Lost to the Next Level (Part 3)
Mario, Luigi, Toadbert, Mushbert, Shmarr T, and Chanister T stare in awe at the sudden appearance of Bowser’s new fortress. As they do so, the Koopa Troop soldiers on the wall walkway notice them, and immediately turn the Bill Blasters toward them.
Chanister T is the first to back away slowly. “This isn’t good” he says.
The very earth around the castle shifts in a spiral formation, making the already tall fortress appear even taller. Just out of the heroes’ sight, Bowser stands in the highest tower, directing the moving earth as if conducting a concert. When satisfied, he directs his voice throughout the fortress, using the same negative energy he utilized to manipulate the Mushroom Plains. “All cannons take aim…” He points right at Mario and Luigi on the ground. “Fire!”
A hellfire of Bullet Bills blast out of every Bill Blaster. As they rain down, Mario and the others race away from the fortress. Luigi lifts up Chanister T as he takes the lead of the retreat. “How the heck are we going to get into that fortress?” cries the green plumber.
“How about we find a safe spot first?” says Shmarr T.
Mario, holding the back of the line, stomps on a couple of Bullet Bills, but nearly gets caught in one of their explosive impacts. “I agree on that idea.”
Just as they pass by a bush patch, a hand reaches out and pulls Luigi and Chanister T down. Without hesitation, the others follow suit. The remaining Bullet Bills pass by them, unaware of their escape. Mario watches them pass by, then turns to wonder who led them here. Crouching with them behind the bushes is Toadiko, Russ T, and Husk T. The latter checks up on Chanister T, whom he pulled down with Luigi. Mario is about to respond, but Toadiko puts a finger over her mouth to signal for quiet.
She motions everyone to a Warp Pipe, also concealed with them in the bushes. “Follow us,” she whispers. Mario nods, and everyone slips into the Warp Pipe.
Bowser frowns, crosses his arms, and taps his foot. “Hmph, they got away. Not unexpected, but we’ll have to keep an eye out for them.” He shouts out to his minions via negative energy. “Hey! All Lakitus and Paratroopas! I want a high and wide sweep around the castle! And don’t stop unless you find those plumbers!”
“Yes, Lord Bowser!” some of them shout. A flock of Paratroopas and a flurry of Lakitus fly out of the castle and make their way into the clouds.
Bowser chuckles to himself. “Sooner or later, your heroes will come like moths to a flame.”
From the cage, Princess Peach scoffs back, “‘Fool me twice’ is all I’m saying!”
He steps up to the cage and flicks it, causing it to swing back and forth. “Now, be a good little bait, and remember to mind your manners. Not everyone gets to see me defeat my foes…in all my superstar glory!”
Meanwhile, in the clouds, the plumbers and the seven Toads all make it out of the Warp Pipe. They also react surprised that they manage to step on the clouds without falling through.
“Oh!” says Russ T, “Drat, it changed again! I swear, these conditions would be just horrible for cartographers. And these clouds are not meant to support this many folks at once.”
“Regardless,” Chanister T interrupts, “this would be a good place for us to lay low.”
Toadbert looks over the edge of the cloud. “By-boogity, and a great launch site for a sneak attack!” he cries in delight.
The rest look over the edge as well, except for Russ T, who still wonders if the cloud will still hold them up on the edge. Far, far below, they can see the roofs of Bowser’s fortress. Layers of flat clouds slowly make their way up in a consistent pattern to the cloud they are perched on.
“Yeah, we can make are way into the castle from above!” says Mario.
“Um, excuse me,” blurts Shmarr T, “but we aren’t exactly as combat ready as you two.”
“He’s right,” says Mushbert, “I’ll also have to agree with Chanister T, by which the seven of us stay here for now…”
“…but you two can save the princess!” Toadiko chimes in. “And this time, we’ll have a retaliating strategy!”
“We’ll work out the details,” says Chanister T, “Time is of the essence, and you two better stop the Koopa King quick, or I fear something far worse could happen.”
“Will do!” Luigi replies.
“It’s-a go time!” Mario shouts as he jumps with his brother off the cloud.
“I say we use all the spears for the cannon” Blue Toad shouts at Green Toad.
