Fandom: Gravity Falls (Transcendence AU) & Over the Garden Wall (Crossover)

  • Dipper | Alcor
  • Mabel
  • Jason Funderberker (the human)
  • Wirt
  • Beatrice
  • Transcendence AU
  • Beast Wirt
  • Aged-Up Characters
  • Zalgo Text

Length: 9.5k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2017-01-08

Part 1 of The Unknown, Post-TranscendenceNext Work »

The Keeper


Close to a decade after the Transcendence, the Mystery Twins decide to visit a strange forest in hopes of meeting someone with an oddly familiar story. Perhaps this is the beginning of several beautiful friendships.

Or maybe they'll just all annoy each other to death. That could happen, too.

The woods are deep and dark, a shadow on the hills creeping out over the grass. The trees cloak the ground with their leafy canopy, lurking in odd silence. The folks from nearby towns -- never closer than a few miles from the vague and misty borders -- simply call it 'The Woods.' No other woods have the same unsettling qualities, the same vast maze of deadly life, or the same reputation. All other woods are nothing by comparison.

The woods lay claim to hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of land. No one has ever mapped it -- no one has ever survived inside long enough to chart even a few miles. All those who enter are lost.

More distant travelers will insist that the reputation of the woods in merely local superstition -- a few lost hikers here, a missing child there, and any place will gain some colorful ghost stories in time.

A few of them are foolhardy (brave, or simply not a superstitious idiot, they'll assure their friends) and venture into the trees. Sometimes they're lost campers. Sometimes they're on a dare. Sometimes they just want to see for themselves what might be there.

They almost never come back.

Once or twice, one gets lucky. They return to the towns shaking and speechless, cold and pale. They have been saved purely by losing their nerve. They never entered the woods, and just barely escaped their fate. Some will tell stories of what they've seen, but most hurry on to another town, or better yet, to a city, where they will not have to suffer the sight of a single thick grove of trees.

The townspeople once raised their children to fear the woods. They told them tales of what lies within; true or otherwise, they still fulfilled their purpose of keeping the locals safe. (Most of them carry a kernel of truth, but have been warped into something nearly unrecognizable. That which lies within the woods would laugh, if it ever were to hear what they say.)

In more recent years, the woods have been slightly less terrifying. The impenetrable void between the trees has given way to slight soft light filtering down through the depths of the foliage, and sometimes the dead silence even breaks at the opening notes of faint birdsong.

The locals swear they can sometimes even hear bluebirds somewhere deep within the altered realm.

As common sense began to override myths, however real they were, the stories began to fade. The reputation of the woods died down from outright monstrous to haunted and ordinary. Tourists still danced with danger around the wood's edge from time to time, like the travelers before, but they seemed to be in far lesser peril. Occasionally a missing child would return from the tree-lined fringes, frightened and exhausted but unhurt, and the few locals who still believed in the old stories would whisper among themselves of rumors about the woods being truly changed.

The change became all the more obvious after it happened. That one night, the skies lit up with flares of light, the land seemed to shake, and humanity awoke to a new and changed world. Suddenly creatures from the other side found themselves scattered alongside the mundane, and both were forced to adapt.

The towns around the forest have had many more visitors since then. Apparently locations being confirmed as magical hotspots are nothing if not a boon to tourism.


The newest batch of tourists seemed more than a little prepared to face any monstrous threat that came their way, but the folks who live near the woods knew better. There's no way to be truly prepared to enter the woods. Anyone who tries tends not to come back.

Nonetheless, this particular one looked like she knew what she was doing. The driver in the little party of two cheerfully bantered with the unoccupied backseat as she drove their brightly decorated van up to the natural borders of the trees. A borrowed tour guide shivered in the front passenger seat, probably due to the sheer intimidating mass of wood and tangling growth ahead, but possibly due to the ridiculous amount of glitter flaking off of the protective runes on the dashboard. He felt like he was going to sneeze any second. The driver continued unperturbed.

At this point, the aging guide was fairly certain this particular visitor was downright insane. He'd already heard her hold a brief but animated conversation with an empty seat before having him buckle in (apparently seats needed to agree to let people sit on them -- well, either that, or the woman's imaginary friend was already sitting there) and she had also made at least two offhand references to a banned candy which also, if she was to be believed, could act as a hallucinogen.

He wasn't sure what worried him more: that she'd said all that in the space of less than five minutes, or that she seemed sincere about all of it.

The vehicle lurched forward over several innocent ferns and clipped the trunk of an oak tree with a solid thunk, and he realized that the most worrisome thing of all was probably the fact that she was the one driving -- with a passenger, no less.

"H-hey," the guide began in a nervous stutter. "D-d-don't you think you should maybe go back t-to the town now?"

"No," the woman chirped. She spun the steering wheel in a haphazard gesture, turning the van slightly off to one side.

"Y-you guys do r-r-realize this place isn't part of the tour, r-right?"

"Oh." Her face fell. Suddenly, she turned to face the empty backseat rows. "Hey, dippin' dots. Whaddya say to being our new tour guide?"

The guide heard no reply from the seat, but the she nodded her head after a moment, then shrugged.

"Alright then." She turned back to the guide. "You don't have to come along if you don't want to," she added.

"A-aren't you at l-least worried?" He glanced back behind him. The few other tourists milling about behind the van seemed unaware of the woman's ill-fated hiking plans.

She went quiet for a while, puttering along the too-narrow footpath, nodding, then sighed.

"Listen, um..." She paused, glancing at the badge on his shirt before continuing. "...Jason Funderberker?"

He could have sworn he heard someone snicker, but the space in the back of the van remained unfilled.

"I already told you you don't have to come," she continued. "We can manage preeetttty well on our own. We can even drop you off back in town, if you like!"

"No, I... please, ma-a-am. The woods, are, uuumm, off-limits. To tourists, that is." He did not question the 'we.'

She shrugged. "Yeah, well, that's kinda why we're here." She paused, then turned and gave the empty seats a funny look. "Well of course!"

"You mean you're l-leaving?" Jason asked, sounding almost hopeful.

She laughed again. "Hah. Nope. Seriously, don't worry about us. We can handle ourselves out there just fine!"

