Woot! After a few days of laziness, I've finally gotten off my behind (or, in this case, on it) to update this story! Hooray!

Disclaimer: I'm not Shigeru Miyamoto. 'Nuff said.

"What do you want with me, you fiends? Whatever your desire may be, I beg of you, spare me from your plot!" Her blood-curdling squeals pierce the dense, dank atmosphere throughout the cave like daggers penetrating through one's heart, and it certainly doesn't help that the adrenaline is receding from my body rapidly, as if my feeble knees, buckling under the weight of not only the kingdom, but possibly the very world itself, shall shed their final sparks of vigor any moment now; time is undeniably not resting upon my shoulders as of present. And am I…starting to think like Peach?! I must dismiss the thought for now-I just don't know what runs through the princess's head anymore…

Trailing the shrieks in relentless pursuit, my heart pounds fiercely as I stride onward through the raging storm of my own vulnerability-as I nearly misstep over a serrated stone, I realize just how fragile I really am, so helpless I can barely walk, let alone stand. With each passing second, Peach hastens past us, eventually abandoning us in a winding trail of her dust. Following several slow-paced minutes, we reach a clearing, a large staircase that emanates an almost divine aura just within our peak of vision. Several eroded pillars line the extensive chamber, as if from these hollow caves, there once existed a majestic temple running deep beneath the earthy ground.

"My mother! What have you done with her?" The girl's voice is brimming with unexplainable horror, and as my vision perceives her, a horde of Koopatrols are tugging at her wrists, practically dragging her toward a barely visible large sphere-like mass of dark energy. Is it…c-could it really be…the Dark Star?

"Your precious mother was deemed a severe threat by our crazed king, therefore she was…eliminated by troops infiltrating your home village. Tragic, I know, but…we are contracted to heed King Bowser's every order, otherwise…" The Koopatrol shivers in revulsion. "d-death is the penalty for defiance…" Words alone cannot even begin to describe the sympathy I feel for this hapless girl-as I, myself, have lost so many loved ones over the tragic course of my life…including…my mother…

"Wow…would Papa really do such a thing? I never thought…" Junior's tone reflects the utter shock and melancholy at this thoroughly disturbing discovery, his widening irises conveying a river of despondency injected deep through the lining of his heart.

Ludwig, the dark blue-haired Koopaling interrupts his younger sibling. "But never forget what's happened to him, Junior. If the Dark Star hadn't ultimately corrupted him, none of this would've transpired. You must realize that!"

And it's then that I am tormented as dreadful, ceaselessly painful memories of my childhood reemerge from the depths of my conscience, before and even the day disaster struck and plagued our lives from then on…forever…

Most of my childhood, shared with Luigi, was practically entirely lighthearted-excluding my occasional heroics, of course. Upon birth, we were blessed with two compassionate and thoroughly loving parents. Our father, a retired warrior of the Mushroom Kingdom, imparted upon us the customs of chivalry, while our mother provided insight concerning the world's splendor-the sacred beauty it had preserved even through war after war globally. In the fields bordering our home, lush foliage sprouted and covered the landscape in a dense sheet of viridian. These fields bestowed a significant atmosphere of comfort for people in times of despair, washing away their apprehensions once they set their eyes upon the opulent meadows. Some nights, whenever our attempts to sleep came to naught, our mother would guide us to these lush areas not far from our home and soothe us to sleep, always humming the same heartening melody until our eyelids slid shut in fatigue. Those nights, it seemed that our consciences were free of distress, as our dreams were filled with euphoric visions, warding away dreadful nightmares entirely.

But absent were the warm family moments between us, as tragedy soon struck thereafter… Though it brings tears to my eyes, I remember the day as if it had occurred just yesterday…

You see, the Mushroom Kingdom and the Darklands have been at war even before my first moments in the world. Since my father's adolescent years, he had been securing the kingdom from invasion after invasion; after who I believe was Bowser's father had failed time after time again, vengeance would be served, a cold and even lethal dish indeed. Apparently, word of our birth had spread like wildfire worldwide, as the current Darkland king intended to execute us, who would inevitably carry the torch of our father as we matured. And the night disaster had befallen our family had coincidentally been a night of unrest for us-our minds were clouded with countless thoughts and insomnia claimed our concentrations.

