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“Mario!” I screamed to the crumpled pile of clothes that occupied the space my brother stood only seconds ago.  I was afraid of eating those mushrooms because - worst case scenario - they might make me terminally ill.  I didn’t fathom they’d do this - instantly disintegrate the body!  How could this be happening? How could my brother be dead?  He wasn’t supposed to let things like this happen.  He’s Mario. 

“Luigi!” I heard Mario’s voice cry from a great distance away.  “Where are you?”

He was alive!!  The mushrooms must have warped his body to another location.  

“Over here!” I yelled to the air, unable to tell which direction his distant voice was coming from.  As I scanned the horizon, I noticed Lakitu’s cloud had stopped about thirty feet above the ground.  Good.  At least it wasn’t gone.

“Where are you?” I shouted back to my unseen brother.

“I’m under a collapsed tent or something,” he said.  “You sound close.  You should see it.  My clothes are missing.  I’m…” he trailed off.

Why did he think I sounded close when, to me, he sounded far off?  I noticed a lump moving under Mario’s clothes.  A tiny head poked out from the neck of Mario’s shirt.  

“Mario?” I asked, amazed.

“I’m tiny!” he cried, just realizing it.  Based on the size of his head, I guessed he was about six inches tall.  

“Stay here.  We’ll figure this out,” I said, “but right now I have to help Daisy.”

I ran to the door of the lighthouse just as Toad was escorting Gadd out.  Gadd’s hands were bound behind his back.  

“Daisy’s in trouble.  Will I burn my hand off if I touch that power star?” I asked the Professor. 

“No,” he said simply.

“He’s lying.  Don’t listen to him,” said Toad.  

I ran up the curved stairs and stopped at the blazing sphere of light.  There was a chance the Professor was lying.  He’d apparently been lying about a lot of stuff.  Well, if Mario was brave enough to risk eating those little mushrooms for Daisy’s sake, I could be brave enough too.  I reached my hand into the mini sun.  The orb disappeared as my body absorbed its power.  I could feel that power coursing through my every cell.  My whole body illuminated as bright as the star itself had.  I felt invincible.  

I considered jumping over the railing that protected people from falling through the hole in the floor but then reconsidered it.  Just because I felt invincible didn’t necessarily mean I was.  I ran down the stairs.  The door was cracked open still.  I barged out.  To my surprise, my enhanced strength blasted the door off its hinges and sent it soaring through the air.  Maybe I was as powerful as I felt after all.  No more stairs!  I front flipped off the top of the mountain without fear.  This felt right.  I was unstoppable. Lakitu, you messed with the wrong people!

I landed like an atom bomb, energy dispersing out from me in all directions.  I ran and jumped, using one of the limos as a platform to propel myself up to the cloud.  The power of my stomp nearly flattened the front end of the vehicle.  I flew up towards the cloud, ready to take down my enemy.  Finally, I was somebody.  Finally I mattered.  Finally I would stand on my own, outside of Mario’s shadow.  

I landed in the cloud with teeth gritted.  What a frightening and imposing sight I must have been.  Only no one was there to see me.  The cloud was empty.  What?  Where?  I thought….  Suddenly my awesome power faded away and I felt weak and terrified of falling thirty feet from the cloud.  

“Luigi, down here,” Daisy called.

I risked peaking my head over the edge.  Far below me I could see Daisy standing on her cast as if her leg was not broken.  Lakitu was sprawled face first in the dirt.  Standing on his head was a tiny Mario, somehow fully clothed.  

As I scooted back from the edge, I accidentally hit the cloud’s control pad with my hand, causing the cloud to disintegrate.  Before I could get a hold of the pad to try to reverse my mistake, I fell through the cloud, screaming.  

Something tiny slammed against my heel with enough force to reverse my momentum and flip me in a forward roll. I landed safely on my back.  The air was knocked from my lungs but I was alive and pretty sure nothing was broken. 

Mini Mario walked over to my face.

“You OK, little bro?” he asked.

All I could do was gasp for air.  I couldn’t even say, “Who you calling little?”

A Kinoko guard offered me his hand and helped me up but I still couldn’t catch my breath.

“Are you Ok?” asked Daisy.

Still gasps were the only noise I could make.

“Mario saved my life,” Daisy said.  “That mushroom he tossed me gave me enough strength to fight off that creature.  And then he shows up and kicks it off the cloud.”

“Turns out I can jump really high like this,” said Mario.  “I’m really strong too.  I’m like AntMan.”

