Chapter Twenty: Guardian Grienwulf

"It's quiet in here," Wash whispered.

"Too quiet," Mabel whispered back, and the twins couldn't help but snicker.

Indeed. Remus' left brow arched in amusement despite himself, and he avoided comment: as amusing as it was, they were right. The mansion was cold, draped in shadow. Barry was supposed to be watching over it, and surely he wasn't alone. But nothing made sense anymore. Where were they, then? Surely they didn't all accompany Reaver or die in the kennels below. Where was Barry, the Guardian, and reason for all of this? Why was the dust so thick, why did the walls creak and groan around them as though being squeezed by unseen forces? Why did-why did water drip from the ceiling?

"Broken pipe?" Wash suggested with a shrug, having caught Remus' eye.

And maybe that was it. It didn't matter immediately anyway, and they decided to leave it be. The Oasis was changing. That was an undeniable fact. Pipes would break as walls broke or suddenly appeared. But that wasn't the only subtle sign things were getting uncomfortably strange.

"Hey, look!" Dipper cried suddenly, pointing at Remus. Remus, who had just stepped beyond the steady drip from the ceiling and who turned sharply, looking down, following Dipper's direction. Beneath his shoes, the smallest quiver of green sprouted from the floor; green which grew painstakingly slow into a stem with a bulb. Remus lifted his shoe with curiosity as they all watched the wolfsbane flower take root on hardwood flooring.

Remus frowned. "That's new," he said.

"I thought they weren't supposed to grow indoors?" said Mabel.

"They're not," replied Dipper, watching for another moment as a second flower grew beneath Remus' feet. Dipper stepped tentatively towards the water, which had become more like the thin ribbon from a faucet now, and then he walked beyond it. Immediately, princess pine began to flow from his steps. But only for a moment before it stopped.

"So just in a patch around the water," said Wash. "Dipper, come back this way."

He did, walking back towards Remus and the group. The plants began again about five feet from the water.

Remus walked to the outside of the affected area. "The rules are changing," he said. He vanished all signs of the plants before they moved on.

For a mansion full of paintings and sculptures and other valuables, the hallways were all oddly identical. A red carpet with gold trim spread narrowly across the length of the hall like a designated walkway. The ruby curtains dangled like massive waterfalls on either side of the enormous windows that let light into the room. It bounced off decorative, golden frames and rebounded onto the impossibly high ceilings. A giant would have had no trouble standing to full height within the walls. Massive mahogany doors lined the way like sentinels guarding secrets. It was easy to become confused. And maybe that was the point.

"Where are we going?" Dipper asked. He had his journal in a pack on his shoulders, and he held both of the straps in his fingers as he followed behind. "What are we even looking for? I mean, besides Barry."

And what happened if they found him?

"For now," Remus replied slowly, peeking into an empty bedroom with his wand ready, "we're just-searching. Barry could be anywhere. We don't know enough about him to guess where he might be."

"But don't you think that's kind of a waste? He could be anywhere. This place is massive!"

"Yes, it is." And there's nothing we can do about it.

"We just have to do our best," said Mabel.

But everyone stopped. The walkie-talkie attached to Wash's belt burst into life. The only sounds it made were distorted static, then:

"...Ba- in… ..rary. C…. No-!"

"Hello?" Wash took the walkie-talkie and hit it against her hip. "Can you repeat?" She growled, fumbling with the dials and knobs. It had been one of the boys. "Sokka? Naoya? Can anyone hear me?"

But the channel was silent now. The static was suddenly more agreeable.

"These things are rated for miles, " Wash said, glaring down at the tiny plastic body in her palm. "We should have no problem!"

"Maybe it's interference?" offered Dipper. "Like a bad cell signal under a tunnel or something."

"But we aren't underground," Wash frowned. "And they worked underground-these are the ones we used when we were making those Vault repairs."

Dipper fidgeted. "I know, I know, but it's like Remus said-the rules are changing!"

"Distortion from the pockets of change," Remus said suddenly, comprehending, and Dipper nodded:

"Maybe the way reality is changing is warping the signal."

Wash paused. That… did sound reasonable. But if it was true, then not only were they on their own but so were the other teams. And one of them may have just tried calling for help. In an opposite way, it almost reminded her of home; couldn't communicate between Terra Nova and Hope Plaza - between 2149 and Terra Nova, 85 million years in the past - without a portal open to effectively relay signal. And even then, it was only close to the portal that anything worked.

"Alright, new plan," she said, returning the walkie-talkie to her belt loop and crossing her arms. "We can't risk this on our own, not without backup. We have to find the other teams. Someone could be in trouble."

"You're right," said a gurgling, deeply pitched voice. "That someone is you."

Mabel screamed as the white shape of the balverine whooshed past her and slammed into Wash, enormous, clawed hands pinning her to the floor on top of her rifle as fangs sank through the air to-

A flash of blue light from Remus' wand sent the balverine toppling head over heels. It crashed into a window, catching on the curtains as it tumbled to the floor in a hail of glass. It howled as writhed in the fabric, desperate to break free.

"There!" Dipper pointed at the ceiling, where another of the monsters crawled over the decorative plaster patterns, piercing them with sharp talons. At his word the balverine lunged at him and Dipper cried out. Two shots rang out and the balverine spasmed mid-leap. It was dead before it hit the floor.

Wash still lay on her back, her expression stiff and pale, but her rifle was raised and it would take more than some fangs and claws to affect her aim.

The balverine in the curtains tore through the remaining cloth in a fury of blades and teeth, but Remus was on it again in a flash: a blinding, yet silent explosion and the balverine was on it's back, upended like a beetle and thoroughly unconscious. Remus made his way immediately to the children.

"Are you both-" he began, but both nodded hurriedly and all attention fell to Wash. Her face was contorted in pain as she clutched at her right knee.

" Shit. I can't-" she tried, but she winced as she tried to move and her sentence needed no ending. She let herself lean back on her elbows, blowing out a hissing breath as she clenched her jaws tight. She glanced up to Remus through a mask of pain. "Can you..?"

Remus' face was grim. "Mabel," he said, "Dipper-"

The twins gathered on one side of Wash and Remus took the other. They helped her to her feet through many pained gasps, but Wash was a soldier. She bit back her pain.

"There," Remus said, pointing to the empty bedroom he had checked. "Hold on to me," he told Wash, and Mabel and Dipper ran ahead to open the door for them as they slowly hobbled through. Remus sealed it shut behind them, but none of them felt any safer.

"Can't you fix it?" Wash hissed. Her brow was dotted with beads of sweat.