"But the forest is, uh, a m-magical hotspot. It's not--"

"Just go and spare yourself the crazy, okay? I usually drag people along on all sorts of weird trips, but you look really nervous and this is kinda important, so, y'know...."

"I... I can't, in g-good conscience, leave you to enter the woods alone," the guide stated, eyeing the trees with a look as if he expected them to glide forward and entangle the van if they stayed any longer.

A several seconds passed in silence.

"Well, if you're sure..." the woman replied at last, not really looking in Jason's direction.


Wordlessly, she grinned and gunned the engine. The van shot forward into the woods, plowing through undergrowth and narrowly avoiding the first dozen trees.

“Th-that's not what I meant--!” he squawked as the sudden acceleration slammed him against the seat, but it was too late.

Jason glanced outside at the looming wilds, already shrouded in a thin film of mist. A sudden gust of wind triggered an ominous rustling from the leaves, as if the trees themselves were deciding what to do with the van of unfortunate and foolish visitors. Or maybe that was just the sound of the van roof disturbing several low-hanging branches as it passed below. It was a miracle they hadn't actually hit anything yet.

To top off the initial weirdness, the madwoman behind the wheel began singing off key to the tune of 'Ninety-nine bottles of beer.'

"Thousands of trees in the magical woods, thousands of trees in the woooods! Knock one down, drive on around, still got a whole bunch of trees in the woods!"


Somewhere deeper, something glimmered, light warping and scattering and fading in the distance between it and the van. The being sitting in the empty-looking seat in the back squinted to see it, and reported that they were definitely going in the right direction.


After fifteen fruitless minutes of circling back, crushing unlucky plant life, and losing all sight of any light beyond the headlights of the van and whatever slipped in between the leaves above, they hit something.

Something being a bird.

It lay on the windshield, stunned, as Mabel (as the guide had learned her name was) stopped the van, shut off the engine, and shoved the door open in order to attend to the poor thing as quickly as possible.

"Oh gosh, I totally didn't even see it!" She held out one finger, tentatively poking the small form of the bird. Its plumage looked almost blue in the dim light, and her gesture sent it rolling slowly onto the hood of the van.

After a moment, it twitched, shuddered, and hopped upright with a demeanor that could only be described as confused.

"Are you okay?" Mabel asked, hovering nervously over the small creature.

Needless to say, Jason was more than a little surprised to hear the tiny thing answer with a sharp "Well what does it look like?!" and an indignant ruffling of feathers.

The bird continued, either oblivious or uncaring of his mute shock. Distantly, it registered that the voice sounded distinctly feminine.

"Listen, lady, I'm minding my own business here and you just came outta nowhere and practically squished me like a... like a bug on your windshield! Lucky for you I'm not an ordinary bluebird, or you'd have a dead one on the top of your carriage right about now!"

"Okay, so do you live here? We might need directions later."

The bluebird laughed. It was a truly bizarre sight, made all the more bizarre by the fact that Mabel did not look remotely surprised by the fact it (she?) could talk at all. Jason realized that maybe, given all the changes in the world over the years, he should be similarly unfazed by the talking animals. The realization didn't do much to change his actual reaction.

The bird gave him a look. “What, never seen a talking bird before?”

Mabel looked a bit confused, too. “Aren't you supposed to be a tour guide?” she called.

“That's not my normal job,” he admitted. “I just volunteered as an extra guide for today. Wasn't really e-expecting anyone to go this far into the woods.” He tried to make the last part a bit pointed, but Mabel carried on her chat with the bird, oblivious.

Something slipped past Jason's shoulder, brushing against him as it moved on towards the bird. He could see nothing, but was now increasingly sure that something was there. He saw no visible form -- a slight shimmer here, a faint sense of something 'off' nearby, little unconsciously absorbed details that didn't line up and created a creeping sense of horror that there was something else nearby. He'd hardly noticed it in the van -- too distracted by the close proximity to the chaotic baffling rainbow that was Mabel, but now, in the dark of the woods, at a distance, the second presence was unmistakably there.

Mabel's gaze met the shape. She shrugged, grinned at the not-so-empty air, and it clicked: it had been there the whole time, and she knew. It had been her invisible friend.

Maybe it was a ghost. That would make sense, he thought to himself. A ghost. A friend, sticking around, invisible after death. But that didn't quite seem right.

The bluebird froze, as if the same sudden revelations, once done flying through Jason's head in a startled flurry, had begun fluttering through her own mind as well.

She cowered for a moment at the realization (or perhaps even the sight) of what lay hanging over Mabel's head, and then spoke in frantic, broken phrases.

"I-- what-- how on earth-- what is that and why is it there?!"

Mabel suddenly straightened up and blushed slightly. "Oh my gosh, I completely forgot you can't see him yet!"

She drew a small slip of paper from one of many brightly-hued pockets and began picking at a scab on one knuckle.

"Um, no offense, but ew," the bird commented.

"W-what do you think you're, uhh, doing?" Jason asked, peering over her shoulder at the paper. It bore a single plain sigil in ballpoint pen, with several more intricate marks inside. "Is that a summoning circle?"

"Just a second," Mabel assured them both. She finally ripped the scab off, loosing a small bead of blood which she hastily pressed to the center of the paper.

"Do you mind?" she asked the air overhead.

The air answered by whooshing and warping into the form of a boy no more than twelve, who might have looked ordinary had it not been for the fact he was still floating nearly a foot above her head. That, and his eyes -- though Jason didn't notice them at first, a closer look revealed black sclera and golden irises that outright glowed in the murky forest light.

“Ħ̙̫̬̝̚ę̩̫ͪy͍͎̘̍,” he said.

"What's with the look?" Mabel asked. Jason got the impression she was trying to be subtle and failing spectacularly.

"Diplomacy," the boy muttered back, the odd echo to his voice fading out.

"But--" the bird sputtered. "Then this must-- you must be-- oh, we are so screwed."

"R̼̾e̞͙la̮̥͐x," said the boy, now addressing the bird. "I'm not here to eat him or anything."

If a bird could look skeptical, this one did.

Jason sat down very hard on the ground, unable to do much beyond watching the scene unfold.

"Mind the roots, Jả̊s͎͈͘͢͡͞on," the thing that looked like a young boy said, gesturing to the roots of a nearby stump.

