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Fool Me Once, Fool Me Thrice

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Luigi stares, distraught, at the vacant area Mario and Peach’s portraits had just occupied. They had been counting on him to get out of this hotel safely, they had looked to him for a plan, and all he had managed to do was delay their capture. King Boo’s mocking words echo cruelly in the plumber’s head. Luigi recognizes the taunting—the mind games—for what they are, but he can’t seem to dismiss them entirely. King Boo was right: this was his fault.

He should have never accepted the invitation.

You...”

Luigi startles from his wallowing. He looks to the fuming hotel owner, and her furious expression has Luigi taking an unconscious step back.

“You’re ruining everything,” Hellen growls. “You terrorized my staff with your little ‘distraction’, you’ve all but destroyed my lobby,” she gestures angrily to the fire damage and shattered dishware on the floor, “and worst of all, you’ve made a fool of me in front of King Boo!”

Luigi finds himself taking another step back. The woman’s eyes briefly flash red, and Luigi swears there are wrinkles beginning to stretch across her face, though from this distance, it’s hard to know for sure. Before the odd transformation can go any further, Hellen collects herself with a deep breath. She pulls out a compact mirror and deftly reapplies her makeup. In a puff of pink powder, any evidence of the earlier abnormality has been completely erased.

“If it were up to me,” she continues, considerably more composed, “I would strike you down where you stand and be done with it. But I won’t rob his majesty of his retribution.” Hellen glares down at the plumber. “After your blatant display of insolence, you’re lucky he still wants you alive.”

Luigi returns the glare, feeling some of his nerve return in the face of King Boo’s absence.

“I feel positively blessed,” he says flatly.

Hellen sneers at his retort.

“I think I’ve had enough of your mouth,” the woman hisses. She abruptly raises her voice. “Steward!”

Just as abruptly, the bellhop appears at Hellen’s side with an anxious yelp.

“Y-yes, Ms. Gravely?” the ghost stutters.

“Inform the rest of the staff that Luigi is to be kept...occupied, until King Boo is ready for him.”

Steward casts a curious glance to the plumber in question. When their eyes meet, he quickly looks away, wringing his hands nervously.

“When you’re done with that,” she continues, “I want you to go down to the parking garage and finish collecting luggage.”

The bellhop winces, and despite them being on opposite sides, Luigi can’t help but feel bad for the ghost—it had been a mess down there.

“Will that be all, Ms. Gravely?” he asks meekly.

His employer nods.

“You are dismissed.”

Steward wastes no time in departing. With one last fleeting look at Luigi, he vanishes from the visible spectrum to carry on his tasks.

Hellen Gravely snaps her fingers, and nary a moment later, four azure spirits rise up out of the floor, forming a square around Luigi. The plumber drops into a defensive stance, eyeing the new arrivals warily. Luigi doesn’t recognize the species, but he immediately takes note of their attire. They are wearing bright red vests and bow ties, like those he had seen on the hotel staff when he first arrived.

“You called, mistress?” One of the spirits asks, standing at attention.

“Yes, it would seem our VIP isn’t pleased with our service thus far. Take care of him, won’t you?”

The spirit grins maliciously. They turn to leer at the plumber.

“It would be my pleasure.”

The other staff members chuckle their agreement.

“Excellent. Bring him to me when you’re finished,” Hellen turns to the three paintings still floating at her side, regarding them appreciatively, “I have some decorating to do.”

And with that, the hotel owner takes her leave. Luigi moves to run after her, but one of the blue spirits darts into his path.

“I’m sorry sir, but guests aren’t supposed to leave the lobby until they check-in at the front desk.”

“Yeah!” another spirit adds, “You still have to sign the guest book!”

That’s all the warning Luigi gets before said guest book is hurdling toward his face. The plumber’s quick reflexes save him from being brained by the large tome, but he isn’t able to avoid the projectile entirely. It clips his shoulder as he dodges, throwing him off-kilter. Luigi pinwheels his arms in a desperate attempt to regain his balance, but his flailing ultimately proves to be futile. He lands hard on his backside with a barely suppressed yowl.

