Standing at the edge of the final pit, Kwandrio stops, closing his eyes and thinking back on all that he has gone through to get here. It started innocently enough: the red panda had been walking along a brick path, through the rolling hills of the Mushroom Kingdom. When he saw the first goomba approaching, he dodged it and didn't think that much of it; after all, goombas weren't exactly that big of a deal.
Eight worlds and countless stomped and burned enemies later, Kwandrio has gone through hell, now only having one life left out of the hundreds he had obtained along his journey. Beat up and nearly broken, dripping with a mixture of sweat and sewer water (from the pipe he has just emerged from), he nevertheless knows that he can't quit now. He is about to face the toughest test of them all: the King of the Koopas, the great dragonmutt himself. The horrible, terrible Nommzer.
He had actually gotten to this point once before, nearly a dozen lives ago. That time, he had somehow managed to hang on to his FireFox form the whole way through the castle. As soon as he reached the bridge and caught site of the dreaded villian, he brought his paws together, closed his eyes, and let out a deep yell, unleashing a stream of flame hot enough to singe his normally fire-resistant pawpads. But, after a minute, he opened his eyes only to see Nommzer standing there smirking, nary a hair out of place on his head. Before Kwandrio could react, the dragonmutt tossed a torrent of hammers at him, striking the panda directly in the face and sending him tumbling into the fiery abyss below, forcing him to start again all the way from the beginning of the castle.
"This time," Kwandrio says aloud as he crosses his arms in fierce determination, "things will be different. I've learned from my mistakes; I've become stronger. I'm not the same panda I was coming into this kingdom, and I will prevail!"
He looks up, staring across the pit. From this angle, he can barely make out the large, menacing figure awaiting his arrival, but he knows the dragonmutt can see him. He pictures Nommzer's smirking face, and the impatient tap of his paw, almost taunting, enticing him to come and try his luck.
"Apparently, fire isn't going to work against the King Koopa," Kwandrio murmurs, "and obviously the horns on his head and the spikes on the back of his shell are too sharp for me to jump on top of him. At this size, at least." He smiles, patting the bulge in his left pocket. "Glad that I have one final trick up my sleeve."
Taking a deep breath, the panda backs up a step, waiting for the jumping fireball in front of him to get out of his way. With a running start, he then leaps across the pit, the heels of his paws just barely clearing the opposite side. "This is it," he says to himself, "I've made it to the bridge. Only one thing now stands between me and my goal."
"Well, well, look who's made it back to see me." Stepping out of the shadows on the opposite side, Nommzer smiles down menacingly at the panda barely half his size. Chuckling, he leans against the axe that's embedded in the stonework next to the rope that holds the bridge up. "I'm impressed, Kwandrio. It's not often that someone can breach my defenses and make it through to my lair. Sorry that I can't invite you in, but after all, I have a prince to think about."
"Prince?" Kwandrio tilts his head to the side, wrinkling his nose in confusion.
Nommzer blinks, tugging at the collar of his blue hoodie underneath his green spiky shell. "Ah, I mean, princess. Yes, PRINCESS Toadstool and I are quite happy here without you. So you can just turn around and run back home with your tail between your legs, like a good little panda." Snickering, he looks down at his hand, flexing it while retracting and unretracting his claws.
At this, Kwandrio has had enough, gritting his teeth and clenching his right hand into a fist, while thrusting the left into his pocket. "Nommzer, you vile creature! You have terrorized the people of this kingdom for the last time! I will not allow you to get away with the evil you have committed against the Princess and her subjects."
He removes his hand from his pocket, now holding a mushroom with a large yellow and red-spotted cap, nearly as big around as the panda's head. Bringing the mushroom up to mouth, he quickly rips a huge chunk out of it with his teeth, swallowing it as fast as he can before grabbing another. Within three bites, the mushroom had disappeared, and Kwandrio licked his lips, grinning triumphantly.
Nommzer, however, is unimpressed, shaking his head in mock pity. "Really? You think a measly little power-up mushroom will help you?"
"Ah, but this isn't any mushroom you've seen in THIS game before, fiend." Closing his eyes, Kwandrio begins to breath in and out in a slow, rhythmic fashion. With each breath, his body gradually starts to swell upward, gaining a few inches in height, then a foot, then two. His paws inch forward, encroaching onto the bridge, as he matches the Koopa's height, then surpasses it, quickly starting to fill up the chambers. His thick, poofy tail sticks out behind him, hanging off the ledge he had just jumped over a few minutes before.
As Nommzer cranes his head upwards, he feels a twinge of awe (and envy) inside of him at seeing the red panda's ears brush against the ceiling. For a moment, he has to admit he's a bit scared, but as he continues to scan the ceiling above, something catches his eye just past the top of the panda's head, causing him to start to laugh.
Opening his eyes, Kwandrio glares down at the Koopa who is now no taller than his knee. "What are you laughing at, you lunatic? Have you finally snapped for good?"
Nommzer continues to cackle loudly, stepping back off the bridge just in case he loses his balance. "No, no," he finally says, "I find your efforts quite stunning; really, I do. But I'm afraid it's all going to be good for nothing."
"The only thing that's good for nothing here is YOU!" Kwandrio furrows his brow, taking a booming step forward across the bridge, his feetpaws so large that only one can fit at a time. "Prepare to meet your programmer, you big mangy dragonmutt!"
Unflinching, Nommzer folds his arms across his chest. Kwandrio takes another thundering step closer, towering above him now, near enough that he can feel the heat emanating from the massive red panda. The draggonmutt simply grins, a knowing look in his eye as he speaks softly to himself, "Three, two, one."
Kwandrio lifts up his leg, letting his paw loom above the Koopa king, big enough to squash him flat with a single stomp. In his mind, he can hear the triumphant music already playing, and see the smiling face of the Princess, the real, honest-to-god Princess, waiting in the room beyond. There is no "other castle" he'll have to go to; this is it, this is his goal.
Before he can bring his paw down on top of the dragonmutt, however, a cramping sensation instantly spreads throughout his whole body, causing the panda to freeze in place for a second. His eyes go wide in shock as he tries to figure out what has happened, but the second passes quickly, and Kwandrio feels his muscles suddenly start to contract. Seemingly instantaneously, he shrinks back down to his former size, his body curling up into a ball, all against his will. "N-n-nooooooo!" The panda's cries are too late; there's nothing he can do to keep himself from tumbling over the edge of the bridge, down towards his certain, and ultimate, doom.
As Kwandrio falls for the final time, everything seems to pass by in slow motion, giving him ample chance to agonize and wonder what went wrong. "Did I somehow pick a bad mushroom with a poisonous side effect? Could this be some sort of spell Nommzer cast, some magical effect I should've overcome?" As if in answer to his question, several large, white letters fly up past him towards the top of the room. Kwandrio smacks his head with his hand, realizing his mistake. "How could I be so foolish," he says just before he lands in the fire, "to forget something as basic as THAT?"
Peering over the edge of the bridge, Nommzer chuckles as he watches the red panda disintegrate on impact with the flames below. "Such a pathetic little creature. I'm glad he's gone once and for all." He doesn't need to see the words that have shot up from the pit to know the cause of this ultimate victory over the antagonistic panda, but they amuse him nonetheless. The draggonmutt whistles and sticks his hands in his pockets as he waits for the words to fix into place on the wall, reading them aloud once they do.