Chapter 1: Rekindled Connections
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Arriving in the early evening, the pink Mini drove along pleasant, tree-lined avenues. The houses and barns the car passed were invariably wooden, either surviving examples of the town’s earliest history or built in imitation of such.
Pumpkins carved with leering smiles lined the fences all along the roadside. Crossing a covered bridge, the car pulled to a stop in a parking lot on the edge of the forest. In the crystal clear sunset light, the leaves were a gorgeous swirl of orange. Set between the road and the woods was a collection of huge red tents, the tops swaying gently in the breeze.
Merrise Pines stepped out of the car and tightened her fur lumberjack hat and oversized jacket around herself, trying to stifle a shiver. “How do you two handle this? Seasons are such a scam.”
“I sympathise with you there, Sixer,” Dipper said, coming to join his daughter on the asphalt expanse. He was similarly wrapped up in several layers.
Turning off the engine, the last to emerge from the car was Pacifica, shaking her head at the pair of them. “You guys are such wimps. California, desert planets; neither of you know what a real Fall chill is like.”
“Looks like this place is all geared up for the season,” Dipper said, gesturing at the pumpkins. “Glad we made it a few days before the big tourist rush.” Even so, they’d been lucky to find a space in the crowded parking lot. Across the metal roofs of the cars a distant chattering wafted out from the central tent.
“So this is ‘New England’?” Merrise asked, looking quizzically at the forest. The trees were much smaller than the examples she was used to back home in Oregon, though they still formed an impenetrable wall of darkness, even to her wide eyes. “When was the old one destroyed?”
“Oh no, it’s still there,” Dipper stammered. “See, a lot of places in this part of America are named after ones in England. It’s across the ocean, you remember what those are?”
“Duh, of course I do,” Merrise sighed, as if the knowledge was plainly obvious. “It’s that giant lake thingy that covers most of the planet.”
“Good one, you catch on quick,” Dipper said, trying to reassure his daughter that he wasn’t criticising her. “The towns around here were settled by the English about 350 years ago.”
“The colonists clearly weren’t very imaginative folk,” Pacifica observed. “New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey. That’s Puritans for you.” Merrise cocked her head, seemingly completely lost due to her parent’s words. “Forget it Merrise, I doubt it’ll be important. We’re just here to meet-”
“Guys!” Across the parking lot, an arm appeared from behind the closest tent flap, waving at them non-stop. A second later, Mabel Pines burst out and came running to greet the family. Bear hugs ensued for her brother and sister-in-law, wrapping them in tight. “Welcome to Salem!”
The Pines family had received Mabel’s cryptic invitation a few days ago, requesting their presence in Massachusetts as soon as they could make the journey. Not doubting her intentions, Dipper and Pacifica had immediately agreed to the trip. Due to the brevity of her message, neither had any clue what to expect on arrival, only that if Mabel deemed it serious business then they needed to be here to see it through.
But whatever mission had brought them could wait for later. Right now they had an excited Mabel bouncing up and down and grinning madly at them. “I can’t believe you came all this way to see me. I need someone to pinch me, it’s still kinda surreal.”
“I’ll do it,” Pacifica said with a menacing smirk.
“Me too,” Merrise added, joining in with her mother’s little joke. When Mabel finally noticed the small girl she did a double-take and wiped her eyes.
“Woah, nearly didn’t recognise you there, kiddo. That perception filter must be working overtime.”
Reaching up to her neck, Merrise pulled the gold medallion over her neck, past a thick turtleneck. The sweater was itself a gift from Mabel to keep her from getting too cold on a planet that was a few degrees less comfortable than she was used to. With the filter removed, Merrise’s human disguise flickered away to reveal her true form.
When the device was active, Merrise appeared to be human, However, she didn’t closely match the appearances of her adopted parents. Somehow the psychic link retained the fact everyone who looked at her would be aware she was adopted. So Merrise’s gloriously pink alien skin textures had been translated into a much darker hue compared to Dipper and Pacifica. No-one was about to mistake her for their biological child anytime soon, but the filter at least made her seem like an average ten year-old, rather than an exotic creature born on another world.
To her parents’ eyes of course she appeared as she’d always done. Aware of the effect, they automatically saw past it to the real Merrise. Mabel had spent too much time away for that to be instantaneous, she had to really focus to push past the illusory disguise.
Merrise delighted at Mabel’s attempts to squint through the filter as she slipped the medallion back on. “I told the other girls at school that I’m originally from a place called On-tar-ee-oh.”
“Well whatever form you wear, you still look cute as a button.” Mabel booped her niece on the nose, eliciting a giggle.
“Thanks again for all the adoption papers,” Dipper said to his sister. “Even I couldn’t tell that the birth certificate was a complete forgery. Your arts and craft work continues to impress.”
“Pshaww, it was nothing bro. How about you though! Get a load of this.” She lightly bopped his loose and tangled hair. ”A ponytail, really?”
“I’ve been saying the same thing for months,” Pacifica whispered conspiratorially. “Whether it’s a beard or a ponytail, your brother is always too shaggy.”
“Yeah yeah,” Dipper said, not letting the girls get to him. “I’m embracing a little more chaos in my life, thank you. That and the fact I haven’t found the time to get a haircut in the last year. I’d like to see you try raising two girls, Mabel.”
The group shared a laugh, happy to be in each others’ presence again in a non-life-threatening situation. There’d been vanishingly few of these moments in the last couple of years. Merrise too was at ease in the group, re-learning what it was like to have a real family bond like the one the twins shared.
Although Mabel hadn’t said anything about it out loud, Dipper had noticed her choice of outfit. She wore a bright yellow ribbon in her hair, which at some point in the last few weeks she’d dyed pastel pink. Denim cut-offs and a red t-shirt with her classic rainbow star pattern splayed on the chest completed the look. It also showed off the tattoos she bore from her teenage dalliance with being a goth. In the last year or two Dipper had gotten used to his sister general favouring more practical outfits, fit for the kind of mischief and adventures she’d find herself falling into as a world-renowned political agitator. Her new attire was a small sign that perhaps she was loosening up.
“That reminds me, how is little Wendy Jr?” Mabel asked, bringing Dipper out of his overly analytical mode and reminding him of his baby daughter back home.
“Soos is looking after her,” Pacifica said, shrugging. “The guy’s got two kids already, I’m sure he can handle the terrifying chaotic hybrid of Northwest and Pines.”
“We sound like a law firm when you say it like that,” Dipper said, grimacing. “Our little lamb’ll be fine at home. Better there than on a potentially dangerous adventure.”
“This is way more fun though,” Merrise said, and Dipper couldn’t disagree.
“Man, I still can’t believe we’re all together in one place again!” Mabel was buzzing with energy, practically jumping up and down on the spot.
“Yeah, Dipper said, equally glad of the reunion.“Feels like years, with all that’s happened lately.” Even though brother and sister had met up together a few months prior, it had been even longer since the entire Mystery Trio had been united.
“It was when I gave birth to Wendy,” Pacifica stated matter-of-factly. “My body was going through hell, Mason here was totally useless, and you could hardly contain yourself.”
“That was just a flying visit,” Mabel said dismissively. “Before then, when did we last spend some quality time together as a family?”
The twins thought on the matter, before Pacifica again put them out of their misery. “That’d be a year then. It was last October, when you and Zera left Gravity Falls to go do whatever it is you normally do.”
“Wow, yeah!” Mabel said. “That means this is the first time we’re all back together since we got back from our crazy epic trip through the multiverse.”
Dipper nudged Mabel playfully with his elbow “Video calling on our birthday at the end of summer really doesn’t match up, does it? It’s kinda weird being back on the East Coast, we haven’t left home much since handling our move.”
“Is Zera here, by the way?” Pacifica asked. Mabel’s interstellar girlfriend was hardly easy to miss, especially since she sported fins and scaly skin.
“You’ll see,” Mabel said with an over-exaggerated wink.
“Well, much as I’d love to spend all evening out here reminiscing, do you have somewhere we can sit that’s out of the cold? I might be more resistant than these two,” Pacifica pointed to her family, and continued despite their protests, “but it really is getting cold. The sun’s almost set already.”
Mabel nodded at the tent. “Sure thing, I’ll show you inside. It won’t take long and everything’ll become clear.”
“You know, tents aren’t really known for their heat insulation capabilities,” Pacifica wryly noted as she followed Mabel’s lead.
Before they walked over with the others, Merrise tugged on Dipper’s jacket and he went back to the car. “Wait, hold on a sec. Need to get one more thing.”
Opening up the trunk, Dipper rummaged past the family’s clothes bags. He’d brought some basic mystery hunting equipment - his journal, of course, various energy detectors, ward runes, and Pacifica’s old axe and crossbow - but without more specific information from Mabel he hadn’t packed anything too outlandish. Apart from one item.
Reaching to the back, he retrieved a bone white cage containing a hunk of dark igneous rock. Setting it down on the asphalt, he unlatched it and took a quick step back. Mabel knelt down to look at the odd rock. Her eyes widened as cracks in the rock began emitting a red glow. The surface crackled and stretched, before a hawk-like beak appeared. Spreading its wings, the firebird flew out of the cage. Merrise gave a whistle and the creature landed on her outstretched arm.
“What the frickety frack is that?!” Mabel said, in awe of the creature.
“This is Dee,” Merrise explained while feeding a pebble to the bird. He took off again and landed on a patch of bare ground. The earth instantly caught aflame at the creature’s touch. “He likes to burn things.”
“Woah, not good!” Mabel ran over and damped down the fire, shooing Dee away until he landed again on Merrise. “Back up: You own a pet demon bird?”
“Alien probe bird, more like,” Merrise said, proudly smiling. Dee harmlessly nuzzled her cheek. “He’s from space.”
“Wanna explain?” Mabel addressed to Dipper.
“Maybe later. Paz is right, let’s get inside first. And Merrise, make sure Dee doesn’t torch anything he’s not supposed to. Tents tend to be flammable.”
Merrise saluted and headed after her mother. Dee flapped his wings and glided slightly behind. Mabel shook her head. “Wow, two kids, a pet. You’ve really been domesticated, Dip.”
“If you can call a flaming terror bird ‘domestic’, then sure.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t need that kind of firepower to keep us safe.” Mabel jumped into an action ready stance, before spinning around in the air. “Hee yah!” Her spin kick brought applause from Merrise, but Dipper shoved her towards the awaiting tent flap.
“Yeah yeah, you’re a badass protester and I’m a suburban dad. Enough pleasantries. You know I can’t stand a mystery, however small.” Dipper stared up the billowing tent. “Can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us in here.”
In a tight corridor a short way into the tent, Pacifica was holding up her necklace to show to the others. “May, care to explain why my enchanted, weirdness detecting pendant has been spinning like crazy ever since we entered this tent?”
Dipper cradled the Pine Tree shaped piece of jewellery and felt the magical tug on the silver. He’d enchanted it himself some 12 or so years prior, to alert Pacifica whenever paranormal effects were nearby. Merrise watched it with wide eyes, not yet accustomed to its self-propelled spinning.
Mabel, a cryptic smile on her lips, patted her old friend on the shoulder. “It’ll be super clear, any second now. You guys go on ahead, down this corridor and then find some seats. See you after the show.” With that, she sauntered off down a side passage, leaving the family to find their own way forward.
As they neared another tent flap, the din of murmured voices grew louder. Dipper and Pacifica already suspected what they were about to uncover, but Merrise, none the wiser, crept cautiously forwards. Poking her head through the flap she saw a vast arena of seats within the largest central area of the tent. There was an empty sawdust covered ring in the middle. Above them speakers piped in jaunty music, and the audience were happily chatting or munching on popcorn.
Remembering Mabel’s instruction, Merrise dutifully sat on the nearest wooden bench and waited for the promised event to start. Her parents came to sit on either side, already excitedly looking around the large space.
The lights dimmed, casting the whole tent into shadow. The chatter of voices diminished, and Merrise strained forwards to look at the stage. Even with her extra-sensitive Tengosan eyes she could barely make anything out.
A single spotlight shone down from above, highlighting a small besuited man standing in the ring. He wore an eyepatch and a maroon fez, which bore a golden sigil Merrise didn’t understand the significance of.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” The man’s voice rang out clearly through the whole space, but Merrise frowned. It sounded just like her father’s voice. She looked at Dipper, but he was focused on the stage.
The small man brandished a ball-topped cane and waved it around the arena. “Welcome to Mr Alcor’s Constellation of Amazements! I am your host, Mr Alcor himself!” He slammed the end of the cane on the sawdust, causing a burst of sparks that made the audience coo and sent out small ripples of applause. All that was needed to silence them was a raise of his hand, commanding all attention to remain on himself.
For Merrise, finally adjusting her eyes to the dimmer levels, everything had clicked. She panned from Dipper to the man on stage. No, not a man. A boy, shorter even than she was. Behind all the surface trappings of the suit and eyepatch, Merrise recognised his face as the same as Dipper’s, only much younger.
The person on stage speaking to the enraptured audience was named Quattro. Merrise had met him only briefly before, in a situation that nearly led to the destruction of reality. An exact replica of Dipper Pines, Quattro had been created over a decade and a half ago. Born from an overachieving copier machine that could duplicate people as easily as documents, he’d been crafted by Dipper among several others in a misguided attempt at courting his friend, Wendy Corduroy. Quattro had lived a nomadic life since that night. Merrise only knew this from being told a slim explanation by Dipper. In all the chaos of their previous meeting, she’d barely had time to get to know the long-lived paper clone in detail.
From his expression, easily confident now he had the audience’s full attention, it seemed he was having a whale of a time. “Tonight’s proceedings will be filled with wonder, daring, and mystery. And no end of frights.” He let out an energetic chuckle, then slammed his cane down again and vanished in an explosive flash.
In the centre of the stage, a bonfire began to glow with a flickering light. Dipper and Pacifica strained to see through the darkness, looking for whatever was coming next. Merrise saw it first and felt her blood run cold. Fading in above the sparkling embers, a bone white face materialised in the air. Several gasps came from the audience before the skull face disappeared as abruptly as it had arrived.
“Who dares indulge our show this fine night?” The voice reverberated, even clearer than Quattro’s assertive speech.
Unsure what in the world was going on, Merrise clutched one of her parent’s arms in the dark, Pacifica’s as it turned out. She felt a reciprocating hug from her mother, but it did little to shake her fear. None of the strange Earth creatures Dipper had shown her were anything as terrifying as this.
“Nothing is what it seems.” The suspended face of death reappeared in the shadows at the edge of the stage, near to the closest members of the public watching. It vanished again, leaving Merrise on edge as to where it might show up next. “Whatever might occur in a town of witches and injustice?”
A scream rang out. The skull was floating in the stands, delighting as it spooked a random woman. It kept fading and coalescing out of the darkness to strike fear into the hearts of the audience. Each time it moved, coming closer and closer to where the Pines were seated. The booming voice echoed around from unknown corners. “My hour is almost come, when I to sulphurous and tormenting flames must render up myself.”
Having nearly reached them, the skull vanished one last time. Merrise sat petrified in her mother’s grip, afraid to even breathe. The silent tension stretched and stretched. Merrise almost dared to think it was all over and she looked around to confirm her suspicions.
The skull face, hovering right behind her, flashed a devilish grin. “Something wicked this way comes.”
Merrise gave a high-pitched scream, which only grew in volume when the skull was enveloped in a whirlwind of fire. Consumed in the flames, the spectre reappeared in a matching column on stage, to rapturous applause.
Merrise tried to drown out the noise and the terrifying images, wrapping herself into a tight ball. Dipper and Pacifica quickly noticed her reaction and rushed to comfort her. Pacifica hugged her snugly and stroked her head. “Hey hey baby. This must be confusing.”
“It’s not really a ghost,” Dipper whispered, trying to calm her nerves with rationality. “This is all an illusion, a show. A fake.” Dee also fluttered down beside her, lightly singeing the wooden bench and offering his neck for her to scratch.
Peeking through her fingers, the tears of fright faded as Merrise set eyes on another familiar face. Now illuminated by the bonfire, both Quattro and the skull face were proudly bowing. Only, the skull was clearly attached to a man, who removed a dark cloak that hid elaborate flowing robes of white and purple. What had seemed like real bone was in fact facepaint, covering a face with pitch-black skin and a complex net of dreadlocks tied together in a loose ponytail.
Bokamoso was his name, though Merrise was even less acquainted with him than Quattro. He was a compatriot of sorts to her parents and Mabel, part of their union of travellers who had been exploring the multiverse during the same adventure that had brought them into her life. All she really knew about him was an aptitude for magic spells, something that made sense as an inherent asset in this kind of performance.
Now understanding that there was no real danger, Merrise straightened up. Nodding quietly to her parents, she started to watch the show, no longer scared. If it was nothing but an illusion, she could be brave enough to not hide away. Dipper and Pacifica relaxed too, glad she was getting into the spectacle of the thing.
“My illustrious co-host everybody!” Quattro said, pointing to Bokamoso with exaggerated flair as he took another bow.
“That was only the start of our offerings tonight,” Bo said, toothily grinning. He bulged his eyes out, then blinked them shut. When he reopened them, revealing an extra third eye on his forehead, the audience cheered in shock and delight. Merrise already had him sussed from the start though, and smugly crossed her arms. “Let the games begin, my friends!”
Bo’s eye drifted back to the Pines, and Merrise detected the slightest wink aimed in their direction. She smiled. Even if she’d been scared before, she knew these two performers. This was going to be fun.
“Believe me,” Quattro said, “you ‘aint seen nothing yet!”
Now for some backstory catch-up on some more characters.
Quattro, AKA Dipper Clone no. 4 is actually a Gravity Falls official character. He originally appeared in Double Dipper as one of Dipper's many created duplicates, before escaping with Clone no. 3 (Tracey) and never being seen again in the episode. Apart from single cameo in the credits of the finale and a mention in Journal 3, the clones were left at a loose end. In course of my second fic, Seasons of Change, I brought back the clones and tied them into the ongoing arc plotline. Quattro became a semi-recurring character, who went on to return in Forever Falling as a major supporting guest. In particular he played an important part in the overall arc of FF, so the major finale chapters are of tangential note to his story.
The relevant chapters featuring Quattro's development are:
Seasons of Change: Chaps 17, 18, and 25
Forever Falling: Chaps 12, 13, 24, 27, 32, and 33
Bokamoso Potgieter, three-eyed shaman of Johannesburg, is a character of my own devising. He first appeared as a one-off guest in a chapter of Forever Falling, where he had a run-in with the Mystery Trio. Later on he returned and teamed up with the Pines and their larger group of allies (which included Quattro). By the end of the story he ended up leaving with Quattro to join his circus troupe. As with Quattro, much of his later development was entwined with the series finale's plot, but for a streamlined look at his character, the relevant chapters for Bokamoso's development are:
Forever Falling: Chaps 11, 25, and 31
Lastly, Daedalus, the Firebird, who is the most recently introduced character. His backstory was entirely told in Nature Vs. Nurture, though not all that relevant here, so I won't go into specifics.
