Twelve hours. 478900 speed. Almost.
On and on, he gained speed yet still remained in place, stuck under a gate so as to not be sent off before his time. Tyler’s blessings be with him, the moments of truth would come soon.
And then, broke to 479000.
Turn in place. Within a split second, he appeared elsewhere as if by teleportation; the slope, T1.
Turn. Reappear, T2, then again at the other end of the slope.
But rather than teleport on to slope T6, he ended up crash-landing elsewhere. A miscalculation in the angle of his trajectory, he figured, flooding his mind with frustration and stress incalculable over half a day of effort laid to waste. But as he sighed out in agony, he glanced around to the site he fell at, just to find himself right at the elevation next to the star he sought.
Speechless. Could hardly believe his eyes, nor find any explanation to what occurred. Another glitch he discovered, allowing him to bypass great part with just as few A presses, and without a QPU misalignment?
He’d have to look into it later. For now, might as well savor his victory.
Just like old times, back in the first days. Falling down a green pipe into Lord knows where, though after all his repeated playthroughs, he already knew too well.
Down he fell, to land onto a great octagonal arena sporting a blue aesthetic.
But something felt wrong.
A memorized pattern broken, feeling out of place, of things that shouldn’t be there. A chill ran down his spine, unable to decipher what it was, till he saw it with his own two eyes partly blocked by his deflated-balloon-shaped nose.
Bowser, arriving to the arena. But it wasn’t Bowser. Sure it had the tail, the spiked turtle shell, the horns, the spiked bands around the upper and forearms, but it was not the monstrous Koopa he had been used to seeing…
…It was like a hybrid of Bowser and Peach. Demeanour closer to Bowser’s, she sported that devious grin of serrated teeth, a defiant and sadistic expression as if silently taunting him over his arrival.
“Tough luck, Mario!” She said, that almost seductive voice only worsening his absolute stupefaction at the change. “Princess Toadstool isn’t here… Gwa ha ha!! Go ahead– just try to grab me by the tail!”
No. No. Nononono. Something happened. Something horrible happened. Sweating bullets already, he began taking a few steps back. He couldn’t come up with any explanation as to what had occurred, what had caused it, but never before in his life had he seen something like this, let alone caused it.
But Bowser- or what used to be Bowser- took a few steps forward.
No. Couldn’t. Shouldn’t. Had to figure out what went wrong.
Escape, menu, exit.
He took another sip of his glass, just to find it dangerously close to empty. Had he turned into a sudden alcoholic? Certainly it had been a fairly shocking experience, what he went through back there. Glancing aside, Luigi’s glass still had half its content. This would spell danger to his liver, if it turned into habit.
“Yes?” He asked, sitting next to him on a stool by the bar’s counter. Behind it, a piranha plant cleaned a few glasses, grasping it with one vine and a cloth with the other.
“Have-a you noticed something weird about Bowser, lately?”
“About Bowsette?” He asked, bringing his hand to his chin.
Bowsette. Mario heard it too clearly to shrug it off as his ears deceiving him. Even the name had changed, creeping him out further.
“I don’t know, Mario. She seems the same she has always been.”
To hear ‘She’ not once but twice only made him frown in horror. Whatever he had caused, had cemented itself as normal.
QPU misalignment. It had to be. His reckless actions had brought him into a mighty fine mess, kicking him out into another PU. Fear had turned into fact.
Another chill ran down his spine. This time, over the eerie feeling of being watched. Certainly uncomfortable for two stressful sensations to occur at the same time, of both horror and paranoia. He quietly turned around, to find ‘something’ behind him.
A Boo, although altered in appearance, making his eyes open wide and his heart to skip a beat. Petrified, sweating bullets once more, he found himself caught like deer in headlights at the Boo’s differing looks. Like the ‘Bowser’ of before, this one still shared traits belonging to what Mario originally knew of, but also traits reminiscent of Peach. Now it looked like a pale ghost with flowing hair, arms betraying devious intent and with a grin revealing a lengthy tongue.
But as the boo made eye contact with Mario, she stopped just as petrified, before blushing madly and subsequently covering her face.
