Crisp moonlight shone above the cloudy skies, and all was silent, save for the soft, mechanical humming of an airship's propellers. All was quiet on the airship as well, its crew fast asleep, except for those unlucky enough to be posted to the night shift. The airship bore the insignia of a Koopa flagship, the ship's outline a menacing, stark contrast to the rolling clouds beneath it.
Two crewmembers leaned against the banister of the stern of the airship, gazing below at the tumultuous sea of clouds beneath them.
"It's really overcast tonight…" a red paratroopa remarked to his friend. "Don't you wish you could just fly through them without a care in the world?"
"Mm, no thanks. Looks like a storm," a stout goomba replied. "Besides, I don't think they'd bother turning around to fetch your sorry butt once you're done. Winds are strong tonight."
"Well, I guess I shouldn't expect a wingless bloke such as yourself to understand." the paratroopa said, fluttering his wings a bit with a smirk.
The goomba looked up at the paratroopa. "Oi, we'll see who has the last laugh once they make you scrub the bottom of the ship again."
"Don't take that tone with me, buddy. I outrank you," he said, playfully nudging the goomba, who was rolling his eyes.
"Ah, yes. My apologies, Corporal Spratt. Forgive my insubordination," he responded to a clearly-amused paratroopa.
Corporal Logan Spratt and Private Kai Ogilvy had been best friends since high school. With no other employment prospects upon their graduation, they decided to enlist in the Royal Koopa Army, doing everything they could to make sure they stayed in the same company in boot camp and the same regiment in active duty, even going so far as to alter schedules and forge orders. They had worked their way up in the ranks from janitors in various dungeons and mess halls to… er…
Okay, maybe they hadn't exactly worked their way up to anywhere. But at least now they were janitors on a royal flagship. And with Logan's recent promotion (the order for which had also been forged), he had also been able to secure the pair the illustrious position of night sentry. This meant they had hours of uninterrupted time to slack off with no supervision or any real responsibility, even if the hours were ungodly. Besides, it would get them out of other duties for the first half of the next morning.
"When's shift change? It's getting cold," Kai asked.
"Dude, it's not even midnight yet. We're nowhere near shift change, genius."
"Seriously though, why couldn't you have forged us some orders to a tropical beach somewhere?"
Logan grunted. "Didn't have the identification codes for anything besides the airships. Besides, you'd probably be Unagi bait the second you fell in the water."
"Come on, I'm not that bad of a swimmer."
"You can't fool me, bub. Remember when you tried to go out for water polo, but you ended up bouncing the ball onto Mr. Bartowski's—"
"Leeet's not talk about that," Kai interjected, instead switching the subject to one of the duo's favorite topics—the various antics of a certain princely, extremely rowdy passenger on the flagship. "You hear the latest scuttlebutt about our favorite little menace?"
"Yup, I heard it from Bubba. Let me tell you, I'm glad we're not the ones cleaning up for once. Where did that kid even find a paint mixer?"
"No clue. At least he didn't overflow all the washing machines with detergent again. Remember when the entire E deck was nothing but suds?"
"Yeah, but I don't think anything can top the Noodle Incident. We were cleaning that kitchen for a week!"
"Remind me again why you put us on this airship? Like, couldn't you have picked one without a hyperactive prince with nothing better to do than goof off and pull off pranks? Like, don't get me wrong. They're probably the best pranks I've ever seen. Just not when we have to clean up."
"Look, there are only ten royal flagships in the fleet. All of the other ones were either out of the country or at maximum capacity. But serving on a flagship comes with honors, which means we can promote ourselves faster without raising as much suspicion."
Kai glared. "Speaking of which, when exactly were you planning on promoting me?"
"It's too soon after mine; might raise some eyebrows."
"It's been months! Why do you have to—"
"Shh. Shut up a minute." Logan said, suddenly looking forward from his sentry position.
"Whaddya mean, 'shut up?' I'm just trying to make a—"
"No, idiot, look over there," Logan whispered through gritted teeth, pointing to a large cumulonimbus in the distance. It was only a hundred meters or so away from the ship, but the airship had made closer shaves than that before.
"... Dude, it's literally just a storm cloud. We'll go right past it."
"No, there's a weird shadow or something. Something's in there."
Now that Logan mentioned it, Kai could see some kind of disturbance in the shifting storm cloud. "What do you think it is?"
His question was immediately answered when suddenly, the side of a large wooden hull poked out from the storm cloud, fifty broadside cannons glistening in the moonlight.
Pointed directly at the flagship.
Logan dashed to a phone near the center of the deck, shouting into it as a rush of adrenaline came over him. "Sir! Enemy on the starboard bow! They're right on—"
The deafening boom of all fifty broadsides firing, and the resulting quake on the ship's deck, made Logan fall to the ground, unable to finish his call. He looked over to Kai, who had narrowly escaped a stray cannonball. The enemy airship fired a second time and they heard a sickening crack of wood splintering. The ship began to lose altitude, tilting sideways to where the starboard bow was tipping down.