Chapter 2: Weird and Wonderful Creatures
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Darting through the bustle of the departing crowds, Merrise headed out of the big top and into one of the myriad of side corridors. Her parents, less adept at navigating the packed space, trailed behind. Eager for them to catch up, Merrise lingered in a quiet corner.
“Took you two slowpokes long enough,” she said proudly when they arrived. “I used to weave through way more people than that everyday in the market back home.”
“Yeah yeah, we’re not all as nimble as acrobats,” Dipper said. While he still bore a grin from their shared enjoyment of the delights of the show, she detected a hint of relief that he hadn’t lost sight of her in the busy throng.
Pacifica was more circumspect, putting an arm on Merrise’s shoulder so she didn’t run off again. Without having to say anything she’d sent the message to her daughter, clear as day. Both of her new parents were always so protective. Rather than chafe at the restriction, it lifted Merrise’s spirits. She knew they’d always be there to look after her, a far cry from her harsh upbringing.
Still, she was impatient to see the real stars of tonight up close. That was the reason they’d come after all. Mabel’s veiled invitation was plain for its intentions now. Merrise wanted to meet the magic men themselves. Quattro and Bokamoso.
Before she could dash off again, Pacifica knelt down on one knee. “Hey, you’re ok right? Not too freaked out from before?”
Merrise wanted to simply nod and move on, but the seriousness of her parent’s glances made her pause. The fear she’d felt at the illusory display earlier now seemed a bit silly. It was nothing more than low lighting and some effective special effects. But for Dipper and Pacifica’s sake she took a second to assuage their doubts. “It was a little spooky, I guess.”
Pacifica pulled her into a hug, an unusually tender gesture for her. “I’m sorry, we should have remembered that you aren’t as used to horror in the same way. It reminds you of… before, right?” Merrise gave a tiny nod. They didn’t need to bring up what lasting effects living in an actively bombed city could impart on a small child. “It’s ok though. We’re allowed to deal with traumatic stuff in our own ways.” Pacifica leant in close and whispered in her daughter’s ear. “I get it too, sometimes. Ringing bells. That’s all I’m gonna say.” She gave a wink and Merrise giggled, confused but getting the sense she’d been told something very important nonetheless.
“It’s alright,” she said. “I know you two didn’t mean to make me scared. Besides, the rest of the show was amazing!” It truly had been an impressive spectacle, with displays of magical tricks alongside feats of acrobatics and even some live animals; Dipper said they were called tigers. Quattro and Bokamoso fit their role as hosts like a glove, lending a chilling atmosphere to the more unsettling acts, and peppering in light jokes to keep the flow moving from one to the next. Merrise was practically bouncing up and down on the spot from all the excitement. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Dipper rubbed his neck. “I guess you never had circuses back on Tengosa. All that attrition from the war.” His smile softened. “I’m glad you had fun, Sixer.”
Pacifica smiled too and stood up, though frowned at what Merrise said next. “I really liked those guys that swung from the ropes. Trapeze artists, you said. I bet I could do that, no problem.”
“Now hold on a minute-” Pacifica began to object to the idea of her risking her life like that, but Merrise cut her off.
“I used to climb buildings taller than that all the time as a kid. It’s easy.”
“Uh, I think you’re forgetting that you’re still a kid,” Dipper pointed out.
“Yeah, but I’m a universe saving kid. They get special privileges.” Both her parents couldn’t help but admire the sarcasm Merrrise displayed. “You guys got up to all sorts of crazy adventures when you were younger, right?” she continued, drawing Dipper up short.
His daughter had a point. After all those summers in Gravity Falls he’d taken any excuse to go chasing monsters in the night with his sister. Still, his parental instincts were strong enough to make him grumble about Merrise winding him up. Ready to ferry them along, Dipper flinched as Dee fluttered by, gliding in the upper rafters of the tent. Somehow he always knew where Merrise would end up. His appearance drew a few curious onlookers, who dismissed his oddities as part of the circus show. They quickly lost interest when he did nothing but swoop around in circles, waiting for Merrise to keep moving.
“Right, time to find the reason Mabel called us here in the first place,” Dipper said, leading the family on. Within the network of tents the family headed away from the entrance, where the crowds thinned out. It didn’t take them long to find a prefab dressing room and Dipper knocked on the door.
“Come in.” The voice was disconcertingly similar to Dipper’s. Inside the dressing room Quattro, his paper clone and grand host of the circus, was changing out of his suit into a jacket and shorts that resembled Dipper’s own choice of fashion from over a decade and a half prior. He flipped up his eyepatch and waved for the Pines family to enter. “Great to see you guys again.”
As one of the duplicates Dipper had created on the night of the Shack party during his first summer in Gravity Falls, Quattro had lived a strange life ever since. Several years spent on the run with his brother Tracey had come to an end with a complicated reunion with Dipper, Mabel, and Pacifica. After that time Quattro, now alone as the last surviving clone, had gone on to take charge of this directionless circus troupe, elevating it to higher stardom and touring around the world. Recently he’d aided in the trio’s quest across the multiverse, the same quest that had led to Dipper and Pacifica meeting and adopting Merrise.
Now he was pleased to see them again, with all the messy complications of the past forgotten about. Dipper put his hand on the clone’s shoulder. “Dude, you’re really thriving. The show was incredible, we all agree.”
“Ah, it’s nothing. I do this kind of show all the time.” Quattro flipped his fez off, revealing slicked back hair, before replacing it with a baseball cap in the same colour which retained the golden sigil inspired by Grunkle Stan. “I’ve got a great set of performers, a new co-host, and thanks to these I don’t even have to worry about water damage anymore.” He presented a large blue pill, like a cough drop, which didn’t look easy to swallow. “A gift from our benefactors at Chiu-Tech. Stabilises and solidifies my paper body. Handy little thing.”
Back in the early days of living with the circus the interlinked maze of tents had been a haven for the young clone. His body was highly susceptible to disintegration on contact with water. As Merrise studied Quattro closer in the light, she noticed that he wasn’t quite an exact duplicate of the younger Dipper. His face bore dark brown marks like healed-over burns; the signs of previous splashes that had singed his skin.
“I’m glad you guys enjoyed the show,” Quattro said.
“That weight lifting you showed off was impressive,” Pacifica said. The tightly packed paper that made up Quattro’s body gave him a strength several times above average, a trait he used primarily to show off to the audience.
“And all those magic spells!” Merrise excitedly added. “The teleporting skull face, the levitation, and, ooh, that trick with the swords.”
“It’s not just real magic though. There’s showmanship too.” Bokamoso’s booming voice filled the room as he entered. Even off the stage he had a magnetic charisma that compelled the Pines to hang on his every proclamation. Wiping his face with a cloth, he cleared off the white makeup that had made him appear like a floating skull. Beneath was a younger face than Merrise had been expecting, though the third eye peeking out from his forehead didn’t faze her. She knew he was a man with a complex heritage.
Bokamoso Potgieter had first run into the Pines when they’d visited Johannesburg as part of a long trek around the world in search of both equipment to build a portal and reports of weird occurrences. They’d found Bo using magic to get some minor revenge on someone who’d insulted him. After some small misunderstandings, they’d found he was sympathetic to their cause. He provided them with powerful incantations to help their endeavours, and even signed up as part of the team to breach the multiverse. Once the group returned from the multiversal mission he’d joined up with Quattro, finding a purpose and a place where he could let his weirdness flourish.
Quattro came to stand beside his co-host, who dwarfed him in height. “Bo’s right, you know. All the flashy spells in the world don’t mean a thing without the right charismatic speeches and distractions. Soos actually gave us a lot of tips while we were staying at the Mystery Shack last year. He taught me that you need to sprinkle in the mundane attractions too. You would not believe how readily the general public will flock to an obviously fake taxidermy or magic trick.”
“Actually I know exactly what you mean,” Dipper said, recalling the wisdom that Stan had indirectly passed down during Mabel’s stint as boss of the Mystery Shack and his failed attempt to draw bigger crowds with genuine supernatural nightmares.
“It’s also a useful get-out clause,” Bo said, turning serious. “If anyone gets curious about our act and starts asking questions we can avoid any complicated answers involving cloning or magic or aliens. It’s a nice and simple sleight-of-hand trick. Speaking of such things, I do believe that a significant date fast approaches.”
“You mean Halloween?” Pacifica said. Bo winked with two of his eyes, then spun around. He spread out his arms, revealing a star pattern on the back of his robes. A Pentagram.
“It’s nearly been two years since our first acquaintance on Halloween night. An auspicious date for both our meeting and the ritual significance, don’t you think, my dear Mrs Pines?”
“Well, back where I’m from it’s not as iconic as Summerween, but I see your point,” she teased.
“We’ve got a whole festival planned for the big night,” Quattro said. “We’ll go hard on the pumpkins and skeletons aesthetic. Bound to draw a few extra tourists, especially a town with such a superstitious history as Salem.”
Bokamoso spread his arms again and deeply intoned. “Wild witches howl, dark spirits growl, and eager customers prowl… on our upcoming Halloween extravaganza, $10 entry, $8 for kids!” Dipper smiled warmly. Bo was truly channelling the compellingly fraudulent energy of Stanley Pines.
“What is Halloween?” Merrise asked her father, who took her off into the corner and started diving into a long explanation.
At the same time, the dressing room became even more crowded as Mabel reappeared. Since greeting the family earlier she’d for some reason decided to change into a dark blue bellydancer outfit, complete with beads on her hips that jangled whenever she moved the slightest amount. Bo bowed theatrically. “Aha, here’s our newest recruit. The magnificent May Pines.”
“Wondered where you’d got to, sis,” Pacifica said. She had to resist flinching at the sounds she was constantly making with her hips. Her words to Merrise earlier about trauma had not entirely been in jest. Looking Mabel up and down, she asked, “Is this how you’ve been keeping out of the news? As a snake charmer?”
“I’m not a snake charmer, I’m a soothsayer!” From her pocket Mabel drew a set of tarot cards and flared them out like a fan in front of her face. “I tell fortunes most of the week, then speak to the dead on Sundays. At least, that’s the idea. I’ve been practicing with a new spell tome Bo got me for my last birthday.”
“Hey, Pacifica, that reminds me,” Quattro said, reclining in his dressing chair. “Mabel tells us you’re writing a book with us in it.”
Pacifica was indeed still working on her novel concept, choosing the best of their adventures to recap. She’d already started sketching out plans for illustrations, though it was a long way off completion. “You’ll have to wait your turn, Little Dipper, I’m still brainstorming the early early days of the twins' first summer. None of you guys really got involved til a few years later. Though when I get around to your part, Quattro, I’ll hardly struggle for an accurate reference for the illustrations.” Her eyes slid over to her husband, who was kneeling next to Merrise, pointing to the fez and recounting some tale about Stan Pines. “At least my latest gossip rag is with the publishers. It’s about my architectural career.”
“I read your last book, you know,” Mabel said. “Couldn’t get through it.” She blew a raspberry. “The characters were so dull!”
“It was a semi-autobiographical book on stock trading. Mabel, it was non-fiction, it wasn’t meant to be a compelling narrative!”
“That’s no excuse. All that boring finance gossip put me to sleep. Anyway, your next book, the one about our history, isn’t technically ‘fictional’ either, is it?”
Mabel raised an eyebrow, and Pacifica frowned. She was about to respond when Dipper pushed himself between the two girls and tried to defuse things. “Of course, knowing Pacifica’s usual level of perfection it’ll probably take years before she’s happy with it. So no need to argue, am I right?”
He fixed his sister with a stern gaze, until she let out a small laugh. “You guys haven’t changed much at all. Come on, I wanna show you my tent next.” She linked arms with Pacifica and led her out. Bo and Merrise followed, with Dee flying after. Before Quattro could do the same, Dipper clutched his shoulder.
“Speaking of books,” Dipper said, reaching into his jacket, “I have something for you, Quattro.” He held out a book with a black cover dotted with golden stars in the pattern of the Big Dipper constellation. A number 8 graced the centre of the cover.
“Oh, wow, thanks!” Quattro ran his palm down the cover. During their expedition through the multiverse, Dipper had given out a number of copies of his journal to different members of the party, so they’d all have something to fall back on in case they got separated - as they had been almost immediately. Journal 8 had ended up in Quattro’s hands, and contained many notes from both himself and Wendy Corduroy from their travels on alien worlds and parallel dimensions.
“Thought you’d want to reminisce about old times.” Dipper wanted to compare notes with Quattro right away, but noticed they were alone in the tent. “Should we catch up with the others? I’m sure whatever Mabel’s got to show us will be worth it.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Quattro laughed. “She wants to show off her girlfriend.”
The small nook in the side of the tent was crammed full of paraphernalia. Behind a desk laden with crystal balls and mystic talismans, Mabel had wasted no time personalising every last corner in her signature style. Flashy stickers and glitter-covered mementos from her childhood abutted political art-pieces and souvenirs acquired on their globe-trotting adventures.
She had moulded glass baubles bought in Venice, a Buddhist prayer wheel from a Tibetan monastery, trinkets and treasures from almost every major destination they’d stopped at. She even proudly displayed an old menorah found buried in Grunkle Stan’s belongings. It was like she was trying to squeeze her entire life into one room.
Leaping over the desk and knocking over a guitar propped up against it, Mabel shuffled her tarot cards and laid them out for Pacifica, Merrise, and Bo to examine. “Ta da.” There wasn’t much for them to read into the cards, since Mabel had absolutely zero knowledge of precognition or fortune-telling. It was another cleverly crafted sham, one the many presented at Mr Alcor’s circus.
The three of them jumped back as a tan-yellow snake slithered into the tent, heading towards Mabel. She scooped the beast up in her arms and coiled around herself like a feather boa. “Aw, you hungry Apep? Want a snack?” She reached into a mini-fridge beneath the table and tossed a freeze-dried mouse into the air. With frightening speed, Apep lunged at the dead creature and swallowed it in a single bite.
Both Pacifica and Merrise were faintly horrified by the whole thing, though Bo simply laughed uproariously. “Come on,” Mabel said, holding Apep aloft. “She doesn’t bite, really. Apep’s the dopiest reptile who ever lived.” Merrise tentatively tickled her under the chin, and the snake’s forked tongue slid in and out contentedly. Mabel had owned the horned viper for a few years now, doting on her as she’d done with Waddles. Despite the venomous qualities of her species, Apep was also completely tame - at least around Mabel.
She was also a complete coward, as aptly proved when Dee flew in and landed on Merrise’s shoulder, causing the snake to wriggle off of Mabel and lazily disappear out of the nook. “Wimp!” Mabel called after her pet, before shaking her head. “Love her, but she’s hardly the most loyal. Not like you,” she addressed to a newcomer entering the tent.
“Ok May, where do you want the- oh.” Entering carrying a pumpkin out in front, Mabel’s extra-terrestrial girlfriend, Zera, had to squeeze past the visitors. Pacifica pressed uncomfortably close up against the alien’s fluorescent skin, which dripped with a thin film of water. A black leotard she wore at least shielded Pacifica from the worst of it.
“Heya Aunt Zera,” Merrise said, waving as the fish alien placed the pumpkin in front of Mabel on the desk. Zera flashed a grin at the girl, though Pacifica noticed it was a little shaky, as if hinting at something she wasn’t aware of.
“Hola mi hermosa esposa,” Mabel said, before pecking Zera on the lips. The pair of them both blushed and looked awkward. Mabel had always acted gooey around Zera, Pacifica supposed.
Her own relationship with the alien was frostier. Zera’s first encounter with the trio had seen her involved in an interplanetary theft scam. She and Dipper had eventually seen through the ruse, though Mabel was more taken in by her radiant appearance. Pacifica knew Mabel’s romantic tastes were far-ranging, but that was really pushing the boat out. A reunion with Zera some months later helped paper over the initially rocky meeting, although only Mabel and Bo had really warmed to her in the time since.
Choosing to stay on Earth, Zera had been by Mabel’s side for most of the past few months, barring an extended leave of absence to revisit her homeworld as part of a required phase in her biology. Pacifica didn’t care to drill down into the details. It was hard enough keeping track of one unruly alien in her family, she mused as she ruffled Merrise’s hat.
Behind the desk, Mabel leant back on her chair and started bouncing a plastic slinky from one hand to the other, evidently bored. Bo coughed. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence in the tent. Despite any animosity, polite formality dictated that Pacifica not say anything too rude in Zera’s presence, and should try and start up some chit-chat. “So, Zera, are you working at this tourist trap too?”
Bo tried to say something about the legitimacy of his craft, but Zera chuckled. “You might say that. I’m the newest draw in the Weird and Wonderful Creatures tent.”
Zera modelled a few poses, raising her hands to reveal sharp claws, pulling back her head fin to appear meeker, cheesily snarling at Merrise until she batted her away. “Ooh, can you do a roar?” Merrise asked. “Please please please?”
Mabel gave a dry laugh. “Figures. I’m dating the creature from the black lagoon. I sure know how to pick ‘em.”
“You do have good taste,” Zera said, caressing Mabel’s cheek. The two girls giggled to each other, which was far more than either Pacifica or Bo were willing to tolerate. Thankfully the shaman coughed into his fist, spurring Zera to remember her surroundings. “Uh, right. I don’t always act as the ‘hideous beast’. All of us pitch in with a bunch of different acts. I’ve been fired out of a cannon a few times, that’s always fun. May sometimes flies on the high wire with her grapple gauntlet.”
Mabel nodded, proud of her achievements in the past two weeks. “I wish I’d got to keep Candy’s anti-gravity boots though, those would’ve been great for the show.”
“I also help out with the magic shows sometimes,” Zera said. “Bo and Quattro sometimes need an understudy.”
“And what a shame we have to rely on such a novice,” Bo said, before cackling to himself.
“You know magic?” Pacifica said to Zera. “But you’re an alien.”
“I- I just didn’t expect that from…” She analysed this train of thought. Magic and space didn’t want to mesh in her mind, but with all the things she’d seen with the twins she could hardly discount this. “Sorry, that sounds awfully prejudiced.”
“Well duh, we have magic in space too. What, you think that there’s something special about this one out-of-the-way dirtball, and magic just stops working once you pass an arbitrary point in the upper atmosphere?” Zera said with an air of incredulity.
“I know, it’s silly.” A scarlet blush broke out on Pacifica’s cheeks, and Mabel eagerly leaned forwards to catch what she whispered next. “Do you still have to shout cod-latin phrases to make the spells work?”
Zera’s lips turned into a smirk. “Spells rely on intrinsic belief and conviction. Being aware you can cast an effect is already half the battle. The words are more of a focusing mantra, they help to clear the mind of obstructions. Like so.” Zera coughed theatrically and closed her eyes. She made sure to enunciate every syllable with the gravest intent. “Melatonin… spatula!” A glowing orange circle spawned in the air above Zera. A tangle of yellow fell from the sky before landing in her arms. Apep the snake didn’t seem pleased to have been plucked out of space, though didn’t mind Zera holding her. Looking around with those vacant slitted eyes, she alighted on Dee, still perched on Merrise’s shoulder, and slithered away right back to wherever she’d come from.
