§9 Redemption

Zelda and Yoshi were the first two out of the Flyer when it touched down. Zelda's pointed ears were sensitive to sounds, and to say that she thought drum 'n' bass remixes of racetrack themes were god(ess)less offences to music would be a modest understatement. Yoshi, although his ear holes were less receptive, tended more towards chorus calypso on the beach, and felt much the same way.

They did not know whether to laugh or cry. The scene of their victory was before them, and what a mix of emotions it was. The dead lay everywhere, either blown to pieces by bombardment or torn apart by clones, covered in purple stains where the mist had not quite disappeared. Diddy's reunion with his uncle was cut short by the need to inter half the clan, and Red's Pikachu was sobbing over the mangled mess that had once been his daughter. Olimar drew his remaining Pikmin close, and together they watched the cloud of multicoloured ghosts drifting towards the great garden in the sky. Ike and Lyn had a hand each on the emperor Marth's shoulders, as he despaired the loss of his lover on the battlefields of Archanea.

At least Roy had someone to miss him, thought Sonic, emerging behind Yoshi. He looked sadly at the headless corpse of Mewtwo, mourned only by the sky's light drizzle.

As in every war, there are winners and losers, and when the League were able to tear their eyes away from the carnage they found some of the winners. Luigi was suffocating his brother in a tight embrace, as Daisy looked on with an indulgent smile. Samus was shaking hands with Saki and ruffling his hair, as the boy struggled to say anything through the hormones. Ness was patting Boney on the nose; the Ice Climbers rejoiced in each other's company; the Starfox team had left their Arwings to greet their leaders; and Kirby was introducing himself to everyone and anyone with a wide grin. Standing apart from the rest, Snake looked on contentedly, while Shadow kept his back turned so that none would see his tears.

Yoshi smiled sadly. So many Yoshi dead to bury and remember. He turned to Zelda, but she had vanished. Looking back at the heroes, there was a green flash and Zelda had appeared, pouncing on Link and breaking down.

"I'm sorry," she said, tears tumbling across her face. "I'm so so sorry!"

Link smiled and patted her back tenderly, bewilderment stamped on his sharp features.

The rest of the LOL streaked past Yoshi as well. Sonic was a blur as he homed in on Shadow and Snake. The Captain ran over to Olimar, gave him a brief but intense hug and detoured to where Samus, Goroh and Saki were standing. Wario made for Midna, floating near Link and Zelda with some choice bruises across her face. Pit flew towards Brewster, the unflappable pigeon pouring a cup of coffee for the shell-shocked Red. Meta Knight, with a rare yell of glee, met Kirby halfway before tearing up on the pink blob's lack of shoulder, to Kirby's intense confusion.

Yoshi turned, tears for his dead clouding his vision, and saw Peach twiddling her thumbs. He squeaked and pointed towards Mario, who was waving frantically at her.

"Yes, yes, I suppose," she said, following him.

Yoshi rushed over to the battlefield itself, where the remaining Yoshis sent up a haggard cheer, and he fell among them with grateful sobs.

"Look at that," said Sonic smugly. "Did you ever think we'd be able to accomplish all of this?"

"All that bloodshed?" said Shadow. "I had no doubt you would, Sonic."

o o o

Peach's footsteps seemed to echo over the grass. All around her were shouts of thanks, people rejoicing and shaking hands. Oh, there were sounds of mourning as well, tears flowing freely as the dead were recognised, but Peach did not find them half so depressing.

Mario descended upon her, giving her a massive hug that nearly upended her. "Princess! You saved us! You and your friends! Oh, it's so good to see you again!"

Peach smiled weakly and nodded. "Me and my friends."

"You gotta hurry up!" said the exuberant plumber, pointing at Luigi and his girlfriend. "Luigi and Daisy are dying to congratulate you!"

Peach was sure that Daisy would much rather die than congratulate her.

"I'll be with you shortly," she said. "I've got a couple of loose ends to tie up first."

"Okie-dokie!"

Mario ran off with a cry of "Wahoo!", making Peach feeling slightly nauseous. She thought of the year she had spent wishing for him to be freed, and the month she had spent wishing almost the opposite. It was not his fault he was so much less attractive than...

"Hey princess."

She turned to her right. There he was, the cause of all this trouble. Despite Mario's presence, Peach made as if to throw herself into his body.

"Er, Peach?" the Captain said, pushing her away slightly. "You sure that's the best idea with your boyfriend watching?"

