How long since they had turned? The question burned in Princess Toadstool’s mind. She could not remember the exact date that Mario and Luigi Mario, the saviours of the Mushroom Kingdom had been turned by their once-nemesis, the dread dragon Bowser.
For countless turns of the calendar, Mario and Luigi had been heroes, sacrificing themselves time and again in an effort to save her. She truly did not know which one she would have chosen if she had had to, but they were twins and willing to share everything – including the platonic affections of the young princess.
However, some indeterminate time ago, Bowser had shown up in his air ship. Mario and Luigi had fixed their faces in masks of determination and set out to battle the never-successful villain. However, instead of lobbing Bob-ombs from his vehicle, a single scroll, attached to a rock, dropped from the zeppelin, landing with a crash between the brothers.
Mario, ever the leader, bent to pick it up. Unrolling it, he mumbled as he read the note from his greatest adversary. The brothers exchanged words – it turned heated. Finally, Mario put his hand on his brother’s shoulder and they looked up. There were tears in Mario’s eyes as he signaled that Bowser should lower the rope-ladder. A short climb and the plumbers were out of Toadstool’s life.
The ensuing weeks had been Hell for the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom. With nobody to fight off the combined forces of Bowser and the Brothers, simple mushroom people were being conscripted into Bowser’s evil army under the pretense of “Freedom for all” when it was just an attempt to topple the monarchy that had reigned in peace over the kingdom up until the time that Bowser had arrived. She knew that her subjects could see through the thin veil of Bowser’s deception but they had little choice in the matter – it was enlist or prison and few would take the one over the other – especially when it seemed that there was nobody to stop the Bowser Army.
It was a mere matter of time before the army attacked the palace – there was no chance for the Mushroom army the way things stood. Mario and Luigi had tilted the scales a little too far for her comfort. Old King Portabella was well into senility and he would hear nothing of raising an army of loyal mushrooms. His time is done, Toadstool thought to herself. If I don’t do for the Mushroom Kingdom, nobody will. With her first true act as a ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, she decided to even up the odds.
“All right. Thank you very much. I will see you soon? Perfect. Thank you.” Finally, her super team was created. They would form the task force that would save the Mushroom Kingdom from the forces of evil. Toad, the omnipresent administrative aide looked upon her approvingly.
“Who are the chosen few, your highness?” the short mushroom squeaked.
“Well, Toad, I had to keep several factors in mind. First, I needed strength. Where better to find strength than in Mario’s oldest foe.”
“It that wise? He’s kinda a wildcard, isn’t he?”
“One thing that you can guarantee about Donkey Kong is that he hates Mario. If we’re going to be fighting the plumber, then we need to have the monkey. Next, because of his tenacity and his speed, I enlisted the aid of Jonny Excitebike. He will not only get off a horse after falling off – he will run to the horse. Next, I have added more strength, in the form of two men, named simply ‘Big Derek’. Yes, both of their names are ‘Big Derek’.”
“I remember them. They are not particularly smart but they are certainly strong.”
“That is correct, Toad. They will have someone to do the thinking for them. Her name is Samus. She will direct the ground forces. She seems to be instinctively able to communicate with the Dereks.”
“And the rest?” Toad was smart enough to know that there would be more.
“You are sharp, Toad. The rest are to be used for Espionage. Alex and Ryan, two crusaders, will be able to penetrate the deepest levels of the gangs of Koopa Troopa and Paratroopa, using everyday items as weapons. They will be directed by a man simply known as Blue, the Bionic Commando. He will coordinate subterfuge from within the system, using the enemy’s communications devices to keep in contact, both with us and with Alex and Ryan.”
“There has to be one more, Princess.” Toad said expectantly.
For the first time, the small mushroom saw uncertainty cross the face of the young Princess. “One more? I have one who will coordinate the frontal assault and one to coordinate the covert operations. I believe I have chosen the best for those jobs, as well as choosing the best for those units. Who am I missing?”
“I will guarantee you that the primate will chafe to being placed under a woman and the Bionic Commando does not get along with Samus either.”
“I had not anticipated this. So I need…”
“An over-commander, one to smooth over problems and see the bigger picture. His will be the final say.”
“The slime-slayer. Excellent, Highness. The only better thing would be if we still had the plumbers.”
A pang of regret, coupled with pain, jabbed the princess as if a physical blow at the memory of the wonderful days she, Mario and Luigi had spent together. The two Italians had a keen sense of humour and extremely deep insights as to the ways of the world. How would she continue, knowing that those two, the two that had given her so much, including her freedom on numerous occasions, had turned against her?
The princess steeled herself, knowing that such thoughts might make her soft for what needed to be done. The Marios were gone and there was nothing she could do about that. She could, however, do something about them. And she would.
“Hello, Carlos?” she began, as a male answered on the other end of the phone.
