"We're free!" Kamek called jubilantly as he, Bowser, and Kammy emerged from thick, tropical foliage. Kamek glanced around and surveyed their surroundings, which included long stretches of sandy shore on either side, and a grand sparkling Ogral Ocean.
"All right!" Bowser cheered. "We made it! This is the Water Region!"
"I'll check the map," Kamek said, rummaging through his blue-colored robes and pulling out a worn bit of parchment. He squinted down at it and nodded slowly. "This is indeed it."
"Excellent," Bowser said, withdrawing a pair of sunglasses from his shell and putting them on. "Let's take some chill time!"
"Hold up, fellas, " Kammy said, speaking for the first time. "Take a look over there." The witch pointed a crusty hand in the direction of their immediate right. Sitting on the beach was Mecha Guy's odd vehicle Contraption, The Mecha Chopper.
"What is that?" Bowser asked, leaning forward as his shielded the sun from his eyes.
"No idea," Kamek admitted. "Perhaps we should take a closer look?" Bowser nodded, and the three villains plodded over to the strange vessel.
Upon arriving and giving The Mecha Chopper a good visual scan, Kamek said, "It appears to be a ship of some sort. And if I'm not mistaken-"
"Are those...?" Kammy cut in, "Koopa Copters?"
"Explain," Aid growled at Pirgoom as she breached the water's surface and hauled herself onto the small motor boat. The spell user's eyes were fiery, and she radiated strongly of obvious anger.
"D-didn't Broshi a-already tell you?" Pirgoom sputtered, backing away from Aid.
"Yes," Aid snarled, "but I want to hear it from you. Why did you trick us?"
"I had to!" Pirgoom cried dramatically. "There was no way you would have gone down there if I told you that that beast dwelled there!"
"We were in desperate need of the Gem, you lying fool," Aid said loudly. "If you had just told us that you wanted that... that monster removed, we probably would've done it for you!"
"Really?" Pirgoom asked skeptically.
"Of course!" Aid shouted. "What did you think we were gonna do, mug you? Geez..."
"I'm sorry, it's my fault..." the old Goomba admitted. "I know I shouldn't have tricked you..."
"Don't apologize," Aid snapped. "We don't need apologies... We need compensation."
Pirgoom shot Aid a "you've got to be kidding me" look as he said, "Well, now that isn't entirely necessary for me to-"
Aid interrupted him by blasting the Dorpez Grotto sign into several pieces with a ray of magic. "Yes, Pirgoom, I think it is."
The Goomba's shriveled eyes widened in fear. "V-very well... how much do you want?"
"A full refund," Aid said, and the Goomba narrowed his eyes in dislike. "And not a coin less."
"An outrage!" Pirgoom protested. "I will never-"
Aid quickly shot her arm toward the Goomba and a beam of powerful magic blasted from it. The assail barreled toward Pirgoom and sailed over his head, missing him by inches. "Still think it's an outrage, Pirgoom?"
"Yes!" the old Goomba said bitterly. "But apparently I have no choice..."
"Now you're catching on," Aid said smugly.
Pirgoom snorted and moved toward the controls. "I can't believe you people... taking advantage an old Goomba like this..."
Broshi pointed to himself and mouthed, "It wasn't my idea!"
Aid ignored him and followed Pirgoom to the controls. "Just shut up and move over, old man. I'm driving."
Pirgoom shot the sorceress a sour look and stepped aside, allowing Aid to plop herself in front of the controls and begin plugging in commands. The boat's engine fired up, and the small vessel sped away toward the mainland.
Rio's Locator Orb had quickly led him out of the dense forest in which he had previously fought the Magikoopa duo, and into a rather breezy plane. The flatlands sported no plant life other than short, wispy grass and occasional shrubs and bushes. The Orb led the yellow specter along a narrow dirt path that proceeded at a steady incline.
Soon, off in the distance, Rio spotted a cluster of tall, snowcapped mountains. These peaks were part of Plateaus' second tallest mountain range, the Xittzi. The path Rio was currently following would lead him directly into the range, and to a valley town known as Juagin. The specter had visited the town on several occasions prior, and knew this was a poor time to visit, unless he was keen on site-seeing.
A famous annual race was held in the town of Juagin, and crowds from all over Plateaus traveled to see it. Called The Trek, the race path followed a course that wound up and around the Xittzi Mountains. It was several dozen miles in length, and bore tough conditions; weather would often drop into subzero temperatures, often snowing, and the path was rough and unstable.
Rio had no plans to join the festivities, though; if the Wind Gem was hidden somewhere near the city, the crafty specter would have a difficult time finding it, even with his Location Orb. With thousands of tourists swarming the town, it seemed impossible that at least one of them hadn't found the Orb and was keeping it for themselves as some sort of souvenir. Rio cursed the idea of having to pickpocket folks at random.
The wind picked up, and the ghost drew his blade and stabbed it into the ground. Wind was not, in any way, a Boo's greatest ally. The spiritual creatures happened to be very light, and any breeze that was more then a trickle could knock them off course. Rio was forced to stabilize himself often in order to continue on track, so his travel was severely hampered. He cursed under his breath as the wind continued to tear at him, and gazed longingly at the Xittzi Mountains, wishing dearly that Kamek's anti-teleportation spell would just wear out...
As the small motorboat approached the land, Aid violently drove the ship into the sandy shore. It slid to a halt, and Aid quickly leapt off, saying to Broshi, "Bring Mario." The dino nodded, and scooped the unconscious plumber into his arms.
"Hold on!" Pirgoom said loudly, leaping after them. "You're still wearing my wet suits!"
"Don't worry," Aid called back. "We'll drop them off as we fly over you."
"Very well," the Goomba said, halting his advance. "You'd better return them, though!"
Aid snorted but said nothing more.
The walking pace was quite slow, owing to the fact that Broshi was required to carry the chubby plumber and all of his belongings. Aid had gotten too far ahead of the Yoshi, and stood still, waiting for him to catch up.
As he approached, the dino asked, "What was with you back there, Aid? You didn't have to treat that dirt."
Aid shrugged. "You're probably right." There was a pause, and sorceress suddenly asked, "He gave you the Gem, right?"
