So, Why Not?

The click of Nastasia's heels echoed through the shimmering, ebony halls of Castle Bleck. That sound was her only companion as she moved down the corridor. Once in a while, she came across a group of the new recruits patrolling the halls, but none of them spared her so much as a glance. Which was exactly as it should be. Their tasks involved the expulsion of intruders and the worship of Count Bleck, and she had made sure they cared for nothing expect those tasks. Thanks to her own programming, she was all but invisible to them.

She'd often heard Mimi complaining about what she called the castle's drab color scheme. "Where's the pizzazz?" she'd wanted to know. "It's soooooo depressing in here!" Nastasia had only reminded her that she'd had no hand in the castle's construction and, furthermore, she would be out in the field too often for her sense of taste to be too offended. What Nastasia hadn't said, because there had been no reason to, was that she liked the way the castle looked. The cool dark walls, the smooth, dripping stone, the perpetual night sky, the torches that flickered like starlight, were all as deeply soothing to her as the familiar notes of a long-ago lullaby. In her memory, unbidden, rose a rapid series of sensations, disconnected yet, somehow, orderly. Cool wind, sweet juice, a song that those that slept in the moonlight never heard.

Of course, she'd never want to go back to those days. Those were the days before she'd met him.

She came to the large double doors leading into the study and knocked briskly. She expected to hear the timbre of his voice straight away. Perhaps "Yes?" or "What is it?" or "Just a moment!" followed by the distant rustling of a cloak because sometimes he felt gentlemanly enough to open the door himself. Sometimes he said her name as well, but that wasn't necessary. Nobody else ever interrupted him in the study.

What she was not expecting, however, was for there to be only silence beyond the door.

Nastasia hesitated uneasily. Should she knock a second time? No, surely that wasn't necessary. It was as quiet as a tomb in there. He definitely would have heard her. If he wished to respond, he would responded. Evidently, he did not wish to be disturbed. But, she couldn't delay her report any longer. She had already tried pinging him several times and had gotten no answer. If she kept waiting, than the strategy meeting would also be delayed, which would mean she would have to reschedule the orientation for the new recruits to five-thirty, and if she did that then the cleaning team wouldn't be mobilized to clean the garage until after dinner, and…

There was nothing else for it. She had no choice but to go in uninvited. If he chose to scold her, then that is what would happen.

She cleared her throat and knocked on the door a second time. "Sir?" she called. There was still – Still! – no response. She pushed the door open and poked her head inside.

Long, ornate bookshelves encircled the room from floor to ceiling, filled with thick tomes, books on arcane magic, history texts of fallen civilizations, biological studies on the inhabitants of various worlds, collections of poetry, though all of them were growing dusty. She made a mental note to send someone to tidy up. The heavy, black desk was empty, but she could see the top of his hat sprouting over the back of the arm chair in front of the fireplace. Through a trick of magic, the jet-black flames inside cast a white glow around the room, bleaching the colorful covers of the other books into lurid shades of grey.

Nastasia pushed the door closed on the tip of her heel as she approached the armchair. "Sir," she began, "I'm real sorry for coming in like this, but-"

She circled around the arm rest and stopped, abashed. The Count was asleep. The red eyes, glowing like embers beneath his monocle, were closed, and the chest concealed under the cloak rose and fell as gently as an ocean swell. His mouth was partly open in the abandonment of dreams. He didn't snore, and yet the air that passed softly in and out was not completely silent. As he exhaled, the breath that left him carried with it the faintest note of his voice. There was no command or lament or anything else in that single murmur. It was only a mechanical effect of the air moving through the hidden chambers and doors of his throat.

That sound, so weak it could scarcely reach the ear, warmed the pit of her chest more than the whispering fire ever could.

