Close to a year later their combined efforts came to fruition as Peach's Castle and Toad Town had been restored. A grand ball was held to celebrate the achievement. The main hall and throne room of the castle were draped with banners of harlequin, tables were laid with the finest feasts, and the dancefloor took pride of place beside the band in the centre of the main hall. While renovating, Peach had uncovered many beautiful paintings of previous monarchs, even a portrait of her parents. She had placed all these portraits within the throne room to remember where she had come from. Although, she left Lentinellus' portrait in the attic to be lost and forgotten. She wondered whether she should destroy it but a part of her held off on it for now. Among the portraits were impressive landscapes depicting all the surrounding terrains and views of the Mushroom Kingdom. Peach decided to display those in the main hall so her people could admire their own realm's past, present and future.
Guests came from far and wide in their finest gowns, and Bowser promised not to destroy anything. The Koopa King had shown up in his own finely tailored suit along with his family and minions who were equally dressed up for the occasion. Peach sat in her chamber, adjusting herself in her new gown. Apparently Mario had bought it for her from New Donk City at the behest of his old friend Pauline. The magenta and dark pink gown was cut to the mermaid style, tighter around the bodice and thighs to flare out at the bottom. The neckline was off the shoulder and lined with blue stones that matched her usual earrings well. Magenta gloves that reached to her elbows finished the look and Peach found the fabric very comfortable. She was concerned it would've been a tight and awkward garment to wear but it fit like a glove and allowed her to move with ease. Pauline certainly knew her fashion and Peach was thankful that Mario had listened to her.
"Hey Peach, ready to go down?" Daisy piqued up. She was wearing a black karakou with gold and amber patterns, a traditional garb of Sarasaland. The finely tailored jacket was embroidered with elaborate patterns, beneath it was an equally ornate top. Daisy had finished her look with a pair of lose, comfortably pants of flowing fabric. Her usual tiara was swapped for a circlet of gold and amber.
Peach turned to notice her friend's outfit "Oh wow! Daisy, where did you get that? You look beautiful."
"Thanks, I usually wear something like this around the kingdom. A dress with lots of layers can get pretty hot. Also it's really hard to walk around in a full gown in a desert climate." Daisy shyly explained "I just wear a dress when I leave the kingdom because I don't often get a chance to."
"Oh, good, I was worried that perhaps I was forcing you to wear something you didn't want."
"Nah, you've never made fun of any of my kingdom's customs." Daisy gestured to the door leading out "Shall we?"
"Sure… by the way Daisy, do you have some time for one of our lessons in the near future? I'd like to learn more about the art of diplomacy. Like being nice to people is natural to me, but how do I translate it to something more official?"
"Oh, that may take a while to teach. But you're welcome to come to Sarasaland when I need to meet with the various kings in my nation."
"Are you called a princess because there are kings in your land?"
"No, technically I'm the queen and my role doesn't change regardless of my marriage status. But it seems the custom to announce yourself as a princess in this land when you're an unmarried monarch, so I'm just following that."
Peach muttered "I never realised there were so many differences."
"I take it that you're thinking of all this because of everything that's happened?"
"Yes, I… I don't want to end up like Shalazia… so I want to make sure I can be best ruler I can be."
"There's no way you'll ever end up like her." Daisy took Peach's hand and guided her downstairs to the ball; where all doubts and self-loathing could be forgotten for a time.
Music flowed through the air, loud enough to dance to yet quiet enough to hold a conversation on the outskirts of the hall. The castle had been restored perfectly to its original design. Bowser felt the place needed at least a few lava pools but that was one discussion he was never going to win. Still he had to be happy to be in that grand hall surrounded by people dressed in their best clothes. Even he was wearing a specially tailored tuxedo and top hat he wore when he felt like being fancy. He also kept a close eye on the Koopalings and his son, they appeared a little bored from the low tempo of the music but still behaving as well as they could. Bowser sighed as he saw Lemmy scaling a velvet curtain so he could start swinging from the chandelier; much to Larry and Bowser Junior's amusement. He noticed Ludwig lingering near a wall, alone, Bowser thought he should speak with his nephew until he saw Iggy and Roy wander over to keep him company. He could see Daisy and Luigi heading out into the gardens while Mario and Peach danced together before the band. Bowser never cared for waltzes or formal dances; they always seemed to need couples to perform them. For him, it made way more sense to just keep the music and dance style casual, that way everyone who wanted to dance could do so regardless of their dating life. However, this was Peach's party, not his.
