Kids do stupid things.
Well, adults do stupid things too—and they don’t usually have ignorance as an excuse—but that’s beside the point.
Luigi didn’t exactly have a...normal childhood. Honestly, he doesn’t know if anyone in the Mushroom Kingdom has, or what constitutes a normal childhood, for that matter. Still, he doubts time-traveling or fighting monsters is covered in any parenting handbook.
With all this in mind, Luigi can pretty comfortably say he doesn’t have the vaguest idea what your average youth does for fun. He likes to think it’s reading a good book, but something tells him he’s pretty far off the mark.
Tonight, he finds that he is...partially correct.
It’s around midnight when the plumber hears his phone buzzing on the nightstand. He frowns, setting aside his own book to answer; no one calls this late unless it is an emergency (or a prank).
“Luigi’s Spectral Services, how—"
“MY FRIENDS ARE BEING EATEN BY GHOSTS!"
Luigi fumbles his phone at the horribly loud shrieking on the other end of the line, nearly ending the call in the midst of his hasty recovery.
“I’m sorry, your friends are what now?"
“They’re being eaten!" the teen wails, voice cracking. “They’re trapped in the house and I’m out here all alone and I don’t know what to do and I think I might have wet myself—"
“Okay! Slow down!" Luigi interjects. “Take a deep breath, kid. Then tell me what happened."
There’s a pause as the teenager complies. A heavy exhale hisses through the receiver.
“A-alright. So, m-my friends and I found this old spell book at an antique shop—"
Oh boy, here we go.
“—and, well, Dane’s parents are gone for the weekend so we thought we’d try it out at his house and—"
“You summoned ghosts," Luigi finishes, sounding tired, “and they’re angry."
“Dude, you have no idea."
Oh, but he does. Luigi may have never summoned ghosts personally (why in Stars name would you want to?), but he’s done his fair share of research regarding magic that pierces the veil. The plumber has collaborated with wizards and psychics many times during his paranormal career, finding their knowledge and expertise to be invaluable to his work. One of the many things he’s learned, is contacting entities on another plane of existence is extremely delicate work. The slightest error can bring the whole operation crashing down. At best, nothing will happen—the séance will fail. At worst...well, you won’t get the chance to make another mistake.
Luigi gets the kid’s address and ends the call, already making a mental list of what he will need. He looks to Pepper—the ghostly canine having been watching him during the entirety of the conversation.
“What do you say, boy? Want to tag along?"
The wagging tail is the only answer he needs.
“A Victorian home,” Luigi sighs, looking between Pepper and the massive house looming before them, “of course it is."
It isn’t so much the ‘look' of the structure that bothers Luigi, but the age. The older a property, the more power a ghost can draw from it. In other words, if the plumber can't find a peaceful resolution, he’s in for quite a fight.
Luigi prepares himself for the latter.
“There you are!"
A Koopa in a black hoodie leaps out of some nearby bushes and rushes to Luigi’s side. He’s shaking like mad, but otherwise appears to be unharmed.
“Thank Grambi you’re here!" He gulps, glancing nervously back at the house. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come."
“It’s been five minutes."
“That’s a long time when you’re scared!"
Eh, can’t argue with him there.
“Right, well, I’m here now. Just take another deep breath and...uh, I don’t believe I got your name."
“K-Koojo," he stutters.
“Okay, Koojo, take a deep breath, and then tell me how many of your friends are still in the house."
Koojo obeys. Sure enough, their shaking has lessened somewhat.
“Five," he says. “Koorina, Nolem, Koopil, Sweet T., and Dane."
Luigi nods, mentally jotting down the names.
“What do these ghosts look like? How many are there?"
“Shadowy? I guess? And... I think there were six."
Ah. One for each of them. How quaint.
“Anything else you can tell me?"
“Man, I don’t know—! After those...things appeared, we ran downstairs as fast as we could. I got out the front door first, but before anyone else could follow, it slammed shut and locked behind me!" Koojo shudders, hugging himself. “I guess I got lucky."
Luck had nothing to do with it. These ghosts intentionally let this kid escape. Just another, albeit indirect, way of tormenting him.
