The 'Shroom:Issue 195/Palette Swap

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Director's Notes

Written by: FunkyK38 (talk)

Shroom2017 FunkyK38.png

It's the summer mini-special, and we're on the BIG SCREEN! Welcome to the June issue of The 'Shroom!

Recently, I got the opportunity to see Kiki's Delivery Service in a theater for GhibliFest, and it was lovely. Kiki was my very first Ghibli movie, one my mom used to rent for me from our local video store when I was just a kid. Later on, I'd rent other Ghibli movies from that same video store up until it went out of business- my copy of Spirited Away is actually the copy from said video store. This summer is full of big releases- I'd like to see Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Elemental, Across the Spiderverse, Barbie, I don't remember the last time a summer was so packed with big releases! We're really in for a treat with theaters while we wait for DLC for our favorite games!

This month, Shoey (talk) returns once again with a new Random Image of the Month, and MightyMario (talk) has written a special short story for you all featuring our favorite couple going to the movies. There's a lot to get to this month, so I'll let you get to the show!

Happy reading!


Section of the Month

Your favorite section of last month has been decided- Section of the Month is here! Coming in first, we have winstein (talk)'s The ? Panel, and after that, we have a two-way tie for second between Waluigi Time (talk) with Waluigi Time Comic and Shoey (talk) with Random Image of the Month. Thank you so much to everyone who voted, we really appreciate it!

Place Section Votes % Writer
1st The ? Panel 7 24.14% winstein (talk)
2nd Waluigi Time Comic 6 20.69% Waluigi Time (talk)
2nd Random Image of the Month 6 20.69% Shoey (talk)

The cool kids like to party!
Tracing the cinephile's journey
The golden glow of the protagonist!
Oh yeah, I love robots!
Good old pops...
This is why we get to the theater early!
Another case closed for our hero...

Site Seeing

Written by: Lakituthequick (talk)

Hello dear readers and welcome to Site Seeing, in which I'll go over some of the websites Nintendo releases to inform the public about their games and series!
The Mario Awards are around the corner, so it's time for a party, by visiting the website for Mario Party Superstars!


A screenshot of the full Mario Party Superstars homepage.

This website follows the recurring format of having summaries of features on the home page and more details on a few subpages.

The page, like many we have visited before, opens with a hero banner with the logo and a call to buy the game. This hero features thumbnails of various minigames in the background, with a larger panel that shows screenshots of various parts of the game that cycle through.

We are then introduced to the game with a few accolades from various media, and a description and a game trailer. These highlight that the game contains courses and minigames from past Mario Party games.

The next section has three highlights about the game. First, Bowser in a Koopa Clown Car greets us with a blurb about the minigames, with a button to learn more about those. Underneath him, a gallery scrolls by with several screenshots from the game's minigames and boards.
The next bit warms us to learn about the characters and boards in the game, with a button to a page about these two things. It has a block next to it in which more screenshots cycle through.
After a scrolling set of board spaces, the local and online multiplayer modes are listed with another button to the page about game modes. This bit is accompanied by artworks of Birdo and Daisy.

The page is then split by a small call-to-action banner to purchase the game. This contains the box art, and artworks of Wario and Luigi.

The final section contains two more things. First is a box that introduces the by-now familiar scavenging minigame we see quite often on these sites. This time, it's four sets of dice blocks that are hidden around the site. Finding them all nets us 100 My Nintendo platinum points.
Under this box, the Nintendo Switch family is shown, which Mario Party Superstars is exclusively available for, of course. It contains a button that leads us towards the Nintendo Switch pages on Nintendo's site.

The next page is about the minigames. This page opens with a blurb about how they come from all across the series. It then opens into a series of clips from six minigames that follow each other quickly.
What follows is that each of the categories of minigames is listed in separate sections, each with a few clips and a button to a page to view them all. Along the way, each category is also accompanied with artworks from the characters that appear in the game, both playable and supporting. The last also includes one of the dice sets, and below that, Wario and Luigi again encourage a purchase.
The minigame listings show each minigame in the form of cards, with a screenshot at the top and the title and a short description underneath.

A gallery of the characters, with Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach in frame. Luigi is selected, and has the following blurb underneath: "Mario's taller brother who is known for his high jumps and fear of ghosts."
Luigi's most defining trait: fear of ghosts.
A screenshot of Space Land as listed as a board.
We're going to space, man.

The following page discusses the characters and boards in the game. Starting with the characters, each of them is shown in a gallery of bubbles that can be navigated with arrows or by clicking or tapping mugshots underneath.
Scrolling down, each of the boards is shown in a path-like fashion, with dotted lines between them that we 'follow'. Each of them is listed with the board logo, title, description, and a video of the intro flyover. While scrolling past, a blurred image of each board transitions in the background. The page, again, then ends with Wario and Luigi.

Up next, the page about modes, which showcases the game modes and ways the Nintendo Switch can be set up. The page puts emphasis on the classic Mario Party mode and the minigame mode, the former with footage from boards, the latter with screenshots of the hub, Mt. Minigames. The other modes are simply listed in smaller tiles.
An intermission on this page tells us about mid-game autosaving, and a little about stickers players can use while waiting on their turns.
A generic portion then goes over the TV and multiplayer modes the Nintendo Switch supports.

A popup of the Triple Dice Block being found. It contains the name, a description of what the blocks do, and encourages to continue finding more dice blocks.
Besides purchasing the game, you may also find dice here.

Lastly, the elusive purchasing page, which shows the price of the game in North America and a button to buy it digitally, as well as smaller the option to purchase a physical version. Below this, the Nintendo Switch Online feature of game vouchers is advertised as being a compatible way to buy this game at a discount.
And finally, the page ends with the note that this game is exclusively for Nintendo Switch.


As an entry in the Mario Party series, this game's website is very colourful, using a lot of pastel and more neon colours in tasteful gradients and patterns.
The site is almost entirely built on top of coloured ribbons that cross the screen diagonally. These ribbons are coloured and patterned and have white edges to set them apart where they overlap.

The site uses plenty of small animations and transitions to make it look dynamic and catch the viewer's attention. This primarily happens when scrolling through pages from the top, as content pops into view while going down. Then, galleries and videos constantly move, and artwork of Bowser in his Koopa Clown Car bobs up and down while Stars zoom in and out a little.

A portion of the main page showcasing gradients in the background, video border, and buttons.
All of the gradients!!

All boxes on the site have rounded corners, and have a coloured border that uses a gradient. All gradients use colours that are not too far from each other, which makes the gradient present but subtle and not distracting.
Between boxes, and sometimes among them, are the buttons that lead to other pages, which are also rounded, but in a pill-shaped fashion. These have a border and a fill where the two use the same colour gradient mirrored, adding another dynamic. The border and fill are furthermore set apart with a thin white line.
Several headers and taglines also use a gradient for their colours

The site makes use of the Heebo typeface for all of its text. On smaller screens, most everything looks the same, but stacked, with buttons being smaller to make them easier to touch with fingers.


This part may not be of interest to everyone, or may you even understand any of it. But it can be interesting to some people who are curious about some of the technology used to create this site.

This site makes use of the Stimulus framework for the interactive elements, and is hosted on Amazon's Cloudfront.

To start off with Stimulus, it is a minimalistic JavaScript framework to make small parts of a page interactive, by abstracting some of the base JS boilerplate away. HTML elements are tagged with meaning, and JS controllers use this meaning to interact with the HTML. This is a minimalist implementation of the model–view–controller pattern, without the model part in this case, which aims to keep functionality and looks separate in software development.

Cloudfront is part of Amazon Web Services, which we have covered quite a few times before in this section. AWS is a commercial platform that provides web services, among which is the simple option to host small sites efficiently.

