February 22, 2019, 12:00:42 PM

Our thoughts go to Silver and his family in this difficult time.

Super Mario Bros. 9: The Phoenix Salvation (Chapter 32 + Epilogue)

Started by shadowmarioguy, December 03, 2010, 08:12:26 PM

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[glow=blue,2,300]Chapter 27: Checkmate[/glow]

Calm Heart

"You're getting better," Kronos commented softly, pondering his next move as Peach slid her bishop diagonally across the board.  "Yet your strategy hasn't changed.  Even after all that I've said, you continue to insist on preserving as many pieces as possible.  At the end of a game, the number of remaining pieces you have is irrelevant.  All that matters is whether or not you've captured your opponent's king."  He smiled sadly. "...Your na´ve ideals remind me of my sister, Rh-"

"Rhea?" Peach interrupted, before placing her hands over her mouth.  "Sorry...  It's just that you've mentioned her name several times already.  If you don't mind my asking... what was this Rhea like?  She must have been very special to you."

Kronos nodded longingly.  "She was.  Even after I went to war with Zeus, she stood by my side and lent me all of her support.  Rhea was perhaps the most caring woman to ever live... that is, until Hero took her away from me.  They joined up with the Olympians and left me to die all alone.  And after the Terranean War, they had a child that would become the first of many heirs to the Hero Bloodline..."

"I see...  It must have been very hard for you to lose the support of Hero, Rhea, and even your own son..."

"The worst was when they teamed up against me during our final confrontation.  I was all alone..."

This continued for several minutes, with Venus looking on in disgust.  How can those two sit and play chess as if they were old friends?  And all the while, Kronos is actually opening up to her...  Throughout all of my interactions with the other Grimnexes, not once have I met a person who could talk with Lord Kronos on such a personal level.  I don't know what Kronos sees in this woman, but it is evident that her presence is weakening him.  If he develops a soft spot for the princess, the Olympians could use it to their advantage.  For the sake of the Phoenix, this woman must be eradicated.

Kronos... I always thought that he would be a ruthless, coldhearted tyrant, and to an extent, he is.  But deep down, at the core of his being, he's just a lonely man, Peach thought, sighing glumly.  That still doesn't excuse his crimes, though.  It's fortunate that I remind him of his sister...  I suspect that his memories of Rhea are preventing him from harming me.  For the time being, I am Kronos' only known weakness.  I have to find a way to use his vulnerability to escape.  I can't just sit around playing chess while my loved ones are dying.  At last, she moved her queen forward.

Kronos gasped.

The princess lifted her head and gazed triumphantly into the demon king's melancholy, hazel eyes.  "Checkmate."

There was a long silence.  Venus reached into a pouch strapped to her waist and pulled out a dagger, intending to end the princess' life.  Kronos stared at the chessboard in confusion, unsure if his outpouring of emotions had led to his defeat.  Peach, entirely unaware of Venus' murderous intentions, contemplated possible moves that her opponent could make.  But no matter what move Kronos made, his king would be left vulnerable.  He had lost.

And at that very moment, before Venus could strike, Peach noticed a bright yellow flash along the horizon.  In the blink of an eye, a bolt of lightning struck the floor only a few feet away from Kronos' throne.  The three of them whirled around and gasped.  Standing where the bolt had struck was an elderly man wearing a baggy golden robe.  His long, flowing silver hair was tied back in a ponytail, and his wrinkled face and rounded eyes were the clear result of many years of depression.  In his right hand, he held a staff with a blue gem at its tip.

Kronos immediately snapped back to reality.  "Zeus...  Is that really you?"

"So then, it's true after all.  You have been resurrected.  And you've even regained your youthful appearance," Zeus sighed regretfully.

"I can't say the same for you," Kronos retorted bitterly, rising to his feet.  "What are you doing here?"

"Isn't it obvious?  I'm here to defend my throne.  You may have been revived, but I'm still the king of Terranea.  You haven't succeeded yet."

Kronos turned to Venus.  "Take Princess Peach downstairs.  Keep her safe at all costs.  I can tell that Gaea's presence has faded away, which makes you my last remaining Grimnex.  If Mario's friends arrive, strike them down without hesitation."

Venus bowed before her king, seized Peach by the wrist, and raced down the nearby staircase.

"Father...  You've been dead for thousands of years, and yet your hatred still burns just as strong...  Why can't you just accept that your beliefs are wrong?"

"My views are only 'wrong' by Olympian definition," Kronos retorted icily.  "If I had successfully crushed your rebellion during the Terranean War, it is likely that all Olympian values would be frowned upon.  The very meanings of right and wrong would have been switched."

"How can you view the world with such nihilistic eyes?" Zeus demanded, angrily slamming the tip of his staff against the floor.

Kronos sighed helplessly.  "Can such an old fool truly be my son?"

"I've changed... It's been several thousand years since we last saw each other.  Since then, I have taken your place as the king of Terranea.  If you disagree with the way that I run this kingdom... you have no other choice but to overthrow me and reclaim your throne," Zeus declared boldly.

"Come with me, Princess," Venus barked, tightening her grip on Peach's wrist as she dragged her down the winding stone stairway.  They emerged on a marble balcony in a colossal, two-story room that was about the length of a football field.  This balcony ran around the room's perimeter, with iron bars acting as its fence.  In stark contrast to the bright, outdoor throne room, this floor's stone architecture and lack of windows gave it a dull and gothic appearance.

This is it...  I finally have a chance to escape, Peach thought, hardly able to contain her excitement.  But as she felt Venus' icy fingers wrap around her arm like five vicious boa constrictors, her heart sank.  Except... this Grimnex is still guarding me.  There's no doubt that she would overpower me in an instant if I attempted to flee.  Still, my chances of escape are far greater than if Kronos was also watching over me.  As she mulled over possible methods of escape, she could feel her heart pounding in her chest.

This is the opportunity I have been waiting for...  But do I dare risk it? Venus pondered as she continued to drag the princess toward an undetermined destination.  This princess is Lord Kronos' only weakness...  She has to die.  The Gamma Grimnex came to an abrupt halt and released Peach's arm.

Is she letting me go...? Peach wondered, turning to face Venus in confusion.  However, the murderous gleam in the Grimnex's eyes told her otherwise.  She attempted to scream, but she had been paralyzed by fear.  The princess fell to her knees, narrowly dodging a slash of Venus' dagger.  She scrambled onto her feet and scurried in the opposite direction but tripped over her dress before getting very far.  Her eyes widening with terror, Peach gazed up in awe at the Grimnex that now towered menacingly above her.  "...Why...?"

"It seems that Lord Kronos has developed a soft spot for you.  As his loyal subordinate, it is my obligation to eliminate any potential threats- even if it means killing someone that he cares for."  She raised her dagger and prepared to strike, but a second blade appeared from out of seemingly nowhere to parry her stab.  Flustered by this last-second intervention, Venus turned to face her opponent.

"That's your reason for wanting to kill her?" Glaive inquired, sighing in disgust.  "I never thought you'd sink this low, Sara."

Glaive's Theme

"Glaive!" Peach cried excitedly.  "You... and the others... all came for me...?"

"Yeah, what did you expect?  Your husband's too stubborn for his own good.  He'll chase you down no matter how many castles he has to storm through."  With a swing of his blade, he forced Venus to take a defensive leap backward.  Glaive then stood in front of the princess and pointed his sword at the Grimnex.  "Sorry, but I'm not about to let anything happen to this woman."  He turned to face the princess.  "Go on, get out of here.  I passed the others on the way here, and as soon as they catch their breath, they'll probably head in this direction.  They've taken care of the other Grimnexes, so you'll be safe on your way out."

"Thank you, Glaive... Does this mean that you and Mario...?"

Glaive grinned.  "Yeah, we're a team again."

"What a relief," Peach sighed, scurrying away from the battle.

"Now that that's over with..."  Glaive glared at his childhood friend.  "Sara...  How could you let them do this to you?  You said that you were against war... and yet you were ready to kill this perfectly innocent woman, just because your leader showed an inkling of compassion toward her.  Isn't there even a tiny sliver of your old self left?"

"Do not try to talk to me on a personal level, former Beta Grimnex.  I will not be swayed by the words of a traitor," Venus replied icily.  "My past life is of no concern to you.  I have been reborn.  I have devoted this new life to the demons' cause, and to Lord Kronos."

It's no use...  The Beta Grimnex before me must've done something to her.  Botis, even in death you continue to haunt me, Glaive thought.  "Alright then, if you insist.  It's too bad that I'm not as soft as Mario.  I came here... with every intention of killing you."  Although these bold words had been intended as a threat, they sounded more like an attempt to assure himself of the gruesome deed that needed to be done.

Kronos Battle

"To think that you have taken on such an elderly appearance, whereas I have regained my youth...  Referring to you as my son is almost comical," Kronos snickered, rolling up the sleeves of his jacket.

Without hesitation, Zeus pointed his staff at his father and fired a lightning bolt from its tip.  "It seems that our roles have been reversed."

Kronos leapt to the side, and the bolt struck the exact spot in which he had just stood.  Zeus followed up with several more lightning strikes, all of which the demon king dodged with expert speed and agility.  Now switching to the offensive, Kronos weaved past his son's oncoming attacks and lunged forward with a right hook, but Zeus parried the strike with a wave of his staff.  Skillfully twirling the rod between his thumb and forefinger, it morphed into the shape of a mighty sword.  He sunk the blade into the Phoenix's flesh with a single stabbing motion, but upon reexamination, he realized that his sword had plunged into some sort of portal that Kronos had created on his body.

"You've underestimated your old man," Kronos sneered as a second portal opened up nearby.  Zeus' blade extended from this portal and stabbed into the Terranean king's right arm.

"It seems that you've become even more proficient with that spatial distortion technique of yours," Zeus remarked, pulling his sword out of his flesh and back through the twin vortexes before retreating a few steps.

"How kind of you to notice.  And it seems to me that your lightning strikes are just as precise as ever.  Personally, I've always preferred the element of fire."  Kronos raised his arms to the sky, and dozens of flaming spheres began to rain down upon the roof of the citadel.

Now on the defensive, Zeus scrambled to and fro in a desperate attempt to dodge the oncoming meteors.  Those that he could not evade were blown to bits with a well-timed thunder bolt.  Unfortunately, the Terranean king's age quickly caught up with him, and his movements began to grow sluggish.  After being struck with the first meteor, it wasn't long before his ability to dodge was lost entirely.  The meteor shower soon came to a halt, but not without dealing severe damage to Zeus.

"These old bones... cannot move the way they used to..." Zeus groaned, using the tip of his staff to help him rise to his feet.  "I cannot keep up..."

"What did you expect?" Kronos spat, approaching his weakened son.  "You've spent all these years sitting atop your throne, watching over the actions of your 'subjects'.  I bet you haven't even fought a single battle since my defeat thousands of years ago.  Foolish child.  Have I taught you nothing?"  He knocked Zeus onto his back with a single kick.

"I... never looked up to you... in the first place..." Zeus retorted, coughing up blood.  "For as long as I remember... your heart has been filled... with nothing but darkness...  Under your rule...Terranea was lawless and chaotic...  The people were suffering... which is why I had to-"

"Overthrow me?" Kronos finished bitterly.  "The Terranea you speak of is how the world was meant to be.  Back then, this kingdom was in its natural, untainted state.  That was before you came along with your violent rebellion.  You started a war to overthrow me, all in the name of peace.  You limited the people's freedom by creating 'laws' and confined those who disagreed with you to the Nightmare Vault.  Are you the kind of father that Athena would have looked up to?  Wait a second... I forgot, you ordered her execution and used the demons as scapegoats as a military strategy to turn Ipos against us.  You've grown into nothing but a spoiled hypocrite..."

"I was doing... what was best... for the people..." Zeus insisted, raising his staff to the sky as a colossal storm cloud drifted overhead.  "I always have... I always will..."

Now engulfed in the looming cloud's shadow, Kronos gazed upward in shock.  "That cloud...  You've been channeling your lightning into that cloud since the very beginning!  But if you release such an enormous lightning bolt... this entire citadel- and everyone in it- will be torn apart!  No one will survive, not even you!"

Zeus smiled sadly.  "Maybe you have taught me something after all... Some sacrifices are necessary in war..."    A single teardrop trickled down the king's cheek, and then the entire Demon Citadel was engulfed in a ray of light.  "Even if the king sacrifices his life to take out the opposing king... at least the remaining pieces will be able to live on in peace..."

There was a long silence, and as the light faded away, the Demon Citadel remained entirely unscathed.  "You suicidal fool..." Kronos muttered, completely unharmed.  "You really intended to sacrifice yourself to be rid of me...  If I had allowed you to do so, the Mushroom Hero's comrades would have also been casualties."

"The friends of that traitor's descendant... are of no concern to me... but how... did you deflect my attack...?" Zeus inquired, having been the only person electrocuted by the lightning strike.

"I simply opened a wide vortex above the citadel to absorb your lightning, and then I created another, smaller one above your head.  All of the lightning was concentrated directly into your body.  You shouldn't be alive, but considering you're practically a god, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you survived.  However, after such a violent shock, it would be impossible for even you to stand.  Our struggle for power is over, Zeus.  The throne is mine."

Tainted Soul

On the floor below, a violent swordfight between two childhood friends was well underway.  Sparks flew in all directions as Glaive and Venus skillfully parried each other's sword strikes.  Neither had landed a single slash thus far.  "I never knew that you had such talent with a blade," Glaive commented.

"The same goes for you," Venus replied nonchalantly.

"Have you ever wished that all of this fighting would someday end?  I just wish we could all live without having to worry about war...  Don't you agree, Glaive?"

"Sometimes.  Other times, I wish I could be a part of it all.  I just wish there was something I could do...  I feel so useless...  We're always being attacked by the Phoenix's men... And I'm just not strong enough to protect you, Sara."

"So, you want to protect me?  I'm flattered, but there are plenty of other people out there that need protection.  Won't you help them too?"

"I will.  Someday, I'll end this war with my own two hands."

Glaive smiled sadly.  We were both so... innocent back then.  Neither of us had once even held a sword.  We were blissfully unaware of the horrors of war...  Yet here we are now, years later... I went to great lengths to fulfill my na´ve vow, even joining up with the Phoenix just to bring the war to a quick conclusion... He thrust his blade forward, but his opponent effortlessly parried it and countered with a swift but powerful slash, knocking Glaive several steps backward.  As he staggered back and tightened his grip on his katana, he could not chase his childhood memories of Sara from his mind.  The Grimnex dashed forward at him, but all he saw was his dear friend rushing to embrace him.

"One day, you'll find a way to lift the curse on our realm, and you'll end this war once and for all.  I just know you will, Glaive."

Now on the defensive, Glaive could scarcely block Venus' pinpoint sword strikes, let alone muster up enough willpower for a counterattack.  Damn it... What's wrong with me?  Every time I raise my sword to attack her, I remember how she was before all of this happened...

"What's the matter?  At this moment, the only thing that is emanating from your blade... is fear," Venus sighed.  "If you cannot separate yourself from the past, then you'll die by my hands, miserable and alone."  She gripped her dagger with two hands and lunged at Glaive with a downward slash.

Glaive instinctively raised his blade to parry the attack, but the Grimnex had put far more force behind her swing than he had anticipated.  Venus' dagger cut clean through Glaive's katana, shattering it to miniscule fragments and slicing a vertical gash along his torso.  Blood spilling from his wound, the demon fell face-first onto the stone floor.

"Pathetic," Venus spat.  "Is this really the same man who declared that he would kill me only minutes ago?  Past friendships mean nothing.  When two soldiers on opposing sides meet each other in war, they fight with the intent to kill.  If you cannot even bring yourself to kill your only childhood friend, then you're clearly just as na´ve as you were all of those years ago."  The Grimnex sheathed her sword and vanished into the darkness of the corridor.

She's right... but of all people... I cannot bring myself to kill this woman... Glaive thought, slowly bleeding to death.  Sara... you were the world to me... and after witnessing your death once already... how could I possibly watch you die a second time...?

"That's where you're wrong, Glaive.  I do understand.  Not only have I suffered the nightmare of struggling to maintain control of your own body...  But I also know what it's like to see a loved one die before your very eyes.  That vow you made... to your significant other...  You may think that nothing is more important to her than the fulfillment of this oath, but you're wrong.  By forcing yourself along this path of self-destruction, by throwing everything else away...  You've only caused more suffering for the woman who means more to you than anything else in the whole world!  You've done nothing but wallow in your own regret since Sara's death, all the while trying to escape from the pain by allowing the Phoenix to take control and use you as his puppet!"

"Mario..." Glaive whispered, recalling his friend's words when they fought atop Grimnex Palace.

