That night after dinner, Ludwig asked Karma to meet him at the veranda. When she agreed, he nearly let out a sigh of— unexpectedly— relief.
“Okay, so what you’re saying, Kooky, is that I go to the veranda at ten and wait for you?”
“Yeah. Or I could go early. Either way, I have something to discuss with you. Got it?”
“Got it. Now, I have some work to do, so I’ll be going.” She hurried to her room, and once she was out of sight and earshot, Ludwig let out his breath. Whew! he thought. So abruptly, so suddenly! I never thought it would come to this.
What he didn’t realize was that it never would have if one of his younger siblings hadn’t spiked his and Karma’s beverages with a particular type of potion— tasteless, odorless, and completely colorless. If he had been focusing on how his sibling had watched the pair, he would have noticed how they had been stared at. But, alas, he was too concentrated on how attractive Karma was. She isn’t that ugly, he thought. In fact, she isn’t ugly at all. She’s beautiful. Even as he returned to his room and started inventing, he couldn’t stop thinking about her, no matter how hard he tried. As a result, his invention sputtered and coughed and drooled oil as a wire hung loosely at the side. But this hardly bothered him at all— besides, what did he care if an invention or two didn’t work? He had more important matters at hand.
Meanwhile, Karma studied in her room, hoping desperately that she had the ability to write a twenty-page-long report on the rebellion occurring in the Forest of Illusion and what she thought needed to be done within two hours. She had already gotten her own private tutor— even though Bowser complained a lot about the costly fee, as few could tolerate teaching a hybrid— and she hadn’t done her homework that week due to many inconveniences such as Larry stealing her diary (no doubt he could pick the lock with Ludwig’s stolen equipment), or Roy, being a sore loser, challenging her again and again to a fitness competition. At least he lost every time, Karma thought. Shoving such thoughts away, she began writing furiously. Once she was past the first few pages, however, her thoughts began to drift away towards Ludwig. He’s not that bad, she thought. At least we get along. She suddenly realized what she was doing, and shook her head. Get a grip, girl! she scolded herself. I need to finish this by ten! …Hmm. Maybe I should act nicer to him. Kamek did tell me that my hostility caused him to call me names and all… I wonder if treating him better would make him treat me better… She soon got lost in her thoughts about Ludwig, and her handwritten report was stopped in mid-sentence. By the time she returned to reality, it was nine-thirty. Swearing, she resumed her work, constantly checking her clock.
Kaska entered her room without bothering to knock, but the Yoshi/Koopa didn’t so much as glance at him. He watched her for a while, and said softly, ”I believe you don’t have enough time… I can do it for you. Besides, we are friends…” His words trailed off into silence. It was obvious that she wasn’t listening. Karma’s hand streaked across the paper, the pen moving in small, fast blurs. Watching this, Kaska closed the door and walked down the hallway. He hoped he would be forgiven for the atrocious things that would take place next week, according to plan.
He walked down towards the first floor in silence.
At precisely ten o’clock PM, Ludwig sat down on a chair and recited the questions he was about to ask in his head. Where did she meet Kaska? When? What did he look like? Do you have a picture? He nodded to himself. As long as she didn’t answer negative to his last question, he would be able to confirm his fears. He grimaced. This boy could be a direct link to one of the most hideous crimes in the history of Bowser’s reign.
Seven years ago…
All of the top detectives were stumped. Thousands of loyal generals, lieutenants, and sergeants were being assassinated in grotesque ways. Strangulation, poisoning by venomous creatures, beheading, wrist-cutting, fatal concussion… the list seemed to grow with each investigation. Even a few of the more famous s(or infamous) detectives were dying horrible deaths. Bowser had begun to fear this mysterious killer— which meant this was pretty serious; Bowser never feared anyone, not even the Mario Bros. Even more unsettling was the lack of clues— strangled victims yielded no swollen heads, just pinched sarcophagi. The poisoned weren’t that generous, either. There was a small amount of the venom, but much less than enough to cause death. The headless and the bloodless were dry as well. There was no trace of blood, not even one drop. Even those who were hit hard on the head gave nothing away, such as a dent or hole in the skull; it seemed as if someone had squeezed the brain from the inside. Everyone investigating the case turned themselves insane, and a great many troops resigned or, in the older group, retired early.