"How...?" Jason whispered.

"I know a l˞̶ơ̫̜̚t of̶͇ th̜̍̌ī̶ng̜̋s." The thing that was definitely not a boy winked, his open eye flaring with light as the other shut. “Ą̩̒l̵̞̋̄so... you're wearing a badge with your name on it.”

"Easy, bro-bro," Mabel cautioned, looking more amused than concerned. “Don't scare him too much.”

"What, uhmmm, i-is your friend?" Jason squeaked out.

"Oh, this is just my brother," Mabel informed him. "He's a demon. It's cool."

Jason got up, nearly tripping over a root that he was sure hadn't been here before. "I, I have to go."

"Bit late for that," said the bird. "Wait.Your name is Jason, right?"

"J-j-jason F-funderberker. Yes."

The bird twitched, then bent over, shaking.

"Are you a-a-alright?"

The bird continued jerking and spasming, sliding across the hood of the car with little choking noises. All three (even the apparent demon) found themselves watching in a mixture of horror and mild confusion.

Suddenly, the bird's body shone faintly with blue-tinged light, then stretched and twisted and grew until there was a woman with a shock of red hair sprawled across the metal hood. She promptly burst into howling laughter.

"I can't believe-- of all the people--he wasn't-- are you serious?! You're so old!"

She sat up, a blue dress flouncing around her as she sized him up. "You have no idea how weird it is to think that you're a real human being," she said at last.

"W-was I not a human?"

She snorted, hopped off the car, and raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, you still look like a frog. Guess that was the perfect frog name."

"I... don't get it."

"No surprise there," she quipped, turning to face Mabel and the demon, who had shifted from his overhead position to float only a foot or so off the ground beside her. (How had she addressed it before? Drip-drop? Bobo?)

"Now, if you're not looking for a fight, what do you want?"

"I want to talk," the demon said, raising his hands in a surprisingly friendly gesture. "I understand that the beast is... not what it used to be?"

The bird-woman narrowed her eyes. "What are you implying?"

"I know the old legends -- the original beast was much more... mu̶̱r̝̐d̝erous? But things changed, and there's a newer entity replacing him. I know you know him, but the rest..."

"You're saying you want to talk with... the keeper." The title seems unfamiliar on her tongue.

"Is tha̷̪t what he's going by now?" The demon looked thoughtful. "Yes, that sounds right." He stopped. "What's the look for? Seriously, I'm not here to fight him."

"You expect me to believe you just came here for fun? No one that powerful comes here without a reason." She glanced sideways at the trees around them. The path ahead was nearly invisible under the scattered dead leaves and branches, and the path behind seemed too narrow to have allowed the van entry in the first place.

"I want to talk to him," the demon explained, sounding oddly uncomfortable. “About something important, something that happened...”

She said nothing.

"I... he's kind of like me, we're both-- we both started out different, not originally, you know, this...”

Jason could swear her face held the barest hints of a smile under that stony indifference.

“... We have something in common, let's just say that."

Her expression softened, visibly this time. "I think I can see that."

“So... can you lead me to him? My internal compass is a bit off here – something about demiplanes, and I think this place might be dampening some of my power--”

“So it's not like you can do much harm, then,” she interrupted. The bird-woman's gaze shifted to Mabel, then averted towards the leaf-strewn path. “He's this way,” she added, turning sharply towards the path.

She didn't wait for them to keep up.


Over the next several minutes, Jason and Mabel both made a few futile attempts to start a conversation with the red-haired woman as she led them along a narrow offshoot of a footpath through the woods.

“So, d-do you, uhhh, live here?” Jason asked at one point, uncomfortable with the eerie quiet of the woods.

“Yes,” she answered, quickening her pace to place herself several steps ahead.

The quiet resumed, interrupted by only the occasional snippet of birdsong.

“Hey, what's your name?” Mabel asked, after a few more minutes of running to catch up with her. “I'm Mabel,” she declared, “And that's my brother, and this guy--” She pointed to Jason here. “--is Jason.”

“Beatrice,” came the sharp reply. Beatrice did not turn to look at either of them, but sped up once more until she had re-established a comfortable distance between herself, and those following her.

“Ru-ude,” Mabel commented.

The demon said little that Jason could hear over the course of the trip, preferring to glide along overhead, swooping down from time to time to engage in brief whispered exchanges with his sister. The idea that the two were related seemed ridiculous at first, but upon closer inspection, they actually looked quite alike. He began to notice their hair (the same shade), and their noses (oddly alike), and even the rest of their features nearly mirrored one another's once he actually looked.

Once they had completely lost sight of the van or their initial point of entry into the woods, Beatrice spun abruptly to face them all and said, “He should be around here.”

“J-just... here?” Jason looked around, seeing nothing to distinguish this particular bit of woods from another other particular bit of woods they'd passed through in the last half hour.

“Yes,” she said, crossing her arms as if to say no further argument was needed.

“Hey, don't look now, but I think we might be just the teensiest bit lost,” Mabel whispered, nudging Jason. “Do you have any idea which way is out?”

He shook his head. Hadn't he already explained he didn't know the woods at all? Tourists were normally banned from this place for a good reason.

“Maybe I should try calling him?” the demon suggested after a moment of silence.

“Oh, he'll come,” Beatrice assured them.

A moment passed. Then another.

“What the hell is he doing out there, anyway?” Beatrice muttered, just loud enough to be heard.

With no warning, Mabel shouted, “Hey Keeeepeeerrrr!” into the trees at the top of her lungs. Her brother winced.

A brisk rustling movement from the opposite side of the trail sent shivers down Jason's spine, and he slowly turned around.

Behind them, a tall dark shape unpeeled itself from behind a tree trunk, eyes gleaming bright as lanterns in the shadows. A real lantern, made of brassy metal and clutched tightly in the shape's hands, cast a soft yellow-tinted light over the group.

“Oh,” said Mabel. “Hi.”


The Keeper of the forest stood almost as tall as some of the saplings by the edges of the trail, and would've towered over Dipper by a full foot if he hadn't been floating at the time. His form was definitely real in the way Dipper's was – technically still just a conscious manifestation, but still just human enough to allow the creature some no-longer-so-unique loopholes.

