was. A prank, hallucination, an actual snake…”

    Mabel shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe it’s camera shy?”

    It would have to know what a camera is to be shy about it, could it be a Magnavore thing? Dipper thought.

    “Maybe that’s the kind of thing you could look for?” Heather suggested, before the door chimed. “Oops, back to work.”

    As she got up, she looked towards the door and lit up to see Drew, Jo, and Roland walk in, with Marco following behind them. “Oh, hey guys!”

    Drew smiled. “Hey Heather.”

    Roland headed to the counter. “How’s the store been?”

    Heather jogged around the counter to her spot. “Good, actually. Your Dad went off to grab some pizzas. How was your first lesson?”

    Drew was quick to answer ahead of Roland as he joined him by Heather. “We’re starting with the basics. You know, breathing, how to move in a fight.”

    Jo took Heather’s spot at the table. “Except for Sensei being a jerk, it was fine.”

    Marco looked down at her. “I said it’s fine.”

    “What happened?” Dipper asked.

    “Sensei wants me to be his Assistant Instructor, but I can’t do that until I’ve become a red belt,” Marco explained.

    “Is that hard?” Dipper asked.

    Marco shook his head. “Not for me, no.”

    “That’s not all,” Jo said. “Sensei said he was going to just let him become his Assistant, then turned around like five minutes later and said he needed to be a Red Belt first.”

    Mabel gave a start. “Whaaaa? That’s messed up.”

    “He just got ahead of himself,” Marco replied. “He’s not perfect.”

    Heather got behind the counter and rested her arms on it. “That is kind of messed up, though. Like if Nano offered me a key to the store, then turned around and said I need to do something else for it.”

    Drew and Roland looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

    “It doesn’t matter if I have to become a red belt,” Marco said. “I can do that by Monday morning.”

    Dipper sided with Marco. “Then there isn’t a problem.”

    Jo let out a frustrated grunt. “Whatever.”

    Mabel raised her hands in a placating gesture. “Hey now, no need for bad vibes. We’re gonna have pizza soon!”

    Marco pulled out his phone. “I’d love to stay, but I gotta get ready for my Belt test.”

    He brought it up to his ear. “Hey Star, are you busy? Class is done… I’m at Zoom Comics, yeah.”

    Seconds later, a portal opened in the middle of the store, and Star emerged partly from it. “Hey Marco, your mom’s making that meatloaf stuff again… but this time there’s cheese inside it.”

    She noticed the others and smiled big. “Hi~!”

    Heather stared at the magical portal, her head tilting to the side.

    “Hey Star~!” Mabel and Misao chimed together, before the former continued. “We’re still good for tomorrow, right?”

    “A duh~” Star said. “I can’t wait for tomorrow, I have such a huge surprise for you. It’s gonna be the best one week anniversary ever! See you tomorrow!”

    She waved vanished back into the portal, Marco stepped in to follow and looked back between the table and the counter. “Next class is tomorrow, and we’re going to go into how movement works. See you.”

    “Yeah, bye,” Jo muttered.

    “Later Marco,” Drew said.

    “See you tomorrow bruh,” Roland added.

    Marco gave a small wave to Dipper, Mabel, and Misao, before he passed through it and it disappeared. Heather let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, soon as it closed. “That’s… wow.”

    Drew turned back to her. “You get used to it.”

    Heather raised her hands and shook her head. “I don’t think I want to.”

    Misao looked at Jo. “You can do nothing but be unpleasant, can you?”

    Jo glared back. “Marco’s being way too forgiving of how he’s treated there.”

    Mabel clapped her hands together. “Girls, girls.” When the glowering girls looked at her, she smiled. “This is no place for bitter arguments and name-calling, this is a comic book shop.”

    She gestured to Jo, while looking at the others. “Jo’s concerned about Marco, if in her own unpleasant way.”

    Misao frowned and copped to that. “Very unpleasant.”

    Mabel turned to Jo. “You gotta work on that.”

    “Hey, a guy literally walked out of there after that, so I wasn’t the only one who thought it’s crap. Besides, I think it was more than just the Sensei getting ahead of himself.”

    “Well, do you have proof?” Dipper asked.

    Jo frowned. “No, just a hunch… I think that little troll in Marco’s class, Jeremy Birnbaum, did something and made Sensei change his mind.”

    Dipper stopped. “The eight year old?”

    Mabel remembered what Marco had said about Jeremy. “The eight year old Marco says is as bad as the Vanderhoffs?”

    Dipper remembered. “Oh. Oh.”

    If it was that kind of problem, then Misao as well could see why Jo was in such a foul mood. “Hmph.”

    “So why don’t we talk to Sensei tomorrow?” Roland asked.

    “And keep an eye on Jeremy too, while we’re at it,” Drew added.

    “See? Proactive decision making and assertive planning, let’s do that instead of getting all salty and ill-tempered.” She looked back and forth between the two girls. “Now then, where’s our pizza?”

    The door chimed and a mustachioed African American man in his early 40s walked in, carrying four boxes of large pizzas. Seeing the teens gathered in his shop, Aaron Williams smiled and called over to his son. “Hey Roland, can you grab napkins from behind the counter?”

    He then addressed the others. “And you guys are welcome to drinks on the house.”

    Heather held up her tip jar. “But don’t forget to tip, you know?”

    Mabel shot up. “Pizza time! Thanks Uncle Aaron, and dibs on the pineapple pizza!”

    “I even made sure it was cut into squares, and not triangles like you asked.”

    Mabel beamed. “You are the best.”

    Jo grimaced. “Pineapple, really?”

    Misao shared Jo’s expression, and it deepened with the knowledge that she agreed with Jo on something else today. “I will just have the meat lovers pizza please.”

    Jo looked at Misao and sighed. “Ugh, so you do have some taste.”

    Dipper looked at Jo. “What’s wrong with Pineapple on pizza?”

    Jo was devastated.

    With slices distributed among the gang, Dipper took Mabel’s phone and toasted slices of pineapple with her as he began writing out a text to the group chat.

    Mabel said:
    I’ve had no luck searching the net for any signs of the Magnavores, but Heather gave me a heads up on something weird going on.

    Jo checked her phone and typed her own message back with a pout.

    Jo said:
    Is it a bunch of people suddenly liking pineapple on their pizza?! :(

    Roland, who was sitting behind the counter with his father, checked his phone and snickered.

    Roland said:
    lol

    Aaron looked over at his son. “Oh, some kind of funny meme?”

    Roland shook his head. “Nah, Jo’s just having a fit that a guy she likes has trash taste.”

    Drew, who had sat down to read some comics with his pizza, glanced over at Dipper then pulled out his phone.

    Drew said:
    What’s going on?

    Mabel said:
    Heather said that people have been seeing a giant snake lurking around Los Angeles. Is there anything in the comics about a snake?

    Marco said:
    What’s wrong with pineapple on pizza?

    Jo said:
    GO EAT UR MEATLOAF.

    Drew looked at his stack of books, and the latest Beetleborgs issue on top of it. His brow furrowed, as he examined the giant snake looming over Reddle and G-Stag. Opening the book, he saw the freakish form of Typhus’ pet creation Snake Head and began swiping.

    Drew said:
    The newest comic has Snake Head. The magnavores could summon scabs from the comic do you think they summoned this guy 2???

    Mabel said:
    I don’t have a doubt in my mind. First thing tomorrow, Mabel and I will go looking for it.

    Mabel leaned over and saw her screen. “Uh, bro-bro? Misao and I are going over to Star’s. She wants to show us something.”

    Her phone chimed again, and the twins looked at it.

    Janna Banana said:
    Dude, the giant snake might be a Magnavore?! I’ve been hunting it since it first showed up!!!

    Mabel said:
    Really?

    Janna Banana said:
    Duh I want to make it my familiar. If its a bad guy we can blast it too.


    Mabel said:
    Meet up with me at Zoom Comics tomorrow and we’ll go look for it then. Bring everything that you have on it.

    Janna said:
    👌 See you then.

    Marco said:
    Class is only three hours on the weekend, we’ll be out by noon and catch up with you.

    Mabel said:
    Thanks.

    Drew said:
    Thnx

    Roland said:
    Ty

    Jo said:
    Cool.

    Mabel said:
    It’s settled, then. Like Mabel said, let’s be proactive and assert ourselves.

    Handing Mabel’s phone back to her, Dipper took another bite out of his pizza and thought about their situation.

    If it’s a Magnavore then at least they’re not going around attacking people, but on the other hand… this now raises the question of what they’re up to. Whatever the case may be, we have a plan now, and we’ll be the ones going on the offensive this time.

    As he ruminated on these things, Mabel noticed Jo watching him with a pathetic–almost stricken look. “Have you ever even tried pineapple on pizza?”

    “Yes?” Jo asked.

    Drew called from his table. “No she hasn’t, she hates it because everyone says it's gross.”

    Jo whipped her head to shout back at him. “I do not!”

    Mabel huffed, then set down a slice of pineapple and pepperoni pizza in front of Jo. “Well then, eat it and I’ll give you ten bucks.”

    Jo looked at the pizza, then at Mabel. Picking it up she took her first bite and paused. She chewed a moment, then looked down at the pizza slice again. She swallowed.

    “Huh. This is the best ten dollars I’ve ever made.”

    “Ha!” Drew and Roland shouted at the same time.

    Misao, who didn’t like pineapple on pizza because she did try it, snickered and enjoyed her slice.

    = - = 28 = - =

    The hunt... is on.
     
    Last edited:
    Karate Kids
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 29 = - =

    |Karate Kids|

    The next morning at the Williams home, Roland made his way downstairs to the dining room of their suburban home, not too far up the street from the cul de sac Drew and Jo lived in. He was greeted by his parents, Aaron and Abbie Williams, having breakfast with his grandmother Nano.

    “Morning Dad,” he said to his father–who was hiding behind the tablet he was using as a shield from his mother and wife’s conversation.

    “Mmhm,” Aaron greeted back, knowing better than to remind them he was here.

    “Nano, please, have you for a moment thought about your health and well-being? You’re almost 70.” Abbie said to her mother-in-law, who was cutting up a steak she was having with her eggs.

    “I done told y’all enough. You are only as old as you feel and girl I am eternally 18.”

    “Have you had your cholesterol checked? Your blood pressure? You’re at high risk…”

    Nano huffed. “All of that’s fine. You know I run for five miles before any of you even thinkin’ of gettin’ out of bed.” She noticed Roland. “Mornin’ baby, come on over and grab you somethin’ to eat before you go out and do your karate.”

    Roland nodded and sat at the table, he grabbed a tortilla, a steak, and began slicing the latter. “So, what’s going on?”

    Abbie looked from her son to Nano. “Your grandmother’s getting lax on her health.”

    “Girl I have the strength of a bear with the strength of ten gorillas!”

    Abbie looked back at Roland. “She’s been skipping out on appointments with our new family physician.” She looks back at Nano. “Saying you’re going up there and then riding off on that motorcycle to do whatever.”

    “I’m saving you the money! Hmph!”

    Abbie turned to her husband. “Aaron, talk to your mother.”

    Aaron wondered why he thought his tablet would protect him. It never worked before. “Mom, please go in for one checkup?”

    “No,” Nano replied.

    Aaron shrugged his shoulders. “I tried.”

    Abbie’s glare could burn through Jara’s cloak. Roland scooped eggs onto his tortilla and added his sliced steak to it. “I think Nano’s doing fine.”

    “Thanks, baby,” Nano cooed to her grandson.

    Abbie let out a frustrated sigh. “Fine, Mom, you win. Do whatever you want, eat whatever you like. It’s not like you have to worry about what happens when it all catches up to you.”

    “Nobody’s gotta worry about anything,” Nano said, quite satisfied with her victory.

    Turning to her son, Abbie frowned when she saw all the steak and eggs he was going to roll up into that burrito. “You should start thinking about your diet too, young man.”

    Roland pointed to himself. “Moi?”

    “He’s a growing boy. Besides, he’s got karate class today.” Nano gestured to him. “Don’t you?”

    “That’s right,” Roland said as he threw on some salsa and carefully rolled his burrito up. “And on that note, I’m taking this to go. I want to get to the dojo early.”

    Getting up, Roland gave his father a light punch on the shoulder, then a fist bump when Aaron raised his fist for him. He got up and went over to his mother, giving her a one-armed hug as he held his burrito out of her reach. “I’ll be back this evening.”

    “Be safe, sweetie,” Abbie said with much more warmth after the hug.

    “Remember, ‘wax on, wax off,’” Aaron advised.

    “Hai, sensei,” Roland said with a quick bow.

    Rather than let him come to her, Nano got up and strode over to him, the purple track suit-wearing older woman grabbing her grandson in a big across the shoulder hug. “I’ll walk you out. I gotta do my tai chi down at the park anyway.”

    Abbie did a double take and saw that Nano had cleaned her plate. “Wait, when did you…?!”

    The two were already out the door, and Aaron breathed a sigh of relief.

    Out on the porch of Aaron and Abbie’s middle-class dream home, Roland chuckled. “Mom’s been on you a lot, lately.”

    Nano turned her nose up. “It’s how she loves, always worryin’ about everyone. It don’t bother me.” She smiled. “In fact, I might just sneak over to the doctor and get that checkup so she can sleep better.”

    “She’ll appreciate that,” he replied before remembering. “Oh, by the way… when I went to the dojo, the Sensei said it was ‘an honor’ to meet me when he realized I was your grandson. Do you know him?”

    She thought about it. “Huh, you’re going to that dojo over at Trank Plaza?”

    When he confirmed it with a nod, she laughed. “Brantley’s Dojo? Lord have mercy.”

    “Brantley?” Roland repeated.

    “I’m surprised that place is still open…” she murmured, before she smiled at Roland. “Well tell him ol’ Nano sends her love, and go easy on ‘im, kay baby?”

    Roland threw a playful fake punch with his free hand. “No promises.”

    “Morning, Nano!” Drew called as he and Jo rode up on their bikes.

    “Hey Nano,” Jo said as she bunny-hopped her bike from the street to the curb. She looked at Roland. “You ready?”

    “And rarin’.” Roland gave Nano another hug, then headed for his bike, chained up next to their house’s attached garage.

    @@@@@

    With Nano waving farewell, the three were on their way. The ride to Hill-Trank Plaza was just long enough for Roland to ride his bike with no hands and eat his burrito, and the morning was early enough that no cars had the opportunity to splatter him all over the pavement for his hubris. By the time they got there, Marco was already stepping out of another dimensional portal, and saying goodbye to Star for the day.

    “Remember that if something happens, we’ll need you,” Marco reminded Star.

    “Relax! I’ll have my ringer super loud. It’s not like I’m going anywhere I won’t hear it, just the Bounce Lounge.”

    He smiled. “Have fun, okay?”

    The faintest blush covered the tops of Star’s cheeks as she smiled back. “Yeah, fun! Later!”

    She retreated into the portal, which closed to reveal Drew, Jo, and Roland chaining their bikes up to a rack.

    “Hey Marco,” Drew said.

    “‘Sup man?” Roland asked.

    Marco nodded back to them. “Doing great, you guys ready to get some real training?”

    “Born ready,” Jo said, Drew and Roland nodding with her.

    Marco opened the door. “All right guys, today we’re going to get a lot done, but I need to talk to Sensei.”

    He stepped through the doorway, the others following him to find Sensei sitting with his legs crossed and his hands on his knees. The school’s master was in silent meditation, his eyes shut but relaxed, breathing deeply through his nose, and exhaling through his mouth.

    Jo looked around the room as Marco went over to the matts and sat seiza in front of Sensei on the very edge of them. No other students had arrived yet. “So the little imp isn’t here.”

    Drew looked at Roland. “So soon as Marco’s done, we can start asking questions.”

    “Yeah, leave it to me,” Roland assured them.

    Out on the mats Marco sat in silence, watching his teacher’s meditation with intense focus. Sensei continued his steady breathing for several moments, making no other movements, giving nothing away. After a few moments more, Marco wondered if he was meditating at all and not-

    “Mr. Diaz.”

    Oh, he’s awake. He thought.

    “The time is eight-twenty seven and twenty-three seconds. Twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six…” Marco checked his watch, while Drew, Jo, and Roland went to their phones. He was right on the dot. “You have come early to the dojo. What is it that you seek?”

    Marco answered. “I wish to advance, to take the next step on my journey. It’s time for me to level up and become a Red Belt.”

    Sensei took a deep breath. “I see. Five years and you believe you are ready?”

    “That’s right.” He clenched and unclenched his hands. “I want to move up so I can challenge myself further and achieve greater heights. I don’t think I can do that as a Green Belt anymore.”

    Sensei nodded. “So you are finding yourself bored as a Green Belt then, Mr. Diaz?”

    “Not bored… I just feel like I have learned everything there is at my level.”

    Sensei’s eyes opened. “I see. Well then, I hope you are ready for a grueling process. The Red Belt is the deep red of sunset, the last bit of light before you venture into the uncertain dark of true mastery. I will push you to your every limit to see that you are ready to reach this level.”

    Jo rolled her eyes. “How much anime does this guy watch?”

    “Yes,”
    Roland answered.

    “I dunno, this is kinda cool,” Drew admitted.

    “Do you think you can handle it? This trial has broken many a student.” Sensei asked Marco.

    Marco nodded. “Yes, Sensei.”

    Sensei closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Very well, stand!”

    He shot to his feet, Marco springing to his in the same instant. “Bow to your sensei!”

    Marco placed his hands together and bowed to Sensei. “Now prepare yourself! Your training begins… NOOOOOOOW!”

    With his bellowing kiai Sensei crossed the mat at speed that caught not only Marco, but the Beetleborg kids completely off guard. Turning he lifted his right leg to bring his heel down on Marco in an axe kick.

    “Whoa!” Marco raised his hands to block but Sensei was faster, his heel actually stopping short of his face. “… Huh?”

    Sensei pointed his foot at Marco’s face. “Clip the toenail.”

    Marco lowered his hands. “Huh?”

    Drew, Jo, and Roland stared at the scene, expressions blank. “Huh?”

    “Clip the toenail,” Sensei repeated, wiggling his toes for emphasis.

    Marco looked at his toes, then back at his face. “… Seriously?”

    “Clip the toenail, Mr. Diaz!” Sensei bellowed, and without fail Marco pulled out a pair of toenail clippers and snipped the edge off Sensei’s big toenail.

    “Ack! It got in my eye!”

    Drew and Roland winced, while Jo’s brow furrowed. “Okay, this is dumb.”

    Marco wildly brushed at his eyes, then looked up at his Sensei. “What the heck?!”

    Sensei narrowed his eyes. “If you are not ready for grueling minutiae, then how can I be sure you are prepared to wear the burden of the red belt, nay, the burden of being an instructor? A master? The arts are not merely chopping wooden planks and kicking butts, it is patience, diligence, and focus! To better yourself not physically, but mentally, and metaphysically–straight down to the soul!”

    Comprehension lit up Marco’s face. “Oh, I see…!”

    “Well then, continue to clip the toenail, Mr. Diaz, and prepare yourself. This is only the beginning of your Red Belt Trial.”

    The fire already lit in Marco blazed hotter. He was not going to let his sensei down. “Yes, Sensei!”

    He clipped another toenail. “Ow! Again?!”

    Sensei was correct, this was only the beginning. After clipping his toenails, Marco mopped then waxed the floors, plunged the toilets, scrubbed the showers, itemized the school’s budget and washed the windows. All while Drew, Jo, and Roland watched from the bleachers as students filtered in and out, finding no classes to be taught while Sensei ran Marco through his Belt Trial.

    “This is so dumb…” Jo groaned. “We’ve been here literally all morning watching Marco do chores.”

    Drew was reading comics off his phone. “I’m with Jo on this one, we should’ve gone with Dipper and Janna, if this was what we’re gonna be doing all morning.”

    Jo gave him the side-eye. “Oh, what happened to this being kinda cool?”

    Drew checked his phone’s time. “Three hours and ten minutes elapsed.”

    Sensei was standing at the base of a ladder, watching Marco scrub the rafters of the dojo. “Those cross-beams need to be shining, Diaz!”

    “Yes sensei!” Marco shouted before some soapy, dirty water fell into his eye. “AHHH!”

    Roland hummed in agreement. “I suppose so. If you guys wanna sneak out ahead, you can. I’m going to stick around here.”

    Drew got up and looked back at his best friend. “You sure?”

    “Yeah, I still need to talk to Sensei,after all,” Roland said.

    Jo let out a huff. “Good luck getting a word in edgewise.”

    She looked at her phone. “Janna says they’re at the scrapyard, let’s go.”

    The two jogged down the bleachers and headed for the door. Drew looked up at Marco. “Hey, Marco! Me and Jo are going to let you finish your trial, later!”

    Looking down, Marco was surprised. “Wait, you’re leaving?”

    Jo was already at the door. “We’ve been here for hours. We’re going to meet up with Dipper.”

    She left, Drew behind her.

    “Yeah, sorry,” he called as he followed his sister out.

    Marco swore under his breath. “W-wait…!”

    “Mr. Diaz, you still have scrubbing to do!” Sensei reminded him.

    Groaning, Marco went back to scrubbing. “Can’t believe I wasted the whole morning…” Another droplet of soapy water landed in his eyes. “Dang it!”

    “Is your failure at hand, Mr. Diaz?”

    “No, Sensei!”

    Sensei nodded. “Good. After this, we’re going to close up shop and take your trial to the streets. There is still much you have to endure.”

    “Yes, Sensei!”

    Roland waved his hand. “Hey Sensei, can we talk for a sec?”

    Sensei looked over to Roland. “Of course!”

    He turned back to Marco. “Keep up the scrubbing!”

    “Yes, Sensei!” Marco called back.

    Roland got up and walked down the bleachers, gesturing for Sensei to come over a little further away from Marco. Following him, Sensei folded his arms and nodded. “Is something the matter, Mr. Williams?”

    “There’s nothing wrong,” Roland glanced at Marco, then back to Sensei. “Yesterday you said you knew my Grandma. What’s up with that?”

    Sensei lit up. “Your Grandmother, yes. Look around this dojo, Roland, without a chance encounter with Nano many years ago… none of this would exist.”

    “Really?”

    Sensei nodded. “Honestly. Many years ago–but not too many, I was like your age, I was a young thug going down the wrong path. Gangs, violence, drugs, I grew up surrounded by it… and for much of my teen years, I thought that was all my life was going to be.”

    His dark eyes drew off to his right, narrowing as he recalled himself on the mean streets of East LA, a young man who wore a hoodie and a skull-cap in 95 degree heat, throwing up gang signs, spray-painting tags, robbing drug dealers, and running from the cops. “I was so young, and already on a downward spiral–it was only a matter of time before I was dead or in jail.”

    He raised a clenched fist. “Then one day, I was at the end of my rope. I was cornered by a rival set right on the banks of the LA river, nothing but hot concrete between myself and a certain death at the hands of the eight biggest, baddest bangers East LA ever knew.”

    Roland hummed, imagining the young Sensei faced off against eight men armed with everything from baseball bats to handguns, surrounding him.

    “Then, I heard the rev of an engine. And in a flash my life was saved.”

    The young Sensei had only an instant to react, before a motorcycle straight from the fantasies of every Motorcycle aficionado roared through the air over his head and landed in a long sideways slide, bowling over the gangbangers as its rider threw her foot down and carved a trench in the concrete to stop it.

    The young Sensei looked up, in shock of the carnage, and then in awe at Nano–one hand on the handlebars of her motorcycle, and the other extended out to him.

    “‘Come with me, if you want to live’, she said, like straight out of Terminator 2 or something. It was so awesome,” Sensei continued.

    Roland thought about it. “Yeah, Nano loves that movie. She’d definitely do something like that.”

    “From that day forward, she took me under her wing, training me in the path of not just the honorable warrior, but the path of a man. From her I learned not to fight, but how to live, and I have been proud to show others that path since.”

    That also sounded like his grandmother. “Nano had a big impact on you, huh?”

    “I owe her everything. She is my most revered Master.” Sensei placed his fist in his palm. “That is why it is an honor to train her grandson. Don’t think that this means you’ll get any preferential treatment, though. I am a strict teacher, and I cut no slack for anyone.”

    Roland hummed. “Yeah, about that. Why did you let Jeremy get away with running his mouth-?”

    Sensei held up his hand up to silence him. “Hold that thought, Mr. Williams.”

    He turned and headed over towards Marco, who was climbing down from the ladder. “Excellent work Mr. Diaz! I can almost see my reflection in the rafters. Which is pretty impressive, since wood isn’t like reflective, and junk.”

    “Thank you, Sensei!” Marco said as he made his way down the ladder.

    “It’s almost noon,” Sensei continued. “So I will lock up the shop and we’ll be on our way.”

    Stepping off the ladder, Marco set the bucket on the floor. “So what’s next? How are we taking things to the streets?”

    “There is much to be done, Mr. Diaz. First, let’s grab some tacos over at Britta’s, then we’ll head to the next training ground.”

    “Sounds good to me,” Marco said before Roland walked over and held up his phone. “Uh?”

    Roland nodded to the door. “I don’t think we can do that, Marco. We were going to hang out with the others after class, remember?”

    Marco winced. “I know, but…”

    Sensei looked from Roland to Marco. “If you want to go hang out with your friends, you may. We can resume your trial in the morning tomorrow. You look like you need a break–and maybe get your eyes looked at.”

    Roland agreed, they were looking pretty red from all the stuff that kept getting into them.

    Marco looked half-ready to agree but stopped himself. “Hang on. If I complete your trial today, can I get certified for the Red Belt tomorrow?”

    Sensei recoiled at the request. “Oh no, Mr. Diaz, there’s no way that you can complete this trial in one day. There is much to be done far too much.”

    Come on, Marco. Roland thought. “You can come back tomorrow man, we might be needed, you know?”

    Marco looked down, then at Roland. “The faster this is out of the way, the faster I can become a red belt and teach you properly. It’ll all be worth it, but if you need me… just call my phone. I’ll have my ringer super loud.”

    Roland wore a slight frown. “Are you sure?”

    “It’s fine,” Marco said before resting a hand on Roland’s shoulder. “Right now, I need to do this.”

    Roland flicked his gaze to Sensei then back. Closing his eyes, he nodded. “You do you, man. But if we need you, you gotta pick up.”

    “I will drop everything and head right over.” Marco said. “I promise.”

    Nodding, Roland bowed to both. “Good luck on the training.”

    Both Marco and Sensei placed their hands together and bowed to Roland. Heading out to his bike, he unlocked it while looking back at the dojo.

    Kind of reminds me of Drew, when he gets locked in on something.

    Something was bothering Marco, and the Red Belt sounded like the answer to his problems. Remembering what happened at the dojo yesterday, he realized.

    Gonna have to talk to him about that.

    = - = 29 = - =

    Come on Marco.
     
    Last edited:
    Scrapyard Dogs
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 30 = - =

    |Scrap Yard Dogs|

    The high pitched whine of dirt bike engines broke through the city ambiance of late morning Echo Creek. Running up and down the hills of a large makeshift motocross circuit, several dirt bikes took to the air with dramatic leaps, their riders performing dizzying tricks atop their seats and handlebars before landing again. The circuit was nestled within a large scrapyard in the north of Echo Creek, not too far off from the winding road that led to Hillhurst. Atop one of the tall heaps of scrap overlooking the track, Dipper and Janna watched the leaping motorcyclists.

    “So,” Janna said as she balanced on the hood of a 70s station wagon, “Thursday morning here at this scrap yard, someone saw a giant snake around here near the track.”

    Dipper looked towards the direction indicated. “They couldn’t take a picture in time?”

    “Just like everyone else,” Janna replied.

    The buzzing of a dirt bike revving up even louder drew their attention to one of the bikers–wearing a blue and pink jersey splashed with neon green, in the middle of a huge air jump. Looking their way, the rider floated off their bike with one hand on the handlebars, pointed a finger gun at them and faked pulling the trigger at the top of their jump, and swung back on their bike to land in front of another similarly dressed rider filming the stunt with a camcorder.

    Dipper whistled. “That was pretty cool.”

    Janna tilted her head. “I guess. Those guys are kind of tools, though.”

    He looked over at her. “Huh?”

    She hopped off the hood of the car, onto the belly of an overturned coupe. She then jumped and landed on the dirt path between the piles of wrecked cars. “That track was made for BMX kids years ago. Then like last year some dudes on actual motorbikes took it over and it started a huge beef.”

    Dipper followed her down with a little more care. “BMX vs. Motocross, huh? Who won?”

    Janna gestured out at the tracks. “You see any bikes down there?”

    He frowned when he saw that indeed there were no regular bicycles to be seen. “That’s kind of messed up. They couldn’t share it?”

    “They didn’t even try, but when you figure out who was in charge of the whole takeover? It makes sense.”

    Dipper frowned. “One of the Vanderhoffs?”

    “Got it in one, it was Van who did it. Even worse? When he finished taking over this place, he got bored with his motorbike and quit.”

    Dipper grit his teeth. Asking what was wrong with those two would be rhetorical at this point, so he just opted to punch one of them if he saw them in person. “Slimy bastard.”

    “Don’t besmirch sliminess. He’s a dry bastard, complete with chafing.”

    It took a second for Dipper to process that, and he gave Janna a sidelong look. “Okay, that one was outside of the box. Also, ew.”

    Janna glanced back at him and smirked, before she walked on ahead of him and the two fell out of sight of the track. The mountains of old and broken down cars were piled high, some several stories. Cars, trucks, other mechanical equipment, from the 1930s to today, rusting under the hot Southern California sun in anticipation of some far off recycling.

    The sheer size of the scrapyard stuck out to Dipper, as he looked down one lane between compacted coupes and convertibles. “This place is huge. Is this where all of South Cali’s cars go to die, or something?”

    “Pretty much, but I think this place is weirder than you think. I’ve literally seen places here that aren’t the next time I visit.” When Dipper turned back to face her, interested, she continued. “Like the Monster Truck Graveyard.”

    “Monster Truck Graveyard?” That sounded amazing.

    “A whole corner of the scrap yard that’s just Monster Trucks. I’ve only been there twice, and if I didn’t pull pieces off them to add to my collection at home, I never would’ve believed it was real.”

    If they weren’t already on the hunt for something else, Dipper would be begging Janna to take him there to see it for himself. “Give me a week and we’ll figure this out. This is my kind of mystery.”

    “I’m here every Saturday. We can invite Marco next time, make a date of it.”

    Dipper blushed and tugged his lumberjack hat down slightly over his eyes. Janna smirked in good-natured amusement.

    He looked at her from under the edge of his hat. “So how long have you known him?”

    “Since kindergarten. Though I can’t say we were on speaking terms until like Freshman Year, before that we were just background characters for each other.”

    Dipper hummed. “So how well do you actually know him?”

    “I know everything about him. Full name, address, social security number, account passwords, medical history-”

    Okay, that was weird. “I mean as a person.”

    Janna stopped to think about it. “Well, we hung out starting in High School, but we weren’t friends then. I just mostly hung out with the exchange student his family was hosting then. After Akil left, we just kinda drifted together and we’ve been cool since.”

    Dipper raised an eyebrow. “Cool enough for you to know all of his personal information?”

    “Well,” she said as she shrugged her shoulders, “A guy like him needs to stay humble.”

    “That’s not ominous.”

    Janna was a mystery unto herself, from which many more mysteries sprang.

    “Don’t worry your handsome face, I’m not out to get him.” She clicked her teeth. “He’s not my type.”

    “What is your type? Mysterious? Dark? Dangerous? Dead?”

    Janna barked a laugh. “Careful with that sass Lumberjack, or I’ll add tall and charming to that list.”

    Both laughed, and walked only a little further forward before they stopped and realized they were standing amidst tall mounds of scrapped vehicles, equipment, and other metal materials. It was quiet too, the nearby sounds from the motocross track absent, leaving just a still and off-putting ambience of metal creaking and straining under its own weight.

    Dipper felt a sense that things weren’t right. “Huh, that’s weird.”

    “You noticed it too, huh?” Janna asked as she turned to look up the path they came down. “We’re in one of the weird parts. You can’t hear the machinery, the road, or anything.”

    Dipper reached into his book bag and pulled out his journal. Opening it, he reached a blank page and began writing. “That’s a good way to know if we’re in an anomaly.”

    He looked back at Janna. “Check your phone, is it working?”

    Janna pulled it out and looked. “Looks like it.”

    “Send a text to make sure.”

    Janna did so, sending out a message to the group chat that she and Dipper were at the scrap yard. To her surprise, it was sent without issue. “Yep, we’re still connected.”

    “Maybe it’s because we’re still close to where we entered… is there anything else that happens when you go into an anomaly?”

    Janna gestured over to their left. “The scrap looks different.”

    He looked up one of the piles at Janna’s indication. Unlike the neater, more organized mounds in the main part of the scrap yard, the jagged and twisted piles looked too dangerous to climb. “I wish I had a drone or something. We could fly it up there and get a view of the surrounding area.”

    He looked down the path ahead. The sheer volume of scrap and metal was so much that it was impossible to tell how far it actually went, or if it ever stopped. With a small grimace, he imagined how easy it’d be to get lost here–or worse, to hide.

    “The Magnavores would love this place.”

    Janna had a worrying thought. “If the Snake is a Magnavore, it might have found its way here.”

    “So it’s going to be like finding a snake in a haystack, great.” Dipper looked up the path. “We may as well go back up and wait for the others, then. That’s how we get out of here, right?”

    Janna nodded. “Oh yeah, I’ve never had a problem finding my way back. It doesn’t even take that long.”

    “Really?”

    “Yep, no matter how far you go in, you can just turn around and take a few steps back…”

    Dipper followed her lead, taking only a few steps, and suddenly the sound of the nearby machinery and dirt bikes returned.

    “… And you’ll be back in the real world.”

    Dipper looked around, surprised. Everything indeed looked normal again. “What other secrets does this town have…?” He asked before the dirt bike sounds grew louder and closer. “Huh?”

    From around a corner of compacted cars, a dirt bike emerged. The same bike and rider that had pointed at Dipper when they were watching from atop the piles.

    Janna lifted an eyebrow and looked at Dipper.

    He shared her confusion as he looked back, putting his journal away. “Uh, hey? Are you lost?”

    The biker didn’t answer, he revved his bike, as two more riders pulled up. One held a metal bar in his left hand and was slapping it against the side of his bike. The other pulled out the camcorder they’d seen before and pointed it at Dipper and Janna.

    “Oh crap…” Janna she said through her teeth. “… We need to go…”

    Soon as she said that the lead rider charged, riding up into a wheelie at Dipper. Shoving Janna clear, he jumped back the other way, and into the path of the second rider swinging the metal bar he carried for his head.

    Grabbing his hat, Dipper ducked down and under the swing and looked back to see both dirt bikes spin out to face him again, the riders looking straight at him. He glanced at Janna, who was climbing up one of the normal looking stacks of scrap, then back at the riders.

    Wait, they’re after me! He realized as they charged him again.

    The first rider barreled for Dipper, then spun out again, kicking up the dirt and gravel on the path at him.

    As Dipper shielded his face with his arms, he felt a hard, sharp impact across his stomach, just across his lower ribs from the second rider’s metal bar. The pain made him stumble, before he felt the first rider’s boot slam into the side of his head, the kick knocking him to the ground.

    Prone, Dipper ignored the pain and scrambled up to his feet, running ahead blindly. Just behind him, the bar-armed rider rode up against the side of the scrap pile behind him. Brushing his face, he looked at the three riders, the two revving their bikes again and looking at him–their helmets and goggles obscuring their faces, hiding their intentions. The third held the camcorder pointed right at him, to catch every moment.

    Before they could attack again, a broken rear view mirror bounced off the shoulder of the lead rider, and both looked up to see Janna hoisting a car bumper to throw it down at them. “Hey! Up here!”

    She threw it down and the riders scattered from being struck. In their moment of distraction, Dipper reached into his bag and pulled out something he didn’t think he’d need but was glad Mabel packed it–her trusty grappling hook gun.

    “Thank you, Mabel…!” He said under his breath before he aimed and fired it, the hook shooting up past Janna to catch on the top of her scrap pile. The rope grew taut, and Dipper was yanked off the ground and out of the reach of the riders. Slamming his feet into the side of the pile, he ran up it, pulled all the way to the top where he joined Janna.

    “Dude, are you okay?” Janna asked as she helped him up over the edge.

    Dipper reclaimed the hook. “I’m fine… I just… what the heck?”

    Janna pointed down. “I don’t know, but we should be running.”

    He saw why, the pile of scrap they stood on wasn’t a perfect tower, just to his right he could see where shorter piles next to it created a staircase of sorts, perfect for a determined pursuer to get up. This didn’t escape their two attackers, who already circled around and began climbing their way up towards them, while the third watched at the bottom with the camera.

    “Why are they filming it?” Dipper asked aloud before Janna tugged on his sleeve.

    “This way!” She bolted the other way, running across the tops of the piles. Dipper didn’t hesitate to follow, the long climb the dirt bikers needed gave them a head start.

    The two clumsily fled over the uneven and warped terrain of compacted vehicles, jumping over the narrow gaps between the stacks in their flight back towards the entrance of the scrapyard. Dipper looked back, in time to see the first rider come up over the top and begin slowly gaining on them, the second close behind.

    “Crap…!” Janna shouted.

    He stopped with her and saw the wide gap between them and the next stack. Looking up, he saw the arm of the scrap yard’s crane overhead, then looked back at the riders. He aimed the grappling hook. “Grab onto me, Janna!”

    Janna didn’t hesitate, clinging to him as he fired the hook, catching the crane and jumping to swing across the wide gap between the stacks. At the end of the swing, Dipper dropped onto the top of the stack and set Janna down.

    Looking up at the grappling line, the gap they crossed, and their pursuers across it, she let out a laugh. “That was so cool.”

    Dippers shook out his arm after he recalled the grappling hook. “How does Mabel do that without hurting herself…?”

    The two riders stopped and stared at both of them, but neither Dipper nor Janna spared them a second look as they headed down towards the mound of scrap to the ground level.

    Hopping down the scrap piles, Dipper shook his head. “Are the Motocross guys that messed up?”

    “I know, right?” Janna asked.

    Both heard the bikes moving, fast, and set aside their questions for later. Running hard, they reached the main row of the scrap yard and kept going towards the entrance, Dipper lagging behind Janna. “Go! Go! Go!”

    Just behind them, the camera wielding rider came around a corner, followed by the other two, who quickly shot past him and closed in with the metal bar-armed one taking the lead and brandishing it to swing for Dipper’s back.

    At the last second Dipper snapped around with the Grappling Hook gun and fired it. “You got too close!”

    The hook smashed into the rider’s helmet faceplate and knocked him off his bike. The sudden violence of the counterattack caused the other two riders to stop in their tracks.

    Yanking his arm back, Dipper retracted the hook and it locked into the barrel of the gun. The first rider who attacked rolled up to his fallen partner, who was clutching their face plate and letting out muffled screams.

    The rider looked from his friend to Dipper, who aimed the grappling hook at him. “Don’t try it!”

    The rider revved his bike and charged Dipper. Lining up the shot, Dipper fired the grappling hook, but the rider yanked his bike into a wheelie, deflecting the hook upward.

    “Damn it!” Dipper shouted before the rider swerved into a slide and kicked Dipper in the chest, knocking him onto his back.

    Janna stopped and looked back. “Ah, Lumberjack!”

    Doing a full donut as Dipper hit the ground, the rider reared his machine up again, and came up on Dipper to bring the front tire down on his stomach.

    “Crap, crap, crap…!” Janna pulled out her phone to send a warning, when a much louder engine all but deafened her and a black and pink blur blew past her left.

    The rider on the dirt bike looked up from his standing wheelie, then dropped it–barely missing Dipper as he rolled out of the way. Another motorcycle, a big heavy chopper, passed by Dipper–its rider snatching the motocrosser off his bike with a strong-armed lariat.

    Turning sharply, the chopper rider threw the motocrosser onto the wounded one and came to a stop between Dipper and his attackers.

    Dipper slowly got up and looked in surprise at the motorcycle. He recognized both it and it’s rider immediately. “Wait… huh?”

    On the chopper, a red scarf trailing in the disturbed air behind her, Nano Williams glared at the two Motocrossers getting up, while the third lowered their camera in a panic. “You must be out your goddamn minds! On everything I love, I swear to God, if I catch you messin’ with my babies again, YOU WILL CATCH THESE HANDS! ALL OF Y’ALL!”

    The menace that the motocross riders enjoyed evaporated as their terror took hold. They fell over each other, hand over foot trying to get onto their feet. The one Dipper hit was struggling to get his bike, when the one Nano snatched off his bike helped him up and both hobbled away, the one filming it all had already turned and raced off. As they fled, Nano brought her hands to her mouth and shouted after them.

