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

No Holds Barred
= - = 22 = - =

|No Holds Barred|

With an electronic groan, Noxic rebooted and found himself draped over one of the bushes in the middle of the vineyard. Doing a quick system check, he found many reports of severe damage, but it wasn't something a few days in the shop couldn't fix–if he had a shop…

… Which was probably still in the Nightmare Realm…

… With all of his Combat Mecha.

"Aw man, I'm gonna have to start all over." He struggled to get up. "Hopefully little Macho won't trash everything while I'm gone."

He sat up. "Hey Typhus, you alive?"

Typhus, suspended upside down in another bush, squirmed. "Anybody get the number of that bomb truck?"

"It hit like a frickin' B-52!" Noxic rose to his feet. "You good to go?"

Typhus tumbled out of the bush and got up, untangling his cape. "Yeah, I think so-"

"Shooting Star Explosion!" A trio of spinning stars smacked into Typhus and exploded. He crashed back through the bush.

"What the?!" Noxic faced Star and saw Marco coming towards him. "Aw man…!"

"HEEEYAH!" Jumping as he yelled his kiai, Marco spun his entire body around and lashed out with a kick. It connected before he could block and sent his head spinning around on his neck.

Marco landed in a three-point crouch next to Star. "I'll take care of Noxic!"

Star held her wand to her chest and hopped in place. "I've got the meaty mutant guy, Typhoid."

"Typhus," Marco corrected, springing off after Noxic.

Star walked towards Typhus. "Right, we had a Typhoid outbreak in Mewni just before my birthday. That's why it was on my mind."

The Beetleborgs rushed up the path to cut Typhus and Noxic off. Drew called over to them. "We're going to soften them up for you!"

Star waved. "Okay~!"

Roland ran just ahead of Drew and Jo. "It still freaks me out that he can hit like that!"

Drew nodded back to his friend. "I know!"

The three stopped at the row the Magnavores were scrambling in and readied their Input Magnums.

His head still spinning, Noxic caught it between his hands and made it stop… right in time to see Drew, Jo, and Roland. "Uh oh!"

"Dust these guys!" On Jo's shout they opened fire, battering both Magnavores.

Noxic stumbled back and raised his arms to shield his head in vain from the beam assault. "Gah! Ow! Hey! I'm already! Ack! Smashed up!"

Grabbing him by the shoulder, Typhus yanked Noxic back and put himself between his battered buddy and the belligerent Beetleborgs. "I got you, baby!"

"Keep shooting!" Drew yelled, and the shower of fire increased. Even with chunks coming off his body in sprays of dark, oily fluid, Typhus laughed off the beams crashing against him, and charged straight into the barrage.

"You're gonna have to do better than that!"

He jumped and drew his left arm back, the red that covered his fist and forearm spreading up the rest of the otherwise green limb and causing it to swell with muscle. Roaring, Typhus came down and punched the ground in the middle of the Beetleborgs.

The ground exploded beneath his fist, flinging all three of them away from the Magnavore monster.

Roland landed on his feet and slid backward, just outside the Hillhurst-high cloud of dust. "Holy crap…!"

A beeping alarm from his suit warned him just in time, and he dove and rolled out of the way of the charging Magnavore. "Whoa!"

Typhus turned around and bore down on him. "The only good beetle's a squashed beetle, baby!"

In his haste to get at Roland, Typhus had forgotten about Star–who'd used a quick jumping spell to get above him.

"Rainbow Avalanche!" With her command, the wand spewed rays of rainbows that battered Typhus' back and head, slowing him down enough for Roland to scramble clear of his path.

When he stopped, Star landed in front of him and spun around in place to build momentum. "Laser Beam Blast!"

She swung the wand up as the spell fired at the end of her spin, a solid laser of magical energy slashing up the front of Typhus' body and making him stagger back.

The nasty scorch across his chest left by the beam didn't matter much, as Typhus' red eyes shone brightly. "Aw yeah, baby!"

The whale-like top of his head opened like a mouth, revealing the muzzle of a weapon and unleashed a barrage of energy. Star threw herself out of the way of the attack, first hopping, then flipping back to escape the bolts. Laughing, Typhus turned his body to keep shooting at her.

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Star ran as fast as she could to stay ahead of the bolts. "Bulla Spiro!"

Before his fire could converge on her, her wand flashed, and she jumped a final time–a bubble-shaped shield encasing her and bouncing Typhus' fire.

Typhus stopped shooting. "Huh, neat trick!"

"Thanks-" Star was cut off by an avalanche of beams from Typhus. "HEY!"

Typhus laughed. "Let's see how much it can take, baby!"

Star pressed her wand against the sphere, keeping it up. "I am not your baby!"

While Star endured Typhus' barrage, Jo got back up on her feet and looked around. She had been thrown into the vineyard by the force of Typhus' blow. "Dang it, wait 'til I get my hands on him…"

The sound of clanging caught her attention, and Noxic's shouting. "Ow! Hey! Hold still you little-!"


A bell-like ringing echoed from the force of Marco's blow connecting with Noxic's head.

"Aw come on!"

She looked over to find Noxic reeling from Marco, his head spinning again. The teen karate expert was staying light on his feet and swatting at the mechanical Magnavore with quick punches and backhands.

"Ack! Ow! I'm getting-!" Noxic managed to stop his head, only to get slapped again. "Really tired!"

He swung at him, missed, and got kicked in the stomach. "Of you hittin' me like this!"

Noxic swung the staff hard to win some separation from Marco. Gripping the weapon tighter, he thrust the umbrella end for the young man's heart. "KNOCK IT OFF!"

Marco cleared the wild stab with an Olympian high jump, ducked under the shaft of the weapon, and got in close. His first punch folded Noxic forward, and the rapidfire jabs that followed lifted him off his feet for a brief moment.

Ignoring the sting of his knuckles from pummeling a robot man, Marco jumped and spin-kicked him in the chest.

The blow knocked Noxic against the row of bushes they were tangled up in. Marco landed, and set a low fighting stance, his left foot and hand leading. "What's the matter, tough guy? I'm just a regular ol' human. No armor, no fancy weapons! You can't handle any of this?!"

Noxic slumped back against the bush. "I don't know…" He thrust his left hand out, pointing it at Marco. "Can you handle getting struck by lightning?!"

Before Marco could react, Jo stepped in front of him and took the full brunt of the attack. Unimpeded by the bolts arcing over her body, she drew a bead with her Input Magnum and fired a steady stream of bolts into Noxic, blasting him through the bush row.

Noxic tumbled back through the bushes and crouched. He twirled the staff around off his back to open the umbrella and deflect Jo's barrage of fire.

Marco rested a hand on Jo's shoulder. "Cover me and get your Beetle Battler ready, I'm gonna get rid of that umbrella!"

"Got it!" Jo called back and kept shooting.

Running ahead down the vineyard row, Marco turned and leaped over the bushes, landing right beside Noxic.

"No you don't!" Noxic closed the umbrella and swung the staff. Marco split jumped over it.

"Hey!" He spun it to try to catch Marco, but his target backpedaled. "Hold still you meatbag!"

Steam pouring from his dreadlocks, Noxic stopped spinning the staff and thrust it for Marco's chest. He missed, Marco spinning to avoid the strike and hook his arm around the shaft of the spear. With another twist, he yanked the weapon out of Noxic's hands and kicked him in the chest, knocking him back.

"Hey, give that back!" Noxic yelled at Marco.

Marco refused, turning the other way and twirling the staff around over his head to clock Noxic across the face with the staff's looped end–making his head spin again.

"Ahhhhh! Will you stop doing that?!" Noxic grabbed his head, stopping it facing the wrong way. He saw Jo, aiming her spinning Striker Plasmar at his back. "Oh this is gonna suck."

"Yeah it is!" Marco dove out of the line of fire.

"TORNADO SPARK!" Jo called out, firing a solid, rotating quartet of beams from the Beetle Battler that struck Noxic in the back.

"GAAAAAAAAAAH!" Pushed by the beam, Noxic tried to twist to escape it, but quickly the ion energy melted and punched through his back and out his chest. "AHHHHHHHHH!"

Marco pushed himself up and looked back just in time to see the beam pass through Noxic. "Whoa."

At the house, Flabber winced and looked away as Mabel and Misao gasped in shock at the brutality of Marco and Jo's teamwork. "Oooh… that's gotta hurt."

Janna gripped the windowsill, grinning. "Fricken savage."

Groans of rose from the monsters watching the fight on TV.

"Come on, who doesn't know how to keep their head on straight like that?!" Mums demanded.

Frankenbeans bellowed and slammed his fists on the couch. "Not fair! Not fair!"

Fangula sipped the bloody mary he was enjoying with the fight and sighed. "What happened to the good old days, where children were terrified of monsters and hid under their blankets?"

Dipper gave the monster peanut gallery a caustic look, then returned his attention to the fight. "They're doing way better than before."

Mabel agreed. "They're making the dream work with their teamwork."

Something about it had Dipper bothered, though. "They're almost doing too good."

Stumbling from one foot to the other, Noxic stopped and turned his head completely back around. Turning around slowly, he pointed at Jo. "You… two things. One. I'm a robot, so this is only an inconvenience. Two. Do you have ANY idea how long it's gonna take for me to repair this?!"

Noxic fell face-first to the ground, rendering his question rhetorical.

Marco walked over to Jo and threw the staff a few rows away. "Good job."

Jo let out a short laugh. "No need to thank me, I'm just happy that I can finally do something!"

Both heard the sound of Typhus' energy barrage and looked over. They found the remaining Magnavore battering Star's shield with gunfire. Wide-eyed, Marco bolted ahead without another thought. "Hang on, Star!"

Unaware of the approaching cavalry, Typhus laughed and kept blasting away. "You can't hide in that bubble all day, baby!"

"I can too, and don't call me baby, that's gross!" Star called back.

"Hey!" Drew shouted from behind him.

Typhus turned around, the gun in his head still shooting. "Yeah, what?!"

The energy bolts smacked into Drew, and he stumbled back. "Gah, he hits so hard…!"

The distraction gave Roland the opening he needed as he hit the keys on his Input Magnum. "0-1-0! Freezing Magnum!"

He squeezed the trigger, sending streams of super cold air that washed over Typhus and began to freeze him solid. "Got him!"

Before he could change the modes on his Magnum and take advantage, the red on Typhus's left arm spread up his shoulder and across to the other arm, and he flexed both with a roar, shattering the ice encasing him into a cloud of powdered snow. He lunged forward again, reaching Roland and delivering a punch that drove him straight into the ground. Sweeping around, he caught Drew with a lariat.

"Ugh!" Drew grunted, feeling that through the armor, before he was sent flying off Typhus' arm. "AHHHH!"

"I got you!" Star called out as she fired a spell in front of her, conjuring a bed that Drew landed on. As he bounced off, she jumped onto it and used it to race in front of Typhus.

"Ha! Hope you can take a punch!" Typhus warned and tried to take Star's head off with a right hook.

The far nimbler Princess flowed under it like a river around a boulder, and side stepped two more hard punches, the last one making her hair whip in the opposite direction from the air pressure. Still inside his reach, she jammed her wand in Typhus's chest.

"CORGI SHOTGUN BLAST!" She called out, and Typhus was clobbered by a spread of magical corgis that blew him back from her.

Mabel practically thrust herself out the window when she saw that attack. "THAT IS THE BEST SPELL EVER-!"

Dipper and Flabber hauled her back inside, before she could distract Star or get hit by a stray corgi.

With Typhus on the ropes, Star spun on one foot with the grace of a ballerina and stopped to aim the wand at Noxic with both hands. "Super Mega Narwhal Blast!"

The wand did as commanded, spewing a stream of Narwhals. Facing the onslaught, the red spread from his arms down the coiled green organs protruding from Typhus' chest, and he unleashed a storm of punches, deflecting the cascading cetaceans away before they reached him.

Star let out a gasp. "Whaaaat?!"

Grabbing a last one by its horn, he swung it around and threw it back at Star. "Catch this narwhal!"

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Star dispelled it fast as she could.

Right through the puff of smoke the banished narwhal left behind, Typhus lunged to punch a hole through her stomach. "Now catch these hands!"

The Hunter Claw came down hard on the fist, stopping Typhus from connecting. Roland forced Typhus's arm down, struggling against his might. "Star! Something that can hold him in place!"

Star's mind raced before she pointed her wand at Typhus's cape. "Surprise Cape Betrayal!"

Roland looked at her as she got the spell off. "That is not a real spell!"

"It is, I just made it up!" Star yelped back.

Roland did a double-take. "What?!"

His footing suddenly slipped, and Typhus swung him off his feet into Star, sending them both tumbling away.

The moment they hit the ground, Typhus' cape went rogue–wrapping around his arms and legs in a valiant effort to restrain him. "What the heck?! C'mon, this ain't the time for static cling, baby!"

Star sat up and pointed at Typhus. "I told you!"

Roland looked from her to the struggling Magnavore. "How does your magic even work?"

Getting up, Drew shook the cobwebs out of his head and pulled the slide on the Input Magnum. "Okay, for future reference. Do not let Typhus ever land a hit on you!"

He hit the keypad. "3-0-5, Birdlime Magnum!"

He opened fire, the beams fired by the Input Magnum becoming sticky, white glue-like strands that splattered all over Typhus' legs and arms, causing him to stick to his cape and to the ground. Spinning around, he howled at Drew, only to catch more of it across his mouth and face.

Over at the house, Dipper, Mabel, and Misao grimaced in disgust. Janna chuckled perversely.

Typhus struggled and managed to claw the gunk from the lower half of his face. "You kids are startin' to tick me off with this silly gimmick crap!"

Drew entered 9-6-4 in the Input Magnum. "Like Jara said, I am an abysmal fighter. So rather than have a nice and fair fight where I'll get stomped? I'll fight as ugly and dirty as I need to win. 9-6-4, Crashing Magnum."

He pointed the Input Magnum at Typhus and squeezed the trigger. The stream of rapid-fire energy bolts from the gun showered the Magnavore, ripping through the Birdlime, and tearing chunks off his body. Five seconds of sustained fire later, Typhus dropped to one knee, viscera and ichor dripping from his wounded body.

Janna whistled. "Sad Kid's not playing around."

Dipper tightened his fists and nodded. "C'mon, you got this!"

"Heh… heheheh…" Typhus's baritone chuckle rumbled from his mouth as Drew lowered the Input Magnum. "When you put it like that, kid? You're not a bad fighter at all."

Drew quickly raised his weapon back up in surprise. Typhus' injuries were closing up with every word he spoke.

He can regenerate?!

"Anything goes in a real fight!" Typhus yelled as the mouth atop his head opened and a long white whale bone-shaped sword shot from it at Drew, hitting him in the chest and knocking him down.

Alarms blared in Drew's ears, that one had done real damage. "Ugh, come on!"

Typhus got up and caught his sword as it returned to him. "Including hitting a guy while he's down!"

He turned to point his sword at where Star and Roland had gone down, but a flash of red made him stop and face Jo and Marco.

"Marco, go make sure Star and Roland are okay." Jo started towards Typhus. "I got this."

Typhus laughed. "You got this?"

Jo cracked her knuckles. "Just like I got your windup wuss friend!"

Typhus's eyes flashed red, and his body shuddered in furious anticipation. "Then you're gonna get it!"

He charged Jo, holding his sword out to his side. Raising it the second Jo was in range, he swung down to cut deep into Jo's shoulder and through her chest.

Jo's hand shot up and caught the weapon mid-swing–stopping it cold. The shockwave of the stopped blow traveled over her and kicked up waves of dust away from her feet.

Typhus tried to pull his weapon back, but Jo's grip was immovable. "Dang, baby! You're almost strong as me!"

Jo let out a sharp chuckle. "Thanks."

She snapped the weapon in half. "And like the Princess said: don't call me 'baby.'"

Jo punched Typhus' jaw, leaning with all her strength into it, and in the next instant, he was gone. His body rocketed away from Jo, leaving a trail of spreading condensation rings that ended in an explosion of dirt and rock when his body impacted and took off the top of a hill.

The sound his body made hitting it took a full second to reach the house.

"Yowza!" Flabber exclaimed. "Did you see that?!"

Janna's eyes trailed from Jo to the distant hill. "That was the coolest thing I've ever seen, and this fight's already been one of those things I can die happy on."

"Right?!" Mabel agreed. "Go Beetleborgs!"

"… What the fuck," Dipper blurted out. Misao was speechless beside him.

Drew was having trouble understanding what he just saw. "… Jo?"

Jo lowered her fist and nodded in satisfaction. "So, the super strength works even with the Beetleborg Suit. Awesome!"

Drew rushed to her side. "Super strength? What are you talking about?"

Jo looked at him. "I have super strength now. I don't need to be transformed to use it, either."

Roland made his way over with Marco and Star and caught the tail end of Jo's reply. "Yeah, she completely destroyed Lars Vanderdud in the lunchroom with it."

Drew did a double-take. "You got into a fight at school?!"

"Being really generous calling it a fight," Star suggested.

Drew looked towards Hillhurst. "Dipper! Why does Jo have super strength?!"

"Oh yeah, I forgot to ask Flabber about that. Gimme a second," Dipper called back.

A pause followed, the group outside barely hearing some hurried back and forth, before Dipper answered. "Flabber says it might be leftover power from the wish that settled in you, to make up for what you didn't ask for with the wish!"

"That makes sense!" Mabel called out.

Drew looked at himself. "Great, we have actual superpowers on top of these?"

Roland shook his head. "Maybe, I don't have super strength."

Drew hummed. "You probably can only activate it when you're really emotionally triggered?"

"That also makes sense!" Mabel shouted.

"If that's so, then where's…?" Jo trailed off and looked past Drew and Roland. "Oh great, I knew we missed one."

Drew and Roland looked back, Star and Marco following their gazes up the path.

= - = 22 = - =
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
= - = 23 = - =

|Bullet With Butterfly Wings|

Star dropping down on her with the Thermonuclear Butterfly Blast was the last thing Jara saw, before the flash of light and overwhelming force flung her into darkness. Inside of the instantaneous oblivion, Jara was a weightless entity in the void, adrift in her own jumbled memories, leaving her body to crawl back towards awakening.

"That girl…" She was taken off-guard by the dream-like echo of her voice. "That girl with the cheek marks… that magic…"

"A Butterfly!"

She ground her teeth. "What is a Butterfly?"

"A potent magic user, one that may be very useful to us."

"A potent magical user? Like you are describing a mild annoyance!" Her voice's edge sharpened. "That spell, that overwhelming power… that was no small thing! It was like…!"

Her body was without warning hammered by winds that swirled from every direction, ranging from bone-chilling cold to skin-boiling hot. Jara was on her feet and alert, but with one look around, she saw she was no longer in the Hillhurst vineyard. "No… oh no."

She recognized this place, the edge of a sheer cliff. The sky was black, illuminated by lightning that was frozen across the sky rather than flashing, and fire burned to the horizon in every direction.

Long, stretched out shadows streaked the illuminated ground, burned into it by the light, the shadows were cast by scorched statues–some humanoid, some monstrous, all frozen in action poses. The ones closest to the cliff were running towards it, hands raised as if wielding weapons, while others further back were either raising their limbs to guard or turning to flee.

"No… no… no…!" Jara repeated, looking further up the cliff.

On its very edge, a final figure stood with an upraised hand. From its back, six golden streaks of light spread across the sky. Jara stared at its face, seeing four points of light–its eyes, and its cheeks–illuminating a cherubic smile before there was nothing but a golden light brighter than a hundred suns.

Jara snapped awake, feeling like a thunderclap had gone off in her head. She let out a half-growl, half-scream and surged onto her feet. She was still alive, scorched, but intact.

The thunderclap wasn't in her head. Slooked for the source of the racket–a hilltop just blew up… and Typhus was lying in the center of its crater. "What?"

She looked over for Noxic and found him lying on the ground, a hole blown through his chest. "… How?"

She looked dead ahead and saw the Beetleborgs together with that annoying martial arts boy and… her.

The Butterfly. Blonde haired. Blue eyed. Cherub-faced.

Just. Like. Her. Nightmare.

Jara began walking towards the house. "I am done."

Marco got ready. "Okay, she's coming. What's the plan?"

"Swarm her," Drew looked at Roland and Jo. "We hit her like we did last time."

Still walking towards them, Jara grabbed the pauldrons that held her cape up and unfastened them. The armor slipped off her shoulders, she grabbed them and whipped them into the air behind her revealing the bare-shouldered halter-topped armored leotard she wore underneath.

Roland suddenly had a very bad feeling. "Uh, guys-"

The pauldrons, her cape fluttering behind them, plummeted to the ground behind her. Their weight created an explosion of dirt and gravel that reached higher than Hillhurst.

Star, Marco, The Beetleborgs, and everyone watching in the house froze where they stood.

Roland swallowed. "I've watched enough Dragon Ball to know what's about to happen."

So did Drew–he lunged forward, leaping in front of Star. The second he moved Jara appeared, her blade driven into his stomach. "Urgh!"

It didn't punch through his armor, but didn't need to.

Jara didn't give anyone the luxury to react, using her whole body to swing in a sharp circle, throwing everyone within reach of her through the air. Roland bounced off the corner of Hillhurst, Marco and Star went crashing back into the vineyard, Jo hurtled in the direction Typhus went, while Drew went straight towards the front windows of the house.

"Get down!" Dipper yelled, dragging Janna down as Mabel pulled Misao away–leaving Flabber to be flattened by Drew crashing through the windows. Both went into the wall just below the stairs in a shower of shattered wood and glass.

With the hangtime of her flight, Jo recovered and twisted her body to land on her feet with a heavy crash. "You… bitch!"

She whipped the Input Magnum out and opened fire, the beams streaking past Jara.

Facing Jo, Jara effortlessly slapped away several more beams with the front and back of her hand, before her body flickered and disappeared. Her faint afterimages appeared in a zigzagged pattern approaching Jo, then faded entirely.

Two red lights slashed across Jo's chest, but the Red Strikerborg didn't fall–she planted her feet and turned around to point the Input Magnum in the dead center of Jara's mask. Jara's own weapon stopped, leveled right between the eyes of Jo's helmet.

Jara hesitated. "What?!"

"Yeah, you're not doing that crap again!" Jo snarled.

Both fired their weapons, the blasts sent them stumbling from each other. Recovering first, Jara sliced through the smoke, the beam whip trailing from her weapon cutting across Jo's side and arm.

Sparks showering from her armor, Jo performed a devastating uppercut with the Striker Plasmar, missing so narrowly that the arcs of plasma off the spinning weapon burnt lines into Jara's mask.

Grabbing her arm, Jara threw Jo to the ground on her back. She dragged her in a circle around her, lifted her up, and threw her up the path. "Do not get in my way!"

Jara swung the weapon, the long beam whip extending and slashing across both the ground and Jo. The first pass launched her off the ground and onto her feet, and the second threw her onto her back.

"Stay there, play dead, actually die! I do not care!" Jara demanded. "I will be back for your worthless head later!"

Marco slowly got up, groaning. He looked down at himself, and was happy to see he wasn't dismembered or disemboweled. "Ugh, okay. This has gotten bad."

He looked over at Star. "Hey, Star? You got something for this?"

"Sure… just lemme… ugh… wow, there's two of you…" Star tried to get up, and fell over against Marco. "Two Marcos to help me… fight… uhh… my head hurts…"

"Oh no." Bad was now worse. He looked up and saw Jara storming towards them, just as Roland lunged at her side. Without looking, she struck him twice with the weapon before catching it between his helmet's horns and swinging him down to her feet with a metallic crunch.

"Leave that Butterfly, so I can rip off her wings in peace," Jara commanded as she stepped over Roland.

Marco set Star down as she groaned in a half-hearted attempt to regain her bearings. She looked up at him, as he faced Jara with a stillness that made the air feel heavy.

"You touch her." His voice was calm as the mirror smooth sea. "And I will rip your arm off and beat you to death with it."

Star gasped, her heart skipping a beat from the weight of Marco's presence.

Jara raised her weapon. "I will be on my guard, then."

A beam cut across the front of her mask, and Jara jumped back. She looked up at Jo sprinting towards her."We are not finished!"

She had all day now, so why not? She nodded to Marco. "Please take this time to say your goodbyes. This will not take long."

Her body flickering again, Jara disappeared and there was an explosion as her blade crashed against Jo's blocking arm. Jo bodily shrugged her off and swung a kick at her, but Jara disappeared again, reappearing to attack Jo from her side. Her younger opponent was fast enough to use her arm to catch and block her thrust.

This joke of a girl is different! Jara broke away to avoid another kick to her stomach.

Jo pursued her without hesitation. She may be better than me, but if I leverage my strength I can hold her off!

The Striker Plasmar spun, and Jo used her strength to jump high above Jara. As gravity took hold, she aimed the weapon down at her and fired. "Let's freaking go!"

Holding her wand, Marco walked Star into the house. Mabel rushed to them, fretting for the injured Princess. "Is Star okay? Is she bleeding anywhere?"

Marco looked from her to Star. "No blood, but I think she's got a concussion, so she's out for the fight."

"I don't have a concuss…" Star's head drooped down as her words slurred. "… shun… I'm fine…"

Mabel took Star's head in both hands. "Look right in my eyes, Star." Star did as told, allowing Mabel to examine her pupils. "Okay, pupils are still the same size. She's got a nasty bump on her head."

She leaned from side to side, looking into Star's ears, then up her nose. Using her thumbs to open her mouth, she peered inside. "

No sign of bleeding." She looked over at Misao, who was helping Dipper and Janna pull Drew off Flabber. "I need some ice, or frozen peas! Something cold!"

"Jawohl! Soon as we get Drew and Flabber free!" Misao called back.

Dipper had one foot on the wall, as he tugged on Drew's arms with Jana to dislodge him from it. "You are stuck in there!"

"That's what he said," Janna joked.

"Can you not?!" Dipper and Drew shouted together.

Mabel looked back at Marco. "We gotta get her lying down."

Marco agreed and headed for the couch, occupied by the Hillhurst Hollywood Horror show, and got up. "Hey! Clear off the couch before I do the Monster Mash."

Mums, Frankie, and Fangula got one look at Marco… and thought better of protesting against the guy who punched a robot and didn't flinch. The three got up and headed out, with Mums calling back. "You'd better record that on the DVR! I want to see how it ends!"

"Spoiler warning–you're going to be disappointed." Marco called after them with a scowl, and helped Mabel pick up Star and bring her to the couch.

Star let out a weak laugh. "Wow, Marco… that was so cool…"

With great care, he picked her up and laid her down. "Just take it easy."

"Get pillows under her head and shoulders, and keep them elevated," Mabel warned, "And don't let her fall asleep."

"I know, I take first-aid every year to keep up to date," Marco reassured her.

Mabel brightened. "You too? Dipper and I nearly got killed so many times that I learned field medicine just in case. You should see my stitching, and I'm even qualified for emergency amputations!"

Marco stared at Mabel, let that silence stretch for just an instant, and nodded. "Yep, you can't be too prepared."

He slipped a large throw pillow under Star's neck and shoulders, and she let out a sigh of relief. He looked at the TV and watched Jara's skill square up against Jo's raw strength. "Jo seems to be doing fine."

A badly overextended punch from Jo was brutally punished with a severe lashing from Jara, that sent her flying end over end.

Mabel winced. "Mostly."

Luckily for her, before Jara could rush straight back at the house and butcher the lot of them, Roland came charging back in, Input Magnum blazing.

"Roland's back up too!" Mabel cheered.

Jara, not having any of Roland's meddling, wrapped him up in a ribbon of energy, and swung him around. Marco looked back. "No, this isn't working."

Right at that moment, the snapping of boards heralded Dipper, Janna, and Misao pulling Drew free. Dipper helped him onto his feet. "Drew, you all right?"

"Yeah… maybe…? No…" Drew sighed. "… I'll let you know when this is over…"

Dipper patted Drew on the shoulders. "You did your best, don't worry about it."

"It's hard not to, we're getting creamed," Drew grumbled back. "Plus, I almost screwed up again. I came here to try to find a way to go back and stop myself from making the wish."

Dipper shook his head. "Don't worry about it."

Drew looked at Dipper, wary of his reassurance. "Really?"

"If you hadn't been here, there's no telling what they would've done," Dipper reassured him. "So don't worry about anything that didn't even happen to begin with."

"Huh, I expected you to tear me a new one."

"I think you've had enough of that." Dipper looked over at Flabber. "Hey, Flabber? We need to do something about these guys. Can you erect a forcefield? Summon zombies? Play the organ so loud that it drives them insane?"

Flabber, who was flat against the wall like he'd been painted onto it by Drew, raised a finger. "I could use some organs right now. Mine seem to be pulverized."

He popped off the wall, good as new. "Ah, that's better! Yeah, I can do all sorts of things, but Jara looks like she's way too tough for anything I could stop her with."

Drew watched Jo baseball slide under her friend-turned-projectile and fired the Striker Plasmar at Jara, actually managing to hit her. The attack only made Jara angrier, and she blasted Jo back in turn.

We can't beat her like this, only slow her down… we need more firepower than what we have. He turned around to face Dipper, Flabber, Misao, and Janna.

"Flabber, you couldn't summon anything from the movies, but you can summon from the comics, right?"

Dipper looked at Drew. "What are you thinking?"

"The Beetle Battle Base. It has more than enough firepower we need to drive them off, and it'll keep the Magnavores from coming here again." Drew looked back at Flabber, hoping against hope. "Please tell me you can do that?"

Dipper answered for him. "He should be able to."

Flabber looked from Drew to Dipper. "I should?"

"I have a theory: as long as it comes from a Beetleborgs comic, you should be able to summon it just fine."

Janna held one aloft. "Lucky for us, I happen to have one right here."

"All right," Drew faced Flabber. "Flabber! We need the Beetle Battle Base!"

Lighting up with excitement, and the opportunity to help, Flabber spun around and struck a pose. "You got it, kiddo!"

Magic began to swirl around him, and everyone quickly stepped back.

"Flib!" An organ note played.

"Flab!" Another joined in harmony.

Raising his hands, the final note joined in as he shouted. "FLABBER!"

The phasm leveled his hands on the book. "Here we go, one BBB with a real A+ Rating, coming up! PHASM FORCE!"

Outside, Jo got back up on her feet, Roland struggling to join her. Smoke was rising from her damaged armor, but if it was serious, the rumbling chuckle she let out while she rolled her shoulders didn't give it away.

Jara cracked her beam whip, seething. "I had no more nerves for you to get on a long time ago. Why are you so stubbornly insisting on getting in my way?"

Jo laughed louder. "I wanna know why you haven't gotten us out of your way, if it's so important."

Jara wanted to know that herself. They keep getting up! That armor of theirs keeps them going, it's let them outlast Noxic and Typhus, and they keep stonewalling me.

She looked past them at the house. What in Cipher's name is so powerful that it can grant amateurs this kind of power?

The sky grew dark again, and Jara looked up. "What?"

Like when she, Noxic, and Typhus first arrived the sky lit up–a pillar of light rising from the house and extending into the sky. The last time, it had dimmed then vanished in short order. This time it expanded, spreading from the house and washing over the entire vineyard surrounding the mansion.

Jara screamed from the blinding light and shielded her eyes.

"What's happening now?!" Jo yelled over the organ bellowing with the light.

The ground shook violently, Roland catching Jo before she could be toppled. "I think Flabber's doing something…!"

He trailed off as the light faded. Behind his mask his eyes widened, and his mouth followed–curving into an open-mouthed smile.

Jo looked up as well and gasped in joy. "No freaking way!"

Jara lowered her arm from her eyes and saw what had them so hyped up. She recoiled. "WHAT?!"

Towering ten stories higher than Hillhurst was a gleaming metal tower with a dish-shaped roof and complex set of antennas sticking from its front. Emblazoned across the front of the building was the symbol of the Beetleborgs, which flashed a swirling mix of blue, green, and red.

"The Beetle Battle Base!" Jo all but shrieked.

Roland laughed, the tension flowing from his body at the sight of their salvation. "Yeah! Perfect timing, guys!"

Out on the hill, Typhus got up and looked over at the new building. "Where'd that come from?"

Noxic, crawling towards Jara, looked up at the Beetle Battle Base. "Uh. That ain't good."

Jara took a few more steps back, her anger completely displaced by confusion. "Where did this come from?!"

"Hey, Jara!" She looked down at the house to see Dipper standing on the porch of the house. He raised his finger and pointed at her. "This is the only warning. Get off our property, get off our planet, and get out of our dimension! Or else you'll get more of this!"

From behind Hillhurst, and directly in front of the Beetle Battle Base a cloud of dust rose up, before a blue and silver six-wheeled vehicle styled after a Rhinoceros Beetle came tearing around the house and raced straight towards Jara. At the controls, Drew targeted Jara with the beam cannons of the Blue Stinger A.V. and opened fire.

"OH NOW THAT'S JUST A PILE OF HORSE MANURE-!" The heavy beam bolts crashing into Jara cut her ranting short, and several more tore up the ground around her.

"This is the last time you're setting foot anywhere near Hillhurst, Jara!" Drew yelled out, directing the A.V.'s long horn downward. Surging forward, its T-shaped end collided with her stomach.

With a hard yank on the controls, his A.V. launched Jara high into the sky. End over end she tumbled, screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Take your friends, and don't threaten us again!" He shouted over her enraged shrieking. "Blazing Stinger!"

The raised horn shone brightly and fired a blue energy beam that struck the flailing Jara, setting off a large explosion that cast a cloud of smoke over the house.

Several long seconds followed, before Jara's scorched black body crashed into the ground near Noxic and Typhus.

Noxic looked back and forth between his friends. "Hey… is… is she dead?"

Typhus stepped over to Jara and nudged her with his foot. "Yo Jara, you all right?"

Jara took a deep, pain-wracked breath. "I want to go home now."

Typhus looked to Noxic. "Hey, she'll be all right."

He looked towards the menacing A.V., which was now turning towards them. "We're outta here, baby!"

As with before, the Magnavore trio morphed into streams of flames, and rapidly escaped the area. The smoke slowly cleared over the vineyard, leaving only the afternoon sun in a cloudless sky to shine down on the victorious Beetleborgs and their allies.

= - = 23 = - =
= - = 24 = - =


Returning his A.V. to the Beetle Battle Base, Drew rushed back around to the front of the Hillhurst. There he found Dipper waiting at the base of the front steps with Jo and Roland, who were out of their armor.

Flabber had already cleaned up the battle damage; Hillhurst and its surrounding property was back to its old dilapidated self as the Beetle Battle Base sank into the ground via lift. Like before, no evidence of the climactic battle remained.

"Hey guys!" He called out, running up to them. "Back Blast!"

In a flash, the Stingerborg armor was gone. Looking down at himself then at Roland and Jo to make sure everyone was intact, he smiled. "We won."

Dipper smiled back. "You guys did great."

Roland walked up and patted Drew hard on the shoulder. "Man, wishing for the Beetle Battle Base was a power move. I can't believe we have the A.V.s now!"
"Well, if the Magnavores are gonna keep coming here, having the Beetle Battle Base around means they won't come here without a fight."

Dipper had read enough of the comic books over the last few days to know what he was talking about. "Here's hoping that it can really protect against them teleporting here like it does in the comics."

"If it can't, it has other defenses that are probably all around the vineyard now," Drew replied, "We can head inside later and have a look at the systems."

He clapped his hands together. "But let's worry about that later? Is everyone else all right?"

Dipper looked back at the house. "No one else is hurt. Star got a bump on the head and Mabel is checking to see if it's a concussion."

Jo turned her head and looked at Dipper, her eyebrow raised. "She can tell?"

"Yeah, she spent a whole year studying first aid after we got back from Gravity Falls, because we have a tendency to get into situations like this."

Roland regarded Jo with a mild glare for her disbelieving tone. "Wow, that's a useful skill for us to have."

Jo let out a snort and disengaged, heading up the stairs to the door. "This I gotta see."

Drew watched Jo walk into the house, then turned to Dipper and Roland. "Okay, what was that?"

Roland glowered after Jo. "She came to school with a bug up her butt about you and got into it with the girls at lunch."

A grimace spread across Drew's face. "Ugh, I'm sorry for any trouble she caused…"

"You don't need to apologize for her," Dipper assured him. "We'll sort it out later."

"Yeah man, chillax," Roland added. "We've got more important things to worry about right now than teen girl drama."

Drew agreed, as the three followed Jo inside. "Yeah, we need to talk to Flabber about some things."

In the organ room, Star was already sitting up and being examined by Flabber–dressed in a blue TOS-era StarFleet uniform. In his hand he held a series-accurate recreation of the original Tricorder, which beeped and flashed as he held it near her head.

"Ooh, it's beeping," Star cooed, "So cute."

Marco, sitting beside her, looked back and forth between her and the device. "Is that safe to be waving near her head?"

Janna, behind the couch and leaning against it, spoke up next. "Yeah, and I thought you couldn't pull things from stuff that worked."

Flabber looked over at her. "I'm a cosplayer Jan, not a doctor." He tossed the device over his shoulder, Drew catching it soon as he crossed the threshold. "But I do know a thing or two about medicine."

He spun around, creating a tornado, before stopping–now crossdressed as a candy striper nurse, his pompadour joined with a paper nurse's hat. In a husky voice he spoke. "I was Dr. Hillhurst's chief assistant during all of his examinations, surgeries, emergency follow-up surgeries, and subsequent autopsies…"

"Am I going to die?" Star asked.

"Well, four out of five Flabbers recommend…" Four more Flabbers appeared next to Flabber, all of them wearing suits and labcoats like stuffy medical professionals. "… That you just need some rest and relaxation for a few days to recover from that bump on your noggin."

Three of them rabbled amongst themselves in agreement while the fourth gazed off into the distance with a glassy-eyed look and drool running from the corner of his mouth.

Mabel, sitting on the other side of Star, looked at the fourth copy. "What do you think?"

"Uhh… she got the fibromyalgia," the fourth Flabber droned, "And she should buy lots of pain-killers."

Dipper repressed the dark laugh that earned. "But she is going to be fine, right?"

Mabel kicked her feet up and sprang off the couch onto them. "Flabber was just checking my work, Star will be fine."

Dipper looked at Star and Marco. "I'm glad you're okay. That was really scary when Jara got serious."

"We've had worse," Star assured him.

Marco nodded. "Way worse."

An opportunity to ask some real questions sprang up, and Dipper would not be denied his chance. "If we can talk about that later, I'd appreciate that."

"Of course," Marco replied.

Drew stepped up alongside Dipper. "Well, if everyone's okay, we need to talk about something I heard from the Magnavores before you guys showed up."

When everyone looked at him, he continued. "The Magnavores don't know how they ended up here, but they want one of us alive to bring to Vexor–probably so they can figure that out."

Flabber's teeth chattered as he turned a shade of blue. "Brrr!"

Dipper weighed on that. "Okay, that confirms that the wish brought them here, I guess… and that Vexor G is here too."

The Phasm went rigid, like someone had poured ice water down the back of his suit. "GAH!"

Roland swallowed audibly. "Okay, so that's bad… really bad."

Misao looked at him. "How much worse is he?"

Jo sniffed and narrowed her eyes at Misao some. "Well if the Magnavores are somehow stronger in real life than they are in the comics, then Vexor is probably on a whole different level if he's in charge of them."

"Ahhh!" Flabber wailed, and everyone looked at him.

"Hey man, are you okay?" Marco asked.

"N-no!" Flabber wrapped a blanket twice as large as himself around his body. "Every time you say that name, I get a nasty chill!"

Dipper pointed at Flabber. "That's weird, why?"

Flabber shook his head. "I wish I knew. I just feel the cold down to my b-b-b…"

His head suddenly became a pompadour-adorned skull inside of a block of ice. "… Bones!"

His head popped back to normal. "Which is even crazier because I've never met the guy until you guys introduced me."

Dipper let out a contemplative hum. Is there a connection between them? Or is Flabber reacting to what he thinks is a predator?

Mabel hugged Flabber. "Don't worry, Flabber! We won't let that jerk get his hands on you."

Flabber looked at Mabel, then at the others. "Really?"

"Someone with your powers would be bad in the wrong hands," Dipper said. "We'll protect you and the house."

Drew agreed with a sharp nod. "Hopefully we won't have to worry about the Magnavores coming straight here anymore. The Beetle Battle Base will protect you from them, and besides… the Magnavores will be gunning for me, since they know I was the one who brought them here."

Jo gawked at her brother, her eyes widening the only warning they had before she flew into a rage. "You self-hating moron! Why would you tell them that?!"

"Jo!" Roland snapped at her.

Drew weathered the sting of Jo's insult. "I did it to buy time for the rest of you to get here and save my worthless hide–and more importantly to keep them from going after Flabber and Janna when they were done toying around with me."

"And the gesture is not unappreciated, Sad Kid," Janna chimed in.

"Besides, they only know that the Blue Stingerborg was the one who brought them here. They haven't seen my face or know any of our identities. So that's safe for now."

Jo pulled back, Drew standing his ground and explaining himself throwing her off. "Yeah, well… don't make a habit of sacrificing yourself."

Drew rolled his eyes. "I'll try my best." He turned to Dipper. "Anyway, we should actually go inside the Beetle Battle Base so we can make sure its anti-teleportation field and other defenses work."

Dipper agreed. "We've got nothing to do for the rest of the day, so we may as well get started."

He looked over at Flabber. "Is there a way for us to get there from here?"

"There sure is," the Phasm answered and pointed over to the Organ, which swung out to reveal a long curving ramp with a futuristic stone and metal design–lit with fluorescent lights that clashed sharply with the otherwise Victorian interior of the mansion.

"Okay, that is cool," Roland said.

"That tunnel will lead you right to the Beetle Battle Base. I was originally going to do it Batpole style, but it's a long way down there."

"Is there a chance we can have a pole installed?" Mabel asked.

"Seconding this request," Janna added.

"No," Dipper, Marco, and Drew said in unison.

"One of us would inevitably fall to our deaths," Roland added.

Flabber gave the outvoted Mabel and Janna a sympathetic look.

