A dark castle rose from inside a rim of black volcanic rock. The night sky above was stained maroon with the glow of lava. High in the castle a large window was thrust open, and a monster carrying a princess stepped inside. Gently, ever so gently, he set her on her feet.
Peach surveyed the room as she stepped forward. The walls and floor were made of rough stone, but the wooden furniture was delicate. A bed with a towering canopy, a settee perched on spindly legs, a divan that sprawled out luxuriously – all upholstered in pale pink.
She turned back to Bowser. "Are we really doing this again?"
"I didn't invite you to join me on Dinosaur Island," Bowser snarled, "but since you were so kind as to show up on my doorstep, you may as well come inside."
"I didn't show up at your doorstep, Bowser. I was on vacation."
"You didn't have to vacation on Dinosaur Island."
Peach couldn't believe his audacity. "Do you want to tell me why not? What gives you the right to decide where I can and can't go?"
"You knew I was here," Bowser growled.
"Yeah, I knew you were here," Peach pointed at the dirty floor, "in some old castle inside a volcano. I didn't think you'd come all the way to Yoshi's Island. You could have left me well enough alone."
"I could have, but like I said..."
Bowser's words trailed off. Peach knew perfectly well what he'd said earlier, but she wanted him to say it again.
"I need your help," he finally grumbled, his eyes darting away from her.
"If you need help so badly, then you could have brought Mario along too."
"DON'T TALK TO ME ABOUT MARIO."
Peach rolled her eyes. "Fine, whatever. I just thought it would be nice to take a vacation. I didn't think I'd have to deal with you again."
"WELL YOU THOUGHT WRONG."
A fleck of Bowser's spit flew from his mouth and landed on Peach's cheek. She glared at him as she brushed it away with the back of her hand.
"You. Are. Impossible. To talk to," she said, enunciating every word.
Bowser looked away and ran his hand through his hair. "Okay, Peach, listen – "
"No," she shook her head, "we're done. You can come back when you're ready to stop shouting. And send someone up with some water. I'm burning up in here."
Bowser lowered his head in a mock bow. "As Her Highness commands," he sneered, turning and exiting the room through the window.
Peach listened to the sound of Bowser's strange contraption recede. He had a soft spot for flying machines, but even by his standards the teacup-shaped device he'd used to bring her here was clownishly silly. He usually preferred something more grand and imposing, and Peach couldn't help but suspect that her visit to the island had caught him unprepared. Perhaps he hadn't counted on bringing her here, but this room had obviously been intended for her.
Peach threw her red leather day bag onto the bed and walked to a dressing table positioned in front of a large tapestry. The fabric was old and faded to the color of ash, but the furniture was new and smelled pleasantly of expensive varnish. Peach sat down on the plush upholstered stool and picked up a silver hairbrush, wondering where Bowser could have found such a thing. She removed her tiara and began combing her hair, which had become tangled in the wind.
Peach had stayed with Bowser twice before. The first time had been after a great act of magic gone awry, and the second time had followed a de facto invasion of her kingdom in which chaos had only barely been averted. Peach had no idea what Bowser was doing on Dinosaur Island, but if he had brought her here that must mean he had gotten himself in trouble a third time.
Peach studied her reflection in the mirror and decided that, under the circumstances, she didn't need to be perfect. She pulled her hair back into a loose bun and stood up so that she could pull off her formal gown. The dress would only get dirty here. Besides, Peach thought, sighing with relief as she began to unlace her corset, it's not as if there were anyone in this castle she needed to impress.
Peach sat on a window ledge with her back to Bowser. Their conversation was going nowhere, and he found it infuriating that she wouldn't look at him.
"Peach, can you come off it? I said I'm sorry."
"You said you were sorry the last two times."
Bowser tapped his claws against his desk in annoyance. "Yeah, and I was, okay?"
Peach traced a circle in the ash that coated the windowpane in front of her. "You can't keep doing this."
Bowser clenched his fist as he bit back a retort. Just how long did this infernal woman insist on trying to pick a fight with him?
There was a knock on the door. Bowser snapped his fingers, and the door sprung open as its lock released. He turned to find one of the junior officers in his Parakoopa Corps fidgeting on the threshold. Bad news, then. Probably the plumber.
Bowser signaled for her to come in, and she ducked her head slightly in an awkward bow as she hurried across the floor to hand him a folded piece of paper. It was suffused with the acidic smell of burning rubber. Bowser sliced its seal with his claw and opened the letter to find a scrawled message: Mario is at the gate.
