It was the sixteenth of august, and the Mississippi proudly reflected the rising sun as the morning shone brightly. That date meant things to many people; to some a birthday, to some others in the US, it was Airborne day, whatever that meant. To the distressed young teenager who had come to be awake just as the sun hit the windows, it meant only one thing: the beginning of the end of summer. Rubbing her eyes, she reached by her bags and pulled out a small photo that Ford had returned to her: a picture of happier times. She, Dipper, Wendy, Soos, even Zander… standing there with Stanley and Yuki. Sweat had formed by her hairline, and she wiped it with the back of her hand before gently pushing herself up and off the hotel bed.
Still lightly sleeping around here was Dipper and Soos. Across the room from her they split a large bed, if that is what it could be called considering how Dipper had, in his sleep, sprawled out and lay half-way onto the floor. Mabel failed to hold back a chuckle, and moved to the bathroom to change. She didn't want to go back to bed, not after that dream. Something that made her skin crawl and her stomach twist.
Stepping out and ready for the day with a lighter sweater, complete with a VHS tape that was spewing a cat that left a rainbow trail in its wake, Mabel gave her night a quick thought and tried to soothe out her ruffled hair. Some fresh air wouldn't hurt her she decided, and stepped out.
She gasped as there was a red-head already outside, leaning against a wall that overlooked a window. Mabel smiled to herself and said, "Good morning beautiful warrior princess!" she chuckled, and walked over to Wendy. Wendy had nothing to say, instead continued to stare out the window, her arms crossed tightly. Mabel waited for a moment more before trying again, "so, uh, how was watch?" she asked.
"Fine," Wendy said shrugging.
Mabel let out a dramatic sigh. "Oh thank goodness," she admitted, "getting sleep was pretty tou-" she paused, clenching her jaw tightly. Talking about sleep, to Wendy: not the kindest thing she could do. As she winced, Wendy shook her head.
"It's okay, Mabel," she said, giving the female twin the smallest look. "I'm pretty used to it."
"Right," Mabel nodded slowly, and then took her chance to look outside. She gasped. "Wow! I didn't get a great view yesterday when we arrived, but that's a big river!" she said.
"I'd never seen it before," Wendy said, "but it just looks like any other big river," she said solemnly.
Mabel looked to the redhead, uncertain. Wendy was many things, but dismissive wasn't often one of her traits. Mabel pocketed her hands and shrugged. "I dunno, it looks really cool. I bet if we just wanted to, we could get some big rubber floaties and just float all the way down to the south again!" she laughed, "we could visit the Swamp-Ape people and see if Gideon was keeping his word. And if not," she punched her hand with a fist, "he's getting a real whoopin'!"
Wendy scoffed, smiling beside herself. "That white-topped legalese punk wouldn't stand a chance against you."
"Exactly!" Mabel said, and held her hand across the distant horizon, painting an image in her mind, "there he is, causing a scene, and from the soda-covered six-foot rubber duckie, I spring!" she chopped at the air, and laughed with Wendy.
Wendy gave her a look as she composed herself. "I guess you couldn't have had such a bad night. You're up before everyone else," she said.
Mabel rubbed the back of her neck, and shrugged. "Uh, not really," she admitted as she looked to the river. On the third floor of the building, it really was a nice view, but not enough to keep her mind at ease. She tried explaining, "I just had a bad feeling all night I couldn't shake."
Wendy frowned. "Can't be good if you have a bad feeling," she declared.
Mabel blew a soft raspberry and waved her hand dismissively. "What? Nah! Just all that," she pantomimed a shifting gear with her hands, then shot an invisible rifle, and made concussive explosive sounds, "stuff," she shrugged, "tires a girl out."
Mabel wasn't entirely truthful, however, and it ate her to not talk about it. Zander hadn't returned, but she didn't want to speak about it. There were others she could turn to about this; heck, just about anyone else would do. But Mabel was more than aware of all the burden and weight that Wendy had now. She didn't want to talk about bad dreams of inconsequence or the feeling of doom approaching. She could turn to Dipper for that. She would turn to Dipper, just later.
Wendy nodded, and lifted her arm. "I've been stuck on this," she admitted.
Mabel's eyes widened and she let out a soft hum. There, sitting in Wendy's palm, was a small sphere. It was no larger than a baseball, and was polished in appearance; like glass. Yet, beyond that surface, Mabel thought she saw stars and space itself just beyond its surface.
Mabel leaned in and looked closer. "That's Zander's, isn't it?" she asked. As Wendy nodded, Mabel frowned and poked it, "So it's also a spear..?" she trailed off.
Wendy shrugged. "Probably, dude. But maybe it's all an illusion," she guessed, pulling the orb closer to look herself. Mabel only frowned a little, puffing her cheek as she wanted to stare a bit longer. Wendy fathomed, "I mean, he always works off darkness and being unseen until it's time to fight. Maybe, like, everything we've seen from him was just sort of an effect of this?"
"Welp, a question that you can ask him when he gets here!" Mabel told her happily. Wendy's gaze fell, but the bubbly woman was too ready to help. "Ah-ah-ahh! Why the long face, Wendy Cordurhorse?" she asked and giggled, "get it? Long faces on horses."
Wendy rolled her eyes but replied curtly. "He's fast. He can, like, fly faster than people can drive a car. We only drove for a day," she explained, and Mabel found her smile more and more plastic by the second. She couldn't bare to tell Wendy to stop, but boy did she want to. That had been bugging her all evening! Wendy continued, "so if he's even faster than us, what's taking him so long?"
Mabel shrugged, swallowing deep her insecurities. "Probably getting snacks. A guy has got to get a snack once in a while," she said, and grinned devilishly, "too bad he didn't come here first for the snacks available."
Wendy whipped her gaze to her as she gasped. "Mabel! Did you just-"
"Ab-so-lutely," Mabel smirked proudly. "I mean, can you blame me? Just think about how he looks," she asked Wendy. She frowned and curled her lip. Mabel was stunned. "You're kidding. You don't see it?" she asked incredulously.
"No, no, I get the appeal," Wendy nodded her head to the side, "he's just not my type. Musicians."
"But you dated Robbie," Mabel pointed out.
"Yeah?" Wendy asked, "and looked how well that turned out."
Mabel held out her finger, and found her retort missing. Instead she looked aside for a moment, and then nodded. "Touché," she awarded Wendy.
After a wink to Mabel, Wendy turned back to the river. "I feel like each time I run into him," she explained, "a part of my… issue gets lighter."
