Notes: This is a short oneshot I wrote for today being Mar10/Mario Day. It's meant to take place post-Odyssey and Aces, but before Smash Ultimate (and there is a tiny bit of foreshadowing to my Smash Ultimate fic timeline).
The red-clad plumber landed ungainly onto the floor of the cavern. It was a vexing bit of déjà vu, for it hadn't been the first time he had fallen into the caverns of the Gritzy Desert—and, this time, it hadn't even been due to a trapdoor, either. A drought in the region had caught the attention of Princess Peach, and after finding out that a vital well had suddenly dried up, she had requested Mario and Luigi to look into it.
It was supposed to have been just routine…
"I know you're more experienced with pipes rather than wells…" she had said, as the three of them, along with Cappy, headed there on the Odyssey. "But I don't know who else would be qualified."
"Waterworks are waterworks; if anyone can get that well back in action, we can!" Mario had promised, cheerfully. "Right, Little Bro?"
"Let's hope so," Luigi had sighed.
Mario had immediate cause for concern; usually, in spite of his anxiety over the dangers they faced in their other adventures, Luigi still managed to maintain his confidence when dealing with mundane plumbing issues.
"What's wrong, Luigi?"
"Oh, I just have a bad feeling," he had sighed. "…But maybe it's nothing; I've been having those a lot lately—I had them just before our last tennis get-together. And yesterday, when we got our invitations for Master Hand's new 'Ultimate Tournament,' as he's calling it, I've been having those feelings again."
"Well, to be fair, after what happened with the Legendary Racquet, your sixth sense wasn't wrong after all…" Peach had admitted.
"Exactly, but is what I'm feeling now because of that, or because I'm sensing something new that's going to go horribly wrong? And if it is my sixth sense, is it going off because of Master Hand's invitations, or because of Gritzy Desert?"
Mario had placed a reassuring hand on his brother's shoulder.
"Just breathe, Little Bro," he had said. "You need to keep a cool head in case there is something for us to deal with."
"And remember, I'm here to help this time!" Cappy chirruped.
Luigi had tried to keep a more positive outlook, and soon, the Odyssey had touched down. Peach had quickly fallen into her role as princess to reassure the worried citizens as the brothers now inspected the well. After climbing down and following the tunnel where the water normally flowed it, they had soon come across a large, boulder-sized object that wasn't stone, but made out of some sort of unknown substance that was perfectly reflective, like a polished mirror.
"…What is that?" Luigi had asked.
"…Well, your guess is as good as mine, Fratellino…"
Cappy had floated around the object, and then phased through it and back again.
"It feels like something that would have fallen from a star," he had said.
"But there was no meteorite crater aboveground," Luigi had pointed out.
Cappy had merely shrugged his stubby arms.
"No matter what it is, all the water is backed up behind it; if we can blast this thing apart, the well will flow again."
"Then it's simple enough to fix," Mario had declared. "We'll climb back up, bore a hole down to it, and drop a Bob-omb in."
The plan had, in fact, worked—but even as the well began to fill up with water again, a second explosion a few yards away rocked the area. Somehow, a second, parallel tunnel had also been affected by the first blast, sending shards of an apparent second chunk of the mirror-like substance up into the air—and creating a vacuum of sand as it poured into that new hole to fill it.
Luigi, who had been standing far back to avoid the first explosion, had been quickly caught up in the vortex of sinking sand, letting out a panicked cry. And Mario's fraternal instincts had kicked in immediately, sending him into autopilot. He had dashed into the sand, grabbed his brother's arms, and had swung him away, just out of reach of the sand vortex—but at the cost of getting sucked down himself before Cappy could reach him, getting swept down the side tunnel and into a deeper tunnel that sent him to the deepest caverns belowground…
Mario now sighed. He had to find a way aboveground—no easy task without Cappy. He paused, concentrating on the psychic link he shared with Luigi. After calming his panicking brother and reassuring him that he was fine, he kept the psychic lock on his location, using that as a guide for where to go as he traversed the caverns.
He soon found himself in an area of the caverns he had never been before, but his was heartened by the fact that it seemed to slope upward. After darting through another tunnel, be found himself in a wide-open chamber—and a large fountain, made from the same, strange mirror-like substance, stood in the center of the chamber; three, tall, mirror pillars stood in the center, holding up a bowl that gracefully poured water into the fountain's base. It looked beautiful, and at the same time… unnerving.
Cautiously, Mario approached it, glancing inside to see not only his reflection, but the reflections of so many people—people he knew, like Luigi, Peach, Daisy, and Bower, and total strangers—humans, Hylians, Toads, Koopas, Lumas, Beanbean folk, Pi'illo folk, people and creatures from the many kingdoms Mario had been to, and even some beings he didn't know at all—from placed he had yet to visit…
"What… what is this…?" he asked, aloud.
"Welcome, Mario, to the Mirror Fountain," a voice replied, and a strange spirit, clear as the water itself and only just barely visible by the glow of its eyes, looked up at him.
"You know who I am?"
"I know people from all over different kingdoms and dimensions," the spirit said. "I see them, reflected in the shards of the Mirror Stones, scattered throughout so many worlds. Once, every one hundred years, this hidden fountain appears somewhere in the universe, until someone finds it."
"Well, that's nifty," Mario mused. "I'll have to add that to my travel scrapbook. Look, I really hate to run, but I need to find my brother—he must be worried sick about me-"
"If you leave without letting me grant you a wish, this fountain will vanish forever!"
"Look, I really need to…" He trailed off, confused. "Wha…?"
"This fountain sustains itself for the next hundred years by granting the one who finds it a specific wish tailored to them," the Mirror Spirit explained. "If this fountain is to reappear again in another century, then I must grant you the wish."
