A funereal march played out loud and clear

Bowser opened a sleepy eye and groaned. The groan in no way made the BowserPhone any quieter, and Bowser was forced to roll off the slab of marble he used for a bed and pick up the receiver.

"Whaddyoo want?" he mumbled sleepily.

"Tell your workmen to get a grip on their shells and work faster," came a determined voice from the other end of the line. "We are going to finish Projects X and Y before this month is out."

"Are we?" said Bowser, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Ganondorf, it's five o'clock in the morning!"

"How close is Y to completion?" asked Ganondorf briskly.

"Close enough. I mean, I guess it could be finished before the month is out, but… How's the Archanean plan getting along?"

"Oh, fine. I finished with the plan last night before meeting up with You Know Who."

"And the plan was?"

"Go over myself with a sodding great army and kill them all," said Ganondorf, with a smile so broad Bowser could hear it down the phone. "But that will have to be done after I complete Project X, which will be before the end of the month. Do you know that the day after tomorrow, it'll be a year since we started the projects? A year! We really should have finished them by now, Bowser. Especially you."

Bowser muttered something about the workmen wanting more time off.

"Double their wages and threaten them with disappearance! Works for me!"

"I'll go down to the building site first thing in the morning," said Bowser, looking longingly at his marble slab.

"Good to hear! Well, technically it's morning now, and it isn't going to get any 'first'-er. So why don't you pop off down there and get on the job, there's a good chap?"

"I, er…"

"And if you're still having problems, I'll come and have a word with the workforce! That'll keep them on their toes! Good-bye, Bowser."

The line went dead. Bowser stared at the receiver for a few seconds.

"Solid Snake's going to come and blow you up with his mind!" he yelled at the machine, spitting flames that burnt holes in the wallpaper (which had never really recovered from Petey Piranha).

Kammy Koopa poked her head around the door. She was wearing a frilly nightcap and gown.

"Anything wrong, my lord?" she said, yawning.

"No, no, nothing at all," said Bowser miserably, fastening his black spiked bands around his arms, legs and neck. "Just thought I'd take a stroll down by the fountain. At five a.m. Because I enjoy it."

"Oh. Have a nice time, your Earlyness!"

Kammy hurried out, pursued by flames.

o o o

"What is THAT?" yelled Captain Falcon.

"It's green and it's covered in tattoos," said Peach, looking at the floating object with unconcealed distaste.

"It's massive!" said Sonic, feeling slightly insecure.

Pit covered his young eyes.

"It's an illusion," said Lucas, with a look of pure terror on his face. "Another one of P-p-porky's tricks, surprisingly enough."

"I'm not gay. I'm not gay. I'm not gay…"

"Of course you're not," said Sonic, taking Falcon gently by the arm. "We all believe you. So we're going just going to stroll right through this, like we did with all the other hallucinations…"

"That would be a very bad idea!" said Lucas urgently.

"Why so?"

"Apart from the obvious!" cried the Captain.

"Th-there's a m-m-monster hiding in the illusion. A really, really b-b-bad monster, which we should run from as f-fast as we can."

Those who were able to tear their eyes away from the gruesome object saw that Lucas was visibly shaking.

"Well, Porky's operation base is still straight ahead, right?" said Sonic. "We'll just walk around the monster and be on our way."

"Y-yeah. That's a good idea."

Sonic lead Captain Falcon, still moaning about the object and protesting his heterosexuality, around the mirage, while the others followed. Only Zelda stayed still, staring deep into the heart of the illusion.

"Are you all right, Zelda?" asked Lucas anxiously.

"It's him. It's his. He's taunting me."

"Porky's been taunting all of us," said Lucas, smiling kindly. "It's what he does. He likes to show me pictures of my dead mother and brother, but I can cope. Now, why don't you…"

"BEGONNE, EVILDOER! THOU SHALT NOTTE CONTINUE TO TERRORYSE ME THUS! I SHALL SEND THEE BACK TO HELLE WHERE THOU BELONGST!"

A ball of glowing flame appeared in the princess' hands, of the same intensity as that which burned in her eyes.

"Zelda, no!" pleaded Lucas. "It's…"

"DIN'S FYRE!"

The fire rippled through the illusion, dispelling it in a blazing inferno.

"What have you done?" cried Lucas in despair.

"He'll think twice about taunting me…"

"Run, you stupid woman!" Lucas yelled. "Run!"

Surprised at the boy's tone of voice, Zelda was indeed galvanised into action. Quickly undergoing the magical transformation again, she dashed around the burning patch and joined the others.

"Don't stop running!" pleaded Lucas from behind. "Keep going!"

Going at the speed of the slowest member (now Peach rather than Zelda, whose muscular legs propelled her swiftly without the confines of a skirt), the group continued to run ahead, watching another purple and black tower appear from the horizon.

"Another fake?" asked Sonic.

"No," said Lucas in the hedgehog's mind, "That's the real thing! We're almost…"

Even throughout all the adventures they would endure after this (SPOILER: they did not die here), the LOL never forgot the sound they heard now. In contrast, Rayquaza's growl was like Jigglypuff's squeak, while Captain Falcon's yell of true anger was like Pit's whining. It was half mechanical grinding, half biological roar, and that roar contained undertones of pain and rage like none they had experienced. It was loud enough to wake not only the dead but also the very earth in which they were buried. It was right behind them.

It also featured the tweeting of a small bird.

"Don't stop running, for goodness' sake!" said Lucas via PSI.

"Where are you anyway?" thought Sonic.

He ran ahead a few steps and turned around, and found himself staring at two rows of the shiniest pointiest white-iest teeth he had ever seen.

"DON'T TURN AROUND!"

This galvanized that peculiar self-destructive streak in intelligent nature that Sonic demonstrated with Mecha-Kracko so long ago, as one by one the LOL looked over their shoulders. They saw not only huge teeth but a bright pink body, yellow eyes glimmering with malice, purple wings and a rather out of place canary on its back, singing merrily to itself. It was close behind them and gaining fast. It was only a matter of time before one of them tripped.