Peach looked at him in astonishment. "Boyfriend? No, no, he..."

"Don't kid yourself, kid. He's the one you'll marry, who'll get the benefit of cuddling up to your gorgeous body at nights in your royal bed. I was just a handsome stranger who happened to be passing through."

Peach continued to gape, tears welling in the corners of her eyes.

"Now, Peach," said the Captain, putting a hand on her shoulder, "don't cry. I'm not too good at emotions. In fact," he said, wiping his face, "that's why I'm going now. I've said my good-byes. Can't stand all the mushy stuff."

The floodgates opened, and the gaping gave way to little sobs the Peach tried ever so hard to keep in check, but which would break out. The Captain embraced her, tenderly but with crotches apart.

"Don't make me feel like a bad person, Peach. I'm just not ready for anything like this. We'll see each other again. And whatever happens, we'll always have SubSpace."

Peach separated and wiped her face. "You're not a bad person, Douglas. Just an unintentionally cruel one."

The Captain hung his head in acknowledgement of the comment, and turned slowly away. Then he dashed off towards the Blue Falcon, in which Samus sat waiting. Next to her, Samurai Goroh and Saki were squashed up in the Fire Stingray. Samus gave a coy wave, and the Captain waved back.

Of course. Straight off into the arms of another woman. She should have expected it really. Peach fumed and sniffed and clenched her fists and told herself what a jerk he was and how she would never find a man that good ever again.

"Don't lose too much sleep over him," said Pit from behind her. "He's the type who can't stay still, even if he wants to."

Peach wheeled, tears still mingling with rainwater on her face. "How do you know?"

Pit looked a bit confused. "Not sure. I just... do."

Peach nodded, pulling a lace handkerchief out from her petticoats. "What about you, Pit?"

"Oh, I'm going back into Palutena's service," he said proudly. "She'd be lost without her Captain of the Guard. And here's my transport!"

A golden beam was shining through the clouds, a group of angels flying down it. The beam hit the soil just in front of the Blue Falcon, and when the Captain reached it he looked up and raised a hand to the sky, before he jumped in and the cars shot off across the plains.

"Weird," said Peach.

"He said I could come and see him whenever I want," said Pit. "He must like me, I guess!"

Better if I never see him again, Peach thought.

"Well," she said, holding out a hand, "so long, Pit. You'd better get going before that pretty girl angel stops staring at you."

Pit spun around, ignoring the hand. "There's a girl angel?"

A slight young blonde of about thirteen years stood towards the front of the group, looking quickly away when Pit turned.

"Okaygottago thanksPeach seeyabye!" said Pit as he raced towards the beam of light. Peach shook her head sadly as he was beamed up into the clouds.

Nor was he the only one who was leaving – the Pokémon were travelling back to their countries, accompanied by Red and his drooping Pikachu. The Kong clan was beginning its loping journey back to its island, carrying their dead on their backs, Donkey and Diddy in the lead. The Mr. Saturns returned to their vehicle, inviting Ness, Lucas and (after some hesitation) Boney to share for the journey back to Eagleland. Fox and Falco were getting into Arwings to fly off. The R.O.B.s, Brewster, Olimar and his Pikmin, the Greil Mercenaries and Marth – everyone was going home. Bowser's army had already vanished, their warp pipe swallowed back up by the ground. End of the road, Peach thought, as she reached Mario at last.

"Took your sweet time!" said Mario, beaming, and gave her another hug. "Who're your friends?"

"Captain Falcon," filled in Luigi. "Massive douche."

Peach coloured. No one noticed, however, because at that point Daisy gave a yell of rage and whisked past her, descending upon the hapless Wario like a harpy. The disguise of fitness and beauty was not enough to protect him, especially as after the Warioman interlude he had regained his helmet, biker's jacket and bright pink jeans, hanging loosely off the bottom Daisy was currently kicking.

"You!" she yelped, delivering another good kick. "How can you show up here after everything you've done? You've got a nerve!"

"Daisy..."

"Shut up, Peach! He may be pretty now, but I can fix that!"

Daisy battered away at the cowering villain until she found herself being effortlessly lifted off the ground by a giant orange hand, that dropped her neatly into Luigi's trembling arms. She stared in rage (and not a little jealousy) at the woman who draped herself over Wario.

"Thanks Midna," he said, giving Daisy a brusque stare. Then he took off his helmet. "Mario, I came to apologise. Partially because of my weakness, you were stuck in a canister of green liquid for over a year. I'm very sorry. It's too much to expect you to forgive me, and I don't. I'm just glad to see you're back."

