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Off the Deep End

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The Mystery Shack was a beautiful ship. Once a merchant vessel, it became a pirate frigate after the infamous Mystery Trio Pirates commandeered it more than thirty years ago. Since then, the ship has sailed the entirety of the Caribbean Sea round and round again, boarding and looting from both merchant ships and Her Majesty's own Navy.

The Shack had a constantly rotating crew, with the exception of its five core members: Captain Stanley Pines, first mate Jesus "Soos" Ramirez, second mate Wendy Corduroy, and deck cadets Mabel and Dipper Pines, the captain's niblings. Rumour had it, one third of the now disbanded Mystery Trio went mad, whilst the other mysteriously disappeared, his ship and journals the only heritage he left. Thus began the Captain's life long search for his brother.

Of the permanent crew, the first mate also doubled as boatswain, the second mate as third mate, and the two deck cadets as ordinary seamen. However, these extra skills rarely had to be put to use, what with the Mystery Shack always attracting a wide range of volunteer crewmen. Some stayed longer than others, whilst some ran away screaming the moment they docked. Nobody seemed to believe them when they spoke of ghosts and monsters at the local tavern...

It was at the beginning of summer 1732 however, that Captain Pines overheard the Tent of Telepathy's deck cadet rant about lost treasure in Mindscape Bay. The boy talked and talked and honestly, Pines had long since tuned him out – lost treasure, yeah right! But when he heard the word 'siren' being spoken, he immediately perked up. When pressed, the boy – a snot-nosed little brat in Stan's humble opinion – started to wax a grand tale about beautiful mermaids, gold beyond imagination and close calls with death. The Captain promptly told him to shut up. He walked out of the inn that night with a new expedition in mind and a smile on his face.


Sometimes, Dipper really wondered what was going on through his great uncle's head. Embarking on a practically suicidal journey for gold to last a lifetime, he could understand, but embarking on a practically suicidal journey because it was suicidal, he just couldn't fathom. Especially when the danger aspect of it was, probably, just a rumour started by a half-drunk sixteen year old boy.

Sailors were a superstitious lot, he knew that, and if you had ever manned for the Mystery Shack, you were justified in your beliefs. Just last week, they had to fight off a pod of Encantados, shapeshifting trickster dolphins (one had managed to seduce Mabel, but they had figured it out just in time to prevent it from turning her into one of their own). But for some reason, the prospect of being serenaded into an early watery grave didn't seem to faze Grunkle Stan, though it definitely bothered the rest of the crew.

Dipper sat on a crate, munching on an apple and watching the new crew board the ship. There weren't as many as usual, but that was to be expected. Wendy was overseeing the new arrivals next to him, standing tall, arms crossed, looking every bit of the intimidating swordswoman she really was. She had her cutlass hanging from her left hip, and a hatchet, her signature weapon, from her right. Dipper was just glad she was on their side.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around. Mabel smiled with all her teeth, eyes alight and excitedly pointing at one of the new members loading provision crates on the deck.

“He’s really, really cute!” she said, jumping up and down.

Dipper smiled fondly at his sister. They were nineteen now, trained in the finer ways of piracy since they were twelve, yet Mabel had somehow retained part of her childhood innocence. She had kept her heart of gold amongst all the carnage, and Dipper admired her all the more for it. Oh, she was still horrifyingly bad at flirting, but that didn’t stop her from trying, never had and never will.

“Why don’t you go talk to him?” he suggested. Mabel gasped, then grinned.

“You know what? I think I will.” That said, she straightened, set her expression in deep determination, and marched towards the young man. Her cotton dressed swished as she made her way across the dock, swinging her arms in a mock military parade, fists curled and head held high.

Wendy cheered beside Dipper. “Get him, tiger!”

Dipper watched as his sister mildly terrified the man. Something about liking potatoes, he thought he heard. He didn’t pay much attention, opting instead to carefully scrutinize the boy’s behavior. Logically, he knew that the chances of him being an evil supernatural creature were extremely low, but it had happened before, and the last thing they wanted was a repeat of the Norman incident.

After careful consideration, Dipper deemed him normal enough, nice even. He laughed at her jokes, and smiled accordingly, so at least Dipper knew this new crew wasn’t going to be an entire pain in the ass to bear. It was always a gamble, and they got stuck with assholes enough times for Dipper to be able to recognize one when he saw one.

Someone cleared their throat behind him. Dipper turned around, so did Wendy, and both questioningly stared at their newly arrived Captain.

“I got an errand for ya, kid,” he said, “Get to the market and find some earplugs for us, aye?”

