Love is Acceptance

By Karma Koopa

Little Lemmy's Land Qualifier

"All right you cruddy engine, what's the problem?" Ludwig growled through clenched teeth as he bent over to fumble with the hatch on his latest invention, tentatively named "the transmogrifier" after a device he'd seen in one of Iggy's comics for lack of a better title. The initial startup had gone exactly as planned, but immediately afterward, the device had begun to sputter and issue foul black smoke from its vents.

A black jet of oil spurted over his claws as he wrenched it open, making him recoil a little. Somehow, the oil gauge had burst, spattering everything inside of the transmogrifier's casing and turning it into a grimy mess. He sighed deeply, wiping his hand on his shell, leaving a trail of black residue on its smooth green surface. He had spent all morning attempting to work the bugs out of it and now it was beyond repair. Six hours of work shot full of holes.

He had assumed that it was out of its testing phase after he had successfully transformed a Blooper into a Goomba earlier that morning, but apparently the strain of attempting to turn a Monty Mole into a Reznor had been too much for it to handle. The subject in question, charred and dripping with oil, emerged from the main hatch squeaking irately. Ludwig regarded the mole angrily before reaching for a mallet he ordinarily used to pound pegs into place.

Apparently taking the "subtle" hint, the creature gave a startled chirp and dove at the floor, quickly working a tile up and out of the way. Its immense claws made short work of the concrete as it burrowed out of sight, leaving the eldest Koopaling to glare at the newly-formed void in his floor before sighing and carefully replacing the tile. Satisfied that it had hidden the damage, he next turned and gathered up the ruined husk of his latest work. As he gingerly set it into the wastepaper bin beside his work table as though he were laying a loved one to rest in an open grave, he made a mental note to himself that from now on, he would properly sedate all of his test subjects beforehand.

Ludwig looked down at the wreckage in disgust. It had been this way all week, he'd found. No matter how careful and intricate his plans were, there was always something glaringly wrong with the design that he was managing to overlook... like something was purposely sabataging everything he attempted. That, or else he was entering another slump. He growled at the thought, remembering the last time he'd gone through a period like this. It had been nearly a month before he'd been able to shove the mental block aside and continue his projects as scheduled, and he wasn't relishing the idea of having to tolerate another.

"How's the inventin' coming, Kooky?" a high-pitched voice inquired. Ludwig flinched at his rather-disliked nickname and turned to see his brother, Lemmy, bobble into the room as he perched atop a ball. The younger Koopa brought the sphere to a neat halt, pinwheeling his arms a bit for balance as he surveyed the mess. "Didn't turn out so good, huh?" he asked, regarding his older brother inquisitively, a few wisps of his rainbow hair falling over his eyes as he listed forward to keep his barings atop the ball.

"Brilliant deduction, Holmes," he replied, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "Don't you have someone else to bother?"

"Nope... just tryin' to stay out of Roy's way for a while. He's had it in for me ever since I used up the last of the milk on my cereal this morning," the younger Koopaling explained, shifting his balance to one foot atop his perch. "Need any help?"

Ludwig, however, failed to respond to his sibling's query as he threw open a well-worn leather-bound book that he kept stored beneath his workbench and began to leaf through it fervently. Lemmy watched for a moment, hoping his question might be answered. "Kooky...?" he tried again.

"I'm fine," his older brother snapped, turning another page. "I can't be bothered right now." The younger Koopaling cocked his head curiously before shrugging, deciding his older brother was going to provide less-than-adequate conversation. With practiced ease, he performed a reversal on his ball and guided it out of the room, leaving Ludwig to his own devices.

The eldest Koopaling's eyes scanned his various notes and scribbles without actually reading the words as he still recovered from the sudden loss of the transmogrifier. He'd had such high hopes for it.... oh well, such was the life of an inventor, he thought sourly. And the only thing to do when faced with a loss was to get wrapped up in another project as quickly as possible and hoped that it worked out for you.

The book in question contained notes from both devices he had brainstormed but hadn't actually made an attempt to construct, and notes from inventions that he had tried at some point to bring into creation and had failed due to an error in the blueprints. No matter how ludicrous the notion or farfetched the design, they were all here. He'd found that even the ridiculous was worth a try sometimes -- it could even prove successful if given the right situation.

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud crash in the hallway. Ludwig jolted to attention as the deep-throated and unmistakable voice of his brother Roy began to bellow at the top of its lungs. "HEY PINHEAD!!! WHY DONTCHA WATCH WHERE I'M GOIN'?!"

"Sorry, Bully! I didn't see you!" Lemmy's voice squealed in reply.

"Why dontcha learn to walk, you freak?" The pleasantry was followed by the sounds of a scuffle, followed shortly by a sharp POP that was tailed by Lemmy's outraged cry.

"You didn't have to pop my ball! Why'd you do that?!" Lemmy demanded.

"Cuz I can. Now MOVE IT!" There was a muffled tonk followed by Lemmy grunting -- sounding not unlike he had just hit the wall. Silence followed.

Satisfied that his siblings were done bickering, Ludwig returned his attention to the book only to note with much distaste that he had torn the page he had held between his thumb and forefinger when the noise outside of his room had startled him. It wasn't a bad tear and could easily be repaired with a bit of paste, but nonetheless, it angered him as it was yet another unneeded annoyance to throw on top of the already-huge stack he'd amounted that day.

Rolling his eyes, he slammed the cover shut and tucked it under his arm. He had every intent of storming into the hallway and clobbering both Roy and Lemmy with it, but forced himself to pause. No... that wasn't going to solve anything and he was well aware of it. At best, if one of them decided, in a fit of immaturity, to tattle, he'd find himself in the dungeon for the afternoon and that would make getting back on track rather difficult. However, being the oldest and faced with the constant annoyance of being expected to be the most mature, he was sure it would be more severe of a punishment. He'd be lucky to see the light of day again by the end of the week.

Mulling things over in his head, he cast a quick glance at the window. The sun was shining brightly (as brightly as it got for Dark Land, that is) and it looked to be decent weather. He wasn't much for going outdoors unless he needed to collect test subjects, but given the circumstances...

Feh... why not?

Without further hesitation, Ludwig exited his laboratory, sweeping the door closed behind hims, and headed toward the stairs.


It was a very warm summer afternoon, Ludwig noted as he walked through the unkept grasses surrounding Bowser's castle and retreated to the woods bordering it, seeking a quiet place to sit and read. It had been awhile since he had last left Castle Koopa and he found that he was slightly bothered by the outdoor noises. Hidden in a tree, a Wiggler loudly chewed on its meal of leaves and Yoshi berries while from an unseen source, two Goombas loudly growled at each other, chattering away in their native tongue. He supposed it was better than having to listen to the dischordant screeching of his brothers and sister as he found a sturdy-looking tree to sit beneath and situated himself with his book in his lap. Pausing a moment to relish the near-silence, he opened it across his knees and tried to find where he had left off.

As he sifted through the pages, he paused on one in particular, remembering its conception early last year sometime. The Stoneshooter had been his attempt to upgrade the turret catapults so that they would be effective at both short-range and long-range distances. The blueprints had never gotten off the ground, unfortunately, before his attention had been pulled away from the project to tend to another of his father's requests.

Amid the general notes and concept sketches was a piece of paper he had folded over once and tucked into the book. Taking it out and unfolding it, he read in his own untidy handwriting: "Some modifications needed on support beam and thrust adjustment before initial production can begin." Upon re-reading his own words, he felt the gears of his mind begin to turn as interest in the project was reawakened. The initial plans had made the machine capable of launching stones and small minions, but if the power were upped to 8X and the diameter of the barrel were increased, it would make it a far deadlier weapon.

He traced a claw over the sketch he had done, pausing at the support beams. It was a gamble, but he was fairly sure that if he simply added an extra one rather than trying to reinforce the strength of the two he'd already planned the placement of, it would definitely save effort... likely a lot of time too.

"NO! Jumper, you stonehead!" someone cried. The Koopaling jolted, hearing the harsh purring sound as his claw skittered forward, opening a jagged rift in the page he'd been looking at. In sheer frustration, he threw the book aside and looked about himself for the guilty party. The voice hadn't sounded immediately familiar, but he was almost sure it had been one of his younger brothers, Larry or Iggy most likely. The bottom line was, whoever it had been now had what nobody in their right mind wanted -- Ludwig's undivided attention.

Overhead, the higher boughs of the tree he had chosen to sit beneath began to rattle violently, followed shortly by a loud snap and a shriek. Before he had time to fathom what was going on, a blur of green and purple had tumbled directly into his lap.

"GAH!" he cried, scuttling backwards away from whatever it was. Before him, in a rumpled heap sat a... well... a creature. He watched, transfixed, as it regained its feet and brushed the leaves off of its backside.

"You're more trouble than you're worth, ya know it?!" it screeched up into the tree in a shrill voice at an invisible source. Deciding the intruder, despite its freakish appearance, was a female, Ludwig recovered from the shock he'd been given and ventured forward, narrowing his eyes in dislike. "And just who are you?!" he demanded, putting on as authoritative of a voice as he could muster. The stranger paused, looking at him and quirking a brow.

"Come again?"

"Who are you?" he asked again, growing irritated. "What are you doing in King Koopa's territory?" The two regarded one another in silence for a long moment before the stranger set her jaw defiantly.

"Bakin' brownies, what does it look like?" she growled. Ignoring her smart-alec statement, Ludwig took a long look at her, still trying to decide what she was. She had the head, body, and tail of a green Yoshi, but wore studded wrist-braces and had an indigo shell that glistened with a pearly luster and was crowned with five spikes. Atop her head was a mane of unruly raven hair that had been pulled back with a bit of pink ribbon in an unkept ponytail. It was as though someone had pulled apart a Yoshi and Koopa and then constructed a single creature out of them with cruel hands, Ludwig thought with a slight shudder of revulsion.

"JUMPER!!! GET DOWN HERE!!!" she bellowed into the tree, ignoring Ludwig once more. There was a pause before a rather timid-looking Buzzy Beetle scampered down the bark of the tree and stopped at its owner's feet, making apologetic cooing noises.

"Do you realize I could have you executed for being a trespasser and-" Ludwig's threat was cut off as the odd girl grabbed up the beetle and thrust him into the eldest Koopaling's arms.

"Hold him a minute, would ya?" she told him. Ludwig flinched a little as the black creature struggled a bit in his grasp and the stranger disappeared up the tree again with the agility of a very strange-looking jaguar. A moment later, she returned with a backpack and what looked like a half-eaten toadstool sandwich. "Can't trust Beetles for anything," she sighed, shouldering the pack. "This little creep thought it would be funny to try and wake me up by hiding all my stuff," she added, pointing a clawed paw accusingly at Jumper.

"Bzzzzz..." it groaned, its body jerking as though it were sobbing.

She rolled her eyes and grabbed him away from Ludwig. "Well... thanks, guy. See ya," she said with a simple wave and turned to walk away.

"Hey!" he cried, making her whirl around to face him again. "You... never told me why you were here," he faltered, feeling strangely intimidated and pinned under her eyes, like she was some sort of predatory creature that would lunge at him at any moment.

"Are you deaf or just stupid?" she growled, allowing Jumper to scramble up onto her shoulder before putting her hands on her hips. "I just wanted to get my stuff back. It's not my fault this is King Koopa's turf," she shrugged. "Anyway... I'm outta here." Again, she turned to leave.

"Where are you from? What are you?" he asked, taking a tentative step toward her as she, again, stopped and looked over her shoulder curiously at him.

"You from the Mushroom Gazette or something?" she asked, eyeing him skeptically. "An interview'll cost ya," she added sarcastically.

"You look-" he racked his brain for the right word, "you look weird." He instantly wished he had thought of his summation of her appearance a little harder as the girl's eyes sparked with instant rage when the word left his jaws.

