The Queen's Fool

The castle was a terrible thing to behold. It hung suspended in the very heavens, as though from the invisible chain of a cosmic timepiece. It roved over the land of the worlds through which it drifted, turning slowly as a planet turns to face the sun or a jewel is turned before a covetous eye. The tribe of magicians had heard of its coming, of the grief and destruction it had left in its wake, and they had scattered, huddling in fear in the shadows that spread their fingers across all worlds, all reality. Occasionally, a massive rip in space would open before the castle, shimmering and dripping with beads of light, and it would pass through, ceasing to exist in one world and spontaneously coming into being in another, weaving its existence in and of the fabric of worlds. The castle did not drift aimlessly. It was no slave to orbit or current. It was hunting. Once it found a world empty of prey, it moved on to search elsewhere.

Its queen was said to shine with a light more brilliant than the core of any planet, but the castle itself was solid black. The stones had been hewn from the lava rock of a world known for its dazzling obsidian and assembled, piece by piece, in midair. The Pixls had completed its construction in record time—having already gained many years of experience under the employ of their former masters—and now hovered in and around the fortress they had built in an iridescent swarm. The air about the castle was filled with buzzing and electronic hums as the Pixls fluttered, wriggled, and spiraled about its midnight spires and oil slick walls. From the ground, the only sign of their presence was a kind of chromatic shimmer that surrounded the castle as a misty halo does the moon.

On the grassy plain far below, Dimentio stood squinting up at that faint halo as it swung through the air on its invisible chain. The castle was certainly impressive. Not only was it a masterful feat of magic, but something infinitely more precious: a novelty. Never, in his own aimless travels through the various worlds, had he ever seen its equal. True, he had seen some striking architecture in his day. Castles studded with precious stones, cities that floated among the clouds, megastructures loaded with enough weaponry to bring entire nations to their trembling knees, but never had he seen a single structure wreak such havoc on such a vast scale. Never had he seen such a powerful race so crippled in such a short span of time, a race that had every logical reason to believe itself invincible.

Dimentio regarded the castle with a satisfied smile. She was certainly making a name for herself, this "Pixl Queen."

Getting up to the castle would be no problem. He had long ago learned the trick of projecting his own body and mind across long distances. He couldn't warp himself across an entire city, of course, but it would only take a few minutes of blooming in and out of existence to bring himself within range of the thousand waspish eyes flickering around the castle walls. The barrier that shrank and grew around him, ensuring that nothing would travel with him but his own person, appeared to be a screen through which an image of the black castle grew in spastic fits. Each time the screen cleared, the image grew larger and larger, swallowing more and more of his awed vision, until the blue sky was blotted out and he entirely dyed in shade.

By this point, the Pixls had taken notice. As he blinked to adjust his eyes to the newfound darkness, he saw the glints of light weaving themselves effortlessly into a single rippling fabric. Dimentio stopped in midair, knowing that one more warp would place him directly in the midst of that swarm, and that would hardly be a pleasant experience.

"Oh, dear," he said amicably. "Such an intimidating display, like the charging horns of a romantically frustrated ram! I'm getting the distinct impression that I'm not welcome here."

The Pixl swarm reared itself up in a titanic, flickering wave, ready to crash down upon him.

"I really do hate to impose," he said, "but I have some business to discuss with your queen." With that, he snapped his fingers.

Dimentio knew that each Pixl had been designed with only a single task in mind. This one extended into a ladder, this one provided a spark to start fires, this one blocked thrown objects, this one was a pizza cutter, and so on and so on. On their own, a single Pixl with violent intent would be little more than a nuisance. But, no single magician could hope to take on a swarm this size. Their various powers were not even a factor, sheer numbers were enough to crush, tear, or suffocate any adversary. In a fight, Dimentio wouldn't stand a chance.

Luckily, he had not come to fight.

Dimentio vanished and reappeared to the right of the cascading swarm. He also appeared to its left. The swarm curled in on itself and rippled indecisively, the Pixls whirling erratically amongst themselves before splitting into two different branches, each reaching for one of the two Dimentios just as a third appeared above.

The real Dimentio smiled. His two doppelgangers did the same. All three of them turned on their heels and propelled themselves toward the castle, weaving and warping in and out of the infuriated swarm.

