The Battle Against Darkness

By Biribiri X

"So where are we?" Wendy said to nobody in particular. She looked around to see where she had fallen. She was on a beach with seashells all around her. A little bit away from her was Morton. "Oh brother." she thought. "Just my luck I get stuck with him."

Morton turned to see his sister standing away from him. Almost immediately he began babbling. "Wendy what are you doing here? I remember falling through some sort of hole and into a flaming tunnel which really can't occur since there are no such things as flaming tunnels except in magic shows maybe but this one was real and not an illusion like it should be and galaxies passed by us in the blink of an eye and that just doesn't seem right because it takes forever to pass by something so big even though it-"

Wendy slapped him, hard. "Quit yapping! We need to figure out whats going on here!" she hissed.

"I'll tell you whats going on here!" Culex's voice bellowed. "This is the Realm of a Thousand Nightmares, where everything you fear takes physical form."

"Well I don't see anything scary!" Wendy yelled back.

"You don't yet, you spoiled brat, but you will in a moment!" Almost immediately the water in front of Wendy began to rise. In a moment it had become a tidal wave. Wendy's eyes grew wide and she turned and fled, Morton racing after her. The tidal wave came after her, covering the sand and the entire beach. Culex's laughter drowned out the roar of the wall of water.

"Oh geez, this is bad! We've gotta run, split, sprint, race, dash, flee, retreat, run awa-" Morton rambled.

"Shut up and keep running loudmouth!" Wendy shrieked. The water was right behind them. "Keep running," Wendy's mind told her. "Keep running and you can get away. Soon it'll crash down and flood the area, then you can swim to dry land." But no matter how hard she ran the wave always stayed behind her and her brother, and it did not show any sign of stopping.

As they ran, Morton looked up. When he saw what was diving towards him, he screamed. Rushing down at him like a meteor was a gigantic pterydactyl, his greatest fear. He ducked his head as the thing made a grab at him with its talons. All that the two of them could do was run. There was no oppurtunity to attack.


"Dear, where are we now?" Clawdia asked her husband. Bowser did not respond. He was busy looking over the edge of the steep cliff he and his wife had somewhow been perched on. Of all things, Bowser's only real fear was of heights. Besides him, only Clawdia knew this. He didn't want anyone else to know that he feared being up high. "Will you answer me please?" Clawdia asked. Still no response.

"Curse you, Culex. Curse you," Bowser mumbled.

"Did you say something?"

"No. I didn't say anything," Bowser replied. He looked up and saw that a few feet away was a chain that was hovering in midair. Across from it, directly in front of the cliff, was a green fragment of a jewel. Bowser had a feeling that he and his wife were being tested. He figured if he could get the jewel fragment, this nightmare might end. "An easy reach." he thought. "Hold my hand, Clawdia. I'm going to try to reach for it." Clawdia grabbed her husband's hand so Bowser could lean forward. He grabbed at the gem but it somehow moved away from him. Because of his bulk, Bowser almost fell over the cliff with Clawdia. Mustering all her strength, Clawdia yanked Bowser up back onto the cliffside.

"Thanks. That was close," he remarked.

"Maybe we should stay against the wall until we come up with a way to get the fragment," Clawdia said. That seemed like a good idea. They both leaned against the wall, being careful not to fall. The slightest misstep meant certain death. Just as they were relaxing, they heard a scream from below. They peered down into the abyss and saw that while they had been struggled with the cliff, something had been happening below. Below them were strange shapes in a large circle around a lone figure. They couldn't see who or what was down there, but they had a feeling it wasn't anything good.

They inched along the walls until they got to the chain. Bowser noticed that for some reason the gem piece had moved with them. Bowser clasped the chain. Maybe he could swing from it and get the fragment. He'd have trouble getting back, but that didn't matter; Clawdia could grab him and pull him back. But when he pulled on the chain, it came down from the sky and grew limp in his hand, like a long metallic whip. "Great! Now how do we get the jewel piece?" he grumbled.

"What is so important about that thing? It's only an emerald piece!" Clawdia remarked.

"I know dear, I know, but something tells me that is the key to our escape. I think Culex is testing us with these things." As if to emphasize that point, Bowser saw another emerald fragment in a small hole in the cliff side. "See? I told you he's testing us with these!"

Clawdia reached in to grab it but she saw something and withdrew her hand immediately. She looked inside the hole and gasped. Covering the emerald piece was a horde of scorpions. Yeesh, she hated those things. When she was a girl she had gone camping with her family and had woken up with one of those things perched on her face. She had screamed her lungs out of course, and had never forgotten about it. Now she too was starting to think that Culex might be not only watching them but testing their ability to survive. If she had to reach in there, oh, she didn't want to even think about it.

"What the?" Bowser yelped. Just as the chain had fallen into his hand, the emerald had begun moving around in front of him like a target in a shooting gallery. "Now what do I do?" he thought. Looking at the chain, Bowser knew exactly what to do. He wrapped part of the chain around his hand and slung it at the emerald like a whip. The fragment moved away nimbly, as if alive. Bowser lashed out again and missed. He continued swinging at the fragment but he wasn't concentrating because part of his mind was preoccupied with his fear of heights. He had to be careful not to swing to hard or he might fall. After awhile, he considered just giving up.