"ExCUSE me?" she asked angrily, whirling fully to face him. "Weird? Have ya taken a look in the mirror lately, Mr. I've-never-heard-of-a-hairbrush Snaggletoothed Fatbody?!" She poked a finger angrily at Ludwig's snout. "It's none of your friggin' business who I am or where I came from! Got it?!"

"No need to get violent about this..." he replied, rubbing at his snout where she had poked it. "I simply inquired-"

"Look, don't push yer luck, kiddo," she spat. Ludwig briefly mused about how she could call him "kiddo" when she was a head shorter and looked to be younger than he. But one thing was for certain, hhe was growing quickly tired of her attitude. It was one thing to trespass... truth be told, if she had been more apologetic about literally dropping in on him, he would have let her go without incident. However, it was another thing to trespass AND stoke the embers of his already-foul mood.

"You're a trespasser," he snapped.

"So I'm a trespasser," she parroted in a mocking tone, rolling her eyes. "That's twice you've gotten to use your special word of the day, care to try for three?"

"As such, this is a matter you will have to take up with my father, King Bowser Koopa," he continued, ignoring her previous statement.

"Psh... right. Okay. Whatever you say. I'll get right on that," she muttered, turning once again to leave and shaking her head as though she was overcome with disbelief that one being could possibly possess so much stupidity.

"If you don't cooperate, I'll take you by force!" Ludwig snarled, his irritation getting the better of him as he clenched his paws into fists and lifted one lip in a snarl. Apparently, he'd pushed the stranger's right button as she froze and then quickly performed an about-face, looking thoroughly angered.

"Fine. I'll take you on, sure. Let's go," she replied without hesitation, quickly unshouldering her backpack and drawing herself into a fighting stance. Jumper, deciding this would be a good place to make his exit, scuttled off of her shoulder and onto a tree stump nearby. "Well?!" she growled impatiently as Ludwig remained rooted where he was in disbelief for a moment, unable to believe that someone could be so brazen.

"If you'd just calm yourself, we wouldn't-- UFF!!" he grunted, his head rocking back on his neck as her knuckles connected with his jaw. He blinked in bewilderment, rubbing at the forming bruise there as he goggled at her. The stranger, however, was smiling as she cocked her arm back again, ready to deliver another punch and keeping a close eye on him both for open places to strike and signs that he might strike back.

"Come on..." she devilled, "Is that the best you can do?" She feigned another jab at his face and, as his paws went up reflexively to block it, she changed the direction of her blow. The wind left Ludwig's lungs in a hot rush as her fist buried itself in his belly. As he gave a barking cough and doubled over, she backed off a bit. "You're pathetic." she remarked stonily. "And you're one of Bowser's rug-monkeys? I'm surprised he even claims you... I'd keep ya locked up in a basement someplace."

He coughed again as she, deciding he wouldn't pose any further of a threat, turned away and bent over to collect her backpack. "Idiot..." she muttered to herself, taking a moment to unzip the front compartment to take a quick assessment of what Jumper had gotten into since he'd stolen her bag.

"I wasn't ready," he muttered, indignant and embarrassed as he lifted his head, angered to see that she was no longer even paying attention to him. Ludwig, admittantly, was not much for fighting. When it came to combat in his household with his siblings, it was usually limited to verbal conflict or wrestling. In the times it seemed as though it was going to come to actual blows, he was usually able to defend himself quite well with his advantage of size and ability to breathe fire before it got out of hand. Deciding he would exercise that particular ability now that he had the chance, he locked his eyes on the stranger's back, working his throat as his anger heated itself from a low simmer to a roiling boil.

A moment later, his abdominal muscles clenched and a solid flag of red-orange flame issued at the intruder from his jaws, engulfing her in their heat. He was aware of a startled cry amid the crackling of burning leaves and, beneath the smokey scent of singed foliage, was certain he could make out the acrid smell of burnt scales. The flames guttered out after a few seconds, and he stepped back, observing the damage.

The stranger had ducked fully into her shell, its purple surface blackened unevenly by the heat. Her backpack, or rather what was left of it, stood nearby in a twisted charred parody of what it once was. He waited, gratified when she finally began to withdraw. She looked thoroughly-shaken as she observed the smoldering remains of what had once been bushes surrounding her and then turned, examining a place on her tail where the scales appeared to have been burnt away completely, leaving angry red welts on the flesh beneath. Finally, her eyes wandered to her backpack which she stared at for a long moment, the bewildered look quickly turning to one of dark black hatred as though this has been the last straw.

As she jerked her head in Ludwig's direction, her eyes narrowed to slits as she got to her feet once more.

"You... you..." she stuttered, her face a mask of anger. In the time it took him to realize she had lunged at him, the stranger had knocked him to the ground, struggling to hold him there. Ludwig, having had much experience from fighting with his younger brothers, easily overthrew her and pinned her down, holding her wrists tightly. She struggled a moment and then grudgingly surrendered, breathing heavily and glaring at him with the single-minded intensity of the obsessed. Beneath him, he could feel her heart pounding with the speed of a hummingbird's wings and he found that, for a moment, he was truly afraid of letting her up. She looked, for all intents and purposes, like she honestly would tear him to pieces if she could move at the moment.

After what seemed an eternity, he felt her relax a bit and draw in a deep breath of resignation. "You've got me. Now what?" she grumbled acidly. Ludwig kept a wary eye on her before carefully heaving himself off of her, still tightly keeping her wrists pressed to the ground.

"That's for Father to decide," he informed her, pulling her to her feet.

"You can knock off the high-and-mighty bunk," she snapped, wincing as she regained her feet, her arms bent at an uncomfortable angle behind her. "You beat me, but that doesn't mean I'm afraid of you or your dad."

"I never said you had to be. I can only suggest." Ludwig growled in reply, feeling a bit better knowing that he had her properly restrained as he forceibly turned her in the direction of Castle Koopa, leading her in its direction. From his perch on the nearby stump, Jumper watched his owner being led away. For a moment, he squealed in protest and moved to follow but then stopped. Plit's underlings weren't known for their intellectual prowess, but even they knew when something wasn't worth pursuing. Giving a disheartened chirp, he scuttled off of the stump and into the undergrowth of the forest, in search of something to eat.

"What's your name?" Ludwig asked when they had walked a short distance and he was beginning to grow uncomfortable in the silence.

"None of your phracking business," she snarled. The response was his grip on her wrists tightening and sending a jolt of pain rattling up her forearms. "Karma," she winced. "My name's Karma."

"And what are you?" he asked.

"Only my hairdresser knows for sure," she countered sarcastically. He was tempted to give her wrists another twist, but managed to restrain himself as he looked her over again. Her appearance was just as alien to him as he'd found it a few moments ago when he'd laid eyes on her for the first time. His initial reaction was revulsion, but the scientist in him was intrigued by such an oddity.

"I'm a halfling, okay?" she told him impatiently.

"A halfling of what?"

"A Yoshi and a Koopa. It's a long story."

"A yoshi and a..." He trailed off, shocked. "That's disgusting!" he exclaimed, wrinkling his nose up in distaste. Up until then, he hadn't even fathomed that a Koopa would pair itself with a creature as lowly as a Yoshi, much less that a mutt offspring might result.

"Nobody asked you," she snorted. "And look, no offense, but your hands aren't exactly comfortable. If I told you I wasn't gonna run, would you ease up a little? You're hurting me," she told him. He hesitated and then loosened his fingers a bit, not bearing down on her wrists as he had been, but ready to clench his hands shut again if she tried to struggle. "And you never told me who YOU were," she added, sounding distracted as they crossed the castle's drawbridge and just wanting to keep the conversation going as a formality.

"Ludwig. Ludwig von Koopa," he informed her.

"Pfft... I'm sorry," she chuckled.

"For what?" he asked, irked at her reaction.

"That your parents were that uncreative." Behind her, she heard him growl faintly and felt somewhat gratified.

"I don't think you fully comprehend the position you're in," he told her.

"Oh I understand it just fine," she retorted. "You're dragging me inside to show off what you caught to your daddy just like a big boy in hopes you'll get a pat on the head. How hard is that to see?" She immediately yelped in pain as his hands bore down hard on her wrists again.

"Would you like to see how well you fight with a pair of broken arms?" he hissed.

"Not especially..." she winced, arching her back and trying to alleviate the pressure against her tendons and bones.

"Then shut it," he commanded. For a moment, she contemplated firing another comeback, but managed to keep a leash on herself. This guy may have looked geeky and chubby, but something told her he was also the sort who might make good on his threats. In reply to her silence, Ludwig eased his grip on her wrists again.

"So... this is Koopa Castle, huh?" she asked, her eyes skating over the drab gray of the walls and the highly-arched ceiling as he led her through the main corridor. Ludwig didn't reply, his eyes busily scanning the ajoining hallways in search of someone who might take Karma off his hands.

"You're going to have to stay in a holding cell for the time being, while we decide what's to be done with you," he informed her, seeing no available guards and sighing as he led her to a staircase that went beneath the castle. Podoboos sat atop torches, lighting the way as they began downward.

"Alright, Ludey, I'll bite. What do they usually do with intruders in this joint?" she asked, her voice echoing off of the walls as she chose her footing carefully, trying not to trip on the shadow-enfolded stairs.

"Ludwig," he corrected her impatiently. "It can be as simple as a warning or as severe as a beheading. It depends on Father's mood, so I would suggest you show utmost respect if you know what's good for you."

"What sort of odds do you think I have?"

"I wouldn't know. Nor would I care, frankly."

"Humor me," she pressed.

"My father hates Yoshis," he said firmly. "But being that you're only half-such, you may stand on more stable ground as far as he's concerned."

"Ah," she answered simply, already knowing just by listening to him that Ludwig was lying through his teeth just to shut her up.

"Where did you come from anyway?" he inquired, expecting more sarcasm.

"Used to be from Cookie Mountain," she answered with casualness that surprised him. "My tribe lived there."


"Yeah... tribe? You know, me and my family and the rest of the Yoshis?" she explained as though she were talking for the benefit of a small child. "Everything was great and then some weird fat guy in red pants came through on some kinda quest. He wanted our help, and things just turned to chaos from there. There was a big scramble of people who wanted to help out and a bunch who didn't who went off into hiding. By the time the dust cleared, I had no idea where everybody went." She ended her tale with a shrug. "Looked for 'em for awhile, then gave up and just drifted around ever since. There's benefits to being half-Yoshi, you know... you can eat next to anything and stay alive."

"I'm not going to ask," Ludwig grumbled, feeling slightly ill.

"Good, because I wouldn't answer," she replied. "I've had to eat a few things I'm not exactly proud of."

"If I'd known there had been a nest of Yoshis on that rock when I still owned it, I would have increased my roving guard populus," he remarked distastefully.

"Owned what? Cookie Mountain?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at him curiously as they dismounted the staircase and meandered into a dank hallway where the torches were fewer and the atmosphere was generally miserable. He gave a nod. "Guess that makes sense. My dad was always complaining about how the kook who lived in that castle was always blowing stuff up or making music that sounded like someone had a weasel in a headlock," she laughed. Ludwig, however, wasn't amused as he stopped at the first vacant cell on the right and thrust the door open, shoving her inside as he roughly grabbed the iron ring of keys from where they hung on the wall.

Karma stumbled forward a few steps, looking behind herself in bewilderment as the door slammed shut with a resounding clang.

"See you around," Ludwig said briskly, fumbling with the lock.

"Yeah? Well you have a nice day too, jerk!" she snapped, grabbing up the nearest thing she could reach, a skull left over from a previous unfortunate inhabitant, and hurling it full force at her prison's door. It shattered upon impact against the bars, showering Ludwig in bone fragments. He squinted his eyes, sneezing as the dust invaded his nostrils, and then returned to his task of attempting to turn the key in the old iron lock.

