Chapter 1: Reunion to Union
Chapter1: Reunion to Union
A calm, clear sky stretched out over the Mushroom Kingdom. A beautiful day such as this was quotidian, but still welcomed by the majority. Peepers flew about casually, while a few Pelicrumps circled around various houses, probably up to no good.
Luigi yawned as he stretched his right arm out over his head, since his left hand was occupied with holding a bag of goods. He had dropped by the store to pick up a few supplies as he and his brother were expecting a guest. It was a close friend of Mario, and like most of his friends, they weren't what Luigi would consider normal. Whether their quirky natures or their supernatural origins, each of them promised a personage that would not be easily forgotten.
"This would be my second time meeting her solo… I wonder if she would like any of this…" He raised his head and gazed upon the sky, enraptured for a moment by its inviting and serene blue hue. Having been fouled by corruptive forces one too many times taught Luigi to revel in its purity, for it might be taken for granted otherwise . He couldn't appreciate it for long, however, since he had things to attend to. He fixed his hat, walked over to the warp pipe, and jumped in.
It was almost noon. He was supposed to wake up early in the morning, but he had stayed up late playing video games.
"It's a good thing I still woke up before Mario. He would have been furious."
Luigi stepped off the pipe and rubbed his forehead. "Ugh, I still don't like pipe travel," He lamented as he shook his head a bit. He walked over to the mailbox, put the bag of groceries down, and rummaged through the clogged box. "Let's see… Mario, Mario Mario, bill, Mario…". Luigi shuffled through the various fan mail that Mario received on a daily basis and some bills.
"No regal pink envelopes, no adventures," Luigi mused, letting out a half-suppressed chuckle. It had been a few months since the whole Antasma fiasco, but he wasn't quite ready for another adventure just yet. A few more weeks of peace and quiet would hit the spot. Although, at this point Luigi knew that that would be asking for too much from the universe.
He finally made it to the front door and opened it.
"Mario! I'm home!" He yelled, and closed the door behind him, expecting a reply from Mario. "Mario?" Luigi poked his head through the kitchen door. Sure enough, Mario was seated at their dining table, groggily hovering over the almost untouched breakfast that Luigi had prepared before leaving. He was surrounded by a few comic books
"Mannaggia la miseria…" Luigi sighed, putting the bag of groceries on a nearby table. He then prodded Mario gently. "Wake up, lazy. Your friend is almost here!"
"Write a strongly … worded letter to the Mushroom Times." The red-clad plumber drawled in his sleep, and yawned. "... In the morning…" He slumped forward over the table, squashing his breakfast with his face.
"Che seccatura…" Luigi thought. He shook his head and mumbled, "I guess it is that time again." He made his way to the basement. A few minutes later, he returned with the tools necessary for the job: A plunger, a bucket of water, and an alarm clock. "This is going to get ugly."
"Gee, it's already 10:45. Did you forget about today?" Luigi asked with mild exasperation. It had taken a great effort to get Mario to wake up today. He had almost gotten burned when his older brother had shot fire his way.
"I couldn't fall asleep, so I started reading some of my old comics. I forgot how fun they were," Mario replied, grinning sheepishly. "But really, I was sort of worried about today." Mario's expression bounced back to thoughtful as he looked down on the table.
"You? Worried? It's not often I hear you use that word, Mario." Luigi couldn't help but laugh, drawing an angry glare from his older brother. "Sorry bro, no harm meant," He added hastily. "You're still concerned about your friend's situation, right?"
"Pretty much. She says it is better now, but compared to what exactly? Which is why I need you to tread carefully around her. Don't come off too strong."
"No problem, bro. You can count on me." Luigi's face beamed with a smile as he nodded in understanding, pouring some wine into the rice he was stirring. He was preparing a mushroom risotto. It was a favorite of the duo, and something Luigi was great at. The only drawback was that it took a while to cook.
"So, you plan to greet the lady with breakfast on your face and mustache, or as a plumber? Go change into something more appropriate," Luigi stated, causing Mario to jump off the chair and run to the bathroom.
A few minutes later, the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom came back. He had donned a pair of blue jeans, a red T-shirt which showcased his ripped arms, and his signature red cap.
"I would say you're looking sharp, but you're more of an obtuse kind of shape." Luigi snickered, giving Mario a thumbs-up. "You probably would look better off in green. It goes great with everything."
"The Massif bros ain't got beef on me, unlike you." Mario retorted, rolling his eyes at his brother's sarcastic comment. "I'll just consider it a compliment."
Both of them started laughing until the sound of the doorbell interrupted them.
"Looks like she's on time. Go get her, tiger," Luigi said encouragingly.
Mario nodded. He then walked over and clapped his younger sibling on the back. "It just means you have to hurry up."
"You can't rush art, neither can you rush a genuine risotto!" Luigi scoffed, rolling his eyes. Mario simply chuckled and darted to the door.
He quickly glanced over the mirror by the entrance. "Hair, check. Cap, check. Glorious mustache, check. Alright, here we go!"
Mario opened the door and was greeted by a very pleasant blast from the past. One of his former companions in one of his most grueling adventures: Vivian, the Shadow Siren.
"Mario, it's so delightful to see you!" she greeted, starting to make for a hug.
"It's great to see you too, Vivian," Mario replied, holding her close to him. Hugging a Shadow Siren was always an interesting experience for Mario. He could never get used to it despite Vivian indulging in many-a-hugs over the course of their adventure together. It felt like being submerged in tender marshmallows. Vivian's sweet fragrance made the entire experience even better.
"Say! Have you gotten taller, or is it just me?" Mario pulled back to give his shadowy companion a better look. Her appearance was slightly altered from the last time. Other than her height, her pink hair had grown considerably and she still wore the same red and white striped witch hat, along with a similarly patterned scarf tied around her neck. While Mario's interest in fashion was, by all means, almost a nonentity, he could still appreciate her stylish look.
"I-I suppose I did…" Vivian answered, covering her mouth with her hand and shyly averting her gaze.
"Eh, welcome to the club of everybody taller than Mario then." Mario laughed heartily and welcomed her in. "Come right in! Luigi's waiting." He closed the door behind his friend and led her inside. She's been there a few times before but only once alone with the Marios.
"Hey there!" Luigi greeted. "Vivian, right? Glad you could make it."
"Th-thank you. Happy to be here…" Vivian replied, shrinking into herself. It was her second time meeting Luigi, and she wasn't quite used to him. She was still a bit socially awkward, especially around big personalities like the "Green Thunder".
"Like I was saying earlier," Mario continued. "It is great seeing you again. How was the trip from Twilight Town?"
"Not too bad, thanks to the new warp pipe," The siren explained, "Having to go through Rogueport is still a bit unnerving, however."
"I could have come to fetch you if you wanted," Luigi added, sampling a bit of the rice, then adding a pinch of salt.
"I-I didn't want to trouble anyone—" Vivian floundered, "L-lunch smells great though. What is it?"
"Good ol' mushroom risotto! Luigi here is an expert!" Mario explained, tapping his brother on the shoulder a smidgen too hard. "Tread carefully." It was more a less a sign that Luigi should tone it down with her until she got more comfortable.
"Careful with the gorilla strength, bro. I'm not like you." Luigi chuckled with a tinge of exasperation, before bursting into laughter with Mario.
"These two really get along," Vivian mused, thinking back on her own sisters. While it was a lot better than before, their relationship remained strictly professional. Beldam was a lot older and hard to deal with, while Marilyn was only her real self when she was completely alone.
"Alright! It's done!" Luigi announced, turning the stove off. "Grab on to your hats, because this is gonna blow you away!"
"We shall see how much this 'blows'." Mario nudged his brother with his elbow, all while trying to keep himself from laughing. Vivian couldn't help but smile.
Somewhere in the middle of the planet's core…
I have … living! The Dark Star refuses such foolish foolishness of deathness! Fawful stuck to the planet like lice of a street rat who becomes Sultan! Stupid mustaches! I am here, thinking of you! Idiots of foolishness! Shadows are still Fawful's to command! I LAUGH AT DEFEAT! Here Fawful not go. The disappearing, only YOU! Fink-rats! I am feeling revenge! I am needing to feel it more, though! The world needs to feel it…
The time passed quickly, and Mario, Luigi, and Vivian traded stories about how their lives had been since their last meeting. The Marios regaled the Siren with the tale of the bat king and the realm of dreams. In turn, she talked about the changes that occurred in her life since the fall of the Queen, from the treatment of her sisters, to her own small advances in her personality. She also mentioned how she was working on her shadow abilities, in case something presented itself. She felt the need to be useful and actually be better able to help out.
"Anyway, that's how the Fire and Thunder gods bestowed us with our elemental powers. It was quite the rid—" Mario explained when he suddenly got interrupted by a loud ripping noise.
"What was that!?" Luigi shouted, covering his ears as the noise seemed to intensify.
Another loud sound was heard. This time it was followed by violent tremors. The entire house started to shake, causing several paintings to fall off the walls.
"Th-this isn't supposed to happen, is it?" Vivian said, submerging herself partially in the shadows. The Mario brothers shook their heads. This was new and very different from a normal earthquake, something almost unheard of in the area to begin with.
Shortly afterwards, black smoke erupted from the ground. It felt like it was seeping into the sky, smearing it with a murky, depressing dark-purple shadows. The duo looked over to their shadowy friend, silently hoping for an answer from one acquainted with the shadows.
"I-I don't know what's going on…" she said, sinking even deeper into her own shadows. She felt some sort of presence from the surrounding darkness, but nothing relatable. It was vastly different from what she is used to, something more sinister and oppressive.
A mere five minutes later, the entire planet was wrapped in the dark shroud. The rays of sunlight were completely blocked out. With the tremors stopping, Mario stood up, lighting his hand on fire to illuminate the area.
"Everybody alright?" he asked, checking the situation of both his companions.
"I'm alright… I think," Vivian answered, her voice barely audible.
"Still alive, I reckon," Came Luigi's reply. He seemed to realize that something big was going on, something he'd have to partake in fixing. It was both a good and a bad thing. Usually, he would feel dejected, getting left out of Mario's adventures, but when he actually got dragged along, he regretted his decision almost immediately. Not necessarily out of fear, but mostly out of Mario's insistence on going all out, fighting almost everything coming their way.
"Let's take a look outside. Maybe we'll find something." Mario suggested: the other two looked at each other and nodded.
As they tried to make their way to the door, the ceiling cracked and started caving in. Vivian lunged instinctively at the brothers, dragging them down in the shadows as the roof of the house collapsed.
"Um, Mario?" Vivian tugged at his shirt and asked, "Are you guys alright?"
"Thanks to you, we are." Mario gave her a thumbs-up and looked around, igniting his hand to at least see Vivian and Luigi's faces. It had been years since his last descent to the shadows.
"So this is what it feels like, to be in the shadows…" Luigi mused, observing his surroundings himself. He pictured it as a more sinister place, at least judging from what Mario told him. The reality of it was actually pretty pleasant for Luigi. It was then that he noticed a pair of red lenses with an orange swirl glowing in the bottom of the shadows. "Eh, Mario, I think you should take a look down there." He sighed and pointed downwards.
All eyes were on the pit of shadows. Mario's stomach sank—at this point it was almost a habit.
"Those lenses … you don't think?" Luigi trailed off.
"It's exactly what I'm thinking," Mario replied, clenching his fist that was still on fire.
"Guys… Is everything alright?" Viviana asked, concerned.
"I say to you WELCOME! Welcome to Fawful's world of shadows that is new!" Fawful announced gleefully in his ear-grating voice, his ear to ear pearly toothed smile emerging from the darkness. Luigi grabbed the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. Vivian was still confused. She had heard the brothers mention Fawful before, but this was her first time seeing him. Mario, on the other hand, was starting to get visibly miffed.
"Excitement! So very excitement! You feeling it? Fawful also feeling it! I have much fury with my remembering… Red! and Green put the fog of rage in my head. My mind goes crazy again. Meet NEW FURY OF FAWFUL!" Fawful burst out, cackling maniacally. His eyes turned brighter and brighter, firing a beam towards the gang. It was extremely fast, faster than what they could react to while in the shadows, barring Vivian.
"Mario! No!" Viviana yelled out, quickly zipping through the shadows, and emerging from under the brothers in a quick motion.
Unfortunately, the beam powered through them. They squirmed in pain as an uncomfortable feeling crept over their bodies. Viviana seemed worse off as her body appeared to be boiling and melting.
"Mario! Vivian! Hang in there!" Luigi huddled over, bracing himself as the beam kept pushing them outwards.
"All who resist will be drizzled by rage dressing like a salad of evil with cheese from a famous cow made of jewels!" Fawful guffawed, emitting a sinister crimson ray of light that covered every possible surface. "Now for your exit, with DRAMA!"
The beam intensified, finally ripping the shadows open and flinging the trio out at an alarming speed. Luigi got separated from them as he flew in a different direction. Mario, however, extended his arm and held Vivian by her hand. Her now viscous body slowly crept upon his own, encasing it in a cocoon of sorts.
They then promptly lost consciousness as they crash landed…
Chapter 2: One With the Shadows
Chapter 2: One With the Shadows
Mario opened his eyes and rubbed his head. Everything was a jumbled up blur and it didn't help that he had a splitting headache to boot. Trying to make something of his surroundings was a tall order.
"Anybody got the number of that truck?" Mario clutched his head and tried to stand up, with moderate success. Leaning against a wall, he shook his head, hoping to clear his vision. He only became more confused when he rubbed his eyes and discovered that he had rocketed to a far away place.
"Ugh, is this the Underworld? Can't I even catch a little break when I meet one of my friends?" Mario lamented, slipping down against the wall into a sit. It seemed that he ended up in some rundown old shack with no door. One thing was certain to him which was that he wasn't in the Agaricana Domain anymore.
"Hmm, I guess not quite Underworld…" Mario reasoned, "But where did Luigi and Vivian end up?" He looked around, but there was no sign of either of them being there. Out of a crack in the ceiling, Mario could identify the kind of depressing, spooky, and gloomy purple-magenta sky.
The moon hovered ominously in the center of it. The more you stared at it, the more you felt like it was getting closer. For whatever reason, Mario had found himself in Twilight Trail. He had no idea whether it was intentional by Fawful or complete coincidence.
"Cavolo! One second I'm home in Agaricana, the next I'm flung away by a green nerd to Morchella. " Mario scratched his head, thinking of what to do next. It was then when he heard a faint synchronized chorus of what appeared to be footsteps.
"Then again, he did prove to be very well organized…" Mario wanted nothing more than to vent his frustration and confusion through his fists but he fought his instinct and crept closer to where the door was supposed to be.
