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

The Trinity
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    This is not Volume 6. Welcome to Volume 5.5, an interlude that takes place because this is a VERY busy weekend for our gang. New faces, new adversities, and a paradigm shift or two to lead us into Volume 6.

    = - = 52 = - =

    |The Trinity|

    In the hills on Echo Creek’s edge, three teenaged girls walked along the steep roads that lead to the million-dollar homes that overlooked the town’s suburbs and the rest of Los Angeles. All three were dressed alike, sporting the matching uniforms of their Private High School, albeit with slightly different colorations. The leading member of the procession, a blonde Caucasian with sharp eyes that bore an easily identifiable beauty mark under the right, wore a pink skirt and a dark blue jacket over her pink-collared gray shirt, and an obvious air of leadership. Right behind her was a shorter girl of Taiwanese descent, who wore a gray hoodie bearing their school’s crest, and a green skirt whose color matched the barrette she wore on the left side of her hair to keep her short bangs from her eyes. The last girl, Thai in descent, was tall and slender to the point of almost being considered lanky, with messy auburn hair a few shades darker than her light brown skin and wore a purple variation of their school’s uniform.

    “Hey,” the blonde said as she looked back at her companions. “You two ever been up here?”

    Her lanky follower looked up. “Actually I haven’t.”

    The shorter one looked up from her phone. “Me neither! But according to Maps we’re almost there!”

    Turning to look ahead, the blonde snorted. “It’s like a whole different world, isn’t it?”

    The smaller girl brightened. “Like another planet, with strange denizens of unfathomable power and might!”

    Tall and lanky let out a small laugh. “They’re rich weirdos, not elves.”

    “Those are the same things when you think about it, living cloistered from the world, they’re really clean, they meet in secret and mysterious ways…”

    With a growl that shook through all three girls, a dark green super car, a McLaren 12c, came up the road and flew past them. The blonde and her tall friend leaped back from the curb separating them from the road in surprise as the car flew past, while their short companion tripped over her own feet in her flight, flailed, and flopped flat on her face.

    “… Drive expensive cars with no disregard for human life,” she finished as the tall girl all but dove to help her to her feet.

    The blonde looked up the road, watching the car disappear around the curve of the winding street. She smirked as she glanced back at her accomplices.

    “Whatever they need to feel like they matter, right?”

    Up that very same hill the girls ascended, at the Vanderhoff residence, Trip sat by his home’s in-ground pool, scowling at the unlit fire pit. He was lost in unpleasant thoughts, dwelling upon what happened during that chaotic lunch period yesterday.

    It wasn’t just the fight itself that had gotten to him. A magical princess from another dimension attended their school, after all, anyone could attribute that to her. It wasn’t the fact that Marco, Star, and Mabel all fought those weirdos with ferocious violence and intent to kill and vice-versa. Again magical princess. It wasn’t even the fact that Jackie Lynn Thomas was all but clinging to Dipper’s arm while he stood on the sidelines through the entire brawl.

    What had Trip agitated was all of that, and what Misao had said before all hell broke loose.

    “The only reason you are not in the hospital now, broken, is because you are pathetic in every way–the beating you deserve is not worth our time.”

    His scowl deepened, and he turned towards his brother. Van sat at the very edge of the pool, one leg dangling in the water, his thumb brushing up his screen to scroll through Instagram. His lips were curled into a tiny smile, like he didn’t have a care in the world or in his head.

    It pissed him off more, to see him so blithe. “What’re you so happy about, dill weed?”

    “I’m waiting for someone to see us about our Pine Tree problem,” Van replied. “They hit me up just this morning and they’re on their way.”

    So he had good news and wasn’t just distracted by something shiny. Trip let out a sigh and stood up from his cushioned seat near the firepit. “Well, who are they? And can they fight?”

    “I don’t know, but they’re from St. James High School and they have a plan to make Pine Tree’s life miserable for an entire weekend.”

    That caught Trip’s attention. “SJHS? On the other side of LA? It’s the middle of the morning, they should still have school.”

    “Yeah, but they cut it to come meet with us.” Van smirked. “That’s how motivated they are.”

    Walking over to his brother’s side, Trip dropped down and sat by the pool’s edge, slipping both feet into the water. “Well… if they can take Pine Tree out for longer than a weekend, then even better.”

    Van looked fully away from his phone. “What are you talking about?”

    “I mean, we gotta get him before he gets us. Or sends any of his stupid friends to get us.”

    Van rolled his eyes. “Oh, now you care. You’re not wrong, that’s why I bumped up the reward to ten thousand dollars and asked for more than just ‘messing’ with them.”

    Trip nodded in agreement. “We gotta get Pine Tree, his sister, and all of those other losers out of here.” He said before a sound broke the peaceful morning.

    CLACK!

    Both brothers jumped and turned towards their house. Standing right by the doors into their house, wearing Converse sneakers, blue jean overalls, a pink and green striped shirt, and a green baseball hat was Gabe. He was looking down at a pink-cased smart phone in his right hand, while he held his wooden sword in his left like a walking stick.

    Trip scrambled off the couch and got up onto his feet. “What are you doing here?! Who let you in?!” He looked past Gabe and called into the house. “DeMartino! I told you not to let this guy into the house!”

    “Of course, Master Trip,” Dudley called back.

    “Your mans ain’t paid enough to keep me out,” Gabe said flatly.

    “Of course, Master Gabe,” Dudley duly agreed.

    He paid the put-upon peon no attention. “I let myself in.”

    Van got up and walked up to him. “Then let yourself out before I throw you out.”

    In an instant the tip of the wooden sword was pointed at Van. “Nah, you can fuck around right there just outside of finding out distance.”

    Van hesitated; he’d paid fifty bucks to see how quickly Gabe could dismantle someone with that thing.

    Satisfied that the bigger Vanderhoff wasn’t interested in an intimate relationship with the pool deck, Gabe pulled the sword back to rest it on his shoulder. He walked, giving the brothers a wide berth, and sat on the same poolside chair he’d made himself at home in the last time he was here.

    “So what do you want?” Trip asked.

    “Wanted to know if you changed your mind,” Gabe replied as he brought the tip of his sword back down to the pool deck and began to lightly scratch it back and forth while he looked again at his phone.

    Trip made a sour face at him. “We’re still not paying you a hundred grand to beat up Pine Tree.”

    Van agreed. “Yeah, what are you, stupid?”

    Gabe looked up at them both. “Man, I’m not the one on Instagram offering money to beat up a kid.” He stopped fiddling with his sword. “You got a problem, and you want it taken care of. I have a solution, and I want to be paid for my labor. It’s basic economics.”

    “I don’t care about basic economics, you’re too expensive!” Trip yelled out.

    Gabe looked aside. “No shit.”

    Van then asked the one hundred-thousand-dollar question. “Why the heck does a Haley want a hundred grand to kick someone’s ass, anyway?”

    It gave Gabe pause, and the Vanderhoff brothers both felt a chill sweep across them when his gaze fell back upon them. His expression had not changed, still flat and nonchalant, but now it felt like he was glaring clear through them.

    “That’s none of your business,” he replied in a dead calm, even as the grip on his sword gradually tightened.

    Van looked at Trip, suddenly worried that the young man was going to get up and thrash the two of them. Trip returned the look, silently blaming him for whatever thrashing may come from pressing that particular button.

    “Master Van. A Miss Waybright, a Miss Wu, and a Miss Boonchuy are here to speak with you,” Dudley announced from the patio door, reluctantly spoiling his own fun.

    All three looked to the door, and from it emerged the three young women who’d spent their morning trekking up the hills of Echo Creek to reach their destination. Sasha Waybright, the blonde, smirked when the Vanderhoff brothers turned to her. Her taller companion to her left, Anne Boonchuy was more concerned and possibly interested in the brooding young man with the sword. Her shorter companion on her right, Marcy Wu, was paying attention to anything but the people around her–starstruck from being able to set foot in such an expensive house.

    Van’s first impulse was to regain his composure, slide his fingers through his hair, and turn to greet the visitors with a smile. “Ladies, welcome.”

    Trip and Gabe unexpectedly found themselves on common ground–silently exasperated at how quickly he’d changed gears.

    Sasha’s smirk grew as Van walked up to her and her company. Hands in the pockets of her jacket, she nodded to him. “Sup?”

    Van already liked the blonde’s tone from a single word. “Hey.”

    Marcy, realizing people were talking, stepped forward to introduce herself. “Hello, I’m Marcy…!” Without warning she tripped over her own foot and went stumbling forward with an awkward, almost penguin-like squawk.

    Anne reacted with immediate alarm. “Marcy!”

    Rather than go face first into the back deck, she instead went face-first into Van’s chest. “Oof.”

    Van caught her, absolutely thrown off his game by the girl’s misstep. “Uh… you okay?”

    Still face first in his pecs, Marcy gave a thumbs up. “I’m great. Also you, uh… lift.”

    Placing his hands on her shoulders, Van carefully pushed Marcy back and took a cautious half-step back from her in the same motion.

    Marcy brushed herself off. “Ahahah… man, those floors are polished.”

    Sasha placed a hand atop Marcy’s head, patting her. “Just stay still and look cute, Mar-Mar.”

    Marcy quickly snapped at attention and brought a hand up to salute. “As a button, ma’am–ow!”

    She swatted herself in the forehead.

    As Marcy reassured everyone with a quick “I’m okay!” Sasha took over the introductions. “As I was saying, I’m Sasha, these are my friends Marcy and Anne.”

    When gestured to, both girls waved. “Hey, what’s up?” Anne greeted.

    Sasha talked over her. “We want to make Pine Tree’s whole weekend a living hell.”

    Gabe used his sword to hoist himself to his feet, as Van brightly responded. “All right, cool! What do you got for us?”

    Sasha smirked and placed a hand on Marcy’s head. “Marcy here may not look like much, but she’s the best hacker on the west coast.”

    Marcy giggled and snorted as she humblebragged. “I wouldn’t say the entire west coast. South of Bailey, sure.”

    Sasha hooked her other arm around Anne’s neck and brought her close. “And Boonchuy, here? She has a particular set of skills that are a nightmare to people like your mark.”

    Van looked at Anne, the taller girl looking more out of place than Marcy at the moment. “She does?”

    Anne looked at Sasha. “… I do?”

    Sasha glanced back at her companion. “Trust me, babe, you do.”

    She pecked Anne on the cheek, causing her to break into a small blush, then turned a smoky look onto Van. “When we’re done with your problem, he won’t want to show his face around town ever again.”

    Van audibly swallowed at the exchange of affection between the two girls, and Sasha’s look of intent in his direction. His face colored a little, as he tried to maintain his cool demeanor. “Nice, nice…”

    Watching the unspoken part of the exchange between Shasha and Van with muted disgust, Gabe inhaled deeply, and blew it out in a long, audible sigh. Resting his wooden sword against his shoulder, he shook his head and left for the wall surrounding the Vanderhoff home without a word. Trip watched him leave with a bit of a smirk.

    “Nothing to say?” He asked. “Not even gonna put out a better offer?”

    Gabe shrugged his shoulders without looking back. “Y’all got this; I’m out.”

    As before, he scaled the wall with ease, going up and over it like it wasn’t over twice his height. Sasha’s eyebrows rose, while Anne and Marcy both let out a long, quiet “Whoa” at the feat. Van regarded it with disgust at how easily he impressed the girls, while Trip considered talking to his Dad about putting razor wire over top of their wall.

    “Forget about him,” Trip said, bringing everyone’s attention away from Gabe’s exit. “You say that you can put Pine Tree down. How?”

    Sasha smiled again. “Don’t worry your handsome face, handsome. The plan is simple, and it takes advantage of a few things I’ve already figured out about your problem.”

    She had done her homework, both Trip and Van liked that. “Like what?” The former asked.

    “Like that the guy has zero presence on the internet, is apparently a paranoid conspiracy theorist, and his sister–who has neither of those problems–wildly overshares details about her life on social media.” Sasha’s smile took on a wicked character as she continued. “Thanks to her, I know all of Dipper Pines’ weaknesses… including the one we’re going to exploit.”