Remus grunted, easing her down onto a scarlet ottoman at the foot of a deeply stained canopy bed. "I'm no Healer-Anders is."

Wash glared. "You're magic ."

"I can help ," Remus said sharply. "But you need Anders, or at the very least Naoya. I don't know what's wrong, I can't just-"

Wash frowned. "Fine. I need to bind this."

Right. Remus clicked his jaw. Combat medic .

" Ferula ," he said, tapping Wash's knee. White bandages snaked from his wand tip, wrapping themselves gently but quite sturdily around her knee. In dual pops of grey smoke a pair of splints also emerged and were woven into the binding by another bout of cloth. The last few inches threatened to dangle loosely and unfurl, but Remus grabbed it quickly and guided his wand across the seam it formed against her leg, bonding it shut. He got up, turning.

Mabel pointed to some of the splintered wood. "Can you use magic to make a crutch?" she asked Remus.

"Good idea, but we don't have time," Wash grunted. "This doesn't hurt as much with the binding, and we need to-"

Something large and powerful slammed into the door.

"They can't get in?" asked Dipper.

Remus bit back a reply. He had sealed the door, and he could reinforce it. But that would only help so long. The spells would last longer than the door, and there was only so much he could do if they were determined to smash their way through.

And by the sound of it, that was exactly what they were trying to do. A jagged crack appeared in the face of the door.

"Come on!" Mabel was already upon the massive wardrobe by the door, Dipper lending all his weight to try to heave it across the door frame. Remus guided it the last few feet with his wand, charming it's feet to the floor with a sticking charm. It was a start.

The walkie-talkie at Wash's side was shrill with sudden static, though only for a moment. Wash's frown was deep.

"We have to keep moving," she said, and she winced as she got to her feet. But the moment she put weight on her leg, her knee slid out from beneath her and she swore through the pain.

Remus swooped in and offered his shoulder. Wash was shaking before she accepted.

"Let's just hurry," she said, glancing towards the windows. "Can we get out that way?"

"No," Dipper called back, nose pressed up against one of the windows. "There's just a big drop."

"How far?"

"No," Remus interjected. "Not with your leg, Wash. If you think-"

"If you think I won't do whatever it takes to keep us going," Wash snapped-

"You will do no good for anyone if you're dead," Remus said, and his tone turned the twins' heads. "Continue pushing onward and lose the use of your leg if you must, but first we're getting out of here."

Mabel looked around the room. "But how are we gonna do that?"

Remus paused, hesitating as he looked around. He set Wash down on the ottoman again as the door began to rattle against its hinges, the banging only growing louder. A sharp breath exited through his nose. Then, he dropped onto one knee, swatting away a throw rug beside the bed.

" Defodio ," he muttered, pressing the tip of his wand to the hardwood floor. There was a sharp crack, like splitting timbers, and as Remus slid the wand across the polish a great slice could be seen in its wake. Not wide, but imperceptibly thin save for the stark discoloration between the raw underwood and the stain above.

There was another resounding break, but from the door this time. The wardrobe shuddered.

"You'd better hurry," Wash hissed. "I'd give it another two minutes, tops."

Remus glanced up at her while he worked. She breathed sharply when her knee pinched the wrong way. But her eyes were burning, and her features were focused and strong. Hardly a broken blade, Wash seemed to have become even more dangerous now that she was injured. It was as though something deeper within her had been breached, an inner fire bleeding out. She slid the partial magazine from her rifle and traded it for a full one, visibly bracing herself before standing on her own and aiming at the door.

The window shattered in a shower of blades. Mabel screamed, and Remus caught a flash of red on her cheek as the balverine towered over her.

" DEPRIMO !" he shouted, and the balverine yelped as its body was pushed violently to the floor with enough force that the next cracking sound was resoundingly organic. It coughed up a splatter of blood, its limbs splayed and clawing like a spider under a thumb. In an instant it was over though, and all struggle ceased.

"Mabel!" Dipper ran full speed to her, and he helped her pull herself away from the growing pile of crimson at her feet. Her eyes were wide with terror and she breathed quickly and erratically through clenched teeth, oblivious to the streak of blood running down her cheek.

The next balverine was on them before they could catch their breath. The door of the bedroom groaned and and finally snapped. And in the same instant another howling shape descended through the glass teeth of the window before being put down by a quick blaze of gunfire.

"The floor!" Wash called, staring down the door through the end of rifle's sight. "Let's go, Lupin!"

Remus didn't need to be told. Already on the floor, his speed was limited only by the thickness of the floor. "Fuck it," he cursed, suddenly backing away from the clean lines of his cut. " Deprimo !" With no soft tissue between the spell and its target, the floor was blasted open and a black canyon opened up below. The stench of rotting moss and floor polish wafted up. Remus extended a hand to the injured Wash first, but she shook her head.

"Get the kids out!" she ordered as the wardrobe finally burst and a pair of balverines broke through into the room.

BANG! One fell, dead. But the other clawed across the ceiling, bouncing off the walls in an erratic, unpredictable parry. It shrieked as a bullet grazed it's calf, howling with rage as it hurtled towards the earth. Before it could take cover, it was launched across the room by a blast of magic.

"Mabel, let's go!" Dipper called over the noise, taking his sister's hand in his and together they eased into the opening of the pit.

"It's dark," Mabel cried. She stepped back, hesitating.

But Dipper pulled a flashlight from his pack. "We got this," he said, and he squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.

They jumped.

"Wash!" Remus called, running to her and helping her to the opening next. "Easy," he said as she hissed, lowering herself to the floor so that she could slide down.

"How far is it?"

A pause. Wash tried again: "Mabel? Dipper!"

"We're here!" came Mabel's reply, and it sounded quite close. The relief was palpable. "It's not far down-there's a tunnel!"

Wash's nose bristled at this.

"I hoped," Remus said as she looked at him. "Servants' tunnels. For goods, and-"

"I know what they're for," replied Wash. "But how did you know?"

"I didn't." Remus helped her to the edge, taking her hand as she let her legs dangle. "Now go!"

Wash braced herself and vanished.

Remus blinked down into the dark, the only things he could see were splintered wood and tendrils of dust billowing in the light from the window.

A roar came up from behind, barely audible over his pounding heart. Clawed hands seized around his neck and as his feet left the ground Remus' eyes opened wide.

Chest oozing blood from gunshot wounds, the balverine's breath was haggard and drawn as it held Remus over the opening by his neck. Remus clawed and smacked at the gangly inhuman fingers, kicking wildly with his feet, his wand clattering to the floor and down into the hole as he struggled to breathe. His face was red, his eyes and ears pounding, and a choked gasp from between his teeth made the balverine laugh and tighten his grip. Remus' vision began to blacken.

