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Fool Me Once, Fool Me Thrice

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Luigi takes an unconscious step back, jaw working uselessly as he stares up at his worst nightmare. How? How in Star’s name did King Boo escape? After the blunder that led to the Dark Moon debacle (a garage sale? Really?!), Luigi had gone over the importance of security with the professor at least a dozen times. The lecture was doubled when he saw the button that would release all the Boos in the containment unit at a single press.

If King Boo was free because E. Gadd sat on a remote, Luigi was seriously considering just leaving the man there.*

“What’s the matter, Luigi? Cat got your tongue?” King Boo cackles. “I don’t believe I’ve ever rendered you speechless with fear before. It’s not quite as enjoyable as hearing you scream in terror, but it certainly is amusing.”

Luigi swallows around the lump in his throat. Finally, he musters the courage to speak.

“H-how did you—?”

“Escape?” The monarch interjects gleefully. “Funny story, that one, though I’d be lying if I said it tops the garage sale fiasco.”

Luigi distantly wonders if King Boo can read minds.

“I owe my freedom to the hotel owner,” he gestures to Hellen Gravely, and Luigi is perturbed to find the woman gazing at the monarch with utmost admiration. “She’s a rather big fan of mine, and was absolutely dying to meet me, so she set up this delightful little ruse to lure E. Gadd to this hotel. Remind me, Hellen, what did you promise him in that letter?”

“My rare ghost collection,” she smirks, “in exchange for seeing his majesty in-person.”

“And that moron fell for it!” King Boo laughs. “Can you believe that didn’t raise a single red flag in that old fool’s head? For a self-proclaimed genius, the man isn’t very bright, is he?” The monarch’s grin turns wicked. “Lucky me.”

If Luigi wasn’t so afraid to take his eyes off the spirit, he would have buried his face in his hat and screamed.

“Yeah,” Luigi laughs with a touch of hysteria, “lucky.”

King Boo arcs a brow at the plumber’s somewhat unhinged cachinnating.

“Indeed.”

Luigi’s eyes widen when King Boo suddenly drifts through the banister and glides down into the lobby proper. The plumber quickly backpedals at their approach, trying to put as much distance as he can between himself and the sinister spirit.

“Speaking of fools,” the monarch continues loftily, “you and your merry little band of sheep continue to surprise me. I honestly didn’t think you’d show up here—that you’d be duped by the same trick for a third time—”

“Second.”

King Boo blinks.

“Pardon?”

“S-second,” Luigi repeats. “This is our third m-meeting, but you’ve only used the 'invitation trick' twice.”

The spirit rolls their eyes.

“Twice, thrice—who cares? The point, Luigi, is you’re as gullible as ever!” They chuckle to themselves. “Still having extra helpings of that soup, I see.”

Luigi bristles at the jab, recovering some of his composure.

“Not enough to fall for your bargain bin disguises,” he retorts.

King Boo’s grin falters. He stares back at the plumber, surprised by their nerve.

“Ah, yes...those.” King Boo tosses a sour look back at Hellen; she has the decency to look embarrassed. “I had no hand in that. You of all people, Luigi, should know I take great care in crafting my illusions. Speaking of which...”

The spectral monarch waves an arm over the lobby in what Luigi can only describe as a dismissive gesture. A spark of magenta energy flashes on the ground before Luigi, causing the plumber to take a startled leap back. Paranormal light of the same bright color spreads outward from the spark’s epicenter. It eats along the floor like embers burning through paper, but instead of leaving nothingness in its wake, it reveals what had been lying hidden beneath King Boo’s illusionary magic. The crimson rug that had cut across the lobby curls away into cinders, allowing Luigi a better view of the floor. The material remains largely the same, only now it’s dustier, and the golden geometric patterns have thinned and expanded their borders.

Transfixed, Luigi turns and watches the magic creep over the buffet tables and their extravagant displays. The melting swan sculptures darken and hunch over into leering gargoyles, icy feathers turning into membranous wings made of stone. Flowering bouquets twist into long, thorny vines that creep across the tables like prickly serpents. Brightly wrapped presents shed their bows and paper to become dull cardboard boxes. Scowling jack-o-lanterns materialize around the table’s perimeter, and misshapen candles sprout up along the latter’s surface to better illuminate its vile spread. Pastries slump into piles of rotting fish, fruits harden into grinning skulls, punch bowls become cauldrons filled with neon green slime, and the same substance can be seen dripping down the pitchers Luigi had poured tea from that very afternoon.

