“We’re approaching the rendevous point, Guildmaster,” reported Kamek’s Captain, “but Amadeus and her sister ships are nowhere to be seen.”
“They’re out there,” Kamek assured him, getting up from his seat and stepping toward the ship-to-ship radio controls. “In fact, they’ve probably been here for quite some time.” He reached toward the control panel, pressed the ‘open channel’ button, and began to speak. “Baron Ludwig, this is Kamek. Do you read?”
“I read you, Kamek,” came the response. “And I had begun to think you would never arrive. We have someone here who wishes to board your ship.”
Kamek looked confused. “Who?”
“The Journeyman Guildmistress of the Magikoopas Guild,” Ludwig replied matter-of-factly.
Kamek was even more confused. “With all due respect, Baron, you must be mistaken. There is no Journeyman Guildmistress.”
“Well, according to Lord Bowser,” came a female voice from the other end of the channel, “there is now.”
Kamek felt as if he had aged another hundred and eighty years as he recognized the voice. “Kammy,” he muttered. “Lord Bowser appointed you Journeyman Guildmistress?”
“He did indeed, Kamek,” Ludwig replied in Kammy’s place, “and I would appreciate it if you would prepare for docking so she can depart from my ship.” Kamek was almost sure he heard Ludwig mutter under his breath, “Her constant nagging is getting annoying.”
“Acknowledged, Amadeus,” Kamek sighed defeatedly. “Prepare to drop your cloak. Fallen Angel out.”
“A cloaking device,” Kamek’s Captain whispered in awe as the channel was closed and the Amadeus began to shimmer into view through the forward window. “Incredible!”
“Yes,” Kamek agreed, “incredible, but not without flaws.”
The Captain turned toward Kamek. “Flaws, Guildmaster? Pardon my skepticism, but they seem to work perfectly.”
“Oh yes, they mask the ship from both the eye and radar,” Kamek conceded, “but the blasted things use up so much power that the ship can’t use its primary weapon without first disengaging the cloak, and the time delay to power up or power down the cloak is nearly fifteen seconds. A lot can happen in that time.”
“Approaching Amadeus main airlock, Guildmaster,” reported the helmsman before the Captain could reply.
“Switch to computer control,” Kamek ordered. “I don’t want any operator errors messing up a delicate procedure like this.”
“Switching to computer control,” the helmsman complied. “Beginning final approach sequence. Docking in three... two...” The bridge crew braced for a light jolt as the much larger airship’s docking clamps bit down on the juggernaut. Finally, they felt it, accompanied by the screech of metal on metal as the two ships came together. “Docking complete, Guildmaster.”
“Open the airlock,” Kamek ordered. “Prepare to receive Adept Kammy.”
“No need, Kamek,” came Kammy’s voice from the air around the bridge. There was a rush of air and Kamek found himself face-to-face with a blue-robed Magikoopa.
“Ack!” Kamek cried as he staggered back.
“Caught off-guard, Kamek?” Kammy teased.
“Yes,” Kamek admitted, “by some horribly grotesque thing that appeared right in front of my face. When did you learn to teleport, anyway? And if you could do that, why did I just go through the trouble of docking?”
“You’re as charming as ever, Kamek,” Kammy sarcastically responded to Kamek’s first comment. “And the reason you went through the trouble of docking was because you didn’t think to ask if I could teleport. Anything else?”
“Well, for one thing,” Kamek growled, clenching his fists as the entire bridge crew began to snicker, “you will address me as ‘Guildmaster’ from now on. And for another, in the future you are to inform me of anything of potential consequence, such as a wretched and evil hag developing the ability to teleport, in advance. Understood?”
“Understood, Guildmaster.” Kammy’s tone
clearly indicated to Kamek that
the discussion was not over.
“Fallen Angel,” came the disgusted voice of Baron Ludwig fromt he radio, “do you have her?”
“We do, Amadeus,” answered Kamek in annoyance, “And I’m sorry for the inconveniance.”
