Chapter Four: Brush-Off
"... After they, inevitably, came back, Rdeca's men began to fight with the villagers and many lives were lost. We fought alongside them and ended up losing Wendy in the process. When word travelled of the conflict, Mushroomers from all over began to choose sides and come to aid one or the other. Our more distant Koopa relatives that had decided to get themselves involved, of course, sided with us to pick up the slack for the Mushroomers who hadn't." Ludwig swallowed and sighed. "Within three months all of Plit was at war with one another and would be for the next few years. When it became apparant that our side was growing smaller by the day toward the end of it and that we were clearly fighting a losing battle, what was left of our original eight fled the battlefield and went into hiding. From there we would be hunted one by one until-"
"Ding! Ding twice!" King Koopa bellowed at the younger Koopa standing at the base of the podium. "That story's worse than TEN of Larry's lies in a row!"
"I know it sounds outrageous..." Ludwig tried to explain.
"SOUNDS?! It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" Bowser roared. Ludwig flinched slightly under his father's words. "You're about as convincing as Mario in a dress pretending to be Brittany Spores," he scoffed, climbing back down from the podium and regarding both Ludwig and Karma with disgust. "So out with it, who are you, really?"
"I told you who we are," he replied sternly. "And you're blowing this out of proportion. I am simply telling you what COULD be. Not what IS."
"And I don't believe a word of it!" Bowser roared.
"That's obvious..." Karma sighed, cradling Aislynn as she began to fuss and cry at the loud voices.
"GUARDS!!!" Koopa cried. A moment later, five Hammer Brothers bustled into the room, awaiting their orders. "Take these two imposters down to the dungeon," he ordered. "I'll decide what to do with them later."
"You're making a big mistake, Dad!" Ludwig cried, struggling as two Hammer Brothers grabbed ahold of him to restrain him. "Don't do this!"
"Newsflash, I already HAVE done it!" Bowser chuckled, watching with satisfaction as adult Ludwig and Karma were dragged from the courtroom and out of sight. He made a mental note to visit them in the dungeon later and mock their attempt to throw everything into turmoil further. Maybe then they'd have had enough and would admit to him just who they were and what they were doing here.
But for now, it was gratifying simply to be rid of them. Kill Mario and the princess... he didn't even have any plans to go NEAR the Mushroom Kingdom in the near future, so right there was a rather large hole in their logic.
"Idiots," he grumbled, sauntering out of the courtroom to continue going about his day.
"So... whadda YOU make of this, Poofball?" younger Karma asked, having retreated to Ludwig's laboratory and being joined by him shortly after everyone had dispersed so Bowser could "talk" to the newcomers.
"Don't call me that," he replied absently, trying his best to look busy as he tinkered with a device he'd abandoned months ago but had gotten down from the shelf and was fussing with diligently since they had gotten back. "And I don't know WHAT to think," he added after a moment.
"I think its a big setup," the hybrid replied suspiciously. "I mean, put it in retrospect... how hard would it be for a couple of clowns from the Mushroom Kingdom to use a spell to doctor themselves up to look like us and then pitch a bunch of 'give peace a chance' tripe to your dad? They're just up to something if you ask me."
"Meh..." Ludwig shrugged, half-ignoring her. "If it IS a show, they're putting on a good one. The kid was a nice touch."
"Kid..." Karma repeated with a shudder of revulsion. "No offense, but the day I decide to let YOU father any kid of mine is the day I string myself up by my nostrils over the ocean as shark bait." She crossed the room, retreating to the corner and sitting on the corner of Ludwig's bed. "Still... that's a scary thought."
"No kidding," Ludwig huffed in return. "You'd have to make sure ALL the lights were off before-"
"I don't mean THAT!" Karma snapped, cutting him off. "I mean this war business."
"As far as I'm concerned, that's a bunch of bunk as well." He shrugged again. "The Mushroomers wouldn't give us a second look if we ended up on the lam let alone go out of their way to help us out."
"I guess it would depend on how it happened," she said thoughtfully. "What I wouldn't give to sit in on that meeting your dad's having about now..."