“Yeah? And then what will we use when they get up close?” the latter rebuts.
“They’ll never get up close if we keep firing at them.”
“That’s another thing! I have been doing all the grunt work for you guys, and I’m going to take a wild guess and say that I am going to be in charge of manning the cannon”
“Oh no, I should fire the cannon, since I’ve got more battle training than any of you. You can help me load the cannon, if you want…
“Well, here we go again! I do the chores while…”
And so the two keep bickering, as Captain Toad stiffly watches them. He turns his gaze to Yellow Toad, who’s taking yet another nap. Then he turns to Purple Toad, who is leaning against the wall of their fort and fiddling with his satchel. Then he looks toward the pending battlefield. His eyes go wide as he sees the Koopa Troop beginning to line up on the other side of the outstretched plains. He quivers in fear.
Finally, with the battle cries of the enemies and the quarreling of his reluctant companions ringing in his ears, he bursts out, “Oh please, could we just get this over with?!” Blue and Green Toad stop abruptly in surprise, and Purple Toad also looks up toward Captain Toad. The red Toad blushes with embarrassment. “Sorry…”
Blue Toad sighs, “Look, the general wants us to keep the enemies as far away from us as possible so his digging crew can finish the ends of the trench and flood it to solidify our defenses.”
“Okay,” nods Green Toad, “but at this rate, the Koopa Troop will be upon us before we can even wash them away. Even if you’re a good shot.”
“But then you and the other three can use the Star-Bursts.” Blue Toad points to the small pile of orb-like containers the size of grenades by their feet. “That can stun them for a at least a few seconds, or even throw them way off.”
“But our throwing isn’t that great, and those Star-Bursts are only great on a huge crowd. How can we keep the enemies contained like that if they’ll be scattered across the open plains?”
“Excuse me,” squeaks Captain Toad. “But I was wondering, since I’m not that great at fighting, m-maybe I could use the cannon?”
Blue Toad frowns, “But you have the least fighting experience of the five of us! How could you even aim well enough if you’re so scared…” Then he stops. He looks from Captain Toad, to the cannon, to the Star-Bursts, to Purple Toad looking intently, and then to Green Toad. He smiles with a glint in his eye. “You know what, you’re right Greeny. We’ll need a few spears to hold our own.”
Green Toad slightly smiles. “Thanks. By the way, I’m not ‘Greeny’. I’m…”
“Toad, right? But anyway, if we’re to use the spears, it’s probably best we ditch the Star-Bursts, ’kay?”
“I’m not Toad, either. My name is…wait, no Star-Bursts?”
“Right,” he picks up all the Star-Bursts and gives them to Purple Toad. “I want you to trade these with the Toads at the forts directly next to each side of us. We’ll need more spears. A lot more spears.”
“Okay,” says Purple Toad hesitantly, but he runs off anyway.
“And as for you!” Blue Toad points to Captain Toad. “Get behind that cannon and get comfy.”
“Yippie!” cries the red Toad as he skips to the cannon in a flash.
“Wait, you’re letting the town coward man the cannon?” cries Green Toad.
“Yes, I’m letting the town coward man the cannon. But have you got something better for him to do?”
Green Toad lifts a finger, but begrudgingly holds his tongue. “At least you’re spreading the load of work.”
“What do you want me to do?” mumbles Yellow Toad, still lying down on the floor with his eyes peacefully closed.
Blue Toad takes five spears from their pile and flings them next to Yellow Toad. “I want you to hold on to these, so we can grab them when we need them.”
A short while later, Purple Toad returns to their fort, overstuffed with spears in his satchel and under his arms. As he adds them to their pile and at least doubles the pile size, Captain Toad practices aiming the cannon. The weight of the cannon proves quite unwieldy, and it doesn’t help that he still quivers in fear.
“Hey,” Blue Toad says to the red Toad as he loads up a spear into the cannon. “Me and the other two are going to be loading the cannon with spears as fast as we can. All you need to do is focus on shooting
“Right! I’ll stay focused!” Toad says suddenly. “I’ll take it easy before I shoot.”
