One-Man Superstars (Part 4)
Toad Town is in complete disarray. Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Hammer Brothers, Lakitus, and Spinies chase after the Toads. By the infirmary, General Toad and a few other Toads try to defend the other patients and doctors. He bites his lip as he fights both the enemies and the pains of his aching body. As soon as a moment’s respite, he takes a knee, leans on his spear, and pukes.
Toadsworth runs up to him from Peach’s Castle. “Oh dear me, my boy! Look at yourself! You barely have a leg to stand on!”
General Toad winces, “Neither does your worries, old friend.” He stands back up. “I am touched by your caution, but since our kingdom is on the cusp of collapse…” Some Koopas run toward him. “…all hesitation and hiding will take a far bigger toll than our individual needs.”
While the general continues to fight with his troops, Toadsworth retreats back to Peach’s Castle. Unfortunately, a couple of Lakitus spot him and get in his way. “Oh my!” He doubles back, darting between a few battered buildings. As he reaches the border of Toad Town, he gets surrounded again by the Koopa Troop, along with other pockets of rebel Toads. His face changes from shocked, to tear-welling, to slumped. He closes his eyes and bows his head in admitted defeat.
A Hammer Bro brandishes his hammer. “Sorry, gramps, but our king isn’t interested in re-kidnapping!” He raises his hammer…
Suddenly, outcries of pain come from the Koopa Troop members nearby. The Hammer Bro turns his head around, then looks up…just in time to see Mario and Luigi each get a dropkick smacked squarely in his face. Everyone stops what they’re doing to assess the new arrivals. Toads rejoice. Goombas cringe. The brothers stand triumphantly before their returning battleground.
“Oh, wonderful!” Toadsworth cries, “The heroes of the stars have returned!”
After that, things turned around for the Toads. That triumphant entrance proved a helpful distraction for Toads to use to strike back hard and out of their snared corners. General Toad gets more Toads to rally and coalesce into a manageable attack unit. Toadsworth uses his cane to keep Goombas a safe distance from his personal space. Mario and Luigi pick out stronger soldiers whenever a group of them seem to overwhelm the Toads. Meanwhile, Captain Toad sneaks behind buildings and thrusts his spear at any enemies with a keen eye for hiders.
Mario turns to Luigi as the Koopa Troop is the one who scatters away this time. “Well, seems like the state of calm is-a returning to…”
Suddenly, a dark bolt streaks across the sky. Before anyone realizes what to make of it, the bolt flashes down and hits a random Toad. To everyone’s horror, the Toad turns to stone. A few seconds later, another dark bolt strikes from the sky, hitting another Toad. By now, all the Toads run about, with dark bolts periodically striking Toad Town every few seconds.
The brothers take cover under one of the last-standing Toad Houses, along with Captain Toad. “This freak storm is ruining everything!” Luigi cries.
Toad shivers uncontrollably. “No…not a storm…an attack…the Koopa King is at it again!”
“Again?!” the brothers scream.
Bowser laughs as he straightens his Blockra on the new pedestal he installed. Dark bolts fire up and out of the castle fort periodically. “Briefly forgot about my new magic weapon, didn’t ya! What gullible chumps; I bet they never read the instruction manual for how to take control of a situation!” He steps back and admires personal accomplishment. “Come try and get me now, heroes! Bwahahahaha!”
Meanwhile, Princess Peach checks upon the walls of her dungeon. Her whole body still glows bright with a pink aura. Then she senses a tiny crack between the stones opposite the dungeon entrance. “Aha!” Her hands grow brighter. Concentrating, she surgically projects her pink aura into the crack. From the crevice, a force field grows, pressuring the stones to rupture from the wall. But with care and patience, Peach manages to make a decent sized hole in the stone wall without making too much noise. “All right! With some luck, I can sneak out and reunite with my kingdom citizens! I can still turn this around!” She pulls her dress abover her knees before crouching to crawl through the hole.
After a few minutes of dark bolt barrages, all the Toads have either ducked for cover, or unfortunate to be turned to stone again. General Toad joins up with Mario, Luigi, and Captain Toad.
