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Fool Me Once, Fool Me Thrice

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The hotel is grander than he imagined.  

Luigi finds himself at the base of the steps, gawking at the towering structure while his friends slowly file inside. The plumber has to crane his neck back to even glimpse the very top. Its sheer height was dizzying. 

An excited yap snaps Luigi out of his daze. Pepper is waiting patiently for him by the imposing doors that make up the front entrance. With a start, he realizes everyone else is already inside. Luigi quickly hefts up his suitcase and ascends the stairs, quietly embarrassed by his gawking. 

The hotel’s interior proves to be just as grand as it is on the outside. Luigi again finds himself pausing to take everything in. The lobby is massive and lavishly decorated in schemes of white, purple, and gold. Sharp angles and geometric shapes make up the patterns and trimmings of the floor and walls—a staple of the Art Deco style. A plush crimson rug cuts across the shimmering floor, making a clear path from the hotel’s front entrance to the front desk. The check-in counter is flanked by a pearlescent double staircase that curves up to the mezzanine. Luigi’s eyes trail upward to find an array of white and purple bunting spread carefully between two support beams, and from it hang four incredibly large framed photographs of himself, Mario, Peach, and Toad. A chandelier at least twice his height hangs delicately above it all, its soft light competing with the warm rays of the setting sun streaming in through the tall expanse of windows. 

Confetti abruptly bursts into the air near the bunting and rains down in a colorful arc. For the briefest of moments, Luigi is awed by their incredibly warm welcome. He glances around, spying stacks of presents and bouquets of flowers arranged neatly around tables piled high with pastries and hors d'oeuvres. Beautifully sculpted swans made of ice stand proudly between the platters, their wings spread wide in an open invitation to dine. Mario, to Luigi’s quiet amusement, has already eagerly accepted. 

The plumber gives himself a hard shake, realizing he had yet again been gawking—and standing in front of the entrance, no less! There might not be any other guests at the moment, but he still shouldn’t impede traffic.  

Luigi swiftly retrieves his suitcase from where he had so carelessly dropped it in his awe and begins walking down the carpet to check-in at the front desk. He barely takes three steps before he’s nearly bowled over by his ghostly canine. The plumber wobbles on his feet, swinging his luggage to counterbalance the change in momentum, just barely keeping himself from tripping and falling flat on his face. When he recovers, he stares after the Polterpup as the latter darts excitedly from table to table, pawing curiously at the presents and hungrily eyeing the spread of food.  

Pepper finally pauses at the table Mario has chosen to peruse. The red-clad plumber turns at the sound of the pup’s panting with cake in hand, offering the canine a cheerful greeting. He spots Luigi just as he’s about to turn back to the buffet and waves blithely in acknowledgement. Luigi calls out in a delayed warning as Pepper takes advantage of Mario’s diverted attention and swipes the man’s cake in a single bite. The green-clad plumber sighs, shaking his head fondly as his brother half-heartedly scolds the Polterpup for their thievery. He turns to continue his trek to the front desk— 

—and promptly collides with someone. 

Luigi’s suitcase flies from his hand as he and the other unfortunate party crash to the floor with flailing limbs and undignified yelps of surprise. The plumber, quite used to clumsy mishaps, is the first to recover. He straightens his askew hat and pushes himself up, immediately spying a hotel staff member—the bellhop, to be specific—clutching at their face and blindly patting the floor in search of their own headwear. The odd behavior goes unnoticed, Luigi being far too mortified by the incident to even register it. 

“Oh Stars, I’m so sorry!” Luigi cries, rushing to kneel at the man’s side. “Are you alright?” 

“I-it’s okay! I’m fine, I’m fine!” the bellhop replies, still frantically patting at the ground. “I should have gotten out of your way.” 

Luigi frowns at the response, perturbed by how the man could simultaneously sound both meek and jovial. 

“No, I should have watched where I was going,” he refutes gently. Luigi retrieves the bellman’s cap from the floor and presses it into the man’s searching hand. “Here you go.” 

“Ah! Thank you, sir!” The staff member shakily dons the wayward piece of his uniform, back turned to the plumber as they gathered themselves. Luigi glances up to see Peach making her way toward them, face drawn with concern. He gently waves her off, silently assuring the princess that they were alright.   

“Here, let me help you up,” Luigi offers, extending a hand to the recovering employee. The man turns and reaches up to accept his offer. 

“Oh! Why, thank you!” 

Luigi only just keeps himself from recoiling. The bellhop’s face...it isn't a face at all. It’s a mask, and a rather eerie one at that. Bulging, unseeing eyes stare back at him—well, sort of. The pupils are just a tad  off, and so small they’re practically pinpricks. A manic grin takes up most of the mask’s lower half, every white, too-perfect tooth in full view—so much so it almost looks like a threat display. To top it all off, the mask is pale blue in color, reminding Luigi of an asphyxiated corpse—a rather fitting description for the dead-eyed expression pulled straight from the uncanny valley. 

“No problem,” Luigi answers, struggling to keep composure. He takes the man’s gloved hand (it's cold as ice) and gently hauls them up (they're unnaturally light for their size) to their feet (they don’t have feet.  Or legs, for that matter).  

Luigi steps back as the bellhop begins brushing off their rumpled uniform. He has to make a conscious effort not to let his eyes trail down the man’s coat to the marginal gap between it and the floor. The red outerwear is far too long for the style, making the man look like a child in ill-fitting clothes, or more morbidly, someone that got chopped in half at the waist. Their attempt to hide their lack of legs drew more attention than it diverted, in Luigi’s opinion. It was so obvious it almost hurt

Luigi was talking to a ghost. 

“Heh, well, that  didn’t quite go according to plan,” the ghost laughs nervously. “I came over here to help you, but you ended up helping me.” 

A lot goes through the plumber's mind at that moment. How terrible the ghost’s disguise is. How, despite this, Luigi can’t help but be a little  impressed that the ghost didn’t instinctively float upward after their collision, and thus, blow their “cover”. How Luigi can’t seem to escape the paranormal for one Star’s forsaken  weekend. How, yet again, he finds himself getting tangled in some specter’s scheme. 

But none of these thoughts deign to vocalize themselves, and really, it’s for the best. Luigi has to play this smart. Without the Poltergust, they’re all doomed if the ghosts realize the jig is up and decide to forego...whatever this is. If he wants to get everyone out of here safely, he’ll need to feign ignorance—at least until he has a plan. 

“Help...me?” Luigi says distantly, still somewhat lost in his thoughts. 

“Yes! With your luggage.” The ghost gestures to Luigi’s suitcase, lying forgotten on the pristine floor. “Allow me to ease your burden and place it with the others.” 

Luigi quirks a brow at his single piece of luggage. Burden? There was hardly anything in it. 

“Oh. Thank you, but that’s not really necessary. I can—” 

“Please, I insist!” The bellhop interjects, already drifting (quite literally) toward the aforementioned bag. “You’re on vacation, sir! You should be relaxing. Let me take care of the heavy lifting.” 

Luigi starts to object, but then thinks better of it. Best not to create a fuss and draw unnecessary attention.  

“Okay, if you insist. Thank you, mister...?” 

“Oh! Um, I’m Steward! And it’s no problem, sir.” 