At last, with an accepting click, it latched firmly and he backed off a few steps, favoring Karma with a venemous look before stalking back in the direction of the stairs, attempting to brush the remaining debris out of his hair.

The hybrid watched after his retreating back for a moment, glaring daggers as though she hoped the mere hatred in her stare would be enough to strike him dead. As she heard him begin to pad up the stairs she gave a roar of rage, slamming both fists against the bars, rewarded with only a slight "kwong" and an aching pain in her wrists. She glared at the door, rubbing at her forearms irritably for a moment before crossing her cell to the far wall and slumping against it.

This was NOT how she had wanted to spend her evening.

Having left a message with one of the guards to give to his father saying he had caught an intruder, Ludwig returned to his laboratory, nearly slipping and falling in the oil he hadn't cleaned up from before. He reached for a rag and began to mop it up, his mind recalling the hybrid with much resentment.

"Stupid female," he growled. It was bad enough that she was ill-tempered, but the fact that she turned his stomach to look at as well gave her NO redeeming qualities whatsoever. How DAD could have allowed such an abomination to be concieved, let alone live long enough to talk back, was an utter mystery to him. He had no doubt that Bowser would order her immediate execution upon seeing her, and that was perfectly fine as far as he was concerned.

Satisfied that he had cleaned the mess to the best of his ability, Ludwig deposited the oily rag in the trash where it fell with a wet plop against the casing of the failed transmogrifier. As he got to his feet again, moving to return to his workbench, a thought arose in his mind quite out of nowhere. She's been wandering around in the wilderness for DAD-only-knows how long. You should have just let her go and not given her such a hard time. The mental sentence made him feel a brief stab of pity for the strange creature before he angrily shook it off. He didn't care. There were plenty of places she could have gone and probably been taken in by at least one of them. It was her choice to wander around like a homeless waif and eventually end up in Dark Land.

However, a feeling of guilt that was completely unbecoming to him had begun to take hold and settle in, making him feel uncomfortable and unable to erase Karma from his mind. Frustrated at his sudden one-trackedness he quickly looked for something to occupy himself with.

Go let her out.

'Shut up,' he thought directly, trying to clear his head of the alien notion of compassion. He wondered, idly, if this was what the ever-fabled "love at first sight" felt like and immediately pushed it out of hand. It couldn't be love because frankly, he didn't even remotely LIKE her. That was the long and short of it -- he found her a repulsive and trollish monster and was glad she was locked in the dungeon where she belonged. It would be a relief when she was handed her execution sentence as well, he thought bitterly, so why in Plit's name should he feel guilty?

Simply, he told himself, he shouldn't. And furthermore, he went on to himself, he wouldn't. With that settled, he scanned his workbench, picking up the first thing he could get his claws on and examining it.

His father's birthday was coming up soon and it had been Ludwig's tradition, since about the age of twelve, that rather than buy Bowser something, he would make it instead. The devices varied from year to year, some of them functional and some of them not. This year, however, his invention was a fairly simple one. Due to his father's constant complaining that, in the time it took the kitchen staff to carry his coffee into the dining area, it was too cold to stomach, he was setting about crafting a mug that would keep its contents perpetually warmed. Unfortunately, its main drawback at the moment was that it made the mug too hot to handle as well. Deciding that sorting out that minor detail would be the perfect thing to playcate his mind, Ludwig set to work. "Where's that socket wrench?" he wondered aloud, sifting through the desktop's contents.

Even as he located the wrench and reached for it, he felt his stomach lurch as the greasy fingers of nausea began to wrap around the base of his throat. He blinked, bracing himself against the corner of his bench and counting slowly backward from one-hundred as he willed the feeling to pass. Slowly, he began to feel better, if somewhat confused. Usually when he was ill, the symptoms built on themselves gradually... this had come out of nowhere.

As the thought completed itself, a wave of dizziness overtook him, making him hold the table tighter for support as the room tilted and spun. Stumbling slightly, he squinted his eyes shut, concentrating on breathing deeply and evenly until that, as well, passed. He winced as his temples throbbed with an onsetting headache and took a staggering step backward.

Go see her, the strange voice spoke again.

"Not on your life," Ludwig grumbled, rubbing at his forehead as he cast a weary look across the laboratory. He had his own bed chamber upstairs with the rest of his siblings, but given that he spent so much time working in the laboratory, he had eventually coerced his parents into moving a spare bed into the far corner. They weren't exactly thrilled with the idea that it enabled Ludwig to hole himself up in the laboratory for days at a time, surfacing only to eat, but it ensured that he kept himself on a tight schedule, at the least.

The dizziness seemed to show no sign of loosening its hold anytime soon as he groaned and half-walked, half-stumbled across the laboratory where he collapsed on the mattress gratefully. A high-pitched whining awoke in his head as he closed his eyes, pulling the green quilt over himself and willing the odd sickness to pass as he drew his knees to his chest. The whine intensified, becoming a thrumming buzz that complimented his headache agonizingly as he clutched at his temples, whimpering softly. And then, as though someone had hit a switch deeply in his head, all traces of the symptoms suddenly vanished again, leaving Ludwig momentarily overcome with relief.

Somewhere between being grateful that it had passed and puzzling over what could have caused it, he slipped into a light and fitful slumber.

Karma, having resigned herself to her fate, sat in the corner of her dungeon cell, staring blankly off into space. She'd spent a good hour pacing every square inch of the small enclosure and searching the walls for even the slightest of faults or cracks she might have used to her advantage. Nothing... not even a loose stone. When she'd grown exhausted trying to be logical, she'd spent her remaining energy in the throes of a rage, cursing at the top of her voice and lunging at the barred door, rattling it with all of her might.

With the exception of producing some noise, she'd accomplished nothing and had eventually sagged to the floor in a state of exhaustion. After she had recovered, she'd scooted herself up against the wall, propping her back into the nook of the far-right corner which was where she had remained since. The hybrid had decided long ago that she was the only person currently residing in Castle Koopa's dungeon as, before her voice had given out, her yelling hadn't brought an answer of any sort, save for her own outraged shrieks echoing back at her.

As she'd sat, getting ahold of herself, her thoughts wandered back to Ludwig. Him... it was his fault she was here, she thought spitefully. If she'd known that he'd have taken things this far, she would have left while she'd still had the chance instead of even bothering to indulge his questions. Better yet, she would have done a better job of pummelling him into submission.

"Would you like to see how well you fight with a pair of broken arms?" she growled in a mocking voice, imitating his threat from earlier when he'd still had a hold on her wrists. "Like to see how well you ask stupid questions with a mouthful of broken teeth, you ugly jerk?" The threat, though it felt good to make, was an empty one and did nothing to comfort her as she sighed deeply, the tip of her tail lashing in frustration.

The dankness of the cell was beginning to creep into her bones, making her feel cramped and chilly as she drew her knees to her chest, shivering a bit. Her rage, while it stoked her mind into a blazing inferno, did little to keep out the physical cold. So lost in her anger was she, that she didn't hear the sound of approaching footfall, nor did she notice as someone paused outside of her prison until she heard the stout Sledge Brother clear his throat, shaking her out of her angry reverie. For a moment, they regarded one another in silence as he gave her a long scrutenizing look.

"Heh... what're YOU supposed to be?" he asked snidely. Karma only glared back, deciding she'd gotten in enough trouble for one day by answering questions for strangers. And she was fairly sure she knew this type pretty well... ugly, brawny, and pea-brained. He'd taunt her for awhile if she let him, and then if she talked back, he'd come in waving one of those stupid hammers of his and-

She jolted, hit with a sudden idea. It wasn't a very good idea, per-sey, but if this guy was anywhere near as dumb as he looked, it was most definitely worth a shot. Rolling her eyes dramatically, Karma pressed a paw to her belly and groaned loudly, pretending for all she was worth that she had suddenly been seized by debilitating pain.

"Hurts..." she grunted, rolling onto her side and curling up, trembling. "Mnnh..."

"Hurts, huh?" the guard smirked knowingly, well-accustomed to prisoners inventing illnesses in an attempt to escape. "Sorry t'hear that. Maybe if ya'd put half the effort into not getting caught that you're puttin' into that fakin' you're doing, you wouldn't have that problem."

Realizing with some annoyance that he was going to be a hard sell, Karma upped the stakes a bit. "Doctor..." she wheezed, making a great show of rolling over to face him, as though it had taken all of her strength. "M'sick... I need to see a do..." The hybrid purposely let her voice trail off as she rolled her eyes back into her head and began to shake spastically. She thrashed and twitched until she felt dizzy and then laid dormantly, trembling and wheezing.

"Yeah right, and as soon as I open that door to check on ya, you'll run, right?" the guard growled.

'Drat!' she thought to herself, but remained motionless as she hoped she might still have a chance. She didn't know how long she laid there, careful to keep her eyes focused vacantly into nowhere in her false catatonia as the guard stood outside, observing her carefully and debating. On the one hand, it would be all-around safer to leave her where she was. If she was faking, the last thing he needed was to give her a means of escape, but if she wasn't then he faced a new problem entirely. King Koopa was rather adament about getting to individually torment prisoners as he saw fit and he had very little patience for them mysteriously meeting their demise before he had a chance to get to them. And one thing that he had learned since he had come under Bowser's employ, was that underlings were ALWAYS expendable.

Sighing as he made his decision, he fetched the ring of keys from his belt and fumbled one into the cell's door. As it creaked open, he kept a careful eye on the hybrid, but she made no show of moving. He edged toward her, holding a hammer at the ready in case she made a sudden break for it, pausing when he stood directly over her.

"Ugh..." he remarked, getting a good look at her as he stooped at her side, making a cursory check of her pulse and breathing. "Hope you got personality because there isn't enough Yoshiberry wine on Plit to drink the ugly off of you." Karma fought against a growl at the statement as he shoved a hand beneath her, hefting her up and over one of his shoulders. The hybrid focused on remaining bonelessly limp as he adjusted his grip on her as though she were a sack of potatoes and then lumbered out of the cell, carrying her down the hallway.

Karma felt herself being carried up the stairs a moment later, being jostled quite rudely in the process. 'Watch the bumps, big guy,' she thought to herself. 'I'm not made of rubber, y'know.' She breathed a nearly-unnoticable sigh of relief as they reached the top of the stairs and continued on their way to whereever the guard was now taking her.

There was the sound of a latch opening and a gentle breeze that smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol as they entered another room. "Oh dear! No more patients, I simply can't take anymore patients today!" a male voice protested.

"Sorry doc, but I think it might be serious. She ain't movin' or nuttin." Karma bit back a whuff of discomfort as she was dropped onto a cold, flat slab of some sort.

"No, I'm putting my foot down! I have a very important seminar I must attend and- Oh dear me, who is this?" the voice asked, its tone shifting from petulant protest to sudden interest.

"Prisoner," the guard replied without much interest. "She pitched a fit down in the dungeon and I thought I'd better play it safe since the King ain't met'er yet."

"Dear me," he said again. "I've never seen anything like this one..."

"Thank DAD for small favors, eh?" the guard chortled. Karma made a mental note that if she managed to get out of this fiasco alive, the first thing she'd do was hunt down this particular moron and rearrange the geography of his face. A caress, cold and unsettling to the touch, brushed over her cheek.

"Hrmmm..." the other's voice murmured, quite close to her. The same strange touch invaded one of her eyes, pulling back a lid and giving her a brief glimpse of something cloudy and gray. "No pupil dilation... heartbeat is normal... are you sure something's wrong with this one?"

"Look, I've seen enough fakes to know better, alright?" the Sledge Brother said defensively. "This one was keeled over on her side shakin' and gurglin' like she was gonna die. YOU'RE the doctor here, not me."

