Lost to the Next Level (Part 4)
“By-boogity!” exclaims Toadbert.
“It’s unrecognizable!” Chanister T cries.
“Are…are we even in the same place?” Mario asks Princess Peach.
“Unfortunately, yes…” she replies. ”This is what negative energy can do.”
Mario, Luigi, Peach, and the Toad Council members stand on top of the rubble of the once towering Koopa King fortress. All around them, the landscape changes constantly. The colors of the plants flash from green to red to brown to every hue in between. The ground shakes violently like waves on an ocean. Streams of water flow about as aimlessly as the wind. Thunderstorms billow overhead, and grow little by little around the edges. A few enemies from the Koopa Troop scatter about in a chaotic fashion, attacking anything that moves.
“I…I don’t understand,” says Mario worriedly. “How…is this even possible?”
“Well,” Peach starts, “negative energy is a type of force that causes reality itself to disassemble. So the more of this energy in an area there is, the more likely everything around will break apart.”
Mario looks at her confusingly. Luigi just stares blankly into space.
“Um, how do I put this…” She turns to Russ T. “Russ T, you showed me some research books on this during my studies. How much do you know about negative energy?”
Russ T clears his throat. “Not much I can add, and even the best scholars and researchers don’t even know how to describe the nature of this energy. But for starters, this energy is only a subset of a much grander force on a fundamental-reality scale. Now, I am not a scientist, but to put it simply, there is a theory that all forces like gravity and electromagnetism are manipulated by two opposing energies. One is what we call ‘negative energy’, and it naturally wants to destabilize all fundamental forces and matter. The other energy, which we first named ‘star energy’, naturally wants to bind things together. While these energies are as opposite as night and day, they complement one another and tend to be attracted to each other.”
“Right now, there is too much negative energy concentrated in the Mushroom Plains,” Peach continues. “Bowser found a way to collect and manipulate this energy, not knowing what terrible consequences would come.”
“But there have been highly rare instances of individuals who have been capable of manipulating such energies to shape the world to their whim.”
“So Bowser can do that…” Luigi ponders. Then he snaps his fingers toward Peach. “Then that must mean you can, too! Like what you did a few moments ago!”
“Precisely,” Russ T replies.
Peach sheepishly half-smiles, “Yeah, I can do that…” Then she frowns, “…but only in such dire circumstances as this, unfortunately”. She begins to walk off the huge pile of rubble. “We need to head back to my castle as soon as possible. There’s something back there that we can possibly use to save everyone and stop this catastrophe.” She looks back toward Mario and Luigi. “You guys still have it in you for one last journey?”
“Oh yeah!” Luigi shouts.
Mario clenches his fist. “I can still stand, thanks to you. I’ll do my best to keep us all in one piece on the way.”
Peach smiles, “Likewise. Let’s go everyone!” With that, Princess Peach leads the group across the constantly changing Mushroom Plains.
Fryguy laughs as the Toads slowly back away from him. “Man, if the Koopa King knew how helpful I’ve been, he’d have to ask me to join his army!”
Bucky darts his eyes back and forth from the fiery creature. A wall of fire surrounds them in a complete circuit, leaving no immediate escape. Fortunately, all three of the remaining Bill Blasters are left inside the fiery loop. “Hey, guys,” he whispers to the other Toads, “walk slowly toward the far Bill Blaster…but keep eye contact with Fryguy…and make it look like we’re surrounding him.”
The others slightly nod. Orion leads Milton and Alan from Bucky’s right, slowly toward the desired Bill Blaster, forming a semi-circle around Fryguy. Toad stays to Bucky’s left, but steps slowly toward a Green Shell on the ground.
Bucky locks eye contact to Fryguy’s black shades. “So, you’re part of the Koopa Troop?”
“Nope,” says Fryguy, “I’m a free-spirited flame. I have been helping the Koopa Troop here and there. I volunteered to man a False Bowser suit to fight those flame-wielding humans, and I helped send messages between the Koopa Troop factions. But all of my helpfulness is to further the true goal.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“Well, once the Koopa Troop re-plunders your capital…” But he is abruptly interrupted when Captain Toad kicks the Green Shell he managed to inch toward. Fryguy slides out of the way. “Ha! You missed!”
But then the Green Shell ricochets around the camp, then rapidly spins toward Bucky. “No he didn’t…” he smirks. He squints one eye, and winds back his right foot. The green shell slides closer and closer. At just the right moment, and just the right angle, Bucky kicks the Green Shell. It careens in a beeline through the air…toward a Bill Blaster. It bounces off the head of the Bill Blaster. It topples over hard, and explodes moments later.