The ribbons are implemented in a few different ways that are interesting. The main one is that most are rendered dynamically in a JavaScript canvas, as doing it with CSS the way is wanted here is possible, but requires a bit of work to get right. When a ribbon is only partially visible, some are still only displayed using CSS.


This is a cool-looking website, and its presentation makes it interesting to look through. The only thing that diminishes my enjoyment of it is that, looks aside, it is structurally very similar to websites I've covered in the past. It has info, in blocks, with buttons to subpages, and another scavenger hunt, making it feel samey. It still stands pretty solid on its own, however.

And that's it for this month, thanks for reading and see you in August. Enjoy the awards!

Meta's Poem

Written by: Meta Knight (talk)

The following poem you're about to read was not created during Roserade's (talk) Poemtober 2022. For this month, I decided to create a new poem since there's a light theming around movies. As always, if you wish to know more about the creative process, or anything like that, you're welcome to read my commentary as well.

Labors of Cinema

A stream of consciousness draws out an imagined canvas,
Weaving a chain of events to set in motion upon the pawns,
Birthing the entities to personify binding their fates as icons,
Generated words blooming unto conversations recited by generations.

A wave of talent queues committing their devotion for the prospective,
Success delivers a new life cast beyond the present world,
Threading wardrobes anew or shelling out molded prosthetics,
Enhancing the creator to summon a breathtaking performance.

A sea of artisans dedicate their craft transforming the stage,
Lenses observing each consequence unfold in precise angles,
Compositions constructing a portal from atmospheric ambiance,
Stitching scenes born from a vision to make the pieces fit.

A pool of tears harbor viewing the idea become reality,
Judgement awaits from the crowd's watchful eyes,
Favor lies with blessing with emotion all across the spectrum,
Creative works branching onto audiences recalled by generations.

Author Comments
For this poem I wanted to really try and dive into each aspect of the moviemaking process. It all starts with an idea, and this is what the first stanza focuses on. Script writing, storylining, etc. Obviously, actors are another big aspect of films, with so many good performances out there. That was the main area for the second stanza from casting to costume designing and makeup, really everything that really helps an actor become the character. There's so many other parts that go into it though, from scoring, editing, set design, cinematography, etc., ergo the third stanza. Finally, it all comes together at the end, when audiences actually get to watch it. Honestly though, there's a lot of overlap with all sorts of creative fields. I do hope that people working on whatever artwork or storyline they want have the best of luck with their endeavors and I wish them the best of luck.

Random Image of the Month

Written by: Shoey (talk)

Hello again, and welcome back to The Shroom's most-stretching-the-definition-of-voluntary section, Random Image of the Month. This is a section where we look at some of the odder images from the Mario series. Last month, we looked at the Mario series' take on the horrors of war. This month, we're gonna take a look at something a little calmer. Let's take a look at a piece of artwork from my personal favorite RPG, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

Mario, depicted in the Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. 3D style, stands upon grassy hills set against a blue sky with puffy white clouds. There are a few mushrooms and plants in the foreground. Mario has his head turned skywards and his hands outstretched as a glowing wooden hammer descends into his hands. Around Mario, four Goombas sit and look up at the hammer.

So before we even talk about the real meat of this image, I have to say I love just the general look of this picture. Everything is so shiny. It's as if it's a series of plastic toys. It's very vibrant and I love it. To be honest, I love the Super Mario RPG artwork style in general. Everything is vibrant and everything has official artwork, so you get all this great art of just the weirdo creatures that exist in Super Mario RPG. Because Super Mario RPG is basically a traditional RPG with Mario flavor, it has tons of just weirdo creatures like Jawful and Carroboscis. It's a game full of a mixture of, like, Mario creatures and just random regular-style RPG foes. It's awesome and everyone should look at the official artwork of each enemy!

Anyways, back to the topic at hand, I love how it looks like the Hammer has descended from the heavens! Look at it and try to tell me it doesn't look like whatever Mushroom god there is didn't send that Hammer down from the heavens for Mario. Look how shiny it is! As if it was a blessed ancient weapon given to Mario to strike down his enemies, but, no, it's just a regular Hammer that you find at the very start of the game. The Goombas are great. Honestly, they make the image. Look how impressed they are by this Hammer. The reverence they give this glistening Hammer as it shines above them is spectacular. Those Goombas look like they've never seen anything quite so beautiful, as if this Hammer is the perfect mixture of power and beauty. Even Mario gets in on the act. Look at his hands! Look how slowly he goes for the Hammer, as if even he is in awe of its power. I love this image. It's so goddamn silly, from the shiny hammer of the heavens to the Goombas in pure awe. It's an amazing image and I'm so happy to have shared it with you.

It's-a Mii!

Written by: Casual Koopa (talk)

Hello, and welcome back to It's-a-Mii! More Miis, More Marios, More... Movies? In keeping with this issue's theme, we've got Miis from the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie! (No spoilers for the new-ish one. I've been the victim of Mii-based spoilers before, but I swear not to pass the experience along to you...) There's also a rather large amount of Miis from my personal favorite movie. It's Gonna Be A Big One. I hope you like it!

Super Mario Bros. Miis

Even though I *made* them, I feel like they know something I don't...

Here's something you won't see every issue; live action characters! Here we have a famous (infamous?) trio; Mario, Luigi, and Bowser. I'd heard that this movie took some... creative liberties with the character designs, but I wouldn't have been able to guess that Luigi doesn't have a mustache? Somehow, that's almost stranger to me than the idea of a human Bowser... anyway, even with a depiction of real life people, I'm still a firm believer in making the eyes yourself. You can just barely see that Mario's eyes are working over top of some default Mii eyes, an incredible rarity for me - but even so, putting a few simple shapes over top of it makes it look all its own. The other two are entirely from scratch; sometimes, I struggle to make sure a character doesn't look like they have eyebags, so when I actually wanted them for Bowser it was a fun change of pace. There is one bit of design trickery going on here - can you guess? The hole in Luigi's hat may look like it naturally reveals his hair, but it's a deception! The hole in the hat is made out of several pieces, with two blocks of color matched to his skin tone and hair placed under them.

Now. Let's talk. I imagine most readers are not intimately familiar with your good friend Casual Koopa. You may be wondering what my favorite movie is. You may recall, in previous issues, there were large amounts of robots.



Listen, my friend, the reader. You and I, we've got to have words. We've got to talk about Mazinger Z: INFINITY. The MOVIE OF ALL TIME So, I'm assuming The 'Shroom readers are going to come out of this issue with a list of movies they want to watch. Which means that this is my pitch. This is my Chance. So I intend to use it. Mazinger Z is an old anime series about a teenager who has to pilot a mecha called Mazinger Z against villains who want to take over the world. It is uncomplicated fun. It is also Old. But what it did do is create a long running franchise, that still has media to this day, such as this movie. It takes place after the original series, but all you need to know is that there was a Good Dude who stopped a Bad Dude. But things are Happening Again?? Isn't that crazy?? Don't you want to know MORE??? Don't you want to see these COOL ROBOTS??? It's great. It's wonderful. You gotta trust me on this. Mazinger Z Infinity. Do it for your old pal Casual Koopa.

Oh, I should talk about the Miis. INFINITY has a unique way of doing shading, so I incorporated it, and I think it looks quite nice. The mecha are naturally pretty different from human anatomy, but its really just about putting big colored shapes in the right places and then adding thin lines over them. You can do it if you put your mind to it. Go get 'em, sport. Also, I didn't do the protagonist, because I thought it'd be very funny to skip him in favor of some obscure side characters. His robot's the very first one in the top left, though.

