Wandering more towards north-east of the vicinity of Toad Town, James found two paths to go. A bridge leading towards what appeared to be a fortress in the distance, and a natural set of steps leading down to the village, which lay at the bottom of a cliff towards a forest. The place looked quite tranquil to FG as he continued towards it, a small settlement of shell-shaped homes, where he was soon greeted by a regular green-shelled koopa.
The greeting was surprisingly warm at first so he replied warily with:
"Never seen one like you before, but welcome to Koopa Village! Are you travelling?"
The greeting koopa was a charming young male with a sincere smile. The raptor nodded earnestly.
"Yep, just touring through the Mushroom Kingdom, just came from Toad Town actually."
The koopa gave him a strange look, a slight leer of great interest, possibly due to the raptor being a new looking creature for him but somehow James thought it wasn't just that. The koopa didn't say anything for a bit so he clicked his fingers to catch attention.
"Uhh, hello? Wake up there."
The koopa shook his head and blurted:
"Wha-OH, uhh sorry, sorta zoned out there for a moment."
"Well, maybe you're a little tired guarding?"
"Guarding?? Oh...ohhh no no no, I'm not a guard, I'm more a lookout, that's it, lookout for the village in case anything bad comes our way.."
"Well, I hope I'm not considered as something bad to you...right?"
He smiled but didn't show his teeth, not wanting to seem threatening at all even with his scissors hilted as the koopa merely smiled back.
"Hahaha ahhh, no, not at all sir, though what about that on your back?"
"Just my weapon, but don't worry, I'm not a bad guy if you aren't."
"Ahhh nope not bad at all...um, what's yer name?"
"The name's James, and yours?"
"Oh, I'm Kory, pleased to meetcha!"
He offered a handshake to which the raptor accepted happily, before asking:
"So, what happens in this happy little place down here?"
"Oh...not much...well, usually, but we had some trouble recently with a small gang to the north. Bunch of jerk koopa brothers who used to own that big fortress."
"...did these koopa brothers have bandannas?"
"Yeah! You...oh, you ran into them?"
"You can say that."
He showed a bruise on his side from when a shell slammed into him.
"Oh! ...ohhh that's awful, you okay?!"
The way the koopa just seemed to eagerly put his hands on the bruise gently made FG wonder how many people here were so touchy-feely with each other.
"Uhhh...y-yeah I am, I'll walk it off but um..."
He didn't want to tell the koopa to let go but he felt a mark was overstepped at first meetings.
"Oh, s-s-sorry, I...I tend to be a little too worrying about things."
"That includes strangers?"
"Well if you can't be nice to a stranger once in a while, haha."
"Fair enough...so what else is to do here?"
"Well," began Kory, "there's just the village itself, although the ol' Bob-Omb fortress up the road is pretty interesting if you wanna check it out, they got it all open to the public now that the Koopa Brothers finally left."
"Huh, a li'l history eh? I can dig that. Mind giving me a tour of the village first, just so I know where to go?"
The koopa lookout showed the raptor around the small village. All of the houses were differently coloured and in the shapes of giant shells, all of them appearing to be quite small with only one or two windows. Kory showed him the item store, the Toad House that had been set up for weary travellers, the house of a legendary archaeologist named Kolorado and a forest out back.
He warned James to stay away from the forest since apparently, a group of little beasts called Fuzzies lived there, and loved to cause mischief to any who crossed their paths. The rest of the inhabitants were just as pleasant to the newcomer, waving, greeting, some of them koopas with a few bob-ombs and goombas inbetween.
He was apprehensive of the bob-ombs, but when he realised they acted like anyone else, he calmed down a little by the end of the tour. He also noticed that each koopa had different markings and raised grooves upon their shells, ranging from stripes to jagged lines to simple geometric shapes. They weren't easy to see, but his raptor eyes could make them out more clearly between the natural scaled patterns of their shells.
"And that's the Koopa Village," said Kory. "There's other places out there too but this is a pretty important village, kinda serves like the administrative center for koopa settlements around here."
"Huh, pretty cool, guess your mayor's got some power huh?"
