Ain't No Cure for the Cervitaur Blues
A Gravity Falls Fanfic
by Krista Perry
I own nothing.
In Which We Reach the Climax of the Tale
Bill decided that, as far as meat sacks went, vampires were actually a step down from humans. Living human flesh felt so many things, from barely noticeable air pressure to the exquisite agony that came with piercing said flesh with a multitude of sharp objects, or breaking bones and tearing at the insides.
Vampires, on the other hand, barely had any pain receptors in their undead meat. He had discovered this when he had experimentally snapped all the fingers in Gideon's left hand. There was, disappointingly, little pain. Gideon's reaction, however, had been priceless.
Gideon's disembodied soul was still dutifully floating after him when he had bent the pinky finger back until it broke, and the kid had cringed so violently, he sent himself spinning backward end over end. "What are you… did you just break my finger?"
"Sure did!" Bill said, and looked Gideon right in the eye as he grinned and snapped the ring finger at the mid-knuckle joint.
It was difficult for a spirit to look like he was ready to puke, but somehow Gideon managed it. "Could you please… not do that?" he asked weakly.
Bill responded by snapping the fingertip bone of the middle finger. "No wonder you made such a lousy vampire, kid! This doesn't even really hurt! Not to mention, this will heal up in no time! How do you expect to live forever if a little thing like this makes you lose your nerve?"
And there it was again. That brief, guilty look on Gideon's face that spoke of treachery. A look that said he had no desire whatsoever to reclaim his undead meat sack.
Oh well! Gideon could have provided an entertaining diversion in Weirdmageddon, but if the kid couldn't hack it, he could stay trapped in the mindscape forever. It was no skin off his nose!
Skin off his nose! Bill looked cross-eyed at the upturned piggy nose, and considered digging in his claws and ripping it off to turn the metaphor into reality… but, ugh, if Gideon was really going to trail after him while he enslaved Gravity Falls, he could do without the whining that would cause. Normally the sounds of human suffering were sweet, sweet music, but that was when there was actual human suffering involved. Gideon's disembodied groans and whimpers over trivialities hardly qualified.
The first stop on the enslavement tour was the Northwest Mansion, of course. It was at the far east outskirts of Gravity Falls, opposite the Mystery Shack, and he wanted to make sure that everyone there – especially Preston, the pretentious twit – made it to the Shack in time to witness his ultimate victory. He was disappointed in the lackluster resistance the household offered. Not only was he able to get a servant to invite him in, giving him full access to everyone inside, but the only person who put up even a little bit of a fight was Llama Girl, and she was quickly disarmed of her holy water squirt gun by her own hypnotized mother.
After that, the rest of the conquest went quickly. It was painfully easy to get the attention the people sleeping in their homes. A knock on the door or a tap on the window, and the suckers all ended up looking him right in the eyes.
The town was dark, save for the few street lamps. The crescent moon had set, deepening the darkness, but the sky was clear, and Bill could feel stars staring down at him. No doubt blazing in fear, knowing that they would not escape the scope of Weirdmageddon, once he finally got his party started.
And that stupid creature who was calling herself Mother of the Wood these days. He was really looking forward to seeing her crumble before him when he took a big bite out this world, right down to its molten core. All the gods and creatures of power in this dimension, from this tiny planet to the outer reaches of the universe, were miniscule, less than amoebas when compared to what he would become when he ripped the veil into his realm of madness.
As for this vampire body, well, if Gideon didn't want it back, he'd just destroy it with a snap of his fingers. Sure, it was useful now. The shadow was particularly handy, and he wrapped it around himself like a shield – something Gideon could have done to prevent himself from being skewered by a dryad if only he had been clever and strong enough. Bill could even use the shadow to make himself utterly invisible if he wanted. He could prevent sound and scent from escaping his personal darkness, making him completely untraceable. Even woodland creatures or entities with enhanced senses couldn't detect him if he didn't want them to, making them easy prey.
He was certainly making more efficient use of the shadow than any earthly vampire had ever managed, but that's because they were stupid. The oldest of them was just a mere few thousand years old. He was older than this dimension itself. Yes, it was true that vampires drew on the powers of darkness, which came from the deep places under the earth and the void between the stars, blah blah blah. They still had to feed on blood to keep their dead flesh from withering away, and in the end, they just weren't powerful enough to matter.
Vampires, overall, were boring and simplistic. And as long as he was in a vampire meat bag, he was as restricted as they were. Sure, he could create an army of thralls and give them simple instructions like "Go to the Mystery Shack and tear it apart piece by piece until you find the rift," and "Subdue and capture any inhabitants." But finer control of his slaves was frustratingly limited. He could see through the eyes of any of his slaves and control them like a remote puppet, but he could only do it with one person at a time.
The only thing that being in this vampire body did for him was make him all the more eager to finally get access to his real power.
As Bill worked his way through the town, it did not escape his notice that Gideon kept disappearing for a few minutes every now and then. More than once, he caught the kid slipping out of a house he hadn't conquered yet, looking despondent and depressed. Bill frowned. Were he in the mindscape, or scrying from the roiling madness of his decaying dimension, he'd know exactly what the idiot was up to. In his current state, he could only guess.
Fortunately, he was very good at guessing. Millenia of watching pathetic humans go about their daily lives had ensured that. And he had watched this particular brat for a long time.
"So, Gideon!" he said, when the kid had returned from one particularly unsubtle disappearance. "Where do you keep running off to?"
Gideon's eyes darted about. "Uh… nowhere, Bill. Just… um, looking around, you know. Exploring." He tapped his pointer fingers together nervously.
"Really!" Bill sneered. "Because it looked to me like you were trying to get ahead of me and, oh, I don't know, warn some people I was headed their direction!"
Bill was almost impressed at how good Gideon was at covering his panic with a cheerful façade. "What? No, no, of course not! Why would I try and do that? I mean, it's not like anyone can see me… or hear me…"
"No matter how loud you scream in their ears?" Bill laughed, long and loud at the stricken look on Gideon's face. "Oh, kid, you crack me up! I hate to break it to you, but it's a bit late for you to try and be a hero!"
Gideon frowned and looked away. "I'm no hero," he said glumly.
"You can say that again!" Oh, this kid was a riot. Maybe he'd keep him around for the party once he got the rift, if only to make him squirm.
"Does… does it hurt them when you hypnotize them?" Gideon asked tentatively.
Bill rolled his eyes. "You're seriously worried about that? Relax! Mind control is perfectly painless!" Before Gideon could look too relieved, he continued. "Of course, once they are under my control, they are trapped in their own heads, helpless and fully aware while they carry out my commands!"
Gideon gave him a startled look. "Fully aware?"
"That's right!" Bill grinned like a shark. "And boy, are they entertaining! Some of them sulk, some of them cry, some of them scream, all within the confines of their own heads! Be glad you can't hear them! It's a madhouse!"
Gideon shuddered, almost imperceptibly, and Bill laughed darkly. "Look, kid, there's only one winner in this scenario, and you're staring at him! Now is not a good time to start feeling regret! Stick with me, embrace your bad side and reap the benefits, or join the other losers!" Bill flew right up into Gideon's face and looked him in the eyes. "Time to choose!"
Gideon looked back at him and managed to force a smile that almost looked genuine. "I'm with you, Bill."
Bill wasn't fooled, but he had to give credit to the kid for the effort. "Good choice!" he said, backing off. "Now, keep up!"
Gideon stuck with him after that, silent and watchful. Soon the narrow streets of the town were filled with useful idiots, all headed for the Mystery Shack.
Bill was still tracking down the last few living residents when the first group of townsfolk reached the Shack. He felt them arrive at their destination, a vague sense of partial success at carrying out his orders drifting through his link with them.
Curious, he took direct control of Manly Dan Corduroy, who was trailing at the end of the first group, followed by his three equally-enslaved young sons. Manly Dan was raging within his head, furious beyond all reason at being so completely hijacked, cursing Bill with surprising creativity.
Bill just laughed at him. "Hey, if you don't like it, big guy, I can always hop into one of your boys!"
Manly Dan fell silent, seething with anger. Bill relished the emotion, letting it wash through him. There was something delightfully twisted about possessing Gideon's body, then using its vampiric power to possess someone else. Bonus possession!
Actually, it was more like remote control, but hey, technicalities. And this was one technicality he intended to exploit to its fullest.
Bill headed straight for the Shack, passing the other slaves with great strides, then stopped just outside the barrier. Then, with great theatricality, he stepped across it. No interdimensional demonic power here, he thought. Just a lowly vampire doing vampire things. Grinning wide and wild, he walked into the Gift Shop.
Unsurprisingly, the Gift Shop was full of junk – and not just the merchandise. Huge pieces of metal from the dismantled portal blocked the way to the basement stairs, along with old furniture, cinder blocks, chunks of concrete, a toilet and a washing machine, old tires, the Pitt Cola machine, the ice cooler, with firewood and other smaller pieces of junk to fill in the cracks. It was one massive blockade, and ol' Sixer couldn't have spelled out I'm hiding out in the basement with the rift any clearer.
Satisfied, he snapped back to himself, his body hovering above the town square. He sent out another mass command - simple instructions for his thralls: "Clear the barrier in the Gift Shop. Reach the stairs. Get into the basement. Capture Ford and his companions. Find the rift."
Gideon was hovering in the air next to him, staring.
"What?" he asked.
"N-nothing," Gideon stammered, looking away. "Just… you kind of went all quiet and still there for a minute."
"Just taking care of some business, kid. Nothing for you to worry about."
"Oh." Gideon didn't look convinced. "Okay, then."
Gideon didn't say much after that, as Bill worked on getting the rest of the townsfolk out of bed and off to do his bidding, but he kept giving Bill puzzled glances, as if wanting to ask some questions.
Bill ignored him. He was too close to complete victory to worry about whatever was on Gideon's mind at the moment.
Then, just when Bill thought the night couldn't get any better, he tracked down Blubs and Durland, sitting in their patrol car at their usual speed trap. Durland was on the phone, and Bill dropped down to the roof of the car to eavesdrop. And who should the dippy deputy be talking to but Amy and Aaron Pines, who had called the police because they were concerned about the welfare of their children!
Oh, this was perfect! There was no way he was going to pass up this opportunity. After sending the two idiot police officers on their way, he picked up the phone and had a nice little chat with the Pines parents. The pure panic and terror in their voices was just hilarious! And just to make sure they knew exactly who they were dealing with, he sent a little pulse of his demonic energy through the connection. Ha! That would bring them running for sure! And with the party he had planned, well. The more the merrier!
Everything was going perfectly. Not bad, considering the evening had started out with Sixer escaping his clutches and ruining his careful plan. But he was nothing if not adaptable.
And it seemed that his adaptability needed to come into play again because, not long after talking to their parents, who should come bursting out of the forest and start freeing his slaves from his control but Pine Tree and Shooting Star themselves.