That's all I've got for you this month! I really hope you'll consider giving the movie a shot. If you skipped to the end after the Mario Miis... know, I can't blame you. It's an awful lot to take in. I'm realizing I don't know how to convey laughter in a formal manner, but imagine I'm chuckling heartily to indicate levity. I hope to see you next month! Goodbye for now!

Waluigi Time Comic

Drawn by: Waluigi Time (talk)


The ? Panel

Drawn by: winstein (talk)

Q Panel 6 - The Facts of Life.png

Movie Mayhem

Written by: MightyMario (talk)
Art by: Waluigi Time (talk)


"I can't believe you got us tickets for the opening night! Oh, this is going to be exciting!" Cayde said, hitching her purse over her shoulder. It was the opening night of Station Alpha 2: The Last Colony. Cayde had been waiting for the sequel to the original Station Alpha for what seemed like forever.

Zerris placed his book down on the counter. He then adjusted his jacket and checked his phone. They ordered a ride-share service to take them to the theater, but was going to be a little late.

"I hope we won't miss the movie," Zerris chided while tying his shoes.

"We won't. It's 5:30 and the movie doesn't start until 7:00. Plenty of time to get there and get our snacks."

Zerris got a feeling that something would go wrong. He just didn't know what or when.

5:45 PM

"This guy should have been at the apartments ten minutes ago. Why is he stopped at the Toad Mart?" Zerris looked at his phone and sighed.

"How far away is the theater?" Cayde asked as she pivoted her foot around.

"About two miles from here. If we wanted to walk, it would take us a half hour to get there."

"Let's do it. It's better to walk anyways."

The two set off to the theater, linking their arms together. As they walked down the sidewalk, the sky lit up with lightning and thunder.

"Uh oh," Zerris said, looking up to the sky. Soon, the two were in a downpour, drenching them head to toe in rain. Coming across an awning, they took shelter underneath it.

6:00 PM

"Great! I totally wanted to be soaked in rain! Why didn't you bring an umbrella, Zerris?!" she yelled, dripping with water. Her golden blonde hair turned shiny with how much rain it had captured.

"I didn't check the weather! I thought it was going to be nice and cool tonight!

"You have a phone, why didn't you check the weather?!"

"You have one, too! What was stopping you from checking it yourself?!"

Cayde groaned loudly and looked at herself in the window below the awning. She looked hideous. This was not how she wanted to show up to the premiere of her most anticipated film.

"This is your fault for not bringing an umbrella."

Cayde swiped some wet strands of hair from her eyes and grabbed a newspaper from a stand.

"Grab some newspaper, and not the comics section."

6:30 PM

Finally making it to the theater, they threw the drenched newspaper away and went to the ticket counter.

"I have two pre-purchased tickets for Station Alpha 2."

"Excellent. Just give them to me and you can enjoy the movie."

Zerris reached into his pocket and got his wallet. He dug through it in search of the tickets and came up empty.

"Zerris, don't tell me you forgot the freaking tickets!"

He tried to remember where they were.

And then it dawned on him.

On the counter, under the book he was reading.

"I'm sorry, can I purchase a ticket?" Zerris asked sheepishly.

"Oof, I'm afraid we're sold out for tonight's showing. If you'd like, you can come in tomorrow and see it."

"That'll be fine…"

The Next Night

"I waited five years for that?! That was awful!"

Cayde threw her soda in the trash and waited for Zerris to join her.

"I'm sorry you were disappointed in the movie. What made you hate so much?"

"Well, for starters, it completely retconned the ending of the first one, they changed the chief's actor, and Samantha was barely in it even though she was the second main character of Station Alpha."

Zerris felt bad for Cayde. She had waited so long for this movie and it ultimately soured her mood.

"Tell you what, what if we go see the new Pixar movie? That'll cheer you up." Zerris hugged his girlfriend and kissed her cheek.

"Yeah, that would cheer me up."

The two bought tickets and went into the theater much happier than the other night.

Shmaluigi, Private Investigator

Written by: Waluigi Time (talk) and Hooded Pitohui (talk)


Cruise Control: Part 3

In my line of work, few things ever go the way you expect them to. This whole thing started fairly routine, you know. Just checking out if a strange invitation was on the up-and-up, easy enough. Then that turned into a desperate rush to stop what appeared to be a Killing Game in the works. And now here I was, racing toward the harbor with only the slightest bit of consideration for the speed limit, trying to prevent the person who had been interfering with my investigation this entire time from walking straight into a trap constructed by my arch-nemesis.

I arrived at the harbor and bolted out of my car as soon as I stopped. I don't think that I even took the time to lock it, actually... There I found the Scarlet Rose ship, tucked away in a private dock where it wouldn't attract any unwanted attention. A trio of Ukikis in dock worker outfits were nearby, which wouldn't have been an unusual sight if not for the fact that they appeared to have gotten in a fight and were now tied together with ship-quality rope. I took that as a sure sign that they were part of this operation, and more importantly, that Lana had already been here.

With Lana already on board, I didn't have any time to waste on these guys. I just ran by them, but not without overhearing them complaining.

"Man, you guys stink. Why'd she have to tie us all together?"

"Oh, oh! Ain't that the pot calling the kettle black? What d'ya expect, we've been working out here all day!"

"I could really go for some lemonade right about now..."

"Guys! Guys! It's him! We gotta let the boss know!"

"You numbskull! And how d'ya expect we do that?"

I climbed aboard the ship and entered into the atrium. Right away I noticed that something had clearly gone down in here. In particular, the blood that was splattered across the floor caught my eye. A large pool of it had formed in the center of the room, and it trailed away into the aft hallway. A couple of Spiny Skipsqueaks were lying unconscious on the floor, though at a quick glance they didn't seem to be injured badly enough to cause all of this. I shuddered to think what the source was, then - Lana, Mowzimilian's lackeys, perhaps a bit of both? None of the possibilities eased my nerves, I'll say that much... I could also hear the sounds of a distant commotion coming from further inside the ship, so clearly whatever had happened here wasn't over.

Naturally, the only thing to do was follow the clues down the hall. There at the end I saw Lana, pinned against the wall and locked in a sword duel with a Terrapin wearing a Scarlet Rose uniform. I could see that she had already sustained a nasty wound in her side, and was struggling to block the Terrapin's strikes. A Bandit and Boomerang Bro. in the same uniforms stood nearby, and while I assumed they were backup for the Terrapin, neither of them appeared too focused on the fight. The Boomerang Bro. was disoriented and had a black eye, and the Bandit was looking up the stairwell at none other than the doomed mastermind himself, Mowzimilian.

"What is this interloper going to do to the plan? I wasn't prepared for this!" Mowzimilian called from the top of the stairs.

"Calm down! We're dealing with it, alright?" the Bandit yelled back.

Then Mowzimilian's gaze met my own.

"It's the detective! Remember the plan, get him to the cargo hold at all costs!" he shouted. The Bandit and Boomerang Bro. turned to look at me at his command, while the Terrapin kept his attention solely on Lana.

Here goes nothing...

The Bandit rushed toward me, while the Boomerang Bro. kept his distance, taking full advantage of his ranged weapon. I'm no tactician, but taking out the Bandit first seemed like the easier option. Maneuvering around the whirling boomerang didn't prove to be too difficult, I just had to keep my eye on this rapidly approaching Bandit. A good old-fashioned kick seemed good enough whether he stayed on the ground or went airborne. My legs are certainly long enough for it, after all.

He leapt into the air, and I raised my leg, making direct contact with my foot. BAM! Rather than being able to punch me in the face, as he had intended, the Bandit arced over my head and landed on the floor behind me with a thud, coins scattering as he landed. That gave me an idea... Avoiding yet another toss of the boomerang, I picked up one of the coins and hurled it across the room, where it hit the Terrapin right in the helmet with a loud clang. There's the old throwing arm!