"You already know about the tragedy behind Pauline, my late fiancÚe...  Not a day went by in which I did not mourn her death.  I blamed myself for her demise, and I knew that she would never be able to rest in peace unless I learned more about what happened that dreadful night.  After the Velno incident, I was finally able to put her death behind me.  Now it's time for you to do the same.  As things stand now, Sara will never rest in peace.  You said that Botis turned her into a Grimnex all of those years ago...  To this very day, she is still trapped within the cold, heartless body of a Grimnex, and it's your duty to end her suffering...  Do you honestly think that all of this has made her happy?  She's trapped, Glaive.  Sara would never want to live on if it meant that she had to remain brainwashed inside of a killing machine's body, nor would she want you to end the war in the Nightmare Vault if it meant bringing about the world's destruction."

Tears streamed down the demons cheeks.  Just then, he was awoken from his flashback by a shriek.  He lifted his head to see Princess Peach rushing toward him, only for her to fall to the floor moments later.  Standing emotionlessly behind her was Venus, and in her hand, she held a bloody dagger.  The princess did not stir.

"All who oppose the Phoenix will die."  Venus glared at her childhood friend.  "How useless...  Back then, you couldn't protect me, and now... you couldn't even protect your comrade's wife."

Chills ran down Glaive's spine as his words to Sara came rushing back to him.  "This war- I swear I'll protect you to the very end."  Blood still pouring from the gash on his chest, he slowly struggled to his feet and drew the blade that Swift had entrusted him with.

"You can still stand?  Your wounds appear fatal," Venus noted.

"...What wounds?" Glaive replied, his eyes gleaming with determination.  He raised his blade and took a step toward the Grimnex.  "This time... I won't go so easy on you."


[glow=blue,2,300]Chapter 28: Eternal Parting[/glow]

Glaive vs. Venus

"Before you go, I want you to have this.  Take it as a gift from the man with whom you have entrusted your dear comrade's life."

"This blade... I won't let you shatter it like the last one," Glaive declared, his eyes glistening with resolve.  In one swift blur, he dashed forward at his opponent and attacked with a diagonal slash.  Scarcely able to parry it in time, Venus staggered backward in astonishment.  Her childhood friend charged forward again with another strike, and she regained her balance just in time to guard herself.  But there was no time for a counterattack.  Their roles had been reversed.

He's gotten faster... much faster, Venus noted, her calm, stoic demeanor gradually slipping away.  She lunged forward in retaliation, but her dagger only struck an afterimage.  By the time she had realized this, Glaive was already behind her with his blade in mid-swing.  The Grimnex whirled around, taking a step back as she did so, but was unable to fully evade her foe's slash.  Glaive's sword skimmed the tip of her waist, drawing blood for the first time since the battle had begun.  "You actually cut me...  It seems that you've taken my advice and put the past behind you- a wise decision."

Glaive shook his head.  "Not at all.  In fact, the past is all I can think about."  He smiled regretfully.  "You mean far too much to me...  I can't forget about the friendship we once shared.  But there's something an equally dear friend of mine once said to me.  Right now, the Sara that I once knew is suffering deep down inside.  I'm fighting for her freedom.  If I disregarded our past and treated you like the countless other foes I've slain, my victory would be meaningless.  So I will fight you... not for the purpose of killing you, but to free Sara."  He rushed at the Grimnex once again, assaulting her with a relentless combination of pinpoint sword strikes.

I don't know where this sudden burst of energy came from, but he's become an entirely new opponent.  Now that he's found an incentive to kill me... he won't fall as easily as before, Venus thought, sparks flying as she narrowly blocked another one of her opponent's slashes.  This isn't good...  I was hoping to return to Kronos' side before his battle with Zeus ended.  If he wanders down here and sees the princess in this condition...

With a thunderous cry, Glaive knocked Venus' blade from her hand, sending it clattering onto the stone floor.  He pointed his sword's tip at her throat.  "Sara... You may be the Gamma Grimnex, but that's only because I wanted to keep you close to me.  With you as my second in command, I was always able to watch over you.  If it weren't for that fact, you would be ranked-" He paused, noticing that Venus had begun to chuckle to herself.

"Is that what you thought?  How na´ve..." Venus sneered.  "I'm afraid that you're the only Grimnex who did not properly earn his title.  Did you really think Ipos would permit someone weaker than him to be ranked above him?  The only reason you got away with it was because you were the descendant of the Phoenix."

"What are you saying...?"

"As fate would have it, I am the original Gamma Grimnex's descendant.  When Botis resurrected me... he awakened the demonic powers that had been lying dormant within my body.  That was Botis' Final Smash, the ability that made him dangerous enough to earn the title of Beta Grimnex.  He had the power to elicit the soul of my Grimnex ancestor and grant me all of her power.  It took many years of practice to fully learn to control this new strength, but before long, Botis decided to promote me to the rank of Gamma Grimnex.  Only days before my promotion became official, you used your ancestor's powers to assassinate him and take his place as the Beta Grimnex.  You thought that it was your decision to raise my rank, while in reality the verdict had been made before you even claimed leadership."

"No...  It can't be..." Glaive gasped.

"I'm afraid so.  And I cannot afford to let this battle drag out any longer.  If Kronos were to find Princess Peach like this, he would be most displeased..." Venus informed him.  "Therefore, even though this situation would not ordinarily call for such drastic measures... I will use my Final Smash to utilize the original Gamma Grimnex's full power."  Her entire body was consumed by an aura of darkness, and she began to emit shadows that darkened the room around her. 

Glaive peered across the poorly lit balcony at Venus, only able to faintly make out her silhouette.  Still, this was enough to cause his face to contort in horror at the sight of his childhood friend's metamorphosis.  In mere seconds, the Grimnex had lost nearly all semblance of her former appearance.  Instead, Glaive now stead before a colossal black widow spider.  The only feature she had somewhat maintained was her face, which was now a ghostly white.  Her eyes gleamed red with bloodlust, and her teeth had grown into sharp, venomous fangs.

"Sara... How could you let them do this to you...?" Glaive inquired, the color draining from his face.

"I hope you aren't afraid of spiders," Venus sneered, menacingly crawling toward her prey.

"Not me.  But I do know a certain plumber that'd probably be pissing himself if he was in my shoes," Glaive retorted, taking a few steps back.  A giant spider with the strength of the original Gamma Grimnex...  Things suddenly got a lot more complicated.  Even so, she's still just a bug... right?  In one swift blur, one of Venus' eight legs extended outward and slashed across his cheek as if it were a blade.

"I know what you must be thinking.  'She's lost her weapon.  Now she's just an oversized spider.  Why can't I squash her just like any other bug?'  You would do well to remember that I am far from unarmed.  My eight legs are as sharp as knives," Venus informed him.

"My mistake," Glaive muttered, wiping the thin stream of blood from his cheek.  With his blade locked tightly in his grasp, the demon swordsman dashed forward and directed an upward slash at the Grimnex's head.  To his chagrin, Venus' four front-most legs parried his sword with ease.  He engaged in a brief swordfight with his opponent's four razor-sharp limbs, but soon found that her defenses were all but impenetrable.  With only a single blade, he could not hope to match the pinpoint strikes of four daggers, let alone eight.  Realizing this, Glaive distanced himself from Venus once again.  He looked down at his chest and noticed several tiny scratches from their short exchange only moments ago.  Not only does she have eight blades to fight with... she's no amateur when the time comes to use them.  And no matter what side I approach her from, she'll always have four legs to guard her.  Unless... 

His thoughts were interrupted as the monstrous spider that stood before him began to lay hundreds of eggs the size of basketballs.  These eggs hatched only moments later, and before long, Glaive found himself being pursued by a swarm of miniature spiders.  "Those aren't any ordinary spiders.  I wouldn't take them too lightly; a horde that large can devour a human-sized prey in less than a minute," she informed Glaive with a complacent leer.

After hearing this, Glaive lowered his blade and sprinted in the opposite direction.  He stopped for a moment to look back, and his eyes bulged in absolute terror.  Thousands of the tiny spiders were now scurrying in his direction, devouring everything in their path.  This included the iron railing as well as the multitude of stone pillars that lined the balcony.  This was all he needed to see before turning and continuing his flight.  However, to his dismay, a second swarm of spiders came crawling up from the underside of the balcony to block his path.  Now surrounded by a mass of man-eating spiders, the demon took a deep breath and remained levelheaded.

"I hate being forced to do this," he grumbled, sheathing his sword.  He closed his eyes, entering a deep meditative state.  Even as the bloodthirsty arachnids began to crawl up his legs, the demon remained cool as steel.  At last, a purple, phoenix-shaped flame engulfed his body, scorching any nearby spiders.  The blazing warrior let out a fierce battle cry, and the violet flames expanded across the balcony, incinerating any arachnids that they came in contact with.  He then raised his palm and launched a column of fire toward the remaining spiders.  One last bug crawled toward him, which he crushed beneath his feet before grimacing in disgust.  "Borrowing Kronos' power, the Phoenix Flames...  It's shameful."  He directed his opened palm toward Venus and sent a blast of inferno in her direction.  Without waiting for the flames to die down, he unsheathed his sword and leapt high into the air, intending to strike his foe from above.  "Although those legs defend your front, back, and sides, they're hardly useful when faced with an aerial attack!"

Fearsome Enemy

"I thought you might try something like that," Venus sneered as her opponent's flames dissolved before they could reach her.  A spider web stood firmly in front of her, which had acted as a shield from the inferno.  She then looked up and saw that Glaive had stopped in midair while directly above her.  "I'm the Gamma Grimnex.  I'm well aware of my most glaring weak point.  That's why I always take steps to guard it before a battle.  I'm willing to bet that you didn't notice the web that I wove above me while you were busy fleeing from my children."

Half of his body trapped in Venus' web, Glaive struggled to break free.  "Damn...  I can't-"

"Your efforts are in vain," Venus informed him.  "Your resistance will only further entangle you.  And don't bother trying to use your ancestor's flames.  Not only are my webs are fire-resistant, but they will also prevent anything that they've ensnared from producing fire."

"No big deal," Glaive sighed.  "I've still got a free arm and leg."  Holding his sword with his free hand, he sliced away the web that was holding him hostage and plummeted downward toward Venus.  Though he hoped to continue his aerial assault from earlier, the nimble spider was able to scurry out of the way in the nick of time.  Much to his disappointment, Glaive's blade sank into solid stone as opposed to his opponent's flesh.  As he attempted to yank his dagger from the ground, he gasped, realizing that he had landed on yet another spider web.  His feet were now glued to the floor.

"You've fallen into yet another one of my traps.  I must say, I'm rather disappointed," Venus snickered, firing silk from her spinneret at her enemy's weapon.  The silk wrapped around Glaive's sword, rendering it useless.  "And this time, you've lost your only method of escape."  She began to creep toward her prey.

Glaive tossed his weapon to the floor and cracked his knuckles.  Despite his obvious disadvantage, he refused to show even a trace of fear.  "Who said anything about escaping?  I was getting tired of running back and forth anyway."

"You put up a brave front, but you cannot fool me," Venus replied with a wicked smirk.  As she drew closer, Glaive attempted to fend her off with his bare fists- rather unsuccessfully at that.  The Gamma Grimnex seized his arms with her two front-most legs and, in the blink of an eye, wrapped them together with her unbreakable silk.  Her foe now defenseless, she proceeded to do the same to Glaive's entire body until he was covered from the shoulders down.  Still, even as Venus sunk her fangs into his left shoulder, the demon swordsman continued to struggle to the very end.  His resistance dwindled only after the venom began to take effect.

"How should I end this?  Shall I devour you whole?" Venus inquired with a sadistic grin, knowing all too well that her paralyzed opponent was incapable of answering.

How pathetic...  To be eaten by the very woman I came here to save... Glaive thought, his vision beginning to blur.


As the Grimnex prepared to feast on her prey, a tall, lanky plumber emerged from the shadows and delivered a dropkick to her face.  She stumbled backward in a daze, completely taken aback by the surprise assault.  Waluigi stepped forward and clenched his fists.  "Back off."  He turned around and glared at a nearby pillar.  "What are you waiting for?  Get Glaive outta here!"

"I- I'm- n-not g-g-going anyw-where n-near t-t-that thing!" Luigi shrieked, his head emerging from behind a stone column.

"Idiot!  This isn't the time!  Just grab Glaive and run!  Close your eyes if you have to!" Waluigi snapped.  "See if you can untangle him!"

Luigi gulped.  Okay Luigi... You can do this...  After all, you did beat a Grimnex...   With his eyes shut tightly, the plumber bolted toward Glaive, wrapped his arms around him, and unsuccessfully attempted to lift him.  He struggled to pull his comrade from the floor, but Venus' web was far too strong.  "M-my h-hands are stuck!"  Screaming hysterically, the plumber frantically tried to detach his hands from the silk that had entangled Glaive.  He took a few deep breaths and decided to release his Emerald Flame.  Although his power was dwindling due to his earlier confrontation with Gaea, Luigi was still able to generate enough fire to incinerate all of Venus' silk.

Taking this scene in, Waluigi was caught completely off guard by Venus, who had at last recovered from his surprise attack.  With a single slash of one of her razor-sharp legs, the Grimnex sent the weary plumber tumbling onto the floor.  She then gasped at the sight of Luigi's Emerald Flame burning away her web.  "How is that possible...?  My silk is resistant to fire!"

"T-this i-isn't j-just any k-kind of f-fire," Luigi replied frightfully.  "There isn't a-anything that m-my Emerald F-Flames can't b-burn..."

"No matter.  You are the ones who dealt with Gaea, correct?  If that's the case, you cannot be too far away from death," Venus concluded, laying several dozen more eggs.  "My children will devour you in seconds."

"Luigi... how much Elemental Energy do you have left?" Waluigi inquired, gazing fearfully at the army of miniature spiders that was now crawling toward them.

"Just about enough to exterminate that horde of spiders... but after that, I doubt I'll have anything left to use against their ringleader..." Luigi sighed, breathing heavily.

"Save it for later," Glaive grumbled, slowly rising to his feet.  "You'll need it if you're going to be facing off against Kronos..."  Once again, his body was surrounded in a mammoth aura of purple flames.  With a single sweeping gesture, he unleashed a blaze that exterminated all of the oncoming arachnids.

"What do you mean?" Luigi inquired, puzzled.  "Kronos can wait.  Right now, we need to focus on the task at hand."

Glaive shook his head.  "No.  I'll handle this battle alone.  Both of you need to head upstairs to the throne room.  Please... you have to hold off Kronos for as long possible.  If you cannot last until Mario arrives, then at least try to stay alive until I finish things here...  Ever since I watched Sara die at the hands of the Phoenix's soldiers... ever since I saw her reborn as his slave... deep down, I've been waiting for this fight....  At all costs, please... do not allow anyone to interfere with this battle."

After a long pause, Luigi nodded.  "I understand.  Your pride's at stake."

"One more thing before you go...  Would you be able to burn the cobwebs off of my blade?" Glaive requested, pointing to his sword on the ground nearby.

With a single, dark green Fireball, Luigi incinerated the silk that had previously rendered Glaive's dagger powerless.  The demon swordsman reclaimed his weapon and turned to face Venus.  "Thank you.  Good luck to the both of you."

"Let's go," Waluigi urged him, and the two former rivals vanished into the darkness of the stairwell leading upward.

"Sorry for the interruption," Glaive apologized with a wry grin.  "I was hoping to keep this battle between us...  You understand."

Venus frowned.  "How are you even able to move?  My venom should have paralyzed you."

"If I were just some ordinary demon, that'd most likely be the case.  But I suppose being a descendant of the demon king has its benefits," Glaive responded.  "Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm completely unaffected.  I'm still feeling dizzy as hell."

"Yes...  You've pushed your body to its limits.  Your wounds are beginning to accumulate, and my venom has had somewhat of an effect," Venus agreed.  "I'll end this quickly and put you out of your misery."

Empowered by his determination, Glaive engaged his foe in yet another short-lived swordfight.  This encounter yielded similar results to their previous one, as he was unable to land a single hit.  "Heh, just as I expected."

"We've been through this.  A single sword cannot pierce my eight-pronged defense," Venus boasted.

Glaive's Theme

"Hmph.  You may have inherited the immense powers of the Gamma Grimnex, but you lack one crucial element: experience.  All too often, people like you and I make the mistake of relying too heavily on their ancestors' strength.  Unless we become tough enough to fight independently, we will become nothing but slaves to the will of our ancestors."  He scooped up the hilt of his previous blade, the one that Venus had shattered during their initial encounter.  "Even so...  If you're going to rely solely on the former Gamma Grimnex's abilities... you should at least take the time to understand all of her weaknesses."  Channeling the Phoenix Flames through the hilt of his broken sword, he forged a blade made purely out of fire.  "I now know your greatest weakness... one even more glaring than your vulnerability to aerial attacks."

"Really?  Would you care to show me?" Venus inquired with a smug grin.

"Gladly," her foe replied, dashing forward with both of his swords raised.  This time, instead of aiming at Venus' head, he focused all of his attacks on her right frontal leg.  With proper timing and two swift upward slashes, he sliced the leg clean off of the Grimnex's body, causing her to nearly topple over in agony.  "If I wanted to... I could do the same for each of your legs."

