Everything burned. It had always burned, but he thought he vaguely remembered grey trees turning to ash and knowing that those were his mindscape, and without those, there could be no memories, so maybe that is why he thought it had always burned.
For now, though, there was no past, no future, no space or time other than him and the triangle, and everything burned.
It had to end, of course. Nothing can last forever, even if one feels like it has always existed. In the end he came out of his fight victorious, the triangle dissolved into dust, and the only one on fire was him.
He had no way of telling how long it took for the world to reassert itself, and for his memories to come back.
All he knew was that one moment he was no one and the world was a void, and the next he was Dipper Pines again and he was lying on something. His mindscape had been destroyed, which should have left him a mindless shell, but it must have reformed after his victory, because he was obviously not a vegetable. Also, he was in excruciating pain.
Two different kinds of pain, in fact.
There was the physical pain. The one that made him feel like his entire body was constantly being fed through a meat grinder. It should have been horrible, but honestly? It just felt kind of weird. Almost funny. He felt detached from it, as if it was happening to someone else. It felt like slapstick comedy and like scratching an itch, and it was weird.
The other pain went much deeper, and was much worse. His mind and soul had been damaged, he thought, possibly changed forever. Deep wounds were left behind from the battle, and they were healing, were almost completely healed, but they hurt. They hurt like his legs after running a marathon, like a big, fresh bruise, or like a newly stitched wound. His very soul was sore, and it burned. It was far easier to focus on the physical pain.
He did, for a while. Just enjoyed the pain, but then the memories of a certain demon in his body came to mind, and he was suddenly very creeped out.
He dropped the pain and tried to find his body instead, to get a feel for how much was left of it. What he found was a bit of a surprise. It was truly his body now, he could sense it better than ever. He could feel every single one of his trillions of cells. It was truly a marvel, how well he knew his own physical form, but it was still broken. Broken and burned and mostly disintegrated. He had no idea how he still had nerves to feel pain with.
With hardly a thought he fixed what was broken, replaced what was burned and remade what was gone completely. Then he realized what he had just done and was creeped out again, but at least the physical pain was gone.
The mental pain was still there though. He rolled face-up and arched his back in a knee-jerk reaction to a pain he had no way to dull. A thin whine escaped a newly formed throat and he drew his first breath in what might have been hours, might have been days. That turned out to be a mistake as it quickly turned into the desperate, gasping, almost-sobbing breathing of one in great pain. That was bad. He had to control his breathing, also find something else to focus on. He opened his eyes.
The sky was certainly distracting enough for at least a little while. It had a strange kind of duality to it, as if he had different color lenses over each eye, though nothing changed if he closed just one. In one way it was a plain grey with a few monochrome clouds, but in another it was colored in colors he had never seen before. He only called them colors because that was the only word he had for how he saw them, but if he had to describe them he would have named them as something more closely related to emotions.
He sensed something moving at his right and turned his head to look. He was apparently laying on his back in the middle of a huge, grassy field, which also appeared grey juxtaposed with impossible colors. A few feet away from his hand, which lay carelessly forgotten beside him, stood five, no six- seven sheep, looking at him.
They looked like sheep, anyway, but the bright red eyes, the black wool that shone with a rainbow of color, the widely varying shapes and numbers of horns, and the fangs he thought he glimpsed on at least one all pointed to them being something slightly more sinister. Their eyes were also far more intelligent than any sheep had the right to be. They did not look at him as though he was food, though, and he was in too much pain to worry. One of them bleated at another, if the sound of bad radio static and a slight rumble in the soul could be called bleating. It was barely loud enough to hear, but he heard, and he thought he could understand what was said if he bothered to listen.
His eyes met those of a sheep with only a single set of rather small horns, and she, he thought it looked like a she, took a few small and hesitant steps towards him. Her manner was… submissive, he thought, scared and submissive. How strange. What did she have to be scared of? He noticed his breathing had gotten at least somewhat under control. Enough to shape words, at least.
“Hey,” he breathed at her, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
That gave her the courage to step closer to him. She still looked submissive and scared, but slightly less of the latter. Then she leaned down and licked his hand.
His eyelids lowered slightly as she did. Her tongue was wide, warm and soft, and it was soothing on his skin, as if it chased away a small fraction of a fraction of the pain that still permeated his body.
