Alice: (bows deeply) I am so. So sorry for updating this story after a year! But here it is! ^_^ I promise I'll update quicker next time.
Ultrra: Sure Alice. If you stopped playing Fire emblem heroes for a hot second, you would have had it done sooner. XD
Alice: .What!? That's not the reason it took so long!..Okay that's not the only reason. XD But the game is fun. Seriously it's addicting. I can't wait until I manage to recruit Ike's team...
Ultrra: (frowns) My team I've summoned so are nothing but children...No one intimidating at all. No one why everyone fights me, they don't respect me and my babies XD
Alice: Well, once again sorry for the delay! ^_^; I promise, I'll update faster from now on! Also this chapter has a bit of excessive swearing and violence because Bowser stars in several chunks here. Lol sorry in advance! He's kinda mean this chapter!
Ultrra: (rolls eyes) Anyways. If it's been awhile for you and you need a refreshed, just look at the last chapter. Or you can read through this chapter and have that 'oh yeeeeah. That stuff was happening' moment XD. Thanks for continuing to read! ^_^ (waves)
Beta by: BI0
Daisy is the tomboyish, clumsy yet fiery princess of Sarasaland and King Bowser is absolutely smitten. As a result chaos, turmoil and humor ensues. Why? Because things are never easy for the desert blossom.
oOoOoOo Tomboy and The Beast oOoOoOo
DAY 24: 4:30 AM
Dawn had just risen from its orange and pink matted hammock of gold-fused clouds as Emperor Sakuro sat in his office diligently studying his daily reports. Apricotto lay asleep curled in on the nearby loveseat, snoring softly and muttering gibberish under his breath as he tossed and turned.
Suddenly, the door to the emperor's office was flung open with a thunderous bang as Alabaster—flanked by an agitated group of councilmen—stormed forward. Apricotto woke up with a jolt, popping up with a terrible case of bedhead, "Wuh!? I'm up Mommy! I said I'm up already!"
Seldor Salini marched straight towards Sakuro's desk, his eyes wide with alarm, "Emperor, have you seen the latest reports about the Sarasaland border town? It is an absolute catastrophe."
"It's a nightmare!" Ztarlight cried hysterically, "The Aqualandians are furious and we look absolutely awful to the other sovereign nations!"
If Sakuro was bothered by such a report then it certainly didn't show, "I'm afraid I have not been informed yet. What has transpired?"
As the emperor carefully studied his small circle of advisors, it stood out to him that Zero Salini—who usually kept one of the best impartial business facades—appeared genuinely worried.
Zero stepped forward and gently placed a new stack of documents on Sakuro's desk, "…I really think you need to see this stat, Sir."
Sakuro grabbed the reports, quickly scanning the small-print words and picking out the most crucial details. The more he read, the more his hands began to tremble and the tighter he ground his jaw.
Yesterday, Aqualandian civilians murdered in cold blood.
…Families, women and children killed indiscriminately.
…Sarasalandian weaponry and cloth found at the site of the murder…Sarasaland is held suspect and the Aqualands are outraged…
…rumors of war and demands will soon be made...
A few profane words of choice bubbled upon the Emperor's lips as his hands clenched the papers tersely. It just seemed as if it was one calamity after another with these people. As if they just weren't meant to coexist peacefully with the Aqualands. Sakuro lowered the report and peered at his small group of Councilmen staidly, "Are we responsible for this?"
Every man in the room knew that no matter how much they pleaded their innocence, the Aqualands wouldn't take them at their word: there was too much bad blood between their nations. However that wasn't what Sakuro's inquiry entailed; he wanted to know if one of his councilmen, if someone associated with Sarasaland had a hand in this bloodshed.
Seldor and the other councilmen declined, "No Sir. There were no such orders placed from us. We have no business with the Aqualandian mercantile. We gain nothing from this."
"And, with the poor relationship we have with the Aqualands," Zero spoke, "It would be against our best interest to attack them. We've already checked with all the other councilmen, Sir. No one from Sarasaland had any hand in this."
Sakuro sat back in his chair and rubbed wearily at his eyes, suddenly feeling an oncoming headache beginning to pulse painfully between his eye sockets. Stars, what the hell is going on? Are we…being framed?
It was one thing after another: first the disbanding of the Aqualandian water treaty, and now this. All evidence pointed to Sarasaland as the perpetrator and this was nearly unsalvageable. Allies and neutral nations could be potentially turned by such a deplorable act.
There was no way out of this, was there? No amount of apologies, no amount of promises would make this better. No, this was a blight that Sarasaland would have to carry for the totality of her history. The first true blight Sarasaland has ever had as a kingdom. And it happened on my reign as emperor.
For a fleeting moment Sakuro felt fatigue seep through his bones until it filled him with a heavy exhaustion that made him feel twice his age. No matter how many sleepless nights he toiled, and all the days he worked to the bone, it didn't seem to be enough. Somehow, and in some way, he was failing his people.
Realizing that everyone was watching him, Sakuro peered up. Each councilman waited for his instruction and Apricotto's apprehension was painfully obvious and even childlike.
They needed him more than ever. He couldn't be weak. He was the emperor of Sarasaland and through hell and high water he would lead. Sakuro quickly straightened himself, perfectly composed; though he was running on less than a few hours of sleep, he had to take the reins once more.
"Though this situation looks grim," Sakuro spoke, "We need to act quickly and mitigate damage. Alabaster, please retrieve the Aqualandian monarch on the phone for me. Zero, please schedule a council meeting immediately and Seldor, you'll stay here with me for the moment."
Zero nodded and quickly swept out of the room. Alabaster blinked unsurely, "But Sire with all due respect, Prince Taurus is loony. He won't care to hear a single word you have to say. In fact I bet he's looking for a reason to start a fight."
"Apologies, I should have been more specific, please retrieve the ex-general Leo for me. I have a feeling he'll at least listen. He's the only person in that monarchy with sense."
Just as Alabaster spun to reach the phone, it began to ring. Alabaster quickly sprinted over and answered with a practiced, polite voice, "Emperor Sakuro's office, how can I help you?"
Alabaster listened, brows furrowed and with each passing second his complexion grew paler. Finally he peered up at the Emperor and with a shaking, sweaty hand, held the phone out towards him, "S-Sire it's for you. It's the General Leo."
Sakuro quickly retrieved the phone and slowly exhaled before answering. His voice was perfectly smooth and regulated, "General?"
"Emperor," to say that he sounded absolutely pissed was an understatement, "What the hell is this? What the hell kind of underhanded goombashit tactics are you trying here!?"
"General, I cannot express in words how deeply apologetic Sarasaland is. We have heard of the tragedy that has befallen your people and your kin are in our prayers. Rest assured that Sarasaland was not involved in this in anyway," Even to Sakuro his own words sounded hollow.
The General laughed maliciously, "Then how are you going to explain your weaponry at the scene of the crime? And what of the witnesses claiming that they saw Sarasalandians leaving the murder site? Are they all lying?"
"I realize nothing I can say will assuage the Aqualands of its growing hatred for Sarasaland," Sakuro spoke softly, "But know this, we are not responsible for such a reprehensible act."
"And despite all the evidence, I'm supposed to take you at your word!?" General Leo laughed bitterly.
"It is difficult, I know. However, the last thing Sarasaland wishes to do is stoke the flames of war. Logically, it is against our best interest to attack your people."
Sakuro paused, thinking and reaching for anything to make the incensed general listen "And of course morally it is reprehensible. We are not people who attack unarmed citizens. We find it shameful to attack women and children."
"You know I am not that kind of man to condole this type of atrocity, Leo. Once upon a time I was best friends with your brother. Your brother wouldn't befriend and trust a man who killed women and children."
For a long moment the General paused, weighing the merit of Sakuro's words. When he spoke again, the General's voice was lighter than a feather, "You know, for a very long time I've respected you Sakuro. I always thought you were an upstanding king. You always promoted peace and you always held yourself to a higher standard than most."
The General's voice suddenly faltered, "Hell. I even told Taurus after your meeting that I thought he handled this entire situation incorrectly. I told him he should have apologized to you and your daughter. How he behaved was not reflective of the Aqualandian morals."
Sakuro could feel his stomach knotting; this wasn't going well despite the General's genial words. The axe was coming, he could feel it.
The General's soft tone steeled and Sakuro innately knew he was through listening, "But this…This is underhanded and I really expected more from you. I'm really disappointed Sakuro."
"All the camaraderie we had in the past," The General's voice was a deep, low growl, "and the friendship you once had with my brother, consider it finished."
"Sarasaland has hurt and betrayed my people for the final time. And in the upcoming weeks, I really wish you luck. You and your people are going to need it."
There was a click and the line fell ominously silent. Sakuro stared at the phone blankly before placing it back onto the receiver. It took every last ounce of his will to remain completely composed; his pulsed skyrocketed as his blood buzzed through his ear drums. Sakuro returned to his seat and sat with his usual air of calm and poise, so much so that Seldor, Apricotto and Alabaster relaxed very minutely.
"So it went well, right?" Apricotto asked in a small voice.
"It couldn't have," Seldor whispered, his brows drawn together into a knot of wrinkles, "the Emperor barely spoke edgewise. They had already made up their minds."
Sakuro looked at each man, his countenance forbidding, "I certainly hope Zero scheduled that meeting as soon as humanly possible. We need to implement much stricter border patrol and defenses, now."
"And nooooooooow the six o'clock news! Staring Hornwort and Rhonda!"
A short jingle of radical rock and roll music tore through the air as the two head anchors rushed onto the set and dove into their seats. Hornwort impressively front-flipped over the desktop into his designated spot as Rhonda somersaulted into her seat. The second their asses hit their chairs, an explosion of flames shot out from several nearby stage props.
"Gooooo-oood flaming, fiery morning my fellow turtles!" Hornwort beamed. He and his female co-anchor spun to face the camera as multicolored spotlights suddenly exploded into existence, "Today have we got a show for you! Give it to me Rhonda!"
"Thanks Hornwort, today the scandal between the Aqua Humans and the Desert Humans has reached an all-time high! Reports state that a rogue group of Sarasaland vagrants have attacked an unarmed caravan of Aqualand merchants. Horribly enough women and children were also attacked and killed."
"Stars almighty!" Hornwort crowed, "These Human flesh sacks are absolutely losing their act! Sarasaland claims to want to avoid war and then…they turn around and do this!? This is some underhanded Goomba (BEEEP)!"
"And speaking of underhanded tactics," Rhonda pressed a manicured claw to her glittering earpiece, "We're receiving live coverage from the Darklandian palace. The head Firelands councilkoopa, Clawdus Koopa will make an address about the assault our king suffered in the Aqualands."
Hornwort threw his papers into the air and laughed, "I mean what? Did those Aquatic (BEEEP)holes think they could assault our king and get away with it!?"
"They're absolute idiots!" Rhonda laughed.
"Hey Aqualandians! Eat this! This is what we here at the Darklands think of you!" Hornwort laughed crazily and raised two blurred middle fingers to the camera, "Alll day baby! I've got all day!"
"And now, we bring live footage with the governor's press conference. Roll the footage."
The camera quickly panned to a busy, bustling conference room filled with a multitude of Koopas dressed in their business casual shells and dresses.
A large, looming cherry wood podium emblazoned with the Firelands' insignia stood beneath a harshly bright spotlight.
Clawdus Koopa appeared and walked to the podium with his regal, blood-red Firelands robes nearly dragging against the floor.
Beside him flocked a handful of his fellow Firelands councilkoopas, and on his right side interestingly enough was his beauteous daughter, Clawdia Koopa.
Clawdia and the Firelands Councilkoopas stepped onto the stage and stood behind Clawdus who took his place at the front of the enormous podium.
With a sharp glare from Clawdus, the entire room fell silent in a single sweep. The room's lighting was respectfully dimmed until the front spotlight cut through the room's darkness.
"My fellow Darklandians," Clawdus growled. His guttural voice echoed through the entire room as his red eyes roved over the crowd, "As the commanding head of the Firelands' council, I have been elected to address both our people and our enemies with this address."
He paused, diligently making eye contact with each Koopa he could, letting the silence and tension in the room rise. "As you know the cowards in the Aqualands had the audacity to attack our king. And now that our king is safely secured in our own borders, we're going to make these feosauros pay."
A bursting, bloodthirsty roar of approval rose from the stands, but Clawdus wasn't done, "No one will attack a Darklandian, let alone a Darklandian king and think that there will be no consequences."
"We are demanding a reparation from these foolish humans and I am overseeing it personally. This is how badly they've fucked up. And if they are smart…"
Clawdus pointedly turned his stern glare to the camera. The rest of his speech was directed to the viewing audience and particularly the Aqualandians themselves, "—they will make very little noise as they work to regain our favor. It has been a little bit of time since the Darklands has shown its true strength. They shall tread lightly or else they will become quite familiar with it very soon. Choose wisely humans."
With that, Clawdus stepped away from the podium and received a deafening, standing ovation. Every Koopa in the room was on their feet, clapping and roaring with approval.
Clawdus nodded to the crowd once before turning on his heel and walking out with his daughter and his fellow Firelands councilkoopas in tow.
Horton and Rhonda both shared an incredulous gaping stare before slowly facing their viewers. Rhonda seemed to have come to first, "Did you hear that!? Wow! What a statement! The Aqualands has, in no uncertain terms, been ordered to pay the Darklands a reparation!"
"And it's about time!" Horton slammed his fist against his desk, "You do not assault the Darklandian king and get away with it!
"And did you notice CouncilKoopa Clawdus had his daughter, the ex-queen with him?" Rhonda purred, "There's been rumors that she might be trying her hand in the political arena soon."
"Council elections will be coming up pretty soon," Hornwort grinned, "Could you imagine? Her and King Bowser working together? Stars I'd pay good coins to see that."
"Who knows?" Rhonda smirked, "Perhaps working together again could bring that old spark back?"
"Nah," Horton shrugged apathetically, "She's hotter than a flame but she's had eight kids, the spark won't come back after eight kids. It's gone."
"So the ball is in the Aqua kingdom's court," Rhonda turned to the camera as it panned in on her for a dramatic close up, "What will the Aqua Humans do? How much are the reparation we demand? How will the Aqua humans respond? Stay tuned as we're continue to provide any breaking news! And once more thanks for joining us on the Daily Growl!"
"Staaaaaaay tuned Koopas!" Hornwort grinned, "Things are gonna get wild!"
Day 23 9:30 AM
It wasn't too long of a ride as my royal carriage trundled and bounced along towards the Darklandian borders. Whenever I left Sarasaland it was always fascinating how the farther I traveled from home, how vastly the landscape changed.
The desert always morphed from rich, golden sand dunes into deep, darker palettes of burgundy, gray and charcoal landscapes as the Darklandian borders ebbed closer and nearer. Clawdia mentioned she had wanted to speak business, and though her letter was fairly vague, I was dressed business casual in a flattering dark gold pantsuit and reasonable tangerine flats.
Lady Angora put some thought into the outfit; it was dressy and yet comfortable enough that I wouldn't be miserable. It felt odd leaving Firefly behind; this was my first trip to the Darklands where I was going without him as a travel buddy and it was also the first time that I wouldn't be visiting Bowser.
Several times before I left, I had thought of informing him of our business meeting, but something told me that would be idiotic. Involving Bowser with his ex-wife who he virulently hated would be a disaster.
This would be a quick day trip; I would show up at the Blackthorne estate, talk business for a few hours with Clawdia and return home before the day's end. Sarasaland needed as many allies as possible and we would be foolish not to at least hear Clawdia out.
She was the daughter of a very old, powerful family in the Darklands and perhaps we could tap into their connections and resources. And maybe even get Clawdus and his group of Fireland bloodsuckers off our backs.