"It's gonna be me," thought Wario to himself as the beast drew nearer. "Me me me. Me with my stubby little legs. I'm gonna trip…"

Meta Knight gave out a cry as one of his wings was caught on a branch, sending him tumbling to earth.

"…Hey! It wasn't me! Yay!"

The saliva from the beast's enormous fangs dripped through the mask. Meta Knight drew his sword and pointed it with a shaking hand at the creature's throat. The bird chirruped.

"PK Thunder!"

The beast moaned as electricity coursed through its body and turned towards Lucas, who stood shivering behind it.

"Run, Meta Knight!" he shouted. "I'll take it!"

"No!" yelled Meta Knight, on his feet once more. "I have already sacrificed my honour once. I will not do it again!"

He lunged at the beast, only to be pulled roughly to the ground by a tongue from behind. The pink monster chased after Lucas, who peppered its face with thunder and fire attacks.

"Let go of me!" Meta Knight said to Yoshi. "I can't let him die! He's too young! He has long yet to live, much yet to learn! I will not let you rob me of my honour!"

"He came here to face up to his demons," squeaked Yoshi (at least, this is a rough translation of those squeaks). "Isn't it robbing him of his honour to get yourself killed now and deny him the chance?"

Meta Knight watched Lucas blast the bird with an ice attack, sending it toppling off the monster's back, only to nearly have his ankles removed by the teeth. He gripped his sword tightly before falling into blackness.

Yoshi felt sorry for knocking his friend out, but they would have stayed there all day otherwise. Putting the unconscious knight onto his back and watching Lucas leap over the creature's head, he ran back to join the others.

"A short prayer to thank Lucas for his services," said Zelda, in her dress again. "Oh Goddesses of Hyrule, we praye unto thee…"

Sonic grabbed her arm and tugged her towards the city gates.

"ENOUGH TALK CITY NOW!"

o o o

"Wow! You guys were lucky to make it here alive!" said the small boy guarding the gates to the genuine version of New Pork City. "I heard the Ultimate Chimera from here."

"It got one of us," said Peach sadly.

"Oh. I'm sorry," said the boy, wiping his glasses. "Just think yourself lucky you didn't run into any more trouble. I mean look!"

He pointed out of New Pork's gates towards the ten-foot metal gorilla, which swung the metal balls attached to its hands threateningly at the city.

"Steel Mechorilla," said the boy sadly. "So many of Master Porky's creations turned against the people of Eagleland, so he built New Pork City to protect us from the chimerae roaming our fair country."

"We didn't see that gorilla when we arrived," whispered Pit to Sonic.

"I smell an illusion," the hedgehog replied.

"A genius, Master Porky," continued the guard. "Just a shame none of his creations seem to work out so well. I'm Jeff, by the way. And you are?"

There was a silence. No convincing story had been prepared.

"Not all of Master Porky's creations turned bad," whispered Zelda suddenly. "We're here to deliver the latest result of his experiments."

"I thought all chimera research and creation was done in-house," said Jeff, looking confused.

"This is a special project. Or more specifically, three projects."

Zelda's hand flashed out and removed Sonic's hat.

"Hey!"

"Behold!" said Zelda, lifting her hands to the skies. "We have created a new type of hedgehog that can run faster than the speed of sound. Praise be to Master Porky!"

Sonic twigged and nodded quickly.

"Praise indeed!" said Jeff, peering at Sonic through his spectacles. "And the other two projects?"

"Behold!" said Zelda again, ripping off Yoshi's veil. "A new species of lizard, blessed with an excellent sense of smell and a tongue as long and manoeuvrable as a python!"

Jeff nodded vigorously, his blond hair bobbing up and down. "Fascinating! And the third?"

"Behold!" said Zelda once more, removing the boy's clothes from the still unconscious Meta Knight. "The greatest triumph yet of modern science – a clone of the former LOVE member and traitor (now dead), Meta Knight! Praise be to Master Porky!"

"She's enjoying this too much," whispered Wario.

"Incredible!" said Jeff. "He looks exactly like he used to look on the broadcasts. You know, I used to be an inventor long ago, but nothing I have ever done… Praise be to Master Porky."

"Getting really sick of hearing that now…" muttered Wario.

"Go right on through to the main chimera laboratory," said Jeff, pointing at the spiky tower. "You know where it is, right?"

"Of course!" scoffed Zelda. "We'll let you know how he takes it." Then, turning to the others, "You heard him. Bring the chimerae to the lab. Quickly!"

"Definitely enjoying this too much," grumbled Wario, grabbing Yoshi by the arm and "bringing" him forwards.

"Nice work, Zelda!" whispered Captain Falcon once they were a good distance away from Jeff.

"Thank you," said Zelda. "Once we're inside the tower, we just search for the barrier generator."

Yoshi cradled his egg carefully.

Jeff watched them walk down the street, lined with cardboard buildings, and turn the corner around a skyscraper. Then he withdrew a phone from his pocket and, with a deep sigh, called "Porky".

"Hello? I want to speak to Master Porky, please. Very important. It's about the LOL…"

o o o

"I wanna go on the roundabout!"

"The work experience boy is not allowed to go on fairground rides when on duty," said Captain Falcon sharply.

"But I'm not the work experience boy," pouted Pit. "I'm the junior researcher. And the junior researcher wants to go on the roundabout!"

"Shut up or I'll set the blue chimera on you."

"Roar," said Sonic.

"It's very odd," said Peach, looking at their surroundings. "All these fairground rides and fake buildings. It's like a child's dream town."

"Porky's only about thirteen," said Wario. "It figures."

"SWINGS!"

"Can someone gag the junior researcher before I saw him in half?" said the Captain, gripping Pit's arm.

On Yoshi's back, Meta Knight shook his head (well, his entire body) and blinked.

"Where am I?" he croaked groggily.

"New Pork City," said Peach. "You're a creation of Master Porky who acts just like you, so try to… act just like you."

"LUCAS!" said the knight suddenly, jumping off Yoshi's back and looking around frenetically.

"Preferably without mentioning the names of any people Master Porky might want to kill."

Meta Knight sheathed his sword glumly and toddled along towards the back of the group, rubbing his head where a nice big lump had formed.

