In the Garden of Delight
The last thing she'd heard was the crack and roar of the inferno as it engulfed her. The flames had filled her vision, swallowing up her view of Mario and Bowser's terror, Merlon's shock, and Dimentio's amused smirk. The searing heat, light, and sound had flooded her senses and she'd screamed just as her companions had, bracing herself for the final collapse.
But, it never came. The light pressing against her closed eyelids was no longer the red-hot glare of the explosion but the clear prism of a brilliant sun. Princess Peach opened her eyes and stood bewildered in the sunlight, taking in the bizarre scenery around her.
She could feel the heels of her shoes sinking into a soft, down-like surface. She was standing in a sea of clouds. Everywhere she looked there were islands of white vapor amidst a serene sea of sky. Flowers, their stems and petals as white and soft as the clouds from which they sprung, swayed in a sweetly fragrant breeze. It was almost a nostalgic smell. It reminded her of being tucked into freshly pressed sheets, settling into her mattress with a contented sigh as Toadsworth turned out the light and softly padded down the castle hall.
The crown of her head was cloaked in the pleasant shade of a tree. Its trunk was also white, and the sunlight glinting off the white boughs created an iridescent effect, as though the leaves were coated with a holographic sheen. She thought she could see orbs of fruit hanging above, but they were too high up for her to reach.
Peach stepped out from beneath the tree and raised her hand to her brow to shield out the glare. He brain was still reeling, and even her idyllic surroundings did little to calm it. In her current dazed state, the only coherent thought she could hold onto was that she needed to find the others.
"Mario!" she called. "Bowser? Tippi? Is anyone there?"
The only response was the rustle of the white grasses. Peach felt her heels wobbling treacherously under her ankles, so she bent down and slipped them off. She started off across the cloud, feeling its pleasant softness fill the arch of her foot as she continued to call. "Mario! Tippi!"
As she moved out from under the tree, the patch of sky that previously been shielded by its branches was uncovered. She saw a dark, purple mass at the edge of her vision and looked up, thinking vaguely of storm clouds. Instead, she found herself gazing directly into black throat of the Void, the very same Void that had swallowed the Sammer's Kingdom. Peach's mouth opened in horror as she watched the lightning flicker across its revolving surface. Even here, in the garden in the sky. Even here was not safe.
She could not wait here to be found. The Void looked smaller here than in Sammer's Kingdom, but who knew how much time she had? She would have to move quickly. She tore her eyes away from the Void toward the path of clouds. She thought she could see a door in the distance and had just made up her mind to head through it.
What she didn't know was that she was being watched.
From the first moment she'd opened her eyes, a second pair had fallen upon her. They had followed her, never leaving her for an instant, as she'd stepped out from beneath the fruit tree, caught a glimpse of the petit ankle and foot framed by the hem of her skirt as she'd pulled away her shoe, and crinkled with amusement as she'd gazed in horror at the Void. The owner of those eyes relished in the creature caught in his gaze and the intoxicating knowledge that she could not feel his eyes on her and had no idea that she was at his mercy.
Her ignorance was thrilling, but it would not do to keep her in the dark indefinitely. He brought her to a halt with only a few words: "Enjoying the view, Princess?"
The princess jumped and turned in time to see the light in the tree bend like the turn of a kaleidoscope. The dizzying swirl of color solidified into the reclining form of Dimentio. He leaned comfortably amidst the milky foliage, the chin of his mask propped against his knuckle and one curled shoe swaying over his crossed legs. He seemed perfectly at ease.
He'd been hoping for an outburst, and she did not disappoint. "Dimentio!?" she shouted. "You again!? Just what are you playing at!?"
Instead of answering, Dimentio reached out and plucked a fruit from a nearby branch. He calmly polished it against his poncho and turned it invitingly in his fingers. "Fancy a Golden Apple?" he said. "They only grow here."
Peach put her hands on her hips. "And, where, exactly, is here?"
