Kingdom Minus Hero (Part 1)
All the Toads pitch in to clean up Toad Town, which is nearly complete. Princess Peach helps direct the Toads to each section to separate the salvage from the rubble. Mario and Luigi also pitch in, doing most of the necessary demolition.
Mario stops to massage his knuckles near the platform the princess is perched on, while his brother uses his gloves to wipe the sweat from his brow. “E-excuse me, princess,” Mario hesitates to even meet Peach’s eyes. “Since we’ve-a broken up all the rubble, do you mind if we take a quick break?”
Peach gives him a split-second glare before sighing. “Very well. You’ve definitely been working hard all day, so take the time you need.” Then she steps off the platform and heads toward the castle.
The brothers walk over to the center of town, where a makeshift fountain has been set up to release tap water from their underground reserves. After Luigi gets a canister of water for himself and his brother, he spots Mario looking toward Peach’s Castle with a sad expression.
“Hey, bro,” Luigi hands his brother one of the canisters. “Did something happen between you and the princess?”
Mario goes stiff and blushes a tad, “W-w-what? Nothing! Everything went alright, just like I told you!”
“I mean, you don’t seem to be on quite the right foot with her. You didn’t hurt her while you were rescuing her, did you?”
“Not…exactly…” he takes a sip of his canister as he slumps. “I just…never meant to say what I said in a bad way…”
“Well, looks like your half-baked quips finally backfired.” He half-joked, and then cleared his throat. “In all seriousness, it’s probably best that you cut your speaking short before you accidentally insult, or provoke, someone.”
Just then, General Toad and Toadsworth walk up to the brothers. “Thank you again for helping us out!” Toadsworth beams. “It means a lot to all of us that you had come at our greatest need. And Mario, my boy! Quite the noble knight you are for taking down the Koopa King and rescuing our fair princess. I’m sure she’s given you as much praise as anyone.”
Mario shrugs and half-heartedly laughs. “Yeah, she sure has.”
General Toad turns to Luigi. “Likewise, you have proven to be quite the defender, all the way through ’til the princess returned. You just might be a better soldier than my whole squad combined.”
Luigi laughs as he pats the back of his head. “It was nothing, sir. I would not have lasted for long had my brother not returned with the princess and affirmed the Koopa Troop’s retreat.”
Toadsworth sighs. “Are you sure you two can’t stay? I know Toad Town is in shambles right now, but we can rebuild it and provide you with a nice place to stay. And who knows what the Koopa Troop will be up to.”
Luigi shakes his head. “We appreciate the offer, but we have friends back home who are probably wondering where we are. But thank you for helping us find that, uh, Special Pipe we came through.”
“We have very eager volunteers who are scouring the location of interest as we speak” says General Toad. “Although…”
Then a Toad runs up to them, almost out of breath. “Sir! Guys! We found it!”
“You found the Special Pipe?” exclaims Luigi.
“Yeah. That coward Toad managed to stumble upon it when we were keeping away from some rogue Goombas.”
“Excellent, lad! Show us the way, post haste!” Toadsworth turns to the general. “Keep an eye on the town.”
“As always, old friend” he replies.
“Alright! We’re heading home soon, bro!” Luigi fist-bumps the air as he follows the Toad with Toadsworth. Mario follows them close behind, although he hides away the look of worry and shame on his face.
Bowser stands on the large rubble pile where his last fort once stood. His soldiers scramble about, trying to collect all the usable army supplies from the other forts without tripping over each other. “Faster! We haven’t got all day!”
A Hammer Brother approaches the Koopa King cautiously. “Lord Bowser, despite our best efforts, very few materials from the forts were recoverable. But nearly all the Bill Blasters are intact and on their way as we speak.”
Bowser stops his ranting momentarily. “And the casualties?”
