Act 10: Only the Beginning (Part 12)

"You know...I love how we're all more powerful than we've ever been...and we're still falling down dumbass holes and screaming like wack bastards!" Link ripped his hood off and threw it to the ground. "You see what I just did to my hat? Ganondorf just did that to us! HE SHOULDN'T BE ABLE TO!"

"And yet, here we are..." Luigi grumbled with a slowly shaking head.

"Sometimes, the oldest tricks in the book work best. I should know: I literally fell for this same trap years ago. You know how we get over this?" Mario looked alternatively between Link and Luigi.

"Carry more Cape feathers?" Luigi suggested.

"I'd be wearing my Hover boots if I still had 'em..." Link wishfully sighed.

"...I can always count on you two to give me the completely wrong answer." Mario groaned. "We climb out. It's that simple."

"No it's not."

"Wow, Link. I thought we were done with pessimism." Mario was surprised by Link's seeming eagerness to oust all optimism.

"I'm not pessimistic. This note is." Link handed Mario the newly-materialized note.

"You'd think we'd notice a mysterious yellow note a little sooner." Luigi almost sounded disappointed in his group's awareness, or lack thereof.

"I noticed it as soon as I could: it was floating down while Mario was talking." Link pointed out.

"It's from Bowser." Mario immediately recognized the handwriting.

"And it says..." Link was eager to hear the letter's contents.

After a quick skim-through and a frustrated groan:

No it's not. I can already hear one of you losers thinking it's just that simple to find a way out of the Maze of Madness(TM), so allow me to destroy all your hopes and dreams: no it's not. You know what is simple, though?

Giving up.

If one of you said that before you read it, give yourself ten points. But then again...second place is the first loser... ...and losers don't get points for losing. ...unless they're loser points, of course. I guess those Bowser points belong to me since I'm obviously a winner. You know what, though? I'll change the rules for you guys just this once and give you a consolation prize: a quick rundown of why giving up will be the best idea you'll ever have. It's the least I can do.


"Did he really write 'ahem'?" Luigi interrupted with incredulous wonder.

"Forget about that... Bowser points? Seriously? BOWSER POINTS?" Link was beside himself.

"We're not even halfway done..." Mario warned before he continued.

1) The chips are stacked highly in our favor.

2) Even if you topple them, you'll get buried in an avalanche of pure win and suffocate.

3) Now I feel like having chips... If you guys somehow make it to us, bring some with you. I feel like the salt and vinegar variety. ...maybe even sour cream and onion. I haven't had those in a while.

4) I doubt you'll be bringing me those chips, though. We have DK in the dungeon with an elaborate plan that's supposed to put you guys out of commission forever. I guess I'll get one of my minions to get some chips for me. Goombob sounds like an eager volunteer. He won't have a problem carrying two bags.

"Ha ha ha..."

Mario and Link looked to Luigi with an unsure glance.

"What? Goombob hasto be a goomba. How is that not funny?"

"How did they get DK into this? I thought he was better than that." Link was admittedly disappointed in DK's perceived loyalties. "But more importantly, what kind of name is 'Goombob'?"

"FIVE..." Mario sternly continued.

5) The keywords in that last bulletpoint: SUPPOSED TO.

6) I decided to make it better by turning it into MY plan, as follows: I got lost in the Maze of Madness(TM) once and found this monstrous werewolf wearing armor and wielding a huge mace. Don't ask me how, but I managed to trap it with DK. Okay, fine, you can ask me how. I'll answer, "because I'm a champion". And surprise, surprise: the only way out of the maze is through the room with DK and the werewolf. DK might be a pushover, but that werewolf will eviscerate you.

7) I dunno what else to tell you. The werewolf is the exclamation point at the end of my statement while DK is the unnecessary and improperly-used semicolon. Speaking of which, I'll give you twenty Bowser points if you can give me a proper example of when to use a semicolon. Just how smart are you idiots?

Your Diabolical Genius,

King Bowser Koopa

" he even taking us seriously? Now we have to teach him grammar while feeding him? Before I fight Ganondorf, give me two minutes with Bowser." Link requested.

"Before we even get there, we have to fight a werewolf. Do you know anything about that, Link?" Luigi asked.

"This is the first I've heard of it. With all the Wolfos in Hyrule, I guess one can be a wild card and bring something I've never seen before." Link shrugged. "But all three of us should be more than enough to handle one renegade Wolfos. Don't even worry about it."

"Famous last words." Mario stated without hesitation.

Link smiled despite Mario's grim outlook. "I thought we were done with pessimism."

"Lies and deceit." Mario nonchalantly shot back.

"...did you guys read the back yet?" Luigi spoke up after noticing a few scribbles on the opposite side of the paper.

After Mario flipped the page around...

If you guys aren't idiots, you're at least observant. And since perception is such a rarity these days, I'll give you another prize. This letter will self-destruct in extravagant fashion five minutes after the first word is read. How long has it been since then?

"...nearly five minutes?" Luigi gave his best estimate.

"This is why I can't fully embrace optimism." Mario said with a disappointed head-shake.

"Lemme see that letter real quick." Link extended his hand.

Upon receipt, he crumpled the note and hurled it as far down the narrow corridor as he could, promptly running away in the opposite direction. The Mario brothers followed his lead with fervor, especially after considering the potential blast radius if Bowser's words were to be believed.

And they were.

No sooner had they reached their top speeds did the letter detonate just as ludicrously as Bowser promised. The shockwave blasted Mario, Link, and Luigi deeper into the dungeon while throwing random debris that they couldn't protect themselves from their way. Coughing and sputtering after skidding to a painful stop, the three struggled to their feet. Immediately, they noticed there were no more dark hallways to squint down anymore. The entirety of the Maze of Madness(TM) had been leveled, leaving one big, empty room with an obvious escape.

"There's the exit!" Luigi exclaimed as he hobbled ahead and followed the path to freedom.

His excitement was unfortunately short-lived. As he stumbled through the settling dust towards his goal, a pair of glowing eyes shined through the veil of soot. Luigi spotted them at his height, but gradually they rose taller and taller above him until he felt as if he was staring up a skyscraper. Demonic snarls accompanied the clang of heavy steel boots stomping the ground.

Just then, only a head stuck out through the gritty shroud: a shaggy head with pointed, tattered ears on top connected to a muzzle lined with crooked, serrated fangs. The behemoth parted its jaws and let out a terrifying duel-toned howl, capable of reducing even the most courageous of heroes into babbling messes of panic and distress.

