"And that's it. That's the end of the story I promised you."
The storyteller closed the book he had been reading out of and looked down at his captive audience, two young Goombas, a brother and sister.
"So? Did you like it?"
"That was the coolest story ever!" the brother cheered as he bounced up and down. "Oh man, I love hearing stories about Mario! That fight was so awesome! First King Shroude was like bam! But then Mario was like wham! And then they were like – "
"So that story really happened?" the sister asked eagerly as her brother started running around in circles and making sound effects. "So does that mean everybody in the story is still around?"
"They sure are. It only happened ten years ago."
"That's so cool!" the brother gushed out as he scurried to a stop next to his sister. "I wanna meet all of those guys one day! Especially Mario!"
"I wanna meet Hanner!" the sister piped up.
Her brother gave her an incredulous look. "Why do you wanna meet her?"
"'Cause she was awesome!"
"Well, maybe you two will get your wish one day," the storyteller laughed. "Now I think it's starting to get late. You two should probably get going home now."
"Will you tell us another story about Mario tomorrow? Pleeeeease?" asked the sister.
The storyteller looked down at the two of them in disbelief as they both gave him puppy dog eyes. "You want another one? Come on, you two, that's four days in a row now I've told you a story! First it was 'Star Spirits and Good Wishes', then 'The Thousand-Year Door', then 'The Lost Book of Prophecies'..."
"Pleeeeeeeeeease?" both of them cried at once.
The storyteller rolled his eyes and feigned a sigh of defeat. "Oh, all right, fine... if you both promise to be good, I suppose tomorrow I can tell you the story of Mario's adventure during the great Sticker Fest. But in the meantime, you really should be getting home now."
"Yaaaaaaaaay!" both little Goombas cheered, dancing in circles around each other before finally spinning around and running off towards home.
"Thank you!" the sister called over her shoulder as they left.
The storyteller chuckled to himself as he watched them vanish into the evening crowd, then got to his feet. Like always, the three of them had been sitting on the steps just in front of the Soluna Temple, where he worked. It was nice to get out of there once in a while, but now it was time to get back to work.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside, then walked up the spiral staircase until he got to his office on the second floor.
It was small, but it was all he needed. Apart from his desk, it also contained several bookshelves lining the walls and overflowing with books – he supposed Rodolfo had rubbed off on him in that respect.
He put the book he'd just finished reading out of back in its place, to the right of three other identically bound books. Mario's adventures were famous the world over, and you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who didn't own at least one of those books... but Mario had made it a point to get the complete series for all of his friends.
He sat down at his desk, looking up at the books for a moment before he felt his gaze slowly drawn toward the framed picture on his desk. The one he never went a day without looking at.
It was him and Mario, along with all their other friends – all ten years younger, obviously – smiling and waving at the camera and looking like the silliest family you ever saw.
He smiled, wondering if he'd ever get around to telling those two kids the truth... or if they'd figure it out on their own one day.
He kept gazing at the photo, recalling how he'd kept in touch with all of them over the years and wondering what they were all up to right that minute.
Hanner had gone back to Fleetmont, rising up in the ranks of the Hammer Force until, much to her shock, Sergeant Sledge had retired and appointed her as his replacement. She'd been nervous at first, fearing she wasn't worthy of such an honor, but everyone in town agreed she was the best chief of police they'd ever had. She'd also married one of her friends from the force, and just a few months ago she'd laid her first egg. She was completely freaking out about it, naturally, but all her friends helped her through it, always reminding her she was better than she thought she was, for which she'd always be grateful.
Dulia had grown into a stunning young adult, and she still belonged to the Starshine Circus to this day – more specifically, she was the headliner. The performers had wondered if their show would ever match its former success now that their famous animal act was no more, but they didn't have to worry; now people came from miles around to see The Amazing Dulia, The World's Greatest Shapeshifter, who wowed audiences with her fantastical animal transformations. But she still liked it best when she was just with her friends; she and Benny were still happily together, and of course Imogen still watched their backs for old times' sake.
