"Kamek?" Ludwig called for the fifth time in as many minutes and rapped at the door to the sorcerer's quarters, awaiting an answer but met only by silence. The eldest Koopaling sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. Though Kamek had lived in Castle Koopa for as long as he could remember and was practically a member of the royal family, he still lived a very secret life on the side. Ludwig had no idea where the Magikoopa went when he disappeared, nor did he think he ever would.
Last night had been Karma's first night staying under Bowser's roof and already Ludwig was nearing his wit's end. His siblings' teasing had been relentless and he'd tolerated taunts of "yoshilover" for the rest of the night as word got out about his last-minute save in the underground cavern. He was sure the teasing Karma received was likely much worse, but frankly didn't care to ask. The Metbond, at the very least, allowed them to be in their respective corners of the castle without causing any discomfort, it seemed. When her room had been finished, the hybrid had ventured out only once to find him, they had exchanged a stiff conversation, and she had retreated back to the other end of the hallway.
This morning had not been much better. Bowser and Clawdia both had been unwilling to even look at him when he'd come down for breakfast after a fitful night of sleep and Wendy and Roy had both made sure that he had been thoroughly chastised through direct taunting and insults. As far as he was concerned, the sooner he was able to get answers, the better.
But now, it seemed, Kamek was nowhere to be found. Lovely. Growling, he turned to leave.
"Did you need something, Prince von Koopa?" a familiar voice floated out of nowhere, making him stop, sighing and grudgingly turning back. Apart from being a sorcerer, Kamek was also big on making use of his vast knowledge of cloaking spells for spying as one of his few joys in life.
"I want to talk to you," he spoke aloud to the empty corridor, awaiting the sorcerer to make his appearance as he always did. "I have some things I'd like to ask you about-"
"Yes," Ludwig agreed, figuring he should have known that Kamek would already know his reason for coming. He likely knew more about the current situation than Ludwig himself did, the eldest Koopaling thought to himself uneasily. In a plume of purple-gray smoke and a flourish of his slate-colored cloak, Kamek made his appearance neatly in front of Ludwig at a polite three-foot distance.
"That was quite a spitting match between you and your father yesterday," the sorcerer remarked. "You're lucky to still be in one piece."
"I know..." Ludwig sighed, looking at the floor with embarrassment. That was something else that had been eating at him. Up until yesterday, the times he had rebelled against Bowser had been few and minor. To out-and-out stand against orders had been a new experience and had made him regret it in the long run. The way Bowser had looked at him afterward -- like he was an outsider -- made him feel dirty.
"I'm sure he'll get over it." Kamek nodded. "It was rather brave of you, though."
"Meh..." Ludwig grumbled, not looking up.
"Anyway, Meeting, what would you like to know?" the sorcerer asked, abruptly changing the subject as he rubbed his hands together.
"Either you're humoring me, or you lost interest in last night's events if you really don't know." To this, Kamek quirked a brow knowingly and chucked.
"I'm humoring you, as always, but I'd prefer it if you'd humor me for once and say it outright." Ludwig narrowed his eyes a little, not in the mood for Kamek's backwards logic and mind games.
"I need to know about how Metbonds work," he began.
"And why is that, young prince?" Kamek pried, his eyes glowing faintly with amusement.
"Because I think I may have formed one," he growled, setting his jaw angrily. He didn't find this funny in the least, and it escaped him why Kamek was taking so much joy in tormenting him. Ludwig didn't have many people to confide in, being that the only one of his siblings he found approachable in the least was Larry, and he had come to rely heavily on Kamek as someone to bring problems to.
"May have? That seems a big vague to me. Could you clarify?" Kamek devilled.
"Will you stop?!" Ludwig snapped, sending Kamek off into another bout of laughter before he composed himself, clearing his throat.
"My apologies," he said, attempting to sound sincere. "I'm afraid I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't find this entire ordeal amusing."
"Well I don't!" Ludwig replied sharply, his voice cracking a bit with mental exhaust. "I just... I want to know what can be done, that's all. I want things to go back to how they were." He paused, drawing a deep breath and trying to regain his composure. "Please... I can't stand this." Kamek studied the boy for a moment, an expression of pity crossing his features.
"Come inside," he instructed, paffing out of view for a moment and reappearing directly in front of his chamber door. Ludwig watched as the sorcerer withdrew an iron key from the folds of his robe and fitted it gingerly into the lock. With a click, the door yawned inward as Kamek bustled inside, motioning Ludwig to follow. "Now then... as near as I can gather it, you somehow ran across a total stranger yesterday whom you brought back here and put in the dungeon. Then you started to feel sick."
"Right," Ludwig muttered, shuffling into the wizard's quarters and shutting the door carefully behind him.
"And this newcomer... Karma, was it? Did she reciprocate those feelings?"
"I don't know, I suppose she did." The Koopaling replied, rubbing at his forearm absently, clearly uncomfortable. "She was the one who brought it to attention when I woke up and-"
"When I woke up and found her in my bed," Ludwig admitted sheepishly, making Kamek chuckle again.
"It does, indeed, sound as though there's a pull between the two of you," the Magikoopa said thoughtfully, turning from Ludwig to face his bookshelf as he squinted behind his spectacles at the rows of volumes therein. He finally selected one and withdrew it, blowing dust from its cover before opening it to its back and rifling through the appendix. "Let's see... Magic, Material Possession, Meaningful Translation... ah... here we are," he said, jabbing at the word "Meeting" with his index finger before turning to the prescribed page.
"Meeting: A name given to the force binding a particular pair of Koopas together. This force commands-"
"I know that already," Ludwig interrupted impatiently. "What I want to know is if it can be undone."
