He awoke to the chirping of birds as usual. Put on his shirt and pants, ate breakfast, grabbed his stuff, and headed outside. The mailbox was full, but that wasn't really surprising. He opened it.
Just a single letter. The stamp was only vaguely familiar. He opened the letter and read it.
The next thing he knew, he was running down the street, overjoyed at the news. The actual letter was forgotten, tossed in the wind.
"Take care of yourself," said the princess.
"I-a will, Princess," was the response. He approached the orange star floating near the courtyard. They had it installed ever since those two space adventures.
"I'll miss you, bro."
"Don't you-a worry, bro. I'll-a be back in a few days with-a news. It's-a just a formality, not-a forever."
And so the mustachioed man stepped to the star. It glowed as he neared it.
"Wait!" The princess stepped up to him. He turned to look up at her, and they held their gaze for a second. Without so much as a word, she bent down and gave him a short kiss on the nose.
He stepped into the star, his face almost glowing with red, his eyes lazily drifting around, his feet literally lifting off the ground.
"Uh, sir?" said the floaty attendant next to the star shape. "If you're ready."
He shook his head and looked up. Above him was clear blue skies. And beyond that was his destination.
With a twist of his arms and spine, the star spun around, the middle segment pulling him downward. Then it launched forward, sending the man on his journey. As he left the launch star, he shouted at the top of his lungs.
The Hyrule Castle Library. It was a room he didn't get to visit during his time storming the castle. Having saved not one, but two kingdoms, Link was easily granted access to the castle and many of its rooms.
The princess's room was off limits, of course. Not that he minded; while she was the queen of the entirety of Hyrule (her preferred title notwithstanding), and held all the status, power, and beauty that position implied in addition to divine magic, she still wasn't the person for Link. He much preferred someone more down to earth, like Ilia or Midna. Someone who was less softspoken and elegant. He was used to the rough edges of nature, not the finery of royalty. It would never work.
Though his adventure in that nexus world had shown him that perhaps Zelda did have a rough side to her. She was quite skilled in the abilities Sheik displayed, which told him she had a lot of practice. Perhaps she assumed the Sheik persona as a way to vent frustrations and act very unbecoming of royalty without ruining her public image. Though she could certainly back her words without donning the Sheik disguise; she'd displayed plenty of strength in magic in the nexus world as well.
Link didn't care much for that world. It operated on...different rules than Hyrule. Attacks would push rather than damage. True death was petrification that could be reversed with a touch. It felt fundamentally different than Hyrule, that was for sure.
Ganondorf, at the very least, could not return to Hyrule like Link and Zelda. Perhaps that was why he tried to conquer that world; he had died in Hyrule, and so could not exist there anymore.
The strangest part, though, was after it was all said and done, he had seen someone who was like him, but different. He and the smaller version of himself had determined that they were both from a hundred years in the future of a shared point in history.
That had gotten Link's interest in the library at first. Link had learned more about the Hero of Time, his and his shorter wide-eyed counterpart's predecessor. About how that boy, also named Link, had warned the princess of events that did not happen but would have if he hadn't given the warning. Link and Zelda, with the aid of the King and some others, had managed to thwart Ganondorf's plot. The Ancient Sages had brought him for execution, and Link knew the story from there.
What the wide-eyed Link had told him was that, according to history, the Hero of Time had battled Ganondorf seven years after the confrontation in the history Link had read, which apparently never happened. Princess Zelda had sent the Hero of time backwards through time, which effectively removed that Hero from existence. Ganondorf returned in the gap, and with the Hero of Time gone, the Goddesses sealed and flooded Hyrule to protect its inhabitants, who had evacuated to the mountaintops.
Link had seen a glimpse of this ocean Hyrule in the nexus world. It was horrifying to know that, were it not for time magic, Hyrule would be entirely underwater.
But then, Link had seen a lot of strange places in the nexus world. Snippets of entire other universes that worked on completely different rules than his own. It was unsettling, to say the least.
What was even stranger is that the other people from those alternate worlds, who had gathered for reasons similar to Link's (in most cases, though certainly not all), had all said that Link had been there before. Which confused Link, because he had never seen that place before.
But apparently, the Hero of Time had been there before. Link found in his searchings a journal from the Hero of Time. Apparently, he was invited there once. And then, years later, he returned, along with the same version of himself but seven years younger. Which was surprising, as the older Hero of Time had no memory of visiting the nexus world at that age.