“I estimate about two-thirds of the Toads have taken cover,” says the general, “but I have no idea how long this cover will last. Bowser used this staff that turned many of us to stone in a similar manner. We nearly lost the capital because of that staff, too!”
“Yikes, that sounds horrible, to be turned to stone!” Luigi grimaces.
General Toad shutters a bit. “You have no idea.”
Mario takes a peak out of the Mushroom House window toward the edge of town. The Koopa Troop stand idle. “Hey, it looks like the enemies are-a staying away from their own bolts, too.”
“Perhaps their king doesn’t have as much control in the staff as they thought. Can’t blame them.”
His eyes furrow. “Then we must go. Come on, Luigi.”
“Wait, what? Why? Are you crazy?” Luigi runs up to Mario. “Almost the whole Koopa Troop has us surrounded, just waiting until we’re ripe for the pickings!”
“Exactly! And while they wait for the moment to strike, we can sneak out and rescue the princess! Perhaps even take away that staff, too!”
“That sounds too risky. What if the enemies attack Toad Town, or send out something worse, before we even complete either objective?”
Mario pauses. “Good point…”
General Toad ponders. “You know, that’s a great idea for a strategy. But just for good measure, how about you go out yourself, while Mr. Green stays here.”
“It’s Luigi” says the plumber in green. “And your name?”
He gives a stern look. “Toad.”
Both brothers look over to Captain Toad. Luigi asks, “Are you his son or someone related?”
“Hell, no!” Both Toads retort simultaneously.
“Anyway,” says Mario, “I guess your idea does sound a bit more reasonable. Though I’ve-a never completed a solo job like this all the way through before without my brother.”
“Well, I don’t care which one of you stays” says the general, “I just thought you’d be a better candidate since you seem more gung-ho about it.”
Luigi puts a hand on Mario’s shoulder. “He’s right. Go on, bro, I can help take care of things here. And you’ve held up nicely against your fair share of strange enemies. I’m sure one more bull turtle dragon wouldn’t be too much trouble. Just…be careful, bro.”
He nods. “Alright. I’ll try.” He turns to General Toad, tipping his cap. “And I’ll come back as quick as I can!”
General Toad gives a quick salute. “I’ll ready my men for the attack…” He glances at Captain Toad. ”All my men.”
Captain Toad gulps. But when Mario turns to him, he quickly rummages into his backpack. “I-I found this as I was running through Mushroom Plains. I’d like you to have it.” He pulls out a green mushroom similar to the red ones. “It’s too potent for anyone to use in normal circumstances. But when your mortal health is dire, it can really spring you back on your feet. It’s really rare, though, so use it only when you have to…if you have to.”
Mario pats Toad on the head while taking the 1-Up Mushroom. “Thank you, for all your help. I’ll keep it in mind.” Toad beams as Mario pockets the mushroom in his overalls.
Mario walks over to the door and peeks it open. The Koopa Troop still remains at their idle posts, but a space by the Goombas can be seen. He takes one more look back toward the two Toads and his brothers. Luigi gives him a thumbs up. Mario smiles and returns likewise. Then he slips through the doorway and secretly sprints out of Toad Town before any enemies spot him.
Princess Peach darts in the shadows of the hallways. Her heart races as she narrowly avoids the eyes of the patrolling Goombas, Koopas, and Hammer Bros. Finally, she peeks out a window, jumps out, and gently floats down using her aura.
With a smile on her face, she races for the bushes. “I did it! I’m free!” She catches a quick break behind a tree many paces away. “I can still turn the tables for my kingdom. The heroes have probably kept things at bay…” She gasps. “Oh my gosh, those heroes! They are probably still on their way to rescue me…”
Mario meets extra resistance as he races across the Mushroom Plains. Goombas, Koopas, Piranha Plants, and Buzzy Beetles try their best to impede his dash to the last castle. “I got to rescue the princess. This strange feeling…like she’ll be able to fix all this. Although at this rate…” At that moment, Mario jumps up to hit a yellow block. A Starman bounces out. “Ah, this will do!” Mario grasps the Starman, and gets enveloped in a bright light. Now he blazes across the plains, bashing all his enemies off his path to the princess.