Their name...is Steward. As in Hotel  Steward? 

You have got  to be kidding. 

Luigi quietly watches the bellman as they (rather awkwardly) carry his suitcase over to the precarious tower of luggage the Toads are desperately trying to stabilize. The plumber sighs, studying the lobby with a carefully concealed wariness. The flowers, the gifts, the ice sculptures—what Luigi once saw as displays of opulence now feel like extravagant stage props, and really, that’s precisely what they are. He strains not to scowl up at the neatly arranged photographs of him and his family; they’re an obnoxiously excessive addition to the decorum in hindsight. These spirits were laying the flattery on thick, weren’t they? 

Luigi pauses when his eyes land on one of the other nearby staff members. They, too, are clearly wearing a mask, though it’s not nearly  as off-putting as the bellhop’s. The static expression is rather lax—eyes partially lidded and mouth resting in a neutral line, neither a frown nor a grin. A thin, curled mustache is painted neatly above the upper lip, and the equally clean eyebrows are raised in a somewhat haughty manner. As for their attire, Luigi has to admit it’s fairly convincing—professional, even. The spirit is wearing a white button-up shirt beneath a snazzy red vest and matching red bow-tie. A white apron is tied around their waist, and instead of awkwardly hiding their spectral tail under an over-sized coat, the spirit is wearing actual  pants—black slacks, to be specific. Well-polished, black and white wingtip shoes rest just beneath the pant legs; the gap between them and the slacks is minute enough that it isn’t blatantly obvious that they don’t appear to be connected to anything.  

If Luigi had only glimpsed the staff member in his peripheral, he wouldn’t have spared them a second glance.  

The costumed spirit, perhaps sensing the plumber’s scrutiny, turns to regard him. Luigi cringes internally when the movement causes their mask’s pupils to wobble erratically like the googly eyes of some cheap craft project. A distant part of him wonders if these spirits had any idea how mortal eyes worked, or if they were just incredibly lazy with their craftsmanship. Luigi gently waves to the spirit in a greeting, offering what he hopes is a convincing smile. The staff member acknowledges him with a nod. Their neatly combed wig slides askew at the gesture, but they deftly readjust it without so much as a shift in their stance. Luigi quickly shuffles past them in an attempt to hide his grimace. 

Good Grambi, he needed something to drink. 

Fortunately for Luigi, there appears to be a pitcher of tea at the table Mario is still happily sampling treats from. It’s not what he had in mind, but if it occupies his hands and quenches his thirst, he’ll take it. The plumber approaches the table as nonchalantly as he can, grabbing the rather large jug and pouring himself a steaming cup of tea. His hands shake minutely as he does so, and Luigi tries to convince himself it’s from the strain of hefting the heavy pitcher. 

“Hey bro!” 

Luigi nearly spills his drink at Mario’s sudden greeting. He turns, shooting his brother a strained smile. 

“H-hey bro,” he says back. 

Mario grins—oblivious to Luigi’s inner turmoil—as he snatches up a croissant. He takes a hearty bite and looks back to his brother, humming happily as he savors the taste. 

“Isn’ thith plathe great?” Mario asks around a mouthful of pastry. 

Luigi winces, both at the question and at his brother’s poor table manners. 

“Yeah...great...” 

Mario nods, taking another bite of the flaky pastry. When he speaks again, Luigi is distantly grateful he remembers to swallow his food this time. 

“Good food, good atmosphere, good friends...this vacation is just what I needed. What we all  needed, right bro?” 

Oh Stars, this is so unfair.  

“Right,” he answers honestly. A nice vacation is  what they needed, but clearly the universe thought that was too tall an order. 

How is he going to break the news to Mario? And how does he keep his brother from reacting badly? 

Luigi looks down at his cup, absently swirling the hot liquid inside. He subtly checks his peripheral for any nearby staff. Thankfully, they’re all a fair distance away, so as long as the brothers keep their voices down, there shouldn’t be a risk of being overheard. It’s possible one of the ghosts knows how to read lips, but if they keep their expressions in check, they shouldn’t draw the attention needed to do so. If that doesn’t work...well, Luigi can only hope the masks are as hard to see out of as they are to look at. 

The green-clad plumber watches his brother select a soft pretzel from one of the platters, seeing an opportunity as Mario begins to chow down on the salty treat. His brother can’t yell and make a scene if his mouth is full, right? It’s not ideal, but the precariousness of their situation has Luigi feeling too overwhelmed to try and think of anything better. He gently sips from his tea, and when his brother takes another bite from the pretzel, he speaks as casually as he can around the rim of the cup. 

“The hotel is a trap.” 

Mario promptly chokes. 

Luigi nearly drops his cup at his brother’s rather violent reaction. He blindly thrusts his drink onto the table and ducks around Mario’s distressed flailing to deliver several hard slaps to his brother’s back. Just when Luigi thinks he’s going to have to try a first aid maneuver, the food swiftly dislodges itself from Mario’s airway, leaving the red-clad plumber to hack and cough wetly as he recovers from the harrowing ordeal. Luigi looks up to find all eyes are on them. 

Well, that  was stupid. So much for not drawing attention. 

A couple staff members move uncertainly toward them, as does Peach, but Luigi quickly waves them off. 

“He’s fine!” he calls, voice slightly strained with panic. “Just got a little too...overzealous, is all!” 

The disguised spirits exchange what might be—sans masks—hesitant looks, but none-the-less return to their stations. For one, terrifying moment, it appears that the princess is going to come over anyway, but another wave of assurance manages to placate her. Luigi knows he’ll need to tell Peach about the spirits’ ruse eventually, but he doesn’t think telling both her and his brother at the same time would be very wise. Keeping one person calm is hard enough. 

“Sorry, Mario,” Luigi whispers. “That, uh...was poorly thought out on my part.” 

“Ya think?” Mario wheezes, straightening from his hunched over position. “Making a bad joke like that while I’m eating—not cool, Luigi.” 

Luigi frowns, but quickly recovers by plastering on a fake smile. He feigns a hearty laugh and throws an arm around Mario’s shoulders, much to the latter’s confusion. 

“I’m not joking, bro,” he says through gritted teeth, false grin still in place. “The hotel staff are all spirits wearing disguises. Really, really bad disguises.” 

Mario stares back at his brother, utterly bewildered. 

“If you’re not joking, then why are you smiling like that?” 

“Because if they’re watching us, I don’t want them thinking we’re on to them.” Luigi grinds out. He reaches into his pocket with his free hand and retrieves his cell phone. He lifts it up, screen facing the brothers, and turns on the forward-facing camera. “Say: Play Stupid!” 

Luigi snaps the picture, capturing his strained smile and his brother’s baffled frown.  

“How do you know they’re disguises?” Mario asks. 

Luigi makes a victory sign at the camera, and he is relieved when his brother mimics him, donning a false grin of his own. 

“Have you seen  the staff?” He retorts, making a goofy face at the camera to hide his disbelief. 

Mario’s pseudo smile becomes sheepish. 

“I haven’t really gotten a good look at them, honestly. I, uh...kinda went straight to the buffet...” 

“So I saw,”  Luigi thinks wryly. 

Mario starts to turn his head to locate the nearest staff member, but Luigi quickly redirects him by giving his shoulder a squeeze in warning. 

