Never Trust a Newcomer

By Kaska Koopa

Chapter Five

As the interview neared its end, Ludwig asked Karma one last thing. Grinning shyly, he asked, ”Do you have a day off everything? Education, military, etc?”

To this Karma, bewildered yet somehow knowing what her fiancé was going to ask, replied, ”Sure. Next week okay?”

His grin stretching from ear to ear, Ludwig said, ”Oh yeah! I have two tickets to an amusement park, you see, and I thought that if you and I went, our relationship would be…” he paused, blushing, “more peaceful. What do you think?”

Karma could only blink and stare at him. Her mind was spinning. He just asked me out! I… I don’t know what to say! She wanted to slap him, yet she wanted to embrace him hard. The mind can do many funny things when exposed to shocking things. Instead of doing those two actions, she found she could only nod her head.

Ludwig patted her on the shoulder and whispered gently in her ear, ”I know how you feel. First things are pretty embarrassing, aren’t they?” He chuckled and stood up. “We’ll both have to go our different ways for now. In a certain country, they say that sleeping for the prize to come is the best. Let’s go.”

Leaving Karma dumbfounded and blushing as if her face was on fire, he began walking towards his room. Karma soon followed suit.

The next morning, Teela came back for what she had come for the day before. She picked up her knapsack and dusted off... well, dust. Grimacing with disgust, she looked upwards. Pieces of the ceiling were swirling down towards the floor in lazy circles. For one grotesque moment Teela thought it looked like a very bad case of dandruff. Thinking about it this way made her feel queasy.

Something felt off-key this morning… very off-key. It was as if something sinister was working its way inside the castle at a slow but determined rate. She shuddered. Many things that didn’t feel right were happening at the same time… like Kaska, for instance. He looked like… it was too difficult to describe. She just didn’t like it. Even her agility and speed didn’t seem helpful this time. Perhaps staying away from the Keep was better for now…

Meanwhile, Bowser had just caught up with Kaska and tapped him on the shoulder. The young Koopa turned around, his expression quizzical. Bowser whispered in a way a federal agent might trade information with a spy in another country. “I have a guestroom ready for you. Your going in and out doesn’t seem right. And we don’t want muddy footprints on rainy days.” The king said the final sentence with a smile.

Kaska grinned and said, “Now that’s a nice thought. Where did you get the room, though? I’ve heard that Karma lives in a small place unfit for royalty. And Karma is in a sense royalty, being the queen to be.”

Bowser grimaced at this. “Okay, so are you saying you’d like to trade places with her?”

“Ayuh. As I thought, a king like you is quick to notice what people are thinking.” Bowser was not exactly pleased to hear this, but nonetheless he led Kaska into Karma’s room.

Kaska looked around, now that he had more time to do so. He saw that there was a small cot- most probably uncomfortable for Karma- a desk, and a few other small, irrelevant things. But he also noticed that there was a black, furry creature wearing a strange-looking collar curled up in the corner of the room. Probably one of Ludwig’s inventions on its neck, he thought. Just then the animal looked up, revealing itself to be a cat.

“That’s Playful over there,” Bowser explained. “He’s very intelligent, and knows how to operate the Pet Translating Machine, so you won’t have to do it every time you want to talk to him.” The Koopa King attempted to pet the cat, but he hissed and swiped grumpily, missing Bowser by a hair. “Grumpy, too. I wonder who named this piece of fur.” He sighed. “If this is what you want, then so be it. I guess you care for the awful thing you call a friend.” With one final glance, Bowser left the dingy room for Kaska’s use.

Ussura spoke up from within the deepest crevices of his mind. Good thinking, kiddo. I’m going to need the privacy.

“Shut up,” Kaska mumbled. “I’m not your servant, and you’re not going to make me one. DAD knows how many you’ve used, and I’m going to kick your sorry behind.”

Don’t make me remind you what I can do… Like this, for example.

Kaska was suddenly hit by the barrage of memories his mind held. He remembered precisely what had happened during his early childhood; he remembered the good times, so long ago that he was shocked by this; he remembered the bad times, each memory becoming more and more recent. But most of all he remembered the fateful night when his parents were attacked. He remembered with chilling clarity the sweet, sickening stench of burning flesh, as his parents were cremated by the burning lump of wood, steel, and gasoline that used to be what he called home. He remembered the emotions that had run through him like bullets, the emotions that had pierced him like bullets; the panic, horror, and confusion all came back to him. He remembered the intense heat of the inferno caused by the army, the flames that seemed to taunt him, as if they were all a giant bully made by the dead Troopers his father had assassinated. He could remember everything, down to the most minor detail.

He sank to his knees, biting his lower lip and trying to hold in the screams trying to escape. He succeeded- barely- and clutched his forehead, so his fingers would disappear in his tangle of black hair. He gasped for air like someone who had come very close to drowning. He began breathing heavily, his hands on the floor.

Told ya, Ussura said gleefully in a sing-song voice. You’re no match for me.

“You’re wrong,” Kaska snarled through gritted teeth. “I know your little weakness, too. The thing that I have so little left in me is it… And don’t play dumb with me, you.” At this Ussura hesitated, and Kaska could sense uncertainty in him, if only the smallest bit… Kaska grinned. He at least had a chance, all right.

The following week, Ludwig and Karma went to the amusement park, or PlitLand, as promised. There, they spent saved up money on the most thrilling rides they had ever ridden, bought cotton candy- in other words, they had the most fun they had had in years. Both promised themselves that they would never fight with their fists or sharp tongues again, and that they would always work together on big projects, be it a plan to defeat the Mario Bros, or anything else for that matter.

They didn’t think they would have to do so from the next day on.

“Analysis: code fifteen, code fifteen, immediate investigation necessary, victim dead of unknown cause, most likely heart attack. Repeat, code fifteen, code fifteen, immediate investigation necessary, victim dead of unknown cause, most likely heart attack.” A Koopa, dressed in a green military uniform, sent his voice blaring through the Keep. A soldier was dead on Bowser’s premises, and that was impossible unless Mario had broken in. And Mario was at home, drinking coffee and reading the Mushroom Times.

Henrico Koopa, an old geezer with about twenty years of seniority on the major, had been found spread-eagled on the floor of his room. The servant had come into the room with Henrico’s coffee, and had let out a shrill scream. Henrico’s soldiers had alerted the major, and he had called the detectives with code fifteen: murder within Keep premises. And that brought him where he was now, with his own soldiers scurrying about. Detectives brought a stretcher and dumped the body unceremoniously onto it, waiting for the doctor to perform an autopsy so the exact cause of death could be defined.

A long, unpleasant day was waiting ahead.

Read on!

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