The journal had told tell of how the "Chosen Ones", as the Hero of Time had put it, could reach the nexus world. For him, it was at the Temple of Time, a structure that existed in Hyrule Castle a century ago. The remains were in the Sacred Grove now. That was how Link got there the first time. He and Zelda had gotten in through invitation. But Link had become sidetracked when his Master Sword had been inexplicably stolen (he still didn't know how that was even physically possible), and so he and Zelda had been separated.
His adventure tracking down his sword was a story that he'd keep to himself. Suffice to say, he was glad his arrows and bombs never ran out in that world.
While that place had unsettled him, it was still better than nothing. Sure, he had his adventures at home, but all in all, most of his time at home was travel and escorts. He would sometimes go for days or weeks without anything to do but practice. He could duel some of the soldiers, but it wasn't really the same. Here, he had to pull punches. Hit with the flat of the blade. Only stick to swords, and blunted training swords at that. In the nexus world, however, he could go all out. Use anything and everything in his arsenal.
Why did he want to go all out? He had been comfortable with his life years ago as a simple ranch hand who maybe knew how to swing a sword at something. Before the Bulblins invaded the town. Before he was turned into a wolf. Before Midna. Before Zant. Before the Ganondorf. Before any of that. Why had he switched from farmer to fighter so readily?
He knew the answer in part. It was because he was fighting to protect people. First to rescue Ilia and the kids. Then to help Midna. Then to protect Hyrule. He fought because he wanted to keep people safe.
But why did he enjoy going all out like that? Why did he want to go back to a place he didn't like, just so he could fight without restraints?
Link turned and saw nobody. Except there was someone walking away; he could hear their footsteps receding. Still, what caught Link's attention was a letter on the table. A piece of parchment with writings on it.
It read, "You are invited to return. Please make your way to the Temple of Time." There was a familiar emblem on there, one that he had seen in the nexus world repeatedly.
The Temple of Time. There were two things there. The Master Sword, and the gateway to the nexus world.
Did he want to return?
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Adam. Let's go home."
I escaped the Bottle Ship just seconds before it exploded. With the nightmare behind me, I was ready to move on. On to the next mission. On with my life. The Metroids were all exterminated. The Space Pirates were gone. No more Mother Brain or AI replica of her. Ridley was dead again, and his corpse was locked up and in Federation possession; unless the Federation wanted to intentionally let him wreak havoc, he wouldn't be coming back this time.
But if this adventure had taught me anything, it's that not even destroying the planet his remains are on can stop him from coming back. I made the mistake of thinking he was gone for good once. I won't do that again. I'll have to check in on his remains periodically, to make sure they're still there.
A stop at the Federation capital city was next on the agenda. It was little effort getting there. Very little actually happened in space. I had an appointment with a therapist. I had scheduled it after I returned with Madeline Bergman and Anthony. I needed to find out why I had froze up like that when Ridley returned on the Bottle Ship, but not several times when he returned before that particular instance.
"Miss Aran." It was the Fleet Admiral, Castor Dane. I hadn't seen much of him since the mission involving Aurora Unit 313. Because of the friends and allies I lost on that mission, it wasn't a mission I was eager to recall.
"We have received an interdimensional transmission from a channel I am sure you are familiar with."
Interdimensional? The only dimension I remembered at the moment was the one Aether's dark counterpart existed in, and she was sure that had collapsed along with the dark planet.
"What did the transmission say?"
"It was very clear, Samus. It was a 'Code Sakurai'."
I didn't need any more information at that point. A Code Sakurai could only mean one thing. "Can I have the coordinates?"
"Of course." He gave me a simple data pad, which I scanned. I don't know why I haven't used the Scan Visor much since the destruction of Phaaze; sifting through the trivia it gave me proved to be a welcome distraction during trips.
Regardless, I had the information the Visor gave me. A letter of invitation, and coordinates from the previous mission.
And unlike the last time, now I would be going by choice.
Kirby was on his way to see Adeleine. He wished she would come on more adventures with him and the others. She would be a much more fun travel companion than Mr. No-Fun Meta Knight, that meanie penguin, and the boring Waddle Dee who's only better than the others 'cause he has a bandanna.
Paf! A piece of paper smacked across his face. He carefully pulled it off with his stubby arms and looked at it. It was addressed to him? Wow, that was lucky.
A NEW SMASH BROS. TOURNAMENT! Awesome! Kirby had to go tell the others!
"Alright, guys. I'm heading in."
"Don't forget to check back as soon as possible, Fox."
