"Already beginning your rest, Grandfather?"
"My king," the old man bowed deeply as soon as he was fully awake. "By the family powers, you are the very image of my beloved Ker," Tarien whispered as he raised his head to gaze at the tiny boy in front of him. "I don't truly recall him quite so young as you, of course. He was almost a year older than you when I hatched. You have my golden locks, though. We get that from my sire, you know. Golden hair as a man and golden fur as a lion, he was a majestic sight to behold to be sure. Goodness me, I haven't missed them so much in a very long time."
"Yes, you have, Grandfather," Little Zipper smiled. "We both know that the passing of time does not truly heal all wounds."
"Wise so far beyond your years, little one," Tarien said rather sadly. "You are right, though. Grief is the one wound that time can only scab over, but not heal. The loss is always with us no matter how many others come to fill that emptiness. Would that your grandfather had not thrust this upon you so young, that you might enjoy your childhood longer. But then I also find myself wishing that my own son had been given a half share of your maturity and perhaps our family line would not have had to wait for you to come along and heal the errors that we have made along the way."
"I think your son Chrijien was too much like his Uncle Carzier. He wanted a great adventure and he wanted it to be fun all the time and he didn't think about what might happen."
"Neither Chrijien nor I ever met Carzier, sadly," Tarien sighed. "I heard many tales of him from Ker and my fathers, but I see you are right. Chrijien heard many of those same stories from his sire, and Ker missed him so much that he tended to forget how dangerous some of the things my brother-in-law had done actually were."
"Grandpa, who is this? I felt the magic emanating from him through the forest, even without my own powers," Mitch said as he walked up to them. "For such a strong aura, I expected someone a bit… well, bigger," he mused as he looked down at Zipper who just shrugged and grinned.
"Hi, Uncle Mitch," Zipper said as he came over and hugged the older boy. "I've come to help you start the journey home. You can't quite come back to Earth just yet, though. Uncle Max and Uncle Marty need to go to Archnania for a while so that they won't grow old too fast for our family, or our new extended family. The effects won't impact you of course, now that our family's full powers are restored to us."
"Wait a sec, hold up little dude," Mitch stalled the kid. "Uncle Mitch? How can I be your uncle? I didn't have any siblings even before I got stopped from being born by Daddy Dearest, and since I haven't been born I can't have a girlfriend or wife that has a nephew, even if I'd had a girlfriend in my time, which I also didn't."
"You really thought that Grandpa didn't want you?" Zipper looked up at his uncle and frowned. "He still went and donated his stuff to make sure you got born. He even used the last of the powers he had in Alpha Prime to make sure that Gigi was the only one that got any of it. It's just that with the changes he had made to the timeline, my mom was born instead of you."
"Are you saying I have a sister that's old enough to be a mom?" Mitch blurted.
"Well, you're not going back to the same time you came from," Zipper shrugged. "Don't worry, though. You got plenty of time to catch up on the family and everything else while you're on Archnania."
"Who's the little girl?" Maxie blurted as he walked up with Marty and Candy. The dragon, instead of pouncing Zipper, walked carefully over to him and started giving him a dragon tongue bath all over his face.
"Magic robes, bro," Mitch reminded Maxie as he pointed to his own robes.
"OH, so he's a he like us? Neato," Maxie grinned as he went over and joined the cuddle pile of dragon and little boy. Over his shoulder, he called out to Mitch, "Still looks like dresses to me but you guys can wear 'em if you wanna."
"Hi Unca Maxie," Zipper giggled as he hugged the older boy and pulled him to the ground as Candy wrapped his warm body around them, rumbling softly.
"This is Candy, he's our dragon," Maxie introduced as he rubbed Candy's side lovingly.