Luigi glances up at the second story windows; he thought he saw movement, but there’s nothing there.
“Why are we standing around here talking, anyway?" the teen snaps. “While you’re playing twenty questions, my friends are becoming ghost chow!"
“Ghosts don’t eat people." Usually. “And me going in there blind won’t do your friends any favors."
Koojo gives Luigi a sheepish look, muttering an apology under their breath.
“It’s okay. I know you’re just worried," the plumber says patiently, placing a hand on the teen’s shoulder. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to get your friends out of there safely."
Luigi steps around Koojo and moves toward the front porch. He looks over his shoulder.
“You coming Pepper?"
The Polterpup yaps happily, barreling past the startled teenager, whom apparently hadn’t taken notice of the ghostly canine.
“Whoa! You have a ghost dog that hunts evil spirits with you?!"
“...bro. That’s the most metal thing I’ve ever heard."*
Luigi looks down at the happy, slobbering face of his four-legged companion.
“I think I’m getting old, buddy," he whispers to Pepper as they approach the front door. The canine pants neutrally in reply.
An arm’s length away from the entrance, Luigi feels a dark, forbidding energy. It pulsates in warning when he lays a hand on the mullion—he doesn’t dare try the handle.
“So...are you gonna bust the door down?" Koojo calls curiously.
“Not if I want to keep my shoulder intact," Luigi says absently. “Brute force won’t work on magic this strong."
The plumber reaches into one of his pockets and produces an innocuous looking key. As he directs it to the keyhole, the key begins to glow and change shape. The lock turns with a click and the supernatural seal on the door dissipates like a fine mist. Luigi tests the handle, and it gives with no resistance.
Enchanted skeleton keys; you gotta love ‘em.
“Dude," the teen whispers. “Where can I get one of those?"
“A wizard. But in exchange you have to give up your first-born child."
“...I don’t know if you’re messing with me or not, but that still sounds like a good deal."
Luigi casts the youth a perturbed look as he opens the door.
“Just...stay put, okay?” He pauses in the threshold. “Also, please don’t make questionable deals with wizards."
When the door closes behind Luigi, the shift in the air is palpable. It suddenly feels heavy, pressing—like someone turned the gravity up a notch—and the energy crackling around him is almost suffocating in its intensity. If the plumber had any doubts before, they’re certainly gone now. Whatever these entities are, they’re definitely malevolent. Mischievous pranks are the best-case scenario.
Luigi takes a deep breath, trying to hasten his adaptation to the oppressive atmosphere. He needs to get moving before the ghosts become aware of his presence; if his trick with the door hasn’t already alerted them, anyway.
“Alright, Pepper," he whispers. “Where to first?"
The Polterpup quietly takes the lead, snout to the ground. Luigi can’t help but notice how unusually tense the canine is.
Well, that certainly is concerning.
Pepper pads down a narrow hallway, Luigi cautiously trailing behind him. Every creak and moan of the old house sets the duo further on edge.
The Polterpup perks after a moment, and that’s when Luigi hears distant laughter. Not just laughter...other voices too. As they draw closer to the source of the noise, Luigi notices that the other voices and sounds seem to change frequently; abruptly, even. Is that a TV he’s hearing?
Luigi soon gets his answer when they arrive at a slightly ajar door. Slowly, quietly, he peers through the crack.
It’s a media room, if the plumber had to guess. There’s a plush couch settled along the adjacent wall, and seated comfortable in the center is the shadowy figure of a Toad. A remote-control levitates beside them, buttons occasionally illuminating as the entity uses it to cycle through the channels. They giggle mirthfully, at what, Luigi can’t see from this angle. He can’t imagine it’s a particular program as they never seem to stay on any one station for more than a few seconds.
It all looks very innocent, and any other time Luigi wouldn’t be concerned. But this...this wasn’t just some adorable little Toad ghost (and oh, how he wishes they were). When a ghost stays in the mortal realm, they need to periodically feed on positive and negative energy to remain on our plane of existence. But, like living beings, their diets must be balanced. Too much positive energy will override a ghost’s sense of unfinished business and cast them back beyond the veil (not a bad fate, honestly). Too much negative energy...is transformative. The ghost slowly forgets who/what they once were and becomes a vile imitation of themselves. Vitiates, they’re called.
