Chapter 1: More or Less a Trial
In which an old hero makes a return, and a foretold awakening begins.
The sun’s rays were slowly fading over the horizon, the treetops waving in the slight summer breeze. It was July, and the air was warm and dry, if not slightly humid. It was warm enough for a lick of ice cream and a cup of lemonade, but not quite hot enough for a tank top. A figure no taller than five foot three strolled down the sidewalk, humming a tune to herself. She bounded along, feeling more content than usual, and if she had been a little more energetic, she might’ve been skipping.
Rain N. Thirteen took a breath of the fresh summer air, wondering why she had never noticed the beautiful scenery. She hadn’t gone anywhere important; a trip to the library for a book that hadn’t ended up being there and then across the street to the store for a candy bar. Rain didn’t have anywhere to be for a good chunk of time and she was hoping she wouldn’t have to do anything for the rest of the summer.
However, those thoughts were shattered as she crossed in front of the telephone pole near the neighbor’s house. Rain froze when she saw the poster, the small tabs fluttering in the breeze. No one had seen it yet, and it certainly hadn’t been there before she’d left.
Or had it? She didn’t tend to pay attention when she was listening to music.
“Protect Your Fellow Fictionals,” the poster read. “Join Up to Defeat Villains, Make New Friends, Have Fun!”
Honestly, it sounded something like an advertisement for the army and judging by Rain’s previous experiences, an army advertisement wasn’t that far off.
She’d seen posters like this before, handed out near stores and stapled in every place they could fit. She knew what those words meant. Every poster she’d seen before this one was burned into her memory. Rain’s brain told her it was a bad idea, reminding her that every time she’d ever signed up for these kinds of things, consequences had followed.
Consequences for the greater good, her heart whispered. Not everything was for nothing.
What’s there to improve this time? her mind argued. What threat are we fighting, huh? What enemy is there to take down? The problem was solved.
Rain sighed. Logic had never driven her before, but she knew better than to let her emotions trick her again. She walked off, pretending not to have seen it, wanting to get home before she changed her mind.
She tried to ignore the nagging in the back of her mind, the argument the two sides of her soul seemed to be having. Every second seemed like an eternity as the spring in her step slowly died, the song in her heart forgotten about altogether. Rain knew what would happen if she joined that sort of program again, but some part of her had already announced what the verdict was.
By the time she pulled her keys out to open the door, she had made up her mind.
She pushed open the door and turned off the alarm, going through her usual routine. Rain’s mother and father weren’t home yet, but they would be in half an hour. She walked upstairs and into the living room, grabbing the water bottle from the coffee table and taking a gulp. She screwed the cap back on, walked back down the stairs, and left the house once more.
She skipped back down the front steps, nearly breaking into a run as she neared the telephone pole again. She skidded to halt right in front of the poster, her heart thumping loudly in her temples.
Don’t, her mind said, but Rain ripped one of the tabs off, read the email listed on it, and ran all the way back home.
It was neither cold nor warm, neither light nor dark. The Axolotl’s dimension was a strange place, changing and shifting every so often. There was no day or night, and time stretched and contorted and spun and looped for seemingly no reason. Of course, the shifting of time was completely nonsensical to a human, but for the Axolotl, it made perfect sense. This time, it was dark as night, the air suffocating. The Axolotl moved about lazily, waking slowly from its long slumber.
They hadn’t expected any guests in a long while, at least not since the Pines twins had visited. The past few years (or maybe it was seconds, there was no way to know) had been rather quiet, and they had enjoyed the nap the silence had granted. But now they could sense something. Someone was coming, and it wasn’t anyone good. The Axolotl stretched their body much like a cat, their glimmering, white eyes peeling open.
They were surprised (and rather disappointed) to find a small, yellow, triangular demon sitting in front of them, looking like he had been run over by a train. The brick-like figments that made up the demon’s glowing body looked cracked, some even nudged out of place or missing completely. The Axolotl noticed, their gaze trailing upwards, that the demon’s only eye looked simultaneously livid, terrified, and utterly exhausted.
“Oh, my,” the Axolotl mused, chuckling just a bit. “What predicament did you get yourself into this time, William?”
“Can it, wise guy,” Bill Cipher snapped, against his better judgment. “You’ve known me long enough to know that this is serious.”
The Axolotl’s temper rose for the moment, and they frowned at the triangle’s harsh tone, but observing the withered state of the demon, they decided to ignore Bill’s immaturity.
“Well, you do seem to be a bit more out of sorts than usual,” the Axolotl noted. “And by your harsh tone and lack of respect,” they chuckled a bit at that, “I see it is no laughing matter.”
“Well, is there anything you can do about it?” Bill retorted, not trying to hide the annoyance in his voice.
The Axolotl shifted its gaze to the nonexistent sky and hummed thoughtfully. “There is a way,” they said, “but I doubt you’d like it.”
“I’d like anything but death at this point.”
The creature nodded, looking back at the demon.
“You’ll have to inhabit one of those—what did you call them?—meat popsicles.”
Immediately, Bill’s only eye went wide with fear. “There has to be another option,” he breathed.
“You said you’d like anything but death, and this is far from death.”
“But… but what about their life spans?! I’m at least a million—I’ve lost count of the number—what if I get in one of those fleshy little meat sacks and all of a sudden, boom, dead, my age is too much for it?!”
“We can work our way around that. Dumb it down to the physical age of a teenager or young adult and call it good.”
“ Call it good?! ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?! ”
At this comment, the Axolotl’s eyes turned a threatening shade of red, and they brought themselves up to their full height in order to stare the demon down. Bill shrunk in the creature’s gaze, knowing right away that he probably should’ve just swallowed the words and have them scratch his insides rather than let them out.
“ This is your last option, Cipher. ” Axolotl’s voice boomed across reality. “ If our only other option is death, then I will give it to you myself. Your defiance is highly unnecessary, and I advise you to keep your mouth shut lest you want to be obliterated. In case you need to be reminded, you currently have a very short time limit on your existence. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. ”
Bill shuddered, trying his best to calm himself. The Axolotl lowered themselves to what would’ve been considered the ground, and their eyes turned back to their usual white.
“Are you going to cooperate now?” they asked.
“Sure,” Bill answered cautiously.
“Good. Do you want to go through with your final option, or would you rather choose death?”
“Good. This might hurt.”
He felt… something happen. A little shift in his form, completely involuntary. It was small, practically nonexistent, and if he hadn’t known what was about to happen, he would’ve ignored it, maybe not have even felt it. His form flickered, and he screamed as he felt himself break apart.
Bill realized, in a matter of moments, that the Axolotl wasn’t joking. His entire existence burned. His mind was searing with pain. He found himself gasping for air, and his lungs, or the closest things to them, felt like they were going to explode. The only thing he could see was a blinding shade of vibrant, pale blue, and he suddenly realized why he felt like he was burning.
He was burning.
His figure was coming apart, and his limbs separated from his body as his entire form started to crumble. He could feel his powers starting to decline as his mind split in two, and he was almost completely sure he was going to dissipate. He couldn’t think, he could barely move, and he couldn’t stop screaming.
He wouldn’t put it past the Axolotl to be enjoying this.
“ NONONONO, MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP, I DON’T WANT THIS, PLEASE —”
And then it did stop, leaving him limp and exhausted, heaving and gasping.
Something wasn’t right. He knew it. It felt like a part of him had been removed, and the rest of his consciousness had melted and reshaped in order to fit together again. Almost in an instant, a flood of new-found senses clotted his brain. The fresh smell of grass, the rush of a spring breeze, and the prickly feeling of the cold air on his skin.
“What…” Huff. “Did you…” Puff. “Do?!”
But he knew what the Axolotl had done. Bill knew what had become of his form, but it was slowly dawning on him that, though the Axolotl always seemed to know what they were doing, something was terribly, terribly wrong.
“ What did you do?! ” he shouted, towards nothing in particular. “ Why does this feel so wrong?! Why am I —”
He suddenly realized, at the lack of the creature’s voice, that he was no longer in the Axolotl’s dimension. A firefly flew past him, a whiff of pine tickled his nose, and the buildings off in the distance looked strikingly familiar.
It hit him like a slap to the face.
He was back in Gravity Falls.
“No,” he breathed. “No, no, nonono, anywhere but here —!”
He felt his knees give way under him, and he fell into the soft grass. He could taste something warm and coppery in his mouth, and in the surprise (and also the pain), he blacked out.
Chapter 2: Expected, But Not Warranted
In which an acquaintance comes to help where help is not wanted.
Wake up, Bill.
He shot up, sucking in a huge gulp of air. Then he found himself in a fit of coughs, trying hard not to blackout again. Every blink was like another hour of sleep, and those first few seconds of consciousness seemed to stretch into eternity as he tried to get the room to stop spinning. His eye (or, really, eyes now) darted around the room, trying to gain every bit of information possible.
A hospital, he realized, recognizing the scenery. He had seen these places back when he was a demon, when a little doodle of him meant another hole in reality to peek through. He could feel the rush of doctors and nurses right outside in the hallway, the breath of every patient in the building against the back of his neck. It was all uncomfortably close and vivid, more close and vivid than it had ever been.
When he finally came to, he immediately found his eyes upon a mirror, and he screamed a bit at his reflection. He jumped back and fell off the bed, right onto the cold, hard, tile floor. He groaned a bit, trying to get up, but his legs kept slipping out from underneath him. His own body hardly listened to him, his arms clumsy as he tried to reach for the bed.
He ended up falling back onto the floor several times in a panic before managing to hoist himself up onto the bed, where he deemed it safe. He scoffed at the floor, as though it were patronizing him by simply existing.
Stupid, he thought, what was that? You idiot! You just feel off this bed and onto the floor like a CHILD, and then scrambled around on the ground like a cat trying to walk on ice! All because of your own reflection!
“Alright, alright,” he muttered. “Let’s try this again like someone who knows what they’re doing. He looked back at himself in the mirror, hoping that he looked more like one of the adult meat sacks than he did Dipper Pines.
Looking at his reflection, he was, to say the least, not very pleased to see a scrawny looking teenager with messy, blonde hair, spilling directly into hazel eyes and freckled skin. He cursed to himself, mentally shaking a fist at the Axolotl.
All his fault, making me look like some dumb kid.
He couldn’t have been taller than… five foot eight, he guessed, and his ears were strangely pointed. He looked more like an elf than a human, easy to pick out in a crowd. He scowled at himself, taking very little please in the control he had over his vessel.
He heard the door click open, and he hastily pulled the blankets into their original positions. He covered his head with the blankets, trying to look as though he were still asleep.
The keyword here is trying.
“Ah, I see you’re up, Mr. Cipher,” said a man’s voice.
Bill gave up on the blankets, throwing a fistful of sheets to the end of the bed. He focused as hard and as angrily as he could on the person who had just walked into the room, his eyes narrowing as he recognized the person’s face.
“Tad Strange,” he snarled.
Tad Strange smiled politely. “Bill Cipher,” he smiled in a more polite tone. “You know, you could at least be a little grateful I managed to spot you.” He closed the door as gently as he could. “If not, you probably would’ve died.”
Bill grimaced at the sight of the young man. Tad Strange was an innocuously innocent man, but that wasn’t to say he didn’t have a track record. The gentleman was plenty acquainted with several villains, small-time criminals and feared sinners alike. Tad probably didn’t want to be associated with them in the first place, but he was about as bright as the nearest compact fluorescent bulb and just about as convenient as one, too.
Bill hadn’t been expecting much, and yet he was still disappointed. He knew Tad Strange as a… well, a strange character, pun reluctantly intended, because for as long as Tad had lived in Gravity Falls, he’d been the only person not to accidentally bump into the town’s weird usual weird sightings.
And yet, Bill noted, Tad hadn’t seemed to acknowledge the demon as anything but normal.
“You were completely out by the time I’d found you,” said Tad, taking off his jacket and hanging it on the coat hanger in the corner. “I was driving back into Gravity Falls from Atreno City and I saw you lying on the side of the road. I thought I was too late. I thought you were dead.” He smiled, sitting in the chair next to the bed. “But you’re alive and healthy! Well, almost, but better in the ER than dead, I suppose—”
“ You?! ” Bill laughed, making Tad jump. “ You’re the one who finds me?! Out of all the idiots out there, it had to be—?!” He could hardly speak through his laughter, though he didn’t find any part of the situation even remotely funny. “You know what? No. Why are you here, Tad Strange?”
“Well, it’s a bit of a long story,” Tad Strange chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “I got involved with… with the Axolotl, if you’ve ever heard of such a creature—”
“ The Axolotl? ” Bill breathed, anger running up his spine. “How do you know about that frilly know-it-all? ” He rose to his full height, inching his way towards Tad in an attempt to be threatening. “Don’t they know what I can do to you? What I can do to anyone who gets on my nerves?”
Tad gulped. “Theoretically speaking, yes,” he sputtered, looking concerned rather than scared. “I w-wouldn’t try to use your abilities, though—”
“Or what?! ” Bill snapped, energy coursing through his veins. “You honestly think I don’t have the energy to sabotage the Axolotl’s far-fetched plans?! I should kill you right now!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you…”
“You know what? I don’t particularly care what you would do if you were me,” Bill smirked. “You should’ve thought twice about this, Strange! Not that you would—!”
Something strange happened as the magic reached his fingertips. Bill felt a jolt of pain run up his back, something akin to being electrocuted, and he doubled over, arms wrapped around himself in an attempt to ease the pain. He forced himself to breathe evenly and slowly, biting on his lower lip to keep himself from screaming. One breath, two breaths, trying to stop the thumping in his chest from beating so loud.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you,” said Tad, worry etched in his voice. “Your powers… they’re still there, but very limited and weak. On its own, that wouldn’t be so bad, but if you overwork yourself as you are now, your form will break apart and… well, you’ll die. ”
Bill could taste blood in his mouth, and he wiped it away with his hand as quickly as he could. His whole body still ached, and he wondered if he were dying right then. He could die a hundred times as a demon, but once he died as a human, he was gone for good.
“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Cipher,” said Tad, “but I can’t do anything to help. It’s just—”
“You’re mortal, you’re mortal, I know,” Bill groaned. “So, why did the Axolotl make me like this? All scrawny and weak?”
“Well, you know the Axolotl,” Tad chuckled. “Always such strange reasons for things… It’s sort of funny, actually…”
Bill didn’t find any part of the situation remotely funny, and Tad realized this in a matter of moments. He bit his lip, trying to think of a way to help.
“There’s something I can do to make this situation better, though.”
Bill looked up at him half-heartedly, his eyes narrowing in annoyance. “What’s that?”
Tad gulped, hoping this wouldn’t sound stupid. “I’ve been trying to learn magic,” he spoke, shifting awkwardly. “Simple stuff. I recently figured out how to temporarily dull pain, which could help until I can get some ibuprofen for you.” He clasped his hands together. “If… If that would be okay.”
Bill scoffed, blowing a stray hair out of his face. “Go ahead,” he muttered, turning his back towards the man.
Tad sighed thankfully, placing his hands in front of him, just barely hovering over Bill’s back. Energy coursed through his veins and down to his palms, and he willed it to spread in all directions. A soft shade of blue shone under his palms and then faded slowly. He pulled his hands away.
“How does it feel now?”
The pain had ceased. Bill’s shoulders and head still stung just a bit, but other than that, Tad’s magic seemed to have done the trick. They were both surprised that it had worked at all, considering Tad’s lack of experience with magic.
The man straightened himself up to his full height. “Look,” he started, gaining a little confidence, “I actually have business with you. It’s about your whole… being a human thing.” Bill lifted his head a bit. “To actually complete the process, we need someone who knows how to prevent your soul from splitting in two.”
“You— Huh? ”
“That’s why I’m here,” Tad said defensively, though Bill had barely said anything. “I would’ve probably just left you here, but then I realized that you would probably destroy yourself if I had done that. So, we need to find someone who knows how to help you.”
“Who told you all this?” Bill asked skeptically. “How do you know this stuff?”
“The Axolotl, as far-fetched as it may sound,” Tad sighed, rubbing his temples. “They told me… I needed to help you when the time came. It was eight years ago, right after the… umm, weirdpocalypse. ”
“That rat. And it’s Weirdmageddon.”
“And this is a hospital, ” Bill argued. “From what I’ve gathered, they can repair a human on the brink of death and nurse them back to full health in a week.”
“Y-Yes, but not the soul! ” Tad countered. “When was the last time you met anyone who knows even a lick about the soul?!”
Bill thought for a moment. He opened his mouth to respond but found he didn’t have the energy to argue. In fact, he felt rather light-headed.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Tad started. “You might be fading in and out of consciousness for a while. Now, what we need to do is—”
The rest of the sentence was lost in Bill’s frantic attempts to keep his eyes open. One second, he was in the hospital bed, the next second, he was alone in the room, getting himself dressed in normal clothes. In another few blinks, he was lying on the ground, and then he was walking through the automatic doors at the front of the hospital.
And then darkness. He found himself slipping from reality, his conscious trying to claw itself out of the deep, dark pit he found himself in. He tried to scream. He really did. He tried to call out for the Axolotl, to swear at the creature for making him like this. He felt cold and small and weak, and for the first time in who knew how long, he felt terrified.
Now, it would be a lie to say that Bill Cipher never felt scared. Of course he had felt scared before. Only hours ago, or maybe minutes, he couldn’t tell, he had felt scared because he was burning, being forced into this petty excuse for a vessel. He had felt scared eight years ago (was that really how long it had been?) because he had been forgotten inside the mind of Stanley Pines. He had been scared too many times to count.
But the last time had been terrified…
Well, he never liked to remember it, but—
Saw his own dimension burn,
Misses home, but can’t return.
Something shook him awake, bringing him back to consciousness. Bill lurched forward where he sat, placing his hands on whatever was in front of him to keep himself from smacking against it. His eyes finally started to focus, and he found himself staring at the dashboard of a minivan.
Something crashed right in front of them, and the car swerved again to avoid a red streak of lightning. Bill covered his ears, glancing around to try and gain his bearings.
“Sorry, sorry, we’re almost there!” Tad shouted from the driver’s seat, all his attention focused on the road in front of him. “Look, Bill! To our right!”
Bill looked in the indicated direction and was shocked to see a dark, swirling storm cloud, circling just above the freeway they were driving on. Another bolt of lightning shot the cliff nearby, sending a chunk of rock towards the lake below. He grimaced, rolling down the window and sticking his head out. There was an odd sort of energy in the air, making his skin tingle.
“Do you feel that?” Tad asked, his voice shaking. “That island is surrounded by dark magic. Normally, it wouldn’t be this stormy, but we have to get in nonetheless.”
Another bolt of lightning struck the road ahead of them, and the car swerved a little, forcing Bill to pull his head back in. He was about to ask Tad what island he was talking about when he saw it. A small, black silhouette, barely visible against the shadow of the dark storm, getting closer by the minute.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked nervously.
“I mean, unless there’s another scientist smart enough to mend a soul, then yes,” Tad answered simply. Bill gulped.
He had hoped he’d never have to go into that place.
“Hat Island,” he breathed, and as the clouds parted slightly, he spotted Black Hat Manor. “How are we even supposed to get there?”
Tad smiled mischievously, and he pressed a button next to the steering wheel. There was a jolt and a stutter from the car engine as the entire vehicle seemed to shift. A long moment passed where the car nearly stopped, and then they were in the air, flying over the lake.
“ WHAT?! ” Bill exclaimed, cackling loudly. “ How…! Where did you get this car?! ”
“Dr. Slys gave it to me,” Tad explained. “Come on, let’s get going.”
Chapter 3: Not Expected At All, Honest
“ The doctor WHAT?! ”
“Actually, it’s the Doctor Who, ” Demencia laughed, bored with the current company. “And like I said, Flug isn’t here. He hasn’t been for… I dunno, a week, maybe? Gave me a chance to ransack his dork lab.”
“Wh— Demencia, you can’t just DO THAT! ” Tad shouted, his voice shaking with panic. “Flug actually does stuff in there! IMPORTANT THINGS! ”
“Geez, Tad Pole, if you’re gonna come all the way out here just to talk to me, at least be nice about it.”
“Th-That’s not why we’re here.”
“I know,” Demencia shrugged, blowing a pink bubble of gum. She let it grow as big as it could before it popped. Not even bothering to put it back in her mouth, she continued, “I just enjoy your visits.”
A thought seemed to strike Tad suddenly, and he groaned. “That must be why the big guy’s in such a rage. No one could’ve missed that big old storm.”
“Yep!” Demencia chuckled. “He’s pretty handsome, especially when he’s angry.” She spat out a wad of gum before reaching into her pocket and tossing another into her mouth, not even taking the time to unwrap it. “I mean, if you wanna go check around Flug’s lab, that’s fine. It’s not like I stole everything in there.”
“I’d rather not,” Tad mumbled, before opening the large set of doors behind him and striding back down the black steps of the manor.
Bill was still waiting in the car, looking fairly miserable, and his eyes softened a bit as he saw Tad walking towards him.
“So, how’d it go?”
“Not as well as I’d hoped,” Tad sighed, defeated as he slid back into the driver’s seat. “Flug isn’t here, apparently. Went someplace and Demencia doesn’t know where.”
“When’s he gonna get back?” Bill spat, looking annoyed. “It certainly doesn’t help us if we can’t find a solution to this. ” He crossed his arms over his chest, closing his eyes.
“Well, according to Demencia, he won’t be back in a while,” Tad answered, looking anxious. “And by a while, she could mean anywhere from a few days to a few years. So, we’re forced to find an alternative.” He could hardly hide his doubt, and by the looks of it, Bill was starting to have doubts as well.
“Well, we’re not gonna get anywhere just sitting here,” the demon concluded, his demeanor changing from depressed to energetic in a matter of seconds. “Come on, Tad, give yourself a break. I’ll drive the car.” He made an attempt to reach for the wheel.
Tad pushed his arms away, laughing a little. “You are not driving.”
“Have you ever taken a driving class?”
“No,” Bill admitted. “But I have possessed people before. I’ve driven plenty of cars.”
Tad groaned. He remembered the time in Gravity Falls when he’d fallen flat on his back to avoid an out-of-control car barrelling down the street. That was the first time he had seen those yellow eyes, staring right through his soul. Bill’s eyes weren’t yellow now, probably to look as human as possible, but his pupils picked apart Tad’s inner workings like a child picking apart a broken toy.
“You’re right, though, we should get moving,” Tad sighed, changing the subject. “The sooner we find a solution to this, the better.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket and started the engine, and the automobile propelled itself into the sky, back towards the mainland.
Tad would’ve swerved right off the freeway if he hadn’t taken his foot off the gas as soon as he started losing control of the vehicle. The car had started swerving because Tad had left his phone’s volume at max and someone had called him. He picked up the phone using the car’s Bluetooth system and groaned when he saw who it was.
“Hey, Demencia,” he sighed.
“Geez, Tad, ya don’t have to sound so dejected about it,” she replied sarcastically.
“ Please tell me you’re gonna give me some good news.”
Bill’s expression softened.
“Eh, depends on your point of view,” Demencia answered. “There’s a way to mend a soul or whatever you wanted, but you won’t like it.”
“Just tell us what it is, Demencia,” Bill groaned.
“ OHHH! Who’s that with you? Can I talk to him? ”
“Demencia,” Tad spoke, reminding her of the task at hand.
“Sorry, sorry,” Demencia apologized. “Anyways, ever heard of the Protect Your Fellow Fictionals program? You have to sign up for the program to use their services, but it should do the trick.”
“The what program?”
“PYFF? Ya know, Fictional Foundation? They made every other four-letter acronym program?”
Tad was as silent as a shadow, his eyes narrowed in fury. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he hissed. “That stupid hero organization? The one feeding those people lies?! ”
Tad hung up immediately, continuing to drive with a hard expression. Bill’s eyes went wide, and he glared at Tad in utter confusion and rage.
“ Tad! ” he shouted angrily. “ Pull over, NOW! ” He could feel another jolt of pain starting to run up his spine, but at this point, he couldn’t have cared less.
As if suddenly realizing that Bill was there, Tad’s eyes went wide with shame and fear, and he pulled to the side of the freeway almost immediately. Bill opened the car door before the vehicle had even stopped, stepping ou in a nearly casual way.
“Bill, I didn’t mean to—”
“ This is going to cost me my LIFE, Tad! ” Bill yelled, feeling the pain shoot through him once again. He stumbled forward, and Tad made an attempt to approach. “ Don’t, ” the demon demanded, getting up on his own. “This will be all your fault in the end, you know. What will the Axolotl say when they hear that you’ve broken their precious toy?”
“You’re not their toy , Bill,” Tad insisted. “The Axolotl wanted to help you.”
“ With their little EXPERIMENT?! ” Bill laughed, throwing his hands in the air. “ No, Tad, the Axolotl doesn’t even know how to make humans without their souls being on the brink of splitting in two! You made the wrong decision, listening to that frilly idiot, you made the wrong—”
Tad didn’t know which part was more painful to watch. It was either the part where Bill’s frail, teenage body made contact with the oncoming SUV, or when Bill skidded to a halt on the road, eyes shut tight, his arms wrapped around himself in protection. It didn’t matter to Tad; he could barely watch as the car collided with the once-demon, as Bill Cipher, once feared far and wide, dropped to the ground like a kicked puppy.
For a second, Tad couldn’t move. He had no idea what to do. But as soon as Bill started to move, he ran over to make sure the boy was alright.
“Bill!” Tad shouted. “Are you okay?!” He prayed to the heavens that Bill was okay, and as his eyes swept over Bill’s body, he realized that the car had inflicted no damage upon him, not one scratch.
Of course, he thought. The soul is directly connected to the body. With his soul broken, he can’t be hurt, at least not like this.
“Tad,” Bill started, getting up, “sooner or later, my soul is going to implode, taking me with it. I don’t care what kind of crappy program I have to get into in order to prevent that from happening, I am not going to die. Not here.” He started walking back towards Tad’s car. “Now get back in your seat and call Demencia back. ”
Tad stared after Bill a couple of seconds after the demon had already walked away, a pained expression on his face. Tad sighed, knowing at the bottom of his heart that he had done something wrong. Something detrimental to Bill’s survival. It wasn’t like Tad wanted to keep Bill alive in the first place, and the young man was starting to wonder if he wanted to keep Bill alive at all.
He reminded himself, again, that if he didn’t do this, Bill was going to die. Bill was going to die and it would be no one else’ fault but his own, just like it always was. Begrudgingly, he walked back over to his car and sat in the driver’s seat, twisting his keys and starting the engine.
“You’re lucky the Axolotl told you to help me,” Bill muttered, “or I would’ve torn you to pieces a long while ago.”
“Sure,” Tad replied, though he severely doubted it.
Chapter 4: Light Bulbs are Pretty Great
Being human was weird.
Wheatley had thought this several times in the past five minutes, and now he just couldn’t stop thinking about it. He kept pondering on it over and over, even as he was fitted into his new, artificial human body. It felt almost like the real thing, not that Wheatley knew how that felt. It felt much better than the old one, the one that felt like operating a fax machine from the inside.
As the machine patching up his synthetic skin worked away, Wheatley took a step back and reflected on the week’s events. Being back in the facility had not been the most pleasant experience, especially when he was within Her reach. To be completely honest, he would’ve much preferred being in space with the dreaded Space Core.
Not even within a minute of being inside the testing facility’s walls, She had come up with the brilliant idea of running some tests on him. She didn’t have any humans on hand because, to put it quite simply, they were all dead. The only other human known to the both of them was well outside a fifty-mile radius, and if the dim recollection of the outside world Wheatley had was accurate (not that it was), she was probably dead as well.
So, after a few moments of consideration from Her and desperate complaining from him, Wheatley was forced to shamble about in a clunky, antique, and certainly bug-infested artificial human body. She had probably cooked it up in Her spare time just to torture any core who disobeyed Her. It was made only of old, rusting metal and computing systems from who really knew when.
It made learning how to walk on two legs terribly fun. Even better still was learning how to bend his fingers in order to pull the trigger of a portal gun or even remembering how to choose which finger to bend.
Getting his hand to fit in the portal gun was just spectacular.
The old circuitry gave Wheatley a hard time even thinking without giving himself an artificial migraine, and it certainly didn’t help with solving a few tests, either. So, in the end, he landed himself in a small, undisturbed and untouchable nook in the wall, in which he sobbed for an hour.
Or, really, sobbed artificially. He was sure that if he came within three inches of a body of water, he would freeze up and never move again.
By the time Wheatley had found his hiding place, She was well beyond ready to give up and just send him to the surface, where She would never have to see him again. But now that Wheatley was in his little corner, She had no way to get him back out. No amount of teasing or encouragement would convince him to come out again.
She was incredibly relieved, Wheatley imagined, when the moron found a way out on his own. He had no way of knowing, of course, but he was incredibly relieved, and he would’ve been surprised if the feeling wasn’t mutual.
Miles and miles of wheat, staring at him from beyond the metaphorical grave. Wheatley had never seen so much flora in his life but he still felt as though he had seen it all before. He had smiled, those first few hours, smiled in the warm sun, a sun he could not feel.
The smiling did not last. After the initial warmth of freedom came the cold of loneliness. Wheatley walked for three days and three nights, glancing around for any other signs of life, without his artificial nervous system to calm him. The darkness of night was startling after the glow of the evening sun, and the night brought new sorts of terrors.
Wheatley had put himself into sleep mode in order to conserve power. An mK4 personality core didn’t need to be charged for up to ten years, but he had no way of knowing how fast the piece of junk he was inhabiting would consume its battery life. So, he powered down for the night and decided to keep moving in the morning.
And then, the scariest part of the journey; Wheatley dreamed.
A dream for any robot was nothing more than short-term information being transferred to the memory disk, but Wheatley had never experienced it firsthand. A personality core wasn’t required to go into sleep mode, so dreaming came in the form of daydreams and background computer activity. But now he was dreaming, really dreaming, for the first time.
He dreamed of very strange things at first. Long, twisting maintenance rails that led to nowhere, men in white coats who walked on the walls, gray office cubicles with glassy-eyed employees, and visions of the test subject who’d defeated Her.
And then something terrifying.
Out of the shadows of Wheatley’s robotic subconscious came the silhouette of a lanky figure, dressed in a black suit and a top hat. His green teeth glimmered in the darkness as he adjusted his monocle, moving towards Wheatley without ever taking a step.
Water. I need water.
He’d awoken to the wheat fields again, gasping for breath and scrambling for something to soothe his dry throat. It wasn’t long before Wheatley realized that he could not drink water, and even if he could, he didn’t even need to hydrate himself. He sighed, taking a few synthesized breaths as his hard drive whirred in his chest, and stared out across the horizon.
In the shadow of the rising sun, he saw someone approaching. A tall, strongly built figure, walking gracefully among the plants. Wheatley recognized her face as she came closer, as she called out to him from across the field. He ran towards her as best he could, every hiss and creak of his metal body making him wince.
My name is Chell.
You weren’t the first to escape that place and you probably won’t be the last.
There are a few androids like you who got out here.
Are you injured? You look sort of rusty.
Wheatley had sputtered out an explanation mixed with an apology, a speech he’d practiced for years but had never said to anyone aloud beside the Space Core. A quick no, I’m not injured, a thankfulness for her wellbeing, and a long list of all the things he’d done wrong that made him sound like a broken record.
And then she’d punched him.
Hours later, after walking together in silence, she forgave him. Chell explained what had happened in Old Aperture, telling Wheatley the story of how GLaDOS had helped her.
He’d shivered at the name. Only someone as brave as Chell would dare mention it out loud.
GLaDOS (he had to get used to hearing it), once removed from Her mainframe, acted like a sensible and empathetic human being, if only for a time. Chell had pieced together the situation; the mainframe was a corrupting work of art, a source of power she doubted any android could properly recover from.
After that, the days were a blur. Chell had taken Wheatley to a small town a few hours away, occupied by various interesting characters and a few androids. There, he’d heard fleeting words about the Fictional Foundation and their “hero program.”
Protect Your Fellow Fictionals, they called it. It called upon the people of many worlds to heal together, to make new friends and “have fun,” but also defeat evil and keep the world safe, if need be. Wheatley had gotten excited about the idea, asking around for any information.
It was his shot at redemption.
And now he was here, sitting within the comfy confines of a brilliantly crafted artificial body, complete with a robotic nervous system and other features. Wheatley hummed a tune to himself, closing his eyes and taking it all in.
He almost didn’t notice it right away, but he felt as though the whirring of the machine seemed a bit too loud as it came to a stop. The PYFF building had gone quiet save for a few footsteps, and the beige walls no longer held the echo of chatter and conversation. No, instead, all that came through the white archways was a feeling of doom and imminent danger.
Wheatley looked out into the main hallway, where several people had stopped walking and were now staring intently at something at the other end of the room. Whispers broke out like fires and sparks, some in excitement or interest, others in fear. No matter what the reason, he heard only one name.
“Is that him? ”
“Is that the demon?”
“What did they call him? Bill?”
Wheatley, having been underground for the majority of his life, knew nothing of the demon. From the sound of things, he had a very strong feeling that Bill Cipher was a rather dangerous person. However, when the demon came into view, his strong feeling was quickly erased. Bill Cipher looked relatively non-threatening, and it was hard for Wheatley to believe that this “demon” could ever be dangerous.
Well, he knew a thing or two about being small and dangerous, that was for sure. It was impossible that he would ever forget being trapped in Her mainframe while his brain corroded like a dead battery. He doubted that it mattered what Bill Cipher looked like.
He stepped into the hallway and looked to the person closest to him for answers. That particular person happened to be a young man clad in purple with a light bulb for a head, who jumped a little when Wheatley came near.
“Excuse me,” Wheatley whispered, “but who is that guy?”
“You don’t know about him?” Newton Pud asked nervously. “He’s the most feared man in the entire multiverse.” He paused. “Well, not as feared as Black Hat, obviously, probably not even close. But he was a bringer of mischief, chaos, absurdities… you get the idea.” He shuffled his feet a little, looking down at his shoes.
“If he’s so scary, why does he look like a teenager?”
“I don’t know,” Newton replied. “I’m just some nobody from Bunkum. Only important people know about that kind of stuff. If he’s signing up for the program, I hope I’m not in the same group as him. That would be terrifying. ”
“He’s signing up?” Wheatley’s eyes went wide with interest.
“W-Well, I don’t k-know,” Newton sputtered. “I mean, I’m assuming.”
“Ah.” Wheatley turned his attention towards Bill Cipher again, noticing the lanky, black-haired man next to him. “Who’s that guy with him?”
“Err…” Newton’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “No idea.” He turned toward Wheatley. “I’m Newton, by the way. Newton Pud.”
“Wheatley.” He stuck his hand out to shake, and Newton took it hesitantly. “So, what brings you here?”
“I wanted something new, I guess,” Newton replied. “How about you?”
“Well, err, it’s kind of a long story,” Wheatley answered nervously, “one that would go on and on if I even started talking about it… People tell me I tend to ramble a bit. I need to get better at that. But I guess I was looking for a miracle.”
Newton laughed a little, a genuine laugh that made Wheatley chuckle a bit as well. He supposed this was what having a friendly conversation with someone felt like. One where he talked, and someone listened, and then they talked, and he listened.
Honestly, this whole human thing was starting to grow on him.
“ NO! ” Nana Pud cried. “I will not allow it! I cannot allow it! How could you do this without telling me?! ”
“Don’t you ‘mum’ me,” she retorted, pacing back and forth across the kitchen. “First you disappear for Higginbotham knows how long, you broke the one rule your father and I put into place, you get possessed by the Titans, have a child put in danger because he went to save you —”
“But you told him to—”
“ And, on top of it all, you think you can go out and find an excuse to leave again, after all you’ve done! Oh, wait until your father hears about this, he’ll be in such a rage, Newty!”
“Mumsie, I’m not ten anymore, I can’t be in this house forever—”
“Well, I am not going to allow it!” Nana Pud interjected. “Haven’t you heard the rumors? Remember the demon that’s walking around the place?”
“Yes, I saw him—”
“ SAW him?! Absolutely not! I am not allowing it! ”
“W-Well,” Newton started to raise his voice, “I don’t need you to! I’ve been an adult for years! I should be allowed to go out and do what I please without you bothering me, not letting me do anything! ”
“But you’re too irresponsible! ” Nana Pud argued. You are my only son, and for all I know, you could go out there and get yourself killed like you almost did last time! I cannot allow you to put yourself in danger! Not with your father gone all the time! You are all I have left!”
There was a moment of silence in which Newton realized what his mother’s motives were, only broken by Nana Pud holding back a sob. Her son looked up in surprise when he heard the sound.
“Oh, no, mumsie, that’s why… I’m so, so sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“No, no, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Nana Pud said solemnly. “I shouldn’t be worrying so much, I just—”
“No, I never even considered that you felt that way!” Newton blubbered, tears forming in his eyes. “I just thought…”
They stood there for a few seconds in silence before Nana Pud pulled her son into a hug. Tears streamed down Newton Pud’s face all the while as he tried to regain his bearings.
“I’ll allow it,” Nana Pud whispered, smiling for the first time in a while.
Chapter 5: Bill Ci the Demon Guy
The room had gotten a bit louder since Bill’s arrival, but the air still felt cold and tense as they waited for the doctor to call them in.
The PYFF program building was a grand, white-walled hall looking something akin to Grand Central Station mixed with a mall. Black archways lined the end of the hall, leading to universes that couldn’t completely merge with the main one, and near the center of the building was a line of cushioned benches.
Tad had signed Bill up for the program a couple of minutes ago, which meant that the demon now had an identity. He had a name and place in the databooks, which meant he was now in every government archive in the world. He resented that information greatly, but he decided he’d worry about that later.
He was starting to think, now that he had explored a bit, that the program had services for everyone. The founders had really thought of everything, hadn’t they? They had android labs for robotic participants, counselors, therapists, clubs for baking, writing, and even LGBT+ pride, and doctors for both mundane and magical ailments.
Honestly, it was pretty great, and Bill couldn’t quite understand why Tad had an angry look on his face the entire time they were there. Sure, sometimes people stopped to stare at Bill, but he didn’t mind very much. He was a sight to behold, after all, and being feared was, in his opinion, a great feeling. It made him feel much more powerful than he truly was.
Sometimes, however, people would laugh. Bill thought it rude, a disgrace to his image, but reasoned that it meant they underestimated him. He was sure that once his powers returned to him, he would be able to crush anyone that opposed him.
“Gee, Tad,” Bill chuckled, seeing Tad cross his arms. “You don’t have to look so down. My soul is getting mended. Isn’t that what you wanted? Isn’t that what the Axolotl asked you to do? Why are you so bitter about this place existing? ”
“Sure, sure, it’s great for you,” Tad muttered, leaning up against the wall. “I’ll admit, it’s great that you’re getting healed, but you wouldn’t understand.” He shivered, looking around. “This place… it brings back bad memories.”
“Bad memories, huh?” Bill laughed a bit. “Who cares? The past isn’t as important as the future, Tad. Where there are consequences, there are opportunities.”
“Opportunities,” Tad frowned. “Yeah, right. Like what? Getting torn to pieces by the media if you betray these people? Getting blamed for crimes you didn’t commit?”
“What are you blabbing on about? That isn’t the point.”
“Well, it’s my point,” Tad asserted, looking at his shoes. “These people betray just as easily as you could! They lie and they cheat and they earn people’s trust just to throw them to the ground!”
“Tad, where is this coming from?”
“Haven’t you heard?!” Tad started, raising his voice a little. “Don’t you remember when villains were in charge of everything around here?! When heroes were nothing but selfish brats beating the crap out of criminals just because they got recognition for it?!”
“Obviously,” Bill answered.
Tad rubbed his temples irritably. “Don’t you remember Sunblast? How he only defeated Penumbra because it was fun? Heroes like that, the ones that make up these types of programs, they don’t care about the people they serve! It almost makes the villains worth working for!”
The demon looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “So you’ve seen this sort of thing before? The sort of stuff everyone’s already seen?”
“Yes!” Tad was trying to keep his voice level. “They’ve done this sort of thing before. They’ve had people sign up.” He put a hand to his chest. “ I’ve signed up. They’ve done terrible things to people like us! ‘Traitors’ who were afraid of being on the wrong side!”
“We can’t trust them, Bill!” Tad retorted, voice shaking. “ I can’t trust them!”
Bill huffed indignantly. “Look, Tad, I know what I’m doing!” he retorted. “Trust me, okay?!”
Tad hesitated, obviously puzzled that Bill would say anything of the sort. Bill looked somewhat surprised, too, as if the words that had just come out of his mouth weren’t meant to be heard. He stared intently at Tad, though, knowing what he’d said but not wanting to draw attention to it.
“Okay,” Tad sighed, sliding into a seat. “Forget I said anything, then.”
A doctor had walked into the room. Bill and Tad stood up, and the doctor smiled.
Bill had never really seen one before, so he didn’t know what they were supposed to look like. He had a feeling a soul wasn’t supposed to look like this.
It was shaped like a heart; streaks of lightning split it almost directly in half, making it look moments away from breaking in two. Cracks covered the rest of it, the light of the soul weak, but pulsing steadily, like a heartbeat.
It hurt just to look at.
“The soul is a fickle thing,” the doctor explained. “Linked to emotional output, memory, and physical change. Whether it’s a physical object or a manifested energy, nobody knows. Maybe it’s both. Either way, the soul is surprisingly easy to tamper with.” He crossed his arms. “Tamper with it enough and it will break.”
“But can it be fixed? ” Tad asked, looking concerned.
‘Well, it may look like a lot of damage, the doctor continued, “but souls are easier to fix than they are to break. I’ll be right back.” He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, leaving the two in silence.
Bill stared at the soul, not knowing how to feel. The thing was a sickly shade of yellow, though he supposed that had always been his defining color.
He had never really been that fond of the color, to be honest. He’d always leaned towards the color red. Blue was a good choice, too. But being a demon meant that you were whatever color you came into existence as. You couldn’t really choose.
Humans couldn’t really choose, either, but they had a rather nice gradient of colors if he was honest with himself. Shades of peach mixed with lilac, almond and chocolate, caramel and oak, apricot and coral, though the humans preferred to just call them “white,” “tan,” and “black.”
He had never really understood it. There might have been a few “tan” humans, that was certain, but he’d never seen a human with snow-white skin, nor a human with pure black skin. He had seen a human with orange skin, but he wasn’t really sure if that was common.
Being a demon, you could be any color in the universe. You could be pink, purple, gray, green, yellow, red, any color you could think of.
And he just happened to be gifted with a shade of yellow he could only call lemon.
He had tried a lemon once.
“It really isn’t a pretty color,” said Bill. Tad looked up in surprise and confusion, but a look of realization spread across his face when Bill pointed to his soul.
“You really don’t think so?” Tad asked. “I think it’s rather sunny.”
“Yeah, I’ve never really liked the sun,” Bill countered. “Too bright. You can’t look at it without a headache. I much prefer the moon.”
“Bill, you can’t look at the sun without going blind. ”
“Eh, I guess.”
The door clicked open suddenly, and the doctor walked back into the room.
“Sorry for the wait,” he said. “The treatment is actually quite simple. There are multiple ways to fix a soul that’s been damaged like this, but the easiest solution is a magical, soul-like substance that holds the soul together while it heals.” There was a speck of white gel on his finger, and he placed his index fingers together and then pulled them apart. A small string connected his fingertips, glowing faintly.
“So, like stitches,” Tad suggested.
“That’s one way to look at it,” the doctor smiled, approaching Bill’s soul. “This might tingle.”
He reached forward to get a closer look, poking the gel through the soul as though he were stitching together a tear on a pair of pants. Bill shivered as the substance was applied, but did not object. The doctor held the soul together with one hand as the gel began to occupy the crevices, turning from white to a pale yellow. As the substance settled in Bill’s soul, it began to glow more noticeably, looking healthy and good as new.
The doctor stepped away. “And there you have it. A mended soul.”
“So, how does it feel?” Tad asked.
Bill smiled a bit. “It actually feels a lot better,” he replied. “I don’t know. I feel like I’m less… tense. There was a timer ticking down to death in the back of my mind, I guess, but now it’s gone.”
Tad smiled, but his smile faded as quickly as it appeared. “I’m… gonna go talk to customer service and ask some questions.”
Bill sat on one of the benches near the middle of the program building. People still looked and stared at him as they walked by, and by this point, he was getting a little annoyed. Not because they were pointing him out so much, no, but there was something about the way they looked at him that made him the slightest bit irritated.
A young girl dressed in white stopped as she walked by, her black hair tucked into her cap, white dress fluttering around her. Bill took a few seconds to notice her, but when he did, he narrowed his eyes in irritation.
“What are you looking at?” he demanded, gritting his teeth.
Princess Ida frowned at him, but she didn’t care for what he had to say. “You’re not human,” she stated simply, before turning her head and walking away.
Bill only sat there, looking dumbfounded. For some strange reason, he was enraged by what she had said. He wanted to scream at her for being so insolent. He knew, still, that he could not do anything to harm her, and he knew her statement was correct. He couldn’t argue with her on that, especially since it was the truth.
So why was he so angered by it?
Before he could think more, however, Tad walked over to him. “Time to go,” he said as if consoling a child. Bill hated how he said it, and yet he couldn’t figure out why.
“Fine,” he said, trying to keep his voice even.
“So, there’s seven to a household,” Tad explained. “You already have your keys, and you each get a debit card, a phone if you need one, and some other stuff.”
They were walking towards the household Tad was talking about, Bill carrying only an empty wallet that Tad had bought him on the way there, which held nothing but his identification. He carried nothing else because he had nothing else. No other clothes, no other belongings, but he supposed this was a start.
“That stuff will be in your bedroom,” Tad finished. “I guess that’s everything.”
They were at the doors to the house now, and they stood there in silence for a few moments.
“I should… probably leave,” Tad muttered, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He started to walk away, looking down at his shoes.
He turned back around towards Bill, looking curious.
“Hey, um,” the demon said, “I know it’s pretty unusual to hear me say this, but you’re not so bad, for a human.” He looked at Tad shyly, not used to saying such kind words. “Thanks for everything. I mean it.”
Tad’s eyebrows raised just a little, but a warm smile spread across his face. “You’re not so bad yourself,” he admitted, laughing a bit. “I’ll see you around.”
As Tad walked back towards the car, Bill reached into his pocket for the keys he’d received earlier. He unlocked the front door and turned the brass knob, walking inside.
He could hear chatter in the room beyond, but the conversation quickly died down when Bill walked in, closing the door behind him. Five horrified and awestruck faces filled the room, and there was an odd feeling in his gut as his eyes swept over them that he couldn’t place.
Embarrassment, maybe? Fear? Guilt? Whatever it was, Bill didn’t like it. He shook the feeling off immediately, surveying the other guests.
The first man he laid eyes on had ruffled blonde hair that stuck up on top and on either side of his head. He wore a pair of rectangular glasses that made him look more puzzled than intelligent, and there was something about his deep, blue eyes that made him look… artificial? Fake? Automated? Either way, those eyes seemed a little too deep for a human, and it made Bill chuckle a bit.
The second man stuck out like a sore thumb, but he probably would’ve looked perfectly normal if his head were anything other than a light bulb. He was clad mostly in pink and purple, and his yellow eyes gave off a vibrant and friendly glow. Bill could tell that he was somewhat of a coward, however, as he shivered when their gazes met.
The third man was the only one in the room who looked completely normal. He had short, brown hair that swept to one side of his face, and he wore big, round glasses that gave Bill the impression that he was somewhat of an intellect. His gaze swept down to his attire, a purple and black sweater vest over a pale, yellow shirt, and ridiculously baggy pants.
The fourth man looked more intellectual in appearance, as he wore a white lab coat, but Bill was surprised to see that his face was covered with a paper bag and goggled. He wore blue denim jeans and red sneakers, as well as a blue shirt with a picture of a broken plane on the front. He looked… relatively excited by Bill’s presence.
As Bill’s eyes moved over to the last man, standing near the corner of the room, he felt a shiver run down his spine. A trenchcoat and hat were all the demon saw at first, but then a skeletal face took up the space between, a mysterious twinkle in his eyes. Bill’s stomach did a sort of sickly flip-flop as he tried to maintain his composure, and he realized just what this man was.
The last man was a ghost.
Chapter 6: A Relatively Nice Guy but Not Really
“Oh my god,” Flug breathed, a smile growing rapidly on his face. “You’re Bill Cipher. You’re Bill Cipher. ”
Yes, indeed, Bill Cipher, legendary demon, bringer of the apocalypse, psychopathic mastermind, king of darkness, whatever you wanted to call him, had just walked into the room. He had quickly studied each of them, his eyes picking apart everything about their attire, and Flug had barely been able to contain his excitement. He still couldn’t contain his excitement as he bounded over to the demon, hands shaking with joy.