Peach ponders by the tree. “Neither hero has made it into the castle yet, else it would’ve been much more difficult for me to escape. So perhaps if I intercept them between here and Toad Town…”
Just then she hears a crack like lightning. She looks back to the castle fort. Periodically, streaks of dark light fire upward into the sky. Her eyes barely follow the streaks ricochet from cloud to cloud, until finally striking back down…in the vicinity of her castle.
Her eyes widen. “No. No, no, no, no! Not again!” She slightly hyperventilates and has her hands cover her mouth. She calms back down as her mind races faster and faster. Finally, she looks down to her body, which is still fully aglow, then toward Bowser’s castle fort. “Time to stop this stone-petrifying staff…for good!” She sneaks back into the castle fort.
The effects of the Starman wear off as Mario approaches the castle fort. But there is a long outer wall between him and the main fort. “Well, better get searching for a break, the old fashion way!”
Mario runs and jumps along the walled perimeter, stomping Koopa Troopas, Koopa Paratroopas, and Hammer Bros. A Hammer Bro directs some Koopas by the Bill Blasters on the walls. “Shoot him! Shoot him! He must not make it inside!” he bellows. But Mario dodges the oncoming fire of Bullet Bills.
Then a Koopa runs out from the inner fort toward the Hammer Bro. “Commander, the princess is discovered loose in the castle! Have you by chance seen her? I don’t want to tell King Bowser…”
“What?! Now?" A forehead vein throbs on the Hammer Bro as he shifts his attention rapidly between the babbling Koopa and the plumber, who has just spotted a flagpole by the wall. “Oh for crying out loud!” He runs along the wall after the plumber, lobbing hammers at him. Mario jumps over a Piranha Plant in a pipe, then bares down on a grounded Hammer Bro. The pursuing Hammer Bro jumps off the wall and slides down the flag pole. “If they can’t do something right, you got to do it yourself!”
Mario footstool jumps off the grounded Hammer Bro to make the leap straight to the other one. “Hey! I do flag pole sliding just fine, thank you very much!” He kicks the Hammer Bro in the head, knocking him out cold. Then Mario climbs the flagpole, with difficulty, to help scale the wall. From up close, this castle fort looks much bigger than any previous one the brothers had invaded. Streaks of dark light shoot from its center. Mario gulps, but remains firm. “This is it. All comes down to this…and no going back empty-handed!”
Bowser follows a Goomba to the prison cell for the princess. “What do you mean the princess is gone?” he rumbles.
The Goomba yelps, “I-I mean, she is still somewhere! Just…not…where she belongs...”
Bowser presses a secret safety switch, dropping down the spiked drawbridge door. The two take a peek inside. It is as empty and silent as a tomb. For a while, the Koopa King says nothing. Then he growls and turns ferociously to the cowering Goomba. “Do you know why we had her locked up in here?”
“B-because she is a threat to the Koopa cause?” gulps the Goomba.
“And do you know why she is a threat?”
“…she has a secret power, s-sir?”
Bowser grips the Goomba by the head with just one hand as he stomps back to the chamber with the Blockra staff. He tosses the Goomba toward the Blockra’s pedestal. “See this? This is why the princess is so dangerous! She is a Star Child, like me, which means she is gifted with special powers. On top of that, she has a unique ability to cure or inflict buffs. The Blockra’s ability is to turn living beings to stone. That is a buff she can erase.” He leans in real close to the Goomba’s face. His voice gets louder with each smoldering breath. “Now, imagine what would happen if she came waltzing into this room and took the Blockra. Her powers could very well eliminate this weapon all-together. Now…imagine getting your feet into high gear and go look for her!”
The Goomba makes a break for a hallway. Bowser roars in his direction. “I want to see the princess in five minutes, or else!”
“How about right now?” says a voice behind him.