"I let him die…"

They pushed through the throng occupying the purple and grey streets. That the roads were so crowded was not surprising, given the way that Porky had managed to pack almost the entirety of Eagleland into his new city. Vending machines and kiosks on every corner were shaped like the man/boy himself, while streets were named "King P's Avenue" or "Porky Street". Porky's staff did not wear the usual cyan and purple uniforms of the LOVE underlings, but porcine helmets. The Pig King's ego was oversized even for the LOVE, and it oozed out of every corner of the city like runny sewage.

The loudspeakers on the streets crackled into life. "Time for your hourly broadcast on all things Porky! King P has just eaten his mid-morning snack – cattlesnake fillet with chips! He can confirm that cattlesnake tastes much better than ordinary beef! But was there ever any doubt? After all, King P created the cattlesnake himself! All hail Master Porky!"

"All hail Master Porky!" yelled the city in response.

"Hoo yeah! Rock on! Master Porky kicks your ass! And yours, too! And mine! He rules! Woo hoo!"

"Captain," whispered Zelda, "what are you doing?"

"Just getting into character," said the Captain, looking embarrassed.

"I somehow doubt that one of Porky's top researchers would give quite such a ridiculously exuberant reaction to a run-of-the-mill propaganda broadcast."

"You're just jealous 'cause Porky kicks your ass."

"Is this some sort of hypnosis?" asked Meta Knight. "Some sort of signal transmitted through the loudspeaker to demand obedience?"

"No," said Sonic, "Sparrow's just an idiot. Also, roar."

Tired of walking and with the tower still a long way off, they flagged down a yellow taxi and travelled thus to the bottom of the tower. The sudden realisation that New Pork City had a different currency to everywhere else on the planet hit them only upon arrival.

"What d'you call this?" said the taxi driver, loudly. "Kids' money? These coins don't have Master Porky's face on them!"

"What's going on here?" said one of the tower entrance guards, mercifully not wearing a pig helmet but instead dressed in a smart uniform (purple and cyan, naturally).

"These fraudsters were trying to…"

"Ah, the return of the noble scientists!" said the guard, his face glowing. "Jeff told us all about the success of your endeavour. Right this way, please."

"But my money!" wailed the taxi driver, his moustache bouncing.

"Master Porky's staff will settle this with you personally," said the guard, beaming. "Gentlemen, ladies, chimerae…"

"Roar," said Sonic.

"We didn't mean to joyride," said Peach. "I hope we didn't cause any trouble."

"No trouble at all," said the guard, resuming his post next to his equally smiley partner. "He'll get what's coming to him. If you'd just like to go straight on through and take the elevator up to the laboratory. All hail Master Porky!"

"Hoo yeah!"

o o o

The bottom floor of the tower was a reception lobby, its floor lined with pink and white tiles and with a smiling woman in uniform "manning" the desk.

"Welcome to the Empire Porky Building!" grinned the woman. "King P has been expecting you, noble scientists. Please, go over to the elevator on the left."

"Erm… What's that menacing looking shiny guy going to do?" asked Peach, as a large silver man with tentacles and no face strode towards the door.

"You were having some trouble with a taxi driver, right?" smiled the woman. "That man's going to sort it out for you! No expense spared for guests of Master Porky!"

"Oh…" said Peach, suddenly feeling very sorry for the driver.

They filed into the lift and pressed the button marked "Lab".

"Does anyone else notice anything odd?" pondered a pensive Pit.

"That the woman said 'welcome to the building' instead of 'welcome back'?" said Zelda.

Yoshi's yelps were Meta-translated as, "Or that we were referred to as 'guests' rather than 'employees'?"

"Yeah, those too," said Pit, "But I meant more like the way that 'Lab' has been written on a piece of paper with a felt tip and stuck on the button with sticky tape."

And so it was.

"It's a trap!" shouted Meta Knight. "It's not taking us to the laboratory at all!"

The lift ground to a halt and the doors opened. The sheer amount of machinery and bubbling jars of liquid dismissed the hypothesis that it could be anything other than a laboratory.

"Nobody get out!" warned Meta Knight. "The moment one of us steps into the open, we'll be blasted with laser beams!"

He waved his cloak along the ground. There was a distinct absence of any blasting or charred cloth smell.

"We still ought to be careful," he said slowly. "One false move and…"

"C'mon! Step it up!" said Sonic, dashing past Meta Knight before Captain Falcon could maintain his promise about the capsule bomb.

"That hedgehog," the Captain growled, following the "chimera" inside.

"Hey guys! Come and look at this!"

They followed the voice around machines and murk to where Sonic was waiting. Beside him, a small boy with black hair floated unclothed in a vat of green fluid, attached to several wires. The boy's face was contorted into a grimace, and sparks seemed to be floating out of his body along the wires, which were connected to a computer giving all sorts of complicated readouts.

"Ness, the psychic wünderkind of Eagleland," said Wario. "I thought we captured him?"

"Eww!" said Captain Falcon. "A naked child! Just what I did not need to see after my total lack of breakfast."

"He looks like he's being hurt," said Peach, pressing her face up against the glass.

"The solution is simple," said Meta Knight. "We break the glass and free the boy."

"What, just tear him from the wires?" said Zelda. "No. He might die."

"We can't blow this place up with him in it, though!" protested Peach.

"Speaking of which…"

Sonic had already lost interest in the floating boy and had moved on to the large purple pillar, festooned with cables and monitors. It bore a felt-tip-and-paper sign saying "Barier Generater".

"Okay, let's review this," said Sonic as the others came to look. "There's a single room in this building that contains not only a hostage of Porky's but also the barrier generator, and Porky's not only just let us walk right in but put labels on everything for us?"

"It's a trap!" said Meta Knight again.

"Bear in mind that this is the same boy who designed an all-powerful war robot with bright blue weak points," said Peach.

"How d'you like my barrier generator, dickfaces?"

The speaker seemed to snigger the entire sentence. Looking behind the pillar, an obese teenager with floppy blond hair was the visible source. Unlike his appearance at the LOVE meeting, he now wore a white shirt, a red bow tie and dungarees that were stretched around his prodigious waist.