The spirits laugh uproariously at Luigi’s botched recovery. They laugh even harder when one tosses Luigi a pen as an afterthought, only for it to bounce off the man’s head. Luigi sighs—it was just like the Dark Moon incident all over again. He distantly wonders if these blue spirits will be half as troublesome as the Greenies were.

As if challenged by the dull thought, the four entities suddenly split off, each going to a different part of the lobby. Luigi takes advantage of the reprieve and scrambles to his feet. He twists nervously in place, trying and failing to keep all of the staff members in his sights. Two have taken to inspecting the vile buffet tables, one grabbing a stack of plates that had been spared an acquaintance with the floor, and the other snatching up a rotting fish. Luigi quirks a brow at the duo. What in the world…?

A bundle a fabric abruptly lands on the plumber's head, draping over his face and blinding him. Luigi reels back with a squawk. He grabs at his fibrous attacker and hurriedly tears it away. Luigi stares at the expensive looking fabric clutched in his hands for a beat before he is struck with recognition. He recoils, dropping the clothing as if it burned him—it's one of Peach’s dresses.

Luigi turns on his heel to find one of the spirits rummaging through everyone’s luggage. They toss clothing and toiletries with reckless abandon, pausing here and there to inspect their findings before continuing their destructive perusing. An indignant sound leaves the plumber’s mouth at the entity’s invasiveness. He moves to stop them when a loud crack abruptly draws his attention elsewhere.

Luigi’s fourth and final tormentor has made their way over to the smoldering remains of the gift table. The sound that had stolen Luigi’s attention was that of splintering wood—the spirit having managed to tear a leg from the compromised furniture. The spectral staff member turns back to Luigi, brandishing their newfound weapon with clear intent. The spirit that had been snooping through his friend’s belongings joins them shortly thereafter, and Luigi is alarmed to find them wielding a golf club of all things. He silently curses whoever decided this trip was the right time to work on their short-game.

The plumber glances over his shoulder as he backs away from the advancing spirits. Luigi aborts his retreat when he sees that the other two spectral beings have left their spot by the buffet table, choosing to make their own advance with dining-based artillery in tow. Once again, Luigi finds himself surrounded, only now his foes have deigned to arm themselves.

“Yep,” Luigi thinks, “Just like the Greenies.”

At least they weren’t armed with swords.

Luigi carefully watches the staff approach. He holds his ground, suppressing the urge to make a run for it. Such a move would only embolden them. He needs to regain his composure. There is still a chance to put an end to this without instigating a fight.

“So... uh,” Luigi begins, awkwardly, “I think it’s safe to say we got off on the wrong foot.”

“We don’t have feet,” one spirit retorts.

“It’s a figure of speech.”

“We figure-d,” quips another.

The plumber resists the urge to rub at his temples. Stars give him strength.

“Let’s start over,” he says patiently. “How about introductions?”

“We know who you are, ya dingus.”

“Yes, but I don’t know any of your names. Let me start us off by properly introducing myself.” He puts a hand to his chest. “I’m Luigi,” he extends his hand to the spirit with the golf club, “and you are...?”

“Annoyed.”

Luigi’s smile becomes strained. He decides to dub the uncooperative spirit: Putter.

“Right,” he mumbles. He offers his hand to the azure entity with the table leg. “And you?”

Really annoyed.”

“Super,” he thinks. “Alright Mr. We Don’t Have Feet, you get to be Legs.”

The responses Luigi receives when he asks the other two aren’t any more creative, so he sees no reason to break his growing trend of uninspired nicknames. The spirit with the plates and the spirit with the rotting fish are now Dishes and Rancid, respectively.

Luigi’s dismissed hand drops dejectedly to his side. So much for pleasantries. Perhaps he should just get to the point.

“We don’t have to do this,” he says as calmly as he can manage. “We don’t have to fight.”

The spirit wielding the table leg snickers.

“I don’t think it’s going to be much of a fight, mustache.”