And then an explosion to his left drowned his hoarse screams as Remus plummeted backwards into the pitted floor in a rain of smoke. He landed hard on his back and Remus gasped as the air was pushed from his lungs. Over the ringing in his ear, rhythmic gunfire rang and animalistic shrieks signaled the end of the two balverines, for good. Remus blinked in the dark, hands instinctively shooting out for something to grab hold of. A hand took his own.

"I've got you," Wash said, and in the light pouring down from the room above her face began to make sense from the spinning. She pulled Remus up into a sitting position.

Remus tried to thank her, but continued gasping for air. He nodded stiffly.

But Wash shook her head. "Don't thank me," she said. "I just finished them off." She pointed behind her, and Remus must have looked confused, because she added, "The twins. You didn't hit your head that hard, did you?" But when she turned to look, she paled. "They jumped first, I just saw them. Dipper was just standing right there -"

Remus followed her arm as she pointed, watching bricks materialize in rolling waves, much like the opening of Diagon Alley. If there had been a hallway there, it wasn't anymore. And neither were the twins.

They were almost to the ballroom when Anders stopped. The other heads snapped sharply in his direction, and Anders could only put his hands up. "Wait, just-wait a blighted second!" he said. "I heard it. I heard voices!"

He pointed at Sokka, who paled in the brief moment in between confusion and realization. Sokka unclipped the walkie-talkie from his armor, fiddling with the buttons and pressing the speaker to his ear-only to yank it away with a cry as fervent, unintelligible beeping burst shrilly from both his and the one at Ren's side.

"Andraste-what's wrong? Are they... dying? Tell me they're not dying." The concept of how exactly the small voice boxes could "die" still eluded Anders, but he knew enough to know it was the last thing they needed happening.

Renkotsu scowled down at the receiver in his hand, turning it off with an indignant click. "They are useless with all the interference. Even if we were lucky enough to receive a message, we wouldn't be able to understand it. We have to continue." He turned to continue down towards the ballroom.

"Wait, wait," Sokka said, frowning curiously as he shook the walkie-talkie, holding it to his ear again."They make a different sound when they're dying," he explained. "More beepy beeps. This is definitely different. There's a pattern. This is like… this is deliberate. I think-" Sokka said, squinting, "-I think someone is pressing the alarm button. A lot ."

Experimentally, Sokka pressed the alarm button a few times. Several more beeps replied back. His mouth pulled to the side and he stared at the box in his hand until his eyes lit up.

"He has an idea ," Naoya softly gasped.

Tossing a short scowl the psychic's way, Sokka continued pressing alarm button in sequence with only short pauses in between.

Naoya blinked. "Is that… morse code?

Sokka smiled, nodding. "Know those weird, seemingly random similarities between our worlds? Well I don't know how but Wash's world has morse code too," he explained. "Yours too, I guess. And since the talk function on these is still pretty scrambled… "

"She sent a message in code," Anders grinned. "Sokka, you're a genius!"

"Yeah, it is pretty genius of me, isn't it," Sokka replied with self-satisfied grin of his own..

"Be careful, Sokka, you don't want to use that genius up on sending messages," Renkotsu deadpanned, and Naoya snorted. Sokka beamed. A joke from Ren was just about as good as a pat on the back.

A sudden series of beeps interrupted the moment, though, and Sokka frowned. Deeply.

Anders lurched forward, shoulder to shoulder with Sokka. "What did it say?"

"Wash hurt her leg, but otherwise they're okay," Sokka said slowly, still focused on the incoming reply. His eyes widened. "But they're-alone."


Three voices at once. Sokka just stared at the receiver.

"They're… lost." More listening. "'Wall formed.' 'Twins gone.' … This is bad ."

"We have to go help them," Anders blurted immediately. "Sokka, ask them where they are-"

"No," said Ren, and Anders balked.

"No? "

"No," Renkotsu repeated, his neutral expression unchanged. Anders felt his stomach squirm and he repressed the urge to burn the eyebrows from the bastard's face. Ren went on: "The twins are in minimal danger with the Lieutenant and Lupin nearby. Let them worry about the children-we need to end this fight now, while we have the chance."

"We don't know that any of them are safe," Anders argued. "Didn't you hear any of that? A wall formed out of nothing!"

"We didn't assume this would be safe before now. This makes no difference."

"Nugshit it doesn't-you heard Sokka: Wash is injured, and the kids are missing. We have to help!"

"We have to do nothing but ensure that our side wins, and we can find them later."

A vein bulged in Anders' temple. "They are- children, " he hissed. "What if the air disappears next? What if-I don't know-what if water fills the halls, what if the twins are trapped? We can still stop Barry, but we can't do it without-"

"Without two inexperienced children, who should not be here at all?" Renkotsu snapped, taking a step towards Anders. "Do you put so little faith in your friends' abilities, so little trust in the Lieutenant, that you would give up this opportunity for a 'what if'?"

Anders seethed.

"Let's think about this logically," Sokka said quickly, stepping in between the two of them. "Okay, look: Ren's right, we have the advantage right now." Sokka held up four fingers for further emphasis. "We have surprise and four-on-one chances if we find Barry, plus the balverines are disorganized without Reaver. And it's not like we need to get Barry, just help the other, bigger , slobber monster take him down a little. If we keep the rest of the balverines off of Alastor, he and Nadine can take down Barry and pow-battle over!"

"And if they fail, we need to be opportunistic about this 'Oasis'," Renkotsu added, "Before something else comes along."

Anders scowled. "Right. And then what? What happens when Barry dies? To the Oasis? All these changing walls, the plants-they might be crushed or trapped by some new structure, or worse! And there's always a 'worse!' We need to be together when the final blow is made! We need to make sure our people are safe!"

"Before the twins disappeared, the changes were of no concern to you," Ren added. "You were ready to make the kill."

"I was ready ," said Anders, "to assess the situation and work on the fly. This is working on the fly!"

Naoya glanced towards the ballroom, folding his arms against himself. "They're killing each other in that room right now . And Al might not make it without our help. Your help, Andy. You saw him." He frowned. "That's our best bet to help everyone at this point…"

"Contact the others," said Anders. "Find them. I don't know! But I won't leave them alone-we can't just assume!"

Ren reached for his walkie-talkie, never taking his eyes from Anders. As he pressed the button to open the channel, the static surrounded them like a thousand hushed voices. "We tried. We can't. And if we wait we will lose this opportunity!"

The four of them stared at one another across a cavern, Anders and Renkotsu burning holes with their eyes. It was a silent dare: your move.