“Actually, despite the walloping that those heroes gave, there are no reported fatalities. Although we have a lot of us recovering, and a few are missing in…”
“Well, for those who are still standing, step to it and prepare for battle!" he roars so loud that all of the Koopa Troop can hear him. Then he jumps onto a flying platform provided by an Amazin’ Flyin’ Hammer Bro and directs it toward Peach’s Castle. “They won’t even see me coming!”
Mario, Luigi, and Toadsworth are following the Toad through the Mushroom Plains. As they reach one side of a pathway, the Toad signals them to stop. They peak from behind a pile of blocks and spot some Goombas conversing with each other in the middle of the path.
“Wait right here guys” the Toad tells Mario and Luigi. “I’m going to bring Toadsworth with me to set up a distraction. Once the Goombas start walking away, that’s your cue to make a break for the Special Pipe, which is actually just a few paces straight ahead.” He points beyond the next visible piles of blocks. “Just look out for Toad by the Special Pipe…if either of them are still there. Well, good luck guys!”
“Feel free to wait for us if you’d like,” says Toadsworth, “but if this is the last time we part ways…” His eyes begin to weld up as he cracks a smile.
But before he can continue, Toad taps his arm. “Here’s our chance. We got to move on.”
“Don’t worry; we can wait a bit…” Mario nods to Toadsworth as the two Toads scurry along the road.
The brothers stay crouching behind the pile of blocks. Luigi stares intently at the Goombas, waiting for their move. Then he glances toward Mario, who is just sitting and sighing. “Hey, bro, help me keep watch. We’re going to be making the run for the Special Pipe any minute!”
“Luigi…I’ve-a been thinking…” he whispers.
“Maybe we should…wait until things are-a alright here…”
“What?” Luigi stifles himself from yelling out loud. Fortunately, the Goombas don’t hear him. “That Special Pipe could vanish to who-knows-where at any moment. If we’re to go home, we need to take this opportunity while we still can!”
“But, what about the Toads? The princess? You suggest we just leave them here in the middle of a crisis?”
He sighs, “Look, I know this isn’t exactly courteous of us to leave at a time like this. And I feel as bad for them as you. But things here are so…” A scuffling sound breaks his train of speech. Both of them peak over the blocks again and see the Goombas running in the direction the Toads had gone. “Wait, now is our chance. Come on!”
Once the Goombas are a mere speck in the distance, the brothers make a break toward the Special Pipe.
Princess Peach carries her clipboard through the castle hallways, making notes on what to fix up. She stops in her bedroom, where she throws herself onto her bed, lying on her back and letting go of the clipboard.
“Well, nothing short of a quick fix,” she sighs, staring aimlessly at the ceiling. For a few minutes, she lets the silence just settle in and gives herself the sweet release of peace. Then she frowns. “No doubt about it; this state of quiet will not last long. But what much can I do? Only a few weeks into my actual leading position, and already I end up as a hostage with my kingdom left to ruin. Great, what will the council think of me now.” She gasps and sits up. “Oh my gosh, the Toad Council! I almost forgot to check if they were safe!” Just then, there’s a knock on her bedroom door. She quickly stands back up and smooths out her dress. “You may come in.”
The door opens about halfway before General Toad takes a couple steps in. “Princess. It is to our great relief that the key members of our castle court are all safe and accounted for.”
“Oh, that is great news!”
“In fact, the Toad Council has also been retrieved, and would like to hold council with you immediately, if you have a few moments.”
“Of course! Please, step right in.”
Seven more Toads walk into the room single file. General Toad walks out of the room while everyone else remains standing, with Peach across from the Toads.
“Oh, Princess Toadstool, thank goodness you are alright! We were so worried!” cries the eldest Toad with a green mushroom cap and red robe.
“I’m...alright, thank you Chancellor” she replies, a little crestfallen. “It’s great to see you all are safe as well.”
“We heard all about the battle, and the hostage crisis while we were away!” says a pink Toad, and the only female counselor, with earrings and a buttoned-up shirt. “I can’t believe how brave you were in the face of danger!”
