July 12, 1600 Hours

It's been a few days since Lucidia started processing the data of the little misadventure. She didn't quite have the chance to examine it until the weekend. Understandably so: Gaster's moronic decisions had caused a week's worth of backlogged work.

At least nothing exploded in the meantime. The reports contained mostly routine peacekeeping and student development.

By the time he got them all done, Mezil had returned to his 'vampire time' once again. He clocked out around six in the morning and woke up at five in the evening.

Eleven hours? Sigh. I guess I needed that…

Every day I burned the midnight oil a bit longer. It started to take a toll on me by Friday.

Sigh, being fifty sure has its drawbacks.

No one greeted him on the way out of his bedroom. How odd. The Grandmaster should be around for the weekend. It's not Sunday where he would be at his busiest.

Lucidia sat in the kitchen with her electronic device. She seemed quite excited. There was a twinkle in her eyes that Mezil hadn't seen in a while.

"Good evening…?" Mezil asked, "Did something good happen while I was asleep?"

His wife put the device down with a slight gasp. "Goodness, you met Uncle Hal in the other world?!"

"Uncle… Hal…?"

"Hal Greene, the mad Crafter with his one-man orchestra. He played this 'Rick Roll' theme when you arrived, remember? He did the same to his class the last time he visited."

The more Mezil listened, the less sense it made. "Crafter? The Magus Association doesn't exist there."

"But Uncle Hal does." She beckoned her husband to sit beside her. "You'll understand once you read this."

Read, he did. Baffled, he was. "You're telling me… This 'Shop Class' team exists in our world too?"

Lucidia nodded. "Mhmm mhmm! All except one man was part of the Magus Association too. Far West branch. Look here. Hal Greene. Artificer. Crafter speciality. Although technically retired, he's still invited to this building to give lectures. Notorious for his impromptu musical solos."

The latest profile picture had the man in his late eighties. It's amazing that he's still alive and active.

"Really?" Mezil squinted. "Why didn't I know anything about him?"

"Well, it's just Uncle Hal being Uncle Hal. Reports about him bursting into the lobby with bagpipes are of low priority."

"You're telling me that he had managed to evade my notice for twenty-five years? Exactly how?"

"It's elementary, my dear husband. He appears only during the mornings and early afternoons, well after you have taken your slumber."

"And he was never invited to the major events where I would be present? A bit too much of a coincidence for that amount of time, don't you think?"

Both husband and wife stopped to ponder about the situation.

Lucidia proceeded to ask, "Have you really never met Uncle Hal before?"

"I don't think so," Mezil answered.

"Then why did you have such a strong reaction against his counterpart in Ebott's Wake?"

"He reminds me too much of Kisei."

"I can see the resemblance... but I'm certain he's not malicious. I wonder if you had met him before without realising it. Perhaps it was an event ingrained in your subconscious…"

Pondering, intensified.

Mezil then proposed: "It's time to call upon the Chronograph."

"Agreed," said Lucidia, "I shall scan your memories for a matching identity. Meanwhile… Let's resume our comparisons. Here are the individuals discovered:"

Elijah McGraw - Observer. He ran a bar as a front for Magus operations. He functioned primarily as an informant, though he sometimes relays missions. In Ebott's Wake he does more or less the same job.

Steven Ward - Vanquisher, Guardian. He doubled as a cop for a small town. Seems that he had settled a number of major magic-related cases. Certain parties insisted that he had the potential to be a criminal judge. Though, that's all speculation by now.

Justin Carrow - Vanquisher, Guardian. Former army member. Sole survivor of his squad after a bomb trap incident. He's only in the Magus Association because of Hal's recommendation. Served as a colleague of Steven Ward until his retirement. His counterpart's story was quite similar, with the exception that their Justin served in an actual war.

Joe Stanton - Artificer, Crafter. Electrical department to be specific. Also had a knack for lockpicks and lockbreaks. He helped the Observers crack open sealed boxes from time to time.