"Yes, and as a doctor I'm saying that I don't see much abnormal with her... so either we're dealing with a rather good actor here or there's something I'm missing."

"I gotta get back to my post. If King Koopa catches me here, he'll have a bird," the guard replied irately. "Just give'er a once-over, fix 'er up, and send for me when you're done."


The protest was cut off as a door sharply closed. There was a moment of silence and then a deep sigh. "I am NOT missing my meeting for this," the stranger's voice huffed. Karma, befuddled by the lack of footsteps, cautiously opened one eye. Hovering a short distance away, his back turned to her, was a large Boo Diddly, a pen tucked up in the viscinity of where his ear should have been and decked out in a small labcoat that fit his form perfectly. He was sifting through a cupboard that contained an enormous array of bottles and vials as he muttered angrily to himself. "Crisis this, emergency that..." he grumped, finding what he was looking for and gently closing the cabinet as he turned, working the cork out of a small bottle. "No one ever worries if I have something that needs doing..."

As he neared, Karma quickly closed her eye again, hoping she hadn't been noticed. She repressed a shudder as the cold grasp from before settled over the back of her neck, pulling her forward slightly. Suddenly, a powerful and horribly sour smell assaulted her nose, making her gasp and her eyes fly open as they immediately began to water. Karma recoiled slightly, embarrassed to see the small bottle of smelling salts being held closeby.

"Just as I thought," the Boo said knowingly, with some exasperation. "You put on a good show, young lady, but you're going to have to do better than that if you want to pull the wool over these eyes."

"Fine..." Karma sighed, realizing that any semblance of a plan she'd had to escape was now thwarted. "So now what?"

"Now you get back to where you belong and I get to where I'm expected," he informed her as he hovered toward a small intercom unit, punching the button. "Number 24463, please report to the west medical ward for an outgoing," he said clearly into the reciever before releasing the button. "You'll excuse me if I'm a bit brisk, but I really MUST be going now," the Boo informed her. "Your guard will be with you shortly, wait here." And, saying so, the Boo faded from sight completely, leaving her by herself in the small and cluttered office.

"Fat chance," Karma growled, rolling over and scooting off of the examination table. As she landed on the floor, she found herself suddenly overcome with chills as she shuddered, rubbing at her upper arms to warm herself as she cast a cursory look about herself at her surroundings. Lining the walls were anatomy charts of various underlings, Koopas, and two framed medical degrees. A florescent light panel hummed nearby, X-rays still on it, and beside it was the door.

She stood regarding it for a long moment, the chills relenting only to be replaced by uncomfortable stomach spasms. Oddly enough, as the annoyance of the symptoms took place, her mind seemed to be focused on Ludwig. 'Figures...' she thought spitefully, rubbing at her belly and wincing. 'Guess I would rank him about as high as a bad case of gas...'

Realizing that, by now, the guard was likely well on his way to collect her, she forced herself to ignore the discomfort in her abdomen and moved toward the door, trying the knob and mildly surprised to find it unlocked as she eased it open. After satisfying herself that the Sledge Brother was nowhere to be seen, she quickly ducked into the hallway, keeping to the shadows as much as she could to avoid being seen as she moved.

At last, she found cover behind a suit of armor that had been put up for display and crouched behind it, collecting her scattered wits as she planned her next move. She was obviously at the disadvantage, she knew. She had no idea where she was going, how to get there, or what she planned on doing once she reached it. To top it off, the odds of running into a guard or, black horror, Bowser or one of his brats, were uncomfortably high. Therefore, she decided, she would just have to be incredibly careful until she managed to find the exit.

Her first order of business, she decided, would be to find somewhere better to hide until she had a better idea of where she was going. Her eyes skated the hallway, falling on a doorway that loomed across from her and slightly to the left. There could have been anything behind there, she mused. With any luck it would be a storage closet that she could lurk in until night fell and then creep off in the dark.

'Probably the conference room... and its probably full of Bowser and his extended family as we speak,' her mind chided her. 'Stay where you are.'

"Yeah, you can sit on that idea..." she grumbled in reply. True, the armor concealed her for now, but once the alert got out that there was a prisoner on the loose, it wouldn't be effective for very long. Deciding that taking a chance, in the end, would be better than being a sitting duck, she cast a wary look around before darting across the hallway and pausing a moment to listen at the door.

Silence. Good.

Wrapping a paw around the doorknob, she turned it and eased herself through the threshold, closing it softly behind her. Satisfied that she had not been noticed, Karma leaned back against the door and heaved a loud sigh of relief. "'Bout TIME something went my way..." she announced to no one in particular as she examined her new surroundings, absently rubbing at her belly where the cramps, momentarily subdued by the rush of adrenaline she'd experienced while in hiding, began to settle in again. She appeared to be in a laboratory of some sort, she concluded. Before her was a large workbench, littered with tools and various parts of machinery. There appeared, also, to be several unfinished devices that she had never seen before as she quirked a brow and ventured forward, picking up the one nearest to her and turning it over in her grasp.

If a can opener and an electric shaver were able to have a child, she mused, this was what it would look like. As she pressed the red button on its side curiously, it gave off a high-pitched drone before hissing and emitting a shower of sparks as she cried out and dropped it. Cripes, she wondered, what sort of kook would waste his time putting together junk like this that didn't even work?!

As though in answer to her question, nearby she heard something shift its position with a soft rustling noise. Karma froze, eyes snapping wide open as it dawned on her that she was not alone. Whirling in the direction of the sound, she realized for the first time that, not only was this room a laboratory but it seemed to be doubling as a makeshift bedroom for someone. And that particular someone was currently occupying it, to complicate things.

A moment of awkward silence passed before the sound of deep breathing issued from somewhere off to the left, making her relax a bit. Whoever it was, thankfully, was sleeping from the sound of it. Still... who in their right mind would want to shack up in a laboratory of all places? It wasn't exactly the most comforting place to sleep, she thought distastefully, casting a sweeping look at the beakers of stagnant liquids, the cupboards that contained vials and jars of various acids and bases, and the immeasurable amount of machinery that was arranged haphazardly, some of it functional and some of it not. It would be like waking up to some horrible B-rated science fiction movie every morning, she mused.

Her curiousity getting the better of her, Karma edged forward, careful not to make a sound as she neared the bed. When the head of it came into view, she drew in a gasp and scrambled backward, nearly knocking into the table behind her as she saw Ludwig curled up on his belly and sleeping soundly. When the initial shock of seeing her earlier tormentor had passed, she found herself left with annoyance and anger. It was so deliciously ironic, she thought seethingly, that this was the one person on the face of Plit that she would have moved the heavens AND underlands to get away from, and yet it was like some unseen force had drawn her back to him.

As she glared at the eldest Koopaling, he listed onto his side, the covers slipping off of his shoulders as he let his breath out in a sigh. The hybrid noted, as she watched him, that her left hand had curled itself tightly into a fist and that her claws were currently threatening to punch into the ball of her thumb. She wanted, very badly, to attack him and find closure from their fight earlier through a swift defeat with an unfair advantage on her end. It would be gratifying to pay him back for the insults, the threats, the time in the dungeon, the stomach cramps, the- but then, as the thought crossed her mind, she realized that the cramps were gone. In fact, she felt good. Too good to hold onto her homicidal thoughts.

With aching slowness, she managed to unclench the fist she'd been making and drew in a deep sigh as she continued to stare at Ludwig for a moment. It was criminal how innocent he looked when he slept, given what a jerk he could be when he was awake, she thought half-heartedly.

Oh well... No sense in letting him prove that point if he wakes up and catches me standing here...

With that, she turned to leave the laboratory and locate a more obscure hiding place. She hadn't gone three steps when, as though they had never left, her stomach cramps flared again with doubled ferocity.

Stay, an alien mental presense spoke, startling her. Choosing to ignore it, she continued to the door, finding that with each step she took, the pain grew worse until, as she reached for the doorknob, she was nearly doubled-over in agony. Confused and frustrated, she retreated from the door, back in the direction she'd come. As she drew nearer to Ludwig, the feelings faded and dissipated completely.

Great... Apparently, to add to her list of inconveniencies, now there was some sort of tractor beam between her and Whatshisface von Koopa. As she crossed her arms over her chest, setting her jaw in annoyance at this latest development, her mind twinged with remembrance... something she'd been told about in the past that would explain all of this...

But even as a clearer mental picture began to form, she pushed it out of hand. No... she refused to believe she could be that unlucky as she sighed and padded nearer to the bed, puzzling over what to do next since, apparently, she couldn't leave. She wondered idly if anybody had noticed her missing yet... or if they'd even think to look for her if she were to hide here for a bit longer. Hide... sure, but where? The bed was set too low to the ground to squeeze under and she didn't trust any of the machinery enough that she thought she might be able to lurk safely behind it.

As she mulled it over in her head, she yawned a bit. It occurred to her for the first time, now that she had a moment to actually consider it, that she was exhausted, both mentally and physically. Her interrupted nap, followed immediately by the current fiasco, hadn't helped matters much, she supposed. Her gaze settled on the bed Ludwig was occupying and it occurred to her that there was easily room for another person therein.

"No," she whispered to nobody in particular. "THAT is where I draw the line."

On cue, the tired sensation increased itself, as though forcing her not to have a choice. Blinking heavily and stifling another yawn, the idea of muscling into the bed with Ludwig was starting to look less and less repulsive. At length, her knees threatening to buckle, she made her decision.

"Shove over, pal," she said quietly, climbing in beside him and wriggling under the blanket into the pocket of warmth his body had created. He muttered something but didn't wake as she made herself comfortable. As she did so, an odd sense of completion filled her, bringing with it a sick realization as her twinges from earlier began to form complete thoughts and memories. Before they could take real substance, however, she had fallen asleep.

Nearly three hours had passed when Ludwig finally came awake, casting a bleary look at the travel alarm clock he'd placed on the bench beside the bed. Five-forty... his mother would be calling him out for dinner soon. Stretching and trying to put himself in more of an alert state, he sat up. He didn't feel rested -- his mind had been far too busy plaguing him with odd dreams involving the hybrid in the dungeon for him to relax fully. As a minor relief, whatever seemed to have been ailing him earlier was no longer a problem. He felt fine now. He'd go so far as to say he felt better than he had in days, grogginess and all.

As he sat up, getting his barings back and summoning the energy to emerge from the laboratory to face his family, he felt something heavy list slightly beside him, jostling the mattress. Ludwig's eyes widened in surprise as he whipped his head in the direction of the odd intrusion, wondering who had invaded his laboratory while he'd slept. His first thought was that perhaps he hadn't closed the door to the laboratory fully and the family dog, Bagels, had decided to pay him a visit. While he preferred the laborador's company much more than he preferred even that of most of his family, he had extreme misgivings about letting her into his bed. The last time he had, after all, she'd just come in from an afternoon of cavorting in the courtyard's rain puddles and had all but ruined his sheets with her muddy paws.

No... it wasn't Bagels, he concluded as he regarded the hump beneath the quilt beside him with morbid curiousity. Well, then who in DAD's name...? Drawing in a breath, Ludwig extended a paw and gripped the hem of the quilt, hesitating only a moment before pulling it backward to reveal Karma's sleeping form beneath.

He gaped at her. It was all he could do, really, as he found himself utterly numb with shock and indignation. He was beyond screaming as he trembled with outrage. How had she gotten out of the dungeon? More importantly, what was she doing here? As it occurred to him that she had nestled herself closely up against him, the inner leash broke as a revolted cry issued from his throat. The hybrid awoke just as he was in the process of trying to scramble backward, succeeding mostly in tangling himself in the blanket and nearly toppling to the floor.

"What's got your tail in a knot, Poofball?" Karma demanded to know, not yet fully awake.

"You...!" he snapped, faltering a bit as he regarded her with a hunted expression.