"Sure thing, Peppy. Fox McCloud out."
Fox flew his ship into the portal. His fur stood on end as the fundamental universal laws he was under suddenly changed. It was comforting to know that here, he wouldn't truly die if he was killed, but would instead enter stasis. He didn't remember much of when he actually did 'die'; there was the wave of energy that felt like his skin was on fire, then chilled relief, then a wave of relaxing warmth as he returned to life as it were. Nothing of the time in between. Though it was hard to say how much time had passed, and the fear of being frozen and nobody restoring him made him regard it as close enough to true death for his tastes.
There was a familiar gleam in the sky over the ocean. The Isle of the Ancients had been completely destroyed, but it left behind an unusual light with no source. After all these years, the light was still there.
He passed the shore and flew over land, passing the mountain the Great Fox had been damaged over. Passing a wide expanse of wastelands. Passing a forest. Passing a familiar lake; he could still see the vague outline of where he'd crashed into it. Hopefully that dragon--Rayquaza, he remembered Red had called it--wasn't living here; he'd rather not have a repeat of that event.
"Alright. There we are," he said. The stadium was where all this started. The first Primid attack was here. Nearby were some buildings that were placed as the new meeting grounds, mainly because previously, all the entry points were scattered across the whole region and something more convenient was needed. Fox spotted what looked like a pirate ship with propellers instead of sails already parked, as well as several empty spots of varying sizes. He stopped on a landing pad sized to fit an Arwing, with the Team Star Fox logo on it. There were two other spots in this area, as well as a larger area for the Great Fox.
This was only where the starships would land, for those that had them. There were other places indoors for those who lacked something like an Arwing. Those were more portals, but designed and stylized after the worlds they went to. They could go to the other universes, but it was rarely considered a good idea; some powers didn't mesh well in other worlds.
...huh. There was an outdoor landing pad for the Mushroom Kingdom. Fox could've sworn it would've been one of those pipes like the last few times.
That was another thing about this universe that unnerved him. When things just...changed. With people it wasn't a problem; that happened no matter what universe you were in. Construction and landscaping, no big deal. And the tides of battle brought a lot of changes, whether physical or emotional. But here, the universe would, every few years or so, just change on a fundamental level.
The last shift had to do with the Subspace invasion, which changed the petrification death into something more consistent with actual death. Before that shift, they would remain conscious in their petrified trophy states, but after, it was a deep dreamless sleep. And even before that, it was more like simply losing control over the body, falling limp, completely paralyzed.
Fox shrugged off the idea and headed down the hall. There was a meeting to get to.
"Hey! You made it!"
The green-clad warrior just silently nodded. His welcoming committee tried to keep his wings pulled in, so they were out of the way for when people walked past.
"Man, can you believe we're really in the first room? All you guys really gathered here all those years ago." Pit sighed. "I wish I could've been there."
Link hadn't been to the original meeting himself. He had to admit he was curious about it, though.
"Hey, you weren't there either, were you?" said Pit. "You were as much of a newcomer as I was."
Link nodded again.
Pit frowned. "You know, these conversations would be a lot better if you would just talk."
Link shrugged. He didn't have anything to say, really.
"Even on my usual missions, I'd have Palutena to talk to. Some of the things we talked about were kinda strange, I'll admit, and she'd tease me all the time, but it's not like I had some fairy hovering over my shoulder telling me everything I already knew and pointing out the obvious."
Link raised an eyebrow at the angel soldier. The Hero of Time had not one, but two companions who fit that exact description. Heck, Midna even did that sometimes, though not to the extent that Navi and Tatl apparently did.
"So how come you don't talk, anyway?" asked Pit.
Pit had honestly expected Link not to answer, so he was surprised when Link did. "Actions usually speak louder than words."
"Link, you...you spoke."
Pit frowned and crossed his arms. "That didn't last long."
Link couldn't help but give a silent smile at that.
"I'm probably not gonna get much of an answer about your hair, either."
"RRRrwww!" The ape's angry grunt at the person sitting at the table had drawn everyone's attention.
"What's-a the pro- What the heck!? How'd-a you get-a here before me!?"
The spiked-shelled turtle dragon snorted. "My ship," he said in his guttural draconic voice. "How else?"
"Why are you-a here?" started Mario.
But Donkey Kong jumped onto the table and got right in Bowser's face, glaring at the dragon in the way only an ape could, hands curled into a fist. He still hadn't let what happened years ago go.