She stood rooted to the spot, feeling as though she were the one exposed and vulnerable and not him. When was the last time she'd seen him sleep? She couldn't remember exactly, only that she'd treasured the sight and that it had been one the count had lately deprived her of. It seemed that for a long time now he had always been moving. His personal quarters were forbidden to all – yes, even her - and he had spent increasingly little time within them. He was always pushing himself and pushing himself to be restless, to be hateful, to be imposing. For Count Bleck was not a person, Count Bleck was a device, a figure to inspire terror and bring forth silence. All others, one by one, would go into the night, but last of all would be Count Bleck, the engine of destruction, burning until the last moment.

He had not intended to sleep. Nastasia could clearly see the Dark Prognosticus lying over the floor, its pages splayed and bent under the tent of its cover. It must have tumbled out of his lap. Strange to see it on the floor creasing its pages as though it were any other book. Nastasia knew she ought to pick it up, but the truth was she didn't even want to touch it. Whenever it was in her field of vision, she always found herself averting her eyes. She knew she was being superstitious, that wasn't how the book worked, but she couldn't shake the feeling that the book was contaminated, as though with germs or radiation, and that even looking at it would spread its taint to her.

She looked at the Count again. Somewhere within that moving chest, she knew, was the Chaos Heart, eating away at all creation as it slept within him. She wondered, not for the first time, if the Heart were having some effect on him. Perhaps it was the Chaos Heart that wearied him. As it devoured all worlds, it drained away something of him as well.

The worst part of this supposition was the knowledge that if it was, he wouldn't care.

She wanted to watch him longer. She didn't want to bring him back into the ruin he had made, but they were already behind schedule. His gloved hand lay over the armrest, and she nudged it gently with lingering fingertips. "Sir?" she said again.

The larger hand beneath her own twitched. "Timpani…?"

The warm core within her was brutally pinched and twisted. She cleared her throat of the lump. "Uh, no, sir. It's me."

His eyes, still hazy from sleep, found hers behind her glasses. "Ah," he said. "Of course." Nastasia couldn't miss the weariness that settled into his face as he looked at her. I know, she wanted to say. I know you're disappointed to see me instead of her.

"Forgive me," he said. "I must have lost track of time." He pulled his hand from her fingers and rubbed his face wearily. As he did so, the Dark Prognosticus sprang off the floor and hung suspended in the air beside his chair.

Nastasia worked to keep her voice steady. "Real sorry to wake you, Count, but I have an update from O'Chunks."

Count Bleck frowned. "More bad news, I take it?"

"'Fraid so. The heroes continue to grow stronger. Even with O'Chunks's new training regimen, he was still unable to impede their progress. Not only that, but he reports experiencing some sort of blackout while in Cragnon territory."

Count Bleck peered at Nastasia. "What do you mean, 'blackout?'" he asked.

"I mean, sir, that one moment he was on the surface, and the next thing he knew he was in the Floro Sapiens' facility underground with no idea as to how he got there or what he was doing in the meantime. His, uh, stomach was empty when he woke up. He reports having had a big breakfast this morning, so he figures it had to have been at least a few hours."

"Do you have any idea as to the cause?"

"Yeah, I don't know for sure," said Nastasia, "but, considering the effects of the Floro Sprouts produced in this area, my guess is that the locals were less than cooperative."

"Naturally. It's always something." Count Bleck shook his head with the patient air of a parent with a troublesome child. "Very well, Nastasia. I'll leave the choice of punishment up to you. Make sure not to go easy on him. This string of failures is unacceptable."

"Couldn't agree more, sir," said Nastasia. "Meantime, I'll mobilize the others to intercept at the heroes' next destination."

"No!" The answer was more forceful than Nastasia had been expecting, and she couldn't stop herself from jumping slightly. "Under no circumstances are they to leave this castle!"

Count Bleck checked himself and settled back into his chair. His monocle's reflection created a small, round window of the crackling fire. "The world of the seventh Pure Heart is doomed. The Dark Prognosticus revealed its fate to me. The heroes will not reach the Heart before the collapse."

Nastasia stared. "Is that really true?"

Count Bleck smirked, and the jagged smile that loomed out of the darkness was a terrible thing. "I could almost pity them. A pack of fools racing toward a goal they will never reach." He turned back toward her. "None of my minions are to enter that world. Make sure of that."