"Oh?" Mabel asked, playing with her hair a bit, looking at the orb in Wendy's hand.
Wendy grumbled. "Not in a good way, though," she explained, and held the orb up and stared at it, "I mean, like, I keep thinking back to the times when I thought he was Zander, and I'll be honest, I was fooled like everyone else. But then I started to get this feeling. Like," she sighed, rubbing her neck, "like he got it. He gets what I'm going through."
Mabel gulped. "Y-yeah?" she asked, feeling a bit warm in the face.
She nodded and continued. "He just knows a lot about it, I think. I guess if you've been around forever," she shrugged, "you tend to pick up these sorts of things. He just knows. Like when he knew about my sense of smell, or when we rescued your parents, or-"she gasped, and clenched her fist, "back at that island, he promised he'd tell me stuff!"
"Yeah," Mabel sadly said, suddenly very displeased with Wendy's approach, "he's really awesome for you, isn't he?"
"Hey," a hand held Mabel's shoulder gently. She looked back to Wendy, already feeling terrible for the smallest breach in sass. Wendy had a tired smile, but her eyes shone. "Zander just keeps me hopeful. Far as we know he hasn't been directly dishonest about things, and he keeps giving me advise that seems to work. That other stuff," she added with a knowing look, "is all your game."
Mabel rolled her eyes and smiled. "Yeah. Sorry Wendy," she said.
"No problem," she said and let her hand fall back, still holding the orb. "I just keep trying to will this damn thing to become a spear. Or sword. Something!" she said with a bite of frustration.
Mabel began to rub its side, "Maybe there's a spot you tickle for it to into whatever you want?" Wendy's eyes widened, and she looked to Mabel with a mild blush. Mabel looked to her. "What?" she asked, uncertain to the stare.
From the hallway, a voice called out to them. "Good morning!"
The Mabel turned and Wendy looked around the twin to see Ford walking, along with three of the five members of the Paths. They had all gotten different rooms, and were walking towards them. Ford was beaming and wide awake, something that stunned Mabel as inhuman. The other three, Nadan, Rin, and Rushtar, followed in his step, waving to the ladies. The latter two held small white cardboard boxes
"Morning," Rushtar said with a quick grin.
"Hi!" Mabel called back to them, and looked to Ford. "You're already up? What the heck gives!"
He was slightly taken aback, chuckling to himself, "to be honest with you, I had a hard time sleeping last night. Too many thoughts and possibilities to account for to allow proper rest," Ford explained. "Still, things are looking better than I would have thought. If you wouldn't mind waking up your brother and Soos, we can bring breakfast to your room, and talk about the next steps."
"Fine by me," Wendy shrugged.
"Yes!" Mabel cheered, "Operation Lich-Stomper is getting steam!" she hooted.
A different room's door swung open, and a cranky man poked his head out. "Be quiet! People are trying to slee!" he hissed.
Mabel rounded on him. "GIVE ME A CHANCE: I'LL PUT YOU TO SLEEP!" she roared so loudly that the man yelled and fled back inside his room. As the stranger retreated and Wendy snickered, Mabel shook her head, "people around here just don't have any respect for public spaces."
Stepping back within the room, the six in the hallway walked into a stunned and now clearly awake Soos and Dipper, who glared at his sister. "Try not to fight every local we come across," he told her as the collective gathered in the hotel room. Rin and Rushtar deposited onto a half-table the white-boxes, opening them to reveal a collection of retrieved morning pastries.
Soos was quick to dress and quicker to claim more than an armful of delicious, sweet pastries. He proclaimed happily, "life is short: eat donuts," he told them as he stuffed his mouth.
Mabel gasped, looking at Soos in awe. "I often forget that you are actually the smartest person in this group," she told him, and then handed him one of her own donuts, "I made this for you. Take it."
He gasped. "Wow! It looks just like the ones from the hotel," he told her excitedly.
Ford blinked, looking between the two. "That is one of the donuts from the hotel," he explained bluntly.
Soos laughed and ate it quickly. Dipper scowled, and nudged his sister, "and Soos is the smartest person here?" he asked of her. Mabel nodded and stuffed her mouth with a sugary treat. "Hope you can fire-punch that out when you choke on it," Dipper rolled his eyes as his sister laughed at him.
From a seat by the Window, Nadan spoke up. "I think it is time we, well, had our discussion."
Ford, half way through a bite of a hard-looking waffle, swallowed whatever he had been chewing and turned to him. "Y-Yes, quite," he agreed, and moved next to Wendy, who was closest to the door. "Now, I don't know about most of you, but I spent most of my night up thinking about next steps, giving regards to our unusual circumstance."
"This is you on almost no sleep?" Wendy asked him, an eyebrow cocked.
He nodded, pursing his lips, "Yes… college life doesn't help, but twelve PH.D.s put the nail in the coffin," he joked, giving her shoulder a nudge with his elbow. She narrowed his eyes at him, and Ford cleared his throat, turning back to the collective. "So, I hope you all got some amount of rest, because we have some serious thinking to do."
"No rest," Mabel quickly piped up.
"None," Dipper added.
"I could have slept better, that is for sure," Nadan admitted with a sigh.
"I slept like the dead," Rushtar said in a low groan, "as in I feel rotten and want to die anyway."
Rin massaged her neck, but said nothing.
Ford was blinking through his glasses. "Really!?" he barked, "not one of us got any decent rest?" he asked, his voice almost cracking.
Soss shrugged, "I dunno, I feel pretty good. But that also might just be this sugar and brown sugar and browner-sugar donut," he added as he chomped on the treat.
Ford slapped his face with six fingers. "Great," he mumbled, "at least he's ready for important tactical decision making."
Mabel rolled her eyes. "We've been tired for the past two weeks," she told him as she stretched her fingers, "this is just a bit more on the want-to-go-to-sleep-forever feeling. Nothing too hard to get over," she declared proudly, as she stretched her arms above her head. A loud pop emanated from her back, and she groaned loudly. "Ooh, nevermind, I think Rushtar said it right," she cringed.
"Hold on," Dipper held out a hand to Mabel's shoulder and looked around, and focused on Ford, "what tactical decision? We're still waiting for Zander to show up," he said.
Mabel, who had been bent over, massaging her back with her brothers help, shot up perfectly straight. "Yeah!" she snapped, almost knocking her brother aside in her jolt. "We shouldn't be making big decisions without our glorious leader!"