The Pixls whirled about him like the embers of a roaring flame. He felt something white-hot sear across his thigh. Then, something sharp clipped across his jaw with such force that his mask was nearly knocked loose. He narrowed his eyes in irritation. With his next warp, a fourth Dimentio appeared in the thick of the swarm, drawing more of the fire. It was difficult to maintain control of this many doubles. Just one would be able to dodge the Pixls' blows and cuts with some success, but now that Dimentio's attention was stretched over three, they could do little more than silently take the punishment. But that didn't matter. In their current state, the Pixls lacked the mental capacity to notice that three of the four intruders were allowing themselves to be scuffed and sliced like practice dummies. The castle was close now, so close.

With one last surge of concentration, Dimentio heaved himself through space and found himself on the other side of the massive black doors.

The drone of the swarm now muffled behind him, Dimentio dusted off his poncho and stared up at the castle's interior. Without the light of the sun to reflect off their polished surfaces, the black walls were even darker inside than outside. Dimentio felt as though he had suddenly dropped into a mine, some deep pocket of the earth where daylight was forever turned away. Black flames rippled weirdly from the lamps suspended in chains from the ceiling. Before him rose an enormous staircase, its steps cut from the same dark stone at such sharp angles they seemed to be made of broken glass that would pierce and slice the feet of any who tried to climb.

The high ceiling provided plenty of space for sound to echo, and soon Dimentio heard an all-too-familiar droning booming through the foyer as though the entire castle were an amphitheater or perhaps a mouthpiece for some inhuman scream. Dimentio saw the walls at the top of a staircase shimmer with multicolored lights before the Pixls surged into view, lighting the entryway in dazzling color. If possible, there were somehow even more of them gushing down the steps than there were patrolling outside.

Dimentio snapped his fingers, and a barrier spread over his form a split second before the members of the second swarm threw themselves at their target. Their radiant bodies crackled and sparked as they flung themselves against the barrier, spitting embers onto the floor.

"Really now," said Dimentio, "this is hardly what you would call 'hospitable' behavior." The Pixls buzzed his barrier with no less vigor than before, and Dimentio sighed. Perhaps if these creatures still had their free will, they would be able to appreciate his wit.

Suddenly, a bolt of light smashed through the barrier, its point stopping mere centimeters from the bridge of Dimentio's nose. Dimentio blinked, bewildered, as the cracks spread outward from the shaft, glowing ever brighter. An earsplitting shattering, as though of glass, filled his ears as he was flung backwards and slammed into the titanic castle doors, the scattered fragments of his barrier dissolving below.

Wincing, he slid downward and landed on a heap on the floor, expecting to be set upon by the swarm. But he felt no blows, no cuts, no licks of flame. Instead, a blazing white light seared into his eyes and filled the cavity of his skull. He felt as though his head, his brain, no, his very mind was on fire. Cringing, he heard the Pixls part and buzz against the walls as the source of that light slowly descended the stairs, pressing the brand of its light harder and harder into his cranium.

The Pixl Queen spoke.

"You are very foolish indeed."

His mask dimmed all light before it reached his eyes, but it offered no protection against this glare. Dimentio clamped his gloved hands over the holes of his mask. Even in the dark, his eyeballs throbbed.

"Why have you come here?" she asked. Her voice was calm and regal. Her tone was nowhere near a shout, and yet it filled the space with the presence of a god. "For justice? For glory? For revenge? You wish to avenge your kinsmen, is that it?"

"N-No…" It was hard to even think in that light. "That's not it."

"Don't lie to me. Even with those ridiculous clothes, I can see you are of their tribe. You should've known that your fate would be no different from any of theirs."

Even now, Dimentio was not blind to the mortal threat. "No! Your Majesty, please!"

Dimentio dared not lift his head, but he heard the lingering silence. His use of such a title must have given her pause. "Why would you address me in that way?"