Clawdia wasn't having any luck either. Every time she tried to grab the jewel piece, the scorpions jabbed their tails at her. She knew how deadly a scorpion's poison was and did not want to experience the horrible effects of it. She knew what it was like. She had read about them.

"Hold still, darn it!" Bowser growled as he swung the chain at the emerald. Then he noticed something. The emerald was moving not randomly, but in a pattern. Yes, he could see why he hadn't been able to hit it before. Because he feared great heights, he had been too distracted to see the pattern it was making. The cliff had kept his mind occupied to prevent him from scoring a hit! "Not bad, Culex. You are even tougher than before!" he thought. Bowser slung the chain forward again but this time he quickly flicked his hand back towards the right, the direction in which the jewel was moving in.  The chain smacked the jewel head on. The piece stopped moving and became still. Bowser snatched it from the air.

Clawdia, meanwhile, began to see how to get past the scorpions as well. They did reach for her hand when she stuck it in, but while her husband had taken the green fragment she had noticed the scorpions were blind, because their eyes were filmy blue and they seemed to go after sound rather than movement. As if to prove this something, a loose rock she was guessing, had fallen in the far corner of the small hole and the scorpions had all gone after it. Seeing a small pebble beside her, Clawdia got an idea. She picked up the pebble and set it into the small hole. She flicked it with her finger and sent it rolling down the tunnel. The scorpions immediately chased after it. Before they could come back, Clawdia reached in and grabbed the emerald fragment. Suddenly, the cliff began to shake violently. "Whats happening?!" she screamed.

"I don't know!" Bowser screamed back. The cliff began to descend into the ground somehow. After a short period of time, it stopped at ground level. They both climbed off.

Farther ahead, only fifty feet away, Ludwig von Koopa awoke to find himself looking up into a slew of monstrous faces. "No..." he moaned. "Just let me die." His wish was not granted. All he saw was a group of monsters staring down at him. He tried to get up but he felt so weak. A lot of his body ached, making it difficult for him to do anything but turn his head; he guessed he'd been beaten with a club.

One of the zombies, practically a skeleton except for some random hairbits, staggered forward. Ludwig assumed it was the leader from the way all the others shrank away from it. It pointed to the others and then to Ludwig. "Do what you wish with him. Just leave part of him for me," the thing croaked.

Realizing the situation now at hand, Ludwig tried to roll away but he was too weak from the beating he had received while unconscious. "Oh geez no..." he whispered. He made one last effort to get away but it was too late. They fell upon him with their hands and began another beating.

"That was close," said Clawdia as she dusted herself off.

"I know. I managed to get this jewel fragment," Bowser replied. Clawdia held up her piece as well. Then the crystals flew out of their hands and merged into a slightly larger piece. Bowser took it and tucked it into his shell.

"Maybe you're right, dear. Perhaps Culex is testing us," Clawdia said.

Then across from them, someone let out a loud yelp. Bowser recognized it as his eldest son. Clawdia knew it too. The two of them rushed to where the yelp had come from. When they rounded the corner, they gasped. Horrible zombies had formed a semi-circle around a figure who was being badly beaten and was gasping for breath. That figure, of course, was Ludwig. "Oh goodness!" Clawdia gasped. Upon hearing her the zombies forgot all about their captive and began to lurch towards them.

"They found us! Dear, we'll have to fight them!" Much to Bowser's suprise, his wife balled her hands into fists as well.

"Don't worry. I don't like fighting, but this time I'll gladly fight!" she said, confidentely.

Bowser and his wife lunged towards at the zombies. Clawdia punched two of them down while Bowser burned away four of them with his fire breath. He had never expected his wife to fight with him. She was a peaceful woman and disliked violence, but he guessed that if her child was endangered she'd be more than happy to give the offender a few bruises. As he contemplated this, three of the monsters grabbed him by the chest and legs and a fourth tackled him to the ground. Bowser threw them off and slashed them in half with his claws. Clawdia jumped into the air and brought her claws down in a vertical slash, cutting down more of the monsters. After a short while, every zombie was nothing but dust.

"Phew. That was easy. I never knew you could fight so well, Clawdia!" Bowser exclaimed.

"You didn't really think I only took care of the castle, did you?" she laughed.

"King Dad! Queen Mom! Look out!" Ludwig yelled, weakly. They both turned to see that the zombies had reformed themselves as good as new. Not only that, but there were twice as many of them. Bowser and Clawdia gasped. They were too tired to fight more of these monsters, let alone twice as many. They began to back away. Just as the zombies began to move, though, white light filled the land. Bowser and Clawdia both shielded their eyes from the bright light. The zombies gave long, loud cries of dismay and pain as the light engulfed them. When the Koopas uncovered their eyes, the zombies were nothing but smoke. Standing to one side, badly wounded, was Ludwig, wand drawn. "I just remembered they don't like light," he said. Ludwig lowered his hand and collapsed.

Bowser and Clawdia rushed to their ailing son and lifted him to his feet. "Are you alright?" Bowser asked, dusting him off.

"Far from it. Those things found me and I guess I must have fainted. Then they must have taken me here and beat me while I was unconscious. I feel weak," he said. "You know what's here, don't you?"