“Three down!” cheers Milton.
Fryguy darts toward Orion’s right side, nearly grazing him. “Oh, you think you guys are soooo clever, huh?” Scurrying around in circles, he forces the spooked Orion to rope Milton and Alan into falling back toward Bucky.
“Quick, Toad, get to a Bill Blaster!” Bucky yells as the other three Toads begin scrunching up to him from Fryguy’s pressure.
Toad hardly hesitates to flee from the scuffle. He makes a beeline for the closer of the two Bill Blasters.
“Oh no you don’t!” cackles Fryguy as he skids across Toad’s running path. Toad’s hiker-sized backpack nearly falls over him as he abruptly halts himself before the skid-line of flame in front of him. Fryguy makes a few more fly-bys by Toad to herd him back to the rest of the brigade.
“I suggest you keep still,” Fryguy smirks, “else you’ll be sweating more bullets that a Bill Blaster! Speaking of which…” He glances over to a section of the wall of fire surrounding him. It slowly dissipates, and a few frightened Koopa Troopas stand on the other side of the fire wall. He eyes them, “Hey, I’ve got these shrimps here. You take the Bill Blasters over to the front-line.”
The Koopas cautiously tiptoe to the two Bill Blasters. As they prep one of them for mobility, Alan gets more and more agitated then any of his other comrades. Finally, he bursts out at Fryguy, “What’s in it for you anyway? The Koopa King give you a nice fat treasure bribe for joining his side?”
“Yeah, you don’t strike me as a Koopa Troop loyalist,” Bucky chimes in.
The flame being scoffs, “Me, with treasure? I ain’t that easily bribed. I’m a more…maniacal fellow.” He looks back to the Koopa Troopas. They have a Bill Blaster ready to go, but look confused as to where to take it. “Ah, good!” He glances at another part of the fire wall, making it disappear. Some of the Koopas begin to quickly push the Bill Blaster toward the open gap, while the others march to the other Bill Blaster. Fryguy looks back to the Toads. “With these remaining Bill Blasters, the Koopa Troop will have enough fire power to bring the destruction of your capital. And your dear Toad Town is in quite a sad state already, I’m betting it’s like a tinderbox waiting to singe. Those flames will then be the abundant fuel I’ll need to make the whole kingdom; heck, the whole continent burn before me!”
“You’re insane!” gasps Milton.
"Maniacally insane! I’ll have a whole land in my own image!”
Bucky’s fists clench. “We’ll stop those two Bill Blasters, and stop you!”
“Try me!” Fryguy cackles.
“Scatter and swarm!” Bucky shouts. The other Toads immediately respond, all running in separate directions, which momentarily causes Fryguy to hesitate. “We must stop them, whatever it takes! For the Mushroom Kingdom!”
“Yeah!” The others nervously cry. The five Toads start by running about, with no real sense of direction. That is except for away from Fryguy, who struggles to give chase to any of them when two of them cross paths on multiple occasions. Even with the ring of fire keeping them relatively contained, the Toads avoid direct contact with the fiery fiend. But gradually, the Toad Brigade comes together where some of the Koopa Troopas are still readying the fifth Bill Blaster. The Koopas are so pre-occupied with the Bill Blaster that most get stomped on by the Toads.
Slightly frustrated, Fryguy burns a bit larger as he says, “Fine, I’ll admit you have the advantage in numbers, but that can change…” Then he bursts into five smaller versions of himself. “…instantly!”
The Mini-Fryguys each leap at a Toad. At first, the Toads run around the Bill Blaster in an attempt to ditch their pursuer. Then, two Mini-Fryguys bump into each other after Alan and Bucky nearly collide as well.
“Hey, watch where you’re going!” says one of the Mini-Fryguys.
“Me? I thought you read my mind,” spits the other.
“Well, you obviously didn’t think hard enough!”
“I hate when we split up,” moans yet another Mini-Fryguy. “We better catch these fungi before our minds grow any more independent.”
Just then, Bucky gets an idea. He pulls Alan in so he can whisper into his ear. “Get the others to the stationary Bill Blaster. Do whatever you must to destroy it, then move on to the last one. And do not stop for me!” Alan looks slightly confused, but agrees to the directions.
As Alan heads over to Milton and Orion, Bucky bolts straight to the two Mini-Fryguys chasing the green and purple Toads. “Hey, Frybozos! You can’t even light a birthday candle, let alone burn a couple of fungi!”
This gets the two living flames’ attention. “Oh, really?” the two simultaneously shout as they now chase the blue Toad.
Pleased, Bucky runs up toward the other three Mini-Fryguys. “Hey! I bet fuzz is hotter than you!”
