One of the reptilian creatures reached out to grab me but I was able to flip over its head from the top of the warp pipe and land behind it. Another one swung a clawed hand at my face. I ducked the attack and brought my shoulder up into its stomach. I knocked the giant, two legged turtle off its feet but was surprised by the hardness of its plastron chest armor. My shoulder complained sorely.
Now yet another was thrusting a short sword at my torso. I was able to dodge it three times before the monster’s leader demanded he not kill me. Still, I spun away from the one with the blade. They were all around. There was no way I could fight all of them regardless of my enhanced abilities. Suddenly there was a flash of light. Not lightning. Though it felt like it. Something had crashed into my skull, sending me sprawling face first into the mud. I rolled over to see a creature standing over me with a hammer. I threw my hands up to indicate I had had enough.
A familiar voice cut through the sounds of growling monsters and roaring stormwind. It was Mario, screaming as he ejected from the pipe, flailing through the air and finally landing on his shoulder in the mud. Before he could make sense of what was happening, one of the turtles pulled him to his feet and held his arms behind his back. I was handled likewise.
Daisy emerged seconds later. Only her fall was not as eloquent. She hit her leg on the edge of the pipe on her way to the ground. I could hear the crunch of bone even over the cacophony around me. She cried out in pain. A monster tried to lift her to her feet but when it saw that she could not stand, it picked her up like a baby.
“Are there any more of you?” the leader asked Gadd. This one looked a little different. It was still turtle-like but rather than having a beak like the others, it had a reptilian snout. It was also darker in complexion and had spikes on his shell. Gadd shook his head in answer to the creature’s question.
Rosalina made eye contact with me and Mario. “I’m sorry I have to leave you,” she said. “but I was told to bring you here and get back. That’s all I’m allowed to do.” She looked genuinely sorry. She slipped out of the monster’s grip as easily as walking through vapor.
“Hey!” the monster yelled, frustrated, as it tried and failed to grab hold of her again. Rosalina removed the coin necklace from the pipe and started to run away. No claws could find purchase on her. As she ran, she began to glow and shimmer and then finally vanish just as she did in the city. All the monsters gasped. Some uttered the word “Star Sprite” in amazement.
The leader looked especially panicked. “Who else is a Star Sprite?” he yelled at us. If any of us knew what that even was it would be the professor but he remained as silent as me.
“Cut them to find out!” the spike-backed leader demanded of his servants.
“No!” Mario and Daisy protested at once. But there was nothing we could do. One of the giant turtles with a knife quickly gave each of us a slice on the arm. It hurt like crazy. And as if cutting us wasn’t enough, the beast held open our cuts with its nasty hands to watch the blood spill. I was sure that if I survived this, I’d get salmonella from the reptile’s fingers on my open wound.
The leader, turning his attention away from us, scooped a clump of mud from the ground, and dropped it into the pipe. There was a shallow splash and a thud indicating that the pipe ended at ground level and was starting to fill with rain water. He then plucked one of the coins from the lip of the pipe and examined it. Some realization seemed to have occurred to him. He pulled a small cube from his belt and yelled into it.
“Attention Thunderstruck. This is Ground Force Leader Bon Bjornin of Division 13 with an urgent message for Captain Lakitu. I repeat, I have an urgent message for Captain Lakitu.”
A distorted voice answered from the cube. “This is Thunderstruck. We acknowledge. Please stand by.”
A moment passed.
“This is Captain Lakitu.” A voice finally said. “What is your message?”
“We have apprehended four humans who were traveling with a Star Sprite.” Bon Bjornin reported. “They have just emerged from a warp pipe. Furthermore, the pipe’s jumpgate seems to have been unlocked by the six Royal National Coins. Five of the coins are in our possession but the Sprite ran off with the last. The jumpgate is now closed. Alert King Koopa immediately. We are located directly under Cloudship Thunderstruck. We will wait here for the King.”
Lakitu’s voice matched Bjornin’s in urgency. “Ignite a beacon. I will escort the king to your position at once.”
One of the turtles heard his cue and lit some sort of flare.
“Hey Boom Boom!” Mario yelled against the storm.
Bon Bjornin turned to him, apparently amazed at Mario’s audacity. “Yeah, you.” Mario said. “What’s the matter? You and the rest of the Ninja Turtles were expecting the pizza man and got us instead? What’s your beef with us?”