Luigi frowns, but doesn’t let the retort discourage him.

“Please, I don’t know what King Boo and Hellen Gravely have been telling you, but I’m not your enemy. I don’t want to hurt you.”

All four spirits burst into laughter.

You? Hurt us?” Dishes cackles. “What’re you gonna do? Give us a bad review on Welp?”

“...The Last Resort is on Welp?”

The spirits exchange genuinely curious looks, thrown by the question.

“Wait, are we?”

Rancid shrugs. Legs tucks their impromptu weapon under an arm and raises a finger in a silent request to wait. Luigi watches, brow arched, as they pull a cell phone seemingly out of thin air. A bizarre, anticipatory silence descends upon the group as the little spirit taps away at the screen.

“There are two listings under the name ‘The Last Resort', and neither of them are even hotels.”

Putter shoots his comrade a bewildered look.

“What kind of businesses are they?”

“One is a hair salon, and the other is...” They squint down at their phone. “...a counseling center?”*

Everyone stares in disbelief.

“That’s… not a clever pun,” one of the spirits murmurs. “That’s depressing.”

“Do they at least have good reviews?”

“Man, who cares?” Legs asks, tossing their phone over their shoulder. Luigi distantly observes he never hears it hit the ground. “Welp is a dumb, shady website that uses unreliable reviews to extort businesses. They are full of lies!” They reclaim the table leg tucked under their arm and point it at Luigi. “Just like this guy!”

And just like that, the hostility returns. Luigi mentally scrambles to think of a way to placate the spirits as they resume their advance. Time is not on his side, and the staff are upon him before he can entertain any ideas. Luigi begrudgingly realizes diplomacy isn’t going to help him here.

The plumber activates the Burst function just as Legs moves to strike. All four spirits are blown back with shrieks of alarm—their small size fairing far worse than King Boo against the blast of air. Luigi doesn’t give them a chance to recover. He rushes at the nearest spirit—Dishes—and stuns them with a flash from the Strobulb. Luigi quickly turns on the Poltergust’s intake and wastes no time ensnaring the spirit in its gale. The plates in the spirit’s hands drop to the floor in a deafening din of shattering ceramics as they frantically attempt to escape the Poltergust’s pull. At first glance, it appears to be a losing battle. Luigi watches in mute surprise as Dishes is slowly drawn into the capturing unit’s nozzle. Odd, usually he gets dragged around a bit before getting to this point. Either the spirit isn’t putting up much of a fight, or this new Poltergust is incredibly strong.

That’s when Luigi snags their tail.

Luigi cries out in surprise as he is, quite violently, pulled off his feet—the Poltergust’s wand nearly ripping from his hands. Dishes drags the screaming plumber across the lobby, plowing through their own comrades in their panicked scramble to free themselves. Luigi is finally forced to let go when the spirit’s erratic route takes a sharp detour into the strewn luggage of his friends. The sudden loss of an opposing force sends Dishes somersaulting through the air. They quickly right themselves, their terrified expression vanishing with a sigh of relief. Dishes turns and gestures mockingly at the prone plumber with a smugness unbefitting someone whom had just been shrieking with terror mere moments before. The plumber watches, annoyed, as they disappear from the visible spectrum.

Luigi is really starting to dislike this new Poltergust.

Ethereal laughter abruptly reminds the plumber he has three other spirits to contend with. Luigi hastily pushes himself up and whirls around. Rancid is there, massive fish in hand and poised to strike. Luigi narrowly avoids being flogged by the spoiled seafood as he fumbles to retrieve the wand of his Poltergust. In his haste, Luigi once again mistakenly triggers the bizarre plunger feature. He launches it at Rancid, and much like with King Boo, it sticks to the spirit’s face. Unlike King Boo, however, it covers their vastly smaller face in its entirety.

Rancid drops the fish. They claw frantically at the suction cup, their muffled screams turning more and more hysterical with every failed attempt to remove the modified plunger. Luigi stares, unsure if he should be horrified or amused, as Rancid blindly darts away, the little spirit tugging futilely on the white rope at the plunger’s base. He grants the Poltergust’s nozzle an appreciative look; maybe this model isn’t so bad after all.