“Spells work with any language really,” Mabel explained, propping her feet up on the table. “Latin just has this air of being super old and authoritative, so people assume the magic words will work. So they do. Easy as pie. Or is that easy as Pi? Or- wait, is that Greek? I dunno. The point is, spells are mostly gibberish.”
Pacifica wanted to ask more, but dropped the matter. She could swear she’d been witness in the past to magic where the content of the words had actual importance. Her husband could shed some light later, probably with more sources to back a similar explanation in the end. It’d be nice to listen to his adorable rambling.
Meanwhile Zera was displaying another of her abilities, tossing a rubber ball into one orange portal and then catching it again when it flew out of a separate purple one. She repeated the trick, increasing the number of linked portals each time, until there were about a dozen small gateways intersecting the air. On catching the ball, Merrise and Bo each applauded, Merrise with a flurry of claps and Bo in a laid back, seen-it-all-before way.
Zera gave a small bow. “That one’s a variant of the whole ‘pillar of fire’ schtick Bokamoso uses in his act. Teleportation, though I’m nowhere near as skilled to transport a whole person yet.”
“Ah, with more training it’ll come to you,” Bo said, putting an arm around her shoulder. The two had a close mentor and assistant relationship forged during a time when they’d journeyed together through the multiverse. Bo had been eager to spread his magical knowledge to any up and comers at the time. His childhood had been highly isolated, so his run in with the Pines was a fortuitous gateway to making some connections for the first time in his life.
“Pfft, I can do tricks too,” Mabel said. She set up two piles of playing cards next to each other, meticulously lined them up, then poised herself to combine them. Her fingers flicked upwards and sent the cards flying all over the room. “Ah, you win some, you lose some.”
Pacifica ducked a spinning ace. “PT Barnum would be impressed.”
Zera laughed at Mabel’s antics as she fruitlessly tried to snatch cards wafting down out of the air, then said. “Ooh, one more thing, I’ve got this.” She pointed to a triangular earring she wore, made of a dull grey metal. She tapped it, and suddenly a trail of identical after-images followed her every movement. Her blue skin and purple fins seemed more vivid and striking to the eye, and Merrise and Pacifica could hardly draw their eyes away.
“That’s the dazzle thing you had on you when we first met.” Pacifica stated without losing her concentration. “This is definitely a better use than outright scamming people. Though I suppose in a roundabout way you’re doing the same thing. You know, I’m starting to see what drew you to working for Quattro, the guy who models himself after a conman. You all fit together like a puzzle.”
Zera switched off the dazzle, returning to basic mundanity. “It’s got a perception filter built in too, since it doesn’t make sense in the shows to have a fish woman jumping on a trampoline or whatever. It keeps it simple. Though I do appreciate this place a lot. Circuses like this are some of the only places on this planet I can be myself, without being judged.”
“That was always my hope,” Bo said, warmly smiling. “A home on the road for any weary traveller of a strange or outcast bent.”
Hearing this, Merrise excitedly pulled up the medallion carrying her own perception filter and took it off, cancelling the illusion that she was human - though for those in the packed nook it made little difference to their senses. Though glad to see her so enthused, Pacifica put a hand on Merrise’s shoulder again. “We’ll be in the audience, remember, not up on stage. So you should turn your medallion back on, honey. It’s not safe otherwise.”
Reluctantly, Merrise slid the medallion back on, and Pacifica felt a pang of sadness on seeing her hurt expression. Sometimes being a responsible parent didn’t feel very satisfying. “What does your human form look like then?” she asked Zera, hoping to change the subject slightly.
“She looks like Minnie Driver in that cartoon movie with the orangutans,” Mabel said with a huge grin.
Zera blinked. “I still have no idea what you mean when you say that.”
The entire rest of the group mumbled in agreement. Mabel pouted. “You guys are no fun.”
Merrise, though impressed by all of Zera’s new tricks, was still hungry for more. “What have you and Aunt Mabel been up to in the last few months? I bet you’ve been all over the place before you ended up here! You must have been to all sorts of romantic locations.”
“A few good ones,” Zera replied with a nod. “There was that business in Paris for May’s political demonstration. We had a week in California so she could show me some of her favourite places from childhood. Oh, and our trip to Vegas last month of course. That one was so-”
Mabel tried to cut her off. “Well it’s no Lottocron, I’ll say that. Yeah, ha ha,” she unconvincingly laughed. Another very loud silence returned. It wasn’t like Mabel to get cagey over her personal life. Zera demurred to her judgement as well, eyes darting back and forth from her girlfriend and the floor as if she’d erred somehow.
It was all too much drama for Pacifica to care about. She blew air noisily through her cheeks. “So, lots of big old reunions, very nice. But surely there’s something more to why you called us all the way across the country, Mabel? I haven’t driven 3000 miles for gossip and chit-chat.”
“I see you’ve lost none of your good tact, Paz.” Mabel’s grumpiness morphed into a smile. “You’re right though. We’ve spent enough time on reintroductions. The reason I called you guys here is much more important. Now we’re all here, let’s go grab Dipper and Quat and I can explain what’s really going on.”
Back in the dressing room, the group found Dipper and Quattro still comparing notes from their journals. Dipper was outlining some of the creatures he’d encountered with Mabel during their last meeting in Sapphire Bay, but snapped the book closed when he saw the others. “Time for the mystery angle at last, I take it?” He gave a small nod in Zera’s direction, obviously too wrapped up in journal mode to give more than a passing hello.
Quattro put Journal 8 down and gestured for the group to follow him. “Step right up, follow me, this way, watch your heads.”
The group of seven took a narrow connecting passage to one of the larger satellite tents ringing the central big top. Behind a velvet guiderope which Quattro unhooked was the hall of cryptids. Pacifica found it a tawdry setup, with obviously contrived creations such as pigs with plastic tusks stuck on to represent legendary boar monsters, or glued-together papier mache dragons. Though she could only chuckle at Dipper and his sister, who bore expressions of warm nostalgia. This place brought them right back to the days of living in the Mystery Shack.
As soon as Pacifica stepped over a threshold about halfway into the room, her pendant, which had been lethargically rotating on its chain ever since entering the circus tent, went into overdrive. “Ok, now I know this is something big.”
“Right you are, my esteemed guest.” Quattro brandished his cane and swung it towards a corner of the room fenced off with yet more ropes and signs stating it was closed for maintenance. “Behind this curtain lies the real reason the Pines were summoned here to Salem to indulge our little performance. Prepare yourselves for danger, for intrigue, and for something… unknown to human eyes.” Dipper felt the urge to give a small round of applause. He remembered first meeting a young, scared boy all those years ago. To see his transformation was inspiring. Quattro was eating this up, letting the energy of the small crowd feed his confidence. “Now, without further ado, I’ll-”
A harsh screeching noise interrupted him and made everyone wince. Merrise held up her hands. “Sorry, sorry, it’s Dee.” The phoenix was flapping about around her head.
He flew towards Quattro, who kept him out of range with his cane. “Hey, I may be safer around water nowadays, but I’m pretty sure paper is still very flammable.”
“He doesn’t usually get like this,” Merrise said, blushing. “It must be whatever you want to show us.
“Dee was built with the ability to detect alien lifeforms,” Dipper added as explanation. “If he touches any organisms fully native to Earth he just sets them on fire. Sorry for taking away some of your thunder, Quat.”
The clone waved it off as nothing, while Dee flew over and landed on Zera’s head. There was no adverse effect, in fact she seemed unperturbed by the whole thing. “What a surprise. I’m an alien. Who would’ve guessed.”
Taking off again, this time Dee targeted Bo and perched on his shoulder. Dipper and Pacifica braced for the worst, but once again there was no effect. Bo chortled loudly. “I always knew my father was strange. Now I know quite how out of this world he was!”
Dee leaned over as if to sniff Bo, then reacted like he’d found a bad smell. The awful screeching returned, and Dee turned his head back and forth mechanically. Merrise whistled for him to return to her, and the firebird obliged.
Merrise rubbed her arm and avoided Bo’s gaze. “Sorry, he doesn’t like hybrids.”
“Ahem.” Quattro coughed into his fist. “If we could get back on track. I know you guys have come a long way and I’d hate to disappoint.” He gripped the ominous curtain, daring to pull it back. Dipper and Pacifica leaned forward. This wasn’t the first time Quattro had pulled back a curtain to dramatically reveal something unexpected.
With a flourish he retracted the curtain. In the darkened room beyond, a luminous glow shone out, momentarily blinding them all. Bo had been prepared, quietly slipping on a pair of sunglasses and flashing a toothy grin at the group. “Come and see our new pets.”
As the Pines family filed into the room their jaws dropped. Within a large enclosure built of transparent plastic sheeting sat two creatures that put the rest of the cryptid exhibit to shame. With a vast bulk of muscle and white fur interlaced with purple stripes, the feline-like beasts padded around and seemed not to notice the newcomers.
Surrounding the pair of creatures was an overbearing aura of light, pulsing with turquoise energy and suffusing the tent. As the group entered, their eyes adjusted to the brightness, allowing them to see more clearly. The aura wasn’t unlike the dazzle Zera had shown off, leaving imprinted remnants of the creatures as they moved around.
Up close they could make out more bizarre details that marked the beasts as unique. Out of their foreheads sprung curved horns, thick like a goats, and three eyes, similar to Bo’s, stared disinterestedly out of their faces. A row of spines ran along their arched backs, and lengthy fan-shaped tails swept the dirt floor of the enclosure. Beneath the fur was an oily layer of skin.
This was Quattro’s own unique form of mystery hunting, of chronicling the strange side of the world. Instead of a journal, he had the circus; the perfect camouflage for hiding the real deal.
“Incredible.” Dipper was the first to break the awe-filled silence. He pulled out his journal to start taking rapid-fire, spur-of-the-moment notes. “They look like lynxes, or those cats, Maine Coons. Beautiful texture of the fur, sort of aquatic, very flowing. Whiskers like a catfish. And those horns: more for competition within the species than hunting I’d say.”
“They look like they should be gracing one of those crappy motivational posters from 15 years ago,” Pacifica said, offering much less of a critical analysis. One of the cats pressed its nose up against the warped plastic to stare at her. It blinked dumbly and stuck out its tongue seemingly fascinated with the spinning silver Pine Tree.
Merrise tugged on her mother’s sleeve. “What’s a motivational poster?”
“Truly a lost art,” Mabel said, leaning on the side of the enclosure and waxing nostalgically. “I miss when memes were simpler, white text on some psychedelic photo of an animal.”
“I still have no idea what you’re talking about,” Merrise said, smirking. “Human culture, am I right, Zera? Up top.” The two aliens shared a high five - or high six in Merrise’s case.
“This is why I called Mabel to help in the first place,” Quattro said, captivated by the two creatures in his care. “She helped trap them safely so we could move them somewhere more isolated.” Astonishingly, the creature not fixated on Pacifica started floating, paddling through the air as if it was water and flipping over onto its back. “Oh yeah, they do that too. A real bag of tricks, these ones.”
Pacifica turned to her husband. “Mason, what are these things?”
He flipped through his journal, before abruptly stopping. “I… I’ve no idea why I’m searching through this thing, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“I’ve got something that might help.” Quattro grabbed a few reams of paper out of his jacket. “Printed these off from some websites. Real legit sources, I know,” he sneered. “They give a basic overview at least, enough for us to know what these things are called. Apparently, they’re Mishipeshu.”
“Never heard of them,” Dipper said, cheeks straining from a grin. Discovering something completely outside his wheelhouse was always an unmatchable thrill.
While Bo, Zera, and Mabel, who were already familiar with the beasts, went to the rear of the tent and refilled a trough with water, Quattro puffed out his chest. “In the language of the indigenous people of the Great Lakes, Mishipeshu means, well, Great Lynx, no surprise there. Also known as the ‘underwater panther’, said to live in opposition to Thunderbirds and rule the underworld. Although some of these myths imply there’s only supposed to be one Mishipeshu, so I’m not sure about every last detail. Oh, and they’re the masters of all water creatures, which in this mythology includes snakes, Mabel.”
“Apep had better watch out,” she said while hefting a water jug. Pouring it into the pen, the two Mishipeshu bounded over, hovering and propelling themselves ungracefully through the air before splashing themselves in the water. “Zera and I picked these babies up in Nova Scotia. Took a hell of a thing to stop them blobbing away into the sky, but here they are.”
“Nova Scotia?” Pacifica said, narrowing her eyes. “Quattro, I thought you said-”
“That traditionally they’re meant to live in the Great Lakes? Yeah. I guess a few hundred years of human settling must have driven them further afield. Our troupe heard rumours of unusual animal sightings and came to try and contain them.”
“The poor things seemed confused,” Zera said. “Quat was worried they might end up accidentally hurting someone.” Merrise looked at the fierce claws hidden within the otherwise soft and fluffy paws, and gulped. “Are all mythical creatures real on this planet?” Zera asked, catching Dipper and Pacifica off guard.
“Uh, well,” Dipper started, before his daughter piped up.
“You mean these aren’t normal around New England? They don’t seem so crazy compared to one of those, what are they called…” She stuck out her tongue and thought for a few seconds. “‘Llamas’. The ones mom loves so much. They freak me out.”
Pacifica gave a small laugh. “I forgot, you don’t really have an innate sense of what’s ordinary or outlandish yet.”
“I mean, some mythical beasts are definitely real,” Dipper said, hoping to portray some authority over the subject.
“What about Tokoloshes?” Bo said, once again throwing off Dipper’s train of thought. “I made one of those using magic.”
“I hope you haven’t made any new ones.” Dipper flashed Bo a stern glare, but he held up his palms.
“On my honour, no. Do you know how difficult it is to get fresh corpses in this country.” Dipper’s outraged face made him collapse in a fit of laughter. “Mr Pines, really. Do I look like the kind of guy who would go back to that. I have a proper job and a community now. I don’t need any shrivelled up homunculi to do my bidding. Not unless we get really desperate for money.” He laughed again, though Dipper didn’t appreciate the joke.
“Ha ha, sure, whatever. In any case, the Tokoloshes you brought to life were based off your own interpretations of the myth. This Mishi- Mishpeshu, am I saying that right? This thing is an independent creature that likely inspired the myths in the first place.”
“So the question stands,” Zera said, crossing her arms. “Are all your Earth myths real?”
Dipper skimmed through his journal again, affecting a look of deep concentration. “Well, it’s case by case. For instance, gnomes are verifiably real. Fairies, unicorns, lake monsters, take your pick. Grunkle Ford told me he once had a run-in with the Jersey Devil. I can personally attest that Mothman cheats at cards. But I also know for a fact that 90% of all Bigfoot sightings in the last decade can be traced back to a single woman who lives in Wyoming and owns a fursuit. Lovely girl, very passionate about wandering her local woods in full costume. Sciapods, Pristers and Ziphiuses are all consigned to mythology. Vampires are real but the jury’s still out on werewolves.”
Leaning against him, Pacifica whispered softly, “Lovely speech. Get to the point.” She kissed him on the cheek.
Smiling warmly, Dipper opened his arms wide. “We live in a complicated world. Simple as that. Some things get passed into legend because they’re so outlandish they deserve it, while other legends spring up out of whole cloth, borne from misinterpretation or imaginative storytellers. Not everywhere is like Gravity Falls, where cryptids lie around every corner, but after exploring so much of the rest of the world it’s clear that there will always be hidden things waiting to be discovered.” He laughed. “You know, it’s a good thing I’m not an evolutionary biologist. I imagine I’d be tearing my hair out trying to catalogue all of the stuff in my journal and fit it into some orthodox view of nature.”
Zera seemed satisfied with Dipper’s long-winded rationale. She put her arm around Mabel, and the pair sat on a haybale at the edge of the tent.
“So what’s the big issue about the Mishipeshu?” Pacifica asked Quattro. “Huh, that kinda rhymed. Do you need help moving them? I suppose they might feel at home in Gravity Falls, if they can tolerate the trip. We’d have to hire a moving van or something.” She trailed off, running calculations in her head about costs and logistics. She was probably the financial expert of the group after all.
“That’s not the problem,” Quattro said. He started to seem anxious for the first time tonight. “The problem is-”
“There used to be three of them,” Bo said, dropping all hints of his jovial tone. A chill went up Dipper and Pacifica’s spines and they encouraged him to go on. “May and Zera went out, caught three Mishipeshu, we put together this little enclosure. Then, the night after, one of them had vanished.”
“At first we thought it had run off or floated away,” Quattro said. “Until we found this.” He showed a metal badge in the shape of a pointy hat. “It’s a Salem tourist pin, the kind they sell in all the gift shops. That’s the reason we moved the whole circus here, and called you guys in.”
“You came all this way for a single pin?” Dipper asked, turning it over in his hands. The rear was simple burnished metal, giving nothing away.
Mabel shrugged. “Sometimes you go a long way for the things you love.”
Dipper didn’t miss the thinly veiled reference to his own journey here. It wasn’t like Mabel to get introspective like that, but he could ask about it later. Stroking his chin, he handed the pin back. “A mystery cryptid thief who lives in Salem? This is gonna take more than a few sides of A4 to puzzle out.” He went to look in his journal, but found Merrise had already pickpocketed in and was browsing the pages.
“What?” she said on seeing his annoyed look. “You always encourage me to increase my reading level. This is the most fascinating book to train with, you’ve gotta admit. At least it is when I can decipher the handwriting.” Dipper chuckled despite her thieving proclivities. Merrise liked to sneak pencils off of other girls at school out of a kleptomania that stemmed from her days as an orphan. She was happily browsing the book, until the pages began oddly shimmering with a golden tint. The book shook in her grasp. “I didn’t do anything, I swear!”
She dropped it to the floor, and Dipper scooped it up. “Ah, don’t worry too much Sixer.” He shook the book and the golden light flickered away. “Journal 9’s been doing that for a while now. Probably an overload of psychic energy or something. To do with something that happened in Sapphire Bay. It’s getting nearly full anyway. There’s a lot of scribbles from Andromeda clogging up the middle pages.”
“I’ve already got a plan,” Mabel said, stretching her neck from the haybale to get noticed. “We take some of the glowing fur from either Mishi or Peshu here as bait, then do a sting operation. Maybe plant it in a few spots to try and lure out the kidnapper. Knowing our luck it’s probably some xenophobic trophy hunter. And yes Dipper, before you ask, I do know what xenophobic means, I’m not 12.”
“Actually I was going to say that’s a pretty solid plan to be starting with,” he said, cheekily smiling.
“We have to keep this internal,” Quattro said. “We didn’t even think of calling the cops. In case you haven’t noticed, not all of the stuff in these tents are above board. They’d probably have us all sectioned. I won’t risk the livelihood of my workers, nor the creatures under protection. ”
“Not to mention me,” Mabel said. “I bet the cops are just looking for a reason to lock me up.”
“Not unjustifiably,” Dipper added, though it wasn’t like he hadn’t been a part of some of those same illegal activities.
