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

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shadowmarioguy:
NOTE: The chapters are best viewed with the 'Core Theme'.  Otherwise, the quotation marks seem to change into strange symbols.


After avoiding yet another disaster, the Mushroom Kingdom has lived in peace for four months.  However, this peace has come at a huge price: the lives of Luigi, Mario Jr., Luigi Jr., Wario, Waluigi, and many others have been lost.  Meanwhile, as Mario and Princess Peach finally prepare themselves for marriage, the Grimnexes of the Nightmare Vault have decided to strike.  Their attack will begin a struggle that will bring each of our remaining heroes into the heart of enemy territory.  With each ‘hero’ having his own reasons for entering this war, the Super Mario Bros. series will reach its heart-wrenching conclusion.

This is the ninth and final part of my Super Mario Brothers series.  There is no need for you to go back and read 1-8 because I have spent a great deal of time writing Character Bios to bring you up to speed.  It may seem kind of silly to read the final part of a series without reading anything else, but previous parts in the series aren’t written as well, especially the earliest ones.  If you’re new, I’d recommend reading all of the bios and the first few chapters to see if you’re interested.  From there, you can decide if you want to go back and read everything or just continue reading the current story.

If you’re interested, you can read/download SMB1-8 here.

If you're new to the series, you should absolutely read the information below. Otherwise, you probably won't understand most of what's going on.  Even if you are familiar with the series, it couldn’t hurt to brush up on your knowledge. Also, keep in mind that my writing skills have developed from 1-8, so earlier parts of the series will have poor quality compared to more recent parts.

Character Bios and Other Information:

(Note: Even if you know who the character is, you should still definitely read his/her bio.  There is a lot of information that is exclusive to this series.  Also, some bios are especially long because they contain important information.)

Terranean Division

Long ago, at the very beginnings of time, before the difference between life and death was established, everything in existence was a part of one colossal kingdom known as Terranea.  The kingdom lived in peace for many centuries, until the first traces of evil the world has ever known began to emerge.  A brutal civil war between the beliefs of good and evil broke out.  Those who represented ‘good’ were labeled the Olympians, and those who were the ‘bad’ were informally known as demons.  The Terranean War lasted for centuries, until a group of twenty four indescribably powerful demons were developed.  These experimental demons were known as Grimnexes.  Each was assigned a letter of the Greek alphabet based on his rank, with Alpha being the strongest.  However, before the Grimnexes could turn the tide of the war, the Olympians succeeded in defeating the demons.  A man named Zeus became their leader, and they divided Terranea into two parts, sealing the demons- and the Grimnexes- away in the second part that later became known as the Nightmare Vault.  A curse was placed upon the Nightmare Vault’s citizens that caused their skin to burn if they were ever exposed to sunlight.  The Nightmare Vault became a kingdom of darkness, an everlasting prison that fostered hatred and bitterness.

The leader of the demons, simply known as the Phoenix, swore revenge upon Zeus and the other Olympians.  Though he met his demise at the end of the war, his people dedicated themselves to finding a way to break out of the Nightmare Vault to seek revenge.  Over time, some demons began to blame themselves for their punishment.  They thought that the Olympians did the right thing by sealing the demons away.  Soon, these people began openly protesting against the demons of the Phoenix.  In an era that became known as the Bellum Era, demons blindly slaughtered each other because of their conflicting beliefs.  It wasn’t until much later that the Dimidius Era began.  In this era, demons separated into two distinct sides, greatly reducing confusion and meaningless murders.  These opposing sides were known as the Phoenix, and the Demon Resistance.  Up until recently, their ‘civilization’ was devastated by a gruesome civil war.

Meanwhile, back in Terranea, Zeus was faced with more problems.  Another force of evil arose, and nearly succeeded in destroying all of Terranea (For more specific details, see Lord Shade’s bio below).  After the catastrophe ended, Zeus decided that it would be best if he split Terranea up once again.  A vast land known as the Universe would exist as a judgment phase, where Zeus would evaluate a person’s character.  Depending on a person’s actions during his or her lifetime, he would either be sent to the Underwhere, a place where unworthy beings would reside, or the Overthere, a land of peace similar to Terranea before it was devastated by war. 

Five realms now existed.  The Universe was a world where people could be evaluated, branching off to the Underwhere and Overthere.  Far below the Underwhere was the Nightmare Vault, a place where demons fought viciously amongst themselves.  Towering above the Overthere was Mount Olympus, a place where Zeus could govern over the events of all the other realms.  Each of these realms was held together by a binding dimension known as the Nexus, a place where one could travel from one dimension to the next.  And in the dimension known as the Universe, on a small planet called Earth, our story begins…

Lord Shade (Deceased):



Many ages ago, the Universe, Overthere, and Underwhere were united as a single kingdom called Terranea. There were many groups of people, and bitter rivalries between races. Two childhood friends, Shade and Inoni, were of two different races. Shade, a member of the Dark Tribe, went against his parents orders and became friends with Inoni. However, the two of them were soon separated. Thrown into uncontrollable rage, Shade attacked. It took Terranea's strongest forces to defeat him. The ruler of the kingdom, Zeus, split Terranea into three parts. The Universe would be designed as a judgment phase, where he could watch over people and decide whether they were good or bad. Whenever a person died, he'd be brought to the Underwhere. If he was good, he could advance to the Overthere, where he'd live in an eternity of peace. Those who were not pure would remain trapped in the Underwhere, where they'd be unable to do harm to those who deserved tranquility. With all of his might, Zeus sealed Shade in the Underwhere. For years, Shade studied the Dark Prognosticus and eventually found a way to escape.

Instead of ending up in the Overthere, he found himself in the Universe. Vowing that Zeus was a terrible leader and that he would someday take his place, Shade set out to prove himself by conquering the Universe. He formed a group called the Shadow Shrowds, an elite fighting force that contained warriors from around the Universe. By using methods of trickery and deceit, Shade forced hundreds of civilizations to fight by his side.  Shade once attacked the earth, but Mario's father, Anthony, managed to drive him away at the cost of his life. Recently, Shade came back stronger than ever. At last, through events that will be listed later on, Mario put him to rest.

Dante (Formerly known as: Crimson)

His real name is Dante, and he is both Anthony’s brother and Mario’s uncle.  When he was young, he strongly believed that justice would always prevail.  When he fought alongside Anthony against Lord Shade, they were no match for him.  After witnessing the death of his brother, Dante began to question his beliefs and morals.  He ultimately joined Lord Shade’s military, bringing his infant son with him.  Years passed, and Dante began to develop a second personality.  While Dante struggled to hold on to his morals, Crimson, his second identity, embraced the darkness within him.  One day, after being taken over by Crimson, Dante drank from the Fountain of Lust, allowing him to unlock his true potential in exchange for throwing away his humanity.

With total control of Dante’s body, Crimson became even stronger than Lord Shade.  Refusing to obey someone weaker than himself, Crimson gathered a group of Shade’s strongest warriors and deserted the Shadow Shrowds.  Glaive and Lorne (see below) were both members of this gang.  Now no longer being bossed around by Lord Shade, Crimson was free to do whatever he wanted.  He had only one thing in mind: finding someone who could challenge his might.  Working together with his other personality, Dante, they hatched a scheme that would satisfy them both.  Crimson learned that he was part of a bloodline that possessed extraordinary powers.  Therefore, if he tracked down a relative, he would likely find the challenge that he was searching for.

After hearing that Mario had defeated Lord Shade, Crimson suddenly became very interested in the Mushroom Kingdom.  Unfortunately, Mario was not quite strong enough to face him.  Crimson resurrected many of Mario’s old foes and used them to try to open a gateway between the Nightmare Vault and the Mushroom Kingdom, referring to this operation as the Demonic Trials.  The main purpose of these trials was to put Mario through grueling hardships that would put his abilities to the test.  Mario triumphed, proving to Crimson that Mario is the one he has been searching for.  Satisfied, Crimson launched an assault upon the kingdom, effortlessly killing nearly all of Mario’s friends and family members.  When Mario and Crimson finally met in combat, Dante’s motives for the battle against Mario were revealed.  As Mario and Crimson fought, the same struggle between good and evil was happening within Crimson, between Crimson and Dante.  The victor in the bout between Mario and Crimson would also decide which of Dante’s personalities would triumph.  In the end, Mario defeated Crimson, and Dante regained control of his body.  Feeling remorse for his sins, Dante has vanished without a trace.

Velno (Deceased):



He was created by Lord Shade's top scientists.  When Lord Shade first attacked Brooklyn, he captured a human being and used him for a wicked experiment. Project V.E.L.N.O., or Vicious Energy Lacking Nasty Organism, was meant to be a creature that was naturally strong, but could also take the strength of others by devouring them.  The human that Lord Shade captured had his organs replaced with mechanical parts, and his body was covered in metallic armor.  When no one was around, a man named Crimson snuck into the laboratory and modified Velno’s programming so that he would obey him instead of Shade.

As soon as he was able to think, Velno escaped from Shade and fled into Brooklyn's sewers. Years later, he emerged in the Mushroom Kingdom, looking to kill Lord Shade for leaving him behind. He was destroyed by Wario, Waluigi, and Luigi in Mushroom Castle, but Crimson revived him in SMB7.  It is later revealed that Velno keeps himself alive by feeding off of the flesh of dead human beings, to Mario’s great disgust.  Eventually, Velno is permanently destroyed by Mario.

Zagan

This mysterious figure appeared briefly in SMB8 when he assassinated Botis, the leader of the Grimnexes.  In the struggle for power that followed, Zagan was able to emerge as their new leader.  His plan, motives, and true identity are all a mystery, but one thing is certain: his sights are set on Mario!  With the Grimnexes planning to make their move any day now, Mario is about to face the greatest struggle of his life.

Mario



When Mario first entered the Mushroom Kingdom, he didn't care deeply about it or even suspect himself to be its true hero.  Once the Mushroom Kingdom was targeted by a galactic army called the Shadow Shrowds, however, Mario came to realize who he truly was.  He finally accepted the Mushroom Kingdom as his true home, and in the end, he gave his life to protect it.  In the afterlife, Mario met with an Elemental God named Skulleon, who revealed that the Shadow Shrowds had not been entirely defeated by Mario. Skulleon bestowed Mario with the Iceball ability, and after many trials, granted him another life.

Later on, Mario met another Elemental God, Raiden, who revealed that Mario is from the Hero bloodline.  This bloodline was created long ago to keep the world safe from evil, and was bestowed with tremendous power from the Zeus.  Mario’s father was the previous Hero, and was born with immense powers locked deep within him. Mario inherited 75% of these powers, though they could only be unlocked through brutal training.  After this revelation, Raiden taught Mario the Thunderball technique.

After learning to use all 75% of his inherited power, Mario was ready to fight Lord Shade- the leader of the Shadow Shrowds. After winning in an all-out duel, Mario disappeared for two years.  During the events of SMB7, Mario returned to find that the kingdom was in danger once again.  As he ventured across the kingdom on yet another adventure, Mario slowly began to realize that an alternate personality was developing within him- one that represented pure evil.  After battling demons, past enemies, and the like, Mario finally faced off against the leader of the operation, known as Velno.  During the final battle, Mario went through a strange transformation and lost control of his actions, accidentally killing Glaive, one of his comrades.  Feeling guilty for this manslaughter and wanting to learn the reasoning behind the strange new evil growing within him, Mario left the Mushroom Kingdom to visit the homeland of the demons- the Nightmare Vault.

Once there, Mario learned that he possessed the soul of an ancient demon within his body.  He began to train with a demon named Swift in order to help suppress the demon soul within him.  Finally at peace, Mario fought with the Demon Resistance against the demons of the Phoenix, or so he thought.  He and his comrades eventually discovered that the Demon Resistance had been defeated long before Mario had even entered the Nightmare Vault.  The entire time he had been fighting in the Nightmare Vault, Mario was actually being manipulated by Botis, the leader of the Grimnexes.  Botis’ goal was to obtain the Nexus Pass, a key that would allow the demons to escape from the Nightmare Vault.  Mario confronted Botis, but was no match for him.  Luckily, while Mario was unconscious, a mysterious figure appeared and assassinated Botis.  Now left in a state of depression, Mario could feel the demon within him beginning to resurface.  He began to train with Swift yet again in order to obtain inner peace, but they were soon interrupted.  After learning that the Mushroom Kingdom was under attack from Crimson, Mario departed from the Nightmare Vault to help defend his kingdom once again.

After learning that most of his friends and family had been killed, Mario blamed himself.  Once he finally finished grieving for his loved ones, Mario and Crimson met in battle.  Though he only possessed 75% of the Hero’s Power, he was able to borrow the final 25% from his father after witnessing the death of Luigi.  As he learned more about Crimson’s motives, Mario realized that they had more in common than he originally thought.  After gaining a trace of respect for Crimson, Mario showed him mercy and allowed him to live.  Now living in peace, Mario plans to marry Princess Peach.  However, in the back of his mind, he knows that a battle with the Grimnexes is imminent.

Luigi (Deceased):



Luigi is Mario's younger brother. He deeply respects his brother, and often worries about him. Luigi can be a bit cowardly sometimes, but deep down he is very courageous and heroic.

