Chapter 2: The Heroes who Arose
Kahn rushed across the creaky wooden bridge and into Petalberg, hearing the pleasant chirping of the nearby birds obviously unaware of the advancing wave of death. He couldn't move as fast as he would like after that awful leg wound, but he knew that pain was just information, and he could choose to either listen to it or ignore it. He chose to ignore it. Too many lives were at stake for him to slow down.
Finally, he reached the village. It
was a quaint little town, with houses made mostly of brick and stone. A
lush river flowed through the town, and peaceful-looking villagers--mostly
Koopas--were chatting and doing their daily errands. Kahn clenched his
fists until his claws
drew blood. "How could anyone ever think of harming these kind, peaceful people?!" he said through gritted teeth.
A young, green-shelled Koopa strolled up to him. "Hi, there! Welcome to Petalberg! Are you sightseeing?" he asked jovially.
Kahn shook his head. "I need to see the mayor. It's urgent."
"Sorry, but the mayor is really busy right now. Maybe you could come back later?"
"There isn't time. I have to see him now. Your life depends on it!"
The Koopa grew more worried now. "Whose life?! What's happening?!"
"You're about to get a visit... from
servants of the Shadow Queen."
"L-L-Looks like some kind of argument," said Aaron, a young Toad in his early teens as he gazed out his bedroom window. "I'd better not get involved. It's probably some more p-price issues for the shops."
Aaron climbed down the creaky wooden stairs and into the living room, which was well furnished with mahogany tables and chairs, along with several shelves lined with books on literature and music, among other subjects. He moved toward the door, almost knocking over a small picture of a tall, masculine figure. Aaron gazed at it, perhaps for the hundredth time.
Memories of the man flooded through his head; memories of his father, the great Alexander P. Toadstool, who died three years ago in an epic battle with an unknown enemy (at least, unknown to Aaron). He had to fight back tears at the thought of it. He remembered the mayor telling everyone the good news, about how Alexander's forces had beaten the enemy at Twilight Town, and had driven off all chance of an enemy invasion. It was a real triumph. Everyone returned to their families... except his dad. He was so torn with grief that he rarely talked to anyone anymore. He had been so nervous and upset ever since that day, he had developed a stutter in his speech that everyone laughed at. He didn't understand why; it wasn't like it was his fault, but people mocked him nonetheless, so he spent his days in his room reading his books and doing occasional training in his backyard with wooden targets. He shook his head, trying to get those thoughts out of his mind. "That was years ago," he told himself. "It's t-time to move on."
Aaron slung a brown pack over his shoulder and headed outside to do more training. He stepped out onto the porch, breathing in the fresh air and the scent of lilacs carried by the wind. He walked along the path, trying to avoid eye-contact with anyone lest they begin mocking him again. Just as he was crossing the little bridge over the river, he heard someone shouting orders at people. He looked more closely and saw that the one shouting was a strange Koopa with a lavender shell, a tall and imposing figure nobody wanted to question. Aaron walked closer to see what the commotion was about.
"You have to evacuate the village immediately!" called the Koopa, trying to be heard over the villagers' murmuring. "The armies of the Shadow Queen are approaching Petalberg!"
The Shadow Queen? Aaron hadn't heard
that name before. He came up to the mayor, who was the one person in the
village he could talk
to without fear of being mocked, especially since his stutter was only really noticeable when he was nervous. "What's going on? W-Who's the Shadow Queen?" he asked.
The mayor turned and fixed a worried gaze on Aaron. "The Shadow Queen is the most powerful sorceress from the Dark Lands, and possibly in the entire world. Her reign of terror was thought to have ended years ago when her invasion force was defeated, but it seems she has resurfaced and is now threatening our peaceful way of life again. She is known throughout the lands as a demon lord."
Aaron cocked his head, confused. "But, you just said she was a sorceress, not a demon. Why would people call her a demon lord?"
"Because no one can think of another way to describe her."
"But how do you know who she is?"
The mayor turned away from him, looking
ashamed. "I never told you this before, and I hoped I never would have
to... But, Aaron... the
Shadow Queen is the one who killed your father, Alexander."
The surprise on Aaron's face was indescribable.