"Hmph... you're just as bad as your father sometimes..." Kamek huffed, making Ludwig blanch slightly as he scanned the written text in silence for nearly a minute. "Hrmmm..." he murmured thoughtfully. "Tsk... you're not going to like this much, Prince von Koopa..." he announced, not lifting his eyes from the book.
"What? What am I not going to like?" Ludwig asked, his stomach knotting as he realized he likely already knew the answer.
"According to this, it can't be undone. It can't even be tampered with."
"Let me see that," the Koopaling demanded, muscling in beside the sorcerer and peering at the text.
"Right here," Kamek obliged, pointing at the text in question as Ludwig scanned it over.
Known for a time as 'The Curse', it has caused much upset within clans across Plit, not only because of its intrusive nature but because not even the most skilled of sorcerers have been able to remove or alter its hold on the affected parties.
The paragraph felt like a slap in the face as Ludwig stood rigidly still for a moment, a flurry of emotions sweeping over him before he gave a deep sigh, his hands rhythmically clenching and unclenching at his sides.
"I wish I had more I could offer you than that, but what's written is written."
"How old is that book?" Ludwig inquired, sounding near-tears. Kamek paused and shuffled through the pages.
"Likely older than I am," Kamek replied truthfully, closing the cover and replacing it on the shelf.
"Then it's information has to be out of date," the Koopaling said, sounding hopeful. "It has to be! There have been so many spells that have been concocted and discovered over the years that-"
"Ludwig," Kamek said flatly, silencing him, "even if it were out of date, there has not been need for study on this topic in decades. Meeting is all but an extinct process these days and magic-wielders have more important things to invest their time and powers in."
"But this isn't fair!" Ludwig growled.
"No... that's the basis of it, it's not a fair process. If it's of any consolation of you, close proximity is as much as the bond demands. You aren't obligated to marry your Met, just keep her near you."
"I shouldn't have to share my life with anyone let alone that threadbare excuse for a Koopa," the young prince replied acidly.
"Well, I don't know what else to tell you," the sorcerer said, throwing his hands into the air. "I've told you all I can. This is incredibly rare for this day and age, Prince von Koopa, and I would suspect that the reason it befell the two of you is due to you both having a solitary nature." He silenced himself, watching as Ludwig unconsciously began to pace as he often did when flustered. "My advice to you is to simply look at it like taking bad medicine. I know you don't like it, but the less you protest, the sooner you'll get used to it. The sooner you get used to it, the sooner both of you can get on with your lives."
"Get used to it..." Ludwig repeated. "This isn't something one gets used to, Kamek. This has thrown everything off-track. Everything! I can't stand her, she can't stand me, Father wants to execute her, and everybody is in an uproar about her being here..." As he finished, he trailed off, putting a hand to his forehead and rubbing his temples to stave off a headache. He knew he was overreacting, but he couldn't help it. He flinched a bit as he felt one of Kamek's bony hands alight on his shoulder.
"I'm not promising you a thing, keep that in mind, but bring her to me. I'll see what can be done." The eldest Koopaling turned to face him then, his distraught expression replaced with hope.
"Do you think it might work?" he asked. Kamek bit his lip and sighed, wondering if it was wrong of him to even bother giving Bowser's eldest delusions that his situation could be amended.
"I'll do my best," he assured him. "But that's all I can give you. As I said before, I really think your best bet would be to accept things as they are."
"I'll be back soon," Ludwig replied immediately, completely pushing Kamek's advice out of hand as he headed for the door. The elder watched him go, an edge of disapproval in his eyes as the door swung shut.
Kids today... always assuming there was a quick fix for everything. Kamek was already fairly sure that, if Meeting was something the most advanced of sorcerers had been enlisted in the past to deal with and attempts to disband it were still unsuccessful, he was not going to have much better luck. However, it would likely be easier for Ludwig to see this for himself than it would to try and explain things.
Selecting a well-worn scroll from the
shelf to read over, he awaited the eldest Koopaling's return.
Karma was not having any better of a time adjusting to being in Castle Koopa than Ludwig was to having her there. She'd spent most of her day pacing the perimeter of the room that had been set up for her and otherwise hadn't ventured out. It wasn't because she was afraid to, it was- well, yes it was exactly that.
Last night, she'd been kept awake by random pounding on her door and shouted insults from passersby which had tapered off at long about three in the morning when the rest of the Koopa Clan had settled in for the night. Still, she'd slept horribly, jolting awake every time she heard a noise. She felt caged and miserable, like she wished she could jump out of her own skin. To add to her foul mood, the lack of sleep had awakened a high, sick buzzing in her head that refused to go away, even when she laid down on the cot she'd been given and tried to rest.
The yoshikoopa went to the window for what felt like the umpteenth time in the last ten minutes and stared outward at Dark Land's landscape longingly. Just yesterday she'd been a free spirit and now she was stuck here for good.
No... not for good, she reminded herself. If they find some way to undo the Metbond, you might get a one-way ticket out of here in a bodybag. That'll be fun, right? It occurred to her, now more than ever, that she absolutely loathed Ludwig for getting her into this. She was well-aware that this was something he wasn't any crazier about than she was, but all the same... just what was that idiot doing in the garden yesterday anyway? If they'd missed each other by even a few minutes, everything would have been fine.
"But no-ooo..." she grumbled aloud, tearing herself away from the window. "I had to get landed with Mister Bucktoothed Troll From Mars for the rest of my life..."
"Rrow?" A sound came from the window, making her look over her shoulder inquisitively as a black cat struggled onto the sill. Karma quirked a brow. How had a cat gotten up to the second story? It must have climbed up the creeper vines or something, she concluded as she extended a hand to the feline.