Physically, Bill was still in town, but he felt the disturbance as, one after another, he lost his link to several of his slaves. Irritated, he projected into the person closest to the disruption - Thompson, one of Red's stupid friends who was curled up and whimpering in his head - and watched through the kid's eyes as the rescue attempt went down.
And, for the first time in eons, he found himself completely stunned as he watched the twins, because in all the scenarios he had predicted where Shooting Star and Pine Tree returned to the Shack, none of them included Pine Tree looking like that.
I… was not expecting this.
So rare was the occasion that Bill was left completely at a loss, he allowed himself a few moments to appreciate the sensation.
Then he decided he didn't like that sensation at all, and mentally shoved it away.
Well, well, well. He was impressed in spite of himself. Somehow, that wretched Woman had… well, not broken an unbreakable curse, but at least cracked it somehow, because Pine Tree was now a hilarious mishmash of human and deer.
Oh. Oh, this was funny! Okay, so the kid obviously had all his brain functions back, but Bill couldn't find it in himself to care. Not when that Woman, in her effort to break the curse, had made things so much worse! Insecure, self-conscious Pine Tree was a complete freak! Aside from the fact that the kid was a fawn from the waist down, running around on four legs instead of two, he had long, furry ears, a little black deer nose, and antlers growing out of his skull. And Shooting Star was riding on his back like he was a beast of burden! Could it get any better?
Forget enslaving the rest of the townsfolk. He had to go see this in person.
Flipping his consciousness back to Gideon's body, he wrapped his shadow tightly around him – no reason to give Pine Tree and his little deer nose a heads-up to his presence – then sped toward the Shack with Gideon trailing silently behind him.
As he drew closer, however, he suddenly felt something so unexpected and out-of-place that he paused in mid-flight.
Power. It washed over him like a wave.
What is this?
Being taken completely by surprise two times in as many minutes might have made him angry, were this not such an intriguing development.
He could feel power coming from the area around the Shack. He could almost taste it, it was so strong. But he couldn't identify it, or pinpoint the source. He projected himself back into Thompson, and saw Pine Tree trotting around with Shooting Star on his back. (Okay, that would never not be hilarious.) And… Ah. There. The girl held some kind of talisman in her hand, and was using it to free his slaves from his mind control. Was that the source?
Interesting. Where had this talisman come from? Had that Woman given it to those kids in a futile effort to thwart him?
Jumping back to Gideon's body again, he started moving, slower – not with caution, but with curiosity. This power felt deliciously wild, chaotic and untamed. More important, this power felt like something new. When was the last time he had encountered something new on this miserable little mudball of a world? Or even this dimension?
He decided right then that he wanted it. It didn't even come close to the power he would have once the rift opened the pathway to his nightmare realm… but new power was interesting, exciting. He wanted to study it, take it apart and see what made it tick, and discover why he had never encountered it before.
Invisible within his shadow, he emerged from the trees into the Shack clearing and watched as Shooting Star freed the thralls that were digging into the Shack basement, touching each one with the talisman…
Bill's eyes narrowed, then widened as realization hit him.
The talisman wasn't the source of the power he felt.
Pine Tree was.
Well, Bill thought, a slow, sharp grin crawling over his face. Wasn't this just wonderful.
Just then, Gideon flew up to hover beside Bill, and his eyes bulged at the sight below him. "Oh my lord," he squeaked. "What in the world happened to Dipper?!"
"What indeed?" Bill said, his eyes gleaming. Then, sending instructions to a few of his thuggish thralls, he directed a coordinated attack against Pine Tree, and swooped down personally to pluck Shooting Star right off the kid's back, restraining her with his shadow.
Ford lowered the memory gun and looked at Wendy with concern as she raised one hand to press against her forehead.
"Are you alright?" he asked. Soos hadn't reacted at all when the memory gun had erased his memory of where the rift was hidden.
Wendy frowned. "I guess," she said. "I mean, I feel like I didn't forget anything important, but then how would I know?" She looked at the memory gun in his hands, her expression screwing up in distaste. "You're destroying that thing as soon as we're done, right? Because I can't say I'm thrilled that something that could wipe my mind is just kicking around down here."
Ford nodded. "I think that would be for the best, yes. But right now, I want you to think. Do you remember where we hid the rift?"
Wendy's brow furrowed for a moment, before she shook her head. "Not a clue. Man, that's freaky."
"Try not to worry about it," Ford said, then turned to Stanley, who stepped forward, rubbing the back of his neck.
"My turn, I guess," Stanley said. "Let's get this over with. Wendy's right, that thing gives me the creeps."
Ford raised the memory gun, pointed it at Stanley's head… and paused at the surprising twisting sensation in his chest.
It was a feeling he had grown familiar with over the past thirty years of traversing dimensions, and it usually involved doing some life-altering act, similar or near exact to something one of his parallel-dimension selves had done.
Some other-dimensional Ford had pointed a memory gun at Stanley's head, he realized. Why? Was it under these exact set of circumstances? He couldn't even begin to imagine any other reason he might have for erasing any part of Stanley's memory…
… unless it was one of those Fords who had been utterly consumed by madness and paranoia. What might one of those Fords have done to Stanley? He suppressed a shudder. Some things didn't even bear contemplation.
Or maybe a parallel Ford shot Stanley with the memory gun for a good reason, like the one they had now? But what if something went wrong? What if the gun malfunctioned and did irreparable damage to Stanley's mind? What if-
"Are we doing this, or are you just gonna keep staring at me?" Stanley said irritably, and Ford startled.
"Sorry," he said, double-checking the gun's settings to make sure it still read LOCATION OF THE RIFT.
Then he froze as he heard a loud click, the sudden hum of warming machinery, and the squeal of gears in need of oiling.
"Oh no," he said, just as Soos came running into the portal room.
"Dudes!" Soos said, his face pale. "The zombie townsfolk bypassed the basement circuit and got the elevator working! It's going up to get them right now!"
"Don't panic, Soos," Wendy said, and Ford noted that, though she seemed relaxed, she was in a fighting stance. "It's a small elevator. They can only come down a few at a time, and we can take them, probably even without hurting them too bad."
"Come on, Sixer," Stanley said, pulling Ford's attention away from the imminent invasion. "We're running out of time. Get the rift's location out of my head already."
Ford looked at him, stomach churning in apprehension. "What… what if you faked it, like I'm going to? I know you could pull it off, Stanley. Probably better than I can."
Stanley's eyes narrowed in suspicion, but before he could say anything, Wendy spoke up. "What's up with that, dude?" she said, glaring at him. "You didn't have any problem pulling the trigger on Soos and me, but you've got cold feet with Stan?"
"It's not that," Ford protested.
"It doesn't matter what it is," Stanley said firmly. "You gotta do this, Ford. Or did you miss the part where Wendy convinced Bill that I wasn't even here so that he wouldn't torture you to get the rift outta me?" Stanley folded his arms over his chest. "I'm not too proud to say I don't got the will power to keep silent while my family gets hurt. Now hurry up and shoot me with that thing before they get down here."
Ford lowered his eyes, looking at the memory gun. "Fine," he said quietly. Then, taking a deep breath, he raised the gun and pointed it at Stanley's head. Again, he felt that strange, twisting sense of impossible familiarity. He couldn't think about it. He just had to do it. Closing his eyes and flinching away, he pulled the trigger.
A few moments later, and Stanley harrumphed. "That was it?" he said, and Ford opened his eyes. "All that fuss over a little itchy feeling in my head?" Stanley walked over and clapped him on the shoulder, half grinning. "You're getting soft, Ford."
Ford couldn't help the swell of relief. "Maybe I am," he said. "So, Stanley, where's the rift?"
Stanley frowned thoughtfully, looking around. "I don't know, but from the looks of things, we buried it somewhere down here. Either that, or all this over-turned dirt is one hell of a red herring."
Ford nodded. "Excellent. Now, let's go greet our visitors."
The four of them walked back into the control room, and Ford closed the portal room door behind them. They stood together, looking at the elevator at the other end of the room. The indicator showed that it was still at the first floor.
The elevator stayed on the first floor.
The elevator didn't move.
"Ugh, will they just get down here already?" Wendy snapped. "What are they waiting for?"
"Instructions from Bill?" Ford guessed. "Though I don't know why he would wait to send them down."
"Unless he's got something sneaky planned," Stanley said, his expression sour.
"I've no doubt of that," Ford said. "But anything that delays him getting the rift is in our fav—"
He cut off as the lights flickered briefly.
Soos shifted nervously. "You don't think they're going to cut the power down here, do you?"
"That would be exceedingly foolish," Ford said, looking around at the other machinery. "Bill wants to find the rift, he can't enter the house with the barrier, and unless there's something you haven't told me, none of the townsfolk can see in the dark."
Then he saw the surveillance monitors. Each screen was distorted with visual noise and wavering hum bars. The faint sounds coming from the monitors were now nothing but static. The others noticed as well.
"Whoa, what happened?" Stanley said. "Why did the video feed cut out?"
"Why just the video feed, and not the rest of the electricity?" Wendy said, her tone sarcastic. "It's sabotage, dude. Bill doesn't want us seeing what's going on out there."
"No, I don't think so," Ford said, his eyes narrowing as he examined the monitors. "If the feeds were cut, the screens would be blank. This looks more like some kind of ground loop interference."
"Which means?" Stanley said, frowning.
"It means there is some kind of power source that corrupting the video and audio signals."
Wendy scowled. "Like a vampire power source?"
"I know a lot about vampires," Ford said, shaking his head, "but I've never heard of one being able to disrupt analog signals before."
"Analog?" Wendy said, snorting. "Time to switch to digital, dude."
Ford lifted his chin. "I'll have you know, Wendy, that this technology was extremely advanced for 1982."
Wendy smirked, and looked like she was about to retort, when Stanley said, "Quiet, both of you!"
Ford looked over to see that Stanley was turning up the volume on the monitors. The hiss of static came through the speakers, and Ford gave his brother a questioning look. Stanley just shook his head and pointed at his ear. Listen, he mouthed.
Ford concentrated on the static, and saw Wendy and Soos do the same.
Suddenly, Soos' eyes widened, and he straightened. "Dude!" he said.
Stanley waved at him to be quiet, and looked at Ford to see if he had heard what Soos had heard. Ford shook his head, and looked at the distorted screens, as if that would help him pick up what Stanley and Soos were hearing.
Then he heard it, faint amidst the static. Small bursts of an unmistakable voice.
"….ee! …our f…" The static overwhelmed the voice for a moment before it broke through again, almost indecipherable within the noise. "And you… ee!...free!..."
Ford looked up and met Stanley's solemn gaze. "Mabel?" he said.
Stanley nodded, and Wendy said, "Wait, what? You can hear Mabel?"
"Yeah," Stanley said. "She's out there, right now."
"Do you think Dipper is with her?" Soos asked.