    Van shivered and muttered aside to her brother. “... Man, she’s hot…”

    “She’s out of your league,”
    he whispered back. “Just to be sure. You’re not worried about him catching you out, what if you have to fight him?”

    Anne and Marcy both looked at Sasha, silently wondering the same thing. “Relax guys. They’ll never see us coming, until we’re already gone, and the damage is done.”

    She chuckled and flipped her hair, her confident charisma capturing both young men.

    “… And even in the unlikely event that we do get caught? What’s the worst that he can do?”

    = - = 52 = - =

    Welp, Amphibia is now officially part of the Verse. Welcome one and all the Calamity Trio.
     
    Last edited:
    Firepower
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 52 = - =

    |Firepower|

    Gunfire ripped through the air in sharp, ear-damaging pops, as Dipper held tightly in his grip a pistol and laid waste to a target board set up at the far end of an indoor shooting range. He held the gun, an old but well-taken care of Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol, in a tight yet comfortable grip–overcompensating a little against the recoil every time he fired it. Like others at the gun club, per the rules, he wore ear and eye protection against the bright flash and loud reports going on to his left, right, and center.

    Shooting a gun, Dipper decided, was a whole lot harder than he had ever seen anyone do it real or fiction.

    Why do movies make it look so freaking easy? He thought as the flash and clap caused him to lose track of where he was shooting–an obvious flinch that anyone could see, and he was all too aware of.

    As he fired his last round, he heard Shermie call out behind him. “All right, Dipper! Cease fire!”

    Dipper immediately brought the gun against his chest, the gun pointed down at the range’s concrete floor and his empty right hand firmly overtop his left holding the weapon.

    “Hoo boy, that takes me back like thirty years seeing that.” Shermie said as he joined his side. “Hang on a sec, boychik.”

    Dipper sighed. “I keep wanting to flinch whenever I shoot…”

    “Yeah, that's to be expected. Most new recruits have this problem for a little while.” Shermie reassured him.

    Dipper turned his head, staying constantly prescient of the weapon in his hand. “How am I doing, so far?”

    Shermie gave him a kindly smile. “So first off? You're doing great on treating a gun like you're supposed to. No fancy-schmancy moves, no pointing it at anything you ain't shooting, and making sure your gun is all in working order.” He gave him a thumbs up.

    Dipper frowned slightly. “And what can I do about where I’m messing up?”

    “As newbie problems go, that’s an easy one to fix.” Shermie looked at the gun. “Check if it’s clear and hand it over to yer Grandpa.”

    Dipper did just that, ejecting the expended magazine, checking the clear chamber, and handing the weapon to his grandfather. Taking the weapon, Shermie loaded a full magazine and aimed at the target. “Okay, now watch carefully.”

    Dipper eagerly complied as, with practiced precision, his grandfather aimed down the range. “One of the first things my instructor made sure to drill into my skull back in the old country?”

    He fired a single shot at the target placard, hitting it in center mass just to the left of the chest bullseye. Dipper let out a “Whoa” in awe.

    “The movies are always wrong. Don’t do anything you see in a movie, got it?” He asked before he fired again, hitting just above his first round.

    Dipper nodded. “Got it.”

    “Now… when you’re shooting? Force your eyes to stay open when you aim. Don’t freeze up and shut your eyes before you shoot.” Shermie fired again, this time hitting just below the first shot. “Hold steady, line up the sights, and then! Pretend to fire a few times in your head to get the jitters out. After that, actually fire.”

    He fired a fourth time, hitting just to the left. “Ya gotta practice it, but the flinch goes away once you’re used to the muzzle flash.”

    A fifth time Shermie fired, and like each time before he did it without even blinking–let alone any kind of adverse reflex.

    “That is so cool,” Dipper muttered. Not even the goofy polka dot patterned bow tie he wore with his usual grandfatherly attire took away from it.

    Engaging the safety, Shermie set the gun down on the countertop in front of Dipper and stepped back. “Okay, give it a shot.”

    With a nod, Dipper took the Hi-Power in hands, aimed, and opened fire on the target. The first two shots he flinched, and he let out a grumbled curse.

    Damn it, he thought.

    “Easy does it. Take a deep breath, relax, realign the sights and then do it like I told you.” Shermie winked at him. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

    Dipper took a deep breath and aimed down the sight again. He rested his finger on the trigger twice, applying no pressure while envisioning the gun going off. Then on the third he squeezed without flinching, and when the gun fired, he struck his placard in the neck. Surprised, he repeated the process and struck right next to that same spot. A third round punched just below the other two–giving the impression of Mickey Mouse.

    Dipper brightened. “… Holy crap.”

    “Wunderbar, as yer new German squeeze would say,” Shermie said with a playful elbow.

    That colored Dipper’s cheeks. “Grandpa, sheesh.”

    Shermie let out a deep belly laugh. “Can’t be a good grandpa without razzin’ the grandkids–and occasionally asking about when they plan on making me a great-grandpa!”

    Dipper’s blush deepened. “You got a long wait for that, old-timer!”

    He really hoped Misao wasn’t looking their way with the jibing. “Can’t you go tease Mabel?”

    “I would, but one: she laughs it off better than you, and two: she’s the most frightening person at the range right now.” Shermie hooked a thumb over to their left.

    Dipper looked and saw Mabel–wearing bright pink eye protectors and headphones that matched beautifully with her purple sweater dress and blue leggings, aiming a Beretta M1951 pistol down range, rattling off at a higher rate of fire than Dipper could muster. In only a few moments, Mabel emptied the gun’s magazine, ejected it, and set it down on the counter in front of her. Beside her Misao, who was protected with purple eye and ear protectors to match her blue sweater dress and pink leggings, hit the button to recall their target card.

    Dipper and Shermie watched the target card come back and Mabel removed it. With a closer look at her handiwork, she turned to the smaller girl. “What do you think? At least he died…” She held it up, showing that she had shot a perfect happy face into the head of her target. “… With a smile?”

    Misao broke into applause. “Très bien!”

    Mabel set it down with two other targets she had been working with since Shermie cut her loose to practice shooting. One had a heart on its chest, and the other had a star in its forehead. Shermie turned back to Dipper.

    “… It looks like we got a natural here,” Shermie finished.

    Mabel heard that and boasted. “My grappling hook is way harder to aim and kicks back even harder than that! Compared to getting that right, handguns are easy!”

    Dipper pulled a very mild grimace. “How do you not flinch?”

    Mabel placed a hand on her chest. “Dipper, I’ve been bedazzling my sweaters, catching the morning sun off my braces in mirrors and setting fires with explosives since I was ten. Bright flashes are nothing!”

    Shermie belly laughed again. “Ahh, that takes me back to when I used to take your Grunkles out shooting. Stanley could plug the wings off a dragonfly, and Ford was a crack shot, too.”

    I can’t imagine how boring our summer would’ve been if Stan had a gun. Dipper thought, taking that revelation into mind. “Huh, with all the drama with Grunkle Stan and Grunkle Ford, I almost can’t imagine you spending time with them like that.”

    “Stan and Ford weren’t always the ne’er do wells you kids know them as.” Shermie let out a reminiscent sigh. “We were all different back then, before I shipped off to the old country, before they grew up into messes. They were and still are my brothers, dontcha know?”

    Dipper nodded in understanding, as he gave a meaningful glance towards Mabel and himself reminisced about everything they had gone through. The fond trip down memory lane was cut short by the realization that Mabel was now shooting one handed down range and nailing every shot.

    “Okay, yeah,” he said. “She’s terrifying.”

    Shermie agreed. “She’s gonna love the Schwanzstucker. I couldn’t ask for better hands to put it in.”

    Dipper looked at the gun on the countertop, then picked it up and another magazine as he ejected the empty one. “Grandpa? I don’t think I… any of us can thank you enough for being so supportive. Not just with this, but with letting Misao stay even with how dangerous that is.”

    Shermie patted Dipper firmly on the shoulder. “Even if you weren’t my grandson, I think I’d still help. Because letting you kids to handle all this by yourselves… well… it’s wrong. And Misao is a good kid, I couldn’t leave her hanging, either.”

    Dipper loaded a fresh magazine and Shermie let that hang for a moment and waited for his grandson to take aim down range. “So if you do shack up with her, try to make sure at least a few of your kids aren't goyim.”

    His finger coming off the trigger, Dipper turned his head to level an unamused stare at Shermie. “… Come on, Grandpa.”

    Shaking his head in exasperation, Dipper focused on the targets and began shooting. He was in such a hurry to get away from that subject that he had no problem putting the shots on the mark. He stopped shooting, flicked on the safety, and set the gun down so he could set the record straight... after a fashion. “It’s not that I’m not interested in her–I am. She’s easily one of the nicest and prettiest girls I’ve ever met… I’ve just had my eyes on someone else since I got here.”

    Shermie lit up at the news. “Oh? Anyone I know? You can tell Ol’ Sherpa, my lips are sealed.” He made a zipper motion across his lips to emphasize.

    “It’s…” He leaned closer towards his grandfather and spoke in what he hoped wasn’t simultaneously too soft and too loud at the range. “… It’s um… Marco.”

    And with an owlish blink, Shermie looked out of his depth as he scratched his head in surprise. “Huh… so, does he know that?”

    “No,” Dipper replied, “It’s kind of a stupid crush thing and I don’t really want to bring it up, and I’m pretty sure he and Star have something going on… and besides it’d be bad to act on that interest given the circumstances, do you understand?”

    Shermie thought about it. “Well, that’s a toughie. I don’t know much about handling love triangles, but I can tell you this: the heart wants what the heart wants. Don’t dismiss what you’re feeling as not important, that’s how you end up a putz like those Vanderhoff boys.”

    Dipper was happy that his grandpa didn’t clumsily struggle with that response as he was pretty sure both his grunkles would’ve. “If I ever become that kind of douchebag? Kill me.”

    “Nah. I'll just give ya a potch on the tushie to put your head back ‘round straight,” Shermie said with a chuckle.

    “And thanks for not being weird about the whole Marco thing…”

    Shermie seemed almost offended by that. “What? You thought I was gonna call you a feygele or something?” He gave Dipper another firm, reassuring shoulder pat. “Pssh. Maybe some of the Hasidic set back in the old country woulda. Me, I never cared about that. Besides, I’m from Jersey, there were lots of those guys there–though, I am a little sad that I might not get grandkids from you now.”

    Dipper turned to face his grandfather fully. “Ah, it’s not like that. It’s the same thing Mabel has going on…”

    “No fooling?” Shermie grinned. “Well, at least you won’t be hard up for a date on a Saturday Night!” He clicked his teeth and winked for emphasis.

    Dipper closed his eyes and huffed. “The only thing I wanna do on a Saturday Night is investigate the weird and unknown.”

    “Back in my day we called that dating!” Shermie guffawed, Dipper barking out a laugh with him.

    Mabel walked over with Misao. “Sherpa, I’m out of ammo.”

    Shermie and Dipper looked at the two as the former responded. “Already? Let me see your last board then.”

    Mabel held up her last board, revealing a cat face shot into the chest of the target. “I made a kitty with this one.”

    “Jesus Christ, Mabel,” Dipper muttered.

    Shermie let out a whistle. “Fancy shooting, there.”

    “If we had more bullets, I bet we could do an entire portrait,” Misao suggested.

    Mabel gasped. “… Bullet art…” She stopped. “I’d need a machine gun for that, though…”

    Breaking into a grin, shooting stars in her eyes, Mabel bounced up to her grandfather with hands clasped together. “Do you have a machine gun, Sherpa?!”

    Her dreams were dashed by a shake of his head. “Sorry, Mabel. The closest thing I have is an Uzi and it’s packed up in storage over in Arizona because it’s an IDF model with a built-in suppressor.”