Looming nearer and nearer was the first territory where the Darklandian border enforcement awaited. My carriage came to a rolling stop as one of the Koopa patrol agents stuck his head out of their checkpoint center.
"Hey! Good morning Princess!" As the Hammerbro waved, a few other fellow border patrol agents appeared; they had probably been on guard duty nearby.
I understood that seeing a human near the Darklands was always a rare sight, so the Koopas never missed an opportunity to stare. Yes, even the big bad officers were curious too! I recognized the congenial Hammerbro and gave him a friendly wave of my own, "Hey there Lefty! How goes things here?"
"It's alright," As Toss exchanged documentation and passports with Lefty, he quickly peered over my paperwork, "I feel like I should be asking you how things have been going. You Desert humans have really pissed those pale Fishheads off."
When he handed my passport and license back, I frowned, "Yeah I know…It's starting to become really bad. They've cut off all exports and the areas near the Sarasaland-Aqualandian border are getting really rough. A lot of riots and looting have been going on."
"Well if it makes you feel better, they're about to get their watery asses kicked with that reparation," Lefty laughed cruelly.
"Serves them right for attacking the king," a nearby Firebro sneered, "I think we're letting them off easy."
Thinking about the Aqualands was really the last thing I wanted to do, so I quickly cut in, "Everything good?"
"Everything's good for launch. But I've got one last thing Princess. " Lefty quickly glanced around and when he was sure his patrol buddies weren't watching us, he reached into his shell and pulled out a letter of all things. The envelope was a soft lavender and I thought I smelt cologne on it.
I peered at the envelope then smirked at him; I knew a love letter when I saw one, "What? Did you forget to pay your taxes or something?"
Lefty was pulling what looked like a Koopa version of the infamous puppy eyes, "Could you do me a favor O fair maiden of the sands?"
Fair maiden of the Sands huh? I'd like to see how far this kiss-ass thing will go.
"Give me one more title like that again," I smirked, "and I'll do it."
This time he even took a knee and held a hand to his heart, "O desert rose, could you please give this to Lady LeCatte for me?"
Though amused, I rolled my eyes and held my hand out, "Alright. Alright. I'll do it."
"Great!" He quickly killed the supplication, "And one last thing. This is for her eyes and only her eyes. So don't get into my business and read this!"
Though I arched a dubious brow, I accepted the letter, "Yeah sure…I'll give it to her when I see her tonight."
He beamed so widely that his eyes nearly squinted shut and he threw a happy fist in the air, "Wahoo! Thanks Princess! You're awesome! The Blackthorne estate isn't that far from here, just a couple of miles in fact."
"Okay!" I waved to Lefty one last time, "Thanks Lefty! Don't work too hard!" And with that we were on our way once more.
As Princess Daisy's carriage tottered down the road towards the luxurious estates, Lefty and a few of his fellow Riders watched with amused smirks. The nearest Firebro turned to face him with a wicked grin, "So…that's the Human girl the king likes, huh?"
"That's her alright," Lefty grinned, crossing his arms, "I didn't think much of her until I saw her play soccer. She's pretty tough for a flesh bag. Pretty likeable human."
"Yeah, I'll give her that, she's not like other humans," the Firebro added in, "She doesn't flinch at all around Koopas. It's almost like she ain't afraid of us. She plays with Prince Junior like he's her own Koopaling."
"She's kind of cute…for a Human girl," A second Hammerbro weighed in with a smirk, "Not my taste though."
Lefty laughed, "But the real question is, when are we going to tell the King that the princess is going to see his ex-wife?"
They all shared one long amused glance between each other before bursting into riotous laughter. "Ohhh man," the Firebro grinned wildly, "The King is going to lose his shit!"
Lefty laughed, "It's going to be a shitstorm, but my Stars it's going to be amusing as hell. We'll alert him in thirty minutes."
"Stars, I can't wait to see this!"
"Everytime the king gets pissed," the Fire bro laughed, "he has that weird vein in his throat that bulges. It's kinda gross but kinda funny at the same time."
"Yeah man," Lefty nodded, "That thing has a life of its own."
The border patrol Koopas all grinned at each other before sharing a loud, rancorous laugh. They all knew good and well that when King Bowser came blasting through here, they were going to have front row seats to the 'King Bowser losing his shit' show. And quite frankly nothing was more amusing than their king losing his head. Though Koopatube had thousands of hilarious videos of it, seeing it happen in person was priceless.
"We're here Princess," Toss called from outside the carriage.
The carriage pulled to a screeching halt and the second my door was opened for me, I stepped out in awe. The Blackthorne estate was adorned with a long emerald-green pasture filled with towering mazes of flowering plants and brilliant crimson roses. A slew of servants were hard at work in the spacious front lawn, tending to the flowers and diligently manicuring the lawn.
A long, beautiful winding stone pathway swirled passed a spiraling water fountain and led to the ostentatious front door. I walked up the pathway making sure to smile and greet a few of the servants who watched me curiously.
Before I could reach the towering entryway, a servant pulled the large double doors open, "Princess Sarasaland?"
"Hi!" I waved, "That's me. How are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks for asking. Lady Blackthorne will be available in a moment," The Koopette maid moved aside and motioned towards the door, "Would you like to wait in the lobby?"
I followed her inside and the first thing that hit me was the sweet fragrant aroma of freshly cut roses and the astounding modern décor. The living room was filled with gorgeous dark leather furniture, towering abstract sculptures, and bundles of bright roses nurtured in clear vases.
The walls of her front room were filled with a multitude of canvases filled with art that ranged from abstract to modern pieces. Just as I was studying a colorful oil painting, I saw Clawdia materialize from one of the nearest hallways.
"Princess Sarasaland, it is great to have you here and welcome to the Blackthorne estate," Clawdia approached with a soft smile and her arms thrown wide in an open, welcoming gesture.
As usual she was a radiant vision of beauty, dressed to kill in a flowing, gorgeous midnight blue gown that rippled and swirled like water with each step she took. Like most of her clothes it completely flattered her curvaceous figure and demanded one's attention.
I met Clawdia halfway and shook her hand, "Thank you! It's great to be here."
Clawdia smiled enigmatically, her blue eyes creasing happily, "I realize how much of an inconvenience this is to meet so soon, but I really appreciate you coming here to hear me out. Let's venture to the dining room, shall we? I have a very light luncheon and tea waiting us."
With a beckoning sweep of her hand, I trailed Clawdia to her dining room. The room's walls were filled with canvases of Koopas, probably her ancestors. They all were well-dressed and far too imperious to smile in a family portrait. Bright, warm sunlight flooded in from the large circular sunroof and danced upon the dining room's long table. Sets of nearby rose vases gave the otherwise staid room a bright burst of color.
"I'm guessing you have a thing for flowers?" I asked, laughing lightly.
"Guilty as charged," Clawdia laughed with a sensuous purr, "Taking care of plants has been a hobby of while for quite some time. I've converted several aces of the Blackthorne estate into a greenhouse. I have a weakness for red roses. They're truly beautiful. Let's have a seat here shall we?"
The moment we sat at her refurbished oak table, servants flooded in, setting down dishes filled with light finger foods, sandwiches and delicious pastries. Beautiful porcelain tea kettles and saucers were carefully set in an aesthetically pleasing fashion and once their tasks were finished, the servants bowed before silently dispersing through the estate.
"Please help yourself," Clawdia smiled warmly, "Everything has been freshly prepared for your visit."
I wasn't sure where I stood with Clawdia, whether she was friend or acquaintance so I deployed my best etiquette, eating and sipping delicately. No point in giving her any ammunition to use against me. Though, the pastries were really delicious and fresh.
Stars I wish I could stuff my face right now...
Clawdia took one final sip from her cup before lightly resting her porcelain on the table, "So you're probably wondering why I have asked you here for tea."
"Among other things, yes."
"In the letter I wrote to you, I had mentioned a business venture. In a few upcoming months the Firelands council will hold an election for a chair," Clawdia spoke with a measured cadence. She was clearly gauging my interest, "And I would like to run for the position."
I made a dubious look, "Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't your father the head of the Firelands council? I'm more than sure he can pull several strings for you to have that seat."
Clawdia arched a fine brow and smiled with a touch of amusement, "Yes. Lord Clawdus is my father. However I would like to win this election fair and square: no aid from my father, and no help from my position as a councilman's daughter."
The ex-queen peered beyond me as if she were mentally elsewhere, "As a Koopette who has always been someone's queen, or someone's mother, for once I would like to have something of my own. Yes Princess, I would like to earn this position through my own merit."
I stared at Clawdia hard, trying to measure the truth behind her words; so far it sounded good. But where did I fall into play here?
"So, then why do you need me?" I asked, frowning in confusion, "Last time I checked, most Koopas despise humans."
Clawdia smiled equably, "Contrary to popular belief, you're very well-liked here."
"Uh? Are you forgetting that your Father and his councilkoopas hate me?"
"That would be quite hard to do," she tried to hide a grin. With a subtle shift, she rested her chin beneath a slender palm, "And of course, that is another reason why I have invited you here. I would like to pose an offer: I am going to run for the open Firelands councilkoopa position and I would like your endorsement."
Her beautiful feline eyes sharpened calculatedly, "There shall be benefits for you, of course. If I win myself a seat in the most prestigious council, you will have a very powerful ally amongst foes. And just as you pointed out, whether I wish to avoid it or not, I am Clawdus Koopa's daughter and no one would wish to make a foe of me."
She began to pour herself a second cup of tea, stirring in a splash of cream, "The Firelands are Sarasaland's biggest enemy amongst the Koopa and I can be your best ally. Your first line of attack and your final line of defense. I can easily sway your foes. Think upon this for a moment."
I sat back in my chair and thought about this; trying to see this from all angles. She had a point: if Clawdia won the chair for councilkoopa none of the other Firelands' Koopas would strike out against her.
Her father was the most powerful and most ruthless councilkoopa of the Firelands, and Clawdia would be a powerful ally to have. And she could make her own decisions with or without Bowser's blessing. And that leads to my biggest point of contention—supporting Clawdia's rise to a powerful seat would be in complete opposition to Bowser. Hell, he might even see it as a deep-seated betrayal. He hated his ex-queen and painted her as a selfish, ruthless Koopette.
I peered at Clawdia through a hard stare, "You know good and well that I'm King Bowser's friend and that helping you would piss him off."
Clawdia seemed unperturbed and perhaps she was even expecting for me to have mentioned that. She nodded her head, "Yes, I anticipated as much. You hold your friends very dear and I find that respectable but I fear that Bowser's slander may have turned you against me."
She peered up at me through dark, thick lashes and a sultry smile, "Perhaps you ought to hear my side of the story as well? Bowser has had his chance to speak of our marriage. Turnabout is only fair, no?"
Stars, this afternoon tea was getting a whole lot deeper than I thought it would. Clawdia watched me carefully, calmly sipping at her tea as she awaited my response. Everything with her seemed well-thought out; she had anticipated my responses and read my concerns.
"Okay," I nodded my head, "Tell me."
I took a deep gulp, hoping that I would choke on this tea and drown. Clawdia gave a smile that finally reached her eyes, "Very well then. Where shall I begin?"
As King Bowser was hard at work looking over several tariff proposals from his council, a light knock pounded against his door. Though he didn't look away from his paperwork, Bowser frowned, "Yeah? What is it? Kinda busy here."
"King Bowser! It's uh…Kamek and Kammy here," Kamek supplied from behind the door, "Can we come in? We've just received some urgent news. You'll definitely want to hear it."
Though Bowser rolled his eyes and muttered about the 'old wrecks disturbing his work,' he pressed a button beneath his desk and the door to his office rolled open. Had Bowser been paying a little more attention to his staff, he would have seen the hesitant glance his two trusted advisors shared with one another. They had a silent squabble amongst each other, "You tell him!"
"No! You tell him!"
"You tell him you cowardly bone bag!" Kammy hissed quietly, "You took the phone call, so you tell him!"
"Why don't you do it!?" Kamek growled under his breath.
"Oh for the love of—" Kammy marched further into the office, "Lord Bowser, may we have a moment of your time Sire?"
Bowser glanced up at Kammy, his frown deepening with ominous intent, "This had better be Stardamn important. Here I am trying to do productive work and yet you two old crackpots are stopping me."
"Oh Stars!" Kamek squeaked nervously, "That's his kill face! He's gonna kill us!"
"Sire, we have important information you'd like to hear and it pertains to Princess Sarasaland," Kammy spoke.
Bowser's stoic expression instantly transformed into something that was both hopeful and slightly crazed, "Really!? Well lay it on me!"
"Kamek," Kammy grinned with nothing but malice, "Your King awaits your announcement."
Bowser turned his hopeful expression from Kammy and dead onto Kamek. Knowing that he was just setup, Kamek shot Kammy one last venomous glare before smiling weakly at his awaiting King, "Well…uh…S-Sire. I received a call from border patrol and uh…as of thirty minutes ago, Princess Sarasaland passed through security Zone A."
"Huh!? Princess Sarasaland is here!? Flower is here!?" Bowser grinned widely his brows nearly touching his hairline, "As in. Here."
Kamek's expression only grew more and more nervous. He tugged at his collar and laughed uneasily, "Uh…yes Sire…she is…"
"She's here!? But usually I always know several weeks in advance!" Bowser glanced at his paperwork and laughed crazily, "Well if Flower's comin' here then I ain't doin' shit! The hell with this!"
And with a crazed, booming laugh, Bowser threw the papers in the air and merrily torched them with his fire breathing. Kammy watched the spectacle with a touch of amusement as Kamek looked as if he wanted to cry; oh of course he'd have to be the unfortunate tool to break the bad news to Bowser.
"Oh Stars…Help me," Kamek mumbled.
"Weeehahaha!" Bowser happily spun in his big, important chair smiling as widely as any fool, "Flower's coming! And I am humming! La dee da dum!"
"Oh Stars he's singing now," Kamek whispered nervously to Kammy, "And he's singing badly. This must be stopped!"
"Then hurry up and tell him!" Kammy hissed. In the beginning she thought it was a tad bit funny to screw over Kamek; delivering bad news to Bowser always made you solely responsible for what was being said. But now that she watched how happy her King had become, when he received the bad news he would only take things so much more worse.
"So she decided to surprise me with a visit eh?" Bowser smirked, resting his head in his palm dreamily. Then he froze and suddenly peered down at himself, "Wait a minute! She's coming!? And I look like this!?"
Kammy frowned, "Sire, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the way you look. You look…like your usual self."
"I look like a hobo! She can't see me like this!" Bowser charged over to the mirror—yes, of course the vain Darklandian king had a mirror in his office—and pulled at his under eyelids, unintentionally making really unflattering expressions, "Look at this! Staring at all that paperwork has given me bags under my eyes! Bags for Star damn days! It's like I'm packed to go on a trip! A trip to…to under eye hell!"
"Sire, now you're just being ridiculous," Kammy harrumphed.
"W-Wait!" Kamek began to sweat, flapping his arms around wildly to grab Bowser's fleeting attention, "Sire, there's more to my message! I'm not done yet!"
"Kammy, get my tailor stat!" Bowser growled, snapping his fingers, "And…have someone bring those cucumber…thingies Wendy uses on her eyes! Do they really work?"
"Sire!" Kamek screamed at the top of his lungs, "LISTEN TO ME!" He raised his wand and set off relatively harmless, though bright fireworks to grab his King's attention. Both Bowser and Kammy halted to peer at him askance.
"Well, that was completely unnecessary," Bowser huffed, crossing his arms and arching a brow, "You could have just asked to speak to me if you had an issue. We're all adults here..."