"I don't know." Stanley rubbed at his eyes, which were looking more tired and bloodshot than usual, Ford noted. "But she went with that tree chick to break his curse, and now she's back, so…"
"Ooh!" Soos said. "Maybe that Mother of the Wood gave them something powerful enough to beat Bill!" He gasped with realization. "Maybe that's the power source that's messing with the monitors!"
Ford rubbed at his chin. "I suppose that's possible," he said, "but there's no way to know for sure at the moment."
"Shhh," Stanley said, leaning toward the speakers. "I can't hear."
They all stood around the monitors in silence, straining to hear Mabel's voice through the static again.
Ford looked at Stanley and saw his face creased with anxiety as the minutes passed, and the static no longer yielded up any trace of Mabel's voice. But still, they all stood in silence, none of them willing to make a sound for fear that they might miss something.
The speakers hissed and hissed, and Ford swallowed against the dryness in his throat.
And then, faintly through the static… the sound of Bill's laughter.
Stanley looked up at Ford, his face pinched and pale, his eyes sparking with anger and fear, reflecting Ford's own feelings. Bill was back. Something bad was happening outside with Mabel and Dipper.
And there was no way for any of them to help.
Dipper felt sick and angry, and not just because he was pinned to the ground by five huge, over-muscled men, one of whom had a solid grip on his antlers and was currently grinding the side of his face into the dirt.
This was not how his plan was supposed to go. Bill shouldn't have been able to sneak up on him. He knew the scent of Gideon's vampire body that Bill was currently possessing. He should have been able to scent Bill coming from a mile away. He should have had plenty of warning to get Mabel and himself to safety. But instead, the demon was right there, floating just at the edge of his peripheral vision, shrouded in some sort of weird black flames, and he still couldn't smell him.
In fact, Dipper realized… there was an absolute lack of scent in the space where Bill hung in the air. He closed his eyes for a moment, and while the air around him was filled with scents of every kind, Bill seemed to be a complete absence of anything. A large, twisting void. How?
It had to be that strange, seemingly tangible darkness. He couldn't think of any other explanation. And wasn't that just great. Here he'd been relying on his new sense of smell to keep track of Bill, and who knows how long Bill had been watching him and Mabel freeing the townsfolk from being mind-controlled before attacking them? He had given Bill had plenty of time to set up an ambush while he was running around, blissfully unaware of his presence.
But, on the plus side, he had a way to track Bill again. All he had to do was listen and smell and feel for the concentrated spot that was an absence of anything. Not that this would do anything to help him now.
Dipper knew he only had himself to blame for getting wrestled to the ground and trussed up like a calf at a rodeo. The mesmerized residents of Gravity Falls filled the clearing. All their scents marked them human, and though they each had a unique scent all their own, he had no idea which scent belong to which person. Mabel's scent was the only individual human scent he recognized, and he had foolishly assumed that the townsfolk were all occupied with ignoring him and Mabel in favor of attacking the Shack. The men currently holding him down had been mindless shufflers like the rest, just part of the crowd, until Mabel was torn from his back. Then they turned on him. Still mindless, but controlled by Bill, who wasn't supposed to be there.
"Mabel!" he yelled, partially muffled, and getting dirt in his mouth for his efforts. One of his ears was painfully pinned under his head, and his bare arms and torso stung in places where he'd scraped against the rough ground when he was taken down.
Mabel didn't answer. Instead, to his surprise, he heard Gideon's voice, faint and echo-y. "Don't hurt her, Bill! You… you promised she was mine, remember?"
"Keep your pants on, short stuff!" Bill said, his voice annoyingly cheerful. "Does it look like I'm hurting her? She's doing more damage than I am!"
Bill had Mabel? Panic squeezed Dipper's chest, and he struggled to turn his head so that he could see what was happening. He managed to shift just a bit before the guy holding him by the antlers lifted his head and slammed it onto the ground again, leaving his head ringing and his vision blurred. A wounded moan escaped him.
Distantly, he heard a faint, muffled yell that might have been his name. He blinked back tears of pain from his eyes and, as his blurred surroundings slowly came into focus, he found that the head slam had inadvertently given him a much better view, with his neck twisted, his face turned uncomfortably upward.
Bill was holding Mabel in the air with his weird shadow. His yellow eyes gleamed as tendrils of darkness roped around her arms, torso and legs, with one tendril covering her mouth, effectively silencing her. She was glaring daggers at Bill, thrashing in his strange, shadowy grip. There was a small burst of light near Mabel's right hand, and the tendril there dissolved and shrank back. With her arm slightly loose, she managed to destroy two more tendrils before Bill replaced them.
She was using the amulet, Dipper realized. Bill's shadow couldn't touch it, and she was using it to fight back. And Bill couldn't get help from his mesmerized victims, because touching the amulet would wake them up.
"Yeah!" he shouted, knowing he might get head-slammed again, but not caring as Mabel vanquished three more tendrils. "Go, Mabel!"
Bill cackled. "Yes, go, Shooting Star! Fight! Fight! Fight!" He laughed as Mabel zapped more tendrils, only for him to quickly replace them. "I love watching you stupid meat bags struggle against the inevitable!"
And then, to Dipper's horror, Bill reached out with a pale hand and snatched the amulet right out of Mabel's grasp.
Bill's hand – or rather, Gideon's hand, with Bill in control, Dipper reminded himself – erupted into white hot flames, instantly charring the pale skin, blistering it black and red.
Bill laughed, an insane, gloating cackle. Then, clenching his burning fist around the amulet, he crushed it with barely any effort. The white flames extinguished, and he opened his blackened, damaged hand, letting the shattered pieces fall to the ground.
"Mabel!" Dipper yelled, his stomach twisting in fear, "close your eyes!" But Mabel had already squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to keep her face turned from Bill.
"Now, now, none of that!" Bill said, and, free from interference, he wrapped his shadowy tendrils around Mabel, and forced her to turn her head to face him.
"No!" Mabel, eyes still closed, struggled futilely to shake him off. "Let go of me, you stupid butt-face! Leave me alone!"
"No can do, Shooting Star!" Bill said, and tendrils snaked to her face, above and below her eyes, and started to pry them open. "You're my ace in the hole, and I've got a special task for you!"
Dipper jerked uselessly within his bonds, huffing in fury as Bill forced Mabel's eyes open. "No!" he shouted, as Mabel's expression went slack, her eyes glazing. Bill laughed again as he unceremoniously dropped her to the ground where she landed like a broken doll.
"My peach dumplin'!"
Dipper felt his eyes widen as a faintly glowing, ghostly figure flew to hover anxiously over where Mabel had fallen.
"Gideon?" he said in surprise.
Bill and Gideon both turned to look at him.
Gideon looked as surprised as he felt. "You can see me?" he asked.
Dipper scowled at him. "Unfortunately," he said, not even bothering to hide the hate he felt for this kid who had ruined his life. To his surprise, Gideon flinched guiltily.
Bill's glowing, slit-pupil eyes narrowed within the darkness that engulfed him. "Interesting," he said, and floated closer, peering into Dipper's face.
Dipper tensed, closing his eyes, icy fear flooding his veins. After everything that he'd gone through the past few hours, having it all end with him becoming Bill's mindless slave would suck big time. "Get away from me!" he said, and as he did, he felt that vast something surge within him. He felt like he was standing on Ocean Beach, unable to move as the inexorable tide rose to meet him, to suck him into its depths.
He felt the cold, tingling pressure of Bill's shadow on his face, and he struggled against it. But, just like it had with Mabel, it pried his eyes open against his will.
Bill was less than a foot away, staring into his eyes, and Dipper braced himself for being hypnotized into submission.
Nothing happened. Well, there was an unpleasant itching sensation in the back of his head, but it stopped when Bill blinked. The tendrils released his face.
"Very interesting," Bill said.
Dipper blinked in shock. He wasn't hypnotized. Bill hadn't been able to hypnotize him.
He felt like he had just rolled a natural 38 Saving Throw against Compulsion.
Bill didn't seem angry about his failure, though. Instead, he snapped the fingers of his unburnt hand. Behind him, Mabel stirred and slowly got to her feet. She looked completely dazed and empty as she turned toward the Shack and slowly walked inside, the other mesmerized townsfolk making way for her.
"What are you doing with Mabel?" Dipper asked, pushing down his surprise and bringing his anger at the forefront. Better anger than the fear that was gnawing at his insides. He didn't want to give Bill the satisfaction of seeing just how terrified and overwhelmed he really was.
"Nothing much," Bill said. "Just sending her to be with her family, where she'll be more comfortable!"
Dipper snorted. "Yeah, right," he said, rolling his eyes.
"But look at you!" Bill said, circling him in the air. "If Shooting Star is my ace in the hole, you're definitely the wild card! I gotta admit, I was not expecting this! What did that woman do to you?"
"None of your business," Dipper snapped.
"Ooh, testy!" Bill laughed. "You know, your mom said the same thing to me, not too long ago!"
Dipper felt his heart stutter in his chest. "What?" Another surge from that inexorable tide within him, and he felt his head ache, as if there was physical pressure building in his head. He gritted his teeth and pushed it back. "No. You're lying."
"Hate to break it to you, Pine Tree," Bill said, "but your mom and dad were on the phone with Sheriff Blubs when I showed up! After I sent the idiot away, your parents and I had a nice chat! In fact, I bet they are on their way up here right now, rushing to try and save their precious children from the terrible demon!"
Dipper tried to shake his head, but the man holding his antlers had a grip like a vise. "You leave them out of this!"
"Too late for that now!" Bill's eyes gleamed with giddiness, and the white of his shark-toothed grin permeated the darkness that shrouded him. "But look at it this way! You'll have all of your family together when I unleash Weirdmageddon on the world!"
Unable to turn his head, Dipper closed his eyes, if only so he could stop looking at Bill.
"Ah, don't be like that, Pine Tree!" Bill's voice was closer than it was, and Dipper resisted the urge to open his eyes to keep track of the demon, focusing on the small, moving void with his other senses instead. "Come on, kid, instead of sulking, you should be rooting for me! Weirdmageddon is perfect for you! With you looking like that, what do you think your chances are of ever living a normal life? You think you can go back home with your parents and your sister looking like something out of a dopey fantasy movie?"
"Shut up," Dipper said.
He felt the void move closer. "What does this world have to offer you now?" Bill said. "Nothing! You think you can go out there and be any kind of normal? Kid, the only thing you could do with your life now is be some sideshow attraction at the Mystery Shack! And if you stepped one little hoof out of this town, you'd end up in some science lab as an experiment! But in my Weirdmageddon, you'd fit right in!"
"Shut up!" Dipper kept his eyes squeezed shut, fighting back the ache in his chest that threatened to make his eyes more than just sting. It would be better if he thought Bill was lying to make him hurt, but those thoughts already haunted him. Bill was just giving voice to the inner fears he couldn't shake.
"Guess what, Pine Tree?" Bill said, completely ignoring his protest. "I've decided that I'm willing to make a deal with you."
