Immediately he felt something wasn't right. The presence in the hallway had all but vanished. The stillness he was left in was the sort ambushes were launched in. Yet no matter how long he waited, nothing attacked him.
It was the humming that caught him. Then the sound of movement above. He rushed back to the stairwell, mindful of the mice and potential foes, and stormed up the stairs to the third floor, the last landing the well would go. He slowed down long enough not to barrel into the door, listening carefully with one side of his head close to it.
From the other side, he could hear a woman singing in unison with a man. She - an elegant pitch; he - squeaky, hoarse, and not entirely on-key. Geno opened the door and he caught a glimpse of green disappearing around a corner.
"Luigi?" he asked, more to himself than the stranger before running down the hall. Around the bend, a rickety ladder stretched into a hole in the ceiling.
The attic. No place left to go.
Geno climbed up the ladder, well aware of what he might be walking into. His thoughts focused, willing away all distractions as he reached the top. He brought out his light and passed it once over the stuff lying around the attic. Boxes, books, mannequins, and old assorted knickknacks crowded the far edges of the wide area while more well-kept, usable items were placed close to the entrance.
"Luigi?" he called, his voice not carrying far.
Giggling, shrill and fluctuating, unnaturally echoed in response.
"Hee hee hee... What do we have here?" From behind a standing mirror stepped a tall, mustache-ioed man in overalls. It didn't take much to connect the dots: with green clothing in exchange for red, this was Luigi. It would be comforting to know he was well if he didn't stare at Geno with those glowing yellow eyes. That alone would have automatically put Geno on alert if he wasn't already after hearing such laughter.
When Luigi spoke again, it was in a woman's voice: "A doll? Don't tell me you got into Chuckie's toys. Any self-respecting spirit would have chosen something better to possess..." He waved a hand in dismissing the doll form as inferior. "Not some ratty, outdated toy. Then again you are a traitor. How could you betray us, wearing and using that...that compact prison!"
Geno clinched his hands into fists. He was reminded of how the limbs were looser than they had been the last time be borrowed this form. He had to get used to a physical form all over again in which time he was told all about why patches had been sewn into the cape and hat; how there were plenty of nicks and scratches from adventures into the Forest Maze. The toy was worn, but not any less reliable than it had been during his journey to recover the Star Pieces.
Geno straightened himself up and boomed, "That's enough! I'm not a ghost. I'm here to rescue Luigi and bring hope back to the Mushroom Kingdom! Now," he switched to an aggressive stance, one arm pointed at Luigi. "Release him!" He caught a stray thought to bring out his Star Gun and pushed it away. He had alternative weapons now, gadgets that could save Luigi.
"Oh?" Luigi - no, the spirit inside him said in a somewhat deadly tone, "Feeling high and mighty are we?" She put Luigi's hands on his sides. "Well, Mister Hotshot," she said, sarcasm and ire dripping in her words. She made the plumber's hips sway to one side and crossed his arms. "If you're not a ghost then what are you? What right do you have to tell me who I can and can't possess?"
Geno stood straight and proud. "I am a visitor from above in service to a higher authority. It's by this authority that I have been sent to the surface in search of...certain people. The man you are now manipulating is one of them. Let him go and you can be left to go about your business." And be not forced into a portrait for people to gawk at went unsaid. She began to laugh, an edge of superiority in her mockery.
"Tch. That's boring! Besides, why would I want to give into the demands of the likes of you?" She glared at him - it was getting easier to see past her victim's face - as if the guardian were lower than her. As she spoke, acid would occasionally drip into her words, "I know your kind, don't try to beat around the bush. You're one of those star spirits, aren't you? The kind mommies tell their children about at night to calm them down. You barely exist on our plane and yet you think you can just boss us around!" She looked down and examined Luigi's body. "It's kinda ugly, but I think I'll keep this body for a while...."
Again, Geno had to resist getting off topic. This specter knew how to hit sensitive issues. Rather than contemplate her words at all, he got straight to the point.
"You have no idea of what will happen if he doesn't return home," Geno crossed his arms and shook his head, "and what do you mean by 'our plane'?"
