Mario Party – Part Two: Playing the Game

This is a fanfiction. The characters and world of the Mario universe belong to Nintendo. This story is also thematically based on the Zero Escape series by Aksys Games.

Reader discretion is advised. This story is rated M for Mature due to graphic violence.

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The tension in the air was thick as everyone simultaneously pressed the left and right buttons on their DICE. With a series of quick beeps, each one ran a few loops through the numbers 0-9 before stopping, assigning different numbers to each of the eight participants. Mario watched as all of the other players checked their DICE to see what number they rolled.

“What did everyone roll?” Mario questioned. In answer, everyone held out their left wrists so the plumber could see the results. E Gadd had rolled only a 1; Captain Toad a 3; Peach and Daisy both 4; Luigi a 6; Mario a 7; Wario and Waluigi both rolled 9.

“Looks like some of us will be going into the same rooms,” Toad noted. “I guess those teams will have an easier time getting back out.”

E Gadd looked over his glasses at the two pairs: the princesses and the mischievous men. “Odd coincidence that you all are the ones who are paired up. If Mario and Luigi had been together as well, I’d think this whole rolling process rigged.”

Wario immediately got defensive. “What are you trying to say, old man?”

Peach stepped in between them and thrust out her wrist. She’d pressed the left and then right buttons to reveal the turn timer: 00:55.

“You’re wasting time,” she explained. “We only have 55 minutes to go into our separate rooms and get back out. I’m guessing those rooms aren’t empty. If they’re anything like the rooms we came out of, our lives will be at risk. We need every second we can get, so let’s stop fighting and go play this ridiculous game so we can try to get out of here.”

Unwilling to give Peach the last word, Wario grunted before motioning for Waluigi to head down the hallway with him. Everyone started to make their way around, Mario and Luigi walking together since their rooms would be side-by-side. The younger brother didn’t look too great – he was still shivering and his breaths came quickly. His eyes darted all about and he kept looking over his shoulder. Mario carefully placed his arm around Luigi’s shoulders, urging his brother to keep moving forward.

“We’re going to get through this, little bro,” he smiled. “I know this is scary, but we’ve been through Hell and back before. You faced scarier than this busting me out of King Boo’s mansion. Yeah?”

Luigi gave a nod, his breathing slowing down a touch. “Yeah. I j-j-just wish we knew what we were dealing with here. Not knowing makes me even more anxious.”

The younger plumber had suffered from generalized anxiety disorder since childhood. During their younger years, Luigi had been kidnapped by a crazed magikoopa named Kamek who would later become Bowser’s right hand man. Even Mario didn’t know the full extent of what his brother had gone through while awaiting rescue, but whatever it was left Luigi constantly looking over his shoulder. Anxiety disorders tended to be silent, subtle conditions that could go completely unnoticed to the unobservant or uneducated. But in situations like this, the symptoms escalated much quicker, putting the man in green right on the edge of a panic attack at all times.

Mario pointed to the doors on their left. “I just noticed something interesting about those doors. Do you see it?”

Luigi turned to look at them. Focusing on specific details could break anxiety’s hold, and the man immediately seemed to calm down thanks to the simple puzzle his brother had presented. The doors had no handles; instead, next to each doorway was some sort of scanner panel. Each panel had a number, and those numbers were in sequence. Peach and Daisy were just outside of the door that read “4,” and the door to their immediate left read “5.”

“You can’t get in unless someone with the correct number scans their DICE on the panel,” Luigi noted. “That means that even without the consequences of breaking the rules, we can’t enter a room we’re not supposed to unless another person helps us.”

“That’s right,” Mario nodded. “Ztar – or rather, the one in charge of her – took many steps to make sure we only go where we’re supposed to.”

“I wonder why that is,” Luigi said. “If these rooms are just filled with deadly traps, then realistically all of them have a chance to kill us. It shouldn’t matter which one we enter.”

That Mario hadn’t thought of. Were the limitations literally just to force them to participate in this ridiculous party game? Or was there another purpose in forcing everyone to go only where the DICE allowed? They arrived at the sixth door, Luigi stopping and staring at the scanner panel.