"Personally I'm not at all disappointed with being on this side of the fence. It's definitely something that could turn ugly at the drop of a hat." And then after a bit of thought, "Knowing Father, it will. If you still want to see the outcome, check the dungeon in about an hour. If it went off well, they won't be there."
A long moment of contemplative silence followed, broken only by the faint ticks and clinks of the machinery inside of the device as Ludwig worked on it.
"I'm thinking about 'adult me' a little more..." Karma said at last.
"What of her?"
"... Is my nose really that big?" she asked, reaching out and touching her own sizeable Yoshiesque muzzle. Ludwig, in spite of himself, smirked.
"Any bigger and you could dock a doomship on it," he chided, not even waiting to see her reaction before ducking his head into his shell quickly as a book sailed by where his cranium had been only seconds earlier and thudded to the floor.
"Jerk," Karma snorted, ignoring his slight laughter as he withdrew from his shell and went back to work. Karma watched him a moment and then reclined and stared at the ceiling blankly. Maybe she would take a trip to the dungeon later and have a look around. She had no doubt that she'd find the two newcomers there... who ever heard of Bowser being reasonable, after all? If nothing else, maybe they'd have an interesting story to tell her.
Dinner was served that night with little to no words spoken. As the palace staff laid out platters of vegetables, meats, and breads, the seven Koopalings looked expectantly at Bowser, who sat at his place at the head of the table, eyes narrowed and staring off into space.
"Dad?" Larry asked at last.
"What?!" Bowser demanded, snarling.
"I- er..." he faltered, unconsciously shrinking away from his father's bad mood. "Where're the newcomers?" he asked finally in a small voice.
"Behind bars. Where they belong. Now eat your leeks, boy," Bowser rumbled.
Ludwig and Karma exchanged a look from across the table, Ludwig's eyes proclaiming "Told you so". The rest of their meal was eaten in silence and when it was over, Bowser got up without so much as a sidelong glance at the rest of his family and left the dining room.
"I suppose I'll fix something for the prisoners," Clawdia told the kids. "I don't understand WHY he locked them up but..." She shrugged faintly and left the table as well as the servants began to gather the emptied plates. One by one, the Koopalings left as well and headed for their respective areas of the palace. As Ludwig headed up the stairs toward his laboratory/bedroom, he paused in mid-stride and looked hesitantly over his shoulder.
"Hey.... you alive down there?" Karma asked from the top of the stairs, having just noticed he wasn't following after her any longer.
"Yeah..." he muttered, distracted.
"Are you waiting for someone to carry you up? Because you'll be waiting a long time..."
"No." He paused. "I'll catch up with you."
"Where're you going?" the hybrid asked.
"To check on something." He shrugged, beginning down the stairs again. Karma looked after him a moment as a knowing look crossed her eyes.
"All right... don't spend too long down there though. Your dad'll tie your tail in seven different kinds of knots if he catches you." She paused. "Not that I wouldn't think that was funny, mind you," she added quickly before padding off down the hallway and out of sight.
"You would," he muttered in reply, though it was more of a token gesture than a retort. His mind was too preoccupied with other matters. Namely, finding a way into the dungeon without rousing any suspicion. The guards would just now be headed for the kitchen to get their daily rations, so as far as that was concerned, he was fine... but if one of them should come back early - or, black horror, if Bowser should catch him down there...
Ludwig hesitated a moment and then forced himself to keep walking. Any consequence his father could dream up was nothing compared to the questions and curiousity needling at his brain, he decided.
Bowser seldomly got out of the castle anymore, he realized, as he walked along a remote path that made a wide and lazy circle around Castle Koopa and through a thinner area of Dark Land's surrounding woods. The fresh air filtered through his nostrils like a cleansing elixir, lifting the pounding headache that had been plaguing his skull moments ago and dulling it to a faint buzz. Without the usual din of his family, in fact, he found that he could keep a mostly-rational train of thought as he tried, once again, to puzzle out his current situation.
On the one hand, he had a couple of complete strangers, one of which claiming to be his son from the future, coming to warn him of an impending war and put a stop to it. They claimed it was for the welfare of all Koopakind.... and that was okay. But on the other hand, they seemed bent on painting him to be the bad guy in all of it and saying that it was all his fault... him and his "big bad temper" that had resulted in so many deaths and so much fear. And that, boys and girls, was NOT okay. Not by any standards.