Dimentio sprang down from his perch and landed before the princess with a light bounce. "Can't you tell?" he said. "I'd expect such ignorance from your mustachioed handyman and his arm-flailing rival, but surely an educated lady such as yourself would know the Overthere when she saw it?"
He could see from the look of horror on her face that the name was not meaningless to her. Her lips had parted, too, and Dimentio could see a spot of light shining on her glossed bottom lip.
"The Overthere…" she repeated breathlessly. "Then, our games are over! It can't be…" She clasped a hand to her mouth. "To think it would end like this…"
As Peach spoke, Dimentio busied himself with stowing the apple into his pants pocket. He heard a quiet sob and looked up to see her eyes glimmering with tears. Without saying a word, he floated over to her, raised a hand to the soft, golden waves of her hair, and plucked a single strand from her head.
Peach clapped a hand to the back of her skull. "Ow!" she shouted.
Dimentio turned the hair in his fingers, pondering the sliver of light that slid up and down its length. " 'Ow,' " he repeated. "Not the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from a Shayde."
Peach's eyes widened as the significance of his words dawned on her. "So…my game isn't over?" The eyes narrowed. "Then, why am I here?"
Dimentio tossed the hair aside and bowed. "Well, obviously, I sent you here!" he said, "Like a magazine to the house of one with no memory of a subscription!"
Peach stepped back. "Why would you do that?" she asked. "And where are Mario and Bowser?"
Dimentio straightened. "Don't worry your pretty little head over the two of them. They'll be along shortly," he said. "I just wanted a chance to speak with you, alone. Somewhere even the prying eyes of the Count can't find us."
Peach pulled her arms in front of her chest in a defensive posture, and Dimentio laughed to see it. "Now, now, there's no need to be nervous, my dear! Rest assured that you'll only find me a perfect gentleman. After all, you are a married woman."
An angry blush colored Peach's cheeks. Dimentio had never seen a more adorable shade of red. "I am not married!" she insisted. "That ceremony was nothing but a sham!"
Dimentio shrugged. "Perhaps you're right," he allowed. "The Chaos Heart is an amalgamation of all the nastiness in a living soul. Hatred, fear, jealousy, resentment, regret over that third slice of cake you just had to have, the list goes on. Considering its nature, it only makes sense for it to be summoned by a sham wedding."
Peach blinked. "You're…agreeing with me?" she said.
Dimentio knew it would be appropriate to hesitate at this point, so he took the free moment to study the girl currently eyeing him suspiciously. She was a rare beauty. The first time he had torn his way to the Overthere, he had found it underwhelming. Fittingly enough, the ultimate reward for a lifetime of virtue had turned out to be rather dull. If this was the greatest reward existence had to offer, then reality could only be a disappointment. And yet, this girl easily outshined the scenery surrounding her. By now, it was old news to Dimentio that the chaos and nonsense of the universe occasionally resulted in the formation of one perfect flower. The fabric of reality was a series of monkeys banging on keyboards, and she was a sonnet.
"Let me ask you something," he said. "Why do you fight the prophecy? You must realize your efforts are futile."
The princess's look became one of disgust. "How can you talk like that?" she said. "There's too much at stake for us not to fight!"
"Your failure has been preordained by the Dark Prognosticus," Dimentio countered. "It's already decided-"
"Says who?" Peach interjected. "You? You honestly expect us to give up just because of some silly little book? We've already come this far, and nothing is going to stop us! Not Count Bleck, not the Chaos Heart, and certainly not you!"
Dimentio mentally counted backwards from three before letting out a sigh. "We're not cut from the same cloth, it seems. It's like you're polyester, and I'm moth-eaten wool."
The princess lifted an eyebrow. "Come again?"
"I only mean that you're made of sterner stuff." Dimentio looked down to one of the tissue-like flowers swaying at his feet, as though he couldn't bear to look into her eyes. "You don't know what the Count is truly capable of," he said. "The power he possesses is unequaled in any world. The only way I could see to save myself from his mad crusade was to join it."
"You terrible man!" Peach admonished.