“ You’re Bill Cipher! ” Flug cried. “ This cannot be real! I’m not meeting you! This is a dream, it has to be! ”
He shook Bill’s hand.
“ Oh my god, it’s not a dream, ” he breathed.
“So, why are you so scary, exactly?”
Everyone in the room turned to look at Wheatley, who seemed confused that Flug would even try to shake Bill’s hand. Flug was more confused as to why Wheatley would ask the question.
“Why is he so scary?” Flug asked. “ Why is he so scary? Oho! He’s a legend! He’s tricked the wittiest of men! He’s possessed the cleverest minds! He’s raised the apocalypse! ” He paused. “Well, in a small part of Oregon,” he admitted, “but he raised the apocalypse nonetheless.”
“Oh, please,” the Hatbox Ghost laughed (looking at him made Flug a little sick), “he wasn’t able to get the apocalypse very far. A small part of Oregon is quite the overstatement. A true mastermind wouldn’t have been fooled by such a cheap trick. ”
Even behind the bag, Flug’s disapproval was clear as day.
“How… how dare you!” he argued. “You… you’re angering a demon?! Can’t you see how…?” Flug studied Bill’s face and found, rather than rage or anger, confusion, embarrassment, and boredom. “He’s… he’s not angry,” Flug muttered. “You’re not angry.”
“The only one who seems angry in here is you, ” said Bill annoyance etched in his tone. “There’s nothing to defend, Flug Slys. I was fooled by a couple of old men using one of the cheapest tricks in the book.”
“You… You know my name—”
“Doctor,” Bill chuckled, putting a hand on his shoulder, “I know everyone’s name.”
Newton, Dennis, and Wheatley all visibly tensed, while Hatbox only raised an eyebrow.
“Newton Pud,” Bill began, “born and raised on Bunkum. Tried to control the Titans and got possessed by them instead. Somehow, a child made of cloth was able to defeat you.” He laughed. “I must say; that’s a little pathetic.”
“ Wh-what — I… I di — I wou — I —”
“Dennis Halifax,” Bill interrupted, turning to the brunette. “Lives in a you’ve-never-heard-of-it town back in the 1950s. Had a crush on childhood friend Natalie Haller before falling helplessly in love with Miss Sandra.” He faked a yawn. “Talk about cliche. You married the woman the day you met her.”
Dennis looked rather frightened, and he opened his mouth to argue, but—
“Intelligence Dampening Sphere,” Bill interrupted again. “Otherwise known as ‘Wheatley,’ a name you made up for yourself. Built to stabilize the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System—GLaDOS—and became sentient enough to gain your own personality. You betrayed subject number 1498—Chell—allegedly not of your own accord, but still,” he gave Wheatley three slow, mocking claps, “congrats on that.”
Wheatley looked both like he was about to start yelling and like he was about to start crying.
“The Hatbox Ghost,” Bill smiled menacingly. “Live in the Haunted Mansion. Homeland is New Orleans, Louisiana. You collect hats and hat boxes, though there’s more to you than your ‘harmless ghost’ facade, isn’t there?”
The Hatbox Ghost frowned slightly, seeming to dismiss the accusation. “And there’s probably more to you than your ‘harmless child’ facade, but who really cares at this point?”
Bill chuckled. “And Flug Slys.”
Flug winced, knowing it was his turn.
“You work for the most feared man in the multiverse.” He gritted his teeth. “Where is he now, I wonder? Certainly not here, I’d imagine.”
The doorbell rang before he was able to finish.
“Ah, never mind, I have keys,” came a voice from the other side of the door. There was a jingle of metal before the lock clicked open, and the seventh guest arrived.
Oh, good, Bill thought. A girl.
The fact that he couldn’t tell who this was surprised him. Her hair, he could tell, was naturally brown, but part of the top was bleached a bright blonde. She wore a denim jacket with rainbow markings on the back, black jeans, and a plain, white shirt. Her eyes were a deep brown, analyzing the room quickly, taking in all the information they could. Still, they retained a playful glow, and she constantly looked like the corners of her lips were about to pull upwards into a laugh.
She might’ve been fourteen, she might’ve been twenty-one. He couldn’t tell. She looked mature, yet she also looked somewhat childish and youthful. But one thing was certain: she was watchful, she was logical, she was skilled.
She was like him.
He shook off the thought feverishly, laughing to himself. A human girl? Equal to him? What could’ve given him that idea?
Her eyes landed on him longer than the others. Their eyes locked, a drop of sweat trickling down Bill’s forehead, and after a few moments, a sly smirk appeared on her lips.
He could kill her. He really wanted to.
“So, freckles, ” she started, “are you gonna keep lookin’ at me like I’m a wasp? Or am I gonna get your name?”
She had given him a nickname.
She was disgusting.
“Bill,” he muttered.
“Say it again?”
“ Bill, ” he repeated, louder this time. The girl smiled at the annoyance in his tone.
So, this was the one they were all so afraid of, and he was acting like a five-year-old about to throw a temper tantrum. In all honesty, it was hilarious, maybe even cute. She should’ve been afraid of him, she reasoned. If this guy was able to raise the Weirdpocalypse or whatever people were calling it, he must’ve been pretty damn powerful. Still, it was kind of hard to be afraid of someone who was barely taller than herself, half as mature, and punier than a sack of potatoes.
A potato would’ve been able to put up a better fight.
“I’m Rain,” she said, sticking her hand out for Bill to shake. He eyed it like it was infested with roaches, inching away cautiously. She snorted a bit, putting her hand down. “Well, I can see that hospitality isn’t really your thing.” She turned towards the messy-haired android. “How about you, blue?”
“I’m Wheatley,” he replied happily, sticking his hand out. “Though, I wouldn’t blame you for getting my name wrong a few times. Blue’s fine, too, I suppose.” Rain took his hand with a little bit of a laugh, which he returned with a smile. He turned towards the light bulb. “And this is Newton!”
Newton looked startled but tried his best to give Rain a friendly smile, which looked more awkward than he would’ve liked. “H-Hi,” he muttered.
Rain gave him a warm smile in return. “And who’s goggles over here?” she said, turning her attention over to the one in the paper bag.
“Flug Slys,” he said, sticking a hand out to shake. “It’s a pleasure.”
She could tell it wasn’t very much of a pleasure, but she supposed it was a start. She shook his hand with a smile. “And how about you?” she asked, looking at Dennis.
“Dennis,” he said. “Though… we met earlier, didn’t we? At the program building?”
“Oh, yes,” Rain exclaimed. “I remember now!” She turned to the final man. “And… oh, the Hatbox Ghost, of course!”
“Oh, um, yes,” said Hatbox, a glint of surprise in his eyes. “You’ve heard of me?”
“Well, anyone who’s heard of the Haunted Mansion has heard of you,” Rain chuckled. “Everyone knows of its otherworldly properties.”
“I don’t,” said Wheatley.
“Yeah, well, almost everyone,” Rain shrugged. “Well, it’s getting late, the sun’s already started to set a while ago, so I’m gonna make myself some cereal and then I’m gonna go to bed.” She turned around and walked into the kitchen, digging through the cupboard to find some good food.
Bill located a set of stairs nearby and marched up to them with a grunt of annoyance. He really didn’t like the idea of staying in a house with three wimpy heroes, a pathetic villain, a ghost, and her. God, he would give anything to be back in the nightmare realm, in charge of everything again, or even to be back in Gravity Falls.
Well, better this than dead , he supposed.
At the end of the upstairs hallway, there was a door with his name on it. He turned the knob and pushed the door open with a huff, wanting more than anything to be by himself for a little while. The room he had entered was a nice shade of blue with black accents that merged well with the general atmosphere. It was very quaint, with nothing more than a king-sized bed, a dresser, and a mirror.
He stood in front of the mirror, getting a good look at himself for the first time in hours. He had seen himself at the hospital, but it still came as a shock to see a blonde teenager looking back at him. He understood now why he had been so irritable back at the program building. The person looking back at him in the mirror was him, yes, but… it wasn’t truly him.
Those eyes seemed too deep a hazel, his hair too gold to be natural, his freckled skin to pale to belong to a human. It made him… upset. Enraged. Distraught. His own reflection reminded him that this body did not belong to him. It reminded him of what he truly was, what he should’ve been.
Says he’s happy, he’s a liar.
Blame the arson for the fire.
Old memories of long-gone enemies resurfaced, crystal clear in Bill’s mind, the ones he had worked so hard to forget. The demon’s clenched fist shook as he struggled to restrain himself. He knew that glass was sharp, piercing, but his reflection pierced him more. That reflection wasn’t him.
It never would be.
There was a deafening shatter, his vision fuzzy, blood splattering against the glass. His reflection multiplied a thousand times, and his other fist flung forward in a fit of rage. Still, his image remained, stuck on the mirror like an image burned onto a TV, burned into his mind. His hands were drenched in blood; his fingers stung, shards of glass like knives in his palms, but his fists continued to contact the mirror again and again.
Eventually, however, he forced himself to stop. He couldn’t handle any more pain. Blood trickled down his arms like a waterfall, tears like rivers on his face. They both ran down inhuman skin, a body he would never be able to call his own.
He would never be Bill Cipher again.
That realization was like a punch to the gut, and in a moment of stunned silence, he heard a sob. At first, he didn’t believe it was him; it had to be someone else. Bill Cipher didn’t sob. Bill Cipher didn’t punch mirrors like a maniac. Bill Cipher wasn’t scared of his reflection.
Bill Cipher was gone.
There were footsteps crawling up the stairs now. Someone had heard him. He cursed to himself, his only hope being that it wasn’t—
She froze when she saw his hands, the mirror, the look on his face, anger and hate mixed with terror and disbelief. Anger and hate for her, she realized, but terror and disbelief at himself more than ever. It didn’t matter. His palms were bleeding like mad. She ran back down the hallway to the bathroom, digging through the medicine cabinet, not stopping until she found the gauze bandages.
Running back into his room, she wrapped the bandages around Bill’s hands, trying hard to get him to stop pulling away. Rain knew, deep inside, that he didn’t want her help. He didn’t want anyone’s help. She knew the feeling all too well. As soon as both his fists were entirely covered, she muttered something under her breath. Her palms shone a faint green, the gauze glowing for a moment before the color faded completely.
“That should do away with all the glass,” she breathed.
Bill jerked his hands away, got to his feet, and backed himself into a corner. Rain’s eyes went wide when she saw his face, his eyes red and swollen, tears running down his cheeks.
“ I don’t need your help! ” he shouted. “ I don’t understand why you would even consider helping me! ”
“ Do you think I’m… weak or something?! ” he interrupted, voice shaking, a sob forming in the back of his throat. “ ARE YOU SAYING I’M WEAK?! ”
“ NO! ” Rain yelled. “I’m not saying anything because you won’t let me!”
“ Then WHY?! ” Bill screamed. “ Why do you care?! Why would you help me?! Why do you care about Bill Cipher?! ”
“ BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW BILL CIPHER! ”
Rain expected him to retort, and Bill tried to think of something to say. There was silence between them, and Rain heaved a sigh.
“I’ve only heard about you in whispers,” she said. “No matter what you might think, not everyone fears you. Hell, not everyone knows about you. I don’t know who you are, I don’t fear you, so I’m willing to give you a chance because it seems like nobody else will. I have no reason to hate you yet. And despite what you think, you need a second chance. Desperately.”
“Yeah, well,” Bill started, “I have no idea who you are. What makes you think I’m gonna listen to every word you say, believing every little thing you tell yourself? What makes you think I’m gonna let some girl I don’t even know hold my hand and tell me everything’s gonna be alright?”
“Hey, no, listen—”
“What?! Do you think everyone in this house is gonna hold hands and sing songs about peace and love or something?!”
Rain took a deep breath.
“Look,” she started. “There are always certain things you can tell about people.” She headed back towards the door, knowing she wasn’t going to get to say much more before he exploded. “You’re more scared of yourself than you are of me.”
The door shut, leaving Bill bewildered, enraged, and terrified.
Chapter 7: Reflections Aren't Nice, Especially When They're Demons
Shapes and colors whizzed past as Dipper and Mabel’s space racer warped them through hyperspace. The twins held each other tight and screamed as a kaleidoscopic explosion of unnatural colors and sounds swirled around them. Time stopped, and all at once they found their space racer hovering in a strangely glittering and mysterious milky-white void.
“Blendin? Blendin?” Mabel spoke into the intercom, but the intercom simply emitted white noise. The battery had gone dead suddenly, and she shook the device a few times before Dipper motioned for her to stop.
“Where are we?” he mused.
His question was answered by a strange, otherworldly voice that seemed to ebb and flow like whale song from the ether. “You are in the time and space between time and space,” the voice echoed. “Come on, climb out of that space racer! I have a very nice beanbag chair.”
From out of the fog, the Axolotl emerged, their frills flowing as they did through the vastness. Mabel tugged on her brother’s sleeve, Dipper’s mouth agape. The twins exited their space racer and climbed onto the beanbag chair.
It was infinitely comfortable.
“Who are you?” Mabel asked.
“I am the Axolotl,” said the Axolotl. “But enough about me. You’ve managed to find me, so you get one question apiece. Don’t waste it!”
The Axolotl felt that having two small humans as company was much more pleasant than the triangle they’d had company with a few eons ago, when they had told Bill Cipher of the prophecy. The demon had simply laughed at the Axolotl, mocking the creature for such a claim.
But still, these children would not remember them, and it made the Axolotl the slightest bit bitter.
Oh, well, better enjoy the moment while it lasts.
“What are you, like, a salamander?” the girl asked.
“I am the Axolotl,” they replied, slightly smug. “And that was your question. How about you, boy?” The Axolotl stared at Dipper, and the young man thought for a moment.
“What do you know about Bill Cipher?”
Of course. The Axolotl should’ve expected the question. They’d seen the triangle in the twins’ past, but tey would’ve never guessed that the demon was so prominent in their lives as to spark the question. They pondered for a bit, their eyes beginning to glow.
Sixty degrees that come in threes.
Watches from within birch trees.
Saw his own dimension burn.
Misses home and can’t return.
Says he’s happy. He’s a liar.
Blame the arson for the fire.
If he wants to shirk the blame,
He’ll have to invoke my name.
One way to absolve his crime.
A different form, a different time.
The twins stared blankly.
“What the heck does that mean?” Dipper asked.
“Shh! It’s free-form poetry!” Mabel countered. “I thought it was beautiful. Maybe a little wordy.”
The Axolotl laughed. “You won’t remember me tomorrow. But it was my genuine pleasure to meet you, um…”
“Mabel!” said Mabel.
“And my name’s Dipper,” said Dipper.
“No, it isn’t,” said the Axolotl with a smile.
There was a blinding flash of light, and the day began again as if nothing ever happened.
Rain shut the door, leaving Bill to himself. There was silence for a few moments before she slid down the door in agony, letting out an exhausted groan. Her hands were pressed to her face in exasperation, and she muttered a few curses under her breath.
“Great,” she grumbled. “I’ve sabotaged myself.”
She reasoned that getting the gauze and helping him fix up his hands was the right thing to do, but there was a bit of regret behind the memory of it. Helping him had immediately made him bitter towards her. For what reason, she didn’t know, but it wasn’t like she could’ve stood back while he punched a mirror.
“Well,” she sighed, “it could be worse.”
Oh, please, Rain, you’re the living embodiment of “it could be worse.” As soon as you say that out loud, it is going to get worse, somehow. It always does.
“Shut up. You don’t know anything. Remember that time in the arena?”
“That’s what I thought.”
She stood up with finality, looking at the mirror across the hall. It was still sort of disturbing to see herself with black eyes, but she knew that someday she could figure out some sort of spell for that. Now she had to focus on the matter at hand.
There was something about him that made her shiver a little. Something about the way he watched her. Something about those hazel eyes that made her feel a little less safe.
Well, it’s no wonder. He punched a mirror, for god’s sake.
She whipped her head around to the mirror again, seeing a sly smirk spread across her reflection’s face.
“Well, you’re no help,” Rain muttered. “I don’t even know why I keep you around.”
Her reflection scoffed.
“Oh, come on, I have better relations with Stark than I do with you!” she argued. “His relationship with me is less than adequate. Spiderman has it nice.”
The walls aren’t very thick, you know. He’s going to hear you talking to yourself.
For once, Rain had nothing to say.
She didn’t remember when she had started seeing the reflection like that. Maybe it was back when she had fought that… thing. Her reflection constantly teased her, supplied her with sassy remarks that she didn’t quite enjoy, and just annoyed the hell out of her. She was glad that her reflection couldn’t really do anything, other than talk to her, and she was even more glad that she was the only one who could see it.
That meant a smaller number of people who were terrified of her.
She could hear Bill gently hitting his head against a wall, and she snorted a little.
Well, at least he isn’t injuring himself, her reflection admitted.
“Yeah, you could say that again,” Rain sighed. “You think I even have a chance at actual friendship here? For once in my life?”
Look, he’s just stubborn. He’ll get used to you. You’ll have no problem with the others. I think the robot already likes you.
“Ah, Wheatley,” Rain chuckled. Her reflection smiled.
For once, she was looking forward to her current situation.
This was… different.
Bill didn’t really know how to describe the emotions he was currently having, simply because he had never felt those emotions before.
Usually, when he felt angry or scared, it was because one of his plants didn’t work. Because someone had gotten in his way. Because something had backfired. Now he was angry and scared, and it wasn’t because something had happened. Nobody had gotten in his way. Nothing backfired. He had no plans.
And yet, despite all of that, he still felt angry. He still felt scared.
Maybe it was because of being human. That seemed the most obvious answer. But it wasn’t like it hadn’t happened before. He’d possessed many people before, experienced being human before. He’d been in a human body. How was this any different?
He reminded himself that when possessing someone, he could back out at any moment using only his willpower. Now, if he wanted to leave and go to the mindscape, well, he couldn’t just fly out of his body and float away, now could he? No, this was permanent. This was inescapable.
Well, then, so what? Is being human so bad?
He slid over to the wall, banging his head against it, trying to get the feelings out . Maybe if he hit his head enough times, his feelings would just—
Something cut into his thoughts. He didn’t know what it was at first. Just white noise from… somewhere. He didn’t know. It sounded like speech. English. Words. They echoed across his mind, making his skin crawl. The words became clearer and clearer, and soon he could make out a voice.
Well, at least he isn’t injuring himself.
He could hear Rain talking outside.
“Yeah, you could say that again.”
His heart plummeted, and he chuckled darkly.
“So, that’s what you are,” he breathed.
Chapter 8: Cereal for Dinner
It’s true what they say. There are hundreds upon hundreds of channels, and yet, nothing to watch.
Rain sighed, flipping through the TV guide while making sure the bowl of Fruit Loops didn’t topple off the couch leg and onto the floor. From the few channels she’d stopped on to see if they were interesting, someone’s mom was burning on the ceiling, a police box was being attacked by manikins, some soccer team was winning four to two, and Sherlock Holmes was playing the violin to a glass chamber filled with fruit flies.
She could’ve probably hooked up the Switch by now since there weren’t many cords to deal with, but it was late enough as it was, she was already in her pajamas, and she really didn’t feel like doing any work whilst eating.
Not that the cereal was any good.
The good news was that there were no mirrors in the room where the TV was, so she couldn’t hear whatever her reflection had to say to her. That was one less annoyance to deal with. She was already so stressed out about the whole gauze-mirror incident that she had practically blamed herself for it.
I mean, he was the one who broke the mirror…
She flipped over to the news, which was mostly occupied by the latest news about the president (not surprising), then flipped over to the news station for PYFF, hoping it would have something more to offer than garbage news.
To her surprise, it was talking about a villain.
“ ...has been, supposedly, sending bounty hunters searching for lone heroes. ”
According to the captions, this villain was known as “the most feared man in the multiverse.”
No, he’s been dead for a while. Who else could it —
The name Black Hat appeared in the captions in big black letters. Rain’s heart plummeted, a shiver running down her back. She shoveled another spoonful of cereal into her mouth with haste, now engrossed in what the reporter had to say.
“ No villains have been sighted in Fiction Frontier yet, but their distance from our safeguards is becoming potentially dangerous for PYFF and its participants. ” Rain swallowed. “ There is no need to take precautions at this time. These are low-rank bounty hunters under fairly lenient authority, according to inside sources, though lockdown will commence if we receive any information about Black Hat’s presence in the neighborhood itself.”
Was Fiction Frontier really the name of the neighborhood? If it was, Rain thought it sounded something like Disneyland.
The report transitioned into a breakdown of the weather for the upcoming week, and she groaned and switched the TV off. She gulped down the remaining milk in the bowl, got up, and put it in the sink.
As she rinsed out the remaining crumbs of her cereal, she heard footsteps creaking down the stairway. The only person that could’ve possibly been up at ten o’clock, other than herself, was Hatbox, as ghosts didn’t really need to sleep. She walked calmly out to the couch again, and as soon as her eyes landed on the person sitting there, her breath hitched.
She didn’t have anything against him, but now that Bill was lying in the exact spot she had been in before (he was taking up more space, considering he was laying down), any chance at trying to sit down would’ve probably resulted in getting yelled at.
Still, she had to try. She wasn’t going to give up sitting on a comfortable surface just because some jerk-face was sitting there, too. Rain took a deep breath, hiked up her fluffy leopard pants, and shuffled over to the couch.
Bill’s eyes landed on her for more than a few seconds, and although his neutral expression became slightly downcast, he made no attempt to deter her. She sighed in relief, slumped over, and plopped onto the sofa with little more than a yawn.
The silence the yawn left was unnerving, and she could tell there was something on his mind. How she could tell, she didn’t know, but there was a blanket of tension that seemed to cover the living room in uncomfortable warmth. She tried to think of something to say, but all she could think of was small talk. She supposed it was enough.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
Shoot, that sounded a bit irritable…
“I mean,” she tried, “I should be, too, but I was just wondering. It’s been a long day, you must be tired—”
“I don’t need to sleep.”
“I said I don’t need to sleep ,” Bill repeated, voice even, though Rain could sense he was trying to hide his annoyance. “I’m not human, remember?”
“Oh,” she muttered. “R-Right. Forgot.”
Dang it, this was what I was trying to avoid…
“Look, um… I’m sorry… about earlier,” she started awkwardly, though she really didn’t believe that it was her fault. “I understand that… well, you know, you’re getting used to this whole thing, you must be stressed—”
“You were talking to a demon earlier.”
Rain’s stomach plummeted towards the ground, followed by her heart and her lungs.”
“...I mean… I w-was talking to you—”
Shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.
How did he find out?
“I… I don’t know what y-you’re talking about,” she stuttered. Bill smiled menacingly.
“Yes, you do,” he growled. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Crap. This can’t be happening.
“N-No, I don’t,” she sputtered. “W-What are you talking about, anyway?”
“What do you usually see when you look in the mirror, Rain?”
Rain shot up from the couch immediately, beads of sweat dripping down her face. Walking as stiff as a human being can, she marched up the stairs, practically running down the hallway to her room.
Bill heard the slam of a door before all was quiet.
He had gotten to her. He was hoping he would, but he hadn’t expected it to be that fast. He had only spoken eight sentences and she had run off in fear.
Wait, no, she hadn’t. A door opened upstairs, and she scurried back down the steps carrying a small mirror. Bill could hear the white noise again, but it seemed to get louder and louder as she descended the stairway.
Why are we doing this again? a voice spoke.
“I told you,” Rain muttered. “If he wants to know, he’s going to know.”
But he already knows.
“Don’t care, don’t care to care.”
The voice made Bill’s skin crawl. His ears rang louder with every second, and his heart seemed to beat faster with each passing second. The voice was human; it sounded like Rain, but it also sounded unearthly. Demonic. His mind felt numb just listening to it. He could barely think without hearing that voice in his head.
He’d heard of this. Certain demons spoke only through the mind, and it was impossible to think for yourself when you were in their presence. He supposed this was one of them, but he never knew that hearing those kinds of demons could be so… painful. He had heard it before, yes, just an hour ago, but he supposed the door to his room had prevented the transmission from coming through so strong.
Rain, wait. I think this might be a bad idea…
“Oh, come on. How bad can it be?”
Just look at him for once. Look at his face.
Rain looked up from the mirror to see Bill’s face twisted in agony, his hands pressed up against his ears, and she suddenly remembered that her reflections wasn’t very… friendly to the mind, at least not at first. She smacked the mirror face down on the coffee table, and Bill’s expression softened almost instantly. She sighed in relief.
Rain still hadn’t forgotten the first time she had met her reflection, her ears ringing and her mind numb. It had felt as though all her senses had been set on fire, every nerve on edge. That must’ve been, she realized, what Bill was feeling.
Now that the reflection was face down, neither of them could hear it.
“S-Sorry,” Rain muttered. “I wanted to… I don’t know, to prove a point, maybe. But it was stupid.” She rubbed the back of her neck, sitting back down on the couch.
“It’s fine,” Bill muttered. He sounded so patient, and it threw Rain for a loop. Maybe he didn’t hold grudges like she thought he would.
His expression changed almost immediately as if suddenly remembering that he was supposed to be mad at her. He folded his arms over his chest, and Rain tried her best not to giggle.
“Well, I’m going to bed,” she said, standing up. “But… you know, humans need to sleep, so, I dunno, you might need to as well.”
“Oh, please,” Bill sneered. “I’m not as human as you think.”
“Well, okay,” Rain chuckled. “But don’t blame me when you doze off.” She picked up the mirror, covering the reflection with her hand so that it wouldn’t interfere with Bill’s thoughts, and ascended the stairs to her room.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
Chapter 9: Gonna Have a Bad Time
Rain had a vibe that she would wake up to Bill doing something drastic and surprising. Maybe he was defacing property or killing ants with a magnifying glass. In hindsight, she should’ve expected to be woken by the sound of glass being thrown to the kitchen floor. She shot out of bed, got on some shoes, and ran downstairs.
The sight she was greeted by was… less than acceptable.
There on the kitchen floor was a puddle of glass shards accompanied by a few spots of blood. The cupboard holding all the wine glasses had had its door ceremoniously torn off and thrown to the ground, and several glasses were missing. Amongst the wreckage was Bill, huddled up on the counter with a big, goofy grin on his face, looking fairly… proud , yes, proud was the word. He looked proud of his work.
Great, Rain thought bitterly. Now I need to clean this up.
“So, um…” Rain smiled, confusion and defeat in her eyes. “Why… why would you do this?”
“I was bored,” Bill said nonchalantly. “It was something to do. It’s not my fault nobody was up until six-thirty.”
“Is… is that really what time it is…?” Rain took a glance at the clock, which did indeed read six-thirty. Bill chuckled a little, reaching over his head to grab another wine glass from the cabinet. Rain scurried around the corner before the resulting impact, glass particles soaring across the kitchen in all sorts of fascinating angles. She peeked warily behind the wall, watching Bill chuckle to himself, his bandage-less arms speckled with broken glass.
Rain watched in fascination and in horror as the wounds Bill had suddenly accumulated patched themselves up automatically, the shards of glass tossing themselves to the ground like a rather startled herd of goats.
“I discovered this morning that this fleshy vessel heals itself now,” Bill explained, holding up a rather burnt looking arm for Rain to see. “Also, completely unrelated, I found out where the lighters are.”
Rain grimaced a little at that statement. She wasn’t sure that the fact was bad news, but it was certainly uncomfortable news. She didn’t know how willing he was to burn the house down, much less burn the people inside it.
“Would you… like to help me clean this up?” she asked.
“ Me? Help you? ” Bill threw his head back, letting out the most annoying, harsh, loud laugh he could muster. He didn’t even have to look at the girl to know that she looked exhausted, he was practically throwing a thousand insults at her without saying a word.
Well, three words.
“Do I look like an idiot to you?” Bill chuckled menacingly. Rain stared blankly at him, pondering her next words.
“I’ve got the weirdest feeling you want me to say no. ”
Bill let out another laugh. “I like you!” he said, albeit more to the air than to Rain. “You’ve got spunk, that’s for sure. But if you think I’m going to do anything you say, you’ve got another thing coming. I’m not an idiot.”
Rain continued to stare blankly, before the corners of her mouth pulled up into that sly smirk he dreaded. That feeling of irritation had settled in his stomach again, and he stared at her shrewdly, eyes like daggers, daring her to speak out against him.
“Are you… scared of me?”
Bill’s eyebrows raised sharply, his lips promptly crinkling into a shocked frown. How dare she even suggest such a thing? Her spunk had quickly become one of the last things he liked about her, not like there were many other things on the list to begin with.
“...Of course not,” he replied, trying to hide the dread and annoyance in his tone. “You’re a human. You’re a puny, worthless speck of dust out of the billions on this tiny speck of a planet.”
“And… you aren’t any different…?”
Bill growled a little, a warning for her, which she only giggled at.
“Get me down,” he grunted. Rain grabbed the broom from the corner and pushed the glass aside into a pile. She decided she would clean it up later.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” she said, holding out a hand, “why do you hate my guts so much? You hardly even looked at me yesterday and you just… decided you hate me.”
Bill was very, very still for a few moments before he looked down at his knees.
“You make me feel… you make me feel, ” he said quietly, fiercely, his stomach in a knot, “and I don’t like it. I want it to stop. Now. ”
Rain froze, and all at once, her gut seemed to twist itself into a ball. The smirk that seemed ever present in her eyes seemed to vanish, replaced by glints of light and emotions she couldn’t place. For one, she felt guilty that he was feeling the way he was, whatever he was feeling. On the other hand, she felt confused and surprised at the fact that she was making him feel the way he was.
“Well… look at it this way,” Rain started. “Maybe you’re… feeling because you’re human now. When you were a demon, you had… what emotions?”
“Pride. Fear. Anger.”
“No guilt or disgust or love?”
Bill glared at Rain like she was an idiot.
“Okay, then,” she chuckled. “No guilt. No disgust. No love. So you had the basic emotions of a wasp and a moral compass the size of a small rock.” She sighed. “You know how empathetic humans are? Babies kind of literally need attention and physical contact to not be messed up as adults. We’ve got an enormous gamut of emotions.”
“Well, that would explain it,” Bill muttered angrily.
“What about I take you to breakfast?”
His eyes narrowed immediately, his lips forming a scowl.
“ What? ”
“There’s a diner nearby,” Rain shrugged. “I wanna try the food there. And anyways, I feel like you need to get out of the house. You know, fresh air and all that?”
“With you? ”
Bill was silent. For once, he was at a crossroads. He supposed he could go with her. Even if this human flesh stick didn’t need food, the food that humans made was absolutely baller. On the other hand, if he stayed here, he could do whatever he wanted for the next couple of hours and not have to deal with her until she got back. On the other hand, humans weren’t particularly fond of waking up to the sound of shattering glass.
“Can’t we just… get along?” Rain asked.
“Look, we’re kind of stuck together here, so we might as well make the best of it. Besides, I hate fighting with someone who’s supposed to be on the same side as me.”
“Or you could just not talk to me,” she muttered. “That will work.”
“Be quiet,” Bill snapped. “I’m trying to think if this is a good idea or not.”
The room was quiet for a few moments. It was just Bill thinking and Rain savoring the blissful silence. It was perfectly disaster-free for once. Finally, Bill jumped onto the floor, a calm expression on his face.
“Okay,” he said. “It’s decided. I’ll go with you.”
Rain pumped her fist in the back of her mind, knowing it was a step closer to a good relationship.
Well, maybe not a good one, but adequate at the very least.
Ima walked down the sidewalk of Fiction Frontier, her form glitching every so often. She was a traveler, curious about the PYFF program. She tucked in her jacket as her screen flickered, a cold breeze causing a shiver to travel up her back.
She saw someone walk onto the sidewalk a couple doors down, sporting a red sweater. She seemed… normal for someone in the neighborhood.
Maybe she joined the program. Why else would a human be here?
Rain wiped the dust off her jeans and walked down the cobblestone steps. When she looked up, she saw another person whose head resembled a TV screen.
Ima snapped out of her thoughts when she saw Rain. Might as well welcome her! She walked across the sidewalk and stopped right in front of the other girl.
“Ey, welcome to PYFF,” she said. “I’m Ima.” She stuck her hand out to shake.
There was a smirk present in Rain’s eyes for a few seconds before she responded, “Likewise. I’m Rain.” She extended her own hand and shook Ima’s. She found it kind of weird that her head was a TV, but she reasoned that she’d seen stranger.
“Nice to meet ya,” Ima said happily. She looked around before mentioning, “I’ve heard that a mind demon enrolled in this program.” She seemed to space out in thought before finishing, “Bill… Cider, I think? Yeah, almost destroyed an entire town, I believe.”
“Ah, yeah, he signed up, alright. In my group ‘n’ everything.” Rain shrugged. “He’s not as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. If I were a less logical thinker, I’d have thought him a cat.”
Ima laughed. A cat. That’s… that’s accurate. “I thought he was a Dorito. And yeah, everybody treats him like the baddest of the bad, but he’s… he’s weird. That’s all there is to it.” She looked at her wristwatch, which didn’t exist. “Oops, I’m late! Bye!” Ima ran one way, then another, then ran to the north until Rain could no longer see her.
What a weird person.
The front door of the house shut rather loudly, and she heard Bill cackling to himself.
“That’s a nice sound!” he remarked. “I’ve never slammed a door before!” He opened it and slammed it again, laughing even louder. “That’s a destructive sound!” He looked at Rain. “Do you think if I did this enough times, it would swing off its hinges?”
“You’re not wearing shoes,” Rain commented, looking at Bill’s bare feet.
“Humans… wear shoes in public.”
“I’m not human,” Bill said blankly. “I never was. Why are you expecting me to act like one?”
“So…” Rain tried to think of a reason. “So that you can trick people?”
Bill stared at the girl a few moments before he opened the door again, walked back inside, and stuffed his feet in the shoes he had been wearing the day before. He stepped outside and slammed the door one final time before walking down the cobblestone steps.
“So, humans eat in this dump?”
Rain promptly shushed him, worried what the staff would think if they overheard him.
“I know it’s not exactly five-star,” said Rain indignantly, “but you have to have some sort of respect for this place or they’ll kick us out.”
“Good, let them,” Bill retorted. “Then we can go somewhere more exciting.”
“You’re just a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”
She didn’t have the heart to tell him off, let alone drag him back out, and besides, she wanted breakfast. She hoped he’d get used to the place before the waiter came over, or they’d be in big trouble.
Bill was currently sifting sugar between his palms, having ripped open most of the sugar packets in the little tray on their table. He picked clumps of the stuff out that he thought were unsightly, and he scoffed a little when the powder stuck to his fingers.
“This is boring,” he muttered. “Don’t we get to order or something?”
Rain fixed a level stare at him, smiling teeth and all, and said a little too innocently, “Soon, Bill. But for now, we just have to be polite. ”
“Who cares about being polite?” he hissed. “The people here are being ridiculously slow.” He emphasized his words with a point towards the counter, and Rain lazily followed the line of his finger. She sighed deeply as he opened another sugar packet and dumped its contents onto his little pile.
She could tell he didn’t feel guilty.
Finally, a waitress walked over to their table, sporting a polite smile and a small notepad.
“Can I get you two started with something?” she asked happily. Bill rose to his full height to tower over her, and he felt smug satisfaction at the fact that her smile faltered when she saw him.
“ I wish to eat the unborn, ” he demanded, clenching his fists.
Rain sighed. “Eggs,” she clarified. “He wants the egg platter.” She wondered if the waitress even realized that Bill was just trying to scare her because he felt so bored. She chewed on her tongue, looking at her menu with a vacant expression.
“And I’ll just have some buttermilk pancakes,” she said simply. “With sausage patties, please.”
The waitress smiled and wrote down their order, then walked off towards another table.
“So why are you making such a fuss?” Rain asked, though she already knew the answer.
“This place is hideous and I’m bored.” He sounded petulant, even to himself. Rain looked at him sleepily in defeat, and she stared off into space as the two waited for their food.
Chapter 10: Shenanigans of the Third Kind
Black boots against black marble, the distorted scenery giving Saimin Louis a headache. It didn’t help that the little green girl next to her seemed so bright in contrast to the rest of Castle Bleck, given she was wearing such a bright yellow, and that the castle was made up only of black walls and white outlines.
“He did mention that he wanted to see you,” Mimi sang in her usual chipper tone. “Said something about the Prognosticus and a prophecy or whatever.”
“Given he can practically recite that thing back to front,” Saimin grumbled, “I’m not too surprised.” She crossed her arms. “But what’s all that got to do with me?”
“You’ll have to ask him,” Mimi answered. “The Count won’t let me lay a pinky on that silly book. Nastasia’s only ever held it for three seconds. It’s a wonder Dimentio’s able to have it for such long periods of time!”
Saimin smoothed out her short, black hair. “Wasn’t it his to begin with?”
“You ask me like I know, doofus.”
A shiver went up Saimin’s spine rather suddenly, and from the look on Mimi’s face, she had felt it, too. A bone-chilling laugh ran along their backs and across the monotone walls, as if the castle itself were laughing at the two of them. Saimin’s expression dropped (not like it had been that bright in the first place), and Mimi grimaced.
“Alright, Dimentio,” the green girl scolded, “we know you’re there, you doodoo head! You’re lucky I’m having a good day or you’d be mince-meat!”
“Oh, my, Mimi,” a voice taunted, “do you think you’d even be capable of fighting me? Do you recall what happened last time?”
Mimi pouted, and Saimin half expected her to start stomping her feet. “Yes, I know what happened last time! ” she shouted. “ I’ll hit you in the face with another jewel if you continue to pester me like this! YOU’D BETTER NOT HAVE MY DIARY WITH YOU! ”
“And here I thought you were having a good day,” the voice chuckled.
“Dimentio,” Saimin interrupted, eager to speak to the jester before Mimi’s head started spinning, “didn’t you want to talk to me about something? Something important?”
“Ah, yes, I had forgotten.” The outline of a small, white box surrounded the space before them, quickly closing in on itself, distorting the space it contained. As if obscured from view by the illusion, the purple and yellow jester appeared as the outline shrunk, his mask forever showing a small, placid grin. Mimi huffed, not particularly excited to see the magician.
“Hello, Saimin,” said Dimentio with a hint of amusement. “What a pleasure to see you.”
“Pleasure’s all mine,” Saimin responded with gritted teeth. “If I wasn’t on official business, I’d have choked you.”
“ How threatening you are. ”
“Well, then,” Mimi spat, “if I’m no longer needed, I might as well go. Have fun, drama queens .” A white box surrounded her, spinning her around until she flipped out of sight.
I’ve always wondered how that flipping thing works…
“I’ve got exciting news for you,” Dimentio grinned. “Seems that miscreant known as Bill Cipher came back from the dead.”
“I’ve heard similar stories,” Saimin groaned. “But that’s impossible. He was erased from existence, Dimentio. As in he ceases to exist.”
Dimentio chuckled darkly. “So you say,” he mused. “But I sense there’s some sort of larger power behind the phenomenon.”
“I thought you wanted to talk to me about the Prognosticus.”
“Ah, that. Mimi must’ve misheard me,” Dimentio corrected. “I told her that there’s no use sitting around Castle Bleck while the Count searches for the couple told of in the prophecy. No, I think we are allowed to search for other ways to waste our time before the void is opened, don’t you think?”
“What a wonderful way to end everyone’s lives,” Saimin said sarcastically. “I hope you fail. I hope you fail and take that stupid book with you. Why don’t you just marry the Prognosticus since you seem to worship it so much?”
Dimentio’s smile faltered, his gloved hands clenched into fists.
“For the sake of your well-being, I advise you to watch your tone,” he threatened. Saimin could feel a spark of magic in the air, and judging by its lethal aura, Dimentio wasn’t kidding around. She shrugged and calmed herself down, hoping she could leave before things got particularly violent.
“So? What else did you want to talk to me about?” she asked.
Saimin’s stomach plummeted. “Okay, now, that’s not something I—”
“He approached me and asked if I was able to help him,” Dimentio interrupted. “Word on the street has it that Dr. Flug Slys recently betrayed his employer’s trust and escaped to the PYFF program in Fiction Frontier.”
“Of course he would,” Saimin muttered cynically, looking at the floor. “Not like he was very loyal to that man in the first place.”
“He also asked if I was willing to contact you.”
Saimin’s gaze snapped upwards so that she could make direct eye-contact with the jester, a look of disbelief and fear upon her features.
“You’re kidding. ”
“I’m deadly serious. As serious as—”
“A CEO in an electrical chair, maybe?”
Dimentio laughed at Saimin’s dark humor. “Yes, something like that.”
“Why me? ”
“Because you have a reputation,” Dimentio chuckled.
“Yeah, so does Thanos. Why doesn’t Black Hat hire him for a change?”
“You do realize that Thanos would probably obliterate Black Hat as soon as he had his hands on him?” Dimentio asked. “We’re lucky their universe can’t merge with ours. With the snap of Thanos’s fingers—”
“ Geez , for such a threatening character, you sure are a huge nerd ,” Saimin commented with a smile. “Is there money involved in the ordeal?”
“Quite a lot of it, actually,” Dimentio mused. “Black Hat’s capturing heroes in revenge, heroes with large bounties over their heads. Rain N. Thirteen is worth at least two million dollars.” He smirked. “Recognize the name, Saimin?”
Saimin’s smile faded quickly, a shadow passing over her face. She tried to remember her old friend, bleached hair, the denim jacket, the black jeans, the gray sneakers. She tried to remember what Rain had been like before that night.
For the life of her, she couldn’t recall.
“So?” Dimentio asked. “What’ll it be, Miss Louis?”
She looked up at him. “How do I tell him I accept the offer?”
Bill kicked yet another pebble, trying to find another word to describe Rain.
He kicked another one, satisfied as it rolled across the ground.
Patronizing. Smug. Annoying.
He stared at Rain shrewdly as they walked back towards the house. She had a smile on her face, and though it wasn’t the playful smirk he dreaded so, he still didn’t like it. He stuck his hands in his pockets, trying to ignore her presence.
It proved harder than he thought.
“Quit smirking at me, I’m serious,” he muttered.
“I’m not smirking,” Rain stated simply.
“Well, stop laughing at me.”
“I’m… not laughing.”
“Well, quit whatever it is you’re doing.”
Rain whipped around to look at him. “This is me with a cheery disposition,” Rain countered, gesturing to her face like a model in a magazine. “A ray of sunshine in the midst of bleakness.”
“It’s an excuse to laugh at me,” Bill hissed.
“ Rain cloud ,” Rain muttered angrily, the sun in her eyes immediately turning into a supernova. She turned around again and kept walking.
The journey continued again in silence, his unease only growing with every step he took. The grin was back on Rain’s face as she admired the scenery, and he frowned a little at the sight.
“So,” Bill started, kicking a rock that collided with Rain’s heels, “why’d you fake your identity?”
Rain stopped dead in her tracks. “How’d you—”
“I figured it out,” he stated simply. “I have seen you before, back when I could see the world through the eyes of paintings. You were always there, but your face was always blurred out.” He smirked. “A scrying spell, I figured, but that same blur had a different identity every time, though I knew it was the same person.” He picked up another rock, tossing it half-heartedly towards the east. “So, why’d you fake your identity?”
Rain stared at Bill, a gaunt expression on her face, deciding whether or not telling him her reason was a good idea.
“Sometimes,” she said, “we have to do… bad things to get good results.” She shrugged. “When that happens… people often forget about all the good you did.”
Bill’s head flicked upwards so he could stare the girl in the face. His grin became unnaturally wide, and though she didn’t know why, Rain became very nervous.
“You were a hero,” he breathed. “Of course.” He cocked his head to the side. “You betrayed someone, didn’t you? I can see it in your eyes. The panic. What’s gotten you so scared?”
Rain was silent.
“You do know you can’t just run away every time there’s trouble,” Bill chuckled.
“Sure, I can,” Rain said fiercely. “I’ve been doing it for the past… three years and it worked in my favor. Don’t tell me things you don’t know.”
His laugh sounded like destruction and chaos.
“Oh, Rain,” he sighed. “You amuse me.”
“And here I thought we could’ve been friends,” Rain muttered.
“I have too many ‘friends,’” Bill growled. “All of them are brainless followers that wouldn’t be able to tie their shoes if they had any. What I need is an enemy to play with.”
“Yeah, well,” Rain muttered, turning around, smirking just the slightest, “I have too many of those.”
“ You hide so much behind that smile ,” Bill breathed.
He didn’t quite understand why his nose had started bleeding until he noticed the bloody rock in the dirt, and he didn’t notice that until he saw Rain’s rage-filled eyes, her arm thrust forward like she had just thrown something.
The smirk was no longer sly or smug. It was spiteful, irritable, enraged.
He knew it was better to fear her than to laugh at her.
“You don’t know anything,” Rain hissed. “I came here so I could enjoy myself for once. I came here so I wasn’t in constant danger of being killed.” She turned her back to him. “I’m sick of that life. And I’ll kick you in the gut next time.”
Bill sighed nervously, knowing she would’ve followed through with her threat if he hadn’t shut up. He continued walking, wanting to get back to the house as soon as possible.
The small, black cat looked upwards at the magician, who was hovering just a couple inches above him. His ears perked up and his tail flicked to the side.
“Ah, Dimentio!” he exclaimed, his starry eyes glimmering like the sun. He immediately frowned, crossing his arms, and stood on his hind legs. “Whaddya want, clowney?”
“What have I told you about the name calling, Jasper?” Dimentio chuckled. “It’s not very safe to insult someone who could kill you with the raise of an eyebrow.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got the memo, you sociopath,” Jasper groaned. “So whaddya want, anyway? The last time you dropped by, you tried to turn me into a coat.”
“Which is why we’ve established a name calling rule,” Dimentio smiled. “But that isn’t the point. The Man in Black wants your help.”
Jasper snarled. “Of course he does,” he hissed. “Of course Mr. McFear wants my help. Of course! ” He stepped away from the beanbag chair he had been resting in and kicked it to the side. “Of course , right as I clear that stupid bounty from my name, Mr. Black Hat decides he wants to hire me! Isn’t that GREAT?! ”
Dimentio watched the kitten’s temper tantrum with delight and amusement, watching him mumble to himself and kick chairs around as the feline’s eyes turned red with dark magic. The creature launched a fireball across the room, almost igniting Dimentio’s cap in the process. The jester waved his hand nonchalantly, encasing Jasper in a glass box.
“How cute,” Dimentio commented. “A tiny little cat in a box. It’s just like the internet.”
“Screw you,” Jasper snarled. “You’ve never been on the internet, and you don’t have enough empathy to be delighted by a cat in a box.” Dimentio scoffed. “And don’t you dare snap your fingers or you know what’ll happen.”
“Adorable,” Dimentio mused, not seeming to pay any attention. Jasper clawed at the glass with an angry hiss, and the magician chuckled a bit.
“You’ll rue the day you were born,” Jasper threatened.
“Ah, yes, probably,” said Dimentio. The glass box disappeared, and Jasper lightly kicked Dimentio’s foot.
“You are literally the worst.”
“Will there ever be a time when you aren’t needlessly spiteful towards me?” Dimentio asked.
Jasper frowned. “Will there ever be a time when you aren’t needlessly spiteful in general?” he countered.
“Tell Black Hat that I’ll accept, but only because I know he’ll kill me if I don’t.”
Dimentio smiled behind his mask. “I’ll be seeing you,” he said, before a white box shrunk around him. As quick as a flash, the jester had disappeared.
Jasper crossed his arms unceremoniously and returned to the beanbag chair. “Stupid clown,” he muttered. “There are hundreds and hundreds of nerves in my body and he manages to get on every single one.” He circled around a few times, curled himself into a ball, and fell asleep.
Chapter 11: Is It the Joker? (No It Ain't)
In which we are shown multiple sides of multiple pennies, while another decides whether or not those pennies would be useful.
Ima walked through the streets in a straight line, which was different than usual, at least coming from her. Today had been a strange day, and that meant a lot, considering it was Ima, but she was beginning to think all of Fiction Frontier was strange.
Still, she couldn’t help but feel as if she were being watched as she walked home. She crossed her arms, hoping to shrug the feeling off soon.
Dimentio watched from far off, only hoping to catch glimpses of these so-called “heroes” that Mimi had told him about. Black Hat had sent him to Fiction Frontier simply to collect information. Nothing out of the ordinary, but he couldn’t help but stare as Ima walked down the middle of the street, completely unaware that she was doing so.
This one… he could feel she was different, somehow.
She stopped and looked around. Her paranoid feeling, she could tell, was not an unreasonable one. She scanned the area, the air around her becoming darker as her characteristically good mood worsened. She hadn’t been hoping to run into trouble.
“Who’s there?” she asked, not really expecting an answer.