“Hold on, bro. Let’s be a little more tactful about this.” 

Luigi gently pulls away, taking a few steps back and gesturing for his brother to move away from the table. A look of understanding crosses Mario’s face as the green-clad plumber raises their phone up and switches to the rear camera. Mario strikes a pose, angling himself so at least one of the meandering hotel employees will be in the shot. Luigi nods in approval. He takes several photos before calling Mario back over. 

“Here,” Luigi says, handing his phone to Mario. “Take a look.” 

Mario selects a photo and carefully zooms in on one of the staff members in the background. When the red-clad plumber’s face begins to pinch with unease, Luigi quickly moves so he is shielding their expression from view. 

“Careful, Mario. We’re supposed to be happy vacationers, remember? Smiles up!" 

Mario’s grimace flips into a fairly convincing grin. He even throws in a thumbs up for good measure, pretending to be satisfied with the photos' turnout. 

“Wow. These masks are terrible,” he says through clenched teeth. “Did they really  think this would fool us?” 

“I’m a little insulted, honestly,” Luigi agrees. 

Mario looks down at the phone and begins absently flipping through the pictures. 

“Now what?” 

Luigi sidles up to his brother and joins him in their feigned browsing. 

“I’ve been asking myself the same thing,” he confesses. “We need to find a way to get everyone outside without the spirits noticing. I was thinking about creating a diversion, but I haven’t quite figured out how.” 

The red-clad plumber nods, humming thoughtfully. 

“Alright, we’ll work on that later. In the meantime, we need to let the others know what’s happening.” 

Luigi catches himself before he can grimace. 

“I agree...for the most part. We can tell Peach, but I really  don’t think it’s wise to tell the Toads. If they find out we’re in a hotel full of ghosts, they’re going to panic, and we can’t risk them blowing our cover.” 

“Good point,” Mario concedes. “Now, how do we tell Peach?” 

Luigi puts a hand to his chin, looking contemplative. He glances between Mario, his phone, and the entranced princess—she is currently admiring a painting on the wall. 

“That depends. Do you think she would be up for a group photo?” 

Chapter Text

Briefing the princess goes much more smoothly than it did with Mario. Years of dealing with Bowser’s grandiose abductions left her with nerves of steel, so she hardly batted an eye when informed of their precarious predicament. Peach was also remarkably better than Mario and Luigi at controlling her expressions—a life skill undoubtedly obtained from her royal upbringing. 

She did, however, share Mario’s obliviousness. 

“You didn’t notice either, princess?” Luigi asks with mild exasperation. 

Peach’s carefully schooled features slip for the briefest of moments to reveal her embarrassment. Luigi would have thought he’d imagined the whole thing if the picture they took hadn’t just captured it. 

“I was distracted by the architecture and interior design,” she confesses, sweeping a delicate hand behind her. “It’s absolutely gorgeous! I’m ashamed to admit it, but I hardly paid the staff a second glance.” 

Luigi silently wonders if Mario and Peach would have ever noticed if he hadn’t said anything. He wants to give them the benefit of the doubt and say yes, but he’s honestly at a loss. Whatever the case, what matters is that they know now, and right now they need a plan to get out of here without raising the alarm. A plan which…wasn’t being very forthcoming at the moment. If only the professor were here; he may not have a wealth of common sense, but the man was quick to find solutions for even the trickiest of problems.

Luigi’s eyes drift to his phone still clasped in his brother’s hands. An idea abruptly strikes him, and he immediately feels foolish for not thinking of it sooner. E. Gadd may not be here to offer advice in person, but there was nothing stopping Luigi from giving the old scientist a call.

“Hey Mario, you’ve got your phone on you, right?" 

Mario blinks up at him, thrown by the shift in conversation. 

“Uh, yeah, but why…?” 

Luigi gently takes his phone back from Mario and brandishes it with purpose. 

“I’m going to call the professor and fill him in. Maybe there’s something he can do to help us. In the meantime, you and Peach take pictures of the lobby. If all else fails, we’ll look through them later and see if there’s anything here we can make use of.” 

Mario nods his understanding, and with that, the three split off to complete their tasks. Luigi walks to the opposite side of the lobby and halts at the other lavishly decorated table. He looks up at the majestic swan ice sculpture glittering in the afternoon sun. It’s starting to melt a little. 

Luigi takes a deep, composing breath and pulls up E. Gadd’s contact information. He absently prods at one of the neatly wrapped presents while the call goes through. He can’t help noticing how light the box is—it’s probably empty. Luigi’s plastered-on smile wavers minutely with each drawn-out ring, and he has to make a conscious effort not to begin pacing.  

Finally, there is a click on the other end of the line.  

[“Joe’s Pool Hall, how may I help you?”]  

Luigi blinks, pulling his phone away from his ear for a brief moment to check the screen. The professor's phone number glows back at him. It wasn’t a misdial. Now that he gave it more thought, the speaker’s voice had a ghostly quality to it—definitely a spectral entity. One of the scientist's mischievous helpers must have answered. 

“Uh…is professor Elvin Gadd around—” 

{“Hey! What're you doing with the old coot's phone?”}  

Luigi’s brows pinch at the second voice. It sounded more distant, but just as ethereal as the first—another spirit in the room, perhaps? 

[“Relax, I’m just messing around,”]  the first voice replies, not bothering to cover the receiver.  [“Some nerd is trying to contact the professor. I think they’re a telemarketer. Probably trying to sell him one of those Old People Buttons mortals use when they fall down and break.”]  

{“Well, hang up on them! Mistress Gravely will be bringing those mortals up from the lobby any minute now, and we’re not supposed to be on this floor. Do you want to make her angry?!”}  

The bickering continues for a few short moments before the call abruptly ends, but Luigi has long stopped listening. Mortals? Lobby? Mistress...Gravely? Why does that name sound so familiar? The gold embossed lettering of Luigi’s invitation suddenly flashes in his mind. He reaches into his pocket with his free hand, retrieves the fancy slip of paper, and holds it up for careful scrutiny. There, at the cardstock’s bottom right corner, a signature so elaborate and curvy it’s almost illegible. 

Hellen Gravely. 

The phone nearly slips from Luigi’s lax grip as he stares, unseeing, at the table before him. E. Gadd was here?  At this hotel? And if what Luigi gleaned from that exchange is correct, the old scientist was already in the spirit’s clutches. 

No...no no no no—!  This can’t be happening! When Luigi said he wished the professor was here, this is not  what he meant! 

“Sir? Are you alright?” 

Luigi whirls around to his left, coming face-to-mask with one of the hotel employees. He can feel his heart beating wildly in his chest. 

“I...what?” he replies dumbly. 

“Are you alright?” the spirit repeats. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

Oh, very  funny. 

“I-I’m fine. Just had a little mini emergency, is all.” Luigi’s eyes dart frantically around him, as if searching for an explanation for his apparently alarmed appearance. A flower arrangement on one of the nearby tables gives him an idea. “I have a very delicate plant at home, and in all the excitement, I completely forgot to ask someone to look after it while I’m gone. But we’re good now!” He waves his phone in emphasis. “I got ahold of a friend and they agreed to help. Crisis averted.” 

