Rio, the yellow specter, sighed deeply as he dropped a large chunk of stone at his side. The Boo had begun a frenzied search to determine whether his wizard friend Ehcon had escaped the fallen tower in time to avoid being crushed by falling stone. Being just a Boo with no special equipment, he hadn't accomplished much.
"This is stupid..." Rio mumbled to himself as he halfheartedly reached down for another piece of ruble. "He could be under any of these rocks..." As Rio was lifting another chunk of stone, a strange pulsing sensation swept through his body. The specter's stomach churned excitedly as he dropped the chunk of stone and focused his energy on his thoughts.
"Rio," the familiar voice of Ehcon echoed through Rio's mind. "You there?"
Rio's insides did another back flip. "Ehcon? Is that... Is that really you?"
"Of course," the wizard responded. "I'm doing fine. So fine, in fact, that I was able to contact you."
"Obviously," Rio chuckled. "So how'd you escape the tower?"
"There's no time to discuss that," Ehcon answered quickly. "We have more important things to talk about."
"You can't possibly be thinking-" Rio began.
"Yes, yes I am," Ehcon interrupted. "This is no time for argument, either. You're either with me or you're not. Choose and be quick about it."
"Fine, fine," Rio said bitterly. "Let's have it. What have you found out?"
"I knew you'd see it my way," Ehcon said contentedly. "I've done some research on Gems, and-"
"About time..." Rio mumbled.
"Don't interrupt!" Ehcon snapped. "You should begin by relocating the Shadow Gem; it's the closest to your present location. I trust you still have that orb I crafted?"
"Of course," Rio answered, pulling the item in question out from deep inside his long, brown stocking cap. The orb was clear in color, and was about the size of a tennis ball.
"Good. I have faith in your seeking skills, Rio. Don't let me down, okay?"
"Of course," Rio repeated, throwing the round magical object into the air and catching it.
"Fine," Ehcon said with a tone finality. "Good luck."
"Idiot," Rio muttered to himself as he lost magical contact with the dark wizard. "Research my foot!" The specter glanced down and remembered he had no lower body.
"Er... research my eye! Does he actually think these things will do us any good? Ah well. To business." Rio held the orb up inches in front of his rather large mouth.
"Shadow Gem," Rio said in a loud clear voice. An aura of gray light surrounded the orb, and a bright red arrow appeared in the clear object. The newly formed arrow pointed in a direction due west of the fallen tower. Rio kept a close eye on the orb as he floated speedily in the direction it indicated.
"Who knew I'd have to search for these bloody things again?" Rio asked himself quietly.
"This is it?" Mecha Guy asked, his mouth hanging open. The Shyster clad in yellow stood at the front gate of the Mushroom Kingdom castle staring at small group of unorganized Mushroomer guards armed with flimsy golden spears. Luigi, who was standing next to the Shy Guy mechanic, grinned sheepishly.
"This is the Mushroom Kingdom's army?" the Shyster echoed.
"I told you it wasn't much..."
"Yeah, well I wasn't expecting THIS!" Mecha Guy sputtered. "There are like, twenty-five of them total! And all they have are these wussy spears?" The irritated Shyster stepped forward, snatched one of the golden spears from a guard, and tightly grasped both ends of the weapon. The Shy Guy applied pressure and easily bent the weapon into a U, sighing deeply as he threw it aside. "How do you people survive with an army like this?!"
"Mario and I come to the rescue," Luigi informed.
"Well you did a great job of that today, didn't ya?" Mecha Guy snapped. Luigi frowned as he glanced down at his charred clothing, brushing a bit of soot off his overalls.
"He took us by surprise..." the lurpy plumber mumbled.
"You're kidding, right?" Mecha Guy accused heatedly. "You two were too busy bickering to notice he was even attacking you!"
"Well with Mario gone, we won't have that problem, will we?" Luigi shot back.
"Yeah, whatever," Mecha Guy muttered, turning to face the group of Mushroomers. "I expect you all to be stationed at Toad Town's front gate by 10:00 tomorrow." The guards nodded. "Good. You may be excused." Mumbling in irritated tones, the Mushroom guards plodded off in several different directions. Mecha Guy faced Luigi once again. "You should get some rest too, I 'spect."
"You too," Luigi reminded the Shyster as he walked slowly down the steps that lead to the castle's front gate.
"I'm a mechanic," Mecha Guy said, staying stationary, "I can handle a little sleep loss."
"Whatever floats your boat," Luigi said. "See you at ten." Mecha Guy watched as Luigi plodded off into the distance, then turned to face the setting sun. The sky was blotched with brilliant pinks and oranges and the Shy Guy sighed contentedly as he gazed upon the beautiful spectrum, his thoughts lost in the light.
The strangely-shaped vehicle dubbed The Mecha Chopper burst along speedily over the Ogral Ocean, newly installed turbo boosters flaring at maximum length. The chopper's main control room was empty at the moment; the craft's controls were set on a autopilot. Inside the copter, Aid and Mario were waiting impatiently in the ship's bed chamber where they had lay out a map of Plateaus.
"Where is he?" Aid asked irritably, and as if on cue, the black dino hurriedly exited the storage chamber door.
"Sorry about that," Broshi apologized. "I was checking up on some things." Mario opened his mouth as if to ask what kind of "things" Broshi had checked up on, but the Yoshi quickly added, "So what's going on?"
"Aid and I decided we should have a little briefing concerning the search for the first Elemental Gem," Mario explained.
"Oh," Broshi said. "Good idea."
"And an easy one to pull off, too," Aid agreed. "This map you designed has been extremely helpful."
"Glad I could help."