“I’ll wait until you go into yours,” Luigi said. “We’ll enter at the same time.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Mario agreed. He walked a few more feet to his door, then turned and gave Luigi a firm nod. Together, they pressed their left hands against the scanners, their DICE giving off a high-pitched beep. The doors slid open vertically, the brothers exchanging one last look before heading into their separate rooms. Mario’s DICE beeped again as he crossed the threshold, and the metal door immediately slammed shut again behind him.

“Damn it!” he swore. He turned to look at the door. There was no scanner panel on the inside; instead there was a small screen that read “LOCK” with a huge keyhole beneath it. He would need to find a big key to open this door just as he had with the one in the room he woke up in. Mario sighed and then remembered something. Depending on whether this room was blue, red, or green, he might have gained or lost some COINS. He checked his DICE and noticed that his STAR and COINS were the same, except that now the display had changed from white numbers to green.

“This must be a green room, then,” he muttered. “Whatever that means.”

As if in answer, an intercom buzzed and a familiar voice began to speak.

“Howdy, hon! Miss me? Little miss Ztar is here to give you a speck of advice!” Mario groaned. “In this green room, there are eight red coins hidden all over the place. If you can find those eight red coins and cash them into the little bank by the door, then you’ll get a STAR for your trouble. Good luck finding all of them, sweetie!”

Mario looked down by the door and saw the bank she’d spoken of. It was a yellow cube with a large exclamation mark and a small coin slot at the very top. On the right side of the door was a nearly-identical cube. However, this one had a question mark and instead of a coin slot at the top, it had a keypad. Rather than numbers, the keys had symbols like a power star, a mushroom, a koopa shell, and a fire flower. Mario poked experimentally at the buttons, trying a few different combinations before giving up.

“The code must be somewhere else in the room,” Mario guessed.

He turned his attention to the other parts of the room. For the most part, it was bare. There were four doors in the room besides the entrance door, each one painted beautifully with a very familiar image. From the left the door paintings were: a group of black bob-ombs marching in a line; a pair of snowmen standing on the right side of a snow-covered tree; a tall fortress on a sky island; and the dark silhouette of a wooden ship sitting at the bottom of a blue sea. Mario recognized these paintings from Peach’s castle – they had been on the first floor when Bowser used power stars to create individual worlds inside of each painting. The plumber had explored the worlds within those paintings in depth, searching for power stars in order to unlock more doors in Peach’s castle and ultimately face Bowser.

He stepped to the bob-omb door first and reached out to test the doorknob. As he did so, he noticed that the knob had a star embossed upon it along with the number “1.” The knob turned easily, the plumber pushing the door open to see what awaited him beyond. As soon as he stepped inside, he jumped back as a massive set of teeth chomped the air only an inch in front of his nose. The fangs belonged to a chain chomp, the massive metal beast barking and snapping angrily. Try as it might, it could move no closer, its chain tied firmly to a post in the center of the room. Mario tried to see beyond the creature, catching a glimpse of what appeared to be a cannon and a large painting. However, with the chain chomp there he had no hope of investigating anything else.

He stepped back and closed the door, amazed that he hadn’t heard the creature barking. E Gadd had apparently done quite well at soundproofing the facility. The next door was the snowman door, and just like the bob-omb door the knob had an embossed star. Unlike the other door, this star had a number “2” instead. Mario turned the knob and carefully cracked the door, looking inside to make sure nothing was going to try and kill him when he walked through. This room appeared safe. There was snow all over the place, and as he crossed the threshold of the door the temperature drastically change, causing him to shiver. Apparently sound wasn’t the only thing these doors could keep at bay.

Throughout the room, a number of small penguins were wandering around. On Mario’s left was a large mechanical penguin, its shiny blue feathers matching all of the stray baby penguins. On his right, there was a snowman head sitting on a small platform. Looking across the hill of snow to the other side of the room, he saw the bottom half of the snowman anxiously awaiting a head to accompany it. He turned to pick up the snowman head – and immediately retracted his hands as the cold snow bit his fingers fiercely.