Broshi nodded and withdrew the shiny, spherical object from his pack. Aid nodded, and he stowed it.
Nearly an hour passed before the two companions could see their ship. Upon viewing it, Aid noticed that something was amiss. Besides the ship, she made out three indistinguishable figures, one of which was much larger then the other two.
Aid turned to Broshi. "You see those people over by our ship?"
"Yeah," the dino replied, squinting. "I think-"
The dino was interrupted by Mario, who stirred and opened his eyes. Broshi, who had been carrying Mario in his arms, dropped him in surprise as the plumber looked up at him.
"Ow..." Mario moaned, getting to his feet and dusting himself off. "Did you have to drop me?"
"You surprised me," the dino explained.
"Yeah, whatever," the plumber said. "Why have we stopped, anyway?"
"There are three unidentifiable figures standing beside our ship," Aid explained.
Mario followed their gaze, frowning. "Figures, yes. But not unidentifiable."
"What'd you mean?" Broshi asked.
"Koopas," Mario said, breaking into a run. "I don't know what they're up to or how they got here, but it isn't good. Follow me, we gotta hurry."
Aid and Broshi did as they were told, and streaked after the plumber in red. As the group of three arrived at the vehicle, Kamek turned to face them and let out a cry of disbelief.
"What the-" the Magikoopa shouted. "Mario? What in blazes are you doing here?"
"I'd like to ask you that same question," Mario said, readying himself.
"Never mind that!" Aid said. "Who are you people?"
Bowser stepped forward. "I am Lord Bowser, King of the Koopa Clan! These are my humble servants, Kamek and Kammy Koopa."
"Pleased to meet you," Kammy said, bowing.
"What are you two doing?!" Kamek shouted. "Don't introduce yourselves! This is Mario, we have to attack him!"
"Oh," Bowser said. "Right. Well then, let's go!"
A clear, darkened sky hung over Toad Town, and two weary figures trudged along the street that led to the town's Main Gate. One was considerably shorter than the other and carried a heavy metal box in his right hand, while the other was tall and narrow. The figures soon arrived at the Main Gate, and plodded toward a single Mushroomer that stood nearby.
"The Koopaling has not yet arrived," the figure squeaked in a monotone.
"Wanna bet?" Mecha Guy growled in a voice etched with fatigue. The Shyster mechanic dug into his robes and pulled out a small bottle with about a half an inch worth of liquid resting at the bottom. Mecha Guy roughly grabbed the Mushroomer by the neck and forced the remainder of liquid down his throat.
The Mushroomer coughed once, blinked a few times, and looked up at Mecha Guy, then down to his neck. "Um, what's going-"
"Go home," Mecha Guy ordered, releasing him.
"But-" the Mushroomer began.
"Now," Mecha Guy said forcefully.
The Mushroomer obeyed, and quickly scurried away. Letting out a great sigh, Mecha Guy turned to Luigi, who was beginning to head back into Toad Town.
"Hold up," the Shyster said.
Luigi turned. "What? Aren't we-"
"Yes," Mecha Guy interrupted, "everyone in Toad Town is free from mind control. I just need to tell you a couple things."
Luigi nodded, and said nothing.
"Right, well first off," Mecha Guy began, "we need help. We barely pulled the last two victories off. Had we not been extremely lucky, one or both of us could have easily died. So, tonight I'm going to be calling in someone who can help. Fortunately, said person is visiting Koopa Village right now, so he'll probably be here by tomorrow. I'm glad he chose to get off that island of his and do a little site-seeing."
Had Luigi not been on the border of collapse, he would have asked who Mecha Guy was calling for. Unwilling to speak, however, he simply nodded once more.
"Secondly," Mecha Guy continued, "let's both try to be on time tomorrow, okay? I would not like to let something like this happen again."
Luigi wordlessly acknowledged this, and silently slumped away.
Back on the shores of Plateaus, the Koopa King began the skirmish by launching himself at Mario and throwing a claw at him. The crafty plumber dodged to his left, and lashed his leg toward Bowser. The large Koopa took the hit in the back of the head, and fell forward, eating sand. He snarled, got to his feet, and released a stream of crimson flames toward his plumber rival. Mario leapt in the air to avoid them, but wasn't quick enough; the flames caught the end of his pants and ignited them. Cursing, Mario waved his leg frantically in an attempt to put it out. Laughing, Bowser slammed Mario in the chest with his fist and sent him crashing to the sandy ground. The plumber quickly got to his feet and, avoiding a claw swipe from Bowser, darted toward the ocean, his pants leg still flaming mercilessly.
Meanwhile, Kammy had chosen to duel with Broshi, who proved to be an even match. The old witch started the battle with a blast of flame from the tip of her wand, which the cunning Yoshi easily avoided with a leap. While Broshi was airborne, Kammy shot another flame spell toward him, but the Yoshi shifted out of the way. The dino dropped and landed; he ducked another spell and sprinted toward Kammy. The hag flailed her wand wildly, sending spells in every direction, but the swift Yoshi wove through them and landed a powerful kick. Kammy shot backwards and slammed into the hard, outer edge of the Mecha Chopper. The impact caused the vessel to sway on its landing gear for a moment, but to Broshi's great relief, it didn't tip.
Several yards away, Kamek and Aid stared each other down, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Growing impatient, Aid raised her arm and shot an orb of light in the old Magikoopa's direction. Grinning, Kamek traced a rectangle in the air with his wand, creating a magical barrier that easily deflected Aid's assail. The old Koopa then counterattacked by blasting a jumble of geometric shapes in Aid's direction. She dodged to the left and fired a searing jet of light in the Magikoopa's direction. He took the hit and was launched backwards toward the thick jungle plant life from which he'd emerged several minutes prior. Kamek positioned his feet and, after several midair tumbles, landed skillfully on the trunk of a thick coconut tree. Brandishing his wand and unleashing a wave of magic projectiles, Kamek leapt from the trunk and sprang toward the sorceress.
Meanwhile, Mario and Bowser continued their tussle in the churning waves of the Ogral Ocean. It was with the salty sea water that the plumber had managed to douse his ignited pants and prevent his flesh from burning. The waves also provided him a certain protection from any flame atacks the Koopa King might launch in the future. At the present time, however, Bowser had no need for such attacks as he continued a relentless physical assault with his claws and fists. After landing a rather firm punch on the side of Mario's face, the plumber was sent spiraling toward the ground. Bowser grinned, and was about to launch a claw down at the human when an obscenely large wave crashed over him and hampered his progress. When the Koopa surfaced, Mario was nowhere to be seen.