"However," Mario pointed out, "it isn't perfect. While it shows us the seven different regions of Plateaus and which Gem is located in each, it doesn't show the exact location."
"Give me a break," Broshi said. "You know how hard deciphering an exact location would be?"
"I know, I know," Mario replied. "I'm just saying that we have a good lead, but we need further information. Our plan is to stop here first." Mario pointed a gloved finger at a tiny dot on the map labeled Pirgoom's Oceanic Supplies. "It's an aquatic equipment shop on the eastern shore of Plateaus."
"I guess that means we're going for the Water Gem first..." Broshi said.
"That's correct," Aid confirmed. "And since a good deal of the Ocean Region is underwater, it makes sense to stop at this place first to pick the correct supplies for underwater excavation. Plus, whoever works there might have a more in depth idea of where the Gem might be."
"How's that, then?" Mario asked. "You agree with our plan thus far?"
"Uh... sure," Broshi answered. "It's a good start."
"Excellent," Mario said cheerfully. "I guess we can just take some time to relax now. We should reach the shores of Plateaus by tomorrow morning."
Rio sighed deeply as he floated foreword in the darkness. The yellow specter kept a keen eye on the Location Orb, which was pulsing in fast rhythm. "We're close..." Rio muttered to himself, glancing foreword once more. As Rio continued his advance, small patches of fog began to surround the ghost, and the rhythmic pulsing of the Location Orb began to quicken.
The fog had thickened, and the ghost could barely see two feet in front of him. His beady eyes darted back and forth nervously, and his grip tightened on the Location Orb. Finally, when the fog seemed unbearable, Rio burst into a clearing.
The clearing was somewhat large and circular in shape, completely encased in the murky gray fog. The ground was made up of dry dirt and occasional blades of dead grass and weeds. The area was littered with eroding gray tombstones, some dated back several centuries earlier. Smack dab in the center there was a small shack made up of moldy wood. The battered door hung open on its hinges, and as Rio approached the worn building, he began to hear soft, high-pitched mumbling.
The Boo of yellow color arrived at the door, and felt the Locator Orb pulse madly in his clutches. He inched slowly toward the open door, but sprang back in surprise as a loud wail boomed from the battered shack.
The startled scream had caused the Locator Orb to slip from the Boo's hand and soar high into the air. Rio let out a tiny yelp and burst toward the flying object. He snatched it gracefully from the air, doing several unneeded arial maneuvers, and floated back down to ground level, where he let out another cry.
An eerie figure stood in the open doorway of the wooden shack. It was a Shy Guy, though it was like no Shyster Rio had ever observed. Its robes, brown in color, were severally tattered and torn. Its belt was pitch black and equipped with rusted belt buckle. Its mask was pearly white, as all masks worn by Shy Guys were, but the normally black eye holes glowed a bright neon yellow.
"Why are you here...?" the Shyster asked in high-pitched voice that caused Rio's entire body to tingle madly.
"That... th-that is none of your business!" Rio replied, trying to keep his composure.
"Very well..." the Shy Guy said quietly, turning around and slowly plodding toward the shack.
"W-wait!" Rio stuttered, and the Shyster halted its advance. "I'm, I'm looking for a gem! A small, black one that looks like this!" The Boo held out his Locator Orb.
The Shy Guy stared back and Rio for a moment before saying, "Could it be...?"
Rio expected the Shyster to say more, but the creature merely continued to stare at Rio with its glowing yellow eyes. Rio gulped, and replied weekly, "Could... could what be?"
The Shyster made a long, arching nod toward the roof of the wooden shack. Rio leaned forward and squinted, making out a small, clean hole. The Shy Guy grinned widely, and said, "Shiny object fell from the sky..."
Rio stared stupidly down at the pleased Shyster, evaluating the information he had just been given. As he realized what had happened, he groaned in irritation. Of all the places it could land, the Boo thought bitterly.
"What is the matter, strange floating one...?" the Shy Guy inquired.
Rio ignored him, and began to focus on the tiny shack. With a small release of energy, he attempted to teleport into the small building. Instead of disappearing, however, searing pain shot through the specter's head. The ghost's vision blurred for a moment, and as the pain disappeared, he glared down at the Shy Guy, who was grinning wider then before.
"The shiny object belongs to me..." the Shyster said.
Rio narrowed his eyes. How had he created a barrier? Rio thought uncomfortably. No matter. I'll deal with this bloke the old fashioned way...
The specter stuffed his Location Orb into his hat and hovered toward the nearest tombstone. He gripped the top of the icy stone tightly and began to yank it from the ground. The Shy Guy was no longer smiling, but stared at Rio with mild interest. The ghost ignored him, and with a willful pull, the top half of the tombstone broke from its base. With a great effort, Rio rose a few feet into the air and hurled the slab of stone at the old building in an underhand motion.
A large crash echoed through the cemetery as the chunk of rock blasted through the wall of the battered shack. The Shyster made no move to prevent the destruction of the building, and simply continued to stare at Rio. Satisfied with his work, the Boo gave the Shy Guy one last glance, and floated quickly toward the hole he had created.
As he entered, Rio cringed in disgust. The inside of the shack smelled strongly of dead rats and molding cheese. Dirty kitchen utensils, books, and papers were strewn carelessly about, making Rio's search difficult. After rummaging through piles of dirty robes, the Boo glanced toward the entrance way. The Shy Guy was no longer there.
Rio shrugged carelessly, and as he did so, something shiny caught his eye. On a grimy pedestal that seemed to be constructed of pewter plates sat a gleaming, pitch black stone. With a burst of speed, he flew towards it, ignoring a subtle creaking sound from above him. The specter grinned widely and reached toward the object.