"Hi kittykitty," she said softly as the cat seated itself regally on the windowsill, regarding her coolly through amber eyes. For all of her cynical remarks, Karma had a definite softspot for animals... it had been part of the reason she'd taken Jumper on as a travelling companion during her wandering. Animals weren't like people. They listened, they comforted, and most importantly, they didn't talk back.
"This isn't a good place for kitties," she continued, gingerly touching the feline's head in a petting motion. No sooner had her claws brushed the lustrous black fur, however, than the cat gave a stale hiss, one paw batting out at her and leaving three shallow bloody furrows on the back of her hand. The hybrid cried out and staggered backward a few steps, rubbing at the wounds and staring at the beast as it brought one rear leg up, growling all the while. For a moment it looked as though it was going to scratch behind its ears, but Karma noted, after a few minutes, that the cat seemed to be fumbling with a device on the collar it wore.
"-lasted thing..." the cat snarled as something clicked into place. "Who are you?!" the feline demanded, his tail lashing irritably as he glared at Karma.
"I'm-" she began, irked not only by the animal's foul attitude but also by the fact that he was speaking perfect English.
"This is MY room!" the cat went on, leaping gracefully from the windowsill and alighting on her cot as he circled twice and crouched. His hackles bristled as he dared her to come near. "You fool, don't you have any idea who you're dealing with?! No... of course you don't. Someone as ugly as you is likely twice as stupid." He flicked the tip of his tail once before continuing. "I am Playful Meow, king of this castle and ruler of all Koopas."
"I think His Royal Tubbiness might disagree with you there," Karma grumbled, finding her voice again as she got over the worst of her shock. The scratches, though they stung, weren't very bad and were already beginning to dry.
"I hold no one in higher regard than me who changes my kitty litter," the feline snorted, holding his head up arrogantly. "They all serve me, whether they acknowledge it or not. I control them just as I'll control you. And this is MY sunbasking area. What have you done with my boxes?" he inquired, regarding the absense of the storeroom's former clutter with chagrin.
"I don't see your name on this dump," she replied, vaguely amused that she was arguing with a cat. "And besides, I assure you this wouldn't have been my first pick as a bedroom. Take it up with the rest of the morons running this freakshow."
"This 'freakshow' is my family you're speaking of..." Playful growled. "But I will grant you, they are morons." He pulled himself into a sitting position, his eyes not quite as threatening. "It seems we have a problem, don't we?" he remarked casually.
"Guess so," Karma sighed, slumping against the wall. "Well, I guess if you promise not to try and kill me or anything, we could always share..."
"I share with no one," Playful snorted.
"Well, neither do I. And I think that's where the REAL problem lies," she retorted icily. The two regarded each other in silence for a long moment.
"You're aware, of course, that I could strike you down where you stand..." he said at last.
"Right..." Karma nodded half-heartedly.
"Cats are not expected to know magic," Playful explained, not seeming to care if she was listening or not anymore. "But then cats aren't expected to be able to read or speak, either. Before that horrid Wendy-child started complaining about my shredding the library, I managed to teach myself a thing or two. Namely about the ancient Deathstare."
"And lemme guess... Now's where you threaten to use it on me and I beg you not to, right?" the yoshikoopa inquired flatly. Playful faltered a bit, clearly having had the wind taken out of his sails.
"Foolish creature..." he hissed, standing again and neatly hopping back onto the windowsill. "I've no time to waste on pathetic debates. We will discuss this later, you and I." Saying so, Playful leapt from the sill and outside. Karma, in spite of her acquired dislike for the cat, ran to the window to see where he'd landed. To her relief, she saw the black feline gracefully sliding down a nearby turret, using the vines and rough granite as enough friction to keep his fall slow and controlled. A moment later he had alighted safely in the grass and stalked gracefully out of sight.
It led her to a question... was everybody in Castle Koopa just as obnoxious and hair-triggered as Ludwig? Feh... Ludwig. If nothing else the brief interlude with Playful had made her forget about THAT particular annoyance for awhile. She groaned and flopped onto the cot's thin mattress again, ignoring the metal rods of the frame as they dug into her shoulders.
If she never saw him again, it would be too soon...
"Karma?" Ludwig called, shoving the door open without bothering to knock. The hybrid remained where she was for a moment before rolling over with a casualness she didn't feel to glare at the eldest Koopaling.
"I'm going to give you a special something to work on today," she said snidely. "It's called 'your timing'."
"Your company has been requested downstairs," he informed her, ignoring her previous statement.
"That's nice," she said disinterestedly. "As much as I'd love for your dad to try out his new chainsaw and hockey mask on my person, I think I'll stay where I am, thanks."
"This is important," Ludwig insisted. "There's a chance we can break this and I need to get you to Kamek so he can study you."
"Study me... Heh, I'm a lab rat now?"
"Study both of us," he impatiently corrected, irritated by her lack of cooperation. "I don't think I'm guessing in my assumption that you'd like this to be over as much as I would."
"Maybe... if it didn't mean that I was going to end up at the top of the 'maim and kill' roster. I'm not making excuses or anything, but try walking a mile in my shell."
"Look, just follow me," he sighed, fighting the urge to grab her by the arm and haul her out of the room manually.
"I don't think so," she answered simply.
"Karma..." he growled warningly, nearing the peak of his frustration. The hybrid remained stubbornly dormant on the cot. "Look..." he said through gritted fangs, ready to say anything just to get her to do what he asked. "I don't care WHAT you do after this bond is severed. For all I care, you can ransack the castle and make a run for it over the horizon. I won't stop you."