Dimentio chuckled ruefully. "Perhaps such a choice is beyond the comprehension of a hero. But, can you truly blame me for being afraid?"
He pretended not to be watching, but he could see her face soften.
"Why are you telling me this?" she asked.
He looked up at her beseechingly. "I never thought there was anyone who could stand up to Count Bleck," he said. "But then, I saw you. From the moment I watched you resist Nastasia's power, I knew you were different."
"But, I couldn't resist her," said Peach slowly. "She forced me in the end."
"But, you defied her!" Dimentio insisted. "In all my time in that dreadful castle, I have never seen anyone hold out as long as you. You saw how quickly Bowser's followers succumbed. I realized that such an exceptional will could only belong to one of the heroes of legend. Which is why…"
Dimentio looked away. "Which is why, when I saw Nastasia corner you a second time, I knew I had to save you," he murmured.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the look of wonder bloom on her face, and it made his heart pound to know that look was directed at him. "You're the one who warped me to Flipside?" she said breathlessly.
Dimentio chuckled and pressed a gloved hand against his brow. "I don't know what's come over me!" he said. "I thought I'd resigned myself to the end, but no matter what I do, your image continues to haunt me, like a ghost pestering me to sign a petition! I kept up these absurd little games, just hoping for the chance to speak to you so that you could somehow convince me that all was not lost."
Peach lowered her gaze and pressed her hand to her chest. "You brought me here just for that?" she said quietly.
The smile he gave her was not his usual smirk. It was weary and human. "The other heroes mean well," he said, "but they'd never understand. But, you…you're their princess! Surely, they'd listen to you! Please, Princess, let me fight alongside you! Give me the chance to prove myself! That's all I ask."
He held out a hand to her. All that was left was for her to take it.
Peach looked at the masked magician bowing before her with such a vulnerable smile. The truth was his words reminded her of someone. A friend she'd met not too long ago.
"I want to know more about you. I want to observe you."
"Which is more important? Carrying out an order or protecting a critical person?"
"Please, tell me. Please."
In a monochrome prison far above the surface of the Earth, she'd been approached by a lost soul, desperately reaching out to her. Might she now be in the presence of another? Someone else who longed for a better way and now clung to her as the one to help him find it?
It was possible.
And yet she couldn't ignore the whisper of doubt in the back of her mind. Whatever pangs of pity she had felt for the jester seemed to shrink and whither before the memory of TEC. Princess Peach felt the truth before she knew it: He wasn't the same.
Rather than dismiss these suspicions as a lapse in faith unworthy of a hero, she instead let them run their course. It only took the briefest of moments before her thoughts straightened and allowed her to articulate the difference.
The difference was this:
TEC had been a prisoner.
Built into the foundations of the X-Nauts' fortress, TEC had been a captive even more so than her. For she had memories of a life before the cold steel of her cell, she had friends and loved ones whose voices and faces she could cherish, and she had possessed a mind thoroughly her own, shaped not by one command but by millions of sensations and experiences. If anything could be considered to be less free than a prisoner chained to a wall, perhaps it was the chain itself. He had not chosen to follow Grodus; he'd been born into a metal straightjacket, a prison of the body and the mind.
And yet, despite his confinement, TEC had never harmed her, had never intentionally frightened her. He'd been confused about many things, but his desire to help her, his desire to save her, had been earnest. What's more, he had never separated her from Mario. He had done everything in his power to return her to the ones she loved.
Awash in the sweet smell of brewing coffee, she'd felt the counter pressing into her ribs as she inclined her head toward the barista of the Flopside coffeehouse. For ten coins, she'd purchased what he knew of Dimentio.
"I hear he approached and befriended the count all on his own. And the count even turned him away once... Until he read in the Dark Prognosticus about the role of someone similar... Why was he mentioned in the Dark Prognosticus? Sounds fishy to me!"
Despite her bravado, Peach knew the word of the Dark Prognosticus was not something to be dismissed as a harmless fable. But, regardless of whether Dimentio's name appeared in its pages or not, one thing was certain: To align himself with those who sought the destruction of everything, solely to save himself, was monstrous.