Dipper couldn't help it. He opened his eyes and gave Bill an incredulous look. "You must be crazy if you think I'd ever make a deal with you again. You told me you'd give me the laptop password in exchange for a puppet, and instead, you stole my body, smashed the laptop, and tried to destroy my journal! And that's not even mentioning the note you wrote to Mabel, telling her you planned on throwing my body off the water tower!"
Bill raised his charred hand in a nonchalant wave. "That's all ancient history, kid," he said, "but hey, if it makes you feel any better, the password was STANFORD. There! Deal wrapped up nice and tidy!"
"Unbelievable," Dipper said. The pressure in his head was getting worse, and his body, from his flesh and fur all the way down to his bones, tingled as if he was in the midst of an electrical storm. He struggled to focus past the unsettling sensation. "Forget it, Bill, I'm not making a deal with you."
Bill shrugged, his shroud of shadow flickering with the movement. "Well, that's too bad, because it would be a mutually beneficial deal! Face it, Pine Tree, at this point, Weirdmageddon is inevitable! The rift will be in my hands before the sun rises, if not sooner. Once that happens, you're gonna have to choose a side!"
"I already know what side I'm on," Dipper said, glaring at Bill, "and it's not yours."
"Are you sure?" Bill said, sounding way too smug. "Because if you make a deal with me, I will personally guarantee the safety, sanity and well-being of your whole family for the rest of their natural lives. Shooting Star, your mom and dad, and your grunkles. I'll even throw in Red and Question Mark for free!"
Dipper gaped in disbelief. "Why?" he asked. "What could you possibly want from me that's worth that?"
Bill circled him again, and Dipper followed him with his eyes. "I'll be honest with you, kid! You intrigue me! I was expecting you to return either dead or as a fawn, if you returned at all. Instead, you're this!" Bill gestured at him with both hands and a few black tendrils. "I don't know what that woman did to you to break the curse, but it doesn't take a genius to see that you're not even close to being human anymore! Once Weirdmageddon hits, if you join me, you'll fit right in with me and the freaks and nightmares I call my friends!"
Dipper couldn't believe what he was hearing. "There's got to be more to it than that," he said, skepticism heavy in his voice. "If you're just looking for strange-looking things to join you, why not ask the Multi-bear? Or the Manotaurs? Why me? I hate you!"
Bill laughed. "Aw, you caught me! You're too clever for your own good, Pine Tree!" Bill's tone was mocking, and he circled until he was hanging right in front of Dipper's face. "It's your magic, kid! Never seen anything like it! It's interesting!"
Dipper paled, trying to ignore the way that strange tingle was making his bones itch, and the building pressure behind his eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, come on!" Bill rolled his eyes. "Don't play dumb, Pine Tree! You're so full of magic, you're leaking it like a balloon that had a run-in with a porcupine! I mean, look at what you've done to this clearing, just in the short time you've been lying there!"
Dipper tried to look, but couldn't lift his head.
"Oh, whoops!" Bill said, and snapped his fingers.
The hands holding on to his antlers released him, and the other men holding him down stood and walked away. With them gone, he struggled to move again, but found he could do no more than wiggle slightly within his bonds. His arms were bound behind his back, and his four legs were tied together so that he couldn't even attempt to stand. Frustrated, Dipper gave Bill a look that was all suspicion and anger, before lifting his head, his ears flicking back and forth.
The first thing he noticed was that Gideon was floating close by, watching him with big, sorrowful eyes. Dipper glared at him, and Gideon cringed slightly.
Dipper frowned. What was Gideon playing at? He didn't actually feel bad for what he'd done, did he? Probably not. This was probably just another stupid game he was playing. And even if he did feel some regret, well, too bad, because Dipper was not in a forgiving mood.
He decided to completely ignore Gideon, and looked around to see what Bill was talking about.
The dirt parking lot was now covered in thick green grass and wildflowers. Thin stalks and ferns peeked out of the junk and debris that the townsfolk had thrown into piles. Ivy climbed the totem pole and the walls of the Shack. The old wood-chopping stump at the far edge of the clearing had new sprouts of life growing out of the cracks.
He swallowed hard. "I did that?" he whispered.
Bill threw his head back and laughed. "Well, it sure wasn't me, kid! Right now, all of my power is vampiric death, darkness and decay! And let me tell you, it's boring! It'll sure be nice once that rift opens the path to my dimension! Then I can be rid of this stupid meat sack and we'll have a party that never ends, with a host that never dies! And if you join me, you and your wild magic will get a front row seat to the festivities! In exchange, your family will be safe from any of the harm or chaos that Weirdmageddon will bring!" Bill grinned, black flames flickering around him silently, before he settled down to look Dipper in the eyes.
"I'm being generous, kid," he said, and Dipper was surprised at the sudden seriousness in Bill's usual manic tone. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. It's a no-lose situation. Take it, and we both win."
Dipper swallowed. "And if I don't take it?"
"Then Shooting Star, your parents and your grunkles will become a part of my throne of human agony, and you? I think your unique skin will make a nice throw rug. And just for fun, I'll make sure you live through it. Then you can be the first attraction at my personal petting zoo." He spread his hands theatrically. "Pine Tree: The Skinless Cervitaur!"
Dipper couldn't help the shudder that ran through him. "You're insane."
Bill's manic tone was back. "I sure am! Now you get to decide if you'll be on the good side of my insanity, or the bad side!"
Dipper looked away, feeling sick. His stomach twisted and his head throbbed.
If there was one lesson he had learned, it was that there was no such thing as being on the "good side" of Bill's madness. Great Uncle Ford had once been on Bill's "good side," and that had just been a façade for manipulation, deceit and betrayal.
As tempting as it was – and it was very tempting – Dipper knew that he couldn't trust Bill to keep his end of the deal. If he thought for one moment that Bill would actually keep his family safe from harm in exchange for his cooperation, he would have made the deal without hesitation.
But Great Uncle Ford had taught him that Bill sugar-coated his lies with flattery and promises he never meant to keep – something Dipper had already learned that for himself first-hand.
"Tick-tock, Pine Tree!" Bill said, and Dipper turned his head to see Bill's right hand extended out of the shadow, wreathed in blue flame. "I'm a busy entity, so take the deal! It's now or never!"
Dipper forced himself to meet Bill's gaze.
"Never," he said.
Bill's eyes narrowed. "That's really your choice, kid?"
Dipper nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
Bill sighed heavily. "That's a shame. Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way!"
Before Dipper could react, the man still sitting behind him grabbed his antlers again, and he winced as his head was once again slammed into the ground. But this time, his face and ear met soft grass instead of graded dirt.
Bill slid into his view less than a foot away from his face, and he tried to flinch back, but again found his head immobile. He watched as Bill raised his good hand to his sharp teeth and bit into his palm. Dark blood, almost black, welled from the wound.
"What are you doing?" Dipper said, his voice cracking on the last word.
"I told you," Bill said, dipping one charred, blistered finger into the blood. "You're a wild card, kid. And if you won't play for me, I'll just have to make sure you can't play against me."
Dipper felt both his flesh and fur crawl, and clenched his eyes shut as Bill reached out and touched his forehead with the bloody finger, drawing three lines – a triangle. The blood burned cold, and Dipper held his breath, choking back a pained whimper. Bill dipped his finger in the blood again, then drew what could only be an eye in the center of the triangle.
As soon as the eye was complete, Dipper saw a bright flash of red through his eyelids, and suddenly the pressure in his head vanished.
In fact, that whole vast something that he'd been trying to ignore since he realized it was there inside him… was gone. It didn't disappear exactly, but rather it seemed as though a barrier slammed down between him and it. He felt like he was still standing on Ocean Beach, but now the endless ocean was behind an immense, impenetrable wall. The strange, tingling feeling of being in the middle of an electric storm was completely absent.
Dipper felt empty. Hollowed out. All the strength drained from his limbs, and he went limp in his bonds.
Blearily, Dipper opened his eyes, fear spiking through him at the satisfied look in Bill's yellow eyes. It took effort to even breathe now. "What… did you do?"
"I sealed up your power, kid!" Bill said. "Can't have it running wild while I've got a world to end!"
Dipper tried to think of a scathing, snappy response, but nothing came to mind, and even if it had, it was a struggle to speak. He felt like his very life force had been leeched away. All of his senses felt cloudy and muddled.
"Now, you just sit tight, Pine Tree!" Bill's voice sounded distorted and distant. "I have some business to take care of, and then the fun can begin!"
Ford startled as the monitor speakers suddenly screeched with feedback, and he covered his ears against the pain. Wendy and Soos were also covering their ears, he noticed, and Stanley was wincing as he reached for the volume button. He turned it, and the feedback faded away with the reduced volume.
"Ow," Soos said succinctly, and then: "Hey, the monitors are back!"
"Find the kids!" Stanley said, rushing over to the periscope camera.
"I don't see them," Wendy said. "But, uh… why are there grass and flowers growing all over the parking lot?"
Ford stepped up behind her to look, just as Soos said, "Wait, I think I see Dipper, there, at the edge of the screen! Hey, he's human again! He's lying in the grass, and… I think there's a deer sitting on him?" Soos leaned forward, peering at the screen intently. "Or maybe he's sitting on a deer? I can't really tell. And I think that floating shadow next to him is Bill!"
Ford looked at where Soos had indicated, and felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. "Dipper?" he whispered.
"Sixer," Stanley said, still looking through the periscope, his voice a low growl. "Tell me I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing."
Ford briefly glanced at Wendy, and from the way her eyes widened, her face going pale, her freckles standing out in stark contrast to her white skin, she understood as well.
"Well," Ford said. "If you're seeing that Dipper seems to be part human and part, er… deer… and that Bill seems to have him tied up, then I'm afraid I can't."
"Wait, what?" Soos said, peering at the monitor again.
Stanley pulled away from the periscope with a snarl, a dark look on his face. "I'm gonna kill that forest chick. She said they were going to break his curse, not… not make it worse!"
"Dudes," Wendy said, gesturing at the monitors, and they all looked to see that the vampiric void that was Bill was moving away from Dipper and toward the Shack, followed by the lone guy who had been holding Dipper's head down by the antlers. Bill stopped just outside the barrier.
A moment later, they all jumped as a loud CLANG echoed through the room, followed by the whirr of machinery. They looked at each other, dread clearly on their faces, then looked to the end of the room.
The elevator was coming down.
Dipper tried to track Bill with his eyes as the demon moved toward the Shack, but even that was difficult. He barely noticed as the man behind him released his antlers and then, at some unspoken command, stood and followed after Bill, leaving him lying alone and helpless.
He couldn't believe it. Sealed up his power? More like sealed up everything except the parts of him controlled by his autonomic nervous system, barely keeping him alive.
He thought about the vast ocean of that something within him - that something that felt so alien that the thought of embracing it terrified him, for fear that it would swamp what remained of his human identity – and realized, now that he was cut off from it, just how integral it was to his existence as this new creature Mother had created.