"Detective!" The next thing I knew, Lana let out a shout, pointing me out to the Terrapin. I hadn't really been looking to tussle with the armored turtle, but it was hard to blame her for getting him off her back.

I braced myself as he turned around, abandoning her to make me his target, but the next thing I knew, I heard a second round of clanging, watching as Lana took the initiative and cracked the Terrapin in the back of the head with the hilt of her sword.

He staggered away, his ears probably ringing from his helmet clattering so much, while Lana pushed herself away from the wall, joining up with me.

"I apologize for putting you on the spot as a distraction, Detective," she said, immediately turning her attention towards the Boomerang Bro., catching his returning projectile, and the recovering Terrapin. Only for a second did I catch her grasping at that wound in her side before she took a battle stance. "If I can have your assistance for a brief time here, we can dispatch these two. Allow me to take the lead. I'll deflect the boomerang and disarm our ranged threat. You can do as you wish with the boomerang and the other one there," she explained, gesturing in the direction of the Terrapin.

Of course I'd have to deal with the Terrapin. At least I'd get a ranged weapon to do it... I didn't think that a boomerang would do much against that armor, but what if I could get through it? It was probably a one-in-a-million shot... Come on Shmaluigi, you can do this. Just don't think about the sand trap incident.

I crouched down and threw the boomerang right at his face, and by some miracle, the thing actually managed to make it through the narrow opening in the visor and hit him right in the face! He tumbled backwards on impact, apparently not so tough without his armor. What would've been really cool was if I was able to catch the boomerang on the way back, but the weird angle of the shot caused it to land on the floor a few feet in front of me. Oh well. I guess us noir detectives weren't made to be action movie heroes. Leave that to the spies.

In the meantime, I was able to glance in Lana's direction, just in time to see her getting a cut in that Boomerang Bro. now that he was weaponless. He stumbled, clutching his abdomen, giving her a chance to get in close and to grab his helmet.

Once she had it in her hands, all it took on her part to put him down was a swift kick.

She stood over him after dispatching him, making no moves of her own. I half-expected her to start running off after Mowzimilian on her own. After all that she had done during this investigation, I had every reason to believe she was contemplating it as she stood there, her knuckles turning white as she gripped her sword.

What I hadn't expected was that sword to fall to the ground, clattering as she turned towards me, biting her lips, hunching over.

"Well, Detective, I owe another debt to you," she managed to huff out, her words choppy and her voice strained. "I thought I had prepared myself well, but, evidently..."

She staggered towards the wall, finally giving in and clutching her side openly. At first, she merely propped herself up against the wall, leaning back on it, but even as she continued speaking, her knees buckled, and she started slumping back. "...I made an error in my judgement."

At this point, I was more concerned with getting Lana out of here and getting her proper medical attention than chasing down Mowzimilian. My main goal in coming here, after all, was to stop her from falling into this trap, and I wasn't about to let her die on my watch. I knew that she probably wouldn't let me, though.

"Come on, we need to get you treatment. If you don't want to leave there's probably an infirmary on this thing, at least," I said.

"Did you know?" I thought I had misheard her. The way she drew her hand back from my own, I assumed she was declining help. "No, that's not a question in need of answering."

Okay, now I knew I hadn't misheard her. Though that still didn't tell me if she was shaking her head because she was dismissing her own question or if she was denying treatment. "You must have realized to have entered prepared. Let me rephrase. When did you know, Detective? When did it become apparent this was a trap?"

"It was Mowzimilian," I said. Being honest with myself, this probably wasn't the time to discuss this, but I was humoring her, I guess. "Shmaluigi's dealt with the guy before. He has connections to Monty Brando, a notorious mafia boss, and Shmaluigi overheard one of his goons talking about him going on the cruise earlier. So knowing that Mowzimilian was the mastermind was when things started to not add up. It wouldn't make much sense for Mowzimilian to be the one to betray Brando, or for Brando to be clueless about his plans, but it would make sense for Brando to take the opportunity to get rid of an old colleague who knows too much when they're going into retirement. And, well, it's not the first time Brando went after Shmaluigi personally with a fake Killing Game as the lure."

"I see, so that was your edge." It almost sounded as though she wanted to chuckle. "Information I never would have uncovered without expanding my investigation beyond this false game to inquire about its would-be participants. I could have - should have - uncovered this, but I suppose I still have my blind spots. All the better I receive what I deserve for my carelessness. If I let these details escape me on this case, perhaps I wasn't as prepared as I thought."

"There's something about you, Detective," she said, her words interrupted by her wincing. "It's not a quality that anyone would guess of you, but there's a strong conviction guiding you on this case. it's more than a sense of justice. Permit me one more question, Detective. What has you pursuing this case so ardently?"

I sighed and sat down next to her. I guess it was finally time for the mushy heart-to-heart moment.

"So... After I met your sister, I wanted to continue her legacy, to finish what she started, you know? I wanted to investigate and come out on top of a Killing Game. Like that would somehow make up for what had happened, I guess. Well, that, and I was going through a rough patch at the time, I'd just botched a major investigation, so I guess I felt like if I could have a big success like that, I would redeem myself in some way.

Anyway... I did eventually investigate one. I wasn't even actively trying to find one at the time, the whole situation was... really weird, actually, but I won't go into all that. And you know what? With one exception, it was the worst thing I've ever experienced in my life. It's nothing like my usual line of work, there's no greater morality to it. No good vs. evil, no law vs. crime. Just a bunch of innocent bystanders, more-or-less, being forced to fight for their lives and do things they once thought unthinkable just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You form connections with these people, but you never know who's going to turn against you and when.

I met a lot of people there. Some of them were great, others not so much. I saw a lot of them die in just a few days. I have no idea what became of the others. I wasn't able to see it through to the end... But when I got back, I swore that I would do everything in my power not to let anything like it happen again.

I've seen things, Ms. Skye. I have to be honest, I'm grateful your sister never had to experience it herself. I hope you never do either."

"Innocent bystanders..." Lana said the words with such little resolve that it sounded more like the air was escaping her lungs on its own than she was speaking. I could see her bow her head, but she hid her eyes from me. There was no telling what was going through her mind as she sat there, mulling those words.

"Shmaluigi, you don't think it's true that the ones who enter these games have clean hands. You know better. There are always victims of these games. I'll grant you that. There are bystanders caught in the machinations of the criminals that set these games turning. Not everyone is so innocent. Every game I uncovered had its share of criminals. Thieves. Corrupt executives. The most despicable twisted experimenters claiming to be scientists."

"Our justice system exists for a reason. Don't, for a moment-" Her tone shifted suddenly, her voice rising, sharper, delivering a swift rebuke, but I had a feeling it wasn't directed at me. "-think that I never cared about justice. I devoted years to it. But it's not sufficient."

Even with her head still bowed, I could see her raise her hands, staring down at her open palms before she curled her fingers in and clenched her firsts, trembling impotent rage. Like I've said before, stay in this line of work long enough, and you can read people. I'd seen enough criminals at the end of their rope, with nowhere for their frustrations to turn but inwards.

"This system can't deliver justice, not the way I believed back then. Shmaluigi, some of us- Hem. Some seek out these games knowing what they are. There are some out there who are depraved enough to seek them out.

You know my goal. You know there's blood on my hands already. I know what I've been searching for. I know what that makes me. But what other way is there? If you stop one game, Shmaluigi, just this single one, what have you done to stop the next? The next after that?

We both want justice. Isn't that right? It's what we've both been pursuing this entire time. What justice is twenty, thirty lives kept out of these twisted games when sixty, seventy will be taken in the next two? We can't stop these with clean hands. We can't aveng- save anyone stopping one. If justice takes staining a pair of hands with the blood of nineteen to stop a single life more being lost past them, why should we avoid what's necessary?"

