The tropical paradise of Isle Delfino sprawled in front of the steadily rotating camera lens. The faint swish of the tour boat's streamlined bottom added to the relaxed sounds of colorful birds chirping and waves lapping up onto the shore.
The small red boat had 4 large, nearly full benches that swayed with the sea deck. All but a few tourists on board seemed to be trying to resist fits of nausea in between the tour guide’s speech, which was heartily drawled by a large yellow Pianta.
One of the few sea-worthy people on board was busy clicking away on his camera, the extended muzzle catching important sight-seeing parts of the island. Behind the device was a subtly grinning Dry Bones, though it had taken a while for the other tourists to realize this due to the heavy clothes he wore. A pale blue cap was perched right on his head, the bill casting a shadow over his bright, yellow eyes and skeletal snout area. An oversized black hoodie covered his whole torso and even obscured his tan, worn, many-pocketed pants. The color was more gray than black, actually. Extreme fading had made the original design chip away. All that remained of the large, elegantly printed letters on the front were their white silhouettes against the light black background. They once said “Isle Delfino”, but now nobody could discern that from the white shadows left behind. A similarly faded white palm tree picture was printed to the side of the letters. His pants’ numerous pockets were empty at the moment, but sagging signs of being overstuffed were visible.
He wore large, pale blue boots with
sand and grit splattered all over the bottom, and he wore a peculiar pair
of big, blue work gloves that had a strange rip right at the bottom wrists.
The only things to betray his Dry Bones species were his bone-white face
with the trademark jagged bone teeth, and a little part of his arms revealed
from under the glove.
Oddly enough, smudges of what looked like orange and yellow graffiti were on his fingers and splotched on his sleeves. Every second or so he wiped off the camera with his hoodie, so he wouldn't leave a mark.
His eager eyes looked up as the boat came to a halt. Steadily rising from his kneeling position on the edge, he boarded off onto the beach with all the other passengers, but stopped next to the tourguide and waited until everyone else left.
"Here. More postcard material." Dry K. pressed the camera into the palm of the Pianta, who let out a sigh of relief and patted him on the back.
"Thanks, bud. Can't believe my photographer bailed again. What do I owe you?" As soon as the tourguide started the “owe”, Dry was shrugging and waving his hand away.
"No, no, no. I've never asked for coins before and I don't intend to start now. Every time I feel cash in my pocket I start feeling like I'm in debt to somebody." Dry grinned again as the Pianta chuckled a bit.
"All right. I'll go buy an alarm clock for my partner!" The guide laughed as Dry walked off, waving his hand in a friendly “goodbye”.
Dry started whistling to himself, wiping
his hands on his shirt. No matter what, the mysterious stains seemed to
regenerate even after he scrubbed them off his hands and arms. He wasn't
bothered by it and walked to a bench in front of the classic Grand Pianta
Statue of Delfino Plaza. Luckily enough, his giant backpack was still lying
on it. The dark blue Pianta sitting next to it waved and nodded, tossing
the heavy item back to Dry.
"Thanks." Dry nodded back and hoisted the backpack over his shoulders. The back pack was light yellow in color, with dark brown strips of leather buckling the bursting pockets shut. Oddly enough, the straps were unhooked from the back. Dry reached a free hand to his back and put it into a small, wide slit cut into the fabric of his hoodie. He pulled a strap from the hole and tied it to a hook on the backside of his backpack. He did the same on his other side. He found it was much harder to run off with his backpack if the straps were tied and locked into his own rib cage.
Now that he had all his gear, he walked back to the beach where he had come from, but this time turned and walked down the market area. Instead of the normal hawking of goods you'd expect from other places, the Delfino market was a bit more lax, with little to no noise being made aside from the occasional radio spitting out a loud tune. He stopped and talked to two guards in front of the infamous Delfino Courthouse.
"Does the Sheriff need me today?" he spoke to the taller of the two Piantas.
"Yep. Something urgent, he said." The Pianta grunted and jerked a thumb towards the door.
Dry walked in with a sigh.