Explosions tore up the neon-green grass below Samus’ feet as the Bob-omb went off. Fortunately for the space-marine, she had launched herself twenty feet into the air.
Bob-ombs were the easiest to deal with. They walked for a time before going off. Executing a flip in midair, Samus fairly easily avoided a Bullet Bill who would have lowered her armour rating.
Things had sure changed over the last couple of weeks. Mario and Luigi had gone from happy-go-lucky plumbers with some dragon-busting skills to cold-blooded murderers. With the flowers they’d plucked from secret boxes, they had rained fire down upon the castle until Samus, Dereks, DK and Jonny E. had come along and fought them back. Pulled from her musing by a cannonball, Samus did a mid-air somersault and landed on the cannonball, knocking it from the sky. She had met Mario and Luigi one time, at a Nintendo function – they were polite, if not too bright. However, there did seem to be something missing from them… Enough, thought Samus, it’s hard enough to fight with my mind on what I’m doing. Switching to missiles, the space marine took aim at a cluster of red Koopa Paratroopas. She hoped that the covert-ops team was making more progress.
Blue, the Bionic Commando, crawled on his stomach underneath a platform suspended by… what? Magic? Alternate physics? The warp-zone he’d passed through had given him a funny feeling and he knew that there were a number of large changes but he didn’t know that the impossible would exist here.
The sound of a Goombah rounding a corner brought Blue to his feet. Careless! A raw recruit would have seen this coming. He had no recourse but to go up. A quick dip into his pouch produced an extend-o-grapple, a device of his own creation. There was no time to marvel over his own ingenuity, however. Pointing the device upward, he pushed the activator and sent himself toward the roof.
The Goombah seemed oblivious to the sound of the grapple hitting the ceiling and, having no neck, he could not have looked up if he’d wanted to. Exploiting this vulnerability had been Mario and Luigi’s key to the constant defeats of the Bowser Army. And it was one that Blue was not above using either. Timing it perfectly, Blue pressed the release on the mechanism and dropped toward the ground, stopped only by the head of the mushroom foot-soldier. A satisfying “pweep” sound emerged from the flattened Goombah as he disappeared from view.
Now, to find that radio and communicate Bowser’s movements to the Slime Slayer.
Donkey Kong found himself alone on the battlefield. The Dereks had done a great work but they had retreated when the call was sounded. Samus didn’t like it when people didn’t listen but DK didn’t care. His only concern was destroying all of these insignificant gnats that pestered him. Blood coursed from a dozen wounds but the gorilla had been through much worse, hunting Krool. Sending a troopa-shell skyward, he knocked Lakitu from his cloud and, looking around, realized just how massive the onrushing army was. A slow thought (which was all there ever was for Donkey Kong) sprouted in his mind. Why were there no mushroom soldiers fighting on the side of the princess? He could find the question but the answer was a little too quick for him so he let it get away. Realizing that he would not likely make it out alive if he didn’t leave now, he leapt straight up in the air, grabbed onto Lakitu’s cloud and flipped himself into the seat. It didn’t take a genius to figure out how to fly it and it was even easier to launch the four remaining Spinies into the crowd of Bowser’s ground troops, delivering a painful spiny end for any soldier not clad in a shell. Goombahs hardly slowed the projectiles down and an entire brigade of the evil-looking mushrooms was mowed down in short order. Chuckling evilly, Donkey Kong flew off to Mushroom Palace.
From the highest tower in the Mushroom Palace, Carlos could see the ravening hordes of Bowser’s army. They were held back for now by a spell cast by Toad, who had an amazing array of magical spells. This would not hold them back for long, however, and when they broke through, Toad would die. Such was the price to pay for the time that was needed. It all came down to time, now. Time for Blue, Alex and Ryan to do what they had to.
Ryan dropped the wooden stick he’d been using to fight off the guards outside of Bowser’s castle. It blinked for a time and then disappeared, its usefulness at an end. Fortunately, there was another garbage can, the third such that he’d used in this crusade. Turtle shells had been his primary weapon – that and the bricks that he’d been able to dislodge from the treasure boxes that were surrounded by nothing. One good yank and they came free – they flew really well too. Alex was currently laying about him with a Shy-guy, enemies being a valuable weapon to the two River-City boys. Finally, Alex and Ryan were alone, any enemies that remained blinking – their disappearance imminent – or BARFing, after which they started blinking. Looking around for anyone who might betray their whereabouts, Alex motioned to his buddy and they continued toward the castle which loomed large over the entire vicinity.
Blue swung from the suspended blocks, releasing the grapple at the end of his swing to gain maximum distance. If he timed it right, he could – there – the next set of brick blocks came within range and the Bionic Commando aimed and fired. With a satisfying crunch, the grapple bit, seeing Blue safely to the next objective.
