The wide summer sun flared angry heat wisps and descended into a deep orange of red as its lower body slowly sunk beneath the endless stretch of tree line to the west. Easterly stars winked into existence, twinkling bodies of divine hope for all those they shined on. As the ebony sky was set alight by hundreds upon hundreds of additional celestial bodies and reflections from the systems sun on moons, the synthetic cities below flamed their own fires of electricity, dotting the planet like innumerable fireflies skittering and chirping against a backless void. And so the end of another long and eventful day on Plit came to a wondrous end.
Electronic light sensors embedded deep within the complex control chips of the Royal Mushroom Kingdom Tennis Courts glow poles crackled to life, throwing yellow luminance onto the green playing ground while casting dark shadows against the stone face of the nearby Royal Castle. The endless ping-pong of a back-and-forth tennis match with no end in sight resounded with whistling cracks against bark and rock. The humid heat of the hot summer day had already left the waving grasses painted with a thin layer of sparkling dew. White boundary lines reflected artificial light poorly, making any rules broken all the less obvious. A wide back-handed slam from one players racket caught the fuzzy tennis ball in the center of its tightly stretched, crisscrossed plastic wires, engendering an audible thok and sending the ball rocketing over the middle net and crashing onto the other side at a speed well over eighty miles per hour.
A green and blue clothed man of a slightly higher height flung both arms up and catapulted himself into the air, lunging left and bringing up his own racket to bat the bouncing target before it could smack the ground once more. Without a fourth of a second to spare, the racket nicked the ball as the swinger hit the ground hard on his shoulder, tumbling in a blanket roll before coming back up on two feet and one hand. A lithe woman with cascading, golden hair that rose up in full tufts at intervals brought an elbow-length gloved hand to a gold framed sapphire complementing the top of her pink dress. Yellow decorations like fire rose up from the lower cloth, and below that there was a thin white lace pocked with intricately designed holes. A darker, almost ruby inner dress feathered the ground behind that, while a gilded crown with a small gem completed the expensive ensemble, in no way indicating the fiercely courageous princess that was forced to wear it.
Peach knit her brows and shot a baleful look at the playing field, shaking her head and giving an irritated sigh. Its only a game, you two. I wish you wouldnt be so competitive about a simple tennis match. Someones going to get hurt, and when that happens, Ill have to employ endless will to stifle a told-you-so laugh.
Mario executed a sloppy overhand that managed only to graze the lip of Luigis counter hit. Now Princess, Mario huffed, gasping for a breath just out of reach, why would we ever do something to upset you like that?
Luigi bent his back low, staring straight ahead with both hands wrapped tightly around the hilt of his racket as he playfully let it twist at points of inaction. He could make out the ball before it was struck, and so he used a quick mathematical equation to calculate its most probable trajectory based on the direction of Marios swing. He found the spot and stuck out his racket, smiling smugly as the tennis ball was bounced back without any additional effort.
Toad snickered as he waddled under a willow tree to sling the Princess meager supply of outing necessities over his back and trotted off into the castle. Peach smiled and turned back to the court to find Mario and Luigi arguing quietly over the validity of the last point scored. Impressive match, boys, but I have to go in. Hopefully Ill see you two tomorrow, but on a pleasant note such as todays, yes?
They both nodded their heads with appreciative grins, returning the favor when she waved her fingers to them before turning and entering her massive abode. Finally, Luigi turned to Mario, racket at his side and towel slung over his shoulder. He exhaled after taking a long gulp of a tasty looking red liquid in a bottle undergoing rapid condensation. Wed better get back to the pad. We promised Raz to help him dig a swimming pool for his son first thing in the morning.
Mario arched his neck to one side and followed by stretching both of his arms in the same direction, allowing himself a long yawn. Im not sure if Ill be up to constructing any fences tomorrow morning no matter how much rest I get. Every muscle and bone in my body is dragging me down. Perhaps we should reschedule?
Luigi sighed and looked back towards the Royal Castle to watch the last of the second level lights turn out for the night. The five stained glass windows of the cathedral-like throne room still filtered synthetic peridot, showing the unique art pieces divine beauty. Collages of the Kingdoms proud Kings of the past stood beaming for all to see. We promised him. And besides, how would it be that the Mario Brothers are forever known as breakers of their word on the account of laziness?
Because we neglected to set our alarm clock? Mario winked and couldnt help but laugh a little. Come on, dont you think saving the world multiple times earns us the right to sleep in a few extra hours? Of course, you always have to go for that morning jog at 4 o clock in the morning.
Case in point, Luigi held up a finger. Im more fit than you are. Being stronger doesnt necessarily have all that much to do with endurance, you know. Mario nodded half-heartedly. It doesnt matter, though, Luigi said dryly as he looked to the lighter part of the sky. Its going to rain tomorrow; I can feel it.