Luigi seemed to be the exception, however. He casually turned his back to the hulking monstrosity and calmly returned to his companions. Despite their dire situation, he seemed unfazed, smiling bravely in the face of potential annihilation.

"There's the werewolf!" Luigi exclaimed.

"Yep..." Mario and Link managed to squeak.

Luigi nodded confidently as he turned to stand up to condemnation-incarnated.

...and simply fainted.

"Luigi has the right idea." Mario agreed with Luigi's sudden loss of consciousness.

"I was more with what he was about to do. I would've followed him into the fray, but I don't wanna lead..." Link admitted. "I wanna live to see another day, but is that gonna happen when I'm looking at the promise of disembowelment stomping towards me?"

Just as Mario was about to offer an answer, a wild yell diverted attention back to the lupine monstrosity, even through it sounded nothing like the soul-freezing howl they heard earlier. The werewolf looked as if it was struggling against something on its back, flailing and barking wildly in an attempt to set itself free of that annoyance. Suddenly, a hand grabbed it's snout and forced its mouth apart to shove something down its gullet.

"" Mario watched, almost in disbelief, as the round, orange fruit disappeared in the armored monster's gaping maw.

As soon as that question was asked, a silhouette launched itself off the beast's back and landed with force beside them just before an explosion sounded off. A pained yelp was heard as the brutish creature fell into a crumpled heap to the floor.

"Donkey Kong!" Mario and Link exclaimed as the victorious primate beat his chest furiously.

His victory was only temporary, however, as the armored monster began to stir, its grunts becoming stronger with each twitch.

"If you really do want to live to see another day, Link, then follow me." DK offered, immediately increasing the distance between himself and the recovering wereWolfos.

Before Link moved, he saw Mario's understandable apprehension.

"I know he's supposed to stop us, but I think we should take our chances with DK. At least I know for sure that we can beat him." Link pointed out, promptly following DK's lead.

Even with his new fire powers, he knew taking on the towering hulk of a beast by himself would only end in a defeat more spectacular than the explosion responsible for their current situation. Piggybacking the still-unresponsive Luigi, he followed Link and DK to a large and battered brown shell, who wasted no time in ducking under the archaic protection. With admitted hesitation, Mario and his swooned brother followed suite.

"If this isn't ironic, I don't know what is..." Donkey Kong shook his head. "I'm not one to doubt the strength of numbers. And it turns out my aid comes from the ones I'm supposed to stop. If it wasn't for you three, I'd still be fighting a losing battle."

"How is this supposed to protect us from Ultra-Death out there?" Link demanded an answer. "It smells like coconuts in here!"

"The Coconut Cover has been more than adequate in keeping me out of harm's way." Donkey Kong assured Link. "We should be safe long enough to come up with a plan."

"Coconut Cover... You're hiding us under a godamn overgrown coconut shell?" Link suddenly felt like laughing. "This is hilarious. Instead of the obvious question, I'll ask Mario to ask you where the hell can you grow a coconut big enough to fit three guys and a gorilla under it's shell. Mario, if you will?"

"I have a better question: how could you agree to helping Ganondorf?" Mario pleaded, turning to DK. "You had to have known he'd double-cross you like this."

"Trust me; I know who my foes are. This is all Bowser's doing. No surprise to me, however. I sensed his disdain for me the moment I arrived." DK said. "But you can't really fault me for jumping on this opportunity. When Ganondorf mentioned I'd have a chance at my true enemy before the next Smash tournament, how could I decline?"

Mario could only let out a frustrated breath. "Did you know I still have no idea what I did to have you hate me as much as you do? Bowser probably doesn't hate me as much as you do."

"Are you that blind to facts, Mario? Barring the fact that you pummeled my grandfather multiple times and threw him off of a building, all ofwhich culminated in his kidnapping by none other than you, you wonder why my abhorrence for you is as deep as it is?"

"Holy Din, Mario..." Link was in awe of Mario's hidden sadistic nature.

"Really, Link? You're looking at me like that when I saw you mutilate an owl and kill a man?" Mario was appalled by Link's double-standards.

"HEY, I'm not the one on trial! Don't take shit outta context, Mario!"

"That's my point! Donkey Kong knows exactly whyI did what I did."

"Fine, Mario. I'll admit that he had it coming. But what did I do to deserve your wrath?"

"You never had my wrath!"

"LIAR!" Donkey Kong boomed with an accusing finger pointed directly between Mario's eyes. "If anyone were to ask me if I've ever been deflowered and I answered 'no', that would be false!"

Link's eyes suddenly went wide, more afraid of the truth than he was of the werewolf they were supposed to be fighting. " didn't..."

"NO, DAMN Y-OW!" Mario lividly jumped to his feet in protest and slammed his head against the low ceiling of the Coconut Cover. "No! Luigi and I had to save Daisy from Donkey Kong. After they just met during the Mushroom Kingdom's first tennis tournament, he kidnapped her." He explained as he tenderly rubbed his head under his hat.

"I did no such thing!" Donkey Kong firmly disagreed. "I saw potential in her power shot, so I offered to teach her."

"You wouldn't take 'no' for an answer! And when Luigi tried to get involved, you got violent and took her back to Kongo Jungle. Against her will." Mario emphasized. "If that's not kidnapping, then I don't know what is!"

"You'll never know the whole truth! With Luigi's embellishments exacerbating the circumstance, of course it'd seem like I kidnapped her! You'd never know that she adored every moment in my presence!"

"You had her tied up in a cave!"

"Excuse me. Banana horde." DK corrected."And it was to keep her from leaving her favorite place in my home, which she would've never done! Just mention my name once and feel the warmth of her words."

"She said you smelled like you ate a banana, threw it up, and tried to eat it again!"

"That was one misguided night!"

"Okay, time out." Link calmly interjected. "First off, that's disgusting, DK."

"Might I iterate: one misguided night?" Donkey Kong urged.

"WHATEVER! It's in the past!" Link was beginning to lose his patience. "What we have to do right now is figure out how to beat that damn mishmash of fur and fangs that has us cowering under a godamn shell! You two wanna argue about whether Daisy liked DK or not? If we win this fast enough, we can go out there, find her, and just ask her."

"Find her?" Donkey Kong agitated demeanor suddenly became calm, though slightly concerned. "She was here?"

"Donkey Kong...she was with Ganondorf." Link conceded regretfully.