"No we don't."

"Culex told me when we came here. He said that a person's greatest fear takes physical form here and torments the victim. Those things were the monsters I saw years ago on TV. After so long I never thought that I would have to confront them again," he said.

"Our fears?" Bowser asked. "Well me and your mother were just on a cliff up above. I had to get some sort of gem piece from the air without falling off. After I got it the cliff somehow melted into the ground and we found you," Bowser said.

"Me too. On the cliff I found another gem piece in a hole in the cliffside. I had to reach in and get it from some scorpions!" Clawdia shuddered at the memory of this.

"So he wasn't lying. We are all in the same boat, up against our nightmares." Ludwig sighed. He looked back at where the zombies once were and noticed something glittering. He limped towards it and picked up a fragment of an emerald. Before he could get a close look at it, it flew out of his hands and towards his father. The jewel pieces Bowser and Clawdia had levitated towards Ludwigs piece and united with each other. It became larger.

"I'm only guessing, but I think these pieces could be our way out," Ludwig said.

"I think so too," his mother replied. "Let's go look for the others."  They hiked off, Ludwig limping from his injuries.

Culex was furious. Now the scum he had banished had claimed four of the emerald. This could not be happening. He refused to believe it. Enraged, he clenched his fists. "Curse you!" Culex snarled. "It doesn't matter! Even if you get past your fears, Kasoko will get you! You'll be too weak to fight him once he shows up." Culex failed to notice the blood dripping from his hands, he had dug his claws into his hand so hard. Ryorga, Sanzan, and Zaelos entered the room.

"Master, you seem stressed. Perhaps we should tell Kasoko to kill them now?" Ryorga asked. Culex snapped his fingers and electricity surged up Ryorga's bod. He screamed and dropped to the ground.

"Shut your mouth! That would take all the fun out of this! I want to see them writhe in agony rather than have them die quickly at his hands," Culex whispered. Ryorga got up, trembling.

"My king, right now we should focus on the matters at hand. With Plit gone, we have complete domination over it. The place is now habitable for you. Why don't we go down now and set up camp?" Sanzan suggested.

"I think I just might do that," Culex said. He charged energy into his hand and yelled "DIMENSIONAL GATE!!!" The ball of energy shot into a wall and created a gigantic hole in it. Horrible eyes of all colors, reds, yellows, oranges, greens, peeked out from it. Nightmarish screeches and growls and all sorts of other outworldly sounds ushered forth from it. Strange monsters and demons began to pour out of it and fall on their knees to salute their master, Culex. Some were dragons clad in armor with flaming swords, others were shadows that flitted across the walls. Sanzan, Ryorga, and Zaelos watched this in complete awe. Their master turned to them.

"These are the minions of the Dark Mage. Since he is dead, they are now under my command. I appoint you, Ryorga and Zaelos, commanders to them. Take them down to Plit and have them set up the different kingdoms to suit their needs. Today a new age begins!" Culex crowed. He sent a magic wave over his men and they turned to salute Sanzan and his two partners. More demons began to pour out of the portal in the wall.

"Yes indeed. A new age shall begin!" Sanzan laughed.

As Culex gathered his men to rebuild Plit, Mario and company were taking a break from searching for survivors. Iggy and Larry created a black pot and firewood with their wands. Biribiri X used his wand to create some meat and vegetables for the pot. Mario and Luigi used fireballs to light the firewood. Larry pushed the black kettle with some water from a nearby stream and poured it in. All that was left was to cook the soup and eat up. They needed to conserve strength for whatever might come. A moment later, Biribiri X let out a nervous giggle.

"What's so funny?" Iggy asked. Biribiri X didn't say anything. Instead he collapsed into a laughing fit.

"What's with him?" Larry asked.

"Who knows?" Mario asked. Biribiri X lay on the ground laughing wildly. After awhile he stopped and picked himself up.

"Sorry," he said. "When I'm really frightened I start laughing."

"Frightened about what?" Larry asked.

"What do you think is making me nervous, vegetable boy?!" Biribiri X snapped. "We're locked in another dimension and we can't get out! Of course I'm frightened!" Yup, he was better now.

"There might be a way out," Larry said.


Larry took out the jewel piece he had found earlier. "This might be the way to escape. After we confronted a monster in a building, I found this. I don't know why I'm thinking this, but something tells me that this isn't the only piece and that if there are more fragments, they might lead to a way out of here," he said.

"If so, we should look for them after we eat, and keep an eye out for your family," Mario said.

"I sure wish the food would hurry up and cook," Yoshi whined. "I'm starving!"

"Oh hush, you big crybaby," Luigi said. "It'll only be a bit longer."

After a few moments the water was bubbling. Larry conjured up some bowls, some spoons, and a ladle with his wand. He served everybody some soup and began to eat. It tasted delicious.

"Good soup!" Mario said.

"The onions are the best part," Larry said, slurping his soup ravenously.

"I'd say the meat," Iggy argued.

Everyone ate quickly, Yoshi finishing first as always, and lay back, looking up at the moon.

"Sure is a lovely moon," Luigi said.

"Yeah, it is. It kinda makes you forget about the trouble we've run into," Mario whispered. They all lay on the ground watching the moon pass over them. It was a beautiful full moon, shining in the sky like a crystal ball. After some time, Mario spoke up. "We really should get going. We have to find the others," he said.

