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Not What It Seems: Reconnect Again

Title: Not What It Seems, 28
Author: chilibreath
X-posted to: Tumblr / FF.net / AO3
Rating: T
Summary: Where the story almost ends.

February 21 in Earth-time

Ford listened to the miscellaneous snores inside the room. Feeling that going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen, he fumbled for his glasses and looked at the round window. The night sky was becoming lighter in color. It was a new day.

He got out of bed and put on his long cloak and boots, taking care not to make too much noise despite Stan’s thunderous snores. He ran a hand through his hair, hoping that it would be enough to make him look a bit presentable.

He walked towards the door and opened it, looking behind him to see if he had disturbed anyone. Seeing that no one was disturbed, he carefully closed the door behind him and started walking towards the stairs. The hallway was still lit by the glowing stones set inside the glass-and-metal cylinders attached to the walls. He remembered that Dipper said something about wanting one, and he made a mental note to ask around.

“Where are you going, Great Uncle Ford?”

Ford nearly jumped. He whirled around and spotted Dipper padding towards him while putting his arm into the sleeve of his robe.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack, kid,” Ford murmured. “I decided to visit the Springs. Why are you awake?”

Dipper shrugged. “I suddenly woke up. Not sure why. Can I come with you?”

Ford smiled at his great-nephew. “Of course.”

They left the Hall and walked the path leading to the Springs. Ahead of them, a large turquoise lizard crossed their path and scurried into the bushes.

“Is it just me, or did that lizard have wings?” asked Dipper.

“Normally, I’d love to investigate,” Ford replied, looking away from the spot where the lizard disappeared, “but I think I’d like a break from it for now. We’ll ask Gelvin or Sandri about the fauna here when we see them.”

Dipper filled the silence the rest of the way by asking Ford about Rothezar and the Guilds, which his Grunkle was able to answer. Ford looked closely at his great-nephew; Dipper seemed to be back to his usual self without any ill effects from the Sigil. He wondered if Maegella would recover just as quickly.

“Would it be rude if we asked for some bottles of healing water to take back home with us?” Dipper asked as they walked up to the second level inside the cavern. “Dad says that Grandpa Shermie has been complaining about his joints for some time, and McGucket could use some, too. And why couldn’t you just drink the stuff instead of swim in it for it to work?”

“We could try asking one of the Maesters here,” Ford answered, beaming at his nephew’s consideration. “Personally, after thousands of years of people swimming in the pools, I wouldn’t be too excited to drink the water from it.”

Dipper looked disgusted as Ford’s words sank in. “Oh…oh, that is nasty,” he agreed. He looked ahead of them and exclaimed, “Oh wow. Gelvin is still here?”

“And the pool is still glowing,” added Ford, frowning. They walked towards the two figures huddled near the pool. Gelvin was still sitting cross-legged and hunched over in slumber while Sandri was curled up to his side, facing the pool.

“So much for keeping watch,” Ford murmured.

“That posture can’t be good for his back,” Dipper muttered, looking at Gelvin with concern. “Should we move him?”

“We might wake him,” Ford said softly. “And if he wakes up with a sore back, he can take a dip in a nearby pool.”

Dipper opened his mouth to say something, but something else caught his attention.

“Great Uncle Ford, look!” he whispered, pointing at the pool.

Ford turned around. At first, all he saw was Maegella floating in the glowing pool.

And then her right hand twitched.

Ford blinked. He moved to the edge of the pool and stared. Maegella’s hand twitched again.

“Is she waking up?” Dipper asked.

“It’s possible,” Ford murmured. He moved to stand at a space above Sandri’s head and laid down on his stomach, inching close until his shoulders were level with the edge of the pool.

“Grunkle Ford, what are you doing?” Dipper hissed, looking bewildered at Ford’s actions.

“Maegella?” Ford called out softly. He tried to tamp down his excitement when she jerked her head a bit.

He stretched out a hand to her just as Dipper called out, “Wait Grunkle Ford!”

He missed touching her arm, hitting the water instead.

A series of images and sounds rushed into his mind, pulling him away.

A woman cried out in pain…a massive stone structure shrouded in shadow…a man moving to crouch over a young girl…four people in different colored robes glaring at him…

The next thing he knew, Ford was staring at the ceiling of the cavern, his view partially obstructed by the fuzzy faces of three people.