Nastasia swallowed. "Gotcha. We can go over the specifics at the meeting."

"I…" Count Bleck shook his head. "I think I shall continue my studies here. Can I trust you to relay my orders?"

"Well, of course you can, Count, but are you sure?"

"I'm certain. There is much about the prophecy I still don't understand. And…" the Count pulled the brim of his hat low over his eyes. "It wouldn't do for the troops to see me in this state."

Nastasia's cheeks flushed. It was the first time he'd acknowledged that moment of semi-consciousness.

She knew not to acknowledge it any further. "Gotcha," she said again, "I'll be sure to send a cup of coffee your way, 'K?"

"Quickly, please," was all he said.

Nastasia looked back as she reached the hallway. She could see the Dark Prognosticus hovering over the Count's shoulder. It was still closed as she shut the door between them.

Nastasia's feet carried her over the obsidian floor. There was no need to walk; she only needed to ping O'Chunks for him to slink before her with his head hung low, but she delayed. She needed a moment alone.

The seventh world was doomed. It would be gone. Not destroyed, simply gone, like the flame of a candle being blown out. Of course, she was quite familiar with the mission. They all were.

The worlds emptying had always been part of the plan. All of the minions had reported seeing the swirling mouth of the void in every sky. But, a pattern of unusual shapes and color in the heavens was one thing. No one had ever been killed by an aurora or a lunar eclipse. It was quite a new thing to have the end of an entire world on your conscience. Every landmark, every city, every memory, snuffed out, leaving only silence.

The end was fast approaching now, and he was hurtling toward it with a smile on his face. She knew that stillness was what he'd wanted, but still she shuddered to see him gazing into the halted future without fear. Did he spare a thought for the people in that world, whose final moments would be filled with the darkness of the void? Did he hate them? Did a hatred of life and its pain extend to a hatred of every living being who shared it? Did he pity them as he claimed to pity the heroes? Or… Did he envy them? Those who were bound for the silence that he himself craved?

Her feet stopped under the vaulted ceiling. They had so little time left. There was nothing between them left unsaid, and yet she wanted their days to extend far, far into the sea of time. But, he did not want a lifetime with her. He wanted oblivion.

Alone in the hallway, she heaved up a sigh.

"My, my, what a forlorn sound! Whatever is the matter, Nastasia?"

A jolt ran through Nastasia's body. She whirled around. There was a shimmer and a ripple in the air, and there was Dimentio, hovering before her with his harlequin grin.

"D-Dimentio!?" Nastasia caught herself and quickly rearranged her frazzled expression to a look of cold reprimand. "Do you make a habit of sneaking around behind people's backs?"

"Naturally!" Dimentio answered cheerfully. "Sneaking is one of the most useful skills I have!"

"When you're in the field," she amended. "If there's something you want to say to me, try just walking up and talking like an ordinary person, 'K?"

"Ordinary, you say? But that would be a lie, wouldn't it? After all, I am quite extraordinary!"

Nastasia peered up at the smiling jester, unamused. Dimentio. She really had no performance notes for him. True, his attempts at stopping the heroes had been no more successful than anyone else's, but he boasted an extensive magical skill set, and the resume she'd requested of his mercenary work had been impressive. He had demonstrated his usefulness as an asset, and no one on the team had ever filed a formal complaint of his conduct. However, Nastasia had the impression Dimentio wasn't taking the mission very seriously. For him to greet the impending end of everything with that whimsical, carefree attitude was deeply insulting to her in a way she could never quite articulate to the others.

"So…" Dimentio drifted lower toward Nastasia, though his toes remained dangling a few inches above the floor. "You've been to see the Count, I take it? Any new orders?"

Nastasia adjusted her glasses with a grunt. "We'll have a staff meeting, shortly," she said, "but since I have you here, the Count has left clear instructions to remain here in the castle until further notice."