"I'll go." It was Naoya who finally broke the stalemate.

Anders stared, aghast. "Naoya, you can't be serious."

" Man , the whole reason we split into teams was so that no one was alone!" Sokka ran a hand down his face.

"Look. You guys go on," said the psychic, his demeanor unnaturally serious. "Andy, you're the medic-we need you in case Alastor gets into some real trouble; he's still not in top form, and he's really big but a lot of the rooms aren't. You need to be there." Anders opened his mouth to protest, but Naoya went on: "I'll go get the twins, and find the others. I can sorta feel my way around and I can sense their emotions, I'll be able to sort of zero in once I get close enough. And it'll be easier to be by myself so I'm not distracted..."

Anders was rooted in place, his face changing expression by the second. "Find them," he said. "Bring them back."

Sokka fidgeted, stiff in his stance; he did not like the idea. He couldn't argue against the idea or the reason Naoya gave to go alone - finding the rest of their party was important and who was he to poke at however "empathic senses" worked - but he certainly did not like it. Especially after what had happened before Ren and Anders had showed up… buuuut then again, maybe it was best that Naoya was far, far away from Barry.

He handed his radio to Naoya with a sigh. "Just… be careful."

"Aren't I always?" Naoya replied with a smile brighter than the bags under his eyes should have allowed.

As Naoya disappeared around the corner of the hall, Anders stole a glance at Ren who seemed as if his eyes could not roll further back in his head. Anders clutched his staff firmly in his hand, knuckles white, and headed wordlessly into the ballroom.

They had a Guardian to fight.

Dipper landed sharply on his feet, falling onto his knees with a pained cry. "Mabel!"

In the pitch black, Dipper fought to hear past the dripping water turning slowly into another stream. "Mabel!" Where was everyone? Why was it so dark?

"Dipper! I'm okay!"

Relief flooded him, and Dipper could have cried. She was nearby! "S-stay there! I'll find you!"

But God, it was so dark. Dipper chanced a look up above, hoping to see Remus or Wash. But it was total blackness, and he only succeeded in getting dust to the face. He tried pushing on his knees to stand, but the soft ground below him shifted. He landed firmly in the mud with a splat.

Alright, he reasoned. Take it slow. On all fours, Dipper fumbled through the dark. Rock. Water, really cold water. Yuck. Stick. Stick? Dipper froze. At his touch, Remus' wand relit. Dipper blinked back the shock, turning his head to find Mabel a mere ten feet away, just as soggy and muddy as he.

"Bro-bro!" she cried. Their hug was soggy, and one of her sleeves smacked Dipper thickly in the face like a wet rag. He didn't care.

"You okay?" Mabel asked when they separated. "What happened?"

"Yeah," Dipper replied, quickly taking stock of his various hurts. His palms had been skinned, just like his knees. But he could push through.

"How did you do that?" Mabel asked, staring at the wand in Dipper's hands.

Dipper stared down at it, too. But he clutched it tighter without knowing entirely why. It felt like something dangerous, something protective. And yet, something he shouldn't have. Something illegal. "It fell," Dipper blurted. "I-I thought maybe-Wash was still on the ground from her knee and so I grabbed it and-"

"BLAM!" finished Mabel, her hands shooting up to emphasize an explosion. "You took out the balverine!"

"Yeah," Dipper nodded. "I-I guess I did."

A great, groaning sound erupted behind them. In the light, the reason for the darkness became clear: bricks crept across the floor, followed by witch hazel and princess pine spreading underfoot once again as though a time lapse film were being projected in front of them. Mabel and Dipper watched helplessly as they were literally walled off.

"Remus!" Mabel shouted, cupping her hands over her mouth. "Wash! Can you hear me?" Beside her, Dipper pounded against the brick, screaming their names.

Dripping water was their only reply.

"Wash! Hello?"

"Wait, wait, shh!"

"What? What is it?"

"I heard something."



Dipper tucked the wand behind his ear as he had seen Remus do many times before, dropping to his knees to sift the floor. After a minute, he pulled his flashlight from the mud and wiped the lens on his vest. "Here," he said, tossing it to his sister. "Let's see if it works."

It did. The focused beam went farther than the wandlight and Mabel quickly revealed the rest of the servants' quarters sprawling down a hallway in an advanced state of magical decay. What would have been a polished floor and rooms like headstones was now a swamp complete with reeds and a thick, hazy fog. Through the cracked doors several bare dressers and bunk beds could be made out, and Mabel swallowed hard. These were the belongings of the dead.

"Come on," Dipper said, taking Mabel's hand. They headed down the hall, sneakers squishing the mossy floor like old dish sponges. There was a room with a mostly wooden floor not far of, and as Dipper inspected it for trouble Mabel searched the dressers. She handed Dipper a shirt.

"No towels," she explained. "Don't worry, not like they're gonna say something, right?" She wrung out her hair into a blouse. "Dry off, quick. It's freezing."

"That's 'cause we're underground."

"Are we?" Mabel gasped, her mouth an O. "Why, Dipper, I thought we were safe and warm, at home."

" Hardy har ," Dipper grumbled, wiping his face with the shirt. It smelled faintly of dog.

After a moment, Mabel paused. "Dipper, how are you doing that? Like, for realsies."

Dipper reached instinctively towards his temple, where the wand brushed against brown hair. "I… I don't know. It just… like, with the balverine, I just-I wanted to help, and I aimed without really thinking. And maybe now, it's just residual magic? Maybe Remus' magic?"

"But you're the one holding it," Mabel replied quietly. "Remus isn't here. We don't even know where he is."

Dipper frowned. She was right. He'd cast spells before, like when the whole town was swarmed by undead after he read from a book. And he knew of even worse spells, to summon demons and open portals. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised that he could use a wand in retrospect, but he'd always assumed the tools for doing magic were what were actually magic, not-not him. Not regular, old Dipper. What were the chances?

"Here," Dipper said, "trade you." Mabel gave him a confused look before acquiescing. The wand remained lit. "Uh," Dipper swallowed, "go over there. And I'll go over here. I just want to see."

By the time they had both made it to opposite corners of the room, the wand had gone out.

"So it is you," Mabel frowned. She returned the wand to Dipper, and he had to give it a good wave before it relit.

"No. No, that can't-we're twins. We're the same. We're always-maybe it's just-"

"Yeah," Mabel nodded. She turned back towards the door, doing her best to hide her disappointment. "Maybe. Y-you're good? Let's just hurry up and go..."

Dipper bit his lip. "...Go where?"