"Just try it... you traitorous scum!" Venus spat, blood pouring from her wound.

"That won't be necessary," Glaive declared, taking a few steps back.  "This time, I have every intention of striking your body."  He sheathed each of his blades and slowly walked toward the Grimnex.  As she angrily lunged at him with her three front-most legs, he dashed forward with two lethal, sword-drawing slashes.  In the blink of an eye, their exchange was over.  They now stood with their backs facing each other.  Only moments later, an enormous gash opened on the Grimnex's back.  The victor had been decided.

"In a battle between two swordsmen, the number of blades they wield is not nearly as important as their level of skill.  But since we're practically at the same level, as much as I hate to admit it, the number of weapons we have has become a pivotal factor.  Knowing that, I was able to decipher your most fatal weak point: your legs.  Not only do they defend your body, but they also balance all of your weight.  By amputating one of your legs, I offset your center of balance and created an opening all in one shot.  That left you with seven more, but even so... if I attack you from the front, I am well out of the reach of your four rearmost legs.  Taking all of this into consideration, it was a simple matter of three wavering swords versus two resolute ones... The result should be obvious."

Broken Vows

"I see...  Perhaps I did not earn my title as the Gamma Grimnex after all..." Venus admitted, coughing up a mouthful of blood as she reverted to her original form.  "But before you finish me off, tell me... why have you betrayed the Phoenix...?"

Sighing wearily, the demon swordsman sheathed his blades.  "Part of it was because of Mario, one of my closest friends...  And part of it was because I wanted to help free you from your miserable life as a Grimnex...  I realized that as long as I served under the Phoenix, I was only betraying myself and my closest friends...  I was leading a life that I had no desire to live...  Thanks to Mario, I was able to resist my ancestor's influence and find the will to fight against the path of despair that I seemed destined to follow."

"A life... you had no desire... to live...?"  For what seemed like an eternity, Venus laid face-down in a pool of her own blood, trembling at the words that her childhood friend had just uttered.  At last, she lifted her head.  Her eyes had changed slightly, and her tone of voice seemed softer.  "Moron... you went through all of that misery because of me... didn't you...?"

"Sara...?" Glaive whispered, his eyes bulging in disbelief.  He rushed to his friend's side at once and knelt beside her.  "Sara...  I... I wanted to fulfill my promise to you... to bring this war to an end..."

"I know... but I never would have wanted you to sacrifice your own happiness..." Sara replied, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.  "Glaive...  I'm so sorry...  How can I ever thank you...?  All of these years... you've dedicated your life to my happiness..."

"I have no right to accept an apology...  I was the one who couldn't protect you all of those years ago...  And just being able to talk with you for these final few moments... this miracle is more than enough thanks."

"Go... Glaive..." she whispered, her life slowly fading away.  "You're not finished yet... this war still hasn't ended...  Go and bring this conflict to a close... the right way, this time..."

Glaive nodded.  "I will."

"And above all else... do not let Kronos see the condition that Princess Peach is in...  She isn't dead... but if he sees her like this... there's no telling how he'll react..."  Sara's eyelids gradually began to shut.  "She'll survive... she's a strong woman... and the wife of your dear friend, Mario...  Go... and do not regret my passing... You have precious, new friends that you must protect... and you still have a chance... to fulfill your promise to me..."  Her head fell lifelessly to the floor.  Though she had led a miserable life, Sara had managed to die with a smile on her face.

Struggling to hold back his tears, Glaive swallowed his pain and stood up once more.  The Grimnexes had fallen, and the final confrontation with Kronos was now at hand.


[glow=blue,2,300]Chapter 29: The Answer[/glow]

Kronos' Theme

Panting heavily as they came barreling up the stairway that led to the demon king's throne, Luigi and Waluigi emerged atop the roof of the Demon Citadel.  Sitting nonchalantly upon his throne, with his right cheek resting lazily in his palm, was none other than Kronos.  He shook his head in disgust at the elderly man who lay dying at his feet.  Taking notice to their presence, the Phoenix silently locked eyes first with Luigi, then his purple counterpart.  "It would seem that all of my pawns have been defeated."

"Are you... Kronos...?" Luigi whispered, trembling in fear.

"You've forgotten me already?  That is understandable.  After all, I have regained my original body, as well as my youthful appearance," Kronos explained.  Though he spoke softly, his voice held an inexplicable malice.  "You'll have to excuse my rudeness, but why are you here?  If you've come to recapture your princess, she should be on the floor below us."

"Glaive wanted to face Venus alone," Waluigi replied.  "We went on ahead to deal with you."

"Interesting.  I still cannot think of a reason that you two would come here to face me all by yourselves.  Would it not have been easier to grab the princess and make your escape while Glaive handled Venus?" Kronos inquired, his eyes gleaming with curiosity.  "I will admit that Glaive knows me all too well.  He likely understood that I would simply catch up to you in an instant if you attempted to escape.  However, the fact that you did not even attempt to flee and instead chose to face me head-on tells me that you do not want me to go near the princess.  What is it that you are hiding from me?"

"Nothing," Waluigi insisted, beads of sweat dripping down the back of his neck.  "Why run... from someone that you have no reason to be afraid of...?"

A wicked smirk spread across Kronos' face.  "How amusing.  After exhausting yourselves against my Grimnexes, you've come here with the sole intention of killing me."  He gestured toward the severely injured man at his feet.  "Are you aware of this man's identity?  This is Zeus, the former king of Terranea.  I bested him with ease."

"H-h-he b-b-beat Z-Z-Zeus?" Luigi stammered, his face turning pale.  "W-w-what does G-G-Glaive expect us to b-b-be able to d-d-do?"

"Even the slightest notion that my elite force of Grimnexes could be defeated by such pitiful men... is laughable, at best," Kronos stated, taking his first steps toward the frightened pair.

"S-s-stay back," Luigi admonished through chattering teeth as he aimed his opened palms at the demon king.  "I'll s-s-shoot."

"Go ahead," the Phoenix replied smugly, ignoring the plumber's warning.

As Luigi's hands began to glow with the power of the Emerald Flame, Waluigi extended his left arm so that it blocked his comrade's shot.  "Hold on, Luigi.  We can't let him intimidate us.  Right now, we're up against the Phoenix, the king of all demons.  In a fight like this, we can't afford to waste a single drop of Elemental Energy.  Think back to your brother's recent battle with Kronos.  If you were to fire your Emerald Flame at him, he would open up one of those portals and send it hurling in another direction."

"I see," Luigi sighed, lowering his hands.  "But what other options do we have?"

"Weren't you paying attention at all?  Mario was able to find a critical weakness: he can only summon one pair of portals at a time."

"I love secrets.  Would you care to inform me as to what you are whispering about?" Kronos inquired, his tone thick with sarcasm.

Kronos Battle

"You heard him," Waluigi chuckled.  "Let's show him."  The two former rivals rushed forward at the Phoenix, with Luigi quickly taking the lead.  He leapt high above Kronos' head and spiked a dark green Fireball downward at his foe, but the blast was devoured by one of the demon king's vortexes.  A second vortex then opened up in front of Waluigi and spat out Luigi's Fireball.  Luckily, the lanky plumber was able to sidestep the blast and race forward to continue his assault.  He attempted to strike Kronos with a powerful roundhouse kick, but the Phoenix caught his foot in his palm.

"Mario made the same mistake.  I am still capable of fighting even without my ability to warp time and space," Kronos informed him grimly.

"Don't look at me.  I'm just a decoy," Waluigi snickered.

Meanwhile, Luigi had channeled most of his Emerald Flame into a colossal Fireball and was now charging at Kronos from behind.  He was convinced that their ploy had worked until a portal opened up beneath him and swallowed him whole.  Another vortex appeared nearby- only this one was several feet above the ground!

"Too late," the demon king whispered.  "Attacking me during the brief period in which I cannot create any portals is a decent strategy, but you'll have to be much quicker in order for it to be effective."  He swept his fingertips across Waluigi's chest, and as if the plumber had been slashed by a dagger, a horizontal gash appeared on his torso.  Kronos then turned his attention to the rapidly descending Luigi.  He extended his palm toward the plumber, and in the blink of an eye, he sent a violent shockwave through the air at his target.  The blast struck Luigi dead-on, and with a shriek of agony, he fell lifelessly onto the stone floor.  Just like that, the two plumbers had been brought to their knees.

"What... just happened...?" Waluigi muttered, clutching the wound on his chest.  "One minute we were attacking... the next, we're both on the ground..."

"Your childish tricks will not work on me."  Kronos began to approach the fallen Luigi.  "The younger sibling of the Mushroom Hero...  Yes, I will start with him."  He knelt down and reached out toward the plumber, but he quickly withdrew his hand as a fierce breeze rolled by.  Less than a second later, a blade had stabbed through the floor between Kronos and Luigi.  Had the demon king not pulled his hand back, it would have been impaled.  "Ah, you've arrived..."

"So this is your true face," Glaive observed, removing his sword from the floor with a single tug.  "I've always wondered what you would look like.  For all of those years, I could only hear your voice in the back of my head."

"My former Beta Grimnex...  Why have you betrayed your brethren?" Kronos inquired, shifting his attention from Luigi to Glaive.  "Why not fulfill your true purpose and eliminate these rebellious intruders?"

"I'm through with being your slave," Glaive refused bitterly.

"Such a hateful presence...  Tell me, why do you blame me for Sara's death?"

Glaive's eyes widened.  "How did you-"

"My blood courses through your veins.  It is through your existence that I was even able to be reborn.  Under the proper conditions, I can read your thoughts with ease.  The same goes for Mario," Kronos explained.  "You wish to avenge Sara's death by killing me.  You're no different than I am: a revenge-driven demon."

In the blink of an eye, Glaive lunged forward and sliced his dagger at the demon's throat, but Kronos caught the blade between his right thumb and forefinger.  He then pressed his left palm to Glaive's chest before unleashing a blast of wind that sent him soaring in the opposite direction.  The nimble demon regained his momentum by performing several midair back-flips, landing on his feet and dashing forward to continue his assault.  Glaive slashed at him yet again, but this time, Kronos parried the sword with nothing but his index finger.  Enraged, Glaive continued to assault his ancestor with dozens of pinpoint sword strikes.  The result was always the same.  His blade, which had been crafted by Swift of the Royal Guardians, was being matched by a single finger.

"Forgive me if I am embarrassing you," Kronos teased.  "Unfortunately for you, my entire body can be used as a weapon."

Thrusting his arms forward at his ancestor, Glaive released a blaze of blue flames at pointblank range.  Kronos was engulfed by the inferno, but before his descendant could celebrate, the demon king's silhouette appeared within the flames.  As the fire died down, Glaive was horrified to see that there was not a single burn on his ancestor's entire body.

"Using your Phoenix Flames against me was a foolish choice," Kronos scolded him.  "They are my flames, after all.  You're going to have to rely on your own power if you want a chance at defeating me.  But it's too late for that.  You're exhausted, Glaive.  How much longer do you really think you can keep going?"

Glaive retreated backward a few steps, breathing heavily and clutching the gash on his chest that he received during his conflict with Venus.  All of these wounds are starting to catch up with me...  Even so, I cannot allow Kronos to lay a hand on Mario's friends...  I owe him at least that much after all the trouble that I've caused him...  He turned to Luigi, who had begun to come to his senses.  "Luigi... listen carefully.  Above all else, we cannot let Kronos find the princess in her current condition.  She should still be unconscious on the floor below us.  Take her and get out of here as quickly as possible.  Her wounds need to be treated..."

"But Glaive..."

"Quiet.  Our mission is to rescue the princess, not to defeat Kronos.  If we can just keep her safe and put our faith in Mario's return... we still might have a chance."

After a long pause, Luigi nodded and began to jog toward the stairway that led below.

"What was all of that whispering about?" Kronos wondered aloud.  "Whatever it was, if you think that you can just leave, you are sadly mistaken." 

Glaive stepped between his ancestor and the fleeing Luigi.  "Don't worry about him.  I'm sure that Waluigi and I will provide you with more than enough entertainment."

"Like I said before, I can read your innermost feelings with ease.  I can feel your heart rate increase at the mere mentioning of the princess' name.  What is it that you are trying to hide from me?  Whatever it is, it seems that you are willing to sacrifice your own life to prevent me from learning your secret."

"Sounds about right," Glaive replied defiantly.

"I see...  But this mystery intrigues me.  If put through enough torture, perhaps I could force you to talk."

Soul Searching

Meanwhile, at the base of Mt. Olympus, Mario continued to search for the answer to his internal strife- the answer that would enable him to wield the Nova Strike's full potential.  With Swift supervising him and counting the minutes down, the Mushroom Hero sat cross-legged in a field of grass that danced with the breeze.

"How long has it been...?  There's hardly any time left...  Swift said that if I couldn't find the answer in less than an hour, he'd have no choice but to end my life.  My time's almost up, and I still haven't gotten any closer..."  Having been in a deep meditative state for the past forty five minutes, memories continually flooded his mind.

"Mario, I know what you've been thinking.  You are starting to wonder if the conflict between the Olympians and the demons is truly black and white.  Let me answer your questions by saying that the world has done some terrible things in order to maintain peace.  All is not as it seems, and you will one day face against many of your own kind..." -Hero, the Alpha Grimnex

"You were wise to have killed me, but it's too late for you now.  You and your people are the ones that truly plague this universe!  You were too busy fighting amongst each other to be prepared to face me.  If it wasn't for you, your people would have met a cruel fate.  However, someday, I know that someone who shares my beliefs will bring your world to an end!" -Lord Shade

"You're always so merciful.  You never want to kill anyone if you don't have to.  But on that rare occasion that you do resort to murder, it darkens your soul and sends you into a state of confusion.  The evil within you begins to grow, and you start to question who you are.  Remember your fight with Lord Shade?  You tried so hard to spare him, but he refused to change his ways and left you with no choice but to kill him.  Think back to a more recent battle.  Your fight with Hunter ultimately led to his suicide.  What about all the demons you've slaughtered?  Did you even once consider their feelings?  They used to be just like you, until they were sealed away in the Nightmare Vault.  You can slay a demon without a second thought, but the moment you learned that Slade was a human you refused to kill him.  And why should that matter?  It's been that way for thousands of years.  The Olympians sealed the demons away forever in the Nightmare Vault, leaving them to die in a brutal civil war." -Velno

"Don't you see?  You may think that you're different, that refusing to kill humans sets you apart from everyone else, but you're just like all the others.  If you can demonize someone, it instantly becomes okay to kill him.  Your definition of a 'demon' is simply a bit more literal than that of most other humans."-Velno

"Even among a race that is renowned for its cruelty, we are two of the most despicable demons that have ever lived.  However, deep down, every living creature is just as wicked as we are.  The only difference between demons and humans is the fact that we do not try to hide our true evil nature, while humans do.  The life of an Olympian is filled with nothing but lies.  That's why my wife and I abandoned our lives as deplorable humans." -Crocell

"Mario has entirely outlived his usefulness, both to me, and to Zeus.  Now that I have been resurrected, I could care less whether he lives or dies.  And Zeus views him as nothing more than a traitor, whose punishment is to protect the Mushroom Kingdom until the day he dies.  Quite soon, the Mushroom Kingdom will be nothing more than a miniscule village within my grand empire.  If you really think about it, there's nothing left for him to live for." -Kronos

"Stand up, Mario.  Your time has expired," Swift declared.  "One hour has passed.  You may not have noticed while in your meditative state, but during this time, your Demon Exoskeleton has begun to regenerate.  If I were to give you any more time, you would be completely overtaken by your demon instincts and become nothing more than a mindless killing machine.  So... have you found your answer?"

There was a long pause.  Swallowing hard to hold back his internal suffering, Mario lifted his head and looked his mentor in the eyes.  "No.  Even now... I still can't find my answer."

"I see," Swift sighed, drawing his blade.  "It's a shame.  And I thought that you would be the one to finally accomplish Hero's impossible dream.  Instead, you will die at the hands of the very technique that you could not perfect.  My Nova Strike is the most powerful in existence.  I have had centuries to perfect it.  Unless you can wield the Nova Strike's true form, you will not be able to parry this attack.  Try as you may, without your answer, you will not succeed."  He began to approach the plumber.

He's coming... Mario thought, his eyes widening in fear.  This is really it...  Maybe I haven't found my answer, but still...  I have no choice but to bet my life on one final Nova Strike.  I can't be afraid to die...  If I can't complete my training, I'll die against Kronos anyway.  Whether I live or die... it doesn't matter...  He created a Fireball in his palm and dashed forward to meet Swift's attack.  As he blindly sprinted ahead, a familiar scene flashed in his mind.  With the full moon at its back, the fiery silhouette of a phoenix spoke softly to him:

"Mario, do you want to live?"

"It makes no difference to me.  I'll do whatever it takes to protect my friends and family.  If that means that I have to die, then so be it.  If I could just eliminate the threat of the Grimnexes... my duty would be fulfilled, and I would accept death if need be."