"He should get along great with Hébert, Bathilde, Cedric, Clothilde, and Emeric," Zipper observed. At a grunt from Candy, the tiny boy spoke again. "They're the alligators that live in Popsicle Bayou back home." He spoke again after another grunt. "No, Bathilde is married to Hébert, and Ceddy, Cloey, and Meri are their kids." After another couple of grunts from the dragon, Zipper replied once more. "No, I don't think that Cloey has a boyfriend, but you should know that her Daddy and big brother are really protective, so you better make friends with them first."
"Grandpa Tarien, is that little kid talking to Candy? Like really talking to him?" Mitch asked in surprise.
"Well, of course he is," Tarien replied. "You will be able to as well once you leave Emifornec and your full powers are restored to you. Once you all get to your new home, your extended family will be able to gift that power of understanding to Martin and Maxwell as well."
"AWESOME! I want to talk dragon with Candy!" Maxie exclaimed as he hugged Candy tightly. The dragon turned his head and licked the boy's face lovingly.
"What's more, as soon as you and Zephraim return to your new home, your Clan family will be able to take the knowledge from your minds and share it with the entire Clan since Candy's dialect is a bit different than the other dragons known to them."
"What's Great Grandpa mean about a new home?" Marty asked as he sat down by his little brother and the dragon.
"Just what it sounds like, Unca Marty," Zipper answered with a smile. "We'll take a little detour before we get there, though. I'm going to bring you all to Archnania so you can meet your dads and moms, and they can meet you two, and so Unca Mitch can yell at Granddad for a bit."
"What's the point of yelling at him? He made it pretty clear he don't want me. I mean it don't get much clearer than stopping your kid from getting born," Mitch snapped.
"He didn't want that to happen," Zipper assured his oldest uncle. "Even after he thought Unca Jason died, he still made sure to go to the bank place to leave his goop so Gigi could get it to make a baby with. It's just that this time around she got a girl instead of you. I'm kinda glad though, since that girl is my mom."
"So you really are my nephew?" Mitch questioned.
"Really really," Zipper nodded.
"Do you talk to him a lot?" Mitch asked shyly and quietly. "Does he miss me? Wait, you said my Pop died?" he gasped.
"No I said your Dad thought he did," Zipper corrected. "As Granddad's mate, the family magic doesn't work on him. Well, me and you could do stuff to him, but Granddad can't. You'll see both of them when we get to Archnania. We'll be arriving just after I get there with Uncle Jase. I dropped him off about ten minutes from now, and then I came here to get you. Kyle and Tyler will be bringing Granddad and we'll all get there about the same time."
"Did you just say you left somewhere ten minutes from now to get here twenty minutes ago?" Marty asked, blinking in confusion.
"I tried to warn you guys that my family is kind of strange," Mitch laughed. "You're stuck with it now, though, right Zipp?"
"Exactement," Zipper grinned.
"Who's Zack and why is he moaning?" Maxie asked his not so much smaller nephew.
"Dat Cajun Popsicle talk for exactly," Zipper explained. "My best friends are Emmy, Enny, Jules and Julie. We're the Popsicle Patrol of Clan Short. You get a choice, Unca Maxie. You can be on the Popsicle Patrol with us littler kids, or you can do the regular Clan stuff with the bigger kids of the IFS division."
"What about Marty? Does he get to choose too?" Maxie inquired immediately.
"Unca Marty is a big kid, he'll be regular division," Zipper answered. "I know you want to stay with him all the time, but don't make a decision until you after you've been with the division for a little bit. You're going to have so many big brothers and little brothers and cousins and all sorts of family, even some girls. You might decide you like hanging out more with us little kids to get a break from their stuff. Besides, the Popsicle Patrol gets to spend more time with our gator friends so that will mean more time with Candy too."
"Gators? Like real live alligators?" Marty asked with a gulp. "You weren't kidding about those?"
"I wasn't kidding, real live gators," Zipper confirmed.
"What are we waiting for? I want to meet some gators," Maxie squealed excitedly.