“Damn, that’s cold!” he cursed. There was no way he could carry that snowman across barehanded. He tried covering his hands with his sleeves and touching the snow again, and cursed again as the exact same thing happened. It seemed he’d have to let the head rest for the time being.

“I might be able to figure out these penguins, though,” he muttered. He looked at the machine first. The tall mechanical penguin had a screen upon its chest, along with a small scanner panel similar to the one that had granted Mario entrance into the green room. A quick survey of the device revealed no levers, buttons, slots, or switches – only the scanner and the screen. Satisfied that he couldn’t interact with the mechanical penguin in any way, he turned his attention to the smaller ones roaming the room.

“Alright, little ones, come to Papa Mario,” he said. “I just want to see how you connect to this puzzle.”

It took him a few times to get ahold of the nearest penguin – the little creature wasn’t the most willing of traveling companions. However, with the creature in his grasp he moved towards the mechanical penguin. He knew they had to interact – he just wasn’t sure exactly how. Lifting the penguin up in front of the machine, he watched as the scanner suddenly activated and scanned the baby penguins belly. As it did so, the screen began to show a fractured image. It was a strip of white straight through the center of the screen; Mario estimated that it covered about 1/3.

“Thank you, little one,” he smiled. “Now to get the other two to help.”

After a few minutes of tromping back and forth through the snow with penguins in tow, Mario had filled in the entire screen. It was a map of this room – filling out the edges had revealed the mechanical penguin and the pedestals where the snowman pieces rested. In the upper corner of the map there was a large red X. He turned away from the monitor and moved to that part of the room. Afraid to use his hands after his encounter with the snowman, he used his feet to kick the snow around and disturb the ground a bit. Not too far beneath the surface of the snow he found something. With the object mostly free of the snow, he felt safe to bend down and pick it up.

It was a box, green with white trim. The box was very heavy, though from the weight distribution it seemed like the weight came more from the object within the box than from the actual box itself. Mario recognized this as the container for a metal hat, a strange item powered by stars that could temporarily encase the wearer in a full suit of metal. This temporarily shut down certain functions, like the need to breathe, as well as making the wearer significantly heavier.

“I’d better hold on to this,” Mario said. He walked back out into the central room through the doorway and sat the box on the ground for the time being. It was time to explore the third room, the one with the tall fortress. That knob had an embossed star with the number “3.” As Mario took hold of the knob, the front casing felt quite loose. He gripped the edges with his fingers and gave them a yank. The whole case came right off, and a small red coin tumbled out of the doorknob and onto the floor. The plumber picked it up and walked it over to the bank by the exit, placing the red coin into the coin slot. With a satisfying bing, the bank acknowledged the coin. Only seven more to go and Mario could lay claim to a free STAR.

For a moment it disturbed him how readily he’d accepted the game. How willing he was already to go out of his way to get more STARs and potentially escape. He dismissed those thoughts for the time being and made his way again to the third door. This time, he went inside.

Instead of a square room, this door opened up into a long hallway. There was no floor to be seen; looking down revealed a deep, black pit that Mario could not see the end of. Down the length of the hallway, platforms of different sizes would extend briefly from the wall before retracting and leaving the pit open again. The rhythm of the platforms was staggered – he could tell that it was possible to cross safely as long as his timing was right. The far end of the hallway proved too distant to see with any clarity. Squinting didn’t help.

“Looks like I have to cross to see what’s over there,” Mario muttered.

He began to make his way across the platforms, working quickly but carefully to move down the hallway. The movements felt familiar – he’d done plenty of platforming over the course of his adventures. A few careful steps and one well-timed leap put him onto a spinning bridge just wide enough for him to stand. The bridge rotated slowly, allowing him to regain his bearings and see what was around. No more platforms presented themselves ahead of him. Instead, all he could see was a large red button on the opposite wall. He had no way of reaching the button. It was likely that he needed something from another room, similar to the metal cap he’d found.