Of course, Luigi and I were only about seven at the time; our mother had wrapped blankets around us, as it was an especially bitter night. Nestled against our caring mother, she had easily lulled us to sleep in minutes…that is, until an explosion from a distance instantly sent chills down our spines.

I had poked my head out from the warmth of the soft blanket to see fire ravage the very skies, eruption after eruption terrorizing the nearby forests. I hadn't the slightest clue of what was happening, but my mother was frantic-she yelled to us as she rose to her feet, she yelled to return home as quickly as we could, and never turn back…and to always know…that she loved us, and would be watching over us from above.

Before I know it, she's the only thing standing between us and a truly menacing figure that makes my blood run cold. I remember screaming for her, wishing desperately for her to return home with us; I remember heavily shedding tears as I tightly held my brother's hand and fled us back to our home; and most of all…I remember the Koopa's eyes etch a cold, petrifying glare as the skies hanging overhead darkened with a hellish impression, and I couldn't discern his words over my poor mother's unbearable screeches conveying agony at its peak.

That night, a part of me died along with my mother, Gone were the smiles, the laughter, the warm sensation everyone felt whenever I was around. And things only got worse as my father experienced an even deeper depression. Shortly after the grim news swept the kingdom, he had become an alcoholic. It wasn't long before he was barely recognizable as the former protector of the Mushroom Kingdom. And, unfortunately, he cruelly lashed out all his distress at my brother-or he tried to; I was the only thing standing between him and Luigi, because (and I don't care who you are) if anyone intentionally hurts my friends, especially my brother, I cannot be held responsible for my subsequent actions. Even if it means…risking my own health in the process.

So many nights I awoke to uproars of fierce screams and crashes; just as many sleepless nights I've endured to comfort and faithfully protect my brother…I cannot say I regret that in the slightest. I…I wanted to tell someone desperately, but surely no one would take the words of the child of a former hero to heart, and I was as aware of that fact as everyone else, if not more so. So many bruises I've hidden beneath long sleeves of that same shade of crimson. So many tears-rivers of shame, distress, and guilt-I've concealed within the confines of an emotionless facade and acquitted blue eyes, harboring so much more than those around me could ever possibly envision. I was dying a slow, excruciating death…at least, on the inside. My heart was shattered into two, three, ten, a million tiny fragments that could never be repaired by the warm hands of sympathy I felt so undeserving of. And what hurt the most…was knowing that I was absolutely helpless, at my father's mercy, for the remainder of whatever pitiful remnants of childhood I had yet to experience.

Through his ceaseless wrath, he practically shoved revulsion of the Koopas down our throats, embellishing tales of his past encounters and clashes with the current Koopa King into apparent legends of perilous quest after quest to retain peace throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. But we…we could never truly hate anyone, and he discerned this easily through our innocent gaze alone. Unfortunately, that wasn't nearly enough to stifle his ideals and bias. It especially slighted our relationship with the Darkland king's son, Bowser, since I had grown to admire the Koopa prince, as had Luigi.

"My time for heroics has come to an end, and someone must carry the torch to protect this kingdom in my absence. This dark age is no time for sympathy-if you wish to thrive in this harsh environment, strategized tactics are essential. Learn from my experience, because the world is a cold, demanding place." His eyes gleamed with an adamant passion unsurpassed by the likes of anyone I had met in my life thus far, and from there I could sense his unbending demeanor and mind. It was quite frightening, to be honest, especially witnessing such behavior as an untainted child. And still, I strove on to care for my brother, left completely mistreated after the loss of a caring mother and abuse corrupted the soul of a once pleasant father.