If common legend was to be believed, the Keeper had been this way, living in these woods, for the last forty years – three decades before the Transcendence occurred. Funny how that number kept coming up. Briefly, Dipper wondered how aware the Keeper even was of the outside world. Did he even know what had happened? Did he know that people were aware of the magical energy focused on this place? Or was his perception limited to the bounds of the forest, and only the affairs of those within?

“W̮̍h̶̟̮o̶͔͋ ar̝̚e̟̝̐ y̩̗̾o̶̹͐u̷? Ar̟ę̵̥̊ yo̰̚u... l̶̝ö̜̖̦͊s̶̵̨̧̛̩̮͙̉̄̅̕t̞͑?” the Keeper asked, searchlight eyes sweeping up and down as he looked them over, as if he could tell by sight whether they knew where they were going or not. Maybe he could.

The creature's voice was strange, carrying two layers of sounds – a higher voice, the dominant of the two, and a deep baritone hidden in the echoes.

“Not really,” Dipper said, trying to remain casual. “We're here to talk.”

“T̛̖̂o̶̝... ta̤̲̱͒̚lk̞̍?” The Keeper sounded confused now.

Beatrice put her face in her hands. “Yes, you dummy. To talk. They--” she waved her arms at Dipper and Mabel, as well as their guide. “-- want to talk--” She made a sweeping gesture towards the Keeper. “--to you.”

“I̶̵̱-- I ḓ̴͗i͐dn't th̵̢͊̓ink they-- I mean, I wasn't exactly ready for visitors, but um...” It trailed off. The voice of the shape sounded different now, the lower tones fading out to leave something like the voice of a nervous teenager.

“Do you want us to go and wait somewhere?” Mabel asked. The Keeper hesitated.

“Y̛̠͇̠͈͒͞͝e̶̹--no, no, don't. No need to keep you waiting. Best not to stay too long in one place if you're traveling through. It's... unsafe.”

Mabel tilted her head like a confused dog. “Really?”


The shadowy being's hands twisted around the handle of the lantern, fidgeting.

“So, what exactly did you guys want to talk about? I mean, I don't get a lot of people who actually want to talk to me, y'know, just for fun... most of the time people pretend I'm not there, or maybe don't notice me – I'm not actually sure, since it can be hard to tell when I'm camouflaged or not, and... yeah, this is... “ The shadow's voice faded out as it rambled on, finally stopping with audible discomfort.

“Just ask him your questions already,” Beatrice groaned.

“Oh, right. So, to start: wh̻̚o ą̧̋r̵͔͕͋e̝̐ y͈̾o̵̶̮̊u, rea̫͂lly?” Dipper bounced himself a few inches higher, so he could float eye-to-glowing-eye with the Keeper. This was a bit of a mistake – those eyes were almost blinding up close – but it gave him a decent chance to better observe the creature's form. The shadows were mostly just an illusion – at that proximity to the lantern, it really shouldn't have been a silhouette like that anyway -- but closer look revealed that there was definitely a person under the layers of painted-on darkness.

That which lay beneath the Keeper's shady glamour was a boy not much younger than Dipper was now, wearing a marching-band cape with shiny metal buttons. He had messy brown hair, most of it shoved into a tall red cap (so that's what that shape had been) that reminded Dipper of a gnome, and a set of gnarled wooden antlers branching out from his skull at either side.

The boy inside the shadows squinted a little at him, then said, “Are you done staring? It's kind of awkward.”

“Oh, right.” Dipper bobbed a little lower and a few inches farther back. “So, everything's a bit fuzzy here, but your nȧ̬̩̒m̧͖͂e̞̍ is...” He felt for the name on the tip of his tongue, searching through his admittedly dampened abilities for the sounds and meanings. “... Wirt? Man, that's a... that's a weird name.”

The newly identified 'Wirt' scowled at this. “Well, what's your name, then?”

“... I'm not telling you that yet.”

“Well that's pretty unfair,” Wirt huffed, sweeping his cape around him. “You come onto m̜̈̇y̩̋ home turf, tell your friends my name, and you won't even give me yours?”

“That's not the point.” Dipper glanced back at the others. It didn't look as if they'd heard much of the conversation so far.

“Then what i̶͍ṡ̮̯̰̈̉̊?” Wirt demanded, crossing his arms. “Are you just here to waste my time?”

“I'm here to talk. About something we have in common, something... pe͔̽͟r̵̛͔͖͙̉͘͞s̭̿o̵̗nal.”

Wirt gave him a look that came across as one part 'Is he for real?' and two parts 'I can't believe I'm still talking to you', with a dash of 'I swear if this is just the buildup to some sick joke...'

“It's not a joke.” Dipper lowered his voice, leaning in just a bit. “I heard where you came from. That you were, you know...”

“What?” asked Wirt, his voice unexpectedly bitter.

Dipper side-eyed the group of humans behind them one last time, then whispered, “You know. Hu̶̞͍̲m͈̏̌an.”

Wirt's eyes widened and flared with light, aggressive layers of shadow swirling and seething around the rest of him and wrapping the two of them in a pocket, apart from the others nearby. Dipper floated in place, unflinching, and watched.

The Keeper narrowed his eyes at him and drew the lantern just a bit closer. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then seemed to think better of it, and opted to glare at Dipper instead.

“You're... actually kinda transparent here. I mean, if you wanted to keep that whole thing a secret, the least you can do is not lose your cool when someone guesses it.”

“Sh͎͋ü̥̗̗t̼̾u̞̦̅̔p̶̧̉̊. I'm-- I'm no̫̐̕t de̞̅̂̇a̶̷̟͞l͈̱͔͒͂in̬̭̏g wi̯͇͐t̵̫̊̄h tha̵t right n̟̗o̶̸w, o̶k̟̏ą̵̥̻̝̓̏̌̕y̜̒? Just... I do̵͕n't even k̀n̢̦͕̒o̸̹̩w you, or who you are-- how... how do you know a̼̳͆͜n̛̬̠̞͌̐y̘̥̆ of this?” The Keeper shook his head, branching antlers (branchantlers? Branchlers?) brushing against the trees above.

“Well, partial omniscience has its perks, for one thing. I mean, I'm still getting the hang of it, but it's pretty dang useful sometimes. Also, just a hunch.”

