Chapter 8: Shine
Bowser's eyes opened wide at the bloody sword suddenly sticking out of his stomach, lurching forward off his feet as the hilt of the blade slammed into the small of his back. But the sword wasn't there for long, and with a jerk, Wart had ripped it free, slicing the blade diagonally up through the left side of the human's abdomen in the process.
Bowser could scarcely believe what was happening – he was in so much shock, he didn't even feel pain. But he did feel anger, and with flashing eyes he twisted his broken body as he fell forward, swinging his sword around and slicing through Wart's belly as easily as he had cut his throat. Only this time, there would be no recovering, and to make sure of it, the Koopa King kicked out, knocking the sputtering frog back and sending him tumbling over the edge, while Bowser himself hit the roof hard, the two deadly swords clattering around him.
"Bowser!" screeched Peach, sprinting across the blood spattered roof and dropping to her knees beside Bowser.
"How do you people live without shells?" he hissed as she rolled him onto his back, cradling his head in her lap. He tensed up as a wave of pain ripped through his body. "Literally."
Peach shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. "Don't say things like that – you're gonna be fine."
Bowser smiled blithely at her naïve optimism. "Nope. I'm done." He may have never been run through and half-bisected by a sword before, but a couple unfortunate spike pit incidents had made him quite familiar with exsanguination. He looked down at the massive hole in his side, pretty sure the only reason severed intestines weren't joining the blood as it gushed out of his belly was because he had both arms clamped down on the wound with all his remaining strength. He never did like it when his fatalities were messy, and it was bad enough that Peach's dress was getting ruined as she knelt with him in the steadily widening pool of crimson, still shaking her head.
"No, no you're not! You've sustained worse than this, haven't you? And help's coming!"
Bowser followed Peach's gaze to find that Kammy and Kamek were flying over on a pair of broomsticks, having finally broken through the now-leaderless Subcon ranks. They landed close by and tossed the sticks away, yanking out their wands and rushing to Bowser's side, crying out in horror at the sight that greeted them: everything they had feared about Bowser's plan had just come true. Not letting the despair get to him, however, Kamek stood over the Koopa King, invoking every possible cure for the curse he could think of, and even though Kammy knew returning to his original form would be the only way Bowser could survive, she dropped to her knees beside the hole in his gut and started frantically trying to heal it.
Peach watched the two panicking Magikoopas-turned-humans, her own heart in her throat. She looked back down at Bowser as he stared blearily up at her, all colour drained from his face save for the deepening shadows around his eyes. "It's no use," he croaked. "A human can't survive this, and they can't change me back."
"You don't know that," said Peach, although the fact that the two mages didn't deny it worried her greatly.
"Sure I do – they've been warning me this would happen right from the start… At least it wasn't him that did me in."
Bowser flicked his eyes in Mario's direction. Just as Peach had started getting some of her strength back after the initial blast of her curse wore off the week before, so too had Mario recovered enough to drag himself over to the edge. He nodded approvingly at the sight of Wart lying in a bloody pile of entrails in the courtyard below, and looked over to Peach and Bowser. "Wart's-a dead."
"Good," sighed Bowser, letting his eyes slide back into a neutral position. His vision was tunneling pretty badly now, and he was having a hard time even focusing on Peach's face as she leaned over him. Kammy and Kamek were practically screaming out their ineffective spells now, but their voices were muffled, and if Mario had said anything further, Bowser wouldn't have heard it. Everything was going cold and unfeeling, but forcing Peach's teary blue eyes into relief once more, Bowser managed to get his strong, firebreather's lungs to draw in one final, rattling breath. Another man might have apologized for all the kidnappings and heartache; another man might have asked her to tell his kids he was sorry for not coming home that time; another man would have told her he loved her. But not Bowser, smiling weakly as the world went dark and even Peach faded from view. "Going out a winner and in good company… It could be worse…"
Peach quaked with sobs as she felt Bowser go limp, his eyelids mercifully drooping over the suddenly lightless red irises. Kammy was almost incoherent as she slashed her wand through the air in a last desperate attempt to undo the damage, before falling forward onto Bowser's butchered midriff, wailing uncontrollably. Kamek's hand dropped to his side as he stood, ramrod straight and silent, staring blankly at the lifeless form of the king he had raised from an egg. Luigi, Mario and Daisy were stiffly getting to their feet off to the side, leaning on each other for support as they watched the other trio, from Peach's weeping to the raw grief of the minions who had both thought of Bowser as the son neither of them had had – and had now lost.
Just as Daisy started towards Peach to offer her a shoulder to cry on, more Subcon doors started opening.
"Oh no," murmured Mario wearily as the three looked around, but rather than reinforcements for the evil 8 Bits, a multitude of small, red fairy-like creatures started to stream out of the dream land, trailing golden dust as they flew.
Daisy blinked. "What the-"
"It's the Subcons!" explained Luigi.
"I thought that was the name of the place?"
"It is, and the-a name of those guys."
"Weird," frowned Daisy. "But what are they doing here?"