It was also what had led him to his knee-jerk conclusion that they weren't who they said they were. Only someone as cowardly as a Mushroomer could possibly have dreamt up as watery of an excuse as that the world was coming to an end due to him being in a foul mood. Well... they were in the dungeon now, and until they came clean and explained who they really were and what they were doing there, that's where they'd stay. Simple as that.
Bowser smiled a bit, and stretched as he was comforted by the finality of his thoughts. It felt good to be in control of a situation for once and it was nice to know that he had minimal opposition for a change as well. Eventually, Peach might send a couple of scouts to find out what had become of her spies, but he'd deal with them too. For now he would simply relax. He was already starting to feel worlds better about the entire ordeal, having reasserted himself as being in control and decided that he might even head back to the castle in a few minutes to finish his dinner.
"Mario! Come quick and look at this!"
The painful familiarity of the voice made Koopa skid to a halt in his tracks, his appetite instantly vanishing. The mention of Mario's name made him feel downright ill as he keened his hearing to the wind.
"Mamamia... where'd it all come from?! And in Dark Land of all places too!" Mario's unmistakable and annoyingly-Italian voice proclaimed, a tone of awe in it. What were they talking about, Bowser wondered irately as he edged off of the path and toward a tangle of bushes that had, over the years, woven themselves into a tapestry of thorns and vines between two stout warp pipes. In the midst of it all, Bowser could make out two forms. They were huddled over something, and given their body shape and voices, the Koopa king recognized them instantly as his plumber rivals. What were they doing in HIS land, he wondered, his anger beginning to simmer.
"That lava lake over there must have left some mineral deposits in the ground over the years... Mario, this is enough to mint thousands of coins!"
"And to think we only came over here to find our lost frisbee." Mario's voice chuckled. "Too bad its on Koopa's turf."
"Yeah, but think about it... with this much gold, we could keep the orphanage AND the hospital open problem-free for the next ten years!" Luigi tried to appeal to his brother, holding out a baseball-sized piece of stone that glistened, even through the drape of vegetation, with flecks and nuggets of gold.
"I hear ya knockin', but you can't come in." Mario sighed. "It's not ours to take, little-big brother. The last thing we need is to get caught running off with something that belongs to the Koopas and give Bowser something he needs to attack the Mushroom Kingdom."
"What's that?" Luigi asked, standing and brushing off his knees.
"A reason," Mario quipped. "But... ehhh... let's go ask the princess and see what she has to say," he added, relenting a bit.
"Don't forget the frisbee!" Luigi called after him, tossing a disc in Mario's direction. Bowser watched in utter resentment as the two plumbers made their way back to the warp pipe they had come through, playfully tossing their frisbee back and forth as they disappeared from view. Once they were gone, Bowser snarled and lashed out at the vines, severing them easily with his claws as he muscled his way into the thicket to see what they had been talking about.
Bordering a small lava river was an area in the dirt that had been dug up... from the looks of it, by one of the roving underlings attempting to dig a nest. Instead of dirt, however, there was a blinding deposit of gold mixed among the soil and rocks. Bowser bent down, picking up what looked like the same rock Luigi had tried to tempt Mario with only moments ago. His pleased surprise at having found such treasure right under his nose was shortlived as resentment clouded his mind.
Those two scumbags were likely on their way to talk to Peach, even now. He already knew what her answer to their queries would be... something to the effect of "My people need that gold more than Dark Land does and Koopa isn't doing anything with it except sitting on it!" Always thinking of her people... even if it was at his expense sometimes. He trembled a bit with anger at the thought of it. No. There was no way he was going to let them take this from him... he'd kill them first if they thought they would just waltz in and rob from him. It didn't matter what they were planning on doing with the gold... making coins to help the needy, adding it to the princess' private bank account, stuffing it up their noses and squawking like chickadactyls... the point was it was his.
The stone in his grasp began to crumble and crack as he tightened his grip on it, and he forced himself to calm down. Though he was fairly sure that was what Peach would say and attempt to do, he had no guarantee. For all he knew, maybe she would tell them to just leave it alone. Maybe, but not likely.