    Dipper saw the problem with that. “The last thing we need is to be seen out in public carrying weapons like those.”

    Mabel pouted. “We’re already breaking so many laws, what’s a few more?”

    Shermie gave his granddaughter a knowing smirk. “You haven’t even begun to break laws, girlchik.”

    “And the fewer laws we do break, the less likely some self-righteous policemen will decide if they can’t arrest the Magnavores, they’ll arrest us,” Dipper replied. “So let’s at least keep the crimes we commit to the ones they’re cool with, like blowing up robot jet fighters from another dimension, and getting into street fights for the fate of the Earth.”

    “And having pet pigs that are too handsome,” Mabel added.

    They had already been pulled over twice since they’d moved here because Waddles had his head stuck out the window of Shermie’s SUV like a dog as they drove around.

    “Can ya blame ‘em? As fine connoisseurs of all things swine, of course they think he’s a beaut!” Shermie said with a hard laugh.

    Dipper and Mabel both had a laugh with them, while Misao’s snickering was more reserved. Pretending to wipe a tear away when they finished, Mabel beamed. “Anyway~! Our stomachs are as empty as our magazines!”

    “Ja,” Misao agreed. “Are you done? I would very much like to go out and enjoy some food in the city.”

    Shermie rubbed his chin, then grinned. “Follow me kids, if I got my timing right, the Taste of Echo Creek should be just opening up.”

    Dipper and Mabel both lit up. “Yes!”

    “What is the Taste of Echo Creek?” Misao asked as Shermie collected his firearms, made them safe, and stowed them in their cases.

    “An Echo Creek staple! The only thing that can compete with Britta’s Tacos over the weekend,” Mabel replied.

    “All of these food trucks and vendors gather in one place and folks come from all over to eat there,” Dipper replied, “We have something similar in the Bay Area called Off The Grid.”

    Mabel nodded. “I love eating from Food Trucks, it’s not just the food… it’s a whole experience!”

    Misao’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Ah! So it’s like a Night Market… but during the day?”

    “LA has a couple Night Markets, too!” Mabel said as she pulled out her phone and checked it. “We can check one out after the dance.”

    Misao loved the sound of that. “Oooh…!”

    Shermie looked between the girls with a bit of confusion as they left the Echo Creek Gun Club’s air conditioning for the late morning autumn heat outside. “You aren’t going to do your own thing? Didn't she ban you two munchkins?”

    Dipper let out quiet snort and looked away. “Nah, Grandpa, she only banned me.”

    “We’re still going,” Mabel assured him. “I’m not going to let the dresses I spent the last few days on go to waste.”

    Misao nodded in agreement. “Ja, plus… there is something I want to see happen.”

    “Or rather, not happen,” Mabel said with a sinister undertone, and both she and Misao giggled.

    “Should I ask, or just volunteer as a chaperone and see for myself?” Shermie asked with a wry look.

    Mabel made a beckoning gesture. “You should absolutely come, Sherpa!”

    Misao was still giggling maliciously.

    “Good luck getting in,” Dipper said, “I think even the President would need one of Brittney’s stupid bracelets to get through the doors.”

    Shermie chuckled and adjusted his bowtie as they walked down the street from the Shooting Range and into the heart of Echo Creek, a modest town center with a few tall brick buildings that didn’t obscure the distant skyline of Los Angeles proper. Down the road from the Town Hall, Just two intersections away, was a line of food trucks parked around a roundabout in front of the administrative building. On the island in the center of the roundabout, where a large stone fountain stood, were smaller food stands and many people, both customers and cooks, enjoying the cuisine and culture.

    “Aw come on. You don't think your Sherpa's got the moves to cut a rug on the dance floor, or finagle his way into a party?” He asked as he snapped his bowtie.

    Mabel grinned once more. “You’re so cool that they’d crown you Homecoming Emperor.”

    “Hail to Sherman, First Ruler of the Holy Echo Creek Empire,” Misao said in an authoritative voice.

    “As my first decree, I proclaim the first song of this shindig to be… ‘Jump, Jive an' Wail’ by Louis Prima!” Shermie declared.

    Dipper rolled his eyes, then got in on it, folding his arms and lifting his chin imperiously. “So let it be written, so let it be done.”

    As Mabel and Misao both laughed with Shermie and Dipper, a voice called from the corner entering the circle where the Taste of Echo Creek food trucks were gathered.

    “Oh. My Gosh. Mabel Pines?”

    The Pines family plus guest looked ahead, to find a sharp-eyed blonde young woman with a beauty mark beneath her left eye standing nearby a busker with an electric guitar kicking off a sick riff. She stared gobsmacked at the quartet with a hand upon her cheek, like she was well and truly seeing a ghost.

    Mabel lit up in recognition. “I never forget a face, especially that of a cheerleader ace! Sasha Waybright!”

    Dipper quirked an eyebrow as Mabel shot ahead and met the school-uniformed teenager.

    “Oh em gee!” Sasha said as Mabel came up to her. “It really is you and…” She looked up. “Dang, girl, you’re even taller than the last time I saw you.”

    Mabel snickered. “What’s that?” She put a hand to her ear. “I can’t hear you from up here.”

    Misao made her way over to them. “Yeah, you gotta speak up when you’re trying to call to the top of the mountain.”

    Sasha turned her attention to Misao. “Whoa, I love the hair. Very Opossums.”

    Misao grinned. “Thank you!”

    Mabel, not being rude, quickly introduced her. “This is Sasha, she’s the Captain of St. James High School’s Cheer Squad. We met at cheer camp in Sophmore year!”

    Sasha nodded. “Right, Camp Gottagrin!”

    “More like Camp ‘Gonnasleep!’” Mabel gestured dismissively. “That was such a snooze fest.”

    The blonde laughed. “Maybe to you.”

    Shermie side-eyed his grandson. “I recall having the distinct impression your folks were less than enthused about what went on there.”

    “They were,” Dipper confirmed. “An insane mutated fish man tried to turn everyone into mutants.”

    Shermie nodded slowly. “Oh yeah…”

    “We kicked its butt, though,” Dipper said proudly.

    Shermie thrust out his upper lip and offered Dipper a fist-bump. “So do you think the fish was still kosher?”

    “No he was definitely not,” his grandson replied as he returned it, and they shared a chuckle.

    Mabel continued the chain of introduction. “This is Misao, she’s staying with us at my Sherpa’s. And you remember Dipper, right?”

    Sasha looked at Dipper, her right eyebrow rising. “… I do…?”

    Dipper regarded her staring with some confusion, as she quickly turned back to Mabel. “That’s your brother?” She asked in mild disbelief.

    “Yeah, you don’t remember?” Mabel asked.

    Sasha cleared her throat, and her face turned a slight pink as she whispered out the corner of her mouth. “… Shoot, that’s a glow up…”

    Misao couldn’t help her smug, amused smirk. “Heh.”

    Mabel glanced back at her brother, sharing Misao’s expression. “Another one.”

    As Dipper rolled his eyes, Sasha smirked herself and clapped her hands together. “Say, are you guys coming out to Taste of Echo Creek for lunch? Because I’m actually here to drum up business for a friend’s cart, and I would love for you to come try it out!”

    “Oh?” Misao looked around. “Which one is it?”

    “It’s none of the trucks,” Sasha said as she pointed to the island in the center of the circle. “It’s a bike-drawn Thai spot.”

    On the island, situated snugly between a hot dog and sausage vendor, and a Cajun/Mexican fusion grill, was a bicycle-pulled food cart with the words “THAi GO” written on its sign. Behind it, a face vaguely familiar to Mabel made eye contact with her and awkwardly waved.

    “Huh, Anne’s looking great,” Mabel observed as she waved back.

    “Yeah, she still hates frogs, but you know… Camp Gottagrin.”

    Mabel turned to Shermie and Dipper. “How about it, guys? You wanna… spice up your life?”

    Dipper rubbed his hands together. “I’m game,” he said. “Thai food is supposed to be super spicy, right?”

    “Crazy spicy,” Sasha promised. “I’ve seen chili heads get knocked on their butts by this stuff.”

    “That’s kind of the point,” Dipper said. “The burn is part of why it’s good.”

    Sasha lifted an eyebrow. “So, what I’m taking from that is you’re a masochist.”

    Dipper gave her a more direct look. “If you’re into that kinda thing.”

    Mabel and Misao both watched, with no small amusement, as Sasha chewed her lower lip for a brief instant while she stared at Dipper, before she flashed him a dangerous smile. “… I might be…”

    With that she walked ahead, giving Dipper a lingering glance back as she did.

    Shermie once more gave Dipper the side-eye and a cheeky smile to boot. “Looks like the ol’ Pines charm hit another line drive.”

    “Whatever, grandpa,” Dipper muttered back as they followed.

    Sasha led them into the heart of Taste of Echo Creek and up to the Thai Go stand. Behind the countertop, Anne Boonchuy forced her best customer service smile as her best friend led the Pines family up to her, the near-afternoon sun and the hot cart she was presiding over helped conceal the nervous sweat she was working up.

    “สวัสดีค่ะ, welcome to Thai Go!” She said, bringing her hands together and bowing in greeting.

    “Hey, Anne!” Mabel greeted. “It’s me, Mabel, from Camp Gottagrin, remember?”

    “I’d rather not,” Anne quickly replied as she gestured to the menu taped down to the top of her cart’s counter. “What can I get for you?”

    Mabel looked at Sasha, who shrugged her shoulders, and decided to respect Anne’s insistence on never wanting to talk about Camp Gottagrin. “Anyway… I’ll have the Chicken Satay!”

    Misao leaned against the counter to look at the menu. “Oh, the Pad Thai looks nice, I’ll try that.”

    Shermie didn’t hesitate to order either. “I'll take a bowl of your finest, cheapest Basil Fried Rice.”

    Anne quickly nodded. “One Chicken Satay, one Pad Thai, and one Basil Fried Rice!” She looked at Dipper. “What about you?”

    Dipper rubbed his chin as he looked at the menu, then asked. “What’s the hottest thing you got?”

    Anne raised an eyebrow. “You really wanna go there, big guy? Because the hottest stuff we got isn’t rated for California stomachs.”

    “Like I told Sasha, I’m game,” Dipper assured her.

    “Are you sure?” Anne warned. “Because you’re not the first to pull up with a swagger.”

    Sasha spoke up. “You heard him, chef, make it hurt.”

    Anne shrugged her shoulders. “All right, the hottest I’ve got, coming up.”

    “Thank you, Dipper said, smugly.

    As soon as she was paid, Anne went to work preparing the orders. While she worked quickly, almost frantically, to prep the meals, Mabel and Misao both turned to Sasha.

    “So, how’ve ya been?” Mabel asked.

    Sasha played it cool and casual. “Tch, you know. Practically running the school over here with Anne.” She turned to her. “Ain’t that right, girl?”

    “Oh yeah, Sasha’s got SJHS in the palm of her hand,” she said without looking up from the wok she rapidly stirred up to fry the rice in. “… She’s not the head cheerleader anymore, though.”

    Sasha went rigid and glared at Anne. “Hey.”

    “What happened?” Mabel asked, both out of genuine concern, and gossip interest.

    “It’s so stupid,” Sasha recovered. “You wouldn’t even believe it.”

    “You’d be surprised the level of stupid we’ve come to find believable,” Misao said with the slightest edge in her voice.

    Anne glanced up from her frying rice at Sasha, who narrowed her eyes at her, and went for it. “Sashagotarrested.”

    Sasha now fully whirled on her, furious. “ANNE!”

    Mabel gasped out loud, looking upon Sasha with awe and excitement. “FOR WHAT?!”

    “Freaking… ugh,” Sasha said while not trying to grind her teeth. “I walked out on a check because the food was bad, and I got caught. The manager made a big stink about it to some cops, and they arrested me.”

    She folded her arms and rolled her eyes. “I spent the weekend in jail and the school kicked me off the Cheer squad. It’s only because my parents actually got together to talk it out with the principal that I didn’t get expelled.”