"He was leading one of the squads of enemies when we got the Halberd!" observed Pit.

"Pokey Minch," intoned Meta Knight. "Possibly the only member of the LOVE fatter than Wario."

"Hey!"

"Wow!" said Porky/Pokey. "I'm Pokey Minch. Cool. Hey, did you guys hear that? I'm Pokey Minch!"

"No, I'm Pokey Minch!" said another identical looking boy behind them.

"I thought I was Pokey Minch!" said another clone to the right.

"No, I am!"

"You're all fags. I'm Pokey Minch!"

"Maybe we're all Pokey Minch!"

"Or maybe I am," said a voice through the lab's communication system, sounding identical to all the others.

"I reckon it's that one," whispered Pit to Falcon.

"Robots are cool," sniggered the voice over the intercom. "They're so much cooler than humans. And aren't I lucky? I've got loads of them that look exactly like me!"

The LOL found themselves surrounded by a ring of Mecha-Porkies, each one sniggering and fiddling with its spots.

"I knew it was a trap," grumbled Meta Knight. "I said so time and time again, but did anyone listen? Nobody listens to the little man. Not until they get into shit and need his sword to get them out."

Yoshi nodded sympathetically. He knew how it felt.

"Your little friend Jeff told me all about the LOL invading my city," sneered the intercom.

"Jeff?" gasped Peach.

"The bastard!" roared the Captain.

"He'll do anything for me as long as I promise not to hurt his friend… too much."

The voice sniggered. From the tank of green liquid came the sound of muffled screams.

"Stop it!" cried Peach.

"Whoa, you're hot when you're angry!" said the voice. "Keep your hair on, cuntface. He's mine. I can do what I like to him, and short of fucking me there's nothing you can do about it."

"Yoshi, blow the machine now!" yelled Peach.

"Hey, sure, why not? Blow the pillar sky-high, just like that! Go on! There's even a handy little slot there for you to put your explosives in! I assume you have explosives? The last guy did."

Yoshi shrugged, broke open the egg and placed the capsule inside the slot, removing its lid. The LOL moved around to the far side of the pillar as a flap closed down over the capsule, and shifted slightly away from it towards the Mecha-Porkies.

"You dumbasses!" cackled Porky. "Yeah, like sure I'm going to let you blow the generator, just like that! It's made out of some mega-heavy super-reinforced stuff Jeff invented. The last explosives some guy tried didn't leave a…"

There was a muffled boom. When the smoke had cleared, the generator column had been divided into two parts (not counting the flying debris) – one part was fixed to the floor and featured writhing live wires protruding from its top, and the other was held to the ceiling by cables that did not look strong enough to support its weight for long. The copious monitors were either off, showing interference or featuring error messages (e.g. "A problem has arisen in the system. Find out what went wrong and get it fixed before Master Porky comes down and beats the crap out of you! All hail Master Porky!").

"…scratch…"

There was the sound of a huge barrier of purple magic evanescing.

o o o

"Sir! You're not going to believe this!"

As the official Nintendo observer ran off to inform his IPAF seniors that for the first time in just over half a year the barrier around Nintendo had disappeared, the figure standing by took the opportunity to observe the planet. Either Snake had, after six months of diplomacy, managed to convince the LOVE to remove the force field, or (more likely) he had brought it down by force. Or Sonic had. Or Sonic had found Snake, and they both had. It mattered little either way, except Sonic was more likely to gloat. Well, let him.

The observer returned to the room, flushed and out of breath. "Sir, the Colonel wants to have a word with you."

The figure smiled slowly. His fingers curled possessively around the seven objects in his pocket.

o o o

The respite was brief. Porky's stunned silence gave way to a strangled cry. As if on cue, the Mecha-Porkies charged, sirens atop their heads flashing and wailing. Sonic curled up into a ball and rushed at the robots, pushing them over where they writhed briefly before bursting into flames.

"To the elevator!" yelled the hedgehog as he uncurled.

A snigger from the intercom informed them that Porky's good humour had returned.

"Yeah, good luck there, dickfaces," said Porky. "I've got control of the entire lab from here. Don't you think I'd have already stopped the elevator?"

"To the stairs!" yelled Sonic.

"Where are the stairs?" asked Pit.

"I don't know!"

"You know, I'm really quite a fascinating person," said Porky as they ran. "I've been both a hero and a villain. I've served the mighty and had them serve me. I'm thousands of years old, but with the heart of a young and innocent child. I've escaped from an eternal prison."

They stopped running before the child's glass cell. It was empty save the bubbling fluid.

"Where's Ness gone?" asked Peach.

"How should I know?" bawled Sonic over his shoulder. "Keep running!"

"I became the servant of the great lord of the cosmos. I fought for him and brought him prey. But he was too weak. He succumbed to emotions and destroyed himself, while I escaped through time. And so I wandered, lost in the fourth dimension, aging yet ageless."

"Why's it all gone dark?" cried Pit. "Even my halos aren't glowing!"

"That Ness must be a Project Z clone," said Zelda. "Used by Porky to get Jeff to work for him, and to create illusions over all Eagleland using PSI. Now he's turning on us."

"Keep moving!" cried Sonic.

"I came back and became king of a small group of islands, creating my Utopia. A wonderful place, best suited for one as great as myself. But tricked by one of those I had trusted, I was doomed to be incarcerated in solitude forever, while the paradise I had created crumbled outside."

"Argh! Don't break my legs!"

"My car! Smashed!"

"I'm sorry, Ganondorf! Please don't hurt me!"

"Yoshi yoo!"

"They're just illusions!" shouted Meta Knight, slashing at the empty space with some difficulty. "The fake Ness is playing on your fears! Press on!"

"But then it came to me. Not so long after I was trapped, it came to me from across space and time. Weaker now, still it was enough to help me escape from my eternal resting place. I was met with the sight of my great empire swept away, and the islands I ruled now just another part of Eagleland."

"The room's sloping!" yelled Sonic in the dark, scrabbling with his shoes to get a grip.

"It's just an illusion!" shouted Meta Knight again.

