Mario and Bowser: Frenemies Forever 2

A speciest and nationalistic concept (Chapter 9)

Disclaimer: Mario and co belong to Nintendo

Author notes: Shifting into the next gear...


At last after a torturous hour or more, Peach could perceive her surroundings as a flickering overhead light made up its mind and remained switched on. Tied securely to a thick wooden support beam in the bowels of the doomship it was pitch black until then. The other being, her fellow company just a few feet away made her recant nearly all the dark devastating thoughts that were whirling in her brain during the ride from the Mushroom Kingdom to Dark Land she didn't ask for. Trusted and dear Toadsworth tied to a pole in like manner was seemingly okay if unconscious or exhausted. She didn't even see a bruise or out of place clothing article on the man, quite a miracle stashed among unmanned cannons, stacks of ammo, discarded shopping bags, trash, and the occasional mouser. Peach suppressed a shiver and took a deep breath as desperation crawled back into the corners of her mind. Being kidnapped by Bowser there was always a twist to his schemes that she could see immediately. This scheme's spiral she could not however see the end of yet- Not even close, and that was terrifying as the creaks and squeaks moans of the tired old airship putting in the skies and its engines roaring in demented rhythm.

Soon natural light spread onto her from an open hatch and fresher air blew down.

"How's it going? We're almost home so uh.. brace yourself!" Lemmy smiled amiably from the upper deck.

Peach gave the koopaling a mildly indignant stare in return as she felt the ship tilting down, getting shakier the lower they went. She'd surprised herself just then losing her temper so early in the 'game'. Normally she remained either stoic or played up the damsel in distress role while in Bowser's clutches. In her mind that just made the ordeal be over with sooner. Shortly the ship landed violently and forces sent loose ammo careening all around with many close calls. When things has calmed down a shopping bag from 'Tirade-N-Trade' landed completely over Peach's head and she could do nothing about it. Some petit yet calloused hands untied her a moment later.

"Stop being so gentle, Lemmy. LET'S GO!" Ludwig's voice barked from above, barely audible along with the stomping feet of the crew departing the ship.

"Sorry.." Lemmy said coyly and then snickered to himself.

Peach, blinded but at least gently just as Ludwig didn't wish for, was lead out the ship from one horrid location to another. The air smelt like ash and brimstone that would burn the nostrils of most, but not her. She was prodded across dry cracked soil and then stone and then through the entrance of Bowser castle with the fleet of the ship. The tall metal doors shut behind her with a slam that echoed.

"Send the princess to the deluxe holding room!" Bowser commanded nearly in her ear, close on the left. They marched up some red carpeted halls. She really wished they'd remove her what was her blindfold essentially. Not that it impeded her getting around because of familiarity with Bowser's Castle...

"And what of your upcoming matrimony?" Ludwig inquired on Peach's opposite side.

"I'm thinking 'bout it. It's all together in my head. The piranha plant bouquets, the white suit and tie- oh and lava!"

"Always the lava, is it Vater?" Ludwig replied airily. "What of her considerations? Human's don't usually like molten rock. What if perhaps we hire a professional for once? I know someone out of town. Actually erm, several! Speaking of something out of town-"

Bowser tore his gaze from the princess to his eldest son. "Listen, I know we're all feeling good 'cause of our success tonight but this is the first time I've heard your input on this kind of thing. Huh?"

"..Nothing," Ludwig trailed off.

Peach was lead away and Bowser and the others from the airship dispersed into their usual areas in the castle. Roy, Morton, and Iggy were conscious enough to enter on their own two feet but got sluggish upon the first room in Bowser's Castle, a torch lit hallway with a high ceiling. Zoo was then tasked to drag them to their rooms and hostage Toadsworth to the dungeons.

"Old man, come the crap on!" Zoo pushed Toadsworth onto the carpet.

Toadsworth stumbled forward then turned his head, his blank beady eyes peering into the dark boo'ss. "Ring it..." were the first words he'd said in hours.