"I don't have time for this," Bowser growled, crumpling the letter and tossing it to the floor. The Parakoopa moved to retrieve it, but he stopped her with a wave of his hand. "I need you to fly a message to Morton," he told her.
Bowser reached into a drawer for a sheet of vellum, which he smoothed out on the leather blotter. He used the back of his thumb to erase the figures he had scrawled earlier before dipping the claw of his index finger into an inkwell. "Mario is coming," he wrote. "Be prepared. Make sure no one gets hurt." After giving the ink a moment to dry, he folded the thick paper and blew a thin stream of flame across its edge, causing the waxy fibers to adhere to one another. There was no need for secrecy – he couldn't keep something like Mario a secret if he tried – but he followed the motions out of habit.
Peach left her perch by the window and walked to his desk, picking up the discarded letter on her way. Bowser watched a frown form on her face as he passed his own letter to the Parakoopa, who saluted and departed as quickly as she had arrived.
"What do you think Mario is going to do this time?" Peach asked, her voice flat as she refolded the paper along its original creases.
"The usual," Bowser responded as he used a small square of cotton to clean the ink from his claw. "He'll trounce one of my kids and set one of my castles on fire."
Peach set the letter on the desk in front of him. "They aren't your kids, and those aren't your castles."
Bowser resisted the urge to grab Peach's wrist and twist it. "I don't see anyone else claiming them," he said, doing his best to keep his voice level.
To his surprise, the corner of Peach's mouth lifted in a faint smile. "I can't speak for the castles, but I'll take your kids." She leaned against the desk, putting her back to Bowser once again. "Toadsworth keeps saying I should get married. The line of royal succession doesn't maintain itself, apparently. I'd love to skip the marriage and go straight to designating heirs, if you've got any to spare."
Bowser stood from his stool. He knew Peach was offering him an olive branch, but he was in no mood to take it. "Must be tough, being a princess," he spat at her. "If only you had someone to rescue you."
Peach glared at him over her shoulder. "I didn't come all the way to your castle to talk about Mario. Why don't you explain why you brought me here."
"Right, about that," Bowser said, cracking his knuckles. "Like I told you..."
"What you told me is that you decided to play with magic again. It backfired, because of course it did, and now you need help cleaning up the mess you made."
"Damn it, Peach! It's more complicated than that."
"Sure it is," she shrugged.
"Okay, fine, look," Bowser grumbled, unsure of where to begin. He walked around his desk and leaned against the edge next to Peach. Unlike everything else in this dirty old building, she smelled fresh, like the sky after a storm. He took a deep breath and started over.
"After what happened in the Mushroom Kingdom, I thought it would be good to take the kids somewhere, you know, give them a chance to get away from all the trouble. Things were bad in the Koopa Kingdom."
Peach nodded. "I can imagine."
There was a note of sympathy in her voice, which Bowser appreciated. In truth, the situation had been a nightmare. After he adopted them, the Koopalings had gotten it into their heads to steal the wands of the seven dukes of the Mushroom Kingdom, whom they had then turned into animals. Lower ranking members of the kingdom's nobility, sensing an opportunity for advancement, had moved to attack them, and Bowser had been forced to send his own military in their defense. Peach had come to him almost immediately after the conflict broke out, and they had just managed to finish the draft of a peace treaty when Mario showed up, trailing destruction in his wake. Bowser's standing had been compromised, and he needed to get the kids out of his kingdom before they could be used against him.
"So I packed them off to Dinosaur Island," Bowser continued. "There's nothing here besides a bunch of abandoned castles, so I told them I was sending them off for training. How to manage an estate, that sort of thing. How much trouble could they get into, right?"
Peach let out an exasperated sigh. "How much indeed."
"Everything would have been fine if it weren't for the dinosaurs."
"You do know why this place is called Dinosaur Island, right?"
Bowser ignored her. "They would have been fine if it weren't for the Yoshis. Those buggers eat everything, and I mean everything. The kids couldn't build or grow anything without the Yoshis snapping it up with those creepy tongues of theirs. My brats tried to talk to them - did you know Yoshis can talk?"
"I did not. That's extremely interesting."
