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Time to Form the Scooby Gang (Again) (Derivative Much?)

Time to Form the Scooby Gang (Again) (Derivative Much?)

Three days. It had only been three days since the syrup factory. Three days since Abigail Hodge had dredged up the corpses in Niko’s closet. Literally. Niko knew, of course, that he’d never truly get over Lila. How could he? But he’d thought that he was handling it. Hiding it. Doing functional human things.

But seeing her again, being forced to witness her tied up like a puppet on strings, her corpse preserved perfectly and utterly desecrated… god he couldn’t get it out of his head. He might have gone ahead and killed Hodge himself if that Bailey fucker hadn’t beaten him to it. Might have made him feel a little better.

As it stood, he just had to take it and deal with it and continue on. At least he’d be able to give her a proper burial now.

He couldn’t afford to let his mind wander. Not now. He had a very important meeting today, one with the Borozovs. They were talking about bringing him back into the fold, but he wasn’t going to go without acceptable terms. He didn’t even think he was willing to leave Ede Valley. Not yet, at least. Maybe he was still waiting for her to come back.

In all honestly, he was really dreading this meeting. It wasn’t the kind of stress he needed at this very moment. Not when all he could see was Lila’s pale, limp corpse glued to the inside of his eyelids.

That wasn’t even mentioning the fact that he thought he’d heard it talk. But Niko wasn’t going to even consider that idea right now.

He was just adjusting his tie in the mirror beside his dresser—adjusting his tie! Just three days after witnessing a genuine corpse dance!—when his phone rang. What now? What could possibly be happening at this very moment in time that so demanded his rather scattered attention?

“Yello?” he asked without bothering to check who was calling. Maybe he’d be super lucky and it’d be a telemarketer. They always lost their minds as soon as he told them just who it was they were talking to.

“Niko?” answered the voice on the other end, sounding a little strained. “It’s Tommy.”

“Wow you’re up early.”

“Haha, very funny. Listen, are you free today to meet at the East Branch? Something’s… happened.”

“What do you mean ‘something’?”

“Well, Mathilda’s back. But there’s uh… no sign of Gil or Muirne.”

Despite himself, a grin broke out on Niko’s face. Sorry, Borozovs. Meeting canceled. It seemed another emergency demanded his attention today.

~~ o ~~

Cindy’s head hurt, an ugly throbbing that started between her eyes and radiated outward. She smushed her face in between the pillows on her bed and lay on her stomach, sighing heavily. Of course, this raging migraine was all her fault. She was still having a lot of trouble figuring out her limits with this new magic thing.

She’d already lost a great deal of time, having mostly been bedridden for the entire day after the syrup factory. Of course, it was a ridiculous notion that she had any sort of time limit at all, but Cindy couldn’t help feeling like she needed to get this thing under control as quickly as possible.

She was much more powerful than she’d ever been before. But not knowing her limits scared her. If she overdid it again and just passed out, it’d be up to whoever was around her to have to deal with it. And she did not like that one bit.

Plus, these new limitations were making it impossible to figure out what she really was capable of now. She could still do all of the things that she used to, of course. Magic circles, rituals, and the like, and the other thing that was giving her a headache was trying to make a new grimoire.

Not a real one, mind you, at least not yet. The magic inside her now still didn’t really feel like hers yet, and she was afraid that if she split any of it off that it would simply cease to be hers entirely. But she still felt more comfortable having a place to write down the rituals; double-check her work. Cindy might no longer strictly be a witch per say, but old habits die hard.

There was another reason, of course, why she felt like she was running out of time. It was already August, and summer was rapidly approaching its end. In the fall, Cindy was hypothetically starting at Crowley College, but even a month before, she wasn’t sure if that’s what she really wanted to do. But what was the alternative? Getting a job? At the moment that really didn’t sound appealing. And sitting around the house certainly wasn’t an option. She wouldn’t have wanted to even if her mother would have allowed it.

Like it or not, things were going to change. That wasn’t really the issue, but it mostly just felt like Cindy hadn’t found the change she wanted yet. College was a good—if expensive—delaying tactic, but she wasn’t set on it.

She was kind of trying to ignore it. She really shouldn’t be, she knew this, yet here she was, doing it anyway. Cindy told herself that once she got her magic sorted, her life would come after. She was going to try her best to keep that promise.

For the time being, she should try levitating her desk again. She was currently experimenting with how much weight she could lift before she puked.

Unfortunately, just before she got started, her phone rang. It was Tommy. Even though she’d finally coerced him into getting his own phone, he so rarely used it that it must be important.