"Anyway," Drew said, "We should be able to access Beetle Battle Base's central control center from here. There we can figure out how to operate its systems."

Misao raised her hand. "I can help with that."

"Really?" Jo asked, with a slight smirk that leaked condescension.

Misao looked at her out of the corner of her eye. "I could program computers when small children were learning to ride bikes, ja? Give me time with the computers there, and I will figure out how they work."

"Huh, neat," Marco said.

She got up. "In fact, I would like to go down there right now and get started. We have the whole day ahead of us now, don't we?"

Star looked at Marco. "Hey, you're good at computers too, go help them!"

That drew Dipper's attention. "Really?"

Marco held up his hands. "Whoa, using a laptop and military-grade computers are two very different things."

"You'd be surprised how little that is the case," Misao said aside to Mabel.

"W-well, hang on!" Dipper said. "Even if you aren't familiar with the hardware… having you guys here to help us sort the base out would be just fine too."

"Even so," Marco said, "Star needs rest and I'd like to get her home so she can."

Dipper deflated a little. "Oh well, of course. Recovery comes first and–no offense Flabber–I don't think she can do that here."

"No, you're right. The guys will pester her non-stop until she or somebody here blasts them," Flabber agreed.

On that note, Roland brought up a more concerning point. "Drew, Jo, and I should get going too."

"Why?" Jo asked.

"Well, besides it being better that we all go our separate ways and clear the air, most of us did skip school after being involved in a fight. We need to get ahead of that."

Drew's shoulders slumped. "Right… what even happened there?"

"I can explain it on our way." Roland pulled his phone out of his pocket and frowned. "Yeah, we definitely need to go."

He held it out; on the screen was a text message from Nano.

Big Nano said:
Boy you better get your behind to this store so I can get you an alibi. The principal just called to inform me of a fight in the cafeteria that you and your friends skipped class after.

Mabel read the message. "Nano is so cool."

Drew grimaced now. It was only a matter of time before his parents found out. "Yeah, let's go."

"Then I guess we're all splitting up for now," Dipper looked to his sister and Misao. "Let's head down."

Janna pushed herself off the couch. "Count me in for exploring the secret underground base. I wanna see what other cool stuff is stashed away down there."

Flabber clapped his hands together. "Well, if you gotta go, you gotta go. I'm going to go back to watching movies and using the internet. Next time we all meet up, I will blow you away with my updated and extremely topical humor!"

Drew grimaced. "Please don't."

"Yeah," Mabel added, "You're perfectly funny as you are!"

Drew looked at Mabel, then shrugged his shoulders and came out with it. "… Yeah, you're hilarious."

The praise struck straight to Flabber's heart. "Really?!"

He looked back at the pipe organ. "You hear that girls? I'm a hit with today's youth!"

"Don't let it go to your head," the Pipettes called back.

Flabber, his head twice as large, wore a smug smirk. "Too late."

Jo palmed her face with both hands as Mabel, Misao, Drew, Roland, and Star laughed. Marco and Dipper held their laughter back. Janna just rolled her eyes, but smirked.

"Well, anyway, we're going to get out of here." Marco pulled out Star's Dimensional Scissors and tried to cut open a portal… only for nothing to happen. "Huh. Wow, this anti-teleport thing is powerful."

"Hey, at least we know it works." Roland said. "It should work out to a certain range, then you can use it."

Marco nodded, then looked over to Dipper, Mabel, Janna, and Misao. "See you guys later. Good luck with the Beetle Base."

"Yeah, be safe getting home, guys," Dipper replied.

"Take care, Star," Mabel said.

Star, on her feet, smiled back. "Don't worry I'll be fine." She stopped when Marco took her arm and brought it over his shoulder, before sidling close to her. "Ah?"

"It's better to be safe and not sorry," he reasoned. "I'll walk with you in case you get dizzy again."

Star stared at Marco, her eyes darting down to look where they were all but connected at the hip, then nodded very fast. "Y-yeah, okay."

She waved again as they began walking for the door. Drew, Roland, and Jo followed them, the former two likewise bidding the others goodbye.

Dipper watched Marco help Star out after farewells were exchanged and let out the smallest sigh.

Janna looked up at Dipper, then at Mabel and Misao. "He's got it pretty bad, huh?"

"So bad," Mabel replied.

"It's very cute," Misao added.

His face flushing red, Dipper turned and headed down. "Can we get going?"

"Jawohl~!" Misao sang, skipping after him. Mabel followed, laughing and snorting, while Janna threw a salute to Flabber and brought up the rear.

= - = 24 = - =
= - = 25 = - =


In the alley behind Zoom Comics, a portal opened, and Drew, Jo, and Roland emerged. Star stepped through, and Marco followed after her. Looking back, Marco shook his head and whistled. They had to walk almost two kilometers away from the house before they could use the Dimensional Scissors, long enough for Star to regain faith in her legs and walk herself for at least half of it.

"That anti-teleport stuff is no joke," Marco said. "There's gotta be a way we can use it against them."

"Right now we should just be glad we have it at all, and make sure we know how it works before we start messing with it," Drew said.

As Marco agreed with him, Star watched the portal close. "That was still a long walk, though."

Marco also agreed with that. "Hmm… maybe now's a better time than ever to get my Driver's license."

Star looked at Marco. "License?"

Roland gestured with a raised hand. "I already have my learner's permit."

Star looked at Roland. "Learner's permit?"

Jo nodded. "Then why not take your Driver's test? I'm sure Nano has some old car she'd let you use. Then you can teach the rest of us how to drive."

"Wait," Star interrupted them. "Drive, as in like… drive a car?"

Drew, Marco, and Roland all nodded.

Had Star not had a pounding headache, she'd be erupting with excitement at the prospect. Nevertheless. "Hey, can I learn how to drive a car?"

"I mean, yeah?" Marco replied. "You can even do it at the school, just talk to Ms. Minerva, the assistant gym coach."

Jo huffed. "Though I can't imagine you behind the wheel of a car."

Star looked at her. "What, you don't think I can do it?"

"Considering that wherever you go, something explodes or turns into something, or turns into something then explodes?" She shrugged her shoulders with a condescending toss of her pigtails. "Yeah."

Star walked up to the younger girl, staring her down every step until they were less than a pace apart. She held up her hands, palms facing one another, about a foot apart, and waggled her left hand. "This is completely evil, like where your funeral would be the universe's biggest party."

She waggled her right hand. "This is completely good, like Marco's Super Awesome Nachos, or laser puppies."

Star moved her right hand about halfway towards her left. "This is where I choose violence."

She moved it back, just an inch. "This is where you are."

Jo's gaze flicked back and forth between Star's hands and her face, and in that brief moment, Star's cheek marks had changed from hearts to skulls. "Do you have anything else you want to say?"

When Jo did not take her up on that offer, Star nodded. "Good."

Star turned around and walked back over to Marco. Snatching the Dimensional Scissors out of his hands, she cut open a portal and walked through it.

Jo gaped at the portal. Drew looked back and forth between his sister and the portal. "… Okay, what?"

Roland palmed his face and sighed. "You just couldn't help yourself could you, Josephine?"

Jo let out an angry snort. "I guess my impulse control is as bad as hers."

Marco had the same tranquil stare that withheld behind it a simmering fury. "I don't want to be that guy. But your attitude is going to make this real hard for me to teach you anything, or for us to fight. I like most of you guys enough to not want to leave you in a lurch, but Jo? You're doing your best."

He looked back at the portal, then at Drew and Roland. "Anyway, text us if anything happens… and I'm sorry."

He hopped through the portal, and it quickly closed up and vanished with a down-pitched digital chime.

Drew turned to face his sister. "That was uncalled for."

Jo turned her head away from him. "Whatever."

She started walking out of the alleyway. "I'm going to go read some comic books. Don't bother me."

Roland wore a rueful grimace. "She can be impossible sometimes."

Drew took a deep breath. "Last night was bad for me, and I guess it's gone and spread through us like a fart. This is my fault…"

"No, it's not. You are not your sister's keeper. She's smart enough to know better, but she decided to take her damage out on everyone else because she's also petty and vindictive. You didn't make her like that."

"I'm still her older brother, I need to act like it."

Roland hummed. "Work on acting like a leader, first. Reeling in Jo will come naturally after that."

Drew quailed. "Leader? I'm not the leader, Dipper's obviously the leader…"

"He's the one with experience in stuff like this, but you're literally the tip of the sword out there. Plus, it sounds like he's got more respect for you, and is willing to listen to what you have to say."

Roland was right, now that Drew thought about it. "Yeah, I guess…"

"We're not going to get good at this overnight, we're not going to get good at anything that fast, okay?" He slapped Drew on the shoulder, then gave it a rough shake. "Grin and bear it, man. We'll all get through this."

Drew smiled. "Thanks."

"Anyway, let's go talk to Nano about our alibis… and if you want to, ask to stay the night." The two began walking towards the street. "I think you need a break from your family."

"Don't you mean a break with my family?" Drew asked.

Roland grinned and laughed. "Yeah, you right homie."


Star had brought the portal to the foot of her bed, so that the moment she stepped through it, she could drop face down onto it. She immediately regretted doing that because her magically soft pillows and bedding felt painfully mundane when a head-injury and anger is involved.

That or maybe the bed had lost some of the softness she normally enjoyed. She patted it a few times but didn't come to a consensus before Marco stepped in and the portal closed behind him.

"Hey Star, you all right?" He asked, seeing her face down in her pillow.

"M'fine," Star mumbled back.

He walked around to the edge of the bed, and she turned onto her side to look at him. "I'm doing better now."

Marco sat down on the bed, and Star went still. She looked up at him as he leaned down and checked the bandages around her head, scanning carefully for any signs of bleeding or the gauze getting loose. Her breath caught in her chest, when his fingers touched just under her temple. She remembered those same fingers clenched tight into a fist as Marco faced down Jara.

"You touch her–and I will rip your arm off and beat you to death with it."

Star watched his hand and hoped he didn't hear how loud her heart was beating.

"Try to take it easy, and don't get too worked up about what Jo says," Marco advised after seeing nothing amiss. "She doesn't really know you yet, but she'll come around."

Star looked down at the mattress. "It's not just what she said, it's what she was doing all day."

She looked back up at Marco. "And besides that, I don't like it when people look down on me-"

"No one does."

Star gently cut him off. "I mean… like… underestimating me. They think they've got my number, that they know what I can or can't do and they… they judge me for that. I can't stand it…"

She brought a hand up and lightly scratched at the bandage as she curled up a little. "My Mom does it so much and when anyone else does it, I feel like I'm right there with her, listening to her lecturing."

Marco was not prepared for this level of… vulnerability from Star. Usually she was more nonchalant.

"Ugh! It tees me off, so much."

A flash of clarity struck him, and he remembered the first time that Star went off into town on her own, and what happened after. "… I'm sorry."

She raised her head up. "For what?"

"Remember the Banagic Incident?" At Star's short nod, he continued. "I said I'd underestimated you, and you knocked my ice cream out of my hands. I'd made you angry, didn't I?"

Star shook her head. "I wasn't mad at you, Marco!"

"No, it's fine," he insisted. "I don't mind if you get mad at me for something that actually hurts your feelings. You're my best friend, after all. Just let me know when I screw up."

Like right now, Marco wasn't sure, but he had a sense that something was off with Star… and he was searching for something other than Jo or a head injury that could have her like this.

Star, her eyes half-closed and shiny, laid back down. "Can I let you know when you're amazing too? Because you were so cool today."

Marco wasn't a dense person. Sure, he was a little neurotic and struggled a bit to catch up with genuine praise from being a little on the outside… but he wasn't so caught up in himself that he was slow on the uptake. That all said, finally recognizing the way Star was looking at him now, was a bit of a shock.

"Huh? You mean, with…" His face grew warm, as he realized just how he must have looked to Star after she got knocked down. "… Oh."

"So cool," Star repeated, closing her eyes. "Thanks for taking care of me."

Marco smiled and rested a hand on Star's cheek. He could literally see her cheek marks turn a brighter shade of red with her blush. "If anyone wants to hurt you, they'll have to go through me, but I'll go through them first."

So cool. Star thought as Marco pulled his hand away and got up.

"I'm going to make you something to eat," he said.

"Can it be nachos?" She asked.

"How about nacho soup?"

Star's eyes threatened to fall out of her skull as she shot back up. "You can make nachos as soup?"

This. Changed. Everything.

"Give me an hour or two, and I'll blow your mind," Marco said with a knowing smile, before he headed for and out the door.

Star watched him leave, waited for the door to swing closed, and a few more moments after that. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her magic mirror compact, opened it and set it beside her.

"Call PH," she said in a quiet voice.

"Calling PH…" The Compact chimed, before its glass surface flickered to reveal the face of Star's best friend–a bright blue-furred disembodied unicorn head with a sparkling pink mane and stars literally in her eyes.

"Sup B-Fly!" Princess Lilacia Pony Head called out, full of party girl energy.

"Hey Pony," Star replied.

"Girl, why you haven't been calling me? I thought I was your bestie!" Pony Head demanded in a harsh tone, before she laughed it off. "Just kiddin', but for real I heard some stuff went down, you okay?"

"Oh, I'm fine." Star only realized now that she hadn't talked to Pony Head since before Toffee kidnapped Marco. "It's just been monster drama mostly, it's all good now."

"Obviously, because if you wasn't you would be like, dead."

Star laughed. "Well… okay it's not just been monster drama… uh… I think things have gotten… real?"

Pony Head stopped. "How real we talking?"

Star closed her eyes and took a deep breath. This was Pony Head, her bestie, she could tell her anything.


Inside of his mausoleum hideaway. Vexor assessed his three underlings. Jara was covered in burns, Noxic was missing pieces of himself and had a gaping hole blown through him, and Typhus looked freshly regenerated from a tremendous amount of damage. For all of the shape they were in, they brought him back neither Beetleborg nor Butterfly, and that really told him a lot about what happened today.

"I doubt I could do anything to punish you for your failure that hasn't already happened to you today, so I will not even bother." He was going to give them much.

Jara, who had spent the last several hours breaking her rage before returning, was a little taken aback. "That is… generous of you."

"Yeah thanks, baby," Typhus grunted.

"Great, I don't have to repair more than I already got to," Noxic grumbled.

If Vexor had articulated shoulders, he would shrug them. He pantomimed the motion with his upraised palms instead. "Patience and tolerance are virtues successful villains live by. You have come back here alive, which means I can motivate you with a discovery I have made."

Motivate them? That could mean a lot of things coming from their leader, or at least Jara thought so. "What is this discovery of yours?"

Vexor let out a dark, low laugh. "This."

He held a clawed hand towards Jara, then raked it like he was slashing at her. Behind and below her, a portal opened, and she plummeted into it with a scream. Noxic and Typhus quickly rushed to the closing wormhole.

"Jara!" Noxic shouted before the portal vanished.

"What… where'd she go?" Typhus turned towards Vexor. "Hey, that ain't cool, Vexor!"

Vexor chuckled and waved his other hand. Behind him, a scrying circle appeared and showed Jara falling through sunlit clouds. Noxic recoiled at the sight.

"Hey, where is she? What did you do to her, you-?!" He stopped when Vexor raised his hand to silence him.

Tumbling end over end, Jara stopped screaming and caught herself. Flipping over and over, she emerged from the bottom of the clouds and landed in a crouch on a polished marble floor. When she rose to her feet and looked around, she saw that she was on a gold finished platform of marble, surrounded by polished Greek-style pillars that thrust through the clouds around her. Beyond the far edge of the platform, she could see the clouds break to a calm sea, the sun setting on it.

"What… this is…?" She stopped and looked down at herself, and to her further surprise found that her injuries were gone. In fact, she felt more alive than she had in a long time. "What is this place…?"

"This," Vexor's voice boomed, "Is a reality that I have created to allow you to fight at your maximum ability. I call it the Gaohm Zone."

"Gaohm?" Jara asked the voice.

"Never you mind the etymology, what you must know is that in this world your abilities are at your peak, your health is at its highest, and the world itself is yours to manipulate as you desire."

"Mine to manipulate…" Jara looked around, then looked back to see a neat formation of two dozen women kneeling before her. They were dressed similarly to herself, though in red/pink bodysuits as opposed to her leotard and tights. Their white masks were all featureless, they wore long scarves instead of armored cloaks and pauldrons, and all were equipped with short swords on their hips and longer blades on their backs.

Jara stared at the warriors and felt a deep nostalgic pang in her chest. "… My…"

She froze, and shook her head. The formation vanished like it had never existed. "I see… this world is my desires made manifest."

Noxic was floored. "That's amazing! We can create whatever we want and do what we like there?!"

"Dang, I'm getting pumped up thinkin' of the possibilities, baby!" Typhus said as he punched his palm.

"It will be the weapon we use against the Beetleborgs and any allies they have. Use it to capture and bring them to me," Vexor said, before his hand plunged from the clouds and grabbed Jara. When it pulled her back, she was yanked bodily through the scrying circle and landed–once more in her injured state–next to Noxic and Typhus.

Jara grimaced, feeling her injuries hit her all at once. "Urgh…"

"Of course, when you are in better health," Vexor added.

Vexor turned and walked/glided across the room towards the sarcophagus at the room's center. He let out a gentle chuckle as he did and rested his hand on the Beetleborg comic lying on it. "But until then, may I recommend summoning some help?"

Noxic grumbled. "Yeah, more Scabs? No way! Those mooks could blast them without even trying, we'd need like a million of 'em to replace any one of us!"

Jara got back up. "The scabs aren't that terrible. One of us is worth a hundred Scabs at least."

Vexor laughed again. "Typhus, please come here."

Typhus looked at Jara and Noxic, and did as told, strutting over towards Vexor. "Yeah, what's up?"

Picking up the comic, Vexor held it out. It was the newest issue, part one of a two parter. On the cover, the Green Hunterborg and Red Strikerborg were back to back in a dark swamp, the head of a massive viper with its jaws wide open to strike looming behind them.

Typhus recognized the viper. "Hey, hey, hey! I know that guy! It's Snake Head!"

Jara groaned. "Ugh, one of your science projects, Typhus?"

"Yeah, he turned out great when I was done with him. Wiped out the Great Horned Rat and all his nasty little ratties too, baby!"

Jara weighed on that. "Huh, then my opinion of him is only slightly higher."

"If you would," Vexor said to Typhus, "Summon him forth into our world much like Noxic did the Scabs."

Typhus stared at the comic, then at Vexor. "What… am I supposed to just hold my hand out and say, 'Snake Head, c'mon out, baby?'"

Soon as he said it, the comic flashed alight, emitting an eerie, flame-like glow, before the fire shot from the comic itself and landed besides Typhus and Vexor. Growing in size, the flame grew brighter and brighter–before a massive hulking form stepped from it.

It was a reptilian humanoid, with green scaly skin everywhere except for pale yellow diamond shapes along its sides, a matching color belly, and a bright red upper chest that looked like a snake coiled around its shoulders. Atop its shoulders and head was a massive snake that served as arms that dangled to the ground–the left side was where the snake's body ended in its tail, and the right began as its head.

"Ssss… Where am I?" The beast asked with a very low and menacing voice despite the hiss.

"WHAT?!" Noxic yelled.

Jara felt sick on top of her injury and insult. "So disgusting."

Typhus was overjoyed. "Snake Head, my man!"

Snake Head turned towards Typhus. "Sssss… Master! It has been a long time since I've heard that baritone." The long tongue of the snake flicked at the air. "This does not taste of the Horned Vermin's hovel. What is this world? And for what honor do you summon me to it?"

"I'll explain it later, but we're outta the Nightmare Realm, baby!" Typhus punched his palm and laughed. "And I've got some pests I need for you to hunt, you down?"

"Ssss… you summon me all this way for a good time? Hmhmhm… tell me who I am to hunt, and I will slaughter the prey as you desire."

Typhus turned to Vexor. "Is this guy great or what? He'll sniff out the Beetleborgs in no time!"

Vexor tilted towards him in a nod. "Very good. Bring him up to speed with regards to this world we're in. Then send him out to capture our prey." He looked to Jara and Noxic. "The two of you attend to your damage then meet with me. I will instruct you on all I have learned, and how you too can summon from these books."

Jara nodded. "Very well."

Noxic looked around. "Oh yeah, just repair myself. There'd better be an abandoned auto shop or a junk yard around here I can work with. Heck, I'll take even an Infinite Ikea."

Jara slapped Noxic in the side. "Come, let's go foraging."

"Yeah, yeah…" Both he and Jara folded their arms, nodded, and vanished in jets of flame.

As Typhus spoke animatedly to Snake Head about what was going on, the head dangling off his right side focused its serpentine eye on Vexor, who turned away to look at the still smoking comic book. The serpent's tongue flicked out, tasting the air.

Vexor… how have you come to yoke my master…?


"All right, let's do this one more time." In a dark room, Dipper's voice called out. "You ready?"

"Yep!" Mabel called back.

"Everything set to go on your end?" He asked.

"My finger's on the button," Janna answered.

"We're ready here, then," he reported.

Misao spoke next. "Then as the Lord said, let there be light."

In the dark a lever moved, a dial turned, and a button was pressed. Seconds later soft blue-white lights illuminated a clean and sterile, hexagon-themed command center with numerous pieces of equipment meant for analyzing data, detecting threats, and communicating with the outside world arranged in a hexagon around a wide open floor area. At one end of the hexagon, Misao stood in front of a large obelisk that generated a hologram screen that showed upward scrolling lines of data. Dipper was standing on the opposite end of the room, Mabel to his right, and Janna to his left.

This is so freaking cool. He thought as he looked around the machinery.

Her fingers working the keyboard at 208 words per minute, Misao's eyes danced from left to right and back again. "Ja, ja… despite everything this is all very basic. Art Fortunes has a very amateur knowledge of computers and did most everything by hand-waving."

"So what, it won't actually work?" Dipper asked.

Misao looked back. "Oh, it will work. But it is programmed like it was done on a Commodore 64."

She looked back up at the projector. "On the bright side, this whole system is very adaptable. I can replace it with something more functional if I have some time to do it."

"So our Beetle Battle Base is literally from the 90s," Dipper said.

"80s," Misao corrected. "Not that it'll interfere with how the base works. With all of the hand waving Art Fortunes did, it may as well be all magic, ja?"

"Anomalous computers…" Dipper murmured, trying to not get overly excited at the possibilities.

"So it just works?" Janna asked.

"Like King Crimson," Misao replied. She turned around in her chair and struck a near backbreaking pose straight out of a French fashion magazine. "And yes, that was a JoJo reference."

Dipper didn't get the joke, because he didn't use the internet. He just assumed it was something funny because of how loud Mabel laughed.

Misao swept back around and kept typing. "Let's see. The Beetle Battle Base has a wide variety of defenses. There are energy weapon turrets that are dispersed evenly around Hillhurst, the anti-teleportation field…"

As she spoke and typed, images of the base's defenses appeared. First a map of Hillhurst and the hidden weapons, then a diagram of a large circle with a two kilometer radius around the house, then images of the A.V.s popped up."

"… The A.V.s or Assault Vehicles. There is also Gargantis the Mobile Attack Carrier." With that the image of a very large Hercules Beetle Shaped mecha appeared.

Janna looked up at it, her eyes drawn to the large cannon atop the mecha's head. "Dibs."

Mabel snickered. "The cannon?"

"The cannon," Janna confirmed.

Misao looked at the files on Gargantis. "It says it can only be operated by the Beetleborgs."

"I'll make it work," Janna said.

Misao shrugged her shoulders. "One less thing for them to worry about, I guess."

"That's right," Dipper said, "We should be doing everything we can to lighten the load for them. Is there any other weapons or tools here that can do that?"

"I will have to look, the files state that there is more equipment spread throughout the whole facility, but data on that is corrupted. Which is just like in the comic where Janna got it from."

"Yeah," Janna said, "The Beetle Battle Base hasn't been fully operational since it got destroyed at the start of the Split Up Arc years ago."

Dipper remembered Drew, Roland, and Jo commenting on their Beetle Bonders. "Everything gets brought here in the state it was in the comics. Or at least the state it was when drawn."

More things to test with Flabber. Sadly, the age of the Beetle Battle Base's magical systems probably meant that it wasn't good for anything outside of operating the base. Still, Dipper had to be sure.

"Can this thing connect to the Internet?"

Misao laughed. "Oh ja, here. Let's look at Google's home page."

She hit a few keys, and a web page popped up. "It will load up in about five minutes."

Dipper frowned. "Well, that answers that."

Misao shook her head "I can't use this equipment to stream at all."

"We can't use this place, but we do have an entire house a few stories up that we can use," Mabel pointed out.

"Full of monsters that want to eat us," Dipper said.

Janna let out a "Pssh!" and smirked. "Yeah, those guys don't mind you if you're a monster or weirdo yourself, but if you can't convince them? They're wusses, just beat them up and they'll leave you alone."

"Or we could leave dealing with them to Flabber," Mabel also put forward.

Misao shrugged her shoulders. "Either's fine with me."

"We'll talk with him when we're done here, then." Dipper leaned against the counter and looked out at dark windows along the back half of the command center room, showing the unlit underground complex where the A.V.s and Gigantis were stored when they weren't being deployed.

Today was a day full of big wins and minor setbacks. Overall, Dipper could think of worse outcomes than this. He looked over at Misao, who was still browsing through the base's databases.

"Hey, thanks by the way." When she looked back, he nodded. "You didn't need to do this."

"Yeah," Mabel agreed.

"That's quite all right, I want to–and not because you rescued me." Misao smiled back, then looked up at the projector. "From when I was very little, my Papa taught me that it was the duty of those with great ability or power to help those who were in need. It is how we all as people can advance together."

She continued typing as she spoke. "Even if all I can do is try to make sense of these ancient magical computers, I will do it with all my heart so that every battle from here on is easier."

Dipper broke into a big smile. "We all will."

Janna looked out the windows and tried to make out the shape of Gargantis in the dark. "I'll be doing my part."

Mabel sidled over to Misao. "You look like you're busy, can I cuddle you?"

Misao stopped and raised her arms. "Oh no, by all means go ahead."

Mabel gladly took the invitation and scooped Misao up, hugging her. "You're the best!"

"Deine umarmungen sind die besten. Ich liebe dich." Misao cooed back as she snuggled into Mabel's chest.

"Ohh oh~! Girls do what we like! Ohh oh~! We're taking over tonight!"

Misao reached into the pocket of Mabel's skirt mid hug and held up her phone. "You are having a phone call."

"Wow, we have reception down here now?" Mabel asked as she took it. "Oh, it's Sherpa!"

She answered. "Hello Sherpa!"

"I've been calling you kids for an hour, but I kept getting disconnected. You kids okay?" Shermie asked.

"Oh, we were handling some business, it's good now," Mabel said as Dipper and Janna walked over. "What's up?"

"I got a call from a sphincter with a necktie earlier today. What's this about Dipper getting cold-cocked?"

Mabel looked at Dipper. "He's asking about the fight."

Dipper gestured for the phone, and Mabel handed it to him. "Hey Grandpa, I got knocked out by a steam locomotive brick house for no reason. I didn't see anything after that, but I heard he got it worse than me."

"I'll say!" Shermie laughed. "Nano told me the kid looked like he got leveled by Rocky Marciano! Who hit 'im?"

"The little McCormick, Jo, but that's a kettle of fish we wanna keep closed. We had a more important dust up here over at Hillhurst."

Shermie sounded plenty surprised by that revelation. "No kidding? Huh. I knew she was a spitfire, but I didn't take her for a boxer. You want me to come get you?"

"Actually that would be great," Dipper said, "We're just about finished here and it's a long way to the bus."

"Room for one more on that ride?" Janna asked.

He nodded. "Our friend Janna wants a ride too."

"Sure sure. Any friend of you two is welcome. Do you need me to call her folks for ya?"

Dipper looked at Janna, who shook her head. "Nah, I'm good."

"Don't worry about calling her parents," Dipper paused. "And yeah, she's in on our other business too, so we can talk about it with her."

"All right, I'll fire up the ol' Shermie-mobile and be right over." Dipper could all but hear his smile.

"See you soon, Grandpa." Ending the call, Dipper handed the phone to Mabel, then looked at Janna. "Everything okay at home?"

"Huh? Oh yeah, my parents are cool. They're just parents, you know?" Janna replied.

Mabel smiled. "They understand you're a girl who's out there and they just let you be you?"

"Yeah, kinda like you guys with your parents."


"Anyway, if we're done here, we can go up." Dipper looked at Misao. "Are we?"

"Ja, I just need to put it in standby and we can get going." Wiggling free of Mabel's embrace, Misao hit a single key on the console she'd been at, and both the projection and the lights dimmed down. "Done."

"Let's go, then," Dipper said, as he headed towards the Command Center's exit.

Mabel, Misao, and Janna followed. Moving up alongside him, Janna looked up at his face, searching for where he'd been punched. "So why did you get decked, man?"

Dipper shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno, do you know why Lars Vanderdud would have beef with a new student?"

"Whoa, Lars punched you? Okay, he definitely did it for fun–dude's a total psycho."

Dipper grimaced, remembering his bad joke after being punched so hard he threw up. "I got that vibe on from him."

Misao huffed. "Well he got what he deserved."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure Jo put him in the hospital," Mabel added.

That prompted a new worry to spring up in Dipper's mind. "A lot of people saw that."

"Yeah, I wouldn't worry about that. No one's going to snitch on Jo or any of you for the sake of Lars Vanderdud. Everyone hates him and thinks he got off easy the last time when Marco made a fool out of him," Janna assured Dipper.

"He fought Marco?" There was no missing the mystified disbelief in his voice.

"It wasn't much, Marco slapped him a few times and Lars ran off crying."

Dipper hummed. "Yeah, that's about right… geez Marco's so strong. Does he even realize how strong he is? The stuff he does is amazing…"

Janna broke into a smirk. Behind them, Mabel and Misao's eyes gleamed.

"You know it's 2014, right? You don't need to be embarrassed about liking a guy." Janna pointed out.

"Huh?" Dipper blushed again. "Whoa, I'm not-"

He could feel the gazes of his sister and roommate on the back of his head. He looked back, Mabel and Misao both had the same doe-eyed, expectant look on their faces, with their hands clasped in front of them.

He looked back down at Janna, who gestured to him. "Hey dude, there's no judgement in the Jannasphere. Crush on who you wanna crush on, live how you wanna live."

Letting out a sigh, Dipper rubbed the back of his head and looked forward. "It's not that I'm embarrassed, I just… don't have the best record with crushes, okay?"

"Dude, I can relate. Everyone I crush on is dead."

Dipper recoiled. "Oh… I'm sorry…"

"Nah, it's okay. It's nothing a little necromancy can't fix–soon as I get my hands on some…"

Staring at Janna and thinking about all the things he could do to tell her that such things were a bad idea–Dipper stopped and just smiled. This girl was weird, and pretty cool too.

"We didn't mention it back at the shop but…" Dipper grinned. "Back in Gravity Falls, I once raised the dead."

Janna did a double-take, her mouth falling agape and her eyes practically falling out of her head, they were so wide. "Shut! Up! You need to tell me everything! How'd you do it? What happened? Were any of them cute?!"

Dipper, Mabel, and Misao laughed. Janna's sudden excitement was a delight.

"Dude, I'm serious!" Janna insisted.

"Okay, okay, I'll tell you…" Dipper reassured her, before he set out to tell the story.

= - = 25 = - =
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Night Stalker
= - = 26 = - =

|Night Stalker|

Night had long fallen on the legendary Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, and its ultra-high-luxury shops were closing up for the night. One store in particular, an ultra-high luxury jewelry store, still had its doors open. Besides the two clerks and several customers, four heavily armed guards who concealed their deadly weapons under slick and well-trimmed suits watched the doors and the jewelry cases that held millions of dollars' worth of hand-crafted jewelry.

Young prodigal Supervillain Señor Senior Junior pretended they weren't surreptitiously eyeing him as he stood in front of a counter, looking at one particularly expensive item–a Smartwatch made with rare metals and encrusted in diamonds. With a pair of contacts in his eyes, and his hair dyed blonde, and his tips frosted, he hoped against hope that the guards didn't see through his disguise.

"Excuse me, sir?" A pretty clerk a few years his senior chimed. "Is there something you're interested in?"

"Oh, yes," Junior spoke in a low, suave voice, and turned to the clerk. "I cannot take my eyes off this fine piece right here." He then gestured to the watch. "And this watch, too, what's the deal?"

The shot across her bow threw the clerk off, and she blushed. "O-oh you have an eye for luster, sir… that is an exclusive Hyuuga Light Smartwatch, just released at the start of the year. Compatible with Hyuuga Light Phones and Computers, it's one of the hand-built prototypes of the mass production model, furnished from platinum and encrusted in precision cut diamonds… the asking price is 4.5 million dollars."

Junior raised an eyebrow and whistled. "Dang, that's money. Do you come with it?"

The clerk's cheeks all but glowed, and she let out a very affected giggle. "Oh my goodness! Haha… I'm sorry but we don't give discounts for flattery."

Junior laughed himself. "I wouldn't be here if I wanted a discount. How about I buy the watch right now, and you pick something nice for yourself. Anything you want."

"Wh-what?!" The clerk gasped. "I couldn't… I…"

To prove he was not playing at all, Junior whipped out a black credit card, printed with gold and silver. Staring at it, the clerk's eyes grew larger. "… Oh my goodness… r-really?"

"Tonight this is your store, mami. Pick out what you like," Junior insisted.

As the overwhelmed clerk did her level best to not burst into tears and complete the sale, Junior glanced back at the guards, who were painfully rolling their eyes at him. He smirked back at the nearest one, and gave a discreet scan of the store before he looked back at the clerk.

"Okay, sir. Please come this way to our office and we'll get your paperwork signed and your items paid for."

Junior grinned. "Lead the way."

"Oh my goodness…"

After a swipe of the card, an ID scan, and more than a few signatures, Señor Senior Junior walked out of the jewelry store with a four and a half million dollar watch on his wrist, an eight hundred thousand dollar string of gems around the clerk's neck, and her phone number in his pocket.

Leaving the heart of Rodeo Drive's most expensive shopping district, he walked to a million dollar luxury sedan and climbed into the back seat, where he sighed and began taking deep breaths.

"'Do you come with it?'" The car's driver, Shego, asked as she looked back at him. "When did you get so smooth, SSJ?"

Clearing his throat, Junior spoke again–his voice returning to its higher, whiny inflection. "I just watched some of my father's old movies. You know he ad-libbed most of his lines."

Shego glanced back. "No kidding?"

She looked down at his watch. "So, what's the thought process here? You bought the watch and a necklace on top of that… is this some kind of postmodern heist?"

Junior leaned forward in his seat, quite eager to explain. "Well, you see I wanted to go inside and have a look at the security measures. So I went in as a normal customer, purchased some expensive items and while I was flirting with the clerk, I could make observations while she and the guards were distracted."

Shego nodded. "I like it, I like it, and what did you get?"

Junior leaned back in the chair. "The store is watched by twelve security cameras with microphones. All the cases are pressure sensitive and made with bullet-proof blast-proof glass–you should have no problem melting through them. There is no visible security panel in the store's lobby, it is in the back office and uses a palm reader in order to be accessed. I did not see any silent alarms, and the guards all appear to be cyborgs–Hench Co. cyborgs by the look of it."

The smile Shego was growing through his explanation disappeared. "Cyborgs?"

She turned around in her seat and dropped into it with a scowl. "Great, so much for knockout gas in the vents, or going in through the front door."

"We shouldn't do either of those anyway. What we should do is find a way to knock out the power and backup power. That would cause the security systems to reboot, and while that is happening…"

Shego realized where he was going and turned back around to look at him. "We hack the security system so that we can take it offline for our actual heist! Junior, why do I work with guys like Drakken?"

Junior looked aside. "Because you're a masochist?"

Shego's eyes widened, then narrowed as flickers of green energy popped around her. "What was that?"

Junior looked at her out the corner of his eye and gave a cheeky smile. Shego huffed out her nose and turned back around to start the car.

"So," she said as she began driving–course set for their safe house. "Our first order of business is to find a way to knock out the power. That shouldn't be too hard, we can do that as soon as tomorrow."

"And we will be able to do the real heist as soon as Sunday. It will be very easy, and we will make back all that I spent and more–they will have another watch like this one on display by then."

"I must sound like a broken record heaping my praise on you, but you're my best project yet," Shego said.

"Do not let that stop you," Junior teased back before he pulled out his phone and began browsing social media.

Going to Twitter, his well-trimmed eyebrows furrowed when he found that the account he was looking for was set to private. A jaunt over to Facebook revealed a similar state. Only when he reached Youtube did he find that the subject of his search, channel "FaithfulPony371", had posted a new video.

Without hesitation he pressed play, and Misao Darlian's face appeared in a dark room, her long hair wrapped up in a towel.

Smiling to the camera, she spoke. "Hello fans, it's your Faithful Pony here with a quick channel update, ja? First off, do not worry, I am safe and sound in here America, yay! But unfortunately some things have changed so all of the big events I planned for the next few weeks are on hold. I am not sure how long it will take for me to come back online, but until then… my streaming is on hold as well. I am so sorry."

Junior frowned.

"Again, again, do not worry. I will be back with you soon enough and we will definitely make up for lost time. My scheduled appearance on the Our Family Christmas Special has also not changed."

She beamed. "I will be posting an update featuring Sam Haley himself as the filming date draws near. So please stay tuned for that."

"Is that November…?" Junior murmured. He wasn't sure how far in advance they filmed sitcoms.

Misao grew somber. "Lastly, I ask for forgiveness from my fans who have eagerly awaited my arrival in Beverly Hills… I will not be attending school there, this year. I am still committed to finishing my education here in Los Angeles, and I will come visit you at the first opportunity. Hopefully when filming of the Christmas Special begins."

Junior's frown deepened. "So she does know I am looking for her."

Misao managed a smaller smile. "I am sorry that this all has had to happen, but please know that everything will be fine, and when you see me again? I will be making content like nothing you've ever seen. So please stay strong, stay smiling, and always check your six. Have a good night, everypony, and bye bye~!"

The video ended and Junior lowered his phone. Shego, having been focused on navigating Los Angeles traffic, glanced up in the rearview and caught his disappointed expression. "No luck on the real prize?"

"She is not here in Beverly Hills and trying to wait us out," Junior lamented. "We will have to be patient a little longer."

Shego shrugged her shoulders. "Well, the longer she hides the longer we can busy ourselves. What is your interest in a Youtube Streamer, anyway? She doesn't seem your type, and while her dad's brilliant, he's no DNAmy."

Junior looked forward at her, his expression surprised. "You do not know?"

"Don't know what?"

Junior looked away. "Oh, it would not be important to you, then. It is a matter of family pride, that I am after this girl."

Shego was skeptical. "Since when did you have pride in anything other than the chiseled temple that is your esteemed self?"

Junior raised his head. "I am doing something that my father at his age cannot."

"Chase after teenaged girls? Yeah, I can see why he wouldn't be into that."

"Ransoming that girl will satisfy that ambition," Junior said, "And my father will be proud of me."

Shego huffed. "You're a good kid, Junior. Well, in a relative sense."

"Of course, I am a villain, no?" Junior spread his muscular arms across the span of the seat. "And thank you for having patience with me."

Shego shrugged her shoulders. "It's not like I have anything better to do. Dr. D's brewing some kind of cockamamie scheme that he won't even let me in on. I mean, don't take that the wrong way? I'm glad you came to me with a job, it means I don't have to work with any of the weirdos who put their gimmick before their scheme. You see what happened to Duff in the news?"

"Yes, he sliced his last ball so badly it came back and blew him straight into custody."

"I've said it a hundred times before, and I'll say it a hundred times more. Don't fall into that gimmick crap-"

"It makes you predictable and easy to counter," Junior finished. "But, Señor Killigan can't help it. He's insane."

"Tch, no he's not. I've worked with him enough, he's just a giant golf nerd with a Scotland fetish." Shego glanced back again. "Get this, he's not even from there."

Junior did a double take. "No way!"

Shego looked forward. "Yeah, he's South African!"

"OH EM GEE!" Junior gasped, drawing Shego's attention back to him. "I cannot wait until I tell my father this! He has always suspected, but to know that it is true…!"

The car's dashboard beeped, the only warning before the car's automatic emergency brake kicked in, the car lurching to a halt. Shego looked ahead, annoyed. There wasn't anything on the road a second before.

"What happened?" Junior asked.

"I don't know, something triggered the brake." Shego scanned the city street in front of her.

"Maybe it was a kitty or a doggy?" Junior asked.

Shego half-listened to him, and scanned the road again, and saw nothing–just residential houses on an empty street, bushes in front of each home obscuring the view into their front yards. She couldn't shake the feeling that someone or something was watching them, but she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. She looked back past Junior, and out the rear window of the luxury sedan. There was nothing there, either.

Junior began to look around as well. "I do not see anything."

"Then this car already needs to go into the shop," Shego grumbled as she resumed driving.

As the car continued on, the head of an unnaturally large green snake with a pale yellow belly peered out and flicked its tongue. In the air it tasted power, danger, but not what it sought.

Hissing, the snake pulled back into the bushes and moved with incredible speed.

= - = 26 = - =
"Stay there, play dead, actually die! I do not care!" Jara demanded. "I will be back for your worthless head later!"
I found the Brit!
"And I will rip your arm off and beat you to death with it."
I found the Belgian!
"We didn't mention it back at the shop but…" Dipper grinned. "Back in Gravity Falls, I once raised the dead."

Janna did a double-take, her mouth falling agape and her eyes practically falling out of her head, they were so wide. "Shut! Up! You need to tell me everything! How'd you do it? What happened? Were any of them cute?!"
... and I found the French.
I'd argue that Marco's more French than Belgian, but the Belgians did take limbs with a vengeance.

On that note, this story has a fuckton of lore. Including stuff I'm excited to talk about RIGHT NOW.
Down in the Dojo
= - = 27 = - =

|Down in the Dojo|

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

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

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

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

"Yeah, funny how that is," Jo said.

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

"Wait, is that okay?!" Drew asked.