"But what about sleeping? We need to rest!"

"Nothing to worry about," Biribiri X said, waving his wand. A light passed over them all. For some reason, they felt refreshed.

"What was that?" Yoshi asked.

"It's an energy spell. Once cast, it gives you energy as though you had slept. Now let's go," he replied.

"You're not going anywhere!" a voice said from behind them. Everybody turned to see two figures in the moonlight. One was a shark that was standing on its fins and bared a striking resemblence to Johnathan Jones. Its body was covered in a wall of water so it could breathe on land. The second figure was not a living thing but a machine of some sort. Luigi saw the shark and felt relieved a bit. The fact that ths creature resembled somebody who had been a good friend of his helped him cope with the desolation of this realm, even if he wasn't Johnny himself.

The flying creature spoke up again. "I am here to test you," the shark said. It spat out of its mouth two emerald fragments. "These fragments will be yours if you can pass my tests. I'm going to put the rainbow haired one and the green man with overalls into this simulation machine. You will be pitted against your greatest fear. Some of you have already contended with your fears, so I will have no use for the rest of you. The green one and the rainbow haired Koopa I will require. Fail and I will keep the fragments."

"Sounds fair," Iggy replied.

He and Luigi started to go towards the shark, but Yoshi grabbed Luigi. "I thought you said that worm thing was you and Mario's greatest fear! Only Iggy should go!"

"No. Mario feared the worm way more than me, so I have to go," Luigi said. Yoshi let him go with Iggy up to the shark and his machine. It looked like an ordinary computer. The shark pressed a button on the machine with its tailfin and two helmets magically materialized on Iggy and Luigi's heads.

"I will now see if you are worthy of taking my fragments," the shark said. Electricity surged out of the helmets and over their bodies, but they didn't seem hurt. In their minds, however, a new nightmare was starting.

Inside Iggy's mind, he was in a hallway lined with torches. Ahead of him, something rattled. "I hope that's not what I think it is," he thought to himself. He had barely taken a few steps when his foot touched something long and coarse. He jumped back as whatever he had stepped on hissed at him. Iggy grabbed a torch off the wall and saw what was ahead of him. Covering the entire floor for quite a long distance was a slew of rattlesnakes. Iggy trembled. As far as he was concerned, snakes were the one thing that shouldn't be allowed to live. Then he saw something glitter at the end of the hallway. It was another emerald piece. "Oh geez, now I have to walk across a bed of snakes? Ugh!" Iggy groaned. One of the snakes lashed out at him. Iggy jumped back.

"There has to be someway to cross over them," he thought. Then Iggy looked up and saw a chandelier hanging above him. Instinctively he jumped as high as he could. He managed to just barely grab the chandelier. "Now to get over there," he thought. The hallway was narrow enough for him to plant his feet on the walls. Iggy put his feet on both walls and pushed himself forward. The chandelier swung forward. "Yes! I'm safe!" he whispered. Unfortunately Iggy had forgotten that in this nightmare realm, anything could happen. As he leapt from the chandelier, one of the snakes raised itself up. To Iggy's horror, the snake was large enough to extend itself to the ceiling. Its jaw clamped shut on his ankle. Iggy screamed and let go of the chandelier. He was dragged down onto the floor, where the other snakes were waiting. Iggy wailed as the snakes bit him over and over again. Luckily for him his body's internal system was not very susceptible to poison. He wriggled to his feet and sprinted down the hallway, screaming each time the snakes bit him on his ankles. After what seemed like eternity, he reached the end of the hallway. He snatched the jewel piece and everything went black.

In the realm, Iggy's helmet flew off of his head as he picked up the emerald piece in the simulated land. He still hadn't recovered from the simulation he had been through as he was shaking badly. He jumped when the shark tapped him on the shoulder and said "You have passed. As promised here is your piece." Iggy held out his hand and the shark gave him a shining emerald fragment. "Now we must wait for the green one to finish." Iggy turned to Luigi, who was still in a simulated nightmare.

Unlike Iggy, who had been forced to cross a hallway of rattlesnakes, Luigi's task was to grab a jewel bit out of a whirlpool in the middle of an ocean. Luigi dove underwater and began to swim towards the whirlpool. Eventually he was sucked into the whirlpool and began to paddle desperately to avoid being sucked into the abyss that the underwater vortex was descending into. "Of all the times not to have a Metal Cap," he thought to himself. As Luigi struggled to escape, he saw something twinkle out of the corner of his eye. He grabbed at the shining jewel piece that was whirling around in the whirlpool like an enraged hornet. Each grab of his hand brought him lower into the whirlpool and closer towards the black hole. It seemed that the piece would be impossible to get until Luigi got an idea. He quickly relaxed his body, allowing the whirlpool to bring him lower than the jewel piece. Mustering all of his strength, Luigi twisted his body around in the opposite direction of the whirlpool. He stretched out his hand and let the emerald bit, which was now heading in the opposite direction, glide into his hand. He descended into the hole...

ZAP!!! Another electrical surge covered Luigi's real body and the helmet flew off of him. "So you have passed my challenge as well. I congratulate you with this." Luigi took the shard offered to him by the shark. He and Iggy went back to the others.

