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Everything posted by JCM

  1. Friday, January 27th: 7:00pm EDT: The Salty Sponge (281A): SpongeBob works the grill at the toughest joint in town.
  2. I've added a new game to the Games page: Bubble Ball Remastered Based on the super old Nick.com game Bubble Ball, this game is basically just Pong with multiple levels and annoying obstacles. If you do manage to beat it, DM me a screenshot of the final screen which will have a random number either here or on Discord, and you'll win a prize! I'm not sure what it is yet, but hopefully I will by the time somebody beats it. Until next time, FrylockJCM out.
  3. I'm bringing this back just in time for the holidays! SBC now has an interviews page headlined by The Art of SpongeBob's interview with Paul Tibbitt from last July. I haven't finished transcribing the interview, but I do have interviews of Tibbitt's fellow crew member Aaron Springer as well as interviews with other big names in children's animation in Joe Murray, Craig McCracken, and Genndy Tartakovsky brought over from a site I no longer maintain, so if you haven't read through them, definitely give them a look! I'll try to have the Tibbitt interview finished by Christmas, and I would like to give a big shoutout to @ThePickleMan for setting up the interview in the first place and giving me permission to add it to SBC. If you aren't a part of The Art of SpongeBob's Discord server yet, definitely make sure to join it or follow their Twitter account, because they have a lot of cool stuff, including, of course, their interview with Tibbitt. See y'all again! Maybe!
  4. JCM Cooks Up a Christmas Special (JCM is washing the dishes in the kitchen of Shinya's Korean restaurant. Shinya walks in just as he finishes drying the last plate.) Shinya: Great work today, JCM. JCM: (sighs) Thanks. Shinya: What's wrong? (JCM shrugs.) Shinya: You can't still be thinking about SBC, are you? It's been almost a year and a half since you were fired...again. JCM: I can't help it! I've wanted to be a teacher for SBC since I was a kid! Shinya: SBC is only 13 years old. JCM: And? Shinya: You're 127. JCM: And? Shinya: Listen, our dishes have never been more spotless than they were before I hired you. Our floors have never been cleaner. In my restaurant, you have a place where you can fit in and be with friends. What more do you want? JCM: I want to cook! Can't you let me back on the grill? Shinya: Last time I let you cook, you gave all of our customers food poisoning. JCM: Is it my fault the people who eat here have weak stomachs? I cook the way my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great... JCM: ...great-great grandmother taught me to! Shinya: What the fuck? Why don't you try cooking methods that have been developed over the last millennium? JCM: And spit in the face of tradition? What kind of a person do you think I am? Shinya: You can't cook for us. But what you can do is get home before it gets even colder. It's the holidays. Try to enjoy them. (JCM walks home, shivering as the cold air blows into his face. Instead of taking the usual way home, he takes a longer way, a way that will take him past the SpongeBob Community School. Inside the school, sbl is doing rehearsals with his drama class for a Christmas play that will be staged the following night.) sbl: From the top: A-one-and-a-two-and-a-three. (sbl points to two students dressed as SpongeBob and Patrick.) Students: (singing) IT'S SHAPING (sbl throws the script he's holding to the ground, startling the costumed students.) sbl: No, no, no! Wrong, wrong, wrong! If you fuck this up again, I swear to God, I'll kill every single one of you! (JCM walks into the class.) JCM: Am I interrupting something? sbl: JCM? What the fuck are you doing here? Jjs told us to call the police on you for trespassing if any of us see you here again! JCM: Come on, sbl! Where's your Christmas spirit? sbl: Get out! This is a closed rehearsal! And you're fucking banned from the premises! (JCM walks out sadly as sbl picks up his script and brushes it off.) sbl: Where were we? (The next morning, sbl walks into jjstheprincipal's office.) jjstheprincipal: sbl, what is this I hear about you threatening to murder your students? sbl: Who told you that? Was it that motherfucker JCM? jjstheprincipal: JCM was here? Why didn't you text me like I told you to do if that happens? sbl: I don't give a shit about the unresolved romantic tension you two have! jjstheprincipal: The what? sbl: My job is to make sure tonight's Christmas play doesn't suck, and I've been doing that. What have you been doing, Mr. The Principal? jjstheprincipal: Watch your fucking tongue or you'll be back to making all your money from Twitch streams! sbl: And OnlyFans. jjstheprincipal: You better have taken that fucking thing down so none of your students find out about it! sbl: I...have? jjstheprincipal: Whatever. Just don't threaten your students' lives anymore, okay? We've been under a microscope since Wumbo got deported back to Canada for his human experiments. The last thing I would want is for the same to happen to you. sbl: No, jjs! I owe a lot of people in Canada a lot of money. If I go back there, I'm a dead man! jjstheprincipal: Then do what I tell you. sbl: (sighs) Fine. But if the play is shit, I'm blaming you. jjstheprincipal: I can live with that on my conscience. (That night, sbl is on the stage of the school's auditorium with his drama class, hidden behind a curtain.) sbl: Okay, the play starts in ten minutes. Make sure you have all of the lines memorized, because you won't be getting any do-overs this time. (sbl notices something strange about one of the "students" dressed as a fish, and his eyes widen once he realizes who it is.) sbl: JCM? (JCM takes the fish head off his costume.) JCM: Aww. You caught me. sbl: You need to get out of here, now! jjs will be in the front row, and if he sees you, we're all fucked! JCM: But I have a plan to get in everybody's good graces again! The food they've prepared out there is none other than my own Christmas special! I was going to reveal that not only is it me in this costume but that I'm the cook of the delicious food everybody's eating, and they'll have to love me again! sbl: That plan is stupid. But what else can I expect from you? Get out! Now! JCM: Please, sbl. This is all I have. SBC is all I have. I promise I won't get you in trouble. sbl: (rolls eyes) Fine. But stay out of sight! You're an extra, so act like one! (The play begins, and after the students act out the first few scenes of Christmas Who?, they get to the Very First Christmas number. Sbl starts to sweat as the students dressed as SpongeBob and Patrick pretend to chop down a fake coral tree.) Students: (singing) It's shaping up to be a wonderful holiday! Not your normal, average every day! (A student dressed as Squidward runs onto the stage as the fake tree falls down.) Student: Sounds like someone felled my old coral tree! SpongeBob, Patrick, why'd you do this to me? (Sbl begins to relax as the students continue to perform the play exactly as they rehearsed. Suddenly, he hears gagging in the crowd, and within seconds, everyone in the audience is vomiting. Sbl pulls JCM, who's dressed like a fish in the current scene, behind the curtain.) JCM: What are you doing? Sbl: Jesus Christ, JCM! Don't you see everyone in the crowd throwing up? JCM: Of course not! I was in my zone! Method acting! You're the drama teacher, you should know all that! Sbl: Leave! Now! (jjstheprincipal stumbles backstage with his shirt covered in vomit.) jjstheprincipal: What the fuck did you put in those chicken sticks? JCM: That wasn't chicken! It was dodo! Stored in the family chamber for thousands of years! It might be a little bad now, though. jjstheprincipal: JCM? (Sbl puts his head in his hands.) jjstheprincipal: You...you... (jjstheprincipal faints.) JCM: I guess my cooking really knocked them out! Ha ha! (sbl glares at JCM.) JCM: I'll go now. (The End)
  5. The #1 show on my list is an innovative take on the police show. Yes, I'm talking about... 1. Cop Rock With its unique blend of gripping drama and catchy music, there had never been anything like Cop Rock on TV before it premiered, and it's unlikely we'll ever see anything on TV like it again. This may be a surprising choice to many for the top spot because the show was cancelled after just 11 episodes and sports a putrid 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as well as a 4.4/10 on IMDB, but it really is a show you can either love or hate, and I happen to be one of the ones who love it. Coming out just as the Disney Renaissance was kicking into high gear, the Disney-owned ABC gave us a show with songs as easy to shake your head and sing along to as in movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, but they happened to be singing them as people got kidnapped, shot, and killed. It truly was a masterpiece. And, of course, I'm kidding. The #1 show on this list isn't Cop Rock. It's... 1. The Wire David Simon's in-depth look at crime in Baltimore is the absolute peak of prestige TV in my eyes. The writing, acting, and directing are consistently good from the very first episode, and though it didn't get as much attention as another HBO show airing at around the same time also hailed by many as one of the best ever in The Sopranos (a show I've only seen one episode of, sorry), it was able to finish the story it wanted to tell, and it could not have done it much better. The Wire immediately separates itself from most other cop shows by putting just as much of a focus on the criminals as the police investigating them and not making all of the criminals bad guys by default but giving them a more nuanced portrayal while aiming greater criticism at the systemic issues that push many in these urban, African-American majority areas to crime in the first place. Every season focuses on a different dimension of these systemic issues, starting with the police department itself during the first season, the unions in the second season, the government in the third season, the schools in the fourth season, and the media in the fifth season. I have never seen a better depiction of the effects of urban decay than The Wire, and the fact that it's just as relevant today, if not more so, than when it first premiered in 2002 makes it a show that pretty much everyone should set time aside to watch. Breaking Bad and Mr. Robot are as great as they are in large part because of their main characters and the stellar performances by Bryan Cranston and Rami Malek of those respective characters. Without them, the shows would undoubtedly be worse and likely wouldn't be on this list, certainly not in my top 3. What puts The Wire a step above them is the fact that it doesn't rely on one character or one actor. My favorite season, season 4, had barely any of Jimmy McNulty, who had been the show's main character the first three seasons, at all. The show had a murderer's row of emerging talent, most notably Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, and the late Michael K. Williams. With this kind of talent and the show's reliably good writing to support it, they could handle a character as important to the show's events as McNulty taking a backseat, and with season 4, they had an opportunity to prove just that, giving us some of the best television to ever be put on the screen in the process. Though it was loved by critics even while it was airing, The Wire never got great ratings, with the slow pace and complicated storylines making it a difficult show to follow in the pre-streaming era. It also wasn't very flashy compared to most of HBO's hits, which was a deliberate decision but also something that hurt The Wire's viewership. Its focus on black drug dealers is also something that limited its appeal, with it likely not being a coincidence that season 2, which gave the spotlight to the city's mostly white dock union, had the show's best ratings. The reasons most HBO subscribers weren't digging The Wire are probably the same reasons Emmy voters didn't like the show, either, the ones who bothered to watch, anyway, making The Wire the best show to never win an Emmy, only being nominated twice for its writing and getting nada outside of that. Despite everything going against it, the show continued to stick to its philosophy, which was to give us an unfiltered look at what used to be a great American city. Though not a lot of what it had to show us was good, it's good that we got to see it anyway, and while it could have been easy for The Wire to succumb to all its cynicism, it ended on a hopeful note instead, making it clear that Simon and the rest of the crew still believed in Baltimore someday fixing the problems that led to the show's creation in the first place. 20 years later, Baltimore clearly hasn't done that, encouraging Simon to return to the city for his miniseries We Own This City that aired last spring, but I'm sure he hasn't lost his hope yet, and as long as that is the case, neither can we. That's it for my list! Thanks to everyone who read through this, and especially those of you who waited through the progressively longer breaks to do so. Even today, the list would likely be different than it was when I started, due to Atlanta's final season and the amazing (possibly top 10 worthy?) show I just finished in Barry. Still, it's close to enough to what my 10ish favorite shows really are that I'm happy with the list, and I hope that you all have a happy holidays!
  6. Act IV (SpongeBob is eating dinner with Gary when he hears a knock on the front door. He opens the door to find a mailman behind it holding a part of shoes with strange metal circles under their soles.) Mailman: Here are your government-provided gravity shoes. SpongeBob: Gravity shoes? Mailman: Yes. These will keep that giant hole in the sky from sucking you up like it's sucking up everything else. {The mailman points to the rift, which is now bigger than it was when SpongeBob last saw it and still growing. It's also much stronger, collecting trees, cars, and almost everything else around it.) SpongeBob: Wow! You guys work fast! Mailman: I will warn you that there is a small chance of these exploding, so you will not want to wear them for long. SpongeBob: Wha- Mailman: Have a nice day! (The mailman gives SpongeBob the shoes, gets into his truck, and drives off. SpongeBob carefully puts the shoes down before returning to the kitchen.) SpongeBob: I wish everything would go back to normal. Gary: Meow. SpongeBob: I wish I knew where Patrick was, too. That thing sucked up his rock, and I haven't been able to find him anywhere else since coming back from work. Gary: Meow. SpongeBob: Don't say that, Gary! He has to be alive. He needs to be. I...need him to be. (SpongeBob makes several flyers with a poorly-drawn version of Patrick and the words "Have You Seen This Starfish?" over it. He then leaves the house in his gravity shoes and staples flyers to different parts of the city. As he's returning home, he notices something coming out of the rift.) SpongeBob: What's that? (The object falling from the rift turns out to be Ianus, and he lands right on top of SpongeBob.) Ianus: Man! Good thing I fell on this soft, squishy mattress, or I'd be a goner! SpongeBob: (muffled) I'm not a mattress. Ianus: Oops! (Ianus climbs off of SpongeBob.) Ianus: Sorry about that. SpongeBob: It's fine! You falling from the sky isn't close to the weirdest thing that has happened today. Ianus: (looks up at the rift) I see. SpongeBob: So, what's your name? Ianus: I...don't know. SpongeBob: You don't know your own name? Ianus: I seem to have forgotten everything. My name, where I come from. Perhaps it will come back to me. SpongeBob: I hope it does! I've never seen a frog with two faces before! Ianus: And I've never seen a...cheese man? SpongeBob: I'm a sea sponge! Ianus: (laughs) I wasn't even close. (The rift, which briefly stopped pulling in everything around it after spitting out Ianus, starts again, causing Ianus to fly towards it.) Ianus: Help! Please! I don't want to go in that void again! SpongeBob: Don't worry, frog man! I've got you! (SpongeBob grabs Ianus with both hands, but then he starts to get lifted from the ground, slowing moving towards the rift with Ianus.) SpongeBob: No! The gravity shoes aren't strong enough! Ianus: I guess there's no other choice, then. You have to let go. SpongeBob: No! Ianus: Come on. You've got your whole life ahead of you. I'm just an old frog who doesn't remember who he is. SpongeBob: I'm not letting go! (Suddenly, two policemen appear and grab SpongeBob, pulling him down and pulling Ianus down with him. One of the policemen give Ianus a pair of gravity shoes, and he thanks the policeman before putting the shoes on.) Policeman 1: Who are you? I've never seen anyone like you around here before. Ianus: I...I'm Ianus. Yes, it's starting to come back to me now. (Ianus looks up at the rift again.) Ianus: That thing...I tried to stop the person who created it...but I couldn't. Policemen 2: You're telling us you know who's responsible for that? Ianus: Yes. It's...it's... (Ianus notices one of SpongeBob's flyers on a nearby flagpole.) Ianus: It's him! That's who created it! SpongeBob: You're saying Patrick made that hole in the sky? He couldn't have! Policeman 1: Do you where this Patrick is? SpongeBob: No! That's why I made those flyers. Policeman 1: Well, I'm sorry, but this is the only lead we have. Put an APB out for the starfish. Policeman 2: You got it. SpongeBob: No! (The policemen get into their car, which has bubbles shooting out of the top to keep it from getting taken into the rift, and they drive off.) SpongeBob: No! No! No! Why would you do this? Ianus: I simply told the cops what I remembered. SpongeBob: Are you sure you remembered it right? Ianus: (scratches both chins) I'm not sure, actually. (Ianus walks closer to the flyer and squints at SpongeBob's drawing of Patrick before opening his eyes again wide.) Ianus: Oh, Jupiter. You're right. It wasn't Patrick who made the rift, at least not your Patrick. SpongeBob: There's another Patrick? Ianus: Many. As many as there are universes. But there is one more dangerous than the others. That's the one who killed me. That's the one who we need to stop. SpongeBob: Wait, you're dead? Ianus: Do I look dead? SpongeBob: I don't know what to believe anymore. Ianus: As the King of the Multiverse, I have many ways to cheat death, but if the multiverse gets destroyed like it's looking like it will be soon, none of those ways will matter. SpongeBob: Multiverse? Destroyed? Ice cream? Ianus: I never said anything about ice cream. SpongeBob: Yeah, I was just getting my hopes up. What can we do? Ianus: I now realize that there's one thing that sets Evil Patrick's universe apart from all the others. SpongeBob: What's that? Ianus: You. SpongeBob: Me? Ianus: His universe is the only one that doesn't have a SpongeBob. Without a SpongeBob, he never got to experience love or friendship. He became bitter, angry at the universe, angry at all of the universes. He probably thinks destroying the multiverse and killing me for good will lead to a more fair multiverse replacing it. SpongeBob: Will it? Ianus: No. It will lead to nothing. There will be nothing left. Of course, I couldn't convince him of this even if I tried to. SpongeBob: Maybe we could. Ianus: Huh? SpongeBob: Me and as many other SpongeBobs as you can find! Have us meet this Evil Patrick and show him the love and friendship he's been missing out on! Then he will have to reverse it! Ianus: That idea may just be crazy enough...to get us all killed! SpongeBob: Do you have any better ones? (Ianus starts to say something but then stops. After a moment, he shakes his head.) SpongeBob: Let's do it, then! Ianus: Okay. (Ianus takes off his shoes and starts to float towards the rift.) Ianus: (turns to SpongeBob) Ready? (SpongeBob takes off his shoes next and floats towards the rift as Ianus is swallowed by it.) SpongeBob: Yeah...I'm ready! (End of Act IV)
  7. 2. Breaking Bad When Walter White and Jesse Pinkman first got into that RV, there's no way they could have known where it would take them. Similarly, few who watched this show about a chemistry teacher who finds out he has terminal cancer and starts cooking meth to support his family after he dies could have known that it would become a depiction of the rise to power and devastating fall of a drug kingpin. I started watching the show just a week before the finale aired thanks to a marathon AMC was doing, and though I rushed to catch up with everyone at school who was talking non-stop about the show in the fall of 2013, I still appreciated the stellar writing, acting, and directing of what had once been the best show almost nobody had been watching and was now a cultural sensation. It's only natural that I did my first rewatch in nine years on the platform most responsible for Breaking Bad's surge in popularity at the end of its run: Netflix. The show's fast pace and dense storytelling made it perfect for the budding streaming service, and it didn't hurt that it was really, really good, of course. Unlike its spin-off, Better Call Saul, and most of the other shows on this list, it took a while to get going, but once it got going, it gave us some of the best television ever produced, and its final season not only lived up to its sky-high expectations but somehow exceeded them. The last half of that season contained gut-punch after gut-punch, culminating with Ozymandias, which remains the best episode of anything I've ever watched (sorry, Soup Nazi) and wrapping Walter's story up the only way it could have been wrapped up with a victory lap of a series finale in Felina. Just as Ozymandias dethroned Soup Nazi as my favorite episode, Walter White dethroned Gregory House as my favorite character, somebody who starts the show off as a mostly decent man but gradually develops into a monster. He certainly had his pride and his willingness to make moral concessions that encouraged him to get into the drug business in the first place, but as he goes deeper and deeper into the business, his negative qualities become amplified and less of what made Walt a sympathetic character in the first place remain. A character that good simply could not work without an actor good enough to bring him to life, and thankfully, Bryan Cranston was up to the task. Before Walter White, Cranston's most famous role was that of Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, which was...a very different role, to say the least. The trust that was put into him to pull a role that complicated off paid dividends, including four Emmys for Cranston. This was a show that spoiled us with great performances, including Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring, Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, and despite claims to the contrary by a very loud and very annoying segment of the fanbase, Anna Gunn as Skyler White, but Cranston needed to get it right more than anybody else in order for the show to have the legacy it has had. Breaking Bad's legacy is obvious even today, close to a decade after its finale and two months after the end of Better Call Saul. You can't talk about prestige TV without mentioning it or you won't be taken seriously. You'll be hard-pressed to find it outside of the top 5 of any list of the greatest television shows of all time by people who have watched many more television shows than I have. You're unlikely to join a Discord server or subreddit that hasn't had a Breaking Bad meme posted to it recently. As Walter White said once, adding to an endless supply of memorable quotes from this show: "Nothing stop this train."