The room was crowded with people from far and wide; Bowser could hardly recognise all of them. More annoyingly was the presence of ornate masks that had come back into fashion lately. It made the act of identifying people even more difficult. He surmised that he should stay until about midnight before departing and continuing on with a wild after party back in his own kingdom. Yet the night appeared to already be taking a more wild turn as people began to shriek. The music abruptly stopped so all eyes could turn to the centre of the room. Peach was floating lifelessly above the dancefloor while Mario tried his best to get to her by jumping. Finally he was swatted away with a backhanded force and the source of the mystery was unveiled.
Bowser recognised that crystalline foe anywhere "Lentinellus?"
"Indeed!" He preened happily; his entire form was ethereally incandescent as he shone over all like a star. "Thanks to Shalazia, I picked up some new tricks and I'm back and better than ever!"
Mario snapped as he picked himself up "What are you doing with the princess!? Let her go!"
"I'm not letting this worthless usurper go. I will make an example of her!" Lentinellus vanished for a moment to reappear on the stairwell leading to the throne room. With a wave of his hand, he conjured a prismatic barrier of light and crystals that Mario discovered was quite solid as he collided into it. Lentinellus smirked "Oh my dear hero, you have a choice, save the town or save your girlfriend." He howled with laughter as he disappeared upstairs with Peach.
Mario's brow furrowed, he than saw that Waluigi was on the other side of the barrier and oblivious to what was happening. The gangly man was studying paintings, sipping wine and eating canapes. Mario tapped on the crystal barrier, shouting "How did you get inside!?"
Waluigi noticed the commotion; he slowly turned looking somewhat perplexed that everyone was staring at him from the other side of a wall that hadn't been there a second ago. He shrugged back then resumed admiring the art display.
Mario threw his hat at the ground "How does he do that!? Why doesn't he help the princess?"
"People don't really notice him, usually they forget he's even there." Wario shrugged as he picked his nose "He's also not a hero type like you so… good luck getting him to do anything."
"Why are you and Waluigi even here? Were you even invited?"
"Well that's just rude, but no, we weren't, but we came anyway."
The castle shuddered as the night sky outside became twisted with light. Bowser roared over the crowd of panicked guests "Everyone! Get to the exits in a calm way! We just need to snap this little pixie boy in half and then we can get back to partying!"
"Quit worrying, it's fine." King Boo remarked as he floated back to the wine bar.
Wario followed his trail of thought "I'm with the flying marshmallow, less panicking, more partying."
"Uh… Bro?" Luigi called out from his place at the main door. From their viewing point they could see strange pixelated minions, the same that Shalazia had conjured. Strange prismatic spires had manifested in the air over Toad Town and acted as beacons to summon them directly into the streets bellow them. When Mario and Bowser made it to Luigi's side, they shared his disbelief.
"Wait a minute, what's that?" Daisy pointed to a looking shadow in the horizon, almost like a floating island. A dark mist was rising from its heart then descending upon the town.
The light of the beacons revealed this mist was in fact a swarm. Giant insects ridden by all manner of bohemians from Rhapsody descended upon the town. They began to defend the people of Toad Town while larger insects sought to disable the beacons. Striking the large, floating gems to reveal their weak point then shattering them with sharpened mandibles or long stingers. A large beetle hybrid landed before the main doorway. Ludwig saw it was Bismillah with Scaramouch and Figaro on its back. Another robed figure jumped down before Bismillah took to the skies again. Ludwig paused for a moment to study the newcomer. The figure was a little shorter than Mario and was wearing a larger version of Fandango's robes and coat. Their hood was up, yet Ludwig could see skeletal hands shimmering with pink light like a ghost poking out of the robe's sleeves.
