Chapter Thirteen


"You all know your roles?" the puppet asked and received a nod in unison from his friends. Then they disbursed, Kamak, Jagger, and Mario running north while the rest moved west. Both groups knew they were only a temporary party until they reached their own individual destination.

The memory of only an hour ago was both clear and foggy to the plumber hero. He was heading towards the unclimbable cliffs of Land's End and without flying koopas to help him scale the cliffs, he knew he would be hard pressed to make it to the last destination that was not claimed during the meeting, leaving him to conquer the volcano. Jagger would stop immediately at Land's End for his trail and while Kamek would make his way home, back to Bowser's Keep. But none of his companions were friends of his and now with the dire quest before him, that hour ago parting felt like years ago.

Jagger moved along with graceful, silent steps, which made his other two companions turn more than once to see if he was still following them. The shelled warrior knew something was amiss, an intuition that went above caution. His sixth sense told him, long before he believe he would see, a great doom was coming their way. Moving between his two comrades, he touched both their shoulders, halting them in place.

"What?" Kamaek commanded with a snap.

"Trouble... beyond us I believe," the shelled warrior said calmly, not in the least fazed by Kamek's outburst.

Mario nodded at his comrade and jumped off the ground, unbelievably high, holding unto a brand from a tall tree. Far along the north, clouds of dust could be seen but the number of the fliers, Mario immediately thought would easily flatten Seaside. That vision had the plumber flinching. If the group ahead equaled the troop Kamek was bringing earlier in the east, Mario knew it would be genocide. Kamek was soon beside the plumber, looking out to the approaching army.

"Ah, yes. Bowser's army from Monstro Town. How could I forget?" the magikoopa cackled but Mario somber expression told him that humor was far from his thoughts.

Even the mighty hero would be hard pressed against such numbers. A groups of six was his limit and even then he didn't like such odds. What made Mario appear so invincible was the disorganization of the koopa anytime he fought them. Inner conflicts and rivalries amongst the koopa made it easier for the plumber to defeat his enemies. Ever since he entered Bowser's Keep those many days ago, he knew such a unity would prove disastrous if used against the mushroom.

"We could move around them from the west," Jagger pointed out. His position in the tree, squatting down on the same brand Mario hung on, so quietly startled both the plumber and magikoopa. Once they calmed, they noticed that indeed there was a ravine that could avoid the battle and needless delay. But ever the hero, running was never an option to the plumber. Mario let go of his branch.

The rest of the crew moved on east, making there way through the puzzling yet quite astounishing, Star Hill. This hill, soon would take the title mountain, began from the first intellectual being. One who had dreams and wished with all their hearts for that wish to come true. That wish became a star, the first star that fell and landed on this very hill they camped on. As more wishes were made and granted, more stars fell, adding to the small mound.

Star Hill was a magical place, full of many past and present wishes, where, if any was not careful, could fall into an eternal flow of other people dreams. The dizzying maze and common landscape added to the defense the hill gave to Seaside Town.

By Geno request, the party rested at nightfall, watching either the stars in the sky or the stars on the hill. It was breathtaking to experience the hill of dreams, to lose yourself, not knowing where the earth ended and the star field heavens began. All of it was lost to Croco.

"Not a blasted coin ta be found," the croc complained, kicking a rock. "And why do I continue to follow ye clowns?"

"Because, a world where Ragenbow rules leaves no room for treasure... except maybe his own," Geno, the only other than Croco who was not lost in the wonders of Star Hill replied simply and calmly.

Nothing irritated the croc more than logic. Kicking another rock he huffed and sat down next to the only companion who seemed to put up with him, though her gaze was up to the sky and taking no heed to the thief's presence.

Croco tried his best to relax but all he could do was shift where he sat. As if he was watching Mallow and Peach gazing far away from reality struck his need for alertness. How can two heroes, two royals, fall slaves to the magical land? Croco refused to be any slave.

"I will keep watch while you sleep," the puppet softly said, understanding the unease the thief felt.

Croco had no reason to doubt the strange man but neither could he so easily dispel his own fears. As if the puppet cast some spell amongst his other companions, or perhaps they thought Geno was talking to them, Mallow and Peach soon found the comfort of sleep, dreaming on the hills of dreams. Croco stayed up the entire night.

"Are you daft? The are a hundred strong at least. We best to avoid..." Kamek tailed off as Mario and Jagger started their trek towards the dust cloud.

Both ignored the magikoopa. For Mario, this was the real army he wanted to defeat, to defend Seaside. To leave the town in it's time of need was not the plumber's way. He would fight. But Jagger moved with almost equal desire to enter the melee. His master, Jinx, held this very army at bay, giving the people of Monstro Town the needed time to flee. The army continued their march, telling the shelled warrior the fate of his mentor. He, too, would fight.

Kamek only shook his head at the two foolish creatures. At that moment, the magikoopa had planned to take his broom and fly off to Bowser's Keep and let the idiots commit suicide. He was just about to snap his fingers when Geno's words echoed in his mind. Kamek sneered and spat on the ground. He needed the fools alive to pull off this impossible task.

"Wait," Kamek harshly whispered. Neither stopped or turned to the magikoopa.

Slapping both his hands to the earth, Kamek felt one with the trees around him. Such spells were tricky, for the caster had to surrender dominance and ask out of friendship by the living creatures around them. The creatures would know if they needed help for selfish needs. Asking the trees to save his friends from danger was not selfish in the least.

Before Mario could jump or Jagger could pivot, both were consumed and tangled by overgrowth of thick roots that spouted from the ground. Mario first reaction was to burn the roots with his fire magic but he was smarter than to ignite a fire in dry woods. He would be freed but being in the center of a forest fire was not a soothing thought. Jagger's reaction was straightforward. The shelled warrior chopped at the root's center, concentrating all his chi in his hand. Unlike a block of wood, however, Jagger's powerful blow could not even bend the ageless trees.

"Now that I got your attention... what's wrong with you imbeciles? It's a hundred to one. Do you think we could take on that many at once?" Kamek snapped, but not too loud even though the army was still many, many miles away.

"It doesn't matta. We needa help the people of Seaside," Mario retorted.

"It does matta... er... matter! Blast it, Mario, it's time that you see the greater goal in mind. We need to get our prisms. This army is not your concern at the immediate moment," Kamak finished, folding his arms in his magikoopa robes.

"The people of Seaside Town will be overrun. You think we can ignore that as easily as you?" Jagger accused, tested the magikoopa. Of course Kamek wasn't going to fall into that ploy of seeming like a coward.

"Both of you, wake up! Yes, I see the army. Yes, it's incredibly huge. But both of you are narrow minded. Geno, curse that puppet thinking so many moves in advance, has formed the biggest army of all," Kamek shook his head and stared hard at the two. "Few refugees from Mushroom Castle, but everyone from Rose Town, Marrymore, Moleville, Nimbus Land, Monstro Town, and Seaside are huddle together in one place. At least you, Mario, need to hold some faith that the mushroom, the birds, and the cloud people and handle their own without you. They've survived long before you and this army is in for quite the surprise when they think they can breach the walls of Seaside!"

From such a simple, logical statement, had Mario shrinking in the roots that held him. Indeed, he's been accustomed to saving the day everytime some disaster struck. But never before had he really thought that the mushroom could stand on their own feet and with the support from Nimbus Land, Moleville, and Monstro town in one unit, who could better defend their homes. Who really should defend their homes... really? The answer was simple. The people. Mario nodded, believing in the mushroom who he came to love in all these years. Jagger, too, nodded. He didn't need revenge and Kamek was right, they had a greater purpose they needed to accomplish.