What had Bill called him? Cervitaur? Lame. That didn't seem much better than Mabel's deer-taur.
He suddenly wished more than anything that he could rewind the day. Start over. Stay human somehow. He wondered where Blendin Blandin and his time-travelling tape measurer were right now. Probably not close enough in either time or space to help. There was very little chance that he'd wander into the Shack's clearing at this moment just so that Dipper could say, Hey, buddy, remember how Mabel and I got you your job back, and a nice head of hair to go with it, after Globnar? Think you could do me a solid and go back in time about 18 hours and stop me from picking up any of those stupid little animal figurines?
Dipper waited for a moment, hoping that, just maybe, his thought had invoked the trope of the least likely thing happening just after declaring it to be the least likely thing that could happen.
But Blendin didn't appear.
Instead, the faintly glowing, transparent form of Gideon appeared in his wavering vision.
"Ugh," he groaned. "Go… away, Gideon."
Gideon didn't move except to twiddle his fingers nervously. "So, you can still see me," he said, in his annoying, folksy drawl.
Dipper glowered at him. "Apparently. And I… don't want to." It was hard to get the breath to speak. "So leave."
Gideon glanced over his shoulder in the direction Bill had gone, then turned back to him. "You don't look so good," he said, frowning.
"And whose… fault is that?" Dipper hated that he was wasting his breath on this evil little twerp. "What part of… leave… didn't you understand?"
"So," Gideon continued as if he hadn't spoken, looking down at his hands. "Mabel probably hates me now."
Dipper gasped out a short, incredulous laugh. "You think? Let me… put it this way. When I… told her I was… going to kill you… she told me to… get in line." It was tougher than he wanted to admit, saying all that when he kept having to pause to suck in air. But the devastated look on Gideon's face was worth it.
"I kinda figured," Gideon whispered. "For what it's worth, I didn't mean for it to turn out this way."
"Right, instead you… wanted me stuck as a… dumb animal for the… rest of my life and… for Mabel to be… your vampire queen." Broken as his speech was, Dipper made sure his complete loathing for Gideon dripped from every word.
"I…" Gideon swallowed, his eyes lowered. "I was wrong. I didn't mean to hurt her. Being a vampire is horrible, just horrible. After being one myself, seeing what it was like… I could never do that to her."
"Oh, so that's… why you nearly… ripped her throat… out," Dipper snarked. "Because you… care for… her so much."
Gideon's gaze snapped up to meet his. "That wasn't me!" Gideon said, but then he crumpled a little. "I… I mean it was, obviously, but I… wasn't in control."
Dipper didn't even bother to respond to that. He just glared until Gideon looked away.
"Anyway," Gideon said softly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you, Dipper, and I'm sorry for hurting Mabel."
Dipper snorted. Too little, too late, he thought. "What do… you want from… me, Gideon? Forgiveness? You want… me to say, oh, no… problem!" Dipper wished he felt strong enough to lift his head to emphasize his disgust, but when he tried, his head swam, and he had to close his eyes. "Even if my grunkles… stop Bill, my life is… ruined because of… you. Sorry doesn't… really cut it."
"I know." Gideon sighed. "I wanted to tell you anyway, since I'm probably gonna die for good when Bill gets the rift."
Dipper managed to crack one eye open at that. Did Gideon seriously think he was going to elicit sympathy for finally realizing that Bill was a back-stabbing monster who couldn't be trusted?
"Okay," Dipper said flippantly. "I'd say nice… knowing you, but… I'd be lying."
He saw Gideon's fists clench tightly for a moment, then slowly relax. "I guess I deserved that," he said.
Dipper didn't feel inclined to argue. He closed his eye again and hoped that Gideon would take the hint and go away.
Oh man. He felt so empty, it hurt. It was a strange pain, like that one time he'd had a cavity and went home after seeing the dentist. When the Novocain started to wear off, his mouth felt numb and achy at the same time. It was like that now, only his whole body felt that way. Bill's seal had messed him up big time.
He wondered if Mabel was okay. She was under Bill's control, but she was his 'ace in the hole,' whatever that meant, so he could only hope that mean he didn't plan to hurt her – at least not any time soon.
Dipper groaned and opened his eyes. Gideon was still there, hanging in the air in front of him, looking anxious and contrite. "What?"
"I know you hate me – and you're well within your right to do so!" Gideon said quickly as Dipper's scowl darkened. "But… I need to ask a favor of you. I'd do it myself, but I can't since I'm…" He looked down at himself.
Dipper gave him a flat stare. "You're kidding… me, right?"
Gideon looked up and, to Dipper's surprise, there were faint, ghostly tears trickling down his pudgy cheeks. "Please. I can't ask anyone else. You're the only one who can see and hear me, other than Bill. I'll beg on my knees if you want. Look. I'm begging." Gideon floated as close to the ground as he could without phasing through it, and knelt before Dipper, his hands clasped in front of him. "Please, Dipper." The tears began to drip off his chin.
Dipper closed his eyes again, if only so that he wouldn't have to see the pathetic look on Gideon's face.
He hated to admit it, but Gideon seemed sincere. There was none of his usual, manipulative theatricality in his countenance.
But Gideon's misery served him right! He deserved to suffer after everything he'd done, not just to him, but to Mabel and Grunkle Stan – and not just in the past day or so, but all summer long!
Then, against his will, Dipper remembered what it felt like to be lost in the mindscape, with Bill inhabiting his body, feeling helpless, not knowing what to do, not knowing if ever been seen or heard by his family and friends, not knowing he'd ever be real again…
… and Dipper inwardly cursed himself as he felt a slight twinge of pity for Gideon.
Ugh, it's Pacifica all over again, only a billion times worse, he thought.
He opened his eyes to see that Gideon had slouched over and was weeping into his hands.
Dipper heaved a pained sigh. "Fine," he said, and Gideon looked up, his red tear-stained eyes wide in astonishment. "If I do this… favor for you, will… you go away and… leave me alone?"
"Yes!" Gideon said eagerly. "I swear, Dipper, I'll never speak to you again, if that's what you want!"
Gideon seemed so genuinely relieved that Dipper felt another treacherous twinge of pity. "What is it?" he asked. "And keep… in mind that… I'm not in the… best shape at… the moment. I… probably won't be… able to do it even… if I want to."
"That's fine, that's just fine," Gideon said, wiping the tears off his face. "I understand. I just… if you can, if you get the chance…" Gideon swallowed and looked at his hands. "Please tell Mabel that I'm sorry. That, if I could do this summer all over again, I'd do things different. That I'd never do anything to hurt either of you. I don't ask for her forgiveness, or yours, I just… want her to know that." Gideon looked up and met his gaze, and Dipper could see that his lips were trembling. "Would you tell her that for me, please?"
"Yeah," Dipper said wearily. "I'll tell her."
The raw, open gratitude on Gideon's face was almost painful. "Thank you, Dipper. Bless you."
Dipper felt keenly uncomfortable. "Sure, what… ever, man. Now…"
"Right," Gideon said, floating upward. "I'm leaving you alone now. Thank you!" And then he was finally out of sight.
Dipper sighed, feeling the numb ache in his body, and wondered what was wrong with him, that an apology and a few tears could so easily douse his righteous anger – especially against Gideon.
Maybe it was because – if he was truly honest with himself – he knew he could have been Gideon.
What would his life have been like if he had found one of the journals when he was seven or eight, instead of twelve? What if he had found that amulet – the one that gave Gideon so much power when he and Mabel first encountered him? Would he have been able to avoid the temptation of using that power to show off? To gain the same worshipful adoration that Gideon had received? To use it to gain fame and fortune?
Dipper knew he couldn't claim to be above that. He had done some pretty stupid things, especially this past summer, all with the hope of making himself look better in the eyes of his peers. He winced internally as he thought about running through the forest in nothing but a loincloth and rub-on tattoos, off to kill the Multibear because he wanted to be seen as more manly. And ugh, that voice-changing potion that made him sound like some TV game show announcer. That was a disaster. Using Rumble McSkirmish to fight his battles nearly ended with Robbie getting killed. Oh, and how could he forget Summerween, when he decided he was too grown up to go trick-or-treating and had tried to ditch Mabel in favor of going to a party with Wendy? That had nearly gotten them all eaten by the Summerween Trickster.
As for Gideon… well, he didn't have Mabel as his twin. If there was one thing on which Dipper could agree with Gideon, it was that Mabel was, on the whole, awesome.
Mabel was always there for him, keeping him grounded with her sheer Mabel-ness. Making sure he didn't start taking himself too seriously. Reminding him that, while uncovering mysteries and conspiracies was all well and good, sometimes it was better to turn their bedroom into a crazy mini-golf course and play until three in the morning, or have an epic water balloon fight in the yard, or sing really bad karaoke – with or without zombies – or marathon Ducktective together with a ton of junk food. Mabel was there to try to keep him from making one of his over-complicated lists, to help him calm down when he got too stressed-out and started panicking over something that wasn't quite as terrible as it seemed, and remind him that he really couldn't pull off v-neck t-shirts.
And speaking of shirts, it was really getting hard to ignore that he wasn't wearing one, even with his body feeling mostly numb. But at least the ground was softer, since he had somehow made thick, lush grass grow all over the clearing. At least he wasn't too close to the Shack, and the townsfolk were too busy being mind-controlled to see him in all his bare, pale, narrow-chested glory. No one seemed to have noticed that he now bore more of a resemblance to Bambi than a human being. And, as much as he was desperately hoping that Great Uncle Ford was coming up with some amazing plan to defeat Bill and save the town – especially since he had been rendered completely useless – he didn't mind postponing the moment when everyone – or anyone – would see what he had become. He had yet to die from mortification, but there was always a first time.
Just as he was wondering if Great Uncle Ford might be able to do something about the seal Bill had put on his forehead, he felt something cold and snake-like wrap around his bound legs and start dragging him across the ground.
Dipper struggled to lift his head just long enough to see that Bill was back, using black tendrils of shadow to pull him toward the Shack. His head flopped back onto the grass when his strength gave out, and he started to protest, but Bill cut him off.
"You're not gonna want to miss this, Pine Tree!" Bill said, turning to give him a shark-like grin. "So I'm making sure you have a front row seat!"
Dipper felt dread settle into his stomach as he thought about what Bill might want him to see as the demon dragged him right up next to the Gift Shop steps, stopping just outside the magic barrier before releasing his legs.
"There!" Bill said, sounding immensely pleased with himself as he reached down and adjusted Dipper's head so that he had a good view of the clearing. "Oh, and who do we have here!" Bill looked up the road that led into town, and Dipper could just make out the dark forms of some straggling townsfolk. "Why, it's the Northwests! About time you guys joined the party! And to think, I invited you first!"
Sure enough, as the figures drew closer, Dipper could make out the tall forms of Mr. and Mrs. Northwest, and, limping behind them, the smaller figure of Pacifica.