Since Mario is from the Hero bloodline, and the two of them are brothers, Luigi has also inherited unusual powers.  There are a few rules that one must keep in mind in regards to the power of the Hero Bloodline.  The first child of a Hero inherits his powers and his title as the Hero, which is why only Mario is recognized as part of the Hero bloodline.  However, the younger sibling of a Hero possesses the same amount of potential strength as the first born.  While he possesses the same potential, Luigi cannot master more than one element like his brother has.  In addition, the second-born child’s power is not purified at birth.  The choice to be good or evil is his to make.  If he should choose to be tainted with evil, the effect could be deadly.

In SMB7, Luigi discovered that he had a hidden power known as the Emerald Flame.  Because of the rules mentioned in the previous paragraph, Luigi’s body absorbs any nearby evil like a sponge.  This evil slowly builds up over time, and is harmless as long as Luigi continues to fight for the side of good.  However, at certain times in the past, Luigi’s body has instinctively used the power of the Emerald Flame.  When activated, it can only be described as an aura of dark green flames that surrounds Luigi.

In SMB8, Luigi managed to live through the majority of Crimson’s assault on the Mushroom Kingdom.  However, during Mario’s duel with Crimson, Luigi threw his fears to the wind and fought alongside his brother in order to protect him.  Though he was killed by Crimson, his sacrifice was not in vain.  After witnessing the death of Luigi, Mario found the strength to challenge Crimson in one final bout.

Glaive


 
Glaive is a demon from the Nightmare Vault that eventually ended up joining Mario’s side. During his childhood, his only friend was a girl named Sara.  The Nightmare Vault had been in a civil war for thousands of years, and their village was often plundered by enemy forces.  The demons were divided among those who wanted to annihilate the human race, and those who wanted to make peace with them- the Demon Resistance.  Glaive’s village was a part of this resistance.  When Sara was taken away and brainwashed into a heartless soldier by a demon named Botis, Glaive blamed the Demon Resistance for his losses and vowed to end the civil war- and kill Botis- with his own two hands.

Lord Shade, leader of the Shadow Shrowds, once came to the Nightmare Vault to recruit soldiers for his army.  Glaive was one of these recruits.  In exchange for Glaive’s help, Shade promised that he would lift the curse on the Nightmare Vault and end the civil war.  When Glaive realized that Shade was lying, he joined up with Crimson and abandoned the Shadow Shrowds.  He was then ordered by Crimson to travel to the Mushroom Kingdom for a surveillance mission.  When Mario and Luigi bumped into some trouble during the Shadow Shrowd invasion, Glaive came out from seemingly nowhere to rescue them.  From then on, he became a part of Mario’s group in order to seek vengeance upon Lord Shade- and to spy on the Mario Brothers for Crimson.  After Mario defeated Lord Shade, a friendly rivalry formed between Mario and Glaive.  Because of this, Glaive decided to cut his ties with Crimson and to stay in the Mushroom Kingdom.
The demons within the Nightmare Vault were cursed with the inability to live under bright lighting.  To counter this, Glaive wore heavy armor to block out the sunlight of the Mushroom Kingdom.  In SMB7, Glaive learned that many demons had managed to become immune to sunlight.  Through long and grueling training, Glaive finally was able to live in the Mushroom Kingdom without his heavy armor weighing him down.  Later on, in the final battle with Velno, Mario went through a stunning transformation and unwillingly killed Glaive.  His final request was for Mario to end the civil war in the Nightmare Vault in his place.  This dream has finally been fulfilled, but not in the way he had originally hoped for.  The Demon Resistance has been crushed, and soon, the Grimnexes will attack all other realms of existence.

Ace Spades

Ace, much like Glaive, is a demon that has joined Mario’s side.  He fights by carrying a deck of cards that, when crushed, transform into various forms of weaponry such as bombs, swords, whips, and shields.  He is extremely intelligent and became the leader of Poker Face- the main military of the Demon Resistance- at a very young age.  Years prior to this, when he was only five, everyone in his family except for his brother and himself was slaughtered by the Phoenix’s Assassination Force.  Ace’s brother, Jack, escaped and later became the first leader of Poker Face.  Ace, however, was not so lucky.  He was taken in by the Assassination Force and raised to be a ruthless warrior.  One day, he was given the task of assassinating his brother, Jack.  Ace did not realize the impact of this assassination until it was too late.  He had murdered his own brother. 

Afterward, Ace left the Assassination Force and joined the ranks of Poker Face to atone for his crimes.  By the time he reached his late teens, Ace rose to the top of Poker Face and became its leader.  When the Mushroom Kingdom was attacked by Velno, Ace was sent to the Mushroom Kingdom to help prevent a demon invasion.  It was then that he met up with Mario.  Much later on in their quest, Ace disobeyed a direct order from Poker Face and lost his job.  Still eager to help in any way he can, Ace journeyed to the Nightmare Vault alongside Mario.

Once there, he continued to fight alongside Mario, but not as a member of Poker Face.  He entrusted Mario with his Nexus Pass and set off to visit his brother’s grave.  However, once he reached the cemetery, he met with a demon who called himself King.  This demon explained that it was his responsibility to guard the bodies of the Zepar tribe.  He continues to reveal that Ace is a part of this clan, and that the two of them are the only survivors.  Long ago, the Assassination Force eliminated the Zepar tribe for betraying the Phoenix, but they decided to recruit Ace because of his unusual talent.  Now, with little time before the Grimnexes make their move, Ace is training day and night with King to unlock the hidden powers of his forgotten tribe.

Lorne (Deceased)

Lorne is the son of Crimson (Dante).  When Lord Shade attacked Brooklyn, Anthony and Dante fought side by side against him.  After deciding to join Shade’s military, Dante brought his son with him to work under Lord Shade.  Unfortunately, Lorne was often abused and mistreated due to his lack of combat skills.  When Crimson led a small group of warriors away from the Shadow Shrowd hideout, Lorne left with him and became a part of his gang, not knowing that Crimson was actually his father.  Through years of personal training, Lorne became strong enough to be involved in Velno’s assault on the Mushroom Kingdom.  Eventually, Mario and Lorne ended up fighting each other.  After a fierce exchange of beliefs, Mario was able to break his cold exterior and convince him to join the side of good.

After Crimson personally attacked the Mushroom Kingdom, Lorne did not know who he should side with.  He ultimately decided to fight for Mario’s friends.  Still not realizing that Crimson was his father, Lorne battled against many of his former comrades.  Eventually, Crimson revealed his identity to him only moments before killing him.  Now spending his days in the Underwhere, Lorne is burning to question his father’s motives.

Slade

Slade is much like Lorne in the sense that he used to work for Crimson, but now fights on Mario’s side… sort of.  As a child, he was abandoned by his hateful parents.  He was discovered by demons and taken back to the Nightmare Vault, where he was raised to be a ruthless warrior.  Eventually, he returned to the human realm to seek revenge.  He could not find his parents, and instead met up with Crimson’s gang.  He joined up with them to accomplish a common goal- to release the demons of the Nightmare Vault into the human realm.  Mario and Slade crossed paths many times, and Mario eventually convinced Slade that not all humans are evil.  In order to sharpen his skills and possibly gain information about his parents’ whereabouts, Slade accompanied Mario in his journey to the Nightmare Vault.

Although he has decided to help Mario battle against the Grimnexes, his top priority is to find his parents and kill them.  He has spent the last six years training for the war against the Grimnexes.  Though he feels some loyalty to Mario, he will not risk his life unless it is to further his own goals.

Princess Peach:



Peach is the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom. Time and time again she has been kidnapped by Bowser, though she has been looking after herself quite well during Mario’s past few adventures. She constantly worries about Mario, who often disappears after his adventures.  When Mario returned from the Nightmare Vault, she was overjoyed.  Now that Crimson has been defeated and the kingdom is at peace, Mario and Peach plan to get married.

Mario Jr. and Luigi Jr. (Deceased):

For the sake of simplicity, Mario Jr. was nicknamed Mark, and Luigi Jr. was nicknamed Luke. They are both Mario's children (brought by the stork), but Mario forced them to move to Yoshi Island when the kingdom was attacked by Bowser. Up through the Shadow Shrowd's attack, they stayed there, waiting for Mario to return for them. Mario refused to bring them back until he defeated the Shadow Shrowds and their leader, Lord Shade. After the battle was over, they left Yoshi Island to live at the Mario Brothers’ house.

During Mario’s subsequent adventures, they gradually became more involved in their father’s battles.  They have come a long way, and though they have not inherited the Hero’s Power, it is clear that they possess great strength.  Unfortunately, during Crimson’s assault, Mark, age 16, and Luke, age 13, died in combat.  Now preparing to journey from the Underwhere to the Overthere, they are not yet aware that their adventures have not come to an end.

Just to clarify, there are two methods of ‘reproduction’ in this fanfic series.  In the human world that is parallel to the Mushroom Kingdom (Brooklyn, and the world we live in), children are born through the same methods that we are familiar with.  In the Mushroom Kingdom, the stork brings children to a parent or parents.  Mark and Luke were brought to Mario by the stork, and therefore have not inherited Mario’s Hero powers.

Wario:



Wario is a hefty man who holds a grudge against Mario. As you most likely know, Wario is extremely greedy.  During the Shadow Shrowd invasion, he and Waluigi decided to form a temporary alliance with the Mario Bros. to save the kingdom. But Wario only wanted to help so he could become more famous than his rival.  Although they did not play much of a role in Velno’s attack, they fought bravely against Crimson and his henchmen.  Wario met his end after a great display of selflessness in which he protected Luke from Smithy.

Waluigi:



Waluigi is almost the complete opposite of his plump brother, Wario. Waluigi is tall and skinny, and looks very sinister. Waluigi loves to cause mischief, although he was once forced to work with Mario and Luigi in an attempt to become as famous as the Mario Bros.  Years later, he worked alongside Mario and his friends in an attempt to protect the Mushroom Kingdom from Crimson.  Waluigi, much like his brother, died a hero’s death, taking on dozens of Lord Shade clones while his friends fled to safety.

Skulleon:



Although he looks fierce in the above picture, he is actually on the side of good. He is the Ice God, one of three Elemental Gods, and looks over the Ice Orb. After Mario’s death in SMB3, Skulleon notices that Mario has much hidden power locked away. When Mario dies, Skulleon takes Mario under his wing and helps him become stronger. At the end of Mario's many trials, Mario earns the right to touch the Ice Orb, giving him the powers of ice. Through a sequence of strange events, Mario is given life once again. Skulleon warns Mario to stay away from Lord Shade, but Mario challenges Shade anyway. As a god, Skulleon can speak to anyone he wants using his mind, no matter how far away that person may be. He is always watching over Mario and his friends.

Raiden



This is the Thunder God, Raiden! He watches over the Thunder Orb, and is even more powerful than Skulleon. As you might have guessed, he wields the element of thunder. When Mario first requested to learn from him, Raiden turned him down. But he soon learned that Mario had already mastered the elements of fire and ice. It is considered impossible for one to contain more than one element within their body, with the only known exception being Grambi, the very ruler of the Overthere. Puzzled at Mario's abilities, Raiden agreed to let Mario touch the Thunder Orb- after he went through some bone-breaking trials.  Much like Skulleon, he continues to watch over Mario and his friends.

Grambi



He may look old, but he's really the king of the Overthere. He possesses the Capacity of Elements, meaning he can wield Fire, Ice, and Thunder. Grambi first appeared in Super Paper Mario, when Mario and his friends went to the Underwhere to search for a Pure Heart. They met Grambi's wife, Queen Jaydes, who allowed them to pass into the Overthere to search for a Pure Heart if they agreed to escort their daughter, Luvbi, back to Grambi. A monster by the name of Bonechill had attacked Grambi, and Mario was forced to stop him. Afterward, it was revealed that Grambi had turned the Pure Heart into a living being to hide it from evil years ago, and this person was Luvbi. Knowing that it was her destiny to help stop Count Bleck, Luvbi became a Pure Heart once more.

However, much more is revealed about his past when the Shadow Shrowds attack. Grambi's real name is Anthony, and he was Mario's father during his lifetime. Long ago, Lord Shade assaulted Brooklyn. Anthony sent his infant children, Mario and Luigi, to the Mushroom Kingdom while he tried his best to fend Lord Shade off. Anthony was killed, but Shade was so worn out from the battle that he had to go to other planets to recruit more soldiers. One day, he swore that he would return. Meanwhile, in the afterlife, Anthony was given the title of Grambi, and he became ruler of the Overthere.

Grimnexes

Although few know the full truth behind the Grimnexes, most know that they are a group of demons that are believed to be nearly unstoppable.  Many believe that they were created in an experiment that went horribly wrong.  Regardless, they are the leading force behind the Phoenix’s military, and Mario has yet to enter a full-scale confrontation with them.  They are feared by even Zeus, the governor of all realms of reality.