"I thought so too, but just because they can speak doesn't mean they can be reasoned with. The Yoshis apparently have no concept of property, and it was impossible to convince them to stop eating the kids out of house and home. They're bottomless pits – "
"Your kids? They must take after their father."
"Very funny, Peach. They were on the verge of giving up and coming home, which would have been a disaster," Bowser explained, recalling the recent assassination attempts that had been made against him. He could handle himself, but the political atmosphere was too tense for the kids, who were too young and too vulnerable. Fighting Mario was like a game for them, but an attack from another Koopa could prove fatal.
"Magic was the most practical solution. I maintain barriers around my own castles, but they kill anything that tries to cross them. I didn't want a bunch of dead Yoshis on my hands, so I had to adjust the spell not to harm them."
"And it didn't work out the way you planned."
"I may have miscalculated a few things. Instead of barriers surrounding the castles, every Yoshi on Dinosaur Island was encased in a small barrier, sort of like an egg."
"You may have miscalculated a few things? Trapping an entire population of Yoshis hardly sounds like a miscalculation."
"It gets worse. Turns out the Yoshis were the only things keeping other creatures on the island from swarming. Now that the damn Yoshis aren't eating everything in sight, there are monsters everywhere. If we can't figure out how to free them, I don't know what's gonna happen."
"It's not like this place is that far away from the Mushroom Kingdom. You've got a stake in this too, Princess."
"Are you serious?" Peach asked him. "I know you've had a rough time of it, but this is ridiculous. Every time I turn around you've done something to threaten my kingdom. And if that weren't enough, you have the gall to ask me to come in and fix things. What is wrong with you?"
Although he hated to admit it, Bowser agreed with her. He'd wanted to bring her here under different circumstances, perhaps once the tension between their kingdoms had dissipated. Still, he was grateful for an excuse to talk to her. After war had almost broken out, it had become impossible for them to see each other.
He took a chance and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Please, Peach," he said. "I can't do this without you."
"Okay," Peach said, straightening her back. "Why don't you show me where we stand, and we can go ahead and get started."
When Bowser put his hand on her shoulder, she'd felt a strange urge to rest her cheek against it. She had spent her entire life learning to be quiet, and she couldn't help but resent how loud and obnoxious he was. He only attempted to control himself when they were alone together, and occasionally he would even demonstrate something resembling tenderness. If only he could be like this all the time – but he wasn't.
Peach shrugged Bowser's hand away as she walked to a large table in the middle of the room. The floor was covered with sand and gravel, but the table was clean, its surface free of the ash coating everything else in the castle. Unlike Bowser's desk, which was constructed of stone slabs he had probably dragged into place himself, the table was made of dark wood that seemed to swallow the late afternoon light filtering through the dusty windowpanes.
"All right," Peach said as she ran her fingers along a whorl in the wood. "I'm ready when you are."
"How do you like it?" Bowser asked, still leaning against the edge of his desk.
"How do you like the..." he paused to make an impatient gesture, "the table?"
Peach frowned. What was he getting at?
"It's a fine table, Bowser. Could you bring over a roll of parchment?"
"My great-grandfather made it. From a single tree he got from the forest on this island." Bowser crossed his arms. "Dinosaur Island used to belong to the Koopas. Bet you didn't know that."
Peach rolled her eyes. Of course he would bring this up now, just when she thought they were getting somewhere. Bowser's ego had always been enormous. There was nothing he hated as much as being corrected, but she didn't understand why this idiotic man couldn't swallow his pride and get on with it.
She smacked her palm against the table. "I don't want to hear it. This isn't the time to give me a history lesson. I don't know why your kingdom decided to abandon this territory, and I don't care. Quit stalling."
Bowser growled at her, but she refused to look away, and eventually his face relaxed.
"Fine," he said, blowing a small jet of flame through his lips, "but I'm not stalling. I'm trying to figure out how to approach this. The barriers around the castles are a state secret, and you can't blame me for not wanting to tell you how they work."
"I don't think you have a choice."
"You don't need to know everything. Imagine what someone could do with that knowledge."
"Give me a break, Bowser. I'm not going to tell anyone how to make the barriers. Even if I did, I don't know anyone capable of working that sort of magic on such a large scale. And besides, it's not as if I haven't undone your spells before," Peach added, flipping her hair. "I could take apart one of your barriers backwards, in the dark, while I was sleeping."
Bowser barked laughter. "We'll see about that."