This stops the three Mini-Fryguys from bickering with each other and turn to the blue Toad. One of them shouts back, “You don’t think we’re too hot to handle? Then let us show you what we’re made of!” The three lunge at him, but the blue Toad somersaults out of the way. Then, the other two Mini- Fryguys catch up to him, while the remaining three flank behind him. “Get him!” The Mini-Fryguys all leap at him at once.
At this moment, Captain Toad peeks out from the tuff of grass he’s hiding in. He notices Bucky being jumped on by all five Mini-Fryguys. But the blue Toad makes a frantic leap off to the side, just a second before the little flame guys collide where he once stood. This leaves the flaming enemies in one fiery pile-up.
Bucky smirks as he gets back up and runs away from the flame pile. Suddenly, a solid white block materializes on the ground, directly in the way of the blue Toad. Since he’s looking back over his shoulder, Bucky trips over the block. Once he gets his face off the ground and looks back again, he is shocked to find Fryguy upright and as one singular baddie.
“Ah, much better!” says Fryguy. “Now, to show you how I’m too hot to touch!” He streaks across the smoldering grass as if he’s sliding on ice.
The fiery being quickly bears over the blue Toad. Bucky turns over on his back and slightly sits up. He does not run. He does not scream. His eyes grow bloodshot as he’s sweating bullets. Out of desperation and knee-jerk reflexes, he flings the white block at his feet at the fiery being. It beams off the flame’s forehead area.
To the surprise of both, Fryguy crumples to the ground, groping his forehead with his stubby flame arms. His body flames simmer down by nearly half its former fervor. Captain Toad pumps his arm with a “Yes!” as he stands up out of his hiding spot.
Bucky smiles as he gets to his feet and backs away slowly. He notices that the flames that had circled around them were flickering in and out, like a fountain struggling to pump water into the air. He looks toward Orion, Alan, and Milton, who are bashing the forth Bill Blaster with the Green Shells of their enemies. “Alright! Now’s my chase to go after the last one and…”
Then the body flames reignite. Fryguy arcs upright, the flames standing on end as he cries, “No one hurts me! Nothing but water hurts me!” He glares at the blue Toad. “You will pay for your little trick!”
Bucky turns around and high-tails for the last Bill Blaster, which was already halfway from the Koopa Troop camp to the moat.
Fryguy speeds across the ground, gaining on the blue Toad. “Oh no you don’t!” Speeding twice as fast as the tired blue Toad, he leaps onto him like a lion on his prey.
Captain Toad can hardly move. To his horror, he witnesses Bucky’s body singing with first degree burns in seconds. The blue Toad’s shrills in agony.
But Fryguy forces Bucky to turn onto his back. The blue Toad’s wrists now turning an ugly black. “Look at me! Who’s hot stuff now?”
Bucky squints against the intense heat and brightness of the fiery fiend. Captain Toad helplessly watches him kick and scream, having it hurt half as badly as what the blue Toad is feeling.
Then a boom interrupts the series of screams. Fryguy and Captain Toad turn their heads to the source of the explosion. The forth Bill Blaster lays in pieces. Alan, Orion, and Milton find themselves fallen on their rear ends on the ground right around the rubble. “Finally,” sighs Orion, “just one left to go.”
Fryguy immediately lets go of Bucky and races toward the three Toads. Now that the fiery fiend is distracted, Captain Toad runs up to the fallen Bucky while lugging his large backpack. The blue Toad is singed and sooty. His voice grew hoarse and raspy from all the yelling. He can barely open his eyes or move his head, but Bucky grunts in acknowledgement to Toad by his side.
“Come on, man!” Toad says in a panicky voice, “We gotta get you out of here! How can I help? What can I do?” He bends down, wondering where to carefully grab hold of the blue Toad.
But Bucky shakily lifts his right hand to nudge away Toad’s arms. While Toad feels a bit offended at first, he notices Bucky’s hand point back toward Toad Town. The captain looks up to see the fifth Bill Blaster over half way to the capital. Furthermore, there is no fire surrounding them. As the captain looks back at Bucky, the blue Toad’s arm falls to the ground and he falls into unconsciousness.
The red Toad glances back at the last Bill Blaster destroyed. To his dismay, Fryguy has just knocked out Alan, Orion, and Milton. The good news: the three aren’t as scarred as Bucky. The bad news: now only Captain Toad is left in Fryguy’s sights.
The fiery guy laughs, “Now what will you do?” Toad tries to turn the other way and run, but Fryguy quickly cuts him off and stands before him. “Your other friends at least tried to take me on.” He darts at various spots around Toad, leaving small pockets of fire burning at each stop. “But all you’ve done is keep-away.”