Mabel pointed towards the hall and out. "Let's follow the hall. We were gonna go that way anyway, right? With Wash and Remus? They probably went that way too, looking for us. Maybe there's stairs. Besides," she added, kicking a growing puddle seeping in from the door, "we probably don't want to stick around here too long."

They didn't make it very far. Things appeared very different when the entire world was made of two spheres of light. Somehow, things moving in the peripheral were made of a deeper, darker black. The feeling of eyes and the feeling of being pressed in-they were ere even worse in the dark. The hairs on the back of the Pines' necks began to stand.

"I think you were right," Mabel whispered, pressing close to Dipper.

Dipper returned the gesture. "About what?"

"About hearing something before. Something big."

A scattering of pebbles made them jump and turn, both lights pinning the source of the noise: a single stone, rolling across the floor. As they stared at it, they both froze in horror: in the cold, damp air of the tunnel, something moved by fast enough to only be felt and not seen.

"Lost, are we?" a bemused, male voice asked. "Tasty little nuggets shouldn't wander."

A shower of teeth rained across the marble floor, paving the way for the smouldering mass of fur that collapsed beside it. Breathing hard, Anders lowered his staff. He switched hands, wiping blood from his dominant palm onto the blue of his coat. And then, it was right back in.

The ballroom was two floors: a central stage of polished marble below, where nobles would have negotiated the politics between them across the dance floor. The only things left were the battered bodies of fallen balverines and shattered stone. Above this was the second floor, a grand, hardwood balcony ringing the dance floor with slender railings and the sneering eyes of the few remaining balverines just arriving to join the battle. They crawled down the massive marble pillars supporting the second story like insects, swarming the ballroom with the shrill cries of war.

Anders was prepared. "Choke on this!" he shouted, hurling a fireball at the closest balverine and igniting its fur. It reeled back, shrieking and flailing, throwing itself in a flurry of smoke and flaming tongues into the golden fountain in the ballroom's center. Fat cherubs and busty women poured water from vases on their shoulders over the singed fur and quills, but the balverine's head did not emerge from under the surface.

Anders coughed the stench of burnt hair out of his lungs. It had been like this for far too long: between the pens and the mountain, Anders had assumed most of the balverines would be dead already. So what were all of these? And where in the Void did they come from, because he didn't have the energy to keep this up.

"Behind you!" he shouted, pointing with a bloodied hand. Renkotsu turned on his heels, wailing the oncoming beast in the snout with a trail of wire and flames. Sokka skidded below the legs of a third balverine and sank his black blade deep into her back. She howled as she collapsed, and Sokka paused long enough to heave the sword from her flesh.

"We have to keep moving!" he called, pointing. "Barry just-"

Another balverine scaled the pillars, scoring the stone in a spiral with her claws as she swung herself with the skill of a gymnast through the air and across the chandeliers suspended between floors.

"Shoot her!" Anders yelled, and Renkotsu lined the shot with his canon, following her with a trained eye.

A balverine sank its fangs into the side of his neck as he fired, and a wall of the ballroom exploded.

The entire building shook around them. Remus felt the vibrations of the explosion deep in his bones.

What the hell was that?

"Something's happening," Wash breathed. In the dark of the hall, Remus could barely spot the sweat along her brow. But he could hear the pain in her voice. "We need to be there. We need to find the twins."

"One thing at a time," he said, though the sense of urgency he felt only laughed inside his head. As if they had any time to spare. "The twins can't be far."

"Let's just hurry," she replied, pushing on.

Remus wanted to argue, to tell her to shove it in far more colorful vocabulary. He understood her feelings, he did. But as they walked-er, trudged-down the maze of hallways like contestants of a three-legged race, he could see her swollen knee pressing against the fabric of her pants tightly enough to erase all wrinkles. He wanted to do something about her pain, but without his wand he was as helpless as a Squib in a magical tournament and that thought did not leave him for a second.

They pressed on. They had to find the twins. They had to.

"Any reply?" he said to Wash instead, though he knew he would have heard it too if there had been one. "It's been a long time."

"No," she said, looking past him into the dark. "I think there's a light up there, though,"-she squinted ahead-"candles?"

Remus looked. It was distant, very faint. But he did see an intermittent glow, flickering like firelight. Or, wandlight. But unlike those two possible sources of light, this light was paler; whiter in hue. "You said that you only finished the balverine off?" Remus asked, his voice lowering as they approached. It didn't matter either way-the explosion was strong enough to send the balverine toppling and loud enough that if Remus stopped to listen he would hear a faint ringing. Wash's rifle couldn't do that- didn't do that. If the twins had his wand, it means they could use it. Somehow.

"Wait," Wash said suddenly, yanking Remus to a stop and wincing as he stepped on her. "Don't apolog- listen! "

Footsteps, clear as day-and only getting clearer. Two-no, one set, coming down the hall from the direction of the candlelight, and fast.

"Take this," Wash said, shoving her secondary weapon into Remus' fists. Remus stared down at the pistol in the weak light as though he had just been given a flobberworm. "Aim through the sight," Wash breathed. "And don't point unless you're willing to kill." She slung her own weapon into her hands with a skill that overrode her pain. Her hands refused to shake.

It was a lot to assume that a wizard would know how to use a gun. It was a lot more to give him one and tell him to aim, but Remus had been in less ideal situations. The muggle guns he had seen before didn't have little lights on them, or whine like a camera flash. He swallowed. At least he had an idea about guns. Sort of.

"Both hands," Wash snapped, contrary to that thought. "It's a dual sonic and ballistics weapon, and not a wand."

Certainly not, and Remus lamented that fact. But he was quick to decipher the tactical scope, stepping softly down the hall with Wash standing behind him on watch. The hall curved, and in the pale, faint light Remus was sure he could see the warped shadow of the figure approaching. Rapidly now, and Remus held his breath as the gun felt more like dead weight in his hands than anything useful. He lunged around the corner before the footsteps could even think to.

The pale, white light vanished. Naoya shrieked.

"What in Merlin's- Naoya!" Remus lowered the sonic pistol. "I almost just- I almost just shot you! "

" Yes! " Naoya huffed. "Thankfully you're bad with guns, the safety's still on."

Remus stopped, mouth hanging stupidly. He looked back at Wash.

"What on earth are you doing here? Where's Sokka, and the others? Have you seen the twins?" Wash asked, setting down her rifle in favor of propping herself up against the wall.

"We met up with Renkotsu and Anders," Naoya sighed. The white light returned again, dancing and swirling in tiny ripples around his long fingers, and even in the faint light... Naoya looked exhausted. "We heard you guys got split up, er, Sokka heard you guys got split up. He got your message. The others went to the fight; I came to find you guys and Mabel and Dip. Found you guys first." His large eyes flickered down to Wash's leg. "Your leg hurts."

