Author's note: This is a collaborative fanfiction that I and pinesinthewoods from Tumblr have been working on for a while, and we are very excited to finally start posting! There will be a total of five chapters, which are already planned and partially written. The title comes from the song 'Towards the Sun' by Rihanna. We hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed writing.

"Now again I found myself so far down

Away from the sun that shines into the darkest place

I'm so far down away from the sun again"

'Away from the sun' - Three Doors Down

Tingling; similar to the way it felt when an extremity falls asleep, except spread throughout his entire body from the tip of his toes to the top of his head. So this is what being in the nightmare realm feels like, Stanford thought to himself in mild surprise. He glided upward to narrowly avoid a high-energy bloch of inky black clouds that passed just below his suspended body. He held himself still for a few more moments, wind tugging wildly at his hair and trench coat, before spotting a narrow break in the surge of black vapor and diving down into another level of swirling twilight. The clouds closed like a curtain behind him, framing the new pocket of clarity he'd entered in a billowing, opaque darkness. He held his breath as he searched the area, eyes roaming slowly and carefully in spite of the gradually increasing tempo of his heart, attempting to lock onto something else, anything else, that might be as solid and real as he was.

But he wasn't seeing- No. No, Stanley had to be somewhere around here. Stanford had jumped in almost immediately after him, which meant that he couldn't have drifted too far away. Stanford tapped his finger rapidly against his thigh in agitation and mounting impatience, eyes flickering back and forth in internal calculation. Yes, he had figured everything correctly. The location should have been right around here. But he wasn't seeing anything. Nothing. Nothing but-

Stanford's eyes widened in alarm as another current of bubbling black clouds suddenly surged from his right before he had time to dodge, and brushed up against his shoulder. The caustic vapor took off an outer layer of dust-like particles that were evaporating from his arm, like a cold gale blowing away the top layer of powdery snow. He couldn't help but gasp a little as a much stronger tingling feeling, akin to a very intense bout of static shock, raced it's way up and down his right side. His left hand fumbled blindly around the folds of his jacket for a few moments before he managed to grab onto the afflicted limb and check on its condition. The soft sigh of relief that escaped his lips after finding his arm still solidly beneath him was completely swallowed up the ferocious howling of the whirlwind around him.

Really, it was odd that it didn't hurt a lot more than this. Given toxic chaos of the atmosphere that permeated the dimension he'd currently stranded himself in, he was almost certain that his chemical makeup was being irreparably degraded every second that he stayed in here. Or, in simpler terms, it was slowly killing him.

He wasn't a creature that belonged in this environment by any stretch of the imagination, not any more than an organic being belonged in a vat of hydrochloric acid, and his body simply wasn't capable of handling the strain of it. Like a sand sculpture in a fierce desert gust or a pinch of salt in a cup of boiling water, each individual particle of his now static-y human body was, bit by bit, dissolving away into the turbulent and stormy nothingness all around him. At the rate he was going now, it was likely that he would-

A blinding white flash caught Stanford's attention and temporarily interrupted his cynical musings. He finally let go of his arm and brought himself to a halt as best he could while floating nearly tractionless in the dusky sky around him. A mixture of caution and dull wonder shaped his expression as he watched thin, liquid streams of silvery light burst forth from the edge of a cloud below him and shoot upward to touch a slightly wispier collection of dark vapor above. The condensed light broke wildly upon the clouds like a splash of water onto a rock and spiderwebbed up away into the gloom beyond Stanford's vision. A high-pitched whine and the smell of burning ozone accompanied it's twisting and twirling movements.

Stanford grit his teeth nervously and let out a frustrated huff before resuming his increasingly frantic search through the near pitch-dark and nebulous stratosphere of the nightmare realm.

Thirty years ago, in a different time and as a different man, he might have been enraptured by such a strange and unearthly display, might have been tempted to study its composition or marvel at whatever function it served in this reality. But as his life was here and now, this kind of weirdness had become almost commonplace in his day to day dealings. It just… it didn't really excite him anymore. It didn't spark his interest the way it had when he was younger and the universe was still an unfathomably large and unknown entity stretching out infinitely before him. His time beyond the edge of the portal had changed him in more ways than one, and what was once an intriguing and mysterious stranger had become the noisy neighbor next door with the funny tattoos and the lazy eye. Strange, but not nearly as enchanting as it had seemed so many years ago. It was one of the reasons that he'd been so eager to take his great-nephew Dipper on as his personal apprentice once he'd become acquainted with the boy. Watching him, and the way that his eyes widened and his face lit up when encountering the supernatural or bizarre, it was like getting to relive that same childlike awe and amazement in himself all over again.

But none of that really mattered right here and now, and it still wouldn't have even if he'd been thirty years younger and less universe weary. He'd hardly come into this dimension for the sake of research or sightseeing. No, the reason he'd flung himself into the terrifying, gaping maw of the rift before it had been sealed for the rest of forever was to undertake a search and rescue mission. His current objective was finding his reckless, foolhardy, idiot of a twin brother who'd apparently seen fit to close the gateway between the nightmare realm and their world from the wrong side, and get out of this murky hell-hole dimension as expediently as was physically possible. Hopefully with- No. Stanford amended to himself. Definitely with the body of his brother in hand. Regardless of whether or not the stunt that he'd just pulled had actually gotten him killed, Stanford wasn't leaving here without him. Even if that meant that he would have to navigate through the dangers of the nightmare realm and it's unpredictable and malicious inhabitants all while lugging around a corpse.

Stanford winced in immediate regret as his traitorous imagination gave life to the morbid notion of Stanley's cool and lifeless flesh lying beneath his hand. His heart skipped a beat while nauseating chills clawed long fingers up the back of his neck, and he shook his head quickly in an attempt to dispel the unsettling sensation. It was successful in getting rid of his worry, to some degree, but doubt still stubbornly transfixed itself like a wide and slimy lump between his heart and sternum. He sighed after another few seconds and ran a shaky hand over his face in a halfhearted attempt to regain his composure.

As much as he was loathe to admit it, he really hadn't the slightest idea how he was supposed to find Stanley in all this mess. He could calculate and theorize all he wanted, but when it came right down to it, he was just too far out of his depth. He'd never been to this particular dimension before, or any quite like it, and had no real idea what laws of physics it followed, what it didn't, or if it followed any at all. Trying to set some parameters for his search had been more for the sake of his own comfort and peace of mind than out of practical application, and he knew it. But the prospects of searching through the whole of the nightmare realm as blind as a bat, not even knowing if his brother was still alive or not, had seemed… it had seemed… Well, there was no seem about it. It was pretty hopeless, wasn't it.

