So… this is my first stab at this fandom, though I have several other ideas I'd like to write up, sooner or later. I don't know if this plot is overdone, because I don't really browse the front page. Oh well.

I know that this first chapter is fairly short; I'm going to try to make them longer as I go on. Hopefully it won't be too much of a problem, since this isn't a particularly lengthy story.

...And yes, the title was inspired by Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"; the last three lines were what really synched it, in my mind. "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I/ I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference." If it doesn't make sense now, it will later. ;)

Anyway, have at it. (Yes, that was on purpose.)

The adventure had gone as well as could be predicted, as our heroes made their way through the empty expanse of space and the chaos that was the Whoa Zone. Bemused and irked, they continued their quest for the Pure Hearts, unaware that, somewhere, in some time, the story they lived took a far different path…

Chapter 1

The Prophecy Goes Awry

"So, then, it falls to you, to find the other heroes two. I would guess, if I had to, the others might be known to you."

It was with Merlee's words in mind that the adventure continued, all the way through the bitlands and even into outer space. If she was right- and she had been, if picking Bowser up was any indication- then they were reclaiming citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom; in other words, now that Bowser was tagging along, all they had to do was track Luigi down. At the time, it had seemed like they'd just be able to find him as they collected the pure hearts- that was how these adventures seemed to work, the rest of the time- but as time went on, the thought faded from their minds in favor of more pressing issues. Currently, their focus was on navigating the labyrinthine Whoa Zone, and priorities were- in order- one, get rid of Squirps, two, find the Pure Heart, and three, get the heck out of this dimension. It seemed like they were just about to accomplish the first two when…

"Squirps, you've done well. You're a smart kid…"

That sure hadn't been any of the "Heroes of Light"; they were all getting fed-up with the little green alien by this point. So who did that leave? Attempting to pinpoint the speaker- stupid space! Why did it have to distort sound like this?- Mario turned around and took several steps in the opposite direction; despite the warped voice, it still sounded familiar.

"Squirple squeee! Stop it! Squirps is embarrassed!" Apparently, though, the foreign speaker didn't occur to Squirps… at least, not until he was unexpectedly knocked several yards away, a moment later.

"Who… who are you?" Tippi asked the culprit, though she could have received an answer- of varying quality- from anybody who was currently coherent, around her.

"Just one of Count Bleck's more promising minions," The newcomer answered, "Mr. L, the Green Thun-"

"You've gotta be kidding me." Bowser interrupted, his tone flat.

"Oh dear…" Peach murmured at the same time.

Belatedly, Mario turned toward the invader, only to fall flat on his face when he saw who it was.

"Luigi, what are you doing here?"

The older brother received an unimpressed stare at the question.

"Hey, weren't you listening Mr. Jumps-all-the-time?" The supposed minion asked, coming dangerously close to whining, "I'm Mr. L! Not…whatever you just called me!"

"Does that answer your question?" Bowser snapped at Mario, clearly lacking the patience to deal with this new development. "If Green 'Stache thinks he's one of Bleck's minions, I say we treat him like one!"

"Ha! Alright then, Mr. Always-get-beaten-by-the-guy-with-the-mustache! Have at you!"

In spite of this challenge, Peach and Mario looked at one another, bemused. This…wasn't the way things were supposed to go.

"What should we do?" The princess finally asked, watching as Bowser got his tail stomped on.

"Take him back to Flipside, I guess. Maybe Merlon will know what to do…"

"Hey! Watch the hat, Godzilla!"

"Get back here, player two!"

They exchanged glances again.

"We should probably go help Bowser…"

"Mm hmm." The princess agreed. Neither made any move to do so, "This just doesn't feel right, though."

Despite this, they eventually got moving, and wound up with a protesting prisoner-of-prophecy to drag through the rest of the Whoa Zone. Squirps grumbled to himself, when this occurred to him, but, mercifully, made no other comments.

"-and end your game with a toothpick! Have at you!"

"Shut up!" Bowser roared, losing patience with their captive.

It wasn't surprising that he'd lost his temper so quickly…but really, ten minutes? It couldn't have been any longer, because they were almost to Merlon's house, and it wasn't exactly a long trip. To be fair, 'Mr. L' wasn't helping matters any; that had been the eighth "Have at you" since they'd been moving. Peach and Mario exchanged dry glances; there was no way this would end well. The latter looked back at his sibling, who appeared to be sulking as he was dragged along by Carrie, with Barry using an…inventive method to keep him in place.

What could they have missed? It was definitely Luigi they'd found, but not in spirit, to say the least. He was deliberately picking a fight with Bowser, after all. Maybe he'd hit his head and one of Bleck's minions used it to their advantage? No, that couldn't be right—amnesia only worked like that in video games and such. So then what? Hopefully, for all of their sakes, Merlon would have some knowledge that could help them out.

The wizard was certainly surprised when he saw the party enter his house. This was understandable, of course, but his shock stemmed from a different source than one might have expected. Unbidden, a conversation that he'd had some time ago, after meeting Mario and Peach at Flipside Tower, returned to him.

"Four heroes, you say? That is news to me; did Merlee have any other advice to offer?"

"Yes, she said that we might already know the other two heroes."

"Ah, do you have a theory on this?"

"Well, after the… wedding I did end up here in Flipside… and back there, there were only two people I knew personally. I haven't talked to Mario about it, but I was thinking maybe…"

"Actually… I was thinking the same thing. Bowser's already had a part in all of this and… even if he's not involved, I need to find Luigi."

"I recognize Bowser's name, but Luigi..?"

"He's Mario's twin brother."

"Ah… …well, perhaps it's time I took my leave. I…must study the Light Prognosticus more closely, it seems; I could have sworn it said… oh, never mind! Just the ramblings of an old man, I suppose!"

Now, it seemed, the gut feeling had paid off. He was going by looks alone, but if the one being dragged along was, indeed, the theorized fourth hero, refraining from divulging the information about "the man in green" from the Light Prognosticus had been a wise move. The wizard was simply assuming that this was Luigi (though there were only so many people who stood out like that, in the dimensions the heroes had visited) but surely Mario would be distressed, were he to learn that his own brother might help to bring about the end of all life. Merlon wanted to spare the hero that much…

"What do we have, here?" The wizard asked, substituting a generic greeting for the thoughts that currently weighed on his mind.

Mario glanced backwards, at the supposed minion Carrie was toting around, and sighed. "This is my brother, Luigi."

"I am not!"

The red-clad sibling took a deep breath and brought one hand to his head, "Fine. 'Mr. L' has some other ideas, right now. He says he's working for Count Bleck."

"I see." Merlon mused, hiding how disturbing he actually found this fact.

"We don't know what happened, but he's not himself…obviously." Peach chimed in smoothly, "Do you think you could help us find out?"

Rather distantly, the wizard nodded. "I'll see what I can do."

He certainly hoped that the otherworldly beings Bestovius always spoke of were watching over them… because this certainly didn't look good.


I hope that those 'otherworldly beings' are reading this, too~

It's hopelessly dorky, but I just loved the idea of leaving the chapter intro and end sequences in. On that mental fanfare, I'll shut up; if you have any comments or advice, I'd be happy to hear what you have to say!