When Ford asserted that Bill Cipher could be banished, permanently, Dipper believed him.
"There's no other option," Ford said solemnly, as the two sat in his private study. "Bill will do anything to get that rift. After dismantling the portal, I began work on a ritual that will prevent him from accessing the mindscape – forever."
"Even if someone summons him?" Dipper murmured in awe.
"Especially if someone summons him."
"How did you figure out something that powerful?"
"Dipper, I've come across plenty of forbidden knowledge in the past thirty years. What matters is that we can now use that knowledge against Bill." Ford pushed journal 3 towards Dipper, pointing at the open page. On that page was sketched an elaborate circle. Writing, jaggedly scrawled in Latin, formed the outside perimeter; a huge triangle took up the center, with three additional circles enclosed within it. Extra symbols, shapes and blurred Latin words fully adorned the complex design.
Dipper's jaw dropped. "This is amazing! How did you figure this out? Do we know it works? What exactly does it do? How does it-"
Ford laughed. "I'm certain this will defeat him, if we use it in conjunction with the incantation I have prepared. The circle has three purposes, each which will be utilized systematically." Shifting his finger over the page to point at different parts of the circle, he recited, "Summon. Bind. Banish."
"When can we start? What can I do?" asked Dipper; both thrilled to participate in a ritual this impressive, and also itching to get Bill Cipher out of this realm for good. Maybe with Bill Cipher finally gone, Dipper could stop being so terrified of puppets, sleeping, and the demon himself, for starters.
Ford sighed heavily and pulled the journal back to himself. "Dipper, this is an incredibly dangerous ritual. If it were up to me, I would have no one else involved. I summoned Bill back to this world, and the responsibility is on me to banish him."
"What? But I can help you!"
"Unfortunately, you will have to help me…."
Ford went on to explain that a minimum of three people was necessary for the ritual to work. Each of the circles outside of the main design were "safety zones" where the summoners must stand in order to remain safe from Bill's power. Each would have to recite a portion of the ritual on their own.
Together, Ford and Dipper cleared the basement of any remaining debris from the portal, which Ford had by now entirely deconstructed. Ford took it upon himself to draw the sigils with chalk, but relented and allowed Dipper to draw out his own protective circle (albeit under careful scrutiny).
"It's going to be really dangerous," Dipper disclosed to Mabel later that afternoon. "But, Ford said I could handle it." Dipper puffed out his chest.
"Woo! I'll give you moral support! I'll wear my lucky sweater and everything."
Dipper did a double take. "What? Mabel, no, you're gonna stay out of the basement."
"Out of the basement?" Mabel's smile faltered.
"It's too dangerous. Ford didn't even want me to be a part of it at first. But he needs three people, and –"
Mabel socked Dipper hard in the arm, pulling her most pouty face of all pouty faces ever. "You seriously want to stop me from coming with you?"
"Yes! What if you got hurt?"
"You don't even know what's dangerous about it, do you?"
Dipper stuck out his bottom lip. "Of course I know."
"You don't knowww," she sang, poking his cheek.
"F-Fine! Ford didn't tell me that. But we're summoning Bill. I don't need to know beyond that."
"And I'm gonna stick with you."
"There's only three shielding circles, Mabel. For three people."
"Then I'll stand in the dumb circle with you. You're not doing this alone."
In the end, it was impossible to argue with her. Dipper had to accept his sister was going to be by his side when they summoned Bill Cipher. Honestly, in the deepest part of his heart, he was relieved. Encountering the dream demon again face-to-face was a scary enough concept. Mabel's presence would be very reassuring - even if Dipper wouldn't readily admit that.
Meanwhile, Ford had to fill Stan in about all the details – as well as provide a sketchy and partly inaccurate description of his past with Bill. After all, Stan would have to take part in this ritual as well, no matter how much he might want to avoid the supernatural.
Stan took the news about Bill reasonably well. He almost flipped the table after learning about the whole sock opera incident, yelled at Ford for a solid five minutes for not warning him about Bill, and then heatedly protested the twins' involvement in the banishment.
But, all things considered, it could have been worse.
Luckily, Ford pointed out that no one else had the same paranormal experience as Dipper and Mabel, and no matter which way they played it, the ritual couldn't be performed without at least three individuals.
"The sooner we act, the less we have to worry about," Ford muttered he entered the elevator; Stan, Mabel, and Dipper followed close behind him. "If we wait, there's a chance Bill will discover our plans and work to take them apart before we can banish him."
"Still can't believe you didn't tell me about this demon crap before, Poindexter," Stan grumbled.