Delfino Island, despite common belief, had its own government. The Mayor, more or less, headed things. Since Isle Delfino was naturally protected by endless stretches of sea and was a common tourist site for ALL other kingdoms, it had next to no conflict whatsoever. But, if a rowdy group came on a boat, the Mayor looked to the Sheriff. The Sheriff had control over Isle Delfino's small police force, and was on par with the Mayor when it came to power. Overall, Isle Delfino was headed by 3 people with equal power depending on their field of expertise. There was the Mayor, the Sheriff, and the Analyst. But we'll get back to that later.
The Sheriff was a big, tough-looking
Pianta who almost always wore shades and had pride in his Mushroom Kingdom-styled
mustache. He descended from a long line of Chucksters and was burly enough
to not make anyone doubt it. He waved to Dry without looking up from his
cluttered desk and pointed at a seat. "Park it," he muttered.
Dry obliged and, well, parked it. The Sheriff finally looked up from a paper and leaned back in his chair.
"Sooooo... I need you this time," Sheriff gruffly, and bluntly, put.
"Uhhh... Okay?" Dry wiped his hands on his pants, this time out of nervous habit.
"You're a Dry Bones, right?"
"Yep. I've got some Red Bones in me-"
"Doesn't matter. I just need to know if you're undead and look white as a sheet."
The Sheriff mumbled something to himself and scratched his chin. He suddenly said something that made Dry's jaw almost unhinge.
"... Well, no need sugar coating things. You're going to Hooktail Castle and rallying all the residents there under our flag."
"Wait, what?" Dry snapped forward and put his arms on the desk, crazily wiping off his hands blindly on his shirt. The Sheriff rolled his eyes and flicked his hand, a motion for Dry to lean back. Dry didn't obey this time.
"Stop wiping like a germophobe and don't act so surprised. In case you haven't noticed, rebellion's more common these days than Peach getting kidnapped. With Hooktail gone and no ruling body there, all the Dull Bones are being led by a new leader, Red Bones. Must be a charismatic guy. Anyway, the castle’s falling apart, they're gonna need a place to stay, and we need to get in on all these new nations popping up before the Mushroom Kingdom or Bowser snatches them all up."
Sheriff seemed much calmer than Dry, who was starting to realize the situation. Sheriff waited to see if Dry had anything to add. When there was a long period of silence, he continued.
"Delfino could use some mainland territory, and Hooktail Castle just so happens to be right where our new boat highway is headed."
Sheriff enjoyed gloating about the Boat Highway project. An idea of his own design, it was basically a long strip of ocean from the Airport, lined by thick wooden gates and bordered by small docks and floating piers. It seemed like a pointless thing at first, since most boat owners knew the way to Isle Delfino from the mainland without a floating series of booths and walls guiding them. But Mushroomers and Koopa Kingdom residents were apparently terrible captains, and had been demanding some type of director for a while. And thus, it was born.
Dry thought for a minute. It WAS true that a small bay was the target area for the boat highway, and it was ALSO true that Hooktail's Castle along with Shhwonk Fortress were incredibly close by.
"But... why ME? I don't even technically work for you," Dry stammered a bit. He had been enjoying his stable life of luxury for a while, and it seemed unfair to have it ripped apart in favor of greed for land.
"In case you haven't noticed, nobody else that frequents or lives on Isle Delfino is undead and able to relate with them. Besides, you can convince them that Dry Bones can withstand the weather and sunlight here. Ever since King Boo went on a spiel about how the light here shrivels all ghosts up, they've been reluctant to even communicate with us." Sheriff turned around in his chair and spun back, handing Dry a ticket and a bright green wallet.
"Congratulations. You're officially on business for the Sheriff Branch of Isle Delfino. What I just gave you makes you as such. Hurrah." Sheriff unceremoniously put his hands in the air and went back to glazing over the documents on his desk.
Dry frowned and looked at the wallet. He had to admit, he had a lot of useless junk and useful junk, but lacked a wallet. The ticket designated him for a first class flight off the island.
"But... what if I say no?"
Suddenly the atmosphere of the room darkened as Sheriff looked up slowly from his papers. Dry winced and retreated a step.