"No..." DK felt his heart sink. "Et tu, Ganondorf?"

"You should've seen it. If he could be that...casual with her, they have some history. We're just as surprised as you are. Luigi, even more so." Mario said.

"I know it's kinda messed-up for me to say, but this is what you get for trusting Ganondorf. But I only say this because I know bet-"

Link was suddenly interrupted by a heavy banging on the outside of the Coconut Cover. The wereWolfos had finally found them, attempting to beat its way into the shell. Luckily, Donkey Kong's words held true as the protective carapace held strong against every vicious blow. The acoustics on the inside, however, made the attacks on the outside much louder than they actually were. Coupled with the fact that Link still felt he had a point to make, it became very clear this mix would go together just as well as oil and water.

"You want everything to be right in the world again?" Link continued despite the booming noises, turning to Donkey Kong.


"Do you want to set things right?" Link added some volume to combat the repeated ear-popping BANGS coming from the outside.

"WHAT?" But obviously to no avail.


A tormenting bellow from the outside drowned out anything Link had to say.


With only that warning, Link bolted out of the safety of the Coconut Cover and into the fray, presumably to set things right himself, leaving Mario and Donkey Kong too stunned to follow. They looked to each other as if they expected one another to verify what just happened.

"Link just charged head-first into a guillotine, didn't he?" DK broke the relative silence of the shell.

"Might as well've..." Mario confirmed. "You were fighting that thing for a while. Does he stand a chance alone?"

"About as much of a chance I'd have surviving if I were a snowball in Hell."

"Ah." Mario nodded. " plan to emerge victorious?"

DK replied with a blank stare.

"Luigi?" Mario turned to his still-comatose brother.

He replied with more unconsciousness.

"Great brain-storming, guys." Mario gave an affirming head-nod.

"That's not to say I haven't been thinking ceaselessly. ...but it's only been of my last attack."

"I'll tell you right now: that was probably better than anything Link or I can do." Mario admitted.

"With its impenetrable armor, you're probably right... The biggest problem is that I know I don't have enough oranges left for a decisive blow."

"Just how big is this problem?" Mario wondered.

"There are only three left..."

"...then we'll figure out a way to shove them all down that monster's throat at once and hope the resulting blow is strong enough to at least help us get as far away as we can."

"I don't like this plan at all, but it's all we have to work with." Donkey Kong grimly stated. "I'm ready when you are."

"That day will never come." Mario admitted.

And with that, he and Donkey Kong left Luigi under the care of the Coconut Cover to follow Link's example. Coincidentally, Luigi finally stirred, groggily sitting up to survey his new surroundings.

"Coconuts?" Luigi grumbled quizzically as he recognized the scent, but wondered why the aroma wafted around his nostrils.

No sooner than when he uttered the word, two voices screamed in unison accompanied by a loud and heavy "THUD". Luigi recognized the shouts, jolting him from his befuddlement and sending him into a charge as he figured he'd zap his way out of wherever he was. Before he could even let his fingers spark, the walls suddenly rose with Mario and Link rolling in under, but obviously unconscious as Donkey Kong rolled in afterward. Luigi had no idea what was going on.

"Donkey Kong?" Luigi heard himself ask.

"Luigi! Revived!" Donkey Kong sang to the tune of complete relief as he literally hugged the green-clad plumber.

"...I'm glad to see you, too, I guess..." Luigi said, placing a few awkward pats on DK's back.

"With Mario and Link incapacitated-"

"Wait-what happened to them?" Luigi looked to his companions again to verify.

"I can only describe it as a freak accident..." DK began. "Mario jumped out from under the Coconut Cover and looked left. Nothing. Then right. Link careened toward him face-first. He did not duck in time..."

"The werewolf is still out there?" Luigi's voice shook as he feared the worst. He secretly hoped he was out long enough so that the problem would solve itself somehow.

"Not only is it out there; it knows where we are."

Right on cue, violent attacks on the outside were heard from within.

"Do you think we can wait here until they wake up?" Luigi looked to his inert partners.

Suddenly, a claw found its way through the roof of the Coconut Cover. Luigi and Donkey Kong backed into the walls while dragging Mario and Link with them, trying to stay as far away from the vehement paw as possible.

"Everything is happening too fast! We still have no plan!" Donkey Kong shouted, taking a few swings at the swiping paw.

"You guys were just out there, so you must've thought something would work."

"The only plan was to use my remaining oranges as a means of escape."

"Oranges. That makes a lot of sense." Luigi nodded.

"I appreciate the sarcasm." DK grunted. "First, you must understand that jungle warfare is brutal. Even the sweetest of fruits could be made into deadly weapons. I've managed to turn oranges into lethal grenades, but the best I can do with the three I have left is use them simultaneously. I have no doubt they'll be enough to give us a chance to escape. The tricky part is getting them to where they'll be most detrimental."

"Lemme guess: in its mouth." Luigi took a wild stab of a guess.

"Precisely." Donkey Kong confirmed.

"If either of us end up close enough to that thing's mouth, that means we're about to get eaten. If that really is the plan, we might as well fix ourselves up with all the garnishes right now."

"Luigi, I understand how bleak our situation looks, but we have no choice. If there's the slightest chance that this plan will work, I recommend taking it."

Luigi closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. As he breathed out, the wereWolfos let out a long howl, probably with its eyes closed also. Luigi suddenly felt like he was being mocked, a surge of electricity jumping from his body to highlight his displeasure.

"Okay, duck." Luigi commanded.

Donkey Kong promptly hit the deck, pulling Mario and Link closer to him as Luigi sent wave after wave of lightning to his palms. After crouching down as low as he could, he bounded upward with a spinning jump, lifting the entire Coconut Cover into the air. As soon as he made contact, the shell became electrified, turning it into a sort of lightning bowl, and proceeded to dump the contents right over the wereWolfos's head. A rush of electricity powered up his fists as Luigi prepared a defense against the inevitable onslaught of claws, fangs, and maces. Instead...

"BRRRAAAUGH!" Lupine-madness barked, sending a surprise stream of thunderbolts right back to Luigi.

"YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!" Luigi shouted out in bewilderment as he hid himself behind a thundershield. It barely protected him as he was thrown backward from the amplified bolts.

The beastly wolf continued to literally bark thunderously, forcing Luigi, Donkey Kong, and their unconscious companions further into the dungeon and further away from the exit.