"Ok everyone, let's go to Archnania and meet Grandpa Casey and Granddaddy Jasey first," Zipper called out and everyone except the old man disappeared. A mere second later, Zipper reappeared with Mitch and Casey. They were all in their robes as Time Wizards. "We all wanted to come back and say goodbye to you, Grandfather," Zipper said solemnly.
"It is good to see you all one more time in this phase of my existence," Tarien said with a smile. "Thank you all for taking care of Candy for me. I really didn't want to leave him here in the forest with no one ever coming back to check on him."
"Now that we know him, I can't imagine any of us ever leaving him, Grandfather," Casey said softly. "I wish I had known him when I first came here. If I had met him, I probably would not have made the mistake of trying to eat the dragon fruit myself."
"Not your smartest idea ever, Dad," Mitch responded with a bit of a laugh. "I really should have told you more about the place before just dumping you here though," he confessed with a bit of blush.
"Or at least fed me before you did, Mitchy, an old man needs snackage you know," Casey teased his son. "All's well now though, thanks to you and Zippy."
"Mostly Zip, but yeah, I'm really happy the way things have turned out," Mitch said with a smile. He walked over and hugged Tarien tightly. "I will miss you, Grandfather. I didn't spend nearly as much time getting along with you as I should have. I'm sorry."
"We are timeless beings, Mitchell," Tarien smiled as he returned the embrace. "Just because I won't be able to access this plane of existence anymore after this point, there is nothing stopping you boys from going back and visiting the tower from time to time," he added with a snort at his play on words.
"Grandfather, that was definitely a Dad joke," Casey groaned. Zipper and Mitch both laughed though.
"You have made me proud to have started our race, my boys," Tarien said as he hugged each boy in turn and kissed their foreheads lovingly. "Remember me, and your ancestors. Learn from our mistakes as well as your own. Do not grieve for me. I died long, long ago, remember? I now get to move to the next level of existence where I will be with my Ker, and my parents once again. I will even get to meet those kin that I heard so much about growing up. We will all be watching over you. Humans aren't the only beings that get to become guardian angels you know. And just think, I've already got several hundred years practice at it." Tarien waved as he disappeared from view and existence on all but the higher plane that only those in the Afterlife can reach.
"I am very grateful to be one of the very few of our family line to have actually met and talked with him," Casey sighed as they stared at the spot their ancestor had disappeared from a moment earlier.
"That's for sure," Mitch agreed. "I do feel a little better about the fact that it was my grandfather correcting me instead of a building playing jokes on me while I stayed there for my quests." As he spoke, the stone arch doorway that would have led them back into the Time Tower crumbled into rubble.
"Wait, what…? How will we access the tower in the future if it just fell apart?" Casey blurted.
"Now that we all have our full powers, we really don't need the tower, do we?" Mitch mused. "If I'm not mistaken the tower was only ever there to serve as the focal point of our family powers. Zipper, as the family patriarch fills that role now, even if he is still a little snot."
"I am not a snot," Zipper whined. "Grandpa tell Uncle Mitchy I'm not a snot."
"Don't call your nephew names, son. It makes you look immature," Casey droned. "Besides, he's right. He's not a snot; he's a cuddle monkey."
"I can live with that," Zipper grinned as he leech hugged Casey's legs until the teen picked him up and gave him a kiss on the tip of his nose.
"He's also our little boss, Dad," Mitch laughed. "I only tease him a little. I never mean anything by it."
"I know, Uncle Mitchy. I love you, too," Zipper told him as he switched over to Mitch's arms for a snuggle. "I do wish I had gotten to know Grandfather Tarien better. I think it will be cool to go back and visit sometimes," Zipper told them. "I never got to stay and do a quest like you guys did."
"You had a much bigger quest that you did where you were, little one," Casey told him as he picked the small boy back up and cuddled him again. "You saved the whole family from my stupidity and selfishness. We, none of us, would be here if not for you."
"Hey, how about we go back to the future and play with some of Candy and Clothilde's grandkids?" Mitch suggested.
"That does sound fun," Casey agreed. "Let's go home boys."