    “AND DON’T THINK I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE! I KNOW ALL YO’ MAMAS AND DADDIES! YOU BEST GET ON HOME BEFORE I BEAT Y’ALL THERE AND JOIN IN WHUPPIN’ YO BEHINDS!”

    Under her verbal assault, the two remaining riders abandoned their bikes altogether and fled into the scrapyard, hobbling as fast as they could.

    As soon as they were out of sight Dipper wiped his face and checked his palm–that first kick to the head had made him bleed. His eyes narrowed and he clenched his hand into a fist as Nano dismounted from her bike and joined him. Janna came back over to him, finishing her text to the group chat.

    “Oh Dipper, honey, what did they do to you?” Nano asked as she took off her scarf and pressed it to the wound.

    “Jumped us,” he replied.

    Nano, all that anger replaced with matronly worry, shook her head. “Why, baby?”

    “I don’t know… but it’s the second time in a week I’ve been attacked for no reason.” He had a good idea what was going on now, and it made his blood boil.

    Nano saw the look in Dipper’s eyes, and she gave him a slow nod. “Call your grandpa to pick you up.”

    Dipper looked back up the path. “What about those guys?”

    “They need to learn them a painful lesson. I’m gonna have some words with the manager of this scrap yard about their little track out here. We’ll see if they’ll be actin’ like fools after today.”

    As Nano went over to her bike, Dipper took her scarf in hand to press it against his wound and looked at Janna. “Can I use your phone?”

    Janna handed it to him. “Are you okay?”

    “I’ll be fine,” he said, dialing Shermie’s number. “You’d be surprised at the kind of abuse I’ve taken.”

    “You dish it out as well as you can take it, too, and better than they can. Did you see that one kid you clocked with the Grappling Hook? He’s gonna be eating through a straw for the rest of the year.”

    “Good,” Dipper snapped, making her eyebrows rise. “I hope he swallowed some of his teeth.”

    Janna’s face relaxed to her usual laid back expression, then she bit the corner of her lower lip.

    As Shermie picked up the phone and Dipper began to explain the situation, he, Janna, and Nano were being watched. From within the fresher heaps of scrap the very snake they had been looking for flicked its tongue.

    Danger. Power. Incredible power. Not what it sought, and even more dangerous than what it tasted before. Nothing for it here, it would move elsewhere, closer to that vexing place of power that it could not approach.

    Its prey was near.

    = - = 30 = - =

    It's just not Dipper's time in Echo Creek.
     
    Last edited:
    Red Tape
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    But then again, everyone's having a bad day today.

    = - = 31 = - =

    |Red Tape|

    Janna Banana said:
    Dipper and I got jumped @ the scrapyard

    Jo said:
    WHAT

    Mabel said:
    OMG R U OK??

    Janna Banana said:
    Dipper got beat up but hes good. Nano helped us out.

    Jo said:
    WTF WHO DID IT?

    Janna Banana said:
    Sum dbags from the bike track. They chased us around the scrapyard, but they were after him.

    Jo said:
    Drew said that its the Vanderhoffs!

    Janna Banana said:
    Where r u guys?

    Jo said:
    We r almost @ junkyard. 5 minutes.

    Janna Banana said:
    We r going back 2 Dipper’s place. His grandpa will pick u up 2. Is Marco with you?

    Jo said:
    No, Marco’s still at the dojo.

    Janna Banana said:
    Y?

    Roland said:
    Getting his red belt.

    Jo said:
    Is he not reading his messages?!

    Roland said:
    I’m gonna call him.

    Roland said:
    Straight 2 voicemail. Im gonna go back 2 the dojo and let him know. Well catch up.

    Mabel said:
    Sry for long response! We r leaving Bounce Lounge right now! Meet u @ Sherpa’s!

    Marco had not answered his phone because it was in his backpack at the dojo, and he was a few blocks away at Sensei’s home. When Sensei said they were taking their training out onto the street, it was actually out to here–and since their arrival he’d finished mowing the front lawn of the house, sweeping the driveway, and now he was washing the windows.

    He wasn’t kidding about this being tough. He thought as he scrubbed at a particularly stubborn wad of grime with a soapy sponge.

    “Remember: sponge on, squeegee off. Let the two work in harmony, like yin and yang, and the balance will do the rest.”

    Marco looked down at Sensei then back at the window. “There’s a lot of gunk up here… like someone hasn’t cleaned these for a while.”

    The yard was the same way too, at least the lawnmower was in good shape to tackle it.

    “You can give up any time if it’s too hard, Mr. Diaz.”

    Marco scrubbed harder. “No, Sensei!”

    He scowled into his reflection in the glass. “I’m getting that belt.”

    Sensei brought a hand to his chin, rubbing his goatee. “Hmm… when you’re done with the windows, next you’ll have to clean my–guest room. I just hosted an AirBnB and it is grody.”

    “Yes, Sensei!” Marco shouted back, as Roland came riding down the street. Spotting them, he pulled a turn and rolled up into Sensei’s driveway.

    Sensei saw him and nodded in greeting. “Mr. Williams.”

    Roland gave him only the briefest nod back, before calling up to Marco from the seat of his bike. “Hey, Marco! Where’s your phone, bruh?”

    Marco stopped and looked back. “Roland? What’s going on?”

    “Dipper and Janna got jumped at the scrapyard.”

    Marco dropped the sponge and squeegee into the bucket and leaped down from the ladder, landing in front of Roland. “When? Are they okay?”

    “Dipper got beat up a bit, but otherwise they’re all right. We’re all meeting at his place.” He leaned closer. “The guys that did it went straight for him for no reason, just like Lars did Monday.”

    It wasn’t some great mystery that needed Sherlock’s intellect to solve. “… Trip and Van.”

    Roland nodded. “… Yeah…”

    Marco turned to his Master. “I have to stop for today, Sensei.”

    Sensei folded his arms. “If you do now, then you will have to begin the trial all over again.”

    “That’s fine, one of my friends got beat up and I need to make sure he’s all right.” Marco stopped. “Wait, start over? Can’t we pick up where we left off?”

    “No can do, Mr. Diaz, the trial requires discipline and the determination to follow through with a difficult task. Just like in real life, you cannot merely press the pause button and pick up later at your own convenience. It is a disgrace to the art and to the journey.”

    Roland spoke up. “Uh, that’s not what you said at the dojo.”

    Sensei looked at him. “Come again?”

    “You offered Marco to take the rest of the day off and said that he could pick it up tomorrow,” he pointed out.

    Marco looked at Roland, then at Sensei. “Yeah. What’s up with that?”

    “Uh… well you see, that was before you truly immersed yourself in the trial. You have already taken care of the difficult tasks such as the lawn and the front windows.”

    Roland turned to Marco. “Dude’s been having you do his housework? Cleaning the dojo is one thing, but belt tests can’t be all of this.”

    Marco took a moment for Roland’s point to sink in. “Hey… Sensei, what’s going on?”

    Sensei recoiled, his eyes darting left and right as his mind raced. “Well… you see, that is…”

    A car pulled up into the driveway at that moment, and the color drained from Sensei’s face when the boys turned and saw a small old woman emerge from the car and walk over to them. She was looking, impressed, at the well mowed lawn.

    “Oh my goodness, Brantley! The lawn looks lovely.” She looked up at the front of the house, specifically the windows. “And you finally got to the windows too.”

    She turned her attention to Marco and Roland. “Oh, your little friends from the dojo came to help? That’s so sweet of you boys-”

    She did a double take. “You’re Nano’s grandson, aren’t you dear?”

    Roland nodded. “Uh… yeah…”

    “I was wondering if you were ever going to start going to his school. I’ve suggested it to Nano so many times over at the salon.” She flashed the boys a warm smile. “You all sit tight, I’ll make you up some sandwiches for all your hard work.”

    The old woman walked up to the house and unlocked the door. Marco’s gaze moved from the woman to Sensei. “Uh… your mom lives with you?”

    “N-no, she has her own house. She just visits, because she worries about me.”

    At that moment, his mother called out. “I hope that while you’re on this roll, you’ll get your room cleaned, Brantley. I’m having some guests over Sunday, and I’d like to have the house spotless.”

    Sensei looked back to his students, and he withered under their stares. “All right… the truth is… yes, this is my mom’s house, and I am indeed… having you do my chores that I’ve been behind on.”

    Marco closed his eyes, and took a long deep breath in through his nose and out through his mouth. “Why…?”

    “Because… the truth is, Mr. Diaz…” Brantley hung his head. “… I am a green belt, too.”

    “I don’t understand,” Marco said, the tone of his voice detached.

    Roland’s reaction was much stronger than Marco’s. “What?!”

    Sensei gestured for them to follow. “Allow me to explain… the terrible truth.”

    Roland looked at Marco, then back at Sensei as he walked away. He palmed his face and got off his bike. “I cannot believe this…”

    Marco was at a loss for words but centered himself and went after Sensei. “Come on.”

    They followed Sensei upstairs to his room. Like his mother suggested, the room was in dire need of a cleaning, and to Marco’s chagrin it looked every bit as disorganized and sloppy as his wasn’t. Sensei sat down on the floor beside his unmade bed and pulled out a dusty cardboard box full of old VHS tapes.

    “You see, after I had finished my training under Nano… I dedicated myself to teaching the martial arts. So I picked up these tapes in order to teach students.”

    “You can’t teach Karate by video tape,” Roland began.

    “Sure you can, they’re like lesson plans,” Sensei pointed out. “What courses to teach for each level, from yellow to black belt and junk. Unfortunately… I have not been able to watch past the green belt video.”

    “… Why?” Marco asked, after another noticeable deep breath.

    He gestured across the room. Both looked and found an old VCR/DVD player combo holding up a broken leg of the table. Sticking partially out of it was a VHS tape labeled “How to Karate: Red Belt Test and Training Guide.”

    “The tape got stuck in the VCR, and I’ve been unable to remove it. I tried to watch another tape to learn how to unstick it, but… that got stuck, too.” The VCR and stuck tape in question were supporting the computer table’s other leg.

    “That’s literally it?” Roland pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a groan. “YouTube, my guy… YouTube…”

    Sensei looked up from his knees. “You think I haven’t scraped the internet high and low for it online? I searched so deep into the web that I had to throw my last two hard drives into the LA river to get rid of that web history.”

    “No, I mean to unstick…” Roland shook his head. “You know what? Forget it.” He looked at Marco. “Can we go?”

    Marco took a third deep breath. “Sensei, I need to get my phone and clothes from the dojo.”

    Sensei, cowed by Roland’s exasperation and Marco’s disappointment, nodded and rose to his feet. “Very well, we shall depart at once.”

    @@@@@

    Roland walked his bike alongside Marco, his expression flat as the two trailed behind Sensei, who was slowly pedaling his own BMX style bicycle up the shop-lined road towards the strip mall. Marco was using Roland’s phone, explaining to the others via the group chat that they were going to be late to the meeting.

    “Hey man,” Roland said in a hushed voice.

    Marco glanced from the screen at him. “Hm?”

    “Sensei is kind of a mess.” Roland remembered Nano’s shocked reaction to Brantley’s dojo still being open.

    Marco looked down at the sidewalk ahead of them. He clenched his hands into fists and took another deep breath. “Kind of, yeah.”

    In front of them, Sensei glanced over his shoulder at the two, looking like he’d just seen someone punt a sack of puppies into a river. Both noticed the look, and all averted their gazes.

    Roland rested a hand on Marco’s shoulder. “Listen, nobody’s perfect… and even though Sensei’s a tool, at least he came clean about it.”

    “Yeah,”
    Marco sighed. “I wish we could get that tape working.”

    “Jo could take that VCR apart blindfolded, but… if it’s been like that for years? It’s probably ruined.”
    It still bothered Roland that Sensei just gave up on something so minor.

    Marco cast his gaze downward. “It’d be nice if we could get another tape or find it online… huh.”

    The two strolled to a stop in front of the giant VHS mockup standing on the sidewalk, advertising rare video tapes. They looked up at the store it stood in front of, proudly advertising itself “VHS Depot.”

    Marco tilted his head. “You don’t think they’d have it, do you?”

    Roland shook his head. “I’d rather we meet up with the guys.”

    “I know but,” Marco looked at Sensei, then back to Roland. “Let’s just look?”

    Before Roland could protest, Marco called over to Sensei. “Uh, Sensei! Can you hold on a second?”

    Sensei looked back. “What is it, Mr. Diaz?”

    “Roland and I are going to check out this store real quick, we’ll meet you at the dojo.”

    Sensei nodded. “Do what you must, I’ll get the door unlocked.”

    He continued on his way, and Marco headed inside the store. “Trust me, this won’t take a minute.”

    Roland shook his head again and followed. “My man, what…”

    Right away they were greeted with shelves and shelves of VHS tapes, video game cartridge boxes, and banks of CDs–relics of an era before their time, as alien and mysterious to early 21st century teenagers as the ruins of ancient Egypt to the first archaeologists to witness them.

    “Whoa, wholly old media Batman,” Roland muttered, “This place is a museum.”

    Marco was a bit distracted from the age of the material, by its quality. “Yeah, but the film selection…”

    He picked up a VHS tape box, a display model, and gasped. “Oh wow, a VHS copy of The Rock, starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. This is one of the greatest movies ever made.”

    Roland looked at it. “Really, dude? By the Explosions guy?”

    “He used to be good,” Marco said with a bit of defensiveness. He looked at the price. “And it’s only 65 dollars. I can afford that.”

    He looked at the shelf and gasped. “Is that a copy of Con-Air?!”

    Before Roland could question Marco’s taste further, someone else did. “Ah, I see that you are a man of culture as well.”

    Marco and Roland both looked towards the cash register of the VHS Depot, where a short, messy-haired and round-faced man sat with his hands folded on the counter top, the plate on his shirt reading “Manager.” More importantly, on the shelf just behind him was a familiar VHS cassette box–the “How to Karate: Red Belt Test and Training Guide.”

    The Manager chuckled and snorted. “Yes, the 90s were Nicholas Cage’s finest era. Con-Air, Face/Off, and I see you’re already interested in The Rock.”

    “Face/Off was good too, while not a prisoner movie, I can’t say no to a John Woo film,” Marco said as he walked over, his eyes on the Red Belt Tape.

    The Manager snorted and laughed again. “I could tell you a thing or two about his older works. Face/Off is nothing compared to-”

    Marco rested his arm on the countertop. “A Better Tomorrow? The Killer?”

    This threw the Manager off. “Ohohoho… someone who knows what they’re talking about, if you’ve come here to make a bargain then you’re off on the right foot.”

    “As a matter of fact, I am.” Marco gestured to his gi. “As you can see, I’m big on karate, and it just so happens that you have something over your shoulder there that I’d like to get my hands on.”

    “Huh,” Roland said, not expecting Marco to be this big on movies.

    The Manager looked back. “Ah yes, the How to Karate Series Red Belt test. You’d be surprised how rare this actually is. Apparently only a hundred copies were ever sold, before the FBI confiscated the unsold inventory.”

    Marco recoiled a bit. “Wait, there’s nothing illegal on it, is there?”

    “Oh no, nothing of the sort. It’s more a sordid tale involving the school the tapes teach from. The tapes are all clean, and very rare.”

    He picked up the tape and set it down in front of Marco. “This copy has only been viewed once, and tightly rewound back to the beginning. If you want it, for an aficionado like yourself? I’ll ask for twenty-four hundred.”

    Marco looked at the tape, then at The Manager. “Wait, dollars? You’re joking, right?”

    The Manager sniffed loudly through his pig-like nose, tilting it up to look down it at Marco. “It’s one of only a dozen copies known to exist, maybe even less than that.”

    The Manager tapped on the glass countertop next to the tape. “You can’t even find it online. Well you might, but you don’t want to go looking for it.”

    He looked aside. “I had to destroy two hard drives…”

    Marco didn’t want to know where people were looking for their karate videos. “All right, say I don’t have twenty-four hundred on me. Is there another way we can do this?”

    The Manager brightened. “Of course. Fight me for it. Win, and it’s yours.”

    Roland’s face fell. “What.”

    Seeing the short, overweight Manager in front of him, Marco calculated his odds. “Yeah, I think I can do that.”

    “Uh, Marco?” Roland knew they didn’t have time for beating up some store clerk. Especially over a VHS tape.

    “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” Marco said back to him. “I just have to go one on one with-”

    He stopped when The Manager rose to his full standing height. What Marco mistook for fat shoulders and arms were, to his chagrin, bulging rippled muscles tightly attached to a 220cm tall frame built for speed and striking power, like the man had trained his entire life in Muay Thai and Kickboxing.

    Roland did a double-take. “… What.”

    Peering down at Marco from on high, The Manager grinned and chuckled. “Changed your mind?”

    Marco recalculated his odds and assumed a fighting stance. “… I’ve fought worse.”

    Roland moved between the two, as The Manager raised his arm to chop through his own counter and attack. “Okay! Time out, time right the eff out! We don’t have time for fighting deathmatches over a tape.”

    He looked over at The Manager. “And what’s your problem, challenging people to fights for tapes?! Are you film snobs all that psychotic?”

    Marco gave him a flat look. “I’ve seen Armando and Ferguson get into literal fist fights at Zoom, Roland.”

    “Zoom?” The Manager repeated in recognition. “Roland?”

    “That’s different,” Roland argued. “Armando does Versus Debates IRL and Ferguson thinks walking up to anyone wearing a Batman shirt and telling them The Long Halloween was bad will provoke thoughtful discourse.”

    “I don’t know what that is,” Marco said.

    “Look, that’s not the point. You need to set your priorities, man, why is this belt so important that we’re here and not over with the guys?”

    Marco hesitated, before he stopped and looked down at his feet. “Because…”

    He trailed off again, hesitating a little longer. “… I first started taking lessons at the dojo when I was nine. I saw Sensei demonstrating in the park, and it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I thought if I could learn karate, I’d be stronger and I could impress, you know… people I wanted to impress… but the thing I wanted the most was to be like him.”

    Marco lowered his shoulders. “When Sensei just asked me if I wanted to be his assistant, I was so excited because I thought that this was another step towards me being closer to that.”

    He looked to his left. “And… I admit it, being an assistant teacher would mean I’d get to rub it in Jeremy’s face and I was really looking forward to that, too. Now, though…? After seeing how he is? I want to help Sensei rank up, too.”

    Roland paused. “Oh.”

    The Manager picked up the tape and offered it.

    “Take it.”

    Roland and Marco stared at the tape. Their eyes slowly trailed up to The Manager’s face.

    “Huh?”

    The Manager nodded solemnly. “It’s yours.”

    Marco brightened. “My story of seeking to strengthen the bond with my Sensei moved your martial artist’s spirit, and you’re giving the tape to see it through?”

    “What? No.” The Manager said as he offered the tape to Roland specifically. “I owe Nano a lot for helping me keep my business afloat. So take the tape as a token of appreciation.”

    Marco and Roland cycled between gawking at The Manager and searching one another for some kind of explanation. After several loops, they stared at each other.

    “All right, how does your grandmother have so much clout in this town?”

    Roland shrugged his shoulders. “Man, I don’t know, but when it works for you? It rocks.”

    He took the tape and gave it to Marco. “I think we’re almost done here, my guy.”

    Marco took the tape. “Almost?”

    Roland smiled and looked at The Manager. “Hey man, you got a VCR we can borrow?”

    “New or used?” The Manager asked.

    @@@@@

    Ten minutes later, Sensei opened the door to the VHS Depot and stepped in with caution. “Hello? Mr. Diaz, I got your text, did something happen? Did the store get robbed?”

    He stopped when he found Marco standing in front of a tall cart with an old CRT television and VCR combo sitting on it. On the television, the “How to Karate: Red Belt Test and Training Guide” was paused on the title screen. Roland and The Manager stood off to the side, waiting patiently for Sensei’s arrival as Marco was.

    Sensei stepped towards Marco and the TV, his eyes wide and shining. “No way…”

    “That’s right Sensei. The wait is over, we have a copy of the Red Belt video, and it works.”

    Sensei lit up. “Marco, dude! This is awesome, how’d you pull this off?!”

    “Turns out, with a little bit of help from my friends.” Marco nodded to Roland, who threw a salute back to him. “Now we can take the Red Belt test and level up, together.”

    Sensei was practically beaming. “Marco, you are truly epic!”

    “And when we complete the test, I can become your assistant and we can make the school better, together.”

    The light left Sensei all at once. “… Oh.”

    It didn’t escape Marco’s notice. “… Uh, Sensei?”

    Sensei’s shoulders slumped, and he turned away. “Mr. Diaz… I’m afraid there’s something we must discuss.”

    Marco felt a cold anxiety building up. “What is it?”

    Roland didn’t like how the atmosphere changed either and walked over. “Now what…”

    “Mr. Diaz… Marco…” Sensei took a deep breath. “… Even if you were to become a red belt, I literally cannot let you become my assistant instructor.”

    It felt like a punch to Marco’s stomach. “What? You literally can’t? Then why did you tell me that I needed to be a red belt first? Why did I go through all that work for the trial?”

    Sensei groaned and turned to face him. “Because I wanted you to quit, okay?”

    Marco went stock still, staring at his teacher. “… You what.”

    Sensei heaved a sigh, and sniffled. “I couldn’t just say that you’d never be my assistant after I said all that in class!”

    His eyes welled up with tears. “S-so I made up all that junk for you to do today because I hoped you’d get tired and forget about the Red Belt, but you’re like… super determined and junk! I was running out of things to make you do because you wouldn’t give up.”

    Marco remained unmoving. “You… what…”

    Roland was trying to fight the haze of red that was falling over his vision.

    “I can’t explain it right now, but you’re just not… er… I want you to be my assistant but I-”

    Marco cut him off. “You know what, Brantley? It’s okay.”

    He untied his green belt, opened his gi, and tossed it onto the floor at Brantley’s feet. His former teacher stared at the discarded gi, then looked up at Marco. The young man’s eyes were dark with anger and betrayal, but also wet with fiercely held back tears.

    “You wanted me to quit, so I quit,” he said in a dead calm, before he walked past Brantley and out of the VHS Depot.

    “Mr. Diaz!” Brantley called after him. “Marco, wait!”

    Roland snapped. “Yo, shut the fuck up!”

    Brantley turned around in surprise and backed up as Roland advanced on him, fire in his eyes and teeth bared like he was going to bite out his throat. “Who the fuck you think you is, draggin’ around my boy by the nose for the whole fucking day?! Our friends got jumped! One of them got beaten up!” He roared as he walked Brantley into a shelf of VHS, that the Karate instructor pressed himself back against.

    “We could’ve been anywhere else but playing this stupid fucking game with you, you dog-ass, manchild-ass, almost forty-ass, don’t even have a car-ass, no account having-ass BITCH NIGGA! You got the fucking balls to lie to your ‘best student’ straight to his face, and now you trying to act all sad that he straight up QUIT ON YOU?!”

    He stomped away from him, then turned around.

    “AND IF YOU DON’T KEEP MY NANO’S NAME OUT YOUR MOUTH I WILL BEAT YOUR MOTHERFUCKING ASS! DO NOT TEST ME!”

    Roland marched out of the store. Brantley, staring straight ahead, sank to the floor at the base of the shelf and looked down at his feet. Across the room, The Manager watched the door swing closed, then turned to the fallen teacher.

    “If you’re not going to buy anything,” he said with a stiff, threatening voice, “Get out.”

    Outside, Roland rode his bike down the street, catching up with Marco. “Ayo! Marco! Marco!”

    Marco kept walking, his eyes straight ahead. “We need to go meet with the others.”

    Roland dismounted from his bike and jogged alongside him. “Look, man, I’m sorry.”

    “You didn’t do anything, it’s fine.” He grit his teeth. “I was the idiot.”

    “No, you weren’t.”

    “Yes, I was. I should’ve realized something was up sooner. I was so excited about becoming his assistant that I didn’t think he was leading me on.”

    He snorted. “I wanted to see the look on Jeremy’s face so bad…”

    Marco let out a bitter laugh. “I mean, yeah, I thought it was weird. But come on, he was the one who wanted me to be his assistant! Why wouldn’t I trust the guy who taught me karate since I was nine?!”

    He shook his head, tears beginning to fall from his eyes. “Who I guess thought so little of me that he figured I’d give up as easy as he did trying to get a stupid tape out of a VCR.”

    Reaching up he rubbed his face. “Wow… I’m so stupid.”

    Roland has been here before. “Marco, my man…”

    He draped an arm over his shoulder, stopping him, and pulled him in close. “This ain’t your fault, man. Stop blaming yourself, or calling yourself stupid, or any of that shit. You’re his student, you trusted him, and he betrayed that trust. That’s not on you, and never was.”

    Marco stood there, weighing on that, and he looked up from his feet at Roland. “That… you’re right.”

    Roland shrugged his shoulders. “Look man, I wish this was my first hoo-ride… but I’ve seen my fair share of shitty authority figures in my life, and what they do to the people near and dear to me.”

    He stepped back and patted Marco on the shoulders. “We gotta be better than that, and them.”

    “Nano seems pretty cool, though.” Marco pointed out.

    Roland looked to the side. “She’s an exception to the rule. But we can talk about that another time–we shouldn’t keep the others waiting any longer.”

    Marco agreed. “Yeah, we can get my phone and junk later.”

    As the two continued on down the street, Brantley left the VHS Depot with his head low. He looked down the street where Marco and Roland left, and his eyes welled up with more tears.

    Directly across the street, an expensive-looking black SUV left the curb and pulled a U-turn over the two-lane street to park in front of Brantley. The driver of the car, a balding man in a tuxedo, emerged and walked around the front to open the front passenger door and pull out a set of stairs. Then he opened the rear passenger doors and set them down–allowing Jeremy Birnbaum to step out and onto the sidewalk in front of Brantley.

    Jeremy, holding a small bucket of popcorn and conspicuously wearing a pair of binoculars around his neck, looked in the direction Marco went, then up at Brantley. “Wow, he actually quit. This went better than I thought.”

    Brantley looked down at Jeremy, and he took a deep, long breath as he glared at the boy with all his impotent fury.

    Jeremy looked up at his sensei and popped another handful of popcorn in his mouth. “I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that. You’re the one keeping your dojo open.”

    Brantley’s glare vanished, replaced by a beaten, downcast look to the ground. Jeremy smiled, blithe and cherubic. “That’s right. Thanks for making this the best Saturday ever.”

    He tossed the half-full tub of popcorn at Branley’s legs, spilling the contents onto his feet, and turned around to climb back into the car. As his butler buckled him in, Jeremy looked over him to wave at Brantley. “See you Monday, Sensei.”

    The butler shut the door, walked back around and climbed into the vehicle. Soon the SUV pulled off, leaving Brantley standing alone on the curb.

    On the roof of the VHS Depot, the massive snake slipped its tongue into the air to taste it. Satisfied, it turned and slithered off.

    = - = 31 = - =

    Well, almost.
     
    Last edited:
    One Week
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 32 = - =

    |One Week|

    In the backyard of Shermie’s home, Dipper, Mabel, and Misao sat on one side of a white picnic table Shermie kept in the backyard for barbecues and other social events. On the other, Drew, Jo, and Star sat. Janna was standing at the end of the table between Drew and Dipper. Mabel, at her brother’s side, was putting the finishing touches on cleaning and dressing the cut on the side of Dipper’s head from the boot to it he received at the scrapyard, when the back patio door opened and Marco and Roland walked out to join them.

    Star looked back and sprang to her feet. “Marco!”

    She stopped when she saw the weary disappointment on his face and looked between him and Roland. “What happened?”

    “We can talk about it later,” Marco said as he walked over to the other end of the table.

    Roland agreed with a nod as he joined Drew’s side and rested a hand on the tabletop. He took a second to look again and noticed that both Mabel and Misao looked like they’d been swimming in the last hour–their respective clothes and their makeup smudged and smeared. They also appeared to be covered in bruises, like they’d been in a fight wherever they had been swimming.

    “Jeez, did everyone have a messed up day today?” He asked.

    “We can talk about that later, too,” Misao seethed.

    Star looked contrite for such a manic girl. “I am so sorry, really! I didn’t expect that to happen.”

    Mabel finished wrapping Dipper’s crown with bandages. “It’s not your fault. There’s nothing we can do-”

    “But get gruesome revenge on that…” Misao trailed off into muttering in at least three different languages worth of foul words.

    His bandaging done, Dipper spoke. “So three kids on dirt bikes jumped Janna and I at the scrapyard and knocked me around a bit. They came after us for no reason and without warning, but they were focused on hurting me–and filming it.”

    Jo spoke next. “Exactly the same way Lars just strolled in and stuffed Dipper at lunch.”

    “Once is happenstance, twice is a coincidence,” Janna said, “But Big Dippy Style’s face isn’t that punchable.”

    “Unless you’re Trip Vanderhoff,” Drew said.

    Marco remembered Trip’s screaming and hollering about payback. “Oh, it’s definitely him.”

    “So what are we doing about it, exactly?” Roland asked.

    “I’m going to be the better person, ignore the Vanderhoffs’ crap and strive to avoid further contact with them,” Dipper said sagely.

    Roland and Marco both stared at him with unconvinced expressions.

    “You got me. Next time I see either of them, I’m kicking their butts up and down the block.”

    “We are,” Mabel corrected him, and Dipper nodded in agreement.

    Jo out-stretched her arms onto the table and slouched forward to rest her chin on the painted, polished wood. Her left hand came to rest over Dipper’s and patted it as she closed her eyes and sighed. “We’re catching haters like a frog catches flies.”

    “And they’re already getting in the way of more important stuff,” Drew added. “We can’t be fighting off the Vanderhoffs on one side of things while dealing with the Magnavores on the other.”

    Especially if someone going after Dipper could ambush him without any warning or notice. That could make for an awkward or even dangerous situation for them if they decided to spring on him while they were after a Magnavore. The security of the Beetleborgs’ identity was at risk too, with that thought in mind.

    Weighing on those thoughts, Roland spoke. “We need to avoid situations where Dipper can get jumped, and I don’t know… maybe try to deter that?”

    “This is America, is it not?” Misao asked. “Why not get a gun?”

    “Because the first thing I need is to pull a gun on obnoxiously rich people and give them an excuse to call their police dogs on me.”

    Misao winced, while Janna slid off the table’s edge and turned around to face everyone. “I have an idea.”

    She gestured to Dipper, then over to Marco. “Why don’t you two start hanging out more?”

    Mabel brightened. “Yeah! Marco can be like… Dipper’s bodyguard!”

    “Whoa, bodyguard? Me?” Marco asked.

    Star bounced in place. “Yeah, and those guys are pretty scared of me! If both of us are around Dipper, then they won’t mess with him!”

    “And if anyone thinks they can do it for them, they’ll be in for a bad time,” Janna finished.

    Dipper turned his head and looked at Marco, who was certainly thinking about the idea, too. Jo, on the other hand, was skeptical.

    “It’d be easier if they went to class together, but they don’t,” she pointed out.

    Janna smirked. “Come now, Jojo, you can guard his body, too.”

    Jo broke into a small, triumphant smile. “I see nothing wrong with this strategy.”

    Dipper slowly moved his hand from under Jo’s. “Thinking about it, though. There’s another good reason for why I should hang out with Star and Marco more. At least in public.” He looked at Drew, Jo, and Roland. “And why we all need to be seen less with you.”

    Jo sat up. “What? Why?”

    Drew got it in an instant. “Protecting our secret identities.”

    Roland agreed. “Yeah, if people keep seeing Star and Marco with us, then seeing Star and Marco with the Beetleborgs, it won’t take much to put it together.”

    “Actually rolling as a group in public has to stop,” Dipper began.

    Mabel held up her phone. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t stay in touch! Or hang out here, or at Hillhurst!”

    Jo pouted but accepted the wisdom of the move. “We can still hang out incidentally, right? And I’ll watch your back in class?”

    “Of course,” Dipper said.

    “Then once again I see nothing wrong with this strategy.” Jo stopped. “Wait, what about going to the dojo? Both Marco and I will be there…”

    Roland grimaced, but Marco took over. “No we won’t.” When everyone looked at him, he dropped the news. “I quit the dojo today.”

    Star gasped. “What happened?!”

    Marco glanced at Jo, before he spoke. “Brantley didn’t want me to become his assistant, but he didn’t have the nerve to just say it. He put me through all that crap this morning, so I’d give up on the red belt.”

    Jo slammed her fist on the table, thankfully not breaking it. “Fuck that son of a bitch!”

    “… Oh my God,” Drew muttered. “That’s… unsettlingly familiar…” He trailed off.

    Marco sighed. “On the bright side, I can teach you guys whatever anytime. I definitely know more than what a Green Belt is supposed to–oof!”

    Star’s hug knocked the breath out of him, and its tightness made it almost difficult to get it back. She leaned into him and rested the side of her head against his. “… Karate meant so much to you, I’m so sorry that happened…”

    Marco returned the hug and rested his chin on her shoulder. “Thanks, Star.”

    “I can go find him and avenge you, if you want,” she suggested.

    “No.” Marco shook his head. “He’s not worth it.”

    Mabel joined in the hug, Misao coming around the other side and hugging him, too. As he found himself trapped between three different girls, he looked back and forth between each–from down at Misao to up at Mabel. “No offense but you’re all kind of… damp?”

    “The sprinklers at the Bounce Lounge went off,” Mabel said.

    Misao growled. “Because an idiot started himself on fire.”

    “Geez… I’m sorry,” he murmured back.

    Dipper drummed his fingers on the table. “To think it’s only our first week here.”

    “Our first week all knowing each other,” Roland said.

    “The first week as superheroes,” Jo added as she brushed her fingers against Dipper’s.

    Drew looked at the girls hugging Marco, Jo trying to get in contact with Dipper, then Janna smiling at it all like it was part of some grand plan–and realized that it was. “So what? It’s not going to get easier, but we are going to get better… and we’re not alone for this fight.”

    Dipper perked up. “… Yeah.”

    The other girls all looked back at the table, but Star remained embracing Marco.

    “That’s right,” Mabel agreed. “We’re all in this together!”

    Misao nodded. “Even if we all can’t fight, we can do something… and the very least is be there for each other to lean on.”

    “And to stick up for,” Roland added.

    “And protect, too.” Marco spoke.

    “It’s because of that, that I think we’ll win.” Drew said. “Not just against the Magnavores but against anyone else who messes with us. Even as sloppy and new we are at this, we don’t give up… and when we’re together we’re unstoppable.”

    Janna gave Drew a light punch in the arm. “Well said, Sad Kid.”

    “Yeah,” Jo agreed, “Way to remember that the Blue Stingerborg makes all the good speeches.”

    Drew let out a small laugh and rubbed the back of his head. “I just thought it’d be nice to say, you know?”

    Mabel decided then it was time to do one better. “You know what we should do while we’re all here? A… party!”

    Misao agreed. “Ja, anything to wash the taste of the Bounce Lounge out of my mouth!”

    Star gasped and pulled back from Marco. “That’d be fine, right?”

    Marco’s smile was small, but it was there. “Yeah, let’s end today on a high note.”

    Dipper got up. “I’ll go talk to Shermie about getting some food. We all had Pizza yesterday…”

    “How about barbecue? I know a place,” Roland said.

    Marco’s smile slipped into a smirk. “Do you think we can get a discount if we mention that we know Nano’s grandson?”

    Roland laughed. “Man, step off with that junk…”

    It took a while, but the long disastrous day was left behind. By the end of the evening at the home of Shermie Pines, there was nothing but loud music and laughter as the teens brought together by happenstance and fate took comfort in their bonds. The bonds that would help them for the trouble that was soon to arrive.

    @@@@@

    In the hills on the northern edge of Echo Creek, were the mansions of town’s wealthier residents. Here lived the likes of Jeremy Birnbaum, Brittney Wong, and of course the Vanderhoff brothers, who were comfortably hanging out by their in-ground pool, a pit fire burning between them. Van played video games on a hologram projection television, while Trip sat on the edge of the pool, dipping his big toe into the water idly. Like most days, the boys were on their own at the house with the help–their father was out of the state, maybe even the country, and neither had seen their mothers since the last divorce.

    “Say, have you heard anything from those old friends of yours?” Trip asked as he dipped his toe in the water and held it there.

    Van could not tear his attention from the game. “What, you mean Topher and those guys? Nah, I didn’t hear anything since they said they saw Pine Tree by the track with that creepy witch chick.”

    “You think they got him?” Trip removed his toe from the water.

    “Topher said he’d film it. I told them to mess him up as hard as they could, even if they put him in the hospital, so we’re gonna get some good shots.”

    Trip chuckled. “Paying people to get mad for us. Why didn’t I think of doing this sooner? As long as they sign the contract and take the money, we can hire whoever we want to bully Pine Tree for us, and we can just watch and laugh.” He dipped his whole foot in the water. “Even better, that idiot probably has no idea why people are after him. He must be so scared and confused.”

    “If he’s even conscious right now. Topher said he was gonna do a burnout on his nuts.”

    Trip burst into full-on laughter. “Oh man, I hope they filmed that!”

    Van pumped his fist as the game he played ended with his victory. “After this, wanna hire someone to go after McCormick?”

    “Andrew? Oh yeah. Maybe we could hire a guy to steal his bike and throw it into the river.”

    Van hummed. “Maybe someone to break into his house and steal his comics.”

    Trip had it. “I know. Hire a girl to pretend to be interested in him, and then lead him someplace we can beat him up.”

    Van thought about that. “I think I know some girls who’d be down for that.” He pulled out his phone and looked at it. “I’ve been posting around on Insta for people who wanna jump in on the fun, and there’ve been a lot of hits.”

    Dudley shuffled his way over and cleared his throat. Trip looked over at him, with mild irritation. “What Demetrius?”

    “Dudley, sir,” the butler corrected. “A Mister Topher, and a Mister Caleb are here to see you, sirs.”

    Van hopped up onto his feet, excited. “Sweet, they’re here.”

    Trip got up from the pool edge and Dudley skedaddled out of the way, as two young men still wearing their motocross gear, marched out of the house and over to the poolside. The boy who led the attack on Dipper–Topher–had dark brown hair with matching eyes, and his face was twisted in anger as he marched up to Van and shoved him back hard.

    “You set us up, you piece of garbage!” He yelled at Van as the larger of the Vanderhoffs stumbled back.

    Van recoiled, and when Topher attempted to push him again, he pushed back harder. “Huh? No I didn’t!”

    “Blaine’s in the hospital missing like half his teeth because you said Pine Tree was a joke!” Topher yelled. “And now the track is freakin’ gone, too!”

    Van tried to process that. “What do you mean it’s gone?!”

    “Because Pine Tree’s friends with Nano, you tool! You didn’t tell us that either! She told the manager to bury the track and they did! They chased us all out of there and knocked like fifty tons of cars onto it!”

    “What was Nano even doing there?” Van asked.

    “I don’t know! She came out of nowhere and snatched me off my bike!”

    The other motocrosser, a lighter haired, brown eyed boy named Caleb, spoke up. “She’s gonna tell our parents, man! If I go home, I’m dead!”

    Trip grunted in annoyance. “That freakin’ old bag needs to mind her own business.” On that note. “So what do you two want?”

    “For you to pay up now!” Topher yelled at him. “My parents won’t wreck my face if I can at least show them some money.”

    Trip rolled his eyes. “Sure, whatever. Dolby, cut ‘em a check.”

    “As you wish,” Dudley said, pulling out a checkbook.

    Trip glowered at Topher and Caleb. “You at least did it, right?”

    Topher turned to face him fully. “What? Did you not hear what I said? Pine Tree shot Blaine in the face with a harpoon gun or something, then Nano showed up and wouldn’t let us near him!”

    Anger flashed in Trip’s eyes. “Droopy, burn that check.”

    Ripping off the check, Dudley tossed it into a fire pit.

    Topher exploded. “WHAT THE HELL?!”

    “I don’t pay people for doing nothing,” Trip said in a flat voice. “If you can’t do something as easy as beat up a stupid nerd, then you should be paying me for the time you wasted.”

    Topher growled and lunged to grab Trip, only for Van to step in and shove him to the ground at Caleb’s feet. The motocross boy got up and pulled a knife from his boot.

    Both Trip and Van recoiled at the sight of the glinting steel. Caleb himself raised his hands in fright. “Whoa, wait!”

    Topher ignored him and brandished the knife and began stomping towards the brothers. “You think you’re gonna screw us over, you jackass?! Screw you!”

    CLACK!

    The sound of wood hitting stone stopped everyone.

    CLACK!

    Both Vanderhoffs and the Motocross boys looked around, then saw the source of the sound.

    CLACK!

    Sitting on an empty lawn chair by the pool was an african american teenager wearing a white t-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, dark colored hiking boots, and a cream-colored bucket hat whose brim fell over his eyes. He was beating against the ground a long wooden sword coated in a black lacquer. At the end of its hilt a pink string was bound tightly around it, and at the end of the strings dangled miniature figures of a wolf and an imp.