If Peach were honest with herself, she'd have to admit that Bowser was far more talented with magic than she was. He always had been. Even before his horns had fully sprouted, he could make a book fly across the room and into his claws just by twisting his neck. He did things like this to show off, which annoyed Peach to no end. A part of her knew that such demonstrations were nothing more than the awkward posturing of an insecure young man, but this didn't make it any easier to stomach his constant attempts to one-up her. She had worked hard to rise to the top of her class, which was only what was expected of her as a princess. For some foreigner – and a Koopa, no less – to show up and casually pull off advanced magic that gave everyone else trouble was inexcusable.
Whenever she learned that Bowser was to visit the Mushroom Kingdom with his father, she would spend days preparing magic to humiliate him. If he wanted to make things fly, she would cause them to drop in midair. If he wanted to transfigure something, she would cause its shape to remain stubbornly fixed. If he wanted to breathe fire, she would cause his mouth to snap shut with ice.
Bowser grew more inventive as he got older, casting larger and more intricate spells. Peach was able to keep up with him, but she resented that he was always creating while she was always undoing. The salt in her wounds was that he didn't even see her as a rival. To him, she was nothing more than a metonym for her kingdom. She could tell he hated his visits to her castle, and she was never invited to his own. When his father died as the result of some sort of barbaric plot, Bowser became king, and from that point onward he never set foot in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Several years later, when her mother passed away, Peach ascended the throne. Her formal letters to Bowser received nothing more than perfunctory replies far too polite to have been written by him. Just as he had refused to see her as an equal when he was a prince, he had no time for her now that he was a king. She had her own country to run and her own business to attend to, but her grudge against the Koopa king never became less bitter. Because he used his size and his magic to intimidate everyone around him, Bowser had become known as "the Demon King," which Peach thought was only fitting. Peach's council and senate begged her to take action against the Koopa Kingdom, but she never considered Bowser a legitimate threat. He was a vainglorious braggart, certainly, but he wasn't clever enough to be dangerous.
This uneasy state of affairs could have continued indefinitely had not everything suddenly changed. One day, in the blink of an eye, almost every living soul in the Mushroom Kingdom was transformed into a monster, which could only have been the result of a terrible act of magic. As soon as the calamity struck, Peach immediately knew who was responsible. The first emotion to grasp her heart was an overwhelming sense of vindication. Bowser had always been careless, and now he would finally learn that his cavalier attitude toward magic had consequences.
Peach wasted no time in trying to set things right, but the spell affecting the Mushroom Kingdom proved too strong and too complicated for her to undo on her own. She used the most powerful magic she was capable of, but even this proved ineffective.
In her darkest hour, Peach returned to the great hall of the castle and collapsed on her throne, the princess of a ruined kingdom. She was furious at Bowser and terrified for the future. What sort of hideous malice could have motivated him to set this catastrophe in motion? If she killed him, would everything return to normal?
Just as she made a resolution to begin a journey to hunt him down, a letter had materialized on her mother's empty throne beside her. The seal along its edges was hot to the touch, and it bore a single line in Bowser's angular writing: Peach, please come. I can't do this without you.
When she arrived at his castle, Bowser was as obnoxious and ungrateful as she remembered, but the two of them managed to reverse the spell – and not a moment too soon, for something awful had followed her.
But enough of that. As the ruling monarch of a prosperous nation, Peach almost never had a chance to use her magic, and she couldn't deny that she was excited by the challenge of untangling another of Bowser's spells.
"If your magic is so great, then why are you being so shy about showing it to me?" she shot at him, crossing her arms to mirror his posture. "Get over here so we can get started."
Bowser grinned at her in response, his fangs shining in the sunlight.
"Get over here so we can get started," Peach demanded.
Bowser grinned. This is what he wanted to hear.
He strode across the floor to join her. He jerked his wrist, and a roll of parchment unfurled across the table. This sort of thing annoyed Peach to no end, and he didn't have to look at her to know she had furrowed her eyebrows. She was always so calm and composed, and it drove him crazy. Every chink in her armor he managed to exploit was worth the effort.
"All right," she snapped, suitably irritated, "get on with it."
Bowser used his claw to draw a rough outline on the parchment, a glowing red line trailing behind his finger. "So this is Dinosaur Island, and these are the seven castles," he explained, marking each point with a circle.
"What about this castle?" Peach asked him when he finished.