"Yeah, me. So?" she growled, rubbing her eyes with the back of one paw.

"What are you doing here? How did you get out of the dungeon?!"

"You've REALLY gotta get some smarter guards," she remarked. "And believe me, the situation isn't exactly a treat for me either."

"Why are you here?" he asked again, enraged by her presense. Truthfully, he couldn't care less that she had managed to get out... what bothered him was that she had chosen, rather than taking her freedom, to come and further annoy him. To deepen this disturbance, there seemed to be a small part of him that didn't mind.

"Well, I tried to leave, but-"

"But nothing!" Ludwig roared, seizing the blanket and snatching it away from her so forcefully that she keeled over backward and hit the floor with a dull thud. A spattering of red stars momentarily dazzled Karma's vision as the back of her head came alive with a high, stinging pain. Tentatively, she ran a hand along the back of her skull, checking her fingers for blood. Seeing none, she sat up with her eyes blazing and lunged. Had Ludwig been expecting it, he easily would have overtaken her just as he had outside... but being that he hadn't, the force of the hybrid knocking into his chest tumbled him tail-over-applecart to the floor. In the time it took him to realize what had happened, he found himself hog-tied with his own bedsheets.

"Now listen..." she began, her tone low and dangerous. "I've got something I gotta explain to you and it'd be nice to do it without having to listen to you whine."

"Explain what?" the eldest Koopaling snorted, struggling in his bonds futilely.

"Why I haven't ditched your ugly mug for one..." Ludwig, seeming to realize that from the angle he was at he could get no leverage to help him escape, stilled and focused fully on her through hateful eyes. "Look... I tried to leave, okay?" she began. "I couldn't even get out the door. I got sick. You been feeling anything like that?"

"Yes. Sick of you," he said defiantly, receiving a swat across the forehead from the hybrid in return.

"I'm trying to be serious," she growled.

"I don't-"

"Have you been feeling sick? It's a yes or no question," she interrupted, speaking loudly to keep him from changing the subject. Ludwig blanched a bit, and then, under his breath, gave a reluctant answer.

"Yes," he grumbled.


"I can't remember," he said dismissively, wondering what she was getting at.

"Was it after you dumped me in the dungeon?"

"What does this have to do with you still being here?!" he snarled, bearing his fangs. She regarded him coolly a moment and then began to speak.

"It's something my dad tried to explain to me a while ago... part of some halfwit 'birds and the bees' talk, I guess. I didn't get it at the time, but it's starting to make a little sense given the present situation. Ever heard of Meeting, Poofball?"

"Stop calling me that," he said irritatedly, beginning to struggle in the blankets again. He almost had a wrist free... from there, getting out the rest of the way would be easy.

"I guess it's something that doesn't happen too much anymore..." she continued, ignoring him. "Dad said it was some sort of weird force that pulled two Koopas together... tangled up their brains with each other, you know?"

"No. I don't," Ludwig grunted, straining against the fabric of the sheets as he realized one of his wristlets had snagged, complicating his escape. He was listening -- he wasn't interested, but he was listening and he'd never heard of what she was talking about before. He certainly had never seen it mentioned in any of his books about the history or biology of his race.

"I guess a long time ago, all the Koopas were so caught up in a land war of some kind that they weren't getting married or having any kids... something like that," Karma explained. "Anyway, Meeting started happening and it started forcing people to settle down and have families."

"You can't force somebody to settle down and have a family," Ludwig argued, twisting a bit to the left. He was almost there...

"Yeah, well, this can." she replied off-handedly. He opened his mouth to argue but thought better of it, deciding to humor her for the moment. "It's like, even if you're not looking, your brain is... and when it sees somebody it likes and thinks you could have decent kids with, it forms this kind of bond with the other person."

"Mmhmm..." Ludwig murmured, beginning to wriggle his other wrist.

"And if you try to ignore the other person your brain likes, you start to get sick. REALLY sick. Some people die if they try to sweep it under the rug for too long." As she said so, Ludwig had finally loosened the knot around his wrists enough to pull both hands free as he toppled forward, narrowly avoiding landing on his face.

"So what you're saying, in other words, is that you think you and I...?" he began incredulously.

"I'm just saying it would explain a lot," she shrugged. "And trust me, this isn't my idea of a good time either."

"The power of coincidence must be lost on you," the eldest Koopaling sighed, shaking his head as he wrestled his ankles loose from the sheets. "And I, for one, have had enough of this nonsense," he added, getting back to his feet and drawing himself to his full height as he headed in the direction of the door.

"Where're you going?" Karma demanded.

"I'm calling the guards and alerting my father," he informed her matter-of-factly, pausing with his paw on the doorknob to glare at her, hoping to see some trace of fright as he made his threat. "And after that, with any luck, your execution will be pushed higher on the..." he trailed off, his head suddenly feeling like it was caught in a vice as his stomach roiled furiously, making him wince and clutch his belly in pain. Karma watched smugly as he staggered forward a few steps, lost his balance, and collapsed on the floor.

"STILL think it's coincidence?"

"Shut... up..." came the muffled reply as he shuddered in misery, waiting for the sickness to pass again. When it had more or less alleviated, he drew himself to his hands and knees, looking thoughtful before grudgingly turning to Karma. "How do we stop this?" he asked.

"I don't know..." she replied.

"What do you mean you don't know?!" he growled.

"Just like I said, I don't know!" she snapped. "Need me to spell it for ya? Get me a marker, I'll write it on your friggin' forehead!" Ludwig bristled in reply, feeling his frustration transforming itself back into rage. "And anyway, it doesn't look like it effects us just by being apart..." Karma relented, softening her tone a bit. "Just when we try to fight it."

"It would seem to me," Ludwig snapped, "that if this was done, it most certainly can be UNdone..."

"You'd think that," Karma sighed.

"And with as gracefully as you're taking this, I'm inclined to believe you planned it," he said suspiciously, making her jolt and favor him with an disbelieving look.

"Yeah... you got me there. I woke up this morning and decided I just REALLY wanted to have the world's ugliest anchor tied around my ankle for the rest of my life," the hybrid muttered angrily. "Don't flatter yourself, Poofball. I'm just exhausted... you can only throw so many fits in one day till you get to a point where you just don't care anymore."

"I said stop calling me that!" he ordered.

"What? Poofball? Then drag a brush across your head, you savage," she retorted, gesturing at his unruly mat of blue hair. Ludwig narrowed his eyes, looking like he would have lunged at her again, resparking another fight between them if Clawdia's voice hadn't interrupted him.

"Kids! Dinner!" her matronly voice reverberated down the hallway. Ludwig froze, debating, before easing off on his anger.

"This isn't over," he warned her. "I'm notifying the first guard I run into about your whereabouts."

"If I promise to look scared will you shut up with the threats?" Karma grumbled, rolling her eyes. Ludwig didn't answer as he stormed toward the door, pausing as he reached for the doorknob to see if he'd be hit with another wave of sickness. Seeming to have dodged the bullet this time, he opened it, passed through, and slammed it shut behind himself, leaving Karma in silence.

"If it's any consolation," the hybrid sighed, absently picking lint from one of the bedsheets "I don't want this either..."

Her father, a Koopa named Raymond, had been vague when describing the force known as Meeting to his daughter, but had told her enough. It was something that, as far as he knew, only affected Koopas and that it was a very rare occurance these days. It had come into being as DAD's answer to keeping them from dying out as a race, and when it was no longer needed, had ceased happening as often... almost entirely, in fact.

Karma closed her eyes, trying hard to reach back into the black velvet of her subconscious and remember what their discussion had consisted of.

"It bonds two Koopas together by their bodies and their souls... It doesn't matter how they feel about each other, either, and that's why some people called it 'The Curse'," he had told her. "It's something you HAVE to accept, even if you hate it. Your Met is someone who you end up having a spiritual obligation to for the rest of your life."

"So... what? You're like each other's life support system?" Karma, then twelve turns of age had asked.

"Essentially, yes. Mets pick up on and share each other's moods, sometimes if one is hurt badly the other can feel twinges of their pain, and it runs so deeply that if one were to die, the other would soon follow from the loss."

"What a load of bunk. How's spending the rest of your life with someone you hate but can't even kill supposed to help save a race? That'd start MORE fights!"

"Metbonds don't always mean that the couple hates each other," he'd tried to explain. "There's nothing stronger than a pair of Mets who've learned to love one another."

"Feh... If it ever happens to me, I'll go eat deathcap mushrooms till I pop."

"I wouldn't worry about it, Karma," Raymond had chuckled, giving her a brief hug. "The only case I've ever heard of happened between friends of your great-grandparents. And even then, I think they just liked to say they'd Met. With you being only half-Koopa, I'd say you could pretty much rule it out completely."

'Yeah... thanks a lot, Dad,' she grumped, shaking herself back to the present. She'd held out hope until the last possible minute that it had been something else, but all things considered there was really no other explanation for hers and Ludwig's symptoms.

But who knew? Maybe he was right... Maybe there was a way to undo what had been formed between the two of them. It wasn't as though, in their current state, she had to worry about anybody trying to kill her. That is, of course, unless Ludwig's family suddenly decided that having her around wasn't worth keeping him alive, and she severely doubted that, being that he was one of Bowser's brats. Terrorizing kingdoms, making off with princesses -- those were things people eventually let settle into the past... But if word got out that Bowser was a child-killer... hoo boy.

"Hope you know what you're doing, Ludey..." she muttered, seating herself on the edge of the bed to wait.

Dinner took place as it usually did in Castle Koopa. The silence was broken with occasional conversation, but for the most part, everyone focused fully on the transferrence of food from their plates to their mouths. Tonight, the kitchen staff had prepared veal stroganoff which, apparently, was a hit with most of Bowser's family. Larry, the only resident vegetarian, contented himself by eating a salad in its place, but otherwise there had been no complaints.

Ludwig found that, while he hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, his appetite had left him as he sat at his usual place, aimlessly pushing the noodles and meat around his plate. He'd tried, twice, on his way down the hallway to flag down a guard and inform them of Karma's whereabouts, but both times he'd found that his throat had constricted itself to the size of a pinhole, disabling his speech and nearly his breathing. Was this really how it was going to be for the rest of his life? Not only was he doomed to constantly share it with a foul-tempered freak of nature, but every time he tried to rid himself of her, he'd find himself rolling on the floor in some form of pain?

He drew in his breath, heaving a sigh that filled every cavity of his chest as he looked up from his plate. His father sat not ten feet away from him, currently downing his fourth helping of dinner. Under normal circumstances he'd have wasted no time in informing him of the fact that he was harboring an intruder in his laboratory, but he was helplessly aware that it was not an option of his. Not with the current chokehold the Metbond had on his better sense, at least.

"HEY! I'm talking to YOU, mud-fer-brains!" Roy roared, prodding his older brother with his fork in the shoulder, shaking Ludwig out of his mental reverie and making him whip his head in his younger brother's direction. "Gimme that salt or I'm gonna cave yer face in!" Ludwig narrowed his eyes, obediently reaching for the salt shaker and then, with a flick of his paw, throwing it at Roy irritatedly.

"Choke on it," the older Koopaling hissed as the shaker bounced off of Roy's plastron with a tonk, showering him in salt. Roy glared at Ludwig from behind his sunglasses with an expression of unbridled spite.

"So what's your problem, brainiac?" he threatened, retrieving the shaker from where it had settled in his lap, never removing his eyes from Ludwig.

"Me. And in about three seconds, you're going to share in it," he snarled, half-hoping his brother would throw a punch so that he could take out his pent aggression on something. Roy, instead, quietly returned to his meal, deciding that the scuffle wasn't worth foregoing dinner as he resumed eating. Sighing in disgust, Ludwig folded his arms on the table and laid his head upon them, his mind still churning restlessly about his current situation.