This went on until one faithful day, Ludwig found out, purely by luck and code-hacking skills, who was responsible for this massacre. It was a guy whose codename was Oppenfuhrer, which meant “highest-ranking general” in German. Ludwig eventually tracked him down after a few years of toil, and sent an army of Koopa Troopas to kill him. He succeeded in doing so, but the army got excited and killed the whole family (that the mass murderer had a family shocked Ludwig). None of the army’s members got an award due to this, and Ludwig was appalled. He soon forgot about the codes he had used. However, one vital piece of information stayed with him during all these years: the killer had a scar on a black shell in the shape of a demon’s eye.
in and out very deeply, and prepared for the worst. I just hope I’m
Meanwhile, Kaska walked slowly towards the first floor, shuddering minutely with beads of perspiration clinging to his face. To anyone else, he might have looked physically ill, but as the owner of the body, he knew better. Muttering an oath, he fingered his necklace, toying with it almost absentmindedly. It had been years since his last encounter, but the feeling was all too familiar. He closed his eyes, fearing the worst and hoping for the best… He snapped his head upwards, toward the barely visible ceiling. The insides feeling as dry as a board and smooth as glass, he murmured, “Do not hide. I think we can negotiate these important matters.” He opened his eyes, and before him stood a youth who looked very much like him. The same black hair, the same structure, even the same necklace… one would have thought of them as twins, if not for the tremendous difference in the eyes. The other’s horrid eyes. At first glance, one would have seen them as dead and glassy, for they were shiny and wet with a little unhealthiness radiating out of them; how Kaska could talk without a trace of wariness was, in itself, interesting. But the boy could stand it nonetheless, and he spoke quite normally.
“Ussura, you must understand. Killing them is not the solution- that would only make matters worse. I despise violence, and I warn you not to ignore me. For DAD’s sake, listen!”
This was punctuated by vigorous shaking, and an otherworldly, cold voice answered, “Your foolishness disgusts me. Let them live? Bah! Let them get away without revenge?! Haark”—a sound of someone hawking ensued—“you must be more than stupid. Insane, perhaps.”
“Humph. Think as you wish. You have
no power over me whatsoever. You are nothing but an apparition unable to
conceal his zombie-eyes”—the other’s mouth curled up in a snarl—“and I
control everything. Got it? Everything. Now, go away, you’re unwelcome
here.” With that, he closed his eyes once more, and when he opened them
again, he was satisfied to see that Ussura had disappeared. Calm and himself
once more, he strode down the hallway to—unbelievably—melt through the
shadows of Bowser’s Keep. It was just so sad that, while he was right about
one thing, he was completely wrong about another. Or rather, he was close
one thing and dead-wrong on another. Ussura was something like an apparition,
not completely so but close enough to be one, but the fact was, he had
great power over Kaska. The decision to carry on what his father had stopped
by death— that was his work. The decision to spike Bowser’s breakfast coffee
with mood-improver— also his work. Poor Kaska had no idea of what was happening
with him, and that was just fine— no, excellent— with the other. Ussura
cackled silently, watching Kaska, gullible old Kaska, as he watched by
a means nobody but Kamek could reach. You’re getting it, old buddy,
oh yes you are, he thought, and burst into laughter again.
Before we go on, there are many things that need explaining. For now, we might need a little information about Kaska’s past.
“Go on! Don’t look back!” a harsh, weak voice said.
“Dad,… I can’t. It— It’s not what you usually say. To be mature, to not cower,” a young, disbelieving voice replied. A boy, instantly recognizable as Kaska, could be seen kneeling beside a fallen, severely injured Koopa. At this time, the boy did not have the dark, sleepless circles that underlined his eyes. He also had a black, scarred shell which gleamed in the fiery surroundings. Grimly, Kaska looked around him once more. His house was aflame, the family heirlooms either crackling in the intense heat or slowly melting within it. The woods nearby weren’t spared. Frantic creatures leapt, sprinted, or flew out of the densely packed trees, screeching and howling. He grit his teeth. They never should have moved to the land nearby the Forest of Illusion. The sick fiends found them even so, and a dead end in one direction facing a large army of enemies was not very helpful.
“FOOL!” his father snarled. In one final bout of effort, he grabbed his son’s chin and drew him closer.
“Do you think I would be using my reserves of energy dry if I didn’t care about you? Your mother and I loved you in all the ways parents can, and your sister, too…” His voice trailed away.