"Blast," Bowser grumbled. "Where have you run off to?"
Bowser whipped around, and upon doing so, received a face full of gloved fist. The Koopa cried angrily, clutching his head; the hit had been hard, and the Koopa King's vision had temporarily been impaired. Mario took advantage of this, and landed several more blows. It was too much for the Tyrannic Turtle, who let out a mighty roar of defeat and crashed limply into the waves. Smirking, Mario quickly hurtled back toward the patch of sand where the Mecha Chopper rested.
Kammy delicately rose to her feet, only to be socked in the stomach by Broshi's firm boot. She launched into the air once again and landed painfully several meters away. She was quicker to recover this time, though, and rolled to the left as Broshi attempted another kick. Charging her magic for a moment as the dino took his time turning about-face, she slashed violently at the air with her wand, then rocketed a flaming cross in the Yoshi's direction. He attempted to dodge out of the way, but the cross exploded as soon as it got near him, knocking the slightly stunned dino to the ground.
The witch charged her attack once more, and fired as Broshi got to his feet. As the flaming cross approached him, the dino quickly grabbed a stray shell from the sandy floor, and hurled it at the cross. The stone swished through the silky flame and caused the cross to erupt violently before reaching Broshi. Narrowing his eyes in concentration, the dino then hurtled toward Kammy, dodged a weaker fire spell, and landed a fierce uppercut. The attack launched Kammy into the air for the third time, though this time she was unconscious before hitting the ground.
As Kamek's spell assaults neared her, Aid created her own magic barrier and repelled them easily. She then landed a punch on the chest of the advancing Magikoopa, who spiraled to the ground and landed none-too-gracefully on the sandy floor. He got to his feet and snarled, pointing his wand at the sorceress.
"You're fairly talented, I'll give you that," Kamek praised. "But it's time I get serious."
"Bring it," Aid said confidently, readying herself.
"As you wish..."
Kamek made a quick, sword-like slashing movement with his wand, hitting Aid with an unseen force and sending her to the ground. She struggled to her feet, only to notice a deep, bleeding gouge that had appeared across her side. Furious, she blasted a ray of magic toward Kamek. The Magikoopa merely laughed and flicked his wand as the ray approached, redirecting the attack so that it flew painlessly over his head. He made another wand slash, tearing another cut into Aid's right leg.
Aid tried to lunge at the Magikoopa, but tripped as her right leg gave way, causing her to flop to the ground in a painful manor. Grinning wickedly, Kamek approached her and was about to slash his wand once more when Broshi hurtled out of nowhere and checked Kamek aside with his shoulder. Then, while Kamek was off balance, he planted a powerful kick that sent the Magikoopa to the ground in a daze. Satisfied, Broshi turned to Aid and cursed under his breath as he gazed at her wounds.
"That's bad," he muttered. "Let's get you out of here."
He reached his hand out and Aid thankfully took it. The Yoshi hoisted Aid onto her feet, and helped her toward the Mecha Chopper. As they approached, Mario came jogging swiftly from the waters' edge, sporting a motley assortment of bruises and soaked articles of clothing.
"What happened?" Mario asked, gazing at Aid in horror.
"Never mind," Broshi said. "We have to get out of here. Now."
Mario nodded and quickly opened the ship's hatch with his remote, and Broshi hauled the injured sorceress in The Mecha Chopper. Mario got in himself, and slid the hatch shut.
The ship's interior was quite dark, and the plumber fumbled around for moment before entering the sleeping quarters. There, Broshi had already lay Aid down on a bed and was wrapping bandages around the sorceress' wounds. Aid was still conscious, though barely; her face was pale and her breaths were raspy and sporadic.
"There," Broshi said, returning to his full height and wiping his hands together. "That's all I can do."
"It's not enough..." Mario muttered. "Those looked deep."
"Yes... they did," Broshi agreed. "We have to find a healer of some sort. Mario, grab the-"
Broshi was interrupted by a loud thump that came from the vessel's wall.
"No time!" Mario said loudly. "Bowser must have found us already. Let's fire this puppy up!"
"How?!" Broshi cried with frantic realization. "Only Aid knows how to work this gizmo!"
Mario cursed, then glanced at the sorceress.
"She's still conscious," he stated. "Let's bring her with us to the cockpit. She can tell us how to work it from there!"
Broshi shook his head. "I don't-"
"You think there's another alternative?!" Mario shouted as another thump boomed through the ship. "Come on!"
Broshi nodded grimly. He scooped Aid into his arms, and the two of them scurried up to the cockpit as another loud thump pierced their ears. Upon reaching the desired ship area, Aid muttered the flight procedures, and Broshi quickly followed them. Soon, before another thump could rock the Mecha Chopper, the ship's engine roared to life, and the odd vessel soared into the sky.
"So, where are we heading next?" Mario asked. An hour had passed since the fight, and the Mecha Chopper was cruising swiftly over the Water Region. Broshi had now mastered the controls, and Aid had been helped down to the lower level to rest and heal. Things were not looking good for the young sorceress, though; the blood-loss and overall fatigue was taking its toll.
"Aid's health is our first priority," Broshi replied, swerving tightly to the left to avoid smashing into a seagull. "That mean's we need to find a healer. Fairly quickly too, I might add."
"Right," Mario acknowledged, unfolding Broshi's map of Plateaus and scanning it. "We should be close to the Fire Regions border, which means-"
"Which means we're near Ashton," Broshi interrupted. "It's a fairly large city that was constructed on the very edge of the Fire Region, which is surrounded by a chain of volcanos. I imagine there would be a fairly able healer there that could help us."
"Great," Mario said, folding up the map. "How close are we?"
"I think I see it now," Broshi answered, keeping one hand on the controls and pointing down with the other. From within the semi-sphere of glass, Mario could see a large bunch of buildings clustered next to a large, steaming volcano. Unnoticed by the plumber, they had left the Orgal Ocean's shore far behind and had traveled several miles inward.