He felt such rage and sorrow and hatred toward this Shadow Queen that he
could destroy her with just his thoughts. "Why... why d-did you never t-tell me?!" he choked out.
"I'm sorry, Aaron, but after her forces
were defeated at Twilight Town, she disappeared and we thought she was
gone, and I saw no
reason to give you any more grief to bear."
Suddenly the ground quaked as if the bones of the planet were shattering. The sky grew dark, and grass began dying all around them. All of them felt a horrible sense of dread and fear as the wave of death passed over them. "They're almost here," called the lavender-shelled Koopa. "Prepare yourselves for a mighty host of monsters!"
As he spoke those words, a rumbling was heard in the distance. Everyone in the village turned and gazed upon the source of the noise: an army of hundreds of Iron Clefts surrounded by Hyper Clefts, flanked by grim-faced Dark Craws and Dark Bones, was approaching the town at a steady march, followed by an inconceivable force of thousands of Phantom Embers, their demonic faces twisted into mirth at the prospect of such destruction. Everyone gaped in awe and horror at the size of the enemy approaching. "Blast," muttered Kahn. "I didn't count on them sending such a large force. The Shadow Queen must have gathered an unbelievable army during her disappearance. This will be difficult."
Everyone else just watched in silence. Aaron boldly walked up to the Koopa. "What do they want? Why are t-they here?" he asked.
"What else? To expand the Shadow Queen's
empire and cause destruction wherever possible," said Kahn, his eyes remaining
incoming force. "They also probably want to capture me for opposing them."
"You opposed the Shadow Queen?"
"Yes. I came here to warn you of her approach, and I also attacked the Queen herself. I'm marked for sure." Aaron shook his head in disbelief. He wished he could be that brave.
His thoughts were interrupted as the rumbling intensified, signaling the approach of the army. "Are our defenses ready?" asked the mayor, looking over at the crude battlements and trenches the villagers had made. They nodded, and the mayor gave them the signal to prepare for combat.
The enemy army suddenly stopped about a mile away from the village, and a small force of Phantom Embers separated from the main group and continued advancing. "A scouting force," said Kahn, eying the enemies' moves, "obviously coming to evaluate our strength, and to see if there are any weak points in our defenses. We are outmatched, but we don't have to look like it. Prepare yourselves."
Within minutes, the squad of about fifty
Phantom Embers closed the distance between them and approached the village
gates. The battle for Petalberg had begun.
It probably would have been a beautiful summer night, if not for the shroud of darkness covering the land; and during the night it was almost pitch-black. Amidst the bivouacked army outside of Petalberg, three figures lurked in the still shadows. "This will be interesting, wouldn't you say, Marilyn?" asked a cold and raspy voice.
"Yes, although I don't think sending an army of this size after one measly Koopa is necessary."
"The Shadow Queen has had her eyes on
this place for a while now. By sending our army here, we can kill two birds
with one stone:
capture Kahn and Petalberg."
"Yes, but do you think we can handle both of them, Beldam?"
Beldam snorted. "With an army of this
size? I think you overestimate their chances. It looks like the scouting
party has reached them now.
Let's see if they are as strong as you think."
With that, Beldam, Marilyn, and the
third, Vivian, gazed upon the village for the upcoming conflict.
"Ready," called the mayor. "Steady yourselves. Ready formation." A squad of about forty Koopas retreated into their shells, spinning rapidly to gain momentum. Within moments the squadron of Phantom Embers breached the gates, and the Koopas aimed at them. "Ready... fire!!"
At the signal, all forty Koopas launched their shells at the Embers, moving so fast as to look like a blurry wave of green, crashing down on the Phantom Embers with startling force. The opposing forces were startled and confused; the ambush was so quick they had no time to recover. The Koopas emerged from their shells, taking advantage of the enemies' temporary confusion to strike. The enemy recovered from their confusion sooner than expected and began to fight back, but they had already taken so much damage from the first strike that the battle did not last long, and the enemy soon retreated.