Bowser turns, but a high-heeled kick is delivered to his face. He stumbles back a bit, as Princess Peach herself stands before him. She is aglow in her pink aura, with a content smile on her face. But her smile fades as she turns and makes a run toward the Blockra.
“Noooo!” the Koopa King screams as he stomps after her.
Peach grabs hold of the Blockra. Her hands glow extra bright as she clenches her teeth. “This dark magic…must…stop!” A blast of pink energy bursts from her hands. Bowser flinches just inches from her. The Blockra shutters violently before breaking apart. Princess Peach wobbles a bit, but breathes a sigh of relief.
“This…isn’t over!” Bowser grabs her left arm.
Stunned, her aura instinctively glows brighter and her hair waves as if winds gust around her. “Unhand me!” She swings her arm for a punch. But as she hits him in the shoulder area, a twinge of pain shoots through her right arm. As she reels back, her pink aura flickers in and out.
Bowser grins. “You see, princess, you are almost like me. You are gifted with the powers of a Star Child, but we are also given unique talents. While you got your silly little status effects…” He beats his chest with his free hand. ”I got some incredible durability.” He clenches his fingers tighter around Peach’s right arm. Although her flickering aura helps resist the extra pressure, she still moans from the pain. ”And that makes me the strongest thing alive! Now, what to do with you, little pest…”
Just then, a Koopa Troopa runs into the room. “Lord Bowser! It’s him! Their hero has breached the castle…oh, there’s the princess! Thank goodness…”
“Get back to your post then!” The Koopa King nearly boots the little Koopa as it ducks in its shell. “And tell all the other subordinates to take him down on sight!” With the princess still in hand, he storms back to the prison chamber. He roughly tosses her in. She rolls hard on the stone floor. Her pink aura completely fades out as she groans from the extra bruises. ”You stay here! Until your ‘knight in shining armor’ is eliminated, you’ll make a fine ‘damsel’ and compensation!” He slams the drawbridge back up, nearly flickering out the torchlights.
Peach clenches her fists as she bites back tears of frustration and aches in her sides. Her dress is dusty and torn, but she forces herself to sit up. “One threat down…one final threat to go…”
Mario runs through the corridors of the castle fort. He takes down Goombas, Buzzy Beetles, and Koopas which each successive stomp. Then he gets cornered between Piranha Plants in pipes on one side, and armed Hammer Bros on the other. “Time to light some fires!” He pulls out a Fire Flower, turning into Fire Mario when he squeezes it in his glove. He scorches the Piranha Plants and tussles with the hammer wielders.
After many loops through the castle, he finally goes through a pipe that leads him through the overtly flooded basement. Almost immediately, some Bloopers ambush the plumber. Without even thinking where he is, Mario snaps his fingers and releases a fireball. It propels through the water and repels all but one unlucky Blooper. The plumber blinks a few times. “How…never mind, I’ll question it later.”
He swims to the other side of the basement and escapes through a warp pipe back to the ground floor. Shortly ahead of him, he can feel extra heat radiating through the halls. “If the previous seven castles taught me anything, the battle room is that way.” Sure enough a flame fires his way as he dashes toward the heat. “And where there’s the battle room, the dungeon room will surely follow…and the princess…”
Mario makes it to the final room, but something's different. That is, besides the battle room itself. The room is circular instead of rectangular. Instead of a long steel plank, a circular arena is suspended in the center of the room over lava by horizontal chain ropes. The lava isn’t stagnant; the flow forms a whirlpool down a large drain.
Of course, the Koopa King still stands before him, looking just like most of the previous False Bowsers. But this time is different. It feels different. Mario’s blood simmers like a half-baked grudge. His muscles tense from head to toe. His eyebrows furrow at the sight of the Koopa King’s crossed arms and devilish smirk. As soon as he locks eyes with the Koopa King, every fiber in his body comes to the same conclusion. ”You! You’re-a the Koopa King!” A gate slams shut behind him, locking away the corridor he came from.
A toothy grin spreads across his face. “King Bowser: guilty as charged! And what about you, hero?”