“Beef?” Bjornin asked.
“Why are you holding us like prisoners of war? We haven’t done anything.”
“You are prisoners of war.” Bjornin answered.
“What war?” Mario asked. “We’re not fighting you.”
“That’s not my problem.” Bjornin smiled.
“Who wants a banana?” a voice suddenly shouted. We all turned to Gadd. What an odd thing for him to say at that moment! “I said, who wants a banana?” he shouted again. Some of the turtles looked at each other, trying to make sense of the scene. I looked at Daisy who knew him best. Even she looked bewildered.
Bon Bjornin walked over to the professor. “Oh, you want a banana?” Professor Gadd shouted into his face. “A nice...big….yellow…..BA NA NA?”
Bjornin tapped Gadd’s head with his finger. “I think this one’s broken.”
“I think this one wants a big, fat banana!” Gadd yelled.
“BA NA NA!!!” a deep, guttural voice roared from behind us. Before I could turn around, a large shadow crashed through the scene, knocking turtle monsters left and right. This new creature was hairy. Donkey Kong! I could see now. It was Donkey Kong! He must have come from the jungle behind us. Bjornin took a fighting stance but one ape-whack to the skull and he dropped hard and fast.
Donkey Kong picked up the professor and ran off down the mountain side. The creature holding me threw me to the ground and joined the others in chasing after the ape and professor. For some reason he appeared to be a higher priority than us.
I was free. Instinctively, I started to run. Where to, I had no idea. Just away. The opposite direction as the monsters. But wait. What about Mario and Daisy? I made an abrupt stop. Mario was running toward Daisy who had apparently been dropped in the mud. Why wasn’t that my first instinct? Sometimes I just hate myself. I ran to help Mario. He was just lifting her to her one working leg when a turtle noticed them. It grabbed Mario’s shoulder, causing Daisy to fall back into the mud with a cry of pain.
I ran as hard as I could. I could still feel the effect of the mushroom in my blood. I jumped and kicked the turtle with both of my feet in its face. Why I thought I could pull off a move like that I cannot explain - other than something like adrenaline compelled me. The creature fell, unconscious. I landed safely on my side in the mud. I hurried to Daisy. Mario and I lifted her to her feet and supported her weight as we tried to escape towards the jungle up the mountain.
The tree line was not far away now. If we could get in there, our chances of hiding were much better. Unfortunately our eyes were mostly on the ground before us as we tried to usher Daisy over rocks and stumps in the muddy grass. All three of us bumped into one of the beaked creatures. He must have run around us undetected. He did not immediately attack but stood there contented with his catch. I think it was the same one who hit me with the hammer. He was wearing the same crude helmet and carrying the same sort of crude hammer.
“Now wait a minute.” it said. “You two look an awful lot alike. Are you brothers?”
We tried to turn and run but there was another one of those creatures who looked identical to this one walking up behind us, gripping a hammer. I don’t know. Maybe it was that one that hit me.
“That’s my brother behind you.” The first one said. “Hey look, Mosher, they’re brothers like us.”
We were trapped between the two.
“It's a beautiful thing to see brothers sticking together through thick and thin.” Mosher said. He flipped his hammer in his hand. “From one set of brothers to another, welcome to the Koopa Kingdom.” In the blink of an eye both “hammer brothers” swung their hammers, one at me, the other at Mario. I saw a flash and then nothing but total darkness.”
I awoke to find myself lying on my back in a pitch black room. The only reason I knew I wasn't blinded was because I could see a figure standing some fifteen feet away whose red clothing stood out in stark contrast to the blackness around. With growing terror, I realized I could not lift my head to get a better look at the figure. I was paralyzed. The only thing I could move were my eyes.
The figure walked towards me. My heart began to race. It looked like something from a nightmare. It was only as tall as a child but as wide as a man. It wore a hooded robe, the sleeves of which hung past the hands. A thick belt strapped around the center. The hood, if you could call it that, did not have an opening for the face. It was almost like a red sheet draped over the head with sleeves. Strapped over the face area was a white mask with large circle openings for eyes and one small circle opening for a mouth. I could not see through the holes. They were empty black pits. The little nightmare man did not walk so much as glide.