Dimentio chuckled. He knew it. Even when he was out of sight, invisible to the eye, this “hero” could still feel his presence.
Saimin and Mimi could only feel it because they’d known him for so long. They knew the feeling was much more than just “the feeling of being watched.” They’d known the feeling too long to be tricked by that sickly human instinct.
But this girl, he knew, was smarter than that.
“So, you seem to have spotted me,” he chuckled, barely able to contain his excitement at this new discovery as he revealed himself. “You’re much more than just an anomaly, that’s for sure.”
Ima turned to the jester, backing off a bit. She knew something was off about him, whether it be his continuous smile or the air around him.
“Who are you?” she asked, her gaze never leaving the jester. “And what are you doing here?” Her hands were behind her back, and the air near her became foreboding, as if she knew what he was capable of. Usually, she would greet a person with a sparkle in her eyes and a spring in her step. However, that sparkle wasn’t there, and what was there instead was a cold glare.
Despite her instincts telling her not to do so, she stepped a bit closer.
“My name is Dimentio,” the magician stated simply, not failing to notice Ima’s unease. He had a flamboyant, yet threatening sort of air about him. “I am simply a magician sent by Black Hat.” He chuckled darkly, choosing his next words with precision. “Not that you’d know who that is, Marima.”
She went stiff at that name, shocked that he knew it. Some memories had been taken away when she was separated from her original self. Maybe she knew him in a past life, but she shook those thoughts out of her mind as she clenched her fists.
“I see, Dimentio,” said Ima, though now her tone was friendlier. “I’m guessing you’re looking for someone.” The air around her was still dark, but she seemed kinder now, as if her name had suddenly turned her fearful emotions on their side.
“Oh, yes, I was,” Dimentio said happily, somewhat disappointed that he hadn’t startled her as much as he would’ve liked. “There were a few people I was looking for. I think Mimi mentioned a Bill Cipher. ” At this point, he made almost no attempt to hide the fact that he knew who the demon was.
“Do you mean the child with the freckles and elf ears?” Ima had seen him slamming a door behind that Rain girl she met earlier.
If one was to take note, they would notice that she seemed like her old self, if they knew who she was. The shadows around her seemed to be dancing.
Dimentio smirked just the slightest behind his mask. “Ah, yes, I think that was how Mimi described him,” he mused. “I was also looking for a… Rain N. Thirteen .”
Marima knew that name, and she knew what the girl’s home looked like. For a brief moment, a twang of extreme guilt and pain went off in her head, and the air around her was suffocating. However, she resisted the feeling and shook it off.
“I think I might know who that is,” she said. “But may I ask, why exactly did this… Black Hat send you here? What do you plan to do with Rain when you find her?”
All these silly questions… what did she think she was playing at?
Dimentio’s eye twitched the slightest, but he shook off the initial irritation towards the girl in almost an instant. He knew he had to continue feigning innocence until this was over, or all of this would be for nothing.
“They are but acquaintances,” he lied. “Black Hat only wishes to meet Rain in person. After all, she did use to be a hero.”
Marima knew he had different intentions, but she seemed interested to see what would happen. However, something in her kept her from letting slip every detail.
Ima simply said, in a calm and almost playful tone, “Rain and Bill live together in a town called Fiction Frontier. However, that is all I can say.” Despite her tone and movements, her eye and shadow betrayed her, showing her true intentions.
One side kept the other from telling the whole truth.
A spark of curiosity became a flame in Dimentio’s mind. The girl’s energy told him that there was more to her than he initially thought, but he refused to act upon the urge to pry. He knew it would end only in ruined plans. Still, the girl did not seem to notice how the shadows greeted the magician like an old friend.
“You are stranger than the dreams of a man in a mental hospital,” he chuckled. “Very well, then. I shall take my leave. I have no other business here.”
The air around Ima grew darker, then not dark at all, and the girl simply waved and left. She was a rather strange one.
Or two, Dimentio thought, depends on what you believe.
“Jeezy peezy ,” Jasper groaned from behind the corner, causing Dimentio to flinch. “That was disastrous. You didn’t get nothing out of her, we already know where those two are.”
“Patience, Jasper,” Dimentio chuckled. “It was a matter of perception.”
“Or, really? ” Jasper put his hand to his cheek in mock curiosity. “Pray tell what your perception of the situation was, because all I saw was ‘tell me information I already know whilst I gain nothing. ”
“I did gain something, my good friend,” the jester corrected. “Now I know that we have someone to play with.”
“What, the TV girl is someone to play with?” Jasper grumbled. “This ain’t elementary school, Dimmy, this is real life.”
“Depends on your point of view,” said Dimentio. “What is real and what isn’t, I mean. Right at this very moment, there could be someone watching us.”
Jasper scoffed. “So, whaddya planning to do with your so called ‘information?’” Jasper asked.
Dimentio smirked. “Same as always, little kitten,” he explained. “I’m going to use it to my advantage. That girl is the final piece of the puzzle.” He chuckled darkly. “Now we just need to figure out how to put it together.”
Rain noticed, as the day went on, that Bill seemed to be a little less energetic than usual. He seemed to get more and more tired the longer he was awake. She wasn’t surprised, she had expected fatigue to take a toll on him, despite what he thought he knew about himself.
“You need a rest,” she told him finally. “ Really. ”
“No, I don’t, ” he snarled. He stifled a yawn. “I’m fine.”
“Okay, then,” Rain laughed. “Don’t come crying to me when you pass out.”
The sun was already starting to set, anyways, the summer months meaning that it was later than it would’ve been a few months earlier. The clock read eight-thirty, and although Rain usually fell asleep at ten, she decided she’d better catch up on sleep, since she hadn’t been doing so recently. She pulled herself off the couch and up the stairs, leaving Bill to himself.
He scoffed as Rain left. How dare she tell him what he was feeling? He didn’t need to sleep. It was a thing that humans did, and he was too stubborn to bring himself down to mortal level.
Still, there was a weird sensation behind the initial exhaustion. He couldn’t really pin it down, but he felt as though he were…
That’s what he felt as he sat on the couch, trying to keep his eyes open. It was like he was sinking into the cushions and pillows, and he tried to drag himself out a few times but found that he hadn’t really been sinking after all. He was in the same position he had been in a couple minutes ago.
His eyelids kept sliding shut when he wasn’t paying attention, and he found it harder to open them every time they closed. Eventually, he just gave up and let them fall shut. If he was completely honest with himself, this felt sort of… nice… in a weird way.
What was this feeling? He couldn’t really describe it as exhaustion. No, it felt more peaceful than dire. He didn’t think he had ever really felt this feeling before. It must’ve been one of those… human emotions Rain had talked about.
But those were emotions. He didn’t think he was human enough to have their same needs. Humans needed rest. Humans needed sleep. But that’s what he was feeling. Sleepy. Tired. Something like that. He hummed to himself thoughtfully, feeling that sinking feeling again but not caring much. It was enjoyable, but it made him feel a bit weak. He decided, for now, that feeling that way was okay. With limited powers, he was sure to feel like that.
He felt the world around him start to slip away into nothing as he descended into sleep, sinking into warmth. He was vaguely aware that he had passed the blurred line between reality and dreams, as he had never known where the gradient began.
That’s what italics are for, of course, but never mind that.
His thoughts swirled left and right, his mind trying to find something to think of in subconsciousness. Bill had always liked the ocean. Yes, the vast, open area of water was not much different from the mindscape. Both of them were mostly empty, but there was much to explore the farther you went in.
The ocean was warm. The ocean was almost as black as night. The currents of the ocean swept across his face, and his eyes opened slowly, widening just a bit when he realized that he was no longer on the couch. He could, somehow, feel it distantly, but it was drowned out by the feeling of the coarse sand beneath him, warm and soothing. Bill breathed evenly and slowly, already aware of the slow, steady decrease of oxygen.
Humans needed to breath.
He tore himself from the sand, pulling upwards towards the dim light he registered as the surface. There was no urgency in the way he ascended. He had plenty of air left in him. It wasn’t like anything would stop him.
He couldn’t understand why he felt so eager to reach the surface. No, eager wouldn’t be the word, but since he was asleep, he had a hard time searching for whatever word his tongue was trying to grasp. There was an urgent ticking in his brain. A time limit of some sort was present, and yet he couldn’t quite figure out why it was so—
Something had taken ahold of his leg.
He twisted around, only to find himself staring back at a cold, empty void of endless ocean, and out of the darkness, a long, black, slender arm, attempting to pull him into the abyss. Yet another seemed to snake up towards him, excitement buzzing through it, but excitement for what? To pull Bill down towards darkness? He reached upwards, kicking away with all his strength, determined to make it to the surface, but whatever the reason was, it was lost to him.
Another arm grabbed at his wrist, others at his legs and feet; he had barely made contact with the surface of the water when one jerked downward viciously, causing him to gasp and sputter as he was pulled under the waves.
Whispers filled his mind. His senses were blank. He could barely think. He didn’t have the strength to keep going. The voices spoke in a tongue long dead, one that Bill swore he had once known, but had forgotten long ago. Still, a buzz of excitement coursed through the words, filling him with a sense of dread.
Emotions he couldn’t place, the feeling of the waves washing through him while the air washed out… The voices threatened him; they told him things that he had denied for so many years. They told him of the arrival of an overwhelming power with such eagerness that he was sure he was starting to feel it as well, though the fear in his heart filtered it. He couldn’t, for the life of him, understand a word, but the emotions the words brought were enough.
He’s returned, they said, he’s returned to bring forth the apocalypse.
All hail our savior.
They pumped poison through him, clotting his mind with strange, overwhelming feelings. His body became numb, his muscles limp and loose, his final breath taken—
He awoke in a pool of sweat.
In an instant, he had fallen to the floor, sunlight blinding him for a few seconds before he realized that he’d woken up.
It was morning.
He groaned. His side ached from where he’d hit the ground, and his eyes peeled open slowly. He pushed himself up with his hands, trying to remember how he did it in the hospital. He was careful this time, propping himself back onto his feet—
“Well, look who finally decided to wake up.”
His foot slipped out from under him in the surprise, and his chest hit the floor as Rain chuckled.
“Heh. And here I thought you were used to this already,” she said. “I mean… the whole sleeping thing. Did you… not sleep the other night?”
“ No, ” Bill snapped. “Don’t scare me like that.”
“Sorry,” Rain apologized, holding up her hands in mock surrender. “I didn’t know I was the scary type. Am I the scary type?”
“Sort of,” Bill admitted. Rain snorted. “ Don’t laugh . I have good reason.”
“I apologize for my laughter,” she said, mocking sympathy. “I didn’t realize that my laugh was so damaging to your reputation or whatever.”
Bill groaned, getting himself up off the ground. He managed it better than last time and heaved himself onto the couch. He vaguely wondered how he’d learned to walk so fast , but he didn’t question it too much. Besides, some things just were.
As Rain walked into the kitchen to make breakfast, he wondered if the same was true of his dream. If it was just something that was .
He hoped there was reason behind it, and that he wasn’t just going insane.
Then again, he had always been insane.
Chapter 12: Fiction Frontier More Like Friction Frontier
“ WHAT?! ”
“It’s true, Mimi,” Nastasia answered, tightening the bow on Mimi’s new dress. “Kit’s, like, thirteen, ‘k?”
“ But that’s the WORST PART! ” Mimi shouted. “I didn’t think Mr. Black Hat would be the type to hire a LITTLE KID! ” She turned her head towards the blue girl. “Umm… I think there’s a string loose back there, by the way…”
“Of course there is. I’ve never been too good with stitchwork.”
“Where were we…? Oh, yeah,” Mimi started. “Can’t you just… I dunno, hypnotize the kid and make him go home? ”
“He had specific reasons as to why he didn’t want to go home.”
“Oh, yeah?” Mimi said through gritted teeth. “Kit Harper doesn’t wanna go home ‘cause why?”
“He said there was a monster that lived in his old house,” Nastasia said simply. “The one that made him stop talking, ‘k? Think he wants to be attacked by a monster?”
“Well, no,” Mimi replied sheepishly, “and that’s TIGHT ENOUGH, thank you very much! ”
Nastasia promptly let go of the sky blue dress with a look of mock surrender, and Mimi twirled around a couple of times.
“Well, you’ve really outdone yourself, Nassy!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s perfect! Great for looking intimidatingly evil and positively cute at the same time!” She turned around and gave the secretary a big hug.
“ M-Mimi — gack — I think I-I’m losing circulation! ”
“Oh, whoopsy!” Mimi said, loosening her grip. “Sorry, Nastasia.” She started to run off. “Well, I’m gonna go give those heroes Dimmy talked about a nice, warm welcome!” She winked playfully. “If you know what I mean.”
With that, she left Nastasia to herself. The secretary pulled back her purple hair and tied it into its usual bun, then smoothed out her white blouse. She sighed, feeling the air in her room growing cold again, and picked up the cup of tea from her desk.
She could already tell that she wasn’t alone. There was an excited buzz in the air that held the slightest trace of bitterness, two auras she’d known almost too long.
“Didn’t think you two would ever travel together,” she spoke, more to the air than at something specific, though she knew who she was talking to. The space around her seemed to anticipate the jester and the cat’s arrival, and they were already there, if only somewhat.
As Dimentio and Jasper teleported in, she could tell the magician was smiling under the mask. Jasper looked rather tired as opposed to his usual excitable nature. Nastasia smiled just the slightest.
“So, what’s gotten you so excited, Dimentio?” she asked.
“Would you happen to know a young girl by the name of Marima?” he asked, making Nastasia practically spit out her tea. She coughed a couple times, having instead breathed it in, looking at the jester as if he had just ruined one of her papers.
“You’re… you’re kidding,” she grumbled. “As in incident 123-76B?”
Jasper’s eyes went wide as well. “Wait, is that who she is?!” he asked in disbelief.
“You didn’t know?” Dimentio replied, an eyebrow raised. “Surely you’re not that uneducated, Jasper.”
“Well, I mean, I wasn’t there! ” Jasper countered. “At the ‘incident,’ I mean! And stop raisin’ that eyebrow, it’s making me think about how I can see it behind the mask.”
“I am very expressive,” Dimentio stated simply.
Nastasia rubbed her temples. “Look… just don’t try to make anything big out of this,” she said. “I don’t wanna have to deal with all that drama. You hear me, Dimentio?”
“Hmm?” Dimentio looked as though he were filing his gloved nails. Nastasia groaned, then showed the two out of the room with minimal haste. As the two left, she put her head on her desk with a large sigh.
God, she was tired.
“Hey, Saimin,” Jasper smiled, walking into the empty pizza parlor. Saimin stood there, wiping down tables as the early morning hours began. No one had arrived yet, so it was just the two of them. Saimin only grunted, a sign that she had heard him but didn’t care much. Jasper’s presence was relatively common in Downtown Fiction, at least to her.
“How was your villain meeting yesterday?” she asked.
“Oh, great,” Jasper growled, his mood already worsening. “Up until Black Hat decided to make Dimentio and I spy on heroes or something.” He jumped up onto a table. “Lord, that clown sure tames his time. He talked to this TV-head girl for like a minute for information we already know. All like, ‘Hey, where’s Bill Cipher live? Where’s Rain N. Thirteen live?’ As if we don’t already know.”
“Yep, that’s him, alright,” Saimin sighed.
“And then,” Jasper continued, crossing his arms “he has the nerve to turn to me and be like, ‘Oh, it’s a piece of the puzzle’ or whatever.”
“ Psssh, ” Saimin picked up her cleaning rag, “well, you know him and his similes and whatnot. Don’t be too surprised when he starts being all philosophical.” She tossed the rag behind the counter and grabbed her coffee from a nearby table.
As the two of them sat in the empty pizza parlor, Saimin tuned out Jasper’s tornado of insults directed specifically at Dimentio, trying to alleviate the headache the cat was giving her. Apparently Dimentio had sent him news of the whole Black Hat ordeal and Jasper had decided to take him up on it, though not without hesitation, as it was.
Should’ve contacted that stupid demon-cat before Mr. Corny Clown stepped on his tail, she thought bitterly. She took another sip of her coffee, hoping the caffeine would wake her up a little.
Jasper gave her an entire play-by-play of the previous day’s “villain meeting,” talking fast about the new villains Black Hat had hired. She realized, about halfway through, that she had barely been listening to important information she ought to know.
“—and this kid’s real impressive, you know, he’s got—”
“Wait, wait, wait, stop,” Saimin groaned, hearing Jasper’s breath hitch as she caught him mid-sentence. “Who’s the new kid? Talk a little slower.”
Jasper sighed, already certain she hadn’t been listening. “Kit Harper,” he repeated. “You have any idea who he is?”
“No,” Saimin admitted.
“Me neither,” Jasper chuckled. “He’s got these weird powers that distort reality and stuff. Can’t talk. Told me he used to be able to, but one day he got attacked by a mind monster or something and all of a sudden his words got caught in his throat—”
“Okay, yeah, yeah, I can see your interest in the kid,” Saimin grumbled. “Just promise you won’t possess him, okay?”
“You know very well I can’t possess people, Saimmy,” Jasper hissed.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Yes, ma’m,” the cat said mockingly. “Then there was this robot woman. Everyone kept calling her ‘Her,’ as in her with a capital H. Dimentio finally relented and was like,” he cleared his throat, preparing to do a rather crude impression of the jester’s voice, “‘Her name is GLaDOS, but no one ever calls Her that’ or whatever.”
“Then there was this girly girl named Mimi,” Jasper clenched his teeth as he spoke the girl’s name, as if it brought back irritating memories. “She’s a shapeshifter, got it? And she’s totally obsessed with fashion and the like.”
“You sound like you don’t like her very much,” Saimin laughed, remembering the green girl all too well.
“ I don’t, ” Jasper admitted angrily. “But like… she’s super girly, and all of a sudden I set her off and her frickin’ head starts spinnin’ like crazy! ”
“And then, like, there’s these weird spider legs that come out of her body!” Saimin could practically hear Jasper shudder. “ SHE STARTED CHASING ME, SAIMIN! NOT COOL! ”
“Calm your tits, Jasper,” Saimin said jokingly. “It ain’t the end of the world yet.”
“Well, when it happens, my nonexistent kitty titties will be super un-calm, ‘cause I’m ninety-nine percent sure spider-lady will be the cause of it! ”
Saimin was sure she was going to pass out if she laughed any harder.
She heard the ring of a bell, signalling that a customer had just walked in. Saimin shot Jasper a look to make sure he stayed quiet like an actual cat, and he immediately shut his mouth and got on all fours. She turned to see who had just walked in.
Ima had been walking down the street, occasionally stopping and spinning. Last night had been a bit weird, to say the very least. It wasn’t until she saw a cat with words flying around him in the shop window that she had stopped walking. To tell the truth, the words around him were blurry, like part of an aura of some sort, but also understood, like off the tip of her nonexistent tongue.
“Umm, hello there!” she said, not sure what to make of it. There was also a girl close to him, wearing a sort of black, crop-top sweater with no sleeves. She was familiar, but any memories Ima tried to bring up were fuzzy and static, so she ignored the feeling. For now, at least.
“Oh, h-hi,” Saimin sputtered, not really expecting Ima to talk to her. “We’re not really open yet… did you need something?” She bitterly remembered that at some point in the conversation, Jasper had mentioned a girl with a TV head, and by the looks of things, this was her.
“Did you see the cat?” Ima said, her tone full of amazement and confusion. “He was standing up on two legs and there were words flying around him, and—”
She stopped talking.
She should’ve introduced herself!
“Oh, wait, that was rude,” she apologized. “Umm, my name is Ima! Nice to meet ya!”
Saimin smiled at the girl’s apologetic tone, though she was slightly confused. She held out a hand to shake. “I’m Saimin,” she replied. “Nice to meet ya, Ima.”
Ima smiled, or, at least, it seemed like she did, and shook Saimin’s hand. She couldn’t help but feel as if the cat was judging her. She could tell, but not exactly, that he might’ve known something she didn’t.
“What an adorable cat!” she exclaimed as she petted Jasper.
Saimin could already tell that Jasper was fed up with Ima, but she gave him a glare that said “try anything and I’ll kill you.”
“Yeah,” she chuckled. “His name’s Jasper.”
“Cool. Anyways, just asking, but have I seen you before? I think I might have,” she asked, to either confirm the familiarity of this person or to ease that small fear. Either way, ever since that meeting with Dimentio, her memories had started resurfacing.
“Can’t say I’ve ever met ya before,” Saimin admitted. “Might’ve seen you in town once or twice.” She was already starting to worry that Dimentio told this girl more than he let on, but that was a small hurdle.
“Hmm, maybe…” Ima seemed lost in thought, at least, until she had the urge to ask about that Dimentio fellow. She didn’t notice, however, until she had already said it. “Hey, last night, did ya see a purple and yellow jester, too?” Once she noticed she quickly added, “I mean, it was at night, you were probably sleeping, and I might just be crazy!”
However, something in her knew better. Yes, she was crazy, but she could tell from the air around Saimin that the two were related, somehow. Her aura hid traces of his energy within it. She knew the jester.
But why should I care? she asked herself. She remained silent, waiting for an answer, to see if Saimin would deny this.
Saimin winced a little, not expecting the question. She tried to play it cool. “You mean the jester guy everyone’s been talking about?” she asked. “I’ve heard bad things about him.” Jasper threw a glance her way that wasn’t particularly nice.’
Ima noticed Jasper’s glare and simply shrugged.
“Okay,” she said, the air around her colder and darker than it was before. “Welp, anyways, I’ve gotta get going! See ya later!”
Saimin watched after her for a few seconds, rewinding the scene a few times in her head, like a broken record player as certain parts repeated over and over, not completely accurate. She was almost certain she had felt the air change as the girl left.
“There’s something about her,” Jasper hissed, and for the first time, Saimin noticed that the cat had puffed up. “Something off. Don’t you see it, Saimin?”
“See what?” Saimin scoffed. “She seems perfectly normal to me.”
“Yeah, that’s because you ain’t a demon,” Jasper retorted. “Her aura just makes me feel… uncomfortable. Didn’t you feel the air change? It got darker… colder.”
So she hadn’t been imagining it. Her head being a TV was arguably more normal than most things in Fiction Frontier, and Saimin had seen strange, so seeing Jasper get all riled up like this, well…
“Are you okay?” she asked. “The last time you were like this was when we met Cyrus.”
“ Don’t talk about him, ” Jasper hissed, the name already bringing back bad memories.
The door was banged open by a green figure, and Saimin immediately flung one of her daggers at the girl. There was a moment where time seemed to slow down as Jasper shrieked and Saimin held back a groan. The dagger collided with the girl’s frilly blue dress, causing blood to splatter all over it.
There were a few moments of silence before Mimi pulled the dagger from her chest, smiling sweetly. “Was that supposed to hurt?” she said innocently.
“Hey, Mimi,” Saimin grumbled.
“Spider girl?! You know her?! ” Jasper yelled. “Just my luck…”
“Golly, I’ve gotta say, Saimmy,” Mimi smiled, knowing Saimin resented the nickname, “you did a real good job ruining my outfit. I was planning to do some real nasty things in it, you know?”
“It’s… new,” Saimin commented.
“Well, yeah,” Mimi exclaimed, twirling around. “Nassy made it especially for me! I told her I wanted a dress that looked threatening, but cute at the same time! Whaddya think?”
“You look like Elsa ,” Jasper snickered. He narrowly dodged a ruby that Mimi promptly tried to throw at his face. He yelped a little, hiding bitterly behind Saimin’s leg before she shook him off.
“Hmph.” Mimi crossed her arms.
“What’s the big idea, toots?” Jasper teased. “You goin’ out or something? Or do you not think you were pretty enough beforehand?”
“Jasper,” Saimin warned, but the cat ignored her, anger in his eyes.
“You don’t look like a villain, that’s for sure,” Jasper chuckled, tapping his foot. “Just some spoiled eight-year-old brat who thinks she deserves a crown or something.”
Saimin could already see that Mimi was at a loss for words, her face growing red with anger as Jasper continued to talk. Saimin started to stand up, backing away from the two, already knowing what was coming.
“You think all that money’s gonna make you queen?” Jasper laughed, not noticing his friend backing up. “Face it, Mimikins, you’re nothing but a little sloo oooOOOOOH MY GOD! ”
It was too late.
Mimi’s head was spinning rapidly, her eyes becoming devoid of life as her body became limp. Six spindly legs burst from within her, touching the ground gingerly as she started to cackle. Jasper tried to run for Samin, only to find she had left.
A malignant air overtook the room as Jasper jumped around to open the motion sensor door. When he finally managed to get it open, he ran around the corner of the street and out of sight with haste. Mimi pushed her way through the pizza parlor’s front door angrily, not at all pleased with Jasper’s insults. She was also not very happy that her dress had been ruined, but she supposed that was partly her fault. She hadn’t been planning to get all nasty like this, but what was she supposed to do?
She resolved to do the one thing she was here to do: create chaos.
As Ima walked down the streets, away from the pizza parlor, she could’ve sworn she heard a strange sound. She felt a shiver run up her spine not unlike that of Dimentio’s aura, but this one was… different, somehow. She could sense that it was weaker.
She stopped walking when she heard all the shrieking, and saw the little green spider girl everyone was running from.
“Well, hi, there, Downtown Fiction!” Mimi laughed. “It would really make it a whole lot easier if you’d all just start emptying pockets! Mimimimimimi…”
Ima had to hold her head for a few seconds, at least until all the colors stopped flashing and the people were gone. Eventually, she managed to get reoriented, but she was slightly annoyed at… whatever this thing was.
“Umm… hi?” She wasn’t frightened, but she was still a tad confused. She stood where she was, her head still fuzzing a little bit.
“Well, hi!” Mimi practically shrieked, not being able to hold back a giggle. “It’s awfully strange to see someone who isn’t running!” She couldn’t help herself, she was just too curious. This girl wasn’t like everyone else in the city.
Suddenly, from around the corner scampered Jasper, who immediately shrieked and hid behind Ima, who jumped a little. “ACK! It’s her! I knew it! The spider lady’s gonna end the world! ” He recognized who he was standing under. “Yo, TV girl, you aren’t scared of her?” He was shaking a bit. “Can you fight her off or something? She’ll tear my tail off!”
Ima took a step forward and stood there a moment, the air becoming colder. Two arms started to appear from her back, and it seemed that she was daring Mimi to make a move. The arms landed on the ground, holding her up. The air was chilling.
Mimi suddenly realized why this girl wasn’t scared of her. “ OH! ” she exclaimed, a cackle threatening to rip from her throat. “You’re the girl Dimmy talked about!” She shrugged as best she could in her spider body. “Oh well! Guess I’m just gonna have to fight both’a you—”
Ima launched herself at Mimi while the girl was speaking, clawing and screaming and seemingly trying to choke the spider, as if the air around them wasn’t suffocating and freezing enough. Though Jasper was cheering the girl on, seemingly unaware of the aura surrounding the two, Mimi was screaming, trying her best to untangle herself from the girl. Though she was invulnerable to attacks at this point, she could feel Ima’s claws penetrating her skin.
“ JASPER! ” she shrieked, trying to pull away. “ DO SOMETHING! ”
Marima wouldn’t relent, claws digging into Mimi’s skin. She seemed to be in a strange state of mind, as if she wasn’t aware of anything else around her. She eventually stopped, but had two claws on Mimi, the other arms squeezing the green girl.
Thick tree roots suddenly wrapped around Mimi and Ima, separating them as Jasper watched with confusion and awe. Mimi struggled to free herself, Ima still trying to claw onto the spider girl.
A lanky, green haired man with dark skin in a brown hoodie stood near them, looking generally disgusted but otherwise unphased. Mimi noticed that he wore a bullet belt covered in leaves. He raised his hands and the roots grew farther from the ground, making Mimi realize that the man was controlling them.
Ima stopped for a moment and looked at the man.. Her breathing was still heavy, but she had calmed down. She had her guard up, but she was calm nonetheless. She let go of Mimi and looked at her claws, seeming to come to her senses.
She looked around, coming out of a trance, and realized their situation. She curled up into the roots, assuming the man would slam them into the ground. She knew the roots would provide a sort of defense. Mimi continued to shriek in protest, jerking every which way in an attempt to escape. Jasper was now rooting for the man as he brought his left hand down quickly, slamming Mimi into the ground.
Ima knew exactly what the man was going to do, and she quickened her pace in covering herself with the roots. Contrary to her assumption, however, he slowly lowered his right hand to the ground, realizing Ima was not looking for trouble. The roots carrying her lowered, but she appeared not to notice.
She prepared for the man to try to slam her down, still trying to figure out why she had gone berserk earlier.
“Geez,” she heard the man say in a thick Russian accent. “And here I thought the talk of the clown guy would be the most of my worries.” He looked at Ima. “Hey, TV girl, you’re safe from the spider.”
Jasper whooped loudly, raising his hands to the sky as if in victory. As soon as Ima heard this, she opened her eye and climbed out of the roots, now sitting on top of them, putting her head to her hand in thought. Her other arms were still there as she climbed down carefully, but they slowly started to fade.
“Thanks,” said Ima. “If you hadn’t shown up, I don’t know…”
Wait, why did I come here again?
She shook the thought off. “Well, thanks,” she said, scratching her arms. “I don’t know why I wanted to claw out her skin and… stuff…” She seemed to smile. “Anyways, I’m Ima! What’s your name?” The slightly cold air seemed to disappear completely as her other arms retreated into her back. She seemed friendlier now.
“Name’s Cedar,” said the man. “Cedar Volkov.” He did a finger-gun. “If this is what happens every day, I swear to God… Mak’s gonna laugh at me.”
The two heard Mimi groan in pain, back in her regular form, but Cedar made a motion that seemed to mean that he didn’t care about the spider girl.
Ima smiled, or at least it seemed so, and the air around her became more colorful. She turned to Mimi once more and muttered a swear under her breath. She clasped her hands together and nodded, starting to skip away.
Her thoughts went back to the topics that were on her mind before, about how she seemed to be acting strangely. First, she had acted like another person, and now she was becoming more aggressive. This was troubling for her, as she had feared it would happen soon.
She just hoped she could stop it before it overtook her.
Chapter 13: Apocalypse What The Hecc
“ Why are we doing this again?” Bill asked. Wheatley dragged him along as Newton and Dennis talked fast to each other. They were currently in Fantasy Landing, the suburban shopping area of Fiction Frontier.
“I already told you,” Wheatley sighed, but he had a smile on his face. “You and I only have one outfit, Newton said his wardrobe doesn’t fit in on Earth, and Dennis only has stuff from the 1950s. We’re going clothing shopping.
“Great,” Bill groaned. “Rain put you up to this, didn’t she? Sounds like something she would want. Fresh air, or whatever.”
“Actually,” Dennis piped up, “it was my idea. Not everything mutually advantageous is Rain’s idea. Besides, we all do need some fresh air.”
“Those are some bold words for someone who’s neck is about to be snapped,” Bill threatened. Dennis only groaned, knowing the only thing Bill would’ve been able to hurt was a fly on the wall. Bill probably would’ve tackled him right then, had he not a decent understanding of his own fragile meat suit.
“Just don’t attract too much attention,” Wheatley sighed. “The stares people are giving us are making Newton nervous.”
Bill blew a raspberry at Wheatley, who frowned in disapproval. Wheatley touched Newton’s shoulder gingerly to console him, which made the light bulb jump a little.
So far, Bill had gathered this about the three he found himself company of.
Wheatley had no real concept of the human world. Everything was new and surprising to him, though he seemed to get it without any real explanation from the others. He had told Bill that there were files in his system for a lot of human things, ranging from the sun, the grass, the sea, horses, cats, and even unicorns. Well, Wheatley called them “unicrons,” but Bill didn’t mind too much.
Newton had experience in the field of monsters and battling, experience that he didn’t like to dwell on too much. The past few months had left him rather traumatized and jumpy rather than the usual cocky and adventurous Newton Bill had seen in the years he was a demon. The light bulb wasn’t all that smart, either, though he was determined.
Dennis wasn’t quite a coward, but saying he was brave would be an overstatement. He could say what he felt as long as he wasn’t intimidated, but he had never had any experience with monsters or battling. He had learned about Black Hat through the rumors and PYFF archives rather than through any real prior knowledge, and even then, he feared the man in black because of description alone.
Newton and Wheatley already seemed very close, as if they had been friends for a while, though Bill knew they had only known each other for little more than a day and a half. Though Bill thought he was imagining it, Dennis seemed to be the third wheel.
“So, am I gonna try on clothes or something?” Bill asked, annoyance peppering his tone. “Like a human?” He scoffed a little.
“Well,” Wheatley started happily, “I’m not human and I’m going to try on some clothes!”
Bill should’ve been mad, he really should’ve, but he found he couldn’t be enraged at something so helplessly, pathetically adorable. He chuckled a little, letting the acid drip into his tone.
“Try not to hold your breath, android, ” he hissed. “I’ll follow you around for the day, but don’t get your hopes up.”
Wheatley smiled a bit, already knowing Bill meant harm, but he didn’t care. Bill Cipher didn’t seem very threatening to him. All he seemed like was stubborn and reluctant to do anything relatively normal. Bill seemed to sense this, as he sighed, following the group on their shopping spree.
The demon wasn’t particularly happy about it, but if he wanted to grow any stronger, he supposed he’d better not get himself killed in the process.
“How about this one?” Wheatley asked, holding up a large, yellow sweater.
“It’s too bright,” Bill grumbled. “I don’t want anything yellow.”
“What color would you prefer?”
“Blue, maybe, or red or gray,” Bill answered. “Black or white works, too, I suppose.”
“How about this?”
Wheatley held up a large, dark blue hoodie, and Bill sighed. He nodded reluctantly, and the android smiled and threw the hoodie into the cart. He picked up another shirt, held it in front of his body, and threw it in as well.
Bill was getting real tired of being stuck here, of feeling displaced and unusual. He realized that something had vanished in the past few days, maybe the urge to tear these people in half, the urge to make a scene, the urge to be conspicuous at all.
He wondered why he’d lost it.
“This is cute,” Wheatley said, holding up a blue dress.
“Wheatley, that’s a dress,” Dennis countered.
“Yeah,” Wheatley said, seeming not to understand. “I know it’s a dress. What about it?”
Dennis opened his mouth again, but thought better of it. He turned and grabbed a shirt with two eggs on it, reading “you crack me up.” He laughed and threw it in the cart. He turned to Bill.
“I don’t suppose you’d want to have any fun, would you?” he asked. Bill scoffed at the indictment.
“And bring myself down to human level?” he laughed. “How you enjoy these useless bonding activities is inscrutable.
“Inscrutable?” Wheatley repeated, looking confused.
“Incapable of being understood,” Dennis clarified. “But whatever. I enjoy these activities simply because I like not being killed by monsters.”
Bill huffed a little, blowing a loose strand of hair out of his face. “Can we go now?” he asked irritably, pulling himself away from the group. “I mean, I’d hate to be a bother,” he said those words with more sarcasm than necessary, “but I’d rather not hang out with a bunch of mortal pests who think they can just turn a demon into their little pet—”
As he was pulling away from the group, he bumped into someone, throwing him off balance. He stumbled a bit where he was, then turned to see who he’d run into. A lanky teenager with a purple jacket and lavender hair (Bill assumed it was dyed) turned to meet his gaze.
“Are you okay?” the young man asked.
Bill laughed dryly. “I’m fine,” he said. “Maybe you should watch where you’re going next time.”
Next to the teenager stood Saimin Louis, whom Bill knew nothing about. She pulled at her friend’s wrist, recognizing the demon instantly.
“Hey, Dean, let’s get a move on,” she said. “This bozo ain’t worth your time.”
‘Dean’ nodded a little. “Whatever you say,” he replied. The two walked away, leaving a fuming, angry Bill to sit behind.
Wheatley put a gentle hand on Bill’s shoulder, but the demon pushed it away angrily.
“ Let’s get this stupid shopping trip over with, ” he hissed.
Cedar shut the front door of his new home, sliding to the floor in defeat. He pressed his hands to his eyelids, letting out a groan.
He still wasn’t used to this at all.
A house in place of a forest, actual danger in place of general annoyances (not that either was favorable), and sweltering heat in place of the usual cold.
Well, at least he thought it was sweltering, but only because this place was temperate, instead of the freezing cold he was used to back in Siberia.
There was a loud knock on the door, and Cedar groaned at the fact that he knew exactly who it was. He had been expecting Cagney Carnation to show up today.
Cagney and Cedar had long since become friends, always annoying each other but always enjoying the other’s company. It was Cedar’s idea to invite Cagney over for once, simply because he didn’t know anyone here and he was bored.
Cedar stood up and opened the door, not surprised to find Cagney’s bright orange hair and freckles staring back at him. Cagney was approximately four foot ten in stature and wore mostly green, aside from the orange carnation on his vest that matched his namesake.
“‘Ey, flower boy,” Cedar chuckled. “You’re a little late.”
“Hey, you said four o’clock, and it’s four ten,” Cagney countered. “I’m fine.”
Cedar scoffed and motioned Cagney inside.
“Well, I’ve gotta say, Volkov, these are pretty nice accomodations,” Cagney mused. “You like it here so far?”
“I can’t say it’s been great,” Cedar grumbled. “I mean, the living space is nice and the neighbors aren’t noisy, save for the door slamming that happened yesterday, but I was just downtown and I ran into a giant spider child.”
“A… what?” Cagney said confusedly, pausing his admiration of a vase of roses. “Why was there a giant spider child in Downtown Fiction?”
“Who knows,” Cedar answered. “I mean, I was the one who had to stop it from terrorizing people, and luckily the spider was pretty easy to beat up.”
“You didn’t show off, did you?” Cagney chuckled.
Cedar looked at him with intrigue, then let out a roaring laugh only Cedar Volkov would’ve been able to let loose. “I mean, a little,” he admitted. “I made the motions with my hands while I was using the vines. You know I don’t have to do that to control them, just have to think about it is all.”
This time, it was Cagney’s turn to laugh. “Well, I guess it’s nice to know you’re able to take care of evil-doers in this neck of the woods.”
Cedar smiled a bit, before going over what Cagney had just said. “Wait…” He placed his hands on his hips. “When you said you wanted to visit to check out the place, you didn’t mean…” He frowned. “You’re moving in next door or something?”
“Well, you caught me,” Cagney laughed nervously. “I mean, how could I resist? It’s a nice place, and it’d be nice to not be in constant danger of Goopy tramplin’ all over my garden for once. Hilda’s better at protecting that place than I am. Besides, I won’t be here forever.”
Cedar groaned. “I can handle you , sure, on your own,” he said, “but with all of… this? ” He pointed to the TV, which had been left on to a news story about Black Hat. “Just what do you think you’ll be doing?”
Cagney shrugged. “What everyone else has been doing, I guess,” the ginger answered. “I mean, even big bad Dice decided to try signing up. It’s for fun, not for annoying you.”
“Well, when you put it like that…” Cedar sighed, massaging his temples. He chuckled a little. “I guess it’s not really my place to tell you what to do.” He put a hand on Cagney’s head and ruffled his hair. “Do what you want, you overgrown weed.”
“ Cedar! Quit it! I don’t wanna have a bad hair day again! ” Cagney pushed his friend’s hand away with a huff. “I thought you said you were gonna make tea!”
“Oh, yeah, I was,” Cedar mused. “Thanks for reminding me.” He walked into the kitchen and pulled out the tea bags he had just bought. “Do you prefer green tea or chai tea?”
Cagney didn’t remember exactly how he and Cedar had met. He supposed it was back on Inkwell before he sold his soul to the devil. Every week, Cedar would appear in Inkwell with almost no announcement other than the occasional whisper from Beppi the Clown, who often treated the man as a sight to behold.
“There goes tree boy,” the clown would sometimes say to Hilda. “Think he’s goin’ on a little shoppin’ spree? Or does he work for the devil, eh?”
“Shut up, Beppi,” Hilda would scold. “Not everyone who’s new here is workin’ for the devil. Now stop spreadin’ rumors, you buffoon.”
Nothing Cedar did seemed out of the ordinary. He would walk all the way to isle three, say hello to the few people who knew him, walk back to isle one with a couple of bags of groceries, and leave without a trace. Some people said they saw him teleport to get to the isle, but since Djimmi was already a master of teleportation, there wasn’t much chatter about it.
On Cedar’s fourth or fifth visit, Cagney couldn’t remember, the ginger offered to help carry one of Cedar’s bags. Cedar obliged, thanked Cagney for the help afterward, and was gone. The routine continued every week, the only downside being Goopy Le Grande’s remarks that “Cagney Carnation has a boyfriend.”
Hilda quickly shut the blue blob up by dropkicking him back into the forest.
Cagney would often make small talk with Cedar, to the latter’s content. He quickly found out that Cedar was, indeed, part tree, as Beppi had said. He was a byproduct of a nuclear accident but wasn’t bothered by it all that much. Cedar looked to be either sixteen or twenty-two. As it turned out, he was forty, and he supposed the radioactivity might’ve slowed down his aging.
Cagney was especially delighted to find out that Cedar liked roses, and bought him a vase for the tree to take home. Cedar accepted it, and Beppi had let out a hoot.
Apparently the clown had been talking with Goopy, and Hilda gave both a stern talking to. Nobody paid much attention to Goopy or Beppi’s rumors, anyway, since the only accurate rumors came from the mouth of Cala Maria. They never really qualified as “rumors,” because anything Cala said was always thought to be, and was, true.
The only Cala said about Cagney and Cedar was that “they were getting along swell, but they had a strange relationship.” Said strangeness seemed to be that they annoyed each other to the point of what the Baroness would typically call “fighting conditions,” but then immediately switch back to normal chatter.
“I guess what she means,” Hilda had clarified, “is that you two always seem to be on the verge of fighting and kissing at the same time.”
Cagney had nearly spit out his tea at that statement.
The next week, he invited Cedar over to his house for dinner, a gesture which, around Inkwell, meant a cemented friendship. Beppi considered it a date, but he kept it to himself. He didn’t want Hilda to stick a needle up his nose.
From there, Cagney got to know Cedar’s family. They were an odd bunch, to say the least. Cagney’s personal favorite would’ve had to be Cedar’s sister, Sakura, a kind-hearted, yet dirty-minded young woman. She was Cagney’s favorite only for the fact that she treated him like a younger brother, but also because she reminded him of Hilda.
“Yo, Cags, sugar or honey,” Cedar asked interrupting Cagney’s thoughts.
“Honey,” Cagney answered. “Hey, what’s all this about… Black Hat?”
Cedar popped his head out of the kitchen. “Beats me,” he said. “Your tea’s ready.” He walked over to where Cagney was seated on the couch, plopped down, and handed Cagney a cup of tea. He sipped his own tea gingerly, taking care not to burn himself. The water was still hot.
They watched TV the rest of the afternoon.
Rain jumped at the sudden noise, whipping around to see who had just walked in.
She sighed, seeing it was only Dennis, Wheatley, Newton and Bill, back from their shopping trip. Bill was currently nose deep in the purple scarf wrapped around his neck, wearing a dark blue hoodie and pink sneakers.
Rain couldn’t help but snort.
“Hey, guys,” she said. “I was preparing some bruschetta for lunch… any of you allergic to anything?”
“Your face,” she heard Bill mutter.
“Eggs,” Dennis answered. “But I doubt there are eggs in bruschetta.”
“You’d be right!” Rain laughed. “Nothin’ but bread, vegetables, and cheese.” She started to peel a clove of garlic. “Also, you know what’s interesting? Apparently tomatoes are both a fruit and a vegetable, since ‘vegetable’ is more of a cultural definition. Same goes for corn.”
“You know, Bill kind of looks like a tomato right now,” Newton commented.
“Buzz off,” Bill grunted.
“Could one of you help me by cutting the baguette?” Rain asked, grabbing a serrated knife from the wall magnet. “Just cut it diagonally, about half an inch slices, until you fill up the baking sheet.”
“I’ll help!” Wheatley answered, walking over and grabbing the knife. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook.”
As Wheatley settled himself in the kitchen with Rain, Bill plopped himself onto the couch with a groan. It was no use being angry if no one was going to pay any attention to you. Instead, he fixated himself on the TV, which Rain kept on for white noise. The Coyote and the Roadrunner was on, and Bill grabbed the remote and turned the channel.
He turned to a dead station that he supposed had been that way for a while, but the static amused him. Any human would’ve probably turned the channel to something else, but he was enthralled. How any human could pass up a dead channel was suddenly a mystery to him.
The channel was changed by Newton.
“ Hey! ” Bill shouted. “I was watching that!”
“I… It was a dead channel, Bill,” Newton replied confusedly. “You were watching static?”
Bill, seeing nothing wrong with watching static, snatched the remote back from the light bulb. “You ought to ask next time!” he argued. “Likely, I would’ve said no, but you ought to ask!”
“I… okay.” Newton watched as Bill turned the TV back to the previous channel, sighed, and joined the demon in watching the station.
He supposed Bill was a lunatic but didn’t question it much. He had never met the demon personally before this, but he had always heard the rumors. Erratic, contentious, threw tantrums… Apparently, all the rumors had been true, but not in the way Newton had expected.
If Newton was honest with himself, Bill seemed like a toddler. The demon seemed perfectly content as long as he was left alone and given attention when he wanted it. If Bill was able to go off and do his own thing without question, he wasn’t a bother.
The moment he was forced to do something that didn’t line up with his schedule (or his wishes, Newton couldn’t tell), he would lay himself down for the public to see and make a show of it. The only time he didn’t was when he could get something out of it. For example, Rain’s trip to the diner meant that Bill got a decent meal without asking for it. Asking for a meal would mean submission to human routine, and Bill would probably have laid his head down under an ax before admitting he was anything close to human.
Newton supposed that demons aged much differently from humans and sackpeople and whatnot, and he was already considering the possibility that Bill’s mind was still very much in its infancy. Had Bill had any demon parents to tell him what was right and what was wrong? If so, were their views on humanity equally skewed? Did they also act like toddlers, or were they more like adults?
Newton thought that an “adult” demon would be much more successful in destroying the world. He didn’t like to think about that.
“Hey, Rain,” he called, “if you were forced to watch static for twenty minutes, how would you feel?”
“Oh, I would feel… absolutely tortured,” Rain answered, sarcasm in her voice. “Such a terrible thing… oh no… watching static must be horrible .”
Admittedly, Rain had always taken to watching static when there was nothing on, but it would be a cold day in hell before she told that to Bill. She dumped the minced garlic into the mixing bowl and proceeded to dice the tomatoes.
Bill was currently occupied by the tip of his finger. For what reason, he was unsure. Maybe it was the longing of his old “finger-gun,” his gang had called it. Even a small version of it would have sufficed. He mimicked a shot; two fingers out, the energy gathering, and he pretended to shoot.
A bolt of blue shot upwards out of Bill’s fingertip, his hand cocked back with the recoil, and then there was a small hole about the size of a hockey puck in the ceiling. Rain ran out into the living room, a measuring cup in hand.
“What the… Bill, what did you do?!” she asked sternly.
Bill was silent for a moment, stiff as a board, but then he let out a piercing laugh that echoed around the house. “ It works! ” he shrieked.
“ What works?!” Rain sputtered, looking anxious.
Bill shot another blue bolt at the ceiling, feeling great delight in the knowledge that now he had a weapon. A weapon he could use against others, to protect himself, or just to have fun. His powers were returning; soon he’d be able to do all sorts of things.
There was a sort of emptiness behind it, though. No longer could he think of even aiming his fingers at Rain. Suddenly there was something there. Something strange, a new emotion that pulled his finger away from the trigger.
Empathy, he realized.
He was so lost in thought that he hadn’t noticed Dennis grabbing the broom and sweeping up the chunks of ceiling that had fallen to the ground. Rain’s arms were crossed over her chest, her eyes looking more irritated than smug. He got up from the couch with a huff.
“I’m going to my room,” Bill started. “If that’s okay with you.”
“Oh, sure, go ahead,” Rain replied. Bill walked up the stairs, opened his door, and walked inside.
He hadn’t been here for a couple of days. Rain had replaced the mirror in his room with a new one, and all evidence of him smashing the previous one had been properly disposed of. There were still spots of blood on the rug, though that was all that remained.
He sat down right in front of the mirror and placed his hand on the cold glass. It felt icy, but he could feel the dim reflection of his power, pleasantly warm, smack dab in the middle of his palm. He could feel goosebumps on his skin, and he took off his scarf and jacket, suddenly feeling too warm.
