Lost to the Next Level (Part 1)
“…got it all?” asks Toadsworth.
“Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Koopa Paratroopas, Hammer Brothers, Lakitus, Spinies, Buzzy Beetles, Piranha Plants, and Bullet Bills for ground force, and Cheep Cheeps and Bloopers as outliers…got it” says Mario.
The two of them sit outside an infirmary tent, waiting on Luigi’s condition. General Toad directs the Toads to where repairs and defense walls are needed.
A male Toad passes by, carrying a sack of yellow coins. “Oh, Toadsworth,” Mario starts, “what are those coins used for? I’ve seen them all through the Mushroom Plains while I was looking for the princess.”
“That’s our currency. Those coins are what we use to pay for everything here…at least, when our kingdom was more functional.”
“Why are there so many discarded coins?”
“Not discarded, my dear boy; spawning. You see, these coins come from question blocks, which we mine from by striking them. They take at least a week to produce even one coin, and since the coins actually don’t last more than two week, we never had a huge runaway inflation when properly maintained.”
“Huh. Um, then how come they disappear the instant I touch them?”
“Oh? That shouldn’t happen. Unless…” Toadsworth takes Mario’s gloved hand, inspecting it intently. His eyes widen a bit. “This will sound weird, but I want you to swipe through the air, as if you’re reaching for a drink on a table.”
A confused Mario replies, “Okay…” before trying the motion out. The first couple of tries, nothing happens.
“Again, as if you’re reaching out for something…”
The third time though, a rippled distortion appears in front of them, and hundreds of coins spill out. Mario backs away a bit in shock. “What the…how?”
“Oh my! Just as I thought!” Toadsworth exclaims. “You’re a Star C…” he stops himself short and turns away.
“A what? How did I do this?”
He takes a few seconds to respond, “It is a rare gift. Only a few in the entire history of our world have abilities like that. In your case, you have the ability to store items in a private pocket dimension.”
Mario stares at the large pile of coins before him. “Wow. What else can I do?”
“Who knows, but if you find any other changes to yourself that you never encountered in…that other world…then that’s probably a unique ability, too.”
Just then, a young female Toad comes shyly up to them. She is green capped, with a green buttoned shirt, and brown-haired pigtails. She holds a few flowers behind her back, and is blushing a little.
“May we help you?” Toadsworth asks her, avoiding any further questions Mario might have.
She turns to Mario, blushing a little more. “I…I wanted to s-see your brother, please…” she squeaks.
“He’s recovering, right now,” the red plumber replies, “but when they say he’s ready, you can come in with us.”
She beams, “Oh, thank you!”
“Oh, right. I’m Toadia.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Then, a Toad in doctor’s gear comes out of the tent. “Mario?”
The three of them stand up in front of the doctor. “How’s my brother?” asks Mario.
“Why don’t you step inside and see for yourself.”
The three follow the doctor into the infirmary tent. Among a few Toads still recovering from injuries in the first fight, Luigi sits upright in a separate recovery bed. A couple of nurse Toads use medical instruments to check up with them, but every time they poke him with one, he laughs. In fact, his whole expression is very upbeat.
The Toad doctor leads the group to Luigi’s bedside. “As you know, Luigi was fairly comatose when you brought him under our care. But after a few hours of rest and the use of one of our reserve Refreshrooms, he’s as fresh as a daisy…”
“Oh, hey bro!” Luigi interrupts, oblivious to the doctor’s talk. “Glad you could come see me!”
“I’m glad you’re feeling much better.”
“Yeah!” His perky smile fades. “Wait, what happened in the first place?”
Mario cocks an eyebrow. “What do you mean? We were heading home when the Special Pipe gave you a detour.”
Luigi blinks. “Really? Last I recall, we were helping out the Mushroom Kingdom.” A smile returns to his face. “It was amazing! Saving the princess, beating the bad guys, sneaking through enemy lines…”
As he rambles on, Mario turns to the doctor. “Are you sure he’s okay?”
The doctor puzzles, “Maybe a little too perky? This is new to me, but the effects of his tribulations in the Minus World seem to have twisted his mind a bit. If we had more resources, we might be able to analyze his brain patterns.”
Mario sighs, “Alright, but is he okay?”
He ponders for a moment. “Yes, I think he will be alright. Maybe keep an eye on him, though.”
Toadia breathes a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank you, doctor!”