If all the ghosts these kids summoned are Vitiates, Luigi’s going to have a long night.
Luigi looks down at his four-legged companion and gestures for them to stay put. He steps forward and silently pushes open the door. The ghost doesn’t immediately notice him. Then, probably against better judgement, Luigi decides to announce his presence with a belated knock on the door frame.
The Toad’s head snaps over to the plumber, and Luigi tries not to flinch at their sudden, piercing gaze.
“Hello. Sorry to interrupt your, ah, channel surfing."
He risks a glance at the television, somewhat curious of what had the Vitiate so enraptured. His stomach drops at what he sees. It’s a black and white horror film, one he recalls watching with Mario a few movie nights back—a period piece about a werewolf terrorizing some old village. The movie itself isn’t what unnerves Luigi, but the fact that something is definitely off about it. At the moment, the werewolf is chasing a Koopa girl through a dark, overgrown forest.
He doesn’t remember this scene.
He doesn’t remember there being a teenager dressed in modern clothes.
“This...wouldn’t happen to be a director’s cut edition, would it?" Luigi asks rhetorically.
The Toad smiles, but otherwise doesn’t reply.
A distant scream from the TV reminds Luigi what is at stake. He decides to cut to the chase.
“Specter, I mean you no harm," he begins, raising his hands in a placating gesture. “I’ve only come to ask that you let these kids go free. Their summoning of you was not an intended slight. They’re young, and naïve—ignorant to the world of spirits. You have made your point, please be merciful to them. Do so, and I will safely guide you back to your haunt."
Luigi is met with silence.
The Vitiate stares at him with those vacant, glowing eyes. Their grin widens.
Luigi watches in mute horror as the once-cute little smile becomes a gaping maw filled with serrated teeth. The entity’s eyes seem to sink into their head as they gradually rise from the couch. Its body stretches as it moves—a lengthy, serpentine tail sprouting from the torso in place of feet. The ghost slowly reaches out toward the plumber, arms extending until they become nightmarishly long things tipped with razor sharp claws.
Luigi leaps to the side with a yelp when the Vitiate suddenly launches the remote-control at his head. He tucks and rolls, coming up into a crouch with Poltergust nozzle in hand. He stares back at the twisted specter with wide eyes.
So much for diplomacy.
The Vitiate slashes at the plumber with a blood curdling shriek. A talon catches on Luigi’s overalls as he dodges, causing him to stumble back into the television. He gasps as the screen ripples and nearly swallows him up like a pond of tar. Luigi pushes off the frame and hastily puts distance between himself and the entertainment center. Another fearful cry draws his eye back to the movie/prison.
"Pepper! Help the kid!”
The Polterpup darts into the room without missing a beat and launches himself through the TV, disappearing with a ghostly pop. Luigi turns his attention back to the Vitiate just in time to avoid another swipe. The dark entity hisses angrily at the plumber before attempting to pounce on him—spindly arms outstretched and claws splayed with intent. Luigi barely manages to step out of the way, but when the ghost goes sailing past him, he makes his move.
The Vitiate howls with rage as they’re suddenly caught up in the Poltergust's powerful vortex. They dig their claws into the plush carpet and frantically pull themselves along the ground in an attempt to escape. Luigi is dragged several meters before he can finally find his footing. He activates the Poltergust’s Power Surge, shocking the ghost and weakening its hold on the ground. Before the Vitiate can recover, Luigi pulls on the nozzle with all his might and slams the entity into a nearby wall. He repeats the action several times—bashing the ghost into walls, the floor, and finally the coffee table. The latter crumples under the force of the strike, throwing Luigi off balance and providing the Vitiate an opportunity to break free. It whirls around and back hands the plumber into an adjacent wall.
The blow briefly knocks the wind from Luigi’s lungs. He gasps, clawing for the Poltergust nozzle that was thrown from his grasp. A warped, spine tingling giggle draws his gaze back to the looming Vitiate. It grabs the plumber by the front of his overalls and hoists them up so they are now face-to-horrifying-face. The ghost laughs harder when Luigi closes his eyes, interpreting it to be out of fear.