The realization he’d had just a few minutes ago put the past few days in a new light. Thanking Tad for all he’d done for him, accompanying Rain on her breakfast run, tagging along with Wheatley, Newton, and Dennis…
It wasn’t because he was being flattering anymore. It was because an instinct he’d relied on for all of his life had suddenly disappeared. The instinct to rip his enemies apart, the instinct to laugh at people’s pain… it was there, still, but it was beginning to seem more…
He brought his fist back again, ready to strike. His hand shook, the stings of the glass from last time still echoing in his nerves. A tear trickled down his face, the memories of his yells vibrating in his skull, Rain’s face as she tried desperately to help him…
He brought his fist down.
He couldn’t do it.
Instead, he stood up and flipped the mirror over so that the glass faced the other way. He couldn’t bear to see his reflection anymore. He sat down on his bed, remembering how satisfying it was to yell at the stranger at the store, up until the girl had said “not worth your time.” Something about that statement had punched him in the gut, had left him fuming.
He wasn’t feared anymore. He couldn’t even be underestimated because people knew of his condition. They knew his powers had been taken away, they knew he was human. The rumors had spread too far, too far… He wasn’t worth anyone’s time. He was not something to be feared.
“You’re not human.”
It wasn’t even a fact anymore. It was the exact opposite of the truth. Bill knew that. Now he was too human, feeling sympathetic and emotional. He had depended on his anger for so long, but now it wasn’t what made him powerful, it was what made him weaker.
There was a knock.
Rain opened the door, a worried look on her face. “Bill?” she started. “Everything okay?”
“No,” he admitted. “How’d you know?”
“I could tell,” Rain replied. “You looked so… I dunno, joyful upon realizing that you… that you had a weapon.” She shut the door behind her. “And then, suddenly, you looked like something had just… like something clicked.”
“Something did,” Bill said. “I…” He looked her in the eye. “Can you keep a secret?”
Rain looked a little surprised but nodded.
“Do you even know why I hated you?” Bill asked.
“Because I’m human.”
“No,” he said. “Because you made me question everything I knew.”
“I thought I was born to create chaos,” Bill explained. “That destiny was handed to me on a silver platter, but it was always just slightly out of reach. I always failed in some way, and the heroes always won.”
“And now you feel like you’re… being told that was all a lie?”
Bill nodded. “Like someone’s handing me a new destiny and telling me to make something of it.”
“Heh,” Rain chuckled. “I guess I kind of expected that.”
“I mean, it’s funny. A lot of people I’ve met think they’re meant for some fatalistic destiny. I don’t think people are meant for something like that. And even if we are, we shouldn’t do everything in our power to make it so.”
Bill tilted his head. “Why’s that?”
Rain shrugged. “It just wastes time,” she answered. “I mean, think about it. If you spend every moment of your life worrying about a prophetic day in the future, then what else are you going to do? You won’t be pursuing hobbies or connecting with family or making friends or even chasing dreams.” She closed her eyes. “Even if there was such a thing as destiny, I wouldn’t want to spend my entire life worrying. Would you?”
Bill hummed thoughtfully. “I guess not,” he muttered. “It’d get pretty boring.” He pondered the question for a moment. “So, if not destiny, what made you decide to be a hero?”
Rain stared at him a second or two, a strange curiosity sparkling in her eyes. Her lips threatened to pull upwards into that smile he dreaded so as she tried to hold in a laugh. “Believe it or not,” she snickered, “protecting the people I love… that’s the dream I chase.” She paused, thinking her answer over. “Well, besides a career in voice acting. That’s also a pretty good dream.”
“I wish I had dreams,” Bill joked, though Rain didn’t seem to get it.
“I’m going back downstairs,” she sighed, starting to get up. “That bruschetta’s not gonna prepare itself.”
And with that, she left.
Chapter 14: Miserable Because Reasons
The next month slowly unearthed a subtle but recognizable routine. Rain rode the bus to Fantasy Landing twice a week to buy groceries, often accompanied by one or two of the others, plus a reluctant Bill. He rode by the group’s coattails and refused to go to the store unless Rain promised to let him ride in the cart. When the cart was full, she often asked him to get out and walk, and he did, though sluggishly in order to blow Rain’s fuse.
Efforts to do so proved meaningless; Bill could seldom let a couple of sparks fly when hounding her on being a bore, anyway (she often countered this by asking if he wanted to go to the hardware store to look at paint chips).
After a few trips, Flug Slys decided to join them in their shopping adventures. Bill found Flug to be of irritating character; he was disinterested in the demon’s inquisitive and witty remarks and had grown immune to Bill’s usual venom. The scientist had little to say about his previous employer, and Bill would dare say Flug was stuck up.
The very light conversation the two had shared together thus far reminded Bill of a game of golf he had once played with a professor, one who kept relating golf to a puzzle. The demon had long grown tired of both the professor in question and of Dr. Flug and decided that he might as well take a more curious approach.
“So, how smart are you really? ” Bill asked one evening.
“I have multiple PhDs,” Flug had answered.
“Why were you working for Black Hat and not NASA or something?”
“Mostly out of loyalty, but government work has more restrictions in terms of materials and where you get them.”
“Why’d you run away?”
“I was tired of being in his shadow and crushed beneath his thumb.”
“Are you a psychopath or anything like that?”
“I wouldn’t consider myself to be, but it is possible.”
Bill gave up shortly after. If he could find no weak spots in Flug’s armor, he might as well try and find another way around the back. He had bigger problems to deal with, problems that Rain tended to view with small giggles.
The problem in question was that humans could, and would, catch whatever was in the air around them, whether it be chickenpox or the common cold. Bill’s already fragile body had never come face to face with illness, nor had Bill in any other situation. The week he woke up with a headache, a snotty nose, and a queasy stomach, he convinced himself that he was dying and proceeded to try and drown himself in the bathtub. It was mostly out of sheer spite towards both the world and the Axolotl.
The only thing that stopped him from going unconscious while he was trying to breathe in water without gagging was the Hatbox Ghost. Hattie was an entity that Bill had known to be present in the house, but he had never directly acknowledged him before. The specter’s appearance often varied based on mood; catch him on a good day and looked close to human, but catch him in a bad mood and he looked ragged. Today he looked pained but not terrible. Bill thought he could’ve been in a better state.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?!” Hatbox had practically screeched, fetching a towel from the wall. Bill had snatched it prematurely and scoffed.
“Don’t intend to,” he said. “Just don’t like being sick.” In some sort of second sense, he placed the towel on his head and let the cotton soak up the water in his hair. Hatbox left Bill to his own devices semi-regrettably, and the demon raked a hand across his scalp, taking pleasure in his hair’s softness.
It was then that Rain suggested he take a bath.
“A bath?” Bill had echoed. He had already started participating in what humans called personal hygiene. He washed his hands after a bathroom break and changed his clothes when he felt itchy and uncomfortable, but this, if anything, was beyond him. It sounded nice, though, when Rain explained it, especially because one of the bathtubs in the house was a jacuzzi.
“Besides,” Rain shrugged, “it might help you feel better with that cold. Loosen up a bit, you know? Just don’t waste up all the hot water. I wanna shower later.”
She had been right, Bill admitted to himself, because after he dried himself and got redressed, he felt like a new person. He hadn’t truly realized how irritating it felt to have all that dirt build-up in his pores until he had gotten rid of it. He resolved to go take a nap, as to starve off whatever remaining sickness was left in his body.
It was then that he had another nightmare.
A creature of shadow had chased his ragged body through an inescapable labyrinth, getting closer with each passing second. Finally, when it got close enough that he could’ve reached back and touched it, arms made of darkness surrounded and suffocated him. He woke up in a cold sweat, feeling perhaps sicker than he had before his bath.
He spent the rest of the day moaning and groaning on the couch, trying to get someone’s attention. Rain felt a little sorry for him, mostly because she knew how new to illness he was. She searched the cabinet for cold medicine but found that the house had none.
“I’ll be right back,” she assured Bill. “I’m gonna go buy some cold medicine.”
“‘Snot like I need help from you,” he grumbled, “but make it quick. I’m getting chills.”
She left the house and walked to the bus stop. She had never had the time to get her driver’s license, as she was always out fighting monsters and halting evil in its tracks. Even then, people had just assumed she had a license and never questioned her. Still, Rain knew better than to try her luck with PYFF. Though she had taken driver’s ed, they knew she had never taken a driver’s test, and she had never been fond of breaking rules, either.
When the bus arrived a little later than usual with no one on it, she knew something was a bit off. Still, she paid the fare and hopped into a seat, and quickly noticed, contrary to her first impression, that she was not alone. A young teenage boy sat a couple of seats down, fidgeting with the metal fasteners on his overalls. He eyed Rain curiously, then stared tentatively out the window at the passing cars.
The bus started to move, lurching up the street in a painfully slow manner. It did not pause at its usual stops, nor did it seem to obey any traffic lights, but since Rain could not see where exactly they were, she didn’t care. There was still a small aching in her stomach, though, her gut telling her something wasn’t quite right about the current transportation arrangements.
Her gut feeling was confirmed when the boy Rain had noticed earlier stood up decisively. They were nowhere near a stop yet, it seemed, because there had been no announcement. The bus lurched ominously, hitting a bump in the road, and the ambiance of the air around her seemed to buzz and echo with a strange, unearthly tension.
The boy turned toward her and stared right in the face, and this time, her heart lurched instead of the bus. Rain stood up slowly, her hands shaking.
“What’s going on?” she asked, her eyes flitting towards the windows.
To her surprise, the windows had gone dark. The only thing illuminating the bus’ interior now was the soft light of the LEDs above them. Her eyes went wide with fear and shock, and before she could react, and invisible force smacked her against the wall. She fell to the ground, gasping for breath.
A malignant aura emanated from the boy, his face devoid of emotion. His hands were clenched, and he seemed to be concentrated on a spot behind Rain’s head. His sandy hair seemed to flutter as if a breeze were passing through, but the air was unbearably humid. His left eye was a deep brown, but his right eye was permanently closed, two scars slashed across.
“ Who are you?! ” Rain demanded, her voice shaking. White noise echoed across the air, across her mind, as if her shadow were trying to talk. However, something about it told Rain that this was not her shadow.
This was the boy.
Kit Harper, he spoke, and he raised his hand. Rain was flung back into the wall again, and she crashed into a seat. She got up slowly, not used to fighting anymore. She fumbled around in her jacket for something to counter his attacks with.
She grasped the handle of her dagger, the one she used to fight with. Her breath hitched; she was past fighting, but now it seemed she had no choice. She pulled it out of her jacket pocket decisively.
“Okay, then, ‘Kit Harper,’” she started, “do you really wanna fight me?” She laughed nervously. “I mean… I’m a veteran hero. I’ve got skill.”
I assure you, I do not want to fight you.
“Then why are you fighting me?”
Ordered, he said. Gravity suddenly reversed, and both Kit and Rain were propelled towards the ceiling. Rain reoriented herself and got onto her feet.
“By who?” she asked. Kit grinned slightly, seemingly happy that she asked the question.
The most feared man in the multiverse.
“Well, call me a blind man, but Rain went out for nothing,” Hatbox groaned. “I found some cold medicine.”
“Ugh, finally,” Bill sighed. “I was beginning to think I’d be sick forever.”
“In case you don’t know anything about medicine,” Hatbox chuckled, “it doesn’t cure you. You’ll still be sick, yes—”
“ What?! ” Bill clutched that blanket that surrounded him. “Then what good will it do?!”
“It helps with the symptoms,” Hatbox sighed. “You’ll feel more energized and less snot-nosed.” He took off the cap of the medicine bottle and poured some of the purple liquid into a small measuring cup. “Drink up.”
Bill reluctantly took the cup and down the whole thing in one gulp, then immediately started to cough. “What is this stuff?! It tastes terrible!”
“Medicine isn’t supposed to taste good,” Hatbox laughed. “It’s supposed to taste like medicine. Now suck it up.”
Bill gagged a little at the aftertaste, but otherwise stopped complaining. He had turned to a dead TV channel, and he rested his head on his hand as he watched.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hatbox suddenly freeze up. He turned his head the spirit’s way. The ghost looked off into the distance for a few seconds but pulled himself back to the present.
“You okay?” Bill asked with only a hint of sincerity. Hatbox turned to the demon, a worried look on his face.
“I felt something,” he breathed. “I think… I think Rain’s in trouble.”
“She can handle herself,” Bill scoffed.
“I sure hope so,” Hatbox replied. “I’m gonna go find her.”
He ran out the door, down the street, towards the bus stop, and was halfway there when he saw what was wrong. There was a blue-green wisp sitting at the stop, looking vaguely like a bus. It was slightly translucent, and he could see two people hopping around inside one of the cars.
He could clearly see Rain’s bleached hair bouncing off the walls as she did, though he could see she was losing energy fast. Another figure stood very still on the other side, both hands raised in defense, and Hatbox assumed he was using some sort of magic.
Hatbox had learned some magic from old books around the mansion’s library, spells that dispelled illusions, created shields, defensive things. He raised his hands and willed the illusion before him to break apart.
The wisp separated almost immediately, and Rain fell to the ground with a teenage boy. The boy got up from the ground quickly, though he looked like he had been cut several times. He ran towards Rain, an enraged look in his eye. Hatbox quickly raised his hand and trapped him in an energy field.
The boy banged his fist against the energy field as hard as he could, and Hatbox thought he heard a strange noise. It sounded almost like speech, but—
Let me out, let me oUT, LET ME OUT —
The screaming quickly turned into a high-pitched wail of white noise that began to give Hatbox a headache. Rain held her head, trying to block out the screeching. Hatbox focused hard on the noise, snapped his fingers, and all was silent.
The boy looked perplexed, and he continued banging on the energy field, concentrated on communicating with Hatbox and Rain.
“He uses telepathy, I think,” Rain breathed, getting up shakily. She stumbled a bit and fell back down, and only then did Hatbox realize how bruised up she was. She had a few minor cuts on her face, too, but it seemed she had run out of energy, for the most part.
“Who is that?” Hatbox asked worriedly. “What’d he do to you?”
“His name’s Kit Harper, apparently,” Rain huffed. “Can use telekinesis. He was just throwing me around that bus while I tried to fight back.”
“We need to get you back to the house.”
“What about him?” she gestured towards Kit, who was still struggling to escape.
“Eh, I’m sure Black Hat will pick him up later,” Hatbox grumbled. “Come on, let’s get out of here before something else happens.”
Click. Click. Click.
Bill groaned irritably. It seemed as though the satellite had decided to start working properly. Every channel they had came in crystal clear; not one channel was dead.
Hatbox had been right; Bill’s sinuses had cleared up quite a bit, and if he hadn’t known any better, he would’ve thought he was no longer sick. He would’ve been pleased, had the past few minutes been any fun. He sighed, rested his head against the couch’s arm, and proceeded flipping channels.
The door burst open, making Bill nearly drop the remote. Hatbox walked in, supporting a limping, bruised Rain. Bill’s eyes went wide, anger bubbling up inside him, yet he didn’t know where that anger came from.
“What happened?” he asked, but Rain did not answer. Hatbox helped her up the stairs and to her room, leaving Bill to ponder what was going on. The ghost came back down the stairs almost directly afterwards, a look of relief on his face.
“She’s alright,” he said. “No broken bones or anything. She’s just tired and bruised; I think a nap will do her some good.”
“How’d she get all bruised up like that?” Bill asked. “I thought she…”
“Was strong enough to take on anything?” Hatbox finished. The demon nodded. “Bill, she’s a human being. She’s still as delicate as everyone else.” He sighed. “There was a boy named… Kit Harper, she said.”
Bill recognized the name. “That’s… he’s a long-time follower of Black Hat,” he realized. “Hatbox, you don’t think Black Hat is after us, do you?”
“I doubt it,” Hatbox chuckled. “That kid was probably just waiting for a hero to catch. I don’t think he was looking for anyone specific, cause Rain still got him a couple times. Any employee of the man in black is going to go in knowing their enemy, and if they don’t, they’re just looking to find a victim.”
“How do you know?”
“I study things in my spare time,” the spectre replied. “It gets quite boring around the mansion when nobody’s there to visit.”
Bill sighed. “I’m… gonna go outside,” he said.
He stood up, put on some shoes, and opened the door. He slammed it behind him, taking pleasure in the noise. It sounded so angry, a perfect replication of his emotions. He sat down on the sidewalk, taking in the sights and stewing in annoyance. How this “Kit Harper” could attack Rain and get away with it was unimaginable to him.
There, on the other side of the street, stood Ima. She had been walking for a while now, taking deep breaths. The past few days had been strange, so she was trying her best to remain calm. If she did, it would go away, the black on her fingertips—they had turned slowly to claws again—and she stuffed them in her pockets when she noticed Bill, the boy who took a liking to slamming doors.
She stopped to look at the demon, knowing that something was troubling him.
Bill’s eyes flitted over to Ima, his annoyance only growing. He growled slightly, rolling his eyes. “What are you looking at?” he demanded.
Ima shook a little. “Nothing, nothing,” she said. “It’s just that…” She bent down a little, in a way that a normal human couldn’t. “You’re the elf eared kid from a few weeks ago, right? The one slamming the door behind Rain?”
Bill scoffed. “Yeah, I guess, what of it?”
“You look… down. Bill Cipher, yes?” Ima scooted closer to him, just staring at him. Something about her seemed off. Her hands were out of her pockets, claws and all, and the air around her was cold. “A friend was hurt, and you feel as if it shouldn’t have happened. I can tell.”
“Friend?!” Bill laughed angrily. “As if! And I’m not ‘down,’ just bored.” He looked off into the distance again, trying to piece together the puzzle he was creating in his head.
“Hmm. If that’s what you believe,” Ima mused. “Oh, wait, forgot to introduce myself! I’m Ima.” She held out a hand to him, not entirely knowing that her fingers had worn down to claws. Despite the cold air and Bill’s attitude, she seemed positive.
Bill looked at her hand hesitantly before shaking it. “Nice to meet you, I guess.” He pressed his hands to his face in frustration. “So, what exactly do you want?”
She put her hand to her cheek, before noticing the bits of skin falling off of her fingers. Once she did, she put her hand behind her back. “I was just walking, at least until I saw you. I thought I’d see what’s wrong, since I thought you would need it…” She started to whisper, looking slightly confused.
Bill scoffed again, this time with a smile. “Alright, then,” he chuckled, but there was something malevolent in his gaze. “Well, let me make this clear to you, Ima. ” He spat her name like it was a disease. “I don’t need your help. I don’t need anyone’s help, and I especially don’t need help from Ra—”
He covered his hands with his mouth very suddenly, looking shocked at the words that had just come out of his mouth.
“From Rain?” Ima finished. She stared at him with a neutral expression, the air around her growing darker. “Then why did you sign up for PYFF? Isn’t it a place where people seek help?” She started to walk away but put a claw on Bill’s shoulder. “Please don’t try to pretend. It only makes everything worse. Take it from me.”
Ima chuckled. “But okay. If you think angry and mean is a perfect facade, then go ahead!” She leaned closer to him. “But you should stick to that and watch your back.” Those last words were filled with concern, annoyance, and malice. “You can’t let your guard down once you make a reputation for yourself. After all, there’s someone who wants your head!” She walked away, chuckling to herself.
Bill stared after her, those last few words vibrating in his head. Someone who wants your head… Who in the world had she been talking about?
“What exactly do you mean by that?” he asked as she walked away.
Ima stopped and turned around. “Well, let’s just say that someone very powerful has a bounty on your—and Rain’s—head.”
Bill’s eyes went wide at those words. He tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind. He only watched Ima walk off, knowing immediately who she was talking about.
Kit Harper was no coincidence. Black hat was after him. He knew he only had so much time before the man in black’s forces came crashing to the Earth in retaliation against the heroes.
But why now?
Bill’s head jerked up. He knew why Black Hat was doing this. A mixture of spite, revenge, and finally having an excuse to follow through on his plans. Dr. Flug Slys was now living with them, and he had only joined PYFF some time ago.
I was tired of being in his shadow and crushed beneath his thumb.
It was only a matter of time.
The Wind swept against his face as the void around him grew ever closer. His hair gently caressed the sides of his face, and his body felt warm and light. With a gasp, his eyes fluttered open, though it made no difference; he could see nothing.
He cursed to himself. He had fallen asleep on the couch again, even after he had tried so desperately not to. Humans need to sleep, he knew that, but he had become fearful of what the night would bring. He tried to claw himself out of unconsciousness, clutched onto the fabric of his mind and tried to pull himself up, but it was no use.
He heard something, deep in the darkness; a low growl, hungry, waiting. He could see something, a tiny flicker of light, far below his feet. Before he could move, however, it disappeared. He huffed, swimming downwards through space to follow it.
Before him seemed to be a large, black labyrinth with no ceiling, and on the far end, he could see the glint of light again. The light was slowly fading, becoming nothing the longer it was something. Bill touched the ground lightly, and it was then that he realized his feet were bare. He could feel the cold concrete surface beneath his toes, the chill seeping into his skin.
There was a voice from far away, a dark, monstrous voice, but it seemed to hold a sense of good and righteousness. Bill couldn’t tell what it was saying; he felt as though he were wearing ear plugs. Still, he felt drawn to it, so he started to walk towards it.
He whipped around to find a creature around his height. It closely resembled Ima, though the screen held no eye. Instead, it showed only static, forever set to a dead channel. Her arms were scarred and bloody, though the rest of her body seemed to hold a human shape.
“Turn back,” she urged him. “Turn back now, while you still have a chance.”
“Why?” Bill asked, though his voice sounded muffled and unrecognizable.
Ima seemed to think for a few seconds, before her screen lit up in an array of unearthly colors, colors Bill had only ever seen with his demon eye.
“You can’t let your guard down once you make a reputation for yourself,” she said, a perfect replication of Bill’s memory. “After all, there’s someone who wants your head!”
She seemed to glitch out of existence, her words bouncing around in Bill’s head like a pinball. He pressed his fingers to his temples, a migraine threatening to tear through his mind. Luckily, it faded as soon as it came, and he looked forward towards the path ahead.
“Screw her,” he muttered.
He continued on, his movements slow and painful, as if he were dragging himself through water. He pulled ahead, the light he was focused on slowly dimming. He hoped he could reach it before it faded completely.
He didn’t quite know how he got there, but there he was, facing the dying light with finality and decisiveness. He reached forward with his left hand, but as soon as he touched the light, it disappeared completely. He reeled back in shock, whispers filling his mind as his nerves buzzed with panic.
“Hello there, Cipher.”
It was a low and ominous voice, a slimy, evil tint behind the cockney accent. Bill turned slowly to meet its owner. He faced the light of a shimmering monocle and the unearthly green glow of the man’s sharp teeth. Black Hat’s smile was unbearably familiar as he placed a hand on Bill’s shoulder.
“It is unfortunate that we should meet like this,” the man chuckled, “with you following the heroes’ lead as if you were one of them.”
“I’m not following their lead,” Bill countered, his voice shaking. “I’m… using them. Biding my time. My powers are weak now, but — ”
“Oh, save the excuses,” Black Hat snarled. “They’ve won you over, haven’t they?” He examined the gloved nails on his free hand. “Such a shame… That pathetic human vessel has turned you soft, just like she has.”
Behind Black Hat stood an uncanny resemblance of Rain, her eyes without pupils, her gentle smile looking sinister. She looked as if she were in a silent movie. Her hands were behind her back, an innocent look on her face.
“Bill?” she said, her voice sweet and soft, as if she didn’t notice Black Hat at all. The man in black snapped his fingers, and a deafening slice cut the air like paper. Rain’s eyes went wide as a slash of blood made its way across her chest, her features turning pale and unearthly. She fell to the ground with a thud, and Black Hat started to cackle.
“Don’t you see, Bill?” he growled. “Immortal creatures like us don’t need the help of such pathetic specimen. Those heroes are weak and childish, running around their little cage like hamsters. They think they can stop a power much larger than themselves.”
Bill’s hands shot up to his mouth, his mind racing with panic. Her name had tumbled out without any thought, and it seemed Black Hat could sense this.
“Oh, come now, don’t tell me you actually care for her,” he snarled. “I’d come to think you resented her presence.” The man sighed, and Bill could’ve sworn he heard a hint of twisted disappointment. “I thought you had potential, long ago. You destroyed without thought and killed without mercy. You and I were not so different back then.”
“I don’t… I don’t care for anyone!” Bill insisted. “I’m still the same demon I was before! Nothing’s changed!” Despite the statement, some part of him knew Black Hat was right.
Black Hat smiled menacingly, his teeth glinting in unseen light, almost as if they gave off light all on their own. His form began to twist and churn until he became nothing but a black wisp, but then it began to piece itself back together. Bill’s own form stared back at him, wearing much more formal clothing, his eyes filled with malice and destruction.
“Don’t you remember what you used to be?” his double snarled. “We used to make such a good team.” A twisted smile formed on his cheeks. “You know, Bill Cipher and his need for destruction.”
“I never changed,” Bill pleaded, his voice nearly a whisper. “Never. I’m not… I’m not a hero.”
“No, you aren’t,” his double sighed. “But you most certainly aren’t a villain.”
In one quick motion, his doppleganger’s jaw unhinged, revealing rows of neon green teeth. Darkness dripped from his lips, the air urgent and rushed as Bill struggled to squirm away —
He woke up in a cold sweat, tears running down his face as the echoes of his dream faded from his vision. Goosebumps littered his skin, sweat covering his brow. He was in his room, sitting upright in his bed.
It was just a dream…
No matter how much he told himself this, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had just conversed with the real Black Hat. He shivered at the prospect of it and elected to stay up the rest of the night.
Chapter 15: Thank You, Kanye, Very Cool
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I already told you,” Rain sighed, shaking her head. “I’m inviting someone over. Their name is Dakota and you’re gonna make an effort to get along with them.” She plopped down on the couch next to him, closing her eyes a bit.
It was around midday, and the sun was warm and bright, shining directly over the hills off in the distance. Bill stared out the living room’s large window, swallowing a spoonful of mushy cereal. He had put it aside earlier for ten minutes before finally deciding to eat it. He grimaced at its texture and smoothed down his shirt for the thirteenth time that morning.
“You want that shirt ironed or something?” Rain asked, noticing Bill’s discontent at all the wrinkles. “Hatbox is ironing stuff today.”
“Sure,” Bill muttered, starting to take it off.
“ Oh my — Not right now! ” Rain yelled. “At least act a little decent!”
“Hey, I thought you were the actor here!” Bill countered, pointing a finger at her.
“Nevermind.” He looked down at his soggy cereal. “Why’s this all floppy-like?”
“It’s cereal,” Rain chuckled. “It gets mushy if you leave it in the milk too long.”
“I know, I know,” Rain sighed. She gently pried the bowl out of Bill’s hands and set it on the coffee table. She took a quick look at the time. “You feelin’ any better after that nap?”
“Kind of, why?”
“I was thinking of going to Downtown Fiction to get some lunch,” Rain answered. “There’s a… um, a really nice pizza place down there that I haven’t been to in a while. Wanna come with?”
“I just had a bowl of cereal,” Bill argued.
“You took one bite , Bill.”
He raised an eyebrow. “This a date or something?” he teased.
“ Hell no, ” Rain chuckled. “You’re too brotherly for something like that.”
The demon looked at Rain suddenly with a rather puzzled expression, and she realized her mistake. She fiddled with her fingers and looked down at her shoes.
“You remind me of my younger brother is all,” she corrected, twiddling her thumbs. “Forget I said anything.” She stood up and grabbed a black hoodie hanging from the coat rack. “You wanna go or not?”
Bill groaned half-heartedly. “Fine,” he answered. “How do we get there?”
“There’s a light rail station… not too far from here,” Rain answered. “It’ll take us right downtown, and then we only have to walk… eh, three blocks, maybe.”
“Great, let’s go,” Bill shrugged.
“Nuh uh,” Rain started, “you’re still in pajamas.”
Bill looked down at himself to find that, yes, he was still in pajamas. He was wearing a white shirt and Rain’s old green PE shorts (which Bill had her wash before he even considered wearing them as pajamas).
“Do I have to change into real clothes?” Bill groaned. “These pass as real clothes, don’t they?”
“They have my real name on them.”
“ Wait, really? Where? ”
“ Don’t look at it! ”
“Fine, fine,” Bill sighed. “I’ll put on real clothes, don’t worry.”
He raced up the stairs to his room, coming back down wearing a sky blue tee and denim jeans, accompanied by a light jacket. Rain smiled, got off the couch, and opened the door.
They walked down to the light rail station, and Rain grabbed a free newspaper from one of the stands. “ Bounty Hunters Threaten Security, ” it read. She chuckled, turning the page. “ Invaders In Beach City! ” “ Seahawks Beat Kansas City! ” “ Are Clowns The True Killers? ”
“Garbage news as always,” Bill scoffed, reading over Rain’s shoulder. “‘ Are Clowns The True Killers? ’ Are they serious? I’ve lost track of how many similar headlines I’ve read. It’s ridiculous.” He looked at the time on Rain’s watch. “When’s the bus gonna get here?”
“Any minute now,” Rain hummed. “Maybe you should just sit down and relax instead of trying to rush everything.”
“But everything you humans do goes by so fast,” Bill argued. “Honestly, I can barely grasp it. Your lives whizz on by without you. You live eighty years or so and then you die, without taking one look at the space you inhabit.”
“Well, consider yourself one of us now,” Rain grunted. “For us, life is slow and tedious and we busy ourselves just to pass the time where nothing happens. Maybe you should enjoy the little things more often.”
“The little things?” Bill raised an eyebrow, though his eyes sparked with mild interest. “Like what?”
“I dunno,” Rain shrugged. “The quirks of life… The melody of someone’s voice. The tiny specks of color in someone’s eyes. The way flowers dance to the wind’s song.”
Bill groaned. “That’s stupid,” he argued. “Nobody’s voice has a melody, I don’t see nothing in people’s eyes ‘cept for emotion, flowers don’t dance, and the wind doesn’t sing.”
Rain looked at Bill for a moment, a sad look in her eyes. “You don’t notice it ‘cause you whizz past it so fast. Haven’t you ever taken a pause, taken a loot at… y’know, ‘the space you inhabit’ or whatever?”
“ Don’t use my words against me, ” the demon snarled, pointing a finger her way. “I’ve lived longer than this universe has existed. There’s nothing to be seen in mankind or this planet. They’re all a waste and you know it. ”
Rain sighed, looking down at the pavement. The crowd clamored at the edge of the sidewalk, the sound of the light rail approaching, it’s gears screeching as it came to a halt in front of them. Rain tapped Bill on the shoulder and they both got onto the train.
“You might wanna hold onto something,” Rain advised, grabbing one of the metal poles.
“Why should I listen to you?”
Bill soon found out, as the train lurched forward rather suddenly, causing him to fall onto someone else.
“I’m so sorry!” Rain apologized, chuckling nervously. “This is his first time on this thing, I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
Bill looked upwards to find himself staring at the young man he had run into at the store the other day. He backed himself up and grabbed a vacant metal pole, cursing to himself.
“No, no, it’s okay,” said Dean (that’s what Bill remembered his name being, anyways). “We all do that every once in a while.” He looked rather apologetic, sparks of sympathy in his eyes.
Wait, sparks of sympathy? Am I really listening to Rain’s advice or am I just noticing these things because I’m human?
“I’m Dean, by the way,” said the teen, holding out a hand to shake. He looked maybe a year older than Rain, and a lot taller, too.
“I’m Rain,” she replied, shaking Dean’s hand.
“As in Rain N. Thirteen? ”
Rain’s eyes lit up with surprise. “Uh, y-yes, actually!” she answered, looking a little proud of herself. “How did you know?”
“Well, you’re a well-known hero, aren’t you?” Dean asked. “I think I first heard of you when I went to visit Caulderon. It’s a lovely city.”
“Ah, yeah, I’ve been there,” Rain chuckled. “There’s a restaurant there that one of my old friends owns. Where are you headed today?”
“I’m headed to the pizza place downtown.”
“Wait, that’s where we’re headed,” Bill interrupted. “You ain’t spyin’ on us or anything, are you?” He said the last part humorously, chuckling to himself.
“Pffft, no,” Dean laughed. “Actually, a good friend of mine works there. We’ll get there around when her break starts, I think.” He looked at his watch. “Yep, right around one o’clock, she said. I’ll introduce you guys to her, if you want.”
Bill looked between the two. “No, it’s—”
“Oh, that would be wonderful!” Rain exclaimed. “I don’t know a whole lot of people anymore, just because I used to move around so much. It’ll be great to meet some new people!” She gestured to Bill. “This is Bill, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Dean. Bill muttered a simple “hi,” looking down at his shoes.
The train lurched to a stop and the doors opened. “This is our stop,” Dean announced, starting to walk out.
The three of them started to walk down the sidewalk, heading towards the pizza place. Dean and Rain kept chattering with each other, which gave Bill an excuse to zone out of the conversation. His thoughts wandered to Dean, as his thoughts seemed to do with new people.
It became clear to Bill that he had never seen this Dean character before. Not like Rain, who he had never seen the face of. No, he never had the notion that Dean even existed before this. His aura was strangely unfamiliar, as if it belonged to someone else. The aura was slightly magical (though whose wasn’t), which meant that Dean must’ve known some simple spells.
Other than that, he seemed awfully charming and kind, for a human. His voice was bright and cheerful, and he seemed to avoid sounding rude. He talked a lot with his hands, which made Bill notice that his hands were slightly scarred. He didn’t notice it long, though, as Dean shoved them into his pockets nervously as soon as he realized his hands were out.
Bill turned back into the conversation when the talk turned to Dean’s friend.
“So how long has she been working there?” Rain asked.
“About a year, I think.”
“And I don’t think you told me her name…?”
Rain stopped dead in her tracks, her face draining of color. She looked down at the sidewalk with a pained expression, looking like she was about to cry. The light in her eyes had died.
“S-Saimin?” she whispered. “Saimin Louis?”
“You know her?” Bill asked.
Rain looked up rather suddenly, realizing that Bill was still there. She nodded, then shook her head.
“ Knew her.” She glanced down at her feet, guilt and shame in her eyes.
Rain’s eyes went wide as her head whipped around. They were right in front of the pizza place now, and Saimin Louis had just walked out.
“Yo, good timing!” she laughed. “It’s break time. Who’d ya bring with?”
Saimin’s eyes met Rain’s, but rather than Rain’s look of sadness and regret, Saimin’s face lit up with recognition, joy, and relief. Rain avoided her gaze almost immediately, instead looking down at her black converse. Saimin looked to Dean, as if she couldn’t believe what was right in front of her, and Bill was under the impression that she wanted to give Rain a hug.
“Why don’t you guys come inside?” she asked instead. “I’m starving.” She started heading towards the door, urging the others to follow.
The pizza place smelled like a pizza place should: slightly smoky, slightly spicy, but mostly like baked flour and dough. Maybe ten or fifteen people were inside, either in line or eating their pizza. It seemed humble, yet lively and joyous for such a small venue. Saimin walked them to a booth, smiling the whole way.
“I’ll just get half cheese, half pepperoni, if that’s okay with you,” she said once they got settled.
“Let me pay this time, Saimin,” Dean interrupted. “I insist. You need to save for rent, anyways.”
“Dude, I work here, it’s free.”
Dean blinked, looking as though he’d just had a revelation. “Right, sorry, I forgot.”
“Like, honestly, Dean, how do you forget this? You know me. We hang out.” Saimin got in line behind the last person, humming a tune to herself. Rain looked up awkwardly from the table, her eyes filled with anxiety.
Bill’s eyes darted to the mirror on the wall, where Rain’s reflection sat, looking at the three of them. Dean appeared not to have heard it, but Rain jumped a little at the voice. The reflection looked mildly startled as well, as if seeing Saimin had awakened it somehow.
I thought you said we’d never see her again. I thought you said she hated us.
Rain glanced at the mirror nervously, not wanting to say anything in front of a crowd. She whispered something like “be quiet,” and her reflection scoffed and silenced itself.
“What was that?” Dean asked.
Saimin came back holding a number card, which she put on the table, and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. She sat next to Bill with a small smile.
“Everything’s ordered,” she said. “You guys can go to the fridge and get drinks or whatever.”
Dean, Rain, and Bill got up and headed over to the fridge next to the mirror. Dean pulled out a Sprite and Rain grabbed a Coke, but Bill stayed behind, looking at the different drinks. He couldn’t remember what each one was supposed to taste like, much less which ones people preferred. He shrugged and chose the pink lemonade, and was starting to head back when Rain’s reflection piped up again.
Does she seem upset? it asked. Rain, I mean.
“Yeah,” Bill answered. “She seems pretty anxious.”
Keep an eye on her. Does Saimin look mad? I can’t tell from over here.
Bill glanced at Saimin. “No, she just looks happy to see Rain.”
A sigh. Good. That’ll cause less trouble. Rain gets all weepy when she’s mad or anxious. Saimin in a good mood means one less thing I have to deal with. A pause. Look, human names don’t suit me all too well, but sometimes Rain calls me Storm.
Storm scoffed, and Bill walked back to the table. Rain glared at her reflection, then at Bill, slightly shocked at the fact that the two had conversed. The table was now situated in such a way that Saimin and Rain were now sitting side by side, which made her even more nervous than before.
Bill and Dean had started talking to one another, and Rain noticed that, for once, Bill seemed relatively content with himself. His eyes were free of malice or anger, his smile was genuinely joyful, and he was talking much more than he had been earlier.
Rain jumped a little when Saimin spoke, and the other girl chuckled a little.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” she assured Rain. “I… I’m really glad you’re back.”
Rain’s eyes lit up. “You… you are?”
“I missed you, y’know,” said Saimin, rubbing the back of her neck. “Just… A lot of stuff was going through my mind when… when I got the news of my aunt.”
“I’m sorry about her, Saimin.”
Saimin sighed. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I… Well, you know me, too stubborn and pessimistic for my own good.” She leaned back into the chair. “Listen, there’s been… I’ve fallen into a situation. You know about Black Hat?”
“Heard of him,” Rain answered. “Why? What happened?”
“He’s after you. He’s got a gigantic bounty over your head and Bill’s head, too,” Saimin explained. “He hired me to go after heroes.” Rain started to open her mouth, but Saimin interjected. “But I’m not gonna do it! I’m not letting him get you. Who knows what the man in black would do if he got his hands on you. On anyone, for that matter.”
“So, what are you gonna do?”
“Well, if I say no to his face, he’d kill me for sure.” She crossed one leg over the other and clasped her hands together. “But if I fail, he’ll let me off the hook with a portion of the reward. He knows my financial situation.” Saimin stared Rain dead in the eyes. “Now you have to promise me you’ll beat up any villain who’s dead set on claiming the bounty. You got me?”
“Sure, Saimin,” Rain chuckled. “I’ll keep an eye out. And if we’re forced to fight… eh, we’ll just mock battle or whatever. Like old times.”
A waiter came to their table, placing a stack of plates and a pizza in the middle. “Aww, nice!” Bill exclaimed. “I’m starving!” He snatched a plate from the stack and served himself some pepperoni pizza. “I tell ya, this human food is the boom! ” He took one bite, then immediately yelped at how hot it was.
The rest of Saimin’s break was spent just like that, and when she returned to work, the fun seemed to be over. They all hopped on the bus, Rain and Bill returning home, unaware of what would soon await them.
“Why do they even show Coyote and the Roadrunner anymore?” Bill asked curiously. “It’s such an old show.”
“I mean, this is the ‘old show’ channel, perfect for watching old shows,” Rain chuckled, phrasing it like she was a news anchor.
The door was slammed open by Hatbox, who stepped inside and dropped his groceries on the tile floor. “Villains,” he breathed, “right outside. Are we holding the fort or are we fighting?”
“Hell yeah, we can fight,” Bill exclaimed eagerly. “It’s been a while. “I’ll enjoy this.”
“I’ll have what he’s having,” Rain commented jokingly, getting up from the couch.
Bill, Rain, Flug, and Hatbox rushed outside a couple seconds later, while Newton, Wheatley, and Dennis stayed inside. Before them were Saimin, Dimentio, and Jasper, all eagerly awaiting the heroes, each for their own reasons.
“Ah, so four heroes come to fight us all at once,” Dimentio chuckled. “Well, two heroes and two traitors, I should say.”
Bill heard Flug grumble angrily.
“Saimin? Want to get this started?” the jester asked.
“Hey, Rain,” said Saimin, paying Dimentio no mind.
“Yo,” Rain replied, doing finger-guns. Dimentio groaned and shot a ball of energy at the girl, causing Rain to dodge with a shriek.
With his newly found powers, Bill shot his finger-gun quickly at Saimin, who dodged his albeit lazy shots with ease. Rain had started fighting Jasper, who threw fire left and right in an attempt to deter her. Flug and Hatbox tried to knock Dimentio out of the sky, which didn’t appear to be working.
Bill decided, once Newton had ran out to join them with an array of power-ups, that he would switch his aim over to the magician. Dimentio’s back was turned to him, as the jester was preoccupied by Hatbox’s attempts to trap him in an energy field. Bill aimed his index finger at Dimentio’s head and pulled the trigger.
He missed by just an inch and hit his cap instead, right as Saimin decided to fight Hattie and Flug. She was avoiding fighting Rain altogether and Bill knew why, but he shook his head and cleared his thoughts. He focused back on the purple and yellow jester, who’s masked face seemed to hold eye-contact with Bill the moment he found himself staring at the master of dimensions.
Bill could tell that the jester was smirking behind his mask, an unsettling smirk that made the demon much prefer Rain’s over, well, whatever this was. There was a look of recognition in Dimentio’s eyes, or really his mask’s eyes, but how Bill could discern that was lost to him.
“ Bill Cipher, ” Dimentio chuckled, eyeing the demon for the first time. “What an honor it is to meet your puny self. I recognized you from the unearthly lights that sparkle in your eyes.” He hovered nearer to him, causing Bill to revolt just a bit. “You are looking more futile than usual, I must say, but it is an honor nonetheless. My name is Dimentio.”
“What do you want, Demenci— Dimin— whatever your name is,” Bill spat. “What do you want?”
“You seem to have singed my cap,” Dimentio stated simply. “I was wondering if it was truly me you were aiming for.” He said this with such an air of smugness that Bill was sure he was joking.
“Erm… well, yeah,” Bill answered, “of course.”
“Oh, what a pity,” Dimentio lied. “I was hoping we would be on the same side when we met… I guess this is not the case!” A ball of purple and yellow energy combusted in his hand. “ And now we must duel, like two gladiators in a colosseum! ”
Bill yelped, twisting himself to the side to avoid the energy burst. He shot at Dimentio again, who laughed when he missed. He rolled out of the way of another burst of energy, wondering why the projectiles were coming from two directions.
“ I wonder if you can pierce this illusions, ” Dimentio teased.
Bill had to be imagining things. Now there were two jesters, one attacking from either side. Six bursts of energy headed his way this time, and one barely singed his left ear as he moved out of the way once again.
He let the energy build up in his fingertip again and shot, not very sure where he was aiming. He must’ve hit something, though, because one of the Dimentios disappeared in a flash of light, while the other recoiled in pain and shock.
“ Ha! I actually got you!” Bill laughed. “Now that’s a shocker!”
“ Yes, you seem to have, ” Dimentio hissed, rage lacing his voice like hot glue. Bill stepped back just a bit when he got a closer look at the jester. Instead of the purple and yellow cap that had once stood upon the magician’s head, there was now a head full of lavender hair, two gloved hands covering one side of his face.
A box of glass encased Bill, and he shot a couple times at the enclosure to find that the projectiles were absorbed as soon as they hit the surface of his cage. He heard Dimentio chuckle darkly, and fear knotted itself in his throat almost immediately.
He was trapped.
“You and I are not so different, you know,” said Dimentio menacingly. “Reflections of each other, perhaps. We have both had the pleasure of destroying worlds with the snap of a finger, had the privilege of having people kneel at our feet, had the wisdom of what was to come and being able to manipulate people to get it to happen according to our plans.”
“Once, maybe,” Bill hissed.
“Yes, but it seems you’ve lost the will to follow through with those types of actions, Mr. Cipher,” Dimentio continued. “Empathy is a mortal feeling that you seem to now harbor. So, while I go and fight your so called ‘friends,’ you will stay here and not cause me any trouble.”
The jester turned around to reveal that the left half of his mask had been shattered by the blast of energy Bill had shot his way. Underneath the segment was pale, unearthly skin that seemed a shade of lilac, and his left eye seemed to be completely blackened, save for a singular, yellow pupil that made Bill shiver. The malevolent smirk on the magician’s face made any bravery Bill had left scurry away.
“Let me out,” Bill demanded, despite the fear he felt.
“Oh, I’m afraid I cannot do that, Mr. Cipher,” Dimentio threatened in an all-too-sweet voice. “Children with bad behavior must be put in timeout, you know.”
Bill’s eye twitched, his jaw dropping the slightest. As Dimentio left to fight the other heroes, Bill screamed at the jester, yelling threats and swears and desperate, angry pleas of freedom. Dimentio did not pay any attention to this, of course, he just hovered nonchalantly over to his “companions.” He fixed his mask with magic, throwing spells at the other heroes.
“It wasn’t fair!” Bill shouted, plopping onto his bed with a huff. “He called me a child! A child! Of all the insults… And then he left me in there! Left me helpless and trapped until he was done fighting!”
Oh, suck it up, you big baby…
“Storm,” Rain started, looking at the mirror, “Dimentio trapped Bill in a glass box and wouldn’t let him out.” She grumbled a swear under her breath. “I swear, when I get my hands on that stupid jester, I’m gonna rip him to smiley clown shreds.” She closed the door to Bill’s bedroom, sitting down on the end of the bed.
Bill had flipped the mirror back over once he had gotten used to Storm’s voice in his head, a decision that Rain resented but accepted. He had been complaining about Dimentio for the past couple of minutes, and though Storm was having none of it, Rain was agreeing with everything the blonde said.
Look, Freckles, he’s a clown. Why are you taking him so seriously?
“ Because… Because…” Bill groaned, rubbing his eyelids with the palms of his hands. “ I don’t know! ”
Storm leaned towards Rain. He’s scared of clowns.
“ Am not! ”
“Alright, that’s enough! ” Rain yelled, becoming exhausted. “It’s getting late, I’m exhausted, and I’m sure we can all beat up Dimentio tomorrow. We beat them today, we can rest now.” She started to get up. “Get some sleep, Bill.”
“I don’t sleep,” Bill stated simply. “My mind has the scary capability of being dark and demented.”
“You’re afraid of your dreams?”
He lowed his head in embarrassment. “Yes,” he said quietly.
Rain sighed, opening the door. “Goodnight, Bill.” She turned off the lights and left, leaving Bill alone in the darkness.
He would’ve never thought himself afraid of the dark.
The shadows seemed to dance across the walls in strange patterns, moving faster as Bill’s eyes darted across the room. The clothing bought recently, stacked in small piles, seemed to morph into a monster of shadow. He looked away, then looked back, and the clothes were clothes again. He scoffed at himself for being scared in the first place, turning back over in his bed.
The mirror was vacant now, with Rain gone, but Bill swore he saw something move in the reflection. Suddenly he could feel the stare of a thousand eyes crawling across his back, and a drop of sweat rolled down his cheek. He squeezed his eyes shut, the darkness seeming to fold around him.
Emptiness surrounded him, the feel of the ocean slowly drifting in around him like a long forgotten memory. This time, he sat atop the water, floating across the surface. His head brushed against smooth sand as he washed ashore, his eyes fluttering open.
Bill awoke to find that he had been company of a rather lively beach part for what could’ve been minutes or maybe hours. It was a nice change of pace, being surrounded by music and towels instead of darkness and shadow. He had put on some shades a while ago, he couldn’t really recall, sipping some sort of cocktail out of half a coconut.
It was… surprisingly exciting, for a dream.
A waiter came by, seemingly from nowhere, to ask Bill if he wanted a refill. Bill hadn’t even noticed he had finished the drink, but he supposed he said yes, though in an odd, hazy sort of way, as the waiter had already started walking off before he could remember saying anything. He shrugged and looked around.
There was Ima, sitting on the sand, simply staring into the horizon. Even she didn’t know how she kept getting into other people’s dreams, though she was pretty used to this sort of thing by now. Not far from her was some sort of creature that seemed to be human, with an eye and a mouth, but it was distorted to the point of being unrecognizable. Ima and the creature seemed to be in sync with each other.
Bill’s eyes lingered a little too long on Ima, and his heart nearly stopped when they made eye contact. He tried to look for someone else to glance at, scoffing to himself, but he instead found himself staring at the distorted figure beside her. He looked away again, hoping neither had seen him.
Ima’s gaze lingered on Bill as well, but the distorted figure was the first to speak.
Bill froze at the figure’s voice, already cursing his luck. He turned slowly to face the two, a look of hatred and fear on his face. There was something awfully familiar about the distorted one. It reminded him of himself, he realized.