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

Roland gestured to the closing portal behind him. "You're just portaling around in public?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You don't need to do all that," Roland said.

Drew agreed. "Yeah."

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

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

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

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

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

Jo raised an eyebrow. "Uh huh…?"

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

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

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

Drew recognized him. "Oh, he's in our class."

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

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

"That's the plan," Marco replied.

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

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

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

Roland looked from Hunter to Marco. "Daycare?"

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

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

"This," Marco said stiffly, "Is Jeremy."

Oh I already hate this kid. Drew thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy scowled up at Roland. "What was that?"

Marco was caught off guard himself by Roland.

"I bet he'd cry if Marco actually tried to hit him," Jo said to her brother.

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

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

"I've actually fought him!" Jeremy insisted.

"Whatever," Roland said.

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

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

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

"Don't ignore me!" Jeremy shrieked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Huh?" Marco asked.

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

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

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

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

"I am," Roland said.

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

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

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

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

"Rank amateur," Roland said.

"I apparently don't know how to make a fist to punch," Drew said.

Jo folded her arms. "I've won some fights."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew hummed and leaned aside to Roland and whispered. "That's really specific…"

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

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

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

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

"I'll do it!"

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

"Yes, Sensei!" Marco obeyed before gesturing for the three to follow him to Sensei's office.

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

Marco looked back at her. He frowned and went back to looking through the papers. "I don't know."

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

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

"Yeah, probably," Roland said with a small laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

"Speaking of the Magnavores," Drew said, "It's been pretty quiet since we last fought them."

"We trashed them pretty good, they're probably still recovering," Jo pointed out.

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

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

"Hoping is all we can do," Roland said.

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

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

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

Marco brightened and whispered aside to Drew. "I guess he's making it official…"

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

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

Marco nodded. "Yes, Sensei."

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

"Yes, Sensei!" Marco repeated with more energy.

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

Marco's face fell. "W-what?"

"He changed his mind?" Drew whispered.

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

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

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

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

"Y-yet?" Marco asked.

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

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

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

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

Marco lowered his head. "Yes. I understand, Sensei."

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

Marco nodded. "Yes, Sensei, thank you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco agreed. "Yeah… but it's not a big deal."

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

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

Jo rolled her eyes. "Yeah, because this dojo's all about respect."

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

Jo huffed. "Yeah, sure."

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

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

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

"Thanks. It's not about running it or being in charge of anything."

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

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

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

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

= - = 27 = - =
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Snake in the Angel's Shadow
= - = 28 = - =

|Snake in the Angel's Shadow|

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

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

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

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

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

Dipper looked up at her and smiled. "Thanks."

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

Dipper shrugged his shoulders. "Not as bad as it did for Lars. You weren't there?"

"No, I eat in first lunch. Kind of a shame the cafeteria's all closed for repairs."

"Sorry for that."

"It's cool. I usually eat lunch in my car, anyway."

Dipper perked up. "You have a car?"

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

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

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

"Why even get it for you?"

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

"All right, I like the Beetleborgs comics the best, though. I really couldn't put them down."

Heather smirked a little. "You could grab some more…"

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

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

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

She closed her eyes and shook her head. "It's a crying shame."

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

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

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

"Well, you're forgiven anyway." Heather hummed. "Did you hear about what happened on Rodeo Drive yesterday?"

"No, what happened?"

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

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

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

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

Dipper stared at his sister. "Ha."

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

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

Dipper was interested. "Snakes?"

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

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

"Did anyone get any pictures?" Misao asked.

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

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

Mabel shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe it's camera shy?"

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

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

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

Drew smiled. "Hey Heather."

Roland headed to the counter. "How's the store been?"

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

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

Jo took Heather's spot at the table. "Except for Sensei being a jerk, it was fine."

Marco looked down at her. "I said it's fine."

"What happened?" Dipper asked.

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

"Is that hard?" Dipper asked.

Marco shook his head. "Not for me, no."

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

Mabel gave a start. "Whaaaa? That's messed up."

"He just got ahead of himself," Marco replied. "He's not perfect."

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

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

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

Dipper sided with Marco. "Then there isn't a problem."

Jo let out a frustrated grunt. "Whatever."

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

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

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

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

She noticed the others and smiled big. "Hi~!"

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

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

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

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

"Yeah, bye," Jo muttered.

"Later Marco," Drew said.

"See you tomorrow bruh," Roland added.

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

Drew turned back to her. "You get used to it."

Heather raised her hands and shook her head. "I don't think I want to."

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

Jo glared back. "Marco's being way too forgiving of how he's treated there."

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

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

Misao frowned and copped to that. "Very unpleasant."

Mabel turned to Jo. "You gotta work on that."

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

"Well, do you have proof?" Dipper asked.

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

Dipper stopped. "The eight year old?"

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

Dipper remembered. "Oh. Oh."

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

"So why don't we talk to Sensei tomorrow?" Roland asked.

"And keep an eye on Jeremy too, while we're at it," Drew added.

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

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

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

Heather held up her tip jar. "But don't forget to tip, you know?"

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

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

Mabel beamed. "You are the best."

Jo grimaced. "Pineapple, really?"

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

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

Dipper looked at Jo. "What's wrong with Pineapple on pizza?"

Jo was devastated.

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

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

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

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

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

Roland said:

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

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

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

Drew said:
What's going on?

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

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

Jo said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mabel said:

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

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

Janna said:
👌 See you then.

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

Mabel said:

Drew said:

Roland said:

Jo said:

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

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

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

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

"Yes?" Jo asked.

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

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

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

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

"Huh. This is the best ten dollars I've ever made."

"Ha!" Drew and Roland shouted at the same time.

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

= - = 28 = - =

The hunt... is on.
Last edited:
Karate Kids
= - = 29 = - =

|Karate Kids|

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

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

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

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

"I done told y'all enough. You are only as old as you feel and girl I am eternally 18."

"Have you had your cholesterol checked? Your blood pressure? You're at high risk…"

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

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

Abbie looked from her son to Nano. "Your grandmother's getting lax on her health."

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

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

"I'm saving you the money! Hmph!"

Abbie turned to her husband. "Aaron, talk to your mother."

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

"No," Nano replied.

Aaron shrugged his shoulders. "I tried."

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

"Thanks, baby," Nano cooed to her grandson.

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

"Nobody's gotta worry about anything," Nano said, quite satisfied with her victory.

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

Roland pointed to himself. "Moi?"

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

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

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

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

"Remember, 'wax on, wax off,'" Aaron advised.

"Hai, sensei," Roland said with a quick bow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She thought about it. "Huh, you're going to that dojo over at Trank Plaza?"

When he confirmed it with a nod, she laughed. "Brantley's Dojo? Lord have mercy."

"Brantley?" Roland repeated.

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

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

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

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

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


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

"Remember that if something happens, we'll need you," Marco reminded Star.

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

He smiled. "Have fun, okay?"

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

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

"Hey Marco," Drew said.

"'Sup man?" Roland asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Drew looked at Roland. "So soon as Marco's done, we can start asking questions."

"Yeah, leave it to me," Roland assured them.

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

"Mr. Diaz."

Oh, he's awake. He thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland answered.

"I dunno, this is kinda cool," Drew admitted.

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

Marco nodded. "Yes, Sensei."

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

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

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

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

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

Sensei pointed his foot at Marco's face. "Clip the toenail."

Marco lowered his hands. "Huh?"

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

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

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

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

"Ack! It got in my eye!"

Drew and Roland winced, while Jo's brow furrowed. "Okay, this is dumb."

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

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

Comprehension lit up Marco's face. "Oh, I see…!"

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

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

He clipped another toenail. "Ow! Again?!"

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

"This is so dumb…" Jo groaned. "We've been here literally all morning watching Marco do chores."

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

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

Drew checked his phone's time. "Three hours and ten minutes elapsed."

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked at her phone. "Janna says they're at the scrapyard, let's go."

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

Looking down, Marco was surprised. "Wait, you're leaving?"

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

She left, Drew behind her.

"Yeah, sorry," he called as he followed his sister out.

Marco swore under his breath. "W-wait…!"

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

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

"Is your failure at hand, Mr. Diaz?"

"No, Sensei!"

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

"Yes, Sensei!"

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

Sensei looked over to Roland. "Of course!"

He turned back to Marco. "Keep up the scrubbing!"

"Yes, Sensei!" Marco called back.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland thought about it. "Yeah, Nano loves that movie. She'd definitely do something like that."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco winced. "I know, but…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland wore a slight frown. "Are you sure?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gonna have to talk to him about that.

= - = 29 = - =

Come on Marco.
Last edited:
Scrapyard Dogs
= - = 30 = - =

|Scrap Yard Dogs|

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

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

Dipper looked towards the direction indicated. "They couldn't take a picture in time?"

"Just like everyone else," Janna replied.

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

Dipper whistled. "That was pretty cool."

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

He looked over at her. "Huh?"

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

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

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

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

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

Dipper frowned. "One of the Vanderhoffs?"

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

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

"Don't besmirch sliminess. He's a dry bastard, complete with chafing."

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

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

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

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

"Monster Truck Graveyard?" That sounded amazing.

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

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

"I'm here every Saturday. We can invite Marco next time, make a date of it."

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, that was weird. "I mean as a person."

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

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

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

"That's not ominous."

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

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

"What is your type? Mysterious? Dark? Dangerous? Dead?"

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

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

Dipper felt a sense that things weren't right. "Huh, that's weird."

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

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

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

Janna pulled it out and looked. "Looks like it."

"Send a text to make sure."

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

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

Janna gestured over to their left. "The scrap looks different."

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

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

"The Magnavores would love this place."

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

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

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


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

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

"… And you'll be back in the real world."

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

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

Janna lifted an eyebrow and looked at Dipper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dipper reclaimed the hook. "I'm fine… I just… what the heck?"

Janna pointed down. "I don't know, but we should be running."

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

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

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

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

"Crap…!" Janna shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know, right?" Janna asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janna stopped and looked back. "Ah, Lumberjack!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Jumped us," he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janna handed it to him. "Are you okay?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its prey was near.

= - = 30 = - =

It's just not Dipper's time in Echo Creek.
Last edited:
Red Tape
But then again, everyone's having a bad day today.

= - = 31 = - =

|Red Tape|

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

Jo said:

Mabel said:

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

Jo said:

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

Jo said:
Drew said that its the Vanderhoffs!

Janna Banana said:
Where r u guys?

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

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

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

Janna Banana said:

Roland said:
Getting his red belt.

Jo said:
Is he not reading his messages?!

Roland said:
I'm gonna call him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You can give up any time if it's too hard, Mr. Diaz."

Marco scrubbed harder. "No, Sensei!"

He scowled into his reflection in the glass. "I'm getting that belt."

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

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

Sensei saw him and nodded in greeting. "Mr. Williams."

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

Marco stopped and looked back. "Roland? What's going on?"

"Dipper and Janna got jumped at the scrapyard."

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

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

It wasn't some great mystery that needed Sherlock's intellect to solve. "… Trip and Van."

Roland nodded. "… Yeah…"

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

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

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

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

Roland spoke up. "Uh, that's not what you said at the dojo."

Sensei looked at him. "Come again?"

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

Marco looked at Roland, then at Sensei. "Yeah. What's up with that?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She did a double take. "You're Nano's grandson, aren't you dear?"

Roland nodded. "Uh… yeah…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I don't understand," Marco said, the tone of his voice detached.

Roland's reaction was much stronger than Marco's. "What?!"

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

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

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

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

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

"You can't teach Karate by video tape," Roland began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

"Hey man," Roland said in a hushed voice.

Marco glanced from the screen at him. "Hm?"

"Sensei is kind of a mess." Roland remembered Nano's shocked reaction to Brantley's dojo still being open.

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

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

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

Marco sighed. "I wish we could get that tape working."

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

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

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

Marco tilted his head. "You don't think they'd have it, do you?"

Roland shook his head. "I'd rather we meet up with the guys."

"I know but," Marco looked at Sensei, then back to Roland. "Let's just look?"

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

Sensei looked back. "What is it, Mr. Diaz?"

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

Sensei nodded. "Do what you must, I'll get the door unlocked."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco recoiled a bit. "Wait, there's nothing illegal on it, is there?"

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

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

Marco looked at the tape, then at The Manager. "Wait, dollars? You're joking, right?"

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

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

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

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

The Manager brightened. "Of course. Fight me for it. Win, and it's yours."

Roland's face fell. "What."

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

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

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

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

Roland did a double-take. "… What."

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

Marco recalculated his odds and assumed a fighting stance. "… I've fought worse."

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

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

Marco gave him a flat look. "I've seen Alfonzo and Ferguson get into literal fist fights at Zoom, Roland."

"Zoom?" The Manager repeated in recognition. "Roland?"

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

"I don't know what that is," Marco said.

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

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

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

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

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

Roland paused. "Oh."

The Manager picked up the tape and offered it.

"Take it."

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


The Manager nodded solemnly. "It's yours."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco took the tape. "Almost?"

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

"New or used?" The Manager asked.


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

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

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

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

Sensei lit up. "Marco, dude! This is awesome, how'd you pull this off?!"

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

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

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

The light left Sensei all at once. "… Oh."

It didn't escape Marco's notice. "… Uh, Sensei?"

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

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

Roland didn't like how the atmosphere changed either and walked over. "Now what…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco remained unmoving. "You… what…"

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

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

Marco cut him off. "You know what, Brantley? It's okay."

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

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

"Mr. Diaz!" Brantley called after him. "Marco, wait!"

Roland snapped. "Yo, shut the fuck up!"

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

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

He stomped away from him, then turned around.


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

"If you're not going to buy anything," he said with a stiff, threatening voice, "Get out."

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

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

Roland dismounted from his bike and jogged alongside him. "Look, man, I'm sorry."

"You didn't do anything, it's fine." He grit his teeth. "I was the idiot."

"No, you weren't."

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

He snorted. "I wanted to see the look on Jeremy's face so bad…"

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

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

Reaching up he rubbed his face. "Wow… I'm so stupid."

Roland has been here before. "Marco, my man…"

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

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

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

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

"Nano seems pretty cool, though." Marco pointed out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

= - = 31 = - =

Well, almost.
Last edited:
One Week
= - = 32 = - =

|One Week|

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

Star looked back and sprang to her feet. "Marco!"

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

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

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

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

"We can talk about that later, too," Misao seethed.

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

Mabel finished wrapping Dipper's crown with bandages. "It's not your fault. There's nothing we can do-"

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

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

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

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

"Unless you're Trip Vanderhoff," Drew said.

Marco remembered Trip's screaming and hollering about payback. "Oh, it's definitely him."

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

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

Roland and Marco both stared at him with unconvinced expressions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gestured to Dipper, then over to Marco. "Why don't you two start hanging out more?"

Mabel brightened. "Yeah! Marco can be like… Dipper's bodyguard!"

"Whoa, bodyguard? Me?" Marco asked.

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

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

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

"It'd be easier if they went to class together, but they don't," she pointed out.

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

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

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

Jo sat up. "What? Why?"

Drew got it in an instant. "Protecting our secret identities."

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

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

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

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

"Of course," Dipper said.

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

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

Star gasped. "What happened?!"

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

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

"… Oh my God," Drew muttered. "That's… unsettlingly familiar…" He trailed off.

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

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

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

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

"No." Marco shook his head. "He's not worth it."

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

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

Misao growled. "Because an idiot started himself on fire."

"Geez… I'm sorry," he murmured back.

Dipper drummed his fingers on the table. "To think it's only our first week here."

"Our first week all knowing each other," Roland said.

"The first week as superheroes," Jo added as she brushed her fingers against Dipper's.

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

Dipper perked up. "… Yeah."

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

"That's right," Mabel agreed. "We're all in this together!"

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

"And to stick up for," Roland added.

"And protect, too." Marco spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star gasped and pulled back from Marco. "That'd be fine, right?"

Marco's smile was small, but it was there. "Yeah, let's end today on a high note."

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

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

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

Roland laughed. "Man, step off with that junk…"

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"If he's even conscious right now. Topher said he was gonna do a burnout on his nuts."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Van hopped up onto his feet, excited. "Sweet, they're here."

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

"You set us up, you piece of garbage!" He yelled at Van as the larger of the Vanderhoffs stumbled back.

Van recoiled, and when Topher attempted to push him again, he pushed back harder. "Huh? No I didn't!"

"Blaine's in the hospital missing like half his teeth because you said Pine Tree was a joke!" Topher yelled. "And now the track is freakin' gone, too!"

Van tried to process that. "What do you mean it's gone?!"

"Because Pine Tree's friends with Nano, you tool! You didn't tell us that either! She told the manager to bury the track and they did! They chased us all out of there and knocked like fifty tons of cars onto it!"

"What was Nano even doing there?" Van asked.

"I don't know! She came out of nowhere and snatched me off my bike!"

The other motocrosser, a lighter haired, brown eyed boy named Caleb, spoke up. "She's gonna tell our parents, man! If I go home, I'm dead!"

Trip grunted in annoyance. "That freakin' old bag needs to mind her own business." On that note. "So what do you two want?"

"For you to pay up now!" Topher yelled at him. "My parents won't wreck my face if I can at least show them some money."

Trip rolled his eyes. "Sure, whatever. Dolby, cut 'em a check."

"As you wish," Dudley said, pulling out a checkbook.

Trip glowered at Topher and Caleb. "You at least did it, right?"

Topher turned to face him fully. "What? Did you not hear what I said? Pine Tree shot Blaine in the face with a harpoon gun or something, then Nano showed up and wouldn't let us near him!"

Anger flashed in Trip's eyes. "Droopy, burn that check."

Ripping off the check, Dudley tossed it into a fire pit.

Topher exploded. "WHAT THE HELL?!"

"I don't pay people for doing nothing," Trip said in a flat voice. "If you can't do something as easy as beat up a stupid nerd, then you should be paying me for the time you wasted."

Topher growled and lunged to grab Trip, only for Van to step in and shove him to the ground at Caleb's feet. The motocross boy got up and pulled a knife from his boot.

Both Trip and Van recoiled at the sight of the glinting steel. Caleb himself raised his hands in fright. "Whoa, wait!"

Topher ignored him and brandished the knife and began stomping towards the brothers. "You think you're gonna screw us over, you jackass?! Screw you!"


The sound of wood hitting stone stopped everyone.


Both Vanderhoffs and the Motocross boys looked around, then saw the source of the sound.


Sitting on an empty lawn chair by the pool was an african american teenager wearing a white t-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, dark colored hiking boots, and a cream-colored bucket hat whose brim fell over his eyes. He was beating against the ground a long wooden sword coated in a black lacquer. At the end of its hilt a pink string was bound tightly around it, and at the end of the strings dangled miniature figures of a wolf and an imp.

Topher lowered the knife and stared at him. "Who the heck are you?"

Trip and Van looked at each other, then the former turned to Dudley. "Did you let this guy in here?"

Dudley shrugged his shoulders.

"Hey," the new arrival spoke in a droning baritone as he struck the tip of the wooden sword against the ground. "You're paying five stacks to mess with a dude, right?"

Trip nodded. "Yeah."

Using the sword to push himself up to his feet, the newcomer pointed it at Topher. "I'll kick his ass for fifty bucks."

Topher faced him. "What?"

"Do it!" Trip shouted.

The newcomer took the wooden sword in both hands. "Bet."

Before Topher could speak or move, the newcomer sprinted at him and swung the bokken into his stomach. The blow folded the dirt biker in half right over the wooden blade, knocking the wind, spit, and taste out of his mouth. His assailant lifted his blade and swung it and Topher around to throw at Caleb's feet, the other biker jumping back in fright.

"Uhhhhngh…!" Topher groaned and began coughing heavily as he clutched his stomach. Trip and his brother stared in silence–both slow to register the feat of speed and strength that laid him out.

The newcomer rested the wooden sword on his shoulder with one hand, as he reached out with his free hand–gesturing to Trip. "Pay me."

Trip snapped out of his confusion, and barked at Dudley. "Well… pay him!"

Dudley reached into his jacket, and pulled out a billfold. Producing a crisp fifty dollar bill, the old chauffeur placed it in the newcomer's hand.

"Aight." He folded the bill between two fingers and walked over to Topher. Who was clutching his sides. "Hey, is this Pine Tree kid tough, or what?"

"Screw you… ahh… you broke my ribs!" Topher whimpered.

He looked up from him to Caleb. "Well?"

"He had like a harpoon gun. Don't listen to whatever those idiots say!" Caleb pointed at Trip and Van. "That kid won't go down easy."

"Swag." He pointed the wooden sword at Caleb. "Now get the fuck out of here."

Caleb didn't need to be told twice. He helped Topher up and walked him into the house, Dudley following to make sure they left. After they fell out of sight, the newcomer turned to face Trip and Van.

"So, I'm Gabe and I'll kick Pine Tree's ass for a hundred thousand."

Trip stopped. "What?"

"Yo, one hundred thousand or I'm just gonna leave." Gabe pointed to the wall that surrounded the house, the way he got in.

Trip and Van looked at each other again, and Trip answered again. "That's way too much!"

Gabe lowered his sword, resting the tip on the ground. He shrugged his shoulders. "Aight, then I'm gonna go."

Turning around, he walked over to the wall–then stopped and looked back. "But if you change yo mind, catch me on Insta at GHaleyRobbinThem. That's two Bs, no G, nigga."

He haphazardly threw the sword up over the wall, and with a quick run up, scrambled up to the top and vaulted over. From the other side of the wall he called out. "And a capital T! Don't forget that!"

Trip walked back over to the pool and sat down, dropping both his feet into the water. "The heck was that?"

"I don't know," Van replied before he pulled out his phone and began checking his social media. "GHaley…" He stared at the phone, and gave a quick glance at the wall. "… Okay?"

He walked over to Trip and sat down beside him. "Hey, check this out."

He showed his brother the phone, and Trip stared at it. The smaller Vanderhoff's expression cycled through surprise to confusion. "… Huh. Yeah, there's no way I'm paying him a hundred grand to beat up Pine Tree."

With a petulant sniff, Trip leaned back on his hands and looked at the darkening sky, the sun all but below the distant horizon. "It's only been a week. He's not worth that much."

He kicked his feet in the water. "There are plenty of chumps who'll do it for less."


His regenerative abilities gave Typhus an advantage over Jara and Noxic, who were still recovering and repairing from their injuries after Monday's battle. While they sat in hiding he was free to move around their new domain, do reconnaissance, and even attack his foes alone if he wanted to… if he wanted to. The truth was, Typhus didn't do much by himself, he often refused to outright.

"Baby, this is so boring," he grumbled as he sat hiding atop a building overlooking the expensive Rodeo Drive.

It was well within his power to go and just tear things up, but what was causing mayhem and chaos without his best friends there to cheer him on and for him to hype up? At least he only had a few more days before Jara was on her feet, and once Noxic finished remaking the parts he lost, they'd be the three amigos of anarchy once again.

The power went out on the entire block below. The street lights and the exterior lights of the super expensive shops flickered back on, before they all shut down, plunging the street and Typhus himself into darkness. "Huh."

"Dangerous ones… powerful ones… ssss… this is an interesting world, Master." Snake Head said as his bulky form emerged from the shadows of an air conditioning unit behind him.

"All right!" Typhus cheered, upon seeing Snake Head. "What's up, Snake Head. You got anything for the Big T?"

The snake head dangling off Snake Head's right side hissed aloud. "The humans are dangerous. Some more than others. Clever, strong, powerful. Some are unaware, some hide it, but all hold the potential. Be very careful Master, do not cross the wrong human carelessly."

Typhus snorted. "I've already seen plenty of that, baby. What else you got?"

"I have already found one of the prey… tomorrow I will capture and use it to lure out the others."

Typhus pumped his fists. "All right, I knew I could count on you. Let me know when you're going that way, I'll ride witcha."

"It would be an honor, Master." Snake Head fell silent for a moment, then hissed again. "Tell me, Master. How is it that you have come to the service of Vexor?"

The question perked Typhus up. "Well, you know. The Magnavores ain't the strongest tribe in the Nightmare Realm, but they ain't the dumbest. If you ain't a world eatin' God, you gotta be smart enough to stay outta sight, baby."

"But… ssss… Vexor?"

Typhus waved his creation off. "He thinks too much of himself, but he ain't no fool. If it wasn't for him, I woulda been chopped up into pieces by Nukus."

Snake Head staggered back. "Ssss… Nukus?!"

"Yeah, your Master had a bad day, crossed paths with the Lord of Nightmares himself. Vexor got me out of that jam quick, baby. I've been riding with him, since."

Snake Head fell silent after that, and turned away from Typhus "… Ssss…"

His creation's odd mood didn't escape Typhus. "What is it?"

"Be wary of Vexor, Master. Do not let him hold too great a power over you."

"C'mon, who do you think you're talkin' to? I'm Bio Lord Typhus, I ain't afraid of no space crab with a built in Pope Hat!"

Snake Head's hisses came out sounding like laughter. "Bio Lord?"

"Yeah, that's what they call me in the funny pages, baby!"

Snake Head turned to face him, with a burst of energy. "It suits you, Master! Let us go hunt, and strike terror into the enemies of Bio Lord Typhus!"

Typhus laughed and folded his arms. With a nod, both monsters vanished into flame as the sound of many, many police sirens began to fill the air, converging on Rodeo Drive.

= - = 32 = - =

How many crimes are Trip and Van going to commit just to harass one kid? And will they get away with them?
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You are the Prey
= - = 33 = - =

|You are the Prey|

It was another morning at the Williams home, and Roland came downstairs to find his father and grandmother eating breakfast at the table, while his mother was standing in the archway between the dining room and the living room. Abbie Williams had her hands on her hips and was shaking her head.

"Morning," Roland called.

"Hey son," Aaron greeted.

"Morning, baby," Nano said as she stirred around her bowl of granola cereal and fruit.

Roland saw the breakfast his grandma was eating and gave her a knowing look, before he peered over at the television. The news was showing an aerial shot of some expensive looking shops, and the reporter was talking about LA's long history of high-profile robberies.

"What's going on?" He asked.

"Someone robbed a jewelry store on Rodeo," Nano said. "Stole forty million dollars in jewelry just last night."

Roland whistled as he grabbed a pitcher of orange juice and poured himself a glass. "Dang, I hope they have insurance."

"Mmm… they won't after this," Abbie said, before she walked over and kissed Roland on the cheek. "Morning, sweetie. You going to sit down and eat with us?"

"Nah, I'm going over to the park to train with Marco so I'm gonna keep it light." To that effect, he grabbed a waffle and spread some jam over it.

Abbie frowned. "What about the dojo?"

Roland paused. "Uh… well, Marco quit yesterday and since we were only going there to train with him, we all followed."

Nano let out a hum, then got up from her seat. "I'll see you out the door, baby."

With a nod to Nano, Roland bid farewell to his parents and walked with her out onto the porch. Soon as the door shut, Nano turned to her grandson with a concerned look. "What did Brantley do?"

Roland was impressed. "You just knew, huh? He yanked Marco around over his Red Belt, and that's why he quit."

Nano palmed her forehead. "Lord have mercy on that boy, he's a mess. Been a mess since he was in high school, still a mess now if he's acting like he in high school."

That reminded him. "Hey, Nano, did you save Brantley's life or something when he was a kid?"

Nano stared at her Grandson, uncomprehending, before something clicked on in her head. "Oh, oh! He told you about how we met?"

"Yeah, he said he was a gangbanger who got in too much trouble until you saved him."

Nano hummed and shook her head. "I don't remember it happenin' like that. The Brantley I knew was a shy boy who liked to buy anime tapes from my old video store back in the 90s. One day he got picked on by some other kids down by the river, so I told them to knock it off and took him home to his Mama."

Roland slumped his shoulders. "Ugh, I knew it. A loser and a liar."

"Don't be so hard on him," Nano said, "Frankly? For as much of a child that man is, he's kept his dojo goin' all these years and he genuinely loves what he does. That's why I was surprised when you said you were goin' there."

At that, Roland laughed. "The man gives up when he can't get a tape out of a VCR? Or afraid to tell his number one student that he can't promote him to assistant? How can he take the pressure of running a business?"

As soon as he asked that question, he stopped. "… Wait, how does he do that?"

Nano hummed. "Askin' the real questions, baby. Why don't you go an' train with your friend, ol' Nano is going to go see how Brantley's doing and maybe give him some advice."

There were worse things to wish upon someone but getting a firm talking to from Nano was still up there. Roland, however, was fine with condemning Brantley to that fate. Bidding his Nano farewell, he climbed on his bike and headed off.


Under a tree in Echo Creek Park, Marco adjusted the gray belt of his karate gi's top, checked the sleeves, and dusted the shoulders off. Today was his first day going solo, and he wasn't about to start off on the wrong foot.

"All right Marco," he whispered to himself, "Today you are no longer the student, you are the Sensei. Teach them well, better than you were taught. You can do this."

Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars~!

Marco grabbed his phone and answered it. "Huh? Star? What is it?"

"Hey Marco," Star said with her usual outpouring of energy. "You weren't here when I woke up, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, I just came to the park to do some training."

"Oh! Oh… okay! I was just wondering if you were okay, have fun training."

Marco smiled. "Thanks."

"Bye!" She ended the call, and Marco looked at his phone with a bemused smile.

Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars!

Marco answered it again. "Star?"

"Did you eat breakfast?" She asked.

"I got some from Britta's on my way here…" Marco replied.

"Right, okay! I'll just um... have breakfast and go hang out with the girls then, bye!" She ended the call again.

Marco stared at the phone, in full confusion.

Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars!

He answered it yet again. "Is something going on?"

"Oh… I um… was just wondering if you had some time to talk, but if you're busy training we can talk later, bye!" Star ended the call abruptly.

He watched his phone, waiting for it to ring again, but this time it didn't. He rolled his eyes and was just about to call her back, when a man dressed as a butler stepped around the tree and pointed a smartphone of his own at him. He stared at the man, who stood there and said nothing otherwise.

Marco saw the red recording light on and put away his phone. "Can I help you?"

"You sure can," Jeremy said as he followed his butler out from behind the tree but kept said butler between him and Marco. "Tell me, Marco, how does it feel to finally overcome your stubbornness and admit to being a loser?"

Marco rolled his eyes and turned away from Jeremy. "Go away, Jeremy."

Jeremy smiled, a rich condescending expression as he walked around him and into the camera shot. "Come on, the world wants to know. Seven years at the dojo, five of them as a green belt, what made it all worth throwing away?"

"None of your business," Marco toned back. He had half a mind to leave if he wasn't waiting for Drew, Jo, and Roland. "Who even told you that I quit?"

"Ap-ap-ap-ap… this is your interview, not mine." Jeremy said. "Come on, give us something, Marco. What was it like to realize just how lame you are, and that everything you do is for nothing because you're a giant dork who can't even beat an eight year old?"

Jeremy turned and looked at the camera. "By the way, ladies? He's got no girlfriend. No game to get one, either."

Marco's expression darkened, and he faced the child with the same calm glower he stared down Jara with when she threatened to kill Star. "It's not can't. I won't beat up an eight year old."

Jeremy paused. "What?"

"You're eight, Jeremy. I'm not allowed to hit you because you're half my age. If I hit you even once I'd kill you."

Jeremy Birnbaum recoiled from Marco, the words swinging into him like a hammer straight into the bell of his young ego. "Wh-what? No! I can beat you up, I have beaten you up!"

"Every time we fought I held back." Marco looked at his phone, still opened on Star in his contact list. "And honestly? Now that I'm not at the school anymore, I don't have to do that, or care what you think or do."

The response threw Jeremy completely off. Marco was supposed to be yelling at him, grinding his teeth, flailing to get him to go away and leave him alone. "H-hey. You're the one who quit the school, you're a quitter… doesn't that mean anything? How are you going to be anything if you quit, huh?"

Marco stared at Jeremy, the kid looked angry that he wasn't taking the bait. "Buzz off, kid."

Jeremy seethed and assumed a fighting stance. "Fight me, Marco! I'll show you!"

Marco spun around in place and swung a kick into the tree beside him, hitting it so hard that the trunk visibly shook and the tree's leaves loudly rustled overhead. Jeremy hopped back, his eyes wide at the sight of the deep crack Marco's shin left in the side of the trunk. Pulling his leg free of the cracked and splintered wood, Marco turned to Jeremy and glared down at him.

"That's how hard I will hit you, if you don't leave me alone."

Internally Marco screamed because of how much it stung, but he had to maintain his glare.

Jeremy looked at the crack in the tree, then at Marco. His left eyelid spasmed, as his mind tried to grasp how hard the older boy would've had to hit the tree to do that. When Marco faked a lunge towards Jeremy, the eight year old yelped in fear and stumbled back, falling against his butler's leg. To his merit, the butler didn't seem affected in the slightest.

"Now, if you don't have anything else to say…" Marco trailed off, as the head of a giant snake descended from the tree directly above the heads of Jeremy and his Butler. First staring down at the two below it, the snake's tongue slithered from its mouth to taste the air, before rising up to point at Marco.

That's a giant snake. Marco thought.

Its eyes gleamed.

That's the giant snake! Marco thought, with much greater alarm as the gleam turned into a glow.

Both Jeremy and his butler noticed Marco's attention drift upward and looked up together to see the giant snake looming just over them. Jeremy's eyes grew wide and sparkly at the sight of the biggest reptile he'd ever seen, while his Butler had a more reasonable reaction, shrieking like a hysterical woman and running for his life.

Marco jumped hard to his left, away from the tree and out of the path of the two solid beams of light that fired from the snake's eyes and scorched the grass for a meters long line.

The snake dropped down from the tree in front of Jeremy, the kid watching in amazement as it slithered after Marco at high speed, its long body undulating behind it. Mouth opening and long venomous fangs bared, the snake lunged for Marco, who once again sidestepped to avoid it by the barest margin.

"Whoa!" Marco turned around and jumped into a backflip to avoid the snake's fangs as it came around. Landing on the other side of its body, he ducked down when the tail came up and lashed for his chest. "Ah!"

The snake came for him fangs first as he crouched, but he sprang high, stepping on the snake's head and leaping off it to somersault through the air and land facing the snake.

Marco looked up at the snake as it reared its head and hissed loudly. "Okay… found the giant snake…"

"Ssss… I've found you… prey…" The snake hissed back.

Jeremy's eyes were glimmering like diamonds. "IT TALKS?!"

Marco looked at Jeremy. "You need to leave!"

The snake attacked again, biting at him. He dipped clear of it, but rather than follow through the snake pulled back to bite at him again. Marco kept rolling and juking, staying a margin away from the snake that thinned with every bite.

"Yeah! Get him! Bite his arm off!" Jeremy yelled before Marco punished one more failed bite with a powerful vertical chop that drove the snake's head into the ground. "Aw!"

The snake's undulating body thrashed as it brought its head out of the ground, one of its coils slamming into Marco and pushing him back. He only just regained his footing when the snake fired its eye lasers again, and Marco dove out of the way into a roll.

The boy pointed and laughed. "Aw, is Marco afraid of a widdle snake?!"

"Jeremy, it's trying to kill me!" Marco shouted back as he avoided another bite.

He laughed harder. "Then you'd better dodge it, if you think you're so good!"

Marco vaulted over the snake and landed in the first of three backflips away from the monster, opening the distance before landing in a low fighting stance.

Drew, Jo, and Roland should be on their way. I need to hold out until they get here!

The snake brought its head up, then lowered it to the ground, tongue slipping out to taste the air.

"Fast," the snake said, "But you are not fast enough."

"Then why don't you show me how fast you are?" Marco asked.

The snake's entire body flickered, before it crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye and headbutted Marco in the stomach, launching him into the air.

I don't know what I was expecting…! Marco thought over the internal howl of pain from taking a body shot like that.

Looking down, his eyes widened when he saw the snake coming up at him, mouth wide open to bite into him. In the next instant his world was spinning as something slammed into him hard and he was brought to the ground.

Huh… didn't feel a thing. He thought with his eyes tightly shut.

"Marco! Marco, you still with me?"

That was a familiar voice. "Huh… wha…?"

"Mr. Diaz, snap out of it!"

Marco's eye shot open, and he realized he was being held by Brantley. "Sens… Brantley?"

He got up and placed a hand on his stomach. "Nngh… what are you doing here?"

"I came to, like, apologize for yesterday… but you're fighting a giant snake." Brantley said. "Is this something like the monster-arm thing again?"

Marco shook his head. "I wish, we need to get out of here. That thing's got laser eyes and it's fast."

"Yeah, I just saved you from that," Brantley said.

The snake tasted the air and hissed. "Before I tasted power… now I taste the same power and nothing more… ssss… move aside, or become prey, too!"

"And I say to you, continue your reckless hunt…" Brantley assumed a fighting stance. "And you will become the hunted."

Marco got ready to fight as well. "I'm serious, Brantley, this thing is no joke!"

The snake flickered again, but as it did Brantley struck Marco in the shoulder–shoving him out of the way of the snake's fangs. Marco fell away from him and the snake's passing body. Recovering, Marco landed on his feet and hopped back.

"From your rightt, Mr. Diaz!" Brantley shouted.

Years of being Brantley's student kicked in by reflex, and Marco jumped left, dodging the snake as it appeared to bite his right arm. Marco stared at the snake, and his eyes rolled towards Brantley in disbelief.

… What?

The snake slammed into the ground and slithered along it before coiling up to face them both again. It watched Marco and flicked its tongue again to taste the air. Over by the tree, Jeremy's shoulders slumped in disappointment. "Aw!"

Brantley looked between Marco and the snake. "Mr. Diaz, do exactly as I say!"

Marco glanced at Brantley again. "Wha-?"

"Duck, now!"

Marco ducked and watched as the Snake's flickering afterimage passed over his head.

"Now roll to the right!"

Doing as told, Marco dove and rolled, and the snake's open mouth ate the dirt where he'd been crouching.

"Forward! Double time!" Brantley shouted.

Marco obeyed, leaping forward and running to avoid the snake's thrashing body. From under its own coils, the snake's head emerged, and it flickered as it pursued Marco.

"Jump up and back!"

When he did, Marco went up and over the snake's head attacking his back and did a handspring off its body to land behind it.

The snake let out a very angry hiss, as its eyes lit up.

"Backflip, Mr. Diaz!" Marco did it and escaped the twin beams of death from the snake.

"Cartwheel, left!" Once more Brantley's instructions paid off, and Marco evaded the barely visible snake.

Where is it…?! Marco thought.

"Now, with your right hand and left knee!" Brantley shouted.

Marco felt a killing intent behind him, but before anything else, he listened.

"Turn around…" Brantley ordered. "… and Clip the toenail!"

Marco spun in place while bringing his knee up to catch the chin of the snake, as his fist came down into the top of its head. The two blows closed the snake's jaws with such speed and force that its fangs had no time to close properly–and they tore through the snake's lower jaw, barely missing Marco's attacking knee as they punched through.

Marco watched with wide eyes as the snake jerked away from him and began to thrash about, a green and red ichor spraying from its wounds. The snake fell onto its back and rolled around in dying, agonized spasms. Jeremy sagged even lower, his mouth hanging open.

Turning to face his teacher, Marco just shook his head. "Wh-what was that? How did you do that?"

Brantley crossed his arms. "Once you have achieved oneness with the universe and know its precise timing… you can see everything unfold before you."

It was all Greek to Marco. "What are you talking about?"

"Nevermind," Brantley said. "Why was that giant snake after you?"

Marco sighed. "It's a long story-"

"Here's the short version: you're doomed, baby!" Typhus called out, and both Marco and Brantley turned to see the Magnavore standing atop a nearby hill, brandishing his whalebone sword and surrounded by a squad of Scabs.

"OH MY GOSH!" Jeremy yelled.

Brantley did a double-take. "Whoa, sick cosplay."

"Revised short version: That's not cosplay, he's here to kill me, and he'll kill you too if we don't get out of here!" Marco warned as Typhus pointed his sword ahead and the Scabs broke into a run down the hill at them–brandishing their flame-shaped swords.

Rather than run, Brantley assumed a fighting stance. "Don't show them your back, Mr. Diaz, show them your fists!"

Marco looked from Brantley to the Scabs. "… Right."

The first Scab reached Brantley and jumped to swing its sword down at him. The slash missed wide, and Brantley snap-kicked the Scab in the chest and head, sending it flailing. He weaved around a stab from a second Scab and used the momentum to back fist it in the side of the head, before punching it in the dead-center of its face with his other hand as he let out a powerful kiai, snapping its head back.

Marco danced on his feet, backing up from the wild slashes of two Scabs, before he retaliated with a jumping crescent kick that spun them around onto the faces into the grass. A third leaped to fall upon him from above with a stab, and Marco rolled from under it and swept the Scab off its feet when it landed.

Another Scab jumped at Brantley to tackle him, and ate two punches to its torso then an uppercut that made it crumple to the ground. "Haaa!"

He performed a chop to stop the swing of another Scab, grabbed it by the arm and neck and threw it hard to the ground onto the one Marco swept.

He ducked, and Marco soared over him to drill a flying kick into the face of another Scab. Rebounding off it, he stood back to back with Brantley and the two circled in place to face the Scabs surrounding them.

"So these are like the Scabs in the comic?" Brantley asked. "You destroy 'em with head shots, right?"

"Yeah, I haven't been able to do that yet," Marco said.

Brantley looked over to the side and glared at Typhus as he reached the bottom of the hill and walked over to the Snake's body. Marco looked over with him and clicked his teeth.

"Yo, Snake Head. Stop playing dead, baby."

The injured Snake stopped thrashing, and rose up, a large glowing slit appeared down the middle of its belly. In a spray of its ichor, its humanoid body emerged and stood, hoisting aloft the snake across where its head and shoulders should be.

"IT'S SNAKE HEAD! FROM THE COMIC!" Jeremy shouted.

"Hey, nothin' for the big man, Bio Lord Typhus?" Typhus asked Jeremy.

"I like Noxic better!" Jeremy called back.

Typhus shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, he is pretty cool."

He then gestured to two Scabs. "By the way, grab the kid, too."