"Ludwig, dear...?" Clawdia's alto voice spoke up.

"What?" he asked dejectedly, not lifting his head.

"Don't talk to your mother that way," Bowser grumbled, having just cleared his plate.

"Are you feeling alright?" the Koopa Queen inquired, ignoring her husband as she cocked her head at a curious angle.

"M'fine..." Ludwig muttered.

"Are you?" she pressed. Ludwig opened his mouth to tell her, again, that yes he was just dandy -- anything to get her off of his back, but realized in the same instance that it would be pointless to do so. Behind him, he was aware that his tail had begun involuntarily twitching and it was there that his mother's eyes were focused. Ever since he was a hatchling he'd been plagued by the annoyance of his tail betraying him whenever he'd tried to lie for some reason. If he really concentrated, he could control it... but more often than not, by the time he noticed it, it was too late.

"Why wouldn't I be?" he asked at last, not quite ready to give up.

"You've been acting a bit off-kilter tonight," she stated matter-of-factly.

"More than usual, anyway." Iggy quipped, snickering at his own joke and otherwise ignored by everybody else.

"I've just been tired lately. I'm on the verge of a breakthrough with my current project and I'm not quite sure how to nudge it over the edge," he fibbed, gritting his teeth and trying to concentrate on keeping his tail still, annoyed as it intensified its twitching to a light lashing.

"And is that all?"

It would be if you'd stop your blasted badgering... Ludwig thought angrily. "Yes," he said with an air of finality in his tone, and then relented. "If you like, I'll tell you about it later, Mother."

"There's nothing you can say to your mother that you can't say in front of all of us," Bowser stated sourly. "And the way I see it, you can either come out with it now, or you can spend the rest of the night in the dungeon." Ludwig noticeably flinched, raising his eyes to look at Bowser guiltily. He had been cornered, he realized with resentment, and he noticed that he was being eyed curiously not just by his parents, but by his siblings as well. "Well?!" his father demanded.

"I..." he faltered, looking down at the tabletop fixatedly. Taking a deep breath, he decided to approach the topic in as roundabout of a way as he could. "I'm doing some research on the side," he began.

"Is that so?" Bowser asked, not sounding convinced.

"And... I need to know," he paused and cleared his throat. "What is Meeting?" Bowser and Clawdia both exchanged a puzzled look and for a moment Ludwig felt himself relax. Maybe he'd been right after all... Karma had just fabricated the entire concept to try and buy herself a ticket to freedom and, in his frantic state of mind, he'd bought into it fully. He knew the mind was a powerful persuader and that if he thought he would experience certain symptoms, his brain could certainly concoct the sensations to go with them.

"Why on Plit would you want to know about such a thing?" his mother inquired, sounding neither here nor there on the topic. "It's such an ancient process, Ludwig... It hasn't happened to anyone in years.

"I'm... I'm documenting different phenomenon within our race in an attempt to-"

"For DAD's sake, will you stop lying?!" Bowser roared suddenly, making Ludwig jolt again and nearly fall out of his chair. "If that tail of yours wags any faster, you'll lift off the blasted ground!" This statement was met with a spattering of chuckles and razzes from his siblings as Ludwig righted himself again. "Now what is this about Meeting?"

"What is it?" Ludwig inquired again, trying to regain his lost composure. Bowser favored him with a long, calculating look before answering.

"It's a curse, that's what. It was a case of DAD not knowing when to leave well enough alone and weaseling two Koopas into a relationship they couldn't get out of. Why?" The stress put on the word made it sound like less of a question and more of a challenge.

"I-Isn't there any way of undoing it?" he asked, hearing a tone of desperation creep into his voice and hating it.

"No," his mother cut in simply with a slight shrug. "Not that any Koopa knows of, at least. That's why it was called 'The Curse' back when it was in its hayday. Ludwig, are you sure you're feeling alright?"

"Huh?" Ludwig asked, rubbing a palm absently over his forehead where a cold sweat had broken out.

"You look a bit flushed, dear."

"What does it mean?" he asked, not bothering to brush off his mother's observation. He didn't doubt he looked horrible... he felt horrible at the moment.

"When a couple Meets?" Clawdia inquired. "It means they spend their lives together because they really have no other choice, you see. Some of them marry to make things simpler, most of them have children."

He felt his stomach lurch sharply at the words 'marry' and 'children'. He knew he was approaching an age where, as the eldest and Bowser's heir, he'd be expected to start keeping an eye out for a suitable mate for himself to keep the family line going. It was a particularly sore spot for him because he honestly had no interest in saddling himself with such things. He wanted to devote his time fully to creating and thinking, not to playing mindgames with a perfume-marinated female and chasing after offspring he didn't want.


Again, he jolted, realizing he'd shifted back into his thoughts as he goggled at Bowser. "Just what IS your malfunction tonight?" the Koopa king inquired.

"I'm not feeling very well, I suppose." he stated, unbetrayed by his tail as this was the truth. At the moment he wanted nothing more than to curl up somewhere and will everything to leave him alone.

"Then get away from the table," Bowser snarled. "The rest of us don't want whatever you've got. You should have said something earlier." Relieved at the chance to get out from beneath the scrutenizing eyes of his family, Ludwig gratefully pushed his chair back and stood, moving to leave. With any shred of luck, the hybrid would be gone by the time he returned to his laboratory and he wouldn't have to worry himself further about any of this... and perhaps later he would track down Kamek and discuss what could be done about today's events on a more personal level.

He had no sooner begun to retreat than there was a sharp yelp of pain from the neighboring corridor, followed by the approaching sounds of a scuffle.

"Hold her, blast it!"

"I'm trying!"

Both voices were masculine and sounded rather frustrated and strained as they drew nearer. One by one, the royal family's interest shifted from their dinner and toward the approaching ruckus until a Boomerang and Sledge Brother guard emerged in the dining hall's entrance, someone familiar restrained between them.

"Many pardons, your highness," the Boomerang Brother began, executing a brisk salute as his other hand struggled to hold onto Karma's left ankle as she twisted, growling and fighting, in the two underlings' grasp. "It seems there was a jailbreak earlier today under 24463's watch. I found the prisoner in the laboratory while on a routine check of the West wing."

"Prisoner..." Bowser repeated, his expression darkening as he rose from where he sat. "And why wasn't I informed?" he demanded to know, approaching the trio.

"Well, we hadn't wanted to... to trouble you, your highness..." the Boomerang Brother faltered a bit. "We were fairly sure we could get the situation under control ourselves." The underlings cringed away from the annoyed king, but Karma seemed to give no sign of even noticing him as he drew near.

"Let me GO!" she demanded, baring her fangs and attempting to bite at anything she could reach. Bowser's expression shifted from one of anger to disgust as he eyed her and Ludwig swallowed heavily, his mouth having gone dry.

"What is THAT?!" Larry asked, pointing at Karma inquisitively from his place at the table.

"Ugh! Daddykins, it's scaring me!" Wendy complained, daintily putting a hand to her forehead.

"A Yoshi..." Bowser snorted with extreme distaste. "How did it get here? Why didn't the roving guards run it off?!"

"I- I wouldn't know, sire... that is..." The Boomerang Brother paused, beginning to tremble. "I was assigned to walk the indoor portion of the castle today."

"I don't keep you cockroaches here to stand around and look pretty!" Bowser roared, the scent of brimstone and burnt veal escaping his jaws and wafting over the three that stood before him. "SOMEBODY isn't doing their job!" Karma gave another useless heave against her captors, once again trying to free her arms from their clutches and once again failing. Her eyes wildly scanned the dining hall, realizing she was in the midst of the entire Koopa clan with only one face among the sea of perplexed and disgusted expressions striking a familiar note with her.

"Ludwig!" she snapped, cutting off the Sledge Brother's worried stuttering of an explanation and watching with mild satisfaction as the eldest Koopaling cringed noticeably from across the room. "Get me out of here!"

Bowser lifted a lip threateningly, the pearly luster of his fangs glinting dangerously in the dim light as he turned his head to face his son. "You know this monster?" he rumbled. Ludwig opened his mouth, not sure if he meant to confirm or deny the question, and found that he could not speak. Not waiting any longer for a reply, Bowser turned his attention back to Karma. "Destroy it. Now," he commanded. "I don't want to look at it anymore."

"As you wish, your highness," the Sledge Brother said, sounding relieved that the focus hadn't settled on his allowing her to escape in the first place as he drew a hammer from his belt.

"Father..." Ludwig said sharply, making everyone in the room pause to look at him.

"You're interrupting," Bowser growled warningly.

"I... I have to," he said, shooting a look at Karma out of the corner of his eye. The glance she returned offered no support, only a silent command to get on with it. "She's my Met," he continued, squeezing his eyes shut in shame at both the admission and the idea he'd just stood up to Bowser.

"Your what?!" Bowser barked.

"There must be some mistake..." Clawdia gasped, rising from her seat and moving toward the spectacle. "Ludwig, Meeting hasn't happened in generations. And this pairing is impossible... a Koopa and a Yoshi-"

"I'm a HALF-Yoshi, thanks..." Karma grumbled, giving a mighty twist of her forearms and managing to pull herself free, leaping forward before the underlings could get a renewed grip on her. "And if it isn't Meeting, you tell ME what it is!" she added snidely, putting her hands on her hips. "I get sick as a dog every time I try to walk out on this loser, and he pitches a fit whenever he tries to walk out on me! It's not like we're crazy about the idea, y'know."

"How dare you speak to us that way?!" Bowser growled. "Do you have any idea who you're talking to, you ugly little upstart?"

"If I heard a pipe organ playing, I'd think I was talkin' to the fat lady in the circus," she snapped, making Ludwig groan in disapproval and slap his forehead. Bowser gritted his teeth, bearing his fangs dangerously as he bent over, bringing himself to eye level with the hybrid.

"You have a lot of nerve..." he hissed.

"And YOU have a lot of gut!" she retorted, jabbing a claw at the tip of his snout. Behind Bowser, Iggy and Lemmy chuckled before they could stop themselves, quickly trying to stifle it behind their hands.

"ENOUGH!!!" Bowser bellowed, seizing the hybrid in one of his massive paws and suspending her several feet off of the ground before beginning to squeeze her. Karma gagged and struggled, clawing futilely at Bowser's immense fingers in an attempt to loosen his hold on her chest.

"Dad, please!" Ludwig winced, moving forward and mindful of the faint cramps that had awoken in his ribcage. Bowser's rage was not something to toy with, and he knew that if his father was left to his own devices, he would have crushed Karma like a rather loudmouthed insect right then and there, taking him with her.

Bowser, distracted momentarily from his task, rounded on his son, eyes wide and dancing with hellfire. "You can't..." the Koopaling protested.

"Who are you to say what I can and can't do?!" Bowser demanded, throwing Karma to the floor in a heap where she lay, dazed, as she tried to collect her scattered wits and catch her breath. The two guards took the opportunity to rush forward and apprehend her once more, keeping her from attempting to escape.


"Apparently you've forgotten your place in this family..."


"SILENCE!!!" Bowser commanded, making Ludwig's further protests dry up as the father and son held a silent duel with their eyes - Bowser's hard and angry, Ludwig's bewildered and pleading. "Go to your dungeon and don't come out until I call for you," he ordered. Ludwig remained rooted where he was for a moment, torn between trying to stand up for himself and following orders. At length, defeated, he slunk out of the dining hall. Once he was gone, Bowser returned his attention to the hybrid. "And as for you," he continued, leering at her. "I'll have to think on it. Your execution will have to be very... special."

"I'm shaking," Karma shot back sarcastically, immediately finding the Sledge Brother's hand clamped over her mouth to prevent further sass.

"Get her out of here," Bowser sneered. "I'll come for her later." The two guards hurriedly complied, dragging Karma out of the dining hall, around the corner, and out of sight, leaving the remaining members of the Koopa family in silence.