It stopped at my side and seemed to just stare at me for a moment with those giant pits. Then it bent down and put its “face” mere inches from mine. My heart was racing and my breathing was rapid.
And then it spoke.
Its voice was a whisper but it wasn’t quiet and definitely more like the voice of a man than a child. The voice reverberated and echoed in the dark chamber and cut through my soul like an ice cold knife. A tear trickled from my eye.
I believe I heard a question in its voice rather than a statement. I also believe I detected a foreign accent. Maybe Asian? These things I noticed instantly and did not dwell on. My thoughts were on whether or not I would live out the next few minutes. Before I could pass out from fear, the whole scene faded away. It was only a dream.
As my consciousness came flooding back, so did the sensation of being drenched by torrents of rain. My head throbbed. I blinked a few times before fully opening my eyes to this harsh reality. I was sitting up, tied back to back with Mario. A spear that was plunged to the ground between the two of us kept us from falling over and drowning in the rainwater as we might have otherwise, being unconscious and all. Our silly fiddler’s hats kept the majority of the water out of our faces.
I’m pretty sure Mario was still unconscious. A few yards away, Daisy sat in the mud, hunched over to keep the rain out of her face. I noticed only her hands were tied. I guess with a broken leg she didn’t seem like much of a threat to them. She looked up for just a moment. She was gritting her teeth in pain. When she saw that I was conscious, she turned her eyes down again. Was she disgusted with me or was I just misreading her pained face?
Not too far from where I was tied up with Mario, an enormous creature was talking with Bon Bjornin who had obviously recovered by now. How long had I been out?
This new, large creature was perhaps the same breed as Bjornin. It too had a spiked shell and tail and that monstrous snout. But it was at least nine feet tall with two large spikes extending from its head. Based on Bjornin’s subservience, I guessed this was the king.
It was talking relatively softly and yet I could hear it’s deep, rumbling voice over the rain. What a fearsome creature!
“No. The invasion is off.” it was saying. “The human most likely alerted the others. Their military will be ready for us. This was supposed to be a surprise attack. I will not risk losing resources we do not need to lose.”
“With all due respect, your majesty,” Bon Bjornin said, “We have the cloud ship. They don’t know about that. That will keep our cover and provide firepower they certainly cannot be expecting.”
“I appreciate your zeal, Bjornin.” the King said, “I do not appreciate you forgetting your place. You will lead your division to Yoshi Island. The other divisions will meet you there. I have ways of weakening their defenses from the inside. When I give the order, we will advance. No sooner.”
A monster face appeared before mine, startling me.
“Look!” it said. “It’s awake!”
This creature was smaller than the rest and even more turtleyer. Oh shut up! I know that’s not a real word. Let me tell my story. It wore large leather-banded aviation goggles over its eyes.
Bjornin and the king turned their attention towards me. The massive monster king approached while the others took their place behind him.
“So, you are the one with the answers?” it asked.
“What! Why do you say that?” I asked, truly surprised by the question. “I don’t have any answers!”
“The girl said you are the one who lured her here. She said you knew how to activate the portal. And she said you refused to give her any information.”
“Daisy! Why?” I asked her. She didn’t even look up.
“Where do you come from?” the king asked.
“Earth. I come from Earth.”
I could see anger flaring up in the giant monster’s eyes. He took a deep breath and blasted a stream of fire from his mouth that blazed over my head, burning the top of the spear.
“Don’t lie to me!” he said. “The girl said you come from a place called New York.”
“Yes, yes. New York is a place on Earth.” I said, squirming. “I come from New York on Earth.”
“What is your association to the Six Realms?”
“I don’t know what the Six Realms are. I never heard of them.”
“Do you work for the Pianta Syndicate?”
“I don’t even know what any of that is! I work for Super Mario Brothers Plumbing in New York City. I’m just a plumber.”
“The crime syndicates have been after the Royal National Coins for years. How did you steal them? How long did you have them before the respective governments discovered they were missing?”
“If those are the things in the lip of the pipe, I didn’t steal them. I never even had one of them. Daisy had one. But she got hers from the professor. She didn’t know what it was. The professor had all of them as far as I can tell. It’s him you should be questioning.”
“Mama Mia!” a weak voice said behind me. Mario was coming to. The king was still more interested in me for the moment.