The figure tugged their hood down, revealing a skeleton head shimmering with a similar ghostly membrane. Two orbs of magenta glowed in its darkened eye sockets while its pink hair flickered around its head like a flame. The skeleton cackled "Sorry about the lateness, we lost track of him. Not to worry, I'll just break this barrier open."
"Fandango!?" Ludwig immediately followed after the skeleton as he marched through the crowds of scared guests towards the barrier in question. "But… how? Why ar-"
"Am I a skeleton now? Well technically a ghost skeleton." Fandango cackled as his hands wavered over the surface of the barrier. Silver stars began to appear in constellations upon its surface. "Look, we were going to respawn, it just took a little longer because Gallileo and I didn't have bodies to return to so we had to make some in the Underwhere." The stars rotated downwards to form inverted pentagrams, turning blood red before consuming the light and crystals of the barrier. "And there we go, trick with barriers like these is that you just need to reverse the polarity of the magic and you're in!"
By then Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Daisy had caught up while the rest of the Koopalings kept unnecessary guests outside. Seeing as the barrier was down, Mario immediately dashed upstairs without considering what was happening. Fandango shrugged and waved to the others to follow him, he appeared unhurried as he dawdled after Mario.
The throne room took on a more menacing aura. Peach could feel the eyes of her ancestors glaring and judging her from their respective portraits. Lentinellus stopped carrying her, instead snatching a bundle of her hair to drag her into the room and toss her across the ground like garbage. He placed his crystal boot upon her cheek, pressing her face into the floor. Peach felt her pulse race, even when she was kidnapped by Bowser, he never treated her like this.
"Such a pity," Lentinellus remarked as he stepped a little harder, making Peach cry out in pain. "That my descendent is so worthless, so compassionate. We could've worked together if you were a better ruler, like me." He kicked her aside as he strutted about the throne room, carefully sneering at her choice in décor.
She coughed for a moment, feeling sick to the core that she shared blood with this villain. With trembling limbs, Peach got to her feet. "I will never let this kingdom become the bastion of fear and domination you made!" Peach defiantly stated "I cannot change our past, but I will change our future through my actions in the present!"
Lentinellus stormed over and grabbed her by her dainty neck, he began to choke her as he jested "You will do no such thing, I am the king. You are but a princess, a pretty little trinket that should be seen and not heard. I will be sure to teach you of your place!"
Neither of them noticed the darkness gather outside as the beacons over Toad Town fell. Lightning crashed as the freak storm wavered outside, barring exit through the balconies. The paintings in the throne room began to sway hypnotically. Portraits of monarchs changed into anything from abstract nightmares to adorable kittens. A loud cackle echoed through their very being. Rustling brought them to their senses there was no logic to the room anymore as the space distorted and twisted. Hallways and doors ripped into existence as the images in the paintings grew blurred. Lentinellus hid behind Peach as he watched strange vines grow from the newly ripped doorways and halls. They swirled closer and closer, edging to swallow them whole in a tomb of thorns.
While distracted Lentinellus didn't see it coming as something grabbed him by the wrist then roughly shoved him into the thorns and ripped Peach from his arms. He struggled against the thorns, ripping them from his body to see a ghostly spectre wafting by her protectively. The chubby ghost was covered in a floating duster and tunic with a heavy backpack on her back. Her short, neon green hair flickered with an invisible wind as she poked her tongue out to reveal a gold ring pierced at its tip. Her body seemed human enough from the waist up, a mix of bone and ghostly membranes tainted green while her lower body was a swirling tail of ectoplasm and tatters of fabric.
"You!?" Lentinellus groaned as he stormed upwards to snatch Peach back "Get your hands off her, you nerdy, fat librarian!"