Mario takes the doctor’s hand to shake it. “Thank you, Doctor…”
The doctor shakes his hand. “…Toad. Doctor Toad. And glad to help!”
Mario glances to Toadsworth and whispers. “Is everyone named after their species?”
“No…” says Toadsworth quietly. “…almost…maybe?”
Toadia comes up close to Luigi’s side, hiding the flowers behind her back and blushing profusely. “H-h-hi. I…do you remember me, Luigi?”
Luigi turns to her, still jovial. “Oh, are you one of the Toad children who were trapped on a second floor shelter?”
She perks up. “Yes! You…c-caught me when I fell.” She blushes even more as she reveals the flowers behind her. “I…t-these are for you.”
“Aw, thanks, miss!”
Suddenly, General Toad rushes into the tent. “Toadsworth! Mario! Something strange is going on out here!”
Mario, Toadsworth, and Dr. Toad rush out with the general. “Wait for me!” says Luigi as he jumps out of bed. Toadia also follows, still holding the flowers. They all go outside, and all around them, what looks like isolated greenish static charges spread randomly all over town. One spark comes into contact with a building, changing the roof color from red to yellow. Another spark changes Dr. Toad’s stethoscope around his neck into a necklace of pebbles. This same spark also touches Toadia’s flowers, transforming them into drinking straws.
“Aw man!” Toadia cries.
Luigi pats her head. “It’s alright. It’s the thought that counts anyway.”
As Toadia nearly faints, Mario points out the green wisps of static. “That stuff sort of looks like the stuff that Luigi got attacked by. What is it?”
Luigi suddenly goes stiff, staring into space.
Toadsworth replies, “I actually don’t know. Anything you noticed general?”
“Well, I’ve told everyone not to touch it,” says General Toad, “though in a couple of accidentally cases someone did, it doesn’t seem to affect Toads. The items and buildings, on the other hand, have changed colors, shapes, and sizes to various degrees. This will prove problematic to our defenses, for sure.”
Toadsworth turns to Mario. “Perhaps now would be an immediate time to go rescue our princess and the council, before the Koopa Troop mounds an attack.”
“You’re right.” Mario turns to Luigi. “You stay and help General Toad again. I’m going to sneak in and see what I can do in one go.”
Inside Luigi’s mind, his inner thoughts broil. “I must help my bro!”
“It’ll be too dangerous if Bowser’s there!”
“But, then my brother needs me even more!”
“What could I do to help?”
“…anything my brother needs…” Luigi snaps out of his trance and grabs Mario’s arm just as he’s about to make a break out of Toad Town. “I’m coming with you!”
Mario looks back surprised. “But you just got better. I think you should rest a bit here to be ready in case the Koopa Troop does try to attack.”
“I’m ready already. And I want to help you, just like old times.”
Mario stops for a moment. Then he smiles, “Alright then. Maybe you are better after all. Stick to my side then!” And the two run off toward the Mushroom Plains.
“Good luck guys!” Toadsworth shouts after the brothers. He turns to General Toad. “Is it just me, or does Mario’s accent sound a bit more subdued?”
“Let’s-a go!” Mario shouts as the two cross the town border.
“Nah, just sounds more tolerable” concurs the general.
Bowser stands before a table, with a map of the Mushroom Kingdom area. Then he looks up and notices something odd. Green static spreads into the army camp around him. Goombas and Koopas jump back in surprise as Bill Blasters change shape and colors, and some parts of the ground rise and fall slightly. The Koopa King strokes his chin, the gears turning in his devilish mind.
A Koopa Troopa approaches him. “My king! There’s something strange happening across the Mushroom Plains! What do we do?”
The Koopa King grins. “What are we going to do? We’re going to win, that’s what we’re going to do!” He looks back at his map on the table. “See, we’ve already got our forces spread out into five groups.”
“Yes, sir. Three have split up our prisoners to take them to previous camps, one is here, and another is out to prepare another attack on Toad Town. Isn’t that a little risky?”
Bowser glares at the Koopa. “Maybe to a simple-minded fool. But the key here is the wild factor…” he steps up to one spot of green static buildup. He pokes a finger onto the spot. The green sparks dance up his finger and around his claws. Then, as he raises his hand, the ground where the spot is rises with it, until a pillar-like mound is formed. “Bwahaha! I’ll need a little practice, but that’s where the prison holders come in. I suspect a rescue force will come for the prisoners. And that will leave the Mushroom capitol for the taking!”