“What’s your relation to the Star Sprite?” he said. Each of my answers seemed to make him a little angrier. I would have rather been interrogated by Delvecio again. At least he didn’t spit fire.
“I’ve only talked with her for a few moments. She gave me a mushroom and told me to go to the pipe before the professor closed the portal. So I did. It was obviously a bad idea listening to her. I don’t know who she is. I don’t even know what she is!”
“She gave you a what?” the king asked.
“A mushroom.” I answered.
“A mushroom. Why? And this professor that you think I should be talking to instead of you - according to my commander he nearly killed three of my soldiers when he came out of that pipe. He was radiating energy. Until his power waned. Is he a sorcerer?”
“I seriously doubt he’s a sorcerer but listen, I swear, I don’t know anything. I just want to go back home.” I knew I sounded pathetic. But maybe the turtle dragon would have empathy.
“Captain Lakitu,” the king called, “take our prisoners to the ThunderStruck. We’ll see if Junior’s unique methods will convince them that honesty is the best practice.”
“As you wish.” the little, begoggled fellow said. I wouldn’t have pegged him as the captain. He detached a control pad of some sort from his belt and started pressing buttons. A thick fog began to form around us regardless of the driving rain. The fog compressed and consolidated into a dark cloud about ten feet wide and floating only inches from the ground.
“Mosher, Drixxer, Korvin,” Bon Bjornin ordered, “help the captain get these humans on the shuttle.”
One of the two that wasn’t Mosher addressed Mario as he started loosening the spear from the ground. “Glad I don’t have to watch. Junior is a maniacal sicko. You’ll see. But at least he gets results.”
“You ain’t taking me anywhere!” Mario cried as he attempted to wiggle free from his bonds. As futile as it was, he kept at it.
“Now look what you’ve done, Korvin” said Mosher. “You’ve gone and got them all scared. Now it’s gonna be a struggle moving them.”
Mosher came over to help. He bent down, grabbed me and Mario in a tight bear hug, and lifted while Korvin pulled at the spear. Two seconds and several bruises later, we were on our feet.
There was a streak of red light. Korvin screamed and flew backwards.
“Kinoko Zoku!” Bjornin warned. “Attack!”
“Protect the prisoners!” roared the king.
Coming into view now was what looked like large, stubby mushrooms charging up the mountain toward us, shouting a war cry and welding glowing weapons of some sort. The turtle monsters raised their crude weapons and charged the shrooms. A few stayed behind, turning their backs so that their shells protected us from from whatever might come blasting from the mushrooms’ strange weapons. Mario and I, still tied to each other and the spear, tried running which proved impossible to coordinate on the spot. We immediately fell over. Two of our guards lifted either side of the spear we were tied to. They may have had orders to keep us alive but they sure didn’t care about our comfort. They heaved and chucked us into the small cloud. Daisy was thrown in after us. She cried out in pain. The cloud was not made of any perceivable solids. There were only progressive levels of incorporeality. Captain Lakitu and the king also boarded the cloud shuttle. I could just barely see Lakitu from my awkward angle fiddling with his control pad again. We lifted into the air quite suddenly. I could feel myself pressing into the fluff and feared the G forces would push us through the bottom.
Something long and skinny and glowing red zipped up from the bottom, just missing my head, and continued into the air. Then another one a foot away. Arrows. Those screaming mushrooms where shooting glowing, red arrows at us! I screamed. Mario screamed. Even Lakitu was screaming.
An arrow struck the control pad. The pad sparked and sputtered.
“Bring us down. Bring us down!” Even the king sounded concerned. Lakitu made an adjustment and we descended so fast I felt like I was going to float right off the cloud. A loud pop accompanied a flash from the control pad and the cloud came to an abrupt stop. All five of us pierced through the bottom of the shuttle but did not fall completely out of it. Yet.
The cloud began to dissipate. We all tried as best as we could to position ourselves into safe falling positions. The cloud became a loose fog and we fell five feet to the ground. Fortunately Mario and I were able to twist just enough to land feet first. The spear pierced the ground again and again we were prevented from being mobile. Poor Daisy also landed feet first but on her broken leg. She screamed and collapsed as she went unconscious.
