There it was again. That awful, low growling from behind him. It shook him to the core, making him tremble from fear, and he was frozen where he stood. Not one of his well-trained muscles would respond to his commands, he couldn’t even lift so much as a finger. He could only think imagine the horror creeping upon him.
He could feel it looming over him, omnipresent and powerful. His mind refused to accept anymore information, the strangeness of it all was suddenly too much.
“Luigi,” he screamed. At that moment, he knew that he couldn’t do this alone. Whatever this was, he needed something familiar. More than any other time in his life, he needed his lanky, clumsy, little brother at his side.
It was the same guttural whisper. It sounded like it was only a few feet behind him, maybe closer, but he remained powerless to face it. He could hear the grass rustling as it approached. Dry leaves crunched beneath its feet, but even worse was the smell. The air had shifted. A warm breeze carried it around him, permeating his clothes and senses.
It smelled of rotten vegetation, and something much more sinister. It was something akin to meat that had turned sour as it readied itself for the inevitable maggots which would soon inhabit it.
“Mario! Jump, man!”
It was Luigi who broke him from the spell. Just like that, the fear was gone, and his instincts took over. It was as when they were children, practicing Parkour and showing up all the other children in their neighborhood. His right hand became a fist. He bent slightly at the knees, and with a powerful thrust upward, he leapt.
“Ah-haa,” he exclaimed involuntarily. It was a sound that came unbidden, much like the kiai used by martial artists, and it strengthened his maneuver. The ground fell away from him as he was propelled one, two, four feet into a standing jump. He watched it fall away with a sense of wonder, surprised at the power behind it, and for a split second he felt free, however short-lived the feeling would be.
At that moment, the source of his trepidation made its ambling appearance.
He barely had any time to think about it, for as soon as it was in his sight, so had he begun his rapid descent to earth. His feet touched down on its chitinous, slimy, debris covered head. He felt, rather than heard, something snap beneath him, as the autumn colored creature was compressed by his weight.
There was a gush of black inchor that spread in all directions, and two white orbs blew out from beneath the cap in front of him. He retched when he realized it was the creature’s eyes. One had turned slightly upwards, glaring at him accusingly from the dark splatter it now rested in.
Then, as the thick head of the creature reached the ground, it pushed up like a spring, launching him a couple of feet up and away from the creature’s body. As before, his training took over when he hit the ground, allowing him to land in a crouch that absorbed the shock from his fall.
“M- M- Mario! Behind-a you!”
He still hadn’t found his brother in the overgrowth, but he trusted in him enough that finding him would come second to his concerns. He spun around to face the direction from which the creature had come, only to see a dozen more like it approaching. They were shaped, oddly enough, like mushrooms. Much like the hard shell of the first one, their heads were covered in various degrees of slime and rotten vegetation, and they glared at him with impossibly large eyes.