There were almost no casualties for the village forces, except for one Koopa of about eighteen, who had taken bad blows on his stomach and leg and could no longer fight. His comrades carried him into one of the houses, then returned to their positions. "That was fortunate," said Kahn, eying the field. "We didn't lose too many, and our enemies may think twice about a direct attack with their whole army, and instead will probably attack in waves, one group at a time. We'll have a better chance of surviving that way." Aaron looked at Kahn, in awe at how well he kept his calm in a situation like this.
"How large w-will their next force be?" he asked.
"Probably fairly large, to try to weaken us for the big attack."
"What's our next move?"
"We need to block off every other entrance to Petalberg, to keep them from attacking from all sides; then focus on defending the gate."
The mayor nodded. "We can build barricades from the leftover bricks used to build the town. I'll send some men to get on it."
"Good. We need to prepare to deal with those Iron Clefts' near-impenetrable armor. Perhaps we can trap them with pitfalls and trenches?"
The others nodded, going to their various
tasks. Aaron felt like a spectator just sitting around doing nothing, but
he knew it was probably for the best, so he waited. The last thing he wanted
to do was get in the way.
"Hmm... This is troubling," muttered Beldam when she heard the report. "That Kahn fellow is putting up more of a fight than I thought, and it looks like the villagers are following him. It may be time to change tactics."
Vivian approached her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that the town probably doesn't
know that Kahn is just running from us. Hold off the next attack... and
prepare a flag of truce."
Kahn surveyed the battlefield, trying
to see the enemy, which was hard in this darkness. When he did finally
catch a glimpse of them, he saw something he never thought he'd live to
see: a white flag waving amongst the Shadow Queen's army. The mayor saw
it too, along
with the rest of the village as the figure moved closer. "It must be some kind of trick," said Kahn.
The mayor shook his head. "They've probably recognized our superiority. Let's hear what they have to say."
The figure entered the gates, a shriveled old hag waving a flag of truce. She stopped before them, lowered the flag, and mock-bowed. "Greetings, my friends," she said mockingly.
"State your business. Are you surrendering?" asked the mayor.
"On the contrary. I can easily destroy you all. I came to tell you some interesting news."
"We don't have time for your games," said the mayor, growing angry.
"Ahh, quick to the point, I see. Very well. Did you know that Kahn didn't come to your town to warn you about us?"
A murmur of surprise and confusion sounded from the crowd of villagers.
"On the contrary," she continued, "he is seeking refuge here because we are after him."
The mayor looked shocked, then glared at Kahn.
"But if you turn him over to us, we will spare your village, you have my promise! If you don't, hundreds will die. So what will it be?"
Everyone turned to Kahn, muttering to
themselves. Kahn looked worried. He had no idea how to convince these people
Aaron looked baffled at the other villagers, amazed they could be fooled so easily. He made his decision. Aaron was afraid of facing a crowd, and he wasn't a very good speaker, but still he boldly stepped forward.
"S-S-Stop, please! How can you be so
quick to turn against Kahn like that? You know the Shadow Queen will just
come back t-to take the
village later if you do! Kahn risked his life to come here and warn us of the enemy, and he's fighting to protect our w-w-way of life, and you
want to sell him out because that snake told you she'd spare us?!"
The crowd began murmuring again, and Aaron knew he'd made an impact. He just had to give them one last mental push. "Without Kahn, our chances of defending Petalberg from future attacks will be a l-l-lot less. That's just what she wants! We have to stand against her and defend our freedom!"
The crowd was impressed. "Who is that?"
asked one villager. "Isn't he that stuttering kid, Aaron? Who knew he was
so good at public
speaking?" Everyone turned to Beldam, and both Aaron and Kahn felt a ray of hope.
"Sorry, fiend, but we're not turning over Kahn, and we were fools for ever considering it," said the mayor.
Beldam snarled furiously. "So, you dare to refuse me?! Fine! So be it! And as you die, remember that you could have been spared!" And with that, Beldam disappeared into the shadows.
Kahn turned to Aaron, looking impressed and grateful. "Thank you for defending me. That was very impressive, the way you spoke out like that."
Aaron shrugged, embarrassed. "I don't really know what came over me."
"Nevertheless, you have my thanks. What is your name?"
"M-my name is Aaron, sir."
"Well, Aaron, it's a pleasure to meet you." Kahn held out his hand and Aaron clasped it, each acknowledging the other's courage.