“No. Just shoot when you feel ready. Never thought I’d say this, but trust your instincts.”
Just then, a huge cry from the Koopa Troop is heard and the Toads witness them charging across the plains.
“Ack! Okay here I go!” gasps Toad.
“Stick to the plan, guys!” shouts Blue Toad, but he murmurs to himself in a panic, “Everything’s going to go wrong, everything is going to go wrong, everything is going to go wrong…”
Captain Toad tries to wait until he can get a good shot at a Goomba or Koopa or someone bad. But the whole Koopa Troop runs toward them like a mad mob. They barely get a fourth of the way toward the Toads’ forts, when Captain Toad makes the first shot. The spear flies in an arc until it spikes the ground about half way between the two sides.
Green Toad loads up the second spear, while Blue and Purple have spears waiting in hand.
“Get it together, man…” the red Toad murmurs to himself. “Just wait and…” but the rush of enemies coming closer makes him yelp and pre-maturely fire again, not later than three seconds after the first shot. The spear lands roughly near the first spear.
“Just keep it up…” Blue Toad assures him nervously.
Captain Toad barely hears him, and when Purple Toad loads up the third spear, he fires it almost involuntarily. Just as the spear lands, the Koopa Troop gets close to where the three spears lie and casually meander around that spot.
Now Captain Toad is terrified. Every time one of three Toads loads up a spear, he fires it immediately and wildly. Blue, Green, and Purple Toad take turns shoving spears into the cannon, struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire pace. Out in the battlefield, the occasional spear has now become a relentless shower in the column area in front of Captain Toad’s fort. Now the enemies diverge radically from the area of volleying spears. This causes even more enemies to press on toward the neighboring forts on either side, where not so many spears are being fired at them. Now the neighboring Toads panic a bit, and start using their extra Star-Bursts given to them earlier, especially since they are running low on spears. The explosive flashes catch a lot of enemies off guard and repel them back a few yards to stop and rub their eyes.
“Hey, you’re plan is working after all!” Green Toad says happily.
“It’s…working…” Blue Toad says with a smile. “Don’t stop, guys!”
Down either side the line of forts, Toads begin to notice the crazy commotion in the middle. Some begin sending Toads over to their neighbors to frantically trade spears for Star-Bursts as well, in hopes of obtaining the same results.
Meanwhile, General Toad also notices the results of the entire battlefield, and notices the enemies being held back better where alternating forts are firing a single type of ammo, as oppose to places where the mix of spears and Star-Bursts cause plenty of stragglers to break into the line of Toads. He calls to one of his messengers, “Go to each fort and tell them to mimic the tactics the comrades in the center area are doing! And I want to know the moment our digging crew is done!”
“Yes sir!” says the Toad as he scrambles off.
A dozen Hammer Brothers patrol the walls atop of Bowser’s gigantic castle. Suddenly, a Koopa Paratroopa wizzes by them and through a window of the tall central tower. The Paratroopa quickly glides up to Bowser, who is still gloating at the caged Princess Peach.
“Lord Bowser! Lord Bowser!” cries the Paratroopa. “The Lakitus have spotted the plumbers!”
“Ha ha!” The Koopa King bellows as one of his fists bumps the hanging cage, knocking it back and forth again. “Awesome! Fire all salvos their way!”
“We’ll try, my king. But the two have come down from above! And fast upon us!”
Bowser flinches for a second.
Peach returns the gloating, “And how the tables have turned…”
Bowser turns his head and flashes a devilish grin her way. “Oh yeah?” He turns back to the Paratroopa. “Have our troops outside fire everything they got! And stay outside with the others; I don’t want anyone else other than the red guy in my castle!”
“And the green guy?” says the Paratroopa.
“Him, too!” The Koopa King turns his attention to the control panel of his watchful ‘Warp Pipe’.
“Yes, my king!” And the Paratroopa zips back outside.
Through the Warp Pipe, Bowser soon spots streaks of red and green jumping from cloud to cloud not very far from the roof of the castle. Lakitus try to throw their Spiny Eggs at them, but the brothers fall too fast for them to hit. Then some of the Hammer Bros on the roof try to shoot them down with Bill Blasters. But again, the speed of their descent makes most of their shots miss. The two even stomp away the few Bullet Bills that come on target!