He turned back around, ready to make his way back across the platforms. However, at the last second the plumber noticed something odd. In his peripheral vision he noticed something down in the pit beneath him. Looking down, he saw a string hanging from the other side of the spinning bridge. He couldn’t tell what was attached to the string, but he guessed that it was something that he needed. Mario moved to the edge of the bridge and then carefully went down to his knees. After that, he laid out flat so he could get his arms around the end of the bridge. Reaching around to grab the string, he wound it up until the thing hanging on the end was within his grasp. Unable to see it, he waited until he felt the object, then unwrapped it and pulled it up into his view.

“A sleepy sheep,” he gasped. Sleepy sheep was an odd, cottony plant shaped similar to a sheep. It was a powerful tranquilizer, so good at its job that when harvesting it the chemicals from the plant had to be diluted rather than concentrated in order to be safe for human consumption. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know where Mario was meant to use this, so he immediately rose to his feet and began to make his way back across the platforms.

Once through the door, he headed to the door with the number “1” on the knob and carefully opened it with one hand. With the other hand, he grasped the large dose of sleepy sheep. As he cracked the door open, he felt the rush of wind as the chomp charged towards the door. The fanged mouth opened wide, ready to crush his bones and rend his flesh – and Mario threw the sleepy sheep in. As the chomp snapped at him, it crushed up the plant and exposed itself to the powerful chemicals within. It took only a moment for the massive beast to begin blinking rapidly, fighting sleep. The drug won the day, and the chomp drifted off, its eyes closing as the body finally relaxed and stopped biting.

Mario made his way past the chain chomp so he could get a look around the room. As he thought he’d seen earlier, there was a large mural depicting the mountain where long ago he’d battled the king of the bob-ombs. Aimed at that mural was a cannon, though it only took one moment of examination to see that the cannon wasn’t real. The opening in the barrel had been replaced with a scanner panel, and the back hatch where a cannonball would normally be inserted had a lock installed that preventing Mario from being able to open it. There were two handles that allowed the cannon to be aimed, and a pair of triggers on those handles likely activated the scanner.

“So what do I shoot?” he asked himself. He took a closer look at the painting. At the base of the mountain a group of red bob-ombs were mounting their defense, but it appeared they would be overwhelmed by the black bob-ombs up on the cliff. There were plenty of features that the plumber found familiar: the large ramp where steel balls had recklessly rolled to crush anyone trying to ascend the mountain, the holes from which these balls dropped that served as a shortcut up the cliff, the flagpole that Koopa the Quick would race to. Suddenly, he noticed something that was definitely out of place. On the side of the cliff, in a garden area maintained by the bob-ombs, there was a fire flower.

“I don’t remember seeing any of those there. Let’s see what happens when I scan it.”

Mario aimed the cannon at the fire flower and pulled the triggers, watching as a bright red light cross-checked the image of the fire flower. Suddenly, the hatch on the back of the cannon clicked and opened. Inside were some chunks of a fire flower. The plumber doubted he needed this to throw fireballs – it was likely intended so he could move the snowman head in the next room safely. On a whim, he swung the cannon to the side towards the red bob-ombs at the edge of the mural. After all, they were the only red things he could find in the image. A quick scan caused the hatch to click again, this time accompanied by the sound of a small metal object clinking around inside the cannon. Mario opened the hatch to find his second red coin.

As he turned to leave, he suddenly noticed something about the post that held the chain chomp in place. A large arrow had been carved into the post, pointing straight down towards the floor. Mario glanced down, revealing nothing, and then stepped forward to take a closer look at the post. At the top of the post he noticed a small opening, just wide enough to fit a coin inside. Sure enough, as he looked through the hole he noticed a glint of red at the very bottom of the post. He sighed, knowing that shoving the post down meant giving the chain chomp free rein to move throughout the room.

Did he really care so much about this stupid game that he would needlessly risk his life to get an edge?

He sighed again and carefully gripped the edges of the post. With a grunt he put all of his energy into shoving the post downward, the wooden rod easily sliding its full length into the floor. When he’d shoved the entire thing down, the chomp’s chain came off with a loud snap. The creature began to stir, Mario carefully picking up the red coin and slowly making his way towards the door.

Suddenly, the chomp turned to face him.

