Princess Peach inhaled deeply, appreciating the scent of the freshly bloomed flowers within her expansive garden. The cheery blue sky was stretched out far beyond where she could see, past the many villages and people of the Mushroom Kingdom. The flowers that seemed to don their own type of rainbow danced and glittered in the rich, warm sunlight. It had been such a long time since Peach was able to leave the castle for a break, especially since her parents’ departure.
She wilted a bit, not unlike the old flower at the farther end of her garden. Her parents had had to leave for a political alliance with some kingdom she couldn’t for the life of her remember the name of. Before she got to delve into a deeper depression induced by the memory of goodbye, she heard footsteps from beside her.
“Hello, Princess!” Mario called out, careful to approach her without trampling her flowers. She looked up and smiled brightly, happy to see her best friend, next to Daisy. “How are you-a doing today?”
“I’m doing just fine, Mario, thank you for asking,” Peach said, the line polite and rehearsed. She stood up and straightened out the tiny wrinkles in her dress. “What have you been up to today? I would hope someone hired you for a job with their clogged pipes.” She smirked playfully. Mario raised an eyebrow in question, but still smiled himself.
“Very-a funny Princess,” Mario exaggerated. “I-a actually got a couple calls today with Luigi.”
“Really?” Peach asked, unable to control the surprise on her face. “I didn’t know Luigi went with you.”
“Did I not-a tell you? I thought I-a did.” Mario rubbed his chin in thought, then shrugged. “I guess I-a forgot to. He-a comes with-a me a lot. We’re not the-a Mario Brothers for-a nothing.” He grinned, happy with his business.
Peach looked down and smiled, observing a smaller, younger flower. It seemed to beam back at her, with the grin of an infant. She touched the petals softly, a bit sad at the inability to feel its gentle petals. However, she could swear she felt it shiver with delight at her touch. Mario watched, not wanting to speak and ruin the peace of the moment. Everything was still and painted in soft pastels, a moment that Peach wanted to trap in time.
Then there was the heavy wind, the rough pressure on her head and body, and then the darkness. Not to mention Mario’s screaming. Before she knew it, she was in the air. A combination of Mario’s suddenly distant voice and a deeper, grittier voice that she didn’t recognize that was much louder and much closer. A headache began to grow ever-so-obnoxiously as the strange voice continued to shout.
Later on, after waking up from...wait, waking up? When had she fallen asleep? She looked around her, and tried to rub her tired eyes. It was a tad difficult considering that her arms were tied to arm chairs. As her consciousness returned slowly, she realized that her previously minor headache was now splitting. She groaned in pain and heard a distant shuffle in response.
“Who...who’s there?” Peach called out, squinting to see better in the dark. Her attempts were, obviously, fruitless. All she could make out was one giant blob. “Hello? Is anyone even here?”
There was another noise, but this one resembled more of a grunt. Peach leaned back, now a little frightened to know that she wasn’t alone. Especially in this strange place that smelled strongly of gunpowder. She didn’t like it one bit, and she wanted out right away. She squirmed in her seat, trying to find a weak spot in her binds.
“It’s no use, Peach,” the figure ahead of her chuckled. “I tied those myself. Checked ‘em twice, too.”
The blonde struggled some more, muttering, “Someone’s going to find me.”
The figure ahead of her laughed in reply, turning on the lights. The sudden brightness was quite a bit to adjust to, and made her headache pound within her skull. She hissed quietly, then scowled at the figure. She wasn’t able to hold this bravery for long, though, because she noticed that her captor was a tall...dragon...turtle...thing. Even if she couldn’t place his species, he was intimidating.
He was tall, and bulky, and two pointy horns poked through the sides of his head. His blood-red hair cascaded like a mane, and his eyes (being the same crimson color) pierced into her like a knife. His teeth resembled daggers, each a new threat that caused her skin to quiver in fear. He wore spiked bands on his neck and arms, and his meaty hands and feet sported some unfriendly claws.
The only comforting feature about him was his eyebrows. They were thick and bushy, and quite funny-looking. If she wasn’t being held prisoner by this beast, she would laugh and giggle at his brow. It just seemed silly for someone as intimidating as him. Of course this was forgotten as soon as he turned around to fiddle with some switches, when she saw his tail and shell. They were both heavily decorated with spikes that could easily slide through her like butter. She swallowed hard.
