Cover art by Joi Massat, or JumpForMeBaby on Twitter.
"All hail King Bowser, Lord of Bowserland, Dark Land Overwatch, and Supreme Leader of the Third Order!"
This was it. This was Bowser's big moment. The entire kingdom had come, on his royal decree of course, to Castle Bowser to witness his latest plan for domination of the Mushroom Kingdom and all the lands on the planet Earth.
He stepped up to his throne and sat down with a resounding thud, his tail curling around to give his butt room to sit. He needed to get that tail-hole in his throne built. Ugh, if he just had a free weekend to get around to doing it... Oh well.
"Hear this," he shouted, his voice gruff with bellows of determination,. Bowser would not lose this time. He would dominate. "We are doing to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom!"
There was no response other than a few coughs.
"Uh," he continued. "I mean. We're going to annex the Mushroom Kingdom and subjugate it like a second-class colony, stealing all its production capabilities for our own benefit!"
The entire castle was in an upracious cheer. The Goombas jumped up and down, and the Bloopers floated around in a slightly more jovial manner than usual. Surely he would succeed this time, where all others he failed.
"My loyal lieutenant Mad Scienstein has unveiled a new formula, a new weapon that will allow us to defeat the Mushroom Kingdom defense forces with little to no resistance! We shall be invincible!"
The crowd cheered again, with just as much uproar as before.
Bowser explained this formula. "It is a new type of nerve gas, synthesized from the swamps of the Forever Forest, deep as can be found. When exposed in its new, altered form, any organism coming into contact with it will be immediately transformed into a horse radish!"
There was masterful applause. This was Bowser's finest moment, indeed.
"We will take all our greatest armies, storm through the Dry Dry Desert, and delve right into our final territory! Princess Peach will be ours and so will the world! Then we'll march on to Sarasaland! We'll decimate Waluigi's Island! Diamond City will fall! The Great Boggly Tree, the Toad Highlands, Yoshi's Island, Luncheon Kingdom, the Neuron Jungle, Starborn Valley, the Star Carnival, Nimbus Land... It will all be ours."
The cheers wouldn't stop. The people of Bowser's Kingdom were as loyal as they were enthusiastic.
It wasn't real.
For there was one aspect of all of this that Bowser had noticed that sent his feelings askew. And it was not something to take lightly in this. For there was a member of Bowser's legions that simply wasn't here.
As always, his most prized subjects, the Royal Family, were here. His dad Kamek and his wife Kamella; his uncle Psycho Kamek; his seven children by his first wife the Koopalings, all standing at attention; his weird surrogate clones-turned-sons the Koopa Kids; and of course his precious youngest child and heir apparent to the throne Bowser Jr. They were his closest allies and stood by him no matter what.
Then there were his greatest generals, the military leaders and vassal state governors that led Bowser's Kingdom to greatness. General Shy Guy, King Caliente, Tutankoopa, Tubba Blubba, Foreman Spike, Rudy the Clown, Don Bongo, and all those darn Broodals... even with King Goomba absent recovering from heart surgery last week, his array of leaders under his command was impressive by any measure.
And his armies were as vast as could be, covering every inch of free space in his massive throne room and outside the castle. Literally millions of Goombas all stacked in giant piles of Goombas and more Goombas. The Hammer Bros Corps were in their dynamic pose and absolutely refusing to move until he was done with his speech. The Wiggler Squad, consisting of hundreds of hot-tempered scouts that would make for an advance party before the main invasion, were assembled and ready. The Shy Guys were not here, as social situations with big crowds made them uncomfortable, but it was a guarantee that they would arrive when the time was right. He even saw some of the fun minibosses he had assembled over the years, like Petey Piranha, Cloud N Candy, Boss Sumo Bro, and even Lakithunder, that rascal.
It would all be perfect... if it were real.
But there was someone missing. Boom Boom.
So without another word, he got up from his throne, stretched out the tail that had kind of been cramping, and left the throne room amidst all the cheers. They were still going by the time he closed the door behind him.
There we was, bench pressing in the otherwise-empty personal gym while watching a muted CRT playing KNN (Koopa News Network). It was, of course, showing live coverage of Bowser's speech and now showing two news anchors, Anderson Kooper and Megyn Koopy, discussing how great and wonderful the new plans to invade the Mushroom Kingdom were.
Bowser enjoyed watching state-sponsored media, but it could be a little dry sometimes.
Without speaking, Bowser picked up some dumbbells and started curling with both hands right next to Boom Boom, who was doing exercises with an inflatable ball at the same time as crunches with a bar. It was unwieldy but he seemed really into it, or at least really into the music he was listening to (it was Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen).
It was quiet, and it was nice. Bowser somehow felt relieved that he had realized that Boom Boom wasn't there. After all these years, he was his closest friend, the one who would stick by him when things were strong, and who would cower away the moment things got tough. It always helped Bowser stay focused in the moment, to know when the tide was turning against him, as it inevitably always did.
He'd been there since the beginning. Since he overthrew Morton Koopa and took over Dark Land. Since the first time he kidnapped Princess Peach. Since Bowser's very first elaborate underground castle that emerges to fly in the air for no practical reason. And,besides the part where he ran away halfway through every time, Boom Boom was an unstoppable ally. Despite the hardship, and the constant bashing of the head by a certain nameless plumber. Despite that late night drunken phone call to Pom Pom that very nearly ruined their friendship and made work really awkward for a while.