"Give me one good reason," the hybrid challenged.
"I WANT MY LIFE BACK!" Ludwig yelled, his voice unnaturally loud in the enclosed space of the room. Karma seemed unrattled as she laid where she was a moment more before shrugging and sitting up.
"Fair enough, I guess. Where're we going?" Ludwig relaxed a bit at her compliance as he opened the door, motioning her into the hallway.
"As I told you, downstairs," he replied, waiting until she'd joined him before sweeping the door closed. "With any luck this can be resolved within the hour."
"I wouldn't hold your breath," Karma muttered, already knowing he wasn't going to listen.
"Just because something has gone unresearched doesn't make it incurable," he told her rationally. "There was a time when Koopas were dropping dead left and right from Ivory Fever, and it turned out that the cure was simply a three-day sleep spell and a mug of Honey Syrup."
"That was a virus. This isn't," she retorted.
"It may as well be."
"I give up..." she sighed, slapping her forehead as she elected to follow him in silence. He led her down the stairs, through the main audience chamber, and down another flight, this one steeper and spiraling into the darkness of Castle Koopa's basement. "I take it this Kamek character is big on ambiance..." she remarked as they reached the bottom. Ludwig said nothing, continuing down the hallway and stopping before the same door he'd come out of not terribly long ago.
"Kamek?" he called, knocking sharply.
"It's open," the sorcerer's voice replied from within, slightly muffled. Ludwig seemed relieved that he wouldn't have to play any games this time as he pushed the door inward, absently beckoning Karma to follow.
"I brought her," Ludwig announced as Kamek looked up from his scroll, smiling a bit at the hybrid as she awkwardly entered the chamber.
"So I see," he nodded, setting his reading aside and stretching a bit. "Now then... let's get a clear look at your auras, first of all, and see what we're up against..." Saying so, he squinted and murmured something to himself. Though Karma and Ludwig felt nothing, Kamek's field of vision darkened, the only source of light being a halo of brilliant greens and blues that surrounded the Koopalings. Barely visible, ringing the brighter colors, was a faint tinge of pink light. It moved elastically, hinting that it had a large reach, but that there was a limit, ultimately.
"Your suspicions are confirmed, I'm afraid," Kamek said thoughtfully. "This isn't just a case of overactive imaginations... There is, most definitely, a force binding the two of you together." At this, Ludwig sighed in disgust, moving a few steps further away from Karma.
"And what about undoing it?" Karma piped up. "Poofball here claims there's a way to."
"I never said there was a way," Kamek corrected, blinking and terminating his visual connection with their spiritual essense. "I simply said I would try." As he said so, the yoshikoopa shot Ludwig a decidedly smug look. "Have a seat. This will take a while," Kamek invited, waving a hand and producing two chairs directly behind Karma and Ludwig in a stardusting of blue. The surprised Koopas both obediently seated themselves, looking a bit awkward.
"Are either of you expected to be anywhere anytime soon?" the Magikoopa inquired.
"Err... Not to my knowledge," Ludwig replied, looking a bit confused. "Any reason?"
"Because the process I'm going to initiate will take at least an hour... possibly more. I'm going to need the both of you to cooperate with me fully," he explained. "The only way this has a chance of working is with both of your total submission and concentration."
"Why?" Karma asked suspiciously.
"Because," Kamek replied simply, offering no further explanation for her. The hybrid narrowed her eyes distrustfully.
"I'm game, are you?" Ludwig inquired, looking to Karma.
"No," she said stubbornly. "Not until this kook tells us what he needs us to submit to. I'm not gonna let some weirdo in a bedsheet put me out so he can do Plit-knows-what to me when I can't stop him."
"How dare you!" the eldest Koopaling hissed, taking extreme offense. He'd known Kamek since he was an infant. The old sorcerer loved his pranks, yes, but to even hint he'd do something like that...
Ludwig's agitation soothed a bit as he heard Kamek burst into laughter. "I suppose I should be flattered you'd give me that much credit. If you were to ask some of the other people in this place, they'd tell you I was too old to even think that way." He paused, clearing his throat. "All three of us will need to assume a deep state of mind."
"Hypnotism, you mean?" Ludwig asked.
"Hypnotism of a sort," he replied. "I don't have time for the swinging watches or spinning spiral disks, I'm afraid, so I'll be resorting to more modern methods..." Saying so, he picked up a wand crowned with a domed black jewel from a nearby tabletop and examined it with idle interest. "But again, it's something I would need both of your trust and agreement on." He was blatant in eyeing Karma calculatingly as he said so.
"Okay... Assume for a minute I have no idea what you're getting at with this whole hypnosis and 'total submission' bunk. What exactly do you plan on doing?" Karma demanded, unperturbed as she kicked back in her chair, crossing her legs.
"According to my readings, something such as a Metbond is a very deeply-rooted thing. In order to even get close to it, I'm going to need to probe the most primitive depths of your minds," he told her patiently.
"And is this something you can screw up?" the hybrid grumbled.
"If you mean by 'screw up', find this mission to be unsuccessful, then yes... there's a high probability of it. If you mean unintentionally altering or damaging you and Ludwig in some way, then no."
"Just checking," Karma nodded stiffly, still not looking entirely convinced.
"Are we ready?" the Magikoopa inquired, eyeing the both of them questioningly. Karma and Ludwig exchanged a brisk glance, their mutual dislike for one another very apparant.
"I guess..." she relented.
"Good... then let's begin." Kamek smiled, waving the wand he held and shrouding both Koopalings and himself in a fine black mist before either of them had a chance to dream up any further misgivings. The blackness didn't come gradually as it did when falling asleep. It hit all three of them like an intangible wall, rendering them all unconscious roughly at the same time and sending them sprawling haphazardly in their respective chairs.