"Well, let's bring her down, then," Mario exclaimed.
"Aye," Broshi said, saluting with his free hand, and tilting the controls with his other. The Mecha Chopper's engine whirled loudly, and the vessel tilted, allowing it to enter a silky, swooping dive toward the city of Ashton.
The city of Juagan was crammed with tourists, thousands of them, crawling and scampering about the city like a swarm of irritated ants. Navigating the city was nearly impossible now; the streets, the entrances to shops, even the gate to the city itself was clogged and inaccessible due to the flocks. The Trek, perhaps the most fabled racing event on all of Plit, had come at last.
"Move out of the way!" a voice snapped, piercing the air in an area close to the Main Gate. A gaggle of nearby tourists screamed and darted away, leaving a very satisfied Rio in their wake.
"Finally," the ghost said longingly, peering about the city as he floated inward. "It's been a while, I have to admit. But..." the Boo paused as he floated down Juagan's Main Street, "these tourists sure do hamper the visual."
Rio's location orb was pounding like mad as he progressed, and seemed to quicken even moreso as he approached a large building where tourists seemed to grow like fungus. Indeed, the front entrance to the building was completely clogged, forcing Rio, who was still not able to vanish, to find a different route. Grumbling, the Boo took a wide curve away from the crowd, headed for the rear of the building, scanning for any kind of back entrance.
After a moment, the ghost spotted one and briskly floated over to it. The Boo shot his hand forward and tried to swing the door open, but quickly found that it was secured with a padlock. Taking shifty glances to either side of himself to make sure no one was watching, Rio drew his blade and made a firm slash toward the lock. The blade impacted and cleanly snapped the padlock from the door, landing in the thin grass with a soft thud.
Once more Rio gripped the handle of the door and pulled back, easily swishing the door open. Crossing the threshold and carefully closing the door behind him, Rio examined his surroundings. He had entered a fairly large room that was cluttered with crates, trophies, metals, lists, and other such items. Said items were placed haphazardly on several long tables that stretched across the room. After a quick scan, the Boo spotted what he was looking for; attached to a loop of string, forming a necklace of sorts, was a cloudy, pale-green sphere.
Rio smiled greedily, showing his fangs as he swiftly swooped toward the Wind Gem. Just as he was five feet away though, he heard the door behind him swing open. Muttering long strings of curse words, Rio quickly dived behind a large box of powdered milk. Hearing several steps of footsteps, Rio carefully peeked over the box.
A half-dozen Mushroomers sporting obscene amounts of upper body strength had filed in and begun grabbing boxes of medals and trophies. One of the Mushroomers began to stride in Rio's direction, forcing the ghost to fully sink behind his cover in order to remain undetected. After a few seconds, Rio stole another glance, hissing another inaudible curse as he watched the Mushroomer snatch the Wind Gem from the table and add it to a box of medals he had been carrying. Rio ducked behind the box once more and waited patiently for the Mushroomers to grab everything they needed and exit the room.
Rio then quickly emerged from behind the box and hovered toward the door himself, opening it a creek and examining the outside before fully exiting. The coast was clear, and Rio slid silently out of the building and made a beeline for a thick pine tree, where he concealed himself once more. Rio waited another moment, further scanning the surrounding area for another minute until he was sure his stealth had been satisfactory. Seemingly, it had.
The ghost emerged from the tree's foliage, and was about to float away when a sly, entertained voice came from above him.
"Pretty slick, buddy," the voice said while Rio turned and glanced frantically about to pinpoint its source. "But I have to ask you: why didn't you just teleport in there?"
"Who are you?" Rio said, continuing his visual search of the pine tree.
There was no verbal answer. Instead, the branches of the pine quivered for a moment, and a small Koopa Troopa whisked out of its foliage and landed gracefully on all fours. The Koopa looked up and smirked at Rio.
"I am Rejini," the Koopa said, still grinning as he offered the Boo a hand.
Rio took it, and gave the Koopa a good visual scan. It was, without a doubt, the slimmest, fittest, and most agile Koopa Troopa Rio had ever come across. Its shell, which bore a dull yellow color, was extremly flat, and seemed entirely aerodynamic. Aside from the shell, the Koopa was also clad in a bright red headband, a pair of tight, white-colored gloves that were cut off at the middles of the fingers, and a pair of expensive, spiked running shoes.
"A pleasure," Rio said, dropping his hand.
Rejini made a tiny nod and studied Rio for a moment before asking, "So, what was it that you were after in there?"
Rio was surprised by this question. "What was I- I certainly wasn't going to steal-"
"A lie," Rejini said simply, cutting the ghost off. "I was watching you during the entire escapade, sir."
"Rio," the ghost said tartly. "Name's Rio."
"Of course," the Koopa said smartly, making a motion of apology. "But please respond to my inquiry, Rio: what is it that you were aiming to pilfer?"
"One of the, uh, medals," Rio replied, half lying.
"A medal?" Rejini repeated. "Why?"
"Dos it really matter whether or not-" Rio began, stopping as he caught another look at Rejini's spiked shoes. "Wait... you're a racer, aren't you?"
"That I am," Rejini acknowledged.
"And you're entering The Trek tomorrow?"
Rio mulled this over for a moment. "Then you must know what kind of awards the racers receive for placing high."
"That I do," Rejini stated.
"Then do you know," Rio said, "who gets awarded that... special medal? You know, the one with the cloudy green gem attached to it?"
"Then that's what you want," Rejini said. "Right?"
"Answer my question first," Rio snapped.
"First place, Rio," Rejini recited. "First place wins the gem medal."
Rio's insides sank. "First... first place?"
"That's correct," Rejini echoed.
Rio added more curse words to his already impressive lineup, and began to "pace" once more. "That makes things a lot tougher, doesn't it? Winning The Trek?"
"Are you planning to enter?" Rejini asked.
"No," Rio replied. "They don't allow ghosts anyway. You should know that."
"Then how do you plan to obtain the gem?" Rejini questioned. "Are you planning on me to win it for you?"
Rio floated in place awkwardly, opening his mouth and closing his mouth several time before saying, "Well, yeah."
"Doesn't seem like much of a deal to me," Rejini observed. "Why win The Trek so that I can award you part of my prize?"