The plumber unconsciously clutches his stomach, suddenly feeling ill. Was that inside him? And just what had Mario eaten?*

Luigi tears his eyes away in time to catch the supernatural cinders burning up the lovely bunting that had been strung across the lobby. A thick, heavy chain takes its place, and from it hang four separate strands of iron links. Attached to the end of each of these strands is a crude, wooden board—each bearing the once-nicely framed photos of Luigi and his friends. The pictures have been vandalized with wide, angry strokes of black paint.

They almost look like wanted posters.

“Ah, much better,” the monarch hums. “All that superficial nonsense was giving me a headache.”

Luigi sweeps his gaze over the newly transformed room one last time. Structurally, the rest of the hotel lobby remains largely the same, if not a little duller and dustier than before. The plumber covers his mouth with a hand when he accidentally glances back at the rancid buffet table.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” he groans miserably.

King Boo squints at Luigi, looking mildly perturbed.

“Odd. I don’t believe I’ve ever made you sick with fear, either. Today is filled with many firsts, it would seem.”

“I’m talking about that!” Luigi says shrilly, pointing toward one of the pitchers oozing with green slime. “I drank from that earlier. Am I going to die? Did you poison me?!”

The spectral monarch recoils marginally at Luigi’s outburst, brows raised in surprise. He quickly composes himself and glares back at the plumber with a sneer.

“Of course not!” King Boo snaps irritably. “Why in Star’s name would I go through all this effort just to do something as anti-climactic as poisoning you?”

“I don’t know! I don’t understand a lot of the things you do!”

King Boo gawks at Luigi, expression warring between outrage and confusion.

“...just how long was I locked up in that old coot’s lab? Since when did you have the gall to back-talk me?”

“You mean he isn’t always like this?” Hellen calls curiously from the mezzanine.

“No. Honestly, I didn’t know the sniveling dimwit could string together complete sentences—all I’ve ever heard him do is scream.” King Boo’s eyes narrow. “I prefer the screaming.”

All of Luigi’s carefully collected bravado flies out the window when King Boo slowly begins to advance on him. The plumber has taken several shaky steps back before he is able to regain some level of composure. He forces himself to hold his ground. His knees are trembling.

“My, my—look at you!” King Boo cackles. “Facing your doom, head-on. How admirable.” He grins. “How foolish. Today might not have gone entirely according to plan, Luigi, but the end results will still be the same. By sunrise tomorrow, you will be in a portrait hanging on my throne room wall.” His grin widens. “But why wait? Let’s get you fitted for a frame.”

The massive jewel in King Boo’s crown surges to life in a ghostly glow of magenta. An arc of puissant magic snaps through the air like lightning, the bolt striking a small area just to the monarch’s right. The energy coils in on itself tighter and tighter until something solid begins to peek out of its intense light. A blank canvas with an elaborate golden frame warps into existence, growing and stretching until it towers over Luigi. It hovers in place by King Boo’s side, tethered there by a strand of magic linked to the crown’s powerful gem.

“Hmm. That looks to be sufficient,” the spectral monarch declares, making a show of inspecting his work. He looks back to the plumber. “What do you think, Luigi? It’s not too garish, is it? Wait! Hold that thought. I just remembered—I don’t care about your opinion.”

A sarcastic retort is on the tip of Luigi’s tongue, but his words are swallowed by a sharp gasp when a flash of light abruptly shines along the inner perimeter of the portrait’s frame. The magic surges inward until it covers the entire canvas in a whirlpool of blues, purples, and pinks. Luigi recognizes the spell immediately for what it is—a gateway to a pocket dimension, a realm that will freeze his existence in time and cast his consciousness into a deep sleep.

A prison.

“There, there, Luigi. It’ll all be over soon,” the monarch coos condescendingly. “Just stand still and put on your best terrified face. This is the end for you!”

King Boo looms ever closer, angling the portrait and reeling it back like a flyswatter about to smite a buzzing pest. For the briefest of moments, terror freezes Luigi in place, and he nearly forgets the means of defense strapped firmly to his back. Luigi returns to his senses with a startled yelp. He frantically fumbles with the Poltergust’s wand, intending to activate the Strobulb and catch the king off-guard, but in his haste, his hand slips and triggers a different function entirely—one he had somehow missed in his earlier inspection.* Something appears at the nozzle’s end, but before Luigi can register what it is, he accidentally triggers the function again, launching the projectile right into King Boo’s face.

Everyone freezes.