Captain Toad tries to dart away, but the backpack proves too heavy for him to make any sudden moves. “Ugh! He’s too fast! I have to get to the Bill Blaster, or I’ll let everyone down and everything we’ve done to protect our kingdom will be for nothing!” Then, Fryguy dashes straight at the red Toad, sending him flying into the air. As he somersaults back to the ground, his backpack slides off his arms and falls a few meters away from where he lands.
“It’s over, little fungus!” cackles Fryguy, “There’s no way I’ll let you stop those Goombas from lugging that Bill Blaster to the front lines. And once they blow up the moat, the Koopa Troop can lay siege to your town, and I’ll have the pleasure of letting it all burn!”
Toad forces himself to get back up, even though every muscle in his body screams in pain.
“Just run, little Toad! That’s all your ever good for.”
Tears trickle down his cheeks. “Yeah, that’s all I’ve ever done. I run away from work. I run away from trouble. I run away from critics who call me out for being a coward. But who am I to fight back…when they’re all right about me.”
Fryguy coughs up a few fireballs into the air. The fire showers above Toad, who darts every which way to dodge them. Then the fiery guy dashes toward him. “Run. Run away and never return!”
"All I do best…is run…” At the last second, Toad sprints out of the way. Hardly dismayed, Fryguy comes back around and tries to ram into Toad again. But Toad dashes out of his running path once again. Both stop where they are for a second, flabbergasted.
“How did you get so fast?” Fryguy tries again and again to headbutt Toad, slash him with his fiery arms, or even spit fireballs straight at him. But Toad keeps running every which way out of his line of fire. Now with a smile on his face, Toad runs circles around Fryguy. “What’s the meaning of this?” He stops, looking desperately for an open shot.
After a few laps, Toad eyes the white block Bucky had thrown at Fryguy to hurt him. With lightning speed, he picks it up and chucks it right between the fire guy’s eyes.
Fryguy leans over as he moans in pain. “How is this…possible?!”
Toad bolts away from the fire guy, out of the Koopa Troop camp, down the slope, and straight to the final Bill Blaster. Before the Goombas pushing the cannon even look behind themselves, Toad is already jumping on their heads. All they can do is scream before they’re knocked out one by one. Rubbing his hands together, Toad takes a good look at the cannon. “Alright. Here I go. One more, and we’re done.” He leaps onto the cannon head, and makes multiple stomps upon it.
Fryguy comes to his senses. Looking directly around him, he notices the yellow Toad, green Toad, and purple Toad are gone. Even the blue Toad has disappeared. But far ahead toward Toad Town, he eyes the red Toad jumping on the Bill Blaster. “Why, that little…he fries today!” And he bolts across the battered plains.
Unbeknownst to him, he passes right by the four other Toad Brigade members, who remain concealed under their camo sheet as they try to sneak back to Toad Town. Alan and Orion hold the half-conscious Bucky between them. Milton, with Captain Toad’s backpack in tow, directs the group by peeking under the sheet. The purple Toad sees Fryguy closing in on the last Bill Blaster, where Toad is trying his hardest to stomp it to bits.
“Toad’s having trouble with the Bill Blaster, and the fire monster’s almost upon him!” Milton says to his companions behind him. “Should we try to help him?”
“No,” replies Orion, “we’re in no shape to take him on, especially Bucky. Let’s just quickly take him to the medical tent and get the general to send reinforcements. Hopefully, Toad can still keep Fryguy occupied for a little longer until more help can come.”
Captain Toad begins to tire out, and he barely makes a few good dents in the Bill Blaster. Then he hears Fryguy shout from not too far away, “You’re going to be grilled and crispy when I’m through with you!”
Shaking and panicking, Toad cowards behind the Bill Blaster, but tries to point it toward his pursuer. After that, he locates the hidden ‘off’ switch and moves it to ‘manual’. He focuses on Fryguy, who is still several meters away. He is about to push the small button to fire, and hesitates. He remembers back during the frontline fight, when he was firing a cannon like now. He remembers how Bucky told him to wait until the Koopa Troop was in range, but panic got the best of him as he fired off prematurely and recklessly.
“I can’t go off the rails like that again,” he says to himself. “I got to stay focused. The Mushroom Kingdom is on the line, and I can’t afford to do any more screw-ups.”
Toad takes a deep breath. He keeps his hand over the button as he wait for Fryguy to get closer. And closer…and closer…and closer.
As the gap between them shrinks, Fryguy yells, “I’ve got you now!”
Finally, Toad pushes the button to fire the Bill Blaster. “I’ve got you!” After a couple of smoky sputters…nothing happens. “Aw, no!”