“We were both strong enough to jump down,” said Daisy.  

“Looks like he saved your life too,” said a Kinoko who was just now approaching, carrying Mario’s clothes and hat. 

Finally I caught my breath.  Peach, Toad, and the others were just now showing up.  

“What happened to you?” the Princess asked Mario.

“Where did you get those clothes?” I added.

“It was those little blue mushrooms Luigi had,” he answered Peach.  “They shrunk me.  No wonder Daisy was warned not to eat them as a child.  Can you imagine keeping an eye on your child when she’s as small as a Smurf and can jump this high?”  

Mario did not appear to be overly concerned about his new size.  Things never bothered him the way they bothered me.  Who’s to say if it would even wear off?   I’d be pulling my hair out in worry. 

“But where did you get the clothes?” I asked again.

“Took ‘em off the plush doll,” he said, proud of his quick thinking.  Even at six inches, he was able to stand tall.  Amazing!  Even at six inches, his shadow still engulfed me.  

“You destroyed the car,” Toad said to me. “Not exactly sure how we’re going to get back with our prisoner.”

“Those were some pretty sweet moves, little bro,” said Mario.  “Was that from the power star thing?”

I nodded. 

“So you actually did it?” said the Princess.  “You touched the star?  That’s why you were so radiant?  How did you not get burned?  And is your power gone now? Or can you harness it at will?”

“No,” I said.  “The power is definitely gone.  I don’t know why it didn’t burn and I don’t know how it works.  The Professor is the person you should be asking.”

“I’ll tell you all about it,” Professor Gadd said, “and I’ll take you to your father.  If you let me go.  Have Captain Toad and the others take the Koopa into custody.  Question him.  I’m sure you already know, the Koopa have crossed our borders.  Let me go and I’ll take you and Daisy and the brothers to see your father.”

“Who are you to order the Princess?” said Toad.  “You are a criminal and a traitor!”

“Deal,” said Peach.

“What!” exclaimed Toad.  “No, Princess.  He’s just trying to save his neck.  You can’t trust him.  We don’t even know if your father is still alive.  Who knows what he has planned for you?”

“Who are you to order the Princess?” said Peach, sternly, using his same words.  “And how dare you suggest that the King might be dead.  He is not dead!  Do what the Professor said.  There’s not enough vehicles for us all to get back anyhow.”  Then looking at Gadd, she asked, “How will we get to wherever it is we’re going?”

“It’s not far.  We can walk.  I’ll show you when they are out of sight.”

“Undo his bonds,” ordered the Princess.

“You’re making a mistake, Princess,” Toad warned.  “I’m not saying that just because it’s my job to protect you.  I care about you, Your Majesty.  I’ve already lost your father.”

“Gadd,” said the Princess, “Tell me my father is alive.”

“Of course he is.”   

“Tell me we will be free to go after we see him and that he will leave with us.”

“You will never be anything other than free and can do whatever you wish, whenever you wish - just like the King.”

“Undo his bonds,” she said again.  Toad reluctantly complied.  

Gadd put out his hand towards Toad as if he was expecting something.

“What?” asked Toad peevishly.

“You took my flashlight.  I want it back.”

Toad looked to the Princess.

“Give him his flashlight.”  She seemed to be getting impatient, knowing as soon as the children were done squabbling, she could see her father.

Toad handed over the small, black flashlight.

Just then a distorted voice emanated from the body of Lakitu.  “Lieutenant Lakitu,” the voice said, “this is Ensign Reznor.  Do you copy?”

One of the Kinokos rolled Lakitu onto his side.  The voice sounded again.

“I repeat.  This is Ensign Reznor.  Lieutenant Lakitu, do you copy?”

The voice was coming from the small cube-shaped communicator on his belt similar to the one I saw Bon Bjornin use.  A Kinoko guard removed the cube.  In the light, I could see it had speakers on all but the two sides where the talk buttons were.

“Well that’ll come in handy,” said Toad, hardly believing his luck. 

“There,” said Gadd, “you’ve got two prizes - both infinitely more valuable than me.  That should make you happy, right?”

“You’re free today,” said Toad, “but that’s it.  I’m coming for you as soon as the Princess is done with you.”

“I can’t wait.” Gadd smiled at the captain of the guard.

“I’ll call you if I need anything,” said the Princess to Toad.  “You should probably get going.”

Lakitu’s arms and legs were bound as his unconscious body was placed in the car.  As we stood on the edge of the cliff and watched them drive away, the Princess turned to the Professor.