"ENOUGH!" boomed a voice. DK found a giant hand picking him up and dropping him in his seat. The hand, which was a disembodied right hand, floated in front of DK and pointed a massive finger right in the ape's face. "I DID NOT INVITE YOU HERE SO YOU COULD ATTACK THE OTHER CANDIDATES."
"Considering that's the whole point of being here," said Pit, "that's kind of a hollow statement."
The hand was silent for a moment. "TH- THAT IS DIFFERENT. YOU ARE NOT HERE TO FIGHT YET. THIS IS A PREVIEW AND NOTHING MORE."
"Calm down, Master Hand," came another, thickly-accented and highly exasperated voice. At the other end of the room, through a panel on the wall that just slid away, was the man himself. "Just as they are not to battle each other, you are not to battle them. You yourself have not yet been confirmed at all."
The giant hand seemed to fall limp in shame.
"Sakurai!" exclaimed Pit. "Good to see you!"
"Yes, Pit. It is good to see you as well. I see we are still missing a few candidates, so we will wait until they arrive before we begin."
So, the people in the room started to talk amongst themselves. The most interesting conversation, though, was between Mario and DK. The two of them were different species and spoke different languages, yes, but they could understand what each other was saying. The others, though, only heard Mario's half of the conversation.
"How could they bring him here? He's not a core member!"
"Yes, I'm-a just as-a shocked as you are."
"And after what he did! Teaming up with him was bad enough; now he's on the main list! I can't believe him!"
"Hey, I've-a teamed up with-a him before. He's-a still a pain in the neck, but he's-a good ally when he-a has to be."
Bowser snorted in annoyance.
"That doesn't explain why he's here! I hated being on a team with him!"
Mario had heard the story. Bowser, working with Ganondorf and under the Tabuu-possessed Master Hand, had stolen the Kongs' horde of bananas specifically to lure them into a trap, petrified DK, tried to petrify Diddy Kong (succeeded for about a minute), then tried to suck the entire world into Subspace. Bowser admitted that his knowledge of DK from before was what led to DK being a primary target.
Fox walked into the room. Nobody seemed to care at the moment; they were too busy listening to Mario's half of the conversation.
"How-a do you think I feel? Every day I wake up-a wondering if he's-a gonna attack-a tha kingdom. He's-a kidnapped Peach over a dozen-a times."
"Then you should know I feel!"
"I'm-a not done. How many-a times has-a he been invited for a race? He only causes-a problems two or-a three times a year, but-a most of-a tha time he's-a relaxed and-a cooperative." He paused for a bit. "Though he does-a use a bit more blue shells than-a the rest."
Bowser smirked, though it was hard to tell from the shape of his reptilian snout.
DK simply crossed his arms. "Still don't like it."
"Sorry to keep you waiting," came Samus's voice from the door. She was devoid of her armor, which got Pit staring weirdly. Hopping along beside her was Pikachu, the electric mouse Pokémon she'd befriended while trying to retrieve her Power Suit the last time she'd come here.
"Hey, that's my line," said Pit.
Samus took her seat to Pit's right, and Pikachu to Samus's right, at the end of the table. Now they were just waiting on Kirby.
Pikachu peeked up over the table and looked around. There was Mario and Donkey Kong talking about Bowser, who was right across from DK. There was Fox sitting to DK's left. To Pikachu's own left, there was Samus, Pit, and Link, the latter two engaged in conversation. But there were four empty seats.
So Pikachu was told, the first meeting involved eight people invited. Pit and Bowser weren't there, but Yoshi and Kirby were. Those two were absent, so Pikachu assumed two of the seats would be filled. Which left two empty seats.
The first meeting only had eight seats at first, with the other four added later as Luigi, Jigglypuff, Ness, and Captain Falcon made their late arrivals. The second meeting had fifteen initial seats. It would've been fourteen, but Nana and Popo, despite acting as a team and sharing a spot on the roster, were two separate people and needed individual chairs. The remaining eleven seats were added just like Luigi's and Ness's from the first one. Pikachu made his own entry to these meetings that way, back before he had evolved. He didn't know what happened to the first Pikachu, but he couldn't exactly complain. The trend continued in the third meeting, with Pikachu, having now evolved, being brought in from the get go. There were twenty-two in that third meeting, again splitting Nana and Popo, and adding the other fourteen seats later.