"If it is, it's a really good one!" came the sound of Peach's voice, sliding away into the blackness.

"Porky, you wuss, come and face us!" yelled the Captain.

"Not interested in my life story, Captain Dickface? I was having so much fun watching you all getting chucked about. But I guess if you really want to see me, you ought to hurry to the stairs. Quickly, losers, before I get there first! Spankety spankety spankety!"

The darkness vanished, gravity returned to normal. The intercom buzzed and went dead. The LOL picked themselves off the floor and checked that all their extremities were still attached.

"We must press on," said Meta Knight, pointing to the door marked "Stares".

"Can't we take a break?" breathed Pit, breathing heavily. "Like, I just saw Palutena with a dog's head. I think I need to lie down."

"If we stop to rest now, that gives Porky time to plan his next move. Not something we want."

It was Zelda's blue-garbed alter ego who tiptoed lightly over to the door and, keeping herself well out of the way, opened it slowly. It was barely open a crack when what looked like an electric yo-yo shot through the door, performed a u-turn and slammed into where Zelda's head had been.

"Not again," sighed Wario.

"PK Flash!"

Zelda ran out of the door under the ball of green fire moving ominously towards the rest of the group and unleashed a salvo of throwing needles upon the boy, now fully dressed (if still a bit green and wet-looking). He held up a hand and the needles hung in space for a second before firing themselves back towards the running princess, each one burying itself in the wall of the stairwell a bit too close to Zelda's hidden face for comfort.

Zelda's intervention had at least caused the disappearance of the PK Flash attack, allowing the rest of the LOL to enter the stairwell. Ness' position was in the middle of the spiralling steps, over empty space, making a direct attack difficult. The child dodged Yoshi's eggs easily, and absorbed Pit's arrows with a field of blue energy. When Meta Knight tried to fly up to him, he was knocked out of the air by Ness' baseball bat.

"Coo-ee, dickfaces!" said the intercom. "I'm here!"

This simple message caused the LOL to look around frantically. It was only when Pit glanced upwards and screamed that they saw the giant spider-mecha crawling down the banister towards them.

"Nobody's seen my real form for a while," sniggered Porky. "Aren't you lucky? I almost think you don't deserve it, and I should just snipe you from up here."

Ness floated over to the stairway, bat in hand. Blocking a swing of Peach's tennis racket easily, he shot a small yellow projectile from his fingertips, similar to the one with which Lucas had ignited Waluigi's cap. This one set the princess' hair ablaze.

"But that doesn't seem fair, especially as you tried so hard and are now about to die. Brace yourselves for the glory that is Pokey Minch!"

The mech's legs untangled themselves from the banister, and it fell. As gravity brought it level with the LOL, it extended its legs, caught onto the banister and hung there, wrenching the landing to one side and almost away from the wall.

The machine seemed to have started life as a bed, and the mech had grown up around it. There was a glass roof over the bed, a metal frame around it and six thin legs attached to that. The frame was purple and bore a malevolent pig-nosed face on the front.

The LOL did not have time to take in these details in full, as they had their hands full with the fake Ness. Meta Knight was attempting to put Peach's hair out with his cloak, while the others tried to get past Ness' psychic powers and attack him. Captain Falcon was the only one who decided to attend to the mech; he jumped onto it with his fist already in flames.

"Shit, Porky's old."

The figure on the bed was recognisably Porky, with the same (large) body shape, floppy hair and clueless-carp open mouth visible on the army of statues. However, the hair was white, including the stout man's moustache. His skin was so pale that the veins stood out like scars. The body simply lay on the bed, seemingly unable to move independently of the mech.

"I've travelled through time more than I can remember," said the intercom, although Porky's mouth did not budge. "I've seen whole civilisations rise and fall. Like, what do you expect?"

A leg detached itself from the railings and swiped the Captain off, curtailing the fiery assault and proving that even if Porky himself could not move, the mech had locomotion capabilities enough to make up for it. It disentangled itself from the banister and brought itself up onto the landing, leaving Zelda duelling Ness on one side and the remainder of the group on the other. Ejecting Mecha-Porkies from a compartment in its rear, it swiped at its foes with the two legs not being used to balance.

"Let's get out of here!" said Sonic, turning around to see that the others had already had the same idea and were dashing down the stairs. He followed them, shrieking, "Wait for meeee!" (This was ironic as it took him less than a second to pass them all.)

Zelda dodged a surplus of flaming projectiles, a blast of light and several swipes of Ness' bat before deciding that continuing to ineffectually hurl needles at the psychic boy was not worth the wasted metal. She wrapped her chain around one of the banister support railings and jumped off, narrowly avoiding another thunder-yo-yo. She lowered herself down to the next level of stairs, meeting up with the others on the next landing.

Above them, the floor finally gave way and Porky's mech descended somewhat forcefully onto the stairs before them. As it turned out, that set of stairs did not want him either, and flight by flight the bedbot dropped down to the ground floor, flinging Mecha-Porkies everywhere and rendering the remainder of the staircase all but unusable in the process.

"No matter how far you think you can run, I'll find you," sneered Porky's voice. "I'll just have Ness search for your mental activity, and then one night when you think you're safe in your beds you'll hear the sound of spider-legs click-clacking over the stones, and before you know it…"

The machine hovered in the air and shot a laser beam at the group, trying to make their way down to the ground safely. It seared Pit's wing and the angel fell, screaming, and landed on Meta Knight as he tumbled. Peach glided down using a parasol, which she held in one hand while deflecting Ness' baseball bat and yo-yo attacks with the pan she held in the other. Those who reached the ground floor unharmed found that the mech was stationed in front of the doorway, and saw the cracks slowly spreading up the walls.

"No escape, dickfaces! Now you'll know how I felt, thinking that I would spend the rest of my life inside a ball with a two-metre radius. Not exactly, of course, because the rest of my life would have been much longer than yours will be!"

The Mecha-Porkies scampered around between the LOL, sniggering and detonating themselves at will. Ness threw fire and thunder around madly, while Porky swiped with the mech's pointy legs and blasted lasers from its top. All the while the cracks in the walls continued to wend their merry way onwards and upwards. Suddenly, upstairs did not look so bad, but the staircases were falling down in chunks anyway.