    Topher lowered the knife and stared at him. “Who the heck are you?”

    Trip and Van looked at each other, then the former turned to Dudley. “Did you let this guy in here?”

    Dudley shrugged his shoulders.

    “Hey,” the new arrival spoke in a droning baritone as he struck the tip of the wooden sword against the ground. “You’re paying five stacks to mess with a dude, right?”

    Trip nodded. “Yeah.”

    Using the sword to push himself up to his feet, the newcomer pointed it at Topher. “I’ll kick his ass for fifty bucks.”

    Topher faced him. “What?”

    “Do it!” Trip shouted.

    The newcomer took the wooden sword in both hands. “Bet.”

    Before Topher could speak or move, the newcomer sprinted at him and swung the bokken into his stomach. The blow folded the dirt biker in half right over the wooden blade, knocking the wind, spit, and taste out of his mouth. His assailant lifted his blade and swung it and Topher around to throw at Caleb’s feet, the other biker jumping back in fright.

    “Uhhhhngh…!” Topher groaned and began coughing heavily as he clutched his stomach. Trip and his brother stared in silence–both slow to register the feat of speed and strength that laid him out.

    The newcomer rested the wooden sword on his shoulder with one hand, as he reached out with his free hand–gesturing to Trip. “Pay me.”

    Trip snapped out of his confusion, and barked at Dudley. “Well… pay him!”

    Dudley reached into his jacket, and pulled out a billfold. Producing a crisp fifty dollar bill, the old chauffeur placed it in the newcomer’s hand.

    “Aight.” He folded the bill between two fingers and walked over to Topher. Who was clutching his sides. “Hey, is this Pine Tree kid tough, or what?”

    “Screw you… ahh… you broke my ribs!” Topher whimpered.

    He looked up from him to Caleb. “Well?”

    “He had like a harpoon gun. Don’t listen to whatever those idiots say!” Caleb pointed at Trip and Van. “That kid won’t go down easy.”

    “Swag.” He pointed the wooden sword at Caleb. “Now get the fuck out of here.”

    Caleb didn’t need to be told twice. He helped Topher up and walked him into the house, Dudley following to make sure they left. After they fell out of sight, the newcomer turned to face Trip and Van.

    “So, I’m Gabe and I’ll kick Pine Tree’s ass for a hundred thousand.”

    Trip stopped. “What?”

    “Yo, one hundred thousand or I’m just gonna leave.” Gabe pointed to the wall that surrounded the house, the way he got in.

    Trip and Van looked at each other again, and Trip answered again. “That’s way too much!”

    Gabe lowered his sword, resting the tip on the ground. He shrugged his shoulders. “Aight, then I’m gonna go.”

    Turning around, he walked over to the wall–then stopped and looked back. “But if you change yo mind, catch me on Insta at GHaleyRobbinThem. That’s two Bs, no G, nigga.”

    He haphazardly threw the sword up over the wall, and with a quick run up, scrambled up to the top and vaulted over. From the other side of the wall he called out. “And a capital T! Don’t forget that!”

    Trip walked back over to the pool and sat down, dropping both his feet into the water. “The heck was that?”

    “I don’t know,” Van replied before he pulled out his phone and began checking his social media. “GHaley…” He stared at the phone, and gave a quick glance at the wall. “… Okay?”

    He walked over to Trip and sat down beside him. “Hey, check this out.”

    He showed his brother the phone, and Trip stared at it. The smaller Vanderhoff’s expression cycled through surprise to confusion. “… Huh. Yeah, there’s no way I’m paying him a hundred grand to beat up Pine Tree.”

    With a petulant sniff, Trip leaned back on his hands and looked at the darkening sky, the sun all but below the distant horizon. “It’s only been a week. He’s not worth that much.”

    He kicked his feet in the water. “There are plenty of chumps who’ll do it for less.”

    @@@@@

    His regenerative abilities gave Typhus an advantage over Jara and Noxic, who were still recovering and repairing from their injuries after Monday’s battle. While they sat in hiding he was free to move around their new domain, do reconnaissance, and even attack his foes alone if he wanted to… if he wanted to. The truth was, Typhus didn’t do much by himself, he often refused to outright.

    “Baby, this is so boring,” he grumbled as he sat hiding atop a building overlooking the expensive Rodeo Drive.

    It was well within his power to go and just tear things up, but what was causing mayhem and chaos without his best friends there to cheer him on and for him to hype up? At least he only had a few more days before Jara was on her feet, and once Noxic finished remaking the parts he lost, they’d be the three amigos of anarchy once again.

    The power went out on the entire block below. The street lights and the exterior lights of the super expensive shops flickered back on, before they all shut down, plunging the street and Typhus himself into darkness. “Huh.”

    “Dangerous ones… powerful ones… ssss… this is an interesting world, Master.” Snake Head said as his bulky form emerged from the shadows of an air conditioning unit behind him.

    “All right!” Typhus cheered, upon seeing Snake Head. “What’s up, Snake Head. You got anything for the Big T?”

    The snake head dangling off Snake Head’s right side hissed aloud. “The humans are dangerous. Some more than others. Clever, strong, powerful. Some are unaware, some hide it, but all hold the potential. Be very careful Master, do not cross the wrong human carelessly.”

    Typhus snorted. “I’ve already seen plenty of that, baby. What else you got?”

    “I have already found one of the prey… tomorrow I will capture and use it to lure out the others.”

    Typhus pumped his fists. “All right, I knew I could count on you. Let me know when you’re going that way, I’ll ride witcha.”

    “It would be an honor, Master.” Snake Head fell silent for a moment, then hissed again. “Tell me, Master. How is it that you have come to the service of Vexor?”

    The question perked Typhus up. “Well, you know. The Magnavores ain’t the strongest tribe in the Nightmare Realm, but they ain’t the dumbest. If you ain’t a world eatin’ God, you gotta be smart enough to stay outta sight, baby.”

    “But… ssss… Vexor?”

    Typhus waved his creation off. “He thinks too much of himself, but he ain’t no fool. If it wasn’t for him, I woulda been chopped up into pieces by Nukus.”

    Snake Head staggered back. “Ssss… Nukus?!”

    “Yeah, your Master had a bad day, crossed paths with the Lord of Nightmares himself. Vexor got me out of that jam quick, baby. I’ve been riding with him, since.”

    Snake Head fell silent after that, and turned away from Typhus “… Ssss…”

    His creation’s odd mood didn’t escape Typhus. “What is it?”

    “Be wary of Vexor, Master. Do not let him hold too great a power over you.”

    “C’mon, who do you think you’re talkin’ to? I’m Bio Lord Typhus, I ain’t afraid of no space crab with a built in Pope Hat!”

    Snake Head’s hisses came out sounding like laughter. “Bio Lord?”

    “Yeah, that’s what they call me in the funny pages, baby!”

    Snake Head turned to face him, with a burst of energy. “It suits you, Master! Let us go hunt, and strike terror into the enemies of Bio Lord Typhus!”

    Typhus laughed and folded his arms. With a nod, both monsters vanished into flame as the sound of many, many police sirens began to fill the air, converging on Rodeo Drive.

    = - = 32 = - =

    How many crimes are Trip and Van going to commit just to harass one kid? And will they get away with them?
     
    Last edited:
    You are the Prey
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 33 = - =

    |You are the Prey|

    It was another morning at the Williams home, and Roland came downstairs to find his father and grandmother eating breakfast at the table, while his mother was standing in the archway between the dining room and the living room. Abbie Williams had her hands on her hips and was shaking her head.

    “Morning,” Roland called.

    “Hey son,” Aaron greeted.

    "Morning, baby,” Nano said as she stirred around her bowl of granola cereal and fruit.

    Roland saw the breakfast his grandma was eating and gave her a knowing look, before he peered over at the television. The news was showing an aerial shot of some expensive looking shops, and the reporter was talking about LA’s long history of high-profile robberies.

    “What’s going on?” He asked.

    “Someone robbed a jewelry store on Rodeo,” Nano said. “Stole forty million dollars in jewelry just last night.”

    Roland whistled as he grabbed a pitcher of orange juice and poured himself a glass. “Dang, I hope they have insurance.”

    “Mmm… they won’t after this,” Abbie said, before she walked over and kissed Roland on the cheek. “Morning, sweetie. You going to sit down and eat with us?”

    “Nah, I’m going over to the park to train with Marco so I’m gonna keep it light.” To that effect, he grabbed a waffle and spread some jam over it.

    Abbie frowned. “What about the dojo?”

    Roland paused. “Uh… well, Marco quit yesterday and since we were only going there to train with him, we all followed.”

    Nano let out a hum, then got up from her seat. “I’ll see you out the door, baby.”

    With a nod to Nano, Roland bid farewell to his parents and walked with her out onto the porch. Soon as the door shut, Nano turned to her grandson with a concerned look. “What did Brantley do?”

    Roland was impressed. “You just knew, huh? He yanked Marco around over his Red Belt, and that’s why he quit.”

    Nano palmed her forehead. “Lord have mercy on that boy, he’s a mess. Been a mess since he was in high school, still a mess now if he’s acting like he in high school.”

    That reminded him. “Hey, Nano, did you save Brantley’s life or something when he was a kid?”

    Nano stared at her Grandson, uncomprehending, before something clicked on in her head. “Oh, oh! He told you about how we met?”

    “Yeah, he said he was a gangbanger who got in too much trouble until you saved him.”

    Nano hummed and shook her head. “I don’t remember it happenin’ like that. The Brantley I knew was a shy boy who liked to buy anime tapes from my old video store back in the 90s. One day he got picked on by some other kids down by the river, so I told them to knock it off and took him home to his Mama.”

    Roland slumped his shoulders. “Ugh, I knew it. A loser and a liar.”

    “Don’t be so hard on him,” Nano said, “Frankly? For as much of a child that man is, he’s kept his dojo goin’ all these years and he genuinely loves what he does. That’s why I was surprised when you said you were goin’ there.”

    At that, Roland laughed. “The man gives up when he can’t get a tape out of a VCR? Or afraid to tell his number one student that he can’t promote him to assistant? How can he take the pressure of running a business?”

    As soon as he asked that question, he stopped. “… Wait, how does he do that?”

    Nano hummed. “Askin’ the real questions, baby. Why don’t you go an’ train with your friend, ol’ Nano is going to go see how Brantley’s doing and maybe give him some advice.”

    There were worse things to wish upon someone but getting a firm talking to from Nano was still up there. Roland, however, was fine with condemning Brantley to that fate. Bidding his Nano farewell, he climbed on his bike and headed off.

    @@@@@

    Under a tree in Echo Creek Park, Marco adjusted the gray belt of his karate gi’s top, checked the sleeves, and dusted the shoulders off. Today was his first day going solo, and he wasn’t about to start off on the wrong foot.

    “All right Marco,” he whispered to himself, “Today you are no longer the student, you are the Sensei. Teach them well, better than you were taught. You can do this.”

    Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars~!

    Marco grabbed his phone and answered it. “Huh? Star? What is it?”

    “Hey Marco,” Star said with her usual outpouring of energy. “You weren’t here when I woke up, are you okay?”

    “I’m fine, I just came to the park to do some training.”

    “Oh! Oh… okay! I was just wondering if you were okay, have fun training.”

    Marco smiled. “Thanks.”

    “Bye!” She ended the call, and Marco looked at his phone with a bemused smile.

    Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars!

    Marco answered it again. “Star?”

    “Did you eat breakfast?” She asked.

    “I got some from Britta’s on my way here…” Marco replied.

    “Right, okay! I’ll just um... have breakfast and go hang out with the girls then, bye!” She ended the call again.

    Marco stared at the phone, in full confusion.

    Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars!

    He answered it yet again. “Is something going on?”

    “Oh… I um… was just wondering if you had some time to talk, but if you’re busy training we can talk later, bye!” Star ended the call abruptly.

    He watched his phone, waiting for it to ring again, but this time it didn’t. He rolled his eyes and was just about to call her back, when a man dressed as a butler stepped around the tree and pointed a smartphone of his own at him. He stared at the man, who stood there and said nothing otherwise.

    Marco saw the red recording light on and put away his phone. “Can I help you?”

    “You sure can,” Jeremy said as he followed his butler out from behind the tree but kept said butler between him and Marco. “Tell me, Marco, how does it feel to finally overcome your stubbornness and admit to being a loser?”

    Marco rolled his eyes and turned away from Jeremy. “Go away, Jeremy.”

    Jeremy smiled, a rich condescending expression as he walked around him and into the camera shot. “Come on, the world wants to know. Seven years at the dojo, five of them as a green belt, what made it all worth throwing away?”

    “None of your business,” Marco toned back. He had half a mind to leave if he wasn’t waiting for Drew, Jo, and Roland. “Who even told you that I quit?”

    “Ap-ap-ap-ap… this is your interview, not mine.” Jeremy said. “Come on, give us something, Marco. What was it like to realize just how lame you are, and that everything you do is for nothing because you’re a giant dork who can’t even beat an eight year old?”

    Jeremy turned and looked at the camera. “By the way, ladies? He’s got no girlfriend. No game to get one, either.”

    Marco’s expression darkened, and he faced the child with the same calm glower he stared down Jara with when she threatened to kill Star. “It’s not can’t. I won’t beat up an eight year old.”

    Jeremy paused. “What?”

    “You’re eight, Jeremy. I’m not allowed to hit you because you’re half my age. If I hit you even once I’d kill you.”

    Jeremy Birnbaum recoiled from Marco, the words swinging into him like a hammer straight into the bell of his young ego. “Wh-what? No! I can beat you up, I have beaten you up!”

    “Every time we fought I held back.” Marco looked at his phone, still opened on Star in his contact list. “And honestly? Now that I’m not at the school anymore, I don’t have to do that, or care what you think or do.”

    The response threw Jeremy completely off. Marco was supposed to be yelling at him, grinding his teeth, flailing to get him to go away and leave him alone. “H-hey. You’re the one who quit the school, you’re a quitter… doesn’t that mean anything? How are you going to be anything if you quit, huh?”

    Marco stared at Jeremy, the kid looked angry that he wasn’t taking the bait. “Buzz off, kid.”

    Jeremy seethed and assumed a fighting stance. “Fight me, Marco! I’ll show you!”

    Marco spun around in place and swung a kick into the tree beside him, hitting it so hard that the trunk visibly shook and the tree’s leaves loudly rustled overhead. Jeremy hopped back, his eyes wide at the sight of the deep crack Marco’s shin left in the side of the trunk. Pulling his leg free of the cracked and splintered wood, Marco turned to Jeremy and glared down at him.

    “That’s how hard I will hit you, if you don’t leave me alone.”

    Internally Marco screamed because of how much it stung, but he had to maintain his glare.

    Jeremy looked at the crack in the tree, then at Marco. His left eyelid spasmed, as his mind tried to grasp how hard the older boy would’ve had to hit the tree to do that. When Marco faked a lunge towards Jeremy, the eight year old yelped in fear and stumbled back, falling against his butler’s leg. To his merit, the butler didn’t seem affected in the slightest.

    “Now, if you don’t have anything else to say…” Marco trailed off, as the head of a giant snake descended from the tree directly above the heads of Jeremy and his Butler. First staring down at the two below it, the snake’s tongue slithered from its mouth to taste the air, before rising up to point at Marco.

    That’s a giant snake. Marco thought.

    Its eyes gleamed.

    That’s the giant snake! Marco thought, with much greater alarm as the gleam turned into a glow.

    Both Jeremy and his butler noticed Marco’s attention drift upward and looked up together to see the giant snake looming just over them. Jeremy’s eyes grew wide and sparkly at the sight of the biggest reptile he’d ever seen, while his Butler had a more reasonable reaction, shrieking like a hysterical woman and running for his life.

    Marco jumped hard to his left, away from the tree and out of the path of the two solid beams of light that fired from the snake’s eyes and scorched the grass for a meters long line.

    The snake dropped down from the tree in front of Jeremy, the kid watching in amazement as it slithered after Marco at high speed, its long body undulating behind it. Mouth opening and long venomous fangs bared, the snake lunged for Marco, who once again sidestepped to avoid it by the barest margin.

    “Whoa!” Marco turned around and jumped into a backflip to avoid the snake’s fangs as it came around. Landing on the other side of its body, he ducked down when the tail came up and lashed for his chest. “Ah!”

    The snake came for him fangs first as he crouched, but he sprang high, stepping on the snake’s head and leaping off it to somersault through the air and land facing the snake.

    Marco looked up at the snake as it reared its head and hissed loudly. “Okay… found the giant snake…”

    “Ssss… I’ve found you… prey…” The snake hissed back.

    Jeremy’s eyes were glimmering like diamonds. “IT TALKS?!”

    Marco looked at Jeremy. “You need to leave!”

    The snake attacked again, biting at him. He dipped clear of it, but rather than follow through the snake pulled back to bite at him again. Marco kept rolling and juking, staying a margin away from the snake that thinned with every bite.

    “Yeah! Get him! Bite his arm off!” Jeremy yelled before Marco punished one more failed bite with a powerful vertical chop that drove the snake’s head into the ground. “Aw!”

    The snake’s undulating body thrashed as it brought its head out of the ground, one of its coils slamming into Marco and pushing him back. He only just regained his footing when the snake fired its eye lasers again, and Marco dove out of the way into a roll.

    The boy pointed and laughed. “Aw, is Marco afraid of a widdle snake?!”

    “Jeremy, it’s trying to kill me!” Marco shouted back as he avoided another bite.

    He laughed harder. “Then you’d better dodge it, if you think you’re so good!”

    Marco vaulted over the snake and landed in the first of three backflips away from the monster, opening the distance before landing in a low fighting stance.

    Drew, Jo, and Roland should be on their way. I need to hold out until they get here!

    The snake brought its head up, then lowered it to the ground, tongue slipping out to taste the air.

    “Fast,” the snake said, “But you are not fast enough.”

    “Then why don’t you show me how fast you are?” Marco asked.

    The snake’s entire body flickered, before it crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye and headbutted Marco in the stomach, launching him into the air.

    I don’t know what I was expecting…! Marco thought over the internal howl of pain from taking a body shot like that.

    Looking down, his eyes widened when he saw the snake coming up at him, mouth wide open to bite into him. In the next instant his world was spinning as something slammed into him hard and he was brought to the ground.

    Huh… didn’t feel a thing. He thought with his eyes tightly shut.

    “Marco! Marco, you still with me?”

    That was a familiar voice. “Huh… wha…?”

    “Mr. Diaz, snap out of it!”

    Marco’s eye shot open, and he realized he was being held by Brantley. “Sens… Brantley?”

    He got up and placed a hand on his stomach. “Nngh… what are you doing here?”

    “I came to, like, apologize for yesterday… but you’re fighting a giant snake.” Brantley said. “Is this something like the monster-arm thing again?”

    Marco shook his head. “I wish, we need to get out of here. That thing’s got laser eyes and it’s fast.”

    “Yeah, I just saved you from that,” Brantley said.

    The snake tasted the air and hissed. “Before I tasted power… now I taste the same power and nothing more… ssss… move aside, or become prey, too!”

    “And I say to you, continue your reckless hunt…” Brantley assumed a fighting stance. “And you will become the hunted.”

    Marco got ready to fight as well. “I’m serious, Brantley, this thing is no joke!”

    The snake flickered again, but as it did Brantley struck Marco in the shoulder–shoving him out of the way of the snake’s fangs. Marco fell away from him and the snake’s passing body. Recovering, Marco landed on his feet and hopped back.

    “From your rightt, Mr. Diaz!” Brantley shouted.

    Years of being Brantley’s student kicked in by reflex, and Marco jumped left, dodging the snake as it appeared to bite his right arm. Marco stared at the snake, and his eyes rolled towards Brantley in disbelief.

    … What?

    The snake slammed into the ground and slithered along it before coiling up to face them both again. It watched Marco and flicked its tongue again to taste the air. Over by the tree, Jeremy’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. “Aw!”

    Brantley looked between Marco and the snake. “Mr. Diaz, do exactly as I say!”

    Marco glanced at Brantley again. “Wha-?”

    “Duck, now!”

    Marco ducked and watched as the Snake’s flickering afterimage passed over his head.

    “Now roll to the right!”

    Doing as told, Marco dove and rolled, and the snake’s open mouth ate the dirt where he’d been crouching.

    “Forward! Double time!” Brantley shouted.

    Marco obeyed, leaping forward and running to avoid the snake’s thrashing body. From under its own coils, the snake’s head emerged, and it flickered as it pursued Marco.

    “Jump up and back!”

    When he did, Marco went up and over the snake’s head attacking his back and did a handspring off its body to land behind it.

    The snake let out a very angry hiss, as its eyes lit up.

    “Backflip, Mr. Diaz!” Marco did it and escaped the twin beams of death from the snake.

    “Cartwheel, left!” Once more Brantley’s instructions paid off, and Marco evaded the barely visible snake.

    Where is it…?! Marco thought.

    “Now, with your right hand and left knee!” Brantley shouted.

    Marco felt a killing intent behind him, but before anything else, he listened.

    “Turn around…” Brantley ordered. “… and Clip the toenail!”

    Marco spun in place while bringing his knee up to catch the chin of the snake, as his fist came down into the top of its head. The two blows closed the snake’s jaws with such speed and force that its fangs had no time to close properly–and they tore through the snake’s lower jaw, barely missing Marco’s attacking knee as they punched through.

    Marco watched with wide eyes as the snake jerked away from him and began to thrash about, a green and red ichor spraying from its wounds. The snake fell onto its back and rolled around in dying, agonized spasms. Jeremy sagged even lower, his mouth hanging open.

    Turning to face his teacher, Marco just shook his head. “Wh-what was that? How did you do that?”

    Brantley crossed his arms. “Once you have achieved oneness with the universe and know its precise timing… you can see everything unfold before you.”

    It was all Greek to Marco. “What are you talking about?”

    “Nevermind,” Brantley said. “Why was that giant snake after you?”

    Marco sighed. “It’s a long story-”

    “Here’s the short version: you’re doomed, baby!” Typhus called out, and both Marco and Brantley turned to see the Magnavore standing atop a nearby hill, brandishing his whalebone sword and surrounded by a squad of Scabs.

    “OH MY GOSH!” Jeremy yelled.

    Brantley did a double-take. “Whoa, sick cosplay.”

    “Revised short version: That’s not cosplay, he’s here to kill me, and he’ll kill you too if we don’t get out of here!” Marco warned as Typhus pointed his sword ahead and the Scabs broke into a run down the hill at them–brandishing their flame-shaped swords.

    Rather than run, Brantley assumed a fighting stance. “Don’t show them your back, Mr. Diaz, show them your fists!”

    Marco looked from Brantley to the Scabs. “… Right.”

    The first Scab reached Brantley and jumped to swing its sword down at him. The slash missed wide, and Brantley snap-kicked the Scab in the chest and head, sending it flailing. He weaved around a stab from a second Scab and used the momentum to back fist it in the side of the head, before punching it in the dead-center of its face with his other hand as he let out a powerful kiai, snapping its head back.

    Marco danced on his feet, backing up from the wild slashes of two Scabs, before he retaliated with a jumping crescent kick that spun them around onto the faces into the grass. A third leaped to fall upon him from above with a stab, and Marco rolled from under it and swept the Scab off its feet when it landed.

    Another Scab jumped at Brantley to tackle him, and ate two punches to its torso then an uppercut that made it crumple to the ground. “Haaa!”

    He performed a chop to stop the swing of another Scab, grabbed it by the arm and neck and threw it hard to the ground onto the one Marco swept.

    He ducked, and Marco soared over him to drill a flying kick into the face of another Scab. Rebounding off it, he stood back to back with Brantley and the two circled in place to face the Scabs surrounding them.

    “So these are like the Scabs in the comic?” Brantley asked. “You destroy ‘em with head shots, right?”

    “Yeah, I haven’t been able to do that yet,” Marco said.

    Brantley looked over to the side and glared at Typhus as he reached the bottom of the hill and walked over to the Snake’s body. Marco looked over with him and clicked his teeth.

    “Yo, Snake Head. Stop playing dead, baby.”

    The injured Snake stopped thrashing, and rose up, a large glowing slit appeared down the middle of its belly. In a spray of its ichor, its humanoid body emerged and stood, hoisting aloft the snake across where its head and shoulders should be.

    “IT’S SNAKE HEAD! FROM THE COMIC!” Jeremy shouted.

    “Hey, nothin’ for the big man, Bio Lord Typhus?” Typhus asked Jeremy.

    “I like Noxic better!” Jeremy called back.

    Typhus shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, he is pretty cool.”

    He then gestured to two Scabs. “By the way, grab the kid, too.”

    The Scabs leaped over to Jeremy, who recoiled and assumed a fighting stance. “Ha! If you think that loser was tough, I’m a black belt!”

    “Jeremy! You’re eight!” Marco yelled.

    Brantley called over. “Run away, you toolbag!”

    Rather than listen, Jeremy unleashed a karate chop. “HEEYAH!”

    The Scab grabbed him by his arm and hoisted him in the air. Surprised at first, Jeremy began to thrash and scream, kicking in vain at the Scab, which was smart enough to hold him at arm’s length. “Hey, let me go! Let me go!”

    “Ssss… prey captured…” Snake Head said with pride. “Plus more.”

    “Great, hostages!” Typhus said as the two Scabs dragged Jeremy over to his side and pointed their blades at his throat. Seeing the gleaming edges of the weapons, Jeremy squeaked and went still. Both Marco and Brantley lowered their guards with grimaces.

    Typhus chuckled and walked over to the circle of Scabs. “All right, time for the real hunt to begin. Grab up your phone and call the Butterfly and the Beetles to come over and save the day.”

    Marco glared at Typhus. “I won’t.”

    Typhus broke through the circle and grabbed Brantley by his gi, hoisting him off the ground. “Do it, or I start taking chunks off your battle bro here, baby.”

    “Sensei!” Marco blurted out.

    Brantley stared Typhus in his eyes and called out to Marco. “No matter what he does to me, Mr. Diaz, don’t give him what he wants.”

    Tightening his grip on Brantley’s gi, Typhus chuckled and drew his red arm back, its muscles bulging causing its spikes to lengthen and sharpen. “Pretty brave of ya, but it’s gonna hurt.”

    Brantley smirked. “Do your worst.”

    Just as Typhus accepted his challenge, an Input Magnum bolt struck him in the side of the head and he dropped Brantley. More bolts shot across the park, perforating the heads of the Scabs surrounding Marco and standing over Jeremy. Even more bolts pounded into Snake Head, knocking him backward and to the ground.

    Jeremy sat up as the Scabs disintegrated around him, and he gawked in silence at the very sight of the Big Bad Beetleborgs themselves standing on the preferred end of the avalanche of fire they unleashed onto the Magnavores–their armor gleaming in the morning sun.

    Marco sighed in relief and helped Brantley up as Drew, Jo, and Roland lowered their weapons.

    Brantley looked at them and nearly broke into tears of joy. “Dude. This is like the most nerdgasmic day of my life.”

    Typhus got up, and faced the Beetleborgs. “Just the bugs I wanted to squash, baby!”

    Drew glanced at Jo. “Get ‘em.”

    “I’mma get ‘em!” Jo shouted as she charged Typhus, who met her charge in kind, the red spreading across his body as he bulked up and out.

    “PAYBACK TIME, BABY!” Typhus roared, swinging his punch.

    Jo met his fist with hers, and on contact the shockwave blew Jeremy, Marco and Brantley away from the battlefield, sending them tumbling across the grass. The force of the impact sent both Drew and Roland stumbling back, but they managed to stay on their feet.

    Typhus and Jo both recoiled back from the explosion of their fists meeting. The more experienced former was the first to recover and swung his sword across Jo’s chest in a downward slash, then swung straight across, sparks flying from her armor with each hit.

    Drew came in fast, shooting Typhus repeatedly with the Input Magnum. After taking several shots, he swung his sword to deflect two more bolts and fired back, Drew rolling out of the way of the fire. Getting back up to a knee, he fired several more shots, hitting Typhus in the side and the shoulder.

    “Grr…!” Typhus shrugged off the bolts, but Jo’s rising uppercut was a tougher no-sell, lifting him into the air like a rocket.

    As Typhus sailed in a ballistic arc towards the park’s lake, Marco and Brantley both got up. Jeremy was a little slower to get up, groaning as he rubbed his head.

    “So, you’re friends with the Big Bad Beetleborgs–who are real,” Brantley said.

    Marco looked at Brantley. “They’re not my friends, we just happen to share common interests.”

    “What, fighting the freakin’ Magnavores?” Brantley asked. “With the karate I taught you? Marco, do you have any idea how cool that is? I’m freaking out right now!”

    Roland opened fire on Snake Head, the monster taking several shots, and staggering back. Raising its head, it fired a burst of beams from its eyes that danced off Roland’s armor without doing too much damage but causing him to stagger. With the opening Snake Head vanished from where he stood and appeared in front of Roland, lashing at him with the snake’s tail.

    “Gah!” Roland grunted before the snake’s head came up and fired its beams point blank, knocking him down.

    Drew and Jo aimed their Input Magnums and fired, and Snake Head vanished–appearing behind Jo to kick her in the head while it used the snake to fire beams at Drew. Both Beetleborgs went spilling to the ground, but Jo turned over and fired at Snake Head, the monster fading away from sight as the beams went through it.

    “It’s fast!” Jo shouted before she was grabbed around the neck by the snake tail and swung into Drew. “Oof!”

    Marco took off towards the fight. “Sensei, stay with Jeremy!”

    Brantley was about to shout affirmative, when he stopped. “… I’m your Sensei again?”

    Waving Jo around with its tail, Snake Head fired its beams at Drew and then Roland, forcing them both to roll for some kind of cover. In a full sprint, Marco jumped, twisted himself through the air, and came down with a diving kick that caught Snake Head between its shoulder blades. The blow sent the monster crashing into the ground, and Jo was able to free herself.

    “You bastard!” She growled, aiming her Input Magnum at the prone monster together with Roland and Drew and firing.

    The much faster monster vanished, and the beam shots only kicked up dirt and grass.

    “Above you! Move back!” Brantley shouted.

    Marco jumped backward, the Beetleborgs following his lead to avoid the shower of beams that Snake Head fired as it fell onto them.

    Roland raised his Input Magnum and hit some keys. “Don’t let him hit the ground! 9-6-7! Anti-Gravity Magnum!”

    He opened fire, the solid beam striking Snake Head. The beam’s effect did not damage, but rather than continue falling, the monster levitated above the ground, and began to struggle.

    “… Ssss?! What is this?!” Snake Head yelled as he tried to get some kind of purchase.

    “Stingerborg!” Jo shouted. “Use me as a springboard!”

    Drew summoned the Stinger blade. “Got it!”

    Running at Jo, Drew jumped and landed on Jo’s back as she doubled over. Standing upright, she shot her brother towards Snake Head as the Stinger Blade spun up and wrapped itself in power.

    “Beetle… Break!” Drew yelled, slashing through Snake Head’s snake and bisecting it.

    The force of the impact sent the monster floating higher into the air before the Anti-Gravity effect wore off and it crashed to the ground.

    Drew landed next to Jo and turned to her. “Good teamwork.”

    As Roland joined them, he turned to him. “And good idea with the Anti-Gravity.”

    “Yeah, but this isn’t over yet,” Roland warned.

    Marco joined them. “It’s not?”

    Roland shook his head and turned towards Snake Head’s snake… which now lay on the ground in two pieces. “That was Heavyznake, half of Snake Head’s body.”

    Jo nodded. “The other half is…”

    Snake Head got up, revealing that underneath the snake it wore on its shoulders was another, more tightly curled red viper, its head resting comfortably between the coils draped on its shoulders. Snake Head’s tongue flicked out, as its eyes shone a glowing crimson.

    “What a glorious hunt… ssss…” Snake Head said as Typhus appeared again at the top of the hill.

    “Snake Head! The cavalry is here, baby!” He shouted.

    When Marco and the Beetleborgs looked up towards the Magnavore, they stopped when another crested the hill to join him, gliding effortlessly across the ground to reach his side.

    Drew, Roland, and Marco all tensed up in silence, while Jo said exactly what they were thinking.

    “… Oh shit.”

    Vexor stood calmly beside Typhus, looking down at the scene and taking count of the belligerents.

    “The Butterfly isn’t here,” he murmured.

    “I tried to get ‘im to call her… but he didn’t wanna cooperate,” Typhus explained.

    Vexor hummed. “It will have to do.”

    He held forth his right hand and opened it, revealing a blue gem set into the center of his palm. “Open forth, Gaohm Zone!”

    “What?” Roland asked before there was a flash of light and suddenly, he, Drew, Marco, and Jo felt the ground fall away from beneath them, and they were hurtling through a swirling tunnel of colors and lights.

    “A dimensional tunnel?!” Marco yelled as they plummeted.

    “This is bad!” Drew shouted before Roland vanished from his sight. “Roland!”

    He disappeared next, leaving Marco and Jo. Marco reached for her. “We gotta stay together-!”

    Jo vanished.

    “Crap!”

    There was another flash of light, and Marco landed hard–falling into the middle of… the Hill-Trank Plaza dojo. Standing up on the cushioned mat, Marco looked around in confusion. It wasn’t just the dojo, across the back walls were shelves of VHS tapes, and even the cash register from the VHS Depot.

    He turned around in place. “… Okay…?”

    He heard a low hiss, and turned around again, on his guard. “Is that you, Snake Head?”

    Heavy, building shaking footsteps filled the room, and Marco turned around. He didn’t find Snake Head. Instead, a man with the hulking figure of the VHS Depot Manager and wearing Brantley’s gi loomed over him with his arms crossed. Looking higher, Marco took a step back as he saw the giant of a man had Jeremy’s head.

    “Hey Marco…” Jeremy said with a chuckle. “… Let’s settle this once and for all.”

    = - = 33 = - =

    The grudge match begins.
     
    Last edited:
    We are the Hunters
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 34 = - =

    |We are the Hunters|

    Spiraling out of the tunnel of colored lights, Roland crashed into a slope not covered in, but made of bones. He skipped down the slope twice, before he managed to land and turn his tumble into a slide down the massive hill. He looked to his left mid-descent, and saw many more bone hills ruled the landscape, lit by a pale orange moon in a black sky devoid of stars.

    “What the heck…?” He said as he reached the bottom of the hill, skipping off a short ledge and landing in thick, knee deep sludge. Standing upright quickly, Roland looked around at the uncountable bones surrounding him, and realized that they were almost all rat-like.

    “Where am I?” He murmured before he heard a hiss.

    Beams of energy shot from the dark, blasting Roland in the chest, shoulders, and head. Snake Head–sans Heavyznake–kicked Roland in the back, then bicycle kicked him forward. Spin-kicking twice to end the chain of blows, he fired his eye lasers–which propelled Roland into the side of another mound.

    Snake Head landed in the sludge and folded his arm as the liquid rippled with the stirring of serpents around his feet.

    “Welcome to my trophy room,” he hissed at the Green Hunterborg as Roland got back up.

    Back at Echo Creek Park, Brantley looked at the scorched ground where Marco and the Beetleborgs had been standing, then looked up the hill at Typhus and Vexor. Typhus was scratching the side of his mutant head, puzzling over what just happened.

    “So are we just gonna wait for Snake Head to finish, or what…?” He asked.

    Vexor hummed and shrugged his shoulders, moving his whole upper body with the effort. “We could always watch and see what happens.”

    “Hey!” Brantley yelled out, and they both noticed the karate teacher walking up the hill towards them.

    Vexor stared at Brantley and spoke aside to Typhus. “Who’s this?”

    “Just some guy,” Typhus said.

    Brantley took offense to that. “My name is Brantley, and I’m the teacher of that kid you zapped. Where is he, damn it?!”

    Vexor called forth a scrying circle, forming it in the air above him and Typhus. “Would you like to see?”

    Brantley looked up at the circular viewing screen into another world and saw the Blue Stingerborg on it. “… Whoa…”

    Drew scanned his surroundings. He appeared to be in the middle of Echo Creek’s scrap yard surrounded by its piles of stacked up compacted cars. The path he stood in was much wider than normal, almost as big as a two-lane highway. Okay, another new ability, this time from Vexor.

    The buzzing of motorcycle engines pulled his attention upward, and he saw four Scabs on dirt bikes riding down towards him, brandishing their swords. Without delay he pulled and fired the Input Magnum at his attackers, the beams bouncing off the front and handlebars of the bikes as their Scab riders reached him. Two passed closest to him, slashing him with their swords, while the two on the flanks of the formation peeled off in separate directions.

    Grunting from the hits, Drew faced the rider to his left that peeled off. Coming back around, the rider did a wheelie and three more dirt bikes with scabs on it appeared with it. The riders opened their formation and attacked one by one, slashing at Drew with their blades as they passed him.

    “Argh!” Drew tried to turn back to shoot the retreating riders, when more came from the other direction, three slashing him with their swords while the last one did a wheelie and drove its bike up Drew’s front.

    Sent reeling, fell to the ground and the Scabs closest to him leaped off their bikes and fell upon him in a heap.

    Brantley gasped, as the Scabs swarmed Drew. “Oh no.”

    Vexor was pleased, though it was hard to tell. “Not as extravagant as Jara’s but still clever. Where’s the other one?”

    The scrying circle changed to the shopping district of Rodeo Drive in the middle of the night, where Jo stood on the famous pedestrian street lined with staggeringly expensive shops. Looking at the shops, Jo grew indignant.

    “I better not be here because I’m a girl!” She yelled before an expensively dressed woman walked past her. “Huh?”

    Another passed her in the other direction. Despite it being the middle of the night, the walkway was populated like it was the middle of the day–and there were sales going on. Looking more closely at the women, Jo saw they were mannequins with their faces drawn on by someone who had to do it in a hurry.

    “… This is weird…” She muttered, before one of the mannequins walking up to her from behind pulled out a knife and slashed her across the back. The hit was immense, tearing off pieces of Jo’s armor. “Urk!”

    She stumbled into another slash, this time from the front, and went backward in a shower of sparks–only to be slashed again, and again. As the mannequins walked by her, they kept cutting, giving her no time to recover, let alone counterattack.

    “Ack! Hey! Quit it!” She shouted with each hit.

    Vexor watched, wondering what to make of this. “Snake Head isn’t the most creative of your works, is he?”

    Typhus shrugged his shoulders. “I made him to do two things, baby: Hunt, and go fast.”

    “He does it well,” Vexor changed the image of the scry, and Roland was in trouble as well.

    Firing the Input Magnum in Crashing Mode from atop a bone mound, he sprayed beams at a high rate of fire, shooting at Snake Head. The monster moved like a blur, weaving in between each bolt and closing the distance.

    Behind his mask, Roland grit his teeth. He’s so fast!

    Snake Head punched him in the head, making him stagger to the side, then kicked him off the mound.

    As the Green Hunterborg fell Snake Head struck him from above, sending him into a spin, then came up from below in a rising kick to his stomach, folding him in half.

    The blow knocked the wind out of him. Felt that through the armor…!

    Snake Head grabbed him by one of his helmet’s horns and threw into the sludge. Lying in it, he looked up to see several Heavyznake’s rear their heads from the liquid and glower down at him. “Crap…!”

    They fired their eye beams in succession, each hit pushing Roland towards another mound. Just as he reached it, Snake Head came down on him from above, punching him in the gut where he’d kicked him before.

    “Ngh…” Roland grunted from the pain and looked up at the monster. Snake Head slammed its foot–armored with a pointed greave–into his face and shoved his head under the muck.

    “Ssss… a paltry hunt.” Snake Head said.

    The Hunter Claw shot from the sludge opening to clamp on his waist. Snake Head vanished, and Roland stumbled forward through where he’d stood.

    Snake Head appeared and spin-kicked him in the head. “I have hunted monsters…”

    Appearing behind him he clubbed Roland on the back of the head. “… Demons…”

    Snake Head grabbed his shoulders and kneed him in the stomach, then elbowed his back to drive him down into the muck. “… Even Gods.”

    A Heavyznake shot up from below Roland, grabbing him in its jaws and lifting him above the sludge. With a whip of its head, it threw him high into the air, below the orange moon–framing him as a perfect target for dozens of Heavyznakes and their laser vision. The Green Hunterborg was juggled by the beams, bouncing to and fro, spinning and flipping, before he finally fell away from the assault and crashed–trailing smoke–before the skeleton of a much larger rat-like creature.

    Panting, Roland slowly pushed himself up to his knees and looked up at the skeleton of the rat-like creature, different from the countless others besides its size with the massive, curling horns that sprung from its skull. He looked up higher and found Snake Head standing on the broken end of one of the horns, framed by the moon above and behind him.

    “Ssss… this has been a much needed vacation,” Snake Head admitted.

    Roland got up, the sludge dripping from his damaged armor, and he ignored the pain he was in from all the impacts to point his Input Magnum at Snake Head. “What did you… just say…?”

