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

Down in the Dojo

The Ero-Sennin

The Eyes of Heaven
Staff member
#26
= - = 26 = - =

|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 didn’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 immediately 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 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 to me.”

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 said cheerfully, 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 doing his stretches, Jeremy watched him and let a wicked little smile spread across his lips. This was going to be fun.

= - = 26 = - =
 
Snake in the Angel's Shadow

The Ero-Sennin

The Eyes of Heaven
Staff member
#27
= - = 27 = - =

|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 the Second Lunch period. We had to eat in the gymnasium after Lars got clobbered, bee-tee-dubs.”

“Sorry for that.”

“Like I said, don’t worry about it. 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 it. “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. “Well, 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 pertaining to 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 go grab some pizzas for when you got back from the dojo. 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 Red Belt test.” He said as 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 guys!”

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!” She waved. “See you tomorrow!”

She 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 arguing 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 Roland. “Hey Roland, can you grab napkins from behind the counter?” He looked to 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!”

Jo grimaced. “Pineapple, really?”

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

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

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

Jo was devastated.

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

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

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

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

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

Roland said:
lol

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

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

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

Drew said:
What’s going on?

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

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

Jo said:
GO EAT UR MEATLOAF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mabel said:
Really?

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

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

Janna said:
See you then.

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

Mabel said:
Thanks.

Drew said:
Thnx

Roland said:
Ty

Jo said:
Cool.

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

Handing Mabel’s phone back to her, Dipper took another bite out of his pizza and thought about their situation. If it’s a Magnavore then at least they’re not going around attacking people, but on the other hand… this now raises the question of what they’re up to. Whatever the case may be, we have a plan now, and we’ll be the ones going on the offensive this time.

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

“Yes?” Jo asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha!” Drew and Roland shouted at the same time. Misao, who didn’t like pineapple on pizza because she did try it, snickered and enjoyed her slice.

= - = 27 = - =

The hunt... is on.
 
Karate Kids

The Ero-Sennin

The Eyes of Heaven
Staff member
#28
= - = 28 = - =


|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 began slicing up his steak to go with 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 him.

“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,” Roland said before looking for any sign of Jo and Drew, he could already see their garage door opening. “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?”

“Hm?” Nano thought about it. “Huh, you’re going to that dojo over at Trank Plaza?” When Roland nodded 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 to go?”

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

@@@@@

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 to keep your portable mirror on you. If something happens we’ll need you,” Marco reminded Star.

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

Marco 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 tying 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.
a
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. Marco 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.” Marco 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.”

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

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

“Yes,”
Roland answered.

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

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

Marco nodded. “Yes, Sensei.”

Sensei closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Very well, stand!” He shot to his feet, Marco springing to his in the same instant. “Bow to your sensei!” Marco placed his hands together and bowed to Sensei. “Now prepare yourself! Your training begins… NOOOOOOOW!”

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

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

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

Marco lowered his hands. “Huh?”

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

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

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

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

“Ack! It got in my eye!”

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

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

Sensei narrowed his eyes. “If you are not ready for grueling minutiae, then how can I be sure you are prepared to wear the burden of the red belt, nay, the burden of being an instructor? A master? The arts is 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.”

Fire lit up in Marco’s eyes. 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 disappeared out the door, Drew behind her.

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

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

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

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

“Is your failure at hand, Mr. Diaz?”

“No, Sensei!”

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

“Yes, Sensei!”

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

Sensei looked over to Roland. “Of course!” He turned back to Marco. “Keep up the scrubbing!”

“Yes, Sensei!” Marco called back.

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

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

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

“Really?”

Sensei nodded. “Honestly. Many years ago-” He stopped. “But not too many, when 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 swept his gaze back to Roland, and 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 not slack for anyone.”

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

Sensei held up his hand. “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 gave both of them casual salute to both. “Good luck to the training, I’m gonna catch up with Drew and Jo.”

Both Marco and Sensei placed their hands together and bowed to Roland, who remembered that he was a student of the dojo and returned the bow. 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. He thought. Something was bothering Marco, and the Red Belt sounded like the answer to his problems. Remembering what happened at the dojo yesterday, he hummed.