"And what makes you think that's even what would happen? Let's imagine that this whole thing actually was real, and in the best case scenario, you manage to survive to the end. Now what? The world is rid of one corrupt businessman. You think you've sent a message, but so what? You're just one person. None of the games before you had their own Lana Skye that scared away anyone who would dare try hosting another. Who's to say any future ones would have their own Lana Skye? Are you going to personally step in every time? What happens a hundred years from now? And even if you did manage to prevent anyone from trying one of these, all it takes is one unhinged, sadistic nutjob with nothing left to lose to start one anyway.

Your plan hinges entirely on the assumption that letting one of these run will stop any imitators. That's letting who knows how many innocent people die needlessly to maybe prevent more deaths in the future. What if it doesn't even work? You double that count, at least. You talk about justice, but what justice is becoming a murderer and letting all those people die just to send a message that might have an impact on the future?

And yes, I say innocent! I don't care who you are, I wouldn't wish going through one of these on anyone. I mean, look at me! I spent the better part of this case thinking that Monty freaking Brando was going to be one of the participants and I still tried to stop it! This guy is my arch-nemesis, I've spent my entire career going after him. I easily could've looked the other way and said, 'oh, that's justice' and write off everyone else as collateral damage. But I was still willing to head this thing off even after he killed my-"

Well, no need to share everything...

"Ahem... Let me ask you this. If someone is complicit in allowing a Killing Game to continue just so they can use it to their own ends, what makes them any better than the mastermind themselves?"

"...I don't-"

It was as if Lana finally found the strength to raise her head again. Or maybe she was just so taken aback by how fired up I was that she couldn't help but look. Either way, I could finally see her eyes again, and what I could see in them was someone struggling to answer my question. It wasn't because she didn't have an answer. No, I could tell she knew the answer.

It was that she didn't want to face up to knowing the answer.

"It's not... I've known my complicity for-... What you're asking is...."

After a few false starts, she let out a long sigh, composing herself. Not an easy thing to do, with the state she was in. I was starting to see the paleness in her face. She could've stood next to an Eerie and their shades would have just about matched.

She quickly shattered any illusion she had composed herself.

"Of course they would be! Of course they'd be complicit! I've known for years what I've set out to do! I've kept myself from straying this course with every fact I've uncovered! Every piece of evidence pointing to the brutality of these games! I've grappled each night with what I resolved to do, knowing that it's no longer possible to walk away!"

She was growing hoarse by this point. She couldn't have kept shouting if she wanted to, so it was probably in her best interest to stop and clear her throat at this point. Her facade had cracked, but she was at least more even-keeled when she spoke up again.

"You... You called it an assumption. It's not an assumption, Shmaluigi. It's a hope. It's a hope against hopes. I don't... I'm not aware of what Monty inflicted on you, but... what these wretched games have taken away from me...

If I'm unable to finish the work I set out to do, if I walk away from it, what use am I? What right do I have to go on? All the sacrifices that I've been forced to make in the pursuit of this case, do they have any value if I walk away? You know what I'm speaking of. I've staked my reputation on this and allowed it to crumble. I've lost her to this.

Can you understand why I had to thwart you? Can you understand why I needed to see this through? Everything I've lost, I'd never be able to justify it if this opportunity slipped through my fingers. And had anything gone wrong, I would have added your life to the sacrifices I've thrown to the fire in pursuit of this case!"

"Of course I understand. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't do the same thing if I was in your shoes," I replied. I thought of the allies I had made in my time as an investigator, and the friendships I had forged. I didn't care much for the thought of any of them having to experience those horrors, let alone being forced to go up against any of them. Then again, the Sticky Warrior might enjoy it...

"I don't blame you for not wanting to walk away, after everything you've been through for this. I wouldn't want to either. But I wonder... With everything you've lost to these games and your desire to see them end, doing everything in your power to stop the ones that do pop up, that wouldn't be walking away, would it? It's still working towards the same ends even if your means are different. The path you're on now... If it doesn't work, you've thrown away what little you have left, and all of those sacrifices would've been in vain."

Judging by the time she took to respond, it seemed she was doing plenty of thinking herself.

"I would like to say I have an objection prepared," she eventually said, sounding awfully fatigued, "but I'll concede the point to you." She sighed, shaking her head almost as if disbelieving her own words.

"I can't pick apart your line of thinking, but don't expect that I'm able to accept it yet. The truth is, I've always known. I've argued with myself into the late hours of the night. I once thought of myself as skilled in argumentation and debate, but convincing myself of the truth has been the most formidable challenge I've faced in that regard.

Each year, it's grown harder. I question myself. Why have I been the one to go on? Why should my pursuit of this singular ideal have taken any life but my own?

I don't know that I'll ever find an answer to that question. Perhaps I've always known the answer.

Justice has never been fair. It's our attempt to address the inequities of the world, but no matter how valiantly we pursue it, what can we do to ease the pain of a mother deprived of a child? We can convict the ones responsible, but does it restore what's been severed?"

Again, she paused for some length of time. For a second, I thought maybe her wounds were getting to her, the way it seemed like she struggled to keep her eyes open. Looking back, I don't think she was struggling because of her wounds. I think she was trying to keep a straight face, trying to blink back a loss of composure.

After that, she drew a deep breath. "Alright, Shmaluigi. I'm not able to make any promise to you. I can't guarantee to you that I'll accept your position in the long-term, but, in light of this case, it's clear your judgement is superior to - and less clouded than - my own. This is your case, but, if you'll allow me, I'd like to offer amends. I can assist you in closing this case. Will you have me?"

I smiled at her. After all this time, it seemed we were finally on the same page, more or less. "Let's do it."

"If you would, please, allow me to place a call," she began as she pushed herself up back to her feet, extending a hand out, and grabbing my own. It was a small gesture. Helping an injured person's not the kind of thing you would think anything of, normally. But it was the first time she hadn't rebuffed an attempt of mine to help her.

I was a bit concerned as to who she might have been calling, though I figured she wouldn't be bringing the police down here yet, considering the winding path she had taken to get here. I recognized instantly what she pulled out of her pocket, though. You see a lot of old flip phones in my line of work. The criminal underworld still had a use for old tech.

"I obtained this from the Ukiki outside," she explained as she showed me the device. "I briefly examined it before entering the ship. There's only one number stored within, and, given the work they were performing, I harbor no doubts that this will ring their superior. You deserve a success here, Detective, and you deserve to have that success without soiling your gloves. A little dirt more on my hands won't do any harm to me, so I'll ask that you leave convincing the Ukiki to make a call under my supervision to me.

You find Mowzimilian, and make the arrangements you need with him. I'll make a trip to the infirmary before I begin my work, which should provide you the time you need, but work swiftly. Once the alarms begin blaring, you will need to be prepared to fight."

"Alright, I'll leave this in your hands, then," I said. For a brief moment, I watched Lana as she left, then ran up the staircase in pursuit of that Mouser. At the end of the hall, I found the door to the captain's quarters. Not only was it the only way forward from here, but it was also locked tight. Mowzimilian was definitely holed up in here. I'm not nearly as good as my brother at barging down doors, but it wasn't like this cruise ship was brand new. I charged at the door with all the strength I could muster...

...and flailed into the room as the door flung open so fast that I thought it was going to fly off the hinges. At least I didn't faceplant in front of Mowzimilian. That would've been embarrassing.

"Gah! You..."

Knowing how fast Little Mousers can be, I trapped him underfoot while he was still flustered by the ordeal. I wasn't about to let him slip away now. "Alright, tell Shmaluigi everything about this plan you and Brando cooked up. Now."