The darker, more volatile parts of the Keeper's form began to melt away again, until the boy beneath them stood half-uncovered, halfway between child and monster. The sight was too familiar, even if it really wasn't.

"So what's your point?" The Keeper finally asked him. "You've come all this way. S̵̬ǘ̟̑̕r̠ely it wasn't just to taunt me with what you know."

Dipper shrugged. "Yeah, about that... thing is, we're more alike than you know."

"Ho̶w̝̅?" he asked, sounding as if he already suspected the answer.

"I used to be human, too."


Beatrice watched the cloud of shifting shade, apprehensive. What was going on in there? Wirt rarely ever took the whole 'mysterious fog' thing to the point that she couldn't see him. He and the demon (he looked so much like a kid, just a little bit like Greg) had been chatting in private for the last several minutes, with no sign of wrapping things up any time soon.

At least they're not fighting, she told herself. Not that she could really tell through the obscuring blanket of enchanted darkness around the pair, but it seemed far too quiet and calm in there for anything serious.

In other words, they were just... talking.

Beatrice fidgeted, doing her best to look more annoyed than anxious, and cast surreptitious glances over at Mabel as she waited. She hated to admit it, but she found the woman more than a little intimidating with her constant energy and crazed smiles. The vehicle she'd arrived in resembled a few horseless carriages she'd seen in a few more mechanically-inclined corners of the Unknown, but much larger and painted in colors far brighter than anything she'd encountered before. She wasn't even sure she'd seen some of the more vivid shades until that thing came roaring out of the trees and sent her colliding with the startlingly durable glass window at the front.

Jason was another matter entirely. Her impression of the fellow had begun (and been permanently etched into her mind) as the caricature of some past acquaintance of Wirt's, and a 'worthy' romantic rival. She supposed she should account for aging -- given the gap between the unknown and Greg and Wirt's own world, time could be unpredictable, and she had no idea how long must have passed on his side in the last decade or so. If his appearance was anything to reckon by, it had been close to half a century.

He was definitely far more froglike than she'd imagined. Greg really had been right about that.

The shimmering fog rippled slightly, and Beatrice tensed, scanning the murky shapes behind it for any sign of a conflict, but the disturbance calmed as quickly as it had begun.

"Hey, Mabel," she said, sidestepping over towards her. "Do you even know what they're talking about in there?"

Mabel shrugged. "I can't really see in there any better than you can. You see the cloud, too right? Bet it's something cool we're missing."

"You said that guy was your brother, and yet you have no idea what he's doing there," Beatrice flatly stated.

"Eh, pretty much. It's fun to guess, though. What do you think the Keeper's doing in there?"

"Probably being a dork and stuttering a bunch and saying stuff that doesn't mean anything. He's always been like that. Living in the woods doesn't really help."

"A dork, huh? Heh, I bet they'd get along pretty well," Mabel declared, giving Beatrice a strange lopsided squint that might have been a wink. "Wink!"

"Did you actually just wink and then say 'wink'?"

"Yep!" Mabel laced her hands behind her head and leaned back against the nearest tree, finally uncovering enough of her sweater for Beatrice to read the writing on the front.

"Why does your sweater say 'I believe in unimaginable horrors'?"

"You like it?" Mabel asked, not answering the question. "I made it myself!"

"I... uh, I don't really get it," Jason said, speaking up for the first time since they'd run into Wirt. “I-is it a cult thing?”

An awkward silence pressed against the three of them, thick and choking as the fog.

"I wouldn't lean against that tree for too long," Beatrice advised at last. It had taken a moment to notice the first few threads of edelwood twining around Mabel's sleeves and ankles, but they had grown impossible to ignore.

"Oh, whoa!" Mabel shoved herself away from the tree, snapping the thin, stringy tendrils as she moved. Drips of black sap stained the wool as she brushed them off, sticking to her fingers and coating them with fuzz.

Mabel groaned. "Aw, man. I liked this one." She grabbed the hem, pulled it up over her head, and bundled the whole thing up in her arms, revealing a second, thinner sweater underneath. This one read, 'How do you spell W-I-T-C-H'?'

"That one's nice, too," Jason commented.

"You've gone some tree on you, too," Mabel told him, squishing the sticky sweater into a head-sized lump of knitting and tucking it under her arm. Jason stood up very quickly, ripping away several thicker, ropy branches along with him and peeling them off his arms.

"Is this, um, normal?" he asked, nervously examining one of the leaking bits of broken branches.

"Well, you're lost, aren't you?" Beatrice pointed out. "That's what these trees do if you're lost."

"Eh, I totally know where the van is," Mabel assured them. She narrowed her eyes at the trees behind them, searching the forest. "Right... about... nowhere."

"That's not really comforting..." Jason mumbled.

Mabel grinned. "We'll find it. I'm never really lost, to be honest -- just finding a more scenic route!"

"You can say that, but it doesn't change much here," Beatrice replied. "The forest'll grow on you all the same."

“Pun intended?” Mabel asked.


Mabel's cheer failed to waver even after several sneakier bits of edelwood had wound their way around her ankles again, and she seemed more amused than frustrated when they kept trying to root her in place. She simply pulled them off each time.

Beatrice watched the younger woman dance a little jig in a futile attempt to ward off the tangling growth from below, and wondered how long the boys were going to take with their conversation.

If her brother knew that she was endangered every minute she remained in the forest, either he wasn't a terribly responsible sibling, or Mabel was capable of far more than what her appearance would suggest. Given her attitude, Beatrice had begun to suspect the latter.

She actually went to the trouble of bringing up those worries, risking the beginning of an actual conversation with the girl, but was quickly reassured that the demon boy knew what he was doing, and Mabel would be fine.

It occurred to her she shouldn't be worrying so much about a total stranger, but she brushed the thought aside. After all, hadn't that been what led to her befriending Wirt and Greg?

She could do without the attempts to start a personal 'heart-to-heart, girl-to-girl' talk every five minutes, though.


Once shrouded in the privacy of the shadows, Wirt glared at the demon in silence for a moment, before breaking into a frustrated rant.

"So,” he began, “You're here because of some dumb similarity in how we ended up being monsters. Big deal. But listen, I don't know you. I've never seen you before in my life. I wouldn't mind... trying to be friends or allies or whatever -- you'd actually be the first demonic entity thing I've met that's ever tried to be nice instead of trying to bite my head off, but -- I have no reason to trust you! Why should I trust you?"