It took Kamek only a moment to collect himself as he sank into the void of his innermost mind. Having explored it for years, he knew his subconscious like the back of his hand -- every wraith, every insecurity, every failed hope... none of them bothered him anymore. It always troubled him a bit, however, when he was asked to attempt to enter another's mind. Today, he was being asked to trespass into two and while he wasn't especially worried about what Ludwig might hold, he was a bit offput by Karma. She was a stranger, after all, carrying unknown baggage and demons. Who knew what he might find?
Deciding he would start with the lesser of two evils, Kamek found his center and concentrated, a pinprick of light forming in front of himself and gradually expanding, becoming a brilliant portal that he allowed himself to drift into. There was a brief sensation of flight and, for a few moments, everything around him became a dizzying blur of color before; with a jarring thud, he found himself in blackness again.
But this was different... most definitely not the same as his own. The atmosphere was staler and held the same musty tang of old paper as a library did. A low buzz of whispering voices, barely audible in the background, droned equations, construction methods, and quotes from famous figureheads. There was no doubt that he was in Ludwig's head as he willed himself forward. He had completed the first step, now it would only get more difficult as he drifted, hands outstretched and feeling... waiting until-
Kamek was repelled slightly by an unseen barrier that, as he pressed his palms against it, filled him with a sense of not being wanted there. He was not discouraged, as this was the brain's common reaction to having its depths invaded. It was part of the reason he had wanted to ensure he would have complete cooperation... a willing mind was testy enough of a procedure to probe, but an UNwilling one was next to impossible, depending on the strength of the holder's will. Given this was Ludwig he was dealing with, he was glad to have the eldest Koopaling's consent to things on his side.
Open, he commanded, the mental vapor of his voice reverberating back at him in wisps of echo. Open... open... stay open... Under his palms, he felt the obstruction begin to give, shifting and stretching like warm taffy as he pressed against it until, at last, he was able to pass through.
The environment on the other side of the obstruction was vastly different. The voices that had been ever-presently droning in the main part of the subconscious had ceased here, shrouding everything in disquieting silence. Kamek was unable to repress a small shudder as he continued onward. He hated venturing even into his own brain's reptile sector... it was a very feral and unstable environment, ruled only by basest instinct. But it was here that he would find the source of Ludwig and Karma's Metbond if he found it at all.
Something in the darkness howled suddenly, filling Kamek's presense with foreboding. All of Ludwig's primal terrors and rages were lurking here. To the Koopaling, they were merely figments and unprocessed thoughts, but in Kamek's present state, they could pose a very real danger if they were provoked. Being that he had no idea precisely what it was that frightened Ludwig, he also had no idea what he would be up against if said frights decided to ambush him.
The howl repeated itself, though further away than it had been before, making the Magikoopa relax himself a bit. He banked sharply to the left, attracted by a blush-colored glow that pierced the darkness. As he neared it, the glow intensified itself to a brilliant rose-hued sheen that made him squint slightly. As he finally reached it, he drew in a gasp of shock. It wasn't just a single ribbon of mental twine as he had previously thought when he'd taken a glance at their auras.
Tendrils of evanescent pinks, purples, and reds branched in a thousand directions like an intangible tumor, latching onto every available neurode. It was no wonder Metbonds were, to this day, something that remained unsolvable. Kamek didn't even know where to start... or if he COULD start, for that matter. Tentatively, he extended a hand, laying his fingertips on the nearest of the tendrils. It was warm to the touch, filling him both with a feeling of oneness and a feeling of finality, as though the bond was telling him in its own way that the correct choice had been made and there was no unmaking it.
Experimentally, Kamek tightened his grip, giving the tendril a pull. He immediately regretted his decision as a stinging jolt of pain rang out in every nerve in his arm. Wincing and gritting his teeth, the Magikoopa released his hold, withdrawing and rubbing at his flesh. Whatever force was behind the bond seemed to not just be unable to be tampered with, but was making it known that it didn't want to be. He'd never seen such a thing before -- he'd heard of Metbonds, but this day and age, they had become such a rarity that this was the first time he'd seen one up close. Whatever binding force was behind it, he was silently glad that no one had been able to replicate or twist it in some way to serve some other purpose.
Gathering his courage, Kamek decided he would try one last thing. Backing away a few paces he narrowed his eyes in concentration, extending his hands before him in a flat-palmed warding gesture. As he muttered a short incantation, an orb of swirling white light drifted from his outstretched hands and toward the red-pink mass before him like a heavy soap bubble. Kamek watched warily... if the displacement spell worked as it was supposed to, it would entrap the tendrils on impact until he indicated where they were supposed to be taken next.
He wasn't quite sure what happened as it all took place so quickly, but he was aware of a warm bursting sensation followed shortly by a nova of bright light as he was thrown violently backward the way he had come. THAT had not gone at all the way it was supposed to have, he thought with chagrin. His brief flight ended as his head was suddenly engulfed by a suffocating and warm void of some sort and, before he could struggle, he suddenly found himself awash with visions.
He found that, for the time being at least, he was no longer himself... he was a watching spectator from someone else's standpoint -- Ludwig's standpoint, he guessed, given whose mind he was in. He was in a slightly dimmed white-walled room where several humming machines stood. Kamek recognized them instantly -- incubation units, just like the ones he had witnessed Bowser hover over so many times when each of his children had been born and placed here to be kept warm and monitored. Someone approached and the field of vision swiveled toward it to reveal a Troopa in midwife garb drawing near, a mottled egg in her arms. Following closely behind was another larger female, looking bedraggled and exhausted but not entirely seeming to mind it.