"I just gave it the power to thunder-bark. It's over..." Luigi muttered in defeat after finding cover.

"Actually, it's only the beginning. I think your attack did more than you anticipated." Donkey Kong pointed to the snarling monster.

The wereWolfos seemed to be convulsing with each step it took. Its incessant barking also looked to be an effect of Luigi's attack, almost like it had the hiccups.

"Yeah, I did way more than I thought it would: I gave it the ability to shoot lightning from it's mouth!"

"You also gave it the inability to keep it's mouth shut." Donkey Kong pointed out. "He now barks at regular intervals. All it is is a matter of timing."

"I think it's more of a matter of divine intervention." Luigi disagreed. "If those oranges are anything like the grenades I know, they're pretty volatile. We may get them into the wolf's mouth, but the second that happens is the second he barks, and the second he barks is the second we get caught in another epic detonation. If it happens as fast as I think it will, we won't escape..."

"Correction: we all won't escape."

Luigi immediately created a ball of electricity and held it in front of him defensively. "You picked a great time to remind me you're a bad guy, DK..."

"Be reasonable, Luigi. What I meant was that one of us will have to be a sacrifice. And I volunteer myself."

Luigi's mood pulled a 180. "Aren't you the one who always says 'never count your bananas before they're peeled'? We didn't go through all the possibilities! There's another way."

"There may be, but in the time we have, we'll never find it. I know I joined with Ganondorf and Bowser out of my own volition, but I also know they need to be stopped, and you three are the only ones who can do it."

"Donkey Kon-"

"Luigi, my mind is made up." DK snapped. "I've already held you three back long enough. This is the only way to set things right."

"Can I at least say what I was gonna say?"

"No, because I'm about to unleash a Giant Punch while holding these oranges in approximately one minute." Donkey Kong refused. "Time has been a scarce resource since you three have arrived down here, hasn't it?" After Luigi's nod, "Well, it turns out I have nothing but time to give, but my supply is dwindling. Don't waste what little I've bought for you."

Luigi suddenly emitted a flash of electricity from his body and threw Mario and Link on to his back. With the help of static cling, their weight was much easier to bear as Luigi knew he'd need to move as fast as possible to make his escape.

"...see you at the next tournament."

"Let's hope so." Donkey Kong wishfully nodded after winding down his fists in preparation for his signature move.

And with that, Luigi bounded forward, sending a surge of lightning to his feet to bullet towards their only escape. Right on cue, the wereWolfos appeared, no doubt there to stonewall his hopes for freedom with another devastating thunder-bark. Luigi knew there'd be no way they could take such a powerful attack unprotected, but he also knew if he slowed down, they'd never escape. With the assurance of certain death unmoving, Luigi let loose another blitz of lightning to propel himself and his partners even faster toward either their goal or their doom. As he braced himself for impact, he hoped that if he couldn't plow right through the beast, he'd at least make it yelp.

Suddenly, Luigi felt like an explosion sounded off right in his ear. Either I just broke the sound barrier, or we didn't make it... Luigi feared briefly, but felt his feet come to a skidding stop. He found himself in front of a stone stairwell leading up: the exit.

"We...did it. We made it!" Luigi cheered, instinctively turning around to see just how he did it.

He saw the remnants of a contained blast dissipate near the lupine nightmare's chest, just strong enough to move it the minimum required distance to allow Luigi and his crew to pass by unharmed. Luigi knew that was Donkey Kong's doing.

"D! K! DONKEY KONG!" Luigi hooted, waving his arms similar to how his primate companion would.

But once again, Luigi's elation was unfortunately short-lived. His pupils constricted as they followed DK and his glowing fists right into the maw of the armored creature. The two remaining oranges were seconds away from being in the epicenter of two overwhelming forces, unquestionably able to catalyze a paroxysm of power unlike anything ever seen before.

With his crew behind him, Luigi lunged forward again, throwing everything he had into his feet in an attempt to rocket up the stairs and outrun the inevitable.

Simply put: it didn't work.

Just as they were up about twelve steps, the shockwave funneled into the narrow stairwell, amplifying it into an overwhelming and detrimental torrent, sending the three-man crew into the unknown. Luigi could only scream until he was abruptly interrupted by a stone wall, halting his rapid flight through the castle and dropping him and his friends to the ground. Luigi struggled to rise to his feet to survey his surroundings. A large, red carpet was immediately noticeable under him.

"...what are we doing back in the throne room?" Link suddenly groaned, obviously groggy and pained. " face..."

"You two have no idea how glad I am that you're up." Luigi let out a breath of relief, noticing Mario rising to his feet as well.

"You have no idea how much pain I'm in." Mario tenderly caressed his face similar to how Link was. "Where's the werewolf?"

"I think DK got him. His plan worked..." Luigi hung his head as he spoke.

"...he ended up taking one for the team, didn't he?" Link guessed, taking note of his absence.

"The wrong team, but yeah..."

"The guys he was bought in to beat were the ones he saved... Damn." Link shook his head at the irony.

"I feel bad about the way things turned out, but something's not sitting right with me. And it's not the obvious..." Luigi admitted.

"I almost don't want to know, but fill us in." Mario reluctantly requested.

"Trust me, I really want to take it all at face-value, too. But it's just that...well...DK was bought in to beat us. He had a bone to pick with you, especially, Mario. You were unconscious and vulnerable. If he had just saved himself, that werewolf would've done the job for him and Ganondorf and Bowser would've won. And we know Donkey Kong: he's not so full of pride that he'd feel the overwhelming need to beat us with his own hands. He's smart, and he'd use the environment to his advantage. I mean, he lives in the jungle. It's in his nature."

"So what's the main point of contention?" Mario wondered.

"The whole fact that he made that effort to save us. I mean, he did it, and I'm grateful, but I don't think I should be. It's crazy, but I think this was all part of a plan..."

"A plan where Donkey Kong kills himself?" Link asked incredulously. "You just said DK was smart. If his plan was to make the ultimate sacrifice, he'd make sure it was a guaranteed win. We wouldn't be standing here to argue about it."

"I'm with Link on this one, Luigi." Mario agreed. "I think you're getting too used to unexpected plot-twists. We came out on top. Smile."

"You can't act like self-sacrifice is not a part of DK's game. Remember the Smash tournaments? Remember the one reason everyone hated fighting him? He would literally carry you off into the abyss at the cost of his own stock! He's used to killing himself for the win!" Luigi contended. "Plus, here's something you guys didn't hear: he said 'time has been a scare resource [for us] since we arrived'. I dunno why, but the second he said that, I thought he was directly referencing Bowser's letter and how he timed it to explode as we read it. If he was, how would he know about that?"