Dipper grumbled. "He's not out- ugh," he refrained from arguing.
The twins watched Ford cast a glance to the members of the paths present. The six-fingered man scratched at his temple, and then cleared his throat again. "Right, about that. We have some conflicting ideas as to what to do next."
"Well," Dipper quickly input, "if we need to do something separate from them," he said, giving the learned paths members a significant nod, "then we can just separate. We don't need to do the same thing just because we met up."
Nadan sighed. "It's more complicated than that," he said with weight behind his words.
Dipper quickly retorted, "how?"
Rushtar gave out a tired chuckle. "Because our bus is totally KIA, that's why," he said, "so, until we do get a ride, we are stuck together," he said as he massaged his arm. Dipper huffed, and said nothing else.
Ford nodded from the back-and-forth, and clapped his hands together. "Which is precisely why this conversation needs to happen. First of all, updates," he said, and grabbed a remote to the nearby TV. Wendy, who had been sitting by the television, moved aside. As Ford clicked on the remote, the TV buzzed on slowly. A moment passed as the screen warmed up, sounding slowly going from mute to at a whisper.
Mabel hummed. "Gosh these old TV's are like Grandpa Sherman," Mabel snorted. Dipper cast her a quick smirk, but said nothing else.
Ford, who was looking at the remote in his hand laughed. "I cannot wait to meet my older-younger brother for the first time since my accident," he said, and then grunted, pushing buttons. "For such advancements in technology, this is really difficult to-"
Mabel leaned over, "that button," she pointed to the source button.
"Which?" Ford asked, adjusting his glasses.
"That was a collection of at least nine."
"Source!" she cried out, and Ford yelped, jabbing the button hard. "Finally," Mabel grunted, and adjusted her stance so that the entire crew present could watch the television.
From the screen, a report was midway through a talk. Recording showed parts of a city, which Mabel immediately recognized as Chicago. A ladies voice commented, "-and with local authorities cooperation underway, National Guard have already detained thirty four members of the North American Terrorist Group known as 'The Rising Grasp'." The video feed showed a small line of figures with black cloth bags over their heads being lead into a large armored truck or sorts. They were guided by men wearing camouflage ware, and among them were two very bandaged and sour looking gentlemen.
"Hey!" Mabel pointed at Agent Trigger and Powers. Dipper shushed her, and the report continued.
"With this recent city-wide broadcast, the pentagon has officially begun the manhunt for their leader; Graupner Kinley. This amateur video recording shows the man using some form of unidentified weaponry during a firefight on westbound eighty."
Mabel's heart fluttered, and she grabbed Dipper's arm as she leapt up and down. "Dip! BRO! We're on TV! We're TV FAMOUS!" she roared with unending pride.
True to her word, there was a video of the firefight along the highway out of Chicago. The scene shown already had the gang trying to work on the car, while an unmasked Zander did battle with the cultists and Graupner simultaneously. The footage was clearly low in quality, and gave much to the imagination for the persons faces and details. Mabel, though so happy she could tell people (when this was all over) that she was on TV, was slightly displeased that she was not in glorious high definition.
The TV went silent as a large word 'Mute' appeared across it. Ford lowered the remote and sighed. "There you have it; that's what the government is allowing public broadcasters to report as of now."
Wendy scoffed. "That we got away and that everyone is officially out for Graupner finally? I'm fine with that."
Ford shook his head. He pointed to the television, "look," he said, and they did. On the TV, the recording ended just as the Paths and the gang fled the scene, leaving behind the Guardsman. "Notice where they cut out," he said.
Next to her, Dipper chewed on a pencil he lifted from off nearby table. He then gasped, "what about Zander?" he asked.
Ford pointed to him. "Precisely: what happened to him?"
Mabel laughed. The two turned to her as she explained, "duh! He won, and is probably shaking them off as we speak."
Ford nodded. "I supposed that was a possibility." Dipper had spoken at the same time. "I thought of that too-" The two male twins stared at each other. Ford shrugged, and Dipper turned to his sister. He said, "But Mabel, think for a second about Zander."
"Ohh," Mabel squirmed and her eyes rolled to the ceiling as she daydreamed.
"Not like that!" Dipper snapped. "Think about his abilities." This stalled her daydreaming, and she focused on him: thinking about Zander his many capabilities. "Zander is, arguably, the strongest person we know. Ever. Like, honestly," Dipper held his arms as he said it, "I'm not sure who would win in a battle: Cipher on his turf or Zander at all. Anyway," he shook his head, and looked to Mabel, "he can do, like, anything. Mabel, he can FLY!"
Ford cut in, "not only can he fly, Mabel, but I had a talk with our friends," he explained as he held a hand to Rushtar and Nadan, "about where Zander was when he met with us at the haunted estate in Georgia. Do you know?" Mabel shrugged, having considered many times before where he was, but never really knowing. Ford elaborated, "He was in Atlanta, and then he flew to us, and later, flew back to Atlanta."
"Okay?" Mabel shrugged, "he's super-awesome, we know that."
Next to her however, Dipper had frowned. "What time did he get back?" he asked.
Nadan laughed gently. "It was 5:15 or so," he said with a small smile.
Mabel nodded. Dipper's eyes grew wider and wider, and Ford seemed to acknowledge Dipper's silent realization. As Soos also clapped his hands to his cheeks and went "wow!", and after still not coming to their same conclusion, Mabel finally gave in. "Oh my god guys," she exclaimed, "if any one of you math-dorks wouldn't mind telling me what is so special about-"
Ford frowned, but explained. "Flying over two hundred miles in the span of fifteen or so minutes is the big deal," he said.
Mabel grinned and nodded. "That's my boy," she sighed, "can't stop, won't stop."
Dipper clunked the side of her head with a gentle smack of his palm. "It means," he explained, "that Zander, flying, was probably going about eight hundred miles per hour, Mabel." In mid-dreamy-grin, she locked into place. Pride in his power was one thing, but that was fast. "That's over Mach one," Dipper scoffed.
Rushtar nodded and jumped in. "Not to mention he came back and acted like it was nothing. The guy never tries to do anything at all. Like," he rolled his eyes and tossed his hands into the for a moment, "why even train us if he can just do all of that?" he angrily asked.