There were once 24 Grimnexes, but their numbers have decreased over the centuries.  Each Grimnex each assigned a Greek letter, which serves as their rank.  The Alpha Grimnex is the strongest, and the Omega Grimnex is the weakest.  To counter their decline, the Grimnexes have been known in the past to bestow an ordinary demon with a vacant Grimnex rank if he proves himself worthy.  Here is a list of the Grimnex ranks and the status of each of them as of the end of SMB8:

(Note: If a rank is crossed out, either the Grimnex holding the rank has died, there is no one who currently possesses this rank, or both)

1.   Alpha- Mysteriously vanished years ago, believed to be alive
2.   Beta- Considered the leader of the Grimnexes
3.   Gamma
4.   Delta
5.   Epsilon
6.   Zeta
7.   Eta
8.   Theta
9.   Iota
10.   Kappa
11.   Lambda
12.   Mu
13.   Nu
14.   Xi
15.   Omicron
16.   Pi
17.   Rho
18.   Sigma
19.   Tau
20.   Upsilon
21.   Phi
22.   Chi
23.   Psi
24.   Omega

Obsolete Grimnexes

In the past, there have been a few Grimnexes who have been deemed unfit to hold the rank of a full-fledged Grimnex.  Those who betray the Phoenix’s goals or act out of line are often stripped of their ranks and assigned an obsolete Greek letter.  The Digamma Grimnex was killed by Glaive six years ago, and the Sampi and Stigma ranks are not currently being occupied.  Also, these Grimnexes are not ranked in any particular order.  Here is a list of their ‘ranks’ anyway:
1.   Digamma
2.   Heta
3.   Quoppa
4.   Stigma
5.   San
6.   Sampi

shadowmarioguy:
Prologue: Wedding Vows

Four months.  It had been four months since that fateful day.  It was the day that marked the end of the Mushroom Kingdom’s most recent crisis.  However, this disaster had been very different from those that the kingdom had grown accustomed to- there were casualties.  And not just a few.  From ordinary civilians to heroes that had been defending the kingdom for years: no one was excluded from the carnage.

Still, the number of casualties was not the only issue that troubled Mario.  It was also the motive behind each of these massacres.  Unlike previous battles with enemies such as Lord Shade and Velno, Mario found himself facing an enemy that was not interested in power.  And once he learned more about Dante’s motives, no matter how hard he tried, Mario could not hate him.  Even with the knowledge that Dante was the sole cause for the deaths of countless innocent people, including his own brother, Mario was unable to find it in his heart to finish Dante off once the battle had ended.  Weeks later, Mario continued to question himself.  Why feel sympathy for such a cruel man?  And then the answer finally came to him.  It was because they were the same.

Years ago, Dante had developed a second personality named Crimson.  Dante struggled to suppress Crimson, but to no avail.  As time passed, Dante developed a plan to free himself from Crimson’s grasp.  By assaulting the Mushroom Kingdom and triggering an Armageddon, he could resolve the struggle between good and evil within himself by watching how the very same battle unfolded in the outside world.  Many lives were lost, but in the end, Mario rose to the challenge and defeated Dante.  His plan succeeded, and Crimson faded away.  Despite this, Dante felt remorse for the many crimes he and Crimson had committed in the past.  He ultimately decided to live a life of solitude until he could find a meaningful purpose for his existence.

Similarly, Mario has been facing his own inner conflict.  He has recently learned that he is distantly related to an ancient demon whose soul lives on within him.  For the past six years, Mario has been fighting to drive this demon from his heart.  Because of this, Mario was able to understand Dante’s desire to be free from Crimson’s influence.  Although Dante was successful in ridding himself of Crimson, Mario has had little luck with his demon ancestor.

Though his battle with Dante was indeed noteworthy, Mario’s thoughts have lately shifted to a different event: his own wedding.  More specifically, he is worried if his wedding will be interrupted by an upcoming crisis that will prove to be even more lethal than Dante.  Six years ago, Mario had traveled to the Nightmare Vault to end the civil war between the Phoenix and the Demon Resistance.  Much to his dismay, there were a few setbacks, and the Phoenix crushed the Resistance.  Mario was nearly killed by Botis, the leader of the Grimnexes, but a mysterious figure appeared and assassinated Botis.  When Mario awoke, the war was over- for the time being.  Ace, one of his comrades, estimated that it would take the Grimnexes about four months to choose a new leader.  Once they had accomplished this, they would seek revenge upon the world for sealing them within the Nightmare Vault.

Mario began training with a demon named Swift in order to suppress his ancestor’s soul, but he decided to leave the Nightmare Vault early once he heard news of Dante’s assault.  After helping Dante free himself from his alternate ego, Mario spent the next four months living in peace and helping to rebuild the kingdom.  The date of his wedding was approaching, but something else crowded his thoughts…  He was haunted by the fear that the Grimnexes had found their new leader.  Day and night, he worried that the most precious day of his life would be interrupted by the Grimnexes.  Most of all, he feared that if the Grimnexes did decide to strike, he would be powerless to stop them…


"By the power vested in me by the Mushroom Kingdom Church, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride.”

Mario and Princess Peach gazed into each other’s eyes.  At last, the moment that they had waited for had finally arrived.  As he prepared to spend the rest of his life with the woman standing before him, Mario’s eardrums were pierced by a shriek of terror.  He looked down and saw that his shirt had been stained with blood.  His eyes returned to Peach, and he gasped in terror at what had become of his bride.

Standing beside her with a blade held tightly in his grip was a menacing, pale-faced demon.  Without even thinking, Mario understood that it was a Grimnex.  He closed his eyes, hoping that the gruesome image would fade away once he reopened them.  Instead, as his eyelids fluttered open, he saw something far more horrid.  The blade that had previously been held by the Grimnex was now in his own hands.  Lying at his feet was the corpse of his bride.

The sight of his fallen bride was too much for him to bear.  For the second time in his life, Mario had slaughtered a woman that he was prepared to marry.  Suddenly, as if controlled by some profound force, Mario pointed the blade at his own throat.  Though he struggled with all of his might, he could not stop the dagger from inching closer to his throat.  With a violent thrust, the plumber ended his own life.

Mario’s eyes widened as he rose to a sitting position, frantically gasping for air.  He looked around and let out a sigh of relief.  “Not good,” he muttered to himself as he leapt out of bed.  “This isn’t the first time I’ve had that dream.  What does it mean?”  He glanced at the calendar.  “And on the day of my wedding, too?  Fantastic.”

As he prepared to leave the room, he turned around and gazed at the green-blanketed cot at the bottom of the bunk bed he and his brother once shared.  “Bro…  I have a feeling that we’ll all be seeing you sooner than you think.”


Princess Peach heaved an impatient sigh as she gazed longingly at the sunrise.  “It’s finally here…  The day I’ve awaited for so many years…”  She suddenly snapped from her dreamy state.  “Oh, what am I doing?  I need to finish the wedding preparations!  And I still need to consult Toadsworth…  He’s probably still a little uncomfortable with the thought of me getting married…”

She rose to her feet and scuttled toward the marble double doors that led out of the Royal Chambers.

“Hold it, Princess Peach.”

Black Heart

Only four words had been spoken to her, and yet they were enough to paralyze her entire body with fear.  She slowly turned around, her body trembling.  Standing before her was a tall, pale skinned man.  He was dressed in entirely black clothing, except for a white chest plate of armor.  He wore baggy black pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and his hair was a mop of gray.  Strapped to his waist was a long dagger sheathed in a jet black scabbard.  His sapphire eyes casted a cold, stoic glare upon the frightened princess.

“Who… who are you…?” Peach whispered through trembling lips.

“My name is Ipos.”  As the princess prepared to speak yet again, Ipos silenced her with an impatient wave of his hand.  “Silence.  Princess Peach, you have been chosen to aid the Grimnexes’ cause.  You are to come with me to the Nightmare Vault.”

“…And if I refuse…?”

“I will give you until the end of today to think it over.  If you tell anyone else about this conversation, I will interrupt your wedding and slaughter everyone.”

“I’d hardly call this a conversation,” the princess grumbled as she rolled her eyes.  “Besides, how would you possibly interrupt my wedding…?  Mario would stop you…” she hissed, quivering with defiant rage.

“Mario?  You mean the Mushroom Hero?  He could never hope to stand up to a high-ranking Grimnex such as myself.  Tell me, has Mario seemed restless these past few months?  Has it seemed as though something was troubling him?  He was not nervous about the wedding that will be taking place today.  Rather, he fears that it will be interrupted by the Grimnexes.  This is because he knows that he cannot hope to stop us.”

“You’re wrong…” Peach murmured, though it sounded as if she was trying to convince herself rather than Ipos.

“Regardless, if you do not meet me with a positive response by tonight, Mario will die.”  With that, Ipos turned and began to walk away.

“Wait!  Why not just kidnap me now?” she called after him.

Ipos stopped for a moment, but did not turn around.  “Because you would resist, and I might be forced to injure you.  It would be preferable if I brought you to the Nightmare Vault unharmed.  If I give you time to think and the proper motivation to come with me, there won’t even be a struggle.”  He vanished into the depths of the dim Royal Chambers.  Peach gazed pensively in Ipos’ direction until she could no longer hear the echoes of his footsteps.

[End Music]


Recently, a wave of excitement had rushed through the Mushroom Kingdom and its previously depressed citizens.  Since the Dante incident, there was little for them to be cheerful about.  Now that the day of the wedding between Princess Peach and Mario had arrived, they finally had something to celebrate.  Indeed, a great deal of effort had been put into the reconstruction of Mushroom Castle so that it would be rebuilt in time for the wedding.

Not a single soul in the entire kingdom dared to miss this event.  The only exception was Bowser.  Mario had gracefully set aside their rivalry and offered him an invitation, well aware of the assistance that Bowser had provided during Dante’s invasion.  However, the Koopa King declined, likely because of his own feelings for Peach.

Gathered in a church built within Mushroom Castle, the spectators whistled as Mario and Peach entered.  Mario wore a fancy black jacket with a rose protruding from the collar, a white buttoned shirt beneath it, black striped pants, and a seamless pair of black shoes.  Peach giggled.  Mario appeared to be a completely different person without his usual plumbing attire.

 “Dear friends and family, we are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the union of Prince Mario and Princess Peach in marriage. In the years they have been together, their love and understanding of each other has grown and matured, and now they have decided to live their lives together as husband and wife.

“To all present I say: We are gathered here, not to witness the beginning of what will be, but rather what already is. We do not create this marriage, because we cannot. We can and do, however, celebrate with Mario and Peach the wondrous and joyful occurrence that has already taken place in their lives, and the commitment they make today.

“True marriage is more than joining the bonds of marriage of two persons; it is the union of two hearts. It lives on the love you give each other and never grows old, but thrives on the joy of each new day. Marriage is love. May you always be able to talk things over, to confide in each other, to laugh with each other, to enjoy life together, and to share moments of quiet and peace, when the day is done. May you be blessed with a lifetime of happiness and a home of warmth and understanding.”

The officiant turned to face Mario.  “Do you, Mario, take Princess Peach to be your lawfully wedded wife, promising to love and cherish, through joy and sorrow, sickness and health, and whatever challenges you may face, for as long as you both shall live?”

Mario remained silent, slowly taking the officiant’s words in.  At last, he grinned and nodded firmly.  “I do.”

The officiant’s eyes shifted to the bride.  “Do you, Princess Peach, take Mario to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part?”

Silence.  Peach swallowed hard, remembering Ipos’ threat earlier on.  Would she be able to keep such a vow?  Seconds seemed like hours as everyone eagerly awaited her response.  At last, her eyes met Mario’s, and she could not deny that she loved him.  No matter how much danger this decision would put her in, she would not allow Ipos to drain the love from her heart.   “I do.”

“I give you this ring as a symbol of my love for you.  Let it be a reminder that I am always by your side and that I will always be a faithful partner to you,” Mario said with a gentle smile as he slid a golden ring onto her finger.  He chuckled to himself, remembering the script that he had rehearsed several times with the Master.

Peach pulled out a ring of her own and placed it on Mario’s finger.  “I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness.  As I place it on your finger, I commit my heart and soul to you.  I ask you to wear this ring as a reminder of the vows we have spoken today, our wedding day.”

The officiant nodded.  "By the power vested in me by the Mushroom Kingdom Church, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride.”

The entire church exploded with cheers and applause as the two newlyweds embraced.  Tears of joy flooded down the princess’ face.  “Oh, Mario…  Can we finally live in peace together?”  Mario nodded with a warm smile, and she wrapped her arms around her husband.

Broken Vows

Suddenly, Peach felt a deep sorrow building within her heart.  Somewhere, deep down, she knew that this would most likely be their final embrace.  How she yearned to tell her husband all about Ipos’ threat!  This was the perfect opportunity to warn Mario about what was to come, but her love for Mario and her desire to protect him prevented her from speaking.  After all, Ipos had described the consequences for such a betrayal in vivid detail.  She held Mario closer to her, never wanting to let go.

“Attention all guests: The after-party will be held on the second floor of the castle in fifteen minutes.  If you wish to attend, please follow the designated escorts.”

“Mario… I need to freshen up before the party begins,” Peach lied, her mind made up.

“That’s fine.  I was actually going to change into some more comfortable clothes anyway,” Mario replied with a grin.  He turned around and jogged toward the dressing rooms, a red shirt and a pair of overalls tucked beneath his arm.

“Please forgive me…” the princess whispered glumly.  As all of the guests filed out of the room, Peach was left alone.  “I have to do this…  It’s for your own good…”  Her cheeks damp with tears, the bride descended the steps leading outside of the castle.  After a moment of hesitation, she firmly pressed the double doors open and stepped outside.  The sky was gray.  The change in weather that day seemed to symbolize the emotional rollercoaster that Peach had been through.  When she first awoke, the sun was shining, and she eagerly anticipated her wedding with Mario.  As the day went on, her depression grew and the sky became dark and gloomy.  Before long, it began to rain.  Scuttling through a downpour in her wedding dress, Peach felt her whole world crumbling to pieces.