“We’re disengaging docking clamps,” Ludwig sighed. “You’re clear to disengage.”
“Acknowledged, Amadeus,” Kamek replied as his helmsan began to move away from the mammoth warship, which had by now reactivated it’s cloak. “Course laid in for starting point: patrol route 1, at your command, Baron.”
“Understood,” Ludwig replied. “Engage at mach 2.”
“Finally,” Karma mumbled just loudly enough for her radio to pick up her voice. “Let’s get this wild Wiggler chase over with.”
Two days later, Princess Daisy Rose walked through the halls of the Sarasi palace in Birubuto, daydreaming. “For once,” she thought with a relaxed sigh, “there’s nothing needing my attention. The Ministry of Defense is busy with their usual warmongering, the nobles are all pacified, and even Fortinbras hasn’t had the nerve to face me.” She smiled as she thought of the child in her womb. “At least not since he learned my little secret. Why can’t there be more days like this?”
As Daisy walked aimlessly on through the halls, trying to think of an answer to this, she was narrowly missed by a crumpled up scrap of paper thrown from the open door of an office on her right on its way to the wall by a window on the other side of the hall. As Daisy stopped short to avoid the unusual missile, a figure wearing a highly decorated gray uniform stormed out of the office and into the hall, turning right as he stalked down the hall in the direction Daisy had been going. Through it all, he never noticed Daisy.
“I wonder what his problem was,” Daisy muttered as she looked up at the plaque on the office door engraved with six stars, the rank insignia of a Legionnaire General. “Legionnaire Cassius; Muda. Well Legionnaire,” she said coldly, looking down the hallway in the direction Cassius had disappeared, “you and I shall have to have a little chat about courtesy later on, won’t we?”
As Daisy continued to huff about the
rude display her attention turned to the crumpled note on the floor. “If
that had been two inches to the left,” she thought, “it would have soared
out the window. Maybe that’s what Cassius wanted.” Nosily, she picked up
the scrap of paper and read, and her heart grew more faint with every word.
“This is impossible,” she mumbled, scarcely able to believe her own words.
“This letter is from one of the priests of... of...” Note in hand, she
turned around and hurried down the hall in the opposite
direction, to Fortinbras’ office.
“Your Highness,” Fortinbras asked gravely as he read the note in front of him, “are you completely sure this is authentic? Someone could have planted this to incriminate Cassius.”
“Planted it? In the hall outside his office?” Daisy shot back. “I think not, Chamberlain. Why not plant it in the office itself, where it might more easily be found? Besides, I saw him throw it out himself. He was trying to throw the note out the window where it would never be noticed.”
Fortinbras reluctantly nodded his agreement. “I suppose I have no choice but to believe you, Your Highness.” Fortinbras’ face changed from disbelief to rage as he clenched his fist around the note and tapped the “alert guard” button on his desk.
“Yes, Milord?” the door guard inquired of Fortinbras as the door swung open.
“Find Legionnaire Cassius,” Fortinbras ordered sternly. “Place him under arrest and bring him here.”
“Kooky,” Karma signalled Ludwig over
the radio, “I’m over Seaside
harbor, sector 2A to be speciffic, and I’ve got a reading that’s... well, funky.”
“Funky how, Karma?” Ludwig requested further details.
“Well, radar shows nothin’ in the harbor, but the thermals are picking up something. And whatever it is, it’s moving fast toward Land’s End.”
“Let me take a look,” Ludwig offered. “Hmm... that is most unusual.”
“Excuse me, Baron,” Kamek interrupted from Fallen Angel, “but if it isn’t one of Booster’s, then we have orders to destroy it.”
“Destroy what, Kamek?” Ludwig returned. “For all the information we have it could be merely a glitch In Karma’s scanners.” Intent on proving himself right, Ludwig took a quick survey of his own instruments, and what he saw was not what he expected. “Though I must concede,” he mused, “if it is, it’s quite a glitch. Jazzman, theories?”
