Hooktail Castle was eerily silent.
Nothing but the shifting of footsteps and the occasional moaning grunt penetrated the muteness. The inside was completely dark, save for a few rooms where the roof was caved in and a shaft of light beamed down, illuminating the walls and floor. Its residents were not in their usual spots. The trodden paths that had footprints etched into them were not being walked on again, and the small piles of belongings had nobody resting amongst them for once. All the restless souls that inhabited the castle were gathered in one massive room called the Republic’s Rest. It was not an actual gathering hall; it was a series of rooms where the walls had been purposefully knocked down. The ceiling seemed bigger than ever before, now that room had been made.
The Dull Bones filled the Rest from wall to wall, standing around idly. Their dim yellow eyes stared straight ahead, only a few fidgeting and casting their glances to the side. Very few of these undead Koopas were intact. Some had bones missing from their ribcage; others were missing an entire limb. They didn’t seem to waver in spirit, though. Despite their eternally deathly state, they all had a renowned look of determination and vigor burning underneath their dusty bodies. Not all Dull Bones looked exactly like their brothers, however. Against the cracked right wall, a line of Dull Bones with light red eyes and spikes on their shells sat quietly. They seemed more individualistic than the other inhabitants of the room, but were a bit scatterbrained. They muttered amongst themselves and glanced around nervously.
But, ignoring all differences, every Dull Bones stood at attention and stared forward as a series of slow, purposeful strides made echoes on the stone floor.
From the shadows of an extra large hole made in the wall, a much different skeletal figure emerged onto a fallen stone pillar serving as a stage. His hands were folded behind his back, and his head was lurching forward and turned to the side, staring calmly at the millions of figures in the room. It was only when he was hit by a dim amount of light that his features were much more easily recognized.
First of all, he was intact. He didn’t lack any limbs or bones, and his skeleton wasn’t even cracked. That was enough for the Dull Bones to take attention, but other traits made them stare even harder. His bones themselves were a different color, marking him out prominently as the only Bones with bright red covering his whole body. His eyes were of a much less intense, soothing light blue that had a glow in the dark quality that made them shine. His mouth had no lower jaw. But that did not mean he was broken. Replacing the bottom half of his mouth was a same-sized steel replica bolted to his skull by iron bolts. The weight of it didn’t seem to bother the Red Bones, as he kept his mouth shut with little to no effort. It seemed to blend in so well with his appearance that most other Dull Bones didn’t realize it was a substitute until they observed him more closely.
One of the most dignified features he had was the strikingly different attire he wore. While all other Dull Bones shared the same bland green for their gloves and shoes, the Red Bones had a dark gray work glove covering one hand, and a brown, light-weight gauntlet covering the other. His shoes were the same scarlet color as himself, but had white bottoms with tread etched in. On his head he wore a ragged pirate captain’s hat that had a darker shade than his eyes, with heavily faded gold lines on the edges. The hat covered most of his scalp and was turned down to bounce the light away from his eyes. The last piece of equipment he had was a sword sheath that hung loosely onto his back, tied by a long leather sash. The sheath did not have any sword in it, but still detached easily when he wanted it to.
His audience was so caught up in his appearance that they blinked a bit when he stopped moving and stood straight at the head of the room, preparing to address them.
“Brothers!” He faltered suddenly, staring into the crowd. Like a breath of fresh air he could feel how tense and excited every one of them was... In his first display of emotion, he sighed, shaking his head slightly. Suddenly, he flexed his hands and an odd, pinkish color filled the room for a brief second before vanishing.
All the residents of the Rest immediately felt calm, relaxed, and shared the same peace of mind as the Red Bones.
“There we go. Now, as I was saying... Brothers, we have succeeded.”
Nobody clapped. It seemed wasted to celebrate now when there was obviously more to be said.
“We have succeeded... where many others have fallen. We have succeeded in our struggle to gain respect. Respect, my brethren, that we all deserve! No longer shall our timeless wisdom be ignored! Kingdoms now see us as our own society! Even the monarchy of King Bowser watches us warily. As it should!” The Red Bones tacked the last phrase on the end when he saw some Dull Bones shift from the thought.
“The rise of the Red Bone’s Republic is here, my friends! But our chapter does not end... We may have fended off those fools from Shhwonk Fortress in our first act of unity, and we may have scared away the populace of Petalburg... but there is more to be done.
“As you all know, we are now targets for the other greedy kingdoms, who wish to recruit us with their smooth-talking ambassadors. They will not go after the other new countries anymore! Now, we are a prize that they all want. They see our land here as an OPPORTUNITY now that the foul dragon Hooktail is gone! That’s right, they don’t see US, just OUR LAND! Yet we hold the final trump card. We know the secret this place holds, and we have the dignity to protect it to the end. We will not let them take it for their petty desires of convenience. They do not know why we fought for our right to be here, and they do not know what we are capable of!”