He then felt a blade cut through his back, Lentinellus was whipped around by the force of another stab and slice to face another skeletal ghost. This one was tainted violet with jagged purple, misty 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 thick leather belt hugged her waist while tight sleeves striped black and purple covered her arms to vanish beneath leather gloves. A strange power pack was strapped to her and connected to a set of rapiers; providing the blades with a shocking edge. She grinned, her missing tooth all the more noticeable.
Peach retreated to behind the throne at the ghost's insistence. She cowered and watched as her unholy saviours dealt with her captor.
"Astrapi? Surely this has gone on long enough, just let me win already."
"Nope." Diabella replied as she slashed at him again "You see, while we were in the Underwhere, we figured we needed to make one more deal."
Gallileo grabbed him by the wrist but he broke free of her grasp "Well, more of a peace offering than anything else to herald coexistence in the supernatural realms."
Another stab from Diabella "And let's say that just out of all the people you've tricked into playing your game, she was the first."
"And I think her chance for retaliation against you is long overdue." Gallileo swiftly tried to trip him by grabbing his ankles but he evaded her.
Diabella cut through him so he stood momentarily spliced in half "You owe her after all, and all debts must eventually be repaid."
Gallileo sniggered as she slapped him around the neck and forced Lentinellus back into a single whole rather than pieces.
"You speak nonsense!" Lentinellus protested "I answer to no one and you can't make me. Besides, like I'll ever go back to her."
"You sure about that?" A rattle stirred a ghostly chain to life in Diabella's hand. She tugged on it to reveal it was connected to obsidian manacles locked around Lentinellus' wrists, ankles and neck.
Lentinellus' shimmer dulled, the closest to colour draining from one's face. They had tricked him. He felt another shake as a doorway was roared into existence by the fluttering of spirits and waves of shadows. A familiar queen draped in darkness and spikes appeared at it. He whimpered "Queen Jaydes, long time, no see."
"Your majesty, I believe of all the people he's wronged, you copped it worst." Diabella bowed and sheathed her blades "Please, take this miserable cur to your realm and do as you please with him."
Gallileo stated as she passed Queen Jaydes the end of Lentinellus' chains "Consider it a gift from one domain of darkness to the other. With the balance of light and darkness restored, perhaps we can work towards a place of neutrality between our queen and you."
Queen Jaydes did not have to say anything, the sly grin of her ebon lips was enough. Lentinellus was dragged kicking, wailing and bawling into the Underwhere.
The shadows faded, the illusions dissipated and the throne room was as peaceful as it was. Peach finally appeared from behind her throne. She nervously approached the skeletal ghosts and curtsied as best she could "Thankyou." she slipped, falling in Diabella and Gallileo's arms.
Diabella remarked "Take it easy."
"Come on, let's sit you down." Gallileo added as they helped Peach to her throne.
Peach replied "Sorry, I'm still a little woozy from all that."
"It's alright, I'm just glad we got here in time."
"But… you and Queen Jaydes, I swore you were all enemies…"
"I guess that's where you people in the modern era taught us something important." Gallileo smirked "That sometimes people need to put their differences aside for a greater good. The only way we could remove Lentinellus was to enlist Queen Jaydes help. Diabella and I came up with a plan, Lucia made the chains, we just needed Queen Jaydes to enchant them so Lentinellus could not escape."
"Yeah, prophecies be damned and all that. Why can't the two forces of darkness collaborate from time to time?" Diabella announced "So we made a deal, allowing us passage through her realm in return for him in chains."
"Lentinellus!" Mario roared as he barged into the throne room, fists clenched and ready for a fight. His anger disappeared immediately when he saw Peach on the throne. Instead, he ran to her side so he could hold her close "Princess! Are you alright? Did he hurt you!?"
"No and yes, but, it's alright." Peach looked to her saviours "They rescued me."
"Gallileo… Diabella!" Ludwig was shocked as he stood in the doorway with Fandango.
Gallileo smiled broadly, revealing her Boo like fangs "Yeah, we're back."
Diabella teased "Seriously kid, you still following me around like a lost puppy?"
"Okay… everything is sorted?" Luigi scratched his head, a bit lost as to what to do.