"The less people that knew, the better off I was," Ford said firmly.
"I could have helped you!"
"And now you are."
They filtered into the basement, where Ford already had the circles and candles set up appropriately.
Ford pushed several sheets of paper into Dipper and Stan's hands. "I printed out the incantation. Stan and I will speak first; Dipper, follow along and recite the final lines."
"Whoa, no test run or anything?" Stan said nervously. "This is in a different language!"
Ford shook his head. "It's Latin. If we had the time, I'd teach you the language, or at least let you practice these lines. But the moment we start speaking them, Bill will know what we're up to. He must be trapped before that. You'll do fine."
As he wandered into his protective circle with Mabel, Dipper's curiosity got the better of him and he studied the page intently. His brow furrowed. Wait a minute… there was something odd about this verbiage. Over his time in Gravity Falls, Dipper had familiarized himself with the Latin language, as it was often used in spells. He did not know enough to speak fluently, but he could certainly recognize a good range of vocabulary. And the words he was seeing on this page….
Mabel touched his arm. "Dipper…?"
The furrow in his brow deepened. "This isn't a spell to banish Bill."
"What do you mean?"
"Th-this Latin, this isn't for banishment." Dipper wildly slung his glance up and met Ford's eyes. "This is a spell for killing."
"K-killing?" Mabel grabbed the sheet and studied it, as if she'd have the experience to know what she was even looking at.
"Now Dipper," Ford said solemnly, "There is no other choice. We must end Bill's dominion over the mindscape."
"You lied to me," gasped Dipper. "You said we were just going to banish him, not – not kill him!"
"This is Bill Cipher we're talking about. No spell in all of the multiverse can banish him permanently. Nothing but this."
"This isn't banishment; it's murder!"
"Dipper!" Ford's eyes had fiercely narrowed; his entire body radiated sternness. "Are you with me, or are you not? Don't forget who Bill Cipher is."
Dipper gaped, resolve faltering. Then his expression hardened. Bill Cipher wasn't human. He was a monster, and he had betrayed Dipper, Ford, and who knows how many other people. They had to stop him before he could get his hands on the rift. If Ford said there was no other way, then there was no other way.
"I'm with you," Dipper stated firmly. He would prove he could be useful, even for something as serious as this.
Mabel tugged his sleeve and whispered, "Dipper, we can't kill someone."
"Triangulum, entangulum. Vene foris dominus mentium–" Ford began.
"He isn't someone, Mabel. He's Bill Cipher."
"Vene foris videntis omnium!"
Mabel opened her mouth to protest, but a flash of blue-white light interrupted her.
"Hey, would you look at that!" Bill's high-pitched laugh filled the room. "It's Sixer, Fez, Shooting Star and Pine Tree! Aw, I feel so special; you're throwing a party just for me! Don't forget the severed heads; every party needs severed heads!" Radiating a gleeful yellow, Bill kicked up his feet while a storm of severed heads rained down from the ceiling. Mabel and Dipper clutched tightly to each other in horror – but thankfully, the heads did not seem to be able to penetrate through the shielding circle.
"Hunc dominum mentium non mortalem huic loco alligo." Ford rattled off quickly.
"Wow, that's cold, Sixer!" All the severed heads disappeared. Bill lifted up his hands and a pair of blue handcuffs materialized around his thin wrists. "Didn't you know you liked it this way!"
"Everything ends today," Ford snapped out. "We're going to defeat you, once and for all."
"Really, I thought you were supposed to be the smart one. I'm immortal! This dumb ritual of yours is never going to work!"
"Being immortal just means no one has figured out how to kill you yet," growled Ford.
"Take it from me," laughed Bill, "no one ever does!"
Ignoring the jibes, Ford lowered his head and began to read onward. The Latin became a consistent litany in the background, rising and falling with Ford's voice.
"Very professional!" Bill tilted to the side and investigated the summoning and binding circles. "You sure worked hard on this one. Too bad it won't work! I'm a being of pure energy with n-"
His loud voice cut off so suddenly that Dipper flinched. Bill's eye twitched.
Ford read onward, undisturbed, head bowed over the paper as if determined to not look at Bill.
Dipper could understand. From his whole puppet ordeal, he found it pretty hard to be in the same room as Bill without cowering – an instinct he fiercely resisted.
But Bill's eye was slowly twisting into a deep red, his fists clenching. Dipper recoiled; Mabel wrapped her arms around him and Dipper felt waves of relief that she'd decided to come with him.
