Mushroom Kingdom, Peach's Castle

Sandwiched between the ground floor of Castle Toadstool and the dungeon, hidden in a quirk of architecture that the fire marshal would not have approved of- was the strange laboratory of one Professor E. Gadd, a gifted but, at most times, inscrutable man of science. He was generally seen as the most practical among his colleagues, not nearly as dynamic in personality as Dr. Mad Sciencestein, nor as bold as Dr. Crygor in pushing the limits of science and discovery. Professor E. Gadd had devoted his life to the study and understanding of unlife. He had spent years studying Dry Bones and Chichos and such, but his true passion was researching boo-kind.

No one could quite remember when he had taken up residence at the castle, or whom had given him permission to move in to start with. Peach assumed it was one of her advisors, who in turn assumed residency had been granted by someone else or the princess herself. Bureaucratic investigations are not a priority at Peach's castle is what you should take away from this.

It was no mystery why he had set up shop within the castle, however. There was a small contingent of boo living (or unliving. Whatever) in the castle, which were worth studying by themselves, but what really interested the good professor was the portal to Big Boo's Haunt, known more formally as Big Boo's Mansion (Not to be confused with Boo Mansion) a mansion theorized to exist in the Paranormal Dimension, origin place of boo-kind and King Boo's personal kingdom.

Now while boologist like Professor E. Gad was fascinated by such a place, his occasional 'research assistant' Luigi was less thrilled at the prospect of encountering more boos. A conflict of interests one might say. Just at the moment though no expeditions or experiments were underway, nor was Luigi in attendance. We'll go visit him later on in the story.

The professor was tinkering around on some new ghost grabbing gadgets, to aid in a future venture and to (hopefully) put Luigi's concerns to rest. However, Professor E. Gadd was working with very unstable elements, trying to merge magic and science, two things that sometimes go together and sometimes don't. And sometimes they don't go together but more explosion-y. This was one of those times.

A low rumble made the dungeon denizens look up fearfully, dust drifting down from the ceiling. Professor E. Gadd lifted his thick goggles and scratched at his remaining tuft of white hair, examining the larger chunks of the former electronic device, trying to figure out what exactly had gone wrong.

"Oya ma! Gung jnf na harkcrpgrq ernpgvba." He commented more to himself than to his laboratory assistant, R.O.B. The short boxy robot didn't speak, yet it still managed to express itself in how it reacted to comments or events. His contemplation was interrupted as a small portion of the wall crumbled away, revealing a space behind it.

'Zrrrrrrr zrrr zzzzzzrrr." R.O.B. buzzed sarcastically as it rolled on treads to the new wall hole, shifting larger rubble away, and beginning to clean up dust and smaller pieces of debris. It was clear that the wall had been hastily patched up in the past, and probably wouldn't have stayed entact another year anyway, making this a very fortunate accident. Or at least an interesting accident. Surprisingly the false wall hadn't been the shoddy craftsmanship of lazy toadstools, at least not merely the shoddy craftsmanship of lazy toadstools. We can't rule anything out, really.

More interesting than Mushroom Kingdom construction workers and their possible duplicity was the mystery item. An object squirrelled away in the hole for the future to find, or perhaps to avoid its future discovery. It was a crown adorned with a pink mushroom cap and eyes, also like a mushroom. Gadd had never seen such a power-up item before. "Zzzrr zzrrrrrr!" R.O.B. buzzed in annoyance, bumping into Gadd's leg to get him out of the way.

"Ubj phevbhf." Gadd mused, turning the power-up in his hands as he absently stepped away from the moody robot, the explosion already forgotten in his mind as he refocused completely on the new mystery at hand. Several hours of tweaking, testing and poking later and E. Gadd thought he had an idea what the crown did, though he still had no idea why it existed. Or whom had hidden it away originally, or even why. But he thought it might solve Peach's issues with being kidnapped, if it did what he suspected, and minus any willing participants to experiment on, theories were all he had.

Scans revealed it was a transformative magic item, not unlike a Super Leaf. The crown function seemed to alter the wearer to a specific gene matrix. Another note being the crown was much older than it looked. Possibly as old as the castle itself. Which just begged the question- why a priceless family heirloom was hidden away to be forgotten? Or was it meant to be retrieved at some future date but circumstances wouldn't allow its retrieval?

Later: Peach's Castle, throne room

"I'm sorry, what now?" Peach asked in confusion, not quite believing what she had just heard proposed. "You want to use this- untested artifact- to change one of my loyal subjects into a clone of me, so Bowser will kidnap them next time?" Well, when she said it like that it sounded kind of amoral. This was one of the issues of not having an assistant that spoke in words. You couldn't bounce ideas off them to sort the bad ones from the good. And E. Gadd had so many ideas, who could sort all the terrible ones from the brilliant ones?