  8. Chapter 20 Dipper, Stan, Wendy, and Abuelita were in a large house, a very old house that seemed like it had been colorful and thriving once, a house you could even say was alive, but a house that was now worn down and clearly abandoned. "Where are we?" asked Dipper. "We are in my childhood casa in Colombia," said Abuelita. "Or at least what is left of it." "Hey, I went to jail in Colombia once!" said Stan. "Actually, I think there's still a warrant out for my arrest. Will we be here long?" "No," said Abuelita. "How did we get here?" asked Wendy. "I sent us here," said Abuelita. "You see, I have a gift. Everyone in my family, once they reached a certain age, developed a gift while we were in this magical city we called our encanto." "Encanto," repeated Dipper. "Like enchanted?" "Si," said Abuelita. "My own abuelita could control the weather with her mood, and my mother could hear everything around her, even the drop of a needle." "Man," said Stan. "I would have hated if my mom could do that!" "Well, my mother could, and I did hate it, but I often used my own gift to send myself very far away so that she could not hear me." "Why now?" asked Dipper. "Why couldn't you poof us to Disneyland the same way you sent us here?" "We are not supposed to use our gifts anymore, but I had to use mine to save your life." Dipper sighed. "Where do we go from here?" he asked. "Well, I know we can't let Zoey...and Merlin, too, I guess...win!" said Wendy. "I sure can! Think you can use that 'gift' of yours to send us to the Bahamas while that wizard sets the rest of the world on fire?" asked Stan. "I am going to call an old friend from our encanto," said Abuelita. "He can take us to a safe place. Until then, we will sleep here." Stan sat on a couch in the living room and crossed his arms. "Sleep? How am I supposed to sleep with everything going on?" he asked. Stan was asleep two minutes later. Wendy, Abuelita, and Dipper went to different rooms, and while it didn't take long for Wendy or Abuelita to fall asleep, Dipper lay awake in his bed just like the night before. No closer to finding his sister, he was terrified by the thought of what would happen if Merlin found her first. Merlin left the Mystery Shack with Abby Waybright and several other followers. "I'm sorry," said Abby. "I looked everywhere, but the only thing I could find was that pig." Just as Abby mentioned him, Waddles came out of the Mystery Shack with Abby's purse in his mouth. "Come on, give it back!" whined Abby, who reached for her purse before Waddles ran back inside. "It's all right," said Merlin. "Do you have any updates on our special operation?" "The news of your escape is spreading fast," said Abby. "There are riots all over the world. We're going to be taking down governments eventually." "Good, good," said Merlin. "The sun is almost rising. Would you like to take a break?" "Never," said Abby. "I've been with you from the start, and I'm going to help you see it through." Merlin smiled. "Well, I'm returning to that strange antique shop," he said. "Why can't you take a break?" asked Abby. "Everything's going according to plan. Even if those kids could stop you somehow, they won't be able to for long. "I must be certain." Merlin went back into the Mystery Shack, avoiding Waddles as he ran around chewing Abby's purse, and he closed his eyes and felt every source of electricity in the building. He realized there was one room he hadn't searched, a room that was underground. He tracked the underground room's electricity to a vending machine in the gift shop. He felt the vending machine, and he was able to manipulate its electrical currents to open the machine and reveal the secret entrance behind it. He walked down the stairs of the entrance and found a massive underground laboratory at the bottom of the stairs. "Interesting," said Merlin. Dipper had finally gone to sleep long after everyone else. Only a few hours later, he was woken up by Stan. "It's time for breakfast, kid!" said Stan. "Five more minutes," mumbled Dipper. "No can do! We are guests in Abuelita's home, and whatever she's cooking smells delicious!" Stan and Dipper joined Wendy and Abuelita, and the four of them ate breakfast. Later in the day, they were playing one of Abuelita's family's old board games when they heard on a knock on the door. "Stay here," whispered Abuelita. Abuelita walked carefully to the door and cracked it open to see who was on the other side. It was an old man with a large, bushy mustache. "Eduardo!" said Abuelita. "It's good to see you again," said Eduardo. Abuelita let Eduardo into the house and quickly closed the door behind him. "How have you been?" asked Abuelita. "Muy bueno," said Eduardo. Eduardo's grin got bigger when he saw Dipper, Stan, and Wendy. "And who are the gringoes you have here?" he asked. "Those are my friends," said Abuelita. "I need you to help us find somewhere safe." Eduardo laughed. "Not very often I see people coming here from America to feel safer!" he said. "Can you help us, though?" asked Wendy. "Si. I can help," said Eduardo. "Colombia has many places you can go to if you don't want to be found, but in order to keep it that way, you will be unable to leave them." "But Mabel!" said Dipper. "I will continue to search for Mabel as well as Soos," said Abuelita. "If I find them, I will bring them back, and we will all live together where Merlin cannot find us." "I can help, though!" Abuelita shook her head. "It is too dangerous. Merlin is searching for you, not me. I must do this alone." Abuelita closed her eyes and disappeared. "Abuelita!" cried Dipper. "It'll be okay, dude," said Wendy. "She'll be back with Mabel and Soos." "Stop talking to me like I'm some kid! I know Abuelita is just as likely to die out there as she is to come back with Mabel or Soos!" Wendy covered her mouth in surprise. "I'm sorry," said Dipper. "I...I didn't mean to snap at you like that. Let's just go." "So…" said Eduardo. "What type of music do you guys like? We will be in the truck for a while." Dipper left without saying anything. "You got any old-school rap music?" asked Stan. "None of the garbage they come out with today, the really old stuff." Eduardo laughed. "I'm sure I can find something," he said. Eduardo and Stan left the house with a still-shocked Wendy and headed towards Eduardo's truck, which Dipper was already leaning on while staring at the sky and hoping the solutions to all of his problems would fall out of it. The Calamity Box appeared with Mabel and Soos right above the Mystery Shack, and they landed right in front of the sign and beside the S that had fallen off of it. "I wonder when Stan is getting that fixed," said Soos. Suddenly, a military helicopter flew above them. "Wow!" said Mabel. "What's going on?" Mabel and Soos walked to a corner of the roof to find the Mystery Shack surrounded by soldiers and tanks. A man, presumably the leader of this military force, approached Merlin, who stood in front of the Mystery Shack as his followers hid inside, some of them peeking out through the windows. "You are hereby under arrest for seditious conspiracy and being in the country illegally," said the man through a megaphone. "Give yourself up now!" "Let me think about this," said Merlin. The man stopped, and he and his soldiers waited awkwardly for Merlin to speak again. "I've thought about it," said Merlin. "And my answer is no." "You heard him," said the man. "Attack!" The soldiers shot at Merlin, but Merlin raised a hand, causing the bullets to explode before they got anywhere near him. He did the same with shots fired at him from the tanks and helicopters around him, and Mabel and Soos hurried behind the giant S as Merlin rose into the sky. "This has gotten boring," said Merlin. Merlin pushed his hands together, and the general as well as all his soldiers fell unconscious. The helicopters fell into the ground, leaving massive fires that temporarily brightened the night sky as they exploded. Abby ran out of the Mystery Shack joyfully waving her cell phone. "I got all of that on camera! This is going to do wonders for recruiting!" said Abby. Mabel peeked into the entrance to the gift shop to make sure nobody was in it, then she quickly went down the ladder with Soos. "Merlin's more powerful than I thought," whispered Mabel. "Why are we whispering?" whispered Soos. "Because we don't want anyone to hear us!" One of the Children of Merlin walked into the gift shop from another room. "I can hear you guys just fine," he said. The man, who seemed to be in his early 20s, recognized Mabel immediately. "Hey!" he said. "You're that girl Merlin's after!" "No, I'm not," said Mabel. "So you're not Mabel Pines?" "No, I'm...Vrabel...Hines." The man raised an eyebrow then shrugged. "Alright, Vrabel. Sorry for the confusion. See you later!" The man strolled out of the gift shop, and Mabel let out a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness that worked," she said. "Nieto?" said a familiar voice behind Mabel and Soos. They turned around to find that Abuelita was now with them. "Abuelita!" said a beaming Soos. Soos and his grandmother hugged as Mabel watched in disbelief. "How...how did you get here?" asked Mabel. "I never saw you walk in." "I will explain later," said Abuelita after she finished hugging Soos. "But we must go before-" "Before I catch you?" said Merlin as he walked in with the man who had discovered Mabel. "See! I told you she was here!" said the man. "Dang! That Vrabel Hines trick was perfect, too!" said Soos. "I wonder how he figured it out." Abuelita grabbed Mabel's and Soos' hands, but Merlin used his wand to break Abuelita's connection with Mabel right before Soos and Abuelita disappeared. "Not this time, witch," said Merlin. Merlin pointed his wand at Mabel next, but before he could do anything, Waddles ran under him, causing him to fall backwards as Mabel's pet reunited with her. "Waddles!" said Mabel, hugging her pig. "You couldn't have come at a better time!" Mabel ran out of the Mystery Shack with Waddles in one arm and the Calamity Box in another before Merlin could get back up with his wand. "Follow that girl!" ordered Merlin. Mabel slid under a tank that had been ridden by a now-unconscious solider. She put a hand over Waddles' mouth as Children of Merlin stormed out of the Mystery Shack looking for her. She thought about using her powers to defeat Merlin and his followers, but she remembered how painful it was last time she used them, and she also remembered Bert suggesting that if she used her powers again, it would kill her. She hoped nobody would find her, watching the feet of people desperate to please Merlin running around her frantically. One pair of feet stopped right beside her tank, and her heart beat as she saw the person's knees, then hands, then finally, his face. "I found her!" said the person, who turned out to be a teenage boy. "She's under this tank!" The boy stood up and led more Children of Merlin to the tank. Mabel took her hand off Waddles' mouth, who let out a frightened squeal. "Sorry, Waddles," whispered Mabel. "And sorry, Dipper, wherever you are, but I've gotta do this." Mabel flew out from under the tank with pink hair, green eyes, and a blue aura around her. Before any of the Children of Merlin could respond, Mabel knocked them out with blasts of blue energy. The commotion caused Merlin to run out of the Mystery Shack, and he gasped as he saw Mabel floating in the air with her calamity powers in full effect. "How is this possible?" he said. "Everyone has some magic inside of them, but it isn't supposed to manifest like this!" "Well, it's manifested, and now you're about to manifest back to your own dimension!" said Mabel. "Do you even know what manifest means?" "Don't change the subject!" Mabel shot a blast of blue energy at Merlin, and he easily avoided it before pointing an open palm at Mabel and shooting a blast of blue energy at her. This shot landed, and it sent Mabel tumbling to the ground. Merlin slowly walked to Mabel as she writhed in pain. "It was always you," said Merlin. "You and your brother. It was always you two I could never figure out." "What...are you talking about?" said Mabel, who had to struggle to get out every word. "I've had dreams that I was right here, with loving disciples at my feet...well, not literally at my feet like they are right now, but I had done it. I had found this world without magic and convinced millions to depose their mortal leaders and make me their king. Those dreams I've had for hundreds of years, and when a wizard dreams, it is never just a dream. But in those dreams, something else happens. You and your brother turn my people against me. I'm not certain how, but I know that after you two show up, the people who had once been praising my name now curse it. I was also never certain of what you two looked like, just that you were young and on the planet I was trapped on before I came to this one. I thought it was that fellow Walt and the girl he was with when they visited New Britain. But no. It was you. You're the loose end I cannot afford to have, and until you and your brother are dead, I shall continue hunting you." "Merlin," said Mabel weakly. "Yes?" said Merlin. "Your face." Merlin felt his face in curiosity. "What about it?" he said. "It's dumb!" shouted Mabel. Mabel, who had regained most of her energy now, flew at Merlin and punched him so hard that he was knocked back nearly a mile. After he landed, Merlin felt his ribs, which were now injured, and he whispered a quick spell to heal them. "You'll have to try harder that tha-" started Merlin right before he was hit by a second blast of energy from Mabel, sending him flying back another mile. Mabel shot a third blast of energy, but Merlin was able to dodge this one before flying at Mabel and shooting a blast of energy at her, which she countered with another blast of energy that was able to keep Merlin's from reaching her but not quite overpower his. They both flew into the sky as their blasts of energy became stronger and stronger, forming a blue magical cylinder so large and so bright that it could be seen from outer space. Soos and Abuelita appeared in a woody area near a mountain range where Dipper, Wendy, Stan, and Eduardo were gathered around a campfire. "Hey, dudes," said Soos. "Soos!" said Wendy. Wendy ran to Soos and hugged him. "Man, I need to get trapped in a book more often," said Soos. "I'm loving the hugs!" "Where's Mabel?" asked Stan. "Merlin took her before I could bring her here," said Abuelita. "What? We have to go back!" said Dipper. "No, that's what he wants," said Abuelita. "Mabel may not be alive anymore, but if you return, you will both surely perish." "I can't just leave her with that psycho!" said Dipper. "Not after everything I've done to save them." "If you're going back, I'm going back," said Wendy. "I am, too!" said Soos. "No, nieto," said Abuelita. "I forbid it." Soos noticed a bow and arrow in the backseat of Eduardo's truck. "Hey, is that yours?" asked Soos. "Si," said Eduardo. "I am a big big fan of archery, and I have the scars to prove it, brother!" "Can I borrow it?" "Anything for the grandson of that lovely lady," said Eduardo. Soos ran to the truck, took the bow and arrow from the backseat, and ran back. "I'm not a kid anymore," said Soos. "Mabel helped me get back here, so I have to help her stop Merlin." "Okay," said Abuelita after thinking for a long time. "But where did you learn how to use a bow and arrow?" "I'll tell you after we get back." "What about you, Grunkle Stan?" asked Dipper. "Are you coming?" "Absolutely not!" said Stan. "I'm not joining your suicide mission." "If you don't help us, I'll tell mom." Stan began to say something, but then he crossed his arms again. "Fine!" he said. "See you later, amigos!" said Eduardo. "Give the magic man a kick in the shin for me!" Dipper, Wendy, Soos, Abuelita, and Stan all held hands before disappearing again. After five minutes of being deadlocked in her sky battle with Merlin, Mabel felt increasingly tired, and Merlin, sensing this, put even more effort into the blast of energy coming from his hands until he had the clear advantage. Unable to contain Merlin's blast any longer, Mabel flipped upside down while dropping her hands, letting Merlin's blast soar under her, and she flew back to the Mystery Shack, avoiding more blasts of energy from Merlin as she did so. The Children of Merlin she had knocked out earlier began to wake up, and they cheered as Merlin landed beside a now-weakened Mabel, who used the little energy she had left to crawl away from him. "I will admit," said Merlin. "I'm impressed by your courage. It's a shame I have to do this." Merlin pointed his wand at Mabel and said a phrase in Latin. Mabel then stopped crawling, laying face-first in the ground as her hair and eyes returned to normal. Dipper, Wendy, Soos, Abuelita, and Stan appeared moments later in front of a growing crowd of Children of Merlin that was still cheering, but not quite as loudly. "Mabel!" shouted Dipper once he saw her on the ground. "Oh, what a coincidence! I was just about to start looking for you!" said Merlin. Merlin pointed his wand at Dipper, but before he could use the same spell on him, Soos shot an arrow into his shoulder, causing him to cry out in pain and clench the fist his wand was in so hard that the wand snapped. "No!" said Merlin. Dipper ran to Mabel and flipped her over. He put an ear to her chest but didn't hear a heartbeat. "N-n-no," stuttered Dipper. "We're too late. She's... she's gone." Dipper hugged Mabel's body and cried. None of the Children of Merlin were cheering now. Abby, who was at the front of the crowd now, imagined Sasha's body where Mabel's body lay, and tears came to her eyes as she realized she had been supporting a monster this entire time. She looked around and could tell others in the crowd were coming to that same realization. Merlin held the two pieces of his wand together and whispered a spell to fix it, but it didn't work. "No worries," he said. "I'll fashion a new one. Children of Merlin, do any of you know if there's an enchanted forest around here I can get wood from?" A rock hit Merlin in the head, and he turned to Wendy, Soos, Abuelita, and Stan. "Which one of you did that?" he roared. "Did what?" asked Soos. Another rock hit Merlin, and he saw this one come directly from the group of Children of Merlin behind them. "How dare you!" said Merlin. "Any of you who are still loyal, tell me who threw that rock!" None of the Children of Merlin spoke up. "Insubordinate! Once I'll get my wand fixed, I'll do to all of you what I did to that girl!" threatened Merlin. Another rock hit Merlin, and soon he was being pelted by a barrage of rocks, all from the people who had once supported him. The people at the front of the crowd were now filming him on their cell phones and booing. The sight of Abby among those booing him felt almost as painful to Merlin as the rocks. "I cannot believe this," whispered Merlin. "The predictions are coming true. Despite everything I have done to stop them, they're coming true." In Washington, DC, the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States walked into the Oval Office, where the president and first lady were waiting for him. "Any updates?" asked the president. "I'm not going to lie to you, Mr. President. It's bad. The protestors are right outside the White House now, and while we're holding them off, we won't be able to for much longer. You need to act pronto," said the advisor. "Act