“Good girl,” he breathed, barely even a sound, and she stiffened, and her eyes widened as if he had just told her she had won a million dollars. She resumed the licking after only a heartbeat’s worth of stutter, though, so it was okay. He regarded her as she did. Looked her over. She was only a little smaller than himself, and she did indeed have razor sharp teeth and powerful fangs beneath her lips. From the way she held herself, the way she moved her hooves and tail, he guessed she had far more weapons on her than she showed. She looked soft, though. Her ears were short and rounded, and her wool looked like silk and water. He wondered if…
He rolled carefully over on his side and raised his other hand towards her.
“Come here,” he said.
She hesitated, watched his other hand nervously, but he was in too much pain to think about that.
“Come here,” he said again, more forcefully, and she came to him. He could apologize later if he thought she looked insulted. Then his hand touched her wool and any worry he had evaporated.
He pulled her into an embrace, and she lay down next to him obediently. Then he buried his face in her wool. It was everything he thought it looked like. It was smooth as oil and soft as silk, and she was warm against his body. It soothed the pain. Not by much, not by much at all, but enough to be worth it. He held on to her, breathed into her neck, and carded his fingers through her wool until finally the pain subsided to bearable levels.
He let her go, and she bounced away to stand by the rest of the sheep. He sat up and loosened a crick in his neck. Where was he, really? In the mindscape, obviously, and probably his own mindscape, but why it looked like an open field now was a mystery to him. How long had he been there? How long since he started his fight with Bill?
“Oh, damn,” he cursed softly as he thought back on the last few things he could remember before his mindscape burned and made everything fuzzy.
“Mabel probably thinks I’m dead, doesn’t she?”
He stood up fast enough to startle all the sheep. He had to get back, but how? How does one move from the mindscape to the physical world? Or even from the personal mindscape to the one that overlaps the physical world? He had no idea. Maybe the sheep knew.
“Um, excuse me?” The sheep all looked up at him with wide, red eyes. Really, what was up with these submissive sheep? It was weird. “I need to get back to the physical world, but I’m not entirely sure how. Could you help me out?”
The sheep bleated among themselves a little, and Dipper caught a few words. Doesn’t know? And only a little were the only ones that made any sense. Then one of the larger sheep, with three sets of horns and what looked like an extra pair of eyes, stepped forwards and gave him a little nudge. Only it was not so much a push in any normal direction as it was a push inwards or through in a pulling kind of way, and once he had seen it, the way back was obvious.
He petted the sheep’s head, it seemed the natural thing to do, and made to leave.
“Ah, I see it now. Thank you.”
Then he gave a final smile to the confused septet and left.
“I’ll see you later, I suppose.”
That was the day Dipper Pines died and was reborn, the day he showed up at the doorstep of the Mystery Shack invisible and intangible to anyone but his sister. It was also the first time he met his Flock. At this point in time, he knew nothing of what he was, but the Flock did, because they knew better than anyone what had transpired that day.
Let us rewind time just about twenty-four hours.
It had been a pretty normal day for the nightmare that would later be known as Lolonja. Swimming through the rocky lake and canal systems of its master’s mindscape, it had spent its day eating any kind of small, wiggling animal it came across. That was how its master’s excess power tended to manifest, which was weird, but not really any weirder than his nightmares manifesting as axolotls, of all things. Considering he was a two-dimensional triangle with a hat and a bowtie, it could have been much worse.
Either way, the day had been nothing but normal for the nightmare, and it almost considered dropping by the physical world to influence a dreamer or two, but a certain nugget of knowledge stopped it.
While the nightmare’s day had been normal, it also knew that its master’s day had been anything but. Today marked the culmination of a plan that had been started millennia before the nightmare wandered into this particular demon’s territory. Today was the day when everything had to go exactly as planned, and it probably would. The nightmare axolotl had no reason to doubt its master, nor any reason to care a lot. It was none of its business.
Suddenly, a ridiculous amount of power exploded somewhere near the middle of the lake system. It might have been the beginning of the merging of the physical world and the mindscape, but something seemed wrong somehow. This was different from what its master had described while floating around and talking to himself.
The nightmare swam towards the source of the power, too curious for its own good, always had been, and came upon its co-axolotl watching the most incredible sight. Its master was floating high in the air, locked on a spiritual tug-of-war with a creature that registered as human. They both looked on the verge of death. Its master was more determined and angry than the nightmare had ever seen him, and the human was screaming his throat out, almost literally, and neither of them seemed willing to give an inch.
Around them, the mindscape was slowly morphing, merging with another mindscape altogether, one of endless pine trees and speckled light. At the same time, it was all disintegrating. Forces powerful enough to rip flesh from bone and burn the world to the ground whipped around the combatants, and soon even the nightmares themselves started to dissolve.
