Numb, cold darkness… the sensation of a body adrift in nothingness. It was like being caught in the undertow of the abyssal depths of the ocean. The lost and forgotten realm of primordial beings who had never felt sunlight. A light then appeared above as the current grew stronger and dragged upwards with the rage of a tornado…

Dull light allowed the outline of the ancient chamber to come into view; emitted from series of gemstones set in the walls. Each was part of a larger pattern of runes that weaved into a giant tapestry across all surfaces of the room. The impossibly high ceiling reached beyond the chamber, high up into a mountain where bioluminescent moss clung to the remains of a sunken city. Ludwig knew this place, he was in the lowest chambers of the Thwomp Ruins. Not the bright, cheery temples he had raced through during go-kart championships. The lost, forgotten remains of the past buried within the mountain. The same ruins one had to traverse to reach the Arcane Kingdom and the Malevolent Mires.

The main feature of this chamber came in the form of a large circular pedestal that bore various crests and charms. The main pattern appeared to be a pentagram that branched out into spiralling meteors and nebulas. Whatever this chamber was; it was clearly designed for casting powerful spells. Magic that Ludwig guessed would rival the power of the Star Spirits themselves. Everything was too precisely laid out from the main pedestal, to its steps, the support pillars and the canals and pools of pure water that added to the patterns of the charts on the floor. It was then that Ludwig realised he being held above a larger pool; held in placed by icy manacles.

"Do you like it? Surely one as magically inclined as you can appreciate this chamber."

Ludwig then realised he was not alone. Shalazia stood before him, wearing that smug, cruel leer. On the main pedestal, frozen upon three of the points of the main pentagram were Bowser, Peach and Wario. Yet two places remained open and Ludwig had a feeling Mario and Luigi would soon join them. Out of dislike for this Water Princess, Ludwig spewed his hottest flame towards her.

She waved her arm, summoning a wall of water to stop the fire before it even singed her gloves. "This was my personal sanctum when I was the Enchanter of the Arcane Archives… before I realised I deserved better as a monarch." Shalazia laughed "That I deserved to be loved and adored like a queen or princess, not peddling magic tricks to ungrateful citizens."

Ludwig was shocked "Arcane Archives… you didn't actually have a kingdom?"

"Well it wasn't one when we took control. Bloodlines don't even guarantee you'll become royalty. No, it was basically a huge archive of all magical knowledge in the world. There was no king or queen, it was all democratically divided between the roles of Enchanter, Archmage, Chronicler and Huntmaster. You weren't just born to it either, you had to prove you were worthy of the title. Then again, the jobs were just about helping everyone and anyone who asked. No task was too small for us to look at… it was so bothersome."

"Actually that sounds like a reasonable way to manage the main source of all magical knowledge in the ancient world…"

"No, it was horrible, which was why I decided to impose a monarchy and call our kingdom an actual kingdom and I was to be its princess."

"You know, I am getting sick of your monologues. Why have you brought me here? In fact, why are you so obsessed with me?" Ludwig rolled his eyes "It is very worrying as you seem to be both a stalker, narcissist and an obsessive and demanding person."

"Isn't it obvious?" Shalazia tittered "You can use Shadow magic. Don't you realise how rare that is now that the Dark Star has been sealed away by the Mushroom Kingdom? That thousand year door has also put a stop to it too. The only way you can do it would be to commune with the Underwhere but then you'd have Queen Jaydes to contend with."

"So what? It comes naturally to Koopas."

"Exactly, why should you get such a power? I deserve it more!"



Ludwig sighed; an ancient monarch of an advanced kingdom was acting worse than Bowser Junior. "So… you want me to give you lessons in magic then?"

"I can't be bothered with that, I'm just going to rip your magic out of you and add it to mine… just like I did to Astrapi all those years ago."

"You are the reason Diabella cannot use magic!?"

Shalazia waved her hand to conjure lightning from her fingers "Oh yes. It was a shame I couldn't get Gaia or Floga's before they forced me to kill them. It would be nice to command earth and fire too."

"But how is that even possible?"

"Because I know the secret rituals of the Mushroom Kingdom Royal Family, that's why. King Lentinellus taught them to me, personally! This ritual allows me to steal magic from other sources, it's like removing your favourite code from a program letting you keep the good stuff and the original owner is reducing to a glitch, an error."