She remembered hearing Dimentio's jeering laughter just before it was drowned out by the roar of the explosion. She remembered the heat roiling over the memory of all other feeling. And, she remembered the look on Mario's face as the magical barrier closed over him…
She doubted she would ever forget that look.
Dimentio couldn't guess all that was running through her mind, but he saw her subdued expression abruptly harden as she raised her eyes back to his. "Thanks," she said coldly, "but I think we'll manage."
Dimentio's omnipresent smile belied the surge of irritation that singed his temples. "Do my ears deceive me? You're refusing me?" he said. "I bare my soul to you, and you toss me aside?"
Her eyes remained icy even as she smiled. "I am grateful to you for saving me," she said, "but you don't need to worry any more. We can handle the Count. Besides…" – here, the smile fell – "I've seen the way you treat your allies. After what you did to O'Chunks…"
Dimentio laughed. He couldn't help it. "O'Chunks!" he hooted. "Of all people! What could that muscle-bound chunkhead possibly mean to you? I thought he was your enemy!"
She shook her head. "It's just as you said before. There are some choices that a hero could never understand."
And, at that moment, Dimentio realized he'd misunderstood. She told him when he'd erred, but for the life of him, he couldn't say what exactly his error had been. He hadn't thought it possible to overlook anything. The situation was about as black and white as it possibly could be. Count Bleck's minions wished to destroy the world; the heroes fought to save it. A clear line drawn in the sand. Unmistakable. Us vs. Them. Good vs. Evil. She had no reason to be bothered by anything he did to Bleck's minions. She was on the other side.
But, he'd misunderstood. The line wasn't where he'd thought it was. That disdainful tone of hers was one he'd heard many, many times. It was a tone that said he'd crossed it. She had limits, she had things she could not accept, and she expected him to know them without being told. Where was everyone seeing these invisible lines, these unspoken rules? And, why did they act as though he were unreasonable for not seeing them?
It was clear that he couldn't win her. Her mind was simply too alien. Why would she ever follow him if she could not even understand him? "Beyond comprehension" were the words he'd used.
"So…" said Dimentio, "that's how it is?"
The princess nodded. "That's how it is," she agreed.
Dimentio rummaged in his pocket for the apple. Its weight was warm in his palm.
"If you really want to help us," she was saying, "then take me back to the others."
Instead of answering, Dimentio sank his teeth into the apple's golden skin and pulled away a chunk of its flesh with a crisp snap.
"Dimentio!" she said impatiently.
With a roll of his tongue, Dimentio pushed the chunk of fruit into the pouch of his cheek. He could feel its sweet juice puddling behind his teeth.
"A pity…" he mumbled. And that was the only warning Peach received before he lunged for her.
The apple dropped. One hand clamped onto the small of her back, the other seized the scruff of her neck, and her cry of shock came out muffled as he forced his mouth against hers. He could feel the veins in her nape pounding in his hand as she dug the heels of her own hands into his shoulders, trying to push him off. But, his feet were no longer on the cloud along with hers; they were in the air, and it was impossible to throw him off-balance no matter how hard she shoved.
He could feel her soft, delicate lips pressed tightly into the thinnest of seams. Dimentio lifted the hand from her back and pincered her cheeks between his thumb and forefinger, forcing her jaws apart. He could feel her bottom jaw shaking as she strained to keep her teeth together, and that slight trembling sensation against his own jaw flushed his system with a delicious warmth.
The way now open, he maneuvered the fruit piece out of his cheek and rolled it forward, to her. She tried to twist her head to the side, like an infant refusing a spoonful of mush, but he lifted his hand from her neck, knotted his fingers in her long, silken tresses, and brutally yanked backwards. She inhaled sharply, tears swam in her eyes, and her wordless squeals of protest became choked as the meltingly sweet juice of the forbidden fruit flowed from his mouth to hers.