“Me? Theories?” Jazzman laughed. “Kooky, you’re the brains in this outfit. I’m just the style.”
“Well,” Karma jested, “that explains why the squadron has more style than brains.”
“I don’t know about style,” Kamek muttered, “ but she’s right about a lack of brains. Baron, might I suggest old-fashioned sonar?”
“Sonar?” Ludwig questioned. “What good will that do?”
“Let’s just say I have a hunch,” Kamek replied mystically.
“Another one of your divinations?”
“I don’t suppose you’ve divined exactly what we’re going to find?”
“Please, Baron. Just indulge me.”
Ludwig sighed. “Very well. Engaging sonic detection systems; initiating echolocation.” There was no sound except the high pitched whine of Amadeus’ sonar emitter for a long moment. “Receiving data,” Ludwig reported.
“Well, whatta we have?” Karma demanded impatiently. “C’mon, Kooky, while we’re young... Kamek excluded, that is.”
“I think,” Ludwig was unable to hide his shock, “we’re looking at a submersible vessel.”
“Impossible!” Kammy shouted, nearly expelling Kamek from his seat. “The Koopas Empire is the only country on the planet to have submersibles. At least since we sabotaged Operation Marine Pop in Sarasaland.”
“Well,” Ludwig commented, “it would seem we no longer are.”
“But if that’s not one o’ ours,” Jazzman asked worriedly, “then whose is it?”
"Milord," reported Fortinbras' guard, "the palace guards report that Legionnaire Cassius is nowhere to be found."
Fortinbras' fist left a deep crack in his desk as he heard this. "Have the other Legion Commanders meet me outside Cassius' office," he ordered sharply.
"Immediately, Milord," replied the guard with a bow as he turned to carry out his orders.
"And what exactly are you looking for, Chamberlain?" Daisy questioned Fortinbras after the guard left.
"Any clue to the Legionnaire's whereabouts, Your Highness," Fortinbras answered, "and I urge you to stay behind and let my men and me clear this up." Having given this advice he rose to leave.
"Oh no you don't," Daisy shot back as she followed. "I'm going with you. The last two times I've let you take care of anything yourself you've managed to get things blown up by Kamek, and I don't plan to let you screw this up."
"Baron Ludwig," Kamek repeated for what felt like the hundredth time, "we have orders to destroy this."
"I'll fire on the vessel," Ludwig replied, "when I'm sure we carry sufficient weaponry to hit it. The target is at least 300 meters below the surface, and none of our ships are equipped with torpedo turrets."
Disgusted, Kamek signaled his communications officer to close the radio channel to the squadron. "This is ludicrous," he whispered aside to Kammy. "Why isn't he firing? We know that's a cult ship down there, and..."
"Hold on a sec," Kammy stopped him. "What do you mean 'we know'? We don't."
Kamek gave Kammy his best who-do-you-think-you're-talking-to look as he indicated the tip of his wand. "Divination, Kammy. Have you learned nothing? Besides, no matter who they are, a submersible that isn't one of ours is a threat."
Kammy nodded. "Fine. So it is. What do you expect us to do about it? It's as the Baron said, a submerged target isn't easy to hit."
Kamek thought for a moment. "For once you're right," he conceded, "but if it's left up to the Baron..." his voice trailed off. "Well, we need to take things into out own hands."
"What are you suggesting?"
Kamek seemed lost in thought for another moment. Then, an idea appeared to strike him. "Yes," he murmured as if answering an unspoken question. "Yes, that would work." Excitedly, he looked back toward the screen in front of him, "Captain," he declared, "this is what we'll do. We're going to fly low, just above the water's surface, and..." At that moment Kamek looked away from the screen and toward the Captain's station only to find it empty. "Wait a minute," he stammered, "where is he?"
"Lord Fortinbras," demanded Julius as he approached the door to Cassius' office, "what the devil's going on?"