The object, whatever it is, doesn’t appear to have caused King Boo any harm. It’s just...stuck there—right where a nose would be had the spirit been a species that possessed one. Luigi dares to raise his flashlight to, quite literally, shed light on the mystery. The plumber’s fear is briefly over-shadowed by an odd mix of bewilderment and mild exasperation. It’s a plunger—an honest to Stars plunger. But in place of the traditional wooden handle is a white rope with a knot tied at the end. It dangles uselessly from the off-red rubber cup, swaying with the slightest movement like some cheap, fibrous pendulum. Even though King Boo doesn’t have proper pupils, Luigi can tell the monarch is going cross-eyed in their attempt to see the modified plumbing tool now attached to their face. The sight would be incredibly funny if the situation wasn’t so dire. Was this E. Gadd’s idea of a joke? A jab at his trade? What purpose could this possibly serve?!

If this gets Luigi killed, the professor is as good as haunted. Not even King Boo’s portrait prison will keep him safe.

“Did... did you just stick a plunger to my face?”

Luigi shrinks in on himself, shoulders rising until they are level with his ears.

“It was an accident?” he offers uncertainly.

King Boo’s eyes narrow into a glare. Despite the plunger on their face, the king still somehow manages to look menacing.

“This won’t be,” he hisses.

Luigi doesn’t quite register what happens after that. One moment he is standing in front of his worst nightmare, then there’s a flash of blue as something hits him—hard—and the next moment, he is crashing into the hastily barricaded doors. There’s a loud crack as Luigi impacts the solid wood, and he isn’t initially sure what sort of damage the sound indicates. Broken bones? Damaged Poltergust? Luigi honestly can’t say which of the two outcomes would be worse. If the Stars were merciful, he might have only snapped one of the flimsy boards blocking the exit.

The chains on the door rattle harshly against the wood as Luigi collapses to the ground in a stunned heap. He lies there, drawing painful, uneven breaths as his body fights to recover the wind knocked from his lungs. Luigi doesn’t—can’t—permit himself to stay prone for long. He pushes off the floor with shaking arms and attempts to get to his feet, but settles on kneeling when his legs wobble dangerously beneath him.

The plumber distantly wonders why King Boo has yet to press their advantage. He dares to raise his head enough to discover that the monarch hasn’t advanced any further. They’re not even looking at him. Luigi watches, dumbfounded, as King Boo swipes frantically at their own tongue with their nubby little arms. The spirit sputters and gags obnoxiously, and Luigi swears he hears a Booish curse or two peppered into their miserable display of revulsion. It’s excessively melodramatic and without a modicum of subtlety, leaving Luigi with no question as to what had happened. He can’t help but ask anyway.

“Did you hit me with your tongue?” Luigi wheezes.

King Boo’s gaze snaps over to the recovering plumber, said tongue lolling out of their mouth. Luigi dully notes that the plunger cup is absent from their face.

“You hit me with something gross, so I returned the favor,” the king replies rather petulantly. “Only now do I realize what a mistake that had been. I... tasted you.” King Boo shudders. “Absolutely vile! I punished myself more than I did you.”

“Would you like a mint, my king?” Hellen asks, holding a small box aloft.

“Bleach would be preferable, but I suppose that will have to do. Toss me the whole package—I'm going to need every single piece.”

Luigi stares back at them with open disbelief, fear momentarily displaced.

“You nearly cracked one of my ribs.”

“Is that all?” the monarch replies indifferently. “Ideally, I would have snapped your spine in half.”

The remark should have been alarming, but Luigi is oddly unfazed by it (maybe he hit his head too). If anything, he’s confused.

“Wait, do you want me dead or do you want me in a painting?”

King Boo is, reasonably, taken aback by the question. They look between Luigi and the empty portrait still hovering dutifully at their side with a thoughtful expression.

“Hmm... killing you would be satisfying,” they say slowly. “However, I think the gratification would be rather short-lived. Keeping you in a painting would bring me daily entertainment, but it comes at great risk. Though unlikely, someone could find a way to free you, and then you’d just be a thorn in my side all over again.”

The spectral monarch stares at the plumber for several beats, genuinely weighing their options. Luigi quietly berates himself; he should have kept his mouth shut.

“No, I won’t kill you; not yet,” King Boo declares at last. “You will meet your end at my hand, Luigi, but for now, I think I’ll stick to the plan and keep you as a trophy.” They raise the portrait construct with emphasis. “Let’s try this again, shall we?”

King Boo swoops in for a second attempt at capture, but this time, Luigi is ready for them. He waits until the last possible moment before raising his flashlight and activating the Strobulb. King Boo reels back with a curse, futilely rubbing at their eyes with nubby arms. Luigi quickly scrambles to his feet. His first instinct is to activate the Poltergust’s intake, but King Boo’s size and proximity make him hesitate. The plumber’s back is literally against the wall (err... door?). If he fails to keep the spirit in the Poltergust’s gale, he won’t have much space to work with when King Boo inevitably retaliates.