Luigi's face turned into a sneer. "And here I thought star spirits were supposed to be all-knowing. I'll spell it out for you. We exist on the plane of death. You exist on the plane of hope." A prickling sensation, like tiny poking needles, crept up Geno's arms. "Mortals think it's just one, but there's a huge difference! While we're stuck here with our only choices being to either move on or be stuck in limbo, you star spirits are free to go anywhere you want! And here you are now, possessing a doll to walk the earth."
For one tense moment, the entire world was frozen. There was only Luigi, the spirit, and him.
"Well, you know what I think?" said Luigi, the spirit's voice beginning to intertwine with his. "I think you need to be knocked off your pedestal!" A brilliant flash of white filled his vision.
And then everything shifted.
He took a step back. They were on a large, circular stage of polished wood. Luigi stood in the center spotlight while the guardian was left at the edge of the stage near the moving mass of some unidentifiable thing that acted as the audience. It surrounded every edge, only blocked by the red curtains that had B-E-L-L-I-N-A spelled out on it in large, sparkling gold letters which formed a semi-circle behind the possessed plumber. The moon and stars hung above by some unseen force. Props, he supposed, to fit the rest of the scenery.
To warp the very space around them was incredible. This was a spirit not to be trifled with.
Down dropped two ballerinas, dressed in pink attire, landing and spinning in sync. They struck a pose, still as statues on the tips of their toes, hands touching above their heads. Luigi had joined them in their stance, wobbling slightly. The body wasn't used to such movements.
"Stay on your toes, star spirit!" she spat, and the three began to spin.
Geno eyed the strange accomplices who were fast approaching. They stood on one foot, the floor slick enough to carry them forward on pure momentum. Luigi, he noted, was starting out slow but gradually speeding up. It wouldn't be long before he surpassed the lackeys.
With five feet of distance between him and them, Geno got a better look at the other dancers. They didn't seem like ghosts at all, more like animated objects with their pointed joints and blank faces. That broadened his tactics. He wasted no time and dashed across the stage. He wobbled as he did, his worn boots strangely gaining almost no friction. He was forced to do an odd sort of on-the-fly movements from hopping around to shuffling. He pulled his cape over to hide one arm, leaping around the edges of the stage as he kept an eye on his opponents' movements. He made his way over to the center and stopped.
The possessed Luigi halted and Bellina laughed. "Is the floor too slick for you?" Geno's answer was a bright blue beam slamming into one of the creepy ballerinas. She lost her balance and fell into the writhing black thing of an audience.
The possessing spirit looked on, Luigi having gone slack-jawed. The battle had barely started and she was already down one wide-eyed assistant.
!" As she sputtered, Geno smirked. He held his arm up close and casually blew at the gun's muzzle. He hadn't done that in such a long time and it felt good. The swelling of emotions brought forth was enough to quell any snippets of memory the act might have brought to the surface.
He was in the zone. He could do this.
"Good. They're solid," he said, "Just making sure."
"You despicable star spirit!" Bellina roared, her voice and Luigi's together making such a terrible sound. "I'll make you pay!" One by one more ballerinas fell from above, landing by Luigi and spinning and posing just as the first two did until their number was a dozen strong. "This is my domain! It forms to my whims and right now my whim
is to destroy you!"
The ballerinas began to spin and Geno moved back, not even bothering to hide the fact that he was charging up another beam as he tried to keep his footing. He leapt across the stage, only stopping long enough to blast another impassive partner into the black mass and secure an exit to ensure he wouldn't be surrounded. With enough of them gone he could get closer to Luigi and have a chance at freeing him. If he had only taken the chance when he had it the first time, this would have been over before it started. But no, he had to be polite before resorting to violence.
But that was his way of going about things, and now he had a seemingly endless horde of ballerinas to deal with. Every time he turned around after blasting a ballerina, it seemed there were another two to take its place. Space was quickly being taken up by the spinning underlings, blocking his way to Luigi who was busy cackling somewhere amidst the crowd. With little alternative, Geno stopped shooting and started forming a disc in his hand. He tossed it with deadly accuracy and formed another, only pausing to choose another target. The numbers finally began dropping as the lackeys collapsed in upper and lower halves, though he still had to constantly keep backing away to give himself ample room to maneuver.