Rio recoiled in terror as a brown-colored lump fell from above and landed on top of the powerful stone. Breathing deeply, the specter approached the covered object once more, and reached a shaking hand forward.
In a split-second, the brown lump had looked up and a glowing, pearly white masked appeared inches from Rio's face. The once neon yellow eyes of the strange Shyster were now glowing a furious crimson, and Rio simply floated in shock, his left eye twitching uncontrollably.
"MINE!!!" the Shy Guy roared. The startled specter widened his eyes as sparks of charging energy began to fly from the Shyster's eyes. Rio let out a loud shriek and dove to the ground as a powerful beam of crimson energy blasted over him, inches from torching his long, brown hat.
"Okay, Rio," the specter told himself as the Shy Guy glared angrily down at him and charged his beam once more, "time to regroup." The frightened Boo bolted toward the opening, narrowly avoiding a second laser blast. As he left, Rio grabbed the open door and swung it closed behind him. The old door did not shut properly, however, and simply broke off its hinges, allowing Rio barely enough time to avoid the next energy blast. The ghost sped to a point directly over the house, where he figured the Shyster would have difficulty aiming.
"I have the worst luck EVER!" Rio yelled as an energy beam blasted through the roof a few feet away from his current position. "Of all the places this stupid gem could land... it landed here! HERE! A tiny shack in the middle of a graveyard inhabited by a crazy Shy Guy who is obsessed with shiny things and has the ability to shoot DAD-for-saken laser beams out of his bloody eyes! How is that for bad luck, huh? HUH?!"
While Rio monologued, the enraged Shyster continued to blow several dozen holes in the roof of the moldy shack. Partially unstable even before the assail, the shack creaked violently as Rio yelled the word "HUH", and in seconds, the shack had crumbled to the ground. Rio stared down with his wide mouth hanging open, unable to grasp what had just occurred.
"Great," Rio said finally, "but I still have to search that trash for the-"
A small thudding sound had interrupted the dissatisfied spirit, and Rio glanced down with another fit of shock. The Shadow Gem had emerged from the rubble, rolled smoothly down a board, and landed softly on a patch of dry weeds.
"And they say complaining doesn't help the situation," Rio chuckled to himself as he swooped down toward the gem. "Pessimism can pay, people!"
"Rise and shine, boys," Aid said cheerfully.
"Just a few more... a few more minutes," Mario muttered, turning over on his cot.
"It should be a crime for people to be happy in the morning..." Broshi groaned, sitting up slowly and throwing his thin blanket off himself.
"C'mon guys, it's really nice outside," Aid continued. "The beach is really beautiful."
"The beach...?" Mario snorted. "Where are we?"
"Plateaus, of course!" Aid replied. "It's about a half-mile walk to Pirgoom's."
"Swell, that's really swell," Mario said groggily. "I'll be out in a second..."
Aid rolled her eyes and left the bed chamber.
After a half-hour filled with snaps from Aid, grumbles from Broshi and Mario, and half-hearted packing, the three adventurers stumbled into the bright Plateaian sun. Broshi shielded his eyes with his hand and grumbled under his breath as he glanced toward Mario, the plumber's bright-red hat glistening in the light. Each of the group was equipped with leather backpacks filled with necessary supplies, though Aid's was noticeably less heavy. Aid took the lead, taking quick, crisp strides as Mario and Broshi followed sluggishly, tongues out and arms dangling at their sides.
"We must have traveled a half-mile by now!" Broshi moaned, dragging his white boots in the sand.
"Well, we might have traveled a half-mile if you too weren't going so slow," Aid said.
"You're packs lighter then ours..." Mario complained. "How about we switch for a bit?"
"No need," Aid explained. "We're almost there."
The sorceress pointed toward a small, wooden building that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
"Sweet salvation!" Broshi croaked, doubling his speed. Mario frowned, gazing dejectedly down at the sand, and increased his speed as well, keeping a shot distance from the black dino.
Soon, the trio arrived at the building. Moods did not brighten as they gazed upon the tiny shop; Aid's grin had shrunk slightly, and the pair of boys looked as though they had just swallowed a large, unattractive insect.
The shop was extremely small. The entire structure had been crafted of wood, but it seemed the construction had taken place a century ago. The wood was salty and worn, and if the ocean breeze had picked up any more, it looked at though the shop would have simply blown away. Missing shingles dotted the battered roof, and the shop's single window had an immense layer of dust covering its outer edge.
"I'm going back to the ship," Broshi finally said, turning on his heel. However, Aid grabbed a firm hold on his arm, preventing him from retreating an further.
"We have to at least go in!" she scolded.
"Go in?" Broshi echoed. "That would be a health hazard! The building would collapse on us!"
Aid shot him a stern look. "Ha ha. Very funny. Now let's go."
Broshi stared into the sky for a moment, then let out a sigh. "Very well..."
The two comrades plodded toward the tiny shop. Mario glanced back in the direction of the ship and shrugged, following his fellow adventurers.
The inside of Pirgoom's Oceanic Supplies was dark and musty. The only source of light came from the clouded window, which was penetrated by a very limited amount of sun. To the right of the trio was a wooden counter that rose to the height of Broshi's knee, and although the dino was large, the counter was still quite small. To their left was a vat of darkness, filled with several oddly shaped items that the group could not distinguish.
"Wha-WHAT?!" came a batty old voice from just a few feet in front of the adventurers, causing them to jump in surprise. "Is... is someone there?"
"Um, yes," Aid answered politely. "We're here to buy some things..."
"Well of course you're here to buy some things!" the old voice stated proudly. "This is the finest Oceanic Shop this side of Plit!"