The howling wind blew open another gap between the clouds just in front of him, and Stanford took the opportunity to twist his body horizontally and slip between the dark, vaporous walls and into the next open space before they overlapped again. He began the routine he'd started in the all other areas he'd already checked and flew swiftly along the ever-changing edges of the pocket he was in. Carefully, he swept the area once, and then again, and then a third time just to be certain. His earlier calm and self-assurance were gradually draining away leaving his expression more desperate and frayed. Nothing. Still nothing. But it didn't…. Where could he possibly have…

"Just keep searching." He quietly admonished himself. "I'm just going to have to keep searching. I'll find him eventually."

As difficult as it was proving to be, Stanford knew that he absolutely had to maintain his calm and focus. Losing his head right now wasn't going to help him find Stanley any faster, nor bring his brother out of danger. Besides, it was a bit early to be thinking like that, wasn't it? He'd only been looking in this dimension for what he guessed to be about twenty minutes at most. Not that he could really read his watch, which was gradually degrading into the caustic atmosphere and may not have worked in this place anyways. But surely, if he had spent this long in here and was able to maintain as good a health as this, then Stanley was probably fi-… w-was probably… He was...

Then again, Stanford hadn't been the one desperately grappling with a very powerful and angry dream demon right before he'd entered the nightmare realm.

It should've been him, though. It should've been, and the fact that it wasn't made something in his chest tighten uncomfortably and his stomach twist into a knot. After all, he was the one who had summoned Bill all those years ago when he'd hit a roadblock in his research. He was the one who had all but built the doorway that had allowed the dream demon to access their world. Bill's actions and the damage he'd caused were his responsibility, and the task of cleaning up that mess should've rested on and his shoulders alone. Stanford had spent almost every waking moment since he'd made it back home planning out a way to take down the manipulative triangle. He'd strategized, and prepared, and schemed, and set his chess pieces on the board in a way that he felt was sure to result in his absolute victory. He'd known that there would be a steep cost involved, a creature as powerful as Bill simply couldn't be taken out without immense sacrifice, but he'd convinced himself that it was a price he was fully prepared to pay. Of course he had.

Because Stanford had thought that he would be the one paying it.

Not anyone else. Certainly not his own twin brother.

Stanford inwardly cursed at Stanley and his bullheaded rashness for what must have been at least the twelfth time since he'd entered the nightmare realm. His thorough gaze sifted one final time through the small pocket of cloudless air that surrounded him, and then out into the gloom beyond as best he could. Upon confirming that there was nothing else in there besides himself, he let out an indignant huff. Out of the corner of his eye, he spied another quickly closing gap in the dark curtain of clouds and darted hastily between them.

If he was being completely honest with himself, which was something he frequently wasn't as much as he tried to avoid admitting it, he hadn't been as prepared for the whole 'Weirdmageddon' situation as he'd initially believed himself to be. He'd intended to keep the rift safe and seal it with alien adhesive, only to trip and stumble right as he'd reached the finish line causing the chaos of the nightmare realm to be unleashed. He'd attempted to take Bill out of the equation before he could cause too much damage, only to fail, end up captured, and be transformed into a golden knickknack to satisfy the dream demon's perverse sense of humor. He'd readied himself to take on Bill once more after he'd been rescued by Dipper, Mabel, Stanley, and a the rest of the ragtag crew that they'd pulled together, only to have that far too smug triangle remind him of the deal he'd so foolishly made in his youth and hold it against him at the worst possible moment. 'From now until the end of time' indeed.

He hadn't gotten a choice in the matter. The contract that he'd made with Bill was absolutely binding, and could only be broken or altered if the demon wished it to be. Stanford was going to be forced to work for the enemy. He was going to be given a portion of Bill's power, transformed into one of his minions, and made to fight and annihilate the very friends and family who had come to his aid. Just like that, he had been doomed to once again bring destruction to the world that he'd struggled so desperately to preserve. It was a moment that could've easily topped his list of worst moments of his life. Stanford had been humiliated. He'd felt outraged, horrified, ashamed, and above all, deeply, unrelentingly guilty.

But to everyone's complete surprise, even Bill's if Stanford had read the demon's rather limited range of expression correctly, Stanley had decided to take the opportunity to speak up and had volunteered to take his brother's place on Bill's side. The demon had let out a howl of grating, incredulous laughter at this before offering a nonchalant "Yeah, sure. That would make things a bit more interesting, wouldn't it" and holding out a fiery blue hand to seal the deal.

"Stanley, are you insane! You're asking him to make you into his puppet! What on earth would make you think this is in any shape or form, a good idea!?"

"Can it, Poindexter! I know what I'm doin', so why don't you have a little faith in me, eh? You yourself have gone on and on about you've studied Bill for sooo long and know all about his weaknesses and whatever better than anyone else. The way I see it, you're our best shot at bringing him down. Right?"

"W-well I… Yes, that's correct.."

"See. Then we can't afford to lose ya, can we. As satisfying as it would probably be, we're not going to win this battle with a left hook, and I'm hardly the only person on our team who can pack a punch anyways. I'm more expendable than you, so it makes sense for me to take the hit here instead. "

It was only now that Stanford was beginning to appreciate how skilled his brother had become in the fine art of conning. After all, the ever overconfident and flippant Bill Cipher hadn't been the only one who his brother had managed to hide his true intentions from.

Stanley had been floated up to Bill in order to reach out and take the demon's hand, and as he'd grasped it, his body had become outlined in a glowing orange energy that signaled Bill as transferring some of his power to him. It was in that moment, still holding tightly onto the burning hand to keep the deal from fully completing, and to allow him to further draw energy from Bill, that Stanley had once again thrown everyone for a loop. Using Bill's own power against him, (and some other power that seemed to be emanating from the glowing spot on his right shoulder perhaps?) he'd raised his other hand skyward and quickly tethered the edges of the rift above to a series of fine glowing threads spread out from the tips of his fingers. Bill, and everyone else for that matter, had only just enough time to piece together what was going on before the tear in the dimensional planes began sucking up everything and everyone that didn't belong in their world like a giant vacuum or weirdness magnet. The strength of the rift's pull was strong enough that Stanford had been forced to duck to avoid getting hit by a flock of flying eyeballs as they were being drawn upward and into the glowing orange gateway.