"I'm getting to that," he replied, pressing his thumb against the location. A pulse of light flared under his finger, and twisting branches spread out to the seven circles. "This castle is the locus of the ley lines on the island. If I'd cast the spell here, I should have been able to mirror it along the web."
Peach nodded. "Of course. It should have been easy for you. There must have been something else, a factor you hadn't counted on. What was it?"
"I don't know what it is," Bowser shook his head. He raised his hand from the table and drew a shining pentagram in the air over the map. "I've been thinking of it as the 'star world' because I don't know what else to call it. From what I can tell, this island is connected to a place that's so high above the earth it needs its own barrier for the air to be breathable. When my magic hit it, everything exploded."
Peach reached forward to touch the star he had drawn. Its red glow shifted through purple into blue, and it began to pulse dozens of fine white lines upward while violet roots twisted into the network on the map.
"Your problem is that you're not dealing with geomancy," she said. "This is astromancy."
"Astromancy? Do you mean astrology?" He searched her face, but she seemed entirely serious. "Peach, don't tell me you believe in that sort of thing."
"No, I mean astromancy. I'm talking about star power."
Bowser had no idea what she was referring to. "What the hell is star power?"
Peach shrugged. "I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it. It's embarrassing to say this, but it's not common knowledge. Women in my family learn how to communicate with star spirits and manipulate astral energy from an early age. I learned from my mother, and she learned from hers. It's not an exact branch of magic, and not everyone can use it."
Bowser couldn't believe his ears. There was magic that he didn't know about? That he couldn't use?
"That's bullshit," he scowled.
To his surprise, Peach laughed. "It's kind of... a princess thing."
Bowser could feel smoke leaking from the corner of his mouth as his temper rose. "And what makes me any less special than a princess?"
She laughed again. "Don't worry, Bowser. You're plenty special."
Peach had always been more than a little stuck up, always lording her education and her position over him. He knew people in the Mushroom Kingdom looked down on the Koopa, and she was the worst of the lot, masking her condescension with sweetness.
Yet for some reason he didn't feel as though she was mocking him now. If anything, telling him about "star power" seemed to have made her happy. All he needed to do was get her to explain how it worked.
"So what's this princess thing you mentioned?" he asked her. "Is it the dress? It's got to be the dress."
Peach bit her bottom lip as she grinned. "It's not the dress, Bowser."
"You can tell me if it's the dress, because I can do the dress. I'd look damn fine in pink."
He gestured at himself, and Peach gave him an appraising look. "For you," she said, "the color would be less of a problem than the shape. I think you'd need a lot of ruffles."
Bowser pointed a claw at the large blue opal Peach wore at her chest. "And jewelry, I need jewelry. I need to shine."
Peach placed her hand over the gemstone. "You know..." She looked away, and he'd be damned if she wasn't blushing.
"This came from the Koopas, originally. The Mushroom Kingdom doesn't have much to recommend it. Sure, it's green and sunny, but everything is broken. Pits in the ground, pipes that go nowhere, crumbling piles of bricks all over the ground. If my ancestors hadn't figured out how to use star power, we'd probably still be living in caves. We're not like the Koopa Kingdom. We don't have any of the machinery you take for granted. When I first came to your castle, I was so surprised."
Peach touched her hand to the map of the island. "I felt almost ashamed," she added softly.
"Then think of how I felt coming to your castle, where everything was happy and peaceful. All the machines in the world aren't worth jack shit when people are always trying to kill you."
Peach looked up at him, and he was struck by how piercingly blue her eyes were. "I can imagine," she said. "Even someone as outrageous as you wouldn't have worked the magic that almost destroyed my kingdom without a good reason."
"I already apologized for that, and I'm not going to apologize again," Bowser grumbled. "I told you, that's not what I meant to happen."
"I still can't believe you thought you could turn rocks into trees."
"Stop being so self-righteous. I know you use magic on your own land."
Peach blinked. "There's no way you could know that."
"I've known for years. The magic has your name all over it. Besides, there's no way your weather could be so perfect on its own. Can you blame me for wanting to try to do the same thing?"
"You tried to copy my magic?"
Peach sounded genuinely surprised, which irritated him. "I've always copied your magic. Haven't you been paying attention?"
"Don't try to pin your mistakes on me, Bowser."