Even Peach was shocked at the display of tact and diplomacy from New Wario. Mario just mouthed at him silently. Midna chuckled to herself and turned to Zelda, who was gripping Link's arm as if nothing short of divine intervention would persuade her to let go.

"Your teaching's quite something," Midna said. "You ought to have a go on Ganondorf. Maybe you could make something of him."

Zelda and Link both flinched at the name. Wario gave Midna a look; she bit her lip, her grey cheeks colouring slightly. Then Wario disentangled himself from her embrace and took Zelda's hand.

"Will everything be okay?" he asked.

Zelda looked up at her beau, who smiled upon her. "I think so." Then, in a whisper, "He seems to have forgotten everything. Ganondorf may have removed some of his memories during the construction of the Toon Link, and I'd like to keep it that way."

Wario nodded. "Probably for the best."

Midna took his hand, and he stared defiantly around, a dazzling smile parting his lips. "See you later, peeps. I'm off to revitalise the Mushroom Kingdom economy, starting with a massive cash injection from the LOVE's coffers. I wish you all well, but remember – however good you get, I'm-a number one!"

They disappeared in a black particle stream, zooming into the sky, Wario's last cackle hanging in the air joined by Midna's silvery laugh. Zelda shook her head sadly.

"He was doing so well."

Then she and Link were gone in a green flash. Peach turned to Mario, smiled softly and kissed him on the nose.

"Come on," she said, "let's get back to the palace. I'll make a special cake to mark the occasion." Then, softly, "If you know what I mean and I think you do."

Mario's smile expanded across his whole face. As Daisy and Luigi got back in their kart, Yoshi waddled up to Peach, a badly beaten David beside him, and signalled his saddle.

"I have come to carry you home, Princess," he said in a language unintelligible to his audience, "as our kind were wont to do in times of yore."

"Oh, Yoshi!" said Peach. "That's very thoughtful, but what about burying your people?"

"Do not fear for them. They are gone to a better place. The wind and the rain shall inter their bodies, and they shall become the earth once more."

"I've got no idea what you just said, but if you're sure, then let's go!"

Yoshi rolled his eyes as Mario jumped upon his back. The plumber was a lot heavier than Pit, but lighter than Snake. Peach boarded David, dug in her heels and they cantered off, Luigi, Daisy and a stampede of Yoshis in their wake.

The battlefield was almost empty of the living now. Meta Knight waddled up to the hedgehogs and Snake, followed by the smiling pink form of Kirby.

"You okay?" asked Sonic.

"At last," said Meta Knight. "Penance has been done, my heart feels pure once more, I am forgiven in the eyes of..."

"I was kinda hoping for a yes or no answer," said Sonic, "but that's good! I'm glad."

"What about you three?" growled Meta Knight. "The IPAF wants two of you dead, and if Shadow intends to collaborate with you he'll make his way onto their 'Most Wanted' list as well."

Sonic looked upwards and shrugged. "We'll figure something out. I've played this whole journey by ear, and I did fine!"

Meta Knight nodded. "Come back if you get into trouble. You are heroes on this planet now. You will always be welcome."

"Hai!" said Kirby, swallowing Sonic good-naturedly.

"Nice to meet you too, Kirby," said Snake.

Then Meta Knight and Kirby returned to the lump of semi-destroyed machinery that was the mini-Halberd, Kirby turning back frequently to wave. He ejected Sonic at the halfway point and beat Meta Knight to the ship, sporting a fine set of blue spikes. A figure in purple armour with a yellow moon was seen giving Meta Knight a firm and possibly unwanted hug when he boarded, and then the doors were closed. The trio waved as it lifted, wobbling like a jelly, and slowly pulled up and away.

"Something in your eye, Shadow?" asked Sonic, wiping off Kirby's lack of saliva.

"Hay fever."

The engines roared, the mini-Halberd almost fell to pieces, and then it was flying over the horizon, leaving the three alone in a wet field with a bunch of corpses that were just beginning to smell.

"Well?" Sonic said. "Any ideas?"

"The capsule I came down in should still work," said Shadow. "It's unarmed and unprotected apart from some basic heat-shielding, but in theory we could take it back."

"Brilliant!"