    “Hmph… ssss… my Master, Bio Lord Typhus, has told me all that you are capable of.” Heavyznakes burst from the sludge, two grabbing his arms and two grabbing his legs, holding him in place.

    “And I can taste your power. Great, but untapped. Dangerous, but ignorant.” Snake Head stuck his tongue out for emphasis. “That is why as prey your only worth is to capture more prey.”

    Outside, Brantley looked away from the scrying circle to scowl at Vexor. “Whatever you’ve got planned, you won’t get away with it!”

    “Are you volunteering to stop me, or are you going to continue to stand there like a pissant?” Vexor asked.

    Brantley’s shoulders slumped. “Well, no, because I’ve, like, read your comic and I know you’re super strong and you’d splatter me all over this park in a second.”

    A long, awkward silence passed, and Vexor tilted his head to him.

    “You’re brave to admit that.”

    “But…” Brantley added. “… I also know that I don’t need to do anything. Because you’ve already screwed up–you took my best student with you into your weird dimension.”

    Vexor hummed. “Oh, that warrior boy. Let’s see how he’s faring.”

    The scry changed, to Marco rolling along the tatami mats of the dojo to stay ahead of Jeremy, whose powerful stomps smashed holes in the floor as he tried to crush Marco with them. He got onto his hands and feet and sprang away from a heel drop that carved through one of the VHS shelves and landed a short distance away.

    Marco assumed a fighting stance, as Jeremy chuckled and turned to face him. “Hahaha! So what happened to all that talk, Marco?”

    Brantley recoiled. “Jeremy?! Wait…”

    He looked around and saw no sign of his troubled other student. He looked back at the scry. “Oh no.”

    Grabbing the destroyed shelf, Jeremy lifted and threw it at him, but Marco flipped out of the way. “You’re so big, bad, and strong, come on! Take me out like you said!”

    Marco landed. “I’m not going to kill you.”

    Jeremy snorted and jumped across the room, flying like Superman to punch Marco down. Instead of evading, Marco parried the blow and circled around Jeremy’s back. Jeremy turned and blocked Marco’s chop with his raised forearm. Then spun in place, lashing out with his arms in a whirling strike that Marco slipped under.

    Turning to face him, Jeremy punched and kicked with his newfound reach and power, forcing Marco back one step with each attack. “Yeah, because you can’t!”

    Marco crossed his arms to block a straight kick from Jeremy, and grimaced. He hits so hard!

    His massive opponent capitalized, grabbing Marco by the shoulders and throwing him across the VHS Store/Slash dojo. “WAAAAAAHHH!”

    He crashed into the bleacher and winced when he felt something break under him. Fortunately, he found only the wood splintered and cracked, and rolled out of the way before Jeremy’s hammer blow smashed the bleachers in two. The benches being wrenched down at the middle and up at the ends flung Marco into the air, but he caught himself on a rafter and held on.

    Jeremy emerged from the broken bleachers and looked up to see Marco swing and throw himself off them to perform a flying roundhouse kick that connected with his jaw. Turning away into a spin, Marco back-kicked Jeremy, but only got his foot caught in a massive hand.

    “Seven years, Marco. You’ve been doing karate almost as long as I’ve been…” He swung Marco around and threw him into the cashier’s counter. “… ALIVE!”

    Coughing, Marco sat up and looked up at Jeremy as the giant advanced on him. “You’ve been a Green Belt for over half my life!”

    He grabbed Marco by the throat and lifted him off his feet. “And I shot past you like the nothing you are!”

    “Humans have such delusions,” Vexor noted to Typhus.

    Typhus shrugged his shoulders. “Snake Head said to not sleep on ‘em, boss.”

    Vexor sighed. “Well, I’m getting rather bored.”

    Jeremy leaned close to Marco’s face, huffing loudly through his nose, high off adrenaline and conquest. “You will never come close to me, and you’re gonna die wishing that you could.”

    Brantley shuddered. “Mr. Birnbaum, what the heck dude?”

    Marco struggling against his grip to keep his airway open, spoke. “I’m not gonna kill you… because… you’re not worth it…”

    Jeremy stopped. “Huh?”

    “Why would I kill someone… as pathetic as you?” Marco asked.

    He gripped Jeremy’s massive fingers and laughed. “You’re eight years old. You bought your belt and private lessons, but bully other kids at a McDojo just to feel better than them. You have no friends, no one likes you, and I bet your own Mom lets you do whatever because she gave up on you. Killing you would be doing you… a favor…!”

    Jeremy stared at Marco with a blank expression, and he raised his fist. “You’re talking mad smack for someone about to lose all their teeth, Diaz.”

    Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars~! Delivering the Rainbows all around the Wooooooorld~!

    Vexor and Typhus both looked at each other, then at the scry as Marco’s ringtone went off. Jeremy stopped too, surprised by the sound.

    On Rodeo Drive, the women attacking Jo stopped and looked upward. Staggering against a wall, Jo shook her head and caught her breath. “… What?”

    In the scrapyard, Drew was pinned underneath a dirt bike of a Scab doing a burnout on his face–when the bike’s rear tire stopped and the rider and the Scabs pinning him down looked up at the sky.

    Far within the bone mounds, Snake Head stopped… but he looked down. “His phone? But how?”

    Marco grabbed his phone from his gi pocket and hit the talk button. “Star…!”

    Jeremy snatched the phone from him with his free hand. “Hello, are you Marco’s girlfriend~?”

    “No,” Dipper replied. “This is a courtesy call.”

    Jeremy pulled the phone back from his face. “Huh?”

    “Marco!” Dipper shouted. “That’s not the real Jeremy! None of what you’re in is real!”

    On Rodeo Drive, Jo could hear Dipper’s voice. “Huh?”

    Drew as well. “It’s not…!”

    Marco began to smile. “It’s not… real?”

    “I’m the real Jeremy!” The giant shouted.

    “No you’re not… we’ve got him right here!” Dipper yelled back.

    Vexor grew alert and looked towards the tree Snake Head ambushed Marco at, Typhus and Brantley following. Dipper was standing under the tree, holding Star’s compact magic mirror in his hand. Next to the tree, Mabel and Misao held a squirming Jeremy still with their hands over his mouth.

    “Thanks for distracting them, by the way,” Dipper said to Brantley with a nod in greeting.

    “I did not sense them… are they normal humans…?” Vexor asked, before he felt like he’d been buried alive in molten lava, and liquid metal was being poured into his eyes and ears.

    He felt… power…

    Incredible power.

    Power that turned the morning sky dark from the intensity of its shine behind him.

    Both he and Typhus turned around and came face to face with Star, who stood by the edge of Echo Creek Lake, her cheek marks and eyes both glowing as the air around her rippled with power. She was looking at the scrying circle over their heads, showing Marco struggling to get free of the fake Jeremy’s grip.

    “Uh oh…” Typhus said as the ground shook in waves under his feet and a wind picked up from the direction of the girl, catching his and Vexor’s capes and the leaves of the tree.

    For Vexor, it was like staring directly at the sun, from five feet away.

    “… The… The Butterfly…!” He gasped, his voice filled with the awe and wonder of a man beholding the cosmos for the first time.

    Star raised the wand and pointed it at the two Magnavores. Red lines of light drew towards the face of the wand, before several pink rings appeared in front of it and collapsed towards the center. The darkness in the sky grew, before it became almost black. In a voice that echoed with power and shook the air, she spoke.

    “Let. Him. Go.”

    Then it was the brightest day Echo Creek ever saw as a colossal beam of light enveloped the top of the hill and everything on it. The jet-like howl of the beam set off car alarms, sent dogs barking, and people who’d already been chased away from the park by the sounds of lasers and explosions ducking for cover.

    Inside of the Gaohm Zone, the space flickered and warped, as immense power surged through it. The fake Jeremy flinched as the surge affected him, too. “What’s… happening…?!”

    Marco forced Jeremy’s hand open, and dropped to the floor, pulling Jeremy’s arm and hyperextending it. Dragging him in, he swung Jeremy around and away from him. The hulking Jeremy caught himself against the broken cashier counter, and turned around, growling.

    His back to him, Marco walked to the center of the training mats with a smile dripping malice on his face.

    “This isn’t real,” he said. “Ohohohohoho… Jeremy, you have no idea what kind of a relief that is.”

    On Rodeo Drive, the power surge caused the sky to grow lighter, and the mannequins turned their attention back to Jo. She was cracking her knuckles, and behind her mask she was grinning.

    Letting out a dark laugh she pushed off from the store front and launched herself at the group. Reaching the nearest of the mannequins, Jo jumped, flipped, and dove towards the center of the crowd–punching the ground.

    The force of her impact created a gigantic plume of concrete, glass, metal, and mannequin-like women as she destroyed the entire shopping district with that one punch.

    Marco clapped his hands together. “Because now? Now… ohohoho! I can get me some catharsis!”

    The bike pinning Drew exploded, and the Scabs that held him down were slashed through their heads and torsos by the Stinger Blade. Drawing the Input Magnum, Drew hit a new set of keys. “2-8-9! Magnet Magnum!”

    As the other dirt bike riding Scabs tried to attack, Drew turned and fired at the piles of cars around him, magnetizing them with such power that the dirt bikes and the Scabs on them were yanked off the ground and crashed into them at high speed, crushing them against the piles of magnetized scrap.

    The Gaohm Zone Jeremy chuckled. “So what… you’re gonna stop holding back…?!”

    He ran at Marco with outstretched arms, huffing and panting like a galloping draft horse, to drag him to the floor and pummel him to death. “YOU’RE GONNA KILL ME IN ONE SHOT?!”

    Turning in place, Marco performed a sharp, crisp high kick and struck Jeremy square in his chin. Its force wrenched the fake Jeremy’s head up with a sickening crunch and the rest of his instantly lifeless body followed it, his corpse smashing through the rafters until it was stuck into it from the hips, his legs dangling below him.

    Marco lowered his leg as he stared up at the dead fake.

    “Yeah.”

    Pounding his fist into his palm, he closed his eyes and bowed to his defeated opponent.

    The realization that the Beetleborgs and Marco had overcome the traps his Gaohm Zone had laid out for him struck Snake Head with disbelief. “Ssss… impossible…”

    He heard laughter behind him, and faced Roland, still held taut by the Heavyznakes. Underneath the mask, Roland smiled big as he watched the monster struggle with the sudden turn around.

    “What did you say this was? A vacation?” He asked as he pulled against the Heavyznakes. “Listen my guy, this was over the moment you decided what we’re worth.”

    Snake Head hissed and the muck around him began to light up. One by one, more Heavyznakes reared up, their eyes shining as they charged with their potent lasers.

    “Whatever you think you know about us, here’s something that you’d better not forget for as long as you have left to live: We may be sloppy and new at this, but we’ll never give up… and when we work together? We’re unstoppable!”

    Snake Head let out a dismissive hiss as his own eyes lit up. “Courageous last words. Prey that holds its head up high… is still just prey.”

    All at once, Snake Head and the Heavyznakes fired, the beams raining upon Roland and enveloping him in a volley so large and concentrated that after enveloping him it went on to bore a massive hole into and through the bone mound behind him, vaporizing everything in its path. After several seconds of continuous fire the barrage came to an end and the beams faded, leaving nothing but a gaping tunnel that stood for several seconds before it collapsed under its own weight to seal it.

    As bones tumbled down into the sludge at his feet, Snake Head flicked his tongue into the rancid air and tasted death, decay, and power.

    He let out a hiss of satisfaction. “Prey slain, the hunt continues.”

    Roland’s hand caught the extended tongue and held it in his grip. “Nah man, this one’s far from done.”

    Snake Head’s pupils dilated in his eyes with the shock. “Ssss…?!”

    The Green Hunterborg pressed the Input Magnum against Snake Head’s left eye and pulled the trigger, shooting him with a wad of birdlime and sending the monster reeling in pain–his hand groping at the sticky, caustic substance to claw it off.

    “… You… how…?!” He snarled.

    Twirling the Input Magnum in hand, Roland set it to Beam Mode and aimed it at Snake Head. “I already told you once, don’t make me repeat myself!”

    Snake Head yanked his hand from his wounded eye and entered a fighting stance. “I will slay you in the name of Bio Lord Typhus, stubborn prey!”

    Roland fired the Input Magnum, but to Snake Head the yellow beam crawled out of the barrel of the weapon and began a slow, leisurely flight through the air towards him. Letting out a hiss, Snake Head stepped out of the muck and onto its surface to walk towards Roland, each footstep leaving a frozen ripple on its surface.

    He stormed past the beam, now fully left the Input Magnum, and up to Roland. “You will not escape me this time!”

    With all his might Snake Head lashed out with a front kick at Roland’s stomach, to kick him into the collapsing bone pile behind him and bury him in it. It didn’t connect, passing through Roland’s afterimage as so many attacks had passed through his own.

    Snake Head hissed with disbelief, before he was shot in the back with rapid fire bolts from the Input Magnum’s Crashing Mode.

    “What…?!” He turned back and only saw a smear of green disappear into his new blind spot on his left. He was struck with more Crashing Mode bolts, on his right, hitting his hip, side, and shoulder. “Ssss!”

    Snake Head leaped away, jumping onto a bone mound to his right. He landed hard, the bones kicked up into the air by the speed of his landing coming to a standstill around him. “When did the prey gain this speed?”

    Roland appeared in front of him, swinging the Hunter Claw hard and wide and scattering the bones. Snake Head ducked under it counterattacked with a punch that Roland deflected with his free hand. The claw came back around, and Snake Head rolled under it to get behind him and kick him in the back.

    The Green Hunterborg blocked the kick, turned and clobbered him in the snout with a punch before kicking him in the chest.

    “You’re too slow, man.”

    Wheeling backward, Snake Head avoided two more of Roland’s sloppy swings with the Hunter Claw, then ducked under a third to spear him in the gut. Roland was shoved by the hit but didn’t go down, and instead picked up Snake Head and swung him around to throw him to the ground.

    On his back, Snake Head flared his eyes with power and fired, burning through the bird lime to lash out at Roland with two deadly rays of light.

    Roland vanished before the rays could touch him and Crashing Magnum beams rained down on Snake Head from above. Rolling onto his feet as bolts struck his body, the monster looked up to see Roland jumping from suspended bone to suspended bone, using them like floating stepping stones to get a new angle to shoot him from.

    Hissing, Snake Head fired another blast at Roland and swept it through the air, disintegrating the bones.

    “Power… rot… death… nothing has changed!” Snake Head seethed before he was shot in the chest, left shoulder, back, and right arm by the Input Magnum.

    The shots spun him around, to face Roland and the open Hunter Claw he plunged into his mouth and clamped down on his head. “That’s right nothing’s changed, you’ve been looking at me the entire time!”

    Snake Head’s eyes dilated from its slit to nearly occupying the entire space of it. He remembered his own warning to Typhus, and his own condescending towards Roland just moments ago.

    The hunter’s folly… I underestimated my prey!

    It was a revelation that came an instant before Roland charged down the bone mound and drove his body into the slope. At tremendous speeds, the bones tore at his durable hide, some impaled his shoulders and the coils wrapped there, a large sharpened bone tore off his left arm at the elbow, another sheared off his left leg, before he was lifted from the mound and thrown towards the sludge below.

    The Green Hunterborg appeared in front of him, showing him his back, and the world slowed down for Snake Head in a way it hadn’t before. Everything was dark, the bone mounds were gone, the sludge they rose from, and the rot and decay that he tasted with them had vanished as well. There was nothing else except for the Green Hunterborg standing there, radiating the tremendous power that he’d tasted all along.

    Only Power. And Death.

    “What are you?” Snake Head asked.

    Roland reached back and touched the end of Snake Head’s snout, stopping his fall. “The Hunter.”

    A brilliant, blinding light filled half of Snake Head’s vision, and the monster realized that another Input Magnum shot was only centimeters from his head. The Beam Mode shot that Roland had first fired after gumming his eye up with the Bird Lime–he had brought Snake Head back here to put him in its path.

    What a fine Hunter you are. With his last comforting thought, the beam punched through Snake Head’s skull at normal velocity, and the monster fell dead at Roland’s feet.

    “And that’s all she wrote, my guy,” Roland said as he started his walk away from the smoking corpse. “So… how do I get out of here?”

    He got his answer when Snake Head’s body exploded–the blast shattering the world of bones and rot like it were glass. With a disoriented yell, Roland found himself falling, entering the tunnel of light and color that brought him here.

    @@@@@

    The light from Star’s spell curved off and into the sky, dispersing several clouds before fading away harmlessly. On the ground, Dipper opened his eyes and found he was behind the tree with Mabel, Misao, and Jeremy. Brantley had dragged him there.

    “Oh good,” Dipper said, seeing him in one piece. “I thought she would’ve gotten you.”

    Brantley looked back at him. “I have seen enough anime to know… that you do not want to be standing in the sight-line of an angry magical girl.”

    It was wisdom to live by. The top of the hill was gone, shaved completely off at the top by about three meters by Star’s attack. On the new edge of the hill, Vexor stood with both hands held forth, and a crumbling shell of magic falling in front of him and Typhus.

    The Magnavore’s pristine white attire was scorched black in places, and his white chitin was cracked and split, revealing a purple and yellow glow beneath it. Behind him, Typhus’ body was fully red and badly scorched, regenerating slowly from the tremendous damage that the spell had inflicted on him.

    In front of them, Star lowered the wand, and panted heavily. While the glow had left her eyes, her pupils were still shining, as were her cheek marks.

    “In… incredible…” Vexor whispered, as glowing orange fluid dribbled from his mouth. “… The power of Mewni… undiminished by the ages…”

    “I have so much left in the tank, too.” Star said as she raised her wand. “Now let my friends go!”

    Soon as she made her demand, the sky opened up above her head, and Drew, Jo, Roland, and Marco all came spilling out of it. With a yelp, she dodged and weaved to not be crushed under the armored warriors, but with even greater reflexes she caught Marco before he had a bad encounter with the ground.

    “Marco!” She gasped, hugging him tight.

    Marco smiled and returned the hug. “Hey Sta-aaahhow!”

    And regretted it when she squeezed him tighter. “Ow! OW! Ribs! Ribs! Back! Everything!”

    Gasping, Star pulled back. “OhmygoshI’msorry!”

    Typhus saw the perfect opportunity and grabbed Vexor by the arm. “We’re outta here, baby!”

    “W-wait…!” Vexor gasped, clawing at the air towards Star. “… The Butterfly…!”

    Ignoring him, Typhus nodded and the two disappeared.

    Star saw the burst of flames. “Shoot!”

    She almost dropped Marco, then remembered the state he was in. “Ahh… is anything broken? Do you need to go to the hospital?!”

    Marco shook his head and pulled away, but not too far. “Nothing’s broken, I’m just kinda banged up from that fight. All I need to do is lie down some.”

    “That sounds great right now,” Roland said.

    Marco was more than relieved to see the Beetleborgs were back in the real world, too. “Hey, you made it out.”

    “Yep,” Jo called back.

    Drew sat up. “Hey, did all of you end up in some weird place fighting something strange?”

    “Uh huh,” Roland said. “I ended up fighting Snake Head in some kind of weird place filled with rat bones. What about you?”

    “I got the scrapyard,” Drew said. “And fought guys on dirt bikes like Dipper did.”

    Jo seethed. “What? You got to have all that and I fought a bunch of mannequins with knives on Rodeo Drive?! Screw him, I’m gonna mess him up like I rocked that whole block!”

    “You don’t need to worry about that, he’s already gone,” Roland assured her.

    Jo got up and faced Roland. “Did you beat him?”

    Roland got up slowly, his whole body felt like he’d just run a marathon, after he’d already run an entirely separate marathon. “Sure did, my only regret is that you weren’t there to see it.”

    Drew pumped his fist. “Good going, man.”

    When he patted Roland on the shoulder, he flinched. “Ow! Ow! Ow! Please… I feel like tenderized meat in this tin can suit thanks to that fight. My whole body aches.”

    “Yay, me too. We can be pain bros,” Marco said.

    Roland gave him a thumb’s up. “Yeaaah… pain bros.”

    He laughed weakly, before he remembered. “Oh yeah, I found my special power, too.”

    Jo brightened. “What, really?!”

    Drew was just as stoked to hear it. “What is it, man?”

    Roland fully stood up. “Super Speed, like… really super speed.”

    The McCormicks looked at each other, then Drew spoke. “So Super Strength from Jo, Roland has Super Speed.”

    Jo nudged her brother. “I wonder what you’ll get?”

    “Who knows, but I can’t wait to find out,” Drew admitted.

    Dipper, Mabel, and Misao walked over to the group, and looked around at the burning, scorched, and vaporized portions of the park. “So as usual we need to get going. Flabber won’t be able to clean this one up for us.”

    “Yeah, good idea,” Marco agreed.

    Jo looked around. “I can’t wait to watch the news report on this.”

    Star handed Dipper the Dimensional Scissors, and he quickly cut open a portal that would take them to Shermie’s back yard. Drew looked at the portal, then at Dipper, Mabel, and Misao, then at Sensei Brantley–who was carrying a squirming Jeremy under his arm, with his other hand over his mouth.

    “Well then…” He said to his non-suited friends. “… If everything is in order, we’re gonna be on our way.”

    Jo butted in. “And let this be a lesson to you civilians to stay out of ours. The Magnavores are way above your pay-grade.”

    Dipper scowled at her but nodded. “You’re welcome, I guess.”

    “Let’s go, I hear sirens,” Misao warned them before she hopped through the portal.

    Dipper nodded to the Beetleborgs again, and stepped through the portal himself, with Mabel right behind him. Star was about to bring Marco across the threshold, when Brantley called out to him.

    “Mr. Diaz!”

    Marco looked back. Brantley, still carrying Jeremy, walked up to him.

    “You don’t have to but… like… come to the dojo Monday? I promise it’s nothing bad, or me jerking you around. I have a lot to say, and I wanna do it without having to worry about cops asking me a bunch of questions.”

    Marco nodded. “I will. You be safe getting out of here, Sensei.”

    Sensei Brantley tried to not tear up, but he was bad at it. “Now go! I need to find Jeremy’s butler and then soak my hand in like… a gallon of sanitizer.”

    Jeremy glared up at Sensei Brantley, then delivered a harsher glare at Marco as he and Star stepped across the threshold and the portal disappeared.

    With their friends gone, Drew looked to Roland. “You good?”

    Roland nodded. “My body hurts, but I can still move.”

    Jo flexed. “I feel great. If you want, I can carry both of you schlubs.”

    “I’ll pass. Besides…” Roland snapped his fingers, and the world became a blur for Jo.

    When it stopped five seconds later, she wasn’t in the park. She was in the alley behind Zoom Comics.

    “Huh? Wait?” She looked around before Roland appeared, setting down an equally disoriented Drew. “What?!”

    “Back Blast,” Roland said, and his armor vanished. “I told you, I have super speed.”

    Drew transformed back, and Jo followed suit. The elder McCormick was alight with excitement, grinning from ear to ear at Roland. “That is so cool! You’re like the Flash, but like the Wally West version!”

    “So the only one that matters,” Jo added.

    Roland slumped against a wall, exhausted. “And now I think I’m gonna need to lie down for six hundred years after that.”

    Drew gave a thumb’s up. “Dipper will be here soon. We’ll chill at his place for the rest of the day, we earned it.”

    Looking over at her brother, and then at Roland, Jo smiled. “I’ll say! This is our third fight we’ve won against the Magnavores, guys!”

    “Yeah, and did you see?” Drew asked. “Star hit Vexor hard.”

    “I doubt Vexor will try to come after us directly like that again, though,” Roland noted.

    “No, but if we can find out where he is? It won’t matter.”

    Jo agreed. “That’s right.”

    Vexor wasn’t invincible, and for all of their experience and abilities the Magnavores could be beaten in a fight. They were by no means experts at it, but when they combined their determination with the powers they had and the people with them who were experts at fighting monsters, they were able to win.

    “For now though,” Drew finished as Dipper opened a portal in the alley for them, “Let’s just hope we can enjoy this victory… and get some rest.”

    = - = 34 = - =

    Power moves only.
     
    King Jeremy the Wicked
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    To quote the Lion formerly known as Taka.

    = - = 35 = - =

    |King Jeremy the Wicked|

    On Monday afternoon, Sensei Brantley’s Dojo was livelier than usual, with its students gathered around the Bleachers to all get a first -and account of the chaotic scene that descended upon Echo Creek Park yesterday morning. It was the talk of the town, indeed the entire city of LA was talking about the supposed fight between monsters and armored warriors that ended in a bright flash that rattled the neighborhood and could be seen for kilometers.

    “… Despite Sensei’s best efforts to keep him from getting beat up, he and Marco were suddenly surrounded on all sides by Scabs. Typhus and Snake Head had them dead to rights, and that would’ve been the end of it, if they hadn’t made one fatal mistake.” Jeremy explained to the crowd of students surrounding him. Brantley had gone next door to get smoothies, and the class was awaiting his return.

    “What happened?” A girl close to his age asked.

    Jeremy tightened his black belt and smirked. “They thought I was a pushover.”

    He struck a fighting stance. “The moment the Scabs got within reach, I wrecked one with an uppercut and took down the other with a flying axe kick.”

    In a flash he performed the moves described. “The other Scabs forgot all about Sensei and Marco and came right for me.”

    The same girl gasped. “Weren’t you scared?!”

    “Nope!” Jeremy oozed smug from every pore as he tilted his nose up. “I’m a black belt after all, it wasn’t a big deal.”

    Another of the students, Hunter, rolled his eyes. “Bull. Marco could probably take on all those Scabs by himself, but you? Nah.”

    Jeremy turned to face the other student. “Nuh uh! Marco spent like five minutes being chased around by the snake, I told you that! Sensei had to actually save him from it!”

    He shot Hunter a dirty look and turned back to his younger peers. “So, you know, I’m styling all over the Scabs because I’m so small and quick, right? But then Typhus grabs Sensei and says he’s gonna kill him if I don’t stop beating up his dudes. Marco just kinda breaks down and says ‘please, don’t kill my sensei!’ and he’s about to cry like this big stupid baby, when all of a sudden the Beetleborgs–the real Beetleborgs–show up out of nowhere and they just start blasting!”

    “The Beetleborgs aren’t real,” Hunter chimed in.

    “Yeah they are!” Jeremy shouted.

    Another younger boy spoke up. “My Uncle was walking his dog at the park, and he saw the Beetleborgs there, too. He thought it was costumes, but they started shooting stuff and he ran away.”

    “See? I told you!” Jeremy turned his nose up. “Sensei will tell you what happened when he gets here.”

    He wore his nasty little smile. He’s gonna make sure our stories lined up nice and tight if he knew what was good for his dojo.

    “So anyway, the Beetleborgs show up and they are just so cool shooting the Magnavores and stuff. Reddle and I even teamed up against Typhus and sent him flying into the lake!”

    The child who spoke up for him gasped. “Cool!”

    Hunter sighed. “You’re gonna look so weak when Marco gets here.”

    Jeremy grinned and turned to face Hunter. “Yeah right. Marco quit.”

    Hunter looked down at Jeremy. “No he didn’t.”

    “He totally did, Saturday.” Jeremy let out a cocksure laugh. “So that loser won’t be showing up around here ever again.”

    “Marco… quit?” The tone of the girl who’d been so wowed by his story poured cold tap water on Jeremy’s fire. Looking around at the other kids, he could only see disappointed or distressed faces.

    “So? It’s just Marco. He wasn’t even good.”

    The same boy who argued for the Beetleborgs being at the park shook his head. “What? Marco was the best.”

    “Yeah,” another of the kids gathered to hear Jeremy’s story said. “He’s like the strongest of the big kids.”

    “He’s been a Green Belt longer than most of us have been here,” another kid pointed out.

    Jeremy gestured to his belt. “So? Hello~! I’m a black belt? I’m better than him.”

    Hunter’s laugh was sharp and biting. “No you’re not.”

    “What about the times where I beat him?”

    “Marco’s not going to go all out on a little kid.”

    “Yeah, and you cheat.” Another student said.

    Jeremy gasped, like his good name had been sullied. “Well, what about the time he had that Monster Arm he almost killed me with?!”

    “You’ve been using brass knuckles in your gloves way before that,” Hunter said.

    Jeremy’s face flushed red with anger. “Nuh uh!”

    Hunter turned away and snickered. “I mean, you couldn’t win any other way against Marco.”

    Jeremy stomped up the bleachers and grabbed him by his gi–yanking him around to face him. “You really think that loser is better than me?!”

    Hunter slapped Jeremy’s hand away. “I’m better than you. Because you’re eight, and I’m fifteen.”

    He got up. “But if Marco’s really gone, then I’m gone. I came here to learn karate, not babysit a spoiled rich kid.”

    Jeremy recoiled as Hunter began walking down the bleachers. Seething, he shouted after him. “Go ahead and quit! You should be happy you got to train under the same roof as me!”

    He looked at the kids closer to his age, and found they were all now glaring at him. “The heck are you looking at?”

    The door opened and Sensei Brantley walked in, carrying trays of drinks. “Students! I have come bearing smoothies!”

    He stopped when he saw Hunter heading towards the door. “Mr. Rodriguez, is something the matter?”

    Hunter nodded. “Yeah, did Marco really quit?”

    Sensei Brantley opened his mouth to respond, when Marco slipped in behind him. “Sensei and I just had a disagreement.”

    He looked up at his teacher. “We’re good, now.”

    “Who said Marco quit?” Sensei Brantley asked as he handed Hunter his drink.

    Everyone in the dojo pointed at Jeremy, now wide-eyed with fury and shock at the sight of Marco and the red belt around his waist. “Wh-what are you doing here?! Where’d you get that?!”

    “Good question Mr. Birnbaum. Everyone, gather around.” Sensei Brantley said as he and Marco moved in to set down the drinks on a table. Behind them, Drew, Jo, and Roland entered and joined the other students, already dressed in their gis.

    “You might have heard some stuff but trust your Sensei,” he began when everyone gathered. “Marco hasn’t quit the school, in fact… he has ascended–like a great Super Saiyan–to the next level in his journey.”

    As soon as the drinks were set down, he gestured to Marco’s red belt. “Mr. Marco Diaz is now a red belt, and you will regard him with the respect befitting of his skill and experience.”

    “Now.” He and Marco both placed their fists into their palms. “Bow to your Sensei, and your new Assistant Sensei.”

    In unison, every student did as commanded–with one exception. Jeremy stormed down the bleachers and marched right up to Sensei Brantley.

    “What are you doing? You can’t make him your assistant!” Jeremy hollered, stomping his foot and pointing at Marco’s face.

    Sensei Brantley turned to Jeremy. “Mr. Birnbaum!”

    His shout stopped the child mid-tantrum. “Marco has demonstrated not only that he meets the requirements to be a red belt, but has shown courage, sick skills, and the mad wisdom to be my assistant.”

    He looked back at Marco with an affirming nod. “There’s no one else in this humble dojo I would be prouder to have helping me guide you on the path, and you will treat him with the respect he’s earned.”

    Marco nodded to his Master. “Thank you, Sensei.”

    Hunter spoke up. “Heck yeah, I’m gonna tell Pete you were legit. He’s gonna be so stoked.”

    Jeremy pulled out his phone. “We had a deal, Brantley! My Mom told you not to make him your assistant!”

    The other students looked up at Jeremy, who gripped the phone and held it up into Sensei’s face.

    “She pays the rent for this dojo, which means I own you!” Jeremy screeched. “All she has to do is stop giving you your stupid money and then what? No more dojo! You’ll just be a forty year old loser living with your Mom!”

    The other students were all looking at Sensei Brantley.

    “Is that true, Sensei?” One of the students asked.

    Sensei Brantley looked to his students. “Class, Jeremy was right. The reason he’s always had preferential treatment and junk is because his mom gave mad funds to the school, so I can keep it open.”

    He slumped his shoulders a little. “I’m not good at business, so I take what I can get.”

    “I mean, it’s so obvious…” Hunter muttered.

    Some of the other students murmured in agreement.

    “It definitely explains everything,” Jo said to Drew and Roland.

    Roland nodded. “Mmhm.”

    “Seriously, he’s a mini-Trip,” Drew whispered.

    Jeremy folded his arms. “So what are you waiting for, tell him he can’t be your assistant!” He turned his head away from Marco and gestured to the door. “Better yet… throw Marco out of this dojo right now, I don’t want to see his stupid face anymore.”

    “No.”

    Jeremy stopped, turned his head, and glared at Brantley for even daring to say that word. “… No?”

    “You remember when I showed up at the park yesterday, right? I wanted to apologize to Marco because Roland’s grandma came over to my house and threw me out of my own bedroom window.” Sensei Brantley explained.

    Drew and Jo looked over at Roland, who shrugged his shoulders. All agreed that it was something that Nano would do though.

    Sensei Brantley turned to the other students. “She did it because I had actually made up that junk about Marco needing to be a red belt to be my assistant.”

    Sensei Brantley lowered his head in shame as his students gasped. “And I made that junk up because Jeremy told his mom to threaten to pull money from the school if I made Marco my assistant, and I couldn’t just tell him that because… you know… I was afraid of hurting his feelings after I had been so stoked before.”

    He stopped and realized what he said. “By the way, guys? Don’t do that. Lying to your friends and not being up front with them will only totally backfire and blow up in your face later.”

    All eyes in the dojo fell again on Jeremy.

    “Wow, Jeremy, wow,” Hunter said.

    “You cried to your Mommy to mess with Marco?! You jerk!” One of the girls yelled at him.

    “You always sucked but dude, that’s pathetic!” Another boy called out.

    “The word you’re looking for is ‘psychopathic,’” Drew suggested.

    “That too!”

    Jeremy backed away from the angry kids and held up his phone. “Yeah! So what?! I can call my mom right now and she’ll have this whole dojo shut down in a second. Then none of you will have your stupid karate!”

    Jo called from the back. “Why would you even do that?!”

    The frustration of all these kids taking shots at him boiled over. “Because I’m better than you! That’s why!”

    “Jeremy, stop,” Sensei Brantley said.

    Jeremy turned to face him. “You don’t tell me what to do! I still own you!”

    “No you don’t,” Sensei Brantley said. “Well, not anymore.”

    Jeremy’s mouth fell open. “Huh?”

    The door opened and Dipper stuck his head in. “Hey, Sensei Brantley? We’re here.”

    Sensei Brantley brightened and waved to him. “Oh, right on time. Come on in.” He turned to his students. “I’ve got great news for all of you, you’re gonna love this.”

    The door opened again, and Dipper walked in followed by Mabel, Misao, Shermie, Nano Williams herself, and the Manager from the VHS Depot–the towering martial artist making even the tall Pines twins seem short by comparison.

    “I’m super bad at business,” Sensei Brantley admitted. “But Nano’s not and she got me in touch with a few local folks who’d be happy to cover the rent, so I didn’t have to give preferential treatment to one bratty student.”

    He looked to his class. “So from now on, guys, the rules that I kinda sorta let Jeremy break now apply to him, too.”

    Marco looked over at Jeremy and smiled with all his satisfied malice. “And you can’t get your way by extorting Sensei.”

    As the class broke into celebration. Nano counted the number of students and hummed. “My, my, Brantley. You’ve got a bigger school than I thought. This could be a good investment for me, and you.”

    “Well, yeah. I may be super bad at numbers, but you know what I am good at?”

    He struck a fighting pose. “Teaching how to kick butt!”

    “I’ll say!” Marco testified.

    Nano hummed. “How have you kept this place open, though?”

    Sensei Brantley gestured to Marco. “He’s been balancing my budget for the last three years.”

    “It’s true,” Marco said.

    The VHS Depot Manager perked up. “Can you do taxes?”

    Marco cracked his knuckles. “Can John Woo choreograph a gunfight?”

    Jeremy Birnbaum froze in place, his mind trying to comprehend what was happening. From his earliest memory, the one thing he knew was that he was special, and that he could have anything he wanted. All he had to do was ask and his mother would give it to him. If asking didn’t work, he could yell. If yelling didn’t work, he could scream. If he screamed long enough, he would be denied nothing. T

    hat was the guiding logic of his young life, whatever he wanted was his. People existed only to get him what he wanted, and no one could defy him.

    He began to hyperventilate, his face colored first a red and then almost turned purple. He glared at Marco as tears began to fill his eyes. “No…”

    With a mighty stomp of his feet, Jeremy looked wildly across the adults gathered and shrieked. “NO! I’M GONNA TELL MY MOM AND IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU DO! YOU’RE ALL GONNA PAY FOR THINKING YOU CAN TELL ME WHAT TO DO! SO SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”

    Nano winced. “Lord have mercy, the lungs on that child.”

    Shermie dug his finger into one ear. “Oy gevalt, you can hear this putz all the way back in the old country…”

    The VHS Depot Manager hummed. “This is what I imagine r/movies sounds like in Real Life.”

    “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”

    Misao looked at Marco. “How can one boy be so spoiled?!”

    “He’s an only child!” Drew shouted back.

    Marco clapped his hands over his ears. “I’m an only child too, how did he turn out this bad?”

    “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”

    “I know, right?!” Roland called out over the shrieking, while Jo covered her ears before they bled.

    “What?!” Marco yelled back as Jeremy only got louder.

    “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP-!”

    Jeremy’s temper tantrum ended when he was grabbed from behind and yanked off the ground by Mabel–who muffled him with her hand clamped tightly over his mouth. Next to her, Dipper stood with his arms akimbo, shaking his head in disappointment.

    “Man,” he said, “I expected a little brat, but this? This kid’s a full Gideon Gleeful.”

    “And you know what we do with Lil’ Gideons, right, bro-bro?” Mabel asked.

    Dipper nodded and walked over to the door to open it for her. “After you.”

    As everyone watched, Mabel carried the thrashing child out of the Dojo and over to a garbage can that sat between the dojo and the yogurt shop next door. Seeing the garbage can, Jeremy’s struggles intensified, and when Dipper lifted the lid off the garbage can, he began kicking at Mabel in vain.

    When she let go of Jeremy’s mouth to hoist him above his head, Jeremy shrieked. “LET GO! I’M GOING TO TELL MY MOM! PUT ME DOWN PUT ME DOWN! AHHHHHH!!”

    Ignoring his cries, Mabel slammed Jeremy into the half-full garbage can and when she pulled back Dipper grabbed his still kicking legs and shoved him further into the mostly yogurt and paper cup filth that filled the bottom.

    “AHHH! IT’S GROSS! LET ME OUT! AHHHH! AHHHHH!” Jeremy screamed as he struggled.

    Dipper scanned the lot, and noticed a man dressed like a butler watching the scene with a dispassionate expression. He pointed at the can. “Hey, does this trash belong to you?”

    When the butler nodded, Dipper tipped the can over onto its side, and Mabel kicked it hard as she could, sending it rolling over towards the Butler, to Jeremy’s further distress. “PPPBBT! EEW IT GOT IN MY MOUTH!”

    Walking around in front of the rolling barrel, the Butler stopped it with his foot and put on a pair of rubber gloves, before extracting the blubbering and sobbing Jeremy out of it and into the back seat of the car. He turned to the Pines Twins, as Brantley and Marco came out to watch the scene.

    “I will inform the Mistress that young Jeremy will be out of martial arts classes for several days.” The butler said, before he walked around to the driver’s side of the car–with a skip in his step.

    As Jeremy’s car backed out and pulled away, Marco looked at Dipper and Mabel. “You know what? If I had half the nerve you two do? I would’ve done that to Jeremy a lo-o-ong time ago.”

    “Yeah, and Jeremy’s Mom would’ve sued my Mom’s pants off.” Brantley looked at Dipper and Mabel. “You guys got a good lawyer?”

    “Oh please,” Mabel said. “What would she sue us for?”

    Dipper nodded. “Escorting her son out of the dojo so his butler can take him home?”

    Marco lit up in recognition. “Yeah, that’s all that happened here.” He looked at Brantley. “Right?”
    Brantley stared at Marco, uncomprehending–before it clicked. “Oh–ohhh! Yeah, that’s totally all that happened.” He peeked back into the dojo. “Right guys?”

    The consensus inside the dojo, from students to its new sponsors, was unanimous that nothing happened.

    Brantley led the group back in. “Well then, how about we kick off our lesson for the day. All right guys, get your smoothies in you and prepare yourselves. For today, two mighty dragons soar over this dojo…” He looked aside to Marco and raised his fist. “… And they are as strict masters as they are fearsome warriors!”

    Looking back and forth between his Sensei’s fist and his face, Marco smiled and returned the fist bump. “That’s right!”

    With burning enthusiasm, the class–its newest students included–chorused together. “Yes, Sensei!”

    As the class got under way, Dipper, Mabel, and Misao sat down on the bleachers with the dojo’s other new sponsors to watch. To their surprise, they found Star sitting at the end, having slipped in via Dimensional Scissors.