"Yeah, dat's it. Ring your bell," Roy mumbled.

"What he said! Words! A synonym. Another to that!" Morton piped up in a robotic fashion.

Iggy kept giggling while hugging himself, his blue eyes dilated.

Thoroughly freaking out, Zoo felt a pain in his stomach. He found the nearest guard, a koopatrol stationed in the next corridor. Standing off to the side under an archway he was speaking to Emery, that new toad girl mook of theirs that King Bowser hired on the spot or some crap in Toad Town. Zoo didn't make the recruitment rules nor care..

"-Yeah ha ha, just uh, take it I guess. I don't need this old thing. I'm a shut in anyways." The Koopatrol handed her a Dark Land travel pass in a plastic bag. These let citizens use the kingdom's transport services whether bus, train, or economically getting shot out of a cannon. "You're getting a room downtown for the night?"

After a second's hesitation Emery accepted the pass with a blush over her features. "Thanks. Uh huh, gonna find something in Neo Bowser City."

"Close haha?"

"We'll seeee!" she sang. "Now I'll leave you alone. I'll make it up to you I promise okay? See ya."

The koopatrol kept grinning stupidly as she left down the hall. Zoo zoned in right behind her. "Bro! Hey help me out!" he yelled, making the guard drop his spear in a klutzy manner.

"Zoo? What are you doing here late?"

"Don't play retarded, Tanner! Remember? We were texting about what I was gonna do today all last night! I was with King Bowser kids 'cause I won that raffle a while to help with the Mushroom Flu scheme. Duuude I could do whatever I wanted most of the flipping time!" Zoo explained, his dark features lightening up from excitement. "Now stop flirting with that basic toad brat. Like that'll work out when she finds out you're always thinking about that weird super crown thing... Like now."

Tanner swiftly retrieved the spear before some other guard could rat him out speaking with the castle's janitor. A thought flashed in his head that his telepathic friend may have done something sinister as he was often unfortunately and impulsively inclined. "Shhh! I just forgot. Busy day. I wish I won and got to visit Toad Town where the sun actually shines.. I have permanent tan lines from this helmet and not the good kind.. Hey. You didn't do something, like, messed up right? All alone for hours? With no supervision?"

"Hahahaha... Forget about it, bro." Zoo felt a little bad to lie to his only friend. But only a little. Said raffle from last week was a 'Humanitarian' effort by Ludwig to give staff of the castle more fresh air. Zoo rarely won stuff so he decided he would be a winner this time. Before announcements were he made tracked down the original winner after reading their mind while in the mess hall, followed them home, hid the body by morning, and clocked in normally for his janitorial shift to await the announcement of the new winner. Zoo Sue Diddley! Zoo pat Tanner on the shoulder. "-I'm not going to get you in trouble this time bro. Just help me move these guys back there so I can clock out and snore in my freaking bed and probably wet it in the night because I have issues and refuse to take my medications!"

"Whoa okay! Didn't need to know!" Tanner laughed. He peeked around to make sure other's weren't patrolling. "You got any souvenirs from Toad Town?"

"Here. This is supposed to be real fancy." Zoo winked, handing him a Lexus emblem taken from a certain car crash earlier.

Soon Tanner was impressively supporting Roy and Morton on each side and Iggy on his back, hauling them while Zoo was dragging around Toadsworth to the dungeons. Zoo had gotten into a lot more trouble today than he usually had a chance too, but that was his past. His future would be counting sheep.

...

Larry was on his bed face down in a pile of old clothes, wrestling magazines, and leftover takeout boxes feeling queasy to his gut. His father wasn't holding the princess for games with that other important person in his life, Mario like usual. Instead rushing incoming wedding plans. Earlier Kammy hogging up space in the hallways mentioned something that Larry couldn't shake off. Of if Bowser was to have more children..

"Larry, could you bring the laptop to my room?" Ludwig texted him. Larry pulled himself out of bed and obeyed without thinking about it. That's how he knew he was frazzled when he didn't care who's grubby hands were on his laptop. All of the Koopalings shared a floor in the castle and Ludwig's was at the very end with a carved antique door and an iron cast knocker that had no place indoors but was allowed for the Koopa Troop general.