"You wish to protect those who are dear to you...  But who will protect you?"

"I don't-"

"I will.  It may be your duty to protect the Mushroom Kingdom, but it is my job to protect you.  Stand up once more, Mario.  You are not yet ready to search for death."

"But... who are you?!"

This was where the vision had initially ended.  Only now, as the Mushroom Hero raced toward his own demise, the hallucination continued.  Mario's eyes widened as he finally received the answer to his question.

"I am you.  I am your other half, the side that you refuse to embrace.  I am the culmination of your demon instincts.  I am the part of the Phoenix that lives on within you."

"Tell me, Mario!  What is your answer?" Swift demanded, bringing his flaming dagger forward as he executed his Nova Strike.

The Answer

"I... want to... live!" Mario cried, his speed suddenly tripling as his body was surrounded in a yellow aura of electricity.  His entire right arm was encased in flames, and Swift's blade was frozen in a thin sheet of ice the minute it made contact with Mario's skin.  In the blink of an eye, the Mushroom Hero brought his fist forward, sinking it into Swift's chest.  The Royal Guardian staggered backward from the impact, but he quickly regained his balance.  However, the wind that had been displaced by Mario's blazing fast punch gathered into the shape of a flaming dragon and launched itself at the swordsman.  The plumber took a knee, shielding his ears from the wind's intense howling.  The sound produced by the struggle between the two warriors' Nova Strikes was similar to the fierce roaring of a dragon.

In the end, Mario's Nova Strike was triumphant.  After slashing through Swift's Final Smash, the dragon bared its fangs at the Royal Guardian.  Utterly defeated and left entirely vulnerable, Swift was struck full force by the Nova Strike's true form.  Blood splattered onto the grassy field, and the Royal Guardian fell to his knees.

Breathing heavily, Mario rushed to his mentor's aid.  "Swift!  I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

Swift grinned dryly.  "Heh... what the hell are you apologizing for...?  You just mastered the Nova Strike, a feat that not even Hero could accomplish...  My Nova Strike cancelled out a lot of the attack's power, so I won't die.  I'll be back on my feet in no time...  But Mario... I can't believe you did it... How do you feel?"

Mario stood up and gazed upward at the clouds above.  "I... I've never felt like this before..."  He closed his eyes and grinned as a gentle breeze rushed past him.  After years of suffering, the burden of his demon ancestor had finally been lifted.  "This freedom... This burden that's been lifted...  It's incredible...  I feel so light..."  He took a deep breath and realized that he was no longer fatigued from his short bout with Swift.  "I feel completely at ease.  It's.... it's as if I'm whole again."

"Now I understand.  This entire time, I've been such a fool..." Swift chuckled to himself.  "I've always believed optimistic youths such as you and Hero were blind to the way that the world really was...  Now I see that it's the opposite.  Thank you for helping me understand, Mario.  Your answer has shown me the error of my ways.  This entire time, you never once feared death.  You believed that it was your job to defend your kingdom or die trying.  However, as you've now learned, fearing death is not always a hindrance.  Deep within you, your demon half follows his two primary instincts: to survive, and to kill.  Your answer was to find a narrow path between you and your inner demon, a small walkway that allows you to take the best of both sides- the instinct to live at all costs, and the courage and morals of a hero.  This, Mario, is the Alpha Grimnex's true Final Smash: the ability to walk on a path between Olympian and demon.  It all makes sense to me now.  Hero always dreamed of unity between the two groups... and when the Nova Strike is performed in this perfectly balanced state of being, the Supernova Blitz is the result."

Mario closed his eyes, listening to the words of his demon side.  "I had always wanted to protect you.  Only just a few moments ago did you finally attempt to understand my desires.  Your answer was right in front of you the entire time, once you were willing to listen."

The Mushroom Hero grinned.  "Thank you for everything, Swift.  I'm ready now.  Can you take me to Kronos?"

"It'll be faster if you use this," Swift replied, removing a red box with a white exclamation point from his pocket.  "I assume you know how to use this?"

Mario smashed the block, revealing a winged cap that was otherwise identical to his own.  "Man, I haven't seen one of these in forever!  Seeing this sure takes me back to the good old days.  Thanks again."

"As soon as I feel well enough to stand, I'll join your friends in defending the Nexus.  You should hurry.  Your comrades are likely still battling atop the Demon Citadel.  Good luck."

Mario gave him a thumbs up before placing the Wing Cap on his head.  His eyes locked on the gloomy fortress that loomed forebodingly in the distance, the Mushroom Hero dashed forward and performed three consecutive jumps.  After the third leap, he executed a flawless front flip and soared into the sky.  Flying carelessly among the clouds, Terranea's last hope braced himself for the final battle.

On the second highest floor of the Demon Citadel, Luigi jogged through the darkness in search of Princess Peach.  Weaving past leftover cobwebs from Glaive's confrontation with Venus, the plumber spotted her lying on the cold stone floor in a puddle of blood.  He knelt down beside her and gently placed his hand on her forehead.  "She's in bad shape... but she's definitely still alive," he whispered.  "You've been through a lot, Peach.  But now, you're finally safe.  I'll get you out of here."  He cautiously lifted the princess and slung her over his shoulder.

This whole ordeal has been nothing but a nightmare.  Still, as hard as we all fought to get this far, I never realized how difficult it must have been for her.  She was forced to abandon her husband on her wedding day and watch him nearly die in an attempt to rescue her.  She was imprisoned within the dark, melancholy homeland of the demons and forced to give up on any hopes of escape.  She was practically brainwashed, and after a brief moment of victory, she was used as a vessel to resurrect Kronos.  And now, as if all that weren't enough, she's nearly bled to death.  All this time that we've been struggling to rescue her... she's been struggling just to stay alive.  Please...  Hold on just a little longer, Peach...


[glow=blue,2,300]Chapter 30: The Margin[/glow]

His head spinning, Waluigi clutched his throbbing forehead as his eyelids fluttered open.  Though groggy from his former state of unconsciousness, he quickly came to his senses as Glaive tumbled onto the floor beside him.  He then heard slow, menacing footsteps approaching from nearby.   Turning his head toward the source of the footsteps, Waluigi gasped as he saw Kronos towering forebodingly above them.

"Still not ready to talk?" Kronos inquired, looking down upon Glaive with a cold, icy glare.  "This ceases to be entertaining, though I do commend your fortitude."  He reached down and wrapped his fingers around the demon's neck.  Raising his descendant by the throat, Glaive now dangled lifelessly within the Phoenix's grasp.

How long have I been out...?  And how long has Glaive been fighting by himself...? Waluigi wondered, gazing upward in awe at the demon king.

"Don't worry.  You'll have your turn as soon as I'm finished with Glaive," Kronos assured him with a sadistic smirk.

His entire body trembling, Waluigi carefully weighed his options.  As desperately as he wanted to rescue Glaive, he knew what the outcome would be if he recklessly jumped into the fight.  He had been paralyzed by fear.

"What are ya doin?!" a familiar voice cried as he drove his fist into the back of Kronos' head.  The Phoenix, caught completely off guard, staggered forward in shock and released his grip on Glaive, who fell lifelessly to the ground.  Noticing an opportunity to strike, Waluigi lunged forward at Kronos with a powerful kick.  However, the Phoenix managed to create a portal that shielded his entire body in the nick of time, causing Waluigi to harmlessly vanish into the abyss.  A second vortex appeared nearby and spat him onto the stone floor.

Waluigi rubbed his head and beamed at the man who had come to his aid.  "Bro!  You made it!"

"Heh, of course," Wario replied, cracking his knuckles.  "So this is the king of all demons, huh?  He does seem a bit tougher than the others.  I might actually need you to lend me a hand, just to be safe."

Waluigi grinned.  "No problem.  What happened with Ace, anyway?"

"I took care of his nutcase brother," Wario boasted with a triumphant grin.  "Ace suffered a lot more damage from the fight than I did, so I went on ahead while he stayed behind to rest.  I did also bump into Luigi on the way here.  He was escaping with the princess."

Waluigi cupped his hands over Wario's mouth.  "Shh!"

"How did I let such a boisterous fool sneak up on me?" Kronos wondered aloud, interrupting their conversation.  "More importantly, what was that about the princess?  You wouldn't be trying to escape with her, would you?"  Seeing Waluigi's reaction was the only conformation that the demon king needed.  "Hmm.  In that case, why don't we play a little game?  As of right now, Luigi is still within my reach.  I could bring him back here in an instant if I so choose.  But that's no fun.  I promise that I will not make any attempt to recapture the princess until I have dealt with the both of you.  If they manage to escape this citadel before I have done so, I will let them go.  Yet if you both fall before they can leave, I will pursue them with a heated vengeance.  Does that sound agreeable?"

Waluigi nodded hesitantly.  "We should at least be able to pull that off... right?"

"Psh.  You can play his little game if you want.  I came here with every intention of beating this chump into the ground," Wario declared.

"Almost home free," Luigi muttered, dashing through the citadel's courtyard with the unconscious princess tucked safely in his arms.  "Wario said that Ace should be resting somewhere around here..."  Slowing his pace to a jog, he scanned the area for his demon comrade.  At last, he found Ace lying face-down on a bloodied patch of grass.  He appeared to have sustained heavy damage, likely from his battle with Jack.

"Ace...  Can you hear me...?  Ace..." Luigi whispered, kneeling beside the unresponsive demon.  "Please, get up...  I can't carry you and Peach..."  As he attempted to awaken Ace, a purple vortex appeared nearby and began to draw Luigi in with a forceful gust of wind.  Though the plumber tried with all his might to resist the suction, he, Peach, and Ace were ultimately devoured by the portal.

Kronos' Theme

The next few seconds were a blur.  By the time he regained his senses, Luigi found himself tumbling through a second portal onto the throne room's floor.  Frantically scanning his surroundings, he discovered that he was back on the roof of the citadel.  Lying on the floor beside him were Peach and Ace.

"H-how did I g-g-get b-b-back here?" Luigi inquired, fearfully looking up at Kronos.  "I was... so close..."

"Allow me to explain.  Your friends, the Wario Brothers, wagered that they could last in a fight with me until you escaped the citadel.  If they failed to do so, you would be brought back to this throne room," Kronos informed him.  "And I would finally discover what you've been hiding from me."  He gestured toward the unconscious Wario Brothers.  Both of their bodies were covered in severe gashes and bruises.  "I must commend their efforts.  They lasted an admirable 35 seconds."

"T-t-that's.... i-i-it...?" Luigi gasped, shuddering at the thought of his allies being cut down by the demon king.

"Now, stand aside so that I may see the other two guests that you've brought with you."

With a frightened yelp, Luigi complied immediately.  Staggering backward in sheer terror, he felt the back of his foot hit something.  He turned around to see Wario lying utterly defeated.  The fallen plumber's eyes opened slightly, and he extended a trembling arm toward Luigi's foot.  "Luigi... get away... from here...  This guy... ain't normal..."

"Wario..."  Luigi gulped, deeply impacted by these words.  Wario would never acknowledge someone else's superiority...  For him to break Wario's spirit in a matter of 35 seconds...  Beads of sweat trickled down his face as he realized that he had turned his back to Kronos for nearly a minute.  Such a careless action would typically result in death.  However, Kronos' attention was focused on an entirely different matter.  Returning his attention to the Phoenix, Luigi saw that Kronos was standing completely still, his eyes fixed on a single point.  He traced the demon king's line of sight to the princess' lifeless body.  Each second seemed like an eternity as Luigi held his breath, waiting for Kronos to stir.

An aura of flames began to burn around the demon king's body.  He slowly turned his head toward Luigi.  They locked eyes for only a moment.  Yet it was within this moment that Luigi felt a thousand knives plunge through his flesh.  Chills ran down his spine as he gazed into the cold, malevolent eyes of the Phoenix.  Utterly defeated, the plumber immediately broke his stare and fixed his gaze on the stone floor.  What... what was that...?  Never before have I seen such terrifying eyes...  It was like I was staring at death itself...

Wordlessly, the Phoenix began to approach Luigi.  The sight of the fatally injured Princess Peach was too much for him to bear.  He was now overcome with rage and malice.

Luigi fell to his knees.  I can't move...  I can't even breathe...  This is it...  Kronos now towering above him with his hand raised, the plumber could only hang his head in defeat.  Kronos had snapped.  And through his insanity, he became an entirely new, even more formidable force than before.  At last, Luigi understood why Glaive had ordered him to escape with the princess.  But now it was too late.  Now they were all doomed to wither away before the Phoenix's insurmountable wrath.

At that moment, a fierce breeze knocked Kronos off balance.  Lowering his hand, he turned his head to the east.

The violent winds had also blown Luigi's cap off.  He turned and lunged toward it, but it was already well beyond his reach.  He followed the cap with his eyes, believing it to be the last sight that he would ever see.  However, a gloved hand seized the cap and firmly placed it back on Luigi's head.  His eyes widened in disbelief.  Looking up at the man that stood before him, teardrops rolled down the plumber's cheeks.  "You're... You're alive..."

Calm Heart

"Of course I am.  I said that I'd come back, didn't I?" Mario replied with a warm smile.  "Looks like I got here just in time, too.  I'm glad to see that you're all still alive.  But..."  He turned toward Princess Peach.  "Peach isn't looking too good.  She needs immediate medical attention."

Feeling Kronos' stare, Luigi felt the color drain from his face.  "Bro...  Aren't you forgetting about someone...?"

Mario turned toward Kronos.  The two locked eyes.  "Kronos can wait.  Right now, Peach dying."

How can he say something so bold to Kronos' face?  Isn't he afraid...? Luigi wondered.  His thoughts were interrupted as the Mushroom Hero began to walk toward Kronos at a casual pace.  The cowardly plumber gasped.  What is he doing?!  Doesn't he understand that Kronos is different from before?  He'll be slaughtered!

Standing only a few feet away from Kronos, Mario stopped.  He stared directly into the demon king's eyes without showing a trace of fear or hesitation.  "Help her."

There was a long pause.  Neither Mario nor Kronos budged an inch.

"Help her," Mario repeated firmly.  "I know that saving her life is well within your power.  You can manipulate matter and space.  You've reclaimed your original body in its prime after being dead for thousands of years.  To say that you are powerless to save the life of the only human you've ever cared for would be absurd.  Instead of throwing a childish tantrum, why don't you do something useful?"

Watching the scene in stunned silence, Glaive was awestruck by Mario's audacity.  He walked right up to the king without a second thought.  Mario... there's something different about him...  There is no longer any uncertainty in his eyes.

Time seemed to stand still as the two stared each other down.  After what felt like an eternity, the flames that engulfed Kronos began to die down.  The demon king smirked, and the hatred faded from his eyes.  "Forgive me.  When I lose my temper, my sense of reasoning goes with it.  If you'll excuse me, I will do all that I can for Peach."

"I appreciate it," Mario replied with a grin.

To everyone's absolute shock, Kronos graciously complied with Mario's demands.  He approached the princess and extended his palms toward her severely wounded body.  She was surrounded with a purple barrier, and one by one, her injuries began to fade away.  Once the majority of her wounds had been healed, the barrier vanished, and Kronos turned to face Mario once again.  "I have mended her most fatal injuries.  With enough rest, she will live."

So... this is Hero's descendant, Zeus observed, having only recently regained consciousness.  Mario... the troublemaker that stormed into the Nightmare Abyss against my orders...  He certainly inherited Hero's fierce willpower.  Not once have I ever seen someone live after standing up to Kronos during one of his fits of insanity.  During those moments... he loses all control, showing no regard for no one... not even Rhea.  Yet this Mario was somehow able to bring him back to his senses...  But can I truly rely on that traitor's descendant?  No... surely I cannot allow Terranea's fate to rest on the shoulders of such a man...  But for the time being, he's all that we have left.

"He actually healed Peach... but why?" Luigi wondered aloud.

"Never mind that," Kronos snapped.  "She is an exception.  Do not think that I will be so merciful with the remainder of your friends.  Now that the princess' life is no longer in jeopardy, what will you do, Mushroom Hero?"

A wry smirk spread across the plumber's face.  "Actually, I was planning on ripping you off of your newly reclaimed throne."  He shifted his attention to his comrades.  "You all fought so hard while I've been gone...  Thank you.  Now leave the rest to me.  This is something that I have to handle alone."

"It's been so long... since I've heard him say something like that," Luigi sighed with relief.  "We believe in you, Bro..."

"How... amusing," Kronos chuckled.  "Even while I was using the princess as a vessel, you were no match for me.  What could have possibly changed since then?  As long as you are covered by the Demon Exoskeleton, I can render your entire body useless."

Mario grinned from ear to ear.

"...Unless you've already forgotten.  In that case, allow me refresh your memory."  Kronos extended his palms toward the Mushroom Hero.  "You may be in control of your human half, but your demon side will always prioritize my orders above yours.  And I just ordered any part of your body covered by the Demon Exoskeleton to remain absolutely still."  The demon king rushed toward his opponent, who made no attempt to ready himself for close combat.  Standing like a stone statue, the Mushroom Hero did not budge an inch.  "I see.  Your entire body is under my control now, isn't it?"  Unable to control his wicked laughter, Kronos sent a bone-shattering right hook directly toward Mario's face.