At some unspoken signal from Bill, the older Northwests shambled toward the back of the Shack, presumably to join the other townsfolk in cleaning the place out. But Pacifica kept coming toward them.
"Hey, Pine Tree," Bill said, "here's a little secret about how vampiric mind control works! Once I look into someone's eyes, I control their will! They can't do anything at all, except what I want them to do! But they're still in there, listening, watching through their own eyes, helpless within their own heads! Seeing, hearing, feeling everything!"
Dipper felt his eyes widen in horror. That was terrible. Completely monstrous. He had thought that the hypnotized people were in some kind of dream-like state and weren't aware of what was going on, but if Bill was telling the truth… that meant that all the townsfolk under Bill's control knew what was happening. That meant they were helpless puppets, with Bill pulling their strings. That meant that Mabel was trapped in her own head, doing Bill's bidding.
Numb and weak as he was, he felt a spark of cold fury ignite within him.
Bill continued. "Hey, didn't you help out the Northwests with a ghost problem they had a while back? You helped out Pacifica specifically, didn't you? That was pretty entertaining to watch! I especially enjoyed the part where you turned into a pine tree, Pine Tree! Frozen, caught in mid-scream of terror!" Bill laughed heartily. "Ah, good times! But Pacifica came to your rescue, opening those gates, didn't she! I wonder what she thinks of you now! Hey, let's find out!"
Dipper suddenly understood why Pacifica was still walking their direction, and felt the old, too-familiar sensation of self-conscious insecurity grip his heart. "Stop it," he said, and the squeezing panic in his chest made it even harder to breathe. "Leave her… alone!"
But of course Bill didn't listen, and as Pacifica came toward them, Dipper saw why she was limping.
She was wearing a lavender silk nightdress, but her feet were bare. Bare and dirty and bleeding, and Dipper realized that Bill had made her walk all the way from Northwest Manor in bare feet. The sight made that spark of cold fury within him burn brighter, and he wondered just how many of the townsfolk Bill had taken from their beds; how many were in sleepwear, and barefoot, like Pacifica. How many of them were injured in some way because of the tasks Bill had given them, unable to help themselves while in the grip of Bill's power?
Pacifica stumbled to a stop less than a foot away from him, and Dipper couldn't help but wince as he got a closer look at the state of her feet. But other than her limping gait, she showed no sign of feeling pain. She looked down at him, expression blank, eyes glazed as if unseeing.
But, according to Bill, she was seeing plenty. Feeling plenty.
"Hm," Bill said, the grin evident in his voice, "what's going on inside her head right now? A lot of confusion, that's no surprise! And… Ah, there it is! A nice burst of horror as she recognizes you! Took her a few moments! Must be all your new deer parts! Huh, more confusion, boring! Oh, a bit of unfocused anger in there!" Bill sighed, as if disappointed. "And finally, she settles on pity. Aw, Pine Tree! She feels sorry for you! Then again, you do look pretty sad and pathetic!"
Bill turned to Pacifica, gasping, as if an idea had just struck him. "Hey, I know what would cheer up you two sad sacks! Pacifica, why don't you sit down next to Pine Tree, right there, and give him a good scratch behind the ears! He might pretend he doesn't like it, but, as you can see, he's more animal than human now!"
As Pacifica robotically sat near his head, obeying the needlessly-vocal command, Dipper figured that Death-by-Mortification just wasn't the way he was meant to go out, because otherwise, his new life would already be over. He cringed away as best he could as Pacifica reached out and began to gently scratch and rub the backs of his long, furry ears. Dipper knew that, were his weakened, hollowed-out body were capable of it, he would be blushing beet red.
The worst part was that it did feel really nice. It made him want to sigh, relax, and close his eyes. So he resolutely did none of those things.
"Okay, Bill, you've…" He sucked in a weary breath. "…made your point. You're… in control. You can… make anyone do… whatever. Is this… why you dragged me… over here?"
"Kid, this is just the pre-show entertainment!" Bill's yellow eyes narrowed in glee as he gestured toward the Gift Shop door. "The Main Event is about to start!"
Dipper looked at the door, trying to focus beyond the maddening distraction of Pacifica's fingers running up and down his ears, and then through his messy hair, right between his antlers.
Wait… was she petting him?
It's not her, Dipper thought, choking back the humiliation that was threatening to completely close off his throat. It's Bill, making her do this. She's probably actually freaking out. She probably doesn't want to be anywhere near me. And I don't blame her. If we survive this, I'm never going to be able to look her in the face again.
Then, before he could follow that train of thought further, the door to the Gift Shop opened.
The elevator door opened.
Ford wasn't surprised to see Mabel. The moment he'd heard her voice over the static of the speakers, he had known that Bill was going to use her as a pawn in this deadly game they were playing.
What he didn't expect to see was Dan Corduroy, some thirty-ish years older than when he last saw him, when he had commissioned the young man to supervise the construction of his house. He was taller, bearded, more muscled, his face was blank… and he was holding Mabel around her waist with one arm, while holding what looked like a very sharp axe to her neck with the other.
"Dad," Wendy whispered, and Ford saw the normally-unflappable girl's face run through a myriad of emotions from horror, to distress, to utter rage.
And Mabel was smiling.
"Well, well, well!" she said, and though it was her voice coming from her throat, the inflection and the expression on her face were all Bill's. Her eyes scanned their little group, then narrowed when they lit on Stanley, who had a murderous scowl on his face. She looked at Wendy, and her smile turned threatening. "Red! You lied to me!"
Wendy's fists were clenched so hard her knuckles were white. "Yeah, and you fell for it, sucker," she said, her own smile just as dangerous.
"Whoa," Soos said, looking at Mabel in dismay. "I thought Bill couldn't get in the Shack! How is he—"
"Oh, I'm not actually here, Question Mark!" Mabel's eyes had a crazed gleam to them. "I'm just using Shooting Star here as a puppet via vampiric remote control! Nice loophole, don't you think? But's let cut the chit chat and get down to business!"
Ford did his best to look stoic when Bill looked at him through Mabel's eyes, but he felt such rage at Bill using his niece this way, he knew there was a visible tremble in his arms. "Yes," he said, "you want the rift." He held out the memory gun, knowing that Bill would know exactly what it was. "But I'm afraid none of us can tell you where it is."
For a moment, a look of thunderous fury flashed across Mabel's face, looking so out of place that it made Ford feel sick. But then Mabel smiled again, and laughed. The sound coming from Mabel's throat made chills run up his spine. "Oh, Sixer! That was really stupid! You've only prolonged the inevitable! Now, let me see… how do they do it in the movies? Oh, of course! Line up against the wall! Everyone get on your knees, hands on your heads, or the kid gets it!"
Soos immediately dropped to his knees, tears glistening in his eyes, but when the rest of them hesitated, the axe shifted on Mabel's neck, and a thin red line appeared. "Oops!" Mabel said, her voice cheerful. "That's right over the carotid artery! It would be a shame if the cut got any deeper!"
Ford and Wendy complied. He couldn't see Wendy's face, but he could feel her seething next to him.
"You bastard," Stanley snarled as he lowered himself to his knees. "When I get my hands on you—"
"Ha! Good luck with that, Fez!" Mabel looked over the control room, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "Now, let's see, if I were a six-fingered freak, where would I hide an inter-dimensional rift?" Dan Corduroy carried her over to the portal room door, and she looked through the circular window.
Corduroy turned Mabel to face them again, and she had an amused smile on her face. "That's cute! But I hope you realize that all I have to do is get the good folks of Gravity Falls down here with shovels, and I'll have the rift in less than a half hour!"
"Oh no," Stanley said, his voice completely dead-pan, and Ford couldn't help but glance at his brother, who had gone from looking furious, to seeming downright bored. "What are we going to do, Stanford? Bill has discovered our cunning plan, hiding the rift in the most obvious place possible."
Mabel's eyes narrowed as she looked at Stanley, her smile gone.
"See, I don't remember where I hid the rift," Stanley said, shrugging, even with his hands on his head. "But I seem to recall being here all day and having plenty of time to take care of it. And if it was me – not saying that it was me, mind you – but I would hide it in the least obvious place possible. Which sometimes can look like the most obvious place, but sometimes it isn't. I can think of plenty of good hiding places, not even counting all the hidden compartments the Shack has. Let's see, under floorboards, in the walls, behind secret doors, inside mattresses or cushions or stuffed animals, in drawers with fake bottoms… heck, just even locking it in my safe. Oh, can't forget the toilet tank, that's a classic."
Stanley had gone from looking bored, to smiling, almost with fondness as he listed off all the ways he would hide the rift. And the more he smiled, Ford noticed, the more Mabel scowled, eyes glinting with anger.
"And then I'd lay a trail of red herrings," Stanley continued. "You know, dusting one or two books on a suspicious-looking bookshelf. Making some fresh damage marks on the floorboards, peeling up wallpaper and then gluing it down with fresh glue, or hey," he said, looking over at Mabel with a grin. "Even turning over all the dirt in the portal room."
Mabel's fists were clenched and if looks could kill, Stanley would be dead a hundred times over.
"Change of plans," Bill said through Mabel's clenched teeth. "You guys are going up top. If you can't tell me where the rift is, you can join the other townsfolk in tearing the Shack apart."
"Oh, don't forget, Bill," Ford said, knowing that it was probably foolish to antagonize the demon further, but Stanley's tall tale had been inspiring. "You don't want to accidentally break the rift's container while it's still in the Shack. The barrier that Dipper and I made is so heavy-duty, it can contain the breach as good as, if not better than its current receptacle. So you might want to be careful with how you go about 'tearing the Shack apart.' After all, you wouldn't want your Weirdmageddon confined to this tiny bubble."
Bill didn't even look at him. Instead, Mabel said, "Okay, you losers, I've got some business to take care of. I've instructed Manly Dan here to take you outside, next to the Gift Shop. You will walk in front of him, and not stray farther than five feet away. If anyone even looks like they are considering disobeying, Manly Dan will cut off Mabel's head before you can blink. Do I make myself clear?"
"As crystal," Stanley said flatly.
"Good," Mabel said. And then, as if someone had flipped a switch, her face went completely blank and all awareness drained out of her eyes.
"Mabel?" Stanley asked, his face creasing with concern.
"Bill dropped the remote connection," Ford said grimly. "Come on, everyone. Let's try to stay less than three steps ahead of Corduroy. We don't want to give Bill any excuse to hurt Mabel."
It was crowded in the elevator, to say the least. The four of them pressed themselves against the walls, trying to give Corduroy plenty of room, not wanting to jostle the massive man or his axe, which still rested on the thin red line over Mabel's carotid artery.
The elevator car groaned as it began to rise, and Ford felt a moment of dread, wondering if their combined weight was too much. But after a small lurch and a chugging sound, the car slowly rose to the first floor without further incident.