"Thank you. I'm examining the contents of a hard drive and Iggy likes to encrypt data so it might take a moment," Ludwig explained with a touch of drowsiness after accepting. Beyond him Larry could see the mechakoopa on Ludwig's neat and tidy bed. "I must know what happened and then shop for a tuxedo. Time waits for no koopa.."

Ludwig opened the laptop on his bed only for it to close down on this fingers. "Ouch! Blöder Dell X-piece of…" he muttered, adjusting the broken hinge. He connected a cable to the mechakoopa to examine the raw footage. Rife with digital artifacts the video followed his brothers inside the castle then got black. He adjusted brightness to no avail so he leaned in closely and strained his eyes, not noticing the black particles escaping from the screen and congregating in the room surrounding his work desk, bookshelves of literature, musical instruments, and his large trophy wall with a single badge of honor missing...

Larry stood outside the bedroom door that was slammed in his face moments before, that last utterance of his big brother repeating over and over within. Time. He had none lose.. He bolted upstairs and rung the bell outside Peach's cell. The special room was in a spire of the castle with a window and a furnished vintage inspired but kitschy interior Kamek insisted they let Kammy decorate years ago.

"Yo. I'm coming in, princess." Larry composed himself noticing he was jittery, and then pushed the door open. Peach was seated legs curled in the wicker chair near the window watching the purple dusk sky, the setting sun obscured behind the perpetual Dark Land cloud coverage. The vanity and bed set still had thick layers of dust meaning she hadn't got comfortable yet. "I, uh, I just wanted to tell you-"

Peach remained fixed outdoors. He imagined with a steely gaze too. "I know Bowser is planning a wedding. Is Toadsworth well in the dungeons? He's sensitive to mold and cold food."

Surprisingly that took some of the edge out of the teenage koopaling. Little did they know apparently, the entire castle had a cold and moldy food problem. "He's fine. So I'm here actually because I was gonna like, r-rescue you?" That was foreign to roll off of Larry's tongue, yet so furtively invigorating. "-Cause I can't let dad marry you and have- oh Eldstar no! More kids!"

She twisted his way and shuddered. "What?"

"I'm gonna pull a Mario. I ain't gotta license- I mean I did but it got taken way when I ran over Bowser's toe during a drag race. I can't fight the best- though I did break a kids nose at school once with brass knuckles. And I can't strategize, well I can if I cheating off homework, but that's different. Basically I ain't got an idea of how to do it but I'll make it happen. I'm getting you out of here."

Peach nodded quickly at his words, delighted and overwhelmed at the same time. She had an early ticket out of here. Maybe. Hidden in a pocket- her dress indeed had one no one really knew about- was her cellphone that escaped confiscation because she was hardly known to use it. It was even fully charged from lack of use during the day. "If I was to call help, would anyone in this castle know? Would that help your plan? Or hurt it?" she sputter.

Larry paused with a vacant awkward expression. It set in that he'd just outwardly defected, not just from the powerful Mushroom World organization of the Koopa Troop, but also from his own fresh and blood family. He realized labeling himself a rebel as a persona and grumbling in his mind and being one in real life an actually doing something was a different ball game weighting heavily on his shoulders. And he wasn't much of a lifter... "Sorry.. spaced out Peach. Can I call you that? I wont tell nobody about your phone. I gotta get to bed before I get caught and grounded so we'll figure stuff out tomorrow."

"Thank you, I really mean it."

Larry stopped at the door with a flush. He could have sworn she was smiling a bit. "..Yeah. You're welcome." Outside the door he nearly had a heart attack being rushed by his sister Wendy. She was fitted in pink robe and with a bonnet ready for bed but instead up in his grill instead.

"Lil brat, let's get to daddy's throne room. Now!" She dragged him away.

"Lay off, ugly. Why?"