They were not scared by this development. If their master’s power disappeared, they would simply go back to being shapeless, wild nightmares in the void, feeding off whatever newborn dreams and other nightmares they could catch. Not ideal, but not the end of the world. Running would change nothing, so they stayed to watch the fight.
They watched until the boy and the triangle were the only real things left in the world. They watched as the willpower of that human boy completely destroyed what was left of their master, and they watched as every force and flame around backlashed onto him, poured into him and filled up every nook and cranny, every scratch and wound left behind by the fight. And then, as his soul did the confusing job of stitching itself back together as something new, they watched as the world reasserted itself from the ashes.
What emerged was neither the deep, rocky lakes they were used to, nor the sparsely lighted evergreen forest they had glimpsed during the fight, but a large, rolling field of grass. The nightmare landed on newly formed cloven hooves, and took a few moments to check out its new form. This form seemed to have more natural weapon than its last one, with sharp, hard hooves, a great row of teeth, and a spiked tail that was hidden, but could be whipped out at a moment’s notice. Add that to the always-present option of growing new limbs at will, and the small, but sharp horns, and it was ready to take on anything.
One of the other nightmares, which had been a large axolotl and was now a big ram with three sets of very impressive horns, looked over to the charred and broken child their new world revolved around.
“T͏h͝a͟t̸͜͞ ̵̡iś̸̨ ̴̕ou͟r̶ ͏n̢͞eẁ͞ m̡a̧͡ś̷t̢́e̸͞͝ŗ̶?̸̨́”
One of the other ones spoke up.
“H͘e̢ k͡i̕l̡l͟ed our̸ p̷r͜e͘v̶iouş mast͢er ͜a̡n͢d t͜ook ͢h̵i̧s p͡ow͏e͜r̛s.͠ Th͝is p͞lace̶ is̢ hi͘s͞ ͞now, àǹd̶ us ̸wi̶th̵ it̸.̕”
The six-horned one scoffed a little.
“I̕͢s͡ ̨͡i̢̨ţ͡ ͘͝evȩ́n̛ ̷̨̛c̷a̶̧͘p̢͠à͘bļe͏ ̨̡ò͝͏f ̢̢ta̶k͜i͟ng ͟c̛a͘r̕͢͜e̷͠ ͝o͞f͏ i̷͝t̸̛s͟el̡͜f?҉ L̕͢ęt̡͞ ҉̶a̸̶͟lo͘ne͏̶̕ ̵̡͞p͜r̕o̕v̸͏i̕dì͡ng̴͘ ̨͏s͜͠us̨t̨͜e̕͝ną̶n̛͜ç͝e f̸or s̸̡e̡v̀͠ę̀͠r͟a̴̴̢ĺ̀ ͏̨ǫ̛f̧ ̡͝ư̕s?̶̛͘”
“Look ̛d̡ow̢n, f͢u̧zzbra͡ìn̴,” said the smallest nightmare there, the only one with no horns at all, and the only one who was smaller than the one who would later be known as Lolonja. “Hi͞s ̶p͢ow̸e͟r m͝ani͟f͘est͡s͡ ͘as g̛r̶a̸s͘s. ͏Have ̷you͢ se͡en̨ what̴ y͘ou’̧r̕e ͟st̕a̛n͞din͢g ̷in͟?́”
The six-horned one looked down, as did everyone else, and the little nightmare saw what the smallest one had likely seen all along. Even with their master broken, beaten and laying unmoving on the ground, the grass grew strong. It took a bite to taste, just to make sure, and yes, that was power. There was enough power in this field of grass to feed over a dozen nightmares. This new creature was undoubtedly their master. Now all that was left was to see whether or not he would be a good one.
The six-horned one kept his mouth shut after that, in any case.
They milled about for a bit, eating grass and waiting, before the new master moved. A slight shudder went through him, and then, fast as an eye blink, his body was whole, unbroken. He might have looked unhurt, but his body curled up in pain and writhed. His breath came out hard and ragged. It was obvious his birth had not been an easy one. His eyes flew open, and there was so much pain in them. The little nightmare almost felt a sting of… sympathy pain? Either way, it wanted it to stop.
The master’s head fell towards the nightmares, and they froze. His eyes traveled over each of them, counting them, studying them, and they had to wonder. Was that hunger, in his eyes? Would he regard them as mere annoyances, or let them roam his pastures? Would he be easy to anger, or lenient? They whispered at each other, wondering, hoping. His eyes met the nightmare’s, and it saw pain in them, deep burning pain, and it wanted… it wanted to help.
Two small, shaking steps were taken before it could stop itself, and it heard a sigh of relief from behind it that someone had volunteered to be the first to test the waters.