how?" "The reason those people are rioting is because they want Merlin to take over, so if Merlin were dead, they wouldn't have a reason to riot anymore. We know Merlin is still at his base of operations in Gravity Falls, Oregon, so we know exactly where to strike." "Didn't we just send a bunch of military to Gravity Falls?" "Yes, and I haven't heard back from any of them. And I don't believe I ever will." "The helicopters, too? I really liked those helicopters." "The helicopters, too, Mr. President." The president sighed. "What do we do, then?" he asked. "We need to do something extreme to take down a force as powerful as Merlin, something that has only been done once before and that I hoped we would never have to do again," said the advisor. The president thought for a moment, and once he understood the advice that his advisor had just given him, his eyes widened. "You aren't suggesting that I nuke my own citizens, are you?" asked the president. "You have a choice, Mr. President: either you sacrifice the people of Gravity Falls, or you sacrifice the world to whatever Merlin has planned for it," said the advisor. "Well," said the president. "I suppose that isn't much of a choice at all." The president and first lady walked into a secret room only the president had the keys to. In the center of the room was a large red button. The president prepared to push the button, but he hesitated with his hand right above it. He turned to the first lady, who had the same grim expression on her face that he had on his, and both of them nodded. She put her hand over the president's hand, and they pushed the button together, sharing responsibility for the death and destruction that this sleepy northwestern town would be subjected to. Dipper still cried with Mabel in his arms after several minutes. He kissed her on the forehead and only felt sadder at how cold it was. Suddenly, he felt a warmth, and the blue aura reappeared around Mabel before spreading to Dipper, too. He felt the air being sucked out of his lungs, and he struggled to breathe for a few seconds before the air came flooding back in, causing him to gasp. He saw Mabel gasp, too, and he watched in awe as she blinked and smiled at him. "Hey, Dipper," she said. "Glad you could make it." "Always," said Dipper. The crowd cheered as Dipper helped Mabel to her feet. Stan, Soos, and Wendy ran to Mabel to hug her as Abuelita stayed with the crowd, regretful that she considered leaving Mabel in the first place. Merlin stood where he was, with bruises on his face and the rocks that caused those bruises in a jagged circle around him. "I can't believe this," said Merlin. "I'm the most powerful wizard who ever lived, and not even I can overcome the power of true love." As Merlin thought about what to do next, one of the former Children of Merlin pointed to the sky in horror. Others in front of the Mystery Shack looked up just in time to see a USA-branded plane fly away as the gift it left for Gravity Falls, a huge nuclear bomb, plummeted towards them. Merlin looked around as everybody panicked. Without thinking, Mabel activated her calamity powers and flew towards the bomb. "Mabel, no!" screamed Dipper. "I just got you back!" Mabel positioned herself right under the bomb and began to push, but even with her energy replenished, she wasn't strong enough to stop the bomb from falling. She closed her eyes, tears running down her face as she accepted that she couldn't save this city she had learned to love over the summer and the people in it she had loved even more. Just as she prepared to let go, she felt the weight of the bomb diminish, and as she pushed again, she felt it move in the opposite direction. She opened her eyes and realized Merlin was now beside her. Merlin didn't look at her and didn't say a word, but he continued to help Mabel push the bomb until they were high enough in the sky that they didn't have to push as hard to move the bomb. The bomb started getting hotter, making it clear that it was about to explode as Merlin and Mabel pushed it towards space. Merlin put a hand on Mabel's shoulder and finally looked at her. Mabel saw the weary old eyes of a man filled with regret, more regret than she had, and she had a lot of it. She saw a man responsible for the loss of countless innocent lives determined to prevent the loss of any more. He squeezed the hand he had on Mabel's shoulder until the shoulder started to hurt. Mabel cried out as Merlin ripped her from the bomb and threw her towards the ocean. She watched the bomb explode in the sky right before she hit the water and was rendered unconscious. One week after Merlin's death, everything had mostly returned to normal. To celebrate the siblings being reunited, Stan and their parents took them on a trip to Hollywood, where they were granted free access to anything they wanted to see thanks to their new friend Walt Disney. During a detour in Los Angeles, Mabel stopped by a thrift shop that one of the locals told her was known for being discreet. "Hello," said the old woman who ran the thrift shop. "Would you like to buy something?" "No," said Mabel. "I would like to sell something." Mabel took the Calamity Box out of a bag she was carrying. "This is a super valuable ancient box," said Mabel. "Make sure that you don't open it, though, because if you do, it will kill you." "A box that kills people? The tourists will love that!" said the woman. "How much do you want for it?" "A...hundred?" The woman gave Mabel a crisp hundred dollar bill before taking the Calamity Box from her. As Mabel left the thrift shop, she wondered if she made the right decision. She wondered if she could set things right with Charming if she visited Fairy Tale World one more time. She wondered if she could set things right with Bert if she visited Amphibia one more time. She didn't look back at the thrift shop, however, preferring to look forward and let the past stay in the past while never forgetting the lessons it had taught her. She reunited with Dipper at an ice cream store. "Where were you?" asked Dipper. "Just taking care of some loose ends," said Mabel. "Alright, Miss Cryptic, I got you your favorite, strawberry." "You know I hate strawberry!" "Then don't abandon me here again." "Speaking of that...I never got to say I'm sorry for abandoning you here with Merlin." "It's okay. You didn't know that he was here, and if you hadn't left, you wouldn't have been able to bring Soos back." "Yeah, I guess." "And Mabel...I'm sorry, too." "For what?" "For telling you what happened to us in that book wasn't real. It was real. I just...didn't want to believe it, I guess." "This is real, too," said Mabel. "You and me. Brother and sister. And I'll make sure I never forget that again." Mabel grabbed Dipper's ice cream cone and licked it. "You can be a real pain in the butt sometimes," said Dipper, rolling his eyes. Mabel and Dipper continued through the streets of Los Angeles, experiencing a magic that wasn't the magic of witches and fairies but a magic they could appreciate all the same.
  9. Chapter 19 Doc, Happy, Dopey, and Sneezy walked out of their cottage. "Bashful, where are you?" said Doc. "I'm not ready yet!" said Bashful from inside the cottage. "You're never ready!" scolded Doc. Doc counted the dwarfs that were with him again. "And where's Sleepy?" he said. "Oh, what am I saying? He's asleep!" Doc walked back into the cottage then pulled Bashful and Sleepy out by their ears. "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" said Bashful. Sleepy yawned. "Is it morning already?" he muttered. Suddenly, they felt the ground shake under them. "Oh, no! An earthquake! We should go back inside!" said Dopey. "I second that!" said Bashful. "Let's just say inside...for the rest of the day...and the rest of our lives." "That's not an earthquake," said Doc, pointing at a something deep in the forest. "It's horses." "Oh, no!" said Sneezy. "I'm allergic to horses!" "I'm not as worried about the horses as who they're carrying," said Doc. Once the men on horses got to the cottage, one of the men jumped off his horse and removed his helmet to reveal that he was King Octavian. "I'll make this quick," said Octavian, looking down at the dwarfs. "My army is about to conquer your lands, and instead of simply killing you, I will give you all a choice: return with us to our lands and be our slaves...or die." "Well," said Doc. "That choice isn't much of a choice at all." "We're going to be their slaves, right?" said Dopey. "Right?" Doc shook his head. "We've already escaped the tyranny of King Merlin and that awful pet of his. We shall cede our freedom to no one," said Doc. Octavian nodded. "Kill them," he said to the soldiers behind him. Six of Octavian's soldiers jumped off their horses and pulled back their arrows at the same time. "Hey, can't we just talk about this?" asked Happy. "I'm sure you don't want any blood on your hands." "We've killed thousands of people already," said Octavian. "Well, I'm sure you don't want any more blood!" The soldiers released their arrows, but before the arrows could reach the dwarfs, another arrow broke all six of them at the same time. Octavian turned to a bush to his right to find that the arrow came from none other than Prince Charming, who revealed himself from behind the bush holding a bow with a quiver of arrows around his shoulder. "Son!" cried Octavian. "Hello, father," said Charming. "I...I can't believe that you're alive! I can't believe that you're here!" "A little bird told me you were in the forest causing mayhem." A bluebird landed on Charming's shoulder that didn't have the quiver around it. "See!" chirped the bluebird. "I told you those jerks were messing everything up!" "Our quarrel is not with the peaceful inhabitants of this forest," said Charming. "It is with the queen." "And the queen's time will come," said Octavian. "But I've promised Livian an abundance of gold and slaves from our victory, and we won't get what's required from the castle alone." "You're working with the traitor Livian?" said an astonished Charming. "I had to," said Octavian. "I had to do whatever it took to bring you back, my son, my only son." Charming nodded. "Well, I'm here, so it's time for us to leave the forest and storm the castle," he said. Octavian turned to one of his soldiers. "Send word to Livian's forces that we're going to the castle," he said. The soldier jumped on his horse and rode away. A massive sneeze by Sneezy startled everyone around him. "Sorry," said Sneezy. "I couldn't hold it in anymore." Charming looked down at the dwarfs. "Didn't there use to be seven of you?" asked Charming. "Eight, but who's counting?" said Sleepy. "I know I'm not, 'cause I can't count!" said Dopey. "I will find your brothers," said Charming. "And I hope you find that girl, too," said Doc. "What was her name?" Charming struggled to speak as several emotions flooded him at once. "Snow," he finally said. "Snow White." Li Shang knocked on the doors of Evelyn's palace with Soos beside him. "It's General Shang!" he said. Evelyn opened the doors a few minutes later and led Shang and Soos to the breakfast room, where Bert and Mabel were eating crumpets. "Mabel?" said Soos. A crumpet that was already in Mabel's mouth fell out as she realized who the queen brought in. She ran to Soos and hugged him. "How did you get back? Where's Dipper? And who's that giant frog?" blurted Soos. "I'll answer all of those questions! I swear," said Mabel. "I just need a little time to get my thoughts together first." "Hi, I'm Frogbert, but most of my friends call me Bert," said Bert. "Did you happen to see any spiders out there? I don't think I can finish whatever this is the queen gave us without something to give it some flavor." Evelyn rolled her eyes. "So ungrateful," she said. "My queen, I have news from the battlefront you really need to hear," said Shang. "Oh, yes. How did our army do?" asked Evelyn. "Poorly. All of our soldiers are dead." "What?" "Outside of me and the kid I brought back, all of them." Evelyn began pacing back and forth. "So, are they coming?" she said after what felt like half an hour to Shang. "Of course," said Shang. "What do we do?" "We must flee these lands before they reach the palace. Otherwise, we're good as dead." Evelyn stopped and thought about what Shang told her for what felt like another half an hour. "No," she said. "I won't abandon my people." "Your people are being killed and captured as we speak! There is nothing we can do to save them!" said Shang. "If New Britain is to die, I shall die with it," said Evelyn. Shang's tough exterior collapsed as he fell to his knees, crying. "Please, my queen, don't let my failure to protect your kingdom cause you to give up on life!" he said. "It wasn't a failure on your part," said Evelyn. "You did exactly what I told you to do. You kept the boy safe. As for my kingdom, its days were always numbered." Evelyn whistled, and the Big Bad Wolf ran out the throne room. "Take care of Big Bad," said Evelyn. "Despite his name, there is a lot of good in him." "No," said Shang. "I can't leave without you." "You must." Evelyn hugged the wolf, and he whimpered. "They're coming, aren't they?" said the wolf. "Yes," said Evelyn. "Go with Shang. Our enemies can't reach you as far as China." The wolf sniffed. "Being part of a pack with you was...an honor," said the wolf. "You aren't going to try to talk her out of it?" asked Shang. "You clearly don't know her well enough if you think there's any chance of changing her mind," said the wolf. Shang blushed. Before he could say anything else, Soos appeared from the breakfast room eating a crumpet. "These things are delicious!" said Soos. Soos noticed the somber looks on everyone's faces. "What's going on?" he said. "I must be taking my leave," said Shang. "Now? But what about the castle?" asked Soos. "The castle is a last cause. I simply came here to retrieve the queen so we could escape to other lands." "Where are you going?" "I'm going to China. I suppose the wolf is coming with me." "What about the queen?" Nobody responded. "What about the queen?" Soos said again. "I'm not going with them," said Evelyn. "No," said Soos. "You promised me you would try to live!" "I promised you nothing," said Evelyn. "I'm the reason New Britain is about to fall. I'm the reason our soldiers and countless innocents are dead. If I leave now, anyone who's with me will be vulnerable. If I die at Octavian's hands, the war will be over, and if our citizens are lucky, there will be no further slaughter." Soos grabbed Evelyn by the shoulders, and the wolf barked at him. "Big Bad," whispered Evelyn. "It's okay." Soos looked at Evelyn in the eyes and then hugged her. "Well," said Shang. "I guess this is good-" Soos ran to Shang and hugged him, too. Shang awkwardly patted Soos on the back. "You're one of the best archers I ever had," said Shang. "For someone who had only been doing it for a day, anyway." After Soos let go of Shang, Shang and Evelyn faced each other. "Until next time?" said Evelyn. "Until next time," said Shang. Shang and the wolf left the palace, leaving Soos and Evelyn behind. "The Blue Fairy should return at any moment," said Evelyn. "You and the girl will be returning home...with the frog, I suppose." Soos and Evelyn walked into the breakfast room, where Bert and Mabel were now drinking tea. "Oh, Miss Evelyn!" said Mabel. "A super cute, talking raven left this for you!" Mabel gave Evelyn a piece of parchment that was rolled up and secured by a string. Evelyn broke the string and opened the parchment to find it had a letter written onto it by Octavian. "Dear Queen Evelyn," she read. "We will be at your palace by nightfall to negotiate your surrender. Tell your guards that if any of them try to stop us, they will die. With love, King Octavian." Evelyn rolled her eyes. "Surrender? Who are you at war at?" asked Mabel. "Some countries that wish to destroy us. Pay it no mind," said Evelyn, crumpling up the parchment. "I have powers! I could end this war myself if I wanted to!" said Mabel. "Wait," said Bert. "The last time you used your powers, you nearly died. I don't think it's a good idea for you to use them again." "Don't interfere," said Evelyn. "It's between me and the kings." Mabel shot a glance at Soos, and he shot one back. "If that's what you want," said Mabel. "You two aren't plotting anything, are you?" asked the queen. "No, of course not!" said Mabel unconvincingly. "Stay in your rooms," said Evelyn. "When the Blue Fairy shows up, I'll let you know." The Blue Fairy hadn't appeared yet by the time the sun set on the kingdom, but Octavian, Livian, and Prince Charming did appear on their horses, galloping towards the palace as the castle guards pretended not to see them. Once they reached the palace doors, Octavian knocked. "It's us!" said Octavian. "Don't make us wait longer than we need to!" The palace doors opened in less than a minute, and Evelyn tried her best to hide her contempt as the enemy royals walked in with two armed guards behind them. "Where shall we begin the negotiations?" asked Octavian. "The chamber should do," said Evelyn. Evelyn led Octavian, Livian, Charming, and their guards to the Council Chamber, and they all sat at a large table. "You haven't brought a guard of your own with you?" observed Livian. "I doubt he would help much if I needed him," said Evelyn. Livian chuckled. "You're right about that!" he said. Suddenly, Soos stumbled into the Council Chamber wearing armor and holding a sword that was clearly too heavy for him. "Sorry I'm late!" Soos said between pants. "What are you doing?" asked Evelyn. "As long as I'm your soldier, I'll do what I can to keep you safe," said Soos. "You are hereby dismissed from the Royal Army. Now, get out of here!" said Evelyn. "I reject your dismissal." "You can't do that!" "Tell your chubby soldier to sit down so we can get on with it!" said an annoyed Octavian. Evelyn sighed. "Have a seat," she said. Soos sat down in the chair to the right of Evelyn's, and he immediately recognized Charming. "Hey, I know you! You were in that dungeon with me!" said Soos. "It's good to see you again," said Charming. "Why are you with those two?" "Octavian is my father." "Dude, are you pulling my leg right now?" "I don't...think so." "Both of you be quiet!" said Octavian. "We are here to discuss one matter and one matter only: the queen's surrender." "Since you came all this way, would you like some wine?" offered Evelyn. "Like the wine you gave King Phillip before the scuffle with Merlin that killed him? I'll pass," said Livian. "Besides, we've brought wine of our own," said Octavian, producing a bottle from a handbag he was carrying. Octavian filled his, Livian's, and Charming's cups with wine, and Livian was the first to drink before they proceeded. "Starting tomorrow, the kingdom of New Britain shall be no more," said Octavian. "Do you seek to restore Germania?" asked Evelyn. "No, I seek to expand Galacia," said Octavian. "These lands will become part of my kingdom, and my son shall look over them until he's ready to rule Galacia as a whole." "What?" said Livian. "We didn't agree to any of this!" "I said you could help me take these lands and take your share of the profits, and you've done that," said Octavian. "You know I would never support an expansion as big as this one!" "Too bad that's not your concern." Furious, Livian stood up. "Don't think you can get away with this!" he said. "My army is waiting outside for further orders, and if you continue on this path, I'll