"Oh! King Koopa, sir!" a surprised and instantly-subservient voice declared, making Bowser whirl on his heel to see a roving green Troopa. "I didn't know you were here... otherwise I would have-"
"You! Guard this thicket!" Bowser commanded, pointing at the small area he stood in. The Troopa hesitated and then shambled forward.
"It's funny you should tell me to guard here, sir..." the underling simpered. "You see, my wife is getting ready to clutch her eggs and she's chosen this area to lay them, so-"
"I don't care!" Koopa bellowed, cutting him off. "If any idiot plumbers or princesses come through that pipe, you are to notify me immediately!" he barked, pointing at the pipe Mario and Luigi had gone into. "Got it?!"
"Got it, sir," the Troopa nodded, forcing a grin and a small salute.
"Good... because if you mess this up, you'll be food for the Blarggs down in the lava pits!"
"I'll watch closely, sir," the Troopa
nodded quickly. Satisfied, and thoroughly steamed, Bowser stormed back
in the direction of the Castle, heedlessly still holding the gold-riddled
rock in his claws. If the Marios thought that they were going to steal
from him in his own kingdom, they had another think
Chapter Five: Who Are You?
Adult Ludwig huddled in the far corner of the cell he, Karma, and Aislynn had been put in. When the initial pacing, complaining, and yelling had gotten out of the way, they had realized there wasn't terribly much more that they could do and had settled in, waiting and listening for any signs of change. After an hour or so, Karma had settled down and had nodded off to sleep, curled protectively around their daughter, leaving Ludwig on his own to ponder their current situation. He hated being at the mercy of his dad believing him or not, but there was precious little he could do about it.
As he shifted his weight a bit, wondering if he shouldn't follow Karma's example and sleep, his attention was grabbed suddenly by the faint but unmistakable sound of footsteps on the stairs. "Probably just a guard..." he thought dismally, but still, even a guard was better than the nothing he'd seen since he'd gotten there. Watching attentively, he waited until... after what seemed forever, the visitor reached the bottom of the stairs and cautiously made their way toward the cell.
He felt his chest tighten with hope as a painfully familiar form with unkept blue hair stepped out of the shadows, his face a mask of suspicion and curiousity.
"Hello, Ludwig..." the older Koopa greeted, feeling instantly odd about greeting himself. Apparently the Koopaling did as well as he winced noticeably.
"Don't call me that," he growled. The two reptiles eyed one another for a long moment before the elder one relented a bit.
"Alright... what would you like me to call you?" he asked. "That IS our name..."
"It sounds strange hearing it from you," he said, unable to hide a small shudder of revulsion.
"Then I'll ask you again, what do you want me to call you?" Another moment of silence passed. "I'm sorry if I come off as a little impatient, but our being in here is doing no good to the current situation. We need to-"
"Kooky. Call me Kooky. That's a little less personal," he interrupted, not wanting to hear a rehash of what had already been said. He already felt like his sanity was hanging by a thread as it was just being in close proximity with a future version of himself. He wasn't sure he could take another retelling of the death of his own family and the fall of the Koopa Clan.
"Right then, Kooky..." Ludwig nodded. "Since there's not much time, I'll need to speak frankly. We have to stop Dad. If you don't trust me, then YOU'LL have to do it... or one of our brothers... but the bottom line is he can't be allowed to carry this out."
"My father hasn't even been at odds with the Marios in months. That's what makes this story of yours so hard to believe," Kooky snarled. "In fact, it's almost as though you're placing the suggestion in his head so that he WILL start another conflict and make everything you've said come to fruitation."
"I knew there would be a risk of that. Believe me, nobody knew the risks greater than I did, and this is something I agonized over for weeks," Ludwig replied. "Coming here was our last chance to stop the war from happening, even at the cost that I will not exist when all is said and done because the future will have been set in a different direction. I'm not even sure Aislynn will exist, and considering how badly Karma and I have fought tooth and claw to keep her alive, that's saying something," he said, gesturing to the sleeping baby Koopaling, her eyes closed peacefully and half-hidden under her unruly mane of cornflower-colored curls.