Gonna have to talk to him about that. He thought as he hopped on his bike and headed for the scrapyard.

= - = 28 = - =

Come on Marco.
 
Scrap Yard Dogs

The Ero-Sennin

The Eyes of Heaven
Staff member
#29
Time for the next chapter.


= - = 29 = - =


|Scrap Yard Dogs|

The high pitched whine of dirt bikes broke through the city ambiance of late morning Echo Creek. Running up and down the hills of a large makeshift motocross circuit, several riders 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 to her. “Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

Dipper frowned. “One of the Vanderhoffs?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Monster Truck Graveyard?” That sounded amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not ominous.” Janna was a mystery unto herself, from which many more mysteries sprang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dipper reached into his book bag and pulled out his journal. Opening it, he reached a blank page and began writing. “That’s a good way to know if we’re in an anomaly.” He looked back at Janna. “Check your phone, is it working?”

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

“Send a text to make sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

“The Magnavores would love this place.”

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

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

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

“Really?”

“Yep, no matter how far you go in, you can just turn around and take a few steps back…” Dipper followed her lead, and suddenly the sound of the nearby machinery and motorbikes 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 motorbike sounds grew louder and closer. “Huh?”

From around a corner of compacted cars, a motorbike 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 growled through her teeth. “… We need to go…”

Soon as she said that 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 motorbikes 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 in here–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 said as she bolted the other way, running across the tops of the piles. Dipper didn’t hesitate to follow, the long climb the motorbikers 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 motorbike 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 it, and it’s rider on the spot. “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 had suddenly evaporated. They fell over each other, hand over foot trying to get onto their feet. The one Nano snatched off his bike attempted to grab it, when the one Dipper hit grabbed and pulled him away, the one filming it all had already turned and raced off. As they scrambled, Nano brought her hands to her mouth and shouted after them.

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

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

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 go near.

It would find its prey.

= - = 29 = - =

It's just not Dipper's time in Echo Creek.
 
Red Tape

The Ero-Sennin

The Eyes of Heaven
Staff member
#30
= - = 30 = - =

|Red Tape|

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

Jo said:
WHAT

Mabel said:
OMG R U OK??

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

Jo said:
WTF WHO DID IT?

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

Jo said:
Drew said that its the Vanderhoffs!

Janna Banana said:
Where r u guys?

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

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

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

Janna Banana said:
Y?

Roland said:
Getting his red belt.

Jo said:
Is he not reading his messages?!

Roland said:
I’m gonna call him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco scrubbed harder. “No, Sensei!” He scowled into his reflection in the glass. “I’m getting that belt.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Dipper and Janna got jumped at the scrapyard.”

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

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

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

Roland nodded. “… Yeah…”

Marco turned to Sensei. “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, 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, bruh… YouTube…”

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

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

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

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

@@@@@

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued on his way, and Marco headed inside the store. “Trust me, this will be real quick.”

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. 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 cashier 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 cashier 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 Cashier 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 familiar with movies that weren’t garbage.

The cashier 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 cashier. “Wait, dollars? You’re joking, right?”

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

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

Roland’s face fell. “What.”

Seeing the short, overweight cashier 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 cashier 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 cashier 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 cashier 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 cashier. “And what’s your problem, challenging people to fights for tapes?! Are you film snobs all that psychotic?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland paused. “Oh.”

The cashier picked up the tape and offered it.

“Take it.”

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

“Huh?”

The cashier 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 cashier 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 cashier, to 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.” He takes the tape and gives it to Marco. “But you know what, man? I think we’re almost done here.”

Marco took the tape. “Almost?”

Roland smiled and looked to the cashier. “Hey man, you got a VCR we can borrow?”

“New or used?” The cashier 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 cashier stood off to the side, waiting patiently for Sensei’s arrival as Marco was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sensei heaved a sigh, and sniffled. “I couldn’t just say that you’d never be my assistant after I said all that in class!” His eyes welled up with tears. “S-so I made up all that junk for you to do today because I hoped you’d get tired and forget about the Red Belt, but you’re like… super determined and junk! I was running out of things to make you do because you wouldn’t give up.”