The Scabs leaped over to Jeremy, who recoiled and assumed a fighting stance. "Ha! If you think that loser was tough, I'm a black belt!"

"Jeremy! You're eight!" Marco yelled.

Brantley called over. "Run away, you toolbag!"

Rather than listen, Jeremy unleashed a karate chop. "HEEYAH!"

The Scab grabbed him by his arm and hoisted him in the air. Surprised at first, Jeremy began to thrash and scream, kicking in vain at the Scab, which was smart enough to hold him at arm's length. "Hey, let me go! Let me go!"

"Ssss… prey captured…" Snake Head said with pride. "Plus more."

"Great, hostages!" Typhus said as the two Scabs dragged Jeremy over to his side and pointed their blades at his throat. Seeing the gleaming edges of the weapons, Jeremy squeaked and went still. Both Marco and Brantley lowered their guards with grimaces.

Typhus chuckled and walked over to the circle of Scabs. "All right, time for the real hunt to begin. Grab up your phone and call the Butterfly and the Beetles to come over and save the day."

Marco glared at Typhus. "I won't."

Typhus broke through the circle and grabbed Brantley by his gi, hoisting him off the ground. "Do it, or I start taking chunks off your battle bro here, baby."

"Sensei!" Marco blurted out.

Brantley stared Typhus in his eyes and called out to Marco. "No matter what he does to me, Mr. Diaz, don't give him what he wants."

Tightening his grip on Brantley's gi, Typhus chuckled and drew his red arm back, its muscles bulging causing its spikes to lengthen and sharpen. "Pretty brave of ya, but it's gonna hurt."

Brantley smirked. "Do your worst."

Just as Typhus accepted his challenge, an Input Magnum bolt struck him in the side of the head and he dropped Brantley. More bolts shot across the park, perforating the heads of the Scabs surrounding Marco and standing over Jeremy. Even more bolts pounded into Snake Head, knocking him backward and to the ground.

Jeremy sat up as the Scabs disintegrated around him, and he gawked in silence at the very sight of the Big Bad Beetleborgs themselves standing on the preferred end of the avalanche of fire they unleashed onto the Magnavores–their armor gleaming in the morning sun.

Marco sighed in relief and helped Brantley up as Drew, Jo, and Roland lowered their weapons.

Brantley looked at them and nearly broke into tears of joy. "Dude. This is like the most nerdgasmic day of my life."

Typhus got up, and faced the Beetleborgs. "Just the bugs I wanted to squash, baby!"

Drew glanced at Jo. "Get 'em."

"I'mma get 'em!" Jo shouted as she charged Typhus, who met her charge in kind, the red spreading across his body as he bulked up and out.

"PAYBACK TIME, BABY!" Typhus roared, swinging his punch.

Jo met his fist with hers, and on contact the shockwave blew Jeremy, Marco and Brantley away from the battlefield, sending them tumbling across the grass. The force of the impact sent both Drew and Roland stumbling back, but they managed to stay on their feet.

Typhus and Jo both recoiled back from the explosion of their fists meeting. The more experienced former was the first to recover and swung his sword across Jo's chest in a downward slash, then swung straight across, sparks flying from her armor with each hit.

Drew came in fast, shooting Typhus repeatedly with the Input Magnum. After taking several shots, he swung his sword to deflect two more bolts and fired back, Drew rolling out of the way of the fire. Getting back up to a knee, he fired several more shots, hitting Typhus in the side and the shoulder.

"Grr…!" Typhus shrugged off the bolts, but Jo's rising uppercut was a tougher no-sell, lifting him into the air like a rocket.

As Typhus sailed in a ballistic arc towards the park's lake, Marco and Brantley both got up. Jeremy was a little slower to get up, groaning as he rubbed his head.

"So, you're friends with the Big Bad Beetleborgs–who are real," Brantley said.

Marco looked at Brantley. "They're not my friends, we just happen to share common interests."

"What, fighting the freakin' Magnavores?" Brantley asked. "With the karate I taught you? Marco, do you have any idea how cool that is? I'm freaking out right now!"

Roland opened fire on Snake Head, the monster taking several shots, and staggering back. Raising its head, it fired a burst of beams from its eyes that danced off Roland's armor without doing too much damage but causing him to stagger. With the opening Snake Head vanished from where he stood and appeared in front of Roland, lashing at him with the snake's tail.

"Gah!" Roland grunted before the snake's head came up and fired its beams point blank, knocking him down.

Drew and Jo aimed their Input Magnums and fired, and Snake Head vanished–appearing behind Jo to kick her in the head while it used the snake to fire beams at Drew. Both Beetleborgs went spilling to the ground, but Jo turned over and fired at Snake Head, the monster fading away from sight as the beams went through it.

"It's fast!" Jo shouted before she was grabbed around the neck by the snake tail and swung into Drew. "Oof!"

Marco took off towards the fight. "Sensei, stay with Jeremy!"

Brantley was about to shout affirmative, when he stopped. "… I'm your Sensei again?"

Waving Jo around with its tail, Snake Head fired its beams at Drew and then Roland, forcing them both to roll for some kind of cover. In a full sprint, Marco jumped, twisted himself through the air, and came down with a diving kick that caught Snake Head between its shoulder blades. The blow sent the monster crashing into the ground, and Jo was able to free herself.

"You bastard!" She growled, aiming her Input Magnum at the prone monster together with Roland and Drew and firing.

The much faster monster vanished, and the beam shots only kicked up dirt and grass.

"Above you! Move back!" Brantley shouted.

Marco jumped backward, the Beetleborgs following his lead to avoid the shower of beams that Snake Head fired as it fell onto them.

Roland raised his Input Magnum and hit some keys. "Don't let him hit the ground! 9-6-7! Anti-Gravity Magnum!"

He opened fire, the solid beam striking Snake Head. The beam's effect did not damage, but rather than continue falling, the monster levitated above the ground, and began to struggle.

"… Ssss?! What is this?!" Snake Head yelled as he tried to get some kind of purchase.

"Stingerborg!" Jo shouted. "Use me as a springboard!"

Drew summoned the Stinger blade. "Got it!"

Running at Jo, Drew jumped and landed on Jo's back as she doubled over. Standing upright, she shot her brother towards Snake Head as the Stinger Blade spun up and wrapped itself in power.

"Beetle… Break!" Drew yelled, slashing through Snake Head's snake and bisecting it.

The force of the impact sent the monster floating higher into the air before the Anti-Gravity effect wore off and it crashed to the ground.

Drew landed next to Jo and turned to her. "Good teamwork."

As Roland joined them, he turned to him. "And good idea with the Anti-Gravity."

"Yeah, but this isn't over yet," Roland warned.

Marco joined them. "It's not?"

Roland shook his head and turned towards Snake Head's snake… which now lay on the ground in two pieces. "That was Heavyznake, half of Snake Head's body."

Jo nodded. "The other half is…"

Snake Head got up, revealing that underneath the snake it wore on its shoulders was another, more tightly curled red viper, its head resting comfortably between the coils draped on its shoulders. Snake Head's tongue flicked out, as its eyes shone a glowing crimson.

"What a glorious hunt… ssss…" Snake Head said as Typhus appeared again at the top of the hill.

"Snake Head! The cavalry is here, baby!" He shouted.

When Marco and the Beetleborgs looked up towards the Magnavore, they stopped when another crested the hill to join him, gliding effortlessly across the ground to reach his side.

Drew, Roland, and Marco all tensed up in silence, while Jo said exactly what they were thinking.

"… Oh shit."

Vexor stood calmly beside Typhus, looking down at the scene and taking count of the belligerents.

"The Butterfly isn't here," he murmured.

"I tried to get 'im to call her… but he didn't wanna cooperate," Typhus explained.

Vexor hummed. "It will have to do."

He held forth his right hand and opened it, revealing a blue gem set into the center of his palm. "Open forth, Gaohm Zone!"

"What?" Roland asked before there was a flash of light and suddenly, he, Drew, Marco, and Jo felt the ground fall away from beneath them, and they were hurtling through a swirling tunnel of colors and lights.

"A dimensional tunnel?!" Marco yelled as they plummeted.

"This is bad!" Drew shouted before Roland vanished from his sight. "Roland!"

He disappeared next, leaving Marco and Jo. Marco reached for her. "We gotta stay together-!"

Jo vanished.


There was another flash of light, and Marco landed hard–falling into the middle of… the Hill-Trank Plaza dojo. Standing up on the cushioned mat, Marco looked around in confusion. It wasn't just the dojo, across the back walls were shelves of VHS tapes, and even the cash register from the VHS Depot.

He turned around in place. "… Okay…?"

He heard a low hiss, and turned around again, on his guard. "Is that you, Snake Head?"

Heavy, building shaking footsteps filled the room, and Marco turned around. He didn't find Snake Head. Instead, a man with the hulking figure of the VHS Depot Manager and wearing Brantley's gi loomed over him with his arms crossed. Looking higher, Marco took a step back as he saw the giant of a man had Jeremy's head.

"Hey Marco…" Jeremy said with a chuckle. "… Let's settle this once and for all."

= - = 33 = - =

The grudge match begins.
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We are the Hunters
= - = 34 = - =

|We are the Hunters|

Spiraling out of the tunnel of colored lights, Roland crashed into a slope not covered in, but made of bones. He skipped down the slope twice, before he managed to land and turn his tumble into a slide down the massive hill. He looked to his left mid-descent, and saw many more bone hills ruled the landscape, lit by a pale orange moon in a black sky devoid of stars.

"What the heck…?" He said as he reached the bottom of the hill, skipping off a short ledge and landing in thick, knee deep sludge. Standing upright quickly, Roland looked around at the uncountable bones surrounding him, and realized that they were almost all rat-like.

"Where am I?" He murmured before he heard a hiss.

Beams of energy shot from the dark, blasting Roland in the chest, shoulders, and head. Snake Head–sans Heavyznake–kicked Roland in the back, then bicycle kicked him forward. Spin-kicking twice to end the chain of blows, he fired his eye lasers–which propelled Roland into the side of another mound.

Snake Head landed in the sludge and folded his arm as the liquid rippled with the stirring of serpents around his feet.

"Welcome to my trophy room," he hissed at the Green Hunterborg as Roland got back up.

Back at Echo Creek Park, Brantley looked at the scorched ground where Marco and the Beetleborgs had been standing, then looked up the hill at Typhus and Vexor. Typhus was scratching the side of his mutant head, puzzling over what just happened.

"So are we just gonna wait for Snake Head to finish, or what…?" He asked.

Vexor hummed and shrugged his shoulders, moving his whole upper body with the effort. "We could always watch and see what happens."

"Hey!" Brantley yelled out, and they both noticed the karate teacher walking up the hill towards them.

Vexor stared at Brantley and spoke aside to Typhus. "Who's this?"

"Just some guy," Typhus said.

Brantley took offense to that. "My name is Brantley, and I'm the teacher of that kid you zapped. Where is he, damn it?!"

Vexor called forth a scrying circle, forming it in the air above him and Typhus. "Would you like to see?"

Brantley looked up at the circular viewing screen into another world and saw the Blue Stingerborg on it. "… Whoa…"

Drew scanned his surroundings. He appeared to be in the middle of Echo Creek's scrap yard surrounded by its piles of stacked up compacted cars. The path he stood in was much wider than normal, almost as big as a two-lane highway. Okay, another new ability, this time from Vexor.

The buzzing of motorcycle engines pulled his attention upward, and he saw four Scabs on dirt bikes riding down towards him, brandishing their swords. Without delay he pulled and fired the Input Magnum at his attackers, the beams bouncing off the front and handlebars of the bikes as their Scab riders reached him. Two passed closest to him, slashing him with their swords, while the two on the flanks of the formation peeled off in separate directions.

Grunting from the hits, Drew faced the rider to his left that peeled off. Coming back around, the rider did a wheelie and three more dirt bikes with scabs on it appeared with it. The riders opened their formation and attacked one by one, slashing at Drew with their blades as they passed him.

"Argh!" Drew tried to turn back to shoot the retreating riders, when more came from the other direction, three slashing him with their swords while the last one did a wheelie and drove its bike up Drew's front.

Sent reeling, fell to the ground and the Scabs closest to him leaped off their bikes and fell upon him in a heap.

Brantley gasped, as the Scabs swarmed Drew. "Oh no."

Vexor was pleased, though it was hard to tell. "Not as extravagant as Jara's but still clever. Where's the other one?"

The scrying circle changed to the shopping district of Rodeo Drive in the middle of the night, where Jo stood on the famous pedestrian street lined with staggeringly expensive shops. Looking at the shops, Jo grew indignant.

"I better not be here because I'm a girl!" She yelled before an expensively dressed woman walked past her. "Huh?"

Another passed her in the other direction. Despite it being the middle of the night, the walkway was populated like it was the middle of the day–and there were sales going on. Looking more closely at the women, Jo saw they were mannequins with their faces drawn on by someone who had to do it in a hurry.

"… This is weird…" She muttered, before one of the mannequins walking up to her from behind pulled out a knife and slashed her across the back. The hit was immense, tearing off pieces of Jo's armor. "Urk!"

She stumbled into another slash, this time from the front, and went backward in a shower of sparks–only to be slashed again, and again. As the mannequins walked by her, they kept cutting, giving her no time to recover, let alone counterattack.

"Ack! Hey! Quit it!" She shouted with each hit.

Vexor watched, wondering what to make of this. "Snake Head isn't the most creative of your works, is he?"

Typhus shrugged his shoulders. "I made him to do two things, baby: Hunt, and go fast."

"He does it well," Vexor changed the image of the scry, and Roland was in trouble as well.

Firing the Input Magnum in Crashing Mode from atop a bone mound, he sprayed beams at a high rate of fire, shooting at Snake Head. The monster moved like a blur, weaving in between each bolt and closing the distance.

Behind his mask, Roland grit his teeth. He's so fast!

Snake Head punched him in the head, making him stagger to the side, then kicked him off the mound.

As the Green Hunterborg fell Snake Head struck him from above, sending him into a spin, then came up from below in a rising kick to his stomach, folding him in half.

The blow knocked the wind out of him. Felt that through the armor…!

Snake Head grabbed him by one of his helmet's horns and threw into the sludge. Lying in it, he looked up to see several Heavyznake's rear their heads from the liquid and glower down at him. "Crap…!"

They fired their eye beams in succession, each hit pushing Roland towards another mound. Just as he reached it, Snake Head came down on him from above, punching him in the gut where he'd kicked him before.

"Ngh…" Roland grunted from the pain and looked up at the monster. Snake Head slammed its foot–armored with a pointed greave–into his face and shoved his head under the muck.

"Ssss… a paltry hunt." Snake Head said.

The Hunter Claw shot from the sludge opening to clamp on his waist. Snake Head vanished, and Roland stumbled forward through where he'd stood.

Snake Head appeared and spin-kicked him in the head. "I have hunted monsters…"

Appearing behind him he clubbed Roland on the back of the head. "… Demons…"

Snake Head grabbed his shoulders and kneed him in the stomach, then elbowed his back to drive him down into the muck. "… Even Gods."

A Heavyznake shot up from below Roland, grabbing him in its jaws and lifting him above the sludge. With a whip of its head, it threw him high into the air, below the orange moon–framing him as a perfect target for dozens of Heavyznakes and their laser vision. The Green Hunterborg was juggled by the beams, bouncing to and fro, spinning and flipping, before he finally fell away from the assault and crashed–trailing smoke–before the skeleton of a much larger rat-like creature.

Panting, Roland slowly pushed himself up to his knees and looked up at the skeleton of the rat-like creature, different from the countless others besides its size with the massive, curling horns that sprung from its skull. He looked up higher and found Snake Head standing on the broken end of one of the horns, framed by the moon above and behind him.

"Ssss… this has been a much needed vacation," Snake Head admitted.

Roland got up, the sludge dripping from his damaged armor, and he ignored the pain he was in from all the impacts to point his Input Magnum at Snake Head. "What did you… just say…?"

"Hmph… ssss… my Master, Bio Lord Typhus, has told me all that you are capable of." Heavyznakes burst from the sludge, two grabbing his arms and two grabbing his legs, holding him in place.

"And I can taste your power. Great, but untapped. Dangerous, but ignorant." Snake Head stuck his tongue out for emphasis. "That is why as prey your only worth is to capture more prey."

Outside, Brantley looked away from the scrying circle to scowl at Vexor. "Whatever you've got planned, you won't get away with it!"

"Are you volunteering to stop me, or are you going to continue to stand there like a pissant?" Vexor asked.

Brantley's shoulders slumped. "Well, no, because I've, like, read your comic and I know you're super strong and you'd splatter me all over this park in a second."

A long, awkward silence passed, and Vexor tilted his head to him.

"You're brave to admit that."

"But…" Brantley added. "… I also know that I don't need to do anything. Because you've already screwed up–you took my best student with you into your weird dimension."

Vexor hummed. "Oh, that warrior boy. Let's see how he's faring."

The scry changed, to Marco rolling along the tatami mats of the dojo to stay ahead of Jeremy, whose powerful stomps smashed holes in the floor as he tried to crush Marco with them. He got onto his hands and feet and sprang away from a heel drop that carved through one of the VHS shelves and landed a short distance away.

Marco assumed a fighting stance, as Jeremy chuckled and turned to face him. "Hahaha! So what happened to all that talk, Marco?"

Brantley recoiled. "Jeremy?! Wait…"

He looked around and saw no sign of his troubled other student. He looked back at the scry. "Oh no."

Grabbing the destroyed shelf, Jeremy lifted and threw it at him, but Marco flipped out of the way. "You're so big, bad, and strong, come on! Take me out like you said!"

Marco landed. "I'm not going to kill you."

Jeremy snorted and jumped across the room, flying like Superman to punch Marco down. Instead of evading, Marco parried the blow and circled around Jeremy's back. Jeremy turned and blocked Marco's chop with his raised forearm. Then spun in place, lashing out with his arms in a whirling strike that Marco slipped under.

Turning to face him, Jeremy punched and kicked with his newfound reach and power, forcing Marco back one step with each attack. "Yeah, because you can't!"

Marco crossed his arms to block a straight kick from Jeremy, and grimaced. He hits so hard!

His massive opponent capitalized, grabbing Marco by the shoulders and throwing him across the VHS Store/Slash dojo. "WAAAAAAHHH!"

He crashed into the bleacher and winced when he felt something break under him. Fortunately, he found only the wood splintered and cracked, and rolled out of the way before Jeremy's hammer blow smashed the bleachers in two. The benches being wrenched down at the middle and up at the ends flung Marco into the air, but he caught himself on a rafter and held on.

Jeremy emerged from the broken bleachers and looked up to see Marco swing and throw himself off them to perform a flying roundhouse kick that connected with his jaw. Turning away into a spin, Marco back-kicked Jeremy, but only got his foot caught in a massive hand.

"Seven years, Marco. You've been doing karate almost as long as I've been…" He swung Marco around and threw him into the cashier's counter. "… ALIVE!"

Coughing, Marco sat up and looked up at Jeremy as the giant advanced on him. "You've been a Green Belt for over half my life!"

He grabbed Marco by the throat and lifted him off his feet. "And I shot past you like the nothing you are!"

"Humans have such delusions," Vexor noted to Typhus.

Typhus shrugged his shoulders. "Snake Head said to not sleep on 'em, boss."

Vexor sighed. "Well, I'm getting rather bored."

Jeremy leaned close to Marco's face, huffing loudly through his nose, high off adrenaline and conquest. "You will never come close to me, and you're gonna die wishing that you could."

Brantley shuddered. "Mr. Birnbaum, what the heck dude?"

Marco struggling against his grip to keep his airway open, spoke. "I'm not gonna kill you… because… you're not worth it…"

Jeremy stopped. "Huh?"

"Why would I kill someone… as pathetic as you?" Marco asked.

He gripped Jeremy's massive fingers and laughed. "You're eight years old. You bought your belt and private lessons, but bully other kids at a McDojo just to feel better than them. You have no friends, no one likes you, and I bet your own Mom lets you do whatever because she gave up on you. Killing you would be doing you… a favor…!"

Jeremy stared at Marco with a blank expression, and he raised his fist. "You're talking mad smack for someone about to lose all their teeth, Diaz."

Space Unicorn~! Soaring through the Stars~! Delivering the Rainbows all around the Wooooooorld~!

Vexor and Typhus both looked at each other, then at the scry as Marco's ringtone went off. Jeremy stopped too, surprised by the sound.

On Rodeo Drive, the women attacking Jo stopped and looked upward. Staggering against a wall, Jo shook her head and caught her breath. "… What?"

In the scrapyard, Drew was pinned underneath a dirt bike of a Scab doing a burnout on his face–when the bike's rear tire stopped and the rider and the Scabs pinning him down looked up at the sky.

Far within the bone mounds, Snake Head stopped… but he looked down. "His phone? But how?"

Marco grabbed his phone from his gi pocket and hit the talk button. "Star…!"

Jeremy snatched the phone from him with his free hand. "Hello, are you Marco's girlfriend~?"

"No," Dipper replied. "This is a courtesy call."

Jeremy pulled the phone back from his face. "Huh?"

"Marco!" Dipper shouted. "That's not the real Jeremy! None of what you're in is real!"

On Rodeo Drive, Jo could hear Dipper's voice. "Huh?"

Drew as well. "It's not…!"

Marco began to smile. "It's not… real?"

"I'm the real Jeremy!" The giant shouted.

"No you're not… we've got him right here!" Dipper yelled back.

Vexor grew alert and looked towards the tree Snake Head ambushed Marco at, Typhus and Brantley following. Dipper was standing under the tree, holding Star's compact magic mirror in his hand. Next to the tree, Mabel and Misao held a squirming Jeremy still with their hands over his mouth.

"Thanks for distracting them, by the way," Dipper said to Brantley with a nod in greeting.

"I did not sense them… are they normal humans…?" Vexor asked, before he felt like he'd been buried alive in molten lava, and liquid metal was being poured into his eyes and ears.

He felt… power…

Incredible power.

Power that turned the morning sky dark from the intensity of its shine behind him.

Both he and Typhus turned around and came face to face with Star, who stood by the edge of Echo Creek Lake, her cheek marks and eyes both glowing as the air around her rippled with power. She was looking at the scrying circle over their heads, showing Marco struggling to get free of the fake Jeremy's grip.

"Uh oh…" Typhus said as the ground shook in waves under his feet and a wind picked up from the direction of the girl, catching his and Vexor's capes and the leaves of the tree.

For Vexor, it was like staring directly at the sun, from five feet away.

"… The… The Butterfly…!" He gasped, his voice filled with the awe and wonder of a man beholding the cosmos for the first time.

Star raised the wand and pointed it at the two Magnavores. Red lines of light drew towards the face of the wand, before several pink rings appeared in front of it and collapsed towards the center. The darkness in the sky grew, before it became almost black. In a voice that echoed with power and shook the air, she spoke.

"Let. Him. Go."

Then it was the brightest day Echo Creek ever saw as a colossal beam of light enveloped the top of the hill and everything on it. The jet-like howl of the beam set off car alarms, sent dogs barking, and people who'd already been chased away from the park by the sounds of lasers and explosions ducking for cover.

Inside of the Gaohm Zone, the space flickered and warped, as immense power surged through it. The fake Jeremy flinched as the surge affected him, too. "What's… happening…?!"

Marco forced Jeremy's hand open, and dropped to the floor, pulling Jeremy's arm and hyperextending it. Dragging him in, he swung Jeremy around and away from him. The hulking Jeremy caught himself against the broken cashier counter, and turned around, growling.

His back to him, Marco walked to the center of the training mats with a smile dripping malice on his face.

"This isn't real," he said. "Ohohohohoho… Jeremy, you have no idea what kind of a relief that is."

On Rodeo Drive, the power surge caused the sky to grow lighter, and the mannequins turned their attention back to Jo. She was cracking her knuckles, and behind her mask she was grinning.

Letting out a dark laugh she pushed off from the store front and launched herself at the group. Reaching the nearest of the mannequins, Jo jumped, flipped, and dove towards the center of the crowd–punching the ground.

The force of her impact created a gigantic plume of concrete, glass, metal, and mannequin-like women as she destroyed the entire shopping district with that one punch.

Marco clapped his hands together. "Because now? Now… ohohoho! I can get me some catharsis!"

The bike pinning Drew exploded, and the Scabs that held him down were slashed through their heads and torsos by the Stinger Blade. Drawing the Input Magnum, Drew hit a new set of keys. "2-8-9! Magnet Magnum!"

As the other dirt bike riding Scabs tried to attack, Drew turned and fired at the piles of cars around him, magnetizing them with such power that the dirt bikes and the Scabs on them were yanked off the ground and crashed into them at high speed, crushing them against the piles of magnetized scrap.

The Gaohm Zone Jeremy chuckled. "So what… you're gonna stop holding back…?!"

He ran at Marco with outstretched arms, huffing and panting like a galloping draft horse, to drag him to the floor and pummel him to death. "YOU'RE GONNA KILL ME IN ONE SHOT?!"

Turning in place, Marco performed a sharp, crisp high kick and struck Jeremy square in his chin. Its force wrenched the fake Jeremy's head up with a sickening crunch and the rest of his instantly lifeless body followed it, his corpse smashing through the rafters until it was stuck into it from the hips, his legs dangling below him.

Marco lowered his leg as he stared up at the dead fake.


Pounding his fist into his palm, he closed his eyes and bowed to his defeated opponent.

The realization that the Beetleborgs and Marco had overcome the traps his Gaohm Zone had laid out for him struck Snake Head with disbelief. "Ssss… impossible…"

He heard laughter behind him, and faced Roland, still held taut by the Heavyznakes. Underneath the mask, Roland smiled big as he watched the monster struggle with the sudden turn around.

"What did you say this was? A vacation?" He asked as he pulled against the Heavyznakes. "Listen my guy, this was over the moment you decided what we're worth."

Snake Head hissed and the muck around him began to light up. One by one, more Heavyznakes reared up, their eyes shining as they charged with their potent lasers.

"Whatever you think you know about us, here's something that you'd better not forget for as long as you have left to live: We may be sloppy and new at this, but we'll never give up… and when we work together? We're unstoppable!"

Snake Head let out a dismissive hiss as his own eyes lit up. "Courageous last words. Prey that holds its head up high… is still just prey."

All at once, Snake Head and the Heavyznakes fired, the beams raining upon Roland and enveloping him in a volley so large and concentrated that after enveloping him it went on to bore a massive hole into and through the bone mound behind him, vaporizing everything in its path. After several seconds of continuous fire the barrage came to an end and the beams faded, leaving nothing but a gaping tunnel that stood for several seconds before it collapsed under its own weight to seal it.

As bones tumbled down into the sludge at his feet, Snake Head flicked his tongue into the rancid air and tasted death, decay, and power.

He let out a hiss of satisfaction. "Prey slain, the hunt continues."

Roland's hand caught the extended tongue and held it in his grip. "Nah man, this one's far from done."

Snake Head's pupils dilated in his eyes with the shock. "Ssss…?!"

The Green Hunterborg pressed the Input Magnum against Snake Head's left eye and pulled the trigger, shooting him with a wad of birdlime and sending the monster reeling in pain–his hand groping at the sticky, caustic substance to claw it off.

"… You… how…?!" He snarled.

Twirling the Input Magnum in hand, Roland set it to Beam Mode and aimed it at Snake Head. "I already told you once, don't make me repeat myself!"

Snake Head yanked his hand from his wounded eye and entered a fighting stance. "I will slay you in the name of Bio Lord Typhus, stubborn prey!"

Roland fired the Input Magnum, but to Snake Head the yellow beam crawled out of the barrel of the weapon and began a slow, leisurely flight through the air towards him. Letting out a hiss, Snake Head stepped out of the muck and onto its surface to walk towards Roland, each footstep leaving a frozen ripple on its surface.

He stormed past the beam, now fully left the Input Magnum, and up to Roland. "You will not escape me this time!"

With all his might Snake Head lashed out with a front kick at Roland's stomach, to kick him into the collapsing bone pile behind him and bury him in it. It didn't connect, passing through Roland's afterimage as so many attacks had passed through his own.

Snake Head hissed with disbelief, before he was shot in the back with rapid fire bolts from the Input Magnum's Crashing Mode.

"What…?!" He turned back and only saw a smear of green disappear into his new blind spot on his left. He was struck with more Crashing Mode bolts, on his right, hitting his hip, side, and shoulder. "Ssss!"

Snake Head leaped away, jumping onto a bone mound to his right. He landed hard, the bones kicked up into the air by the speed of his landing coming to a standstill around him. "When did the prey gain this speed?"

Roland appeared in front of him, swinging the Hunter Claw hard and wide and scattering the bones. Snake Head ducked under it counterattacked with a punch that Roland deflected with his free hand. The claw came back around, and Snake Head rolled under it to get behind him and kick him in the back.

The Green Hunterborg blocked the kick, turned and clobbered him in the snout with a punch before kicking him in the chest.

"You're too slow, man."

Wheeling backward, Snake Head avoided two more of Roland's sloppy swings with the Hunter Claw, then ducked under a third to spear him in the gut. Roland was shoved by the hit but didn't go down, and instead picked up Snake Head and swung him around to throw him to the ground.

On his back, Snake Head flared his eyes with power and fired, burning through the bird lime to lash out at Roland with two deadly rays of light.

Roland vanished before the rays could touch him and Crashing Magnum beams rained down on Snake Head from above. Rolling onto his feet as bolts struck his body, the monster looked up to see Roland jumping from suspended bone to suspended bone, using them like floating stepping stones to get a new angle to shoot him from.

Hissing, Snake Head fired another blast at Roland and swept it through the air, disintegrating the bones.

"Power… rot… death… nothing has changed!" Snake Head seethed before he was shot in the chest, left shoulder, back, and right arm by the Input Magnum.

The shots spun him around, to face Roland and the open Hunter Claw he plunged into his mouth and clamped down on his head. "That's right nothing's changed, you've been looking at me the entire time!"

Snake Head's eyes dilated from its slit to nearly occupying the entire space of it. He remembered his own warning to Typhus, and his own condescending towards Roland just moments ago.

The hunter's folly… I underestimated my prey!

It was a revelation that came an instant before Roland charged down the bone mound and drove his body into the slope. At tremendous speeds, the bones tore at his durable hide, some impaled his shoulders and the coils wrapped there, a large sharpened bone tore off his left arm at the elbow, another sheared off his left leg, before he was lifted from the mound and thrown towards the sludge below.

The Green Hunterborg appeared in front of him, showing him his back, and the world slowed down for Snake Head in a way it hadn't before. Everything was dark, the bone mounds were gone, the sludge they rose from, and the rot and decay that he tasted with them had vanished as well. There was nothing else except for the Green Hunterborg standing there, radiating the tremendous power that he'd tasted all along.

Only Power. And Death.

"What are you?" Snake Head asked.

Roland reached back and touched the end of Snake Head's snout, stopping his fall. "The Hunter."

A brilliant, blinding light filled half of Snake Head's vision, and the monster realized that another Input Magnum shot was only centimeters from his head. The Beam Mode shot that Roland had first fired after gumming his eye up with the Bird Lime–he had brought Snake Head back here to put him in its path.

What a fine Hunter you are. With his last comforting thought, the beam punched through Snake Head's skull at normal velocity, and the monster fell dead at Roland's feet.

"And that's all she wrote, my guy," Roland said as he started his walk away from the smoking corpse. "So… how do I get out of here?"

He got his answer when Snake Head's body exploded–the blast shattering the world of bones and rot like it were glass. With a disoriented yell, Roland found himself falling, entering the tunnel of light and color that brought him here.


The light from Star's spell curved off and into the sky, dispersing several clouds before fading away harmlessly. On the ground, Dipper opened his eyes and found he was behind the tree with Mabel, Misao, and Jeremy. Brantley had dragged him there.

"Oh good," Dipper said, seeing him in one piece. "I thought she would've gotten you."

Brantley looked back at him. "I have seen enough anime to know… that you do not want to be standing in the sight-line of an angry magical girl."

It was wisdom to live by. The top of the hill was gone, shaved completely off at the top by about three meters by Star's attack. On the new edge of the hill, Vexor stood with both hands held forth, and a crumbling shell of magic falling in front of him and Typhus.

The Magnavore's pristine white attire was scorched black in places, and his white chitin was cracked and split, revealing a purple and yellow glow beneath it. Behind him, Typhus' body was fully red and badly scorched, regenerating slowly from the tremendous damage that the spell had inflicted on him.

In front of them, Star lowered the wand, and panted heavily. While the glow had left her eyes, her pupils were still shining, as were her cheek marks.

"In… incredible…" Vexor whispered, as glowing orange fluid dribbled from his mouth. "… The power of Mewni… undiminished by the ages…"

"I have so much left in the tank, too." Star said as she raised her wand. "Now let my friends go!"

Soon as she made her demand, the sky opened up above her head, and Drew, Jo, Roland, and Marco all came spilling out of it. With a yelp, she dodged and weaved to not be crushed under the armored warriors, but with even greater reflexes she caught Marco before he had a bad encounter with the ground.

"Marco!" She gasped, hugging him tight.

Marco smiled and returned the hug. "Hey Sta-aaahhow!"

And regretted it when she squeezed him tighter. "Ow! OW! Ribs! Ribs! Back! Everything!"

Gasping, Star pulled back. "OhmygoshI'msorry!"

Typhus saw the perfect opportunity and grabbed Vexor by the arm. "We're outta here, baby!"

"W-wait…!" Vexor gasped, clawing at the air towards Star. "… The Butterfly…!"

Ignoring him, Typhus nodded and the two disappeared.

Star saw the burst of flames. "Shoot!"

She almost dropped Marco, then remembered the state he was in. "Ahh… is anything broken? Do you need to go to the hospital?!"

Marco shook his head and pulled away, but not too far. "Nothing's broken, I'm just kinda banged up from that fight. All I need to do is lie down some."

"That sounds great right now," Roland said.

Marco was more than relieved to see the Beetleborgs were back in the real world, too. "Hey, you made it out."

"Yep," Jo called back.

Drew sat up. "Hey, did all of you end up in some weird place fighting something strange?"

"Uh huh," Roland said. "I ended up fighting Snake Head in some kind of weird place filled with rat bones. What about you?"

"I got the scrapyard," Drew said. "And fought guys on dirt bikes like Dipper did."

Jo seethed. "What? You got to have all that and I fought a bunch of mannequins with knives on Rodeo Drive?! Screw him, I'm gonna mess him up like I rocked that whole block!"

"You don't need to worry about that, he's already gone," Roland assured her.

Jo got up and faced Roland. "Did you beat him?"

Roland got up slowly, his whole body felt like he'd just run a marathon, after he'd already run an entirely separate marathon. "Sure did, my only regret is that you weren't there to see it."

Drew pumped his fist. "Good going, man."

When he patted Roland on the shoulder, he flinched. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Please… I feel like tenderized meat in this tin can suit thanks to that fight. My whole body aches."

"Yay, me too. We can be pain bros," Marco said.

Roland gave him a thumb's up. "Yeaaah… pain bros."

He laughed weakly, before he remembered. "Oh yeah, I found my special power, too."

Jo brightened. "What, really?!"

Drew was just as stoked to hear it. "What is it, man?"

Roland fully stood up. "Super Speed, like… really super speed."

The McCormicks looked at each other, then Drew spoke. "So Super Strength from Jo, Roland has Super Speed."

Jo nudged her brother. "I wonder what you'll get?"

"Who knows, but I can't wait to find out," Drew admitted.

Dipper, Mabel, and Misao walked over to the group, and looked around at the burning, scorched, and vaporized portions of the park. "So as usual we need to get going. Flabber won't be able to clean this one up for us."

"Yeah, good idea," Marco agreed.

Jo looked around. "I can't wait to watch the news report on this."

Star handed Dipper the Dimensional Scissors, and he quickly cut open a portal that would take them to Shermie's back yard. Drew looked at the portal, then at Dipper, Mabel, and Misao, then at Sensei Brantley–who was carrying a squirming Jeremy under his arm, with his other hand over his mouth.

"Well then…" He said to his non-suited friends. "… If everything is in order, we're gonna be on our way."

Jo butted in. "And let this be a lesson to you civilians to stay out of ours. The Magnavores are way above your pay-grade."

Dipper scowled at her but nodded. "You're welcome, I guess."

"Let's go, I hear sirens," Misao warned them before she hopped through the portal.

Dipper nodded to the Beetleborgs again, and stepped through the portal himself, with Mabel right behind him. Star was about to bring Marco across the threshold, when Brantley called out to him.

"Mr. Diaz!"

Marco looked back. Brantley, still carrying Jeremy, walked up to him.

"You don't have to but… like… come to the dojo Monday? I promise it's nothing bad, or me jerking you around. I have a lot to say, and I wanna do it without having to worry about cops asking me a bunch of questions."

Marco nodded. "I will. You be safe getting out of here, Sensei."

Sensei Brantley tried to not tear up, but he was bad at it. "Now go! I need to find Jeremy's butler and then soak my hand in like… a gallon of sanitizer."

Jeremy glared up at Sensei Brantley, then delivered a harsher glare at Marco as he and Star stepped across the threshold and the portal disappeared.

With their friends gone, Drew looked to Roland. "You good?"

Roland nodded. "My body hurts, but I can still move."

Jo flexed. "I feel great. If you want, I can carry both of you schlubs."

"I'll pass. Besides…" Roland snapped his fingers, and the world became a blur for Jo.

When it stopped five seconds later, she wasn't in the park. She was in the alley behind Zoom Comics.

"Huh? Wait?" She looked around before Roland appeared, setting down an equally disoriented Drew. "What?!"

"Back Blast," Roland said, and his armor vanished. "I told you, I have super speed."

Drew transformed back, and Jo followed suit. The elder McCormick was alight with excitement, grinning from ear to ear at Roland. "That is so cool! You're like the Flash, but like the Wally West version!"

"So the only one that matters," Jo added.

Roland slumped against a wall, exhausted. "And now I think I'm gonna need to lie down for six hundred years after that."

Drew gave a thumb's up. "Dipper will be here soon. We'll chill at his place for the rest of the day, we earned it."

Looking over at her brother, and then at Roland, Jo smiled. "I'll say! This is our third fight we've won against the Magnavores, guys!"

"Yeah, and did you see?" Drew asked. "Star hit Vexor hard."

"I doubt Vexor will try to come after us directly like that again, though," Roland noted.

"No, but if we can find out where he is? It won't matter."

Jo agreed. "That's right."

Vexor wasn't invincible, and for all of their experience and abilities the Magnavores could be beaten in a fight. They were by no means experts at it, but when they combined their determination with the powers they had and the people with them who were experts at fighting monsters, they were able to win.

"For now though," Drew finished as Dipper opened a portal in the alley for them, "Let's just hope we can enjoy this victory… and get some rest."

= - = 34 = - =

Power moves only.
King Jeremy the Wicked
To quote the Lion formerly known as Taka.

= - = 35 = - =

|King Jeremy the Wicked|

On Monday afternoon, Sensei Brantley's Dojo was livelier than usual, with its students gathered around the Bleachers to all get a first -and account of the chaotic scene that descended upon Echo Creek Park yesterday morning. It was the talk of the town, indeed the entire city of LA was talking about the supposed fight between monsters and armored warriors that ended in a bright flash that rattled the neighborhood and could be seen for kilometers.

"… Despite Sensei's best efforts to keep him from getting beat up, he and Marco were suddenly surrounded on all sides by Scabs. Typhus and Snake Head had them dead to rights, and that would've been the end of it, if they hadn't made one fatal mistake." Jeremy explained to the crowd of students surrounding him. Brantley had gone next door to get smoothies, and the class was awaiting his return.

"What happened?" A girl close to his age asked.

Jeremy tightened his black belt and smirked. "They thought I was a pushover."

He struck a fighting stance. "The moment the Scabs got within reach, I wrecked one with an uppercut and took down the other with a flying axe kick."

In a flash he performed the moves described. "The other Scabs forgot all about Sensei and Marco and came right for me."

The same girl gasped. "Weren't you scared?!"

"Nope!" Jeremy oozed smug from every pore as he tilted his nose up. "I'm a black belt after all, it wasn't a big deal."

Another of the students, Hunter, rolled his eyes. "Bull. Marco could probably take on all those Scabs by himself, but you? Nah."

Jeremy turned to face the other student. "Nuh uh! Marco spent like five minutes being chased around by the snake, I told you that! Sensei had to actually save him from it!"

He shot Hunter a dirty look and turned back to his younger peers. "So, you know, I'm styling all over the Scabs because I'm so small and quick, right? But then Typhus grabs Sensei and says he's gonna kill him if I don't stop beating up his dudes. Marco just kinda breaks down and says 'please, don't kill my sensei!' and he's about to cry like this big stupid baby, when all of a sudden the Beetleborgs–the real Beetleborgs–show up out of nowhere and they just start blasting!"

"The Beetleborgs aren't real," Hunter chimed in.

"Yeah they are!" Jeremy shouted.

Another younger boy spoke up. "My Uncle was walking his dog at the park, and he saw the Beetleborgs there, too. He thought it was costumes, but they started shooting stuff and he ran away."

"See? I told you!" Jeremy turned his nose up. "Sensei will tell you what happened when he gets here."

He wore his nasty little smile. He's gonna make sure our stories lined up nice and tight if he knew what was good for his dojo.

"So anyway, the Beetleborgs show up and they are just so cool shooting the Magnavores and stuff. Reddle and I even teamed up against Typhus and sent him flying into the lake!"

The child who spoke up for him gasped. "Cool!"

Hunter sighed. "You're gonna look so weak when Marco gets here."

Jeremy grinned and turned to face Hunter. "Yeah right. Marco quit."

Hunter looked down at Jeremy. "No he didn't."

"He totally did, Saturday." Jeremy let out a cocksure laugh. "So that loser won't be showing up around here ever again."

"Marco… quit?" The tone of the girl who'd been so wowed by his story poured cold tap water on Jeremy's fire. Looking around at the other kids, he could only see disappointed or distressed faces.

"So? It's just Marco. He wasn't even good."