"I…can explain…" he said hoarsely. "Forgive me, but…your light. It's too much…"

Another silence, this one longer than the first. Dimentio knew that even this simple protest might be taken as an overstep and that he could be annihilated at any moment, so quickly that he wouldn't even feel it. Truth be told, that possibility didn't scare him as much as he knew it should. He had already seen the Underwhere for himself, and once he'd felt the cracked stone under his shoes and tasted the tepid river water, he found that game overing had lost its mystique. Still, being killed on the spot was not the outcome he was hoping for, and he couldn't deny his feeling of relief as he felt the light pressing insistently into his eye sockets slowly dim.

He lifted his head and rose to face her.

Even with the light turned low, it was difficult to look directly at her. The form of the Pixl Queen was an ever-shifting gyroscope of geometric shapes and angles impossible for the eye to track. Bands and points of rippling color stretched, wavered, and collapsed in a pattern of motion too complex for any mortal mind to fully comprehend. If an optical illusion were given solid form, Dimentio was convinced it would be this entity, this creature calling herself a queen.

Later on, Dimentio would discover that if he squinted, which he often had to do when looking directly at her, he could just barely make out the shape of a woman, hidden amidst all the twisting ribbons and contracting vertices. A woman with long hair, perhaps, and a floor-brushing dress.

But today, he didn't look at her for long before inclining his head in a reverent bow.

"I am deeply grateful for your mercy, My Queen," he said.

The Pixl Queen had no face that he could make out, but he felt the weight of her gaze fall upon him like a sword.

"Why have you come? Why do you bow your head?" she said. "I am not your queen. These are my subjects."

The rings orbiting her central mass briefly expanded outward, illuminating the space around the Pixls, all fluttering obediently in place, their eyes void of all emotion, all want.

Dimentio stood and gazed around at their audience. "Yes. Quite an entourage you've assembled here," he commented.

"They were used by your tribe," she said coldly. "Condemned to a sleepless eternity and made into their tools, their playthings, their slaves. Why would you presume to place yourself amongst us, you of the magicians' blood?"

Dimentio chuckled. "You've got me all wrong, Your Majesty. My blood is not my tribe's; it's mine. I haven't come to avenge them or save them. They don't even like me."

The Pixl Queen paused to consider his words. She drifted over the bottom of the stairs and swept in an arc before her waiting subjects, circling him. Dimentio's every instinct compelled him to turn his head and track her progress as she moved behind him, but he resisted and kept his face forward. It was crucial to maintain a display of complete subservience, and that meant allowing her to leave his sight if she so wished. By allowing himself to remain in a position where he could not see her, he was placing his life in her hands, or lack thereof.

His shadow lengthened as she loomed over his shoulder. "You are an odd one," she said. "I have heard how your tribe speaks of me. I have ears everywhere. They curse my name. They call me a demon. They claim I crawled from the blackest pits of the Underwhere."

"My goodness!" exclaimed Dimentio.

"And yet," the Pixl Queen continued, "you seem completely…unbothered."

By now, she had swung back into his line of sight. Her prismatic form flared outward, forcing him to narrow his eyes against the sudden glare.

"Do you not fear me?" she asked softly.

"Well, it would be very shortsighted of me if I did," said Dimentio casually, "seeing as I'm the one who freed you."

A ripple ran through the flock of Pixls surrounding them, as a violent breeze runs over a field of grass. Dimentio could have sworn he saw her orbiting and transfiguring lines freeze for only a moment.

"What?" Even the Pixl Queen could not hide the note of astonishment in her voice.

"I'm not surprised you don't remember me," said Dimentio. "You did seem to be in an awful hurry. As soon as I broke those chains and cracked open that stone slab, you rushed out of that tomb with all the speed and fury of a bullet train covered in Christmas lights!"

That day hadn't been too long ago, and Dimentio still thought of it fondly. Her prison had taken the form of a massive stone grave (a cruel gesture, now that he thought of it), surrounded by an invisible magic circle, which only a powerful magic user could uncover. Once unveiled, this magic circle revealed itself to be crisscrossed by four magic chains, altogether resembling the eight spokes of a wheel. Each chain needed a separate key to unlock, but those had not been hard to find. The old magician who had locked these chains and hidden these keys was a sentimental fool, and the hiding places he had chosen were rather easy to guess. Embedded in the foundation of the old house, entombed in the wall behind the altar where he'd said his wedding vows, clutched beneath a coffin lid in the skeletal hands of his first apprentice. Perhaps he had been too stricken by guilt or grief or simple senility to bother making them harder to find.