The Red Bones clenched both his hands into a tight fist, and watched as a shimmering wave of heat washed over the room. Suddenly, the residents became restless. They started cheering angrily, and banged their heads against walls in show of frustration and fervor.
“And so, it is time... for our journey to commence!”
A massive roar of approval rang through the room, the different Dull Bones on the right wall leaping up with the crowd in the yell.
“Our journey... of safe haven!”
Another yell, echoing the words “Safe Haven”.
“Of peace of mind!”
This time, a new word started to rise among the shouts. The dead seemed to be alive as they rioted with activity.
This time, the whole crowd started yelling the same thing in an endless mantra.
“SKELECARLATE! Skelecarlate! SKELECARLATE!”
The word caught the Red Bones off-guard. “I didn’t expect that title to stick,” he mumbled to himself. His head turned slowly as several members in the front row addressed him.
“Skelecarlate, our leader! You know what to do with us! We cannot trudge on without you!”
“Skelecarlate, our Skelecarlate! Lead us to the land we’ve been waiting for!”
The Red Bones simply smiled and started to shuffle off the makeshift stage back to his hole in the wall.
“Skelecarlate, the Back-Bone is ready to fall at your holster!” The Red Bones turned around and respectfully acknowledged the unique Dull Bones that had run up to the stage from his place on the right wall.
Both exchanged a nod of the head before Red disappeared into the shadows.
In the near pitch black dungeon cell where the hole led, the Red Bones sighed wistfully and swung the rusted gate open, ignoring the fainter cheers from behind him.
He walked on until light from rows and rows of candles greeted him from down a hall. In front of him stood two people, each guarding the same wooden door. One was a cheerful-looking Dull Bones that also had all its limbs and bones and had a shiny, smooth, olive green shell on his back. The other was another one of the Dull Bones that had spiked shells and red eyes, except this one had a full set of Koopatrol armor on.
The green-shelled Dull Bones snapped a salute and grinned. “How was it, Skelecarlate?” he piped up, his voice lacking the dead and raspy quality of all other Dull Bones.
The Red Bones winced. “Ugh. I really dislike to be labeled that, Joat. It makes me feel much like... a dictator. Please, call me Angoisse. That was my original name, and I wish for it to remain that. I don’t care if the crowds shout “Skelecarlate Angoisse”, but in private, call me the latter.”
Angoisse had a polite tone in his voice that made everyone happy. Every time his mouth opened, a small wisp of light blue mist seeped out. It was unnoticeable in the large room, but when close up it was strikingly obvious.
“When shall the Back-Bone and the masses leave?” the armored bones grunted out, making intense eye contact with Angoisse but trying hard not to be rude.
“Oh, you can have yourselves ready within the day. Select a quarter to stay, and I will select three fourths of the commoners to stay as well. Do not worry about my part, Sleight.”
Angoisse shook Sleight’s hand for seemingly no reason, and exited the hall swiftly into his private room beyond the wooden door.
Joat leaned over to Sleight slowly, whispering, “I thought everybody was coming?”
Sleight tried hard to ignore his frankly annoying partner, but answered anyway. “We only need a small group to prove our crowd to other governments. A small army should be enough to find some land that we can occupy. Besides, we need someone to hold down the fort while we’re gone.”
“Right, right. I forgot.”
Dry K. stared out the window as the jumbo-sized airplane hit the runway.
With an unnoticeable bump, his arrival to the mainland was announced. With a sigh, he pulled his overstuffed backpack from the overhead luggage compartment and headed to the exit.
The first thing he noticed when he got out was that the sunlight wasn’t as bright here. The distant season of Dark Land had influenced the climate here to the point where the sun shined spectacularly between steadily drifted masses of pitch-black clouds. If anything, it had a sort of polka dot effect that Dry found a little amusing.
He ignored everyone else and went for the terminal, tossing his backpack to a Chomp Bro who used his trademark pet to sniff for any metals.
He cringed as the small Chain Chomp barked loudly once, and the Bro motioned for him to come over.
“All right. What’s in the bag?” The Bro pointed to the giant backpack, and Dry rubbed his forehead with his hand in surrender before unzipping a couple big pockets.
Enormous amounts of junk spilled out onto the counter the Bro had been assigned to. Everything from bent tin cups to crumpled postcards piled out, and Dry sighed as the Bro told him to open up the smaller side pockets too. A coil of rope and a 6-pack of spring water dumped onto the table, joining the other items.
The metal things detected weren’t weapons, aside from a rusted out, old switch blade that had long since dulled. The only thing that was common amongst all the sentimental items was the fact that each one had a sticker or stamp attached to it, saying where it came from. Some had the black-and-white symbol of Sarasaland, while others had brightly colored pictures of Mushroom Kingdom.
The Chomp Bro seemed like he didn’t want to waste time on such a daunting task of searching, and waved Dry on, helping him scoop the contents back into the backpack.