“Do not try to seek revenge for what happened tonight. Contact Karma, your only friend. And live. Do not follow my footsteps; even the greatest die of foolish deeds.” With that, Kaska’s father, a.k.a. the Oppenfuhrer, slumped down on the ground, his heartbeat stopping, his pulse disappearing. Kaska watched this with the impassive face of the assassin his father once was, yet confusion and grief tore through him on the inside. Why did his father accept being an assassin in the first place? What made him kill his own kind? Kaska’s mother had often expressed disapproval at her husband’s job. She insisted that, as a working mother, her income was good enough to support the family, if with a few restraints. So why didn’t she forbid him from doing what he did? The questions were endless. With his head hung low, Kaska rose. Tears streaming down his face, he picked a good-sized rock and flung it at the nearest soldier. With a hollow dud! the rock found its mark and knocked him out, sending him teetering over the edge. Splash! The soldier sank, never to rise again. Brief horror crept up Kaska’s mind, but a maniacal, almost insane glee filled him and blotted it out. He would not seek revenge on the organizer of this army, but he might as well stand and fight while he could. He bent to pick another rock up, but before he could, a Magikoopa muttered an incantation. From his wand issued a greenish, reddish beam, and it struck Kaska squarely in the chest. Struck by a fatal spell, he lost consciousness instantly. It was only because he was lucky and the Magikoopa had stuttered that Kaska was able to even survive the blast. The army slowly retreated, scavenging whatever riches it could find.
The fire blazed in the mockingly starry night sky.
Slamming her pen down, Karma finally finished her essay, rubbing her aching hand. She glanced up at the clock, and immediately bolted for the door.
The clock read seven minutes past ten.
Once at the veranda, she plopped herself on a chair, mumbling an apology. Ludwig, who didn’t seem to mind, offered her some clear, red liquid. After scrutinizing it carefully, she accepted a glass. Too formal, she thought. What does Kooky have in mind? Sipping at the red stuff— whatever it was, it tasted great— she spoke.
“What did you call me here for? I had to literally make the pen start smoking to finish my essay.” To this Ludwig replied in a tone she (Karma) knew all too well: his detective’s voice.
“I am gathering evidence on whether your friend is an escaped fugitive of an incident that occurred a few years ago.” Dumbfounded, she stared at him.
“What do you mean? Kaska didn’t do anything.”
“Exactly my point. He does not have a record at all. Face it, Karma. Everyone has a record, long or short. You, for instance, have been accused of trespassing and assaulting a royal member of the— no, Karma, any type of fighting, may it be oral or physical, is an assault.”
“So you’re saying that fights between siblings are also assaults.”
“Correct. We’re getting off the point here. Now, a question. Where exactly did you meet Kaska?”
“I think I met him… eight years ago. Or nine. I don’t quite remember.”
“Ooohkay… Next question. What did he look like?”
“He didn’t have the rings under his eyes, nor did he have the shadow covering the top half of his face. He did have the messy, black hair; that never changed. Also, he had a black shell. It was really black. Like the darkest abyss, I mean. It didn’t have any scars on it, real smooth.”
At this Ludwig’s face fell. It had no scar on it? The detective in his mind told him that such a fact was impossible. But he had to accept the truth. However, a small, stubborn part of his mind denied this fact. No no no no no no no no no no— he quickly shut that voice speaking in the back of his head. He resumed conversation with Karma, adopting a rather casual tone.
All of this was heard by Kaska. His face serene, he switched the tape recorder purchased on Earth off. So Karma and her little boyfriend were drinking wine and trying to find about the mighty son of the Oppenfuhrer? Interesting… He would have fun spearing the mad scientist.
Stuffing the tape recorder in a small bag, he turned to the hallway and began walking. While doing so, he met Teela and exchanged a few words with her. After finishing the conversation, he resumed walking and went downstairs. But Teela noticed something different about him. He wasn’t his usual self. He wasn’t just a little detached… he was someone else entirely. No, something else was better. Teela shuddered. She had met quite enough beings who were strange, and by what is called natural instinct, she knew she had met another one. Most of his face was as usual, but—
Teela suddenly tripped over a banana peel, and with some annoyance realized it was the twin’s prank in this area of the castle. Looking out of the window, she noticed that storm clouds were gathering, and decided to leave. With little to no effort, she teleported back to where her boat was floating in the sea.