The Koopa girl with the cheesy, pink bow looked down on the newcomer. "Why won't she wake up? I'm hungry!" Her entire face puckered up. "I want dinner, I want a story!"
"Me too, sis," The Koopa boy with the even cheesier cat-eyed glasses replied with his offensive Brooklyn drawl. He poked the Toad nanny with a stick.
Reishi's head was like a giant lump of pure pain. The children backed away, and she sat up on her arms.
"My head is positively pounding. I…"
The male Koopaling wearing the retro cat-eye glasses and pink shell held a glass of water before her.
"Thanks…" She started, but as she reached for it, the water was withheld.
"My services ain't cheap," Roy Koopa said matter-of-factly. Reishi searched around in her Toad cap and reached the spoiled prince her last dimes.
The cold water worked like a charm and washed the pain away, and as it vanished, she became aware of another sensation. She was warm, for the first time in months. She was dressed in a moss green dress, lined with what appeared to be stoat. In spite of its obvious luxury it was very visibly marked with Bowser's emblem; embroidered on the chest. Reishi couldn't believe they had confiscated her shoes. Luckily, the Chain Chomp that replaced them was sleeping. She rushed to the window as the Koopalings seemed too shy to hinder her. The courtyard surrounding the castle was crawling with different Koopas, and she waved at them.
"Hey! I need help!" she called over and over, a little louder each time. Nobody looked up; they were used to captives screaming. But she didn't give up; she kept crying for help until someone tugged at her arm.
It was little Lemmy on his circus ball. "Don't do that," he said. His voice was raspy, but had a hint of cuteness in it. "Daddy says that if we don't use our indoor voices, we'll wake up Angler Face."
"Sorry." Reishi tried not to look at him. He was just too creepy.
"A simple Chain Chomp won't keep her from running away, you know," Wendy O. said and crossed her arms.
"I know." Roy was pensive for a little while. "But I've got a better idea."
The Koopalings were too young for separate bedrooms. Instead, they slept in scary-looking carved stone cots which were set up against the wall with the slanted ceiling. The infant slept in a bassinet, on sturdy, wrought iron legs; out of reach of small envious hands. Reishi wasn't really all that keen on knowing why there were ten beds and only five children.
Roy went over to one which was placed in a pen of barbed wire, and dragged a sleeping sibling over the guard rail. The child was shaken violently.
"Look, bro," Roy twisted his brother's head in Reishi's direction. "That one cannot escape. I would have charmed her myself, but King Dad banned me from doin' magic stuff."
Iggy Koopa was a child only a mother could love. Despite his energy level, he rarely ate and only fell asleep if his brothers bonked him over the head with a pool cue. His eyes were pure madness and not helped by the very thick glasses he had to wear. The spikes on his shell were tipped with rubber safety points; a keepsake from his (most recent) stay at the asylum.
"Alright then, brother dear, I know what should be done!" Iggy's voice was laden with insane laughter. He pulled a wand he had stolen from a dead Magikoopa's tomb. "King Dad did promise me a Toad of my very own to experiment on!"
He seized the Toad girl's hands in a strong grapple and conjured a purple cloud around them. When she looked down, she was also donning spiked cuffs. She tried to tear them off, but Iggy stepped forward and growled in a manner she could only describe as possessive.
"Bling'll keep from runnin'?"
"If she runs, she'll turn into a monster, like Boom Boom." Iggy was referring to the son of his mother's cousin, who used to guard them as eggs.
"Decent work, bro." Roy actually smiled. "She'll be our mommy forever."
While they rejoiced, Reishi suddenly felt something inside of her snapping like a twig. She retreated to the corner, where she spent an unknown amount of time plucking on her new bijoux. The problem was, however, that fingernails can't really cut through metal. When she finally gave up, it seemed as if her hearing returned. She was able to see, too, but in a different way – Kastle Koopa was no longer a dreary place, but vivid and colorful. The situation however, needed a stern talking to. Lemmy played a blaring darkwave record, which Ludwig Von Koopa was jamming to on a virginal. Ludwig was entering puberty in all its mood-swing ridden glory. The baby was crying, or something; it didn't sound worldly. Wendy and Morton were fighting over the last chocolate covered cockroach snack, and Roy was giving Iggy a massive swirly, to which the latter objected violently.
"No, Roy; you're gonna get water down my shell again!"
"Take it like a man, Iggy; you're messin' up the food chain!" Roy grunted angrily and dunked his brother's head in the toilet bowl. His victim replied with a furious gurgling form underneath the toilet surface.
"You're a dweeb, Morton! I hope you die!" Wendy licked her finger and put it in Morton's ear. He yelped in disgust. "You're a cheap slag, and you'll be even cheaper in the future!"
"I hate you!"
Reishi was up on her feet and standing in the middle of the room. She clenched her fist, and then separated all the fighting children.
"If I ever see you fighting again I will lock you all in the dungeon till Koopdom come!" She thrust her finger at the messy floor. "Before anyone gets any dinner, I want this cleaned up! And keep your traps shut!"
"We're on it, ma'am," Roy said in a silver-tongued attempt at good manners."No need for the dungeon here."
When the clutter was cleared, the Koopalings took turns being looked after. Reishi rubbed the water out of Iggy's mohawk with a towel, straightened Wendy's bow, combed Ludwig's hair and wiped a smudge off Roy's sunglasses. When all of them looked presentable, it was dinner time. According to the checklist found in the cabinet, Kamek had fed each of them a concoction of raw, pureed beef mixed with moonshine four times a day, to aid their bodies in creating fireballs. And it worked; after they had finished their meal, they were responsive and calm. No time to enjoy it though – the baby's bottle was empty. The same could not be said for his diaper.
Before she could sit, she had to bathe him, put on clean jammies and comb weevils out of his spiky, cyan hair. And when she could finally sink down in her armchair; ready to croak, Lemmy jumped up into her lap, happy as a clam. He presented his favorite book; Stories for Mean Little Koopas. It was strange how someone whose pupils stared in opposite directions could be so focused. "Read to me, I'm bored."
The rest of Bowser's offspring were already seated in their small, but stately armchairs around Reishi. The infant protested against being alone in the bassinet, so she had to balance him on her lap next to the older and insanely jealous brother, while reading from her knees. Accompanied by Ludwig's appalling 'symphonies', Reishi read them Lemmy's favorite story; where a young newlywed lady woke up, and found her husband dead beside her. The grief caused her to lapse into complete madness, as she refused to leave his side, even when he became grey and smelly. When the story was finished, both of the children on her lap were sleeping. She gingerly removed Lemmy's thumb from his mouth.
"Bedtime, Koopalings," she said caringly. Roy and Morton even helped her securing Iggy to his pen. The infant needed the most attention, so she saved him for last. He was teething rather late for a blue-blood Koopa.
"Why don't you have a name, little one?" Reishi let him grab her finger and nibble on it. "Wonder what is taking Dad so long. You wanna know a secret, you sweet little tin of rotten Spam? I've always dreamed that if I ever had a little boy, I'd call him Larry. A sweet name for a sweet child."
"Reishi?" Wendy lifted her head up from her pillow. "Why aren't you married?"
The Toad girl closed the bassinet's red velvet curtains. "Love is for the beautiful; life is for the living, cutie pie. Go back to sleep now."
When they were all sleeping, Reishi curled up in the nursing chair and hid her head under the blanket, as she always did.
Somewhere out there a bell was tolling; it's sound being mellowed by the heavy blanket of snow. It was Christmas Eve, after all.