"...No," Mario replied, catching the demon king's punch in his palm.  "No part of my body is covered by the Demon Exoskeleton."  With a chilling battle cry, Mario delivered a devastating blow to his ancestor's face.  "That one... was for Glaive.  All of my friends... all of the misery that they've been through these past few years... You were the one behind it all.  Do you have any idea how much suffering you've caused?"

"What... what happened to your Demon Exoskeleton?" Kronos demanded, staggering backward in pain.

Instead of answering, Mario rushed forward at his ancestor and unleashed three flame-augmented punches.  He then grabbed the Phoenix by the shoulders and kneed him the in the chest, causing him to crumple onto his knees in agony.  To end his vengeful assault, the Mushroom Hero raised his arm above his head before bringing his elbow down upon the back of Kronos' head.  Taking a few steps back, he heaved a deep sigh.  "Six hits in all... Glaive, Ace, Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, and Peach...  Those were for you."  He cupped his hands together and aimed them at the Phoenix, who was still on his hands and knees from his descendants' previous barrage of attacks.  "And this one... is for all of my other friends who are risking their lives to protect the Nexus.  Mark, Luke, Lorne, Bowser, Grambi, Swift...  I haven't forgotten about you."  With that being said, he launched a blazing Ultra Fireball at his opponent, lighting the entire throne room with a fiery explosion.

I don't believe my eyes...  Is this the same Mario that I brought to see Swift? Glaive wondered, his eyes bulging in shock.

"That guy... Always showing off..." Wario muttered, barely conscious.

As the flames died down, Kronos emerged relatively unscathed.  His trench coat had been burned to ashes, revealing his sleeveless blue undershirt, and a thin stream of blood ran down his chin.  "Mario...  Please don't tell me that was the best you could do.  Do you honestly intend to use your hatred toward me as a weapon?  Are you going to fight for the sake of revenge?  If so, you really aren't any different from me."

Mario smirked and shook his head.  "Nah, I was just venting some of my anger before I decided to take this seriously.  For what I'm here to do, revenge won't get me anywhere."

"I see...  But if you give in to your hatred, it will make you stronger.  I have no interest in fighting a hypocritical fool such as yourself.  I want to face my true reincarnation, the demon that lives on inside of you.  Go ahead.  Let it all go.  Give in to my influence and allow yourself to be overcome by your demon instincts."

"Not possible," Mario replied firmly.  "And even if I could, it would only weaken me.  As I am now, I have surpassed even my demon side.  I've changed.  My demon half and I aren't two opposing forces competing for the same body anymore.  I've learned to take the strength and the desire to live from my demon side without reverting to an immoral, berserk state.  I'm free from your influence, Kronos.  My demon half has finally chosen to side with me.  I can walk on the thin margin between human and demon, just as Hero would have wanted."

"So that's what happened..." Glaive whispered, watching in awe as the Mushroom Hero engaged in fierce hand to hand combat with their mutual ancestor.  "Unreal...  He's like a completely different person.  That look of purity in his eyes... I haven't seen it since his battle with Lord Shade all of those years ago...  At last, he can fight without his inner demon holding him back!"

After being struck in the face with one of the Phoenix's punches, Mario performed a backward handspring and landed nimbly on his feet.  He then formed a Fireball in his right palm and used an Iceball to freeze his left arm.  Dashing toward Kronos, the Mushroom Hero hurled the Fireball in his adversary's direction, but the flaming projectile was promptly swallowed by a purple vortex.  An identical portal opened up beside Mario and spat out the Fireball, and without batting an eyelid, the plumber swatted the blast away with his frozen arm.  As both portals closed in unison, Mario lunged forward and struck his vulnerable enemy in the face.   The plumber grinned triumphantly.  "Gotcha."

Teetering backwards from the impact of Mario's punch, Kronos quickly regained his balance and wiped the blood from his chin.  A faint, irritated smirk appeared on the demon king's face.  "So it would seem...  You are the first warrior since my resurrection to find a way around my spatial distortions."

"I already knew about that technique's weakness.  But for some reason, I wasn't fast enough to make use of that knowledge during our first encounter," Mario recalled.  "But now...  It was almost as if I could see everything in slow motion.  The timing just came to me... I didn't even have to think."

"How unfortunate.  It would seem that you are in an entirely different league than your feeble comrades.  I can't rely on basic tricks to eradicate you," Kronos sighed, cracking his knuckles.  "In truth, I can do far more than create pairs of portals to repel attacks."  He extended his palms toward a nearby marble column.  It was surrounded with what appeared to be a violet barrier, and in a matter of seconds, it crumbled apart until it was nothing more than a pile of dust.

Mario, Glaive, Luigi, and the Wario Brothers gasped in unison.  "W-w-what d-d-did he j-j-just d-d-do?" Luigi stammered in horror.

Kronos' Theme

Zeus closed his eyes, turning away in disgust.  "You fool..."

"What's wrong, my son?" Kronos sneered.  He kneeled beside Zeus, grabbed him by the chin, and forcefully twisted his son's head toward him.  "Why do you look away?  Aren't you proud of your old man?"

"You went too far, Kronos!" Zeus exploded, his wrinkled face growing red with rage.  "You were this land's king, not it's-"

"Enough," Kronos demanded, his eyes flashing red with rage.  "Say one more word, and I'll take away what little time you have left in this world."  Regaining his cool, wicked demeanor, the demon king stood up and returned his attention to Mario.  "Forgive my son for the interruption.  He can never seem to control his excitement when I show off my powers.  So what do you think?  Can you guess what my ability is?"

Mario thought for a moment, beads of sweat trickling down his face.  At last, he made a dreadful realization.  "There's only one thing that it could be... but that's just..."

Kronos grinned from ear to ear.  "My true strength... is the ability to manipulate time, matter, and space: things that only God himself can control.  In developing this power...  I can transcend my role as a mere king.  Think about it.  By distorting space, I am able to create two vortexes that connect to one another.  I can sharpen the air around my arm to make it as deadly as a blade.  I can even cause things to age and crumble away beneath my feet.  As the only being alive to possess such an ability... I am the only one fit to be Terranea's god!"

"You're no god!" Zeus spat.  "Even as a child, I sensed the wickedness in your heart...  I could feel your constant thirst for power.  And someday...  I knew it would bring nothing but ruin to Terranea.  When I finally grew old enough to become a competent king, you clung to the throne and refused to relinquish your crown.  I was content to allow you to rule until you passed away... but even then, you were still not satisfied.  You sought out the ability to manipulate time and space, things that no living creature has the right to control!  That's why you had to be eliminated... before you could master such a deadly skill!"

"So that's why..." Mario whispered.  "As if it wasn't already enough to rule over every realm in existence... how can you expect so much from the world?!"

"Didn't you say that you had already vented all of your hatred towards me?  Even after hearing all of this, are you sure that you won't fight for the sake of revenge?"

"I'm not here for revenge," Mario replied immediately.  "I didn't even come here to kill you."

"Really?  Then why did you come here?"

"To help you realize how stupid you've been," the Mushroom Hero responded, grinning.  "And it certainly looks like I've got my work cut out for me."


why is this floated in the gaming section and not in the arts section I DON'T UNDERSTAND

Quote from: Viewtifulboy on March 11, 2013, 07:28:20 AM
Good job! I, Viewtifulboy, declare you the CHAMPION!

I'm the official winner of the Viewtiful Victory roleplay championship!


Quote from: Custom on September 05, 2011, 09:16:58 AM
why is this floated in the gaming section and not in the arts section I DON'T UNDERSTAND
I've been wondering the same thing. I think it's because the Written section was terminated.

But that's no reason enough to keep this up...


Quote from: NotAsagiChris on September 05, 2011, 09:37:45 AM
I've been wondering the same thing. I think it's because the Written section was terminated.

But that's no reason enough to keep this up...
Yeah, that's what originally happened.  And it's out of my control whether the thread is floated or not.  It was actually Mack's decision.


[glow=blue,2,300]Chapter 31: Dwindling Hope[/glow]

Kronos Theme

"You came here to help me?" Kronos inquired, throwing his head back with uncontrollable laughter.  "Thousands of years have passed since my battle with Hero, the original Alpha Grimnex... and after all of this... after all that you and your friends have been through... you plan to take the exact same approach that Hero did?"

I should have known that he would turn out to be a traitor, just like Hero, Zeus thought, angrily clenching his fists.  It seems that Mario will have to be eliminated in the very same way... but only after Kronos has been properly dealt with.

"Even after discovering the truth about my abilities, you still wish to face me?  Do you, a mere human with a few drops of demon blood in his veins, honestly expect to succeed where even Zeus has failed?"

Mario nodded.  "The power to manipulate matter, space, and even time is nothing to laugh about.  But it clearly has limitations."

"What makes you say that?"

"If you could use such a divine ability without restraint, then we would all be dead by now.  It wouldn't take long for you to turn us into dust like you did with that pillar only minutes ago," Mario explained.  "There has to be some sort of limit to what you can control."

"How very perceptive," Kronos chuckled.  "Truth be told, I still have plenty of room for improvement.  I have to picture an imaginary sphere around whatever it is I want to control.  This sphere's size is limited depending on what property it is that I wish to alter.  In addition, it is far beyond my power to travel back in time to, for example, the Terranean War in order to modify its outcome in my favor.  I cannot move events forward or back in time.  Rather, I have the ability to change an object's age.  That column rotted away because I caused it to age several thousand years.  To a lesser extreme, I healed most of the princess' wounds by decreasing her age by a few hours.  This brought her body to the state that it was in before she sustained those fatal injuries."

Kronos Battle

"I see...  That makes more sense," Mario affirmed, stepping forward to challenge Kronos.  The demon king extended his arms toward the plumber, who immediately leapt to the left.  Only seconds later, the spot that he had just occupied was now encircled by a golden sphere.  The Phoenix raised his right arm, and a chunk of the stone floor dislodged itself and began to levitate.  "That could've been me..."

"Precisely.  I now have complete control over this slab of rock."  Several more golden orbs began to appear along the floor.  Kronos lifted his arms once again, and in the blink of an eye, dozens of boulders now hovered ominously above the citadel.  "Controlling inanimate objects requires little energy, so I can easily manipulate dozens of them at a time.  See if you can dodge them all."  With a downward thrust of his arms, the boulders began to rain down on the roof of the fortress.

"You're bringing back memories of Ipos," Mario stated dryly as he dashed, leapt, and weaved across the throne room.  "Except that hundreds of swords are a bit more intimidating than a couple dozen rocks."  Reaching a dead end, he whirled around and shattered an oncoming boulder with a flaming punch.  But as the rock crumbled apart from the impact, the plumber's eyes bulged as he saw Kronos standing behind it with his palms aimed at him.  It was too late to dodge.

A wicked grin spread across the demon king's face.  "Now I've got you."

Before he could react, Mario was encased in a golden bubble.  He furiously pummeled the sphere from the inside in a desperate attempt to break free, but to no avail.  "Damn it...  Those boulders were only a distraction..."

"Yes, and now you are under my control," Kronos sneered, thrusting his arms to the left.  Against his will, the bubble that contained Mario launched itself into a nearby stone pillar.  Striking the column at breakneck speed, the Mushroom Hero cried out in agony as he coughed up a mouthful of blood.  With another swift gesture, the demon king sent Mario on a collision course with the marble floor.

"We've got to help him!" Luigi shrieked.  "Bro's in trouble!"  He scurried over to the fallen Wario Brothers.  Shaking their lifeless bodies, he pleaded with them to rise to their feet.  "C'mon, guys!  Get up!"

"They're barely conscious, Luigi," Glaive informed him gravely.  "Zeus appears to be in the same condition, and both Peach and Ace are out cold.  We're the only ones left who can do anything, and even then... he has a hostage.  Unless Mario can find a way out of this mess on his own... it'll be up to us to take over where he left off."

"Don't be ridiculous..." Wario grumbled, slowly rising to his feet.  "It would be disgraceful for the great Wario Brothers to cower in the sidelines..."  He forcefully pulled Waluigi off of the ground.  "Stand up!  You're making us look pathetic!"

After slamming Mario into yet another stone pillar, Kronos heaved an exaggerated sigh.  "I'm afraid this is growing tiresome.  It's time to end this."  With one final gesture, the sphere that had ensnared Mario hovered over the edge of the citadel.  Now floating thousands of feet above the ground, the plumber's life was in Kronos' hands.  "Goodbye, Mario."  He snapped his fingers, and the golden bubble popped, sending Mario plummeting to his doom.

"BRO!" Luigi cried, the color draining from his face.

Plunging downward at high speeds, Mario desperately reached out for something to break his fall.  Nothing.  He took a deep breath, struggling to maintain his cool.  The ground was growing steadily closer.  In a matter of seconds, it would all be over.  At last, an idea came to him.  Cupping his hands together, he launched an Ultra Fireball away from the Demon Citadel, propelling him backward and through the fortress' stone wall.

Meanwhile, Luigi, Glaive, and the Wario Brothers rushed to the edge of the roof to see if their comrade had survived.  Mario was nowhere to be found.

Now several stories below Kronos, Mario pondered his next move.  I'm sure Kronos has figured out that I'm down here by now.  Now what...?  I can't afford to let myself get caught in one of his attacks again.  If he manages to alter my age, I'm done for.

"W-where'd he go?" Luigi inquired, shuddering.  "Did he... f-f-fall...?"

"No, he's alive," Glaive snickered.  "That guy...  He's too much."

To Luigi's immense relief, Mario climbed over the edge and back onto the roof of the citadel.  Without another word, he charged at Kronos with his fists raised.  As if his arm was a blade, the demon king slashed horizontally across the plumber's waist, slicing him in two.  But instead of screaming or even bleeding, the Mushroom Hero burst into flames.  "What?!" Kronos thundered.

A second Mario appeared and assaulted Kronos in the same way.  Only moments later, a third and fourth plumber emerged to join the attack.  Before the demon king knew it, he was being swarmed by dozens of Mario clones.  Unable to combat them all, Kronos was mercilessly pummeled by the horde of plumbers.

"What's... going on...?" Luigi gasped.

"Unbelievable...  He created doppelgangers of himself out of pure Elemental Energy," Glaive explained.  "I've never seen anything like it...  To do something like that, he must have mastered the manipulation of his Elemental Energy to an insane degree!  He was probably inspired by Ipos, but even so... how did he have enough energy to create so many of them?"

"My demon half and I aren't two opposing forces competing for the same body anymore.  I've learned to take the strength and the desire to live from my demon side without reverting to an immoral, berserk state.  My demon half has finally chosen to side with me.  I can walk on the thin margin between human and demon, just as Hero would have wanted."

"That's it...  Not only does he have his Elemental Energy, but he can now also draw power from his inner demon's Iniquity!  In other words, after his training with Swift, he has effectively doubled his supply of Elemental Energy!" Glaive exclaimed.  "Still...  The thought of taking a Fireball and shaping it into a mobile replica of yourself...  It's mindboggling..."

Kronos Theme

Just then, a hateful, bloodcurdling cry silenced the delighted applause of Mario's comrades.  A fierce whirlwind erupted from Kronos' body, sending the Mario clones scattering in all directions.  The duplicates disintegrated into their respective elements, leaving the original Mario lying on the ground from the impact of the demon king's attack.  "I've had enough of these childish games," the Phoenix hissed.  "No more...  I will crush each and every one of your pathetic ideals.  Your friends, your family, your peaceful way of life...  I'll annihilate it all and build a new world from the ground up!"  He raised his arms, and a violent torrent of wind surrounded him.

"What is he doing...?" Mario wondered aloud, breathing heavily.  "Looks like I really ticked him off..."

"He can't be..." Zeus gasped, his eyes widening.  "Does he really plan to end it this way...?"

"What do you mean?!" Luigi inquired frightfully.

"The Odium Tremor...  By compressing a vast amount of air into a tiny space and then allowing it to suddenly expand... he can create a violent explosion that eradicates everything in its path.  He devised this technique specifically for the purpose of wiping out everything in existence so that he could create a new beginning.  It is perhaps his most devastating ability..." Zeus explained.  "If he unleashes that attack... not only will we all die... but this very tower will crumble to the ground.  It seems that Kronos is bent on killing us all, even if he has to destroy his own throne."

"Then why don't you do something?  You're freaking Zeus!" Luigi screamed, shaking him by the shoulders.

Zeus shook his head.  "It's too late...  The wind has already been compressed...  It's already powerful enough to eliminate as all...  The only way to survive this attack would be to prevent Kronos from using it altogether..."

Luigi fell to his knees.  "So that's it... We're... done for...?"

"Yeah right," Mario chuckled weakly.  "I don't buy it..."  He struggled to his feet and prepared to challenge Kronos again.  "I still haven't given up on you, Kronos..."