Mario and Broshi exchanged disbelieving looks, as Aid said, "Do you think... um, do you think you could turn some lights on?"
"Certainly!" the voice croaked. There was pause, followed by clicking noise. A single bulb attached to a battered piece of rope that hung from the ceiling flickered on... and then off again.
"Confound it!" the gruff voice grumbled. There were several more clicks, and the sound of a soft thud. "I think there's a working light in the basement. Follow me."
The group remained stationary and Broshi asked, "Um, how? We can't see."
"Just follow my voice..."
Aid strode wordlessly off into the darkness, Mario and Broshi following nervously.
After a great deal of stumbling, tripping, and swearing, the group of four entered the basement room from a creaking staircase. They waited awkwardly in the darkness until they heard another click. The three adventurers covered their eyes as light erupted around them, and as Aid lowered her arms, the girl in white gasped as she gazed upon the lit room.
The basement must have been at least five times as large as the room above them; its roof was lined with high-tech lights, and its walls consisted of smooth gray stone. Several shelves were crammed with a truckload of supplies that varied from simple snorkels to huge, pill-shaped air tanks. In the far corner an entire boat had been put on display, the white paint of the small craft sparkling in the expensive lights. In the center of the room stood a grizzled old Goomba, who grinned toothily at his visitors.
"Welcome to Prigoom's Oceanic Supplies," the Goomba exclaimed.
Broshi, who had his mouth hanging open, finally said, "Why...?"
"Robbers," the old Goomba said simply. "You wouldn't believe how many thieves are driven off by my store's facade!"
"Clever..." Mario muttered, gazing at the boat in the corner.
"Yes, well," Pirgoom said, "how can I help you three?"
"Before we buy anything, we need to figure out a couple things," Aid explained. "We need to know if you have any information regarding objects known as Elemental Gems."
Pirgoom raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry to say that the Water Gem has already been claimed."
"Excuse me?" Broshi said, his mouth hanging open again.
"How? When?" Aid asked frantically.
"About a year ago," Pirgoom explained. "I had actually excavated the Gem months before, but a ghost in a brown hat came by looking for it. He offered me a thousond coins for it. How could I refuse?"
Mario let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, well if that happened a year ago, then there isn't a problem. We just need you to take us to where you found the gem originally."
"Why?" Pirgoom asked suspiciously.
"We're not paying you to ask questions," Aid replied flatly. "Time is short. Let's set sail."
The Mushroom Kingdom "army" waited nervously facing Toad Town front gate. They all jumped in unison as the old Toad Town clock tower tolled ten.
"Wow," one of the guards gasped, "that was really freaky! I thought one of the Koopalings had launched a surprise atack or someth-"
The Mushroomer had been silenced by a fiery projectile that had launched from the gate. The group of Shrooms turned and gasped in terror as they saw Larry Koopa leaning against the Front Gate, smiling widely.
"A welcoming committee, eh?" Larry asked, lazily glancing at the end of his claws, which gleamed in the bright sunlight. "I suppose I should have been expecting this."
A brave guard stepped forward, pointing his spear at the Koopa. "Don't treat us like we're a joke!" the Shroom squeaked. "Take this!"
The guard sprinted toward the blue-haired Koopaling, and as he reached him, jabbed his spear forward. Instead of piercing the Koopa, however, the golden spear jammed into the thick stone of the gate. Larry, who had simply sidestepped out of the way, chuckled in amusement.
"I'm surprised that spear even penetrated the stone," he laughed. The Mushroomer Guard tried frantically to tug his weapon free, but Larry simply swatted him down with a broad smack across the face. The Koopaling glared back at the remained guards, who retreated back a few feet in a frightened wave.
"What are we doing, men?" one of the guards cried, taking a long stride toward the Koopaling. "We're here to protect the Mushroom Kingdom, not cower in fear! We shall fight, and we shall win! For the Mushroom Kingdom!!!"
The energetic guard began to charge at the Koopa, but halted after a few paces, noticing that none of the other guards had moved an inch. Slightly embarrassed, he shuffled back into the crowd of Mushroomer guards and fell silent.
Larry chuckled for a moment, then began to rummage through his shell. The small army waited, and took another step back as Larry withdrew something.
One of the guards gasped. "It's... it's... it's..."
"A shovel?" another guard finished.
And so it was. In the blue-haired Koopaling's right claw, he gripped the handle of a medium-sized shovel. In his left, he held a small leather sack. The guards stared back at the Koopa, unsure of whether to laugh or run away screaming.
However, the fact that Larry's "big weapon" was nothing more then a shovel had a strengthening effect on the guards' courage.
"It's just a shovel, men!" on of the guards cried. "Let's get him!"
"I can't believe it!" Luigi moaned, leaping over a small, crouching Mushroomer as he sprinted down a Toad Town street. "How could I have overslept? How?!"
"Good question," a voice yawned from behind him. Luigi wheeled around mid-stride and gasped.
"Mecha Guy?!" he cried. "What are you doing here?! The Front Gate! No one's there!"
"I know, I know," Mecha Guy confirmed, matching Luigi's speed. "I was up all night perfecting an invention of mine."
"Perfect..." Luigi muttered. "I'm sure whichever Koopaling is attacking the kingdom is having a field day with those guards."
"No doubt," Mecha Guy agreed as he and Luigi rounded a corner.
The Front Gate was now in view, and both Mecha and Luigi screeched to a halt as they gazed upon the scene before them.
Larry Koopa, armed with a single shovel, was in a heated battle with the small group of Mushroomer Guards. And by the looks of it, he was winning. Several guards lay unconscious on the ground, sporting large throbbing bumps on their capped heads. The remaining guards were screaming in horror as Larry launched at them, swinging his crude weapon menacingly.