"Sire…" Kamek huffed, "As I was trying to say, yes, the princess did cross the border but," he paused, "She is not heading to the palace."
"What?" Bowser frowned, "What do you mean she's not coming here? Where the hell else can she go?"
"The border patrol called and said she was heading to the…the…" Kamek's voice fell to a whisper at the end, "the Blackthorne estates…"
Bowser froze, "The Blackthorne estates…The only person who lives there is…"
There was a terrifying moment where Bowser's stupor slowly morphed into an eerily calm anger, "Kamek. Why is Flower going to see my ex-wife?"
"I-I-I don't know Sire!" Kamek squealed, "She just is! That's all we know."
Bowser surprised both of his advisors when he hopped over his desk with astounding agility and lifted Kamek by his collar, "Flower is going to see Clawdia!? Did I hear that right!? Is that correct!? Answer my questions or I'll keep asking you more questions!"
"Yes!" Kamek squawked, "Yes! Yes to all your questions!"
With each word Bowser shook Kamek like a rag doll, his eyes wide in horror, "Do you know what kind of crap Clawdia is probably saying about me!?"
"Uh?" Kamek peered around unsurely.
"Defamatory shit!" Bowser cried, claws pulling at his mane in frustration.
Clawdia laughed cruelly, her eyes wide and crazed as she beckoned Flower with a coaxing flick of her index claw. As the ex-queen smiled, her forked tongue whipped around wildly, "Gwehehehe! Wanna hear sssssomething funny Princessss?"
Clawdia leaned towards Flower and cupped a hand to her ear as she whispered excitedly. With each passing second, Flower's happy expression transformed into surprise then horror. Once she finished, Clawdia smirked as Flower gasped, pulling back in shock.
"B-B-But I thought he would be big!" Flower gasped, stunned.
Clawdia laughed wickedly as her blue curly mane suddenly transformed into wreathing snakes, "Liesssss! He's smaller than…" As Clawdia leaned forward, ominous shadows suddenly appeared on her face as her smile twisted sinisterly, "A peanut."
"Gasp!" Flower gasped, "Oh well…and here I thought he was a hottie...I g-guess I suddenly don't want to have his beautiful redheaded babies anymore..."
Both women stared at each other before laughing uproariously as the snakes in Clawdia's hair also joined in on the cruel laughter, dancing happily.
Bowser roared furiously, raising his fists to the sky in reproachful wrath before he dropped Kamek on his ass and barreled out of his office and down the hall as if he were on fire, "I'LL TEACH THAT WOMAN TO LIE ABOUT MY PEANUTS!"
"King Bowser wait!" Kammy and Kamek appeared in the hallway to watch the last of him disappear around the corner. Servants gasped, stepping out of his warpath and jumping out of his way.
"Let's be rational about this!" Kammy yelled, but he was gone.
Kammy watched, worried as Kamek shook his head, "Have you ever wondered about what really goes on in the King's head, Kammy? I bet it's a very scary place…"
"Oh, nevermind Kamek," Kammy frowned, "Let's just alert border patrol that the king will be coming in. And furiously."
Kamek went to the nearest phone line and dialed a few buttons, "Hello this is Kamek Koopa. Hi there Lefty! How are ya? Well that's great to hear. Say…we have a code bravo. I repeat a code bravo. Yes, we all know that code bravo really isn't a code and it reaaally is just coded talk to say that the King has had his masculinity threatened and will act irrationally! Oh Stars! Please stop laughing it isn't even that fun-okay, it kind of is hilarious...No, please don't put this on Koopa tube…There's enough online debauchery with the king as is!"
"When Bowser and I were married," Clawdia spoke reflectively, staring beyond my shoulder as her mind wandered into her past, "As you already know we were arranged by our fathers. Bowser and I are completely different personalities and Father stressed that I ought to do my best to make him happy."
"He is the king of the Darklands after all," Clawdia smiled with a distinctive lack of warmth, "and it was no secret that there were many Koopettes who wanted to be his concubine."
I peered up at Clawdia and though I kept a straight face, my fists clenched, "King Bowser didn't have…concubines, did he?"
"No," I released a breath I hadn't realized I held as Clawdia continued, "The late King Morton had several and Bowser had sworn that he would never hurt his wife and children the way Morton hurt his mother. I digress, but Bowser and I wanted two separate things from our marriage."
"I understood that as a king, Bowser would always be busy and he was. He was always so busy and so…detached, so cold," Clawdia nearly whispered her words, "The only time he thought of me was at night, when I could…please him."
I wordlessly arched a brow; uh oh. Methinks we're starting to get into some juicy territory here.
Clawdia laughed softly as she flicked a long, silky blue curl off her shoulder, "I will not lie. It was…enjoyable. In fact the only time I could elicit emotion from him was during our nights. After awhile I felt as if I was being used; during the day I was practically invisible to him and only at night when he desired attention did he come to me. He only desired to be in my company when he wanted fun. I did nothing more than sire his children."
"Hmm," I mumbled thoughtfully.
I certainly hope I'm not blushing as badly as I think I am. I must have been as moments later, Claudia smiled softly, "My apologies for being so overt. But it plays an important role in the dysfunction of our marriage."
While this information made me highly uncomfortable, I began to listen more intently. I could understand from Clawdia's perspective where the faults in her marriage lie; I too would have problems with a husband who only desired me for night actives. There was no camaraderie, no bonding in their relationship it seemed. If what she was saying was true...
"Before I met Bowser I was a highly sought after Koopette. I still am," she purred sensuously; and I definitely didn't doubt that; she was painfully beautiful with her smoky, seductive eyes, voluptuous figure and even her poise was alluring.
"For awhile I did everything in my power to salvage my marriage," Clawdia tapped a manicured claw against her ruby-red lips in thought, "I tried to visit him during any of his breaks to spend time with him, but he was never interested in speaking, or getting to know me. I could never pull more than single syllable responses from him."
"I always styled my hair in the most glamourous styles and wore the most beguiling dresses to catch his eye," Clawdia's lips thinned into a displeased line, "But nothing ever worked. If anything he was more interested in that yellow-haired human princess."
"Peach…" I muttered. If she had anything negative to say about my sweet older cousin, then I would cut this exchange short.
"Yes her," Clawdia's expression cooled, "After awhile I stopped trying because it wasn't worth it. Anyways, I kept myself busy with charities and organizing meetings with other court women. While I attended charities I ran into many Koopas who were enamored with me, in a way that my husband had never been."
"They noticed my elaborated hairstyles, complimented my clothes and my beauty. They pursued me with such passion, gifts, expensive vacations, promises of love…" Clawdia allowed a little bit of a dreamy, star struck glow to highlight her pretty features, "It was with these men that I could escape my horrid, dull life. My loveless marriage to a Koopa who barely acknowledged I existed."
I remained silent, trying to make head and tail of Clawdia's account. She suddenly didn't seem like the evil, selfish wife that she had been portrayed as. I was beginning to sympathize with some of Clawdia's points.
"So was I wrong, Princess Sarasaland?" she asked. Suddenly her sharp, almond-shaped eyes were fixed upon me, "I found happiness where I could. I exhausted myself to make everyone else happy but myself. Bowser wouldn't have even known about my multiple affairs if I didn't tell him."
"We were having another argument and I threw it in his face. I'll never forget his expression. He looked terrifying beyond words. Never had I feared for my life so. When he told me to leave the palace and never return, I knew it was for my own protection. I took what I could carry that day, kissed Ludwig, then fled. So again Princess, what is your stance here?"
I stumbled on my words, "I…I don't know. I mean…I see both sides but when you married him, you took a vow to remain loyal to him. He was loyal to you, wasn't he?"
"I'm not quite sure about that," Clawdia replied softly, "Perhaps he never stepped out with another Koopette, but I was never his first priority. If it wasn't his kingdom, it was his work and if it wasn't his work, it was his obsession with ruling the Mushroom kingdom. What would you have done if you were me?"
"I don't know," I muttered softly, truly unsure, "I can't say. I'm not you and I'm not in your situation. But I…think I would have divorced before I…had an affair."
"Do you think I'm wicked?" Clawdia asked, "That I'm the selfish monster I have been portrayed as?"
I studied Clawdia for a moment, really staring at her. I was seeing past the perfect, pretty exterior and the expensive clothing. She had to be lonely, desperate even to seek the approval of her hated ex's best friend. That or perhaps vindictive. But she only seemed to want an ally.
"No," I finally replied, "I don't think you're evil or selfish. I think you and Bowser shouldn't have been arranged together. That, and you two could have worked on your communication."
Clawdia smiled very minutely, "This. This is why I would like to become an ally with you."
I arched an eyebrow, "Because I'm the friend of your ex?"
Clawdia laughed aloud and the sound of her laughter was ringing and melodious, "No, no. It's because you don't let the opinions of others sway you. Bowser is your friend, yet here you are, sitting here and hearing my account with impartial scrutiny."
"I don't know," I laughed, "I'm still very much on his side. But yes, he is a friend of mine."
"Friend?" Clawdia grinned and arched a devilish brow, "Are you sure about that? He seems very close to you, my dear."
For a moment I froze as Clawdia's discerning gaze swept over me, "What? Yes! Of course I'm sure! Of course he is!"
"Hmm," she smiled secretively, "If you say so. By the way, what a nice necklace. Flawless Darklandian rubies. Large and glittering and a deep, rich blood red. Only someone very wealthy could have purchased them for you. Someone very wealthy and someone who wouldn't mind spending a small fortune on someone very beloved. But yes. Of course you're just friends."
Belatedly I grasped at my glittering jewelry as Clawdia smirked knowingly; from the day Bowser had presented me with the beautiful necklace I had never taken it off. I usually wore very little jewelry, but wearing his gift was something I loved.
Clawdia was a wealthy Koopette born into old money; why didn't I think that she would not only recognize the Darklandian gemstone but she would also be very knowledgeable about how expensive my necklace was. For a fleeting moment I felt exposed as she continued to stare at me with a sly grin.
"We're friends…" I croaked weakly, touching my necklace.
She laughed luminously, "Of course you are dear. That necklace says—"
A servant suddenly rushed into the dining room, startling us both. I gave a sigh of relief; whew! Saved! She bowed to Clawdia before straightening up. Her brows were creased in worry, "Lady Blackthorne, I've got urgent news for you."
"What is it Belle? You seem worried, dear."
Ha! I was saved by...the Belle.
...I'll kindly see myself out now.
"I-It's King Bowser!" the maid shrieked, "And he's headed this way!"
I peered at Clawdia worriedly, "I'm so sorry. I should have let him know I was coming here. Now he's going to blow this whole thing out of proportion."
"No need to apologize," Clawdia was still calm, "Our meeting is our business. Though he may be king, he isn't privy to knowing every single thing that happens in his kingdom. But please, no matter what happens when he arrives here, please give my proposal true thought."
I nodded, "Right. I promise."
Once more, I earned a true smile from Clawdia, "Superb." Clawdia fell quiet, eyes sharpening, "I suspect he should be here any moment now…"
And it certainly wasn't long when I heard a thunderous bang from the front doors. Servants were fluttering to and fro in panic as Clawdia watched with admirable calm as Bowser all but bulldozed his way through her golden-gilded double doors.
"Belle," Clawdia turned towards her nervous maid, "Please tell the other servants to give us a few moments alone."
"But Lady Blackthorne," the maid whispered, "Are you sure you're safe with him? By yourself? We all know the king is rather…erm..displeased with you…"
"I will be fine," Clawdia reassured, "Now please. Round up the others and have them go. I think things will soon become rather…heated."
Yes Ma'am," with that, her young maid bowed and quickly exited the room. We could hear deafening stomps approach until Bowser turned around one last hallway and appeared at the doorway.
His eyes darted between us speculatively before he finally decided to expel all his ire upon Clawdia. His maw smoldered with thick black smoke as he loomed nearer, eyes thinned into slits, "You…"
"Hello Bowser," Clawdia intoned coolly, "We're just having tea. Would you like to join us?"
Bowser sneered so wretchedly that his entire set of front incisors were bared, "Join you for tea? This is what I think of joining you for some tea."
He spun around and violently knocked the set of fine china off the table in one single ferocious motion. Beautiful delicate plates, saucers and porcelain kettles smashed against the floor as trails of tea seeped down the wall. Clawdia hadn't even batted an eye.
I jolted from my seat, surprised by his show of explosive anger, "Bowser!"
"That," Bowser grinned coldly, "Is what I think of joining you for tea."
I stood, jaw agape as I peered at Bowser questioningly; should I say something about this? I realize I don't have a chow in this fight but even this behavior was unacceptable. And yet Clawdia hadn't budged a single inch; she remained the epitome of calm. I could see that her indifference was beginning to seep under Bowser's skin.
"You're upset," she intoned quietly and that was all she gave him.
"So what's this?" he growled. He motioned to the two of us with a sneer, "What are you trying to pull Clawdia? Out of the blue you suddenly feel like having tea with Princess Daisy? Just because, huh?"
Clawdia delicately lifted her tea cup from her lap and took a measured sip, "With all due respect, I truly don't believe that is any of your business, King Bowser."
"Business!?" Bowser squawked angrily, "It is my Stardamn business when my scheming, conniving ex-wife tries to poison my—"
"By law you would need a warrant to even come into my residence. Do you have one?" Clawdia asked, perfectly equable.
I slowly turned to peer at Bowser; she had a point. Bowser's expression only grew scarier, darker and wilder and for a moment I thought he was liable to lose his control, "You forget Koopette that I'm the motherfucking King. I don't need a warrant to be here."
Okay, I can see this is clearly not going to go anywhere productive. I need to step in. This wasn't going to improve and they were going to keep at this until one of them—Bowser—lost his composure.
"Bowser," I finally interjected calmly.
He whirled around, fury still etched into his features and his eyes orange and broiling in their usual sign of ire, "And you!" his voice was nothing less than savage, "You traitor!"
I gave him a stern glance, "Hey. Bowser. Slow your role please. I realize how this looks to you, but I need you to behave rationally for a second. Even as I stand here, you shouldn't ever question whose side I'm on."
"Rationally!? She brought you here to turn you against me," Bowser snarled and with each passing second he spoke I could feel his control diminishing. His voice grew thicker, more beastly and carnal, "She wants to ruin…our good thing! One of the few good things I still have!"
Something in Clawdia's tight expression changed. She studied Bowser then sent a long, measured glance my way and honed in on my ruby necklace. I was all too aware of her gauging us but I had work to do; I was too busy trying to keep Bowser from rampaging.
I walked over to him until we were inches apart and gently reached for his hand, entwining my fingers with his. I could see his ire melting, softening, "Actually Bowser, Clawdia has been pretty objective. She's yet to say anything bad about you. And besides, I wouldn't stay here and let someone bad talk my best friend."
"Lies," though he was still angry, his fury had dulled; he was even speaking softer now, the animalistic growl vanished from his voice.
Clawdia laughed softly, "You call her a liar and yet you know she's telling the truth. She has no change of heart rate, no perspiration and yet that just upsets you even more, doesn't it Borscho? You're looking for a fight when there is none to be had here."
Bowser whirled around to cut her a sharp glare, "It's not her I don't trust. It's you. Unlike Daisy, I know your serpentine ways Suska. Underneath the expensive clothes and refined manners you're a heartless monster."
Clawdia finally allowed emotion to pass over her features; discontent it looked like. After a few moments of silence she replied softly, "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps in our dreadful past I was cruel to you. Perhaps that's why I want to change."
Bowser laughed with cruel mirth, "Oh you've changed alright Baby doll, the same way a snake sheds its skin, or maybe how a chameleon changes its color. You're still the same. The same evil witc—"
"You will respect me in my own house," Clawdia's voice was nothing less than artic, "if I can be cordial to you, then you ought to return the same level of respect."