“You’re the man, Lord Bowser!” exclaims the Koopa Troopa.
The brothers run across the plains, jumping across block platforms and mushroom stalks. Mario looks to Luigi, who seems to be more jovial than ever before. “Maybe the doctor’s right,” ponders Mario, “maybe my brother is not worse for wear.”
It doesn’t take long until they spot a convoy of Koopa Troop members far ahead. The two sneak up closer and hide behind some blocks. With a better look, the two immediately spot three Toads tied by their ankles and wrists, bound by a gag at their mouths, and forced to march with the line. A decent number Buzzy Beetles, Hammer Bros, Goombas, and Paratroopas keep watch over them.
“Ready, Weegee?” Mario asks his brother.
“Oh yeah!” Luigi replies enthusiastically.
The brothers jump onto the scene. The Hammer Brothers notice them first and charge at them head on, hammers thrown furiously. Mario and Luigi barely dodge the rain of hammers, while the Buzzy Beetles also close in on them. But the brothers come up with the same idea. First they jump on the Buzzy Beetles, forcing them to retreat into their shells. Then they kick them toward the Hammer Bros, knocking them out as well. The Goombas huddle around the captive Toads, who intently watch the battle before them unfold.
One Koopa Paratroopa flees the scene. “I’ll let our king know that we’re ready for the next phase” he tells another. The remaining Paratroopas try to swoop in to swarm the brothers in a cloud of shells. But Luigi footstool jumps off Mario’s hands as the red plumber boosts the other high over any of the Paratroopas. To the unfortunate Koopas, Luigi stomps on each one on the way down to the ground. Their wings get clipped, and they fall to the ground as well, most on their backs. Mario and Luigi stare down the Goombas, which is all it takes for them to scamper off to help their fallen comrades.
Mario helps a black-capped Toad untie himself, as Luigi does with a pink Toad. When Luigi gets the pink Toad ungagged, she shouts, “Look out!”
Suddenly, Piranha Plants sprout out of the ground. Half of them look like the average Piranha Plant, but the others are a maroon color. These are much more vicious, and make the first lunge at the heroes.
“Mamma mia!” Mario cries as he shoves the three Toads toward Luigi. A maroon Piranha Plant makes the first strike, but Mario puts a foot out to push it back. “Get the Toads to safety, Luigi. I’ll hold them off for now.”
Luigi runs to the other side of a hill, with the three Toads scurrying behind him, while the Piranha Plants nearly surround Mario. The red plumber becomes outstretched as he struggles to push the ravenous plants away with both his arms and legs. Then, a green and red Piranha Plant comes underneath him. The plumber takes the opportunity to tuck his arms in and footstool jump off the plant’s jowls. As the Piranha Plants bump into each other and entangle themselves, Mario makes a run after his brother.
Mario catches up behind some bushes, and the group takes a moment to take a breather. The brothers finish untying the three Toads.
“Thank you for saving us!” says the pink Toad. “You guys must be the heroes we heard about. Mario and Luigi?”
“Yeah, anytime!” says Luigi shyly.
“Who are you guys?” Mario asks.
“I’m Husk T,” says the dark-capped Toad, “a member of the Toad Council. As are Toadiko and Russ T.”
“Glad to meet you in person” says the blue Toad, Russ T. “Quite remarkable. You are human like the princess, yet look quite different from any human I’ve read about before. Are you from a distant kingdom?”
“I guess so?” Luigi puzzles.
“We’re from…” But Mario is cut short by a red shell that cuts right through the group. It spins around them a few times before going air-born. Out pops a Koopa Paratroopa, the same one that had reported to Bowser.
“My, you guys are slow. Koopa the Quick could run circles around you!” scoffs the Paratroopa.
Mario and Luigi clench their fists. “What do you want?”
“Oh, it’s nothing I want. But our lord and king Bowser has a message for you.” He grins. “You see, he knows that you’re looking for a certain pesky princess and her lackey Toads, who by now are somewhere far on the other side of the Mushroom Plains. Perhaps outside the known bounds of the Mushroom Kingdom by now.”
“You let her go!” says Mario. “We already beat you and your king once, or have you already forgot?”
“You watch your tongue about our rightful king!” the Paratroopa snaps. “After all, should you really save the princess now…when there’s a full-fledged army near the doorstep of the capitol?”
“No…” gasps Luigi.
The Paratroopa sneers, “Oh yes. Now what will you do, heroes?”