"What good is hope?" scoffed the dual voices with disdain. "The living depend on it, but what happens when they need it most? What happens when they place everything in the stars because there's nothing else they can do but wait for death?! What does that get them, huh? Answer me!" Geno was smacked to the floor. Too occupied listening to the ghost, he hadn't seen or heard a subordinate approach from behind and the mindless dummy had struck his head with its foot. He rolled out of the way of a second ballerina, getting to his feet, slipping and rolling again to dodge a third. Two of them clashed and fell providing an escape from the enclosing horde.
Taking the offensive once again, he replied loudly, wanting this spirit to hear him clearly, "I'm sorry you feel that way..." Another dancer split in two, though the legs continued moving. Was her command over these lifeless dummies changing? And where was she? "We do our best to make sure the Star Road is always functional and wishes are granted, but sometimes...the important ones don't go through." And how he wished they did. Sometimes the wishes were too late, being sent up at the last moment, or maybe there just wasn't a way of reaching the person in time. They couldn't all be filled for one reason or another. The Honorable Star Spirits had the greatest of burdens determining if, when, and how a major wish should be carried out, though sometimes there was simply nothing they could do. Perhaps they could glimpse into the grander design of things, but that would be assuming too much.
A soft whisper murmured back amid the chaos, but he caught it: "And ghosts are forgotten...." This was too much. He had to end this battle now.
Geno admitted, "There's a limit to what we can do. We can't help every last person on the planet, but I wish we could." One of the few wishes he ever had. "Holding a grudge won't help anybody here." He paused while ducking under the foot of another ballerina. He had lost count of how many he had cut down and was focusing on the ones that were getting up again. "You were once flesh and blood, weren't you? That's why you're comfortable in a human body. But your time is over. You have to move on, Bellina! You don't belong on the mortal plane anymore!"
Snickering. It started off quietly then grew progressively louder until Geno thought he was going to go deaf. "Foolish star spirit!" Luigi rose into the air from Geno's right, back straight and eyes bright. There was a sense of danger in the intertwined voices that bellowed forth: "He came into my attic and then opened my music box. He was fair game after that and I'll do what I want in this new body!"
"It doesn't matter!" Geno retorted, slicing up what remained of the ballerina multitude, "There are rules and you broke one when you took over Luigi's body."
"Rules? Hee hee ha ha!" Luigi's body doubled over with laughter. "I don't follow your rules, star servant. We're on different planes remember? You have no say over what I can and can't do!"
"You possessed him."
"Well of course I did!" Luigi pouted and his hands moved to his waist. "It's so fun toying with men." A quick, wicked smirk as his arms crossed over his chest. "You want me to release this human, but who are you to talk? You possessed something, too, you hypocrite."
"That's completely different!" Geno shot back, narrowing his eyes and pointing at the floating Luigi. No longer engaged with any creepy dancers, he had his full attention focused on Bellina. "This is a toy! This doll wasn't alive when I took its form! You're controlling a living human being!"
"And what are you going to do about it? You can't make me leave this body unless you harm it, and I know you won't." She smiled down at Geno, a condescending air about her. Geno stood proud with hands by his sides.
"I'm going to do my job," he said simply, "Star spirits maintain order on the surface through wishes, and right now there are hundreds of wishes being sent out that can't be fulfilled." He crept a hand into his carrier bag, taking care to keep both hidden by his cape. "As things stand, you're right, I'm not going to harm Luigi. It's another one of those rules you don't care about." His hand touched upon a slender object. He felt around for a looped strip of material and twisted his hand through it. "But there are two things wrong with your frame of mind."
"Oh?" the voices mocked.
Geno grasped the Specter Expeller. "One, I can make you leave Luigi's body with no harm done to him and two," - this was it - "since you're possessing a human," he pulled out the Specter Expeller and pointed it at Luigi. B to lock on - "I have a say over what you can do!" A to begin exorcising.