"Oh… Is that all?" Dimentio allowed himself to drift despondently in the air until his head was pointed downward instead of his feet. "But, it's so very dull here at the castle!"

"Yeah, I'm real sorry about that, but it's not my job to entertain you, 'K?" Nastasia briskly turned her back to the jester and started down the hall.

She felt the rustle of a motley breeze, and suddenly Dimentio was in front of her again. His one glowing eye sparkled. "Now, don't sell yourself short, Nastasia!" he said. "It may not be your job, but you excel at it all the same!"

Don't ask. Do not ask. He's waiting for you to ask. Don't- "What do you mean?" Shoot.

"I mean when one hears your sigh like the leak of air from a punctured tire and sees you looking after the Count with such pining eyes, one can't help but be entertained!" said Dimentio heartily.

Nastasia felt a humiliating burn come into her cheeks. Her chest, however, bizarrely felt quite cold. "D-don't be ridiculous!" she stuttered. "I'm the Count's secretary! Nothing more!"

"Really?" Dimentio tilted his head to the side quizzically. "And, was 'That Girl' also a secretary? She must have been a better one by far if you wished to replace her so desperately. More skilled with the copy machine, I suspect."

Nastasia couldn't stop the staccato of shocked and spluttered sounds that escaped her mouth. When her vocal backfiring was finished, however, she felt the heat in her cheeks surge to her temples. "How dare you!" she shouted. "That was a private conversation!"

Dimentio waved a gloved hand dismissively. "There's nothing to be self-conscious about. It's not as though anything indecent happened between you and the Count. As much as you wish it would."

"You-! You-!" But, that was all she could manage.

Dimentio laughed. "There, you see? You're an entertainer, after all! No one would know better than me."

Dimentio lowered himself still further until he was standing on the floor directly in her path. Nastasia wanted nothing more than to turn and run, but retreat was impossible. She could only stand her ground and try her best to look indignant, but she knew by the amused twinkle in Dimentio's eye that she was failing.

"What I don't understand," he said, "is why you allow this one-sided drama to continue when you have the solution on hand."

"Solution?" Nastasia repeated.

"Don't play dumb. The answer is right there in those eyes you're trying so hard to keep locked on mine. Those glaring pupils have the power to rewrite minds. If you were to fix your gaze on the Count and command him to be yours, it would be so."

Nastasia stared at Dimentio in shock. "But, I-! I couldn't-!"

"Oh, but you could. Quite easily, in fact." A whirl of clear water removed Dimentio from her sight, and suddenly Nastasia felt a hand on her shoulder. "Just think of it," said a whisper in her ear. "Him standing at the altar with you instead of that nasty Chaos Heart. Every memory of That Girl effaced as he pulls you close, whispering sweet nothings in your ear. Every one of his followers calling to you with the name of Countess."

Nastasia struggled to breathe. It was though she had plunged into that whirlpool and was now drowning. She pushed the jester away. "He… He doesn't want-!"

"He wants, he wants," said Dimentio with a careless roll of the head. "Tell me, what does Nastasia want? Why, you'd be doing him a favor by curing him of all his troublesome grief. What need would he have of a new world when he could find paradise right there in the depths of your eyes?"

Nastasia's mind was spinning. A rapid series of sensations flashed in her mind. Hands clasping her for the first time, a warmth she had never felt, a voice whispering words she had so longed to hear… She clutched her arms to herself, feeling exposed as though she were pressed flat under glass with Dimentio peering at her from the other side of a microscope.

She once again tried to force herself to be angry. There was power in anger. "Dimentio, you understand that what you're suggesting is treachery?"

"And, this is a problem for you? Nastasia, Nastasia, betrayal is the savory flavor of your power!" Dimentio soared up into the air and gestured broadly at the grand interior behind him. "You know better than I do that the shelled creatures tromping through these halls didn't choose to be here. And, it doesn't take a great intellect to figure out that our own Mr. L is none other than the loud-mouthed interloper at the wedding. Is forcing a man to fight his own flesh and blood not betrayal?"