“Great Uncle Ford, are you okay?!” Dipper cried out, wide-eyed with panic.

Ford blinked and shook his head, feeling like his head was stuffed with cotton. His face was wet, and hair was sticking to his forehead. “Wha-what happened?” he mumbled, brushing his damp hair from his face. Dipper reached forward and placed his glasses back on his face, making the world clear again.

“Dipper’s cry woke us,” Gelvin explained, looking at Ford with concern. “Your hand and part of your face were submerged. Sandri and I pulled you out and revived you.”

“You looked like you were in a trance,” Sandri said softly. “And you kept saying something over and over, but I only caught ‘Amin khiluva lle’.”

“What does that mean?” asked Ford, who started to sit up.

Gelvin frowned. “Not many of us speak the old language. The tricky thing about it is that you need to hear the whole phrase or sentence to make sense of it.”

“And how come he was able to say it?” asked Dipper. “He doesn’t know your language!”

“That is a fair question,” Gelvin agreed, looking at Ford speculatively. “What happened after you touched the water, Stanford?”

And Ford shared what he remembered with them, the sounds and sights he witnessed briefly. During his accounting, Gelvin placed a hand on his shoulder and closed his eyes.

The Maester opened his eyes when Ford said, “And that’s what I remembered.”

Ford looked at Gelvin; the Maester was looking at him with an inscrutable expression.
“What does it all mean, Maester Gelvin?” asked Sandri.

Gelvin looked at Ford, then turned to look at Maegella’s pool. He squeezed Ford’s shoulder.

“Nothing definite,” he said quietly. “And possibly anything.”

He surprised the group by jumping up to his feet. “I need to send a message to the Gray Guild. Sandri, I will call upon another Blue Mage to replace your watch. Take Stanford and Dipper with you to the Dining Hall and nourish yourselves.”
With a swish of his cloak, Gelvin left the Springs, leaving them to look at each other in concern.

XXXXX

Sandri, Dipper and Ford make their way back to the Guild Hall after Sofi arrived to take over the watch. They spotted Stan and the rest of their group somewhere in the middle of the Dining Hall, halfway done with their breakfast. After getting their food, Dipper and Ford approached the table and found that Erwan was sitting with them as well.

“Where have you two been?” asked Stan before taking a bite out of a leg of roasted fowl. “Also, what kind of bird is this and can we breed ‘em back in our dimension? Hear me out: alternative bacon! We’ll be rich!”

Ford just shook his head. Next to Stan’s plate was a small mountain of cookies in front of Mabel. Mabel looked at Ford and smiled widely; blue cookie bits were stuck to her teeth and braces.

“We got back from visiting Maegella,” Dipper replied, sitting next to Mabel. “She’s still floating in the glowing pool a-and…and Gelvin suddenly needed to send a message to his Guild for some reason.”

Dipper had been about to share what happened to Ford when Ford shot him a look. Maybe this wasn’t a good time to share it with the rest of them, Dipper thought.

Across the table, Soos waved at Dipper. “Hey, Dipper, did you get some of the purple pancakes?” he asked. He then stuck his tongue out. “It mehks yer tung furfle dahg!”

While Dipper laughed and ate the pancake, Stan got Ford’s attention again. “We’ve been catching up on some news from Erwan here,” he said. “They went and busted Duroc’s staff for pulling all that crap for thirteen years.”

Ford snorted before spooning some red pudding into his mouth. “Seems like a light sentence to me,” he muttered.

“That is not all,” said Erwan. “He is awaiting further sentence from the Maesters of the Red Guild. They are selecting the services he will render without magic for the rest of his life.”

“Oooh, I hope he gets to clean out toilets all over the place,” said Wendy.

“With his own toothbrush!” added Dipper, whose lips have turned purple from the pancakes. He gave Wendy a high-five.

“We will find out what his sentence will be soon enough,” said Erwan, who decided not to ask them what toilets were.
“Presently, we are now looking for candidates for the Leadership of Rothezar. It is traditional for Maesters to nominate a representative from their Guild. Veron and I had to decline when they asked it from us.”

“Dude, why didn’t you guys accept?” asked Soos. “Either of you would be better than that Duroc guy.”