"Ya know, Dry, you're one of the nicest, friendliest wanderers that come by this place..." Sheriff began darkly, "but I've been meaning to ask, do you remember what happened when you first stopped by our little resort?" Sheriff pointed a finger at the slowly spreading stains on Dry's wrists. Tiny drops of thick, gooey, colorful graffiti dropped to the floor.
Dry cringed, seeing the whole thing coming, and sighed with defeat. "Yeah, yeah. But that was in the past."
"And so was the evidence. But what if I suddenly decided to re-open the file of that special day and present it to a court.... with a comparison to the Shadow Mario incident?"
Sheriff grinned and turned back to his
paperwork. Nothing more really needed to be said.
Dry let his shoulders sag from weariness and walked out, his footsteps making echoes on the wood floor. His stains started retreating slowly, as if they were being absorbed by an invisible sponge.
"Thanks, bud. Oh, and how's your brother?" Sheriff gave a deep, booming laugh as Dry slapped a palm to his own forehead and walked away, shaking his head slowly. It was a joke of the locals to bring up his much lesser known family member.
His memory throbbed with the embarrassing incident that happened so long ago...
... But somewhere else, in Castle Koopa, somebody was busy thinking towards the future.
The volcanic atmosphere of Dark Land made the morning air shimmer with sparks, Castle Koopa looming at its very center. Guards and minions were wearily patrolling in squads around the gardens and outdoors, while the servants inside were lazily strewn about in no particular hurry. The stomping, approaching steps of Bowser made them leap up and act busy, fearful of being caught doing nothing.
King Koopa walked with an air of intimidation, his immense size and clearly disgruntled disposition enough cause for people to avoid him like a plague. He was striding down the hall with purpose, and looked annoyed if anything. His mind was set on a room just a few corridors away.
A small, pale blue and white Piranha Plant lamp in a corner cast dots of light around the room as Larry Koopa stirred awake. A Petey Piranha alarm clock was honking out an uncomfortably loud siren, making the Koopaling groan with realization that a new day had started.
He looked up sleepily into a window above his bed. The pitch black sky was illuminated by the castle's lights and the surrounding cities. It was no use to guess if it was morning or not. Daylight in Dark Land didn't come during this short season, and there was a perpetual darkness the age of which was only betrayed by clocks.
Larry rolled over in his bed and kept
going until he fell to the floor. Groggily, he got up and scratched his
head, running to his closet to change out of his pajamas.
20 minutes or so later, a frightful pounding at the door made him wake up fully and stop brushing his teeth long enough for him to listen to the booming voice that followed.
"LARRY! OPEN UP!"
Larry would have recognized his dad's
voice anywhere, and ran to the door in a hurry. He unlocked it and let
it swing open to reveal his father, dragging a large suitcase behind him.
"Get out here. I've got an announcement." Bowser grunted and walked away, seemingly tired from getting up so early as well.
Larry joined his siblings outside in a wide hall outside most of their rooms. He seemed like the only one who got ready fast enough, as his small blue shell and trademark hair style were in better shape than most of the others. Even Wendy looked incredibly disheveled.
"All right, kids, listen up. I know it's early and all but... uh... something.... urgent... has come up. Me and Junior are going away for a while."
A roar of protests followed Bowser's speech. It was to be expected, anyway. The Koopalings were tired of Junior getting so much attention.
"SHUSH!" A wave of the hand made the raucous yelling stop abruptly. "I'm not changing my mind. It's important, and I'm taking Junior because I can't take all of you. Now GO BACK TO BED!"
The dramatic mood shift of the whole event was enough to make everyone else a little fed up with everything and just give up. Larry went back to his room and went immediately back to bed. On the bright side of things, if Bowser was busy elsewhere, then Larry wouldn't have to do anything for the day.
Nonetheless, a sneaky, suspicious side of him wanted to find out more...
"So, you want to know what your father was up to, so you come to me in the hopes that I'd squeal, hmmmmm?" Kammy the Magikoopa grinned, practically dripping pride, as she poured herself a cup of tea.
Larry rolled his eyes when she turned away. Kammy definitely was NOT his favorite option of information, but Kamek would never spill on his master, and none of the servants would know anything either. Kammy, on the other hand, was a glorified gossip and would tell you anything, if you were able to pick out the exaggerations.