"I wish you could understand how ridiculous you sound!" Kronos cackled.  "It's easy for someone like you to undermine my beliefs...  Those who have never experienced peace have far different values than those who have never experienced war.  People can talk about right and wrong all they want...  But only the Terranean king, the one who stands at the top, can decide what the definition of evil is.  You humans have a saying, 'Justice will always prevail.'  I couldn't agree more.  The victor of this battle...  His ideals will become justice."  Holding up a sphere of compressed air the size of a basketball, Kronos burst into a fit of maniacal laughter.  "And the victor... is me!"  Aiming the Odium Tremor at Mario and his friends, he prepared to unleash a torrent of wind that would annihilate them all.

Without a second thought, the Mushroom Hero rushed forward and lunged at Kronos, throwing his body directly in front of the ball of compacted wind.  At that moment, time seemed to freeze.  Tears rolled down Luigi's cheeks.  He called out for his brother, but no sound came out.  One moment, he saw the image of Mario standing boldly before the demon king, and the next, there was nothing but white.  There was the sound of an earsplitting explosion.  Then everything faded to black.

Approaching Destruction

"BRO!" Luigi cried, forcing himself into a sitting position.  He gasped at what he saw.  The sky was black.  A light drizzle had begun to fall, and a chilling breeze swept over the land.  Most shocking of all, however, was the landscape that lay before him.  Where the Demon Citadel had once stood, there was nothing but rubble.  His body trembling feverishly, he frantically scanned the ruins for any survivors.  He found Zeus standing nearby, surrounded by a divine barrier.  Suddenly overflowing with rage, he rushed over to the Terranean king and grabbed him by the shoulders.  "You...  You lied to me!" Luigi shrieked, furiously shaking him.  "You said that we were all doomed, but you had a barrier for yourself the entire time! What about us?!  What about Mario, the descendent of the bloodline that has fought in your name for generations?!"

"I have no obligation to protect a traitor or his allies," Zeus answered firmly, shoving Luigi to the ground.  "Kronos must be eradicated.  Those who think otherwise are nothing more than treacherous scum."

"But then... How did I...?" Luigi wondered aloud.  He whirled around and saw a woman with wavy, violet, shoulder-length hair.  She wore a sleeveless indigo tunic and baggy silver pants, and a sword and shield were strapped to her back.  Tucked safely beneath her arms were both Ace and Peach.  "R-Rhea!  Did you...?"

Rhea nodded.  "Seems that I arrived just in time.  That old grouch may have not been willing to shield you from the Odium Tremor, but I was.  That being said, my force fields aren't nearly as effective as Zeus'.  Had Mario not diminished the impact by throwing himself in front of the attack, you might have all died anyway."

Perking up at the mentioning of her husband's name, Princess Peach's eyes fluttered open.  "Mario... where's Mario?  What's... going on...?"

"Yeah...  Where's my bro?  And for that matter, where's Kronos?" Luigi asked, his heart pounding in his chest.

Rhea hung her head.  "You don't remember, do you?  You were probably unconscious by the time it happened..."

Luigi's heart sank.  "...Remember what?"

"As I said before, I shielded everyone with a barrier, including Mario.  The citadel was beginning to crumble, and it seemed as though Kronos' attack might actually work against him.  The falling debris nearly crushed him, when suddenly..."  She paused for a moment, holding back her tears.  "Mario, even after taking the blunt of the Odium Tremor... stood up and pushed Kronos out of the way, probably saving his life...  He then went so far as to transfer the barrier that I gave him to Kronos...  Luigi, I don't know how to say this...  Your brother... he's..."

"A complete and utter FOOL!" Kronos screeched, rising from beneath a large chunk of debris.  "It was foolish enough to sacrifice himself to protect his worthless friends, but then he took his idiocy a step further and rescued his enemy!  That man... was nothing but trash, just like Hero was."

Last Stand

"Take that back..." Luigi muttered, his body quivering with rage.

"Now what?  Are you going to follow in your idiot brother's footsteps?" Kronos sneered.  "And Rhea...  I see that even you have come to betray me!  It comes as no surprise... no matter what happens, I've always been alone."

Driven by his fury, Luigi hurled himself at Kronos, tossing an endless barrage of punches and kicks.  The demon king effortlessly sidestepped each of the blows before batting the plumber away with the back of his fist.  Within seconds, two more opponents entered the fray.  Waluigi emerged from beneath the rubble and hooked his arms underneath Kronos' shoulders, and Wario charged forward at his immobilized foe with his metallic fists raised.  However, a portal materialized on Kronos' back, inhaling Waluigi and freeing the Phoenix.  A second vortex then opened in front of Kronos and launched Waluigi at his shorter, bulkier brother.  The two collided and tumbled lifelessly onto the ground.

"I don't understand... What's going on...?" Peach whispered in confusion, tears welling up in her sapphire eyes.  "Where's Mario...?"

"Stand up!" Glaive barked, lifting a large chunk of debris from his body.  "All of you... stand up!  In Mario's honor... I will not rest until I'm dead!"  Drawing his katana, the demon gathered his strength and charged at the demon king.

One by one, Mario's comrades rose from beneath the rubble to continue where their dear friend had left off, and one by one, they all fell victim to Kronos' insurmountable might.  "I don't understand...  Why do they insist on fighting...?  How can this 'Mario' truly mean so much to them?"

"You'd never understand," Rhea spat, her tone overflowing with bitterness.  "Kronos is certainly wrong, but a heartless old fool like yourself is hardly an improvement."  Drawing her blade, the Royal Guardian stepped forward to face her brother.  "Kronos!  Please, stop this!  If you wish to continue this course of action, you'll have no choice but to kill your own sister."

"Rhea...  You used to be the only person I had left, the only one who kept me from being alone.  I was so naive... to think that someone in this world could show me compassion and kindness."

Coming to his senses at last, Ace sat up and gasped.  "What... what happened...?  It's gone... it's all gone...  There's nothing left..."  He scanned the area for his comrades.  Not one of them remained standing.  Only Rhea and Kronos remained, with Zeus and Peach on the sidelines. 

"Rhea..." Peach whispered, her eyes widening as she recalled the feelings that Kronos had confided in her.  "She's the person he mistook me for... his sister...  How awful...  Those two can't possibly mean to kill each other!"  Grabbing Ace by the shoulders, she pleaded with him to step in.  "Ace, please... you've got to do something!  You're the only one left!"


"This entire time...  I've been completely useless..." Ace whispered, gradually limping towards the king.  Mario, Luigi, Glaive...  Come to think of it...  I'm the only one who hasn't made a true sacrifice for my teammates.  Mario... during our battle with Velno, you were ready to give your own life to save us...  Glaive... when Mario's inner demon took over, you sacrificed yourself without hesitation to bring him back to his senses...  And Luigi...  When Mario reached his limit during his battle with Crimson, you set aside your fear and put your life at stake to help him.  What have I done...?  How many times have I been willing to sacrifice my life...?  This time... it's my turn...  This time, I'll devote what little life I have left to continuing where Mario and his comrades left off...

"Another one..." Kronos muttered, turning his attention to Ace.  "Seeing one of my own kind side with such a worthless species... it's sickening."

As Ace and the Phoenix stared each other down, Princess Peach scurried toward Rhea and firmly stood in her path.  "You're Rhea, Kronos' sister..."

The Royal Guardian hung her head.  "I am... but even so..."

"Please, hear me out!" the princess pleaded.  "Once Kronos regained his original, youthful body, he had no more use for me.  He could have disposed of me at any time.  But instead, he chose to spare me!  He showed me something that I never would have expected from such a coldhearted monster: kindness.  And do you know why?  Because I reminded him of you!  No matter how far Kronos has descended into madness, he is still capable of showing compassion!  Can't you talk to him...?  Please... If there's anyone that can stop all of this fighting, it's you!"

Meanwhile, Ace desperately slashed at Kronos with a pair of energy sabers, but the demon king effortlessly parried each strike with his bare hands.  "Hmm, you are a member of the Zepar tribe, aren't you?  Yes... one of the only survivors..."

Coughing up blood, Ace knew that his time was running out.  Most of the color had drained from his skin, and his every movement required nearly triple the effort that it normally would.  His body was growing frail.  The power he had attained by training with King had come at a high price.  He had compressed most of his remaining life energy into a time span of only a few months.  His time had nearly expired.  Still, he insisted on dedicating every last drop of his remaining life to furthering Mario's cause.

"It seems as though you've aged quite a bit in an awfully short amount of time," Kronos observed.  "You don't have much time left.  If you have any last words, you'd better speak while you still have the chance."

"Mario's spirit will never die," Ace replied, lunging at Kronos with one final slash.  "That man's character will never cease to inspire the countless others that surround him!"

"How dull," Kronos muttered, piercing the demon's chest with his bare hand.  "I thought that a demon would be able to come up with something a bit more creative."  He removed his fingers from Ace's torso, spilling his blood onto the ground.  His skin now a ghostly white, Ace collapsed lifelessly at the Phoenix's feet.

Tightening her grip on her sword, Rhea swallowed hard.  "I...  I can see how you reminded Kronos of me...  Such naivety...  Forgive me, but words alone will not end this war."  She turned away from the princess and, holding back her tears, marched bravely toward her sibling.

Time stood still as Peach digested the scene before her.  Glaive, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi lied utterly defeated amongst the ruins of the Demon Citadel.  Ace had just collapsed into a puddle of his own blood.  Zeus stood silently nearby, refusing to lend his assistance.  The rumbling of thunder echoed in her ears, but it was not enough to drown out the battle cries of the nearby war to defend the Nexus.  Kronos towered above his fallen victims, now overcome with bloodlust and insanity.  And marching bravely toward him was Rhea, his beloved sister.  Desperate to prevent such a heartbreaking scene from occurring- and to discover a ray of hope during Terranea's darkest hour- she cried out for the only person who could help in such a situation.

Final Plight


Rhea stopped dead in her tracks.  Kronos could scarcely contain his laughter.  "Mario?  Hah!  Perhaps you weren't aware, but your precious Mario died to protect me!"

Princess Peach fell to her knees, tears flowing down her cheeks. The Royal Guardian hung her head and forged onward.  She raised her dagger, pointing it toward her brother for the first time in generations, when suddenly, a gentle breeze rolled past.  Kronos' eyes bulged.  Chills ran down Rhea's spine, and she whirled around to face the direction that the wind had blown in.  She gasped.

The princess felt a hand on her shoulder.  She raised her head, and her tears stopped flowing immediately.  In that instant, a wave of relief ran through her body.

"Heh...  You don't have to be so loud..." the Mushroom Hero chuckled, his body trembling as he used the princess' shoulder to maintain his balance.  His clothes were rugged and torn.  His body was covered in scrapes and bruises.  Yet his face was still as bright and cheerful as ever.  A single glimpse of his smile was enough to put Peach back at ease.  "Like I said before... I'll handle the rest."



Quote from: Viewtifulboy on March 11, 2013, 07:28:20 AM
Good job! I, Viewtifulboy, declare you the CHAMPION!

I'm the official winner of the Viewtiful Victory roleplay championship!



[glow=blue,2,300]Chapter 32: Dragon vs. Phoenix[/glow]

Final Plight

The battered plumber staggered forward, his eyes gleaming with resolve.  A blue aura emanated from his body, and a fierce whirlwind surrounded him.  Even in Terranea's darkest hour, Mario stood firm.

"You are a very lucky man to have survived," Kronos hissed.

"Luck had nothing to do with it.  I heard Peach call for help, so my body forced itself up.  As the Mushroom Hero, I possess the instinct to protect," Mario explained with a grin.

"Whatever you may call it, I hope you've come to understand your stupidity.  By protecting me, you nearly got yourself killed.  And for what?  I haven't changed.  I feel neither grateful nor indebted to you."

"It really wasn't as complicated as you're making it out to be.  I saw that you were about to be crushed, so I pushed you out of the way.  I didn't take the time to think about it.  I just acted according to my instincts," Mario recalled.  "I wasn't expecting anything out of it.  And even if we ran through that scenario again a thousand times, nothing would change."

"Don't make me laugh.  An Olympian's way of life is filled with nothing but falsehood and lies.  Morals and heroics are nothing more than masks to conceal your inner darkness.  Once I become king, I will show the world how fragile your society truly is, and Terranea will be restored to the chaotic state that it was always meant to be in.  Try as hard as you like. You cannot convince me otherwise!"

"We'll see about that...  I still haven't shown you my answer," Mario replied, his entire right arm engulfed in flames.  "The technique that not even Hero could master... the Supernova Blitz."  Electrical sparks emitting from his body, he sprinted toward Kronos at three times his normal speed.  Quick to react, the demon king extended his right arm toward Mario in an attempt to trap him within one of his manipulative spheres.  However, the Mushroom Hero weaved back and forth at a speed that made it impossible to aim accurately.  Kronos slashed at him with his razor-sharp arm in a last-ditch effort to defend himself, but his arm was frozen instantly upon contact with Mario's body.  His eyes widened.  Mario brought his blazing fist forward, sinking it into the Phoenix's chest.  Coughing up blood, Kronos clutched his wound as he recoiled in agony.  But the attack had not yet ended.  The wind that had been displaced by Mario's punch quickly combined with the leftover flames and formed into the shape of a scorching dragon.  With an earsplitting howl, this dragon launched itself at the demon king, spilling his blood in all directions.

Heavily scalded, Kronos collapsed onto his knees as the attack finally died down.  His body quivering in anguish, the demon king struggled to maintain consciousness.  "What... was that...?"

"That was... my answer..." Mario responded, out of breath.  He too fell to the ground, completely exhausted.  "Now do you see...?  You said that the life of an Olympian is filled with nothing but falsehood and lies, and that we try to cover up our wicked nature with laws and morals.  But I could say the same for demons...  What if demons try to hide their inherently good nature by acting out of hatred and malice?"

Kronos' eyes bulged. 

"I saw that you were about to be crushed, so I pushed you out of the way.  I didn't take the time to think about it.  I just acted according to my instincts."

The demon king shook his head.  "No...  That's not how people really are..."

This scene looks eerily familiar, Zeus noted, changing his staff into a blade.  Hero, and now Mario...  Why can't they understand?

"Kronos... you and I both know the truth.  And even if we wanted to, neither of us have the strength to keep this up.  Let's end this now, before we both die," Mario pleaded.

"I'm afraid I cannot allow that," Zeus stated, approaching Kronos from behind with his dagger raised.  "This man is beyond help.  The only choice we have is to eliminate him, and this time, for good."

"Killing him won't accomplish anything!" Mario cried, desperately attempting to intervene.  Try as he might, he could not find the strength to stand.  His body had grown completely numb from exhaustion.  He watched in horror as Zeus' blade came crashing down toward the defenseless Phoenix's neck.  As the sword was only centimeters away from bringing the war to an end, a second blade parried the swing.

"Please...  It's enough that you've incapacitated him," Rhea pleaded, her cheeks damp with tears.  "There's no need to kill him...  He's your son... and my brother...  Please... haven't enough people died already?"


"It will never be enough.  Not until Kronos has been eradicated!" Zeus thundered.  "And once I've executed him, you and Mario will suffer the same fate!  Showing mercy to the demon king... only a traitor who bows down to the devil could do such a thing."

Standing firmly between Kronos and Zeus, Rhea would not budge an inch.  "Please... I beg of-" The Royal Guardian felt a sharp pain in her chest.  Coughing up blood, Rhea and Zeus exchanged horrified grimaces.  After altering his hand to the sharpness of a blade, Kronos had stabbed through his own sister and into Zeus.  Cackling madly, he withdrew his hand, spilling blood onto the ground.  Rhea whirled around, tears streaming down her cheeks.  She reached for her dear brother, who could only laugh maniacally as she collapsed at his feet.  Just like that, Kronos' son and sister had fallen.

Twitching with insanity, Kronos threw his head back with laughter.  "You should've listened to Zeus... and finished me off when you had the chance!  But I suppose that's what you get for turning your backs on me...  You deserted me, just like everyone else!  I was left all alone with nothing to do but spread my loneliness!"

"Shut up..." Mario growled, his body trembling furiously.  "You know that isn't true."

"What could you possibly understand?" Kronos hissed, his eyes glowing red with hatred.  "You don't know anything about me."

"It's painfully obvious... to me, and to everyone else here... that your sister loved you dearly!" Mario cried, grabbing the demon king by the collar.  "Your sister never truly abandoned you...  Even now, she still loves you with all of her heart!  Think back... she has never stopped caring about you, even after all of the appalling crimes you've committed.  You've got to remember... Rhea, your sister...  She had always been willing to shoulder some of the burden, and so am I!  You just have to let us help you!  You can't keep pushing everyone away!"

"I... no...  Silence!" Kronos roared, clutching his head.  "I- I don't...  You... Rhea... Zeus..."  Dozens of conflicting emotions rushing through him, the demon king cried out in agony and confusion.  An aura of flames began to surround his body, and his eyes flashed red with pure malice.  He had finally snapped.