"It's saying nothing," Kooky replied. "Just that you know what to tell me to get under my sympathies. It doesn't prove who you are or why you're here." The older Koopa opened his mouth in immediate and angry protest and then, at length, closed it again as he heaved a shallow sigh and decided to try another approach.
"Alright then, you decide," Ludwig told him. "Ask me something only you and I would know, if that's what it takes for me to prove it to you." Kooky looked at him incredulously for a minute before rolling his eyes back in thought.
"New Year's Eve..." he said at last. "Last year, I got locked out on the balcony. How'd I get down?"
"I didn't get locked out on the balcony. I locked LARRY out on the balcony because he ate all the cheese balls," the adult Koopa answered thoughtfully. "And then I went to bed. Was that a trick question?"
"Yes," Kooky nodded. "But I'm not convinced." Ignoring the older Koopa's sigh of exasperation, he began to think again. At last he had it... something only he would know about. "When I was a hatchling, my parents left me with my uncle in Sub-con for a weekend while they went away on important business. I was having problems with nightmares.... so on my third night there he gave me something..."
"The Night Defender," Ludwig replied softly, smiling a bit as his younger counterpart jerked his head up in surprise. Simultaneously, both Koopas reached back into their shells, both coming up with the same object, a small silver medallion on the end of a short chain. On one side was etched a picture of a Shy Guy in knight gear standing bravely against a backdrop of moon and stars. On the other was a small inscription.
"I never told anybody about this..." Kooky breathed.
"I was afraid they'd make fun of me... oldest brother carrying around a little girly charm to help him sleep at night." Ludwig chuckled. "But it works, doesn't it?" He cleared his throat, reciting the inscription without looking.
"He smites the shadows, he clears the
way for the light
No nightmares here.
Morning is just around the corner and he fights for its honor
Brave knight is he.
No monsters, no bad dreams, nothing to hurt you.
He is watching always."
"Uncle Wart wasn't much of a poet..." The older Koopa shrugged, smiling at the recurrance of old memories as he tucked the small artifact back into his shell. "Do you believe me now?"
"If you are lying, you certainly did your homework..." Kooky sighed, his head swimming as he leaned against the wall outside of the cell.
"What would I gain from lying?" Ludwig asked, standing and listening to his joints give a protesting groan from being huddled in the dank cell. "I'd cheat Dad out of ONE fight with the Marios. That's about it and that's not even worth the princess sending out any spies on a mission from the Mushroom Kingdom. You know that."
"But there's got to be something to gain from preventing that one fight," the child retorted.
"Right... and there is. Peace. I know that sounds corny, but unless you don't care if your brothers are all dead in the next three years or so, it's something you should be concerned with."
"That or else this just keeps Dad at bay for one opportunity in particular you're hoping to take advantage of," Kooky shot back, eyes narrowing.
"GAH! Will you stop being so suspicious for just a minute?!" Ludwig growled, pounding one clenched fist against the wall to punctuate his lost patience. "You're being such a rockskull!" Behind him, Adult Karma and Aislynn began to stir and awaken.
"Better to be a rockskull than an idiot," Kooky huffed, turning sharply and heading for the stairs.
"Kooky? Ludwig! HEY! Don't walk away from me! Get back here!!!" Adult Ludwig cried after his younger counterpart, rattling the bars of the cell uselessly as the Koopaling disappeared up the stairs. A moment later, the door slammed shut, leaving him and his family in darkness once more.
"What was that? What happened?" Karma asked, yawning and rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"It looks like we're going to be here awhile..." Ludwig grumped, crossing his arms over his chest and sighing. "How come nobody ever told me what a pompous jerk I was when I was younger?!"
"Believe me, I tried." Karma sighed, rolling her eyes before turning her attention to their child.
"Thanks a lot," he snorted, already starting to put the gears of his mind back into motion for what he'd say when and if Ludwig, King Koopa, or someone came down to speak with him again. Time was growing short... why didn't they understand that? Still agitated, he settled against the wall and slid back into a sitting position, folding his arms on his knees and resting his head against them with a sigh. At this rate, history was going to repeat itself... and to add insult to injury, this time he'd not only experience it firsthand, but would get a spectator's view of it as well.
To Be Continued...
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