    “Huh, you came to watch Marco train?” Misao asked.

    “Well, yeah!” Star replied. “Marco loves karate, and he’s made up with his teacher! I’m not gonna miss that for the world!” She stood up and waved. “Hi Marco! Don’t forget to show them your cool karate chops!”

    “I won’t, Star,” Marco called back.

    “Marco-sensei, is that your girlfriend?” One of the Jeremy-aged students asked.

    “W-what?! P-Pay attention! Eyes forward!”

    “Yes, Sensei~!” The kids replied before they began chanting. “Marco’s got a girlfriend!” to his embarrassment.

    Star blushed, feeling a little caught out herself, and looked off to the side. “Hee…”

    As the others laughed, Misao thought about how well the toppling of Jeremy’s reign went, and the seeds of an idea were planted in her mind. She let out a small, barely audible hum, and pulled out her phone to look at her contact list. Scrolling through it, her thumb came to rest on a contact listed “Mother.”

    = - = 35 = - =

    Long live the king.
     
    To
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    And now for a special coda, taking place right between One Week and You are the Prey. May be a bit before we get back to the next chapters.

    = - = 36 = - =

    |To|

    It wasn’t until after eleven that Marco and Star came home, entering the living room via a Dimensional Scissors portal they’d taken from the dojo, where Marco had picked up his stuff. The entire downstairs was dark and quiet, his parents having gone to bed knowing that they’d be home later than usual, and the Laser Puppies were all asleep in a pile on the couch.

    “Finally home,” Marco said as the portal closed. “Man, what a day.”

    “I know,” Star agreed. “But it wasn’t all bad, the party was fun, right?”

    “It was, but I’m still drained from Brantley’s crap.”

    Star’s pleased smile faded with his reply, and she looked down at the floor.

    “… Oh.”

    He headed for the kitchen. “I wanna just lie down and sleep it all off so I can train the guys tomorrow. Night and… thanks for helping me get my stuff.”

    “It was nothing!” She said brightly, before she lowered her head and continued in a quieter voice, more to the floor than to him. “Good night, Marco.”

    After he grabbed a glass from the cupboard, Marco looked back. Star was still standing in the archway, looking down at her wand held loosely in her right hand. There was confliction in her eyes, betraying a struggle going on underneath. He set the glass on the island countertop, and turned to her.

    “Star, are you okay?”

    Star looked up at him. “Huh? Oh, I’m fine! Just thinking about stuff… and… stuff. You know…”

    Her gaze cast downward again. “… Stuff?”

    A moment of almost smothering silence passed, before Marco replied. “Yeah… stuff.”

    Star turned her back to the archway and leaned against it, her hands resting on her locked knees. “You know… crummy stuff, like how your Sensei treated you. And how you really, really like Karate and it sucks that you can’t do it at that cool dojo place anymore because of that.”

    There was Star, being a lot more open than she normally was. “Usually you don’t really care too much about my dojo stuff.”

    Star raised her head to look at him. “I totally care!”

    “Sorry, I mean more that you never really paid attention to how much I cared about Karate or if I was doing anything important in it. Remember the Banagic Incident?”

    His point struck home and rendered Star without words for a moment. “Oh… well… I care now–I mean, I always cared! I just… you know… didn’t think it was that big a deal…”

    She grimaced as the words ground out of her. “… Until today…”

    Marco frowned and opened his mouth.

    “And I’m sorry,” Star cut him off before he said something they’d regret.

    “You don’t deserve to be treated like that. Not by your teacher, or by me, or anyone!” She looked off to the side, her eyes narrowed thinking about Jo’s attitude in particular.

    “You’re a great guy who deserves better than that, and I want to try…” Star trailed to a stop as it hit her how that sounded.

    “What?” Marco asked, his own mind starting to race with what Star was saying.

    “I want to try being…” Star tripped over her own racing thoughts, struggling for a word that didn’t make this more awkward than it suddenly felt. “… Better…”

    She clamped onto it. “A better friend, a better best friend!”

    Star wanted to take her declaration and run away so she’d not have to talk about this again. She stayed stuck to the archway however, like she’d been glued to it.

    Marco’s expression softened, and he smiled.

    “You already have,” he said, stopping her from enacting her cut and run. “Lately, you’ve been talking to me differently, like you’ve started being more, I dunno, real?”

    Star’s face fell. “I’ve always been real with you!”

    Marco backpedaled. “Okay, that’s not what I meant. On Monday, you really opened up about how you feel about being underestimated, and with how things are with your mom. You never mentioned anything like that before.”

    He walked around the island counter, leaving nothing standing between him and Star. “I like when we can talk like that… kind of like right now. It’s not about adventure, or magic, or fighting monsters… when you tell me how you really feel about stuff, it’s like you’re trusting me with something I’ve never heard you talk about to anyone.”

    Star began to respond but stopped short. She looked down at her wand, she was wringing it in her hands as feelings bubbled up into her chest from the pit of her stomach, her guts making strange noises as they seemed to twist themselves in knots.

    “You’re not mad that I haven’t done that until now… are you?”

    “I said I like it,” Marco reassured her.

    She looked up at him and met his gaze as he continued. “Besides, sometimes it takes big changes to help you see things you couldn’t before. Everything already felt different after the whole thing with Toffee… and getting into the kind of fights we’ve been in now… it feels really different.”

    Star averted her eyes. “Yeah… really, really different… and stuff.”

    Silence fell in the kitchen again. Star kept looking out into the living room and towards the stairs, wringing her wand harder as her face colored. Marco watched her, his grip on the counter’s edge tightening as he felt his own insides tie themselves around each other.

    Just say it. Star told herself.

    Say it. Marco thought.

    Star looked everywhere but at Marco, and he turned his head away from her. They waited for something to happen, for Marco’s phone to ring, the laser puppies to wake up, one of his parents to come downstairs. Something somewhere to explode. They waited for a moment… then a minute. The silence stretched on into what felt for hours into the night.

    Respite wasn’t coming, and Star didn’t want to just walk away. She didn’t feel like it. Marco deserved better than that. “L-Look…”

    He looked at her again, and she was looking right back. “Yeah?”

    She paused, one final hope that something would happen. It didn’t.

    With a deep breath, she dipped down and did it. “After the fight Monday, I… well…”

    She brought her wand up to her chest. “… When you were ready to kill Jara to protect me, that… oh man, that messed me up. You messed me up, I’m totally messed up, and…”

    She brought her wand up higher and hit herself in the forehead with it. “Ow! I’m trying to say that I’m falling in love with you, Marco!”

    There, she said it. Now she could finally die of embarrassment.

    Marco’s shoulders dropped, and his smile grew warmer. “Yeah, I um… kinda figured that out…?”

    Star’s face went white. “What.”

    “I mean, there’s a way you look at things when you like them? It’s different with how intense it is.” He explained. “But um… the way you looked at me when we talked after we got home… it’s the same look you’ve been giving me now.”

    He let go of the counter and walked up to Star. She stood straighter as he reached her and stopped breathing when he rested his hands on her shoulders.

    “Star…”

    She stared into his eyes and blurted it out all at once. “You’re going to tell me that even though I’m falling in love with you, you’ve still got strong feelings for Jackie and you’re not going to just throw those away easily, aren’t you?”

    Star gasped for air then slapped her free hand over her mouth.

    Marco tilted his head to the left as he processed Star’s rambling. He closed his eyes and let out a small laugh. “I really do like Jackie and have a crush on her, but, well…”

    He slipped his arms around Star and pulled her into a hug. “An amazing girl I’d kill for came along, and here we are.”

    Filled with warmth, Star slowly returned Marco’s hug and nuzzled her cheek to his. She let out a happy squeak when he tightened his embrace. “So…”

    Marco asked as the two began to rock back and forth. “Yeah?”

    “… Does this mean… you know… that we’re…?”

    “Do you want to?”

    The two pulled back to face one another, a much more comfortable silence falling between them.

    “Yes,” she whispered back.

    Marco nodded. “Then, yeah. Let’s do it.”

    Both smiled, before Marco shuffled closer and Star was comfortably caught between him and the wall. She brought her hand up to his cheek and caressed it, beckoning him closer. Marco took the invitation, closing the distance and meeting her lips with his in their first kiss.

    They pulled away, and Marco spoke. “By let’s do it, I mean let’s be a couple. I don’t mean-”

    “Marco, shush,” Star said, “Don’t ruin the moment. Kiss me.”

    “Sorry.” He resumed kissing her.

    At the bottom of the stairs just around the corner, Angie Diaz clamped her hands over her mouth to silence her squeal of joy, while Rafael turned to her and pantomimed shushing her. When their cover wasn’t blown, the two shared warm smiles to one another and looked back. They’d let the new couple have a little more time to themselves, then step in as good parents should to keep them from getting too carried away with their new feelings.

    Outside the Diaz Home, the wind picked up, rustling the autumn leaves of the trees in the neighborhood and creating a haunting, dry rattling sound that carried down the street as they swayed in the dark. The tree next to Shermie Pines’ home, still in full leaf, rocked and bent in the wind, one of its branches knocking against the side of the house at the second floor. After several blows, like a giant knocking on the side of the house, Dipper stirred from his sleep.

    “Hngh…?” His eyes fluttered for a second. “What’s that noise…?”

    Sitting up, Dipper opened his eyes and grew still. A faint red glow bathed the entire upstairs. “Huh?”

    All but leaping from his bed, Dipper stumbled from his, Mabel, and Misao’s shared bedroom space and walked into the sitting room, where the red light was shining in through the picture windows of Shermie’s custom-built home. Walking up to the nearest window, he looked outside.

    His face paled, and his left eye twitched as he watched the clear, cloudless night sky. “… What… what the heck…?”

    The night sky above Echo Creek was painted red, by the light of a crescent Moon the color of blood.

    = - = 36 = - =


    Well, that die is cast. I'm sure there won't be any too dramatic repercussions.
     
    Princesses of the Disco
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    Warning, Butterfly OC en route.

    = - = 37 = - =

    |Princesses of the Disco|

    Misao had been to plenty of discos and nightclubs back in Switzerland and Germany, but none had prepared her for a place like the Bounce Lounge: A nightclub in the literal clouds, where people of different species, from different worlds, and entirely different universes danced, drank, and mingled across the sprawling complex of clouds topped with a dance floor, bean bag seats, and various concessions ranging from an innocuous photobooth to a fully stocked bar.

    “Wow… a nightclub in another dimension!” Mabel said as she and Misao followed Star through the portal from her bedroom and to the edge of the multicolored dance floor.

    “Yep, this is The Bounce Lounge,” Star said. “If I ever wanna chill, I come here. And since you’re my new friends, I’m going to share my favorite chill spot with you!”

    Mabel brought a hand to her sweater-protected heart. “Aw! This is such a great surprise.”

    Misao looked out onto the dance floor, where robot DJs were dropping technological beats that the most fervent European EDM mixers could only dream of. “I am already liking it! If I could only bring my party supplies from Berlin…”

    Star looked back over at her smaller new friend. “I don’t know where Berlin is, but if you want to use my scissors to hop back over there and get them, you can.”

    Misao quickly waved her hands. “Oh, no, no, no… maybe another time. For now, we can have a good clean party, ja?”

    Star beamed. “Sure! Anyway, this isn’t even the surprise~!”

    “There’s more?” Both Mabel and Misao asked as they followed Star around the corner of the dance floor and towards a rowdy party of girls in pretty dresses at one of the tables.

    Star gave an enthusiastic nod. “Well, duh. What’s a party without-” She walked into an outstretched hand and stopped. The hand, orange and clawed like an eagle’s, belonged to a tall and heavily built man with the upper body and head of a bald eagle who made Arm Day every day. He wore the pelt of a fearsome-looking rat creature, purple shorts, matching sandals, and a pair of sweet Aviator shades.

    “VIP section, members only!” The eagle-like creature commanded with a loud and aggressive voice.

    “Oof, birdman bouncer,” Misao said.

    Mabel cupped her cheeks, painted with a blush. “I want him to be my spirit animal.”

    “I’m Talon Raventalon, and Talon Raventalon is NO ONE’S spirit animal!” The bouncer yelled at the girls. “Except for Talon Raventalon!”

    “Okay, Talon Raventalon,” Star said. “But can we get in? Our friends are waiting for us in the VIP.”

    “If you’re not on the list, you don’t get to RIDE!” Talon Raventalon yelled.

    “Hey, let them in, bird brain! They’re with me!” Another voice called over, and Princess Lilacia Ponyhead flew in and stopped between the bouncer and Star, magical glitter trailing behind her. She turned to Star and lit up. “Hey, B-Fly!”

    “Pony!” Star greeted back, before hugging the disembodied Unicorn.

    “Hugs~!” They sang together as they embraced.

    Mabel, still enthralled by Talon Raventalon despite his rudeness, swooned at the sight of Pony Head. “This place is like the time I overdosed on Smile Dip… but without the terrible crash.”

    Misao was knocked out of her enchantment and looked at Mabel in horror. “I’m sorry, you did what? On what?!”

    “Well, this isn’t any candy hallucination, this is my best friend in the entire multiverse, Princess Pony Head,” Star introduced, before turning to Pony Head and gesturing to her companions. “These are my friends I told you about, Mabel and Misao.”

    “It is nice to meet you,” Misao said, “And you are gorgeous.”

    “I’m gorgeous? Okay obviously I am, thank you so much.” Pony Head said as she circled around Misao and checked out her vibrant hair. “But have you seen your hair? Oh my goodness! I need to kidnap your stylist like yesterday, who are they and do they do manes?”

    “Are you kidding? I practiced on manes,” Mabel said. “If you have a few hours and a hundred dollars, I’ll turn you from a Princess to a Goddess.”

    Pony Head whipped around and floated up to Mabel’s eye level. “I got all the time in the world and all the money, too. Girl, you’re gonna mess me up!”

    Star fought against her every instinct to squeal with joy from seeing her friends getting along, as Pony turned to Talon Raventalon. “Well? Let them in, I said they’re with me.”

    Talon Raventalon followed the order without fuss, unhooking the velvet rope to allow the girls access. As they walked past, he lifted his sunglasses and eyed all three of the newcomers and brought a smartphone to his ear.

    “Tango Delta Lima Actual, this is Tango RomeoTango.” He declared with no consideration for the ears of whomever was on the other end. Indeed, he was loud enough that Misao looked back in his direction, agitated by his yelling. “Sierra Bravo has entered the AO, the HVT is nowhere to be seen and the LZ is clear. You can bring it on in.”

    There was a pause, before a distorted, whispering voice replied. “… What?”

    In a mercifully quieter voice, Talon reiterated. “Uh, Star Butterfly? She’s here at the Bounce Lounge?”

    There was another pause. “Oh? Oh! Right, right… we’ll be right there. Uh… Tango Delta Lima Actual, out?”

    Star cartwheeled to catch up with Pony Head and walked alongside her. “So, Pony! Why the Bounce Lounge? I thought St. O’s was the biggest party in the multiverse.”

    “Yeah, it’s great and I love it? But the Bounce Lounge got something that St. O’s don’t,” Pony said as she led them to the table.

    “What?” Star, Mabel, and Misao asked together.

    Pony Head whipped her mane around and pointed off the VIP cloud towards the dance floor, and the juice bar to its side where a group of boys from various worlds and dimensions stood–ranging from handsome humanoids and brooding beastmen to stylish slimes and magnificent masculine machines.

    “Boys, duh! I don’t know about you, B-Fly, but I can’t live on anarchy and freedom alone. I need to find a hot guy to make bad decisions with.”

    Star stared at the hot guys. “Ooh, I like freedom and anarchy.”

    Mabel leaned in over Star’s right shoulder to gaze with gleaming eyes and drooling mouth at the hunky young men by the dance floor. “And I like boys.”

    Misao squeezed her head under Star’s left arm to ogle them as well with her own big grin. “And I like making bad decisions with them!”

    Pony Head stared at the two girls, then turned to Star. “Okay, I know I said that I’m cool with Earth Turd, but these new friends are like ten times better than him already. I was gonna act out if you brought two more squares to party with us–but they’re not so it’s okay.”

    Star laughed. “Puh-leeze, Pony. What kind of girl do you take me for? I’ve only got the best friends.”

    “Well duh, I am your bestie!” Pony Head turned to the table she came from. “All right girls, I want you to meet… the Princess Squad.”

    Seated around the low, pillow-surrounded table were five Princesses–a humanoid with long curly blonde hair and four arms, a humanoid who looked like one of her parents was a cactus, a relatively human-looking humanoid with brown skin, short violet hair and a stylish beret, a large princess with two separate horned heads, and a very large cross between an ogre and an elephant.

    “These are Princess Arms, Cactus Princess, Princess Gwendolyn, Two-Head Princess, and Princess Smooshy.” Pony Head introduced. “Don’t worry, they don’t bite, but Smooshy might steal your face so watch out for that, mmhm?”

    Mabel didn’t hear that part. She was still stuck on “hanging out with the Princess Squad” and envisioning all the sweaters she would make for her new friends for life. Misao hopped up to wave a hand in front of Mabel’s face, confirming she was in a trance.

    “I will make sure our faces go unstolen,” she said as she got behind Mabel and pushed her towards the Princess VIP table.

    “Yeah, uh huh! Go mingle with the girls.” Pony Head swept around behind Star and began to push her away. “I gotta have some face-time with my bestie. It’s been like a million years since I saw her so we’re going to go over there and talk.”

    As Pony Head and Star left the group, Mabel stared at the Princesses at the table, who returned her gaze. Misao peered around Mabel and waved. “Hallo und guten nacht!”

    They were met with a frosty silence, the Princesses–all representatives of their own kingdoms and royal lineages–unsure of what to make of the two shockingly mundane girls presented to them. After a moment Princess Arms raised an eyebrow and spoke. “… So you’re friends of Star’s, right?”

    “Ja!” Misao said. “I’m Misao and-”

    Mabel suddenly snapped out of her haze and stomped forward, her single step all but shaking the cloud. “I am Mabel, and I will make CUTE SWEATERS FOR ALL OF YOU!”

    The Princess Squad once again stared in silence at the two girls, then looked at each other.

    Star let herself be pushed along, reaching the edge of the VIP cloud and out of earshot from even the most astute audibly inclined.

    Pony Head circled around her. “So… what’s going on with you and Marco? Are you gonna tell him? Did you tell him yet?”

    She gasped. “Are you two already-?”

    “Pony!” Star hissed, silencing her. “I haven’t said anything to anyone except for you.”

    “Mmm… I didn’t tell anyone,” Pony Head assured her. “Well, at least anyone who cares. And I mean, who even knows who Marco is at St. O’s?”

    Star blanched. “Everyone knows who Marco is!”

    “Uh no? They know Princess Turdina, they don’t know Marco Turdino.”

    At Star’s fiery look, Pony Head recoiled. “Oh come on, you know I’m just joking! I didn’t tell anyone, honest!”

    Star’s glare cooled, but she still gave her the side-eye as she turned away. Undaunted by it, Pony Head circled around her. “So come on, spill! What’s up?”

    “Nothing-” Star stopped and backtracked. “Well, not nothing? I don’t know… Marco’s just been really… dotey on me since the fight.”

    Pony Head raised an eyebrow. “… Dotey?”

    “You know, he’s been taking care of me and making sure I’m okay… but not like in that smothering, desperate way Tom was?”

    She wrung the shaft of her wand and looked aside, her face warming. “Like… in that really sweet way where he knows exactly what I want when I need it, even if I don’t know what it is.”

    Pony Head tilted her long pointed horn to her right. “And it’s not creepy?”

    “No, I mean he’s been sticking closer to me, but not like… too close.”

    She hugged herself and smiled, thinking about the last few days. “He makes me feel… safe, like I can just let my guard down with him.”

    Pony Head stared at Star, the yellow stars in her eyes growing bigger as she gasped. “Oh my goodness, you got it so bad for him!”

    Star threw her head back and groaned out loud. “I know! I’m the one who has these feelings!”

    She palmed her face with both hands and sighed. “I am such a mess. I’ve been a mess all week!”

    Pony Head didn’t see the problem here. “So you like Earth Turd, okay? Just go out with him.”

    Lowering her hands, Star let out a dramatic sigh. “I can’t just go out with him! There’s a girl that he likes! He’s been crushing on her for like… since kindergarten and they just started talking to each other and he’s got a shot at her and…”

    She stopped, and her left eye twitched. “And oh my gosh that’s not even talking about all the other drama.”

    Because while Star Butterfly was many things, unobservant was not one of them.

    “What, you mean Tom? The guy you broke up with and won’t stop blowing up your phone? Because if you’ve had other stuff going down you are going to tell me.” Pony Head got up in Star’s face. “You know you can’t be leaving me in the cold!”

    Her bestie’s energy brought her to laugh. “I promise I will.”

    Pony Head was going to hold her to that. “Yeah, anyways. I normally wouldn’t do this because you’re my bestie and I think you can do better, but I’m going to be absolutely real with you because you’re my bestie and I want you to be happy.”

    Pony Head paused for dramatic effect.

    “Tell him that you like him, girl!”

    Star pouted. “Pony…”

    Pony Head pulled back. “I’m serious, B-Fly. Let him know you like him now, and not later. You don’t want him to hook up with some other girl, get all jealous and junk, and blow up his whole spot by telling him you like him then, do you?”

    Star thought about it and concluded that would suck. “All right, fine. I mean, the most that’ll happen is that Marco will just say that even though I’m falling in love with him, he’s still got strong feelings for Jackie and he’s not just going to throw those away easily.”

    “Yeah, but he was ready to kill someone for you.” Pony Head pointed out. “That doesn't come from nothing.”

    It didn’t, and her astute observation brought Star’s blush back.

    “So what are you going to do?”

    Star sighed and gave up the ghost. “Tell Marco how I feel about him, at least so he knows?”

    “Mmm… no, you’re going to stop moping around and party with me.”

    At Star’s glare, Pony Head rolled her eyes. “And yeah, talk to the Earth Turd or whatever.”

    Her glare evaporated with her laugh. “Thanks for inviting me out here, I needed this.”

    “No thank you! You being into somebody means I get to winggirl all the hot guys off you for myself!” Pony Head began twisting and rocking in place. “This Pony’s goin’ for a ride tonight~”

    Star placed a hand on her cheek, giggling. “Wow Pony, to think you go to Miss Heinous’ school.”

    Pony Head gasped. “Oh yeah! You just totally reminded me. We finally chased Miss Heinous out of the school. She ain’t there no more.”

    “No way!”

    “No Heinous, no rules, so we’re in da club to let the whole multiverse know–and you know, bring some boys back to the school for some of the other girls.”

    Laughing again, Star almost felt a little bad for any guy that got taken home by a Princess tonight. “That’s an after party I’m gonna have to miss.”

    “No duh, you got your own after party tonight, riiiight~?” Pony Head teased. Star’s blush erupted across her face as she laughed with Pony Head.

    “Seriously though, thank you… I’ve been freaking out about this.” Star hugged her tight. “Well, and all the other stuff that’s been happening.”

    Pony Head snuggled into Star’s embrace, then pulled back. “Yeah, what are you going to do if your mom finds out you’re fighting like an evil monster army?”

    Star groaned. “Ugh… get dragged back home probably. I’m on super thin ice after what happened with Toffee–even after I blew him up.”

    “That’s messed up. You’re like, fighting them though, right? Like fighting-fighting them? Your mom fought like an entire war so she’s one to talk.”

    “Yeah!” Star ran that through her head again. “Wait, she did what?”

    Pony Head dropped the subject. “Hold up, where’d the Princess Squad go?”

    The VIP table was completely empty, Mabel, Misao, and The Princess Squad were gone, their absence derailing the conversation. Star gawked at the empty table. “… Huh? Where did…?”

    “PRINCESS MABEL! PRINCESS MABEL! PRINCESS MABEL! PRINCESS MABEL!”

    Star and Pony Head looked over at the dance floor, where Mabel stood at the center of the dance floor with her chin held up and her arms raised like some villainous pro wrestler. Two-Headed Princess stood behind her, bestowing one of their two crowns upon Mabel’s head while the other princesses and Misao stood in a circle around her–clapping their hands and chanting her name.

    Lowering her hands and rolling her shoulders, causing the crown to tilt back, Mabel addressed the. “My first decree as honorary Princess of the Dance Floor…”

    She shot out her right hand, presenting Misao with her upturned palm. “Is to crown Misao as my honorary co-princess!”

    “Long live Princess Misao!” The other princesses cheered as Misao bounced over to Mabel’s side. Two-Headed Princess took their other crown off and bestowed it upon Misao’s head as she laughed.

    Mabel made a sweeping gesture across the dance floor. “And for my second decree! I hereby declare the mighty fine ladies of the St. Olga’s School for Wild and Free Princesses of the Disco to seize this dance floor for the glory of Princess Turdina!”

    Star grinned from ear to ear and forgot all about whatever wars her mom may have fought. “WOO-HOO! LONG LIVE PRINCESS MABEL AND PRINCESS MISAO!”

    “GLORY TO THE PRINCESSES OF THE DISCO!” Misao called out.

    “ALL HAIL THE PRINCESSES OF THE DISCO!” The Princesses cheered.

    Pony Head flew up and joined Mabel’s side. “You heard the Princess! Let’s get down, ladies!”

    “DJ!” Mabel shouted. “I want that music to make me lose control!”

    The two robot DJs snapped their fingers and pointed at Mabel. They then proceeded to drop a techno beat that had the Bounce Lounge shaking from the bass and lighting up in sync with the tiles of the dance floor. As commanded, the Princesses and all the other guests Bounce Lounge all over the club got down and dirty.

    Star wrapped an arm around Mabel’s waist and side-hugged her. “You hit it off fast with them!”

    Mabel laughed and returned the hug. “Oh yeah, we’re all Princess Friends Forever, now!”

    “I will freakin’ die for you, Mabel!” Princess Arms said as she walked like an Egyptian past her.

    “And I’ll kill for you, babe! Say the word~!” Mabel said as she took Star’s hands and swung her out to face and dance with her properly.

    Misao laughed as she popped and locked while Pony Head twisted and bobbed herself next to her. “I do not know how she does it, isn’t she amazing~?”

    “Everyone loves cute sweaters!” Mabel cheered.

    Star poked Mabel’s chest. “You’re gonna make me one, right?”

    “You’ll get one first!” Mabel cheered just before the dance floor began to shake, but not in a good way. “Huh?”

    The strange tremor was the only warning the club goers had before the center of the dance floor split open, sending almost everyone who had been on it scrambling for safety.

    Star grabbed Mabel’s hand and pulled her back, and Misao leaped into the arms of Arm Princess as the fissure widened, and a torrent of wailing souls came pouring from the chasm.

    “Was ist das?!” Misao cried out.

    Amidst the storm of souls, a winged demon wearing a loincloth ascended from the fissure, the yoke around his neck connected to chains hauling a wheelless carriage up through the fissure. Soon as the keel of the carriage was clear of the gap, it slowly closed to the mournful wailing of the departed trapped beneath it.

    Seeing the carriage and the demon hoisting it, Star’s face fell into a morose grimace.

    Pony Head saw Star’s expression. “Oh this is bad…”

    Mabel and Misao looked at Pony Head and Star.

    “What’s going on?” Misao asked. “Who is that?”

    “Who is behind this evil energy?” Mabel asked. “Is it a demonic warlord? A necromancer that hates ponies? A goblin incel?!”

    Star sighed. “It’s…”

    The demon holding the carriage up, despite panting from the labor, cleared his voice and spoke in a loud and commanding manner. “Presenting: Prince Thomas Draconius Lucitor, and his companion, Lady Amirana Butterfly, the Duchess of Septarsis.”

    Stepping from the carriage came a young man with lilac-colored skin, salmon-colored hair with two horns, and three eyes red as fresh blood–the third set in his forehead centered above the other two. He was dressed in a nice but casual black suit, along with a violet tie, and black leather shoes.

    He was accompanied by an attractive fair-skinned young woman who stood just below him in height, she sported long violet hair that cascaded in gentle curls down to her hips and styled in sweeping bangs that stopped above her turquoise-colored eyes. She wore a simple knee-length black evening gown, and high heels that she appeared awkward just standing in.

    As her name implied, and both Misao and Mabel noticed, she had purple magnet-shaped marks on her cheeks.

    Star slapped her hand to her face as she focused on the young man. “… My ex.”

    = - = 37 = - =

    Oh it's Tom. Hey Tom!
     
    Party Hotter
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 38 = - =

    |Party Hotter|

    Misao’s shoulders slumped, the energy that illuminated the club’s eternal night died with Star’s lament and birthed tension in its place. Pony Head rolled her eyes and shook herself, her lips turned down into a hard scowl. Star folded her arms tight and stared at the emerged couple, her brows furrowed.

    Mabel didn’t want to open her mouth and say something insensitive, like that Star had good taste in ex-boyfriends.

    Tom Lucitor looked around at the crowd, then looked back at his carriage. “Oh…! Oh no!”

    He turned to look back at everyone. “I am so sorry! Hang on, just a second!”

    He looked up at the demon hauling the carriage. “Hey, you came up through the dance floor! You have to go!”

    The hovering demon looked down at Tom. “Sorry, master…”

    As the demon began to descend, Tom called. “And remember, no fire! This place has a hair-trigger sprinkler system.”

    The woman beside him, Amirana, looked at Tom with concern as the demon began to descend into the fissure he emerged from. She moved closer to him, whispering. “Wait, he’s leaving? How are we going to get back?”

    Tom turned to her. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back before intermission is over. I just really wanted to go somewhere more relaxed than the lobby of an Opera House, you know?”

    She fidgeted, looking at the crowd surrounding them. “This is more relaxed? There are so many people…”

    Tom brought his hand around her back and hovered it just off her shoulder to guide her away from the center of attention. “It’ll be okay.”

    Once they stepped off the dance floor, the fissure sealed up and it was good as new–to the relief of the Bounce Lounge guests. Tom raised his hand in a hesitant wave. “Sorry about that! Don’t let me stop the party!”

    His self-effacing awkwardness was well received, the music starting up and the party beginning again like it’d never stopped.

    Turning back to his companion, he smiled. “See? This is a great place with nice people…”

    As he reassured her, Amirana glanced ahead, then did a double take with raised brows. Following her gaze, Tom’s three eyes widened as well when he saw Star standing in front of him, with Pony Head floating over her left shoulder, and both Mabel and Misao standing to her right.

    “Star? Oh, hey! W-what are you doing here?”

    Star blew out an exasperated breath. “I was having a good time with my friends. What are you doing here?”

    Tom recoiled from her tone. “Whoa, sensing some hostility. I just came here to have a quick drink with my date.”

    Tom gestured to Amirana, Star’s gaze following. “You remember Amirana, right? The Duchess of Septarsis?”

    Star glanced back and forth between them, her brow furrowing as she tried to recollect the face, before the memory of a family gathering years ago flashed through her mind and recognition dawned. “… Cousin Rana?”

    Amirana flinched at the nickname. In a gentle, cultured voice that reminded Star almost a little too much of her mother, she spoke. “Hello, Star. It’s… been a long time.”

    “It has! I haven’t seen you since the family reunion, what… three years ago?”

    Amirana’s face twisted into a mild grimace. “Yes… it’s been that long…”

    Star looked back and forth between them again. “Wait, wait, you’re going out with Tom?”

    Before Amirana could reply, Tom cut in. “After the Blood Moon Ball your Aunt Felicity proposed an engagement between Amirana and I to my parents, and we’ve been going out to see how we fit together.”

    He looked at Amirana and gave her a kind smile. “On the whole, it’s been nice.”

    The pale duchess’s face relaxed and grew a light shade of pink at his smile. Averting her eyes, she brought her left hand up to cover her cheek and conceal the blush.


    Star felt hairs on the back of her neck bristle, a red flag pitched at the end of every follicle, as she remembered feeling exactly how Amirana looked at that moment. In a burst of movement, she muscled her way between her and Tom, separating them, and swept behind her. “You probably want to get something to drink now, right? Let me show you the juice bar!”

    “Actually I would rather-”

    “Nononono, we are going to have some drinks.”

    Amirana heaved a sigh as she was led off.

    “Uh, Star?” Tom called after her. He started to follow, when Pony Head flew in front of him, stopping him in his tracks.

    “Mmmm uh huh, yeah… you might be hot and junk but you are not cute, Tom.” She seethed, her nose crinkling.

    Tom drew back, all three of his eyes narrowing. “I don’t know what you're talking about.”

    Pony Head got in his face. “Every dimension you could go to, and you just happen to come to the Bounce Lounge. Where Star just happens to be. Mmmhm, that’s just a coincidence.”

    Tom frowned. “You got me. I totally planned to go to see Hotel Hazbin with Amirana a week in advance in the slim chance that I happened to hear that Star was at the Bounce Lounge, so I could show her that I was happy and spending time with someone who is not her. Yes, my diabolical plan to let her know I won’t pester her anymore was foolproof until you foiled it.”

    Pony Head let out a hard snort. “I’m not playing. If I find out you’re messing with B-Fly? You’re getting the horn, and you won’t like where it’ll go.”

    Tom rolled his eyes and brushed Pony Head aside. “Save it for a guy who’s into that kind of thing, Pony. I’m gonna stop Star from scaring my date.”

    As Tom walked off, Mabel and Misao joined Pony Head’s side.

    “He’s up to something,” Pony Head said.

    “Mmmhm!” Both girls agreed.

    One cloud adjacent to the dance floor, Star observed her cousin as they stood in front of a juice bar. Amirana sipped from a glass of water while Star waited for the bartender to finish a drink that could be best described as sugar with water and fruit. Even she could see that the young woman was struggling to keep her energy up in such a loud and crowded place.

    Why would he bring her here? Star wondered, before speaking to her cousin. “Are you doing okay?”

    Amirana lowered her glass from her lips and tilted her head at a slight angle. “What?”

    Star pouted. “Why are you surprised? I didn’t forget the last time we saw each other.”

    “Oh.” Amirana looked down at the counter, her face coloring. “Well, I am managing. That we’re not going to be here long helps.”

    Star glanced at the dance floor and saw Tom was searching for them. “So how has it really been going with him?”

    Amirana perked up somewhat and raised her gaze back to Star. “With Tom? It’s been pleasant. We first met almost a month ago when my mother and Uncle Heartrude brought me to the Lucitor palace to discuss the arrangement.”

    She brought her glass to her lips. “He and I have been going on various outings every week since.”

    “And it’s been okay? He hasn’t blown up or lost his temper? Or said anything about me?”

    Amirana finished her sip and shook her head. “Nothing like that. Though he did warn me that you two broke up because of his anger issues, and that he was working very hard because of them.”

    Star tightened her lips and hummed. “Just be careful with him.”

    She pointed her wand at the bar top and fired a quick spell that left a pink pamphlet. “Read this.”

    “‘So he’s a Demon… a dating guide’, thank you’, Star…” She set it down. “But I’ve already read it and numerous other books and guides on demons and their nature. I am prepared if he loses his temper, but he really has been nothing but charming.”

    Star hummed again as she received her drink, but her cousin’s firm testimony raised questions. “Hmm…”

    Climbing up some cloud steps towards them, Tom stopped when he saw Star and Amirana talking. Star’s confused and self-doubting expression lit hope in all three of Tom’s eyes.

    Tom’s expectant eavesdropping was in turn eyed through the zoom function of Princess Smooshy’s phone camera. Mabel, holding the phone and perched on the ogre-like Princess’s shoulders, eyed him then turned to the waiting members of The Princess Squad below.

    “He’s just sitting back and watching. But he likes what he sees.” Mabel slipped off Smooshy’s shoulders and landed among Misao, Pony Head, and the others. “Thanks Smooshy.”

    Princess Smooshy took her phone back. “It ain’t no thing for another thick chick.”

    She held up her phone in front of herself and Mabel. “Camera phone.”

    As Smooshy snapped pictures of herself and Mabel making duck faces, Misao faced Pony Head, who watched Tom with narrowed eyes. “So what do we do?”

    “We need to blow up his spot, oooh I just know he is trying to mess with her!”

    Princess Gwendolyn spoke up. “Or maybe he’s trying very hard to bury the hatchet?”

    “Trying too hard,” Misao muttered.

    Princess Arms turned to Pony Head. “You know Star better than all of us, what’s the deal with her and Tom?”

    “Tom is a huge control freak! Like you don’t even know, and if he didn’t get his way, he would lose his mind! That’s why he and B-Fly broke up–but you didn’t hear that from me.”

    Mabel grimaced. “Oh… he was that kind of guy, yikes.”

    The Two-Headed Princess’s right head pursed her lips before speaking. “He was, but it might not be some nefarious plot, girls.”

    Her left head rolled her eyes. “Oh my gosh, please do not start simping here in front of everyone.”

    The very thought disgusted Two-Headed Princess’s right head. “I am not a simp!”

    “STG you get like this for every hot boy with a swimmer bod.”

    Right head Princess turned to Gwendolyn. “Back me up!”

    Princess Gwendolyn agreed. “I think you’re being paranoid, Pony, and it’s killing the vibe.”

    Cactus Princess nodded in agreement with the dissenting Princesses.

    “That is so weak!” Princess Arms shouted. “Here we are getting our night ruined by ex-boyfriend drama, and you’re going to side with him?!”

    Princess Smooshy, seemingly not paying attention, remarked. “He do got that booty tho.”

    She held the phone up to get herself and Misao in the shot, Misao looking up and smiling. “Camera phone.”

    When Smooshy finished snapping her selfies, something occurred to Misao and she let out a hum.

    “Thank you!” Princess right head yelled, drawing rebuke from the left, and prompting fiery debate among the Princesses.

    “Princesses of the realms, wait!” Mabel pleaded before the arguing could break into regional war. “This is not the way for a Princess to live, turning on each other in times of crisis. We must remember why we are here, together, and what is at stake if we let the drama win.”

    The Princesses stopped and looked at all the handsome guys hanging around the Lounge. The quarrel quelled, there was too much to risk losing now.

    “I think I have proof that Tom is up to something.”

    Everyone turned to Misao, and she explained. “When we first got here, I heard that loudmouth bird person saying something strange into his phone. He was speaking in the phonetic alphabet.”

    Pony Head cocked her horn to the left tilting her head. “Phoenician wha?”

    Mabel knew what it was. “It’s army talk in my world. My brother uses it sometimes when he’s being extra dweeby.”

    “I thought he was just reporting bouncer talk to the club manager or something, but now thinking about it. He said some very specific things, ja? Sierra Bravo arriving in the AO.”

    “What’s that mean?” Cactus Princess asked.

    “Fancy army talk for Area of Operation.”

    “Wouldn’t it be AOO?”

    “The ‘of’ is silent,” Mabel corrected, before continuing Misao’s thought. “Sierra Bravo, that would be SB in normal person talk.”

    Pony Head gasped. “Star Butterfly!”

    “He called himself Tango RomeoTango,” Misao said.

    “Talon Raventalon!” Mabel said, impersonating his gruff and aggressive yell.

    Misao nodded. “And he was specifically speaking to a Tango Delta Lima Actual.”

    “TDL, right?” Princess Arms asked.

    No one there missed the introduction the demon gave upon its arrival, and Pony Head gasped in anger. “Oh. MG.”

    “That’s right,” Mabel said, “Thomas Draconius Lucitor.”

    “The perfect edgy name for a hot edgy demon boy,” Misao lamented.

    “W-what about the Actual?” Princess Right Head asked, in vain hope that it was maybe someone else.

    “Actual designates the commander of the unit or asset identified by the remainder of the call sign. Since Tom is a Prince, he’d go by that, or somethin’.”

    Everyone stared in silence at Princess Smooshy, who took another selfie.

    “Camera phone.”

    Misao turned in the direction of the VIP section, where Talon Raventalon idled, messing with his phone. “I am a betting girl, and I am betting that if we had a look at Tango RomeoTango’s phone, we would get an idea of Tango Delta Lima’s intentions, ja?”

    @@@@@

    “… And then last week, we didn’t go anywhere. He came to Septarsis and helped me catalog books in the library.” Amirana explained as she ran her fingers on the rim of her glass of water. “… He even helped me fight off a bookworm without using any fire.”

    She smiled down at the counter, looking anywhere else besides at Star was difficult. “He gave me tickets to the Opera before he left, tucked in a copy of the Liber AL vel Legis.”

    Star was struck by Amirana’s account of her and Tom’s outings since their first meeting. “You’ve been really enjoying yourself with him, haven’t you?”

    “He’s been the best company I’ve had in Septarsis, and he’s respected my boundaries.”

    She stopped and tapped her finger on the glass rim. “… At least until today. I am just doing terribly here.”

    Star could tell. “… Do you want more water? Maybe something stronger? You’re sixteen, right?”

    Amirana raised her head a little. “I turned seventeen months ago, but I don’t want a strong drink. I just want to go somewhere quiet with as few people as possible…”

    “How did you survive going to the opera?”