The same boy who argued for the Beetleborgs being at the park shook his head. "What? Marco was the best."

"Yeah," another of the kids gathered to hear Jeremy's story said. "He's like the strongest of the big kids."

"He's been a Green Belt longer than most of us have been here," another kid pointed out.

Jeremy gestured to his belt. "So? Hello~! I'm a black belt? I'm better than him."

Hunter's laugh was sharp and biting. "No you're not."

"What about the times where I beat him?"

"Marco's not going to go all out on a little kid."

"Yeah, and you cheat." Another student said.

Jeremy gasped, like his good name had been sullied. "Well, what about the time he had that Monster Arm he almost killed me with?!"

"You've been using brass knuckles in your gloves way before that," Hunter said.

Jeremy's face flushed red with anger. "Nuh uh!"

Hunter turned away and snickered. "I mean, you couldn't win any other way against Marco."

Jeremy stomped up the bleachers and grabbed him by his gi–yanking him around to face him. "You really think that loser is better than me?!"

Hunter slapped Jeremy's hand away. "I'm better than you. Because you're eight, and I'm fifteen."

He got up. "But if Marco's really gone, then I'm gone. I came here to learn karate, not babysit a spoiled rich kid."

Jeremy recoiled as Hunter began walking down the bleachers. Seething, he shouted after him. "Go ahead and quit! You should be happy you got to train under the same roof as me!"

He looked at the kids closer to his age, and found they were all now glaring at him. "The heck are you looking at?"

The door opened and Sensei Brantley walked in, carrying trays of drinks. "Students! I have come bearing smoothies!"

He stopped when he saw Hunter heading towards the door. "Mr. Rodriguez, is something the matter?"

Hunter nodded. "Yeah, did Marco really quit?"

Sensei Brantley opened his mouth to respond, when Marco slipped in behind him. "Sensei and I just had a disagreement."

He looked up at his teacher. "We're good, now."

"Who said Marco quit?" Sensei Brantley asked as he handed Hunter his drink.

Everyone in the dojo pointed at Jeremy, now wide-eyed with fury and shock at the sight of Marco and the red belt around his waist. "Wh-what are you doing here?! Where'd you get that?!"

"Good question Mr. Birnbaum. Everyone, gather around." Sensei Brantley said as he and Marco moved in to set down the drinks on a table. Behind them, Drew, Jo, and Roland entered and joined the other students, already dressed in their gis.

"You might have heard some stuff but trust your Sensei," he began when everyone gathered. "Marco hasn't quit the school, in fact… he has ascended–like a great Super Saiyan–to the next level in his journey."

As soon as the drinks were set down, he gestured to Marco's red belt. "Mr. Marco Diaz is now a red belt, and you will regard him with the respect befitting of his skill and experience."

"Now." He and Marco both placed their fists into their palms. "Bow to your Sensei, and your new Assistant Sensei."

In unison, every student did as commanded–with one exception. Jeremy stormed down the bleachers and marched right up to Sensei Brantley.

"What are you doing? You can't make him your assistant!" Jeremy hollered, stomping his foot and pointing at Marco's face.

Sensei Brantley turned to Jeremy. "Mr. Birnbaum!"

His shout stopped the child mid-tantrum. "Marco has demonstrated not only that he meets the requirements to be a red belt, but has shown courage, sick skills, and the mad wisdom to be my assistant."

He looked back at Marco with an affirming nod. "There's no one else in this humble dojo I would be prouder to have helping me guide you on the path, and you will treat him with the respect he's earned."

Marco nodded to his Master. "Thank you, Sensei."

Hunter spoke up. "Heck yeah, I'm gonna tell Pete you were legit. He's gonna be so stoked."

Jeremy pulled out his phone. "We had a deal, Brantley! My Mom told you not to make him your assistant!"

The other students looked up at Jeremy, who gripped the phone and held it up into Sensei's face.

"She pays the rent for this dojo, which means I own you!" Jeremy screeched. "All she has to do is stop giving you your stupid money and then what? No more dojo! You'll just be a forty year old loser living with your Mom!"

The other students were all looking at Sensei Brantley.

"Is that true, Sensei?" One of the students asked.

Sensei Brantley looked to his students. "Class, Jeremy was right. The reason he's always had preferential treatment and junk is because his mom gave mad funds to the school, so I can keep it open."

He slumped his shoulders a little. "I'm not good at business, so I take what I can get."

"I mean, it's so obvious…" Hunter muttered.

Some of the other students murmured in agreement.

"It definitely explains everything," Jo said to Drew and Roland.

Roland nodded. "Mmhm."

"Seriously, he's a mini-Trip," Drew whispered.

Jeremy folded his arms. "So what are you waiting for, tell him he can't be your assistant!" He turned his head away from Marco and gestured to the door. "Better yet… throw Marco out of this dojo right now, I don't want to see his stupid face anymore."


Jeremy stopped, turned his head, and glared at Brantley for even daring to say that word. "… No?"

"You remember when I showed up at the park yesterday, right? I wanted to apologize to Marco because Roland's grandma came over to my house and threw me out of my own bedroom window." Sensei Brantley explained.

Drew and Jo looked over at Roland, who shrugged his shoulders. All agreed that it was something that Nano would do though.

Sensei Brantley turned to the other students. "She did it because I had actually made up that junk about Marco needing to be a red belt to be my assistant."

Sensei Brantley lowered his head in shame as his students gasped. "And I made that junk up because Jeremy told his mom to threaten to pull money from the school if I made Marco my assistant, and I couldn't just tell him that because… you know… I was afraid of hurting his feelings after I had been so stoked before."

He stopped and realized what he said. "By the way, guys? Don't do that. Lying to your friends and not being up front with them will only totally backfire and blow up in your face later."

All eyes in the dojo fell again on Jeremy.

"Wow, Jeremy, wow," Hunter said.

"You cried to your Mommy to mess with Marco?! You jerk!" One of the girls yelled at him.

"You always sucked but dude, that's pathetic!" Another boy called out.

"The word you're looking for is 'psychopathic,'" Drew suggested.

"That too!"

Jeremy backed away from the angry kids and held up his phone. "Yeah! So what?! I can call my mom right now and she'll have this whole dojo shut down in a second. Then none of you will have your stupid karate!"

Jo called from the back. "Why would you even do that?!"

The frustration of all these kids taking shots at him boiled over. "Because I'm better than you! That's why!"

"Jeremy, stop," Sensei Brantley said.

Jeremy turned to face him. "You don't tell me what to do! I still own you!"

"No you don't," Sensei Brantley said. "Well, not anymore."

Jeremy's mouth fell open. "Huh?"

The door opened and Dipper stuck his head in. "Hey, Sensei Brantley? We're here."

Sensei Brantley brightened and waved to him. "Oh, right on time. Come on in." He turned to his students. "I've got great news for all of you, you're gonna love this."

The door opened again, and Dipper walked in followed by Mabel, Misao, Shermie, Nano Williams herself, and the Manager from the VHS Depot–the towering martial artist making even the tall Pines twins seem short by comparison.

"I'm super bad at business," Sensei Brantley admitted. "But Nano's not and she got me in touch with a few local folks who'd be happy to cover the rent, so I didn't have to give preferential treatment to one bratty student."

He looked to his class. "So from now on, guys, the rules that I kinda sorta let Jeremy break now apply to him, too."

Marco looked over at Jeremy and smiled with all his satisfied malice. "And you can't get your way by extorting Sensei."

As the class broke into celebration. Nano counted the number of students and hummed. "My, my, Brantley. You've got a bigger school than I thought. This could be a good investment for me, and you."

"Well, yeah. I may be super bad at numbers, but you know what I am good at?"

He struck a fighting pose. "Teaching how to kick butt!"

"I'll say!" Marco testified.

Nano hummed. "How have you kept this place open, though?"

Sensei Brantley gestured to Marco. "He's been balancing my budget for the last three years."

"It's true," Marco said.

The VHS Depot Manager perked up. "Can you do taxes?"

Marco cracked his knuckles. "Can John Woo choreograph a gunfight?"

Jeremy Birnbaum froze in place, his mind trying to comprehend what was happening. From his earliest memory, the one thing he knew was that he was special, and that he could have anything he wanted. All he had to do was ask and his mother would give it to him. If asking didn't work, he could yell. If yelling didn't work, he could scream. If he screamed long enough, he would be denied nothing. T

hat was the guiding logic of his young life, whatever he wanted was his. People existed only to get him what he wanted, and no one could defy him.

He began to hyperventilate, his face colored first a red and then almost turned purple. He glared at Marco as tears began to fill his eyes. "No…"

With a mighty stomp of his feet, Jeremy looked wildly across the adults gathered and shrieked. "NO! I'M GONNA TELL MY MOM AND IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU DO! YOU'RE ALL GONNA PAY FOR THINKING YOU CAN TELL ME WHAT TO DO! SO SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!"

Nano winced. "Lord have mercy, the lungs on that child."

Shermie dug his finger into one ear. "Oy gevalt, you can hear this putz all the way back in the old country…"

The VHS Depot Manager hummed. "This is what I imagine r/movies sounds like in Real Life."


Misao looked at Marco. "How can one boy be so spoiled?!"

"He's an only child!" Drew shouted back.

Marco clapped his hands over his ears. "I'm an only child too, how did he turn out this bad?"


"I know, right?!" Roland called out over the shrieking, while Jo covered her ears before they bled.

"What?!" Marco yelled back as Jeremy only got louder.


Jeremy's temper tantrum ended when he was grabbed from behind and yanked off the ground by Mabel–who muffled him with her hand clamped tightly over his mouth. Next to her, Dipper stood with his arms akimbo, shaking his head in disappointment.

"Man," he said, "I expected a little brat, but this? This kid's a full Gideon Gleeful."

"And you know what we do with Lil' Gideons, right, bro-bro?" Mabel asked.

Dipper nodded and walked over to the door to open it for her. "After you."

As everyone watched, Mabel carried the thrashing child out of the Dojo and over to a garbage can that sat between the dojo and the yogurt shop next door. Seeing the garbage can, Jeremy's struggles intensified, and when Dipper lifted the lid off the garbage can, he began kicking at Mabel in vain.

When she let go of Jeremy's mouth to hoist him above his head, Jeremy shrieked. "LET GO! I'M GOING TO TELL MY MOM! PUT ME DOWN PUT ME DOWN! AHHHHHH!!"

Ignoring his cries, Mabel slammed Jeremy into the half-full garbage can and when she pulled back Dipper grabbed his still kicking legs and shoved him further into the mostly yogurt and paper cup filth that filled the bottom.

"AHHH! IT'S GROSS! LET ME OUT! AHHHH! AHHHHH!" Jeremy screamed as he struggled.

Dipper scanned the lot, and noticed a man dressed like a butler watching the scene with a dispassionate expression. He pointed at the can. "Hey, does this trash belong to you?"

When the butler nodded, Dipper tipped the can over onto its side, and Mabel kicked it hard as she could, sending it rolling over towards the Butler, to Jeremy's further distress. "PPPBBT! EEW IT GOT IN MY MOUTH!"

Walking around in front of the rolling barrel, the Butler stopped it with his foot and put on a pair of rubber gloves, before extracting the blubbering and sobbing Jeremy out of it and into the back seat of the car. He turned to the Pines Twins, as Brantley and Marco came out to watch the scene.

"I will inform the Mistress that young Jeremy will be out of martial arts classes for several days." The butler said, before he walked around to the driver's side of the car–with a skip in his step.

As Jeremy's car backed out and pulled away, Marco looked at Dipper and Mabel. "You know what? If I had half the nerve you two do? I would've done that to Jeremy a lo-o-ong time ago."

"Yeah, and Jeremy's Mom would've sued my Mom's pants off." Brantley looked at Dipper and Mabel. "You guys got a good lawyer?"

"Oh please," Mabel said. "What would she sue us for?"

Dipper nodded. "Escorting her son out of the dojo so his butler can take him home?"

Marco lit up in recognition. "Yeah, that's all that happened here." He looked at Brantley. "Right?"
Brantley stared at Marco, uncomprehending–before it clicked. "Oh–ohhh! Yeah, that's totally all that happened." He peeked back into the dojo. "Right guys?"

The consensus inside the dojo, from students to its new sponsors, was unanimous that nothing happened.

Brantley led the group back in. "Well then, how about we kick off our lesson for the day. All right guys, get your smoothies in you and prepare yourselves. For today, two mighty dragons soar over this dojo…" He looked aside to Marco and raised his fist. "… And they are as strict masters as they are fearsome warriors!"

Looking back and forth between his Sensei's fist and his face, Marco smiled and returned the fist bump. "That's right!"

With burning enthusiasm, the class–its newest students included–chorused together. "Yes, Sensei!"

As the class got under way, Dipper, Mabel, and Misao sat down on the bleachers with the dojo's other new sponsors to watch. To their surprise, they found Star sitting at the end, having slipped in via Dimensional Scissors.

"Huh, you came to watch Marco train?" Misao asked.

"Well, yeah!" Star replied. "Marco loves karate, and he's made up with his teacher! I'm not gonna miss that for the world!" She stood up and waved. "Hi Marco! Don't forget to show them your cool karate chops!"

"I won't, Star," Marco called back.

"Marco-sensei, is that your girlfriend?" One of the Jeremy-aged students asked.

"W-what?! P-Pay attention! Eyes forward!"

"Yes, Sensei~!" The kids replied before they began chanting. "Marco's got a girlfriend!" to his embarrassment.

Star blushed, feeling a little caught out herself, and looked off to the side. "Hee…"

As the others laughed, Misao thought about how well the toppling of Jeremy's reign went, and the seeds of an idea were planted in her mind. She let out a small, barely audible hum, and pulled out her phone to look at her contact list. Scrolling through it, her thumb came to rest on a contact listed "Mother."

= - = 35 = - =

Long live the king.
And now for a special coda, taking place right between One Week and You are the Prey. May be a bit before we get back to the next chapters.

= - = 36 = - =


It wasn't until after eleven that Marco and Star came home, entering the living room via a Dimensional Scissors portal they'd taken from the dojo, where Marco had picked up his stuff. The entire downstairs was dark and quiet, his parents having gone to bed knowing that they'd be home later than usual, and the Laser Puppies were all asleep in a pile on the couch.

"Finally home," Marco said as the portal closed. "Man, what a day."

"I know," Star agreed. "But it wasn't all bad, the party was fun, right?"

"It was, but I'm still drained from Brantley's crap."

Star's pleased smile faded with his reply, and she looked down at the floor.

"… Oh."

He headed for the kitchen. "I wanna just lie down and sleep it all off so I can train the guys tomorrow. Night and… thanks for helping me get my stuff."

"It was nothing!" She said brightly, before she lowered her head and continued in a quieter voice, more to the floor than to him. "Good night, Marco."

After he grabbed a glass from the cupboard, Marco looked back. Star was still standing in the archway, looking down at her wand held loosely in her right hand. There was confliction in her eyes, betraying a struggle going on underneath. He set the glass on the island countertop, and turned to her.

"Star, are you okay?"

Star looked up at him. "Huh? Oh, I'm fine! Just thinking about stuff… and… stuff. You know…"

Her gaze cast downward again. "… Stuff?"

A moment of almost smothering silence passed, before Marco replied. "Yeah… stuff."

Star turned her back to the archway and leaned against it, her hands resting on her locked knees. "You know… crummy stuff, like how your Sensei treated you. And how you really, really like Karate and it sucks that you can't do it at that cool dojo place anymore because of that."

There was Star, being a lot more open than she normally was. "Usually you don't really care too much about my dojo stuff."

Star raised her head to look at him. "I totally care!"

"Sorry, I mean more that you never really paid attention to how much I cared about Karate or if I was doing anything important in it. Remember the Banagic Incident?"

His point struck home and rendered Star without words for a moment. "Oh… well… I care now–I mean, I always cared! I just… you know… didn't think it was that big a deal…"

She grimaced as the words ground out of her. "… Until today…"

Marco frowned and opened his mouth.

"And I'm sorry," Star cut him off before he said something they'd regret.

"You don't deserve to be treated like that. Not by your teacher, or by me, or anyone!" She looked off to the side, her eyes narrowed thinking about Jo's attitude in particular.

"You're a great guy who deserves better than that, and I want to try…" Star trailed to a stop as it hit her how that sounded.

"What?" Marco asked, his own mind starting to race with what Star was saying.

"I want to try being…" Star tripped over her own racing thoughts, struggling for a word that didn't make this more awkward than it suddenly felt. "… Better…"

She clamped onto it. "A better friend, a better best friend!"

Star wanted to take her declaration and run away so she'd not have to talk about this again. She stayed stuck to the archway however, like she'd been glued to it.

Marco's expression softened, and he smiled.

"You already have," he said, stopping her from enacting her cut and run. "Lately, you've been talking to me differently, like you've started being more, I dunno, real?"

Star's face fell. "I've always been real with you!"

Marco backpedaled. "Okay, that's not what I meant. On Monday, you really opened up about how you feel about being underestimated, and with how things are with your mom. You never mentioned anything like that before."

He walked around the island counter, leaving nothing standing between him and Star. "I like when we can talk like that… kind of like right now. It's not about adventure, or magic, or fighting monsters… when you tell me how you really feel about stuff, it's like you're trusting me with something I've never heard you talk about to anyone."

Star began to respond but stopped short. She looked down at her wand, she was wringing it in her hands as feelings bubbled up into her chest from the pit of her stomach, her guts making strange noises as they seemed to twist themselves in knots.

"You're not mad that I haven't done that until now… are you?"

"I said I like it," Marco reassured her.

She looked up at him and met his gaze as he continued. "Besides, sometimes it takes big changes to help you see things you couldn't before. Everything already felt different after the whole thing with Toffee… and getting into the kind of fights we've been in now… it feels really different."

Star averted her eyes. "Yeah… really, really different… and stuff."

Silence fell in the kitchen again. Star kept looking out into the living room and towards the stairs, wringing her wand harder as her face colored. Marco watched her, his grip on the counter's edge tightening as he felt his own insides tie themselves around each other.

Just say it. Star told herself.

Say it. Marco thought.

Star looked everywhere but at Marco, and he turned his head away from her. They waited for something to happen, for Marco's phone to ring, the laser puppies to wake up, one of his parents to come downstairs. Something somewhere to explode. They waited for a moment… then a minute. The silence stretched on into what felt for hours into the night.

Respite wasn't coming, and Star didn't want to just walk away. She didn't feel like it. Marco deserved better than that. "L-Look…"

He looked at her again, and she was looking right back. "Yeah?"

She paused, one final hope that something would happen. It didn't.

With a deep breath, she dipped down and did it. "After the fight Monday, I… well…"

She brought her wand up to her chest. "… When you were ready to kill Jara to protect me, that… oh man, that messed me up. You messed me up, I'm totally messed up, and…"

She brought her wand up higher and hit herself in the forehead with it. "Ow! I'm trying to say that I'm falling in love with you, Marco!"

There, she said it. Now she could finally die of embarrassment.

Marco's shoulders dropped, and his smile grew warmer. "Yeah, I um… kinda figured that out…?"

Star's face went white. "What."

"I mean, there's a way you look at things when you like them? It's different with how intense it is." He explained. "But um… the way you looked at me when we talked after we got home… it's the same look you've been giving me now."

He let go of the counter and walked up to Star. She stood straighter as he reached her and stopped breathing when he rested his hands on her shoulders.


She stared into his eyes and blurted it out all at once. "You're going to tell me that even though I'm falling in love with you, you've still got strong feelings for Jackie and you're not going to just throw those away easily, aren't you?"

Star gasped for air then slapped her free hand over her mouth.

Marco tilted his head to the left as he processed Star's rambling. He closed his eyes and let out a small laugh. "I really do like Jackie and have a crush on her, but, well…"

He slipped his arms around Star and pulled her into a hug. "An amazing girl I'd kill for came along, and here we are."

Filled with warmth, Star slowly returned Marco's hug and nuzzled her cheek to his. She let out a happy squeak when he tightened his embrace. "So…"

Marco asked as the two began to rock back and forth. "Yeah?"

"… Does this mean… you know… that we're…?"

"Do you want to?"

The two pulled back to face one another, a much more comfortable silence falling between them.

"Yes," she whispered back.

Marco nodded. "Then, yeah. Let's do it."

Both smiled, before Marco shuffled closer and Star was comfortably caught between him and the wall. She brought her hand up to his cheek and caressed it, beckoning him closer. Marco took the invitation, closing the distance and meeting her lips with his in their first kiss.

They pulled away, and Marco spoke. "By let's do it, I mean let's be a couple. I don't mean-"

"Marco, shush," Star said, "Don't ruin the moment. Kiss me."

"Sorry." He resumed kissing her.

At the bottom of the stairs just around the corner, Angie Diaz clamped her hands over her mouth to silence her squeal of joy, while Rafael turned to her and pantomimed shushing her. When their cover wasn't blown, the two shared warm smiles to one another and looked back. They'd let the new couple have a little more time to themselves, then step in as good parents should to keep them from getting too carried away with their new feelings.

Outside the Diaz Home, the wind picked up, rustling the autumn leaves of the trees in the neighborhood and creating a haunting, dry rattling sound that carried down the street as they swayed in the dark. The tree next to Shermie Pines' home, still in full leaf, rocked and bent in the wind, one of its branches knocking against the side of the house at the second floor. After several blows, like a giant knocking on the side of the house, Dipper stirred from his sleep.

"Hngh…?" His eyes fluttered for a second. "What's that noise…?"

Sitting up, Dipper opened his eyes and grew still. A faint red glow bathed the entire upstairs. "Huh?"

All but leaping from his bed, Dipper stumbled from his, Mabel, and Misao's shared bedroom space and walked into the sitting room, where the red light was shining in through the picture windows of Shermie's custom-built home. Walking up to the nearest window, he looked outside.

His face paled, and his left eye twitched as he watched the clear, cloudless night sky. "… What… what the heck…?"

The night sky above Echo Creek was painted red, by the light of a crescent Moon the color of blood.

= - = 36 = - =

Well, that die is cast. I'm sure there won't be any too dramatic repercussions.
Princesses of the Disco
Warning, Butterfly OC en route.

= - = 37 = - =

|Princesses of the Disco|

Misao had been to plenty of discos and nightclubs back in Switzerland and Germany, but none had prepared her for a place like the Bounce Lounge: A nightclub in the literal clouds, where people of different species, from different worlds, and entirely different universes danced, drank, and mingled across the sprawling complex of clouds topped with a dance floor, bean bag seats, and various concessions ranging from an innocuous photobooth to a fully stocked bar.

"Wow… a nightclub in another dimension!" Mabel said as she and Misao followed Star through the portal from her bedroom and to the edge of the multicolored dance floor.

"Yep, this is The Bounce Lounge," Star said. "If I ever wanna chill, I come here. And since you're my new friends, I'm going to share my favorite chill spot with you!"

Mabel brought a hand to her sweater-protected heart. "Aw! This is such a great surprise."

Misao looked out onto the dance floor, where robot DJs were dropping technological beats that the most fervent European EDM mixers could only dream of. "I am already liking it! If I could only bring my party supplies from Berlin…"

Star looked back over at her smaller new friend. "I don't know where Berlin is, but if you want to use my scissors to hop back over there and get them, you can."

Misao quickly waved her hands. "Oh, no, no, no… maybe another time. For now, we can have a good clean party, ja?"

Star beamed. "Sure! Anyway, this isn't even the surprise~!"

"There's more?" Both Mabel and Misao asked as they followed Star around the corner of the dance floor and towards a rowdy party of girls in pretty dresses at one of the tables.

Star gave an enthusiastic nod. "Well, duh. What's a party without-" She walked into an outstretched hand and stopped. The hand, orange and clawed like an eagle's, belonged to a tall and heavily built man with the upper body and head of a bald eagle who made Arm Day every day. He wore the pelt of a fearsome-looking rat creature, purple shorts, matching sandals, and a pair of sweet Aviator shades.

"VIP section, members only!" The eagle-like creature commanded with a loud and aggressive voice.

"Oof, birdman bouncer," Misao said.

Mabel cupped her cheeks, painted with a blush. "I want him to be my spirit animal."

"I'm Talon Raventalon, and Talon Raventalon is NO ONE'S spirit animal!" The bouncer yelled at the girls. "Except for Talon Raventalon!"

"Okay, Talon Raventalon," Star said. "But can we get in? Our friends are waiting for us in the VIP."

"If you're not on the list, you don't get to RIDE!" Talon Raventalon yelled.

"Hey, let them in, bird brain! They're with me!" Another voice called over, and Princess Lilacia Ponyhead flew in and stopped between the bouncer and Star, magical glitter trailing behind her. She turned to Star and lit up. "Hey, B-Fly!"

"Pony!" Star greeted back, before hugging the disembodied Unicorn.

"Hugs~!" They sang together as they embraced.

Mabel, still enthralled by Talon Raventalon despite his rudeness, swooned at the sight of Pony Head. "This place is like the time I overdosed on Smile Dip… but without the terrible crash."

Misao was knocked out of her enchantment and looked at Mabel in horror. "I'm sorry, you did what? On what?!"

"Well, this isn't any candy hallucination, this is my best friend in the entire multiverse, Princess Pony Head," Star introduced, before turning to Pony Head and gesturing to her companions. "These are my friends I told you about, Mabel and Misao."

"It is nice to meet you," Misao said, "And you are gorgeous."

"I'm gorgeous? Okay obviously I am, thank you so much." Pony Head said as she circled around Misao and checked out her vibrant hair. "But have you seen your hair? Oh my goodness! I need to kidnap your stylist like yesterday, who are they and do they do manes?"

"Are you kidding? I practiced on manes," Mabel said. "If you have a few hours and a hundred dollars, I'll turn you from a Princess to a Goddess."

Pony Head whipped around and floated up to Mabel's eye level. "I got all the time in the world and all the money, too. Girl, you're gonna mess me up!"

Star fought against her every instinct to squeal with joy from seeing her friends getting along, as Pony turned to Talon Raventalon. "Well? Let them in, I said they're with me."

Talon Raventalon followed the order without fuss, unhooking the velvet rope to allow the girls access. As they walked past, he lifted his sunglasses and eyed all three of the newcomers and brought a smartphone to his ear.

"Tango Delta Lima Actual, this is Tango RomeoTango." He declared with no consideration for the ears of whomever was on the other end. Indeed, he was loud enough that Misao looked back in his direction, agitated by his yelling. "Sierra Bravo has entered the AO, the HVT is nowhere to be seen and the LZ is clear. You can bring it on in."

There was a pause, before a distorted, whispering voice replied. "… What?"

In a mercifully quieter voice, Talon reiterated. "Uh, Star Butterfly? She's here at the Bounce Lounge?"

There was another pause. "Oh? Oh! Right, right… we'll be right there. Uh… Tango Delta Lima Actual, out?"

Star cartwheeled to catch up with Pony Head and walked alongside her. "So, Pony! Why the Bounce Lounge? I thought St. O's was the biggest party in the multiverse."

"Yeah, it's great and I love it? But the Bounce Lounge got something that St. O's don't," Pony said as she led them to the table.

"What?" Star, Mabel, and Misao asked together.

Pony Head whipped her mane around and pointed off the VIP cloud towards the dance floor, and the juice bar to its side where a group of boys from various worlds and dimensions stood–ranging from handsome humanoids and brooding beastmen to stylish slimes and magnificent masculine machines.

"Boys, duh! I don't know about you, B-Fly, but I can't live on anarchy and freedom alone. I need to find a hot guy to make bad decisions with."

Star stared at the hot guys. "Ooh, I like freedom and anarchy."

Mabel leaned in over Star's right shoulder to gaze with gleaming eyes and drooling mouth at the hunky young men by the dance floor. "And I like boys."

Misao squeezed her head under Star's left arm to ogle them as well with her own big grin. "And I like making bad decisions with them!"

Pony Head stared at the two girls, then turned to Star. "Okay, I know I said that I'm cool with Earth Turd, but these new friends are like ten times better than him already. I was gonna act out if you brought two more squares to party with us–but they're not so it's okay."

Star laughed. "Puh-leeze, Pony. What kind of girl do you take me for? I've only got the best friends."

"Well duh, I am your bestie!" Pony Head turned to the table she came from. "All right girls, I want you to meet… the Princess Squad."

Seated around the low, pillow-surrounded table were five Princesses–a humanoid with long curly blonde hair and four arms, a humanoid who looked like one of her parents was a cactus, a relatively human-looking humanoid with brown skin, short violet hair and a stylish beret, a large princess with two separate horned heads, and a very large cross between an ogre and an elephant.

"These are Princess Arms, Cactus Princess, Princess Gwendolyn, Two-Head Princess, and Princess Smooshy." Pony Head introduced. "Don't worry, they don't bite, but Smooshy might steal your face so watch out for that, mmhm?"

Mabel didn't hear that part. She was still stuck on "hanging out with the Princess Squad" and envisioning all the sweaters she would make for her new friends for life. Misao hopped up to wave a hand in front of Mabel's face, confirming she was in a trance.

"I will make sure our faces go unstolen," she said as she got behind Mabel and pushed her towards the Princess VIP table.

"Yeah, uh huh! Go mingle with the girls." Pony Head swept around behind Star and began to push her away. "I gotta have some face-time with my bestie. It's been like a million years since I saw her so we're going to go over there and talk."

As Pony Head and Star left the group, Mabel stared at the Princesses at the table, who returned her gaze. Misao peered around Mabel and waved. "Hallo und guten nacht!"

They were met with a frosty silence, the Princesses–all representatives of their own kingdoms and royal lineages–unsure of what to make of the two shockingly mundane girls presented to them. After a moment Princess Arms raised an eyebrow and spoke. "… So you're friends of Star's, right?"

"Ja!" Misao said. "I'm Misao and-"

Mabel suddenly snapped out of her haze and stomped forward, her single step all but shaking the cloud. "I am Mabel, and I will make CUTE SWEATERS FOR ALL OF YOU!"

The Princess Squad once again stared in silence at the two girls, then looked at each other.

Star let herself be pushed along, reaching the edge of the VIP cloud and out of earshot from even the most astute audibly inclined.

Pony Head circled around her. "So… what's going on with you and Marco? Are you gonna tell him? Did you tell him yet?"

She gasped. "Are you two already-?"

"Pony!" Star hissed, silencing her. "I haven't said anything to anyone except for you."

"Mmm… I didn't tell anyone," Pony Head assured her. "Well, at least anyone who cares. And I mean, who even knows who Marco is at St. O's?"

Star blanched. "Everyone knows who Marco is!"

"Uh no? They know Princess Turdina, they don't know Marco Turdino."

At Star's fiery look, Pony Head recoiled. "Oh come on, you know I'm just joking! I didn't tell anyone, honest!"

Star's glare cooled, but she still gave her the side-eye as she turned away. Undaunted by it, Pony Head circled around her. "So come on, spill! What's up?"

"Nothing-" Star stopped and backtracked. "Well, not nothing? I don't know… Marco's just been really… dotey on me since the fight."

Pony Head raised an eyebrow. "… Dotey?"

"You know, he's been taking care of me and making sure I'm okay… but not like in that smothering, desperate way Tom was?"

She wrung the shaft of her wand and looked aside, her face warming. "Like… in that really sweet way where he knows exactly what I want when I need it, even if I don't know what it is."

Pony Head tilted her long pointed horn to her right. "And it's not creepy?"

"No, I mean he's been sticking closer to me, but not like… too close."

She hugged herself and smiled, thinking about the last few days. "He makes me feel… safe, like I can just let my guard down with him."

Pony Head stared at Star, the yellow stars in her eyes growing bigger as she gasped. "Oh my goodness, you got it so bad for him!"

Star threw her head back and groaned out loud. "I know! I'm the one who has these feelings!"

She palmed her face with both hands and sighed. "I am such a mess. I've been a mess all week!"

Pony Head didn't see the problem here. "So you like Earth Turd, okay? Just go out with him."

Lowering her hands, Star let out a dramatic sigh. "I can't just go out with him! There's a girl that he likes! He's been crushing on her for like… since kindergarten and they just started talking to each other and he's got a shot at her and…"

She stopped, and her left eye twitched. "And oh my gosh that's not even talking about all the other drama."

Because while Star Butterfly was many things, unobservant was not one of them.

"What, you mean Tom? The guy you broke up with and won't stop blowing up your phone? Because if you've had other stuff going down you are going to tell me." Pony Head got up in Star's face. "You know you can't be leaving me in the cold!"

Her bestie's energy brought her to laugh. "I promise I will."

Pony Head was going to hold her to that. "Yeah, anyways. I normally wouldn't do this because you're my bestie and I think you can do better, but I'm going to be absolutely real with you because you're my bestie and I want you to be happy."

Pony Head paused for dramatic effect.

"Tell him that you like him, girl!"

Star pouted. "Pony…"

Pony Head pulled back. "I'm serious, B-Fly. Let him know you like him now, and not later. You don't want him to hook up with some other girl, get all jealous and junk, and blow up his whole spot by telling him you like him then, do you?"

Star thought about it and concluded that would suck. "All right, fine. I mean, the most that'll happen is that Marco will just say that even though I'm falling in love with him, he's still got strong feelings for Jackie and he's not just going to throw those away easily."

"Yeah, but he was ready to kill someone for you." Pony Head pointed out. "That doesn't come from nothing."

It didn't, and her astute observation brought Star's blush back.

"So what are you going to do?"

Star sighed and gave up the ghost. "Tell Marco how I feel about him, at least so he knows?"

"Mmm… no, you're going to stop moping around and party with me."

At Star's glare, Pony Head rolled her eyes. "And yeah, talk to the Earth Turd or whatever."

Her glare evaporated with her laugh. "Thanks for inviting me out here, I needed this."

"No thank you! You being into somebody means I get to winggirl all the hot guys off you for myself!" Pony Head began twisting and rocking in place. "This Pony's goin' for a ride tonight~"

Star placed a hand on her cheek, giggling. "Wow Pony, to think you go to Miss Heinous' school."

Pony Head gasped. "Oh yeah! You just totally reminded me. We finally chased Miss Heinous out of the school. She ain't there no more."

"No way!"

"No Heinous, no rules, so we're in da club to let the whole multiverse know–and you know, bring some boys back to the school for some of the other girls."

Laughing again, Star almost felt a little bad for any guy that got taken home by a Princess tonight. "That's an after party I'm gonna have to miss."

"No duh, you got your own after party tonight, riiiight~?" Pony Head teased. Star's blush erupted across her face as she laughed with Pony Head.

"Seriously though, thank you… I've been freaking out about this." Star hugged her tight. "Well, and all the other stuff that's been happening."

Pony Head snuggled into Star's embrace, then pulled back. "Yeah, what are you going to do if your mom finds out you're fighting like an evil monster army?"

Star groaned. "Ugh… get dragged back home probably. I'm on super thin ice after what happened with Toffee–even after I blew him up."

"That's messed up. You're like, fighting them though, right? Like fighting-fighting them? Your mom fought like an entire war so she's one to talk."

"Yeah!" Star ran that through her head again. "Wait, she did what?"

Pony Head dropped the subject. "Hold up, where'd the Princess Squad go?"

The VIP table was completely empty, Mabel, Misao, and The Princess Squad were gone, their absence derailing the conversation. Star gawked at the empty table. "… Huh? Where did…?"


Star and Pony Head looked over at the dance floor, where Mabel stood at the center of the dance floor with her chin held up and her arms raised like some villainous pro wrestler. Two-Headed Princess stood behind her, bestowing one of their two crowns upon Mabel's head while the other princesses and Misao stood in a circle around her–clapping their hands and chanting her name.

Lowering her hands and rolling her shoulders, causing the crown to tilt back, Mabel addressed the. "My first decree as honorary Princess of the Dance Floor…"

She shot out her right hand, presenting Misao with her upturned palm. "Is to crown Misao as my honorary co-princess!"

"Long live Princess Misao!" The other princesses cheered as Misao bounced over to Mabel's side. Two-Headed Princess took their other crown off and bestowed it upon Misao's head as she laughed.

Mabel made a sweeping gesture across the dance floor. "And for my second decree! I hereby declare the mighty fine ladies of the St. Olga's School for Wild and Free Princesses of the Disco to seize this dance floor for the glory of Princess Turdina!"

Star grinned from ear to ear and forgot all about whatever wars her mom may have fought. "WOO-HOO! LONG LIVE PRINCESS MABEL AND PRINCESS MISAO!"



Pony Head flew up and joined Mabel's side. "You heard the Princess! Let's get down, ladies!"

"DJ!" Mabel shouted. "I want that music to make me lose control!"

The two robot DJs snapped their fingers and pointed at Mabel. They then proceeded to drop a techno beat that had the Bounce Lounge shaking from the bass and lighting up in sync with the tiles of the dance floor. As commanded, the Princesses and all the other guests Bounce Lounge all over the club got down and dirty.

Star wrapped an arm around Mabel's waist and side-hugged her. "You hit it off fast with them!"

Mabel laughed and returned the hug. "Oh yeah, we're all Princess Friends Forever, now!"

"I will freakin' die for you, Mabel!" Princess Arms said as she walked like an Egyptian past her.

"And I'll kill for you, babe! Say the word~!" Mabel said as she took Star's hands and swung her out to face and dance with her properly.

Misao laughed as she popped and locked while Pony Head twisted and bobbed herself next to her. "I do not know how she does it, isn't she amazing~?"

"Everyone loves cute sweaters!" Mabel cheered.

Star poked Mabel's chest. "You're gonna make me one, right?"

"You'll get one first!" Mabel cheered just before the dance floor began to shake, but not in a good way. "Huh?"

The strange tremor was the only warning the club goers had before the center of the dance floor split open, sending almost everyone who had been on it scrambling for safety.

Star grabbed Mabel's hand and pulled her back, and Misao leaped into the arms of Arm Princess as the fissure widened, and a torrent of wailing souls came pouring from the chasm.

"Was ist das?!" Misao cried out.

Amidst the storm of souls, a winged demon wearing a loincloth ascended from the fissure, the yoke around his neck connected to chains hauling a wheelless carriage up through the fissure. Soon as the keel of the carriage was clear of the gap, it slowly closed to the mournful wailing of the departed trapped beneath it.

Seeing the carriage and the demon hoisting it, Star's face fell into a morose grimace.

Pony Head saw Star's expression. "Oh this is bad…"

Mabel and Misao looked at Pony Head and Star.

"What's going on?" Misao asked. "Who is that?"

"Who is behind this evil energy?" Mabel asked. "Is it a demonic warlord? A necromancer that hates ponies? A goblin incel?!"

Star sighed. "It's…"

The demon holding the carriage up, despite panting from the labor, cleared his voice and spoke in a loud and commanding manner. "Presenting: Prince Thomas Draconius Lucitor, and his companion, Lady Amirana Butterfly, the Duchess of Septarsis."

Stepping from the carriage came a young man with lilac-colored skin, salmon-colored hair with two horns, and three eyes red as fresh blood–the third set in his forehead centered above the other two. He was dressed in a nice but casual black suit, along with a violet tie, and black leather shoes.

He was accompanied by an attractive fair-skinned young woman who stood just below him in height, she sported long violet hair that cascaded in gentle curls down to her hips and styled in sweeping bangs that stopped above her turquoise-colored eyes. She wore a simple knee-length black evening gown, and high heels that she appeared awkward just standing in.

As her name implied, and both Misao and Mabel noticed, she had purple magnet-shaped marks on her cheeks.

Star slapped her hand to her face as she focused on the young man. "… My ex."

= - = 37 = - =

Oh it's Tom. Hey Tom!
Party Hotter
= - = 38 = - =

|Party Hotter|

Misao's shoulders slumped, the energy that illuminated the club's eternal night died with Star's lament and birthed tension in its place. Pony Head rolled her eyes and shook herself, her lips turned down into a hard scowl. Star folded her arms tight and stared at the emerged couple, her brows furrowed.

Mabel didn't want to open her mouth and say something insensitive, like that Star had good taste in ex-boyfriends.

Tom Lucitor looked around at the crowd, then looked back at his carriage. "Oh…! Oh no!"

He turned to look back at everyone. "I am so sorry! Hang on, just a second!"

He looked up at the demon hauling the carriage. "Hey, you came up through the dance floor! You have to go!"

The hovering demon looked down at Tom. "Sorry, master…"

As the demon began to descend, Tom called. "And remember, no fire! This place has a hair-trigger sprinkler system."

The woman beside him, Amirana, looked at Tom with concern as the demon began to descend into the fissure he emerged from. She moved closer to him, whispering. "Wait, he's leaving? How are we going to get back?"

Tom turned to her. "Don't worry, we'll be back before intermission is over. I just really wanted to go somewhere more relaxed than the lobby of an Opera House, you know?"

She fidgeted, looking at the crowd surrounding them. "This is more relaxed? There are so many people…"

Tom brought his hand around her back and hovered it just off her shoulder to guide her away from the center of attention. "It'll be okay."

Once they stepped off the dance floor, the fissure sealed up and it was good as new–to the relief of the Bounce Lounge guests. Tom raised his hand in a hesitant wave. "Sorry about that! Don't let me stop the party!"

His self-effacing awkwardness was well received, the music starting up and the party beginning again like it'd never stopped.

Turning back to his companion, he smiled. "See? This is a great place with nice people…"

As he reassured her, Amirana glanced ahead, then did a double take with raised brows. Following her gaze, Tom's three eyes widened as well when he saw Star standing in front of him, with Pony Head floating over her left shoulder, and both Mabel and Misao standing to her right.

"Star? Oh, hey! W-what are you doing here?"

Star blew out an exasperated breath. "I was having a good time with my friends. What are you doing here?"

Tom recoiled from her tone. "Whoa, sensing some hostility. I just came here to have a quick drink with my date."

Tom gestured to Amirana, Star's gaze following. "You remember Amirana, right? The Duchess of Septarsis?"

Star glanced back and forth between them, her brow furrowing as she tried to recollect the face, before the memory of a family gathering years ago flashed through her mind and recognition dawned. "… Cousin Rana?"