Bowser glowered at her through eyes so thin they were nearly closed. Smoke roiled from his mouth in a voluminous clot of black smog as he flexed his tense fists.
The King slowly turned to face me and though he was furious, I saw something vulnerable in his expression. When he spoke, his voice was soft, "If…you ever considered yourself my friend, then you'll leave with me. Right here and right now."
"Bowser…That's not fair," I frowned.
"It's either me or her!" Bowser snapped, his eyes wild and furious, "You might be a happy go lucky person, but newsflash Daisy, not everyone can coexist as friends! Just standing here in her house, breathing her scent and looking upon her is making me sick to my Stardamn stomach."
Clawdia rose to her feet and slammed her tea cup against the table. It broke in a splatter of shards as she glared at him, "How dare you come into my house and threaten my guest with such a caveat. And here I was planning to make peace with you!"
Bowser spun to face his ex-wife with an exaggeratedly slow turn, "Make peace? You want to 'make peace' with whom? It certainly can't be me 'cause I don't deal with lying, backstabbing Koopettes. You forget all the hell you dragged Ludwig, Morton and I through when you divorced me."
The King stomped over to her until they were inches apart, glowering at each other eye to eye. When I tried to reach forward and stop him, Bowser raised his claw, signaling me to back off. Clawdia didn't back down and neither would Bowser; they stared one another down in a long, unblinking glare.
When Bowser spoke, his voice was soft yet lethal, "If you call recall Sweetie Pie, a long time ago I had offered to give you any amount of coins to leave the Koopalings in peace. And you didn't."
"You dragged us all through the mud to ruthlessly extract your revenge on me and you made our innocent Koopalings suffer in the process. They hated seeing their mommy and daddy fight, I could remember all the nights I'd catch Morton crying over it in his room and Ludwig pretending that it didn't bother him."
"I imagine it must have been hell for them: I know their classmates asked them stupid, intrusive questions because the media loved being involved in our divorce."
Bowser paused, trying to reign in his building temper, "Having a spat with me is one thing, but fucking around with my Koopalings is unforgivable. To this very day Morton won't look you in the eye. I wonder why."
Clawdia stared at Bowser sternly, her gaze unwavering and harsh. Then in the next bat of her long lashes her expression was soft, "You're absolutely right. What I did to them and to you back then was nothing less than deplorable…And ultimately…I'm sorry."
The room fell into a stretch of staid silence. Bowser stared at Clawdia blankly, as if he couldn't compute he had received a legitimate apology from someone he had grown to hate for years. Clawdia exhaled deep enough that her shoulders sank with dejected defeat.
Then I suddenly saw it, that beneath all the sparkling jewels, perfectly applied makeup and glamor of expensive clothes, Clawdia was vulnerable and exhausted. I knew Bowser must have saw it too; he would never admit it but the faintest edge of his sneer softened microscopically.
"Bowser," she whispered, "I want us to start clean. To start fresh and I know I am asking for so much after our intense hatred. Does all this seem sudden and unexpected? Well, I just recently found out…"
Bowser watched Clawdia closely, his expression closed, "Found out what?"
Clawdia lowered her head and began to visibly tremble. When she spoke again her voice was fragile, "…As I speak my mother is dying. She's sick and dying Bowser…wasting away…and I'm completely terrified."
The ex-queen heaved several deep sighs, no longer looking like the intimidating vainglorious creature she always was. When she looked up her eyes sparkled with unshed tears, "It's made me reevaluate several priorities and one of the few wrongs I'd like to right is with you and the children."
Oh Stars. She has to be telling the truth, no one can look that distraught and fake such emotion. I was a third party bystander and I felt empathetic for her. Even though Bowser's tempestuous expression lost a lot of its heat, he sternly raised a hand as if to block her barrage of woes, "You think I'm just going to forgive you just like that? No. This isn't the place nor the time for this."
"Fair enough," she muttered softly.
After staring at Clawdia scrupulously for several seconds, Bowser faced me. I couldn't decipher his closed expression, "I need to get the hell out of here."
And without waiting for my response, he turned and left. It didn't escape me how quiet he was when he left. This was clearly eating at him even though his tough exterior didn't reveal that. I peered at Clawdia sympathetically. I reached forward and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "Thanks for the invite. I'll be in contact with you, okay?"
She nodded wordlessly. I was just about to exit the dining hall but then paused. I turned to face her one last time, "Clawdia. I'm really sorry about your Mom. And I'm not offering false condolences. I know what it's like to lose a mother."
Clawdia's expression was completely unguarded and as vulnerable as I'd ever seen it, "You lost your mother?"
"Yeah. I wasn't older than seven," I muttered, "I think I blocked the majority of it out of my mind but I remember bits and pieces. She was sick and each passing day she grew more and more tired. Then one day she just didn't…wake up again. Even though she was sick, she kept Dad and I laughing the whole time. After Mom passed, Dad stopped smiling and laughing all together. He's been serious ever since."
I let the quiet atmosphere settle over us. When I finally looked up again, Clawdia remained silent, her eyes wet.
"To this day I hate lilies," I muttered, "They were all over her funeral and they make me nauseous. But don't worry, you're strong. You'll be just fine. It'll be tough but you'll make it through. Just be there for your mother as much as you can be. And for your father too. I bet he's the tough, serious type but he's hurting too."
Clawdia smiled with real warmth yet again, "Thank you for such kind words. I invite you over for tea and yet…I earn so much more. And yes, this is devastating to my Father as well. He has been putting on a brave face for all of us."
I shot a smile at her before I turned and left her estate . A part of me felt bad that I was leaving her house in ruin; with the shattered china and the tea stains splattered across the walls. But it felt good to give her some sort of solace pertaining to her ailing mother.
It was hard; though I sympathized with Clawdia, I was definitely Bowser's friend before I was her anything. Also, though Bowser hid it well, her announcement about her mother shook him up badly. Honestly I think her sincere apology rattled him as well. He had expected to hate her for the rest of his existence. It was pretty hard to hate someone when they gave you little fuel to do so.
When I exited the Blackthorne estate, Bowser was waiting by his clown copter, his expression a blend of anger, confusion, and maybe even something close to distress. I walked over to my carriage where Toss was more than aware of Bowser's sour mood, eyeing him warily.
"Heya Princess," he beamed. He stared at Bowser before leaning in towards me to whisper, "By the way, I saw the whole thing when he arrived here. He was furious and fuming something awful! He scared all the poor servants away when he kicked down the front door."
Though Bowser didn't react at all, I knew he could hear every word Toss called himself whispering, "Hey Toss? Do you mind if I catch a ride back with King Bowser? I promise he'll fly me straight back to the palace. It'll help his awful mood."
"Hmm," Toss rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "Wellll…I probably shouldn't, what with the rising tensions and all but if you really want to hitch a ride back with him, I'll let it slide just this one time."
I smiled and threw a hug around the tiny carriage driver, "Thanks Toss!"
"Yeah, yeah," he laughed, "If your father tries to give me trouble for it, you better explain everything to him. The Emperor is scary when you're on his bad side."
I watched Toss hop onto the carriage and he pointed at us, "Straight to the palace, you hear!? No funny business!"
"Yes!" I laughed, "Just get out of here already!"
Bowser glowered, crossing his arms. He muttered loudly, "Funny business? Who is he to try and tell me what to do?"
"Let him be," I grinned, "He only chastises people he likes."
With one last wave, the carriage began trundling down the road and back towards Sarasaland. Now that we were alone, I turned to Bowser and placed a soft hand on his shoulder, "Hey…"
"Hey," he growled back. And just like Clawdia, his shoulders sank in an exhausted gesture that screamed defeat, "Let's go, huh? I overheard you talking with that pint sized Mushroom. Looks like I get the glory of taking you back home."
I smiled, "Yes sir! It's not much time together, but it's something."
Bowser gently lifted me into the clown copter. For a moment he blinked, eyes catching onto my ruby necklace. He smirked, "What a gorgeous necklace."
"Yes, someone near and dear gave it to me," I gently caressed my fingers over the glittering crimson gemstones, "Someone who's probably a studmuffin."
Bowser laughed, "Stars, you say one thing and it makes me smile like an idiot. Well let's get you back home."
We flew through the warm orange and red expanse of the sunset. I peered at him, "You know that I am always on your side, right?"
"Yeah," he sighed once more and shot a glance my way, "I…Hell. Something about that Koopette just makes me lose my shit. I'm sorry about the stuff I said back there. I was just so pissed. Every time I look at her, it brings up old memories. Old feelings."
My mouth dropped; did he just say old feelings!? I can't explain why but for a split second I felt panic. Old feelings kind of implied he wasn't over her. But no, this wasn't about me right now, it was about him.
"I figured you were reacting," I shrugged, "But at the end of the day I'm always in your corner."
"Yeah I know," Bowser ran an agitated hand through his mane, "But just know, Clawdia wasn't always that…calm, controlled thing she was back there. She was spiteful as hell and made the divorce as painful as possible for everyone. I won't lie to you, she pulled some very impressive underhanded shit over on me. I still respect her to this day over it. She's smart."
I nodded my head and spoke softly, "Yeah I know. But just like she's no longer that evil, spiteful Koopette, you're no longer the evil dictator king."
Bowser laughed dryly, "Yeah, okay. Fair enough. So really. What were you doing over there if you two weren't bashing me to shit?"
"Is that what you thought?" I laughed, "That we were just having tea and cookies and mouthing off about how much you suck!? Hehe 'Omg Claudia! Did you see how chunky Bowser's become? Muscle my ass!'"
As I burst into laughter Bowser cut his eyes, "Yuck it up all you want Flower but let me say it again: Clawdia did some sinister things back in the day. And then the moment we become friends it seems like she suddenly invites you to her house for tea!? Wha!? Can you blame me!?"
"No," I laughed, "I suppose not. Well, we were actually talking about a business transaction. I'll have to mention it to Father. The basis of it sounded pretty good. She plans to run for a seat as a Firelands' councilwoman."
"Oh Stars," Bowser groaned, banging his head against the steering yolk, "First I've gotta deal with my pissed off ex-father in law and now I might have to deal with a pissed off ex-wife!? Stars strike my ass dead. Stars, I beg of thee: please strike my sweet ass dead."
I laughed, "Actually, from what I saw Clawdia seemed very professional and wouldn't let personal feelings come in between her and her position. Also she didn't look pissed. More…I dunno. Sad?"
I peered at Bowser and under the dying auburn light of sunset he always looked his fiercest when his features were highlighted in the throes of oranges and red glows, "Bowser, was she telling the truth? About her mom?"
I knew she was but I wanted to see what his reaction would be. Bowser exhaled long and loudly through his nostrils, smoke billowing out. His expression remained stern and cold but his voice was soft, "Yeah. She was."
And what he didn't admit aloud was that it had upset him. But why? Who is Clawdia's mom to him? Why does that upset him?
"Her mother," Bowser's voice was petal soft, "was...is a good Koopette. Unlike her husband, she was kind. She used to watch over the Koopalings when Clawd and I were too busy slinging mud at each other."
"So then why isn't she more involved in the Koopalings' lives then?" I pondered out loud.
Bowser snorted, "Because Clawdus Koopa is a controlling asshole and what he says goes. It's a shame really...To hear that she's on her way out…"
I gently took one of his large claws into my hand. When he peered down at me, I met his gaze with a smile, "No matter what. Good or bad, I'm always there for you. If Clawdia or anyone had said anything against you, I would have let her have it. You're too important to me."
Bowser's expression finally softened. He raised our intertwined hands and gently pressed a warm, ticklish kiss across my knuckles. His intense stare had my cheeks heating up with a surge of pink blush, "That was the best damn thing I've heard in a long while."
You are the best damn thing that's happened to me in awhile.
"It's going to be awhile before I see you again," I muttered, "Mind if I…Uh..."
Come on Daisy! Don't chicken out! Just be casual and cool! It's just your best friend Bowser. Yep, your best friend Bowser who, every time you look at him seems to grow a little more attractive.
And the way he defended his kids back there, that wasn't sexy at all. Nope. Not at all. And besides, seeing Bowser near his gorgeous ex-wife didn't worry me at all. Yep. Not a single lick of worry. Because they so didn't look good together right? And I totally couldn't feel any type of passion from them at all!
Nope. I wasn't worried at all.
"Uh…mind if I stand…close to you?" My voice cracked on the last word and I could feel my face warm from the blush in my cheeks.
Again I was met with the warm, melting gaze from the King Koopa, "I'd have to be a damned idiot to mind. Now come here."
I walked over and happily leaned into his shelled torso. Bowser wrapped a thick arm around my shoulder and pulled me in close. Bowser smirked and locked my tiny hand within his.
"You know...You really didn't have to be all shy if you wanted to be near a studly king," Bowser grinned ruthlessly.
"Oh shut up," I hissed under my breath, "By the way...Will you write me on the sneaksheet?"
It went without saying that most of our contact would be severely limited. What, with Sarasaland upping all its defense measures and that didn't just mean in a physical sense, but also closely monitoring our emails, texts and phone calls. The sneaksheet was the one thing no one else knew about.
He laughed softly, "Of course. Just don't keep me waiting. By the way..."
Bowser peered at me with a straight visage, "I'm kinda curious myself. Did your kingdom really plan to kill all those Aqualandian citizens? It stood out to me as unusually callous. It doesn't seem like something your morally superior dad would condone. And of course I don't have to tell you how bad it all looks..."
I tensed up and I was sure Bowser could feel it, he was painfully perceptive, "No Bowser. We had nothing to do with that and we're so baffled by how this even happened. I mean, this opens up so many new problems for us! Do we have turncoats in our ranks? Was this the work of a rogue vigilante group? We'd never let innocents suffer! It feels like Sarasaland is just doomed. That's how I feel."
I was tired of speaking of the Aqualands, so I changed topics, "How do you feel about the reparations the Darklands are demanding from the Aqualands?"
Bowser laughed darkly, "I don't have to feel anything. They're absolutely boned if they don't pay the reparation. Though, I think that's secretively the plan. The summer solstice is approaching and everykoopa will be losing their inhibitions soon. I think this is just a way to satisfy a need."
I arched a brow and peered up at Bowser, "What does the summer solstice have to do with anything?"
Bowser groaned and slapped his hand onto his forehead, "Uh…how can I explain this without sounding completely crazy. Remember the Koopa moon?"
"How could I forget?" I laughed.
"Well, the Koopa moon occurs every three years or so, it's like your human leaping year or something."
"You mean leap year? Leap year is every four year—"
"Hey, who's explaining the summer solstice here?" Bowser laughed.
I crossed my arms and huffed, "Fine then jerk. Explain away."
"So! The summer solstice is a yearly event and," he hesitated, looking staunchly uncomfortable, "It's a huge uh…mating ritual our culture has. And as the summer solstice draws nearer, Koopas become more and more unstable and filled with rage and lust…and we pretty much release all that pent up frustration then."
I opened my mouth and tried not to laugh. I peered up at Bowser with a sly glance, "Do you have any pent up frustrations you need to release, milord?"
There must have been something to my question as Bowser flushed a terribly bright shade of red. I burst into laughter as Bowser spun around furiously and slammed his fists against the yolk, "WHAT!? WHAT IS SO FUNNY ABOUT THAT!?"
"I was simply asking an innocent question," I beamed wickedly.
"Innocent my ass!" he spat, growling loudly.
"Okay, I'm sworry," I laughed, speaking in a silly baby voice. I reached up and playfully grabbed his cheek, "I won't embwarrass my fwiend anymore with my swilly questions."