He silently poked his head to take a look at what the source of the noise was. Lo and behold as they slipped into view—an entire squadron of Fawful Guys that must have numbered in the hundreds. Their bright orange robes were as laughable as ever, as were their silly Fawful masks. Mario couldn't ever take them seriously because of such inappropriate caricature. Some of them were carrying umbrellas, while the others were wearing a weird looking wristband with one red button on top. Their synchronized march scared off the scattered hyper Goombas and their various variants.
"Why send me here? What is he up to now?" Mario pondered, rubbing his chin. "Well, if they are here to welcome me, then I might as well greet them with open arms." Mario's face twisted into a smug smile and he cracked his knuckles. He figured that if he left them be, then the citizens of Twilight Town would surely suffer for it. He might as well clean up while he was present.
The red warrior stood up and stretched his arms before lifting his right one in front of him. He gave it a scrutinizing look and clenched his fist, engulfing it within a brilliant red flame. "Still in working order… Good!"
Mario leaned against the wall, observing his prey. He waited for them to get closer before he pounced like an angry crow taking flight.
"Three, two, one…" Without warning, Mario leaped through the hole in the ceiling. His right arm set ablaze, he slammed his fist right in the middle of the small army. A violent inferno erupted after the collision, frying dozens, and sending a multitude of them flying from the force of the impact and whipping up a cloud of dust.
Once the dust settled down, it revealed the crater it left in its wake, with Mario right in the middle, his fist pushing brutally against his enemy's now leaking stomach. This brand of Shy Guys were sentient no more after being brain-jacked by Fawful so Mario didn't feel guilty going above and beyond in making sure they stay dead. To him, it was a form of mercy, for he wouldn't know if they still lived past the veil, unable to do anything about their fates.
The red-clad plumber stood up and flicked his hand, scattering the blood off of it. He then proceeded to crack his knuckles, followed by his neck.
"Bring it on, sfigati!" Mario taunted, moving his index and middle fingers towards himself before assuming his fighting stance.
The orange soldiers converged on him immediately. Mario kicked the body at his feet onto the incoming crowd before flipping backwards, pushing violently on the head of another one that charged him from behind. The impact of Mario's weight caused him to dig down up to his neck.
The crowd kept coming despite what Mario was throwing their way. It seemed like they didn't care for what was happening to the lot of them, nor did they display any fear of Mario. They thrust their parasols at him, causing him to drop to a crouch, sweeping his right leg around, knocking them off balance. Mario then continued into a handspring and kicked one of the parasols of a Fawful Guy's hands.
With the parasol flying about, Mario leaped up high after it and grabbed it. Such a jump was definitely worthy of the title "Jumpman," even though Luigi could achieve more spectacular results. The parasol allowed him to slowly float down, giving him a perfect position to start raining a torrent of fireballs.
"No wonder Peach loves doing this." Mario's face beamed with a satisfied smile. It was as fun as ever, kicking the living lights out of things, and protecting those who could not protect themselves.
Seeing how they can't reach him from that high, many of the Fawful guys pressed the button on their wristbands. Several Yoob-like tongues ripped through the scene from what resembled purple-black holes, grabbing a great deal of the orange-robed minions. They were all sucked in very swiftly, leaving a scant few to take the brunt of Mario's torrential assault.
The black holes opened once more and a barrage of eggs was launched at Mario. The first one hit him square in the face.
"Mannaggia! I forgot about those things." Mario wiped the remains of the eggshell from his face and closed down his flotation device to drop down and dodge the other incoming projectiles. Along the way, he readied his fist and smashed into two Guys directly beneath him.
The eggs continued to shoot at him, giving him an ample opportunity to display his acrobatics, as well as his other sports skills. He batted the eggs with the parasol, halted some of them with his knee before promptly kicking it back, or simply avoided it by gracefully sidestepping at the last second. The rush of adrenaline only made the experience more enjoyable to him.
Mario made sure to toss the eggs and whatever Fawful guys that bumped into him back into the holes, hoping to clog them up. It did seem to do the trick as the number of the minions left was even less than before. They must have been almost out of ammunition—if they weren't already crushed by Mario.
The scattered remains of the squadron assembled as the rest of them were spat out of the portals. They all stood in front of Mario, motionless.
"What? Is that all?" Mario shook his head in disappointment and shrugged. "I don't know what I was expecting from guys in pajamas with parasols. Fine then! Let's finish this!"
Inhaling deeply, Mario stretched his fingers, pulling his arms to the right, and to the left. A brilliant blaze started to form around the entirety of them. The flames twisted and coiled around each appendage, taking the vague shape of a serpentine dragon that howled menacingly.
The Fawful guys stood still, the smile imprinted on their faces betraying the situation they were in. If one didn't know any better, they'd think that they were reveling in the fireworks. Either that or it was exactly what they were expected to do.
Regardless, Mario charged forward, veering to the right to quickly kick a stray guy back with the group. As he approached their position, Mario gripped his right arm tightly by the wrist, the fire serpents joining together.
His right arm was no longer visible due to the brilliant aura of fire that surrounded it. Mario was prepared to unleash one of his stronger attacks. He drew his arm further back and shot it forward, unleashing the beast.
"Fuoco Arden—!" "Mario?" As he announced his attack, Mario suddenly heard the voice of Vivian. At that moment, shadow blades ripped from his femur and sliced downwards, all the way to his feet. A jet of black blood escaped from Mario's body. It twisted and turned before coiling around his legs, joining them together into a single tendril. Unfamiliar with his new and sudden appendage, Mario lost his balance and fell forward towards his own attack.
Fortunately for Mario, the beam of prominence still hit its mark and his own flames didn't cause any real harm to him. The impact of the blast did send him flying thirty feet into the air, plummeting headlong into the abandoned shack, punching yet another entry into the run-down building.
As the chaos and dust settled down, it revealed a mass graveyard of cinders and charred remains, along with an even larger crater.
"I guess I got a little too trigger happy," Mario muttered to himself, crawling close to the wall to sit against. "What the hell what that, though?" He paused, examining and getting a feel for his legs which apparently had reverted to normal.
"I could have sworn that they joined together…" Mario grabbed his legs, trying to get a feel of them. As far as that went, they felt completely normal. He stood up, starting to wonder if he imagined what happened, when he noticed the scattered pieces of the rotted wood from the roof. "I hope the owner of this shack won't hold it against me…"
"It is abandoned, Mario! Nobody owns it." Mario heard Vivian's voice again, and like last time, his legs immediately joined together. The sudden nature of it caused him to face plant with a thud.
"Mario! Are you alright?" Vivian asked, mortified at the sound of the impact. It seemed that she couldn't tell what was going on from Mario's side.
"I've had better days…" Mario said through his teeth, his face still on the floor. "I'm having technical difficulties with my legs."
"Your legs?" Vivian sounded confused. She wasn't sure what to expect. "What do you mean?"
Mario lifted himself up with his hands and brought himself into a sitting position, giving him a better view of his malfunctioning appendages, or at least what was left of them. They had turned into a shadowy spiral tail that was a reddish shade of purple in color. It connected to the ground, similar to how it was with Vivian.
"I think I can hazard a guess as to what happened to me. More importantly, where are you Vivian?" Mario looked around, trying to discern where the voice was coming from. "Are you hiding in the shadows?"
"I-I'm not sure… This doesn't look like anything I ever saw before." Vivian trailed off. "It feels serene and inviting somehow."
"Is Luigi at least there with you?" Mario asked, at which point Vivian screamed suddenly, "Eeep!"
That was enough to get Mario standing on his feet, or tail thing. He struggled to keep himself balanced as if walking on a tightrope, which is ironic since he was quite adept at that. He settled for just leaning against the wall instead of further struggling with it.
"What's going on?" he asked, somewhat confused.
"I, um," Vivian stammered; Mario imagined she would be tugging on her lower lip like always. "When you mentioned Luigi, an image of him popped out of nowhere. That's what startled me."
"An image?" Mario's face contorted slightly in concentration. "Sounds like the time I was in the dream world with Dreambert."
"Eeep! It happened again!" Vivian screamed again.
"Well, I think that explains it… " Mario let out a faint sigh, having figured out what happened. It certainly was different than usual, if nothing else. After all, Vivian had been covering him when the beam hit them. Not to mention that it still wasn't any stranger than any of Mario's other adventures.
"Explains what exactly?"
"Explains why my legs turned into something similar to your tail," Mario replied, taking another look at the ever swirly shadowy appendage. "That in turn means that we must have been joined together."
"I think you're right… I'm seeing a bunch of other people…" Vivian whispered, slightly intimidated by the number of people that were popping through Mario's head. "What about Luigi though?" Vivian voiced her concern. She knew how capable Luigi was from the stories of his brother, but something similar could have happened to him while he was unconscious.
"We'll have to find him eventually. For now, we need to figure out what to do. A pipe home isn't far away from our current position. Maybe we should go back and check for clues."
"I was thinking that maybe we should go and see Beldam, if that's not much trouble. She might know something about this," Vivian suggested. If anyone were to know anything about the Shadows, Beldam would be their best bet.
"That's fine; I don't see why not. I just hope she will be cooperative and not bitter about last time…" Mario trailed off. "By the way, how do you walk with this thing?"
"That's … gonna be a little hard to explain…" Vivian whispered, slightly disappointed.
"I really have had better days…"
Chapter 3: The Crown of Shadows
Twilight town finally crept into view, and Mario was immensely glad that it was almost over. He never thought that he'd be delighted to set foot in there again willingly. Not only for the bleakness of it that sucked away his enthusiasm, but also for the reignition of some painful memories that would be better left unkindled. His new form didn't exactly help his situation, making the somewhat straightforward road feel like it stretched on forever. He had to deal with many different afflictions before in his adventures, such as being turned into a painting, inflated like a balloon, and even "cursed" by various demonic chests. He even got his legs turned into a spring and his body into a bowling ball. Item transformation usually imparted the basic knowledge to the user, as if that was how they were born, growing up with the ability. Forced transformation like this one, however, required getting exterior knowledge and help, or a lot of practice, sometimes even both for more complex phenomenons.
The shadowy tail, like Vivian's, was always connected to the ground. That meant that he needed to get it to move while standing perfectly balanced, which was easier said than done. He kept falling flat on his face every few "steps". The only reason he wasn't attacked was that the monsters around were terrified of him after he dispatched the squadron of Fawful guys, not to mention that many of them remembered his last visit as well. They pretty much knew that, even while impaired, he'd still mop the floor with them.
Twilight town, the perpetually twilit settlement where the moon never shied away from view. The inhabitants were as shadowy as the sky above them. Most people believe that it was an effect of the area, which was why most people avoid staying for more than necessary, but many others found solace in the everlasting silence broken only by the occasional caws of the crows.
"Thank the lord we're already here!" Mario exclaimed, grabbing onto the gate to the city to balance himself. "Please tell me your house is near the entrance, Vivian."
"It's right around the corner. I'm sorry for the trouble that my powers have caused you…" Vivian replied, her voice tinged with guilt
"It's not your fault. If anyone is to blame, it would be that little green nerd."
"Greetings, Mario…" A Twilighter that was guarding the gate eventually greeted him in a monotone voice. He didn't even care that Mario just gave up on the gate door. "What brings you here this time?"
"Eh, nothing special." Mario replied, anxiously trying to hide the fact that he could barely stand. "Just visiting someone."
The guard seemed so uninterested that he gave off a legitimate sleepy feel to him, but he picked up on Mario's real answer regardless. "I suppose it's part of being 'super' that makes you transform on a regular basis. Still, enjoy your stay." The guard simply nudged the door open, and stood still.
Mario sort of approved of his stance but only because it spared him further embarrassment with his predicament.
Inside was the same shady town that Mario visited a few years ago, except maybe a few more houses and people. The population of the crows was about the same, resting on the trees, waiting to talk smack behind the backs of anyone possible when they weren't listening or just philosophizing about semi-complex matters. In the middle of the town, Mario noticed a small statue in his image. He assumed that it was erected shortly after he left after helping them. Despite keeping in touch with Vivian, he never went back here himself, mostly because he'd been busy from one adventure to the next, but also because his partners visited him on a regular basis.
"Can't escape being Mario I suppose," He mused, but shook away the thought as soon as it came, not wanting Vivian to see it herself.
As soon as Mario faded away from view, a pair of crows started talking.
"You hear? Looks like Mario got himself in a pickle!" began to the crow perched on the left branch of the tree. "Not just him, his brother, cousins and the princess have the same predicament."
"Hah, I don't envy humans. They get in trouble so often," The second crow derided, flicking its wing. "So much for being powerful entities!"
"But rumor has it that the princess isn't really a human." Continued the first crow, creeping closer to his friend and whispering.
"Gack! What makes you say that?"
"Why, it's the reason they disposed of the legitimate heir to the throne," the first crow carried on, sharing his theory. "It seems that Fawful knows that. Couldn't tell you what he's thinking, however."
"Aye, nobody could hope to understand him, except maybe his deceased mistress." The second crow shook his head slowly. "All we can do is wait and see what Mario does, like always."
"Indeed, we crows aren't built for this."
Mario found himself thinking back—back when Doopliss made off with his body, name, and friends. It was one of the most grueling and nightmarish experiences he had to endure. Having to beat the living lights out of his companions was the apex of that atrocity. If it weren't for Vivian's help, he might have been stuck as a nameless shadow. He had still fared off better compared to the rest of the town, forcefully turned into pigs every time the bell rang.
If Mario didn't know any better, he would have developed a vendetta against all Duplighosts, but he chose to let it slide, seeing how Doopliss had learned his lesson and changed his ways.
Mario was soon ejected from his brooding by the sight of a house he hadn't seen before. It looked like any other house, except the roof was divided into three colors, side to side in blue, yellow, and red.
"Some things never change." Mario chuckled, and tapped gently at the door.
"I hope Beldam isn't in a bad mood. I promised I would be back by the end of the day…" Vivian sounded slightly uncomfortable. Beldam may have promised to be nicer, but she didn't promise that her personality would change, that of a cranky old hag.
"I'm personally hoping she's over me beating the tar out of her…" Mario rubbed the back of his head, letting out a half-suppressed awkward chuckle. The fact that both Beldam and Marilyn had shadow tails meant that they made no noise when they moved, which added layers of nervousness to Mario.
"Who is it at this hour!" A cranky voice came from inside. Beldam was very tempted to growl and freeze the visitor. She cracked open the door and hissed. "What do you wa—"
The moment she noticed Mario, her mouth curled into a sneer, a worse one than what was permanently pasted on her face.
Mario smiled awkwardly. "Hello… I, uh, need to talk to you about something important." His face took on a serious expression.
"I have no time for your games, nor do I have anything to talk to you about, no matter how handsome you are." The ice witch sneered at him, opening the door further. She then took notice of something that was very different about Mario, besides his new pointy witch hat.