“Hey, Tommy,” she grinned. “Where do you need me?”

~~ o ~~

Marcell was currently acclimating himself to being around people again, and he wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t hard, he was already almost entirely back to normal, but he had to be sure if he was going to be teaching rooms of hormonal teenagers for one more year. No, it wasn’t the bloodlust that was the problem. It was his silly, introverted brain.

He had to be around as many people as possible, so to that end he was sitting in the middle of the food court at the Valley Mall. He thought it would look odd to just be sitting by himself doing nothing, so he bought a shitty iced tea from some off-brand fast food restaurant—the kind that inexplicably existed only in malls and airports—and sipped it slowly, trying not to gag from the taste of dirt rolling down his throat.

Of course, he could have invited Cindy along, but she’d mostly just be a distraction. Also she was busy figuring out how to use her new brand of magic, and she was going to be starting college next month anyway…

Alright, if he was really honest, he was avoiding her a little. It wasn’t her, he was still highly embarrassed by his own behavior. He wanted her to feel safe around him, but just one taste of human blood and he’d acted like an absolute lunatic. He was two-thousand years old, for god’s sake, he should be better than that.

In a way, the obnoxiously bright and loud mall was a little punishment for himself. He made a teenage girl deal with him being an absolutely cretin, so he would atone by sitting in the middle of a crowd consisting of the loudest, smelliest, and most vapid specimens mankind had to display, and suffer.

Marcell set down the ice tea, not able to drink any more of it. To be honest, this probably wasn’t the best location for re-aclimation, as he wouldn’t want anything from any of these people even if he was starving. Way too many microplastics to sift through.

Sighing, he had just resolved to bear it for one more half hour when his cell phone vibrated.

“Hello? This is Marcell speaking.”

“Uh, hey man. It’s Tommy.”

“Good afternoon. What can I do for you?”

“Sorry, I know we said we were all going to lay low until the fall at least, but uh, something’s come up.”

Marcell stood immediately, and nodded along to Tommy’s words as he dumped the half-finished sugar water and doffed his wide-brimmed hat. “We’re meeting at the east branch, I take it?”

There was only so long he could sit and brood, he supposed. It was such a cliché, after all, and this was as good an excuse as any to get on with it.

~~ o ~~

“Mathilda’s back?” Servus watched as Aurum’s face brightened. “Oh, but the Atlanteans aren’t with her. Hmm, that certainly is a predicament.”

She nodded as she listened, and Servus leaned in too. He’d been bored out of his mind the last three days, and it was yet another new emotion that he did not like very much.

“Here? Of course! In fact I would appreciate it.”

Aurum hung up the phone, and glanced over at him from above her horn-rimmed glasses. “Servus,” she said. “It looks like we’re about to have company.”

Servus attempted a smile, and was pretty sure he succeeded this time.

~~ o ~~

Tommy didn’t need to call Cowell, of course. He already knew exactly what was going on, and grinned to himself, excited out of his mind for what was about to happen.

~~ o ~~

Mike’s phone rang once, twice, three times, four.

“Um, hi,” said the answering machine in a voice that Tommy had never heard before. “This is Mike Miller. I guess I’m not able to get the phone right now, sorry mom, haha.”

The voice cleared its throat.

“Anyway, if it’s important, leave a message. Unless you’re one of those telemarketers again. Could you please stop calling me? Thanks.”

There was a single, forlorn beep. And then the voice was silenced.

~~ o ~~

“Is this everyone?” Niko asked, shutting the heavy doors of the East Branch behind him. He was a little surprised that they had all showed up before him.

Tommy nodded. “I tried calling Mike too, but he didn’t pick up.”

“He… hasn’t been home in a day or two,” Cindy admitted.

Niko glanced over the assembled group. Aurum hovered over her desk, Cindy and Marcell on the other side. Tommy leaned against a bookcase, Servus imitating him. Cowell sat perched on the edge of a stool, grinning broadly. Everyone looked inward to a table that had been pulled into the center of the room, awaiting Niko’s arrival. Yeah, this should be everyone, but for some reason it felt like one or two people were missing. Maybe it just felt strange without Lila.

“Ahh, this is exciting, isn’t it?” Cowell bounced up and down slightly, breaking the somber mood firmly in half. “The old gang, finally back together again!”

“What are you talking about?” Cindy tilted her head. “It’s only been three days.”

Aurum frowned suddenly. “It does feel like a lot longer, for some reason.”