"I don't know? Why did it take me forever to find you up here?"

"I was gonna prank the princess by ringing the doorbell and then bailing. That's why!"

She sighed, pinching his ear. "Everyone knows about your problematic pranking stunt Youtube channel so you'd never gotten away with it. Just march or else!"

Larry quickened his pace downstairs.

...

"Luddy, wake up! King Dad wanted to talk to us all."

Slumped over his desk, Ludwig lifted his face from the laptop it was buried in. Imprints from the keyboard and crust from drooling marred his face. His eyes burned badly, or rather it was the five pointed star shape burning under his eyelids causing the discomfort. One Lemmy split to three as he tried to focus, mumbling in agreement to whatever was being asked of him from his closest brother.

"What is the pressing matter Vater?" Refreshed as much as two minutes could do for him, Ludwig stationed himself closest to Bowser at his throne. His siblings minus Junior who was still at camp lined up behind him, even Roy, Morton, and Iggy who became normal as the night hours rolled by but with no recollection of the Peach's Castle events. Wordlessly the Koopalings took note that their father had reverted to his ill-tempered and jaded self who hadn't had enough coffee. A foot of the Koopa King stomped the ground, jolting everything in the room.

"I need answers now, Ludwig! Explain how your scheme today worked since it was just SO good you needed it to be secret."

"Ah hem. It started with Sam and Slam, friends of Iggy who are usually video-game collectors but also own a shipping truck company- Excuse me no. It started when virus samples were found in some old lab archives. You may recall the Mushroom Flu from two decades ago. Then we found some vintage cans of Fungus Up for us to taint with a Mushroom Flu virus," Ludwig explained with an unusual lack of grace. "Iggy's acquaintances then shipped them into town. Finally the winning minion of my new program, Zoo, was sent into Toad Town distribute the sodas and deliver some to Toad and Daisy, high profile victims. There are extra cans in our basement."

Bowser kept shaking his head. "Then?!" he snapped. "How does that crazy thing with Peach's Castle happen?"

Ludwig knew what this was all really about and he gulped. "I must humbly admit that I nor my siblings orchestrated that part. We stumbled upon the phenomenon in search of Peach in the city and I thought to feign responsibility you know as a bargaining uh chip. I am the best negotiator."

The Koopalings collectively agreed with Ludwig. It was one of those situations they all knew they were in hot water if they didn't start kissing tail.

"SHUT UP EVERYONE SHUT UP! Alright, you have ZERO clue? Listen to this then."

Bowser summoned to the door a lakitu with balaclava, riding a darkened stealthy cloud. His intense eyes scanned the room before he entered, making the Koopalings clam up. "Sentry #11 reporting. This info got relayed across the six kingdoms in between us and the Mushroom Kingdom, boss. The leaked Toad Town news report for Saturday morning will be 'Princess kidnapped, Bowser's agent wreak havoc on city by suspending her castle in sky, displacing her toads, and attacking historic buildings downtown.' We got an image taken by a bystander repossessed by our Koopa Troop scouts." The lakitu retrieved from his shell a photo that Bowser had already seen but was new to the Koopalings. It showed a crystalline bell shape in the sky with musical notes raining down, not unlike what rained from the platform that held Peach's Castle in the sky.

Ludwig faced away, hand resting on his chin. "You are implying our worker did this?"

"Sounds like it," Bowser answered, crossing one leg over the other. "It said an AGENT of mine, not you brats. So speak up!"

Ludwig felt the life return to him. "Yes Vater. Zoo the steward, even if I don't even remember picking him, did his job well. All of the disorder in Toad Town contributed to our success today. And the look on that plumber's face when he was craning his neck towards our airship? Priceless!"

Bowser sighed and did slow clap.

"-Oh boss! I forgot to mention that the person that met our scouts at the rendezvous tonight was that Toad Town reporter, Kylie Koopa," the sentry spoke up, gaining a curious tone in his voice. "She ran the scouts off and hinted that she'd reveal the dark boo involvement. What do you say about that?"