It comes down to a rooftop battle between the dozen Hammer Bros and the newcomer heroes. Bowser chuckles as he watches the fight unfold.
“Um, shouldn’t you be getting ready?” says the princess behind him. “They’re going to get in faster than you think”
He scoffs, “And then they’ll have to go passed my indoor forces, tumble through a giant maze of pipes, and defeat a near-flawless replica of yours truly. I have plenty of time. But if you insist…” He shuts down the periscope-like pipe, just as the two get a last glimpse of Mario and Luigi entering the castle through a roof door. Bowser heads toward the other end of the room, where he spawns a spiral staircase heading down the tower. Mixes of anger and fear wash over Peach’s face. But before he goes down, he gets up close to the cage and flashes one last gleeful sneer. “Don’t worry, princess; there will be enough of your boys left for me to have one good stomping! Oh, and don’t forget…” He flicks the cage again, sending it swinging and the princess involuntarily yelping. “I want to hear you scream as you witness me whoop your sorry excuses for heroes!” He laughs as he finally stomps down the stairs.
The stairs close up into the floor with a loud thud, leaving Princess Peach alone in her hanging cage. She stamps her heeled foot and crosses her arms in a huff. “Ugh! Of all the nerve…” she grumbles as she calms herself down. “He is unprecedentedly prepared, if not recklessly overconfident. Can’t he see what damage he’s doing…” She spreads her arms out and takes deep breaths. A pink aura quickly forms around her. Then bits of the stone walls break off as she levitates them in place. Invisible blocks also appear and disappear in the room. “The real question is, do I have enough time to be ready?”
The salvo of Star Bursts slow down, but not before effectively creating a divide between the front lines of the Toad defenders and the attacking Koopa Troop. It is at this moment that General Toad has already rushed over to the left side of his forces. He approaches two Toads with pick axes, just taking a moment to rest. “Now, boys!” bellows the general to the two. “The other side of the trench is finished! Break the reservoir! Break the reservoir!”
The two Toads furiously dig at their feet. Within minutes, water breaks out of their hole, gushing directly into the trench. A torrent of water rips from one end of the trench to the other. A few Goombas who managed to reach the trench now gasp in horror as a wave sweeps them off their feet, surging down the river way. Within another few minutes, the Koopa Troop realizes they are cut off by a wide and long moat.
All in the Toad Patrol cheer at the success of their defense plan. Green Toad and Purple Toad hold hands as they jump in a circle around Yellow Toad, who hazily smiles and pumps a fist into the air. Blue Toad approaches Captain Toad, who still sits behind the cannon. Even though all their Star Burst ammo has run dry, Toad still involuntarily goes through the motions of aiming the cannon. Blue Toad sighs and pats Captain Toad. “That’ll do. That’ll do.”
The Koopa Troop frustratingly backs away to their encampment, but still linger around a bit. Then the voice of General Toad booms across the battlefield, “Everyone gather around me! Now!”
The Toads squeeze together as they circle their general. General Toad still has his own spear brandished in hand. A very small smile etches on his face, but his eyes are clouded with concern. “Well done, men. Very impressive show of resilience in the face of retaliation. As much as I’d like to celebrate this occasion, the fight still lingers. While we may have blocked off the ground forces, our scouts have confirmed that they have a few Bill Blasters reserved in their camp. I’d wager they’ll use them now, and blast a way through the moat. And who knows if they’ll send over their aerial troops from who knows where. So…I need a small brigade to infiltrate their ranks and dismantle those Bill Blasters. I need volunteers…”
All the Toads look away, shuffling their feet as they worry about being picked for the task. Blue Toad also looks down like his companions, but after mulling it over he looks up and hesitantly steps forward. “I-I’ll go.”
All the Toads turn to him in surprise and relief. General Toad smiles, “Ah, excellent! First you come up with the defense strategy, and now you have an idea of how to destroy the Bill Blasters?”
“Um, yeah,” he replies, “but, I’ll need some familiar comrades to help me.” He turns to Green Toad.