"Yeah, no shit," she replied, forcing herself to not say it through her teeth.

Though Naoya said nothing further on the Lieutenant's pain, Remus wondered if that was the reason the empath had managed to track them down.

"Sit," the word came out more like an offering than a directive, Naoya not risking giving the late thirty-something year old woman any orders if he wanted to live. He let her sink to the floor at her own rate, then knelt beside her. "I'm not as good as Andy, but I can at least get you walking again."

As Naoya worked, Remus knelt nearby. "Naoya," he said, "can you sense the twins? Do you know if they're close?"

Naoya didn't answer for a moment, focusing only on Wash and her injury. When he stood back up, he waved his hands. "See how it feels," he said to Wash, offering her his arm. But she got up on her own, her movements much looser.

"It's better," she said.

"Still hurts," Naoya replied with a sigh. "You just gotta take it easy and have Andy look at it once we're done."

"Speak for yourself," Wash said, turning. "You look like shit."

Naoya laughed; a hollow, little thing. "Feel like shit, Lieutenant. Exhausted-not hungover," he added quickly. "And-I can kinda sense the twins. Vaguely. But the longer we wait, the more tired…"

He droned off as Wash nodded sharply with understanding. "Then let's get the hell out of here," she ordered, and they moved out

Renkotsu cried out as the skin on his neck tore, and he reached back over his head to grab the balverine by the scruff of hers. He heaved and suddenly bent forward, sliding one foot under the balverine's ankles even as her jaw was still locked to his flesh. He flung her from his shoulders with strength unbecoming of his lean form. Unnatural, half-dead blood sprayed momentarily from the gaping hole in his neck, stymied when Renkotsu put his palm across the wound as though it were a minor irritant, a bite from a mosquito. He snarled down at the balverine as she righted herself, but she barely had time to regain her footing before she was blasted into bits by the powerful shoulder cannon, now cradled in Renkotsu's arms.

"Go!" he hollered at the others: Anders and Sokka, staring open-mouthed at the display.

That was easier said than done. Red, white, white, white, red-why was it so hard to find a ginger or frost balverine in a room full of them? Sokka scanned the room, sword at the ready, watching for-"There!"

Arctic white-battered, bloodied white-streaked across the second floor, barrelling through the wooden railings and plummeting after a flaming orange balverine.

With a wave of his hand Anders painted a swath of glyphs across the floor and the room exploded into a forest of ice spikes. Barry shrieked as he collided with one, skidding down its face and slipping on the floor. Alastor fell to the floor, landing beside Barry and spider webbing the ice below his paws. The whites of Barry's eyes betrayed his fear, and Alastor raised his clawed hand to strike down-

Barry spat in Alastor's face. It was a dirty trick, but it was enough for Barry to scurry away. Renkotsu fired another volley from the cannon in Barry's direction, detonating one of the support pillars and forcing him to shield his face from bits of the blast. Barry navigated the chaos with what had to be a drunkard's dumb luck, disappearing into the pillars above.

"Where did he go?" Sokka shouted, instinctively looking up. Balverines always came from above-and behind. Sokka whipped around, his blade ready, but he flinched.

His helmet was the only thing that saved his life. Powerful claws ripped across his armor, knocking Sokka down like a fallen tree. A fireball barely missed his scalp as Anders tried to roast Barry away from him, but the clang of metal skittering across the floor was damage enough.

"My sword!"

It wasn't far, and Sokka reached out. A ginger-haired paw stepped on the blade.

"Aw now, no weapons but Master Reaver's in the ballroom," Barry struggled words past his own mutant maw, but said every syllable with mocking pride. "Play nice. Left that rentboy alone, didn't I?"

Sokka growled deep in his throat, sliding a dagger from his side and charging at Barry with as much force as he could muster. He screamed as he thrust the blade, expecting it to sink into red flesh. But Barry grinned, swinging low and hard and fast, and Sokka felt the wind leave his chest as he was thrown backwards across the room.

"Get back! Stay back!" Dipper aimed the lit wand into the eyes of the man, hating each time he heard his own voice crack. "I'm warning you!"

The balverine only laughed, his features appearing to distort in the freakish light of the double beams. He stood still as a pillar in the light, arrogant grin still fixed on his lips. Sharp, yellow eyes bored into them from beneath dark hair combed in an aristocratic sweep; his facial hair was as groomed as it could be given conditions. Though not as well-dressed as the former Lord's butler had been required, he was also not clothed in the rags and hand-me-downs of Sykes. His brown overcoat and red vest fixed him somewhere between the two; Mabel thought this man belonged somewhere on the cover of a Victorian-set romance novel except for a nose that was a little too broad, a little too balverine . He stared back at them, unperturbed by the light.

"Wh-what do you want?" Dipper asked the balverine, pointing Remus' wand at him. Knees shaking, he stepped in front of Mabel.

"He just called us 'nuggets', it's obvious he wants to eat us!" Mabel whispered hoarsely. When the man grinned smugly, exposing a mouth of fangs, Mabel pointed an accusatory finger at him. "See?!"

"Well, she isn't wrong," the man said.

Dipper tightened his grip on the wand, making it obvious it was something the balverine didn't want to mess with. "You're not eating us."

"Is that a willed artifact?" the man asked plainly.

"Yeah. A-and if you try to eat us," Dipper tried to sound as threatening as he could, "Then I'll- I'll-"

"He'll blow your block off!" Mabel finished in a horrendous accent, mocking the balverine's own.


The balverine looked between the wand, Dipper, and Mabel; then back to the wand. "You have no clue how to use that, do you, boy?"

Dipper shook his head. "No. So do you want to find out what it can do? Huh? One swing over here and I might take out this whole tunnel by accident! Try me!"

The balverine laughed again, slowly this time; appreciating, this time. "You are a fool to wield something you can barely hope to understand," he said, "and an even bigger one for pointing your weapon at me." He frowned. "You are lucky, however: I am sworn not to kill you."

Mabel and Dipper exchanged a fleeting glance.

"Alastor?" Mabel whispered, and the man nodded.

"I am Connor," he said, introducing himself.

"Alastor said he was trying to-hide you, or keep you from Reaver or something. What are you doing here?"

Connor frowned down at Dipper, who'd begun to shiver with cold. "Consider yourself lucky that I am here at all," he said. "We would all be wise to seek cover. Now."

Taken aback, the twins hesitated. "But-what?"