Since when have you started divining weather patterns? Mario asked incredulously. You think youre Mallow or something?
Lets just call it intuition. That and the fact that those clouds over there are by the book examples of newborn thunderheads. Which reminds me, expect thunder and lightning as well. Luigi rolled his eyes and drooped. Looks like another day of losing to you at all the board games in the cabinet, and then some. Why wont you learn how to play chess? Youre just afraid of not winning, arent you?
Mario held up his hands defensively and chuckled. Hey, I didnt say anything. He quickly attempted to change the subject. At least I dont cheat like that reptilian rat, Bowser.
Luigis face immediately fell into one of genuine concern. Speaking of that King Koopa and his army of no goods, as well as his rotten array of Koopalings what do you think theyve been up to? They havent even made so much as an appearance in a month; perhaps someone should tell them theyre overdue.
Mario looked dubiously at his brother, one eye upraised critically. I thought you said you hated battles.
I do, Luigi picked up the accusation in a heartbeat, and let me tell you, even just a month of peace has been wonderful. Perpetual peace, now that would be alluring, and if it means fighting, then Ill do what I must. And besides, I only say theyre overdue for my worry that they might be planning something big this time. Impatience has always been Bowsers schemes primary faults. Its highly unlikely, but perhaps hes finally wised up.
Hey, Mario jokingly added, the day Bowser wises up is the day we all bite the big one. If that Koopas brain had any scrap of intelligence, wed already be toast. Just think, someone with influence and smarts. Now thats scary.
Yes, Luigi said, dreadful images of such a tyrant playing out in his head. He shook the thought loose, hating what he saw, and silently prayed that it would never come true. That would be extremely bad. All things considered, having Bowser for an arch nemesis is not all that horrible.
After covering the rise of the next hill, the two brothers took their normal route, the left-sloping beaten path that snaked a short while through dense vegetation before popping out in the small clearing where they had built their house. Twin brooks eddied and flowed on either side of the road, rushing cold crystal water down steep embankments to eventually empty into a larger lake further down the right path and some ways south. It was an ideal place for an afternoon picnic, as well as fishing and swimming. That brought back memories of the time Bowser had dumped several schools of voracious Rip Van Fish into the waters, an incident that the Koopa King would later regret as the Mario Brothers cleverly turned his own malicious plot against him and lured him into the waters for a very painful dip, all of this happening under Luigis direction, of course.
Arching roofs of wide leaves mingled overhead, rustling and making a shivering noise in the gentle breeze. Eastern chills were already beginning to set in for a night of rambunctious play before the mother sun of dawn chased them away. Crickets played their natural violins, orchestrating with the various other tunes of forest creatures to create a magnificent symphony of the woods. Luigi half expected to see elves, trolls, or any of the other hundred legendary fables hed read about in the Castles Grand Library to scurry across the thistle-blown pathway. Weathered leaves bustled past, collecting dirt and shooting through bushes and other overgrown shrubberies in full bloom, their multi-hued flowers proudly displaying their silky petals and giving off pleasing perfumes. The twin moons of Plit were hung high overhead, basting the forest tops in a pale light and casting gnarled, branched shadows along the ground.
Mario, who had remained largely quiet since his comment about Bowser, allowed himself a tired sigh and crossed his arms, shivering. Chilly for a summer night, he said casually. Its usually pretty warm even at night around here. If it werent so bright out, itd seem sort of eerie, you know?
Luigi turned his head around and peered back down the winding road that tightly hugged a collected bunch of trees before trailing off behind a dense collection of vegetation. It was much the same ahead; it reminded him of Marios tales of the Endless Forest east of Toad Town. Luigi shook his head, mostly to himself, placing a finger to his temple and blowing out a lungful of air. Its just our sleepiness. A weak mind plays queer tricks on a man when hes fatigued. Luigi felt up and down his arm, eliciting a pain-filled protest from his muscles. We might have to give Raz a rain check on that pool building tomorrow, after all.
Mario slowed considerably when a pair of thin slit eyes, gold and slanted, opened up in the dark recesses of the wide forest before them. They blinked, returning for only a fleeting second before vanishing into thin air. Luigi, I Mario trailed off, seeing that his brother was looking elsewhere, and squinted his eyes, searching in vain for what he might have only thought he had witnessed. I know I saw
Luigi dragged his attention away from a constellation he was tracing out in the sky, bringing down his head to face Mario, who seemed very distraught. Mario? Are you ok? What did you see?
Eyes, or maybe nothing. Its like you said: tricks on the mind. Mario looked around again, still not bothering to meet Luigis doubtful glare. Somethings out there, though. I might not be able to see it, but I can feel it skulking around us, or in front of us, or to the side, or even behind. Its everywhere.