Green Toad stares for a moment, then pipes up, “Um, yes, I volunteer to help.”
“Me, too,” says Purple Toad. Then he pokes his elbow into Yellow Toad, who’s drifting in and out of insomnia.
“Me, too!” Yellow Toad sputters without thinking.
“Alright, then!” says General Toad. He approaches the four Toads, lifts his stick, and swiftly jabs it behind them. Captain Toad yelps as he steps up between Blue Toad and Green Toad. “We have our five volunteers for the sabotage mission. Take a good look at them, because their success will determine whether our defense amounts to anything.” He leans in and whispers to the five Toads, “Make me proud, boys, and don’t disappoint. Go!”
The five Toads run out of the crowd of Toads as the general gives new directions to the rest of the Toad Patrol. Each of them grabs a spear and a Super Mushroom from their supply chest. Then they make the careful trek across the grassy battlefield using a large, green blanket to keep them covered.
Blue Toad takes the lead and peeks out from under the blanket on occasion. Fear begins to sweep over each of them with every step. Half way there, Blue Toad turns back to his companions. “I…just wanted to let you guys know that…in case…you know…” He takes a deep breath. “If it even counts, I enjoyed fighting alongside you guys. I didn’t think we’d even work together like this, but…let’s not break down, and, well, fight to the end…together.”
The other four Toads smile back. “Yeah, together” replies Green Toad.
Blue Toad smiles back, “And my name’s not Toad either. It’s Bucky.”
Green Toad smirks, “Well, if we’re now going to be going on a name basis, mine’s Orion.”
“My name’s Alan,” pipes up Yellow Toad.
“I’m Milton,” says Purple Toad.
“And I’m…Toad” says Captain Toad. “I know, I know, not very original.”
“It’s okay,” says Blue Toad, “you’ll still be regarded nonetheless…unless you wuss out, in which case you can be forgotten. A win/win, in my opinion.” While the other four snicker a bit, Blue Toad begins to slow the group’s movement. “We’re here.”
The five enter the fringes of the Koopa Troop camp. Fortunately, most of the enemies are resting up in their tents for a few minutes before they’ll make their counterattack. So the Toads quickly fold up their green blanket and stuff it in Toad’s backpack. They dart from tent to tent, careful not to be spotted by wandering enemies. After a quick circling of the camp, they decide to risk moving inward. That’s when they spot five Bill Blasters placed near the center of the camp. Some Koopa Troopas stand near them, buffing them up in preparation for the next fight.
Bucky motions for them to duck behind one of the tents. He whispers, “Okay, let’s make this quick and get out of here. Toad, Milton, and Alan, go attack the Bill Blaster close by here. Orion and I will quickly sneak around and start with the furthest one.” The others nod. “Well, good luck!”
Bucky and Orion quickly dart between the tents, while the remaining three ready their spears. A lone Koopa Troopa is cleaning out the nearest Bill Blaster. “I say we rush in and knock it down hard,” says Milton.
“Okay,” the other two respond.
Once the Koopa Troopa has his back to them, the three rush in. Just as the Koopa turns around, Alan is practically on top of him. While the Koopa retreats into his shell, Toad and Milton pole-vault on their spears and kick the side of the Bill Blaster. It topples off its column base like a chopped tree. But when it hits the ground, a rogue Bullet Bill is shot out. It blasts into a group of tents, setting them ablaze from the explosion. The remaining Koopas around the Bill Blasters are on the opposite side of the inner circle of Bill Blasters when the blast happens. Just when they realize what happened, Bucky and Orion spring out nearby and lodge a couple of spears into a Bill Blaster. It sputters out in a black froth of smoke. The Toads surround the Koopas, forcing them to retreat into their shells.
“Alright, nice work!” exclaims Bucky with a smile. “Just three more Bill Blasters to go. But we’re going to have to be especially quick, because we’re out in the open center, and…”
Suddenly, the fire caused by the first Bill Blaster spreads at a rapid pace. It snakes its way from tent to tent, but only the ones along the border of the center field. The Toads raise their spears and get back to back. As the fire closes the ring, a wave of flame splashes upward where it connects to itself. The splash contorts and bends into a large fireball, landing a few meters away from the five Toads. The flame shift-shapes, with licks of flames on the sides molding into pointed arms. Finally, a set of black, flamey shades develops among the yellow and red body, as well as a black mouth.