He kept walking against the traffic of people hurrying to their flights, taking a fresh breath of air when he finally made it to the exit and outside. He’d landed just at the tip of Water Land, which was the closest area next to the sprawling sea that blocked Isle Delfino from the mainland. After spending a few minutes evaluating the map given to him, he started walking off down the unknown street he was on to a small town dwarfed by the airport.
He didn’t bother to read the sign. He’d already been here before, and recognized it as Seaspray Border Town, a pretty small place that ran a few diners that he’d helped out in. After recalling the experience, he decided not to revisit those places.
He had history in many, many areas. Whether he had just wandered to a town or been dragged their by an unseen force, he’d always found somewhere to explore. He kind of liked his nomadic lifestyle. It suited him.
Dry turned a corner to find just what he was looking for: a bus stop.
Bus stops were surprisingly rare in Water Land’s towns and cities. Since a large number of rivers and canals cracked the landscape, most routes to other towns were inaccessible by vehicle. Only a few areas still had strips of land to connect them.
Dry waited patiently by the sign until a hulking blue monster of a charter bus, advertising one of Water Land’s many resorts on its side, pulled up and opened its doors. He waited politely while a throng of riders got off, and walked painstakingly slow away, stiff from sitting for so long.
Then he hopped on and found a lucky seat on the bottom deck. The upper deck was on the roof and had nothing to guard its riders from flying bugs and other travesties in the air.
Yawning from how bored he was getting with the whole mission, he leaned against the window and looked out wearily.
Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. He sneaked a glance down the aisle to find a mysterious figure wrapped in a giant, gray trenchcoat. His hair was covered by a similarly colored hat, but Dry spied a large, blue, spiked shell at his feet. He seemed like he was trying to hide it from sight by kicking it to the inside of his seat, but the drive made it slide around the floor.
Dry stared, thinking about the person for a while. He didn’t think long, when a commotion distracted him. A lone Bandit got up from the back of the bus and casually swooped the Blue Shell up, shoving the shocked figure into his seat before running off at the stop the bus just made.
Yelling in confusion, the figure ran after the Bandit and also got off. A couple people laughed on the bus by the spectacle.
“Shouldn’t have let something as valuable as that get on the floor,” somebody behind Dry snickered.
He simply shrugged it off, not wanting to dwell on the matter.
“HEY! THIEF! GET BACK HERE!” Larry hollered between gasps of air as he chased the Bandit through the winding alleyways of the new city. “I... I need that!” he yelled pleadingly, trying to kick up some more gusto but getting tired. He heard a shriek of laughter from the assailant before utter silence.
Collapsing into a heap of frustration, Larry sat on a bench and thought about his situation.
His hat had blown off, revealing his large, disheveled Mohawk of hair, but he didn’t care.
Without his shell, the shell that symbolized the Royal Koopa family, people would hardly recognize him. So many Boom Booms these days had tried to mirror the appearance of the Koopalings that Bowser considered shutting down all Herbal Magic and Surgery shops. It was a flat-out identity crisis. But only Royal Koopas could grow a Royal Koopa shell, and that still set them apart. Now Larry felt stupid for taking it off so he could conceal his appearance more easily on the way.
Not to mention it had ALL OF LARRY’S STUFF FOR THE TRIP IN IT!
Larry got up from his seat and walked out of the desolate alley, thinking hard.
Without the provisions inside that shell, all he had were 25 coins and his travel map. Nothing else!
Sun reflected off a tall, glass skyscraper and made him blink. He realized then that he had no idea where he was. He had run after the Bandit in such haste that he didn’t think of where the bus had stopped.
He looked around, taking in the busy, bustling city around him, and concluded that he was in the main city of Water Land, called Seashell Scrape. The name was unique because it was titled after the skyscrapers in it that supposedly scratched the sky. It was a nurturing ground for artists, tourists, and architects, and their influence was all around. Strange buildings jutted from the ground, and street vendors were everywhere.
“All right, I need to focus... Think... Think…” Larry pulled out his map and stared at it. Bright red circles were around the areas he had wanted to go and look at. He was waaaay far off from where he had wanted to go, but he was only a long boat trip away from the small island of Dire Dire Docks, which was on the rebellion scene after it had drifted away from the mainland so far that it took days just to get letters across. The pirates and disgruntled workers that lived there were finally fed up and declared independence, denying any messenger back. While it was technically Wendy’s duty to re-take it, she never cared for the island in the first place and decided to let it be, much to the dismay of Bowser, who praised it as one of his most industrialized places.
Larry imagined the acknowledgment of his father once he had taken Dire Dire Docks single-handedly, and grinned.
He put the map back into his pocket, forgetting his woes. I can do this whole mission incognito, anyway! he thought to himself, wanting to relish the challenge.
Besides, how hard can it be to con a bunch of cutthroats, anyway?