    “Tom got us balcony seats, up and away from everyone else.”

    Star smiled. “Yeah, that’s the sort of thing Tom would do. It can be very sweet, all the effort he puts into impressing you…”

    She took a sip of her drink as Amirana peeked at her again. “If there was something I liked about Tom, it’s that when we were dating, he was always doing his best to make sure I was having fun. He took me out on nice dates, he got me gifts, he would even call me up and talk with me for hours if he heard I was feeling sad.”

    Amirana watched Star carefully, as the Princess looked up and remembered those days fondly. “He was such a great guy.”

    Midway down the steps leading to the juice bar cloud, Tom smiled as he listened.

    Star inhaled deep and let out a long sigh. “But Stump help you if even one tiny thing goes wrong, because then he goes ballistic!”

    Tom’s smile fled.

    Down by the VIP table Talon Raventalon was playing a game on his phone and enjoying himself. “Flappy Bird? More like Flappy Eagle. Heh, yeah… I am owning this game!”

    “Hey Birdie-Birdie Man.” Princess Smooshy called out.

    He looked up to find the Princess Squad assembled in front of him, Smooshy front and center. “I want your phone.”

    Talon Raventalon stared at Smooshy, uncomprehending, before Pony Head floated around the large princess, and Mabel and Misao stepped from behind her.

    Pony Head cut straight to the point. “You’re working for Tom, ain’t you?”

    Talon Raventalon’s eyes shot wide behind his aviators. “Talon Raventalon has no idea what you’re talking about.”

    Misao huffed in derision. “Mike Papa, this is Mike Delta. I have a visual on the Tango RomeoTango, over.”

    Beads of sweat formed on Talon Raventalon’s feathered head and beak as Mabel replied. “Copy on that visual, Mike Delta.”

    Talon Raventalon’s mother raised no fool. With the jig up, Talon Raventalon drew a pair of Dimensional Scissors to cut his way out of reality to escape. A beam of glitter from Pony Head’s horn struck him between the eyes and blinded him before he could open the tool.

    “Get him!” Mabel yelled, and the entire Princess Squad fell on him like he was the last chocolate cupcake on a cheat day.

    Back at the juice bar Amirana’s eyebrows rose at Star’s outburst. Behind them, Tom was cringing away, struck by the frustration in her tone.

    “He wasn’t that bad, was he?”

    Star shook her head. “I liked Tom–I really did–but he was such a control freak. Whenever he took me out or got me gifts, there was a plan, and every step of that plan had to be followed, and if anything happened–even if it was something totally random that he couldn’t expect? Boom, red eyes and fire.”

    Amirana visibly flinched. “Oh, oh dear…”

    She sighed. “He was just so… ugh! He couldn’t live in the moment, be spontaneous, or see the bright side of something going wrong, he couldn’t even try! It didn’t bother me at first because, you know, he was hot and sweet, but after a while…”

    She shrugged her shoulders. “Well, we’re not together anymore.”

    Amirana tapped her finger on the rim of her glass. “Well, I understand why you two would fall out. You are very spontaneous and energetic… and you don’t really stop to listen. He is, on the other hand, very organized and likes to approach things with a plan.”

    Star winced, then laughed nervously. “Well, you know…”

    “And I like that part about him.”

    Star stopped. “Eh?”

    Tom grew concerned. “What?”

    “I’m a perfectionist myself.” She sighed. “Though why wouldn’t I? I live in a library that has not been sorted properly in almost twenty years and probably won’t be for another twenty. Sometimes knowing where a book is supposed to go is better than the book itself for me.”

    Star brightened, then laughed. “Oh my goodness, that’s exactly the kind of thing Tom would care about!”

    “He certainly did when he helped in the library,” Amirana said with a slight grin. “And he has been excellent about his anger. He was so calm and diligent when we worked. Even when we couldn’t tell where books went.”

    Star pondered that. “Maybe you and Tom are a good match. He’s getting better at his anger, you’re a very calm person… you have good energy together!”

    Amirana’s blush returned. “Do you suppose…?”

    “Yeah!”

    Tom’s salmon pink skin grew a shade lighter. “Wait, no!”

    He jogged up to the juice bar and practically spilled between the two of them. “H-hey, girls! Getting along?”

    Star answered Tom with furrowed brows. “Yeah, she’s my cousin?”

    Amirana let out a relieved sigh. “Thank goodness. As stimulating as this has been–and pleasant to actually see you again, Star–I want to leave.”

    Star pouted. “Aw!”

    Tom quickly tried to speak. “I’ll call the carriage and-!”

    Star continued over him, while flashing Amirana an incandescent smile. “I understand though, this place is just the worst if you’re introverted.”

    Amirana nodded. “Thank you for sitting with me and helping me through it, and I am sorry if our being here disturbed your evening.”

    “Yeah, this was a total mistake and-” Tom rambled.

    “Are you kidding?! I got to see the one cousin on Mom’s side of our family who isn’t a complete hoity-toity snob.” Star gasped. “Actually! You should totally come visit me on Earth!”

    Dread flashed in Tom’s eyes. “Wait-!”

    Amirana recoiled. “Earth? Is that how it’s pronounced?”

    Star gave her a wry look. “Let me guess: been calling it E-Arth?”

    Amirana nodded, her face pink.

    “I was doing it for days until Mom said she’d send me to St. O’s anyway if I kept doing it.”

    The Duchess of Septarsis filed that away. “But yes, I would not be against meeting again. Especially if it’s someplace quiet.”

    Tom suppressed his grimace as Star all but exploded with eagerness. “Oh you bet! Earth has all kinds of great places that are quiet! Like the park, movies, school, Marco’s room when he’s trying to do his homework-”

    The mere mention of that name sent a nasty twitch through the left side of Tom’s face, but he fought it down as he pulled out a small demonic hammer and bell. “Okay, calling the carriage now.”

    At that very moment, Pony Head flew in and got up in Tom’s face. “Oh hey, Tom! Were you just about to bounce? How about no?

    Star and Amirana both gasped when they saw Pony Head looked to be covered in bruises and scrapes, like she’d just been in the mother of all beatdowns and the only reason she wasn’t on the receiving end was that she was still conscious.

    “Pony, what happened?!” Star gasped.

    Mabel sat down on Amirana’s other side. “Oh man. You can’t hear it because of the beat, but the Princess Squad is laying the smackdown on the bouncer right now.”

    Tom went pale again, and his head turned a full 180 to look back towards the VIP–where the St. O’s Princesses were gathered over him, stomping on Talon Raventalon like he was repping the wrong set in the wrong hood.

    “Stomp him!” Princess Arms shouted of the cacophony of feet to flesh.

    “Switch feet!” Princess Qwendolyn commanded.

    “Stomp him!”

    “Switch again!”

    Princess Smooshy leaped in, slapping her elbow at the top of her jump. “Elbow drop!”

    Smooshy came down on Talon Raventalon’s gut, and the bouncer let out a chicken-like “BUCKAWW!”

    “Oh no,” Tom whispered.

    “Oh yes,” Misao said, and Tom’s head turned a few more degrees to follow her as she walked around him and sat herself on Mabel’s lap. Like her and Pony Head, she was covered in the scars of battle, and was holding her prize from it–Talon Raventalon’s phone. She studiously tapped her fingers repeatedly on the screen lock, in an effort to crack it.

    “What?” Star asked.

    Misao held up her hand. “One moment, cracking this lock.”

    She smiled as the screen popped open. “Ah, gut.”

    Star and Amirana looked from her to Tom and back, completely lost.

    “Duchess Amirana, ja? On what days did Tom spend time with you?”

    “Every weekend, why?” Amirana asked.

    “Weird how other dimensions line up like that, right?” Mabel asked before Misao finished browsing Talon Raventalon’s call and message logs.

    “Ja, it is confirmed. Herr Lucitor has been in contact with the Bounce Loungue’s bouncer every weekend for the last three weeks.”

    Star and Amirana both turned to look at Tom, the former’s brows furrowing, while the latter’s mouth fell open.

    “You’ve been what?”

    “Telling his stool pigeon to squawk if he saw you.” Pony Head seethed.

    “So he could come show off his brand-new date and make you jealous!” Mabel had seen enough sitcoms to know how this worked.

    Star gasped and erupted at Tom. “Really?!”

    Tom raised his hands. “No, it’s not like that!”

    Amirana shot to her feet, her expression a mix between disbelief, anger, and nauseous. “Is that why you insisted we come here?!”

    Tom turned to Amirana. “It really isn’t, I swear!”

    Misao looked at the texts between Talon Raventalon and Tom. “He even had instructions for if Marco had come along. Mostly to keep him distracted.”

    Tom looked at Misao, face flashing in anger. “He saved those?!”

    Misao peered over the phone at Tom, a sinister twinkle in her gray eyes. “Nein, he did not.”

    The young man’s lilac skin turned an interesting shade of gray.

    Star threw her hands up. “You are unbelievable!”

    Tom quailed from her. “Starship, wait. It’s really not-!”

    Amirana stepped up to him on his left, her fists clenched, her body shaking. “Your insisting that we come, even when I didn’t want to be here!”

    As Tom sputtered, Star stepped up to him from his right. “I was actually about to ship you with her!”

    Tom stepped back from Star, only to face Amirana. “You brought me here just to make my cousin jealous?!”

    Tom stopped withdrawing, red filling his eyes as a vein on his neck popped. “Can you please just let me explain mysel-f?!”

    “Why can’t you just get it through your head that we are over, Tom?!” Star demanded.

    “Forget the opera, I want to go back to Septarsis!” Amirana shouted at him.

    Tom’s eyes flashed fully red, and he stomped forward, flames bursting from his back, shoulders and head as he yelled back at both.

    “WILL YOU SHUT UP AND GIVE ME A CHANCE TO TALK?!”

    He stopped as he watched his own flames pass in front of him. All three of his eyes shot wide and the color retreated from his skin, leaving him a paler pink than Mabel’s headband.

    Murmuring an “oh no”, he looked up at the clouds above them. They were growing and spreading across the star-filled sky, a dull rumble echoing from them.

    Pony Head looked up at the clouds. “Uh oh.”

    Mabel looked up, then at Pony Head. “Wait, what’s going on?”

    Tom’s fire, his swiftness to shut it off, and the overwhelming regret on his face? Misao understood. “Fire suppression system.”

    Mabel turned to her. “Wait, sprinklers?”

    “Mmm-mm, not sprinklers…” Pony Head said as a wind kicked up and made the air very chilly, very fast.

    The sound of spreading thunder stopped the music and drew everyone’s eyes upward, as the endless stars and moonlight that lit the lounge disappeared, blocked by the dense overcast. A flash of lightning near blinded everyone, before the most torrential downpour any of them remembered cut loose, near horizontal, wind-driven rains drenching the Bounce Lounge and everyone in it.

    “Oh no!” Mabel cried out as she rose to her feet. “Of course a cloud dimension would use rain to put out a fire!”

    Over the groans of the guests, one of the Robot DJs called out. “The Bounce Lounge is now closed. You do not need to go home, but you are denied shelter here.”

    Tom, looking like a wet three-eyed, horned cat, stared at Star and Amirana. His expression slumped in contrition he looked down at the floor and shook his head. Star tossed her head back and blew out a huff.

    “Unbelievable,” she repeated.

    Amirana turned to Star. “Do you have a way of getting out of here?”

    Star pulled out the Dimensional Scissors and handed them to her. “Here.”

    The sight of the red-handled scissors made Amirana draw back slightly. “These are… how…?”

    She stopped and shook her head. “Nevermind.”

    Opening a portal, she handed the scissors back to her. “Thank you, Star.”

    With a final glare at Tom, she stormed off through it and it disappeared with her.

    Tom raised his head but meeting Star’s gaze dropped his back to his feet. “I’m… gonna go.”

    “Please do,” Star hissed.

    As Tom turned and walked away. Mabel’s phone, Misao’s, and Star’s Compact Mirror all chimed at once. Grabbing hers, Mabel looked at the message and her face fell. “Dipper and Janna were attacked over at the scrapyard… ?!”

    Misao threw her hands up in defeat. “Oh ja! And let this not be the worst thing that happened today!”

    She was struck in the forehead by a quarter-sized hailstone. “Scheiße!”

    More hailstones battered Star, Mabel, Pony Head, as the disappointed cacophony of the other guests turned into cries of pain.

    “Oh no! The hail started early!” Pony Head cried out. “Yo, B-Fly! We gotta go!”

    “I know, I know!” Star called back.

    Shielding Misao from the brunt of the hail, Mabel called out as Star carved open a portal. “Princess Squad! Retreat!”

    Pony Head was first through the portal, with Mabel hauling Misao out after. As the St. Olga’s Princesses scrambled to flee through the portal–Princess Smooshy claiming Talon Raventalon’s Aviators as her own–Star endured the pelting and glowered down at Tom. He had walked down to the dance floor and was ringing his little bell to await the return of his carriage.

    As the dance floor opened again, he looked up at her briefly, before he averted his eyes.

    Arm over her eyes to keep the hail from hitting her face, Star turned away and walked into the portal, the last one out.

    @@@@@

    “And that’s what happened to us on Saturday.”

    Marco shook his head with a grimace after hearing Star’s account of the disaster at the Bounce Lounge. They were sitting together on the bus near the back, for the short ride to Echo Creek Academy. Star had taken the window and was staring out it with an annoyed look on her face.

    “So that’s why no one wanted to talk about it.”

    “Mmhm.” Even thinking about it aggravated her.

    “How’s your cousin doing?” He asked.

    “I don’t know. I don’t have her info, and I don’t want to bug Mom about it.”

    She huffed. “Not that we actually talk, or really even know each other. We hung out once at our family reunion three years ago. We didn’t even really get along.”

    Marco could see that. “You two have very different personalities from what it sounds like. But hey, you sounded like you were getting somewhere.”

    Star had her doubts. “Yeah, anyway, it sucked.”

    “Well, on the bright side. At least you know that Mabel and Misao getting along with Pony Head will end in something being set on fire.”

    Star snickered, then broke into a smile. “Oh yeah, and we’re all banned from the Bounce Lounge for a month. Pony Head’s super excited about it.”

    “It’s hard to get banned from there, huh?”

    “Only five people ever have before, including my Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Festivia.”

    Star lowered her voice to a hushed, mystic tone. “Some say she partied too hard for even the Bounce Lounge, so she had to leave…”

    Marco leaned closer to her. “See? It wasn’t even all bad. You’ll look back on it one day and laugh.”

    He kissed her cheek, and her face flared into a blush. “You don’t have to now, though. It’s okay to be upset about it.”

    If Star could remember what she was upset about, then she would.

    “Marco!” She gasped with her hand on her cheek in an expression of mock disbelief. “I thought we agreed on no PDA!”

    Marco gave her a small, sneaky smile. “I wanted to cheer you up, besides… no one saw.”

    Both had their own reasons for not wanting to be public about their relationship status, not least of all the news getting back to her parents and making a huge deal out of it. Or worse, making it very official with a bunch of pomp and circumstance Star didn’t want or need.

    Convincing Marco’s parents to not blab about it was hard. It was a rare thing indeed to see Star trying to get someone to calm the eff down.

    Even harder, though, was trying to keep their hands to themselves in spite of their own rules.

    “Anyway,” he said over her giggling as the bus pulled up in front of the school, “You should get in touch with your cousin and make sure she’s all right.”

    Star bit down on the wing of her wand and nibbled on it as she eyed Marco’s lips. “If you say so, I’ll call Mom after school for her number~”

    As Marco rose to follow the other students off, Star took his arm and yanked him back towards her, down out of sight of students distracted with getting off the bus. A few seconds later he stumbled out into the aisle, his face bright red with a pleased smile on his face.

    “No one saw~” Star purred as she squeezed past him, headed for the front of the bus.

    Wiping his mouth, Marco took a deep breath to try to calm his elation. Star’s wild and untamed energy was why he thought she was great to begin with, but being the object of her affections on top of that made her… breathtaking.

    I can’t believe she’s my girlfriend. He thought, wrapped up in that warmth in his chest, before he sensed someone behind him.

    “Ah… ahh…

    “Wh-wh…”

    Two someones. He turned around, and there were his two friends Alfonzo Doolittle and Ferguson O’Durguson, staring at him slack-jawed as they held themselves back from shouting out loud.

    “Dude!”

    In vain.

    = - = 38 = - =

    Not even three whole days, guys.
     
    Repercussions
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 39 = - =

    |Repercussions|

    Out in front of the school as usual before the first bell, many students were gathered on the school’s front lawn and the steps leading to the door. There was a lot of energy in the air this morning and for good reason: the school’s Homecoming dance was this weekend, and it was the topic of almost every discussion from last minute outfit ideas to dance moves to after party plans.

    Among them was a girl with wavy blonde hair sporting a single cyan streak down the left side through her bangs, vibrant mint-green eyes, and a line of freckles just under them. With a light blue, yellow-wheeled skateboard tucked under her arm, she walked up the steps to the end of the right side’s wall, where Janna sat playing a game on her phone.

    “Hey, Janna,” she greeted.

    “Oh, sup Jackie,” she replied without looking up from her game.

    Smiling and paying Janna’s preoccupation no mind, Jackie Lynn Thomas sat down next to her on the wall, leaning against her back. Out of the corner of her eye, Janna looked back at her. “So what brings you inside of my personal space–not unwelcome?”

    Jackie returned the gaze, likewise out the corner of her eye. “Just wondering if you changed your mind about going to the dance.”

    Janna beat the level she was on. “There are many places I won’t hesitate to go with you, Jackie Lynn Thomas, but a school-administered and chaperoned function is not one of them.”

    Jackie’s cheek rested against Janna’s. “I was going stag with Hope and Leah, but they suddenly got dates. I picked out a cute outfit too.”

    “You say that as if you have a problem finding a guy for Miss Skullnick to separate you from on the dance floor.” Janna nuzzled back into her. “Just say the word and every boy in front of the school will line up around the block to ask you out… or fight each other to the death for the opportunity. That’d be cool to watch.”

    Closing her eyes, Jackie drew her cheek back from Janna’s, but remained leaned against her. “I don’t really want to go on a date, you know? I just want to have fun, dance to some music, and maybe go home with a story to tell.”

    Janna put away her phone and leaned back into Jackie, resting the back of her hat-covered head against the side of hers. “Janna Banana abides.”

    As Jackie let out another laugh, Van Vanderhoff walked up the steps towards them with one hand behind his back. Jackie noticed him first and pulled away from Janna.

    Annoyed by the loss of casual body contact, Janna regarded the bigger Vanderhoff brother with a disinterested expression people more perceptive of her mental operation would recognize as a hateful glower.

    “Hey Jackie,” Van greeted, ignoring Janna’s existence entirely. “Word’s going around that it’s five days out from Homecoming and you don’t have a date.”

    Jackie turned to face Van. “Yeah, I’m going for the fun of it, I just wanna dance, you know?”

    Van smirked and pulled from behind his back a small bouquet of gold-foil-wrapped roses and presented them to her. “What would it take for you to change your mind on that?”

    Looking at the quality of the roses, the gold dust glittering the paper, and the suspicious rigidity of the foil encasing them? Janna could see that no small sum was dropped on the gift. It made Jackie shaking her head no all the more impressive.

    “That’s sweet, but no thanks.”

    The smile born from his confidence in his gift fled, and Van heaved a sigh. “Really?”

    “Sorry, dude."

    Van’s shoulders dropped. He opened his mouth to speak, before something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. His lips twisting into a grimace, he turned and walked away.

    “Whatever then, bye.”

    Janna watched him leave through narrowed eyes. As far as taking no for an answer was concerned, she had to give credit where credit was due, Van was almost less of a twat than his little brother. It paled in comparison to the props she owed Jackie, though.

    “Masterfully handled,” Janna congratulated her.

    Jackie turned and flashed her a smile. “Well, people have been chatting me up about the dance for the last week and some change, so I’m used to it.”

    Janna laughed. “As expected of the hottest girl in school.”

    As Jackie rolled her eyes and chuckled, she continued. “For the best though. Even though he had no chance of landing a hit, you were wise to dodge that bullet.”

    “Oh?” Jackie asked.

    “Yeah, him and Trip are still beefing with the new kid who flattened him at Zoom, and Star and Marco are wrapped up in it, too.”

    To say less of Janna herself, but she didn’t want to distress the unstressable.

    Jackie perked right up. “Whoa… Marco’s actually involved in some beef… how bad boy of him.”

    Janna’s eyes lit at Jackie’s interest. “He’s growing up so fast.”

    “Hey Janna~” Star sang with a voice like she had just floated from the heavens. Seeing Jackie as she pranced over to them, she brightened even more. “And Jackie, too! Hi~!”

    Jackie lit up. “Hey, Star.”

    Janna turned to face her. “Yo.”

    “Was that Van guy bothering you?” Star asked as she watched Van head towards the far corner of the school, towards the school’s outdoor lockers.

    Jackie gave her a slight shake of her head. “He just wanted me to go to Homecoming with him. I said no.”

    Star looked again where Van went, surprised that he took no for an answer. Then again, she knew he saw her coming, and choosing to leave was a fantastic decision on his part.

    Jackie gave Star an appraising look. “Say, are you going to the Homecoming Dance?”

    Star gasped. “Of course! I was going with Mabel and Misao.”

    “The new girls? Awesome. I wanna party with Mabel, you know? She’s always super fun in class.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded-up piece of paper, a drawing of herself as a cross between a cute kitten and a mermaid. “I still got her Caticature of me.”

    Janna looked between Star and Jackie, smirking. “Well, that solves your problem. Why not go with the Party Girl Posse?”

    Star gasped. “You don’t have a date?!”

    “Didn’t want one,” Jackie replied before she stood up. “But I’d love to go stag with you girls.”

    Star pointed the face of her wand up at her devil-horn hairband. “Well I hope you have a good pair of…” She fired a spell, turning the headband into a pair of tiny moose antlers in a flash. “… Antlers.”

    Jackie giggled and held her hands to the sides of her head, fanning them out to pose as antlers. “Will these do?”

    As Star and Jackie both laughed, Janna turned her head and saw Brittney marching towards them, the haye in her eyes and the sneer of anticipation on her lips aimed straight at Star. “Uh oh.”

    “Oh hey, Star,” Brittney called to her in a saccharine voice. “Did I hear you say that you were going to Homecoming?”

    Star jumped in excitement. “Yes, I did~! I even have a dress planned!”

    She looked back at Jackie. “It’s so cute, just wait until you see it.”

    “What can’t you rock well?” Jackie asked.

    Brittney’s acidic laughter interrupted them. When Star turned back, the young woman whipped her hair with a sharp shake of her head. “Well let me ruin your weekend now and not Saturday, Star Butterface. You’re banned from all Spirit Week 2 events.”

    She got up in her face and pointed at her for emphasis. “Including and especially the Homecoming Dance, got it?!”

    Star gasped. “Banned? For what?!”

    Brittney dramatically placed one hand on her hip and curled her fist under her chin, speaking saccharine again. “Oh gee, I wonder!”

    She lanced Star with her glare as she dropped her hands and got into her face. “How about everything that you did during Spirit Week?!”

    Brittney pulled away and huffed. “And a whole bunch of other things that I wish I could use to get you banned for; you dumb magical hick! If me or any of the teachers or the security I hired catch you at my dance, you will be ejected.”

    She looked at Jackie and Janna. “And so will anybody you try to sneak in with.”

    “I wasn’t even going to your dumb dance, but thanks for validating my decision,” Janna said.

    Brittney scowled at Janna. “Hmph, good. I don’t want losers like you there anyway.”

    She turned to Star. “Do you understand now that there are repercussions for the stupid things you do, Moo-girl? Or do I need to say it slower so you can keep up because of what a dumb cow you are?”

    Star had drawn back from Brittney, her cheeks turning a dark red in anger. Brittney met the girl’s startled expression with the full force of her glare.

    Before the Mewman Princess could begin to form a retort, Brittney snapped at her. “That’s what I thought.”

    With a flick of her hair that made a sound like a whip crack, Brittney turned and walked away, leaving Star where she stood with her mouth agape.

    “Have a nice weekend, loser.”

    As Brittney left earshot, Jackie stepped closer to Star, the normally laid-back girl had a low-temperature glare aimed at the head cheerleader’s back. “Jeez, exactly who does she think she is?”

    “The head cheerleader whose billionaire Daddy poured enough money on this school to get whatever she wants?” Janna asked. “You know, like the other rich tool bags at this school?”

    Star struggled with the depth Brittney’s words cut into her. Clutching her wand, she had more than half a mind to take aim and turn her hair blonde, or purple, or on fire.

    “Forget her,” Jackie said, derailing Star from seizing upon her destructive impulse. “Brittney’s been jealous of you since you showed up, and hating on you since you made her birthday party actually fun.”

    Star drew in a sharp breath through her teeth, making a hiss sound. “I’m still going to the dance.”

    Janna got up. “You know what? I was fine writing off the dance but knowing that I’m not wanted makes me want to be there more than anything else in my life right now.”

    Jackie’s mood brightened way up. “All right, girl. Let’s make this dance poppin’.”

    @@@@@

    With Ferguson and Alfonzo right behind him, Marco stepped off the bus. His two best friends were beside themselves with excitement, and short on vocabulary.

    “Dude!” Ferguson shouted.

    “Marco!” Alfonzo cheered.

    “Dude!” Ferguson repeated.

    “Marco!” Alfonzo said again.

    Ferguson grabbed Marco’s right arm and sobbed. “Duuuuude!”

    Alfonzo embraced him from his other side, likewise crying. “Marcooooo!”

    Marco heaved a sigh, placed his hands on the faces of his friends, and firmly pushed them to arm’s length. “Thanks guys, for being happy for me. But can you please-”

    “How can we just be happy for you?!” Alfonzo asked in his high pitched, rough voice. “This is the greatest thing ever!”

    “Please don’t tell anyone-” Marco tried again.

    Ferguson shoved Marco’s hand from his face. “Yeah! You and Star are-!”

    Marco cleared his throat hard, interrupting them. “Guys? Bro code.”

    Alfonzo ceased his hysterics on the spot, and spoke in a deep, down-pitched voice and a stoic expression. “I will take this revelation with me to my glorious death.”

    Ferguson likewise changed, his jaw set, his eyes clear, a wind blowing through his mop of red hair. He too, spoke like the man he was yet to grow into. “I pledge the same, none shall know the truth from my lips, lest they seek to join me in oblivion.”

    Marco liked his friends. As goofy and weird as they were, he could rely on them.

    Ferguson looked around, making sure no one was particularly listening and drew closer to Marco. “Why keep it a secret, though?” He asked, his voice normal again. “Everyone knows you and Star are already cohabitating, and you’re always hanging out together.”

    “Even StarFan13 ships you!” Alfonzo cut in.

    All three looked over at a bespectacled girl with short brown hair with a hand-made horned headband, braces, and painted on cheek marks sighing in deep, obsessive admiration as she watched Star walk over towards Janna and Jackie by the front of the school.

    Ferguson rubbed the back of his neck, sucking the air in through his teeth. “Yeah, I always thought she’d go all yandere on you.”

    “Everyone did!” Alfonzo said.

    Marco raised his hands, quelling both. “Me and Star don’t want everyone talking about it, okay? It doesn’t need to be a big deal.”

    “Yeah, that’s fair,” Ferguson agreed.

    “We already swore to take it with us… to the death!” Alfonzo added.

    “Buuuut since we already know… you’re gonna tell us everything, right?”

    Marco raised an eyebrow. “Everything? Like what?”

    Alfonzo and Ferguson both had the same knowing look. “Oh you know!”

    Marco’s expression went flat. “I’m not telling either of you about any of that stuff.”

    Both recoiled from him and spoke in unison once more. “DUDE!”

    Blanching, Marco gesticulated wildly with both hands. “Whoa, whoa! We didn’t do any of that stuff to begin with!”

    “Says the man running to first base on the bus, Marco you dog,” Ferguson teased as he lightly elbowed him.

    Palming his face, Marco walked past them both. Ferguson laughed and followed with Alfonzo loping along beside him. “Dude, I’m just funnin’!”

    “Can we talk about anything else?” Marco asked, before he looked at Alfonzo.

    Ferguson knew just what to ask. “So are you and Star going to the dance?”

    “Whuh?” No! No…” Marco crossed his arms and swept them out for emphasis. “I’m not going to the dance. I was going to hang out with Janna and the new guy.”

    At Hillhurst, more specifically the Beetle Battle Base. Waiting for the Magnavores to attack wasn’t something they could just do, so Dipper was organizing shifts at the Beetle Battle Base to keep watch for them. With just about everyone else going to the dance, he, Dipper, and Janna were going to make sure the beacon stayed lit. Jo would be there too, but the less he mentioned connection to her? The better.

    “Mabel’s brother, right?” Ferguson asked. He let out a sigh. “Man, she’s so cool.”

    Marco relished the opportunity to turn the conversation away from his social life. “Ask her out to the dance, she’s single.”

    “I got a date with the refreshment table. Did you know Brittney got catering from like… the best restaurant in Hollywood for the dance? She’s going in hard on making sure this is perfect.”

    “Good for her,” Marco replied.

    Alfonzo beamed. “Besides, me and Ferguson are going to be part of Roland’s Dance Prank!”

    Ferguson whirled upon Alfonzo, shocked. “Dude, no!”

    Marco did a double take. “Dance prank? Roland Williams is doing a dance prank?!”

    Ferguson clapped a hand onto Marco’s shoulder and gripped it as he spoke in the voice of a man again. “We swore an oath to you; reciprocate the vow, old friend.”

    When Marco spoke, it was a low and smooth voice, like that of a rebellious hero who’d spent decades fighting through time and space. “Heh, guess it can’t be helped. My lips are sealed.”

    Ferguson looked at Alfonzo harshly. “Dude, you can’t go and blab it like that! Brittney’s watching this whole thing like a hawk!”

    Alfonzo recoiled, and quickly nodded.

    I’ll needle Roland about it later. Marco thought before he asked Alfonzo. “Speaking of being watched like a hawk, how's married life treating you?”

    Alfonzo smiled big at Marco’s question. “I have been having fun! The Pixie Empress likes my brutal and dramatic methods of crushing unrest and striking fear into her enemies!”

    Marco gave him another flat look. “You’re the tyrannical despot of Pixtopia.”

    “Yuh-huh!” A proud Alfonzo replied. “It helps that Pixies are already cruel and merciless!”

    Pausing, Marco thought about it. “Yeah, you would run it like you do games of Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons.”

    Ferguson shuddered. “My poor Orc Archer… oh Flog Gnaw, that Natural 1 took you too soon.”

    Just as they were about to turn and walk up the steps of the school–towards the escalating confrontation between Star and Brittney–Marco, Alfonzo and Ferguson were approached by a familiar old man in a chauffeur’s suit. Dudley, looking as tired and done with his job as he ever could, raised his hand in greeting.

    “Ahem, Mr. Diaz,” he greeted.

    Marco stopped and gave a quick glance around for any sign of the Vanderhoff brothers. They were nowhere to be seen. “Huh? What do you want?”

    Dudley gave Marco a neutral look, at his warranted hostility and suspicion, and took it in stride. “Master Trip has requested a meeting with you. It is to be held during the lunch hour, at Britta’s Tacos.”

    “No thank you. If Trip wants to chat, he can come talk to me.”

    “It is a meeting he is willing to make worth your time,” Dudley replied, giving Marco pause.

    Worth my time? What does he want? Could he be looking to buy me out? Would he be dumb enough to try that?

    The fact that Trip was willing to throw money his way was enough to give Marco cause for concern.

    Getting ahead of whatever he’s planning is probably better in the long term.

    “You know what? Tell Trip I’ll be there, and if this is some kind of prank?” He punched his fist into his palm. “He’s getting all he can eat at the knuckle sandwich buffet.”

    Dudley nodded. “Thank you very much, Mr. Diaz.”

    He nodded to Alfonzo and Ferguson. “Mr. Doolittle, Mr. O’Durguson.”

    With that the old man shuffled away, and Marco turned to look back and forth between his friends.

    “The heck does the rich boy want with you?” Ferguson asked.

    Marco plunged his hands into the pockets of his hoodie as the bell rang and the other students began making their way inside. “I’m gonna find out.”

    = - = 39 = - =

    Star: "Ah yes, the consequences of my actions."
     
    Cutting Edge
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 40 = - =

    |Cutting Edge|

    After taking Star Butterfly’s spirited interpretation of Starlight Breaker straight to his face, Vexor had retired to the large sarcophagus in the center of his crypt hideout, and there hadn’t been a word or peep from him since. Typhus, who needed only a day and a lot of food to recover from the beating he received, was already back on his feet and in a bad mood.

    Snake Head hadn’t come back. Before Vexor locked himself away in his tomb, he muttered something about “The Zone Collapsing” but didn’t elaborate before the lid on the sarcophagus shut and he was incommunicado. Typhus didn’t need the explanation, with no Beetleborgs presented to him like a cat presenting a mouse he killed, it didn’t take a genius to figure it out. The Beetleborgs somehow killed him or worse, he was lost when the zone collapsed.

    Once more he was by himself, something he hated more than anything, and he was in no mood to do anything other than brood about it. “Man… this sucks.”

    He heard some tapping on the sarcophagus behind him. “What sucks? And where’s Vexor? Is he in here?”

    Typhus shot up to his feet and turned around to face Noxic, who looked good as he hovered over the sarcophagus, tapping on it. “Noxic, you’re back!”

    Noxic looked up from the coffin to his biological best buddy. “And cooler than ever! What the heck happened, did you and Vexor beat those Beetle bums or what?”

    “No way, baby! Those kids were tougher than ever. That magic girl even blasted Vexor, he blocked her shot but he still got torn up!”

    “What?!” Noxic recoiled, then looked back at the sarcophagus. He turned back to Typhus and sidled close to him. “Hey, does that mean he’s, yannow, D-E-D?”

    Typhus shrugged his stiff shoulders. “You’re the one with the scouter.”

    “I was. The other morning there was this huge power surge, and it blew it out. I don’t have it anymore!”

    “Wait, was it the day before yesterday?”

    “Yeah, early in the morning!”

    “That was that magic girl, baby.”

    Noxic threw up his hands. “Geez Louise! Maybe Vexor is a goner.”

    He brought two fingers to his mechanical chin and stroked it. “Hey… you think human girls like gift-baskets or flowers? Eh, I’ll just grab her a ‘Thank You’ card.”

    Typhus burst into laughter. “Oh man, I’m glad you’re back! I was going out of my mind sitting around here, baby.”

    “Huh? What about Snake Head?”

    Typhus’ laughter stopped, and he bared his teeth. “I think he was beaten by the Beetleborgs; I don’t know because Vexor won’t tell me what happened with that… I can’t remember, you know that weird place!”

    “Well, RIP snakeyboi,” Noxic said before Jara entered in a burst of flame.

    “It’s gone? Good riddance, that monster was disgusting,” she said as she strode up to both of them.

    Jara too looked good as new, the burns and scorches that covered her skin gone like she’d never experienced them, her uniform spotless and gleaming in the ambient candlelight of the crypt. She tilted her head as she looked down upon Typhus and Noxic. “Where is Vexor?”

    “Hey, don’t ‘where’s Vexor’ me! Apologize for talking crap about Snake Head, he was a heck of a guy!” Typhus snapped at her.

    Jara clicked her teeth and shrugged her shoulders. “I’m sorry one of your creations got blown up, but you don’t hear Noxic complaining when one of his gets destroyed.”

    Noxic shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, that’s because most of my creations hate me. Typhus’ guys? They love him, and why wouldn’t they?”

    He slapped Typhus on his back. “He’s the coolest guy I know!”

    After a week of recovery, Jara almost missed the headache her best friends gave her. “Enough about how great he is. What happened with Snake Head, and where’s Vexor?”

    “Oh, Vexor’s dead,” Noxic replied.

    “We don’t know that!” Typhus argued.

    Jara palmed her mask. “You two…”

    Typhus placed a clawed hand over Noxic’s mouth. “Snake Head found the prey, and we went after ‘im, right? Well, everything was going great, and Vexor even managed to send ‘em to the G-Spot or whatever-”

    Jara grabbed him by the lips of his upper mouth and leaned in to look him dead in his eyes, her laser whip blade held to his almost non-existent neck.

    “Never. Call it that. Again.”

    Typhus nodded, and Jara let him go to continue. “Anyway, he sent him to that pocket dimension place he cooked up, and everything was going great until the magic girl showed up.”

    Jara nodded. “And then what happened?”

    “Did you see a big flash of light the other morning?” Typhus asked.

    Now that he mentioned it, a painfully bright light did wake her up from her alcohol and meat-fueled recovery process. She hated it with all of her life.

    “… Yes…?”

    “That was the magic girl blasting Vexor in the face.”

    Now she hated it even more.

    As a red aura manifested around Jara’s body, Noxic raised his hands in supplication. “Whoa, whoa, hey! Look on the bright side! The bright side!”

    He pleaded. “Vexor’s gone, so we can do whatever we want without his snooty Space Pope nose sticking into our business.”

    The sound of stone shifting behind them made them all stop. All three looked back at the sarcophagus, which had raised up just enough for them to see a single glowing inhuman yellow and black eye glaring out at them from the darkness.

    “Rest assured, or do not, for I am very far from dead,” Vexor informed them, before the sarcophagus closed.

    Typhus leaned forward, hanging his head, Jara’s shoulders slumped, and Noxic began beating himself atop his head with both fists. “Aw man, I just HAD to go and jinx it, didn’t I?!”

    “It’s obvious that none of us can have nice things in this world,” Jara lamented.

    “Yeah, baby,” Typhus agreed.

    The sarcophagus cracked open again. “I’m sure the three of you can do something more productive with your time besides hoping for me to come out and beat you with this stone lid.”

    A Beetleborgs comic slid out of the sarcophagus and fell to Jara’s feet. “Make use of this to defeat and capture them for me… and do not bother me again until I am fully healed.”

    The lid closed again.

    Noxic and Typhus looked at each other.

    “Forget that! Wanna go see how many tacos you can eat in one sitting?” Noxic asked.

    Typhus clenched his fists and pumped them. “Heck yeah, baby! I heard there’s a place that gives a prize if you eat fifty of ‘em.”

    Noxic gave pause. “All at once?”

    They both looked over at Jara, who had turned away from them and was reading the comic book. “Hey, you wanna grab some tacos?”

    Jara ignored them. Her shoulders were hiked, and a dark menacing laugh rumbled from under her mask. The atmosphere darkened as she held up the comic, power cracking from it as it levitated from her hands. On the spot, both realized what was going on.

    “Oh snap! She’s summoning something!” Noxic said, jumping up and down. “Oh man! It might be one of her Mercenary guys!”

    “Aw man, those guys are so cool, baby!” Typhus said as he got up.

    Laughing, Jara brought her hand up to her mask, its yellow eyes glowing as power emanated from the comic.

    “Hahaha… veteran of ten thousand battles, slayer of a hundred thousand warriors!” She said before she whipped her hand and struck a pose. “Awaken in this world, my master of blades… SABERIZER!”

    Flames shot from the comic and splashed against the ceiling of the crypt. As Typhus and Noxic watched, the flames spread across it in a growing circle, before numerous blades–from simple daggers to long swords and even giant weapons meant for slaying horses, showered from the fire and crashed into the floor around her, Noxic and Typhus.

    As the last blades fell and impacted the stone floor, a figure dropped from the ceiling. A male humanoid, clad in a black bodysuit and black and red boots. On his upper body and arms, over the bodysuit he wore silver armor painted with red lines. His bald, badly scarred face was covered half with a helmet that was secured with screws that were driven into his skull, and a long black scarf wrapped around his head several times, obscuring the lower half of his face.

    The Mercenary Warrior Saberizer drew from his back a long, single bladed sword with a cross-shaped hilt from his back, a falchion, and knelt before Jara. “Sworn to serve the Red Capes, I Saberizer stand before you, General Jara!”

    Noxic looked at Typhus. “Oh man, how come your summoning wasn’t that cool?”

    Typhus, indignant, agreed. “Yeah, Jara! What’d you do?”

    Jara turned back to look at her friends. “Neither of you two have appreciation for the dramatic.”

    She turned back to face her summon. “On your feet, Saberizer. Today we are declaring war on this world, and you will be leading my army.”

    “As you command, General,” he replied.

    “An army?!” Noxic shouted. “Jara, what’re you plannin’?!”

    Typhus stepped forward towards her. “And how can we get in on it, baby?”

    Saberizer gave a start at the sight of Noxic and Typhus. “The two of you…?!”

    He turned to Jara. “General, what are you doing with the likes of these two dishonorable-”

    Jara shot her hand up, silencing him. “Do not concern yourself. Those who were once my enemies are now my trusted comrades. Respect them as my equals.”
    Without another word of complaint, Saberizer nodded. “Understood, General.”