From behind him, a hammer whistled by his head. Blue turned and fired without stopping to see who had thrown the weapon and silent death tore its way through the air to the lone Hammer Brother. As the armoured turtle disappeared, Blue resumed his journey to the castle. Carlos had been quite adamant in his orders for Blue to rejoin his covert ops team as they made the final assault on the castle.
“FULL RETREAT!” Samus called, pulling back from the fighting. It was amazing – none of her people had died and they were still going to lose the battle. She’d decimated an uncountable number of enemies and yet the horde continued inexorably forward. It was then that she had understood what her part in this was. Saying a silent prayer for the assault on the castle, she returned to the castle, all of her soldiers in tow and her delaying action successfully completed.
Realization came upon Carlos in a flash. Without knowing numbers, it was hard to say for sure, but it looked like… no, it couldn’t be the case. There had to be more, somewhere. He would have to talk to the princess.
Mario jumped down from the floating platform, the high-pitched tone of his jump subdued. He hadn’t been the same since things had turned out the way they did. How could he have been so blind? All these years, and never – not once – had Mario run into a commoner in the mushroom kingdom that was anything but hostile toward him. Then that note from Bowser that made everything so clear.
Making Luigi see reason was the hardest part. He had never wanted to say anything, but his brother’s feelings for the princess had always been a little inappropriate. They did their job, they saved Toadstool on several occasions. But it was not right for him to push his feelings on the woman.
And now they were at war with the same person they had saved time and again. The woman who had kissed Mario on the cheek when he’d saved her in the floating castle. The woman whose hair shone in the sun like the mozzarella on a fresh pizza-pie.
No. I won’t let myself think of her in that way anymore. She’s responsible for where we are.
She and her father had been responsible for the oppression of the mushroom people since well before Mario had appeared. Bowser’s message to Mario had outlined that, but countless interviews with mushroom people of all stripes lent hard evidence to Bowser’s claim. Goombahs, Koopa Troopas, Lakitus, all of these creatures had suffered under the thumb of the Mushroom monarchy.
In a way, Bowser was a hero. He’d shown up just before Mario and taken the people’s plight into his heart. He’d fought for them, using the dirty tricks that they were not willing to. He’d shown them the way, and then when Mario came on the scene to save the princess, the mushroom people had finally decided to attack.
Why else had Mario never found a friend among the entire populace?
That was in the past, though, and Mario had nothing but the future to look forward to. Bowser would send Mario and Luigi home once the princess was taken down, by way of the secret warp zone, and the people of the Mushroom Kingdom would become the Free Peoples of Mushroomistan, and live in peace and prosperity.
That was what Mario hoped – if only he could trust the dragon who had been his nemesis for so long.
Luigi’s heart was breaking. He didn’t know what to do. He’d argued with Mario, but couldn’t get him to see the same thing. They were brothers. But the princess was the princess. She’d had that same hold on him since the day he’d gone down the drain in his bath tub and ended up here, in the mushroom kingdom.
Those eyes, that hair, the slim figure, so like his own. He and the princess had even shared a dream. A wonderful dream where the two of them had teamed up to defeat the evil Wart. (Mario and Toad had been there too, but that was immaterial.)
Where did Mario get off, telling him to turn on his one true love? Hadn’t he carried the team to new heights? If it were Mario all by himself, he would never have gotten so far. They’d been together since the very beginning, stomping crabs for gold, and now Mario expected him to follow when Mario called.
Forget that. If Mario wanted to go rogue, destroy all that the brothers had worked so hard for, betray the love of Luigi’s life, that was his doing. Luigi would do what he had always done. He would lead with the heart, and do what he had to do to get the job done.
“But Princess, I don’t understand.” The slime-slayer’s voice hit the edge of plaintiveness but he recovered quickly. “Why can I not see the general population of this kingdom? Where are they all?”
“They are in seclusion. This war is extremely hard on them.”
“Take me there.”
“Are…” the next question gave Carlos pause. This would determine his course of action and possibly decide the fate of the Mushroom Kingdom. “Are they on your side?”
The look in Toadstool’s eyes said it all. The uncertainty and fear were confirmation of his suspicions.
The seasoned campaigner turned from the princess and grabbed his comm. “Pull out, all units. PULL OUT!”
Blue, the Bionic Commando, looked down his scope at the soon-to-be-late Mario. One tap to the back of the cap, and the pasta-boy would be down. He eased into his crouch and suddenly the shot was there. ‘Say goodnight, goombah,’ Blue thought, because at this range, any noise would-
“Pull out, all units. PULL OUT!” Blue flinched, wincing. That would pull the entire Dragon-guard down on him. He opened his eyes to see Mario staring straight at him. It didn’t look good. He would have to shoot before-
It was too late. Before Blue could even think of pulling the trigger, a bouncing ball of fire caromed off his face. As he fell to the ground, the Bionic Commando was oblivious to the irony that his position was betrayed by the call to tell him that the man who eventually killed him was not his enemy after all.