In his distracted musing, Luigi fails to notice that Legs has crept up on him. The spirit grasps the table leg like a baseball bat and reels back in preparation to swing—

—only to have a white blur tear it out of their hands.

Luigi turns at the spirit’s startled squawk. He hastily backs away from Legs, alarmed by their proximity, but slows when he sees what had interfered with the spirit’s attack.

“Pepper!”

The Polterpup, partially charred wood clamped firmly in his maw, perks at his human’s call. He yaps happily around his newfound toy and does an excited little spin in place. Legs glares down at the energetic pup.

“Hey! Give that back you mortal-loving mutt!”

Pepper looks up at the ghostly staff member, as if just noticing their presence. His already wagging tail suddenly picks up in speed. He dips into a play bow, and Luigi immediately knows what’s about to happen next.

Legs just unwittingly instigated a game of keep away.

As predicted, Pepper takes off like a shot. Legs sputters indignantly, looking between Luigi and the fleeing canine before ultimately deciding to give chase. The Polterpup ascends the stairs with an elated bark, his ghostly pursuer shouting obscenities as they go.

Luigi isn’t given the time to appreciate not being Pepper’s target. He catches a flicker of movement in his peripheral and instinctively turns towards it with an arm raised protectively over his head. To his good fortune, Luigi had used the hand holding the Poltergust’s wand, and manages to block the attack with the sturdy material instead of his own arm. Metal sings against metal as Putter’s golf club is successfully deflected from its mark. The plumber doesn’t dive so much as trip out of the way when the club is brought down a second time. He turns the clumsy fumble into a roll, recovering into a defensive crouch. He stares up at his attacker, wide-eyed.

“Hold still, mustache!” The spirit cackles, reeling back to take another swing at the plumber. “I need to practice my chipping!”

Luigi arches a brow incredulously at the spirit.

“Not with a putter you don’t,” Luigi quips, self-preservation momentarily forgotten. “Might I suggest switching to a seven iron?”*

Putter halts mid-swing. They stare down at the plumber with an unreadable expression.

“I don’t know whether to despise you for correcting me, or admire you for engaging in banter.”

“...if it’s the latter, does that mean we don’t have to fight anymore?”

“No,” they deadpan, “Also, I personally prefer using a pitching wedge!”

Luigi leaps back with a yelp just as Putter follows-through their stroke. He doesn’t give the spirit the chance to wind up for another swing. He quickly stuns them with the Strobulb and re-activates the Poltergust's intake. This time, he's prepared for the sharp tug when the nozzle snags the spirit's tail, but only marginally so. Luigi stumbles after the struggling spirit a couple meters before he's finally able to regain his footing. Luigi pulls back on the wand, distantly grateful for the extra support of the additional handle this new model sported, but also incredibly frustrated by how slowly Putter's energy was being drained. He finds himself missing the Power Surge feature of the old model more and more with each passing second.

Luigi nearly loses his hold on Putter when a bump from behind startles him. The plumber unthinkingly spins on his heels, swinging the spirit around with him in the process. His momentum sends Putter crashing into the unwitting form of Rancid—the misfortunate spirit having blindly bumped into Luigi as they continued in their struggle to remove the plunger from their face. Rancid goes soaring head-over-tail into the adjacent front desk. Their impact with the sturdy furniture rattles the tabletop’s contents and knocks loose miscellaneous documents that flutter to the floor in a rain of parchment.

The plunger pops off the spirit’s face.

Its removal is of little consolation.

Luigi blinks owlishly, looking between the two stunned spirits with wide eyes. That… certainly was a thing that happened. A rather violent move on his part, even if it had been unintentional. The plumber cringes as an idea formulates in his mind. It left him a bit queasy, but with how little progress he's made in neutralizing the spirits, he isn’t sure what else to try.

Why did they have to be so against diplomacy?