"Why did you do this to us?" Iggy asked.

"I did this to help you. By confronting your fears in a simulation, the curse on this land shall not take effect on you and will not generate your nightmares. I know this because I myself was a fear of another before you. I decided to make amends for what I did by building this machine and using it to help you. Now I must be going," the shark said. He drifted off with his machine. As he did, the fragments that had been collected fused together.

"Well we've gotten two more pieces, so let's get going," Mario said. They began walked off further into the Realm of a Thousand Nightmares when they heard voices. Larry turned around to see who they belonged to and he could have cried he was so happy. Coming towards them were he mother, father, and eldest brother. "Iggy! Look!" Larry screamed.

Iggy turned around and saw his family. "Queen Mom! King Dad!" he called out. Larry was already sprinting towards them, tears of joy flowing from his eyes.

"Larry?! Is that really you?!" Bowser yelled. Before he could say anything else, Larry had leapt onto Bowser and wrapped his hands around his father's neck in an embrace.

"I thought I might never see you again!" Larry wailed.

"It's alright, kiddo. We've been looking for you too," Bowser said. Larry was weeping so greatly out of joy that he didn't hear his father speaking or notice Iggy sharing an embrace with his mother.

Ludwig pulled his sobbing brother off of their father and gently wiped away his brother's tears with the side of his hand. "Calm down, little brother. We're okay," he said. "We ran into trouble along the way, but we're alright now that we've found you guys."

Larry stopped crying and sniffled. "Sorry.  I'm just so happy I can't help it."

"It's alright. I know how you feel."

None of them had noticed Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Biribiri X walking towards them to see the reunion. Bowser looked up and saw them, but did not attack. "So you've helped my children up 'til now?" he asked.

"Yes," Mario said. "I suppose you're going to attack us now?"

"No. Since you helped my children, I won't kill you. Not yet anyway."

"That's some assurance," Biribiri X huffed. "We're helping each other just so you can come after us again? Some deal!"

"Oh hush ,fishbreath. It's better than nothing and against Culex we'll need all the help we can get," Mario said. Biribiri X gritted his teeth to hold back the curses that wanted to come out of his mouth in response to the term "fishbreath". It didn't matter to him how much help they needed. As far as he was concerned, Bowser was about as trustworthy as a weasel to a stray hen.

"Out of curiousity, have you been collecting those jewel shards that are everywhere here?" Clawdia asked.

"Yeah, we have. We already have three pieces. I'm guessing that these jewels are the way out of here as whenever they come in contact with other pieces they fuse into a larger piece," Yoshi replied.

"What a coincidence, we also have three pieces. They've already fused as have yours, I'm assuming," Ludwig said. He held out his piece; Mario held his piece as well. The two bits fused together into a large piece. "We should get moving." Bowser said. Mario pocketed the jewel piece and they resumed their search for the others.

About a mile away, Kasoko watched them thorugh his binoculars. "So they think that they can conquer their fears, eh? I'll make sure they get something new to fear!" he said. Suddenly, Sanzan's image appeared in front of him.

"Are you okay?" his leader asked.

"Yes master, I'm fine," Kasoko said. "What do you require?"

"I want you to do something for me. Culex feels that the lot of them will not be able to conquer their fears but I think that they will somehow. I want you to kill them for me now instead."

"How do you want me to do that?"

"When you find their fears, absorb them. That way the emerald pieces will go into you and ensure that they cannot get them. Do not fail me, Kasoko. I'm counting on you," Sanzan said as he vanished.

"Yes, my lord. I will not fail," Kasoko said. He raced off ahead. He had a job to do.

Somewhere in the heart of the Realm of a Thousand Nightmares, three more of the remaining people who had been cast into this nightmarish dimension struggled onward. The three of them, Lemmy, the princess, and Toad, had each escaped what they were afraid of and had run into each other in the process of escaping. Peach's had been a molten lava flow, Toads's a giant lawnmower, and Lemmy's a living sword. At first they had been reluctant to travel together, but eventually they agreed to stick together until a more appropriate time. For the time being they were on what seemed to be a desert road. The only other things besides them were some withered cacti and some old telephone poles. It was creepy somehow, almost like the poles were leering down at them, secretly taunting them as they walked beneath. "You are in our world now," they seemed to whisper. "You are in our world and escape is futile."

"How long have we been going?" Toad asked.

"Who knows? I'm guessing at least an hour," the princess said, wiping her forehead.

"I sure wish I was back in Ice Land," Lemmy said, pausing to catch his breath. "If I have to spend more time in this heat I'll go crazy!"

"You're not the only one who wants to get out of here. I'm frying like an egg in this desert sun," Toad said.

"It should only be a bit further and we'll get out of here. This land will probably shift into another landscape in a little while, this place is so messed up," Peach said, although in her heart she really doubted her words. If this place was cursed then it could probably respond to other thoughts besides a person's fears. If it could then it would no doubt stay in this same setting until they died of starvation or were killed by whatever else was here, if there was anything.