The rest of the village went to prepare
the defenses for the next attack, hearing more rumbling approaching the
The village defenses were set. Trenches and pitfalls were dug all around the entrance to trap any enemy approaching, and each villager now carried a wooden shield used to stop long-range and close-range attacks. Along with shields, some of the older Koopas like Kahn also carried swords and spears, the younger ones holding daggers. Aaron was also given a light sword for battle, though he was told to stay behind the lines because of his small stature. He didn't complain; he had already proven his bravery, and he didn't want to be in front of an invasion force this size.
The morning sun had arisen, but the
shroud of darkness made it barely bright enough to make the terrain visible.
Once everyone had taken battle positions behind rubble or trenches, the
rumbling intensified, and soon an attack force of about forty Iron Clefts,
Hyper Clefts, and Dark Craws charged the gates, followed by about three
hundred Phantom Embers. The Koopas pretended to fall back,
leading the attack force closer to the pitfalls. The trap worked, and nearly all of the Iron Clefts fell through, save for five lucky ones. A few Dark Craws fell in too, along with half of the Hyper Clefts. The rest of the enemy leapt over or charged around the trenches, running into a
wall of wooden shields. The shields were sturdier than they seemed, easily withstanding the attacks. Whenever a shield was struck, a sword darted out and struck the enemy, a quick blow that was quite effective.
The triumph didn't last long, however;
soon the enemy Phantom Embers flew over and hurled green flames, igniting
the shields and forcing the Koopas to drop them, leaving them open to a
counterattack. A lot of villagers were wounded or killed by the next
few attacks, and the Dark Craws began hurling their spears at them, causing quite a bit of damage, forcing them to start falling back. Suddenly a purple blur shot out and smashed into the Dark Craws, defeating nearly twenty of them. The blur stopped, and Kahn readied his sword, the silver gleaming dimly against what light was left. He began swinging and hacking ferociously, cutting down any challenger that approached. Most of the Phantom Embers ignored him, burning down most of the houses in the village. The mayor had a plan for this, however. "Ready plan B!" he shouted. "Now!"
Suddenly a ton of unseen Toad warriors
began violently charging the Phantom Embers, not trying to beat them but
instead trying to drive
them back... into the river. The darkness didn't allow them to see very well, and they had no idea what was happening until it did. The Phantom Embers' flames doused instantly upon contact with the water, destroying them. This severely weakened the attack force's strength. Most of them ran; they didn't want to face the villagers, and they especially didn't want to face Kahn.
Just as Kahn was about to finish the
last Dark Craw, a flicker of movement appeared behind him. Aaron saw the
figure: a Magikoopa
in a black robe, probably an assassin sent to get Kahn. He saw the Magikoopa raise his wand to strike, and he knew there was only one thing to do. He drew back his arm, and with all his might, Aaron hurled his sword at the enemy. It flew directly toward him in a perfect arc, and the blade slew the Magikoopa a second before his attack. Kahn turned around, completely awe struck. "My Lord... How did you do that?!"
Aaron was equally baffled at what he had just done. "I... I really don't know."
Soon, the last of the enemies retreated, their moral crushed. The day--at least, temporarily--was won. Kahn and Aaron surveyed the field. They had not bought this victory cheaply. About thirty Koopas had been killed, and several were badly wounded or unconscious. "This isn't good," said Kahn grimly. "The enemy has probably realized they can't keep attacking in waves. The next attack will probably be all-out, and I'm not sure we have enough men left to withstand it."
Aaron merely gazed out at the field,
his heart broken at how many of his friends and neighbors had been wounded
or killed. Kahn, sensing his thoughts, put his arm on Aaron's shoulder.
"They died bravely and defended their people. You should be proud. You
fought bravely as well." Aaron nodded slowly, still miserable. Kahn let
it go; of course he would be sad, and there was nothing he could do about
that. He needed to prepare for the enemies' final attack.
"You failed again?! You fools are useless!"
Beldam screamed at a Dark Craw who had escaped the battle, albeit with
a horrible gut
wound. "How are they able to put up this much of a fight?! What are we lacking here?!"
Vivian shook her head. "Isn't it obvious? Kahn has rallied the spirit of Petalberg; all of the villagers are fighting for a cause they believe in."