At second glance, Kamek knew precisely who it was: Karma...or at least, an older version thereof. As she neared, the owner of the point of view Kamek was borrowing moved forward to meet her. As the two embraced, the Magikoopa could feel the pressure and warmth of her body.
"How are you feeling?" He felt the statement pass over his own tongue as though he were the one saying it, though it was not his voice... the speaker, likewise, was familiar yet not.
"M'okay..." he heard her mutter. "Nothing a little rest won't fix, anyway..." Kamek could feel something soft brushing against the back of his own fingers... he was stroking her hair, he realized with some amusement. "They said it's another girl..."
At that moment, the images broke off and Kamek found himself in control of his own body again as he was plunged back into blackness. He paused a moment, regaining himself. The force of the Metbond's backlash against his attempted removal had been so great, apparently, that it had plunged him headfirst into one of Ludwig's passing thoughts... no, not a thought, he corrected himself, a vision. This was a glimpse of the boy's future.
The Metbond was so confident in its takeover, apparently, that it had already planned the Koopaling's life around its involvement. He had only a moment to marvel at this before he was jarred once more, this disturbance far more familiar to him. Ludwig had shaken the effects of the spell off and was awakening, most likely because whatever vision Kamek had just experienced, he had as well. Quickly hovering back the way he had come, Kamek dove through the gentle glow of the void he had come through, propelling himself out of Ludwig's head and back into his own.
Arriving back in his own body struck him with the same jolt a splash of cold water might and he quickly situated himself before swimming back to consciousness. Kamek awoke a few moments later in his quarters, sitting up from where he'd sprawled across his desk and straightening his glasses a bit. A cursory glance at the small clock sitting nearby told him that what had seemed to only take him a few moments of investigation had, in fact, taken nearly forty-five minutes.
His attention was drawn by a sharp whistling sound as he turned his head quickly in the direction of the chairs he'd left the younger two in. Karma was still soundly in her trance, head lulling against her left shoulder, but Ludwig was quite awake and had fallen from his chair in a half-crouch, wheezing and clutching his throat. The whistling's source was the Koopaling's attempts to draw air as the Magikoopa realized what was happening to him.
Panic attacks were ugly things, but were easily diffused as long as their host was in a coherant enough state to be calmed. Rising from his seat, Kamek approached the stricken Koopaling and knelt in front of him. "Prince von Koopa...?" he said gently, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders. "Look at me... come on now... that's a good lad..." he said soothingly, gratified as Ludwig lifted his head to look at him, his eyes those of a feral hunted creature. "Now I want you to concentrate on breathing deeply... can you do that? In... out... in..." Ludwig complied... or did his best to, at least. A few moments later, the color had returned to his face and his breathing, though ragged, came easily again. "Now what brought that on?" Kamek inquired.
"S-saw something..." Ludwig muttered, pausing to cough. "Me... grown up, with-with her. And an egg..." He was silent a moment, looking somewhere between revolted and exceedingly miserable as he continued to get ahold of himself. "Kamek, what happened in there? Did... did it work?"
"I did what I could, which, I'm afraid, is not very much in this situation..." he began carefully. "I didn't know where to begin, Ludwig... I couldn't even get near it."
"What do you mean 'couldn't even get near it'?!" he demanded reproachfully.
"It was able to ward off both physical and magical attempts to remove it. At the risk of telling you what the text and legends already have, it can't be tampered with. Very plainly that," Kamek replied reasonably, though not without sympathy.
"No," the Koopaling replied stonily. "I won't just settle for this and let something else plan my future! If I've been made aware of it, I can blasted well change it!" His voice broke on the last word with frustration, making Kamek knit his brow a bit. This was something a boy his age shouldn't have to deal with. It would be at least five more years until he would be considered an adult and face issues such as marriage and royal duties... he agreed with Ludwig's sentiment that it wasn't fair.
There was a lucid moan from nearby as Karma began to come awake, blinking sleepily as she lifted her head. "What's going on...?" the hybrid yawned, stretching a bit and turning her attention to where Ludwig and Kamek were hunkered on the floor beside her. At hearing her voice, Ludwig suddenly leapt to his feet, growling and baring his teeth.
"YOU stay away from me!" he commanded, turning and storming out of Kamek's quarters, slamming the door behind him. Karma was still for a moment, letting what had just happened sink in.
"Uhh... okay?" she muttered, cocking her head in confusion.
"As you may have guessed, this didn't go quite as well as we'd hoped..." Kamek informed her, sighing deeply.
"I figured it wouldn't," Karma shrugged. "I've been telling that blowhard since he started in on this 'undo it' kick that it couldn't happen."
"Perhaps you ought to be nicer to him," Kamek suggested. Karma looked at the Magikoopa as though he had just grown an extra head and burst out laughing.
"Nice?!" she repeated incredulously. "He does nothing but call me names and threaten me and you want me to be nice?!"
"This event is going to upend his life in many ways."
"It's not doing wonders for mine either," she grumped, standing.
"Yes, but from what I've gathered about you, you don't live with any sort of order or reason to yours. You certainly don't have a father you've been brought up to respect and admire who could come to resent you for it."
"I respect my dad," the hybrid argued, narrowing her eyes. "I just... haven't seen him in awhile."
"Ludwig is the eldest of Bowser's children," Kamek went on, ignoring her statement. "It comes with many responsibilities that he's been settled with since hatching. What his father thinks of him is very important to him and your sudden involvement has thrown a rather large wrench into the works. Their confrontation last night over you is not going to help much."