Or perhaps, some part of him had wanted her to be free.

Ridiculous. She would never be free, and that was his own fault.

He hadn't been able to get a good look at her then. He had only managed to shift the immensely heavy stone slab above her prison aside a crack before she came pouring out of it. It was magnificent. She had been a stream of fireworks shot into an evening sky, a blast of magma scalding the air, a comet whipping its tail across heaven.

And then the destruction. And then the ruination. And then the screams across every world.

"Why?" she was asking now. "Was it revenge? You, an outcast among your kind, unleashed me to do what you could not?"

Dimentio shook his head. "Forgive my boldness, Your Majesty, but you seem to have a bit of a one-track mind." The Pixl Queen jerked back, bewildered, as Dimentio continued nonchalantly. " 'Avenge' this. 'Revenge' that. Revenge seems to be your favored pastime, My Queen, and I'm sure it is a noble one, but it has never been my cup of sparkling grape juice. Plotting schemes of revenge seems to me an awful chore, and the suffering of others has never been able to hold my interest."

Dimentio guessed the Pixl Queen had never been spoken to this way, and he took great pleasure in her stunned silences. "Why then?" she said. "Tell me the truth."

"Well…" Dimentio knew she would probably find the real answer less than satisfactory. But, she had said to tell the truth, and Dimentio had heard the rumors of her perceptive powers. If she sensed that he was lying to her, the consequences would likely be deadly. The truth, then.

"It was mostly…boredom."



Dimentio caught the edge in her voice. He smiled calmly at her and bowed again. "Your Majesty, I don't expect you to sympathize. You, after all, have spent the last 1,000 years encased in a stone prison as black and cold as the soul of a homeowners' association president. I'm sure you know better than anyone the absolute torture of profound boredom. My boredom was of a different character than yours. Despite my youthful zeal, I am older than I look. Much older. And at my age, there is nothing in any world to excite me any longer. Really, what more is there for me to see? Wildernesses become towns, then cities, then rubble. People are born, they feel this or that, and then they die and end up forgotten. Disasters and calamities are interesting for a time, but however long they last, they too end up forgotten, and civilizations move on without having learned a thing. All the wonders and marvels of creation have grown as moldy and stale as old croissants.

"But then I remembered you. You, locked in your little box so long ago, and I realized there was a way to finally reintroduce some novelty into my life. And, oh, how you've dazzled me! Like the shimmering sequins of a figure skater with no sense of shame! The chaos you've wrought, the devastation you've left in your wake! Never have I seen such an inspired campaign of wrath! And so, I have come, like a bird sailing into a spotless pane of glass, so that I may witness your outrageous, glorious crusade with my own eyes."

He held up a hand to her as he spoke, as though he were addressing her from below a balcony.

It wasn't long before he felt the pain explode in his temples.

He dropped to his knees, clutching his head and gasping. Her rage burned in his skull like a torch.

"Insolent fool!" Her thunderous voice seemed to be sounding from inside his own heart. He felt as though he were the bell from which her words rung, and he shuddered at their force. "You say that I am a 'novelty!?' You freed me based on a whim!? Perhaps you think of my reign as some spectacular private show! Tell me, do you find this entertaining?"

The pain in his head intensified. Dimentio might have screamed. He couldn't be sure. He wouldn't have heard it over the shrieking of his own brain.

The pain died back down from agonizing to merely crippling. "Hear me, little fool," she said, "I will not be bought by any whim of yours! Did you really think that by releasing me, you could make me your plaything?"

"No!" he gasped. "But I am yours!"

The pain faded.

"Mine?" she repeated.

Dimentio grinned crookedly up at her. "I completely understand your anger, My Queen, but it is entirely misplaced. I have not come to collect any debts, and I never expected any gratitude. My only wish is to serve you."

"Serve me?" Her regal, commanding voice sounded more than a little skeptical. "And what exactly can you do for me?"

