Oh to be home! To be one of only about five members of your species! To be among weird bipedal mushroom people who forgot you existed after you passed them! To witness repeated political crises, and watch as the duo you based your entire existence on solved them through violence!
For a moment, Waluigi remembered why he’d left.
Then he realised that all the Toads were… paying attention to him!
Not that they had any reason not to. He was back in Prime Waluigi gear, neatly ironed with the creases crisp. His dungarees were so black, the emptiness of space looked blue in comparison. His cap was so jaunty, it was about to bust out a jig to pipe music. His gloves were so white…
…he realised that they weren’t looking at him at all. They were, instead, looking at Slowqueen.
To be fair, she was worth a stare. Not only was she a bipedal pink hippo with a crown made of sentient shell, she was floating a foot off the ground using her own telekinesis. (She travelled faster that way.) The Princess had apparently been captured, again, but Slowqueen was by far the most interesting royal event going on in the Mushroom Kingdom right now.
‘Oh what charming little people!’ she cooed. ‘It’s like someone put mushroom hats on toddlers! Hello there, little Toad! Why do they all wear nappies?’
‘There isn’t a single thing you just thought that wasn’t massively offensive,’ said Waluigi.
A thought struck him, and not one of Slowqueen’s. His ‘brother’! He should call his brother! Flinging clothes out of his bag every which way in the town square, knowing nobody would remember him doing it, he finally found the Waluigiphone stuffed into an inside pocket. He rang his brother’s number.
Then he rang it again.
‘Voicemail?’ thought Slowqueen.
After hearing the start of the pre-recorded message (‘It’s-a me! WAH-rio! Wah ha ha! Unless you’re the Inland Revenue, in which case, this is Gobbleguts’ Garden Takeaway…’) for the sixth time, he decided to try again later.
The plan? he thought loudly.
* * *
Bowser’s Castle would have been the most intimidating building in the country, but for two things.
It certainly looked intimidating. Outside, a lava moat bubbled under the drawbridge. Flames shot from cannons on either side. The portcullis was set in a huge stone gate, in the shape of Bowser’s horned face. Everywhere you looked, there was intimidating grey stone, spikes, and sheer rock walls.
Even worse, Waluigi was aware, awaited them inside. Any number of stone traps were ready to crush the unwary, some of which were alive. Bowser’s tortoise-like minions patrolled the corridors, throwing hammers, flames, and themselves in defence of their king. Missile launchers fired on all who dared cross their path. And (yes) there was plenty of fire and lava in there too.
The first reason it lacked on the intimidation front was that Mario and Luigi stormed it on a regular basis. All the décor in the world could not disguise that fact. Bowser had, at the last official count, imprisoned Princess Peach in his castle’s stony bowels forty-seven times, and every time he’d been empty-handed by the week’s end.
Hell, even now, the drawbridge was down and the portcullis open. It was things like that, that made the Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants suspect Bowser was in it for little more than the thrill of the fight; that underneath the spiny shell, there lay a soft centre. (That, and taking part in the kingdom’s regular sports tournaments, kart races, and tabletop roleplaying campaigns. Bowser provided the dungeons and the dragons.)
The second reason it lacked on the intimidation front was that just now, just outside Bowser’s giant stone maw, Slowqueen had gone to the toilet.
‘Aw come on!’ said Waluigi. ‘What was that for?’
‘Slowpokes don’t have pockets.’
Amidst the fishy-smelling pink sludge, there was a small round stone. It looked almost like a marble. Slowqueen picked it up with her mind.
‘What is it?’ asked Waluigi.
‘Still got your Mega Ring?’ thought Slowqueen.
Waluigi pointed to his thigh, where the ring was very slowly cutting off circulation to his foot.
‘Good. This,’ she thought, lifting the stone, ‘is something I have been working on for years. This is what will makes us heroes. This is what will get you noticed.’
The giggle was accidental. It slipped out unintentionally, more of a cackle than anything else. But it said a lot about Waluigi’s state of mind.
* * *
So said this particular incidence of testudinidae, who was being dangled psychically upside down by its ankles.
‘You have intruders!’
Lord Bowser rose from his throne.
Again, he should have been quite intimidating. He was twice as tall as Waluigi, who had been described on occasion (by people unable to appreciate his particular style of beauty) as ‘lanky’, and about six times as broad. Like his subjects, his shell was chelonian in nature: unlike his subjects, it was decorated with twelve-inch spikes. His face, dotted with sharp teeth, was topped by horns and a shock of red hair, for Bowser cared not for mammalian/reptilian distinctions.
If all this wasn’t scary enough, he was wearing spiked leather bracelets. They reminded Waluigi of the time he went to a metal concert, and everyone (of any gender) was louder and hairier than he was.
However, again, he’d been beaten up by the Mario Bros. so many times that he was almost a joke by now. Waluigi hadn’t ever beaten him up, but was only shivering slightly.
Slowqueen wasn’t shivering at all.
‘What?’ roared Bowser.
The roar, at least, was intimidating. Waluigi considered a new pair of ears.
‘How did you get in here?’ the roar continued. ‘And who are…’
‘The drawbridge was down, the front gate was open, your fire is vulnerable to water, your traps are easily held with psychic powers, your missiles likewise, and your troops between them have about enough brains to fill a small fishbowl. Will that suffice?’
The tortoise was hurled to the floor, and scurried off in shame.
Lord Bowser stared down Slowqueen for a while, moving his face inches from hers.
Then he guffawed. It was every bit as painful as the roar.
‘Ha! Bold move, crashing my castle. What exactly are you? And…’
‘I’m the new lord of your people. And no, I don’t fancy you.’
Bowser’s bushy eyebrows rose. Smoke hissed from his nostrils.
‘You’ve had your fun, lady. Now shove off, and take your pipe cleaner chum with you, unless you want to end up…’
‘…frazzled to a crisp? Oh please. I would love to see you try.’
She fluttered her eyelids. Bowser snarled.
‘On your pretty crowned head…’
He inhaled. The inhalation took several seconds, during which pebbles and bone fragments were whisked down his windpipe, without causing any apparently discomfort. His eyes began to glow. So did his throat.
Then he leant his head back… and forward.
A coruscating pillar blasted across the room. It was too bright to look at. From as far away as the room’s walls would allow, Waluigi could feel his skin burning.
When, after ten seconds or so, Bowser shut his maw, there was a hole in the throne room’s wall where the stone had melted. The carpet beneath the blast had had no chance.
Slowqueen flicked some lingering embers off her shoulder.
‘It’s not very effective,’ she thought.
Bowser took a step back.
‘Waluigi, if you would be so kind.’
‘Huh? Oh yeah.’
He touched the ring around his leg.
Slowqueen looked at the marble-like stone. For a moment, nothing happened, apart from Bowser’s heavy breathing.
There was a flash. Not as bright as Bowser’s fire, but a lot more colourful. When Waluigi could look again…
It was definitely still Slowqueen. It was definitely still the Shellder on her head. It was just that the latter now had a lot more spikes, and scraped the ceiling.
Bowser was trying to crawl into his throne. ‘W-w-what the hell are you!?’
Slowqueen opened her eyes.
‘I am Mega-Slowqueen,’ she said, out loud, with her lips. ‘Still fancy me?’