Bowser sneered and tried to shake me off, "Yeah whatever Fwower."
I laughed again, "Okay, okay. No more teasing. Let's enjoy our moment together, okay?"
He huffed, "Alright. But I swear, you make one more joke again and I'll suffocate you in a hug. That'll give killing them with kindness a new meaning."
As I rested my head against his torso, I barely even realized when I began to gently nod off. I hadn't been this relaxed for awhile. It was always when I was with Bowser when I was at my happiest. Maybe when I write him in the sneaksheet, I could be brave enough to tell him that.
DAY 22 7:45 AM
It was an overcast humid morning that was born in the sweltering skies of the Darklands kingdom. The obscure skies and hazy clouds seemed to promise an ominous premonition for the day and it certainly didn't fail to deliver.
Prince Iggy was in his favorite spot within the Bowser's Keep, cooking in his personal kitchen. Clothed in a flame retardant apron and armed with a large wooden spoon, he crouched over a large mixing bowl diligently hand-whipping a batch of fire chip cookies.
His well-loved cookies were nothing more than a creative reinvention of the classic chocolate chip cookie recipe spiced up with his own blend of fiery seasonings. The 'fire' in fire chip cookies came from a mouthwatering blend of cinnamon, ginger, paprika and a dash of cayenne.
Iggy hummed to himself as he gave the batter one last vigorous whipping before popping a spoonful into his mouth. His eyes rolled up in thought as he swirled the creamy batter around his tongue. He added one very small splash of vanilla and taste-tested his dessert one last time.
He smiled; it was perfect.
Fifteen minutes at 300 degrees and he'd have a fresh batch of cookies ready for his siblings. The twins and Junior were always his most exuberant patrons, gobbling and slurping down his cooking to the point they earned themselves horrid stomach aches.
Roy always grumbled if his food wasn't blasting with muscle-building protein, but he ate everything in spite of himself because it was delicious.
King Dad wasn't quite as whiny as the second eldest Koopaling but he was certainly honest. If something was delicious, Bowser gave his roaring approval, and if it sucked, the King certainly had no problems hiding his true thoughts.
Wendy avoided most sweets to keep her figure trim and Ludwig was always the choosiest; whenever the conductor ate, he could deftly name nearly every single spice and would kindly give Iggy criticisms on how to improve.
King Dad hasn't been happy these past few days and with all the bad blood between the human kingdoms, he needs something to cheer him up. I think I'll deliver him the first batch of cookies.
Iggy nearly jumped out of his scales when a sudden jarring knock banged against his door, "Prince Iggy. Your presence is requested at the training hall within fifteen minutes. Please finish up quickly."
Iggy froze, eyes wide in terror, "T-The training room?"
Bowser calmly stared back at the pile of documents on his desk, genuinely considering the consequences of setting them aflame. How long had he been locked in his office for? He had so much crap to deal with; overseeing the kingdom, awaiting word back from the reparation to the Aqualands, Clawdia's goombashit and yet somehow he was supposed to focus on this!?
He hadn't even had time to write Flower on the sneaksheet yet. It was barely morning and he was already in terrible humor. He glanced at the clock against the adjacent wall and saw it was 8:30 in the morning.
The King groaned, burying his face into his claws. Four hours. He had been working his way through this pile for four Star damn hours. And yet the pile didn't look as if it were disappearing at all. Maybe it was even multiplying.
There was shit with the Coallands borough wanting to build freeways to quicken their commerce exchange, which really, was all fine and dandy except for the fact that a neighborhood stood nearby and the cacophonous racket from the construction was already pissing them off.
Then there was his favorite borough yet, the Firelands wanting to cut funding to schools, hospitals and police services to…
Give themselves their very own tax break.
Bowser was positive these old pompous jerkasses sat around all day and thought of ways to piss him off. At least in the beginning of his kingship they pretended to hide their greed, but now it was open season.
And this year the Firelands would soon hold their elections for their newest government officials. And once more there were rumors of Clawdia wanting to run for a chair. So in the future he could potentially work with not only Clawdus Koopa but his ex-wife Clawdia. As if his job wasn't hard enough.
Bowser sighed, scrubbing a palm across his forehead; see, this was why royalty became insane, because they had to deal with people like the Firelands elders who solely focused on themselves. And monarchs had to deal with other selfish rulers like the Aqualandians and then they had to deal with their ex-wives.
A wrap on the door made the King's head lift, "What is it?"
"Sire," It sounded like Lefty on the other side of the door, "per your instructions, I'm letting you know that your sons are training right now."
Bowser's ire cooled slightly, "I see. And how are my sons doing?"
Really, the question was a formality. What he was really wondering was how Iggy was doing. All his other Koopalings progressed where they needed to; they were crown princes and would need to know how to defend the kingdom if the time came.
All his sons except for Iggy were proficient. Iggy's combat skills were a painful blight upon Bowser's legacy. If he kept failing the way he was, Junior would surpass him and that was something the king wouldn't stand for.
Lefty's slight hesitation didn't make Bowser feel any better, "…All your sons are doing well…Except for…" Lefty cleared his throat, knowing he was about to drop the hammer, "Prince Iggy of course…But you already knew that, Sire."
Bowser's voice fell into an odd monotone, "…I see."
This was it; the final straw. This was the thing that would take him over the edge. The problems with the Firelands could wait, the problems with Clawdia could wait. This needed his immediate attention. This was one of the few problems he had been wanting to fix for awhile now.
The King calmly set his documents aside before soundlessly rising from his seat. His steps were so light that when he opened his office door, Lefty nearly jumped three feet in the air.
Lefty spun around, eyes wide, "Holy crap! You startled the—"
He saw the unusually calm expression on his king's face and fell dead silent. He quickly and wisely, moved out of Bowser's way and watched the King walk undoubtedly towards the training hall.
At the sound of the king's large footfalls, maids and servants alike halted their tasks and peered his way with smiles. However, they saw his expression and all smiles dried up as they instinctively moved the hell out of his way.
Bowser stepped outside of his castle, shoving large brick doors open to a soft roll. He glared against the intensity of the sun and quickly spotted the figures of his sparring sons. Eyes narrowed, King Bowser crossed his arms and made sure to approach as quietly as possible.
Ludwig knew the moment his father entered the training arena: the on duty guards suddenly stood a little taller and the newest recruits were perspiring twice as much. Really, very little went unnoticed with the eldest prince.
As Ludwig stood off to the side watching his younger brothers spar, he felt that something was different about his Father's demeanor. It was darker, much more sinister somehow.
King Father was never silent and yet today he was dead quiet, meticulously observing everything and everyone. Though King Bowser was always busy and rarely had time in his schedule to oversee their training; he had today.
Ludwig frowned; something was definitely wrong. But reacting would solve nothing, so he pretended to continue watching the duel as he surreptitiously kept a close eye on the King.
But Ludwig wasn't the only person to pick up on the King's suffocating aura of death; nearby soldiers and generals shifted uncomfortably.
The dead, cold fury on King Bowser's face was unnerving: he watched the duel between Iggy and Lemmy with unusual intensity and a thick, dark scowl. Lefty and a couple of his fellow NightRiders appeared by their King's side.
"What do you see?" Bowser growled, peering down at his soldier.
Though his heart raced, Lefty kept a fairly blank expression, "The two Princes fighting, Sir."
"And who's going to win?" he growled.
"Lemmy, Sire," Lying would do no good. Anyone sparring against Iggy would win. The Koopaling had no will whatsoever to attack, let alone defend himself.
"Because Iggy sucks," Bowser snarled gutturally, "And he doesn't even try. Does he, solider?"
"No, Sir," Lefty's voice was soft, "He doesn't."
Ludwig picked up the tail end of their conversation and the moment Bowser chanced a look his way, he quickly snapped his attention back to the spar and winced when Lemmy feigned with a right hook, then switched and punched Iggy with a painfully obvious left hook anyone should have seen coming.
A mistake like that certainly won't help improve things with King Father. From his peripherals, Ludwig saw Roy shaking his head in disappointment and Morton frowning; anyone with any level of martial competence should have seen that coming a mile away.
Hell, Junior was a child and he would have seen that obvious set up; nothing about Lemmy or Larry's fighting style was subtle. The twins if anything always projected their moves too obviously. They were too easy to read. Iggy hit the floor with a grunt, toppling over onto his shell with a painful helplessness. Lemmy's bloodthirsty, gleeful expression quickly waned at the sight of his younger sibling's battered, defeated form.
Lemmy sighed, rubbing the back of his head with a rising guilt; geez, there was no glory, nothing to gain by beating someone who didn't even fight back. Fighting Iggy was like kicking a newborn blitty.
"Holy Stars Iggz," Lemmy laughed as he bent over and reached a claw down to help his brother up, "C'mon broseph, you gotta do better."
"I-I know," Iggy sighed. He mopped at his sweat-soaked forehead tiredly. He was just about to take Lemmy's hand when a loud, rough bark stopped them in place.
Lemmy froze as both he and Iggy glanced at their dad. Lemmy blinked; how long had King Daddio been there? He hadn't even noticed him.
"Hiya King Dad!" Junior was too young to pick up on the obvious tension and happily waved, "Heya! Want to see me smash my fist through a block of concrete? I can do it! Just like Bruce Leeatiku!"
"Lemmy," Bowser's eyes sharpened upon his son, "Don't help him up. Let him stand on his own two feet."
Lemmy's mouth hung ajar before his wit caught up with him, "…Uh what? But King Daddio we always—?"
"No," Bowser's low growl was filled with gravel, "Get your ass out of the sparring circle. You're done."
The seven siblings shared curious glances amongst each other; what the hell was wrong with King Dad? For a split second even Ludwig allowed surprise to flash across his usually guarded features.
Sensing the unusual tension, Lemmy wordlessly backed out of the arena center, hands raised in a defensive posture. King Daddio was clearly pissed about something and he certainly didn't want to end up on that Koopa's shit list.
An uneasy silence fell over the arena as Iggy slowly staggered to his feet. Bowser had an awful calculative gleam in his eyes as he watched Iggy. Iggy who never tried to better himself, Iggy who never threw a single punch. Today Iggy would be forced to defend himself or else he would get the living shit beat out of him.
Bowser focused his glare on his second eldest, "Roy. Spar Iggy."
This time jaws dropped across the entirety of the arena. Even Roy himself froze in surprise as Ludwig stared at his Father askance, wondering what he could be possibly thinking with a match up like that.
Roy was unquestionably the cruelest, most bloodthirsty of the royal Koopalings. He genuinely enjoyed fighting and violently pummeling others. The only other sparring partners who could handle Roy's brutality were the two older royal siblings, Ludwig and Morton respectively.
Morton could hold his own against Roy because he was the strongest of them all and Ludwig's cunning made up for the sheer difference of strength between him and the barbaric second eldest. But to willfully put Iggy, gentle, pacifistic Iggy in there with Roy was decidedly cruel.
In fact the matchup was so horrific that even a few of the guards stepped forward to complain, "King Bowser, Sir. With all due respect, Prince Iggy is nowhere near Prince Roy's level of competence. We always pair him up with the twins who are more than enough of a challenge for him. They—"
"—have been soundly kicking his ass," Bowser sneered, "The display I just saw now was nothing less than pathetic. We've really been babying this Koopa. Well this time. It stops."
Under his father's intense baleful glare, Iggy bowed his head as perspiration beaded his hairline. Bowser's lip curled into a sneer; Iggy's shameful remorse wouldn't be enough this time to get him out of this. He was a royal prince of the savage, brutal Darklandian Kingdom. It was about time he earned his birthright.
Bowser glowered; no feeble, wretched prince would muddle up his powerful lineage. The blood of past Darklandian Kings flowed through his veins. The past kings were warriors, war leaders, and anarchists. Iggy would have to earn that right to belong to such a powerful lineage.
"Roy," Bowser snarled, "get in there. Now."
Even with his vicious bloodthirst and carnality, Roy hesitated for a second before strutting into the arena to face off against his marshmallow-soft sibling. Iggy hurriedly pulled himself back into his fighting stance, knees shaking as his heart thudded wildly against his chest.
What was King Dad doing? What was he expecting? Roy would kill him! Roy never went easy on anyone. Iggy gulped, tremors racing through his body and perspiration soaking his temple as he faced off against his big brother.
They had absolutely no business being competitors: Roy had prime fighting experience and the raw, monstrous strength of perhaps three Koopas. Iggy could barely throw a proper punch.
Please let this be a nightmare. Please let this not be real. Pleasepleasepleaseplease wake up. Please wake up.
Standing under the harsh sun, Bowser's eyes were completely hidden in deep shadows. He turned to glare at Roy meaningfully, "I don't think I need to tell you not to hold back."
Roy might not have been anywhere near book smart but even he understood the threat behind Pop's words. Between saving his ass or his little brother's, Roy certainly was not the self-sacrificing martyr type. Iggy was about to get his ass kicked.
Roy turned to face a terrifying glower onto Iggy, who trembled pathetically. Ain't nuthin personal Iggz but between you and me, I choose me. I ain't gonna have King Pops all over my ass.
"Count 'em off," Bowser ordered.
A nearby Hammerbro stepped into the arena. He grabbed a stick and scribbled into the ground, refreshing the ring's boundaries were the contestants were to face off.
Once he finished, he faced both brothers. He threw Iggy a quick sympathetic glance before beginning the countdown, "THREE…TWO…ONE….FIGHT!"
The second the Hammerbro backed out of the ring, Roy cracked his knuckles with ominous intent and charged full speed. Iggy froze like a Yoshi in the headlights, irises shrinking to pinpoint pricks as he did his best to hold back a scream of terror.
As Roy blazed forward, he looked every inch like death: a wild, insane grin stretched across his face as his thick muscles bulged with strength.
"Come on Iggy!" One of the twins called out somewhere from the crowd, "You can do it! Just move!"
"Yeah! Come on Iggy!"
"Land one good shot!"
"Earn his respect!"
"Get him Prince Iggy!"
"Hit him once really good!"
But with each approaching step Roy took closer, Iggy couldn't find the will to move, to roll or dodge or do anything. It was as if time slowed to a painful crawl and Iggy was all too aware of the bulge of Roy's every muscle as he reared his fist back and roared monstrously, fangs bared in a wild grin.
Please be a dream! Please be a dream! Please don't be real!
But Iggy couldn't move as his legs felt like lead, his throat was parched and he could only tremble like a leaf. The only conscious move he made was to clench his teeth and turn his head from the oncoming blow.
"Come on Iggz, duck!"
"Put your arms up and block the blow, Prince!"
"Don't panic! Just block the attack!"
Roy's fist crunched into the side of Iggy's face with glorious force, one so powerful it lifted Iggy off his feet and sent him flying onto his back and rolling into two backward somersaults.
Roy had hit him so hard Iggy almost didn't believe it was real, but agony throbbed everywhere; the side of his face, his aching shoulder, his arms and legs. Pain consumed him everywhere; his mind blanked and his vision spotted as his ears rang.
One moment Roy was several feet away and then the next blink Roy was on top of him, grabbing him by the cuff of his shell and ramming another gigantic fist into his face with the rapid fire of an angry jackhammer.
Iggy couldn't make a single sound as his vision blurred dangerously, twisting and spinning as something warm dribbled down the side of his face.
The world swirled dangerously and for a moment Iggy wondered if he was going to pass out. Each time Roy pulled his fist back for another barrage of punches, a deep red smear of blood glittered across his knuckles.
The Koopalings and guards alike watched with wordless dread as the brutal beating continued; Roy wasn't going to stop and Iggy wouldn't—or couldn't defend himself. Iggy dangled limply in his brother's hands, nearly catatonic as Roy continued to send brutal fist after fist into his brother's face.