"With all do respect, My Queen, do you believe I wear these bells and puffy pants simply as a fashion statement?" Dimentio chuckled as he pulled himself to his feet and rose off the floor, hovering at the height he estimated her line of sight to be. "No, no, I am, first and foremost, an entertainer. This castle is quite the architectural marvel, but as a living space, it is really rather drab. All this pitch-black décor is sure to depress even the edgiest of hair-gel-loving teens. And, though I've never tried it, I imagine waging a war on the most powerful civilization to ever exist would be quite stressful."

"I do not need a jester," she said simply.

"Of course, you don't!" said Dimentio heartily. "Nobody really needs a jester, but we're nice to have all the same, don't you think? Why, this bunch can hardly be stimulating company."

Dimentio swept a hand toward the blankly staring Pixls, who had not moved from their positions since the Pixl Queen's moment of shock and still had yet to say a single word.

"And…serving in my court as a buffoon is really all that you want?"

"Well…I would like to be taller," Dimentio admitted, "but that doesn't really have anything to do with you."

"Your words are too outrageous to be lies," said the Pixl Queen, "but still, you are of the magicians' tribe. How do I know you can be trusted?"

"If you truly doubt me, My Queen, then why not peer into my heart yourself?"

The Pixl Queen considered him quietly. "You would willingly reveal your heart to me?"

Dimentio smiled. "Whether or not I am 'willing' has nothing to do with it. I have heard tell of your ability to read the hearts of the living as easily as you would a children's picture book about miscolored breakfast foods. Look into my heart, and you will see that I bear no ill intentions towards you."

He waited. "Very well," she said.

One of the mobius strips orbiting around her stretched outward and struck him across the chest. But, instead of inflicting pain or sending him flying backward, the band of light plunged into his body, wavering somewhere between his spine and breastbone. He was strung onto her ribbon of light like a bead on a string.

Dimentio grimaced. The sensation wasn't painful, exactly, but he felt far more helpless now than he had when she had shattered his barrier or sent him writhing in agony on the floor. He felt as though every cell of his body had grown an eye and that all of them were swiveled inward to drink in the most secret parts of himself. Her unblinking, unclouded gaze filled his very soul, and, strung along as he was, he had no way to escape. She had made him a part of her own body, and he could not flee from her any more than the throat could flee from the neck.

What did she see as she probed and parsed through his very being? Only the very core of him. What she was doing was not mind reading. His thoughts and memories remained hidden to her. Her gaze moved past all that and roved over the blueprint of his heart, the truth of his soul. Everything else of his was stripped away, split by a scalpel and pulled aside by metal pins, so that she might see clearly the essence of himself, unveiled and raw.

The band of light pulled away from his chest, and he slumped in the air.

His gloved fingers knitted the fabric over his pounding heart. "Well?" he asked.

"Your heart," she said, "is completely empty and cold. You care for nothing but yourself and your own amusement. You hold no love nor hatred for anything or anyone because you have found nothing significant enough to engender such feelings."

There was no condemnation in her voice. She was only reading off a list of traits. She had said nothing unfair or even surprising, but Dimentio couldn't help the way his smile tightened in disappointment. He shook the feeling off and nodded. "There you have it!" he said. "As I have no love, I cannot love my tribe, so I have no reason to avenge them. And, as I have no hatred, I cannot hate you or what you've done."

"But you also have no loyalty," she countered. "I have no guarantee that you will not betray me."

"Au contraire, My Queen! I am the only one guaranteed to never betray you! I have no other cause to believe in, no other bonds or obligations to lure me away from you! I've served plenty of employers with money and power, but those things aren't enough to sway me, not really. What interests me most are the individuals who can bring forth change. And there is no one in any world who was brought a greater upheaval than you."

The Pixl Queen was silent. Her light pulsed over his mask.

"Odd… So very odd…" she murmured.

"You say you are an entertainer. Well, you have certainly lived up to your profession. Never have I encountered anyone as bizarre as you."

Dimentio bowed. "I do my best," he said.

"Very well," said the Pixl Queen. "I will accept your services, fool. Tell me, what skills do you possess as an entertainer?"

"Oh, the usual things," said Dimentio. "Sing, dance, walk on my hands, perform card tricks, deliver biting political satire, injure myself in amusing ways, break unfortunate news with tasteless jokes…"

"Sing for me, then, since you are so eager to hear your own voice."