"If the princess is with us now their threats don't mean nothin'. You can go Sentry. Actually. All of ya. Get!"

Everyone trickled out of the room except Ludwig who lagged behind as if leaving but quickly shut the door and left himself in the room with Bowser. He spun around intrepidly. "Vater. One thing. I did not conceal my plan to be witty or to prove a point as I might usually do. I had a grander purpose."

Bowser eyed him skeptically then got up from the throne and tucked the newspaper he'd been reading under his arm. "Really now?" He causally walked out, forcing Ludwig to trail behind him.

"-I hoped the scheme would allow me to achieve the 'Honorary Mega-Villain' badge. Do you think so? Should I submit the case to the judges out of town?"

Bowser shrugged dismissively which Ludwig hated to admit hurt a bit. "You know I don't care about the opinions of those magikoopa Villain Council weirdos and I don't know why you do either. If you weren't a good general I'd have fired you already. But go on. Get your badge. Just hope that Zoo guy doesn't want to speak up about how all of that really destructive stuff was really his work and not yours. Cause he'll be the one earning it then. Ha!"

Ludwig nearly felt the floor give way beneath him. His work and not yours?

HIS work and NOT yours?!

...

"Don't linger you two!" Ludwig called back to the others, lifting the hood from his messy blue hair. The torch light he was holding cast his shadow on the side of a hut. He with Lemmy and Iggy were tiptoeing around the village near the castle while everyone else were in bed. Lemmy wasn't fooled by him sneaking around and insisted he follow while Iggy was intentionally brought along for some useful night vision gadgets. It helped that all three had night owl tendencies for their own reasons, music composition, science projects/ videogames, or gym practice. Ludwig carried under his arm something from his personal library, 'Ex spatio obiecti specialem lexicon' which he'd studied into the early hours. He knocked on the shabby door of a particular shack on an isolated path near a forest. Wind howled in the barren trees as he kept beating the door.

"Kind of creepy but this would be an epic place for an anime battle," Iggy mentioned out of the blue. "Or maybe a spot where the world ends!"

"Iggy, quit that please," Ludwig said.

"Maybe our guy's sleep," Lemmy advised over Ludwig's left shoulder.

"Just a little longer my trusted adjutants. I shan't give up," he replied more to reassure himself than them. Squeezing his eyes shut, Ludwig still had that afterimage of a dark star, even with each blink and beneath his bonhomie and the forced smiles it was getting annoying. He couldn't remember whatever footage he saw on the laptop screen that did this to him. When he again checked the laptop it had just died forever.

A lamp behind a blanket drooped over the window cut on and the door swung open. "Listen you crazy neighbors I gotta get up and work everyday so if you try to knock one more time!-" Zoo froze with a deer in headlights expression. "...I mean come in I guess?"

Smiling politely his rulers shed the night vision gear, dropped the torches, and entered the small space. Zoo's cabin was one room with an old beige couch that let out to a bed, a rusty electric stove in the corner, and some pins and other objects and junk for juggling in the opposite corner.

"Greetings. I know the hour is late but we're are only here to verify exactly what you did yesterday," Ludwig said. "It is.. urgent because Bowser now requires field reports and we missed your witness statements before."

Zoo felt the spotlight on him again. He couldn't tell what they were thinking because his contacts weren't in and he saw thoughts as floating words. He was in the dark too. He was tardy on the power bill sometimes. "That. Okay so I scribbled 'free' where the sodas were dropped off then I got pretend hired at the newspaper press so I could learn about the tennis game and then I went there-"

"-Excuse me, but what of your actions pertaining to Peach's castle floating in the sky?"

Iggy nodded. "Because it was super cool to look at before I blanked out I guess. Like when Koopau fought the Super Plumbers in the fourth dimension on that raised platform.."