Except now Pikachu knew that the iconic "first meeting" followed an unmentioned trend: preliminaries. Preview meetings before the initial conference that kicked everything off. Pikachu remembered going to some preliminaries--meeting Samus, Pit, Meta Knight, Wario, and Snake in one of them--but the official third conference was effectively canceled because of the Subspace invasion. The remaining invitations were thrown out hastily before the prep work could be completed. Hey, in times of crisis, right?
But at the preliminaries, there usually weren't empty seats. What was Sakurai planning?
Pikachu hopped down and wandered around the room. Each chair had a symbol on the back of them, representing who sat there. His own seat had a PokéBall symbol, while Samus's had a stylized S in a circle. Pikachu figured the symbols on the empty seats would give him a clue.
The seat next to Bowser was definitely Kirby's. It had the familiar rounded star shape.
But the other three were a mystery. A leaf with a hole in it, a gear, and a human posing weirdly. Maybe the first one was Olimar, and the second was a new logo for ROB? Pikachu was confused.
About then, though, Kirby walked in. Pikachu darted over to his seat.
The meeting was largely simple. There would be some new stages to battle on, and some new surprises beyond that. Today would be spent preparing for the preliminary battles. Everyone would have to practice their moves, new and old, for the upcoming tournament. Link spoke up (for once) and asked if Ganondorf would be here, to which Sakurai said Ganondorf wouldn't be in this preliminary, and his inclusion in the tournament was still under review. He said they were planning some adventure courses, but they wouldn't be as big as the ones everyone was forced to go through during the Subspace invasion, which made sighs of relief.
Finally, Pikachu asked in his own language who the three empty seats were for. Master Hand translated for Sakurai, who simply answered with a "You'll see soon enough."
As everyone filed out to go to their own training places, Sakurai said, "Bowser, could you wait a moment?"
With an annoyed grunt, the King of the Koopas agreed, returning to his seat.
Once everyone else was gone and the door closed, Sakurai said, "Bowser, after extensive review of your previous battles here, we have come to the conclusion that you require a different style for fighting."
"What? What's wrong with how I fight?"
"YOU ARE TOO SLOW," said Master Hand. "YOU HUNCH OVER WHEN YOU FIGHT, AND IT SLOWS YOU DOWN. YOU HAVE MORE POTENTIAL IN YOU THAT YOU ARE NOT USING."
"Therefore," said Sakurai, "we have-"
"Now hold on a minute!" said Bowser. "I'm only fighting the way you told me to fight back when I first came here!"
"Yes, and we have come to the decision that our previous instructions on your tournament fighting style were made in error. With some adjustments to your fighting style, we believe you can be more agile on the battlefield."
Bowser did like the idea of being faster. "What kind of adjustments?" he said.
"FIRST, YOU MUST PROMISE NOT TO SPEAK OF HER TO THE OTHERS UNTIL SHE MAKES HER PROPER DEBUT ON THE BATTLEFIELD."
"Speak of who now?"
Master Hand snapped his fingers, and the door Sakurai had come through opened. From it came a woman with porcelain-white skin, a blue tank top, and gray jogging pants and hair. She had a lean body that looked toned from exercise. She stood off to the side, putting one hand on her hip.
"Who's that? And why does she look like a doll?"
"This," said Sakurai, "is the new personal trainer. Tomorrow, she will join the tournament roster, but today she will help you become a better fighter."
"A personal trainer? Pah. I don't need this." Bowser stood to walk off.
As he neared the door, the woman landed in front of him (having jumped when he wasn't looking, that much is obvious). "I can tell just by watching you walk five feet," she said. "Your posture is terrible, you're incredibly slow, and you obviously can't handle actual hand-to-hand combat."
"What? I can fight!" How dare this woman insult his fighting skills.
"Prove it," she said. "Beat me in a match, and you can fight as you please. Lose to me, and you take my training program."
Needless to say, Bowser was sore for the rest of the day.
This is awesome! Last time he only got a chance to watch from the sidelines. Now he was an actual fighter! This was the best promotion ever!
Only... How was he supposed to fight? He wasn't that good at martial arts, or even any kind of fighting style. But then, that didn't seem to stop some of the other guys; Link used a whole bunch of weapons, while Ness had all those energy attacks. And what was Wario's style anyway?
Wait a minute. If Link could use weapons...
He checked what he had on him. A bowling ball. Boxing gloves. Some balloons. Shovel, watering can, axe, slingshot, a potted plant, some fireworks, a bug catching net...
Holy crud! This might actually be pretty good! All this stuff was no different than everything else they usually used. Those random items. Fireworks? Snake had a mortar. Balloons? Kirby and Jigglypuff pretty much were balloons. Shovel? Maybe he could use that like that Pitfall item.