Michael Van Garrett - Artificer, Inventor. Former aerospace engineer in both universes. Due to an 'unknown incident' later in life, Van Garrett changed departments to Observer, Archivist. The notes from Ebott's Wake insisted that he had his research pilfered by the higher-ups. Mezil could believe that: some things don't change after all.

At the bottom of the list was one person who stayed sadly young: Byron Thorton. Postmaster. He was the only non-Magus member in the list. Murdered in 2014. Something about a whistleblower for a crime he had witnessed.

The findings were uncanny. Too uncanny. That world seemed to be a trickster's mirror: so different yet so alike.

Lucidia stared down on the table in discomfort, watching the reflections of the screen. "…I'm sorry. Your great-grandfather's past was of more personal interest, was it not? You had made plenty of notes and references for this 'World War II'. And here I am, talking about people you may not care about."

She continued, "A part of me wishes that the worst of humanity is unique to our realm. Perhaps in a different time and circumstance, that era was not marked by mass cruelty. And yet, the events that surround William Winston show otherwise. Is it fate that hundreds of millions should perish under such turmoil?"

Mezil had no meaningful words to comfort her. The thought of such a harrowing disaster being inescapable was nothing short of depressing. Worse still that such happened in a past immutable by time travel.

Still, he didn't want his wife to mope forever. He proceeded to ask: "Do you think studying other worlds could better prepare us for the future?"

Lucidia just stared back with cheeks puffed in irritation. Oh, Mezil recognized this. It was the moment when she had a great inner conflict between facts and feelings, especially against someone she vehemently disliked.

"…That looks like a 'yes', except you don't want to admit it because Doctor Gaster is a massive douchebag."

The dear wife huffed at the thought. "He is. He is very much a terrible fellow."

She then glanced back at the table. "In all honesty... this endeavour didn't need to be 'useful'. Childish as it may seem, it's fun enough to study the different outcomes of life. No different than enjoying stories."

Where would the middle ground lay? What should Mezil Thyme be determined on: denying the project, or allowing it with safeguards in place?

Knowing 'that man'… leaving him to his own devices would be the greater evil of the two.

Mezil thus proposed: "Would it help if we had an intermediary? Doctor Alphys is on good terms with that mad scientist. We'll let her handle that person, while you stick to data management."

Lucidia thought about it. "That's certainly possible. But… Hmmm… you were the one who was vehemently opposed at first. You had brought up that prying into the other realms would expose our universe to the invasion of unspeakable horrors. Like Cenna's favourite anime, for example: the one with aliens and vampires."

"That's true. But after my trip in Ebott's Wake, I realised that my approach was wrong. Ignoring the possibilities would do nothing to keep the dangers away: in fact, it would just make it easier for malicious forces to meddle and invade."

The wife pouted and grumbled. "Wait... Does this mean… That foolishly foolish fool will get exactly what he wants? Scott free? We're letting him WIN?"

"I don't like it any more than you do, Lucidia dearest." Mezil sighed. "I guess meeting my parents changed my opinion. However! That doesn't mean he's won. Not even in the slightest bit!"

"Hmmmm?" She tilted her head.

Mezil resumed his dramatic proclamation. "Let him savour the satisfaction of an illusionary victory. He will get what he wants, except he won't have the absolute freedom of The Void. This project will be like an island bordered by ocean: confined without ever realising it."

"Please elaborate, honey."

Elaborate, he did. "The Magus Association will enforce proper policy under the joint jurisdiction of Crimson Keeper Frisk. That child has the support of Papyrus, whom Gaster loves dearly. They also have connections with Doctor Alphys, and the most important of all… Sans Serif."

"Aha, I see. Sans Serif will serve as our eyes and ears. It would be in his greatest interest to ensure that Doctor Gaster doesn't tumble down the slope of a mad heretical scientist. Again."

"It takes a criminal to know another criminal. This arrangement would be the best 'balance' for all parties, while letting you enjoy your research as much as you'd like."

How Lucidia brightened up at the proposal. "Thank you so, so much, my knight in shining armour! I appreciate it."