"Organization, men!" one of the guards cried to the Mushroomers that remained on their feet. "Let's get him all at once, ready...? GO!"
A group of five Shrooms burst toward Larry, who was more then ready. In one swift motion the nimble Koopa slammed the handle of the garden tool-gone-weapon in the face of a guard who had attacked from behind, swung his shovel around, knocking another guard to the ground in the process, and blocked the assail of three different spear attacks from the remaining guards, who had all lunged toward him from the front.
One of the guards drew his weapon back and made a low, horizontal slash at the Koopa. Larry leaped over the attack and did a one-eighty twist in midair, blocking the two other spear attacks with his shell. As gravity began taking effect, Larry swung his shovel down at the nearest guard, flooring him with a sickening THUD!
On the ground now, the Koopaling twirled back around just in time to disable two more spear assaults, then whacked a guard across the face with his leather bag. As he sparred with the remaining guard, Larry's keen eyes caught movement among the fallen guards. One had risen to his feet and hurled his golden spear at the occupied Koopaling. Larry smirked as the weapon flew toward him, and just as it was inches away, he ducked.
From the sidelines, Mecha Guy and Luigi cringed. The guard closest to Larry collapsed; the golden projectile piercing his stomach. The guard responsible for the throw cried in anguish. Larry turned sharply around and hacked a fireball at the weeping Shroom, silencing him as the projectile hit its mark.
"Like that display?" Larry asked, grinning widely at the new arrivals.
"Oh, yes, it was just superb," Mecha Guy answered sarcastically. "No one can fight with a shovel like you can."
"Ha!" Larry cried, moving toward them. "You think this shovel's all I got?"
"No," Mecha Guy replied. "I suppose even you aren't stupid enough to walk in here armed with just a shovel."
Larry snorted. "It seemed to work fine against the highly trained professionals that make up your menacing army."
"Forget them!" Luigi cried bravely. "You've got us to deal with now."
"And deal with you I shall," Larry said quietly, stopping on a patch of healthy green grass.
The Koopa stuck his shovel in the ground and dug a small hole. While the Koopa reached in to his leather bag, something must have clicked in the mind of Mecha Guy. The Shyster began to sprint forward, abandoning his toolbox, and dove at Larry. The Koopa ducked and Mecha Guy soared over him, landing painfully a few yards away.
"Don't just stand there!" the Shy Guy bellowed to Luigi. "Stop him!"
"Why?" Luigi questioned as Larry dropped something small and round in the freshly dug hole. The Koopaling replaced the dirt and leaned back casually on his shovel.
A few seconds passed in a silence, then a loud unsettling rumble echoed through the town and the ground shook violently.
As the rumbling ceased, Mecha Guy's body was covered by a large, dark shadow. The disgruntled Shy Guy finally returned his feet and stared up toward the towering object that projected the shadow, his mouth hanging open in utter disbelief.
The figure towered nearly fifty feet over any object, building, or beast within at least ten miles of it. It had several rows of white, gleaming teeth, and its enormous, bulb-like head could have created a solar eclipse. Dozens of spiney vines swayed menacingly from a main stem, and the creature's enormous tongue hung from its mouth, a bit of saliva the size of a jumbo ice cream cone dripping from it. The creature let out a horrifying roar, the sheer force of it knocking Mecha Guy to the ground once more.
"That's why..." Mecha Guy squeaked, regaining his feet.
"How do you like that?" Larry laughed evilly from beside his monster. "It's my Insta-Grow Giant Piranha Plant! Instant chaos in a 1 x 1 sphere!"
"Catchy," Mecha Guy grunted as he tore his eyes away from the terrifying plant monster.
"I thought so," Larry said. "Now, my beast, destroy these two fools that stand before you!"
The carnivorous plant shifted its head toward Luigi, who stood in icy fear, eyes bulging madly. The monstrous creature tilted its head back slightly, then sprung forward, releasing a huge flaming orb that hurtled toward the petrified plumber.
"Get out of the way!" Mecha Guy roared.
The plumber had regained his senses just in time, diving out of the way just in time to avoid a fiery fate. There was a loud explosion, and smoldering bits of ash flew in all directions. Luigi glared back toward his position a few seconds prior, and saw a gaping crater nearly ten feet across.
Luigi got to his feet and felt something tugging at his ankle. He let out a loud yelp as he saw a pointy green vine curl up around his leg. He hopped on one foot and spastically waved his leg about in an attempt to free himself, but the vine continued to wrap itself around him. As he made an attempt to fight off the creeping bit of plant with his fists, something large and bright caught his eye.
Another flaming sphere was bursting in his direction. Luigi attempted to dash away, but simply fell to the ground as the vile plant continued to constrict his body. He made a final attempt to crawl forward, and to his surprise, was able to do so.
His thought process was clouded, however, by a mind-numbing screech that peeled through the air. He covered his ears and crawled forward; he felt the fireball closing in. He made one last lunge forward and felt another explosion inches from his feet.
The screeching had ceased, and Luigi staggered to his feet. The vine that had been attacking him fell limply to the ground, and the plumber noticed that it had been disconnected from the main stem. He looked up and saw Mecha Guy, his mask slightly charred, holding a pair of hedge clippers.
"I knew these things would come in handy," he explained, chopping at a vine that had shot toward him.
"You think those things could sever the main stem?" Luigi asked.
"Not these," Mecha Guy informed. "But I have a larger pair in my box."
"On your left," Luigi called.
Mecha Guy whirled around and saw a vine lunging toward him. He nimbly dodged the assail and severed the vine in two with a quick snap with his sharp metal tool.