The hotel employee stares quietly back at him, and somehow Luigi knows  their concealed face is as blank and emotionless as their mask. 

“You and Dr. Potter would get along like two peas in a pod,” they mutter to themselves. 

“What?” 

“Oh, nothing. Glad everything’s okay!  Let me know if you need anything!” 

The spirit turns and hastily departs. Luigi watches them go, eyes flitting between the mask’s plainly visible head-strap and the ungainly shuffle of their feet along the floor. Now that they’re moving, the gap between their slacks and their shoes has become glaringly obvious. He quickly averts his gaze, slaps on a fake smile, and makes a bee-line for Mario and Peach over by the buffet table. The two are smiling and taking turns pointing to something on Mario’s phone. If Luigi didn’t know any better, he’d think their mirth was genuine. They both look up when he draws near. 

“Hey, Luigi!” Mario says jovially. “Come look at this! The princess and I were just working on an itinerary.” 

Luigi robotically steps up to his brother’s side and feigns interest in the images on the phone’s screen. Mario and Peach subtly move closer to him, the former beginning to speak in a hushed tone. 

“Alright bro, we got the lobby all digitally mapped out. How did things go on your end? Can the professor do anything to help us escape?" 

Luigi feels his pseudo smile become strained. 

“Nope.” 

Mario and Peach's cheery expressions falter imperceptibly. 

“Oh…” Peach says quietly. “Are we too far away for him to reach us?” 

Luigi’s smile turns into a grin that borders on manic. 

“Nope! E. Gadd is actually really close by,” he replies with a hint of hysteria. “In fact, he’s on one of the floors above us.” 

Horror briefly flashes across their faces, and Luigi has to give them both kudos for not dropping their cheerful charade altogether. 

“He’s here?!” Mario whisper-yells while somehow maintaining a smile. “Does he know it’s a trap?” 

Luigi has to bite down on his tongue to keep himself from laughing nervously. 

“Oh, I’m sure he does. A ghost was the one who answered his phone—thank the Stars  they didn’t check the caller ID. They thought I was a telemarketer.” 

“How do you know it’s one of the ghosts in this hotel?” Peach asks. 

“Sheer dumb luck,” Luigi admits. “I heard one of the ghosts in the background mention a woman they referred to as mistress Gravely.” When all he gets are blank looks, he holds up his invitation. “Look at the signature.” 

They wordlessly comply, and Luigi sees the exact moment realization flashes in their eyes. 

“Stars above...” Peach whispers. “They really thought this through.” 

“Yeah,” Mario agrees, “targeting the guy with the ghost-capturing equipment first? That’s...actually really good foresight.” He chances a glance at one of the meandering staff members. “If they had put as much thought and effort into their disguises, we probably would have fallen for their ruse completely.” 

“I guess we should be grateful they’re not fully  competent,” Luigi sighs. 

The trio fall into a brief silence, struggling to maintain their jovial charade. 

“What do we do now?” Peach asks quietly. “We can’t just leave the professor behind.” 

“And we won’t,” Luigi agrees. “I’m going to stay here and find him while the rest of you escape.” 

“What?! Absolutely not!” Mario protests, only just keeping his voice down. “I’m not leaving you to fight all these ghosts on your own, bro, no way!” 

Luigi expects the objection, and though he is touched by his brother’s vehemence, he knows he can’t back down. 

“Mario, I’ve fought ghosts and spirits on my own since the start of my paranormal career. This is my area of expertise, bro, not yours,” he replies firmly, but not unkindly. “Besides, if something goes wrong and we all  get caught, who will save us then?” 

The red-clad plumber opens his mouth to argue, but bites back the words at the last moment. He clearly doesn’t like it, but Mario knows his brother has a point.  

“You’re not abandoning me, Mario,” Luigi continues, sensing his brother’s reluctance. “You’re my back-up. When you get everyone home safely, I need you to go to my house and get my spare Poltergust. Then you can come back and help me finish the job.” 

“Wouldn’t it be safer to come back with us and then return with the Poltergust yourself?” Peach asks. 

“Probably,” Luigi admits, “but there’s no guarantee that the spirits will stay here if we all go. If they pack up shop and leave before we return, we may never be able to find E. Gadd.” 

Neither Peach nor Mario look pleased with this turn of events, but they eventually concede. With a jarring suddenness, they recall they’re supposed to look like excited vacationers, and slap on beaming grins. 

“Alright, what’s the plan, then?” Mario asks. 

“Good question." Luigi points to Mario’s phone. “Let’s look through the pictures you took and see what we can come up with." 

Mario nods and flips back to the beginning of his phone’s gallery. As he slowly cycles through the photos, Luigi quietly commends his brother and Peach on their thoroughness. Mario hadn’t been kidding when he said they “mapped out" the lobby. There were pictures of the front desk, the staircases, the hotel entrance, the lounge, and just about every area in between. Luigi frowns when he sees the picture of the elevator on the far side of the lobby. The lift and the door leading (presumably) to the stairwell are blocked by idling spirits.  

“That could be a problem," Luigi mutters. 

“I don’t see an easy way to slip around them," Mario agrees. “Your best bet is to get them to abandon their post." 

They continue to swipe through the gallery, pausing occasionally for a more detailed inspection of the images. As the fruitless scrolling drags on, Luigi starts to lose hope that they’ll find anything of use. He’s about to call it quits until his brother flips to a picture of one of the tables piled high with bouquets and (empty) presents. 

“Wait! Let me get a better look at that picture." 

The red-clad plumber obediently halts their browsing. Mario and Peach watch patiently as Luigi stares down at the excessive stack of gifts. An idea slowly begins to form in his mind. The flowers...all that paper and cardboard... 

It would make excellent kindling. 

The pseudo smile on Luigi’s face abruptly turns genuine. Mario immediately picks up on his shift in demeanor. 

“I take it you thought of something?” Mario asks knowingly. 

“I have,” Luigi affirms. “It will give all of you a reason to leave the hotel without rousing suspicion, and should divert enough attention to allow me to sneak into the elevator.” He gestures to the pile of gifts in the picture. “Mario, I’m going to need you to find a way to start a fire without being seen.” 

Despite the grimness of their predicament, Mario looks decidedly thrilled with the idea. 

“Oh, it would be my pleasure.” 

Peach is considerably less thrilled. 

“Isn’t that dangerous? And don’t elevators lock down during fires as a safety precaution?” 

“Everything about our situation is dangerous,” Luigi sighs wearily, “and something tells me this place isn’t up to code in the safety department, so the elevator should still function. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll just take the stairs.” 

The princess nods softly, conceding the point. 

“Alright...how do you intend to find the professor?” 

Luigi hadn’t thought that far ahead. He is fumbling to find something to say to placate the others when he feels something nudge insistently at his leg. Luigi looks down to find his loyal canine watching him almost expectantly. He blinks dumbly at the spirit. In all the, err, excitement, the Polterpup had completely slipped his mind. 

“Pepper will lead me to him,” Luigi answers confidently. He leans over and scratches the pup’s head. “Good timing, boy.” 

The Polterpup has an unusual knack for that sort of thing, he’s noticed. 