Zoo pointed to a little wooden box with the juggling pile. Inside was the small yellow translucent bell with a warm but pale glow to it. "So I lost this thing for a long time but it showed up again recently. I took it with me and crazy stuff just kept on happening! You don't think I'm tripping do you? Just don't take it out the-"

Lemmy tried to touch it, granting the reward of a horrible zap to his claw, even scorching it black. "Youch!"

"Yeeeeah. That'll happen bro. I got used to it back in the day."

Heart skipping a beat, Ludwig opened his book to a page he'd marked. "Gesundheit! That is the 'Doom Reverb' as I suspected! It says here that this possessive object is in particular a physical manifestation of a dark star cast to the Earth by the guardians of the pure hearted."

"You believe that?" Lemmy shared glances from Ludwig to the bell in the box. The athlete wasn't into flashing things that weren't gold medals but he had to admit it seemed special somehow. "You used to be so staunch about that stuff being a.. whatever big words you used."

"A 'speciest and nationalistic concept' which I felt then and do believe still in a way considering that no one is ever indoctrinated to believe that the Star Spirits, Guardians, whatever you want to call them protect us Koopa races, but instead the blissful toads of the world. The undeserving and ungrateful little...regardless that debate is not the same as the one of whether they actually exist and affect the world around us. My official opinion, worldly and secular Kingly Law tradition aside, is that they certainly do and I'm usually right. You know it. I am no Philistine!"

Lemmy playfully rolled his eyes. "So humble.."

"I could have told you that aliens, wishes, stars, and the Fang-Fairy are real, just saying," Iggy added. He got dope slapped.

"And you also think that attractive females want to date you Iggy.." Ludwig shrugged.

Iggy stood up to him defensively. "And? They do! Wendy told me it's just that my fedora makes them shy but they secretly want me and if I keep sending them letters they'll confess any minute."

"Iggy, chill," Lemmy added.

Ludwig nodded. "-Okay, we are wasting our dear janitor's time are we not? Bring it closer."

"Yeah, whatever." Zoo let Ludwig peer into the box with the Doom Reverb. The moment it was in his palms his eyes felt heavy and he had to resist or else he'd be looking at that inverse burned in star on the other side of his eyelids. A mental war went on, his agency phasing away. But.. Ludwig was never one to allow a landside.

"Are you alright?" Lemmy asked while brother's head kept tilting downwards.

He blinked a few times, box right hand and book in left. "Fine fine. I'll continue to read the passage. This object.. holds reality threatening power… power of what the Dark Star chooses to manifest depends… on the times the item is.. used. Ownership can.. pass on through physical possession or.. DEATH. Wow. Ah hem, and the owner holding some… psionic power to link.. to the bell and the cosmos increases strength…. Exponentially..."

The eyelids closed at last, the calmness of sleep absent. Ludwig felt a pressure from inside out while his brain clouded with a thick fog. He could feel himself drifting farther away with nothing he could do about it. He separated from his body all together.

The three other people in the room had stopped paying attention to the reading for one reason on another. Lemmy couldn't keep his focus off of some vintage circus equipment Zoo owned for some reason. A rolled up banner spelled out 'The Juggling Diddley'. Lemmy kept up with vintage circus performers and there was something odd about the story of that Donut Plains native juggler that kept nagging at him. Iggy was checking a status of an RPG character on his phone. Zoo became sidetracked by that as well, as Tanner played a game like it and he'd been wanting to get into it if he could ever keep a smartphone for more than a month without breaking it.

"I've been meaning to ask how you are our castle's best poker player that even beat that computer A.I. I designed one time to play perfectly. Luddy deduced you have some sort of super power. Is that it?" Iggy mumbled.

"Me? No way bro!" Zoo denied more loudly than he meant. His brief apprehension was unneeded because Ludwig was sleeping while standing. For a moment.

Ludwig's vivid blue eyes opened and he shut the box close to him against his cloak, dropping his book. "As your Prince I command you to give this item to me! Your bell is now mine!"

Zoo was dazed for a second. "W-what? Noooo way! That's like a heirloom and I ain't got much. Do I look freaking rich? I bet you just want all the credit from earlier!"