Luigi shook his head in disbelief and cracked a reassuring grin, even though his own resolve was slowly being eaten away by whatever it was that Mario couldnt decide whether hed seen or not. It wasnt like Mario to be the one less sure of himself than Luigi; he was always the unconditionally brave one. Chuckling inwardly to himself, Luigi recalled that Mario was the one always complaining about someone forgetting to turn the night-light on back when their world had only consisted of two blocks in Brooklyn. Maybe it was just the dark: a phobia of the absence of light is not an uncommon thing. Luigi snorted and cut off his thoughts. Mentally picking through alternate possibilities was a frequently fashioned nervous habit of his.
His own gaze was held by another pair of eyes, these burning crimson steam and letting it waft up through the forest tops. A flicker of silhouetted movement shot off to the left and then to the right, followed by the crunch and snap of twisted underbrush. Alarms blared danger in Luigis head as he watched Mario crouch into an offensive position, one palm out and the other curled while building a swirling ball of magic fire. Luigi placed himself stoutly behind Mario, taking up a more loosely held stance and facing the opposite direction in case the predator ahead was only distracting them so its mate could outflank the brothers and pounce unfettered. The loveliness of the twilit Mushroom Way was suddenly shattered into one thousand fragments by something much more sinister than a prowling Koopa. But what was it, exactly?
Maybe its a Cobrat, Luigi put in, voice trembling and not at all convinced as to any truthfulness in his suggestion. The eyes were too deep, too saturated in what all of his human instincts led him to believe true evil was. Fear was of evil occasionally, though, Luigi reminded himself, and he was nothing at that moment if not fearful. Whether by mistake or for anxiety, Mario grunted and pushed forth his fully formed fireball, watching it bounce off leaves and bark, leaving anything docile unscathed. Credit to the strength of the formidable man, Marios searing sphere struck the bridge of the two eyes almost perfectly, and as the two forces collided, both were sucked into an invisible vortex, pulled into the night air. The pair of demonic oculars did not return, and, seeming to take a positive note on this, the melodious sounds and fragrant smells of the midnight forest returned, blasting louder and more beautifully than ever before, leaving two extremely confused and wary brothers in the wake of their enigmatic interlude.
It was an illusion, Luigi said, hands warding off the final jolts of nervous trembling, unblinking eyes staring straight on where the apparition had been. Before them lay the familiar clearing where their house had been built, and in the center on a small bump of a hill rested the brown wood and green metal Pipe House that they called home. The reflected moonlight returned where before it had been dimmed, sparkling like secular stars on the dewdrops scattered below. All of this was normal for such a night, but then again, that is not what the ex-plumbers were so mortified by. The front part of their double room joined by an open walkway stood in stark contrast with its counterpart because of one ominous difference.
The lights were on.
Great pink columns of Nimbian ingenuity peaked in puffy points resembling a whipped cream topping. Tower punched clouds floated lazily above the permanent foundation of Nimbus Land as an intricate travel system of sturdy Bean Valley vines and trampolines zigzagged down to the busy world below. Gnarled thorn bushes bent and tied together dug into melded cloud, forming the homes, shops, and inns of the Dream City. Doors were made of striped cloth simply because there was no reason to fear any robberies. Since the ousting of Valentina all had been perfectly peaceful. Prince Mallow smiled cheerfully at each passersby as he made his way through the lands most prominent marketplace.
Tired of saying his morning hellos, Mallow finally yielded to the temptation to take a dip in the Royal Springs and eased himself slowly into the volcano-heated healing waters. Steam trailed off into the sky in curling plumes of smoke. Four golden statues of his fathers reign proudly guarded all four corners of the bath. And just over the ridge, if one had been tall enough, he or she or even it wouldve been able to spot the majestic form of the Barrel Volcano down below, long dormant, but still deadly in its interior. Mallow splashed a slap of water and chuckled as he remembered just how knowledgeable he was on the matter.
He laid his Ribbit Stick to the edge of the hollowed Springs and closed his eyes, sinking below the steaming liquid. After a bubbling sigh of relaxation, he opened up his vision, Nimbian strength warding off any heat damage, and his throat let out a surprised gurgle when he saw a shimmering black shadow standing over him. In an instant he was standing up, Ribbit Stick angled defensively in front of him. All that remained was a piece of aged paper, some scratchy words written upon it. He dried off his left hand and picked it up, finally making out Mario and Brothers. The rest was illegible and mostly made up of odd punctuation symbols, hearts, and even musical notations. Whatever it meant, he had an aching pang in the pit of his stomach that told him his best friends were in trouble. Without another thought, he tied his blue cloak tight around his neck, shifted his Ribbit Stick to his left hand, and made his way to the Royal Bus Depot.
What Prince Mallow, Heir to the Nimbian Throne, did not realize was that the strange letter had disintegrated, its fragments already being carried by the wind, higher and higher until they touched the stars. Far away, the shards of paper solidified and twinkled beyond a thin, hazy cloud, forming something strangely reminiscent