“Ha ha ha! I just couldn’t wait any longer! I was born to burn!” Cackles the flame, which overbears the Toads at a little over twice their size.
The Toads sweat furiously, from the heat and the intimidation. “Who the heck’s this guy?” says Bucky.
“Oh, I’m not just any guy,” grins the flame monster, “I’m Fryguy!”
Mario and Luigi, donning their Fire Suits, hurl fireballs toward a blue Bowser, who is blocking the way through a narrow corridor.
“Get lost, you moron brothers!” says the blue Bowser, “I’ve got a kingdom to conquer!”
“Oh, come on!” sighs Mario, “we didn’t come all this way through a ridiculous labyrinth and Firebars just for a fake!”
After lots of bombardment, the fireballs take a toll on the False Bowser, and he collapses to the floor on his hands and knees.
“Ugh, c…an’t…focus…” Mist begins to evaporate from the truant fake Koopa King.
“Come on, bro, let’s just go,” says Luigi. The two jump over the False Bowser. They continue just a bit further, when they reach a passage with a low-hanging blocked pipe, followed directly by a lava pit.
“Hold on,” says Mario, “this’ll be tricky. We better go one at a time.” He makes a running start, then slides beneath the pipe, followed by a quick crouch jump over the lava pit.
“Okeydokey, my turn…” says Luigi. Suddenly, a Buzzy Beetle shell narrowly spins just off to his side from behind him, and into the lava pit. He quickly turns his head. The False Bowser staggers as fast as he can muster toward him. “Oh no!” Without hesitation, Luigi runs toward the lava pit. Just as he slides under the pipe, False Bowser lunges forward.
“Oh no…u don’t…” the blue Bowser pants, reaching desperately for the green plumber. And just as Luigi begins to spring into the air over the lava pit, the clawed hand just manages to squeeze ahold of his left leg. Flailing, Luigi braces for the fall into the scorching lava.
“Nooooo!” cries Mario.
Fortunately, the False Bowser still holds tight to Luigi, and keeps him dangling. Luigi holds tight onto the False Bowser’s meaty fingers. “I…not…let…go…” yells the muffled False Bowser from the other side of the pipe wall.
“You okay, Weegee?” says Mario.
Luigi gathers his bearings and steadies himself to a somewhat better position. “Yes, I’m fine, bro. But you better go on without me. I’ll catch up, I promise.”
Mario nods, then runs down to the end of the hallway. After he pushes through a set of doors, he stumbles onto a familiar arena suspended over a pool of lava. Just as quickly as he comes in, the doors vanish. But he doesn’t care. Because the one and only Bowser stands before him.
Bowser laughs, “Well, if it isn’t everyone’s new favorite hero!”
Mario scoffs, “What’s the matter? Do I disappoint?”
“Well, I am a tad disappointed my replica didn’t give you enough of a beating. Guess I’ll leave the fake making to my ol’ Magikoopa as usual.” He mashes a fist into his hand. “But on the bright side, that leaves more punches for me!”
“Too bad for you then…” The red plumber charges, as does the Koopa King.
Mario hurls fireballs as he’s running, but Bowser body checks them without even fazing. So the plumber jumps over him, trying to scorch his backside. But it’s still not effective. While Bowser turns around for another charge, Mario darts his eyes around the room. This time, the room is completely symmetrical, with no windows or doors. The only thing that stands out is a switch next to a humongous axe, which is placed onto a part of the wall.
Mario rolls his eyes. “Really?” But then he has to jump out of the way of a huge jump slam by Bowser. The Koopa King lets out a column of flame from his mouth, but Mario rolls out of the way. Mario tries a few more fireballs from up close. They make direct hits to his face, but he merely shakes them off. “Well, I guess I’ll have to resort to the switch…again…” Mario runs for the switch while the Koopa King has flinched a bit from the last attack. But another flamethrower stops Mario dead in his tracks.
