She could finally feel cold again? How long had it been? There was sensation in her limbs even though she was still blinded. The cold was painful, jarring, forcing her into a standing position. Yet the pain subsided to be replaced by warmth. The icy stillness replaced by damp movement. Her body did not respond as she fell forward and met the floor with heavy thud. She could barely move in that moment, like she was anchored to the metal and stone ground. Finally Daisy's eyes could open although her hearing hadn't quite returned yet.
Daisy was in a brightly light laboratory of some kind. The ceiling was wreathed in cables pulsing with electricity and steam, looking closer to the overgrowth of a treetop than an actual roof. They were almost moving like serpents making her dizzy just staring at them. The walls were lined with all manner of cabinets and workspaces that hosted all manner of mechanical and biological specimens. A closed door led elsewhere, away from prying eyes. For the most part the main floor was clear aside from a few operating tables and two large pits that dropped suddenly. The walls had appeared to part thanks to the collection of gears gathered at either side.
The view from the opened wall was a world away from the deserts and oasis of Sarasaland. The night sky was the strangest as there was no star in sight, only a luminescent moon that cast a silver light upon the earth. Where the problem in Daisy's kingdom was a lack of water, this land appeared to be saturated to the point of festering. All the plants either clung to life or were dead and rotting in the murky sludge that passed as water. The earth was soft mud, making it near impossible to get steady footing. Sinking in the swamps were the ruins of ancient castles and cities. Once proud beacons of civilisation were now lost, half submerged in the putrid earth like stunned giants being consumed by quick sand. The trees were mostly withered husks studded with moss and fungi. They glowed with colourful bioluminescence adding a sense of life to the dying mire.
She tried to pull herself upright but found the layers of her saturated dress pinned her to the ground. A firm hand grabbed her and Daisy found herself being thrown over someone's shoulder. As the laboratory moved around her, she noticed others in the room. An alabaster Boo materialised from the air, her eyes were lined and curled with deep turquoise. A leather and brass backpack was strapped to her as she hovered with quill and book in hand. She smiled, revealing rows of fangs dripping with ectoplasm. A Magikoopa who wore a layered dress of blacks, blues and turquoise with a small shrug around her shoulders. A leather corset made the skirts flare out to create a more feminine shape. Icy blue hair was grown long and curled over her shoulders. A charcoal top hat with a broad rim rested on her head.
"Looks like the spell worked," the Magikoopa laughed shyly "Shalazia's curses are so strong, I didn't think we could bring you back. I'm glad I proved myself wrong."
The Boo called out "Please take it easy princess, we're not here to hurt you. Some new clothes will be arriving shortly for you."
Daisy tried to move her mouth, uttering pitifully "Where… who?"
"I'm Gallileo," the Boo informed, she gestured to the Magikoopa "That's Magnifico and the lady carrying you is Diabella."
Daisy found herself gently placed on a nearby couch, she finally saw the face of her third saviour. She looked human with jagged white hair that was shaped like lightning bolts around her face. She appeared to be wearing a lab uniform studded by large gold buttons and shaded with dark greys. A hefty pair of safety goggles obscured most of her face. A thick leather belt hugged her waist while tight sleeves striped black and purple covered her arms to vanish beneath leather gloves. Her smile revealed a missing front tooth and seemed more cruel than kind.
Everything then clicked in Daisy's mind "You're the Lightning Queen!? Then…" she tried to gesture weakly to Gallileo and Magnifico "You're some of the Steampunks… and I'm now in the Malevolent Mire? What is going on?" Her eyes widened as she forced herself upright "I need to save Peach! That Shalazia woman is just as bad as I thought she was!"
Diabella caught Daisy before she could fall again, carefully returning her to the couch with ease "And that's exactly why Shalazia put you on ice. You'd be surprised how gullible, naïve and generally trusting people are in this era if a pretty face begs for help." Diabella sighed as she studied Daisy's features "Then again, I doubt the direct descendent of Belladonna would be so easy to fool."
"Belladonna? The founding queen of Sarasaland? But… you speak as though you knew her?"
Diabella shrugged "Either way, thank my buddies for your rescue. They ran into some guy called Luigi at Shyguy Falls, he told us where you were and that you needed help."
"And you willingly helped? What kind of deal did you force him into? Where is he, Peach and Mario?"
"I'm helping because my sister, Shalazia is completely insane and planning to do something with forbidden magic for the wrong reasons."
"There's a right way to use forbidden magic?"
"Of course there is, it's all about context. So, no deal was really struck. Just an exchange of information. As for he and Mario's location, I can't say. But Peach was not in the barracks with you so Shalazia has squirreled her away somewhere else along with Wario, Bowser and Ludwig… I don't like where this is going at all."
Daisy stamped her foot and demanded "And where is this going exactly? Stop talking in riddles!"