"King Wart is dead!" chirped a Subcon, flying over to the roof. "He took over our land again – his magic corrupted the Star Power, and we could not call for help. But now that he is dead, his curse is lifting, and we have come to use the Star Power to erase the evil he has done to this world too."
"You mean, you-a-" before Mario could finish his sentence, the Subcon had swept by him, showering him in glittering golden energy. More Subcons followed, coating Luigi and Daisy, who, along with Mario, started glowing as their energy came flooding back. More Subcons flew over the mourners across the roof. Peach opened her eyes in shock, the golden glow of her skin making her cascading tears sparkle and sending shadows playing across Bowser's face. She looked up at Kammy and Kamek and gasped as she saw that they were starting to float. Kamek went without protest, but Kammy struggled, grasping at Bowser, but slipping free, her hands slick with blood.
But Bowser was shining too, and Peach watched in silence as he lifted off the ground, leaving a trail of glowing golden droplets as the blood continued to slide off his limp form. Peach stood as the three figures rose higher, only looking away when they became wreathed in a blinding flash of light.
Peach stepped back as three large glowing figures than sank back down and reformed as Koopas. Kammy and Kamek shook their heads disorientedly, but catching sight of Bowser, now a Dragon-Koopa, but still lying dead on his split belly, they yelped and sprang to their feet. A wave of each of their wands made their robes loosen enough to let them move freely, and reaching into their sleeves they both pulled out vials of golden-green liquid. Spells alone might not have been able to save the human, but they knew for a fact that Revitalizing Potion would work on the Koopa if they administered it fast enough.
While Peach watched from the sidelines, Kammy hopped up onto Bowser's back and began pouring the potion into the hole in his shell, while Kamek stood at the king's side and used his wand to draw out the liquid and coat the gaping hole in Bowser's body. Mario, Luigi and Daisy ran up and stood at Peach's side as the Magikoopas worked, hissing spells under their breath as they willed the magic to take hold and bring their king back.
"AAAAAHHHHHHGGGHHHHHH!" with an agonized scream Bowser suddenly jerked awake, making everyone else jump. He pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, his chest heaving and his eyes wild. Then he caught sight of his snout, crossing his eyes to try to bring it into focus as his eyebrows shot up in disbelief. With a grunt he hastily pushed himself onto his feet, his now-unfamiliar size and weight making him stagger in place as he ran his fingers over his face. He grinned as the felt his familiar draconian features and beamed down at Kamek. "We're Koopas again!"
"When Wart died, his curse was broken," explained Kamek, unable to keep a relieved smile from spreading across his own face.
"Then some Subcon fairies spread about dream energy and it reversed the curse's effects," continued an equally exuberant Kammy as she scurried over beside Kamek, having tumbled off Bowser's back when he stood.
But Bowser didn't really care about the details and only half-listened to the Magikoopas while he inspected his gut. Kamek had made sure the potion went deep and healed the gash from the organs outward, while Kammy fixed the shell and stabilized Bowser's energy. Although the rest of his body was still covered in injuries, including what felt like a couple broken ribs and probably still some internal bleeding, Bowser ignored the pain and raised his head, opening his jaws wide and letting out an enormous stream of flames.
"Gwa ha ha! That's what I'm talking about!" he crowed. Fireballs had been an okay substitute, but there was nothing like the real thing and he sent a barrage of flares skyward just to feel the flames in his throat again. But his celebration was cut short when he caught sight of the line of humans watching. Mario, Luigi and Daisy eyed him warily, clearly prepared to stop him if he tried any funny business, but it was of course Peach that commanded attention as she gazed at him, her dress soaked through with his blood and her eyes unreadable. Sobering up, Bowser gave a little cough and then turned to look off the roof. "So what's going on with the rest of the fighting?"
The other six also looked out over the scenery beyond the castle. The dark clouds had dissipated soon after Wart fell and the Mushroom Kingdom was bathed in the glow of the full moon and the stars beyond, with a few lingering streams of golden stardust still twinkling as it fell. Koopas and Toads were still milling about, but the evil creatures of Subcon had vanished once more, and even the faeries were returning to the land of dreams through the fading doors.
"We won," observed Kamek.
Bowser smirked. "You don't hear that every day," he said bitterly, watching as an airship approached the castle, no longer held up by a blockade of flying 8 Bits.
"We should probably head back to Dark Land…" ventured Kammy, looking nervously up at Bowser. "We only really dealt with the worst of your injuries, Your Resurrectedness, and you've been through a lot."
"Yeah, no duh," snorted Bowser, rolling his eyes before looking down at the pool of blood around his feet. Under different circumstances, he might have resisted the idea of withdrawing, but he didn't feel like making any more trouble that day. "You guys go on ahead and tell the troops to start loading up, I'll be along in a minute."
"I said 'go'," growled Bowser, glaring at Kammy. She sighed. She knew why he wanted to linger, and she feared it wasn't going to end well, but as always, there was no arguing with the Koopa King, so she fell in step with Kamek as he walked over to their discarded broomsticks.