Marco remained unmoving. “You… what…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stomped away from him, then turned around. “AND IF I CATCH YOU EVEN BREATHING MY NANO’S NAME I WILL BEAT YOUR MOTHERFUCKING ASS! DO NOT TEST ME.”

Roland marched out of the store. Brantley, staring straight ahead, sank to the floor at the base of the shelf and looked down at his feet. Across the room, the cashier 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.

= - = 30 = - =
 
One Week

The Ero-Sennin

The Eyes of Heaven
Staff member
#31
= - = 31 = - =

|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, and Star, also appeared to be covered in bruises.

“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 motorbikes 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 bench 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. “Bruh…”

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

@@@@@

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You set us up, you piece of garbage!” He yelled at Van as the larger of the Vanderhoffs stumbled back.

Van recoiled, and when Topher attempted to push him again, he pushed back harder. “Huh? No I didn’t!”

“Blaine’s in the hospital missing like half his teeth because you said Pine Tree was a joke!” Topher yelled. “And now the track is freakin’ gone, too!”

Van tried to process that. “What do you mean it’s gone?!”

“Because Pine Tree’s friends with Nano, you tool! You didn’t tell us that either! She told the manager to bury the track and they did! They chased us all out of there and knocked like fifty tons of cars onto it!”

“What was Nano even doing there?” Van asked.

“I don’t know! She came out of nowhere and snatched me off my bike!”

The other motocrosser, a lighter haired, brown eyed boy named Caleb, spoke up. “She’s gonna tell our parents, man! If I go home, I’m dead!”

Trip grunted in annoyance. “That freakin’ old bag needs to mind her own business.” On that note. “So what do you two want?”

“For you to pay up now!” Topher yelled at him. “My parents won’t wreck my face if I can at least show them some money.”

Trip rolled his eyes. “Sure, whatever. Dolby, cut ‘em a check.”

“As you wish,” Dudley said, pulling out a checkbook.

Trip glowered at Topher and Caleb. “You at least did it, right?”

Topher turned to face him fully. “What? Did you not hear what I said? Pine Tree shot Blaine in the face with a harpoon gun or something, then Nano showed up and wouldn’t let us near him!”

Anger flashed in Trip’s eyes. “Droopy, burn that check.”

Ripping off the check, Dudley tossed it into a fire pit.

Topher exploded. “WHAT THE HELL?!”

“I don’t pay people for doing nothing,” Trip said in a flat voice. “If you can’t do something as easy as beat up a stupid nerd, then you should be paying me for the time you wasted.”

Topher growled and lunged to grab Trip, only for Van to step in and shove him to the ground at Caleb’s feet. The motocross boy got up and pulled a knife from his boot.

Both Trip and Van recoiled at the sight of the glinting steel. Caleb himself raised his hands in fright. “Whoa, wait!”

Topher ignored him and brandished the knife and began stomping towards the brothers. “You think you’re gonna screw us over, you jackass?! Screw you!”

CLACK!

The sound of wood hitting stone stopped everyone.

CLACK!

Both Vanderhoffs and the Motocross boys looked around, then saw the source of the sound.

CLACK!

Sitting on an empty lawn chair by the pool was an african american teenager wearing a white t-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, dark colored hiking boots, and a cream-colored bucket hat whose brim fell over his eyes. He was beating against the ground a long wooden sword coated in a black lacquer. At the end of its hilt a pink string was bound tightly around it, and at the end of the strings dangled miniature figures of a wolf and an imp.

Topher lowered the knife and stared at him. “Who the heck are you?”

Trip and Van looked at each other, then the former turned to Dudley. “Did you let this guy in here?”

Dudley shrugged his shoulders.

“Hey,” the new arrival spoke in a droning baritone as he struck the tip of the wooden sword against the ground. “You’re paying five stacks to mess with a dude, right?”

Trip nodded. “Yeah.”

Using the sword to push himself up to his feet, the newcomer pointed it at Topher. “I’ll kick his ass for fifty bucks.”

Topher faced him. “What?”

“Do it!” Trip shouted.

The newcomer took the wooden sword in both hands. “Bet.”

Before Topher could speak or move, the newcomer sprinted at him and swung the bokken into his stomach. The blow folded the motorbiker 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.

= - = 31 = - =

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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