 “What were you doing out here?” she asked.

“Installing a camera on the lighthouse,” he said. “If an invasion from the sea happens, I want to be able to warn the castle.  It was your Father’s idea, actually.  But the camera was supposed to be powered by the power star.  Guess I’ll have to wire it up to a power moon when I get time.”

“Why did you leave?” Daisy asked him.  “How come you didn’t say anything?  And how come you never said anything about this place?  The very day you left, I told you I felt like there had to be more to life than what I could see.  You wanna know why I felt like that?  I know now.  I grew up here.  In this world.  As a kid.”

“You what?” he said, astonished.  But then he shook off the distraction. “We’ll have time to talk about all this when we get to the safe house.”

Gadd turned on his flashlight and started aiming here and there as if he was trying to find something.  Odd.  Sure, it was cloudy but it wasn’t dark.  And there wasn’t anything up here but a few dead trees.  The light illuminated something that was previously invisible.  Old wood siding.  The wood was wet and dripping as if rain was hitting it.  But it wasn’t raining.  He moved his flashlight to the right.  As he did so, new parts of the otherwise invisible structure became visible.  Only what was in the light of the flashlight could be seen.  We could now see old stairs leading up to a tall double door.  The walls and stairs and door all appeared to be getting rained on.  This was a house of some kind.  No...not just a house.

“This is it!” I cried.  “This is the mansion!  I told you guys it was here!”

“How do you know about this place?” asked Gadd, suspicious as ever of me and Mario.  He obviously hated not having all the answers.

“I’ve been here before,” I said.  “Wait!  Are you taking us in there?  I’m not going in there!”

“Now listen up, everybody,” Gadd said, “going through here is the only way to get to the safe house.  It can be dangerous.  But only if you don’t follow my rules.  There are poltergeists in this house.  They can harm you.  But they will not approach anyone who looks at them.   When we get inside, we need to form a circle.  Each of us needs to look a different direction.  If you see a poltergeist, do not be afraid.  Do not divert your eyes.  It is the only way we’ll be safe. They will not approach you if your eyes are on them. If one of the ghosts are blocking a door, just follow my instructions.  I’ll tell you what to do at the time.  Luigi, hold the flashlight.  I’ll go first.  Try not to create shadows.  Whatever is not in the light, does not exist.  I don’t want you dropping me through the stairs.  Once you guys are in the door, you won’t have to worry about the flashlight.  At least, not for seeing. Everything will be real.  More real than you probably want it to be.”

“I’m in a cast,” said Daisy.  “I’m not sure I can do this.”

“You don’t seem to need to be in a cast,” said the Professor.  “You ate the mushroom.  Rip it off.”

Daisy incredulously, reached her fingers into the cast and pulled in opposite directions.  To her surprise, it ripped in two.  She easily slipped out of it and took off the shoe of her other foot.

Gadd handed me the flashlight.  I shined it according to his directions and he limped up the stairs, opened the door, and stepped in.  Without turning his eyes from the room, he called for us to join him.  The girls moved hesitantly up the stairs and joined Gadd.  Tiny Mario bound once and landed on the Princess’ shoulder which startled her.

Gadd then instructed me to toss the flashlight to one of the girls and grab Mario’s clothes.  Daisy shined the light, making the stairs real for me.  I could feel the cracks on the stairs where my shoes blocked the light.  

As soon as I stepped into the lobby, I saw about a dozen translucent figures, glowing softly at various points in space, bearing the forms of both human and kinoko zoku.  They all floated there, nearly frozen, with menacing eyes staring, it seemed, right at me.  I panicked and tried to run back out the door but it slammed shut of its own accord.  Gadd was yelling something to me but I wasn’t paying attention.  I dropped Mario’s clothes and ran to the nearest open door which was across the room.  

In the corner of my eye, I could see all twelve ghosts charge after me at a slightly faster speed than I could run.  Something hit me from behind, slamming me against a large pillar.  It took me a moment to realize I was still alive and another moment still before I wondered why.  And then I heard his voice.  

“He said not to take your eyes off them!” Mario scolded me.  It was he who pushed me to safety. I turned around, and pressed my back to the pillar.  Mario was at my feet staring at all the ghosts who were now only a few feet away.  

The Princess squealed as her terrified eyes looked beyond me.  I dared peak my head around the pillar to see three more ghosts emerging from the door I was heading for.  They froze when they saw my eyes.  I also noticed that rain was pelting the windows as if there was a storm outside.