"I'm not blaming you. It's just..." He rubbed the back of his neck as he considered his words. It's just hard sometimes, he wanted to say, but he would never admit that to her. He'd been praised for his actions against the Mushroom Kingdom when the dust of the catastrophe cleared, and the Koopalings had been given to him as tribute. He suspected this was a backhanded compliment, since they were far more trouble than they were worth. If Peach hadn't pulled his ass out of the war they had almost started, the scale of the conflict would have been unimaginable. The children had only used the magic wands they stole to perform ridiculous tricks, but those things would have been truly dangerous if they'd been used as weapons.
"It's just, machinery is nothing compared to magic. That clown car I used to bring you here? The kids love the thing, but it needs constant maintenance. You might have to take the airship home, because there's no way that piece of garbage can make the flight again."
"But don't you think it's better to have an alternative to magic? Especially since your magic is so unpredictable?"
Bowser growled. His magic usually worked just fine, and it's not as if the princess had a perfect track record herself. "My magic is unpredictable?" he jeered. "You act like I'm the only one who's used magic to do something stupid."
"I don't want to talk about Mario," Peach said in a small voice.
"You don't want to talk about Mario?" Bowser slammed his hand down on the table, which rattled from the force of his blow. "Fine, let's not talk about Mario. But if we don't get this sorted out soon, he'll be here, Peach, and you'd better be ready for him."
"Mario was a mistake," Peach replied, meeting his eyes, "but what was I supposed to do? I thought I'd have to fight you."
"You didn't have to summon a maniac from another world to kill me."
"Someone had to stop you."
"You could have done it yourself."
"I don't think so," Peach sighed. "You've always been stronger and more powerful than I am. You used to go through such pains to prove it, as if I didn't already know. I worked so hard to be better than you, but..."
Bowser was taken aback by her sudden admission. "That's not true," he said before he could stop himself. "I always hated how easy everything came to you."
"We make a good match, don't we?" Peach tilted her head as she looked up at him. The sun had begun to set, and its light spun her hair into gold. "You refused to get started on this problem last night, and now that we're finally getting down to it all you want to do is argue."
"Yeah, well, don't you think it's kind of embarrassing for me? To be rescued by you?"
Peach grinned. "Don't you think it's kind of fun for me? To go on these adventures with you?"
Bowser clamped his teeth together to prevent his jaw from dropping. Was she really saying what he thought she was saying? He'd always been attracted to her, but he never thought he had a chance. All he'd ever wanted was to cause something to surface from underneath the blank pleasantness she wore on her face, but the only thing he'd ever gotten was scorn.
He raised his hand, and his heart jumped when she took it.
"But what am I saying, that's not what I meant," she muttered.
She met his eyes, and time froze.
Bowser wrapped his hand around Peach's waist and drew her to him. She smelled so deliciously sweet. He leaned forward to touch his nose to her hair and breathed in deeply.
She placed both of her palms against his chest. "We really shouldn't..." she said, her words trailing off as she touched her forehead to his neck.
"I mean," she continued, shaking her head, "what are we doing?"
"All we ever do is fight." Her right hand moved slowly down his chest.
"This isn't why I came to this island," she said, sliding her fingers around to his back and pulling him toward her.
"I should have just left you alone." Her breath was hot against his neck.
"Peach, for once in your life," he smiled, raising her face as he brushed back her hair.
"Don't ask me to calm down."
"That's not what I want." He traced a finger along her cheek, marveling at how soft her skin was against his. He had dreamed of doing this for years, and he could wait no longer.
"Then what do you want?" she asked, her lips maddeningly close to his.
He whispered her name once more and then kissed her.
Peach could feel her heart race as Bowser took her face in his hand. The pads of his fingers burned like metal left too long in the sun, yet the trailing points of his claws were cool. Every time he growled her name a spark ignited in her chest. He smelled of smoke and the dusty ash of old paper, and the closer he was the more difficult it became for her to breathe. He whispered her name as he lowered his face to hers, the tip of his tongue flicking against her lips in the instant before he kissed her.
The embers of desire within her roared into a blazing fire. She pressed her mouth to Bowser's, delighting in the pressure of his teeth against hers as she bit his lower lip. Bowser forced her mouth open. He was feverishly hot between her lips. She twisted her tongue around his, drinking in the spiciness of his taste. The surge of sensation was overwhelming.
Peach forced herself to pull away from him. She would be lying if she said she hadn't imagined finding herself in this situation, but it had only been a fantasy. She never dreamed she would actually do this, and now that it was happening she didn't know how to proceed.