“…Hey, hey!” Called Luigi, stepping off his seat to her. “What did I tell you about sneaking up on people?”
“Am thowwy…!” The poor boo apologized, words muffled over speaking with her tongue still out.
“Come on, you can’t be doing that!” He continued, to then lead the boo away.
But Mario kept silent and still, following with his eyes at what had transpired in front of him. Turning his head with a whipping motion, he glanced at his almost empty glass, to then return his horrified eyes to the ghost escorted out.
The gate, once more. Speed. Low, not even in the quad digits just yet. Had to get out. Had to return to the original PU, had to return to QPU alignment.
That alone turned into enough motivation to try again. Even if it took twelve hours, again. He needed to recreated the mistake, though alter it enough that he landed on the T6 slope that he was meant to land on. Even if not in T6, as long as he finished in the original PU, it’d all be fine.
The voice. ‘Bowser’s’, seductive as a woman, startling him enough to lose concentration and be flung aside, violently splashing into the water.
Popping his head out, he shook the water off to open his eyes and find her standing cross-armed over firm ground, looking at him. Once more a chill ran down his spine, knowing that he, or now she, was not even meant to appear here.
“…’Er’?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “Come out of the water, I’m not looking for a fight.”
Dilemma. To be glad about it, or to be unnerved by the strange sudden peace. Not necessarily mutually exclusive, leaving him to be both. Regardless, he slowly made his way to where she was, till he walked onto firm ground as drenched as he would ever be. Like before in his own PU, the one in front towered over him with her differing height.
“I’ve known you for a long, long while, Mario.” She said. “You’re not the type to be that scared in our last confrontation. That you even called me ‘Bowser’ just now only makes me wonder more if something is happening with you.”
But he stood still, looking at her and wondering; should he tell her? Should he not? What would happen in any case? Certainly his own actions brought an abrupt change, so what if more of his actions bring the same?
Well, if ‘Bowsette’ had noticed enough to be here asking, chances were he wasn’t getting away without speaking it out.
No other choice.
“I…” He said, just to find it difficult to even put it all into words. For each second he took to think, Bowsette stared at him in judging silence. “Don’t belong here.”
“I did-a… things. They backfired. The ‘you’ I remember is called ‘Bowser’, and is more… monstrous. Same with the Boo I saw.”
“Wait, it had another name too?”
Pausing rather than replying, Bowsette turned her head aside to stare at that gate he had once been under.
“Then what you were trying to do there…” She asked.
“It’s-a what got me here. I was trying to go back.”
Bowsette took a deep breath, pondering over his words with her eyes still fixated on the gate.
“I know of jumping worlds. Took you jumping through eight to get to the princess, once. What you’re describing, though…” She turned her head towards him. “We need to talk. Thoroughly.” She said, to then give a smirk. “This is one of the few times we’re not against each other, so how about we go eat in the meantime? I’d rather be somewhere more comfortable, given the choice.”
“I uh…” He wondered, to then glance around the hardly scenic area, and end with a look at his drenched clothes that were in dire need of replacement. “…O-okey dokey.”
“…Half? Isn’t an A press an A press?”
With titanic effort, Mario hid a groan. Would hardly do well to be too expressive about his discomfort in what tremendously luxurious restaurant she had taken him to.
Part of him wondered, however. Did she pick the place on purpose? With Bowsette now, more of a lady than the old Bowser he knew, it felt as if it was a date. Intentional? Accidental? Too many ideas floating around his head, too shocking a change of appearance of old and new. If he kept thinking on it, he’d sooner go crazy than find any answers. The food had yet to even be served, he couldn’t go crazy this early in the case he actually did, either.
“It-a doesn’t matter.” He said. “I did what I did, and it ended up getting me here.”
“I see…” Answered Bowsette, unable to hide a clear frown of deep confusion. “It’s… fascinating, I guess? But… why?”
“PUs, QPUs, Scuttlebugs, HSW, running in place for twelve hours, that gate. Why would you put yourself through that?”