The demon made no response, no gesture to defend himself from the verbal onslaught. Well, onslaught wasn't the right word for it. It really was more of a whispering, grumbling point being driven home by a slightly-more-pointed-than-usual question.

"Well? Anything? I... this is so-- I mean, why would you want to be friends? Last I checked, things like you -- like us -- don't really make friends!"

At last, he spoke up.

"Did you see that girl out there?"

Wirt flipped through memories until he came up the recollection of an upbeat brunette with a fluffy, neon-green sweater following Beatrice into the forest.

"The one with the sweater? Yeah. What about her? Is she... a friend?"

"Yep." He hadn't expected a demon to be so forward about something like that. Maybe it was just to win his trust? If it was, it was working just a bit. Mabel, from what he'd seen, reminded him a great deal of Greg with her cheerful, oddball antics.

"You're close?" Wirt asked, awkwardness creeping back into the conversation like a stubborn weed.

"Ve̵͉͞r͐y," the demon told him, smiling. The expression should have been unsettling, but somehow it looked far more human than he'd anticipated, with a genuine fondness written into his unearthly features. "She's my sister. I'd do just about anything for her."

"... what?"

"I told you, I used to be human."

"I know, but..." Wirt shrugged, unsure what to say. The image in his mind's eye of the demon and the girl, both human and standing side by side, brought to mind an aching echo of himself and Greg. "... is that it?" he asked, confused.

"I'm still new to being like this," the demon boy admitted. "I don't really know what I'm doing. The source of all this wasn't exactly friendly, either. I... I heard that you were similar, so..."

"So... what?" Wirt prompted, still trying to guess where the explanation was going.

"I guess I just wanted to meet someone else who knew what this was like." He sighed and curled up slightly in midair, the faint form of hidden wings wrapping themselves around him alongside his arms. "I figured if I met someone else, we could talk, and... there'd be someone else who understands. Mabel's great at dealing with this, and I'm glad to have her support, but... there's still stuff she'll never really 'get', and that I honestly hope she never does."

"So... you're saying you came here to commiserate over weird demonic magic problems," Wirt clarified.

"Pretty much," the boy told him. "I mean, I guess I hadn't thought of it that way when I first came, but... yeah, that was the idea."

"... I have a brother," Wirt found himself saying. "I bet he and... Mabel?... would get along great."

"I guess they could commiserate over weird having-a-demonic-magical-entity-for-a-sibling problems," the demon joked.

"His name's Greg. Speaking of which -- are you going to tell me your name yet, or not? I still say it's unfair that you know mine and I don't know yours."

"Well, I've been sorta going by 'Alcor' for summonings and stuff, but..." The demon boy trailed off, hesitating for a moment.

Wirt waited. The moment of hesitation turned to a minute. He kept waiting. If there was one thing he'd improved at as the Keeper, it was waiting.

"Dipper," the demon suddenly said.

"... what?"

"My name. It's... you can call me that. Dipper, I mean."

"Okay... Dipper."

"Yeah. Anyway, um..." Dipper squirmed a bit. "Should we, like, trade stories, or...?"

Wirt fumbled for an idea, and latched onto an offhand comment from earlier. "You mentioned summonings? What's up with that? Do people summon you often? I mean, who actually summons demons?"

"It got a lot more popular after the transcendence, I can tell you," Dipper said.

"The... transcendence?" Wirt raised a skeptical eyebrow.

Dipper's face lit up with a mix of surprise and excitement. "Wait, you don't know about that?"

"No," Wirt replied. "I've been living in the Unknown for the last... however long it's been. Close to a decade, I think. Either way, I... don't get out much."

"Okay, well..."


Over the next ten minutes, Dipper told Wirt as much as he could about something called the transcendence. The concept, though baffling and completely unexpected, made a strange amount of sense. Wirt had noticed an increase in visitors to the Unknown in the past months, and it always bugged him, just a bit, when the newcomers possessed an uncanny knowledge of the supernatural that left them utterly unafraid of the magic they encountered. It felt petty, but something hadn't been right, and now he knew why.

What left him reeling was the dates Dipper gave him for the events in questions. While his time in the unknown since he'd made the foolish mistake of returning amounted to maybe a decade at a stretch, the outside world had seen forty years of change and turmoil.

Wirt didn't want to think about what he might see if he ever tried to leave the Unknown now -- perhaps it was better assuming (as always) that he couldn't. His parents were probably dead. Sara was in her fifties, maybe her sixties. Jason, too -- along with all his other classmates. Greg's friends were in their forties. The very idea seemed so ridiculous, and yet difficult to deny.

Come to think of it, that tour guide fellow looked pretty familiar. Hadn't they called him Jason earlier, when they were still wandering around with Beatrice? He honestly hadn't been paying attention.

Wirt broke off his silent train of thought to chuckle at the mental image anyway.

"... and then I heard -- and also learned, via magic -- that this place had a guardian-slash-boogeyman and they had... are you, uh, listening?" Dipper stopped his rambling explanation to look at Wirt as if he'd only just realized he'd lost his audience.

"Oh, um, no. I was just... processing all of that." Wirt shifted, waiting out the awkward pause in hopes Dipper would jump in and continue talking. He didn't. "I mean, forty years is... a lot. It's a long time, and I needed a moment to... y'know, think. About all the stuff that must have happened."

A silent moment slipped by. Wirt took advantage of it to influence some of the more eager edelwoods away from Beatrice and the others outside the obscuring pocket of fog. Probably wouldn't go over well if the trees tried to strangle this guy's friends while they chatted away.

"So... how did you end up like this?" Dipper asked, at last.

Wirt shook his head. He still felt like a bit of an idiot, after all this time. Funny how a single easily made error, born of a moment of blind searching, could change so much so quickly.

"I made a dumb mistake. I think that's all I need to say on the matter."

"What kind? Mistaking-gnomes-in-a-trenchcoat-for-undead dumb, or handing-over-the-macguffin-to-the-villain dumb?"

"You know, normally I would question the gnome thing, but I've seen some weird stuff in the forest, and I'd rather not garner any more mental scars than I have to."