Even Stubba, the baby of their group, was a baby no longer. Now he was a teenager – and by all accounts, he was quite the heartbreaker. He was a bit of a sports hero at his school, but of course he never let it get to his head, and everyone agreed on what an upstanding young man he was. And that wasn't all – just a few months after getting back from his adventure, he'd become a big brother. Now he had a sister named Nubba, who according to him was "an obnoxious little brat" and "the biggest thorn in my side". Of course that was only what he said to her face, since everyone knew that he'd make a world of hurt for anyone who messed with her.
Maizee had gone back to living a quiet and peaceful life, content with retiring from adventuring and just watching Daymien grow up before sending him off to study abroad at U Goom. She'd been offered the position of mayor of Viney Valley just after she got back, but she'd turned it down, deciding that sort of thing "just wasn't for her". At any rate, she was still universally admired and respected in her home town, and even if she wasn't as young as she used to be, she still hadn't lost a touch of her beauty and grace. Just about everybody agreed on that, especially her husband.
Speaking of whom, Snatchel was naturally still sheriff of Golden Spur Ranch, running as tight a shift as ever. After his adventure to help save the world, he'd practically reached folk hero status in his town, and nobody even dreamed of running against him. He counted himself lucky for that, since there was no job in the world he would rather do. Once Daymien was off at college, he and Maizee were finally able to get married (several years too late for his liking) and she'd moved into town with him, and the place just became that much brighter with the two of them together.
Ferdinand and the other Bumpty Boarders had finally opened up their surf shop not too long after the adventure was over. Now, ten years later, it had expanded into an entire chain, and a wildly successful one at that – Ferdinand was actually an amazing entrepreneur, even if he didn't look it. The Bumpty Boarders were still as close as ever, spending their off hours surfing the waves by Palmy Balmy Beach. Unlike most of his old teammates, though, and much to the disappointment of the girls on the beach, their leader had never found himself interested in romance; he'd always said his one true love was the surf and sand.
King Shroude and the Darkstriders were still around, but they never caused any more trouble. Shroude had lost his power as the Master of Night, and so was in no position to try and take over the world anymore. He and his minions had to settle for living in the world as it was, with both Day and Night. They were highly reclusive and were naturally never seen during the day, but every so often, a wary nighttime traveler would enter a nearby inn with a wild look on their face, swearing they'd just seen the swishing of a familiar cape and a group of dark blue (or green) creatures slinking around in the shadows. No one ever knew if those accounts were true... and it was probable that Shroude liked it better that way.
Mario still took the time to visit his old friends whenever he got the chance – and even so, it wasn't often. His job as the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom was never over, after all, and it seemed that every time he caught up with his traveling companions he'd have a new crazy story for them about his latest quest to save the world – he was grateful when it was something as simple as Bowser kidnapping Peach again. Still, he was happy, and so were his friends whenever they got a chance to see him again. He never stopped telling them how glad he was that they all had met.
The storyteller found his smile had grown huge from all those memories... and he shook his head and chuckled before looking at the Mario standing next to him in the picture, flashing his trademark peace sign.
Even if it had been a while, he still had a smile on his face as he turned away, knowing he had nothing to worry about. Mario would be back... when the sun rose in the morning, and daylight returned once again.
A/N: Wow... where to start...
First of all, this is, bar none, the longest thing I've ever written, fanfic or no. And as dumb as it sounds, it's also one of the proudest accomplishments of my whole life. Writing is a passion of mine, no matter what the subject happens to be.
Of course, I also have to extend a great big thank you to all of my readers and fans for all the wonderful feedback you gave this story, and for your incredible patience as you stuck by this thing for so long. I would be literally nothing without you guys, and I'm so glad that so many of you enjoyed this as much as I did. Writing a story is one thing, but nothing makes me happier than getting to share it with others. I hope it lived up to your expectations.
I also hope you enjoyed Mario and all the playmates that I made for him. They all mean so much to me, and I hope they've found a place in your heart as well.
Thus concludes my little contribution to the endlessly clever, immensely fun, and staggeringly addictive world of Paper Mario.
May we meet again in another time and place.