“Neither can I,” mumbles a maroon Toad with black pants.
“Oh don’t you even start, Shmarr T!” says the pink Toad, “Like we could have fended off the Koopa Troop any better than she did!”
“We were hardly organized! Keeping your citizens tight-knit is the key to any leadership.”
“Anyway,” grins a green Toad with blue shades, “we won’t fare any better next time if we don’t all keep a cool head. So, what’s the upside of things now?”
“Well, for a start, there are no casualties for our side of the battle at least, and the hospital staff has made enough progress to prevent overflow at the inns.”
“Although Mushroom medicine is astounding given its backlog of historical uses, the sanitation of the medical buildings, or any building for that matter, can’t be good” says a blue Toad with reading glasses as he checks his notebook.
“That is the largest problem we face at the moment. We need to build up our defenses again, for whenever the Koopa Troop could retailiate.”
“What about these human heroes from another place?” says a black Toad with pale clothes.
“Oh yes! I’ve heard quite the tales of these fine fellows, by boogity!” exclaims a blue Toad with glasses and a yellow tie.
She stops for a moment, collecting her mixed thoughts on when she first met Mario. “Well…”
Mario and Luigi catch up to Captain Toad, who is worryingly standing next to the Special Pipe. “Yeah, this was-a definitely just a few paces away” Mario says sarcastically.
“So this is it?” Luigi asks Toad excitedly. The Special Pipe is sticking upward from the ground this time, only up to the brothers’ knees. It looks just like the other green Warp Pipes they had seen, but this one is much brighter in color tone.
“Yeah, this is it…” he replies, still looking frantically around like a frightened rabbit.
Luigi steps right up to the pipe. “Sweet! Thanks for keeping an eye out for it, but you probably want to get going back home before a Goomba spots you. Come on, bro!”
“W-wait!” he cries, snapping out of his fright. “Are you…are you guys sure you want to go now? You guys have been the greatest fighters against the Koopas I’ve ever seen in my life. Maybe you could stay, just a little longer?”
Luigi taps Toad’s head. “I’m sorry, kid. If what is said about the Special Pipe is true, we may not have a second chance of going home.”
“Look, why don’t we just stay for a while longer?” Mario exclaims, almost in an exasperated tone.
Luigi turns to his brother, shocked by the sudden resistance. “Bro, don’t you see? This is our only chance!”
“But this isn’t right! We can’t just leave them in the middle of a war.”
“Their war seems to have lasted much longer than we’ve been here, and will probably continue for just as long. We don’t have the patience or the stamina to keep fighting with them.”
Now Mario looks visibly annoyed. “You mean you don’t have it in you to help them.”
“That is not what I said.”
Captain Toad stands idle next to the brothers. “Um, guys…”
But Mario is too ingrained in the argument with his brother to notice him. “I know you’re-a reluctant at times to get into conflict, but if we abandon them in a hurry, things will only get much worse for them.”
“You don’t think I’m worried about them either? We got these strange super powers, and we can’t even control them. What if we misuse it, or hurt someone innocent?”
“Practice, of course! Think of all the good we can do with our newfound strengths.”
Luigi grows red in the face. “You are clearly not thinking straight! All you ever seem to care about is living as if you’re always on an adventure!”
“I care about others…”
“Then what about Pauline, or the princess? You seem to prefer to run away from heart-to-heart confrontations while heading straight into hands-on trouble.”
“And then what? Say something silly and make things worse? And what about you? You’re-a even more of a coward than I am!”
Luigi flinches for a second. “I am not. And we’re going now.” He grabs Mario’s arm.
Mario digs his feet into the ground and pulls back. “No! We are-a staying!”
Luigi struggles to get Mario to budge an inch, while Mario tries to squirm his wrist free from Luigi’s grasp.