"Yeah, that's a long story." Dipper looked almost sheepish. That seemed like a good word for him, even if he wasn't entirely sure why.

Wirt sighed, then said, "If I had to pick between those options, I guess it's more the first one, except... more like if I already knew about the gnomes and then I mistook a zombie for one, and then it bit me? No, wait, that's no good--"

He was going to have to start at the beginning, wasn't he?

“So, this place isn't normally reachable by just walking in like you guys did. Or at least, it wasn't before all that magic transcending stuff you talked about happened.”

“I'm listening,” Dipper said. He watched Wirt with eyes like bright coins sinking into tar, waited, bobbing up and down restlessly as he hovered.

Wirt continued. “So, normally this place is something more along the lines of limbo. Most people find their way in through dying dreams – moving on towards the great unknown, as it were.”

Dipper failed to react to Wirt's pun, and Wirt silently applauded the internal strength required to do so.

“But since that change you talked about, I get the feeling it's... less of an abstract 'other side', and more of a physically real location – or at least, it can be entered by way of the actual woods, now, too.

“Anyway, for me, the whole thing happened on Halloween. My brother and I were at a cemetery, spying on some of my classmates – not in a creepy way, just in an I'm-nervous-and-don't-know-how-to-approach-people way – and suddenly the police showed up. I'll never truly know what they meant to arrest us for, but we climbed up the wall of the cemetery and over into the woods on the other side. A train nearly hit us, but we fell into the river, and then...”

Wirt trailed off, then paused before he started again. A part of his mind noted how neatly the pause paralleled the events being described: the story had, at that point, trailed off only to begin again within the realm of the unknown, with the exact nature of how he'd gotten from one side to the next forever a mystery.

“We were here. In the forest. We couldn't remember – I couldn't remember – how we'd gotten there, only that we were lost. I met Beatrice, a lot of things happened – I don't think it really followed the classic hero's journey to the letter, but it came close. Eventually I figured out what the whole deal was with the Beast and the lantern and the woodsman, and...” This time he trailed off deliberately, to preserve the sense of mystery which pervaded the vaguely told story.

“...and then we went home,” he added, not caring to give any details. Details could hardly be described if they were barely remembered to begin with.

Dipper frowned. “That can't be it. How did you end up like this if you just went home? I mean, I have more questions than that, but that's the most obvious one.”

“I was getting to that.” Wirt sighed. “Thing is, being in the unknown once makes it a lot easier to get back in just by accident. Almost dying is less a one-time-ticket and more like one of those hole-punch passes that can let you across again and again without nearly the same fuss as the first time around.” After a second, he added, “I guess living right next to the woods helps, too.”

"So, a year later, on a night when the boundaries between the unknown and the rest of the world are relatively thin -- halloween, that is -- my brother and I... fell through. It wasn't on purpose. We weren't dreaming. We just... walked in. One minute we were in someone's yard, and the next, in the middle of the woods.

"It was snowy and cold and filled with edelwoods, just as I remembered, and when I spotted something lying half-buried in the snow, I went to pick it up.

"There was a reason the woodsman ditched the lantern after he extinguished it. From there onward, the story is simple. The unknown needs something to keep it in check, to act as the medium between the edelwoods and the people who wander in, and it's common knowledge there that the carrier of the dark lantern must be the beast -- or the keeper, I suppose."

The two remained silent for a time.

"That's really all there is to it at this point," Wirt finished. "I mean, We've been here a while now. It wasn't so long on this side."

"What does Greg do here?"

"He... mostly stays with Beatrice. Sometimes he helps me cut down the edelwoods, but I try not to do that too often. Just the bare minimum -- and always the old ones. I don't want to have to grow any new ones. I might, though... someday."

"The edelwoods are the lost soul trees, aren't they?" Dipper asked him.


The two of them fell quite for a time, weeds of awkwardness springing up from their common ground. Wirt opened his mouth to speak, but the awkwardness grew over his words before they had the chance to leave his mouth, so he shut it again, unsure of what to say.

"I sometimes get summoned by cultists attempting human sacrifice," Dipper said after a while, as if trying to comfort him. "I hate it. I mean, I don't have any purpose for that! They just assume it's a thing you're supposed to do when you summon a demon, and they don't think any harder about it!"

Wirt sighed. "The folks in Pottsfield tried to give me a bunch of pumpkins, but beyond that, I don't usually have to deal with anything like cults. I can only imagine..."

"Well, I can say that no one's ever tried to offer me pumpkins before, so I can only imagine that," Dipper pointed out. Wirt wondered if he'd noticed the shift in the conversation's tone and intended to make up for it with jokes.

"Yeah, well, the pumpkins usually go missing before I can do anything with them. I dunno why. It's like... they're just unnaturally good at getting themselves lost."

The conversation died down again, the metaphorical weeds strangling the words on both sides until nothing could be said. Wirt considered just leaving, but that seemed wrong. Hadn't he been planning on asking something?

Oh, right.

"So," Wirt said, after a brief pause. "Your turn as storyteller here. Seriously, what happened to you?"

"Long version or short version?"

Wirt cast his gaze through the mist and trees, reaching out and halting several new strands of edelwood and banishing the few that had begun grasping at the occupants of the clearing again. Stop that, he thought to them, doing his best to adopt a stern, almost parental sort of tone. Leave those ones alone.

It didn't always work perfectly, but this time, the vines gave way and slunk off the path into the wood. Wirt nodded, satisfied, and turned his attention back to Dipper.

"Tell me both," he said.

Dipper grinned. "Well, the short version is, a dream demon curled up and died in my brain. The long version, though..." He snapped his fingers, setting one hand alight in ethereal blue flames that cast an eerie glow across his face, the magical equivalent of lighting a flashlight under one's chin for dramatic effect while telling ghost stories.

The metaphorical weeds shriveled and vanished in the light of the blue flame.


Mabel didn't mind how long the boys were taking to wrap up their little chat. They'd been in there for a while, but she'd found plenty to occupy her attention out in the woods while she waited. Beatrice had already started warming up to her, and Jason, despite his nervousness, looked fairly promising on the friendship-o-meter.