Luigi drags the still somewhat dazed Putter over to their slowly recovering comrade. Rancid, too busy brushing themselves off, doesn’t notice Luigi’s approach until it is far too late. The plumber widens his stance and adjusts his hold on the Poltergust’s wand in preparation for the first swing; only this time, he intends to strike downward. Rancid looks up, and the last thing they see before being pummeled into the ground is their screaming co-worker sailing over the plumber’s head.

Luigi slams his spectral bludgeon down on the spirit once—twice—and just as he’s about to go for a third strike, he detects another encroaching presence at his back. Luigi spins on his heels, drawing Putter back like a sledgehammer about to strike a railroad spike—the railroad spike in this case being the wayward spirit, Dishes, that had deigned to re-join the fight. Dishes puts up their hands, wide-eyed, as Putter comes crashing down; whether they are pleading for mercy or attempting to shield themselves, Luigi can’t say, but it is ultimately proven futile. The plumber completes one more slam before something unexpected happens—Putter explodes.

Well, it’s more of a contained burst, but the sight is foreign enough to cause Luigi a great deal of alarm.

The plumber recoils, horrified, as the spectral staff member’s uniform collapses to the ground in a wrinkled heap. Their dispersed form drifts away in tiny globs of ectoplasm, floating along like dandelion seeds in the wind. Luigi watches, dumbstruck, as the particles move around him with purpose—drawn into what he can only assume is a secondary intake port on the Poltergust’s main body. He assumes because he can’t actually see where the scattered spirit is going; a near-inaudible hiss and click is the only indication of the supposed hidden feature.*

Luigi grimaces at his first “capture” with the latest Poltergust model, but doesn’t allow himself to dwell on it; that the “harvesting” mechanism implied the scattering of spectral mass to be an expected, if not regular occurrence—that this was a planned feature. He still has two spirits (three, if Pepper’s victim returns) to capture.

“I leave the professor alone for a few months,” Luigi thinks, turning the Poltergust on the supine form of Dishes, “and he decides that bludgeoning spirits into lumps of ectoplasm is a perfectly acceptable capturing method.” Luigi snags Dishes and slams them against Rancid. He dully acknowledges his hypocrisy. “I wonder what other ethically questionable things that man has been up to...”

Rancid bursts much in the same way as Putter had, only this time the plumber is more mentally prepared when it happens. Luigi finds it’s not really any less off-putting. Dishes is spared their comrades’ fate, though only in the means of their capture. The little spirit has been drained of enough energy at this point that bashing them into the ground proves unnecessary. For a moment, Luigi believes the Stars have taken pity on him by permitting the spirit to be captured more “humanely”. It’s a nice thought, one that is swiftly quashed when Dishes briefly becomes lodged in the Poltergust’s intake. Their little arms flail out from the nozzle as they scream in terror before finally disappearing down the hose with a loud pop.

Silence descends upon the lobby. Luigi heaves a weary sigh. He removes his hat and wipes a shaking hand across his brow. Three spirits down, only an entire hotel’s worth to go. Luigi fervently hopes he can convince at least a few of the spectral entities to see reason, but his pessimistic side superfluously reminds him of what he’s dealing with here. King Boo has a hand in this nightmare. If it’s anything like last time, the ghostly monarch may very well be controlling the other spirits. For all he knows, Hellen Gravely could have similar powers. The knowledge that the hotel residence may not be in their right mind makes him dread this endeavor all the more.

Luigi re-adjusts the Poltergust on his back with a huff. He can’t afford to be conflicted; not with his family in danger.

“Leave me alone!”

The plumber whirls around at the ethereal voice, Poltergust at the ready. An azure spirit—whom he suspects to be the wayward Legs—is zipping down the stairs like Jaydes herself is at their tail. Their pursuer is not quite so infamous, but Luigi understands the spirit’s desperate flight all the same. Pepper is happily bounding after them with the same fervor of a hound tracking a fox.

The Polterpup leaps through the air and tackles Legs to the ground. The little spirit’s screams are lost in Pepper’s jubilant yapping as the latter deigns to shower his victim with puppy kisses. It would be adorable if Legs wasn’t shrieking like they were on fire.