"What happened to your legs? Finally decided that you don't need them?" Beldam pointed to Mario's shadowy tail. "Wait a minute, wasn't it you the one that Vivian went to visit yesterday?"
"Yesterday!? Looks like I was conked out for a lot longer than I expected," Mario said, flabbergasted. He felt he should thank his stars that no one found him in his weakened state. "Anyway, that's what I'm here to talk to you about. Well, that and Vivian."
The mention of Vivian's name seemed to get the witch's attention.
"Vivian? What about her!?" Beldam questioned, before she came to a realization. "Aha! You consumed her and stole her power, you big fat oaf! I know you couldn't be trusted!" Beldam yelled, an icy aura forming around her. Verglas would quickly cover the floor and the sides of the door.
"H-hold on! I can explain!" Mario flailed his hand in front of him, causing him to lose his balance and prompting him to hang on to the side of the door, which was very difficult due to the icy layer. He could very well beat her to a pulp, but that wouldn't make her any more likely to help out, nor was it fair. He felt that he should be more surprised that she actually cared about Vivian to begin with.
"Hmm, I do suppose I can't beat you on my own, even if you can't even stand straight …" Beldam reasoned, the icy mist dissipating slowly, taking the verglas away with it. "Fine! I'll hear what you have to say. If I find out you're lying, however, I'll freeze your dear mustache off your face and hang it over the fireplace, capisci?"
The ice witch turned and floated forward a little. She then raised her hand and moved her fingers in an intricate manner, causing shards of ice to form and float around. She then clenched her fist, bringing all the icicles together and forming what resembled a walking stick.
"Use this, lest you destroy my things with your clumsiness." Beldam threw it Mario's way and climbed upstairs. He grabbed it and leaned gently against it, to see if it would actually support his weight, which it did.
"That went a lot better than I expected," Mario said, sighing with relief.
"I'd say! She's not as cranky as I was expecting her to be," Vivian said, thinking back about what her older sister said. "I hope Luigi is fine. It's been a lot longer than we thought."
"Luigi can handle himself. He's a Mario after all. Besides, all we can do now is hope that Beldam has some ideas." Mario shook his head, and finally entered the house. He was thinking how Beldam hasn't changed a bit since last time he saw her, neither physically nor mentally. Still as impatient and irritable as ever. At least she had the courtesy to help him move around without stumbling all over.
The house wasn't much prettier than the other ones in Twilight Town, perhaps even less so. A small cook fire burned in the hearth at the back, and a smoky lantern hung from the ceiling. The table had only one accompanying chair. It made sense considering that neither of the three sirens needed to sit down. To the right of the hearth crept a stairway up to the second floor. All Mario had to do was get up there, and hope that she would be able to help both him and Vivian in some shape or form.
A few minutes went by, and Mario managed to explain the situation to Beldam, who was surprisingly patient with it. He also explained that Vivian was inside his head and that she could hear them.
"I suppose I need to help. I can't stand Marilyn's cooking anyway," Beldam said, rolling her eyes. "I did feel the surge of Darkness yesterday, but as my fool of a sister probably told you, it is vastly different from ours," She continued. "However, the Queen is a mistress of all things dark. All w—"
"The Queen? You mean the Shadow Queen? Didn't I get rid of her!?" Mario interrupted her abruptly, causing Beldam to give him a two-fingered whack on the head.
"Quiet, you oaf!" she yelled. "The Queen is a being on a higher grade of existence than the rest of us. Without her, we wouldn't carry on existing!"
"Then what happened to her back then, and how will she help us?" Mario asked, rubbing his forehead. Her bony fingers were quite painful.
"All you did was exhaust her and send her back to the world of Shadows, and that is all I will say about that!" the witch explained. She lifted her hands and started drawing a bunch of incomprehensible squiggles in mid-air. A few seconds later, they all melted and joined together to form a small portal of sorts. Beldam slipped her hand in, and took out something that brought some painful memories for Mario.
"Yes! The Queen's crown. I knew it would come in handy one of these days." Beldam smiled smugly, seemingly proud of herself. Mario, on the other hand, bit his lip as he tried to stop his face from twisting into a bitter mess. Of all the dirty tricks that he had to face during his adventures, he loathed those that forced him to face his friends or his loved ones. The fact that it happened with Doopliss before in the same adventure didn't help the matter. The sight of the crown reminded him of how he had to take it out on Peach, something he wasn't inherently proud of.
"Mario …" Vivian murmured. Having been there herself, the images that flashed through Mario's head were painful to watch for her as well. It was even worse seeing how she couldn't comfort Mario in her current position.
"What do you plan on doing with this?" Mario asked, restraining other unnecessary questions, like the resurfacing of the wicked Queen, or like Vivian never telling him about their reliance on the queen's sustenance to continue existing.
"Within this crown lies the knowledge of shadows. Wear it and you will be privy to the basic laws of shadows," Beldam explained, pushing the crown to Mario's hands.
"So, I just keep this on and forget about it?" the red-clad plumber inquired, raising his free hand to get the crown, only for Beldam to quickly pull it away.
"Fat chance! Just a few seconds. Your tiny brain won't be able to handle the pressure, not to mention that it's for Yu—shadows only and that doesn't include you." The witch snarled. "Just a few seconds, got it? Unless you want to join the ranks of the Queen." She glared at Mario for emphasis.
"I get it! I get it! Sheesh. What's her deal?"
"She didn't get enough hugs growing up." Vivian chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. Mario couldn't help but let out a half-suppressed chuckle.
Bracing himself, he took the crown from her hand. The giant accessory shrunk to a more fitting size, much to Mario's surprise. He removed his beloved cap off his head, and gently placed the crown on it instead.
"Blech, I'm definitely more of a hat person." he thought to himself, not sure what to expect from this. He wondered if it would be no different than any other power or magical artifact he dabbled with in the past, or a complete new experience.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mario sighed. "When is the magic supposed to happen?"
Beldam, however, said nothing. She moved closer to him, almost uncomfortably so, and started writing her squiggly runes again.
"Insijem elldhell, dhoulomat alal jasad …" The witch murmured the same phrases over and over. The squiggles she drew reacted slowly to the chants, growing blurrier and blurrier. Each batch that was done would fly around Mario's head, menacingly drifting in mid-air. All things considered, it wasn't that different from Merlee's magic curse box.
Nearly forty minutes, Beldam still wasn't ready.
"How much longer than this do I have to wait?" Mario's head was cluttered by the floating runes, losing his mind from standing still for so long. The witch was still murmuring, drawing even more squiggles and spewing random words that he could not understand, despite them sounding like southern Sarasan. His only coping method was Vivian, who tried to keep up a conversation to distract him from the passage of time.
"The spell is ready," Beldam finally announced, pushing the last rune towards Mario. "This might sting a little. Try not to barf on the floor." She started prattling about the nature of the spell and how it was supposed to limit the amount of knowledge imparted from the crown, in order to not destroy Mario's psyche by its overwhelming horror and magnitude. Mario, however, didn't care much. As far as he was concerned, the sooner he got done with it the better. It was something he had to go through regardless of his own feelings, not unless he wanted to spend an eternity learning how to control his new powers or even walk.
"Are you ready, plumber boy?" she eventually asked, not a minute too soon.
"I was born ready!" Mario replied with moxie. "Bring it!"
Beldam lifted her hand and pointed at the runic squiggles, and a harsh purple light shot out of each individual rune. Mario covered his face with his hand as he felt a gust of wind suddenly picking up, rapidly swirling around him. The tide of magic reached his tail leg, and he could feel it crawling upwards.
"Here it comes!" Beldam shouted over the wind. "Brace yourself!"
"Brace myself is right …" Mario clenched his fist and pushed against the wind, as the purple maelstrom staggered violently.
A moment later, an ear-shattering sound ripped through town as the misty vortex was smudged from existence, leaving the red clad warrior slouching forward on the walking stick, motionless…
Silence; darkness; total silent panic.
"Of all days to kidnap me, you had to choose his one day!?" Princess Peach was pacing back and forth, murmuring something under her breath. She wore a large cowl that hid her entire body and she seemed extremely agitated.
"Can it, princess! I'm in this mess too," Bowser snarled. He crossed his arms and was tapping his foot restlessly.
Peach ignored him and continued pacing. She was in the throne room with the door sealed shut and the windows covered. The only source of light was that of a faint small candlelight near the throne that struggled to cover a portion of the vast space.
"If you keep this up, your hair will turn gray fast." Bowser smirked, raising an eye brow. Unlike Peach, he was a lot more relaxed considering the mess they were in.
"I'd rather turn grey-haired than live with these freakin' horns on my head," Peach snapped back, pulling the cowl and revealing a pair of horns jutting from under her hair. "I don't know which is worse: being stuck with you, or being turned into a monster."
"Harsh, grah hah hah." Bowser chuckled heartily and clapped his hands. "I'd say it's a step up. You look cute with these horns."
"Shut up!" Peach roared in annoyance, accidentally launching a torrent of flames from her mouth. "Ouch! Hot! Hot!" Having burned her tongue, the princess sandwiched it between her lips, trying to contain the pain. It caused wisps of smoke to curl out of her nostrils.
"You're supposed to lower your tongue when you do that." Bowser snickered. He was enjoying himself too much, everything considered.
"You will pay for this, Bowser! Just wait until Mario gets here," Peach threatened, before walking to her throne and letting herself drop. "I think I should retire soon …"
"Sign your kingdom over to me and you're all set. I promise I'll be nice, just let me hang Mario on my bedroom wall," Bowser snarked and walked to the throne. "What's taking him so long anyway? Usually he'd be down my throat by now. Stupid toads can't do anything right."
Ugh, Toads. Bowser never liked them. They were simple-minded cretins with no moxie whatsoever. Their only redeeming value, to Bowser at least, was that they were fiercely loyal.
"Princess Peach! We are reporting back from Mario's residence," shouted a pair of toad guards before Peach could entertain Bowser's monologues.
"Well, where is he?" the koopa king snarled, causing the two toads to cower and shake. He was getting bored of being cooped up in there and was itching for a fight with Mario.
"Let me handle this …" Peach sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She pulled the cowl back on her head before they could take note. "What do you have to report?"
"The Marios' house was completely ruined. We searched the rubble but we didn't find hide nor hair of any of them," the left one began. "The citizens reported that they had a guest over last they'd seen them."
"We also brought someone with us," the right one continued. "They claim that they know the solution to the dark pulse that occurred yesterday. They are not very familiar with our language, but it is understandable enough."
"Please let him in. It is urgent," Peach replied, trying to muster enough willpower to not sound too distressed. The two guards took a unified step back, saluted her and hurried off.
"Seems like plumber boys are taking a break. Maybe they are getting acquainted with a very feisty clogged up pipe." Bowser snickered and leaned on one of Peach's statues that were to the side of the throne.
"Do you ever shut up?" Peach sighed and pressed her forehead with her fingers, making sure to avoid the horns this time around. "They could be in grave danger for all I know."
"I am here! Person of great knowledgeness!" came a voice from behind the door. Its eccentricity drew the royals' attention right away. The door slowly opened to reveal a small man in a purple robe. His face was completely obscured, with only two yellow dots shining through the darkness and a small set of pearly white teeth shaped in a humble smile. "'I am the most best wizard, who is named… Merful! I am here, lending a hand! Have you readiness for answers?"
"This fruitcake is our lead?" Bowser rolled his eyes and laughed. Peach simply glared at him from the corner of her vision. "Why are all mages such lunatics?" Images of Dimentio flashed through Bowser's head. Although the only part that he was focusing on is when he got to punch the clown in the face as he absorbed Luigi's and the chaos heart's powers. "Ah, good times," He mused.
"Please share with us what you know," Peach pleaded in a soft-spoken manner.
"I am doing better than that." Merful's eyes gleamed brilliantly. "Everything will be clear like the crystal, my Highness!
Chapter 4: A Close Encounter of the Snow Kind
"So, what you're saying is that me and fruit salad princess here are bound together?" Bowser asked for a second time just to be sure. "As in if she bites the dust, so do I?"
A few steps away from the Koopa king, Merful nodded eagerly. Beside Bowser, Peach groaned and rolled her eyes. "Is this why I grew these horns?" The princess grabbed her horn and pulled at it, hoping in vain it would just come off. "Thank the stars Toadsworth isn't here."
"Reminds me of the time we got married, except now you have no choice but to have me around. Grah hah hah." Bowser let out a sardonic laugh and leered at Peach.
"That was Count Bleck's fault! Besides, I won that Tennis match against you and we got divorced, LEGALLY!" Peach snapped back at Bowser, barely containing herself from attacking him. She quickly calmed herself, and sighed. "Could this get any worse?"
The enigmatic wizard nodded even faster. "Oh yes! A lot more badness awaits you! The more longer you spend bound together, the more you will transform."
"WHAT?" Peach blurted, trying her hardest to keep herself from losing her mind, to admittedly mixed results. Merful simply stood there unflinching, while Bowser was wondering how a koopafied Peach would look like.
"Hmm, it's not that bad princess. You would be a perfect bride like that. Grah hah hah!" Bowser rubbed his chin before bursting into a guffaw. The prospective idea was interesting to him, at least on some level.
"Shut! Up! You turtle freak!" Peach puffed her cheeks and gripped the throne's arms tightly, splintering them slightly in the process.
"Is it just me, or is this discrimination against Koopas." Bowser smirked, rubbing his right hand's claws on his chest before looking at it.
Peach knew he was trying to get a rise of her, but she also knew he was right, as much as she wished she could disagree. As the matriarch of the land, she was supposed to view all races with respect and equality, especially since Koopas were common citizens of the Mushroom kingdom. What a mischievous and despicable tyrant's actions amounted to did not count for everyone. She took a long deep breath and turned to Bowser.
"I … am sorry…" Bordering on an intelligible murmur, the princess whispered.
"What was that? I couldn't hear you. I forgot to take the wax out of my ears today." Bowser snickered, picking his ear.
"I am sorry! Alright!?"
"Apology accepted, your Highness," Bowser said, looking proud of himself. He then turned to Merful, who simply sat there, completely motionless. "What else will happen to us, and how do we fix this? I don't mind being stuck with the princess, but I need to know more if I'm going to keep her pretty little face from getting charred."
"You are having a combination of the powers of both of you, like the butter of peanuts mixed with curry!" The eccentric wizard flailed his arms around excitedly. "There be others like you! Defeat them quick you must, then with the collecting of their Amalgamation energy, you will have RELEASE!"
The two royals exchanged quick glances. Bowser had a sinister smile on his face, which Peach knew all too well.