Fryguy flashes a huge grin as he is just a few meters away.
Now really terrified, Toad crouches into a ball as he frantically throws the switch to ‘automatic’. “Come on, come on, come on!”
The fiery fiend leaps again toward Toad and the cannon. “There’s no stopping me! I demand a display of fire…”
The whole Bill Blaster head ruptures in the backfire. Toad gets knocked away, briefly dazed. Fryguy, on the other hand, isn’t so fortunate. Strangely, a white-colored Bullet Bill makes a direct hit at the flame guy. The Bullet Bill streaks fast and far away into the sky, leaving behind only a smoky trail and the screams and cussing of Fryguy.
Toad comes to a short while later. He sneezes from all the soot caked on him from the blast. “Man, wasn’t expecting a blast that bad.” He stands up and looks around. To his delight, not a single Koopa Troop weapon or foe is near him or his town. All the Bill Blasters are destroyed. “Yahoo! It’s over! We won!”
Then some ruckus happens up by the Koopa Troop camp. Toad squints toward the sound of the commotion. Tents are brought down as fast as they had gone up. Soldiers flee away from the capital. The hills of the Mushroom Plains begin to flatten out and rise like a restless ocean. And in the center of all this commotion, Toad can see ten figures jumping in his direction. Seven of them look like Toads, while three look like humans. One of those three is notably clad in red.
“Mario!” Toad cries in delight. He slowly wobbles to them, partly from slight light-headedness, and partly from the occasional tremors growing. But Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and the seven Toad Council members all catch up to Toad. “Mario! Luigi! Princess! You guys made it back!”
As soon as they stop, Mario and Luigi lean against each other as they catch their breath.
“Is it just me, or does the ‘negative forces of the universe’ have a hard-on for bottomless pits?” gasps Mario.
“I hope I never see that many bottomless pits again,” pants Luigi. “Which section do you think had the most broken physics: A or B?”
“I’d have to go with C, actually. Was that the one that had some upside-down Piranha Plants?”
“No, that was D. The princess saved us within that section…many times over. And every subtle change we could make to the terrain helped in a big way, like she said.”
“Yeah,” Mario looks over to the princess. “And I wish I could hover across the air the whole way like she can.”
Toadiko helps prop up Peach. Despite looking the most exhausted and flustered of the group, the princess remains upright. “It’s definitely not as easy as I make it look. Plus, I was channeling some of that negative energy to amplify my own star power.” She cracks a brief smile as she looks back at the brothers. “You guys weren’t that bad either, doing that for your first time.”
“Thanks,” says Mario, “I…think I’d like a Mushroom now…or anything to give me a quick boost.”
Toad perks up, “I think I have some shrooms left for you guys, right in my bag…” He reaches behind his back, but realizes nothing’s there. “My backpack! It’s gone! I…I must have dropped it during the fight. Maybe…maybe the general has extra rations. Come on!”
Toad leads the group out of the plains, around the makeshift moat, and into Toad Town. The majority of the Toads from the frontlines have already returned to town as well. However, there’s a bit more of an upbeatness to them. Even before they cheer wildly for the arrival of their princess and the two plumbers.
A bandaged Milton finds Toad and the group. “Oh my gosh, you all made it back! A double victory!” He particularly eyes the brothers.
Mario and Luigi smile back, while Toad interrupts. “They need to heal up. Where’s the medical tent, and the general? Where’s Bucky?!”
“The general is actually waiting for your immediate report by his post. Bucky was just placed at the medical tent, resting. You should…”
Suddenly, a huge tremor rocks the town, nearly knocking everyone down. A few seconds later, it dies down, but small tremors persist.
Peach looks increasingly worried. “No time for shrooms. We have to get to the castle, now! Mario, Luigi, follow me!”
While the Toad Council members hesitate, the two plumbers follow the princess to the castle as quick as they can. They burst through the front doors, across the foyer, and behind a door behind the grand staircase. In the hallway, they bump into Toadsworth, who was just leaving the courtyard.
“Princess!” the old Toad cries as he instantly leaps onto Princess Peach. He blathers on through his wailing tears, incoherently expressing how much he missed her.
Peach gives the old Toad a couple of taps on the head. “There, there, I’m fine. But the situation has grown too dire. We need the Power Star...”
“What?!” Toadsworth blurts, “B-b-but princess…”
Outside, Toads scream one after the other. On his way to the general, Captain Toad turns to where some others have just looked. His eyes grow as large as dinner plates as he shrieks the loudest he’s ever before. From the east, an enormous wave in photo-negative hues blots out the horizon. It swallows up any plants, earth, and clouds in its wake. Thunderstorms rain lightning and hail gravel as a harbinger of doom. Even Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toadsworth can hear the booms and screams from outside, as well as see the light through the windows get dimmer and dimmer.