As they trudged deeper into this strange world, Lemmy thought about his younger brother. He really hoped he was alright. If anything had happened to him, he didn't know what he would do. He and Iggy were practically one. He remembered all the times they had shared over the years, the way they had shared sentences when they were little, the way they had concocted schemes to conquer the Mushroom World, the many hours they had spent studying with each other after school, everything. It helped him cope with what was going on. "I'm coming, Iggy," he murmurred under his breath. "Just wait for me. I'll save you!"

"You won't be saving anybody!" said a voice. The trio turned to see a tall figure in a leather jaket, a checked shirt, and jeans sitting atop telephone pole. Behind him was a gigantic mound of magma, a floating kitana, and a gigantic lawnmower. The three of them gasped.

"Who are you?" Toad asked.

The figure descended to the ground. "My name is Kasoko, one of Culex's fighters. I have been sent to destroy you. I've been watching you tangle with your fears so far and I must say I'm impressed that you managed to survive this long. The others are alright, I promise you. They won't be for long though," he said, pushing back his wavy hair. "I guess you could call me backup. If you defeat your fears, I shall take care of you and anyone who survived."

"You'd kill us when we're battle-weakened?! You're sick!" Lemmy yelled.

"I'm only doing my job. Maybe I'll start with your brother. I think it would be interesting to hear what he sounds like when he's being tortured to death." Kasoko laughed. Lemmy's lips curled back around his teeth and he rushed forward to attack his adversary. Just as he began to throw a punch, the hovering kitana flashed towards him and sliced into his arm. Lemmy hissed in pain and backed away. Kasoko laughed.  "Now, now did you really think it would be that easy? Master Culex has given me the ability to control your fears as if they were puppets on a string. They make excellent bodyguards, particularly when their target is frightened of them!" The sword spun in the air like a compass arrow, waiting for somebody else to make a move.

"I've got an idea," Toad whispered to Peach. "Because these things have to touch us to hurt us, I think if we lead them a bit, we can beat them!"

"That just might work!" the princess said. She ran in front of the pile of heated rocks and lava and stuck out her tongue at it. The magma pile instantly melted down and began to flow after Peach. Toad meanwhile enticed the giant lawnmower to come after him by throwing a rock at it. The oversized gardening machine sprung to life and raced after Toad, tearing up large chunks of the ground as it roared along. Peach and Toad both raced along the ground, their fears trailing behind them. For a long period of time, the two only led the monsters in different directions. Then Peach and Toad switched directions and began to run towards each other, their fears still chasing after them like a cat would a mouse.

"JUMP!!!" Peach yelled. Just before they collided the two of them jumped as high as they could. A moment later the two nightmares crashed into each other. The magma flowed into the lawnmower and melted most of its mechanisms. The lawnmower, unable to take the incredible heat of the magma, exploded in a blast of flame. Chunks of metal and bits of red rock flew into the air and rained down.

Peach and Toad turned to Kasoko, who was busily dodging a barrage of kicks and punches delivered from a certain rainbow-haired koopaling. He was laughing as he easily blocked and dodged every blow thrown by Lemmy. After a short while Kasoko grew tired of dodging and delivered a side kick to Lemmy's head, knocking him out.

"Foolish child, did you really think you were capable of defeating me?" he laughed. Then he turned to the princess and Toad. "Ah, I guess you are going to be the next ones to fight me?" he said.

"We'll get you! Let's see how you fare against two opponents!" Toad yelled. He and Peach charged. Before they were even halfway to him, the flying samurai blade flew into Kasoko's hands. A moment later he charged forward and delivered two fast slashes to his opponents' bodies. Peach and Toad collasped to the ground, clutching their chests. Although the wounds inflicted were far from fatal, the pain seemed to be getting greater by the second. Soon they had begun to lose consciousness from the searing agony that was burning in them.

Kasoko grinned and wiped the blood off of the blade. "What do you think of it? What I have just demonstrated to you was one of my most powerful techniques. You see, I have the ability to use a person's nightmare as my own weapon. Each fear gives me a different ability. My ability with this sword is the ability to deliver magic slashes with my sword that cause great pain to my enemy. The catch is that the lighter the cut, the more pain is inflicted, and judging from how light those blows were, the agony you are feeling now must be incredible," he said as his victims finally fell to the ground completely.  He went over to where the first two fears had been destroyed and pocketed the two jewel fragments. "I'd better make sure they don't get these. Now how shall I kill them? I don't want to absorb their fears yet so I'll have to kill them some other way."

It took a while for him to finally choose a form of execution, but eventually he did. From a pocket in his jacket he took out some chains. "I've always wanted to do this," he chuckled. Just as he was about to execute his plans, he got a better idea. "Of course," he thought. "I'll use these three as bait for the rest of them. Then I'll get all of them at once when they come to save their precious friends." Kasoko concentrated his power and sent out a psychic message to the others...

In a large field, Roy was dealing with his only fear: a tornado. He fired every shot he could from his wand, but the tornado's winds blew them away before they could hit it. "Dang it!" Roy yelled as he dodged a lightning bolt from the twister's cloud. He ran ahead as fast as he could, but the tornado came after him as if alive. "I'll get you, Culex!" he screeched into the wind. "I swear I'll get you when I get out of here!" Then a large rock came flying towards him and struck him in the face. Roy crumpled to the ground, wondering how he could defeat something which really could not be defeated. Then he remembered something he had read in a book: a tornado has a low pressure center and blows inwards. Maybe if he could change the air pressure, the cyclone would dissipate.