"Grah hah hah! It's perfect!" The Koopa king laughed to himself as he stomped his way to the door. "Beat a bunch of transmogrified freaks and steal their energy? Count me in!"
"Merful's explaining not over yet. You need to listen before the leaving, lest you fold like napkins who are crying!"
"We should listen to him. You can't just charge at your problems like usual. You'll kill us both this time," The princess advised. She wasn't thrilled about hearing more details, but she knew she had to.
"Bah! You can sit and discuss it with the babbling nerd. I rather get things done!" Bowser snarled and shoved the door open. When he tried to get out, he felt something binding him. The Koopa king spun around to check behind himself. It seemed that Peach was struggling to stay sitting on her throne. Bowser lifted his arm and pulled it backwards, causing the princess to be tugged slightly into that direction.
"Stop pulling!" she cried out, holding the arms of the throne tighter.
"What's the meaning of this?" Bowser roared, directing his gaze to the tiny wizard.
"What is your surprise face? Was there forgetting about your Amalgamation? BADNESS!" Merful laughed with glee, his grin spreading across his face. "You two are bounded together, dip of many layers on the chips of wildest royals!"
"You hear that princess? That means you have to come with me!" Bowser said, making his way to Peach.
"No way! I will not go anywhere with you," Peach objected, but she didn't seem to try and avoid him, as if she gave up on that notion. She was secretly praying that Mario would barge in any second and help her out. He was always great at last second rescues.
"Fine then! We do it the old fashion way!" Bowser let out a half-suppressed laugh and lunged at the princess, lifting her over his shoulder. "I'm one for classic encounters, but it will have to do this time since plumber boys are having a vacation."
"Let go of me, you brute!" Peach struggled for a few moments, then paused to rethink her situation in her head. "For the love of…" The princess crossed her arms and gave up. The various toads in the castle stared at the Koopa King from behind pillars and walls, but they didn't do anything. Mario's house was in ruins, and they couldn't hope to do anything to Bowser, which is why Peach advised against standing up to him.
"Can't we at least finish listening to what he's saying?" Peach lifted her head and voiced her concern. A part of her knew it was pointless, but there was no harm in trying.
"Bah! I have mages of the highest order that speaks coherently. We don't need that babbling mess of a wizard." Bowser scoffed at the idea and continued to stomp away at the ground. He just needed to make it to the castle and check with Kammy, and if needed, her son Kamek could also be of help. They were the best Magikoopas in the land. If they couldn't figure it out, then no one could, except maybe the smiley freak himself … who simply gazed as they left the room before blinking out of existence, leaving only the ghost of his pearly-toothed smile.
Bowser and Peach emerged from a pipe that stretched from a small cave near toad town to the outskirts of Bowser's castle. It was like usual: gray, dreary and ash laden. The entire location was shrouded underneath a permanent layer of fog stemming from the lava pools and numerous hot springs around them. The very air stank of fire and brimstone. To Bowser, the smell was the best thing ever. Peach, however, could do with a lot less sulfur.
"Can't you just call your minions instead of bringing me here?" The princess lamented, pinching at her nose to mitigate some of the awful stench.
"I have to make sure nothing is going to happen to my castle this time. I am sick of rebuilding it." Bowser explained, taking in a deep breath. "Ah, that's the stuff! You're part Koopa now so just enjoy it!"
"Fat chance!" She rolled her eyes and tightened the grip on her nose. "Since when do you have a pipe leading to Toad Town anyway?"
"I was planning to keep it as a surprise, but things change," Bowser replied, dropping the princess abruptly and taking another whiff.
"What the hell you odious brute! Easy on the merch—" The Koopa king put his claw over her mouth, interrupting her rant.
"Quiet!" he silently snarled and pulled her to a nearby shrub.
"What is it?" Peach whispered, fixing her dress by the collar.
"It smells like cold cuts…" It was faint, but there was definitely a pig nearby. That piqued the King's curiosity, so he followed the smell until it led him to a seemingly empty corner.
With no warning, Bowser opened his mouth and unleashed a torrent of scorching fire. An icy mist shot forward and collided with the fire. The Koopa King immediately took a jab at the source, shattering the illusion, revealing an invisible Midbus' fist that countered the king's.
"MUH MUH! Now is time for reunion! Then you will lose! And you will cry, again!" The icy pig laughed as Bowser took a few steps back.
"What? Planning to steal my castle, again?" Bowser scoffed, rolling his eyes. "I'm on to you this time, porky!"
"No need for castle of trashman. Give me the Turannus and Liberalis stones!" Midbus demanded, wisps of icy winds emanating from his snout.
"Oh really? How about I give you a taste of my fist instead? It's on the house!" Bowser wasn't impressed. He was, however, slightly curious as to how Midbus even knew of the stone's existence since Bowser never mentioned it or showed it to anyone, not even his own son.
Peach was also intrigued by how he knew about her own stone. Yes, she did carry it out in the open as her brooch, but it looked like any other ordinary gemmed brooch to normal people. She crept slowly and carefully behind Bowser and poked her head to the side.
"How do you know about it and why do you want it?" the princess asked, despite knowing that whatever the reason was, it was most likely no good.
"You listen! Give me stones! Or I punch your thigh bone, eye bone, and your dry bone!" Midbus smirked, icy aura taking form around his forearms.
"Grah hah hah! That tickles my funny bone, and I'm gonna break yours!" Bowser turned his head towards Peach, and asked. "What do you say, Peachy? Wanna put the hurt on pork?"
"You dealt with him before so you don't need my help," Peach objected, not because it would be dangerous, but because she was too embarrassed to remove the cowl on her head.
"Grah! Suit yourself." The Koopa king shrugged then turned his gaze to his opponent. He cracked his neck and knuckles. "This time I'll make sure to turn you into a barbecue fit for a king. You're in my domain, surrounded by steam and lava. You've got no chance!"
"Muh muh! The clock strikes payback hour, again! But first!" Midbus laughed mockingly, before pulling out an orb with dark-red swirly energy within it. "A gift. For you!"
Midbus flung the dark orb at the feet of the duo, shattering it. Red smoke burst out and quickly surrounded them both, throwing Peach into a coughing fit. As for Bowser, he simply stood there snickering.
"Setting up another backdrop? You guys really sweat the details!" The king of the Koopas cheered, clapping his hands. "Enough with the formalities! Let's just do thi—" Bowser suddenly collapsed on his knees before he could finish his sentence. He felt like he was being ripped apart from the inside and the pain wasn't showing any signs of slowing down. His roar of distress scared off some Paragoombas that took into the air.
"I fought Bowser three times! Your turn, princess. Amuse me!" Midbus snarled, pointing at Peach who was still in a coughing fit.
Bowser was still twitching in pain. A few moments later, what appeared to be his soul was ripped out of his body and jumped right into Peach's. The king's large frame dropped lifeless, before promptly dissolving into a sinister bubbling black ooze.
The dark mist dissipated and Peach dropped on her knees. Her head was spinning and she could barely keep her balance. She opened her eyes and gazed around. Midbus stood still, seemingly waiting for something to happen. As for Bowser, he was nowhere to be seen. Her vision was soon fixated on the grimy black soup that slowly crept towards her.
"What the hell is this thing?" the princess wondered, pulling away from the menacing goo. "Bowser? Of all times I wanted you to leave, this isn't one of them!" Peach looked around frantically, hoping he would show up like he always did. However, the moment she uttered his name, the black ooze pounced at her.
It was cold and clammy, and she began to sink in it. Peach tried to call for help to anyone that might be in hearing range, but she was choking, thus couldn't make a sound. She couldn't move a muscle either. The sound of crushing bone and ripping flesh drowned the scene.
"Worry not. It won't kill you." Midbus chuckled as he stood there enjoying the scene, quite satisfied with how everything was unfolding.
It didn't take long for the princess to be devoured by the goo. The symphony of flesh and bones had finally reached its coda. Everything was silent as the puddle of flesh seemed to take on a sickly pink color with some green overtones.
A few moments later, a humanoid skeleton erupted from the puddle. It stood tall and proud, but also motionless. The surrounding blobby mess curled around it, forming a spherical prison.
In an instant, it erupted in a wreath of pink fire so bright, almost blinding. An ear-splitting scream shot from within it, a frantic, tormented howl that threatened to wake all the Dry Bones in the area.
The spherical container twisted around its axis, producing even more horrifying sounds of ripped flesh and crushed bones. The squall of fire started to violently eat at the ground around it. It wasn't long until it exploded, sending forth a scorching heat wave that turned all the shrubs and plant in a thirty-meter diameter to ash. Midbus had swiftly erected an icy barrier to guard against it and against the thick layer of dust that followed.
As the powdery mist dissipated, the reforged Peach came into view, her dress charred and barely holding. Luckily, her sports outfit which she had beneath was mostly fine. She looked almost the same, barring a few new changes.
The horns protruding from the sides of her head had grown larger and pointed upwards. Her irises had taken on a purple shade with vertically slit pupils, while her mouth had grown a couple of fangs. Several parts of her body and her hands were now covered in golden scales that promised to be tough, with her nails had turned into menacing curved claws. A tiny tail with two small spikes now grew from her back, reminiscent of Bowser's. A shock of red hair had sprouted from the middle of her head, but the rest of it was the same.
"Gowch! Hurts… Really hurts!" Bowser groaned.
"Bowser? Where are you?" Peach looked around frantically as Bowser's voice seemed to come from inside her head.
"Watch it!" Bowser yelled as Peach's right hand curled into a fist and met Midbus'. He had taken advantage of the confusion to launch a sneak attack.
"What the hell just happened?" Peach flipped backwards, finally getting a chance to look at her arms. "What happened to m—"
"Quit yapping and focus! He's coming!" Bowser's snarl cut her off as her body moved seemingly on its own to sidestep another sliding punch from the frost pig.
"I guess I have no choice but to fight…" Peach caved, having no other choice but to fight. She could hear Bowser's voice mocking her inside her head but it wasn't the time to fall for his taunts.
Midbus was unrelenting, taking almost no breaks in between his chained attacks. He curled up into a snowball and charged at the Koopa princess. This time around, she held her ground, encasing her arm in a blaze. A split second before connecting with the snowball, Peach leaped over and bashed it from above with her crown. The snow fell off and the force of impact halted Midbus in his place.
It seemed that Peach not only gained Bowser's flames and snippets of his appearance, but also his massive physical strength. Her crown was notoriously hard, further enhancing the force of the blow. It wasn't her first time using it as a blunt weapon to begin with.
In a quick motion, she grabbed the pig's bushy tail, spun around three times and then tossed him in the air. Midbus, still in mid-air, turned around and flung three snowballs her way.
"Now I see why Mario likes doing this to Bowser…" Peach thought to herself, smiling for the first time since the whole debacle. She could hear faint grunts from Bowser. He obviously didn't like her line of thinking.
Peach leaped high into the air. She hopped on the first snowball, and melted the second one with her fiery blaze. This time around, she heeded Bowser's advice from earlier and kept her tongue down. As the third sphere of snow approached, the princess twirled around it and floated towards Midbus. Upon getting closer, Peach clutched both her hands together and swung them at her foe.
At the latest possible second, Midbus' curled into a ball, leaving an ice clone floating in his position as his real body quickly fell down to the ground. Peach's double axe handle shattered the ice sculpture, turning it into a fine mess of icy shards and sprinkles.
The blizzard pig raised his hand towards the remains of the ice clone, fingers clenched. The icicles halted their fall and pointed at the princess before flying straight towards her. She quickly joined her hands and stretched her arms to each side and erected a shield of fire. It managed to melt the ice before it reached her.
With nowhere else to go but down, she took a nose dive, priming her fist to smash into her large opponent.
"Take care! That bacon freak is holding back for whatever reason," Bowser warned Peach, which she found quite surprising considering the nature of the Koopa King. He probably was thinking about how if she bit the dust, he would as well. An end that would be a disgrace to someone of his status and ego. He would be damned if his death didn't involve Mario in some way, shape or form.
Midbus took a deep breath, forming a large snowball adorned with a Bob-omb at the top, before promptly diving into it.
"Bah! Same tricks as before." Bowser scoffed, "Ram it!"
"Are you out of your mind?"
"DO IT!" The king roared, and Peach gave up considering that she was closer to the ground. She quickly turned around, planting her legs to the ground.
With her natural agility, and the strength inherited from Bowser, the princess punched the Bob-omb, triggering its countdown. She then quickly flipped backwards and charged at the center of the snowball, encasing herself in a fiery aura. The scorching blaze ripped through the snow, like a hot knife through butter. The bob-omb fell through and finally exploded, breaking down the remains of the snowy sphere, and covering the immediate area in steam.
At Bowser's prompting, by which it meant him taking the steering wheel for a moment, Peach was inhaling the steam in front of her. The whirlwind wasn't as intense as it would normally be since Bowser didn't want Peach to swallow other unwanted things.
"Brr, c-cold!" Peach gripped her chest, coughing out a small block of ice. She briefly looked at it before shifting her focus to where the Bob-omb exploded. There was no sign of Midbus, only six identical ice sculptures.
The Koopa princess took a deep breath, ready to unleash the flames of hell on icy effigies. As the fire was building up, one of the statues came careening at her. Peach gripped the block of ice from before and pitched it into the incoming slab of ice, shattering it. She then exhaled the flames on the ice remains to pre-emptively cancel their usage, engulfing herself in a small cloud of steam.
Unfortunately, the two more statuses were hurled at her. The first one smashed right into her face, the second one quickly came to life as Midbus somehow switched places with it. He quickly picked up the now cracked effigy and slammed it on the princess' head.
As she groaned in pain, grabbing her head, the malicious bacon of snow ripped the blue gemmed brooch that was fastened on her neck: The Liberalis Stone.
"I take this!" Midbus laughed, seemingly very proud of himself. He brutally mauled Peach on her chest, causing her to kneel down before grabbing her by the neck.
Icy energy emanated from his arm and slowly crept over the princess' body encasing it in ice sans the head. To make matters worse, he called the remaining effigies and crashed them into her.
"Muh muh! You figure out who's tougher yet, Ms. Ice Cube?" Midbus laughed sardonically, causing Bowser to fly into a rage.
Taking a few steps back, the blizzard pig took out a ray gun, increased its power and aimed it at Peach.
"Here, your Turannus stone is mine!" he said as he blasted her with the laser.
"Augh!" Peach shrieked as the beam ripped through her. Midbus smirked, confidant that it would be enough to rip the stone out of her.
Bowser wasn't going to sit around and watch, however. He wrested for the control of her body and tried to break free. The princess, however, was weakened, so brute strength wouldn't help. He made her open her mouth, charging up the blaze.