"Bro... he finally got to him..." Luigi muttered.  "Now what...?"

"Not good," Glaive whispered.  "The shock of seeing his son and sister lying in a pool of blood...  The mixed feelings of despair and remorse...  It's too much for him to bear.  Mario... was this really a good idea?  He was already mentally unstable, but now... anything could happen."

Wrath of the Phoenix

"...Do you hate me?  From hatred, a thirst for vengeance is born.  Once retribution has been attained, the hatred of others is fueled.  It is a vicious cycle that neither the demons nor the Olympians can escape.  That is why we are the same.  That is why we all must perish." Now entirely engulfed by a colossal aura of flames, the inferno gradually took on the shape of an enormous phoenix.  Kronos was now a slave to his hatred and insanity.  Now easily as tall as a skyscraper, the Phoenix lit Terranea's sky with the flames of his malice.  After uttering a bloodcurdling shriek, he began to exhale columns of fire in all directions.  In no time, the kingdom would burn to the ground.

Meanwhile, the war to protect the Nexus raged on.  After a break in the action, Mark gazed upward at the sky and gasped.  "What... what is that?!"

Grambi's jaw dropped.  "That bird...  It couldn't be...  The beast of legend, the Phoenix!  It is said that when Kronos' insanity escalates beyond a level that he can consciously control, he is surrounded in flames and takes on the shape of a phoenix!  That's how he originally received his nickname."

"Correct," Swift affirmed after cutting down a dozen demon soldiers with a single swing of his blade.  "To be honest, I expected something like this to happen.  Mario won't be satisfied with just killing Kronos.  He needs to challenge his beliefs and prove to him that his way is wrong.  This is the result of pushing Kronos too far."

"Are you saying that we're doomed?!" Luke shrieked.

"Not necessarily.  If Kronos was forced to bring out this form, it means that he must be facing some sort of internal conflict.  Mario's words may finally be sinking in, but who knows what will happen now that Kronos has taken the form of a flaming beast.  In the past, Kronos has only transformed back to his normal state after causing immense destruction and satisfying his wicked impulses.  But if there is anyone that can defeat Kronos in his current state, it is Mario."

"Since Swift has arrived to back me- errr, us up, we've been doing just fine.  Why don't a few of you lend Mario a hand?" Bowser suggested.  "I can handle this on my own.  But knowing him, he'll probably screw this up unless he has someone else's hand to hold."

Grambi nodded.  "Very well.  Mark, Luke, and Lorne, see if there's anything you can do to help Mario."

"Now you've done it..." Glaive grumbled.  "He's completely lost it...  If this keeps up, Terranea will be nothing more than a pile of ashes."

Fire now raining from the sky, the once immaculate grassland was now scorched with flames.  The horizon was a gradient of orange and red, and the bloodcurdling screeches of the Phoenix were the only sounds that could be heard over the blazing inferno.  His body numb from exhaustion, Mario gradually forced himself onto his feet.  "Somehow... I have to get up there."

"What?!" Luigi thundered, gazing in awe at the Phoenix.  "It's over...  There's nothing we can do to stop him now...  Zeus and Rhea are fatally wounded.  There isn't anyone left.  None of us have the strength to fight anymore."

Mario nodded.  "Separately.  But if we combined our efforts, I could definitely reach Kronos."

"Father!" Mark called, emerging over a nearby hilltop alongside Luke and Lorne.  "Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Your timing couldn't be more perfect," Mario answered with a sigh of relief.  "One more Supernova Blitz should do the trick.  The only problem is, I've used up almost all of my Elemental Energy.  That's why I need all of you.  Mark, Luke, and the Wario Brothers should lend me as much of their fire element as they can.  Lorne will lend me some of his ice element, and-"

"That's crazy," Luigi interrupted.  "I borrowed some of Waluigi's flames during a fight with a Grimnex, and let me tell you, it was painful.  If you were to take in such a vast amount of Elemental Energy from so many different sources... it could kill you.  To make matters worse, you're in no condition to be moving around."

"I won't die," Mario replied, his eyes gleaming with resolve.  The Mushroom Hero surrounded himself in a flaming aura, and after gathering their fire element into their palms, Mark, Luke, and the Wario Brothers transferred as much as they could offer.  The plumber crumpled onto his knees in agony, but insisted that they continue.  "Next, Lorne..."  His body began to emit a frigid blue glow, and Lorne repeated the process.

"And where are you gonna get electricity?" Glaive inquired skeptically.

"Forget it," Zeus hissed, barely conscious.  "I will not... lend my assistance... to a traitor..."

"Don't worry, you don't have to get up on my account," Mario chuckled, kneeling beside the Terranean king.  He placed his palms Zeus' back, and his body began to emit electrical sparks as he siphoned the Elemental Energy from the king's body.

"You will pay dearly for this treason..." Zeus vowed, his voice low and hoarse.  "Your crimes will not be forgiven..."

But Mario was in far too much anguish to care.  Sharp pains reverberating throughout his body, the plumber collapsed onto his hands and knees.  He rolled around, howling in agony, until the aching finally began to die down.  Still trembling from the shock, he struggled onto his feet and stared upward at his destination.  "...Luigi, Glaive...  This is where you guys come in.  I'm sure you know what to do."

Glaive grinned.  "How fitting."  With a dry chuckle, Mario hopped onto Luigi's shoulders, who in turn climbed onto Glaive's back.  As absurd as they may have appeared, the fate of Terranea now rested on the backs of these three men.  Dashing at full speed up a nearby hill in the Phoenix's direction, Glaive leapt upward with all of his might the moment he reached the summit.  "Good luck, you two."

Gathering all of his remaining strength into his legs, Luigi propelled himself off of Glaive's shoulders with a Super Jump.  Soaring upward at an incredible speed, the brothers could feel the temperature rise as they drew nearer to Kronos.  Time seemed to move in slow motion as Mario prepared to make the mightiest leap of his life.  Executing a record-breaking Super Jump that would have dazzled even his worst enemies, Mario augmented the speed of his ascent with his thunder element.  He then shielded most of his body with a sheet of ice and gathered the remainder of his fire element into his right arm.  Surrounded by the flaming embodiment of a dragon, the Mushroom Hero drove his blazing fist upward into the Phoenix's jaw.

"The talons of the phoenix versus the fangs of the dragon..." Glaive whispered, covering his ears as the howls of the flaming beasts sent shockwaves throughout the entire kingdom.

At last, his enemy uttered a defeated roar, and Mario pierced through the phoenix-shaped inferno that encased his ancestor.  As the flames of the Phoenix's hatred danced around him, his vision began to fade.


As soon as he regained his senses, he found himself standing on a floor of solidified magma.  All around him, he saw nothing but fire.  It was as if he had stepped into Hell itself.  Sprinting desperately through the inferno, he searched frantically for the source of the fire- Kronos.  At last, he found his ancestor wrapped in chains of flames, his head hung low.  "Kronos..."

"Leave me be...  Is this really where you want to spend your final few minutes...?  Go to your loved ones, your friends, your family members...  Cherish them while you still can," Kronos whispered bitterly.  "This flaming embodiment of my hatred... soon it will crash into Terranea, obliterating everything in existence."

"That's just it...  These flames...  They aren't a manifestation of your hatred at all.  In fact, the only thing that I can feel emanating from this fire... is loneliness."

"Of course...  For as long as I can remember, I've always been alone.  My sister, my son, my subordinates...  They all abandoned me and conspired to eliminate me.  There was a time when I still believed that Rhea stood by me... but now that I have shattered that fragile bond, I have nothing left to live for.  Both of us will die in this burning mass, and in the flaming explosion, all of Terranea will be annihilated."

"Damn it, Kronos!  You've got to stop placing all of the blame on the people you care about!  Rhea and Zeus never abandoned you!  You were the one who pushed them away with your thirst for power!" Mario cried.  "Stop mourning over the past and move forward!"

"No... the past is all that I have left...  Leave me be...  Let me die!" the Phoenix howled in misery.

"Living in the past isn't gonna get you anywhere.  Stop focusing on what you've lost and think about what you still have left!"  The plumber dashed over to the flaming chains that held Kronos captive.  Furiously tugging at them in an attempt to break the demon king free, Mario cried out in anguish as his hands were severely scalded.

"I told you to leave me alone!  I just want to die!"

"You expect me to believe that?" the plumber asked, a fiery glow beginning to emit from his body.  "If you'd only stop pushing away the people that matter most to you...  If you'd just accept someone else's help and embrace the ones who still care about you..."  The chains slowly faded away as the fire was absorbed into the Mushroom Hero's body.  "These flames of loneliness... if you'd just let someone else shoulder some of the burden, then maybe you'll change your mind!"

"What are you doing...?" Kronos gasped, his eyes widening.  "In just a few more moments... we'll collide with Terranea and burn everything to the ground...  You couldn't possibly intend to...?"

Crying out in misery as he absorbed the flames that surrounded them, Mario managed to muster a slight grin.  "Heh...  I'm gonna get us out of here...  You've still got a sister and a son to take care of...  They've been worried sick about you...  Live, Kronos..."

"No... It's too late for me!  Can't you understand...?  You'll die if you continue this course of action!"

"This is nothing... compared to the pain of watching others suffer," Mario retorted, gritting his teeth.  "You're not ready to die..."

"I... I don't... want...  I don't want... to die," Kronos muttered, shocked at the words he had just uttered.  "I... want to live...  I want to live!"  As the demon king's resolve to live shone through, the flames that encircled them began to fade away.  In turn, the flaming aura that had enclosed Mario was now more violent than ever.  His body temperature rising to a critical level, the Mushroom Hero let out a bone-chilling cry as the floor crumbled beneath them.

Directly below, everyone in Terranea had put the war on hold to gaze upward at the rapidly descending Phoenix.  Suddenly, the sky was lit with a blinding explosion of fire, and the impending cataclysm that had loomed above their heads only moments ago was nowhere to be found.  In its place, two distant figures tumbled into the fields over a nearby hilltop.  And just like that, the black rainclouds that had hovered above the kingdom vanished without a trace, allowing the sun's brilliant rays to shine through.  For nearly a minute, Terranea was silent.  Not a single word was spoken.  All eyes were on the clear, blue sky. 

Tears rolling down his cheeks, Luigi was the first to speak.  "Bro... he did it, after all..."  Brimming with joy, the plumber made a dash for the nearby hill over which Mario had landed.  Breaking the silence with their joyful cheers, Peach, Mark, Luke, Lorne, Wario, Waluigi, and Glaive sprinted after him.  As he emerged over the hill's summit and scanned the slope for his brother, his triumphant smile quickly curled into a horrified frown.  "It's... you..."

To everyone's shock, Kronos stood on the opposite side of the hill with an unconscious Mario in his arms.  The demon king was covered in scrapes and bruises, but the Mushroom Hero's condition was far more severe.

"You...  How are you still alive?!" Luigi thundered, angrily clenching his fists.

"Calm down," Glaive urged them, stepping ahead of the group.  "Take a closer look at him, and you'll see who the true victor of this battle was."

"This man has shown me... that perhaps there may be some hope for us after all," Kronos murmured, gently setting Mario down on the grass.  "He saved my life yet again.  He absorbed the flames of my despair into his own body.  Mario... allow me to repay my debts."  He extended his palms toward the plumber, intending to heal his injuries.

"I cannot allow you to do that," an elderly voice growled from nearby.  Blood still dripping from his wounds, Zeus emerged from behind Mario's comrades.  Despite his injuries, his movements were swift and his grip on his blade was firm.  The Olympian king would not fall so easily.  "Mario has committed several grave offenses.  First and foremost, he willfully stormed into the Nightmare Abyss against my orders.  He then sided with Terranea's worst enemy, the demon king.  And to top it all off, he stole the Terranean king's Elemental Energy without permission!  Even one of these violations is enough to warrant a death penalty."

"I understand if you wish to eliminate me, but Mario is this kingdom's savior..." Kronos whispered, watching in horror as Zeus prepared to end the plumber's life.  He raised his hand to parry his son's stab, but could not bring himself to strike his son a second time.  As the dagger was only inches away from Mario's throat, the slash was deflected by another blade.


"Sorry, but I disagree with your methods," Glaive declared, standing defiantly between Mario and the king of Terranea.  "Back off."

"Does he realize who he just clashed swords with?!" Luigi shrieked, falling to his knees.  "Do you want to get us all in trouble?!"

"I don't care who you are," Glaive spat.  "I will not allow you to take this man's life.  Instead..."  He stabbed his sword into the ground and kneeled before Zeus.  "I offer you my life in his place."

"You what?!" Zeus exploded.  "Do you realize what that would mean for you?  You would be instantly reincarnated.  No afterlife to speak of.  After all of those years of suffering, you've finally found freedom.  You would throw the peace that you've strived so hard to obtain just for the sake of this one man?"

"I owe him far too much," Glaive replied.  "Besides, this whole ordeal was my fault in the first place.  I was too weak.  I allowed myself to be controlled by the Phoenix.  I'm the one to blame for Mario's invasion of the Nightmare Vault, which was what ultimately led to Kronos' resurrection!  Please, allow me to lay down my life for the sake of my comrade."

"You idiot... haven't you already suffered enough?" Ace inquired, gradually limping over to the two of them.  Zeus watched in utter astonishment as Ace shoved Glaive to the side and kneeled before him, leaving a trail of blood behind him.  "Forget about everything he just said...  I was the one who gave Mario the Nexus Pass.  Without it, he would have never been able to enter the Nightmare Vault.  The only one who is fit to take responsibility for this mess... is me."

One by one, each of Mario's friends and family members stepped forward to lay down their lives.  There was a long, tense silence as Zeus and Mario's comrades stared each other down.  "This is... unprecedented.  It's one thing for his family and friends from the human realm to offer their lives... but for two demons to bow down before me, the Olympian king, just for the sake of a single human..."

"Make that three," Kronos affirmed, stepping forward at last.  "You can keep your throne, Zeus.  But if you lay a single hand on this man, I will go to war with you again.  And as you can plainly see, so would each of these beings that stand before you."

After what seemed like an eternity, Zeus heaved a deep, frustrated sigh.  "Very well... For the time being, I will spare Mario.  However, his actions will not go unnoticed.  I will offer him a single chance to do things his way.  If he does not wish to execute Kronos, then it will be his responsibility alone to devise an alternative plan to restore peace.  If he can bring this war to an end and return Terranea to its former glory, I will gladly spare all of your lives."


[glow=blue,2,300]Epilogue: The Legend[/glow]

With a lazy, carefree yawn, Mario gradually rose to a sitting position and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.  He groggily scanned his environment.  To his immense relief, he was surrounded by the beaming faces of his friends and family.  At the head of the group, Kronos extended his hand toward the plumber.  Grinning triumphantly, the Mushroom Hero gladly accepted it.  "Man, that was the best nap I've had in a while...  How long was I out?"

"Not long.  You probably feel that way because I healed most of your wounds," Kronos explained.  "However, you haven't finished recovering yet.  If you'll allow me to finish-"

"I'm fine," Mario insisted.  "I doubt that you have much strength left.  Save it for the people that really need it."

"There is some truth to that...  My power is beginning to dwindle.  No one has ever forced me to fight as hard as I have today," Kronos chuckled.  "You certainly are persistent.  But in the end, it was your persistence that saved us all."

"Ahem," Zeus coughed, making his way past all of Mario's other friends.  "You aren't off the hook yet.  Kronos may have decided to call a ceasefire, but the war between the demons and Olympians hasn't ended.  At this very moment, they are struggling for control over the Nexus.  If you insist on sparing Kronos' life, then it will be your responsibility to restore peace."

"Is that all?" Mario inquired, sighing with relief.  "In that case, take me to the Nexus Access Point."

"This is it," Zeus declared with a heavy sigh.  Horrified at the scene before them, Mario and his comrades could only shudder in revulsion.  The once beautiful, heavenly grassland had been reduced to a burning wasteland littered with bloodied corpses.  Though the number of soldiers on each side had dropped significantly, the war continued to rage on.

"Are you sure that you're ready for this?" Kronos whispered to Mario.  "You do have a plan, right?"

Mario nodded.

"Then I have no reason to doubt you," Kronos replied, grinning.  "Listen to me, my loyal subjects!  This is a direct order from your king!  Cease this pointless squabble and give the Mushroom Hero your undivided attention!"  The demon king's thunderous voice echoed throughout the land, reverberating in the ears of all living creatures in Terranea.

Almost instantaneously, the warriors- both demon and Olympian- turned to face the Phoenix.  Firm and resolute, Mario stepped forward.  The soldiers froze, intently watching his every movement.  Without a single word, the plumber walked past the dozens of Mushroom Kingdom soldiers that guarded the entrance to the Nexus.  "Open it."

"What are you up to...?" Grambi whispered, hesitantly complying with his son's demands.  With a nod of approbation, the plumber stepped into the Nexus and approached the gateway to the Mushroom Kingdom.  The countless demon warriors stared intently at their target.  This gate was the very thing that they had been ordered to destroy.