He needs to gain some ground.

Luigi braces himself and activates the Poltergust’s Burst function. Despite being prepared for it, a rather undignified sound leaves the plumber’s mouth as he’s launched from the ground in a rush of compressed air. King Boo squawks in surprise when the sudden gust crashes over them in an invisible wave, inadvertently causing them to dismiss the portrait and forcing them back several meters. Luigi sprints forward and activates the Burst again before they can recover. The flailing monarch is swept into the middle of the room. Dishware and ornaments from the nearby buffet tables are blown from their neat arrangement. They shatter on the floor, the din from their destruction filling the otherwise quiet lobby. Luigi can’t help but cringe at the mess as he stumbles into a land.

King Boo is quick to re-orient himself this time. He glares back at the plumber, face drawn in a mixture of anger and bewilderment. Their expression abruptly shifts into surprise. Luigi follows their line of sight to the Poltergust resting against his back. Had the spirit not noticed it before? Not even the wand? They must not have gotten a good look at it—assumed it to be an ordinary flashlight. He looks backs to King Boo just in time to catch a flicker of fear in the monarch’s eyes, but it’s gone so fast that Luigi thinks he may have imagined it. Now all that remains is burning, unkempt rage.

“How?” King Boo snarls. “How do you have a Poltergust with you?!”

King Boo’s fervid ire has the plumber trembling again, but it’s not quite as bad as before. Luigi squeezes the Poltergust’s wand, intake nozzle at the ready.

“The professor never leaves home without it,” Luigi replies, and he is thankful the waver in his voice is nearly indiscernible.

The spectral monarch turns a disbelieving glare on the equally shocked hotel owner.

“You let that idiot scientist bring a Poltergust into the hotel?!”

Hellen Gravely reels back, eyes wide.

“N-no, your majesty, of course not! My staff checked the professor’s room and went through all of his luggage. They didn’t find anything!”

“Then where did it—?” King Boo trails off, a glint of epiphany in his eyes. “...his car. You didn’t check his blasted car?!”

Hellen sputters helplessly in the wake of the king’s ire, desperately searching for a reasonable excuse for her oversight. The spirit doesn’t wait to humor her. He turns his glare back to Luigi.

“So that’s why you went to the basement,” he muses aloud. “I can’t even begin to speculate how you knew what you’d find there, or about the professor’s presence, for that matter.” He heaves a long, drawn out breath. “Leave it to Luigi to ruin my night. And things were going so well, too...”

The plumber wrinkles his brow.

“Catching one out of seven of us is considered ‘going well’?”

Despite the earlier upset, King Boo and Ms. Gravely share amused, conspiratorial looks. Their grins sing of vainglory—immediately putting Luigi on edge.

“What a surprise,” Hellen says sardonically. “The oaf is bad at math.”

“Now, now, Hellen,” King Boo chides, “While I’m sure that’s true, I believe he honestly doesn’t know about the others.”

Luigi stares between the two with growing dread.

“Others?” he dares to ask.

King Boo gestures at a point behind Luigi. The plumber turns to look. Some distant part of him would later realize how stupid it had been to take his eyes off the monarch, and just how lucky he was that King Boo hadn’t taken advantage of his carelessness. Currently, Luigi feels the furthest thing from lucky. Horror fills him to the brim. This time, Luigi does drop the Poltergust’s nozzle.

There, floating in a neat arrangement before the boarded-up doors, are portraits containing Luigi’s friends and family. Mario, Peach, the Toads—their static images all frozen in varying states of terror—stare back at Luigi from their sepia-toned prisons. The plumber slowly shakes his head in denial, unconsciously taking several steps back as he gapes up at them. This can’t be happening. Luigi saw them leave with his own eyes. It has to be a trick!

“Ah, don’t you just love family reunions?”

Luigi whirls around so quickly he nearly trips over the Poltergust’s displaced wand. King Boo had crept up on him at some point during his gawking. The monarch is so close Luigi can almost reach out and touch him.

“Well, when it’s not your own family, anyway,” King Boo continues. “They’re positively ripe with drama! It’s quite entertaining, really.”

Luigi snatches up the Poltergust’s wand as he hastily backs away from the looming spirit. This time, he doesn’t take his eyes off of them.

“This isn’t real,” says Luigi, but he doesn’t sound very certain. “This is just another one of your illusions. I saw Mario escape with the others!”

King Boo quirks a brow at the plumber.

“Did you, though?”

Luigi frowns to himself, given pause by the question. King Boo doesn’t wait for a reply.