"That was a bit harsh," Clawdia piped up, straightening her glasses on the bridge of her snout.

"Don't question me, woman..." Bowser grumbled, shoving past her and storming back to the table. "I've had about all of the treachery I can stand for one night."

"But it wasn't Ludwig's fault this happened..." she continued, trying to appeal to her husband's better sense as he whirled to face her, pulling his chair away from the table to take his seat again.

"No. It wasn't," he agreed stonily. "It WAS his fault he didn't know when to keep his trap shut and that's what he's being punished for. The fact he was fraternizing with an outsider at all is grounds for banishment so I'm letting him off easy."


"For DAD's sake, Clawdia, I'm more than leniant with these kids!" he snarled, waving a hand at the remaining six of their children that still sat at the table, shrinking back slightly from their father's anger. "They've been fine for years and I'm not going to have you telling me how to raise them now!"

The Koopa Queen drew a deep breath, remaining unearthly calm in spite of Bowser's inferrance that she'd had nothing to do with the upbringing of the koopalings.

"All I'm telling you, dear, is that Ludwig will be grown soon. He'll need to start making decisions for himself and things are going to happen that neither of us can meddle in."

"Are you done?" Bowser asked, sounding disinterested. Clawdia set her jaw before sighing and shaking her head.

"I'm done," she said flatly, making her way back to her seat to finish eating. For several moments, there was utter silence, broken only by the minute tinks and scrapes of Bowser's silverware against his plate.

"I'll deal with this after dinner," King Koopa said aloud to nobody in particular around a mouthful of veal. "I'll take care of that... that THING first. Then I'll go have a talk with Ludwig."


"What?!" he snapped, glaring daggers at his wife's insistance on getting involved.

"If she and Ludwig have truly formed a Metbond, killing her would kill our son as well," she warned. Bowser paused, seeming to consider this and then shook his head.

"There's no Metbond," he insisted. "They're imagining things, that's all. You know as well as I do that it only works between two of our own race."

"But she said she was-"

"She is NOT a Koopa," he stated firmly, daring her to argue. At length, Clawdia simply lowered her eyes back to her plate as she realized she wasn't going to get anywhere, eating in silence and hoping tonight be one of the rare occasions where Bowser would have second thoughts about his intentions.

Ludwig walked slowly down the basement corridor, fully aware he was dawdling. It was probably childish, given that his father's dungeon sentences could last up to a week in length, to try and buy himself a few more minutes of freedom, but he found that he didn't care. Under other circumstances, he didn't mind being sent to the dungeon as it gave him time to sit in silence and think without interruption. He'd heard horror stories from his brothers about how their assigned guards tormented them when no one was looking, purposely refusing to feed them and keeping them awake all night by rattling their hammers across the bars. Ludwig's guard, however, was fairly docile and kept mostly to himself.

"Uh oh... What're ya in for THIS time?" the guard in question, a slightly overweight Hammer Brother who had been leaning against the wall idly thumbing through a magazine, inquired as the Koopaling rounded the corner.

"Insubordination," Ludwig sighed, shaking his head in disbelief as he recounted the last few minutes in the dining hall in his head. It hadn't been fair... not that Bowser was known for his sense of fairness anyway, but still...

"That's a new one for you, isn't it?" the Hammer Brother smirked, folding his magazine and stuffing it back into his shell as he fetched his keys from his belt and waddled toward the cell door to open it. "Usually you end up down here because one of those gadgets of yours blew up in your dad's face or set the throne room on fire."

"I know..." the young Koopa muttered, standing by patiently as the cell door opened with a creak and the Hammer Brother stood aside, motioning him in. As Ludwig stepped inside and heard the door bang shut behind him, he wrapped his arms around himself as though the room had suddenly grown too cold to bear. Bowser was going to kill Karma if left to his own devices... of this Ludwig had no doubt. If she had been anyone else, he wouldn't have cared. In fact, if there were some way to undo what had been done between the two of them, he'd feel comforted by the fact that she would soon be gone.

As it stood now, as he understood it, when she was killed he would follow shortly after. He wasn't sure if he believed it... that some intangible force could be that powerful, but he found that he didn't especially want to risk it. There was so much he hadn't done yet... so much he still wanted to do.

"So... what were we up to the last time you came to visit me?" the guard inquired as he fumbled a deck of well-worn playing cards out of his shell and began to shuffle them. "I was teachin' ya how to play Rummy, wasn't I?" When Ludwig didn't answer and remained standing with his back to him, the guard fixed his expression with a puzzled look. "I... uh... I guess it must've been pretty sour circumstances you ended up down here, huh?"

"You could say that," Ludwig agreed sullenly.

"Well, far-be it for me to pry or anything, but ya mind telling me what exactly happened?"

"It's a long story..." he replied reluctantly.

"It's not like I'm goin' anywhere," the underling shrugged. Ludwig drew in a breath, slowly letting it out again as he tried to get his thoughts in order.

"I'm not sure I even understand it," he began. "Everything happened so quickly."

"Fire in the lab?"


"Ruined one of your sister's outfits?"


"Got locked in a room and had to listen to Prince Morton yack all morning?"

"No," Ludwig snapped, getting annoyed. "This is worse than that."

"Kid, it don't GET much worse than that," the Hammer Brother chuckled, but obediently silenced himself, giving Ludwig his attention. "G'wan. I'm sorry."

"It started this morning... I ran across a trespasser in the garden," Ludwig explained, beginning to pace the interior of his cell restlessly as he related the entire story of what his day had consisted of. Everything from escorting Karma to the dungeon, to the recent explosion at dinner. As he neared the end of his story, his frustration became apparant until thin ribbons of smoke escaped his nostrils as he spoke.

"He wouldn't even listen!" Ludwig growled. "He doesn't care about the reprecussions of any of this, all he's concerned with is teaching her a lesson no matter what cost it might be to me!" He paused, flopping onto the wooden cot against the far wall of the cell and sighing. "And there's nothing I can do about it either," he grumped.

"You could start by droppin' that attitude," the Hammer Brother pointed out. "Seems to me that if this is anywhere near as big a deal as you're makin' it out to be, you wouldn't be rollin' over like this."

"I don't need a lecture," Ludwig snorted.

"Yeah? I think you do," the guard retorted, making Ludwig bolt into a sitting position and glare at him. "I ain't gonna lie to ya, kid. I think every Troopa here has gone against your dad's orders at least once. He likes to think he knows what's best for everybody, but a good soldier knows when his orders are fulla dung."

"I'm not a soldier," Ludwig protested.

"Right. You're not. So why're ya takin' orders like one?" Ludwig opened his mouth to reply and found, much to his chagrin, that he had no direct answer to this.

"It's a matter of respect. I wouldn't expect you to understand," he said waspishly.

"That so?" the Hammer Brother smirked, looking at his claws idly. "You'd think after years of servitude to you uppers, we'd understand more than ya think. Seems to me ya can only give so much before you want a little back."

"And what am I supposed to do? Tell Father not to? He'd never listen," the Koopaling sighed.

"Meh... People'll always listen. Ya just gotta talk loud enough."

"There's not much I can do from in here," Ludwig grumbled, using the last of his excuses.

"No, guess there isn't." Ludwig jolted, looking up as he heard the turn of a key in the lock. "Whoops!" the guard remarked jovially. "Now why'd you go and pick the lock, kiddo?"

"I didn't-"

"Geez!" the guard continued, swinging the door open and standing aside. "Your dad's gonna throw a fit when he finds out you broke outta your cell to go stop 'im from doing something stupid!" Ludwig continued to look perplexed for a few moments more before understanding dawned in his eyes. "Ten minutes," the guard informed him with a wink. "After that, I'm soundin' the alarm and you're on your own. If you get thrown back in here, don't say I didn't try to help."

"I- thank you..." he managed to say, hopping off of the cot and edging out of the cell, eyeing the guard warily as though he expected the offer to be false.

"Hurry up!" the guard barked. "Clock's a 'tickin'!" As though he'd broken the spell, Ludwig whirled on his heel and ran, not quite sure where he was going, but choosing not to question his luck. The Hammer Brother watched him go, smiling faintly and shaking his head. He wasn't what most would consider an intellectual dynamo, but he knew that this was something far too big for him to stand in the way of. Leaning up against the wall, he fumbled into his shell yet again and withdrew a battered-looking pocket watch to count down the ten minutes he'd allowed the eldest Koopa prince.

He already knew he was going to have a hard time explaining his way out of this one if he was ever approached and asked how it was that he was overpowered by someone half his size and weight.

"Karma? Karma!" Ludwig called, the only answer being the sound of his own voice reverberating back at him off of the stone walls as he trotted up and down the rows of Castle Koopa's holding cells, keeping his fingers crossed that he'd see the hybrid huddled within one of them. His hopes of finding her before Bowser hauled her off for her appointed execution began to dim and then flickered out entirely as he rounded the corner of the last row of cells and found all of them to be empty as well. She was gone. His father had already taken her.

He paused, catching his breath as he let the fact that he was too late sink in. She was doomed, he was doomed, it was all over for the both of them. He exhaled with a shuddering breath, squeezing back tears of frustration and upset. Even as he did so, it dawned on him that she wasn't dead yet -- couldn't be if he was still alive. He still had a chance!

I'll never make it in time... he thought bitterly, trying to comfort himself with the idea that perhaps Karma's execution had already been carried out and that the conception of Mets being one another's link to living was incorrect. How could they know, after all, when it seemed nobody he had spoken to had ever experienced it OR had it happen to someone they were acquainted to?

Would you like to find out the answer to that the hard way? the same voice that had been tormenting him earlier spoke up again, just as cold and obnoxious as he remembered it. It occurred to him that no, indeed he did not want to find out the hard way. Whirling on his heels, Ludwig scampered back the way he'd come, diving into the mouth of a green warp pipe that sat near the entrance.

The cramped blackness of the passage grew steadily warmer as he struggled through it, crescendoing to an uncomfortable heat by the time he finally reached the opening on the other side. He had broken a sweat by the time he emerged from the pipe, finding himself in a lava-moated cavern where various devices of punishment were strewn about. Ludwig had been well-aware that this room existed and had heard the cries of prisoners as they were led through this particular warp to meet their fate, but he had never actually had the drive to see it for himself.

"KNOCK IT OFF, YOU IDIOT!!!" Karma's shrill, unmistakable voice shrieked as Ludwig emerged from the warp, making him duck back down slightly, leaving himself barely enough room to see what was going on and so that his intrusion wouldn't be noticeable.

"Shut up," Bowser's voice replied casually. "Save it for when you're actually in trouble. Then you can scream all you want." The Koopa king chuckled at this as Ludwig quietly twisted himself in the pipe until he was facing the direction of the spectacle. Karma was in the process of having her wrists and ankles tied together by a pair of struggling green Troopas as Bowser idly surveyed the cavern. "So let's see..." he murmured. "What do we do with a trespassing troublemaker who doesn't know when to keep her freak mouth shut?" He turned back to her just as the Troopas were finishing with their work and backing away.

"The Bob-ombs have always been a favorite," Bowser said, grabbing the hybrid up by the back of her shell and dangling her over a large pit filled with the explosive minions. The Bob-ombs all clustered below her, glaring up through the flatness of their red eyes as their fuses popped and sparked, threatening to come alight at any moment and set off a chain of deadly explosions. Karma gasped, drawing her knees to her chest reflexively in horror. As Bowser's hand loosened on her shell slightly, she was unable to suppress a small shriek. "Not your thing, eh?" King Koopa inquired snidely, withdrawing her from the edge of the pit.