Bill's absolutely enraged expression upon realizing that he'd been tricked had been a terrifying sight to behold, even from the distance that Stanford was at, but Stanley didn't give the demon the time to react accordingly. His brother had grabbed at Bill's triangular body and launched both himself and his unwilling companion deep into the darkness of the rift. And as they were swallowed by the hazy murk of the nightmare realm, Stanley had looked down, and he and Stanford locked eyes for a few brief moments. There had been a sad smile on his face, tired and worn, one that had seemed to say 'See ya, Sixer', and Stanford could do little more than watch as his brother had reached down and begun to seal the rift in bright orange stitches behind them.

'No.' Had been the half panicked and overwhelming thought ringing throughout his skull in those last few seconds. 'H-he can't. He can't! That idiot! This was my mistake, my responsibility! He ca-W-why would he- No. I won't let him do this to himself. No!'

For the first time in his life, Stanford Pines had acted without truly thinking about what he was doing beforehand. Heedless of the danger, blatantly ignoring the consequences that his actions might have, discarding the cries of his companions, he used the still fluctuating gravity to push himself upward and towards the entrance of the rift. The tip of his boot had just barely scraped itself in before the bright glowing energy sealed up the tear beneath it, and just like that, Stanford had been stranded in the middle of a dark, dangerous, twilight gloom.

The cloud he'd found himself in had been so thick that he'd barely been able to see his own hand in front of him, and neither Stanley, nor Bill, nor any of the other inhabitants of the nightmare realm had appeared to be within his immediate vicinity, or even the area beyond that. At the time, Stanford could only assume that they'd all been sucked deeper into the dimension. After taking a few moments to collect himself, he had wrapped his trench coat a little tighter around his chest and dove down into the turbulent black hurricane that he presumed his twin to be lost inside.

But so far, his search hadn't yielded much in the way of results. Stanford's hands curled into tense fists as he finished looking around. Yet another area between the swirling black clouds proved to be completely empty of any living thing save for himself.

If only Stanley had told him what he'd actually been planning from the start! They could have easily worked something out together and taken Bill down without getting into a mess like this. But no. No, instead of relying on and trusting his brother to help him, he'd tried to handle everything by himself, and as consequence had ended up getting stuck in a completely unnecessary and stupid situation. What could have possibly made him think that tossing his life around recklessly like that would be the best course of action for the…

Stanford's train of thought trailed off in mild irritation, the irony of his criticism not lost on him.

A bright silver light flashed in the darkness to his right as liquid lightning branched quickly upwards and splashed onto the dense vapor above. The cold glow from the high energy fluid harshly lit half of the troubled scowl that marred Stanford's particle-y, dissolving face.

Stanley could be dying; dead, for all that he knew. He didn't have any time to waste searching the entirety of this dimension's seemingly infinite sky! Not when every second that he and his brother stayed trapped here slowly wore them down to their base organic chemicals. Not when Bill and his goons could be floating just beyond any dark wall of vapor, waiting to find and take revenge on them for the part they'd played in thwarting this dimensions invasion of their world. He wasn't going to accept that he'd probably just thrown his life away for nothing jumping in after his twin. He wasn't going to stop searching till he found-

As though in response to the frantic determination of his thoughts, the floor of billowing black clouds beneath him suddenly dropped away under a forceful burst of unrelenting wind. In the gap that was created by the absence of the dark haze, something unmistakably solid caught Stanford's eye. Someone unmistakably out of place in this world.

"Stanley!?" Almost without being consciously aware of his own movements, Stanford immediately shot downward into the pocket of sky just below his, traveling so swiftly that his own degrading static trailed out behind him like the long tail of a comet. But Stanley didn't respond to his brother's call. Taking care to slow his approach as he got closer, Stanford pulled himself up next to the body suspended and floating limply along the current of the wind.

His twin wasn't looking good. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Stanley's eyes were closed, his face peacefully blank either in unconsciousness or… or otherwise. As awfully as Stanford's own disintegration had progressed, his brother seemed to be even further along.

Stanford examined him more closely, and then furrowed his brow, completely perplexed. A large fuzzy Y shape had begun to crack near the center of Stanley's chest. Between the cracks, an orange fiery glow emanated from within him, as if the inside of his body housed an inferno.

Stanford found himself increasingly reluctant to try and touch or move his brother at all, afraid that if he did so then Stanley might just start falling apart at the seams. But he knew that he didn't have much of a choice. If he was going to get the two of them out of the aptly named nightmare realm without getting caught by any of its other residents, then they were going to have to partake in quite a lot of rapid, jarring motions.

"Stanley. Stanley!" Stanford grabbed his brother's shoulders and shook him tentatively, hoping that the gentle movement would be enough to wake him. "Stanley, please wake up. Stanley! Come on, we have to get out of here!"

The fierce wind tugged at and twirled Stanley's clothes and hair, causing them to dance around wildly in the air. But the rest of him remained still and lifeless below his twins slightly trembling hands.

Stanford took in a shaky breath and attempted to gather what shreds remained of his waning courage to face whatever truth he was about to discover about his brother's current hold on life. Fingers twitching in dread, he reached out to Stanley's neck to feel for a pulse there, before thinking better of it and drawing his hand back to his side. With every part of him being as tingly as it was, trying to feel out anything so slight as the flow of pumping blood underneath dissolving skin would be incredibly difficult. So doing his best to avoid the crack while still situating himself close enough to the heart, Stanford placed his head down onto his brother's chest and began listening for faint beating.

"Come on Stanley." He whispered hoarsely. "I know you're tougher than this. Come on, come on…."

For a few breathless moments, Stanford couldn't hear anything at all, save for the deafening roar of the windstorm whipping all around him. As the seconds ticked by, doubt began to sink its ragged talons into the back of his lungs as though it was a terribly heavy bird that had perched itself upon his shoulders, and he could almost feel it staring down upon him in a grim foreboding. Stanford closed his eyes and shook it off as best he could, before pressing his ear even further down into his brother's unsettlingly cool chest.

Gradually, the tense slope of his brows lessened, and a relieved smile began to stretch its way onto his face. "Ha! I knew… I-I knew… Oh, you knucklehead. If you ever scare me like that again I swear I'll never forgive you." He choked out in a breathy, almost hysterical laugh.

He'd heard it! Weak and a bit rapid perhaps, but undoubtedly there. He was alive! Stanley was still alive! Somehow, he'd found him in time.

Stanford's shoulders sagged in half exhaustion, half release, as he drew himself up again; adrenalin slowly draining away from his body now that the worst of his fears had been alleviated. But as soon as he took a good look at what was waiting patiently up in front of him, he froze so abruptly that he might as well have been dunked into pure liquid nitrogen. Apparently, he hadn't been the only one who was searching for his brother.