"Now," I had whispered softly to him one night after an onslaught of trauma surfaced and invaded his dreams. "all we seem to have left in this world…is each other… I promise to never abandon you…like he did…"

Alas, to this day, I yearn to find myself in my mother's loving embrace, perhaps to even feel her soft lips reassuringly press against my forehead as she had done several times before her abrupt, tragic demise. And then…when I first had to combat Bowser as adults, I felt my blood run cold. The only reason I actually went through with it was to rescue Princess Peach, secretly the love of my life. And it appeared…that the Koopa's father had corrupted him with the same abhorrence for humans, as he retaliated relentlessly to dominate the Mushroom Kingdom, which was already declining in terms of peace and comfort; the population had plummeted 13% after Bowser's revolution. My heart ached as I realized how truly little he recognized me, as if I were a complete stranger to him. And yet…he was so quick to kidnap Peach, another childhood friend of both ours and his; I had pondered his intentions until I realized how prevailing love really is. And his affection for Peach was no different, not even in the slightest. Despite my sorry attempts, there just was no reasoning with him.

Oh, how the mushroom citizens-and my father-would despise and possibly even kill me if they uncovered my past comradeship with Bowser. In time, I had vowed to myself to disclose this information-surely everyone deserved to know-but apprehension grasped my heart tightly-would these people, the ones I have liberated time and time again-truly forsake me in their anxiety? I, for one, was not looking forward to discovering the truth of the matter, thus deciding this was best to keep to myself. I've omitted this dark secret ever since. So…most of my past has lingered within a dense fog of secrecy, and that is how it must remain…at least, for now.

Inhaling deeply, I lean towards the Koopatrols inching their way ahead, but their mobility is restrained with the weight of the girl. Behind us, the cave trembles as, already, sections of the ceiling are tumbling and collecting around our only escape route. And then, before I know it, one of the troop members forcibly collides with the (now crumbling) walls, and I make out hues of both pink and blond.

"You dare interfere with the plans of the Great One?! Then you shall taste a mere sliver of the Dark Being's ultimate supremacy!" Before I can take even a step to intervene, another Koopatrol charges at the princess, the impact of the spike (fuelled with the Dark Star energies) threatening to impale her; in fact, I cannot fathom how little damage she appears to receive, even after enduring such a normally fatal blow to the abdomen.

"Princess! Princess, are you alright?" My voice screams out, resounding through the halls of the decaying cavern walls around us. My eyes widen in purely genuine concern, and just by examining her expression, I can tell something is…abnormal about her, at least now.

"Rest assured, I have received no evident impairment. However, I fear my strength is giving out. Ruth's very life is imperiled in the clutches of those tainted soldiers, now mere tools of the dubbed 'Dark Being'. Approximate time before system standby mode…five minutes, thirty-one seconds. Please accomplish current task before said time."

"Of course, Princess. You rest for now, we'll take out the remaining soldiers." Because…if they succeed, no one is truly safe under the abysmal and unholy wrath of the Dark Star. And by merely observing the current situation, it seems the dark era is not far from plaguing our kingdom, our very home.

"Mario, help! Please, before it's too late! If the Dark Star's seal is broken, pandemonium will be unleashed upon the Mushroom Kingdom, and even the entire world!" the wide-eyed captive girl pleads as the Dark Star, once vast in the distance of my peripherals, now looms mere yards before us.

"Bro, I'll take care of them, don't you worry!" Luigi assures me, a sphere of electricity expanding in the palm of his right hand. In a heartbeat, he sidesteps an individual oncoming Koopatrol, then exerts a surge of electricity from his hand through its armored chest. The Koopa's once piercing eyes now radiate an almost silver glaze as his strength gives out and his breathing comes to a cessation; a jolt and an agonized shriek serve as the only sound in the cavernous cavity.

Did he…did my own brother just…kill someone? Though I completely understand the gravity of the situation, Koopas are living, feeling beings just like ourselves. They experience the joys of pleasure, as well as endure the pains of sorrow. Despite appearances, no one can truly lack a heart; sometimes, it's just beyond reach, buried beneath the fragments of a compilation of their life's anguish thus far. Perhaps there is purpose for the evildoers spanning the world; the impeding trials of a lifetime burdened heavily over their shoulders and shunning the light from their heart and mind.

"Luigi! Is he…is he even alive?" Panic rises through my already trembling voice at the thought of an almost murderous sight. Then again, I should doubt that my innocent younger twin brother would ever actually murder anyone.