Amirana flinched at the nickname. In a gentle, cultured voice that reminded Star almost a little too much of her mother, she spoke. "Hello, Star. It's… been a long time."

"It has! I haven't seen you since the family reunion, what… three years ago?"

Amirana's face twisted into a mild grimace. "Yes… it's been that long…"

Star looked back and forth between them again. "Wait, wait, you're going out with Tom?"

Before Amirana could reply, Tom cut in. "After the Blood Moon Ball your Aunt Felicity proposed an engagement between Amirana and I to my parents, and we've been going out to see how we fit together."

He looked at Amirana and gave her a kind smile. "On the whole, it's been nice."

The pale duchess's face relaxed and grew a light shade of pink at his smile. Averting her eyes, she brought her left hand up to cover her cheek and conceal the blush.

Star felt hairs on the back of her neck bristle, a red flag pitched at the end of every follicle, as she remembered feeling exactly how Amirana looked at that moment. In a burst of movement, she muscled her way between her and Tom, separating them, and swept behind her. "You probably want to get something to drink now, right? Let me show you the juice bar!"

"Actually I would rather-"

"Nononono, we are going to have some drinks."

Amirana heaved a sigh as she was led off.

"Uh, Star?" Tom called after her. He started to follow, when Pony Head flew in front of him, stopping him in his tracks.

"Mmmm uh huh, yeah… you might be hot and junk but you are not cute, Tom." She seethed, her nose crinkling.

Tom drew back, all three of his eyes narrowing. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Pony Head got in his face. "Every dimension you could go to, and you just happen to come to the Bounce Lounge. Where Star just happens to be. Mmmhm, that's just a coincidence."

Tom frowned. "You got me. I totally planned to go to see Hotel Hazbin with Amirana a week in advance in the slim chance that I happened to hear that Star was at the Bounce Lounge, so I could show her that I was happy and spending time with someone who is not her. Yes, my diabolical plan to let her know I won't pester her anymore was foolproof until you foiled it."

Pony Head let out a hard snort. "I'm not playing. If I find out you're messing with B-Fly? You're getting the horn, and you won't like where it'll go."

Tom rolled his eyes and brushed Pony Head aside. "Save it for a guy who's into that kind of thing, Pony. I'm gonna stop Star from scaring my date."

As Tom walked off, Mabel and Misao joined Pony Head's side.

"He's up to something," Pony Head said.

"Mmmhm!" Both girls agreed.

One cloud adjacent to the dance floor, Star observed her cousin as they stood in front of a juice bar. Amirana sipped from a glass of water while Star waited for the bartender to finish a drink that could be best described as sugar with water and fruit. Even she could see that the young woman was struggling to keep her energy up in such a loud and crowded place.

Why would he bring her here? Star wondered, before speaking to her cousin. "Are you doing okay?"

Amirana lowered her glass from her lips and tilted her head at a slight angle. "What?"

Star pouted. "Why are you surprised? I didn't forget the last time we saw each other."

"Oh." Amirana looked down at the counter, her face coloring. "Well, I am managing. That we're not going to be here long helps."

Star glanced at the dance floor and saw Tom was searching for them. "So how has it really been going with him?"

Amirana perked up somewhat and raised her gaze back to Star. "With Tom? It's been pleasant. We first met almost a month ago when my mother and Uncle Heartrude brought me to the Lucitor palace to discuss the arrangement."

She brought her glass to her lips. "He and I have been going on various outings every week since."

"And it's been okay? He hasn't blown up or lost his temper? Or said anything about me?"

Amirana finished her sip and shook her head. "Nothing like that. Though he did warn me that you two broke up because of his anger issues, and that he was working very hard because of them."

Star tightened her lips and hummed. "Just be careful with him."

She pointed her wand at the bar top and fired a quick spell that left a pink pamphlet. "Read this."

"'So he's a Demon… a dating guide', thank you', Star…" She set it down. "But I've already read it and numerous other books and guides on demons and their nature. I am prepared if he loses his temper, but he really has been nothing but charming."

Star hummed again as she received her drink, but her cousin's firm testimony raised questions. "Hmm…"

Climbing up some cloud steps towards them, Tom stopped when he saw Star and Amirana talking. Star's confused and self-doubting expression lit hope in all three of Tom's eyes.

Tom's expectant eavesdropping was in turn eyed through the zoom function of Princess Smooshy's phone camera. Mabel, holding the phone and perched on the ogre-like Princess's shoulders, eyed him then turned to the waiting members of The Princess Squad below.

"He's just sitting back and watching. But he likes what he sees." Mabel slipped off Smooshy's shoulders and landed among Misao, Pony Head, and the others. "Thanks Smooshy."

Princess Smooshy took her phone back. "It ain't no thing for another thick chick."

She held up her phone in front of herself and Mabel. "Camera phone."

As Smooshy snapped pictures of herself and Mabel making duck faces, Misao faced Pony Head, who watched Tom with narrowed eyes. "So what do we do?"

"We need to blow up his spot, oooh I just know he is trying to mess with her!"

Princess Gwendolyn spoke up. "Or maybe he's trying very hard to bury the hatchet?"

"Trying too hard," Misao muttered.

Princess Arms turned to Pony Head. "You know Star better than all of us, what's the deal with her and Tom?"

"Tom is a huge control freak! Like you don't even know, and if he didn't get his way, he would lose his mind! That's why he and B-Fly broke up–but you didn't hear that from me."

Mabel grimaced. "Oh… he was that kind of guy, yikes."

The Two-Headed Princess's right head pursed her lips before speaking. "He was, but it might not be some nefarious plot, girls."

Her left head rolled her eyes. "Oh my gosh, please do not start simping here in front of everyone."

The very thought disgusted Two-Headed Princess's right head. "I am not a simp!"

"STG you get like this for every hot boy with a swimmer bod."

Right head Princess turned to Gwendolyn. "Back me up!"

Princess Gwendolyn agreed. "I think you're being paranoid, Pony, and it's killing the vibe."

Cactus Princess nodded in agreement with the dissenting Princesses.

"That is so weak!" Princess Arms shouted. "Here we are getting our night ruined by ex-boyfriend drama, and you're going to side with him?!"

Princess Smooshy, seemingly not paying attention, remarked. "He do got that booty tho."

She held the phone up to get herself and Misao in the shot, Misao looking up and smiling. "Camera phone."

When Smooshy finished snapping her selfies, something occurred to Misao and she let out a hum.

"Thank you!" Princess right head yelled, drawing rebuke from the left, and prompting fiery debate among the Princesses.

"Princesses of the realms, wait!" Mabel pleaded before the arguing could break into regional war. "This is not the way for a Princess to live, turning on each other in times of crisis. We must remember why we are here, together, and what is at stake if we let the drama win."

The Princesses stopped and looked at all the handsome guys hanging around the Lounge. The quarrel quelled, there was too much to risk losing now.

"I think I have proof that Tom is up to something."

Everyone turned to Misao, and she explained. "When we first got here, I heard that loudmouth bird person saying something strange into his phone. He was speaking in the phonetic alphabet."

Pony Head cocked her horn to the left tilting her head. "Phoenician wha?"

Mabel knew what it was. "It's army talk in my world. My brother uses it sometimes when he's being extra dweeby."

"I thought he was just reporting bouncer talk to the club manager or something, but now thinking about it. He said some very specific things, ja? Sierra Bravo arriving in the AO."

"What's that mean?" Cactus Princess asked.

"Fancy army talk for Area of Operation."

"Wouldn't it be AOO?"

"The 'of' is silent," Mabel corrected, before continuing Misao's thought. "Sierra Bravo, that would be SB in normal person talk."

Pony Head gasped. "Star Butterfly!"

"He called himself Tango RomeoTango," Misao said.

"Talon Raventalon!" Mabel said, impersonating his gruff and aggressive yell.

Misao nodded. "And he was specifically speaking to a Tango Delta Lima Actual."

"TDL, right?" Princess Arms asked.

No one there missed the introduction the demon gave upon its arrival, and Pony Head gasped in anger. "Oh. MG."

"That's right," Mabel said, "Thomas Draconius Lucitor."

"The perfect edgy name for a hot edgy demon boy," Misao lamented.

"W-what about the Actual?" Princess Right Head asked, in vain hope that it was maybe someone else.

"Actual designates the commander of the unit or asset identified by the remainder of the call sign. Since Tom is a Prince, he'd go by that, or somethin'."

Everyone stared in silence at Princess Smooshy, who took another selfie.

"Camera phone."

Misao turned in the direction of the VIP section, where Talon Raventalon idled, messing with his phone. "I am a betting girl, and I am betting that if we had a look at Tango RomeoTango's phone, we would get an idea of Tango Delta Lima's intentions, ja?"


"… And then last week, we didn't go anywhere. He came to Septarsis and helped me catalog books in the library." Amirana explained as she ran her fingers on the rim of her glass of water. "… He even helped me fight off a bookworm without using any fire."

She smiled down at the counter, looking anywhere else besides at Star was difficult. "He gave me tickets to the Opera before he left, tucked in a copy of the Liber AL vel Legis."

Star was struck by Amirana's account of her and Tom's outings since their first meeting. "You've been really enjoying yourself with him, haven't you?"

"He's been the best company I've had in Septarsis, and he's respected my boundaries."

She stopped and tapped her finger on the glass rim. "… At least until today. I am just doing terribly here."

Star could tell. "… Do you want more water? Maybe something stronger? You're sixteen, right?"

Amirana raised her head a little. "I turned seventeen months ago, but I don't want a strong drink. I just want to go somewhere quiet with as few people as possible…"

"How did you survive going to the opera?"

"Tom got us balcony seats, up and away from everyone else."

Star smiled. "Yeah, that's the sort of thing Tom would do. It can be very sweet, all the effort he puts into impressing you…"

She took a sip of her drink as Amirana peeked at her again. "If there was something I liked about Tom, it's that when we were dating, he was always doing his best to make sure I was having fun. He took me out on nice dates, he got me gifts, he would even call me up and talk with me for hours if he heard I was feeling sad."

Amirana watched Star carefully, as the Princess looked up and remembered those days fondly. "He was such a great guy."

Midway down the steps leading to the juice bar cloud, Tom smiled as he listened.

Star inhaled deep and let out a long sigh. "But Stump help you if even one tiny thing goes wrong, because then he goes ballistic!"

Tom's smile fled.

Down by the VIP table Talon Raventalon was playing a game on his phone and enjoying himself. "Flappy Bird? More like Flappy Eagle. Heh, yeah… I am owning this game!"

"Hey Birdie-Birdie Man." Princess Smooshy called out.

He looked up to find the Princess Squad assembled in front of him, Smooshy front and center. "I want your phone."

Talon Raventalon stared at Smooshy, uncomprehending, before Pony Head floated around the large princess, and Mabel and Misao stepped from behind her.

Pony Head cut straight to the point. "You're working for Tom, ain't you?"

Talon Raventalon's eyes shot wide behind his aviators. "Talon Raventalon has no idea what you're talking about."

Misao huffed in derision. "Mike Papa, this is Mike Delta. I have a visual on the Tango RomeoTango, over."

Beads of sweat formed on Talon Raventalon's feathered head and beak as Mabel replied. "Copy on that visual, Mike Delta."

Talon Raventalon's mother raised no fool. With the jig up, Talon Raventalon drew a pair of Dimensional Scissors to cut his way out of reality to escape. A beam of glitter from Pony Head's horn struck him between the eyes and blinded him before he could open the tool.

"Get him!" Mabel yelled, and the entire Princess Squad fell on him like he was the last chocolate cupcake on a cheat day.

Back at the juice bar Amirana's eyebrows rose at Star's outburst. Behind them, Tom was cringing away, struck by the frustration in her tone.

"He wasn't that bad, was he?"

Star shook her head. "I liked Tom–I really did–but he was such a control freak. Whenever he took me out or got me gifts, there was a plan, and every step of that plan had to be followed, and if anything happened–even if it was something totally random that he couldn't expect? Boom, red eyes and fire."

Amirana visibly flinched. "Oh, oh dear…"

She sighed. "He was just so… ugh! He couldn't live in the moment, be spontaneous, or see the bright side of something going wrong, he couldn't even try! It didn't bother me at first because, you know, he was hot and sweet, but after a while…"

She shrugged her shoulders. "Well, we're not together anymore."

Amirana tapped her finger on the rim of her glass. "Well, I understand why you two would fall out. You are very spontaneous and energetic… and you don't really stop to listen. He is, on the other hand, very organized and likes to approach things with a plan."

Star winced, then laughed nervously. "Well, you know…"

"And I like that part about him."

Star stopped. "Eh?"

Tom grew concerned. "What?"

"I'm a perfectionist myself." She sighed. "Though why wouldn't I? I live in a library that has not been sorted properly in almost twenty years and probably won't be for another twenty. Sometimes knowing where a book is supposed to go is better than the book itself for me."

Star brightened, then laughed. "Oh my goodness, that's exactly the kind of thing Tom would care about!"

"He certainly did when he helped in the library," Amirana said with a slight grin. "And he has been excellent about his anger. He was so calm and diligent when we worked. Even when we couldn't tell where books went."

Star pondered that. "Maybe you and Tom are a good match. He's getting better at his anger, you're a very calm person… you have good energy together!"

Amirana's blush returned. "Do you suppose…?"


Tom's salmon pink skin grew a shade lighter. "Wait, no!"

He jogged up to the juice bar and practically spilled between the two of them. "H-hey, girls! Getting along?"

Star answered Tom with furrowed brows. "Yeah, she's my cousin?"

Amirana let out a relieved sigh. "Thank goodness. As stimulating as this has been–and pleasant to actually see you again, Star–I want to leave."

Star pouted. "Aw!"

Tom quickly tried to speak. "I'll call the carriage and-!"

Star continued over him, while flashing Amirana an incandescent smile. "I understand though, this place is just the worst if you're introverted."

Amirana nodded. "Thank you for sitting with me and helping me through it, and I am sorry if our being here disturbed your evening."

"Yeah, this was a total mistake and-" Tom rambled.

"Are you kidding?! I got to see the one cousin on Mom's side of our family who isn't a complete hoity-toity snob." Star gasped. "Actually! You should totally come visit me on Earth!"

Dread flashed in Tom's eyes. "Wait-!"

Amirana recoiled. "Earth? Is that how it's pronounced?"

Star gave her a wry look. "Let me guess: been calling it E-Arth?"

Amirana nodded, her face pink.

"I was doing it for days until Mom said she'd send me to St. O's anyway if I kept doing it."

The Duchess of Septarsis filed that away. "But yes, I would not be against meeting again. Especially if it's someplace quiet."

Tom suppressed his grimace as Star all but exploded with eagerness. "Oh you bet! Earth has all kinds of great places that are quiet! Like the park, movies, school, Marco's room when he's trying to do his homework-"

The mere mention of that name sent a nasty twitch through the left side of Tom's face, but he fought it down as he pulled out a small demonic hammer and bell. "Okay, calling the carriage now."

At that very moment, Pony Head flew in and got up in Tom's face. "Oh hey, Tom! Were you just about to bounce? How about no?"

Star and Amirana both gasped when they saw Pony Head looked to be covered in bruises and scrapes, like she'd just been in the mother of all beatdowns and the only reason she wasn't on the receiving end was that she was still conscious.

"Pony, what happened?!" Star gasped.

Mabel sat down on Amirana's other side. "Oh man. You can't hear it because of the beat, but the Princess Squad is laying the smackdown on the bouncer right now."

Tom went pale again, and his head turned a full 180 to look back towards the VIP–where the St. O's Princesses were gathered over him, stomping on Talon Raventalon like he was repping the wrong set in the wrong hood.

"Stomp him!" Princess Arms shouted of the cacophony of feet to flesh.

"Switch feet!" Princess Qwendolyn commanded.

"Stomp him!"

"Switch again!"

Princess Smooshy leaped in, slapping her elbow at the top of her jump. "Elbow drop!"

Smooshy came down on Talon Raventalon's gut, and the bouncer let out a chicken-like "BUCKAWW!"

"Oh no," Tom whispered.

"Oh yes," Misao said, and Tom's head turned a few more degrees to follow her as she walked around him and sat herself on Mabel's lap. Like her and Pony Head, she was covered in the scars of battle, and was holding her prize from it–Talon Raventalon's phone. She studiously tapped her fingers repeatedly on the screen lock, in an effort to crack it.

"What?" Star asked.

Misao held up her hand. "One moment, cracking this lock."

She smiled as the screen popped open. "Ah, gut."

Star and Amirana looked from her to Tom and back, completely lost.

"Duchess Amirana, ja? On what days did Tom spend time with you?"

"Every weekend, why?" Amirana asked.

"Weird how other dimensions line up like that, right?" Mabel asked before Misao finished browsing Talon Raventalon's call and message logs.

"Ja, it is confirmed. Herr Lucitor has been in contact with the Bounce Loungue's bouncer every weekend for the last three weeks."

Star and Amirana both turned to look at Tom, the former's brows furrowing, while the latter's mouth fell open.

"You've been what?"

"Telling his stool pigeon to squawk if he saw you." Pony Head seethed.

"So he could come show off his brand-new date and make you jealous!" Mabel had seen enough sitcoms to know how this worked.

Star gasped and erupted at Tom. "Really?!"

Tom raised his hands. "No, it's not like that!"

Amirana shot to her feet, her expression a mix between disbelief, anger, and nauseous. "Is that why you insisted we come here?!"

Tom turned to Amirana. "It really isn't, I swear!"

Misao looked at the texts between Talon Raventalon and Tom. "He even had instructions for if Marco had come along. Mostly to keep him distracted."

Tom looked at Misao, face flashing in anger. "He saved those?!"

Misao peered over the phone at Tom, a sinister twinkle in her gray eyes. "Nein, he did not."

The young man's lilac skin turned an interesting shade of gray.

Star threw her hands up. "You are unbelievable!"

Tom quailed from her. "Starship, wait. It's really not-!"

Amirana stepped up to him on his left, her fists clenched, her body shaking. "Your insisting that we come, even when I didn't want to be here!"

As Tom sputtered, Star stepped up to him from his right. "I was actually about to ship you with her!"

Tom stepped back from Star, only to face Amirana. "You brought me here just to make my cousin jealous?!"

Tom stopped withdrawing, red filling his eyes as a vein on his neck popped. "Can you please just let me explain mysel-f?!"

"Why can't you just get it through your head that we are over, Tom?!" Star demanded.

"Forget the opera, I want to go back to Septarsis!" Amirana shouted at him.

Tom's eyes flashed fully red, and he stomped forward, flames bursting from his back, shoulders and head as he yelled back at both.


He stopped as he watched his own flames pass in front of him. All three of his eyes shot wide and the color retreated from his skin, leaving him a paler pink than Mabel's headband.

Murmuring an "oh no", he looked up at the clouds above them. They were growing and spreading across the star-filled sky, a dull rumble echoing from them.

Pony Head looked up at the clouds. "Uh oh."

Mabel looked up, then at Pony Head. "Wait, what's going on?"

Tom's fire, his swiftness to shut it off, and the overwhelming regret on his face? Misao understood. "Fire suppression system."

Mabel turned to her. "Wait, sprinklers?"

"Mmm-mm, not sprinklers…" Pony Head said as a wind kicked up and made the air very chilly, very fast.

The sound of spreading thunder stopped the music and drew everyone's eyes upward, as the endless stars and moonlight that lit the lounge disappeared, blocked by the dense overcast. A flash of lightning near blinded everyone, before the most torrential downpour any of them remembered cut loose, near horizontal, wind-driven rains drenching the Bounce Lounge and everyone in it.

"Oh no!" Mabel cried out as she rose to her feet. "Of course a cloud dimension would use rain to put out a fire!"

Over the groans of the guests, one of the Robot DJs called out. "The Bounce Lounge is now closed. You do not need to go home, but you are denied shelter here."

Tom, looking like a wet three-eyed, horned cat, stared at Star and Amirana. His expression slumped in contrition he looked down at the floor and shook his head. Star tossed her head back and blew out a huff.

"Unbelievable," she repeated.

Amirana turned to Star. "Do you have a way of getting out of here?"

Star pulled out the Dimensional Scissors and handed them to her. "Here."

The sight of the red-handled scissors made Amirana draw back slightly. "These are… how…?"

She stopped and shook her head. "Nevermind."

Opening a portal, she handed the scissors back to her. "Thank you, Star."

With a final glare at Tom, she stormed off through it and it disappeared with her.

Tom raised his head but meeting Star's gaze dropped his back to his feet. "I'm… gonna go."

"Please do," Star hissed.

As Tom turned and walked away. Mabel's phone, Misao's, and Star's Compact Mirror all chimed at once. Grabbing hers, Mabel looked at the message and her face fell. "Dipper and Janna were attacked over at the scrapyard… ?!"

Misao threw her hands up in defeat. "Oh ja! And let this not be the worst thing that happened today!"

She was struck in the forehead by a quarter-sized hailstone. "Scheiße!"

More hailstones battered Star, Mabel, Pony Head, as the disappointed cacophony of the other guests turned into cries of pain.

"Oh no! The hail started early!" Pony Head cried out. "Yo, B-Fly! We gotta go!"

"I know, I know!" Star called back.

Shielding Misao from the brunt of the hail, Mabel called out as Star carved open a portal. "Princess Squad! Retreat!"

Pony Head was first through the portal, with Mabel hauling Misao out after. As the St. Olga's Princesses scrambled to flee through the portal–Princess Smooshy claiming Talon Raventalon's Aviators as her own–Star endured the pelting and glowered down at Tom. He had walked down to the dance floor and was ringing his little bell to await the return of his carriage.

As the dance floor opened again, he looked up at her briefly, before he averted his eyes.

Arm over her eyes to keep the hail from hitting her face, Star turned away and walked into the portal, the last one out.


"And that's what happened to us on Saturday."

Marco shook his head with a grimace after hearing Star's account of the disaster at the Bounce Lounge. They were sitting together on the bus near the back, for the short ride to Echo Creek Academy. Star had taken the window and was staring out it with an annoyed look on her face.

"So that's why no one wanted to talk about it."

"Mmhm." Even thinking about it aggravated her.

"How's your cousin doing?" He asked.

"I don't know. I don't have her info, and I don't want to bug Mom about it."

She huffed. "Not that we actually talk, or really even know each other. We hung out once at our family reunion three years ago. We didn't even really get along."

Marco could see that. "You two have very different personalities from what it sounds like. But hey, you sounded like you were getting somewhere."

Star had her doubts. "Yeah, anyway, it sucked."

"Well, on the bright side. At least you know that Mabel and Misao getting along with Pony Head will end in something being set on fire."

Star snickered, then broke into a smile. "Oh yeah, and we're all banned from the Bounce Lounge for a month. Pony Head's super excited about it."

"It's hard to get banned from there, huh?"

"Only five people ever have before, including my Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Festivia."

Star lowered her voice to a hushed, mystic tone. "Some say she partied too hard for even the Bounce Lounge, so she had to leave…"

Marco leaned closer to her. "See? It wasn't even all bad. You'll look back on it one day and laugh."

He kissed her cheek, and her face flared into a blush. "You don't have to now, though. It's okay to be upset about it."

If Star could remember what she was upset about, then she would.

"Marco!" She gasped with her hand on her cheek in an expression of mock disbelief. "I thought we agreed on no PDA!"

Marco gave her a small, sneaky smile. "I wanted to cheer you up, besides… no one saw."

Both had their own reasons for not wanting to be public about their relationship status, not least of all the news getting back to her parents and making a huge deal out of it. Or worse, making it very official with a bunch of pomp and circumstance Star didn't want or need.

Convincing Marco's parents to not blab about it was hard. It was a rare thing indeed to see Star trying to get someone to calm the eff down.

Even harder, though, was trying to keep their hands to themselves in spite of their own rules.

"Anyway," he said over her giggling as the bus pulled up in front of the school, "You should get in touch with your cousin and make sure she's all right."

Star bit down on the wing of her wand and nibbled on it as she eyed Marco's lips. "If you say so, I'll call Mom after school for her number~"

As Marco rose to follow the other students off, Star took his arm and yanked him back towards her, down out of sight of students distracted with getting off the bus. A few seconds later he stumbled out into the aisle, his face bright red with a pleased smile on his face.

"No one saw~" Star purred as she squeezed past him, headed for the front of the bus.

Wiping his mouth, Marco took a deep breath to try to calm his elation. Star's wild and untamed energy was why he thought she was great to begin with, but being the object of her affections on top of that made her… breathtaking.

I can't believe she's my girlfriend. He thought, wrapped up in that warmth in his chest, before he sensed someone behind him.

"Ah… ahh…


Two someones. He turned around, and there were his two friends Alfonzo Doolittle and Ferguson O'Durguson, staring at him slack-jawed as they held themselves back from shouting out loud.


In vain.

= - = 38 = - =

Not even three whole days, guys.
= - = 39 = - =


Out in front of the school as usual before the first bell, many students were gathered on the school's front lawn and the steps leading to the door. There was a lot of energy in the air this morning and for good reason: the school's Homecoming dance was this weekend, and it was the topic of almost every discussion from last minute outfit ideas to dance moves to after party plans.

Among them was a girl with wavy blonde hair sporting a single cyan streak down the left side through her bangs, vibrant mint-green eyes, and a line of freckles just under them. With a light blue, yellow-wheeled skateboard tucked under her arm, she walked up the steps to the end of the right side's wall, where Janna sat playing a game on her phone.

"Hey, Janna," she greeted.

"Oh, sup Jackie," she replied without looking up from her game.

Smiling and paying Janna's preoccupation no mind, Jackie Lynn Thomas sat down next to her on the wall, leaning against her back. Out of the corner of her eye, Janna looked back at her. "So what brings you inside of my personal space–not unwelcome?"

Jackie returned the gaze, likewise out the corner of her eye. "Just wondering if you changed your mind about going to the dance."

Janna beat the level she was on. "There are many places I won't hesitate to go with you, Jackie Lynn Thomas, but a school-administered and chaperoned function is not one of them."

Jackie's cheek rested against Janna's. "I was going stag with Hope and Leah, but they suddenly got dates. I picked out a cute outfit too."

"You say that as if you have a problem finding a guy for Miss Skullnick to separate you from on the dance floor." Janna nuzzled back into her. "Just say the word and every boy in front of the school will line up around the block to ask you out… or fight each other to the death for the opportunity. That'd be cool to watch."

Closing her eyes, Jackie drew her cheek back from Janna's, but remained leaned against her. "I don't really want to go on a date, you know? I just want to have fun, dance to some music, and maybe go home with a story to tell."

Janna put away her phone and leaned back into Jackie, resting the back of her hat-covered head against the side of hers. "Janna Banana abides."

As Jackie let out another laugh, Van Vanderhoff walked up the steps towards them with one hand behind his back. Jackie noticed him first and pulled away from Janna.

Annoyed by the loss of casual body contact, Janna regarded the bigger Vanderhoff brother with a disinterested expression people more perceptive of her mental operation would recognize as a hateful glower.

"Hey Jackie," Van greeted, ignoring Janna's existence entirely. "Word's going around that it's five days out from Homecoming and you don't have a date."

Jackie turned to face Van. "Yeah, I'm going for the fun of it, I just wanna dance, you know?"

Van smirked and pulled from behind his back a small bouquet of gold-foil-wrapped roses and presented them to her. "What would it take for you to change your mind on that?"

Looking at the quality of the roses, the gold dust glittering the paper, and the suspicious rigidity of the foil encasing them? Janna could see that no small sum was dropped on the gift. It made Jackie shaking her head no all the more impressive.

"That's sweet, but no thanks."

The smile born from his confidence in his gift fled, and Van heaved a sigh. "Really?"

"Sorry, dude."

Van's shoulders dropped. He opened his mouth to speak, before something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. His lips twisting into a grimace, he turned and walked away.

"Whatever then, bye."

Janna watched him leave through narrowed eyes. As far as taking no for an answer was concerned, she had to give credit where credit was due, Van was almost less of a twat than his little brother. It paled in comparison to the props she owed Jackie, though.

"Masterfully handled," Janna congratulated her.

Jackie turned and flashed her a smile. "Well, people have been chatting me up about the dance for the last week and some change, so I'm used to it."

Janna laughed. "As expected of the hottest girl in school."

As Jackie rolled her eyes and chuckled, she continued. "For the best though. Even though he had no chance of landing a hit, you were wise to dodge that bullet."

"Oh?" Jackie asked.

"Yeah, him and Trip are still beefing with the new kid who flattened him at Zoom, and Star and Marco are wrapped up in it, too."

To say less of Janna herself, but she didn't want to distress the unstressable.

Jackie perked right up. "Whoa… Marco's actually involved in some beef… how bad boy of him."

Janna's eyes lit at Jackie's interest. "He's growing up so fast."

"Hey Janna~" Star sang with a voice like she had just floated from the heavens. Seeing Jackie as she pranced over to them, she brightened even more. "And Jackie, too! Hi~!"

Jackie lit up. "Hey, Star."

Janna turned to face her. "Yo."

"Was that Van guy bothering you?" Star asked as she watched Van head towards the far corner of the school, towards the school's outdoor lockers.

Jackie gave her a slight shake of her head. "He just wanted me to go to Homecoming with him. I said no."

Star looked again where Van went, surprised that he took no for an answer. Then again, she knew he saw her coming, and choosing to leave was a fantastic decision on his part.

Jackie gave Star an appraising look. "Say, are you going to the Homecoming Dance?"

Star gasped. "Of course! I was going with Mabel and Misao."

"The new girls? Awesome. I wanna party with Mabel, you know? She's always super fun in class." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded-up piece of paper, a drawing of herself as a cross between a cute kitten and a mermaid. "I still got her Caticature of me."

Janna looked between Star and Jackie, smirking. "Well, that solves your problem. Why not go with the Party Girl Posse?"

Star gasped. "You don't have a date?!"

"Didn't want one," Jackie replied before she stood up. "But I'd love to go stag with you girls."

Star pointed the face of her wand up at her devil-horn hairband. "Well I hope you have a good pair of…" She fired a spell, turning the headband into a pair of tiny moose antlers in a flash. "… Antlers."

Jackie giggled and held her hands to the sides of her head, fanning them out to pose as antlers. "Will these do?"

As Star and Jackie both laughed, Janna turned her head and saw Brittney marching towards them, the haye in her eyes and the sneer of anticipation on her lips aimed straight at Star. "Uh oh."

"Oh hey, Star," Brittney called to her in a saccharine voice. "Did I hear you say that you were going to Homecoming?"

Star jumped in excitement. "Yes, I did~! I even have a dress planned!"

She looked back at Jackie. "It's so cute, just wait until you see it."

"What can't you rock well?" Jackie asked.

Brittney's acidic laughter interrupted them. When Star turned back, the young woman whipped her hair with a sharp shake of her head. "Well let me ruin your weekend now and not Saturday, Star Butterface. You're banned from all Spirit Week 2 events."

She got up in her face and pointed at her for emphasis. "Including and especially the Homecoming Dance, got it?!"

Star gasped. "Banned? For what?!"

Brittney dramatically placed one hand on her hip and curled her fist under her chin, speaking saccharine again. "Oh gee, I wonder!"

She lanced Star with her glare as she dropped her hands and got into her face. "How about everything that you did during Spirit Week?!"

Brittney pulled away and huffed. "And a whole bunch of other things that I wish I could use to get you banned for; you dumb magical hick! If me or any of the teachers or the security I hired catch you at my dance, you will be ejected."

She looked at Jackie and Janna. "And so will anybody you try to sneak in with."

"I wasn't even going to your dumb dance, but thanks for validating my decision," Janna said.

Brittney scowled at Janna. "Hmph, good. I don't want losers like you there anyway."

She turned to Star. "Do you understand now that there are repercussions for the stupid things you do, Moo-girl? Or do I need to say it slower so you can keep up because of what a dumb cow you are?"

Star had drawn back from Brittney, her cheeks turning a dark red in anger. Brittney met the girl's startled expression with the full force of her glare.

Before the Mewman Princess could begin to form a retort, Brittney snapped at her. "That's what I thought."

With a flick of her hair that made a sound like a whip crack, Brittney turned and walked away, leaving Star where she stood with her mouth agape.

"Have a nice weekend, loser."

As Brittney left earshot, Jackie stepped closer to Star, the normally laid-back girl had a low-temperature glare aimed at the head cheerleader's back. "Jeez, exactly who does she think she is?"

"The head cheerleader whose billionaire Daddy poured enough money on this school to get whatever she wants?" Janna asked. "You know, like the other rich tool bags at this school?"

Star struggled with the depth Brittney's words cut into her. Clutching her wand, she had more than half a mind to take aim and turn her hair blonde, or purple, or on fire.

"Forget her," Jackie said, derailing Star from seizing upon her destructive impulse. "Brittney's been jealous of you since you showed up, and hating on you since you made her birthday party actually fun."

Star drew in a sharp breath through her teeth, making a hiss sound. "I'm still going to the dance."

Janna got up. "You know what? I was fine writing off the dance but knowing that I'm not wanted makes me want to be there more than anything else in my life right now."

Jackie's mood brightened way up. "All right, girl. Let's make this dance poppin'."


With Ferguson and Alfonzo right behind him, Marco stepped off the bus. His two best friends were beside themselves with excitement, and short on vocabulary.

"Dude!" Ferguson shouted.

"Marco!" Alfonzo cheered.

"Dude!" Ferguson repeated.

"Marco!" Alfonzo said again.

Ferguson grabbed Marco's right arm and sobbed. "Duuuuude!"

Alfonzo embraced him from his other side, likewise crying. "Marcooooo!"

Marco heaved a sigh, placed his hands on the faces of his friends, and firmly pushed them to arm's length. "Thanks guys, for being happy for me. But can you please-"

"How can we just be happy for you?!" Alfonzo asked in his high pitched, rough voice. "This is the greatest thing ever!"

"Please don't tell anyone-" Marco tried again.

Ferguson shoved Marco's hand from his face. "Yeah! You and Star are-!"

Marco cleared his throat hard, interrupting them. "Guys? Bro code."

Alfonzo ceased his hysterics on the spot, and spoke in a deep, down-pitched voice and a stoic expression. "I will take this revelation with me to my glorious death."

Ferguson likewise changed, his jaw set, his eyes clear, a wind blowing through his mop of red hair. He too, spoke like the man he was yet to grow into. "I pledge the same, none shall know the truth from my lips, lest they seek to join me in oblivion."

Marco liked his friends. As goofy and weird as they were, he could rely on them.

Ferguson looked around, making sure no one was particularly listening and drew closer to Marco. "Why keep it a secret, though?" He asked, his voice normal again. "Everyone knows you and Star are already cohabitating, and you're always hanging out together."

"Even StarFan13 ships you!" Alfonzo cut in.

All three looked over at a bespectacled girl with short brown hair with a hand-made horned headband, braces, and painted on cheek marks sighing in deep, obsessive admiration as she watched Star walk over towards Janna and Jackie by the front of the school.

Ferguson rubbed the back of his neck, sucking the air in through his teeth. "Yeah, I always thought she'd go all yandere on you."

"Everyone did!" Alfonzo said.

Marco raised his hands, quelling both. "Me and Star don't want everyone talking about it, okay? It doesn't need to be a big deal."

"Yeah, that's fair," Ferguson agreed.

"We already swore to take it with us… to the death!" Alfonzo added.

"Buuuut since we already know… you're gonna tell us everything, right?"

Marco raised an eyebrow. "Everything? Like what?"

Alfonzo and Ferguson both had the same knowing look. "Oh you know!"

Marco's expression went flat. "I'm not telling either of you about any of that stuff."

Both recoiled from him and spoke in unison once more. "DUDE!"

Blanching, Marco gesticulated wildly with both hands. "Whoa, whoa! We didn't do any of that stuff to begin with!"

"Says the man running to first base on the bus, Marco you dog," Ferguson teased as he lightly elbowed him.

Palming his face, Marco walked past them both. Ferguson laughed and followed with Alfonzo loping along beside him. "Dude, I'm just funnin'!"

"Can we talk about anything else?" Marco asked, before he looked at Alfonzo.

Ferguson knew just what to ask. "So are you and Star going to the dance?"

"Whuh?" No! No…" Marco crossed his arms and swept them out for emphasis. "I'm not going to the dance. I was going to hang out with Janna and the new guy."

At Hillhurst, more specifically the Beetle Battle Base. Waiting for the Magnavores to attack wasn't something they could just do, so Dipper was organizing shifts at the Beetle Battle Base to keep watch for them. With just about everyone else going to the dance, he, Dipper, and Janna were going to make sure the beacon stayed lit. Jo would be there too, but the less he mentioned connection to her? The better.

"Mabel's brother, right?" Ferguson asked. He let out a sigh. "Man, she's so cool."

Marco relished the opportunity to turn the conversation away from his social life. "Ask her out to the dance, she's single."

"I got a date with the refreshment table. Did you know Brittney got catering from like… the best restaurant in Hollywood for the dance? She's going in hard on making sure this is perfect."

"Good for her," Marco replied.

Alfonzo beamed. "Besides, me and Ferguson are going to be part of Roland's Dance Prank!"

Ferguson whirled upon Alfonzo, shocked. "Dude, no!"

Marco did a double take. "Dance prank? Roland Williams is doing a dance prank?!"

Ferguson clapped a hand onto Marco's shoulder and gripped it as he spoke in the voice of a man again. "We swore an oath to you; reciprocate the vow, old friend."

When Marco spoke, it was a low and smooth voice, like that of a rebellious hero who'd spent decades fighting through time and space. "Heh, guess it can't be helped. My lips are sealed."

Ferguson looked at Alfonzo harshly. "Dude, you can't go and blab it like that! Brittney's watching this whole thing like a hawk!"

Alfonzo recoiled, and quickly nodded.

I'll needle Roland about it later. Marco thought before he asked Alfonzo. "Speaking of being watched like a hawk, how's married life treating you?"

Alfonzo smiled big at Marco's question. "I have been having fun! The Pixie Empress likes my brutal and dramatic methods of crushing unrest and striking fear into her enemies!"

Marco gave him another flat look. "You're the tyrannical despot of Pixtopia."

"Yuh-huh!" A proud Alfonzo replied. "It helps that Pixies are already cruel and merciless!"

Pausing, Marco thought about it. "Yeah, you would run it like you do games of Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons."

Ferguson shuddered. "My poor Orc Archer… oh Flog Gnaw, that Natural 1 took you too soon."

Just as they were about to turn and walk up the steps of the school–towards the escalating confrontation between Star and Brittney–Marco, Alfonzo and Ferguson were approached by a familiar old man in a chauffeur's suit. Dudley, looking as tired and done with his job as he ever could, raised his hand in greeting.

"Ahem, Mr. Diaz," he greeted.

Marco stopped and gave a quick glance around for any sign of the Vanderhoff brothers. They were nowhere to be seen. "Huh? What do you want?"

Dudley gave Marco a neutral look, at his warranted hostility and suspicion, and took it in stride. "Master Trip has requested a meeting with you. It is to be held during the lunch hour, at Britta's Tacos."

"No thank you. If Trip wants to chat, he can come talk to me."

"It is a meeting he is willing to make worth your time," Dudley replied, giving Marco pause.

Worth my time? What does he want? Could he be looking to buy me out? Would he be dumb enough to try that?

The fact that Trip was willing to throw money his way was enough to give Marco cause for concern.

Getting ahead of whatever he's planning is probably better in the long term.

"You know what? Tell Trip I'll be there, and if this is some kind of prank?" He punched his fist into his palm. "He's getting all he can eat at the knuckle sandwich buffet."

Dudley nodded. "Thank you very much, Mr. Diaz."

He nodded to Alfonzo and Ferguson. "Mr. Doolittle, Mr. O'Durguson."

With that the old man shuffled away, and Marco turned to look back and forth between his friends.

"The heck does the rich boy want with you?" Ferguson asked.

Marco plunged his hands into the pockets of his hoodie as the bell rang and the other students began making their way inside. "I'm gonna find out."

= - = 39 = - =

Star: "Ah yes, the consequences of my actions."
Cutting Edge
= - = 40 = - =

|Cutting Edge|

After taking Star Butterfly's spirited interpretation of Starlight Breaker straight to his face, Vexor had retired to the large sarcophagus in the center of his crypt hideout, and there hadn't been a word or peep from him since. Typhus, who needed only a day and a lot of food to recover from the beating he received, was already back on his feet and in a bad mood.

Snake Head hadn't come back. Before Vexor locked himself away in his tomb, he muttered something about "The Zone Collapsing" but didn't elaborate before the lid on the sarcophagus shut and he was incommunicado. Typhus didn't need the explanation, with no Beetleborgs presented to him like a cat presenting a mouse he killed, it didn't take a genius to figure it out. The Beetleborgs somehow killed him or worse, he was lost when the zone collapsed.

Once more he was by himself, something he hated more than anything, and he was in no mood to do anything other than brood about it. "Man… this sucks."

He heard some tapping on the sarcophagus behind him. "What sucks? And where's Vexor? Is he in here?"

Typhus shot up to his feet and turned around to face Noxic, who looked good as he hovered over the sarcophagus, tapping on it. "Noxic, you're back!"

Noxic looked up from the coffin to his biological best buddy. "And cooler than ever! What the heck happened, did you and Vexor beat those Beetle bums or what?"

"No way, baby! Those kids were tougher than ever. That magic girl even blasted Vexor, he blocked her shot but he still got torn up!"

"What?!" Noxic recoiled, then looked back at the sarcophagus. He turned back to Typhus and sidled close to him. "Hey, does that mean he's, yannow, D-E-D?"

Typhus shrugged his stiff shoulders. "You're the one with the scouter."

"I was. The other morning there was this huge power surge, and it blew it out. I don't have it anymore!"

"Wait, was it the day before yesterday?"

"Yeah, early in the morning!"

"That was that magic girl, baby."

Noxic threw up his hands. "Geez Louise! Maybe Vexor is a goner."

He brought two fingers to his mechanical chin and stroked it. "Hey… you think human girls like gift-baskets or flowers? Eh, I'll just grab her a 'Thank You' card."