"Weeeeell, weeeeeell, weeeeeell, what do we have here?" Bill's voice cooed slowly in the dim twilight, dragging out each syllable of each word as though the mere implication of Stanford and his brother left him absolutely repulsed. His single glowing eye burned blood red in the midnight haze of the clouds before they parted obediently in front him and revealed the rest of his crimson tinted shape. A long black pupil sunk down to gaze at the twins in a highly focused loathing. Bill twirled his cane around with an ominous and threatening energy akin to a viper coiling in on itself in preparation for a strike.

"So you followed your brother into the rift, huh. Don't tell me you just did that because you thought it would be fitting for the two of you to die together. To be frank, that's not nearly as touching as it is pathetic."

Unlike him and his brother, Bill's own form seemed completely put together and unaffected by the caustic atmosphere, and Stanford's stomach did a little flip as he took note of this. It wasn't too surprising seeing as this was his home dimension, but it definitely added unnecessary weight to what was already shaping up to be a very one-sided fight; a fight that Stanford was beginning to realize he wouldn't have an even remotely realistic chance of winning.

The furious scarlet glow that had overtaken Bill's form dimmed only slightly to a more sneering yellow as he observed the pair of humans before him; obviously taking no small amount of pleasure in Stanley's unmoving body and the wide-eyed hatred and fear that had plastered itself onto Stanford's face. His single eye leisurely trailed downward, and the nervous tightening of Stanford's white-knuckled grip on his brother's suit jacket caused the demon to offer him a smug, condescending glare.

"Though... I suppose it'd make sense that you'd want to be here to punish yourself seeing as, once again, it was ultimately that poor sack of flesh you're clinging onto who's had to pay the price to fix your mistakes. First the portal, and now this. You like to pretend that you're some big hero Sixer, but it's your brother who's always cleaning up after your messes."

Cruel, deliberate, mocking laughter rang out from the triangular demon, and, like his speech, it somehow maintained perfect audible clarity in spite of the terrible din created by the cyclone whirling throughout the rest of the sky. Ford grit his teeth slightly as the harsh sting of Bill's words sunk into his mind, causing his pride to flinch and guilt to flare up unbearably. This was the absolute last thing he wanted to deal with right now.

Readjusting his hold on his brother so he could grip him more protectively, Stanford began to slowly inch himself away from the dream demon. His intention had been to give himself a little leeway for when he found an opportunity to escape, but as his luck today seemed determined to have it, Bill had noticed the subtle movement. A wide eye-grin ripped itself across his yellowing body at the sight of Stanford's retreating form.

"Oh wait, are you actually here because you've been taken in by some idiotic notion that you'll be able to save him and make it out of here alive?! Pfft." Bill shook slightly as he attempted, and purposely failed, to contain another round of ear-grating laughter. He continued on for a rather tasteless amount of time before waving a dismissive hand in Stanford's general direction and fixing him with what was probably meant to be a disappointed look. "Oh wow Sixer, I honestly didn't peg you to be that stupid. Easily manipulated yeah, but not a hopeless fool! Honestly, that's more your brother's area of expertise."

"Yes, well I suppose that 'hopeless fool' did manage to outsmart you, didn't he." Stanford barked back cooly as he offered Bill a mocking raise of his brow.

Stupid as it probably was to provoke Bill back into outrage, Stanford found that he couldn't really resist taking a shot at the creature's overblown ego. After everything he'd gone through because of that arrogant dream demon, watching him flare to red again as he knocked him back down a size was about as satisfying flicking away an incredibly irritating insect. At the comment, Bill suddenly stilled as though physically held in place by the sheer intensity of his outrage; the cheeky expression that had worked its way onto his eye suddenly morphing itself into something more dark and sinister.

"Boy Sixer, you seem awfully snarky for someone who's sitting helplessly in the palm of their enemy's hand," Bill ground out lowly.

He drew his arms in sharply to grip at the top of his cane, and the heat of the anger that sparked itself up in that lone eye was so potent that Stanford could almost feel it radiating all the way out to where he was floating. "Besides, that little stunt you meatbags pulled only worked due to sheer dumb luck; not because you're anything special. If you hadn't ended up branding him with that symbol all those years ago…" Bill trailed off, tapping a finger against his cane in an almost pensive irritation. "Well, I guess it doesn't really matter how he managed it, either way, seeing as he, and you, are both going to end up paying for it with your. Miserable. Little. Lives."

Seeming to be satisfied with the defensive grimace on Stanford's face and the few inches he had backed up again, Bill changed gears and refocused the conversation. "Now, getting back to your obviously doomed escape attempt… Well, I could spend a few hours listing out all of the thousands of reasons that whatever plan you're concocting in that little fleshy brain of yours will never work out, but I think that the degree that you and your brother have managed to piss off myself and my colleagues actually speaks pretty well for itself."

As though responding to Bill's command, a few especially intense splashes of liquid lightning suddenly flooded up from the darkness below. In a series of near-blinding flashes, the clouds above, beneath, and all around them were illuminated in a glowing, silvery sheen. Stanford could make out at least thirty pitch-black silhouettes of various size and shape that appeared in stark contrast to the brightly lit clouds. Stanford's blood ran ice cold as he realized exactly what those shadows represented. The terrifying silhouettes of the other residents of the nightmare realm revealed themselves for only a few brief seconds as the light flickered in and out, before disappearing back into the inky gloom. But now that Stanford was aware of their presence, he could still feel the spectral weight of all their malevolent fury and animosity bearing down upon him from the deep darkness of the storm behind Bill, regardless of whether or not they were visible.

"Yeah… it's just not gonna happen, Stanford. Not in a million years."

Stanford didn't bother wasting any more time waiting for an opportunity to escape. Heartbeat thundering in his ears, he quickly gathered his brother's body up in his arms so that he could carry him bridal style, and immediately made a break for it into the bubbling black clouds behind him. He didn't need to look over his shoulder to know that the monsters of the nightmare realm were now tailing after him in hot pursuit. He could hear their various shrieks of laughter and howls of rage resounding throughout the darkness to either side of him, driving him relentlessly forward.

Unlike when he'd been searching before, Stanford couldn't spare any time now to worry about avoiding the dark storm clouds. Instead of waiting for opportune breaks within the nebulous partitions and carefully weaving around them, he poured all of his focus and energy purely into speed. His body blasted through wall after wall of haze in a desperate and wild abandon. The intense air pressure caused by the force of his acceleration made it almost impossible for him to catch his breath. But it didn't matter. Nothing as trivial as that mattered anymore. Careful didn't matter, and neither did direction really.