“Regardless, if you do not meet me with a positive response by tonight, Mario will die.”

“It would be preferable if I brought you to the Nightmare Vault unharmed.  If I give you time to think and the proper motivation to come with me, there won’t even be a struggle.”

“This is… for the best…” she reassured herself, the world around her growing dim and cold.  Now soaked with rain and tears, the shivering princess spotted a dark silhouette approaching her from the distance.  “This wedding… it was never meant to be…  Mario…  I’m so sorry…”  She buried her face in her hands.

“Wise decision,” the shadowy figure sneered.  “I was on my way to Mushroom Castle.  If you had been even a few minutes later, everyone attending your wedding ceremony would have died.”

“Ipos…”  The princess fell to her knees, unable to control her sobbing any longer.  “Please… please let me stay…  I don’t want to leave him…”

 “Quiet,” Ipos demanded unsympathetically, looking down upon her with disgust.  “Dry your tears.  We’re going to the Nightmare Vault.  Face it.  Your marriage was not meant to be.  Mario is of demon origin.  He even killed his previous fiancé.  What makes you think that man was worth marrying?”

“Shut up!” Peach howled with resentment, rising to her feet in anger.  “Don’t you dare talk about Mario that way!  You don’t know anything about him!”

“I know more than you ever could,” Ipos replied coldly.  He seized the princess by the hand and pulled her toward him.  With his free hand, he removed a silver cube with an ‘N’ engraved on each of its faces.  With a flourish of the cube, a swirling purple vortex formed in front of him.  “That’s enough of your senseless prattle.  We’re going.”

“But… how can you travel between dimensions without a Nexus Pass?” Peach inquired, her eyes wide with terror.  “Have the Grimnexes finally found a way to enter the human realm?”

“This is a forged Nexus Pass,” Ipos informed her.  “Its abilities are severely limited compared to the real thing.  It only allows the user to make one roundtrip to any dimension he chooses.  Also, the user must complete his trip within one day, or the pass will deactivate and become useless.  Besides, one of these fake passes takes nearly a year to create.  In other words, it would not be practical for the Grimnexes to launch an invasion with forged Nexus Passes.  You can breathe a sigh of relief for now, I suppose.”

As Ipos explained this to her, Peach tried to wrench herself free.  For a moment she managed to get away, but the Grimnex soon caught up with her.  “Enough questions.  It’s time for us to go.”  With Peach’s arm held tightly in his grip, Ipos placed one foot into the portal.  Peach closed her eyes, suddenly burning with a desire to hold Mario one last time.  As Ipos began to place his second foot into the vortex that led to the Nexus, he was blinded by a flash of red light.  From out of seemingly nowhere, a Fireball struck the portal with pinpoint accuracy, causing it to close before Ipos could use it.

Mushroom Hero

“Don’t let him get to you, Peach,” Mario chuckled, clenching his fists as he sprinted onto the scene.  “You should’ve told me about this guy sooner.  If I had gotten here ten seconds later, you would’ve been long gone.”

Ipos turned around and glared at the defiant plumber.  “And just who are you?”  His eyes scanned Mario’s body, and a smirk spread across the Grimnex’s face.  “Wait a minute…  Those overalls…  That mustache…  You must be Mario.”

“Mario!” Peach gasped as she wept the tears from her cheeks.

“I’m flattered.  It looks like I’ve become a celebrity even in the Nightmare Vault,” Mario snickered, confidently walking toward his opponent.  “I’m not sure who you are, but it was pretty cowardly of you to try and lure Peach to the Nightmare Vault without confronting me.  How could you toy with someone’s emotions like that?”

“Is that a challenge?” Ipos inquired, his tone calm and stolid.  It was evident that Mario’s arrival had not shaken him up at all.  “If it is, I’d be happy to accept.  I’ve heard a lot about you, Mushroom Hero.  In fact, I’m so impressed by the rumors that I’ve heard that I’ll let you make the first move.  Don’t disappoint me.”

Mario took a fighting stance.  “As you wish.”  Who is this guy?  He went through all of that trouble to capture Peach without facing me, and yet he doesn’t even seem surprised that I caught up with him.  Am I missing something?  …Oh well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.  If he’s giving me a free hit, I might as well go for it.

“Mario…” Peach whispered frightfully as her husband charged at Ipos with his fists raised.  “Don’t…”

With a cry of determination, Mario sprang at his foe as his right fist began to glow with the power of a Fireball.  Interesting, Ipos thought as he prepared to defend himself.  As the plumber’s fist was inches away from his face, Ipos caught the punch in his right palm.  “That’s a clever technique.  You charged up a Fireball in your palm, but instead of releasing it, you used its power to augment one of your punches.”

“There’s more where that came from,” Mario grumbled, struggling to free his right fist from Ipos’ grip.  With his free hand, he formed an Iceball and lunged at Ipos with yet another punch.  Once again, Ipos blocked the attack with little effort.  Both of the Mushroom Hero’s fists were now in the Grimnexes grasp.  Mario was trapped.

Black Heart

“My turn,” Ipos muttered, his voice stoic and indifferent.  In the blink of an eye, Ipos’ knee collided with Mario’s chest, sending the plumber soaring into the air.  Clutching his wounded chest as he descended, Mario’s eyes widened as he felt a gust of wind rush past him.  Mario glimpsed upward and saw Ipos hovering above him, his blade moving in slow motion.  Before he could comprehend what had just happened, Mario tumbled onto the solid cement of a nearby sidewalk.  Running diagonally across his chest was a bloody gash. 

His body trembling, Mario looked up at his opponent.  “What… What just… happened…?”

“What a disappointment…” Ipos sighed.  “Is this a joke?  After kneeing you in the chest, I slashed you with my sword while you were still airborne.  By the time you landed, you had already been cut.”  He sheathed his sword.  “That was rather anticlimactic.”

“Heh… you think it’s over...?” Mario inquired, slowly rising to his feet.

“Mario, stay down!” Peach pleaded.  “He’s a Grimnex!  You’ll never survive against him!”

Mario’s eyes shifted from Peach to Ipos.  “A Grimnex…  Really...?  That explains it…”

 “If you wish to back down, now is your chance,” Ipos informed him as he drew his sword.  He paused to give Mario time to think.  Barely able to stand, the plumber clenched his fists and prepared for more.  “Didn’t you hear her?  I’m a Grimnex; you don’t stand a chance.  Don’t be a fool.  Your own wife is asking you to back off.”

Broken Vows

Although his entire body was numb with pain, Mario grinned.  “Heh… are you even listening to yourself…?  My own wife is asking me to back off…?  Of course she is…  She wants to protect me…  But I’m not going to stand down… because I want to protect her, too…  I made a vow… that I’d always protect her… through joy and sorrow… through sickness and health… through whatever challenges we may face…”  His eyes gleaming with determination, Mario sprinted at Ipos and lunged at him with another right hook.  “Even if you take her back to the Nightmare Vault, I’ll still save her… even if I have to fight every last Grimnex by myself!”

Ipos swiftly veered to the right, dodging Mario’s punch with ease.  He retaliated with a fierce blow to Mario’s jaw, knocking the plumber onto the cement sidewalk with a lifeless thud.  “Hmph.  Such arrogance.  You won’t even lay a foot in the Grimnex Palace until you can strike me in the face like that.”  He turned to face Princess Peach.  “It’s time for us to go.  This man isn’t worth our time.  Your true destiny will be revealed once we reach the Nightmare Vault.”

“Don’t… don’t listen to him…” Mario murmured, his voice barely audible.  Though he could not stand any longer, the Mushroom Hero had not lost his will to fight.  Lying face-down, he called to Ipos, “Grimnex… I’m not finished with you yet…  You’re the new leader of the Grimnexes, right?  Then if I take you out, it’ll take them another four months to choose a new ruler…”

“Not quite,” the Grimnex informed him coldly.  “My name is Ipos.  I am the Delta Grimnex.”

“No…” Mario whispered in disbelief.  “That means...”

Ipos nodded.  “Exactly.  You didn’t even land a single hit on me, and I’m not even the highest ranking Grimnex.  Not only that, but I wasn’t even trying.  I didn’t even use my Final Smash.”  He held his blade above Mario.  “Now do you understand?  No matter how strong your desire is to save her, Princess Peach belongs to us now.  You could never hope to take on the remaining Grimnexes by yourself.”  With a powerful thrust, Ipos stabbed his dagger into Mario’s arm.  The plumber howled in agony as Ipos slowly brought his blade upward, resulting in a vertical gash that ran up Mario’s entire forearm.  “Keep this scar as a reminder of the impossibility of Peach’s rescue.  And remember that if we ever meet again, you’ll lose that arm.”

Defeated, Mario could only lie down as he slowly bled to death.  Is this really how it all ends…?  Slaughtered by a Grimnex on the day of my own wedding…

Peach gazed at her husband, who was lying face-down in the rain, a pool of blood forming beneath his body.  As the plumber looked up at her, she averted her eyes.  She could no longer bear to see her husband in this broken state.  “Goodbye, Mario…” she whispered, turning around as she followed Ipos into the portal that led to the Nexus.

Amongst the pouring rain and crackling thunder, Peach’s farewell had been the loudest sound to enter Mario’s ears.  As she said her final goodbye to him, he realized his defeat.  He looked up at his wife one last time.  She turned her head away from him.  Too weak to stand, Mario reached toward Peach as his vision began to blur.  At last, the portal closed, and they vanished without a trace.  His head fell to the soaking wet sidewalk as tears streamed down his cheeks.  Blood continued to pool out of his wounds until his entire world became black.  Peach was gone.  And she was never coming back.

shadowmarioguy:
Chapter 1: Regaining Momentum

Demonic Plot

Deep within the Nightmare Vault, a calm, eerie stillness swept through the land.  The war between the Phoenix and the Resistance had ceased, and the land seemed to finally be at peace.  Ordinary demon citizens had begun to come out of hiding, thinking that the Resistance had won and that they were safe.  However, there was an area within the Nightmare Vault that only a small number of people knew about: the Nightmare Abyss.  It was within this cold, wretched wasteland that the wicked Grimnexes lurked.  They resided there for countless centuries, manipulating the war from behind the scenes.  In truth, the Resistance had been entirely eradicated.  It wouldn’t be long before the Grimnexes set their plan for vengeance in motion.

At the center of the Nightmare Abyss was a colossal tower, known as Grimnex Palace.  On the top floor of this palace, all of the remaining Grimnexes had been gathered for a meeting.

“Now then, has everyone arrived?” the new Beta Grimnex inquired.

Ipos nodded.  “All except for the three that have been deemed obsolete.”

“Good.  Now that I have officially been chosen to lead the Grimnexes, I feel that it is necessary for me to properly establish my role as your leader.  I am Zagan, the Beta Grimnex.  As you know, the Demon Resistance has been defeated for quite some time.  However, we were unable to put the next phase of our plan into action due to the lack of a leader.  Today, that is going to change.  Everyone, please bring your attention to Ipos.”

Ipos gestured toward Peach, who was currently tied up and surrounded by three lower-ranking Grimnexes.  “This is Princess Peach, the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom.”

“Why did you bring one of those disgusting humans here?!” one of the Grimnexes protested.

“This isn’t just any human.  She possesses the Phoenix Link,” Ipos explained, causing the other Grimnexes to gasp.  “She will be a crucial asset to us in the near future.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?  If you think I’m going to help you, you’re sadly mistaken!” Peach exclaimed defiantly.  She was silenced when one of the Grimnexes guarding her held his blade to her throat.

“Princess Peach, you are going to be a sacrifice for a ceremony known as the Phoenix Salvation,” Ipos answered icily.  “That is your true destiny.  Though you may refuse now, I’m certain that you’ll grow comfortable with your purpose soon enough.”

“Well done, Ipos.  Is there anything else worth mentioning about your trip to the human realm?” Zagan asked with a smirk.

“No.  I did have a brief encounter with Mario, but you asked me if there was anything worth mentioning.  I see no reason to waste my breath speaking of such an enormous fool.  In case you were wondering, he isn’t a threat to you or any of the Grimnexes, especially in the condition he’s in now.”

“Of course.  That will be all.  Still, I want everyone to maintain their usual posts until preparations for the Phoenix Salvation are complete.”


“….ch…P….ach…Pea…ch…Peach!” Mario screamed as he abruptly sat up and clenched his fists.  Sharp pains erupted throughout his right arm, causing him to wince in pain.  He looked around and realized that he was in the hospital.  Bandages were wrapped around the wound on his chest, but his right arm, which had been severely cut, was left untouched.

“Finally awake, huh?” Grambi inquired with a weary smile.  “I was worried you weren’t going to make it.  When everyone at the after party realized that both the bride and groom were missing, they all went looking for you.  They eventually found you bleeding to death on the sidewalk and brought you to the hospital.  When I saw how slow your recovery was coming along, I paid you a visit and used my powers to speed things up a bit.  But your injuries… what in the world happened?

Mario closed his eyes, trying to recall the events that had unfolded leading up to his wounds.  “There was this Grimnex named Ipos…  He kidnapped Peach, and I tried to stop him, and then…”  His eyes widened, and he leapt to his feet.  “Peach!  He took Peach to the Nightmare Vault!”  He began to sprint toward the exit, but Grambi caught him.  “Don’t be a fool, Mario.  If you went head to head with a Grimnex, it’s a miracle that you’re even alive.  Not even I know about the origin of the Grimnexes.  All that I know is that they’re known as the most dangerous life forms that have ever existed, aside from the Phoenix himself.  That’s why they were sealed away in their own section of the Nightmare Vault, known as the Nightmare Abyss.”