"Wait, I thought-"


"No!" Dipper didn't point the wand at Connor, but it took more willpower than he realized. "No secrets! We're down here alone, and we're looking for our friends. How do we know who you are, really? How do we even know we can trust you? Answer me!"

A growl was the reply, deep and animalistic. Connor took a step forward and Dipper one back, swallowing even as he pointed the wand at Connor again.

"I'm warning you!" Dipper said, and he sent his free arm searching for Mabel.

Connor lunged and the twins screamed as he grabbed them both by their clothes, dragging them ruthlessly into a side room and pushing them towards the far wall. Dipper swatted at him and Mabel kicked-hard enough that Connor grunted in pain, growling at them again. He dropped them and they both scattered, but Connor was already upon the door.

Mabel and Dipper stopped. Dipper felt himself lower the wand. Connor pressed his ear to the door, and his nostrils visibly widened as he took in several deep breaths. It was only another moment before the twins heard it, too. Their stomachs went cold.

He was… helping them?

It sounded like steps on the stonework, coming closer. Her hands covered by her sleeves, Mabel stifled a gasp. She struggled to hold her breath, to make herself small. Dipper tried to swallow something tacky towards the back of his throat-twice, a third time-certain everyone could hear him struggling. He could feel his body stiffen. Sweaty palms clutched at the wand in his hand, a silent plea existing in the space between wood and skin.

Someone jiggled the doorknob, two more snouts attempting to sniff under the door.

Connor growled in warning. "Find your own," he projected, voice warbled and deep. The other balverines whined, growling and clawing at the door. Connor was less than impressed. He slammed his fist against the door. " Leave ."

"They. Can. Smell. Us. " Dipper breathed tightly. He watched the shadows under the door, and Remus' wand felt like it was humming with anticipation as he clutched it in trembling fingers.

One of the balverines pounded on the door. It rattled on its hinges. Though it was no spoken human-tongue that the balverines communicated by, the barks and grunts seemed to get their intent across just as well. "We know what you have," and a couple high-pitched noises seemingly demanding "Share!"

" No ," Connor growled, causing the balverines to howl and thrash against the door. The twins stepped back and Dipper held up the wand, hesitating when Connor refused to move. The door cracked and light from the other side trailed in, split by the quilled shoulders of the balverines. Connor himself was planted firmly, looking more annoyed than terrified-and the twins backed further away from him until there was no where else to go.

Two gunshots exploded across the hall, echoless over the swampy floor where the bodies of the balverines fell with unsatisfying splats. When the doorknob rattled again, the implications were vastly different.

"How many do you sense?" a very familiar woman's voice asked in a low tone.

"Three. One balverine," replied a light, younger male voice. "Friendly…?"

Mabel's eyes lit up, softly gasping once more. "It's Wash and Naoya!"

"Mabel!" Wash called, voice muffled from behind the door. "Dipper!" The door rattled again as she kicked it, hard . She stared Connor down over the sights of her rifle, and he stared right back; a silent battle of wills.

"Friend-ly!" Naoya repeated loudly and firmly. He managed to squeeze his way past them both and plant himself between Connor and the rifle. " Friendly!"

Remus had already slid past Wash and through the doorway, head turning this way and that as he searched for- "Oof!"

Mabel charged forward, wrapping her arms around his middle. "Remus!" she cried, and just as soon as it began it was over. "Naoya! Wash!" She hugged Naoya so tightly that he wobbled under her initial grip. And then Wash, who at first refused to lower her weapon. And even as she did return the hug after a moment, her eyes never left the balverine in front of her.

"Remus," said Dipper, coming forward with a smile of relief. "Here." He held out Remus' wand, and Remus could not help the feelings of consternation and gratitude fighting for dominance.

"Thank you," he said, and he stared down at it briefly as though he had been returned a precious heirloom. "Did it-er, did it work?"

"Uh, y-yeah," Dipper nodded. "I don't even know how, but yeah. It was really helpful."

Remus nodded, swallowing to buy time for words that never came. "Good," he said eventually. "Good."

"We would never have made it without him, though," Mabel said suddenly, pointing at Connor who had watched the reunion in silence. "He saved us!"

"You must be Connor," Remus said smoothly, wiping the grime from his wand onto his shirt and placing it into his belt loop.

"Hm," Connor replied. He smiled, and his mouth was full of fangs. "I might be."

"Alastor told us about you," Remus said slowly.

Connor frowned, a dent in his brow pulling with skin - creasing in a way that revealed his face was not as human as it had once been. "So then I can assume you are the... odd cousin my brother's struck a deal with."

Remus frowned. "Alastor did not mention you were his brother."

Connor shrugged, a smooth and sure motion. "Lilith refers to other balverines as 'her children', Sykes will say 'many friends', and I prefer 'brothers and sisters'. Alastor, the old balvorn he is, says 'his people'... It's all the same, just different words."

"Wait," Dipper said, counting heads with a finger. "If Naoya's here, then where did everybody else go?"

"After we heard you guys got split up, we rearranged everybody to come find you," Naoya explained. "Anders, Renkotsu, and Sokka went to fight." He paused, fine brows furrowing as a thought came to him. He turned to Connor. "Speaking of, you should probably go lend your leader a hand."

"We need to find them," Remus said, though no one disagreed. "Where were they headed?"

This he asked to Naoya, whose mouth scrunched to one side. "The ballroom. It's been a while. It's five on one, it shouldn't take so long to fight one greasy redhead."

"Ah, but the grease makes him a little more slippery than you'd think," Connor sighed, shaking his head.

Behind him the wall cracked like a bolt of lightning and water began to pour into the room. From above, the ceiling shook with more fervor than ever. None of them were surprised to find plants beneath their toes again.

Barry latched onto the reddened fur on Alastor's side, his claws hooking into fur and flesh, his hackles and quills perked with glee as Alastor bucked and slammed his side into railings and walls in an attempt to dislodge him, impacting the marble and gold tiles with the impact of his hind paws. He lunged, hulking arms outstretched and claws ready to sink into sinew and bone. But Barry was smaller, skirting sideways like lightning and hurling himself onto Alastor's back and dragging his own claws down the white face of the alpha. Alastor roared, but Barry was gone before he could fling the pest from his shoulders. Blood ran down Alastor's face and he visibly blinked, scratching and rubbing at his eyes with monstrous hands that were better made for cutting sinew. Above the ballroom, clinging to the cable of one of the two grand, champagne-colored chandeliers, the ginger balverine with mismatched eyes cackled.