"I don't know anything I'd want…" Mario said, with a shrug.
"The choice of wishes is determined per person," the Mirror Spirit said. "Remember, I see all through the Mirror Stones; I can tailor the wishes that would benefit you most—you have a choice from one of three wishes…"
As Mario watched in amazement, a reflection of Bowser appeared in the first pillar—but there was a noticeable difference. This version of Bowser looked meek and frightened, feebly waving a white flag.
"Your first wish can be to take your greatest enemy and turn him into someone who will never bother you or your friends and family again."
"That's… not Bowser…" Mario said. Something about seeing Bowser like this was very unsettling—but he couldn't put his finger on just what.
"It could be, if you choose this wish," the spirit said.
Mario shook his head. He wasn't thinking of Bowser now, but of Junior and the Koopalings—they looked up to Bowser, and, for better or worse, they brought out whatever compassion and concern the big turtle had in his otherwise steely heart.
"Bowser may be my biggest enemy, but we respect each other—and we both have one thing in common: we care about our families and friends. As bad as he is… I wouldn't wish that weakness on him. That Bowser wouldn't be able to care for Junior and the Koopalings, and that would destroy him."
The Mirror Spirit scoffed, but continued. A reflection of Peach now appeared in the second pillar; this reflection of Peach was wearing a wedding dress.
"Your second wish would be to have your beloved princess willingly accept to being your bride—you wouldn't have to worry about her refusing your next proposal."
Mario winced. This Mirror Spirit had seen that, too?
"Together, you would be a force to be reckoned with—a royal couple unopposed by anyone—and you would be Prince Regent of the Mushroom Kingdom."
"I never cared about wanting to be a prince," Mario said. "All I want is to be a part of her life—and I am, whether or not she would want to marry me. And, anyway, I absolutely deserved to be turned down for the way I acted. I wouldn't want her to say yes because of a wish; that wouldn't be real."
The Mirror Spirit's eyes narrowed, and now a reflection of Luigi appeared on the final pillar. This Luigi had a fiery determination in his eyes, ready to charge ahead into the fray without hesitation.
"Your final choice of a wish would be to have your brother no longer be a coward, but brave in the face of whatever it is that the two of you would have to face—no longer a whimpering weakling, no longer helplessly calling out to you to save him, no longer gripped with anxiety over every little thing… He would be a powerful ally instead of a liability."
Mario now glared at the spirit, who had just struck a very deep nerve.
"My little brother has never been a liability!" he snapped. "And he is not a coward! A coward looks at the things that frighten him and then just gives upon the things he has to do; my brother never gives up, no matter how frightened he gets—even with having to deal with his anxieties on top of his fears! And I don't mind helping him, no matter how many times he needs or even thinks he needs my help; I'm his big brother—that's what brothers do!"
"What!?" the spirit hissed. "Then, does this mean-!?"
"It means I don't want any of your wishes!" Mario said. "On the surface, it seems like you'd be giving me good things, but… They really aren't. They would change people too much—they wouldn't be who they truly are. I respect Bowser and care too much about Luigi and Peach to want to just… change them like that-!"
He was cut off by the fountain cracking, and his heart skipped a beat; he had forgotten about the spirit's warning about the fountain disappearing forever.
"No!" the spirit hissed. "What have you done!?"
Mario shielded himself as the fountain shattered, leaving the Mirror Spirit hovering over an empty base of water—from which several more spirits were emerging from the water, all glaring at the Mirror Spirit.
"What…?" Mario asked. "Who are you guys?"
A Koopa spirit turned to face Mario.
"We are the originals that were trapped in the fountain," he said. "This Mirror Spirit… It's a trickster; it tricks whoever finds it into replacing someone in their life with a mere reflection, disguised as a "wish" to "improve" the person being replaced—the original gets trapped in the fountain, powering it for another hundred years with their life energy!"
"But now we are free," a Shy Guy said. "Thanks to you."
A fairylike creature's spirit hovered in front of Mario's face.
"You have a kind and caring heart," she observed. "That alone is your greatest power, Mario; everything else—the mushrooms, the fire flowers, the capes and other things… They are nothing compared to this." She tapped him gently on the chest. "The road ahead will be difficult and dangerous, but don't ever forget that power you have. Your selfless love and compassion will end up saving your loved ones someday, mark my words. I'm sure it already has—multiple times. And it will again."
Mario, shaken from the revelation of what could have happened, managed a nod as the fairy now drew out a wand.
"Leave this Mirror Spirit to us; I will use my magic to return you aboveground," she said. "Thanks for setting us free—soon, we will be with our loved ones again."
She waved her wand, and before Mario could even say another word, he found himself teleporting beside Luigi, Peach, and Cappy, who were busy trying to mobilize a digging crew together.
"Mario!" Luigi exclaimed, crashing to his knees in a mix of emotional exhaustion and gratitude for whatever miracle that had saved his brother.
"Oh, thank goodness!" Peach sighed, also kneeling in the sand, this time, to make sure Mario was okay.
"Are you alright!?" Cappy exclaimed. "You gave us such a scare!"
Mario looked from the Bonnetor, his newest friend and ally, hovering beside him, then to his brother, who was trying to hold back his tears of relief, and then to the concerned princess, who was still in the sand in her good dress while also trying to remain stoic in front of her people.
"I'm fine," he assured them. And, slightly overcome, he drew the three of them into a group hug, which they returned almost instantly.
"Big Bro?" Luigi asked, concerned. "What happened down there?"
"I'll explain later," Mario promised. "Right now, I just want to let you all know how grateful I am to have you all in my life."
"As are we to have you," Peach said, prompting Luigi and Cappy to nod in agreement.
They all meant it—every single word, and Mario knew that the fairy's words had been true—
This was his greatest power.