Finally, after all these years, I had this guy cornered. Would've been nice if it could have happened before he was about to go into retirement, though.

"W...why should I tell you anything, detective?"

"Because you're clearly not in any position to be uncooperative right now."

There was silence for a moment, before he sighed. I wasn't sure if it was because he was ready to talk or if I was pushing on him with my shoe too hard, or maybe both.

"I... I just wanted out. Of business, my underworld ties, everything. I told Brando that I wanted to retire. He promised me a... a grand retirement that would leave me with an... immense store of wealth. My... my business hasn't been doing so well. Most of my wealth was tied to it, I... I would've retired broke. So... we were going to host a Killing Game and send... send invitations to the rich and powerful. Once it was over, I... I would disappear with the... the spoils they had brought. He expected you to come sniffing around, so he asked me... to take care of it as a favor.

I sent Brando an... an invitation too. He... he was going to say he gave it to me once the police started... looking into it. That way it wouldn't be tied to him and I could... fake my death and disappear."

So that was how Brando pitched this whole thing. Seems like I was pretty much right on the money so far.

"You realize he was using you, right? You would've ended up as dead as everyone else on this ship."

"What? No... Brando and I go back years... He would... he would never..."

"Do you honestly think he would just let you walk away from all this? With everything you know about him and his operation? He'd have no leverage to make sure you don't spill anything. Face it, to Brando, you're nothing more than a pawn that outlived its usefulness and needs to be disposed of. This whole scheme is nothing more than a plot to get rid of loose ends in a convenient accident."

Mowzimilian went silent again. Judging by the despondent look on his face, he knew I was right, even if he didn't say it.

"Brando should be here soon. There's going to be a big fight," I said, releasing him. "If you know what's good for you, don't try to leave the ship."

He remained silent and unmoving as I turned to leave the room. Just before I reached the door, he spoke up, though he seemed to be muttering to himself more than anything.

"The nerve... After everything I've done for him."

Preparing myself for what was to come next was, well, it was probably futile, admittedly. I paced around in the hall to the atrium a bit, which did nothing to steady my nerves. I mean, this could be the big moment! After spending my entire career chasing this guy down, this could be the day I finally capture Monty Brando and bring him to justice! Butterflies don't even begin to cover it. And that wasn't even getting into the showdown that was assuredly about to take place. I had no idea what kind of backup he would be bringing or how things would go down. It's hard to prepare for the unknown on short notice.

At least I could still make a fist, though.

I felt like I was waiting for hours, but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes at most before the alarms went off. Well, there was my cue. I shoved all the thoughts swirling around to the back of my mind and dashed into the atrium. There I saw the Ukikis and all the other mooks we dealt with earlier, tied up and shoved into the corner like old junk, Lana gripping her sword, and in a rare moment of lost composure, a visibly shocked Monty Brando, flanked by a Koopatrol and a hulking Dry Bones. I was almost surprised he didn't bring his pet assassin droid, but then again, this operation probably wasn't something he wanted kept in any databanks. Still, this didn't look like it was going to be an easy fight.

"Detective," she said to me, "I believe this is who you were looking for?"

"Well then, Shmaluigi," Brando said, regaining his composure, "I was informed that you had been incapacitated and my associate was gravely injured, but that doesn't appear to be the case, does it? You and Ms. Skye are very clever, I must admit. Had I arrived unaccompanied, you may have had a shot at capturing me."

"You're finished, Brando," I replied, "today is the day that your empire topples. It's long overdue."

He smirked, as if he thought it was a joke. "I see you still have your hubris, detective. You see, I've brought two of my best men with me. The two of you may have had a streak of success until now, but sadly for you, this is the end of that. You're about to face off against Spiky Don here, and... the Bone Crusher. Once they're finished with you, you two will have been nothing but an insignificant delay in my master plan. I hope you both found this investigation satisfying, for it will be your last. Boys? Destroy them."

What happened next was a bit of a blur. I thought the Boomerang Bro. had been enough to deal with before, but having a massive Dry Bones charging at me and wielding an equally massive femur as a club - where in the world does someone even get a femur that big? - was another ordeal entirely.

"Detective! Drop to the ground!" Lana called out to me. I wasn't exactly in a position to doubt her advice, so I did what I was told. The next thing I knew, she was charging in to meet the lumbering bonehead head-on, drawing her sword and holding it out. I wasn't sure what would happen next. I didn't exactly know what would happen in a battle of bone against metal, but apparently Brando's hired help was worried enough to start skidding to a stop. Maybe he was afraid the weapon would knock his ribs out of place, or maybe he wanted to take a crack at Lana to get her out of the way. Who knows? Apparently, though, that had been exactly what Lana had wanted, judging by the way she drew back her weapon and kicked a leg out, turning the brute's momentum against him, not giving him enough room to stop altogether as she kicked him right in his bony shins.

...I guess you'd call it a shin still. I don't know. Dry Bones biology gets weird.

Either way, the kick knocked his feet loose from the rest of his body, tearing right through his short little legs and scattering their bones. The rest of his body fell forward, momentum carrying it right over top of me. I wish he had careened into the wall, but even that wouldn't have kept a Dry Bones down, I knew.

"I'll cover you! You focus on him!" As the big bag of bones clattered against the ground, Brando's other goon came charging forward, the Koopatrol apparently more wary of Lana than of me, judging by the way he made a beeline for her. He wouldn't be so easy to trip up, but it didn't seem like she was too worried about that. I watched her deliver a swift uppercut as he rushed in, hitting him right where his armor left the bottom of his beak exposed and sending him staggering back.

I didn't have time to keep watching that battle, though. I had to take initiative. That massive Dry Bones was stunned, but he was already getting back up, his feet clattering against the floor as they rolled back over to him while he pushed the rest of his body up using his club as a support.

I've never had much experience fighting, much less against an opponent who refuses to stay down no matter what you do to them. I figured my best bet, at least until I could come up with another plan, was to play keep-away with this guy's feet. It may not keep him out of commission entirely, but an enemy forced to crawl along the floor isn't much of a threat. I lunged across the floor, intercepting the pair of shoes, and grabbed them. They were surprisingly light for their size, I thought. I tossed one of them away in an attempt to keep them separated, and where did it land but in the hands of Mowzimilian. Apparently he was attempting to make a break for it and had made it here to the atrium.

"A life for a life, detective," he said, looking directly at me, then scurried away deeper into the ship, shoe in hand. The game's afoot...

"So, Mowzimilian has betrayed me," Brando mused, "I suppose I have you to thank for that, Shmaluigi."

"You're one to talk, Brando. Sooner or later, the betrayer becomes the betrayed," I replied.

Keeping the shoes away would have been better if that Dry Bones hadn't been equipped with a club so large. I'm sure it could have gotten around somehow without its feet, but I felt like it could have made things harder for the big skeleton if it hadn't been able to use that club to support its upper body as it dragged itself across the floor.

"Dry Bones." Lana was still caught up in her own battle against the Koopatrol, which had managed to take some initiative back in the meanwhile. More cautious after getting decked the first time, it was keeping its distance from her, the both of them trying to circle one another. Apparently trying to outflank the armored turtle wasn't taking all of her focus, though. "I studied the living undead as preparation. Few of these games take place without interference from the departed, so information on all kinds of the undead seemed pertinent."

"There were contradictory reports on how vulnerable Dry Bones are to fire. Ice is effective, but unless we can lure it into the ship's freezer, we won't get use out of that. Our only option is separating it into pieces and chucking as much of its body overboard as we can." The Koopatrol grinned as Lana's explanation continued, seeing an opening while she was partially distracted. All of a sudden, he gave up on circling her entirely, letting her gain a position advantage - only for the Koopatrol to duck into his shell, spinning and launching himself at Lana.