"Remember DK was originally on Bowser's team? He probably proofread it." Link reminded Luigi.

"But DK said Bowser's been against him from the beginning. Bowser would never tell DK about that letter. Bowser even wrote it himself: he made whatever plan DK had better by completely ruining it with a random armored werewolf. Now I'm suddenly thinking: what if that was the plan all along?"

"Okay, Luigi. Let's make this concise. Straight and to the point; what are you saying?" Mario requested.

"I'm saying Donkey Kong planned everything that just happened. That's not Bowser's letter; DK forged his handwriting. He was never out to help us; he's just getting us to let our guard down so he can swoop in and take us out quickly and painlessly. Or slowly and agonizingly, depending on how he's feeling."

"Probably long and agonizing, since we hang out with Mario." Link guessed.

"But what about him taking out the wereWolfos? That thing could've killed us without a problem." Link said.

"We all agree DK is smart, right? And you said that was the first wereWolfos you ever saw, right, Link?" After his nod, Luigi continued. "Couple those facts together, and you can guess that DK created the wereWolfos. It could be a robot or something."

"Alright. Say you're right about everything. DK stilldestroyed his own invention and killed himself, and we can guess Bowser and Ganondorf are long-gone by now. What does that mean for us?" Mario asked, waiting for a conclusive reason for Luigi's sudden apprehension.

"Knowing is half the battle." Luigi recited, sage-like in tone with a sly smile.

Mario paused briefly, mostly in disbelief. "I really hope you didn't waste all that time on your story just to end it with a common proverb."

"Yes... No... Maybe so?" Luigi shrugged, though facetious in tone.

"You know, I'm glad Luigi bought that up. At the very least, we know what to expect, and I know how to avoid it. DK doesn't know that I know Ganondorf has a machine that'll warp him anywhere. We find that machine, we find Ganondorf." Link smiled with a confident nod.

"Okay, but you don't know where Ganondorf actually warped to. Like you said: the machine can warp him anywhere, so he could be anywhere!" Luigi fretted.

"You would think so, but if you look at the clues like you did with your whole DK conspiracy theory, the only place Ganondorf could be is pretty obvious. Hell, I can tell you you're probably the only one who doesn't know where they are." Link said.

"Is he right, Mario?" Luigi turned to his brother for the answer.

"Yeah, actually. This whole journey is about to come full-circle. We need to go back to the Mushroom Kingdom."

"Peach's Castle..." Luigi gasped, gaining Mario and Link's approving nod. Suddenly, Luigi began to laugh. "I guess you were right all along, Mario. I should've stayed home. That way, I would've been able to hold them at bay or something...maybe even beat them."

"Maybe not." Mario quickly stated.

"Can the man dream just a little, Mario?" Link said, shaking his head at Mario's readiness to dash his brother's fantasies.

"Only when he sleeps." Mario shot back. "Lead the way, Link."

The three eventually found themselves at the very top of Ganondorf's castle, greeted immediately by gale-force winds and booming thunder. It was as if even the elements didn't want them up there. Regardless, Link pointed out the secret entrance to Ganondorf's teleportation device by stopping in front of one of the rooftop pillars.

"No door?" Mario noticed.

"Hell no! It's a secret room." Link said.

"So..." Luigi waited for the obvious trick to get in.

"Ganondorf would hold out his hand, it'd glow purple, and the door would open." Link explained. "I know doing exactly that won't work, but I figure if you guys hold your hands out, somethingmight happen..."

Once the brothers observed Link backing away from the pillar, it was obvious. Mario and Luigi held up their right hands and sent a ball of their respective fire and thunder powers out from their palms. Just as Link hoped, an entrance was suddenly available and the fabled Interdimensional-Warp Machine was in plain sight.

"Wow..." The Mario brothers gasped.

"I said the same thing when I first came up here." Link remembered. "It's not as complicated as it looks."

"I dunno... Any contraption that needs a chicken to operate seems needlessly complicated to me." Mario said, noticing the very random hen pecking at the ground.

"Maybe not. Those instructions attached to it might tell us exactly what to do." Luigi pointed out the yellow note.

"That's not a chicken and those aren't instructions." Link feared the worst as he cautiously approached Hyrule's native bird, the Cucco, and picked the letter off of its back to read it back to himself.






Link wasted no time in crumpling up the letter and hurling it into the furthest corner of the room, similar to how he handled the previous letter. Shoving the Mario brothers as hard as he could, Link himself dove out into the open as he hoped the heavy stone blocks of the pillar would help contain the inevitable explosion, counting down the remaining seconds.

"" Link whispered to himself as he put up his shield as a makeshift cover for he and his crew and braced himself.


"What was that about?" Mario wondered, looking agitatedly toward Link.

"The letter was just a countdown! What did you expect me to do?"

"Exactly that."

Link, Luigi, and Mario looked up to the sudden voice above them. Against the dark clouds, they couldn't see anything, but with a brilliant flash of lightning, a large silhouette could be seen floating down from an even larger, even rounder object. He finally touched the ground, standing victoriously in front of his stunned audience: Donkey Kong, holding on to a red balloon.

"I knew it! I freaking knew it! Guys, tell him how I figured out his whole plan." Luigi excited hopped, pointing at their revived adversary.

"Honestly, if Luigi didn't say anything, I'd be standing here with three exclamation marks over my head instead of one." Link confirmed Luigi's guesswork.

"Well, what's that one exclamation point for?"

"The balloon, probably." Mario guessed, followed by Link's verifying nod.

"Oh, that's simple." DK laughed with a scoff. "It's very similar to Mario and Luigi's 1-Up Mushrooms and your Fairies, Link. Should I ever have to make the ultimate sacrifice, this provides a means of travel back from the great beyond. It only makes sense, doesn't it? I would have to float down from Banana Heaven to return."

"If you're about to do what I think you're about to do, you definitely won't be going back to any of the heavens I know." Luigi begged to differ.

"How could I not? I'm helping my fellow man and setting right wrongs." DK pointed out. "Unfortunately, we don't have the time to debate how your life's decisions determine your placement in the afterlife. Link was correct: the letter I left was a countdown, but not to an explosion. It was actually a countdown to my arrival. I should've given you three a few extra seconds. You took a lot longer getting here than I anticipated."