"Hey," Bowser breathed, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Are we... Are you okay?" His face was flushed, and he looked more vulnerable than she had ever seen him before. Peach felt something stir within her, and she decided that she wanted more.
"This isn't the place for this," she admonished him. Apparently reassured by her tone, he bent down to press his lips to her neck.
"Does Her Highness have a suggestion, then?" he asked, his fangs grazing her skin.
"Since you went through the trouble of setting out a room for me..."
Peach felt his mouth curve into a smile, and suddenly she was lifted from her feet. She wrapped her arms around Bowser's neck and laughed.
"Are you really going to carry me?"
"Nah, that's too much trouble. What's magic for – "
Peach felt a familiar tingling in her nerves and understood that Bowser was going to transport them. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again they were in her bedroom.
" – if you can't do things like this?"
"Now you're just showing off."
"Damn right I am."
"Put me down."
Bowser carried her to the bed. Since no one had woken her, she'd slept until noon and then made the bed herself. She used magic, because it was as Bowser said – what good was magic if not for making life easier?
"Did you make this furniture?" Peach asked as she kicked her shoes off.
"Do I look like the kind of guy who makes furniture? It was in the castle when I got here."
"But you cleaned it," she prompted as she began to unbutton her dress.
"Well... yeah," Bowser answered, his eyes tracking every movement of her hands.
"And you put out linen."
"I got someone else to do that."
"But you had linen."
Bowser didn't say anything.
"And it happens to be pink."
"Some people like that color, okay?"
"I like that color. Where did the silver hairbrush come from?"
Peach allowed her dress to fall from her shoulders.
"I, uh," Bowser stammered. "Can I help you with that?"
Peach pushed her dress down to her waist. "By all means."
Bowser knelt in front of her and gathered the fabric as she shimmied out of it. As he turned to lay it aside, he muttered, "I got that brush for you. Okay?"
Peach gestured for Bowser to come to her. "When were you going to give it to me?"
Bowser climbed onto the bed beside her. "Is now a good time?"
"You can be so stupid sometimes," she said, and kissed him.
Bowser returned her kiss, gently at first, and then hungrily.
"But you have to admit," he said after a few moments, "I'm not the only stupid one here."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, delighting in the feeling of his palms running over her skin.
"You've got to be stupid to think I believe that you just happened to come to this island on vacation right after you learned I was here."
Peach laughed. "So what if it was on purpose? Someone needs to keep an eye on you."
"Then you admit it? That you were chasing after me?" Bowser cupped her breast and traced his thumb around its peak.
"I did no such thing. If I remember correctly, you came to me."
"You're lucky I had something I needed you to help me take care of."
"Then you can pay me back by taking care of something for me," Peach said as she took Bowser's wrist and guided his hand downward.
Eventually Bowser fell away from her onto the bed. He lay beside her breathing heavily.
"Damn, Peach, that was amazing."
It had been. For once in her life she felt fully satisfied. She hummed a note of agreement and then closed her eyes and listened as his breathing slowed.
"Did you sleep with me so that I'd tell you about astromancy?"
Bowser buried his nose in her hair and kissed her ear. "Would it make you happy if I did?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm not going to say anything," she said as she rolled on her side to face him.
"Good." He touched his forehead to hers. "I'd rather figure it out myself."
"Best of luck with that." Peach smiled as she reached for Bowser's horns and pulled his mouth to hers. The kiss they shared was slow and tantalizingly sweet.
Bowser broke away first. "But I'd be open to a demonstration," he said, propping himself up on his elbow as he scanned his eyes across Peach's chest. "Whenever you're ready. I'm watching."
"I can see you're watching," she muttered while scooting herself into a sitting position.
She whistled a mellow tune, waving her hands as if she were conducting a symphony. Neither the melody nor the hand movements were strictly necessary, but Bowser wasn't the only one who enjoyed showing off. Small globes of cool white light popped into the air surrounding the bed, casting a soft glow into the darkening room.
When she finished, she looked at Bowser to find that he was staring at her.
"What do you think?" she asked him.
He shook his head. "You're gorgeous when you do that."
Peach suddenly felt silly and self-conscious. "You must be joking."
"Nope," Bowser replied, shifting his body so that his head was level with her shoulders.
He looked up at her, his eyes wide. "I've always thought you're beautiful when you do magic."
"Do you want me to do more?"