Logan took flight as Kai began to slide down the ship's deck, getting splinters in all sorts of places he'd rather not talk about. Logan dashed after him, catching him by the foot and struggling to stay afloat in midair with the added weight. Logan looked down to see the ship falling even faster now, almost completely sideways as propellers struggled in vain to stabilize the crippled vessel.
"DON'T DROP ME DON'T DROP ME DON'T DROP ME!" Kai shouted at the top of his lungs.
"Get ahold of yourself! I've got you!" Logan responded, switching his grip from the goomba's foot to being held right side up on the front of his shell's plastron.
"I'M SCARED OF HEIGHTS!" he screamed back.
"You're scared of heights but you WORK ON AN AIRSHIP?!"
"THANKS TO YOU, GENIUS! I WANTED A BEACH FORTRESS!"
Logan looked at the large storm cloud that the enemy had emerged from. Whoever fired on them had long retreated into the cumulonimbus, out of sight. The Koopa flagship was dipping below the vast expanse of clouds below, its ill-fated voyage coming to a screeching halt. Logan caught his breath for a moment as he came to terms with what had just happened. But speculation about the events would have to wait; they had more pressing matters to deal with. Namely, the giant airship about to crash land over who-knows-where. He sighed and slowly began lowering the pair out of the sky.
Sea of Clouds
Approximately five and a half minutes earlier…
Junior's bedroom was one of the largest rooms on the flagship, second only to the banquet hall and engine room. Calling it a bedroom would be doing it injustice, however—its spacious quarters contained much more than just a bed. From an expansive rec room to areas for private tutoring or other meetings that required his princely attention, when he wasn't in the Volcanopalace at the nation's capital, this was his home in the air. In fact, a visit to the palace had become an increasingly rare event—and even then, there were usually only one or two of his siblings there at the same time, due to increasingly busy and divergent schedules.
The crafty young Koopa in question was hiding under the red covers of his four-poster bed, the dim light of a handheld console indicating that, unlike most of the ship, he was indeed not asleep. Junior had been reprimanded and sent to bed early for his most recent escapade, this time involving a broken paint mixer he had found in a supply closet and tried to repair—emphasis on "tried." Unfortunately for him, there must have been a loose connection somewhere when he turned it on, and as fun as it was to see the entire billiards room covered in a deep shade of magenta, it prevented him from executing his original plans for the machine, which involved three containers of pink glitter and the mess hall's stock of ceramic plates and bowls.
Of course, being punished in this fashion was not a new concept to the prince. This kind of thing happened on almost a weekly basis for Junior, and there wasn't much his caretakers felt comfortable using as punishments, considering his father's ill-tempered attitude and tendency to side with Junior on almost any matter brought to his attention. So the occasional skipped dessert or early bedtime did little to deter his mischief, especially since these things were so easily circumvented, a good example being that night's Mario Kart session under the covers.
Junior weaved between the other players in his Wild Wing, using a golden mushroom he had expertly smuggled up to fourth place in the final stretch of the race, as he rounded the final corner of Wario's Gold Mine, he received a notification in the top left corner of his screen labelled, "MOTION ALERT - STATEROOM HALLWAY."
He quickly turned off the console, peeking from the covers at the door to the hall. Soft footsteps approached, paused at his door for a moment, then walked away. Junior turned the console back on, and the action on the screen played for a split second longer, then froze, an error message appearing on the screen.
The connection was closed because the system went to sleep.
Junior sighed at his rotten luck and exited the game. With Iggy's programming assistance, he had "homebrewed" the console and hooked it up to the ship's security system, allowing him to view any video feed on the airship, and receive notifications if anyone was approaching his room. Out of a bland mixture of boredom and curiosity, he opened the custom security application to see who had passed by his door. Selecting the stateroom hallway's feed and scanning back thirty seconds, he could see a shy guy in a military uniform deposit a thick manilla envelope next to his door, likely a combination of memos, schoolwork, and other papers of similar dullness. Junior idly switched between feeds. Lots of crewmembers sleeping in cots and beds, an exhausted-looking bridge crew looking at a map on a table, two sentries on the top deck leaning on the banister… nothing particularly interesting.
He closed the application and opened his friend list, scrolling down the handful of online friends he had made over the years. His "best friends" list was a lot smaller and contained the friends he knew in real life. A few of the older Koopalings had friended him, and even Princess Peach had reluctantly given him her friend code during one of her "visits." No one was online right now, however, seeing how Darkland was three time zones ahead of the flagship's current position, and it was nearly 3 am Koopa Time.