"I hate to do this, really," said Porky, his voice full of false regret. "I'd much rather finish you off myself. But I can't do that without leaving my spot by the door, and I'd hate to deprive you of that wonderful feeling of claustrophobia before you die. So, Ness, I guess you're up! Do to them what you did to me all those years ago!"

Ness descended to the ground, the Mecha-Porkies exploding harmlessly against the psychic barrier he maintained around himself. His eyes glowing bright blue, he raised his hands to the heavens.

"PK Star…"

The boy paused as if hit.

"C'mon, dickface!" yelled Porky's voice. "Do it!"

Ness seemed to have to struggle to lift his head again, but he turned it once more to the skies.

"P K… Urgh… Star…"

"What the fuck's the matter with you?" yelled the intercom. "Kill them!"

Ness and looked directly at Sonic.

"…Sis?"

"Your sister's dead, you idiot! I killed her! For fuck's sake, use PK Starstorm!"

"…Mom? Dad?"

"PK Starstorm! PK Starstorm! PK…"

"…STARSTORM!"

Porky rotated the mech frantically to see who had said this, but its movement was hindered by the giant glowing orb of light that fell onto the glass casing. This was followed by another, and suddenly the ceiling was raining glowing balls, shattering what remained of the staircase into smithereens. A direct hit from one boulder caused the fake Ness to explode in a blaze of purple light, while several others pummelled the mecha. The orbs seem to purposefully avoid the LOL – one heading directly for Captain Falcon's head exploded before it reached the auburn curls.

"You again!" shrieked Porky. "Why won't you die? Oh Hands, why won't you ever die?"

He gave a yell of anguish as a massive pink beast hurled itself through the doorway and chewed off the mech's back legs.

"The Ultimate Chimera?" said re-princessed Zelda.

The beast moved onto the front legs, crunching away merrily while Porky's screams echoed over the intercom. The machine's laser blasted the creature repeatedly with no visible effect. Having finished the last of the legs, the creature stood on top of the glass and growled threateningly at the corpselike form of the ruler of Eagleland.

"Enough, Boney."

The Ultimate Chimera ground its teeth and retreated, while through the door came the form of a blond adolescent.

"You're alive!" said Meta Knight.

"No no no!" screeched Porky. "This isn't fair! You always turn up and ruin my plans! I'm gonna tell on you! MOM! DAD! Lucas is bullying me again!"

Lucas rolled his eyes while the mech smouldered. The others gathered around and made much of the boy, Peach in particular ruffling his hair and saying how cute he was. Meta Knight just sat down and breathed long sighs of relief.

"How did you tame the chimera?" asked Sonic, looking at the massive teeth of the creature that now sat obediently in the corner.

"He was lonely and angry and confused," said Lucas, walking over to "Boney" and stroking his snout (which was level with his head). "Imagine that you'd been cobbled together from bits of animal and machine, not knowing what you are or to where you belong, and in addition having a canary, a proper animal, flying around you all the time singing cheerfully and waking you up."

"You gained its trust even while you were blasting it with ice and lightning?" asked Captain Falcon.

"I hit the off switch first," admitted Lucas. "Then I turned it back on, and I gave it some food and stroked it and talked to it. I named it after my old dog."

Boney responded to the cosseting by giving a wide toothy grin and emitting what was almost a purr, which descended an octave into a growl again.

"Whassamatta boy?" asked Lucas, scratching its ear.

"Die, dickfaces!"

Porky's mech was hovering in the air, its base tilted toward Lucas. A stream of red lightning was visible on the underside, and in its centre a red ball of energy was forming.

"Look out, Lucas!" cried Pit, again demonstrating his talent for making useless interjections.

Red electricity shot out from the ball towards Lucas, who stood there and watched as the thunder bounced back towards its source and cooked the mech. It was only then, as his construct fried around him, that Porky saw the small reflective badge Lucas wore on his jumper.

"Your turn now, Porky," said Lucas, his normally gentle eyes set defiantly. "See what we have seen! Feel what we have felt!"

The sparks ceased to fly from the machine, but inside the body was twitching. Porky's limp frame was trying to move. Due to lack of movement his muscles had wasted away to almost nothing, but he was trying slowly to lift his arms. The intercom had been damaged by the electricity, so all that could be heard was the old man/boy's slow moan coming through the glass.

"Stop it!" said Zelda. "What are you doing to him?"

"He indirectly killed my mother and brother before he joined the LOVE," said Lucas in a measured tone. "After, he had robots slaughter Ness' entire family. I'm just showing him what happened to them, only substituting in their places the only person Porky cares about – himself."

"Oh," said Zelda. "Carry on."

There was not much more carrying on left to do. Porky finally managed to lift one arm up to the roof of his glass case, which in a similar stroke of genius to the one that had hit him when he was designing Galleom's joints could only be opened from the outside, and then dropped it again. The moaning stopped, marking the end of a battle that had involved heavy explosives, hallucinations, psychic warfare, a spider-mecha and a monster the size of a family carrier. It would have been horribly anticlimactic.

Fortunately, the tower then collapsed.

o o o

The head overseer of Project Y was a Lakitu, a small orange Koopa Trooper that usually flew high in the air on a cloud. This one was on the ground, and attempting to bend even lower.

"It is coming along exceedingly well, your Highness," he purred obsequiously. "Even after you reduced the men's working hours last month, they have made great progress. Your grand vision is almost complete."

"It is as I feared," said Bowser, looking out of a window at the field of work. It stared back at him, which was quite a feat considering its lack of eyes.

"Feared, your Excellency?"

"Yes, as I hoped," said Bowser, striding around the room irritably. "How soon would it be finished if the men continued at their current pace?"

"Well, your highness, I'd say about two weeks, assuming such factors as the men's morale remain constant…"

"Is the men's morale in any danger of change?" said Bowser, wheeling sharply and fixing a burning eye upon the tortoise.

"Er, maybe, sir?" said the cringing chelonian. "I mean, these rumours about the LOL…"

"What rumours about the LOL?" growled Bowser, towering over the figure on the floor.