Wide-eyed, Junior rushed over to Ludwig and grabbed his hand, "Luddy! Make it stop! Make this stop! I think Iggy's dying!"
Ludwig peered down at Junior; someone so young and impressionable shouldn't be here to see this brutality. But then again never had King Father arranged such a brutal slaughter to take place within his sparring grounds. The last time such brutality had occurred was when King Morton oversaw the kingdom.
"I can't make them stop," Ludwig spoked grimly, "Only King Father can."
"Please!" Junior begged, eyes watery, "You've got to try! King Dad will listen to you!"
He won't. If anything my insertion will only upset him even further…
"King Father!" Morton suddenly bellowed. He had his eyes closed and had his hands covering his ears to block out the sounds of Iggy's heartbreaking whimpers, "Make them cease! Please make them cease!"
"He's learned his lesson Sire," Lefty spoke up, "We'll do a better job to train him and he'll work harder. Please. End this Sir."
But Bowser said nothing. Arms crossed and eyes thinned into slits, he continued to watch the beating. Even Roy shot a cursory glance at his father, waiting for him to call the match off. But the King remained silent.
Without the King's consent the match would continue. Roy fumbled before quickly resuming the gruesome fight; already his knuckles and plastron were slick with the blood of his brother. Iggy, who lost all will to fight and move began to sob.
"Stop! Roy Stop!" Junior wailed, near the verge of tears, "Please King Dad! Pleeease!"
Junior covered his face as he began to cry softly. Ludwig quietly allowed his youngest sibling to shield his face and cry into his plastron; this was beyond cruel.
No one present in the sparring arena respected what was going on. Every face was grim, anguished, furious or sorrowful. Even Roy looked as if he wished this to end and Roy loved brutalizing his opponents.
Thoroughly disgusted that this spectacle had been allowed to carry on, Ludwig spun to face his father, eyes bright with anger, "King Father. Stop this madness! Whatever you have been trying to achieve has been proven!"
Bowser finally removed his eyes from the fight and stared at Ludwig. He held Ludwig's unflinching stare for ten long seconds. Though it felt like a lifetime it was only moments when Bowser finally raised his hand, "Enough."
Roy promptly discarded Iggy and peered down at his hands and plastron with a grimace; he was slick with so much blood. Iggy curled up into a ball and openly wept; he hurt everywhere. But he felt that the emotional pain was so much worse; his father had watched him be viciously beaten. And why didn't he fight back? Why was he always so afraid to fight back? The royal siblings rushed towards Iggy's crumbled figure but King Bowser reached him first.
He stepped in front of them meaningfully, blocking them all, "Everyone clear out."
"But King Dad!" Larry cried out, "Iggy needs medical attention!"
Bowser shot a cold glare over his shoulder, "What part of 'clear out' don't you comprehend? Don't make me ask twice."
The soldiers and Koopalings hesitated for a moment before exiting the sparring arena. When it was deathly silent, Iggy peered up at his father through his eye that wasn't swollen shut. Bowser loomed above him ominously, eyes narrow and mouth set in a furious scowl.
The King's furious features were covered in thick shadows and only made him look scarier, "Everytime you spar. It's the same damn thing: you don't try. You didn't even move. You let Roy beat the shit out of you. That's disgraceful. That shames the hell out of me."
Iggy moved his mouth to speak but all he could do was continue to sob and whimper as a thick bubble of saliva and blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth. Bowser took a knee, boring his stare into Iggy, "Your youngest sibling Junior is six years younger than you and he is on his way to surpassing you. Doesn't that light a fire under your ass? Anything?"
Iggy continued to cough, choking on his saliva and blood; he was sure his jaw was dislocated. It had never hurt so badly in his life before. But Bowser continued, "You see Iggy, when you suck, it's a reflection on me. You can't even defend yourself. You didn't even try. There was nothing even remotely honorable about what just transpired here. But for years now it's been the same damn thing."
"T-T-T-This," Iggy hiccupped; his jaw felt as if it were on fire but he had to try to defend himself, "R-Roy…"
Bowser sighed, his disappointment painfully bright in his eyes, "You're absolutely correct. This was something new wasn't it? Sending Roy in there. If fighting your most aggressive sibling won't bring out some fight in you, then what will? You knew he wouldn't hold back but still you did nothing. Nothing. That's my problem. There's an honor in going down swinging, but you didn't even throw a single punch."
"We're the royal Koopa line," Bowser smashed a dominant fist against his shelled torso, "We hail from powerful ancestors who were the strongest of warriors. The only way we keep our crown is because we have the strongest lineage. No one messes with me because they know I'm the strongest bar none."
Bowser cut his eyes, "And I'm starting to think you don't deserve to be a part of this great lineage. There is no place for pathetic in my bloodline."
Iggy gasped, eyes wide as he tried to open his mouth to speak; what was his dad saying? Bowser slowly rose to his feet with a sudden finality, eyes still cut thin, "And that's why you've forced me into this. I won't have a weak son. I won't have a weak heir."
The King pulled out what Iggy barely recognized as a mushroom. Something the humans and Toads liked to consume to feel strong. It must have been to recover his strength. Iggy chewed sluggishly as his swollen jaw burned with pain.
With just a few bites he could feel his strength returning to him and he was able to slowly sit up. He took the mushroom from his father's thick claws and carefully devoured it. Bowser leaned back, "Better?"
Despite the blood loss and his general disorientation after such a beating, the mushroom was already speeding up his recovery. Iggy nodded and though his jaw creaked and popped painfully, he whispered, "Yes."
Bowser nodded, "Good. So now," the King's red eyes narrowed once more, "If you don't shape up by your next duel—you can't come back."
Iggy froze, eyes wide as he snapped his head around so fast his vision titled, "Wh-hat?"
Bowser's monotonous growl didn't change, "If you don't perform better, you can't come back. I won't have a pathetic fuck up ruining my powerful blood line."
Iggy wordlessly worked his jaw. Too stunned, too overwhelmed to think of anything else to say. This couldn't be true. This couldn't be real. His father loved him, up until today he had encouraged him and understood his shortcomings.
"B-But I'm your son!" Iggy cried, nearly in tears again.
Bowser's expression hardened, "Not anymore you aren't."
Where had all of this hatred come from? To thoughtlessly kick him out on his ass because he was a pacifist? Wasn't he a good son? Hadn't he always done well in school and brought pride to the royal family? He never rebelled like Roy and Ludwig and he never destroyed castle property like the twins and he never gave his dad half the headaches Wendy did. Why did he deserve this?
Once more the tears poured from Iggy's eyes as he sobbed, shoulders heaving. Bowser bent over and grabbed the side of his face, peering closely into Iggy's teary eyes, "Scared? Well tough shit. I'm doing this for your benefit. Remember that. No failures in my blood."
And before Iggy could think, Bowser cracked the side of his face with a quick, painful jerk. Iggy's whole body froze as his jaw popped with a terrifying crunch as it realigned back into proper position. This time the pain was so great that Iggy passed out into his father's awaiting arms.
As the edges of Iggy's vision blacked, the last thing he remembered was being held in his father's arms. Bowser carefully cradled him as he peered down at his son, expression stern, "For your own good."
When Iggy woke up he was back in his bedroom buried under a mound of warm fluffy blankets. Kammy and Kamek were standing nearby speaking in hushed tones and the moment they heard him stir, they abruptly stopped their conversation and spun to face him.
Their worry was painfully obvious on their faces; no doubt King Bowser had already told them of his twisted ultimatum. Once more he was met with sorrowful, sympathetic eyes. That was starting to get old, wasn't it?
"Prince Iggy…" Kamek began softly.
"We've healed you to the best of our ability," Kammy cut in, her gaze just as soft as her peer's, "How are you feeling?"
Iggy was sure a part of that statement was aimed at his emotional health, but he went along with it anyways.
He slowly sat up and immediately he could feel the difference. The sharp pains were dulled to throbbing aches he could ignore with enough willpower. Iggy slumped over and released a deep sigh, "I feel fine..."
Fine was the last thing he felt. A father who had once unconditionally loved and supported him was suddenly pulling the rug out from under him. He had to learn to become someone who he wasn't. If he were half as barbaric as Roy, apparently his father would love him…
Iggy cradled his head into his hands; this is so unfair. I've been a perfect son and I never gave him trouble. And yet he's kicking me out…
For one of the few times in his life, Iggy felt pissed. Genuine, raw anger traveled from the soles of his feet and pulsed through every vein and artery.
Iggy clenched his comforter within his clawed, shaking fists; how dare his father do this to him? Iggy calmly rose to his feet and once more the strain of healing muscles clenched painfully, but Iggy didn't care.
The prince turned to face the two Magikoopa who were closely watching him, "Do you mind if I have a moment alone?"
If the Magikoopa noted that his usual stutter was removed, they certainly didn't point it out. They both nodded compliantly, "Of course Prince Iggy…"
And with that they both slowly floated out of his bedroom. Iggy's blood pulsed through his body furiously as he released a furious snarl. Well, if his father didn't want him here. Then he'd leave! As his pulse rocketed with a crazed frenzy, Iggy peered around his room and quickly gathered what he needed.
Iggy found his school backpack full of supplies and quickly dumped them onto his once immaculate floor. He went over to his own safe and twisted the lock open. He piled in enough coins to be well-taken care of then grabbed his cell phone. It was ninety percent charged.
He found his charger then stepped out into his own hallway. As he walked towards the elevator he was surprised at his own level of calm he was experiencing. By all rights he should have been freaking out; he was willfully leaving. Fleeing his own home. But it wasn't home anymore, now was it?
Iggy ignored the servants who stared after him as he headed for the front gate. The security guards standing in place peered at him a moment or two but otherwise made no movements to stop him. But just as he was to open the gate, a set of soft footfall approached him, "Hey! Iggy!"
It was Junior.
Iggy turned, glancing over at his smallest sibling. Junior was many things but he was definitely perceptive beyond his years. Even now Junior watched him with a melancholic expression, "Where are you going? I know King Dad was really mad at you and mean to you in practice…"
For a moment Iggy's face remained blank, but he quickly shot his brother a smile, "Don't worry about me Junior. I'm just going out for some fresh air."
Junior arched a brow "…With your backpack?"
Smart little brat shell.
"Yeah, I'll be back before nightfall," and with that Iggy took a knee and affectionately ruffled his younger brother's fire-red mane. Junior laughed loudly and with one last smile, Iggy turned and exited. Leaving the palace grounds.
As the young prince traveled further from the Darklandian castle, an onduty guard raised his cell to his lips, "He just left the palace and is headed in the direction of the capital. Do you want us to go and retrieve the prince?"
"Are our spies still stationed around the surrounding city?"
"Then let him be. Just have them keep an eye on him at all times and report back to me."
"Of course, my king."
Iggy was traveling through crowds of Koopas as he moved through one of the Darklands major capital cities. He was finally far enough from the palace that he didn't have to fear being dragged back by any of his guards.
Once Iggy was sure that no one from the palace had followed him, he walked into a phone booth for privacy. He finally pulled out his cell phone and dialed the one number he knew would always answer. Within five rings, there was a happy greeting.
"Heya Iggy! What's up?"
For the first time the whole day, Iggy gave a true smile, "Hi. Mama Daisy…I think I need your help."
"Oh?" Though her voice remained warm, she wasn't quite as jubilant as before, "Well what is it Iggy? You know I'll do the best I can for you."
"Mama Daisy…" Iggy hoped this would work; this was really the only option he had. She was the only other person he trusted, "You…told me once that you know martial arts."
"I know a very basic level of Sand Judo, yeah. Why? Do you want to learn it?"
It was now or never. Mama Daisy had always been supportive and kind. He knew she could be honest and blunt but he certainly hoped she would help. "C-Can you teach me?" His voice was nearly a whisper, "I-I suck. Badly. To the point that King Dad has k-kicked me out."
"WHAT!?" She barked angrily, "What the hell is Bowser thinking!?"
"Please," Iggy closed his eyes, form sagging as his forehead rested against the cold phone booth, "You're my only hope…I have nowhere else to go…No other friends…It's j-just you…"
Mama Daisy fell silent and for a second Iggy had the real fear that she wouldn't help him or that she just couldn't; he understood that her kingdom was trying to deal with the fallout with the Aqualands, "Alright. I'll help you out. You can stay here at the palace and we'll train you."
"R-Really?" Iggy nearly burst into tears.
"Yeah but on one condition," her sweet, jubilant tone had suddenly iced over in a manner he had never heard before, "that after you stay with us, you go back there and earn your dad's respect. You go straight to him, look him in the eye and tell him you're not who you were when you left. And then you give him, or whoever a fight. Deal?"
"O-Of course!" Iggy nearly sobbed in joy, "What do I do now? Can I even get into your kingdom?"
She hesitated for a moment, trying to quickly think things through, "Don't worry. I'll figure it all out. I'll tell Dad all about it. Get to the Sarasaland border and I'll help you out. Though there's one thing. Does your dad know you're coming here?"
Iggy laughed in an unusually bitter manner, "The b-better question is if he cares. And trust me he doesn't."
Mama Daisy paused once more, "Alright. When do you plan to get here? Do you need me to call a cab and have you escorted here?"
Iggy smiled softly; Mama Daisy really was a fitting name for her. She really did care and coddle just like a real mother. But even if his asshole of a father was upset with him over something so…unimportant, Iggy did agree that maybe he did need to start standing on his own two feet every now and then.
"It's alright Mama Daisy. I can get to the Sarasaland border on my own. I should be there in six hours or so. Maybe a little longer, I'm still very sore. I'll text you the whole way and k-keep you updated, I promise."
"Alright. Call me when you get here, 'Kay?"
"I will, and Mama Daisy?"
He smiled again, "Thanks. Really."
"No problem kiddo! See you soon!"
As Iggy walked out of the phone booth and went to hail a cab, a hammer bro slowly slinked out of a nearby alleyway.
He watched the prince before quietly speaking into his earpiece, "Sir. Just heard his phone 's headed to the Sarasaland palace with the princess."
He paused, listening, "Understood, sir."
One moment the Hammerbro stood nearby, watching the prince enter a cab and then the next he was gone.
Daisy shoved the doors open to her father's office with a loud bang. Uncle Apricotto and Sakuro both peered up. Once Apricotto saw it was his niece, he smiled widely, "Heya! It's one of my favorite girls! My darling Pumpkin Pie!"
He raced over and picked her up in his arms. He spun her around until she laughed merrily, "Hi Unc! I'm happy to see you too!"
Uncle Apricotto nuzzled her affectionately, "Oh, every time I see you, you become so much more beautiful! Just like your mom! Thank goodness you're not busted like your old man!"
As Daisy laughed, Sakuro cleared his throat poignantly, "Chisana, I assume you've come in here for a reason?"
"Chisana," Apricotto mocked Sakuro's monotone as he pranced around stupidly, performing some sort of off-tune jug, "Have you come here for a reason?"
As Daisy laughed, Sakuro kept a straight face, "Apricotto. Get out."
"Okay! Okay! I'll behave!" Apricotto crossed his arms and poured, "Meanie."
"Yeah Dad, I've come to ask a favor," Daisy stepped towards her father's desk, her expression stern, "I really need you to do me a huge solid."
"Ask away, what is it?"
"Dad, a dear friend of mine needs a place to stay for a while. It won't be long…but he needs us."
Sakuro sighed tiredly, "It's Alabaster again, isn't it? I keep telling him he can't continue to feed the gulls Alka-Seltzer—"
"Uh no. Not this time," Daisy frowned, "Dad...My friend...He's only twelve years old and I think he's being kicked out of his own house."