Midbus took notice and started conjuring a bunch of Snawfuls. The little snowmen had a shovel for an arm, a red bucket for a hat, and an accompanying exact clone of Fawful's face. They hurriedly took formation behind their boss and started shoveling snow powder at Peach.
Each time she melted a little of it with her fiery breath, they would simply reinforce it.
"Grah! When was the last time you fought someone!?" Bowser snarled with exasperation.
"You're talking as if I've turned into a freakin' dragon turtle before!" Peach snapped back, jerking her arm back, accidentally freeing it from the ice.
Bowser laughed, as his plan of angering the princess yielded the result he had needed.
"The crying song of a trashy swan. I permit it, just this once." Midbus smirked and continued firing the beam. The object he was looking for was taking shape outside Peach's body. It was only a matter of seconds before it would come into his possession.
Soon after, a red O shaped gem dropped on the ground, twirling for a few moments before falling flat on its surface.
"You got any more bright ideas, Bowser?" Peach thought to herself, knowing that Bowser could hear her thoughts. She had no other means of communication since her mouth was busy spewing flames to keep her from freezing solid. Neither she nor the Snawfuls showed any signs of stopping.
"Just wait for it. You'll see the might of the Koopa troop, unlike your fungus soldiers."
"Are you enjoying yourself? I'll be taking your precious stone now!" Midbus jeered, inching closer towards the stone…
Only to be showered by a barrage of magic orbs. Kammy and Kamek showed up with a squadron of red-cloaked Magikoopas. They primed their wands and aimed at the army of Snawfuls, melting a lot of them. The mother-son duo, however, focused on the Princess. They both started chanting rapidly making barely intelligible sounds as the gems on their wands grew brighter and brighter, readying two blasts of magic each. In the same instant, they fired all four of them, two in Peach's direction, two at Midbus. The blizzard pork only saw the two meant for him. He quickly grabbed the Turannus stone and rolled backwards as they zipped straight past him.
"Well played you crusty old hag!" Bowser thought, decidedly satisfied with his right-hand woman's work. The distraction had worked and the secondary wave of blasts hit their mark: One was aimed at the block of ice encasing her and the other at the princess herself, empowering her.
Once free from the cold grasp, Peach lunged at Midbus, locking hands with him, both grabbing onto the heirloom of the Koopa Kingdom. Their glares met and they were both pushing, trying to overpower the other.
Due to Kammy and Kamek's continuous empowerment, it didn't take too long for the princess to subjugate her opponent, bring him to his knees. She then rapidly kicked him in the chin multiple times before pulling Midbus behind her and bumping him with her rear, sending him flying away.
With the Turannus in hand, Peach slipped it into her bra, before dashing after her opponent, latching onto his neck.
"Give me back my brooch!" Peach demanded, encasing her right arm in a scorching blaze that obscured most of it.
"I scoff! I scoff at you! You will not get it back!" Midbus mocked and opened his mouth, icy breath gathering inside it.
The princess slammed him as hard as she could, her fist exploding with the flames she held. Midbus obscured the vision by exhaling the icy mist he built up. The princess, however, did not relent. She opened her fist and drilled her claws into his chest, all while pushing down.
Within seconds, they landed on the ground, or rather crashed onto it to the wake of a cloud of dust and ashes. Taking a cue from earlier, Peach started inhaling it. It wasn't a pleasant experience, but she would rather keep her opponent in front of her.
As the haze cleared up, a shattered Midbus clone came into view. The Liberalis stone was between its claws. Peach immediately ripped it out, hopped backwards and maintained a defensive stance.
"Muh muh! A winner is you, this time." Midbus' voice came a little father away than Peach was expecting. She quickly scanned the area, locating him on the top of the nearby cliff.
"I will come back for the stones later. Well fought, princess." and with that, Midbus curled up and disappeared into a confetti of icy sparkles.
Peach was barely holding up by now. The consecutive empowerment from the Magikoopas, along with the painful transmogrification she had endured throughout took a heavy toll on her body and mind.
She fell down on her knees, and looked like she was barely conscious. Her body was suddenly engulfed in an aura of fire. Once it died out, it revealed the Koopa king holding the princess in his right arm. He gently cradled her, something akin to a hammock, but not as comfortable, being the arm of a large scaly muscular king's arm.
Bowser himself was feeling drained, but the king of awesome could handle a lot more. Years of getting tossed around and jumped on would do that to your body, not that he would readily admit it.
"Kammy! Kamek! Ready your best healing spells." Bowser barked his orders and made his way to his castle, while the Magikoopa squadron, Kammy and Kamek included, made it back to the castle before them. He couldn't help but chuckle as a stream of nostalgia hit him. This was one of the few times where Peach came to his castle willingly, well almost. He remembered the time he was kicked out of his castle by Exor, and how he was forced to tag along with Mario and "enlist" him in the Koopa troop.
"Not to worry, princess. I'll be sure to kidnap you after we're done with this mess," Bowser thought to himself as his slow thunderous footsteps took him closer and closer home.
Chapter 5: Green Star
The night dragged on … but the man in green pushed forward through the scorching desert. The infestation of Spiky Snifits and Anuboos made it a little hard to advance swiftly, but through his patience and stealth, he managed to avoid them all. He would have loved to just bash right through them but the situation didn't allow it.
"Are we there yet?" asked a annoyed voice in Luigi's head.
"You know, this is the thirty-seventh time you've asked me. Repeating it ad nauseam will not make me get there faster." Luigi sighed, exasperation filled his voice. "I'm the one doing all the work anyway; you're just lazing around inside. Even Stuffwell wasn't this annoying."
"Said the guy that spent most of our last adventure sleeping," The voice huffed.
"You mean the guy that made it possible to go to the Dream world and had his dream version help Mario out? Sure, why not? Keep this up 'Chippy', It's totally helping me get there faster."
There was a brief moment of silence, followed by a deep sigh. 'I am sorry, okay? This never happened to me before and you know I get freaked out when I don't know what's going on."
"Apology accepted! Just keep quiet until I get there. It's just around the corner," Luigi replied, sticking close to the wall next to him as he poked his head to see what's on the other side. The elevator area leading to Little Fungitown was deserted like usual, except for the two yellow-spotted red Toad guards.
"Alright, we are here. You can get out of me now. Going in with a glowing mustache and a star would draw more attention than I would want to."
"You're saying it as if I'm in control," Starlow protested, as the glow in Luigi's mustache and the little star on top of his head joined together. It quickly grew in size and in brightness, taking on a spherical shape. A few moments later, the star sprite materialized.
"It's good to be out again!" Starlow exclaimed, wagging her feet up and down. "At least the inside of your head doesn't smell like Bowser's insides."
"Yeah, get a free ride and complain anyway. I'm starting to understand what it was like for Bowser dealing with your insufferability." Luigi rolled his eyes and hopped on the elevator with the star sprite following him. Starlow chose to ignore his comment.
"What are we doing here again?" She asked. He hadn't exactly told her anything about what he was doing, since the whole stealth thing took all his concentration.
"Well, first of all, this is the closest town from where we woke up yesterday. I don't need to remind you why we needed to stay clear of hostiles, do I?"
"I am not Forgetbert, so you don't have to worry about that." Starlow rolled her eyes.
"There is this Magikoopa here that might know what's going on. He helped me save Mario many years ago. It's our best bet. Besides, we could use one of the pipes here to get to the center of the land if we need to get back to the Mushroom Kingdom," Luigi explained, then made his way to the guards.
"W-welcome to Little Fungitown!" the guard on the right stuttered nervously.
"Still as easily frightened as ever …" Luigi mused. "To think I was also like them for many years…"
"Luigi!? We didn't hear you were coming. What brings you here?" the second guard exclaimed. He seemed overjoyed to see that it was the man in green.
"Something came up and I need to talk to someone here. Can I go in?"
"But of course! You and your brother are always welcome here. Just care for Bean fever."
"Don't worry about it! I'll be careful." Luigi waved nonchalantly as the guards moved aside. He tried not to dwell on the memory of Mario turning into a bean. It was one of the scariest moments in Luigi's life and he would prefer to just forget about it.
The town looked almost exactly the same as he left it last time: Red, yellow, and green as far as the eye could see. The streets were deserted since it was early in the morning. The sun started ripping through the darkness and a morning breeze blew around. It was a welcome change from the desert's scorching embrace.
Starlow looked around, inspecting the area. Fungi Town was very similar to towns in the Mushroom kingdom. The town itself was elevated by giant mushroom bamboo trees. The streets were cobblestone and the buildings were classic mushroom shaped wood and bricks. Wooden bridges connected the various pieces of the town. Looking down from that high would surely reduce most people to their knees.
"I'm glad I can fly…" Starlow said to herself, almost whispering.
"What was that?" Luigi turned his head to her inquisitively.
"Uh, nothing! Just thinking out loud."
"Be sure not to get lost. We need to hurry. I still don't know what happened to Mario or his friend Vivian."
"I'm sure he's fine. You don't get called 'super' by getting beat up," Starlow replied, her eyes flashing. She was as big a Mario fan as almost anyone else.
Luigi shrugged and continued onward until he came to a lone faded pink platform. The door was slightly ajar and some incoherent mumbling could be heard.
Luigi exchanged a quick glance with his star sprite friend, before giving the door a few light knocks. Almost immediately, the door was flung open, and out swayed a Magikoopa with a white robe with red triangular lining, and swirly white glasses.
"Are you interested in my hypnotic abiliti—" The Magikoopa began, before suddenly cutting himself off and prodding Luigi with his magic wand. "...Oh wait, aren't you the Mario fanatic from many years ago?"
"I told you last time. I'm his brother." Luigi stated, keeping a neutral tone in his voice. "Either way, I need your help, if it's not much trouble."
"I see you got a star sprite with you. This must be serious." The Koopa looked over at Starlow and examined her.
"Hello Yello!" she greeted, rocking her feet back and forth.
"Do come in! I'll see how I can help you." The Koopa turned around and got inside, with Luigi and Starlow right behind.
The inside of his house looked the same, from the rug with the yellow star on it to the numerous ladders going up to nowhere in particular.
"Now, tell me how I can be of assistance? Is it related to the light you're radiating and the wave of darkness from yesterday?" The 'Psycho Magikoopa' began. Despite their separation, he still managed to sense the link between the two.
Luigi and his star companion exchanged quick glances, then nodded. He began to explain what occurred the last day, and how he found himself stranded in the middle of Teehee Valley.
"I see… Quite peculiar I must say." The koopa frowned deeply, thinking of a solution or an explanation. "Unfortunately, my domain of expertise is hypnosis."
Luigi sighed. "That's too bad. Any ideas, Starlow?" He turned his gaze to Starlow, hoping she'd have some sort of answer.
"I would try asking the Start Spirits, but there are two problems: I can't go since I'm bound to you, and contacting them from here would take too much time." Starlow pondered, pacing back and forth in mid-air. She then suddenly stopped in place and exclaimed, "We could try the Zeekeeper, or Chakron!"
"I suppose a deity and a star sage would have an idea about what's going on, but how can we get there? Chakron is in the Mushroom Kingdom, and the Zeekeeper is in Pi'illo Island. As far as I know, there are no pipes leading there from here. I also don't have the Zee egg with me."
"Yes, that is quite a problem," The Magikoopa sighed, sitting down on a nearby chair. "But I think we can get in touch with Chakron. Hang on a second!" he said, moving to the mirror covered by the red tarp. He then inserted his hand inside, fishing around before he pulled a sizable withered out yellow book.
"You keep your things inside a mirror?" Starlow exclaimed. "I suppose that is convenient. Nobody would think of looking there."
"He is a Magikoopa. You saw Kamek doing stranger things. This isn't anything different." Luigi said, crossing his arms. "What's with the book though?"
"It's an old book of spells from my days in the academy. The chakroads are a vital point in our studies, and so is Chakron." The Magikoopa explained, shuffling through a bunch of pages. "Here it is! With this spell, we can attempt to contact Chakron. If you already traveled through the chakroads before yourself, you should have established a link."
"Oh. That sure sounds convenient," Starlow decided. "But are you sure he would help us? What if he asks us to change his position again?"
"It's barely been two years since then. I doubt he'd get annoyed of it this fast. He said he'd assume the pose for a hundred years," Luigi reasoned, then turned to the Psycho Magikoopa. "We can start whenever you want. I'll need to send an e-mail to Mario afterwards."
The white mage nodded, gesturing to the middle of the cramped room. "In that case, stand on the star and close your eyes."
Luigi heeded his words. Something like this was simple after all things he had to go through before. The Magikoopa started muttering, the gem on his wand lighting up in a soft yellow glow. A multitude of crosses, circles and squares emerged from the light. They floated harmoniously around Luigi's head. Unlike most of the spells that he got blasted with in the past from various Magikoopas, these emitted a warm fuzzy feeling. It surely was a welcome change.
"The mists of consciousness part, and three figures emerge. Why?" a zen voice invaded the silence. The various magical geometrical shapes lined up in the circle, bringing the purple Star Sage into view. "I am… Chakron! The enlightened one. There is nothing outer space knows not, and I am part of that space."
"We don't mean to disturb you, again, but we need your help Mr. Chakron," Starlow said hurriedly.
"It might be big trouble, maybe even worse than last time," Luigi added.
Chakron closed his eyes, pondering the infinite waves stemming from the earth beneath him.
"Yes… I have seen it. Heard it. Felt it. The stars are upset, and balance is askew. The nature of all is tainted. Unacceptable!"
"Do you think you could tell us what the problem is, and how to fix it?" Luigi asked as respectfully as possible. Chakron wasn't exactly known to favor the 'unenlightened'."
"You have been enlightened, and you helped me find a new pose that pleased me. Friends of past… I shall help light your way." Chakron closed his eyes. Starlow's eyes shone with a mixture of excitement and satisfaction. "That went easier than I expected, for once," Luigi thought to himself, drawing a faint smile on his face.
"The individual who joined with the Dark Star corrupted this very earth we are standing on. He is bringing powerful entities together, you being one of those entities," Chakron explained. "If you do not split hastily, you shall be joined, for eternity."
Luigi and Starlow exchanged a quick glance. She was decidedly more freaked out by the idea. Luigi, on the other hand, was at least glad she wasn't some sort of creepy creature.
"E-Eternity!?" The Star sprite panicked. "I can't stay bound forever! I'd lose my spot in the star council!"
"Disregarding what she's saying right now, what do we need to do?" Luigi cut her off, getting a bit uneasy as to what he was expected to do, especially without Mario's presence.
"Seek an artifact powerful enough to contain the energy stemming from the joining of two entities. Only then can you hope to remedy the situation," The Star Sage went on. Starlow hated it when people went fortune cookies on the party, but they had no other lead. "Go into the Dream world. Seek out the King of the beasts and the princess of pure heart. They possess the heirlooms required for you to achieve enlightenment. Once they are in your possession, you are to seek out other joined entities and fill the artifact with their energies."