Nastasia straightened. "Not against the Count." Inside, she chided herself for allowing things to get out of hand. It was unacceptable for Dimentio to have her on the defensive like this. She owed him no explanations. She owed him nothing at all.

"So, it's fine and dandy to twist the minds of strangers but not your beloved Count. How awful!" Dimentio giggled. "What a rotten hypocrite you are!"

Nastasia clenched her fists. "Look, you-!" she began, "what exactly are you trying to do? If I didn't know any better, I'd say you want me to brainwash the Count!"

"Don't misunderstand," said Dimentio, drifting closer. "It makes no difference to me what you do. I only want to understand. So, why not?"

Nastasia glared up at him. "Not that it's any of your business," she said, "but I've already pledged my loyalty to the Count. A promise like that might not mean anything to some people, but it does to me! I will do whatever it takes to fulfill his wishes. And, if he doesn't wish for his wishes to be changed, then I can't change them, 'K?"

Dimentio nodded sagely. "Just as I thought," he said. "You're a hypocrite!"

"Be quiet!" Nastasia cried.

"A dirty hypocrite!" Dimentio sang. "Dirty like the chin of a toothless infant! Tell me, Nastasia, were you always so hypocritical or was it love that sullied you?"

Nastasia didn't need to search for anger any longer. It was blazing back full force. "Let me ask you something," she hissed. "If you really have such a problem with me and the Count and the mission, then why, oh why, did you beg and plead to join us?"

Dimentio's smile remained, but his eyes narrowed. "Now, that's hardly fair," he protested. "I didn't beg."

"You begged," said Nastasia savagely. "You made a real pest of yourself. You practically threw yourself at the Count's feet!"

"Lies and slander!" Dimentio proclaimed. "I didn't realize you had such a wonderful imagination, Nastasia! But, as for why I'm here, I would think that should be rather obvious! You see, unlike you, I don't pretend to believe in anything. Right and wrong are just words, after all. Like nitwit! Or tweak!"

Dimentio swept joyously into the air and spread his hands wide. "But, there is one thing I do value, and that is my own self! My own percolating brain, and my own five senses! I'm especially fond of those. It would hardly benefit me to stay and waste away on the wrong side of the new world, would it?"

Nastasia had spent the last few moments hating every aspect of Dimentio's being, but even so, she couldn't stop the sour twisting in the pit of her stomach. "What selfish reasoning…" was all she could manage.

"Selfish, am I?" said Dimentio gleefully. "You're hardly one to talk when you sit stubbornly on the power to save all worlds! Those waspish eyes of yours could halt the Count's crusade today, and yet you'd rather let every world crumble than change the man you love, a man who never spares you even a glance! You like how miserable he makes you, don't you Nastasia? You love the way he suffers! Oh, you naughty girl, you nasty thing!"

"ENOUGH!" The word and the soul it erupted from were both a roar. "Dimentio, if you say one more word I swear you'll be sorry!"

"Oh, really?" Dimentio laughed. He darted beyond her reach like a minnow. "And, what exactly do you think you can do to me?"

Nastasia adjusted her glasses. "Nothing at the moment," she allowed, "but if you continue this harassment, I'll have no choice but to go to the Count and file a request to brainwash you."

For the first time, Dimentio's smile faltered. "You can't do that!" he protested. "My role has been determined by the Dark Prognosticus! The Count needs me!"

"He needs you alive," Nastasia corrected. "He doesn't need you to be yourself." She smirked. "And, if I inform him you were trying to convince me to derail the mission, my request is sure to be approved."

Dimentio had grown very still, the monochrome mask expressionless. Only a fleeting moment passed before the smile returned. "I see how it is!" he said amiably. "There's no need to be cross, Nastasia. I was only having a bit of fun. But, I see the game has ended. We can put this whole embarrassing episode behind us, can't we?"

"We'll see," said Nastasia coldly.

"I was only teasing," Dimentio insisted. "But, no hard feelings. I'll find another way to pass the time."