"Crafty, Sixer, real crafty," Bill spoke again, his voice low and sharp. "Maybe you're smarter than I gave you credit for. Ohoho… this is gonna be so unpleasant for everyone!"
Bill began whizzing around the summoning circle, examining every sigil, every line, every mark. He let out a whistling sound. "Whoo-eeeh! You're pretty thorough, IQ!" His eye flicked left and right uneasily. "No way I can make a deal to get outta this, is there? Pine Tree? Shooting Star?"
"Hah, fat chance," Dipper spat, emboldened by the presence of Mabel at his side.
"Haha, wow…. This kind of pain is about to be really not fun. You're making a big, big mistake, Sixer!"
"Threats aren't going to stop us," Dipper ground out.
"Oh, I know nothing will stop you!" Bill laughed harshly. His eye was wide and beginning to tremble. "Wow, this ritual is really starting to- kghhh! Wooww, those words'll leave a mark! Come on IQ, you really wanna do this to me?"
Ford's voice faded away, and Stan's picked up where he had left off. Bill's distress was visibly compounding. After exhausting his mad rush around the devil's trap, the dream demon hung in the middle, his body twitching and jolting unnaturally. He had turned to face Ford directly, despite Stan reading now; as if locking onto a target, picking his victim.
But he said nothing, for once. His eye was jittering in its socket; his fingers clenched and unclenched, his yellow glow wavered and trembled – Dipper tried to not look because when he did all he could think of was some helpless abused animal, tormented into submission.
Dipper forced himself to stare at the floor. Bill Cipher did not deserve pity. He didn't deserve sympathy.
Dipper could no longer see, but he certainly could still hear.
Strangled gasps, choked off as if Bill was trying to hold back the pitiful sounds. They escalated into these tiny pitiful squeaks that – heaven curse him – Dipper cringed at. It was like a kitten crunched beneath a merciless boot.
A demon like Bill shouldn't be able to make that sound.
What made it worse was that Bill wasn't playing up the pain, acting like it was so much worse than it was. Just the opposite. He appeared to be making a tremendous effort to not let it show.
"Stupid Pine Tree," the demon suddenly spat, and Dipper wrenched his head up, "I'm trying to brace myself for – khhhh."
His triangular form was outright shuddering, curling into itself, his tiny black hands clutching where ears might have been if he were human. Sickly oozing black cracks appeared in his brick patterning, like chapped skin breaking and bleeding.
The little squeaking whimpers came with an increased frequency, higher and higher pitched, as if he was trying to muffle them but unable to stop them.
"D-Dipper…" Mabel clutched Dipper's arm. "I-it's torturing him, they're torturing him, we can't –"
"He's Bill," Dipper uttered, but he too was fixed in place, horrified, unsure of what he was saying. Yeah, he was Bill, but… did anyone deserve this?
"M-make it s-stop." Mabel gripped Dipper's arm so tightly that it hurt, but Dipper barely noticed.
Mabel was right. It was torture. Not banishment, not even murder, which was bad enough.
Dipper swung his gaze over to Ford, and to his horror found a pleased satisfaction burning in Ford's eyes. "Stop!" Dipper howled across the room. "Stop, we're – this isn't right!"
"Stay where you are!" screamed Ford, fury flashing in his eyes as they flitted to Dipper. "We have no choice! He needs to be killed!"
"….in lacum tui sanguine oculo eruto…" continued Stan undisturbed.
Bill erupted into howls possessed by a horrific feat of vocalization; Dipper discerned at least three distinct pitches to his scream.
His body bent backward and his arms splayed to each side, revealing all the damage in gruesome detail. Globs of black blood dribbled down Bill's form and splattered to the floor. Dipper recoiled. His single eye was boiling.
"Dipper! Read!" Stan and Ford were suddenly screeching from the other end of the room, and with a wallop to his gut, Dipper realized it was his turn. The last of the terrible triumvirate, the last to assemble his words against Bill and tear the demon apart.
Faltering, Dipper bowed his head and stared at the pages through tears. The words struggled to rise in his throat.
"Just finish it, Pine Tree!" Bill shrieked, tearing at his own body with his claws.
His throat opened, then the words were spilling out – but as they poured forth, it felt like something else was slithering down; that something was oozing into his fingertips from the paper, crawling up his arms and snaring around his heart; Dipper staggered, his words broke. What was happening…? Was this supposed to happen? The longer he read, the worst he felt, until he was barely getting the words out at all, and the sickness was blossoming heavy and dark in his chest; something slimy and thick and wrong and –
"Read it," snarled Bill, or something that barely resembled Bill anymore: a blackened rotting mess dripping in the middle of the room, eye torn and freely bleeding. And then his voice was in his head, read-it-read-it-get-it-over-with!