The voice was barely a whisper, but it was the master’s voice, and they heard it.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
Was this a trick? A lie to lure it closer? Would the master even need to lie if he wanted to eat them? No, most likely not. It had to be true then. The nightmare stepped even closer until it reached the masters hand, laying outstretched and forgotten on the grass. His eyes never left it. What did he want it to do? There was still so much pain in his eyes, what could it do to help? Maybe touch would help? Better start small. Not the hooves or tail, they were too sharp.
Having decided on a course of action that was most likely some kind of suicidal, it lowered its head and licked its master’s hand. It tasted like salt and pain and traces of blood, and not at all like anything dangerous. The master’s eyes went half-lidded in… was that a positive? That seemed like a positive!
“Good girl,” he breathed, only barely loud enough for it to hear even his voice, and it…
Was it a good girl? Was she a good girl? She was! He thought she was a good girl! Yes! Yes and yes! She had never thought about it before. It was true that she took female form on habit, even though the male was stronger. Was she one of the gendered nightmares? Was she a girl? Whatever, the master thought she was a good girl. She did good, that was the important part. Now he probably wouldn’t eat her!
Then he moved again and reached his other hand towards her.
He probably wouldn’t eat her. She had done good, right? He said she had. His eyes were still full of pain, though. What if good wasn’t good enough? What if he was going to eat her anyway, just because he wanted to? Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he wanted something else, but she was already so close to something so dangerous, and even the thought of getting closer was…
There was no refusing him, though. She came as he asked, and he pulled her in close and wrapped his arms around her. She felt as if all her bones had disintegrated again, leaving nothing but a bag of wool and water, but at least she was not being eaten, so that was good.
There were several good things about this situation, in fact. She was not being eaten, for one, that could bear repeating. For another, this did seem to be helping him, if his breathing was a good indicator, and she had wanted to help. For a third thing, she really could get used to fingers combing her wool. Not a bad feeling, that.
On the downside, she was being held capture by an incredibly powerful demon with an unknown temperament and appetite, but, eh. If she survived it, she could live with that. Cuddling was hardly the worst way a nightmare could go.
He let her go about half an eternity later, and she quickly put some distance between them. This was more than enough excitement for one day. Her nerves had almost calmed down when he stood up in a rush and made everyone jump. Then he… asked them… how to get to the physical world?
“Ḑ̡o͏e̷s͏͡ h̀e̡͡ ̢͘real͟ļ̷͞y̷͢ n͏̀o͞t̨ ̨̀͢k̸̡͢nò̕w̶͠҉ ̡̨̕ȩ̵̵v̧̨͠é͟͟n͡͡͏ ̶̕͘th̸͠͞a̴t̕?̶” asked the six-horned one.
The little nightmare shook her head lightly.
“He͘ ͏is̡ ͠s̶ti̢ll͘ very yo͟u͏ng̸.̸ ̢H͟e ͡w͡as o͏n̢ly͟ ̡b̨o͘r̕n̶ ͟a few ̴h̵óu̡rs̶ a̴go͜. Ít͏ ͢i͡s͝ ̶not̕ s̀o ̸str͜ange̸ ̧f̢o͜r ̷him̢ ́t̡o h̸av̶e͟ sm̸all͡ ̢pie̢çes mi͘s͡s̴in̷g.̸”
“Mo͢st̷ likely,” the tiny one piped up, “he̸ w̕i͠ll ̡o̸n͜ly ǹe͟ęd͢ ͢a ҉t͝i͘ny̸ ńudge ìn̴ the r̀igh̴t ͜di͝récti̷on̡ ̴to f̴i̵ńd ͏h́is ẃa̧y.”
The six-horned one scoffed at them, but it did go and give that little nudge, and the master did find his way immediately afterwards. Then he turned around one last time and thanked them. Honestly and sincerely, as if their help was not a given, as if it was not required. And then he was gone.
A long silence followed before the tiny one spoke up again.
“Só ͠tha͡t wa͟s͡ ̢our̨ ̀maste͜r.”
“Y͠ea̸h͟,̵” she nodded. “Do̵ ͘you tḩink͢҉he ̢w̛i͠ll ͡b̛e͘ ͟a̶ ͠góod͠ o̵n̨e?”
It thought it over a bit.
“I ͝hop͜é ͢so͝ ҉a̧nd ̕I thin͠k ͝şo,” it said, “bùt ͏I̧ kn̸ow ͟he̡ will҉ be ̵i̕nt͘e̴res̢t͠i̶ng.̷”