Mezil straightened his clothes with his head high, attempting to look impressive for his wife. "The pleasure is mine."

"Speaking of entertaining stories…" The wife tapped her screen for a different window. "When will you come forward with the fact that this picture contains 'Mezil Thymes Two'?"

Mezil shot out from his seat. Was it THAT picture?! The one Connor snapped as a candid shot?!

To his utter and complete embarrassment, it was indeed the incriminating picture in question. It appears Sans had mailed it towards Mezil's temporary phone without his notice.

Pretending to clear his throat, he said, "I… I just didn't have the opportunity."

"Hmmmmmmmmm?" Unconvinced, she showed a catty smile.

"I-it's true!"

"So, what's it like holding your baby self? Look at him. He's so happy! You need to laugh more, dear."

"It's soft, warm, and heavy like all other babies. I got quite the opposite reaction from you. Your baby version got frightened and started crying."

"Daaaw~ that's adorable."

With the straightest of faces, Mezil added: "She also crushed and snapped her pram."

"Huh?!" She exclaimed, "Wouldn't she just be a few hours old?! I was not able to do so until my Awakening. I was eight at that time. Did the little baby also twist, snap, and rebuild the whole room into fractal shapes?"

Blink. Blink. "Excuse me?"

Lucidia chuckled. "I take that as a 'no'. That's quite a relief. It means that her powers will grow alongside her, as opposed to going from nothing to everything. What intriguing differences."

"I'm more shocked to think that you consider the pram-crush to be of acceptable baby-level power."

"Oh, compared to my experience it is indeed quite basic. On my end, I might have killed my father by accident if Grandpa didn't protect him."

"Then… without the Grandmaster…" Mezil didn't want to think about the grimmer possibilities anymore. "I'm glad the other Palatino will have a much safer time raising you. Albeit a more intensive and involved one."

"Sooooo Mezzy," she asked, "How do you feel about becoming a town boy?"

He rested a finger on his chin in jest. "Hmm, let's see. I will breathe cleaner air for sure. There's also the community aspect. Most important of all, I would have functioning parents. Not much hope for my siblings though."

"Oh c'mon, are they that bad?"

"Knowing my sister, she would start complaining about living in a zany town by her early teens. As for my brother, he will make unreasonable bets with all sorts of gods and eldritch beings. And get me involved somehow."

Lucidia laughed at the imagery.

Talking about the potential shenanigans was much more entertaining than Mezil anticipated. He's starting to see the appeal.

"What about my birth mother?" asked Lucidia. "She may not be playing with national power, but I'm sure there are other prospects. Like marrying me off to the patron skeleton deity, for example."

"Hmph! I swear on my dignity that a certain 'Winston Boy' will abscond that poor little girl to the refuge of his house. And should Lydianne try to cause trouble, the boy's mother will be at the doorstep armed with a soup ladle."

"I can imagine the following spat…" Lucidia acted, "'You're too lax, Missus Winston! Your children run wild with mediocre grades, preoccupied with stealing my progeny for mischief!' and then 'You're too strict, Lady! Are you trying to sell your well-groomed 'progeny' to an auction or something?'"

Mezil breathed deep. "That burn… That's exactly what my mother would deliver."

"Like mother, like son." The wife giggled away.

"What about the fathers? Connor and Palatino wouldn't meddle, I imagine."

"Maybe they will, at first. But eventually they'll let the scene take its natural course. My biological father is a mild-mannered man. Without doubt, he will get along well with yours. I can imagine them eating popcorn together while the impromptu 'movie' unfolds."

"All is fine until a fight breaks out, I suppose." Mezil then continued: "Such would be the drama that plays over and over in Ebott's Wake. Until one day… those two childhood friends will marry and live happily ever after."

The husband took his wife's hand and held it dearly in his grasp. "As it is with us, right now."

She giggled in bashful glee, cheeks flushed in bright fuchsia.

"I certainly hope so," she said. "For us and for them."