"I'll help you win," Rio said, his mind flowing with plans of sabotage and trickery. "I'll... I'll make sure that you win."
Rejini shook his head. "That is cheating, I'm afraid. I could not live with myself if I did not win The Trek with honor and integrity."
Rio rolled his eyes and bit his teeth together. "Fine. I'll pay you to win it for me. How about that?"
"There is no need," Rejini said. "If I win, honorably, I might add, then you may have the gem."
Rio blinked. "Really?"
"Yes," Rejini replied. "On one condition: you tell me why you want it, being entirely truthful of course."
"Well, I just think I'd be worth a lot," Rio said quickly, having used the lie before.
Rejini shook his head. "If all you wish to do is sell the gem, then we have no deal."
"Fine," Rio said bitterly. "Fine. I'll tell you my little tale."
"Excellent," Rejini said cheerily, striding past Rio and away from the tree.
"Hold up," the ghost said loudly, floating after Rejini. "Where are you-"
"To my house," Rejini finished. "Dusk approaches and the air is cooling. Your tale is perhaps a long one, and it should be told in the proper storytelling location."
"By a fire, holding steaming cups of hot chocolate," Rejini finished.
Rio shot Rejini a blank stare as they continued progressing. "Ghosts don't drink stuff, Rejini. We're kind of... dead."
Rejini laughed warmly. "Perhaps, then, I will make some for just myself. Do you possess any objections?"
Shaking his head, Rio made no reply as he followed Rejini on to the main road and out of sight.
Some moments later, hidden deep in the branches and needles of the thick pine tree, two oval orbs that glowed an eerie yellow bore coldly in the direction that Rio had gone. The branches gave a soft shudder, and the orbs flickered suddenly out.
The sun had risen, and sparkled down upon the magnificent Toad Town Clock Tower, showing anyone who bothered to look that it was five minutes until eleven. Some miles away, stationed impatiently by the Front Gate, was Mecha Guy. He held a tight grip on his bright red tool box, and shot occasional glances behind him. Just as the Clock Tower began to toll eleven, Mecha Guy spotted Luigi jogging toward him. He arrived several seconds later, his gloved hands resting on his knees as he puffed and panted.
"You need to get in shape," Mecha Guy teased, smirking up at the plumber.
"Hey," Luigi wheezed, straightening himself, "at least I got here on time."
"That's true," Mecha Guy admitted, his voice trailing off just as the Clock Tower chimed its eleventh ring.
All was silent for a moment as Luigi and Mecha Guy stood in still silence, gazing stiffly at the gate's opening. Soon a soft whirling could be heard, and Mecha Guy tensed, readying himself. Luigi glanced down at the Shyster.
"That's a Koopa Copter, isn't it?" the plumber asked, preparing a battle stance as well.
"Indeed," Mecha Guy said shortly.
Soon the whirling noise became almost overwhelming, and the pair of heroes glanced up to see the Koopa Copter, manned by Wendy Koopa, lower itself in next to the Front Gate. The female Koopa gracefully leapt out of the chopper and landed silkily, withdrawing a short, jewel-tipped wand from her shell while doing so.
"Hello, boys," Wendy said, smirking at the pair as she strode though the Main Gate's stone arch. "Anxiously awaiting my arrival, huh?"
"Oh yes, definitely," Mecha Guy said sarcastically. "Remind my to ask for an autograph after I get through trashing you."
Wendy narrowed her eyes with distaste at Mecha Guy's comment, and quickly pointed her wand at the Shyster.
"Remember this weapon, plumber boy?" Wendy asked, addressing Luigi.
"Vaguely," Luigi replied dully. "I was pretty sure that you had lost it, though."
"Oh, the original one, yes," Wendy said. "But I've made a few... upgrades."
Without further warning, the Koopaling shot a small, white ring decorated with pink stripes from the tip of her wand. Instead of firing at the pair of heroes though, the projectile did something strange; it swooped upwards and began to circle Luigi and Mecha Guy in the air, expanding its circumference while doing so.
"Amusing," Mecha Guy said tartly, bringing his gaze back down from the ring to Wendy. "But if you expect me to wait around while your little attack charges up, think again."
"Oh really?" Wendy asked, making a sudden vertical slashing movement with her wand. Quick as lightning, the floating ring swept downwards and, as soon as it circled Mecha Guy and Luigi, reduced to its original size. Both heroes were now back-to-back, bound tightly around the waste by Wendy's ring. Unable to keep their balance in such an awkward position, the two heroes stumbled and toppled over.
Wendy let out a shrill, high-pitched laugh and ambled over to where Luigi and Mecha Guy were lying, unable to maneuver themselves. Upon reaching them, the female Koopa dug into her shell and withdrew a small explosive, taking the time to slam her high-heels in Luigi's face while doing so. After pressing a few buttons, the explosive flashed a number sixty and began slowly reducing. Satisfied, Wendy leaned down and set the explosives a few feet away from the pair.
"I'd love to watch you two fools perish in a burst of flame," Wendy admitted, righting herself and striding away, "but I have work to do. Work that includes organizing my new Kingdom." The Koopaling let out another shrieking laugh, sweeping away.
"Wow," Mecha Guy said. "She just made the biggest amateur villain mistake like... ever."
"And what was that, exactly?" Luigi questioned.
"Assuming that heroes are going to die without knowing for sure," Mecha Guy explained. "Especially in an easily escapable situation like this."
"Well," Luigi said, his voice beginning to grow a tad nervous, "we only have a half-minute, so..."
"Aye," Mecha Guy agreed, eyeing the explosive. "Well, I think it's only a simple matter of moving ourselves out of the explosive's range which, judging by the size of the bomb, will be fairly easy."
"Well, we can't exacting stand up," Luigi pointed out.
"True," Mecha Guy agreed. "But we can always roll."
Luigi nodded, and began to rotate his body in a way that would help get a roll going. As soon as he tried though, a powerful jolt of electricity shot from the surrounding ring and disabled his movement with a wave of pain.
"Well," Mecha Guy said after a moment's pause, "I guess these things were designed better than I thought."
"Any more bright ideas?" Luigi asked anxiously. "We have ten seconds left."