“I don’t care who they are…  They took Peach, and they’re gonna pay for it!” Mario exclaimed, angrily clenching his fists.

“Mario, the Grimnexes were sealed away by Zeus because he was unable to stop them with brute force.  At that point in time, Zeus was commanding an entire army.  For you to even attempt to take on the Grimnexes by yourself…  Not only is it something I’d advise against…  It just simply isn’t possible.”

“That’s what everyone said when I took on Lord Shade and Dante, but I still found a way to beat them…  Besides, I won’t be alone.  I have a few comrades in the Nightmare Vault who are waiting for me.”

“It might be a different story if you had Luigi, the Wario Brothers, and all of your other friends, but they were killed by Dante and his men!”

“Wait a minute, you’re Queen Jaydes’ husband!  The Underwhere is just another dimension attached to the Nexus, right?  If you talked to her, I’m sure she’d let my friends and comrades use the Nexus to travel to the Nightmare Vault.  If we banded together, I’m sure we could get the job done!”

Grambi shook his head.  “I’m sorry.  It doesn’t work like that.  Besides, there’s something about Luigi and the Wario Brothers that I’d like to tell you…  When they died, they were not sent to the Underwhere.”

“What do you mean?!” Mario thundered.  “They’re still alive?!”

“No, that’s not it.  They’re dead; we have a record of them passing through the Nexus about four months ago.  However, we have no record of them entering the Underwhere.  It’s as if they just vanished once they reached the Nexus.”

“Well, what about everyone else?  There are still a few people in the Underwhere that could help me.  There’s Mark, Luke, and this other guy named Lorne, and-”

Grambi sighed.  “As much as I’d love to go along with your plan, Zeus forbids it.  I didn’t want to tell you this, but Zeus sent me a message earlier today.  He must’ve known that you would try to rescue Peach.  He said that as long as the Grimnexes don’t have the Nexus Pass, none of the outer worlds are in any danger.  If you used the Nexus Pass to enter the Nightmare Vault, and one of the Grimnexes got his hands on it, it would all be over.  As such, you are forbidden to enter the Nightmare Vault under any circumstances.”

“You think I care?” Mario inquired angrily.  “I’m not going to let some old geezer tell me what to do.  He doesn’t think Peach’s life is worth the risk because she’s not his wife!”

“That’s not the only reason,” Grambi informed him.  “Haven’t you been wondering why the doctors didn’t bandage your arm?  Roll up your sleeve and take a look at it.”

Black Heart

Mario complied, slowly pulling his sleeves up to reveal his arm, which had been severely wounded in his battle against Ipos.  The plumber’s eyes widened with fear.  Over his arm, a black, bone-line substance had begun to form.  “What… what is that?”

“It’s just as I feared.  Your Demon Exoskeleton has already started to form,” Grambi stated grimly.

“My what…?”

“Each day, the demon soul within you is coming closer and closer to seizing control.  The Demon Exoskeleton is a skeletal structure that begins to form in the later stages of this process.  Ultimately, it will cover your entire body, and your demon ancestor will take control,” Grambi explained solemnly.

“I thought I got rid of him, but I guess not…” Mario whispered, terrified at the skeletal material that was growing on his arm.

“Previously, the struggle between you and your ancestor was mostly psychological.  However, the appearance of a Demon Exoskeleton means that this battle will also start to become physical.  If a particular body part is entirely covered by the Demon Exoskeleton, your inner demon will be able to control it at will without even taking control of your mind.  When the transformation is complete, you will resemble a black skeleton, and your demon ancestor’s flesh will begin to cover the bones.  Once that happens, it will all be over.  You will become a permanent prisoner in your own body.”

“Why… why are you telling me this…?” Mario inquired fearfully.  “I mean, what does this have to do with Zeus prohibiting me from entering the Nightmare Vault.”

“Isn’t it obvious?  The Nightmare Vault is the home of the demons.  The air is thick with Inequity, an energy that demons feed of off.  Within the Nightmare Abyss, the concentration of Inequity is even greater.  If you enter the Nightmare Abyss in an attempt to rescue Princess Peach, the demon within you will become stronger, and the Demon Exoskeleton will grow at an even faster rate.”

“I see…” Mario mumbled, staring blankly at the wall.  It’s just as I thought…  I could feel my demon ancestor growing closer each day…  This Demon Exoskeleton is proof of it…  It’s only a matter of time before I lose control…  “This demon inside of me…  Isn’t there any way I can get rid of it…?”

Tension filled the air.  Grambi did not respond.  “Forgive me…  Our demon ancestor has chosen you as his host…  There’s nothing we can do…”

A feeling of dread began to overwhelm them.  Hoping to change the subject, Mario returned to the matter of Peach’s rescue.  “Even so, I still have to try-”

“Don’t be a fool, Mario!  You’ve got too many things working against you!  Peach is being guarded by over a dozen Grimnexes, most of your comrades are dead, and entering the vault would only strengthen your demon ancestor!  And above all, Zeus, the governor of all realms of reality, has ordered you to stay put!”

Mario hung his head in defeat.  “It just isn’t fair…  We were so close…  We could have lived the rest of our lives in peace...”

“I’m sorry,” Grambi apologized, his conscience weighing heavily with his son’s sorrow.  “I may have sounded a bit harsh, but you have to admit that attempting to rescue Peach would be suicidal.  Please, Mario... give up on her…”  He patted his son on the shoulder before approaching the exit.  “I’ll give you some time to think things over…”

Now sitting alone in his hospital room, Mario sighed with frustration.  “Why…  What do they want with Peach…?  I feel so helpless…”  He closed his eyes and remembered Ipos’ cold expression as he took Peach away from him.  “That Grimnex… Ipos…  They way he looked down on me… The way he treated Peach…  He thinks that she’s just a tool to further the Grimnexes’ goals…”

“You didn’t even land a single hit on me, and I’m not even the highest ranking Grimnex.  Not only that, but I wasn’t even trying.  I didn’t even use my Final Smash.”  He held his blade above Mario.  “Now do you understand?  No matter how strong your desire is to save her, Princess Peach belongs to us now.  You could never hope to take on the remaining Grimnexes by yourself.”

“Keep this scar as a reminder of the impossibility of Peach’s rescue.  And remember that if we ever meet again, you’ll lose that arm.”

With images of Ipos flooding his mind, Mario slowly rose to his feet.  He opened the window and gazed at the horizon.  Ever since Peach’s abduction, the sky had been covered with a layer of thick, gray clouds.  As Mario glanced at the golden ring on his finger, he remembered the vows that he and Peach had exchanged.  At that moment, Mario understood what he had to do.


Negotiations

“This is a joke, right?” Bowser inquired hesitantly.  “Could… could you repeat that?”

“I need your help,” Mario reiterated sincerely.  “Trust me, if it was for anything else, I wouldn’t ask.  But there’s no one left in this kingdom for me to turn to!  Crimson wiped almost all of my friends and family members out.  We’re the only ones left.  And while you may not be the toughest person who has ever kidnapped Peach, out of all of them, you still have the biggest heart.  I know that you’re always trying to act like my rival, but deep down, you’re really not such a bad person.”

“…Seriously?  You mean it, don’t you?  I never thought I’d see the day…  The legendary Super Mario is actually groveling at my feet!” Bowser cackled.  “You can complement me all you want; there’s no way I’m joining up with you.  Haven’t I helped you enough already?  Whether it was against Smithy, Fawful, Count Bleck, or Crimson, I’ve always ended up shouldering most of the burden whenever your precious kingdom was in danger.  What is it this time?”

Mario grinned.  He’s just as arrogant as ever.  This’ll be easier than I thought.  “Well, you see, I just wanted to let you know that your role as my rival is most likely going to be replaced.  The other day, this demon came along, beat me, and took Princess Peach away- and on his first try, too.  Things aren’t looking too good for your reputation, especially considering how easily your army was beaten by Crimson’s.”

“Wait, what?!  The princess has been kidnapped?!”

Mario nodded.  “Yeah, and I don’t think I can rescue her alone.  I was going to ask you to come with me, but if you’re too busy…”

Bowser raised his eyebrows with suspicion.  “I see what you’re trying to do…  You think I’ll fall for the same cliché as always, don’t you?  I’ve got a better idea.  Why don’t I just let you rescue Princess Peach?  Then, once you get back, it’ll be the perfect opportunity to make my move!”

“Yeah, but… aren’t you supposed to, uh… not tell me that?  Besides, your plan is useless if I can’t even manage to retrieve Peach.  Think about it this way.  If you come with me, you can steal the spotlight from me, prove that you’re a better villain than the Grimnexes, and impress Peach all at the same time,” Mario explained. 

The Koopa King remained silent.

“Please, Bowser…  I don’t know what they’re planning to do with Peach…  She might not have much time left…” Mario pleaded, determined to persuade Bowser to assist him at all costs.

At last, Bowser answered.  “Well…  If you’re going to be so pathetic about it, I guess I can go with you.  But don’t think for a minute that I’ll be your obedient little sidekick.  If you end up slowing me down, you’ll be on your own.”

“Right.  I’ll keep that in mind,” the plumber chuckled triumphantly.

“So, when do we leave?”

Mario shrugged.  “I was hoping we could go right now.  There are some people that don’t exactly approve of my plans to rescue Peach, so I’d like to get going as soon as possible.”


Final Mission

“Mario, are you sure you want to go through with this?” the Master inquired.  Deep beneath Mushroom Castle, many of Mario’s closest friends had gathered to see him off.  At last, the time had come for Mario and Bowser to face off against the Grimnexes.

Mario nodded.  “For these past four months, I’ve been trying to ignore the threat of a Grimnex invasion.  Peach’s kidnapping has reminded me that my duty as the Mushroom Hero isn’t over yet.  Four months ago, I promised Ace that I would meet him in the Nightmare Vault.  Now it’s time for me to keep that promise.”

“Can we get on with this?” Bowser grumbled impatiently.  “It’s not that big of a deal.  Nothing’s going to happen to us.  After all, I’ll be assisting Mario.”

Mario reached into his pocket and removed a golden cube with an ‘N’ engraved on it.  “Right.  Let’s get going.”  With a wave of the Nexus Pass, Mario caused a swirling purple vortex to open in front of them.  “Once we jump inside of that portal, we’ll be in the Nexus.  You aren’t having any second thoughts, are you?”

Bowser shook his head.

“Wait!” an elderly voice called from the stairway that connected to Mushroom Castle.  Grambi emerged from the darkness, a faint grin on his face.  “I had a feeling that you’d be here.  You were never one to play by the rules.”

“Don’t worry about the Nexus Pass being stolen.  That’s why I brought everyone here,” Mario assured him.  He tossed the Nexus Pass to the Master.  “Guard this with your life.  I want all of you to take turns monitoring the Nexus.  Once every hour, I want you to use the Nexus Pass to open the gateway to the Nightmare Vault.  If I’m not there, close the gate immediately and wait for another hour to pass.  This way, there won’t be a risk of the Nexus Pass being stolen, and I won’t be trapped in the Nightmare Vault after I rescue Peach.”

“I can see that you’ve thought of everything,” Grambi sighed with a nod.  “Very well.  I won’t stop you.  As long as the Nexus Pass isn’t taken into the Nightmare Vault, I suppose Zeus won’t mind.”

Mario smiled.  “Thanks, Dad.  If you could, show them how to use the Nexus Pass.  The success of this rescue counts on all of you.  After all, even if I manage to rescue Peach, it will all be for nothing if we can’t return from the Nightmare Vault.”

“Good luck, you two.”

Bowser entered the portal, and Mario began to follow.  Just before departing, he turned around and gave them a thumbs up.  “Don’t worry about me.  We’ll be back in no time.  Peach is going to be just fine.  And once we get back, this kingdom can finally live in peace, just like it was meant to.”  With a firm nod, he turned and leapt into the vortex that led to the Nexus.  The war with the Grimnexes was about to begin.


Ruined Landscape

“I can’t believe four months have already passed,” remarked a tall demon with jet black hair.  He wore a long white coat and black pants, and a deck of cards was strapped to his waist.  The demon smiled.  “It’s been a while, Slade.”

“You’re awfully cheerful, Ace, considering the circumstances,” Slade replied grumpily.  He wore a tattered red cape, black pants, and a silver vest.  A sword was sheathed readily at his waist, and his arms were covered in bandages.  He had spiky brown hair, the bangs of which partially hid his bitter gaze.  “So, have you gotten any stronger in these past four months?”

Ace nodded.  “Of course.  I learned a lot about the abilities of my nearly-extinct clan, the Zepar tribe.  How has your stay in the Nightmare Vault been treating you?”

“Meh.  I still couldn’t find my parents,” Slade grumbled.  “The only place I have left to search is the Nightmare Abyss.  Though I doubt I’ll find them there, it’s the only place I haven’t checked yet, besides the Underwhere.   They’ve done well to avoid me for this long, but I’ll find them, and when I do…”  His body began to tremble with rage at the mere thought of his parents.  “I’ll make them suffer for what they did to me…  They treated me like trash… and then left me to die…”

“Slade, I understand that you’ve made it your life’s goal to find and eliminate your parents, but is it really worth it?  What will happen once you’ve satisfied your thirst for vengeance?  It will only cause you to feel more emptiness.”

