Deep within the sanctum, away from the gaze of bystanders, collected a group of individuals. They sat on the sandy floor of the inner chamber with lanterns to illuminate the chamber. It was secluded and a well kept secret among them. A lethal labyrinth of shadows resided beyond the geometric frame of the doorway. Fatal drops around every turn, every broken stairwell and every false door. The halls moaned like an ungodly monster when the wind turned. Ghoulish fungi reared their ugly heads in the damper areas while turquoise mould grew along the natural rock that jarred between the ruins. Rather than provide comforting light, it only cast an eerie and foreboding haze in the air. Despite this danger, she still came to survey the ruins for answers. It was better than risk being discovered in the underbelly of the Arcane Kingdom.
Scaramouch's brow furrowed "Nothing adds up… Everyone in the Arcane Kingdom is… an illusion or in the process of being frozen to death… How is someone even capable of such evil?"
"It's because Shalazia is a relic of the Era of Ire." Fandango then appeared in the doorway ushering in a wave of silence. Scaramouch turned and waited with bated breath, the strange Shy Guy was regarded as a herald of warning. "Relax, no one else followed you here."
"Is it wrong that I want to know what's going on? At first I tried to save people from Shalazia's grasp but the moment we left the city they just… melted into water…"
"She's using old magic to keep living in her glory days. She can't adapt or change with the times like Diabella can."
"I know Diabella has negative lives… even if I don't know how. I also know that Gallileo and you followed Diabella from the Underwhere and that Magnifico has undergone some pact to become like Diabella too… Figaro on the other hand, he's a glitch isn't he? A failed respawning which is why he has no voice. But I…"
"Scaramouch, you know if you ask Diabella she will tell you everything you want to know."
"But at what price? I've worked out Shalazia and Diabella are sisters, they're monarchs of the ancient Arcane Kingdom and they've dealt with both the Dark Star and the Shadow Queen. I've also worked out that King Boo knows them both and was alive during their reigns."
"You still don't have the details, right?"
"No, but I think the turning point has something to do with this Prism Star. It comes up a lot in the records."
"Scaramouch, none of us will ever force your hand or make you join us… that's your call." He announced "Anyway I heard something in the upper levels so you need to head out. I'll distract them while you all evacuate."
Scaramouch smiled gratefully, her dismal mood had swayed from the turn in discussion by her colleague. The Arcane Kingdom was a gilded cage, although no one would openly admit it for fear of being executed. When guards kept arresting scholars who were curious of the city and strange ailments, Scaramouch had relocated her inquiries to the relative safety of this sanctum. The location of which was provided by Diabella while Fandango volunteered as the lookout. Now she had been given the warning, all she could do was put out her lanterns and wait in the darkness for a moment to escape.
The darkness suffocated them beneath the forgotten city. Luigi had never felt so isolated in all his life. Despite the fact that his brother and friends were around him, there was a fear perched on his shoulders like a bird of prey. There was something primordially wicked in the air, that sent shivers down his spine. He always assumed his journey through King Boo's manors would be the most terrifying events of his life. Now he was not so sure, were they really meant to be down here? It felt like they were trespassing and might anger some ancient beast from its slumber. He even lacked the courage to look beyond the platforms and walkways. There was something primordial lurking in the depths, something that should have been forgotten eras ago. Luigi took a few deep breaths, surely his mind was toying with him.
Nevertheless, Peach and Mario continued onwards with trust in the magic compass. The flickering beam of light guided them safely through the crumpled buildings. Both were a few steps ahead, relishing the jaunt through the city. If only he could stop feeling this fear. He felt a hand take his and Daisy's smiling face could be seen in the gentle glow of the bioluminescent moss. She pointed to the source of light "Isn't it beautiful? That with all these creepy ruins, that something like that can happen."
The pockmarked slate resembled the spine of a monster. Flecked upon its surface was a forest of mould glistening in the darkness with cerulean light. Luigi marvelled at the patchwork of blues "I guess so… that's really amazing."
"It sure is, buddy." Luigi and Daisy both screeched at the third voice. He tripped over his own feet when he saw the horned Shy Guy appear behind them. Its mask was articulated into a horrific smile. "I'm Fandango by the way, pleasure to meet you both."
"Luigi! Daisy!" Peach called from the distance, her heels clacked on the stone ground.
Fandango bounced backwards to avoid the stomp attack from Mario. He giggled maniacally at his opponent while his cloth covered hands reached to his mask.
Mario then saw the glimmer of a familiar emblem on the collar of Fandango's overcoat. Rage overcame him at the thought of what had transpired in the Mushroom Kingdom. With fury, he demanded "You work for the Lightning Queen!? How many cronies does she have!?"
"Work for? Puh-lease, we're equals my moustachioed idiot."
"So when I beat you, you'll give me answers! Like why are you terrorising Princess Shalazia!?"
Fandango confidently laughed in his face "Yeah, whatever, sport. Do good hero-types like you need to learn not to impulsively intervene. For your own safety I would recommend forgetting about that princess, go home and have a tea party."
"Forget it! I'd never abandon someone in need of help."
"Wow, you're as thick as a stick in pig swill, aren't you?" Fandango tittered, madly circling around a nearby pillar like a hyperactive child "You're on our side of the world now, this land has been tainted by ancient, lost magic so I don't think you're gonna like what you find here."
Mario's patience had worn down by then, he prepared to strike once again, ignoring Daisy's warning "Cover your eyes!"
Peach only just reached the area to witness the horror of what lied beyond a Shy Guy's mask. Mario had no idea what he was looking at. The hood was propped up by a tangle of tentacles and twitching limbs encased in exoskeleton. They slowly unfurled from their compressed arrangement behind the mask. There was no discernable face to even identify. A high pitched squeal cackled from an unknown mouth. Mario and Peach found themselves immobilised by the sound and sight of Fandango.