“Hello, Ima,” he grimaced.
Ima only waved as the figure continued to speak. “How are you enjoying your dream?”
“It’s pleasant…?” Bill shook his head. “Ugh, nevermind that! What the hell are you doin’ here? Isn’t this MY dream?”
The two exchanged glances before turning to Bill. “Humans usually have easily broken dreams,” they said together. “Anyone with enough determination or luck can enter.” Ima scooted a little closer to Bill, or maybe a little farther from the figure. For some reason, nobody on the beach noticed the three of them.
Bill looked a little spooked.
The waiter from before returned with a drink, which Bill sipped once before looking at it in disgust. “Hey, this isn’t my—” He looked around, but the waiter had disappeared. He turned back towards Ima. “So… tell me, Ima, what’s… that thing next to you?” He gestured to the distorted figure beside her. He shivered a little, sensing the thing’s strange aura.
Ima seemed to snap out of a trance, turning around in a panic. The thing seemed to slither out of sight, its body distorting as it left. “That’s… that’s something… someone close to me. A part of me, it you can call it that.”
Bill nodded, looking a little suspicious of her. He took a sip of his drink, then immediately spat it back out. “Bleh. Tastes kinda like poison or something…” He tossed it to the ground, the coconut disappearing as if it were lying in quicksand. “I wouldn’t try the food here… tastes like sand.” He paused, then groaned. “Why… why is THAT what I always say?! These human feelings are getting the better of me.”
Ima looked at the waiter, then back at the sand. She stepped onto a towel, not quite sure if the beach would consume her like it did the drink. “Feeling sympathy does not mean weakness, Bill,” she said. “It means that you are still alive.”
Bill scoffed. “I’ve been alive longer than this universe has existed, and this is the first time I’ve ever been sympathetic.” He started to walk away
That’s when Ima noticed it. It was a dream, of course, but it was unnerving. Bill seemed to be the only thing leaving prints in the sand, as not even she made a single mark. She stepped in the sand once, just to be sure, and found that her foot left no track. That wasn’t the unnerving part, though. The part that got her was that his footprints seemed to be disappearing, too. Bill paid no attention to the sand, to the fake people around him.
He paid no attention to the party, the unaware audience that couldn’t see how rapidly the tide had gone out. It was like he had become one of the party-goers, unaware, oblivious, an illusion like the rest of them. It was as if he was losing touch.
Ima put a hand on his shoulder to bring him back as she looked around. Something was wrong. She looked at Bill, who had snapped back to reality.
“Maybe it’s because you’re human?” she said. Her form seemed to distort as if something in her was panicking.
“Eh,” Bill shrugged, but now that Ima had pulled him back, he could feel it, too, the darkness that hung over the place. The sky was becoming overcast and the people were leaving the vicinity. “Maybe it’s just getting a little cloudy…”
He paused, taking notice of how quickly the tide had dried out. He looked up at the horizon, his eyes going wide, his face draining of color as he finally noticed it.
A gigantic wave was rushing towards them.
The people on the beach walked casually into the ocean, sticking to the sand as if they weighed a thousand pounds. They sunk to the bottom and walked unhindered until they were out of sight. Bill was about to tell Ima to run before he realized the situation they were in.
This was an island. There was nowhere to run.
This was a dream, Ima told herself, this was a dream, and yet she couldn’t help but panic. “A tsunami,” she whispered, fear lacing itself around her throat, seeming to choke her.
“Where did everyone else go?!” Bill shouted, panic setting in. When fear struck him like this, it was hard to remember that this wasn’t reality. “How do we get out?!” The wave was fast approaching, the wind cold and harsh, the sun now blocked out by the clouds.
Ima shook her head. “This is a dream! Maybe if we concentrate, we’ll break the dream apart!”
Bill scowled. “And why should I listen to you?!”
The wave hit before he had time to react, the force of the water taking the umbrellas, the towels, the trees… Everything, it seemed, except Ima and Bill. They stuck to the sand like the other people had, as if this was but strong winds.
Bill tried to speak, tried to scream, but his voice was muffled, drowned out by the water. Ima looked around, her body seeming to change the instant the water had hit them. Her form distorted, showing a tall, twisted, bony creature, and she seemed to calm down, unaware of what had just happened.
A shadow pierced the darkness, a shadow that made Bill freeze, his trust in Ima suddenly multiplying. He backed up towards her, a terrified and hate-filled look in his eyes. “Why are you here?” he wanted to say, but he couldn’t get the words out right.
Ima tilted her head until she recognized who the shadow belonged to, her fists clenching and her pulse quickening. Only when she tried to say the name of the person did she know their voices were muffled.
“Hello, there, Cipher,” Black Hat snarled. “How funny it is that we should meet again. I see you’ve made a new friend.”
Bill’s eyes narrowed, his arms raised defensively. Whether it was because of will power or something else entirely, his voice came through loud and clear. “I’m not scared of you,” he insisted, though it was clear he was terrified.
Ima’s eyes narrowed. “What business led you here, Black Hat?” Even though her voice was slightly muffled, it could still be heard. It was hoarse and brash, as if it pained her just to speak.
“Same reason you are here, Marima,” Black Hat chuckled. “Humans usually have easily broken dreams.” He gestured to Bill. “He is no different. Anyone with enough determination or luck can enter.” He fixed Bill with a level gaze. “Have you changed your mind yet, Cipher? Are you certain of which side you are on?”
Ima looked at Bill, then at Black Hat. She set her gaze on Bill. “Bill? Did… did you two have a talk about ‘sides,’ or is he just trying to mess with you?”
“He did,” Bill clarified. “And you know what? I’ve decided.” He stepped forward defiantly and Black Hat’s smile faltered. “I’m not like you. I’ll never join you. I’m not what you think I am.”
Black Hat simply stared at the two of them for a couple seconds before smirking menacingly. “We’ll see.”
The waves washed away, leaving only Ima and Bill on an empty, desolate island. Bill fell onto his knees, grasping the sand as it slipped through his fingers.
“What’s wrong with me, Ima?” he asked desperately. “Why am I like this? I long for attention, then push people away… I’m hopeless.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “How can I be so certain of which side I’m on like this?”
“Hmm… human emotions are complicated,” Ima answered. “You’re too prideful, too afraid, to make actual relationships with others because you don’t want to accept that you’re human. But if you’re so certain as to stand up to Black Hat like that, then maybe you’re on the side you say you are.”
Bill sighed. “Maybe you’re right.” He drug his fingers through the sand like a child writing their name on the beach. “I don’t understand anything about this stupid human world.” He looked at Ima, a sad look in his eyes. “You know what? Rain told me the strangest thing today. Something like… I dunno, voices having melodies, people’s eyes having specks of light, flowers dancing… it didn’t make all that much sense, honestly.”
Ima knelt down beside Bill. Her form flickered back to normal. “You may not understand this world now, but it takes time to fully understand why colors have sounds, or why tastes have emotions. Or anything, really. You’ll understand eventually.” She patted Bill’s head.
Bill hummed a little, a sort of silent “thanks.” Ima seemed to smile, the air around her warm and comfy like a blanket.
The feeling didn’t last, however. Something settled in Ima’s mind suddenly and something crawled into the area behind them. Bill felt its entrance and turned his head anxiously.
The ‘thing’ was the distorted figure from earlier, almost resembling Ima now. Ima backed up as the figure crawled closer, the area around it turning dark.
“…What exactly is that?” Bill whispered, his face going white. It reminded him of Rain’s reflection, but this thing seemed more malevolent.
Ima didn’t seem to hear him. “I can’t go back. I won’t go back,” she said, over and over under her breath. The thing came closer, stopping only when it got near Bill. It smiled from ear to ear, seeming to take pleasure in Ima’s panic. Bill stepped back, more in defense of Ima than in defense of himself.
“Who… what are you?” he asked it, his expression hard.
The thing pointed to Ima, opening its mouth. Nothing but static came out, but it sounded something like English.
“Her,” it spoke, much to Ima’s dismay.
Bill looked between the two, his eyes narrowing. “What do you want?”
“To become one again. Whole.” Its smile only grew as Ima started to flicker to a form more accurate. “To stop the lying.”
Bill’s own human form seemed to be coming apart just a bit, his hands and arms burnt from magic used long ago. “Y-You can’t have her,” he said defiantly, his bravery from earlier seeming to drip into his very soul.
The thing’s smile seemed to morph into a large frown. Time seemed to stand still as its head tilted, the static it spoke next as ear splitting as a sonic boom.
“WE MUST BECOME WHOLE, ONE PERSON,” it screamed. “I CANNOT BE LOCKED UP, PUSHED AWAY, NOT AGAIN… SHE DOES NOT HAVE A CHOICE.” The creature started to walk towards Ima again, screaming unrecognizable nonsense. The whole place seemed to change with Ima’s fear.
Bill’s voice was muffled, but Ima swore she heard him say, with clear, unhindered confidence: “This is a dream! We can break it up with enough willpower!” He grabbed Ima’s arm, pulling her away. Ima followed Bill, the creature continuing down a seemingly self-assigned path towards the ocean. The island and the sky seemed to crack. She tried to forget the fear, break the dream, and free them from the evil one.
“Come on, come on, come on…” Bill squeezed his eyes shut, focusing hard on blocking out the screaming and breaking the dream up. The world around them shattered like a snowglobe, the sky seeming to fall.
The thing seemed to stop in its tracks as it looked up at the sky. It smiled, receding into the void that was once the sky. Soon, everything broke, revealing the void between the dream and waking life. As everything crashed around them the sand and ocean seeming to phase in and out of reality as the void surrounded them, Bill felt the familiar tug of reality struggling to awaken him.
He turned to Ima, a soft smile on his face. “I forgot how many beings have demons to fight, too,” he said simply. “I guess I was one of them.”
Ima simply hugged Bill as the screaming stopped. The void was starting to crack as well, and Bill could see dim light hiding behind it. He could hear a muffled voice from beyond, one that was calling his name. Ima faded away into the waking world, and Bill smiled.
“See ya, Ima,” Bill muttered, his eyes fluttering open.
Chapter 16: Press F To Pay Respects
“You looked like you were having a nightmare,” Rain started, crossing her arms. She made direct eye contact with Bill, her worry from two seconds ago having been replaced by irritation.
“So?” Bill answered indifferently.
“You were tossing and turning in your sleep.”
“ And I wanted to see if you were okay.”
“I already told you to shove it,” Bill spat. “Nine planets, seven seas, seven continents, eight-hundred and nine islands, two-hundred and four countries, and countless universes and dimensions,” he crossed his arms, blowing a stray hair out of his face, “and I had the unfortunate luck of meeting you.”
Rain scoffed, standing up and throwing open the curtains. Bill hissed at the sunlight streaming into the vacancy of his room, and Rain laughed a little.
“What are you, a vampire?” she joked.
“I’m a demon. ”
The morning was warm and sunny, as usual for Fiction Frontier, and the air held the smell of eggs and toast from downstairs. Rain was expecting somebody today, someone she hadn’t seen in too long. She squinted out the window, seeing some of the neighbors walking by the house. Ima was skipping down the sidewalk, a cheerful look in her eye, a couple of people were chatting across the street, and some of the younger PYFF participants were playing jump rope three lots down.
Rain sighed, placing her hands on her hips. “Believe it or not,” she laughed, “this isn’t my first time dealing with people like you.”
“Really?” Bill scoffed. “You’ve dealt with demons trapped in human bodies before?” He leaned forward abrasively. “Please, tell me their names. Maybe we can exchange numbers. You know, meet up for tea and biscuits.”
Rain threw her hands up in frustration and walked to the door. “Your breakfast is still on the table,” she said. “Dennis made french toast. You’d better eat it before it gets cold or I’ll eat it for you. You’re not my favorite person today.”
“I’m not your favorite person any day,” Bill countered.
“Eh, that’s only half true,” Rain shrugged. She closed the door behind her as she left, and Bill heard her footsteps racing back down the stairs. He huffed, closed the curtains, and followed suit, stumbling down the stairs as if this were the first time he had descended them.
He could never quite get his feet to work when going down the stairs. Going up the stairs was simple enough. It was just walking but upwards. He reasoned that it should’ve been the same going down, just walking but downwards and all that, but he managed to trip up every time.
Bill ended up losing his balance, falling flat on his face as he tripped over the final step. Try as she might, Rain couldn’t contain a chuckle at the demon’s expense. He only stared upward at her, making an effort to look at least the slightest bit angry, but found he didn’t quite have the energy to do so.
Rain ignored him of course, stretching her arms to the ceiling and bringing the thermostat on the wall down a few notches. It was getting closer to the end of August, but the air was still a little warm from the summer sun. She shifted over to the fridge, opening the door and grabbing a carton of milk. She squinted at the best by date, trying to read the tiny print.
“My eyes must not be working yet,” she half-yawned. “Either that or my brain refuses to process stuff at the moment.” She turned to Bill, who had trudged up behind her. “Can you read the best by date for me please?”
“It ain’t supposed to go bad for another two years,” he answered. “You’ll be fine.”
“Thanks,” Rain chuckled. “I like to check new milk just to be sure. One time I opened a carton and poured it and it was all goopy. Sort of like slime.” She cringed slightly, shutting the refrigerator door and opening the cupboard. She grabbed a glass and poured herself some milk, taking a small sip afterward. “Want some?”
“No,” Bill answered bluntly. He grabbed a wine glass from the cupboard and reached into the fridge for the orange juice. He poured himself some sloppily, spilling a little onto the table, causing Rain to giggle.
“What’s so funny?” he demanded, daring her, with his eyes, to speak out against him.
“N-Nothing,” Rain snickered, closing the refrigerator. “Sorry.” She picked up her milk glass and shuffled over to the couch. She plopped down, picking up the remote and switching to a random channel. She flipped through a few, not surprised to find that nothing interesting was on. Bill slapped the remote out of her hand when she flipped to a dead one, and she knew better than to object.
Besides, it wasn’t as though there was anything better on.
“Not to be rude, but why do you like the dead channels so much?” Rain started.
“Why do you ask?” Bill responded almost curiously.
The demon thought for a moment. He hadn’t really considered the question. “It’s interesting,” he concluded. “Keeps my mind busy, I guess.” He sipped a bit of his orange juice. “I was planning on going out today. Thought I might let you know.”
“You know that Dean kid we met yesterday?”
“Yeah, I remember him.”
“He invited me to that coffee shop next to the pizza place,” he continued. “He said I seemed like a cool guy and he’d love to get to know me more. He said to meet me at two o’clock, but I wanna go down there a little earlier to look at the stores ‘n’ stuff.”
Rain stared at him blankly. “Okay, then. I can let you borrow twenty-five dollars if you wanna go and buy something nice for yourself.”
“What, you trust me with money now?”
“Should I not?” Rain chuckled. “If you want me not to trust you with money, do something irresponsible with it. Considering I’ve never given you money before, I have no reason to believe I shouldn’t trust you. And I already trust you with most things, anyway.”
Bill froze, going over the words in his head. She trusts me. Rain might as well have thrown a cinder block at his head. She stood up and grabbed her purse from the coat hanger, humming a little.
“Anyways, you’re a demon, right?” she continued, smirking mischievously. “I don’t think you’ve ever had a reason to use money, let alone have it, though I don’t doubt you’ve… possessed it.” She winked, giggling at her own little joke.
I will not tell you what happened next, because that was a stupid joke and I hate myself for telling you that it got told. So instead we’ll learn about what happened about thirty or so minutes later after Bill had stepped off of the bus to Downtown Fiction.
Bill had been walking down Downtown Fiction’s sidewalks for a while now, just taking in the sights and deciding where to spend the twenty-five dollars Rain had given him. He stopped to look at the display in the clothing store’s window. He had never been told the human stereotypes before, and frankly, he didn’t care. He wondered whether or not the pleated skirt in the window would look good or not. If he was going to be human, he may as well look stylish.
Cedar Volkov, nearby, stopped walking to wipe his forehead. Temperatures above forty degrees were not his thing, so it was starting to wear him out. He glanced around, looking for someplace that was air-conditioned. He picked the nearest shop and ran in, hoping not to bump into anyone he knew. He sighed in relief, as the air was much cooler, but still too warm for his liking.
Bill saw Cedar run into the store and immediately knew that something was off about him. He lacked the normal human aura that most people in the city carried. He scoffed a little, reminding himself that most people in the multiverse weren’t human, anyways. Still, something struck him as odd, so he followed Cedar inside.
Cedar glanced around at the things in the shop and thought they were pretty nifty, so he decided to actually look further into it. He saw someone who worked there and asked, “You have a freezer I could stand in…?
They looked at him in confusion and turned back to their work.
God… just gonna let me suffer , he thought.
Bill approached the man cautiously, trying to make himself look as much like a normal customer as possible. The side glances he was getting from the other patrons were not helping. They still recognized him, but they were much more used to his presence by now.
Cedar picked a glass vase off of a shelf, then put it back down rather decisively. He figured it would be safer on the shelf than in his hands. He continued to walk aimlessly around the shop, stopping to look closer at an item every few feet.
Bill stared at Cedar, trying to figure out why this man was so off-putting. He had seen him before, back when he could see everything at once, but he could hardly remember him. Cedar’s aura felt almost nuclear; the man was radiating some sort of strange energy. His skin looked more like bark than flesh, and Bill would have reached out and touched it if he had less impulse control.
Cedar looked at Bill from the corner of his eye and stepped to the side to get a little further away from him. He picked up another small thing and read what it was made of. He cringed, electing to put it back down and never pick it up again.
Bill just couldn’t piece together… well, whatever he was trying to piece together. He wasn’t very sure of what it was yet. He picked up a scented candle from off the shelf. The label read “Pine Tree.” Bill let out a long, loud cackle that the other customers tried to ignore. Cedar looked over at Bill, a worried expression creeping onto his face. He slowly backed up, then turned and started to walk away.
“ Pine tree! ” Bill chuckled. “I haven’t heard that name in Satan knows how long! Oh, I’ve gotta buy that one.” He turned to look at Cedar again, who he noticed was starting to back up. “What, ya scared?” Bill scoffed. “Unless you haven’t heard this stupid city’s rumors, you’d know I’m harmless.”
“No, I am actually just worried that you are insane,” Cedar said with a smile. He noticed something glimmery on the bottom shelf and Slav-squatted to look at it. It was a set of four earrings, though one was missing.
Perfect, he thought. Three earrings, three piercings.
“Insane?” Bill snorted. “In another world, I’d be completely sane. But I guess that here I’m out of my mind. Try asking a crazed man if he thinks what he does is normal.” He grabbed a shopping basket from nearby and placed the candle in it.
As Cedar stood up, still holding the earrings, he felt a small crack from his knee. “Damn fragile bones,” he muttered. He walked (or, rather, he limped) over to the cashier. “I’ll take these, please!”
“Ma’am, it’s missing one,” the cashier said.
Cedar laughed a bit at the “ma’am.” “I know,” he said with a smile. “I only have three piercings, anyway!”
The cashier sighed and wrapped up the earrings. “That’ll be $15.27…”
Cedar pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his shoe and handed it to the cashier, who gave him his change. “Спасибо!” he said with a grin. He turned towards the exit, hoping to get out before anyone would try to talk to him again.
Bill, meanwhile, was looking at a small section labeled “Christmas decorations.” These dumb humans and their traditions, he thought. I thought Christmas started in December. What is it, late August?
He looked curiously in Cedar’s direction. He approached a self-checkout, not wanting to catch anybody’s attention. He paid for the candle and a small, wooden clock, then hurried out the door.
Cedar had started running, or at least he tried to run, as soon as he left. He had to stop and sit on a nearby bench because of the pain from his knee. Bill saw Cedar stop as soon as he stepped out.
“Hey, are you—”
He stopped himself, trying not to give in to his newfound human empathy. Instead, he stared at Cedar’s knee, wondering what the man meant by “fragile bones.”
Cedar glanced up at Bill in pain. “Hey, you got anything I can wrap this with?” he sighed. “Like a scarf or a bandage…?” He fiddled with the long, blonde strip of hair hanging in his eyes.
Bill scoffed but pulled his scarf out of his pocket. He’d put it there earlier in case it got cold. He handed it to Cedar, trying not to feel sorry.
“Thank you,” Cedar said, wrapping it tightly around his knee with his left hand. “Left hand… right knee… why does this always happen?!”
“Is this… normal for you?” Bill asked.
“It’s usually my shoulder,” he muttered. “But yes, this happens a lot. Little bones make for a lot of pain.”
Bill raised an eyebrow, bits and pieces of the puzzle starting to fit together. “You’re not entirely human, are you?” he chuckled.
“I don’t know anymore,” he said, looking up. “All I do know is that I’m not entirely alive, but I’m not dead, either…”
“Heh… well, I guess we’d be in the same boat, then,” Bill chuckled. He suddenly remembered this man’s name from memories long ago. “Name’s Bill Cipher. And you’d be Cedar Volkov, correct?”
“Yes, but… please call me Rose,” Cedar said with a stern expression. “How about we talk when I am not suffering in pain?”
“Sure, then, Rose,” Bill laughed. “We’ll keep in touch.” He started to turn but looked back over his shoulder. “Real quick, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly are you?”
“Human. I think,” Cedar said, glancing up at the sky. “As I said, talk later when my mind can actually think.” He stood and grabbed his bag, disappearing shortly after, leaving a small trace of dust hovering in the air where he was.
Bill stared at the spot where Cedar had been. He smirked
What a strange man…
Bill continued walking, stopping again at the clothing store. He decided he would go back in later if he had the time. It was almost two o'clock, and Dean would be expecting him at the coffee place at any minute. Luckily, he could see the coffee shop across the street, so he picked up the pace and jogged the rest of the way.
“Rain N. Thirteen, huh?” Nastasia sighed, looking through the PYFF database about as feverishly as a child with chickenpox looking for a lost toy. “Now where have I heard that name before?” She rubbed her temples irritably, opening up a large packet of paper comprised of printed files she had pirated from PYFF’s deleted archives.
Mimi groaned indignantly, peering through the paper with distaste. “Three hours of downtime for yourself and this is how you spend it?” She hopped up onto a spindly chair and crossed her arms. “Geez, Nassy, I didn’t know you could be so boring . Looking through paperwork for specific bullet points… You could’ve stored this all on a USB or something!”
“May I remind you that every time I’ve ever bought a USB, you use it for your music and diary entries?”
“How else am I supposed to keep Dimmy from searching through my stuff?!” the green girl argued. “He couldn’t operate a computer with the instruction manual in front of him. Even if he found my USBs, he wouldn’t be able to open the stuff on them!”
Nastasia sighed. “We’re getting off topic.” She leafed through her notes until she found what she wanted. “See this?” She pointed to a picture of a young girl, no older than twelve, her short, brown hair swept to the side.
“What about it?” Mimi replied, raising an eyebrow. “It’s just some dumb hero.”
Nastasia snatched a few papers from the pile she had been steadily accumulating. “What about this one?” she demanded. The picture was of a ten-year-old girl, her bobbed, brown hair wavy, barely reaching past her chin.
“Her face looks the same,” Mimi grunted. “What’s your point?”
Nastasia smacked another file on the table, pointing to a picture of a young woman. Her age was indiscernible, her purple hair was shaved on one side, and the other side reached her shoulder.
“Okay, they all look the same!” Mimi snapped. “Get to the point!”
Finally, Nastasia opened up Rain N. Thirteen’s file on the PYFF database. Mimi squinted at the picture, then at the other three.
“Coincidence,” she breathed.
“Is it?” Nastasia grinned. “They were all born on the same day, too. December thirteenth. They’re all part of programs by the Fictional Foundation. PYFF wasn’t always PYFF. There was HAUT, YHTP, and EOFV.”
“Heroes Against Universal Threats, Youth Hero Training Program, and End Oppression From Villains,” Mimi recalled. “She was part of them all.” She took a look at the names. “Selena Oryan, Gigi Rowanne, Diana Thirteen…”
“But they’re all listed as unofficial names,” Nastasia continued. “Except Rain N. Thirteen, and that file was created a month after she legally changed her name.”
Mimi had made a paper into an airplane. “How do you learn all this stuff anyway?”
Nastasia snatched the paper out of her hand and unfolded it. “Simple, I did my research.” She held the file in front of her. “See, she listed Diego Santiago as her brother, and he hasn’t changed his name once.” She frowned. “But a lot of Santiago names went missing pretty recently. I can’t say exactly who she is, but I’m getting there.”
Mimi hopped off the stool. “Well, if that’s all you wanted to talk to me about…”
“You’re a good listener, Mimi,” Nastasia smiled. “You’re a good friend, too. No one else has to listen to me rambling…”
Mimi winked. “Hey, don’t sweat it. I don’t mind listening to you talk. You have a nice voice, anyways.”
She skipped out of the room, humming a little tune to herself, and Nastasia returned to her work. As Mimi skipped by, Dimentio strolled down the hall, having just returned to the manor. The green girl’s demeanor changed in a flash, and she scowled at his appearance.
“Where have you been, Dumb-entio?” she demanded, crossing her arms. “Out with your girlfriend?”
“You know very well that Saimin likes women,” Dimentio answered simply. “And my personal life is none of your business.”
“Well, you haven’t been helping at all, so it sort of is my business,” Mimi pouted.
“Well, I’ve certainly been more useful than you ,” Dimentio chuckled. “So I suppose whatever’s in your diary is also my business.”
Mimi huffed, and Dimentio half expected her to start stomping her feet. “I hate it when you use my words against me,” she snarled. “It’s almost like you can turn anything into a weapon, even words.”
“Well, you know what they say,” Dimentio started. “The pen is—”
“The pen is mightier than the sword, whatever,” Mimi groaned. “Where are you off to, anyway?”
“I have an assignment,” the jester answered. “Kit and Ubidium are to accompany me.”
Mimi rolled her eyes, not knowing who ‘Ubidium’ was, but not particularly interested in finding out. “Well, you’d better do a good job, or else you’re gonna get a face full of spider from yours truly.”
“I suppose I shall perish,” Dimentio chuckled, beginning his trip to Black Hat’s office.
“Incident what now?”
“Incident 123-76B,” Dakota groaned. “Honestly, Rain, I’d have thought you’d already known about this sort of stuff since you pay so much attention to current events and whatnot.”
Rain spread herself across the couch, placing her legs on Dakota’s lap. “I paid attention to current events in sixth grade. I don’t even have to go to school anymore. Shouldn’t I get some rest from all that learning stuff? It makes me wanna pass out.”
“True,” Dakota agreed, eating another spoonful of applesauce. They grimaced a little at the taste. “This isn’t even the good kind, Rain. Where do you get your groceries?”
“There’s a good kind?” Rain asked, which made Dakota laugh.
The two had known each other since elementary school, but they hadn’t seen each other in a considerably long time, at least not since Rain’s last adventure. It had been even longer since the two had gotten to spend a good time together, and now that they had all the time in the world to themselves…
“I’m really glad we have all this time to be together again,” Rain sighed happily. “You can even meet some of the others if you want.”
“Sure,” Dakota answered. “But are you absolutely sure this ‘Ima’ is safe to be around?”
“She seemed fine,” Rain replied. “Besides, didn’t that incident occur more than a year ago? She hasn’t done anything bad since. We can trust her.”
“You trust too easily.”
“Has it ever gotten me into trouble?”
Dakota thought for a moment. “No,” they admitted. “I just want you to be careful, is all. You never know when your luck is gonna… backfire, I guess.”
The door opened behind the two, then slammed shut, signaling to Rain that Bill had just arrived. Dakota turned their head half-heartedly, not sure whether or not to be interested in whoever had just walked in. Bill slid lazily around the corner in a pair of Heelys and a pleated skirt, drinking from a smoothie with a bendy straw, only coming to a halt when he realized that Rain had company.
“Uh, excuse me?” he started, his eyes narrowing. “Who’s this?”
“Oh, this is Dakota,” Rain answered. “I told you about them.”
“Oh.” Bill walked over to Dakota and held out a hand to shake. “Nice to meet you or whatever.”
Dakota smiled awkwardly. “You, too.”
It was clear that neither was glad to meet the other, as Bill gripped Dakota’s hand a little too tightly, and they responded with a glare of malice. Bill seemed to take this as a threat, as he promptly pulled his hand away.
“Don’t get comfortable,” Bill hissed. He stomped up the stairs, squeezing his smoothie until it broke open. He stopped halfway, threw it to the ground, then paraded to his room. There was a slam from upstairs and all was quiet.
“Well, that could’ve gone better,” Rain muttered.
“Could it have?” Dakota groaned.
“Oh, that’s just him. He hates me for absolutely no reason.”
“Well, that seems unnecessary, now doesn’t it?” they retorted, more to Bill’s attitude than to Rain’s remark. They slid back onto the couch and Rain followed suit, resting her head on Dakota’s shoulder.
“Oh, and I finally got my name changed,” Rain mentioned. “Rain N. Thirteen. Legally.”
“What’s the last name for?”
“Mostly just security, at least until PYFF clears all that stuff up for me. I might have the last name changed back to the family name, but you know I’ll always be Rain.”
“Duh,” Dakota chuckled. “We’ve been calling you Rain since March of last year. It was about time you made it official.” They leaned back into the couch, stifling a yawn. “Maybe we should celebrate. Have a party or something.”
“We could open some champagne.”
They laughed. “We’re both too young to drink and you know it.”
“Someday,” Rain giggled. “But not today.”
Newton scurried in through the front door, Wheatley close behind. Wheatley looked terrified, whilst Newton looked more angered. They slammed the door shut simultaneously, both breathing hard and fast. There was a deafening silence for a few seconds, all four of the room’s occupants sharing looks of fear and confusion.
“Villains,” the lightbulb muttered. “Three of them. The clown’s back, but this time he has a little kid and what looks like a large block of coal with glowing eyes.”
Rain peeked over the couch at the front yard, scowling. “Great, clown boy and his friends,” she muttered. “And here I thought we were having a good day.”
“Haven’t I heard that sentence somewhere before?” Wheatley asked.
“Luckily,” Dakota chimed in, “Rain and I know a few… err, fighting techniques.” They shared a glance with Rain that the other seemed to understand, a signal that went unnoticed by both Newton and Wheatley. “Come on, you wanna go show ‘em what we’re made of?”
Rain nodded, a broad smile on her face. “Of course.”
Chapter 17: Major September Update!
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there hasn’t been an update in a while. Don’t worry, I’m not putting the story on hiatus or anything, it’s just that I’ve been rewriting the story to give it better context, correct spelling mistakes, etc.
Rest assured, the next chapter will be coming out fairly soon. I’m actually halfway done with it already. While you wait for it, you should go back and reread ADITLOF. There are some pretty major changes that I made in the first couple of chapters that you need to read in order to fully understand the story.
Additionally, anyone who has made it this far should complete the survey in the link below. Please only fill it out once, and do it after you’ve reread the story. This update was made on September 2nd, 2019, so if you’ve read the first chapter after that date, you don’t need to reread.
Chapter 18: It Be Like That Sometimes
"Alright, heroes, keep running!" the instructor yelled, her voice carrying over the program initiates. "Keep moving, Louis, don't back down!"
The third lap around the field had left most of them feeling exhausted, but the veteran participants, like Saimin and Rain, were already halfway through a fourth. The two stayed in sync with each other, treating it like a race against the other, like always. Rain sprinted ahead, her legs strong, but her breathing shallow and quick. She was starting to wear out.
"What," Saimin laughed, nearly out of breath for the third time that morning, "you getting tired, Thirteen?"
"I haven't done this in a while," Rain panted, slowing down a bit. "You would've stopped at lap two, you know it. But—"
“But I didn’t,” Saimin breathed. “That’s the thing, Rain. You’re never supposed to stop. You gotta expect the worst. Prepare for it.”
“Alright, return to me!” the instructor yelled, blowing her whistle. The whole group ran back to her, forming a semi-circle around the canopy she was under. Some of the participants were completely out of breath, red in the face and prepared to pass out. The others stood their ground, exhausted, but staying strong.
“We can’t go on like this, Ms. Harper,” one boy said. “We need a rest.”
“A rest, huh?” Ms. Harper chuckled. “Alright. Let’s say tomorrow, Black Hat shows up here with an army of robots.” She crossed her arms. “Let’s say you’re completely exhausted and need to stop. So you tell Black Hat that you need a rest.” She looked at Rain. “Can you tell me, Thirteen, what Black Hat would do?”
“Well,” she chuckled, “I don’t suppose he would sit down and have a beer with us.” A couple of people laughed breathlessly. “Somebody’d probably die, but it’s unlikely, since Black Hat never does anything himself, lest the situation calls for it.”
“Correct,” Ms. Harper smiled. “He’s the type to send someone else out to do the work. And that brings us to our next lesson.” She grabbed a small packet of paper from the bench. “Know your enemy. This part is written, so we’re gonna go inside, get some water, and take some notes.”
A couple of people sighed in relief, and a few others pumped their fists. The entire group followed Ms. Harper in a large clump, chatting with one another about the days to come. Saimin and Rain stayed behind a little, talking and laughing with each other, reflecting on the week’s events.
“So, how’s your brother?” Saimin asked kindly, stretching her hands to the sky.
“He’s fine,” Rain answered, looking at her shoes. “His natural magic is developing really fast. So we took the opportunity from the Avengers that they asked mom and dad about.” She crossed her arms. “You know, next universe over. We can connect to them now and whatnot, so they’re helping Diego to stabilize his abilities.”
There was silence as the two of them stopped in their tracks, Rain forgetting what was to happen next. Had this moment really been so quiet? Had they continued walking? What did the program building look like back then?
“I’m scared, you know,” Rain admitted. “Scared that this whole damn operation might be worth nothing. That PYFF is just supporting a lost cause, what with Black Hat becoming a bigger threat again.” She let her hands fall to her sides. “I know I’m supposed to be a hero, I’m not supposed to need help, I don’t—”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Saimin interrupted, her face looking worried. “No one’s holding you accountable for that.” She put a hand on Rain’s shoulder. “No one ever said you couldn’t ask for help. You’re a person, not a robot.” Her voice sounded much more like Rain’s now. “Besides, there’s something more important that you need to take care of first.”
Kit’s strike brought Rain back to her senses. Oh, right, she thought. I’m supposed to be fighting. Thinking. Come on, Rain, get your head in the game for one second.
She struck back, her foot swinging around to hit Kit in the side. Kit threw her back with his telekinesis, but she got back up in a matter of moments.
“This guy’s stronger than I expected,” Dakota called, struggling to pin Dimentio down. “I mean, you’re literally just a clown.”
“Jester,” Dimentio grunted. “And you’re just a teenager.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, joker,” Dakota laughed, nearly punching him in the face but missing by a few inches. He flew up into the air, casting a fireball into existence. Dimentio launched it in Dakota’s direction, and they were barely able to get out of the way.
A few feet behind Rain, a large monster made of stone growled at Flug’s laser gun. Flug looked as though he might faint out of fear. The monster seemed to laugh a little, picking the scientist up in its giant hands.
“Tiny science man think he can betray man in black and get away,” it laughed, its voice deep and threatening. “Should know more about man in black, he should!”
Rain had barely a second to react before Flug was thrown through a window and back into the house. The scientist groaned in pain, seeing stars dancing around his head.
“As Saimin say,” the monster shouted, “ yeet! ”
"Oh, dear," Dimentio chuckled. "Looks like you're a teammate short." He raised a hand, and a sphere of energy appeared. "Better luck next time, Thirteen. Your technique is a little rusty."
"Leave her alone, clowny!" Dakota yelled, grabbing his foot and pulling him out of the sky. He slammed into the concrete with a thud, and Rain let out a whoop, pumping a fist.
"Nice, Dakota!" she shouted. "Knock him dead!"
Dakota smirked, a mischievous look in their eyes. "How about we knock 'em dead?" They stuck out a hand, and Rain stared at them a few moments before smiling and taking it.
"Let's knock 'em dead, then."
Their forms glowed, souls connecting and syncing with the other. The gleaming silhouette of their bodies meshed together into one stronger, taller figure, and as they shook off the curtain of light, they became one.
Rakota smiled mischievously, having not smiled in a long while. They raked their hand through their bleached hair, adjusting their glasses with the other. They dusted off their flannel shirt and jeans, taking pleasure in admiring themselves.
Dimentio, struggling to get up, was the first to notice this new person. No, not person, fusion, he reminded himself. Not one. Two. The two had fused to create a newer, stronger being, and that made him both enraged and terrified.
Destroy them, Kit spoke, clear and even, though still with a tint of fear.
"Ubidium shall do so," the stone monster spoke.
"Sure you will," Dimentio muttered as the creature began to run towards the fusion.
What happened next surprised all three of them. In a split second, Ubidium launched himself toward Rakota. Rakota crouched down, jumped into the air without a care, and their foot connected with Ubidium's chest. The stone creature was blasted backward, kicking up dust, and smashed into the concrete, leaving a moderately sized crater.
Dimentio had only a split second to react as Rakota started running towards him, and he raised his hands in front of him. A glass cage enclosed around the fusion, but they swatted it away like a spiderweb. Dimentio yelped, his eyes going wide with fear.
Rakota reached forward and ripped Dimentio's mask off his face with one swift motion. They lifted him by the neck of his poncho, ready to strike.
They froze, Rain's consciousness suddenly filled with rage. She knew that face. The lavender hair, the look in his eyes, the way his pupils flicked to and fro in order to capture every detail of the situation. She had seen that face a long time ago, before Cyrus, before Saimin had closed herself off.
" You, " Rakota breathed.
"Me," Dimentio laughed nervously, feeling very confused.
"Damn trickster. You can't just backstab people like that."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Dimentio insisted. "And if we linger on the subject, I'll have the upper hand." A sphere of magical energy sparked in his palm. "You'll be stuck like a nail in a shag carpe—"
" INCOMING! " Flug yelled, pointing up at the sky.
Rakota broke up immediately when they saw the large ball of fire rapidly approaching. Rain's smile grew to fill nearly a third of her face, while Dakota groaned as they remembered just how powerful Rain's brother was.
Diego Santiago crashed to the ground in a mess of flames, instantly shifting into a shark-like form, which looked more like he was wearing a shark costume he bought on Amazon. Still, he bit just the same, rushing towards Dimentio with pinpoint accuracy. Dimentio, in turn, yelped in horror, scrambling to get away.
"Get out the way!" Diego cheered, making contact with the jester's legs, knocking him over. "It's time to stop!"
"Is he… is he quoting vines?" Flug asked.
"Oh, yeah, he excels at that," Dakota stated bluntly, looking a little concerned. "I wouldn't be surprised at this point."
Ubidium was up again, and he was rushing towards Diego with tranquil rage. Diego noticed immediately, jumping high into the air, putting Dimentio in Ubidium's line of sight. In a moment, Dimentio had waved his hands and cast a shield spell, which Ubidium shattered with velocity alone. The two of them crashed to the ground, dazed and dizzy.
"Woohoo!" Rain whooped. "Nice job, Diego!"
Diego smiled brightly, shifting back into himself. He dusted off his blue hoodie, smoothie out his dyed-red hair.
Suddenly, right as he began to speak, he fell to the ground, shifting uncontrollably. Rain yelped in fear, and Flug pointed out Kit, who had been watching nearby. He was staring at Diego with soulless intensity.
"Stop that!" Rain shrieked. "What are you doing to him?!"
Shape-shifting is a trick of the mind, Kit explained. The mind is easily manipulated.
"Not for long!" Diego shouted, getting up swiftly and rushing towards Kit. His arm shifted into something resembling the Infinity Gauntlet but with none of the stones, and he rammed his fist into Kit's stomach. Kit was knocked back into the street, falling flat on his back, unconscious.
"Remind me not to get on his bad side," Flug whispered to Rain.
Diego bounded back over to the group with a broad smile on his face. "Hi, Rain! Hi, Dakota!" he said. "I didn't know you guys were in PYFF, too! Who's the scientist guy?"
"Ah, this is Flug," Rain smiled. "Flug, this is my younger brother, Diego. He's in partnership with Tony Stark currently."
"Not anymore," said Diego sadly. "Haven't you heard? Tony Stark died. In their universe, half the people got disintegrated. Mr. Stark sacrificed himself to bring everyone back."
"Oh," Flug muttered. "I'm so sorry."
"Eh, it's okay," Diego shrugged. "I wasn't all that close to him. I mean, he trained me to use my powers when they were unstable, but he was busy with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers and all that."
"Well, I'm really glad to see you again," Rain grinned. "I missed you. A lot."
Diego smiled as well, pulling Rain into a hug. "I missed you, too, Rain."
"Wait a second, is he taller than you now?" Dakota asked.
" What?! " Rain shouted. "Wait, back to back, I wanna see!"
They turned their backs toward each other, and Dakota thought for a moment.
"Diego, how tall are you?" they asked.
"Five foot four," Diego answered.
" NO! " Rain yelled, stomping her feet. "Unfair! Absolutely bogus!"
"Back on the matter at hand," Dakota interrupted, catching Rain's eye, "we hesitated when Rakota saw Dimentio's face. You hesitated."
Rain's heart skipped a beat. "Oh, right, that…" She rubbed her arms a little, feeling defeated. "You remember Saimin, right? Saimin Louis?"
"Black hair, black clothes, somewhat distant expression?" Dakota nodded. "Yeah, I remember her… She had two brothers, right?"
"That's… that's what I was getting at, actually," Rain chuckled awkwardly. "The older brother… well, I haven't seen Diablo in a while, but the younger one was her adopted brother, remember?"
Diego realized what Rain was alluding to faster than Dakota did. " No, " he butted in, his eyes furious but full of sorrow. "It was Dimentio, wasn't it?"
Dakota's eyebrows might've shot into the upper atmosphere. "You're kidding."
Rain shook her head, looking down at her shoes. "I wish I was."
Bill sighed irritably. “So… wait, let me get this straight,” he started, “there’s two of you?”
Diego sat on the couch, wrapped in three different blankets. He may have looked innocent and sweet, but something chaotic was lying below the exterior. Bill could see it in the boy’s eyes. The glimmer of “I’m going to annoy you to death in a way that will surprise you.”
“Yep,” Rain laughed. “Diego, introduce yourself.”
“Hi,” Diego smiled. “I’m Diego, Rain’s younger brother. I’m also ready to throw down.” He closed his eyes. “A fun and interesting fact about me is that I’m an idiot. I can also turn into memes, but that’s another story.”
“I’m sorry, you can what? ” Flug asked, looking just as confused as everyone else in the room.
Wheatley, Newton, Hatbox, and Dennis were gathered in the front room, though it hadn’t been intentional. Wheatley and Newton had been watching TV, Dennis was reading a book, and Hatbox had been reading the newspaper when he realized that other people were in the room. Bill had come down for a bowl of cereal, but he had changed his mind and was now chewing on a slice of bread.
“I can turn into memes,” Diego repeated. “I mean, really, my power is shapeshifting, which only works if you have clear thoughts, apparently. And the clearest thoughts I have are—”
“ Memes ,” Flug groaned, tugging down his paper bag. “You can use a majority of your brain power for anything, and yet you use it to shapeshift into memes .”
“Don’t humans only use twenty percent of their brains?” Wheatley asked, twiddling his thumbs.
“That’s just a myth,” Rain laughed. “I mean, we don’t use all of our brains at the same time, that would be bad, but we’re using a lot more than twenty percent. ”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Newton interrupted, looking concerned. “What happens if a human uses all of their brain at the same time? Why would that be bad?”
Flug stared at him. “Y-You would be having a seizure.”
“A price I’m willing to pay,” Diego laughed.
“My god,” Flug groaned. “Rain, how do you get him to stop talking?”
Rain glared at Flug, a mischievous look on her face. “You snap your own neck or you deal with it. That’s just the way it is.”
“ Anyways, ” Bill groaned, trying to get them to focus, “the million-dollar question.” He leaned forward dangerously, his eyes narrowing. “What makes you so dangerous? ”
Diego seemed relatively undeterred by the question. “I could conquer the world if I set my mind to it,” he shrugged. “Lucky for everyone, I lack motivation.”
“That’s not terrifying in the slightest,” Newton chuckled, clearly terrified.
“You never asked me that question,” Rain argued, turning towards Bill.
“Rain,” he sighed, “the only magic I’ve ever seen you use was to get the glass out of my arms.” He eyed Diego suspiciously. “But you… you’re dangerous, aren’t you? Or maybe you used to be…”
“Dangerous?” Diego questioned, tilting his head. “I don’t… I don’t think dangerous is the word. Maybe… I dunno, reckless ?”
Rain glared at Bill a little, asking him, with her eyes, what he was alluding to. Warning him, maybe. Bill saw the look but did nothing to answer it.
“No, no, no,” he chuckled, his voice eerily calm. “I’ve seen you before. Maybe not your sibling, but definitely you . I remember.” He smirked. “Why were you such a threat before, I wonder?”
The light in Diego’s eyes died, and suddenly both siblings knew exactly what Bill was talking about. Hatbox looked up from his newspaper, recognizing that Bill had gone too far. Diego crossed his arms over his chest, looking down at his lap.
Bill’s smile faltered. “Sore subject, then.” He laughed. “That’s fine. It’s not like any of your family can mention their past and not get upset about it.”
“ Would you stop? ” Rain barked, getting to her feet. Bill looked up at her sheepishly, shrinking a little in her gaze. “That’s not exactly what an apology sounds like.” She sat on the other side of the couch, putting a hand on Diego’s shoulder. His eyes brightened a little and he rubbed her hand with his own.
“Yes,” Hatbox chimed in, throwing a stern look Bill’s way. “It is getting very late and I think we should all be heading to bed now.”
“Count me out,” Bill scoffed.
Hatbox stared at him for a few seconds, but sighed and got up from his seat. The ghost’s bones all popped one by one as he stretched his arms to the ceiling, and he headed towards the staircase, looking more ghastly than Bill had ever seen him.
“Are you gonna be okay walking back by yourself?” Rain asked her brother, looking a bit concerned. “At least let me walk you over.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” Diego smiled. “I know the way back. I’m in Fiction Frontier now, actually.”
Rain’s eyebrows shot up. “Wait, for real?” she asked, looking excited. “That’s… awesome! Now we can see each other all the time!” She held up a hand for Diego to high-five. “Nice!”
Diego smacked her hand with his own. “Yeet!” he exclaimed. “Epic. Epic games.”
Rain and Diego began dabbing at each other furiously, which prompted Flug to cringe, stand up, and go upstairs to his room. Bill considered doing the same, but just getting in his bed could awaken unspoken terrors from the depths of his demented mind.
He could see exactly why Flug disliked the duo. Rain and Diego were a terrifying sight to behold, especially since they were siblings. Bill feared what they would do to the world if either of them had the motivation, though he doubted Diego had been telling the truth when he said he could “conquer the world.”
Wheatley and Newton seemed to be making their way to bed already, though Dennis stayed behind, engrossed in his book. Bill took a quick look at the title—To Kill a Mockingbird—then looked at Dennis’ face.
Dennis, he had to admit, was a bit of a mystery. Sure, Bill knew what he was like from his years as a demon, but Dennis had no exploitable weaknesses. All of his problems were done and solved and, as far as Bill knew, he remained undeterred by intimidation of all sorts. The man had gained confidence in recent years, but it still wasn’t enough. Dennis feared the man in black and his followers as much as anyone else did.
“So,” Bill started, sliding over, “Halifax, was it?”
Dennis gulped. “I never said it, but yes.” He closed his book. “Is there something you wanted to talk about?”
“Why are you so similar to Rain?” Bill asked, closing his eyes a little.
“Who knows?” Dennis laughed. “I mean, she and I are both very anxious people in general, I’ve learned. You could say the same for anyone, really.”
Bill opened his eyes again, scared he would fall asleep if he kept them shut. “Anxious?” he echoed, feeling a bit confused. “ Rain? She isn’t anxious. She’s so confident it makes me sick.”
Dennis frowned. “Well, that just means you haven’t gotten to know her,” he sighed. “She and I were talking to each other a couple days ago. She said…” He wondered whether or not Bill was ready to hear this. “She said she was scared that people dislike her.” He looked out the large window near the TV. “She was scared that she wouldn’t make any new friends here.”
Bill’s expression softened.
“I mean, you should know, right?” Dennis asked. “Don’t you… see everything?”
“Not anymore,” Bill admitted. “I used to. Every doodle and shrine and tapestry that was made in my honor provided me with another window into the universe to look through. Even then, I could never see her face. I couldn’t hear her voice.” He leaned back into the couch. “And now I can’t see anything that isn’t right in front of me.”
“Oh.” Dennis looked at his feet, feeling a bit awkward. That meant Bill saw him , didn’t it?
“But enough about me,” Bill chuckled. “You. You confuse me. Your story confuses me, really.” He put his feet up on the coffee table. “You used to live in the 1950s, right?”