"Mabel!" Ford screamed from across the room. "He's trying to possess Dipper as a means to escape!"
Dipper's expression screwed up in confusion. No, Bill wasn't trying to do that; he was urging him to read-
"What do I do?" screeched Mabel.
"Um – um-" Ford looked wildly left and right.
"Get out of my brother, you evil triangle!" Wham, her hand smacked over his head.
Cringing, Dipper flinched away, "Mabel, that's me, don't –"
"Mabel!" yelled Ford. "Take the pages – you have to finish reading!"
Mabel snatched the papers from Dipper's lax fingers and scanned to find the right place.
As her faltering lips completed the ritual, Dipper knew something had to have gone wrong. Because at the very last minute, it wasn't screams he heard from Bill – but laughter.
And then there was nothing.
The wind settled and the basement quieted. Stan and Ford stood, panting, in their respective circles. Mabel stood alone in hers.
Dipper was gone.
Dipper was not there when Mabel reeled around to confront Ford, nor when she screamed, "What did he do to my brother?" and he wasn't there when she clutched Ford's coat and cried and raged and howled, "Bring him back, bring him back right now!"
Dipper missed Stan dragging Mabel away; he missed Ford announcing that the ritual had worked to kill Bill Cipher, but that he did not know what happened to Mabel's twin.
Dipper missed the following evening, after Mabel had curled up in a crying mess on her bed, when Stan growled in low, merciless tones to his own twin about how much he hated Ford, how much he couldn't believe that he'd dragged Dipper into the very same dangers Ford so recklessly put himself into.
Dipper missed Ford promising to bring him back, to figure out what had gone wrong. To rectify everything. Then Ford coming back down to the basement, collapsing, and crying alone. Clutching and hating himself.
He didn't see the Shack silent in ways it had not known for thirty years, or Mabel silent in ways she had never known. He didn't see her standing listlessly at four in the morning, staring out of the kitchen windows at the woods, and wondering if she'd ever see her brother again.
No, Dipper wasn't there for any of that.
But he did wake up, exactly one week later, hovering over the circle that was once made to shield him from Bill Cipher.
He didn't feel anything. He didn't remember the week passing.
His eyes simply opened to an empty room, amidst smudged chalk lines and floating dust specks. He couldn't feel the damp air against his skin, or the concrete beneath his feet; only by glancing down did he realize he wasn't touching the ground at all.
Two floors up, Mabel heard his scream.
She rushed to the vending machine, ignoring Stan's concerned look, and bolted down into the basement.
She saw Dipper, just as she'd always remembered - the mess of brown hair he never brushed, his puzzled brown eyes, his rumpled clothes. He was, also, hovering a few inches above the floor.
But love wasn't conditional. It wouldn't matter if Dipper had sprouted ten heads or started spewing gibberish. That was her brother, floating there, and it didn't take her a mere second of thought before she was lunging into his arms and wrapping her own around him.
"M-Mabel," Dipper whimpered, hugging her back instinctively. "Wh-what's happening?"
"You're back," Mabel breathed. "I missed you so much, bro-bro - never scare me like that again!"
"I-I'm floating, Mabel – I'm floating, am I dead? Is this what death is like?"
Smiling through tears, Mabel stepped back and said happily, "it doesn't matter! You're back!"
"Mabel, what's happening? What are we gonna do? Wh-what are we gonna tell Stan? Ford? Wendy? Soos?" Dipper paled. "Our parents? Ohhh gosh." He hunched over and realized that yes, his gag reflex seemed perfectly functional despite the fact he appeared to be dead.
He dry heaved, while Mabel rushed over and patted his back. "Relax Dip-dop! We'll get it all figured out. You know what matters the most?"
"I'm gonna throw up."
"Not that, silly. It matters that you're back, bro-bro." With that, she gathered him into her arms, weird floating ghost body and all, and pressed her cheek to his.
In all truth, the sensation of her hugging him was faint. Like breath against his flesh. A hug meant to reassure only brought him more devastation. Was this going to be his life now? A void from sensation? Never truly feeling?
But Mabel was crying.
Dipper wasn't sure when it started, but she was crying. She was smiling the happiest smile he'd ever seen on her – which was saying a lot – and crying while she clung to him.
That's when Dipper knew he couldn't dwell on whatever future he was now faced with. That's when he wrapped his arms around her, unsure if she could really feel him or not, and hugged her tightly back. Because that's what he did, as the little brother. Even if only by five minutes. He looked after Mabel.