Fandango suggested "Maybe tell everyone on the stairs to go down again and continue having fun?"
Luigi saw his brother and Peach get closer to one another, he nodded with a knowing smile "Gotcha, let's give them a moment together."
As everyone else filed out of the throne room, Peach and Mario lingered behind. He kissed her gently, relieved that she was safe while he held her in the silent chamber. From the windows in the throne room they could that the darkness and light had dissipated, returning the sky to its nightly hue. The beacons had disappeared while the isle floating on the horizon felt less menacing as the bugs were retreating back to it. With help from Mario, Peach was led back to her chamber to tend to her injuries and recover for a moment in the company of the one she loved.
The party downstairs was slowly coming to life again. Bohemians had commandeered the bandstand and were already playing a more lively arrangement of music. Bowser, Wario and King Boo kicked back and relaxed near the bar while Waluigi remained engrossed in the paintings on display. Luigi and Daisy had also disappeared, a sign that they did not wish to be disturbed by bystanders. More people from Toad Town, not on the guest list, had filtered in amidst the chaos. No one seemed to care as they joined in with the dancing and feasting in the great hall. Ludwig circled through the merriment, snorting a chuckle as he watched Fandango, Roy, Morton Junior, Scaramouch and Larry storm the stage to dance lively then dived into the crowd. Their forms surfed atop the densely packed dance floor. Iggy was cackling while stealing cuttings of roses and flowers from the royal garden while Lemmy continued swinging from the chandeliers with Figaro joining in, they were screaming in euphoria as they did so. Wendy was exchanging fashion tips with Magnifico, the ladies of Poshly Heights along with who Ludwig suspected was the wife of the Pianta Syndicate's Don.
He wandered through the chaos of it all; finally coming to the people he'd been looking for. Diabella and Gallileo were on the bridge over the moat; drinking in the cool night air. Ludwig stepped forward nervously, feeling how much all them had changed since they had met a few years ago.
"Well, well, well," Gallileo smiled lazily as she leaned over the railing "Someone's grown up. You look so much more confident in yourself since you first came to the Malevolent Mires."
Diabella laughed "But if you ever want to toy with dark arts, do it under supervision." She pointed to her sister "She's a really good teacher."
"I…" Ludwig bitterly admitted "I'm glad you guys are back. I'm glad you didn't fall for Shalazia's tricks."
Diabella cocked an eyebrow "Shalazia's tricks?"
"Yeah, I've been thinking about it a lot. Like how she was so caught in the past that she was almost forced you guys to regress to who you were rather than who you are."
"It was a pretty close call on Star Road… I'm glad you stopped me or else who knows what would have happened."
Gallileo commented "Still, it seems we all came out stronger and better for it."
"How is my Mum? Is she alright after Lentinellus…" He found his voice fail him as he tried to recall his memory of the encounter.
"She's fine, she's back at the Well of Souls in one piece." Diabella informed "She's never been the motherly kind, but she protects her own and she was really happy to see who you've become. She said she made the right call by giving you to Bowser."
"I… thanks for telling me." Ludwig rocked on his heels "So what's next for you guys and Rhapsody?"
"Not sure, just doing as we please, scavenging and helping out where we can. The Spectre Express station is up and running again, it's only a matter of time before the warp pipe in Roguetown is restored." Gallileo smiled broadly "So you can still visit as often as you want."
Diabella queried "And you? Will you be running off again or staying where you need to be?"
Ludwig pondered his answer carefully, reflecting on everything that had happened and how a part of him would always appreciate his time and acceptance in Rhapsody; that he would also be part of that place as long as he lived. Then he remembered his family, his kingdom, the love he had for his life in the Dark Lands. So he replied "Staying where I need to be."
Diabella nodded knowingly while Gallileo quietly clapped to herself. A large blast of colour and clap of thunder in the sky alerted them to the presence of fireworks. They remained on that bridge most of the night to marvel at the harlequin sky. In the aftermath of it all, Ludwig no longer felt like any part of him was missing. He had changed… and he liked it.