Still, though. It'd be cool to try out what some of those other guys could do.
He had to practice, though. Tomorrow he was making his big debut to the other guys. He had to practice his skills. He needed to think about not just what he could use, but how to use it. Everyone else seemed to limit their skills; he figured Link could've shot his arrows up at least, and didn't Ganondorf have that sword he never used? Anyway, how could he use his belongings in a decent fight?
He faced the sandbag. He decided to start simple. He stood firm and punched. It was a quick motion, pulling the boxing gloves out just for that punch before putting them away. He really didn't need to hit things before, so this would be pretty new to him.
After a few punches, he decided to work on a few other attacks. What could he do with his bowling ball? He rolled it across the ground, but it didn't do much to the sandbag. Maybe he could try a different approach? He went to pick up the bowling ball...except it wasn't there! He darted around the sandbag, and looked all around the room. No bowling ball! How could he use it if it wasn't-
Oh wait. It was back in his inventory. That's weird. How'd it get there? He took it out and rolled it gain, but kept his eyes on it. It bumped the sandbag and did next to nothing, and then simply vanished. Back in his inventory.
This was good, but he needed to see how consistent it was. He rolled the bowling ball again, deliberately missing the sandbag, and waited for a bit. It disappeared shortly.
Well, at least he wouldn't lose anything. But he had some things that were breakable, like the plant, or could run out of uses, like his watering can. How could those work out?
He'd figure that out later. He needed to figure out a good way to use the bowling ball.
He hefted it in his hands for a bit. How could he use it? He could roll it, but it could easily be jumped over or sidestepped, and it didn't do much that way. Maybe...
His hand slipped a little, and it dropped. It would've hit his foot, had he not scooted back suddenly to prevent that.
The bowling ball hit the ground and vanished, reappearing in his inventory again.
After catching his breath, he thought about what had almost happened. That would've hurt his foot way worse than if he'd rolled it over.
He jumped up to a platform nearby, thankful for the unusual selectively-intangible platforms and greater jumping power this universe provided. Standing near the edge, he looked down at the sandbag. All it took was pulling out the bowling ball and dropping it.
The sandbag shuddered with the impact, taking a much greater amount of damage from this move than the other one.
He smiled. It's not your weight; it's how you throw it around.
Now, how was he gonna use his other stuff? This would be fun figuring it all out.
The preliminary battles had done their job. Everyone returning got to show off their skills. Bowser had surprised everyone by standing upright and delivering faster attacks; while this was a great improvement from the last two tournaments, his newfound agility and thus ability to hold his own annoyed Mario and DK to no end. Pit had managed to showcase some new weaponry as well, attributing those to a mission he'd ended up on after the last tournament closed.
Samus was the only one who had a confirmed Final Smash power. This was something else about this world: All the fighters had a unique power while in here, that enhanced their normal abilities, let them use a power they wouldn't normally have, let them summon something they couldn't normally use, or some other incredibly strong attack. As these Final Smash powers were limited to this universe, they too were subject to change as the universe did. Samus's, at the very least, was unchanged. Except maybe a bit more focused than before. Samus had stuck to her Power Suit during the battle, since Sakurai hadn't confirmed if she would be fighting in her Zero Suit, and so her Final Smash demonstration marked the end of the battle.
The new battlefields were coming along nicely. Link had seen three battlegrounds from different time periods in Hyrule's history. Not his branch of history, however; he encountered another wide-eyed counterpart, who was from a hundred years in the future of the one Link had seen in the last tournament. Still, Link was interested in exploring Skyloft--a lot of the pre-Hyrule history had been lost over time--and annoyed that he could only visit there during battles for now.
The Villager as they called him was almost laughed off until he embedded Mario and Bowser into the ground, dropped a bowling ball on Fox's skull, and caught Samus's charge shot with his bare hands and stored it in his pocket. They decided not to underestimate this kid, whose smile almost never went away. It was almost eerie.
Mega Man had proven to be an equally formidable foe. When he was knocked down pretty easily at first, he seemed to pick up a second wind and threw saw blades from nowhere. DK was still checking for singed fur.
It was just an hour after that fight, and Mega Man was doing an internal systems check. "Okay. Joints? Full range of motion. Senses? Still functioning. Abilities? All ready to go. Battery? Woah, 100%? I thought that would at least take some powe- Oh. Hey Mario."