“I know your game,” Bowser roars. “But I’m not gonna let you win this time. You’re going to have to put up your dukes if you even remotely believe you have a chance of winning!”
Mario curses, “Fine!” Mario unleashes a flurry of fireballs in Bowser’s direction. But the Koopa King is undeterred. Step by step, Bowser stomps toward his nemesis, barely getting smoldered by the fiery barrage. Once he comes up close, he grins and swings a punch. Mario jumps onto his arm and begins throwing his own punches against his scaly skin. Bowser flicks the plumber off, then scorches him with his own flame breath…up close. Mario stumbles backward, his fire suit reverting back to his usual clothes colors.
Bowser quickly jumps into the air, then lands right on the plumber, pinning him down. Mario screams in pain, as his legs go numb in an instant. He laughs, “You finished yet?”
The plumber winces, “Not until…the princess is…safe…”
Bowser devilishly grins, “Oh but she already is! In fact…” He raises an arm and snaps his fingers. A thick sheet of glass opens up on the ceiling. Mario looks up. In a dangling cage, the anguished look of Princess Peach stares through the glass. Her arms were raised on either side of her, and her eyes darted every once in a while. “She’s been watching us this whole time!”
“Princess!” cries Mario. With extra vigor, he whips out a Super Mushroom. He is about to crush it, when Bowser swiftly clenches his throat with one hand. Shocked, he drops the Super Mushroom and tries desperately to pull the grip around his neck with both hands.
Bowser roars with laughter. He takes his free hand and precariously wiggles his claws over Mario’s chest. Then, he slashes two huge, deep, gashes through his overalls and shirt.
Mario’s hands slacken around Bowser’s grip, and his eyes flicker in and out of consciousness. Bowser roars triumphantly. He looks up to Peach, grinning from horn to horn. Now, the princess bangs her fists against the cage bars, screaming with tears in her eyes, but no one can hear her through the glass.
Bowser looks back down at Mario. He cocks his head real close to Mario’s, to the point where the exhalation from his nostrils start rustling the plumber’s mustache. “Well, it looks like you’re at the end of your rope. All alone, at my mercy.” A flame ignites at the back of his throat. “Any last words before the princess and I?”
For a few seconds, Mario remains unresponsive. Then, with a couple of half-gasps, he mutters, “Behind…you…”
Confused, Bowser slowly turns his head. At that moment, a door reappears and Luigi springs out of it. The green plumber takes one look at Bowser, who’s still pinning poor Mario to the floor with all his weight. Then he wastes no time in lunging for the switch by the axe. Bowser gasps as the tall plumber stomps the switch on the wall with his feet.
The axe swings down on the opposite end of the arena from Mario and Bowser. The hard-hitting force sends Bowser flying into the air. As the arena tips dramatically to one side, Mario slides across the floor toward the lava. Luigi bolts up the tipping arena, grabs Mario’s hand, and drags him to the side of the arena still held up by the chain ropes. Unfortunately for Bowser, nothing and no one is there to break his fall straight into the lava pit.
As the Koopa King screams for help, Luigi lightly shakes his brother. “Come on, Mario, come on! You can’t just lie here like this!” Tears fall down his face. “You can’t pass out on me; not after we just won”.
Mario coughs and gasps for air and leaves one eye half open to look up at his brother. “We beat him? You beat him?”
“Yeah, I got him good. Sorry I took so long. The fake guy took longer than expected to dissolve into mist. But come on, you deserve a lot of credit for beating Bowser…again! You took him head on! I just came in to…”
The two stop talking. They both notice that Bowser’s screams begin turning into laughter. The turn toward the source of the commotion. The lava begins receding toward one side of the pit. Standing at the bottom of the slanted arena is Bowser, only slightly banged up, but as triumphant as ever. His arms are raised as he commands the lava to swirl and build up behind him.
He laughs, “You thought that switch was a trap? Well, the trap’s on you, and now that we’re all accounted for…” He throws his arms down. All the lava climbs up the arena floor. Chunks of the stone walls begin avalanching down. Mario tries to get up, but his legs are too crushed to move a muscle. Luigi hoists Mario onto his back and shoulders, and jumps away. The only thing he can grab onto is a bit of stone sticking out of the wall. While the lava just barely singes the brothers’ feet, the stones knock them off their holding. They fall down onto the pile of rubble the avalanche caused. Both of them wince in pain on impact.