"Thanks," Mecha Guy said, glancing up. "We've got another fireball heading our way."
The two heroes quickly maneuvered several feet to the right, avoiding the large projectile.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Luigi asked. "Let's get those clippers and whack this weed!"
"Easier said than done," Mecha Guy informed. "That vile turtle appears to have swiped my box while I came over to rescues you."
"Where is he?" Luigi questioned, avoiding another advancing vine.
"Up there," Mecha Guy answered, chopping the new vine in two and motioning toward the cranium of the monstrous plant.
"How are we gonna get up there?" Luigi asked as another large fireball hurtled towards them.
"Follow me," Mecha Guy instructed, grabbing Luigi by the hand.
The Shyster took off toward the Front Gate, Luigi struggling to remain standing as Mecha Guy dragged him along. As they neared the gate, Luigi tripped over an advancing vine, causing both him and Mecha Guy to take a tumble.
As the pair got to their feet, an explosion that had occurred just a few feet in front of them nearly engulfed the pair of do-gooders.
"Great," Mecha Guy muttered as he dragged the plumber around the smoldering crater the explosion had created, "he's learned to lead."
Mecha Guy took a sharp right to avoid another fiery blast, and sprinted toward the Front Gate. The heroes passed under the stone arch, and Mecha Guy released Luigi.
"What good will this do us?" Luigi inquired as fireball passed over head.
Mecha Guy answered simply by motioning toward a vehicle parked a few meters from the gate: Larry's Koopa Copter. Both heroes climbed into the machine and Mecha Guy grasped the controls.
"This is your captain speaking," Mecha Guy said as the propeller under the chopper fired up. "I would like to remind you to stay in your seat and keep your safety belt fastened at all times. We will be experiencing some slight turbulence."
"Slight?" Luigi said, raising an eyebrow as a flaming sphere whizzed by their vehicle.
"Hold on tight!" Mecha Guy ordered, thrusting a lever forward. The chopper rocketed into the air, and the monstrous Piranha Plant came into view. It widened its mouth and belched another projectile towards the stolen copter. Mecha Guy jabbed madly at the controls, and the Koopa Copter quickly elevated, causing the large projectile to fly under them.
"Hey!" Larry shouted from the top of his precious plant. "You jacked my vehicle!"
"How observant you are," Mecha Guy said sarcastically, lowering the chopper as it approached its target.
The plant hurled another fireball at the vehicle, and this time the cruiser was too close.
"Abandon ship!" Mecha Guy yelled, leaping from the Koopa Copter as the projectile approached. "C'mon Luigi, we'll have to jump for it!"
"Are you in-" but Luigi never finished his rhetorical question. Mecha Guy had leapt from the chopper in the direction of the beastly plant, and Luigi cried in terror. The frightened plumber jumped from the vehicle just as the fireball impacted the copter.
Luigi sighed in relief as the chopper exploded above him, but the relief was short lived; in the confusion, he had jumped in the wrong direction. All that stood between Luigi and the cold, hard ground was fifty feet of air. With another scream Luigi plummeted toward the ground.
The plumber closed his eyes as he fell. Any second now he would hear a sickening crack, and he would be dead. After a second of blind freefall, the plumber felt something coil around his leg. He opened a single eye and saw one of the giant Piranha's vines curled around his leg.
The plummeting had stopped. Luigi was now being suspended in the air.
"Close one..." Luigi muttered to himself, glancing towards the ground. "I can't believe I keep surviving these near-" Luigi stopped himself as he felt a wave of hot breath incase him. He glanced up and saw rows of large, pointy teeth just a few feet away from where he was being hung.
"This just isn't fair..." Luigi whimpered.
Meanwhile, on top of the large Piranha's head, Larry sneered at Mecha Guy, who had made his daring leap.
"I refuse to allow you to destroy my precious plant!" Larry snarled, clutching the Shyster's bright red toolbox tightly in his claw.
"I figured you might say something like that," Mecha Guy said, pointing his hedge clippers out in front of him.
Larry glared at him. "How am I supposed to respond to that?"
"You could simply start our little skirmish that will undoubtedly take place," Mecha Guy suggested.
"Very well," Larry agreed, barfing a fireball in Mecha Guy's direction.
The Shyster ducked under the assail, and launched toward Larry. The Koopaling was ready, though, and swung the tool he clutched in the direction of it's owner. Mecha Guy caught a face full of steel and was knocked back several feet. He quickly returned to his feet, avoiding another fireball. The cunning Shyster then gripped his clippers with one hand and hurled them at Larry in a sideways motion. They came at the Koopa fast, and Larry had little time to react.
The Koopaling hurriedly shielded himself with Mecha Guy's toolbox. The pair of clippers reached Larry and stuck firmly into the metal outer edge of the box, quivering uncontrollably in its new holding place. Larry glanced up in time to see Mecha Guy streaking toward him and grasping a hold of the clippers' edge.
"What the-?" was all Larry could sputter as Mecha Guy yanked the clippers upward, sending the toolbox, with Larry hanging on, in a powerful upward motion. The momentum was too much for the young Koopaling, and with a high-pitch shriek, Larry released the toolbox's handle.
As Mecha Guy watched Larry sail through the air, his moment of triumph was interrupted by a shout from bellow.
"MECHA GUY!!! HELP!!!"
Mecha Guy peered over the creature's large head and examined Luigi's predicament. The plant had him suspended over its large, gaping mouth and looked ready to drop the terrified plumber any second.
Thinking quickly, Mecha Guy seized the larger pair of clippers from his toolbox and leaped from the monstrous plant's head.