'Oh typical entitled Luddy,' Lemmy thought. He pulled back forcefully on his brother's stiff shoulders, inwardly guilty he'd zoned out of whatever lead up this this egotistic outburst from Ludwig. "Luddy. Cut this out. Don't be a jerk," he told him in his so called 'serious' tone.

Ludwig in turn knocked Lemmy into the stove corner to clash against pots and pans. When Ludwig turned his head Zoo had snatched the box back.

"Try me sucker!" The boo escaped the house, phasing through Ludwig and the walls.

Ludwig charged out while Lemmy climbed away from the pile of cookware with a pan on his head. "Iggy! After Luddy! Son of a biscuit! Something was off with his eyes and I didn't see it at first. He's gone crazy like you guys did earlier!"

"Oh snap!" Iggy slapped his forehead.

The 'twin' brothers (though no one had considered them such for a long time now) sprinted out together. In the moonlight Ludwig was on the prowl after Zoo through a forest path of rough terrain and piranha plants and nippers waiting. It all lead to a clearance leading to a cliff and at the bottom of the long drop was barren land with brambles. Hunched over Ludwig approached the boo who peered over the edge. Zoo misread a sign and missed the path that would have lead eventually into Neo Bowser City. Instead he was at a dead end.

Jaw clinched, Ludwig pulled from his pocket a bright orange Zapper and loaded it. Zoo gulped just as the others caught up.

"Luddy! Stooooooooop!" Lemmy plead, rolling his ball as fast as he could uphill.

"Don't make me use this!" Iggy revealed from his shell a dangerous replica firearm from the anime show 'Cowboy BoomBoom'.

Lemmy gasped. "Iggy!"

"Don't worry. This isn't the one that can totally kill you with real laser action, it's the toy version...Darn that means it's useless. Crap!" Iggy tossed it aside, slapping his head again.

Ludwig ignored them as he began to take aim. With a start, Zoo brought the bell from it's box and held it up as his last warning.

"Listen bro. Don't make me do this. I will ring this thing as hard as I can and something's gonna do down! Try me!"

Ludwig's eyebrows raised in wonderment as he kept moving forward. "Yes. I want you to! Ring it!"

Lemmy and Iggy attempted to tackle Ludwig down but Iggy was a slim and Lemmy not sizable in comparison. In the mad tussle they struggled to keep him pinned or prevent one right hand with the zapper from doing what it wanted. A shot was fired, grazing the skin of Zoo's arm. He rung in a panic, filling the air with the hollow sounds of the bell. Still in the process of shaking the noisemaker frantically, the bell hologram materialized in the sky. It dropped, not music notes, but an giant murky colored star that fell flat on top of the dark boo and crushed him. The star then flipped upright again and rose into the sky, blocking the moon.

"THANK YOU FOR FREEING ME AT LAST. BWA HAHAHA," said a voice, as if thunder itself could speak. "AS YOUR REWARD, THE WINDS THAT CREATED YOUR WORLD WILL NOW DESTROY IT!"

Ludwig felt a severe headache as he returned to himself. "OWW! Get out of my bed! Out out out out!...Where am I?"

Lemmy and Iggy mitigated the tugging, staring agape at what had just spawned.

A wind storm to knock them all off the hill and back into the forest. Hurricane like gales increased in intensity and spread to cover all of the land.

Mario always wondered what his next thought would be when he finally met his match. Would it end in death? Or something worse? What would be the next sight upon realization that he'd failed? The next smells? The next sensation? The next sounds?

He pondered because it was banjos and he really didn't expect banjos. Dueling ones!

"Dang it, Jr. You beating the poor geetar done woke him up!"

"Don't tell me what to do, partner!" The playing of the fast paced folk melody continued outside the door.

Mario was in a ranch styled little room painted a light salmon color. The air was fresh and the morning sun cast warm rays though the open window which was also near a mounted wagon wheel on the wall. Across from the bed he laid in was a little rocking chair on a cowhide rug. The music stopped. He sprung up when he saw the familiar yet not face of Jr. Troopa peeking in.