“Enough.  I’m tired of waiting.  Where is Mario?  He was supposed to be here.”

“I suppose he’s running late.”

Slade began to walk away.  “I’m going ahead.  You can catch up with me later.”

“Wait, Slade!” Ace called after him, but he was too late.  Slade had already vanished into the distance.


“Maybe I should have gone with Slade,” Ace sighed impatiently.  “It’s already been a few hours since he went off on his own.  Maybe Mario isn’t going to show up after all.”  Just as he was about to give up hope, two silhouettes appeared in the distance.  They were approaching him, and fast.  Ace peered at the oncoming strangers.  “Who could they be…?  It couldn’t be Mario; he was supposed to come alone… Are they Grimnexes?  No…  They’re coming from the wrong direction…”  His confused frown curled into a relieved smile as he finally recognized the two figures.

“Sorry I’m late,” Mario apologized, out of breath.  “I had to convince this lug to come with me.”

“I’m not the one who spent all of that time saying his goodbyes,” Bowser retorted.

“I thought we could use some backup,” Mario explained.  “It’s good to see you again.  Where’s Slade?”

“He went off on his own a few hours ago.  If we hurry, we might be able to catch up with him.”  Ace glared at Mario in astonishment.  What happened to him?  He’s changed…  He’s not the same depressed plumber that I knew four months ago.  He seems… focused…  “So…  What happened with Crimson?”

Mario began to stroke his chin.  “Hmm… Where to begin…?  It’s a pretty long story.  I’ll explain it on the way to the Nightmare Abyss.  You know how to get there, right?”

Ace nodded.  “Yes.  Follow me.”

shadowmarioguy:
Chapter 2: Guard at the Gate

Ruined Landscape

“And that’s pretty much the full story,” Mario concluded as he, Ace, and Bowser jogged through the depths of the Nightmare Vault.  Even as he spoke, Mario could feel the air around them growing colder.  Soon, they would be in the Grimnexes’ territory.

“How awful…  I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there to help,” Ace apologized, the death of Mario’s friends and family weighing heavily on his conscience.  “If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the Grimnexes, I… ”

“Don’t worry about it.  It’s not your fault,” Mario assured him, noticing the pained expression on the demon’s face.  “First Glaive, and now Luigi…  I know it’s hard to lose a comrade…  But right now, we can’t afford to dwell in the past.  We need to focus on the Grimnexes.  Ace, how close are we to the Nightmare Abyss?”

“We’re here,” Ace replied as the three unlikely allies stopped dead in their tracks.  “Did you notice the severe temperature drop?  The Grimnexes are the most powerful demons in existence; the Inequity emanating from their bodies has created an imbalance in the Nightmare Abyss.  In some areas, the concentration of Inequity is greater, and therefore the temperature will be higher. We are in an area where only a few Grimnexes reside, which is why the temperature is much lower.”

“So basically, the Grimnexes in this area are weaklings,” Bowser chuckled.  “Good to know.  Let’s get started.”

Ace held his arm in front of Bowser.  “Wait.  The Grimnexes aren’t as dumb as you think.  Their security has to be better than this.”

“You should listen to your friend, foolish turtle,” a menacing voice whispered.  The ground quickly froze over, and a pillar of ice began to rise in front of them.  The trio gasped as the column of ice began to take the shape of a demon.  “What an interesting group of intruders…  There’s a demon, a turtle, and a human.”

“He’s huge…” Mario muttered in astonishment.  The Grimnex that had appeared before them was at least nine feet tall.  His muscular, powerfully built body only added to his voluminous structure.  This Grimnex wore a suit of ice, likely for protection.

“Welcome to the Nightmare Abyss.  I am Cerberus, the Omega Grimnex.  As the gatekeeper of the Nightmare Abyss, it is my job to prevent unworthy life forms from entering,” the Grimnex informed them.

Bowser stepped forward, grinning from ear to ear.  “The Omega Grimnex, huh?  Give me a break.  Who was the idiot who thought that the weakest Grimnex would be best suited for scaring off trespassers?”

Cerberus sighed.  “You should keep your mouth shut, turtle.  You aren’t making a very good first impression.  If you enter the Nightmare Abyss with that frame of mind, you’ll never make it out alive.  If you live to see another day, remember this: judging a Grimnex solely by his rank is a fatal mistake.  When up against a Grimnex, you must always consider what his or her Final Smash is, among many other things.”

“I’m not a turtle,” Bowser hissed, ignoring Cerberus’ advice.  “I’m a Koopa.  And I’m not just some underling like you are; I’m the Koopa King.”

“In that case, you must not be a very good king if your Koopa underlings weren’t even powerful enough to bring here.  A strong soldier with reliable comrades is always superior to a feeble king with useless minions.”

Bowser roared with frustration before charging angrily at the Grimnex.  Cerberus merely smirked before pressing his palms to the frozen ground.  Ace opened his mouth to warn his ally, but it was too late.  Hundreds of ice shards rose from the ground and surrounded the trio of heroes.  In a flash, the fragments connected and formed a colossal dome of ice around Mario, Ace, and Bowser.

“Hey!  Let us out, you creep!” Bowser screamed, bashing the icy walls with his fists.

Grimnex Theme

“Is there no end to your stupidity?” Cerberus inquired with a sigh of disappointment.  “Didn’t you hear what I told you before?  If you want to get out of the Nightmare Abyss alive, you must understand that a Grimnex’s abilities and Final Smash can, if used properly, allow him to defeat a Grimnex ranked above him.  I may be the weakest in terms of basic strength, but don’t think for a second that I was chosen for the eternal duty of guarding the Nightmare Abyss because of my rank.”

“Wait a minute… Of course!” Ace gasped in sudden realization.  “It all makes sense now…  I was wondering why he’d bother to tell us his rank before fighting us!”

“So, you’ve finally figured it out.  It is traditional for a Grimnex to tell an opponent his name and rank at the beginning of a fight.  However, it isn’t because we feel like being nice.  It’s because we know that our opponents will make assumptions about us as soon as we tell them our rank.  The one called Bowser is a prime example.  As soon as I told him that I was the Omega Grimnex, he assumed that I was weak just because I was the lowest ranking Grimnex.  He didn’t even bother to think about what my Final Smash might be, and that’s why your group ended up trapped inside of my Igloo Prison.”

“Ah, so it’s an igloo.  Not bad, but you forgot to add the exit,” Mario remarked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Mock me while you can.  This isn’t any ordinary igloo.  As long as you remain trapped inside, it will drain you of your strength and use it to fortify the walls of ice,” Cerberus explained.  “That is why I was chosen to guard the Nightmare Abyss.  I can easily trap enemies and drain their stamina, rendering them helpless.  Plus, this is the perfect location for me to use my abilities.  Because none of the Grimnexes besides me reside in the outskirts of the Nightmare Abyss, the concentration of Inequity is extremely low.  That’s why this area is so cold.  Conditions like these may be bothersome to you, but they are perfect for using my Igloo Prison.”

Ace hung his head in defeat.  “We’ve underestimated the intelligence of the Grimnexes…”

“Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to find a way out,” Mario stated optimistically as he formed a Fireball in his palm.  “For someone who just ranted about how dumb we are, you’re not so clever yourself.  So what if you trapped us inside of a giant igloo?  It won’t do you any good if your foe has any sort of fire-based technique under his belt.”  He planted his flaming fist into the icy wall, causing it to begin to melt.  Before even the tiniest hole could form, a new layer of ice froze over the area that had been thawed.

“Gwahahaha!  That was pathetic!” Bowser cackled, stepping in front of the plumber.  “Lemme try!”

“You’re just wasting your energy,” Cerberus informed them smugly.  “The Igloo Prison isn’t made up of just any ice; it has my Inequity flowing through it.  As long as I continue to channel my Inequity into the igloo, any damage done to the walls will be instantly repaired.”

After Bowser’s flame breath failed to create an exit, Mario stepped forward once again.  “In that case, I’ll just have to try a little harder.  Stand back, Bowser.”  He cupped his hands together and formed a much larger Fireball than before.  He aimed his opened palms at the wall, releasing a wave of flames that made Bowser turn his head in envy.  This opened a hole in the igloo, but it was only slightly larger than Mario’s fist.  Before he could do anything to expand the breach, it was quickly repaired with ice created from Cerberus’ Inequity.

“If your Ultra Fireball didn’t work, we’re in trouble,” Ace sighed.  “We need to think of something, and fast.”

“Don’t worry; give me some time and I’ll make a hole big enough for all of us to escape!” Bowser declared, furiously pummeling the wall with his fists.

“Hey, Cerberus.  You may want to reconsider this.  After all, you’ve trapped one of your own comrades,” Ace informed the Grimnex calmly.  “That’s right.  Besides me, one of us is actually a demon.  Can’t you feel his Inequity?”

“I’ll admit, I did feel something abnormal coming from one of you,” Cerberus replied, holding his ear to the outside of the igloo.

“That’s right,” Ace continued.  “He might even be a Grimnex.  How would your superiors react if you killed such an important ally?”

“Nice try, but I don’t care who I kill.  My job is to guard the entrance to the Nightmare Abyss.  Human, demon, Grimnex, or even turtle- those who are unable to defeat me are not allowed to enter the Nightmare Abyss.  It’s as simple as that.”

Mario began to pace back and forth.  “It’s no use.  Bowser is gonna keep hammering at the walls until he collapses, and Ace is busy playing mind games with Cerberus.  I might as well try to find a way out of here on my own.”  There has to be something we can do…  He’s the weakest of the Grimnexes, after all…  He’s got to have some sort of fatal flaw…  Suddenly, an idea struck him.  “Wait a minute…  It feels colder over here…”  He dashed to the opposite end of the ice dome.  “And over here, it starts to get warmer…  In fact, the temperature fluctuates drastically in different areas of the igloo…  But what does it mean?” 

Comeback

Mario’s eyes widened.  “Of course!”  The words that Ace had spoken earlier flowed into his mind:

“Did you notice the severe temperature drop?  The Grimnexes are the most powerful demons in existence; the Inequity emanating from their bodies has created an imbalance in the Nightmare Abyss.  In some areas, the concentration of Inequity is greater, and therefore the temperature will be higher. We are in an area where only a few Grimnexes reside, which is why the temperature is much lower.”

Next, he remembered something that Cerberus had told him:

“The Igloo Prison isn’t made up of just any ice; it has my Inequity flowing through it.”

“It all makes sense now!” Mario exclaimed.  He scuttled to the coldest area of the dome.  “Yeah, this might actually work…  Hey, Bowser!  Come over here for a second!  Try hitting this spot with your flame breath!”

“Uh…  I’m not sure what the difference is, but okay…”  The Koopa King took a deep breath before exhaling a column of flames.  To his surprise, the inferno melted through the wall of ice with ease, creating a gap large enough for each of the heroes to fit through.  With a triumphant cry, the three heroes dove through the breach and escaped from Cerberus’ Igloo Prison.

“Mario…  How did you know which part of the igloo to strike?” Ace inquired in astonishment.

“No matter what his abilities may be, he’s still the Omega Grimnex.  Because he can’t control his Inequity as well as higher-ranked Grimnexes, the flow of Inequity inside of the igloo wasn’t uniform.  In some parts, the concentration of Inequity was extremely high, causing the temperature to increase.  Likewise, certain areas inside of the igloo were enforced with less Inequity, causing the temperature to drop.  It was all thanks to you, Ace.  What you told us before really came in handy.”

“Ingenious…” Ace breathed.  “Once he figured that out, all he had to do was find the coldest area of the igloo.  Because the coldest part would have the least amount of Inequity reinforcing it, Mario knew that it would be the perfect spot to attack.”

Bowser scratched his head in confusion.  “I’m not really sure what you’re talking about; I’m just glad that I was the one who got us out of there.”

“I’m impressed…  Few have deduced the weakness of my Prison Igloo,” Cerberus commended them.  “You may have overcome my Final Smash, but you still haven’t faced me in combat.”

“If you insist on fighting us, I’ll take you on,” Mario declared boldly.

“Alone?  Are you sure that you won’t need any help from your friends?” Cerberus inquired with a smirk.

Mario shook his head.  “If I can’t even beat the weakest Grimnex on my own, how can I expect to rescue Peach?”  He closed his eyes, and an image of Ipos appeared inside of his head.  “Besides, I still need to prove myself to someone…  I have to show him that I can take on the Grimnexes…”

Grimnex Battle

“Whatever you say,” Cerberus chuckled as he smashed his fists against the ground, sending a wave of jagged ice toward the plumber.

“Stay back, you two.  I’ll handle this on my own,” Mario warned his companions.  After receiving a nod from both Ace and Bowser, the Mushroom Hero turned his attention to Cerberus’ approaching attack.  He looked up at the ice wave and immediately understood that it was too tall to jump over.  Instead, he created a Fireball in his fist and sprinted at the oncoming wall of ice.  With a flaming right hook, the plumber melted a hole through the ice, causing the wave to pass right by him.

“You’re pretty good at using the Fireball technique, aren’t you?  Very well; let’s see how you deal with multiple ice waves,” Cerberus declared, pounding the ground with his fists yet again.