A flash of auburn pushed past him and Sokka nearly tumbled. Nadine roared, a sound of fury, announcing her rage at the off-colored balverine that would dare hurt her beloved; her vengeance reverberated across the pillars surrounding the center dance floor and across the stained glass windows, making her sound even more ferocious.

Barry jumped to the next chandelier in a vain attempt to get away from her, and as his padded hind feet left the the chandelier's rim it lurched just once before the cable was torn from the gilded ceiling.

"REN!" Sokka called, his eyes widening just in time to see the mercenary disappear behind a wall of shattered glass. In a shower of rattling chains and champagne diamonds, the massive chandelier at the center of the room came crashing down.

Anders reached out, snatching Sokka's wrist in time for the chandelier to smash into a hail of rainbow shards. He twisted around, closing his eyes and swinging his staff out with his other hand as a blast of energy burst from the dragon's mouth like a bubble. The air was filled with disorganized, crystalline humming as each of the shards impacted by the wave of magic vibrated- disintegrated -and when Anders opened his eyes again, it was to brush grains of glass sand from his feathered pauldrons.

Whether he had jumped out of the way, or only stepped aside, Renkotsu stood unharmed, save for the shredded holes in his exposed sleeves and the tail of his bandanna, and not at all pleased. At his feet the light flickered with the last of its remaining power, casting brief under-shadows on the way his frustration with the battle turned something hotter: a smoulder becoming a deep, arsonist's flame. He reached back, swung his cannon into position, and fired. Smoke billowed from the rear of his shoulder cannon and the chandelier Barry rested on exploded - once again raining the dance floor in shards of broken crystals and slivers of glass.

Anders and Sokka had barely enough time to turn away from the explosion - Sokka more protected in his armor than Anders was in his own pauldrons and robes. Anders hissed as the back of his neck was pelted with glass, sliding down his collar and under his coat. They bit at his skin through his undershirt, and he danced back and forth to move the pieces through to the floor while Sokka wiped blood from his bleeding palm across the front of his greaves. They locked eyes: they were alright.

A sharp yelp indicated that not everyone was so lucky. Sokka turned, watching Renkotsu approach the skeleton of the second chandelier with his cannon once again ready to fire. From the rubble, Barry slid himself free of a handful of painful, metal wires with a soft bark. One leg was dragging behind him, pierced by glass and reddened metal as warped prints-neither completely hand nor foreclaw-were left behind as he pushed himself up and away from the cannon aiming directly for his chest.

Sokka stepped forward, but Anders grabbed him by the wrist. Do you want to get hit with shrapnel again? But Sokka glared, turning. "Ren!"

But Renkotsu either could not or would not hear him, because he stared headlong at Barry as the latter pawed helplessly at the iron in his leg. If he transformed back into a human now, what damage would he cause? Bits of glass snapped and splintered under Renkotsu's boots as he stood over the ginger Guardian, his fur dampened with sweat.

Barry's mismatched eyes scanned their way up the barrel to meet Ren's cold, black stare. "... Do it," he breathed. "Shoot me. You'll be trapped here forever-you won't do it!" Renkotsu hesitated, and Barry smiled. "You're gonna be stuck here," he breathed, pushing himself just a bit more between every sentence, every pause for breath.

Barry stared up at Ren, wide-eyed and bleeding, and tried to back away just a little further. When his malformed hand contacted something furry, he froze.

Nadine stood over Barry fangs first, her black claws twitching at her side. Barry barely had enough time to scream before vengeance sank into his chest, dragging him from the floor as auburn and ginger and red entangled in a mess of fury and sinew. Gurgling, cracking, a wet snap-blood poured across the floor as Nadine ripped his throat from his neck and dropped him like a rag doll onto the floor to pool with the rest of his blood. She spit out the chunk of flesh in her maw, glaring down at it with disgust as the last of the light left the mismatched eyes below her.

The world froze. The air shimmered, heavy with expectation and electricity.

Existence itself flickered dangerously in and out of focus, and the Oasis began warp and to hum-to sing in a cacophonous burst of energy as the mantle of Guardian was passed.

The wave of energy was hot like desert sun, though not uncomfortably so, but the subsonic sound knocked the ballroom guests headlong to the floor. Sokka's hands felt something he barely registered as sand pool under him, and he blinked as he willed his knees to bend instead of feel like wet noodles.

And through the hot fog, a distant, slow clap.

The posh, teetering chuckle that accompanied it was unmistakable: "It always knocks you off your feet the first time."

Anders' breath caught in his throat, his stomach dropping. His first instinct was to scramble away somehow, even if it was over glass hidden by the sand that now surrounded them. " No- "

"Oh, but yes , Nurse Anders."

Crimson cubbing ensemble grated on the knees, smeared with dark dirt; black-brown hair slicked back in a messy coif, curled ends betraying the style further; and a statuesquely enraged face. Bejeweled revolver in one hand and a sleek cutlass in the other. The man that sauntered into view looked less like a presiding noble of some fantastical golden city, and more like a pirate that had been marooned after a typhoon. Reaver looked bedraggled.

"I have to say, blowing up a tunnel with your enemy inside is such a play out of my own book. I'm, well , I'm almost mortified I had fallen for it. Now, where is that delightful little Naoya Itsuki, Nurse ?" Reaver's boot collided with Anders' side. "If he isn't going to be what he is , then I want nothing more than to repay his dear grandmother for dumping me here three-hundred years in the past. "

Anders rolled away, kicking off from the ground and launching all his weight at Reaver. He roared, lobbing Freedom's Call with all his might. Sparks flew between them as red steel met polished cutlass. Reaver met every strike, every blow with a block so casual he could have yawned. Anders roared again as he swung, harder this time, willing every part of him to strike. Reaver dodged it like it was nothing.

"Enough!" Anders shouted. "Whatever you think Naoya is, whatever deranged plan you think you have-you've already lost!" He threw his arms out, intending to blast a hole into the floor where Reaver stood. But when nothing happened, Anders stared.

"Having performance issues, are we?" Reaver practically purred. "Crowning a new Guardian takes a lot of magical energy. Sucks it out of anything it can to assist that. So you know, I'm not going to lose. I haven't lost in a very long time," Reaver tilted his chin up, smirking. "Perhaps tied, but not even I can be best at it all." Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Renkotsu stir from the floor, and without missing a beat pointed his cutlass where Sokka stood with his black blade ready. He hardly seemed to pay mind to where Alastor, one gold eye left and great white face dyed red, stood over Nadine's recovering form on the floor. "I've had worse odds than four on one. And you don't live for as long as I have without learning how to handle those odds." Storm blue eyes had barely flicked to meet Anders' brown ones when Reaver pulled the trigger. "And that's why you always take out the healer first ."