He and his twin were outnumbered more than fifteen to one, injured, exhausted, unconscious in Stanley's case, and completely out of their element. If they were caught by Bill and his goons now, Stanford knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would be a death sentence for both of them. And most likely, not a mercifully swift one. Knowing Bill, he would draw out their painful demise as long as he could. Only one panicked, and almost berserk phrase echoed itself over and over again within his skull.

'Get away! Get away! Get away!'

A long dark claw suddenly shot out of the haze above Stanford without warning, its scaly fingers scraping through his hair as he just barely managed to duck out of the creature's reach. Before he even had time to curse in surprise at the narrow miss, something else that was giggling dementedly in the dim murkiness darted out right in front of him. He nearly lost his grip on his brother's body as he was forced to quickly jerk himself vertically downward in order to avoid hitting it, and the trajectory of the rapid motion sent him careening wildly through several banks of billowing black clouds.

For a few terrifying seconds, Stanford couldn't regain his sense of balance and fell into a dizzying tailspin through the stratosphere. He tumbled in a free fall, down, down, down; his hold in his brother tightening to the point that he thought he was probably leaving bruises.

In between the blurring twilight that accompanied his plunge, he caught sight of a member of Bills troup. The one that was engulfed in glowing magenta flames, flying upside down, mockingly abreast himself and his twin. Stanford's heart leapt into his throat as the corner of the creature's mouth curved into a venomous grin, its leering eye locked onto him. It let out a cackling, cruel laugh and taunted him with the delight of a child on a playground.

Stanford Pines, Stanford Pines

The puppet freak who lost his mind

It stretched out its burning arm to seize hold of his own. Twisting the muscles in his back, Stanford abruptly reoriented his body mid-air and kicked off from the demon's collar as it approached him. His boot smashed into its target hard enough to leave an imprint, and the rose-colored cyclops gave an indignant shriek as it was forced away. Stanford was launched sideways by the momentum of his action into a thick patch of extremely opaque clouds.

Still reeling and disoriented, Stanford hung suspended in the pitch darkness while he gathered his bearings and caught his breath. He hoped desperately that the rest of Bill's colleagues hadn't seen where he'd ended up landing. Muscles tense and strained, body shuddering slightly from the intense tingling that was now overcoming it from being within the toxic vapor, he waited a long moment for something to suddenly burst forth through the gloom. And then he waited for another moment. And then another. The heavy panting and rapid rising and falling of his chest gradually lessened as uneventful second after uneventful second ticked by uninterrupted. Stanford's shoulders started to relax a little.

Nothing had apparently followed him in there. It seemed that for a little while he might actually be able to hide. The thick vapor of the cloud he was in muffled the sound of the windstorm outside, but he could still hear furious yowls of his pursuers, mingled with wild shrieks of laughter. It sounded like the other demons had taken up the cyclops demon's chant and were now adding their own lyrics.

The golden boy with special hands

Gladly helped Bill with his plans

From what he could tell they were searching for him a little further below and above, pinning him in the middle. Of course, noise wasn't really much to go by when everyone could glide around the sky in almost absolute silence, but he figured that this might at least give him a bit of warning if any of them got too close.

Stanford let out a shaky breath, absentmindedly slipping his arm out from beneath his brother's legs to wipe away the sweat that had beaded onto his own forehead during the harrowing chase. Now that he had some time to think, it was beginning to finally dawn on him just how desperate his current situation truly was.

When he'd been forced to watch his brother seal the rift behind him earlier and disappear into the nightmare realm for what Stanford had feared might be forever, he hadn't acted on logic or reason, hadn't formed a plan beforehand, hadn't even really thought through the details for how he was going to get out of the mess he'd intended to follow his brother into. He'd just… acted. He'd been driven on by the force of his emotions, his desire to protect his brother, and without considering the consequences he had acted. In short, he'd pulled a 'Stanley'; and unfortunately for both of them he didn't really possess his brother's wealth of experience in 'just winging it'.

Stanford excelled at chess, not poker. He was the sort of person who preferred to wait and allow himself to observe any given problem before attempting to tackle it, rather than taking a wild gamble and just hoping that everything would work itself out in the end. The speed at which the dimensional tear had been closing, however, had made his usual patience an ineffective virtue. Sure, he'd managed to form a vague notion of finding his brother, rescuing him, and escaping from the nightmare realm together; but the very important 'hows' and 'wheres' of the plan had gotten lost in all of the excitement. As things were currently, he didn't really have any idea of what he needed to do to get the two of them out of there.

There was a way to do it; he was sure of that much at least. After all, even while the rift was still closed Bill had been able to gain some minimal access to their world for thousands of years through the use of the mindscape. More than three decades ago when he'd been researching the subject, Stanford had discovered that the mindscape was a sort of world between worlds, a bridge that connected the nightmare realm to their dimension. Though it hadn't ended up being a bridge that Bill or any of his fellow cohorts had ever been able to fully cross, he hoped that it might be a different case for him and his brother. They were only trying to re-enter into a world that they already belonged to, weren't they? Surely, he thought, that should allow them to succeed where the other residents of the nightmare realm had failed.

Stanford let out a tired grunt as he readjusted his grip on his brother into something a little more secure again. There was a lot more open-ended guessing involved in his 'plan', and that was a term he used rather loosely, than he would have liked; a lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' that made his stomach flip around uncomfortably. To start off, Stanford hadn't the faintest idea of what the entrance to the mindscape might look like on this side of the rift, and neither did he know where, or how, he would be able to locate it. Finding the mindscape in their world was as easy as just falling asleep; but even assuming that it worked the same way here, which he highly doubted it did as the creatures from this dimension didn't seem to sleep, his present circumstances were far too dangerous for him to simply curl up and take a mid-air cat nap.

"Where are yooooouu?" As though determined to prove this point true, Bill's loud and almost synthesized voice called out menacingly from somewhere just above the cloud Stanford was hiding within.

"Come out, come out, Siiixer. We promise we'll be- Well, no. Never mind. We're not going to be gentle at all; but hey, why not come out anyways and save us all some trouble. I've been forced to endure a really long and frustrating day, and someone needs to pay for that. You two are going to end up dead one way or another, so you might as well do yourselves both a favor and get this over with quickly."

A period of tense silence followed the threat, and Stanford only barely managed to stifle an alarmed gasp as the wisps of blackened vapor around him started parting away at Bill's command. Holding his breath and praying that the dream demon hadn't spotted him already, he carefully slipped himself and his brother deeper into one of the halves of the now splitting cloud bank. He couldn't see much of anything through the thick gloom, but Stanford thought that he was almost able to make out a faint red glow blaring out in the darkness a mere six feet over his head.