The conversation becomes a bit circular after that, the trio going over the plan several times to make sure everyone knew their part. Peach was going to call the Toads over to the center of the lobby so they had a clear shot to the exit. Mario was going to walk around the lavish present pile and create a spark somewhere out of the hotel staff’s line of sight. Meanwhile, Luigi and Pepper will be over in the lounge area by the elevator doing...something. Admiring the décor? Doesn’t matter as long as he doesn’t draw attention to himself. 

Eventually, the group starts to split-off—doing so gradually so as to not rouse suspicion. Peach is the first to leave. She offers Luigi a quick hug and wishes him luck before daintily making her way over to the meandering Toads. The brothers chat quietly about arbitrary things for several minutes. When Luigi deems that he’s waited long enough, he bids his brother goodbye, but not without the two sharing a bone-crushing hug. 

“Be careful, Luigi,” Mario says quietly as they pull apart. 

“You too, bro. We’ll make it through this; I know we will.” 

Mario nods, struggling to keep his expression from becoming grave. 

“I’ll be back to get you as soon as I can.” 

And with that, Luigi departs. The walk to the lounge area feels far too long, and Luigi swears every single staff member is watching him with intense scrutiny. He reinforces his feigned smile and offers a friendly wave to one of employees as he passes. Luigi stops at a console table topped with tea cups and two pitchers of what he assumes is more tea. The green-clad plumber absently pours himself a cup, hyper aware of the disguised spirit idling a few paces to his right. He can feel their gaze boring into him. Steaming cup in hand, Luigi steps back and pretends to admire the painting on the wall above the console table.  

“Everything to your liking so far, sir?” 

Luigi flinches imperceptibly at the question. He turns to the employee with a smile. The spirit is holding a tray loaded with refreshments. 

“Yes, thank you,” he replies. Then, unable to help himself, “It’s almost too good to be true.” 

The hotel staff member chuckles to themselves. 

“You have no idea,” they murmur, and Luigi is pretty sure he wasn’t meant to hear that. 

“No,”  he retorts mentally. You have no idea.”  

“What was that?” Luigi asks aloud, feigning ignorance. 

“Nothing!” the spirit says quickly. “Uh, I mean...would you like to try our selection of beverages?” 

Luigi slowly blinks back at them. Then, without breaking eye contact, takes a long swig of his tea. He feels a modicum of satisfaction when the staff member’s confident posture begins to waiver. 

“Sure,” he says at last. “What do you have?” 

Oddly enough, the disguised spirit seems taken aback by his question. Did they not expect anyone to take them up on their offer? 

“We...uh...we have...coffee?” They look down at their tray, as if searching for answers (or a script). “and...uh...tea?”  

Luigi, almost pointedly, takes another sip of his tea. The spirit cringes. 

“...water...?” they finish weakly. 

A small part of Luigi actually feels a little bad for making the spirit uncomfortable, but then he remembers their malevolent intentions for bringing him here. Still, he grants the staff member a sliver of mercy. 

“What kind of tea?” 

Luigi realizes too late that his question actually made things more  difficult. If spirits could perspire, the staff member would undoubtedly be sweating bullets.  

“Err..." They look between Luigi, their tray, and the staircase by the front desk. “Let me go check..." 

Luigi watches them awkwardly hobble away to (presumably) the kitchen. Any guilt he feels for harassing the employee is dwarfed by the giddy realization that he had inadvertently reduced the number of staff members in the lobby. It could very well make a positive difference in his plan with Mario and Peach. 

Speaking of... 

The green-clad plumber turns toward the stack of gifts on the other side of the lobby. Sure enough, he sees his brother walking away from the future bonfire with a distinctly pleased look on their face. Mario glances Luigi’s way as he casually strolls back to the buffet table. When their eyes meet, Mario smiles and offers his brother a thumbs up. Luigi nods in acknowledgement. He takes a sip of his tea, finishing off his beverage as he spares the Princess a subtle glance. She is currently chatting with the Toads beneath the lobby’s extravagant chandelier. Everyone is in position. 

Well, almost everyone.  

Luigi partially refills his cup and moves over to the sitting area, Pepper trailing happily behind him. He plops down on a purple, chesterfield-esque couch, sitting so he is looking out into the lobby. Luigi sighs with thinly veiled dread, but with how his body sinks into the plush cushions, it probably sounds more like relief. The green-clad plumber takes a half-hearted sip of his drink and turns his head back toward his brother. Mario is munching on a slice of cake as he nonchalantly peers about the room. Their eyes meet yet again. Luigi nods lightly for a final time. 

He was ready. 

Mario returns the nod. The red-clad plumber quickly finishes the rest of his cake and turns back to the table, pretending to peruse it for another treat. Luigi watches as his brother feigns to grab a pastry, only to turn the action into what could be described as a coaxing gesture. Unseen, the fledgling flame Mario had planted under the assortment of packages begins to respond to their call. 

Luigi knows what’s about to come next, but he still finds himself recoiling when the stack of packages and flowers violently erupt into flames.  In seconds, the decorative assortment has become a towering inferno. 

Mario might have gone a tad  overboard.  

Luigi isn’t sure who sounds the alarm, but the response is near-instantaneous. Suddenly all available staff are rushing around the lobby, flailing in their efforts to find something to put out the blaze. Luigi slides off the sofa and crouches behind it as the spirits blocking the elevator dash away from their posts. He peers over the cushions, making sure all attention is on the unfolding catastrophe. His eyes catch a flash of red by the front entrance. Luigi watches, relieved, as Mario ushers Peach and the Toads out the massive double doors. The red-clad plumber pauses in the threshold, looking back and spotting Luigi’s partially hidden head peeking out at him. He shoots Luigi a determined nod, and without further hesitation, disappears out the door. 

Luigi feels a weight lift from his shoulders when the door shuts behind his brother. They were out of harm’s way—now he can focus on his daunting rescue mission. With one last (admittedly longing) look at the hotel’s front entrance, the green-clad plumber turns and darts out from his hiding place—making a bee line for the elevator. 

“Sir! Where are you going?!” 

Luigi nearly trips as he comes to a startled halt. He whips around to find none other than the bellhop heading his way. 

Oh, come on! 

Steward’s shouted inquiry finally registers. Panicked, he yells back the first excuse he can think of. 

“Bathroom!” 

Nailed it. 

Luigi doesn’t wait for any response. He turns and sprints after the Polterpup, watching as the latter leaps through the closed elevator doors. Luigi is frantically pressing the lift’s call button when he feels something grab his free arm—the bellhop has caught up with him. 

“Sir, there is a fire  in the lobby!” the spirit informs him redundantly. “The elevator isn’t safe!” 

“Oh, like you actually care about my well-being,”  Luigi thinks sardonically. 

His irritation turns to panic as Steward starts to pull him away from the elevator. Luigi’s panic only increases when the lift’s doors part with a quiet whoosh. He looks between the insistent spirit and the awaiting cabin with an openly frantic expression. What can he do to make the bellhop go away?! He needs to say something! Anything! 

“Your mask is terrifying!” 

Not that!  

It was an incredibly stupid thing to say, and Luigi can feel his carefully constructed façade crumble around him. Still, the thoughtless exclamation has the desired effect. Steward recoils as if struck, releasing the plumber’s arm in complete shock. On some bizarre impulse, Luigi leaps up and tears off the bellhop’s mask, revealing Steward’s startled face underneath. As he suspected, they are indeed a ghost, and infinitely less scary than their disguise. Following another strange impulse, Luigi reels back and chucks the mask as hard as he can across the room. 