"Blame that on Luigi. His crazy theory about you was long-winded." Mario excused.

"Crazy theory about you that turned out to be right. Don't forget that part." Luigi corrected his brother.

"Be that as it may, in light of this lapse in timing, I must cut my speech out of the program. Award-winning caliber material, I must add. Such a shame..." DK looked slightly disappointed.

"I'll bet." Link grumbled. "So what are we waiting for? After me and Mario taking ourselves out and all three of us being caught in two explosions, you should be systematically dissecting us on a molecular level. You know, since you're a genius and all, and you probably do that to all your enemies."

"I didn't know you thought so highly of me, Link." DK flashed a toothy grin. "However, even as a genius, I still have much to learn. Ganondorf taught me an important life-lesson, actually: "never do your own dirty work". That letter is set to detonate, and if you rack your brain, you'll know why that's potentially worse than being mauled by my doomed wereWolfos."

"Other than the obvious fact that it's probably just as powerful as the last letter-bomb you left?" Luigi speculated.

"That was more directed to Link. He'll inform you and your brother soon enough." Donkey Kong nodded confidently.

"Well, Link? How will this be worse than-"

"Oh shit..." It finally hit him. "Shit! HOLY SHIT! THE CUCCO!"

"And with that, I bid you three adieu." Donkey Kong gave them a final salute before hopping into a sudden wormhole, courtesy of the warp machine, and disappearing in a flash.

"Follow him!" Mario ordered as he led the charge into the warp room.

...or so he tried as Link grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and bolted behind another pillar, dragging the Mario brothers with him. Seconds after ducking as low as he could, an explosion threw the ground into a violent rumble. The ensuing shockwave disintegrated the pillar they hid behind, sending the three tumbling forward and on-course to fly off the roof of Ganondorf's castle. Link whipped out the Sword of Darkness from its sheath and drove the blade as hard as he could through the stone beneath him. Successful in his efforts, he grabbed hold of Mario, who kicked a foot out for Luigi to grab on to seconds before he was blown out into free skies.

"Why didn't we follow him?" Mario shouted. "We had a chance! Now all that's left of the warp machine is rubble!"

"No we didn't!" Link disagreed. "I know how the machine works. Donkey Kong had everything set up way before-."

Another sudden explosion interrupted Link and Mario's argument, with a bright shining figure demanding their full attention.

"Is that...that's the chicken we saw in the warp room, isn't it?" Luigi wondered, undoubtedly befuddled by its unlikely resilience.

"It's not a damn chicken; it's worse than that!" Link unmounted his shield, looking ready for a battle.

"Why are you on the defensive?" Mario completely failed to understand Link's demeanor, following his eyes back to the renegade fowl.

A blinding beacon of light shot up into the sky above the crowing bird. A sort of cyclone of white indecipherable fluff inexplicably began spiraling around the massive ray. The cyclone seemed to be...molting, with random white feathers floating down to the ground.

" should tell us what's going on. I'd like that a lot." Luigi suggested.

"Like I said, that's not a chicken; it's a Cucco. Obviously, they look exactly like chickens, except for one gigantic difference: if they get attacked viciously enough, they can call out for a freaking SWARM of Cuccos who match the viciousness of the previous attack. Mind you, that Cucco was just in the middle of a vicious blast. You see what I'm getting at here?"

As an answer, the cyclone dissipated into a no-doubt vicious gaggle of irate Cuccos, wildly attacking anything and everything in their general vicinity. Mario, Link, and Luigi stood back-to-back-to-back, ready to play any difficult game that came their way and win. Strangely enough, the renegade Cuccos seemed to be ignoring them, swooping past them and diving off of the roof aggressively.

"What the hell are they doing?" Link wondered, following the swarm of irate birds.

He was met immediately by a tremor strong enough to trip him inches away from the edge. He slid to the edge just enough for his head to hang over. What he saw below him turned the blood in his veins to ice.

"FUCK!" Link boomed, jumping to his feet. The Mario brothers looked to their hooded companion intently for the update. "Cuccos will attack anything that sent them into the rage until it doesn't exist anymore. Anything."

"That thing was covered in stones... Are you telling me...?" Mario trailed off as he knew his worst fear was about to come true.

"The Cuccos are attacking the castle? And they'll destroy it?" Luigi completed Mario's thought.

Just then, the entire section of the roof they were standing on began to collapse. The three scrambled to the last remaining rooftop pillar, watching in awe as half of the roof just vanished.

"Okay, okay...nobody panic." Luigi attempted his calming mantra, but the panicked look plastered on his face was prominent. "I'll be right back."

Mario and Link watched Luigi shuffle to the roof's edge, possibly looking for a safe way down. Without warning, a heavy bolt of lightning flashed from the heavens and rushed down to crash directly into the wary green-clad plumber. To Mario and Link: one second Luigi was there, and the next, he wasn't. They were suddenly on their own. They looked to each other, their blank expressions obviously holding back a lot of distress and confusion.

"...what just happened?" Link held his hands out in wonder.

"It sounds grim, but we'll worry abou-"

Mario halted the moment he felt his stomach lurch as if he was falling. Though he was still sitting on the floor, he checked his surroundings for any changes. The tall hills surrounding the castle were slowly rising above them. He knew the mainland wouldn't shift so suddenly, which could only mean one thing.

"Link...not only are the Cuccos destroying the castle; they're sinking it into the lava below us."

"They're really serious about leaving nothing left. Alright, desperate measures..."

Link hopped to his feet and neared the missing half of the roof. Below him, Cuccos were dive-bombing the castle walls; actually breaking through the stone as if it were glass. Their attack was surprisingly coordinated as if there was a method to the madness: groups of Cuccos were lined up side-by-side, assaulting all fronts of the castle.

"Follow my lead." Link commanded, readying an active stance.

"Fill me in?" Mario apprehensively requested.

"Just watch."

With that, Link dove toward a squad of Cuccos, grabbing one by the legs just before it was too late. The bird fought to stay elevated with the sudden weight-gain, but slowly floated to the ground regardless. This was obviously what Link hoped for as he led himself back to safe ground and away from the crumbling castle where Mario still stood.

"He made it look so easy..." Mario grumbled, preparing himself to perform a similar feat.

With a deep breath, Mario followed Link's example and took the plunge, aiming straight for a sort of unusual Cucco: this one had a black comb and wattle as opposed to the typical red. Just as Link did, Mario grabbed hold of its talons moments before it was too late, but unlike Link's experience, the black-combed Cucco flew higher into the sky instead of gently floating down to the ground.