Bowser laughs. He raises a column of stone beneath him, sending him higher and higher in the room. Lava and stones swirl around him like a sandstorm. His eyes are filled with madness. “I command all the negative energy that has leaked into our world. The power to create anything…do anything…have anything! All are beneath me! The power I have is mine to command. All mine!”
Suddenly, the glass on the ceiling shatters. The shards of glass suspend in midair, as Princess Peach descends from above. A bright, pink aura emanates from her body. Her hair and dress waves smoothly, but violently. And she looks pissed!
Her voice remains firm, but gets louder and louder, “You attack my people. You kidnap me. You come into my kingdom with reckless abandon. You nearly kill these outsiders…”
Bowser does a double-take for a few seconds, at a loss for words. He hurls stones at her in surprise. But Peach uses the glass shards to create a thick shield, ricocheting the stones down to the ground. “No, no, NO!” he panics, shooting parts of the lava this time. But she expands her aura, creating a force field that forces the lava to fork around her. “How are you doing this?!” The princess lifts her hands, causing a bunch of Warp Pipes to rip out of the walls and floor. Some of the pipes shoot Spiny Eggs at Bowser, sending him toppling off his stone column perch. But some of the pipes jettison the seven members of the Toad Council straight out. Peach suspends them mid-flight, and gently holds them in the air.
“By-boogity!” cries Toadbert.
“Well, well,” says Chanister T, “seems like we found our secret way in after all!”
“Just a lucky break we didn’t stay lost,” scoffs Shmarr T.
Peach levitates up to Bowser, who gets back onto his feet. He growls, “Even if you are a Star Child, how could you be able to wield so much power…my own power…against me?!”
Peach frowns, “You have been using up so much negative energy, and so recklessly, that you have upset the very nature of this world itself. It was only a matter of patience and a bit of quick observant practice that I could syphon the very power you used to found your mad empire. And I had to wait until you were too occupied and drained to make such a comeback.” She looks back sorrowfully at Mario and Luigi. “But clearly, I waited too long…”
She waves her arm behind her. The gigantic axe nearby dislodges itself from the ground and wizzes over to her side. She motions her arms and body like a batter. The axe responds likewise and winds back. Bowser’s eyes widen, petrified as he still tries to process what is unfolding before him.
“I am Princess Peach of the once great Mushroom Kingdom! And I will not stand to see a tyrant take what we have left! Now be gone!” With that, she swings the levitating axe. It hits Bowser so hard in the gut that he bashes through the crumbling walls of the room, straight out of the castle, and far across the sky.
She sighs and drops the axe. She steps onto the ground by Luigi and Mario, the latter of whom is just barely breathing.
“Princess! Thank goodness you’re alright!” exclaims Luigi, still shaking his head to clear his slight dizziness.
The princess smiles and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Likewise”. A light pink aura briefly spreads over Luigi, and he perks up. Just as he is about to comment, Peach interjects, “Sorry, but I must save your brother first!”
She bends over and rests her hands on Mario’s chest. Her aura rushes across his body as she tries to concentrate. Mario’s eyes flicker open. He feels the gashes and scraps on his body, even the two large wounds, slowly closing up. Then he looks up and sees the aura-gleaming princess looking intently at him and his wounds. After a couple of minutes, she lets go and gathers her bearing on her hands and knees. The two of them look in each other’s eyes, their faces very close to each other.
“Thank you…” Mario says at last with a small smile.
Peach returns the smile likewise, “And thank you. You and your brother have done a lot for us already.” The seven Toad Council members descend from their levitation and land next to them. For a moment, everything remains still around the two of them. Then her gentle smile is gone, and she slowly gets back up. “While I thank you two for everything thus far, I’m afraid I need your help once more.”
Suddenly, a huge tremor shakes the very foundation of the castle. More chunks of stone fall around them. “I’m afraid this meddling has gone out of hand. The negative energy…will consume at least our whole kingdom if we don’t do something…fast!”