Blinking blankly, Mario had been taken by surprise enough to ask himself that same question.
“Once you do something enough times,” he came to answer, “you start trying to find other ways to do it. Easier ways, faster ways, efficient ways…”
“Is that what you’ve been putting yourself through whenever we met, back there?”
Bowsette’s frown soon changed, revealing subtle worry.
“And the other areas that you’ve repeated…” She asked.
“Yes, them too. You start learning them like the back of your hand after a while. World 4-2, that damned place… I could run into certain walls like I’m Harry Potter after years of looking over each brick with a magnifying glass. Took me from ’04 to figure out a way to finish it as fast as possible, and I’m still trying to figure out a better way.”
“Fourteen years… only for 4-2? Mario, how many times have you repeated the same thing?”
“All combined? I don’t keep track anymore. If I have to guess… I don’t know, a hundred thousand times?”
Left speechless, Bowsette raised her hand to almost reach her mouth, hardly able to hide her dread.
“But why?” She asked anew, voice betraying her concern if only with the subtle unsuppressable tone change. “What is it that made you repeat those places so often in the first place?”
“You of all people ask me that?”
“I have my own reasons for kidnapping the princess,” she lowered her hand, “but I’m not going to pretend I’m doing it to get you to rescue her every single time.”
“The same way you have your reasons, I have mine.”
“And what are they?”
Though he opened his mouth, words could not came out. He had nothing to answer with. Honorable tasks had turned into habit, repetition for years turning it into things as natural and eternal as his moustache. The realization struck him in full, the realization that he had forgotten, reasons to go replaced with a simple lack of reasons not to go. ‘To rescue the princess’ had been a good enough reason at the start, but after the thousandth time, it had begun to lose its charm.
“Does she mean so much to you?” Asked Bowsette.
At the question, he fell silent, as if he had not been trying to figure out the answer to another who lacked any.
“You’ve put yourself through the gauntlet how many times for her?” She asked in a sigh, sinking back on her chair. “You know, after hearing it from you on what you’ve been through for her sake, I’m surprised that she hasn’t married you already. At this point you’re the most dependable person in the entire planet, if you got yourself thrown into another PU for her sake just now. She… has no excuse, does she?”
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak of her that way, Bowsette.”
Though Mario had lowered his eyes in sorrowful thought, Bowsette kept quiet momentarily as she looked at him.
“Search your feelings, Mario.” She said, tone as warm and welcoming as he had ever heard of her, be it this one or the one he had known before. “You know it, don’t you? The heartbreak of doing so much, and receiving so little in return.”
An uncomfortable silence grew among the two, a flurry of thoughts reigning in their minds.
“…Say.” He heard, to then look up to her and find her now grinning once more, chin resting on her clasped hands with elbows over the table. That grin, unnerving, though strangely soothing, as if instead of taunting it sought to seduce. “I can’t really let you go as you are, after you told me all of that. I wouldn’t be able to bear seeing you as empty handed as you always were. How about, you and I… spend a little more time with each other these days onward?”
“U-uh…” He could hardly say, sweating bullets once more with a panicking heartbeat.
“Don’t worry, I won’t bite… unless you’re into that. I just want to be the one who doesn’t let all that effort of yours go unnoticed. I was involved in all the suffering you’ve gone through, so I have to start somewhere if I want to right that wrong, no?”
Nervousness. Too much to behave properly. The advances just now had been more than he had ever gotten from Peach, as direct as a freight train onto a car stuck in the railway. He didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know how to react, he didn’t know what to do; the exhaustion of so many years of ‘rescues’ had rusted the part of his brain that could even imagine such a thing would happen, let alone with Bowsette instead of the one he had been rescuing all along.
Looking aside, Mario broke out of his paralysis at the sight of a koopa bringing to the table a pair of dishes, placing them in front of him and Bowsette. Humanoid in appearance much like the Bowser and Boo of this PU, but at this point it hardly did more than cause him confusion rather than straight up terror. Still, after so many years of stepping on them, he couldn’t help but feel instant infinite gratitude for her breaking up the awkward situation he had found himself into.