"The point," Ford re-adjusted the conversation, "is that Zander easily, easily," Ford emphasized, "could have escaped. He not only could have caught up with us, he could have done so in less than 5, from the heart of Chicago. He could have looped all the way to, I don't know, Milwaukee and then back-"
Dipper jumped in, "Mabel, the point I think being made is-"
She concluded as she felt an often-unfelt part of her heart speak: somberness. "Why isn't he back?" she asked for them, heavy in her voice.
Ford adjusted his stance, and quickly looked around. After a pause, he spoke again. "So, as we realize that it is more than likely that our previously leader had not just one or a few opportunities to return to us, but has not, we now must face the possibility of acting on our accord without his approval."
Nadan spoke up, "which is why while we let poor Drew rest and Maureen watch over his recovery," he explained, "we must decide our first action: to wait for, uh, Zander," he said and almost shuddered, "or continue on our journey."
Mabel quickly looked around. Soos, almost next to her other side, quickly put a palm to his chin and started to think as he scrunched up his face. She spied on her brother, who cast his eyes down. She knew that meant he had an opinion that he didn't think others would like. Great. She looked to Ford, who was rubbing the back of his hand, and she remembered that summer three years ago; the same feeling Dipper had, different tell. Her eyes locked onto Wendy, but the redhead was looking into her hands, which held the orb. The paths were much harder to read. The tallest, Rin, about as much wore her emotions on a sleeve as she did emote at all, which was to say she didn't. Rushtar had begun to pace about, grumbling to himself. Nadan on the other hand met eyes with her, and Mabel got the feeling he was trying to do the same: study her thoughts.
She sighed. No one was jumping to speak, so she would risk breaking that awkward ice. "Okay, so Dipper and Grunkle Ford think we just abandon the best guy to help out anyone ever," she bitterly announced. "I think we should stay," she decided, "because we don't leave our friends behind."
"We did leave our friend behind," Dipper retorted darkly.
Mabel felt a melted steel sort of heat eat at her chest. She rounded on him quickly, and held up her pointer finger. "Okay, first of all," she snapped as he recoiled slightly, "one: he told us to leave! We- I- didn't abandon anybody!"
Soos chuckled, "She got you there dawg." Dipper rolled his eyes and elbowed Soos's gut. "Oof," the tall, rounded man gasped.
"And two, he's literally come running for us in the past. Like, Dipper," She leaned to him, and grabbed his hand, "bro, you used magic to call to him. Magic. He hates magic, like more than anything. And he still helped you. Do you remember when those crystals flipped our genders around?" she asked.
Rushtar spun three-hundred-sixty degrees before facing them. "The what's did the huh on who?" he asked them.
Dipper, red in the face, said through gritted teeth, "yes, vividly."
"Oh shuddup," Wendy snorted, "you pulled off fem really well."
Dipper went a deeper shade of crimson as Mabel continued. "And when that happened, he was there. He helped out. Who healed your hands from all that evil blackfire?" Dippers red faded slowly as he nodded, turning away and saying nothing else. "Exactly," she noted, and looked around, "he's always got our backs."
Wendy let out a small grunt, somewhere between a hum and a 'humph'. Otherwise she continued to stare at the orb. When again, no one else spoke, Mabel growled loudly. "Well, okay! Since we're all about, I don't know, evidence and stuff rather than helping those who were super cool to us," she said in a heated, rapid statement, "we should try to figure out what did happen to him."
Ford held up a hand. "Already tried. The internet had nothing for us."
Mabel rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but that was you trying," she said with a smirk.
Ford looked flabbergasted. He spluttered, "I-what- what are you implying, young lady?" he demanded.
"Grunkle Ford, you're just like Grunkle Stan," she said with a smile, "really smart until anything new comes up. Then you might as well be Dipper," she said.
Dipper took a moment to register her smack-talk. "That was easily the most confused insult you've ever thrown at me," he told her.
Ford quickly added, "and, obviously, I corroborated my results. I asked these three," he held the hand towards Rushtar, Nadan, and Rin, "and they said they could find nothing."
Mabel blew a raspberry. "So you, a pffd who's been gone for thirty years-"
"I'm sorry, what did you call me?" Ford asked, his confusion bleeding through every word.
"A Pffd," Mabel clarified.
Ford blinked. "What-"
Wendy gasped, and nearly whispered "I think she means Ph.D.".
Rolling her eyes, "yeah, that," she stated, "and you asked them?" she turned to the three elder martial artists, and put her hands on her hips. "What's the top meme these days?" she asked.
Rushtar blinked. "Top what?"
Mabel turned to Nadan, who simply shrugged. She shook her head, and looked to Rin.
After a long moment, the tall woman said, "I like that pizza rat."
Mabel nodded to her, "okay, you get a pass," she told the woman. Rin closed her eyes and nodded as she gave herself a pat on the shoulder. Mabel looked back to her great uncle, "Well one out of three isn't great still," Mabel told Ford, who looked at her as if she might as well be speaking in tongues. "And besides," she explained, "top is the badly dancing dolphin at the concert."
Soos chuckled, "I love that one!"
Mabel crossed her arms, "face it Grunkle Ford, when it comes to being caught up, you're still behind," and she whipped around to Soos, "Soos, see if you can't find out what happened to Zander."
Soos saluted. "Got it hambone!"
Ford scoffed, and took a seat on the closest bed. "Well, you trying being removed from the timeline for thirty-three years and be caught up," he mumbled, and shook his head.
Dipper wove his hands around, "wait a second," he said, "even if we find out, we can still plan accordingly."
"Aha!" Ford jumped right back up, "yes! Indeed. Let us talk about that-"
Ford froze, turning to his left. Rushtar walked over to him, and took a collapsing seat on the bed. He felt his head, which currently sported several large bandages. The shaved head man, looked around, a flustered and nervous energy emanating from him like steam. "I get it. I do, okay?" he said to the gang, looking from Ford, to Dipper and Mabel, to Wendy, and Soos. "You all met him in his alter-ego, okay? He was very cool and super supportive and really charming. And a Rockstar?" he added, "I can't believe I'm saying that."
"His music was great," Rin added, "I have all his albums."
"Whatever," Rushtar bit through his teeth, "but let's talk about reality for a second, okay?" he turned to Mabel, a pained look on his face. Mabel suddenly felt very uncomfortable as he turned to the others; that feeling of opening someone else's sacred belongings flooded through her. "We're acting like he really was doing his best for us all the time. But he wasn't."
"Darren," Nadan said quietly, with a tone of warning.