"Not right now," he breathed into her ear, "but I've got something else in mind."
Bowser sat next to Peach as they watched Mario run across a lava field on the large monitor. Just as one stone pathway began to sink, he deftly leapt to another. His landing was smooth and controlled, and his cape billowed out behind him as he headed off in search of the next stable perch.
Peach took a sip of tea. "I'm just saying, he's nice to look at."
"Okay, but watch this," Bowser growled. He punched in a code on his control panel. A jet of lava burst up in front of Mario, who just barely dodged the spray.
"Interesting," Peach said, setting down her teacup. "Let me try."
Bowser shrugged and handed her the control panel. She cracked her knuckles and took it.
"Okay, now how does this work...?" Peach pressed a few keys at random. A basalt slab a yard or two in front of Mario rumbled violently for a few seconds before jumping into the air. Peach pressed the key again, and it fell.
"Can I just keep doing this?"
"Knock yourself out."
Peach leaned forward and squinted at the screen, waiting for Mario to move. As soon as he started running, she jammed the key, but the man refused to be caught off guard.
"The trick is to build up a good rhythm," Bowser explained. "He'll be lulled into thinking he knows what's going on, and then he'll get cocky. That's how you catch him."
"I'm not entirely certain I want to watch him die," Peach said as she began testing other buttons.
"You have to admit he has a certain charm."
"What I want to know is how he managed to make it all the way across the island on foot in less than two days."
"Well..." Peach paused to launch a flaming boulder. "He might have a problem with mushrooms."
"I can see that," Bowser muttered. The bulges under Mario's overalls were clear, even on the grainy resolution of the monitor.
"Listen, Peach, why don't you just send him back where he came from?"
"The magic doesn't work that way, for one thing. And it's kind of fun to have him around."
"What do you mean, it's kind of fun? Fun, like, you enjoy his company?"
"Sure, yeah, he's fun," Peach punched a button that retracted a bridge, and she watched avidly as Mario scuttered across it. When he made it safely to the other side, he pumped his fist in the air. "He's always cheerful, unlike some people."
Bowser scowled. "And I'm sure he's not faking it, unlike some people."
"Don't be a sore loser."
"You wanna see something awesome?" Bowser reached for the control panel, and Peach passed it over to him, her fingers lingering on his. He keyed in a sequence of codes, and a flaming pillar of molten rock rose from a pool of lava. It opened its mouth and spewed fire at Mario, who rolled into a somersault to avoid it.
"Bowser, what is that?"
"I made it myself. Do you like it?"
"You know how I feel about necromancy. Is it alive?"
Peach leaned back and crossed her arms, still watching the monitor. "Did anyone ever tell you that you have twisted hobbies?"
"Wait until you see the Mechakoopas."
"The – "
"No," Peach cut him off, "I don't actually want to know. Do you stay up all night working on these things? Don't you have anything better to do?"
"Hey, at least I'm not up all night curling my hair."
"My hair is natural."
"Sure it is. That was the first thing I noticed when you woke up this morning, how natural your hair was."
"Says the guy who never washes his."
"What were you even doing in the bathroom, practicing your statecraft?"
"At least I wasn't frantically putting together traps to trip up a plumber."
"Come on, Peach, give me some credit."
"And you can't even catch him."
"I'LL CATCH HIM."
"Calm down, big guy. Why are you trying so hard, anyway?"
"I don't like it that you spend so much time with him," Bowser grumbled.
"Too bad the only time I can spend with you is when you're on the verge of destroying my kingdom."
"You never invite me over."
"All right, fine," Peach laughed as she ran her hand down his leg and squeezed his knee. "Why don't you kidnap me in my own castle next time?"
"It will keep Mario occupied for a few hours."
"I don't think it's a kidnapping if you don't leave your own castle, Peach."
"You really think Mario is going to care about that?"
"So what are you going to do? Send him a letter?" Bowser coughed and continued in a falsetto. "Dear Mario, please come to the castle. I've baked you a cake! Tee hee."
Peach rolled her eyes. "I don't talk like that."
"You kind of do."
"Give it a rest, Bowser. How long do you think we have before Mario gets here?"
"I dunno. An hour or two?"
"Well then, why don't we make the most of it?" Peach smiled as she removed her tiara and placed it next to her teacup.
Bowser didn't need to be asked twice. He tossed the control panel away and leaned down to kiss her.