“I’m-a here to rescue the princess and save the Mushroom Kingdom!” He falters for a split second. “Wow, saying that out loud, I sound like I’m in a fairy tale.”
“You know, I heard stories from my troops…about a man who could punch through solid bricks, jump over flagpoles in a single bound, and spew fire from his hands as frequent as I breathe fire.” Flames lick out the sides of his jaws as a stifled laugh quietly builds. “But what sort of hero are you in a getup like that? You supposed to be a plumber or something?” His laughter can no longer be contained.
Mario clenches his fists as the Koopa King laughs it up. “Mock it up all you want! I’ve-a been scrutinized by bullies like you, and they at least didn’t cower behind some phony goons!”
Bowser stops laughing. “Hmph! Something odd is up with you, and I didn’t like you the moment you had stepped foot in here. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think the princess is good enough a nuisance to me.” He straightens up, flames sparking in his jaws. “So give me the pleasure of an entertaining victory!”
Bowser shoots out a few flaming streaks in Mario’s direction. The plumber leaps over each of them, though just barely.
“So the princess is-a here!” Mario exclaims. “What the heck was-a your deal anyway, building those imposters?” He runs toward the Koopa King.
“Bwahaha! You kidding? Then you hardly know the meaning of war!” When the plumber leaps toward him, he simply swats him away with his right arm. “The Mushroom Kingdom has been at war for hundreds…thousands of years. That is a war of attrition!”
Continuing his arm stroke, he materializes a batch of hammers in his hand and flings them in an arc toward the plumber. Mario falls back to his feet from the swat. But then he darts around, frantically avoiding the raining hammers. Bowser runs toward the plumber when his hammers don’t leave their mark. He leaps toward the plumber, who rolls out of the way.
The Koopa King runs toward Mario again. But this time, the plumber stands his ground. “Well, thanks to your fakes I got some extra practice fighting you!” He snaps some fireballs in his hands. “And I know you’re-a vulnerable to fire!” He chucks his fireballs with gusto toward the Koopa King.
Bowser grumbles as the flames leave burn marks on his scaly skin. But he hardly slows down his running speed. He snorts flames from his nostrils. “You got some skills. If you were a Toad, I’d say you’re pretty good.” He swings a punch toward the plumber. Mario tries to jump out of the way again, but he is too late. The punch hits his gut and winds him. He sprawls onto the steel floor, lying on his back. His fire suit reverts back to his regular clothes. “But you are even worse than a Toad!” He leaps up, casting a shadow on the plumber.
Mario rolls out of the way just in time. Bowser slams onto the arena hard. This causes the steel platform to seesaw back and forth, enough to knock Mario off his bearings. Bowser grins, and takes the opportunity to swipe at Mario with his Koopa claws while he’s vulnerable. Mario yelps and flies toward the edge of the arena. He half-consciously grabs hold of the edge of the steel platform, stopping his tumble into the swirling lava below.
“Bwahahaha! I’ll admit, you’ve given me more entertainment in a fight than the princess!” Bowser walks around the center of the arena, taking his sweet time to relish his early lead.
Mario struggles to pull himself back onto the platform. His clothes have three huge gashes slit across, his skin exposed and reddened. He tries to face his foe, but his vision is blurred. His muscles ache as if they will pop. “N-no…not…over…” He shuffles slowly, holding his right arm with his left hand. But his right hand fiddles with his pocket.
Bowser looks at him in slight bewilderment. “Hm?”
Then the plumber pulls out his 1-Up Mushroom.
Bowser’s jaw drops. “Where did you…?!”
But the plumber crushes the mushroom in his right hand. Sparkles spread across his body. His wounds close up and his clothes reknit. His mind and body feel as refreshed as a good night’s sleep. As he perks up, the gears in his head start turning. “Right! What about the axe?”To his dismay, he can’t immediately find any sort of chopping device by the spiked drawbridge door he suspects is the dungeon room. “Wait…spiked door…”
Bowser stamps his feet and runs toward the plumber again. “My patience is growing thin! And my amusement even less!” Bowser sends flaming streaks toward Mario as he approaches.