Beldam turned to her. "Well, I have a cause I believe in too: not returning to the Shadow Queen in failure and getting killed."
"That's a good cause."
"Anyway, we can't fail this mission. We must bring Kahn to the Queen, dead or alive. It's time for our final attack. Send every last one of our troops to crush them all."
"Yes, Beldam." Vivian turned to go, but Beldam stopped her.
"Oh, and Vivian... Go get Marilyn. We
are going to lead the attack force ourselves."
The wait was unbearable. Everyone stood
still in complete silence, gazing out at the battlefield, waiting for an
army of Iron Clefts or
Dark Bones to emerge from the shadows. The once beautiful Petal Meadows was almost completely ravaged from the battles. Aaron had
been placed closer to the front lines; his bravery and determination would definitely come in handy, though he was shaking at the
prospect of this fight. Kahn didn't want to see a boy his age on the front lines, but once the mayor had seen his move during the last
attack, he had insisted that Aaron be put up front. Kahn moved to his side, intent on protecting him as best he could.
Soon, the rumbling started again, except it was far worse than any they had felt so far. The entire army of Iron Clefts, Dark Craws, and Dark Bones, along with hundreds of Phantom Embers and Hyper Clefts, charged across the field.
Kahn looked grim; the fate of Petalberg would be decided in this battle.
Aaron looked terrified; what would happen if they lost?
The mayor looked stoic; he knew his men's determination and pride, and he counted on it.
Within minutes the invasion force breached
the gates, and the final battle for the village began.
The massive army charged through the
gates and into the fray. The trenches would not work this time. The enemy
had been warned, and
swiftly maneuvered around the pitfalls and into the main area. Kahn sighed. The Iron Clefts were the biggest problem. Their near-impenetrable armor protected them from almost any attack. However, the Iron Clefts were also not the brightest of enemies. The villagers had to figure out how to exploit that or this battle would be lost.
The Dark Bones began hurling razor-sharp bones like boomerangs at the Koopas, shearing through their shields like tissue paper. Dark Craws began hurling their spears like javelins, raining them down on the villagers, wounding a few. Most of them took cover in the trenches, then counterattacked with shells, swords, or even shields. "For a peaceful village, they sure have some fine soldiers," muttered Kahn, awaiting the enemy to reach them.
Finally, the brunt of the enemy charged
into the front lines, Kahn, Aaron, and a group of soldiers rushing to intercept
them. Aaron swallowed his fear; it was time to be brave, just like his
father. Their group slammed into the enemy: swords, spears, bones, and
shields flashing and swinging like mad. Several Dark Bones and Craws fell
under the onslaught, several Koopa Warriors and Toad
Soldiers falling to the counterattack.
Kahn and Aaron stood back-to-back, fending off the unrelenting attacks from raging Phantom Embers and Hyper Clefts, counterattacking whenever they got the chance. Quite a few foes fell to these two alone, and the rest of their army wasn't doing too badly as well. Several more enemies were struck by flying shells, sending them careening until they smashed into buildings or fell into pitfalls.
Sadly, this victory didn't last long; slow moving as they were, the dreaded Iron Clefts soon reached the main force, their horribly sharp horns and spikes doing more than their share of damage. Most of the Koopas and Toads had to take cover inside the now-empty houses, waiting to counterattack and do what little damage they could to the Iron Clefts' armor. Luckily, the Iron Clefts were very slow, another weakness to be exploited. Soon the Koopas darted around behind the Clefts, while the Toads diverted their attention and began landing quick but powerful blows, slowly weakening the Cleft's armor. Kahn smiled; they might actually win this battle.
Just as he was about to come to the
aid of the ones fighting the Clefts, a blazing ball of fire whizzed inches
above his head. He
pivoted around to see the source of the attack, finding the hideous forms of Beldam, Marilyn, and Vivian standing across from him. "Ah, Beldam," said Kahn with a snort. "So, you've finally gotten the guts to come after me yourself."
"Funny you should talk about guts,"
retorted Beldam, "because I seem to remember you were the one running for
your life until now."
Then she noticed the boy who had defied her earlier. "Who is the whelp?"