Rushtar held up a hand, "No, no, let me finish," he said, "so the guy can easily move, what, a thousand feet in a second. A second!" he snapped, "the guy can outrun cars, and trains, and every single thing we've ever rode in him with. The guy can fight armies on his own."
Just above a whisper, Mabel asked "So what?"
Rushtar finally said, "so why hasn't he already solved everything himself!?"
Mabel puffed her chest and was ready to talk back to an ally- an adult ally at that. "Because even super-heroes need help sometimes!"
"Help?" he asked her, "Honey," he shook his head, "if the guy can just as much fly across the world in a matter of hours as he can snap his fingers together, its not him needing our help."
Nadan spoke again, louder and with a colder tone than before. "What are you getting at, exactly?"
Rushtar rolled his eyes. "Is he looking out for our wellbeing?" he asked around. He held out his hands just as Mabel was about to retort, "and before you say of course, think about what he's sent you to do while we've been fighting cultists who carry knives and bazookas in equal amounts."
There was a loud scoff. "Who cares?"
All but Soos, who was busy on his phone and scrolling through web pages, turned and stared at Wendy. She was glaring at the orb, and her eyes slowly lifted off the shining, dark surface. She looked very tired, and those green eyes shone with a strange brightness that betrayed her tone.
"Like, mister Rushtar dude," she continued, "I get it. You feel betrayed and annoyed. I get it, I really do. The guy owes me a talk that literally no one else I know can give, and he may have just bailed on us for some dumb reason. But up until now, I believed- no," she grabbed the orb tightly into a fist, "I knew that he cared about saving the world. No doubt in my totally messed up life about that one."
Her words rang about the room like a gunshot would tear into a night. Rushtar stared at her, some of her tired looks creeping into his own face. Nadan smiled and nodded. Dipper sighed and mumbled something in agreement. Mabel just beamed. Of course, Wendy knew the truth: he was on their side.
The redhead looked to Rushtar again. "Is that good enough for you?"
He shrugged. "I hope it is," he sighed. "This wouldn't be the first time he vanished after a fight."
Mabel turned to him fully. She had remembered Arline mentioning something about that long ago, or at least what felt like so long ago. Before she could ask for details, Soos yelped. "Ah! Got stuff! Digs!"
The gang moved over to him, as well did the Paths present. All seven crowded around Soos, heads poking around him, or above him, to better get a look at the tiny phone screen. The screen before them had a video loaded. The icon of the soon to be playing bit was of a younger man of wide set body and signs of musculature. He might have been eighteen or so, dark eyes and a lighter brown skin that was cooler to the eye. What was more important was that behind him were five or six screens behind a faded teal background, an impressive display of strange statistical data and globes.
Soos proudly told the others, "When in doubt, check out the Wadewatch."
"The what?" the twins said in unison.
Soos turned to them. "Oh, dudes," he started, "he's like a super-genius. He kind of inspired me to be a fix-it kind of dude, you know?" he said, "makes his own technology, and has his own channel. And look, he has a video on what happened!"
He pressed play, and a snazzy video entry began to play. "Who's watching world-wide-webs? Wade!" the energized and electronic inspired intro sang. Then the person began to chat.
"Hey there Watchers!" the young man on the video proclaimed happily, flashing a bright smile, before clapping his hands together, and shaking his head as the smile faded. "It's a dark time these days, isn't it?" he continued, as images of, to the gangs surprise, the battle in Florida, the scrape in Pittsburg, and then the incident at Niagara appeared on the screen. "People are finally seeing the bad side of this new wave of energy that's washing across the globe. I know people still don't like me calling it 'magic'," he said using fingers as quotes, "but after what we saw in these past three days, I'm running out of alternatives."
Mabel snorted, "Duh, Arcana." Dipper looked to her, and smiled. "See?" she said to him, "I do listen. Just not to you," she snickered as he poked her side.
The man continued. "Well, I can firmly say that whatever is happening is gotten bad enough that our friends in the government aren't happy. They're about it to start censoring things," he said, and waved his hand. The same video that the news had played was shown, "because your boy Wade is a bit faster with the acquisition of intel. These guys- the Rising Grasp? The news won't show the end because it makes our boys in uniforms look like they didn't finish the job. Well…" he sighed, "they didn't. These cult maniacs did get away."
"What?" Mabel said, a cold feeling cross over her arms, and she held them close her herself.
"So," Wade, the guy on the internet, continued, "I'll warn you all before it plays that this isn't just your normal video of bad stuff. This is seriously horrible. If you don't want to watch, click the screen now," he said, as a small wash of text appeared on the screen. After a moment, the audience around Soos did nothing but wait, the text faded. The man nodded, and looked to the screen with a sorrowful stare. "Okay, if you're still here, he's where the rest of that video going around continues as."
The video was fullscreen. It showed Zander standing there, upright and speaking. The video was, to Mabel's surprise, slightly higher in quality than before. He was looking up to Graupner and his battered goons like they were just anyone else you talked to. Graupner was furious; yelling something and pointing down to the blond with some resilience. Yet Zander just smiled back up, and he spoke. The words were too quiet, but Zander seemed happy. He was at some sort of peace, even before the evil.
Graupner spoke, and then snapped his fingers.
The jolt of pain that soared through her body made her flinch. Mabel yelled and looked away. She had seen enough to know what she was missing. She was not the only one. Soos gasped and dropped the phone.
"Oh my god," Dipper gasped, stepping back.
Ford reached down and closed the phone, stopping the thunderous sound of that laser fire. He gingerly held the phone to Soos, who just stared at it. "Soos… please take your phone," Ford asked. The handyman looked at his phone as if it were plagued: some horrid boil to be left alone, forgotten. Slowly, he reached out and took it back.
Wendy spun around. She marched passed the pale Rushtar, who was breathing heavily. Before anyone could say anything, she was out the door and outside.
Mabel finally found the side of a bed. In three years of training with Arline, she had never felt so weak as she did now. Her legs were number than her mind, which had this horrible buzzing sound fill her thoughts. She realized with an uncontrolled, hiccup-like sob, that it was the sound of those lasers. They filled her head like hornets, stinging her senses until all she could feel was a desperate sickness in her gut. She wanted to throw up.
"Oh no," Nadan said, holding a hand to his mouth. "He…"
She turned to her brother just as the tears fell past her eyes. She reached over and wrapped her arms around him, almost falling into a hug as she buckled. She was not crying. She wouldn't. But these damn convulsing twitches in her gut tore at her. She wanted to stand up and punch herself until they acted normal. But she couldn't stop heaving, and her legs were still numb. She shook her head.