I could see the mushrooms better now. Maybe they weren’t mushrooms after all. They were little people. Very human looking except for that thing on their heads. It looked like a spotted mushroom top. Was it a hat or part of their head? Most carried glowing white staffs which illuminated their dark colored double breasted uniforms. Others bore crossbows loaded with those deadly red arrows.
The little guys were angry, fierce, and fast. Even with their small numbers they seemed to be overpowering the stronger, armored turtles. The light staffs flashed as they made contact with their victims, sending them reeling back.
The king spit a stream of fire at one the mushroom people. In the blink of an eye the mushroom man rolled twice and landed in a high speed run, just managing to avoid the long lasting beam of fiery death following his movements. As soon as the king stopped his blast to take a breath, the mushroom man slid in close enough swing its light staff at him. The king blocked it with a spiked wrist guard and returned the blow with his other claw. The man tried to block with the staff but the staff was shattered. The king spun around and whacked the man with his spiked tail, sending him soaring through the air.
Captain Lakitu was hiding behind the safety of his king, yelling commands into his crystal communicator. “Thunderstruck, descend! Prepare for pick up! Deploy Spineys! Switch to hail!”
Mario began to rock back and forth.
“Come on, Luigi,” he said, “rock with me. No, no. In unison. Yes, like that.”
His idea was working. The spear was coming loose from the wet earth. It wasn’t as deeply stuck as it had been earlier. Suddenly it was free. Only instead of hopping away, we fell again. Our momentum, exaggerated by the steep slant on this particular spot sent us sliding through the mud head first down the mountainside.
One of the creatures chased after us down the mountain. Mud splattered our faces as Mario and I slid on our arms with the spear between us. I could see that we were rapidly approaching a rock that could certainly kill us at this speed. Just pass the rock was a knife-wielding monster waiting to finish us off if the rock didn’t do it. I thought they had orders to keep us alive. I guess this one didn’t care.
I shut my eyes and braced for impact. The burnt butt of the spear hit the rock. I was jolted against the ropes that bound us. To my surprise, the momentum lifted the head of the spear several feet, just high enough for the unsuspecting monster who was chasing us to run into it. His momentum was added to that of the spear he was now impaled upon and he was lifted into the air, turning me and Mario upside down. The spear completed its arch, crashing the skull of the impaled creature into the skull of the knife-wielding one, leaving both in a heap.
One of the mushroom men came upon us and cut our bonds. Finally we were free! Mario and I reached for the weapons of the fallen turtle monsters but were fiercely warned against doing so by the little man.
“No weapons until we know who you are,” he insisted, his own knife held out threateningly.
Suddenly the dark sky grew darker as the stormcloud above us seemed to be falling. The rain stopped and a moment later was replaced by hail. The turtles pulled their limbs into their shells and laid belly-down on the ground.
“To the jungle!” one of the mushroom people cried. They seemed as concerned about the hail as Mario and I. Perhaps those mushroom tops were not as protective as they looked. Sure enough, I could see damage appearing on them from the pelting of quarter sized ice even as I felt it doing a number on my own head and body.
Fortunately, some of the shroomers lifted up the still unconscious Daisy and tried to protect her from the hail as they ran up the mountain. Mario and I threw our arms over our heads and ran with the others.
Something much larger and heavier than hail thudded into the ground just in front of me. It was a dark red ball three feet in diameter, with about six or nine bony spines protruding all around it. Another one landed twenty feet in front of me, just barely missing a mushroom man. They weren’t just spiked balls. They were alive. I could see them starting to move. They opened up like roly polies. They had four stubby legs and a small head that did not extend past the segmented, red, spiked shell. Again, these things reminded me of turtles. Everything in this world seemed to resemble turtles or mushrooms. Those things started chasing us. And more were falling all around! It’s not like we could look up into the hailstorm to see where they were falling either. We just ran as fast as we could. Were these things being aimed at us or dropped randomly? Better not take chances. I imitated the others, zig zagging back and forth.
Darn those spiney sea turtle things! They were smarter and faster than I guessed. Two at a time would try to sandwich a victim in between them. I had to stop suddenly to avoid such an attack. As I shifted directions, another one came up behind me. A slight poke in my butt cheek proved it was at least as fast as me. I could tell that the effects of the mushroom I ate were all but gone but I wondered if I still had enough agility to …..