Aaron, offended at being called a whelp,
stepped forward. "My n-name is Aaron, and you're not g-going to get away
you've done here today."
Beldam looked startled, then surprisingly pleased. "Ahhh, you're Alexander's little boy! You certainly have got his looks."
Aaron's heart leapt into his throat. "What do you know about my father?!"
Beldam cackled sardonically. "Ahh, I remember your father, a brave and stoic figure. My, how I enjoyed killing him.”
Aaron's rage and hatred began boiling
deep in his stomach, and his ferocity became so powerful it made Kahn wince.
Now Marilyn looked worried. "Uhh, Beldam? I don't think you should antagonize him now..." But Beldam wasn't listening.
"Ahh, my dear Aaron, I'm sure your father loved you very much. It's too bad he won't be able to see how you've grown. And once I'm through with you, I'll level this sad little village of yours to the ground, along with all who live in it."
Aaron held his sword in a death grip.
Channeling all his rage and hatred into one strike, Aaron leapt at Beldam.
An Iron Cleft leapt in the way to protect its master, but Aaron redirected
the strike at the Iron Cleft, his sword cleaving through its armor and
Iron Cleft with one strike. Everyone else jumped in fright at the force of the blow. Beldam's grin was replaced by terror as Aaron proceeded to obliterate Cleft after Cleft in his frenzy. Kahn was surprised at his self-control, however. He had had the restraint to attack the Clefts instead of Beldam, creating a much bigger hole in her army. Aaron was combining his fury with his wisdom, sheer determination, and courage; and just for a moment to anyone watching, Aaron no longer looked like a mere boy, but instead looked like the spitting image of his father, the mighty Alexander. All the villagers stood back and watched in awe as Aaron began single-handedly demolishing Beldam's entire army.
Beldam recovered from her shock, then
eyed Kahn. She may have lost this battle, but she could at least get her
pray. "Sisters," she
muttered to Marilyn and Vivian, "prepare the Tempest Shadow Spell." They nodded. The three then raised their hands in the air, wind and fire encircling in the space above them. The energy formed into a blazing tornado almost equal in size to the one the Shadow Queen had used to destroy Rogueport, and with their combined might, they hurled it at Kahn.
He turned and saw the attack, but he had been distracted by Aaron's fury and saw it too late. The tornado engulfed Kahn, searing pain spreading through his entire body. His whole world became bright light, heat, force and noise, until he saw nothing but darkness.
The tornado disappeared, leaving the
unconscious body of Kahn laying on the grass, barely breathing. "Perfect.
Grab him and let's
Aaron observed the field. No enemies remained. Those that could still move had fled long ago, and those that didn't were smitten by his righteous fury. The day was won. One by one, the villagers began clapping and cheering his victory, and Aaron knew he wouldn't be mocked anymore. Their way of life had been saved. People would look back and remember this victory for generations.
Everyone looked up and saw life returning to the valley, the veil of darkness lifting and the orange rays of the Sun gracing their lands once more. Aaron couldn't take all the credit, though. The village would've been lost if Kahn hadn't come. He turned and rushed across the field looking for him. "Kahn! We did it! We saved everyone!"
But when he looked around, he saw no
sign of Kahn anywhere. He grew worried, remembering he had left him alone
with Beldam. He must have beaten them, surely? He scoured the whole area,
but saw no sign of Kahn or the Shadow Sirens. "No... It can't be..." he
muttered, realizing the truth. The enemy had captured Kahn.
Deep in the snow-white Boggly Woods
stood a great tree at its very heart. The tree was no bigger than any other
tree in that forest, but it
had been called the "Great Tree" because that was where the race known as the Punies lived. Inside the hollowed-out tree sat a Goomba in her mid-forties, reading a book on biology.
A small, snail-like Puni approached her. "Mistral, we have a big problem," she said in a squeaky voice.
The Goomba closed her book, looking down at the Puni. "Why? You have all the traps setup to counter the invasion force, don't you?"
The Puni nodded. "Yes, but... you didn't tell us those dragons were coming!"
The Puni nodded out the entrance, and
Mistral looked out, seeing three mighty dragons approaching, along with
the biggest attack
force they had ever seen.