"Stupid dream… I thought it worked," she sniffed.
"What?" he asked her softly.
She sniffed. "Like Grunkle Stan. I knew he was okay. I just knew it," she said. "I-I was wrong Dipper," she said, feeling like whatever wretched feeling locked into her body was crawling out as she told him. "H-He's gone!"
Mabel wept atop his shoulders. No amount of tight hold would dissuade her pain, but she knew he was here.
The room felt emptier and larger than ever before. Certainly, even with Wendy having left, it was a crowded space. No one spoke, and it felt like miles between each person. Dipper held onto his sister, the only one who, to her, felt within arm's reach. Her eyes dared to look elsewhere.
She saw Soos. Much like herself, the poor many had his chest ripped open; Soos sat on the floor, eyes swimming in shimmering tears. He looked so miserable. Across the room the Paths, the three larger, taller, oldest of the martial artists whom had diverted danger away from the twins and their friends more than once… looked broken for the first time.
Nadan stared at a spot of carpeted floor, his eyes wide and his lips moving, silent words half-forming in his mouth. Rushtar had stepped to a wall, and let his head rest against the painted surface. Rin just looked ahead, paler than ever before and looking almost like a ghost lost in itself. Mabel felt their pain. She had lost someone who she… wanted. Wanted to know, wanted to smile at, and laugh with. They had lost their guide, their way. She then saw Ford
Ford's gaze was fallen. He leaned against the wall, holding the locked box of Starkissed stones. That small wooden box, so gently clutched in his twelve fingers held the answer to a solution that, as far as Mabel knew, only Zander had full details on. Did that mean everything they had worked on was over? Had they just lost? Her vision blurred as the very idea that now everything really was over summoned more tears.
From the silence a voice quietly spoke. Nadan stood and said, "I will, uh, speak to Maureen and Drew. They will need to know this." Rin stood with him. As he made for the door, he clasped a hand onto Darrens shoulder, shaking him from his stupor. Nadan turned once more before leaving through the door. "There's a small camping park just past the parking lot. It has a firepit. I… I think we will hold a vigil for him, just as we did for Arline."
The three parted, passing through the door and leaving the gang to their own thoughts, their own pain.
Ford sniffed loudly and nodded. "Ah. A vigil, that's… a good idea." He rapped his fingers across the small wooden box. His eyes looked to the others, and a pained expression came to his face. "I suppose we have more to talk about now than before," he said quietly.
Mabel felt his brother look past her, at their grand uncle. Whatever look he cast to Ford, the time-displaced gentlemen wilted from it. He cleared his throat. "Perhaps after the vigil. Or even later."
From his seat on the floor, Soos spoke up. "Yeah dawg," he sniffled, "kind of too bent up to make a big dude choice."
Ford nodded. He placed the chest down, by the drawer of the room, and nodded. "That is more than fair," he agreed. He then walked over to Soos, and offered a hand. Soos stared at him. When Ford felt the odd look, he sighed. "I only knew him briefly. I didn't know him like you all did. I don't have the same pain you all do, and I'm so sorry," he pleaded in his voice, "I want to say we can take the time to, well, feel this out. But we really need to-"
Dipper cut him off, "Yeah," he snapped, "we get it."
Ford looked to him quickly. "I-I didn't want to hurt your- I just-"
Dipper glared at him. "Just shut up," he said, and stood up with his sister. Ford fell silent, his arms collapsing to his sides. He turned away from them marching to the door, and holding it open. He said nothing else as the three inside stepped out.
Down the hallway, the gang could see the park which Nadan had mentioned. A small campsite in a clearing by trees provided a small firepit. The other members of the paths gathered by it, holding bits of twig and wood.
Their steps echoed across the hard ground. Coming close to the newborn flames, they all stopped by the circle of the paths. Maureen and Drew had just joined. Maureen had a reddened face and tears fell freely from her cheeks. Drew, to his own, seemed just stunned and confused; he still had wrappings around his head and bandages around his hands and what little of his arms Mabel could see. They, along with Nadan, Rushtar, and Rin, stared at the now grown flames.
Nadan cleared his throat. "I… suppose I'll speak," he said, looking around.
Mabel followed suit. They were all there, sharing in this pain. She couldn't see Wendy- at first. Just past the cover of the first trees in this park, Mabel saw the red-haired girl leaning against a tree, watching them from a distance. She tried to wave, but her hand was heavy and only accomplished a twitch. Still, she tried a watering smile, which Wendy did seem to notice. Wendy's mouth momentarily let a corner turn up, an attempted smile.
The older man spoke. "I remember how he came to us all, the Guardsman as he was once called. We all needed something. My brother and I," he said, "we had our family struggling, and he saved us in the worst moment, many years ago. I know that each of us have similar stories," he said, looking around to each person by flame, "he came to us as a hero."
The flames captivated her. She saw into them, the image of Zander, the first time she saw him, smiling brightly and singing his heart out. No, she thought, he hadn't been a hero. Not any super hero, at least. He had just seemed so happy. She closed her eyes, failing at keeping back another tear. Had anything she known about him actually been true? Had he meant those smiles and kind words to her and her brother?
"Who he was," Nadan continued, "his name, Zander Maximillion, or the Guardsman, or the Master of the paths," he shook his head, "In the end, I suppose what we really care about is what he left us with, and what he gave us before this." Maureen avidly shook her head, her mouth twisted tightly to prevent any sobbing. Rin gently shook her head too, and Drew looked to them all. Rushtar just sighed and closed his eyes tightly, a tear slipping down his face.
Something tight in Mabel's throat made her need to speak. "We only knew him for the summer," she said, catching the gaze of the others. Feeling hot in the face, she continued, "I don't, um, know much else, I guess. Not like that," she admitted, "but I knew that he wanted people to be happy. I knew it," she defiantly said, "he tried to help us. Now that he's gone," she said, taking a deep sigh, "I think we should try to do what he would have wanted."
"Yeah?" Dipper asked, looking at her with a trying smile.
She nodded and looked back. "Help others."
Nadan smiled and nodded. "He would," he paused, his voice trembling. He took a moment and looked at Mabel, his eyes shimmering, "he would have been very proud of you."
Mabel closed her eyes. Such words she never knew how badly she both wanted to hear them, and never wanted to hear them ever. She was torn, twisted in her mind with thoughts of loss and pride. So, she opened her eyes and said back quietly, "he was proud of us all."