“I’m sorry about that, by the way.” Tommy ran a hand through his hair, a bit sheepishly. “I wouldn’t have called everyone if I didn’t think it was important.”

“Well, we’re all here, aren’t we?” Niko stepped up to the table, and after rolling up his sleeves, leaned over it. “What’s the deal, Tommy?”

He shrugged. “It’s like I said over the phone. I went for a walk this morning, and just happened to pass by the abandoned lot. And well, there she was.”

“By ‘her’ you mean the wagon, right? Um, Mathilda?” Marcell clarified.

“That’s her,” Tommy nodded. “But when I went inside, there was no sign of Gil or Muirne anywhere.”

“Cuz you let them borrow it, right?” Niko raised an eyebrow. “I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but do you think they might have just been out? Maybe they were looking for you?”

But Tommy just shook his head. “I waited for a couple of hours, but they never showed. And there were no notes or anything.”

“Is there a way to send her off with no passengers?” Aurum asked, looking positively owl-like behind her horn-rimmed glasses.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “It takes a solid minute to actually go anywhere.”

“But why would they do that?” Marcell shook his head. “No note, no anything? Gilveidan I can see, but Muirne?”

Cindy’s face fell into concern. “Do you think they might be in trouble?”

“Hmm…” Aurum put a hand to her chin. “I mean, it’s certainly possible. If they didn’t have time to write a note they might have just sent us the wagon and hope we come after them.”

“Hold on, hold on.” Niko held up a hand. “That’s not an illogical conclusion, but that’s not the only possibility. That wagon—I’m not calling it Mathilda—the wagon kind of has a mind of its own, right? Maybe it just… decided to leave by itself. Maybe it missed ya, Tommy,” he couldn’t help rolling his eyes a little.

“But regardless of the circumstances, they’re still stranded wherever they are, right? Which means that we should go after them,” Cindy interjected. “I mean, that’s why you called us here, right Tommy?”

“I mean, that was kind of the idea,” Tommy admitted.

Niko pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you people listening to yourselves?” he asked. “We could barely pacify a couple of mentally unstable high schoolers, and you just want to go waltzing into a whole other dimension with no plan whatsoever? Uh,” he looked back over at Tommy, “that is what it does, right?”

“They’re ‘realities,’ not ‘dimensions,’ but same difference really.”

“Whatever then. And say that somehow they’re trapped on fucking Candied Island where everything’s gumdrops and rainbows, how are we supposed to get there? Tommy, you don’t really even know how to pilot it, let alone figure out where it’s been.”

“Actually,” the grinning daemon in the corner, who had largely been silent this whole time, suddenly spoke up. “I may have a solution to that particular problem.”

“If you tell one of us to make a deal with you to learn how to drive it I swear to god—”

“I… I hadn’t actually thought of that.” Momentarily, Cowell looked disappointed in himself, but quickly shook it off. “No, but the solution is quite simple really. I know how to pilot it.”

Everyone turned to stare at him, and Cowell looked very confused.

“Are you telling me,” Marcell finally sighed. “That you knew how Mathilda worked this entire time?”

“Well, nobody ever asked,” Cowell pouted a little. “And of course I do; I’m a bloody daemon, aren’t I? Traveling between realities is kind of our entire schtick. Well, besides the whole eating souls thing, I suppose. I’m mostly retired from that business, although I have the distinct feeling that Niko’s would taste deliciously like gunpowder and regret, if you’d ever be willing to part with it.”

“Fuck you.”

“Well, can’t say I didn’t try.”

“Oh, hold on though,” Cindy chimed in, a thought occurring to her. “I just realized something. This could, like, take a while. I mean, this isn’t just an afternoon trip to St. Adelaide’s.”

“Thank you, Cindy. Finally someone’s making sense,” Niko threw his hands into the air. “I can’t just go gallivanting off to god knows where, I’ve got a business to run, and Cindy, I hate to break it you ya, but I don’t think your mom’s gonna buy two roadtrips in one summer.”

Tommy cleared his throat, a little awkwardly. “Actually, we might have a solution to that too, assuming Cowell isn’t just talking out of his ass and actually knows he’s doing.”

“Which I do!” Cowell beamed. He hopped up from his stool and waltzed into the center of the room. “You see, where there’s reality, there has to be something else in between, right? Unreality, an ‘Other.’” He paused, as if anyone could possibly be keeping up with him. “Well, since this Other is not reality, it doesn’t really follow any sort of logic. So things like ‘time’ don’t necessarily function there.”