Toadsworth continues, “I know you used the Power Star recently. But you grew dreadfully exhausted after that. And look at you now; just as tired already!”
“I’ll manage,” Peach shrugs, “and I’ve got Mario and Luigi to help me this time.”
“Good heavens, no! They’ve got no experience handling such power compared to even the likes of you. And they look just as tired!”
She bends down and places a hand on Toadsworth’s head. “I was taught to protect my kingdom, no matter what it takes. The Mario Brothers hold similar values, and have shown to be more resilient than they appear. With our combined strengths and wills, it should…will be enough to save us all. You know that, right?”
Tears stream down his face as he slowly calms down a bit. “I’m afraid I know. I will always be afraid I know.”
“Good. Now, get Dr. Toad or someone to the basement once we’re done. Just in case…”
“Right-o!” Toadsworth runs out of the castle.
“Follow me!” Peach leads Mario and Luigi into the basement level, around winding hallways, and through a secret gap in a dead-end wall. On the other side, a huge vault door opposes them. The princess turns a couple of knobs to unlock it. “What I’m about to show you is a secret to everybody. Except for me and Toadsworth, none of the other citizens know how the capital has been protected for all these years.” She opens the vault room. In the center of the room floats a star twice the size of their hands.
“That looks like one of those Starman things” says Mario.
“This is a Power Star. It is like a Starman, except its power lasts indefinitely, even when harnessed. Each ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom has used its power to help protect the kingdom in various ways. The only limitations to its use all depends on the users. Only a select few, the Star Children, have been known to wield such infinite power. And even among the Star Children, only a few in recorded history have actually succeeded in doing so. It’s…a complicated artifact to say the least.”
“So, how can we help?” Mario says, slightly worried.
Peach approaches the Power Star. Mario and Luigi do likewise, and the three form a sort of triangle around it. “Today, you have proven to be one of those Star Children, like me. Like I mentioned, the Power Star has no limits to its power and capabilities. It is up to us to determine how we direct that power. We could do something as little as healing, or…something as big as fixing apocalyptic destruction…perhaps…”
Mario and Luigi look at each other. “No pressure, right?” Luigi replies.
“What’s the plan?” Mario asks.
“Remember how I was able to reshape the terrain against Bowser, and when we were heading back here? Well, we’re going to do just that…on a much bigger scale.”
“But, we don’t know how…” says Luigi.
“That’s okay,” she replies, ”I will be the one mainly doing the terraforming. I know this kingdom much more than you guys do, so it makes sense for me to be the architect. What you will mainly be doing is giving me the strength to apply all these changes. Just follow my lead, and let your instincts do the rest. Okay?”
Luigi nods, sweating bullets already. Mario looks to Peach. She looks uneasy, but her eyes spark with determination. “I’m with you, princess.”
The princess takes a deep breath. “Alright. Then let’s begin.”
She raises her hands up to the Power Star. Her hands begin to glow the usual pink aura. Mario and Luigi mimic her stance. After a few seconds, her aura changes from pink to gold, like the star. That same aura spreads to the brothers as well. Mario and Luigi stare in wonder and awe…for about two seconds. Then the tremors get worse.
“Concentrate,” says Peach calmly, “drown out everything around us, and feel for my aura through the Power Star.” She closes her eyes.
Mario and Luigi close their eyes. At first, nothing out of the ordinary occurs to them. Then, a tingling feeling like their ‘pipe sense’ nags at their fingertips. Images of Peach’s Castle, Toad Town, and the Mushroom Plains flash through their minds. Baffled at first, their gut feeling senses that these images are from Princess Peach herself. The images keep flashing in rapid succession.
For each angle of the locations in their collective minds, there are two versions. One is of what is happening right now: fissures tearing through the ground, the sky twisting up with the hills in knots, and screaming Toads changing color and shape. But the other version of the same scene is more peaceful: clear blue sky, soft green grass, Toads unharmed and healthy, and every building pristine and unbattered. “This…must have been what the Mushroom Kingdom was like before the fight” Mario thinks.
Then the destructive images begin to change. Subtle changes, like a cloud pinned in the sky or a stone moved into a wall of a building, appear. With each alteration, the destructive images get closer and closer to looking like the peaceful images. Curious as to why, Mario and Luigi focus their thoughts into the images as well. To their surprise, Peach’s mental thoughts block them from doing so. She uses her own thoughts to correct the images of her kingdom. But the speed at which she works her magic slows down. The earthquakes around them grow in intensity. The brothers feel her life energy strain from pushing against the wild pressures of the negative energies to make those changes.