Erwan smiled. “You flatter me, Soos, but Veron and I do not feel up to the challenges and pressure for such a duty. Speaking of Veron, he has taken an interest in the wrecks of the otherworld crafts. He and a group of Red Mages have spread out to look for more of them.” He turned to look at Ford. “He wants to make use of them to protect Rothezar from future invasions. He seems to have been inspired after I told him of our confrontation with the alien.”

“Hey, you know what Erwan? Take this,” said Stan, fishing his hearing aid from his pocket and handing it to the Green Mage. “Just in case those losers try to sneak back into the planet. Give ‘em heck!”

Erwan held out his hand for the device, holding it reverently like a holy relic. “Thank you, Stanley! Veron would be most pleased.”

As Erwan pocketed the hearing aid, there was a commotion by the doors. Sofi ran into the room, wide-eyed and breathing hard.

“She is awake!” Sofi screamed. “Mentor Maegella is awake! She-she floated from her pool and left the Springs!”

Everyone jumped up from their seats. Maester Arra walked up briskly to the hysterical Mage and grabbed her by the shoulders.

“Calm down, child!” said the stern-looking Maester. “Did she say anything? Did you see where she went?”

Sofi shook her head. “She said nothing, Maester Arra, and I do not know where she went. By the time I reached the mouth of the cavern, she was gone!”

Suddenly, two people arrived at the Dining Hall from the other side. One of them wore green robes.

“Greetings! I come bearing news from the Green Guild,” announced the green-robed Mage. “The Guardian rests at the foot of Calen Hills. I have been sent by Maester Dagan to request the assistance of a Maester of the Blue Guild…”

Arra stared at the messenger.

“I think we know where Maegella went,” she said quietly. “Summon Maester Gelvin at once!”

XXXXX

Moments later, a group of Mages left the Blue Guild. Maester Arra led the group, followed by Gelvin, Sandri and Erwan. At Ford’s insistence, he came along with them and paired up with Erwan. At Stan’s insistence, he came along too and was paired up with Sandri. Another Blue Mage accompanied them; he was paired up with a short, stocky man with an impressive black beard and wearing dull brown robes.

“He is the smith they sent to Beleger,” Gelvin explained to Ford and Stan before they left. “He was commissioned to create the Containing Stone for the Pendulum.”

They flew east, over small hamlets and roads and a large section of forest. Some of the houses were wrecked by the recent invasion, and several sections of forest were flattened. After several minutes, Erwan called out: “Look, there are the Calen Hills! Beyond that is our Hall!”

Looking over Erwan’s shoulder, Ford spotted three large, green hills standing side-by-side. They were identical in size and shape and were evenly spaced apart. Between two of the hills was a large, hunched shape, looking like an unusual dirty yellow blob on the green. A small crowd of green-robed people parted to give way to the contingent from the Blue Guild. Two other groups in yellow and red robes milled about at the front of the Guardian. The only gray-robed Mage around was Gelvin.

Mek-Death knelt on the ground on one knee, with its back to them and its head bowed. It looked like the enormous statue was hiding behind its shield. Ford suspected that it was holding its sword in front of it like a Knight paying homage to their liege.

A short, thickset man with an impressive grey mustache and wearing green robes spotted them. He walked briskly towards them and raised his staff. “Greetings, Maester Arra!”

Arra and the other Mages raised their staffs. “Greetings, Maester Dagan!” said Arra. “We have with us Maester Gelvin, who will stand for the Gray Guild, and Head Smith Qeb.”

Maester Dagan nodded. “Follow me, if you will,” he said, and led the way to the front of the Guardian. “Two of the Sigils have already been extracted from the Guardian. However, Maester Irri of the Red Guild was unable to extract the Pendulum…”

“Maester Irri will be able to retrieve it now,” said Arra. “Qeb has created a Containing Stone for that Sigil.” She looked at Dagan and said kindly, “I would also like to extend our condolences and thanks on the sacrifice Mentor Darreon has made for Rothezar.”

Dagan nodded. “He was a good man,” he murmured. He looked up and continued, “And he had a good reason.”

They followed his line of sight and spotted Maegella standing at the foot of the Guardian. Ford stopped walking and stared at her; her robes were still silver. The rest of the group walked on ahead, but someone stayed behind with Ford.

Stan placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Go to her, Sixer,” he said.