She was going to ask what it was he was doing to get her mind off being impaled by his backside, but the sudden lifting of her chair distracted her. She squealed in surprise, causing her captor to turn around and look at her terrified face, making him laugh more.
“Do you not like heights, Peach?” the dragon-turtle guy asked with a smirk. “Just wait, I’ve got something even worse than that.”
She wasn’t going to ask, she promised herself she wouldn’t. She wanted to let her fear take over enough to give her the adrenaline to find a way to get out when he left. But the curiosity nipped at her like a needy baby shark. She had to ask or she’d go insane. You can’t escape if you’re insane, right?
“What do you mean?” Princess Peach asked warily. He grinned.
“I’m so glad you asked.”
With that, his clawed hand gripped a switch, and he pulled it down with more force than was really necessary. The floor fell around her, the stone falling and crumbling into...oh no…
“Lava?!” She shrieked, wishing she could flail her legs. She knew it wouldn’t help but it would make her feel a little less helpless.
The beast just laughed out loud, his deep, baritone roar rumbling around her as he turned off the lights again. The light from the lava provided just enough to see his more terrifying features. Her eyebrows furrowed in worry, and she couldn’t keep her eyes off of him, no matter how much she wanted to look away. It was like watching a plane crash, and it just kept coming.
He walked towards her, the stone around him falling as he walked, leaving a bridge of the same material behind. He walked to the end point of his bridge, a little section of stone right in front of Peach. He could reach her face easily, and he smirked right at her. She sneered back, leaning away. He faltered slightly, then chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Peach asked, her tone a little more wavy than before. This guy was just...weird.
“I just realized that, for someone so proper and regal, you haven’t even asked me what my name is.” He took great pleasure in making her uncomfortable and scared, it seemed.
“I highly doubt that it’s of any importance,” she retorted.
He raised a brow, but continued to smirk. “Now that just hurt my feelings. You’re a real tough girl, aren’t ya? I don’t get many people talking to me like that. I’m pretty respected here.”
“Respected?” Peach snorted. “I would think more ‘feared beyond belief’.”
“Is there a difference?” A lazy grin.
She realized that he was just going to keep this circle going until she asked what his stupid name was. With a sigh and a roll of her eyes, she looked at the wall to keep from looking at him. Since she had gotten a bit of his personality, he wasn’t as terrifying. Just silly looking, like something from a child’s imagination.
“What is your name?” she asked curtly, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
He beamed. “Why, thank you for asking!” He stepped back a bit, giving her enough space to just barely touch his chest with her toes, which didn’t mean much. “I am Bowser! King of the Koopas!” His voice boomed, shaking the walls and causing her to hiss in pain. Again.
“What’s a ‘koopa’?” Peach asked. “I’ve never even heard of that.”
“Obviously you’ve been more sheltered,” Bowser replied, sighing with annoyance. “A koopa is what I am. We’re a strong race, and we have control of the entire Darklands. My kingdom’s been in a bit of a scuffle with yours ever since before we were both here.”
Peach was confused then. She looked at Bowser again. “What do you mean? How old are you?”
“About two years ahead of you.” He answered simply. “So...twenty-three.”
“Yes, I can add,” Peach replied, rolling her eyes.
“Isn’t it easy to tell?” Bowser asked suddenly, raising a brow.
“To tell what?”
“How old I am.”
Peach mulled it over a bit, thinking of how to put it. “Not really. You don’t exactly look all that young,” she said simply. “I mean, you look more like...I don’t know...thirty? Yeah, about thirty.” She smiled at her seemingly accurate reasoning.
Bowser was a little stunned. Then he chuckled a bit. He seemed to be full of giggles. “Well, I guess koopas don’t age like humans do.”
“Clearly,” Peach sighed. “Why am I here again?”
Bowser’s eyes popped wide open. He’d seemed to have forgotten momentarily. “Ah, right, you’re here because I have recently been crowned king, and my first choice as king is to take over your kingdom. I’ve noticed that your ever-faithful mother and father have left for whatever reason, so I see a viable reason for takeover. You leaving makes it all the easier, so I just...took you!”