    “And it was the first offense,” Anne added.

    “… First offense I got caught…” Sasha muttered before speaking to the group. “But yeah, I got arrested, told you it was pretty dumb.”

    Shermie glanced aside at Dipper, smirking. “Look at that, another thing she's got in common with you, Boychik.”

    “Grandpa…” Dipper grumbled back at him.

    Sasha looked between the Pines. “Hold up, really?”

    Mabel nodded. “Yeah, Dipper and I went to jail too, so we know how lame that is.”

    Sasha raised an eyebrow and looked Mabel over. “… What did you do? Didn’t the Coast Guard just give you a citation for that stunt with the rowing team?”

    “Wish they’d given me a cetacean,” Mabel said with a melodramatic sulk, and both Anne and Misao giggled at her pun.

    “It was counterfeiting, actually,” Dipper said nonchalantly.

    Sasha lit up. “Oh shoot, a cool crime?”

    He nodded. “Our Great Uncle thought making bogus cash was a great way to ‘bond.’”

    Mabel stopped sulking. “It was a great way to make bond, am I right?”

    “Yeah…” Dipper was glad that they saved the town and possibly the universe to get all their crimes committed with Grunkle Stan wiped from the record before anyone figured out their bail money was all counterfeit, too.

    Sasha stared at both twins, then looked over at Shermie for some kind of confirmation that she wasn’t being messed with.

    “No, they ain’t foolin’,” Shermie said as he pushed his glasses up to rub at his nose. “I owe Stanley a knuckle sandwich for that next time I see him.”

    “And that’s just the first course,” Mabel promised Sasha.

    Sasha stared at them both, blinking slowly, before she turned to Anne. “Hey, Boonchuy, how’s that food comin’?”

    “Getting it packed up now,” Anne said a bit too wryly for Sasha’s taste.

    She glared at her friend, who met it with a mirthful glint that quickly disappeared when Sasha sharpened her look and rushed back to finishing the dishes. “Okay! Chicken Satay, Pad Thai, Green Chili Curry, and Basil Fried Rice!” Anne said as she stacked the goods on the countertop. “Thank you for ordering and… Thai Go… have a nice day…?”

    Mabel clapped her hands together when she heard the awkward and clunky word play. “I love that so much, I want to marry whoever thought of it.”

    Anne, no longer dying of cringe, answered with a more genuine smile. “So you like that corny stuff, huh?”

    Mabel grinned back. “Baby, the cornier the sweeter.”

    The two girls in that moment realized what the other was about to say. In unison they snapped their fingers and pointed at each other.

    “Like High Fructose Corn Syrup!”

    Sasha laughed. “Man, you guys are absolute gold.”

    Misao agreed. “They’re great, aren’t they?”

    Looking down at the small exchange student, Sasha nodded. “So, how’d you get wrapped up with them?”

    “The story is so long,” Misao assured her.

    “You got a story too? I should tell you the deets about how I met ‘em,” Sasha replied.

    Anne whipped her head to look at Sasha. “… No you should not.”

    Shermie, already opening up his container of rice, turned to Dipper after seeing Anne’s vehement reaction. “Feel like filling your ol’ Grandpa in on the details of that camping trip, kiddo?”

    Dipper opened his own container, and was immediately hit with the strong, spicy aroma. “After I’m done eating.”

    Anne was enthusiastic to avoid the subject of Camp Gottagrin. “So… just as a heads up, this is gonna change your life. If you wanna trade it for something not rated for undersea welding, there’s no shame.”

    Shooting her a look, he smirked and deeply inhaled the strong, intense aroma of the curry. Already his eyes were watering, something everyone else could clearly see. “Smells good.”

    “… Can you handle this?” Misao asked, with growing concern.

    Mabel chimed in as well. “Yeah, bro-bro, this doesn’t seem like the usual heat.”

    “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ve handled Soos’ Grandma’s birria stew and Nano’s Nashville Hot Chicken, I got this,” Dipper assured her as he scooped up a spoonful of curry and took a bite.

    Mason “Dipper” Pines had a lot of things. An encyclopedic knowledge of cryptids, a 3-0 record against an extradimensional dream demon bent on universal destruction, a really cool lumberjack hat…

    This curry?

    Was not one of them.

    Calmly, even as his face was turning a dark shade of red and tears poured down his cheeks, Dipper handed his bowl of curry to Mabel. Taking off his lumberjack hat, he placed it upon Misao’s head.

    “Are you okay?” Mabel asked.

    Dipper’s answer, an emphatic no, came in the form of him breaking into a mad dash–screaming–towards the island’s fountain and lunging headfirst into its shallow waters. He landed with a dramatic splash, and lay face down in the water, bubbles roiling around his head.

    Other customers at other stands, and the cooks working them, had all stopped to gawk at Dipper when he ran by screaming. Hearing his cry and seeing where he’d come running from, it didn’t take much to connect what happened. As Dipper rose to his knees and splashed water into his mouth and tried to wipe his tongue, the onlookers broke into laughter, pointing and jeering at his misfortune.

    “WHY IS WATER NOT WORKING?!” He hollered.

    Anne sighed. “Because you don’t use water to put out a chili fire.”

    Sasha was stunned. “… Okay, wow… that’s the worst one yet.”

    “Yet?” Misao asked.

    Anne nodded in confirmation. “Can you believe this stuff is my top selling product? Dipper’s the fifth guy to melt down like this.”

    Mabel had taken a bite out of Dipper’s curry, overcome by curiosity. “I dunno why, it’s not that hot.”

    Shermie, blinking in surprise, took the spoon from Mabel and tried it himself. “A lil’ too salty for an altacocker like me, but otherwise it’s pretty good. I’ve had worse heat stationed in the Sinai.”

    “May I try?” Misao asked, and Shermie handed her the bowl for her to sample. “Ja, it’s spicy but it’s not that bad.”

    Gasping for breath, his mouth hanging open, Dipper looked at the others with the most pathetic indignation. “You guys… suck… oh god it’s still burning…”

    As Mabel went to go help her brother out of the fountain, Shermie turned to the Thai Go stand. “Oi gevalt, Annie, you got any milk in that booth?”

    “No, but the ice cream vendor a couple of stalls down is offering half off to anyone who tries the curry,” Anne helpfully suggested as she gestured to her left and over at an ice cream cart set up with a considerable crowd around it.”

    “Thank you,” he replied as Mabel brought a now whimpering Dipper over.

    As the Pines party headed for the ice cream stand, Sasha moseyed over to Anne’s side. “Well, that was easier than I thought.” She then turned and glared at her. “And what the hell, Boonchuy, blowing up my spot like that?”

    Anne pouted. “Hey, fair’s fair! I have to come out here every other week now because of this stupid plan. My parents were ‘so excited that I wanted to run a food cart.’”

    Sasha’s glare intensified. “Stop acting like you’re not getting anything out of this. Besides, having a little extra pocket change will be nice when we’re done here.”

    She turned her head and looked across the island, at a barbecue stand and a Chinese street food cart. Crouched down between the two stands, going completely unnoticed by everyone around her, was Marcy Wu reviewing the playback of a camcorder she held. Smiling in satisfaction, she gave a thumbs up as she looked from her camera to her two best friends.

    Sasha’s smile returned, as she turned to Anne. “And it looks like we have exactly what we need to get paid.”

    = - = 52 = - =

    Whose side are they on...?
     
    Girls' Day Over New
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    = - = 53 = - =

    |Girls’ Day Over|

    Yesterday

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    Jackie Lynn Thomas stared at her phone screen, and the blank text box of her messaging app. She took a deeper breath than usual as she lowered her phone and leaned back against Otis the Opossum, where she’d been since the fight ended. When Dipper, Mabel, Star, and Marco left for the river, the action left with them.

    After the commotion died down not long after that, classes were ended and everyone else went home. Brittney was the last to leave, screaming into her phone to the city about getting a crew out to repair the street pitted and cratered by the battle, but eventually she whipped her hair angrily and marched into her family’s waiting car. Only Jackie remained after that, waiting for any sign of them–the anxiety of not knowing starting to consume her from the inside out.

    Abandoning the message for the phone icon to call Marco directly, Jackie hesitated on pressing the button, as the worry that it’d go straight to voicemail flashed through her. Before she could throw caution to the wind, however, Heather’s car pulled up to the curb–narrowly avoiding the barricades surrounding the holes in the street–and Janna nonchalantly climbed out of the passenger side.

    “I told you he’d be fine. Shoot him a text when you get the chance,” she said into the car.

    It was a sight unexpected to Jackie, but also not surprising. She knew Heather’s folks were strict about how she used her vehicle–but was intimately familiar with Janna’s unrivaled ability to go wherever she wanted and turn up in unexpected company. Today was turning out to be all sorts of unprecedented.

    “Thanks,” Heather replied before she turned and saw Jackie. “Hey, Jackie!”

    Jackie walked over, as Janna rounded the car to the curb. “Hey, are you okay?”

    Heather nodded. “I’m good. I mean, today’s been a wild ride. I still can’t believe what happened and I was there.” She smiled big. “Anyway, I gotta get home or I might get eaten alive; see you Monday!”

    With farewells from Jackie and Janna she pulled off and drove away. The former turned to her best friend as Heather left. “So, is everyone okay?”

    Janna began texting. “Oh, yeah everybody’s in one piece, including Marco.”

    Relief felt like a swell building into a wave and crashing down on Jackie; with speed unbecoming of her, she hugged Janna hard. The normally chill girl’s impact and the tightness of the embrace actually took her morbid friend by surprise, as she relinquished one hand to hug Jackie back.

    Jackie rested her forehead against the side of Janna’s. “What’s the deal with these monsters? I’m pretty sure that Typhus attacked the school.”

    Janna quirked her lip at the prospect of explaining it. “… It’s a long story.”

    “Is it something Star did?” Jackie’s question was not an unreasonable one. Star was, after all, a magical princess from another dimension.

    Janna pocketed her phone. “It’s not Star this time. The teal deer version is that a magical wish to become the Big Bad Beetleborgs was granted–and you can’t have superheroes without bad guys.”

    That made Jackie’s eyes widen a little. “So that was actually Typhus? From the comics?”

    She wasn’t an avid reader of the Beetleborgs, but she knew enough about the Magnavores…

    “It’s way more complicated and eldritch than that,” Janna assured her. “No, they can’t take the wish back, but at least the Genie’s straight out of Aladdin and it’s not a Wishmaster situation.”

    Jackie sighed in relief. “Dude, I thought I had enough questions today, now I have even more.”

    Janna let out a tiny “Heh” at that before responding. “Marco probably won’t mind answering them, but the rabbit hole goes deep, and there’s no backing out once you crawl in.”

    “Well, I’m pretty sure I know who the Beetleborgs are… so…” Jackie trailed off.

    Janna glanced over at her, with a wry smirk. “Oh Thomas, are you inferring extortion?”

    Letting out a snort and a laugh, Jackie kissed Janna on the cheek and let her go. “No way, I’d never narc. Not with all the stuff you know I’ve done.” She softened into her cool smile. “But you know, I wanna see how deep ‘the rabbit hole’ goes.”

    Eyeing Jackie, Janna’s smirk sharpened as she read her friend like a book. There were ulterior motives beyond a sudden desire for details. Looping her arm around Jackie, Janna pulled her close as they began walking. “All right, how about this? Tomorrow, meet me over at Marco’s, and we’ll get you caught up.”

    A small rush flashed through Jackie that she was pretty sure Janna could feel, as she nodded, and her smile became a little impish.

    The Present

    With everything going on the last few weeks, Marco didn’t have the free time he used to, but now classes were out, his Mom was teaching at community college, his Dad was out gathering materials for his next art commission, and Star was at St. Olga’s hanging out with Pony Head at her best friend’s insistence for cheering up after what happened with Brittney. For the first time in weeks, Marco had some solitude, and he was going to milk it for all it was worth.