"YOU CAN'T HIDE FOREVER!" Bill's voice bellowed out in a deep base wave, loud enough to cause the particles evaporating off from the two brothers to tremble from the force of it. The soft red light filtering down from above flickered slightly as though the triangle body it belonged to was turning back and forth to search for them. Agonizing second after agonizing second dragged on for what felt like hours to Stanford, and it took every teeth grinding ounce of his self-control not to try to make another break for it when he thought the demon might be turned away. Finally, after seeming to find nothing in the mist, Bill flew onward, and the crimson illumination emanating from his enraged form faded back into darkness.

Stanford waited another moment or two to be sure that Bill wasn't going to suddenly turn around come back before lowering his guard again. Sighing in half frustration, half relief, he let his gaze trail down to the unconscious man in his arms and offered him an apologetic grimace.

"Still holding up alright?" He asked in a quiet murmur.

Stanley didn't answer back save for his bowtie loosely waving to and fro in the current of the breeze. Stanford grimaced at the sight of the strangely glowing hairline fracture on his brother's chest. He wasn't sure, but it looked like it had grown larger. He hoped that he was wrong.

"Just... hold on a little longer. I promise you I'm going to get us out of here." Stanford vowed a little hesitantly, unable to fully keep doubt from seeping its way into his voice. "I'm… I'm almost certain that the entrance into the mindscape from this dimension is going to be a physical one rather than a mental one. I just don't really have any idea where I should start looking for it."

Several thin strands of liquid energy flowed lithely between the wisps of midnight mist surrounding the pair and began gathering themselves up like small streams converging into a larger river. The silver light radiating from the suspended branching network flickered and danced across the slightly cracked lenses of Stanley's glasses. His face remained blank and impassive, offering nothing in the way of either assurance or objection.

"I suppose... if I went by some of my previous 'experiences' with gateways into alternate realities, I would guess it to be situated somewhere back near the rift." Stanford continued on somewhat more to himself now, brows furrowing thoughtfully. "Namely, where the boundaries that separate the worlds from each other are thin and at their weakest. The best course of action for us would probably be to start our search off there, and if we can't find it near that location then…" Stanford trailed off for a moment, the grasp he had on his brother's shoulder tightening almost unconsciously. "Well, that is… unless you maybe want to wake up and offer a better suggestion."

Once again, Stanford was answered only by silence.

"Hm. I never thought there'd come a day where I'd want you to start arguing with me."

Pushing himself up to the outer edge of the stormcloud, Stanford tentatively risked peeking out into the rest of the sky beyond to get his bearings. He'd been expecting to just see more of the same savage hurricane that appeared to be a defining feature of the dimension, or even one of Bill's cohorts if he was especially unlucky, but what he found himself actually looking at instead was quite different.

Just beyond the thin veil of vapor in front of him lay a cylinder of crystal clear emptiness so vast and tall that Stanford ended up straining his neck slightly while trying to take in its entirety. From what he was able to make out it seemed to stretch all the way from the giant glowing orange X of the closed rift high up above them, down to what he could only assume to be the dark ground far, far below. This, he figured, must have been the eye of the storm.

At the very least, the unobscured view provided by the column eliminated the difficulty of finding the rift again in the wild tempest, and Stanford allowed himself a slightly sarcastic smile as he mentally crossed that task off from the depressingly long list of problems he was currently dealing with. Cautiously easing his head out from the clouds a little more, he attempted to get an estimate of the distance he was going to have to traverse while remaining undetected; and, upon doing so, instantly found himself doing a double-take.

"W-what the…" Stanford's right eyebrow crawled its way into his hairline as he stared on, completely baffled.

The rift above him was… Well, to put it simply; it wasn't above him, and it wasn't the rift. It had been hard to make out before in the bad lighting, but now that he was really focusing in on the area Stanford noticed that it possessed a different shade, stability, and texture than the rest of the atmosphere in the dimension. That, he realized after more than a minute of bewildered gawking, was the ground that he was gazing 'up' upon. Turning his head 'downward' only confirmed that suspicion as he found himself looking at yet another shining orange cross-section and the seemingly bottomless well of starless sky beyond it. Apparently, he hadn't quite righted himself correctly after he'd managed to escape from his earlier tailspin and had been floating around upside down ever since.

But there was another very important conundrum that was raised by all of this, and that, more than his slight confusion with his orientation in space, was what had truly caught his attention. If he and his brother had entered in through the rift currently situated 'below' them, then what exactly was the bright orange X that he was looking 'up' at right now?

A chilling screech tore sharply along the wind as one of Bill's companions streaked out across the open eye of the storm a fair distance 'below' Stanford's relative position. After confirming that the creature hadn't caught sight of him, Stanford let his eyes trail back 'up' to the ground and got somewhat of an answer to his question. The image of a large bulbous body shooting quickly across the curricular gap in the clouds was reflected identically in the ground 'up above' him. He nearly bit his tongue as an idea suddenly struck him like a hard slap.

What Stanford was actually looking at, was an enormous mirror, reflecting the rift above of it.

Was it possible that this could be the entrance into the mindscape? In their dimension, the mindscape was a collection of the thoughts, emotions, and memories that defined each consciousness that entered into it. It wasn't an actual representation of the individual themselves, otherwise they wouldn't be able to explore and exist separately within it, but more a reflection of their personal reality. So then, what better form could a physical gateway into the mindscape take than that of a polished mirror?

At any rate, he certainly didn't have any better ideas for what the entrance into the mindscape might look like; and given the speed at which he and his brother were dissolving away into the atmosphere, he wasn't going to get a whole lot more time to waste searching around for it either.

After taking a moment to twist around and reorient himself so that the terrain was once more comfortably situated somewhere down below his feet instead of his head, Stanford began to sink back slightly into the cover provided by the dark cloudbank behind him. Not wanting to risk being spotted by something, he'd intended to cautiously work his way to the ground by traveling just outside the parameter of the storm's exposed center in order to keep himself hidden.

Unfortunately for him, lady luck appeared to be in a very fickle mood today, and just before he'd retreated completely into the gloom one of Bill's lankier companions darted out into the clear space only a few yards in front of him. His small motion ended up catching the creature's attention almost immediately; the two eight-balls that had been roaming around lazily in its sockets while it had searched futilely before now swiveled wildly as they fixed themselves on his exact location. Stanford's own eyes locked with a pair twisting black eight's, and his blood ran ice cold.