have them...I...I'll have them…" Livian sat back down. "Why do I feel dizzy?" he asked. "The poison must finally be working," said Octavian. "Poison?!" Livian stared at the cup of wine he had just drunk from. "You...you poisoned me?" he said. "What a shocking turn of events!" said Soos. Livian's guard stood up, and Charming immediately pointed an arrow at him. The guard clenched his fists then sat back down. "Don't act so surprised," said Octavian. "You were the first to betray me, so I am simply returning the favor." "The Visigoths...will not rest...until you're dead," said Livian, who was now sweating. "Let me worry about the Visigoths," said Octavian. "You worry about getting right with the gods before the poison takes you." Livian stood back up and his legs trembled as he left the chamber. Livian's guard stood up again and held his hands up as Charming focused his arrow on him. The guard followed Livian down the hallway and out of the palace. Once he was certain they were both gone, Charming lowered his arrow and nodded at Octavian. Octavian then turned to Evelyn. "You are to announce to your subjects tomorrow morning that you will surrender these lands to me. After that, you are to leave these lands and never come back," said Octavian. "Understood," said Evelyn. "One more thing," said Charming. "Where is Snow White?" "I was wondering when you would ask me that," said Evelyn. "She and the others Merlin banished so he could play his games are currently being held in Viking territory. I can't say where, but I believe that they're alive." Charming studied Evelyn's face, but nothing about the weary, aging queen suggested that she wasn't telling the truth. He looked down at his cup of poisoned wine and pushed it away before looking back at Evelyn. "I do hope you find peace wherever you go," he said. "Count yourself lucky, soon-to-be-former queen," said Octavian. "I wanted to chop your head off, but my son convinced me to have mercy on you." "I appreciate your mercy, but I'm not sure I deserve it," said Evelyn. "Believe me," growled Octavian. "You don't." Octavian and Charming stood up, prepared to leave the palace, and they were nearly blinded as the Blue Fairy appeared in a flash of blue light behind Soos and Evelyn. "For the love of Jupiter!" cried Octavian. "Sorry, is this a bad time?" said the fairy. "No, go on. Do...whatever it is you're about to do. We'll be back tomorrow." Octavian and Charming left the chamber with their guard. "Hi, Miss Blue Fairy, ma'am," said Soos. "Oh, it's you. I'm happy you aren't dead," said the fairy. "Thanks! I'm happy you aren't dead, too!" "Where's the girl?" "Mabel!" shouted Soos. "Her room is on the other side of the palace," said Evelyn. "There's no way she heard y-" Mabel walked into the chamber. "Hi there!" she said. "I totally wasn't outside eavesdropping on you, the king, and his handsome son!" "Right," said Evelyn, who clearly didn't believe Mabel. "I believe the frog man will want to hear what I'm about to say, too," said the fairy. "Frog man!" shouted Soos. "The name is Bert!" said Bert as he walked into the chamber. "Really? You both were spying on us?" accused Evelyn. "No! We just were in the area!" said Bert, faking outrage. "Right," said the fairy. "Anyway, after much discussion, the Fairy Council agreed to have the green and pink fairies help me charge this box." "That's great!" said Bert. "That means we can return with Mabel to her dimension!" "About that...the other fairies agreed to help only on the condition that we use the box to send everyone back to their original dimensions." "Their original dimensions? Does that mean…" "Yes. You will have to return to Amphibia, and once Merlin is found, the box will send him back to Camelot where he will await punishment for his crimes." Bert sighed. "Well, Mabel, I guess this means goodbye," he said. Bert turned to where Mabel was standing, but she was no longer there. "Where did she go?" he asked. "She ran out when I announced the other fairies would help me charge the box," said the fairy. "What?" said Bert. "Maybe she really had to use the bathroom," said Soos, who after an awkward silence, added: "Or maybe not." Charming was preparing to get onto his horse when he saw Mabel come out of the palace. "Hi, Mr. Prince Charming sir!" said Mabel. "I'll catch up to you later, father," said Charming. "Are you sure?" asked Octavian. "Yes." "All right. Stay safe." Octavian climbed onto his own horse and rode off, leaving the guard with Charming. Mabel reached Charming and the guard moments later, out of breath. "Why did you come all the way out here to see me?" inquired Charming. "I just...wanted to apologize for lying to you," said Mabel. "There's no need to do that. I know you were only trying to escape Merlin's curse." "But I still couldn't help but feel bad about it! That's why I came back. To tell you that I never wanted to hurt you." Charming looked down, unable to look at the face that tricked him into believing it was the face of somebody he loved any longer. "I'm not hurt," he said. "Not anymore. I just want to set things right." "So do I!" said Mabel. "Then return home to the people who love you and stop Merlin once and for all." "Don't you still love me? Even though what we had started from a lie, my feelings for you were real, and I think your feelings for me were real, too." Charming struggled to respond, and after hesitating, he looked back up at Mabel. "Nothing that we had was real," he said after a long pause. "You're not the girl I love, and what you feel for me is nothing more than a flight of fancy." "I did not come all the way back for a 'flight of fancy'!" said Mabel defensively. "You should not have come back at all," said Charming. Before Mabel could respond, Charming turned to his horse and climbed onto it with the guard. "Charming, please!" said Mabel. "Goodbye," said Charming. "I do hope you kill Merlin." Charming pulled his horse's reins, and he rode off, not looking back once as Mabel watched with tears in her eyes. She returned to the Council Chamber several minutes later and found that Bert was no longer there. "Where...where did Bert go?" she asked. Soos, Evelyn, and the fairy tried their hardest to hide their discomfort, but Mabel could tell something was wrong. "Where did Bert go?" she repeated. "Bert isn't here anymore," said the fairy. "If you hadn't left in the middle of our discussion, you'd have known that the other fairies only let me charge the box in exchange for sending everyone back to where they came from. Bert came to Amphibia, so I could only send him back to Amphibia." "And he left without saying goodbye to me?" "He said he wanted to return home thinking only of the happiest moments of your friendship, not the...less happy moments." Mabel turned red, both with embarrassment and anger. "This is so unfair!" she said. "Why can't we use the box to go where we want?" "Having people in worlds where they don't belong upsets the balance of the universe," said the fairy. "The gems were entrusted to us many thousands of years ago so we could help keep that balance, but a corrupt king stole them from us and used them to conquer many worlds until he was thankfully stopped. We cannot allow the universe to fall out of balance again, so everyone, including you, Bert, and Merlin, must return to where you came from." "No," said Mabel. "I could have charged the box myself! I could have…" Tears continued to fall from Mabel's eyes, which were now green. Her hair became pink, and a blue aura appeared around her. Soos' eyes widened as he saw this. "Is this, like, a puberty thing for girls?" he asked. Mabel quickly returned to normal and fell to her knees weakly. "I'm sorry," said the fairy. "I truly am, but we all have our responsibilities. Can I trust you to send Merlin back to Camelot with this box once you encounter him?" Mabel sighed. "Yes," she said. "You can trust me." The fairy smiled and handed Mabel the box, which she planned to take back to Amphibia as soon as she got Soos home. "Close your eyes and think about where you want to go," said the fairy. "It's been nice knowing you dudes," said Soos. "Good luck on your journey," said Evelyn. Soos put a hand on Mabel's shoulder, and she closed her eyes. Seconds later, Mabel, Soos, and the box were gone.
  10. Chapter 18 Abby Waybright was in her bedroom in her apartment, scrolling on Facebook on her laptop, when her five-year-old niece barged into the room wearing a cloak too big for her and waving around a fake wand. "Expelliarmus!" said the girl. Abby rolled her eyes. "I knew I shouldn't have let you watch those Harry Potter movies," she said. "Is it true you met a real-life wizard?" said the girl. "Yeah, it is, Sasha," said Abby. Suddenly, the lights in the apartment went out. "W-what's happening?" said a frightened Sasha. "It's just a blackout from the thunderstorm. You'll be fine," said Abby, whose face was still lit by her laptop before she closed it. "What's that?" said Sasha, pointing to one of the outlets. Abby looked at where Sasha was pointing, and she saw a large current of electricity pouring out of the outlet. "Sasha, come here!" ordered Abby. Sasha ran into Abby's arms as the electricity morphed into the shape of a person. Abby watched in awe as Merlin appeared, illuminated by a blue energy around him. "How did you escape?" asked Abby. "You know that weirdo?" whispered Sasha, peeking at Merlin before turning back to Abby with a frightened look still on her face. "Yeah," said Abby. "It's okay, he won't hurt you." "When you visited me," said Merlin, "I told you I could leave that dungeon whenever I wanted to, but I wanted it to be a surprise when I launched my attack." "Does that mean…" "Yes. The attack begins tonight. Send the child to bed. I don't want her to bother us." Sasha, who was still being held by Abby, hugged her aunt tightly. "Please don't send me off!" said Sasha. "I don't trust him!" "It's late," said Abby. "You should already be asleep, anyway." "No!" said Sasha, pushing Abby away. Sasha pointed her wand at Merlin, who raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Stupefy!" screamed Sasha. "What was that...supposed to do?" asked Merlin. "Make you fall asleep!" "Well, it didn't work." Abby took the fake wand from Sasha and led her out of the room. "What did I tell you?" said Abby. "Don't use spells on guests." "I know, I know! But that guy in your room gives me the creeps! I don't want you to work with him!" said Sasha. "I'm a big girl. I'll be fine," said Abby. "Now, you don't want me to call your dad and tell him you've been misbehaving again, do you?" Sasha looked down at her feet. "No," she muttered. "Then go to your room and go to sleep. End. Of. Discussion." The lights turned back on as Sasha walked slowly to her room. She glanced at Abby once before going in, and once Abby was sure that her niece wouldn't attempt anything else, she went back into her room. "That girl," said Merlin. "Is she your daughter?" "No, she's my brother's," said Abby. "She's just visiting for the summer." Merlin nodded. "I've always wanted children of my own," he said. "But alas, I had greater ambitions." "Why did you come here?" asked Abby. "You were the one who told me of my followers, and I need you to get into contact with them to let them know that I'm out and that they need to be ready for the next steps of my plan." "Oh! O-of course I will!" said Abby, grabbing her laptop. "Is that device what you will use to communicate with them?" asked Merlin. "Yeah. I mean, I have some of their numbers, but most of what we do is over Facebook." Abby opened a page, and she scratched her chin. "This is new. One of those kids you were looking for, Dipper Pines, is apparently at Disneyland right now," said Abby. "Disneyland? Is that Disney fellow popular here?" asked Merlin. "Yeah! Everyone grew up watching his movies! There was even one starring you!" said Abby. Abby typed "The Sword in the Stone" into her browser's search bar, and pictures of the Disney movie appeared on her screen. "My beard's not that long!" said Merlin with indignity as he looked at the pictures. Merlin pointed to a yellow-haired boy in one of the pictures. "Who's that?" he said. "That's King Arthur!" said Abby. "You're friends with him, aren't you?" Merlin turned away. "I used to be," he said. Abby could tell something was wrong. "Did you two have a falling out?" she asked. "It doesn't matter," said Merlin. "It's in the past. Let's focus on today, because today, we can change the world." Abby nodded and switched to a tab with the Children of Merlin Facebook group open. As she did this, Merlin walked to a window and stared outside of it. "How do I find this...Disneyland?" asked Merlin. "It's in Anaheim," said Abby. "In California." "I know not these lands you speak of." "Wow. You clearly aren't from here. Duh! You're an ancient, magical wizard. Of course you aren't from here." "Draw me a map. I'm sure I'll find it." "I guess I can try." Abby rummaged through her desk and found a blank piece of paper. "Graphic arts degree, don't fail me now," whispered Abby. Wendy fell to her knees as the rain came at her faster than ever before. She looked at herself in the puddle under her, and her face was now covered in cuts and bruises. One of her eyes couldn't fully open, and her hair was disheveled from the rain and the fighting. She looked up at Zoey, who wasn't far from her and was just as beaten-up and as exhausted as she was. "We can't keep on like this," said Wendy. "Let's just go downstairs and get the others." "No!" hissed Zoey. "We've gone too far to turn back now!" "This isn't you! Those Children of Merlin...whoever the heck they are...they've corrupted you!" "I'm the same person I already have been. You just haven't realized it until now." Wendy stood back up and offered Zoey a hand, but she refused it. "You don't think I know about your friends making fun of me when they think I'm not listening? You don't think I understand how much of an outcast I am?" said Zoey. "You're not an outcast," said Wendy. "Yeah, I am, but I'm okay with it now, because for once in my life, I'm a part of something bigger than myself, bigger than Gravity Falls High School, bigger than all of that crap!" Zoey finally stood up, and she took a bow with the same pattern as Minnie Mouse's out of her hair to let her hair flow in the wind. Disneyland security reached them moments later. "Take the girl away," said Zoey. "Charge her with assaulting a cast member." "Zoe!" cried Wendy. "Don't do this, Zoe!" "After you've detained her, go downstairs, and you'll find that candy thief I was telling you about," said Zoey. The two security guards handcuffed Wendy and took her away despite her protests. Zoey checked her phone and noticed a Facebook message that caused her to open her mouth in astonishment. Dipper felt around the chamber Walt Disney's body was being held in until he found a button. He pressed the button as hard as he could, and the chamber started to rise to the surface. Dipper followed it as it got higher, higher, and SPLASH! Dipper and the chamber were both above water now, with Stan and Abuelita both on the edge of the hole now to see the miracle Dipper was telling them about with their own eyes. "I can't believe it," said Stan. "All that crazy stuff you were talking about...was real." "You're from Gravity Falls," said Dipper as Stan helped him out of the hole. "You should be used to this by now." Suddenly, everything around them started to shake, and the front of the chamber, which was clear to make it obvious who was inside, started to open. Walt Disney stretched and yawned before opening his eyes and smiling. "Hello," said Walt. "Do you think you can help this old man across that water? My legs are still quite tired from my rest. Dipper and Stan looked at each other before swimming to the chamber, helping Walt get between them, and swimming back with him. "I was wondering when someone would come for me," said Walt. "How long have I been away?" Dipper and Stan looked at each other again. "Mr. Disney, you've been in there for 45 years," said Dipper. "45? Heavens! I was never supposed to be gone that long!" said Walt. Walt sat down, clearly troubled. "Señor Disney," said Abuelita. "I know you do not know who I am, but I've loved your work since I was a child." "Thank you," said Walt. "What was the point of freezing yourself, anyway?" inquired Stan. "It was an...experiment. I'm not just a filmmaker, you see. I'm a scientist. I wanted to see if cryopreservation was an effective way to stop aging, but I only planned to be down here five, six years at the most. This is terrible. A scientific breakthrough, but terrible." "It's good we found you, though, because we need your help," said Dipper. "What do you know about Merlin?" "Merlin? He was a character in one of my last movies," said Walt. "Why do you ask?" "I'm not talking about that Merlin. I'm talking about the real Merlin," said Dipper. Walt stood up again. "What are you talking about, boy? Are you saying Merlin's in our world?" he said. "Yes," said Dipper. "Then we're already doomed," said Walt. "It took every trick in my book to get away from him, and even then, I almost didn't succeed. If he's managed to find his way here, I don't know if there's anything on this planet that can stop him." "No way!" said Stan. "We didn't come all the way down here for you to tell us there's nothing we can do!" "I don't know what you want from me," said Walt. "It's been so long ago, probably close to 100 years now. I remember reading a book of fairy tales with an older cousin and getting sent to this wonderful, magical world. I remember finding out that Merlin and his wife were trying to come here in our stead. I remember getting the Blue Fairy to betray him as me and my cousin acted out Cinderella, and I remember discovering the book and having to read 'and they lived happily ever after', before Merlin caught to up. And I assumed after that we lived happily ever after, but apparently not." "That's all you have? No weaknesses?" said Dipper. "The Blue Fairy was the only creature I saw capable of matching up with him, but unless she came here with him, then no, there's nothing that can stop him." Dipper punched a wall. "Arrgh!" he screamed. "Shh, Dipper, do you hear that?" whispered Stan. "Hear what?" "Footsteps." The security guards approached them with flashlights. "Are you Stan Pines?" said one of the guards. "Depends," said Stan. "What do you want with this Stan Pines?' "We have footage of you stealing from one of our candy shops. We'll need you to come with us," said the other guard. "No! I'm not going back to the brig!" said Stan, raising his fists. "Do you want us to get our tasers? Cause we'll tase the heck out of you!" said the first guard. "Stop," said Walt. "I own this park, so whatever he's done on these grounds should not be punished." "Yeah!" said Stan. "What he said!" The guards shone their flashlights on Walt's face. "And who are you supposed to be?" said the second guard. "Walt Disney," said Walt. The guards laughed. "Walt Disney is dead!" said the first guard. "If you need proof, here it is," said Walt, pulling out his wallet from his shirt pocket. The guards looked closely at Walt's driver's license before lowering their flashlights. "Fine," said the second guard. "But you better not drive anywhere, since that license expired in 1970." "I'll keep that in mind," said Walt. "Now, take us above ground. I've been frozen for so long that I forgot what fresh air tastes like." Dipper, Stan, Abuelita, Walt, and