"You effectively kill them… you take their magic, you break their very existence…" Ludwig was disgusted by her attitude "So effectively, you have tricked everyone in this era into getting mixed up with your family drama and delusions of grandeur."

"Yes, I had to wait a long time for people so gullible and with you around, Astrapi, I mean, Diabella was so distracted by you that she didn't even notice me." Shalazia walked towards Ludwig with a cruel smirk "It all happened because you had to run away from home. Thank you for that! I could just kiss you… but I won't… because you're ugly and disgusting…" Shalazia waved to him "Well, I need to get back to my castle, Mario and Luigi should be back soon with the rest of the Prism Star." She blew a kiss to him as the water of the pool gently wrapped around her and carried her into its depths. No wonder Diabella took refuge in the mire; it was the only place Shalazia couldn't easily manipulate.

Alone in that chamber with nothing but frozen statues for company, only made the magnitude of Shalazia's words worse. But she was right… all this started because he ran away from home. It broke him in that moment as he felt tears roll down his face.

It was all his fault…

Kamek knew something was wrong when he spotted Mario storming towards their castle. The green one was walking briskly behind the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom. Yet something was amiss, Kamek and all the other Magikoopas could see it. Without Bowser at the castle they got everyone to either hide or flee the Koopa Kingdom; take refuge in the desolate plains of the Dark Lands for a while. For some reason, in all the years Mario had crashed their castle, he had never taken the time to pay attention to the surrounding landscape. He didn't appreciate the jagged mountains or the rivers of lava or the derelict ruins of long forgotten civilisations that once lived out there. In fact, no one really knew where those ruins came from… Bowser was not really the scholarly type and hadn't funded an archaeology program to find out more.

Luigi was tense with fear but did his best to hide it. Over the past few hours, since leaving Shy-Guy Falls, Mario had visibly changed. His hair and moustache had frosted over slightly as his skin went deathly white. His eyes, usually vibrant and blue, were dull and milky. Luigi knew it was because of the badges Shalazia gave them. He was thankful at least one of them was lost at the Twisted Manors. Curiously, the drawbridge of Bowser's Castle was down allowing them to enter easily.

The main courtyard was devoid of life; even the Bullet Bill cannons were empty. It was so odd given how chaotic things usually were in this domain. The eerie howl of the wind and the flap of banners and flags welcomed them. Mario ignored it as he moved with purpose to enter the castle properly. Luigi noticed a few Koopas and Goombas hiding behind a large statue of Bowser. He nervously waved to them to reassure them, signalling them to stay hiding before going after his brother.

He followed Mario through the symmetrical halls of Bowser's Castle. Any time, Luigi saw one of Bowser's minions close to revealing their presence he would distract Mario as best he could. He was grateful that they could clearly sense something was wrong and kept out of their way. Mario was like a blood hound, running through the castle towards the last piece of the Prism Star that was supposedly hidden. How he knew its exact location? Luigi surmised that cursed badge had something to do with it.

Finally, he caught up to Mario in what appeared to be the Koopalings' wing of the castle. Mario emerged from a pink door which indicated either Roy or Wendy's room; Luigi wasn't sure. A smirk that didn't belong on Mario appeared as he opened his palm to reveal the last piece of the Prism Star. He then said "Better get back to Princess Shalazia so she can purify the Malevolent Mires and fight the Lightning Queen."

Luigi felt his voice tremble "Yeah bro…"

"What's wrong?"

He lied "Just a bit nervous, being in Bowser's Castle has that effect on people, you know?"

Mario laughed a little "Not really, I rescue Peach from here a lot so I'm used to it." Luigi had no choice but to follow after his brother. Mario added "I'm sure we can take one of the airships back to the Arcane Kingdom. It's not like Bowser would mind, no one's home after all."

Luigi cringed inwardly; Mario had never been so uncaring towards others before… he had to remind himself that it was all the work of Shalazia. She was the one controlling Mario now. All he had to do was keep playing along. Perhaps returning to Shalazia would give him a chance to free Mario. Hopefully Daisy would still be at the castle, she always seemed to know what to do when he was lost. Luigi just towed the line and hoped for the best. The time had come to return to Shalazia and get some answers.