Though after seeing the food laid in front of him, his stomach groaned in quite the loud fashion. It took him twelve hours to jump into this PU, and certainly after that he had not eaten, making his belly remember it was aching for nourishment after the many distractions today.
“Think about it.” She said, prompting him to return his eyes to her just as she took hold of her fork and knife. “I won’t leave you empty handed. That, I can promise you.”
His bed. At least it had not changed, but little did it help him. In the dead of the night, he found it hard to sleep at all. Thoughts upon thoughts bombarded his mind, keeping him from falling asleep for that rest he sorely needed. Twisting and turning in place, dead tired yet at the same time wide awake, dark enough for him to not even see his own palm, he found it impossible to cast away what haunted his psyche.
This PU. Truth to be told, it’d have been easier to deal with had it been a nightmare world of sorts. Less reasons to stay, less things to ponder about, less things to draw his focus away from leaving at all costs.
But things had turned out far more difficult. He had been thrown into a bizarre PU where Bowser was Bowsette, a towering lady assertive and seductive now somehow caring for him and all he had gone through these years.
It hadn’t even been for him only, as well. That Boo. The Koopa. Who else? How many? Toad, could it have happened to him as well?
What a mess this was. QPU misalignment. He had to go back, but the question only pestered him on and on, mind splitting in two:
Did he really want to go back?
He had to sleep. For now, it was the greatest priority. It’d do him no good to be awake tomorrow with hardly any rest, regardless of what he did. Focus on anything, the random noises about, the silence, anything to get the voices in his head to shut up.
To fall asleep. That’s all he had to do.
Near the required speed. It wouldn’t take long, now. Gate over his head, running in place, his next attempt would come soon.
But as he feared, Mario heard a few distinct footsteps approach. They soon arrived to the open gate, though the guest had decided just to stare than give a greeting. Turning his head, Mario had already guessed well who it was, just to confirm it at that moment. Bowsette with her hands together behind her, looking at him expressionlessly, though certainly with concern under that stern look.
“Are you really planning to leave?” She asked, low tone betraying her worry.
“I have to.” He answered. “This is not my PU. I don’t belong here.”
“Do you really want to leave that much…?”
“Sometimes, we have to do things we really don’t want to do.”
Silence, other than his steps in place. In the pause, Bowsette pursed her lips, frustration growing over the difficult situation.
“It pains me to see you go, returning to put yourself through the gauntlet again. It’d not end even if it killed you, will it?”
“I’ve grown used to running out of lives.”
“Figured… It’s a dreadful situation you’re in, Mario. Were I able to make it easier for you, I would in a heartbeat.”
Past her words, silence reigned once more.
“How long do we have left, until you disappear?”
Her steps began anew, though surprising him to no end, he saw her step into the water. Her dress, he could hardly bear to see it drenched by her own willing choice, dampness reaching higher and higher as she stepped further down the slope, to step over and arrive to his side.
“Maybe there is a way I can make it easier for you.” She said, to then extend her arms. In her hands he saw a crown of a striking design, one he realized just now she had kept hidden all along. A crown similar to the one he only now noticed she wore, in fact. “This is a super crown. Once you go back and meet Bowser, you should use this on him.”
Puzzled and curious, Mario took the crown, staring at it and what its implications were.
“I’m confident it’ll work. Truth is, I’ve already grown indignant of all you’ve gone through since time ago. What you told me wasn’t too much of a revelation, it only confirmed my fears. If Bowser and I are similar enough, then it already has it in his heart what pain and misery you’ve been living in. Year after year, and you couldn’t even get to call yourself Peach’s boyfriend, let alone husband… Use the crown, and things will take care of themselves from there.”
Though he stared at the crown, trying to formulate a response, a kiss on his cheek almost threatened to throw off his focus and send him flying about. After that, Bowsette departed to firm ground once more, to stare at him with a sorrowful smile on her.
“Goodbye, Mario. I sincerely hope things work out well for you, for once.”
“…Goodbye, Bowsette. I’ll never forget this.”
And then, broke to 479000.