Typhus burst into laughter. "Oh man, I'm glad you're back! I was going out of my mind sitting around here, baby."

"Huh? What about Snake Head?"

Typhus' laughter stopped, and he bared his teeth. "I think he was beaten by the Beetleborgs; I don't know because Vexor won't tell me what happened with that… I can't remember, you know that weird place!"

"Well, RIP snakeyboi," Noxic said before Jara entered in a burst of flame.

"It's gone? Good riddance, that monster was disgusting," she said as she strode up to both of them.

Jara too looked good as new, the burns and scorches that covered her skin gone like she'd never experienced them, her uniform spotless and gleaming in the ambient candlelight of the crypt. She tilted her head as she looked down upon Typhus and Noxic. "Where is Vexor?"

"Hey, don't 'where's Vexor' me! Apologize for talking crap about Snake Head, he was a heck of a guy!" Typhus snapped at her.

Jara clicked her teeth and shrugged her shoulders. "I'm sorry one of your creations got blown up, but you don't hear Noxic complaining when one of his gets destroyed."

Noxic shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, that's because most of my creations hate me. Typhus' guys? They love him, and why wouldn't they?"

He slapped Typhus on his back. "He's the coolest guy I know!"

After a week of recovery, Jara almost missed the headache her best friends gave her. "Enough about how great he is. What happened with Snake Head, and where's Vexor?"

"Oh, Vexor's dead," Noxic replied.

"We don't know that!" Typhus argued.

Jara palmed her mask. "You two…"

Typhus placed a clawed hand over Noxic's mouth. "Snake Head found the prey, and we went after 'im, right? Well, everything was going great, and Vexor even managed to send 'em to the G-Spot or whatever-"

Jara grabbed him by the lips of his upper mouth and leaned in to look him dead in his eyes, her laser whip blade held to his almost non-existent neck.

"Never. Call it that. Again."

Typhus nodded, and Jara let him go to continue. "Anyway, he sent him to that pocket dimension place he cooked up, and everything was going great until the magic girl showed up."

Jara nodded. "And then what happened?"

"Did you see a big flash of light the other morning?" Typhus asked.

Now that he mentioned it, a painfully bright light did wake her up from her alcohol and meat-fueled recovery process. She hated it with all of her life.

"… Yes…?"

"That was the magic girl blasting Vexor in the face."

Now she hated it even more.

As a red aura manifested around Jara's body, Noxic raised his hands in supplication. "Whoa, whoa, hey! Look on the bright side! The bright side!"

He pleaded. "Vexor's gone, so we can do whatever we want without his snooty Space Pope nose sticking into our business."

The sound of stone shifting behind them made them all stop. All three looked back at the sarcophagus, which had raised up just enough for them to see a single glowing inhuman yellow and black eye glaring out at them from the darkness.

"Rest assured, or do not, for I am very far from dead," Vexor informed them, before the sarcophagus closed.

Typhus leaned forward, hanging his head, Jara's shoulders slumped, and Noxic began beating himself atop his head with both fists. "Aw man, I just HAD to go and jinx it, didn't I?!"

"It's obvious that none of us can have nice things in this world," Jara lamented.

"Yeah, baby," Typhus agreed.

The sarcophagus cracked open again. "I'm sure the three of you can do something more productive with your time besides hoping for me to come out and beat you with this stone lid."

A Beetleborgs comic slid out of the sarcophagus and fell to Jara's feet. "Make use of this to defeat and capture them for me… and do not bother me again until I am fully healed."

The lid closed again.

Noxic and Typhus looked at each other.

"Forget that! Wanna go see how many tacos you can eat in one sitting?" Noxic asked.

Typhus clenched his fists and pumped them. "Heck yeah, baby! I heard there's a place that gives a prize if you eat fifty of 'em."

Noxic gave pause. "All at once?"

They both looked over at Jara, who had turned away from them and was reading the comic book. "Hey, you wanna grab some tacos?"

Jara ignored them. Her shoulders were hiked, and a dark menacing laugh rumbled from under her mask. The atmosphere darkened as she held up the comic, power cracking from it as it levitated from her hands. On the spot, both realized what was going on.

"Oh snap! She's summoning something!" Noxic said, jumping up and down. "Oh man! It might be one of her Mercenary guys!"

"Aw man, those guys are so cool, baby!" Typhus said as he got up.

Laughing, Jara brought her hand up to her mask, its yellow eyes glowing as power emanated from the comic.

"Hahaha… veteran of ten thousand battles, slayer of a hundred thousand warriors!" She said before she whipped her hand and struck a pose. "Awaken in this world, my master of blades… SABERIZER!"

Flames shot from the comic and splashed against the ceiling of the crypt. As Typhus and Noxic watched, the flames spread across it in a growing circle, before numerous blades–from simple daggers to long swords and even giant weapons meant for slaying horses, showered from the fire and crashed into the floor around her, Noxic and Typhus.

As the last blades fell and impacted the stone floor, a figure dropped from the ceiling. A male humanoid, clad in a black bodysuit and black and red boots. On his upper body and arms, over the bodysuit he wore silver armor painted with red lines. His bald, badly scarred face was covered half with a helmet that was secured with screws that were driven into his skull, and a long black scarf wrapped around his head several times, obscuring the lower half of his face.

The Mercenary Warrior Saberizer drew from his back a long, single bladed sword with a cross-shaped hilt from his back, a falchion, and knelt before Jara. "Sworn to serve the Red Capes, I Saberizer stand before you, General Jara!"

Noxic looked at Typhus. "Oh man, how come your summoning wasn't that cool?"

Typhus, indignant, agreed. "Yeah, Jara! What'd you do?"

Jara turned back to look at her friends. "Neither of you two have appreciation for the dramatic."

She turned back to face her summon. "On your feet, Saberizer. Today we are declaring war on this world, and you will be leading my army."

"As you command, General," he replied.

"An army?!" Noxic shouted. "Jara, what're you plannin'?!"

Typhus stepped forward towards her. "And how can we get in on it, baby?"

Saberizer gave a start at the sight of Noxic and Typhus. "The two of you…?!"

He turned to Jara. "General, what are you doing with the likes of these two dishonorable-"

Jara shot her hand up, silencing him. "Do not concern yourself. Those who were once my enemies are now my trusted comrades. Respect them as my equals."
Without another word of complaint, Saberizer nodded. "Understood, General."

Jara turned to face those two friends again. "Now, let's go out to those woods we recovered at the last time."

"Huh? Why not go to the house?" Noxic asked.

"Because during my recovery I attempted some recon of the house, but found there is a field preventing teleportation. Hence why we are doing this." She explained.

"An Anti-Teleport…!" Noxic trailed off, then shook his head. "Geez, where do they keep coming up with this stuff?!"

Typhus patted Noxic on the shoulder. "We're gonna find out today, baby."

Without complaint, Noxic and Typhus got up and all four Magnavores vanished, leaving behind Vexor, who'd been peeking out of the sarcophagus the moment Jara had summoned Saberizer. That she was up to something was not unusual, a warrior of her caliber was always plotting, always calculating. It was what Vexor liked most about her… and also what made him wary.

"What discoveries shall you reveal to me?" He asked as he began to summon a small scrying circle.


In the wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains, among the scorched dead trees of the old burn, the Magnavores appeared, Jara walking out ahead of Noxic and Typhus with Saberizer right beside her. In her hands, she held the comic she summoned Saberizer from, as she turned to face her comrades. She held up the comic.

"While I was convalescing, I thought that in order to make use of myself while I was incapacitated besides my recon, I would at the very least summon my mercenaries into this world," she explained. "That is when I learned something unfortunate."

"Aw man, bad news?" Typhus asked.

"Bad, but not terrible," Jara reassured him. "I found that while Snake Head was active, I was unable to bring anything stronger than a Scab into the world."

Noxic stroked his chin. "Wait a minute, you're saying that we can only summon one guy at a time?!"

"That is correct, and I have found that I can at the very most summon only fifty Scabs at one time," she revealed.

"Fifty?!" Noxic asked. "That's still a heck of a lot, but not enough if we're taking over the world!"

"No it is not," Jara said. "But it is more than enough for defeating the Beetleborgs, and capturing not only that Butterfly…" She trailed off and seethed. "… But also claiming that strange house where you sensed that tremendous power. With them in our possession, taking over the world should not be difficult at all."

Typhus hummed. "So, you're sayin' that our limit's one big guy and fifty Scabs. Is there anything else that we might be able to get out of this?"

"I am glad you asked that, for I have a theory." She threw the comic at Typhus. "Summon as many Scabs as you can, put all your power into it. Then give the book to Noxic."

Typhus caught the book clumsily, and held it up. "All right, Scabs! C'mon out!"

At his command, fifty flames shot from the book, raining down around Jara and Saberizer to become twitching and shuddering Scabs armed and ready to fight. Seeing the Scabs, Saberizer clapped his gauntlet-encased hands together to rub them. "Interesting… I've slain many of these swarm machines and they were formidable. To have them serve beneath my command will be a great experience."

"Yeah, with how fast these guys go down? You won't be impressed," Noxic said.

That piqued Saberizer's interest. It was enhanced further when Jara spoke up. "The enemies we face are literal children in armor with abysmal fighting ability. They make up for it by having weapons that are absurd in power, and unarmored friends who are less incompetent. That is why as much as numbers we need speed and firepower to overwhelm them before they can improvise in battle."

Jara looked over at Noxic. "Turn to page seventeen of that book."

Noxic took the comic from Typhus and flipped through it. Stopping on the indicated page, he looked back and forth between it and Jara. "Wait… you want me to try summoning these?"

"As many as you can," Jara instructed.

With a shrug of his shoulders, Noxic threw the book to the ground. "If you say so, but these things are a little beefier than a basic Scab."

He threw his hands forward. "All right you mooks! Take off!"

Typhus, Jara, and Saberizer all watched as the comic sat there on the ground. A moment passed, and nothing happened.

Noxic repeated the gesture. "I said get goin'!"

Nothing happened.

Saberizer let out a hum and folded his arms.

Typhus turned to Jara. "Guess it's outta juice-"

A bright flash from the comic cut him off, as eight jets of flame shot to the sky, climbed, and kept climbing. The Magnavores followed the flames' skyward flight, spreading out into two formations of four that materialized into black and yellow craft with a strange shape.

With a wasp-like profile, their main fuselage trailed behind them ending in a large stinger-like appendage, while their wings–if they could be called those, were curved like a set of large golden horns. The craft bore under the wings each a pair of laser cannons, and had no visible cockpit. Despite their aerodynamically impossible shape, the craft had no problem cutting through the sky like actual fighter jets.

On the ground below, Jara threw her head back and laughed. "HAHAHAHAHA! YES! IT WORKED!"

She began dancing in celebration, shaking her hips with her hands raising the figurative roof. "Go Jara! Go Jara! Go Jara! Go Jara!"

Typhus and Noxic turned to each other and nodded. Saberizer on the other hand, looked about ready to break down weeping.

"General…" He spoke, his voice cracking. "… Have you truly found happiness again?"

Jara stopped dancing, and lowered her arms. "No, I have not."

She looked at him, then down at the ground. "I will not be happy, until I have laid that Butterfly girl at my feet and mounted the heads of those obnoxious armored brats as trophies!"

She clenched her hands into fists, that red aura manifesting again. "Now then, what are all of you going to do to help improve my mood?!"

Typhus was the first to answer. "What we do best, baby!"

Noxic clapped his hands and threw a fist into the air. "Go out into battle and wreck stuff!"

Saberizer drew his falchion and knelt down before Jara, driving the tip into the ground. "And in battle I shall defeat our enemies and restore your honor, General!"

Jara looked up and laughed. "That is what I like to hear!"

She grabbed her shoulder pauldrons and threw both it and her cape from her body, the heavy equipment crashing to the ground behind her and the gathered gang of monsters to create a dramatic explosion of dust and dirt.

"Magnavore Tribe! We begin our offensive now!"

= - = 40 = - =
Old Money
= - = 41 = - =

|Old Money|

Lunchtime had arrived and in the school's parking lot Heather was lounging in the driver seat of her car, a black Audi convertible, scarfing down one of several large pieces of pizza she'd picked up from the cafeteria. Though the building had been reopened to students, she had come to enjoy just sitting out in the lot, even if the risk of her cheap lunch food ruining the interior of her expensive car was high.

"… Pizza mozza-rella… pizza mozza-rella…" She sang to herself through her teeth as she bit on the end of her slice and pulled to stretch the cheese out as far as it could go. "Rella, rella, rella, rella, rella, re-lla~"

Noticing a flash of white out the corner of her eye, she turned her head to see Shermie Pines' SUV pull into the student parking lot and come to a stop just adjacent to her own car. Her brows rising as she smiled around her pizza, she watched as Dipper, Mabel, and Misao all disembarked from the car.

"Thanks for the ride, Sherpa~!" Mabel called to her Grandfather after she closed the door.

Shermie looked over towards his charges, smiling. "You know, back in my day, when we played hooky, we didn't come back to school for lunch. If you kids want to make like a camel and hoof it, I got a full tank of gas and nothing to do for the rest of the day."

"Wish we could, but we have a lot of business to handle today," Dipper said.

Shermie gave them a knowing look. "All right then, just keep your eyes peeled and your noses clean. I'll pick you up after the dust settles."

"Thanks, Grandpa," Dipper replied as Shermie put the car in gear.

"I love you, Sherpa~!" Mabel called.

"Bye bye!" Misao likewise bid farewell, as Shermie pulled off and left the lot.

Heather leaned her left arm onto the door of her car as she waved to the trio with her right hand. "Hey! I was wondering where you guys were."

Mabel and Misao both greeted Heather with brilliant smiles as they made their way over to her.

"Wow!" Mabel said as she beheld the convertible. "This is your car?!"

Heather nodded. "Mmhm! Nice, isn't she?"

Misao raised her nose and smirked. "Your family has good taste in cars, sehr gut."

Heather giggled, then gestured at them with her pizza, a bit of sauce getting on the leather upholstered inside of the door. "So what's up? Why are you guys showing up here just now?"

Dipper rested a hand atop Misao's head and gave it an affectionate pat. "We were helping Misao get moved in properly."

"All my stuff finally arrived from Europe," Misao added for context.

"And we weren't gonna miss school, all our friends are here!"

Heather let out a hum and looked towards the school. "Yeah, I'd have stayed home. The drama is thick today."

She picked up her plate and offered it to them. "'Za?"

Mabel and Misao each took a slice, while Dipper refrained–more taken aback by the amount of pizza she had on her plate. "What drama?" He asked.

"Brittney," Heather explained as Mabel took a bite out of her offered slice, "Banned Star from the School Spirit Week activities. She can't be at the Pep Rally Friday, the Awesome Opossums Football Game Saturday, or the Dance after that."

Misao scowled. "Who gave her the right?"

"The school. This is basically her do-over for Spirit Week, and Brittney's got full authority over everything." Heather continued. "And the only reason they're letting her is because she's rich and Principal Skeeves is a tool."

"But why?"

Dipper and Mabel looked at one another and realized Misao wouldn't know. The former answered. "Because way before any of us showed up, Star set off an incident at the homecoming game. She didn't realize the football game they were having was a game, and not… you know… a battle."

Misao folded her arms. "Well with all that armor and violence, how could anyone not mistake American Football for a battle?"

"Valid point, but Star's a magical princess from another dimension, and she took the initiative to ensure victory."

Misao's face fell as she considered the implications. "Oh dear."

Heather shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, it was total chaos. There were magical bombs going off, squirrel monsters, portals to other dimensions–I think Brittney even got eaten by a dragon or something–but in the end the Silver Hill Warriors forfeited so everyone was pretty stoked about the school's first win since like… before any of us were born."

"Star and Marco spent the entire weekend cleaning up the mess they made, though," Dipper said to Misao. "Star made an entire vlog about it."

"She did…" Mabel agreed.

Heather threw a hand up. "So you see why it's stupid that Brittney's banning Star? It's freaking double jeopardy."

"It is not fair!" Misao said, fired up again. "Why punish her again?!"

"Because Brittney hates Star, and because her rich Dad dumps cash on the school like Trip and Van's Dad do, she's going around drunk on absolute power like a Student Council President in a lame high school anime."

Heather looked aside. "I'm almost glad I'm going on this stupid trip, now."

Dipper took a deep breath. "Where is she right now?"

Misao liked Dipper's tone. "Yes, I am curious to know, too."

Mabel turned to her brother and bestie. "We've already got one rich kid problem; we don't need two."

Everyone looked at Mabel, who shrugged her shoulders and tilted her head slightly. "I'm just saying."

Dipper didn't expect that tug on the proverbial lead, but it did help him pull back from the confrontational impulse hearing about this gave him. He understood where she was coming from, though.

Misao looked up at Mabel. "But what about Star?"

"We'll chat with her about it later. There's no way that she's going to let Brittney tell her where she can or can't go."

Misao's smile was a little nasty. "Ja, you're right. She'll go to the dance no matter what that haughty girl says!"

Heather sighed. "And now I'm wishing I could go again, so I could see that go down."

The bell rang, and Heather looked towards the school. "Well, my lunch is over… but I have a study hall next so I'm going to keep eating my pizza."

"And I'm going to get more pizza since it's the beginning of ours!" Mabel said with her usual bright energy.

Misao was in full agreement. "And we can talk to Star about our inevitable counteroffensive against the forces of Brittney!"

Mabel looked off to the side. "Ah… yep…"

Dipper eyed Mabel with some curiosity at the shift in her tone and body language, before he heard a strange sound. It was a high-pitched whine, like the sound of a supercar rushing towards him… but there was a weird pulsing and droning to it that reminded him of a star fighter's engine out of a science fiction action film. As he looked around for it, first on the ground and in the sky, Mabel, Misao, and Heather noticed it, too.

"… What is that?" Heather asked.

Mabel brought a hand to her ear, trying to determine where the sound was coming from, but it was bouncing around everywhere. "… Is someone making TIE Fighter noises?"

As the sounds grew louder, Dipper had an increasingly bad feeling about what they could be.

Misao looked almost straight upward, and her eyes grew large as she at last identified the source. "… Ah."


While it didn't look like much, Britta's Tacos was a local institution. Hands down the best Mexican Restaurant in this corner of Los Angeles, if not the entire city, it was a place with food so good it could only be described as magical. The food was so well-known, that no one was above eating there, no matter who they were–hence why Trip Vanderhoff could tolerate being seen at such a place, waiting at one of the stand's tables sipping horchata through a straw.

"You did tell him to come here right, Dilbert?" He asked after lowering his cup.

"Dudley, sir," his butler replied before confirming. "Yes, I informed him of the time and place."

"I don't pay you to tell me your name," Trip snapped at him before he gave a quick careless glance around. "Where is he? Last thing I need is for him to pop up in a Bueno Nacho or something because he can't follow simple directions."

"I wouldn't set foot in a Bueno Nacho if my life depended on it," Marco said as he walked up to Trip's table. "It's all horse meat and cardboard tortillas."

Trip turned to him, with a brief nod. "Well, nice to see we agree on one thing. Hopefully we can see eye to eye on others."

He gestured over to the seat across from him. "Have a seat right there."

Marco sat down, gave Dudley a sharp look, then directed it at Trip. "So… what exactly do you want?"

Trip smiled and set his cup on the table. "Cutting to the chase I see, I like that."

Marco didn't reply, instead scrutinizing the preppy fop's perpetual and unwarranted smug expression as he talked. There were a lot of things Trip could want, or at the very least thought he could get from him.

Coming out of the blue to talk to me… what else could he want besides someone who could take a shot at Dipper?

"So, you and I are mutually acquainted with someone, and I am willing to pay a handsome sum for you to… get a message across," Trip continued.

I'm surprised he'd even come to me, but does he really think I'm for sale?

Marco curled his lips to one side and let out a snort. "Oh yeah? Just how handsome are we talking?"

"Deon, give him the number."

Dudley handed Marco a folded-up slip.

How much are you willing to pay for your petty revenge, Trip? He thought as he unfolded and looked at the note. His eyes shot wide.

Okay, that's a lot.

"Is that good looking enough for you?" Trip asked.

Marco did not want to be frank aloud, but he could understand why people were happy to throw themselves into the meat-grinder that was being an enemy of Dipper Pines. He set down and tapped his fingers on the bottom of the slip, before he folded it back closed.

He understood that, but even if he didn't like Dipper, he wasn't going to take this. "You are a piece of work, you know?"

"A work of art, some would say," Trip shot back.

All right, that was an okay comeback, Marco thought. "But no, I'm not going to take your money to beat up Dipper, or Drew, or whoever you got beef with."

Trip recoiled. "Wh-wha?"

"If you wanna fight someone, do it yourself."

Trip shot up to his feet. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! I wouldn't spend that much cash on beating up either of those losers!"

He stopped. "Not that I'd pay anyone to do it. I'm over the beef, it's done."

That was obviously bull, but the fact that Trip wasn't here for that did throw Marco off a bit. "Come again?"

Trip palmed his forehead and let out an exaggerated sigh. "I'm talking about the girl you know; I want you to let her know that I want to take her to the dance Saturday."

Marco tilted his head to one side, like a puppy hearing whistling for the first time. "… You want to take Star to the dance?"

The very thought obviously wasn't a good one to Trip, given how he cringed in disgust. "No, not her! The other girl you know!"

Marco searched his mental database of girls he knew. "… Janna?"

Trip's head dropped back, and he let out a frustrated groan before slamming his hand on a table. "Let me put it in a way you can understand:"

Then, in the most over-enunciated, condescending, touristy Spanish Marco ever heard, Trip spoke. "¿Quiero salir con la chica que se parece a ti? ¿Lo entiendes? Te estoy hablando español!"

Marco stared at him, his expression darkening. "Si me vuelves a hablar te arrancaré los huevos."

Trip stopped, and tried to parse his reply "Yes… you speak… eggs?"

He shook his head. "Ugh! You weren't there, but there was this girl a couple weeks ago hanging out with the magic princess. She had the same kind of hoodie you have on, but she was cute in it and she had this long, really thick hair in a ponytail and this really pretty face. You know her, right?"

A long, overburdened silence followed.

Outwardly, Marco was stoic, statue-like even with his tight-lipped expression. He stared at and through Trip, into the infinite–perfectly still.

Within the temple of peace and serenity that was Marco however, echoed laughter that would make the Joker inquire with worry. Only the briefest twitch of the corner of his lip gave away the slightest hint, but what were the odds that Trip would catch anything that subtle?

Trip was indeed too focused on Marco's blank stare to consider what lay beneath. "What?"

Marco raised his hands and clapped them flat together, before taking a deep breath. "You… want to ask her out to the Homecoming Dance?"

Trip rolled his eyes. "Finally, how is it so hard to understand?"

Marco brought his hands down onto the table and interlaced his fingers. "All right, I'm going to clear this up right now, so you don't get your hopes up, okay?"

Trip adjusted his glasses. "Huh?"

"That girl you saw with Star that day? At the park where they found you crying like a horse?"

The way Trip's face twisted into a grimace almost made Marco laugh, but he held it together. "That was me. Not my sister, not my cousin, me. Star cast a spell that made me super feminine and pretty, and I'd been stuck like that because her magic was messed up. Okay?"

Now it was Trip's turn to sit in silence and process that. He stared hard at Marco, taking off his glasses and squinting at him, before putting them back on again and squinting even harder, eyeing his face, his shoulders, his hair. He looked over at Dudley, and the old chauffeur had his back to his young charge, hunched over with one hand on his hip and the other over his mouth–his entire body shaking from his held back laughter.

He looked back at Marco, who waited patiently for his response with the ghost of a smug smile on his lips, then closed his eyes.

"Do you hate money?" He asked.

And there went Marco's head tilt, again. "Huh?"

"I understand my unfortunately tarnished reputation now precedes me," he continued as he opened his eyes to level a withering look at Marco. "But really? You're going to claim that you're a crossdresser to get me to back off?"

"Are you calling me a liar?" Marco asked.

Trip slammed his hand on the table. "I'm calling you an idiot! Just give me her digits so I can ask her out!"

Marco pointed at himself. "Her digits are my digits! She's me!"

"You can't be, you are not that hot!"

Now Marco's pride was jabbed. "I am so too that hot!"

Trip snatched up the slip and waved it in front of Marco. "What is wrong with you people?! This is more money than you'll ever see in your life, and you're just turning it down for what?!"

Marco thought about it. "The money's nice, but saying no to someone who has never been told? That's priceless."

Letting his hand gripping the slip drop to his side, Trip pulled back and slowly shook his head. "I don't get it…"

"Some people just aren't for sale, no matter how much you've got."

Something about that specifically hit Trip hard, he crushed the slip in his fist. "Everyone has a price. They may talk big; they may act all high and mighty… but in the end? Flash them a big enough number and they'll do anything for it."

He pointed at him. "I just need to figure out yours, and you're mine."

Marco got up. "You're pathetic."

"How can I be the pathetic one, when I'm the one with the money?"

"All that money and you can't buy the girls you like," Marco clapped back, and Trip blanched before his face turned a solid shade of furious red. "It's not a substitute for your crappy personality, and it never will be. Later."

As he turned away from Trip, he heard a mechanical whine from above. Looking up for the strange sound, he quickly locked onto the source and his mouth fell agape.

"… Huh?"

Slicing through the air, the eight vespid Magnavore Jet Fighters flew above Echo Creek, the afternoon sun dancing off their gold and black bodies as they headed towards the mountains, and Hillhurst.

Behind Marco, Trip's anger faded when he saw the Jet Fighters, and his anger drained away into confusion. "What are those things…?"

"Trouble," Marco said, before he felt his phone buzz like crazy in his pocket.

= - = 41 = - =

Looks like Los Angeles is in for an air show.
= - = 42 = - =


High above Los Angeles, the appearance of the eight jet fighters did not go unnoticed. In the stacked air traffic patterns over the city, the two tight formations of four Magnavore Jet Fighters were a sight to see, anywhere from bemusing to alarming depending on how close the planes involved were.

"Tower, US 618, we just passed some fighter jets." The pilot of one such plane reported as their crew watched the eight fighters slip past them and begin circling downward towards Echo Creek.

"US 618 okay, thank you. Were they off to your left side or right side?" The professionalism of the Air Traffic Controller did not waver.

To their credit, neither did the crew of the plane. "Right side, our altitude and descending, they look like they're going in."

Planes potters and Radio Chatter enthusiasts across the region whose curiosity had been piqued by the strange report out of the blue, soon had a more alarming callout.

"Tower, US 618. Fighter jets are shooting at the ground. We're seeing explosions…"

Sweeping low and fast into the San Gabriel foothills, the first four Magnavore Jet Fighters lined up and took aim at their target: Hillhurst Mansion. Laser cannons slung under their inexplicable wings flared to life, sending bright red beams towards their target. The lasers were powerful, creating tremendous explosions that shattered windows and shook the foundation as they crashed around the house.

Inside, the thunderous blasts sent Flabber spilling from his couch in front of his television, and flat onto his face with an exaggerated splat.

"Hey! What's all that racket?!" He heard Mums yell as he got up on his hands and knees. "I'm trying to rest in peace, here!"

Fangula called out a moment later "I am trying to put on my face here! Do you know how hard that is without a reflection?!"

"Bad enough those brats come in and out to do whatever they want, now they gotta be driving around blowing stuff up?!" Mums yelled.

Flabber shook his head and got up. "Hang on you guys, I'll go see what's what!"

Disappearing into a shower of stars, planets, and squiggly lines, Flabber appeared just outside the door. "Hey, kids? Are you doing live-fire practice in the vineyard…?"

He looked up to see the next flight of four Magnavore Jet Fighters lining up for their run. "Ruh roh!"

Flabber vanished back inside, just as the fighters' salvo of beams walked up to the front of the house but stopped short, leaving a line of smoldering craters on the path leading to it. His back plastered against the door as the rumbling stopped, Flabber peeked out the window to see the damage, and winced when he saw both groups of fighters were coming back around to form up for another run.

Mums stomped out onto the mezzanine overlooking the foyer and glared down at Flabber. "Who the heck is trying to blow us up now?!"

Flabber hummed. "High speed jet fighters, Powerful yet wildly inaccurate fire, complete disregard for life… it's either the Galactic Empire… or the IRS."

"They're not getting a dime from me!" Mums yelled before the next run hit, this time a bracketing attack from both flights of fighters at once, passing on the sides of the house.

The violent rumbling pitched Mums over the railing, and he fell into a heap in the middle of the foyer.

Fangula swept into the foyer from the back, followed by the plodding Frankenbeans. "Flabber, this had better not start happening every week!"

Biting his lower lip and inhaling sharply through his upper teeth, Flabber turned to his vampiric resident. "I've got some bad news…"

The fighters strafed again, the assault missing the house once more but doing enough shaking to send everyone but Frankenbeans to the floor.

In the parking lot, Dipper, Mabel, and Heather all stared up in the sky at the fleeing shape of the Magnavore Jet Fighters in silence, watching them make their turn towards Hillhurst. The twins and Misao shared very unsettled looks, as Heather got out of her car and stood to get as good of a view as she could before they dove out of sight.

"Those were Magnavore Jet Fighters," she said, as she broke into a big smile. She turned to the trio, vibrating with excitement. "That was so cool! They actually built working models of them! How do they even get them to fly?!"

Dipper was glad that he didn't have to offer a difficult explanation to Heather. "Hollywood Supertech is wild, right?"

Heather laughed. "I'll say!"

Mabel had her phone out before it began chiming at high frequency. "Uh oh, phone's blowing up." She turned to Dipper and Misao. "We're needed by the gym."

As she and Misao sprinted off, Dipper turned to Heather. "We'll see you later, um… take care, okay?"

"Yeah, see ya. Enjoy lunch," Heather said before she looked back in the direction the fighters went and saw the smoke and dust. "Oh no! Did one of them crash?"

Dipper really hoped so, as he followed his sister and roommate around to the other side of the school. As soon as they were out of sight of the cafeteria, Jo abruptly appeared in front of them, followed by Drew and Roland. A portal opened and both Star and Janna jumped out of it, joining the group.

"They can summon Magnavore Jet Fighters, now?!" Jo asked as she gestured towards the plume over Hillhurst.

"We really can't waste time freaking out about it," Drew said.

Dipper agreed. "He's right, the only thing there is to do is fight them before they attack more than Hillhurst."

"I am not freaking out, I am expressing frustration that the Magnavores have their Jet Fighters now," Jo more calmly corrected.

Roland nudged her. "Silver lining? We can fight them in our A.V.s"

Jo's brows jumped up, and she smiled. "Consolation accepted."

Dipper turned to Star. "Where's Marco?"

Star pulled them out. "Marco went to Britta's Tacos."

"Is he over there now?" Roland asked.

Mabel held up her phone. "He's there right now-"

Roland disappeared from where he stood, then reappeared with Marco.

"Superspeed must be nice," she finished.

"Huwuh?!" Marco looked around wild-eyed, then turned to Roland. "Let me know when you're going to do that!"

Roland shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry."

"Well now that everyone's here-" Janna said before the sounds of explosions echoed over the hills and rooftops. "How are we getting over there without getting blown up?"

"She's right," Jo said. "The Anti-Teleport Field blocks the scissors, and we don't have time to walk a mile and change."

Drew agreed. "Yeah, if emergency services head over to the house and those fighters are still there…"

"Can't we just use your super speed?" Misao asked Roland.

"I have a limit," Roland said, "And going back and forth to move all you guys would definitely be over it.

Star let out a hum, as an idea came to her. "I have an idea!"

She faced everyone, before raising her hands and giving them a nervous smile. "All right. What I'm about to pitch to you will get us there really quick, but there's a drawback…"

Dipper looked up at the smoke rising over the hills. "We don't really have a choice. If it can get us there fast, let's hear it out."

Star nodded. "All right! Here's my idea…"

In the Vineyard, as the Jet Fighters' strafing runs passed, Noxic popped up from behind some brush near the house, ruefully shaking his head. "What the heck, do I gotta take these guys into the shop when we're done here? They're shooting like chumps!"

Typhus agreed. "Yeah, baby. I've seen Stormtroopers with better aim."

Jara, standing a row behind them, let out a sigh. "You do know the Stormtroopers were aiming poorly on purpose, do you not?"

Typhus and Noxic looked at her, though their faces did not emote well, she could see a lack of comprehension written all over both.

She admitted to being no better, given her mask. "The Empire wanted to know where the Rebel Base was, so they needed them alive and to think they escaped. Vader and Tarkin ordered the Stormtroopers to miss, it is an unspoken testament to the Empire's insidious indoctrination and discipline that they followed that order even as they were being killed."

Typhus let out an enlightened grunt. "Wow, it all makes sense."

"You learn new things about that movie every day, you know?" Noxic asked Typhus, who nodded back.

Jara resisted rolling her eyes at the most casual of casuals. "This is the same idea. We cannot destroy the house, Vexor wants to know what's inside. What we can do… is kick up enough dust to bring the Butterfly and the Beetles out right where we want them."

She looked up the road leading to Hillhurst. "They should come running right about now."

Behind her and the other two Magnavores, Saberizer sat in silence, his anticipation betrayed by the faint rattle of his armor. As soon as she spoke those words, his sharp senses came to life, and he tilted his head upward.

"There!" He called and Typhus and Noxic both jumped.

'"There? Where?!" The latter shouted as he looked around, his head going left, right, then performing a full rotation.

Typhus followed Saberizer's line of sight into the sky. "… I don't see 'em, baby."

Noxic followed suit, and using his superior spec specs, zoomed in on a point in the sky and detected movement. "… Whoa… what the hey?!"

He zoomed in further, and saw Star, then Dipper, Marco, Mabel, and Misao fall past his field of view. "They didn't just come runnin' Jara! They're literally droppin' in!"

Two kilometers above Hillhurst, Dipper held onto his lumberjack hat as he fell towards the ground far below. Star's idea was a good one on paper: open a portal to exactly two kilometers above the house, drop straight down, and then she would use a spell to help them land safely. Only now that he was falling did he realize that two kilometers–a relatively short distance to walk for him–was a long way to fall. Longer still with hostile enemies flying around that were eager to kill him.

A long fall, but as he took into consideration the staggering events that led to this moment, he couldn't help the grin that spread across his face as he thrust his free hand forward, balled up in a fist. It didn't get any stranger than this! "LET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

"Wheeeeee!" Mabel cheered as she fell past them like a bullet. "This is just like skydiving with Mom and Dad!"

"Without a parachute into a combat zone!" Marco shouted as he flailed at terminal velocity. Unlike everyone else, he was having second thoughts way past the point of no-return.

Janna, pulling her hat down tighter so it didn't go flying off, passed close to Marco. "Oh come on, the fall's not so bad."

"Ja! It's the landing that'll kill us!" Misao shouted as she caught up with Mabel and joined hands with her and Janna to form a circle. Star dove headfirst in the gap between them, then opened her arms and legs wide to slow herself down.

"WOOHOO!" She cheered, before she noticed four of the Magnavore Jet Fighters pulling into a climb towards them. "Oh, they've noticed us~!"

Down on the ground, Noxic looked at Typus. "Hey! I bet three crates of beer that they get one of 'em!"

"You're on, baby!" Typhus said.

Jara tightened her grip on her blade.

The fighters, nearly vertical, slowed down to line up on their falling targets, their sensors locking onto each falling teenager and their wing-mounted cannons swiveling to zero in on and correct for their target's movement relative to their own.

"You got a spell for them?!" Dipper asked.

Star laughed in the face of their certain doom. "Yeah! High Explosive Beetle Blast!"

A barrage of beams from above the falling children pummeled the body and wasp-like tail of the fighter. More beams followed, raining onto the other three fighters. Above their falling friends, the three Beetleborgs continue blasting away with their Input Magnums in Crashing Mode, forcing the fighters to break off, all trailing smoke to the surprise of the Magnavores below.

"Man, those kids are crazy!" Noxic yelled.

Typhus almost wanted to cheer them on as they came down, in no small part because of his newly won cases of beer. "Yeah baby, this is nuts!"

Jara tensed up and said nothing.

"Star!" Dipper shouted. "All we gotta do now is stick the landing!"

"One soft landing coming up! Super Summon Cloudy Charm!" Aiming her wand down, Star fired a pink ray that shot down ahead of them and expanded into a large pink cloud.

She hit it first, disappearing into the pink, cotton candy like structure, followed by Mabel, Misao, Dipper, Janna, and finally the flailing and screaming Marco. The Beetleborgs landed one by one in crouches, the ground denting into shallow craters from the force of their impact.

The pink cloud drifted to a gentle stop just above the ground behind them. Emerging from the inside of the cloud, Star smiled down at it. "Thanks, Cloudy."

A cherubic face appeared on the Cloud's front. "Oh, you're welcome, Star!"

Waving her wand, she dispelled the cloud and everyone inside fell to the ground in a heap. The Beetleborgs turned to face the others as they began getting up.

Janna rose first, and was helped to her feet by Drew. "Well, cross skydiving off my bucket list… after putting it on it."

Misao, who landed on Mabel, lifted her head from her chest and looked up at her. "The best moments in life can be the unexpected ones, I think."

Mabel nodded back. "Mmhm!"
"Don't I know it," Janna said while taking her hat off to shake out the dust.

Marco sat up, rubbing his face. "Some unexpected things can be very bad too, case in point."

He looked down and saw he was straddling Dipper, who was staring at the sky with an unreadable expression. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, please get off," Dipper's eyes widened and he verbally reeled. "Up. Up. So I can stand."

Marco stood, and he and Star both helped him to his feet.

Dipper rubbed his back. "I'll take a hard landing after a fall of six feet over one of six thousand any day."

Flabber came out onto the porch and brightened when he saw everyone. "Oh hey, kids! Nice of you to-"

"Don't you dare say it!" Jo shouted.

Flabber buttoned up his lip and looked off to his right.

The Red Strikerborg stared at the Phasm.

Flabber opened the corner of his mouth.

"No!" She yelled.

Flabber cast his gaze to the ground with a sad whimper.

Mabel trotted past Jo. "Oh we love dropping by to see you, Flabber~"

Jo groaned as Flabber lit back up into his incandescent self.

Marco patted her on the shoulder. "You tried."

"Anyway, come on in!" Flabber spun around to the other side of the door, dressed as a fifty's era housewife complete with a bright yellow apron over a similarly gaudy Sunday dress and a beehive hairdo. In his free hand he balanced a large tray with plastic cups, a pitcher of lemonade, and a plate piled with fresh chocolate chip cookies. "I've got cookies and lemonade for your long day of fighting evil~!"

Dipper was first through the door and headed straight for the Organ Room. Janna, on his heels, took the lemonade. "Sweet."

"It's actually a little on the tart side," Flabber corrected.

Misao grabbed the cups. "Danke!"

"Bitte~!" Flabber called back.

Mabel, bringing up the rear, took the whole tray of cookies. "You're the ghost with the most, Flabber!"

Flabber wagged his hand back at Mabel. "Oh you~"

Jo rolled her eyes. "Come on."

Drew smacked Jo's shoulder. "Don't worry about that for now."

She turned around, and with the others faced down the Magnavores, Saberizer, and their fifty Scabs. The group marched towards the house, Jara at the very front, the red-adorned warrior woman's blade already glowing in anticipation of the fight.

"Speaking of bad jokes," she said.

Marco rolled his shoulders and hopped from one foot to the other, limbering up. "They're going all out."

Roland tightened his fists and got ready. "Good, then so can we."


Inside Hillhurst, as the organ slid open to reveal the way to the Beetle Battle Base, Flabber called over to Dipper and the others. "Hey, there are a ton more of the bad guys out there than ever."

"What?" He went to the window to look out and saw for himself the Magnavores' numbers. "Uh oh."

Mabel peered over his shoulder. "There's even more of them!"

Misao and Janna came to the windows next. The latter regarded the advancing force with prompt dismissal.

"Oh no, more Scabs… the scarred and gnarled guy with the sword's kinda cute, though."

For the most part.

Dipper didn't care much for this development, for what it meant. "They're experimenting with their abilities, seeing what limits they have in summoning."

Misao looked back to see the organ open. "Then let's explore our own limits."

Dipper nodded and called out to the guys skilled or equipped for this kind of thing. "Once the Beetle Base is up we'll roast these guys with the defenses, you guys gonna be okay until then?"

Star spun her wand in her hand, as Marco moved into his karate stance. "We'll take care of it!"

Jara, raised her blade in front of her face, her vision tunneling on Star. "Yes, come… get taken care of!"

She thrust her blade forward and the Scabs charged, waving their weapons above their heads. Looking to one another, Jo cracked her knuckles, and Roland snapped his fingers.

"We got this," they said together, before the Red Strikerborg jumped and the Green Hunterborg vanished. The Scabs looked up and watched as Jo fell onto them, her fist pulled back. Plunging into the middle of their ranks, Jo punched the ground and set off an explosion that scattered the dozens of robot foot soldiers in every direction.

As Jara stopped short of the plume of swirling dust, she heard Star shout from the other side of it. "Bunny Rabbit Blast!"

Star burst through the dust, fire in her eyes and skulls on her cheek as she transformed her wand into a mace. Turning herself around twice for momentum, she let out a yell and swung the wand-turned-bludgeon down on Jara's head. The weapon stopped short, crashing against the flat of Saberizer's falchion.

"My General is not so easily struck in my presence!" Saberizer shouted as he riposted her attack so Jara could extend her energy whip into a rigid blade and lance through Star's heart.

Transforming her wand back, Star dropped out of the path of the beam and landed in front of both of them as Saberizer stepped to her right and allowed Jara to lunge with another stab. She went left, diving past Jara and aiming her wand at Saberizer. "Rainbow Fist Punch!"

Saberizer swung his blade in a parrying slash to deflect the spell, but it connected in spite of the effort, pushing the swordsman back along the ground. As Jara raised her energy blade to bring it down on Star's back, the Green Hunterborg abruptly appeared between them–his Input Magnum pointed in the Mercenary General's face.

"Wh-?!" Roland opened fire before she could finish, the first shot knocking her backward head first, and the second and third shots connecting with her chest and stomach in a shower of sparks.