Apricotto gasped, "My Stars! For what!?"
Daisy took a deep breath, "He's a Darklandian prince and he's a very good kid. Please can he stay here? I promise he's a very good Koopaling."
"What!" Unc Apri frowned, "That means Bowz kicked him out! Why?"
Sakuro studied his daughter for a moment, "Your uncle raised a fine question."
Daisy crossed her arms and sighed, "Honestly it's for nothing bad. Really! He's one of King Bowser's well-behaved children. Please Dad...We're his only hope…"
The emperor rubbed his chin, "For the sake of diplomacy we'll have to inform King Bowser he's staying with us. By the way, have I personally met this particular prince?"
"Yes," Daisy smiled warmly, "It's Iggy. I believe he baked you muffins when he was here."
"Ah. He is a nice Koopaling. A little quiet if I'm remembering him correctly," Sakuro nodded, "Very well then. I have several announcements to make, but he can stay here, Chisana."
Daisy smiled largely, "Oh thank you! Thank you Dad! I promise you won't regret this!"
Daisy leaned over and hugged her dad largely. Sakuro smiled and affectionately rubbed his daughter's back, "Alright Chisana, I still have work I need to oversee."
"Alright! Thanks Dad!" With one happy wave, Daisy ran out of the office.
Sakuro paused in thought before pressing his intercom, "Alabaster?"
"Could you please have Councilman Salini, Zero and Ztarlight report to my office?"
It wasn't moments later that Seldor Salini, Judas Ztarlight and Zero stood before their emperor. They all bowed before drawing closer, "Emperor? How can we help you?"
"I've called you all here," Sakuro peered around at the men, "Because I wanted to let you know that soon, the Sarasaland palace will be housing a royal Koopaling prince and I will need each of your help in the process."
Ztarlight frowned, "I can't believe this. We're giving shelter to a Koopa!? Honestly, as if we don't have enough problems to deal with!"
"Rarely do I agree with Ztarlight my liege," Seldor murmured, "but he has a point. We have the debacle with the Aqualands, and of course maintaining relationships with all the other nations."
Apricotto stepped forward, "Am I hearing this correctly? Sakuro, I thought your councilors were supposed to be smart!"
Ztarlight and Seldor Salini both shot the Mushroom King a sharp glare. Ztarlight laughed disbelievingly, "You want to speak about intelligence? You!? When every man present is very much aware of how little monarchical work you really do? Absurd!"
With a little bit of restraint Seldor remained equable, "Have a little more respect for the king, Ztarlight. He is a powerful ruling entity. And with all due respect my King, are you going to supply a suggestion?"
Apricotto stepped forward, wrapping his arms around the two councilmen and pulling them in closer. Unlike Seldor, Ztarlight didn't bother to hide when he flinched.
If Apricotto noticed their unease, he certainly ignored it, "Now think about it fellas. I mean sure, you've got problems up to you elbows with the Aqualandians, but are you really in a position to refuse this obvious blessing in disguise?"
Seldor arched a dubious brow, "'Blessing in disguise?" How is this a blessing in disguise?"
"Oh come on!" Apricotto bellowed, grinning as he looked between the two men, "Isn't it obvious! You just said the Koopaling is a prince and I'm pretty sure I've seen him before…"
Zero smirked, crossing his arms, "Probably when King Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach, right?"
Apricotto snapped his fingers, "Oh! Yes! That was it! He was one of the boys who tied me up in my own castle!"
The Mushroom king suddenly peered towards the ceiling with fond nostalgia, "My, my...where has all that time gone? Once upon a time he was a child...holding me hostage and now he's grown up to be such a nice young man…"
The councilmen and Sakuro peered at Apricotto as if they questioned his sanity. Zero burst into laughter, "To be honest my liege I was kind of joking."
Sakuro glared at Apricotto, "Please focus on your point, Apricotto."
"Ah, right! Right! So my point is: by taking the prince in and treating him well," Apricotto wriggled his eyebrows, "you'll not only cement your alliance with the Darklandians, but it'll look good to the other nations as well! I mean, who doesn't love kindness to children, right?"
Salini, Ztarlight and Zero stared at the Mushroom King in surprise and a little bit of awe. "I never thought I'd say this," Salini whispered, "But King Apricotto, that's a great idea."
Sakuro smirked, "So this is where you all come in: Seldor, Judas, I want you to make an announcement to the entire castle staff that Prince Iggy will be staying with us for a week or two and I want him treated exceptionally well. Things must go well so he can report back to his own citizens."
"And what will you have me do?" Zero asked.
"Find any of our personal journalists and let it be known that Prince Iggy is staying as a guest in our palace, make sure there is a positive spin placed on this issue," Sakuro smirked.
"Absolutely sire." And with their marching orders, all three of the councilmen bowed before dispersing to fulfill their orders. Once they all left, Apricotto spun to face his brother, smiling, "So I did good, huh?"
Sakuro nodded, smiling, "Yes Apri, you did. You provided a perspective that we couldn't see; sometimes we're so bogged down with politics and logistics that we can't see the obvious. He's a little Koopaling that needs our help and he was desperate. Allowing him to stay here is the decent thing to do."
Apricotto frowned, tilting his head, "But big bro, that's not the rationale we just told them. According to your elitist councilmen, we only did it because it helps your politics."
Sakura peered up from his work, looking impressed, "Apricotto…"
"You finally managed to use a word that is longer than two syllables! And here mother and I have been worried after all these years…"
Apricotto glowered, "Sakuro. Quit dancing around my point."
Sakuro frowned, "I always planned to help him because he was in need, not because it was a good political move."
"Ah I see," Apricotto rubbed his chin, "So the whole 'political gain' thing was a cover, right?"
"Yes, but it only worked because it's true," Sakuro smiled wryly, "We can not only help the Koopaling, but we can also fortify our alliance with the Darklandians. Now come on, let's have dinner. I haven't eaten in quite awhile."
I waited inside a nondescript carriage for Iggy to appear near our borders. The guards haven't reported the sighting of a young Koopa yet and I'm hoping he would show up soon. It was nearly midnight and the temperatures were close to subzero.
According to Iggy's text he was only a few minutes away from crossing into the eastern Sarasaland border. It wasn't much longer when I saw a lanky, tall silhouette approaching.
"Look!" I called to my carriage driver, "There he is!"
My carriage hobbled along until we were right beside Iggy. I stuck my head out the carriage and waved happily, "Hey Sweetie! How are you?"
Iggy smiled tiredly, "Hi Mama Daisy. It's good to see you."
I hopped out of the carriage and pulled Iggy into a tight hug. I felt him grow tense before he relaxed and returned my hug. I pulled back and smiled at him, "Wow! Look at how tall you're getting Iggy! You and I are nearly eye level now! You're growing up so fast."
Then I wiggled my eyebrows, "And my little Koopaling is starting to get quite handsome too!"
Iggy peered down bashfully as his cheeks flushed an obvious red, "Aww Mama Daisy…"
I grinned, affectionately roping an arm around his shoulder, "Now come on," I led him to the carriage, "I'm freezing out here and you must be cold as well."
We both climbed into the carriage and with my signal we began on our way back to the Sarasaland palace. Iggy sat across from me, making sure to look everywhere but at me. I could see the ugly splatters of bruises discoloring his face and dotting along the expanse of his jawline. Even his arms had sizeable bruises on them.
"Iggy," I spoke softly, "Look at me. You don't need to feel ashamed."
Iggy released a soft breath before slowly lifting his gaze. His left eye had a fading, puffy purple bruise and I could see more discoloration near his mouth.
"Please," I spoke softly, "Tell me what happened."
Iggy frowned, "I...It's hard to talk about…"
"I'll listen," I muttered.
Once more Iggy fixed his gaze onto his lap and recanted his story. He spoke about how he had once again lost to Lemmy in a spar and how Bowser had ordered Roy to face him in a slanted match up. What worried me was when I heard how Bowser had watched the brutal fight. He was appeased that Iggy had gotten the daylights kicked out of him and then gave him an ultimatum.
"There was a better way to do this," I hissed, upset at how Bowser had handled things, "There are better ways to train and make you fight better. I can't believe he did this…"
"Is he right…Was I p-pathetic?" Iggy peered up at me sadly, "I d-didn't even throw a single punch. I d-didn't even block…"
Iggy lowered his head as his voice began to waver, "I was t-too scared to fight back...And even now I still am."
"Iggy," I reached out and touched his face, drawing his eyes to meet my own stare, "No Sweetie. There is no shame in what you did. You can learn from your experience and get better."
"So w-who is going to teach me how to fight?" Iggy asked.
I smirked, "Well, The Super Mario is staying at our palace right now and I bet he'd love to train you."
I think Mario would be a great teacher for Iggy; Mario was certainly competitive enough to push his student to his limits and see him excel, but Mario was also kind and would be nurturing when Iggy needed it.
Iggy's jaw dropped comically, "W-What!?"
I laughed, "That's right. Mario will teach you to fight. How awesome is that?"
"P-Pretty awesome," Iggy nodded, "By the way…Thanks Mama Daisy for all of this. If…If you hadn't helped me...I don't know w-what I'd do. Or where I'd go. I think I would have j-just ended up as a failure."
"Hey," I gently placed a warm hand on Iggy's shoulder, "You're not a failure. And after Mario gets through with you, we're going to make your dad eat all his nasty words. I'm really proud of you and how strong you've become. We're going to make you a better fighter. You're going to go back there and earn their respect. But until then, you're safe with me, okay Iggy? Anything you need, just ask."
I pulled his face forward and placed a gentle kiss in the middle of his forehead. I met his stunned expression with a smile.
Iggy blinked rapidly as he tried to fight back the onslaught of approaching tears. He sniffed and wiped at his eyes but I knew he was fighting a futile battle. I smiled warmly and pulled him in for a hug, "It's okay Hon. Go ahead and let it out. You're amongst friends here."
As our carriage made its way back to Sarasaland, Iggy wept openly over my shoulder as I held him, rubbing his back and reassuring him that everything would be okay.
Day 21 12:00 PM
The White sand deserts were occupied by the councilmens' wives. The ladies indulged themselves upon figure-friendly teacakes and warm cinnamon tea. The esteemed ladies quietly chatted amongst themselves about frivolous matters.
Amongst their ranks was Lady Salini, the High Protectorate's wife who—despite being the wealthiest and most powerful woman at the table—was also the most miserable. She rarely spoke, rarely smiled, and her moderately pretty facial features seemed stuck, as if they had permanently congealed into a frown.
Even now, sitting under the pleasantly warm desert sun she slumped over like a wilting flower and indolently sipped at her tea. The Sarasaland court lady congregation was divided into two factions: those who pledged their loyalty to Lady Angora, and those who were browbeaten and cowered under a heavy-set, pinch-faced court woman named Lady Stagna.
Stagna Ztarlight was the bloated, opinionated wife of councilmen Ztarlight. It was common knowledge amongst the Sarasaland court ladies how often her lascivious husband stepped out on her with younger, much more beautiful women.
Couldn't blame him honestly, Stagna had the alluring personality of spoilt milk and squeezed herself into hideous gowns that were several sizes too small for her rotund frame. Even amongst the broiling political turmoil, the ladies of the court were to gather for their monthly meeting fashioned in their most fetching gowns—except Stagna because her style choices were horrid.
As usual Una Salini stared blankly ahead, stuck somewhere in her own mind as the other court ladies chatted amiably. Angora watched her coolly; such a shame, she could be quite pretty if she didn't always look like she swallowed a lemon.
One of Lady Angora's underlings broke the peaceful silence, "There is so much unrest in the courts now; the Aqualands are furious with us and of course the court is a buzz with the appearance of the new Koopaling. What shall we make of this?"
Angora looked out across the table and smiled just a touch warmer at her underlings. She daintily pressed an embroidered napkin against her mouth, careful enough to avoid smearing her tasteful wine-red lipstick, "Why Rose my dear, despite all of this ungodly unrest, Sarasaland is still making grand political moves. It is quite obvious that we faithfully maintain our relationship with the Darklands."
Half of the court ladies—Angora's loveable flunkies—openly beamed and nodded their approval. Stagna and her clique remained intentionally disinterested. Stagna grunted as she impolitely reached over several ladies to a third helping of teacakes.
Angora and her nearest lackey shared an amused glance; Stars in Star Haven, was the woman trying to burst the poor seams of her clothing?
Stagna chomped boorishly and sniffed with obvious disdain, "You know. I just don't understand why our princess is even associating with them. The Koopas. I thought the savage from Land's End was bad enough and that foreign…foreigner. But really? A Koopa of all things? And now we're letting a Koopa stay in our courts? It's disgusting really."
Stagna's half of the lackeys nodded and quietly murmured their agreement as Angora's pack of court ladies, the well-trained things that they are remained dutifully silent. And Una Salini simply stared ahead blankly as if disinterested by it all.
Angora took a sip of tea, calculating her words, "Oh come now Lady Stagna. King Bowser is a great ally to Sarasaland. It is quite obvious to most that we've been flourishing under our treaty. Hasn't your husband informed you of such things?"
Angora's lackeys quickly hid their growing smiles beneath their tea cups and the slightly bolder court ladies tittered softly. Just loud enough for the opposition to hear them.
Stagna frowned deeply, her tiny blue eyes falling into an unpleasant squint, "Of course Judas tells me everything! But he and I agree that we can do well without the Koopas. Am I the only one at this table to think of this as ludicrous? First we have the King of 'em trying to date our princess and now we have another Koopa staying in the royal palace!? As a guest!? Give them an inch and they take a damn mile."
"It is in our best interest to remain on good terms with the Koopas," Angora spoke with a little less honey in her voice.
"Bah!" Stagna swatted the suggestion, "How the hell are we going to be allies with these animals!? Let alone King Bowser of all people! He's a kidnapping, human-loving warmonger! If it wasn't for that peasant—what's his name? Mario? We'd all be living under that monster's thumb."
Angora's troupe of court ladies suddenly fell silent at the harsh quips as Stagna's group became more emboldened, loudly acknowledging their agreement. And yet in the midst of it all, Una Salini barely batted an eyelash, staring ahead blankly.
"Oh come now Stagna. We've all seen where King Bowser has been cleaning up his image quite nicely. Perhaps he was dastardly in his past life, but he's striving quite admirably to change his image."
Stagna loudly sucked her teeth, watery eyes thin, "Well. I suppose I'm going to be the only one here brave enough to speak the truth. We don't have any business with these nasty, scaly dragons. Koopas and humans shouldn't be dating."
The bloated court woman glared across the table at every woman, "They stay where they belong and we stay where we belong. There. I said it. I'm not okay with our Princess pretending to date one and I'm not okay with that skinny, twiggy little monster taking shelter here."
"You can't blame Koopas can you?" One of Stagna's nameless court women spoke up, "For wanting a human princess? We're beautiful, comely and have you seen Koopa females? My Stars they're absolutely hideous and scaly."
Another Stagna supporter nodded her head, "They are manly."
Stagna nodded, "Yes and don't get me wrong, Prince Taurus is a wretched person but…I honestly think he put Koopas in their proper place. He showed King Bowser what happens when you get all high and mighty."
A couple of courtwomen froze; did she just condone Prince Taurus' violence against King Bowser? Angora felt her cheeks flame with rising anger as Una Salini, who had been dead to the world finally peered at Stagna with critical eyes.
Angora felt her fabled poise beginning to break, "I didn't realize bigotry was popular in high society, Stagna."
Stagna laughed gutturally, "I'm not bigoted. I'm simply telling the truth. Tell me Angora, what do you think of Koopas? Would you date one of those ugly, scaly monsters? What say you, huh?"