"How does this sound?" a warm, friendly voice came from above the pair. "An unexpected hero shows up and leaps into action, saving the protagonists from inedible doom!"
The pair glanced up and saw Yoshi, THE Yoshi, bound through the Main Gate and quickly dive toward Wendy's explosive. With only seconds remaining, the dino scooped up the bomb and hurled it toward Toad Town, where it exploded, accompanied with the sound of a yelling Mushroomer and several breaking windows.
Yoshi's scratched the side of his head. "Uh, oops?"
"Some hero you are," Mecha Guy said, shaking his head.
Yoshi glanced down at Luigi and Mecha Guy. "You must be Mecha Guy then," the dino said softly, examining the Shyster. "You're the one who called me down, right?"
"That's correct," Mecha Guy acknowledged. "Now if you'd help us out of here, we can stop Wendy before she blows up half the town."
"Oh," Yoshi said. "Right."
The dino reached down and, as soon as he touched the ring, was shot back in a wave of electrical pain.
"Well," Yoshi said, regaining himself, "I'm thinking it's a no-go."
"Then what are we supposed to do?" Luigi asked. "Sit here, bound by this thing for all eternity?"
"Hardly," Mecha Guy replied. "If Yoshi can get Wendy's wand, which controls the ring, he could free us."
"If I can figure out how it works," Yoshi said. "And it seems that getting it could end up being a bit of a chore."
"What other choice do we have?" Mecha Guy exclaimed. "Hustle, man! Stop Wendy! Save us! Save the kingdom!"
"I don't need a bloody pep talk," Yoshi shouted back at Mecha Guy as jogged off. "I'm not exactly an amateur when it comes to the heroing business, okay?"
"Move," Wendy growled as she approached the Mushroom Kingdom castle, where two Mushroomers stood, blocking the entrance.
"N-no!" one of the guards stammered, raising his spear. "We won't let you pass!"
Wendy smirked. "Oh really?" The female Koopaling quickly dug her heels into the first guard's gut, while striking the other down with the butt of her wand. Kicking the fallen guards out of the way, the pink-shelled Koopa swung open the front doors and entered.
No other guards confronted Wendy, who was intent on finding the princess, as she moved through the castle. This took time though, mostly because Wendy knew there was no need for her to hurry after "destroying" the town's two protectors.
After a few minutes of search, the Koopaling came across a door that led to a lengthy spiral staircase. Slightly interested, Wendy descended, and soon found herself in the Castle Dungeon, where a group of four other Koopa Characters suddenly greeted her.
"Wendy?!" Larry sputtered from his cell, leaning his body against the steel bars to get a better look.
"What are you doing down here?" Ludwig asked, puzzled, as he glanced at her from a cell of his own.
"I'm doing some sight-seeing," Wendy said, flashing rows of pointed teeth at her brothers as she strolled by their cells.
"Sight-seeing?" Larry repeated. "Why in the-"
"Because," Wendy cut in, "those clowns that apparently imprisoned you idiots have fallen at my claws."
"WHAT?!" Roy shouted. "You killed da' Marios?"
"Of course not!" Ludwig snapped at Roy. "What century are you in, you fool? Mario is long gone!"
"She means Luigi, though!" Morton said. "And that yellow Shy Guy mechanic! Man, he was brutal! And clever! And quick! What an enemy, I tell you! He was way tougher than those stupid-"
"Hush, idiot," Wendy snarled. "Ludwig is correct. Mario seems to have disappeared, but Luigi and that Shyster are completely done for. Meaning... there's no one left in the entire city that can stop me!"
"Or really?" Yoshi, who had finally caught up with Wendy, appeared at the foot of the stairs, arms folded and eyes narrowed.
Wendy whirled around and leapt back in surprise. "Yoshi?!"
"Who were you expecting?" Yoshi replied.
"No one!" Wendy barked. "But it doesn't matter! As irksome as your surprise appearance is, you're nothing but a tiny thorn in my side!"
Yoshi said nothing in response, instead choosing to launch himself at Wendy, catching her off guard. The green Yoshi placed a hard roundhouse kick in the Koopaling's stomach, and then placed a punch on her lower jaw that sent the Koopa flying several yards backwards.
The Koopaling gracefully recovered though, and was able to maneuver away from Yoshi's next assail by sliding to her side. She then quickly brandished her wand and fired another ring from its tip. Just as before, the ring zipped into the air and began to circle Yoshi, growing at the same time.
Snarling, Yoshi leapt at Wendy again, but the sly Koopaling was able to avoid it once more. By now the ring had reached a fair size and begun to lower itself toward Yoshi, just as the dino whipped around and ducked a claw swipe via Wendy. However, knowing the devastating effect the ring could have if it captured him, Yoshi made his best effort to leap high into the air as the circular device closed around him.
And he was successful... almost. The ring managed to catch Yoshi's foot, warping the dino's sense of balance and forcing him to floor. As Wendy launched a kick in the dino's direction, Yoshi made an attempt to dodge but found that he couldn't; the unbearably shocking sensation received from the ring had completely disabled him.
Yoshi felt Wendy's heal dig into his face, and let out a wail of rage. With an enormous effort, the dino forcefully kicked off one of his orange-colored boots, taking Wendy's circular shock device with it. Satisfied and able to move once more, Yoshi got to his feet as Wendy let out a piercing cry.
"Ooooooow..." Larry moaned, covering his ears.
"Oh, shut up!" Wendy snarled. "No comments from the peanut gallery!"
"Well," Ludwig began, "I'll have you know that I find this skirmish to be rather visually pleasing."
"Lovely," Yoshi muttered, swinging his booted foot toward Wendy's wand hand. The Koopaling was not able to counter in time, and the wand sailed from her grip, between a line of jail bars, and into the Roy's cell, which was nearest.
"Well, well," Roy taunted, moving slowly toward the wand. "What have we here?"
"Give it to me, Roy!" Wendy ordered forcefully, blocking another blow from Yoshi.
"Why should I?" Roy questioned, picking up the wand and examining it. "This isn't a team game, ya know."
"I DON'T CARE!" Wendy shrieked while one of Yoshi's kicks plowed her into the dungeon wall. "Give it here!"