“I consider it a badge of honour,” she replied sweetly. “Look, I’ve already charted out a few popular spots around town. Bo and Zera are capable, they can take one each.”
“Not too bad a plan,” Dipper said, noticing Mabel flinch slightly. Had she been expecting him to pre-emptively shoot down her plan right off the bat. He’d have to make sure she felt more appreciated. “Pacifica, what do you think? Pacifica?”
Standing upright next to him but already snoring lightly, Pacifica blearily wiped her eyes. “Hm, what? I’m not going anywhere tonight. I drove for hours today. Don’t forget, you napped earlier. I haven’t had a chance to rest.”
“I’ve already had a caravan set up for you three,” Quattro said. “Made the beds already, though it’s not the most spacious.”
“It’ll do,” Pacifica said, already striding off and expecting the clone to lead her to a bed.
“I guess it’s just us then,” Merrise said, but Dipper adamantly shook his head.
“Oh no you don’t, little miss. It’s already way past your bedtime.” She put on an adorable grumpy face that didn’t make him budge an inch. “Looking for monsters in the dead of night? That’s for when you’re a bit older. Even multiverse saving kids need to be well rested. Now run along after your mom.”
Slouching as she went, Merrise ran off in pursuit of Pacifica and Quattro. Dipper turned to his sister. “It’s you and me then, Mabel. The Mystery Twins ride again.” He stared sympathetically at the two dopey lynxes in the enclosure. Despite their outward lack of intelligence, they seemed incomplete to Dipper, as if that overwhelming aura they radiated hid a sense of loss. “Where do we start?”
Zera, Mabel’s girlfriend, first appeared in Forever Falling chapter 16, where she was involved in a small-scale interplanetary scam. Over the course of events she bonded with Mabel, before returning to the stars. Much later on she returned, in chapter 31, which is when she first met Bokamoso and started learning magic from him. In the finale of FF she chose to stay on Earth with Mabel.
In my original 2020 planning notes, this chapter was originally merged with chapter 1. When it came time to expand them into full prose, the way I restructured the opening made it unwieldy to fit all these events in one, not to mention the already lengthy wordcount.
In those earliest plans, the story was set not in Salem, but Tennessee, at a county fair. I had loose plans to include some reference to Old Man McGucket, given his origins in that state. This all changed when I realised I knew almost nothing about Tennessee, so pivoted to a more intriguing location that I had a baseline of knowledge about. Other aspects that inspired the switch to Salem include the general Halloween vibes of a New England Fall, as well as the recent Owl House special, Thanks for Them, which took place in a similar kind of setting.
Chapter 3: Heart to Heart
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
In a small garage across town in Salem, the Pines Twins were settled in for the long haul. It was past midnight now, though Dipper was wide-awake, dosed up on caffeine and an adrenaline rush from being back out on a mystery case. Mabel of course had a preternatural ability to be alert at any time of day, and didn’t seem to waver after being up all day pretending to be a soothsayer for passing tourists.
The gentle strums of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car filled the garage, while Mabel worked on her motorbike. She was in her third outfit change of the night, after her casual clothes and circus outfit. Back in her practical brown leather jacket she seemed prepared for whatever action might occur.
Beside her, Dipper was sat on a crate, Journal 9 resting on a rusty barrel in front of him. His phone was also on. He’d been using it to research the town, hoping to find some natural advantages should the need arise. Already he had several promising leads to follow up. His phone now displayed a photo of one of the Mishipeshu, so he could use it for reference as he sketched the likeness into the journal.
Other than Mabel humming along to the music, it had been quiet in the garage for some time; The quiet silence of two people totally comfortable around one another.
Dipper put the finishing touches on his shading lines and closed the journal. It wouldn’t hold any more answers. Earlier they’d planted several bushels of Mishipeshu fur around town in prominent locations. Some near the colonial-era houses, others in the main high street. They’d even left some at The Friendship of Salem, floating in the harbour, just to cover all their bases. If whoever had stolen one of the creatures wanted to complete the set they’d have to rear their head and get noticed.
Acquiring the fur had been a task all in itself. The Mishipeshu didn’t exactly fight back, but were supremely reluctant to get close to anyone brandishing a pair of hair clippers. They would float away or press themselves up against the walls of their enclosure. It had taken the twins 20 minutes and much cajoling to snip off enough fur for tonight’s plan.
Positioned in other locations in Salem, Bo and Zera were staking out their own locations, but since Dipper was new in town he’d tagged along with Mabel. It was an arrangement that suited both twins, as they slotted back into their usual easy relationship. It hadn’t always been the case, but they’d gone through enough to stick together through thick and thin.
Putting his research aside, Dipper was content to watch Mabel tinker with her bike. She was currently tightening one of the bolts on the lower chassis. A solar panel behind the seat betrayed the fact that the bike was inauthentic. It was a fully electric model, much more environmentally friendly. Even the exhaust ports on the back were merely for the aesthetic.
Mabel didn’t usually gravitate towards technology. She preferred to rely on her own abilities, or minor inventions she’d cobbled together herself like the grapple gauntlet she had strapped to her wrist. The bike was her one concession, her pride and joy. She loved the thrill of a high-speed ride, and constantly adjusting it to improve the handling was a minor obsession.
Dipper noticed she’d added some personal elements. There were a slew of stickers all over the body of the bike. Shooting stars - her trademark - next to circular peace symbols and chibi pig faces. There was even one flag of pink, yellow, and blue stripes that must represent some pride thing Dipper wasn’t educated enough to recognise.
Finally finishing whatever adjustments she’d been working on, Mabel wiped her hands on an oily rag and gripped the handles. Revving the bike, she carefully listened to the hum of the engine. “Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.”
“Are you finished with your upgrades?” Dipper asked, none the wiser as to what she’d actually done to the bike.
“For now. With some little tweaks, plus Toni’s modifications to this baby I can tease out even more speed than before.” She revved the engine a few more times. “Vroom vroom!”
Dipper chuckled, glad to see his sister passionate about something. It had been a long time since he’d had the fortune to witness that regularly. “I can’t believe it’s been so long since we could unwind like this,” he said, voicing his stray thoughts and echoing Mabel’s own ecstatic words on their reunion earlier that day.
“Been a whole year now like you guys said.” Mabel knelt down to wipe grease off the bike’s suspension.
Dipper leant on a nearby workbench covered in her tools. “Those 5 years we spent apart are firmly over. We can make up for lost time.”
“Uh, did you forget Dip?” Mabel said, looking at him askew. “We spent practically the whole of last year together.”
“No, but I mean, you can’t deny that wasn’t the highest stress period of our entire lives.”
“I’m not sure, I don’t think there’s an upper limit. Knowing our lives, things can always get weirder.”
“You know what I’m talking about though.” He fixed Mabel with an intent gaze. “We don’t have to fix all of the multiverse’s problems, not this time. We can kick back a bit and talk. Seeing everyone tonight was one thing, but now it’s just the two of us. Like it used to be.”
Mabel didn’t respond at first, quietly continuing to clean. Satisfied the job was done, she tossed away the rag and stood up. Eyeing her brother, she drank from a bottle of water. “You didn’t get this deep in Sapphire Bay.”
“That was different, you called about a mission. I guess I wasn’t ready to question things. It was nice to be brother and sister for once, no greater obligations.” He shrugged. “Now I’m ready to talk more seriously. And Pacifica: love her to bits, but she’s not the most sparkling conversationalist, especially when she’s tired and cranky.”
Mabel snorted and sat on the workbench next to Dipper. He was still fixing his gaze on her, though she seemed reticent to open up for some reason. “Come on, I wanna know about your life. It’s been a year, like you said, I’m sure you’ve done some exciting things. Political campaigns, protests, whatever. Go ahead, you can even give me some spiel about how my shirt was made unethically, I don’t mind.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to open with that…”
The twins laughed. Despite Mabel’s caginess, there was still a lightness to the conversation that couldn’t be dampened. It wasn’t the same as when they’d been younger, that was undeniable. But repairing their lives together after all the years of distance had changed everything for the better.
Dipper suddenly gestured at the bike. “When we were kids I never imagined you’d be the type for tinkering around with these sorts of things”
“It started with the golf carts at the Shack,” Mabel said, shrugging. “First Stan taught us to drive around, then the next thing you know we were outrunning giant Gnome gestalts. Then the year after Soos showed me how to put an engine together, and you know the rest.” Her fingers skated around the bodywork, tracing pipes and tightened bolts. “I think of it as an extension of the same way I knit wool. I mean, breaking locks, parkour, swinging with my grappling hook… it’s all the same skill deep down. Mastery of my hands in 3D space.” To demonstrate she picked up a nearby spanner, spun it around and tossed it into the air, before catching it nimbly without even looking. Dipper had already seen some impressive feats of juggling today, but smiled at Mabel’s relaxed skills.
“And yet you’re still the clumsiest person I’ve ever met. Funny how that works out. Things change, but there are always constants. Though I never quite expected you to change into a full-on gearhead.”
“Not like you,” Mabel said, taking another sip of water. “You’ve always been the same nerdy guy.”
“Boring old Dipper, is that it?” he responded with an accusing glare.
“More like obvious- predictable, uh, reliable.” Mabel stumbled over her words in an attempt to clarify. “No surprises, what you see is what you get, even if that stuff involves magic journals and firebirds. You’re an open book.”
“And you’re the girl who acts all sweet on the surface and hides all the badass protester stuff? Or is it the other way around these days? I find it hard to keep up.”
“I’m just me, Dip. May Pines, who I’ve always been.”
Dipper sighed. “You’ve been a lot of things, Mabes. Punk, goth, artist, activist, adventurer… amateur puppet dramatics stage director.” He suppressed a nostalgic giggle. “That’s why I want to know what you’ve been up to. So I can find out who Mabel Pines is nowadays.”
Mabel didn’t have an answer for that question, clamming up and staring into the ripples of her drink.
“I mean, that’s certainly giving me a lot to think about,” Dipper said, pointing to Mabel’s hip. Strapped on was a holster containing a handgun. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen his sister handling a firearm, but that didn’t diminish the jarring discomfort.
Mabel looked down, and calmly spoke. “It’s for protection. The guys who stole the Mishipeshu probably aren’t messing around.”
“Still, it seems a bit harsh for you. Like it doesn’t fit who you are.”
“I thought you didn’t know who I was anymore?” Mabel shot back. There was a moment of hurt silence between them, before Mabel sighed. “Ah, forget about it. Tell me, in all your research did you have any bright ideas on how to find our missing cryptid?”
Pivoting away from the sensitive areas of discussion, Dipper showed Mabel a pair of goggles he’d brought all the way from home in his small stash of equipment. “I have some theories. With our good old night vision goggles I might be able to track the Mishipehsu’s aura. You know their ability to float? I hypothesise that they’re able to vibrate along higher wavelength dimensional strings than we’re aware of. They’re absolutely fascinating creatures.”
Mabel half-interestedly stared into the blank lenses of the goggles, watching the display cycle through night-vision, thermal imaging, and other arcane energy detection modes. “Care to dumb it down so it isn’t rocket science?”
“Ha, if you were an astrophysicist like me you’d know that rocket science is one of the easiest fields. It just means they’re probably swimming in a fluid that only exists in a different plane of reality than ours. The Mishipeshu are conscious of multiple worlds at once and can liminally exist in a few at a time.”
“And that gives off some reading you can track with the goggles,” Mabel said, piecing it all together at last. She passed the antique device back to Dipper. “Makes sense, I guess. If we don’t find anything tonight maybe you can bring Merrise along next time. She’s got those big wide eyes, perfect for monster searching.”
“She’d really enjoy that,” Dipper said, smiling to himself. “Merrise takes to adventuring like a Gobblewonker to water.”
“How’s she been adjusting lately? Zera told me it took her a while to get used to living here, but she’s an adult. Must be tough for Merrise to adapt.”
Dipper pondered it for a moment. “Kiddo’s smart. Not booksmart, obviously, she’s still a few years behind when it comes to reading level, not to mention a lack of general Earth knowledge. But she’s quick at grasping things, understanding how they all fit together. She was homesick recently - leaving your entire home dimension is a good way to get separation anxiety - but we talked it out rationally. Now she’s way happier. All it took was a little understanding from both of us. That, and surviving a giant flaming death bird and a vindictive nature sprite, but that’s the average weekday in Gravity Falls.”
“You’re still acting like a good dad then.” Mabel hopped off the workbench and started pacing. “That reminds me… have you spoken to mom or dad lately?”
Dipper did a double-take. He hadn’t expected her to bring up their own parents. “I… I don’t think I’ve visited them in person in years.”
I went to California with Zera recently.” Mabel quickly held up a palm. “We didn’t meet mom and dad, I wasn’t about to go through that whole ordeal. But it was nice, seeing the old sights, places we used to visit. Even our old high school, it’s still there. I can’t admit it wasn’t tempting to visit home and just blab about everything.”
“Mabel, we can’t tell them about magic or journals. I thought we agreed to keep this stuff secret?”
“But why not, Dipper?” Mabel’s whole body sagged before she rolled her eyes. “Sure, maybe it made sense when we were teenagers. But we’re independent now. They’re hardly gonna flip out that much.”
“I think you’re forgetting some key details,” Dipper said, affecting an authoritative air. “Knowing their daughter is a gun-running, drug-smuggling, anti-fascist protester is one thing. You think they’ll take it well when I drop the bombshell that magic spells exist? That I’ve been to space in a rocket? That we’ve been saving the multiverse since we were 12? That their granddaughter is an alien?!”
“Ok. Point taken,” Mabel said, rather underselling the issue.
“Explaining Grunkle Ford to them all those years ago was hard enough without letting slip anything about the portal.” Dipper pinched his eyelids. “Is this why you didn’t want to talk about personal things?”
“No, this is something different,” Mabel said, standing her ground. “Think about it though. You’re fine being honest around Merrise.”
“Yeah, and my heart still races anytime we stumble onto anything magical and she gets put in danger. Imagine being mom and dad and finding out all the stuff we got up to as teens. They’d go spare worrying about it.”
“But we’re not kids. Not anymore. And you already said you’re still gonna let Merrise help out with this Mishipeshu case.”
“Look Dipper.” Mabel stared her brother right in the eye. Her mouth was set in a serious line, but then she suddenly slumped and the fight went out of her. “I’m tired of subterfuge and lies. Those never got us anywhere good with each other. We haven’t talked, I mean properly talked, to our parents in over a decade. We’ve lost Stan and Ford. But mom and dad are still around. They deserve to know who we are as people. Maybe together me and you can find a way to finally tell them what we’ve been doing with our lives for the past 15 years.”
Dipper didn’t look away, but his frown softened “I suppose it would be nice to introduce them to my family, properly I mean. They knew Pacifica, but that was a long time ago, and they’re always emailing or calling me, asking if they can meet Merrise.” He fiddled with the wedding ring on his finger. “Maybe I haven’t given mom and dad enough credit. I don’t know. After we’ve dealt with this circus thing maybe we can think about it.”
Mabel flashed him a sympathetic grin. It was a messed up situation alright. Dipper had always acted as the more mature, responsible one in their dynamic. It probably extended from a protective instinct towards his more emotionally open, and thus vulnerable sibling. Now she wondered if it was sensible, hiding so much from the people they loved. Feeling an urge rising in her chest, Mabel failed to hold in something she’d avoided talking about until now. “I got married!” she blurted out, jerking Dipper out of his distracted mood.
He looked like he’d been slapped in the face. “You- wha?”
The words tumbled out. “To Zera. 3 weeks ago. We were already in Vegas and it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“You- oh, oh!” Dipper processed the news, then broke out into a smile. “Congratulations Mabel! Oh wow, that’s great news.”
Mabel squirmed away under Dipper’s positivity. “I don’t know if it matters that much. We were pretty drunk.”
“Of course it matters. You love Zera, right?”
“Then how can it not matter?”
Dipper jumped back as Mabel held a golden band outstretched in his face. “I haven’t worn it yet.”
“Why not?” Dipper asked, tentatively taking the ring from Mabel. It had a small inscription on the inside with Mabel and Zera’s names and the date of the wedding. “You got married and you didn’t tell me?”
“You’re not mad, are you?” Mabel asked, rubbing one arm.
“Mad? Of course I’m not mad. Come here.” He pulled her into a hug, though felt her muscles were still tense. “What’s got you so het up about all this?”
Mabel sighed. “You know I’ve always had trouble with relationships. I flip-flop, dating tons of guys and girls and never being able to pick one person to be with.”
“But, now you really like Zera, yeah?” Dipper handed the wedding ring back to Mabel.
“Of course! She’s so beautiful. She makes my heart feel like it’s going to blow right out of my chest!”
“So what’s the problem?” Dipper said calmly, trying to diagnose anything before offering advice. As a man who’d been married for so long he was the best person to help Mabel out.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to settle down with one person yet. I want to be with Zera, but what if my dumb brain starts getting attracted to other people?! I talked about it with her, of course. We were both fine keeping things loose at first.”
“Even though you’re now married?” This was one area Dipper couldn’t give much support to. He’d been with Pacifica alone for long enough that considering other partners was completely off the table. “You had that whole semi-open relationship thing with Eli. Is this so different?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Mabel paced across the length of the garage and back, ranting almost to herself and ignoring Dipper’s presence. “Zera went away before, as part of her natural lifecycle. Who’s to say she won’t leave me again out of the blue?”
“I mean, we haven’t always been together,” Dipper offered.
“Exactly, there have been loads of times things haven’t been rosy between us!” she spat with more bile than Dipper was expecting. It seemed oddly self-focused. “There was Ford’s apprenticeship, the frickin’ Ursus stone, 5 whole years apart!”
“And here we are after all of that… still together.” Dipper put an arm on her shoulder to stop the pacing. “That’s gotta mean something.”
Mabel scrunched up her face and hit a fist against her temple. “Oh, why is this so confusing? I love her but I don’t want to mess something stupid up and ruin everything. Before I could move on, but if I’m going to stick with one person that changes everything. Can I even have a single partner for that long? Heck, Apep, the only constant companion I’ve had for the last 7 years, has scales for crying out loud!”
“I mean, so does Zera too, technically.” Mabel’s glare was icy, but Dipper only widened his smile. “You shouldn’t stress this hard about it. If you go with the flow and see how you handle things with Zera, you might end up in a great place. That’s the advice you used to give me when I started dating Pacifica anyway.”
“Do you think I’m making the right decision then? What do you think about Zera?”
“I don’t care about her one way or the other.” He shrugged. “Pacifica and I never quite bonded with her after that whole con job in Japan. It takes a lot for me to get over things like that, though not impossible: just look at how much I love Paz despite all the bullying she put you through. But if Zera makes you happy that’s all that should matter.”
“Just, ‘hmm’? Mabel Pines lost her voice? You’re not going to go to Sweater Town are you?” he said, daring her to not close him out.
“Heh, I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.” She lightly punched him in the arm.