"Uhhhhh....yeah, hehe. So uh, whatcha wanna do now?"
"Welllll I was thinking about that fortress, I wouldn't mind learning more about the land."
"No problem! Just go back the way you came and over the bridge, but watch for those brothers if you hear about 'em in the area!"
"They won't bother me, don't you worry about that."
With a wink and grin, he walked out of the village with a farewell, jumping up the stone steps and heading across the bridge towards the fortress in the distance. He noticed a few other strange things in the world in turn. Floating solid blocks either yellow with a question mark, or just made of solid brick. He even saw one or two koopas with wings, flying past him with a wave. His thoughts ran through with amazement at the liveliness of this world.
Wow, this place is busier than Dream Land-THAT was the name of Sailor Dee's place, dammit that was bothering me a while. Certainly got a lot more central areas and towns than Dream Land did. I wonder if I can even get a chance to talk to the people at the royal castle...would be good if they can point me towards someone who could do teleporting magic.
The fortress was in ruins, but it still stood nevertheless with a centralised building. A small mixed group of characters stood waiting at the entrance, species that James already recognised from his first day in the land as well as one or two new creatures he found hard to tell. At the front of them however, standing before the iron doors of the fortress, was a lone green-shelled koopa with a rather official badge attached to the front of his shell.
"Afternoon everyone!" began the single koopa. "My name's Koopin and I'll be your tour guide today into the Bob-Omb Fortress! I hope you all have fun learning with me, but please keep close to the group and do not wander off, for your own safety. The place IS a ruin and a lot of areas can be quite unsafe for unwary travellers. If you have any questions, please don't be afraid to shout out whenever I ask for 'em. Alrighty, let's head on in!"
Moving with the crowd, the raptor walked in behind the rest of them, not wanting to draw attention as the koopa turned and opened the doors. His shell was a more faded green than the ones back at Koopa Village, not having the luscious forest green they normally had. He also had two oddly grooved lines across his shell's back that bent upwards in the middle, pointing straight up like arrows.
The tour guide explained the history of the fortress as they walked from room to room, the place somewhat intact on the inside more than the outside. According to the guide, the fortress was largely a dungeon constructed long ago by Bob-Ombs, who essentially lived within its walls. Small conflicts and explosions had sadly degraded some of its structure over time, but it still stood well enough to have become briefly conquered in later years by the Koopa Brothers, during one of King Bowser's attempted conquests of the land.
Small dungeon cells with bars and packed stone walls were well-preserved, as well as a larger room that was literally one entire dungeon cell itself. Giant bars and two thickened slabs of wall on either side of the center of the room made it a perfect prison, which the tour guide soon explained.
"Here we have the very prison where Mario, the legend himself, fell into after being tricked by the Koopa Brothers, finding himself among several rebellious Bob-Ombs. However, with the help of the now-famous Bombette, he was able to escape from here by blowing up this very wall, right here."
He tapped one particular corner, which was noticeably newer-looking than the rest of the room.
"It's been paved over since then, but it also made a fine prison for the Koopa Brothers until they were released. Now, any questions?"
James dared not ask anything to not appear out of place, but a small character tried desperately to wave his red flipper-like hand from the crowd. Koopin noticed as the crowd parted to let him speak.
"Uh, yes, red guy?"
The red guy in question was a very short red-cloaked figure, almost midget-height, who wore a white mask of two black oval eyes and a tiny dot for a mouth. He seemed to speak with quite an odd clipped accent.
"Uhm, yes. How...did the bob-ombs not escape before Mario came to their rescue?"
The tour guide rubbed his neck nervously.
"According to the prisoner records, they actually didn't notice the weaker wall until Mario did. Guess we all have our blank moments, right?"
The crowd tittered amongst themselves, along with James before the guide saw there were no more questions for now.
"Alrighty, let's head on upwards!"