"I’ve got to give my all” the brothers think simultaneously. This time, the two imput their thoughts toward Princess Peach. They focus on her inner strength. They picture her strength as a leader for her Toads. They remember how she was able to deliver the final blows to the Koopa King. They imagine her standing above her kingdom, with them by her side.
The pace of image editing speeds up. As the two images become more and more alike, the ferocity of the negative force outside decreases. The terraformation gets slower and slower. The three Star Children sweat and stagger as they near completion.
Finally, the destructive image stops changing. Mario and Luigi crack a smile as they heave deep breaths. “Is…is it over?”
“N-no,” Peach gasps. “The changes…have not...been set…”
She is right. Outside, every object and living thing appears to be frozen in time. Worse still, the three heroes can still feel the earthquakes relentlessly hammering them.
“W-we j-just…need to implement…” Peach keels over and falls lifeless onto the ground.
“Nooo!” cries Mario. But he dares not open his eyes when the perfected image in their minds flickers the instant the princess goes unconscious.
“What do we do now?” Luigi shouts over the earthquakes.
“We finish this!” Mario mentally wills for the image to be real. With the assistance of his brother, he imagines the texture and magnitude of the setting. But the two can feel pushback from the negative forces, as if it has a will of its own. Their arms and legs tremble as they struggle to focus. “I finally found a place I feel I belong to, I can’t…” The red plumber flickers in and out of consciousness.
“No no no! Not you, too!”
“I can’t…let this end…like…” Mario blanks out. As he falls forward, one stray thought reaches out to Luigi. “It’s up to you, bro…”
Only Luigi stands up before the Power Star. He tries to insert his will upon the image in his mind, but he can feel his life energy buckle beneath the negative energy and the powerful tremors. As his consciousness flickers in and out, thoughts creep into his mind.
"What do you care about this world?”
"This place has given you nothing but danger.”
"You think this is your home?”
“No,” mutters Luigi, “this isn’t my home, but…”
"It’s up to you, bro” echoes Mario’s last thoughts.
“…but this is all my bro and I have left.” Luigi snaps out of his half-conscious state and refocuses on the image of the Mushroom Kingdom.
The thoughts persist, “So, make this place a home of your own!”
"A place eradicated of all threats.”
"You have the power, and know how to use it.”
“It is not my place to decide what is best for this kingdom. My brother’s well-being is all I care about.” He pushes his will harder and harder onto the image.
The negative energy pushes right back harder and harder. “You’re a pathetic weakling!”
"You cannot stop the natural order.”
"You cannot control it.”
Luigi grinds his teeth. “Yes, I can! I will end this! Obey me, you stupid star magic!” His body feels as if it’s about to boil over. The tremors grow stronger and stronger as an air of tension fills the room. A battle of wills climaxes.
Luigi opens his blood-shot eyes. He extends every ounce of strength toward the glowing Power Star. “Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!” His body and aura changes into a photo-negative color as swirls of negative energy flood his body.
After a few agonizing seconds, Luigi regains his normal color. The shaking abruptly stops. The Power Star fades to its usual glow. With one last breath, Luigi falls backward and closes his eyes.
On the opposite end of the Mushroom Plains, among a group of high-rising hills, a flame-suppressed Fryguy trudges aimlessly. The raging storm above him begins to settle down. The tremors stop.
The fiery creature grumbles, “Stupid Toads. Stupid plumbers. Stupid Koopa Troop campaign. They will pay for snuffing out my fun, especially that dumb luck Toad! I’ll burn them all to the ground if I have to!”
“He he, I like your moxie!” says a mysterious voice.
Fryguy’s dim flames perk up a bit. “Who’s there?” He looks about, at first not seeing anyone around him. Then he notices a shimmering shadow of a large creature, sort of in the shape of the Koopa King. “If this is your weird new way of contacting me, Bowser, I’m not interested in doing your dirty work!”
The shadow laughs. “Oh, you have me mistaken. I don’t want you to do something for me. I’d like it if you’d join me…in some world destruction, no less!”
Fryguy flinches. Then he cracks a wide grin. “I’m listening. Need something scorched away?”
“Oh yes, but not in this world…” His shadow starts breaking up. “This negative energy is fading away; this world is reverting back to stability. Follow me, and I will show you a world that needs to wake out of its false sense of peace.” And with that, the two disappear into the hills.
“…M…Ma…Mario…Mario!” cries Toadsworth.