    “AP Calculus in my pajamas and the whole house to myself for the next few hours, today can’t get better than this,” he said to himself as he operated his way through the fifteenth question of his homework. He was in his room, sitting at his desk, surrounded by the pack of laser-firing puppies Star conjured her first day there, completing the extra-credit schoolwork he did to maintain his high grade average.

    He was also styled up through Radiant Shadow Transform into Princess Marco, because he wanted to look as good as he felt on his day off.

    “… Well it could,” he amended again to one of the Laser Puppies relaxing on his lap. The tiny, pug-like puppy looked up at him with its wall-eyed expression of canine curiosity–or just a general sense of being happy to be anywhere, laser puppies were hard to tell with that. “If I had some grilled cheese.”

    That got the whole pack excited, and soon Marco was dodging harmless laser bolts as he was followed by the puppy pack downstairs to the kitchen. “Okay guys, chill, I’ll get you some cheese, but no lasers!” He called out to them as he opened and used his refrigerator door as a shield from their assault.

    The puppies seemed to understand, and the bolts stopped long enough for Marco to grab some cheese and mayo out the fridge to apply to his sandwiches. As the puppies sniffed around and he got the griddle out, his phone began to sing.

    Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the–!

    The song cut out as he answered his phone without looking at it. “Hey Star.”

    “Hey Marco~!” Star sang back, just audible over the loud music and cacophony of Princesses on the other end of the line. “Pony Head has a message for you~!”

    Marco lifted his right eyebrow as he smeared mayo over his bread “Does she now?”

    “Hey Princess ‘Turdina~!’” Princess Lilacia Pony Head’s unmistakable accented voice speared through his ear. “Are you seriously gonna just hang out on your boring old world doing homework? St. O’s is right here!”

    Rolling his eyes, Marco turned on the stove and dropped the slice of bread mayo down on the griddle. “Here on Earth I’m not actually a Princess, so I have to think about my grades so I can get into a good college.”

    “BO-RING!” Pony Head said. “College is for nerds! Come on, you MADE St. O’s into what it is, well you helped ME make it into what it is, but you know. You deserve some credit to so why you not coming to par-tayyyy?”

    “Maybe later, Pony,” Marco said as he dropped a slipped a few slices of different cheese onto the bread and topped it. A good cheese sandwich needed different cheeses for best effect after all.

    “Whatever, anyway! I just wanted to say… CONGRATULATIONS for hooking up with B-Fly and becoming her BF, and if you do anything to hurt her, I will come into your room while you’re asleep and stab you sixty times with my horn, okay?”

    Pony Head’s flippant as usual tone made it hard for him to tell if she was being dead serious. Even after he had experienced her actual dark side before. “Oh, and now that you’re her boyfriend, I’M her bestie now–not YOU.”

    “That’s fine, boyfriends get special privileges besties don’t, anyway,” Marco snarked back.

    Pony Head let out an audible gasp, and then called out to Star. “B-FLY OH NO YOU DIDN’T!”

    “Didn’t what?!”
    He heard Star gasp back.

    “You are gonna tell me EVERYTHING, okay?” She ordered, before a voice he recognized as Princess Arms called out.

    “Hey, Princess Morty’s Grandma just showed up with a hundred kilos of Kalaxian Crystal, who wants to get MESSED UP?!”

    “OOOOH I DO!”
    She turned her attention back to Marco. “If you change your mind, you can come here anytime, the party don’t stop! Now I gotta ask your girlfriend like a million questions about how nasty you are, BYE~!”

    “Bye Pony,” Marco replied before the call ended. Looking at his grilling sandwich, he quickly turned it over and patted it down to let it cook.

    Sure it wasn’t a no-holds barred princess party in another dimension, but AP Calculus and an overflowing grilled cheese sandwich was Marco’s idea of a good time after a week of dealing with everyone’s crap from the Magnavores to Brittney Wong. He didn’t want to get messed up, he just wanted to relax.

    “Well, now that we have our cheese sandwich,” he said as he tossed a few slices of cheese to the laser puppies for them to tear apart, “Today really can’t get better.”

    The doorbell rang, and Marco looked towards it, he was not expecting visitors… or really anyone to be back home until after sundown. Turning his sandwich over and lowering the heat to make sure it didn’t burn; he went to the front door and opened it. “… Can I help…”

    And there was Jackie Lynn Thomas standing on his front steps, holding her longboard behind her back and smiling at him. “Hey Marco,” she greeted, before looking at his absurdly long and full hair. “Wow… love the look.”

    Marco gawked at her. “J-Jackie…? What are you doing here?”

    “I wanted to come over and hang out,” she replied. “Didn’t Janna tell you we were coming by?”

    Marco looked at his phone. “Janna? She didn’t message–”

    “Whoops, my bad,” Janna’s voice from directly behind him made Marco nearly jump out of his pajamas.

    “GAH!” He whirled around and faced Janna… who was eating half of the grilled cheese sandwich he had been cooking. “JANNA! How did you–?!”

    “Copy of your house keys,” she replied before she reached up with her free hand and ran her fingers through his hair. “Petition for you to rock the Princess look more? I wanna braid this.”

    Marco batted Janna’s hand away and glowered indignantly at her. “That’s my lunch.”

    “And those are some thin PJs to be wearing around the girl you’ve been sweet on since kindergarten,” Janna pointed out in turn.

    Marco jumped back past Janna and bolted up the stairs, his face a brilliant red. “YOU’RE MAKING ME ANOTHER SANDWICH, JANNA!”

    Jackie put a hand to her mouth to suppress her giggle. “They weren’t that thin.”

    Janna smirked. “And you know because you looked. Come on in and have a seat, I got some cooking to do.”

    Upstairs, Marco slipped on some skinny jeans and a hoodie, and walked down the stairs while grumbling. “Showing up and not even warning me, and inviting Jackie over without even asking…”

    He stopped and looked down from the steps to see Jackie sitting on his couch, eating the other half of the sandwich Janna had appropriated. With her eyes closed and humming in contentment as she enjoyed the multitude of flavors and textures, she didn’t notice his descent.

    The girl I’ve been crazy for since kindergarten is in my house, eating my food, and loving it. He thought as he watched her.

    A more pertinent thought followed that.

    And this happens less than a week after I start dating another girl.

    He walked down to the bottom of the steps, and Jackie finally noticed him. “Hey dude, this grilled cheese is amazing. What do you do?”

    Marco reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well… it’s nothing special… I just spread mayo on the bread and fry it in a cold pan instead of using butter… and I use four cheeses.”

    “No wonder it was so decadent, Diaz,” Janna teased from the kitchen. “Now that I know your secret, I’ll surpass you.”

    Marco shot her a glare. “It’d better be the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.”

    Jackie held up half of the sandwich. “I tore off this part, want it?”

    Of course he didn’t hesitate to take her up on it and popped the whole piece into his mouth. Good, now he had a baseline to go by. “So, why did you come over. I didn’t even think you knew where I lived.”

    He took a seat on the couch next to Jackie, who savored her half for a few moments before she answered. “I wanted to know what was up with the Magnavores, and stuff.”

    Marco paused, surprised she wanted to know about that. “It’s… nothing you should be really worried about–”

    “I know who the Beetleborgs are, dude,” Jackie revealed. Before Marco could say a word, she elaborated. “Drew and Jo McCormick, and Roland Williams… right?”

    His mouth dropped open. “… How did you…?”

    “I saw Mabel’s phone during the fight,” she revealed. “I’m not going to tell anyone, I’m not a narc.”

    “It’s true, Jackie smokes weed during the weekends, by the way,” Janna called out.

    Marco kept gaping at her. “… For real…?”

    Jackie smiled at his reaction. “I do it to relax.”

    He looked away, his naïve worldview shaken even as a more realistic side of him pointed out that a skateboarder as laid-back and carefree as Jackie Lynn Thomas could NOT not have partaken at least once in her life.

    “I don’t judge,” he assured her. “My parents smoke too, so it’s not weird.”

    “Cool,” Jackie said, “So what’s going on? Is this like end of the world stuff, or what?”

    Marco turned his head to look back. “As long as we keep beating the crud out of them, everyone’s going to be okay.”

    Her sandwich done, Jackie sat back into the couch and nodded. “What happens when you guys win, do you send them back into the comic book or something like that?”

    He shook his head. “No, all the monsters we’ve fought we’ve had to… destroy.”

    He could still feel the fake Jeremy’s chin under his foot as his neck broke in three places.

    “Aside from the Scabs, did you destroy any?” She asked.

    “… No.”

    It was never going to stop being a good feeling.

    “So it’s a battle to the death, huh? Them or the entire world?” She asked.

    Marco nodded, trying not to be grim about it. “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, right?”

    Jackie nodded in agreement, and a silence fell between them for all of a moment, before she broke it. “… Well, what can I do to help?”

    He didn’t expect that, or for how much she inferred with her offer of assistance. “… Wait, you want to help? Like help fight, and not… support and cover for us?”

    “I can back you guys up and distract people, sure…” Jackie said. “But I’d really like to help you fight monsters if I can.”

    Marco couldn’t think of any other way to put it without sounding disrespectful or condescending, so he just went straight in. “… Can you fight?”

    Jackie flushed a little bit, like she was embarrassed to admit it. “I’ve done a little Taekwondo and capoeira for working on movement, but I’m not like… a master at it. I can also throw like a spear really far.”

    “… A spear?”

    “You know, like spear fishing? It’s a long story.” Jackie laughed a little nervously, hoping he did not pry into the whole spear thing.

    Marco wasn’t even paying attention. All he was hearing was that the girl he had a huge crush on had an interest in martial arts too–and he never even knew. “… Huh… wow…”

    “What?” She asked.

    His hand to the back of his neck again, he rubbed it. “… Nothing, I just learned two whole things about you and I’m trying to deal with that.”

    Jackie’s smile grew a little. “Would you like to know more?”

    Marco lifted his eyebrow at the way she said that specifically. “You’ve seen Starship Troopers?”

    “I love Starship Troopers,” Jackie answered.

    “Huh, that’s three things,” he mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.

    “We should hang out more, dude.”

    It was his time to chuckle nervously. “Y-yeah, we should…”

    This is someone’s idea of a joke, isn’t it? Jackie and I just hanging out, like I always wanted… AFTER I start dating Star! Come on, what is this?! His mind howled.

    His complaints weren’t a regret, he loved Star and not even Jackie being right next to him on his couch could change that, but the absurdity of it could not go unaddressed. He let out a little laugh and shook his head.

    “You know, it’s kind of funny how we’ve known each other since we were really little, and this is like the first time I’ve said more than hello,” he said.

    Jackie gave him a look. “Well, there was the time you broke my skateboard–” At the way he cringed, she laughed and began kicking her feet. “But for real, I always wanted to sit down and chat, but like… I don’t know anything about you except for school stuff, dude.”

    He once more stared at her in disbelief. “… You don’t? But I’m the safe kid, the straight A student who wants to be a bad boy.”

    “Yeah, but everyone just thought you were… you know… just trying too hard because you were the safe kid. Except you’re like, actually a badass karate master who fights monsters with a literal Magical Girl… and now the Big Bad Beetleborgs.”

    Marco looked completely stricken. “… I was… trying to hard…?”

    Jackie laughed. “Yeah dude, you kinda were, but now you’re the coolest guy at school–at least in my opinion.”

    And now he’d rubber-banded to shocked disbelief. “… The… coolest…?”

    Janna walked in from the kitchen, carrying a plate in one hand while holding a paper towel over it. “Hey Thomas, don’t feed Marco too much, now. He hasn’t had lunch, yet.”

    It was Jackie’s turn to pull back, an embarrassed flush coloring her face as she looked away, looking like she was trying to play it cool after being caught sneaking her hand into the cookie jar. Once more, Marco was kind of dumbfounded that he’d never seen her like this. Janna setting the plate down on the coffee table in front of him drew his attention to her. When she pulled the paper towel away, he was presented with a grilled cheese sandwich with a perfectly melted layer of cheese nicely browned over top it, creating quite possibly the cheesiest substance Marco’d ever seen.