He broke the fruit piece in half with his front teeth before letting it fall to her. The juice flooded her mouth. The taste was like the haze of a dream. No will in any world could resist that flavor.
He pulled back and smiled at her. Already, her eyelids were starting to droop. She pushed weakly against his mask, but all the strength in her limbs had slipped away, and so all Dimentio felt was the slightest nudging of a kitten's paw. He supported her as her head fell back, her hair falling limply over his fingers.
He felt her chest rising and falling steadily against his own. She was fast asleep.
The forbidden fruit of the Overthere was oblivion. It wiped away all worries, all sorrows, all waking thoughts. Swallowing even one bite meant a century of peaceful slumber. Even if she tasted the cure before then, she would awaken remembering nothing of this encounter. If she would not be his, better for her to believe this conversation had never happened. She was certain to turn blabby otherwise, and if word of his fraternizing were to reach Bleck or his flunkeys, it could present a problem.
He had hoped to claim the girl. Perhaps, he still could. After all, she was here in his arms. The feeling of the delicate pink fabric pressed against the shape of her back was exquisite. There was nothing to stop him from indulging himself for as long as he liked.
But, no. It was too risky. True, it would be a while before the remaining heroes reached this place, but he could easily see himself losing track of time. Suppose they came across him before he was finished? That could complicate things. And, even if he kept the presence of mind to leave before they arrived, there was still the matter of the princess herself. Nothing he did to her could rouse her, but he was counting on the heroes to find the taboo fruit to cure her. And, when they did, would she notice what had been done to her? She could be alarmed. Worse, she could be weakened. And, he needed her at her full strength to face the Count.
And so, it was with a sigh of resignation that he laid her gently against the base of the tree. He could see her tears still glittering unshed on her lashes. He wiped them away with his thumb, letting it linger over her cheek. It seemed a waste for such beauty to go into the night without being enjoyed by anyone.
"A pity…" he said again.
But, it was no great loss. Securing the princess had only been an idle whim of his, an indulgence to pass the time. He knew that at this moment, the true prize was far below, no doubt rejoicing at the sight of his beloved twin.
Yes, he would make do without the princess. After all, in the new world there would be no shortage of toys.
"I'll be a perfect gentleman!" said Dimentio. You know, like a liar.
There are a few moments in Super Paper Mario when Dimentio makes admiring comments about Peach, even at one point describing her as "ravishing." It isn't exactly...unheard of for male characters in the Paper Mario series to have the hots for Peach, but it is noteworthy in this case because it's Dimentio. Crushes are understandable but sneering, cruel lust is untrod territory not just for Paper Mario but for the Mario franchise as a whole. Because of this, I've wanted to write an encounter between Dimentio and Peach for a while, but it took a bit of time before I figured out to set it in the Overthere. That seemed to be the point of the game that made the most sense.
I don't think I've written anything this risqué before. Certainly not for a Mario fan fic. Yeah, I know there's WAY more explicit stuff involving in the tags for these characters on this very sight, but even so, a forced kiss is kind of new territory for me personally. Sorry to anyone who was hoping this was gonna be romantic.
I was definitely keeping in mind the scene in Castle Bleck where Dimentio tempts Mario and Luigi to join him when I wrote this. This might be common knowledge in the fandom, but there's a Game Over you can get if you keep agreeing in that section, despite Tippi's protests.
I've already talked about this on my Tumblr, but Dimentio warping Peach away from Castle Bleck before Chapter 2 is most likely what Peach was referring to when she commented that something about Dimentio seems familiar. The "something familiar" was his teleportation magic, since it's the same effect he used to warp her away from Nastasia. That's it. I've solved the mystery. Kneel before me.
Everyone has their own interpretation as to Dimentio's motives and psychology, and I went into it a bit here. I didn't actually plan to do that when I started writing, but it seemed necessary to get his perspective on not only Peach's rejection but also Mario and Luigi's down the line. Maybe one day I'll go into detail on the backstory I imagined for him, but probably not someday soon.
Leave a review if you can! Ciao!