Taking his tour through a previous room, he ascended around a central column where water had once been, judging by the moss and wettened stones on the lower levels. The tour guide explained further on how it was part of the outside moat, which kept water running into the place, but also helped to keep intruders out by flooding the lower levels. The upper floors where the usual owners would live, was nothing but solid ramparts and mostly hollowed rooms. A long stone bridge offered a wonderful view of the kingdom and beyond as the guide explained:
"And here is where Mario had to dodge a whole volley of Bullet Bills, down this entire stone bridge! But as we all know, not even those can stop Mario from smashing them out of his way and plowing straight into the last room to face the Koopa Brothers. Any questions before we do?"
A small kid goomba popped up from the crowd excitably.
"How many Bullet Bills were there?! Dozens!? HUNDRED dozens?!"
"Hahaha, about three Bill Blasters were set up at that step there, right on the other side of the bridge. They'd fire off all at once, making an impassable volley unless you either fought them direct, or ducked out into the side-sections here."
Koopin pointed out some smaller alcoves fenced like the rest of the bridge, which were out of the way of the main bridge itself. Another question came, this time from an older female koopa.
"Why were those side-sections made originally?"
"To shelter the original inhabitants from any severe winds up here," replied the tour guide easily. "Now, let's head onto the last part of our tour!"
Heading across the bridge, they soon reached a large central room. James imagined it to be a throne room minus the chair, with spiked fences on either side of the hall, protecting one from falling off into a pit.
"And this is where it all began," said Koopin humbly, "the great battle against the Koopa Brothers, who at the time were working for King Bowser, against the legendary hero Mario! BUT, they had a trap waiting for him! They managed to build a giant wooden robot mimicking Bowser! But Mario was not fooled. With his allies, he SMASHED it into pieces, and beat down the Koopa Brothers so hard, they all fell into the prison pit down below. And then...he obtained the first Star Spirit, recovering Eldstar from Bowser's clutches, and setting on the first true step towards saving the Mushroom Kingdom! ...any questions?"
The crowd were rather appreciative of his retelling, the passion he had and the way the tour guide's eyes lit up with such fervour to tell the story was enough to inspire them. James however was tempted to ask one question, raising his hand cautiously.
"Yeah uhm...about these koopa brothers?"
"Yes sir?" asked the tour guide.
"...uhhh...how come they're out and still robbing people? Is that Bowser's work too?"
"OH, no no no, they're no longer affiliated with the king anymore, they're just petty thieves now. I should stress that if you see them in the area, please avoid them and report to your nearest guard about their whereabouts, alrighty?"
Or you just beat the shit out of 'em like I did, thought FG to himself with a stifled snigger.
The tour soon returned downstairs and back out to the front doors. Admittedly the raptor expected a lot more from such an apparently epic confrontation from this "legend" he kept hearing about, but he didn't complain since the tour was free. With that, the guide waved them goodbye.
"Thank you for coming to the tour everyone! We hope that you had fun and learned some interesting stuff to take home with you. The Mushroom Kingdom Institute of Tour Guide Associations thanks you for your patronage, and we hope to see you all again at other fascinating places around the world. Take care everyone!"
The crowd mostly left, except for one or two who went back to ask Koopin a few questions, one of whom was the masked red-cloaked midget who conversed with the tour guide in what sounded like another language. Though James couldn't tell from this distance, and he didn't want to bother them as he departed back to the Koopa Village. Feeling more relaxed, he decided to see what the local entertainment was.
Returning to the village, he found Kory once more.
"That was a fun tour."
"Yeah!? Who was the guide today?"
"Uhhh...I can't remember his name dammit, he had marks on his back like arrows going up, not like the ones with the square tail thingies, just triangle tops...things."
"...oh! That must be Koopin!"
"YES that's his name, dammit I'm real forgetful lately hahaha."
"He's a good guide, young but good! Local too, well, lives over at Koopamuir rather."
"Heh, right, say uh what do you guys do for fun here?"
"Yeah, like...arcades, clubs...golf courses?"
"Oh we got all those yeah! You just gotta look further for 'em, didn't you see them in Toad Town?"
"Well there's Club 64, and uh...there IS an arcade but it's kinda hard to get into, gotta be a member."
"Aw really, that sucks."
"Heh yeah...there's some golf courses but-"
"Nah I don't play golf."
"-and uh, racing areas and-"
"Woah woah woah...racing?"
"Yeah! Bikes and karts."