Roy grabbed his wand and fired a wind blast at the twister. Somehow it got into the tornado's eye. The wind countered the low pressure of the storm and turned it to high pressure winds. The tornado and the storm dissipated and the skies became clear. Roy fell to the ground, gasping. "Wonderful things, anti-cyclones," he thought. As he got up, the field he was in vanished and became a barren landscape again. "So it was only an illusion," he thought. Then he heard a scream from behind him.

"Roy! Help us!" Morton yelled from a long distance away. Roy saw his younger brother and sister racing towards him. Behind them was a giganitc tidal wave; above in the sky was a gigantic pterydactyl, diving at them. He knew these were Morton and Wendy's fears. Wendy feared tidal waves more than anything and Morton had seen a pterydactyl skeleton in a museum when he was little and had flipped out.

A small spurt of water shot out of the wave and knocked Wendy down. She screamed as the wave fell down on her and shrunk into a ball that surrounded her. She began to cough and gag from inside the waterball.

Morton meanwhile ducked as the pterydactyl swooped at him. He took out his wand and fired a large energy ball at it but it bounced off. "Help me!" Morton screamed. The pterydactyl fell upon him and carried him up into the air in its claws. Roy rushed towards the dinosaur, but the thing swished its tail at him and created a blast of wind that knocked him back into a boulder. He passed out.

In her watery cage, Wendy struggled to breathe. "Somebody help me!" she whispered in her mind. She was terrified. In a little bit longer, she would drown. She knew it. Was she crying? She couldn't tell because if she was, her tears were only becoming part of the waterball that had trapped her within. She had to get out of here and fast. "Think Wendy, think!" her mind screamed. Thousands of ideas raced through her mind with blurring speed. Finally, out of desperation she decided the only way to escape the water was to ingest it.

Wendy opened her mouth and the water rapidly began to flow into her systems. Wendy felt as though she were swallowing a line of watermelons. Within moments she began to feel full. If she took anymore of this she would burst. Suddenly she choked. Something very hard had lodged itself in her throat. She gagged and what was in her throat came out. It was a beautiful emerald bit. She was lucky the piece hadn't cut her throat from the inside. "I'm finished," she thought. "I might as well get a look at it before I go." Wendy reached out and grasped the object in her hands. The moment her hand closed around the jewel piece the water surrounding her and inside her stomache evaporated. Wendy dropped to the ground gasping for air. "That was close," she thought. "Now to help my brother."

Wendy rushed toward the flying creature in the sky and took out her wand. She charged all the energy she could into it and shot a tremendous burst of energy at the pterydactyl. The blast engulfed it and when the smoke cleared, the thing was only a burning pile of bones.

"Wowee that was some blast there Wendy I never thought that you had so much power in you I mean even Ludwig himself couldn't make an explosion that big even when he screws up one of his experiments which is really scary since those blasts are normally the largest of a-"

"Shut up, okay?!" Wendy yelled, jamming a rock in his mouth.

"No, little sister, you do it like this!" said a voice from behind. Roy reached into Morton's mouth, pulled out the rock, and proceeded to jam it into Morton's mouth again with much more force. Yup, he was better now.

"Thanks Roy!" Wendy giggled.

"Eh, I do what I have to," Roy said. As he finished speaking, an image of Kasoko appeared in front of them. Before any of them could speak, Kasoko began to talk.

"Hello. Listen closely because I'm only going to say this once. I have your brother with me. I have a few others with me who will also be executed in a very painful manner if you don't come to me. I will give you the coordinates to where I am." A map appeared in the hologram with a red X on it. "Come here and we will discuss things further." The crystal piece in Wendy's hand flew out of her palm and away into the distance, along with another that had been in the dinosaur's bones and a third that Roy had failed to see after the tornado vanished.

"Hey, those were mine!" Wendy screeched.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you that if you find any jewel pieces they will automatically be taken away by my powers. Sorry!" he laughed. The hologram disappeared.

"That jerk!" Wendy snarled. "Nobody, I mean NOBODY steals from Wendy Ocean Koopa!" She raced off into the distance with Roy and Morton, who had managed to take the rock out of his mouth.

Elsewhere, Bowser and company had recieved a similar telepathic message and had their jewel piece stolen. "So that's where they are," Mario exclaimed. "We can't waste any more time. We have to save them and get whatever remains of the jewel. This is a trap, but we don't really have much choice."

"Don't worry," Iggy said as he cracked his knuckles. "I'm in the mood for a fight anyway! Nobody hurts my older brother and lives!" They trudged onwards toward their destination. "Look out, jerk!" Iggy thought. "I'll make you pay for kidnapping my brother!"

Back in the desert, Lemmy regained consciousness. "Where is that guy who knocked me out?" he wondered. He tried to move his legs but couldn't. Lemmy looked down and saw that he was high above the ground. A chain had been wrapped around his legs, locking them together and holding them to a tall vertical pole of wood. Lemmy tried to move his arms but he couldn't move them either. Both of his arms were held out to either side of him and had been tied at the wrist with chains to a horizontal piece of wood. He looked down again and realized that he had been tied to one of the telephone poles in a very strange fashion. Below him, Kasoko laughed.