“I must admit, Luigi, starting a fire to create a diversion was really quite clever—delightful, even. Very unlike you.”

The hotel owner glares down at the plumber. Clearly, arson doesn’t amuse her as much as it does the monarch.

“Nevertheless, your fate was sealed the moment the lobby doors closed behind you.” King Boo’s grin turns cavalier. “Did you really think we wouldn’t have anyone watching the exits? From the outside?”

Luigi’s eyes widen considerably at the revelation.

“After your little party entered the hotel, I had some of my Boos hide in your tacky transport just in case you attempted to check out early—and it’s a good thing I did! You should have seen your friends’ faces when they loaded the bus, thinking they were home free, only to be ambushed!” King Boo cackles at Luigi’s growing horror. “Oh wait, what am I saying? You just saw them! But let’s have another gander, for laughs.”

King Boo calls the portraits away from the door, and if one hadn’t nearly clocked Luigi in the face on the way over, the plumber would have tried to make a grab for them. As if sensing Luigi’s botched impulse to reclaim his family, the ghostly monarch takes great care to suspend them just out of reach.

“Take a good look, Luigi. See how scared they are? That’s your doing. You thought you were protecting them by sending them away, didn’t you? Instead, you sent them to their doom.” They snicker derisively. “Some hero you turned out to be. None of them, not even your brother, stood a chance.” King Boo coaxes Mario’s painting from the arrangement and pretends to admire it. “Ah, yes, Mario. He put up more of a fight this time, I’ll admit. Probably because he had a princess to protect—which made it all the more satisfying when I caught her first. Such anguish! I’ve never heard your brother scream like that before.” They frown to themselves. “And I suppose I won’t ever hear it again, will I? What with him trapped for all eternity. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it?”

Luigi tightens his grip on the Poltergust’s wand, anger bleeding through his fear. Lightning crackles to life about the plumber’s hands, unbidden. It begs for an outlet, and had King Boo not been brazenly using the portraits as a shield, he may very well have obliged.

Judging by the monarch’s grin, they knew it, too.

“Oh dear, have I said something to upset you, Luigi? A thousand pardons—it would appear my people skills have gotten rusty. Solitary confinement will do that, you know.”

Without warning, King Boo and the portraits vanish from the visible spectrum. The plumber unconsciously dismisses his Thunderhand with a start, turning his head this way and that as he tries to relocate the wayward monarch. He looks up in time to catch the large Boo reappear up on the mezzanine at Hellen’s side.

“Ms. Gravely, our guest is unhappy and I have committed a faux pas.” King Boo gestures vaguely toward Luigi. “Would you be so kind as to provide him the finest hospitality to rectify my blunder?”

Hellen blinks back at the spirit, surprised.

“O-of course, my king, but... I thought you wanted to, ah, tend to Luigi personally?”

“And that hasn’t changed,” King Boo affirms. “However, after this...” he glances at Luigi, “unexpected turn in events, I need to make some adjustments to my plans. In the meantime, you and your staff are to keep Luigi entertained, understand?”

The hotel owner grins.

“Yes, your majesty. I will not fail you.”

King Boo’s eyes narrow marginally.

“See that you don’t,” he says coldly. He turns back to the plumber, missing or outright ignoring the hotel owner’s wince. “Well then! It sounds like you’re in good hands, Luigi. I would stick around and join in on the fun, but I have other matters to attend to.” They suddenly rub at their eyes. “Like scheduling an appointment with an optometrist. I’m still seeing spots after you flashed that light in my eyes like an absolute child.”

Luigi scowls up at the monarch, a petty side of him entertaining the idea of activating the Strobulb again. He ultimately restrains himself. The brief satisfaction wouldn’t be worth King Boo’s wrath.

“Oh! One last thing, Ms. Gravely.” King Boo summons the portraits once more. He passes three of them—the ones containing the Toads—to the hotel owner, whom barely catches the over-sized frames with her own magic. “Find a home for these when you get the chance. Capturing the little fungus babies was quite enjoyable, but looking at them is another story entirely.”

Thrown by the request, the hotel owner can only nod her assent—looking somewhere between flustered and flattered. King Boo regards Luigi for a final time. Their grin widens as they notice the plumber looking at Mario’s painting.

“Don’t worry, Luigi. This isn’t the last time you’ll be seeing your brother.” They chuckle darkly. “After all, you’ll be joining him very soon.”

The spirit abruptly dissolves into an eerie vapor, and Luigi can only watch helplessly as Mario and Peach’s paintings follow suit. He belatedly steps forward, arm outstretched in a silent plea to stop, but it is far too late. King Boo is gone, and his loved ones, with them.