"Well, that doesn't sound too bad," Starlow sighed in relief, rocking her feet. "But how will we get to the Dreamworld without Dreambert?"
"If I may…" The Magikoopa, who had been silent this entire time, chimed in. "You could use me as a conduit for your limitless enlightenment, Chakron. You would surely be able to transport them where they need to go."
"Can you actually do that?" Starlow asked.
"The power of space and earth is mighty. An easy feat for one such as myself. Do you dare? Will you try it, mage?"
"It would be an interesting experience for my work on hypnosis." The white mage nodded, lifting his hands in the air, ready to cast his spell.
"Very well. Your journey will begin by gazing into outer space through this projection. As usual, do not watch me. It is no fun if you know the secret."
Luigi and Starlow looked at each other, shrugging slightly before looking up and closing their eyes.
There was a flash, and they were gone.
Luigi looked around and smiled. They were standing in front of Pi'illo castle where it was day time and the streets around were flooded with chatting tourists.
"Well," Luigi said, "Like we Marios always say: Here we go, again!"
The green-clad plumber made his way to the castle, with his star sprite companion right behind him.
Chapter 6: Up and Synchronized
As the mist dissipated, Mario blinked furiously and shook his head to clear it. A surge of images flashed through his head. He gripped his forehead and winced.
A few minutes later, he let go. His head cleared and the pain faded away.
"How do you feel, Mario?" Vivian asked, slightly worried.
"I feel fine actually." Mario replied, flexing his right arm. He then lifted it, inspecting it, then clenched it. A stream of shadows dripped slowly from his palms. The more shadows that poured out of him, the more his shadowy tail split back to two legs. It wasn't long until Mario reverted to his original form. The puddle of shadows then suddenly sprung up, forming back to Vivian.
"What just happened?" Vivian inquired groggily, clearly disoriented.
"I guess the crown did the trick," Mario said. "I suddenly knew what to do to get you out of my head."
"I knew you could do it." She replied, jumping into Mario's arms.
"Ahem!" Beldam coughed, rolling her eyes. Vivian quickly let go of Mario, looking away.
"Now even a neophyte like you should handle the basics." The cranky witch continued. "Now go cook dinner and get out of here before I change my mind."
Beldam snarled and left the room, shutting the door behind her.
"Man, how do you deal with her on a daily basis?" Mario made sure the witch was out of hearing ranged before he asked Vivian.
"I just do all I need to do and she leaves me be." Vivian chuckled awkwardly, adjusting her hat which was titled when she backed away from Mario. "Are you sure everything is fine though?"
"Only one way to find out!" Mario said, staring intently at his right arm and clenched it. A small wave of fire emerged. "I'd say yes. I still have the blessing of the fire god."
"That's a relief."
"Either way. Show me the way to the kitchen. I'll help you cook something, then we can leave for Rogueport."
"It looks like I got a message." Mario said, pulling out his Mailbox SP from his pocket.
"Who is it?" Vivian asked, floating closer to Mario.
"It's from Luigi!" Mario stared intently at the screen, skimming through the message. "He's fine! He somehow ended up in Pi'illo Island."
"Pi'illo Island? Is that the place you visited last year?"
"Yes! It's safe there, and Luigi is in the company of one of our friends." He sighed in relief and texted Luigi back, informing him that he was also safe. He then promptly turned towards Vivian. "Alright, let's get this done so we can go check with Merlon. He should be able to tell us what's going on."
"Yes! We could also visit Professor Frankly and Ms. Mows. It would be nice seeing them again." Vivian said excitedly, before rushing to the kitchen.
"Woah!" Mario shouted. "Wait for me!"
"Lord Fawful! I be back." A swirl of icy winds coiled around itself before vanishing, revealing Midbus.
"Fawful asks the results of your battling, Midbus!" A large pearly set white teeth spread through the Darkness.
"Bowser and Peach are one! Two stones join together!"
"The plan of Fawful is going smooth, like the shake of milk of which I have suction for!" Fawful's smiled crept wider under his eyes. "Come, Midbus! We need to find powerful mustaches to beat the red and green mustaches who I hate!"
"Understood! Let us find them." Midbus nodded before disappearing in a mist of darkness and snow.
"Status report, now!" Bowser flung the door to the "guest room" open. It was the room where he kept Peach almost every time he kidnapped her. It looked identical to her own room, a fact that still creeps the princess till this day. It meant that Bowser broke in enough times to get the details down to a frightening level. A group of white Magikoopas was casting and sustaining a long-term spell. Kamek was leading the whole cast, while Kammy was simply observing. Peach laid in bed, appearing to be asleep. She seemed to be in quite the bit of discomfort since she thrashed around every now and then.
"Your intrusiveness! The princess is fine and well. Your power was a little too much for her to handle, but she should get accustomed to it in due time." Kammy explained, inching closer to the Koopa king on her broom.
"Good! Remember that we're bound. If she bites it, then so do I!" Bowser roared, crossing his arms. "I'll claw my way back from hell if that happens and escort you personally back there!"
"Not to worry, Lord Bowser! She'll be ship-shape in just another hour."
"Grah! I'll leave this to you in that case. Do not fail me!" Bowser stormed out of the room. The hallways thundered with every step he took.
Once things got quiet again, Kammy nudged her son and whispered. "Follow me."
Kamek ceased with the spell he was applying and turned around. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew it had to be about Bowser in one shape or another.
Kammy flicked her wand around and a flash enveloped both the Magikoopas. When it dissipated, they found themselves suspended in mid-air on their brooms, floating in some sort of light blue space that stretched infinitely. No ground nor living thing as far as the eye could see.
"What is, mother? If the princess isn't up and running by next hour, I'm gonna be turned into a bowl of cereal for Lord Bowser." Kamek shouted, swinging his arms.
"There are more pressing matters, you nincompoop!" Kamek smacked him lightly with her wand on his head. "I have deciphered some of the magic that bound our king with the princess and I do not like the results. It's bad news." Kammy explained and looked down.
"Well, what is it?" Kamek asked despite not really wanting to hear the answer.
"If we don't do something, the king will slowly turn into a human…"
"Ack!" Kamek blinked twice. "What!? Isn't the princess the host? She's turning more Koopa like. Why would Lord Bowser be going through the same thing?"
"It's powerful dark magic, but I believe I can undo that part. It is, however, very dangerous." Kammy lifted her head and looked at her son.
"You don't mean…"
"Yes! I do! I will absorb that part for myself. It would be the end of the Koopa kingdom if its sole king turns into something that's not a Koopa. There is no way I would let that happen. The prince isn't ready to steer the kingdom."
Kamek scowled. "You can't do that. The darkness will overwhelm you and who knows what might happen to yo—
"My mind is set!" She interrupted him, raising her voice. "It is my duty as the royal mage."
"Let me do it instead." The younger Magikoopa tried to reason with his mother, but deep down he knew that she wouldn't change her mind.
"No! You raised the king into who he is today and he still needs you. I have lived my life and it is time for me to wrap things up, for the good of our lord!"
Kamek stayed silence for a few moments. He then adjusted his glasses and looked intently at her. "If you do get corrupted, I'll find a way to fix you up. I swear it on my name."
"That's the spirit." The old witch smiled and nodded. She then waved her wand in the air, before disappearing and reappearing back in the Princess' room.
"I'll go prepare the spell. Finish up here with the princess and join me afterwards." Kammy gestured with her wand, ordering the rest of the squadron to carry on. She then left the room.
"This place is packed. How do we find Dreambert in this mess?" Luigi sighed and scratched his head. While he would usually enjoy being in a large crowd and being social in general, it was simply annoying having to take a picture with a random person every or giving out an autograph every other second.
"I thought you wanted to be famous, you know, like Mario is." Starlow commented, a hint of irony in her tone.
"Maybe I should have been careful about what I wished for." Luigi replied rather callously. He then got a brilliant idea. "I know how to avoid all this crap. Come here!"
He grabbed Starlow out of nowhere before she could react. Luigi looked around carefully for a safe place to hide. Once he identified such a place, he pulled his cap over his eyes and rushed there.
"What do you think you're doing!?" Starlow snapped at him as he let go of her. "That's no way to treat your partner!"
Luigi ignored her ramblings. He closed his eyes, looked upwards and spread his arms slightly. A warm glow of light enveloped him, sucking Starlow to him. A brilliant gleam then swallowed his entire body.
When Luigi emerged from the light, a change had occurred like last time, except much more pronounced. His mustache turned into two fine beams of light that looked like the hands of a clock pointing to 20:20. His hair turned platinum blonde that shone brilliantly thanks to the large star that floated on top of his head. Other than that, his entire body was constantly surrounded by a faint lime-green light.
"Not too bad. Green goes with anything I say." Luigi looked at his arms and the rest of his body for a few seconds, getting a feel for the overall change.
"You jerk! At least tell me what you're going to do before you do it. That was scary!" Starlow complained from inside his head.
"Meh! Consider it payback for all the insults you flung at me before." The glowing plumber shrugged, a smug smile on his face. "Let's take this thing for a test drive though."
Luigi slammed his fists together, surrounding himself in a blinding light yet again. When it dissipated, he had shrunk in size and changed form once more. He was about the same size as Starlow herself, but he looked more like a cross between her and "his" Brobot L-type as he had both hands and feet.
"Hey! No fair! Why do you get to have arms and I don't?" Starlow pouted, clearly displeased on some levels.
"Maybe if you were nicer The Star Spirits would help you out with that."
Luigi took off to the skies in his new guise. As far as he was concerned, it was a boat load of fun. To freely levitate and go any direction he wanted was truly an experience. While he did experience similar effects to it before, such as the wing cap and flying on Yoshis, it didn't really compare to this time.
He flew over the gushing swarm of tourists and made his way through the castle.
"I guess the castle still belongs to Dr. Snoozemore with all these tourists." Luigi deduced as he neared the throne room.
"I'd wager he has to pay him back before he could reclaim it as his kingdom." Starlow reasoned, feeling somewhat sorry for Dreambert. At least the Mario brothers freed all surviving Pi'illos, including him. It's still a net gain from being supposedly extinct.
After a few minutes, Luigi made it to the room where he took notice of the prince with the good old sleepy doctor.
"I can't handle any more, Dr. Snoozemore! No more visitors for today please!" Dreambert begged. It seemed he was made into an attraction of his own.
"I am the proprietor of Pi'illo Island! The money is funding my research. Once I reach the quota, I'll relinquish it back to you. Mm-yes…" The doctor spoke slowly in a manner that would cause most people to fall asleep themselves. "Besides, it is not like you have any pressing matterzzzz."
"Seems like you have it tough, Dreambert!"
The prince almost jumped out of his skin. A very familiar voice had just echoed in the room.
"L-Luigi?" He uttered.
"In the flesh!" Luigi flung his small body in the air where it got enveloped in light again. Out of the glow, he landed on his feet, striking a pose. Starlow simply floated down.
"Hmph! Show off!" Starlow rolled her eyes then looked at Dreambert. "Hello Yello!"
"Luigi! Starlow! What brings you two here?" The prince asked eagerly, as if hoping he could escape with the duo and give the whole tourist business the slip. "And what's with the new style?
'You know, same thing as usual. More trouble.' Luigi chuckled awkwardly, shrugging it off. 'Anything weird happened here yesterday?'
'I haven't noticed anything. Should I have?' Dreambert cocked his head and pondered.
'I doubt anything would happen in the island. The Zeekeeper guards it, duh!' Starlow interjected. 'Looks like you're still worthy of the name 'Forgetbert."'
'And it looks like you're still a royal pain. I feel sorry for you Luigi.' Dreambert snapped back, before pausing for a second and recalling what happened a few seconds back. 'Wait a minute! Were you two joined together when you came here? I thought it was just some trick.'
'Nah, I'm no show off. It's actually why we came here. We need your help to get to the Dreamworld.'
Luigi explained in detail why they came to Pi'illo Island and how he and Starlow found themselves stranded in Teehee Valley.
'That's terrible!' The prince exclaimed, visibly alarmed. 'I've been too busy lately I haven't managed to meet up with the Zeekeeper. If it is the Dreamworld you need, then I shall help you!'
'I knew we could count on you!' Starlow cheered.
'I suppose two helper fairies are better than one.' Luigi chuckled, drawing glares from both of them.
'Who're you calling a fairy?' Both 'sprites' snapped back at him. He simply shrugged it off with another laugh.
'Ahem! Anyway! Do you have an idea of how we're going back to the Mushroom Kingdom? Remember, we can't find Dreamy Bowser and Dreamy Peach unless it's in the correct location.' Dreambert stated. 'Why their Dreamy counterparts though?'
'Long story short, because Chakron said so. I have to assume that the real world's counterparts are unavailable.' Luigi explained his line of thinking. 'Regardless, let us focus on a way to return to the Mushroom Kingdom.'
'Can't we ask the Zeekeeper to take us there?' Starlow suggested.
'I'm not sure that he will leave the island, especially if whatever happened to you is on a large scale.' Dreambert reasoned.
'Hmm, we should really get pipes from the Mushroom kingdom to places we visit.' Luigi sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
'We're out of options. We need to think of something, and fast!' Starlow sighed, pacing around back and forth.
Luigi rubbed his chin and pondered deeply. There has to be a way to get back to the Mushroom Kingdom at light speed.
'Light speed… That's it!' Luigi shouted suddenly, snapping his fingers and startled both Starlow and Dreambert.
'Gosh! Take it easy, Luigi! You almost gave me a heart attack!' She whined.
After getting over the slight shock, Dreambert asked eagerly. 'What is it, Luigi?'
'I could turn into light with the help of Starlow's powers. I'm thinking that I can project myself at Light speed towards the Mushroom kingdom. I'd imagine it would be a wild ride of cosmic proportions, but we don't really have the time.'
'That's…' Starlow paused for a second and thought it over in her head. "... "Actually brilliant!"
"If you think it would work, then let's make haste!" Dreambert grinned approvingly. He then started to process the whole process in his head as well. "H-hold on, what about me...?"
Luigi and Starlow exchanged a quick glance, before tuning it into a mischievous grin.
"Well, he did say it would be a wild ride." The yellow Star Spirit said, creeping closer to Dreambert. Luigi soon followed after.
"H-hold on, guys. There has to be a better way." The pi'illo prince attempted to reason with them, but they kept inching forward.
"Consider it comeuppance for all the times your forgetfulness got us into unnecessary trouble." Starlow said as Luigi lifted his hand towards her, drawing her in.
Starlight Luigi emerged from the flash a second later. He grabbed Dreambert and held him under his arm.