"What have you done to me?!" Lemmy yelled down. "And where are the others?!"

"Calm down, kid. The other two are on either side of you. As for what I've done to you, I'm suprised you don't know what I've done.  t's a form of punishment used on Earth by the Romans for execution."

Lemmy looked to both sides and saw the princess and Toad had been mounted on telephone poles in a similar fashion. They were still unconscious. "Now what happens?" Lemmy asked from above.

"Well, I could just leave you all there to die a slow agonizing death of exposure and starvation, but since I'm in a merciful mood I'm going to do it differently." Kasoko charged heat energy into his kitana and brought it down into the ground. The ground opened around the three victims to reveal a sea of lava. The poles they had been mounted on were on a small bit of ground just big enough to support the three of them. "What I'm going to do now is pretty simple to see. I'm going to slowly lower that bit of land into the lava with you still hanging up there! Of course since you're all tied up you won't be able to get out and you'll slowly be cooked by the lava like steak on a barbecue!" Kasoko snapped his fingers and the small patch of land that the poles were balanced on began to sink.

Lemmy panicked. If he didn't get off of this thing soon he and the other two would be cooked alive. "I don't believe this," Lemmy groaned. "I'm going to die like an animal in a slaughterhouse. I'm not going to go down fighting or even fleeing. No! I'm going to ride a cross into a magma pit with my enemies!" He used all of the strength he had to try to break free of the chains on his wrists, but Kasoko had obviously done a good job of tying him up. He couldn't move an inch. He tried to wiggle his way out instead of yanking hard, but to no avail. The chains held him on the telephone pole like manacles. As he struggled to free himself, the princess woke up.

"Hm? What's going on? And why can't I move?" Peach mused. She looked down and screamed. Below her was a sea of bubbling lava. Even more frightening, she had been tied to a cross which prevented her from moving anything but her head. She could tell by the rumbling that the ground was sinking into the lava. She squirmed as best as she could but like Lemmy she had been tied tight to the pole. "Mario, where are you?" she thought to herself. Toad awakened as the princess struggled.

"What's happened? I can't move an inch!" Toad screamed.

"I don't know, Toad. All I do know is that the ground we're on is sinking and if we can't get out of here we'll be fried like eggs!" Peach called.

"Struggle all you want, but there is no way you can escape. Not even I could break those chains, and three sure won't be able to!" Kasoko yelled from below. He was enjoying their struggles immensely. To him it was like watching a deer trying to escape a pack of wolves once it has been surrounded. The deer would fight as best it could but always ended up losing. He cackled as the ground sank lower along with his victims, who were tied tightly to their crosstrees.

As Kasoko laughed he did not realize his other soon-to-be victims had found him. They were all horrified at the scene that was before them, but it was hardest on Iggy. Seing his brother hung on a cross like an animal awoke a rage in him that words could not begin to describe. Iggy felt hs fists clench and his vision blur, not from tears but from rage. Kasoko's laughter only fueled his anger. "You sick monster," he snarled. "You did that to my brother? Oh you will pay for this."

Before anybody could stop him, Iggy felt his legs begin to move. Before he knew what was happening he was dashing towards Kasoko, his hands balled into fists. Kasoko turned around just in time to see Iggy swing his fist at his face. Iggy was definitely not the strongest Koopa on Plit but his anger turned the punch into a missile. His fist connected with Kasoko's face, making a sickening crack. Kasoko stumbled backwards with a scream, blood coming from his nose and onto his shirt. Iggy followed the blow with a powerful kick to Kasoko's stomach, causing him to double over. Iggy brought many more blows raining down on the Boom Boom with the fury of a wild bull. This continued for quite some time until Lemmy stopped struggling and looked down. "Iggy! Is that you?" he called from above. Iggy instinctively turned towards the direction of his brother's voice. That, of course, was a big mistake. Despite the power of the punches and kicks Iggy had thrown, Kasoko still had alot of stamina left in him. His lips peeled back around his teeth like a wolf and he flicked his arm almost casually. Iggy screamed as something whickered through the air and stung his shoulder. He whirled around and noticed Kasoko was holding a whip.

"So you finally show up. I never thought that you would be able to take me by surprise," he said, wiping away a bit of blood from his snout.

"We've come as you wanted, now let them go. We're the ones you should worry about now," Mario said, stepping forward.

"Yes, you did come as promised, but you are still too late." He pointed upwards toward their three comrades. "Do you really think I ever intended to give them to you? The ground they are on is slowly sinking, and once it sinks into the lava your friends are as good as dead. Of course there is still a chance to save them from a very painful death, but you'll have to go through me first. And if you're wondering about your jewel pieces, I have them. Once I'm finished with you I'll destroy these to ensure you can't get away should you survive. I, on the other hand, can simply warp myself out when they are gone." Kasoko put his whip away and took out the kitana that had been brought from Lemmy's mind. "Let's see just how well you can fight," he said. "I warn you that I am one of the elites of Culex's military and I've dusted off tougher opponents than you."

"A fight might cheer me up anyway!" Iggy said. Everyone else prepared to fight.

"Be careful, Iggy," Lemmy whispered. "Don't die on me."

To Be Continued...
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