Soon, Boom Boom seemed to notice him, as he removed his headphones and gave a weak smile.
"Remember that time, way back in the beginning?" Bowser asked. "When we were first getting started, and you convinced me to turn that prince of the Flower Kingdom into a dog just to see if we could?"
Boom Boom chuckled and did some squats. "Kibidango, that's right. He was such a jerk. He actually thought Peach was gonna marry him because he had some stupid flowers."
"If that's all it took, we would have been together that time I took over her castle with warp pipes and dressed all my Koopas up like Toads," Bowser said. "Or that time I actually legally married her except it was all part of some prophecy by Count... uhh... I forget his name now."
"Boom Boom thinks it was... Count Blick? Count Mimi?"
"Whatever, that time was really stupid and let's never talk about it again." Bowser sighed. "I just wish... that we could have some real fun again. Like with Kibidango. Just rampaging around and having a good time, not... Well... I noticed you weren't at my speech earlier. And... it got me wondering about things."
Boom Boom sighed as well. "Boom Boom told them he couldn't be a part of it, but they wouldn't listen. They are TOO loyal. Not honest at all."
"Your big plan, the whole assembly... it was all a sham. Mad Scienstein's new gas was just some perfume he and Dr. Crygor are working on. Everyone knew it, but they were going to go along with it anyway because..."
Bowser's hands shook. Everyone? Even his own family? "Because WHY?"
"Because, you've been kind of... off lately, you know? Boom Boom thinks you're really down about the stuff with the Moon wedding going south. You didn't even invite Boom Boom to that plan, by the way..."
"It was kind of impromptu, sorry! I heard K. Rool was making another run at DK and I wanted to beat him to the punch so he wouldn't have a one-up on Bowser Kingdom."
"That's what Boom Boom is saying," said Boom Boom. "You've gotten so wrapped up in all these schemes and plans that you stopped being the leader you were meant to be. You've gotten a little... depressed. And your armies just wanted to cheer you up by waging a fake war on the Mushroom Kingdom. No harm done, right?"
"What? 'No harm done?' What?! This is infuriating! I'm not depressed! I'm just determined! What the flip!" Bowser breathed a little bit of fire out of his nose, he was so angry. "What other conqueror would travel back in time to kidnap his rivals' own baby selves?! What kind of leader would turn his mortal enemy into a pinball?! Or sabotage a tennis tournament for his own gain?! I am the invincible warlord of the Koopa Klan! Uh, Clan!"
Boom Boom shook his head. "With respect, My Lord..."
"Just say Bowser, man."
"Bowser, you failed at those things. You lost at every single turn. And you know it."
"I've won plenty of times! Remember the time I defeated Smithy? Or when I beat up Fawful? And Tabuu, the ultimate villain of the entire universe? Guess who destroyed him, it, them, whatever?"
"Those were all with Mario and Luigi. You only teamed up with them after you got defeated yourself, too."
"And so... a fake invasion, where I was thought to be successful, would lift my spirits?"
"That's what everyone else thought."
"But how were they going to pretend to kidnap Peach?"
"They hired Dooplis," Boom Boom said.
"Oh, he's not cheap."
"Not at all. Boom Boom advised against it, but... Kamek was particularly insistent about all of this. He is really worried about you."
At this moment, something broke inside Bowser. His own adoptive father trying to cheer him, the Great King of the Koopas, up from a depressive state? As if he was a child who needed comforting in order to move past all his insurmountable failures?
But then... maybe he was like a child.
Trying for all this time to be the absolute ruler of a perfectly-functioning military dictatorship. Controlling all his vast dominions with the attention span of a Cheep Cheep. Why would such an unstoppably lame villain be worthy of anything that he had attempted time and time again? Why did he even try?
"You know what, Boom Boom?" Bowser asked.
"You're alright," he said. "You're really alright."
Boom Boom sniffled. "That's... the nicest thing you've... ever said to me..."
Bowser put down his dumbbells and marched out of the gym. He went back to the throne room, where the vast armies at his command had mostly dispersed but were still gathered because it looked like Psycho Kamek had splurged for catering and there were a lot of Yoshi's Cookies and Tasty Tonics out there for everyone to eat. How in the world they were paying for that without dipping into the treasury was beyond Bowser, but he rarely asked of his family's personal finance situations, and he would do so no longer.
"Attention, everyone," Bowser said. In an instant, the party broke up and people started returning to attention. All the Shy Guys in the vicinity left in a hurry. "Okay, is that everyone? Yeah, whatever. Okay, so I have an announcement."
The crowd waited with baited breath.
"I quit," Bowser said. "I'm no longer king. I don't care who is anymore and I leave no succession. I'm going off to my villa in Vibe Island and nobody's allowed to disturb me. I'm exiling myself or whatever, so go do your own thing. Goodbye.
The crowd was silent.
Bowser shrugged and left the throne room again. He took one final glance at his slack-jawed family and almost chuckled. He was sure they were going to have a fun time deciding who was going to rule.
But it was no concern of his. He was done.
Little did Bowser know, but this action would directly result in the biggest change of his entire life, the obtainment of the Super Crown and the utter transformation of everything that he had previously stood for. But for now, this was just a new vacation to him. He was just glad to be gone.