the guards returned to the stairs, and once they ascended them, they found Zoey waiting for them. "Why isn't Stan handcuffed?" asked Zoey. The guards pointed at Walt. "Ask him," said the first guard. "No," said Zoey. "It can't be!" "Walt Disney was down there, just like I told you!" bragged Dipper. Zoey backed away with a terrified look on her face. "What's wrong?" said Dipper. "And where's Wendy?" "Uh...I...have to go!" said Zoey before running off. Dipper turned to the guards. "Did either of you see where Wendy went?" he asked. "Who? The redhead? Zoey told us to lock her up," said the second guard. "What?" said Dipper. "Take us to her," said Walt. The guards led Dipper, Stan, Abuelita, and Walt to a small building in the back of Critter Country. When they walked inside, they found Wendy sitting crouched inside of a jail cell. "Wendy!" said Dipper. "Are you okay?" "I've been better," said Wendy. "Let her out," said Walt. The guards opened the jail cell, and Wendy, still sore from her fight, stood up slowly before walking out. "Why did Zoey have you arrested?" asked Dipper. "She isn't who I thought she was," said Wendy. Wendy glanced at Walt. "Of course Walt Disney's actually here," she said. "You didn't believe me?" said Dipper. "I wanted you to believe it, because it was easier than believing your sister was…" "Gone. Yeah, I know." "Your sister's missing?" said Walt. "Yeah, but you've already been a big help, so you don't need to worry about it," said Dipper. "I'm sorry," said Walt. "I had an older brother. The last thing I told him before I began my experiment was that I would see him again, but it seems I won't in this life." "You'll find your sister again," said Stan. "If there's one thing I know about you and Mabel from your time with me, it's that you always find each other." Everyone left the building, "Well, Mr. Disney, it's a nice park you've got," said the first guard. "Yeah," said Walt. "It's bigger than I remember, but nice." "By the way, can you put in a good word for us with the higher-ups? It's almost time for reassignments, and I would love a spot in Tomorrowland," said the second guard. Walt chuckled. "Of course," he said. After the guards left, Dipper looked up at Stan with a pleading face. "Do I still have to go to my parents?" he asked. "I promised them," said Stan. "But I'll tell them what I know now: you were right and we were wrong." Wendy playfully punched Dipper in the arm. "You actually did it! You found Walt Disney! Mabel's going to be so proud of you when she finds out!" said Wendy. Dipper smiled as he felt relaxed for the first time since Mabel disappeared. "I guess we better get going, then," said Dipper. "Thanks again, Mr. Disney." "Please," said Walt. "Call me Walt." "Do you need us to take you anywhere? The park closes soon," said Stan, looking at his watch. "No, I think I'm just going to...wait a minute. What that in the sky?" said Walt. The others looked up with Walt, and they noticed what seemed to be a star that was getting brighter and brighter until it was apparent that it was no star they were looking at. "It can't be," said Dipper. "Merlin?" whispered Walt. Suddenly, Zoey appeared from the darkness of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction, waving her arms and jumping in excitement as Merlin stopped in the sky. "He's here, Merlin! Dipper's here! We have him!" shouted Zoey. "You should have stayed hidden!" said Wendy, running after Zoey. Walt grabbed Wendy before she could fight Zoey again. "Stop," said Walt. "I'll handle this." Wendy, whose face was red with rage, nodded and returned to Dipper, Stan, and Abuelita. "You work here, right?" asked Walt. "Yeah," said Zoey. "Well, you don't anymore." "I figured." Walt, Zoey, Dipper, Wendy, Stan, and Abuelita watched as Merlin slowly descended from the sky like an angel of death. "Leave the others alone!" said Dipper. "It's me you want!" As Merlin landed, he shot a glance at Walt. "But it isn't just you, is it?" said Merlin. "An old friend of mine finally has a kingdom of his own." "Your desire to make a kingdom out of this planet won't work," said Walt. "The people will resist." "The ones who are living won't," said Merlin. "That girl and millions of others already worship me. They know that I am what this planet needs." "What this planet needs is for you to return to your own!" "Well, I won't. And if you are to make it out of this encounter alive, you will bend the knee to me." "Never!" Merlin raised a hand, and Walt felt his knees go weak. As Merlin lowered his hand, Walt tried his best to fight Merlin's magic before dropping to his knees, the rain stopping as Merlin got closer to Walt. "I'll have mercy on you," said Merlin. "But do not forget that I could have killed you and chose not to." "If you release this spell on me, I'll make you wish you had killed me," said Walt. Merlin nodded. "By the way, I found your portrayal of me in that sequence of drawings to be very offensive," said Merlin. "Take it up with my lawyers," said Walt. Merlin waved his hand, and Walt passed out. He then turned to Dipper. "I'm sorry about your fat friend," said Merlin. "I knew I had to have a Plan B this time, and sadly, it required his sacrifice." "You don't care about Soos," said Dipper. "You don't care about any of us! You only care about yourself!" "What do you think is about? Power for the sake of power? I want to make sure that no child grows up as I had, isolated from a society that doesn't understand him. That's what I did for New Britain, the first country that let humans, wizards, witches, dwarfs, and many more magical and non-magical creatures peacefully coexist, and that's what I will do for your planet. You need to understand that I'm no villain. The causes I fight for are noble, but just like any war, the war I'm fighting will have casualties." "If you really don't think you're a villain after everything you've done, then I have nothing else to say to you." Merlin sighed. "Very well. I hoped I would be able to reason with you, but it's clear I cannot," he said. Merlin took a wand out from under his robe. "The good thing about the death spell is it's quick," he said. "No!" cried Wendy. "You can't kill him!" "Well, he's too dangerous to be left alive, so what do you suggest I do?" asked Merlin. "Anything else!" "No. I'm sorry if you're fond of the boy, but this must be done." "Come on, Wendy," said Abuelita. "Vamos. If he says it must be done, it must be done." Wendy looked at Abuelita with surprise before walking to her. Abuelita grabbed Wendy's hand, and Wendy grabbed Dipper's hand from the left. Dipper was still trying to process what was going on as Stan grabbed his hand from the right, and the four of them immediately vanished. "What?" said an astounded Merlin. "How did they…" "So I'm guessing you didn't do that?" interjected Zoey. Merlin whisked his fingers through his beard, which wasn't as long as the pictures made it out to be, but still quite long. "It seems this isn't a world without magic after all," he said. Merlin flew back into the sky, leaving Zoey and an unconscious Walt behind him.
  11. 3. Mr. Robot When you think of prestige TV, the first networks that come to mind are HBO, Showtime, AMC, and maybe even FX. Before recently, USA Network was not thought of as a home of prestige TV and seemed to have no designs of being so. Shows like Monk, Psych, and Burn Notice were good and occasionally even great, but you knew what to expect from shows like that, which had well-defined structures and rarely ever deviated from them. They were TV equivalents of comfort food, giving you something better than the bland fast foody dramas the broadcast networks pump out but nothing that will challenge you with bold new flavors. Enter Mr. Robot. The Sam Esmail drama ignored the precedent set by the popular USA Network dramas before it and defied every expectation it could. With a main character whose various mental disorders and drug habits made it hard for him to determine what was real or not, Esmail and crew had the opportunity to create one of the most unpredictable shows we've ever seen, and it was an opportunity they took advantage of. The show was a huge success during its first season, but the second season proved to be too confounding for a lot of people, and the ratings began a steep decline. Despite that, network executives maintained their faith in the show and its crew, and while the show's ratings continued to fall over its final two seasons, the show itself only got better, ending as not just the best show USA Network ever produced but one of the best shows of all time. My two favorite episodes of Mr. Robot came in those last two seasons: eps3.4_runtime-error.r00, which unfolded in real time, and 407 Proxy Authentication Required, which not only defied expectations but defies description, an episode you have to watch yourself to understand just how game-changing it is. If there's one thing most of the shows on my list have in common, it's a willingness to experiment with the medium, to truly give us something that we haven't seen before. In a television landscape dominated by spin-offs, reboots, and remakes (some of them admittedly very good, like the show right under this one on my list), that's very important to me, and Mr. Robot's commitment to doing just that is what makes it one of my top three shows.
  12. Chapter 17 Soos carefully pointed his arrow at a target painted on a tree. He took a deep breath, pulled back the bowstring, and let the arrow fly. It sped right past the tree, disappearing into the darkness of the forest. Shang, who watched from behind Soos, shook his head. “I’ve given you 30 arrows now, and you haven’t hit the tree once,” said Shang. “That’s not true!” said Soos. “I hit the bottom of it that one time!” “We’re days away from this war, and you aren’t even close to ready.” Shang walked to the tree with the target painted onto it and pulled an arrow from its lower trunk. “I have other men to train,” he said as he put the arrow into his quiver. “Please!” said Soos. “Give me more time!” “No!” said Shang. “If we’re to stand a chance against the combined forces of Galacia and the Visigoths, I’ll need soldiers. Real soldiers. I’m going back to the camp. Return to the castle where you’ll be safe.” Shang began to walk away, and Soos was reminded of the last time his father left him at nine years old. Tears streamed down his face as he remembered his father kissing him on the forehead, promising he wouldn’t be gone long, and driving away, never to be seen or heard from again outside of the letters he had mailed Soos over the next four or five years, each with a new lame excuse for why he couldn’t return to take care of his son. Eventually, the letters stopped coming, either because his father could no longer be bothered to write to Soos anymore, or because his abuelita no longer wanted to show him his father’s newest batch of lies. Abuelita tried to convince Soos that his father walking out on them wasn’t Soos’ fault, but even before he left, Soos could tell that his father didn’t respect him, that his father saw him as weak. He no longer blamed himself for what happened, but as Shang departed, all of the negative feelings surrounding his father’s abandonment returned, and out of desperation, Soos sprinted after Shang, tackling him and causing the arrow to fall out of Shang’s quiver. “What are you doing?” said Shang, pushing Soos off. “I want another chance!” said Soos. “Just one more! Please!” Shang stood up and brushed dirt and leaves off his military uniform. “Fine!” he said. “One more chance.” Shang gave Soos the arrow and pointed to the target on the tree. “You hit the target, dead center, and I’ll resume your training,” said Shang. “If you miss, you head to the castle or that arrow goes in you.” Soos nodded. “Understood,” he said. Soos fitted the arrow into his bow, aimed it at the target, took another deep breath, this one deeper than all the ones, and steadied his feet, steadied his hands, steadied his mind. Soos closed his eyes and waited for nearly a minute as Shang watched him with intrigue. When Soos opened his eyes again, all he could see was the target. Now certain that he knew what he was doing, Soos released his grip. --- Peter was asleep inside of a horse-drawn carriage when he was stirred by a bright light coming through his window. “Huh?” muttered Peter, still half-asleep. The Blue Fairy opened the door to Peter’s carriage. “Hello, Pinocchio,” said the fairy. “Am...am I here?” said Peter. “Yes. Geppeto’s shop is right down that road.” “Why couldn’t you just poof me here?” said Peter, stretching. “I had to use a very dangerous, very rare type of magic to turn you into a boy,” said the fairy. “The type of magic that doesn’t work well with other spells. If I used a spell to send you here, it likely would have sent you here as wood, especially after that little number Merlin did on you.” Peter looked down. “I’m sorry for running away,” he said. “I’m not the one you need to apologize to,” said the fairy. “Do you think he’ll forgive me?” The Blue Fairy helped Peter out of the carriage and put a hand on his shoulder as they walked toward the shop. “I know he will,” she said. Just as they reached the shop, they were startled as the carriage exploded and the horses that were pulling it let out frightened neighs before galloping in opposite directions. As the smoke from the explosion disappeared, it revealed an unconscious Bert and Mabel lying where the carriage was. “Hey,” said Peter. “I know that girl! She was with us at Charming’s palace!” “How did she return?” wondered the Blue Fairy. “And who’s that giant frog with her?” Bert was the first to awaken, and he gave Mabel a slight push. “Hey, wake up!” said Bert. “Mabel?” Bert felt Mabel’s pulse. “She’s holding on, but barely,” said Bert. The Blue Fairy approached them. “Excuse me,” she said. “How did you and that girl get here?” Bert looked around. “I assume we’re not in Amphibia anymore,” he said. “No, you’re in New Britain,” said the fairy. “I’m from Amphibia, but Mabel…” “She came from different lands, I know,” said the fairy. “That box...did it bring you here?” Bert looked down at the chest, which was between him and Mabel. “Yes,” he said. “It sent Mabel to Amphibia, too. Do you know about it?” “I know those gems. Gems that looked exactly like those created the original blue, green, and pink fairies several millennia ago. They used to travel dimensions, acting as benevolent gods to every society they encountered, but the leader of one of those societies tricked the fairies, stealing the gems from them and banishing them to this dimension.” The gems on the chest were colorless again, but as the Blue Fairy tapped one of the gems with her wand, it glowed blue. “You think you can use that thing to heal Mabel?” said Bert. “I’ll try,” said the fairy. The Blue Fairy pointed her wand at Mabel’s chest, and the blue aura that Mabel had whenever her powers were activated flickered around her until the Blue Fairy lowered her wand again. “She’s hurt pretty bad,” said the fairy. “I can heal her, but it will take some time.” The Blue Fairy picked up Mabel and returned to Peter. She nodded to Peter, and he walked inside the shop, where an old Italian man was cleaning up. “Papà?” said Peter. The man raised his head at the sound of a familiar voice. He almost didn’t want to turn around, thinking it was a dream, but he eventually did, and as the man, Geppetto, found the boy he lovingly crafted out of the wood of enchanted forest tree standing in his doorway, not even his old legs could keep him from sprinting to Peter to hug him. “I’m so sorry for running away, papà,” Peter said, crying into Geppetto’s worn white button-down shirt. “It’s okay, son,” said Geppetto. “It’s just good to see you again.” “I wish I could be better. I wish I could be that perfect son you wanted when you made me here so many years ago.” Geppetto pulled back from their embrace and wiped the tears from Peter’s face. “Pinocchio, the blue fairy didn’t turn you into a real boy because you were perfect,” said Geppetto. “Far from it. She did it because you knew you were flawed and committed to working on yourself. That’s what makes us human.” The Blue Fairy carried Mabel into the shop with Bert following her. “Thank you for bringing my son back,” said Geppetto. “I was happy to,” said the fairy. “Who are the other two visitors?” “I’m Bert and that’s Mabel.” said Bert. “They are here from foreign lands, and as you see, the travel had a very negative impact on the girl,” said the fairy. “I was hoping you could give her a bed for her to heal in.” “Of course!” said Geppetto. “Take her to the room beside mine. Someone used to live there, but...she’s long gone.” The Blue Fairy nodded and carried Mabel to the room. “Oh!” said Geppetto. “There’s someone else here who has been missing you very much, Pinocchio.” “Who?” said Peter. Geppetto opened a drawer, and he poked something inside of it. Suddenly, a cricket hopped out and chirped in a way Peter immediately recognized. “Jiminy Cricket!” said Peter with excitement. “Pinocchio?” whispered Jiminy Cricket, wiping his eyes as they adjusted to the light. Once Jiminy Cricket knew it was Peter he was talking to, he hopped as high as he could to greet his friend, but before he could reach Peter, he was wrapped by a long, slimy tongue and pulled into Bert’s mouth. Peter’s mouth opened with horror as he saw this, and then he started to cry. “What did I do?” said Bert. “You ate Pinocchio’s friend!” said Geppetto. “Oh,” said Bert. “Well, Mr. Pinocchio, if it’s any consolation, your friend was delicious.” Peter cried louder now, and Bert awkwardly whistled while walking to the room the Blue Fairy and Mabel were in. “Hey, how long do you think it will be until she gets better?” inquired Bert. “I can’t say,” responded the fairy. “Why?” “I don’t think I’ll be welcome here much longer.” “What did you do?” “I saw a tasty snack in the air, so I did what any frog would do in that situation, but the boy apparently saw that cricket as more than food.” “My gods! You ate Jiminy Cricket?” “Obviously, I know I shouldn’t have done it now, but that doesn’t change that fact that I did it, and now we need to be somewhere else.” “I’m sure Pinnocchio and Geppetto will forgive you.” The was a knock on the door. “Come in!” said the fairy. Geppetto walked in with his hands behind his back. “So, Pinocchio was very upset, but I managed to calm him down after assuring him Jiminy Cricket’s death was quick and painless,” said Geppetto. “Thank you so much for doing that,” said the fairy. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?” said Bert. “Of course!” said Geppetto. Bert sighed in relief as the Blue Fairy gave him a look that essentially said, “I told you so.” “However,” continued Geppetto. “Just because you’re forgiven doesn’t mean you won’t be punished for your crime. I’m a strong believer in retributive justice, and the perfect retribution for what you’ve done, which Pinocchio agrees with, is for us to chop you up and eat you.” Geppetto revealed that it was an axe behind him, and Bert shot the Blue Fairy a look that essentially said, “I told you so.” The Blue Fairy rolled her eyes, grabbed Bert’s and Mabel’s hands, and disappeared with both of them moments later. --- Shang and his soldiers reached the Rhine, a massive river that divided New Britain from Galacia, at sunset. The archers, including Soos, took their positions alongside the river, and they waited for the Galacian and Visigothic armies to cross. Hours later, it was pitch black outside of the stars in the sky, and Soos began to fall asleep. The archer to Soos’ left punched his arm and pointed to small lights in the distance, not much brighter than the stars above them first but slowly getting brighter and brighter until it was clear that they were coming from the lanterns of enemy soldiers on ships. The archers stood up, pulled back their bows, and let hundreds of arrows fly, many of them killing soldiers aboard the ships. They quickly replaced their arrows and shot even more at the ships, and while some of the lights dimmed and some of the ships slowed down, they continued sailing towards the British land. Opposing archers returned fire once the ships were close enough, and Soos heard archers on both sides of him shriek in pain and fall to the ground. Soos focused on the enemy archers, and he was able to kill several of them and barely dodge an arrow headed for him. Shang and some of the knights pulled back dead archers and set up cannons in their now-vacant positions. “Ready…” said Shang once the cannons were fully set up. Soos tried his best to ignore what was happening around him and focus on shooting arrows while avoiding the arrows being shot at him. As the number of ships in the river increased, so did the number of arrows raining down on them. Soos used a shield tied to his elbow to deflect some of the arrows while continuing to shoot more out. “Fire!” screamed Shang. The ground shook with explosions as cannonballs went into the sky and sank many of the ships heading towards them. “Ready...fire!” More ships were taken down, but even more appeared. Soos got under his shield and reached for an arrow from his quiver before realizing he was out. “General Li!” exclaimed Soos. “I’m out of arrows!” Shang wordlessly grabbed a quiver of arrows from a dead archer and threw it to Soos. Soos struggled to catch it from under his shield. Once he got the quiver fitted to him, he turned back to the Rhine, squinting at the light coming from lanterns that were now brighter than ever before. He continued shooting arrows with the rest of the archers until the ships were so close that Shang had no choice but to order the archers to leave their posts. “Remember that we’re fighting for New Britain,” said Shang as he directed the archers to the front line of the regiment with the top British knights. The first ship hit the riverbank minutes later. More ships hit land as Soos and the rest of the archers shot their arrows at the soldiers coming out of the ships. The knights fought the soldiers who made it through the arrows, and for a while, the British forces had the advantage. As more of the enemy ships landed, however, it became obvious the defending soldiers were badly outnumbered, and the archers had to go deeper into their own territory as the knights who successfully held off the Galacians and Visigoths at first could no longer do so. Soos shot out his arrows at a rapid pace now, faster than all of the archers around him, even the ones who had decades of experiences, and most of the arrows he shot out hit their marks. Octavian’s ship was the final one to land, and he walked off the platform with an archer in front of him and an archer behind him. He smiled as he saw the vast majority of the casualties now had British colors despite their early advantage. Octavian put a blowing horn to his lips, and he blew into it with such power that the sound could easily be heard over the sounds of clashing metal on the battlefield. “I am Octavian, king of Galacia!” said Octavian. “And I come here with an offer!” The soldiers stopped fighting and turned to Octavian. Shang, who was now on the battlefield with his knights, reluctantly did the same but made sure that he was close to Soos. “You know you have no chance of winning tonight,” said Octavian. “Instead of dying for a lost cause, drop your weapons and surrender, and you shall be spared.” “No,” said Shang. “No! Don’t listen to him! Remember what you’re fighting for! Remember this is for New Britain!” The British soldiers looked at one another, their faces covered in blood, sweat, and tears, and over the next several minutes, all of them except Soos and Shang dropped their weapons. Shang grabbed Soos by the arm and returned with Soos to his horse. “Let’s go,” said Shang. “These men have made it clear where their loyalties truly lie.” As Shang rode off with Soos, the Galacian and Visigothic soldiers turned to the now-unarmed British soldiers and killed all of them. Soos used his shield to deflect the arrows now flying towards them until the enemy soldiers following them turned back. “Where are we going now?” asked Soos. “Back to the castle,” said a weary Shang. “This war is lost.” ---- Evelyn was cooking a deer for herself and the Big Bad Wolf when the Blue Fairy, Bert, and a still-unconscious Mabel appeared behind her, startling her. “Don’t sneak up on people like that!” said Evelyn. “Sorry,” said the fairy. “I didn’t know where else to go, so I just decided to bring them here.” “Is that...no! Merlin sent that girl back to her world! How is she here again?” The chest appeared in the Blue Fairy’s hands. “This box sent her and that giant frog here,” said the fairy. “This ‘giant frog’ has a name.” said Bert. “I don’t particularly care,” said the fairy. “I’m going to the Council to see if they’ll allow the pink and green fairies to help me reactivate this box. If they do, we’ll be able to send the frog, the girl, and the boy home, assuming the boy hasn’t…” “Hasn’t what?” said Evelyn. “Perished,” said the fairy. Evelyn took a deep breath and looked out the window. “He’ll be back,” she said. “How are you certain of that?” said the fairy. “Because I trust Shang.” “If Shang’s dead, too, it won’t matter.” Evelyn’s face turned red with anger. She felt tempted to hit the fairy but knew that doing so would likely provoke the fairy into doing something even worse to her. “Just get the box working again,” said Evelyn. “That’s the least we could do after the parts we played in Merlin’s scheme.” The Blue Fairy nodded and disappeared with the chest. The Big Bad Wolf walked into the kitchen moments later. “So...that’s what I smelled. I haven’t had frog in a long time,” said the wolf. “Will I ever be in a world where everyone doesn’t want to eat me?” said Bert to himself. “Don’t eat him. He’s a guest,” said Evelyn. “I’ll have your dinner ready soon.” The wolf growled. “Fine,” he said before walking out. “Have you ever tried deer?” asked Evelyn. “What’s a deer?” said Bert. “Right,” said Evelyn. “You’re not from here. Well, perhaps you’ll like it.” Evelyn helped Bert carry Mabel to a spare room, and they ate dinner shortly after that. A few hours after that, Mabel regained consciousness with Bert at her bedside. “I’m...I’m sorry,” whispered Mabel. Bert, who was starting to nod off himself, perked up when he heard Mabel’s voice. “Mabel! Mabel, I’m so glad you’re okay!” said Bert. “I’m sorry,” repeated Mabel. “Sorry for what? You didn’t do anything wrong.” “I’m sorry, Prince Charming.” “Who’s Prince Charming?” Mabel fell asleep again, and Bert sighed before finally going to sleep himself.
  13. 4. Better Call Saul How do you follow up a show as popular and critically acclaimed as Breaking Bad was? Regardless of your show's individual merits, it will be unable to avoid comparison to its more well-known sister series. BCS could have been seen as a failure just by being good, but miraculously, it was able to not just match the quality of the show that inspired it, but in the eyes of many, exceed it. Instead of trying to avoid comparison to Breaking Bad, BCS invited it, and that high standard led to a show better than I think anyone expected when it was announced during BB's record-breaking final season. Saul Goodman, Walter White's fast-talking lawyer, begins the show as Jimmy McGill, aspiring lawyer and brother of one of the most prominent lawyers in Albuquerque in Chuck McGill. The relationship between Jimmy and Chuck is the emotional core of the show, at least during its first few seasons, and it plays a big part in helping the show explain how Jimmy became Saul. The second-most important relationship, which becomes easily its most important by the show's end, is between Jimmy and Kim Wexler, who have a mutual attraction that isn't healthy for either of them. Outside of Saul, the most important character to return from Breaking Bad is Mike Ehrmantraut. His journey from cop to criminal enforcer is almost as compelling as Jimmy's transformation into Saul, and every time their stories collide, we're in for a treat. Saul and Mike aren't the only characters to return from Breaking Bad, of course, and every time we see a familiar face, it's exciting without being distracting, because the writers always make sure that it fits within the overall story arc. What makes a spin-off successful, like a Fraiser or a Law and Order: SVU, or a Better Call Saul, of course, is a hook that differentiates the show from the original without forgetting what made people love the original in the first place. BCS took a Godfather Part II approach to Breaking Bad, acting as both a prequel and a sequel while retaining much of what made BB such a huge hit. The writing, the acting, and the directing continues to be top-notch, and they're more consistent from the start than BB was, the result of a creative team that's much more confident going into it. Better Call Saul isn't just required viewing for people who loved Breaking Bad but for people who love great television in general.
  14. 5. Community The history of the sitcom is a long and varied one, longer than the lifetime of anybody reading this, but the goal has been the same since the beginning: to make the viewer laugh. That makes sitcoms harder to judge than other shows, but in my subjective opinion, Community is the funniest sitcom ever made as well as one of the best shows ever made. Taking place at a community college in Colorado, the show centers on Jeff, a disgraced former lawyer who starts a study group full of colorful characters. For its first 20 episodes, it's a mostly conventional sitcom, but two of the season's final episodes, Contemporary American Poultry and Modern Warfare, gave us a preview of the genre-bending show that Community would become. Community's so-called "gimmick episodes" or episodes styled to mimic everything from mafia and action movies like the aforementioned episodes, to documentaries ala The Office, to cheesy stop-motion Christmas specials, are among the highlights of each season. They also don't change up the style's format just for the sake of doing it generally but as a way of teaching us more about the characters. Remedial Chaos Theory, not just the best gimmick episode but the best episode period, is the show at its most funny, heartwarming, and inventive. It helped establish Community as one of the finest examples of its art form after just over two seasons, and despite a small bump in the road in the form of a fourth season without the show's creator, it completed its run as a hallmark of television, a series so influential that it helped launch a new streaming service (that died just a couple of months later oops). Community's greatness didn't translate into the viewership other great NBC sitcoms had, but the devoted fanbase and its refrain of "six seasons and a movie", an inside joke that blew up like many of the show's inside jokes, kept it going for much longer than it had any right to. Now that a movie seems more likely than it ever has been in the seven years since the show's conclusion, that devoted fanbase will be rewarded for its efforts with at least one more trip to Glendale Community College.
  15. 6. Gravity Falls Another animated show that proves cartoons can be enjoyed by far more than just children despite the insistence by studio executives (even today) that they can't be, Gravity Falls was an exciting, funny show that was unlike anything that had aired on Disney Channel before it. Taking place in the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, the series follows twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they stay with their great-uncle Stan in his tourist trap, the Mystery Shack, over the summer. In the first episode, Dipper discovers a journal written by a secret author describing the supernatural goings-on of the city, and with the journal's help, he and Mabel learn how to navigate the strangeness they encounter every episode while also navigating the struggles and anxieties that come with growing up. The big animated hit that Disney had before Gravity Falls, Phineas and Ferb, managed to stretch a summer into eight years, over 200 episodes, and multiple movies, but Gravity Falls made sure it didn't wear out its welcome by ending after only two seasons and 40 episodes. I, like many of the show's fans, would have liked a little more, but after the experience Alex Hirsh and the rest of the show's crew gave us, I can't complain. The experience of watching Gravity Falls with all of its twists and turns, and most importantly, watching it all live, is what really sets this show apart from others in my mind. Had I binged the show years after it ended and after cultural osmosis made me aware of most of its big surprises, it likely wouldn't be this high on the list, assuming it made the list at all. That's what I love about television as a medium. Catching onto a great TV show as it airs, discussing it every week, and seeing new episodes at the same time as everybody else is a wonderful feeling, a feeling that's becoming more and more rare today with the growing fragmentation of TV and bulk release of episodes through streaming services. Gravity Falls felt like one of the last of a dying breed, and that's one of the things that keeps its memory alive ten years after it first premiered. Another thing keeping it alive is the Disney shows clearly influenced by it in DuckTales, the recently-ended Amphibia, and the soon-to-end Owl House, shows that prove cartoons can appeal to people of all ages by mixing their humor with strong storytelling and character growth, and I hope its an influence that doesn't go away anytime soon despite a corporate environment that's become increasingly hostile to those types of shows.
  16. 7. Batman: The Animated Series Though studios are pumping out more superhero media than ever before, none have come close to replicating the impact that Batman: The Animated Series had in the early 90s. Meant to mimic the style of Tim Burton's hugely popular Batman film from 1989, with music including the iconic opening theme inspired by Danny Elfman's score for the movie, BTAS used the seeds of what came before it to create what is still known by many to be the definitive version of the Caped Crusader. I mentioned during my review of Invader Zim that most children's animation at this time existed either to teach you stuff or sell you toys or both, and while BTAS had the occasional Aesop, and while I'm sure it sold a ton of Batman toys, it was clear from the start that the show's main directive was telling great, compelling stories, and it did that better than almost any other show, live action or animated, that I've seen. Even today, BTAS manages to stand out from the pack due to its art style, dubbed Dark Deco, which makes everything seem like it's happening in the shadows. The show had many memorable performances from its voice cast, but none were as memorable as Mark Hamill's turn as The Joker, a performance so strong that it legitimately holds its own against Oscar-winning depictions of the character by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix. The show has been so influential on Batman canon that its takes on obscure villains like Clock King and Mr. Freeze have been adopted into the comics, and of course, no contribution to the Batman mythos by the series has been bigger than Harley Quinn, who at this point is eclipsed only by Batman and The Joker in popularity. A triumph of art and storytelling and the launching pad of television's first superhero universe, BTAS deserves all of the praise it has gotten and then some.
  17. I'm back! Who better to describe my next show than Cosmo himself? 8. Seinfeld One of the most influential sitcoms of all time, as well as one of the funniest, Seinfeld didn't have the warmth most of its predecessors had. It didn't have lessons, and in fact, it went out of its way to avoid having lessons. Its main characters weren't likable (the farthest thing from likable, actually) but it took the country by storm anyway. After watching just a few episodes of this show, you'll understand why. Two of the biggest shows of the 21st century, The Office and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, got much of their comedy from bad things happening to bad people, but Seinfeld did it better than either of them. There are many episodes I can point to as examples of the show doing what it does best, but none stand out more than The Soup Nazi, which I jokingly had listed as my Favorite Episode on my SBC profile (and still might, idk I don't feel like checking). The Soup Nazi is not only my favorite episode of Seinfeld but one of my favorite episodes of television. It takes something as mundane as buying soup and turns it into an absolute riot with stakes and a seemingly unconquerable villain while having everything wrapped up neat and tidy after 22 minutes. The Soup Nazi aired in one of the show's final seasons, and one of the incredible things about Seinfeld is that while most shows, especially sitcoms, get worse as they go on, Seinfeld only got better. The last season had what was probably the show's most experimental episode in The Betrayal, an episode with a plot that unfolded in reverse, and the finale stayed true to the show's philosophy by having no hugging and no tears, instead putting the main four of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer exactly where they belonged: in prison.
  18. 9. Atlanta A show that defies genre, Atlanta was already one of the most unique shows on TV during its first season, but over its next two seasons, it continued to redefine itself. Created by and starring Donald Glover, the series used everything Glover had learned from writing and acting in comedy to give us a social satire about race relations and the issues that come with fame that was hilarious and thought-provoking from its very first episode. With a stellar cast of names that get more famous by the year and that have great chemistry with each other, Atlanta didn't have to deviate much from what it did during its first season to make an impact, but it did, anyway, propelling it from just a very good show to one of the best of all time. If Atlanta had anything resembling a formula by the middle of Season 2, it was thrown out the window for Teddy Perkins, arguably the show's best episode. It didn't have too many ha-ha funny moments, and the show's central characters Earn and Alfred had virtually no part of the episode's plot, but it thrived despite that. Now secure in the knowledge that it could completely ignore what had worked before to tell the stories it wanted to tell, Atlanta became more of an anthology series, a Black, Black Mirror, in its third season, which aired earlier this year after a four-year break. Atlanta's more than making up for lost time by premiering its fourth season next months, and the only expectations we can have going into it is that the expectations we will have will be subverted.
