The blue light emanated from the television, casting shadows through the living room. The screen flickered with a marathon of shows as Toadette and Waluigi lounged on the couch. Neither of them dared to sit in Wario's favourite armchair, they could not stand the stench of it. Even now, he was in his room snoring his head off to recover from being poisoned. The room was a mess of unsorted treasure and garbage overflowing the bin in the corner. It had reached a point where it could sustain a piranha plant rather well and it did. The plant in question was happily snapping at the air and wavering about in its makeshift pot.
Toadette took a swig from the beer Waluigi offered her "So… wait, what's happening in this show?"
He sneered "You've just watched ten episodes of it."
"I know, I still don't get it."
"Alright, basically Countess Flora and Amber died at the same time, but Amber's soul returned to Flora's body. At the same time Flora's husband is planning to elope with her twin sister who is only doing it to get the estate. Amber's boyfriend is preparing a vendetta against the Count because his poor maintenance of the town resulted in her death. Oh, and Polterpup is a ghost detective trying to work out why souls are being returned at random."
Toadette scrunched her face up "Seriously? How did you make any sense of this? This soap opera is crazy."
"It's from Sarasaland, they know how to do a good drama."
"I don't know if it's good, it's like when Wario took over that Silver Zephyr show. It was like a car crash, I couldn't look away but I'm still intrigued."
"Well," Waluigi glanced around "I'm sure that Telmet thing is in the mess somewhere. You could always go into the TV and ask the characters what's going on?"
"Yeah, I'm not falling for that one. Who's to say you won't turn the TV off the moment I'm gone?"
He smirked innocently, feigning shock "Would I do something like that?"
Toadette erupted into wicked laughter from his query. At least he was honest enough to admit he was untrustworthy. With Wario and Waluigi, you knew what you were in for because you always trust them to do the more morally dubious thing. They were actually much easier to hang out with as Toadette rarely understood the actions of her fellow Toads.
Their peace was disturbed by frantic stomps charging down the stairs. Finally the cacophony ceased as Wario skidded through the doorway. His eyes were as big as saucers and he was wildly gesturing to a strange tome in his hand. The page was open to reveal an unusual crest of a lightning bolt striking a rune circle. He proclaimed "I knew I've seen that stupid symbol before! And I knew I heard the name Darius too!"
"Shouldn't you be… I dunno, resting or something?" Waluigi folded his arms over his chest "And keep it down, I'm watching my stories."
"Yeah, go lie down again. The doctor pulled that huge stinger out of your arm." Toadette gestured to the item in question that was now mounted proudly on the wall along with other abnormal animal remains.
"NO! No stories! This is real!" Wario slammed his fist on the television, cracking the screen to Waluigi's dismay. He brandished the journal in question; it was so ancient it looked like it would crumble to dust if you sneezed on it.
Toadette could not identify any of the symbols on its cover "What kind of crazy book is that?"
"What can I say? My ancestors were awesome with a rich history of looting and pillaging." Wario flicked through the pages "This is a record of my ancestor, Darius the Decapitator, who was a barbarian warlord. Now come on, do you see where I get my manly awesome-ness?"
While Toadette did her best to not vomit at the thought, Waluigi raised an eyebrow "How did you get the patience to sit down and translate an ancient text? Is it mostly pictures?"
Wario frowned to sarcastically remark "Ha, ha, very funny. Just like that time you introduced yourself to people as my imaginary friend."
Waluigi smirked "I thought it was hilarious."
"Getting back to the book," He punched Waluigi in the back of the head "I didn't, what kind of sucker do you take me for? Another one of my ancestors did the work for me. Anyway, I keep it safe to look for any rare treasures from ancient civilisations that might be floating around."
Waluigi rubbed the back of his head "As they do."
"Exactly, that they do." Wario smirked, showing the page with the lightning insignia "This is the mark of some noble from the Arcane Kingdom. Anyway, a guy like that would be raking in the moo-lah. I reckon that lady from the castle is none other than his descendent… but it was weird how she called me Darius… But… maybe that just means she knows about him?"
"That is kinda weird, why would she call you the name of your ancestor? You must really look a lot like him… wait, how old would this lady have to be to actually know your ancestor?"
"Regardless this means, she's probably got all the loot hidden away somewhere, just begging to be taken!" He paused as he flipped to another page "But, there's something weird in this journal too, at the back, written in invisible ink you need a black light to see." His brow furrowed "Something about beware the woman with a hand of crystal, you cannot trust her." He shrugged and snapped the book shut "Probably a mistranslation."
Waluigi examined his own hands "Hand of crystal? How would you bend your fingers?"