"I-insolence!" The princes yelled out, struggling in vain to escape the plumber's grip. "Help! I'm getting kidnapped!"
"It will be fun for you, or so you should convince yourself anyway." Luigi chuckled before making his way out of the window. He floated to the top of the castle and stood at the highest point.
"Oh yeah, you should probably turn into a pillow." Luigi added before he started doing his thing.
He closed his eyes and started gathering energy. As the bright lime light closed in, Dreambert heeded his "captor's" words and turned into his pillow form.
"I think I'm starting to understand why Bowser likes kidnapping people. It's kind of fun~," Starlow mused.
"I don't think kidnapping the princess is any fun though. She can be quite a handful. Don't tell her I said that!" Luigi replied in his mind, to avoid triggering Dreambert even more. He then pointed himself to the direction of the Mushroom kingdom.
A sudden screech pierced through the sound barrier, as Luigi's entire body vanished into a flash of swirly light.
"Zzz, huh!?" Doctor Snoozemore snapped awake. He looked around for a bit then paused. "It's time for my mid-morning napzzz."
Chapter 7: Yet Another Detour
Chapter 7: Yet Another Detour
It seemed like an eternity even though it's barely been two hours since Mario and Vivian started doing all kinds of chores, from sweeping the floor to cooking dinner. They had just finished and tried to catch their breath. Mario sat on the lone chair in the middle of the room while Vivian simply stood where she was.
"I can't believe she made us do all that." Mario sighed, slightly exasperated. He didn't object because he felt indebted. "I never understood why house chores are tougher than fighting."
"I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting it to go this way." Vivian said, as apologetic as ever.
"Don't worry about it. Let's just get going. We need to see Merlon. He's our best lead since we're close to Rogueport." Mario hopped off the chair and stretched his arms. "Anything else left to do here?"
"Nothing in particular. I'll just leave a note for Beldam since she's already asleep." Vivian said as she crept her up to the second floor, leaving Mario to his thoughts.
"What a mess this is. Stupid green freak refuses to die…" Mario sighed as he trailed off. He wasn't sure what would come out of this entire thing and he was even less sure about what Fawful amounted to. Was he dead, or alive? Or perhaps something in between. Is the dark star included or is it destroyed? Countless questions raced in his mind, each one spawning ten others.
"Ugh! This is making my head hurt." Mario reclined on the chair and ruffled his hair in frustration.
"We can go now, Mario," Vivian said, startling him and almost causing him to fall off if it wasn't for his quick reflexes.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to that." Mario chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of his head. Vivian was already standing a few steps away from him and he hadn't noticed her.
"He-he, sorry." Vivian giggled and made her way to the door. Mario followed right after. It was almost evening, according to the clock on Mario's person. They needed to hurry up in case Merlon would close up shop or go somewhere. Luckily, the pipe to the Rogueport sewers wasn't far away. Mario had to make sure his name was written down on his person this time around.
Out of the pipe, Mario opened the door and jumped off to the ground level, with Vivian following suit. The Spinia took note of him and ran away. The Goombas around the area did the same thing.
"Looks like they still remember me." Mario said, a smug smile crept on his face.
"Who wouldn't? You freed this part of the Mushroom Kingdom after all." Vivian replied with a sense of satisfaction. She wasn't too keen on showing it but she was very proud of having partaken in said saving. Whatever little contribution she presented felt like the only thing of value she ever did, to herself at least. Mario was grateful to every one of his partners, even ms. Mows.
The duo took the tall pipe pointing up, ending up on the Rogueport's west side. It looked as clean and nice as ever. Various Piantas, as imposing as ever, were spread around, scrutinizing the area. Visiting the various acquaintances the group made would have been a pleasant experience, but matters were pressing as they were, so they simply headed to the east side.
"Toadle-toes, it is so good to spend time with you again." A familiar voice was heard coming from the house nearby. A voice Mario was not-too-happy to hear. "Oh no, I hope Toadsworth would not notice us." Mario crouched down and tried to sneak by the wall, hoping no one would call him out.
"Yes, indeed! The situation is calm back home and the princess insisted that I come visit you." Toadsworth replied. "I dare say it is getting warm in here. What say you we open the window?"
The moment Mario heard those words, an overwhelming sense of wanting to disappear overwhelmed him, causing him to unconsciously absorb Vivian and dive into the shadows.
"Well, that was new. Are you alright Vivian?" Mario asked, suspended in the swirling mass of shadows.
"Yes! I'm fine, but why did you do that?" The shadow siren answered in his mind, confused at this sudden dive.
"I didn't intend to, it just sort of happened," He shrugged. "I feel like something is off though. What do you think?"
Vivian knew what he was talking about. She had been one with the shadows since she was born. It was always a safe haven. To trust and rely on the shadows was one of her basic instincts. However, this time around, it felt like a sinister presence tainted the peaceful Darkness. To her, it meant only one thing, that the mass of darkness they saw the day before had started to influence it.
"I think we should dive only when we need to, and also not to spend a long time here." Vivian explained her line of thinking to Mario who had thought of something similar. The knowledge from the crown of shadows, as basic as it was, at least covered that much. He still needed the input of an expert, however.
"Understood!" He nodded and emerged from the shadows. "Let's stay like this until we meet Merlon."
Walking as some sort of shadow genie became a lot easier for Mario. It still felt quite weird, however. Transitioning from two legs to one would have that effect on almost anyone. Even the frog and catsuits, which forces him on all fours, felt less weird. Mainly due to how those power-ups work.
A few minutes later, Mario stood in front of Merlon's shack. The sign with the star sprite started wearing off, but otherwise, everything looked the same.
With a knock on the door, Mario opened it and helped himself in.
The old wizard was waving his hands over his crystal ball, chanting things. His ridiculous mustache flailing with every movement of his lips.
"So you've come, honorable one!" The wizard began, practically out of nowhere. "I've been expecting you!"
"Hey Merlon! It's been awhile." Mario greeted, waving his hand. "I assume you communed with the stars and know what happened?"
"Indeed I have! The wheels of the world are moving again. One of your enemies is resurging, corrupting the land at its core. You have been forcefully fused with one of your old companions. The key lies therein!" Merlon explained and for once, Mario didn't fall asleep listening to him.
"Our fusion is the key?" Mario cocked an eyebrow, confused. "Do you have any idea about how to fix things?"
"I'm afraid I do not have the answer. However, one of your inventor friends should be able to help you. Go seek him, with haste! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to return to the flipside. Time to close up shop!" Merlon said, pushing Mario towards the door.
"W-wait! I still have some questions!"
"Haste! I said haste!" The wizard pushed him out then closed the door.
"He didn't change much, did he?" Vivian giggled inside Mario's head while he just rolled his eyes.
"I suppose not. Bleh." Mario sighed, his body drooped forward a little. "Well, whatever! Let's go see Professor E. Gadd."
"You sure know a lot of people, Mario."
"Luigi is a lot more acquainted with him, but yeah. He's helpful when he's not using us to further his own crazy inventions. That reminds me—" Mario closed his eyes and concentrated. He could feel the shadows slipping out of him and his legs reforming.
"I think I'm starting to get used to it." Vivian stated excitedly.
"You and me both. Let's hope everything goes smoothly from here on out." Mario nodded, stroking his mustache. "We wasted enough time here. We should be able to reach forever forest by midnight."
It was a long and somewhat uneventful walk from one pipe to the next, and Mario was wary of being discovered. Luckily, toad town was always deserted during night time, facilitating movement. The entrance to forever forest looked practically unchanged. The guard shack that stood in front of it was also predictably empty. The path in front of them leading to the forest was purple dirt and the sky turned darker. The forest was deep, unnerving, and seemingly never-ending as it stretched on and on. That's where it gets its moniker. It just goes on forever. The darkness eventually engulfs anyone that stays too long, if you don't lose your mind running in endless circles before then. There is, of course, a secret to crossing it, and Mario was privy to that secret.
Together, Mario and Vivian made their way through the darkness. Vivian was feeling somewhat nervous. Despite being a shadow siren, some places still freaked her out. Her fear was mostly offset by being in Mario's presence. At the same time, she was eager to visit places Mario went through during his past adventures.
The forest itself was suspiciously quiet. They had only sighted a few green fuzzies that went about their way and a lone piranha plant. Nothing else stirred around, nor did they try attacking them. All the better to reach the boo mansion faster. Mario felt more tired than he ever did before and he was eager to call it a night, given the chance.
The mansion came into view, along with something that wasn't there before. A weird hastily built shack stood close to the mansion. Faint green lights emanated from the windows and small openings between the worn wood. Few machines outside whirred and buzzed about.
"I guess he still isn't done with his research which is good for us since he's still here. It explains why the forest was quiet." Mario noted. "I wonder if Bow has been patient with him."
Vivian cocked her head, pondering, "She's one of your older companions, right?"
"She is. Dealing with her can be quite tough, however." Mario said, lifting his hand to knock on the door. "Let's ge—"
"Tough, huh!?" Bow suddenly phased the door, sporting the boos' infamous nightmare face.
"Yahhh!" Mario quickly hopped backward and Vivian withdrew to the shadows. "I thought I told you to stop doing that!" Mario panted, gripping his chest where his heart was. "I guess I had it coming…"
"GWAH HEE HAH!" Lady Bow laughed in her signature regal laugh. "I will forgive your transgressions and give you a free pass to be overwhelmed by my beauty." The green ghost grinned, unable to contain her enjoyment. She then floated closer to Mario and hugged him. "But seriously though, it's great to see you again."
"It's good to see you again, Bow," Mario said, closing his arms around her. "You can come out now, Vivian."
The siren emerged slowly from the shadows, pulling her hat over her face. "I could use less jump scares in the future…" She murmured under her breath.
"We met at Poshley Heights, right?" Bow sized Vivian up. She didn't know much about her from their brief meeting a few years back, but she knew that she was pivotal to Mario's success at that point in time. "For a shadow, you're easily scared."
"I … still don't do well with things popping out of nowhere…" Vivian looked to the side, avoiding direct eye contact with Bow.
"It's alright, sweetie. Even Mario fell for it." Bow reassured, causing Mario to roll his eyes. He didn't want to admit it but didn't want to bother coming up with an excuse.
As they stood to catch up, the front door opened, and out stepped out an eccentric looking bespectacled old man.
"Well, take a gander at this! Mario, dear boy! What brings you here?" Professor Elvin Gadd said, pushing the door wide open. "Come on in. I'm eager to tell you about my progress. It's all thanks to you after all!"
"Sure, professor, but I do have more pressing manners I need to discuss with you."
"Ohoho, now that's quite the story, sonny! Seems that legends such as yourself are always deep in trouble."
"Eh, comes with the territory."
It had taken about twenty-five minutes to explain everything to the professor. The already tiny room they were in was cramped up with all the machinery inside, with everything resembling furniture being occupied by all sorts of gadgets. Luckily for Mario, a single chair was available and free.
"It is sure is good fortune that I stayed here, right sonny?" The professor chuckled.
"I can't say it isn't." Mario shrugged. "I just hope Bow helped you to your satisfaction."
"But of course! " The green boo floated forwards. "I am a high caliber boo. I need to represent my species as adequately as possible."
"Right she is, boy! She and her tribe have great cornerstones in my research." Elvin nodded happily, then grabbed a peculiar two-screened device. "Anyhoo, let us find more about your condition!" He then started tapping the screen, inputting commands. A pair of mechanical arms with something resembling a laser gun moved about and pointed at Mario. Several rays of green light shot at him and moved about, aiming at his entire being.
"This will only take a few minutes. Just stay still, boy!" The professor put the gadget back in his inside pocket and turned to his computer, rapidly typing some complex and undecipherable equations, among other things.
"You've been quiet since we got here, Vivian. Everything alright with you?" Mario asked, assuming that she was her usual shy self.
"Er, well, it's… I'm not sure…" Vivian stuttered in response, not wanting to worry Mario. She felt that he would have a lot harder time with just her around, instead of all the others together. Not only that, she was bound to him. If she got in the way, it could be the end for him for all she knew. Especially because she knows that he will do everything in his power to keep her safe.
"Remember to keep calm and believe in yourself." Mario said with a small smile. "We're in this together after all."
"My, oh my! You're still quite the charmer, aren't you?" Bow chimed in, a mischievous expression painted on her face. Vivian felt her face turning red, despite it being mostly dark purple. She just pulled her hat over her face instead.
"Bow! Stop teasing her!" Mario scolded, only for the boo to stick her tongue at him. "Heh, somethings really never change."
"Don't worry, sweetie. That's just how boos are." Bow flew closer to Vivian and patted her on the back. "Hero boy got his share many times too."
Sighing, Mario dropped the whole thing. Anymore would send Bow off on a tangent about all her pranks and scares she pulled on the entire party.
"Criminy, son!" Profess E. Gadd began suddenly, switching the scanning devices off. "Your body is overflowing with a variety of spectral shapeshifting organisms. They seem to assimilate other living tissue and incorporating their properties and abilities. My, truly marvelous creatures."
"Er, yeah, marvelous indeed…" Mario said dryly and stood up. "How about what this means for us both in the long run?"
"I need to analyze your ghastly friend too before I can give you a concrete answer!"
"G-ghastly?" Vivian stammered, not really appreciating the way the professor described her.
"She's a shadow, professor!" retorted Mario in exasperation.
"My apologies, missy! I never encountered someone similar to you before." E. Gadd chuckled, waving his hands dismissively. "Like with Mario, stay still." Having said that, he input a series of command with the computer and the scanners whirred around and started flashing.
"Don't take what he says to heart, Vivian. He means well but research comes first to him." Mario reassured Vivian and made his way to the door. "I'm going to clear my mind a bit. Be back later."
Mario lifted his hand to open it, only for someone to knock on it.
Out of one of the corners of the shack shot a transparent blur, phasing the door.
The voice shouting was all too familiar to Mario. He opened the door to see his brother Luigi being pounced upon and subjected to rapid fire licking, slobbering his fire with ectoplasmic drool.
"D-down boy! Down!" Luigi struggled to get the polterpup off him but to no avail.
"Hey, Weegee! Didn't expect to see you here." Mario said with a smile.
Unable to speak properly, or at all, due to the egregious amount of drool on his face, Luigi could merely roll his eyes and groan at what Mario just called him. He was really glad that he was here as well. They a lot to talk about, without having to deal with emails or other forms of slow communication.
Chapter 8: Into the Dream World
Chapter 8: Into the Dream World!
"Hmm, this isn't the news I was hoping for."
"Yeah, well, when is it ever good news with you bro?"