“Never wear it again!” he shouts, somewhat manically. 

And with that, the momentary madness is flushed from Luigi’s system. He turns and leaps the rest of the distance into the awaiting elevator, stumbling into a roll as he lands. Luigi gracelessly rights himself and slams the “close door" button with more force than what is entirely necessary. The last thing Luigi sees before the elevator doors shut is the slack-jawed expression of the bellhop staring after him. Then, all is quiet, the distant sound of panicking spirits replaced by atmospheric music pumping gently through the cabin’s old speakers. 

Luigi heaves a deep sigh of relief. That could have gone...better, but it also could have gone infinitely worse.   

The plumber startles when the elevator begins to move. Belatedly, he realizes he never selected a floor. Luigi looks over to the array of buttons and spies Pepper sitting below a single, glowing button—B1, it reads. The Polterpup had selected the basement?  

“Pepper! What are you doing?!” he exclaims, rushing over to the panel. “The professor is on one of the floors above us!” 

Luigi’s hands hover over the buttons with panic, but are stilled by uncertainty. There are over a dozen floors to choose from. Which one could the professor possibly  be on? Now that he thought about it, how did he even expect Pepper to track the old scientist through the elevator? By smelling the buttons?  

He really didn’t think this through. 

Before Luigi can blindly select another floor, the elevator reaches the basement, announcing its arrival with a soft ding. Luigi quickly presses up against the wall as the doors slide open, trying to keep hidden in case there were any other “employees” meandering about. After waiting a couple beats, the plumber dares to take a peek outside of the cabin. 

It’s dark, the basement, but not so much Luigi can’t get a gist of his surroundings. Sparse furniture and potted plants line the walls, their details blurred by shadows and faintly greyed with dust. Two dull light fixtures hang from the ceiling. Judging by the plethora of cobwebs coating the glass casings, Luigi has a feeling the chandeliers haven’t seen much use beyond offering shelter to creeping arachnids. It’s all a stark contrast to the lavish lobby he had just come from. He supposes it would be rather superfluous to tidy up the place when no mortals were supposed to see it. 

Luigi’s surveillance is cut short by his spectral canine when they casually trot past him and out into the gloom. The plumber hesitantly follows, quietly wishing he had his flashlight (and distantly lamenting the loss of his luggage altogether). Pepper leads him down a dreary hallway lined with paintings and the occasional flickering light fixture. Dusty piping and air vents trail along the ceiling like rusty metal veins. Spiders and rats skitter among them, the scraping of rodent claws causing Luigi to flinch more than once during his slow trek through the basement. A cacophonous crash to his right has the plumber nearly leaping out of his skin. He is relieved (though mildly embarrassed) to see it was only a painting that had fallen off its hook.  

In a haunted hotel... 

Luigi increases his pace, suddenly paranoid. Surely, if it had been a ghost’s doing, they would have revealed themselves by now? The plumber isn’t given the chance to over-think it. Pepper abruptly leaps through the wall at his right, and for a brief moment, Luigi is afraid the pup has gotten side-tracked by one of the many pests infesting the shabby hallway. That’s when he sees a metal door just a few paces ahead of where the canine disappeared. He cautiously approaches it, giving the door a quick inspection for any ghostly traps. Finding none, he gingerly tests the handle, sighing with relief when it gives with no resistance. Luigi thanks the Stars that it’s unlocked. With a hint of trepidation, he quietly eases open the door.  

And finds himself in a parking garage. 

The plumber doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. Why has Pepper led him here of all places? Somehow, he doubts this is where the spirits are keeping E. Gadd. 

An excited bark draws Luigi’s attention to the right, and he turns just in time to glimpse a flash of white dashing down the lot. Luigi wastes no time in following, quietly thankful that the garage is significantly more illuminated than the hallway. As he goes, Luigi can’t help but notice all the suitcases strewn about the pavement and the occasional parked vehicle. Did these belong to the spirits? Or were there more mortals being held captive? Luigi desperately hopes it’s the former.  

The plumber quickly reaches the end of the lot, and it is only then that he realizes he had lost track of Pepper. Fortunately, the issue is short lived, as a moment later, Luigi hears a muffled bark coming from a faded red antique car. A really familiar  antique car. 

Is that...? 

Luigi nearly sprints the remaining distance. Spoked wheels? Open carriage? There is no doubt about it—it’s the professor's car. He skids to a stop by the vehicle’s hood, where the barking seems to be emanating from, and reaches to open it. Before he can so much as lay a finger on the finish, Pepper leaps out from their hiding place and knocks him to the floor with an excited bark.  

The plumber groans tiredly as the spectral canine nudges him back to his feet and darts back to the car. Luigi watches, gobsmacked, as the pup very clearly points at the car’s hood with their tail. He steps up to the vehicle and carefully opens the hood. Any sort of reprimand for the pup’s hyper behavior dies in the man’s throat when he sees what’s inside. 

The Poltergust. 

Well, a  Poltergust, anyway. Luigi doesn’t recognize the model—it must be new—but that didn’t matter to the plumber in the slightest. He has the very tool he needs to protect himself and save the professor from the conniving spirits that lured them to this hotel. Things were finally looking up. 

Luigi slides his arms through the capturing device’s shoulder straps, the Poltergust settling easily onto his back. Luigi nearly sighs with relief at the familiar weight—its presence a tremendous comfort after the blind uncertainty he’s felt since he first laid eyes on the bellhop’s creepy mask. A sudden giddiness has the plumber dancing in place. He punctuates his little celebration by striking a pose, not caring in the least how silly he must look. The man had just been given hope in a seemingly hopeless situation—he was allowed to be a dork for a moment. 

“Alright, Pepper," Luigi says, brandishing the Poltergust’s nozzle, “let’s test this baby out." 

Chapter Text

The plumber is making his way back down the basement hall, a noticeable limp in his gait. He has just completed his little impromptu practice session with the Polterpup, something that had taken a bit longer than he had anticipated. It was all thanks to a rather... unique addition to the newest ghost-capturing device. At first, aside from its appearance, there didn’t seem to be any difference between the latest model and the previous one.

That’s when Luigi found the unmarked switch.

He hadn’t known what to expect when he gave the innocuous switch a flip, but it certainly wasn’t being launched nearly three feet into the air. It goes without saying that Luigi did not land gracefully. One bruised tailbone and two banged-up knees later, the plumber finally deemed himself capable of handling this new “Burst" function without face-planting on the floor.

Luigi is going to have a few choice words with the professor when he finds them—namely about the importance of labels.

Flashlight in hand, Luigi approaches the elevator with significantly more confidence than he had leaving it. He presses the call button and watches the arrow of the floor indicator slowly slide its way to his current level. Luigi can’t help but notice that the elevator hadn’t been at the lobby, but several floors higher. The fifth floor, if he saw correctly. Could that be where the spirits were holding E. Gadd?