"V jnf whfg huvat..." Gadd started to say, perhaps to salvage the idea, but Peach just raised a gloved hand for him to stop, something she reserved to impress seriousness. The princess was not known for being severe, and the very rare cutoff was the extent of her unbecoming indulgences. That and lying her spoon the wrong way when she was finished with tea.

"I'm sorry, Professor, I simply can't endanger my people, and whoever takes my place would be doing just that. Furthermore, it would be really easy for this to get out of control. If our enemies got ahold of this item the results could be catastrophic, not even to bring up the ethical dilemma of using an experimental object on my citizens-"

That was all the spy-toad known as Shif .T needed to hear. He quickly exited the castle and made his way to a mostly forgotten warp pipe located in the abandoned Mario Circuit raceway, a weed-choked relic of bygone events. He crouched at the base of the rusted tube and held his breath a moment, listening for hungry jaws snapping, or the tell-tell scraping of a piranha plant slithering around inside. Of course this system had been supposedly cleared of monsters, but that was years ago when this was still an active racetrack, and all it took was one careless mistake to become a piranha snack. Climbing into the tube with a grunt, he was whisked to his destination with a speed that defied physics and logic. The warp pipe exited just outside the creepy old Toadwood Forest, a place of deep shadows and creepy vibes even in the middle of the day. It was a haunted place that was fertilized on death, torture and fear.

"Pssst." Shif .T hissed, trying to alert his contact without actually entering the shadows. "PSSSST!" Still no response from the Dark Land contact. Shif .T reluctantly walked into the spooky woods, imagining sounds in the brush and eyes in the dark. He hadn't taken ten steps when something grabbed the back of his shirt. "Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!"

"Silence, traitor. It is I." The contact recoiled from Shif .T, like a receding shadow. It was a black-clad Anti Guy who loved sneaking around and making grand proclamations about Bowser. No wonder he hadn't been noticed among the dark trees. "What information do you present for our supreme sovereign?" He was a rather forward 'guy' that went by the handle Shadow Guy, a laughably fake name. "Waste not the time of he who serves might, lest you find yourself poised under the hammer of judgement, for we are all mere bugs for our lord to trample upon."

"That senile lunatic... Gadd... He discovered an artifact buried in the castle. A unique crown power-up that has Peach all kinds of paranoid. Something of catastrophic proportions according to the princess herself. I assumed it was something Bowser would be interested in." Shif .T looked around as he reported, imagining he could hear unseen horrors surrounding them.

"You presumed correctly." Shadow Guy replied, silently disapproving of the lack of honorifics in regards to the Lord of the Dark Lands. "All power naturally flows to the center as nature commands it. Our lord is a vacuum to which all strength is drawn and assimilated, glory to his power and might." Shadow Guy paused dramatically for a moment. "Who else knows of this object?" The dead eye-holes of his mask bore into Shif .T intensely.

"No one else! Peach won't be talking about it and the old man has probably forgotten already." Something crunched some leaves behind him, making Shif .T spin around in fear, visions of angry toad ghosts and feral piranha plants dancing in his head. When he looked back, Shadow Guy was gone.

Dark Lands. Bowser's Castle, throne room

The King of Koopas was busy entertaining his precocious only child. Only birth child, that is. He had long since adopted the koopalings, back when he believed he would never have a true heir. But here it was, his own little miracle whom he loved so much as to name them after himself. A not-so-subtle declaration of the line of succession. Junior was sitting on the arm of the throne as his father spun stories of his past adventures, some real, some made up in the moment.

"But how did you get the blargg to live in the castle's lava traps?" Junior asked, leaning too far back on his perch and fell with a startled squeak. Bowser scooped his hand behind Junior's shell and lifted him back to his seat like he weighed nothing.

"I wrestled them out of their magma pools, and when they refused to serve me I tickled them into submission!" Bowser declared with a wicked grin. "Oh, you don't believe your old man can wrestle such beasts?" He continued as Junior looked rather doubtful. "Let me demonstrate!" He gave a mock roar and began teasing Junior's sides and tummy, almost causing the boy to fall off again as he giggled. They were interrupted by a blue-shelled koopa aid silently signaling for Bower's attention.

"My lord." He said when he caught the kings eyes. "It's Shadow Guy."

Bowser sighed. "Say, Champ, why don't you go practice your fire breathing for a while?" He said, gently setting his son on the carpeted stone floor.

"Aw Pops. I already did it todayyyyyy." Junior grumbled, crossing his arms across his bib. He sensed something interesting was about to happen and he didn't want to miss it. Pom Pom was standing to one side during all this. The nanny mentally prepared herself for a troublesome afternoon with a cranky Junior.

"Well," Bowser scratched his chin thoughtfully "Why don't you go play your video game... machine... thing. You conquered that yet?"