Ford gave Stan a worried look. “I—I don’t know what to say, Stan.”

Stan stroked his chin, looking contemplative. “Why don’t you try with something simple, like ‘hi’?” He gently shoved his brother in Maegella’s direction. “Go for it, ya nerd!”

Ford caught himself and gave his brother a look. He took a deep breath and approached Maegella.

“Hi,” he said quietly, so quietly he thought she didn’t hear him. He was about to repeat himself when she turned around slowly. Her eyes were wide and gray.

“Stanford,” she whispered. Before Ford could say anything, Maegella went and hugged him. He hugged back and felt his face heat up; he was vaguely aware of his brother letting out a whoop behind him, but he didn’t care.

“You saved me,” Maegella murmured, pulling away from him to look at him properly. “I was ready and willing to make the sacrifice; you did not have to…”

“But I wanted to,” Ford cut in, looking her in the eye. “We planned to go in and replace you with Gelvin; he wanted to take the Sigil from Dipper from the start and make the sacrifice himself, but then…”

“Darreon…my dearest friend. He took my place instead,” she whispered. She looked down and let go of Ford, wrapping her arms around herself. “Poor Darreon.”

“He did it because he loved you,” Ford said simply. He reached out to put a consoling hand on her shoulder.

“I know,” she whispered, reaching up to touch Ford’s hand. They looked up and saw Gelvin floating down to the ground on a Hover Disc, holding something to his chest. The Maester turned around and held the round, gray stone away from him. Arra walked up to him; in her hands, she held a similar stone. Behind them, Qeb handed a round gray stone (looking newer than the first two) to an olive-skinned woman in red robes who seemed to be at least a foot taller than Gelvin. She stepped on a Hover Disc and went floating up to the chest of Mek-Death. Gelvin spotted them looking at him and gave them a small smile, beckoning them to come over.

When they reached him, Gelvin surprised Maegella by reaching for her and pulling her into a one-armed hug. “I was so worried, my dear,” he murmured. “I have made mistakes; it nearly cost you your life and had taken Darreon away. I hope you have it in your heart to forgive this foolish old man one day.”

Maegella hugged him back. “I would like to know more of what you have done or withheld from me, Gelvin. But you have always been there for me; I think it will not be hard for me to forgive you.”

Stan and Erwan approached them just as Maester Irri floated down from the Guardian. The tall woman looked troubled.
“I have retrieved the Sigil and transferred it to the Stone,” Irri announced in a booming voice. “But it still glows!”

She held out the Containing Stone with a glowing white Sigil in the middle. Ford felt Maegella stiffen beside him; he placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently.

Gelvin stared at it. “Legend did state that the Sigil glowed like this the first time,” he said. “However, none of the Founders shared how long it took before the Sigil stopped glowing, as they hid it immediately after concealing the Guardian.”

Irri raised an eyebrow and looked back down at the Sigil. “Very well. We will keep watch over it and see how long it will take, as we agreed.”

“Wait; you guys are going to keep it?” Stan asked in surprise.

Arra looked at Stan and nodded. “We have come to an agreement: the Guilds will keep watch over their respective Sigils from now on. We will take measures to ensure their protection until such time that they will be needed.”

“One only hopes,” Dagan added sagely. “That the need will surpass our lifetime.”

XXXXX

They left Caren Hills and headed back to the Blue Guild. Ford was paired up with Gelvin on the return trip, as Erwan elected to stay behind.

Ford looked behind him; Maegella took up the rear on a Hover Disc. She explained earlier that she could only maintain flight for a short amount of time. Sofi did not see her drop to the ground and walk back to the Guild to retrieve a spare Hover Disc, but she was surprised to find that she could control the Disc without aid of a staff. Ford noticed that the Maesters gave Maegella a lot of space while they discussed how they would conceal the Guardian.

The round blue roof of the Guild was visible now. To Ford’s surprise, Gelvin veered in the opposite direction, heading for the river nearby. They heard Stan yell in surprise when he realized where they went.

“Where are we going?” Ford asked Gelvin as they approached the gray banks of the river, landing by a large, flat rock. When Ford jumped off and turned to Gelvin, he found that the Maester started floating up.

“I am just here to drop you off, Stanford,” Gelvin said quietly as Maegella landed in front of Ford. The Maester gave him a small smile before flying away.