Mario leaps over the flaming streaks heading directly toward him. So Bowser tries to stomp on him again. This time, Mario runs underneath him, booking it straight to the dungeon door.
“You think I didn’t expect that!” Bowser roars as he stomps after him. “You think I wouldn’t know about the other seven times you ‘faced me’?”
Mario leaps off the steel platform and onto a thin stone column. Directly in front of him is a lever for the drawbridge.
“Oh no you don’t!” Bowser spews fire balls and flings hammers in Mario’s direction. The plumber bobs, weaves, and jumps in what little room he has to maneuver around the attacks. To his relief, he dodges every one of them. But Bowser nears the edge of the circular platform, grinning. Mario looks back toward the lever, only to find it badly charred and smashed. “Bwahahahaha! No axe trap to save you now!”
Mario looks to the drawbridge door slightly to his left. One of the thrown hammers had got lodged in the spikes, sticking upward. “It almost looks like…” There’s a glint in his eye. “…a last-minute opportunity!”
Bowser comes to swipe at Mario again from the edge of the platform. At the same time, Mario leaps for the door. He jumps as high as he can muster, then tucks his feet in on the way down. “Here I go!” At the last second, he thrusts his feet onto the protruding hammer. With added leverage, the hammer forces the drawbridge open. Bowser flinches as the drawbridge slams down on the edge of the platform. One of the chain ropes connected on that side of the platform buckles, then snaps.
Bowser looks at Mario, standing triumphantly on the drawbridge. A growl rumbles at the back of his throat as his eyebrows furrow. “You!” Then more chains snap, sending the platform flipping over on Bowser’s side. “I knew you were bad news!” He lets out a roar as he falls into the lava pit. The platform begins to crumble into chunks as the lava flow forces the Koopa King down toward the drain. “This isn’t over! This isn’t over!” But his thunderous roar gets muffled as the steel chunks bury him by the lava drain.
Mario takes a moment to catch his breath as the dust settles. “Whooo! What a rush!”
“Hello?” says a soft voice from the dungeon.
Mario perks up. “Oh my goodness, the princess!” He cautiously rushes in. Then he slows to a stop.
Standing before him is a very young, human woman. Although her long blond hair is rustled and her ankle long pink dress is mucked, he is still taken aback by the princess. “Are you…?”
She looks at him eye-to-eye, relief and amazement washed over her. “Yes, I’m Princess Peach. Thank you for coming for me!” She straigtens her dress and hair for a second. “What is your name?”
Mario blushes a bit, then slightly snaps out of it. “My name is-a Mario.” The princess looks like she is about to say something, but then he continues, “Sorry, I just thought…all this time, I assumed the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom was more like a Toad.”
Her face slackens. Then she sighs, “Typical. Not the first one to think so, I’ll give you that.” She moves on ahead of Mario, who almost slaps himself for the comment he just made. In the battle arena, she looks down toward the lava pit, now as still as a lake with the drain plugged up by a pile of rubble. She smiles for a minute. Then she turns back in to the dungeon, toward the plugged up escape route. “If you mind, help me get these slabs out of here. We can escape through here.”
Mario obliges without a single word. After a few strong punches, the plumber breaks the two out of the castle.
Peach jogs ahead. “We still should hurry. We must make sure my people are safe.”
Mario nods. “Alright. At least the worst is over!”
As the two run across the Mushroom Plains, a lingering thought still worries her. “Could he possibly…” but her thoughts trail back to the state of her castle and Toad Town. “…we must hurry.”
Back in the battle arena, some Goombas and Koopas try to move away the rubble.
“Someone go get Kamek, quick!” A Koopa Troopa tells a Koopa Paratroopa, who immediately flies away.
“Lord Bowser!” cries a Goomba.
“Speak to us! Are you okay?” cries a Hammer Brother.
Suddenly, the rubble shakes. The soldiers back off nervously. Then an arm bursts out of the steel pile. “This…isn’t…over!”