"...aw man I so wanna get in on that."
"Well they're all over the place and pretty well-advertised if you check the billboards so go and look some up!"
"Alrighty thanks! Is that all in Toad Town?"
"Most of it yeah, it's pretty much the centre of the whole kingdom, but there are places elsewhere. I think there's a dance club near Koopamuir, and uh...yanno maybe a map would be a good idea."
"Where can I buy one of those?"
"Mmm the store here doesn't have any, I think Toad Town's your better option."
"Alrighty, thanks dude!"
Eager to find some new places to investigate, James headed back to Toad Town, surprised to find that despite the distance between places, the easygoing paths made the journeys feel so short. It certainly relaxed him immensely as he reached the town once again. His eye however cast its gaze towards the royal palace. He still had to remember why he was travelling after all.
There must be...wait a minute, what's that?
Near the gates to the castle was a small house covered in stars, painted blue like the night sky. He also was amazed to find he had completely missed the spinning star-shaped roof on top of the home. He remembered the toad who guided him around saying that it was a fortune teller of sorts.
I don't wanna talk to a fortune teller, seriously? ...then again, who else is gonna know about the mystical beyond?
With a shrug he decided to ask, knocking on the door politely only to hear a brusque old voice from within.
"Uhhhh I'm here to ask about my fortune, sir?"
The door swiftly opened up, making the raptor flinch back to avoid a good smack in the face from it. The fortune teller had a huge white moustache, his body cloaked beneath a thick hood of purplish-blue where oval yellow eyes gazed out of. A green orb kept his robe secure, with a star floating inside of the gem.
"...the blazes are you stranger?!"
"Uhhh hi, I just landed in town, and I need to ask someone like a wizard or so about...something important."
The seer bent forwards to look at James sternly, scrutinising him furiously.
"Strangest creature I've ever seen, that you are."
"Yeah I get that a lot."
"Hmm...well, come in then."
He walked back into his home with large red shoes, the raptor following in. It appeared to be a single room, where only a circular table stood, a crystal ball resplendent upon the centre. The fortune teller stood at the other side of the table.
"I am Merlon, stranger. May I say you have...quite the strange aura about you."
"I get that a lot too."
"So I hear. What do you want?"
"Well...I'm looking for someone who's skilled with teleportation."
"...teleportation? Whatever for?!"
"I'm trying to get back home. I don't know where it is or how to get back to it from here. I need someone to like, magic me back home, not that I'm in a hurry, I just wondered if you knew anyone who could."
"Hmmmmm...don't you have a more pressing matter to attend to?"
"...oh, sorry, was thinking of something else, teleportation you say?"
James pondered on the odd look in the mystic's eyes.
"Well frankly I am not aware of any sort of teleportation available in the Mushroom Kingdom my lad. Do you not plan to travel elsewhere around here?"
"Nnnnnnwell I got no real way TO go. Can you maybe guide me a bit, tell me where my future lies or such?"
"Normally I would require a fee, five coins."
"Uh...yeah, why not?"
I'm not gonna get anything for eight coins, thought FG as he handed over five of his coins.
"Ahhh thank you," said Merlon. "Now...let us gaze into the crystal."
He stepped closer with Merlon, peering into the crystal ball and wondering what secrets it held for him. A strange glimmer of light began to emit from it, blinding the vision from his eyes as he struggled to keep looking. Merlon blinked with some surprise and looked a little nervous as he kept gazing within, the entire room around them starting to shimmer with a strange multi-faceted light that James could just barely register.
"Wh-what does it sa-"
The mystic gazed deeper into the crystal ball, intrigued all the more by whatever he saw that James could not see. He wanted to not believe this guy was a genuine psychic, but after all he had been through, skepticism would be rather strange to exercise at this point. After the light started to fade away, Merlon gazed at James blankly before saying his fortune.
"Go to Russ. T's house at the town entrance. Ask for Map C3."
Awkward silence came between them, until Merlon coughed slightly before James turned away slowly.