"I know, it sounds ridiculous, but hey. Looks like we gotta go find her! Then she will give me all the treasure she keeps!"
Toadette beamed as she sat on the edge of her seat "So you guys are going on a treasure hunt? Preferably for a very long time?"
Wario was immediately suspicious "Yes? What of it short-stuff?"
She innocently offered "Well, I could always castle-sit for you."
"Not a chance in hell."
"Why not?" Toadette pouted, applying her best adorable puppy eyes.
"Get that cute glittery stuff off your face! I know what you're like."
"But I'm really good at house sitting."
"You hosted a rave last time you did that!"
"As a welcome home party, remember, we exploded a bunch of glow sticks."
"That was fun, but no! You didn't stick around for the clean-up."
Waluigi interjected "Neither did you, I got stuck with it!"
"Well you shouldn't have been dancing and playing pinball so much! You would've seen everyone cheesing it!"
"I needed to defend my title of Pinball Wizard!"
"Alright Wario, I didn't want to do this but you gave me no choice." Toadette walked over to the phone and started dialling a number.
Wario stomped over, ripping the phone out of the wall "What are you doing!?"
"Just giving your workers over in Diamond City a call, how long has it been since they were paid? Perhaps I should call the tax men too!"
"You wouldn't dare." Wario glared her down.
She growled right back at him "Try me."
"Right, we're here to find Syrup, her boat is still here so she can't be too far away." Wario laughed upon entering the main square of Rogueport.
Caravans of supplies were making their way down the main road towards the Mushroom Kingdom. The hotels were also booked out completely as wealthier displaced citizens demanded luxury to accompany their wait for the restoration of their homes. A few disgruntled Toads meandered through the markets, having been informed the rooms were all taken. Slowly, but surely, they gravitated towards the Pianta district of town, where the bars never closed and gambling was always available.
Waluigi frowned "I can't believe you were scared out of your own house by a pink, cute, mushroom girl… who is oddly terrifying…"
"Nope, didn't happen. I came here of my own free will. So shut up, you stinking liar."
"You're the only one with BO around here, Wario."
They progressed to the dock to find the Sweet Stuff with no sign of Syrup or a guard to watch the ship. Wario and Waluigi smirked to each other knowingly. Sure, you got more treasure by plundering alone but at the end of the day, someone needs to look out for you. They both boarded the ship and waited in the cabin.
The stench of garlic made her eyes water. Syrup could not believe this. She had spent the day procuring supplies for her voyage only to find her ship commandeered by a pair of worthless landlubbers. It was tempting to just fire a cannon at her cabin door but that would result in damages she did not have time for. The sooner she set sail, the better. Instead she kicked the door down, startling Waluigi to fall from his chair.
Wario remained by a nearby chest "Thought you could skip town, aye?"
She eyed the room critically to see nothing had been stolen or even shifted aside from a bottle of rum and some glasses. Syrup stood toe to toe with Wario "What are you two landlubbers doing here?"
"Treasure!" Wario then noticed Waluigi in the background shrugging and rolling his eyes. "I mean, we need this boat to get to treasure."
Syrup growled "Oh really? And where could this treasure be?"
"The Arcane Kingdom, but there's rumours of it being dangerous by land or air. But nothing about sea, so if you can take us around the coast."
"I see." Syrup stroked her jawline "Fine."
"Oh no, we're not sharing it with yo-" Wario blinked "Wait, what? You agreed?"
He looked to Waluigi who only looked perplexed. Wario blurted out "Seriously?"
"Well, if you don't shut up about it, I'll take it back and fire you from my cannon."
"HA! None of your cannons are big enough to fit me!"
"Doesn't mean I couldn't fire your creepy friend into you and send you flying."
Waluigi remarked "How about you don't do that."
"Other than that, get to work swabbing the deck! If you're travelling with me, you gotta pull your weight." Syrup commanded before she left the cabin. At least she now had bait to lure the Giant Bloopers out, making her voyage to Rhapsody just that little bit safer. If she was lucky, she could easily acquire squid related products to sell off upon arrival.
Waluigi added "Wait… I thought you had a crew…"
"I acquired more treasure maps from a friend here so they took the SS Teacup on a separate voyage. Now it's just me and my personal ship."
Waluigi and Wario exchanged uneasy looks; they both knew Syrup was up to something. It was in her nature to never be clear about her intentions. Presently they could not complain having secured relatively safe passage through Blooper infested waters. On second thought, perhaps this was not the greatest plan they had ever crafted.