Ear-splitting screeching rent the air. Luigi's body thrashed in mid-air as Bellina screamed and cursed Geno, the stars, E. Gadd, his inventions, wishes, and the world in general. In the blink of an eye Geno found himself being thrown around the stage, following Bellina's path as she fought to stay inside the body she had claimed. He hit the stars, the curtains, and the edge of the stage as the ghost zipped about trying to shake Geno. With every solid crash he took, pain would shoot through his borrowed form. Bellina apparently had never come against anyone with such determination as to not give up after being bodily slammed into the stage repeatedly, because not once did she lose Geno as her flailing and zooming did just that. He had heard something crack more than once and he was sure that, had he been human, he would have joined the ranks of the spirits roaming the mansion. He kept one eye open to keep track of Bellina's movements but that was all he could manage as pain blurred his mind.
He wasn't sure exactly when the screaming and thrashing had ceased. All he knew was that one moment he was near unconsciousness and the next he was seeing Luigi lying on his side and Bellina doing the same as she groaned some feet away. Enough was enough. He pushed upright standing was too much to ask and reached into his bag (it was a little surprising to feel that the Specter Expeller was still strapped to his wrist), pulling out the Gaddlight. His other hand fumbling with the Poltergust's hose for a little bit before he had a solid hold on both objects. He shined the light on Bellina and activated the Poltergust.
Exhausted from putting up a fight with the Specter Expeller, Bellina didn't have the energy to resist and was sucked right into the vacuum.
The moment she vanished the world shifted again. Mountains of boxes appeared, a roof materialized above, and the room darkened. Bellina's eerie realm was no more. Geno smiled wearily as he took in the events of the last half hour or so. Luigi was rescued. One down, three to go.
He sat there, still dizzy from too many hits to the head. A moment or three to regain his wits would probably be a good idea. As would be eating something from his restorative rations, he belatedly realized. He dug through his bag for a mushroom, finding one that had been crushed, and ate it, not questioning how or why in the world such a thing was possible in the first place.
Ah, good ol' mushrooms. They were one of the few things that hadn't changed during the time he was away, and for that he was thankful. Already his head was throbbing less. He really didn't need a spike of pain every time he tried to think about his mission.
Luigi groaned and sat up at last, rubbing his head and looking around. When he spotted Geno ("Hello.") his eyes widened and he scooted back into a box, feeling around behind him for something or other that wasn't there. He peered about and, seeming to find what he was looking for, scrambled over to the other side of the attic. Looking to nip this in the bud dear stars it hurt to think Geno raised a hand, palm facing Luigi as the terrified man clutched a red vacuum to himself. Something in the back of Geno's mind registered that this was another Poltergust.
"Whoa there!" he said weakly. Wow, he must've been battered worse than he first thought. "I'm a friend of your brother, Mario. I traveled with him once before to restore the Star Road. My name is hard to pronounce so I go by Geno, the name of this doll." Luigi blinked and took another look at Geno. A wooden, banged up doll, a carrier bag on one side, and a Poltergust hanging off the back. Geno shrugged and gave a small smile. As if something had occurred to the younger Mario Brother, Luigi looked up and scanned the room. He came back to Geno and asked with more than a hint of wonder,
"What-a happened?" Geno silently sighed, gathering up Professor Gadd's gadgets and slowly moving his aching limbs to get back on his feet. A retelling of the night's events was going to take a while and he hadn't the energy to explain everything right then and there.
"It's a long story," Geno muttered, withdrawing a mushroom from his carrier bag and holding it out to Luigi, "Come on, I'll tell you on the way back down." Luigi nodded as he accepted the healthy shroom, following Geno as he took the lead. Geno was halfway down the ladder when he noticed Luigi was crouching over the shattered pieces of a box probably the music box. From them the plumber extracted a small key with a pink heart for a grip. It was given a once over and pocketed, a small clinking accompanying the action. More keys then, Geno idly thought as Luigi rejoined him. Together the two descended, a united force in locating those who were still lost.