It had eaten halfway through the night by the time they caught up to everything that transpired since they were split. Professor E. Gadd was absorbed in his research, hoping to make a breakthrough with the mysterious organisms he lifted from Mario and Vivian. He even found similar organisms in Luigi and Starlow. Due to how small the shack was, most of them sat outside under the moonlight. Bow and Bootler were kind enough to provide seats and refreshments.
"Let's worry about it later. For now I'm just grateful you're fine." Mario uncrossed his arms and picked up his teacup, taking a sip. "How did you end up with Starlow though? I was with Vivian when that beam hit us."
"That, I couldn't tell you. She was in my head when I woke up." Luigi shrugged, taking a sip of his own cup of coffee.
"I gotta say, I don't envy you one bit." Mario leaned close to Luigi and whispered with a chuckle. "Both Starlow AND Dreambert."
Groaning, Luigi nodded and said through his teeth with a forced smile. "Oh yes, for sure! You're telling me. It's barely been half a day and they're already running my mind ragged." Luigi rolled his eyes and snickered.
"I HEARD THAT!" came Starlow's voice from the cabin.
"Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that she can hear and see all I'm saying even when we're not fused."
"Really?" Vivian chime in, quite curious. "I can only do that when I'm inside Mario's head."
"Maybe it is because she is a star sprite?" Mario reasoned, stroking his mustache.
"No clue, but hey! I'm grateful it's not some creepy monster or someone I don't even know." Luigi took another sip. "How does it feel to become a shadow anyway? That's gotta be interesting. I don't think we had anything like that before."
Mario crossed his arms and went through his words in his head. He didn't want to say anything weird or be innocently insensitive in some way since Vivian was with them.
"It's a little hard to describe. It feels like I'm swimming and flying, yet doing neither at the same time." Mario twirled his cup slowly, staring into the liquid swirling in it. "It's genuine new experience and I play to take full advantage of it. Would be interesting chugging shadows and other things at enemies for once.
Vivian couldn't help but laugh at his comment. Mario's cheeriness when it came to combat was always humorous to her.
'I'd be happy to give you some pointers if you want.' Working up her courage, she offered.
'Mario, ask for help with combat?' Luigi laughed heartily. 'He'd sooner eat his cap.'
'And I'm gonna make you swallow yours if you don't keep quiet.' Mario turned to Luigi, rapidly flicking his eyes to signal him to tread carefully.
"Chiodo scaccia chiodo, Mario." Luigi shrugged then turned to Vivian. 'Don't worry about it. I was just messing with him.'
Vivian perked up a bit after he said that, even though she was still inclined to believe that Mario was the explorer type of person when it came to new things.
'It's really great to see you two interact like this.' She said. 'I plan to do my best like last time in order to be of assistance to Mario.'
'I know I can count on you Vivian.' The red-clad plumber shot her a thumbs-up, a confident smile on his lips.
'I wonder how far the professor is right now.' Luigi put his cup down and stood up. 'I'll go check wi—' Before he finished his sentence, a green boo appeared.
'Ah!' startled, Luigi yelled and flipped backwards away from her. 'What's the big idea!?'
'GWAH HEE HAH!' Bow burst laughing, all while rolling in mid-air. 'That look on your face. Priceless!'
Sighing, Mario looked down at his feet, pinching his nose bridge. 'I thought I told you to stop doing that, Bow.'
'Last time, I promise.' Bow giggled, trying to suppress her laughter. 'Anyway, the professor wants to talk to you guys.'
'Let us go then.' Vivian said, making her way to the shack with Mario and bow following after.
'Grrr, stupid boos and their stupid antics.' Luigi grumbled under his breath. 'Why I gotta…'
'You gotta what, sir?' As he angrily conversed with himself, Bootler materialized in front of them, causing him to yet again leap backwards.
'U-uh, nothing.' Luigi stammered, putting his hands behind his back as he inched away to the lab.
'So what's the word, doc?' Luigi began, Zero sitting on his lap. 'We're all eager to know these organisms are.'
" Ah yes. I have made several shocking discoveries based on data from the four of you." E. Gadd said triumphantly, as he typed in several commands that shot up virtual projections of his findings. "It turned out that the organism came in two types. The first one I found on Mario and Luigi is what I dubbed the Alpha." He pointed to the first projection. It featured an amorphous shell covered with spikes. It pulsated every other second. "The alpha serves as a container for the second type to absorb and hold within itself. The second type, the Omega, has a similar characteristic but functions differently." The professor pointed to the second organism which was gelatinous and contorted endlessly. "The Omega ceaselessly seek out Alphas to house them and transfer all the absorbed energies to it."
"So what's you're saying is that it steals our energy and passes it on to Mario and Luigi?" Vivian asked, hoping for a confirmation.
"Yes, missy! That is what I can gather from it at this point in time."
"If that is the case, then I don't mind it." Vivian held her hands together, seemingly happy that her powers are transferring to Mario.
"But isn't there a catch?" Starlow chimed in, raising a question the Marios were thinking of.
"As it stands I'd say no. All the Omegas are doing is copy the energy signature."
"Phew, that's good then." Luigi sighed in relief.
"Ah, I didn't finish yet, sonny!" E. Gadd added, a gleam shining from his lenses. Inputting a few more words, a third projection showed up."The Omegas seem to be in a constant state of evolution and change."
"In other words?" Dreambert asked, not eager to hear the answer.
"Nothing is certain." E. Gadd said, turning off the projections.
"So we don't know what they are going to evolve to...? Mario crossed his arms and sighed. On one hand, the current effects were stable and harmless. On the other hand, he didn't like surprises and didn't want to imagine what the possibilities would be.
"How long do you speculate it will take for the next phase of evolution?" Luigi added, crossing his fingers for a lengthy period of time.
"Judging from the current shape and form, I'd say about six days, give or take a few hours."
"Gosh! We don't have to waste then. Let's scurry up!" Starlow fidgeted, the star on her head shining brighter.
"I have to agree here. I'll dive into the dreamworld and go get the stones that Chakron told you about." Mario nodded, although he couldn't help but yawn. He was really tired and it was a long day. Coping with the changes to his body structure when he fused with Vivian took a toll on him.
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea, bro." Luigi said, stroking Zero's head. "The professor and I will deal with this."
"Nonsense, my boy!" The professor shouted, startling both of them. "I've already finished tinkering with our special project." Running his fingers across his keyboard yet again, the professor activated a program. An elevator sound along with whirring and clunking of metal broke out on the outside as on of the shack's walls withdrew into the ground.
"I present to you Brobot-2000MK!" Sounding even more triumphant, Elvin presented his latest co-invention. It looked exactly like Luigi, except of metal and bolts. "Pretty nifty, don't you think sonny?"
"Oh no! No way, doc!" Luigi let go for Zero and stood up. "Why must everything have a number in the thousands with you?" Sighing, Luigi rested his palm on his face. "Leave the name to me. Focus on describing what it does to the rest."
"As you wish, boy!" E. Gadd laughed, not minding Luigi's disapproval over the name. "I had studied Luigi's wavelength at his request in order to embark to the dream world. While it is still impossible without a pi'illo, Luigi's wavelength emulation will allow us to open it."
"So Luigi's the one that's going this time? Neat!" Starlow said, happily swinging her feet.
"Yes, that way Mario can rest while I go get the stones." Luigi confirmed, flipping Brobot's face up, revealing a miniature button board. "Dreambert, will you do us the honor? You get to ride Brobot DL-type first."
"Where did the name Brobot come from anyway?" Dreambert asked. It seemed almost everyone in the room barring Mario wanted to know. "And you never told us you were this good with machines."
"It's a long story that I rather not talk about and there is a lot you guys don't know about me." Luigi looked away and waved his hand dismissively. "Come here and turn into a pillow."
Seeing no other way out it, Dreambert heeded his words and turned into a pillow. Luigi pressed a few buttons and the robot's stomach opened.
"It looks like a tight fit but you'll be fine." Luigi pushed the prince inside, making sure all four sides were snugly in.
"Watch the face!" Dreambert complained, his voice muffled by Luigi's hand. "I'm starting to miss the tourism job already…"
"Suck it up, Dreambert! You didn't spend weeks inside Bowser's stomach." Starlow interjected, a chill surging through her small body. That was one experience she did not want to relieve.
Brobot DL-type's stomach door closed up and its eyes shone a brighter green. A few computer noises came out of it "INITIATING DREAM-PROTOCOL!" It then pointed its arms forward. The forearms opened up and withdrew to the upper arm, revealing two antennas that shot two beams of pink energies. Crossing the beams, a twisting rainbow cloud started to form. A few seconds later it turned into a sight both Mario and Starlow were very familiar with.
"So that's what it looks like, huh?" Luigi said. "Well, I'm going in. You go and take a load off bro!"
"I'll show you to our finest room." Bow chimed in proudly.
"I can't say no for once. And no tricks this time, Bow." Mario chuckled and came closer to Luigi. "Just be careful in there. I doubt you'd find a dreamy Mario to help you out." Both brothers performed a hand-grab, patted each other on the back and ended up with a fist bump.
"Wish me luck, bro!" With that Luigi jumped into the dream world portal.
"See you later, guys!" Starlow cheered and jumped after. She was very curious to how the dream world was herself.
"I'll keep working on studying these critter organisms. I'll keep you updated." E. Gadd stated and went back to his computer. Zero stood at the feet of Brobot, awaiting patiently his master's return. Mario and Vivian, however, followed Bow into the Mansion.
Bowser was pacing back and forth in his throne room, grumbling to himself. The princess still hadn't woken and neither of the bros showed up. It's not that he cared for it, but the fact that the one time he isn't the driving force of chaos, things end up this way. With Midbus returning to the scene, Bowser was sure that Fawful couldn't be far behind. He thought he settled the score with him before but it seems that celebration was a little too early. The sooner Peach gets adjusted to his might, the sooner he can get a move on.
"Grah!" Bowser roared, hot steam erupting from his mouth. "How long is this going to take!"
"Lord Bowser!" Shouted a voice from behind. Bowser turned to find a pair of koopatrols standing in salute, awaiting permission to speak.
"What is it? It better be good news!" Bowser was starting to run of patience, not that he had much of it to begin with.
"The princess has awakened." The one of the right began. "We are awaiting further orders!" continued the one of the left.
"About damn time!" Bowser pushed them aside and stomped his way to the room where Peach was kept. In a non-Bowser fashion, he knocked gently on the door. Something that flabbergasted the two Koopatrols guarding the door. In all their years of service to the Koopa troop, the only way Bowser knocked on doors was to smash them into pieces.
"Ugh, come in!" An exasperated voice came from within, prompting the king to open the door.
"Status report!" Bowser said, trying to keep his voice to a low growl.
"Your nastiness, she is stable and ready to move on your commands." Kamek replied, visibly proud of his team's efforts.
"Great job! Now leave! I need to have a word with our 'guest'."
With a quick salute, the Magikoopas teleported out of the room. Bowser moved across the room next to the lone window, opened it and held his hands behind his shell.
"How are you feeling, princess?"
"I had a lot better days." Peach sighed, crossing her arms. "I hoped that it was just a nightmare and that I woke up to the sweet ramblings of Toadsworth."
"Hah! I never thought I'd hear you say that." Bowser chuckled. He had heard her complain about Toadsworth on multiple occasions, not only when he kidnapped her, but also when he was forced to tag along Mario and her. "Whatever! What matters is that we have a lot to do and I don't even know where to start."
"How about handing me a communication device or something? I need to contact Mario and tell him what's going on."
"Fine! I'll help you contact your boyfriend!" Bowser rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. He knew Mario would have to come to the picture sooner or later. He didn't like the idea but having him on board would make things easier in more ways than one.
"He's not my boyfriend! We're just very good friends." Peach answered, mildly annoyed. While she did harbor some feelings for the red-clad hero, she wasn't sure 100% sure about it. And she didn't like the very thought of discussing it with Bowser.
"Grah hah! Whatever you say." Bowser chuckled and opened the door slightly. "Get me one of Iggy's communication contraptions now!"
The koopatrols saluted and one of them ran to the upper chambers that housed the koopalings.
A few minutes later he came back with a device that looked loosely like a mailbox SP, except it was shaped like Bowser's logo. He handed it to the king, saluted him, then resumed his guard duties.
"Here! Don't dawdle!" Bowser handed it over to Peach and looked out the window.
Peach didn't answer. She simply glared at him from the corner of her eye and observed the design of the apparatus.
"What egomaniac. Must everything look like him?" She thought to herself, only to remember that many things in her castle are shaped in her image. The difference being that she didn't order anyone to do so.
Taking a deep breath, the princess started typing a message to Mario.
My Dearest Mario!
I send the message in hopes that it finds you in good health. Something terrible has happened and I find myself in Bowser's castle, willingly for once I might add. I don't know how to put this delicately, but I've also fused with Bowser and it is taking its toll on my body and mind. To make things worse, I discover that your house was destroyed and that neither you nor Luigi are around. I pray for both of you. Please contact me at the earliest convenience.
With the message composed, Peach pressed the send button.
"BAHAHA, MESSAGE SENT!" A loud shrill voice came from the machine, startling Peach causing her to drop the gadget.
Groaning, Peach grabbed her forehead with her right arm, making sure not to press hard with her claws. "Of all the stupid…"
"Grah hah. I thought I told him to get rid of that stupid noise." Bowser couldn't help but chuckle, although he really did hate Iggy's pranks. Still, his mechanical genius was a cornerstone of Bowser's airships and weaponry. That and Iggy was demented and generally unstable to be able to get a straight anything out of.
"So what now?" Peach asked, seemingly more at ease with the current situation.
"About time you were to talk!" Bowser said, pulling out a spherical gem from his shell. "Take a look at this!"
He tossed it over to Peach. It looked like some sort of Amethyst the size of a melon.
"What is this…" Peach scanned the gem and then remember about her own. "My brooch! Where is it!?
'Quiet down! You're holding it along with my own!' Bowser replied, cutting her off.
'Typical. Even our heirlooms fused together…' Peach sighed, lifting the gem up to Bowser. 'You keep it for now. I don't have anywhere to put something of this size.'
'We need to get moving. Remember what that Merful freak said. We need to beat the stuffing out of others sharing our condition and collect their energies.' Bowser eagerly reminded her. He himself couldn't wait until he started stomping them out, whoever they were.
'Can we rest for today at least? I'm still not too accustomed to this.' Peach said, hopeful that he wouldn't force her out like last time.
'Twelve hours, no more! We don't have time to waste!' Bowser roared his answer as to make sure that he wouldn't accept any more than that. 'I have matters to discuss with the old hag. If you need anything just yell at the guards.'
With that, Bowser left the room, leaving the princess to slip back under the blanket and start intently at the ceiling.
'I suppose I should thank my stars it's twelve hours and not nothing…' She let out a deep sigh and closed her eyes. 'Mario, please be safe!'