"Naw, you keep limiting my play time." Junior replied with less of a pout now.

"How would you like some extra play time today? Think you can beat that game for daddy?" He poked Junior in the side again, teasing a smile from the boy now.

"Oh I don't know if more games would be good for him-" Pom Pom started to say, before Junior ran past her.

"Pops said I can play more!" He hollered over his shoulder before Bowser could have his mind changed. Not that that was ever going to happen anyway.

"I'll keep him occupied my lord." Pom Pom bowed and left in the direction Junior had fled, though Bowser barely noticed, having already dismissed her.

Shadow Guy approached the throne like, well, a shadow. "Report!" Bowser grunted. "This better be something important or I'm deep frying that toad and eating it, then you for dessert." If the threat frightened Shadow Guy he didn't show it. Really unlike a shy guy if you thought about it, but Bowser was not one for deep contemplations. That's why he had advisors.

"My sources say the princess has a new weapon. A magic crown. Potentially devastating in nature, especially if it was used against the Mushroom Kingdom. Such a device existing outside of your control is abominable, my lord. The powerless grasping to pull the strings of destiny from your iron grip, but with..." he went on at some length in that pseudo-poetic dialogue before finally pausing for dramatic effect.

"Get it for me." Bowser cut-in before Shadow Guy could launch into afresh diatribe. "BRING IT BEFORE THE- oh. He's gone. Hm." Bowser usually had to yell at his goons to get them into motion.

"You yelled, lordship?" Kamek the magikoopa asked as he phased through the wall. He had been waiting on Bowser since he was a new baby, then took a parental role over the koopalings. Now he divided his servitude between father and son.

"A new power item was discovered in the Mushroom Kingdom. A crown or something. I sent Shadow Guy to fetch it for me."

"A crown powerup…." Kamek mused aloud. Something about it sounded vaguely familiar. "Let me go check the archives…" He phased through the floor still talking to himself and leaving Bowser to his own thoughts.

Later. Back at Peach's Castle

Night had fallen and Peach was ready to call it as just that; However, on a whim she decided to take a detour to the castle treasury instead. The mystery crown was locked in a wooden chest with a few other odds and ends of low importance, but valuable enough to be stored as treasure. It didn't look particularly special or dangerous, however appearances could be most deceiving. The mystery surrounding it and its power was as relevant as the havoc it could wreck, if Professor E. Gadd's suggestion were to be believed. Her ethics wouldn't allow her to test the magic of the crown on other people, but she still suffered from burning curiosity. What was the worst thing that could happen, really?

Feeling foolish in spite of herself, she lifted the crown and placed it on her head. There was a quick tingle throughout her body, but nothing more. She didn't know precisely what she expected to occur, but it was probably a dumb idea to be playing with it like this, alone. Or not so alone... She suddenly felt self-conscious, as if she was being watched from somewhere in the room. She quickly removed the crown and briskly excited, slamming the heavy door behind her. "What are you skittish about?" She scolded herself, her hackles still raised for whatever reason. She was not superstitious as a rule, but perhaps the years of kidnappings was finally catching up with her and making her paranoid. Hating herself but unable to shake the creeping feeling, she pulled her robe tighter around her body and hurried to her private quarters. If she had bothered to look back she might have seen a shadow slither from the treasury room, and down the hall towards an open window.

Bowser's Castle (Again)

The crown sat tiny on Bowser's massive palm. It looked more like a child's plaything than any type of weapon or artifact. How could this turn any battle? Why was the princess afraid someone would get it? There was only one way to find out. Similar to Peach, Bowser was afraid to test it on anyone, only out of fear they might become more powerful than himself, as opposed to ethical morality. Further mirroring Peach's actions earlier, Bowser slowly placed the crown on his own head. The effect was nearly instantaneous. Bowser's body was racked with pain so great he couldn't even gasp out, the exact changes happening to him were hidden by blinding light, forcing Shadow Guy to look away.

As the light faded away the biological alterations became stark obvious. His red mane had become flowing golden locks, his burning crimson eyes changed to cool dazzling azure. His dry scales had melted into perfect, pale and flawless skin. His flat, armored chest had become curvaceously full, his sides narrowed at his flat stomach, his stubby legs were long and toned now. Bowser had taken on the form of a peak female human. Some aspects of his monstrous nature would not be subdued, however, regardless of biology breaking magic. His proud horns remained, along with an altered, longer tail and a shell now greatly reduced in size. His spiked armbands had interestingly changed to fit his new size. Unfortunately those were the only stitches of clothing on his body. Rising shakily to his feet, Bowser took in his alterations with confusion and wonder. "What-" She started to say, shocked by the sound of her now feminine voice. "What the hell have you done to me?" Shadow Guy had wisely chosen to ninja-vanish from the castle for the moment.

"What kind of power is this?" Bowser asked herself.