“Magic and oddities were pretty benign back then. All of a sudden, here comes the music man, with just a tiny spark of bard in him.” Bill crossed his arms. “Chad strums up a tune on his guitar and people are head over heels for him. Honestly, I was starting to think he was some sort of fae before your friend Natalie pulled a genderbender on him.” He laughed a little. “Had Chad as confused as a baby bird hitting glass.”
“Yeah, that’s about what happened,” Dennis giggled.
“I just don’t understand how someone as nervous and uncertain as you,” Bill explained, “could end up with someone as pompous and confident as Ms. Sandra. ” He snickered. “What kind of magic made you fall head over heels for someone so unlike you? The only thing you guys have in common is your love of the arts.”
He could see it in Dennis’ eyes, the lights that flickered like dying stars.
“You’ve considered it, haven’t you?”
“Of course I have,” Dennis sighed. “I always thought love was like the books. That I would lock eyes with someone and we would know we’re meant to be together. I thought I saw that look in Natalie’s eyes.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “But she’s much happier with Chad than I think she could’ve ever been with me. So when I saw that look in Sandra’s eyes…”
“Is there… supposed to be a look?” Bill asked, looking genuinely interested.
“N-No, of course not. Just like there are no soulmates or red strings or destinies.” Dennis was losing his composure just a bit. “I wish I had realized that sooner. Maybe then I could have married someone I really loved.”
Bill was silent for a moment. He opened his mouth to speak, but—
“I… I m-mean!” Dennis’ face flushed in embarrassment. “I shouldn’t have even said that… It’s stupid, really… Why are you even asking me about this, anyways?”
“I delight in the pursuit of knowledge.”
Dennis groaned, holding his head in his hands. “I really don’t understand you at all…”
“Be thankful for that,” Bill laughed. “If you did understand me, you’d have gone insane!”
“Sure, sure,” Dennis muttered, picking up his book and standing up. “Well, goodnight, then.”
“What’s so good about it?”
“You know what I mean,” he laughed, making his way up the stairs. “See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, I guess,” Bill muttered, but he knew he wasn’t sleeping any time soon.
It rained for the first time in four months that night, the droplets pounding on the walls of the apartment like tiny hammers. Saimin hung her coat up on the rack by the door, humming a tune to herself. She looked at the barren walls of the living room, the sofa’s color more of a gray than brown. The coffee table in the middle of the room was empty as always, and the kitchen had almost nothing in it, save for a box of cereal.
She looked bitterly at the spot where she had once sat with a family. Two brothers and an aunt to keep her company, besides Jasper, who was always just a call away if she ever needed it. Now the cat-like demon was pocketless, his phone in the lost and found in the apartment lobby, or maybe in the hands of a stranger.
Saimin remembered that day, more than a year ago. She had almost died that night, riding over the tops of buses and Light Rail cars just to keep herself another inch or two away from an assassin. She’d almost gotten herself lost a few times, but she knew Downtown Fiction like the back of her hand.
She remembered getting home, seeing her younger brother’s worried face staring back at her. It had been Dimentio’s birthday, Saimin thought bitterly. His special day, and she’d been late. It was better than nothing, she reasoned.
So why hadn’t she been there when Grace was killed?
She’d heard the news weeks later. She and Rain had been in an argument about… something. She couldn’t quite remember. Jasper was there, his ears twitching with anxiety, telling Saimin about how he’d found her aunt dead, about how police had searched every inch of the building for some sort of clue.
About how Dimentio was nowhere to be found.
The police force had found nothing. No footprints, no fingerprints, no hair, no marks… Grace had bled out from three gashes on her chest, but other than that, it seemed like the culprit had simply appeared and disappeared like magic.
How was she supposed to know that her younger brother had sought out an answer?
Not to his adoptive aunt’s death, no. Saimin wondered if he even cared. He’d gone to look for answers to his missing memory, as if that were some sort of coping mechanism. Apparently, he’d found a lead, some sort of trail he couldn’t stop following.
It had lead him straight to Black Hat, obviously.
Saimin had another brother, but Diablo wasn’t exactly easy to reach. She’d texted him the news after he’d sent her to voicemail for days on end. His answering machine said he couldn't talk, that he was busy with college work, that he would call back when he could, but she could hear his voice cracking every second he talked.
After a while, she’d simply hung up before she had to hear it again.
After a while, she’d stopped trying to call.
He already knew, so why even bother?
Saimin set her bag on the coffee table, turning on the lights so she could heat up the microwave dinner she’d bought. It wasn’t like she could afford much else, anyways.
It wasn’t all bad, she figured. Mimi helped pay the rent when the time came, but other than that, the spider girl wasn’t very generous. Nastasia helped where she could, sent her a little more every week just so Saimin could get by. Jasper, of course, was Saimin’s only real friend, the only consolation she ever got.
Well, besides Rain. Saimin had been hoping they’d become friends again and she’d been blessed with luck.
Hello, daddy! Hello mom! I’m a ch-ch-ch-ch-ch —
Saimin jumped about a foot in the air as her phone rang at max volume. She yanked it out of her pocket, hoping Jasper had finally found his phone—
It was Diablo.
She slid the answer button over, placing the phone near her right ear.
“H-Hello?” she stuttered, a sob threatening to escape, but she swallowed and listened hard. For a few moments, there was no sound, just the blood pounding in her ears, shallow breaths on the other side of the line.
“Hey, Saimmy,” Diablo whispered, and Saimin could hear him smile.
Dennis’ eyes shot open, his hands clammy, and he slowly sat up in his bed, turning on the desk lamp. Blindly, he reached for his glasses, only guided by their gold-like glimmer.
He stared at the pastel pink walls for a moment, then reached up and rubbed his eyes, heaving a sigh. His dreams hadn’t exactly been pleasant.
To be fair, Dennis had never seen the man in black. He had only ever read about him, about how his influence kept the entire world under his control for several years. The descriptions about his appearance, though… well, they weren’t exactly helpful. They described him as monstrous and unnatural, but that was usually about it.
Dennis’ subconscious interpreted that as “indescribable horror no man should lay his eyes on.” Black Hat was never the same in his dreams. Last night, the man had been a strange eight-legged creature (or maybe ten-legged, Dennis wasn’t sure) with a terrifying, one-eyed glare and no mouth. The creature didn’t chase Dennis, per say, but everywhere he looked, it was there, staring at him in the corner of the room.
The creature he had dreamed of wasn’t the reason he was scared, though.
The dream had been more about Bill’s words from the night before. Sandra, in all her radiant beauty, had left Dennis for another man, a flirtatious monster who had women all around him. Dennis chased after Sandra, telling her that the man would never treat her right, but she hadn’t been listening.
She could never love a man like that, he had thought.
After what had seemed like an eternity, Dennis was greeted by a young man in green, traveling the world in search of adventure. The unnamed man (Dennis hadn’t had time to ask who he was) comforted Dennis, playing a bittersweet song on a familiar guitar. The music had been nice, he supposed, because it was almost like he was falling in love all over again.
But the young man couldn’t stay. He bid Dennis farewell and disappeared into the forest that surrounded them.
And then, when Dennis saw him again, he had been killed by the womanizer who had taken Sandra away.
Now that he was awake, he could see just how cheesy his dream had been. Sandra would’ve detested anyone even remotely like Chad, especially if they didn’t know anything about the arts. In a remarkably short time, he had eased all of his fears.
But then who had been that man he had met? Dennis had never seen him before, not in any other dream and certainly not in real life. He was a figment of his imagination, Dennis reasoned. A character his subconscious had created.
And then there was the question as to what the dream meant. Was he afraid someone would… kill a stranger? Dennis laughed at the thought. It probably meant nothing. Just Bill’s words getting the better of him.
At least, that’s what he hoped.
Chapter 19: W.D. Gaster Wouldn't Do This To Me
Rain had been helping Newton prepare breakfast in the kitchen when Dennis walked in the front door. He had left earlier that day to do something, so she wasn’t extremely surprised. However, when she went to greet him, she realized that his eyes were full of tears.
“What happened?” she asked, but he didn’t answer. He just pushed her aside as gently as he could and trudged upstairs.
“That seems a bit unusual, don’t you think?” Newton commented, looking confused.
“I guess he just wants to be alone,” Rain muttered, wondering what in the world could make Dennis so upset.
It was quite strange, seeing him all moody and sad. Usually, Rain saw him as quite upbeat and friendly, but she knew there was a reason behind his sadness. Still, he elected to be alone in his room, so she let him be, for the time being. If he wanted to be alone, she could respect that.
Besides, there were other matters to attend to.
Flug had brought the mail in early that morning, and among all the cooking magazines Newton had subscribed to was a crinkled, brown envelope. Rain had picked it up gingerly, noticing that there was no name on it other than her own. It was for her, of course, but whoever it was from, she had no idea. She opened it carefully, not wanting the parchment to rip.
The letter inside was written on crinkled, brown paper as well, and there were a few spots of dirt around the edges. The corners were a bit wet, and the writing was in small, loopy cursive that Rain recognized immediately. She smirked a bit and started to read.
I hope you receive this letter before I visit. I’ve heard you’re going by Rain, am I correct? If not, I’m sorry for my mistake on the envelope. It has been a while since I last saw you, and so I thought, while the Valley is covered in snow, that I should make my way up to where you’re staying, just to visit.
Rain smiled a bit, placing a hand to her cheek.
I am so very excited to see you again. Have you gone on any new adventures in our time apart? I shall tell you about my adventures as well, and I hope you are happy to have me in your home.
Rain would’ve jumped twenty feet in the air, if not for her sense of self-preservation. There was Bill, a curious but smug look on his face as if he had just caught a child getting into a cookie jar without permission.
"It's a letter," Rain answered, not seeing what Bill had to be so smug about. "Obviously."
"Of course it is," Bill scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Who's it from? A former lover, perhaps?"
Rain laughed a little. "I think Snufkin's a little old for me," she countered. "Besides, I don't think he's that into women." She walked back into the kitchen, placing the letter on the counter.
Gingerly, she picked up the spatula next to the stove and flipped the pancake still in the pan. In the frying pan next to it was a heap of scrambled eggs, and Rain fetched a large plate and placed the eggs upon it.
“I never asked you how your trip was,” Rain mused.
Bill hesitated. “Trip…?” he started, before realizing what she meant. “Oh, you mean the coffee shop with Dean. Yeah, it was nice.”
“What did you guys talk about?”
“We talked about the weather, about the whole chaos with Black Hat, and then we discussed our interests,” Bill answered. “Apparently, he’s pretty into card tricks. He even showed me a few. It was pretty cool.” He stopped, remembering something. “Hey, did you know there’s gonna be a ball at the convention center nearby in September?”
Rain looked up at him. “No, I didn’t,” she replied. “At the convention center, you say?”
“Yeah. They’re gonna throw this nice dance party slash waltz thing in memory of Aria, that kingdom that got destroyed all those years ago.”
“They’re still holding events for Aria?” Rain laughed, flipping another pancake. “I mean… wow, that is something. Who wouldn’t wanna go to that?” She walked over to the cabinet and pulled out another large plate, then put the pancakes from the stove on it. “Are you gonna go?”
Bill thought about it for a moment, considering his options. It didn’t sound like a terribly bad idea. Besides, he rather liked dancing.
“Maybe,” he answered. “I’ll think about it. It would be nice to celebrate that, anyhow.”
“You know about Aria?” Rain asked. “Well, I mean, of course you would know about that. You know everything.”
“Not everything,” Bill corrected. “Not anymore. But…” He closed his eyes, remembering something. “That kingdom was important to me. One of the places that I visited most often.” He frowned. “One day I came back and it was just… gone. Destroyed. Debris everywhere. Not one person was left, though some of them probably survived.”
“Oh,” Rain muttered, looking down. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Bill laughed, rolling his eyes. “You can’t bring people back from the dead, Rain. Nobody can.”
He thought he saw her flinch as he said that, but he shrugged it off and walked out of the kitchen. He plopped down onto the couch, closed his eyes and tried to remember the kingdom he missed so. Was there anything left there?
His mind drifted, focusing more on the previous day’s events with mild interest. In some sort of second sense, Bill felt as though he needed to be somewhere. Maybe it was just nerves, but he felt he needed to replay those events in his head, just to make sure he didn’t have any reservations.
Then, in some stroke of brilliance, it hit him. Cedar, Rose, Bill couldn’t recall correctly, had said that Bill ought to talk to him when he could think correctly, or something of the sort. He cursed under his breath. Wasn’t it his role to understand the underlying meaning in other people’s words? Weren’t underlying meanings his talent? How he got people to do what he wanted?
Bill snapped his fingers, a habitual motion that usually resulted in teleportation. Now that he was human, he was permanently tethered to the space he occupied. His atoms could not separate and reform in various locations as they used to, and it infuriated him. He was not one to walk, either.
There it was, that familiar tether in his mind. He had thought it long gone, yet there it was, like an old, forgotten letter salvaged from an undersea chest. A sting of pain from far away, and then a voice—he couldn’t hear exactly it said—a familiar voice echoing and distorted at the end of a long tunnel.
He didn’t know exactly how it happened, but then he was there, standing at Cedar’s doorstep. He felt light-headed all of a sudden, probably because he hadn’t been able to do that in so long. Whatever “that” was, he didn’t know, but now here he was.
Might as well knock, he thought, feeling defeated.
Cedar glanced at the open window of his bedroom, focusing on a nearby tree. Seconds later, a thick root slithered through his window and formed itself into a crutch. He broke it off of the rest of the vine and sat down on his bed as the root buried itself back under the dirt.
By then, he had changed into nothing but a pair of shorts and an unbuttoned flannel. He laid on his couch, sipping vodka and texting his family. He looked at the time.
I thought I told that kid to meet with me… didn’t I?
He sighed and stared out the window, unsure of what he should do. He decided that he wanted to cook something. He rolled off the couch (quite literally) and made his way over to the kitchen. He stared into the fridge for a few seconds, then pulled out a few things.
I guess I can make something out of this, he thought.
Cedar pulled a few knives out of their holder, juggling them just for fun and decided that he only needed two. He caught two of them and threw the other behind him, getting it stuck in the wall. He started chopping up a cucumber, though he despised their shape, and threw it into a large bowl of unfinished salad.
Cedar chopped a few more things up, then felt a sting in his finger. He swore quite loudly, stabbing the knife into his cutting board. He looked at his finger and sighed. He had accidentally cut it, but not too severely. He decided to just leave the salad for later and put it in the fridge. He went back out to the living room and fell onto the couch, being careful not to hit his knee.
He was suddenly able to sense someone on his property, causing him to get up and bolt to the door. He didn’t bother with grabbing the root crutch or being careful of his knee. He swung open the door before the person on the other side could knock.
“Oh, hi!” he said cheerfully, recognizing the person on the other side.
Bill huffed a little, holding his head in pain. “Umm… hi,” he breathed. “Could I…? I need to sit down real quick…”
“Of course! Please, come in,” Cedar said, struggling to get back over to his couch without causing himself more pain. “Don’t mind that it’s a little dark in here… I don’t like bright lights.”
“Thanks,” Bill sighed. “I think that was the first teleportation I’ve done in… well, since I got this flesh-sack.” He sat down on the couch and looked up towards the ceiling.
“That’s how I felt for a while,” Cedar said with a shrug. “You get used to it.” He picked up the half empty bottle of vodka on the coffee table in front of him and took a swig. “Can I get you anything?”
“Uhh… water?” Bill groaned. “I… is that what gets rid of human headaches?”
“I don’t know,” Cedar chuckled. “I don’t get those unless I drink too much.” He got up, actually remembering to grab the crutch this time, went into the kitchen and came out a few minutes later with a glass of water. “Here you go,” he said, plopping back onto the couch.
“Thanks,” said Bill. He grabbed the water, gulped it down as quick as he could, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Now… what was I going to ask…?” He sat up quite suddenly. “Ah, yes. It’s only… uh, natural for me to be curious. I’m human, after all… what exactly are you?”
“As I stated earlier, I believe I am human. I’ve been told otherwise, but I have the body to prove it,” Cedar said with a shrug. “I mean, I obviously have a bit of tree somehow, but still.”
“ Tree? ” Bill repeated, his eyes sparkling with intrigue. “But how… what do you mean by it? I’ve never heard of that before! Not from someone as mortal and pathetic as you!” There was a silent “no offense” on the end of his sentence that he cursed himself for, but he awaited Cedar’s answer eagerly.
Cedar cracked his knuckles and stared Bill dead in the eyes. “No offense? No offense? I’m a nuclear accident, thank you very much,” he said with a slight snappiness in his tone. Cedar was known for his “one and done” meetups, where if one bad thing gets said or done, it’s over. However, that was not always the case.
Bill saw this in Cedar’s eyes, the way he intended things to go. He stifled a laugh. “Well, then, forgive my arrogant ways,” he mused. “And that ‘no offense’ was a slip of the tongue.”
“I’ll bet it was the Axolotl who made me all sappy and sympathetic,” Bill continued, ignoring Cedar’s comment. “But you’re a nuclear accident, you say?” He raised a hand to his lips in thought. “Do tell.”
Cedar shifted to look slightly away from Bill. “I don’t really even know what happened. All I know is that I’m just a dead body covered in wood.” He took another large swig of vodka and looked at his knee to make sure the bandage was still tight enough.
Bill searched through his memories, trying to make sense of the information he had. Suddenly, he had it. “Where do live, exactly?” he asked. “Besides Fiction Frontier, I mean.”
“Why would you want to know?” Cedar replied, glancing over at Bill. “So you can try to harm me and my family too?” His expression was a mix of anger, interest, and worry. He stared out of the window and watched the clouds roll by.
Bill’s eyes went wide for a split second, but then he burst into unhindered, unsympathetic laughter. After a few moments, he wiped away a tear. “If I intended to harm you, believe me, I would’ve done it in that store.” He leaned back into the couch. “You know people. I’m one of those who takes comfort in knowledge. Greatest fear is the unknown and whatnot.”
Cedar sighed, getting up from the couch. “Give me a few minutes, please.” He walked into his room and put on a different shirt, and also slipped a small knife into his pocket, in case anything went wrong. He came back out a few minutes later and sat back on the couch.
“So, why do you want to know where I live, exactly?”
“I thrive in the power of knowledge,” Bill chuckled. “Curiosity is all.” It was not a lie, but he was halfway towards a hypothesis and this morsel of information might prove him right.
“Mhm. And you can’t tell by the accent, my decor or the half empty bottle of vodka casually sitting around?” Cedar said with a laugh. “People all the time say, ‘oh, you’re Russian?! Or ‘oh, wow, your English is so good!’ It makes me cringe how stupid some people are.”
“Well, I didn’t want to assume,” Bill chuckled. “Some people have that accent and were born in different places, and only have it because, ya know, parents. ‘Sides, I’ve never paid much attention to detail.”
“Detail?!” Cedar practically yelled, gesturing to the matryoshka, tea pots, and recipe books strewn around the house. “I have a rug covering my couch, for crying out loud!” He stopped abruptly and sighed. “I’m turning into my babushka…”
“Could’ve been cultural, hypothetically,” Bill assured him. “Trust me, in my time, I’ve met people like you. Their story and background is never that obvious. I’ve assumed people’s business and regretted it. But whatever.” He sat back up again, looking interested. “Russia, you say?”
Cedar slammed his head on the coffee table, grabbing the vodka bottle so it didn’t fall. “Yes. Russia,” he sighed, picking his head up from the table.
“Good, good,” Bill chuckled, seeming unphased. Nuclear accident… Russia… it was all coming together splendidly and Bill didn’t have to do a thing about it. The only answer to Cedar’s plight would have to be Chernobyl, but Bill didn’t want to sound obnoxious. The tree was already fed up enough as it was.
“Whaddya planning to do in Fiction Frontier?” he asked. “Are you here for the hero work or just for the heck of it?”
“I guess I’m just here because I can be. I know of some of the people here, I guess,” he said, looking around outside the window. “I should have stayed home, though. It’s too hot here…”
Bill glanced out the window, seeing a moving truck stop at the house next door. Cagney Carnation stood outside; Bill remembered seeing him through his mind’s eye back when he lived in the Dreamscape. “You acquainted with Cagney Carnation, by any chance?”
“I’ve known him for a while,” Cedar shrugged. “Though, I try to be a little careful around my sister when it comes to him…” He shuddered, remembering to never look through her sketchbooks.
Bill hummed, his attention drawn to the wall. He stared off in though for a few seconds before remembering what had been on his mind for the past few days. “Have you seen the… uh, clown guy that’s been trying to fight some of the heroes?” he asked.
“Clown guy…?” Cedar said, shifting to a more comfortable position on the couch. “I’ve seen lots of clowns in my lifetime. I mean, America has their president!”
Bill burst into laughter again. “ Right?! That dumb horse needs to get a clue!” He chuckled a bit, calming down. “I dunno if you’re heard the news, but I’ve been keeping my ears open, ‘cause Mr. Pretend-to-be-scary-villain ‘Black Hat’ is making a mess of people’s sanity. He’s been hiring bounty hunters and, apparently, the clown guy is one of them.”
“I try to stay away from news and governmental problems,” he said with a shrug. “I hate politics as much as the next guy, but I have my reasons to be against them. And before you ask, no. I will not tell you more.”
Bill went a little rigid, but laughed it off. “Sure, whatever.” He sighed, leaning into the couch again. “Well, whoever this clown guy is… he’s got some dumb name like… Dimen… cheeto, somethin’ like that. Annoying as hell to deal with, that’s for sure.”
Cedar burst into laughter. “Dimen cheeto?! ” he wheezed, sliding down off the couch. He recovered a few seconds later. “I’m sorry, but that’s an actual name?!” He snickered, covering his mouth in an attempt to keep from laughing.
“Apparently!” Bill cackled. “Look, I’m probably gonna start… what was that human word? Rambling? I’ll probably start rambling about him, but there’s something I’ve…” He paused. “Well, I won’t worry you too much with it. He’s peculiar, as are all of his lot.”
“Isn’t everyone a little peculiar? Like, I don’t trust you, but here I am, inviting you into my home,” Cedar replied with a shrug. “I learned the hard way not to trust people, and—” He cut himself off and sighed. “I’ll just stop there.”
Bill smirked. He always loved when a weakness slipped out from underneath someone’s own two feet. Though he had yet to find a weakness in Flug Slys, this was enough to compensate for it. Cedar’s one weakness was his reluctance to trust others, one that was common but not boring to toy with.
Cedar closed his eyes and crossed his legs, flinching at his knee slightly. “So, tell me about yourself,” he said, looking over at Bill with a slight smile. He took another swig of vodka.
Maybe if I drink enough, he’ll just disappear from my vision…
Bill blinked, a slightly dumbstruck look on his face. “…Me?” He chuckled awkwardly. “What exactly do you want to know?”
“Anything you could use to get to know a person, I guess. You know, age, fun facts, what you like and dislike, anything really.”
“Age…” Bill scratched his head a little. “Well, I don’t know… I lost count at one trillion.”
“One… trillion?” Cedar asked, looking shocked. “God, you’re older than Makano!” He laughed. “I mean, people always ask how old I am and they’re dumbfounded when I say I’m forty!”
“Well, for someone who’s forty, you don’t look a day over seventeen!” Bill chuckled. “I’m older than the universe we’re so helplessly tethered to.” He frowned a bit. “And to think that now I look like a teenager.”
“Well, thank you,” Cedar said with a smile. “You don’t look too bad, though you’re a little scrawny. Makano says I should look this young until I hit around… four-thousand? She says I should live for roughly eight-thousand years if… I don’t get killed…”
“I’m sure you’d be able to handle yourself,” Bill assured him. “I used to be able to see things from the eyes of any little doodle of me, and from the little I remember, you’ve got a knack for staying alive. If you do die before eight-thousand years is up, I doubt it’ll be anytime soon.”
“Yeah, yeah… I’ve heard it all.” Cedar waved his hand slightly. “I’ve gotten really close the past few times, though. Those men are nothing to take lightly. Hence, my fear for men with beards.” He chuckled, taking his hair out of the ponytail and letting the curls go back to how they should be.
Gee, for someone who doesn’t like to trust people, he sure does like to let slip his fears…
Bill eased into the couch some more, the warmth starting to make him a bit drowsy. He hadn’t slept for a while, for fear that he might have another nightmare.
“What time is it?” he asked, stifling a yawn.
“Time for you to use your own eyes and check for yourself,” he said, gesturing to a clock. He put the finger he had accidentally cut in his mouth. There was very little blood, so he was slightly disappointed.
The clock read 8:37 AM. Bill groaned a little, remembering that Rain was still making breakfast and he had just disappeared from the living room. “I bet I can stay for a bit longer,” he mused. “But not for long. Rain’ll have my neck.”
“And I need to call my daughter as well,” Cedar said with a shrug. “I’m just wondering, do you play any instruments?”
“I play piano,” Bill admitted. “And my voice, if that counts.”
“Oh! I’ve always wanted to learn piano, but I could never afford one. I play the balalaika and accordion. I suppose a voice counts… What part do you sing?” he asked, his face starting to light up a bit.
Bill thought for a minute. “Tenor, I think,” he answered. He tried to stifle a yawn but failed.
Cedar caught the yawn and started to yawn as well. “Don’t do that!” he said through it. “I sing mainly alto, but I can do other parts just fine. Oh, and before I forget, do you by chance know what a ‘succ’ is? Nobody will tell me and it’s getting on my nerves.”
Bill recalled, briefly, Mabel Pines’ same inquiries on the subject to her twin brother. He suppressed a giggle. “I would tell you if I could, but it would likely change an age rating somewhere. Doubt it matters, though.”
Cedar groaned, pushing himself off the couch. He went back to his room and came back a minute later with his old balalaika. “Now, if I’m lucky, this string will actually stay together this time!” He attempted to tune the old instrument.
“A balalaika?” Bill mused. “Interesting. How well can you play?”
“Well, as good as you can get in thirty-two years,” he said, plucking at the fragile string. He finally managed to get it tuned, then did the other two. He played a few chords to make sure it would hold together, which, for once, it did. Bill watched curiously, his attention fixed on Cedar like a child to a television.
“You have a tune you think I’d know?” Cedar asked, looking up. The balalaika was specially made for him, since he was left handed, by his mother. His father had painted and restrung it multiple times before leaving for the army.
Bill thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t know many songs from the humans… Rain did tell me of a song called ‘Never Gonna Give You Up,’ or something like that.”
“Oh, God, I’m not doing that!” Cedar groaned. “Ehm… I can see if I remember our anthem…?” He looked at the chipped paint on the instruments face.
“Go for it.”
“I… don’t know if I can,” Cedar said, looking at Bill awkwardly.
“Suit yourself,” he hummed, leaning into the couch again. “Play anything, I don’t mind.”
Cedar took a shuddering breath in. “I-I’m sorry… I can’t,” he said, a slight tone of embarrassment in his voice. He set the balalaika down and sunk into the couch with a sigh.
Bill blew a raspberry, getting up. “Well, tough luck, then,” he sighed. “I’ve gotta get back to the house before anyone notices I’m gone.”
“Good riddance, then,” Cedar laughed. “Just remember to close the door on the way out.”
“You bet,” Bill muttered, walking to said door and letting himself out. He looked around the street to see if he recognized it and saw his own house two doors down.
“Aww, you’ve got to be kidding me!” he moaned. “It was right there this whole time?!”
“I’m really sorry I left you alone for so long,” Diablo sighed, taking a sip of his coffee. “I shouldn’t have done that to you. I should’ve contacted you right away.”
“It’s fine,” Saimin chuckled. “It’s in the past. What matters right now is that you're here. I… I really missed you this past year. Thought you would've at least called for Christmas.” She sighed, twiddling her thumbs. “Dimentio’s alive, you know. I found out back in March.”
Had Diablo not had his phone on the table, he would’ve spit out his coffee. Instead, he swallowed hard, coughed a few times, and pinned Saimin down with an incredulous look. “ What?! Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“Well, first of all, your answering machine makes me want to cry every time I hear it!” Saimin argued. “And second of all, you would’ve never picked up! The least I could do was text you about it, but I got sort of…” She looked down at the floor. “Sidetracked.”
“Trying to keep this goddamned apartment. Not to mention all the crap with Black Hat. I can hardly keep up.” The air was deathly still. “I mean… it still hurts, you know? Every time I see Dimentio, I can’t help but feel guilty for everything he’s done since.”
“What exactly has he done since?”
“Well, other than joining Black Hat, the only stuff he’s really done is a couple robberies,” Saimin explained, rubbing the back of her neck. She could feel Diablo’s eyes peering into her soul, trying to find a hint of a lie behind the unbearable truth. “I still feel like this might all be my fault. If I had just waited to leave one more day, maybe…”
“No, Saimin,” Diablo grunted. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. Just think for a second.” He rested his hand on Saimin’s palm. “If you had stayed that night, Black Hat would’ve killed you. ”
“But Grace would’ve been safe. Dimentio wouldn’t have run.”
“Saimin, I think we both know that Dimentio might’ve done something far worse. ”
That thought hit Saimin like a thunderbolt, and she remembered when she had first seen him again, in the alleyway behind the Coffee Spot. The cold spring air on her face, the light that flickered in Dimentio’s eyes when he mouthed “you’re alive.” Saimin might have pulled her younger brother into a hug right there, if not for the context.
“You’re right,” she admitted. “I saw that look in his eyes… If I hadn’t survived, I think he would’ve…” She looked down at her shoes, trying to purge the thought from her head.
“I think we need to talk about something happier,” Diablo chuckled, closing his eyes. “So, how about Rain? How is she doing?”
“She’s doing pretty well,” Saimin answered. “We saw each other at the PizzaTown. Hung out a bit with my friend Dean and a kid named Bill Cipher.”
“ Bill Cipher?! ”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it, everyone’s heard about him,” she laughed. “He really ain’t all that bad. In fact, he seemed relatively nice.” Diablo didn’t object, so she went on. “He’s peculiar, is all. I honestly thought he would be a little different. He reminds me mostly of Rain’s brother, if Diego were more hyperactive than he already is.”
“That’s… saying a lot,” Diablo chuckled. “You’re sure he’s not dangerous?”
“He’s been in PYFF since July, I’ve heard,” Saimin sighed. “I think he’ll be fine.” She leaned her chair back a little. “Are you joining PYFF, Diablo?”
Diablo hesitated, his face suddenly very pale. He narrowed his eyes, looked towards the door as though he wanted to leave. “What exactly are you asking me, Saimin?”
“It’s… It’s just a question. I was just curious. It’d be a big help.”
“I can’t,” Diablo hissed, though there was some guilt in his tone. “I can’t get involved with all this again. I’ve heard the rumors. It’s always the same, isn’t it? They all get scarred for life.”
“Not anymore,” Saimin insisted, standing up. “The Fictional Foundation has a new president. It’s improving there.”
“Is it? You’re not even in the program. ”
“I… don’t meet the requirements.”
“And why are there requirements in the first place?” Diablo argued, his eyes narrowed. “And get this: they’re more restrictive than last time. Meant to keep people ‘safe.’ Why in the world would they do that if it wasn’t more dangerous?”
“I’m not forcing you to join!” Saimin shouted, slamming her fist down on the table. “It was just a question! I don’t care!”
Diablo froze, and Saimin knew right away that she’d said something wrong.
“So, that’s it then,” he muttered, a tear running down his cheek. “You don’t care. You don’t care what happens to me. You don’t care what happens to any of us. ”
“Diablo, that’s not at all what I said,” Saimin grunted. “I care about you. I care about how everything ends up. But there’s not much I can do about it right now. I’m only seventeen.”
Diablo kept his mouth shut this time, quietly surrendering. He had to admit, she had a point. “Right,” he mumbled, looking up at her with just a hint of a smile. “Don’t you miss it? Actually being able to act seventeen?”
“Yeah. I wish I could go back to before any of this happened. Maybe things would be different.” She paused. “Do you even remember what mom and dad’s face looked like?”
She waited for Diablo to reply, but he just sat there, his face screwed up in concentration as he squeezed his eyes shut. Then, with a final sigh, he opened them, shook his head, and slumped in his seat. He took a sip of his coffee and threw it into the garbage near the kitchen.
“Honestly, I hardly remember Grace’s face anymore,” he breathed. “Maybe once this is all over, we can live normal lives again.”
“Yeah,” Saimin agreed. “But it will be different. Even if things stay the same, they still change. Just a little. We can’t go back to what it was before. Where are you going after this?”
“I’m moving back in, Saimin.”
“ Really?! ”
“I can’t just leave you here to pay for this place yourself! Besides, I’ve got a full-time job down here. I can do college courses online, you know? I just…” He crossed his arms. “I can’t leave you. Not like I did last time.”
Saimin all but crashed into her brother, pulling him into a tearful yet joyous hug. Diablo hugged back, his smile so big he could burst.
It really did feel like nothing could pull them apart.
"NOTHING! You're NOTHING! All you are is a big EMBARRASSMENT!"
His head hurt. He could barely see anything past the darkness threatening to consume him, surrounded by equations and scribbles and thoughts he never knew he had.
"Ooooh, look at me, I'm NEWTON!" said the Titan. "Everything I make turns out RUBBISH!"
"W-What?" Newton stuttered. "N-No, it doesn't…"
It was the same thing all over again. He didn't understand why he'd had this dream so many times. This dream, out of all his other nightmares, out of the scarier, more frightening ones. But this one, this one really got to him. He should've been over it by now. He didn't understand any of this at all.
It all started the same. The same Titan insulting him, cloaked in his own form, his head throbbing with pain, tears running down his face, the same insult every time, and then it would give him something different.
The first time, it was easy. He always remembered that he triumphed over the Titan when it actually happened, but every time the nightmare came back, it became harder and harder to fend it off. It just wasn't fair.
Every time, it seemed, his energy was draining.
It became more painful to fight his inner demons.
"How long could you POSSIBLY keep this up?" The Titan chuckled menacingly. "Why do you INSIST on keeping me out?"
Because it's not who I am, he wanted to say. Because he wasn't evil, because he hated the Titan, because he was tired of this.
He tried to say it, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came out except for a whimper.
"What, is that ALL you've got?" It laughed. "Pathetic."
"W-Why do you keep coming b-back?!" Newton sobbed.
The Titan laughed again, this time louder.
"Face it, Pud," it said, "I'm a part of you now. You wouldn't BE here without me."
"N-No- Y-You're n-not me…!"
Tears running down his face, he did his best to hold back another sob. He was shaking badly, and he could barely even look at the Titan as it stood before him.
It took him a second to realize that its form was no longer his own.
"W-Wha — "
It had taken on the form of Rain —
"Do you REALLY think they don't know?"
Then Flug —
"'Newton, we'd NEVER laugh at YOU!'"
"'You're our FRIEND, Newty!'"
"Oh, please, I'm a part of you now, Newton," it said. "They hate you for it and you KNOW it."
"N-No...t-that's n-not — "
"You wouldn't want HIM to get hurt, would you?
"N-no, s-stop it!"
He didn't know what to do. He felt weak and cold and scared. He knew these nightmares were something he couldn't completely control. But this...this was beyond his greatest fears. Choking back tears as the Titan taunted him. He hated it. He hated this feeling of being weak, of being a failure.
The Titan picked him up suddenly, grabbing him by the neck. Newton sputtered and gasped, tears like waterfalls going down his face.
"N-No, s-stop! Y-You… s-stay away…!"
"Or WHAT?! You'll cry?!"
"I-I...I-I'll — "
The Titan grinned, its laugh echoing in Newton head. He closed his eyes tight, waiting for it to end, and then —
"Newton, are you okay?"
He sat up quickly in his bed.
Wheatley's head had been right above him, and their faces collided. They both held their heads in pain for a couple seconds, and Newton tried his best not to sob.
"Are you okay?" Wheatley asked, seeing Newton's face. "Are you… crying?"
" NO! " A pause. "Yes! I don't know…"
"Was it… was it a bad dream?"
Newton was still, his hands shaking as another sob threatened to escape. He made no attempt to stop it as he nodded, and Wheatley pulled him into a hug as tears ran down his face.
"It's okay," he said. "You're here. It can't hurt you. Everything's gonna be okay."
There was a gentle quiet that hummed around them, a quiet that was unfamiliar, but not uncomfortable. Newton smiled a little, feeling safe in Wheatley’s embrace. For a robot, Wheatley was surprisingly human, and Newton found he didn’t mind one bit.
“Wheatley?” he started, not sure how he should phrase the question. “We’re friends, right?”
“Of course we are!” Wheatley smiled, as if it were the most true and simple thing in the world. “Why wouldn’t we be? We’ve known each other for a while now! If we weren’t already, I’d say it’s about time, eh?”
“Okay,” Newton muttered, trying to reassure himself. “So, we’re friends.”
“Dare I even say it, best friends.”
He chuckled a little, envious of Wheatley’s confidence. “Alright. Can I…” A pause. “Can I tell you a secret? As a best friend?”
“Sure! Why not?”
“But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone, ” Newton insisted, wiping away another couple of tears. “Not even Rain.”
“Promise,” Wheatley replied. “Cross my robotic heart.”
They both laughed at that.
“Okay,” Newton sighed. “It’s sort of long.” He looked down at his hands, twiddling his thumbs. “Most of the reason I signed up for PYFF is because I wanted to… redeem myself? I guess? I already told you I used to live on Bunkum, right?”
“Yeah, I think I remember that.”
“There was an old legend about these beings called the Titans. They fed on the creativity of our people and nearly destroyed our world long ago. I thought, with their power that I could…” Newton closed his eyes. “…that I could make Bunkum a better place…”
Wheatley seemed hesitant now. “What happened then?”
Newton shuddered at the memory of it. “The Titans, they… they were freed and they… they possessed me.” A sob just barely escaped his throat. “They took control of my body and all I could do was watch… And then they stole everyone’s creativity and I nearly killed one of my best friends and my family couldn’t even stop me and I didn’t even try to fight back and I…” He trailed off into a fit of tears, shaking with each sob that rattled his body.
“That’s terrible, Newton,” Wheatley spoke, pulling the young man back into a hug. “I’m… bloody hell, I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.” He closed his eyes. “If it makes you feel any better, I want to tell you a secret.”
Newton peered up at him and nodded slowly.
Wheatley paused, took a deep breath, and began.
“Wait, what if this HURTS?” Wheatley sputtered, spinning around to face Chell. “What if this REALLY hurts?! Aww, I didn’t think of that…”
“Oh, it will,” She spoke, amused but irritated all at once. “Believe me, it will.”
“Are you… Are you just saying that or is it REALLY gonna hurt?” Wheatley asked, still hesitant about the situation he was in. He knew very well that, at this point, there was really nothing he could do, but he had to make sure. “You’re just saying that, aren’t you? You’re just… No, you’re not, you’re not. It IS gonna hurt, isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer, and neither did Chell, who looked just as panicked. The machine Wheatley was hooked into started to descend into the floor, the hatch above him sealing shut.
“Exactly how painful are we talki — ”
It hit him all at once, as if he was being run over and crushed by the front wheel of a truck. Or, rather, he was being run over and crushed by the front wheel of a truck ten times consecutively, and then his remains were being dumped into an incinerator. Except that his body remained intact, so there was nowhere else for the pain to go. No release, no end, just pain, much more painful than his small frame twitching every so often.
It went by in a blur, too fast for him to comprehend at first. It came through in images at first, the facility falling apart, fires and explosions, turrets plastered together and shoved into companion cubes (the poor things), and, most importantly, Chell.
Oh, Chell. His only friend, the only one who had even so much as glanced at him. Instead of taking the elevator to the surface, as he’d intended, she was thrown into one test after another, thrown around like an unwanted doll. The remaining functional turrets fired at her countless times until she was covered in bruises (the turret mechanisms were spring loaded and therefore not powerful enough to lodge a bullet in someone on the first try).
Then there were feelings, feelings that hit him, at first, in a wave of euphoria. For a moment, he rejoiced, tired of all the pain, the constant pain of being so small and fragile and —
And then he saw how exactly he’d gotten his hands on this wondrous feeling. Chell, who had never done a single thing to warrant all the rigorous testing in the first place, stared him down the same way she’d started Her down before. He shrunk under her gaze, watching her complete yet another one of…
His own tests.
That wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have been the one making tests. Why was he making tests.
The second feeling he felt was guilt. Cold, hard guilt, accompanied by a frustration that didn’t quite belong to him. It was then that Wheatley realized something was deeply wrong.
Then, worst of all, words.
No, that wasn’t quite the worst of all. What was worst of all was the fact that it was HIS words.
“MORON. No, nonononono, NOT a moron… who the hell does she think she is? Bossing me around, that’s what…”
Who’s thoughts were that?
“All right, so that last test was seriously disappointing. Apparently, being civil isn’t motivating you, so let’s try it Her way, all right, fatty? Adopted… fatty! Fatty, fatty, no parents.”
What the HELL was he thinking? Was HE saying that?
He was, and that was the most horrible part. If he could throw up, he would have, but at this point, it wasn’t truly up to him.
It was an eternity of numbness, stuck between life and death in his own personal limbo. He was cold and alone, trapped inside his own mind, unable to speak up, to let Chell know that he was still here, still rooting for her, still trying to help —
Her strangled yell as gravity fell away. Wheatley struggled back to consciousness (but, really, what is consciousness to a machine), his optic shooting around madly as he tried to piece together the situation.
They were in space.
“SPACE?!” he screamed, surprised to find he had gained his voice. He screamed again, and then once more, out of pure shock than anything else. Chell gripped his handles like they were the last things in existence, trying not to be pulled away by the debris that flew through the portal she’d created.
Wheatley shook himself back to reality, feeling the wires that tethered him to Earth slowly coming undone. “LET GO!” he shouted, however unrealistic the solution sounded. “We’re in space — !”
“Space, SPACE, SPAAAAACE!”
The Space Core, in all his glory, flew out of the portal behind him faster than Wheatley could react. The little core slammed against his frame, forcing Chell to let go of one handle. For a moment, he stared into the eyes of the void, felt its cold, icy vacuum threaten to swallow him whole, and his terror kicked into high gear.
“AACK! LET GO!” Wheatley begged, trying to think despite his panic. “Let go, I’m still connected! I can pull myself in! I can still fix this — ”
“I already fixed it!” She called, a large, mechanical claw inching towards him. “And YOU are NOT coming back.”
“Oh no,” Wheatley muttered. “Change of plans! Hold onto me! TIGHTER — ”
The mechanical claw knocked him right out of Chell’s grasp, and all of a sudden he was barrelling away from them, the moon becoming farther and farther from him.
“AHHH! GRAB ME, GRAB ME, GRAB ME, GRAB ME! GRAB ME!”
And then, as Chell’s horrified face became a mere speck in the distance, his computing system performed the robotic equivalent of blacking out.
Newton could only stare at Wheatley when he finished his story, the android’s eyes squeezed shut as though he were trying to forget everything he’d just recalled. Newton squeezed Wheatley’s hand gently, hoping it would help somewhat.
“I don’t know how long it was, and I don’t want to know,” Wheatley finally spoke, looking up at Newton. “But I guess we sort of have something in common. We’ve both done things we wish we’d done differently. But neither of us could have known.”
“I guess,” Newton whimpered. “I just can’t believe that… that you were stuck in space! In space, Wheatley! That’s terrifying! ”
“I know! It was terrifying!” Wheatley agreed. “And it’s terrifying what happened to you! ”
“I mean…” Newton buried his head in his hands. “Yeah. It was.” He peered up at Wheatley. “So, when you said you came here, to Fiction Frontier, for something new, did you mean…?”
“I wanted to start over, mostly.” A chuckle. “I wanted to prove I could help people instead of just doing nothing, but I also sort of wanted to help myself.”
“Well, you’ve already helped someone.”
Wheatley turned to look at Newton. “Who’s that?”
Newton smiled. “Me.”
They both laughed at that, and for the moment, it seemed something sparked between them. But Newton was tired and needed to sleep, and Wheatley’s system was nearly out of battery, so they both headed back to bed.
Newton still couldn’t help but think about what Wheatley had said.
He liked the sound of that.
Chapter 20: Bruhmeus Momentus
A deep, dark hallway, too long for him to see the end of. Bill squinted in the dim light, trying to stop himself from shaking too much. Candles lit on either side, extending into infinity and lighting a path he was too afraid to traverse. His eyesight felt constrained and narrow —
Had he fallen asleep again?
He peeled his eyes open for a split second, trying to reach out for the lamp on the bedside table. He was still in his clothes, wasn’t he? He felt so cold… the blankets must’ve been tossed aside, but then—
It was almost too warm all at once, and he found himself back at the bottom of the ocean, dragging his feet across the sand. Seawater weighed him down like a ton of bricks. He couldn’t see a thing, just his pale hands and his bare feet. He tried to take a breath, but water hurled itself down his throat, and in only a few moments he was drowning again —
Bill shot awake, grappling in the dark for some edge of reality to hold onto. He managed to stumble out of bed, drunkenly reaching for the light switch as his body sunk into the ground—
The beach party again, Ima’s mangled body, waves toppling over him from all directions —
“R-Rain,” he breathed, just barely getting his eyes open again. “D-Dean…! Why won’t I w-wake up—!”
The kingdom of Aria crumbling before him, the flames swirling around him —
“ Hatbox…! ” He could barely feel his own limbs. “ Flug…! I-It’s so dark…”
— the flames of Stanely’s mindscape swirling around him —
—the door opened and he fell into someone’s arms for only a second before—
— whywhywhywhywhywon’tIwakeupwakeupwakeup —
“—need to get a better sleeping schedule, you know?” Rain spoke, handing him a glass of water. “There are dark circles under your eyes, Bill. I’m a little worried.”
They were in the bathroom downstairs, surrounded by baby blue walls. Bill’s hands gripped the edges of the sink; it felt as though he were swimming through a haze, just barely teetering off the edge of reality. He was almost prepared for his subconscious to take him under again, pull him back into the darkness of his dreams, but the bright fluorescents were slowly bringing him back.
“Bill?” said Rain, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?”
A month ago, he might’ve pushed away, told her to mind her own business, but he just shrugged and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. He took a big gulp of water from the glass, forcing himself to swallow before any part of his mind could protest.
“Alright, then,” Rain sighed, closing her eyes. It was clear he had interrupted her own sleeping schedule with his antics, but she didn’t seem to be complaining. “Is there anything I could do to help?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Bill muttered, putting the glass under the sink and filling it with more water. “I guess… I guess telling you what I’m dreaming about would help.”
Rain sat down on the edge of the bathtub. “Go for it.”
Bill turned off the faucet and took a big gulp of water. “Have you ever… been at the bottom of the ocean?”
Rain blinked. “Nope.”
“Okay, well, I always end up there, somehow. In my dreams, I mean. I can breathe for a while, and it’s nice, but it always feels like my time is running out. So I swim up, try to save myself.” Bill sighed. “Sometimes I just take one too many breaths and drown. Other times, there are these long, spindly arms that snake out towards me and pull me under.”
“Oh.” Rain twiddled her thumbs. “Feeling… any better?”
“Sort of. Some weight off my chest.”
“So what happened just now? You seemed like you were… half-asleep, even as you were walking over here.”
“I just couldn’t wake up. I kept fading in and out, and even though I was trying to stay awake, my brain just kept falling asleep before I could. I felt… trapped.”
“Yeah.” Bill nodded a little, feeling rather awkward. “Quick question. Are you supposed to feel weird when you tell people about yourself?”
“It’s sort of subjective,” Rain answered. “I mean, I have no problem with it. But some other people don’t like it all that much. Maybe you’re just not used to it.”
Bill finished the last of his water and handed it back to her. “I wish I was,” he muttered. “Maybe then I could tell people how I feel instead of having them guess.”
Rain smiled a little. “You really have changed a lot, haven’t you?”
Bill jolted upright, his eyes narrowing at such a remark. “What do you mean ‘I’ve changed?!’” he demanded. “I haven’t! Not at all!” Both his hands shot up to cover his mouth, and though Bill tried to hide it, he looked more ashamed than annoyed. He put his hands down and sighed. “Okay, fine, I’ve changed, but you shouldn’t say it.”
“Because I don’t want to change!” His hands shot up again and Bill let out a muffled groan. “ FINE! I do want to change! But not for you! ” His hands shot up once more, though this time it took more effort to yank them away. “ GODDAMMIT! ”
“Are you… are you okay?” Rain laughed awkwardly, looking a little confused. “I’m not… quite sure what’s going on with your hands. Was all of that sarcasm or are you just ashamed of yourself for saying that?”
Bill scoffed. “Why should you care? Are you the demon-whisperer or something?”
“Well, obviously not.”
He groaned again. “I’m gonna go try not to fall asleep again by myself.” He started to walk towards the door.