Angora froze as all eyes were suddenly upon her. Once more Una Salini was watching her closely, paying rapt attention to her.
For a moment Angora's mind raced wildly; what to do? What to do? She was Angora LeCatte, one of the most prestigious courtwomen and though she was not by any account bigoted, she could not verbally approve of a Human-Koopa union.
She was Angora LeCatte and an aristocratic lady had no place accepting such an abominable matching. Her community wouldn't accept it, her family wouldn't accept it and she would be seen as a scandalous tart. No high class lady fraternized with a Koopa. Only low status women, women who didn't care about their standings did such deplorable things.
There's nothing deplorable about Lefty is there? Or how he makes you smile...
Angora suddenly felt dizzy and lightheaded as she thought of how Lefty made her laugh effortlessly and how happy she was just talking with him. Human men had never even come as close to the way he made her feel. No one knew of the budding relationship between them. She couldn't approve.
She wouldn't. She knew her place in society and there was no place for a Koopa paramour. Angora's serene mask was back in place and she quickly folded her hands into her lap, hiding her trembling fingers. Angora cleared her throat, "No."
"No?" Stagna squawked, "No what?"
Though she kept a straight face, Angora felt her stomach drop. Her tongue suddenly felt as if it were made of lead, "No, I would not date one. The Koopa child is just that, a child and I have sympathy for children. He can stay at the palace but I do not approve of Koopas and humans fraternizing. It is disgusting."
Stagna's cruel laugh didn't help settle Angora's growing nausea, "Oh good! You really had me quite worried there for a moment Angora! Though I suppose I see your point…Let's keep 'em as allies but as cohorts? Lovers? Friends? I think not. It's disgusting and awful…"
As Stagna continued to launch into another self-indulgent, long-winded rant, Angora sipped at her cooling tea. She may have kept her expression perfectly blasé but her stomach felt queasy and terribly knotted. She no longer desired her cup of tea and the taste of the once delicious teacakes became unappetizing mush.
I'm a traitorous coward…He would never have demonized me so...
For a split second Una Salini carefully studied Lady Angora before turning forward once more and completely zoning out to the sounds of the tea party's idle chatter. Lady Angora pushed the remainder of her tea and teacakes aside; she could easily say she was watching her figure. As Angora placed her hands in her lap, her digits trembled terribly and for a moment she blinked back a traitorous flood of tears.
Stars, I'm so sorry Lefty…
Day 20 5:30 AM
Taurus sat on his throne raptly studying the fine print of the Darklandian reparation. It was written in such beautifully passive-aggressive wording that it hid its ominous nature. But there was no missing the threat here: pay 20 billion coins in reparation or else.
His uncle stood by, a deep frown marring his face, "First the attack by the Sarasalandians and now this…Stars, this is getting to be a bit too much."
Taurus glanced up at his Uncle, "What do you think we ought to do?"
"It's quite obvious," his uncle replied, "It may hurt but we've got to pay back that reparation."
Taurus laughed disbelievingly, "To those demanding self-serving lizards? And what will they think of us when we give them this much coinage?"
The crown prince arched a brow, "They'll think of us as pushovers. That we can be ordered around by the likes of them."
"No, they'll think we've got some damn sense in our heads!" Uncle Leo hissed, "Taurus, you were too young to remember King Morton's reign. It was absolutely terrifying. He held no respect for life. If someone was unfortunate enough to piss him off, he would arrange to have them killed. In the blink of an eye."
Taurus glared at the reparation, "Twenty billion coins? That's absolutely ridiculous."
"It is a little costly," Uncle Leo agreed, "But perhaps we can meet with them. Talk and see if we can get them to lower the fee."
"They're gouging us!" Taurus hissed, baring his teeth, "No kingdom can pay such a ludicrous sum! It'll take us years! Decades to pay them back! And in the meantime our people will have to suffer!"
"We'll need to raise taxes and look at price inflation to pay this off. The last thing my citizens need to worry about is a hike in taxes! Those lizards can take this reparation…"
Taurus furiously flung the papers into the air, "And cram it!"
"Taurus," His Uncle seemed exasperated, "We need to pay them. We have one feud with the Desert people and we certainly don't need another with the most powerful militia. Pay them the sum and be done with it."
"You are insane if you believe I'll pay that Star awful sum."
The general threw his hands into the air, "Their king was assaulted! They could just declare war and be done with it! They're giving us a peaceful solution here! Don't be daft, boy!"
Taurus reclined thoughtfully, rubbing his chin, "I'll give the Darklands my answer. We'll send a messenger to their palace and they'll arrive tomorrow at the Darklands."
"Be wise here, Taurus…" The General spoke softly, "They are not a creed you want to upset."
Prince Taurus snapped his fingers and a nearby servant approached the throne and bowed.
Taurus peered at his stewardess, "Seastara, please send a notice to King Bowser and let them know that our messenger will arrive to their palace with my response tomorrow. First thing tomorrow morning they ought to expect our procession."
The young maid rose to her feet and bowed, "At once, my prince."
Taurus helped himself to a glass of wine; he'd give the Darklands his answer alright.
Day 19 7:30 AM
The Darklandian throne room was filled to the brim with a brigade of well-decorated soldiers and councilmen cloaked in their finest robes. All stood in line behind the king who sat at the center of their procession upon his towering throne. The entire room was deathly silent as Bower, adorned in his most ceremonial shell and thickest spiked bracers peered down at his advisor, "Are they here yet?" The King growled.
Kamek, dressed in his best set of robes stopped kneeling before the throne and rose to his feet, "The Aqualandian ambassador is here, Sir. We're awaiting your orders."
The King nodded and sent a sharp glare forward, "Send them."
The double rolls to the throne room were shoved open with a resounding bang. Kamelia Koopa led the Aqualandian procession to the front of the king's throne. It wasn't missed by the king, nor his subordinates how the Aqualandian guards were laughing and speaking amongst each other. They weren't even remotely serious about this.
Eyes narrowed, Bowser closed one of his claws shut; count that as strike one.
Kammy took a knee before the throne, "King Bowser, the ambassador of the Aqualands and his hand chosen guards have arrived."
With her announcement out of the way, she went to stand beside Kamek and the rest of the highly esteemed councilors. Clawdus Koopa stepped forward and went to stand beside the king's right hand, "Aqualands. I, Clawdus Koopa of the Firelands have issued you a reparation. In exchange for the blood of our king, we demand a repayment of 20 billion coins and your trespasses shall be forgiven. What say Aqualandia? What say your sovereign prince? We are listening."
The ambassador stepped forward from the safety of his armored guards. The ambassador, like most Aqualandians, was pale and drenched with golden hair. He peered around the throne room with a rather unimpressed visage and a haughty sneer upon his features, "Koopas of the Darklands, I have come here to speak on behalf of our esteemed Prince Taurus. We see that you have issued a reparation and yet we refuse to pay it."
A low murmur of discontent rose from the councilmen and the moment Bowser slammed his fist against the arm of the throne, the entirety of the room fell silent. Clawdus Koopa frowned, "Why have you failed to pay our reparation. Were the terms not specified and clear?"
"Oh they were," the ambassador laughed darkly, "It is just that they were gravely insulting. We refuse to pay a reparation to a kingdom of haughty and arrogant creatures such as yourselves."
Clawdus Koopa shared a meaningful look with the king. King Bowser curled a second digit closed; strike two.
Clawdus cut his eyes thin, "You do realize that it was you who assaulted our king. You do realize the severity of your actions. We have given you an opportunity to absolve yourselves of this atrocity."
"Prince Aqualand believes that this Kingdom has come to think too highly of itself," the ambassador sniffed, "We will not bow to your asinine demands. We will not beg for your loyalties. We are Aqualandia, a powerful and thriving kingdom in its own right. We do not need your blessing to survive."
"You ignoramus," Clawdus growled, "Do you and your squalid little human prince think this is a game? These are not schoolyard games we are playing. You are foolishly tempting the wrath of the most powerful kingdom bar none!"
The crowd of Darklandian soldiers and councilmen raised a terrifying, furious growl that rattled the lines of armors in the throne room. Once more when King Bowser slammed his fist against the throne, all the Koopas fell silent.
"Hear me well," Clawdus growled thickly, "If our king has to rise from his throne. Things will not end well for you, Human."
"Do you think your idle threats will scare us, councilman?" The ambassador scoffed, "We are Castle Aqualandia and we will not be swayed nor moved by your hostile language. Our prince has already made up his mind and he will not sign your selfish, greedy reparation. We will not make your wealthy nation wealthier."
The ambassador pulled out a document from his robe and made a show of brandishing it to the entire courtroom, "Here is your document that demands for our reparation and this is what Prince Taurus and the Aqualands thinks of your greed!"
The ambassador ripped the document into shreds and littered it across the throne room. His Aqualandian guards cheered obnoxiously and raised their weapons in celebration. The councilkoopas gasped loudly as the Darklandian soldiers spat curses.
The ambassador laughed deeply, "But here. In a show of our goodwill, we will give you this."
The ambassador pulled a single coin from his pocket and dropped it onto the floor amongst the shredded remains of the reparation, "There is your reparation."
As the offended voices of the councilkoopas rose to a swell, through it all the King watched impassively. With one last shared look with Clawdus, King Bowser curled his third claw closed and finally rose from his throne.
The moment he stood to his feet, all the Koopa growls of discontent disappeared and an ominous silence swept over the court. Even the cheering Aqualandian soldiers suddenly sensed something was amiss and they too silenced. Bowser peered around all his Koopas before finally focusing his narrowed glare onto the ambassador.
He stomped down the steps and marched towards the ambassador until he stood a foot away. The ambassador's arrogant visage quickly morphed into something closer to apprehension. Aqualandian guards swooped forward and formed a protective semicircle around their diplomat, weapons raised.
Just as the NightRiders stepped forward to defend their king, Bowser raised a hand to call them off. Bowser fixed his glower onto the nearest guard, "Do you really believe that pathetic spear will pierce my hide?"
The King ripped the spear from the guard's trembling hands and effortlessly bent it within his claws. His display of strength made the ring of guards back away until only Bowser and the humbled diplomat stood. When the king spoke, his voice was completely guttural, "Do you know why Prince Taurus won't sign our reparation? It's because he doesn't respect us."
A low murmur from the councilkoopas and soldiers rose as the King continued, "He hates Koopas and doesn't even have the decency to admit when he makes a fault. No, your idiotic prince will only respect a display of power."
"We tried to play nice," Bowser growled, "We tried to offer a peaceful solution when really, your awful race didn't even deserve it. So when we offer our geniality, what does your prince do?"
"He throws it back in my face!" Bowser roared furiously, inciting a wrathful cry from his nearby Koopas.
As Bowser continued, his voice and anger escalated as the other Koopas began to growl, feeding into his anger. They raised their fists and roared feverishly.
"Your Prince only pulled this because you think we're weak! That I'm weak!" Bowser roared, spouting fire; the room was quickly surging with the bloodlust of the Koopas.
They roared and stomped and began to demand the heads of their foes. The heady, skyrocketing fury was contagious and soon Bowser's eyes were bright and wild with rage, "The only thing you humans respect is power! You want to test me? You want to test the Koopa race!? Then you will see my strength!"
The Koopa crowd roared in exhilaration, eyes bright with insanity and bloodlust, "Kill him!"
"Make them pay!"
"Bleed the feosauros!"
The Aqualandian guards peered around nervously, taking in all the irate Koopas demanding for their blood, for their deaths. Their puny spears and swords were nowhere near enough protection to save their lives. When the ambassador turned to flee, a loud, furious roar rose from the Darklandians and rattled the furniture and shook banners.
"Look!" A Firelands elder laughed wildly with malicious glee, "The worm is fleeing!"
Clawdus bellowed, "Kill him King!"
King Bowser released a bloodcurdling roar and dove, snarling as his incisors sank into the ambassador's leg. The diplomat wailed, shrieking furiously as he tried to escape the king's brutal hold. He cried, screaming for help as he extended an arm out towards his soldiers, "HELP! HELP ME! DO SOMETHING! PLEASE!"
But the Aqualandian guards watched in muted horror as King Bowser—jowls dripping with blood—stalked behind their diplomat.
Eyes wide and swirling with chaos, Bowser grabbed the ambassador by the throat and raised him into the air so the Koopas could see the human kick and struggle pathetically. The Koopas roared their approval, happily gnashing their jaws and stomping their feet.
The scent of blood filled the King's nostrils and he let out a euphonic groan of pleasure as his eyes nearly rolled into the back of his head from bliss. He applied more pressure onto the ambassador's neck and smiled, laughingly happily as his people continued to cheer with rancorous zeal.
"Oh Stars…" the Aqualandian commander spoke in a quaking whisper, "He's about to die. He's about to be murdered at this tribunal and there's nothing we can do to stop this…"
Just as the Aqualandian diplomat's face began to turn blue from asphyxiation, with a savage roar, Bowser took his claws and effortlessly ripped them through his neck, cutting easily through tendons and bone alike.
A red fountain of warm blood squirted from the decapitated body and the Koopa crowd cheered ambassador's head dropped to the floor and rolled to a stop. His face was frozen, twisted in a horrific expression as the Koopas laughed and cheered.
King Bowser basked in the glory of his kill, laughing ruthlessly as blood smeared his face and plastron like war paint. The Aqualandian soldiers staggered away, faces pale and stomachs nauseous as they stared at their decapitated diplomat. They nearly wet themselves when the bloodstained king slowly cut his gaze onto them.
"Insignificant fools," Bowser's voice was more beast than reason at this point, as blood dribbled from his maw and stained his plastron a deep maroon.
Today, the Koopa bloodlust won; today, King Morton would've been proud at his son. Bowser grinned wickedly, his incisors still coated with blood, "Tell your foolish prince that this is his final warning. He had better sign that reparation. And one last thing. Give this to him."
Bowser picked up the ambassador's head and tossed it into the air as if it were a popfly. The head rotated gruesomely midair and landed with a loud splat when the Aqualandian commander caught it, blood splattering against his armor.
"W-We'll tell him everything," the commander spoke, his voice quivering.
Clawdus Koopa laughed uproariously, "You insolent whelps have tasted our ire. Never forget or this shall be the first of many to come."
The Governor turned to face the crowd, "Long live King Bowser!"
The chant caught on like wildfire as the throne room was filled with a booming cheer, "Long live King Bowser!"
"Long live the king!"
The Aqualandians didn't waste any time, turning on their heels and running as if the devil himself was chasing them. As they ran through the halls, frantically trying to find their way out, the insidious laughter of the Koopa race slowly faded away as they drew closer to the exit.
They raced out of Bowser's Keep and rushed to their steeds, stumbling and tripping as they mounted and raced out of Darklandian territory. Once the sinister dark valleys and landscape transformed into the lush green rolling hills of the Aqualandian territory did the soldiers slow down.
They dismounted, some of the men stumbling and falling to their knees as others wretched. A few of the soldiers stared blankly, wondering if what they had witnessed was real. The lead Aqualandian soldier dismounted from his steed, peering at the ambassador's severed head grimly, "I don't really give a damn what Prince Taurus thinks. But I will do everything in my power to convince the Prince that he must pay that reparation."
"But Sire, we should come back with an army and avenge the ambassador's death!" A soldier hissed.
"Shut up, fool!" The commander hissed, "Did you not realize that our swords and spears were no matching for the king's bare hands!? They're bloodthirsty monsters! The last thing we need to do is fight them. Now come. Let's head back and inform the prince what has happened."
After gathering their wits, the Aqualandians mounted their steeds and rode towards their border. Though they didn't look forward to facing the Prince, they certainly did not want to stay and deal with the wrath of the Darklandians.
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