Peach watched the Magikoopas go and then turned to her friends. "Can you give me a minute too, please?"
Mario shook his head. "Not with-a him here."
"I'll be fine," insisted Peach. "Promise."
"Bro," Luigi put a hand on Mario's arm. "We-a have to let her do this."
Mario looked from his brother to the princess to Bowser, whose own eyes were averted. He sighed. He had no clue what Peach was thinking when she let Bowser kiss her in the battle, but he had faith that she wouldn't let him trick her again, and the Koopa was pretty badly beaten up… "Okay, but if he-a does anything-"
"He won't," said Peach.
Mario nodded, and then turned away. Daisy gave Peach a quick supportive shoulder squeeze and then followed the plumbers as they headed over to the ruined tower, hopping down onto a balcony that stuck out from under the edge of roof.
Bowser and Peach watched them go, and then turned to face each other. They were a couple yards apart, with blood coating both them and the ground between them. Shreds of Bowser's clothes lay in the pool, having been ripped clean off him when he grew back to his regular proportions. The forsaken swords also lay there, gleaming in the moonlight.
But Bowser and Peach paid no attention to the scenery as they stared each other down. It was Bowser who spoke first. "So… what now?"
"That depends," said Peach, her voice flat.
"Are you going to be good now?"
Bowser snorted. "Well that depends on you. If you're gonna start coming with me willingly, I won't have to keep kidnapping you, and that's good, isn't it?"
"But why would I come with you?"
Bowser raised an eyebrow, a smug grin playing across his face. "Because you're in love with me."
Peach looked at Bowser balefully, shaking her head. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are," insisted Bowser, his brow starting to furrow.
"No. I thought I was, but that was before I found out who you really were."
"So? Whip, Bowser, what does it matter?"
"It matters because you lied to me!" shouted Peach, glaring at Bowser.
"Only about who I was – and that was because I had to. Would you and Mario have let King Bowser Koopa run around with you for two weeks, eat dinner with you, tear up the dance floor with you?"
"We would have if it was the start of a new era of peace between us!"
"Yeah, well, that's not going to happen – not until-"
"Until what?" snapped Peach. "You rule the world? How is that any different than what Wart was trying to do?"
"Oh no, I am NOTHING like that slimy son of a bitch!" snarled Bowser.
"You have a funny way of showing it," said Peach sarcastically.
"He tried to kill you! I'd never hurt you – not like that…" The image of Peach weeping as Mario and Luigi dragged him to the dungeon flashed past Bowser's eyes as he spoke, but he pushed the memory away. That was different. "Except for the bit about who I was, everything I said, everything I did these past two weeks, that wasn't some act, that was me, and you fell in love with me for it – you can't pretend like it never happened!"
"No, I can't," said Peach, her eyes as cold as ice. "But I could never love you."
"Because I'm a Koopa?" challenged Bowser, his eyes narrowing
"No, because you're a lying, selfish megalomaniac!" exclaimed Peach. "You're evil, Bowser, and I could never love a villain like you."
"But I just saved your life! I saved everyone's lives – I saved the world!"
"Saving the world once or twice does not change the fact that you've committed far more evil deeds throughout your life than Wart or anyone else has ever accomplished. All you care about is yourself."
"Now you know that's not true," growled Bowser. "I care about my kids, don't I? And I care about you!"
"But not enough to respect me. You're always kidnapping me and trying to kill my friends and usurp my kingdom – that's not what love is supposed to look like! Even these past two weeks… Did you ever once consider how it would make me feel to find out I had been lied to? Did you stop and think that maybe it was wrong to trick me and string me along like that?"
"I told you already, I wanted to tell you the truth-"
"Yeah, but you didn't," said Peach. "All this time, you weren't thinking about me. Just about what you wanted from me. This was all just a means to an end for you, to get the relationship you wanted, to make me fall in love with you. THAT is why I could never be with you. You're a monster. A selfish, evil monster, and there will never be anything between us."
Bowser stared at Peach as she turned away from him. He couldn't believe what was happening – he had done everything right, hadn't he? His plan had gone perfectly, hadn't it? He won the battle and saved the world and got the girl, but now here she was, walking away. He should be furious at her ingratitude. He should be furious that she led him on by returning that kiss if she had no intention of following through. But she did love him, and Bowser loved her, and he couldn't hate her, but how could she hate him?
"Peach, wait!" he called, desperation creeping into his voice. "You can't turn your back on me like this! Not after everything that's happened!"
"Yes, I can," shouted Peach, pausing but not turning back. She couldn't face Bowser again. She couldn't let him see what she was really feeling. "I'm grateful for what you did tonight, but that doesn't change anything."
"That's not what I meant," said Bowser, almost pleading as he continued, his vermillion eyes boring into the back of Peach's head, willing her to look at him, to see him. "I meant what happened between us. I- You love me! I kissed you, and you said you loved me…"
"No," whispered Peach as she started to walk away from Bowser once more, tears spilling from her reddening eyes as she broke both their hearts. "It was all… just a dream."