“Look sis, either you can go with your gut, or wallow in doubt and uncertainty. If it were me, I’d choose to embrace a little bit of the unexpected. It always worked out before. I mean, we’re in Salem for crying out loud. Witches and occult central. You don’t want to miss out on enjoying yourself while we’re here.”
“Y’know, it’s funny, once you get past the witch hangings and the slave trade, Massachusetts was the first state to legalise gay marriage.”
Dipper laughed. “Only you could see it that way. Acknowledging the material history but always accentuating the positive. I guess you must feel right at home here.”
“Yeah… home. That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about.”
She was surprised when Dipper grasped her by the shoulders. “You’ve really got to stop keeping so many things to yourself, Mabel.”
She brushed him off. “Yeah yeah, like you’re the expert people person. I still can’t believe you have kids.” Mabel shook her head, then sighed. “Might as well be honest. I wanna settle down. After all this time roaming the world, I realised that I wanted to make roots somewhere. Own a proper house or something.”
“Is that so hard to achieve? I mean, house prices are always insane, but-”
“Will you just listen and not be a smartass for once.” Dipper zipped his lips shut. “Thanks. It’s just… I have so many responsibilities. Helping out communities, fighting injustice. Even being able to come here and team up with Quattro’s group. If I stop, then I’ll be letting bad things happen. Then I think how cool it would be to have my own art studio, and live with Zera in some idyllic forest cottage, and I get all conflicted inside.” She started speaking more rapidly. “I can’t abandon my causes. But you saw how I had to squish all my possessions in that tiny corner of the tent. Renting a U-haul and cramming in all my stuff every time I up sticks gets trickier and trickier every time!”
Dipper put a hand on Mabel’s shoulder and she took a deep breath. “You don’t have to shoulder all the world’s burdens on your own,” he said softly. “You’ve got a network, right? Other protesters. They won’t all give up if May Pines retires. Or you can live in both worlds. Have a permanent residence in one place and still go out and have adventures. Look at me, I’m not at my home right now, am I?” He flipped his ponytail playfully at her. “I’ve even got this, so you know I’ve changed at least a little bit.”
Mabel laughed and batted his offensive hair choice away. She looked at her wedding ring, turning it over in her hand, before slipping it in her pocket. “Thanks Dipper. For listening and helping me figure out where I stand with all this. I think a long talk with Zera is in order when we get back. Maybe you have changed. You never used to be any good at talking about your feelings.”
“Try being a parent for 12 months. Besides, this is the sort of clarity you can only get in a dingy garage at 1am. By tomorrow I’ll be back to my usual dumb self.”
Mabel sniffed and pushed Dipper away. “I hope so. You’re more fun that way.” A burst of static interrupted Mabel’s relaxed music mix. “Ah, finally got some movement.” She cleared away some tools on the workbench to find a walkie-talkie. “Roger Foxtrot Alfa Bravo Tango, how’s it hanging?”
Through the static, Dipper heard Bo’s voice breaking through. “May, need backup ASAP. I’m dealing with more than I can handle. Snzzt.”
The interference cut him off, and Mabel tried the switch again. “Bo? Bokamoso, are you there?” She slammed the walkie-talkie down. “Right, go time.” She kicked at her bike’s starter pedal, then threw the spare helmet to Dipper.
He held it out in front of him and sneered. “This is so not my style.” The bright pink design was no more appealing than the last time he’d ridden as Mabel’s passenger.
“You sound like Pacifica.” Mabel strapped her own black and red helmet on and sat astride the bike. “Either be a wuss about a pink helmet or get on. Bo needs our help now.”
Mumbling to himself, Dipper slid the helmet on and put his arms around Mabel’s waist. He nearly flew off the back of the bike as Mabel accelerated out onto the street. Even after all the heavy conversations they’d shared they could put it all aside for the sake of the mission. With determination and purpose, the twins raced through the night.
Bo had been staking out a warehouse near the docks on the other side of Salem. When Mabel screeched the bike to a halt outside the anonymous blocky grey building it was obvious whatever was going on inside was bad. The recognisable turquoise glow of Mishipeshu fur was visible shining out of every window. Occasional darker flashes interspersed the outside darkness. These were signs of Bo’s attack spells. He was fighting back.
Mabel extended the bike rest and jumped off. She dumped her helmet on the seat, but didn’t bother to take off her biker gloves. Dipper wanted to run inside and help Bo, but Mabel held out her arm. “No, stay with the bike. I’m the athletic one.”
“I can help,” he protested. “This is hardly my first rodeo.”
“I might need backup if something goes wrong. Dipper, please do this for me.”
He exhaled and leant against the bike. “Fine. But don’t blame me if you get overwhelmed.”
“I’ll be alright.” She pulled her handgun out of the holster and held it loose in one hand. “Wish me luck.” Firing her grapple gauntlet, she swung onto the roof. Dipper watched her pry one of the windows open and flip inside. Whatever doubts she’d been having earlier were completely undetectable now, Mabel was all business. He got the sense that seeing her swing on the high ropes in the circus would be a captivating display.
Feeling hugely awkward standing out here in the cold and dark, Dipper strained his ears to catch any sign of what was going on inside the warehouse. More red flashes broke up the pure Mishipeshu aura and spells ricocheted and clanged off metal walkways. He went pale when he heard multiple gunshots, clearly not all from the same gun.
He dithered, wanting to rush in and help Mabel but afraid to bring nothing but a journal to a gunfight. Suddenly everything halted when a strange tone rang out inside. Dipper was almost deafened even out on the street. He pressed his palms to his ears and screwed up his face. The sound was clearly artificial, like an electronic synthesiser note. When it subsided, the gunshots and spells had fallen silent.
Shadows obscured the Mishipeshu’s light and there was a scuffling noise. Dipper ran to the nearest door, determined to help out despite the ringing in his ears. Mabel and Bo were in over their heads. He pounded on a metal shutter, trying to find an entrance.
He nearly fell over when the shutter retracted into the ceiling. A van rushed towards him honking wildly and he dived to the side, barely missing being struck down. As it careened away, Dipper caught the trace of Mishipeshu light glowing from the van’s rear door.
Summoning up all his speed, he ran and leaped at the back of the van. Clinging on for dear life, he didn’t want to let these people escape, no matter what. But the van picked up speed and started swerving, trying to throw him off. Dipper’s fingers slipped off, and he lost his footing.
Falling to the ground, his face scraped along the tarmac and he cried out. That would leave a nasty graze. Groaning, Dipper unsteadily got to his feet and watched the van recede into the darkness.
Returning to the warehouse, he found it abandoned. There were scorch marks from Bo’s attacks, as well as bullet holes in the brick walls and overhanging walkways. Dipper nearly tripped over something while looking up. He bent down and picked up the grey object. Mabel’s gun, barrel still smoking and hot from the last time she fired it. Dipper gulped. This was more serious than Quattro and the others had ever realised.
Beside the gun Dipper caught a flash of gold in the edge of his vision. Breathing heavily, he picked up Mabel’s wedding ring. Caressing the cold metal, he tucked it safely in his jacket pocket and promised he’d get it back to her soon. There were no other pieces of physical evidence left in the whole place, even the scraps of Mishipeshu fur had been taken. They’d been very thorough - whoever they were.
Just as he was starting to reconnect with his sister, she was gone. Bo was gone. Any sign of the kidnappers had also vanished. Dipper couldn’t ride the motorbike on his own. There was only one option. Back to square one.
This was always the most fleshed out chapter in my 2020 plan, the only one with a solid outline for the character beats and dialogue. It mostly follows the original guidelines, although in that early draft I planned to have the twins overseeing some kind of lorry transport (this was before I’d sketched out any details regarding the story’s supernatural elements).
Chapter 4: Back to Basics
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
In the light of dawn a shivering Dipper Pines returned to the parking lot beside Mr Alcor’s circus, Mabel’s motorbike in tow. He’d wheeled the damn thing all the way from the docks. Finding his car, he dumped the bike on its side in the space beside it. He winced as it clattered to the ground, but then shrugged and left it. After hours of walking empty streets he was glad to be rid of the thing. Sure, it was Mabel’s prized possession, but he could pay her back later. Preferably when she wasn’t captured by forces unknown.
Wheeling it all this way had at least given him time to think.
The people who’d been at the warehouse last night had been armed and dangerous enough to take down Bokamoso, a spellcaster of no ill repute. Mabel too had been swiftly taken out despite all her survival skills, not to mention her own magical abilities.
They were going to have to treat this much more seriously. No longer was the trip to Salem a lighthearted family jaunt. Dipper knew the research he’d made on the town was only a basic overview, but every little piece of information could be used in their favour. There were a few promising spots around town worth checking out, and he had an appreciation for the historical context of the Witch Trials. It didn’t feel like it would help him rescue his sister, but it was a start at least.
As he approached the big top, Dipper heard music and crowd noises drifting out from one of the smaller side tents. He didn’t know Quattro was even running the place today, especially since Bo couldn’t have turned up to act as co-host.
Pushing aside the tent flap, Dipper eased through a crowd of onlookers, who were clapping in time to an upbeat guitar melody. He reached the front, and saw an array of white picket-fence posts and haybales set up to imply a Wild West theme, as well as the customary pumpkins dotted everywhere. Sitting on the front of a covered wagon, Merrise was holding Mabel’s guitar and every now and again strumming to match the music that was otherwise coming from a set of unseen speakers.
Without time for this baffling tableau to settle in, Dipper’s jaw dropped when Pacifica strode onto pride of place on centre stage and stopped next to a microphone stand, accompanied by raucous cheers. “Who’s ready for one last tune?” she said, affecting a broad southern accent. She was dressed the part too, at least in a small way. She’d donned a pair of cowboy boots and a matching ten gallon hat to go with her already suitable flannel shirt.
It honestly reminded Dipper distantly of their very first meeting, on Pioneer Day, 2012, when she’d worn a silly raccoon hat and a rustic dress, staring down her nose at him with nothing more than contempt. Looking back now it seemed like a vision of a completely different reality to the one he’d known ever since the end of that summer.
The crowd clapped and hollered, and Pacifica was ready to grant their request. She held an arm out to Merrise, whose six fingers tugged at the strings to signal the start of a new melody. Dipper found himself tapping his foot to the acoustic beat, and was further struck when Pacifica started to utilise her incredible singing voice. “Down the road, I call my home, cause there’s no place I call my own.”
Pacifica didn’t like to sing much, even in private. It was all too wrapped in self-image issues due to it being foisted on her by her tyrannical parents. But occasionally, as now, she could use her voice to dazzling effect. Dipper was lucky when he caught mere snatches of her siren call. Now his heart was beating in his chest, overwhelmed that she seemed happy to be sharing the performance with everybody.
When the song finally ended in a huge, sweeping chorus, Dipper was among those cheering and clapping loudest. Pacifica waved to the crowd, modestly thanking them. Her eyes briefly passed Dipper’s way, and he saw her smile turn upwards ever so-slightly. Through all the chaos in the tent, she’d noticed him. His heart swelled, and as the crowd began to break apart he made his way to the stage.
By the time he made it, Pacifica had vanished backstage. Merrise had hopped down onto a haybale, and was now chewing on a pack of uncooked marshmallows. “Morning dad. You enjoy the show? Was my playing good?”
Dipper pulled his daughter into a side hug. “‘Playing’ is a strong word for what you were doing, Sixer, but it was spirited. You looked like you were having fun at least.”
“Oh yeah, loads. It was Quattro’s idea, a little side-hustle. Kid’s got a brain for business.”
“Where is the little guy anyway? Oh, and remember too, he isn’t technically a kid on the inside. He and I are the same age.”
“I know, I know,” Merrise replied, not totally sincerely to Dipper’s ears. “He’s running a morning show in the big top. Smaller scale, since Bo isn’t here. Where is he anyway? And Aunt Mabel?”
“Uh, I’ll get to that in a moment. It’s a long story. So how’d you manage to get your mother up on stage like that?”
“Desperation, mainly,” Pacifica said as she emerged from backstage. She passed her hat to Merrise, who stuck on top of the ushanka she was already wearing. Dipper went over to hug Pacifica, and then the smile that had been plastered on her face since the last number ended dropped like a sack of bricks. “I fucking hate country music.”
“Hey, language,” Dipper said, mindful that Merrise was right beside him. Not that she could really grasp the meaning of human curse words, but still.
“Sorry, but it’s true. I hate the whole genre.” Pacifica took Dipper’s place on the haybale and crossed her arms. “You can’t listen to the radio in Gravity Falls for five minutes without some crappy new-wave indie rock guitar song coming on the air. All about how much they love their guns or their trucks. At least here in Salem things are a bit more civilised.”
“I bet you had your fill of country music during all those Pioneer Days.”
“Yeah, I did. How’d you know?”
“It was already on my mind,” Dipper said, stealing a kiss on Pacifica’s cheek. He went to sit on another haybale, but jumped up when Apep slithered out from behind it. The snake had somehow been sleeping during the whole performance.
“Maybe next time you could join us,” Merrise said. “You could do that Zumba dancing stuff.”
“Yeah Mace,” Pacifica added, “you could show off the lamby dance for a whole new audience.”
Pacifica and Merrise burst into laughter and Dipper rolled his eyes. “Between the two of you you’re going to give me a midlife crisis. Anyway, we’ve got bigger concerns to think about than my dance skills.”
“Right,” Pacifica said. “I imagine it has something to do with Mabel, or rather the lack of her.”
Dipper stared at the floor before saying what needed to be said. “Last night… Bo and Mabel were abducted.” There was shock on the others faces, but he didn’t let up. “I think it’s the same group who are holding the third Mishipeshu. They don’t play nice.” He turned his face to show off the dried blood on his cheek. In the dimness of the tent neither Pacifica or Merrise had noticed the injury until now.
Pacifica stood upright and stripped off her flannel jacket to tie it around her waist. Gripping his chin, she turned his face to the light so she could examine the graze closely. She snapped her fingers. “Merrise, we’ve got a medical box in the car. Could you run and get that?”
“Yes ma’am!” Merrise stood to attention, then scurried out of the tent, leaving her parents alone.
Kneeling in front of Dipper, Pacifica grabbed a pack of wet wipes from her pocket and started dabbing at the cuts. Dipper winced through the stinging, as fresh as last night. “I thought you sent Merrise to-”
“-get her out of the way.” Pacifica winked at him, and worked to clear as much dirt out of the wound as she could. “Mason Pines, you absolute disaster of a man.”
“It comes with the territory,” he said, grimacing. “Not the first time you’ve had to clean up my injuries. It’s practically our most common type of date. Ah.”
He recoiled when she pressed a wipe directly on the graze. “Don’t be such a baby.”
“Yes, nurse,” he said, saluting. “You have such a gentle bedside manner.”
She muttered something under her breath that sounded to Dipper like ‘wiseass’, then cupped his cheek. “Talk about a midlife crisis. Keeping track of all your crazy risk taking is going to put me in an early grave.” She shook her head. “So tell me. How bad are things?”
“Well, for starters I found this at the scene of the crime. It’s Mabel’s.” He reached into his jacket and retrieved the handgun.
Pacifica leant away from the weapon slightly. “How do you know that’s hers?”
“Well the ‘MP’ lovingly engraved on the side is a big giveaway.” Dipper turned the gun over, revealing the letters inscribed on the handle in swirling font.
“Ok, fair point,” Pacifica conceded. Holding it with two fingers like a dirty sock, she took the gun and set it down on a haybale. Apep slithered over to investigate the gun, then looked up at Dipper accusingly. Even animals were judging him for losing Mabel. Pacifica was still focused on the practical details of the case. “Does she have any way of being tracked? GPS?”
“I tried tracking her phone, but it wasn’t showing up. None of my messages got through either. It’s pretty evident that whoever’s holding her must have taken and broken it. Ow.” Pacifica had stuck a plaster on his cheek. Rubbing it, he gave a wavering smile. “Thanks Paz. Love you.”
Despite averting her gaze and blushing, she replied “Love you too, you reckless idiot. Come on, you can fill us all in on last night. We’re supposed to be meeting Quattro in the cryptid tent.” She checked her watch. “Shit, his show’s already ended.” Taking Dipper by the hand, she raced away from the Wild West set. Dipper would have been happy to let her lead him anywhere.
“Who buys all of this crap anyway?” With time to kill, Pacifica was critically eyeing up every single one of the exhibits in the Weird and Wonderful Creatures tent. Her reviews hadn’t been very favourable so far. “’The Loch Ness tadpoles’? Seriously.”
“Some people get a kick out of weird things like this,” Dipper said, shrugging. “It’s kitschy, you know. There’s a charm in it.”
“Only if you have the critical thinking skills of a braindead sponge. Like this fake thing.” She leant against a plinth that purported to hold a living human brain, bubbling away in a tank. Pacifica let the thing wobble precariously, unimpressed. “I’m surprised Quattro even has to do his whole routine, given the standards the tourists lap up.”
Wearing his full Mr Mystery suit and reading a newspaper, Quattro spoke up. “There’s an art to presentation that can’t be overlooked. When you have the right tour guide the rubes will lap it up.”
With Dipper going over his notes once again, the three of them were waiting for Merrise to show back up. Her beloved pet, Dee, was in his bone-white cage, and didn’t seem happy about the arrangement. His rocky feathers were puffed out, and he occasionally rattled against the bars. Dipper tossed a spare cracker to the beast, but he set fire to it. That was his response to most things, Dipper found.
“By the way, Soos called this morning to say hi,” Pacifica said idly while playing with her pendant. It refused to stay still, even this distant proximity to the Mishipeshu driving it wild.
“How is our little lamb?” Dipper asked
“Slept through all of last night without complaining and ate all her paste this morning like a champ. She gets it from her mother’s side, of course.”
“You are an expert paste eater, I’ll give you that,” Dipper said, receiving one of Pacifica’s patented withering glares in response. “Glad she’s doing ok though.” Dwelling on what he’d talked about with Mabel last night, he was about to voice a thought about taking both Wendy and Merrise to visit his parents in Piedmont, when Pacifica changed the topic.
“I hope when Wendy’s older she’ll dress more fashionably,” she said absent-mindedly.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Dipper raised an eyebrow. “Are you casting shade at our other daughter? Tsk tsk Paz.”
“For better or worse, Merrise dresses like you!” Pacifica said, and Dipper detected some genuine pettiness about the subject bubbling up. “She throws on whatever’s most basic, all shabby jackets and muddy boots.”
“It’s natural, she’s used to warmer climes.”
“But come on. Inspiring a little class in her would go a long way.”
“If you say so, Paz.” Dipper didn’t see the issue, though perhaps that was Pacifica’s point. “Speak of the devil.”
Entering the tent, Merrise, clutching a bright red medical box, wasn’t alone. Zera was finally back from her own patrol. “I spent all night camping out watching a piece of Mishipeshu hairball and waiting for something to happen. Hope you guys all had a better night.”
Dipper accepted the pointless box off Merrise, then turned on Zera. “Hello, sister-in-law.”
Instantly Zera’s blue skin went pale white, and her lip turned into a wavy line. “Aha. May told you about that.”