"I'm really happy you're back," Mabel whispered against his shoulder.
"I'd never leave you," Dipper said, and knew it was the truth. They were the Mystery Twins. They were inseparable. There was not one without the other.
"Hey Dipper, guess what?" Mabel said, pulling away and wiping at her eyes.
"Sympathy!" She yelled and tapped the top of his head before bolting in the other direction.
"Hey!" Dipper zoomed after her. "You can't just give me sympathy like that!"
"I'll give you all the sympathy I want!" Laughing maniacally, Mabel raced around the lab wildly, scattering papers and books in the process.
Now, Dipper simply flew right through all the obstacles and slapped his hand over her head. "Sympathy you!"
"Nooo!" Mabel howled. "I'll give you more sympathy!" She reeled around and began patting his head repeatedly, chanting, "sympathy, sympathy, sympathy!"
"Oh, you got me," chuckled Dipper, and the two degenerated into a giggling mess of the floor, somewhere between wrestling and excessive head-patting.
"Mabel?" a very careful voice interrupted.
The twins froze.
Stan stood in the doorway, his eyes beyond wary. "Mabel, what are you doing?"
Mabel sat up, confused. "Can't you see him?"
"See who?" Stan's tone made it exceedingly clear what he thought of her mental state at the moment.
"Well, Dipper, duh!" Mabel gestured to her left, where Dipper hovered a few inches above the floor, terrified. He was staring straight at Stan and his Grunkle didn't see him.
Stan's eyes shifted slightly to Dipper's left, then back to Mabel. "Mabel, sweetie, Dipper is…." But he couldn't finish.
"Well, we thought he might be, but it turns out –" Mabel paused. "Well okay, maybe he did. But he's a ghost now! Really!"
"I don't understand," Dipper said, "why can you see me, but Stan can't?"
"Maybe it's a weird twin thing," Mabel shrugged.
Stan frowned. "Are you speaking to him right now?"
"Yeah! It's rude to ignore people!"
"Mabel…" Stan looked so utterly broken and lost. "Your brother's gone."
"No, he's not!"
Stan shuddered. "Look kid, how about we just get you into bed?"
"No, Grunkle Stan, I'm serious! He's really here!"
Stan covered his face with his hand. "Don't. Just… don't. Bed. Now."
Mabel wilted on the spot. "B-But, Grunkle-"
Huffing, Mabel turned and stormed up the stairs.
"He's just worried," Dipper tried to convince Mabel as she brushed her hair furiously. "He's probably not ready to hear it yet."
"I don't care," Mabel sniffled, yanking out a clump of hair accidentally. "I thought he would trust me."
"Ford'll come back and convince him. He might even find a way to make me visible!"
"You really think so?"
"Of course! Ford will work everything out."
Mabel finished brushing her hair and then curled up in bed glumly. "Do you think Ford could find a way to bring you back?"
"I… I don't think ghosts work that way." Dipper surveyed his own hands thoughtfully. He could see Mabel and their bedroom through his hands. Hovering, transparency…
Without a vessel to possess, you're basically a ghost!
He shuddered at the memory. Now he knew what it was like to really be a ghost.
That night, Dipper learned that ghosts don't sleep.
It's not something he'd ever thought about – what it was like, to be dead. Sure, he may have predicted no eating, because no corporeal body. But sleeping…. That seemed like such an integral, unavoidable part of being not just human but also being….
Well, alive, he guessed.
That night, he wished Mabel a good night, and drifted over to his own bed, only to belatedly realized that he didn't feel exhausted. He felt… wired, if anything. Like impatient electricity was crackling along his invisible veins rather than blood; like flesh had been replaced by pure energy.
I'm a being of pure energy with no weakness!
Dipper shuddered at the echoed words.
Bill must never have slept either, being a dream demon.
Dipper stared at his bed. He remembered the soft feel of sheets as he snuggled up into them. He remembered the gentle spring of his mattress, and the cool side of his pillow just after flipping it.
He splayed his fingers over the hand on the journal. Reading the journal would give him some sense of normalcy in this mess. Some solace.
But reading the journal was out of his reach, too. He could touch or move nothing in the corporeal world.
And…. As a ghost, he lived essentially forever, didn't he? An eternity, of this…
Dipper's brow furrowed. Some ghosts had been able to manipulate objects – particularly those malicious. Yet he couldn't. Maybe he was a low-ranking ghost.
Glumly, Dipper hovered over his bed and prepared himself for a long, long night.