"Of course he is, don't worry! I merely knocked him unconscious temporarily-he should be fine in a few hours." Well, I can say farewell to a year of my life! For my own health, I believe it's best that I discontinue my anxieties, even if only for now.

"Oh…right, sorry. I should've known better than to assume the worst. But…let's make haste through elimination of the rest of them!" Just as I conclude my sentence, Junior slices through a rally of Koopatrols with impressive precision and strength. "J-Junior, that was amazing!" I remark as five members of the opposing clan topple face-first into the ground, spiked shells nearly impaling each other in the process.

"Hehe, how'd that floor taste? C'mon, guys, we're on a roll! There's only…six of them left. Uhh...any suggestions, Ludwig?" The youngest Koopaling quivers slightly in his apprehension and, quite possibly, fear.

"Hmph! Worry not, Junior! With my treasured staff in hand, victory shall shine brilliantly upon us in no time!" Our cloaked ally withdraws his staff and whirls it around, leaving behind a mesmerizing flurry of dust plummeting gracefully from above. For seconds, I'm convinced of our hope and-what I deem soon to be-victory. Perhaps the tides have finally turned.

The powder refracts from the staff into multiple vivid trails of light, engulfing two, three, four Koopatrols in an apparently endless expanse of mystic illuminating hues that seemingly bind to their stone-like hearts and souls, lifting just a fragment of desolate darkness coursing through their veins from their body entirely; numbing their despair and directing them toward the cracks of light in their heart. Or…perhaps they were just unconstrained from the Dark Star's influence, I'm not so sure anymore.

"Hurry!" the veiled Koopaling yells to us as the final two Koopatrols remind us that this brawl is far from over. Captive wriggling in their constricted grip, they stride over to the barrier which bears the root of all evil, the Dark Star itself.

"No, stop! You don't realize what you're doing! If you free the Dark Star from its womb, the cave will collapse!" I desperately yell to the unfazed subordinates, chords of distress and despondency pulling at my voice. "And even worse…you'll be endangering the kingdom-no, the world at the mercy of malevolent dominance!"

"Imprudent heroes, you cease to comprehend the fate of the world as we know it. Already, the Dark Being's influence on humanity and Koopakind alike surpasses the will we are all presented with. Every one of us is a mere puppet pulled by the strings of the superior one and his whims. Not even our King can resist the seed of prodigious supremacy planted and flourishing within the fertile soil of his mind. And you," One of the Koopatrols motions to me as he speaks. "your soul serves as the ideal dwelling, your body a suitable vessel, for the Dark Being. And now…you shall be the first to behold his grandeur firsthand!" From Ruth's body a pure aura emanates, shattering the once divine seal to the malevolent dark artifact. Pulsating such a disturbing, almost morbid sensation, the Dark Star's energy obscures my vision as shadows engulf the kingdom and settle in.

Ruth, her heart pure of sin, screams in unstifled anguish as the dark embodiment is unleashed upon the unsuspecting world around us, a demonic screech unbridled from the root of evil and burned into our mind-and ears-forever.

"Th-the cave is collapsing!" Luigi yelps as trepidation claims his gentle heart, clinging to me for support as trails of tears haze his vision.

"Standby mode initiation sequence in ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…" A monotone voice not belonging to Peach forewarns us of what is to come. As dread engulfs my heart in a winding river not accompanied by an apparent end, adrenaline courses through my veins, reminding me of everything I've done and everything significant to me that I'll risk losing if failure is the path I tread.

"Get close to me, now!" I call out to my friends, and my other allies (Luigi is already by my side), Peach, Junior, Ludwig, and even Ruth gradually drift toward me as a barricade the familiar shade of crimson is exerted from my body, protecting us from impalement from the collapsing ceiling hanging overhead. All I recognize through the void of red before my eyes succumb to fatigue is the cave's walls deteriorating around us, followed by the unforgettable screeches of the Dark Star as the kingdom surely begins to crumble at the mercy of oncoming malevolence.

Dun-nun! The terror! The suspense! The action-what's gonna happen next? I don't know yet-guess I'll have to write the next chapter!