"What are you doing?!" Luigi screeched as Mecha Guy fell, but the Shyster ignored him.
The Shy Guy was falling just a few feet from the plant's enormous stem, and after falling about fifteen feet, he plunged his new clipper's into the plant's stem and hung on for his life.
The Piranha Plant tilted its head back in fury and let out another bloodcurdling screech. Mecha Guy wished dearly that he could shield his ears, but knew very well that both his arms were in good use. The Shyster's fall had been broken by the new arm-hold he had created by plunging his clippers in the body of the beast.
The injured plant had released Luigi due to a fit of shock Mecha Guy's attack had caused, and Luigi was now falling from the point at which the gigantic plant's head had been seconds earlier. Luigi narrowly missed the plant's gaping jaws as he fell.
And, as one might have guess, the head of a Piranha Plant is stationed directly above it's stem, which was where Mecha Guy was hanging in wait. As Luigi flew by him, he snatched the plumber by the overalls, halting his decent.
There was a moment of pause, and once the Piranha Plant ceased its vile cry, Luigi shook his head and glanced up at Mecha Guy.
"That was all planned," Mecha Guy said, grinning at his comrade.
"Yeah," Luigi agreed sarcastically, "right."
"You've fallen from some heights before, right?" Mecha Guy called from above. "Let me grab ahold of your back and you can land us from here."
"Fine," Luigi agreed, and Mecha Guy wrenched his clippers free of the monster's stem and began to decend, just in time to avoid a thrashing vine.
Mecha Guy scrambled onto Luigi back and braced for impact. It came, and Luigi's legs nearly buckled under the falling force. Mecha Guy quickly hopped off the plumber's back and lunged toward the base of the monstrous plant.
A vine shot toward the Shyster, but he simply ducked it, leaping another as he reached the steam. He drew the large pair of clippers back, clutching both ends tightly. Then, with one fluid forward motion, he slammed the edges together, causing the blades to snap quickly together around the plant's thick base.
Within a half-second, the clippers had sliced through the Piranha's stem entirely. Another scream, the loudest they had witnessed so far, rang unbearably through the town. Covering his ears, the Shyster sprinted away from the plant, yelling at the top of his lungs.
Seconds later, there was an enormous crash; the towering Pirana Plant had slammed to the ground in a lifeless heap, its long tongue protruding from its wide mouth.
The wicked screech died away, and nothing could be heard except for Mecha Guy's heavy breathing.
"That," Mecha Guy rasped as he approached Luigi, "was way too close."
"You aren't kidding," Luigi agreed, surveying his comrade. "I swear I was gonna die at least twenty times back there."
"Nah," Mecha Guy said, "I had everything under control."
Pirgoom, Aid, Mario, and Broshi stood upon a gleaming white motorboat that sped smoothly across the sea. The group of adventurers had allowed Pirgoom to come along to act as navigator. Mario and Aid had been fit into tight, full-body wet suits equipped with large, thick goggles and flippers. Not even the largest suit had fit Broshi, but the dino had managed to pull on a huge pair of rubber flippers and a set of goggles.
Aid stood alone on one side of the ship gazing out at the open ocean, while Mario and Broshi showed Pirgoom their map of Plateaus.
"What makes you two so sure that gem was in the same spot that it was when I found it?" Pirgoom asked, glancing up at the two comrades.
Mario thought for a moment. "Good question. How do we know?"
"Well," Broshi answered, "we really don't."
Mario raised an eyebrow. "Then how do we know that the Water Gem is even in this region?"
"Each Gem is tied to one of the seven regions of Plateaus," Broshi explained. "And while we don't know for sure whether the Gem is in the same spot as before, it would be a good place to begin our search."
"Sounds reasonable," Mario said, looking down at Pirgoom. "So where on this map did you find the Gem originally?"
Pirgoom examined the map for a moment.
"Well," the grizzled Goomba replied, "I found it concealed deep in an underwater cavern known as the Dorpez Grotto." The old Goomba indicated the area he described with his foot.
"There, huh?" Mario said, glancing at the map. "We must be close."
"Very close," Aid called, and the group of three wheeled around.
The small craft was closing in on what appeared to be a booey bobbing on the surface of the ocean. Attached to it was a very old and faded sign. Pirgoom scuttled over to the controls, which were set on cruise control, and kicked at them. The boat slowed, and the moldy sign, now legible, read: Dorpez Grotto.
"Right," Pirgoom called from the controls. "Grab your air tanks and dive in! You're paying me by the hour, you know."
"Yeah, yeah," Aid muttered, stalking toward the air tanks, which sat on deck in a disorganized pile.
Pirgoom helped the group strap on their tanks and masks, and gave Mario an underwater lantern necessary for a proper search of the grotto. Once the group was set, he took several steps back and gazed at them.
"Good luck," he croaked.
The trio nodded, and Broshi took a step toward the ship's edge. He perched himself on the rail, gave Mario, Aid, and Pirgoom a quick salute, and dove in. Aid rolled her eyes and dove in after him, followed quickly by Mario.
The water was crystal clear, and the group gazed down in awe. The water was deep, the bottom not visible from where the trio of adventurers floated. Dozens of small fish darted around them like a swarm of confused wasps. After a good look, Aid motioned the group forward and began to swim. The two boys followed obediently, continuing to look around as they swam.
The group spent several uneventful minutes swimming downward, until something dark began to loom into the distance. Aid quickened her stoke and began to swim towards it, Mario and Broshi at her heals.
As they drew nearer, they distinguished a rough, black stone. The dark object was a great mass of rock, and about fifty feet bellow the trio, Aid spotted a large opening. The group swam towards the opening, and as they reached it, they paused for a moment. Aid nodded toward the entrance, and Broshi gave her a thumbs up. As they entered the cavern, Mario switched on the lantern Pirgoom had given him.