Maureen let out a soft sob, and covered her mouth. Drew, next to her, held her shoulder with a hand, still looking like he might be dreaming. Rushtar wiped his face quickly, looking to the sky. The fire crackled and snapped around them as their silence was eaten by the flames and gentle smoke. Mabel felt that emptiness claw at her. Her mind raced at what she remembered of him. How he wrote a song about the Paths, and loved that scarf, and liked to garden. He wasn't afraid of the things Mabel liked, and was so happy with the things the twins got into. He helped Robbie get his dream job. He allowed Arline, Mabel, and Dipper to escape the trap with those plant-werewolves. He came back to help them. He always said-
"There will always be a new day," she quietly said aloud. The crowed once again looked to her. After a moment, she shrugged. "It's what he always said."
Rin nodded. "His hope."
"Yes," Nadan nodded, smiling as he wiped his eyes, "and I think then it is time we took to that idea. We have the future to work with. To work towards." He looked to Ford. "We aught not linger. We have the materials he asked for, don't we?" Ford nodded quickly. "Good," he declared. He looked to the paths. "Mourning is done over time. We cannot dry our tears fully before a fire. Instead, we should prepare to leave, and finish what he would have wanted of us."
Maureen spoke with a mousy voice, "I suppose so."
As the other members of the paths started walking back to the hotel, Nadan turned back once to the group. "We should prepare to leave as soon as possible. We can catch a flight to the west coast and undo the damage that he would have wanted undone."
Ford spoke up. "We will join you, just after some time." He looked to the twins, "let us have a few more moments."
Nadan nodded, and turned after his kin.
Ford sighed, and took a seat by a heavy looking bench. As the three turned to him, he wringed his hands together. "I'm sorry," he said.
"For what?" Mabel asked.
"I'm, uh," Ford started shakily, "not always best when it comes to getting on people's best moods. That was always a Stan thing, not me," he admitted. "I'm sorry if I've made this any harder than it would be. I never wanted-"
Mabel left her brothers side and wrapped her arms around Ford shoulders. He stalled his words, caught off guard. Into his shirt, she said, "thank you, Grunkle ford." He responded by holding her back. Dipper walked over and embraced as well. A sudden and heavy impact with tight squeeze after Dipper told Mabel that Soos had also come over for a large hug.
"Okay," Dipper grumbled, "Soos, could you-"
"Right, right," Soos nodded, letting the three be. "I'm just so happy that if we're doing this save-the-world stuff, we all have each other."
"Right," Dipper said, patting his shoulder. He turned to his sister, and she met his gaze with a big, watery smile. He even looked to Ford, who nodded back to him with a grin. Dipper looked around again, and his confident smirk faded. "Guys," he said, spinning around completely, "where did Wendy go?"
Mabel looked around. The tree she had last seen the redhead was vacant of said persons. She blinked. "I swear she was just that way," she pointed, indicating the tree. Just marched over to the tree, looking around. Just past it, a thin forest laid out before them, barely a hundred feet or so before a large field of wheat billowed past that. Then, in the distance, she saw a flash of red lingering in the fields. "There!" she pointed.
"What is she doing there?" Dipper asked.
Ford sighed. "Probably wanted her own moment," he guessed. "I suppose we can wait for her here?" he suggested.
Soos stepped forward, his brow furrowed as he looked ahead. Mabel looked to him. It was odd to see Soos focused like that. Sure, he wasn't always just a bubbling exhibit of joy and cool-ness, but this wasn't the 'Soos has a deep thought' look. He seemed worried. She asked, "What's wrong?" to him. After a moment, he stepped forward, walking towards the fields. "Soos?" she asked, watching him pull ahead.
He looked over his shoulder at them. "I have a bad feeling about this, dudes. I got this feeling in my tum that says I know this feeling," he said, and as he marched forward, he added, "Like she'll come back."
Mabel looked to Dipper, and ran after Soos. Behind her, Dipper asked, "Who?"
Wendy had been watching the fires grow. She had watched them all take their turns saying such sweet things about the Guardsman. How they'd miss him, and the good things he did for them. It was too much for her. She had to leave. Get away from it all. She had turned, and as quietly as she could to not interrupt their chat, she left for the woods.
The small cluster of trees and grassless soil almost made her think of home. She saw the thicker trees present, their towering branches casting shade all around here, shielding the brightened morning. She had learned how to be quiet, and she walked across the forest like a phantom, barely making a sound. No breath, nor a snap of a twig under her foot. She had seen the field just past the edge of these woods and stepped into them.
This was new. This was something she had never done before. A gentle summer breeze hit her side, swiftly lifting her hair with a gust as the din of the plant life around her emanated a soft buzz. She reached around, feeling the course wheat with her fingers. She stepped further away from that dirge. She felt the soft crunch of bent plants beneath her step, and looked up. The blue skies were peppered with dark clouds.
She stopped, and looked around. This farm, this expanse of wheat; it seemed to go on forever. She just stood in it, and suddenly felt a horrible realization. She had been trying to fight it this whole time, using other stimulus to focus on other things. She knew what she had been trying to leave behind was not going to just be forgotten, but it was too terrible to not try. Yet, surrounded in a field with nothing else to see other than the green, turning gold, wheat, she let out a small muffled cry.
With Zander gone, there was no one else for her to seek hope from.
Robbie had sworn he would find out how to help her. That had been almost three years.
Dipper had said he would help. But how could he? They were too trying to save the world, and the Dipper could barely get sleep, let alone a side project.
And finally, as she fell to her knees, she let her horrible guilt consume her. If she had just gone with Graupner, Zander would still be here.
If she hadn't been a wraith, she couldn't have been targeted by Graupner at all.
If she hadn't died-
"Then you would have had a very different life."
That hadn't come from her. Wendy yelled and fell forward. The new voice had been just behind her. She could hear people very well since becoming what she was, but not a single sound had heralded anyone's arrival. As she spun around and looked up, her eyes widened and drank in the sight. It was a hovering triangle, one of its points directed at the earth, with the other two creating a flat top. Above the top, a stuffy and overly decorated top-hat floated. Held at its side, a cane-gripped umbrella twirled in place. A large, single eye stared down at Wendy. The thing had soft silver lines and gentle blue interior.
Wendy stammered, "Y-you!"
The thing chuckled, and then clicked some unseen tongue. "Tks-tsk," it said, "that's not quite right. It's Yore," she said, and zoomed closer to Wendy, her large eye right in front of the redhead, "Kelly Yore."