"Shalazia fell in love with the first king of the Mushroom Kingdom Lentinellus who in turn, completely brainwashed her, taught her forbidden magic and brought the downfall of life as our kingdom knew it. Since then, she has been trying to rebuild the Prism Star so she can create the Water of Life, ascend to the Star Road and be by Lentinellus' side forever and ever. Does that about cover it?"
"Yes… that was surprisingly direct."
"Ask me the right questions and I'll give you answers."
"Has Shalazia tried this before?"
"Many times actually, but she tends to fail partially because of me and the fact that no one prior to this era has been so gullible and stupid that they immediately believed everything she said without checking facts."
Daisy fell silent, Diabella was right… Mario, Luigi and Peach had a habit to be so trusting and kind. They had even managed to infect Bowser a little as most of the time it felt their 'rivalry' and 'kidnappings' were just excuses to play a game only they knew about. It was why Daisy usually kept her distance especially after the time Bowser ended up going into space. Daisy had a kingdom to run, she couldn't disappear on a whim like that. Daisy then noticed Gallileo float in front of her with a bag overflowing with clothes.
"You can fill us in on what you know in a minute," The Boo smiled and offered the bag to her "Your dress is saturated, you'll catch your death if you stay in it. The tailors in Rhapsody have offered some clothing for you pick from." She then gestured to a nearby doorway and floated alongside Daisy "You can get changed in here, I can help you if your fingers are still a bit numb."
Diabella let out a sigh, she knew this end game against Shalazia was fast approaching. She knew it had to come one day, but a part of her always hoped Shalazia would come to her senses. That they could be a family again…
"Diabella…" Magnifico spoke timidly "Look… I helped with the situation… the princess is free…" She steadied her nerves "I'm not going to help you with whatever you're going to do next."
"That's fine, I understand." Diabella smirked back to her old friend "I know you're still hurting from Figaro's death… in fact, I'd prefer it if you and Scaramouch kept your distance with this."
"Good luck with Scaramouch, she despises Shalazia…"
"Well, how about I plan Scaramouch to go with those Koopalings to take control of the Arcane Kingdom while Fandango, Gallileo and I go to where Shalazia really is." Diabella knelt down to Magnifico's level "I don't know what's going to happen to us… but I need you here to protect Rhapsody and keep it going. There are so many people who rely on this town, it can't just stop because I'm not here."
Magnifico gasped "So you think this is really the end for you?"
Diabella shrugged "Who knows? But I always have to consider it a possibility."
Magnifico bowed deeply and Diabella returned the gesture. Nothing more had to be said between them so Magnifico took her leave. She no longer wanted a part of this story. She had heard from Diabella not to trust Shalazia but she had no idea how far Shalazia could go; to so cruelly take advantage of modern day royalty for personal gains. It was sickening…
The old bridge leading to Diabella's laboratory still creaked with each step. At this point it was difficult to tell how much of it was moss and fungus rather than wood. Magnifico saw that Bismillah and Beelzebub were missing from the drained moat that circle the laboratory. The earth at the bottom was carpeted with layers of moss in shades of blue and green. It glistened beneath the light cast behind the tower suggesting it was more slime than plant at that point. The drained moat was riddled with tunnels and doorways leading into the unknown; some looked made by hand with architectural frames in place; others were cracked and ripped into the earth like something had burrowed through.
Crossing the bridge was crossing into another world, leaving behind the dark, ramshackle tower Diabella called home led one into the streets of Rhapsody. It was an ingenious little industrial town partly immersed in the surrounding swamps. Hidden within the heart of the Malevolent Mires, beyond the ruined city, the treacherous crags, the wild overgrowth and the catacombs, was a bustling nocturnal playground. The buildings were actually supported by large platforms, pontoons and stilts to move with seasonal rainfall and the shifting terrain of the swamps. Every few months the main streets would change and channel visitors into other districts of the small town. The original settlers had crafted this town from the ruined husk of another. The architecture was a quilt of steel and stone speaking to an era long gone. The walls of the buildings were steel as gears churned beneath exposed panels. The street lamps slowly stirred to life as night draped it dark cloak over the sky. Smoke stacks atop the tiled rooves yawned with steam.
Magnifico remained in silent contemplation as she walked the boulevard. The walls were either smeared with posters of popular acts or painted with murals from one of the many artists. They lifted the surrounding nature, the death and decay, to create a small oasis of harlequin beauty. The streets came to life beneath the colourful lights to draw patrons into the markets and restaurants. Every night felt like there was a festival on as people took to the streets. She stepped aside as a centipede bus carrying passengers skittered past at lightning speed. Giant moths fluttered without being distracted by the light, carrying tiny letters and parcels like homing pigeons. Stoic, hardy beetles trundled along towing giant carts overflowing with supplies for the town. Their handlers never strayed far from their side but always tipped their hats or waved at people passing by.
It was a strange town… yet Magnifico had learned to call it home after leaving the Koopa Kingdom. With new resolve she marched to the headquarter office on the main street. The place where all the raids were organised and all town queries were raised. She had to tell the people of this town what they were up against. She had to get planning on how to protect their home if Shalazia came for them.