“You can keep the stick!” they howl, “You can keep the stick! I’m sorry! Please, just go away!”

Pepper either doesn’t hear the plea or ignores it entirely. Luigi sighs, dragging a hand down his face. He can’t help but feel a little bad for the spirit, even if they had attempted to crack his head open with a table leg just minutes ago.

“Pepper, leave them alone; they don’t want to play right now.”

The spectral canine whines pitifully at the command, but ultimately complies. Legs is on the move the second Pepper steps off their drool-soaked body. They shoot up like a rocket, screaming something about a “monster” before disappearing into the ceiling.* Luigi stares after them with furrowed brows. He returns his attention to the Polterpup—the latter is now dragging their backside along the floor.

“Good Grambi, Pepper. What did you do to them?”

The Polterpup comes to a stop and looks up at Luigi, head tilted innocently.

“Never mind,” Luigi grumbles. He chooses to change the subject. Arms crossed, he looks down at the Polterpup like a disappointed parent. “Just where have you been?”

Pepper stares at Luigi with a dopey smile. Then, quite abruptly, the ghostly canine hunches over and begins to gag and hack. With one particularly nasty heave, up comes the table leg they had stolen from the hotel staff member. Luigi’s face twists with disgust.

“Yes, I’m well aware of your little game of keep-away. I meant where were you earlier? You disappeared after I got to the lobby.”

He doesn’t know why he is asking; it’s not like Pepper can answer him.

Pepper does, in fact, answer him—just not verbally. The pup hunches over once more, and Luigi cringes as they start to hork up something else; only this time, it’s not a broken piece of furniture. Luigi’s eyes widen when his ghostly companion spits out a large, golden key.

“...Oh,” he says, intelligently. He looks between Pepper and the key. “Err...good boy?”

Pepper’s tail wags happily in acknowledgement.

Luigi steps up to the key and grabs it with visible reluctance; it’s coated in saliva and ectoplasm. He is silently thankful for his gloves. Seconds after the plumber claims it, the key rapidly shrinks in size until it fits neatly in the palm of his hand, marginally startling him.

Ah. A magic key. Makes sense, considering where he is and what he’s dealing with.

“I take it this goes to something important?” Luigi asks. Pepper yips what he assumes to be in the affirmative. He grins. “Lead the way.”

The Polterpup stands and trots leisurely over to the front desk. Luigi watches as they hop onto the counter, and from there, the decorative framing leading up to the staircase. Finally, the pup leaps onto the part of the mezzanine Hellen had occupied during their earlier exchange. Pepper raises up on their hind legs and rests their paws on the railing. He looks down at the plumber, almost expectantly.

Luigi takes the hint. He tucks the key in one of his pockets (making a mental note to thoroughly clean them later) and swiftly ascends the stairs.

The plumber finds Pepper waiting for him in front of a massive set of double-doors that rival those of the front entrance. In the daylight, Luigi is sure he would have been awed by their splendor, but now, the dark of night has warped their extravagance. The sharp lines and angles of the art deco style pop out through the shadows, looking like threaded wires of an elaborate cage. It all gives Luigi a horrible sense of foreboding.

Of course this is what the key goes to.

Pepper leaps through the door with an encouraging yip, confirming the plumber’s fears. Luigi reluctantly follows. He removes the key from his pocket and inserts it into lock, disengaging it with a click. He hardly flinches when the key abruptly disappears in a flash of golden, paranormal light.

Different building, same old haunting shenanigans; it’s almost comforting.

Almost.

Luigi places a deceptively steady hand on the brass handle. With a deep, composing breath, he turns it and slowly starts to ease open the door. Before daring to go any further, he spares the empty lobby a final glance. The plumber’s eyes come to rest on the wooden boards suspended from the chain banner. He can picture the crossed-out photos of his friends plastered on the other side with unpleasantly sharp clarity. The reminder has Luigi’s face pinching with worry and unease.

Something tells him it’s going to be a very, very long night.