"N-n-n-nothing really…" said the foreman, now a quivering wreck. "Just the usual mutterings. Drones, eh? Who'd be a drone? Ha!"

"I'm sick of listening to yours!" yelled Bowser, hoisting the unfortunate up by his shell. "What rumours?"

"They say that the LOL are going to save Nintendo from the tyranny of the LOVE and bring back Mario and the men are worried the LOL will kill you and then they'll be out of a job."

Bowser dropped the shaking tortoise, who dived into his shell and stayed there for several minutes, rocking back and forth. The Koopa King strode around the room for these minutes, occasionally peering outside at the ground, thirty-four floors below. When his employee had emerged, still trembling slightly, he found his lord and master fiddling idly with a ruler left on the desk.

"We'll have to do something about these rumours," said Bowser, staring at the ceiling. "I mean, we can't have the men's morale being reduced, can we?"

"N-no, your Highness. No we can't."

"In the meantime…" Bowser turned once more to face the fruits of the workforce's labour.

"In the meantime, your Gloriousness?"

"How many hours a day are the men working now?"

"After the latest cut? Six, I believe."

"Six?" said Bowser, his eyes wide with shock. "No wonder their morale is low! Reduce it to four, and double their wages."

"But if we cut it to four hours a day, there's no way we'll finish in time for…"

"Including yours."

The Lakitu's eyes acquired a golden glimmer as he bowed and fawned Bowser out of the office.

"…Oh, and one final thing, your Resplendentness. When will we know what it is we are making?"

"When I see fit to tell you, you worthless pipsqueak!" roared Lord Bowser, before calming himself. "Hmm. 'Your Resplendentness'. Haven't heard that one before. I like it. Write it down."

o o o

"…and then when you held up the entire collapsing tower with your mind – whoa, man that was cool!"

Lucas modestly busied himself with his omelette. The others were not so vocal in their enthusiasm as Pit. Yoshi and Wario were fully occupied with their dinners. Peach and Zelda, although grateful, showed their gratitude in a slightly quieter and more dignified manner. Sonic and Captain Falcon both felt that whatever a snotty-nosed fourteen-year-old could do, they should have been able to do better, while Meta Knight had neglected dinner in favour of a flight through the evening.

It had been a long and tiring day. The collapse of the stairwell had brought the top half of the skyscraper down with it. It was solely due to the position of the building on top of a large hill, far away from any other habitation, that there were no injuries (that and the fact that the Empire Porky Building had been evacuated when things started to go haywire in the lab). Then Lucas and friends had emerged with the Ultimate Chimera in tow, and it had not been easy to stop the screaming for long enough to show how tame Boney had become.

What with the removal of both the Ultimate Chimera and the illusions (sure enough, the Steel Mechorilla was nowhere to be found), the people felt able to leave New Pork and return home. It was truly like a spell had been broken, as the Eaglites poured out of their haven and across the land. Some of them would bump into the real chimerae on their way and have a rough time of it, but they were prepared to take that risk. (The LOL hoped that the few whose houses they had used to rest in and stolen food from would not notice.)

About halfway through the afternoon, Jeff had appeared in their midst, tooled up with a rocket launcher, beam sword, helmet and jetpack, all of his own invention. Suffering a guilty conscience, he had decided to raid the Empire Porky Building on his own, take down Porky and rescue Ness. When the truth was told, he looked disappointed and regretful, but also grateful that he was saved the trouble of potentially getting himself broken into tiny pieces. He had paid the group compensation enough to treat themselves to a slap-up dinner and a night in a nice hotel, and given Lucas his beam sword, before returning to his room to create an "automatic clothes-folding machine".

And now they sat in "Beauty and Tasty", a self-service restaurant created by Porky featuring robot waitresses that looked and spoke like his mother. The Uncanny Valley effect echoed around the room, but the food was decent and it was the first good non-stolen meal the LOL had eaten in a long time.

"So, have you had a chance to think about joining us?" said Peach. "Nine companions – and of course Boney."

"I don't think I can," said Lucas gently. "I've seen things no one should ever have to see. I saw the inside of the shadow Ness' mind when I stopped him from using Starstorm – a tumult of rage, anger and unthinking obedience, through which memories of what he really was kept trying to break out. I saw the inside of Porky's mind too, and the corruption and aching loneliness that resided there.

"I don't think I want to use my PSI powers again in a long time. I've seen too many people die. I've taken lives myself. Now, I just want to stay behind and protect my country. That and my dad (and Boney now) are all I have left."

Lucas tried to suppress a tear that trickled down his cheek. Peach wiped it away with the sleeve of her tunic.

"We understand," she said softly.

"And what are you going to do now anyway?" the boy continued. "You've brought down the barrier. Now surely you'll just be waiting for help to come from outside."

The LOL exchanged bewildered glances. What the boy said was true – their work was done. The purpose that had brought them together was accomplished. It would not be long before the IPAF came sailing in and bombarded the LOVE to smithereens. Probably taking half the planet with it, knowing them.

"Where do we go now?" said Peach. "It's still not safe for us to wander around outside Eagleland."

"We could go and find Snake…" suggested Zelda.

"When he's still wounded and everyone and their Pokémon wants him dead?" said Sonic.

There was a moment of ponderous silence, broken only by the sound of Yoshi and Wario eating. They had done as much as was possible, and there was no reason for them not to go their separate ways. Their part in bringing about the safety of Nintendo would no doubt be forgotten amidst the congratulating of IPAF.

"I don't wanna leave the LOL!" said Pit sadly.

"We're not… We weren't called the LOL," said Sonic.

"I realise you people don't feel the same," said Wario, spitting spaghetti everywhere, "but I've grown quite fond of you guys."

"Not going to cry," said the Captain, sniffing. "Crying is gay. Not going to cry…"

"This is stupid," said Lucas. "Why don't you keep travelling together? Just for a little bit."

"We have our own things to do," sighed Sonic. "I've got to go and meet the Eyepaff when they arrive, Yoshi's got to get back to his people, Sparrow's got to go and masturbate over his car… Hey!"