Link gasped from below as he watched Mario struggle with the bird. Before Mario could even think of a plan of action, the Cucco caught a sudden updraft, soaring up at break-neck speed into the air and showing off its surprising aerial prowess by performing a graceful backflip, but so quick that Mario lost his grip on the bird's feet and began his rapid decent to the ground. A shrill crow from the dark-wattled Cucco perked up Mario's ears. Below him, dozens more cries answered back, gradually increasing in volume as he fell closer to them. Mario turned to look downward and met the menacing glare of a quickly-approaching flock of Cuccos, all their faces screwed up with malicious intent.

"There goes that plan..." Mario muttered to himself, previously hoping to just grab a normal Cucco by the talons on the way back down.

With the growing legion of fowl swiftly increasing, it became obvious to Mario that this wouldn't end well if he didn't think fast. Assuming a more aerodynamic form, his diving speed picked up as he rushed down to meet his angry avian assailants. Feeling a burning surge of power at his gut, Mario let his entire body become engulfed in wild flames.

The opposing forces finally met, but Mario easily won that battle, frying every Cucco he came into contact with with an overwhelming wave of heat. The war for his life wasn't over, however, as there were no Cuccos to grab on to and the deep pit of magma below Ganondorf's castle seemed as if it was in a hurry to personally greet him.

"MARIO!" Link screamed as he helplessly watched his red-clad partner's fire-engulfed body plummet into the boiling depths, never to be seen again.

Before Link could even sink to his knees in hopelessness, he watched the lava boil violently to the brim of the pit, encouraging him to bolt rather than bawl. Just as he expected, the lava erupted similar to how it would from an active volcano, consuming everything in its way from crazed Cuccos to towering strongholds of evil. But most amazing to him was the red figure seen bursting right from the base of the dying magma geyser: none other than a smoking Mario Mario. Link's reserved despair was replaced by an unspeakable joy.

"...could you always do that?" Link uttered, his elation mixed with obvious awe.

"If I could, no one told me about it. Otherwise, I would've ended this hours ago!" Mario said.

"So Luigi disappearing with that bolt of lightning?"

"Probably similar to what I just did. I can swim in lava and he can ride lightning." Mario speculated.

"So where is he?"

"Knowing Luigi, he hasn't figured out how to control it yet. You should've seen him after I taught him the Super Jump Punch." Mario laughed at the memory. "Don't worry about him. He'll show up soon."

"So what do we do in the meantime? You just destroyed Ganondorf's castle and we have absolutely no leads on how to get back to the Mushroom Kingdom." Link said. "I think Luigi would love it if we knew what to do when he got back."

"Well, we figured out how to leave Hyrule before when we really needed it. Who else would know? By the way, I don't think that owl can spare another wing."

"If I never see him again, it'll be too soon. Maybe Skull Kid knows something. He still owes me for screwing me out of 10 rupees on that mask..." Link growled, leading the long march to the Lost Woods with a bit more determination.

"Wait, wait..." Mario suddenly pushed Link back against the base of a hill that jutted out just enough to keep them out of sight.

Just before Link could speak, he watched a figure appeared in front of the crater where the ominous fortress once stood. "No..." he could hear her gasp, obviously in shock of what she must've witnessed.

"That's...that's Daisy, right?" Link recognized the face and voice. A glint of realization sparkled in Link's eyes. "She's our ticket out of here! However she got her must have a way back!"

"But we saw her with Ganondorf earlier... And look at how she's reacting over Ganondorf's castle being gone. Something's not right with her..." Mario fretted.

"She knows you, doesn't she? Hell, I caught her giving me the eye a few times from the audience. She's not gonna do anything crazy if we approach her and explain our cause." Link assured Mario.

"You sure about that? Because she definitely looked like she wished we didn't see her back in Ganondorf's throne room." Mario reminded Link.

"The sooner we talk to her, the sooner we can find out." Link brushed Mario aside to greet the awe-stricken Daisy. "Daisy! Sorry about not saying 'hi' earlier. You know how..."

Without even waiting for Link to finish his sentence, Daisy about-faced and ran back towards the town with all haste. Mario broke into a sprint and began the pursuit, but not before shooting Link an "I told you so" glance.

"Nayru, can you help me out just once?" Link said to the skies, immediately dashing after Mario at his top speed to catch up.

Though they closed in on her quickly enough, they had to admit that Daisy was surprisingly fast: faster than most of the Smash brothers, in fact. Daisy looked back over her shoulder just in time to see Mario and Link just within an arm's reach of her. Breaking out her secret weapon, she donned a hood on top of her head with long, thin ears most notable on top.

"Where'd she get that?" They both shouted as they watched the newly Bunny-Hooded Daisy bullet away from them with a dramatic accession of speed.

While Link struggled to keep up, Mario let the fires of perseverance consume him and managed to match Daisy's stride, but he knew he could only keep it up temporarily. A red tinge from Daisy's hand caught his attention. Upon closer inspection, it looked like a flask of red effervescent liquid.

"NO!" Mario recognized the Magic Potion Daisy just tossed in front of her; the very same potion that would create a portal into another world, presumably back to the Mushroom Kingdom, and undoubtedly lead to her escape.

Just as predicted, a red door suddenly materialized once the beaker shattered upon meeting the ground. Daisy bounded forward, reaching out to grab that doorknob just a bit sooner. A surprise bolt of lightning refused to let her leave so soon, knocking the Bunny Hood off her head and throwing her back towards her heroic assailants.

" know how rude it is to leave without saying 'goodbye'?" Luigi appeared before the red door as suddenly as the thunderbolt struck.

Mario could only smile at the return of his brother as Link finally caught up with the rest of the group. "Link, didn't I tell you he'd show up?"

"At the last possible second..."

"And with a killer one-liner." Luigi added proudly.

"I'm glad you're all so happy with stopping a helpless girl with fire and lightning." Daisy remarked sarcastically, picking herself off the ground.

"Hey, you don't move until we decide it's all good." Link enforced with his sword pointed straight at Daisy's face, gaining a fearful wince from her

"Whoa, Link..." Luigi pushed the sword away and stood between his friend and his fancy.

"No! I gave her the benefit of the doubt before, and she crapped all over that! If she wants me to treat her like a villain, I can do that. I've been fucking up villains all day! I won't even bat an eye if it comes right down to it."