Roy, after yelling a rather crude remark regarding his sister, took the ring-firing wand and slammed it forcefully it against the wall of his cell. The jewel on the wand's tip shattered, and the hand smacked uselessly onto the floor.
"NOOOO!!!" Wendy bellowed, allowing herself to be smacked by another hit via the dino.
Roy laughed mercilessly. "Ha! That's what ya get for bein' a-"
"YOU!!!" Wendy roared, cutting Roy off and pointing at him as she recovered. "I can't believe you! You're such an-"
"As much as I like the fact that your squabble is distracting you," Yoshi interrupted, halting a stream of curses, "your yelling is really taking a toll on my poor ears."
"Join the club," Larry added.
"QUIET!!!" Wendy screamed, swatting Yoshi back with a kick. "Once I'm done tearing Yoshi limb from limb, I'll make sure to find a suitable punishment for you all."
"Time out!" Ludwig called. "I didn't do any-"
"Shut up, Geek Boy!" Wendy snarled, dashing toward Yoshi. "I'm trying to concentrate!"
Wendy's newfound rage seemed to have a tremendous effect on her overall combat skills. Yoshi, not able to make any assails of his own through the swirling hurricane of claws, fists, and fire, was barely able to avoid the blunt of the atacks in an attempt to remaining standing. Soon though, Wendy found her mark, and pummeled the dino using the advantage. After several more painful assails, the female Koopaling pinned Yoshi against the stone wall and flicked a claw at the bottom of the dino's chin with her free hand.
"Ready to die, Dino Brain?" Wendy asked venomously. "I sure hope you are."
"Wow," Roy said, shivering. "Did she just get all freaky, or what?"
"I told you to-" Wendy began, turning her head about face, only to gaze up into the eyes of a certain lurpy plumber.
"Hello, Clairice," Luigi said jokingly, tearing the Koopaling off Yoshi and hurling her backwards.
"Just in time," Yoshi said, coughing while he regained his footing.
"Yeah, it usually works like that," Mecha Guy informed, appearing at the foot of the spiral stairs.
"But you two are dead!" Wendy yelled, pointing her claw unnecessarily toward the two new arrivals.
Mecha Guy smirked. "In the eyes of an amateur villain, yes."
"Ha ha!" Roy taunted. "Wendy made a noob mistake!"
"SHUT UP!!!" Wendy screeched, her scream causing everyone in the proximity to flinch and cover their ears. "I'LL BEAT YOU ALL!!!"
The Koopaling lunged at Luigi, but was soon halted by Mecha Guy, who dashed to the Koopaling's side and landed a blow with his toolbox. Taking advantage of the attack, Luigi landed several blows of his own, forcing Wendy to retreat to her side, where an angry Yoshi awaited.
"Dino Brain this," the Yoshi snarled, landing a fierce head shot with his covered foot.
Moaning, Wendy staggered backwards holding her head. After a few seconds, the injured Koopa crumpled to the floor, defeated.
"Aaaaaw..." Mecha Guy complained. "She still owes me an autograph!"
Yoshi stared down at the Shyster. "Um, what?"
Luigi rolled his eyes. "Never mind, Yoshi. Never mind."
The air was bitter and cold. Toad Town was dark and silent, the source of light came from the moon, which glowed eerily in the cloudless sky. None of the townsfolk were out and about on this cold night, most were nestled warmly in their beds, their minds cluttered with dreams and simple pleasures.
The girl in white plodded along slowly, her arms hugged close to her body, the nippy air freezing her breath as she exhaled. The girl was full of fear. She had no recognition of where she was, the town seemed like a constant shadow. There was nothing she could do but keep moving. But how could she? It wouldn't be long now before her body temperature would dip too low and she could no longer stay conscious.
It wasn't long now. Time seemed to creep in slow motion as the cold over took her. The girl fell to her knees and let out a tiny whimper. She needed help. But no one was there. There was no help. All was lost. Lost in the dark. Lost in the cold. She let out another deep breath and fell forward, her torso slamming against the cold cement.
A soft voice whispered in her ear. "What are you doing all alone in the cold, little girl?" The girl could do nothing. She was frozen to the ground. None of her muscles seemed to respond. "You do not seem to be dead," the voice continued. "You are breathing. But why are you here? And who are you? Is there a reason you cannot answer me?"
The voice paused. "So you cannot answer. Very well. It is most unfortunate to see a young and beautiful girl such as yourself alone in the cold like this... even for those with the blackest hearts. Yes..." The voice paused again. "Someone comes... I'll leave for now, my dear. But when the time comes we will meet again. Yes..."
Aid awoke suddenly, her entire body drenched in cold sweat. Her entire body shook. That wasn't just a dream... Aid thought, her heart pulsing out of control. That actually happened. In Toad Town, and that voice... She shivered. That voice seems so familiar. Only... only it had so much more... edge...
As her thoughts settled, Aid peered around at her surroundings, suddenly realizing that she was in bed situated in room that she had never seen before, and was heavily wrapped in layers of bandages. Growing a bit queazy, Aid remembered her skirmish with Kamek, and how easily he was able to hurt her.
Suddenly, the door across from her slid open, and a figure, a Shaman by the looks of him, drifted into the room. The figure wore a deep purple robe with a hood that completely shaded his facial features, apart from a long beard that fell from his face and a pair of lime-green eyes that seemed to glow.
"I see that you have awakened," the Shaman said in a deep voice, placing himself on a wooden stool that rested near a grand bookshelf. "This is good. Your friends will be happy to know that you are well."
"Where are they?" Aid asked quickly, sitting up and adjusting her pillow. "I mean, I don't even know where I am, so..."
"Calm yourself," the Shaman said. "Any inquiry you may possess will be dealt with in due time, do not worry."
There was a pause, during which the Shaman seemed to have produced a pipe out of nowhere. He lit it with a dab of magic, and lifted the pipe to his lips.
The Shaman glanced at Aid. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
Aid stared at the Shaman, blinking several times before saying, "Um... Go ahead."
"Excellent," the Shaman said. "Now then, I suppose it is time that I tell you who I am." He paused, issuing a stream of smoke from his lips before continuing. "My name is Merlox, second cousin of the great Merlon," he paused again, then added, "twice removed."