The doors opened, and they stepped out of the elevator and began to ascend the stairs. For as many people as Ford knew were in the Shack and outside, it was eerily quiet. When they reached the top, Ford saw that the Gift Shop was full of people, but they had parted to either side of the room, standing motionless like mannequins, giving them space to leave. Creepy.
Ford walked forward slowly, not wanting to get too far ahead of Corduroy, and the others kept pace. He reached the door and opened it, the shop bell jangling, a too-cheerful sound in the bleak silence.
Bill floated before them, just outside the barrier, wrapped in vampiric shadows, yellow slit-pupil eyes glowing manically, mouth stretched in a shark-toothed grin.
"Don't just stand there!" he said. "Come on down, kids! Time for you to join my mesmerized minions! But first, allow me to re-introduce you to Pine Tree, back from seeking help from a pretentious, overblown dryad, and looking more ridiculous than ever!"
As Ford and the others walked down the steps and through the barrier, with Corduroy following close behind, he looked down at where Dipper lay in the grass, bound and helpless. He was a deer-type centaur, Ford realized, confirming what he had suspected from seeing him on the security monitor. He had cervid ears and antlers, and was a fawn from the waist down. His facial features were only slightly altered, with a small black nose, and eyes that seemed a little too large and fey than they used to be.
A unfamiliar, rather pretty girl, completely under Bill's power, sat near Dipper's head, petting his ears and his head between his antlers, and the poor boy looked miserable and embarrassed. But most worrisome was how pale, almost grey, his human skin was, and the way his abdomen muscles pulled under his ribs with each labored breath.
And then there was Bill Cipher's symbol, drawn in dried blood, on his forehead.
Suddenly everything made sense. He wasn't sure why the Mother of the Wood had given Dipper this form, though perhaps it was all she could do because of the strength of the curse.
But she had also given him power. Power enough that when he and Mabel arrived at the Shack, his power had disrupted the monitors' analog feed. Power enough to cause the uncontrolled growth of new foliage all around the Shack. And power enough to keep him from being mesmerized, apparently.
When the monitors came back up, it was to show Bill leaving Dipper alone on the ground. And Ford would bet dollars to doughnuts that it was immediately after Bill had put that mark on Dipper's head.
Dipper's eyes widened as he saw the four of them coming down the stairs, and as he looked at Soos, Wendy and Stanley, he visibly flinched. He locked gazes with Ford for a moment before his eyes slid away, as if he was ashamed.
Ford understood his expression all too well, and he almost unconsciously flexed his six-fingered hands.
"Dipper, my boy," he said, forcing cheer into his voice, "it's good to see you."
Dipper looked back at him, a hint of incredulity in his eyes.
"Did Bill put that mark on your forehead?" he asked, keeping his tone light.
"Yeah," Dipper said. His voice was strained, but it was still wonderful to hear him speak. "It's a…" Abdomen-sucking gasp of breath. "…seal."
"I thought so," Ford said. "Just remember, seals can be broken."
Dipper's brow furrowed slightly, and he opened his mouth as if to ask a question, but Bill interrupted with his high-pitched laughter.
"Yeah, I don't think so!" he said. "I could untie Pine Tree right now, and he wouldn't even have the strength to stand, let alone break my seal!"
Dipper looked away again, his expression despairing, and Ford thought he felt his heart break just a little.
Ford looked over at Stanley. His brother was staring at Bill, fists clenched, looking ready for murder, and Ford knew that only the threat to Mabel's life held him in check. Soos was looking at Dipper in open dismay, and Wendy, who looked equally upset, seemed like she wanted to say something to the boy, but couldn't quite figure out what.
And Dipper, that dismal expression on his face, studiously looked almost everywhere else except in their direction. Ford thought that, in his current condition, perhaps it was a good thing the boy hadn't seen Mabel behind them, hanging limply in Corduroy's grip, an axe still to her neck.
He cleared his throat, hoping to draw Dipper's attention back to him. "It doesn't take physical strength to break a seal," Ford said to Bill, "as you well know. You might think Dipper is weak, but he has an inner strength that is more than enough to take care of that thing you put on him."
Bill clasped his hands together and held them to his cheek. "Aww, Sixer, you old softie," he said in a saccharine sweet voice. "Trying to give your great-nephew hope when there's none left!" Then he laughed, sharp and cruel. "Okay, reunion over! Fez! You look a bit stressed! Why don't you look me in the eyes and relax?"
Stanley snarled. "Why don't you—"
Whatever he was about to suggest to Bill died in his throat as they all heard Corduroy shift behind them.
Stanley clenched his teeth, then slowly, deliberately looked into Bill's eyes.
Ford couldn't help the sick fear that clenched his heart as the life drained out of his brother's face.
"Wait!" Dipper said, panic in his thin voice. "What… are you doing?!"
Ford couldn't tell if Dipper meant the question for them, or for Bill.
But Bill answered. "I'm making them my slaves, and they're doing it willingly so that I don't kill Shooting Star!" he said, as he hypnotized Soos. Then he floated over to Wendy.
Wendy kept her eyes averted. "I'll look you in the eyes after you let my dad release Mabel," she said.
"Ha! That's not how it works, Red!" Bill said, "but you know? What the heck!"
Ford gaped as Corduroy walked around them and gently set Mabel on the ground next to Bill.
He heard Dipper gasp as his sister came into view. "Mabel!"
Corduroy walked away, axe falling from his hand, and Ford frowned. This was not good. If Bill was humoring Wendy with this concession meant that he was absolutely confident in his control over the situation.
Ford only hoped that this would play into his plan. As Wendy grimly looked into Bill's eyes, he turned to Dipper, met the boy's fearful gaze, and mouthed the words: Break the seal.
Dipper stared at him, looking lost.
I believe in you, Ford mouthed silently.
After a moment, Dipper gave him a weak nod and closed his eyes. His brow creased in concentration.
Good lad, Ford thought, then looked back at Bill to find the demon smirking at him.
"You know," Bill said, "I offered Pine Tree a chance to join me and be a part of Weirdmageddon! He'd fit right in, don't you think?"
Ford answered with a glare, and inwardly tried to prepare himself. He had to convince Bill that he was as enslaved as the others, or his plan was kaput.
"Too bad the kid's not as smart as you, Brainiac!" Bill said. "He turned me down, so I had to shut him down! But we've been through a lot together, so I'm giving you the same offer! It's not too late to join me, Fordsie! With that extra finger, you'd fit right in too!"
"I'll die before I join you," Ford said coldly.
Bill shrugged. "Suit yourself! You could have been great, Sixer! Now you'll just be one of the crowd!"
Ford tried not to flinch as Bill looked into his eyes. The glowing gold seemed to swirl, and Ford let his expression go slack and gave his best thousand-yard-stare.
Bill blinked. Then he laughed. He started laughing so hard, he doubled over and clutched his stomach. Then he threw his head back and cackled so loud, it seemed to echo around them.
"Oh, Sixer!" he said at last, and Ford felt cold dread steal over him. "And here I thought you were smart! You seriously thought you could get away with that? Vampiric mind control requires a connection of the minds! You thought I wouldn't notice when I couldn't connect to yours?"
Ford dropped the act. There was no point. "It was worth a shot," he muttered. He glanced over at Dipper and frowned when he saw that, though his face seemed relaxed, drops of sweat beaded on his skin.
"No, it really wasn't!" Bill said, and Ford forced himself to stand firm when he saw that Bill was no longer smiling. "Enough of the games! If I can't get into your head, then you couldn't have erased your memories! You know where the rift is!"
"I… I don't," Ford protested, internally wincing at his stutter. "Stanley hid it before I returned."
"Don't LIE TO ME!"
Ford yelped as black tendrils shot out from Bill's vampiric shadow, and wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his sides. One tendril wrapped around his neck so tight, he began to choke.
"I said no more games! You're going to bring me that rift, and you're going to do it NOW."
"N… never," he gasped.
And then Bill smiled. "Never say never, Sixer."
With that, he unceremoniously dropped Ford to the ground. Ford struggled to sit up, rubbing at his bruised throat. "Wait," he said, as Bill turned to Mabel.
Before Ford could say another word, Bill's shadow lashed out, thin, pointed, and sharp. It flashed through Mabel so fast and was gone that Ford wasn't even sure what had happened until the blood started to stain her sweater and she crumpled wordlessly to the ground.
"NO!" he screamed.
"I give her about ten, maybe fifteen minutes before she bleeds out!" Bill said. "You bring me the rift, smash it outside your stupid forcefield, start my Weirdmageddon, and I'll heal her up, good as new!"
Ford staggered to his feet. His eyes stung, and there was a strange roaring in his ears.
"Tick tock, Fordsie! I can't heal her until I can take physical form in this dimension!"
Ford couldn't even define the pain he was feeling as he stumbled toward the Gift Shop door.
He couldn't let Mabel die. He was utterly defeated.
Bill had won.
Dipper focused inward, and struggled to block out outside distractions so that he could focus on the cold, dark power that kept him bound.
How was he supposed to break the seal? Just… think at it? That seemed stupid.
He tried it anyway.
Just focusing on it didn't seem to do anything, so he decided to throw some Latin at it.
Sigillum confractus! he thought. Sigillum perdere! How about… Sigillum dissolvere!
This wasn't working. Maybe he wasn't pronouncing it right. Did pronunciation matter if you were saying it in your head?
Sigillum terminantur! Um… Sigillum extinguere! Argh, go away you stupid seal!
This was stupid. He couldn't do this. How could he do this?
He had to do this. Great Uncle Ford told him to. Great Uncle Ford believed in him.
Okay, so Latin was useless in this situation. Or at least, his Latin was useless. What else could he try?
He thought about the Ocean Beach metaphor he had shared with Mabel. That metaphor seemed to stick with him, because he had thought of it when Bill placed the seal on his forehead. How the seal seemed like a vast wall separating him from the ocean.
He focused, and pictured himself standing on the beach. He focused until he could feel the sun on his back, and the sand beneath his bare feet. He looked up. Before him, the wall stretched to the sky, and in either direction from horizon to horizon.
He could faintly hear the ocean waves susurring behind it.
He walked up to the wall… and punched it.
"Ow," he said, shaking his hand. That had… actually hurt. He looked at his at the back of his hand and saw that one of his knuckles had split and was bleeding slightly.
Wait. How was that possible? He was imagining himself punching a metaphorical wall, and had experienced actual pain.
Maybe this meant he was on the right track.
He thought about some of the old martial arts movies he liked to watch with his dad. In those movies, the martial arts master always told the student to aim, not at the target, but beyond it. Maybe that's what he needed to do. He needed to hit a spot behind the wall, not the wall itself.
He focused on a spot behind the wall. He tried to remember one of the boxing stances Grunkle Stan had taught him. Then, he pulled his fist back and punched with all his strength.
It was like punching a rock, and this time, all of his knuckles were bleeding.
"Ugh!" He said, and then punched the wall, left, right, left, right, until both his hands were sore, but he didn't stop, yelling with each hit he landed. "Stupid! Wall! Why! Won't! You! Just! Break!"