The grotto was long, and twisty, it's walls were lined with jagged stone. The deeper the group traveled in the tunnel, the narrower and darker it became. After about ten minutes, the only light left was provided by Mario's lantern. It was a powerful light source, however, and illuminated the stoney walls of the cavern quite clearly.
As the tunnel narrowed further, Mario spotted a smaller opening about the same width as a basketball. He motioned toward Aid and Broshi, and swam toward it. Broshi shook his head and waved his arms frantically, but the plumber paid no attention.
As he reached the new opening, he lowered himself and peered into the tunnel. A second later he jetted from the tunnel's edge, his arms flailing madly, causing the light his lantern provided to flash about spastically. Broshi raised his arms in question, but soon realized what had caused the plumber's actions.
A group of no less then five Cheep Cheeps darted toward Mario, jaws snapping hungrily. Each was bright yellow in color and roughly six inches across. The school was gaining on the frightened plumber, and the nearest one took a snap at the plumber's foot. Luckily, Mario had spotted his attacker and moved his leg out of the way just in time. The creature snarled and went for the plumber again, promptly receiving a brown boot in the face.
Mario had reached the other two now, but Broshi had disappeared into the darkness. The Cheep Cheeps broke into two different groups; two swam in Aid's direction, and the remaining three darted toward Mario.
The plumber slammed the nearest fish in the face with his fist and swung a leg at another. The angered fish dodged under the assault, and locked its teeth on Mario's leg. The plumber yelped, only instead of a sound issuing from his mouth, a stream of bubbles shot from behind his mask. The plumber threw his other leg at the Cheep Cheep, slamming the creature in the side, dislodging it from his leg.
Mario turned quickly and saw the third Cheep Cheep closing in. The plumber locked his hand into a fist and pulled his arm back, but before he could land a punch on the carnivorous creature, Broshi flew out of nowhere, delivering the Cheep Cheep a sharp blow in the side with a jagged piece of stone shaped like a deranged club.
Mario pumped a fist in the air celebrating, but Broshi shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, eyes wide with uncertainty. The plumber hit himself lightly in the face, and beckoned Broshi toward him, swatting his lantern at an oncoming Cheep Cheep.
The plumber held the lantern out in front of him, illuminating the surrounding tunnel in hopes to catch a glimpse of Aid. Broshi motioned toward an area to the plumber's right, and as Mario turned, a blinding flash of light seared through the cavern. The light quickly faded, and the two comrades heard the unmistakable sound of an explosion. Mario cast a ray of his own light to his right, and saw Aid, arms folded, watching an unconscious Cheep Cheep blast away into the darkened tunnel.
Mario had no time to register what Aid had done. The sound of a muffled cry came from behind him, and he turned just in time to see a Cheep Cheep sink its jaws into his right arm. Mario let out an unheard yell and relinquished his grip on Pirgoom's lantern. The light-producing device fell slowly toward the hard stone floor.
Mario shook the Cheep Cheep off his arm and dove for the lantern, but it was too late. Metal met stone, and in a split second, the entire tunnel was plummeted into complete darkness.
The plumber floated motionless in the darkened cavern, unable to think of what to do. He swam upward, flailing his arms in random directions, hoping to come in contact with something other than a Cheep Cheep, but he did not. He must have swam too high, though; he felt the top of his head come in contact with the tunnel's rock ceiling.
Then, Mario felt a strange pulsing sensation sweep through his body. It seemed to be giving him advice, telling him to do something. Mario shook his head in an attempt to drive the strange pulse away, but it only worsened. The plumber clutched his and focused on his thoughts.
"So good of you to join us," Aid's voice echoed through the plumber's head.
"What... what's going on?" Mario stammered.
"Welcome to the mental chat room," Broshi said.
"Broshi?" Mario clarified. "You're here too?"
"Yup," Broshi answered. "Now, Aid, kindly explain what is going on.
"Right," Aid said. "Well, for starters, I'm a sorceress. That is, I can do magic."
"Magic?" Mario said. "Are you serious?"
"Yes," Aid explained. "That's how I'm contacting you guys."
"How'd you figure out how to do it?" Broshi questioned.
"Not sure," Aid answered truthfully. "It just kinda came naturally, I guess."
"Weird..." Mario muttered. "So I guess that's how you managed to blast that Cheep Cheep."
"Exactly," Aid said. "Now, to business. Mario dropped the lantern, and we're floating here in the dark. I don't know where the fish went, but something seemed to drive them away. Probably the flash I made."
"Great," Broshi said bitterly. "Thanks for the recap. Now what are we going to do about it?"
"Well, since I can make light I'm going to light up this place so we can continue our search," Aid explained.
"Why didn't you just do that in the first place?" Mario questioned.
"Wanted you guys to get used to this way of communication," Aid replied. "It's weird, though. Broshi seems to be really good at already."
"Ha," Broshi said. "I'm a natural."
Aid ignored him. "Now, if you guys ever feel that pulsing again, focus on your thoughts, and we can communicate. Got it?"
"Yup," Mario and Broshi answered in unison.
"Good," Aid said. "Now let's get that Gem!"
Mario felt as though he was being bounced from his mind. He recovered quickly, however, and seconds later a bright, searing light illuminated the room. Mario gazed forward; the little color left in his face drained away. His eyes widened and his lip quivered slightly.
The plumber now found himself face-to-face with what had driven the Cheep Cheeps away. Barely resisting the urge to scream himself hoarse, the plumber wished dearly that Aid had never lit the chamber.