“Come on,” Gadd instructed the ladies, “let’s siddle against the wall till we get to the door.  Daisy, keep your eyes in that direction.  Princess, you look over there.  I’ll  watch this side.”

When Gadd noticed I was watching him, he yelled at me to keep my eyes on the new ghosts.  Sure enough, in those few seconds I was distracted, the ghosts were through the door and almost to my pillar.

Gadd retrieved Mario’s discarded clothes and scooted along the wall to the door with Peach and Daisy.  He peeked in the door.  

“Both of you, walk backwards towards me,” he instructed Mario and me.   We did as he said and when I came near enough, he handed me Mario’s clothes.  He held out his unlit flashlight as if it would somehow provide some sort of protection. 

We reformed into a circle, with our backs to each other as Gadd led the way into the next room.  It was a library with packed bookshelves lining the walls and reaching to the high ceiling.  A ghost emerged from the door at the far end and froze at our gaze.  More froze at the door we just entered in through.  

“Do you remember this room?” Gadd asked me, “Do you remember how to get to the basement?”  

“I think so.  You pull a book and a door opens.  Just like in the movies, right?”

“Do you remember which one?”

“ was green, I think.”

“Yes.  It’s on your side.  Doki Doki Panic.  That’s the name of the book.  Do you see it?  Open the door.”

We all clumsily moved the direction I was facing.  I pulled the book partially out and a portion of the bookshelf swung out towards us on unseen hinges.  Behind the hidden door was a large, dark room with a twenty foot drop.  Connecting to the top of the door was an upside down staircase with no railing leading up into the darkness of the cavernous room.

“I don’t remember this part.  There’s no floor.  What do we do?” I asked.

“Gravity is backwards in there,” the Professor said.  “There’s a bar over your head on the doorframe.  Hold on to it and swing onto the stairs.”  

I held my hand out but couldn’t feel the effect of reversed gravity.  I tossed Mario’s clothes into the room and they seemed to fly upwards and land on the upside down staircase.  Convinced enough, I swung on the bar.  As soon as my feet swung out into the dark room the new gravity pulled me 180 degrees until I landed on the staircase.  Now the others looked upside down to me.  Tiny Mario excitedly jumped in next, not bothering with the bar his tiny hands wouldn’t be able to grab anyway.  The ladies were as hesitant as I was but made the leap safely.  Once Gadd entered, he shut the door behind him.  

The stairs were now descending rather than ascending - at least from our new perspective.  Gadd opted to walk backwards down the stairs to keep an eye on any ghosts that might try to surround us - which was fine with me.  I was uncomfortable even walking forward down the stairs without a handrail.  

Halfway down a Kinoko spirit blocked our way.  We weren’t in danger of being attacked by it because our eyes kept it in place but - neither could we pass it.  Another spirit - this one human - floated to the top of the stairs and froze at Gadd’s gaze, blocking our only other exit.

“Uh...What now?” Mario asked.

“Daisy,” Gadd said, “let’s switch places.  Keep your eyes on the poltergeist at the top of the stairs.  I’ll take care of the one below us.”

They carefully switched spots.  Gadd, now at the front of the group, turned on his flashlight and aimed it at the ghost.  As soon as the light hit it, it raged, screaming and growling with eyes that were now glowing red.  Gadd turned the flashlight to the right and the ghost moved with it as if it was stuck to the beam of light.  

“Let’s go!  Everyone down the stairs. Keep your eyes alert,” he ordered.  He let us shuffle past him while he struggled with the raging spirit caught in his beam.  The ghost that was at the top of the stairs took advantage of his back being turned and raced towards him.  I saw it  and called up to him.  He swung his light around and caught the second spirit in his light.  But he seemed to be struggling to hold both screaming, flailing specters.  

It became evident when we reached the ground level that there were no doors.  It was just a large, empty, dusty basement full of the sort of stuff you might expect to see in such a place - boxes and trunks and broken furniture and the like.  

“There’s nowhere to go!” Princess Peach exclaimed to the Professor.  

“Luigi, the picture frame.  Don’t you remember?” he called to me, irritated.

Oh right!  Now I remembered.  Leaning against the wall was an upside down, framed painting of the library that we just came from.  I turned the picture around.  On the back side was a painting of a rainy graveyard in twilight - rightside up.  In the center of the graveyard was a warp pipe.  

“Ok, it’s done,” I called to him.  

“Hurry up. I don’t know how long I can hold them!”  I heard genuine panic in his voice.  Nobody else knew what was happening and there was no time to explain.