    “… Wait,” Marco said as he picked it up. “You made this?”

    “I did your thing, but then I also made a quick cheese sauce, poured it over the top, and took a blowtorch to it,” Janna explained. “Also, I think it’s really cool that your kitchen has a blowtorch for exactly this.”

    “Yeah, Mom doesn’t let me use it.” Marco took a bite of the sandwich and went still.

    Jackie looked from him to Janna, and her now insufferable smirk. Marco looked from his sandwich up to her, and glared.

    “You’re welcome,” Janna merely replied, and Marco tore into the sandwich with a vengeance.

    As he ate, she turned around and sat next to him on the couch, and immediately positioned herself to take as much space as possible and squeeze him between her and Jackie. Pulling out her phone, she began texting. “So…”

    Marco was caught between a flavor-induced haze and every conscious thought being directed towards him being hip to hip with both Jackie and Janna. Once more he wondered why this was happening after he began dating Star and drew closer to the conclusion that there was some higher power doing it for their own amusement at his expense.

    “So what?” He asked.

    “Are we gonna let Jackie in on the gig, or what?” Janna asked.

    He gave her an exceedingly dry look; one she was actually a little proud of him for mustering. “I don’t see what’s wrong with it.” He turned to Jackie. “But I wanna see how good you are before we go pitching the idea to the others.”

    Jackie nodded, happy to comply with that. “So, what, are we gonna spar or something?”

    “Yeah, after I finish this sandwich,” Marco said. “I’m really going to need to burn it off.”

    Jackie pumped her fists. “Yes!” She turned and hugged him. “Thank you, Marco!”

    Frozen in her embrace, Marco wondered if whatever deity behind this turn of fortune was going to be extra spiteful, and have Star return from St. O’s at this exact moment just to mess with him. To the demiurge’s credit that didn’t happen, and Marco relaxed, returning her hug before pulling back.

    “… Jackie…” He began.

    Still holding onto his upper arms, Jackie looked into his eyes. “… Marco?”

    Janna turned her head and brought her lips up to Marco’s ear to whisper against it. “Janna…”

    Marco visibly flinched and turned to her. “Janna?!”

    She nodded in confirmation. “Janna.”

    Jackie burst into laughter.

    “Why are you like this?” Marco asked as Jackie clutched her sides to keep them from escaping orbit.

    “Would you believe that it’s because I have a crush on you?” She asked.

    Marco didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely not.”

    Janna shrugged her shoulders. “Fair enough, what would be the odds that two girls who are best friends like the same guy and are entirely fine with sharing him?”

    He did not see Jackie shoot a hand up to her mouth to violently stifle her laughter to stare in wide-eyed horror at Janna.

    Marco was even quicker than that. “My life is already deep in the realm of impossibility, don’t go gassing me up with pure fantasy.”

    Janna hit him with another curt nod. “That is the correct answer.”

    Chuckling as she lowered her hand from her mouth, Jackie stood up and brushed the crumbs from her shirt as she turned to the two of them. “So… are we gonna go and spar, or what?”

    Marco got up, feeling as many parts relieved as he was annoyed by Janna’s antics. “Yeah, let me change into my gi and do something about my hair.”

    “Okay,” Jackie said cheerfully and waved Marco off as he went up the stairs. As soon as she heard the door close, however, she turned on Janna with a less amused expression. “So… what was that all about?”

    Janna looked up from her phone. “Checking something.”

    Jackie’s tone lowered. “Checking what, if you’ve teased him enough to not believe anything you say?”

    “You and I and Marco have known each other a long time, but because of your awful personality traits, you have never talked to each other until this year. Ten years, Thomas, without a meaningful thing to say to him until he spoke to you.” Janna rose and got up in Jackie’s face, making her recoil a bit. “I know everything about Marco, right down to his social security number and biometrics, and one of the other things I know is how much he was into you.”

    She rolled her eyes. “So much so that he didn’t notice anyone else but you on that pedestal.”

    Jackie frowned a little. “… What are you saying?”

    “I’m saying that I expected a very different reaction to my inference that you and I were a BOGO deal. Marco’s not dumb, he’s just over you.”

    Jackie stared at Janna, uncomprehending for a moment, before something clicked in her head. “Oh shoot, you think he and Star are…?”

    “I have my suspicions,” Janna replied. “Well, had. I’m thinking he’s got it bad for Star, now.”

    Her shoulders slumped; Jackie grew despondent. Not intensely so, but she was down. “… Well, shit, why wouldn’t he? Star’s amazing.”

    “Still wanna do this?” Janna asked.

    The very question offended her. “Dude, I’m not gonna change my mind on saving the world over a boy.”

    Janna reached up and caressed Jackie’s face. “Good answer. Now don’t go all emo on me and turn that streak black. You said so yourself, ‘Star’s amazing,’ and you have plenty of time to get to know her better–and Marco, too.”

    Leaning her cheek into Janna’s palm, Jackie’s eyes lit with mischief and quick as lightning she snatched the other girl’s hat off her head.

    “Huh? Hey!” Janna protested before Jackie swiftly dipped back from her and put the table between them. With a triumphant smirk, Jackie put the beanie on, and used it to hold her hair away from her face.

    “… You have plenty of time to work on yourself too, girl. Maybe learn to not be the pussy you are behind your snark and indifference… and not cockblock your friends.”

    Janna narrowed her eyes at Jackie as her grin grew. “Yeah, whatever, just gimme my hat back or I’m taking you on a tour to a cannery.”

    “You can have it back…” Jackie’s grin became fully radiant with malice. “… If you can take it!” Jackie bolted to the kitchen and out the back door.

    “Oh fuck you, get back here, Thomas!” Janna shouted as she bolted after her.

    By the time he came back downstairs in his karate gi, to take Janna up on her hair-braiding desires, he found her circling around his father’s shed like a particularly angry and verticality-challenged dog, and Jackie–wearing Janna’s hat–perched up on the roof pointing down at her and laughing. It was once more something he’d never seen with Jackie, with the added bonus of Janna being on the backfoot against someone for once.

    Honestly, today’s been better than AP Calculus, he admitted to himself as he smiled and walked over to join the two.

    = - = 53 = - =

    Well, at least Marco's having a better day.
     
    Self-Medication New
  • The Ero-Sennin

    Audience of the Great Comedy
    Author
    Let's take a quick look at some others.

    Content Warning: Drug and Alcohol Use

    = - = 54 = - =

    |Self-Medication|

    Josephine McCormick sat on the floor in front of her brother’s bedroom door, idly fanning herself with her baseball cap as she listened to the sound of wooden cabinets closing and plastic bags rustling. Normally with a day off from school in front of her, she’d have been at Zoom hours ago, but she wasn’t in a very sociable mood. In fact, her attitude could be compared favorably to that of a wolverine out to make its existence everyone else’s problem. Her normal inward and outward loathing notwithstanding, the current target of her ire was the source of the mild racket going on downstairs, that began to make its way up after a few more moments of tooling around.

    Reaching the top of the stairs, Mr. McCormick turned and gave a start at his daughter sitting against his son’s door, staring at him with an unreadable expression. He carried in his hand a large plastic bin, which itself was filled with plastic bags and cleaning supplies.

    He answered her look with a wholly dispassionate one of his own, as he addressed her. “What are you doing, Josephine?”

    Jo rested her head against the door and shrugged her shoulders. “I’m just occupying this moment of time and space for no particular reason. What are you doing, Dad?”

    “Your brother did not come home last night, even though he knows he’s grounded.”

    That certainly did not answer her question. “… And?”

    “And I’m cleaning out the junk in his room.”

    There it was. Jo sighed. “Yeah, didn’t I say something about Drew not having his phone and having no way to contact us if anything happened to him?”

    “If there was a problem, he’d find a way to call us,” he answered.

    Jo rested her hand on her cheek. “And what if he couldn’t…?”

    Her father let out a sigh of mild exasperation. “Jo, go to your room, we’ll discuss Drew’s whereabouts after I’m done cleaning his.”

    Jo shook her head. “Nah.”

    Mr. McCormick stopped. “… Pardon me?”

    She looked down at her crossed legs. “Just nah, I don’t feel like getting up.”

    Mr. McCormick reached up and adjusted his glasses with two fingers. “… Jo, move.”

    She looked up at him and spoke with a firm and pointed tone. “No, you move.”

    Her father frowned at her defiance. “I will move you.”

    Jo held out her hands, smiling. “Cool, you’ve never picked me up before, Dad.”

    Setting down the plastic bin, Mr. McCormick reached out to hoist Jo up off her butt and move her aside… when the bedroom door opened, and Drew stuck his bandaged face out to look at his sister and father. Drew opening the door clearly took his Dad by surprise, as he stood back quickly.

    “… Can you guys keep it down? I’m trying to sleep,” he said, like his physical condition wasn’t a big deal.

    As Drew opened the door wider, revealing the bandages on his arms, going all the way up under his t-shirt, his father gawked at him in confusion. “When did you get home?”

    “Like at around ten?” He replied, before adding. “I’m fine, by the way.”

    Mr. McCormick narrowed his eyes at his son. “I was up until eleven waiting for you, how’d you sneak in?”

    Drew scratched his cheek as he recalled about how Star was kind enough to let him use her Dimensional Scissors to get back into his room without anyone being the wiser. “Magic.”

    His father’s eyes widened, an intense rush of anger filling him that both he and Jo could see before he tamped it down and brought his hand up to adjust his glasses again. “Are you going to play games with me, Andrew?”

    Though the corners of his lips twitched slightly upward, Drew remained impassive. “Are you going to ask why I’m covered in bandages?”

    Now his father was glaring at him.

    “No? Then I think we’re done here. I need to sleep this off.” He gestured to himself, before shutting the door. The audible click of a lock engaging surprised his father, who stepped up and turned the doorknob–only to find it unmoving.

    “What’s this?” He asked firmly through the door. “When did you install this?”

    “More magic, Dad,” Drew called back. “Now can you leave me alone?”

    Jo, her hand firmly over her mouth, silently thanked Drew for turning her mood a complete one-hundred eighty. She scooted aside, as her Dad firmly knocked.

    “Andrew McCormick, this is my house, and that’s my door. I did not give you permission to install a lock on it,” he said with a mustered authority that matched how hard he struck the door.

    On his side of the door, Drew expressed his thanks to Star again for using her magic to conjure up a lock and reinforcing his door. Though she may have overdone it, not being able to use her wand and all, he had nothing but praise for the result.

    His father struck it a final time, much harder than the other knocks, and took a deep, calming breath. “… I will take this door off the hinges.”

    “I thought this was your house and your door. Don’t you remember? The hinges are on my side.” Drew pointed out.

    Mr. McCormick looked and saw that the hinges he would take the door off from were indeed on Drew’s side of the door. Jo sounded like she was dry heaving from how hard she suppressed her laughter. Taking a deep breath, he picked up his cleaning supplies. “You want to sleep, you can sleep. But we are discussing your attitude Monday, which is the next time I want to see you out of that room.”

    “Does that include bathroom privileges, or do I have to use a bucket?” Drew called back.

    Mr. McCormick marched off downstairs. “I’m sure you can ‘magic up’ something.”

    Soon as he was out of sight, Jo went back to Drew’s door, and he opened it for her without hesitation. Slipping inside, she let him close it with his telekinesis and burst into giggles. “… What the hell, man? What was that?”

    Drew, lying on his bed, rubbed his face. “After fighting Saberizer and Jara, standing up to Dad’s crap is a lot easier.”

    “How did you sneak back in?” Jo asked.

    “I called Star and she set me up with the Scissors. Also did some magic with the door.”

    Jo had hoped it was him using his telekinesis or something. “… Oh. Well, at least you have a way in and out of the house if you’re still going to that stupid dance.”

    Drew nodded in agreement. “I am, Roland thought of something even better than the prank he had in mind.”