The warp pipe melodically chimed as it emerged from the earth amidst the ancient ruins. Mario was the first to emerge as he bounded to the grass. Looking around, he could see the far off ruins where the karting course was located. Presently they appeared to be on the fringe of the older ruins that led deep into the mountains. Now that he considered it, he had no idea who originally made this place or why they would choose Thwomps to build it. Beneath the afternoon sun, it looked more like a graveyard for those sentient stones. The moss grew over their corpses like a tumour. The trails of fabric fluttering from their columns appeared tattered and dappled the light.
He then noticed a strange flock of creatures wandering through the mountainous terrain with ease. They were covered in curly wool like a sheep but much larger. Although the elongated neck tipped off it was something unusual. "Weegee, what is that? Is it some kind of cow or sheep?"
"Huh?" Luigi noticed the creature in question "Oh, I think that's a llama."
"Yes, a llama."
"Oh…" Mario nervously waved to one of the beasts that had noticed them "Hello llama?"
Peach cooed as she approached them with Daisy in tow "Aw, aren't they adorable!"
Luigi then asked the others "Why exactly are we here anyway? Aren't we supposed to be heading to the Arcane Kingdom?"
"Yes, we can pass through these mountains to reach the Arcane Kingdom. It's the only guaranteed passage."
"Air travel is out of the question and the ocean is too dangerous to cross. But Toadsworth informed me of this passage before we left." Peach opened the locket dangling from a gold chain around her neck "This compass is an old relic, apparently it guides you to the Arcane Kingdom."
Daisy raised an eyebrow, glancing at the strange pendant as it swirled with neon lights "Where exactly did this relic come from?"
"No idea, Toadsworth brought it to my attention. Apparently it was in the castle's archives." The compass pointed towards a maw of stone in the distance, Peach blindly trusted its discretion and headed onwards.
"Doesn't anyone else think that's a little weird?" Daisy remarked to no one in particular as they followed after her.
The light of day and the packs of llamas were left in the distance. The ominous opening in the side of the mountain howled with a gentle moan. Peach stopped momentarily to look at the compass, the relic glowed brightly, illuminating their path. The floor was partially cobbled but dirtied by piles of soil and sand that had flooded in with time. The walls were smooth yet blemished by cracks as the roots of plants dared to invade. The corridors were narrow yet reached to impossible heights into the darkness. The wind dropped to a dying whisper and beckoned them to come closer.
Peach felt an assertive hand rest on her shoulder, she looked down to see Mario smiling back at her. In that moment all fears of progressing onwards vanished. So long as he was here, she felt she could do anything. Together they ventured forth, the corridors widening out into a stone labyrinth of partially sunken temples. Although it was near impossible to even see the floor of the cavern.
Mario remarked as they walked onwards "Wow, looks like this place was some ancient sanctum!"
Peach said aloud "I wonder what it was used for and what civilisation lived here."
"How can you not be weirded out by this place? I'm getting really creepy vibes." Luigi shivered, his anxieties were building as his imagination toyed with the darkness. It looked like the perfect place for a nightmarish ghost to lie in wait.
"I don't think there's anything to fear down here." Daisy added confidently "Looks like no one's been down here for centuries."
"I'm not so sure about that." Mario gestured them to catch up to him and Peach.
On a nearby pillar and on the floor were a series of claw marks in the wall. Some were scribbled out, like the owner of them was navigating their path by trial and error. The markings on the pillar were used as a point of reference to make sure they were not going in circles. They were also slightly masked by a thick layer of dust and sand.
Peach examined them carefully "These look pretty recent, well, compared to the rest of this place."
Luigi proclaimed "I knew there was something down here!"
Daisy corrected "No, it just means someone came down here recently."
"Well, hopefully they've moved on. The only thing I can think of that can scratch stone that easily would be either Bowser or…" Luigi stopped as a chill crawled down his spine.
"A Koopaling." Mario's brow furrowed "That means Bowser may already be on the move."
Daisy suggested "Or he was already on the move, long before we caught wind of all this. Maybe Bowser and the Lightning Queen are allies?"
"No way, it looked like Ludwig had changed sides to go with the Lightning Queen. She and Bowser even seemed to know each other and they hate each other from the looks of things."
"So… in all the time you've known Bowser, he's never mentioned this Lightning Queen?"
"Yeah, it's weird because he even knew her name, Diabella. He also mentioned how Diabella took someone called Lucia away from him…"
Luigi sighed and scratched his head "I knew Bowser had a fling with someone called Clawdia but I've never heard of a Lucia."
"All the more reason to reach Princess Shalazia as soon as possible. Maybe this Diabella is more dangerous than we thought if she can make Bowser panic like that." Peach nodded to herself. She noticed how the marking that remained unscathed pointed in the same direction as the compass. They recomposed themselves before heading deeper into the sunken ruins.