    Jara turned to face those two friends again. “Now, let’s go out to those woods we recovered at the last time.”

    “Huh? Why not go to the house?” Noxic asked.

    “Because during my recovery I attempted some recon of the house, but found there is a field preventing teleportation. Hence why we are doing this.” She explained.

    “An Anti-Teleport…!” Noxic trailed off, then shook his head. “Geez, where do they keep coming up with this stuff?!”

    Typhus patted Noxic on the shoulder. “We’re gonna find out today, baby.”

    Without complaint, Noxic and Typhus got up and all four Magnavores vanished, leaving behind Vexor, who’d been peeking out of the sarcophagus the moment Jara had summoned Saberizer. That she was up to something was not unusual, a warrior of her caliber was always plotting, always calculating. It was what Vexor liked most about her… and also what made him wary.

    “What discoveries shall you reveal to me?” He asked as he began to summon a small scrying circle.

    @@@@@

    In the wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains, among the scorched dead trees of the old burn, the Magnavores appeared, Jara walking out ahead of Noxic and Typhus with Saberizer right beside her. In her hands, she held the comic she summoned Saberizer from, as she turned to face her comrades. She held up the comic.

    “While I was convalescing, I thought that in order to make use of myself while I was incapacitated besides my recon, I would at the very least summon my mercenaries into this world,” she explained. “That is when I learned something unfortunate.”

    “Aw man, bad news?” Typhus asked.

    “Bad, but not terrible,” Jara reassured him. “I found that while Snake Head was active, I was unable to bring anything stronger than a Scab into the world.”

    Noxic stroked his chin. “Wait a minute, you’re saying that we can only summon one guy at a time?!”

    “That is correct, and I have found that I can at the very most summon only fifty Scabs at one time,” she revealed.

    “Fifty?!” Noxic asked. “That’s still a heck of a lot, but not enough if we’re taking over the world!”

    “No it is not,” Jara said. “But it is more than enough for defeating the Beetleborgs, and capturing not only that Butterfly…” She trailed off and seethed. “… But also claiming that strange house where you sensed that tremendous power. With them in our possession, taking over the world should not be difficult at all.”

    Typhus hummed. “So, you’re sayin’ that our limit’s one big guy and fifty Scabs. Is there anything else that we might be able to get out of this?”

    “I am glad you asked that, for I have a theory.” She threw the comic at Typhus. “Summon as many Scabs as you can, put all your power into it. Then give the book to Noxic.”

    Typhus caught the book clumsily, and held it up. “All right, Scabs! C’mon out!”

    At his command, fifty flames shot from the book, raining down around Jara and Saberizer to become twitching and shuddering Scabs armed and ready to fight. Seeing the Scabs, Saberizer clapped his gauntlet-encased hands together to rub them. “Interesting… I’ve slain many of these swarm machines and they were formidable. To have them serve beneath my command will be a great experience.”

    “Yeah, with how fast these guys go down? You won’t be impressed,” Noxic said.

    That piqued Saberizer’s interest. It was enhanced further when Jara spoke up. “The enemies we face are literal children in armor with abysmal fighting ability. They make up for it by having weapons that are absurd in power, and unarmored friends who are less incompetent. That is why as much as numbers we need speed and firepower to overwhelm them before they can improvise in battle.”

    Jara looked over at Noxic. “Turn to page seventeen of that book.”

    Noxic took the comic from Typhus and flipped through it. Stopping on the indicated page, he looked back and forth between it and Jara. “Wait… you want me to try summoning these?”

    “As many as you can,” Jara instructed.

    With a shrug of his shoulders, Noxic threw the book to the ground. “If you say so, but these things are a little beefier than a basic Scab.”

    He threw his hands forward. “All right you mooks! Take off!”

    Typhus, Jara, and Saberizer all watched as the comic sat there on the ground. A moment passed, and nothing happened.

    Noxic repeated the gesture. “I said get goin’!”

    Nothing happened.

    Saberizer let out a hum and folded his arms.

    Typhus turned to Jara. “Guess it’s outta juice-”

    A bright flash from the comic cut him off, as eight jets of flame shot to the sky, climbed, and kept climbing. The Magnavores followed the flames’ skyward flight, spreading out into two formations of four that materialized into black and yellow craft with a strange shape.

    With a wasp-like profile, their main fuselage trailed behind them ending in a large stinger-like appendage, while their wings–if they could be called those, were curved like a set of large golden horns. The craft bore under the wings each a pair of laser cannons, and had no visible cockpit. Despite their aerodynamically impossible shape, the craft had no problem cutting through the sky like actual fighter jets.

    On the ground below, Jara threw her head back and laughed. “HAHAHAHAHA! YES! IT WORKED!”

    She began dancing in celebration, shaking her hips with her hands raising the figurative roof. “Go Jara! Go Jara! Go Jara! Go Jara!”

    Typhus and Noxic turned to each other and nodded. Saberizer on the other hand, looked about ready to break down weeping.

    “General…” He spoke, his voice cracking. “… Have you truly found happiness again?”

    Jara stopped dancing, and lowered her arms. “No, I have not.”

    She looked at him, then down at the ground. “I will not be happy, until I have laid that Butterfly girl at my feet and mounted the heads of those obnoxious armored brats as trophies!”

    She clenched her hands into fists, that red aura manifesting again. “Now then, what are all of you going to do to help improve my mood?!”

    Typhus was the first to answer. “What we do best, baby!”

    Noxic clapped his hands and threw a fist into the air. “Go out into battle and wreck stuff!”

    Saberizer drew his falchion and knelt down before Jara, driving the tip into the ground. “And in battle I shall defeat our enemies and restore your honor, General!”

    Jara looked up and laughed. “That is what I like to hear!”

    She grabbed her shoulder pauldrons and threw both it and her cape from her body, the heavy equipment crashing to the ground behind her and the gathered gang of monsters to create a dramatic explosion of dust and dirt.

    “Magnavore Tribe! We begin our offensive now!”

    = - = 40 = - =
     
    Old Money
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 41 = - =

    |Old Money|

    Lunchtime had arrived and in the school’s parking lot Heather was lounging in the driver seat of her car, a black Audi convertible, scarfing down one of several large pieces of pizza she’d picked up from the cafeteria. Though the building had been reopened to students, she had come to enjoy just sitting out in the lot, even if the risk of her cheap lunch food ruining the interior of her expensive car was high.

    “… Pizza mozza-rella… pizza mozza-rella…” She sang to herself through her teeth as she bit on the end of her slice and pulled to stretch the cheese out as far as it could go. “Rella, rella, rella, rella, rella, re-lla~”

    Noticing a flash of white out the corner of her eye, she turned her head to see Shermie Pines’ SUV pull into the student parking lot and come to a stop just adjacent to her own car. Her brows rising as she smiled around her pizza, she watched as Dipper, Mabel, and Misao all disembarked from the car.

    “Thanks for the ride, Sherpa~!” Mabel called to her Grandfather after she closed the door.

    Shermie looked over towards his charges, smiling. “You know, back in my day, when we played hooky, we didn't come back to school for lunch. If you kids want to make like a camel and hoof it, I got a full tank of gas and nothing to do for the rest of the day.”

    “Wish we could, but we have a lot of business to handle today,” Dipper said.

    Shermie gave them a knowing look. “All right then, just keep your eyes peeled and your noses clean. I'll pick you up after the dust settles.”

    “Thanks, Grandpa,” Dipper replied as Shermie put the car in gear.

    “I love you, Sherpa~!” Mabel called.

    “Bye bye!” Misao likewise bid farewell, as Shermie pulled off and left the lot.

    Heather leaned her left arm onto the door of her car as she waved to the trio with her right hand. “Hey! I was wondering where you guys were.”

    Mabel and Misao both greeted Heather with brilliant smiles as they made their way over to her.

    “Wow!” Mabel said as she beheld the convertible. “This is your car?!”

    Heather nodded. “Mmhm! Nice, isn’t she?”

    Misao raised her nose and smirked. “Your family has good taste in cars, sehr gut.”

    Heather giggled, then gestured at them with her pizza, a bit of sauce getting on the leather upholstered inside of the door. “So what’s up? Why are you guys showing up here just now?”

    Dipper rested a hand atop Misao’s head and gave it an affectionate pat. “We were helping Misao get moved in properly.”

    “All my stuff finally arrived from Europe,” Misao added for context.

    “And we weren’t gonna miss school, all our friends are here!”

    Heather let out a hum and looked towards the school. “Yeah, I’d have stayed home. The drama is thick today.”

    She picked up her plate and offered it to them. “‘Za?”

    Mabel and Misao each took a slice, while Dipper refrained–more taken aback by the amount of pizza she had on her plate. “What drama?” He asked.

    “Brittney,” Heather explained as Mabel took a bite out of her offered slice, “Banned Star from the School Spirit Week activities. She can’t be at the Pep Rally Friday, the Awesome Opossums Football Game Saturday, or the Dance after that.”

    Misao scowled. “Who gave her the right?”

    “The school. This is basically her do-over for Spirit Week, and Brittney’s got full authority over everything.” Heather continued. “And the only reason they’re letting her is because she’s rich and Principal Skeeves is a tool.”

    “But why?”

    Dipper and Mabel looked at one another and realized Misao wouldn’t know. The former answered. “Because way before any of us showed up, Star set off an incident at the homecoming game. She didn’t realize the football game they were having was a game, and not… you know… a battle.”

    Misao folded her arms. “Well with all that armor and violence, how could anyone not mistake American Football for a battle?”

    “Valid point, but Star’s a magical princess from another dimension, and she took the initiative to ensure victory.”

    Misao’s face fell as she considered the implications. “Oh dear.”

    Heather shrugged her shoulders. “Yeah, it was total chaos. There were magical bombs going off, squirrel monsters, portals to other dimensions–I think Brittney even got eaten by a dragon or something–but in the end the Silver Hill Warriors forfeited so everyone was pretty stoked about the school’s first win since like… before any of us were born.”

    “Star and Marco spent the entire weekend cleaning up the mess they made, though,” Dipper said to Misao. “Star made an entire vlog about it.”

    “She did…” Mabel agreed.

    Heather threw a hand up. “So you see why it’s stupid that Brittney’s banning Star? It’s freaking double jeopardy.”

    “It is not fair!” Misao said, fired up again. “Why punish her again?!”

    “Because Brittney hates Star, and because her rich Dad dumps cash on the school like Trip and Van’s Dad do, she’s going around drunk on absolute power like a Student Council President in a lame high school anime.”

    Heather looked aside. “I’m almost glad I’m going on this stupid trip, now.”

    Dipper took a deep breath. “Where is she right now?”

    Misao liked Dipper’s tone. “Yes, I am curious to know, too.”

    Mabel turned to her brother and bestie. “We’ve already got one rich kid problem; we don’t need two.”

    Everyone looked at Mabel, who shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head slightly. “I’m just saying.”

    Dipper didn’t expect that tug on the proverbial lead, but it did help him pull back from the confrontational impulse hearing about this gave him. He understood where she was coming from, though.

    Misao looked up at Mabel. “But what about Star?”

    “We’ll chat with her about it later. There’s no way that she’s going to let Brittney tell her where she can or can’t go.”

    Misao’s smile was a little nasty. “Ja, you’re right. She’ll go to the dance no matter what that haughty girl says!”

    Heather sighed. “And now I’m wishing I could go again, so I could see that go down.”

    The bell rang, and Heather looked towards the school. “Well, my lunch is over… but I have a study hall next so I’m going to keep eating my pizza.”

    “And I’m going to get more pizza since it’s the beginning of ours!” Mabel said with her usual bright energy.

    Misao was in full agreement. “And we can talk to Star about our inevitable counteroffensive against the forces of Brittney!”

    Mabel looked off to the side. “Ah… yep…”

    Dipper eyed Mabel with some curiosity at the shift in her tone and body language, before he heard a strange sound. It was a high-pitched whine, like the sound of a supercar rushing towards him… but there was a weird pulsing and droning to it that reminded him of a star fighter’s engine out of a science fiction action film. As he looked around for it, first on the ground and in the sky, Mabel, Misao, and Heather noticed it, too.

    “… What is that?” Heather asked.

    Mabel brought a hand to her ear, trying to determine where the sound was coming from, but it was bouncing around everywhere. “… Is someone making TIE Fighter noises?”

    As the sounds grew louder, Dipper had an increasingly bad feeling about what they could be.

    Misao looked almost straight upward, and her eyes grew large as she at last identified the source. “… Ah.”

    @@@@@

    While it didn’t look like much, Britta’s Tacos was a local institution. Hands down the best Mexican Restaurant in this corner of Los Angeles, if not the entire city, it was a place with food so good it could only be described as magical. The food was so well-known, that no one was above eating there, no matter who they were–hence why Trip Vanderhoff could tolerate being seen at such a place, waiting at one of the stand’s tables sipping horchata through a straw.

    “You did tell him to come here right, Dilbert?” He asked after lowering his cup.

    “Dudley, sir,” his butler replied before confirming. “Yes, I informed him of the time and place.”

    “I don’t pay you to tell me your name,” Trip snapped at him before he gave a quick careless glance around. “Where is he? Last thing I need is for him to pop up in a Bueno Nacho or something because he can’t follow simple directions.”

    “I wouldn’t set foot in a Bueno Nacho if my life depended on it,” Marco said as he walked up to Trip’s table. “It’s all horse meat and cardboard tortillas.”

    Trip turned to him, with a brief nod. “Well, nice to see we agree on one thing. Hopefully we can see eye to eye on others.”

    He gestured over to the seat across from him. “Have a seat right there.”

    Marco sat down, gave Dudley a sharp look, then directed it at Trip. “So… what exactly do you want?”

    Trip smiled and set his cup on the table. “Cutting to the chase I see, I like that.”

    Marco didn’t reply, instead scrutinizing the preppy fop’s perpetual and unwarranted smug expression as he talked. There were a lot of things Trip could want, or at the very least thought he could get from him.

    Coming out of the blue to talk to me… what else could he want besides someone who could take a shot at Dipper?

    “So, you and I are mutually acquainted with someone, and I am willing to pay a handsome sum for you to… get a message across,” Trip continued.

    I’m surprised he’d even come to me, but does he really think I’m for sale?

    Marco curled his lips to one side and let out a snort. “Oh yeah? Just how handsome are we talking?”

    “Deon, give him the number.”

    Dudley handed Marco a folded-up slip.

    How much are you willing to pay for your petty revenge, Trip? He thought as he unfolded and looked at the note. His eyes shot wide.

    Okay, that’s a lot.

    “Is that good looking enough for you?” Trip asked.

    Marco did not want to be frank aloud, but he could understand why people were happy to throw themselves into the meat-grinder that was being an enemy of Dipper Pines. He set down and tapped his fingers on the bottom of the slip, before he folded it back closed.

    He understood that, but even if he didn’t like Dipper, he wasn’t going to take this. “You are a piece of work, you know?”

    “A work of art, some would say,” Trip shot back.

    All right, that was an okay comeback, Marco thought. “But no, I’m not going to take your money to beat up Dipper, or Drew, or whoever you got beef with.”

    Trip recoiled. “Wh-wha?”

    “If you wanna fight someone, do it yourself.”

    Trip shot up to his feet. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! I wouldn’t spend that much cash on beating up either of those losers!”

    He stopped. “Not that I’d pay anyone to do it. I’m over the beef, it’s done.”

    That was obviously bull, but the fact that Trip wasn’t here for that did throw Marco off a bit. “Come again?”

    Trip palmed his forehead and let out an exaggerated sigh. “I’m talking about the girl you know; I want you to let her know that I want to take her to the dance Saturday.”

    Marco tilted his head to one side, like a puppy hearing whistling for the first time. “… You want to take Star to the dance?”

    The very thought obviously wasn’t a good one to Trip, given how he cringed in disgust. “No, not her! The other girl you know!”

    Marco searched his mental database of girls he knew. “… Janna?”

    Trip’s head dropped back, and he let out a frustrated groan before slamming his hand on a table. “Let me put it in a way you can understand:”

    Then, in the most over-enunciated, condescending, touristy Spanish Marco ever heard, Trip spoke. “¿Quiero salir con la chica que se parece a ti? ¿Lo entiendes? Te estoy hablando español!”

    Marco stared at him, his expression darkening. “Si me vuelves a hablar te arrancaré los huevos.”

    Trip stopped, and tried to parse his reply “Yes… you speak… eggs?”

    He shook his head. “Ugh! You weren’t there, but there was this girl a couple weeks ago hanging out with the magic princess. She had the same kind of hoodie you have on, but she was cute in it and she had this long, really thick hair in a ponytail and this really pretty face. You know her, right?”

    A long, overburdened silence followed.

    Outwardly, Marco was stoic, statue-like even with his tight-lipped expression. He stared at and through Trip, into the infinite–perfectly still.

    Within the temple of peace and serenity that was Marco however, echoed laughter that would make the Joker inquire with worry. Only the briefest twitch of the corner of his lip gave away the slightest hint, but what were the odds that Trip would catch anything that subtle?

    Trip was indeed too focused on Marco’s blank stare to consider what lay beneath. “What?”

    Marco raised his hands and clapped them flat together, before taking a deep breath. “You… want to ask her out to the Homecoming Dance?”

    Trip rolled his eyes. “Finally, how is it so hard to understand?”

    Marco brought his hands down onto the table and interlaced his fingers. “All right, I’m going to clear this up right now, so you don’t get your hopes up, okay?”

    Trip adjusted his glasses. “Huh?”

    “That girl you saw with Star that day? At the park where they found you crying like a horse?”

    The way Trip’s face twisted into a grimace almost made Marco laugh, but he held it together. “That was me. Not my sister, not my cousin, me. Star cast a spell that made me super feminine and pretty, and I’d been stuck like that because her magic was messed up. Okay?”

    Now it was Trip’s turn to sit in silence and process that. He stared hard at Marco, taking off his glasses and squinting at him, before putting them back on again and squinting even harder, eyeing his face, his shoulders, his hair. He looked over at Dudley, and the old chauffeur had his back to his young charge, hunched over with one hand on his hip and the other over his mouth–his entire body shaking from his held back laughter.

    He looked back at Marco, who waited patiently for his response with the ghost of a smug smile on his lips, then closed his eyes.

    “Do you hate money?” He asked.

    And there went Marco’s head tilt, again. “Huh?”

    “I understand my unfortunately tarnished reputation now precedes me,” he continued as he opened his eyes to level a withering look at Marco. “But really? You’re going to claim that you’re a crossdresser to get me to back off?”

    “Are you calling me a liar?” Marco asked.

    Trip slammed his hand on the table. “I’m calling you an idiot! Just give me her digits so I can ask her out!”

    Marco pointed at himself. “Her digits are my digits! She’s me!”

    “You can’t be, you are not that hot!”

    Now Marco’s pride was jabbed. “I am so too that hot!”

    Trip snatched up the slip and waved it in front of Marco. “What is wrong with you people?! This is more money than you’ll ever see in your life, and you’re just turning it down for what?!”

    Marco thought about it. “The money’s nice, but saying no to someone who has never been told? That’s priceless.”

    Letting his hand gripping the slip drop to his side, Trip pulled back and slowly shook his head. “I don’t get it…”

    “Some people just aren’t for sale, no matter how much you’ve got.”

    Something about that specifically hit Trip hard, he crushed the slip in his fist. “Everyone has a price. They may talk big; they may act all high and mighty… but in the end? Flash them a big enough number and they’ll do anything for it.”

    He pointed at him. “I just need to figure out yours, and you’re mine.”

    Marco got up. “You’re pathetic.”

    “How can I be the pathetic one, when I’m the one with the money?”

    “All that money and you can’t buy the girls you like,” Marco clapped back, and Trip blanched before his face turned a solid shade of furious red. “It’s not a substitute for your crappy personality, and it never will be. Later.”

    As he turned away from Trip, he heard a mechanical whine from above. Looking up for the strange sound, he quickly locked onto the source and his mouth fell agape.

    “… Huh?”

    Slicing through the air, the eight vespid Magnavore Jet Fighters flew above Echo Creek, the afternoon sun dancing off their gold and black bodies as they headed towards the mountains, and Hillhurst.

    Behind Marco, Trip’s anger faded when he saw the Jet Fighters, and his anger drained away into confusion. “What are those things…?”

    “Trouble,” Marco said, before he felt his phone buzz like crazy in his pocket.

    = - = 41 = - =

    Looks like Los Angeles is in for an air show.
     
    Incursion
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 42 = - =

    |Incursion|

    High above Los Angeles, the appearance of the eight jet fighters did not go unnoticed. In the stacked air traffic patterns over the city, the two tight formations of four Magnavore Jet Fighters were a sight to see, anywhere from bemusing to alarming depending on how close the planes involved were.

    “Tower, US 618, we just passed some fighter jets.” The pilot of one such plane reported as their crew watched the eight fighters slip past them and begin circling downward towards Echo Creek.

    “US 618 okay, thank you. Were they off to your left side or right side?” The professionalism of the Air Traffic Controller did not waver.

    To their credit, neither did the crew of the plane. “Right side, our altitude and descending, they look like they’re going in.”

    Planes potters and Radio Chatter enthusiasts across the region whose curiosity had been piqued by the strange report out of the blue, soon had a more alarming callout.

    “Tower, US 618. Fighter jets are shooting at the ground. We’re seeing explosions…”

    Sweeping low and fast into the San Gabriel foothills, the first four Magnavore Jet Fighters lined up and took aim at their target: Hillhurst Mansion. Laser cannons slung under their inexplicable wings flared to life, sending bright red beams towards their target. The lasers were powerful, creating tremendous explosions that shattered windows and shook the foundation as they crashed around the house.

    Inside, the thunderous blasts sent Flabber spilling from his couch in front of his television, and flat onto his face with an exaggerated splat.

    “Hey! What’s all that racket?!” He heard Mums yell as he got up on his hands and knees. “I’m trying to rest in peace, here!”

    Fangula called out a moment later “I am trying to put on my face here! Do you know how hard that is without a reflection?!”

    “Bad enough those brats come in and out to do whatever they want, now they gotta be driving around blowing stuff up?!” Mums yelled.

    Flabber shook his head and got up. “Hang on you guys, I’ll go see what’s what!”

    Disappearing into a shower of stars, planets, and squiggly lines, Flabber appeared just outside the door. “Hey, kids? Are you doing live-fire practice in the vineyard…?”

    He looked up to see the next flight of four Magnavore Jet Fighters lining up for their run. “Ruh roh!”

    Flabber vanished back inside, just as the fighters’ salvo of beams walked up to the front of the house but stopped short, leaving a line of smoldering craters on the path leading to it. His back plastered against the door as the rumbling stopped, Flabber peeked out the window to see the damage, and winced when he saw both groups of fighters were coming back around to form up for another run.

    Mums stomped out onto the mezzanine overlooking the foyer and glared down at Flabber. “Who the heck is trying to blow us up now?!”

    Flabber hummed. “High speed jet fighters, Powerful yet wildly inaccurate fire, complete disregard for life… it’s either the Galactic Empire… or the IRS.”

    “They’re not getting a dime from me!” Mums yelled before the next run hit, this time a bracketing attack from both flights of fighters at once, passing on the sides of the house.

    The violent rumbling pitched Mums over the railing, and he fell into a heap in the middle of the foyer.

    Fangula swept into the foyer from the back, followed by the plodding Frankenbeans. “Flabber, this had better not start happening every week!”

    Biting his lower lip and inhaling sharply through his upper teeth, Flabber turned to his vampiric resident. “I’ve got some bad news…”

    The fighters strafed again, the assault missing the house once more but doing enough shaking to send everyone but Frankenbeans to the floor.

    In the parking lot, Dipper, Mabel, and Heather all stared up in the sky at the fleeing shape of the Magnavore Jet Fighters in silence, watching them make their turn towards Hillhurst. The twins and Misao shared very unsettled looks, as Heather got out of her car and stood to get as good of a view as she could before they dove out of sight.

    “Those were Magnavore Jet Fighters,” she said, as she broke into a big smile. She turned to the trio, vibrating with excitement. “That was so cool! They actually built working models of them! How do they even get them to fly?!”

    Dipper was glad that he didn’t have to offer a difficult explanation to Heather. “Hollywood Supertech is wild, right?”

    Heather laughed. “I’ll say!”

    Mabel had her phone out before it began chiming at high frequency. “Uh oh, phone’s blowing up.” She turned to Dipper and Misao. “We’re needed by the gym.”

    As she and Misao sprinted off, Dipper turned to Heather. “We’ll see you later, um… take care, okay?”

    “Yeah, see ya. Enjoy lunch,” Heather said before she looked back in the direction the fighters went and saw the smoke and dust. “Oh no! Did one of them crash?”

    Dipper really hoped so, as he followed his sister and roommate around to the other side of the school. As soon as they were out of sight of the cafeteria, Jo abruptly appeared in front of them, followed by Drew and Roland. A portal opened and both Star and Janna jumped out of it, joining the group.

    “They can summon Magnavore Jet Fighters, now?!” Jo asked as she gestured towards the plume over Hillhurst.

    “We really can’t waste time freaking out about it,” Drew said.

    Dipper agreed. “He’s right, the only thing there is to do is fight them before they attack more than Hillhurst.”

    “I am not freaking out, I am expressing frustration that the Magnavores have their Jet Fighters now,” Jo more calmly corrected.

    Roland nudged her. “Silver lining? We can fight them in our A.V.s”

    Jo’s brows jumped up, and she smiled. “Consolation accepted.”

    Dipper turned to Star. “Where’s Marco?”

    Star pulled them out. “Marco went to Britta’s Tacos.”

    “Is he over there now?” Roland asked.

    Mabel held up her phone. “He’s there right now-”

    Roland disappeared from where he stood, then reappeared with Marco.

    “Superspeed must be nice,” she finished.

    “Huwuh?!” Marco looked around wild-eyed, then turned to Roland. “Let me know when you’re going to do that!”

    Roland shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry.”

    “Well now that everyone’s here-” Janna said before the sounds of explosions echoed over the hills and rooftops. “How are we getting over there without getting blown up?”

    “She’s right,” Jo said. “The Anti-Teleport Field blocks the scissors, and we don’t have time to walk a mile and change.”

    Drew agreed. “Yeah, if emergency services head over to the house and those fighters are still there…”

    “Can’t we just use your super speed?” Misao asked Roland.

    “I have a limit,” Roland said, “And going back and forth to move all you guys would definitely be over it.

    Star let out a hum, as an idea came to her. “I have an idea!”

    She faced everyone, before raising her hands and giving them a nervous smile. “All right. What I’m about to pitch to you will get us there really quick, but there’s a drawback…”

    Dipper looked up at the smoke rising over the hills. “We don’t really have a choice. If it can get us there fast, let’s hear it out.”

    Star nodded. “All right! Here’s my idea…”

    In the Vineyard, as the Jet Fighters’ strafing runs passed, Noxic popped up from behind some brush near the house, ruefully shaking his head. “What the heck, do I gotta take these guys into the shop when we’re done here? They’re shooting like chumps!”

    Typhus agreed. “Yeah, baby. I’ve seen Stormtroopers with better aim.”

    Jara, standing a row behind them, let out a sigh. “You do know the Stormtroopers were aiming poorly on purpose, do you not?”

    Typhus and Noxic looked at her, though their faces did not emote well, she could see a lack of comprehension written all over both.

    She admitted to being no better, given her mask. “The Empire wanted to know where the Rebel Base was, so they needed them alive and to think they escaped. Vader and Tarkin ordered the Stormtroopers to miss, it is an unspoken testament to the Empire’s insidious indoctrination and discipline that they followed that order even as they were being killed.”

    Typhus let out an enlightened grunt. “Wow, it all makes sense.”

    “You learn new things about that movie every day, you know?” Noxic asked Typhus, who nodded back.

    Jara resisted rolling her eyes at the most casual of casuals. “This is the same idea. We cannot destroy the house, Vexor wants to know what’s inside. What we can do… is kick up enough dust to bring the Butterfly and the Beetles out right where we want them.”

    She looked up the road leading to Hillhurst. “They should come running right about now.”

    Behind her and the other two Magnavores, Saberizer sat in silence, his anticipation betrayed by the faint rattle of his armor. As soon as she spoke those words, his sharp senses came to life, and he tilted his head upward.

    “There!” He called and Typhus and Noxic both jumped.

    ‘“There? Where?!” The latter shouted as he looked around, his head going left, right, then performing a full rotation.

    Typhus followed Saberizer’s line of sight into the sky. “… I don’t see ‘em, baby.”

    Noxic followed suit, and using his superior spec specs, zoomed in on a point in the sky and detected movement. “… Whoa… what the hey?!”

    He zoomed in further, and saw Star, then Dipper, Marco, Mabel, and Misao fall past his field of view. “They didn’t just come runnin’ Jara! They’re literally droppin’ in!”

    Two kilometers above Hillhurst, Dipper held onto his lumberjack hat as he fell towards the ground far below. Star’s idea was a good one on paper: open a portal to exactly two kilometers above the house, drop straight down, and then she would use a spell to help them land safely. Only now that he was falling did he realize that two kilometers–a relatively short distance to walk for him–was a long way to fall. Longer still with hostile enemies flying around that were eager to kill him.

    A long fall, but as he took into consideration the staggering events that led to this moment, he couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face as he thrust his free hand forward, balled up in a fist. It didn’t get any stranger than this! “LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

    “Wheeeeee!” Mabel cheered as she fell past them like a bullet. “This is just like skydiving with Mom and Dad!”

    “Without a parachute into a combat zone!” Marco shouted as he flailed at terminal velocity. Unlike everyone else, he was having second thoughts way past the point of no-return.

    Janna, pulling her hat down tighter so it didn’t go flying off, passed close to Marco. “Oh come on, the fall’s not so bad.”

    “Ja! It’s the landing that’ll kill us!” Misao shouted as she caught up with Mabel and joined hands with her and Janna to form a circle. Star dove headfirst in the gap between them, then opened her arms and legs wide to slow herself down.

    “WOOHOO!” She cheered, before she noticed four of the Magnavore Jet Fighters pulling into a climb towards them. “Oh, they’ve noticed us~!”

    Down on the ground, Noxic looked at Typus. “Hey! I bet three crates of beer that they get one of ‘em!”

    “You’re on, baby!” Typhus said.

    Jara tightened her grip on her blade.

    The fighters, nearly vertical, slowed down to line up on their falling targets, their sensors locking onto each falling teenager and their wing-mounted cannons swiveling to zero in on and correct for their target’s movement relative to their own.

    “You got a spell for them?!” Dipper asked.

    Star laughed in the face of their certain doom. “Yeah! High Explosive Beetle Blast!”

    A barrage of beams from above the falling children pummeled the body and wasp-like tail of the fighter. More beams followed, raining onto the other three fighters. Above their falling friends, the three Beetleborgs continue blasting away with their Input Magnums in Crashing Mode, forcing the fighters to break off, all trailing smoke to the surprise of the Magnavores below.

    “Man, those kids are crazy!” Noxic yelled.

    Typhus almost wanted to cheer them on as they came down, in no small part because of his newly won cases of beer. “Yeah baby, this is nuts!”

    Jara tensed up and said nothing.

    “Star!” Dipper shouted. “All we gotta do now is stick the landing!”

    “One soft landing coming up! Super Summon Cloudy Charm!” Aiming her wand down, Star fired a pink ray that shot down ahead of them and expanded into a large pink cloud.

    She hit it first, disappearing into the pink, cotton candy like structure, followed by Mabel, Misao, Dipper, Janna, and finally the flailing and screaming Marco. The Beetleborgs landed one by one in crouches, the ground denting into shallow craters from the force of their impact.

    The pink cloud drifted to a gentle stop just above the ground behind them. Emerging from the inside of the cloud, Star smiled down at it. “Thanks, Cloudy.”

    A cherubic face appeared on the Cloud’s front. “Oh, you’re welcome, Star!”

    Waving her wand, she dispelled the cloud and everyone inside fell to the ground in a heap. The Beetleborgs turned to face the others as they began getting up.

    Janna rose first, and was helped to her feet by Drew. “Well, cross skydiving off my bucket list… after putting it on it.”

    Misao, who landed on Mabel, lifted her head from her chest and looked up at her. “The best moments in life can be the unexpected ones, I think.”

    Mabel nodded back. “Mmhm!”
    “Don’t I know it,” Janna said while taking her hat off to shake out the dust.

    Marco sat up, rubbing his face. “Some unexpected things can be very bad too, case in point.”

    He looked down and saw he was straddling Dipper, who was staring at the sky with an unreadable expression. “Are you okay?”

    “Yes, please get off,” Dipper’s eyes widened and he verbally reeled. “Up. Up. So I can stand.”

    Marco stood, and he and Star both helped him to his feet.

    Dipper rubbed his back. “I’ll take a hard landing after a fall of six feet over one of six thousand any day.”

    Flabber came out onto the porch and brightened when he saw everyone. “Oh hey, kids! Nice of you to-”

    “Don’t you dare say it!” Jo shouted.

    Flabber buttoned up his lip and looked off to his right.

    The Red Strikerborg stared at the Phasm.

    Flabber opened the corner of his mouth.

    “No!” She yelled.

    Flabber cast his gaze to the ground with a sad whimper.

    Mabel trotted past Jo. “Oh we love dropping by to see you, Flabber~”

    Jo groaned as Flabber lit back up into his incandescent self.

    Marco patted her on the shoulder. “You tried.”

    “Anyway, come on in!” Flabber spun around to the other side of the door, dressed as a fifty’s era housewife complete with a bright yellow apron over a similarly gaudy Sunday dress and a beehive hairdo. In his free hand he balanced a large tray with plastic cups, a pitcher of lemonade, and a plate piled with fresh chocolate chip cookies. “I’ve got cookies and lemonade for your long day of fighting evil~!”

    Dipper was first through the door and headed straight for the Organ Room. Janna, on his heels, took the lemonade. “Sweet.”

    “It’s actually a little on the tart side,” Flabber corrected.

    Misao grabbed the cups. “Danke!”

    “Bitte~!” Flabber called back.

    Mabel, bringing up the rear, took the whole tray of cookies. “You’re the ghost with the most, Flabber!”

    Flabber wagged his hand back at Mabel. “Oh you~”

    Jo rolled her eyes. “Come on.”

    Drew smacked Jo’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about that for now.”

    She turned around, and with the others faced down the Magnavores, Saberizer, and their fifty Scabs. The group marched towards the house, Jara at the very front, the red-adorned warrior woman’s blade already glowing in anticipation of the fight.

    “Speaking of bad jokes,” she said.

    Marco rolled his shoulders and hopped from one foot to the other, limbering up. “They’re going all out.”

    Roland tightened his fists and got ready. “Good, then so can we.”

    @@@@@

    Inside Hillhurst, as the organ slid open to reveal the way to the Beetle Battle Base, Flabber called over to Dipper and the others. “Hey, there are a ton more of the bad guys out there than ever.”

    “What?” He went to the window to look out and saw for himself the Magnavores’ numbers. “Uh oh.”

    Mabel peered over his shoulder. “There’s even more of them!”

    Misao and Janna came to the windows next. The latter regarded the advancing force with prompt dismissal.

    “Oh no, more Scabs… the scarred and gnarled guy with the sword’s kinda cute, though.”

    For the most part.

    Dipper didn’t care much for this development, for what it meant. “They’re experimenting with their abilities, seeing what limits they have in summoning.”

    Misao looked back to see the organ open. “Then let’s explore our own limits.”

    Dipper nodded and called out to the guys skilled or equipped for this kind of thing. “Once the Beetle Base is up we’ll roast these guys with the defenses, you guys gonna be okay until then?”

    Star spun her wand in her hand, as Marco moved into his karate stance. “We’ll take care of it!”

    Jara, raised her blade in front of her face, her vision tunneling on Star. “Yes, come… get taken care of!”

    She thrust her blade forward and the Scabs charged, waving their weapons above their heads. Looking to one another, Jo cracked her knuckles, and Roland snapped his fingers.

    “We got this,” they said together, before the Red Strikerborg jumped and the Green Hunterborg vanished. The Scabs looked up and watched as Jo fell onto them, her fist pulled back. Plunging into the middle of their ranks, Jo punched the ground and set off an explosion that scattered the dozens of robot foot soldiers in every direction.

    As Jara stopped short of the plume of swirling dust, she heard Star shout from the other side of it. “Bunny Rabbit Blast!”

    Star burst through the dust, fire in her eyes and skulls on her cheek as she transformed her wand into a mace. Turning herself around twice for momentum, she let out a yell and swung the wand-turned-bludgeon down on Jara’s head. The weapon stopped short, crashing against the flat of Saberizer’s falchion.

    “My General is not so easily struck in my presence!” Saberizer shouted as he riposted her attack so Jara could extend her energy whip into a rigid blade and lance through Star’s heart.

    Transforming her wand back, Star dropped out of the path of the beam and landed in front of both of them as Saberizer stepped to her right and allowed Jara to lunge with another stab. She went left, diving past Jara and aiming her wand at Saberizer. “Rainbow Fist Punch!”

    Saberizer swung his blade in a parrying slash to deflect the spell, but it connected in spite of the effort, pushing the swordsman back along the ground. As Jara raised her energy blade to bring it down on Star’s back, the Green Hunterborg abruptly appeared between them–his Input Magnum pointed in the Mercenary General’s face.

    “Wh-?!” Roland opened fire before she could finish, the first shot knocking her backward head first, and the second and third shots connecting with her chest and stomach in a shower of sparks.

    “You were talking about not getting touched?!” Roland shouted before he turned to see Typhus coming at him like a freight train that never skipped arm day.

    His right arm turning fully red, Typhus let out a bellow as he swung, the punch clearing the dust Jo kicked up. Both Roland and Star were nowhere to be found.

    “What the?!” The second set of eyes on his whale-like head did not fail him, spotting Star appear in the wake of a green blur just behind him. He swung his whole body around, the second mouth opening to fire a ray at Star, when Roland crashed into him.

    The Hunter Claw secured around his neck, Roland slammed Typhus headfirst into the ground and dragged him through the dirt and rock, digging a long trench with his body. Reaching the end of the vineyard he swung him up over his head and drove him down into the ground with enough force to make a small crater.

    “Thank you!” Star shouted to Roland, before she turned and used her wand to block Saberizer’s sword. Jumping back to avoid two more strikes of the falchion, she unleashed another spell with a swing of her wand. “Hard Bass Sword Rave!”

    In a flash of light, five swords–a claymore, a rapier, a katana, a scimitar, and a cutlass–materialized and shot at Saberizer. With expertise he deflected each blade, only for the thrown aside weapons to right themselves in midair and attack again, putting him on the defensive.

    Satisfied to see Saberizer preoccupied, Star turned her attention back to the Scabs, raising her wand and firing another explosive spell that carved through the mooks before they could gang up on her.

    In front of the house, Marco, Jo, and Drew’s battle with the Scabs was a wild melee. Multiple blades came down on Marco from all sides, only to miss or have their trajectories knocked off course by his quick hands. When one stabbed at his front, he used his sidestep to side kick a Scab in the head. A second blow, vertical chop, was evaded and punished by a spinning backfist that connected with the dead center of the Scab’s face.

    Jumping onto the back of a Scab that attempted to spear tackle him into the ground, Marco leaped and flew a kick into the forehead of a third Scab. The rebound from the blow sent him into a spin, and he landed hard on his feet to face another Scab coming at him head on. A second Scab, scrambling to corner him, came at Marco’s exposed back.

    An Input Magnum beam holed the head of the Scab attacking Marco’s back, and the one running at his front just disappeared, replaced by Jo finishing the motion of the punch that she plowed into it. Marco looked to his right, as he heard what sounded like a cannonball ricochet on the hill at the end of the vineyard opposite the house and saw a puff of dust and dirt the Scab-projectile left behind on the hill’s lip.

    The Blue Stingerborg’s Input Magnum shots hammered two more Scabs, as Drew moved to cover Marco’s back. “Just keep beating the crap out of these guys, we won’t let them get close to you.”

    He made good on that reassurance immediately, imposing himself between Marco and Noxic, the latter’s electric attack crashing against his armored body. “Hngh!”

    Even as bolts of plasma arced up and down his arms, Drew raised his Input Magnum and fired at Noxic, who ducked and rolled out of the way. “You can take a hit and keep standin’ now?!”

    He spun in place and drew his umbrella. “I’m just gonna have to hit ya twice as hard!”

    Drew fired back at him, forcing Noxic to deflect the shots with his umbrella. “You’ll need to hit even harder than that!”

    Before Noxic could even try, Star broke free of her own melee and attacked. “Sunny Ocean Sandblast!”

    Noxic turned his umbrella towards Star and stopped the swirling stream of ocean water, sand, starfish, crabs, and clams that shot from Star’s wand. “You’re lucky I don’t rust, or I’d be really mad-!” He looked up to see Jo looming over him to punch him square in the face. “Aw nuts.”

