The Morelli Bros. (Chapter II, Part IV)

Deep within the bowels of the fort, where the shadows were cast by molten rivers, and only the most fearsome guardians awaited, was imprisoned a young lady of royal importance.  The fourth child of her family, a princess to the Toadstool name, and a fighter in her own right, she came from a race of people who were very similar in appearance to the two plumbers that had come to her rescue.

She’d barely escaped the initial attack, which had begun several feet above the Royal Palace.  A flying galleon sank beneath the clouds and docked against her father’s balcony.  Rabid Chomps, a rare breed of man-eating plant, that unless chained to the heaviest weight would eat any and everything in their paths, had made short work of her parents.

* * * * * * * * * *

She awakened to the sound of panicked shouts outside of her room.  There were tortured screams coming from every direction; through her window, the walls, in the distance, beneath the hurried cries of those outside, and for a brief moment, she had been disoriented.  As she struggled to free herself from her blanket, two guards burst through the door, each looking worse the wear.

The guard on the right, whose name was Nu’iratha, was covered in blood.  His sword was drawn, but it wasn’t blood that covered the iron.  A brackish ooze, slightly green in tint, dripped from the point of his blade. 

“Your majesty,” he said with a touch of desperation in his voice.  “You must come with me!”

The other guard, whose uniform and weapon had seen less battle, and whose name she recalled as Pou’ic, was frantically glancing over his shoulder, down the hall that led to her parents chambers.  

“You must hurry,” the latter cried.  “They’re coming!”

As she sat up, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, inserting her feet into her slippers as she’d done a countless number of previous mornings.  The difference between each of those times and this one, was that they weren’t to the sound of battle.

Screams echoed off of the walls, each originating from different points of her ancestral home.  Smoke rose into the air, outside of her window, and bestial roars preceded what could only been the death cries of her people.  Forgetting her modesty, she rose in only her night-gown and rushed to her wardrobe.

“Your majesty, ” Nu’iratha protested, “we don’t have time!”

“We’ll have to make it, then,” she grunted through her teeth.  “It’ll not do, for a princess to be seen in her night-clothes, during battle.”

She grabbed a dress and pulled it over her head, securing it to her waist with an embroidered belt.  From this, she hung a small pouch, the contents of which she always had on hand; an enlarging mushroom, a fire-flower, and a green mushroom, though never used, was supposed to reverse time a short distance, when the need was desperate.

As she was fitting her shoes, the battle came to her door. 

Pou’ic suddenly lunged forward and shoved the other guard into the room.  As he did, he shouted; “Keep her safe!  She may be surviving member of the royal family!” He pulled the door shut behind him, locked it from the outside, and slid the key under the door.  “Love live the Queen,” he shouted heroically.

“Queen,” she mouthed.  

“Worry not, your highness,” Nu’iratha had said.   The others may yet live!

* * * * * * * * * *

She awoke with a start, helpless to contain the yelp that escaped her lips.  She struggled to remember where she had been taken, the memory not as fresh as the one she had just escaped.

The most unexpected sensation she felt was the heat.  Sweat beaded upon her skin, already, and the air was thick with moisture.  Her dress clung to her skin, soaked from perspiration and reeking of fear.  Beneath this was the smell of wet straw.

A single torch lit the room, though its meager light fought hard to push the darkness to the farthest side.  She saw only one door, a mighty steel portcullis, of which there was no way to open from this side.

Defeated, she slumped back into the mound of straw from which she had awoken, and cried.

 

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The Morelli Bros. (Chapter II, Part III)

Toad’s legs were like tiny pistons, working tirelessly as they carried him further into the fort’s interior.  Though it was small on the outside, the halls beneath it were many, and it would be several minutes before he reached his destination.

Toad was very different from the majority of his people.  Unlike most, who were happy to integrate into society per norm, he was born with an adventurous spirit. As a child, while his siblings and peers were performing light duties to help their parents, he was exploring dark caverns, or climbing magic vines, just to see where they’d lead him.

When he wasn’t questing, he spent his time running.  Toad was the fastest creature this side of the kingdom, aside from the wild yoshi, but those were so rare that it was hard to find contest in the claim.  He found comfort in the movements that his body made.  The light swing of his arms, the flex and relaxing of the muscles in his legs, the steady intake and release of the air needed to continue, all had become second nature to him.

So in the comfort of running he retreated as the stone walls blurred past him, and he soon took little notice of his surroundings.  He had traversed this path enough times to know the route by heart.  As he ran, he had to occasionally duck under the arms of various slave workers, who were busy with the construction of the interior. He dodged when another of his folk, a youngling by measure, stumbled into a pile of unwound Bob-ombs, the latter whose lifeless eyes seemed to accuse any who looked upon them.

A shiver ran down his spine, sending a chill throughout his body as he expected one of the dangerous orbs to suddenly come to life.  Before he could find out, he was running down another corridor and the scene was long behind him.

He was only stopped once when, ahead of him, a Magikoopa was using its magic to command a small group of Drybones to work.  Four of the undead koopa were tethered to a mighty Thwomp trap, a living block covered in spikes and whose sole purpose was to kill any that cross its path, and were dragging it toward a rope and pulley.  There, it would be taken to the top of the corridor and placed in its hidden alcove, where it would await its victims.

He knew that it wouldn’t be long before even he was unable to pass through here, and his little heart grieved for the prisoner below.  He had yet to see the dreaded King of the Koopas, but if the fear in the eyes of all those around him meant anything, he knew that there was little hope for the girl he was going to prepare for it.

He was close.

There was only one more obstacle before he reached his destination, a retractable bridge that had to be activated near the door to her cell.  He stood at the edge of the chasm, the bottom of which was being filled with molten steel, and motioned to the guard on the other side.

The creature looked very much like the koopas who marched on two legs, only this one’s shell was covered with thick spikes.  In the right light, he thought, it could easily pass for true leader of this army, King Bowser.  It bore a strong resemblance the cruel tyrant, or at least to its descriptions, such as the purpose for which it was created.

It was the guardian of the depths, the keeper of the key, and the last test any intruder would have to pass to gain access to the door it was protecting.  Unlike any other creature, these were created using the blood of the King himself.  The intention had been to protect his bloodline, but the outcome had not been as planned.

These creatures may bear the resemblance of Bowser, but they were nothing like the evil king.  Most lacked the intelligence to speak and acted solely on instinct, attacking any and all creatures they deemed inferior.  While some could only muster enough of their wits to jump on their enemies, others had just enough sense to attack with weapons, or with their legendary fire breath.

Once it had locked into place, Toad slowly crossed the bridge with his eyes pointed to his feet.  To look up was to provoke the guardian, and no magic would protect him from the wrath that would incur.

“Please let me pass, please let me pass,” he chanted with each carefully placed step.  Even though he wore a magic pendant around his neck which allowed him just that, his nerves wouldn’t allow him to pass quietly.

The Bowserling leaned down as he approached, sniffling deeply of his scent and drooling with anticipation.  One misstep and he would be lunch.

 

The Morelli Bros. (Chapter I, Part VII)

“…unngh…”

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.

“….oooombaaa….”

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.