Dipper nodded, though the others in the tent were at a loss as to what he meant. “I shouldn’t be surprised you kept it a secret; you used to be a conwoman after all. No wonder you fit in so well here. Grunkle Stan would be proud of his legacy.” He shook his head and tapped his fingers together. “Forget about that though. Mabel, and Bo, are in trouble.”
Merrise, Quattro, and especially Zera, hung on Dipper’s every word as he recounted what Pacifica had already been told about the events last night. “Then I found this,” he said, ending his tale and showing Mabel’s wedding ring to the group.
With shaking hands, Zera took it and cradled it gently. “Oh May. What have you gotten yourself into now?”
Pacifica had quickly figured out the ring’s significance, and was silently processing the fact that Mabel had gotten married in secret. Not knowing the rituals, Merrise was none the wiser. Then Quattro, an intense frown of concentration on his face, suddenly spoke. “Wait. You and Mabel… are wives now?”
“We were planning on doing a pumpkin carving thing next week,” Zera said with a hint of melancholy. “I suppose those plans are off for now. Until we deal with all this.” She felt a pressure against her ankles. Apep was rubbing her head up against Zera. She scooped her up and wrapped the pet around her shoulders. Starting to weep she pressed her face against the snake’s. “Us cold-bloods have to stick together. We’re May’s family after all.”
Still in the dark about the new relationship status, Dipper wanted to sate his curiosity. “So, Zera. Married, that’s… quite a leap. Are there any fishy parents Mabel is going to have to worry about showing up?” He awkwardly chuckled, finding the whole thing much more complicated now Zera was staring him in the face, and with Mabel’s disappearance adding to the messed up feeling.
“My kind don’t really have nuclear families. Spawning pools, remember? I was raised collectively with a thousand other tadpoles. You guys are the closest thing to a real family I’ve got.” She looked imploringly at Dipper and Pacifica, hoping for their support. “It’s kinda strange, being married to Mabel, properly I mean. We haven’t really discussed it much since it happened.”
Pacifica rested a hand on the alien’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t sweat it. A year ago I was childfree. Now I’ve got a precocious alien 10-year old, and full-time responsibility looking after a baby. Life comes at you fast. You’ll cope.”
Merrise came over and linked hands with the only other alien living on Earth. “It’s ok Aunt Zera. I know what it’s like to grow up without parents.” Zera squeezed the little girl’s hand. It wasn’t easy being so open about that kind of trauma.
“Me too,” Quattro said across the room. Up til now he’d been quiet on the whole matter, perhaps feeling he was intruding on a Pines family matter. Dipper flashed a sympathetic glance to his clone. He often forgot the hardships of his early life, on the run, with only his brother Tracey to rely on.
Talking about all this, a thought occurred to Dipper and he turned to Quattro. “I never asked, does Bo have any family? Someone to get in contact with if something goes wrong? There’s so much I don’t know about him.”
“We took a tour to Johannesburg a few months back. Bo was a bit homesick, although I think he mostly just wanted to show off to his old crowd.” Quattro chuckled to himself. “Stubborn guy. He loved all the publicity. But yeah, he does have some family over there. Bo’s mother is the most formidable lady you will ever meet, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter.”
“I’ll take your word for it. I suppose now we have to figure out how we’re going to find him and Mabel.” Dipper looked at the small group. He knew he could rely on Pacifica’s adventuring abilities, but as for the others? Merrise was only a kid and Quattro spent most of his time on stage or managing the circus. Zera probably had some knowhow from fleecing people in the streets, but as for solving mysteries she was as much a novice as his daughter.
After a silence, Pacifica spoke. “Mabel’s got that whole fan club, right? Supporters all over the country? Why don’t we summon some of them to help out?”
“You think they’ll just swoop down on Salem if we ask?” Zera said disbelievingly. “She’s not that influential.”
“Why is it then that when people find out I know the infamous May Pines they either look at me funny or ask if I can get them an autograph?” Pacifica threw up her arms. “Worth a shot, that’s all I was suggesting.”
“It would probably take too long to mobilise a force,” Dipper said. “Plus I don’t think we should involve strangers with this Mishipeshu stuff. Better to keep it in-house.”
“You don’t seem too worried about all this, Pacifica,” Zera said, raising an eyebrow.
She shrugged in response. “Sure, I’m concerned, but it’s not the first time Mabel’s gone AWOL on us. Girl can take care of herself. You should’ve seen what she got up to at Coachella 2019.”
“Dad, did you get any clues from last night?” Merrise was skimming his notes on Salem, peering down at the journal pages as if all the answers to finding her aunt and Bo were right there.
“Not much,” Dipper said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I couldn’t make out the licence plate number of the van. We could try the whole ‘Mishipeshu fur bait’ ruse again, but then we’d probably get more of ourselves kidnapped.”
“I could try an aura detection spell,” Zera suddenly offered.
“Why didn’t you think of that sooner?” Pacifica asked.
“Cause she’s never done it before,” Quattro pointed out quite reasonably. “She’s been practising with Bo, but hasn’t successfully cast it yet.”
“I’m nearly there!” she protested. “Besides, I’m familiar with both of their auras. Particularly May’s.” Dipper and Pacifica coughed into their fists. “What I mean is, if I can send out a ripple, it’ll bounce off their auras and I can lead us straight to them!”
“Well, I don’t see any other options,” Dipper said. “Go ahead Zera, give it a try.”
Placing her palms together, Zera began reciting a quiet chant. Merrise leaned forwards to try and catch the words, but only heard gibberish. Even if she’d understood the language, Zera was speaking the chant backwards.
Quattro tapped his foot dismissively, but then a small wave of air radiated out from Zera. It passed over the Pines and Quattro and blew the sides of the tent. A few seconds later, a corresponding wave returned and hit Zera. She opened her eyes, but seemed dismayed. “It worked, but I didn’t feel anything. No sign of Mabel or Bo.”
Her head turned down, but Quattro was quick to put a supportive hand on her back. “It’s a distance based spell, remember. Mabel and Bo aren’t anywhere near the circus. But maybe if you try around town you’ll be able to narrow the search.”
“Now that’s a plan we can work with.” Pacifica pulled out her car keys and spun them around on her finger. “Let’s go, we can sweep through town until you catch a whiff of your wife.”
Zera blushed. “Thanks, Pacifica. If we get May back I’ll never be able to pay you back.”
“Take it easy, we haven’t found her yet. C’mon Merrise, go get strapped in. If we actually find anything you’ll make a good scout. Even these guys aren’t going to think twice about some kid snooping about.” Dipper went to follow, but Pacifica stopped him. “No. You stay here.”
“What? But Paz, I can help in the search for sure.”
“You’ve been up all night. A sleepy Mason is no help. Here, take this.” She handed over a Cubic’s Cube she’d borrowed from a corner of Mabel’s stash. Some souvenir from one of her Great Uncle’s. “I’m sure you can occupy yourself while we’re gone.” He wanted to protest, but Pacifica cut him off with a dazzling smile that showed she was only teasing him. “You’re more useful doing other things. We need to secure options, advantages. You’re the brains of the operation.”
“You think I’m smart?” Dipper playfully draped himself on Pacifica. “Gee Paz, I knew you could be sweet sometimes.”
She shoved him off and grinned. “You’re good for some things, I’ll admit. Use all that research while we’re gone. I’m sure you and Quat can make it so the next time we go up against a threat we’ll be more prepared.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to slip up again.” He kissed Pacifica, feeling deep down that he was going to pull out all the stops to make sure no-one else would be put in danger.
Pacifica took on a determined smirk. “Whoever’s holding Mabel and Bo had better watch out. We’re Pines. We’re sturdy. And we fall hard on those who hurt our own.”
Pacifica’s singing performance was another early story beat that was always present since the 2020 plans, which echoes back to similar writing on the topic from my one-shot Dipcifica fic, Songbird. Other details that persisted from the early drafts include Dipper showing Mabel’s engraved gun, and Zera using the aura spell to track down the others.
This chapter includes a passing deep-cut reference back to a specific chapter and character from Seasons of Change, and I’ll be interested to see if anyone picks up on it.
Chapter 5: Might and Magic
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Mabel Pines had first felt true power when she was 12 years old. Clutching a telepathy amulet in one hand, she’d defied gravity and floated down from a clifftop to lift her brother’s and enemy’s bodies with only a passing thought.
After her first brush with magic she had ample opportunities to find more artefacts to boost her abilities. It was Gravity Falls after all, there were new surprises around every tree. Entering dreams, summoning fantasy roleplaying weapons, helping to create a magical protection sigil, it had all come so easily to her. In her teens she was borrowing her brother’s secret-filled journal on the regular, recklessly summoning djinn in the family basement just to see if she could. Her abilities grew in strength. She learned to read minds and conjure whole worlds thanks to certain enchanted artefacts.
Dipper had never shown the same aptitude for magic the same way. Perhaps it was simply due to her outgoing personality. So many magical incantations relied on tapping into life energy, and who knew more about positive energy than Mabel Pines? It was all about her frame of mind. She believed the rituals with all her heart, reaching out and exerting her powers far beyond her own body. Manipulation of symbols, like with the all-powerful Zodiac, were nothing when compared to an enthusiastic spirit.
Lately she’d had a clearer route towards enhancing her magical skills. With Bo’s teachings, derived from ancient spell tomes of his own discovery, she’d quickly adapted to become a proficient spellcaster in her own right.
So when she reached out with as much passion and energy she could muster, and couldn’t even send out the weakest spark of magic, she knew something was majorly wrong. Over and over again she tried, scrunching up her face and even sweating from the effort. Nothing. Her magical ability was being entirely inhibited. It wasn’t like her to give up without a fight though.
Mabel opened her palm and aimed it at the wall of her cell. “Alakazam! Hocus pocus! Scaramouche! Magellan! Uh, hail Sobek? C’mon, can’t a crocodile god help a girl out? No? Nothing?”
She’d been locked in prisons in places as diverse as Colombia, Moscow, or the Mountain of Morada, and yet here a simple locked door was all that it took to nullify her powers. The walls were basic white painted breeze-blocks, and from the square shape of the cell she suspected it was a converted shower block. A single high window let in a shaft of light, but it was clearly too small to squeeze through. Her only amenities were a cot with a pillow and sheet. Sleeping wasn’t a very appealing prospect.
At least she still had her trusty grapple gauntlet. Her abductors hadn’t known to confiscate it, strapped beneath her sleeve. Still, a grappling hook was of limited utility unless she could find some wider space. The secondary firing tube was loaded with a single high-dosage tranquiliser dart, meant for when they found the lost Mishipeshu. A fat lot of good it would do against the small army of thugs who’d thrown her into this mess.
Mabel slapped her palms against the wall. It was solid. “Ugh. Where’s Dipper and Pacifica when you need them?” She sighed and plopped herself on the cot. “Two months into my 30s and I’m already ‘pining for the good old days’. Life really does come at you fast.”
“That’s for sure.” Mabel jumped at the voice and looked around for its source. “Morning Zombie. Hope you slept as well as I did.”
“Bo?” Mabel put her ear to the wall and followed her fellow prisoner’s voice. “I was hoping Dipper got you out or something. Guess we’re both stuck here.”
“Unfortunately.” Bokamoso’s words were hard to make out through the wall, but audible enough. “I tried a teleport spell, but nothing. All my skills are being suppressed somehow.”
“Join the club. Any idea where we are?”
“I was still knocked out when they dragged us in. Afraid we’re in the dark. Even with three eyes I can’t see a way out of here.”
Mabel slumped against the wall, wishing she could at least see Bokamoso. “Guess we sit around and wait for our captors to show themselves.”
“Seems odd though.” Bo’s words were muffled as he paced around his own cell.
“Why capture us at all? Why not let us go, or… the other alternative.”
Mabel swallowed, but tried not to show her worry. “Maybe they think we can lead them to the other Mishipeshu? They wouldn’t be wrong to think that.” She was now afraid of what might be done to them if they didn’t offer the information willingly. “We’ll have to sing kumbaya or tell ghost stories to pass the time,” she said, deflecting from the topic.
“I could tell you all about the far-off worlds I visited with Zera in the multiverse.”
“I was thinking more down to Earth. Like, campfire tales, you know.”
“I don’t think I know any of those.” Bo’s tone was slightly melancholy, so Mabel sat upright.
“Really? Didn’t your mom ever sit you down and teach you lullabies to get to sleep or something?”
Bo gave a dry chuckle. “She wasn’t that kind of woman.” Mabel heard him deeply exhale. “To be honest I wish I had more South African touchstones to fall back on. I was very alone in childhood.” For once Mabel could really sense Bo’s young age. He was only just in his early 20’s after all, and much of his youth had been spent ostracised. “One can only watch District 9 so many times.”
“Ha ha,” Mabel laughed dryly, though her smile turned upwards. Bo always knew when to lighten the mood.
The rattle of keys drew Mabel’s attention, and an armed guard entered her cell. “Get up.”
Mabel did as told, trying to pay attention as she was led out of the cell. Learning the layout of this place might be handy in future. Down a narrow corridor lined with identical cells and through a heavy metal sliding door, Mabel squinted into the sunlight.
The compound was made up of a number of similar squat, brick buildings surrounding an empty central courtyard. Tufts of grass stuck out everywhere through the concrete, and a chain-link fence stood at 8ft tall, topped with barbed wire. Apart from a few trees, the wilderness outside stretched on seemingly forever. They were in the middle of nowhere. Neat patches of tilled earth on the periphery of the site gave away that this place used to be a farm of some sort. Fittingly there was a large wooden farmhouse sitting awkwardly among the newer brick-built barracks.
All around the compound were their captors. Men wearing military-esque garb with green or olive camo patterns, either carrying boxes full of equipment or lazing around. A few were set up at a firing range, letting off rifle shots at distant bullseyes. There were no women to be seen in the whole camp. Mabel was put off by the uniform sea of white faces that turned her way as she was prodded to move past them.
Bo emerged beside her and instinctively sealed up his third eye to shield against the glare. Without his skull makeup or performance robes, he looked much more his age than Mabel was used to. He had a scrawny frame, making him seem barely out of his teens. Still, he was trying to project an air of defiance against so many pale faces judging him. In the light of the frosty October morning his shadow tricks wouldn’t be much help. Sheer pluck and confidence was all they had.
“This reception’s frostier than a San Francisco summer,” Mabel muttered to him. “I worked with a Colombian paramilitary drug-dealing ring and it felt more welcoming.”
“Right, your ‘uncle’ Rico and his Hombres Caiman.” Bo winked at her with one of his regular eyes. “I sometimes forget you’re a woman with a dangerous past. Remind me not to get on your bad side.”
“Don’t worry, these guys are offering me enough opportunities already.”
“Think our odds are any better out here?”
Mabel examined their options. The fence formed an unbroken defence around the camp, and she spied cables leading to a diesel generator. Electrified, so even with her grappling hook it would be a risky move. Guards stood by the main gate, carrying machine guns. In fact, every single ‘soldier’ in the compound was armed. “I think for now we play it cool and see what they want. I’m sensing a lot of itchy trigger fingers.” Bo nodded, though continued to stare accusingly at every man they passed. Better to make them think the pair weren’t going to go down easily.
Their escorts ferried them towards a large metal cage. Bo and Mabel looked on in awe. Washed out in daylight but still searingly bright, the glow from the third Mishipeshu was unmistakable. The creature was morose, lying down and barely noticing the newcomers. Its fur was matted and dirty, with patches of red flesh visible in places. Even some of the spines on its back were missing. In their place were bloody stumps.
Mabel felt a rage building in her chest and turned on the nearest guard. “How dare you keep it like that! Savages!” Before she could rile them up any further, she ignored the guards and stretched a hand through the bars. The Mishipeshu lifted its head slightly, before dropping back down. “You poor thing.”
Bo crept up beside her. The Mishipeshu seemed more interested in him, perhaps sensing a kinship with another being who was out of the ordinary. “Well, at least we found our missing creature,” he offered with a grimace
“Not missing. Stolen.” Mabel pinched her eyelids. “I’ve met all manner of ‘weirdness hunter’ groups over the years. Gideon Gleeful, Morbid the Huntsman, the Council of Ursus… The Society of the Blind or Open Eye, when they made up their minds one way or the other. All those little factions or cults, who learn about the vast unknowable nature of reality, and seek to confine it, reduce it, try to fit into some neat ordered worldview. Makes me mad that people can be so dumb sometimes.”
Bo considered this for a moment. “So you think these goons are something similar? Maybe they’re one of those secret societies. Like your brother.”
“Huh, my wha-”
“A mason? Get it?”
Mabel cocked her head to the side. “Not really.”
“Huh, I would’ve thought someone so used to conspiracy plots would know about the Freemasons. They were a cult from hundreds of years ago, some of your founding fathers were members.”
“I’m sure Dipper can chew my ear off about it when we get out of this mess.” Mabel looked around the camp, judging their captors. Some tough older men among the bunch, but mostly younger guys, who looked ill-fitting in the military garb. “Just when I’m thinking about retiring, guys like this drag me back in. They’re a bit out of their comfort zone this far north. I’d expect a vaguely fascist group of rednecks like this in the Deep South, but New England? Too upmarket.”
“I suppose we should count our blessings that we haven't yet seen them flying a Confederate flag, eh?”
“Yeah.” Mabel strained to examine a sigil stitched on one of their escorts sleeves. “Just those weird star patches. It almost looks like…” Mabel went silent when a hush fell over the guards. What she’d wanted to say was that the patches reminded her of a pentagram. Almost too much of a coincidence, given the fact that Bo habitually wore the same symbol.
All heads turned to the farmhouse, where a bulky bearded man emerged. A bandana was tied around his long greying hair. His style was something Mabel would describe as ‘post-apocalypse chic’, with leather chest armour and shoulder spikes. A set of faded tattoos ran down both muscly arms, but they weren’t the colourful kind Mabel had.
“Looks like we get to meet the top banana at last.” Bo stepped behind Mabel, letting her face down the leader of their enemies alone. Trying not to waver, she stood tall and didn’t back away.
Until, as the man approached, a growing sense of recognition overcame Mabel’s uncertainty. His face was scarred, but what really drew her attention were his eyes. Coated with a white film, his pupils were almost entirely obscured. Zera had a similar pale sheen to her eyes, but this was an ordinary human. “Mabel Pines,” the man said, staring down at the pair from an immense height.
Mabel stared into the filmy eyes, hypnotised. She could relate to such obscured vision; without her contacts she’d be helpless. But that wasn’t the important thing. She knew this man. Tentatively she stepped forwards. “G-Ghost Eyes? Gideon’s prison buddy?!”
Her eyes widened, then she was pulled into a bone-crushing hug. “Mabel! Old buddy.” Wriggling for air, Mabel leapt free. She was usually the one who gave hugs like that. “I haven’t seen you in nearly 20 years, since the Great Calamity!”