A deep bellow rang out from the entity in some alien language that Stanford wasn't yet familiar with as it pointed a long clawed finger in his direction, the volume booming enough to be heard throughout the hurricane and above the roar of the wind. Like ravenous wolves slinking from the edges of a dense, dark forest, the various creatures of the nightmare realm started melting out of the black clouds and into the halcyon center of the tempest. Bill was the most bright and vivid among them, the glow of his triangular body blazing out as intensely as a blood-red supergiant star in the surrounding blackness.

"We fooooound you!" Bill mocked from far up above, and even with the demon being too distant for Stanford to really identify the expression in his eye, he could still clearly make out the sneering confidence of his voice.

Well, he thought wryly to himself, there went the stealthy approach right out the window.

Clenching his teeth and taking in a large breath, Stanford shot out like a bullet from the writhing black haze he and his brother had previously been concealed within, and into the clear eye of the storm. The escape was so sudden that it stretched the nebulous wisps of clouds so that they trailed just behind the pair, curling possessively around the particles they left in their wake as though reluctant to release them from its grasp. Their adversaries, not even hesitating a moment out of surprise, followed swiftly behind them. Stanford's heart was bouncing off his ribcage like a tennis ball as he tore savagely downward in a near-blind plummet towards the gleaming dark mirror below. He could only hope desperately that what he was gunning for actually was the entrance to the mindscape, and that he and Stanley would be quick enough to make it through before they were caught.

The wind streaking up past him as he descended was so mercilessly chilling and powerful that the malicious jeers and furious shouts of the creatures pursuing him were faint and only barely audible over the high-pitched whistling of air whipping past his ears.

"Where do you think you're going anyways, Sixer? Stanford turned his head, just able to make out Bill's taunting voice howling sinisterly from somewhere out over to his left. "There's no escape and you know it!"

Without warning, Stanford's head jolted back in whiplash as his flight was suddenly interrupted. His knee nearly popped out of its joint by the violent force of the stop, and he couldn't help but let out a sharp cry. One of triangular demon's larger, more bumbling allies had unexpectedly lumbered out from the gloom to his right while he's been distracted by Bill and had wrapped its stubby hand around his ankle. He was pinned down now, held in place. Stanford struggled frantically, recklessly; kicking out and squirming around in the giant's grip like a bug with its wing smashed between two tightly pinched fingers. But try as he might he couldn't manage to get himself free. He couldn't do anything, save for hang there helplessly and stare down at the dark mirror sitting tauntingly close, a mere sixty feet below.

Then Stanford felt a slight tug on his arm, and the desperate expression coloring his face morphed almost inhumanly into a seething mixture of horror and outrage. Another one of the viciously grinning monsters had grabbed at Stanley's suit jacket and was now trying to drag his brother away from him. The Y shaped crack in the middle of his twin's chest tore a bit more from the rough handling, and a bust of glowing particles flew into the air like embers from the open wound.

"DON'T TOUCH HIM!" He roared, eyes glinting menacingly in the dim light as he was overcome by a wave frigid cold fury. Gripping onto Stanley even tighter, voice trembling in barely contained wrath, Stanford's open hand shot out abruptly as he recalled a spell that he'd long ago written in one of his journals, and he used it without the slightest hint of restraint against his attackers.

"De pulvere venimus

Et revertentes ad pulverem

Tempus consumit omne!"

The creature that had seized onto his brother let out a shriek and recoiled away as its arm started withering away into a dry and brittle shell of its former self. A chorus of enraged and confused shouting followed from the rest of Bill's posse as they looked on in alarm at their companion's degrading condition, and Stanford took their distraction as an opportunity to finally kick himself free from the entity holding onto his leg. By the time they'd managed to recover from their shock, he had already securely grabbed onto Stanley and resumed his swift dive towards the ground.

"Forget about that, he's getting away!" Bill thundered impatiently at his companions before yelling back down to Stanford's retreating form. "You really think we're going to ever let you get away!? Get back here right now! COME BACK!"

But it was too late, Stanford thought to himself confidently, a small smirk working its way across his jaw. He'd already made it to the mirror, and now he was going to pass through its sleek black surface and into the mindscape before Bill could even manage to get within a dozen yards of him. Or… so he'd believed.

Instead of slipping unhindered into the gateway Stanford crashed gracelessly on top of it, knocking his brother out of his hold and severely bruising his own forearms and elbows. Startled by the sudden jarring impact and the consequent pain that followed, he wasn't able to brace himself correctly and his body slid listlessly across the smooth plane before gradually skidding to a halt. It took a few moments of lying in wide-eyed, stunned silence next to his unconscious twin before Stanford's initial shock began to wear away and replace itself with a dawning dread and panic.


Stanford's mind was almost blank as he shakily pulled himself up to his hands and knees, struggling to keep his traction on the slick surface below. He started down at his distraught expression reflected back from the mirror; down at the small forms of his pursuers up above his head growing larger and larger as they drew in closer.

No. No, he couldn't have been wrong. He couldn't have! This had to be the way to enter the mindscape. He wasn't going to let it end like this!

The worn, grey-haired man echoed back in the glossy black surface below Stanford set his mouth into a determined grimace, and his eyes sparked with a dangerous and wild desperation. Curling his fingers rigidly and raising his right hand high above his head, he slammed his fist down into the mirror as hard as he could. Once, and then again, and then again; till the skin around his knuckles broke and sent powdery red droplets of blood flying into the caustic air. At first, it didn't seem like the mirror was being in any way affected by his frantic pummeling, but as he raised his hand from the smooth plane for what must have been at least the fifth time he caught sight of a pale spider-webbing crack marring the gateway. Stanford hesitated, half surprised that his right hook had actually made a difference, and half wondering what would happen if he proceeded.

It was about then that he realized that Bill and his gang should have already caught up to him, and as he let his gaze trail upwards his suspicions were confirmed. However, the creatures of the nightmare realm weren't poised to attack or pursue him any further. They didn't descend upon him like they had every other time Stanford had encountered the unpleasant group. They floated a respectable distance away, waiting and observing his progress. Most of the creatures were now regarding him in a mixture of either guarded wonder or, in Bill's case, malevolent satisfaction. The triangles color had melted back into a calmer yellow and even with the sizable separation between them, Stanford was able to make out the wide, sneering eye-smile that was stretched out over his features.

"What are you doing?" He barked defensively, not even attempting to tame his resentful glare.

"Oh, you know." Bill's eye curved in a mocking delight as he nonchalantly gestured around with his cane. "Just letting you crack open the doorway to the mindscape that your pain-in-the-butt brother managed to seal up before escaping me. But really, don't mind us. Keep going."