The beast roared and charged towards Mario, fangs bared and gnashing the whole way. The plumber leapt to the side, his powerful legs launching him clear to the wall. He felt the rush of air as the chomp sailed past him. Bowing his legs against the wall, he pushed off and flew clear to the door as the metal beast regained its bearings. As the chomp rushed him a second time, Mario slammed the door shut. The crash that came from the other side of the door sent a shiver up his spine.

He stepped over to the yellow bank by the door and inserted his two new red coins, bringing his total to three. Five more and he’d have a STAR to his name. He looked to his DICE and pressed the left button and then the right button. The turn timer popped up in bright green letters – 00:27. Twenty-seven minutes left before he’d be punished for not leaving the room. He had to keep moving.

With the fire flower in his grasp, he knew where he needed to go next. Mario made his way to the snowman door and headed inside. The familiar sensation of cold swept over him, his hand where he held the fire flower staying comfortably warm. He grasped the flower tightly and began to rip it open, letting the warm juice of the plant cover his hands. Once they were coated, he wasted no time in grabbing the snowman head. While it still felt quite cold, it no longer pained him to touch the freezing snow. He carried the rather heavy head of packed snow to the body on the other side of the room, grunting as he lifted the head up onto the body. Once the two halves were attached, something fell off of the body and into the snow.

“What was that?” Mario questioned. He bent down to pick up the object: a red coin. It had been the center button on the snowman’s body. Somehow the plumber didn’t notice. He shook his head and put the coin into his pocket. Realizing that he’d only found one red coin in this room, he started looking to see where another one might be at. There was the snow, but it would take forever to dig through all of it, and the warmth from the fire flower was already wearing off. His gaze settled on the penguin machine near the door, with the scanner panel on the belly. When he’d scanned the red bob-omb in the other room, it had revealed a red coin. Perhaps this would behave similarly. He stepped over to the mechanical penguin and presented his red coin. The scanner panel flashed for a moment and the monitor above the scanner changed, the red X moving from the upper right corner of the map to the center left. It took only a moment for Mario to dig up the next red coin, and with that obtained he left the room.

“Five down, three to go,” he said to himself. It felt good getting the coins; it gave him something to focus on, helped him to work out how each puzzle functioned. And once that was done, he’d have a STAR – his first step in getting out of this place.

You should be focused on getting everyone out, he thought, not just yourself. But unsure of how to go about that at the moment, he felt that his best option was to play the game.

He deposited the red coins into the bank and then bent down to lift up the heavy box with the metal cap. The time had come to enter the fourth room. Just like with the other doors, the knob was embossed with a star and a number, this one a “4.” Mario twisted the knob with his free hand and stepped through the door. He found himself in a room with a series of large wooden treasure chests ringed around a pool of water. A quick look into the pool revealed nothing – the water was rather murky, making it difficult to see anything. Mario sat down the box with the metal cap in it, deciding it would be better to check out the chests first.

Each chest corresponded with one side of the square pool of water – he decided to think of them as the north, south, east, and west sides for ease of reference. Looking over the chests revealed that each one was completely identical, right down to the rough scratches and water damage. Each chest had a small keyhole with a key already protruding out of it. Mario went around and pulled on each key, seeing if any of them came out of their respective chest – they did not. Stopping at the north chest, he decided to try something different with the key, turning it within the lock.

As the key turned, he heard a loud buzz and felt sharp, hot pain rush through the length of his body. He pulled his hand away from the key, checking his hand. The tips of his fingers were singed, and it felt like all the hairs on his body were standing on end. For a moment the plumber considered moving towards another chest to test it out, but thought better of it. If he guessed wrong again, he’d feel that pain again, and he wasn’t sure how much he could take. Instead he looked for a hint, checking over all the chests a second time and looking at the keys for any indication of which one was real or which ones were trapped. Nothing. After a few minutes of going over the room again, his eyes settled on the pool of water in the center of the room.

“I bet my clue is down there,” he reasoned. He lifted the green box off of the ground and then threw it down with all his might, the box shattering and sending out a spray of wood splinters. The metal cap from inside now lay on the ground. Mario hefted it off of the ground and carefully removed his own cap, setting it off to the side before putting on the metal one. He’d worn a metal cap many times before, but the sensation of becoming steel, of his breath stopping as his need for air completely disappeared, would never become normal.