Dipper nodded as he jumped off the crate. He flashed them both a grin before running down the dock. Grunkle Stan didn’t even bother to reach for his purse; an errand for Dipper wasn’t really an errand honestly, more of an anonymous loan for an indefinite amount of time (i.e. forever).

He strode down the road, enjoying the morning’s breeze and smells, careful to not jostle anyone as he made his way to the markets. Seven years of training and observation might’ve given the twins basic pirate skills, but each developed their own specialties out of their strengths. Mabel became a sharpshooter, and favored a small harpoon pistol contraption she looted from a cargo ship once. She was also the Mystery Shack’s tailor in a way; she knitted in her spare time and mended the crew’s torn clothing.

Dipper, on the other hand, was their thief, part-time navigator, and unofficial monster hunter. He knew how to make himself small and unremarkable. Although it was easier for him to slink off in an alley and dart his way back to the ship when he was younger, being smaller and all that, he nonetheless adapted as he grew and used his newfound height to ooze confidence. As such, he didn’t seem suspicious at all when he’d simply take an apple or loaf of bread while the owner was looking the other way. People just assumed it was normal because it looked like it was normal.

He waded through the masses of the market, letting the merchants’ yells, the white noise of the crowd and the distant crash of waves on rocks wash over him. He peered around, searching for wax earplugs, and maybe even a treat to share with Mabel.

He spotted a quiet stall next to a bakery, filled with what seemed to be various knickknacks of the supernatural kind. Curiosity piqued, he approached the stand and saw that, indeed, that was the amulet sketched in Journal 2. He looked up, and smiled to the old man sitting on the other side of the counter. His eyes were wide, wild, and slightly crossed, while his nose was big, red, that of a drunkard’s. He sported an extremely long beard and a tattered brown hat. How a wreck like him came into possession of actual real magical objects, Dipper couldn’t even begin to guess. He was instantly on his guard.

“Wha’ can I do fo’ ya?” he asked, voice surprisingly shrill. Dipper smiled pleasantly.

“My crew and I are planning on going to Mindscape Bay. You wouldn’t have wax earplugs would you?” he asked.

The old man frowned.

Dipper did too.

“Mindscape Bay? You’re not planning on visiting them sirens do ya?”

“Well as a matter of fact...”

The old man’s frown deepened, and the corners of his mouth turned down. Then suddenly, his face cleared in an expression of complete vacancy. Dipper decided the man was most definitely mad.

“I got exactly what you need!” he rummaged under the counter and produced two burlap pouches. “Fifty earplugs, right here!” he shoved them towards Dipper, who scrambled to grab them. “Free of charge! Tell Stan he’s an idiot and he’s heading to his death! Shop’s closed, goodbye!”

“What the f... Wait! You know Grunkle Sta-?” but the old man had already jumped (yes, jumped) into the crowd, leaving Dipper slack-jawed and confused and completely at a loss at what just happened.

The whole exchange didn’t even take more than two minutes.

After some deliberation, he snatched up the mystic amulet, intending to study it later in the company of his great uncle’s journals.

He was so lost in thought, rehashing the previous events in his head over and over again, that he failed to notice the frankly outlandish kid barreling towards him.

You!” the boy cried as he shoved Dipper into an empty alley, “I saw you with Stan Pines!” He shook Dipper by the lapels of his jacket, making him drop the amulet onto the ground. This did not go unnoticed by his attacker. “What’s this?” he stopped, loosening his hold on Dipper, blinking down to the piece of jewelry.

Dipper took a step back as his ambusher bent down to pick up the object, blinking away his dizziness and just giving up on having a normal morning. As he regained his senses, he panicked when he saw the boy gazing in wonder at the amulet in his hands.

“T-that’s nothing!” he swiped at it, trying to get it back, but the kid moved his arm away. “J-just an old piece of junk really!” he laughed nervously.

His attacker narrowed his eyes at him. “If it’s nothing, why are you so desperate to get it back?”

Dipper wracked his brain to find a convincing lie. “SENTIMENTAL VALUE! Um... I mean, yeah, sentimental value. Now please give it back...”

Nailed it.

The kid, an albino Dipper belatedly noticed, glanced to and from his hand and the amulet. He then pocketed it. “I don’t believe you.”

Shit.

“Come on, man! It was my mother’s and it’s all I have to remember her by!” Please God, let it work.

“I don’t think so, pal. Finders keepers.”

Dammit.

“Why can’t people just be decent from time to time...” Dipper muttered. He squinted, focused, and tackled the boy to the ground.