“Yeah, that’s crazy.” The last time she remembered seeing Ghost Eyes was in the aftermath of Weirdmageddon, hanging around as part of Gideon’s posse. He’d been nothing more than a lackey. In fact, she didn’t think she’d ever actually shared a word with the man before. Now here he was, popping back up out of seemingly nowhere. To say she was baffled was underselling it. “So, wait a minute. What are you doing here?”
“We are the Knights of the Pentagram, here on a holy mission to save this state. Now we’ve found you, you can be our honoured guest.”
“Does that mean you’ll let me go?”
“...No… as for this heretic,” Ghost Eyes pointed an accusing finger at Bokamoso. “He must pay for his crimes against our knightly order! Once he’s dealt with we can talk properly.”
Bo tensed up, prepared to fight, but Mabel pushed her way between them. “Woah woah, slow down. I’m not following this at all.” Mabel stared at the star patches Ghost Eyes wore proudly on his armour. Things started to click in her mind. “Pentagram. Heretic.” She panned over to Bo, then to the Mishipeshu, so despondent in its cage that it wasn’t even bothering to float around in higher dimensions.
The realisation about this group dawned on Mabel, and she deeply frowned. “Oh! Oh. Oh, mios Dio, soy una idiota.” She slapped herself on the forehead. “Of course, how could I miss it? You’re racists.”
“We’re not racists!” Ghost Eyes said at the top of his voice, offended by the implication.
“Coulda fooled me,” Mabel said, gesturing to all the dark gazes aimed in Bokamoso’s direction. “Xenophobic, then?”
“I will never divulge our secrets in front of a heretic. He claims our sacred symbol!”
“What, the pentagram?” Bo said, affecting a nonchalant air as if he wasn’t surrounded by angry men with guns. “It’s not a copyrighted image as far as I’m aware. Sure it’s not something else putting you off?” Bo’s forehead rippled, and his third eye emerged to ogle judgingly towards Ghost Eyes. It was three eyes vs no eyes, a thought that would’ve made Mabel giggle, if things weren’t so tense.
Seeing Ghost Eyes about to pop a vessel, Mabel spoke quickly, partly to save Bo’s skin from his own overconfidence. “If you can tell it to me, you can tell it to him. Or else we’re done here, Ghost Eyes. You got that?”
“Fine,” the man spat, before wandering over to the Mishipeshu cage.
Mabel clutched at Bo’s arm before he followed. “Play it cool, Bo. Don’t let these idiots rile you up. I suppose we can relax a bit. It’s technically not the first time this guy has held me hostage. Two words: Mabel-Land.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but alright.” Bo shrugged. “We’re in deep enough already. Might as well hear what this guy has to say.”
“That’s the spirit. He did help Dipper save me in the end… so I guess we’re kinda even?”
“Who is he exactly, since you seem so au fait?”
“Long story. Let’s just say ex-con and ex-friend of an old rival. Look, let me take the lead and try to follow along. Something tells me neither of us are gonna be happy with the outcome.”
The pair sidled over to the cage and looked sadly on at the trapped Mishipeshu. Ghost Eyes furiously kicked against the bars, rattling the creature inside. “Look at this thing. Hideous.” Mabel felt Bo try to push past her to get at Ghost Eyes, but she shifted her back to try and keep him in place. Flying off the handle now would get them nowhere. “After the Great Calamity I swore that it would be my enduring legacy to prevent any such monstrous events from occurring ever again.”
“Great Calamity?” Mabel said. “You mentioned that before. Do you mean Weirdmageddon?”
“When the dark triangle tore the sky asunder and reigned over the flaming hellscape of our former home. Ever since that horrific timeless period I made it my ambition to stand guard and oppose the dark forces that massed in the strange and benighted corners of the world. Seeking out creatures like this beast and putting a stop to their chaos. In that way we could honour the one who showed us the truth: Gideon Gleeful!”
Mabel whipped her head around as a cheer erupted from the camp. Every soldier raised their weapons in a joint salute to the same clingy little 10-year old who’d tried to woo her all those years ago.
“Hold the phone. You kidnapped the Mishipeshu because you think that’ll help… save the world from ending?” Ghost Eyes nodded, a wide grin on his face like Mabel was already fully on his side. “You, uh, missed the boat on that a few times,” she said, thinking back to the recent a-mortal fiasco, which had put the entire multiverse in jeopardy. Not once had these Knights of the Pentagram come up on her radar during the whole crisis. Not to mention their absence from all the earlier occasions on which the twins and Pacifica had stopped the world from nearly ending. As preventative measures went, these guys seemed to be absolutely useless.
“This Gideon, he was, who exactly?” Bo asked, side-eying the nearest armed soldier.
“He used to compete against my Grunkle Stan’s tourist business. Fake telepathy, tried to steal the deed to the Shack, schemes like that.” She turned back to Ghost-Eyes and tapped her fingers together, not sure how to phrase what she had to say next. “Although I think you might be misinterpreting the guy’s legacy a tad there. You know he… passed away right? There was an accident, a fire, years back now.” She kicked at the parched earth, sad to have to bring this up.
“We know.” Ghost Eyes and his men dropped their heads in mourning. “Taken too soon. He was a shining example to us all, using the secret text of the arcane journal to uncover and fight against all evil that lurks in the shadows!”
“But he wasn’t like that at the end,” Mabel said, feeling unable to explain the full change in Gideon’s personality. “He reformed, gave up all the journal stuff. He even mended bridges with my family. He wasn’t some anti-weirdness crusader LARPer!”
“Nonsense, I know the truth. I was part of that golden throne of human slaves, and I saw both you and Gideon unite. Then you killed Bill Cipher with your anti-weirdness Zodiac!”
Mabel’s jaw dropped. “What the- That was the old Zodiac! Zodiac 2.0 was way more inclusive, we had queer folks, various races, a few aliens and parallel universe doubles. And hey, we didn’t even win against Bill that way! It took a mindwipe, the first Zodiac was a total bust.”
“Yeah right, I know what I saw with my two eyes.”
“Might want to get them checked with an optometrist then,” Bo said, coughing into his fist.
Mabel stepped in to prevent Ghost Eyes hearing. “So why Salem? I mean, Gravity Falls was weirdness central 101, I’m surprised you didn’t stick around.”
“That place was already too saturated in weirdness. A total lost cause.” Ghost Eyes opened his arms. Mabel and Bo looked dismissively at the empty wasteland surrounding them. “Where better to gather our forces against weirdness, than the historical centre of persecuting the occult! This place has a rich history!”
“Yeah, of burning innocent people,” Mabel spat. “Come on, this is a total witch hunt!”
“Exactly! Anyone who sides with the freaks or practices dark witchcraft deserves to be punished.”
Mabel tensed up, prepared to either defend or calm down Bo, but he simply deadpanned, “I’m not that kind of witch.”
“I take inspiration from African medicine man traditions and Haitian Vodou. Nothing to do with European pagan rituals. Though it’s a shame. After all these centuries, this town is still plagued by witch hunters. What fiendish thoughts dwell in the minds of vicious men.”
“Uh, yeah,” Mabel said, piggybacking off of Bo’s speech. “Ghost Eyes, old friend old buddy boy, you listen to me, right? ’Weird’ people are just people, trying to live their lives. Heck, ask my niece, or my girlfr… wife.” She mumbled the last word. “The point is, that Mishipeshu is just a harmless animal. Sure, you won’t find it in any biology textbook, but that doesn’t make it a monster!”
“What about the claws, or those horns?”
“Yeah but you don’t go around abducting tigers or rhinos from zoos, do you now?”
Ghost Eyes stood there, impassive, until his eyebrows furrowed. “Nice try, Miss Pines-”
“Mrs, actually,” she coughed.
“-But the two of you aren’t going anywhere. I thought you’d be on my side. Clearly that was a mistake. Oh well.” He clapped his hands together and a pair of guards stood to attention behind the prisoners. “Since you’re not cooperative I’ll have to keep you here as our hostages. I’m sure you’re not in Salem alone. Others will come, and they’ll lead us to the rest of the freaks.”
“Wait, surely we can-” Mabel shut up fast. The guard behind her had prodded her in the back. Even through her jacket she felt the barrel, cold and heavy, pressing against her.
“While I’m not keen on your choice of company,” Ghost Eyes sneered at Bo, “I won’t make you suffer any more.” Mabel had to bite her tongue. Mentioning her own magical ability would only get them in hotter water. “Take them back to the cells. On the double.”
The guards forced them into line, marching back to the shower block where they’d woken up. Mabel sighed and kicked at dirt. “So much for a friendly dialogue saving the day.”
“Psst, May.” Bo nudged her in the arm. “What you said earlier, about Zera. Is it true?”
“Cat’s out of the bag I suppose. Yeah, Zera and I got hitched.” Mabel felt surprisingly uncaring about telling Bo. All the weight pressing down on her about her marriage must have dissipated when she told Dipper. She was closer to accepting the reality of it.
“Well, good for you,” Bo said. “Not that it aids our current situation much.”
“That’s it, just ‘congrats’? I thought you’d want to say more. You’re always so verbose.”
“Hey, as long as the two of you don’t start getting in the way of my performances, I don’t care what happens offstage between shows. You do you. I don’t really go in for all that stuff anyway. I’m happy being myself.”
“So what you’re saying is you’ve got an ace up your sleeve?” Bo blinked back at her. “You know. Ace. Asexual.” She realised that Bo’s outcast upbringing meant he lacked an understanding of proper terms. “Man, I’ve gotta school you up on terminology. I filled my Grunkle Ford in on this stuff once when he was trying to catch up with modern life.”
“That’s the scientist uncle, right? Not the one Quattro looks up to.”
“Quiet.” The guard behind Mabel butted his gun into her back. She stumbled over the uneven ground, but regained enough balance not to fall over. Spinning round, she glared at the man, then apologetically demurred when he jostled his rifle. “Move it.”
Spurred by her annoyance at how ineffective all of her strategies had turned out, Mabel called out to Ghost Eyes across the compound. “Hey, wait! There must be some way we can get out of this!” The guards held her back as she slung more words at Ghost Eyes. “I- I challenge you to a… a fist fight! Yeah! If you go down, your men let us walk?” The man was unmoved. “Or are you a coward? Big wimp, scared of a little Mishipeshu.”
Ghost Eyes ground his teeth and yelled across the courtyard. “What did you say?” Afraid she’d overstepped a line, Mabel cowered back against her escorts. Then she heard laughter from Ghost Eyes. “Alright then. I accept.”
Confused, the escorts dropped their guns and let Mabel slip past. Bo caught her arm. “Ag, are you mad?! The man’s built like a brick shithouse!”
“This is our chance! I can take him. A little mano e mano and we can waltz out of her like it’s nothing.”
“Are you sure? You’re not exactly a bodybuilder, May.”
“But I’ve got it where it counts. I’m agile.” Bo didn’t seem impressed with that answer, but the guards manhandled him back away from Mabel. “Trust me, he was super old like 20 years ago when we last met him. How tough can he possibly be?”
Cracking her knuckles, Mabel approached Ghost Eyes. The soldiers weren’t implying any formal rules for this contest. She hoped they had a sense of honour, she’d hate to win and still get gunned down for her trouble.
Ghost Eyes was tugging a rusty chain in his hands. Evidently he was allowed a weapon, while Mabel had to rely on her wits to survive. She spread her foot out in an arc in the dust in front of her, tempting Ghost Eyes to swing first and positioning herself in a battle ready stance. Going one on one against threats in the past, both supernatural and related to her activism, had been a risky strategy.
Licking her lips, Mabel gestured for Ghost Eyes to come forward and strike. He paced in a circle around her, eyeing up his prey. Letting out a mighty yell, he charged forwards and flung the chain towards Mabel. Expecting this, she dashed to the side and kicked her foot down to lock the chain in place. With flat palms, she struck out against Ghost Eye’s chest, landing a few blows. His armour took most of the impact, so Mabel darted away to give herself some space.
Ghost Eyes threw the chain’s weight against her again. She dodged, only in the nick of time with the last swing, feeling the rush of wind as the chain nearly collided with her. Sweating, she tried to keep a sensible distance, aiming to lure him in again.
“Stay still you little-”
“Float like a Mishipeshu, sting like a Mabel!” She let off a flurry of light punches and was rewarded with groans from Ghost Eyes. He slammed down his arm, but Mabel was ready for that. Using his weight against him, she pulled on his arm and dragged him over onto the ground. “Hee ya!” She lifted her leg in the air and brought it down for a fearsome roundhouse kick. She hit him in the back, sending out a cloud of dust as he fell.
He rolled over and tried to grab her ankle, but her nimbleness beat him once again. She spun away and stood tall, stopping briefly to taunt him. “What’s the matter, can’t catch me? You and all the governments I’ve pissed off. I’m a one-woman wrecking ball, baby!”
“Too bad you’re in my camp then.” Despite grovelling in the dirt, Ghost Eyes flashed a wicked grin.
Mabel’s confidence was briefly shaken, but she coiled back for another volley of kicks. She was stopped in her tracks when Ghost Eyes pulled out a small remote and pressed it. Instantly Mabel collapsed to the ground, overwhelmed by a deep resonating tone. Her whole body was blasted by sound waves, reducing her muscles to a quivering wreck. She tried fruitlessly to get back, to will herself to fight back, but it was useless. The thudding tone made her want to crawl up into a ball and die.
Ghost Eyes dusted himself down and stood triumphantly over her. “And that’s the contest over.” He pressed the remote again, and the tone died down.
Coughing up dirt, Mabel weakly stared around the compound for the source of the horrible attack. There it was, a bulky contraption roughly the size of a small car, made of ugly black metal. It was ringed with massive speakers that were still vibrating from its recent use.
“Subsonic frequencies,” Ghost Eyes said, though the sound was distant and tinny in Mabel’s ears. “I’m told it somehow affects magic users more than us normal folk. It’ll stop wizards, aliens, freakish abnormalities. Anything… peculiar. Hell if I know how it works, but it makes a fine tool in the arsenal. Now, enough frivolity.” He signalled for a guard to drag Mabel upright. Her muscles were still unresponsive from the device, so she could barely walk back to the prison block.
“Hey,” she said, grimacing up at Bo. “I did pretty well, huh.”
“Except there’s no prize for second place in this game,” Bo said, a harsh tone to his voice. He barely looked in Mabel’s way as the guards cajoled them back inside
“What’s the matter, Bo?” Mabel said, trying to keep an air of bravado. “You look as sad as that Mishipeshu over there.”
“You lost. Don’t you get that? We’re not leaving here.”
“I still put up a decent fight, before our dear leader pulled out an anti-magic combat cannon out of nowhere. That was the whole point of the fight.”
“What do you mean?” The guards shoved them into their separate cells before Mabel could answer, but once their footsteps receded she crept up to the wall on unsteady legs.
“I gave them a good show. Like you always do. Made them see I’m a little more than they were probably expecting. We learnt a little more about their operation too. Now it makes sense how they knocked us out so easily last night with a toy like that.” Bo didn’t respond at first, so she continued. “We have to keep up appearances Bo. If they think they can walk all over us, they will.”
“What chance do we really have though? We’re powerless in here.”
Mabel put her palm on the wall, wishing she was closer to Bo. His words made it sound like he was on the verge of giving up. “Hey, don’t be like that. Remember who we are. I’m an openly queer Jewish woman and you’re a black immigrant. We make these kinds of people insecure just by existing. It won’t take much more to make them froth at the mouth.”
“Don’t joke about that. I’ve faced my fair share of racist insults over the years. It doesn’t feel like a strength to me.”
“Hey, until you’ve had your mugshot plastered on the evening news you don’t really know what it’s like to be attacked over every little thing.”
“No, you listen to me Bokamoso Potgieter.” Mabel raised her voice, not concerned if anyone overheard her. “I’m serious. When I fought for a cause, it didn’t take long to gain a bit of notoriety. Sure, I had followers, supporters, people who believed in my message. But when the whole of mainstream media is out to get you it can really sting. They’d go after every little thing about me, degrading my values, my methods, my personality. I’ve been called an agitator, an airhead, a communist - not that I would mind being the last one. Some said ‘too silly’, or even the opposite; that it was all a big front and I was acting for the cameras. As if being ‘authentically kind’ was somehow an impossibility. In the end, all I wanna do is help people from all walks of life. We don’t have to let people strut over us for who we are!”
Bo remained silent, perhaps digesting her words.
“For what it’s worth,” Mabel continued, “I know a bit about living rough too. Nights in the back of cars, or in cold tents under highways. Fighting for what’s right isn’t a ticket to an easy life, Bo.”
“It never stopped you though,” he said, and Mabel thought she could detect some fire returning to his voice.
“That’s the idea. If you face the world with a smile on your face, sometimes the world smiles back.”
“Hmm.” Bo started laughing. Despite all the constraints, he sounded as if he was oddly liberated by what Mabel had said. Like the fools outside didn’t matter one bit anymore. “I wish we’d get some smiles of our own soon.”
“Yeah, it’s not instantaneous. Not outside of the really lucky days like Christmas or my birthday.”
“I suppose I should have some perspective. No use feeling pity for myself. I’m not the only one who’s had a tough time of it, after all. Quattro spent years roaming in the wild.”
“Yeah, exactly. Merrise had to scavenge and steal scraps in a bombed out district. Zera’s whole species doesn’t really have a concept of individual care. Even Pacifica had to run away from her parents as a teen. We all went through that stuff and came through it stronger because we helped each other out.” Mabel felt a growing smile. “In fact, the only person who’s never experienced that kind of lonely hardship is Dipper.”
“His Freemason privileges at work again.”
“Ha, if you say so, Bo. We can only hope he uses that brain of his to get us out of here.” Mabel pressed the back of her head against the cold wall, wishing her legs would return to life. “All the privilege in the world won’t matter if Ghost Eyes decides that we count as ‘weird’ enough for his hit list.”
This was the final point at which I made any plans back in 2020. All I had in that initial outline was the opening with Mabel recalling her past use of magic, and the vague idea of an anti-alien hunting group. Everything else, with Ghost Eyes and the Knights, was developed after I picked the project back up in 2022.
I previously told the story of Mabel’s discovery of Gideon’s fate in Forever Falling chapter 21: The Forgotten.
Chapter 6: Hidden Depths
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Dust flew out from the wall as a single brick thudded to the ground. A shaft of light returned to a space abandoned for untold centuries. Dipper lined his eye up with the hole and peered into the darkness. “Perfect. We’re in the right spot.” He pressed his crowbar into the gap, widening it until he could step over the pile of rubble into the tunnel beyond.
Hefting a cage of bone, Dipper peered into the darkness. He shook the cage, letting out a flickering torchlight. Red brick walls lined the passage, though many sections had crumbled away to reveal bare earth behind. Dipper let out a long whistle. The sound echoed along the walls into the far distance.
The light dimmed, so Dipper slapped the cage again. “Lazy bird, get up!” Inside, Dee grumpily puffed out his feathers. His molten glow returned to illuminate the path ahead.
“Wouldn’t a regular flashlight be easier?” Quattro stepped into the tight tunnel beside his creator and squinted at the intermittent light.
