Yes, contrary to popular belief, I have not disappeared off the surface of the Earth, but returning from a hiatus. Apologies for the unexpectedly long break, but things have been cropping up and I've been working on this idea for some time now.
In the meantime, I'll be simultaneously working on a D. Gray-Man fic, as well as another oneshot/fic in this timeline. Not for Lucario though, I've got someone else in mind.
Back to the topic: Apologies for the long delay, but finally I've got something out which will constitute quite a big part of the storyline. Hopefully I'll be able to pull this off well, this chapter took some time and I wasn't happy with it for the longest time. Also, I have no idea how to classify most of my fics, this one included. Rating may be revised upwards.
[Edit: Additionally, I hasten to add, this is not an SSE retelling. Sure, the Subspace Emissiary takes place in the background, but this fic will be focusing on something rather different indeed. So, yes, all those averse to SSE fics, please do feel free to read on - fans of SSE fics, there will be enough SSE to see you through. Plus, hopefully this will be able to put a slightly different spin on the old story.]
And as always, many thanks to all those who read and especially those who review; and constructive criticism is always welcome!
Without much further ado, please do enjoy. Introducing: Checkmate.
The invisible crowd cheered from unseen stands, their swell and yells and catcalls echoing throughout the arena. The floor of the stadium glimmered, shining as the two Smashers faced off each other at its opposite ends. On one end, decked out in his outfit of choice and wearing his trademark red cap, Mario jumped, and touched one gloved knuckle to his forehead in a salute to the spectators. On the other extreme of stadium, Kirby puffed himself up, and waved his stubby arms to an endearing crowd.
Master Hand's voice echoed from somewhere, as always, counting down the final seconds to the start of the match. Mario tensed, raising his fists in front of him defensively, while Kirby just looked around, and then waved to the plumber happily. Three… two… one… Go! At that command, both combatants sprung forward and clashed in the center of the Final Destination stage, drawing more cheers and cries of support from the crowd.
Yes, it was a Brawl, just another Brawl in the Smash Mansion.
All was prepared. All was indeed going well. Very, very well.
He stretched, then gathered his thoughts together, and settled himself into position. Bringing his hand up to his chin, he stroked it slightly, musing. In front of him was arrayed a spectacular military-map styled area, depicting seas, canyons, islands, and expanses of space.
The map was roughly square, split into many smaller squares. Tinted to give the appearance of a chess board, the field was littered with small figurines, most of them gathered at opposite ends of the field.
Already he had made a few moves. His various pawns and pieces had started to spread out and develop, capturing territory as they had advanced. For now, his opponent had simply chosen not to act at all. Perhaps it was a shrewd tactic, but he thought it probably was ignorance. Sighing quietly, he wondered if he was better off playing against himself.
He hesitated, before picking up a piece on the board. Twirling it around in long fingers, he eventually reached over the board, and delicately placed it deep into his opponent's side of the board.
Fireballs continually hit and burned the pink puffball, Mario pumping his fists as Kirby wailed and was pushed back by Mario's pyrotechnic powers. Fortunately for the Smashers, Master Hand had readily agreed (Crazy Hand a lot less so) that Smashers needed bodily protection from physical harm during Brawls – to prevent it from being a literal fight to the death.
As such, the Hands created and distributed Smart Shields – small button-like things which could be firmly affixed to clothes, fur, and whatnot. Though small, these shields prevented burns, hypothermia, various limbs from getting lopped off by the numerous swordsmen… Come to think of it, one could really get killed by many possible means in the Mansion.
Thankfully, this issue was raised before many of the sword-wielding Smashers had a chance to Brawl – if not, the consequences may have been slightly more serious than a matter of singed fur. Luckily for him, Ganondorf was able to escape permanent physical and mental scarring, but suffice to say this, along with other unintended results of early Brawls, led to the introduction of the Smart Shields.
Kirby bounced back from apparent defeat, bring his hammer squarely to Mario's side. The plumber failed to dodge in time, and the impact sent him rocketing off the stage, yelling something colourful and incomprehensible in Italian.