Junior sighed. As usual, there was no one around to keep him company. He turned off the console and put it on the bedside table. Junior could hardly remember when he last saw his siblings, since everyone was constantly travelling around pursuing their various interests, education, apprenticeships, or business opportunities. Their regimen scarcely overlapped with Junior's, and when they did, it was only for a few weeks. Junior, as the chosen heir for the throne, had been receiving special instruction for quite a while now, which made it even harder to spend any time with his siblings. In fact, the last interaction he had with any of them was a brief economics lesson at one of Roy's casinos, which had involved a lot more noogies than Junior would have liked.
Junior laid back and looked at the ceiling. There were a variety of heat lamps installed in the ceiling, with the dim blue night bulbs currently keeping the area around his bed at a comfortable eighty degrees. Perhaps he should get some sleep, he thought to himself; tomorrow was indeed a special day. About once a year, the schedules of the entire royal family were wiped clean for an entire week for "family bonding time." This was the only time when Bowser and all eight koopalings would be together at the same time. The week was never specifically planned, but would instead happen spontaneously when the Koopa King got especially fed up with the various meetings and ceremonies he attended. It was no wonder Junior could barely sleep that night. He didn't even get to see Dad or the others on Koopmas! And it got him out of schoolwork and another snoozefest of a "regal traditions" lesson from Kamek.
Just as Junior was finally drifting off to sleep, a deafening boom sounded, and his room was sent into chaos. As objects were thrown from their resting places and glass shattered, he was startled awake, sitting up in his bed. Junior hardly had time to think before another boom sounded, cannonballs smashed through the wall mere feet from him, and the ship abruptly tilted sideways. He was tossed from the four-poster bed into the wall, and his world went black.
Bright sunlight shone through the stained-glass windows of the Mushroom Palace, as an elderly toad looked at his watch, nervously stroking his white mustache. He had been standing outside the Princess' room for nearly twenty minutes. Toadsworth cleared his throat and knocked on the door once more.
"Now, princess, I really must insist that you get ready! It's nearly ten-thirty! Perhaps you should get up and face the day?"
Still no response from inside the room. Was something wrong? Toadsworth was not a paranoid man, but after years of constant kidnappings, it was easy to assume the worst. "Princess, I am coming in… I trust that you are… decent?" He slowly opened the door and creeped in. Twenty seconds passed and he ran back out of the room! "By boogity! She's gone missing!"
"Again?!" said a nearby toad who was "guarding" the coffee machine. Suddenly, he and another toad broke into a sprint down the hallway, grabbing and sliding down a giant pole at the end while cheesy action-movie music began playing in the background. Sliding down the pole to the basement of the castle, they entered a situation room created specifically for this purpose. They grabbed two identical keys and simultaneously turned them on opposite sides of the room, and a panel opened up, revealing a lockbox with a keypad. They quickly entered the code on the keypad and the lockbox opened, revealing two pairs of sunglasses, which they put on. Now that the toads looked cool enough to be doing emergency government work, one of them took a giant sledgehammer and smashed a large glass case, revealing a giant red button on the wall. The toads nodded to each other and simultaneously pressed the button on the wall, which caused klaxons to blare and red emergency lights to shine. Elsewhere, on the castle roof, a giant spotlight with the outline of a cap and mustache turned on and shone into the sky. The Mario Bros had been summoned.
Of course, since it was the middle of the day, there was no way for the bros to see the spotlight. But someone ended up calling them an hour later, so it all worked out okay.
"Mama mia, couldn't we have at least waited until I finished my cannoli?"
"Nonsense, Luigi! It's the start of a brand new adventure! There's nothing more exciting than stomping Bowser and saving the princess, right?"
"I wanted to go bowling tonight…"
An excited Mario and a slightly reluctant Luigi began hopping through the grasslands, bantering over their plans for the next few days and the fate of Luigi's pasta lunch. Eventually they came across a small pit in the ground with two Super Acorns lying on the bottom. Mario hopped down and grabbed one, putting it in his pocket. "See, bro? Things are looking up already!"
Luigi hopped down into the hole and grabbed the other powerup. They then tried to jump out of the pit but both hit invisible coin boxes at the top, falling to the ground on their butts with an "oof."
They soon found out that there was an invisible roof of coin boxes over the pit that they couldn't get out of! Suddenly, a speaker installed in the wall of the grassy hole started blaring a very familiar and very annoying song, a fast-paced duet between a fiddle and a banjo, with some whistling in between. The bros looked at a sign in the wall that read, "Get softlocked, mouthbreathers! -Bowser"
Mario sighed. "Mama mia, who set it to Super Expert?"
Luigi pinched the bridge of his nose. Today was going to be a very long day.
Don't worry about the bros; I'm sure they'll discover the Start Over button before the slider theme drives them both insane! We should probably be more worried about Bowser Junior! Who fired on his airship, and why?
And who kidnapped Princess Peach? I mean, it was probably Bowser… but that seems a little too predictable, doesn't it? Character tags will be added/updated as chapters release and the answers present themselves. For now, however, I hope you enjoyed.