"Cry me a river," she sighed, making a dismissive motion with her hand. Her wrist was caught before she could withdraw it. It was not a painful grip, rather it was a stern one, as Kamek's expression darkened a bit.
"It wouldn't kill you to start showing some respect," he told her irately. "I've cared for Ludwig since he was a youngling and your attitude toward him has much to do with the way he's been treating you."
"Newsflash, geezer..." she snarled, yanking her arm out of his grip. "I've known him for less than a day, and he's been nothing but a jerk since the get-go. I don't care if we're Mets or even if we woke up joined at the forehead, I don't tolerate that from anybody. Did your super ninja undercover work tell ya that HE was the one who wouldn't let well enough alone and insisted on hauling me back to the dungeon in the first place?!"
"You kept provoking him," Kamek pointed out. "And you were trespassing without even so much as a 'sorry'."
"It wasn't my fault!" she snapped.
"Perhaps not, but it's still no excuse for acting like you were entitled either. You were just as confident, it seems, as I was that this could not be undone... and you know that with that will come spending the rest of your lives together..." He studied her a moment before drawing a deep, exhausted breath. "Can't you at least agree to disagree? If not for his sake, then for the sake of everybody else who has to listen to you?"
"You're not my mom," she growled.
"Given your behavior, it would be good of SOMEONE to take over that role..." Kamek replied, unwavering. "I've played surrogate father to Bowser and later to his children whether they wanted it or not. If you're coming under this roof, I'll do the same for you. I think you'll find that your attitude won't get you far in this place, and it will be your decision whether I gently advise you or forcibly turn you in the direction you need to go. Either way, order will be kept."
Silence fell between them as Karma glared at Kamek and Kamek reciprocated it, unintimidated. In the end, Karma dropped her eyes first.
"Fine... whatever... I just want to go back to my room, alright?" she said in a barely audible tone.
"No one is stopping you. I just want to make sure that we understand one another."
"I hear ya..." the hybrid sighed, turning to leave.
"Ludwig is usually in the laboratory this time of day," Kamek called after her conversationally. In return, Karma didn't even bother pausing in her gait as she made a rude gesture over her shoulder at the sorcerer, exited, and slammed the door. Kamek decided it was not worth pursuing further... he'd gotten to say his peace and he was satisfied.
For all of her nastiness, this newcomer wasn't quite the pillar of wit she thought herself to be. Kamek had seen her type before, windblown and bitter about everything because life had dealt her a bad card. Given time, she'd likely calm herself and conform to something more tolerable now that she was in an organized environment with schedules to keep and responsibilities that would soon enough be imposed on her. He hoped so at least. Right now, he couldn't say he blamed Ludwig much for resenting her.
Picking up the scroll he had been observing
after he had spoken to Ludwig earlier that day, Kamek returned to his reading.
"C'mon... It can't be as bad as all that," Larry said, trying to sound reassuring and at the same time not hit any nerves as he watched his older brother pace the recreation room irately from where he sat on the couch, his interest long since having shifted from the TV program he'd been watching to Ludwig's state of rage.
"You have NO idea what I'm going through," Ludwig snapped in return. "Don't presume to think for me."
"I'm not... Geez, calm down..." the younger Koopaling said, putting up his hands defensively. "Why dontcha just throw her in the lava pits or something and be done with it?"
"Because as I'm sure you've gathered from the crossfire of rumors that have been flying since last night, that's not an option of mine as much as I wish it were. I defied Father only because it would have meant my demise not to."
"Uhh... Actually I heard that you knocked Dad over the head with a Chain Chomp and then asked whatsherface to marry you..." Larry admitted. Ludwig froze in mid-step, clenching his fists and shuddering angrily. He wasn't living in a castle, he decided, he was living in a tabloid office waiting to happen. "Anyway, why's she gotta stay here if you don't like her?"
"Because if I'm too far away from her or try to deny this, it makes us both sick," he explained briskly.
"Why aren't you sick now?" Larry questioned, quirking a brow.
"Because I'm sure she's lurking in the shadows somewhere around here," he answered spitefully. "And I'm not denying it anymore..." he admitted reluctantly. "Kamek has confirmed it on all levels, now I just need a way out of it."
"I dunno.... if Kamek couldn't help, you might be out of luck." The deep-throated growl that met his statement made Larry sit up on the couch, looking at his wrist quickly as thought checking an invisible watch. "Wow... lookit the time!" he announced. "Those peony bulbs are about done soaking... time to get 'em into some potting soil." And with that, Larry bounded out of the rec room, leaving Ludwig by himself.
The eldest Koopaling resumed pacing. It was unbelievable... ordinarily he was a tough nut to crack and in the past day, he'd come completely unravelled. He wanted nothing more than to punch something until he was exhausted -- ANYTHING to get rid of the pent anger and restore himself to his usual low-key temperment.
He just wanted things to go back to how they were supposed to be, that's all. He didn't like knowing he was the center of negative attention, he hated that his father was angry with him, and he absolutely detested Karma. Giving a strangled cry of frustration, he slammed a fist against the wall with a dull thud. The impact didn't even dent the plaster, but it DID make him draw in his breath in a pained hiss as he rubbed at his knuckles.
This needed to stop, he concluded. They had to find a happy medium somewhere, or things were going to escalate until he wouldn't be able hold back any longer and they both tore each other apart.
He didn't like it... and it wouldn't be a return to complete normality, but given the situation...
Still angry, but trying to put himself in a negotiating state of mind, Ludwig left the recreation room in search of the hybrid. The front hall was empty save for Bagels whining and wagging her tail as she watched a crack in the wall fervently where she had trapped a Goomba. Deciding Karma had likely withdrawn back into her room, Ludwig headed for the stairs.