Mario had approached when Mega was talking to himself. "Hey your-a self."
"I-a just wanted to-a say you put up a good-a fight back-a there."
"Well you know what they say about first impressions, right?" he said with a bit of a smile.
"How'd-a you get all those-a powers anyway?"
"Bunch of missions. Usually back in my world, when I beat another robot, I get to download its main abilities. They start to add up. Back home I'd have to use 'em just one at a time and had to take a few seconds to manually switch between them, but here I can use all of 'em without those kind of delays or limits." He sighed, which was quite a feat for a robot. "I wish I could do that at home. Maybe then..."
"Maybe then-a what?" inquired Mario.
Mega Man hesitated before answering, "Maybe then I'd...actually be seen as... useful."
The uncomfortable silence was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
"What do you mean?" asked Mario.
Mega actually inhaled before responding. "Well, I used to go on missions all the time. Fighting Dr. Wily and his Robot Masters, going on missions, maybe joining in another crossover tournament on the side with some karate people... But then those things stopped happening for a few years. I heard some rumors about new missions, and that got me excited, but then they turned out to be false alarms, or someone else handled it, or it turns out Dr. Wily canceled his own plans for whatever reason. Meanwhile I'm sitting there, waiting to do something, anything, and... and nothing. I get my hopes up, but nothing happens. So... When I got the invite to come here, I... I couldn't let you guys see me as weak. I had to prove myself. I... don't wanna leave empty handed."
Mario stared at Mega for a bit. He'd known never to underestimate someone by their looks or their age, or even their status as non-human or inorganic. The previous people whom he'd fought against and alongside had varying degrees of tragedy in their pasts, from Donkey Kong's peaceful life to the deaths of Samus's parents to Lucas's brother's betrayal to the conquering of Marth's entire kingdom. But right now, Mega Man being unappreciated at his own home...
He put his hand on Mega's shoulder. "Hey. Don't-a worry. No matter what-a happens at your-a place, you can-a always come here if you-a need to. Our-a doors are-a always open."
Mega looked at Mario. The red-hatted plumber was smiling at him in a way that portrayed the sense of acceptance and confidence. It had been ages since Mega had seen that look aimed at him.
Lost in the moment, Mega turned to hug Mario. Mario was surprised, but hugged back.
"Thank you," said Mega. "You don't know how much this means to me."
"Don't-a mention it," said Mario. He patted Mega on the back a couple of times. Softly, but Mega knew better than to hold on too long and make things awkward, so he let go and took a step back.
"So, uh..." said Mega. "Where are you headed?"
"Just-a the fitness room. We-a gotta work out for-a tha next few-a battles. You-a wanna come?"
Mega considered mentioning that, as a robot, he didn't actually need to exercise. But he figured that would be obvious, and didn't want to be rude, especially after what had just been discussed. "Sure."
As they passed a few doors, Mega realized something. "Oh, uh, there's another newcomer here for these preliminaries."
"Yeah. I'm probably not supposed to tell you right away, so just, uh... get ready to deal with, um... Hmm... Martial arts. If you ever fought someone who does martial arts, be prepared for someone like that."
"Sheik and-a Samus come to mind."
"Really? Samus? She's got that armor on."
"That she-a does, but-a she can-a fight just as-a good without the armor as-a with."
"Really. Wonder what she looks like under that visor."
"There's-a probably some-a archived-a footage around from-a tha last tournament, but-a trust me on this-a one. She's a knock-out."
The red-hatted plumber and the blue bomber shared a good laugh.
She relaxed on a chair. After a long day of working out and fighting, she deserved a break. She would in no way make slouching ungracefully on a chair into a regular habit. She had an image to maintain, and she didn't want to get sloppy. But today was just a special case.
First had been following up on her lessons with Bowser. The King of the Koopas might have been formidable, but his posture was terrible. She noticed that yesterday while watching the archived footage. She'd taken him aside and drilled him into fighting with a more upright stance. And the results didn't lie; he was a lot faster now and packed a lot more punch after just one day of exercise.
Next was doing some stretches with the rest of them, leading into her preliminary battle. She got a couple of strange looks for going barefoot on the battlefield, but Bowser pointed out that he, DK, and Pikachu were barefoot too, as well as a handful of other battlers in the past, and nobody had complained so far.
She found that this world gave her an increased stamina, jumping capability, and reflexes. She could easily switch from one pose to another rapidly, and the speed of such pose transitions proved to be the strength behind them. Simple physics.