All eyes were on Mario as he formed a Fireball in his right palm.  Without even a moment of hesitation, he aimed the blast at the gateway and shattered it to pieces.  Just like that, the gate that the demons and Olympians had fought so ferociously over was gone.  Reluctant whispers began to emerge amongst the crowd, but they were quickly silenced as the Mushroom Hero approached the gateway to the Nightmare Vault and repeated the same process.

"What is he thinking?!" Waluigi exploded.  "Isn't this what we were fighting so hard to prevent?!"

"Have faith in his judgment.  He must have had a good reason to do what he did," Luigi assured him.  "He always does."

A wide smirk spread across Glaive's face.  This guy never ceases to amaze me.

I see...  The more I watch these descendants of the Hero bloodline, the more intrigued I become... Zeus thought.  Perhaps he isn't such a fool after all.


"With this, the war for Terranea is over!" Mario declared as he exited the Nexus.  He and Grambi exchanged glances, and the king of the Overthere crushed the Nexus Pass in his palm.  "The Nexus is gone.  Everything has now been combined into a single dimension.  Terranea has been restored to its former glory." 

"The war can't be over!"

"Who won?!"

"You expect us to live peacefully with the same people that stabbed us in the back?!"

Militant heckles began to erupt from the demons in the audience, but they were quickly hushed by Kronos.  "Quiet!  I told you to give Mario your undivided attention."

"Just to be clear, I've decided not to side with either the demons or the Olympians.  I've given the matter some thought, and I came to the conclusion that neither side is truly right.  And that's okay.  When was it decided that there had to be a dominant force at all?  Why did it suddenly become necessary for "good" and "evil" to wage war?  All of these years, you've both been in the wrong.  For thousands of years, both sides have done nothing but breed hatred towards each other.  Time and time again, this hatred has exploded into war.  For this reason, both Olympians and demons are at fault."

"But only the demons were punished!  We were sealed away for thousands of years while the Olympians were free to bask in the sunlight!"  The demons began to grow rowdy yet again, but this time, it was Mario who quieted them.

"There's something that Kronos once said to me.  'From hatred, a thirst for vengeance is born.  Once retribution has been attained, the hatred of others is fueled.  It is a vicious cycle that neither the demons nor the Olympians can escape.'  This statement, more than anything else, helped lead me to this conclusion.  A military victory isn't what we need.  If the demons achieved their goals of revenge and sealed the Olympians away, the roles would be reversed and another war just like this one would break out in a few thousand years.  If the Olympians killed Kronos and confined the demons once again, the cycle of revenge would only repeat itself.  In this war, victory will only lead to more hatred and warfare."  He took a long pause.  Not a single word was uttered.  No one dared to stir.  At last, Mario continued.  "I know that up until now, most demons have lived in the past and focused on nothing but revenge.  And while the present may be nothing without the past, it's impossible to enjoy the present without being able to look forward to the future."

"So instead of continuing the cycle of hatred and warfare... you chose to break the cycle and unify Terranea," Zeus muttered, gradually approaching the Mushroom Hero.  The two locked eyes, and there was a long silence.  "Your words... they are the words of a true leader.  If only I could have spoken with such wisdom and charisma all of those years ago...  But my time has passed.  Mario, seeing as how this was your idea to begin with... it seems to me that you would be the man most fit to become the new Terranean king."

Silence.  Not once in the history of Terranea had an individual been offered the throne in such a simple, straightforward manner.  No one dared to speak in anticipation of Mario's answer.

The Mushroom Hero's face contorted in shock.  He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.  "I-I uh... I... Well... I..."  Stammering uncontrollably, he searched frantically for the words that he wished to utter.  "To be blunt...  I'll have to decline your generous offer.  A decade or two ago, I never would have thought that I'd refuse the opportunity to become king of everything in existence.  But to be completely honest, I'm not fit to rule this kingdom.  And to be honest, no one is.  If we put one man in charge of all of Terranea, it wouldn't be long before a tyrant emerged and triggered another full scale war.  Instead, I suggest a balance of power."

"A balance?" Zeus parroted in confusion.

"Before I arrived in the Mushroom Kingdom, I grew up in a place called Brooklyn.  The city resided in a country with a form of government entirely unlike anything I've ever seen in either the Mushroom Kingdom or Terranea.  Instead of granting a single man with the power to govern the country, my homeland divided leadership amongst several branches.  While this system definitely had its flaws, if we take the basic principle of it and elect a representative for both the Olympians and the demons, neither side should be able to complain.  And what better men are there to share the throne than Terranea's two greatest leaders, you and your son?"

"Sharing kingship... cooperating and compromising...  Perhaps this is the best path to peace," Zeus mumbled.

"And to aid you, there should be a team of personal advisors consisting of an equal number of Olympians and demons.  If you're going to offer me a position, that's the only one that I'll take."


"Interesting...  It may take some time to get such a system going, but it may be just what this kingdom needs," Zeus stated.  "Are there any objections?"  The spectators, who had remained silent up until now, did not say a word.  After what seemed like an eternity of tension-filled stillness, the horde of demon and Olympian soldiers swarmed Mario with cheers and applause.

"It seems that we were right to put our faith in Mario," Kronos sighed with relief.

"Somehow, he managed to assuage thousands of years of pent up abhorrence with nothing but sheer determination and a heart of gold," Swift sighed in admiration.  "Hero...  If only you could be here to witness this.  Not only has he achieved your goal of restoring peace between demons and Olympians... but he's also the happiest I've seen him since I first met him over half a decade ago."

"My son...  You've finally driven the demon from your heart," Grambi whispered, holding back his tears.  "At last, you can finally enjoy the peace that you so rightfully deserve."

"It really has been a long ride.  I can't believe that it's finally over," Glaive sighed, standing beside Ace.  "Look at him.  He's come such a long way since we first met him.  I've known him for almost nine years now, but it feels like we've been comrades for our entire lives.  Back when we first met, Mario was weak.  The Mushroom Kingdom was still scrambling to find a way to fend off Lord Shade.  Yet here we are now, looking back on those days as if they were a blessing.  Mario has grown so much stronger, both physically and mentally.  I think I just might have to challenge him to a rematch someday, just for old time's sake."

"I'm gonna miss those days," Ace admitted.  "Now that it's all over... we have nothing to do but live the rest of our lives in happiness."

"But before we celebrate, there's still something that we have to attend to," Mario declared, leading the group over a nearby hilltop.  "Kronos, you come too."  With thousands of demons and Olympians of various races and origins trailing behind him, Mario marched toward an unknown destination.  Pushing his way to the head of the crowd, Kronos' eyes widened as he realized what the Mushroom Hero had led them too.

"Go ahead," Mario urged him.  "Don't worry; she'll forgive you."

Nodding hesitantly, Kronos stepped forward and extended his palms toward Rhea's unconscious body.  The Royal Guardian was encased in a violet bubble, and one by one, her wounds began to vanish into thin air.  The barrier faded away, and the demon king sighed with exhaustion.  Rhea's eyes slowly fluttered open.  She gazed up at Kronos, who smiled warmly and held out his hand toward her.  Just by looking into her dear brother's eyes, she understood immediately what had happened.  With a squeal of happiness, she gave Kronos an asphyxiating bear hug that sent him tumbling painfully onto the ground.  Tears streamed down her cheeks.  At last, her brother had returned to her.  She looked up at Mario, who was grinning from ear to ear.  "Mario... How can I ever thank you...?"

"It was nothing," Mario chuckled, modestly scratching the back of his head.

"Nothing, huh?" Princess Peach parroted with a wry grin as she rushed to embrace her husband.  She too tackled her loved one onto the ground and burst into tears.  "Mario...  I was so worried about you...  I really thought that you were gonna die..."

"Me too," the plumber admitted lightheartedly.  "But it's all over, now.  I'm here to stay."

Everyone exploded with cheers of happiness and joy.  At last, the war had come to an end.  This was a day that no one would ever forget, the day on which a single man vanquished the animosity that had built up between the demons and the Olympians for thousands of years.  Though this new peace meant that the coming days would bring happiness and relaxation, many of Mario's comrades would soon come to miss their adventurous lifestyles.  And although it was a difficult adjustment for some to make, even the most rugged demons eventually decided to settle down and enjoy the tranquility.

Moving On

One month later, the residents of Terranea had finally begun to adjust to their new life.  The newly unified kingdom had been mapped out, and the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom had found their way back to their home.  Former prisoners of the Underwhere took refuge in Terranea's vast grasslands to enjoy a life of solitude.  Terranea had no form of currency, and there was far too much open space for a territorial conflict.  As such, crime was not only practically unheard of, it was downright unnecessary.  People were free to live their lives without the stresses of everyday life, and it was this freedom that maintained the peace.  All that Terranea lacked was its greatest hero.  For the past four weeks, Mario had been working tirelessly alongside Zeus and Kronos to help rebuild Terranea.  However, he had promised that a celebration would be held in one month to compensate for the wedding ceremony that had been interrupted by Ipos.  The day of the party had arrived, and yet Mario was still nowhere to be found.

Mario's closest friends and family members filed into Mushroom Castle's dining hall, eagerly awaiting the feast that was to be held in the newlywed couple's honor.  "You're looking a lot better, Ace," Luigi observed.  "To be honest, I didn't think you were going to make it.  You must have aged at least fifty years during the battle with Kronos, but now you look completely healthy."

"After tending to Rhea's wounds, Kronos reverted my body to the condition it was in before I decided to sacrifice my life energy," Ace explained.  "Thanks to him, I've been given back the many years of my life that I intended to throw away."

"It was nothing, really," Kronos insisted sheepishly.  "I was just doing a favor for one of Mario's most loyal friends.  Your readiness to sacrifice yourself in his place was truly astounding."

"Speaking of Mario, shouldn't he be here with us?" Glaive inquired.  "After all, you are one of Terranea's new kings.  If you have the time to be here, why doesn't Mario?"

"I think Mario and Zeus had some paperwork to finish up," Swift recalled.  "That Zeus is as demanding as ever.  I was lucky to get out of there when I did."

"That reminds me...  I think something was mentioned about you becoming one of Terranea's new kings, Wario," Rhea chuckled.  "So, how about it?  You could have all the wealth and fame that your heart desired."

"Quiet, lady," Wario snapped, aggressively cramming a handful of shroom steaks into his mouth.  "I'm eating."  After swallowing his food and gulping down an entire can of super soda, the plumber heaved an exaggerated sigh.  "Being a king would be too much work.  Besides, in a place like Terranea, there's no need for money.  I don't need another cent.  Money only leads to corruption, anyway."

Waluigi nearly choked on his jelly shroom.  "Bro... are you sure that you're feeling alright?"

Elsewhere, Grambi was in for a shock of his own.  "Did he really?"

Mark and Luke nodded emphatically.  "Lorne was there!"

"He gave up his life to protect me.  He was trying to atone for all of the misery that he had caused me," Lorne explained.  "Without him, I would have never beaten that Grimnex.  He saved my life."

Dante...  I'm glad that you managed to find peace before your death.

"And now he's gone," Luke sighed.  "The Underwhere was gone by the time he had died, so there was no place for his soul to go..."

Mark placed a hand on his brother's shoulders.  "He wouldn't have wanted us to mourn his death.  He was related to our dad, after all.  He sacrificed himself so that we could be happy."

"And we can't forget about Slade," Lorne reminded them.  "We never would have survived without him.  He may have been obsessed with revenge, but he didn't let that obsession take priority over the lives of his friends.  Even someone as miserable and lonely as him had a soft side, all thanks to Mario."

Grambi smiled.  Mario...  You've raised these boys into strong young men.  Even Lorne, who suffered from an abusive childhood, has taken a turn for the better thanks in part to your guidance.  In the end, how many people's lives have you changed...?

Though the feast was initially lively and cheerful, the banquet began to grow quiet and somber.  Even amongst all of this happiness, something was missing.  Within an hour, the dining hall was silent.  "It's good to see everyone in high spirits again," Peach sighed at last.  "But even so... it just doesn't feel the same without Mario."

"It doesn't feel right to celebrate without the man who made all of this possible," Kronos agreed.  "What could be taking him so long?"

As the celebration began to wind down, the princess sighed with loneliness.  She had finally given up hope.  He's not showing up, she thought.  He's already forgotten about us.  He has too many responsibilities.  Even after all that he's been through, he still won't be able to spend time with his family and friends.

A sense of depression looming throughout the dining hall, the Mushroom-capped butlers began to carry away the plates and leftovers.  Princess Peach slowly rose from her chair and approached the exit.  "Well, I suppose it's getting late.  I think I'll be retiring for the night."  Her head hung low, she pressed open the double doors that led outside.  However, as she trudged gloomily out of the dining hall, she bumped into a firm yet familiar figure.  Her eyes welling up with tears, she lifted her head and gaped at the man in disbelief.


"Am I late?" Mario inquired with a nervous chuckle.  "Where are you going?  Wasn't there supposed to be a feast?"

"You idiot!" Princess Peach cried with joy, rushing to embrace her husband.  "We just finished cleaning up!"

And just like that, the dining hall was brimming with life.  Mario took his seat at the head of the table, and the butlers returned with several more platefuls of dishes.  As the plumber stuffed his face with as much pasta as he could find, his surrounding friends and family were now laughing and sharing memories of their past adventures.

"To this day, I think Lord Shade may have been one of the most fearsome threats we've ever faced," Luigi recalled with a shudder.  "Glaive, Wario, Waluigi, and I teamed up to try and stop him, but he tossed us aside like we were nothing.  After he effortlessly slaughtered the Wario Brothers and pummeled Glaive and I to a pulp, he revealed that he was still only toying with us.  That was when I thought that my life was over.  But not Bro.  I still remember how he showed up to the Dark Castle after his training with Grambi and walked straight up to Shade like it was nothing.  To this day, all I have to do is picture Bro walking forward, and it gives me strength."

"In awh muh life, that wuz one of tuh-" Mario agreed, his mouth filled to the brim with Italian dishes.

"Swallow your food, first!" Glaive growled, sighing helplessly.  "You've become strong enough to stand up to the king of all demons, yet you still have yet to develop some table manners.  I only lived amongst humans for the two year period you went missing after you defeated Shade, and even I have better manners."

"Sorry," Mario apologized, blushing.  "Anyway, like I said, that was probably one of the toughest battles of my life.  I wonder where he is now.  He should still be somewhere in Terranea."

"WHAT?!" Luigi exploded, coughing up bits of food onto his plate.

"I doubt he's interested in revenge anymore," Mario assured him.  "All he really wanted was to see his friend Inoni again.  I'm sure they're both searching for each other as we speak.  And even if Shade did decide to go on a rampage again, most of us are tough enough to handle him on our own by now.  The same goes for pretty much any other past villain that might come back to haunt us."

"Is that so?!" a familiar voice roared from outside.  With a furious howl, Bowser burned the double doors that led inside with his flame breath and stormed into the dining hall.  "Does that include me?"

The dining hall was thrown into a panic, but Mario quickly eased everyone's fear by rising to his feet.  "It's okay, everyone.  Bowser only wanted to join us for the feast."

"But who invited him?" Luigi inquired.

"I did," Mario answered with a wry grin.  "That's part of the reason why I was so late."

Bowser took a seat and grabbed a plate of the spiciest drumsticks he could find.  "But just so you know, I still haven't given up on kidnapping the princess.  I don't want you to start getting all friendly with me just because I let you help me defeat Kronos."  He paused to chew his food before speaking again.  "But...  I have gained some respect for you."

"Heh, I wouldn't have it any other way," Mario snickered.  "Things are already weird enough now that the Mushroom Kingdom is a part of Terranea.  If you stopped trying to capture Peach, I think we'd all die of boredom.  Go ahead and kidnap her anytime you want, as long as you're ready for another beating."

The rivals grinned at each other and continued eating.

"Mario...  In one sense, he's just a meagerly plumber.  He showed up late to a royal banquet in jeans and a pair of overalls.  He lacks manners and sophistication, and he does not command even a single subordinate.  And yet... he has something far more valuable.  Though he lacks underlings, he possesses countless trustworthy friends and loved ones.  Perhaps that was our greatest mistake," Zeus reflected with Kronos.  "After countless generations of foolishness, this mere human has revealed to us our own stupidity."  He smiled from ear to ear.  "It relieves me greatly to know that after I pass, the kingdom of Terranea will continue to thrive under the guidance of good men."

The celebration lasted for several hours, extending late into the night.  Mario had brought new life to the party.  Surrounded by his family and friends, the plumber was finally at ease.  Even as the rest of Terranea slept, Mario and his loved ones remained awake and giddy with happiness.  Most of all, they felt a sense of safeness and security, knowing that they were under the watchful eye of their beloved hero.  And if an embodiment of evil or hatred were to ever rear its ugly head to throw Terranea into turmoil, a single, courageous man, originating from a tiny kingdom at the edge of the land, would rise to defend his home and his loved ones: the Mushroom Hero.

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