"You know as much as I do at this point, Julius," Fortinbras replied. "It seems our newest Legion commander is a Belomite priest."
Julius let out a disgusted grunt. "Yes, I heard. But when did this come to light? And how?"
"I found him trying to hide this," Daisy answered for Fortinbras as she held up the note she had seen Cassius toss out earlier and handed it to Julius.
"By Heaven," Julius shuddered as he read the note aloud. "'To His Excellency, Brother Cassius: Sister Raini has arrived at Seaside. We are preparing to board Predator and retrieve the artifact from the sunken city so that we may proceed with Great Belome's awakening ceremony as planned. Make your way to the rendezvous point as soon as possible, as your services will be needed in retrieving the artifact. Long Live Belome, Devourer of Souls; High Priest Martine.'" White-faced from shock, Julius looked up from the note. "How long has one of our Legionnaires served the priests of Belome? And what's this 'Predator' supposed to be?"
"I don't know," Fortinbras replied, "but the more important question to me is where's the rendezvous point. And there's another interesting detail in that letter."
"Oh? Do tell, Milord."
"Does the name 'Martine' sound familiar?"
Julius frowned. "No, it doesn't. Should it?"
"Martine," Fortinbras replied, "is the name of the mayor of Seaside."
Julius' response was cut short by an interruption from Brutus, who had not yet spoken through the entire incident. "There's one more thing I should point out, particularly to you, Milord Fortinbras."
"And that is?" Fortinbras demanded.
"The 'Sister Raini' mentioned here is Lieutenant Raini Dayweather of the Chai Air Force."
Fortinbras was silent. "I'm not sure I follow you. Why is that significant?"
"Because her husband, Ensign Raz Dayweather of the Easton Air Force, is the Archangel's helmsman."
Fortinbras' curse under his breath was masked by Daisy's gasp of horror. The Princess and the Prime Minister were so caught off guard by this statement that it was only Julius who thought to ask one fateful question. "Wait a minute. How do you know who this 'Sister Raini' is? That's a really common name. Why should we assume that this just happens to be the wife of Archangel's helmsman?"
As every eye turned toward Brutus, the battle-hardened Legionnaire looked away. "I know who she is," he answered remorsefully, "because I was the priest who indoctrinated her."
"Guildmaster Kamek," came the voice of a very confused Sledge Brother, "according to the latest battle-readiness report there's a parachute missing from deck 3, and they were all accounted for at last check."
Kamek rolled his eyes. "Crewman, I have far bigger problems to solve than a missing parachute."
Before the crewman could answer there was a piercing "bzzt, bzzt, bzzt" from a console on the other side of Fallen Angel's bridge. "Guildmaster," cried an alarmed Sledge Brother, "the airlock on Deck 3 has been opened!"
"Emergency override!" Kamek shouted over the noise as he bolted toward the console to see the reading for himself. "Get that airlock closed." There were several moments of total anarchy before the alarms faded and the roar on the bridge died down.
"Airlock secure, Guildmaster," reported the crewman.
Kamek sighed. "Damage to the ship's interior?"
"Something isn't right. First it was an enemy submarine, then a missing parachute, and now we have a malfunctioning airlock? What's next?"
"You shouldn't have asked, Guildmaster," Kammy said apologetically from the Captain's former console.
Kamek rolled his eyes as he turned toward Kammy. "What is it now?"
"According to this, someone paradropped out of the airlock while it was open."
"What?!" Kamek clenched his fists until his magic set them aflame. "Who in the..." the flames in Kamek's fists subsided until they were as cold as his eyes as he realized the reason for the mysterious events. "The Captain," he spat. "But why? Where does he think he's going to go?"
Kammy took a look at the front viewer and answered Kamek's question. "He's probably going there."
Startled, Kamek looked at the viewer, and his jaw fell to the floor. "Sweet lifeblood of the cosmos, what IS that?"
"Brutus, you'd better explain yourself quickly," Fortinbras glowered at the man who appeared to have become the second Legionnaire that day to betray him.