"Well, I'm terribly sorry, Master Larry, but I don't believe Lord Bowser's diplomatic matters should concern you." She stretched the “diplomatic” part and winked, an obvious signal that she knew more than she’d let on.
"C'mon! Just tell me if it's anything important," Larry pleaded with his hands out in a desperate gesture.
Kammy smiled some more and paced around her bookcase-lined room. The pink wallpaper was a bit bright, and made Larry squint to see what she was doing.
"Important? Oh yes... VERY important. Important enough to be recorded in a special little file..." The old Magikoopa reached out a hand that clutched a dark brown folder. Instinctively, Larry grabbed for it, but his claw grasped nothing but air as the item disappeared in a puff of purple smoke and reappeared in Kammy's other hand.
"Now, now. I can't just GIVE it to you... It's VERY secret stuff!" Again there was that torturous wink. "But, if you were to say PLEASE and promise me a recommendation... I might just 'drop' it."
Larry let a cocky smirk poke through his disgruntled face. Kammy was always after the promotion to Head Magikoopa, which was held by Kamek, and now that it was time for Re-Evaluation of the Castle Staff, she was trying to bribe, blackmail, and sneak as many recommendations as she could into her case folder.
He was going to regret saying “Please”, since the word made most of his family groan, but Larry thought it would be worth it.
"... Can I PLEASE have the folder? .... And yes, I'll give you a recommendation..."
As soon as those words were spoken, Larry found himself holding the folder, having himself been teleported in a haze of smoke into the hall. He could faintly hear Kammy's high-pitched laughter in the distance, but shrugged it off.
He pried open the folder hungrily and read every scrap of information he could. Pictures of distant castles and crowds had captions of different kingdoms: Beanbean Kingdom, Mushroom Kingdom, even some Larry didn't even know, like the Red Bones Republic. Some had a crude flag snapshot next to their names, while others had bright red lettering to indicate whether or not it had been conquered.
Larry let his eyes fall down to read the largest paragraph.
Dear King Koopa,
Scouting Report from Koopatrol Pack Ishnail,
Hooktail Castle and Shhwonk Fortress are, as predicted, ideal spots next to the ocean for quick transportation and are located next to Delfino Island's “Boat Highway, currently under construction”.Advisors say it would be best to capture the territory, but are now forewarning against it. Delfino authorities have supposedly already sent an ambassador to merge their government with the Red Bones Republic, and capturing the land now would be strenuous on our bonds. Thus, it is recommended that we search for land elsewhere, and it has been suggested that you meet personally with leaders of other small groups to recruit them/annex them. Some other ideal spots include: Shifting Sands, Dire Dire Docks, Yoshi Falls, and-
Larry was dismayed to find that the paper cut off the message, and it seemed that Kammy had only given him the first page. He scowled and imagined Kammy's laughing face before dropping the folder and walking away.
Sooo... His dad was going to go see what small kingdoms he could conquer, eh? Larry started to grow a sinister smile. It made sense, with so many new lands and rebellions popping up. Every large kingdom was trying to grab at as much territory as it could.
Larry stopped and walked into his room, examining a large map on the wall. His dad wanted Hooktail Castle, but Delfino Island was already going to try to claim it.... Already, a cunning plan was forming in his mind, ready to take flight and take everyone by surprise…
His almost dark sense of forewarning was suddenly replaced by a feeling of enlightenment. He was grinning with pure excitement now, and grabbed a thin gray coat out of his closet. He didn't need to tell ANYBODY about what he was going to do! It could be his own adventure, and he desperately needed one.
Heart thumping, he ran out into the hall and was already making his way downstairs towards the Castle Entrance.
Ludwig waited until he no longer heard Larry's quick footsteps, and emerged from behind a corner. He walked over and casually picked up the folder, frowning at its contents. He squinted into the distance and set the folder back down carefully.
"I don't trust him... I’d better see what he's up to..." Ludwig muttered to himself as he started wandering away, scratching his head in an attempt to rack his brain into action.