"Howdy. Glad you recovered," his odd little acquaintance greeted. Jr. Troopa was no longer the little kid he'd quarrel with but now a stretched out and lanky teenager with some messy brown hair under a cowboy hat that replaced his old egg shell. And that was weird. Well, not really. Reminders of mortality did that to Mario. He reacted the same when he found his one string of grey hair.

"How did I get here?"

"A search party found ya, those real obsessive Super Mario Maker fans I think. So rooin tootin I had to beat em off of ya really to get ya rested up and yer business in order."

Mario wondered where Jr. Troopa's southern drawl came from. It clicked that he was in one of the Mushroom Kingdom Hospital South's facilities, the sister hospital to their Toad Town version and located not far from Mt. Rugged, but something else was at play here.. He pulled himself out of bed to suffer pain shooting in his legs, arms, and back, topped off with a bit of vertigo.

"Did I fall from a building?" Mario sat on the edge and watched his feet dangle down, doubles and triples in his vision.

"From Bowser's airship I heard. You're still looking rough. Vick! Get em some grub!" Jr. Troopa called out the door with some sudden authority. He turned back to Mario. "Did I tell you I'm head nurse here even though it's only been a few months? Talk about quick promo-"

A ptooie plant with a red spotted handkerchief around his neck inched in the doorway. "All right.. and since he's up I'll tell em all to skip the 'hillbilly hail'."

"Hillbilly hail?" several voices from outside the room shouted.

Jr. Troopa spun around with shielding arms. "Fellas! Hoooooooold up!"

In barged a bunch of cowboys and ranchers holding huge metal buckets full of ice and water. It was dumped all over Mario's head, shocking him right out of the bed and into the hallways to shiver curled up.

"What is wrong with you guys?!"

"Just a tradition down here. Sorry partner!" Jr. Troopa's red sneakers stopped inches from his face but there was something else coming up in Mario's line of sight. Something worse.

"Visitor for Mario!" An intercom voice said. Right around the corner came his brother Luigi who did a double take at his drenched brother in his underwear only.

"Mario?!"

"I just got 'hillbilly hailed'!" Mario cried desperately.

...

Luigi's cup of tea simmered untouched while Mario's was but a few drops left. Outside the emptied out saloon Mario could see the red and jagged shaped Mt. Rugged on one side and agricultural mushroom farms on the other. He had on fresh clothes and felt cozy on the outside at least.

"The toads are in Hotel Mario."

"I've got nothing to do with that place. Baddies run it under my name for some reason."

"It's temporary."

"Okay?"

"Yeah." Luigi finally took his sip in a rather unnatural manner.

"Anything else to tell me? Important?"

Luigi paused and then some life returned to him. "Peach made a call before Dark Land's lines went down. Basically she's safe for now but we need to rescue her quick."

Mario reached into his pockets and his phone was still there and operational as evidenced by his lock screen image of Peach on a cruise ship greeting him. He'd need to give Jr. Troopa credit for not dry cleaning it with his overalls by accident.. "I didn't get her message!"

"Because she didn't 'call' exactly," the younger brother explained with air quotations. "It's technical stuff but she's pinging her location just with the usual delay between crappy outdated kingdom cell towers-"

"-Giving credit where it's due they didn't even have that when we arrived here."

"Don't remind me bro. Also something else. We got this guy now." Luigi spun around.

The western styled doors opened and inside radiantly strode a toad adventurer with a headlamp strapped around his head, smiling widely. "Ready for adventure!"


TBC

Note: If you didn't get the Dell thing, Think about this. It's called a Dell XPS. Now get it?

Created: 6/10/19, 6/11, 6/12, 6/14, 6/16, 6/17, 6/19, 6/23, 6/25, 6/26, 6/27, 6/30,

edit: 7/12, 7/27, 7/28, 8/3, 8/4, 8/25, 8/26, 9/1, 9/11

12/1/20