Dimentio snapped his fingers, and in a swirl of color, he was gone. Nastasia heaved up an aggravated sigh before willing herself to resume her walk. Thanks to Dimentio, she was not only even further behind schedule, but she had completely lost focus. It took her several steps to remember what it was she was supposed to be doing.

And then: O'Chunks. Discipline. Right.

Nastasia hated herself for allowing Dimentio to pounce on her like that. It was unprofessional to fall so easily for his attempts to provoke her, and Nastasia still couldn't fathom the purpose. What was he trying to prove by asking her such… things? Was he trying to demonstrate what he knew? Convince her of his skill as a spy?

Or, perhaps it was as he'd said, and he really was just curious.

Well, curiosity didn't give him any right to spy on his own teammates. Or, tempt her with such- No. She was not tempted. She had no desire to do the vile thing he'd suggested. There was no temptation, only mocking.

Her stride lengthened, and her steps quickened. She knew she ought to carry through with her threat. But, the idea of facing the Count and repeating Dimentio's words was mortifying. If that use of her power had occurred to Dimentio, had it occurred to the Count as well? And, what would she do if it hadn't? How would he look at her when the possibility of his subjugation at her hands dawned on him?

No, there was no need to tell him yet. She would wait and see if her threat would be enough to make Dimentio behave.

Just as she'd made up her mind, she felt the probe of cold air on the back of her head, and another hand dropped onto her shoulder. "By the way," said Dimentio's voice in her ear, "do you mind if I ask one more thing?"

Nastasia whirled, but he had already floated up beyond her reach. Nastasia opened her mouth to snap a response, but his words emerged first.

"If you did get permission to tamper in my cranial salad," he said, "what would you change about me?"

Nastasia straightened. "I would order you to mind your own business," she said, "and to uphold the vow you made to the Count."

"Is that all?" There was a strange look on Dimentio's face. It was hard to tell, but Nastasia felt as though he were considering something very seriously. "Couldn't you go any farther?"

"Uh, farther?" Nastasia repeated.

"I'm unaware of any limitations in your abilities," said Dimentio. "As far as I know, you could do anything in there." His grin broadened. "Why, you could even make me into a hypocrite like you!"

At the sight of Nastasia's infuriated face, Dimentio gave a hearty laugh. "Ciao, Ms. Secretary!" And, with a snap, he was gone.

Nastasia fumed. Perhaps O'Chunks's punishment should be to give Dimentio a hearty sock in the jaw. But, no, no. That was inappropriate. The Count had forbidden such brutal methods, and she didn't want to give Dimentio the satisfaction. She stormed off down the hall and tried to console herself with detailed fantasies of cutting, clever retorts. "I could try to make you smarter than a rock, but I'm afraid that would be too much even for me." "How about I hypnotize you to eat that stupid hat?" "You can ask me inane questions after you trounce the heroes, not before, 'K?"

But, these fantasies were a flimsy protection indeed, and the memory of Dimentio's words ate away at them like drops of acid. "What a hypocrite you are!" "You could end the Count's crusade today!" "Was it love that sullied you?"

"You love the way he suffers!"

The rapid clicking that echoed through the hall slowed and stopped. Silence all around.

It was true. She knew it. The reason Dimentio's accusations had so enraged her was because she could deny none of them. When he mourned and moaned after distant memories, when he shuddered and wept in the depths of his despair, as she had seen him do many times, that was when her heart fluttered the most. At no other times was her desire to embrace him and press him close so overwhelming. As his own heart filled with self-loathing, he inadvertently made himself so irresistibly endearing.

The Count she had fallen in love with had always been an unhappy one. Even in those early days, before he was forced to bear the knowledge that She was lost, lost forever, he had been wracked with desperation. Where are you? Please, come back to me! I am not complete without you! And, she loved that incomplete heart. She longed to see his happiness, his anguish made her own heart ache, but wasn't love often described as heartache?

Nasty. Dirty. Sullied. She supposed she was.