They don’t notice the charged-up Strobulb until it’s too late.
The Vitiate shrieks at the sudden, blinding light. It drops Luigi and fruitlessly scrubs at its eyes with the heels of their palms. Luigi wastes no time in restarting the Poltergust. The dark entity snarls at the return of the familiar tug, swiping blindly around it as the plumber slowly draws it in. A few seconds later, the ghost is drained of enough energy that it can no longer resist the Poltergust’s pull. It bellows a final, furious cry before vanishing into the nozzle with a satisfying pop.
Luigi heaves a weary sigh.
He's barely returned the Poltergust’s nozzle to its hook when a surprised yelp and dull thud draws his attention to the TV. Pepper is there, sitting obliviously on the back of the sprawled Koopa teenager. He has the girl’s scarf in his mouth, as if he’d scruffed her like a kitten and dragged her to freedom (that’s probably exactly what happened). The Polterpup looks at Luigi and greets the man with a happy bark and wagging tail. Luigi’s shoulders slump with relief.
Thank the Stars, they made it.
Luigi rushes over, Pepper leaping off the Koopa as she shakily pushes herself up into a sit. The plumber kneels at her side and gives her a quick once-over. She’s shaking, and her clothes are torn in a few places, but otherwise seems okay.
“Are you alright?” he asks anyway.
“Physically? Not too bad.” She laughs nervously, rubbing at her head. “Mentally? I’m going to need some serious therapy.”
“Heh, well, I have a few therapists I can recommend.”
“Thanks, man, I appreciate—” The teen pauses, finally looking up and identifying her other savior. She blinks. “You’re Luigi.”
“The one and only,” he chuckles. “Would your name happen to be Koorina?”*
The Koopa blinks again, looking increasingly surprised.
“Yeah. But how did you…?”
“Your friend, Koojo, called me here. Told me everything.”
“Oh. Smart.” She frowns to herself. “Probably the smartest thing any of us has done today.”
“We all make mistakes. Just be sure to learn from them.”
“Yeah, don’t read from mysterious spell books and provoke a bunch of ghosts.” The Koopa mimes writing with a pen in the air. “Duly noted.”
“You might want to pin that somewhere it won’t get lost.”
The teen snorts.
“I’ll make a note of that, too.”
Luigi smiles, getting to his feet and offering the Koopa a hand.
“Let’s get you out of here. I still need to help the rest of your friends.”
Koorina accepts his help and rises on shaky legs.
“Am I the first one you found?”
“Do you have any idea where the rest of them might be?”
“I, uh…I’m not sure. That creepy Toad ghost got me pretty quick.” She frowns, looking thoughtful. “I think I saw Koopil and Sweet T. run towards the dining room. It all happened so fast though…”
“It’s a start. Thank you, Koorina, I know it can’t be easy to think about.”
Luigi looks to the Polterpup, leaning over and giving the spirit an appreciative pat on the head.
“You did great Pepper. Do you think you can lead your new friend back outside?”
Pepper yaps happily in the affirmative. Koorina does a double take.
“Wait, you’re not coming?”
“I have to keep moving for your friend’s sake. But there’s no need to worry, Pepper will keep you safe.”
“Stars yeah he will . He chased off a werewolf. Pepper's the ultimate good boy.”
“That he is.”
And with that, they depart. Luigi watches as Pepper trots ahead, herding his charge out the door. Once the two vacate the room, he pulls out his phone and brings up E. Gadd’s number.
He needs back-up.
Luigi has cleared numerous mansions of ghosts all on his own, so it’s not that he feels incapable of doing this alone. Those situations, however, didn’t involve kids. Sure, his brother, Peach, and several Toads were held prisoner, but they were sealed away in paintings, not actively tormented. Luigi isn’t willing to risk the lives of minors.
The plumber paces anxiously as the phone rings. A couple of seconds later, there is a click on the other end of the line.
“Hey professor, sorry for calling so late.”
He glances around the room, grimacing at the damage.
“I’m on a case that requires a little…teamwork.”