  19. 10. Invader Zim During the 90s, Nickelodeon revolutionized children's animation with so-called Nicktoons, cartoons made exclusively for the channel that, unlike the cartoons kids were used to watching on broadcast networks, weren't educational and weren't trying to sell them toys. It sounds crazy now, but at the time, it was seen as a huge risk, and it was a risk that paid off in a big way for the cable channel, sending what was already a growing brand into the stratosphere. By the time Invader Zim premiered in mid-2001, there had already been 15 Nicktoons, with the biggest success stories out of them being Rugrats, The Fairly OddParents, and of course, SpongeBob SquarePants. Invader Zim wasn't a success story. Far from it, in fact. It was the first Nicktoon not to reach 30 episodes or 3 seasons. In fact, its second season wasn't even completed before Nick gave it the axe. The show wasn't cancelled for being bad, though. Obviously, I wouldn't think that, or it wouldn't be on this list. The show was innovative, unpredictable, gorgeously animated, and of course, hilarious. It also happened to be super dark, darker than every other kid's show and most adult shows, too, which is why it's frankly bizarre that Nick greenlit it in the first place. I'm happy Nick did, though, because it gave us one of the classics of the form, one that still holds up even 20 years later.
  20. In honor of my 11th SBC Anniversary, I'm going to do something I was supposed to do six anniversaries ago: my top ten TV shows list! I'm actually going to make it top 11 to reflect my eleven years on the site and to make up for taking so long with this. (I swear to God it's not to rip off Nostalgia Critic, please don't sue me Doug.) Without further ado, here's the first show on my list: 11. The Mandalorian Three years ago, a new streaming service debuted in Disney+ that was expected to be the first to really give Netflix a run for its money. To challenge a giant like Netflix who was essentially synonymous with streaming at the time, Disney needed a real draw, a killer app that would do for their new service what Halo did for the Xbox. Jon Favreau's Star Wars show, the first live action show in the 40+ years of the franchise, turned out to be exactly that. Premiering on the same day as Disney+'s launch, it was critical in drawing interest to a service that wouldn't take long to become a giant in its own right, and it's easy to understand why. Fully embracing the Western genre that the Star Wars movies had only borrowed elements from, The Mandalorian tells the story of a bounty hunter who is forced to become the hunted when he refuses to give up a valuable prize, known by the show's fandom as Baby Yoda due to being...well...a baby who looks a lot like Yoda. The dynamic between the quiet, very serious Mandalorian and the innocent, playful child is the most engaging aspect of the show, and that combined with the stellar writing and the constant twists and turns the series throws at us makes it a classic after just two seasons. Whether you're a diehard Star Wars fan or somebody who couldn't care less about the movies, this is definitely a show worth checking out. #10 coming tomorrow
  21. Week of June 26, 2022 to July 2, 2022 Total Cartoon Legends! - 256 ( @4EverGreen ) SBCinema - 107 ( @Jjs Goodman ) Jjs' Riffing Theater 3000: Family Guy Funny Moments - 39 ( @Jjs Goodman ) One-Time Star Wars Characters: Where Are They Now? - 26 ( @OWM ) Oh Yeah! Collections - 23 ( @Steel Sponge ) Tiki Land -21 ( @Steel Sponge ) SpongeBob SquarePants: Lost in Translation - 20 ( @Steel Sponge ) Power Rangers: Multiverse Force - 15 ( @Rebel the Wolfgirl ) Mabel's Fables - 11 ( @JCM ) Red Flag Savior: Rebirth of a Storm - 8 ( @Steel Sponge ) Doubloons will be handed out later this week
  22. Chapter 15 One of Abuelita's earliest memories was watching the Grand Opening of Disneyland on her parents' black-and-white television. They had moved to Los Angeles from their home country of Colombia a year earlier, and the promise of a magical place where Abuelita could be whatever she wanted to be made her want to go to Disneyland more than anything else. However, her parents couldn't afford to take her to Disneyland after spending most of what they had moving the family to America, and she dreamed of one day being able to go to Disneyland herself. As an adult, Abuelita raised the woman who would one day mother Soos, and she promised her daughter than she would one day take her to Disneyland so she could live out the dreams her madre never could. Every time Abuelita got close to saving up enough to take them to Disneyland, however, the car broke down, or the washing machine broke, or some other emergency would happen that would empty their savings account and force them to start over again. Her daughter eventually accepted that the trip to Disneyland would never happen, and when Abuelita promised Soos that they would go to the happiest place on Earth together someday, his mother warned him not to get his hopes up. When Abuelita got the news that her daughter was in a car accident, she didn't believe it at first, but once she saw her teary-eyed grandson in the lobby of the Gravity Falls Hospital, an eight-year-old boy who had gone through something no eight-year-old boy should ever go through, she knew this awful thing she heard was true. The first thing Abuelita did when she saw Soos in that hospital lobby was kneel beside him, wipe the tears from his face, and promise him that his abuelita would always be there to protect him. 13 years later, Abuelita sat alone at her kitchen table the morning after her latest visit to the Mystery Shack and several of the places Soos loved to visit most, including the arcade and Big Gunz Laser Tag, once again unable to find him anywhere. Abeulita felt nothing but regret knowing that promise she made to her grandson in the hospital, just like the promises she made to him and his mother about going to Disneyland, had been impossible for her to keep. Abuelita heard a knock on her door, and when she opened it, she found Dipper standing there with the Stanmobile in her driveway. "What is going on?" asked Abuelita. "That guy you told me about, the father of mice, I think I know where we can find him!" said Dipper. "Where?" "Disneyland." Abuelita turned around. "I...I don't know," she said. "I'm not in the mood for theme parks." "Abuelita, this may be our only chance of bringing your grandson back. You have to come with us, because whoever made that prediction about the father of mice also predicted that you would be the one to speak to him." Abuelita sighed. "Okay," she said. "If it helps us find Soos, I will come with you." Abuelita turned back around and followed Dipper out the house before getting into the backseat of the Stanmobile with him. Stan pulled the car out of the driveway to get onto the road, and then he headed towards the interstate. Merlin lay on the bed inside of his jail cell. Though it was late afternoon, his cell had no windows or anything else connecting to the outside world, leaving it as dark as it was when he first woke up in the cell the night before. "Visitor!" said Deputy Durland from the hallway. "Another?" groaned Merlin. Since Abby left, at least a dozen people had visited Merlin, all showing the same bewilderment at so powerful a wizard being held by this tiny jail cell. Merlin wished for nothing more than to be able to blast the cell bars away and take control of this growing movement, but he knew he couldn't. He hated his magic for much of his childhood, as it was the reason his parents had abandoned him, but once he felt more comfortable with it, he couldn't imagine life without it. As another admirer, this time a young man, came up to his cell, Merlin stood up, spun in a circle, and struck a pose, causing the man to clap with joy. "I can't believe I'm really meeting you!" said the man. "I've lived in Gravity Falls all my life, and you're easily the best thing to happen to this crappy town!" "Thank you," said Merlin. "I hope the rest of the world feels as you do soon." "They will," said the man. "I joined that Children of Merlin group, and there's people from every country in it speaking so many languages. What you've created is something special, and I feel honored to be a part of it." Merlin nodded then sat down on his bed. "So," the man said, quieter this time. "I know you're trying to keep a low profile in here, but can you show me a little something?" "What do you mean?" said Merlin. "Like have something appear out of thin air! Make yourself float! Do something!" Merlin blushed. "I am not a court jester, here to perform tricks for your amusement! I have bigger plans for my magic, and you shall see it with the rest of the world when I'm ready to enact those plans!" he said. "Do you even have your magic anymore?" wondered the man. "Why would you ask me that?" "It just seems suspicious, you inside this cell you could easily escape from if you had the abilities you showed off downtown, your not being willing to give me even a tiny demonstration. How am I supposed to know those cops didn't tase the magic out of you?" "Believe what you'll believe," said Merlin. "But I'm not showing you anything." "You're not a wizard. You're a fraud," said the man. "You're a fraud, and I'll make sure everybody knows that!" The man took out a cell phone and started recording Merlin. "Do it! Turn me into a frog! Blast some of that scary magic at me! I bet you can't!" screamed the man. Merlin's face was fully red now. "Very well, then," said Merlin. "Take this!" Merlin pointed two open palms at the man, and nothing happened. "Please," whispered Merlin. "Please work." The man laughed. "Please, please work," repeated Merlin, trying his best not to cry. Deputy Durland came out of the hallway now. "Hey, time's up!" said Durland. "And what did I tell you before? No cell phones allowed in here!" "That's okay," the man said with a smile. "I got what I wanted." After Durland and the man left, Merlin allowed the tears he was holding in to stream from his eyes like blood from a wound. He knew now more than ever that he had to get his magic back if he didn't want everything he had done up until now to go to waste, but he didn't know how he actually would be able to do so. The Stanmobile reached Disneyland that night after over half a day of driving. "Alright," said Dipper. "The park closes in two hours, so we won't have a lot of time to do this." "Zoey got us VIP tickets, so we'll be able to skip the line," said Wendy. Zoey was one of Wendy's closest friends, the one she confided in more than anybody else in her friend group. Though the rest of her friends stayed in Gravity Falls with her for the summer, Zoey got a job as a cast member on one of Disneyland's attractions, a job she had been pursuing for years. Every night, Wendy called her, and she gushed about how fun her job was, how many great people she was meeting, and it made Wendy jealous. Zoey had always been the overachiever in her friend group, and it made her the victim of a lot of the jokes her friends made while she was away. Wendy resisted the impulse she sometimes had to get involved in the jokes, though, because she felt bad talking about Zoey behind her back. They met Zoey just outside of the Disneyland entrance. Zoey hugged Wendy as hard as she could then hugged Uncle Stan and Abuelita as well. "It's so great to see you all!" said Zoey. She knelt beside Dipper. "And you must be Dipper," she said. "What was it Wendy said about you? 'If only he were a few years older…'" Wendy punched Zoey in the arm, blushing. "Zoey, stop!" said Wendy. Dipper, who was now blushing too, cleared his throat. "Thank you for the help, Zoey," he said. "It's no problem," said Zoey. "I would do anything for my best pal. Now, let's go!" Zoey led Stan,, Abuelita, Dipper, and Wendy inside the park. Abuelita looked around, astonished that after nearly 60 years, she finally got to see that magical place she'd dreamed of for so long. Even in the dark, it was even brighter and more colorful than she thought it would be. For a moment, just one moment, her problems ceased to exist. Dipper's problems remained on his mind, however. "Where can I find the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?" he asked Zoey. "Don't worry, sport. We'll get there," she responded. A cast member in a Snow White costume waved at Dipper. He pretended he didn't see it. "Right now, we're in Main Street, USA," said Zoey. "The Pirates ride will be in New Orleans Square. If you want any souvenirs or candy…" "Candy?" interrupted Stan. "Say no more!" Stan ran into the nearest candy shop. "Can you go with him, Wendy? I have a feeling he's about to do something very illegal," said Zoey. "You're probably right," said Wendy, rolling her eyes. Wendy walked into the candy shop to find Stan pouring candy out of a dispenser and into a bag. "Can you believe they're just giving these away?" said Stan. "They're not giving those away. You have to pay for them," said Wendy. Stan grabbed a handful of candy from the bag and put it into his mouth. "Can't charge me for something you can't see!" said Stan with his mouth full. "Stan, don't be gross," said Wendy. A man at the counter looked at Stan and Wendy with annoyance. "Alright, we better get going," said Wendy. Wendy grabbed Stan by the arm and left the candy shop with him. They rejoined Dipper, Abuelita, and Zoey as they entered Adventureland. "The first attraction we'll visit is the Enchanted Tiki Land, the only attraction originally owned by Walt Disney himself," said Zoey. "Is that the one with the creepy birds? Hard pass," said Stan, eating another handful of candy. "Come on! Stop being lame!" said Wendy. "If it gets us closer to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, I don't care," said Dipper. The five of them entered the building, which resembled an old Hawaiin shack. They spent a little over 15 minutes watching a show performed by animatronic birds before being led back out and heading to the next attraction: the Jungle Cruise. "This is one of our most popular attractions," said Zoey. "Once we're in one of the boats, our skipper will take us on a tour through the jungle rivers of Adventureland!" They found a half-empty boat and climbed into it. The skipper waited for more a few more people to enter the boat before untying it from the deck. "Hello, everyone," said the skipper. "I'd like to welcome you aboard the world-famous Jungle Cruise. My name is Dan and I'll be your skipper for as far as we get." The boat traveled through a murky-looking waterway. Fake fireflies illuminated their way and the various robotic animals around them. "Extraordinario," whispered Abuelita. Even Dipper was impressed by a realistic-looking elephant showering itself in the water. "That reminds me," said Dan. "Why did the elephant quit his job?" The passengers looked at each other with confusion. "He was tired of working for peanuts!" quipped Dan. Nobody in the boat laughed. "Boo!" said Stan. "Find another job!" "I would if I could," muttered Dan. "It's so amazing that you get to see this every day," said Wendy. "Huh?" said Zoey, who was clearly distracted by something. Wendy laughed. "Did you hear a word I said?" asked Wendy. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention," said Zoey. Dan rattled off more of the spiels he memorized as they approached the end of the cruise ride. Dipper, Stan, Abuelita, Wendy, and Zoey climbed out of the boat with the rest of the passengers and headed towards New Orleans Square. "Your patience is about to be rewarded," said Zoey. "Finally!" said Dipper. "Now we can see what's under the Pirates of the Caribbean ride!" Zoey raised an eyebrow. "Under?" she parroted. "Did Wendy tell you that urban legend about Walt Disney being buried under the ride?" Wendy looked down, expecting Zoey to tell Dipper something he didn't want to hear. "Well, I'm sure you'll be happy to know that urban legend isn't a legend at all! Disney's down there, and I met him!" said Zoey. Wendy looked back up. "What?" she said. "What?" said Dipper. "You heard me!" said Zoey. "If you want to meet Walt Disney, I know exactly how to find him!" Zoey led Dipper, Stan, Abuelita, and Wendy to the back door of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. She opened the door to reveal nothing but stairs leading into the darkness. "Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Wendy. "This is what we came here for!" said Dipper. "I have to do it. For Mabel." "And I must," said Abuelita. "For Soos." "And I guess I'm going too, since whatever's down there must be more interesting than those boring rides," said Stan. "I'll stay up here with Zoey. You three be safe," said Wendy. Dipper, Stan, and Abuelita went down the stairs, and Zoey closed the door behind them. "Why did you tell Dipper you saw Walt Disney down there? You're only setting him up for disappointment!" said Wendy. "At least I'm not the one who took him all the way here from Gravity Falls to chase a ghost," said Zoey. "I...I know I shouldn't have gotten his hopes up, but you should have seen him." "It's okay. I'm glad you brought him here. It only makes it easier for us to get rid of him." Wendy took a step back as Zoey locked the door to the stairs. "Get rid of him?" said Wendy. "What are you talking about?" Zoey sighed. "Zoe?" said Wendy. "What are you talking about?" "I...haven't been completely honest with you, either," said Zoey. "Do you know about the Children of Merlin?" "No." "Well, it's a group I'm a part of, and Dipper is one of our special targets. He's one of two people Merlin singled out as a threat to him, along with his twin sister, Mabel." "Wait," said Wendy. "So you're going after Dipper and Mabel because some crazy wizard guy told you to?" "He's not some 'crazy wizard guy'. He's an agent of change. Do you think I actually love this job? Do you think I love keeping a smile on my face while children and man-children harass me and those who run this cruddy theme park disrespect me day after day? No...I hate it. I hate everything about it, and I hate that I'm forced to do it just to make it easier for my family to feed everyone. With Merlin in charge, that won't be an issue anymore. There will no longer be waste, and there will no longer be hunger. Girls like us won't have to be miserable just to survive!" "I'm not miserable," said Wendy. "And I didn't think you were, either. You made it sound like this was your dream job!" "Well, it isn't," said Zoey. "I thought it would be, but I was wrong." "Either way, you can't leave Dipper and the others down there!" said Wendy. "I've already notified park security about Stan stealing from the candy shop," said Zoey. "How do you know he stole that candy?" "Come on, it's Stan." "Fair enough." "Security will be here to pick him up soon, and I'll make sure Abuelita gets home safely." "What about Dipper?" "The leaders of the Children of Merlin will be here tomorrow to pick him up. What they do with him is out of my hands." "This is crazy," said Wendy. "Open the door and let me get my friends." "I'm sorry," said Zoey. "I can't let you do that." Wendy laughed in disbelief. "And here I was thinking we were friends!" she said. "We are!" said Zoey. "I swear you're the best friend I've ever had, but I can't betray the Children of Merlin." "Merlin! Merlin!" shouted Wendy. Wendy searched Merlin's name on YouTube and pulled up one of the videos she found of Merlin in a jail cell, pointing open palms at the camera and whispering to himself with a distraught look on his face. "You're willing to throw away over ten years of friendship for that?" said Wendy. "That...that video's fake! That can't be real!" said Zoey. "Get out of the