But, what was dirtiest of all, what made her the most filthy, was that Dimentio's idea was not new. The possibility had already occurred to her many times. You could make him happy. Why should you be afraid to make him happy? Just do it! You can finally see him smile!

You can finally see him smile at you.

She was not the innocent maiden the Count believed her to be. The thought had ambushed her again and again, and she had stamped it down each time. She foolishly thought she had defeated all her old arguments, but the way the ground spun under her when Dimentio voiced them all proved that she had not. The battle would go pointlessly on.

Because she knew, despite all rationality, that she could never dare. She had thought it all through very thoroughly. The Count knew of her power. If she brainwashed him into loving her, then he would know exactly what had come over him. So, she would have to brainwash him into not caring about that as well, and perhaps remove the memory of her power entirely. And, if she did that, what was to stop her from cutting and cutting to remove every wrinkle and flaw, and after all that what of the Count's mind would be left?

But, even if she allowed herself to believe she would never be tempted to continue once she started to twist his mind, even then their happiness would be doomed. Because, someday, their games would end, and would her power last beyond this life? If it did, she could keep him under her yoke and chain for eternity, and that in of itself was horrifying to consider. But, if it didn't, and the gate into the Underwhere cleared his mind and made him realize what she had done to him?

Then, he would hate her. He would know that the one person he had left to trust in any world had betrayed him completely, and he would despise her for it. And, that she could not bear. She had courage enough to end her game by his side, but she was too weak to face his hatred.

Nastasia sighed again and was relieved to hear no jeering laughter accompany the sound. She quickly wiped off her glasses on the sleeve of her blouse and resumed her walk. She'd had her moment to feel sorry for herself. Now, it was back to business. Her course had been decided. Continuing to mope would accomplish nothing.

There was one more reason she had never touched the Dark Prognosticus. Though she feared it, its existence strangely represented her one, final hope. The prophecy had pointed to the emergence of the heroes. Count Bleck spoke with confidence that they would fail, but did he really know? The Chaos Heart slept within the Count; for the heroes to extinguish its life, his own life would need to end alongside it. But, the heroes had already accomplished extraordinary feats. Perhaps they would find another way? Maybe, just maybe, they would find a way to save the Count, tear out and destroy the Heart without harming the man.

It was a ludicrous, impossible dream. The heroes didn't know him as she did. They only thought of him as "The Evil Count Bleck." They had no reason to try and save his life. But, as long as the pages of prophecy remained closed before her eyes, it was not impossible. As long as the future was unknown, she could continue to cling pathetically to this imaginary chance.

It was the only way she could carry on.

She was weak. She was dirty. She was powerless. All she could do was pray that the heroes would do what she herself could not.


Make him eat the hat, Nastasia! Make him eat the hat!

Guess who just finished playing Super Paper Mario! This girl! Yeah, I actually bought it over the holiday and played it for the first time. My younger brother was incredulous when he caught me playing a Wii game. He said, "Is this game from the ancient era when velociraptors roamed the Earth?" I informed him it was from 2007. He said, "Yeah, that's what I said."

Shut up.

I was pretty familiar with the game's story before I ever played it, and the question of why Nastasia never used her power on the Count had occurred to me a while ago. I was inspired by the game to write something, and that I remembered that old question. I wanted to take the chance to address it, and I wanted to examine it through the perspective of Dimentio, who himself doesn't feel selfless love.

By the way, how is everyone pronouncing Nastasia's name? Do you say it Nah-stage-jeeyah or Nah-stah-see-uh? I've kind of grown fond of the latter pronunciation myself. Man on the Internet pronounces Dimentio's name Dee-men-tee-oh, which is a crime punishable by thirty days in the stocks.

So, Nastasia catches Count Bleck asleep at his study, something she knows he never does, with the Dark Prognosticus apparently unguarded. Just a few moments later, she comes across Dimentio loitering in the same area. Did the Count just fall asleep, or...?

As always, reviews are appreciated! Happy Year of the Rat, everyone! Ciao!