She was also pleasantly surprised by her Final Smash. While she wasn't one for using magic, considering it to be a lazy alternative to real work, she found an exciting thrill in having all that energy in her body. She felt as if she could run a marathon without stopping for rest. But, alas, that power had to be focused elsewhere, and it was unleashed in the form of several of her stances flying as colored silhouettes. It seemed like a waste of energy.
Still, though... She'd rather not have that energy at the end of the day. It would be better to get some sleep than to have all that power keeping her awake like ten cups of coffee.
Regardless, after her battle, and then some more practice matches against everyone else, she led everyone else in some cool down stretches. Kirby was probably the hardest to work with, with Pikachu being a close second, both of them having an entirely different anatomy than most everyone else. Link's equipment made it difficult for him to balance, while Pit's wings and Fox's tail served to aid in their balance. Mario really needed a workout, while Samus was simply gliding through the exercises. Mega Man didn't have to exercise, being a robot and all, but he still went through the stretches. He had the easiest time imitating the poses, owing to gyros and servos in his body that let him balance with mechanical precision.
After the stretches, she'd talked to each of them about keeping up a basic exercise routine. "Some of you seem to already have one." She nodded towards Link and Samus. "Others, not so much." Her attention was on Mario at that moment, drawing an embarrassed blush to his face and some snickers from the others. "Regardless, you'll need to be in fighting shape for when the tournaments begin. Bowser, I expect to not see you slouching when you come back. Link, work on your stance when throwing your boomerang. Fox, get some hand-to-hand practice in. Kirby..." She hesitated. "...just...don't get bigger."
Pep talk concluded, everyone walked out, headed to the meeting room. Was there something about this world that made sweat simply not happen? She didn't know.
Sakurai had asked everyone's opinions on the new challengers, who had taken the three formerly-empty seats to Fox's left. Bowser said that the fitness exercises were tough but well worth it. Pit said the Wii Fit Trainer--a nickname he gave her because of the words on her shirt, because that's totally what he was looking at--would definitely fit right in (emphasis his), which earned some groans from the others. Mario figured he and Mega Man would get along. Mega figured he'd get along with Samus too, to which Pit elbowed Link with a weird look. Link elbowed Pit back painfully. And then the Villager said he was just excited to be there, and everyone encouraged him to do his best.
Samus said she was grateful that there was another girl in the roster; the only girls prior were princesses, a short mountain climber, or Jigglypuff. As it turned out, though, the two of them didn't seem to have much in common. Still, she said if Samus needed a friend or sparring partner, she'd be there. This seemed to cheer the huntress up.
Sakurai said that it would be several months before the tournament was ready, but he would keep everyone posted on progress. Fox was annoyed that the universe would keep shifting until it settled, but it was unavoidable.
Everyone was encouraged to go home and tell their friends, family, and coworkers. Some of them decided to stick around for a while, including her. She made her way back to her room--everyone had rooms here for extended stays--and plopped on the couch.
And that's where she was now. Nothing to do. She'd worked out more than enough today, she'd made some new friends and allies, and she'd had a taste of magic. There wasn't all that she could do at the moment.
Maybe tomorrow she would explore the area. Visit the places that were besieged during the Subspace invasion. It might be nice to enjoy the scenery.
But for now, she needed to eat, shower--more out of habit than any actual need--and go to sleep.
As much as they didn't want to, Mario and DK rode on Bowser's ship home. He dropped DK off first at Kong Island, which was far enough away from the Mushroom Kingdom that they didn't visit each other often except for special invitations from Peach. On the way back, they passed a certain skyscraper. Mario remembered fighting DK's grandfather there when that building was still under construction. Why didn't Mario use a hammer more often? He didn't know.
As they neared the kingdom, Bowser saw a new race course under construction near the castle. "What, you didn't have enough of those?" said Bowser. Mario just shrugged.
When they got close enough, Mario said "So long-a Bowser" and hopped off the ship, landing on the ground near the castle entrance. Years of jumping and falling had helped him learn how to land without getting hurt.
He walked up to the castle and headed up the stairs. All the time he'd been in here, he knew the layout by heart. Of the main hall at least; the doors had a bad tendency to change what room they led to every now and then. Still, he made his way up to the top.
"Princess-a," he called. "Princess-a Peach. I'm-a back!"
"Huh?" said a Toad filing paperwork. "Oh, hey Mario."
"She went t-" Toad paused, then looked up and smirked. "Sorry, but your princess is in another castle."