“Too easy,” Mario snickered, creating a Fireball in each of his palms.  The Mushroom Hero punched holes through every ice wave that got close enough to him, all the while drawing closer and closer to Cerberus.  Once he finally reached the Grimnex, Mario leapt at him with a mighty flaming hook.  However, just as his fist was about to connect with Cerberus, the Grimnex shattered into hundreds of ice shards that fell to the ground.

“Nice work, Mario!” Ace cheered from a distance.

“I didn’t do that!” Mario shouted back, staring at the ice fragments in confusion.  After a few moments, the shards began to levitate above the plumber’s head.  All at once, the sharp ice fragments launched themselves directly at Mario, creating several minor cuts all across his body.  The ice shards then began to merge, causing Cerberus to reform.

“Did I happen to mention that I possessed the ability to separate my body into tiny ice crystals?” Cerberus inquired with a sarcastic leer.

“It must’ve slipped your mind,” Mario remarked dryly as he rose to his feet.

“Mario, are you alright?” Ace called, a concerned look on his face.

“I’m fine,” Mario replied.  “These cuts aren’t deep or fatal.”  He glared at his opponent.  This Grimnex…  I can tell that he’s a lot weaker than Ipos.  He’s slow, and his attacks aren’t that dangerous…  Even so, his unique abilities still make him tough to beat.  If I get too close, he’ll just separate and attack me with his ice fragments.  If I attack with Fireballs from a distance, he’ll counterattack with those ice waves.

“What’s the matter?  Is something on your mind?” Cerberus sneered.

“Not at all,” Mario responded, charging up another Fireball in his palm.  “I’ve got an idea…  First, I’ll test it out…”  Just like before, Mario sprinted directly toward Cerberus.  He lunged at the Grimnex, who split himself into ice crystals once again.  The shards attempted to injure Mario once more, but this time, the plumber was ready.  With a swift roll to the side, Mario narrowly dodged the majority of the ice fragments.  He watched the crystals intently as they reassembled themselves to form Cerberus.

“You said it yourself: if you can’t even defeat the weakest Grimnex, how can you possible save Princess Peach?  As the guardian of the Nightmare Abyss, it is my job to keep out those who are unworthy of setting foot in the land of the Grimnexes.  If this is the best you can do, I’m afraid I’ll have to send you back where you came from.”

Triumph

“Sorry about that.  This time, I’ll make sure I hit you,” Mario chuckled as he cupped his hands together.  Confident that his plan would succeed, the Mushroom Hero created an Ultra Fireball.  For the third time, Mario charged at the Omega Grimnex.  Just as expected, Cerberus split himself into tiny crystals of ice.  Mario stopped dead in his tracks and focused his attention on the approaching ice fragments.  With his free hand, the plumber lunged forward into the flurry of ice shards, managing to grab a handful of them.  Next, he sprinted at the cluster of ice crystals, which had already begun to rebuild Cerberus.

“And what did that accomp-” Cerberus stopped in midsentence to gasp for air.  He looked down and saw a gaping hole in his chest.  His entire body trembling, Cerberus pointed angrily at the shards in Mario’s hand.  “How did... you know…?”

Mario grinned triumphantly.  “Well, when I saw you reassemble for the first time, I figured that you’d probably need all of your ice fragments to reform properly.  That’s when it came to me: the best way to defeat you was to steal some of the ice shards that make up the structure of your body.  The only problem was, I didn’t know which ones to take.  I decided to conduct a little experiment when I attacked you the second time.  I watched the ice shards carefully this time and tried to determine if specific shards fit into certain places.  I kept my focus on one crystal in particular, and when your body reassembled, the crystal ended up in the same exact spot on your body as when you separated.  With that knowledge, all I had to do was keep my eye on the shards that were in the general area of your vital organs.  When you separated for the third time, I nabbed them, and, well, you know the result.  Like a puzzle that’s missing some of its pieces, you can’t function properly.”

“Brilliant…” Ace gasped as his mouth curled into an astonished smile.  “It’s been a while since I’ve watched him fight.  I don’t know why, but there’s just something about him…  It seems as though there isn’t anything he can’t do…  I swear, that man never ceases to amaze me.  Every time I see him, he proves not only his strength, but his ingenuity as well.”

“Eh, I guess he’s kind of cool,” Bowser admitted.  “But that was against the weakest Grimnex!  I could’ve beaten him in half the time!”

An Ultra Fireball still gleaming in his palm, Mario sprinted at the vulnerable Cerberus and dealt a deadly flaming punch to his gut.  The Grimnex toppled onto the ground with a cry of agony.  “So, what’s the verdict?  Have I earned your approval?  Am I worthy of entering the Nightmare Abyss?” Mario inquired.

Looking Forward

Cerberus nodded weakly.  “You’ve… proven yourself…  Now… finish me…”

“I didn’t come here to kill the Grimnexes,” Mario replied.  “I came here to rescue Peach.  I’m not afraid to eliminate a Grimnex if necessary, but I don’t see much of a reason to finish you off if you aren’t planning to stand in my way anymore.”  The plumber dropped the ice fragments beside Cerberus.  “These are yours.”

“Mario, what are you doing?!” Ace thundered.  “As usual, you’re being too soft!”

Cerberus used the ice shards to fill the gap in his chest.  “I thank you for your kindness.  Mario, you are a man of true character.  Your focus is clear.  Perhaps you can rescue Princess Peach.”  He turned to Ace.  “However, I am sure that you came here for a different purpose.  I can tell that you are a member of the Zepar tribe.  If you wish to obtain vengeance, I will offer you my life.”

There was a long silence as Ace contemplated his next move.  “Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered at last.  “Maybe it’s just Mario’s softness rubbing off on me, but I don’t want to kill you.  It wouldn’t feel right.  Besides, we already have an avenger among us.  I wouldn’t want to take that title away from Slade.”

Cerberus began to stroke his chin.  “Slade?  You wouldn’t happen to be referring to the human that passed through here not too long ago?”

“Yeah, what happened to him?” Mario asked eagerly.  “Did you fight him?”

“Well, I tried, but he ran right past me.  He asked me if I knew the location of a certain couple.  After pointing him in their general direction, he sped off before I could say another word.  I could have tried to pursue him, but when I saw the look of pure hatred in his eyes, I could tell that he would be able to defeat me with ease.  I decided to let him slip by, but I had no idea that he had reinforcements behind him.”

Ace thought for a moment.  “If you helped him, maybe you could help us too.  Do you know where Princess Peach is being held?”

“In the center of the Nightmare Abyss is the Grimnex Palace.  Right now, she is being held at the top floor.  But as soon as preparations for the Phoenix Salvation are complete, she will be used as a human sacrifice.  If you intend to rescue her, you’d better do so before the ceremony begins.”

Mario nodded.  “Okay, what can you tell me about Ipos?

Cerberus gasped.  “Ipos…  He’s a sketchy one…  He’s not very friendly, but his loyalty to the Phoenix is unquestionable.  Not many people know much about him, but I’ve heard some refer to him as ‘he who slaughtered a thousand angels’.  He’s one of the most powerful Grimnexes, and there’s a rumor going around that he’s tougher than the Beta Grimnex.  But that can’t be right.  If that was the case, why didn’t he become the leader of the Grimnexes instead of Zagan?”

“That’s interesting; thanks for the info.  Before we go, I have one more question.  Some of my friends died recently, but they didn’t go to the Underwhere.  You wouldn’t happen to know what could have happened to them, would you?”

The Grimnex scratched his head.  “Hmm…  There is a possibility that they were taken to the Purgatory…  It’s a research facility northeast from here.  I’ve never personally been there, but I’ve heard that it’s a place where banished Grimnexes conduct all sorts of twisted experiments.  It’s your best shot at finding them, I suppose.”

Ace gulped.  “The Purgatory…  I never thought I’d be paying that place a visit…”

“What’s wrong?” Mario asked, sensing Ace’s anxiety.  “Have you heard of the Purgatory before?”

“It’s nothing…” Ace sighed, gazing off into the distance.  “Let’s keep moving.  We can’t waste any more time.”

“Yeah, let’s go!” Bowser urged them.  “Mario has had his share of the spotlight.  The next Grimnex we encounter is mine!”

As Ace and Bowser began to jog toward their next destination, Mario turned to Cerberus.  “Are you sure it’s okay for you to just let us pass?  Won’t you be accused of treason?”

“I have spent the past few centuries alone, rarely speaking with other Grimnexes.  Unlike the majority of my comrades, I am not entirely loyal to the Phoenix or his underlings.  My true passion lies in my eternal duty as guardian of the Nightmare Abyss.  You have shown me that you are capable of holding your own against a Grimnex.  Therefore, I am obligated to permit you to enter.  It’s as simple as that.”

Mario began to walk away.  “I see…  In that case, wish me luck.”

“Farewell, Mario.  Perhaps we’ll meet again someday.”

The plumber grinned.  “Of course we will; you’ll see me while I’m on my way out- after I save Peach, that is.”  With that, the Mushroom Hero sprinted off to catch up with Ace and Bowser.

As Cerberus returned to his post, he did not notice a thirst for blood looming nearby.  Someone had been watching his battle against Mario.  “Traitor,” the Grimnex hissed, clutching a tall axe in one hand.  Mario… the Mushroom Hero…  I’ll have to keep an eye on him… but first, I must deal with Cerberus’ betrayal and file a report to Zagan.  Yes, then I’ll be able to spill a human’s blood for the first time in decades…

shadowmarioguy:
Chapter 3: The Purgatory

Demonic Plot

“A traitor, you say?” Zagan inquired with feigned interest.  “The Omega Grimnex…  In truth, I had forgotten about him.  He didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic about the Phoenix’s cause as the rest of us.  So, Ares, have you taken any action against him?”

“Cerberus breathes no more,” Ares responded with a grin.  “As expected, he went down quickly.  He refused to tell me anything, but I had already witnessed enough.  In total, he allowed four outsiders to enter the Nightmare Abyss.  One entered by himself, followed by a group of three.  So far, I’ve identified two of them.  One is the former leader of Poker Face, Ace Spades.  The other is Slade, a human who made quite a name for himself in the Nightmare Vault after being raised by demons.”

“So, Slade has returned?  How interesting.  I’m sure he’ll be surprised once he finds what he’s looking for. So many things have changed since he left…  By the way, was one of them garbed in blue overalls and a red shirt and cap?”

Ares thought for a moment.  “Yes, I believe so.”

“Ah, so Mario took the bait after all.  Ares, I’d like you to keep an eye on Mario.”

A wicked leer spread across Ares’ face.  “Don’t worry; I was already planning to.  I haven’t had the opportunity to fight a human in decades.  I can’t wait to spill his blood.”

“Not yet.  I want you to spend some time studying Mario’s group,” Zagan commanded firmly.  “I’m sure that Mario will be paying a visit to the Purgatory.  I want to see how he handles the horrors that await him inside…”

“Fine, but if another Grimnex attempts to finish him off, I’ll be forced to step in.  As of right now, Mario’s head belongs to me.”  With that, Ares slung his axe over his shoulders and stormed out of the throne room.  “No one will deny me the pleasure of this kill.”

Zagan sighed.  “Hmm…  Everyone seems so eager to eliminate the Mushroom Hero.  I’m beginning to question the wisdom of informing Ipos about Mario.  He’ll likely take this matter into his own hands, and I doubt Mario is ready to face him…  If Mario dies before the Demon Exoskeleton is complete, all of my efforts will have been for naught.”


“Judging by how you reacted to Cerberus’ mentioning of the Purgatory, Ace, I’d say you’ve heard of it before,” Mario recalled as he, Ace, and Bowser jogged in the direction that Cerberus had pointed to.  “What can you tell me about it?  Do you really think Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi might be trapped inside?”

Ace gulped.  “I’ve only heard rumors, but either way…  Nothing good can come from visiting that place…  It’s an abandoned laboratory that is rumored to be the dwelling of some of the most twisted and insane Grimnexes in existence.  I’ve heard that they often intercept the dead as they travel through the Nexus to the Underwhere.  If a person interests them enough while they are alive, these Grimnexes will actually wait for his or her time of death, and just as their prey is being transported from the living world to the Underwhere, they nab their victim and return to the depths of the Nightmare Abyss.  Once there, the victims are confined within the walls of the Purgatory, never to be seen again.  They are doomed to spend all of eternity as prisoners and test subjects of the merciless Grimnexes that dwell within the Purgatory.”

“That’s awful,” Mario replied with a grimace.  “Even if Luigi and the Wario Brothers aren’t trapped inside, I still feel obligated to free all of the prisoners.  No one deserves that kind of torture.”

“Getting distracted already?” Bowser inquired, abruptly stopping dead in his tracks.  “If you want to waste your time saving the helpless captives of the Purgatory, go right ahead.  But don’t expect me to lend a hand.  I already told you that I wouldn’t be your obedient little sidekick.  I came here to steal Peach for myself, not to take part in community service.”

“But Bowser,” Mario protested, “if we free Luigi and the others, rescuing Peach will be a cinch.  I don’t know how much farther we can get with just the three of us.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help to take care of the Grimnexes,” Bowser answered stubbornly.  “You two are just along for the ride.  I’m the brawn of this operation.  I could slay all of the Grimnexes at once, but they’re all hiding inside of their little palace.  First, I’m gonna knock down their puny fortress with my bare fists, and then I’m gonna show them how a real villain builds his hideout.”