Wendy crawled back in a hurry, feeling wheat pressed behind her back. "H-how?"
Kelly Yore shot upright, her eye wide. "Oh! Now that's an interesting question for mortals to ask. I am so often asked that after I make a proposal, but in this case-"
"I can't sleep," Wendy reminded her hesitantly, "dude, I literally cannot dream!"
Kelly rolled her eye. "Yes, I know," she whipped around the redhead, causing Wendy to pause. "But then again, that's not my realm, is it?" she said coyly. "Dreams?" she asked. Wendy stared at her, uncertain as to what to do. "No, no," Kelly chuckled, "my dear child of power," she said, "I do not pretend to invade dreams. I am the force of nostalgia."
"Nostalgia?" Wendy asked. "You're the demon that Soos-"
She cut Wendy off, fading before her to appear next to her, lounging in a plush recliner. "Yes, yes, dear sweet Jesus Ramirez," she sighed, "our differences were unfortunately too great to create a working agreement. Such is what happens when someone of the winds gusts past a being of the waters."
Wendy stared at her for a moment, her eyes squinting. "W-what?" she asked.
Kelly sighed again. "Not one for poetry then. Fine by me." Dissolving before Wendy and re-appearing directly ahead of her, the being of the past spoke candidly. "Soos was too short-sighted and scared to understand the gift I provide to mortals. The chance, to do what some only dream of."
"Yeah?" Wendy found her feet and stood again, now slightly taller than the triangle, "which is, what, changing the past?"
"Don't scoff," the Demon warned her, rising up to her face, "many have used my powers for greatness. I only ask that in return, I gain something from it," she said.
Wendy scowled. "No way."
Kelly blinked. "You've yet heard my proposal!"
"I'm not interested," Wendy firmly said, waving a hand away, "Soos told me all about you! You're just using me to get what you want!"
The triangular demon swelled in size, the silvers become darkly gold and the purple fuming to an ugly green color, and she growled with the power of an eighteen-wheeler truck roaring past, "don't you dare turn away from me, miscreant!"
Wendy stepped back, her hand up as a shield.
The triangle shrunk back down, and glided closer. "Now, listen here, you perfect, mutant baby," she said, plucking a piece of seed off her shoulder off-handedly, "you cannot dream. You cannot sleep. You will soon lose what is left of you that makes you want you are. I don't think I need to remind you the issue you are in," she said.
Wendy felt the deep weight of her words crush her spirit. Her head fell slightly. She wanted to pull away, but lacked the will to force her to move.
"Yes," Kelly Yore nodded her form, "Yes, it is grim. The future isn't looking great for you, and trust me," she said with a chuckle," my other brother won't be helping you. Not his thing, anyway."
She looked to her, "other brother?"
Kelly laughed. "Well, other-other brother. Adam is always busy, so no luck there. You can't dream, so no help from Bill, though he's also rather occupied these days, stupid, compound, golden gremlin," she let off a sigh, "so… there's me. I can help you."
Wendy held her tongue. She had so much she wanted to say, and refused to simultaneously. There was even more of these monsters? More than just the demon of the past and of dreams? That confused and uncertainty must have prevailed across Wendy's eyes, as the Demon leered at her. Kelly chuckled, and waggled her finger at her.
"Oh, dearest little test-tuber," she sighed, "I can promise you that whatever you want to say, I know. I'm a demon of the past, and you thought it, didn't you? All access," she snapped her fingers, and a book 'poofed' into her hands, labeled 'Wendy Corduroy memories', "once it's done."
"Hey!" Wendy growled, and swiped for the book. Kelly didn't bother moving, and instead stayed put. As Wendy slapped her, a loud splash of water erupted from her, and Wendy fell through her and the book. "Don't!" the redhead snapped.
"Now, let's see here," the Demon said, flipping pages, "upon careful observation," she said, adopting a monocle to her form, "you've gone and spent the past three years in misery. Three years of eighteen within this dimension," she said, her eye closing and shaking her form back and forth, "such a grim series of events. Three out of eighteen, if my math is right," she chuckled, "is one sixth. A sixth of your life was spend this way."
"Shut up," Wendy growled, "I don't need you to remind me."
"Quite! And precisely my point," Kelly slowly floated over, "you've dwelled on your pain every day of your life when you had nothing else to do. Now that I've finally come across you, I see the potential you have. Three years like this? But I think we can imagine what… if…"
Kelly Yore's form twirled and twisted until it appeared as a tall, red-headed, sad looking girl with bright green eyes. Wendy stared at it, her own eyes growing wide. Through the clones lips, Kelly's voice spoke, "yes, this is you. What you are now. But here's… what you could be."
She twisted again, and Wendy gasped at the new form. She wore a cool jacket, had shorter hair and a long sling backpack over her shoulder. She, more than anything else other than the tidy clothes and matching look, this Wendy was taller, more adult, and… smiling.
The form twisted just as Wendy wanted to reach out and touch her. Kelly appeared again, twirling her umbrella around. "It is such a shame, you know," she said with a forlorn tone, "that those who are cursed often bring their darkness to those they love." She put a hand on Wendy, who didn't have the energy to flinch or move away. "Zander, as he called himself recently," Kelly continued, "knew this pain. But he is out of your hands now," she said, and floated back, and away. "If you're fine now, with what is ahead of you, I will leave you to your future." She floated further away, and paused, turning to add, "after all, humans seem to adaptable: perhaps you will learn to numb yourself of this life of pain."
The triangle stopped. Slowly it turned back to face Wendy, who was clenching her teeth. She had reached out, but she withdrew her hand.
Kelly all too eagerly asked, "Yesssss, my dearest child?"
Wendy closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, and opened them. "What… do you have in mind?"
Can you blame her though? Who wouldn't jump at the chance to change a part of your past if you had the power to. At least before you think about it. Or... when you've thought too much about it. I hope Wendy can come to her senses regarding this all. Then again, knowing how Kelly works, it might not be as simple.
And yeah. Zander could easily fly over 1000 feet a second. How? Super Martial Artssss...
(The entire pandemic response team explodes through EZB's door, spraying disinfectant and anti-bacterial everywhere. EZB yells as they throw him into a isloation unit, scrub how down, blow-dry him, and run away, leaving his house in ruins. Literally only one wall remains.)
Oh. At least I'm still alive-
(The wall slams down onto EZB.)