It looked to me like she had been ready for that, if not waiting for it. She pulled her leg back as soon as the Koopatrol launched, her foot meeting it just before it could sweep her legs out from under her. I watched as she recoiled, hopping back on one foot and hissing as those spikes on the back of its shell pierced her foot, but her kick did the trick.

The redirected Koopa careened towards who else but Brando, tripping the mole up and interrupting his attempt to escape while we were busy with his goons. It hurtled on past him as he fell to the ground, ricocheting off the walls of the atrium. By this time, that big Dry Bones had started really covering ground again. I knew I'd have to make a move quick if I didn't want to face down a swing of his club, but that bouncing shell was threatening to make that more difficult, rocketing around the room wildly, a hazard to everyone.

A good stomp can stop a wayward Koopa shell in its tracks, but I wasn't looking to have my foot skewered today. The shoe I was holding, though... It was no Goomba's Shoe, but the sole seemed thick enough to be sufficient. Only one way to find out. I slipped my foot inside and made a jump for the shell as it sped by, being sure to keep my other leg up as high as possible to avoid any unfortunate accidents. With a satisfying clunk, the shell stopped as I landed on it, and I quickly kicked it once more towards the Dry Bones, knocking the club away and scattering parts of the skeleton across the atrium. I could almost hear the sound of a bowling ball getting a strike.

"Lana, grab... something!" I yelled.

"With pleasure!" Lana seemed pretty strong, but I wasn't surprised to see her avoid going after that club. It was massive. Maybe Shmwario could have lifted it, but I didn't think either of us had much hope of seizing it from the Dry Bones.

Luckily, it seemed like Lana had a pretty good idea of what to grab, going after an armful of scattered ribs, dropping her sword in exchange for the bones. I guess they'd make a good weapon in a pinch...

Without all of his ribs, the Dry Bones could only do so much reforming. His bones rattled as they crossed the floor, but the reassembling pile of bones was running into trouble, no longer able to get his arms to slot into his skeletal frame without his upper ribs to hold them in place.

Good. That was probably his biggest advantage neutralized. He couldn't swing that club around without hands. Either out of loyalty to Brando or pure fury, though, he was still going, inching his half-completed body across the floor by furiously snapping his jaws as if he were a Mattermouth. If he hadn't been trying to kill me, I might have been impressed. That was some serious dedication. Brando must have kept this lackey in reserve for protection on some of his most important missions.

Speaking of Brando... where was he right now? I had seen him tripped up, and those spikes had probably done a number on him, but he wasn't just sitting around, was he?

I didn't have time to dwell on that. Elsewhere in the room, that Koopatrol was emerging from his shell. I could practically see his pupils spinning as he came to a stop. It must have been one dizzying ride.

More pressingly, that Dry Bones seemed to have given up on getting back up. Suddenly, I was finding myself facing a hail of... bonefire. The Dry Bones was just launching whatever bones he still had at Lana and myself, trying to score a good hit with a shell plate or another rib or a piece of his arms.

We were under pressure, getting pelted by bones, but Lana was ready to reverse our fortunes. She jumped in front of me, holding out her plundered ribs and forming them into a makeshift shield. "Detective, he's yours to finish off," was all she said to me as she started pressing forward, bone cracking against bone as she shielded the both of us. I walked behind her, approaching the Dry Bones as he progressively shrunk down.

By the time we made it over there, he had been reduced to a head, his jaws snapping and rattling.

"Well, well, it looks like we got ourselves a head of the competition," I quipped. Something about skeletons gives me the urge to make bad puns, I guess. Maybe it's something to do with the funny bone.

One good kick sent the head spiraling across the floor until it collided with the wall. The jawbone, pretty much the only piece left that could fall off, separated on impact, and the glowing lights faded from his eye sockets.

The noise of the battle faded away, and the ship's atrium returned to its usual tepid atmosphere, peace finally restored... a point. There was blood on the ground, fresh, and a lot of KOs to go around. Over in the corner, the trio of tied up Ukikis were set right next to the more-recently tied up Squipsqueaks working for Mowzimilian. Next to them, loaded into barrels of fish - I guess Lana had run out of rope - were the goons who had ambushed us on the ship itself. Now we could add this Dry Bones and the Koopatrol to the list of takedowns in the atrium, and somewhere on the ship, there was still Mowzimilian. He couldn't leave without passing by us, so he was as good as trapped.

The only one missing, in fact, was Brando himself. As soon as the realization hit, I scrambled to look towards the exit... only to find the door cast wide open, another trail leading outside.

Brando had escaped.

But it wasn't all bad, was it? With those Ukikis captured, the cops could use them to sniff out more of Brando's connections down at the docks. If whoever we could turn up with their confessions each turned up a couple allies themselves....

On top of that, after all this time, I had finally been able to catch Mozwimilian red-handed in the act, working on something illegal with Brando. Considering what Brando had done to him, he'd probably be willing to confess to more. Who knew what the fallout for Squeaky Cleaners would be, but whatever would happen with the company, it wouldn't be as bad as the damage we could do to Brando if Mowzimilian cooperated and turned over some info.

I was getting so lost in thoughts of what was to come that I hardly noticed Lana stumbling towards the door herself until she spoke up.

"Unfortunately, Detective, it appears that our true mastermind has made an escape," she said through gritted teeth. She was looking rough. I couldn't blame her, between her injuries and how much energy she had to have burned through. "I think.... however... it's safe to say that you've... succeeded." She was out of breath, I could tell, and slumping again, against the doorframe this time. "There will... be no Killing Game on this... ship."

"...tell me, Detective, did you... accomplish what you hoped to?"

"Well, it definitely wasn't what I expected to happen, but... yeah, I did. I mean, there's not going to be who knows how many people dying on this ship in the near future one way or another, so that's good. And for the first time in my career, I actually feel like I've made a dent in Brando and his operation. It... feels good."

I paused for a moment. "Listen, I know this whole thing didn't end how you thought it was going to either, but, you... how are... you know?"

Yep. Those sure are some words that I said.

Despite looking like she was about to keel over, the corners of Lana's lips curled up as she processed my words and looked over the atrium herself. It almost - almost - looked like the slightest hint of a smile. "I'm... fine, Detective. If Brando... is as ruthless so as to... enact a scheme like this... then a great service was done... to the world today, regard-... regardless of my expectations."

"I'd say the same. Hey, um, you should probably get out of here. I'll handle things here and keep an eye out for Mowzimilian," I told her. She definitely should've gotten proper medical attention after the duel with the Terrapin, so I shuddered to think what the rest of the day's events had caused.

"I'm in no position to dis- disagree..." She offered what weak nod she could, starting to stagger off of the ship. "I suppose this... is the end of our time together. Farewell, Detective."

The next few weeks proved to be quite interesting. I did manage to bring in Mowzimilian, and unsurprisingly, he squealed. It turns out that once your former business associate tries to kill you, you end up losing all loyalty to them. Go figure. The lackeys that Brando had placed on the ship to work under Mowzimilian were pretty cooperative as well, once they found out that they'd been written off like everyone else. I didn't expect this to cause the full dismantling of Brando's organization just yet, but it certainly dealt them quite the blow and shed a lot of light on their activities, things even I never knew about.

The operation, of course, called for maximum security. We knew it was a matter of when, not if, Brando would try to keep these guys from talking, especially since he no longer had much use for most of them anyway. And try he did. He even threw IG-11 at it. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and everyone remained in custody. I had the feeling that behind his stoic, calm facade, he was freaking out. Good, he should be.