Turn in place. Within a split second, he disappeared as if by teleportation.
Old times. Tired, fed up, Mario landed in the octagonal arena once more. Unfazed anymore, expecting what he had grown to memorize already.
“Tough luck, Mario!”
There he was. Bowser, as he ever was.
“Princess Toadstool isn’t here… Gwa ha ha!! Go ahead– just try to grab me by the tail!”
And then, Bowser began stepping forward towards him. Patterns Mario had grown to expect, keeping him in a state of almost boredom mixed with the mental exhaustion of past events. But at least something would change, for better or worse. With Bowsette’s gift in his hands, he waited for Bowser to approach. The crown’s weight seemed good enough for him to use the throwing skills he had gained throughout the years, needing not to calculate a new weight for a trajectory. Step after step, Bowser drew closer, till at the right moment, Mario threw the crown at him.
It landed on his head perfectly, leaving Bowser shocked at what had happened before a cloud of smoke engulfed him whole.
Once it dissipated, Mario saw a familiar sight.
Bowsette, staring with just as much shock as Bowser. It wasn’t the QPU misaligned Bowsette he knew, but the effect certainly was what she had banked on.
But, that was that. Mario let himself fall, ending up sitting on the floor. He did nothing else, other than stare. What Bowsette had talked with him certainly did a number on his willingness to go on, and if the look and inactivity of the Bowsette in front of him was anything to go by, his tired eyes betrayed what he thought of the matter anymore. Her shock dissipated, leaving way to an almost expressionless face showing what subtle hints of concern there had been for his actions, till she herself sat down as well.
“Tired of all this repetition, after so many years?” She asked.
“Yeah.” He answered.
“I see… So am I.”
With no breeze, with no noises, with no movements about, time felt as if it had stopped. The silence turned deafening.
“Peach must certainly feel glad that she had someone like you, all this time.”
“I don’t know anymore, to be completely honest…”
“It pains me to see you still as empty handed now as you’ve been the first time. Say… How about we go and do something together for a change of pace, instead of fighting like we have through all these years?”
“Yes, that sounds nice.”
Without a word to add, both quietly stood back up. The two walked to each other, reaching the other right by the center of the arena, and with a solemn smile on their faces, they held hands and departed together.
“You know, I think Bowser’s been getting a bit lazy lately.” Pondered Princess Peach, throwing up and down the tennis ball she was about to serve.
“Ah? What makes you say that?” Asked Luigi at the other end of the net.
“Well, you know how he’s too busy fighting Mario to actually monitor where he keeps me after kidnapping me, right?”
“He’s starting to forget to lock the door.”
Footsteps caught her attention. Turning aside to see who it might be that they came from, the absolute shock of the sight left her too unfocused to grab the ball, letting it fall down to the ground. Luigi seemed to share the surprise, both seeing a distance away Mario and a certain someone walking together with cheerfulness undeniable. Peach came to realize pretty quick who it was; Bowser, somehow having changed into a more lady-like form.
But as Peach stared in absolute stupefaction, Luigi brought his hand to his chin.
Had to be around here somewhere. The mansion seemed as treacherous as ever, though at least he had come with his Poltergust 3000 rather than armed with only good intentions.
In due time, he found it. Within a room, he came across King Boo, seemingly unaware of Luigi’s mere presence within the mansion.
“…Eh?” He said, turning around. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you meant to go through all the levels first, or are you visiting for something else?”
Holstering his Poltergust 3000, he took out instead a funny looking crown, to then extend it to King Boo as he stepped forward.
“A gift, for me?” He asked, to float forward and gently take it off his hands. “I, uh… Thank you.”
Though King Boo remained curious, Luigi grew a smile of infinite expectations. He tried it on, placing the crown over his gigantic 95%-ghostly-body-mass head, though as soon as the crown fell into place, a great cloud of smoke engulfed him.
When it subsided, Luigi saw with his own two awestruck eyes the same type of change that had affected Bowser earlier ago. King Boo had now turned into a voluptuous lady ghost, as shocked as she’d be by her own sudden transformation.