After a drawn out brawl, both combatants were reduced to a mere one stock each. Kirby's lucky hammer shot launched Mario once again, sending him spiraling high off the stage and dangerously near the blast lines. Once crossed, the blast lines designated when a Smasher was knocked out of the arena proper – and in this case, the victor of the round.
Mario struggled to get back, but the knockback dealt from Kirby's blow was simply too immense. And although the Shield prevented him from taking any visible damage, it didn't stop him from feeling the momentum at all – it was like being launched by a giant catapult into the sky without any means of stopping. He saw the blast line quickly approaching behind him, and struggled to escape his own momentum, but failed as his back grazed the line –
Lucario pricked up his ears. He had been sitting in his small whitewashed room, having declined an invitation to go to the Brawls. He wasn't alone, he knew – other Smashers weren't there – for example, the odd two-dimensional Smasher Mr. Game and Watch.
And even though he was meditating, he had kept a watchful eye on the thin wooden door to his room. It had been broken twice – once by Snake (partially him, as well), and the second when the Assist Trophy Pokémon Trainer had assaulted him violently in his own room just the day before. So, it was no surprise when he didn't have much trust in the door.
The door wasn't the only thing that was troubling the Aura Pokémon. Since his introduction, he never really trusted anyone, but rather choosing to meditate and practice in isolation, meeting the others only at Brawls. He would quickly finish his breakfast early in the morning, so as to leave the cafeteria well before the second-earliest Smasher came in for food. Trust, he had decided, is hard to earn.
Not that the Assist Pokémon Trainer violently trying to capture him did him any good.
Still, he felt a vague sense of uneasiness. Something wasn't right. He felt it through the Aura that coursed around him, that there was something amiss yet he could not put his paw on. He made a mental note to inform Master Hand of this, then closed his eyes and resumed his meditation.
A second later, Lucario opened his eyes again. Rising, he decided that he would simply notify the giant hand now, partially because his concentration on meditation had shattered anyway. More importantly, he simply felt this sense of apprehension and it certainly did not bode well…
Without warning, Mario stiffened. A glimmering golden glow enveloped him from the point of contact with the blast line, engulfing his entire body. The crowd stopped its murmurs at once, Kirby looking up expectantly.
Instead of Master Hand's announcement of Game! and both of the fighters returning to the teleportation room, Mario fell from the sky as if the blast line had been a brick wall. Thudding onto the edge of Final Destination was Mario, but his skin had been glazed over and given a grayish, metallic quality. Mario himself was arranged in a pose, that of his fighting stance, both hands ready to emit fireballs, but he was cold to the touch.
Even more strikingly, there was a large golden plate affixed under him, to which he seemed to be stuck. Kirby, though surprised, plodded over and prodded Mario in the shoulder, without a response. Instead, the Dreamland resident withdrew at the literal coldness of Mario, looking at the apparently lifeless statute with wide eyes and many unanswered questions.
…Could it be eaten?
"What-a was that?" Mario grumbled in annoyance, surrounded by a sea of concerned Smashers. He had been revived out of his previous comatose state by Kirby accidentally touching the golden trophy base, resulting in a shower of sparks and light and Mario feeling as if he'd hit a brick wall with his head.
Immediately after that, the teleporter system had activated itself, bringing the two back to the Smash Mansion teleportation room, with Mario rubbing his head and Kirby looking around, slightly confused.
No more pasta before bed, Mario sighed, doffing his cap, as some of the other Smashers worriedly looked on. "Maybe you should see Master Hand," a worried Peach advised. He nodded, as the other Smashers murmured their agreement. Trying to lighten the atmosphere, he grinned. "Then after that, maybe we go for-a pasta."
The group plodded down the corridor from the teleportation room, chattering, and rounded the corner required to reach Master Hand's room. At the same time, they heard the soft patter-patter of paws and found Lucario as he rounded the corner from the opposite end. Narrowly avoiding stabbing anyone with his chest-spike, Lucario leapt backwards, then bowed his head in apology.
Mario waved it aside, while Princess Peach asked the Aura Pokémon her question. "Where's Master Hand? We need to discuss something…" Lucario shook his head. I do not know. He is not in his room. Was he not at the Brawl earlier, with you?