"You were talking about not getting touched?!" Roland shouted before he turned to see Typhus coming at him like a freight train that never skipped arm day.

His right arm turning fully red, Typhus let out a bellow as he swung, the punch clearing the dust Jo kicked up. Both Roland and Star were nowhere to be found.

"What the?!" The second set of eyes on his whale-like head did not fail him, spotting Star appear in the wake of a green blur just behind him. He swung his whole body around, the second mouth opening to fire a ray at Star, when Roland crashed into him.

The Hunter Claw secured around his neck, Roland slammed Typhus headfirst into the ground and dragged him through the dirt and rock, digging a long trench with his body. Reaching the end of the vineyard he swung him up over his head and drove him down into the ground with enough force to make a small crater.

"Thank you!" Star shouted to Roland, before she turned and used her wand to block Saberizer's sword. Jumping back to avoid two more strikes of the falchion, she unleashed another spell with a swing of her wand. "Hard Bass Sword Rave!"

In a flash of light, five swords–a claymore, a rapier, a katana, a scimitar, and a cutlass–materialized and shot at Saberizer. With expertise he deflected each blade, only for the thrown aside weapons to right themselves in midair and attack again, putting him on the defensive.

Satisfied to see Saberizer preoccupied, Star turned her attention back to the Scabs, raising her wand and firing another explosive spell that carved through the mooks before they could gang up on her.

In front of the house, Marco, Jo, and Drew's battle with the Scabs was a wild melee. Multiple blades came down on Marco from all sides, only to miss or have their trajectories knocked off course by his quick hands. When one stabbed at his front, he used his sidestep to side kick a Scab in the head. A second blow, vertical chop, was evaded and punished by a spinning backfist that connected with the dead center of the Scab's face.

Jumping onto the back of a Scab that attempted to spear tackle him into the ground, Marco leaped and flew a kick into the forehead of a third Scab. The rebound from the blow sent him into a spin, and he landed hard on his feet to face another Scab coming at him head on. A second Scab, scrambling to corner him, came at Marco's exposed back.

An Input Magnum beam holed the head of the Scab attacking Marco's back, and the one running at his front just disappeared, replaced by Jo finishing the motion of the punch that she plowed into it. Marco looked to his right, as he heard what sounded like a cannonball ricochet on the hill at the end of the vineyard opposite the house and saw a puff of dust and dirt the Scab-projectile left behind on the hill's lip.

The Blue Stingerborg's Input Magnum shots hammered two more Scabs, as Drew moved to cover Marco's back. "Just keep beating the crap out of these guys, we won't let them get close to you."

He made good on that reassurance immediately, imposing himself between Marco and Noxic, the latter's electric attack crashing against his armored body. "Hngh!"

Even as bolts of plasma arced up and down his arms, Drew raised his Input Magnum and fired at Noxic, who ducked and rolled out of the way. "You can take a hit and keep standin' now?!"

He spun in place and drew his umbrella. "I'm just gonna have to hit ya twice as hard!"

Drew fired back at him, forcing Noxic to deflect the shots with his umbrella. "You'll need to hit even harder than that!"

Before Noxic could even try, Star broke free of her own melee and attacked. "Sunny Ocean Sandblast!"

Noxic turned his umbrella towards Star and stopped the swirling stream of ocean water, sand, starfish, crabs, and clams that shot from Star's wand. "You're lucky I don't rust, or I'd be really mad-!" He looked up to see Jo looming over him to punch him square in the face. "Aw nuts."

In that same moment, Typhus's monstrous claw grabbed Roland and the much stronger Magnavore hauled him up as he rose to his feet. Spotting Noxic's situation, he rectified it in the most expedient fashion possible–pitching Roland like a fastball into Jo and sending them both tumbling end over end.

"Haha, nice one!" Noxic congratulated before a torrent of flame from Drew's Input Magnum in Flame Mode engulfed him. "AH! HOT! HOT! HOTHOTHOTHOTHOT!"

"Are you guys okay?!" Star shouted before the Katana from the Hard House Sword Rave Spell hit the ground at her feet from her left and dissolved. Looking the way it came from, she found Saberizer bearing down at her.

"Clever tricks, witch!" He yelled as he swung.

"Witch?!" She leaned back to limbo underneath Saberizer's falchion. Rising, she twirled clear of a wide diagonal slash that would've otherwise split her in two. "I'm a Magical Princess! Dagger Crystal Heart Attack!"

Wand aimed at Saberizer, she unleashed a torrent of razor-sharp crystal hearts, and Saberizer twirled his blade in circles from one side to the other, deflecting each projectile away from him. "Try again, sorceress!"

Star swung her wand back and forth. "That's better, but still wrong! Shooting Star Explosion!"

A trio of spinning stars fired at Saberizer next, and he hesitated not in cleaving through each–creating an explosion that enveloped him. "Grah!"

Star used the explosions to backpedal and open the distance. It was a wise move, as Jara erupted from the spell's smoke and lashed out at her wildly with her beam whip.

"What must it take for you aggravating brats to give up and DIE?!" She yelled while her overpowered swings tore chunks out of the old vineyard and the ground beneath it.

Star turned her backpedaling into a graceful dance, leaping from one leg to the other, twirling and spinning around Jara's attacks and the debris they kicked up for no less than five of the devastating strikes. Landing on both feet, she swung her wand down and fired a spell at the ground. "Smoke Bomb Blast!"

As the smoke swirled around her, Jara yelled and lashed out with her whip, clearing the cloud around her from the waist up. Marco sprang up from her left, spun, and kicked her in the back of her head. "Surprise!"

The blow threw Jara into the ground on her face, and she slid to a stop, very still. "I hate them. All of them."

Star came up behind him, and both turned around one another to catch each other's hand as Star kicked a Scab in the head, decapitating it, while Marco punched a second Scab in the chest with such force that mechanical wasps sprayed out its back. They let each other go, turned towards the remaining Scabs, and Marco placed his hand over Star's holding the wand as she aimed it at another large group of them.

"SUPER MEGA NARWHAL BLAST!" She yelled, and the barrage of Narwhals tore through the robot warriors, leaving few left.

"You okay?" He asked, turning to her as the last mechanical wasp fell to the ground and dissolved.

She glanced back at him in turn. "We just gotta last a little longer!"

"You ain't even got a second left!" Typhus yelled as he came down on both of them with a hammer blow. His fists came down on their skulls, both of them dead to rights in his sights.

Just centimeters away from his fists connecting, millimeters, Typhus ground to a halt. Star, Marco, the entire world for everyone but Roland was near perfectly still. Jogging over to his unarmored friends, Roland picked them both up and carried them over to the front of Hillhurst. He then jogged back over to pick up Jara, who was in the middle of getting back up to her feet and carried her over to where Star and Marco had previously been.

Dusting his hands off, Roland took a few more steps back, entered Crashing Mode in his Input Magnum and aimed it at Typhus as he slowed down.

Typhus's fists crashed down on Jara's back, driving her into the ground.

"Take that, baby!" He shouted before the dust cleared to reveal Jara face down in the hole she made in the dirt shaped like her body. "Uhh… wait-"

Roland's Crashing Mode rounds hammered into Typhus, driving him backward. Seeing Roland appear and open fire, Drew joined in with beam mode shots–the more powerful semi-automatic beams shoving him back faster along the stream of fire Roland pushed him with.

Noxic, still trying to put himself out, heard Typhus' wails. "Hang on, buddy! I'm comin'!"

"Let me help you get there!" Jo yelled as she grabbed Noxic by the arm and ran at Typhus. "THROW PEOPLE AT ME WILL YOU, MOTHERFUCKER?!"

She swung Noxic around and threw the burning android at his monster man best bud. There was an explosion, and Typhus slammed into the ground at the far end of the Vineyard, unconscious. A broken and malfunctioning Noxic landed on his back, his uncontrollable short-circuiting shocking Typhus over and over.

Star and Marco looked over towards the Beetleborgs. Marco rubbed the side of his head, as he realized what must've happened for them to be several meters away from where they'd been. "Okay, Hunterborg. You get a free pass for that one."

"That was awesome, Strikerborg!" Star said. "Awesome enough to make me forget most of the crappy stuff you said! Get 'im, girl!"

Jo let out a laugh as she turned to face Saberizer, who recovered from the Shooting Star Explosion. "It feels so good to be actually wailing on these punks, now!"

Roland flickered to appear beside her. "Yeah. We may not be good fighters, but we definitely know how to use these powers!"

Drew watched the two of them swagger out towards Saberizer and couldn't help but feel a little envious of the two of them and their powers. Marco rubbed the sweat from his brow, as Star gripped her wand, ready to jump in.

Jara pulled her head out of the dirt with a pained groan. "What… what is even happening?!"

Saberizer stared at the Green Hunterborg and the Red Strikerborg, and rested his falchion on his right shoulder, tapping the flat of the blade against his helmet. "Is it really something to be so proud of? Your ignorance?"

"What we're proud of… is that as new as we are at this, we're still able to beat you!" Jo shouted as she charged at him.

His left hand reaching behind his back, he brought around to his hip the scabbard of his falchion, his right hand bringing the blade to sheath it. When Marco heard the clack of the blade locking into the scabbard and saw Saberizer's stance widen and lower, he lunged forward with alarm.


Once more everything slowed to a stop, with Jo in place pulling her punch in confusion from Marco's shouting, Marco himself frozen mid-shout, while Star was caught between acting and wondering what he was shouting about.

Roland stepped up to Saberizer's side and rested the Input Magnum against the unarmored left side of his head. "Nah, bruh."

Before he could pull the trigger, Saberizer unsheathed his blade, striking both Roland and Jo in the same motion and scattering them away from him in different directions. The two froze in the air, sprawled out as sparks began to leap from their damaged armor.

"Your ignorance is the mistaken belief that power can overcome skill."

Pulling his blade back, then flicking it back out to his side, he brought the sword and scabbard together again and sheathed the blade–stopping just short of locking the hilt.

"Consider yourselves enlightened."

He locked the hilt, and the world resumed its normal speed, explosions ripping off the green and red armor as their wearers fell to the ground.

As the violent reversal played out, Jara nodded. "Yes, this is how it is supposed to be going."

Saberizer turned to her. "General, we need to discuss the quality of the company you keep, and the detriment it is causing your skill."

Marco landed in front of Saberizer with enough force to crack the ground beneath his feet. In an instant Saberizer drew his sword to cleave through him and missed wide as Marco leaped directly above him to swing a kick down into the top of Saberizer's head.

Dauntless of Marco's maneuver, Saberizer raised his falchion to run him through. "Not quick enough, boy!"

The very tip of the blade began to cut through the front of his hoodie–when another blade crashed into his with enough force to dislodge it from Saberizer's hand. Flipping end over end, the falchion struck the ground at Jara's feet, and she took a step back in surprise.

Marco landed to the side of Saberizer and looked back to see the afternoon sun gleaming off the monomolecular edge of the Stinger Blade. Drew stood in front of Saberizer, the blade raised between the two, panting heavily from the mad dash he made to save his friend from being countered.

Saberizer stared at the expressionless helmet of the Blue Stingerborg, then glanced at his hand, then out the corner of his eye at Jara and his sword. For the briefest moment, he wondered what had happened.

The Blue one… I did not even see him move. He thought, before he did notice Star holding up an alarmingly glowing wand.

"SUPER GEYSER WINDSTORM!" She yelled, and Saberizer crossed his arms to guard against the torrent of water that threw him back and just past Jara.

Jara turned towards Star, but only saw power and fury radiating from the girl, her cheek marks glowing, as she turned the spell from water to electricity.


Alarmed, Jara ignited her energy blade and swung it down into the beam of lightning Star fired at her, the blade cleaving the attack in twain and scattering it away from Saberizer, Typhus and Noxic behind her. Feeling the stray bolts course through her, leaving blinding agony in their wake, Jara clenched her jaw tight to endure the attack with a desperate growl through her teeth.

The scattering bolts of lightning devastated the vineyard, ripping the rows asunder and carving deep, scorched cuts up the path from Hillhurst and into the hills surrounding it. For ten whole seconds it surged and split against Jara's blade, until it finally dissipated, leaving dense clouds of ionized smoke and dust hanging over the vineyard.

"Haa… haa… haa… haa…" Slumping forward, her blade nearly slipping out of her hands, Jara looked into the electricity-filled haze.

She could see two heart-shaped points of light–then two more points just above and between them in the shape of glowing, angry eyes as Star's silhouette slowly distinguished itself from the smoke.

The ground began to shake, and Jara looked higher to see the Beetle Battle Base emerge above Hillhurst Mansion. Her pained breathing became weak chuckling that grew stronger into triumphant laughter. She looked back down at Star, and despite every instinct telling her to run, she gestured out to her.

"Well, then… I suppose now that it's out? This…?" The droning whine of the Magnavore Jet Fighters diving in towards the Beetle Battle Base filled the air. "Is checkmate."

Closing in, the fighters' tails swung under their bodies, until their ends were pointed at the newly risen structure.

Seeing them, Drew realized what they were going to do. "Their missiles!"

Marco looked at him. "What about them?"

"We can't let those things fire, they will destroy the base and Hillhurst with it!"

Star looked around and smiled. "They won't get the chance."

Before the fighters could do anything with their new arrangement, the air was filled with the louder, deeper pulses as almost a dozen large dome-shaped laser cannons situated around the house and the Beetle Battle Base opened fire–clearing the smoke around them. Their bright pink beams surged skyward, slashing through the Magnavore Jet Fighter formations and blasting all eight of them out of the sky in seconds.

"See?" Star said as the smoke cleared, revealing Marco, Drew, Roland, and Jo standing with her. The Princess pointed her wand at Jara, her hearts turned into skulls again. "Time's up. You lose!"

Jara reaffirmed her grip on her weapon and took a step back. "We must withdraw."

She stood and crossed her arms to teleport, when she remembered just that one unfortunate detail and froze in place.

Damn it! I forgot we cannot teleport here!

The cannons that ravaged the Magnavore Jet Fighters traversed and depressed their lenses, bringing them down to aim at her and her downed friends. From the Beetle Battle Base itself, Dipper's voice spoke.

"You can either give up now, or get blasted into stray particles, what's it going to be?!"

Jara clenched her teeth. "I will not yield to you brats!"

"Stray atoms it is," Dipper said as the cannons began to charge.

Before they could fire, a familiar, booming voice echoed.


The ground warped beneath Jara, before a massive hand ripped through the ground and grabbed her, before yanking her under the ground. A second hand rose and snatched Noxic, Typhus, and Saberizer away. What remaining Scabs left behind, regardless of functionality, quickly began to dissolve.

"What the…?" Dipper asked.

The guys on the ground were no less disbelieving.

"That… that was Vexor's hand!" Jo shouted.

Roland looked at the others, then back at the house. "What the heck, man! I thought the Anti-Teleport Field could keep them out!"

When Dipper spoke again, they could hear all sorts of alarms going on in the background. "There was a massive breach of time and space just now! I… I think Vexor just brute-forced his way through the field to drag his people out!"

"Ja, confirmed! The exact location where the events just happened, the barrier's in the red!" Misao reported.

They heard Mabel next. "Holy cow! And pig! And goat! How much power did it take to do that?!!"

"I… I don't know," Drew said. "But… I think we won."

Star jumped up and cheered. "We won~!"

She turned and hugged Marco. "We won! And you're not hurt!"

She pulled back and looked at him. "Are you hurt?"

Marco smiled back at Star and lifted up his shirt to reveal the blade hadn't touched him. "I'm fine, not a scratch on me."

She laughed and rested her forehead against his, as she rubbed his back. "I'm glad."

Jo shook her head. "Geez… Roland, did you catch what he hit us with?"

"I think he pulled like some Kenshin, Zatoichi crap on us," Roland replied–before adding. "It was rad as heck, though. Not as rad as you throwing Noxic at Typhus."

Jo laughed and raised both arms, pumping them. "They got their free passes to the gun show~!"

Star, full energy all the way, ducked under one of Jo's raised arms and joined Drew's side to pat his armored chest. "Did you see what Stingerborg did?!"

"Yeah, he disarmed that Saber dude and saved my neck," Marco added.

Roland turned towards Drew. "Yo, get out of here! I can't believe I missed that!"

Star bounced up and down in excitement. "I saw the whole thing, he was like 'swoosh' and Saberizer went 'what?!' and then I blasted him with my Super Geyser Windstorm!"

Marco, who was even closer, nodded. "I didn't even see you move, man. How'd you get there so fast?"

Drew was given pause and looked down at the Stinger Blade. "Actually? I don't know, I saw that saber guy trying to stab you and I just didn't even think then."

Jo folded her arms and gave her brother an approving nod. "And to think you didn't even need any special power to do it. Very nice, bro."

"Yeah, to think…" Underneath the helmet, Drew frowned as he continued staring at the Stinger Blade.

Flabber came back to the door. "Hey guys, I bet you worked up an appetite saving the day. There's more snacks and drinks inside!"

Star lit up. "Mabel, you better have saved me some cookies~!"

Marco followed. "Let's head in, so Flabber can clean this place up."

Roland followed. "I hope the base recorded the fight. I need to see you throwing Noxic at Typhus."

Jo agreed. "Right?"

Drew quietly brought up the rear, still looking at his Stinger Blade all the way to the porch.

As everyone went inside, the Beetle Battle Base retracted into the ground, and Flabber got to work cleaning up the mess, none paid any attention to the now no-longer hostile skies.

"Tower, US 618. We've got eyes on what the unidentified fighter jets were shooting at…"

= - = 42 = - =

Uh oh.
Advocacy for the Devil
= - = 43 = - =

|Advocacy for the Devil|

Jara, on her hands and knees and almost all her exposed skin wrapped in gauze and bandages, stared at the crypt's floor and the base of the sarcophagus that Vexor still remained within. Behind her, on her right, Typhus finished healing from his wounds. On her left, Noxic lay in a disjointed heap, sparks popping off his damaged body. Directly behind her, at the far end of the Saberizer sat in the lotus position, with his sheathed falchion across his lap–he was meditating on the battle fought.

She wished she could meditate, if to be anywhere but near Vexor's suffocating presence emanating from his temporary tomb.

"For what it's worth… I am not angry." Vexor spoke through the gap created by the ajar lid. "Just very disappointed."

"Absolutely nothin'," Noxic said. "That's exactly how much it's worth."

"I could be angry."

"And that's worth less than nothin'." Noxic said.

Typhus bit back his snicker. Jara's shoulders shook, and she praised her mask for hiding her clenched expression as she held in her own laughter. It hurt to laugh, and it'd hurt even more to laugh at Vexor now.

"This was to be your grand show of force Jara, and yet this was our most debilitating setback to date." Vexor's words cut into her even as they conveniently ignored the circumstances that laid him up such as he was. "What have we learned from this?"

Jara raised her head. "Attacking the house is no longer viable. It is too well defended, and its counter to teleportation makes any withdrawal difficult under the best of circumstances."

She looked back down, "The Beetleborgs are also stronger than we have encountered, having abilities that they use to patch up their lack of combat experience."

She let out a seething hiss. "And the Butterfly is still aggravating with her magic."

A long, contemplative hum rang from the tomb. "The Butterfly, the young man she appears close to, and those other children besides the Beetleborgs… on them from now on. The house can wait until its defenders are out of the picture."

Jara nodded. "I was thinking the same thing actually."

"There is more to this world than just that house, go out and see it–surely there awaits wisdom that could bring victory." A clawed hand rose to curl around the edge of the heavy stone lid. "I leave that to you."

With that he pulled the lid shut, only to catch his fingers with it.


A thump followed as he freed them and let the sarcophagus fall closed.

Noxic's broken neck managed to roll his head to look at Jara as she rose to her feet. "Does this mean Vexor's lettin' us do what we want?"

"Do you want to interpret it that way?"


"Then do what you want, as long as it goes toward defeating those insect children."

"You betcha Jara. I'll do it for you, because I respect you, and Typhus, and even you Saberizer."

Vexor's muffled voice came from inside the sarcophagus. "When I am back on my feet Noxic, I will be removing your head from your neck and installing it up your exhaust port."

"Jokes on you, I don't have an exhaust port! High-efficiency, baby!"

"I will take the time to craft you one and it will be exceedingly superfluous."

Typhus got up and watched the last of his wounds disappear. "When we find out where those kids hang out, we can bring the fight straight to 'em, baby!"

"You can do that, I gotta get a workshop going or else I'm gonna end up bein' more patchwork than working, know what I mean?" Noxic complained.

Jara agreed. "It is for the best. Typhus and I can handle finding the brats."

Saberizer took his sheathed blade in hand and stood. "General, if I may speak freely?"

The Mercenary General turned to face her subordinate, bracing herself for what he had to say. She didn't forget his comment from before. "Da, go ahead."

"Fighting all of them at once doesn't work, even with large numbers of Scabs at our disposal," he said, "So, allow me to seek out and engage enemy elements as the hunter, so that you may fall upon them as the killer."

Jara could see something burning inside Saberizer, she heard it in his voice. A slight tremble–not of fear but anticipation. "Eager to seek them out?"

He held up his Falchion and slowly unsheathed it, revealing a nick in the blade where the Stinger Blade cut into it to disarm him. "As much to avenge your honor after our defeat, I must satisfy my curiosity."

He sheathed the blade with a click that echoed in the crypt. "Grant me this request, General, and I shall complete our mission without fail!"

Jara nodded. "We will be right behind you, Typhus and I, and as many Jet Fighters as we can muster to support you."

Saberizer knelt before Jara in salute. "You have my highest gratitude, General."

"Let me know how that works out for ya!" Noxic said.

Typhus gave the android a thumb's up. "I'll bring you back some scrap from the scrap, baby!"

"You're the coolest, Typhus. You and Jara, and you too Saberizer!" Noxic looked towards the sarcophagus, daring Vexor to say a thing.

When he didn't, he laughed. "And no one else."

The lid pushed up. "I'm not even going to dignify that with a retort."

"Too late, you already di-" Arcs of electricity surged from the gap left by the raised lid, sending Noxic's broken body into a thrashing fit.

Jara shook her head as Saberizer looked up at her. "Is that capable of even hurting Noxic?"

"Yes, but it won't kill him," she said. "Still… this is his victory."

Typhus grumbled. "It's about the only way to win against Vex…"

The lightning ceased and without a word from Vexor as promised, the casket closed.


Standing on the front porch of Hillhurst, Drew leaned against the railing with Roland. Both watched the sun sink towards the crest of the hills straddling the valley Hillhurst Mansion sat in. While his best friend admired the once more untouched scenery restored by Flabber's magic, Drew's gaze was cast down at his right hand as he opened and closed it.

He was replaying the moment over and over in his mind: Himself watching Marco swing himself around to kick Saberizer, while the Mercenary Warrior's blade rose towards his heart. He didn't even remember when he started moving, but he was–reaching Saberizer and swinging the Stinger Blade into the falchion to knock it out of his hand before he could stab Marco.

It's like my body just knew what to do. He thought.

And that was the problem he had. While he was glad that he saved Marco's life, and there was no argument that his move was a decisive one…

Not even one of my friends almost dying was enough to trigger my power. His expression darkened with his thoughts. Unless my power is my body turning off my stupid brain so that it can get things done. That would be fair for someone like me, right?

He hissed through his teeth; a faint snarl directed at himself.

Stop, damn it.

Roland heard his sharp breath and turned to him. "You good?"

"I'm good," he replied, looking nowhere but at his right hand.

There was a crash and shouting behind them, inside the house. Looking back through the window, they both found Jo lifting Frankenbeans over her head, fire in her eyes as she faced off against Mums. The Mummy was scrambling back from her towards the stairs, hands raised in capitulation.

"H-hey! Watch where you're wavin' that thing!" He pleaded.

Frankenbeans, flailing, cried out. "No pet! No pet!"

"You're darn right no pet, I'm not gonna be anybody's, especially a bunch of moldy weirdos like you!" She yelled before throwing Frankenbeans onto Mums, both monsters hit the stairs and tumbled up them from the sheer force of her throw before landing in a heap at the top of the steps.

Dusting her hands off, Jo let out a harsh and loud snort. "Who else wants some?!"

Fangula, who'd been intending to swoop in for a bite, presumably with some gauche line about wanting more than some, quietly closed the door to the hallway to avoid being seen. Ghoulum, who wanted to test Jo's strength but liked the house in a non-destroyed state, said nothing.

"That's what I thought," Jo snapped with her nose upturned.

"Attagirl!" Flabber, lying on the bannister with his head propped up on one hand, pointed at her with the other. "Like I keep saying! Show them who's boss and they won't bother ya!"

"If they don't know, now they know!" Jo flexed her right arm, showing off a modest bicep that belied her unfathomable strength. Looking out the window, and noticing her brother and Roland, she waved to Flabber–who gave her finger guns and a kachow in reply–and headed out onto the porch.

Roland, an eyebrow raised, had to ask. "What was that about?"

Drew looked away from Jo and back out at the hills as she replied. "I was exploring the kitchen, seeing if there was anything salvageable back there. Then Frankenbeanie spotted me and decided that he wanted to try making me his pet again! Hmph! I started teaching him a lesson when Mums jumped in and well… you saw."

Roland chuckled. "You'd think the old bean would know better."

She joined the two at the railing and settled against it between the two. "He ain't all there, but that's okay. If I got these guns, I don't even have to transform to punk those punks."

Drew clenched his hand into a fist, and his entire forearm trembled.

Out of the corner of her eye Jo noticed her brother's clenched fist, but just as quickly the end of Star's Dimensional Scissors opened a hole in the air and then opened a portal into reality. Both she and Roland lit up as the portal spread to full size and Mabel poked her head out.

"Da-daa-da-daa~!" She cheered. "The Dimensional Scissors have been whitelisted!"

Jumping out of the portal, Mabel stomped down on one foot and held her arms out, like she were a bird or a plane. "Now when we want to drop by, we don't have to drop by!"

Jo made a face at Mabel's wordplay.

Flabber leaned into view in the window, holding a tablet. "Sure you don't want me to buy an airbag just in case?"

"Don't worry about throwing any money down the chute, Flabber."

"I don't mind making the leap for you guys at all!"

Jo groaned. "Please stop."

Misao strutted out, bouncing with each step, before she gave Mabel a playful hip-check, making her bounce too. "It was nothing, the Beetle Battle Base's systems are like the back of my hand, ja? I can make it do whatever I want now."

"Except make the internet speed up," Janna said as she emerged with Star.

Misao shrugged her shoulders. "That is a hardware limitation, not software."

"Or squishware," Mabel said as she picked up Misao and cuddled her, making her giggle.

"Squishware has no limitations!" She declared as she raised her fists high

Janna poked Misao's chest from her right. "It's definitely optimized."

Misao giggled, and even more when she noticed Drew and Roland averting their eyes from her chest with all their might.

Dipper and Marco were the last through the portal, joining everyone as the aperture disappeared. The former turned to Flabber and nodded to him in greeting. "From here on out, expect at least one of us to be here so we can keep on the lookout for the Magnavores."

"Flab out! It'll be nice to have you over without the house getting blown up, or at least the guys will like it!"

"No, we still hate all of you!" Mums yelled from where he was still beheaped with Frankenbeans.

Flabber mouthed "He doesn't mean that" to the kids.

"Yeah we do!" Flabber flinched under Mums' yell.

"On that note," Janna then spoke up. "I'm not gonna be out here Saturday."

Jo brightened a bit. "Really? You're not?"

Drew and Roland both rolled their eyes. Janna knew just like them why Jo would be so excited to hear that.

"Yeah, I'm crashing the Homecoming Dance," she revealed.

Misao gasped. "Really?!" She slipped from Mabel's arms and bounded over to Janna. "Do you need a dress? I can get you one very quick, ja?"

Janna wagged a hand dismissively. "No need, I know exactly what I'm wearing and what I'm doing."

She put her arm over Star's shoulders and gestured to her. "Since Brittney banned Star, it's my duty to be there."

Marco did a double take; this was the first time he'd heard about it thanks to his preoccupation with Trip's nonsense. "Wait, Brittney banned you?!"

"Right?" Star asked. "She said it was for the stuff during the football game."

"We already got punished for that, though," Marco said, reiterating what many held as true.

"That's why I'm going no matter what she says."

Janna nodded. "With you all the way"

Dipper scowled. "Get a picture of the look on her face when she sees you're there."

Star beamed to Dipper. "Oh, you know I will!"

Jo looked aside innocently enough. "I mean, pissing Brittney off is cool and all, but do we need more enemies?"

Bait taken; Star turned to Jo. "What she's doing isn't fair!"

"And petty," Janna added. "I mean, it's not even going into what she said when she banned her."

Jo nodded. "Uh huh? And need I remind you that there's people trying to jump Dipper on the behalf of the Vanderhoffs–who are unfair and petty."

She stopped. "Oh, and rich, like Brittney is. Pissing her off sounds like it'd make our lives easier."

Misao, who'd been winding up to pitch her own argument about Brittney's attitude, stopped when Jo's point got there first, and hit in a frustratingly similar spot. Janna herself narrowed her eyes at Jo, then looked at Star who wasn't about to have it at all.

"I'm not going to let Brittney get in my face and flex on me, because she can't get over one mistake!" She argued.

Drew and Roland both turned around completely to face the confrontation, both not surprised that Jo was having a go at Star, but surprised that Jo was spitting if not facts, then good points.

"One? She has every right to be pissed at you for all the crap you've done," Jo said.

"If I recall, you talked smack about her entire squad, then you went and caused the disaster at the game." She hummed in mock-contemplation. "What else? Oh yeah, you crashed her birthday party when you weren't invited and rolled the bus."

"Technically I did-" Marco began to say, only for Dipper to put a hand on his shoulder and advise him not to with a shake of his head.

The color began to slip from Star's face, as Jo folded her arms and continued her barrage.

"The way I see it? This is strike two. You crash her dance, and anything happens, I mean anything that ruins it? She'll come after you just as bad as Trip and Van go after Dipper. But because she's not half as dumb as those two? It'll be bad, we'll all get caught up in it, and it'll make fighting the Magnavores even harder."

The silence that followed for a moment after–the result of Dipper, Misao, Marco, Drew, and Roland digesting her point of view–was broken when Janna retorted. "Counterpoint: Brittney is a bitch and needs to be knocked down as many pegs as the Vanderhoffs."

"Yeah!" Star and Misao both said.

"Besides," the latter added with a firmness to her voice. "If a rich girl thinks her money will help her? She is badly mistaken."

Jo huffed. "Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Idiots would keep opening new fronts we don't have to fight."

She gestured to Dipper. "We literally don't know when or if the next jerk who comes after Dipper will–and after the last guys tried to film themselves running him down and beating him, we don't know what they'll do."

Jo held out her arms. "Do we really want to throw more money onto that mess?"

Misao shut her mouth and looked down. Janna on the other hand, shrugged her shoulders and remained defiant. "I'm not afraid of anything Brittney can do to me, and I don't even have superpowers… yet. I'm going to the dance, so she knows that I go where I want, whether I'm wanted or not."

"And so am I," Star added.

Mabel had been quiet to this point, but finally she spoke. "Janna? I think you're right. You shouldn't let Brittney tell you where you belong."

"Exactly!" Janna said with Star in chorus.

"But Star…?"

Star stopped, and Jo looked at Mabel directly. She had the look of reluctant admission: her lips creased into a frown as she successfully wrestled with maintaining eye contact with the princess.

"You shouldn't go to the dance."

"Whoa…" Roland said quietly.

Misao almost looked like she'd been betrayed. "Mabel…"

Star was struck, full-on blindsided by Mabel. "… Huh?"

Dipper had caught her vibe when she pulled his proverbial lead earlier, so he knew what she was on. He looked back and forth between her and Star as she continued.

"It's not because we should be afraid of what Brittney might do… it's more…" She took a deep breath. "… Brittney's not wrong for kicking you out of the school stuff."

Star blinked, unable to process that. "Wh-what? She-but-she!"

Marco wasn't quite buying that either. "We already apologized and worked off what happened during Spirit Week!"

Now that she said it, Mabel reaffirmed her position with more confidence. "Yeah, that's the school though. Has anyone apologized to Brittney… for anything?"

Marco opened his mouth to reply, then stopped. "… Oh."

Star appeared to wilt on the spot, as Mabel's words struck deeper than Jo's spiteful assaults could only think to. Looking around, and realizing she was now the center of everyone's attention, Star slowly wound back up.

"… Then… I'll apologize to her!" She quickly said, to bounce back with as much force as she could.

Marco agreed, as Mabel brightened. "Couldn't hurt."

"Yep, I'll do it first thing tomorrow!"

Janna rolled her eyes, but Misao nodded in agreement. "That would be best."

Star was beaming again, as she pumped a fist. "Then Brittney will let me go to the dance! Problem solved and drama squashed!"

And just like that, Mabel's disappointment returned.

Janna thought differently. "Don't even apologize, all she'll do is throw it in your face."

Roland spoke up. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't try, and mean it."

"I swear I'll mean it!" Star insisted with a dismissive wave. "I'll apologize and I'll even give her a gift to show how sorry I am! What does Brittney like?"

Janna snorted. "Any sort of power and influence that makes up for her lack of personality."

"I can't get her that, but she'll get the next best thing!" Star declared.

"People to mock in public so she can validate herself?" Janna asked.

"It'll be even better than that!" Star promised as Misao joined Mabel's side.

Dipper glanced at his sister, she looked like she'd seen this all before, intimately so. He understood it perfectly, having seen what she'd seen himself, with almost the same familiarity.

"If you're gonna apologize, I'll back you up!" Mabel promised, almost despite herself.

It was as if she'd forgotten that she'd been cornered by Mabel, as Star received her validation. "Just you watch, Mabel! By the end of the weekend, Brittney and I will be BFFs!"

"Still saying," Janna said, "Don't even bother."

Jo hadn't expected the leader of the Teen Girl Squad to take her side, let alone bring up stuff that she hadn't even considered. She wasn't going to question it though, clocks were right twice a day, and that's all she needed to have her day made. "Well, if that's settled, how about we end our day and go home?"

She turned to Janna. "If you're still going to the dance."

"I have my principles," Janna assured her.

"Then it'll just be Marco, Dipper and I up here at the house."

Flabber pouted. "Aw, the guys love having Janna around."

"NO WE DON'T-" Mums stopped mid-yell. "Wait, Janna's not coming up Saturday?"

"Nah!" Flabber called back.

Mums was angrier than ever. "Can't have crap in Echo Creek!"

"Love you guys," Janna replied, her tone dry as the dead vineyard surrounding Hillhurst.

Dipper rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, it'll be just the three of us, I guess."

As Jo tried to not give away her internal preening, Roland shook his head at Drew. Sharing his best friend's annoyance at Jo's antics, Drew joined Roland in the gesture and looked down at his hand again–though briefly.

He had a lot to think about, and he'd rather subject himself to his brain, than dump it on anyone else.

= - = 43 = - =

The Kids Are Alright.

= - = 44 = - =


"I bet it's something cool, like flight or turning invisible."

Jo said it without prompt or any kind of warning, alerting Drew to a conversation he didn't realize they were having until she spoke. They were back in town, walking down the sidewalk into the cul-de-sac of clay-tile roofed houses decorated with palm trees they called home. The sun was almost halfway sunk into the horizon and the streetlights were just beginning to turn on, but younger kids were still outside using up every second of daylight left.

Drew looked at her as she stretched her arms with her fingers interlaced and palms outward. She was in a good mood, having a lot to look forward to this weekend.

"What do you think?" she asked.

He felt his tension ease, "Flight would be cool, but wouldn't it be redundant?"

Jo shrugged her shoulders after dropping her hands to her sides. "I guess it would, invisibility though?"

Drew tilted his head from side to side as he mulled it over. "Yeah, that would be cool to have. Being able to sneak up on Jara, or Typhus? Maybe even Vexor."

"What about Noxic?" Jo asked as she broke into a little grin.

Drew managed a smile too. "What about Noxic?"

Jo chuckled as they turned and walked up the driveway. "Whatever it is it's gonna be cool, all right?"

He smiled a little more. "Thanks…"

The two entered their home, and barely had stepped past the doorway into the living room when they heard their father's voice. "I got a call from Mr. Pines. You two were helping him move furniture?"

Both turned to face their father, seated on a recliner, reading the screen of a tablet computer. He looked out the corner of his eye at them both.

"Yeah," Drew answered. "He's hosting a foreign exchange student, and her belongings arrived today. Roland helped too."

Mr. McCormick looked down at his tablet again as Drew spoke. "You're telling me you skipped school for that…"

Jo spoke up. "Performing acts of community service and charity is a valid reason to skip school. Especially if it's helping the elderly."

He set down his tablet. "I know that. This is just the second time you've skipped class to 'help out the elderly.' And I'm wondering if that's really what's going on."

Drew tried not to get defensive. "If you're so uncertain, talk to Mr. Pines and Nano."

"No, I'd rather not. I'd rather you not skip school. Not for assisting the elderly, especially if it's for Sherman Pines or Nano."

Jo wasn't having that. "Why?"

"Because Sherman's grandson punched out a kid in Nano's shop, right in front of the both of them, and no one's thought to do anything about it."

Jo lit right up. "Dipper punched him out because he was harassing Heather and Drew!"

Mr. McCormick leveled a withering stare at his son. "… He was harassing you?"

"Uhh… yeah, that's what Trip does. He messes with me all the time."

Mr. McCormick slowly shook his head, his blunt scowl shifting to a sneer of disgust before he spoke. "You're telling me that happened because you don't stand up for yourself."

"It's not his fault," Jo said.

Their father thought otherwise. "No, it is his fault." He singled out his son. "It is your fault. You're obsessed with those damn comic books and your superheroes, and you don't know how to actually stand up for yourself."

He shook his hand at Drew. "Now people are getting beaten up in broad daylight because of you."

"That's not even fair and you know it! You don't even know how messed up Trip and his brother are!" Drew shouted.

"I don't need to; I don't care whatever crap some rich punks get up to. They're not my sons, you are."

Drew rolled his eyes. "Then what, am I supposed to punch Trip out myself?!"

Mr. McCormick stopped and weighed on that. "I want you to start being a man. You're too old to be letting people solve your problems or cover for you when you mess up. Accept responsibility for your actions for once!"

Jo threw up her hands. "I'm gonna go do my homework!"

She turned and stormed up the stairs, leaving her older brother to stand alone in the face of their father's ire. Taking a deep breath, Drew nodded.

"Yeah, I can take responsibility."

"Then you're grounded for skipping school and making Jo do it with you. Twice."

Drew recoiled. "What?"

"You just said you were going to take responsibility. Are you going to walk that back now?"

"But I have stuff to do! I'm going to the dance on Saturday!"

His father shook his head. "No, you're not. Even if you weren't grounded, you're not. We both know that about you."

He adjusted his glasses again, this time with his ring finger, then pointed up the stairs. "You'll be off the hook Monday. Now go to your room."

Frozen for an instant, Drew let out a frustrated growl and all but sprinted up the stairs. Jo was standing just outside his door, looking down the stairs.

"The absolute gall! What's up his butt today?!" She whispered.

Drew looked back. "It could be half of LA for all I care. He's not stopping me from going out if the Magnavores attack and you guys need me."

Jo nodded in agreement. "I've got your back. I'll even help you sneak out so you can go to the dance if you want."

That took Drew aback some. "… Thanks…"

Looking down the stairs again, Jo shook her head. "Don't let him get under your skin, that's what he wants."

Drew didn't need to be reminded. "I'll just do what I always do."

At that, Jo sighed. "And I do not begrudge you for it."

Then she remembered and lowered her voice even more. "Don't forget to delete your messages for when he remembers he didn't take your phone."

"I swear, once I get enough cash I'm buying a burner," he muttered as he headed to his room.

Going into his room and shutting it behind him, he dropped onto his bed. After erasing his group chat messages, he started a podcast and flopped onto his back, letting his phone drop to his side.

"Hey guys, welcome to the next episode of Big Bad Beetle Bros podcast, where we talk about everything Beetleborgs. We got an update about the new director for the Big Bad Beetleborgs Movie, and the reshoots for the new actor of G-Stag, Ace Haley."

He looked around his room, on the walls were posters of the Beetleborgs, some carefully taped to the drywall while others were framed. On his desk, surrounding his own tablet, were neatly ordered comics, data books, and other miscellaneous literature about his favorite heroes. On the dresser across from his bed and the shelves next to his shallow closet were figurines and model kits of everything Beetleborgs, some boxed up to protect their value and others accurately posed.

"Reddles and Stags, if you haven't already heard? The man himself Robert Rodriguez, is going to be taking up the helm after Jerry Bruckheimer gave up on the production citing mental health–only to immediately sign on for the Kim Possible biopic."

Drew's gaze moved across the room, over every piece of Beetleborgs memorabilia and material satisfaction. Things he bought with his own hard-earned money or were gifted to him by Jo, Roland, and Nano.

His father was right about one thing, and this was all that he would give him: he was obsessed with comic books and superheroes. They were what got him a friend like Roland, what he and his sister bonded over, and the only thing he could talk to Heather about without tying his tongue into knots and looking like an idiot. Thanks to comic books, he had all the things in life that made him happy.

At least… until he wished to become his heroes.

"The crazy part about this is, Rodriguez has worked with each of the Beetleborg actors, Lucas Lee, Cindy MacDougal, and Ace Haley in three different film projects. It's like everything is coming together perfectly. Three different actors from three different roles, assembling to create a masterpiece."

Drew turned off the podcast and looked specifically at a poster of the Blue Stingerborg posing shoulder to shoulder with the hero underneath, Blue Beet. He had once thought about dyeing his hair blue, to be just like him… but was pretty sure his dad would make him shave it off even if it could be washed out.

Now he was more like him than he ever wanted.

He lifted his right hand up and held it above his face. The armor, the power, he was given everything Blue Beet had… even his enemies.

He let his hand fall onto his face with a soft clap.

Take responsibility? If he only knew what I was taking responsibility for. He has no idea what's my fault.

= - = 44 = - =

Not all of them.
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