    In that same moment, Typhus’s monstrous claw grabbed Roland and the much stronger Magnavore hauled him up as he rose to his feet. Spotting Noxic’s situation, he rectified it in the most expedient fashion possible–pitching Roland like a fastball into Jo and sending them both tumbling end over end.

    “Haha, nice one!” Noxic congratulated before a torrent of flame from Drew’s Input Magnum in Flame Mode engulfed him. “AH! HOT! HOT! HOTHOTHOTHOTHOT!”

    “Are you guys okay?!” Star shouted before the Katana from the Hard House Sword Rave Spell hit the ground at her feet from her left and dissolved. Looking the way it came from, she found Saberizer bearing down at her.

    “Clever tricks, witch!” He yelled as he swung.

    “Witch?!” She leaned back to limbo underneath Saberizer’s falchion. Rising, she twirled clear of a wide diagonal slash that would’ve otherwise split her in two. “I’m a Magical Princess! Dagger Crystal Heart Attack!”

    Wand aimed at Saberizer, she unleashed a torrent of razor-sharp crystal hearts, and Saberizer twirled his blade in circles from one side to the other, deflecting each projectile away from him. “Try again, sorceress!”

    Star swung her wand back and forth. “That’s better, but still wrong! Shooting Star Explosion!”

    A trio of spinning stars fired at Saberizer next, and he hesitated not in cleaving through each–creating an explosion that enveloped him. “Grah!”

    Star used the explosions to backpedal and open the distance. It was a wise move, as Jara erupted from the spell’s smoke and lashed out at her wildly with her beam whip.

    “What must it take for you aggravating brats to give up and DIE?!” She yelled while her overpowered swings tore chunks out of the old vineyard and the ground beneath it.

    Star turned her backpedaling into a graceful dance, leaping from one leg to the other, twirling and spinning around Jara’s attacks and the debris they kicked up for no less than five of the devastating strikes. Landing on both feet, she swung her wand down and fired a spell at the ground. “Smoke Bomb Blast!”

    As the smoke swirled around her, Jara yelled and lashed out with her whip, clearing the cloud around her from the waist up. Marco sprang up from her left, spun, and kicked her in the back of her head. “Surprise!”

    The blow threw Jara into the ground on her face, and she slid to a stop, very still. “I hate them. All of them.”

    Star came up behind him, and both turned around one another to catch each other’s hand as Star kicked a Scab in the head, decapitating it, while Marco punched a second Scab in the chest with such force that mechanical wasps sprayed out its back. They let each other go, turned towards the remaining Scabs, and Marco placed his hand over Star’s holding the wand as she aimed it at another large group of them.

    “SUPER MEGA NARWHAL BLAST!” She yelled, and the barrage of Narwhals tore through the robot warriors, leaving few left.

    “You okay?” He asked, turning to her as the last mechanical wasp fell to the ground and dissolved.

    She glanced back at him in turn. “We just gotta last a little longer!”

    “You ain’t even got a second left!” Typhus yelled as he came down on both of them with a hammer blow. His fists came down on their skulls, both of them dead to rights in his sights.

    Just centimeters away from his fists connecting, millimeters, Typhus ground to a halt. Star, Marco, the entire world for everyone but Roland was near perfectly still. Jogging over to his unarmored friends, Roland picked them both up and carried them over to the front of Hillhurst. He then jogged back over to pick up Jara, who was in the middle of getting back up to her feet and carried her over to where Star and Marco had previously been.

    Dusting his hands off, Roland took a few more steps back, entered Crashing Mode in his Input Magnum and aimed it at Typhus as he slowed down.

    Typhus’s fists crashed down on Jara’s back, driving her into the ground.

    “Take that, baby!” He shouted before the dust cleared to reveal Jara face down in the hole she made in the dirt shaped like her body. “Uhh… wait-”

    Roland’s Crashing Mode rounds hammered into Typhus, driving him backward. Seeing Roland appear and open fire, Drew joined in with beam mode shots–the more powerful semi-automatic beams shoving him back faster along the stream of fire Roland pushed him with.

    Noxic, still trying to put himself out, heard Typhus’ wails. “Hang on, buddy! I’m comin’!”

    “Let me help you get there!” Jo yelled as she grabbed Noxic by the arm and ran at Typhus. “THROW PEOPLE AT ME WILL YOU, MOTHERFUCKER?!”

    She swung Noxic around and threw the burning android at his monster man best bud. There was an explosion, and Typhus slammed into the ground at the far end of the Vineyard, unconscious. A broken and malfunctioning Noxic landed on his back, his uncontrollable short-circuiting shocking Typhus over and over.

    Star and Marco looked over towards the Beetleborgs. Marco rubbed the side of his head, as he realized what must’ve happened for them to be several meters away from where they’d been. “Okay, Hunterborg. You get a free pass for that one.”

    “That was awesome, Strikerborg!” Star said. “Awesome enough to make me forget most of the crappy stuff you said! Get ‘im, girl!”

    Jo let out a laugh as she turned to face Saberizer, who recovered from the Shooting Star Explosion. “It feels so good to be actually wailing on these punks, now!”

    Roland flickered to appear beside her. “Yeah. We may not be good fighters, but we definitely know how to use these powers!”

    Drew watched the two of them swagger out towards Saberizer and couldn’t help but feel a little envious of the two of them and their powers. Marco rubbed the sweat from his brow, as Star gripped her wand, ready to jump in.

    Jara pulled her head out of the dirt with a pained groan. “What… what is even happening?!”

    Saberizer stared at the Green Hunterborg and the Red Strikerborg, and rested his falchion on his right shoulder, tapping the flat of the blade against his helmet. “Is it really something to be so proud of? Your ignorance?”

    “What we’re proud of… is that as new as we are at this, we’re still able to beat you!” Jo shouted as she charged at him.

    His left hand reaching behind his back, he brought around to his hip the scabbard of his falchion, his right hand bringing the blade to sheath it. When Marco heard the clack of the blade locking into the scabbard and saw Saberizer’s stance widen and lower, he lunged forward with alarm.

    “WAIT! DON’T GET TOO CLOSE!”

    Once more everything slowed to a stop, with Jo in place pulling her punch in confusion from Marco’s shouting, Marco himself frozen mid-shout, while Star was caught between acting and wondering what he was shouting about.

    Roland stepped up to Saberizer’s side and rested the Input Magnum against the unarmored left side of his head. “Nah, bruh.”

    Before he could pull the trigger, Saberizer unsheathed his blade, striking both Roland and Jo in the same motion and scattering them away from him in different directions. The two froze in the air, sprawled out as sparks began to leap from their damaged armor.

    “Your ignorance is the mistaken belief that power can overcome skill.”

    Pulling his blade back, then flicking it back out to his side, he brought the sword and scabbard together again and sheathed the blade–stopping just short of locking the hilt.

    “Consider yourselves enlightened.”

    He locked the hilt, and the world resumed its normal speed, explosions ripping off the green and red armor as their wearers fell to the ground.

    As the violent reversal played out, Jara nodded. “Yes, this is how it is supposed to be going.”

    Saberizer turned to her. “General, we need to discuss the quality of the company you keep, and the detriment it is causing your skill.”

    Marco landed in front of Saberizer with enough force to crack the ground beneath his feet. In an instant Saberizer drew his sword to cleave through him and missed wide as Marco leaped directly above him to swing a kick down into the top of Saberizer’s head.

    Dauntless of Marco’s maneuver, Saberizer raised his falchion to run him through. “Not quick enough, boy!”

    The very tip of the blade began to cut through the front of his hoodie–when another blade crashed into his with enough force to dislodge it from Saberizer’s hand. Flipping end over end, the falchion struck the ground at Jara’s feet, and she took a step back in surprise.

    Marco landed to the side of Saberizer and looked back to see the afternoon sun gleaming off the monomolecular edge of the Stinger Blade. Drew stood in front of Saberizer, the blade raised between the two, panting heavily from the mad dash he made to save his friend from being countered.

    Saberizer stared at the expressionless helmet of the Blue Stingerborg, then glanced at his hand, then out the corner of his eye at Jara and his sword. For the briefest moment, he wondered what had happened.

    The Blue one… I did not even see him move. He thought, before he did notice Star holding up an alarmingly glowing wand.

    “SUPER GEYSER WINDSTORM!” She yelled, and Saberizer crossed his arms to guard against the torrent of water that threw him back and just past Jara.

    Jara turned towards Star, but only saw power and fury radiating from the girl, her cheek marks glowing, as she turned the spell from water to electricity.

    “ROLLING THUNDER LIGHTNING BLAST!”

    Alarmed, Jara ignited her energy blade and swung it down into the beam of lightning Star fired at her, the blade cleaving the attack in twain and scattering it away from Saberizer, Typhus and Noxic behind her. Feeling the stray bolts course through her, leaving blinding agony in their wake, Jara clenched her jaw tight to endure the attack with a desperate growl through her teeth.

    The scattering bolts of lightning devastated the vineyard, ripping the rows asunder and carving deep, scorched cuts up the path from Hillhurst and into the hills surrounding it. For ten whole seconds it surged and split against Jara’s blade, until it finally dissipated, leaving dense clouds of ionized smoke and dust hanging over the vineyard.

    “Haa… haa… haa… haa…” Slumping forward, her blade nearly slipping out of her hands, Jara looked into the electricity-filled haze.

    She could see two heart-shaped points of light–then two more points just above and between them in the shape of glowing, angry eyes as Star’s silhouette slowly distinguished itself from the smoke.

    The ground began to shake, and Jara looked higher to see the Beetle Battle Base emerge above Hillhurst Mansion. Her pained breathing became weak chuckling that grew stronger into triumphant laughter. She looked back down at Star, and despite every instinct telling her to run, she gestured out to her.

    “Well, then… I suppose now that it’s out? This…?” The droning whine of the Magnavore Jet Fighters diving in towards the Beetle Battle Base filled the air. “Is checkmate.”

    Closing in, the fighters' tails swung under their bodies, until their ends were pointed at the newly risen structure.

    Seeing them, Drew realized what they were going to do. “Their missiles!”

    Marco looked at him. “What about them?”

    “We can’t let those things fire, they will destroy the base and Hillhurst with it!”

    Star looked around and smiled. “They won’t get the chance.”

    Before the fighters could do anything with their new arrangement, the air was filled with the louder, deeper pulses as almost a dozen large dome-shaped laser cannons situated around the house and the Beetle Battle Base opened fire–clearing the smoke around them. Their bright pink beams surged skyward, slashing through the Magnavore Jet Fighter formations and blasting all eight of them out of the sky in seconds.

    “See?” Star said as the smoke cleared, revealing Marco, Drew, Roland, and Jo standing with her. The Princess pointed her wand at Jara, her hearts turned into skulls again. “Time’s up. You lose!”

    Jara reaffirmed her grip on her weapon and took a step back. “We must withdraw.”

    She stood and crossed her arms to teleport, when she remembered just that one unfortunate detail and froze in place.

    Damn it! I forgot we cannot teleport here!

    The cannons that ravaged the Magnavore Jet Fighters traversed and depressed their lenses, bringing them down to aim at her and her downed friends. From the Beetle Battle Base itself, Dipper’s voice spoke.

    “You can either give up now, or get blasted into stray particles, what’s it going to be?!”

    Jara clenched her teeth. “I will not yield to you brats!”

    “Stray atoms it is,” Dipper said as the cannons began to charge.

    Before they could fire, a familiar, booming voice echoed.

    “ENOUGH.”

    The ground warped beneath Jara, before a massive hand ripped through the ground and grabbed her, before yanking her under the ground. A second hand rose and snatched Noxic, Typhus, and Saberizer away. What remaining Scabs left behind, regardless of functionality, quickly began to dissolve.

    “What the…?” Dipper asked.

    The guys on the ground were no less disbelieving.

    “That… that was Vexor’s hand!” Jo shouted.

    Roland looked at the others, then back at the house. “What the heck, man! I thought the Anti-Teleport Field could keep them out!”

    When Dipper spoke again, they could hear all sorts of alarms going on in the background. “There was a massive breach of time and space just now! I… I think Vexor just brute-forced his way through the field to drag his people out!”

    “Ja, confirmed! The exact location where the events just happened, the barrier’s in the red!” Misao reported.

    They heard Mabel next. “Holy cow! And pig! And goat! How much power did it take to do that?!!”

    “I… I don’t know,” Drew said. “But… I think we won.”

    Star jumped up and cheered. “We won~!”

    She turned and hugged Marco. “We won! And you’re not hurt!”

    She pulled back and looked at him. “Are you hurt?”

    Marco smiled back at Star and lifted up his shirt to reveal the blade hadn’t touched him. “I’m fine, not a scratch on me.”

    She laughed and rested her forehead against his, as she rubbed his back. “I’m glad.”

    Jo shook her head. “Geez… Roland, did you catch what he hit us with?”

    “I think he pulled like some Kenshin, Zatoichi crap on us,” Roland replied–before adding. “It was rad as heck, though. Not as rad as you throwing Noxic at Typhus.”

    Jo laughed and raised both arms, pumping them. “They got their free passes to the gun show~!”

    Star, full energy all the way, ducked under one of Jo’s raised arms and joined Drew’s side to pat his armored chest. “Did you see what Stingerborg did?!”

    “Yeah, he disarmed that Saber dude and saved my neck,” Marco added.

    Roland turned towards Drew. “Yo, get out of here! I can’t believe I missed that!”

    Star bounced up and down in excitement. “I saw the whole thing, he was like ‘swoosh’ and Saberizer went ‘what?!’ and then I blasted him with my Super Geyser Windstorm!”

    Marco, who was even closer, nodded. “I didn’t even see you move, man. How’d you get there so fast?”

    Drew was given pause and looked down at the Stinger Blade. “Actually? I don’t know, I saw that saber guy trying to stab you and I just didn’t even think then.”

    Jo folded her arms and gave her brother an approving nod. “And to think you didn’t even need any special power to do it. Very nice, bro.”

    “Yeah, to think…” Underneath the helmet, Drew frowned as he continued staring at the Stinger Blade.

    Flabber came back to the door. “Hey guys, I bet you worked up an appetite saving the day. There’s more snacks and drinks inside!”

    Star lit up. “Mabel, you better have saved me some cookies~!”

    Marco followed. “Let’s head in, so Flabber can clean this place up.”

    Roland followed. “I hope the base recorded the fight. I need to see you throwing Noxic at Typhus.”

    Jo agreed. “Right?”

    Drew quietly brought up the rear, still looking at his Stinger Blade all the way to the porch.

    As everyone went inside, the Beetle Battle Base retracted into the ground, and Flabber got to work cleaning up the mess, none paid any attention to the now no-longer hostile skies.

    “Tower, US 618. We’ve got eyes on what the unidentified fighter jets were shooting at…”

    = - = 42 = - =

    Uh oh.
     
    Advocacy for the Devil
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 43 = - =

    |Advocacy for the Devil|

    Jara, on her hands and knees and almost all her exposed skin wrapped in gauze and bandages, stared at the crypt’s floor and the base of the sarcophagus that Vexor still remained within. Behind her, on her right, Typhus finished healing from his wounds. On her left, Noxic lay in a disjointed heap, sparks popping off his damaged body. Directly behind her, at the far end of the Saberizer sat in the lotus position, with his sheathed falchion across his lap–he was meditating on the battle fought.

    She wished she could meditate, if to be anywhere but near Vexor’s suffocating presence emanating from his temporary tomb.

    “For what it’s worth… I am not angry.” Vexor spoke through the gap created by the ajar lid. “Just very disappointed.”

    “Absolutely nothin’,” Noxic said. “That’s exactly how much it’s worth.”

    “I could be angry.”

    “And that’s worth less than nothin’.” Noxic said.

    Typhus bit back his snicker. Jara’s shoulders shook, and she praised her mask for hiding her clenched expression as she held in her own laughter. It hurt to laugh, and it’d hurt even more to laugh at Vexor now.

    “This was to be your grand show of force Jara, and yet this was our most debilitating setback to date.” Vexor’s words cut into her even as they conveniently ignored the circumstances that laid him up such as he was. “What have we learned from this?”

    Jara raised her head. “Attacking the house is no longer viable. It is too well defended, and its counter to teleportation makes any withdrawal difficult under the best of circumstances.”

    She looked back down, “The Beetleborgs are also stronger than we have encountered, having abilities that they use to patch up their lack of combat experience.”

    She let out a seething hiss. “And the Butterfly is still aggravating with her magic.”

    A long, contemplative hum rang from the tomb. “The Butterfly, the young man she appears close to, and those other children besides the Beetleborgs… on them from now on. The house can wait until its defenders are out of the picture.”

    Jara nodded. “I was thinking the same thing actually.”

    “There is more to this world than just that house, go out and see it–surely there awaits wisdom that could bring victory.” A clawed hand rose to curl around the edge of the heavy stone lid. “I leave that to you.”

    With that he pulled the lid shut, only to catch his fingers with it.

    “Ow.”

    A thump followed as he freed them and let the sarcophagus fall closed.

    Noxic’s broken neck managed to roll his head to look at Jara as she rose to her feet. “Does this mean Vexor’s lettin’ us do what we want?”

    “Do you want to interpret it that way?”

    “Yes.”

    “Then do what you want, as long as it goes toward defeating those insect children.”

    “You betcha Jara. I’ll do it for you, because I respect you, and Typhus, and even you Saberizer.”

    Vexor’s muffled voice came from inside the sarcophagus. “When I am back on my feet Noxic, I will be removing your head from your neck and installing it up your exhaust port.”

    “Jokes on you, I don’t have an exhaust port! High-efficiency, baby!”

    “I will take the time to craft you one and it will be exceedingly superfluous.”

    Typhus got up and watched the last of his wounds disappear. “When we find out where those kids hang out, we can bring the fight straight to ‘em, baby!”

    “You can do that, I gotta get a workshop going or else I’m gonna end up bein’ more patchwork than working, know what I mean?” Noxic complained.

    Jara agreed. “It is for the best. Typhus and I can handle finding the brats.”

    Saberizer took his sheathed blade in hand and stood. “General, if I may speak freely?”

    The Mercenary General turned to face her subordinate, bracing herself for what he had to say. She didn’t forget his comment from before. “Da, go ahead.”

    “Fighting all of them at once doesn’t work, even with large numbers of Scabs at our disposal,” he said, “So, allow me to seek out and engage enemy elements as the hunter, so that you may fall upon them as the killer.”

    Jara could see something burning inside Saberizer, she heard it in his voice. A slight tremble–not of fear but anticipation. “Eager to seek them out?”

    He held up his Falchion and slowly unsheathed it, revealing a nick in the blade where the Stinger Blade cut into it to disarm him. “As much to avenge your honor after our defeat, I must satisfy my curiosity.”

    He sheathed the blade with a click that echoed in the crypt. “Grant me this request, General, and I shall complete our mission without fail!”

    Jara nodded. “We will be right behind you, Typhus and I, and as many Jet Fighters as we can muster to support you.”

    Saberizer knelt before Jara in salute. “You have my highest gratitude, General.”

    “Let me know how that works out for ya!” Noxic said.

    Typhus gave the android a thumb’s up. “I’ll bring you back some scrap from the scrap, baby!”

    “You’re the coolest, Typhus. You and Jara, and you too Saberizer!” Noxic looked towards the sarcophagus, daring Vexor to say a thing.

    When he didn’t, he laughed. “And no one else.”

    The lid pushed up. “I’m not even going to dignify that with a retort.”

    “Too late, you already di-” Arcs of electricity surged from the gap left by the raised lid, sending Noxic’s broken body into a thrashing fit.

    Jara shook her head as Saberizer looked up at her. “Is that capable of even hurting Noxic?”

    “Yes, but it won’t kill him,” she said. “Still… this is his victory.”

    Typhus grumbled. “It’s about the only way to win against Vex…”

    The lightning ceased and without a word from Vexor as promised, the casket closed.

    @@@@@

    Standing on the front porch of Hillhurst, Drew leaned against the railing with Roland. Both watched the sun sink towards the crest of the hills straddling the valley Hillhurst Mansion sat in. While his best friend admired the once more untouched scenery restored by Flabber’s magic, Drew’s gaze was cast down at his right hand as he opened and closed it.

    He was replaying the moment over and over in his mind: Himself watching Marco swing himself around to kick Saberizer, while the Mercenary Warrior’s blade rose towards his heart. He didn’t even remember when he started moving, but he was–reaching Saberizer and swinging the Stinger Blade into the falchion to knock it out of his hand before he could stab Marco.

    It’s like my body just knew what to do. He thought.

    And that was the problem he had. While he was glad that he saved Marco’s life, and there was no argument that his move was a decisive one…

    Not even one of my friends almost dying was enough to trigger my power. His expression darkened with his thoughts. Unless my power is my body turning off my stupid brain so that it can get things done. That would be fair for someone like me, right?

    He hissed through his teeth; a faint snarl directed at himself.

    Stop, damn it.

    Roland heard his sharp breath and turned to him. “You good?”

    “I’m good,” he replied, looking nowhere but at his right hand.

    There was a crash and shouting behind them, inside the house. Looking back through the window, they both found Jo lifting Frankenbeans over her head, fire in her eyes as she faced off against Mums. The Mummy was scrambling back from her towards the stairs, hands raised in capitulation.

    “H-hey! Watch where you’re wavin’ that thing!” He pleaded.

    Frankenbeans, flailing, cried out. “No pet! No pet!”

    “You’re darn right no pet, I’m not gonna be anybody's, especially a bunch of moldy weirdos like you!” She yelled before throwing Frankenbeans onto Mums, both monsters hit the stairs and tumbled up them from the sheer force of her throw before landing in a heap at the top of the steps.

    Dusting her hands off, Jo let out a harsh and loud snort. “Who else wants some?!”

    Fangula, who’d been intending to swoop in for a bite, presumably with some gauche line about wanting more than some, quietly closed the door to the hallway to avoid being seen. Ghoulum, who wanted to test Jo’s strength but liked the house in a non-destroyed state, said nothing.

    “That’s what I thought,” Jo snapped with her nose upturned.

    “Attagirl!” Flabber, lying on the bannister with his head propped up on one hand, pointed at her with the other. “Like I keep saying! Show them who’s boss and they won’t bother ya!”

    “If they don’t know, now they know!” Jo flexed her right arm, showing off a modest bicep that belied her unfathomable strength. Looking out the window, and noticing her brother and Roland, she waved to Flabber–who gave her finger guns and a kachow in reply–and headed out onto the porch.

    Roland, an eyebrow raised, had to ask. “What was that about?”

    Drew looked away from Jo and back out at the hills as she replied. “I was exploring the kitchen, seeing if there was anything salvageable back there. Then Frankenbeanie spotted me and decided that he wanted to try making me his pet again! Hmph! I started teaching him a lesson when Mums jumped in and well… you saw.”

    Roland chuckled. “You’d think the old bean would know better.”

    She joined the two at the railing and settled against it between the two. “He ain’t all there, but that’s okay. If I got these guns, I don’t even have to transform to punk those punks.”

    Drew clenched his hand into a fist, and his entire forearm trembled.

    Out of the corner of her eye Jo noticed her brother’s clenched fist, but just as quickly the end of Star’s Dimensional Scissors opened a hole in the air and then opened a portal into reality. Both she and Roland lit up as the portal spread to full size and Mabel poked her head out.

    “Da-daa-da-daa~!” She cheered. “The Dimensional Scissors have been whitelisted!”

    Jumping out of the portal, Mabel stomped down on one foot and held her arms out, like she were a bird or a plane. “Now when we want to drop by, we don’t have to drop by!”

    Jo made a face at Mabel’s wordplay.

    Flabber leaned into view in the window, holding a tablet. “Sure you don’t want me to buy an airbag just in case?”

    “Don’t worry about throwing any money down the chute, Flabber.”

    “I don’t mind making the leap for you guys at all!”

    Jo groaned. “Please stop.”

    Misao strutted out, bouncing with each step, before she gave Mabel a playful hip-check, making her bounce too. “It was nothing, the Beetle Battle Base’s systems are like the back of my hand, ja? I can make it do whatever I want now.”

    “Except make the internet speed up,” Janna said as she emerged with Star.

    Misao shrugged her shoulders. “That is a hardware limitation, not software.”

    “Or squishware,” Mabel said as she picked up Misao and cuddled her, making her giggle.

    “Squishware has no limitations!” She declared as she raised her fists high

    Janna poked Misao’s chest from her right. “It’s definitely optimized.”

    Misao giggled, and even more when she noticed Drew and Roland averting their eyes from her chest with all their might.

    Dipper and Marco were the last through the portal, joining everyone as the aperture disappeared. The former turned to Flabber and nodded to him in greeting. “From here on out, expect at least one of us to be here so we can keep on the lookout for the Magnavores.”

    “Flab out! It’ll be nice to have you over without the house getting blown up, or at least the guys will like it!”

    “No, we still hate all of you!” Mums yelled from where he was still beheaped with Frankenbeans.

    Flabber mouthed “He doesn’t mean that” to the kids.

    “Yeah we do!” Flabber flinched under Mums’ yell.

    “On that note,” Janna then spoke up. “I’m not gonna be out here Saturday.”

    Jo brightened a bit. “Really? You’re not?”

    Drew and Roland both rolled their eyes. Janna knew just like them why Jo would be so excited to hear that.

    “Yeah, I’m crashing the Homecoming Dance,” she revealed.

    Misao gasped. “Really?!” She slipped from Mabel’s arms and bounded over to Janna. “Do you need a dress? I can get you one very quick, ja?”

    Janna wagged a hand dismissively. “No need, I know exactly what I’m wearing and what I’m doing.”

    She put her arm over Star’s shoulders and gestured to her. “Since Brittney banned Star, it’s my duty to be there.”

    Marco did a double take; this was the first time he’d heard about it thanks to his preoccupation with Trip’s nonsense. “Wait, Brittney banned you?!”

    “Right?” Star asked. “She said it was for the stuff during the football game.”

    “We already got punished for that, though,” Marco said, reiterating what many held as true.

    “That’s why I’m going no matter what she says.”

    Janna nodded. “With you all the way”

    Dipper scowled. “Get a picture of the look on her face when she sees you’re there.”

    Star beamed to Dipper. “Oh, you know I will!”

    Jo looked aside innocently enough. “I mean, pissing Brittney off is cool and all, but do we need more enemies?”

    Bait taken; Star turned to Jo. “What she’s doing isn’t fair!”

    “And petty,” Janna added. “I mean, it’s not even going into what she said when she banned her.”

    Jo nodded. “Uh huh? And need I remind you that there’s people trying to jump Dipper on the behalf of the Vanderhoffs–who are unfair and petty.”

    She stopped. “Oh, and rich, like Brittney is. Pissing her off sounds like it’d make our lives easier.”

    Misao, who’d been winding up to pitch her own argument about Brittney’s attitude, stopped when Jo’s point got there first, and hit in a frustratingly similar spot. Janna herself narrowed her eyes at Jo, then looked at Star who wasn’t about to have it at all.

    “I’m not going to let Brittney get in my face and flex on me, because she can’t get over one mistake!” She argued.

    Drew and Roland both turned around completely to face the confrontation, both not surprised that Jo was having a go at Star, but surprised that Jo was spitting if not facts, then good points.

    “One? She has every right to be pissed at you for all the crap you’ve done,” Jo said.

    “If I recall, you talked smack about her entire squad, then you went and caused the disaster at the game.” She hummed in mock-contemplation. “What else? Oh yeah, you crashed her birthday party when you weren’t invited and rolled the bus.”

    “Technically I did-” Marco began to say, only for Dipper to put a hand on his shoulder and advise him not to with a shake of his head.

    The color began to slip from Star’s face, as Jo folded her arms and continued her barrage.

    “The way I see it? This is strike two. You crash her dance, and anything happens, I mean anything that ruins it? She’ll come after you just as bad as Trip and Van go after Dipper. But because she’s not half as dumb as those two? It’ll be bad, we’ll all get caught up in it, and it’ll make fighting the Magnavores even harder.”

    The silence that followed for a moment after–the result of Dipper, Misao, Marco, Drew, and Roland digesting her point of view–was broken when Janna retorted. “Counterpoint: Brittney is a bitch and needs to be knocked down as many pegs as the Vanderhoffs.”

    “Yeah!” Star and Misao both said.

    “Besides,” the latter added with a firmness to her voice. “If a rich girl thinks her money will help her? She is badly mistaken.”

    Jo huffed. “Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Idiots would keep opening new fronts we don’t have to fight.”

    She gestured to Dipper. “We literally don’t know when or if the next jerk who comes after Dipper will–and after the last guys tried to film themselves running him down and beating him, we don’t know what they’ll do.”

    Jo held out her arms. “Do we really want to throw more money onto that mess?”

    Misao shut her mouth and looked down. Janna on the other hand, shrugged her shoulders and remained defiant. “I’m not afraid of anything Brittney can do to me, and I don’t even have superpowers… yet. I’m going to the dance, so she knows that I go where I want, whether I’m wanted or not.”

    “And so am I,” Star added.

    Mabel had been quiet to this point, but finally she spoke. “Janna? I think you’re right. You shouldn’t let Brittney tell you where you belong.”

    “Exactly!” Janna said with Star in chorus.

    “But Star…?”

    Star stopped, and Jo looked at Mabel directly. She had the look of reluctant admission: her lips creased into a frown as she successfully wrestled with maintaining eye contact with the princess.

    “You shouldn’t go to the dance.”

    “Whoa…” Roland said quietly.

    Misao almost looked like she’d been betrayed. “Mabel…”

    Star was struck, full-on blindsided by Mabel. “… Huh?”

    Dipper had caught her vibe when she pulled his proverbial lead earlier, so he knew what she was on. He looked back and forth between her and Star as she continued.

    “It’s not because we should be afraid of what Brittney might do… it’s more…” She took a deep breath. “… Brittney’s not wrong for kicking you out of the school stuff.”

    Star blinked, unable to process that. “Wh-what? She-but-she!”

    Marco wasn’t quite buying that either. “We already apologized and worked off what happened during Spirit Week!”

    Now that she said it, Mabel reaffirmed her position with more confidence. “Yeah, that’s the school though. Has anyone apologized to Brittney… for anything?”

    Marco opened his mouth to reply, then stopped. “… Oh.”

    Star appeared to wilt on the spot, as Mabel’s words struck deeper than Jo’s spiteful assaults could only think to. Looking around, and realizing she was now the center of everyone’s attention, Star slowly wound back up.

    “… Then… I’ll apologize to her!” She quickly said, to bounce back with as much force as she could.

    Marco agreed, as Mabel brightened. “Couldn’t hurt.”

    “Yep, I’ll do it first thing tomorrow!”

    Janna rolled her eyes, but Misao nodded in agreement. “That would be best.”

    Star was beaming again, as she pumped a fist. “Then Brittney will let me go to the dance! Problem solved and drama squashed!”

    And just like that, Mabel’s disappointment returned.

    Janna thought differently. “Don’t even apologize, all she’ll do is throw it in your face.”

    Roland spoke up. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try, and mean it.”

    “I swear I’ll mean it!” Star insisted with a dismissive wave. “I’ll apologize and I’ll even give her a gift to show how sorry I am! What does Brittney like?”

    Janna snorted. “Any sort of power and influence that makes up for her lack of personality.”

    “I can’t get her that, but she’ll get the next best thing!” Star declared.

    “People to mock in public so she can validate herself?” Janna asked.

    “It’ll be even better than that!” Star promised as Misao joined Mabel’s side.

    Dipper glanced at his sister, she looked like she’d seen this all before, intimately so. He understood it perfectly, having seen what she’d seen himself, with almost the same familiarity.

    “If you’re gonna apologize, I’ll back you up!” Mabel promised, almost despite herself.

    It was as if she’d forgotten that she’d been cornered by Mabel, as Star received her validation. “Just you watch, Mabel! By the end of the weekend, Brittney and I will be BFFs!”

    “Still saying,” Janna said, “Don’t even bother.”

    Jo hadn’t expected the leader of the Teen Girl Squad to take her side, let alone bring up stuff that she hadn’t even considered. She wasn’t going to question it though, clocks were right twice a day, and that’s all she needed to have her day made. “Well, if that’s settled, how about we end our day and go home?”

    She turned to Janna. “If you’re still going to the dance.”

    “I have my principles,” Janna assured her.

    “Then it’ll just be Marco, Dipper and I up here at the house.”

    Flabber pouted. “Aw, the guys love having Janna around.”

    “NO WE DON’T-” Mums stopped mid-yell. “Wait, Janna’s not coming up Saturday?”

    “Nah!” Flabber called back.

    Mums was angrier than ever. “Can’t have crap in Echo Creek!”

    “Love you guys,” Janna replied, her tone dry as the dead vineyard surrounding Hillhurst.

    Dipper rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, it’ll be just the three of us, I guess.”

    As Jo tried to not give away her internal preening, Roland shook his head at Drew. Sharing his best friend’s annoyance at Jo’s antics, Drew joined Roland in the gesture and looked down at his hand again–though briefly.

    He had a lot to think about, and he’d rather subject himself to his brain, than dump it on anyone else.

    = - = 43 = - =

    The Kids Are Alright.
     
    Escapism
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    Well...

    = - = 44 = - =

    |Escapism|

    “I bet it’s something cool, like flight or turning invisible.”

    Jo said it without prompt or any kind of warning, alerting Drew to a conversation he didn’t realize they were having until she spoke. They were back in town, walking down the sidewalk into the cul-de-sac of clay-tile roofed houses decorated with palm trees they called home. The sun was almost halfway sunk into the horizon and the streetlights were just beginning to turn on, but younger kids were still outside using up every second of daylight left.

    Drew looked at her as she stretched her arms with her fingers interlaced and palms outward. She was in a good mood, having a lot to look forward to this weekend.

    “What do you think?” she asked.

    He felt his tension ease, “Flight would be cool, but wouldn’t it be redundant?”

    Jo shrugged her shoulders after dropping her hands to her sides. “I guess it would, invisibility though?”

    Drew tilted his head from side to side as he mulled it over. “Yeah, that would be cool to have. Being able to sneak up on Jara, or Typhus? Maybe even Vexor.”

    “What about Noxic?” Jo asked as she broke into a little grin.

    Drew managed a smile too. “What about Noxic?”

    Jo chuckled as they turned and walked up the driveway. “Whatever it is it’s gonna be cool, all right?”

    He smiled a little more. “Thanks…”

    The two entered their home, and barely had stepped past the doorway into the living room when they heard their father’s voice. “I got a call from Mr. Pines. You two were helping him move furniture?”

    Both turned to face their father, seated on a recliner, reading the screen of a tablet computer. He looked out the corner of his eye at them both.

    “Yeah,” Drew answered. “He’s hosting a foreign exchange student, and her belongings arrived today. Roland helped too.”

    Mr. McCormick looked down at his tablet again as Drew spoke. “You’re telling me you skipped school for that…”

    Jo spoke up. “Performing acts of community service and charity is a valid reason to skip school. Especially if it’s helping the elderly.”

    He set down his tablet. “I know that. This is just the second time you’ve skipped class to ‘help out the elderly.’ And I’m wondering if that’s really what’s going on.”

    Drew tried not to get defensive. “If you’re so uncertain, talk to Mr. Pines and Nano.”

    “No, I’d rather not. I’d rather you not skip school. Not for assisting the elderly, especially if it’s for Sherman Pines or Nano.”

    Jo wasn’t having that. “Why?”

    “Because Sherman’s grandson punched out a kid in Nano’s shop, right in front of the both of them, and no one’s thought to do anything about it.”

    Jo lit right up. “Dipper punched him out because he was harassing Heather and Drew!”

    Mr. McCormick leveled a withering stare at his son. “… He was harassing you?”

    “Uhh… yeah, that’s what Trip does. He messes with me all the time.”

    Mr. McCormick slowly shook his head, his blunt scowl shifting to a sneer of disgust before he spoke. “You’re telling me that happened because you don’t stand up for yourself.”

    “It’s not his fault,” Jo said.

    Their father thought otherwise. “No, it is his fault.” He singled out his son. “It is your fault. You’re obsessed with those damn comic books and your superheroes, and you don’t know how to actually stand up for yourself.”

    He shook his hand at Drew. “Now people are getting beaten up in broad daylight because of you.”

    “That’s not even fair and you know it! You don’t even know how messed up Trip and his brother are!” Drew shouted.

    “I don’t need to; I don’t care whatever crap some rich punks get up to. They’re not my sons, you are.”

    Drew rolled his eyes. “Then what, am I supposed to punch Trip out myself?!”

    Mr. McCormick stopped and weighed on that. “I want you to start being a man. You’re too old to be letting people solve your problems or cover for you when you mess up. Accept responsibility for your actions for once!”

    Jo threw up her hands. “I’m gonna go do my homework!”

    She turned and stormed up the stairs, leaving her older brother to stand alone in the face of their father’s ire. Taking a deep breath, Drew nodded.

    “Yeah, I can take responsibility.”

    “Then you’re grounded for skipping school and making Jo do it with you. Twice.”

    Drew recoiled. “What?”

    “You just said you were going to take responsibility. Are you going to walk that back now?”

    “But I have stuff to do! I’m going to the dance on Saturday!”

    His father shook his head. “No, you’re not. Even if you weren’t grounded, you’re not. We both know that about you.”

    He adjusted his glasses again, this time with his ring finger, then pointed up the stairs. “You’ll be off the hook Monday. Now go to your room.”

    Frozen for an instant, Drew let out a frustrated growl and all but sprinted up the stairs. Jo was standing just outside his door, looking down the stairs.

    “The absolute gall! What’s up his butt today?!” She whispered.

    Drew looked back. “It could be half of LA for all I care. He’s not stopping me from going out if the Magnavores attack and you guys need me.”

    Jo nodded in agreement. “I’ve got your back. I’ll even help you sneak out so you can go to the dance if you want.”

    That took Drew aback some. “… Thanks…”

    Looking down the stairs again, Jo shook her head. “Don’t let him get under your skin, that’s what he wants.”

    Drew didn’t need to be reminded. “I’ll just do what I always do.”

    At that, Jo sighed. “And I do not begrudge you for it.”

    Then she remembered and lowered her voice even more. “Don’t forget to delete your messages for when he remembers he didn’t take your phone.”

    “I swear, once I get enough cash I’m buying a burner,” he muttered as he headed to his room.

    Going into his room and shutting it behind him, he dropped onto his bed. After erasing his group chat messages, he started a podcast and flopped onto his back, letting his phone drop to his side.

    “Hey guys, welcome to the next episode of Big Bad Beetle Bros podcast, where we talk about everything Beetleborgs. We got an update about the new director for the Big Bad Beetleborgs Movie, and the reshoots for the new actor of G-Stag, Ace Haley.”

    He looked around his room, on the walls were posters of the Beetleborgs, some carefully taped to the drywall while others were framed. On his desk, surrounding his own tablet, were neatly ordered comics, data books, and other miscellaneous literature about his favorite heroes. On the dresser across from his bed and the shelves next to his shallow closet were figurines and model kits of everything Beetleborgs, some boxed up to protect their value and others accurately posed.

    “Reddles and Stags, if you haven’t already heard? The man himself Robert Rodriguez, is going to be taking up the helm after Jerry Bruckheimer gave up on the production citing mental health–only to immediately sign on for the Kim Possible biopic.”

    Drew’s gaze moved across the room, over every piece of Beetleborgs memorabilia and material satisfaction. Things he bought with his own hard-earned money or were gifted to him by Jo, Roland, and Nano.

    His father was right about one thing, and this was all that he would give him: he was obsessed with comic books and superheroes. They were what got him a friend like Roland, what he and his sister bonded over, and the only thing he could talk to Heather about without tying his tongue into knots and looking like an idiot. Thanks to comic books, he had all the things in life that made him happy.

    At least… until he wished to become his heroes.

    “The crazy part about this is, Rodriguez has worked with each of the Beetleborg actors, Lucas Lee, Cindy MacDougal, and Ace Haley in three different film projects. It’s like everything is coming together perfectly. Three different actors from three different roles, assembling to create a masterpiece.”

    Drew turned off the podcast and looked specifically at a poster of the Blue Stingerborg posing shoulder to shoulder with the hero underneath, Blue Beet. He had once thought about dyeing his hair blue, to be just like him… but was pretty sure his dad would make him shave it off even if it could be washed out.

    Now he was more like him than he ever wanted.

    He lifted his right hand up and held it above his face. The armor, the power, he was given everything Blue Beet had… even his enemies.

    He let his hand fall onto his face with a soft clap.

    Take responsibility? If he only knew what I was taking responsibility for. He has no idea what’s my fault.

    = - = 44 = - =

    Not all of them.
     
    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."
     
    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.
     
    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.
     
    Last edited:
    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.
     
    Last edited:
    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:
    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.
     
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