What's more, we launched a thorough investigation into the activities of Squeaky Cleaners all these years. I was rather anxious to hear what would be dug up there. And with Mowzimilian not around to pull the strings, the Place Holdings Company quickly dissolved. Mr. Wingert got off pretty easy - he cooperated as best as he could, not that he knew much to begin with, and since the company itself hadn't broken the law, he wasn't truly responsible for anything in this scheme.

And then there was, of course, Lana Skye. I still couldn't get over how she started out trying to hinder my investigation at every turn, and then we ended up fighting side-by-side by the end. That was one of the bumpier alliances I had made in my time. Still, she was a tough cookie, and someone I could say I was proud to have worked with. Despite the hit to her reputation that she had taken in her final years, the new prosecutor would certainly have big shoes to fill.

Maybe I'd have to visit Ema's grave, now that Lana wouldn't be around to do it anymore. I'd never actually been there, it was something I didn't really want to confront. Still, she deserved it...

Just as I was absorbed with my thoughts, I heard a knock at the door. Maybe Shmue Toad had finally come to give me that follow-up report on the operation's progress, I thought to myself, until I heard the voice from the other side.

"Detective. Do you have a moment to spare?"

From what I had heard, it was a miracle that Lana survived the ordeal, but here she was. The doctors really had to put in overtime on that one, but thankfully they managed to pull it off.

I got up and answered the door. "Ah, Lana, it's good to see you. Come in."

"Thank you, Detective," she said, settling into a seat in front of my desk. She seemed to sit with her shoulders arched higher than I remembered. All things considered, she looked like she was doing well. Surprising, considering...

"I would ask for an update on your ongoing operation, but I obtained that information for myself. If there is one benefit to events as of late, it's the opportunities that I've had to keep up with the arrests and prosecutions resulting from your work." I guess that meant that we were breezing past the small talk. Though, then again, I wasn't sure what it said about me that talking about taking down criminals counted as small talk.

"What you've accomplished is impressive. Amidst all of your work, have you attended to yourself? Are you well? And your brother?" Oh, maybe we weren't entirely skipping the small talk, then.

"Yeah, I've been good. Shmwario's fine too, although he's kind of upset about his cereal stock tanking. He'll get used to it."

"It does me well to hear that. Good news has been scarce lately. That I provided my own record of my actions and preliminarily expressing interest in a plea bargain has secured me some leniency, but I understand they're considering two to four years."

"Hm, I'm sorry to hear that... I can try putting in a good word for you, though I'm not sure I have much pull in the courts."

"No, no," she put up a hand. "It's what I deserve for the methods I resorted to. It wasn't only your investigation which I obstructed, Detective. There's much I have to account for, and it's better if I am held to account. I think it's time for a change in my life, and facing this reckoning is the first step in making that change."

"Well, if you're sure. I admire your principles, at least. Oh, by the way, I've meaning to give you this back," I opened one of my desk drawers and pulled out the attorney's badge that Lana had given me after our encounter at the Place Holdings building.

She actually seemed surprised to see it again, taking a moment to inspect it, but she ultimately held a hand up, turning it down. "I appreciate it, Detective, but I have no need for it. Even if hadn't been disbarred... well, as I said before, I think it's time for a change."

"That does remind me..." She rummaged through the bag she had brought in with her. "I need to address this before things proceed much further. While I might visit your office again, it's better to deal with this now. Shmaluigi, I'm not sure how partial you'll be to a request from me after the trouble I caused you, but would you be willing to do me one favor more?"

"Of course, what is it?"

"Please, hold on to this for me. This, I will accept back from you." From her bag, she pulled out something wrapped in a cloth, slowly peeling it back to reveal a picture frame. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recognized it. I had seen it before, turned down on her desk, way back when this ordeal had started.

Now, I finally got a look at the picture inside. There was Lana, a surprisingly warm smile on her face, all dressed up in her formal uniform, and standing next to her, with a big piece of cardboard scrawled with crayon-drawn letters reading "Congratulations, Lana! My big sister got a promotion!", was...

...well, she looked a bit younger, but it was unmistakably Ema Skye, standing right up against her sister with the biggest beaming smile on her face.

"I've thought about your words, Shmaluigi. What you said on that ship, it quietly replaced those arguments that used to run through my head in the nights. I couldn't help myself. One morning, I woke up with those same words ringing in my head, and I rushed to the office and went and I flipped over this frame for the first time in years."

"I think," she mused, "that I made a mistake, turning this away, then obscuring it. After what happened in Rogueport, I couldn't bear to look at it, but the longer I turned away from it and stewed in that bitterness, the more I lost sight of what mattered. You made it click. If I were pursuing my original goal, I would have never doubted that stopping even a single Killing Game and sparing the lives it would consume was worth more than any plans I had deluded myself into believing would stop them all."

"What motivated me when I began my career - even when I began my investigation into Killing Games - was that smile. How much she admired what I was doing, I can't put into words, but it kept me going. I wanted to ensure the world was always safe for that smile. I wanted to pursue justice so Ema would keep smiling."

Apparently reminiscing on olden days, it seemed Lana couldn't help but smile herself, a smile wracked with pain and regret, but a smile all the same. "I wish I could apologize to her. What I did after losing her, she'd be crushed. The lives I would have thrown away for my plan to succeed, I know it would have disappointed her deeply. I can't apologize to her, but there's still something I can do for her."

"I can do better. I will do better. When I've repaid my debts to society, I'll be returning for that picture. It'll be time for me to begin repaying my debt to Ema. This time, I'll never turn that picture away. This time, I'll ensure I'm who she thought I was, someone she would be proud of if she were still here."

A wave of curiosity washed over me. "If you don't mind me asking, how do you plan on doing that? If you're not going to be a prosecutor anymore, I mean."

"There's no need to worry about that." She's quick to reply. "I intend to follow in the footsteps of the two greatest minds I've had the pleasure of knowing. Of course, I'll be taking a cue from my sister. For all the praise she had for me, I could stand to learn from some of her investigative techniques. As to what I'll be doing... I'm given to understand that one can accomplish great things as a private investigator, Shmaluigi."

She knew exactly what she was doing, pausing and letting the words linger in the air before she continued. "Of course, New Wikisburg is already under the care of an effective PI. There are other cities in need of attention, so I'll be traveling somewhere else when the time comes."

I smiled at her. "Well, if you ever need anything, you know where to find me."

"Thank you, Shmaluigi," she responded as she rose out of her chair. "I'm sure you have other matters to attend to, so I will take my leave."

She walked over the door, taking one look back before walking through. "Perhaps our paths will cross again in the future. If they ever do, I'll be looking forward to working alongside you once more. Farewell, and, again, thank you. For everything."

I looked at the photo again. Thinking back to where everything started for me with the Skye family, all the way back to that fateful investigation in Rogueport... By now, I doubted that investigating a Killing Game would be continuing Ema's legacy. Maybe Ema's legacy had nothing to do with the Killing Games at all, as a matter of fact. But everything that had happened with Lana? All this time, she had been on a destructive path that would've ended with her sacrificing whatever she still had by that point. To bring her off of that, and see her turning over a new leaf, well, to me, that was honoring Ema's legacy. Seeing this picture, I had a good feeling that she would have been proud of her big sister. I wondered if, maybe somewhere out there, she knew...

I tucked the frame away in my desk drawer, to store it until I could move it to a safer place. Someday, Lana would be back for that picture, and I would be here to give it to her, or my name's not-

Hm. Perhaps a better use of phrase was in order, come to think of it.

The End

Thank you for reading the conclusion of this arc! This was an extra long edition so I'll keep my closing notes brief. Extra special thanks to Hooded Pitohui for co-writing this arc and writing the dialogue for Lana Skye! We had a lot of fun working on this and I hope it paid off. Next month, I'll be starting the next arc, so stay tuned for that!

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