Karma barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief before she was thrust up against the currently-inactive barrel of a Bullet Bill cannon. "Or maybe one of these guys through the chest," Bowser offered. Karma was aware she was trembling, her nerves utterly shot by the position she was now in as she struggled violently in her bonds. It was no use, she realized. The Troopas may have looked stupid, but apparently they knew a thing or two about knot-tying. Her struggles did nothing but make the ropes tighter as they bit into her flesh. A faint scent of gunpowder wafted under her nose from within the cannon, making her trembling intensify itself to a full-body quake.

I'm not gonna cry... I'm not gonna cry... she promised herself over and over again, hearing something stealthily shift into place inside of the barrel. It was quiet, but just loud enough that she was sure it was a sound she had been meant to hear. The Yoshikoopa choked back a sob, flinching every time she thought that the cannon might explode to life, point black against her ribcage.


The sound filled the entire room... seemed to fill the entire world as she shrieked, feeling herself yanked backward again by her tormentor's hand a split second before the bullet inside would have pierced her flesh. Karma felt hot wind as the Bullet Bill whisked past her body, missing her by bare inches as it collided with the stone wall across the moat in a shower of steam and debris.

"So what do you think? Is that a bit more to your liking?" Bowser inquired sarcastically, holding Karma up to eye level with himself and eyeing her with smugness. He was merely playing with her now... lives were so easily snuffed and after the thrill of the execution was gone, you were left with nothing but a mess to clean up. He had learned, early on, that it was much more satisfying to make, especially the troublesome prisoners, last for a bit. In spite of her earlier bravado and loudness, he saw that this one was progressing nicely. A couple more false-starts and she'd be begging to be spared... or maybe she'd lose her mind entirely.

And to think she'd had the audacity to think, even for a minute, that he'd buy the excuse that she and Ludwig were Mets. Feh! She'd even coerced his eldest into buying into the lie so heavily that he'd dared to stand up to his own father. When he was done with her, he promised himself, he'd go seek Ludwig out in his dungeon and the two of them would discuss things. Who knew? If he was apologetic enough about the situation, Bowser might even decide to let him go with no jail sentence at all. Who said he was a bad father?

"Well?!" he devilled her, smirking a bit. "Speak up. You may be ugly, but you're anything but mute." Karma dangled from Bowser's fist a moment more in silence, regarding him with a stony expression that was set somewhere between boundless fright and outrage. Summoning the ruined tatters of her courage, she opened her mouth. She wasn't sure if she meant to speak or meant to scream, but she did neither. Cocking back her head, she spat squarely in Bowser's face. The king of the Koopas growled deeply, but his hold on her didn't waver as he brought his free paw up to angrily wipe the offensive substance away from his muzzle and eyes.

"You little wretch..." he rumbled, the toying portion of the execution brought to an abrupt end. He bared his teeth and, from his hiding place in the warp pipe, Ludwig cringed, thinking that his father might tear her to ribbons then and there. Instead, however, he stormed forward a few paces before throwing Karma to the ground where she landed in a dazed heap with a groan. "I think," Bowser said, still wiping at his face, "that your end deserves to be very messy. I'm going to let a friend of mine handle that."

"Heh... Ready when you are, King Koopa," a gruff voice said from above. Karma, startled, rolled onto her side to look above her at the large Thwomp currently clinging to the ceiling. He was roosting perhaps twenty feet above her head, but even from there he looked very heavy... and very dangerous.

"Did you do everything ya wanted to do in life?" Bowser taunted, chuckling as his good mood returned. "Hope so, because I don't do last requests." He paused, hoping she would beg him, protest some more, or do something that would give him greater satisfaction when he gave the overhanging Thwomp the command to drop. The hybrid did nothing and simply laid where she was, looking like she was still struggling hard to keep a grip on herself and not give way to panic. Bowser narrowed his eyes in disappointment and decided to up the stakes a bit.

"Position!" he barked, eliciting a faint grinding of stone from overhead as the Thwomp drew itself to its full altitude. Karma must have heard it as well, King Koopa realized with some degree of satisfaction, as her eyes went wide and her struggles began again, accompanied by faint hopeless whimpers. It was as though she knew trying to get away was pointless but she was trying anyway and, in this case, Bowser's guess was probably not far from the mark. "Ready... get seeettt... " he raised a clawed paw in the air dramatically, ready to drop it when he ordered the Thwomp to drop.

"STOP!!! STOP IT!!!" someone cried. Bowser paused, bewildered as someone burst from the entrance pipe and barrelled toward him.

"Ludwig!" Bowser snapped, angered by the intrusion. His eldest son, however, rushed past him entirely and skidded to a halt where Karma lay prone, throwing himself a full-body tackle over her. Bowser stared for a moment, unsure of what was going on, and then growing enraged as it dawned on him. Ludwig was using himself as a shield. The little slug was PROTECTING her! "Get out of the way!" he ordered. "Ludwig, if you don't move right now I swear to DAD I'll put you in the dungeon for a week! A year! I'll-"

"I don't care," Ludwig snapped, hunkering lower to the ground, bracing himself in case Bowser came forward and attempted to pull him away from her.

"What're you doing?!" Karma grunted beneath his weight, trying to turn to glare at him.

"I'm doing you a favor, now shut up," he hissed against the side of her head, his eyes never leaving his father. Bowser was clearly blindsided by the blatant show of disrespect as, for a moment, he stood absolutely still, mouth slightly agape as he fumbled for something to say. "You'll kill us both! Can't you see that?!" Ludwig continued, taking the silence as his cue to get his foot in the door before taking a deep breath, trying to bring his tone down to one that sounded more rational. "I tried to explain this to you at dinner... you wouldn't listen. You-"

"MOVE!!!" Bowser roared, his voice echoing cruelly off of the cavern walls.

"NO!" Ludwig snarled. "Not until you hear me out."

"You're lucky I don't take you right along with this prisoner, Ludwig. I'm warning you..."

"Do it, then," the eldest Koopaling snapped, silencing his father once more. "Why don't you just do it? You may as well give both of us a swift end."

"You're not Mets," Bowser rumbled, narrowing his eyes and storming a few steps nearer, looking for a weakness in Ludwig's hold so that he could throw him aside.

"I don't know what we are, truthfully, but I know when something has changed..." Ludwig sighed, his expression yielding to one of pleading. "Maybe she's right, Father... Maybe there's some way to undo this and then I don't care what you do with her, but until then..." he trailed off, leaving his sentence open.

"I have no use for traitors," Bowser said, raising a paw once more to cue the Thwomp overhead. He paused, wavering, and keeping his eyes stonily on Ludwig and the hybrid. The current anger that enveloped him wanted nothing more than to bring the stone creature crashing down on them both. He had very strict rules about treason and trespassing, Ludwig was well-aware of both, and yet he was directly violating orders. In the law's eyes, he should be dead. But there was something else... something that wouldn't let him give the final command.

His arm began to waver, and then sullenly withdrew from the air and dropped back at his side. Fatherhood, the king of the Koopas realized, was just as bad of a curse as Meeting. No matter how angry he got at his children, it was never enough to get him to the point of being able to bring them any real harm. Coupled with the fact that Ludwig was his eldest son and had been in training as his heir since he was shortly out of his egg, Bowser was completely unwilling to snuff the Koopaling's life. He'd not only lose a child, but years of invested work as well.

And maybe the brat was right... If there was some way to find out if there was a bond between him and that Plit-forsaken Yoshi mixup and then remove it, Bowser would be able to dispose of her with no snags. If nothing else, it would give him more than enough time to plot an agonizing way of execution fitted specifically for her by the time everything was taken care of.

For now, however...

"Get up. Both of you," Bowser ordered, a single tongue of flame licking out from between his clenched fangs, betraying his rage. Ludwig hesitated, puzzled, before carefully standing, pulling Karma up with him. The hybrid drew in a deep breath of air as though she'd been trapped beneath a boulder, stumbling a bit but remaining upright. Bowser leered at them both for a long moment before speaking. "I'm washing my hands of this," he said, speaking to Ludwig but looking at Karma. "Until we figure out what we're doing, YOU are in charge of her. And when it's all sorted out, two weeks in the dungeon."

"What am I? A friggin' lost puppy?" she growled in indignation, receiving a sharp elbow in the ribs from Ludwig.

"I'll deal with it, Father, I promise," he assured King Koopa, already making a mental list of things to do. Without another word, Bowser turned and stalked away, unwillingly foiled for the moment. Ludwig kept a wary eye on his father's retreating back until he had safely leapt into the warp pipe and was out of sight before he breathed a sigh of relief.

"So what happens now?" Karma inquired, trying again to free herself from the knots of rope.

"What happens now is," Ludwig began, turning her sharply away from him and cutting her bonds neatly with a slash of his claws, "I will speak to Kamek and find out if there's a way to undo this bond. Until then, there's a storeroom upstairs that can be cleared out and used as a makeshift chamber. With any luck we'll be out of each other's hair in a few days."

"You can't undo a Metbond," Karma argued, struggling out of the ropes and rubbing at her wrists where the coils had chaifed her. "If you could, don't ya think someone would've figured it out by now?"

"Times have changed as far as magic is concerned," Ludwig retorted, heading back in the direction of the warp pipe as she trailed behind him. "The dead can be resurrected with a few words, mountains can be destroyed with a simple spell, and the flow of time can be stopped temporarily. I find it hard to believe something like this can't be undone."

"Whatever, Poofball," she grumbled. "Don't come cryin' to me when this Kamek character tells you the same thing I did."

"I have no intention of it," Ludwig snapped. The hybrid paused and then slapped her forehead. "What?" he inquired with annoyance.

"It just occurred to me.. .we already sound like we're married," she groaned.

Ludwig paused in mid-step, shuddering a bit. "No," he said quietly. "Just... no." At his revulsion, Karma was unable keep from smirking a bit. Obligated or not, it was nice to know that he'd run in at the last minute and saved the both of them from being killed. At least he was reliable. Without another word, the Koopaling and hybrid clambered into the warp pipe to begin sorting things out.

The End

AUTHOR'S NOTES -- Where to begin... I wrote this story as my first delving into Koopa fan fiction that I submitted to Lemmy's Land when I was about 17 years old. I really had no longterm direction with it, nor did I expect it to get any sort of following. The main character, Karma Koopa, (in my opinion anyway) was a blatant Mary-Sue created due to my long-time fondness of Ludwig von Koopa, and the plot was incredibly watery and rushed. Yet... for some reason people loved it. I STILL get mails about it almost five years later.

The first reaction in Lemmy's Land was mild, but it had a ripple effect. Karma was soon turning up in other people's stories and artwork and I was getting asked permission to use her in all sorts of projects. "Love Is Acceptance" was voted as the top story in all of Lemmy's Land, followed shortly by Karma being voted in as an "official-unofficial" character. After the glitz began to wear off and I had faded into obscurity for awhile to settle some personal problems, someone IMed me telling me they really enjoyed the story. Out of my own morbid curiousity, I dug it out of my files to read over it once more.

Frankly, I was appalled at it. There were parts when people acted utterly out of character, it was much too short, and the dialogue was painful to read in some parts. I decided that my next project would be to rework this story that so many people had enjoyed into something worthy of the praise it was getting. I went over it with a fine-toothed comb over about the course of a month and after a long session of rewriting, omitting, changing, mangling and otherwise redoing, I felt it was ready for another go.

At the time, I'd been speaking to another person who'd recently read and enjoyed Love Is Acceptance and who was a fellow artist, and I asked if she would be interested in doing some artwork to accompany the story. Razz was willing and I was thrilled... so she's responsible for the lovely etchings sprinkled throughout this version. Love her. LOVE HER!!! @.@

I've since decided to make LIA part of a larger series known as "Diamond In The Rough". I'm not sure, as of yet, how many stories will be therein, but time will tell. For now, I guess this is enough indulging of my ego... Bye now! BYE! G'BYE G'BYE G'BYE!!!

Read the guide about Meeting!

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