Aid simply nodded, having no idea who Merlin was, or what Merlox had meant by "twice removed".
"You are currently stationed at my house," Merlox continued. "Your two friends, Mario and Broshi I believe were their names, stopped by in a bit of a rush. They told me that you had hurt yourself in battle and needed a medical assistance as soon as possible.
"It was wise of your friends to choose me," the Shaman continued. "No creature possessing inept magical could heal the wounds you had received."
"You were the one that healed me, then?" Aid asked, eyeing the Shaman, who nodded. "You have my deepest gratitude, then. My condition was rather..."
"Bleak?" Merlox finished. "I believe so as well. Those cuts were not normal wounds. Magic caused, I am sure."
"That's correct," Aid acknowledged, slightly afraid that she would be giving too much information away if she described them further.
Merlox sensed this, but did not persue the matter. "You have been resting here for a full day," he said, watching Aid's eyes widen with amusement. "The town you currently occupy is known as Ashton. It exists on the boarder of the Fire and Water Regions, and is stationed very close to a large, inactive volcano. That is where your friends are now."
"What?" Aid cried. "Why would they want to go into the volcano?"
"Because," the Shaman replied, "that is where the Fire Gem resides."
Aid did a bit of a double take. "The Fire- Wait. How do you know about the gems?"
Merlox let out a soft chuckle. "My dear girl," he said, "I have lived as Shaman in this realm for a very, very long time. My knowledge concerning Plateaus in quite immense, and something as important as the Elemental Gems would certainty not go unnoticed."
"So, how much do you know about them?" Aid questioned.
"Far more then you," Merlox answered. "Which is why you, as well as your friends, need to be informed. The magic surrounding the gems is both very immense and complex. But, if you are indeed searching for them after the Relocation, then you need to know."
"Have you told Mario or Broshi these things?" Aid inquired.
The Shaman shook his head. "Both were too anxious to retrieve the Fire Gem once they learned of its existence to listen. Too anxious, even, to stay by your side to make sure that you recovered properly."
"They did the right thing," Aid said firmly. "The Gems are our top priority. It's essential that we-"
"Yes, I know," Merlox interrupted. "As I just explained, my knowledge concerning the Gems is great."
"Fine, then," Aid said, leaning back. "You will tell me your information, and I will relay it back to Mario and Broshi upon their return."
"My thoughts exactly," the Shaman agreed. "Now open your ears and listen well.
"Many years before the modern day, the occupants of Plateaus relied heavily upon one they referred to as the Watcher. The Watcher was a deity in every sense of the word; it was immensely powerful and kind, lived high up in the clouds, and answered to the pleas and wishes of its people.
"The Watcher contained powers from each of Plateaus' seven Regions: Earth, Water, Fire, Ice, Wind, Light, and Shadow. Each segment of his power was contained and controlled, to some extent, by the Elemental Gems, which the Watcher himself fashioned. He gave each Gem to the leaders of each Region, and told each leader to watch over the Gems and guard them safely.
"But of course, greed began to consume the leaders, and they eventually fought among themselves to obtain all seven Gems. A particularly crafty and powerful leader, Venhemourge, who was also a skilled wizard and leader of the Shadow Region, believed that once he possessed all seven Gems, that he could control the Watcher. With the power of the sacred deity, he believed he could unite all of Plateaus under his rule.
"And so, through several years of battles and bloodshed, he was able to successfully obtain all seven Gems. Once in his control, he cast a horribly evil and dark spell on the Gems, one that he believed would allow him to control the Watcher. The spell succeeded; but not in the way Venhemourge had hoped. Instead of placing the Watcher under his control, the dark magic had transformed the deity into a mirror image of himself, a merciless killing machine.
"As chaos erupted throughout all of Plateaus, Venhemourge soon realized his mistake. Taking the Gems, along with all his spellbooks and magical items, the wizard slipped into the hiding. This was because, apart from liquifying towns and hordes of Plitians, the new Watcher was quite bent on taking back the seven Gems, which were rightfully his.
"Venhemourge was clever though, and hid well. Before being discovered he was able to cast a counterspell on the Gems, sealing the Watcher into its domain in the sky. The Watcher was far too powerful to be sealed away completely however; his presence still existed in the Elemental Gems. If the Gems were gathered and flooded with a bit of boosting energy, the Watcher could return once more.
"Obviously not wanting this to happen again, Venhemourge enchanted the Gems with a series of defensive spells. The first was a repelling enchantment; when all seven Gems were gathered together, they would immediately begin to disperse on their own will. Second was a spell that nullified the first attempt at freeing the Watcher; if the Gems were gathered and energy was applied, an explosion would occur, and the Gems would sail to the four corners of Plateaus, returning to their separate Regions.
"The third," Merlox gave Aid a meaningful glance, "is you."
Aid's eyes widened in surprise. "It's... me?"
"Yes," the Shaman continued. "It is you. No spell could deny the Gem's activation a second time, so instead, the first time would trigger the appearance of a guardian spell-user, one who matched the power and strength of the one who gathered the Gems originally. This guardian would appear near a "grand hero", and together, they would set out to retrieve the Gems before they fell in the wrong hands once more.
"Which," Merlox eyed Aid once more, "it seems that you have."
Aid did not respond; the spell-user simply continued to gaze unblinkingly toward the Shaman.
"The last defense is the most important," Merlox continued, "so take careful note. If you and your companions do indeed fail, and the Watcher is resurrected, there is still hope. Venhemourge's final defense created an attachment to the summoner and the Watcher himself. If the Watcher's summoner were to perish, the Watcher would be taken with him.
Venhemourge had wanted to create even more defenses, but the final spell, which required more energy than you could imagine, ended up killing him through overuse of energy. But not before the grand wizard dispersed the Gems to their original locations, where he hoped that they would rest from that point on."
The Shaman paused. "Do you think you can remember the general gist of my tale and relay it to your comrades?"
"Yes," Aid promised. After Merlox's tale ceased, the female spell-user suddenly realized how intensely hungry she was, realizing she hadn't consumed anything for over a day.
"You must be hungry," Merlox said, practically reading Aid's mind. "I will gather your sustenance, and perhaps we can discuss less pressing issues."
With a flourish and the creak of a door, Merlox turned and swept out of sight.