way!" screamed Wendy. Zoey saw a flash of lightning in the distance, and she heard thunder boom shortly after. "Tut tut, it looks like rain," said Zoey. "I said...get out of the way," said Wendy through clenched teeth. Zoey raised her fists. "If you want to open this door, you'll have to fight me," said Zoey. Wendy threw a punch, and Zoey dodged it before punching Wendy in the stomach. Wendy then kneed Zoey in the face, and the rain started to fall as they continued fighting. Stan lit a match as he, Dipper, and Abuelita descended the stairs. "This is it!" said Dipper. "Just like Wendy told us! That's the secret chamber down there!" "Dipper," said Stan. "There is no secret chamber." Dipper, Abuelita, and Stan reached the bottom of the stairs, and they found themselves in about a foot of water. "Can I see the match, Grunkle Stan?" asked Dipper. Stan gave Dipper the match, and he and Abuelita struggled to follow him in the water. "Did you hear me, boy? There's not a secret chamber!" said Stan. Dipper stopped for a moment so Stan and Abuelita could catch up. "I know you miss your sister, but the answers you're looking for aren't down here," said Stan. "If this isn't a secret chamber, what is it?" said Dipper. "Probably a sewer. I shouldn't have come down here with my good shoes, but that's neither here nor there. I'm concerned about you, kid. This whole Walt Disney thing, it's crazy." "B-but the father of the mice. Abuelita said…" "I know what she said, but it could mean nothing or it could mean anything other than coming all the way here to look for a corpse!" "For what it is worth," said Abuelita. "I believe it means something." Stan rolled his eyes. "Thank you for the input, Abuelita, but I'll handle things with my nephew from here," he said. "We're so close," said Dipper. "I can feel it! We're so close to finding him!" "Dipper, I called your parents during one of our breaks," said Stan. "They aren't far from here, and after we're done at the park, I'm dropping you off with them." "What?" said Dipper. "Did you know about this, Abuelita?" "No, amigo," said Abuelita. Dipper glared at Stan before running deeper into the tunnel. "Dipper!" shouted Stan. "You should have more faith in the boy," said Abuelita. "Let me focus on my family while you focus on yours," said Stan before hurrying after Dipper. Dipper ran so quickly that his match went out, making it impossible for him to see anything around him. He felt the ground under him get weaker, but he kept running until it collapsed, plunging him deep into the water and making him aware of a light source not far away from where he floated. Dipper swam to the surface to get some air, and he heard Stan calling his name, with the calls getting louder, meaning he was getting closer. Dipper sank back into the water before Stan could notice him, and he swam as fast as he could towards the light source. The water got colder and colder until Dipper felt like the skin would peel off his body. Once he finally saw what the light was coming from, he nearly gasped before he thought better of it and swam back to the surface. "I found him!" shouted Dipper. Stan was standing at the edge of the hole Dipper fell into, holding another lit match. "What was that?" shouted Stan. "I found him!" repeated Dipper. "I found Walt Disney!" Merlin had fallen asleep in his jail cell when Durland approached it with a bucket of water. "Wakey, wakey," said Durland before throwing water over Merlin's face. "You insolent...what do you want?" said Merlin, coughing. "It's time for your walk," said Durland. Durland handcuffed Merlin before leading him to a small courtyard outside. "Like it? It was my idea," said Durland. "Why do you want me to walk this late at night?" said Merlin. "Can't just keep you in the cell all day getting fat off of my cheese and crackers," said Durland. "Now jog." Merlin started jogging, and he noticed clouds forming above him. "It's looks like it's going to rain!" said Merlin. "Good thing you're already wet, then," said Durland. Merlin grumbled and raised his arms to stretch them. Suddenly, his handcuffs were struck by lightning, causing his eyes to close and his body to go stiff before falling to the ground. "Oh, no!" said Durland. "Not again!" Durland ran to Merlin and grabbed his arm to feel his pulse, but he immediately got electrocuted, forcing him to drop the arm. Merlin's eyes opened again, and the first thing he felt was pain, but the pain transformed into something different, something better. Merlin raised an open palm, and electricity shot out, sending Durland into the wall. Merlin stood back up and raised both hands, which were now sparkling with electricity. He noticed a broom sitting by the door he came from, and he used an electric spark to bring it to him. "Hello, old friend," said Merlin. Merlin put the broom under him, pointed it at the sky, and flew off, leaving tiny sparks of electricity behind him. ------------------------------------------ Chapter 16 Lady Olivia waited with one of the king's guards outside of his throne room. "So, you're the new royal advisor?" said the guard. "Yes," said Olivia. "Did you hear what happened to the advisor before you?" "No, I wasn't made aware." "He brought the king tea when he requested sparkling cider, so the king had him executed." Olivia gulped. "I'm sure you'll do fine, though!" said the guard. The door to the throne room opened, and another guard came out of it. He nodded towards Olivia, who was now sweating, and the other guard stepped out of the way as she walked into the room. King Andrias, who ruled over all of Amphibia, was staring at a portrait of his ancestors as Olivia approached him, and he didn't turn around to greet her. "Good morning, Lady Olivia," said Andrias after nearly a minute-long silence. "G-good morning, king," said Olivia. "What did you want to discuss?" "I'll be going on a trip to Stony Gulch, and I'll need to you look after the castle while I'm gone," said Andrias. "Me? But I haven't even been your advisor for a day yet!" said Olivia. "I trust you'll do a good job," said Andrias. "And if you don't…well, I'm sure one of my guards have told you what happened to the advisor before you by now." Olivia's eyes filled with tears, and she looked down before taking a deep breath and looking up again. "I'll make sure to keep your castle safe," she said. Andrias put three fingers in his mouth, whistled, and waited for a large bird to fly into his room through the window. The bird startled Olivia, causing her to back away as Andrias climbed onto its back. "See you soon, Lady Olivia!" he said before pulling the reins of the bird and flying out through the same window the bird had just come in through. Mabel yawned as she walked down the stairs of the Curiosity Hut. She smelled pancakes and ran into the kitchen where The Curator was cooking them. "You got here just in time!" said The Curator. "I thought I'd have to eat all of these myself!" Mabel jumped into a chair and rubbed her hands together as The Curator put a plate with pancakes and syrup in front of her. Stuck to the syrup were various types of insects. "Oh right," said Mabel, disappointed. "You guys put bugs in everything." An orange frog walked into the kitchen. "Oh man!" he said. "Am I late for pancakes?" "Indeed, Bert," said The Curator. "Make sure to get here early next time." Bert sighed and began to walk out. "Wait! You can have mine!" said Mabel. "No, I couldn't," said Bert. "You're a guest." "I insist!" said Mabel. Bert shrugged and turned back around. "Okay, then," he said before extending his tongue to grab the pancakes from Mabel's plate and pull them into his mouth. "You better not expect me to make you more food after giving yours to the help!" scolded The Curator. "It's fine. I wasn't that hungry, anyway," said Mabel, ignoring her growling stomach. The Curator ate his pancakes then left the kitchen. Bert sat down beside Mabel. "So," said Bert. "What's with the costume?" Mabel blushed. "I'm sure you're fooling most of the other frogs around here, but not me," said Bert, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I got this from a costume shop because my regular self...scares people," said Mabel. "Well, considering what I do for a job, it'll take a lot to scare me!" said Bert. "What do you do?" "All those creatures The Curator has frozen in wax in the museum? I caught them!" "Really? That sounds super dangerous." "It is! But the thrill of getting closer to these beasts than anyone before me makes it worth it!" "How do you catch them?" Bert took a small tranquilizer gun out of his pocket. "With this!" he said. "By injecting my target with a Scorpileo stinger, I can subdue the animal enough to bring it here and let The Curator do his thing!" Bert put the tranquilizer gun back into his pocket and stood up. "It was nice talking to you...whoever you are," he said. "Mabel. My name is Mabel." "Frogbert Wharton, but everybody calls me Bert." Mabel giggled. "Good to meet you, Bert," she said, shaking his hand. "Now I must be off. There was a sighting of a giant centipede around this time yesterday, and I think he would make a great addition to the Hut!" said Bert. "Can I go with?" asked Mabel. "I don't know," said Bert. "Can you run in that heavy thing? Cause you might need to if this goes sideways." Mabel nodded excitedly, and Bert smiled. "Alright, then," he said. "Mr. Ponds, I'm taking our guest with me on today's hunt!" "If she dies, you're responsible for burying her!" The Curator said from another room. "Don't worry," said Bert. "He's delightful once you get to know him." "Really?" said Mabel. "Nah," said Bert. "Let's go!" Bert and Mabel left the Curiosity Hut and headed towards the forest. "So," said Mabel. "Are you from here?" "Nobody's from the Stony Gulch. It's just a big tourist trap," explained Bert. "Then where are you from?" "I'm from Swamp Shiro, a town in Frog Valley. I lived there until I decided I wanted to travel to Newtopia for a chance at a better life. It was hard at first. Most Newtopians think us frogs are just a bunch of dumb rednecks, and while a lot of us are, I wanted to prove to them I was different. I made great progress, even being the first frog ever admitted to Newtopia University, but fighting centuries of prejudice takes time. After I graduated, I was unable to find work in Newtopia, so I came here." "You seem pretty smart to me. You could see through my disguise, anyway." Bert laughed. "It seems both of us know what it feels like to not belong," he said. "Is that why you left wherever it is you came from?" "Actually, I kind of got here by accident," said Mabel. "Well, I'm happy we met each other," said Bert. "Even if it was by accident." Mabel smiled. "Me too," she said. Bert and Mabel were deep in the forest when they noticed a large creature pass behind them. They both turned around. "Did you see that?" said Bert. "I noticed something," said Mabel. Bert took his tranquilizer gun out. "It knows we're here," he said. Bert picked up a rock and threw it as far as he could. After it landed, the ground shook, and Bert grabbed the arm of Mabel's costume with his free hand to keep them both steady. "What happens now?" Mabel whispered. The giant centipede shot out of the ground in front of them, revealing its huge body with hundreds of legs on each side. Bert backed away, pulling Mabel with him. "This," he said. Bert carefully pointed his tranquilizer gun at the centipede's underside, and once he was sure he had a straight shot, he pulled the trigger. A Scorpileo stinger flew from the gun towards the centipede as it turned around. The stinger hit the centipede's shell and shattered, causing the centipede to roar. "Well, that never happened before," said a nervous Bert. "Should we run now?" asked Mabel as the centipede barreled towards them. "Definitely," said Bert. Mabel and Bert ran in different directions as the centipede plunged into the area they were just standing in. Mabel stopped once she realized the centipede wasn't following her but Bert. "Oh, no. Bert!" she said. Mabel turned and ran towards the centipede, which was catching up to Bert quicker than he could run. Bert tripped over a root, and he cried as the centipede rose then descended on him with its mouth wide open. Bert closed his eyes, expecting these to be the final moments of his life, but when nothing happened after a minute, he opened them again. He gasped as Mabel floated above him, no longer wearing her costume and now with pink hair, green eyes, and a blue aura surrounding her. She was able to hold the centipede's mouth open with her bare hands, and as Bert watched in awe, she closed the creature's mouth, spun it around, and threw it to the ground, knocking the centipede unconscious. "What are you?" said Bert, standing back up. Mabel stared at her glowing blue hands with confusion as she floated to the ground. "I thought I knew, but apparently, I don't," she said. Mabel's hair and eyes returned to their normal colors, and the blue around her disappeared as she fell to her knees. "I...don't know what's happening," she said. "It's okay," said Bert. "We probably won't be able to fit that thing in the Hut, anyway. It's much bigger than I thought it would be." Bert took off his jacket and threw it over a shivering Mabel. As he waited for her to regain her strength, a bird wearing armor with a familiar symbol engraved upon it flew over them. "Is that...King Andrias?" said Bert. "I think I'm feeling better now," said Mabel. "You sure?" "Yeah." "Let's get back to the Hut, then." Bert and Mabel returned to the Curiosity Hut and found royal guards standing in the wax museum. "What's going on?" asked Mabel. "Sorry, this store is closed to visitors," said the guard. "We work here!" said Bert. "The owner was very clear about allowing nobody through until the transaction was complete," said another guard. "What does Mr. Ponds have that's so valuable the king is willing to come all the way here to get it from him?" wondered Bert. "That's none of your business. And also, we don't know," said the first guard. "Let us see him now!" said Bart. "Or what?" Bart punched the first guard so hard that he fell to the ground. Mabel and the second guard covered their mouths in surprise. "How dare you!" said the second guard. "Do you know what the punishment for assaulting a royal officer is?" Bart pointed his fist at the second guard. "Do you want to be next?" he asked. "No, sir! Go right through!" said the second guard. Bert ran to the Curator's office, and Mabel followed him. Once inside, they found the Curator excitedly watching King Andrias bring in large bags through the window as he held Mabel's chest. "What are you doing?" asked Mabel. The Curator's eyes widened once he saw Mabel and Bert. "Oh, my!" said the Curator. "This is awkward." "Where did you get that chest from?" asked Bert. "That weird-looking frog next to you brought it here! It's an ancient relic worth millions of coppers, which our king is graciously paying me right now. I'll never have to work again thanks to this thing!" said the Curator. "That 'thing' is mine!" said Mabel. "I don't see you holding it," said the Curator. "Stony Gulch has many rules, but one takes precedent over every other: Finder's Keepers!" "But I'm the one who found it! I gave it to you! I trusted you!" said Mabel, on the verge of tears. "Well, it seems your trust was misplaced," said the Curator. Bert grabbed Mabel's arm. "Come on," he said. "It isn't worth it. Mr. Ponds isn't worth it. Let him rot somewhere with all that money while we live our lives somewhere very far from here." Mabel ripped her arm away from Bert. "No," she said. "I want it back." Mabel shook as her sadness turned to anger. Bert noticed that the few strands of hair sticking out of her costume were now pink. "I want it back," she said. "Now!" Suddenly, Mabel's costume ripped apart as the blue aura surrounded her once more. Her eyes became green again as she blinked away some tears, and she ran towards the Curator with lightning speed. "What are you?" screamed the Curator. "Somebody who wants what's hers," said Mabel. Andrias watched Mabel with the same look of terror on his face the Curator had. "Impossible," he said. "You have the power of all three gems! How are you still alive?" Mabel took the chest from the Curator, who put up no resistance. Andrias pulled out the hilt of a sword, and a large, powerful blade of yellow energy popped out. He pointed the sword at Mabel. "No matter," he said. "Unless you give me that box of yours, you won't be alive for much longer." Mabel looked at the sword with surprise then left the room with Bart at the same lightning speed. "Well," said Andrias. "That didn't work." "I know it's a bad time," said the Curator. "But since you went to the trouble of bringing me all this money, how about letting me keep it?" Andrias pointed his sword at the Curator, causing him to back away. "Okay, okay, just a suggestion," said the Curator. Mabel and Bert stopped right outside the entrance to the Curiosity Hut. Mabel seemed visibly tired, and she dropped the chest as her blue aura flickered. "We have to get out of here," said Bert. "That thing you're holding...is that what sent you here?" Mabel nodded. "Well, try this...think about where you really want to be, and maybe the box will send us there," said Bert. "I...I don't know if I have the energy," Mabel said weakly. Bert took Mabel's hands in his own and squeezed them. "If you need more energy, use mine," he said. Mabel nodded again and closed her eyes. The gems on the chest began to glow, and the blue aura that surrounded Mabel now surrounded Bert, too. As Andrias stormed out of the Curiosity Hut, he was nearly blinded by the flash Mabel and Bert disappeared in. "Wow," he said. The royal guards came out of the building seconds later. "We did everything we could to stop them!" said the first guard, who now had a black eye. "It doesn't matter," said Andrias. "After a thousand years, I finally have confirmation that the box is still out there. The next time I see it...or one of those strange creatures with face bumps...I shall be prepared." Andrias went back into the Curiosity Hut and found the Curator in his office struggling to push one of the Andrias' bags of money out the window. "Hey," said the Curator. "Are you here to help?" "Of course not," said Andrias. "I'm just here to remind you that if we're even one copper short when we bring that back to Newtopia, we'll return to give you a very public execution. It seems boring in this town, so I'm sure the citizens would love to see somebody's head chopped off." The Curator gulped. As he pushed the final bag out the window, he watched it drop onto the back of the bird King Andrias flew into Stony Gulch on. "It's been excellent doing business with you," said Andrias before leaving. The Curator took a list of names and phone numbers out from one of the drawers of his desk. Since Bert wasn't likely to come back after today's events, he knew he had to seek a replacement, and one of the names on the list stuck out. "Frog Soos," read The Curator out loud. "I guess it couldn't hurt to give him a call."
  23. Week of June 19, 2022 to June 25, 2022 Total Cartoon Legends! - 210 ( @Australia ) SBCinema - 145 ( @Swiss Cheese ) One-Time Star Wars Characters: Where Are They Now? - 21 ( @Chad ) Most Wanted - 17 ( @Swiss Cheese ) SpongeBob SquarePants: Lost in Translation - 15 ( @We Forgive You Germany ) Mabel's Fables - 15 ( @Egypt ) Power Rangers: Multiverse Force - 14 ( @Australia ) Jjs' Riffing Theater 3000: Family Guy Funny Moments - 11 ( @Swiss Cheese ) Oh Yeah! Collections - 9 ( @We Forgive You Germany ) Tiki Land - 6 ( @We Forgive You Germany )
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