While his foes were incapacitated, Fandango ran ahead, snatching the compass from Peach's hands. He jested "It's funny how stupid you all are." Then stomped on the compass with his heavy boot and ground it into shards. He continued to laugh as he vanished into the ruins.
"Why'd he do that?" Luigi was flabbergasted as he pulled his cap away from his eyes. He then ran over to Mario and Peach to ensure they were alright. The momentary stun had worn off as they nervously looked over their shoulders.
"How did he freeze us like that?" Mario flexed his arms to check for injuries "It doesn't make any sense."
"Because you can't look at their faces for more than a split second without freezing up like that."
Daisy nervously informed "Shy Guys actually shy at all, it's just, they're living nightmares that have somehow reached the waking world… so they wear robes and masks to look presentable. Very few are actually willing to take them off."
Mario raised an eyebrow "How do you know that?"
"The Pionpi told me."
"You let the Pionpi stay in Sarasaland!?"
"They really like the Chai Kingdom and they're pretty nice once you get to know them."
Peach looked at the smashed remains of the compass "What are going to do now? We're completely at a loss."
In the background Luigi had found an old metal torch. He took the relic close to rock lined with moss, scraping pieces of the glowing lichen into the metal cage. It proved an effective way to light the path ahead. He smiled "Maybe there are more of those explorer markings nearby?"
Mario nodded "Good thinking, Weegee. Someone did make it through this place without that compass after all."
Peach clasped her hands over her chest "Still, I wish there were a safe way to pass these ruins. I have a feeling that wretched Shy Guy is waiting to ambush us again."
Much to their surprise, her wish came true as a ball of golden light appeared from the ether enveloping them and vanishing from the sinister ruins.
Fandango paused as he watched the golden star shoot through the darkness and ping around the corners. He sighed, tapping his boot on the ground with annoyance "Well that's just cheating, Ludwig made it through with no magic like that. Didn't even have a fancy compass…" He mused aloud, placed a covered hand to the chin of his mask "Still, better let Diabella know, she might be able to explain whatever that was."
"Fandango? What happened?" Scaramouch whispered as she climbed up onto the roof of the fallen temple. The flickering trail of stardust in the air, made her pout "And here I was, ready to take out my anger."
"You're preaching to the choir, my dear."
"Oh, you got a little tentacle hanging out of your cheek." She helped tuck it back under his hood. They both let out a long sigh before finally deciding to retreat from the dank, crumbling city beneath the mountains. The maze of tunnels from this place networked and weaved all throughout the world. Yet the methods employed for their construction was still a mystery that no one really wanted to solve.
A pink vanity mirror was angled to look around the corner, the reflection revealed that the coast was clear. Wendy smiled to herself, quickly checking her own reflection to make sure her bow was straight. Now was an opportune moment to pay Bowser a visit. Most of the kingdom were either attending to the medical ward, the airship workshop or were madly trawling for information about the Lightning Queen. Their king had finally retreated to his quarters as he had grown too frustrated by the situation. Kamek told him to have a time out before the vein in his head burst. Now an uneasy quiet unfamiliar to the halls of the castle had settled.
As Larry walked in tow of Wendy, he noticed the new decorative statues and portraits installed in the likeness of Bowser. He always thought it a little weird that there were no other relics of previous rulers. He suspected Bowser inherited this kingdom from someone else, although there was no memorial of the previous ruler. After all, a castle this complex does not appear overnight especially in a land as inhospitable as the Dark Lands. They finally came to the gargantuan door framed with spikes and painted with decorative flames. Wendy looked to him and gave him an assuring nod. It did not make him feel less uneasy about the whole situation. Then again, Larry knew neither Roy nor Morton would be suitable for this task.
A knock at the door caught his attention. Bowser quickly shoved the old photo album back in its hiding place within the wall near his fireplace. Why he even felt like looking through that thing was beyond him. He had spent the past few decades trying to forget everything. The lower chamber of his wing was larger than any manor and loaded with creature comforts most people would never own in their lifetime. All of which were decorated with black, red, silver and gold. He walked back over to his gargantuan armchair to recline casually near the fireplace. Quickly switching on the widescreen television to dispel any ludicrous notions he might actually have been reading.
He shook his head at his foolishness, finally growling "What is it now!?" He heard the heavy door slowly shoved open and closed again, Wendy and Larry then appeared before him. "Whatever you two want me to buy you, the answer is no."
Wendy curtsied "Ah, but your surliness we would never ask such a thing from you."
Bowser cocked an eyebrow "You're kidding right? Coz if it was, then that was a lame joke."
"Actually, we've come to suggest a scheme. A plot to give us the upper hand in unknown territory."
Smoke rose from his nostrils, Bowser leant on one armrest gesturing them to continue with an unimpressed gaze.
"Why not send us to find Ludwig? He's been with them, if we remind him of his loyalty then we get access to what he knows."
"Details of where that bug lady came from," Larry felt a little nervous beneath the intimidating gaze of the audience "And you know, how Ludwig did that transformation thing? That sounds pretty important to know."
"Good point Larry," Wendy played along, looking up to Bowser with a playful smile "When was the last time you turned into a giant?"
Bowser pouted like a child "I can, it's just I don't want to. It's more fun to smash things face to face."
Larry bargained "Anyway, we could totally find him. Just let us have access to an airship and we'll have Ludwig back in no time."
"Then we make him tell me everything. Excellent plan! I like it." He raised a talon, much to Larry and Wendy's dread "But, you have to take Junior with you. It's his airship after all."
They both hid their frustration behind false smiles. Well, some plans do not always turn out as well as you hoped.