Alex and Ryan were surrounded. Turtles, turtles with wings, some cute little shelled things, a couple of mushroom-looking things with guns loaded with Bullet Bills – there really was nothing they could do. They’d used up their stone hands and dragon feet just getting this close, and they could get no closer.
“Looks like we’re done for, Alex.”
“It’s the big barf in the sky for us, Ryan.”
You wanna be a prisoner?”
“Not me. You?”
“Then one last time. DO IT!” Alex’s final two words resonated as, somehow, both Alex and Ryan simultaneously picked the other one up and threw him at the enemy.
Spinning through the air head first, Alex bowled over fourteen turtles and a shelled cute-thing before he was squashed by a fat turtle with wings. Three blinks and a coin sat where once there was a neighbourhood crusader.
Ryan didn’t have time to say goodbye, as he landed on his feet, in a fighting stance.
“Pull out, all units. PULL OUT!” Carlos began in the comm unit. “Mario and Luigi are not our enemy. The Bowser Army is not our enemy. It is all a lie. Pull out any way you can. Get back here safely.”
Putting up his arms, Ryan did the last thing he ever expected to do. He surrendered to the Bowser army.
Throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, word from Mario spread quickly. The mercenaries were bugging out. They’d caught on to the injustice of Toadstool’s reign, and were now leaving the Kingdom for good. If any were caught, they were to be released, and if any were seen, they were to be left alone.
The hordes advanced on the Mushroom Palace unimpeded. The thirst for vengeance was overwhelming. Slower mushrooms were trampled by some behind them, and disappeared without a trace. The advance became a sprint and righteous anger became bloodlust. Ascending the steps required the tide to narrow to four mushrooms abreast. The lead mushrooms rounded a corner and were sent, sizzling, to Hell.
The blue overalls and green hat were stained, the face was wet with tears, and Luigi stood over the dead form of Carlos the Slime Slayer. No more would the valiant Spaniard protect the city of Aliahan from slimes of every stripe.
Ball after ball of fiery death bounced into the rows of mushrooms. until the slaughter caused them to reverse course. Uncounted multitudes of mushrooms were crushed as the mushrooms in the back continued to try to reach the castle and those who witnessed the horror pushed the other way.
A small fraction of the horde that had reached Mushroom Palace limped away from it, their hunger for death ruined in the extinguishing of so many of their compatriots.
“I should have known what you would do, Luigi.” Mario stepped out of the shadows.
“And you did nothing to stop me,” Luigi replied, turning to face his brother.
“You broke the Bowser army. I would not have them reach the princess either.”
“But you’re on their side.”
“I am. But it is not for the people to pull the despot from the throne. It is for their champion. If they were to do it, they would have no need of Bowser, and then they would overthrow Bowser when he did something they didn’t like, and it would be anarchy.”
“I’m what you might call Bowser’s proxy. I’ll do the dirty work, and then they will turn to Bowser for protection. He can rule, and the Mushroom Kingdom will be in peace once more.”
“You believe that the Mushroom Kingdom will be at peace under that murderous dragon?”
“No. I am not that foolish.”
“Then?” Luigi’s confusion was plain on his face.
“I killed Bowser.” Luigi did not flinch at the lack of emotion in Mario’s voice, but it was an effort.
“You… killed him?”
“I had to. If he were to rule, it would be no better than if Toadstool were to. Worse, in all probability.”
“Then …” Luigi’s eyes widened as he realized the repercussions. “You would rule in Bowser’s stead?”
“As long as people believe Bowser is still alive, they will pay their tributes to him. And I will run the show.”
“But what about the princess?” Luigi was pleading.
“She will have to die. She wants to rule, and her way is not the way of peace.”
“No more, Luigi. Stand aside. I have a princess to kill.”
“You will not kill her, Mario.”
“I have no choice, Luigi. It’s the only way to peace.” Mario stepped forward. Luigi stood in his way.
I’ll stop you, Mario. I swear it.” He readied a fireball.
“You wouldn’t dare.” Mario took another step and was incinerated by the ball that flew from Luigi’s hand.
“For the princess, I would do anything.”
“Then die, plumber.” A blade bloomed from Luigi’s chest and around it, his green coveralls darkened to a black as the lifeblood fled from him.
Princess Peach Toadstool, uncrowned queen of the Mushroom Kingdom, lowered Luigi to the ground as he slowed and was still in his death throes.
From behind her, the familiar squeak of Toad could be heard. “There will be peace.”
Toadstool turned, the front of her dress covered in blood. “Let’s go to bed, Toad, dearest.”
“I’m the best!”