"Hey Cassanova! Find any good Yoshis lately?" Ludwig cringed as Roy sauntered out of the east hallway, eyeing him smugly.
"This is a matter best left undiscussed with you," he retorted, continuing toward the stairs even as his younger brother stepped into his path. He and Roy, though two years apart, were the same size, and most of Roy's bulk was invested in muscle. While he didn't exactly intimidate Ludwig, it was still enough to make him stop and listen. "What?" Ludwig sighed in exasperation.
"Whaddaya mean, 'what'?!" Roy demanded. "What are you thinkin'?!"
"I'm thinking that this is a topic you really would rather not press with me at the moment. Consider this your warning."
"Oooh... I'm scared." he snorted sarcastically. "Seriously, Kook, what're you doin'? Ya bring dat ugly freak in here, ya got Pops all in an uproar, and all cuz you got some weird crush or sumthin'?"
"No," Ludwig replied as calmly as he was able. "I don't know what has been generated by the rumor mill since last evening, but I don't want to deal with it right now. I have something important that needs doing, if you'll excuse me..."
"Psh... what? Ya gonna go smooch with dat big-nosed mixup?" Ludwig, who had been in the process of moving past his brother, rounded on him violently and shoved him over. The brawny Koopaling, not expecting the attack, fell heavily to his backside, coughing as the wind was knocked out of him. In the next instant, Ludwig was perched on his chest, snarling and nearly touching snouts with him.
"I will warn you a final time that this is not a topic I am very fond of at the moment. If you bring it up again, I'll claw your eyes out." Roy, frankly, wasn't sure if it was an empty threat or not, but given the eerily calmness with which Ludwig spoke, despite his obvious anger, he decided it was best not to push his luck.
"Will you get offa me already?" Roy grunted, trying to save face. "Cripes, whadda you weigh anyway, six hundred pounds?!" Ludwig complied, stepping off of Roy's ribcage and heading for the stairs again without another word. He was still angry, but his brief tussle with Roy had left him feeling slightly alleviated. He had a feeling he was about to need every shred of patience he could get as he reached the top of the stairs and headed to the end of the hallway.
He paused for a long moment outside of Karma's door, wondering how, precisely, he intended to approach the situation without making things worse. Someone as irritable as she was would try to find an excuse to argue with any point he attempted to make, therefore he decided that being direct would be the fastest way to get it over with and leave her the least amount of handholds for debate. Readying himself, he knocked.
"Karma?" he asked, waiting a moment. When he received no answer, he opened the door a bit and glanced inside. Empty. Had she stayed in the basement with Kamek, he wondered? No, likely not... Kamek enjoyed his solitude and would have found a way to oust her by now. Hunh... then where...?
"What're YOU nosing around for?" a voice demanded behind him, making him jolt and turn to see Karma standing behind him, arms folded and glaring.
"You and I need to talk," he replied firmly, forcing himself to recover quickly.
"I don't have anything to say to you... Besides, if memory serves, you were the one screeching about me staying away from you not too long ago."
"We can't keep doing this," Ludwig continued. "I can't be constantly on my guard and constantly angry... It's going to drive me insane."
"Little late for that if you ask me..." she grumbled, shoving past him and opening the door to her room. Before she could slam it shut in his face, Ludwig caught the frame and held it open.
"Look... just listen to me for a minute and then I'll leave you alone," he promised, trying desperately to keep the irritated edge out of his voice and failing. "I just want to get something straight."
"Y'know, this is all really turning into a funny situation. I'm hauled off against my will, almost killed, basically held prisoner here, and now you guys are all taking turns lecturing me for it," she said, eyes narrowed.
"I'm not going to lecture you. I just want an understanding," he snapped. Karma paused in her effort to slam the door shut on his fingers and looked at him with the same tired resignation a mother would give her tantrumy three-year-old. "I know you don't like me, I don't like you either... but I think it should stop at that. I don't want the wardrums to sound every time we end up in the same room together when we could just as easily ignore one another."
"So this is an invitation to stay away from you, in other words," she translated. "Personally I thought your screaming it down in Kamek's room was a lot more direct of a way to say the same thing."
"It's not an invitation to stay away," he argued. "Its just an offer to make peace until we figure out what we're doing. That's all." Her gaze remained stony and unrelenting as he sighed, lowering his head in resignation. "Please," he added grudgingly, barely audible under his breath.
"You're really serious about this, aren't you?" she inquired disbelievingly. She hadn't noticed until just then how haggard he looked. It had only been a day and he looked like someone who hadn't slept in a week. "Alright, Poofball, sure..." she relented at last. "No more fights, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna go pick out china patterns with ya anytime soon."
"I have no intention of ever letting things get that far," he assured her. "That's all I needed, thank you." Saying so, he turned to leave. Karma paused, Kamek's lecture from earlier springing to mind before she reached out, catching him by the tail and making him yelp with surprise and turn to look at her again.
"Look..." she said, having a lot of difficulty. "I'm... I'm not trying to make this personal, okay? Everything's just happening way too fast and I don't like it." Ludwig paused, surprised at her extension of an olive branch to him, however subtle it was.
"Well... I don't like it either," he replied sullenly. "I'll talk to you later, perhaps."
"Yeah... later..." Karma muttered. There was an uncomfortable pause and then she stepped into her room and closed the door quietly behind her. That had gone easier than he'd thought, really... he'd expected to spend at least a few more minutes arguing and yelling. Perhaps she was capable of seeing reason. Dismissing the thoughts from his mind for the moment, Ludwig quietly padded back toward the stairwell, headed for the laboratory.
He would think more on this later, he decided. MUCH later...
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