"What does he mean by that?" Daisy nervously muttered, hiding behind Luigi.

"Don't worry about him; he's just mad." Mario explained.

"About what?" Daisy quickly regained her spine, stepping away from Luigi's protection and into Link's face. "I'm no villain! You don't know anything about me or what I'm doing here, so what do you have to be mad about?"

Link just stared at her, almost in awe of her audacity. "Is she serious, guys? We catch her in a throne room with our two biggest enemies, Ganondorf's patting her butt like they're best friends, and when we approach her, she runs for her life...? No, Daisy, I don't know shit about you, but after everything I saw regarding you, it's real easy to make assumptions. None of them are in your favor." His blue eyes glared frigidly into hers.

"Link..." Luigi bravely stepped between the two once again. "Daisy kinda says things without thinking them through. Let me figure her out. Just do me a favor and stand by the door."

Link shot one last glare at Daisy. The look of fear returned to her face in a hurry. Minimally satisfied that he could at least instill some terror into her heart, Link heeded Luigi's request, letting a mischievous smirk linger as he walked off.

"Mario." Luigi beckoned for his brother.

"I don't remember Link being that temperamental... Was he always like that?" Daisy wondered, speaking quietly as if Link could possibly hear her.

"Like I said, he's just upset. He'll get over it once everything starts making sense." Mario assured her.

"But he doesn't know me. Nothing shouldn't not make sense to begin with." Daisy argued.

"But what about us, Daisy? What about me?" Luigi took her hands pleadingly. "Take everything that Link said and then add in the fact that I haven't seen you in weeks. I'm purposely keeping Link out of this conversation so you can talk to two people who know you very well, love you, and trust you. Tell us what's going on."

"Luigi, it's..." Daisy wanted to stay reluctant, but after taking everything into account, she knew Luigi was right. "I want to say 'it's nothing'. I want to say 'I can handle it myself', but I can't. I realized this a long time ago... I needed help so badly..."

"But we're always there to help. You can always call on us." Mario said.

"Not this time." Daisy shook her head. "You two were in the Beanbean Kingdom to save Peach's voice when Wart returned to attack Sarasaland's dreams. I had to think fast, so I remembered my time watching the Smash tournaments, then I remembered Link. I asked Professor E. Gadd modify the Magic Potions from Subcon to be able to create a portal from our homeworld to Hyrule so I could ask for Link's help, but then I remembered Ganondorf. He made it further into the tournament than Link did, plus he just looked stronger, so I decided to get his help instead."

"I'm guessing you fell for his good-guy act during the tournaments, huh?" Luigi said.

"For what it's worth, he was a good actor. For a while, Ganondorf kept Wart's minions at bay and Sarasaland slept like babies. But recently, Ganondorf's been slacking, and my people are having intense nightmares. He guaranteed me we would never see his forces in our dreams, but we do. Frequently. And we see them doing terrible things. If I knew Ganondorf was actually a bad guy, I would've never even considered him."

"Daisy, it's okay. I've had to work on the same team as Bowser a few times. Desperate times call for desperate measures." Mario consoled the regretful princess.

"All that matters is that we're here now. Once we stop him, the nightmares will end." Luigi guaranteed.

"It's not that simple." Daisy continued. "I was here talking to Ganondorf about the one he left in charge of the operation: his phantom. Ganondorf had his phantom report back to him on a regular basis just to keep him in check, but I know for a fact that's not happening. I swear Phantom Ganondorf is trying to build an empire just like the original, using our dreams as his proving ground."

"And that's where the problem lies..." Mario realized. "As long as people can dream, it won't matter if the real Ganondorf is defeated or not. The memory of Phantom Ganondorf will keep him alive in everyone's mind until someone defeats him personally."

Daisy verified Mario's assertion with a nod.

"I'll do it." Luigi spoke up with no hesitation.

"Whoa there, eagerness... We still have to take care of Bowser and the real Ganondorf first. We've come way too far to lose you now." Mario denied Luigi's offering.

"That wasn't me volunteering, Mario, that was a concrete statement. I am doing it. Once we get back to Mushroom Kingdom, you and Link are going to Peach's castle to face Bowser and Ganondorf once and for all. I, on the other hand, am going to Sarasaland to kick Phantom Ganondorf off his high horse."

"Bu-" Mario started.

"Don't argue." Luigi interjected. This only makes all the sense in the world. Three villains, three damsels in distress, three heroes. You've seen what I can do, you've seen how strong I've become, and you've seen how brave I can be. Let me do this, Mario. I have to."

Mario looked at his younger brother. Never had he seen such conviction in his eyes. Luigi was right: he had done a lot of growing on this long trip.

"You have to do what you have to do." Mario solemnly nodded.

"Thank you." Luigi said gratefully. He may have been deadly serious about going his own way regardless, but it meant that much more to him to have his older brother's blessing.

"And thank you, Luigi." Daisy graciously accepted Luigi's bravery with a kiss on his cheek, causing him to blush a bit.

"Let's...umm...let's mosey." Luigi commanded, trying to diffuse his slight embarrassment by leading the way.

As they approached Link and the door, Link held out an authoritative hand, halting the group in front of him.

"What's the password?" Link demanded.

"We're going to stop Bowser and Ganondorf while Luigi is going to save Sarasaland from Ganondorf's phantom." Mario recited.

"What the hell?" Link's hand dropped, partially signifying an acceptable password. "We can almost see the spotlight at the end of this dark hallway, and I wanted to stand under it with both of you! We can murder Phantom Ganondorf after we take out the main offenders."

"Link...there are three bad guys and three good guys. Mario already trusts me to take care of one, just like I trust you two to take care of the other two." Luigi reasoned with Link.

"I have no doubt about that. I just really wanted all three of us to be doing that victory dance together when it's all said and done." Link admitted.

"Just save the dancing for when we all meet up again. You know we will." Luigi winked confidently at his companions.

And with Daisy ahead of them, Link, Mario, and Luigi stepped through the door leading to the final stage. Everything they suffered through previously was all so they could reach this moment. Though none of them would say it out loud, after all they'd been through, they wouldn't accept defeat under any circumstances. With all three of them carrying a personal stake into battle, they promised they would give it their all and make sure the opposition would feel every moment of anguish and frustration they'd experienced until they begged for forgiveness.

And with a spiteful sneer, they would reply with a tranquil whisper, "never".