Without further argument, Bowser stormed off in the direction of Grimnex Palace.  Mario attempted to go after him, but Ace stopped him.  “Face it, Mario, he’s gone.  His stubbornness and arrogance would have only gotten in our way.  He’s just going to have to learn his lesson the hard way.  Once he gains an appreciation for how powerful the Grimnexes are, he’ll be back.”

“I guess you’re right,” Mario agreed.  “He’ll be okay, at least until we catch up to him.  If we’re lucky, he might even find and team up with Slade.”  He gulped.  Just as long as he doesn’t encounter one of the higher ranking Grimnexes…  If he bumps into someone like Ipos, he’s screwed…


“Princess Peach, I’ve brought you a glass of water,” Ipos informed her nonchalantly as he entered the princess’ cell.  The cubicle was cold and built out of dull, gray stone.  Iron bars blocked the exit and the single window on the rear wall of the cell.  The second floor of Grimnex Palace, the Confinement Hall, was silent.  The Grimnexes were not in the habit of releasing their prisoners; most had died of malnutrition years ago.  As such, the scent of rotten flesh pervaded the hallway.  Princess Peach had been revolted by the scent at first, but she quickly grew accustomed to it.  The smell of death was the least of her worries.

The princess turned her head in defiance.  “I’m not thirsty.”

“I don’t care.  It is Zagan’s will that you remain healthy for the Phoenix Salvation.”  Ipos held the glass in front of her face.  “Drink it.”

“I won’t.  I have no wish to comply with the will of your heartless leader,” Peach responded bitterly.  “I don’t care what you say; I’m not going to help you.”

 “I know what you’re thinking.  Give it up.  You are not going to escape.  You do not have the power to resist the Grimnexes,” Ipos informed her icily.  He placed the glass of water on the floor beside her.  “In addition to providing you with hydration, I also came to tell you that Mario has entered the Nightmare Abyss in an attempt to rescue you.  In fact, as soon as I’m done here, I’ll be taking care of him.”

Peach’s eyes widened at the mentioning of her husband’s name.  However, her despair only grew once she realized the unlikelihood of Mario’s success.  She shook her head.  What am I thinking?  I can’t afford to hope anymore…  I saw Ipos crush Mario with my own eyes.  He doesn’t stand a chance against the Grimnexes…

“Since your imprisonment, you’ve held on to a small sliver of hope.  I came here to erase that hope, to inform you that Mario’s days are numbered.”

“No… Please… Don’t hurt Mario…” Peach pleaded, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

Ipos exited and locked the cell door behind him.  “Mario will die, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening.  You should give up on your false hopes of freedom.  By the time I finish eradicating the Mushroom Hero, that glass of water beside you will be empty, and the reality of your fate will have sunken in.”

Now alone, Peach buried her face in her hands.  Deep in her heart, she knew that Ipos was right.  It was time for her to accept her fate.


“This must be the place,” Mario affirmed, gazing up at the dilapidated, two-story building that stood before them.  The Purgatory was constructed from worn, gray bricks, contributing to its decrepit appearance.  The sky was entirely shrouded by black clouds, but the area was occasionally lit by a flash of lightning.  “I can see why you were hesitant to come to this place.”

Ace cringed with terror.  “The Purgatory…  People have described it to me countless times, but I never could have imagined it would appear this foreboding…”

Mario stepped forward.  “…We have to press on.  Is that the entrance?”  He jogged over to a set of stone double doors before giving them a firm shove.  “They won’t budge.  It looks like we’ll have to use force.”

“No!” Ace scolded him, keeping his voice to a whisper.  “If we did that, our cover would be blown!  We can’t afford to face more than one Grimnex at a time.  We’ll have to move about stealthily and pick off the Grimnexes individually.”

“That’s great and all, but how are we supposed to get in?” Mario inquired.

Ace pointed toward an air vent near the roof of the building.  “We could use that to get in.  The only problem is… well…  I don’t think I’ll be able to fit through it…  You would have to go on your own…”

“True, you are a lot taller than me,” Mario admitted.  “Even if you could squeeze into it, I doubt you’d be able to jump high enough to reach it.”

“Fair enough.  What about you?  Should I give you a boost?”

“Nah, jumping is my specialty,” Mario snickered, taking a few steps back.  He sprinted toward the wall at breakneck speeds, jumping twice to build up his momentum.  As his feet touched the ground after the second jump, Mario took a great leap into the air, flipping forward as he ascended.  The plumber gained just enough air to grasp the bottom of the air vent.  He pulled himself up and climbed inside.  “How was that?”

“Not bad,” Ace replied with a smirk.  “Just make sure you remember to unlock the front doors from the inside so I can join you.”

Mario nodded.  “Of course.  Let’s just hope I don’t get lost along the way.”  Determined to liberate his friends from the Purgatory, the Mushroom Hero crawled through the vent and into the worst nightmare of his life.

Purgatory

“Whew, it’s really hot in here,” Mario observed, wiping the sweat from his forehead.  At last, he reached the end of the vent and found himself within the walls of the Purgatory.  The plumber calmly took in his surroundings.  He stood on a thin, stone walkway that bordered the mazelike hallways of the Purgatory.  Lining both sides of the corridor were dozens of prison cells, most of which contained motionless, decrepit bodies that were the result of some twisted experiment.  In the center of each hallway was a pool of lava that expanded the entire length of the corridor, though Mario could not understand why.

The plumber grimaced at the horrors that lay before him.  He began to tremble, now overwhelmed with a sudden feeling of anger.  “Who would do something like this…?  To think that so many people were deprived of an afterlife just to be trapped inside of this hell…”  Eager to find his comrades, he began to sprint down the corridor, glancing at the prisoners trapped within each cell that he passed.

I had no idea the Grimnexes were kidnapping the dead to such an extent, Mario thought to himself.  It’s worse than I thought it would be…  I don’t know how much longer I can bear to look at these prisoners…

As he searched through hallway after hallway, Mario began to understand the task that he had undertaken.  Each cell held a different horror to be witnessed.  Not one of them could be overlooked, because that one cell just may have belonged to Luigi.  As he plunged deeper into the nightmarish Purgatory, the atrocities grew more severe, as did his desperation.  He feared that he would be lost in the labyrinth forever, doomed to become one of the Grimnexes’ eternal test subjects.

After what seemed like hours of searching, Mario stopped dead in his tracks.  In the corner of his eye, he had caught a glimpse of a disfigured but familiar body.  He turned around slowly, his body trembling with shock.  The prisoner’s clothes were rugged and bloodstained, and his body was covered with cuts and bruises.  On the floor beside him was a worn cap inscribed with a green L.  Mario had found what he was looking for.

“Luigi!” Mario gasped, his eyes widening with horror.  He grasped the iron bars that stood between him and his brother.  “Bro!  Wake up!  It’s me!”

No response.

“Hold on, Bro, I’ll get you outta there!” Mario screamed, his fist glowing with the power of a charged Fireball.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Grimnex Theme

Mario whirled around to see a tall, female demon standing before him.  She wore a ragged, baggy violet robe and had blood red hair.  Her face was cold and unsympathetic.  She was unaffected by the hundreds of suffering prisoners scattered around them.  “You are trespassing on forbidden grounds, human.”

“Who are you?!” Mario challenged, advancing toward her with his fists clenched.

“It’s impolite to shout while on someone else’s property, but…  I am Leviathan, the Quoppa Grimnex,” she informed him.  “As you can tell by my rank, I am not a conventional Grimnex.  I have been deemed obsolete, but I believe traitorous would be a better adjective to describe myself.”

Mario’s body was quivering with rage.  “So… This place belongs to you…?”

“Yes, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin my newest experiment on that worthless creature in the cell behind you.  He was quite a rare find.  I’ve been told that he is the brother of the Mushroom Hero.”

Mario could not tolerate her heartless words any longer.  His fury now at its boiling point, he sprinted at the Grimnex with his fists raised.


“I really wish Mario would hurry up,” Ace sighed.  “I hope he doesn’t try to liberate the Purgatory on his own.  If he gets caught, it’ll all be over.”

“Shouldn’t you be worrying about yourself?” a wicked voice inquired.  “You were so busy wondering if your friend was discovered that you forgot to keep yourself hidden.  Fools like you won’t last very long in the Nightmare Abyss.”

“Ah, I was waiting for one of you to show up,” Ace chuckled.  “I need someone to test my new abilities on.  So, what’s your rank?  Or are you an Obsolete Grimnex?”

“My name is Kobal.  I am the only Grimnex in the Purgatory who has not been deemed archaic.  My rank is Omicron.”  The Grimnex was about Ace’s height and wore white pants with a black shirt.  He had long, messy blue hair, and handcuffs were strapped to his wrists, though he did not seem to mind.

Ace heaved a sigh of relief.  “Good; I was getting worried for a moment.  As long as you aren’t one of the top five or ten Grimnexes, I should be able to handle you on my own.”  He gestured toward the cuffs around Kobal’s wrists.  “Besides, you can’t even use your hands.  Are you sure about this?”

Kobal nodded.  “I’m touched that you’re so concerned for my safety, but I’ve worn these handcuffs for centuries.  No matter how hard I try to remove them, they continue to cling to my wrists.  But I’ll cut you a deal: if you can shatter the chains that bond my handcuffs together, I will lead you to the Purgatory’s master release switch.  Once pressed, all of the prisoners will be freed simultaneously.  I’ll even give you one free shot at breaking them.”  With a tantalizing grin, he held his handcuffs in front of his body.

“I accept your challenge,” Ace replied with a smirk.  He reached for the deck of cards at his waist and placed one of them in the palm of his hand.  With a swift crush, Ace crumpled the card in his fist, causing a blue energy saber to materialize in his grasp.

“I see…  You must be the lone survivor of the Zepar tribe,” Kobal observed.  “I didn’t expect you to be so well equipped.  Even so, I’ll still let you have a free shot at my cuffs.”

 Ace complied, dashing at his foe with his blade gripped in both hands.  With a cry of determination, Ace struck the chains on Kobal’s handcuffs with a deadly downward slash.  The demon’s eyes widened.  Not even a scratch.  He used all of his might to press the blade against Kobal’s chains, but to no avail.

“See?  I was telling the truth,” the Grimnex taunted.  Before Ace could react, Kobal delivered a swift upward kick to his jaw, sending him soaring backward.  Ace quickly regained his footing by performing a backward handspring.  “Wow, you’re pretty nimble.  I’d expect nothing less from the former leader of Poker Face.”

Ace wept a small stream of blood from his chin.  He’s a lot tougher than I thought he’d be.  Those handcuffs barely slow him down at all.  Ace drew another card from his deck and crushed it in his palm, creating a second energy saber.


Cursed Grimnex

His fists engulfed with flames, Mario charged at Leviathan with malice in his eyes.  He lunged at the Grimnex before unleashing a furious barrage of Fireball-enhanced punches.  Now on the defensive, Leviathan frantically caught each of her opponent’s blows in her palm.  After dozens of unsuccessfully attacks, one of Mario’s right hooks finally connected.  Struck in the chest, Leviathan tumbled onto her back.

“How could you do something like this…?  To think that someone could sink so low…” Mario growled, his eyes flashing red with hatred.  “My brother honorably sacrificed his life to save countless others…  And you have the nerve to deny his right to a peaceful afterlife?  Doesn’t he at least deserve to rest in peace?”

Leviathan chuckled softly as she rose to her feet.  The burns on her hands and chest began to fade away.  “So, the stories about you are true.  Those punches were quite painful.  It’s a shame that I am practically invulnerable to fire.”  She began to cackle maniacally as her body was surrounded in an aura of flames.  “As for your brother, I couldn’t care less about what he deserves.  In his lifetime, he displayed quite an impressive growth rate.  It’s unbelievable how much his powers have grown since before Lord Shade’s invasion of the Mushroom Kingdom.  Of course, I would have preferred to capture you, but you managed to survive your battle with Crimson.  Fortunately, fate has brought you into my hands, still alive and well.  I can’t wait to examine that cursed body of yours.  You’re the descendent of the Hero bloodline and a demon.  What an ironic mixture.”

“Shut up…” Mario hissed, trembling with fury.  “You sicken me…  You think everyone is just a guinea pig for your twisted experiments…”

“Yes, yes I do!” Leviathan cackled as she burst into insane laughter.  She pointed her opened palms at the plumber, creating a blaze of fire that scorched everything in its path.

Caught off guard, Mario was knocked onto his back by the force of the flames.  When the inferno faded away, his body was covered with minor burns.  “That was a close call…  If I hadn’t shielded my body with a thin layer of ice, my injuries would have been far more severe.”

“Not bad, Mushroom Hero, but I’m going to capture you even if I have to scorch you a thousand times!”

“No,” Mario answered firmly, slowly rising to his feet.  “I’m gonna free every single one of your prisoners.  Maybe you’ll learn to respect the dead once I’ve killed you!”  His body was surrounded with a bright blue aura as he cupped his hands together, forming a colossal Iceball.  “Usually I hesitate to take away my opponent’s life, but against someone as heartless as you, I can make an exception!”

“No...  Wait… anything but ice!” Leviathan shrieked as the plumber dashed toward her.  With a howl of detestation, Mario hurled an Ultra Iceball at the Grimnex.  Leviathan cried out in agony as her body became encased in ice, one of her only weaknesses.

“How intriguing,” a demon from the shadows whispered to himself.  “A human that can wield fire and ice…?”  The Grimnex grinned.  I’ll wait for Leviathan to finish him off, and then I’ll make my move.  That human is as good as mine.

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