“Hey, wait! Hold up lads!” Toadsworth suddenly calls out to them as he tries to catch up to them. This startles both the brothers, just as Mario yanks his brother away hard. Luigi tumbles backward, trips on the rim of the Special Pipe, and falls in.
“Luigi! Luigi!” Mario cries down the pipe, as he begins to step in as well.
“No, wait!” Toadsworth calls again, now catching up to Mario and Captain Toad, along with the other accompanying Toad. He takes a moment to catch his breath. “Don’t go in there yet.”
“Why? My brother already went in, probably back in New York by now.”
“Oh my! Have you forgotten already? The Special Pipe can appear anywhere and moves anywhere at anytime.”
“I know, and we were-a lucky to find it this spot while it lasts.”
“But the pipe has two ends! This side returned to the Mushroom Kingdom, but what about the other end?”
Mario gasps as he looks back down the Special Pipe.
“…and that is how Mario and Luigi helped turn the tide for us all.”
“Aw, that was so sweet of him to come rescue you” sighs the pink Toad.
Peach rolls her eyes. “Yeah, he’s a real knight in shining armor.”
The younger green Toad adjusts his shades. “I am quite interested in meeting these ‘super brothers’. When could we meet with them?”
She sighs. “I’m sorry, but they just left to return to their homeland. Far from here, I’m afraid.”
“Well, isn’t that just great!” growls a deep, familiar voice. Peach and Toad Council turn to the balcony entrance to find none other than Bowser standing before them. A terrible grin spreads across his face. “Looks like my day just got a whole lot better!”
Luigi tumbles through the pipe until a light appears at the other end. But when he comes out, it isn’t Brooklyn. Or any part of New York City. Or even the sewers. In fact, it isn’t anything at all. Luigi floats out into a void of nothingness. Though the inertia from falling out the pipe keeps him floating aimlessly further and further from the Special Pipe.
“Great. Now where am I?”
But not even an echo answers his anguish. Luigi tries to wade his way back to the Special Pipe, but his inertia still keeps him moving further and further into the blank expanse. Then, something appears ahead of Luigi’s path. The green clad plumber squints to try to get a good look at what he is moving toward. It appears to be some sort of foggy mass, with tints of all sorts of colors swirling like a kaleidoscope. As he gets closer, it becomes clear that this foggy mass seems to slither about as if it’s alive.
Suddenly, the foggy mass bolts toward Luigi. It surrounds him, envelops him even before he reacts with a yelp. He begins to panic, goosebumps crawling up his back. And then the distorted voices begin to whisper in his ears.
“You are a coward.”
“You flee before the fear of losing.”
“You never were the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
“Hey, who’s there?” says a paranoid Luigi, “I’m not…” But the voices chant loud and louder in his head.
“You will never step out of the shadows of your brother.”
“Your brother is much better than you.”
“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”
Luigi pulls his cap with both hands over his eyes. “That’s not…” But the voices still drown him out.
“You’re just a mere king of second bananas.”
“You’re a sad clown.”
“Nobody will ever recognize you.”
The foggy mass flashes various shades of green. Luigi crouches into a fetal position as even his own appearance begins to change into inverted hues. “Stop! Please!” he whimpers. But the voices hardly relent, and the foggy mass phases through Luigi himself
“Killer from the shadows.”
Luigi tears up as the voices ingrate his mind. “No. No! Nooooooo!”
“I’m-a going in, anyway!” says Mario
“But you could end up someplace worse!” says Toadsworth. “We need to inspect the path to find out.” The Toad next to him continues fiddling with small monitoring instruments. Captain Toad still stands worryingly by Toadsworth.
Mario grips the edge of the Special Pipe, his ‘pipe sense’ failing to help him. “But I know Luigi is down there. I can feel it, and he’s-a in trouble. I can’t explain how I know, but I’m-a not going to stand here and let him suffer alone. I must get my brother!” Before any of the Toads can retort, the red-clad plumber jumps down the pipe.