"Hang on," said Snake, "let's look at the facts. Shadow's been gone for over a week. The IPAF are going to get nervous; they'll wonder if he's defected too. I wouldn't rule out a whole fleet of cloaked IPAF ships hovering just outside this atmosphere, possibly with synthetic Chaos Emeralds of their own. We have one small space capsule, my explosives and two hedgehogs."

Sonic's face fell. It was a dilemma and a half. Much though he wanted to get home, he wanted to get home intact.

"It's a dilemma and a half," mused Snake. "Do we run the gauntlet of space, or stay here? If the latter, can we ever really belong to a planet on which we were not born? Or will we wander the roads of Nintendo, doomed to feel different for the duration of our existences, until we are buried in a corner of some foreign land..."

"Did I mention that Ivo Robotnik now holds a place on the IPAF Board?" interrupted Shadow.

"Ivo?" said Snake, snapping back to Nintendo. "That old maniac?"

"He has connections, plus he provided them with robots. It was all too easy for him to..."

"Come on, you guys! Step it up!"

Sonic was calling them from across the plain, his voice barely making it through the droplets.

"What are you doing?" yelled Snake.

"Going to the capsule, of course! I'm not letting Robotnik trick the IPAF into hunting us down! Not without hunting him down first!"

"The capsule's in the other direction," shouted Shadow.

A blur rushed past them. "I knew that!"

o o o

Time passes.

Nintendo's sun revolves slowly around the centre of its galaxy. Nintendo slowly revolves around its sun. Its inhabitants slowly revolve around its axis. Some things are, on a scale of millennia, unchanging, no matter what villains may do or fail to do. But on a more personal level, people's lives change, for the better and for the worse. (Probably for the better, in this case.)

What has happened to the villains?

Wolf survived his chemotherapy, but as soon as he was well enough to travel the Starfox team took him back to the Lylat System, where he was sentenced to fifty years' community service. He now drives a space rubbish truck, transporting refuse to landfill planets, and is strictly forbidden from smoking. He has to work with at least one other person in the truck, in case a spider crawls out of the rubbish and he hides behind the bins.

Rayquaza flies restlessly over the Pokémon countries, too high in the air to be seen from the earth. The rape law has been rescinded, allowing women to become trainers again and fight Red, who has found himself a job as a Gym Leader and is described by Kanto News Weekly as "one of the most challenging battles any trainer can hope to face." Truth be told, Rayquaza has a more difficult one on its hands: stopping the recovered Kyogre and Groudon from destroying the world with driving rain and burning sun. It fights this battle every other week, and nobody notices.

Porky is gone for good, and Eagleland is much happier for it. It can finally rebuild without fear of hallucinations, although Ness has a hard time fighting off all the animated Porky statues and chimerae patrolling the land. (Lucas just lets Boney wade in.) At other times, the psychic children use their telekinesis to help with the rebuilding work, with Jeff busy working on new materials and devices to make the work easier, and the Mr. Saturns trying to help and making it harder.

King Dedede moved back in with his mother on Icicle Mountain, and got a job delivering the variety of products made by the Omega Factory, now entirely R.O.B.-run, to the native people below. He uses the recovered Dragoon to make these deliveries, waving to the Ice Climbers as they scale and re-scale the mountain below.

Ridley was discovered in western Archanea, metal exoskeleton burst open and head burning with the force of a thousand Charizards. Promised an indefinite supply of paracetamol, he was induced to help with the revival of the continent under emperor Marth. He now serves in the Archanean army, named the Soren Squadron by its commander General Ike, and fights alongside several members of the Kong clan who fancied a change of scene. They are accompanied by Diddy, who came back to get his guitar and then stayed on to "help", to his colleagues' chagrin.

Bowser continues to rule over the Koopa Kingdom, in between doting over his eight sons and yelling at Kammy. He plots and schemes with a regard to taking over the Mushroom Kingdom, because his life would be boring otherwise; but he is very much aware that the Mario Brothers will always be there to stop him. In a way, he relishes the fight as an intellectual exercise, although his country frequently protests that money supposed to be spent on housing and medicine goes to feed the war effort.

Ganondorf has vanished. It is fair to say that wherever he has ended up, he is grinding his teeth and looking for his next shot at taking over first the Hylian throne, then the world; but such is life.

What of the heroes?

Zelda reigns as Princess of Hyrule, with Link as her prince. Hyrule has gone back to being the prosperous albeit technologically backward country it once was under her wise leadership, although there remains a lack of religious freedom. Prince Link continues to suffer from amnesia regarding precisely what happened during the year of the LOVE, which Zelda strictly forbids anyone from talking about. And so all is well, save for the fact that the castle guards continue to report seeing a blue-suited apparition haunting the royal bedroom, brandishing a chain.