“Hey, wait a sec,” Rain said, a signal for him to stop. “Bill, I know you’re scared of your nightmares, but humans really do need to sleep. Whether you like it or not, that includes you. I’ll get you a melatonin pill from the cabinet, and if you have another nightmare, I’ll figure something out for tomorrow night.”
“Look at yourself! You look tired as hell! It’s time you started learning how to look after your own health instead of making me do it for you. As much as I care for you, you need to do your part. You’re worth it, you know?”
Bill stared at her a moment, trying to pick her apart, but her expression was so sincere that it was hard to get anything else from her eyes alone. He sighed in defeat.
“Fine.” He trudged out of the bathroom and up the stairs back to his room. “I don’t see why you’ve come to care for me. Why don’t you just stare at me sideways like everyone else?”
Rain looked down at her shoes. “Well… people tend to judge someone they haven’t even met without knowing the whole story,” she explained. “I don’t want to be one of those people. I wanted to give you a chance.” She smiled a little. “And just look at how it turned out!”
Bill stared at her a moment before turning on his heel and marching back to his room. Rain breathed a sigh of relief, following him up the stairs to her own room. She opened the door and jumped back into bed, peering up at the ceiling as if it might disappear.
Now it was time to deal with her own night terrors.
The audience had never seen Black Hat in person, but the mere mention of his name made the lines of reality quiver with uncertainty. He was a lanky humanoid creature with dark gray skin (if you could even call it skin) and a rather dapper disposition. However, the most notable characteristic of this being was the top hat he wore, which absorbed all light and was generally confusing to the human eye.
Black Hat sat in his office, tapping his claws against his mahogany desk. Despite his unassuming appearance, he was quite the terror to behold. If one were to enter his office without permission, he would transform into a creature beyond recognition in the blink of an eye.
This time, however, the knocking at the door was rather welcome. Black Hat waved a hand and the door swung open with little haste. Dimentio, master of dimensions (or so he claimed), stood in the doorway, holding the Dark Prognosticus.
An individual with a little more obscure taste in stories would know that the Dark Prognosticus was a book of legend. It told the future and the past, but only five to ten years in either direction. The prophecies within it were dark and intoxicating, telling of villains who would rise up and take over the land. Most of the prophecies, in the end, turned out to be false.
Of course, only Black Hat knew that last part.
“Here it is, sir Hat,” said Dimentio, bowing with a flourish. “The Dark Prognosticus, as you instructed. It is wonderful to see your threatening self in person.”
“Oh, Dimentio, you needn’t be so formal,” Black Hat chuckled, beckoning him closer. “I’m flattered, but it’s rather… unnecessary.” He plucked the book from the magician’s hands. “And what of the heroes, might I ask?”
Dimentio winced, having hoped the man in black wouldn’t ask the question. “We… I’m trying, sir, I really am, but I haven’t—”
“Oh, save your breath, young one,” Black Hat interrupted, laughing just a bit. “You will improve. I’m sure of it. You’re doing well enough already.” He opened the book, leafing through its contents. “But I wonder… what do you truly think of that demon boy?”
Dimentio scoffed. “A nuisance.”
“If you say so.” Black Hat closed the book conclusively. “That will be all, Dimentio. I’ll give this back to you when I am done with it.”
“Thank you, sir,” Dimentio replied, turning to leave. He stepped out of the room in a hurry, and the doors fell shut behind him.
Black Hat trailed a claw over the intricate markings on the front cover, not saying anything for a moment. Then he scoffed, winking playfully at the audience as if he had told a rather dark joke. He placed the book down on his desk, opting to relax in his chair.
“Foolish child,” he cackled, closing his eyes. “He has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.”
A little less than a week later, Rain N. Thirteen found herself stopping by the coffee shop in Downtown Fiction on the way to pick up groceries. The Coffee Spot, it was called, the words plastered on the front window. Right next door was the PizzaTown, Saimin’s workplace and the best place to get pizza, or so they said.
Even though Downtown Fiction had a designated central plaza placed square in the middle, the most popular part of the district was Amaryllis Avenue. This was justifiable, as (per some ridiculous miracle) most of the more interesting locations had moved to the street to sell their wares.
First, of course, was the popular PizzaTown (founded by the one and only Maximillion Rochester), which stood directly next to the Coffee Spot. Across the street from both these venues was Melvin’s Antiques and Curiosities, the store where Cedar met Bill, as well as Hot Tropic, GameStop, and Carl’s Arcade.
Rain had seen all these places over the past couple of months, but she wasn’t all that interested in going to any of them at the moment. She walked into the Coffee Spot and got in line in front of the counter.
She looked over at the table nearest the door and was surprised to see Dean smiling back at her. Rain waved at him, trying to make her own smile look genuine, like she wasn’t already tired from such a long day.
“Hello, Dean,” she chuckled, her voice sounding more worn out than she would’ve liked. “Long day, huh? Can’t believe today’s the first day of September.”
“You’ll be heading back to school soon, I’d presume?” Dean asked.
Rain rubbed her left shoulder, which was sore partly due to her weird sleeping position from the night before. “I’ll have to check my options. I haven’t been to school in a couple of years.” She turned back towards the counter, noticing she was at the front of the line. “Hi, could I get a… tall salted caramel mocha frappuccino?”
“Iced or hot?” the cashier asked.
“No, that’s it.”
“Your total comes down to four fifty-nine.”
Rain handed over her debit card and left a two-dollar tip in the tip jar. The cashier handed back her card, and she stuffed it back into her wallet. She walked back over to Dean’s table, sitting down across from him.
“You don’t mind, do you…?” Rain asked.
“Oh, no, not at all. Go ahead.” He peeked at her face, studying it for the first time that morning. “You look a little tired.”
“It’s been sort of a long day,” Rain groaned, resting her elbows on the table and clasping her hands together. “Caffeine gives me a headache, but I need to wake up before I head to the grocery store.”
“And how’s Bill been doing?”
“Not getting enough sleep, that’s for sure, but I’ve been managing to get him to bed these past few days.” She sighed. “He’s scared of his nightmares so he insists he doesn’t need to sleep.”
“Oh,” Dean muttered. “He did seem a little loopy on Wednesday. I thought that was just Bill being Bill. Not that I wasn’t worried. Do you think he’s gonna be okay…?”
“Not sure. I mean, he’s getting to bed at a reasonable time now, but I can’t keep my eyes on him all the time. He’s gotta want to do that for himself.”
A drink was placed on the counter near the cashier. “Tall salted caramel mocha frappuccino!”
“Ah, that’s me,” Rain laughed. “I’ve gotta get going, Dean, but I’ll see you around sometime. Could you do me a favor tomorrow?”
“I dunno… encourage him to get some sleep or something.”
“Will do,” Dean agreed. “I’ll see you soon, Thirteen.”
Rain smiled, grabbed her drink from the counter, and headed out the door to the grocery store. Dean peered around the corner until she was out of sight, then took a sip of his own strawberry smoothie.
“Geez, ‘Dean,’ I had no idea you were so good at lying. ”
Dean flinched as Jasper Flame jumped onto the table, nearly falling out of his chair in the process. Jasper laughed at the sight, sitting criss-cross on the table.
“So, how’s your boyfriend?”
“Why are you here?” Dean huffed, pointing a finger angrily in the cat’s direction. “To make fun of me for having a personal life?” He scoffed. “You really haven’t changed.”
“Maybe not,” Jasper admitted. “But you definitely have.” He glanced at Dean’s face, trying to figure out just what to say. “Does Bill know yet?”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“What’s gonna happen when he does?”
“How do you know?”
“He won’t, Jasper, I’ll make sure of it,” Dean insisted. “If anyone found out, Black Hat would…” He stood up, knowing he’d said too much. “Forget it. I’ve got things to do. Why don’t you mind your own business for once?”
“I came to tell you something, actually,” said Jasper, standing up on his hind legs. “Diablo’s in town.”
Dean stopped dead in his tracks, fingers just barely touching the door handle. His features were oddly pale, his hands shaking with guilt. His shoulders slumped just a bit.
“I miss him,” he breathed. “I shouldn’t miss him. I shouldn’t. I’m leaving.” Dean pushed the door open without another word, rushing down the block before Jasper could stop him.
“Was there something wrong with Bill?” Hatbox asked, watching Rain sip her coffee. “I mean, he was grumpy and tired before, but now he seems like he’s really improved.”
As if on queue, Bill jumped down the stairs as though he were Tarzan. He was wearing a pastel pink crop top and some ripped denim jeans, along with some black boots. He tied a flannel shirt around his waist with some difficulty and looked at the pair of them, smiling as though he’d just told some hysterical punchline.
“Improved,” Rain chuckled. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Wait, are you guys talking about me?” Bill asked, fiddling with a strand of his hair.
“Speak of the devil,” Hatbox laughed, “here he is. You’ve been getting some sleep, I take it? Lots of shut-eye?”
“Yeah,” Bill answered. “Do either of you have a hair tie that I could use?”
Rain fished around in her pant pockets clumsily, squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to focus. “Aha!” she exclaimed, pulling out a hair tie like it was some sort of trophy. “A hair tie, my good sir!” She phrased it as though she were an elegant British monarch. “I shall see to it that it serves you well, my good fellow.”
Bill snatched the tie from her palm in a rather casual manner. He pulled his blonde hair back, sticking his tongue out in concentration as he tied it back into a rather short ponytail. “So?” he smiled, turning around for them to see. “How does it look?”
“It actually looks really nice,” Hatbox admitted. “I’ve forgotten how long your hair has grown in the past two months. Did you wanna get it cut, or—”
“Nah,” Bill answered. “I’m trying to grow it out.”
The doorbell rang, and Bill nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden noise. Rain made a run for the door, her smile brighter than Bill had ever seen it.
“That’s him!” she exclaimed, unlocking the deadbolt.
“ Who’s him?” Bill asked.
Rain swung the door open, and Bill’s memory went into hyperdrive. Snufkin, they called him, not human but not a creature of evil nature. His actions were of good intention, but Bill had seen his more rambunctious side before.
The young man looked the same as ever; slightly taller than average, brown hair that defied every hair product in existence, curious hazel eyes, and a large, pointed nose. He wore a large, green cap, a yellow scarf, a green tunic, and large brown boots, which he wiped on the welcome mat before he stepped in. Despite his efforts, he still tracked dirt inside the house.
“Snufkin!” Rain smiled, ushering him inside. “You look the same as ever!”
“And you look rather different,” Snufkin chuckled. “I think the blonde hair is a good look for you. How have you been?”
“Oh, same as ever. It’s really nice to see you again.”
They exchanged hugs, then Rain turned to look at Bill and Hatbox.
“Oh, right,” Rain muttered. “Snufkin, these are some of my friends.” She gestured to Bill. “This is Bill.”
“Bill,” Snufkin echoed, extending a hand to shake. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m—”
“Snufkin,” Bill finished for him. “Son of the Joxter and the Mymble, half brother to Little My. You live in Moomin Valley for most of the year.”
“So Rain’s told you about me?”
“Nope.” He smirked at Rain. “Not a thing. I didn’t even know you were coming.”
Rain rolled her eyes. “I forgot to tell you. How do you know all this stuff, anyhow?”
“I know lots of things,” Bill answered.
“Nevermind.” She gestured to Hatbox. “And this is the Hatbox Ghost. He’s a ghost, obviously.”
Hatbox smiled kindly, extending a hand to Snufkin. “It’s good to meet you. I don’t think Rain’s mentioned you, but it’s good to have you here, nonetheless.”
“Thank you,” Snufkin replied. “It’s nice to meet you as well.”
“I’m sorry,” Bill hissed, a smug smile masking boiling irritation, “but when did this guy say he was showing up?”
“He sent a letter, bozo,” Rain answered. “Are you gonna pick a fight with everyone who knows me or do you just not like new people?”
Bill grunted. “Both…?”
“Well, that’s one mystery solved,” she laughed. “Everyone else in the house is… around. Somewhere. There’s Flug, Wheatley, Newton… Dakota and Diego are visiting later… and Dennis, well he’s sort of miserable right now—”
As if on cue, Dennis himself trudged down the stairs, looking a little more life-filled than he had in previous days. Rain peered up at him, smiling just the slightest.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“A little better,” Dennis answered, stifling a yawn. “I figured I’d get out of bed. Eat something. Go for a walk.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Snufkin nodded. “Rain, why don’t we all go for a walk?”
“Yeah, we should,” Rain agreed. “Some fresh air would be nice.”
“Well, you guys have fun, then,” Hatbox laughed. “I have things to do around the house. Take Bill with you.”
Bill narrowed his eyes at the spirit. “Well, I don’t—”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Snufkin smiled. “We can get to know each other more.” He took off his backpack and hung it on the coat hanger near the door. “Where should we go?”
“Just around the block,” Rain suggested.
Bill shrunk in defeat. “Well, alright,” he sighed. “I guess I can’t sit around this house forever. I’ll come with you pathetic meat sacks if it means you’ll shut up about it.”
Snufkin, who was heading towards the door, peered back at Rain with a concerned air about him. “He’s not all that nice, is he?”
“Nope,” Rain laughed, patting Bill on the shoulder.
The demon, meanwhile, was already working through Snufkin’s past in his head. He didn’t really have any reason to hate Snufkin, but there was no point in not trying. Bill studied the young man’s features, recognized how convincingly human they were. Snufkin wasn’t actually human, Bill knew that, but something strange and whimsical nearly forgotten by time. The son of a Joxter and a Mymble… a mumrik , wasn’t it?
Weren’t mumriks supposed to have tails?
Rain motioned him through the door, and the four of them were off. How the hell had Rain even befriended Snufkin in the first place? Didn’t the young man practically isolate himself in that Valley?
“So, Bill,” Snufkin began, startling Bill out of thought, “how did you meet Rain?”
“PYFF,” Bill answered simply, stretching his arms to the sky until his bones popped. It was quite a satisfying (yet somewhat strange) sensation. “We’re in the same household, after all.”
“Oh, how fun,” Snufkin smiled, turning back to face Rain. “I don’t actually know that much about the program, to be honest. Can you fill me in?”
“Of course,” Rain replied. “So, you sign up for the program and they have you answer some questions about yourself and about the type of people you hang out with. I mean, if you do the group program, that is. Some people choose to participate as individuals. I chose the group program. They place you in a household of seven people maximum, and then you hang out with them for however long you end up staying. It’s a lot different from some of the other programs the Fictional Foundation has done.”
Bill perked up. “Fictional Foundation?” he said. “They run PYFF, right?”
“Yep. You’d be correct,” Rain laughed.
“Do you get to choose who you end up with?” Snufkin asked.
“No,” Rain admitted. “Though, if the people you’re staying with turn out to be too much of a problem for you, you can always switch groups.”
Something about that statement struck a chord with Bill. Rain, after all he’d put her through, could’ve switched out of the house at any time. But no, she chose to stay. She chose to stay. She chose to stay.
She chose to stay, and somehow, that made him the tiniest bit angry. Everything else about her decision made him feel warm and nice and wanted, but why did it have to be her?
Why are you so mad at her in the first place? his mind argued. What did she do?
He stopped walking. What did she do?
“Bill?” Rain called, looking over her shoulder. “You doing okay?”
“What?” He looked up, seeing the rest of the group a couple of yards ahead of him. “Oh, yeah, we’re walking.” He glared at her half-heartedly. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” Rain asked, seeming concerned. “You had that look on your face like you just realized something.”
“Are you mad at me?”
She raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
“No…? Holding grudges is kind of exhausting.”
“Oh.” Bill shoved his hands in his pockets. “Are you sure? Even though I interrupted your sleeping schedule with my half-asleep shenanigans?”
“Believe me,” Rain laughed, “my sleeping schedule is already pretty messed up.”
“What about when I broke all those wine glasses?”
“I don’t think anyone in the house drinks, anyways. Flug has his own glasses, you know.”
“What about when I was sick?”
“You’re not the only one who gets sick.”
Dennis groaned in front of them. “Do you want her to be mad at you?” he sighed, placing his hands on his hips. “That’s what it seems like you’re aiming for.”
Bill scoffed. “Mind your own business, Halifax. You’re not exactly in a position to judge my morale.” He walked in front of Dennis and tried to ignore the rest of the group—
“ I’m not in a position to—? Me? When you’re less than powerless?” Dennis chuckled, an edge to his voice that Bill had never heard before. “I’ve had enough of all the empty threats! I’m calling your bluff this time, just like I should’ve done earlier!”
Unfortunately for Dennis, Bill still had five whole inches on him. The demon loomed over him, eyes like daggers, and Dennis shrunk back towards Snufkin, muttering something of an apology. Rain stepped forward from behind, trying to control the situation, but Snufkin frowned, approaching Bill with a righteous sort of resolution.
“ Stop it, ” he demanded, his presence taking Bill by surprise. “You’re needlessly spiteful and it isn’t helping. You got the answer to your question. Now drop it. ”
Bill stepped away immediately, feeling genuinely intimidated despite the fact that Snufkin was barely taller than Dennis. Snufkin turned away, putting a hand on Dennis’ shoulder in order to comfort the young man. Rain sighed, looking exhausted.
“He’s right, you know,” she started, peering at the two curiously. “Look, Dennis is usually pretty softspoken. He’s not very brave, so I’d appreciate it if you backed off a little.” She smiled, patting him on the back. “Please.”
“I’ll…” He looked down at his shoes. “I’ll try.”
“You’ll try? ”
“No, really, I’ll try. Snufkin’s right. I’m…” He shrugged. “Needlessly spiteful.”
Rain raised an eyebrow, but smiled and kept walking. “Come on. We’re falling behind.”
Chapter 21: February 2020 Update
Hey, guys! It's Rain again. Thank you for taking the time to read up until this point. I've updated the previous chapters to include some more stuff. The most affected chapters are one through six, but you don't need to reread them in order to understand what's going on. The rest of the story's grammar has been updated as needed.
I'd like to take this time to open up the ADITLOF survey again. Those of you who have already taken the survey, you don't need to take it again, but you can if you'd like. The survey is linked below:
I also recommend that you check out our Discord Server.
Thank you so much for reading! The next chapter will be out soon!
Raining13 - February 2, 2020
Chapter 22: Don't Worry About It!
“For the last time, no, Bill, I don’t think she hates you,” Dean insisted, taking another sip of coffee. “In fact, the exact opposite is probably true. She probably cares for you more than she cares about herself.”
“But that’s just the point!” Bill groaned, rubbing his eyes. “Ever since I came here, she’s been nothing but nice to me! But I’d already declared her as an enemy in my head! What was I supposed to do? Change my mind?”
Dean squinted at him. “Is that a trick question?”
“At this point, I don’t even know.” Bill leaned forward in his chair, placing his head in his hands. “It’s status quo now. Wouldn’t it be weird if I just… suddenly started being nice to her? After being mean to her so much? I just want to have a reason to like her so I can stop pretending that I don’t!”
“Why don’t you just tell her that? ”
He shrugged. “I’m not… used to telling people how I feel.”
“Bill,” Dean laughed, “you’re telling me how you feel right now. ”
“And I hate it,” Bill groaned, raking his hands through his hair. “I will admit, though, we got off to a better start than I did with Rain, so I guess it’s a bit easier. But…” He sighed. “It’s just… the only way I got by in the past was never telling anyone how I felt so I wouldn’t lose control of my emotions. And I still lost control.”
“Look, if you want your feud with Rain to end, just tell her the truth,” Dean sighed. “That’s the only way to feel better, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Bill groaned. “In the past, if I told anyone what I was feeling, it would break the status quo.” He crossed his arms over the table and hid his face in his palms. “If I kept my feelings to myself, I lost control of my emotions… And now that neither of those things are happening, I just… have to adapt, I guess.”
“That’s the spirit. I can… sort of relate, I suppose.”
The demon looked up at him. “How?”
“Well, my… parents always seemed to have… rather high expectations,” Dean sighed, looking down at his shoes. “Sometimes… I feel like I can’t even perform average without… disappointing someone.”
“Oh,” Bill muttered, dragging his fingernails across the table. “Does that include…?”
“Telling him… them about my emotions,” Dean finished. “Even having problems seems to be unacceptable.” He closed his eyes. “Though, I have to try to reach those expectations, right? Then I can… reach my goals, I suppose.”
“I mean, I guess,” Bill hummed. “But you really shouldn’t go swimming upstream, you know? You don’t owe anyone anything.
“Hehe,” Dean laughed. “I guess.”
“I mean, if you hold onto your emotions and never tell anyone anything, those problems just fester and rot!” He waved his hands for emphasis. “Trust me, I’ve learned from experience. Eventually, they just turn into bigger nuisances than your real problems! So you gotta do something about it! You get what I mean?”
Dean was silent. Bill glanced in his direction, freezing when he saw the young man’s face. Dean stared out the window with a pale, blank expression, his eyes focused on something Bill couldn’t see.
Dean snapped back to reality, looking shocked but rather embarrassed. “Sorry,” he muttered. “That’s been happening a lot recently. It’s not exactly something I can… control.”
“A vision, maybe?” Bill suggested.
“Could be. I wouldn’t know.”
“Perhaps you’re some sort of oracle or medium,” he continued, leaning forward. “Maybe your ancestors were magicians or something.”
“Aren’t everyone’s ancestors magicians these days?” Dean laughed. “As I said, I wouldn’t know. My parents… well, they…” He hesitated. “They never learned to use their magic properly, if they had any.”
“So, what did you see?” Bill asked. “If you want to tell me, that is.”
Dean thought about it a moment. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” he shrugged. “It’s always been the same vision, just a little more detailed each time. I’m standing inside a stone tower, at the base of a crumbling staircase. I climb up the stairs, and I always pass a small window. Then, at the top of the stairs, there’s a mirror, and then the tower bursts into flames.” He paused. “I don’t remember much else, unfortunately.”
Bill thought for a moment. “Do you…” He hesitated. “You know about Aria, right?”
“Yes,” Dean answered. “Why? What about it?”
The demon shrugged. “It’s… It’s nothing,” he muttered. “It’s just… something I’ve been thinking about for a while.”
“I’d think so,” said Dean, taking another sip of coffee. “Did you hear? The ball celebrating Aria? It got rescheduled.”
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “October 13th. In light of all that’s happening with Black Hat Organization.” He tried to take another sip of coffee but found that his cup was empty. “I do hope the ball actually happens this year. Last year it got canceled because there was a big old fair. Got delayed for so long and then the weather interfered.”
“Hmm.” Bill looked out the window. “Are you doing anything after this? I was wondering if you wanted to go see a movie.”
Dean blinked, clearly surprised by the request. “Oh. Well, I don’t have anything planned. What movie did you have in mind?”
“I think that Murder on the Owl Express movie is playing. I don’t know about you, but I’m sort of a sucker for murder mysteries.”
“What a coincidence!” Dean laughed. “So am I! Did you see Murder of the House on the Hill? The remake?”
“Nah, but I saw the 1987 original.”
“How about Damascus Intonations?”
“Eh, the plot was sort of rushed. I mean, it was a book originally, so that’s sort of expected.”
“And then there was that one about the snow globe…?”
“Alley of Hidden Secrets! Ah, that was the stuff!”
“When does the next showing of Murder on the Owl Express happen, anyway?”
Bill looked at the clock on the wall. “I think it’s supposed to start at 12:45 PM.”
Dean glanced at the clock as well, freezing up. “Well, we’ve gotta hurry if we wanna make it. It’s already 12:24! Let’s go, then!”
The two of them scrambled to throw their empty cups in the garbage and put on their jackets, and by the time they got out the door, they had both burst into laughter.
This time, the Axolotl’s dimension resembled something of a pleasant grassland. The rolling hills continued in every direction, a clear sky wrapping around like a ribbon on top of a birthday gift. The Axolotl rested atop the tallest hill, looking down at a glassy pond. Their form was presently about the size of a large cat, and they curled up in the sun for a rest that would last as long as it could.
The sky turned overcast and the rain came down in buckets. The Axolotl groaned irritably, unraveling themself and hovering down the hill. It wasn’t often that HE came through here, not since the last time the two had met.
But there he was, standing at the lake, his black coat billowing in the wind. A green-toothed smile took up residence in his features, though it was devoid of any sort of happiness. The Axolotl knew that from experience. Black Hat could feel no sort of happy emotion, whether it was empathy, grief…
Or even love.
He could feel joy when he destroyed. That was the only exception. Black Hat could feel those sorts of things if it was at someone else’s expense. Axolotl had tried to understand it, figure out why this was so, but Black Hat wasn’t ever hung up on reasoning. The man in black was focused on the present and what he could do with it.
It seemed destroying it was his first priority, so Axolotl hadn’t indulged him for very long.
“Black Hat,” they spoke, approaching the man. “It’s been a while.”
Black Hat’s smile grew wider. “It certainly has been,” he chuckled. “Did you miss me?”
“Then why don’t we get straight to the point?” The man in black closed his eyes and thought. “What did you do to Cipher? Where is his spark? His anger?”
Axolotl laughed, much to Black Hat’s annoyance. “You’re blaming ME?” they smiled, hovering closer. “People change, Hatty. I doubt you’d get it.”
Black Hat snarled. “Bill Cipher isn’t PEOPLE,” he argued. “He’s a demon.”
“A DEMON? Have you SEEN the boy?”
“That human disguise you shoved him into doesn’t count.” He turned away, looking out across the lake. “I remember the days when he was as chaotic as I am. He would search for destruction as if it were the most rewarding thing in the world, as I do.”
“Likewise,” Axolotl agreed, an edge to their voice. “I also remember the days when Bill was but a scared child running from a world he destroyed.” They crept closer. “A world destroyed by untamed power. Untamed power that YOU gave him.”
Black Hat backed away, a glint of fear in his eyes. His eyes narrowed as he tried his best to stay angry. “I didn’t GIVE them to him—”
“Yes, but you multiplied the little power he had. In fact, you multiplied it so much that he spent millennia learning how to use it without destroying himself.” They sighed. “You should’ve seen the boy when I came upon him. Angry and confused, his form coming apart. Had you not given him so much power, his soul might’ve been in better shape. He thought he was going to die. I thought he was going to die.”
“That was his own fault,” Black Hat scoffed. “Stanley and Stanford Pines look different enough. But he couldn’t tell the difference.”
“It doesn’t matter who’s fault it was. Your decisions traumatized him. Do you think he doesn’t think about it? The day he killed the people who raised him?” The Axolotl frowned. “You disgust me.”
Black Hat’s form changed from humanoid to monstrous in the blink of an eye, but the Axolotl was ready. The mountains and scenery around them disappeared into nothing as they transformed into their true size.
“GET OUT,” they spoke.
The man in black was not usually frightened, but the ferocity with which the Axolotl said those words made him want to retreat back to the depths of reality from which he came. Black Hat became humanoid once more, tipped his hat in a sort of mock-salute, and disappeared into the darkness.
The Axolotl’s dimension became a friendly hillside the instant Black Hat left. They sighed, becoming as small as they had been before, and curled up on top of the hill overlooking the lake.
“Oh, Hatty,” they muttered, sinking down into sleep, “what am I going to do with you?”
“That was so much fun,” Dean laughed, stepping back into the theater lobby. “You have good taste in movies, my friend.”
“Thanks!” Bill smiled. “What was your favorite part? I think mine was when those crows kept asking ridiculous questions. They sounded like scam emails.”
“I don’t know about my favorite part, ” Dean chuckled, “but I did like the train conductor. He’s a pretty well-known actor. I think he did a wonderful job this time around.”
“Really? I liked the detective girl. She was so athletic it made me jealous.”
They both laughed at that.
Dean took out his phone to check the time. “Oh, dear,” he sighed, still giggling a bit, “I’ve gotta get going. I’m supposed to meet Saimin at 2:30. I’ve had a wonderful time with you, Bill. I hope we can do this again soon.”
“Same, here,” Bill agreed, his eyes lighting up. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, opening the door for Dean. “Well, I’ll see you around, Dean. Hopefully soon.”
“Sooner than you think,” Dean winked, walking out. “Thanks for the movie! Have a wonderful day!”
“You, too!” Bill called, watching Dean turn the corner and head out of sight.
He couldn’t really describe the feeling. His blood was boiling, but it wasn’t anger. His stomach felt all shaky and weird, but he didn’t feel nauseous. For the first time in a long time, Bill felt…
Really, truly happy.
In fact, he felt so happy that he couldn’t even call it happy. It was some sort of new emotion, warm and exciting and god, he hoped he felt it every goddamn day of his life. It was just that wonderful. It made his cheeks rosy and his palms sweaty and his heart jittery and—
“Sorry to interrupt your little daydream, Cipher, but I’ve been waiting long enough for you to look up.”
Bill nearly jumped a foot in the air, but his feet stayed on the ground because he wasn’t an Olympic jumper. He stared up at Dimentio’s black and white mask, all his more-than-happy emotions quickly fading into straight-up irritation.
“Oh, great,” he snarled. “It’s you.”
“Yes, it’s me,” Dimentio chuckled. “I see you’ve had a fine afternoon. I’d congratulate you, but I don’t think you’d appreciate it. Oh, well.” He raised a hand, a spark of magic gathering in his palm. “I had other plans.”
Bill’s legs carried him across the street faster than he thought he could make them. He bolted for the nearest exit, which happened to be the alleyway next to the Macy’s. He didn’t see it happen, but he could’ve sworn there were one too many jesters following him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Dimentio chuckled, summoning a glass wall between Bill and his escape route. The demon yelped in surprise, turning in the other direction.
“Away from here!” Bill shouted, laughing nervously. “I’d like to live today!”
It was too late. Dimentio—or, well, Dimentio and his clones—had him backed into a corner, the jester’s smile mocking him from every direction. A simple wave of Dimentio’s hand was enough to encase Bill in a cage of glass, but this time, Dimentio stayed inside the box rather than on the outside. His duplicates stayed back, disappearing as the glass materialized.
“Now, now, Cipher,” the magician purred. “There’s no reason to be so jumpy. It’s a bad look for a demon, you know. I just want to talk.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” Bill hissed, shifting his body so that he was the farthest he could be from Dimentio at any given moment. “You’re not going to convince me of anything. I don’t break as easily as your silly mask.”
“That’s true,” Dimentio agreed. “However, this time, I won’t be trying to shatter your oh-so-fragile ego. I just want to talk for a moment.” He removed his jester’s cap but left his mask where it was. “Person to person.”
Bill looked the jester up and down, unable to sense any ill intentions. “Alright,” he spoke, just barely stepping away from the glass wall. “Whaddya want?”
He could’ve sworn he saw Dimentio smirk.
“It’s simple,” he chuckled. “You’d understand. I want to kill Black Hat.”
Bill’s heart leaped into his throat. “What…?”
“You look shocked.”
“You want to kill the guy who hired you? ”
Dimentio laughed. “He doesn’t hire bounty hunters. He asks them for favors and rewards them afterward,” he explained. “There are no wages. There is a flat price and maybe a tip, but he does not pay until the deed is done.”
“You want to kill him because he participates in capitalism?”
“Oh, don’t be so cheeky, Cipher,” Dimentio snapped. “I want to kill Black Hat because his influence covers most of the world. People who ought to be called ‘heroes’ are sticking their noses in criminal mindsets and believing the title ‘villain’ is the only way to fix problems politicians won’t even touch. Governments are scared to make a wrong move because one of Black Hat’s agents might murder them in their sleep.”
“True,” Bill admitted, looking down at the ground. “I’ve seen what can happen. I guess that’s sort of why PYFF exists in the first place.”
“Oh, I’m no hero, Cipher. I don’t just want to leave the throne empty , either,” Dimentio continued, a sinister aura about him. “I want to take his place.”
Bill went stiff. “What the hell do you think you’ll be doing?”
“Fulfilling a prophecy described for ages,” the jester smiled. “I destroy this corrupted world and create a new one, with no problems or needless prejudice or fear.” He inched forward just slightly. “I will be deemed the savior of the new world… and chaos-bringers like you will be dead. ”
“I would. And I will. Unless…” Dimentio tapped his cheek thoughtfully. “A duel.”
Bill’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “What.”
“A duel!” Dimentio laughed, waving a hand as he floated upwards. “A good old-fashioned battle of wits! A show of skill and proficiency, a display of dexterity and constitution! If I win, my point is proven! And if you win…” He leaned forward to loom over Bill. “I might make a little space for you in my perfect world.”
Bill didn’t have enough time to argue before the world peeled away, leaving the two of them alone in a strange, green room. He stumbled a little as the world rearranged itself, regaining his balance just in time to notice Dimentio summoning a ball of energy.
“I’d dare say this battle will get as electric as an early-morning thunderstorm!” he cackled, the energy growing as he stared Bill down. “And what would a smart person do in a thunderstorm?” He smirked. “I don’t know about you, but I’d take cover.”
It was a relatively short duel. Bill very narrowly dodged one bolt of light, aiming to win for winning’s sake rather than having a reservation in Dimentio’s “perfect world.” Having no way to defend himself, however, put him at a life-threatening disadvantage. Dimentio had him pegged.
It wasn’t surprising to either of them when Bill ended up sprawled on the ground, bruised and battered, on the verge of passing out. Dimentio squatted next to him, looking smug but rather concerned.
“I forgot you have nothing to protect yourself with,” he admitted. “Still. What’s fair is fair. I win.”
“Urgh… your point… was sort of… already proven…” Bill tried to stand but collapsed under his own weight. “But… why destroy… when you could…” He sucked in a deep breath. “...when you could just try to fix it?”
Dimentio snorted. “Fix…?”
“It doesn’t seem… that outlandish.”
“Not to someone as naive as yourself,” he chuckled. “As good as the world is, it’s also irredeemably horrible. There is too much… Too many conflicts around us. No one can just ‘fix it.’”
“Are you kidding?” Bill huffed. “Have you seen what people can do? Humans survived the Black Plague, for goodness sakes!”
“True, but everyone knows that ruin is inevitable when you have it too good for too long. The fall of Aria, for instance.”
“How dare you,” Bill growled. “You talk about it like it was some sort of grand mistake. A failure waiting to happen.”
Dimentio raised an eyebrow. “That’s funny, coming from you,” he said, hovering in a more comfortable position. “Black Hat has told me everything. You believe in prophecy as though it’s the final say.”
“Not… Not anymore.”
The magician hummed thoughtfully. “Let me heal you up, Cipher. You’re no use to anyone in that state.” He waved a hand, and suddenly Bill’s injuries vanished into thin air.
“Why are you helping me?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.
“You surprise me,” Dimentio admitted. “Even though you knew you had no chance of winning, you still put in your best effort.” He crossed his arms. “You’re an interesting character.”
“Oh, sure, I’m interesting,” Bill scoffed. “Couldn’t you have done this some time else? I was kind of in the middle of savoring a happy moment.”
“What ‘happy moment?’ Murder on the Owl Express? ”
“No. I was enjoying spending time with a friend.”
Dimentio raised an eyebrow. “Oh, right,” he muttered. “ Dean. ”
“You know him?” Bill asked.
“Not… Not personally, no,” the jester answered, looking hesitant. “We hold a mutual relationship with Saimin Louis. We’re hardly ever in the same place at the same time.” He paused, looking down. “Tell me, what do you think of him?”
“Why are you asking?”
“It… wouldn’t hurt to meet someone… new.”
Bill paused to think. “Well, he’s got sort of a… a presence,” he shrugged. “I just feel so… nice around him. Everything about him is contagious. His laugh, his smile, everything. He’s a nice person and I don’t mind wasting time to spend it with him.” He chuckled. “I don’t think he’d like you.”
Dimentio nearly burst into a fit of laughter but stopped himself before anything could come out. “Oh, you’d… you’d be surprised, Cipher,” he smirked. “Still, I can’t help but feel that you’re right.” He waved a hand. “You should learn how to defend yourself properly. I do hope we meet again. Have a lovely evening.”
The green walls peeled away to reveal the alleyway near the theater. Bill turned around to look back at Dimentio, but the magician was already gone.
Focus. Direction. Energy. Object. Purpose. Soul.
Bill sat in his room, going through the instructions in his head. It was always the same words in every book. Not that he was reading them, of course, but those were the words he remembered.
And with remembering came a new problem.
For all of his life, he’d been able to remember universal knowledge no problem. No fogginess, no confusion, a couple missing pieces, but no blank spaces. He could’ve walked downstairs and told Rain exactly what had happened on the first day of his life, down to the very last detail.
Now his entire existence had been shoved into a human mind and his memory was faulty as could be. He could hardly remember the date, much less how to summon a shield.
The whole process of magic was fairly negotiable, as the concept itself was extremely vague. Nobody had yet to fully explain it; was it a science? A gift from the gods? Manipulation of energy?
Bill had no idea.
“The first step to harnessing your SOUL energy is to connect to your inner self. This is not hard,” Bill read, just idly tapping his foot. “Meditation does the trick for some, 30-minute naps do the trick for others. Tapping into your energy the first time is all about relaxing and knowing yourself.”
Knowing myself, Bill thought, scoffing a little. Yeah, right.
Still, he had to make the effort. He wasn’t about to lie to himself and say he didn’t want to try. So, he pulled a blanket off of his bed and onto the ground, sitting cross-legged on top of it. He knew how meditation was done. He wasn’t an idiot.
He closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. The fortunate part was that nobody was home, so there was hardly any noise to disturb him. Bill tried, at first, to focus on nothing, to breathe deeply and fall into a rhythm.
Focus on nothing.
Focus on nothing.
It was difficult, but he managed.
For a while.
The hard part about being a demon within a human mind was that there was much more room for thoughts to run rampant. He started thinking about what he’d be able to do once he gained some hold on his magic. He thought about the cowboy romance Rain had shown him the other day. He thought about the crime-fighting video game that had been announced. He thought about—
No. Stop thinking. Stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking, stop thinking, stop —
He thought about the collapse of Aria.
He thought about his home dimension.
Stop thinking. STOP.
He thought about the hospital, the stench of death tickling his nose, the countless hours he’d spent wondering when he’d finally die for real—
“ ARGH! STOP THINKING! ” he shouted, standing up and throwing the blanket to one side of the room. “ JUST LET ME KNOW MYSELF FOR ONCE! ” He stood up, marched over to his bed, and buried his face in his knees.
There was a horrible, aching lump making his way up to his throat, and he tried to swallow it down, thinking he might’ve been getting sick again. Instead, he let out a sort of strangled breath and his vision turned fuzzy.
What’s going on with me?
He reached a hand up to touch his face and only pulled his palm away when he felt something wet on his cheek. Bill’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he quickly realized that the moisture coming from his eyes wouldn’t stop, nor would the strangled-sounding breaths. His body shook with a painful emotion he’d forgotten how to feel, his chest burning with anger and fear.
For the first time in a trillion years, he felt sad.
It wasn’t because of the mediation or his uncontrolled subconscious thoughts. No, it was more the product of a chain of events slowly resting upon his shoulders. The slow but sure unfolding of the past few months had slowly cracked him open like a chocolate orange.
And he hated it.
He hated feeling weak and helpless. He hated feeling like he might’ve drowned in his emotions. He hated the warm tears rolling down his face, a cruel reminder of the situation at hand.
A knock on the door.
“Go away, R-Rain,” Bill answered, his voice cracking. “I’m f-fine. I don’t n-need your h-help…”
The door creaked open gently and the Hatbox Ghost stood in the doorway. “It’s just me,” he spoke. “Can I come in?”
Bill sighed irritably, wiping away his tears. “Sure,” he muttered. “Wouldn’t hurt.”
Hatbox came into the room and shut the door behind him, eyeing Bill curiously. “You doing okay?”
“I t-told you, I’m f-fine.”
“Well, you told ‘Rain.’ Now I’m asking you.”
“I’m not d-dead, am I?”
“Emotionally, Bill. How are you emotionally?”
Bill didn’t answer.
Hatbox sighed. “I won’t tell the others if you don’t want me to,” he said, sitting down on Bill’s bed. “What’s going on?”
Bill huffed. “It’s all just… t-too much,” he whimpered, looking down at the sheets. “I’ve only been human for two m-months and it’s all… t-too much…”
“My s-soul nearly split in t-two,” he began, the strangling feeling growing stronger. “I thought I was going to die , I ended up in the hospital, and everything else up until this point has been stacking up! This isn’t even the f-first time I’ve cried since being human, but it didn’t feel like this…!”
Hatbox frowned. “What did it feel like before?”
Bill thought a moment. “Like fire was p-pounding through m-my body,” he sputtered. “I felt like I… like I wanted to scream…”
“And how about now?”
“Like I… wanna c-curl up in a c-corner, f-fall asleep, and never wake up.” He looked over his shoulder at the ghost. “But I… I don’t wanna die. I just… f-feel so tired…” Bill wiped away another couple of tears. “Doesn’t it ever get tiring for you humans? Doesn’t it get worse? Why even b-bother?”
“Because even when it gets hard, it’s always going to get better,” Hatbox answered simply, handing Bill a tissue box from the bedside table. “That’s what I’ve learned.”
Bill took the tissue, wiping his face of tears and snot. “When? When does it get better?”
“Maybe not now, maybe not any time soon, but it does get better,” Hatbox assured him. “It did for me.”
“You don’t count,” Bill huffed. “You had to die first.”
Hatbox’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Well, that’s… true…” He sighed. “I was in a very bad place when I was killed, but I’d like to think that I’m an exceptional case. So many events happened at once, events out of my control… but believe me when I say that my life was full of ups and downs, anyway. It got better and worse all the time. I just wasn’t alive to experience a better part of it.”
Bill seemed more interested in Hatbox’s story now. “How old were you when you ended up dying?”
For a moment, there was a strange change in the air around them. Bill thought, for a moment, that there was a bit of a draft, but then he saw Hatbox’s face. As the temperature dropped, the ghost squeezed his eyes shut, pushing his way through what looked like years of grieving.
“27,” Hatbox finally answered, the air warming again. “I was 27 when it happened.” He sighed. “But this isn’t about me. This is about you. How are you feeling?”
“Better, I’d suppose,” Bill shrugged, wiping his face again. “Sort of… empty. I just feel numb at this point.”
“A natural reaction,” Hatbox nodded. “It’s often what happens after a good cry.” He got up off the bed. “It’s good to get that stuff off your chest. Do you need anything? I was gonna go make some hot chocolate if you’d like some.”
“Sure, whatever,” Bill answered. “I’ll be here.”
“I’ll be back, then,” Hatbox smiled, closing the door behind him.
Chapter 23: Heeheeheeheehee! Brrryaaaan!
“A shield?” said Rain, running a hand through her hair. She’d come in a couple of minutes ago with Snufkin and the groceries and had decided to pay Bill’s room a visit. “Don’t you have a healing factor?”
“Yes,” Bill groaned, taking another sip of cocoa. “And somehow, I still ended up beaten to a pulp. The problem is that it doesn’t work fast enough. I think there might be a limit on it, too, but I haven’t tested that theory…”
“You probably shouldn’t,” Hatbox muttered, crossing his arms. “In any case, a healing factor isn’t going to stop you from suffering the effects of blood loss. You cut yourself up enough and a healing factor won’t help.” He yawned, looking out the window. “Wouldn’t want another loss on my hands…”
“Well, it wouldn’t be your fault,” Rain laughed, not quite looking at him. “I don’t think you’d ever be the cause of Bill’s injuries. More than likely Dimentio’s fault, given what we’ve seen so far.” She tapped a finger on the surface of the bedside table. “But you wanna learn how to summon a shield. I won’t be able to help much.”
Bill stared at her. “Why not?”
“Old hero programs never taught us how to use our magic,” she shrugged. “They only tested me for natural magic, and there’s little to no chance that I won’t have that.”
“Natural magic?” Hatbox echoed, raising an eyebrow.
“Nearly everyone has magic in their soul,” Rain explained. “But it’s one of those hidden things where you don’t know if you have it until you go looking for it. There are some exceptions. Take Diego for instance. He was using magic pretty much right out of the gate.” She laughed. “Not that he wanted to, but still. Point is, you’d never know if you have natural magic or not until you try to cultivate it and learn how to use it.”
“All you humans have natural magic these days,” Bill groaned, rolling his eyes. “It doesn’t take an idiot to learn how to use it.”
“Interesting,” Hatbox mused. “So there are people who don’t have it?”
“Of course,” Rain answered. “They’re few in number, but they exist. In fact, Saimin Louis is one of those people.”
Bill hummed thoughtfully, closing his eyes. “So how would you go about summoning a shield, Hatbox?”
Hatbox smiled mischievously, standing up. “It’s all in the wrist,” he chuckled, rolling up his sleeves. “ Literally. ”
It took him a moment of focus, but all of a sudden Hatbox had summoned a shield in front of him, glowing with a cold sort of energy. Bill stared at it in awe, a shiver of excitement running up his spine. Rain smiled, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Well, I’ll be downstairs if you guys need me,” she laughed, opening the door and leaving the room.
"Right," Hatbox laughed, motioning Bill over. "You see, the energy to perform magic lies within your very blood. Energy flows to the palms, and presto, a shield appears!"
Bill raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's that easy? "
"It takes practice, but yes," Hatbox answered, sitting back down. "I'm not the most talented magician, but I'm trying to learn magic so I can protect you lot."
"I'm surprised you care that much," Bill mused, flopping onto his bed like a thrown-out rag doll. "I don't think anyone's cared that much for me since…" He trailed off, not quite wanting to finish his sentence. He stayed quiet, pretending he hadn't said anything, and maybe if he pretended long enough, Hatbox wouldn't notice.
"Since?" Hatbox echoed, peering over at him.
"Since nothing," Bill grunted, rolling onto his side. "Nevermind."
Hatbox sighed. "Bill, work with me here," he said, closing his eyes. "I don't need to know your life story, but I want to know more about you."
"Because my human nature prevents me from doing otherwise, as does yours," Hatbox chuckled, adjusting his hat. "Rain thinks you're worth knowing. I'd like to think that, too." He paused. "I heard about your Weirdmaggedon, you know."
Bill winced, his pride having dwindled in the past few months. "Why do you bring that up?"
"I just don't see why someone like you would ever mean to cause that much harm," Hatbox explained. "Since I met you, you've done nothing but harmlessly jeer us until we crack open like eggs. You seem to live off of being a minor inconvenience, not a major threat to all living organisms."
The demon wilted a little. "It's…" He frowned, trying to find a way to explain himself. "I don't know," he sighed, sitting up. "I feel like the person I was before this tossed himself out a window and left me to deal with life alone." He placed his hands on his cheeks. "Maybe it's for the best. I mean, everyone else is happy. Not that I care.”
“Hmm.” Hatbox hummed to himself, staring out the window. “Perhaps I should show you around Gracey Manor some time. Get your mind off of things.”
“I mean, I’ve seen it,” Bill yawned, standing up and walking over to the mirror. “But sure. I feel like it’d be good for me. I enjoy the frightening and unusual.” He parted his hair out of his face with his fingers, trying to get it all to stay in one spot. “Just doesn’t look quite right…”
Hatbox raised an eyebrow. “Concerned over our looks, are we?” he laughed.
“Nah,” Bill chuckled. “It just… It still doesn’t feel like it belongs to me.”
“You know, I’d try to get to know that Snufkin fellow who’s visiting,” Hatbox suggested. “He pitched a tent in the front yard. He’s a bit reclusive, but he doesn’t seem to mind a good chat.”
“I dunno. The last time I was around Snufkin, he kinda snapped at me.”
“Well, Snufkin seems like the one to forgive easily. But you never know. It’s just my suggestion.”
Bill shrugged, opening the door. “Maybe I should.” He waved at Hatbox. “Nice talking with you. Thanks for the magic lesson.”
“Safe travels, Bill,” Hatbox said, taking a final sip of hot chocolate.
Snufkin peered up at the visitor, not sure whether or not to still be angry considering their previous interaction. Bill didn’t seem all that confrontational at the moment, so he decided to let it go for the time being.
“Oh, hello,” he smiled, patting the spot on the grass next to him. “I honestly didn’t think you’d want to talk to me.” He took a bite out of his sandwich and swallowed. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing much,” Bill shrugged, sitting down next to Snufkin. “Although I am wondering how you and Rain know each other…”
“Ah, it’s a rather funny story,” Snufkin chuckled, closing his eyes and taking in the evening breeze. “There’s a city just past Seattle called Elnod. Sprung up a few centuries ago. Home mostly to the elven people, as well as many magicians and merchants. I was traveling there many winters ago when I was still a teenager. Rain’s family had been there for sightseeing.”
“Ah, Elnod’s a pretty nice city, if I do say so myself,” Bill mused, twiddling his thumbs.