“Most people prefer time to go in an… ordinary fashion,” Tommy added. “So devices like Mathilda usually try to keep trips between realities linear. But if you wanted, or weren’t careful enough, you could end up any… when.”

Her chin in her hands, Aurum seemed enraptured. “So what you’re saying is: you could go to this mystery reality, spend as much time there as you wanted, and when you returned to Ede Valley, not even a single day would have passed?”

“It would be pretty hard to do,” Tommy cautioned.

But Cowell just winked in response. “I think I can swing it.”

“Well then, problem solved,” Cindy turned pointedly. “Any more objections, Niko?”

The aforementioned mafioso just shook his head and sighed. “We’re really doing this, huh? Jesus christ you people know how to attract a crisis.”

“It seems to be a skill of ours,” Marcell shrugged.

“There’s just one more thing we have to work out,” Tommy continued. “I don’t think all of us should go. Besides the fact that Mathilda’s too small, only Cowell and I have ever been to another reality. Since we don’t know where we’re going to end up, I don’t want to have to take my chances with so many greenhorns.”

“I physically can’t, anyway,” Aurum sighed, before glaring briefly in Cowell’s direction. “So that leaves me out. But I want you all to take careful notes to pass on to me when you get back.”

“In that case,” Marcell added. “I think I may have to sit this one out as well. I’ve had enough adventures for the next hundred years, I think. Besides, I might end up just being a liability, anyway.”

Cindy frowned, and grabbed his hand questioningly. He squeezed back, and she didn’t say anything.

“Want to go,” Servus spoke up suddenly, a vaguely defiant expression already settling into his features, as if he knew what Tommy was going to say next.

He didn’t disappoint. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, buddy.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’ve still got a lot to learn about this world, let alone another one entirely.” When Servus looked like he wasn’t going to back down, Tommy sighed. “Tell you what. If you stay home and help Aurum out this one time, I promise I’ll take you somewhere cool when I get back, okay?”

For the time being, the automaton seemed pacified, and Tommy turned back to the others.

“Well, I’m definitely going,” Cindy said, standing up straighter. “I’ve got some questions to ask our friend Mr. The All-knowing anyway. So that makes Tommy, Cowell, me, and… Niko? What do you think?”

Goddammit. Well, it wasn’t like he had been given much of a choice. “Between the three of you, you probably couldn’t screw in a light-bulb, so I guess I’m in, yeah.”

“Excuse me,” Cindy interjected.

“Sorry, you could screw it in,” Niko replied. “But you’d probably set it on fire first.”

“I deserved that.”

“Just a little.”

~~ o ~~

Cowell was fiddling with some of the dials on Mathilda’s console while explaining to Tommy how they worked. Cindy and Niko had decided to leave them to it, and were waiting outside.

Niko sat on the wagon’s steps, still wrapping his head around all of this. More adventures? Now of all times? Right after the last one had left him dizzy enough to topple at any moment? And what a day for it too. The mind-numbingly warm morning had given way to a near stormy afternoon. Thick, looming clouds perched above them, and Niko found himself waiting for that first drop to hit his shoulder.

A short ways away, Cindy and Marcell were “saying goodbye.” Ugh, couples. Come to think of it, Cindy and Marcell had been pretty inseparable on all of their previous forays. This would be Cindy’s first one alone. He’d have to keep an extra eye on her.

Marcell seemed to be thinking the same thing, as he quickly glanced over at Niko from over Cindy’s shoulder with a somewhat entreating expression, and Niko nodded back. Neither of them said anything though, mostly because Cindy probably would have punched the both of them.

Just then, Tommy poked his head out of the wagon. “I think we’re ready.”

Niko stood. “Alright, break it up, lovebirds. We’ve got some wayward Atlanteans to rescue.” Sentence number ten that he’d never thought he’d say.

After one more hurried kiss, Cindy ran over to the wagon, hoisting a dufflebag over her shoulder. “Do we know where we’re going?” she asked, as the two swung into the cramped interior.

“Well of course I do,” Cowell pushed a few buttons, grinning like a maniac.

“So?” Niko prompted, raising his voice against the rising cacophony of machine parts and wind.

But the daemon just laughed. “Well, I’m not going to tell you, what would be the fun in that?”

“You’re a prick, Cowell,” Cindy was afraid her words might’ve gotten lost as the noise reached a crescendo.

And then, suddenly, it all stopped, and rather abruptly Cindy, Niko, Tommy, and Cowell found themselves someplace else.

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