Luigi’s grip on the Poltergust’s wand tightens when the lift announces its arrival with a gentle ding. He braces himself as the doors slide open, anticipating a ghostly entourage to come pouring out of the cabin. Luigi relaxes marginally when all he sees is his reflection in the mirror of the cabin’s back wall. The plumber follows Pepper inside the lift and turns to select the fifth floor as their next destination. It was as good a place to start as any.

Except, the button is missing.

Luigi takes an unconscious step back, alarmed by the panel’s vandalism. The button for the fifth floor is completely absent, and it isn’t the only one. Nearly all the elevator buttons are gone. For a moment, Luigi thinks they might be hidden by spirit orbs, but without a Dark Light to reveal them, he can’t test his theory. Either way, the plumber’s means of transport has been sabotaged. Luigi has been left with only two floors to choose from—the very floor he is on, and the lobby.*

He was trapped.

The hand that had been reaching toward the panel drops to his side and slowly curls into a fist. Steward...the bellhop must have informed the other staff members that Luigi had seen through their (terrible) disguise. Sometime between then and now, the spirits saw fit to disable the elevator. It was a smart move, he had to admit.

Unlike his little stunt back in the lobby, Luigi thinks sourly. If only he had been more careful…

The Polterpup doesn’t allow Luigi to stew in his self-deprecating thoughts for long. Pepper bites onto the plumber’s pant leg and begins to insistently drag them out of the now-useless elevator. Luigi awkwardly stumbles after them, and the pup doesn’t let go until he begins to follow at a pace they deem to be satisfactory. Pepper bolts ahead and stops at a door to Luigi’s left—one the plumber hadn’t noticed when he first arrived in the basement. Realization suddenly hits him, and Luigi feels incredibly scatter-brained for not remembering sooner. There had been another door by the elevator up in the lobby.

It was the stairwell entrance.

“Good boy, Pepper,” Luigi praises quietly.

The spectral canine’s tail wags in acknowledgement. With a cheerful bark, they leap through the door, expecting him to follow their lead. Luigi intends to do just that, but halts when he is faced with an odd contraption barring the exit. Two segmented metal beams lay horizontally across the door’s framing—one toward the top and one toward the bottom. Luigi can very clearly see the door handle—reach it, even—but when he tries to turn it, he finds that it won’t budge. So much for just climbing over the barricade.

Luigi’s eyes are drawn to a green light on a panel to the door’s left. Its glow undulates, dimming and brightening in even intervals. A steady jumble of beeps and chirps accompanies it in its cycling. The plumber blinks at the arrangement, abruptly struck with familiarity. It’s a locking mechanism—one very much like what the professor uses to secure his own doors. Why was it here in this hotel? Why would the spirits use a security system that is disarmed by bright flashes of light?*

Without a word, the plumber activates his flashlight’s Strobulb and watches quietly as the lock disengages. The arrangement didn’t make a shred of sense, but Luigi wasn’t about to question his good fortune. He quickly pushes his way through the door once the bars have completely withdrawn.

The stairwell is just as dusty and dreary as the rest of the basement, though marginally better lit. There is a modest sitting area tucked beneath the bend of the u-shaped stairs where a small lamp glows piteously in the gloom. A vending machine to Luigi’s left offers its own ambient light—the green LEDs in the buttons cutting rather sharply through the darkness. For some reason, it, too, is equipped with a light-activated sensor. Luigi shoves down his growing bewilderment and elects to ignore it. He quickly begins ascending the stairs.

The plumber is so focused on watching his step, that it isn’t until he reaches the first landing that he notices the massive windows before him. He falters. It had been late afternoon when he and the others arrived at the hotel. Now, the sun is dipping into the horizon—taking with it the last dregs of daylight. Dusk is upon them.

Has he really been down here that long?

Something nudges the plumber’s leg, and Luigi nearly leaps out of his skin as he turns to face the disturbance. He is infinitely relieved to find Pepper’s dopey grin beaming back at him. The Polterpup turns and bounds the rest of the way up the stairs, halting at the landing and offering Luigi an encouraging bark. With mute horror, Luigi discovers that the staircase ends on the first floor, and there is only one exit at the top.

The door out into the lobby.

Luigi hesitates. There’s no telling what is out there now. The spirits clearly know where he is, trapping him the way they have. They must have an ambush set up for him just outside the elevator—he can’t imagine why they’d leave the button to the lobby otherwise.

The plumber frowns to himself. What was the point of taking the stairs if it led to the same place? Maybe Pepper thought he would be less likely to get cornered this way. It made sense, he supposes. Plus, the spirits wouldn’t be expecting him to come from the stairwell; it had been locked, after all, and as far as they knew, Luigi had no means to open it.

Luigi briefly considers going back to the parking garage. If he can get outside, maybe he’ll find a side entrance into the hotel…

The plumber shakes his head and continues to ascend the stairs. Pepper wouldn’t steer him wrong. The pup always seemed to know where they needed to be and when they needed to be there. If they knew of a better route, they would have taken Luigi down that path instead. He trusts their instincts.

Luigi eventually reaches the first-floor landing. Pepper waits just long enough to ensure that he has conquered the final step before they leap through the wall and out into the lobby. Luigi pauses before the door, habitually checking it for traps or any sort of paranormal tampering. He finds none. It does little to ease his nerves. With a final, composing breath, Luigi braces himself and slowly opens the door.

Luigi has to bite back a sharp gasp as he is abruptly struck by a change in pressure. Spiritual energy crashes into him like a wave, sending a chill down his spine and standing his hairs on end. The plumber’s skin prickles unpleasantly with the crawling sensation of paresthesia. His shock is brief, and he adapts fairly quickly, but Luigi is immediately on high alert.*

The first thing Luigi notices is that most of the lights in the lobby have been doused, leaving only a few lamps and wall fixtures to compensate for the rapidly receding light of the setting sun. The second is that the lobby is completely vacant—not a single costumed soul to be found. Luigi frowns to himself. He supposes he should be relieved, but he knows better than to assume that there aren’t any spirits around just because he can’t see them. The constant buzz of energy in the air is evidence enough that something is amiss. How the spirits were able to suppress it until now is beyond him.

Luigi gingerly steps past the threshold and eases the door shut behind him. Despite his meticulousness, the door seals with a rather loud click that cuts sharply through the eerie silence. The plumber cringes—holding his breath for several agonizing beats as he listens for signs that he had been heard. Nothing stirs. It is deafeningly quiet. Luigi distantly laments the absence of the lobby's cheery ambiance he hadn’t paid much mind to until now.

Deeming it (relatively) safe to proceed, Luigi begins his slow trek through the lobby’s lounge area. His timid footsteps echo softly off the nearby walls. The closer he gets to the lobby’s center, the quieter the sound becomes until the room devours it entirely. Luigi unconsciously skirts a wide radius of flooring beneath the massive chandelier as he casts the beam of his flashlight about the room. The pile of presents Mario had lit ablaze are nothing but ash and dimly glowing cinders. The acrid stench of smoke taints the air, though it is muted somewhat by a competing odor of fire-dousing mixtures. White foam greyed by soot coats the scene of his brother’s arson, and the floor beneath what is left of the table is deeply scorched. Luigi isn’t sure how, but it appears some of the blaze found its way to the curtains framing a nearby window. The flames consumed nearly a third of the drapery before it was extinguished, and what fabric remains is littered with holes singed through by stray embers.