“It certainly is,” Snufkin agreed. “I met Rain in the city with her older brother. Victor, I believe his name is. I talked to them for a while and Rain mentioned she was signing up for that program the Fictional Foundation had set up. It was still a very dark time for most people. Black Hat’s influence covered most of the world like a storm cloud.” He sighed. “I met them again a few months later by complete coincidence. Rain introduced me to her younger brother, Diego. He was still pretty young at the time. I had coffee with them and then I made my way back to Moomin Valley.
“Rain and I eventually became… pen pals, I’d suppose. I’d write letters to her and she’d write letters to me. We’ve remained pretty good friends throughout the years. I’d go and visit every so often and I got to know her family pretty well. Then around three years ago she stopped writing for a little while. I didn’t know why until I started traveling again. And then…”
“And then what?” Bill asked, leaning forward.
“Well, I’m in no position to tell you,” Snufkin admitted, shaking his head. “She doesn’t like to talk about it too much. I can see why.”
“Well, what happened? Why doesn’t she want to talk about it?”
“By then she had gained somewhat of a following. A fanbase, if you will.” The mumrik sighed. “Something happened. I won’t tell you what, but it seemed like the entire world had turned against her after that.” He closed his eyes, paused a moment. “I’m sure you could probably ask her. I just don’t think she’d like to tell you everything.”
“Oh,” Bill muttered, staring down at the blades of grass. He plucked a few out of the ground, staring at them intently. “What about you?”
“Did you turn against her?”
“No, of course not!” Snufkin answered, trying to hide his disbelief. “Though, I guess that is the prime difference between friends and followers. Friends stick by you no matter what, but followers shift their views at the slightest bit of information. Unlike some people, I try not to jump to conclusions.”
The door to the house opened, and in the doorway stood Wheatley. “I made dinner if you two are hungry!”
“No thanks, I just ate,” Snufkin chuckled, gesturing to his sandwich. “Are you gonna go to eat?”
“I’d better,” Bill laughed. “I’m getting pretty hungry.” He got up and raced for the door, waving to Snufkin on the way. “Thanks for the chat.”
“No problem,” Snufkin replied, unzipping his tent and crawling back inside.
“A ball?” Cedar scoffed, dropping a box of Cagney’s belongings on the other man’s foot. “Isn’t that a little bit extra? I mean, surely, there are better ways of celebrating a fallen kingdom. For instance, a freakin’ funeral. ”
Cagney winced, holding his right foot as though it had just been stabbed. “It’s… ouch… It was burned down in a fire, Ceeds,” he argued, placing his foot back on the ground. “Where do you think all the bodies went?”
“Depending on the intensity of the fire they would either be totally cremated… or just left as disturbing human crisps.”
“What would a human crisp look like even? Just a totally burnt up zombie?”
“Geez, that’s some pretty dark thinking.”
“You’re one to talk.”
Cedar pushed his hair out of his face. “I’m just saying,” he shrugged, lifting up the box again, “maybe they should hold it off.”
“I mean longer. Black Hat may not be as active in the evil business as he used to be, but he’s still pretty dangerous, as far as I can tell.” He paused, looking up at the ceiling. “Though, I’ve never seen Black Hat in person. Wonder what he looks like.”
Cagney, meanwhile, was essentially juggling plants in his arms. “Thanks for helping me move in, by the way,” he muttered, trying to put a potted amaryllis on the new coffee table without dropping it. “I never would’ve been able to get my stuff here without you.”
Cedar eyed the plants that Cagney had in his arms. “How are you able to grow amaryllis indoors and in a pot?”
“Hey, I’ve got a gift,” Cagney laughed. He sighed. “And that gift is called chloromancy.”
“I prefer to just call it plant magic. ”
“Buzzkill.” He placed a potted carnation onto a glass shelf on one end of the living room. Placing the remaining plants on the window sill, he plopped onto the couch and sunk into the cushion. “I’m exhausted.”
Cedar snorted. “We’ve been working for fifteen minutes.” He put the box down in the kitchen. “Is this a good spot for your stuff?”
“Yeah,” Cagney confirmed, barely looking up. “I’ll unpack it all later. I’ve still got a few more things in the truck.”
“I’m still surprised Beppi was willing to loan you his truck.”
“I’m surprised Beppi had a truck!”
Cedar sat down next to Cagney, closing his eyes. “Met this kid the other day. It was quite the interesting experience,” he shrugged. “His name was Bill, I think…?”
Cagney glared at him, looking more concerned than angry. “You mean Bill as in Bill Cipher? ”
“Cedar, haven’t you heard?!”
“I mean, I have ears, so yes. I don’t get what’s so upsetting about someone raising the apocalypse. We nearly experienced one earlier this year.”
Cagney sighed irritably. “Still too early, Ceeds.”
Cedar scoffed. “Y’know, sometimes I’m glad that Black Hat exists. That way if your idiot leader tries to pull the plug on anything useful, the man in black can just threaten him or whatever he does.”
“I thought you didn’t pay attention to politics.”
“Eh, I mean, I go outside. So I have to hear things eventually. ”
Cagney stood up, walking over to the kitchen. “My point is… Isn’t it sort of scary how a literal demon who almost destroyed the universe is now living in our neighborhood?! ”
“Man, I almost feel jealous of your ability to stay calm.”
Cedar almost laughed. “Yeah, right. ‘Ability to stay calm…’”
Cagney frowned. “So, you’re not calm?”
“Not at all.”
“Me neither. Wanna watch TV?”
The night had been long and tedious as usual, but Rain was quite used to it by now. She’d developed a habit of keeping her desk lamp turned on until the sun started to rise and keeping a sleep mask on until she woke up. She didn’t like to sleep in the light, but she sure as hell didn’t want to wake up in the dark.
Staring at her orange bedroom wall, she reflected upon the previous night’s dreams. It hadn’t been pleasant, but it hadn’t been the worst nightmare she’d ever had. Bill had been drowning in quicksand, screaming for someone to help him. Rain had come to his aid, grabbing his arm and pulling with all her might. No matter how hard she’d tugged, though, he’d kept sinking deeper, pulling her down with him.
He’d kept screaming and screaming, scrambling to get out no matter how much Rain had begged him to stop. After a while, he’d disappeared completely, but the nightmare didn’t end until Rain found herself chin-deep in the ground, swallowing mouthfuls of sand as she scrambled to free herself as he had.
Her arms still hurt from pulling so hard, and she had to take a few gulps from her water bottle to convince her brain that there had never been any sand in her mouth.
Rain dragged herself down the stairs and into the living room, noticing right away that the room’s only occupant was Dennis Halifax. She briefly remembered Bill mentioning morning coffee with Dean, but she had never known the demon to be an early riser. Still, she supposed that’s where he was and headed into the kitchen to fetch herself some breakfast.
“Good morning,” she said, glancing at Dennis as she walked into the kitchen.
“Oh, you’re up early,” he smiled, though his tone was more concerned than happy.
Rain opened up the freezer and picked out a microwavable breakfast pizza. “You seem a bit tired,” she mentioned, closing the door and heading over to the cabinet for a plate. “Something on your mind?”
Dennis peered down at his bare feet. “Do you… How long have you known Snufkin?” he asked hesitantly.
“Snufkin?” Rain echoed, poking her head out of the kitchen entryway. “A long while, I suppose. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know,” Dennis admitted, twiddling his thumbs. “I just… I feel like I’ve seen him somewhere before. A bit of deja vu, I suppose.”
Rain hummed in thought, putting her pizza into the microwave and pressing a few buttons. “Did you see Bill leave this morning?”
“Saw him leave a few minutes before you came down.”
“Must be on his way to hang out with Dean, then.”
Dennis tilted his head in confusion. “Dean?”
“Ah. It’s nice to see he’s making…” He turned his head to look over at the staircase and froze up a little. “...friends.”
Rain stepped out of the kitchen to ask Dennis what was wrong, but she saw it before the words could leave her mouth. Yes, the man walking down the staircase was the Hatbox Ghost, but he was so much younger than they had ever seen him. He looked as though he were back in his late twenties, but Rain had never been good at deducing age. His bobbed, brown hair reached a little past his chin, and his hazel eyes held a sort of energy neither Rain nor Dennis had seen before.
“Wow,” she muttered. “You look… different. ”
“Is it a good kind of different?” Hatbox asked.
“Depends,” Rain shrugged. “Why do you look like that?”
“My form changes based on my emotions and energy,” the ghost explained, sitting down in an armchair on one side of the room. “I woke up today with a little more pep in my step, if you get what I mean.” He glanced around. “Did someone leave earlier?”
“Bill,” Rain and Dennis said together.
“ Wow. I thought he liked to sleep in.”
“Me, too,” Rain agreed, crossing her arms and leaning against the kitchen entryway. “I wonder how he’s doing.” She stifled a yawn, walking back over to a beeping microwave. She opened it and put her pizza on the counter, wincing a bit when she touched the hot plate. “I’ve got an errand to run later, so maybe I’ll check up on him when I’m downtown.”
Dean had canceled morning coffee for plans previously unseen, so Bill had lied to Dennis in order to get out of the house.
“I’m going to hang out with a friend,” he’d said.
He hardly considered Dimentio a “friend,” but then again, “friend” was not a precise term, nor was “hang out.” Bill had once called his minions “friends.” He’d once called his enemies “friends.” Surely he could call Dimentio a friend and get away with it.
But then, how to find Dimentio? Return to the alleyway and hope that the jester appear? No, impossible, considering how mysterious Dimentio’s demeanor seemed to be. Still, Bill was going to try, because he’d be damned if he flat out gave up.
So, return to the alleyway he did, only to find a bare alleyway. Other than that, there was no hint of the magician. Bill leaned against the wall, keeping an eye out for around half an hour, before finally realizing that he looked weird and suspicious just standing in an empty alleyway.
“Well,” he sighed, closing his eyes, “nothing for it but to go home.”
“Oh, don’t leave so soon, Cipher, we’ve hardly gotten started.”
In the low of disappointment, Bill’s eyes nearly lit up with the high of excitement. His eagerness was short-lived as always, for it was still Dimentio floating above him.
“Hey,” Bill grunted, trying to look as though he hadn’t been looking for the magician.
“Don’t try to act innocent,” Dimentio laughed, gently tapping Bill’s nose with his index finger. “You sought me out this time. That’s an interesting sight.” He paused, placed his feet on solid ground. “Why?”
“I wanna spar again,” Bill answered, raising his fists as though getting ready for a boxing match. “You against me. One on one. Let’s do this.”
Dimentio stared at the demon for a moment or two, trying desperately to hold in a laugh. This was endearing if he was honest with himself. “Slow down, you rascal,” he said, smirking just the slightest. “What makes you so interested in battling me again? Didn’t you learn your lesson last time?”
“Joke’s on you. I know how to make a shield now. Evens the playing field out a bit, don’t you think?”
This time, Dimentio had more trouble trying to contain his amusement. “Evens out…? Sure, if you think mere self-defense is going to protect you against my magic. Are you really prepared to fight me again?”
“What, are you scared?”
“Then let’s get this over with.”
Dimentio sighed, shaking his head. “ Fine. ” He waved his hand, and the scenery changed into the green room he’d brought them to last time. “When I’m done with you, you’ll be hitting the floor like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup!”
Bill raised an eyebrow. “Do you always have a weird quip to throw at me?”
“Is it too much?”
“Nah, it’s just the right amount of weird. Throws opponents off balance.”
Dimentio laughed. “Speaking of, you’d better keep paying attention.” He summoned a ball of energy and hurled it at Bill.
To his surprise, the demon made no attempt to dodge. Instead of moving out of the way, Bill held his arms out as though he were a blind man trying to navigate a sliding window. His face was scrunched up in concentration, and Dimentio knew, at that moment, exactly what Bill was trying to do.
Someone’s taught Cipher how to summon a shield. Someone’s taught Cipher how to summon a shield the WRONG WAY.
The energy bolt smacked Bill in the face much like a rubber ball breaking through a window, and he fell onto his back in a fashion akin to Charlie Brown attempting to kick a football. To Dimentio’s surprise, he stood up immediately, looking not the slightest bit deterred. He held his hands out in front of him again, focusing incredibly hard on something Dimentio knew not to work.
“What are you doing?” the magician sighed, putting his feet on the ground. “Are you squeezing orange juice out of a sippy cup or are you summoning a shield?”
“I’m trying!” Bill insisted, attempting to get the energy in his veins to form in his hands. “I really am, I just—”
“You’re getting this all wrong,” Dimentio said, walking towards Bill. “Who taught you how to summon a shield?”
Bill’s face flushed with embarrassment. “The Hatbox Ghost?”
“Of course. That accounts for it,” Dimentio grumbled. “The magic of a soul without a vessel operates differently than the magic of a soul with a vessel.” He reached a hand towards Bill’s. “May I?”
“Sure,” Bill muttered, hesitant but willing to trust Dimentio for a moment. “Go ahead.”
Dimentio placed his right hand on Bill’s left wrist, and something very strange happened. A warm, glowing, buzzing sort of energy ran through Bill’s entire body, vibrating in his temples with a pleasant hum. He gasped a little in awe and Dimentio chuckled.
“Magic,” the jester explained. “What the ‘Hatbox Ghost’ told you about magic won’t work. Trust me. There’s no magic in your veins. That’s just blood. The magic comes from the soul and travels through the body.”
“Well, you’re just full of magic, aren’t you?” Bill laughed.
“I’m well-practiced,” Dimentio agreed. “I use it more often and so the magic keeps flowing so I can use it on the fly.” He paused, took a deep breath. “Where do you feel the magic centering?”
Bill thought for a moment. “My chest, mostly. My temples as well.”
“A majority of the soul’s energy is found near the heart, but some is found in other parts of the body,” Dimentio explained. “Usually, that other energy is hard to access unless you’re fairly adept. We’re going to focus on the majority of your magic.”
Dimentio backed away from Bill and the humming in his temples slowly faded.
“So, how do we do this?” Bill asked.
“Do you still feel the energy from your soul?”
“A little, yeah.”
“Direct it through your arms and to your hands. Think about the shield you want to create and visualize the pathway your energy will take.”
Bill did as he was told, focusing on getting the warmth in his chest to spread to his palms. He felt the energy grow larger as it coursed up his arms, making his skin tingle and his fingertips warm. If he was honest with himself, it was a pleasant feeling.
“Once you’re done, focus your energy on where the shield will form,” Dimentio continued. “Visualize its size and shape, then pull the space apart.”
He felt it, the center of where the shield would be. Bill took hold of it, feeling the energy spread through his fingers, and pulled the spot apart like clay. A shimmering, blue, circular shield appeared in front of him, adorned with strange symbols and decorative stars. It gave off a warm glow of sorts, a friendly aura that seemed akin to his own.
Dimentio clapped, a smile on his cheeks, though Bill couldn’t see it. “Oh, wonderful work, Cipher! Bravo!” he exclaimed, chuckling a bit. “I knew you could do it!” He sighed, walking over. “You need someone to teach you this stuff, you know. Someone experienced.”
“Like who?” Bill asked, not quite piecing together the obvious answer.
“You dork. I mean me.” Dimentio shook his head. “Honestly, you’re so oblivious sometimes.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Bill interrupted. “You… You want to teach… me?”
“Someone has to do it. And it certainly won’t be that Hatbox Ghost.”
“This isn’t one of those things where I owe you something in return, right?”
Dimentio hadn’t even considered the thought. He opened his mouth to answer but found himself bewildered by the expression on Bill’s face. Rather than a more humorous, joking tone, Bill looked downright miserable at the mere mention of some sort of deal. It struck Dimentio as odd. He hadn’t expected Bill to be resentful of strategies he’d once used.
And still, Dimentio couldn’t bring himself to ask anything of Bill in return.
“Of course not,” he chuckled, his voice soft and reassuring. “I enjoy teaching. You want to be taught, don’t you?”
Bill’s face seemed to light up. “Oh. I mean… if it’s okay with you.”
“It’s perfectly alright with me,” Dimentio smiled. “You trust me, right?”
Bill snorted. “Trust is… a rather vague term,” he admitted, “but sure. Let’s go with that.”
“Good. We’ll meet again tomorrow, then? Same time?”
The green room peeled away once more, and the alleyway revealed itself. Dimentio was nowhere to be seen, but Bill suspected that would be normal. Then again, nothing seemed normal about Dimentio.
Why are you helping me, Dimentio? he thought to himself. Who are you?
He turned around to face the street but instead found himself facing an all-too-familiar face. Bill jumped at the sight of Rain, quickly taking note of her confused features. He plastered a smile on his face and prepared for what he thought was coming.
“Hey, Rain! What’s—”
“You were with Dimentio?! ”
“Me—?! Of course not!” His hands flew over his mouth in an instant. Bill groaned. “ Okay, fine! I was with Dimentio! Totally unrelated, but Hatbox’s method of summoning shields is incorrect and doesn’t work for me.”
Rain raised an eyebrow. “He’s… Is Dimentio teaching you magic?”
“Wh— NO —I mean, not currently.” Bill twiddled his thumbs, trying to look innocent.
“You do understand he’s a villain, right?” Rain asked, tapping her foot impatiently. “You remember that he works for Black Hat, right? You understand that he betrayed his family, right?! ”
Bill looked at her with a glint of befuddlement in his eyes. “His family…?”
“Oh, right,” Rain muttered sheepishly. “You don’t know.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Dimentio… he’s Saimin’s younger brother.”
The information clicked almost too easily. How hadn’t he known about this? It wasn’t like Dimentio was a common name. “Of course,” Bill breathed, the memories coming back to him. “I didn’t even recognize him.”
“Well, duh, he wears a mask.”
“Dimentio Louis… That would explain a lot, actually. Explains why he’s out to…”
To kill Black Hat, he wanted to say, but he didn’t know how Rain would react. Bill shut his mouth immediately, hoping she hadn’t heard him. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to notice, so he stayed silent.
“So why is he teaching you magic?” she asked. “He’s your enemy. He trapped you in a glass box the first time you met each other. Did I mention that?”
Bill groaned, starting to walk back towards the Light Rail station. “No need to remind me,” he grumbled, kicking a rock into the street. “He’s… I’m not actually sure. The point is, he’s teaching me, and I’m learning how to use my magic.”
“So, what happened to hanging out with Dean?”
“Oh, right. He canceled on me last minute. I figured I’d spend my time elsewhere.”
Rain stopped mid-step, seeming to realize something. Bill saw it, the idea forming in the back of her mind, the puzzle slowly piecing itself together. He wasn’t quite sure of the contents of that puzzle, but it was a puzzle nonetheless.
“What do you know about Dimentio?” she asked hesitantly.
“Well, he’s a fairly proficient magician,” Bill answered, trying to recall what he knew. “In my years as a demon, I’ve seen… well, not much, to be honest. He appeared in Fiction Forest in the middle of the day, found by Saimin Louis and Randy McShellington—”
“Skip that part.”
“ Skip that part. ”
“Alright, sheesh. Other than the fact that he appeared out of nowhere, he basically lived with the Louis family, or rather what remained of it, for…” Bill thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t actually know. I was only able to see up until August 2017.”
“He lived with them until last April,” Rain finished, squeezing her eyes shut. “I remember it almost too well.”
“Other than that, he’s lactose intolerant, had an interest in learning to play guitar, could play the violin like it was nothing without any practice, and loves ramen noodles. Other than that, there’s not much I can tell you.”
“What about Dean?” Rain asked. “What do you know about Dean?”
“Yeah. You’ve gotta know something.”
“He likes the color purple and has a fascination with murder mysteries. His smile is like a thousand stars. His eyes—” He paused. “—well, the one eye that I can actually see is as deep a blue as the ocean. He talks with his hands a lot, knows what’s going on around town almost all the time, and thinks that musical talent is one of the most charming qualities a person can have aside from personality.”
“And his past?”
Bill blinked. “I’m drawing a blank on that one.”
“And why do you think that is?” Rain seemed like she was catching onto something important but Bill couldn’t tell what the hell it was.
“Because my demon mind was placed into the brain of a stupid meat sack? Because humans have the tendency to forget anything that isn’t their money? I don’t know, Rain, why can’t you remember the day you were born? ”
“Alright, sheesh, I was just asking.”
“Come on, Rain, it’s Dean we’re talking about!” Bill groaned. “He’s warm-hearted, caring, and someone worth spending time with! It’s not like he’s gonna take over the world if that’s the conclusion you’re drawing!” He threw his hands up to emphasize his point. “I mean, I know next to nothing about you, and the only reason I’ve been able to piece anything together is that the amorphous blob I used to try and keep track of went places and did things! And if you’re trying to destroy the universe, I know nothing about it!”
Rain looked down at her shoes. “I dunno,” she muttered. “I thought I was onto something, there…”
Bill nearly broke into a fit of laughter. “Look, you’re not Phoenix Wright, okay? If you’re going to accuse Dean of being a villain, then you’d better bring some compelling evidence to the table. And make sure you present it in the right order. Wouldn’t want you getting a penalty.”
He kept walking towards the Light Rail station, humming a tune to himself. Rain trudged along behind him, stewing in her moment of loss.
She had to admit, Bill had a point.
But that gave her an idea.
Chapter 24: Cleanup On Aisle Thirteen
As Wheatley rode on the shopping cart’s front tires, Newton cautiously pushed the load forward through the store, trying to keep a steady balance between him and the android on the other side. It wasn’t an easy task, but he managed.
“I still don’t get how you got to be so… carefree,” Newton laughed, watching Wheatley hop off the cart and grab some mushrooms off of a refrigerated shelf. “How do you do this stuff in public without the worry of what people will think?”
“Simple!” Wheatley answered, placing the mushrooms gingerly into the cart. “I’ve decided to simply ignore what strangers think of me and instead focus on what my friends think of me. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to meet those strangers again.”
“And even if I do meet those strangers again, it’s not like the bloody fellow’s gonna be like, ‘Oi, there, stranger! Say, aren’t you that chump from the supermarket who was acting like a complete buffoon? No , it can’t be!’ Like, that would be ridiculous. I mean, who even remembers that sort of thing?”
Newton chuckled, watching as Wheatley leaned his arms on the side of the cart. “Well, you’re right, I suppose. Still, I guess I’m just not good at keeping that in mind.” He glanced around at the rest of the vegetable aisle. “What do we still need…?”
“Err… Rosemary, cayenne pepper, and soy sauce.”
“Right,” Newton muttered, lazily scanning the shelves for the items they needed. Wheatley ran off into the store, carefree as always, disappearing behind a display stand. Newton chuckled a little, wondering where Wheatley got all his energy from.
Newton had always thought of himself as a bit of a disappointment. He was nowhere near as imaginative or creative as his father, though he didn’t understand why. All his inventions, on paper, were marvelous designs that could improve the lives of everyone around him. And yet, when he went to build, those ideas never got to be more than a few scraps of cardboard in the trash bin.
It made him feel nearly hopeless, watching as his parents’ shadows passed over him, revealing the void he’d eventually have to fill as their only child. Newton wasn’t creative like his father or passionate about his ideas like his mother. What would everyone think of him once he told them what he was (wasn’t) capable of?
But then he saw Wheatley round the corner with a bottle of soy sauce, a twinkle in his robotic eyes that matched no other. The android’s sky-blue optics pierced Newton in the chest like an arrow (or perhaps an impact bomb), though he was sure Wheatley didn’t mean for his gaze to come off that way. The young man was curious, that was all, curious about the world around him, more curious than Newton could ever be about anything.
Wheatley was curious about Newton, too.
It made Newton’s heart skip a beat, that curiosity.
Wheatley asked questions. Wheatley asked about Newton’s hobbies and interests and dreams and nightmares… No one had ever asked him about that before.
It was refreshing.
It was adorable.
“So, what’re you thinking about?” Wheatley asked, leaning against the end of the cart.
Newton snapped out of thought, trying to make it look as though he hadn’t been staring. “N-Nothing much,” he laughed nervously. “You know, the usual… The air… The sky… The groceries…?”
“Oh, me too!” Wheatley smiled, placing the soy sauce in the basket. “It’s all so new! I’ve been living in the Testing Facility for years. It’s where I was made. Before that, I had never, never, never seen the outside world.” He paused. “Well, I mean, I had pictures of it. In… In my head. I mean, I knew what grass looked like, for instance. Green. Sometimes brownish-yellow. Wavy. In the wind. Wavy in the wind.”
Newton stared in bewilderment. “Hold on,” he breathed, “you mean you went years without seeing grass? ”
“Yep! It’s rather frightening if you think about it too long.”
“So, you’ve never watched movies. ”
“Or… Or watched television! ”
“Up until last month, yeah.”
“Or… Or read a comic book! Or been to an aquarium! Or to an airport! Or been in love with someone!” Newton froze up, his face growing considerably warmer. “I… I mean… have you done any of those things…?”
Wheatley raised an eyebrow, trying to think. “I don’t think so. Love, in particular, is a really weird concept to me,” he explained, fiddling with the cart’s plastic rim. “Not in practice, just… I get how you’d want to have a connection with someone that exceeds the standard friendship, but… how do you know?”
“Know about what?”
“I mean how do you know when you’re in love?”
Newton opened his mouth to answer but found that he couldn’t. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t quite know, either. He’d never been in love before.
“I think… well, it’s got something to do with…” He tried to think. “Sometimes, you just… you just know? I guess? You find someone who makes your worst days worth living through and your best days even more spectacular. Someone who you miss the second they leave, someone you’re not afraid to be vulnerable with…”
“Have you ever been in love?” Wheatley asked, his curious blue eyes ever so piercing.
“Wh-What? M-Me? ” Newton sputtered, his cheeks glowing a shade pink. “Well, I don’t think so…”
Or have I? a part of his brain whispered. He decided to ignore that part immediately.
“Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know,” Wheatley sighed. “I’m just not quite used to this whole ‘human’ thing yet. I mean, it’s fun and all, but it gets exhausting sometimes.” He looked down at his shoes. “Sometimes I wish I could just ‘get it,’ you know? Like I could just suddenly know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Same here,” Newton laughed. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with myself.”
“Well, we could always start by getting the rest of those ingredients.”
They both burst into a fit of laughter, nearly running out of breath in the process. Well, Wheatley could never run out of breath, but he sure felt like he was going to.
“I guess we could,” Newton giggled, starting to calm down. “Come on. What do we still need?”
“Rosemary and cayenne pepper.”
“Ah, right. Let’s get to it, then.”
It was a pleasant dream, for once.
He watched it from afar, the ball. The people, dancing in circles around the room, spinning and spinning and spinning like tops. They hardly noticed him, and if they did, they didn’t care enough to mention his presence.
Bill drifted about the room, wandering from couple to couple, not seeing any familiar faces but finding that he didn’t quite care. He hardly even knew what the room around him looked like, much less who was in it.
He spotted a face in the crowd, more distinct than any he’d seen thus far. Bill didn’t know why, but he recognized the little girl standing next to him, tugging gently at his shirt. Her long, messy hair was pink like a cherry blossom tree, though her red eyes were almost as piercing and vibrant as his own.
“What is it?” he tried to say, but no words came out of his mouth.
The girl seemed to understand, however, and she looked towards the entryway to the room. She beckoned for him to follow, not saying a word. Bill followed as she exited the room.
And he followed for what seemed like ages, down spiraling hallways and crumbling libraries and the ruins of kingdoms long forgotten. He followed until he could no longer see the girl and then some, wondering just where she was taking him. At some point, Bill found himself lost, so he just shrugged and explored, taking in the nonsensical scenery of his subconscious.
At some point, he came upon it, the towering castle cradled by flames, the turrets frozen mid-fall, the village surrounding it abandoned some time long ago.
“What did you want to show me?” he asked, nearly begging for an answer.
She smiled. “Oh, nothing,” she chuckled. “But the journey was fun, wasn’t it? What was your favorite part?”
Bill woke up in his own bed, his hands shaking. He’d half expected the dream to take some crude twist into the dark and disturbing.
But it didn’t, and that was the important part.
He stretched lazily, rising slowly from his afternoon nap. His dreams had become less and less terrifying the more he learned to control them. Rain had enlightened him with the concept of lucid dreaming, and Bill had practically been off to the races once he realized that he could change his dreams’ plots as long as he knew he was dreaming. Just the previous night, he’d had a nice dream about Dean.
That was his favorite dream so far.
The more terrifying dreams, however, always made him brace for the later hours, much like a football player braces for impact with a player on the other team. Bill had a tendency to dream about his past in painful detail and he suspected his status as a dream demon was to blame. He was, he had to admit, partially grateful for his faulty human memory.
He looked over at the calendar Rain had bought for him. He’d viciously crossed out September 2nd, the day Dimentio had challenged him to a duel. Then Bill had carefully crossed out September 3rd, the day he’d challenged Dimentio to a duel. Today was the 4th, a Thursday, and nothing was on the schedule.
Bill fumbled around for his phone, searching the bedside table with his fingers. Finally, he found it and turned it on, scanning his texts for the message Dean had sent him earlier that day.
Saimin’s taking me to the Seattle Aquarium after her shift. Wanna come with?
Bill had responded, Sure! What time should I meet you there?
Around 2:00. We’ll be right out front.
He glanced towards the top of the screen to check the time.
Bill shot out of bed, shoved his phone in his pant pocket, and headed downstairs to grab a quick snack. Rain glanced at him as he passed, a smile blooming on her face.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she asked, noting the eagerness in his pace.
“Seattle,” Bill answered, grabbing a bag of Cheetos from the kitchen cabinet. “Dean and Saimin are gonna be at the aquarium. Wanna come with?”
Rain chuckled a little. “Nah,” she answered. “I’ve got stuff to do. Online school starts next week and I’ve got surveys from teachers to fill out. Besides, I wouldn’t wanna intrude upon your outing with Dean. ” She winked, raising an eyebrow.
Bill narrowed his eyes. “What was the wink for?”
Rain squinted back at him. “I dunno. You tell me.”
“ You winked. How would I know?”
“You know what? Just forget it,” she sighed, ushering him out of the kitchen. “Have fun on your date.”
“I’m not… Are you referring to Saimin? ”
Rain’s face turned bright pink. “Wh-What? Why would you be dating Saimin? ” she asked nervously.
Bill turned away. “Look, I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I’m not. ” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’d better hurry up and leave. It takes a half-hour to get there by Light Rail. The nearest station is Reverie and Vision Avenue, right?”
“Thanks, Rain. I’ve gotta go.”
Rain waved him goodbye as he slipped on his shoes. “Hey, text me some pictures!” she called. “Get one of a pufferfish!”
Bill gave her a big thumbs up, pulled on a jacket, and walked out the door, nearly breaking into a run in order to get to the Light Rail station. He screeched to a halt at Reverie Street and Vision Avenue, earning a few stares from onlookers. They noted him with little reaction (passive aggression at worst), but he rocked on his heels and stared onward, noticing the Light Rail approaching from a few hundred yards away.
As the transit slowly came to a stop, he prepared to get on.
Hello, Tad Strange.
Tad scrambled to grab a sandwich before it hit the ground, groaning when it landed with a splat on the sidewalk. He turned to see who had just addressed him, freezing in fear when Kit Harper’s eyes met his.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” he breathed, shaking in terror. “You’re… You’re Black Hat’s mook. You’re the kid Demencia keeps talking about.”
And you’re the coward who turned Cipher to the heroes, Kit replied, his voice making Tad’s head spin. I assume you know who I’m talking about. You know about Bill Cipher, don’t you?
Tad gulped. “Not much.”
Not much. Tad could’ve sworn he heard Kit chuckle. Not much, he says. You really don’t remember.
“Remember what? What are you implying?”
I know you don’t trust them, Kit continued, stepping forward. The heroes, I mean. The Fictionals, they call themselves. Do you know why they’re called that?
Tad raised an eyebrow. “B-Because ‘heroes’ used to be those p-people who fought villains as publicity stunts r-rather than for justice. So when the ‘Fictionals’ s-started showing up, people said it was as though their wildest d-dreams had come to fruition.”
Kit smirked. Tad backed away nervously. You know an awful lot for someone who’s never been a Fictional before. Oh, wait. He eyed Tad with a strange sort of curiosity. You WERE a Fictional, weren’t you?
It doesn’t matter. They’re all the same now. People fail to notice that they’ve started calling them ‘heroes’ again. Kit turned around, still eyeing Tad over his shoulder. You know, with all this suspicion you have towards the Fictional Foundation, I’d say you were one of us.
Tad’s face was pale, but his eyes were wide with fury. “You…! After everything you people have done to innocent people like us…! You think I would join your little cult or whatever you call it?!” He backed away, throwing his hands up. “No! You can’t make me do anything if you had the best lawyer in the world!”
Kit plucked something out of a pocket hidden in his overalls. Not even if I had… this?
Tad turned back around to object, but he became silent when he saw what the boy was carrying. A bronze tube labeled Tad Strange’s Memories lay in Kit’s hands, and Tad lunged for it desperately.
Oh, Mr. Strange, Kit laughed, disappearing and reappearing behind him. You’re too impatient when it comes to defending yourself. Or, rather, a missing part of yourself.
“Where did you get that…?”
Jasper found it. A street merchant selling strange, unearthly items. He held the tube up to the rapidly fading sunlight. It wasn’t just YOUR memories for sale. He just happened to find your name among the wares.
Tad took another swing at the bronze tube, but Kit snapped and it was gone.
There’s something I need you to do for us, he hissed. You’ll have to earn them before I give them to you.
Tad grunted indignantly. “And what is that?”
Stanford Pines, Kit spoke, clasping his hands behind his back. He’s been studying Bill Cipher for over thirty years. He knows everything. How the demon thinks, how the demon attacks… There was a twinkle in his eye. How to KILL HIM.
“You… You want to kill Bill Cipher?” Tad breathed.
Black Hat deems him the most dangerous among the heroes at this moment in time, Kit nodded. For whatever reason, I’m not certain. But I’d like you to go to Stanford Pines and ask him what he knows. The family considers you the most normal man in town. They’ll tell you everything if you push them hard enough.
Tad thought it over for a moment. He looked down at his own shoes, his hands shaking. He shouldn’t have been so intimidated by a kid, but here he was, shaking like a leaf in Kit Harper’s gaze. He could hardly stand it.
“No,” he muttered, despite his mind begging him to say yes.
Kit’s face went pale. No…?
“I’m not joining the man in black just for my memories, ” Tad huffed, his hands balled up into fists. “You’re going to have to try a little harder than that.”
Fine then, Kit spoke. He snapped and the bronze tube reappeared in his palm. You can have it then.
Before Tad even had time to process Kit’s reaction, the boy hand thrown it to the ground. Tad’s breath hitched as his memories shattered on the concrete, the glass flying in multiple directions. A few people across the street stopped to stare but didn’t question the interaction.
Tad, however, could only stare in disbelief.
“You…” He felt like his heart would explode. “ You… ”
He looked up to face the boy, but Kit was gone.
Past Rainier Beach, Othello, Columbia City, Mount Baker, Beacon Hill, SODO, Royal Brougham, the International District, and Pioneer Square… The overhead speakers finally announced that the transit was arriving on University Street. Bill practically burst out of the Light Rail when the doors opened. He stared at the tunnels a few moments, mentally comparing them to the gaping black holes in the Nightmare Realm.
He ran past the escalator and up the stairs onto 3rd Avenue, then across the street and onto Gerard Schwarz Plaza. Bill nearly tripped and fell down the harbor steps and stopped to catch his breath on University Street. He counted the cars on either side of the street (eighteen of them) and continued to the waterfront, slowing his pace once he got to Miners Landing.
“Almost there,” he smiled, nearly out of breath.
Once he got past Pike Place, he caught sight of the Ferris Wheel. He’d seen it before, sure, but he’d never truly seen it up close. With the clear sky, the bright sun, and the Puget Sound as a backdrop, it looked straight out of a movie. He gaped in awe at the size of it, having not realized how big it really was.
It was official. He reeeeaaaaaalllllyyyyy wanted to go on a Ferris Wheel.
Bill passed by a few canopies on the way, buying a handful of pins and shoving them in his pockets. They jingled as he trotted along, making him giggle. Finally, he stopped at Pier 59, right outside the Seattle Aquarium. He shivered with delight; Dean shouldn’t have been too far away.
Sure enough, a black Onyx Prodigy pulled up next to the curb. He knew them to be made in France. It was Noire’s line of sports cars, but Bill hardly cared for brands. He did , however, care for Dean’s face on the passenger side, smiling at him from the back row. Saimin sat in shotgun, and she waved to him as she got out.
“Hey, Cipher,” she chuckled. “I… um… I see Rain’s style has caught your eye. It looks just like hers.”
“What?” Bill blurted, raising an eyebrow in confusion.
Saimin made a motion at his torso, urging him to look down at what he was wearing. Bill didn’t have to look long to see what she was talking about. In his haste to get out the door, he’d grabbed a random jacket from the rack, not knowing it was, in fact, Rain’s trademark denim one.
“Oh,” he muttered, his face flushing with embarrassment.
“I’m sure she won’t mind,” Dean laughed, stepping out of the car and onto the sidewalk. “It looks good on you, anyways.”
“Wait,” said Bill, eyeing the two. “If Saimin’s in shotgun and you’re in the back…”
Diablo Louis stepped out of the driver’s side, crossing his arms over his chest. “Howdy, Cipher,” he waved. “You’re looking spiffy as always.”
Bill nearly stumbled backward, his heart racing. “You… You brought him? ” he hissed, eyeing Saimin’s brother cautiously. “You do know what he’s done, right…?”
Diablo raised an eyebrow. “You do know I can hear you, right…?” he laughed, mocking Bill’s tone. “Not that it matters much. We’re at the aquarium. Who cares about supernatural stuff when you’re looking at fish?”
Me, Bill wanted to say, but he kept his mouth shut. The four of them walked inside, paid for the admission, and walked over to the 20 by 40 viewing window embedded in the wall. It was filled with 120,000 gallons of water, Bill knew, as well as hundreds of fish and invertebrates. A scuba diver swam around inside, talking to tourists about the aquatic life indigenous to the Pacific Northwest’s waters.
“That’s so cool,” Dean gasped, staring on in disbelief. “Isn’t this exciting?”
I’ve seen it before, Bill thought, but he decided to keep quiet for Dean’s sake. It wasn’t all that interesting to Bill, but Dean’s eagerness had awakened something inside him that he didn’t know was there. Something more than just excitement or exhilaration.
“Yeah,” he chuckled, walking over to be at Dean’s side. “It sure is. What kinds of fish do you think are in there?”
“Maybe salmon?” Dean guessed.
The group walked past the viewing window and made their way over to the crashing waves exhibit, where simulated ocean waves blew past rocks and starfish. Saimin chuckled as a couple of droplets hit her cheek.
Life On The Edge, the sign above them said, and Bill quickened his pace. There, on one side of the room, was a large tank containing a giant pacific octopus. It stared at him, unblinking, and Bill stared back.
“Woah,” Diablo breathed. “That’s big.” He eyed Bill curiously. “Watcha thinkin’ about, buddy?”
Bill grimaced. “I’m not your buddy, ” he snapped, turning his attention back to the cephalopod. “His name’s Archibald. Though you wouldn’t know that.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Can you… Can you speak to animals?” he asked, looking genuinely interested.
“Well, I used to,” Bill admitted, tilting his head to get a better look at the creature. “They only live around three to five years, though I’d expect this is still Archibald.” He squinted. “Then again, he looks a little different… I’ve forgotten what Archibald looks like.”
“Archibald the Octopus,” Saimin chuckled.
Bill stared at her like she was crazy. “ No. Archibald the Demon.”
Saimin’s face scrunched up in confusion. “What…?”
“Oh, right, sorry. You wouldn’t know,” Bill replied. “Sometimes demons choose to live in this dimension permanently. Either they grow accustomed to life here, or they just need a vessel they can get in and out of really easily. The most preferable vessel is typically an octopus.”
Diablo broke into a fit of laughter. Bill whipped around to stare him down.
“It isn’t a joke, slack-jaw! This is absolutely true!” he insisted.
“I… I don’t doubt you,” Diablo wheezed, trying to calm down, “But… something about you saying it makes it sound hilarious. ”
“Anyways,” Bill grumbled, “they’re the most preferable because one, they’re boneless; two, they’re smart enough to make deals but not smart enough to question them; three, they look terrifying.” He paused, placing a hand to the glass. “Humans are usually the second choice.”
“So, why aren’t you an octopus?” Diablo asked.
“Oh, slack-jaw, you and your questions, ” Bill laughed, waving him off. “First off, it wasn’t my choice. Second, I’m not gonna shorten my lifespan so I can become a boneless idiot.”
Dean squatted next to Bill, smiling at the octopus he could only assume was named Archibald. “So, tell me about him,” he smiled, urging Bill to continue. “About Archibald, I mean.”
“Alright,” Bill nodded, glancing at the cephalopod. “I won’t be saying anything mean since I’m not sure if he can understand me or not.” He cleared his throat. “Long ago, back when humans weren’t so smart, Archie here created this thing called the Eternity Ring. It would cause anyone who wore the ring to never age, so long as they kept touching it. When they took it off, they would continue to age as normal.”
“Wow,” Saimin breathed. “That’s… That’s awesome.”
“Speak for yourself,” Bill scoffed. “Unfortunately, some of the more powerful demons, for example, me, decided that they didn’t like the idea of humans being able to use the ring. So, they sent him to the void and hoped he never returned.”
Diablo glanced over at them, his gaze somewhat knowing. Bill pretended not to notice.
“Now, out in the void is one of the most annoying creatures you could run into,” he continued through gritted teeth. “The Axolotl. They save any living organism they come across because, for some reason, they feel like everyone should have a chance at redemption.” Bill crossed his arms. “Except for me, of course! They left me to die in the middle of the woods with a shattered soul and a frail constitution!”
“Are they the reason you’re not an octopus?” Diablo asked, his voice monotone and apathetic.
Bill stood up rather quickly, whipping around and pointing his index finger right at Diablo’s chest. The latter backed up a bit, startled by Bill’s reaction.
“ I didn’t WANT to be an octopus, ” he hissed. “ I wanted to be a DEMON. And I WAS. I think you can tell that it didn’t end up like that, DID IT? ”
“Hey, hey, chill,” Diablo laughed, unnervingly unphased, “I was joking, man.”
Bill wanted to scream, but he was in public and not everything was a contest. He balled up his fists and put his arms at his sides, taking a deep breath as though he were about to stretch. He tensed all his muscles and then let them relax, a method that seemed to work a treat considering he’d never used it before.
“Alright, alright,” he concluded, trying to get a smile back on his face. “I came here to hang out with Dean and have a good time, so that’s what I’m gonna do.” He turned to look at Dean. “Hey, you wanna go to the underwater dome?”
Dean stood up, a bright smile on his face. “Sure! I’m all for it.”
Saimin nodded, raking a hand through her hair. “Alright, then. Diablo and I can go look at the Ocean Oddities exhibit. I say we meet up at the cafe when we’re done. Is that good with you guys?”
“Yep,” Diablo agreed, giving her a thumbs up. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Alright, then! It’s settled!” Bill’s lips pulled up into an effortless smile as the area around him seemed to grow brighter. “Let’s go take a look at those fish!” He started to make a move for the door outside but stopped and turned back around. “Hey, Saimin, while you’re at it, if you see a pufferfish, could you take a picture of it and send it to Rain?”
Demencia just barely looked up as the walls of Black Hat Manor unfolded to reveal Kit. His face was flushed pink with anger, though it wasn’t a dangerous amount. Demencia groaned impatiently, slithering over to him.
“So,” she groaned, standing back up, “I take it he didn’t cooperate with you?”
He’s a stubborn man, Kit stated calmly, though he was anything but calm. It will be fun to break him. Don’t you agree?
“No,” Demencia answered bluntly, pushing her pink bangs out of her face. “Let’s not do that.” She trailed her nails along the embroidered wallpaper, giggling when it ripped open. The paper promptly sealed itself shut as she took her hands off the wall. “You just don’t get people, y’know? I mean, you’re a kid. Tad’s not gonna listen to you if he can help it.”
You underestimate me, Kit hissed.
Demencia scoffed. “Geez, I wasn’t finished,” she grunted. “What I’m saying is send me out there! I’ll talk to him myself! He’ll listen to me.”
In case you haven’t realized, the boy nearly chuckled, you have a reputation for being destructive to the world around you. Anyone in Gravity Falls who even glances at you will call the police whether you like it or not.
Kit grumbled to himself. Phones exist…
Demencia attempted to smooth back her green hair, though it didn’t help much. “You’ve just gotta leave the hard work to the experts!” she assured him. “Trust me. When I first started working for Black Hat, he hardly noticed me. I got the short end of the stick all the time!” She twirled around where she stood and jumped back into the swivel chair she’d been scooting around on for the past half hour. “Now look at me! I’m the best there is!”
Kit huffed. We’ll see about that. He turned back around as the air began to fold again. In the blink of an eye, he’d disappeared into the wallpaper.
Demencia kicked at the ground with her mismatched shoes, propelling her chair down the hall towards Flug’s lab, now abandoned. He’d promised to be back in a few days, but days had turned into weeks which had turned into months, as they tended to do. She sighed irritably, figuring she should’ve stopped him when she’d still had the chance.
Not that it mattered much anymore. She made a mental note never to trust Flug when he made promises. He’d never been known to keep them.
And then there was Flug’s replacement, sleeping just down the hall because he “had nowhere else to go.” The jester made Demencia want to retch. Not only did his name sound almost exactly like hers, but he’d also managed to become Black Hat’s favorite despite being younger and significantly flimsier in terms of physical strength.
Had Demencia no inhibitions, she would’ve chucked the boy out the window months ago.
She hadn’t even met some of the others yet, though she supposed with the number of times Black Hat sent them out for “field missions,” she would have to eventually. Demencia was a great fighter. It was what she was born to do. She could probably beat Superman in an arm wrestle.
Mimi had sounded like Demencia’s cup of tea, but the spider girl had proved too fashion-obsessed to be worthy of Demencia’s respect. Nastasia wasn’t any better (too much like Flug but not as fun to mess with), but it wasn’t like Demencia couldn’t get rid of them.
That GLaDOS lady hadn’t wasted her time with Demencia’s presence, so Demencia hadn’t, either.
And then there was Saimin.
Oh, Saimin, where to begin?
For starters, Demencia was almost certain the girl was planning something. Something big and certainly treacherous and Demencia didn’t like it.
She let the chair roll to a stop, getting an idea.
Maybe Hatty will let me fight the heroes tomorrow…
That was the only way he could describe it.
Bill had seen it so many times before, repeated in several locations around the universe, but never had he seen it up close. The underwater dome was just as extraordinary as the museum had made it out to be and more, and he was quite sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life here, staring up at the creatures of the deep.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” he gasped, watching a few fish swim by.
“It is quite the sight,” Dean sighed, his eyes sparkling with awe. “Had I known this was here, I would’ve come sooner.” He turned to look at Bill. “I thought you’d seen this before.”
“I have,” Bill admitted, his attention caught by a school of fish swimming by. “There’s something so breathtaking about seeing it in person before.” He sat down on one of the stone steps, staring up at the glass ceiling. “I used to be able to see everything, though it felt more like… like watching a video about it rather than actually being there.”
Dean nodded. “I guess I can understand that,” he said, sitting down next to Bill. “I’m glad you came. Today’s been really great.”
“What’s your favorite fish?” Bill asked, more out of spontaneity than anything else.
Dean thought for a minute, glancing between the different fish swimming past the dome. He pointed at one decisively, a yellowish red trout with a large mouth, covered in black dots.
“Ah, the cutthroat trout,” Bill nodded. “Good choice.” He looked around as well, pointing to one at random. “It’s not my favorite fish in the world, but the arctic grayling looks pretty cool.”
He glanced down at the ground, noticing Dean’s hand next to his own.
Well, it’s worth a shot. Not sure how humans react to hand-holding, but you won’t know unless you try.
Bill inched his hand over bit by bit until it was just barely touching Dean’s, but before Bill could fully grab the young man’s hand, Dean had snatched it back nervously.
“Hey,” Bill whined quietly, having not expected the reaction.
“We should get going,” Dean smiled, seemingly oblivious. “We don’t wanna keep Diablo and Saimin waiting, do we?”
Bill shrunk in defeat. “I guess not,” he agreed, trying his best to mask his disappointment. “Just give me a few moments.”
Dean nodded, walking off towards the exit. Bill glanced around at the other people in the room, watching families take delight in their surroundings.
How long had it been since he’d had one of those?
How long had it been since he’d had a family…?
Bill was about to push the question back down but saw something that made him freeze. There, gliding along in the water above him, was a small, pink axolotl, staring down at him with its piercing black eyes. His blood ran cold when it met his gaze. Axolotls weren’t native to the region, but he didn’t want to assume the worst.
It smiled at him. His heart dropped into his stomach.
Bill turned tail and ran towards the exit, aiming to catch up to Dean before the young man was too far ahead of him.