"Of course, My Queen." Dimentio snapped, and a lute appeared in his arms. He plucked a few strings and turned the pegs with deft fingers before looking back up at her.

"Any requests?" he asked.

"Sing for me, fool," she said.

"I was referring to song titles," said Dimentio, "but suit yourself."

He strummed a few chords experimentally then smiled. "How about a traditional ballad? Seems like your kind of thing."

His fingers curled over the strings, and his hand caressed the neck as the melody rang out from deep within the polished wood. He remained floating in the air before her as he played, and the brightly colored fairy lights of the Pixls danced over the ebony walls as he sang:

"As I was walking all alane,
"I heard twa corbies making a mane;
"The tane unto the t'other did say-o,
" 'Where sall we gang and dine to-day-o?'
" 'Where sall we gang and dine to-day?' "

His memories were growing dim. It wasn't that his mind was failing him, far from it. His mental faculties were as sharp as ever. It was that there was simply too much memory to keep track of. Over 1,000 years of graying skies and flattening champagne.

And yet, he still remembered her, as she was so long ago. They had not always been like this. When he was young, she was the one who sang.

The old garden wall wasn't there anymore. They had always called it the "garden wall," but in truth, there had never been a garden. Just the waist-high wall of worn gray cobblestone, winding across the grassy plain beyond the village. In his memory, the green blades were already sprouting through the places where the ancient mortar had fallen away. Even then, the wall showed signs of erosion, of the grindstone of time. Already, it was fated to be reduced to nothing.

One of the stones in this wall was split by a single crack, shimmering and dripping with beads of light. This was the place where he always used to sit, with his hood lowered and his ear right beside the crack in the wall.

He sat on one side and she on the other. He still remembered the cool roughness of the stone against his back, the smell of the grass as he kneaded it in his hands.

"Oh, I shall be sore for a week!" she was proclaiming. "I was on my feet all night!"

"You're exaggerating," he said. "You may have danced until sunrise, but it was already dark when the party started, so you couldn't have danced all night."

"Well, it was the better part of the night, anyway." He heard her strain and sigh on the other side of the wall, and he knew she was stretching something. Her sore legs, perhaps?

"I'm sure you were marvelous," he said.

"I felt marvelous. It was such a lovely time! It's hard to really get into the swing of things when Father is there, you know, but luckily he turned in early, so I was free to carouse and caper to my heart's content without worrying about his disapproving stare in the morning."

"It was pretty warm last night. I'm surprised you didn't pass out from heatstroke."

"Oh, I didn't need to worry about that," she said dismissively. "One of my gentleman friends was more than willing to keep me hydrated throughout the night. He spent more time galumphing to the punchbowl and back than he did on the dance floor."

He frowned. He didn't like it when she mentioned her "gentlemen." It seemed that every time they talked, the topic eventually swung back to her many male admirers. "I was out with a gentleman yesterday." "Do you know what this gentleman said to me?" "Father has been in a right state ever since he caught that gentleman sneaking out of the house." He knew she was doing it on purpose. He could hear the note of satisfaction that crept into her tone whenever she recounted an encounter with her gentlemen. She liked to remind him that she had a life that he had never seen. She liked to keep him wondering.

"So, was your evening as pleasant as mine?" she was saying now.

"Well, I'm much less sore than you this morning, considering I didn't go."

"You didn't go?" She seemed shocked. "Why not?"

"I've never been one for parties," he said sullenly. "I'm not a dancer or a singer like you."

"Nonsense," she said impatiently. "If I can do it, then so can you. After all, you and I are the same."

He smiled a little, in spite of himself. A brief image flashed in his mind of himself under the starlight, whirling in the center of attention, surrounded by admirers of his own. She, at least, seemed convinced it was possible.

It had been a long time since he had cut loose at a party, and he had become so lost in the rapid pulse of the music that he'd leapt onto a table and sent it crashing to the floor, along with all of the foodstuffs piled on top and his own cackling self. Everyone in the room had shared his amusement except his father. He could still feel the welts on the backs of his legs from the cane.