They scuffled for a bit. Dipper managed to scratch the others cheek, but got a punch to the eye in return. They rolled around, fists flying, got kicked in the gut a few times, and Dipper somehow found himself on top of the boy with a black-eye and split lip. The albino kicked out, hitting Dipper’s leg and making his ankle twist in a painful way. Dipper yelped. The amulet went flying across the alley while he got shoved off and slammed into the nearby wall. His attacker scrambled to get up as Dipper struggled to ease air back into his lungs, and the kid once again grabbed the amulet. This time however, he ran away.

“Tell Stan Pines that he’ll get the treasure over my dead body!” he spat, before turning tail and leaving Dipper to pick himself up.

He stayed there in the alleyway, panting for air and groaning as he felt along his left eye. No way was he going to be able to cover that up. At least the madman didn’t take the earplugs too.

He slowly stood back up, and wobbled out of the alley. Pain shot up his leg, and he cursed. His ankle was swollen and hurt like hell, but at least it didn’t seem broken. He looked around, and found a small wooden stick resting on the ground. He figured it was a child’s, but since there weren’t any playing nearby, he counted his blessings and picked it up. The rest of his trek back to the Mystery Shack went blessedly uneventful. Thank God for small mercies.

When he arrived, the crew was still loading provisions onto the ship while Wendy and Mabel were both overseeing the proceedings, conversing with each other without a care in the world. When they saw him approach, they smiled excitedly, but when they got a clearer look at him – noticing his limp, more specifically – their expressions instantly morphed into one of fear and concern.

It warmed Dipper’s heart in a way.

Mabel ran to him, shouting his name, whilst Wendy jumped and climbed onto the ship, probably to go tell Grunkle Stan.

“DIPPER! Oh my god, Dipper! What happened?!” Mabel fretted, cupping his face and turning it around so she could take a closer look.

“Ish nof’in’” he said through his squeezed cheeks.

“That doesn’t look like ‘nothing’ to me, matey.” Soos appeared behind Mabel. “Your eye looks like a rotten potato.”

“Shanks Thooth,” deadpanned Dipper.

The first man chuckled. “No problem, mate.”

Mabel poked at his eye and Dipper made a pained noise, which Mabel returned in equal measure. “Come on, Dip-dop,” she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the ship. “We got a doctor on board this time. Let’s get you checked out.”

“Seriously, Mabel,” he complained. ”I’m fine. We’ve both been in worse fights.”

“Nuh-uh,” she shook her head. “Not having it, bro-bro. Getting hurt at sea is one thing, but getting hurt before we even set sail is another completely,” she glanced at his makeshift cane. “Guess you’ll just have to stick it out,” she grinned.

Dipper groaned, whether because of the pun or the pain, he didn’t bother to check.

Both Soos and Mabel helped him onboard. The former sat him down on a barrel while the latter went to fetch the doctor. He was just on the other side of the deck, and judging from the look of mild surprise his face took on while Mabel explained things to him, he definitely did not expect a patient so soon. They both made their way back to him just as Grunkle Stan stormed out of the Captain’s cabin, followed by Wendy.

“What the hell happened out there, kid?!” he yelled.

“Um...” Dipper said, sheepish. “Well I got the earplugs! No worries there!”

“Not what I was asking, kiddo. Who the hell beat you up like this?”

“Oh, well I don’t know his name. He’s an albino, though, and kinda fat now that I’m thinking about it. Younger than me for sure.”

“Was he wearing light blue?”

“Uh...” Dipper tried to remember. “...Yeah! I think so. How’d you know?”

The older man grimaced.

Gideon...” his voice dripped of disdain and contempt. “He’s the brat that told me all about Mindscape Bay. He’s from the Tent of Telepathy, you know, the one with that ridiculous star flag and always dresses in light blue? These guys have been nothing but trouble,” he muttered.

“What did he want with you, anyway?” asked Mabel.

“Ah... He doesn’t want us anywhere near the treasure; says it’s his.” Dipper grimaced, stifling a yelp of pain. The doctor stopped poking at his ribs and continued on with his examination.

Grunkle Stan pffted. “You’ve got to be an idiot to believe in lost treasure! Kid must have seaweed for a brain. We’ll just deal with him later. You rest up. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes.”

“Hey, Grunkle Stan?” Dipper said as the Captain was leaving. He turned back.

“Yeah, kid?”

“Why are we going to the Bay if you don’t think there’s treasure?”

The old man smiled. “I’ll tell you later.”

And that was that.

▲▼▲

They left at noon, with twenty sailors total and enough food and water for half a year. Better safe than sorry, Wendy said. They spent the next two weeks getting acquainted with the crew, or at least, Mabel did. Dipper simply stayed in his cot, healing up and reading his other grunkle's journals. When they were placed under the guard of their still-accounted-for great uncle, Dipper had tripped on a pile of them while waiting for his new custodian in his cabin. Curious, he grabbed them, and hid the books under his pillow. Grunkle Stan surely knew Dipper had them, and Dipper knew he knew, but both kept quiet about it and went on with their lives. It suited Dipper just fine.