    She shrugged her shoulders. “I hope it ruins Brittney’s entire night.”

    “Oh, it will,” Drew promised her.

    At that moment, very loud music began to play from the McCormick’s home entertainment center in the living room downstairs. Both Drew and Jo stared down at the floor as The Eagles “Take It Easy” floated through the walls at a volume clearly intended to impede any kind of sleep.

    Drew and Jo rolled their eyes in unison, before he pulled out a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

    “Man, he is gonna be all day with it,” Jo lamented.

    Drew laid back in his bed. “I hate the fucking Eagles, man.”

    “You should tell him.”

    It was tempting, but… “Nah, I’ve gone this long without an actual fight breaking out.”

    Jo nodded. “… Wanna sneak out and go to Zoom, anyway?”

    “Nah, I seriously gotta sleep this off. Since, you know, seeing a doctor would raise questions.”

    Crossing her arms, Jo weighed on that. “You know, we should get a doctor on our side. Someone who can work on us and not ask questions if we get hurt.”

    “There’s Flabber, he assisted a Doctor,” Drew suggested.

    “A mad scientist quack doctor who kept monsters in his house. No, we need a real doctor.”

    Drew huffed in amusement. “We’re still looking at back-alley surgeon at best if you want someone who’s ethics put them at treating kids who get bashed up without informing parents, or authorities.”

    Jo’s shoulders dropped at the validity of her brother’s point. “Well, crap.”

    “You’re smart, you’ll figure something out,” Drew assured her. “As long as it’s not you trying to be a back-alley surgeon.”

    Jo tilted her nose up. “How do you know I won’t be amazing at it?”

    “I’m not willing to loan my body to science,” Drew snapped back.

    Letting out a laugh, Jo turned to the door. “I’m still going out, you want anything?”

    “A Mexican Cheeseburger from Britta’s, and more bandages, thank you,” Drew said before he affixed his noise cancelers and laid back.

    Watching him get comfy, Jo let out a small sigh and left his room to escape the house and The Very Best of The Eagles. Jogging down the stairs to the garage, she cast her father the barest look. He sat on his chair, a tablet in his hands, ignoring her presence entirely to stare in the direction of Drew’s room while the music blared from the speakers of the Home Entertainment Center.

    Shaking her head ruefully, Jo left the house for some peace and quiet elsewhere.

    His father’s efforts were for naught, as Drew settled in to go back to sleep–barely inconvenienced by the racket downstairs. What did prevent him from closing his eyes to drift away, was the jolt of his phone buzzing from under his pillow. With his telekinesis, he slipped the phone from beneath him and hovered it above his face.

    Janna Banana said:
    *Slides in 2 ur DMs* Sup Sad Kid, how’s the phone? 😏

    Rolling his eyes, he wrote back.

    Dr00 said:
    Im managing, and the phone is great. What do u want?

    Janna Banana said:
    Just making sure ur still alive, buddy. Also wanted to show u something cool.

    Dr00 said:
    It better not be nething weird.

    Janna Banana said:
    If you wanna see something weird I can come over later but you may regret it 😉

    Dr00 said:
    🙄

    Janna Banana said:
    But seriously I’m watching the audition of the newest member of the DK Crew right this second.

    Drew lifted an eyebrow, wondering what the heck she meant by that. He got his answer when the request for a video call suddenly popped up, again from Janna. Accepting it, he was immediately greeted by Janna making an ugly face at the camera, startling him.

    “Gah!” He yelped.

    “Hey Sad Kid,” Janna chimed, chuckling from her little prank, before she noticed the background music. “Okay, whoever is in that house is so not a fan of The Big Lebowski.”

    “My Dad cannot live without listening to one Eagles song a day,” Drew replied.

    Janna let out a snort. “Wow, what a boomer.”

    “He’s not even that old,” Drew replied.

    “He listens to boomer tunes, and not even any good ones, like Creedence or King Crimson.” Janna stopped. “Hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself. Check this out.”

    The phone’s camera turned away from Janna’s face to a wide shot of Marco Diaz’s backyard, where Princess Marco in all his Shadowy Radiance was squaring up against Jackie Lynn Thomas holding a broom handle with its end unscrewed like it was a bo staff. His eyebrows rose high at the unexpected sight and shot higher when Jackie took off and attacked Marco with the broom handle.

    “Haaaa!” She called out as she swung the broom handle down, and narrowly missed the top of Marco’s head as he twisted to the left to avoid it. With surprising competence, she hooked the handle up and thrust and swung rapidly for his head in tight circular motions, forcing him to bob and weave while he retreated and she advanced.

    Marco’s hands, quick as lightning, flashed into action, parrying a strike with his left hand and then with his right when she looped the broom handle over his head to swing for the other side of it. Undeterred she lunged straight, and Marco tilted his head to the left to avoid the thrust.

    Parrying the broom handle up with his right palm, Marco jumped back as Jackie readjusted her grip and made short shallow strikes aimed for his head, as though she were swinging a sword down on him.

    “Jackie Lynn Thomas can fight?” Drew asked.

    “Always could,” Janna replied. “She’s more of a lover than a fighter, though. Would rather give hugs than headlocks.”

    After several swings, Jackie aimed low and used short sweeping motions aimed for Marco’s feet and ankles while keeping out of his reach. When Marco began hopping from one foot to the other, Jackie suddenly swung the broom up for his face–but Marco was faster. His foot shot up in a high kick to kick the broom up and out of her hands.

    But Jackie did not hesitate, as soon as she lost her weapon she jumped, twisted, and fired a flying roundhouse with her right foot that he blocked with his left arm. He counterattacked, driving his palm into Jackie’s stomach at the same time, knocking the wind out of her before he used his left hand to strike her cheek and send her spinning to the ground.

    Drew winced. “Oof.”

    Janna actively recoiled. “… Whoa…!”

    Marco gaped in surprise for an instant, then gasped in horror. “Jackie, oh my God!”

    Jackie, pushing herself up, quickly raised a hand and waved it off. “Dude, it’s okay, I’m good.” She coughed for a moment. “I’m good…”

    She sat up on her knees and rubbed her face. In spite of taking two pretty stiff hits from Marco, she lit up in a smile. “Dang, dude, I’m glad you were holding back.”

    With her free hand she reached up and caught the falling broom handle before it could clock her atop her head. Twirling it hand, she drove the end into the ground and used it to slowly hoist herself to her feet with Marco’s help. As soon as she was on her wobbly two legs, Marco was already checking her for any serious injury.

    “Try not to move around too much, okay?” He asked as he checked her eyes whole holding her still. “How’s your head? Any ringing in the ears? Do you feel sick?”

    Jackie’s face turned red as he looked so intensely into her eyes. “Y-yeah, I told you I’m good, Marco… I’ve fallen off my board enough times to know when I’ve gotten a concussion…”

    Janna peeked into the camera shot to address Drew. “Aren’t they cute?”

    Marco turned to look at her. “Janna, can you go and get–”

    Janna looked back and whipped a plastic first-aid kit container at him. “Medkit incoming.”

    Snatching it out of the sky, he gave Janna a pointed look.

    She shrugged her shoulders. “Come on, Diaz, you should be impressed that I’m so considerate to think ahead of you.”

    “You’re like this with everyone, huh?” Drew asked.

    Janna brought her phone back to look at it. “Only the ones I wanna bully.”

    Drew let out a snort. “Aren’t you greedy?”

    Marco heard his voice. “Oh, hey Drew. Jackie knows about the Beetleborgs and stuff.”

    Hearing that, Drew did a double take. “Wait, she does?”

    Jackie called over. “Yeah, I want to help how I can. Is that okay?”

    He wasn’t all too sure about that. “Uh… this is kind of a big deal to want to be part of. It’s really dangerous, and you could get hurt.”

    Janna chimed in. “But think of all the perks. Jackie’s got some serious skills… and she’s a hugger.”

    “Totes a hugger,” Jackie added, before suddenly glomping onto Marco and cuddling him for emphasis.

    Marco made a sound not-unlike a squeak and a gurgle.

    Drew gave Janna a flat look when she turned the camera back onto her. “I’m not gonna be convinced to let her join our group fighting the Magnavores with free hugs.”

    “Yeah, but you know Star, Mabel, and Misao totally are.” She glanced back at Marco. “Him, too. But you know what he’s all about.”

    In spite of not having interacted with Marco at all before literally a couple weeks ago, Drew explicitly knew. And sympathized.

    “Besides, you’ve seen her fight; she took a two piece from Marco and didn’t die. She’ll be useful,” Janna continued.

    It was Marco, however, who provided reasoning that stuck. “Plus, she already knows who you guys are,” he said, “It’s going to be for the best to keep the people who are in the know close.”

    Drew immediately understood. “Well, in the spirit of pragmatism, I’m fine with it. Just uh… please run it by Dipper sooner than later?”

    “I’ll text him as soon as I’m tired of looking at your mug, Sad Kid,” Janna teased.

    And once more Drew responded with a hard look. “No bulli.”

    “Yessss bulli,” Janna purred back, and his face colored under his bandages.

    Marco called over to Janna as he finished bandaging Jackie’s cheek. “Seriously, stop being such a flirt.”

    “Asking me to stop breathing is easier, Princess,” Janna sassed back.

    Jackie smirked. “It really is. She can drop her pulse to zero for like a whole minute.”

    Janna grew alarmed and whirled on Jackie. “Hey! Don’t go showing my trump cards!”

    The intensely catty smirk Jackie answered with surprised Marco and Drew as much as Janna’s own indignation. “I could reveal so much more, Janna Banana~”

    “Not if I make you fish food, first,” Janna seethed, prompting Drew to burst into laughter, Marco joining in shortly after.

    Jackie tilted her head up, looking the smuggest either young man had ever seen her. “Dude, I got clobbered my Marco and didn’t die. What can you do?”

    “Exact my revenge in ways that surpass physical pain,” Janna promised with a colder smile of her own.

    It honestly sent a shiver through Jackie. “Challenge accepted.”

    Drew’s laughter died down to chuckling. It hurt to laugh. “Okay, okay, I have no objections to Jackie being part of the team now.”

    Marco agreed. “Me too, I’m gonna recommend you highly to Dipper.”

    Janna rolled her eyes. “Yeah, go on and sign up for my wrath with her. I’ll make sure there’s plenty to go around.”

    “If your wrath’s anything like your ‘bullying’ I might be up for it,” Drew clapped back.

    Janna, now completely off her game, glowered at Drew even as a blush spread across her face. “I’ll talk to you later, Sad Kid.”

    Drew waved at the camera. “Bye~”

    Janna ended the call, and turned to Jackie and Marco, who were both now in hysterics. Her eyes narrowed, as she quickly scanned the back yard.

    “She’s so cute when she’s flustered, right?!” Jackie asked him.

    “Oh man, it’s like fourth grade again!” Marco howled between his guffaws.

    Jackie, looking up mid-peal of laughter, suddenly gasped with fright. “Janna, no don’t you fucking–!”

    She was cut off by a stream of water to the face from the Diaz residence’s water hose. Marco, surprised, had even less time to react before Janna hosed him down too. On the other end of the torrent, Janna smirked as she alternated between hosing down both Marco and Jackie, preventing them from trying to rush her.

    “You both can cool off; you did work up a sweat and all~” She said with all the sugar-coated malice in the world.

    On his end, Drew stifled his laughter and caught his phone in hand when he sensed his father making his way up the stairs. Even with the literal walls between them, he could feel Mr. McCormick’s approach and had his phone hidden away before he heard the first hard knock on the door.

    “What’s so funny?” His father demanded.

    Drew looked towards the door, still smiling as he realized he’d been heard laughing. What unfortunate timing, he’d gotten caught between those horrible songs, and that consideration combined with the sheer freedom that came with tweaking Janna caused a glint to appear in his eyes.

    “I was just laughing at how much The Eagles suck.”