Despite the added weight it was no harder to move when metal than it was when he was flesh and blood. He jumped into the water and began to sink down, his metal body unaffected by the wetness or the cold. It took only a few moments to reach the bottom, and at the base of the pool Mario could see numbers painted onto the walls. The numbers ran from 1 to 4, and each one corresponded with one of the chests above. He looked them over quite a few times to make sure he had it memorized. In order, he needed to open the west chest, the north chest, the south chest, and then the east chest.

He felt the metal coating beginning to dissolve. The plumber took one last look around, not wanting to miss any details while he was down at the bottom of the pool. He noticed a glint of red by his feet, bending down to pick up the coin as the effects of the metal cap faded completely. His body now buoyant again, he floated back to the surface of the water and pulled himself onto dry ground. Still nervous from his last experience with the chests, he moved to the west chest and gingerly began to turn the key.

“DAMNIT!” he cried, his body wracked with pain much more severe than his first shock from the chests. Being wet certainly hadn’t made the experience any better, and his whole body ached from the shock. His hand, in particularly, was badly scorched now, and he felt that it would take actual medical attention for that pain to go away. What had happened? How did he still get shocked?

“I must have lost my bearings at the bottom of the pool,” he realized. When he came up, what chest had he been facing? He thought about it for a moment and realized that he had broken the surface of the water facing the west chest. That meant what he thought was north at the bottom was actually west, and the chests were in a completely different order.

“So if north was actually west,” he began, “I just need to face the west chest and think of it as north now.” He did so, and that meant that he needed to open the south chest first. His bearings regained, his new order would be south, west, east, then north. He went to the south chest and, muttering a silent prayer to the stars, turned the key. The lid popped open, revealing an empty box. But finding nothing was infinitely better than getting shocked again. Each chest he tried was empty until the last one, which held a small hammer like those used by hammer brothers. Weighted perfectly for throwing, it would work well for hitting the red button in the number 3 room.

Now standing at the north chest and facing the doorway out, Mario noticed something odd. In the upper left corner of the wall opposite him was an opening of some sort. It was small, like a vent had been removed. He could tell from here that he wouldn’t be able to fit his whole body inside, but perhaps he could reach in and find something. He took a couple of steps back to give himself room to run, then sprinted across the room and leapt up the wall. Pressing his feet against the wall to push himself up the last little bit, he reached into the vent and his hand settled on something small and round. Pulling it out revealed the object to be a red coin.

“Just one more,” he breathed. “One more.”

He returned to the platform room and made his way across to the spinning bridge with the hammer in his hand. This had to be the way to get the key and open the door. It was the last puzzle left. Mario stepped onto the spinning bridge and took aim with the hammer, lining up his throw carefully. One swing of his arm sent the hammer flying forward. It struck the button squarely before falling down into the pit below. The button lit up and another platform extended from the end of the hall. Mario stepped onto it and looked down on the ground. There was no key there; only the last red coin.

Had he missed something? He thought he’d completed every room puzzle, but none of them held the large key he needed to get out of the room. How would he escape?

“I guess I’ll at least turn in these last three coins,” he muttered. Making his way back to the main room, he walked over the to bank and inserted the last three coins. They clinked lightly against the other coins at the bottom of the bank. A beep sounded from his DICE, and Mario looked at it to see  bright green “1” next to the STAR. Getting a STAR as part of his room challenge would give him a huge edge against the others.

Against them? You should be working with them, Mario.

It was then that he noticed something he’d forgotten about: the safe on the other side of the door. Unable to figure out that puzzle when he first came in, he’d dismissed it. Now, it seemed like there was a good chance that the safe was his way out. Mario stepped over to it and took a look at the keypad on top. The first time he’d noticed the most familiar shapes: a power star, a mushroom, a koopa shell, a fire flower. This time though, other shapes stood out to him. Namely, a cap, a hammer, and a sheep. These combined with the fire flower meant that the keypad had a button for every item he’d found while exploring the rooms.