When his hands hurt too much to continue, he scowled, and was about to kick the wall just out of frustration, when he saw that a tiny piece of the wall – a flake no larger or thicker than a dime – had fallen off.
This was working, he realized. This could work. If he kept at it, he could eventually break through this wall.
Or he could die of old age first, which was more likely.
He had to do something different. But what? He paced back and forth in the sand. The warm summer wind blew against his skin, ruffling his shirt.
And he remembered the wind against his face, and the scent of the forest as he ran through the night, feeling lighter than air. He remembered the feeling of being so at peace with his surroundings that he didn't even realize that the forest was making way for him to pass, because it just felt natural. It felt like… himself.
And he, himself, was no longer this thin, short, noodle-armed human form, he realized, looking down at his body.
This wasn't his body. Not anymore.
He closed his eyes and thought of himself the way he was now. Four legs, not two. Long, furry ears. Antlers.
Dipper opened his eyes and looked down. This was who he was. If he wanted to bring that wall down, he needed to follow… his instinct.
He looked at the wall. Swallowed. Took a few steps back. Lowered his head. And charged.
His antlers connected to the wall with a tremendous crack… and the wall shuddered.
Dipper straightened and stepped back. Two parallel impact craters indented the wall, hairline cracks spreading out from the centers. They seemed infinitesimally small in comparison to the size of the wall, but he didn't care. This was progress. Huffing in satisfaction, he backed up again, lowered his head, and charged.
Large chunks of the fell to the ground at the impact, and Dipper could hear the waves of the ocean crashing against the wall on the other side, as if whipped up by a storm.
He charged again. And again. And again.
And then, as his antlers made impact with the wall, the small section he was attacking crumbled before him and he broke through to the other side.
The ocean was there, raging. The wind stung his skin. The waves were huge, and he was so very small before them that he felt that fear of drowning rise up within him. He found himself backing up, back through the hole in the wall…
… and then, far away in the distant physical world, he heard Great Uncle Ford scream.
Startled, he opened his eyes – his physical eyes – and saw Mabel.
Mabel, lying crumpled on the grass he had grown. Mabel, bleeding on his wildflowers.
He didn't think. There was nothing to think about. There was only instinct.
He closed his eyes, stood on the beach, and, with a cry of grief and rage, reared on his hind legs, lowered his head and charged right into the roiling waves.
The world went white.
Ford was almost to the Gift Shop door when there was a flash, and the clearing lit up for just a moment, so bright and blinding that it looked like mid-day.
Wincing against the brightness, he turned back, shielding his eyes, and saw Dipper.
Dipper was standing. His bindings were gone. His eyes were closed. And his birthmark, the Big Dipper, was shining from his forehead like the very stars they resembled.
As Ford watched, Bill's blood seal disintegrated under the brightness of those stars.
As soon as the seal disappeared, Dipper went nova.
Ford didn't know how else to describe it. A flash of white light emitted from the boy's center, and then blasted outward. The pulse of power knocked Ford off his feet.
He looked at Bill, and saw the pulse burn his shadow away, so that the demon looked like nothing more than the rotund little vampire boy whose form he was possessing.
A boy who… no longer looked like a vampire. A boy who dropped out of the air like a rock as whatever dark power that fueled him was wiped away in one unnaturally bright blast.
"WHAT?" Bill shrieked.
The air was suddenly filled with startled murmurs and cries, and as the people around him started to move, Ford realized that the pulse had freed Bill's thralls – including Soos, Wendy, and Stanley.
Stanley, who was already running over to Mabel, crying her name. But Mabel was already stirring, sitting up and blinking dazedly in the bright light.
"Grunkle Stan?" she said as he knelt next to her.
"Sweetie, are you alright?" Stanley's voice was frantic. "Show me where it hurts!"
Mabel shook her head. "It doesn't hurt anywhere," she said, sounding surprised, and she allowed Stanley to help her to her feet.
"Guys," Wendy said, pointing with one hand, while shielding her eyes with the other.
They looked. Ford saw that Dipper's nova was fading, and for one terrifying moment, he thought that when the light went out, the boy would be gone.
But Dipper was still there, and, as Ford stared at him, he realized that perhaps he had underestimated the Mother of the Wood.
Dipper's body was translucent white, faintly glowing. His hooves and antlers shone like silver. His birthmark still glowed over his forehead. And, floating impossibly within Dipper's body, a scattering of twinkling stars, the brightest ones connected by thin strands of pulsing light, as if tracing out a constellation.
Dipper opened his eyes, and they looked like the dark night sky, with twin stars serving as his pupils.
"Holy Moses." Stanley's voice was a hoarse whisper. "Dipper?"
Dipper didn't respond. He turned his fathomless eyes toward Bill.
"Uh-oh," said Bill, and he turned to flee.
But Dipper was fast. He lowered his head, charged, and neatly impaled the little body on his antlers.
But there were no wounds, Ford realized. The antlers seemed to phase through the body without piercing the flesh.
Then, with a toss of his head, Dipper ripped Bill right out of Gideon's body. The body fell to the ground, lifeless. And Bill, whose triangular form should only have been visible in the mindscape, hung limply from Dipper's antlers.
Gideon stirred, blinked open blue eyes, and sat up with a start. He looked at his hands, and reached up to pat his cheeks, before running his tongue over his teeth. "Oh my lord," he said, quietly amazed. "I… I'm human again."
If Dipper knew what his blast of power had done to Gideon, he didn't show it. He calmly raised his hands, stars glowing from within his translucent palms, and with a small gesture, Bill lifted from his antlers and hung in the air before him.
"Stop," Bill said, his eye wide. "You can't—"
"Bill Cipher," Dipper said, and it was still his voice, but there was a dream-like quality to it, and a vast rushing sound behind it, like a combination of a wind storm and river rapids. "I bind you."
Shining, silver threads appeared out of thin air, and wrapped themselves around Bill.
"No!" Bill said, and Ford had never heard such desperation in his voice. "Listen, Pine Tree, don't do this! I'll do anything—"
"Bill Cipher," Dipper said again. "By the earth and sea, by the wind and rivers, by the deserts and lakes, mountains and hills, and the very stars in the sky—"
"No! PINE TREE!"
"—I banish you to the void."
Bill shrieked as the silver threads binding him blazed with light.
There was a great flash, a sound like clapping thunder… and then nothing.
Bill was gone.
Mabel couldn't believe what she was seeing as she held tightly to Grunkle Stan's hand. She had thought Dipper looked kind of cool before as a regular deer-taur, but this… this was a completely different level of amazing. He looked like he was made of starlight!
But… he was acting really weird. Not at all like himself. And Mabel thought about Dipper's fear of getting pulled under by a rip tide and drowning.
Forget getting pulled under, she thought. Dipper looked like he had dived into the ocean head-first.
Then he banished Bill like it was nothing. And though that was awesome, it was also a bit terrifying.
She hoped, now that Bill was gone, that Dipper would go back to normal. Or rather, his new normal.
But instead of looking around and seeing all the people he had saved – all of whom were staring at him awestruck – he looked up. Then, slowly, with a strange, wistful expression on his face, he raised one hand as if reaching for the night sky.
"No!" she said, letting go of Grunkle Stan's hand, ducking away as he reached for her, and running toward her brother. "Dipper, no!"
But Dipper didn't act like he heard her at all.
And then, just like the tall, pale man in the blue and silver robes, he began to dissolve into stars.
"Dipper!" Without another thought, she rushed at him and flung her arms around his neck. "Don't you dare!"
Dipper lowered his arm and looked at her with his strange dark eyes, glinting with starlight, and she saw with relief that he had stopped dissolving and seemed solid again. But he looked at her without a hint of recognition, and she felt her heart clench in fear.
"Dipper," she said, "remember. Remember you promised that you wouldn't get stupid. And I promised that I wouldn't let you drown!" She released his neck, then took his face in her hands. "Look at me! It's me, Mabel! Your twin sister!"
He blinked at her, and there was a slight flicker of curiosity in his expression, but nothing more.
"You big doofus!" she yelled at him, and he blinked again. "How can you forget me just like that? You remembered me through dying and coming back to life, but oh no, when you turn all outer-space-deer, you suddenly don't remember me!" She punched him on the shoulder. Hard.
Dipper looked down at where she hit him, and she suddenly felt really stupid. "I'm sorry, Dipper, I didn't mean—"
"Mabel?" he said, and his voice was soft, but loud like rushing waters too.
"Yes!" she said, and felt like her heart almost exploded with relief. "It's me. Come back, Dipper. Don't drown. I said I wouldn't let you drown, and I'm here."
Dipper looked at her then. He frowned, as if concentrating. "Mabel. My sister."
"Yes," Mabel said. She pulled his head forward so that their foreheads were touching. His strange, starlight skin was warm and tingly. "And you're my nerdy brother." Her cheeks were wet, which was weird, because she was grinning. "My nerdy brother who just pulled off the biggest deus ex macaroni ever."
Dipper closed his eyes, and then, slowly, a smile tugged at the edges of his mouth. "It's deus ex machina, you big goof," he said, and the rushing sound was gone from his voice.
Mabel grinned wider. "Neeeeeeerd," she said.
Dipper laughed. And when he opened his eyes, they were brown. Normal. His glow was fading, and color was seeping into his translucent white.
"Mabel?" he said, his forehead still resting against hers.
"I know." She sighed. "Me too. Wanna sit down?"
So, as the barest hint of grey light touched the eastern horizon, they sat down together, one human and one deer-taur. They leaned against each other, Mabel resting her head on Dipper's shoulder, Dipper resting his head on the top of hers.
Dipper immediately started snoring like a kitten.
Mabel smiled and closed her eyes. And if she noticed beforehand that most of the townsfolk were still standing around staring, she was honestly too tired to care.
A/N: First, everyone who hasn't seen it already should go check out this amazing Cervitaur Blues fanart by hntrgurl13 on tumblr:
h. t. t. p. s. : / / utukkigirl . tumblr post / 164338463773 / hntrgurl13-aint-no-cure-for-the-cervitaur (delete the spaces, and the periods before the double slash)
I'm sorry that this took so long to write. But it's definitely the longest chapter of this fic at 17,788 words. I really hope that this was a satisfying climax to the story, because it's all falling action and denouement after this.
Thank you all for sticking with me. And to my new readers, welcome.
A special shout-out to those who left comments: ImpossibleJedi4, cassianaswindell123, Brenne, WolfMistwood, Unicorn Qu33n, KuroNekoo, Kimagurakihara, Wulf, Purest of the Hearts, Talvis, Luthyx, and The Falls for leaving comments on chapter 10. I am so sorry I haven't responded to you personally, but your encouragement kept me writing. Thank you, thank you, thank you. :)
Until next time (which will hopefully be a lot sooner than nearly two months, but this chapter kicked my butt).
Now I'm going outside to watch the eclipse with my kids. :)