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.

 

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The Morelli Bros. (Chapter I, Part V)

Time has a funny way of distorting for those who find themselves trapped in a disaster, suffering from a loss, or experiencing unbearable pain.  Seconds stretch into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, and days into eternities untold.  Survivors later recount every detail as if waking from a frozen world where they’d had time to record every minute bit of information available.

So it was for young Mario Morelli, the oldest of two brothers who, before this moment, had been nothing more than a couple of plumbers carrying on their family business.  At the moment the brick crumbled from the corner of the building, he heard, more than felt, something bursting up from the concrete below him.  He held onto a majority of the brick, still clutching to it for dear life, while the rest rained down on his face and flew around him into the darkness which had swallowed two before him.

He cringed as something ricocheted off of the ground and into the side of his face, tearing a long gash that begun just behind his right jawbone, crossed over his nose, and ended over his left eye.  Seconds later, though he could only watch from behind the shroud of slow-motion now covering his senses, his arms pulled in to cover his newly wounded face.

The darkness reached hungrily for him, and a part of him even heard it sigh contentedly as it’s cold embrace wrapped around his legs while pulling him in.  Like a beast of myth, the darkness swallowed Mario in one gulp.

To his relief, the darkness wasn’t as complete as it had looked from the outside.  There was as much visibility as one would expect on a foggy night, near a large body of water. Though only a few feet were visible around him, he at least had the comfort of knowing that he would see what was coming in the end.

Through herculean effort, he managed to tuck himself into as ball, pulling his limbs as close to his body as possible, as he prepared for the blow that was sure to come.  He could feel his body accelerating as it was drawn by the unseen force into whatever hell awaited him.  The ground whipped by in a blur beneath him, and the darkness crept in.  His gut told him that he was farther above the ground than when he had started, though now it was impossible to tell, except that he had just passed a window that could have been a few, or several, feet above ground.

“Mama mia,” he exclaimed in falsetto.  His voice cracked near the end, and before he could even take in another breath, he was no longer in motion.

Debris floated in the air around him, as it, too, was halted as suddenly as he.  As he drew a shaky breath, the ground below exploded as a large, green pipe extended-

“What-”

-several feet-

“…the-”

-into the-

“…f-”

air, and just as suddenly, sucked him, and the debris around him, into the darkness below.

The Morelli Bros. (Prologue, iii.)

They eventually lost their father to alcoholism.  That had been the toughest summer of their young lives, for it was then that they learned just how far he had sunk in his depression.  Piles of bills were stashed away beneath his mattress or unpaid and forgotten in the dust filled shadows.  Collections Services came calling at all hours of the day, all in search of the same thing; coin that neither of the brothers possessed.  

Every day became a struggle to not only maintain their meager lifestyle, but in keeping food in their bellies as well.  For every dollar they made, they paid two more toward the debts they had inherited and it wasn’t long before their father’s folly caught up to them.  

One by one, their customers began moving away from the Morelli Plumbing business and towards more commercially known ones.  Despite their knowledge and experience, there wasn’t very much they could do to convince anyone to hire the sons of Rocco Morelli, a man who rarely finished a repair in a timely manner and who was suspected of stealing from his clients.  

The Morelli name had become a curse in most homes and only a small handful of people still stood behind them.  These were the people whom they had helped the most over the years.  The families they had moved from one home to another and those who knew the struggles they’d had in their lives.  And in some cases, they were the friends they grew up with, or the families of these friends after the former had moved on.

Eventually, their past caught up with them and they lost their apartment.  There were too many tools for them to store in their van, and with heavy hearts they sold whatever they could do without and still continue peddle their trade.   The rest was donated to the plumbing supplier whom they had given all of their business.  

They washed their clothes a a local laundromat, where they could also freshen up in the restroom as the clothes were being cleaned and they ate as often as their funds allowed, which was at least once a day.  It was a poor way to live and they both knew that time was against them.  If they didn’t find something better, and soon, they were going to have to begin selling the rest of their tools and take minimum wage jobs in order to survive.  

Without a physical address, they had forwarded their mail to a P.O. box, where the bills continued to pour in.  Neither could believe the amount of trouble their father could create for them, even beyond the grave!  There were bills for unpaid tabs at various bars and gentlemen’s clubs.  On top of the bills they owed for their apartment, there were also bills for jobs that had been improperly finished, including one for a septic tank repair that was almost five figures! 

They were steadily losing ground, but what they didn’t know was that sometimes you have to reach rock bottom before things begin to turn around.  Of all the things that their father had taught them over the years, optimism wasn’t one of them.  His secret resentment of the boys didn’t have room for the brighter things in life, things which he knew very little about from the beginning.  

Ever the optimists, they had a long way to go before they lost the one thing they had left.  Hope.