"I didn't touch you!" protested the Captain. "Although I was about to knee you in the balls."

Sonic felt in his fur and pulled out an indigo Chaos Emerald. It was glowing faintly.

"You said they were dead!" said Wario.

"They were. They are! But they're picking up energy signals from other Chaos Emeralds."

"Aren't there only seven of the things in existence?" said the Captain.

"So I thought…"

"I apologise for my interruption."

The echoing voice from under the table made Sonic topple backwards off his chair, sending faintly glowing emeralds spilling out of his fur. Wario had to forcibly restrain himself from waddling over to pick them up.

"There appears to be a transport vehicle outside," said Meta Knight. "It's large and beige, and shaped like a creature with a massive nose and whiskers. A scrawled note on the inside suggests that it is a gift to us for freeing Eagleland, from someone called 'Mr. Saturn'."

Everyone looked at the scrambling Sonic.

"If there are other Chaos Emeralds, it's my duty to find them before the LOVE do," he said. "Who knows what sort of trouble they could cause?"

"I'm sure we'd all be happy to let you take the ship," said Peach.

"Me? You mean, you guys aren't coming?"

There were expectant stares and wide eyes.

"I mean, what if I need help?" continued the hedgehog. "Not that I will, of course. But still, it would be nice to have the company. I don't want to disband the LOL just yet."

"You called it the LOL!" said Pit happily.

Sonic swore under his breath.

"Whatever I called it," he said, "I'd like to bring you all along for the ride."

"All right!" cheered the Captain. "The LOL is back in business. C'mon everybody – step it up!"

"You hypocrite!" shouted Sonic, following him out of the door.

It was a joyous moment. None of them had really wanted to disband, and although they may not have liked facing death in the face quite so often it was better to do so when one had friends/meat shields one could put between oneself and death. The group may not have liked each other very much at times, but there was a feeling of kinship and family between them now, even if Wario was the crazy uncle who lives in the attic and smells and keeps rats around the house.

Smiles and laughs went around the table. Pit swept his hair out of his eye and grinned broadly. The others grinned back, even if no one could see Meta Knight's. Finally, with a cheer of general contentment, the newly reformed LOL went out to join the impatiently waiting Sonic. Yoshi finished his bowl of fruit religiously before giving Lucas a wave and dashing out, with a cry of "Yoshi!"

Lucas watched them go with a sad smile in his eyes, feeling much older than his fourteen years. He finished his omelette in silence and looked with large eyes at the robot waitress who picked up his plate.

"So, you'll be paying for all of them, then?"

Lucas' heart froze. As he frantically rifled through his pockets in search of any usable currency, Boney nudged the waitress gently with his snout.

"BZZZT… Meal on the house for the saviours of our city?"

o o o

"Does it please you?" it asked me.

I replied that what I had seen pleased me greatly. In some ways, it was very similar to the planets and civilisations I had seen in my native verse, but in some ways so very different! I loved it. It tasted of glory, and achievement, and of going where none of my kind had ventured before. Who were the Forbidden now?

"I am glad," it said. "It pleases me too to look upon creation, and see creations occurring within it. Everything in the world creates and destroys. Such is existence."

I said that I would greatly like to venture forth into the Forbidden (no more!) Land for myself, even as a creature of matter. At this, the one who had showed me so much gave a slow, lazy movement which in a being with shoulders might have been a shrug, and sighed long and low.

"Heed my words, SubSpace Emissary. You have seen what no creature of SubSpace has seen, and probably no creature of SubSpace will see again."

Its continued use of this signal "SubSpace" annoyed me. Nothing I had been shown allowed me to define the distinction between SubSpace and Space.

"Now go home," it continued. "Tell your people of the wonders of Space worlds, and be content that none will ever surpass your achievement."

I did not want to go, and informed it of this. I wished to explore more, to discover more.

"You cannot. This world is not yours to discover. As a creature of SubSpace, you may not venture forth alone into this world."

Then, I was "forbidden" from entering it?

"Forbidden by the laws of nature, yes."

I took a long time to consider this before I replied, and I actually used the other's own tongue to do so. It was difficult to convert my raw energy into the correct form, but I managed to create four distinct words:

"Not by my reckoning."

o o o

Time passes.

Look at Nintendo now. At the start of our story, barely a month ago, it was securely under the control of the League of Villains Extraordinaire. Feared and hated by their people, they cut Nintendo off from the rest of the world and lived lives of luxury, unopposed by a terrified populace. Now, their authority has been challenged to such a degree that the people talk in terrified whispers about how the League of Legends will save the planet, and how LOVE attempts to stop them failed in Hyrule, Archanea and Kanto. They tell anti-LOVE jokes to their neighbours. They dare to think "Why?", as in, "Why should I do this?" (For now, the answer remains, "Because you'll be disappeared if you don't, chuckles.") They have hope.

For now, there is a distinct lack of an IPAF fleet in the skies, coming to save Nintendo, but the LOL do not know this. They drive along in their vehicle, quite the diverse bunch: a hyperactive blue hedgehog of adult male height, a well-built racing driver unable to control his hormones, an angelic pubescent who is boyishly pleased by everything around him, a walking hubcap strictly bound by honour, a dinosaur chief with a massive nose and appetite to match, a fat smelly Italian with a passion for garlic and money, and two princesses, one pure and religious who is a practising transvestite and another who is rather shallower and more inclined towards jealousy and strong passions. Together they whizz towards the faint signal from the former Chaos Emeralds, not knowing where precisely they are going and loving it.

The figure in the single small ship heading towards the planet knew nothing of this. He thought only of the job he had to do there. Yet had he looked through his window as his vessel fell towards the Hylian desert, he would have seen a planet starting to rise up around its heroes, completely unprepared for the figure that lurked in the shadows, known only as "You Know Who", and the two outstanding Projects, X and Y. None of them were prepared for what would happen next. As it happens, neither were the LOVE, nor the LOL, nor the being of energy who writes like this.

But then, who is, really? The (uni)verse is famously unpredictable. That is part of the reason it survives. The only thing we can really be sure of is that time passes.

And time passes.