Dipper began striding ahead, running his hand along the partially surviving masonry along the walls. “Flashlights can break, or their batteries run out. Daedalus here is powered by an internal dwarf star fusion core, although the overcooked budgie won’t let me poke around inside to properly study it.”
“Hmm, makes sense.” Quattro poked warily at Dee’s cage, but recoiled when the bird squawked at him. He didn’t want to get caught on fire. His little paper body would go up in no time. “So this is what your research the other night turned up?”
“Oh yes indeed. Behold! These tunnels run under all of Salem. Beautiful Freemason architecture.” He knocked the wall and coughed up a cloud of dust.
“You really think this’ll help? It could lead anywhere.” The pair had entered through the basement of a disused brewery, near the local university. Now they were underground, Quattro couldn’t see much ahead of them, only that the tunnel cut a straight line through the bedrock.
Dipper pointed his improvised lantern so it lit up the way forward. “Want to go and find out?” he tantalisingly offered.
Quattro didn’t hesitate for a second, marching off and leading the way through the darkness. “Where’d you find out about this place anyway? Something tells me this isn’t in the usual guidebooks.”
“Old town street plans, cross-referenced with some letters from one of the local museums,” Dipper said casually. “It was all there online, I just pulled the disparate threads together. Though I haven’t gone so far as to read The Crucible yet, but time will tell. You’d be surprised how many cities on the East Coast have these structures running beneath them.”
“It might make a perfect underground railroad, if we manage to recover all three Mishipeshu.” Quattro had become quite accustomed to smuggling mystical creatures over the past few years. His circus provided an ironclad cover against curious members of the public, as well as facilitating transport. The encroachment of modern society had pushed a lot of traditionally isolationist creatures out into the open. He’d made it his solemn duty to navigate them to safety wherever possible. “We could move them to the Misery Islands, they’re uninhabited and away from the city.”
“That depends on where this passage ends up,” Dipper intoned. “Why do all my adventures with Quattro take us into dark underground pits?” he added, muttering to himself. They had come to a fork in the road, with the tunnel splitting off in two parallel directions. Dipper shone the lantern down the right path, but found a short way in that it was blocked by a collapse. “Guess we’re taking the south-west route.”
This part of the tunnel was identical to the rest, with the ceiling arching just above the top of Dipper’s head. Any lower and he’d have to squat. Quattro had no such issues, since he hadn’t grown an inch in 17 years.
“You ever been to Mexico?” Dipper said to drum up some conversation. Down here there was only the echoing of their footsteps to break up the monotony. “I visited a secret Mayan temple once, it wasn’t greatly unlike this. Although I expect fewer dart traps this time.”
Quattro chuckled. “No, I haven’t made it there yet. Though I have been to South Africa, Russia, most parts of the US. Even Canada.”
“Ha, how exotic.” Dipper stopped briefly to breathe in the musty scent of the old brickwork. “Ah, this is the life. You know, it’s nice to be exploring somewhere new for once.”
“Has living in Gravity Falls finally got stale for you?” Quattro said, hiding a smile. “Say it ‘aint so, old man.”
“Gravity Falls is amazing, don’t get me wrong. But sampling different mythologies and histories can be exciting. In the last year and a half I’ve been to so many new places, and they all have such rich things to discover. Take here for instance. On the East Coast you’ve got the Jersey Devil, those lynx things, the Salem witch trials. And those are just the local attractions.”
“You should stick around once this all over,” Quattro said, admiring Dipper’s endless optimism. “We could all take a trip to Pioneer Village, or the Peabody Essex museum. May and Zera said the last one had some interesting art.”
“I’d love to! Though we’ll see how enthusiastic Pacifica is, she’s not a big fan of museums. Doesn’t like waiting around while I read all the info plaques. Here, could you hold the light for a sec?”
He passed Quattro the cage and halted to examine one of the arches holding up the tunnel. There was a carved stone inscription above the arch that Dipper wanted to study in detail. An angled ruler sat beneath a pair of compasses, and within both was a letter G: the traditional sigil of the Freemasons.
He retrieved Journal 9 and started sketching, while speaking aloud. “Fascinating sculpting. Wish I could use my camera down here, but the flash might disturb the stonework. You don’t get anything like these kinds of old constructions back home in Oregon. This dates back 250 years, to the Revolutionary period.”
“You really like to record everything, don’t you?” Quattro said, lifting the lantern to light the journal’s page.
“It can’t hurt to be thorough,” Dipper said with a shrug. “Who knows what might be important to rely on later. Plus, what can I say? I really like to reminisce.”
“Well, after reading through those journals you brought, I get that.” Dipper grinned from ear to ear, happy to be sharing this with someone who intimately understood what he was getting at. What Quattro said next made him frown though. “It was nice to picture a version of myself having such an interesting life.”
That wasn’t what Dipper wanted to hear from the clone. After all these years he’d hoped that longing would have faded. “Hey, don’t be down on yourself Quattro. You’ve lived a super interesting life of your own. Running the circus, helping out lost cryptids, saving the multiverse. That’s nothing to be modest about.”
“I suppose. It’s more the normal stuff I feel like I’ve missed out on. Having an ordinary, quiet life.”
“I tried a quiet life for a few years, buddy. Pacifica and I focused on our careers to the exclusion of all else. Trust me, it was the most boring time I’ve ever experienced.”
Dipper knew what was bugging his clone. He’d never got the chance to experience the mundanity of High School, or countless holidays as a family, getting to grow up like everyone else. Even Dipper’s relationship with Pacifica was likely the root of a deep-seated envy. All of this was unattainable. Despite his exciting career and the friends he’d made, Quattro would never be the same as Dipper.
“These Freemasons,” Quattro said, dropping the topic. “They didn’t have anything to do with… him, did they?”
Dipper stared at the diamond shaped symbol he’d nearly finished sketching. He supposed there was a vague familiarity to the triangular entity who’d once tormented him in childhood. Closing the journal, Dipper took back the light. “I forgot, when you were travelling with Wendy and the others you met Bill, didn’t you? Or at least a parallel version of him.”
“Yeah, that guy was bad news.”
Dipper gave a dry laugh. “That’s underselling it somewhat. But don’t worry. Any similarity in design is probably a coincidence, your brain seeing patterns that aren’t there.” Starting off down the passage again, Dipper came up short and stroked his chin. “Unless Bill somehow influenced the Freemasons two centuries ago… nah, that’s far-fetched, even for me.”
“It does seem a bit out there,” Quattro said, his worry fading thanks to Dipper.
“I mean, no matter what, he's long gone from our dimension. No, the masons were just a bunch of fancy colonial carpenters. The fact I’m named Mason is another huge coincidence.”
“Who knows, maybe Mom and Dad were secretly deep in the Illuminati, and named you as a joke.”
Quattro carried on off down the tunnel, but Dipper stood still for a moment before chasing after him. “Huh, that’s the second time someone’s brought up my parents this week,” he muttered. “Wonder if that’s another billion to one coincidence?”
Hours passed in the dark underworld. The doppelgangers worked their way past fallen masonry and twisting maze-like passages, loosely following a map Dipper had procured of the above-ground streets. It wasn’t easy going. The entropy of two centuries had worn down so much of the route.
When they finally arrived at their destination, another tunnel exit meant to be on the edge of town, they had to stop and rest. Dipper drank greedily from a bottle of water. He was about to offer it to his companion when he remembered that water and Quattro didn’t mix well, even nowadays with his fancy hydro-resistance pills.
“Feels like we’re halfway to Boston already,” Quattro said, leaning against the tunnel wall and panting. “We’ll have to mark this route carefully on a map or something. Getting lost down here: bad idea.”
“I’ve marked off all the forks we took, shouldn’t be too hard to add some distance markers. I’m more interested in where we’ll come out on the surface.” Their joint intuition for directions were lost somewhere back near the brewery entrance. “Last push then, and we can get out of this musty tomb.”
“That sounds great. I could really go for a caravan hammock nap right about now.”
Dipper raised an eyebrow. “Do you need to sleep? I thought, with the paper stuff-”
“Yeah, I sleep. That part got copied over.” Quattro seemed to want to hurry through this conversation, so Dipper moved on.
Lifting Dee’s cage, he peered down the straight path ahead. “Now if we’re in the right place, there should be- oh.” He came to a dead-end. There were no side-passages or cut-throughs. Setting the lamp down, he placed his palms on the blank wall at the end of the tunnel. “Solid brickwork alright.”
“But look Dip, the bricks look more recent that the walls. Lighter in colour, like they were added afterwards.”
“Aha, someone must have sealed off the entrance. Makes sense, a new owner wouldn’t want an easy back door lying open all the time. Guess we’ll have to break through ourselves.”
Dipper unslung his backpack and dumped it on the earthen floor. While he rummaged around for his crowbar Quattro tapped on the wall.
“It’s hollow,” Quattro said, pressing his ear to the bricks. “I can hear more of an echo.” He made some more taps along the wall and nodded in satisfaction. “Time for paper to beat stone.” The clone reeled back his arm and aimed a mighty punch at one of the bricks. The whole wall shuddered, and the targeted brick shifted in place.
“Nice stuff!” Dipper said, genuinely impressed by the clone’s strength. Quattro lashed out again, repeatedly bashing the same portion of wall until the brick physically moved enough to create a void. Dipper wedged his crowbar into the narrow gap and strained against the cement, trying to pull out the brick entirely. “Goddamn 19th century workmanship. They couldn’t have chosen a cheaper cement?”
“Pacifica used to be an architect, right?” Quattro asked. “She’d probably be offended that they blew the good stuff on a useless tunnel wall.”
“Yep, she’d be chewing our ears off about ‘proper construction budgets’ and ‘installation fees’. Then probably getting offended… when I do this!” Dipper grunted and finally loosened the brick all the way. It fell at Quattro’s feet. With more leverage, Dipper started chipping away at the surrounding wall, removing more bricks in an attempt to widen the gap. The satisfying sound of metal clanging against brick echoed down the tunnel.
Quattro came over to help, lending his own power to remove the obstacle. “I’m surprised,” he said through gritted teeth as he worked. “You’ve grown some extra muscle, Dipper. Where’d that come from?”
“Ah well, you know. Last year I went all around the world and into space. It was the most active I’ve ever been in my life, probably. Mabel tells me I’m finally getting stronger after all this time. Mabel…”
Dipper loosened his grip on the crowbar and silence returned to the dark space. Lit by the flickering orange light, Quattro saw his expression turn to doubt. He put his arm on his older self’s shoulder. “We’ll get her back, bro. It’s only a matter of time. The others will find her, and Bo.”
“Sure,” Dipper said, bitterly laughing. “Feels like I’m always getting her out of trouble. She takes after Stan too, you know. On the run from the law, peddling some new scheme. Hers are more morally upright than our Grunkle’s, but I imagine it’s a similar compulsion.”
Quattro thought for a moment, then smiled. “Well, if she’s anything like Stan, nothing will faze her for long. She won’t take guff from anybody, especially not a bunch of creature stealers.”
Though he had to squint to see it, Quattro noticed Dipper’s smile raise ever so slightly. “You’re right. Better to plan for when we have her back, rather than wallowing in misery. Oh, and if anyone else from my family suggests that my new abs are a result of Zumba and Aqua Fit classes twice a week, feel free to ignore them.” He used his crowbar like a lever, and with one large effort half the wall caved in. They quickly stepped away to avoid breathing in a cloud of brick dust.
Once it cleared, they saw that the wall was now open enough to fit through. Quattro being smaller went through first, then Dipper came after with the light. He knocked some more loose bricks down as he shuffled in. The space they’d broken into wasn’t large, a tight square only a few feet across.
Dipper lifted the light, but almost dropped it when he saw a pile of dark grey bones in the corner of the room. Quattro was even more spooked, backing against the wall in fright. “Yeesh. Skeletons.” Dipper kicked an arm bone out of his path so he didn’t step on it. “Wonder who these poor saps were. If that doesn’t remind you of your mortality then nothing will.”
He panned the light away from the grim sight, spotting a fraying wooden ladder. Despite a few missing rungs, it was sturdy enough, and seemed to lead to a trapdoor that would hopefully take them out of the secret tunnels at last.
As he tested the safety of the lower rungs, Quattro spoke, barely above a whisper. If they hadn’t been alone in this sound-proof space, Dipper might not have caught it at all. “Uh, Dipper. I’m not exactly ‘mortal’, like you are.”
Dipper held onto the rung for a second longer, then sighed and turned back to his companion. This was a bone of contention Quattro evidently needed to deal with before they could carry on. Dumping the cage down and eliciting some chirped protests from its occupant, Dipper crossed his arms and opened the floor to Quattro. “Alright buddy. If you want to talk about it, I’m here. I’m the guy who’ll understand you best in the whole world.”
Quattro took off his red cap and ran a hand through his hair. Pacing back and forth, Dipper watched the process of his clone trying to come up with the right words to explain his feelings on the matter. It was oddly fascinating, a mirror of his own tics and habits. He’d tried in the past not to view Quattro that way, to respect him as an individual. Perhaps it was more complicated for him as well.
“It’s tricky,” Quattro went with. “I don’t really get ill or age or change much. This body’s not meant for that. But we’ve been over that before. I’m kinda used to it.”
“Ok,” Dipper said, gently prodding him to continue.
“It’s more about everybody else. Bo for instance. He won’t be around forever. I don’t know what I’m going to do in the future when everyone I care about keeps on ageing and passing away and I’m just stuck here, as a permanent 12 year old. I don’t mind the physical aspects for myself, but other people don’t live forever.”
“That’s a long way off to be thinking about,” Dipper said diplomatically. He didn’t want to diminish Quattro’s opinions. “A good few decades. Better to live in the now. Appreciate what you’ve got while it’s here…” He trailed off. This was getting similar to an internal debate of his own. Maybe sharing it would ease Quattro’s anxiety. “I’ve been thinking lately about relationships. Ones that are passing by. Mom and Dad. If I don’t open myself up to them soon, I’ll never have that chance again. They’ll miss out on really knowing the true me, and Mabel, and Merrise and all the rest.”
“You’re going to reveal everything to them?” Quattro said, genuinely shocked.
“Slowly, of course. Wouldn’t want to overload them with all the life or death stuff right away. But I want them to be a part of my life again. I’ve made up my mind. As soon as we’re all wrapped up in Salem, I’m going to figure out how to tell them the truth.” He stood up and hit a fist into his palm. Something about saying it out loud to Quattro made it feel more real. The decision was made now. There was no going back.
“Can I come too?” Quattro asked, and Dipper did a double-take.
He slapped himself in the forehead. “Ah, god, I’m such a dummy. Of course you miss them too. I mean, how could you not.”
“Uh huh,” Quattro said, nodding and awkwardly smiling. “They’re my mom and dad too.”
“All those years in the woods alone, with no parents. You even said that when we were with Zera. Gah, I’m sorry.” He got down on one knee to face Quattro on an even footing. “Look, our lives are a huge mess. Explaining it all to Mom and Dad is going to be one of the hardest things I ever do. But I’ll try to explain how you fit in too. I wouldn’t want you to be left out ever again.”
“Thanks, Dipper.” Quattro hugged his progenitor. “You’re right though, what you said, worrying about the future.” He breathed deeply and puffed out his chest. “My life has been so different ever since I’ve been able to go out in the rain without worrying about melting. I’ve got a partner to rely on and family to call on. I get to travel the world helping out and doing something I love.”
“Exactly. Now, what do you say we get out of this dirty, fetid cellar? I’m starting to choke on bonedust.” Dipper coughed, then started ascending the rickety ladder. The trapdoor at the top was rusty metal, but thankfully he was able to push it open with ease.
Stepping out, he saw stars twinkling above through gaping holes in the structure they’d arrived at. The walls were made of dark, rotten wood, broken into splintered wrecks. Rows of wonky wooden benches lined the room, covered in broken wooden planks. Up above the walls arched into a triangular shape, framing one end of the room where a stone altar sat. “Looks like some kind of old congregational church.”
Quattro emerged a second later, though the light he brought was less necessary thanks to the illumination of the night sky. Taking a creaky step forwards, Dipper halted, letting the building settle. An entire upper floor had already almost completely fallen away, leaving only a narrow section by the far wall, perilously holding up a fraying pipe organ.
“We definitely don’t want to let Dee loose in here,” Dipper said. “The whole place looks days away from a collapse.”
Opposite from the altar, Quattro found a pair of doors. A heavy wooden beam blocked the way, but he was shifting it effortlessly so they could at least get out through one of the doors. To their left, Dipper spied a side-room. Another ladder went up into a belltower. “I’ve already dared one ladder today. Let’s get our bearings.”
Climbing up, they found that the belltower was by far the most structurally sound part of the church. Atop an octagonal platform, they surveyed their surroundings. The church was an absolute write-off, and surrounding it was an expanse of forest, the orange leaves just visible in the starlight.
“Looks like a good spot,” Quattro said, admiring the view. The city lights from Salem could be seen over the treetops. “A subtle escape route, and we’re far enough out of town so as not to attract suspicion. Perfect for the Mishipeshu.”
“At least once we get them through the tunnels. It’ll be a tighter squeeze for them, but doable. Just about.”
Reaching into Dipper’s pack, Quattro retrieved a dinner-plate sized hexagonal object and set it down on the tower roof. Sliding it open, he pulled out a plastic cone. He set it on the platform and a red light flashed on top. “This’ll give us a GPS signal so we can find this place again more easily.”
Dipper raised an eyebrow and picked up the hexagonal box. “Is this one of Candy’s ‘bigger-on-the-inside’ storage units from our multiverse trip?”
Quattro slid it out of his grasp. “Dimensionally Transcendental backpacks that can store limitless amounts make for a big help with sleight of hand tricks.”
“Of course you’d use all that fabulous technology for tricking rubes. You really would make Stan proud.” He leaned on the balcony railing and stared up at the stars. “Now all we need is Mabel, Bo, and the other Mishipeshu back.” He snorted. “Maybe we should call on the Satanic Temple for help. They’re based in Salem after all. I’m sure they could get both Mabel and Bokamoso released from whoever’s holding them on discrimination charges.”
“Worth trying all options,” Quattro said cheerily. “We’d better hope we can save them. With the Halloween festival coming up we’ll have to pull out all the stops.”
Dipper knew the importance. With all the people in costume and events going on, the festival would provide their greatest opportunity to smuggle out the Mishipeshu. With only two days to go, they didn’t have long to come up with a plan.
But they could worry about that when the time came. For now, Dipper put his arm around Quattro and the pair of them simply leant against the railing and watched the night sky. Even though Dipper’s fascination with constellations and astronomy had developed when he was slightly older, Quattro still had a basic urge to gaze up in wonder as he’d once done.
Dipper searched the sky, as if he could find his own Shooting Star. “Hope you’re alright, Mabel,” he whispered to himself.
This was the first chapter fully planned and written after I moved the story’s setting to Salem. I was able to take advantage of much more of the material history of the location, lending some much needed clarity on atmosphere and ‘world-building’.