"I could if I wanted to," he insisted. Not too convincingly, he knew. "But if I did, my sister would be insufferable. She thinks herself very funny. I can hear her comments now. 'Could it be? Is Demi really going outside?' 'Is he actually smiling? Mother, I think he's lost his mind!' 'Are you trying to get yourself a girl? Don't bother. You'll just scare them all away!' It would never end."

She chuckled. "How absurd for a boy your age to be scared of his little sister! Especially if that boy is you. You're always so nasty to her, you'd think she'd have learned her lesson by now."

He snorted. "I wish. But she's always been rather dim."

"I hear you," she sighed. "My own brother is the same. Mother dotes on him, of course, but his skull is as thick as the wobbling jowls of a dog perpetually out of breath."

Now it was his turn to chuckle.

"Poor Demi," she said pityingly. "It sounds like your night wasn't any fun at all."

He uprooted a handful of grass and scattered the blades over his lap. "I can't really complain," he said. "It's always nice to have the house to myself, but I don't think I slept much more than you did. I could still hear the music in the distance. Tell me, were you singing to it?"

"I always do. You know that."

"I wish I could have heard it."

"Would you like to hear it now?"

He brightened. He'd been hoping she would ask.

"Of course."

She chuckled, and he heard her briefly clear her throat. "Any requests?" she asked.

"Sing for me, Psycha."

"I was referring to song titles," said Psycha, "but suit yourself."

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, as her voice flowed out through the shimmering crack in the wall.

"As I was walking all alane,
"I heard twa corbies making a mane…"

He was wasting his time. He knew that. He knew it even as he finished the song and started another, smiling up at where her face would be if he squinted. What had he been hoping for when he invited her to read his heart? A flicker of recognition? A glimmer of awareness? Her cold, imperious voice saying, "I know you. How is it that I know you?"

But she had not said that.

He had already known that she would not recognize him. The girl he had once known was gone, and only the Pixl Queen remained. Nothing would ever bring her back. But that feeling of disappointment had welled up in him anyway. What a useless feeling. He admonished himself for feeling this way when he knew his hopes were impossible.

She had already been utterly destroyed. Ruined. If he still expected her to miraculously pop out of this clockwork mass of light, this monstrous prison of the mind, to suddenly wake up one day and recognize him, he was only wasting his time. This creature was a stranger that had nothing to do with him. He had no more delusions on the matter.

And yet, he stayed.

Nothing he had said to her was a lie. Over the past 1,000 years, the life to which he had been chained had slowly drained of color. And then she had exploded forth, an aurora borealis on a cold winter night. He did not know if her vengeful designs would succeed. He did not care. She was the harbinger of an uncertain future, and to the man who had grown exhausted by the endless cycle of repeating history, that uncertainty was the greatest gift she could bestow.

Whether she seized her dominion over all creation or collapsed into a fiery ruin, he would see her mad crusade to its end.


Add "grave robbery" to Dimentio's list of crimes.

This story was written for Super Paper Mario's 14th anniversary. (Was the Wii era really that long ago? Wow.) I had a few ideas as to what to write about, but, when I was really honest with myself, I admitted that what I was most excited for was to write about Dimentio again. Dimentio's backstory, of course, is never divulged in canon, but there is a narrative that most fans agree is the most plausible one, based on the clues the game offers. I deliberately chose to go with a backstory that was different from the most widely accepted theory. Why? Well, it's because I'm a writer, and we writers are egotists by nature, and I didn't want to feel like I was just retreading what other people have already done.

However, I do think the story I came up with is plausible based on what is possible in the game.

The ballad Dimentio sings, "The Twa Corbies," is a Scottish ballad and one of my favorites. The language is Scots, but you can easily find a translation. Its story doesn't really ape Dimentio's experience, but I do think it connects thematically. Another song I associate with Count Bleck and his minions in general is "The Tree Song," from the anime Kaiba. You should totally look up both songs, but if you're interested in looking up Kaiba, be warned: It's one of the weirdest anime series to ever exist.

This fic is actually derived from a tiny fic I posted on Tumblr over a year ago called "The Jester and the Pixl Queen." I'll probably add more chapters to this story over time.

Please review if you can, and happy anniversary, everyone!