“So now I know what buttons to press,” he said. “I just have to figure out the order.”

The rooms he’d found the items in each had a number on their doorknob. The bob-omb room had been 1, the snowman room 2, the platform room 3, and the water room 4. But did he insert the code based on which room he found each item in, or which room he used the item in? He decided to go with those ideas in order, so first he pressed the fire flower, then the metal cap, followed by the sleepy sheep, and finally the throwing hammer. The safe clicked and the door sprung open, Mario quickly looking at the contents inside.

He smiled as he noticed the large key, obviously a perfect match for the locking mechanism by the door. In addition to the key there were a number of newspaper clippings. Mario took each of them out and read the headlines one-by-one.

Mario Rescues Citizens from Castle Paintings. Mario Cleans Up Isle Delfino. Mario Discovers Thousand-Year Treasure in Rogueport. Mario the Hero of Bean and Mushroom Kingdoms.

Each article was about one of his adventures. He knew the stories and felt no need to look them over. As he turned each article over, he noticed that each one had a different story on the back.

Foreign Nations Offended by Burning of their Paintings. Relations with Isle Delfino Strained by Shadow Mario Incident. Rogueport Officials Uneasy about Future Royal Visits. Prince Peasly: “Mushroom Kingdom Thinks Only of Itself.”

Mario looked for glue or for any sign that the papers had been tampered with. Nothing. It appeared that on the back of every article where he’d made front page news, there was a story about the repercussions of his adventures. Bowser’s kidnappings seemed to be causing a lot of trouble, damaging the kingdom’s reputation with foreign nations. And it seemed that many folks blamed Mario as much as they blamed the Koopa King.

“Why?” he muttered to himself. “I stop these crimes. I’m the reason Peach is safe. Well…WAS safe.”

Mario closed the safe door and was going to rise to his feet, but something stopped him. His instinct about the keypad had been good. Both inputs he’d thought of seemed quite viable. So although he already had the key, he bent down to the keypad and began to punch in a new combination. This time, he pressed the buttons in the order that he’d needed the items to navigate the rooms. Pressing the sleepy sheep, the fire flower, the throwing hammer, and then the metal cap, Mario heard a satisfying click. The door swung open again, revealing a single sheet of paper with a typed letter. He began to read it silently.

“Mario. I hate to interrupt your party. I just wanted to take a second to point out all the different opportunities I gave you to escape from this game.”

“Did you know that your DICE is not indestructible? A concentrated blow from a strong hammer would likely break it. Of course, you could have also waited until the turn timer hit 00:00 and then put on the metal cap, allowing the DICE to waste its poison on an arm made of solid steel. If you were really desperate, you could have allowed the chain chomp to bite off your hand.”

“You had many options to get yourself out of this game, and you didn’t take any one of them.”

“Why do people play games, Mario? Why do they care so much about following the rules, overcoming the puzzles, beating the other players? It’s all about escape. We play games to escape the horrors of our daily grind. It allows us to put our focus onto something else, to ignore our real problems and instead to give our attention to ones we can actually solve. But in the process, we forget the bigger picture. We fail to focus on what’s real and it causes us to miss opportunities for an escape that is much more meaningful.”

“This room held your one opportunity to break free of this game without following the rules. Now you have missed it. You’ll find that all the doors to the other rooms in this area are locked. You’ll have to step outside, play the group game, and continue the party with everyone else. Only one of you will get out. And whether or not it is you, you’ll have to live with the fact that you had the opportunity for real escape, escape on your terms, and you missed it.”

“Now you’re stuck, Mario. Stuck playing my game, following my rules. Perhaps if you could have focused on the real world for one second, you might have been able to save everyone’s lives. But like always, you chose to play. You chose the game. And now, people will die for it.”

“I hope you enjoy your party.”

Mario let the letter fall to the floor. The sheet of paper fluttered for a few moments before hitting the ground and sliding into the wall. Wordlessly, thoughtlessly, he lifted the key and inserted it into the keyhole by the door. He gave it a single turn, and the screen that read “LOCK” changed to “OPEN.” The door slid open vertically, and Mario stepped outside to rejoin the game.

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