Mario stirs as he regains consciousness. He rubs a hand over his eyes. “Where…what happened…”
“Oh thank goodness!” the old Toad says happily. “You’re alive!”
Mario darts his eyes. He deduces he is in some sort of pink bedroom, lying on a stretcher on the floor. He tries to sit up, but his whole body shutters in pain. He hunches over, and notices bandages on his right cheek, chest, and left leg.
“Hold it, dear sir!” Toadsworth warns. “Give yourself a little longer to rest up.”
“I’m not wasting another second lying here until I know what happened to my brother and Princess…” He immediately notices Luigi lying next to him on the floor in an identical stretcher. The green plumber has bandages on his nose, both elbows, and right leg. While he’s resting, his face makes an expression of uneasiness. Mario turns to Toadsworth. “Is he alright? How did we get all banged up like this?”
“Manipulating the fabric of space itself is nasty business. Parts of your body are bound to get brittle after such a strain, especially when you have a lack of experience doing so! Fortunately, Dr. Toad bandaged you up in said places to apply pressure…”
But Mario stops paying attention as soon as he looks toward the balcony. The doors are wide open, and Princess Peach stands upon the edge of the balcony. At the same time, she turns around to look back at Mario. She, too, has bandages placed on her abdomen and right arm and her dress is tattered. And yet, with the backdrop of a clear blue sky, she smiles back, as if she doesn’t feel a thing.
Mario slowly stands up, despite the old Toad’s protests, and he steps toward her until he stands beneath the doorway to the balcony. He leans against the doorframe, while the princess still grasps at least one hand on the marble railing. No words are shared between them. Only their eyes and a smile is needed to understand what they knew: they succeeded.
Finally, Mario breaks the silence. “Feels good to be at peace.”
“Yeah,” shrugs Peach. “I almost forgot what it feels like…to not be under the threat of constant danger. I mean, the Koopa Troop could still come back. But right now…our kingdom is safe.”
He looks down at his shoes. “I guess…you won’t need us around to help save your kingdom…”
“That’s not…” She let’s go of the railing as she is caught off-guard by that comment. In doing so, her legs begin to falter.
Without thinking, Mario runs over and catches Peach by her waist and right arm before she leans too far over. They look at each other, with bits of blush etched on their cheeks.
Peach clears her throat as she grabs hold of the railing again. “Mario, have a look at my kingdom.” She points out over the balcony.
Mario looks where she’s pointing…and his jaw drops. “Mamma-mia!” Last he saw Toad Town, all of it was nearly reduced to rubble. Now, the sun shines upon a town filled with mushroom-shaped buildings of all sizes. The cobblestone roads spread neatly through all of it. Even the Toads look more cheery and bright. However, on a closer look, small damages to the structures can be seen everywhere, which some of Toads are trying to fix. “We…we actually changed reality!”
“Yes. Well, it seems like we didn’t make everything picture perfect. But this is pretty much what my kingdom looks like. This castle, the town, and the plains stretched out to the horizon are all under our domain. I’d do anything to keep it this way.” She turns to Mario. “To be honest, I have only recently been an active ruler. And even then, the Toad Council assists me with some of my decisions. But I’ll need a protector; someone who can embody the strength of our kingdom to everyone in and out.” She takes out her right hand. “Mario, will you, and your brother, stay and be the hero our kingdom deserves?”
Mario tries to process what is happening before him. Then he extends his own hand and shakes the princess’. “Oh yeah! I mean, it’d be an honor to serve you and the Mushroom Kingdom.”
“M-Mario?” groans Luigi back in the bedroom.
“Luigi!” Mario runs back to Luigi’s side.
The green plumber tries to get up, but he also grimaces from his aching body.
Toadsworth also stands by Luigi. “I told you to rest! Doesn’t anybody have any sense of caution anymore?”
“Oh, relax, Toadsworth” says Peach from the balcony. “It’d probably be good for him to get some sunshine anyway.”
“It’s…sunny?” Luigi perks up. “We…we did it?”
“Yes,” Mario replies. “We won. Everything is back to…sort of normal.” He helps Luigi stand up while his brother grasps his left arm over his shoulder.
The green plumber smirks back. “Yeah, about as normal as we’ll ever get around here.”
Mario, Luigi, and Toadsworth shuffle out to the balcony with Princess Peach. The four of them look out to admire the fruits of their struggles.
“You know, this really is a nice place when nothing bad is happening,” says Luigi.
“It certainly is, dear sir,” exclaims Toadsworth.
“As long as we keep this up together, the Mushroom Kingdom can be a prosperous and exciting place for everyone again” says Peach.
Mario tips his hat and grins, “And that’s just what I like.”
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