Stanford's eyes widened slightly at that piece of information, and the savage tension of his curled fist loosened somewhat. Of course, he should have guessed. The fact that he'd found Stanley floating so far down in the stratosphere and near the mirror couldn't have been a coincidence. That was why Bill had been so especially angry, and that was why he was hanging back patiently now. He hadn't just been defeated; he'd been imprisoned back within his home dimension and barred from any further attempts to invade theirs. And now, for whatever reason, the demon couldn't undo his brother's handiwork himself and needed Stanford to reopen the entrance to the mindscape for him.

And the worst part of all was how, even knowing this, Stanford still intended to do exactly that. The desire to tear the veil separating him from the mindscape asunder, and bring both he and his brother into relative safety was overwhelming. As much as his mind was repulsed by the idea of aiding Bill in any shape or form; as much as his thoughts were in turmoil, arguing, assessing, and rationalizing back and forth at each other about what whether he was doing the wrong thing, or the right thing, or whether or not he was endangering the many for the sake of the few, it didn't really matter. The choice wasn't really one that his warring mind got to make. The soft warmth spreading throughout his center as he looked over at the gentle rise and fall of his twin's chest had already decided the answer for him.

Stanford wasn't going to let his brother die here. He wasn't going to let Stanley suffer because of his own foolish decision to summon Bill all those years ago. He had to save him.

He had to save him.

Stanford's clenched fist raised itself up above his head again, barely waiting for the rest of him to give it permission to act, before slamming down savagely upon the mirror. The faint crack below his point of impact spread out abruptly on the black surface like sharp streaks of lightning across a cold and starless night sky. He had to get himself and his brother out of here. He had to! Even if breaking open the gateway would play directly into Bill's hand; Regardless of whatever consequences might follow.

Even Bill seemed slightly confused by the ease in which Stanford had made his decision, though it certainly didn't stop the demon from hovering down closer and taking another opportunity to arrogantly mock and belittle his efforts. "Wow. I can't believe you're actually going through with this Sixer. Thanks. You're always such a big help when it comes to me getting exactly what I'm after. I really don't know what I'd do without you. Though I have to admit, I'm a little surprised that you're actually willing to risk throwing away everything your brother has sacrificed to stop me. Especially considering how desperate you were to take me down before. But I guess if there's one weakness I've noticed you meatbags consistently falling to over the eons, it's that you're sentimental. Horribly, illogically, pathetically sentimental."

Stanford's resolve wavered for a moment, his raised fist frozen in the air. He allowed his gaze trail up to yellow demon floating above, and then down to his brother lying prone on the smooth surface of the mirror beside him. For a moment, it wasn't the lined and weary face of an older man that Stanford saw sleeping there unaware. It was a young boy with bright and mischievous eyes standing in front of the ocean at sunrise, holding out a hand for Stanford to take. The grin plastered across this face burned wildly in the light of the early dawn, and beyond it, Stanford could perceive the compassion, and anger, and courage, and loyalty that so aptly defined his brother.

"Hey, chin up, buddy. Don't let those idiots get to you. Wherever we go, we go together, remember? Come on!"

"Stanley… I-I…"

Stanford's heart was beating at a sickly tempo, slowly and heavily as though it was being dragged down by the terrible weight of his decision. He felt a little dazed by the bright light of the sun in his memory, and even more so by the blazing heat in his brothers inviting smile. He wondered idly if this was what Stanley had gone through when he'd brought his (well, perhaps slightly unappreciative, he would relent) brother back home; what his twin had felt when he'd chosen to ignore all of the dangers and costs of reactivating the portal in favor of saving the person who mattered most to him. He understood now what an impossible choice that must have been; the unbearable guilt, the gnawing hopelessness, the driving desperation. If their positions had been reversed thirty years ago and Stanley had fallen into the glowing mouth of the portal instead of him, Stanford couldn't presently claim with any confidence that he wouldn't have risked reopening it as well.

"Maybe…." Stanford's voice was barely audible in comparison to the howling wind all around him, but somehow it felt far more powerful. The man gazing back at him from the dark plane of the mirror looked grim and unflinchingly determined.

"Maybe the right thing to do here would be to leave this doorway sealed, and doom both of us. Maybe by opening this, I'm inviting the chance that one day in the future you'll trick someone else as foolish as I was into nearly dooming our world." His eyes trailed back over to the troubled expression on Stanley's sleeping face. It looked as though his twin might be caught in a nightmare. The mirrored surface fogged rapidly under his brother's faint and trembling breath.

"However, there's also a chance that you won't. It may be a gamble, but for the price of my brother's life, that's a gamble I'm willing to take."

And without sparing another glance up at the triangular demon, Stanford slammed himself, elbow first and full bodily, into the entrance of the mindscape. The seal cracked completely beneath the force of his blow and shattered violently sending glimmering obsidian splinters chaotically flying up into the air. Blazing white light poured forth from the tear in the seal like a flush of scalding hot water bursting from a dam, forcing Stanford to put his hand up to his eyes to avoid being blinded by it.

The other residents of the nightmare realm all screeched and flinched back from the sudden and starkly bright energy flowing into the darkness. All, save for Bill who merely placed both of his hands on the top of his cane and looked on in sinister satisfaction.

Stanford didn't concern himself with that, or anything else that was going on around him. The deed was done, and all he could do now was hope that the opening he'd made was small enough to contain Bill's massive energy signature and keep him at bay for at least another couple thousand years. Grabbing his brother securely around the waist, Stanford allowed himself to fall backward into the radiating, bright effervescence spilling into the nightmare realm, and the pair slipped through the gateway's crack deep into the mindscape.

The transition to this next dimension, however, wasn't nearly as easy or comfortable as entering in through the rift had been. They fell. They fell, and fell, and fell for what felt like forever; as though the pair of them had mistakenly jumped into the bottomless pit instead. The pressure crushing inward on every side of them and flowing throughout their hair and clothes was intense and completely overpowering. Stanford couldn't help but compare it to the summer of second grade when he'd accidentally swum too far out into the open ocean and had gotten sucked beneath the waves by the mighty pull of the undertow. The same feeling of mortal terror and out of control helplessness that had flooded through his small frame then was once more beginning to take hold of him. For a small moment Stanford forgot where he was and that he was holding onto his brother, and mistakenly, he loosened his arms. The two of them were separated instantly. Stanford could do little more than watch as they were whipped away from each other into opposite directions, like brittle brown leaves in a cyclone.

Then Stanford's back hit something solid, and his skull bounced off that same something with a loud and nauseating crunch. A ribbon of needle-sharp pain tore raggedly throughout his head before the world around him went pitch-black.