Peach gasped, suddenly afraid again. This time not for herself, but for her parents and her kingdom. She didn’t want these “koopas” taking over, and she wouldn’t let them. Not on her life!
“It’s not going to happen!” Peach shouted. “I’ll die for my kingdom if I have to! Anything to keep it from you!”
Bowser scowled. With a shake of his head, he darkly replied, “If that’s how it’s going to be.”
He shuffled over to his switches again and grabbed a lever. Ever-so-slowly, he lowered it. As the lever lowered, Peach did as well. She got inches and inches closer to the increasingly heated lava below. Her heart and throat constricted. Her headache seemingly vanished as she screamed for help.
Suddenly, a koopa whom she took for a soldier busted in through the door, kneeling before his king immediately.
“Sire! I have an urgent report!” he shouted, looking up at Bowser. “It’s about one of your castles!”
“What about it?!” Bowser barked, ripping the lever back up. Peach’s rope quickly yanked her up, sparing her from just barely touching the lava.
“There’s...there’s been an unexpected visitor. He’s...he’s blown it up.”
Bowser was furious immediately. He restrained himself from not completely obliterating the other koopa. After all, it isn’t really fair to shoot the messenger. After a second of two of a strange combination of cowering and growling, Bowser calmed enough to push the koopa from his path and lean down to give him some orders. Peach leaned in to listen.
“Keep an eye on her...she’s an important person,” he muttered. “A political prisoner. Make sure she doesn’t try to trick you or something.”
“Yes, sire,” the soldier nodded.
Before Bowser left, he shot Peach a menacing glare, as though she had blown up his castle. She couldn’t point this out though, mainly because the king had left. He was a little too fast for one of his size. The soldier took his place, but he stayed silent and kept his distance.
“Um, hi,” Peach muttered, feeling odd talking to him, but feeling a little more odd not talking to him. “Does he have more than one castle?” An innocent enough question.
“Yes, Lord Bowser has many castles,” the soldier replied. His tone was a practiced steel.
“What does he need more than one castle for?” the princess asked. “It’s a little strange.”
“He uses them for many things. Punishments, storage space, summer homes, anything he needs them for,” the koopa said. “Some have even been built on command, right when he says he needs one. We’re quick architects, us koopas.”
“So, if he has so many as it is, why does one blowing up make him so angry?”
“It’s his territory. He has it claimed, and anything he has claimed, he’s very protective of. He isn’t too fond of someone messing with his things. It’s one of the larger reasons our army’s stronger than what’s most likely needed.”
Princess Peach couldn’t help but have a bit of admiration for the king. As malicious as he was, he knew what it was to want to protect his kingdom. Anyone could respect that in a leader. But she couldn’t help but wonder what that meant for her. Had he “claimed” her? Was she his in his eyes? It wasn’t the most pleasant thought, to be owned by someone else.
With a shudder, she shook off the idea. It wasn’t healthy to dwell on such negatives. Instead, she focused on this new presence, who was much more tolerable than Bowser. She thought being nice to this one would be a little less odd than being nice to her captor.
“So, mister, um...Koopa?” Peach tried with a slightly forced smile. “What’s your position at the castle?”
“I’m a koopatroopa,” the koopa replied proudly. “I protect the kingdom and the king. Lord Bowser has placed me as one of the castle’s more higher-ranked troopas.” He beamed, obviously having a high amount of respect for his king.
Peach smiled in return. “What does Bowser usually need protecting from? He seems strong enough to handle himself.”
“His enemies are stronger, at times.”
Nothing more was said on the topic, for two reasons. For one, the koopatroopa didn’t seem like he was going to mention it again, and Peach was a little too startled by the troopa’s overly serious tone to bring it up again. Instead, they sat in silence. It gave Peach some time to think, and as she thought, she realized how tired she suddenly was.
Maybe it was the quiet, or the comforting (if not overwhelming) heat from the nearby lava, or just the overall exhaustion from the events of the day, but Peach somehow found it within her to fall asleep. She dreamed of angry dragons and racing turtles, drowned in lava as slow as molasses.
End of Chapter