"I intend to, Milord Fortinbras," Brutus replied compliantly, "but you must first understand that I am not your enemy."
"How can you say that?" Fortinbras' voice cut through the air like a clipper ship. "You're not my enemy, yet you're still a Belomite priest?"
"Former priest, Milord."
Fortinbras was silent.
"Milord, it's true. Much to my everlasting shame, I was a priest of their order at one time. It was only after reading about the destruction caused by Belome the last time he awakened that I realized what a mistake I had made. Unfortunately for Lieutenant Raini Dayweather, by then I had already converted her."
"Wait a minute," Daisy interrupted. "What do you mean 'the destruction the last time he was awakened'? The last time he was awakened Mario and Bowser beat him easily, and in his own temple at that."
Brutus laughed briefly in spite of his best efforts otherwise. "Your Highness, that was only a shadow of the Devourer: a mere echo of his former power." The seasoned commander shuddered as he recounted his recent discovery in the cult's archives. "You are all aware, I'm sure, that this world in ancient times was a lush, green world untouched by Koopa influence."
Julius nodded. "You're talking about the Old World: Earth."
"Indeed, Julius," Brutus replied. "Earth, they called it. But that world died in the Great Cataclysm, and our world was born." Brutus straightened his uniform and continued his story. "Scholars have never been able to agree about what caused the Cataclysm. Some say it was the rise of the Koopas, and still others say Humans destroyed their own world in petty wars with weapons of unbelievable destructive power. Regardless of the details, all of our scholars agree that approximately 61,000 years ago, some great unnatural force very nearly destroyed the planet. Only the Cult of Belome knows the truth about what happened all those millenia ago."
"And that truth is?" Daisy pursued.
Brutus looked directly at Fortinbras as he continued. "The Great Cataclysm was caused by Belome's accidental awakening."
"This is absurd," Julius cut short Daisy's gasp of shock. "I can't believe we're standing here listening to a Belomite priest spouting off lies from the Cult library."
"They're no lies, I tell you," Brutus clipped, "and I'm no priest of Belome. At least no longer."
"Right," Julius responded sarcastically. "You expect us to believe that the Great Cataclysm was caused by some mutant dog who happens to have a cult devoted to him? A Cult you happen to serve, I might add."
Fortinbras drew a hollow breath. "I hate to admit this, Julius," he answered for Brutus, "but we have little choice but to believe him. If this cult has agents within our own ranks, then we must treat them as a threat. And if they're such a threat, and if there's even a chance that Belome could be as powerful as Brutus claims, then we have no choice but to make every effort to stop them from reviving that beast."
"I agree with Fortinbras," Daisy declared. "But the problem that remains is what do we do about it? We can't send the Archangel to stop them, even if we knew where to send it, because the only qualified pilot is Ensign Dayweather."
"Well, as for Ensign Dayweather," Brutus noted, "he has no idea that his wife is a priestess. She converted after she went to the Chai Air Force Academy."
"So you're saying my helmsman is still loyal to Sarasaland, and not the Cult?" Fortinbras questioned.
"But what happens if he finds out somehow that he and his wife will be on opposite sides of the battlefield?"
Brutus looked at Fortinbras with a 'you already know the answer' look in his eyes. "What man will knowingly go into battle against his wife, Milord?"
Fortinbras nodded his understanding. "Then we'll just have to keep it from him."
"Fortinbras!" Daisy protested.
"Your Highness, there's no other way," Fortinbras insisted.
"Well, Milord Fortinbras," Julius interrupted the conversation as he glanced around Cassius' desk, "if you're going to go after Cassius, you should know what he knows."
"And that is?"
"Do you remember asking for all information about project Super Scope?"
"Of course. Why?"
Julius turned around to face Fortinbras. "Because Cassius found it for you," he explained as he pointed to an open file on the Legionnaire's desk, "and he took the liberty of familiarizing himself with the project."