He kept on revisiting the journal's entry on sirens. It had the cursory description of appearance, abilities, habitats, etc. along with 'DANGER - AVOID AT ALL COSTS' inked in large, bolded letters. Dipper shook his head and sighed, again, for the hundredth time since the beginning of this expedition, seriously re-evaluating the sanity of his Captain. He read:

“... tales in various port towns depict a siren’s kiss to be able to give a sailor the ability to breathe underwater, as well as talk to and understand marine wildlife. However, nobody has ever actually been kissed, so the point is moot.”

On the next page:

“... whilst a siren’s song lures sailors to their deaths, rumour has it that it is possible to avoid the effect of their voices by plugging one’s ears. I have never encountered a siren, so I cannot confirm this, but by all logic, it makes sense.”

There were no listed weaknesses.

Dipper swept his fingers across the wax earplugs in his pocket. He always kept two pairs on his person, for him and Mabel, and stored the rest under his pillow, to give out to the crew when they would approach Mindscape Bay. There was a risk the plugs wouldn’t work, and that made him nervous. Extremely so. He reassured himself; both of his Grunkles knew what they were doing.

Right?

He chased his doubts away; it was too late now. He closed his eyes and waited for the call of land ahoy.

▲▼▲

They arrived at night. The water was still and the moonlight illuminated the cove. From what they could see, the beach was curved like a crescent, and slowly turned into jagged rocks along the tips. A few yards away from the shore, the beach gave place to a dense tropical forest, too dark to see into. The cove itself was too small, and probably too shallow, for the Mystery Shack to enter. So they anchored near the entrance, and lowered the rowboats.

As the scouting party climbed down to the boats, Dipper handed them their way of defense. They looked at him oddly for a few seconds, but then understanding bloomed on their faces and they smiled in gratitude. He watched them go into the night, all the while gripping the edge of the boat and nervously scrutinizing the calm water around him. He felt a tug at his sleeve. He turned around and came face to face with his sister.

“Dipper, I’m scared...” Mabel looked at him with wide, worried eyes, the lantern lights making her look like she was twelve again. He took her hand in his own.

“Me too,” he said, mirroring her expression.

They kept an ear out, but heard nothing. Half-an-hour later, the scouting party returned, all members accounted for, and they stated the way was clear. The whole ship let out a collective sigh of relief. Sirens were just myths after all. Maybe. Probably.

They left three members to guard the ship for the night, and rowed to shore. The Pines embarked together, whilst Soos and Wendy went on ahead. It was extremely dark – the lanterns and moon the only sources of light – so they went slowly. The gentle waves rocked the boat back and forth, and everything was utterly silent, not even the sound of crickets could be heard.

Both twins rowed and rowed. Dipper focused on his task, anything to keep his mind off the very possible risk of death. He kept his breath rhythmic with his movements, and told himself the sweat on his forehead was because of his labour, and definitely not because he could feel eyes on him. He refused to glance away from the back of the boat, eyebrows set in a deep frown of concentration (not anxiety, no sir), and he ignored the twisted feeling deep in his gut. He hadn’t been able to eat this morning; too nervous he thought he’d throw up, so that must’ve been why. Of course it was!

They were half-way through when they heard a splash.

Dipper stopped breathing.

Fuck.

Both he and Mabel stilled. They stared at each other, then in the general direction of the sound to their right. They watched as one of the OSs in Wendy’s boat swore up and down he saw a giant fish tail. The mood rapidly plummeted after that. Many started muttering under their breaths, fiddling with their earplugs, scanning – skittish – the water around them. Dipper gulped audibly, and glanced down at his sweaty palm. He tried to wipe them off on his jacket.

Another splash resounded to their left, and Dipper scrambled to see. Yes, that was definitely a fish tail. A really big one. He started to hyperventilate, and could barely breathe at the same time. He sat back down next to Mabel, and reached for her hand, squeezing it in an iron grip. She held his gaze; her eyes set in a deep frown, worried and scared. Dipper tried for a reassuring smile. Judging from his sister's lack of reaction, he failed miserably. He turned back around.

He froze, eyes bulging out.

Leaning on the edge of the boat, arms crossed but lax, head resting on the gunwale and a pleasant smile on his face, was the most beautiful man (siren, his mind corrected) Dipper had ever seen.

He couldn’t help it; he screamed.

Belatedly, he realized he wasn't the only one.