The Smashers collectively stopped and thought. Master Hand's announcement of Game! never really came, and they hadn't seen the gloved hand leave…
"Maybe we should find Crazy Hand," suggested Peach.
A silence descended upon the group for an instant, before everyone, the Princess herself included, decided that that would probably be a bad idea.
As they turned to leave, Lucario felt a small whisper of wind edge in his fur. It was nothing at first, but it gradually grew stronger. Involuntarily, his vision was layered over with Aura, the Aura Filters at the back of his head rising up, detecting an uncomfortably odd Aura immediately nearby -
Quickly the whisper became a breeze, and then a violent wind, whipping through the Mansion corridor at high speed. The vague Aura Lucario had felt suddenly intensified tenfold, and immediately a sense of uneasy recognition washed over the Pokémon. The others had only just felt the wind and were starting to look back, only to see Lucario leaping towards them, violently shoving Mario forward. Look out!
Master Hand swiveled in position. Nothing but dark purple and glimmering spots of light, here and there, like distant stars in the purple gloom. In front of him was seated a blue figure, seemingly composed of data streams, looking and observing the giant hand.
He didn't know exactly what happened, but right before the Brawl ended in Kirby's favour, he felt an odd sensation come over his entire being, right to his fingertips. Without warning, he felt himself being jerked backwards by extremely strong magic, as if caught on a hook and yanked backwards. Immediately he had cast a spell, golden circles spinning on each of his fingers, as he bound all the Smashers as trophies upon their defeat, with the purpose of saving them from physical harm. In their trophy form, practically nothing could hurt them – unless the trophy was forcibly shattered or broken beyond repair.
He only hoped they would find out how to revive the trophies – but the Smashers were not entirely idiots, surely they could figure it out…
His train of thought slowed as he observed his surroundings. Between him and the floating blue figure was the impossibly complex and large chessboard, with holographic representations of mountains, seas, and islands… and in a corner, suspended on a rocky floating platform, was the Smash Mansion. On it were dozens of chess pieces, each modeled after a Smasher, with a glittering gold base and a small statuette of the Smasher itself on it. Surprisingly like the trophies of the Smashers…
On the other hand, Master Hand saw, the opposing contingent was composed of… well, the Hand couldn't discern what it was exactly, but there were many, many pieces. Almost like an army… Already the game seemed to be at a monstrous disadvantage for him.
The figure reached over and picked up a piece. Suspended on it was a small disembodied right-handed glove, floating inexplicably over the platform. Master Hand visibly started.
"A predictable move, Master Hand." The voice was not unpleasant but rather soft, although there was a metallic and menacing quality belying it. Master Hand moved not, but flexed his fingers. The figure placed Master Hand's piece deep into his side of the board, furthest away from the Mansion. "In fact, I have planned for this spell of yours – and so will your Smashers fall: ironically, by your own hand."
Master Hand said nothing.
"I know what you're thinking, that the Smashers cannot come to any harm," continued the blue figure, hovering over the chessboard and resting one finger delicately on one piece in the Smash Mansion.
That chesspiece, which depicted a single Bob-omb, suddenly pulsed red. It then shone with a bright light, and consumed itself and a neighboring piece in a blaze of fire. The figure picked up the charred remains of the second piece, and examined it before carelessly dropping it to the side of the board.
"The Smart Shields' main control has been destroyed," murmured the figure. "I highly suggest you rethink your strategy." Master Hand said nothing, but his fingers followed the destroyed piece as it bounced once, twice, rolled and came to a stop on the purple-tinted floor.
"Please do allow me to introduce myself, before our game really starts," The figure seemed to smirk at the bewildered hand. "Tabuu, Ruler of the Subspace Realm."
Master Hand, however, curled himself into a fist. "It is quite impossible to shake hands with a clenched fist," observed Tabuu dryly, the very edge of his lips curling ever so slightly upwards.
On the contrary, the Hand replied, voice cold and dispassionate, with just a little hint of sarcasm. Master Hand, at your service.
And then he launched himself off the platform, fist-first, straight at Tabuu – the two beings collided in a furious shower of sparks and light and momentarily the chessboard was swallowed up by the intensity of the impact.