“Come on, guys.  Back up the stairs!” I said.  

Mario jumped ten feet up the stairs and took the lead.  The women followed me.  Gadd walked backwards, trying not to lose his grip on the flashlight that was now jerking this way and that as the spirits raged.  There was a lever on the backside of the door that I was able to open the door with.  When I opened it, Mario and the ladies gasped.  No longer did the doorway lead into the library.  Beyond the door was a moonlit graveyard caught in a rainstorm.  

“The physics in your world don’t make any sense!” Mario exclaimed to Peach over the noise of the rain.

“These aren’t the physics of my world!” she said.

“Come on,” I coaxed.  

We all stepped into the rain.  When Gadd stepped out, he turned his flashlight off.  Immediately the ghosts zipped back and forth faster than I knew they could.  Their teeth were exposed menacingly and their eyes red.  At least they couldn’t move our direction since our eyes were on them.  Gadd slammed the door shut.  But now, the outside of the door wasn’t a bookshelf.  It was a wood door on the back of the mansion.  

“There’s no physics here,” Gadd said, addressing Mario’s earlier statement, “because we’re not in the physical world.  This house is supernatural and the laws of spirit supersede the laws of nature.  We’re almost there.  Let’s go.”

He led us to the warp pipe in the center of the graveyard.  Still holding Mario’s clothes, I hopped in after the others.  We exited the pipe somewhere bright and dry.  As I tried to pick myself up from the ground where I landed, I couldn’t tell up from down.  I was as dizzy as I’ve ever been and could hardly stand until I finally comprehended what I was looking at.  Above me, where the sky should have been was land and water.  It was about a quarter mile up and made me feel like I was falling towards it.  The landscape above me was a strange mix of desert sand, large translucent crystalline boulders in a variety of colors that caught and held the sunlight, and a great shimmering lake with a pink hue that reflected the sunlight down to the surface we were standing on.  

Based on the curvature of the surface we stood on, it appeared to be a miniature planet or moon or something.  But in the atmosphere, not in space. It was covered in tall grass, cut through with a dirt or clay trail.  It looked like we would fall off into the sky if we walked far enough.  

“Is this Volbano?” Princess Peach was in awe.  “I’ve always wanted to visit.  I didn’t know there were any warp pipes that led here.”

“Well, as you see, the warp pipe is not very conspicuous.  The one that leads to the safe house is just around the bend.”  Gadd started walking towards the edge.  

“Won’t we fall off?” I asked.
“No, Silly!  We’re on a floating mountain,” said Peach.  “If you were going to fall off, you would have already.  We’re on the bottom of it right now.”

“So are we or are we not in a supernatural place?” Mario asked.

“No. This is Volbano,” said the Princess as if that meant anything to us.

“So we’re standing upside down on a floating mountain?  Your physics are crazy!”

“It’s not crazy,” she defended herself.  “The mountain’s made of stativus.  It has a gravitational core.  What’s so crazy about that?”

“What are you waiting for?” Gadd called back to us.  

As we started his direction Mario said to me, “These don’t look anything like the floating mountains on Avatar.”

I felt dizzy again as the ground above our heads shifted and descended behind us as we walked around the tiny planet.  It kind of made me feel like The Little Prince from the famous children’s book.

Within minutes, we came to another warp pipe.  This one shot us out into a wide pasture that could have been the American northwest if it weren’t for the sharply angled mountains in the distance that resembled giant white crystals and the assortment of fantastical creatures that scurried or hopped or flew here and there.  One group of creatures had some sort of spring legs.  Another species appeared to be very similar to deer but with snail shells on their backs.  The pastureland had fields of exotic flowers, some occasional large trees, and just before us, a winding stream that ran in front of a two-storied, thatch-roofed cottage.

“This is it,” Gadd said to the Princess.  “Are you ready to see your father?”  

We followed Gadd into the cottage.  He seemed to be irritated that the door was partially opened.  The front door led us into a small, messy living room.  There was a staircase that led to the second floor and an open door leading into what might have been a bedroom.  But what caught our attention was the crazed, bearded man standing in front of an open refrigerator in the tiny kitchen just past the living room.  There was food all over the floor around his feet and he had what looked like a turkey leg in his mouth.  When he saw us, he dropped the turkey leg and hissed at us like an animal protective of its food.  Skin from the turkey leg was caught in the wild man’s teeth.  Other food was caught in his beard.

“Father?” Peach asked, alarmed.