Yes! I jumped toward the creature, feet landing on its shell, hands grasping the spines. It immediately shifted its vector to ram into another spiney. I crawled to its backside. The two creatures still crashed and then separated. Hopefully they weren’t smart enough to organize a crunch from all sides. I think it actually gave up on me though because it started chasing one of the mushroom men.
From my vantage point, I could see that the shroomers would occasionally swing their glow staffs or shoot their arrows to slow the creatures down. It barely worked. They were heavily armored buggers. I could also see that the shroomers picked Mario up. Good. There was no way he would be able to outrun those little beasts.
Finally we made it into the forest but the canopy of foliage didn’t completely stop the hail that was beating and bruising us and it certainly didn’t stop the creatures that were determined to spike us to death. I jumped off the one I was riding, grabbed ahold of a tree branch, and climbed to safety. The others also took to the trees.
To my horror, the spineys proved to be efficient tree climbers.
“Mama mia!” Mario cried out. “Do these things ever stop?”
At least as the creatures climbed the tree, their vulnerable areas were better exposed. Glow staffs and arrows hitting faces and underbellies successfully knocked several of the creatures off the trees.
Where was Daisy? Ah, there she was. The mushroom men somehow brought her up a tree where she now rested in the nook of a branch, still unconscious.
After a few minutes of relentlessly defending our positions in the trees, whilst suffering the hailstorm, there was a high pitched shrill that sounded from outside the jungle which seemed to summon the spineys to it. They turned, almost reluctantly, from us and shuffled back out of the jungle.
A few moments later we appeared to be relatively safe. Especially if we kept our heads directly under the larger branches to protect from the hail. But then, just as the first mushroom man started to climb back down a tree, a lightning bolt crashed into the jungle, splitting a tree, sending several mushroom men falling in all directions from it. BOOM! Another bolt struck the ground. BOOM! Another one hit another tree. Lightning was striking everywhere! Within moments, the jungle was on fire and tree limbs were falling left and right. At this point it seemed safer to be outside of the jungle. Those of us still in trees lept out and starting running back to the clearing we came from.
When we exited the flaming jungle, we saw the open mountainside, now devoid of monsters - spiney or otherwise. The lightning seemed to have stopped now. It was only a quick attack before that dreaded stormcloud - which I could only assume was the Thunderstruck cloud ship - lifted high into the air and floated away from the mountain, presumably carrying the turtle king and his subjects.
Now free of the shade of the stormcloud, the mountainside was bathed in bright moonlight which caused some of the hail covering the ground to sparkle like diamonds. However, the hail closer to the fire reflected the firelight and made it appear as if that portion of ground was ablaze. The heat compelled us to keep moving downhill. I saw that Daisy was being carried. I chided myself for not being able to help any better than our little heroes.
“We need to get her medical attention,” Mario said to the shroomers. “Do you have supplies? Is there a hospital nearby? Do you even know what any of these words mean?”
“We have supplies here,” said the one who earlier pointed his knife at us. In the brighter light I could see the uniforms were blue. But the one speaking had a gold trim that followed his buttons and circled his cuffs. I assumed this meant he held a different rank than the other soldiers. “There is a hospital in the valley but we’re not going there,” he continued, “We’ll do what we can here. We will take her, and our wounded Kinokos, to the castle for treatment. The three of you will be questioned there.”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re giving us a choice,” said Mario.
“Indeed, I am not,” said the man.
“So first we are prisoners of the turtles and now…” Mario began.
“Koopas,” interrupted the man.
“They’re not turtles. They’re koopas.”
“Whatever. And now we’re your prisoners?”
“Listen, Chubby, you were just in the company of our sworn enemies who should have had no way of even getting this far into our realm. You’re coming with us, willingly or otherwise. If you want to consider yourself a prisoner, that is your business.”
“Who are you anyway?” asked Mario.
“That’s a funny question coming from a trespasser into my land. But I will tell you regardless. I am Captain Toad. Captain of his majesty’s palace guard. A position deserving of respect whether you respect me as a person or not. And when you approach the princess, you best show some respect then! And who, pray tell, are you, overweight human?”
Mario smiled at me. Oh no! Don’t say it. Please don’t say it.
“It’s me. I’m Mario.”