With that unnerving experience out of the way, he headed to the town entrance and towards a house he was soon directed to, belonging to one Russ. T. It stood directly beside the front gate of the town, the raptor entering to find a rather cluttered house of books. He thought it was a library at first, the walls lined up with rows upon rows of books on all sides of him. A desk with several shuffled papers laid to his right, with a blue-spotted bespectacled toad waddling around with book in hand.
The toad snapped his book shut with a start.
"Um...h-hello stranger, you gave me quite a start."
"Sorry I uh, I need a map of the Mushroom Kingdom? I'm kinda new and I got no idea where to go."
"Hmmmmmm...do you require a specific map at all?"
"...really? Did someone recommend that?"
"Yeah the fortune teller did, old guy down the road."
"Merlon?! ...oh my, well if he tells you to get a specific map then I have no reason to stop you."
James was slightly confused about what power Merlon held sway over the town inhabitants. Was he that respected within the community? Were they all believers in his strange prophecies? He expected the scholar of all people to be a little more scientific, who was currently filing through his system of books.
"So uh...you're Russ. T., right?"
"That is correct. Did Merlon tell you why you needed this map perchance?"
"Mmmmnope, I just asked him where should I go next and he told me to get Map C3 from ya."
"So, you believe in all that psychic stuff?"
"Merlon has never been wrong. His observations, while unfounded within science, reach a higher plane of intelligence far beyond that I can imagine."
"Ahhhh...I thought you'd be a skeptic to all that stuff."
"Well as much as I value empirical evidence to the contrary, I must admit that in this world, there are far stranger things than one can possibly comprehend."
"Heh, yeah, same here, I mean fire flowers, what's up with that?"
"...do you not understand how those work?"
"...uh...new to this place."
"Ah, of course. AH, here we are!"
Russ. T. finally found the map he was looking for, rolled up into a neatly-bound scroll before unveiling it to James. The map was rather worn, and not in the cleanest condition with weird blots on various regions, but it was a map nevertheless. He could see the layout of the kingdom rather succinctly. Toad Town with castle in the very middle, icy mountains of the northeast, a firey lava kingdom to the farthest west, and a wide expansive desert in the far southeast. He also noted one or two islands far to the southern seas, one tropical place in particular given a lot of emphasis.
"What are these stains?" he asked.
"Ah...frankly I don't know, I have tried everything I could to get them off but nothing seems to work, and I shan't risk damaging the map itself. It came to me as part of a bundle of other books, from a traveller who hailed from Dry Dry Desert. The map was a little tatty but I thought it would be useful one day. The stains are like nothing I have encountered, so I have no idea how to get rid of them unfortunately."
"Huh...uhhh, how much is it?"
"The state it's in, I can't charge you for it. You can have it for free."
"Wow really?! ...uhh, thanks!"
"Not a problem sir. Do you need anything else?"
"Uhhhh...not really no. Thanks again for the map."
"My pleasure! Good day sir!"
Leaving the theologian's home, James sat down on a bench nearby and examined the map further. The stains were mysterious, but reminiscent of coffee marks, small blotchy rings around certain points of the map that intrigued him all the more. He tenderly rubbed at them, finding they had soaked straight into the parchment itself.
Merlon really wanted me to pick this map specifically, thought James to himself. But...do I really wanna just head off into the world blindly following coffee stains? ...heh, you've done shit for less, why's that stopping ya?
Despite the clarity of the map's locations however, it was a map that focused on the entire world rather than specific areas, and as such he felt a little uncertain in finding out how to reach such areas all by himself. He also noticed the stains touched certain parts of the map in different sizes, and he could soon make out the locations he felt he had to go, from smallest to largest blot.
"...what are you doing this is stupid, you're following a map with coffee stains...if it even is coffee."
He sniffed at the stains tenderly. The smell was certainly not any liquid he was aware of, and it definitely was not coffee. It was something else entirely, and he quite frankly wasn't sure what. This only made things all the more mysterious, and all the more was he intrigued to follow the map's markings. He noticed the smallest stain marked that of the icy mountains to the northeast.
"Huh...alright, snowy mountain it is then. ...but, how the hell do I get there? I need someone to show me the way or something."
And so, he began his search to find a way out of the town towards the northern lands.