Her neighbour, Princess Peach, remains unmarried to her hero Mario, although they stay very close indeed. Luigi continues to carry out the plumbing, as well as cross-dressing every so often for Daisy's benefit, while Mario has abandoned his attempts at medicine and is looking into space travel. Does Peach still think about her heroic Captain? Possibly, but she never lets on, and frequently ruins her aide Toadsworth's sleep by making "cake" for Mario in her chamber. Meanwhile, the peach tree atop the Mushroom Tower continues to produce fine peaches all year round, which have made the Mushroom Kingdom the second biggest exporter of fruit Nintendo-wide.

That said, the revival of the country's economic fortunes has mostly been due to the continued success of Wario Ware Inc., with Wario back on board as CEO, sporting a gold tooth to replace the one removed by Mario Z and, under the advice of Zelda (with whom he continues to correspond by letter), a fancy new suit. New arrival Midna is Chief Marketing Officer, a position Wario maintains is "nothing to do with our relationship". She frequently models in the company's adverts. Waluigi is a foreman in Wario Ware Inc.'s biggest factory, and claims to be "umbly grateful" for his position.

Yoshi has retired from his position of chief of Yoshi's Island, and has taking up the post of Ambassador to the Pokémon Countries. In particular, he is the founder of the Mewtwo Memorial Pokémon Cultural Centre, situated in Mount Moon Plaza and run by Lucario and Jigglypuff. Flanked by metal and marble statues of Dialga and Palkia, it acts as a museum, a tribute to those Pokémon who died in the Battle of the Hylian Oak and a refuge for those who do not wish to be caught. Workers there claim that some of its first inhabitants have disturbing cyan eyes, and wish these monsters would not stare at them quite so hard.

Meta Knight has become Dreamland's first directly elected president, mainly on the back of his promises to work with Zelda on producing a magical amplifier that can send Dreamland back to Pop Star. In his spare time he still acts as a masked vigilante and leader of the Meta Knights, who work with Kirby now (somewhat grudgingly, it must be said) to stamp out injustice and corruption wherever they find it. Trident, to her infinite chagrin, has still not managed to see beneath the mask.

Pit remains Captain of Palutena's bodyguard, but spends most of his free time working on re-establishing Smashville as a tourist hotspot, a decision made by Deputy Mayoress Pelly and grudgingly backed up by Tom Nook. The renovation of Smashville's parks is overseen by Captain Olimar, whose Pikmin work tirelessly to plant flowers and themselves in the ground. On days off, Pit visits the rejuvenated museum, where he spends hours playing with Celeste's half-racoon dog son, or hangs about in the Roost with his arm around a slender blonde angel.

That is when he is not being called to visit Captain Falcon in Port Town, which happens so often that he and the now sober Saki are close enough to make his girlfriend jealous more than once. Otherwise, the Captain keeps himself to himself, but rumours remain that the rebuilding of the Cylinder Wave track did not occur without some financing from the offshore fortress. (The request that it be renamed "Summer Wave" does nothing to dissuade the rumours.) He continues to compete in the F-Zero Grand Prix, thrashing a disgruntled Goroh on a regular basis, and a figure in an orange robotic suit is almost always among his spectators.

As for Sonic? He was last seen flying into a fleet of one thousand IPAF craft, guns facing him, Snake and Shadow as they cruised at a comparatively leisurely pace out of Nintendo's atmosphere. Sonic has not been without his fair share of luck so far, and it would be foolish to discount his chances entirely now.

That, though, is another story. This one, about the realm of the Master Hand and Crazy Hand, is almost done. But the planet remains, a hive of creation and destruction, of men and beasts and intelligent beings of all sorts, going about their daily lives, feeling joy and sadness and fear and anger and a whole range of emotions that make for fascinating observation.

I have realised now that one cannot have happiness without sadness – it is a foolish attempt. One must balance the emotions if one hopes to feel them at all. And so, like R.O.B. 380,113, I look into this world I know nothing about and continue with my studies. I have a "mentor" now, who seems to know an awful lot about emotions. In fact, it seems to have more emotions than all the other beings in this world put together. Its name is Giygas, and we have a lot in common: both beings of energy, or at least if it has a matter form I have yet to grasp it. I find its screechings most intriguing.

And time passes.