    He closed his eyes. Through the door, just beyond the threshold, he could see it perfectly–his Dad gaping wide-eyed at the door, his nostrils flaring, his fists clenching and his veins bulging up his unimpressive neck and up to his severely receding hairline. Then, his father took a deep, long breath, and turned away from the door.

    “Whatever that was, just now, will cost you dearly, Andrew,” he said as he tried to stop his voice from shaking. “I do not want to see you until next week. Do you understand?”

    Drew opened his eyes, feeling triumphant. “Perfectly.”

    His father walked away from the door, and out of the influence of his telekinesis by the time he reached the bottom of the stairs.

    Drew did not miss, however, his father looking back and raising a middle finger at his door before he did.

    @@@@@

    St. Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses Doing Just Fine had really changed since Star last saw it. Gone was its oppressive atmosphere, robot guards, and draconian headmistress. The gothic-style castle of a school was radiant with colorful flashing lights from every window, and loud party music pumped from every speaker. Its orderly halls were now awash with fun and mayhem, as young women freed from the oppressive yokes of their prison celebrated their freedom by living their best untethered lives entire realities away from their homes.

    In the main dining hall of the school, now converted into a bar and dance floor, Star lounged comfortably on a furry aquamarine-colored bean bag, sipping from a bottle of something both powerfully sweet and absurdly alcoholic as she watched Pony Head–straw wedged in he right nostril–sail down a line of violet-pink crystals, inhaling it as she went. Reaching the end of the line, Pony Head shot up and expelled the straw before letting out a cheer.

    “WHOA-HO! YEAH! THIS FEELS SO GOOD!” She yelled, as her eyes developed a blue hue and similarly colored sparks showered from her horn. “Hey B-Fly! You gotta hit some of this, I just wanna dance forever!”

    Star laughed as Pony Head twisted and turned to the hard pumping beat of the music. “Nah, I’m good, Pony! You do your thang, tho, girl!”

    “Hahahah! More for me then~!” Pony Head cheered back before she floated up to and leaned against Star’s shoulder. “But for real, girl! You and Marco are already messing around; you ain’t get this far with Tom!”

    Star’s face turned a bright red. “Po-HEY! It’s not like that!”

    “Uh huh? And what kind of privileges have you been letting the BF enjoy, B-Fly?” She turned to drill her starry-eyed stare into Star. “HMMMM?”

    Star looked away, sputtering into the mouth of her bottle. “Freaking Marco… for goodness sake, Pony! We’re just taking it easy and going at our own pace.”

    Pony Head relented. “Yeah, but you do make out with him, right? Can he at least kiss?”

    Letting out a giggle, Star swooned and leaned against Pony. “Oh yeah, he’s amazing.”

    Relieved, Pony Head zipped around Star from being unable to stay still. “Good, get you some girl! Not like Tom and his ‘oh my gosh we’re holdin’ hands’ posts. That was so lame!”

    Star gasped. “Hey, I made out with Tom!”

    “Uh huh, then why didn’t you tell me, your bestie?” Pony Head was so happy that she had the crown back. She didn’t need the Kalaxian Crystals for that high.

    Taking a sip of her drink, Star rolled her eyes and fessed up. “Because he didn’t want his Mom to know that we were.”

    Pony Head let out a very horsey snort, a cloud of purple powder escaping her nostrils. “Yeah, that sounds right. You know how demon boys be all like ‘The heart of pure black darkness beats in me, now give me your soul!’ but then they turn around and are all like ‘Oh I wuv my Mama~! I wanna be her widdle boy 4 EVER.’”

    Star giggled. “Oh no, don’t get me started on Tom’s whole… DEAL.”

    “You don’t have to,” Pony Head insisted, “I was there for that six-hour cry after you set fire to that village.”

    Star desperately wanted to change the topic away from that village. “Hey, have you heard anything about Tom lately? Or Amirana?”

    Pony Head was more than eager to share. “Oh my goodness, B-Fly. You don’t even know. So like, the arrangement between Tom and Amirana is off, and like Tom’s been stuck in the underworld because the Bounce Lounge sent his parents the bill for activating the fire suppression.”

    “Has anyone talked to Amirana?”

    “Pfft, no?! I mean, the last anyone saw her she was all up in her library in Septarsis and she hasn’t come out for anyone. But you know, that’s not new.”

    Star threw her head back into the aquamarine fluffiness of the bean bag and groaned, before she tilted the bottle up to her lips and drained the remainder of the drink contained. “… Great, I have to ask Tom for her number now.”

    She couldn’t go asking her Mom for Amirana’s number, because then she’d ask why her sudden interest, then she’d turn it into an interrogation, and then she’d know for sure she’d been to the Bounce Lounge. On the bright side, Star couldn’t be sent to St. O’s, but on the other hand her Mom would find out about St. O’s and if there was anyone who could bring an end to the multiverse’s greatest party, it was the multiverse’s greatest buzzkill, Moon Butterfly.

    Pony Head got that. “Well, she’s your family, and you know how I feel about family.”

    “… They inevitably try to kill you in order to take your birthright for themselves?” Star asked.

    “Exactly!” Pony Head nodded firmly with that, before she once again cuddled up to Star. “But Amirana got played by Tom too, so she deserves like a little chance, all right?”

    Star conceded to Pony Head with a determined nod. “I’ll call him when I get home!”

    “You should call him now while you got that buzz going, but only because I wanna see that fight,” Pony Head insisted.

    Star looked at her drink and dropped it unceremoniously to sink into the bean bag. “Then I’m gonna need more than this; I am not there yet.”

    On cue, a Princess behind the bar tossed a bottle across the dining hall-turned-night club, and Star smoothly snatched it out the air before it struck the left side of her head. “Thank you!”

    “It’s all good, Princess B-Fly!” Princess Bartender called back.

    Star smiled back at Princess Bartender, before popping the cork of her drink and sprawling herself out on her comfortable cushion to take a long sip. “I am so glad I came here. I really needed this.”

    “Of course this is a better party than that lame-o dance with teacher supervision and no bar! What’s the point of going to a dance if you can’t get messed up? Nobody acts a fool sober!”

    To demonstrate the point, both Star and Pony Head turned to the dining hall, where Princess Smooshy was performing a headspin in the middle of the dance floor while other Princesses chanted her name to cheer her on. Spinning faster and faster, the ogre-like princess quickly lost control and bowled over several other Princesses–all of them careening off the far edge of the dance floor.

    Star and Pony Head burst into laughter at the sight with the other Princesses in the room, even the ones cut down by Smooshy. She herself did not hesitate to take a selfie where she lay in the center of the carnage with a call of “Camera Phone!”

    Calming down after laughing herself breathless, Star looked at her drink and took another pull from it. As she drank, Pony Head continued. “But yeah, that princess wannabe wouldn’t last five minutes at a real party. I thought Marco was boring, but she sounds like a bigger square than him.”

    Star lowered her bottle as Princess wannabe set off an epiphany. “She’s kinda like Ludo, you know?”

    Pony Head gasped. “You mean that freaky kappa always trying to steal your wand?”

    Star turned to look at her. “… Kappa?” She nodded slowly; half confused at what a kappa even was. “The ugly little beaked guy I guess, yeah.”

    It had been almost a year since Star had received the Royal Magic Wand on her birthday. From the beginning she’d been targeted by monsters led by the embodiment of the small monster complex, Ludo Avarius. Almost every week, sometimes twice, he would send his goons after her, or craft some kind of scheme to catch her off guard to get the wand. It wasn’t particularly difficult for her to routinely beat him and his monster henchmen when they came for her, and it got even easier after she came to Earth and met Marco.

    At least until Toffee came along, but Star didn’t want to think about that. This was about Ludo.

    She gripped the fluff of the bean bag as she dashed any thought of that loser lizard from her mind. “Ludo’s loud, mean, totally obnoxious, and he was always barking orders at his minions without actually giving a crap about them. The only difference between them is Brittney doesn’t send her cheerleaders to try to take my wand from me–and she’s not bad to look at either.”

    Taking another sip, Star noted that the bottle was half gone already. “But still, she doesn’t have any friends–just people she uses and like with Ludo, one day they’re going to go away and she’s going to be all alone.”

    Pony Head wasn’t sure if it was because she was coming down from her crystal high, but she suddenly had a weird feeling. “… Now tell me the part where that’s great and you want to throw a party when that happens.”

    Star looked away from Pony Head, who floated closer to her, ominously. “… B-Fly…”

    Rather than answer. Star began chugging down the rest of her drink.

    Pony Head loomed even closer, the stars in the center of her pupils shining like headlights onto her. “B-Fly.”

    Unable to delay any longer, what with her bottle of liquid courage being drained, Star let out a gasp and shouted. “I want to be her friend, okay?! Like, I know I messed up with her super bad, and everything that’s happened tells me that I need to put as much distance between us as possible but…!”

    She stopped and took a deep breath. “I can’t stand the thought of her ending up like Ludo! Ludo sucks and I know if Brittney had a real friend, she wouldn’t suck either!”

    Brittney wasn’t the only one Star was thinking about. “Eventually when you push everyone away enough, they just take the hint. I’m really bad at understanding hints though, so I’m gonna be Brittney’s friend… and Jo’s, too.”

    Pony Head mulled over this. “I think you should just introduce them to Ludo instead so they could all bond over hating you.”

    Star glared at Pony Head. “Lilacia.”

    “I’m joking, girl! You know I have no doubt that you can be friends with them!” She nuzzled Star affectionately. “Just remember that I’m still your bestie and they gotta respect the hierarchy. It goes Bestie, Boyfriend, and then immediate family, and then everybody else’s gotta fight for a spot in line.”

    Star laughed and hugged Pony Head. “Thank you so much.” She pulled back. “With Mabel’s help, I can definitely win them both over and squash all the beef once and for all.”

    Pony Head circled around Star. “You know, you need to invite her and Misao over next time, the girls have been asking about them non-stop. Also, Mabel owes me a hairstyle ascension to godhood.”

    “Oh sure, yeah, yeah, yeah! I’ll even see if I can get Marco to show up, it’ll be great!” Star giggled and rolled over on the beanbag to bury her face in it and squeal in excitement for her resolution and from her moderate intoxication.

    An idea came to Pony Head, as she moved around Star to face her in her new orientation. “Oh yeah, speaking of hair. You should ask Kelly if she wants to help fight those loser monsters.”

    Star lifted her face from the beanbag. “Kelly…?” Her eyes darted about in confusion, as if the name had been lost to her, and then widened when by providence it had been found again. “KELLY! Oh my gosh, I almost forgot about her, she loves fighting more than Marco!”

    “Yeah, and like even more than you!” Pony Head stopped and looked aside. “It’s actually kinda gross? I don’t get her.”

    Star didn’t think it was weird. “Well, Kelly can’t help that, she’s from Woolandia. Their entire culture is built around fighting.” She pulled out her compact mirror. “… I don’t have Kelly’s number, do you?”

    Pony Head gave Star a strange look. “You don’t have to call her.”

    Star answered with a raised eyebrow. “… Yes, I do? You want me to ask her for help and she’s like… in another dimension?”

    Pony Head looked down at the fluffy bean bag Star laid upon, and back up at her. “No, I mean, you’ve been literally laying on her the entire time you’ve been here.”

    Star went pale, looked down at the “bean bag” in horror, and only then realized it was moving like it was breathing. “OH MY GOODNESS, KELLY I AM SO SORRY!”

    The bean bag did not respond.

    “… Kelly?” Star asked.

    Pony Head enlightened her. “Oh, she got wasted and passed out hours ago. She’s gonna be like that for a while.”

    Star stopped and stared down at the sleeping mass of fluff. “… Huh.” She returned her attention back to Pony Head. “Well, I’m not getting up, she’s hecking comfortable.”

    If Pony Head had shoulders, she’d shrug them. “That’s okay, Kelly used to always go on to me how she’d love if you sat on her.’

    Star craned her head back slightly from Pony Head. “Huh?”

    Just as quickly, Pony Head snapped back. “What?”

    = - = 54 = - =

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