Mario would be proud.

Other than the catastrophe before him, everything seems to be how he left it. Princess Peach's towering pile of luggage is still stacked haphazardly by the front desk, as are the rest of the group's baggage. The tables by the front entrance are still loaded with sweets and fanciful decorum—though the dripping ice swans are looking considerably less majestic. Luigi is about to turn his scrutiny elsewhere when his light passes over something new.

A toolbox.

Luigi’s brows pinch together as he squints over at the rusty container. It was open, but most of its contents were scattered carelessly around it. Hammers, nails, screws, cordless power drills—things you’d see at a construction site, not a high-end resort. Upon closer inspection, the plumber notices the strewn tools have been left in a vague trail leading away from the box. He traces the line of hardware with his flashlight and finds that it ends at the front entrance. Hesitantly, Luigi drags the cone of light up from the ground and allows it to envelope the massive double doors.

Wooden boards of varying length and quality crisscross the door frame with a sloppiness born of haste. Crooked nails pepper their anchoring points, and if it weren’t for the abundance of screws drilled-in to compensate, Luigi doubts the boards would have held firm. In addition to the hodgepodge of lumber, a set of chains stretch between the door frames in lax arcs. They seem more like an afterthought than a vital piece of the puzzle. If nothing else, the chains convey a clear message in their foreboding presence—no one would be leaving this nightmare through the front door.

“Ah, our VIP has finally arrived.”

Luigi whirls around at the unfamiliar ethereal voice. He doesn’t immediately spot the speaker, but then, he was only searching the ground floor. A flicker of movement catches his eye. There, on the mezzanine above the front desk.

“I was beginning to worry that you got lost down there,” the entity continues in an oddly dulcet tone. “Another five minutes, and I would have assembled a search party.”

Luigi finally gets a good look of his ghostly addresser as she approaches the mezzanine’s railing. She is a tall, slender woman—humanoid in appearance, but certainly not of this world (not anymore). Her attire makes Luigi feel out of place. She is dressed to the nines in a sheath-cut powder-blue gown that pools loosely on the floor, hiding any evidence of a spectral tail far more convincingly than what the hotel staff had managed. An indigo fur boa rests delicately in the crooks of her arms, its dark color complimenting the lighter fabric of the cape draped over the woman’s shoulders. Her glowing, yellow eyes stand out flagrantly against her purple complexion. They glare down at him with thinly veiled ire, lip curled marginally in disgust. It’s a stark contrast to her proclamation of concern.

Luigi adjusts his hold on the Poltergust's wand. He meets her leer, face set with determination and a hint of unease.

“You must be the owner of this hotel,” he guesses. “Hellen Gravely.”

The ghost’s eyes narrow imperceptibly. She lifts her chin with a silent haughtiness, causing the massive beehive on her head to bob like some strange, supernatural buoy crafted from hair.

“I am,” she affirms. “And you must be Luigi—the mortal responsible for the charred mess in my lobby.”

Technically that was Mario, but Luigi doesn’t correct her. It was his idea, after all.

“I do hope my basement hasn’t suffered a similar fate.”

“Nothing worse than what you did to the elevator,” Luigi retorts. “Rest assured, you won’t find a cobweb or dust bunny out of place."

Hellen arcs a perfectly manicured brow, accentuating her pink eyeshadow.

“You’re mouthier than I expected,” she notes coolly.

“I’m very tired. Maybe I should go on holiday."

“Hm. Cute.” Hellen’s glare sharpens. “If rest is all it will take to restore your manners, perhaps it’s time we get you checked-in.”

Luigi eyes the vacant front desk with a quirked brow.

“You seem to be a little understaffed at the moment. I take it you will be the one to help me with the paperwork?”

“That won’t be necessary. As one of my special guests, you needn’t worry yourself with something so trivial.”

“Sounds unprofessional to me,” Luigi quips. “I think I ought to cancel my reservations; this hotel wasn’t really my first choice anyway.”

“I see. I can’t say I’m surprised that you would be a man of poor taste." The hotel owner smirks. “Unfortunately for you, Luigi, it’s a bit too late to back out now. There are no other options. This is... the last resort."

Luigi blinks at her strange use of emphasis. Last resort…was that a joke? And why does it feel like he’s heard that phrase recently? Again, the fanciful invitation flashes in his mind's eye, but this time Luigi doesn’t have to retrieve the slip to recall its words—to recall the name of this very hotel.

The Last Resort.

A pun. A threat. A title with double meaning. It had been right there in front of him this entire time and it hadn’t even been subtle about it.

“I’m an idiot.”

Unaware of Luigi’s silent revelation, the slipped utterance seems rather apropos of nothing. Regardless, it doesn’t appear to faze the ghostly entrepreneur.

“A redundant observation on your part, but yes, I wholeheartedly agree.” Hellen flippantly adjusts the fur boa threaded through her arms, watching Luigi with an air of indifference. “Though I suppose you’re not entirely brain dead, having seen through my ruse as quickly as you did.”

Luigi frowns, embarrassment replacing itself with indignation.

“That’s not much of a complement given the quality of the masks your employees were given."

The hotel owner growls lowly at Luigi’s retort.

“I had thought if you were gullible enough to accept my invitation, that you would also be too oblivious to notice such details. Clearly, I underestimated you.” Gravely sneers. “It won’t happen again.”

“What do you want from me?" Luigi asks, a note of exasperation entering his tone. “What was the point of any of this?"

“I thought it would have been obvious by now. My intentions were—are—to capture you."

Luigi glances back at the barricaded exit.

“I gathered that. What I want to know is why."

“Vengeance," she says simply.

Luigi furrows his brows at the woman, bewildered.

“What have I ever done to you?"

“To me? Personally? Nothing," Hellen replies, casually examining her nails. “Though your occupation as a ghost hunter is reason enough, I suppose."

“I don’t hunt ghosts," Luigi swiftly interjects. The Poltergust suddenly feels very heavy on his back.

Hellen Gravely arcs a brow at his defensiveness. A sinister smile creeps across her face.

“Is that so? What wondrous news! I’m sure my new partner will be delighted to hear it."

Luigi’s confusion only deepens.

“...partner?"

The woman’s expression turns smug.

“I never said the vengeance was for me."

The plumber doesn’t get the chance to ask for clarification, but it turns out he doesn’t need to. Hellen grasps at the cloak draped over her shoulders with both hands and raises the cloth behind her in a mock imitation of wings—arms stretched high like a bird about to take flight. Then, with a flourish, she ducks to the side—revealing another entity in a dramatic flutter of fabric. Glowing magenta eyes, a flash of fangs, and a lolling blue tongue—it's all Luigi’s mind is able to process before it goes blank with horror. The Poltergust’s nozzle nearly slips from his grasp.

No...it can’t be.

Deep ethereal laughter booms through the silent lobby, resonating off the walls and rattling the delicate fixtures of the massive chandelier. A year ago, Luigi’s terrified screams would have accompanied the din.* It’s incredible progress, but after how far he’s come in conquering his fear of spectral beings, the plumber can’t help the distant frustration he feels when his body begins to involuntarily tremble. Only one spirit could still elicit such a response.

“Hello, Luigi," the entity purrs. “It’s-a me, King Boo."

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.