The friendship-o-meter, Mabel had decided, was definitely a thing now. If it wasn't, then when she and Dipper got home, she was going to get out some craft supplies and make one for occasions just like this.

"So, what do you think they're talking about in there that's taking so long?" Mabel asked for the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes, aiming the question at no one in particular.

Jason shrugged and said nothing. After a moment, Beatrice let out a quiet groan. Mabel ignored it.

"I mean, seriously, what's going on? Are they having a nerd party, or what?"

"Mabel, didn't we have this conversation nearly ten minutes ago?"

"Yeah, but I want to know if your theories have changed! I know mine have at least a little."

"Well, my answer is no. Same theory as before: if it's important, we'll never know, if it's not, I don't care."

Suddenly, the smog flickered and dissipated, leaving just Dipper and the Keeper standing between the trees at the side of the path. Dipper looked relieved, and Mabel suspected he'd gotten something off his chest. He'd probably told the guy his life story or something -- trust her brother to try befriending somebody with a wall of text, but she could tell it had worked.

The Keeper looked oddly shy now, and actually smiled when she waved at him (or possibly just opened his mouth, but that up-curved slit of light on his face looked like a smile to Mabel, and that's what she was calling it.)

She said as much, and the smile grew just a few millimeters wider.

"You are kinda like him," she heard the Keeper murmur.

Beatrice cast a suspicious look over the pair. "You guys better not have been doing anything weird in there," she said at last.

"What?" Dipper looked confused, then almost embarrassed.

"Wh--Beatrice oh my god--" If the tone of his voice was any indicator, the Keeper would've been blushing furiously if his face wasn't shadowed over.

"What did I say?" she asked, with a face that plainly announced she knew exactly what they were thinking and found it hilarious.

"Yeah, what did she say?" Jason croaked. "I d-didn't hear it. My ears are kinda weird these days."

"None of your business," said the Keeper. "Wait, is that guy--"

"Yes," Beatrice said. "Yes, he is."

"Okay, wow. You really weren't kidding about the forty years thing." Mabel noticed that the Keeper's voice sounded quieter and higher-pitched than in their first encounter. He actually sounded about the same age as Dipper did.

Jason's eyes widened in quiet recognition. "I know you," he declared, with an assertive hint to his words she hadn't heard at all before.

The Keeper didn't respond.

"... Wirt? That was your name, right?"

"... can we maybe not discuss this where everyone can hear?"

"Well now the secret's out," Beatrice said with a shrug. "No point beating around the bush about it anymore, huh, Wirt?"

"That's not helping."

"And what gave you the impression I was trying to help?" Something about Beatrice's half-smile suggested this was a fairly normal conversation for the two of them. Mabel silently resisted the urge to ship.

"So are we going?" Jason asked after a minute of banter.

"Oh, yeah, don't worry," Mabel said. "Just gotta find the van."

Wirt nodded. "It's that way, just around the bend, then past the three stumps with the weird red moss," he instructed, pointing farther along the path.

"Isn't that deeper into the forest?" Mabel asked. She could have sworn they'd come in from the other end of the path, though once she'd run circles around the glade twenty-something times in a fit of boredom, it was hard to tell.

Dipper paused for a minute, making a face of either concentrated focus, or possibly constipation. Mabel waited until his furrowed brow went back to normal to hear him speak.

"Yeah, he's right," he confirmed. "Counter-intuitive, but it's definitely that-a-way." He moved forward, only to bump into Wirt's unwieldy tree horns. "Wirt, could you move? Your branchlers are in my face."

"Oh, sorry, I-- wait, bra̵̹̍n͜chlers?" Wirt shot him a quizzical look.

“You know. Your branch antlers. Branchlers.”

“... I'm not even going to dignify that with a relevant response.”


After several minutes more, the party of three – Dipper, Mabel, and Jason – trudged back along the path to the Rainbow Basher. Mabel waved wildly out the driver's side window at the pair of figures behind them before setting off, belting out her loudest and friendliest “Goodbye!” as she turned the key.

A few dozen yards behind them, a shadow shaped like a boy and a skinny birdlike woman waved back.

The trip out of the woods was shorter than the journey in, much to everyone's surprise. The trees cleared up and spread out into wide clearings within a few minutes, tops, and the whole trip seemed lighter and gentler somehow, as if a heavy weight on the boughs above had been lifted during their stay.

Mabel waved for as long as she could, even after Jason began worrying about going off-road and Dipper finally told her to please turn around and actually look at the road instead of flailing one arm out the front window, honestly Mabel they can't even see you anymore, also watch out for that stump.

The stump only left a small dent on the front bumper, anyway.


The woods are deep and dimly lit from within, a vast unknown sprawling out onto the edges of the grassy hills. Strains of distant birdsong slip out between the leaves, and the trees create a dappled mesh of shadow and sunlight over the path. The towns nearby are wary of the magic residing within, and keep their distance, but it is not quite feared as it once was. It is nothing like most woods, magical or otherwise, and yet everything like them.

No one's ever really charted the place. It's stayed mysterious for a very long time, and that which lurks and lives within has no reason to let that part of the place's claim to fame end anytime soon.

People still disappear into those woods every now and then – folks who were lost and never found, folks who went missing, folks who entered with the intent of never coming back. The ghost stories still wander amongst towns and hikers for miles around.

Children get lost in the woods, but rarely do they disappear. They tend to find their way back home in a few days, tired and scraped-up but very much alive, and tell their parents stories about the fantastical things they'd seen, and about friendly shadows guiding them out.

Sometimes certain travelers come by again and again. There are tales, even decades later, of a cheerfully-painted van and an even more cheerful driver passing through, at times with passengers in tow.

“Oh, we're just off to visit a friend,” she'll usually say. “Just passing through.”

Sometimes, when she leaves, a birdlike woman and a shadow of a boy make their way out to the borders of the woods and wave.

End Notes:

"A few things to say.

First off, NaNoWriMo has robbed me of the ability to write anything short right now, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Second off, credit for the shapeshifter Beatrice concept goes to Yevynaea's series Lost in the Woods. Also, I'm fairly sure I'm not the first to make use of the title 'The Keeper' for Wirt, but I can't remember where else I've seen it. I'll try and credit the person who originally used that title once I can find them."

Part 1 of The Unknown, Post-TranscendenceNext Work »