Ford swallowed nervously as he watched Maegella hop off her Hover Disc…

XXXXX

Sometime later…

Stan stopped trying to get a word in edgewise when Mabel started squealing with delight. He wondered if it was a mistake to tell them about Ford and Maegella having a private meeting. The information seemed to affect his niece like she drank a pitcher or two of Mabel Juice; she started jumping around the room and taking her emotions out on her twin brother, squeezing him like one of her stuffed toys until he started gasping for air.

“I knew this would happen!” Mabel screamed, letting go of Dipper and running towards Stan to grab his hands and attempt to pull him up. Stan held his ground, though, so Mabel opted to jump in front of him instead like a hyperactive grasshopper. “Grunkle Ford is going to ask Maegella to marry him! Oooh, I need to plan two weddings!”

“Kid, we don’t even know if that’s what they’re gonna talk about,” Stan said, trying to get his hands back from his niece’s surprisingly strong grip. “And why two weddings?”

He regretted asking that question when Mabel squealed again. He wondered if it was too late to get his hearing aid back from Erwan…

“Grunkle Stan, we have to hold one wedding here and another wedding back in our world! I mean, they’re old, so they deserve double the wedding! I wanna be a bridesmaid in BOTH dimensions, and you and Dipper can be co-groomsmen! We can hold the wedding here in the Guild and then the other wedding at the Mystery Shack! You can go out with that Maester-lady who liked you so much! Oh my gosh, do they have wedding planners here?!” She whirled around and pointed at Wendy. “WENDY, help me plan the weddings!”

Wendy leaned away from Mabel’s aggressive finger-pointing. “I don’t know anything about weddings, dude,” she said just as the door to their room opened.

“What about weddings?” asked Ford as he stepped into the room.

The next thing he knew, a brown-haired torpedo collided with his middle, almost making him lose his balance. Mabel wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and started chanting, “What did she say?! What did she say?! What did she say?!”

“Calm down, Mabel,” said Ford, gingerly moving to close the door behind him before attempting to peel off Mabel from his middle. “I assume you’re asking what Maegella and I talked about earlier,” he said, raising an eyebrow at his brother.

Stan raised his hands in the air. “Hey, I only told them why you didn’t come with me back to this place. Mabel started making her own conclusions and planning your wedding.”

Ford sputtered, then let out a sigh. With Mabel still attached to his waist, he hobbled towards the bed his brother was sitting on and sat next to him.

He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at Mabel. “Maegella and I did talk. We came to an agreement that—well, that it would be best if we remain in our own dimensions.”

Ford looked up; the expressions on the faces around him were mixed. Dipper and Wendy briefly shared a glance before looking away. Soos looked sad. Next to him, Stan sighed and patted his shoulder. When he looked down at Mabel, she looked stunned.

“What? But…don’t you like each other, Grunkle Ford?” she asked plaintively.

Ford just gave her a sad sort of smile, tucking a stray lock of hair from her face. “I do like her, and the feeling is mutual,” he said softly, pulling her into a gentle hug. “But sometimes, it doesn’t always end like you want it to.”

XXXXX
That afternoon, Gelvin returned to the spot where he dropped off Ford and spotted Maegella sitting on the flat rock. She was staring at the river in profile to him, her expression blank. But he knew her; despite her training and her near-brush with a terrible fate, she was for him the daughter he never had. He could sense her distress from where he stood.
He stood next to the rock and gently cleared his throat. “I hope there is still space on the rock for an old friend.”
Maegella looked at him and moved to the side. Gelvin sat next to her and made himself comfortable on the rock. He didn’t say anything and just waited.
When the first choke of a sob reached his ears, he stretched an arm out to wrap around her shoulder.
“I let him go,” Maegella whispered. “He said that if I—but, I—I cannot take him away from his family, Gelvin, and I must stay and help my people.”
Gelvin frowned; when he held her, he saw and heard what Maegella encountered in the Inner Sanctum. Unnecessary manipulation, he thought irritably, giving her shoulder a comforting squeeze.
“You did what you thought is right,” he murmured, fishing a piece of cloth from inside his robes and using it to dab the tears from her face. “But know this: if you change your mind, no one will judge you harshly for it. Your happiness, after all, is your decision.”
And he held her close for a long while.