“Don’t let a single one get away!”
Fox McCloud speaks with the air of one used to giving orders, blaster in hand, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, but even he has to admit that he’s never commanded a force quite so diverse as this before.
The heroes of a plethora of worlds stand united in the defense of the one that they have all come to call home. Friends, enemies and rivals, witches and warriors, soldiers and street fighters, boxers and bounty hunters, heroes and villains alike- such divisions no longer matter. The call went out, and even those that could rightly be called evil answered it. Whether for reasons of pride or pragmatism, even the most selfish of individuals would not wish to establish dominance over a planet that has been stripped bare.
Sonic the Hedgehog feels his mouth twitch into a smile. Seeing Bowser, Wario and Meta Knight standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Mario, Samus and Kirby reminds him of the Space Colony ARK, recalling Shadow and Eggman among his allies against an enemy that threatened their world.
A few feet away, Bayonetta notices the subtle shift in his expression, and matches it with a grin of her own. He throws her a thumbs-up, receiving a wink in response, and his smile only grows wider. It’s clear that she’s thinking the same thing as him.
This might actually be fun.
Neither of them are any stranger to eldritch monstrosities of potentially world-ending power, of course, but even those among their ranks who only came to this place in search of fun and adventure stand ready to defend it. This time, it’s about more than just winning. The roar of the crowd is absent, but none of them are under any illusions that the fate of every living thing in this world hinges on their success today.
“We’ll each need to take down about ten,” Marth observes, ever the tactician. A flock of disembodied white gloves drift lazily across the skyline as though carried by the wind. The horizon is tinged orange and yellow by the setting sun, but the wind carries a chill that seems to be rapidly overpowering the fading warmth.
“Stow your fear!” Zelda urges, locks of her hair shimmering like braided gold, her delicate Hylian features stony with determination. “It’s now or never!”
“We’ll win this!” Pit chimes in, his knuckles white around his trusty bow as he addresses everyone in earshot. “I know we will!”
Sonic isn’t worried. Why should he be? He does this kind of thing all the time, and with an army of heroes like this at his side- people that he’s honored to call his friends, and many more he’s looking forward to getting to know better after this is all over- there’s no way they can lose.
Sonic squints at the thing at the center of the many hands; a shimmering orb of light floating amidst a swirling helix of featherless, razor-tipped wings. A a curious inversion of a puppet master and his puppets.
To his eye, it’s actually a little unimpressive. Kind of pretty in its own way, but abstract and inscrutable. It’s certainly no Perfect Chaos or Time Eater. At least those guys actually looked like something. Even the hands look like hands. The glowing thing just looks like it belongs in some pretentious modern art exhibit.
As if sensing his contempt, the floating thing acts.
The gloves begin to crack and peel, white flaking and dissipating on the wind. The hands within are silhouetted in an ethereal blue light, as though they’ve burned away their outer shells to reveal the power trapped within. Snaking tendrils of light chart their way towards the center of the glowing orb like so many puppet strings returning to their master, eager for the crescendo of a performance that hasn’t even started.
Okay, Sonic thinks. This is new.
A ripple washes over the assembled as they tense in anticipation, and while everyone else’s gaze is fixed on the skies, Sonic hears a wordless utterance and catches sight of Shulk’s jaw dropping as the kid stares at something only he can see.
The light becomes a miniature supernova, and by the time Sonic’s eyes have recovered a black hole sits in its place. Shulk turns, his open mouth framing a warning that’s already written across his face.
Then the black hole spits out streams of brilliant light, dozens upon dozens of them, surging towards the planet below with vicious determination.
Link’s shield is forged of the finest Hylian steel, light enough to wield with one hand but sturdy enough to complement the legendary blade he holds in the other.
It buys him all of about two seconds. One spear of light is deflected by the shield’s polished surface, then another, but the second impact knocks it askew, and even though Link recovers in less than a second his first instinct is to strike with his sword against an enemy with no solid form.
He slashes harmlessly through the beam before it engulfs him, becoming a silhouette that, in turn, becomes nothing as the light simply washes it away.
Samus’ arm cannon spits beams of her own, but as the light surges forward her shots become erratic, her HUD screaming threat warnings as she’s overwhelmed by potential targets. She sees Link struggling in the corner of her peripheral vision, and adjusts her aim too late to save him- or herself.
Bowser feels something bubble in the pit of his stomach as Mario and Peach are lost, and tries to convince himself it’s rage rather than sadness. Sadness is useless. Rage is good. Anger makes you powerful. Powerful enough to beat these filthy things that have the nerve, the sheer audacity to snatch from him what is rightfully his.
Not only did they take his princess from him, robbing his little boy of a mother, but they took the one person who dares defy his sovereignty. The one person who he would consider a worthy opponent.
The Koopa King arches his neck, and flames billow from his snarling mouth as the kid next to him instructs his Charizard to use flamethrower. The flames are so intense that the very rock of the terrain before them curdles and melts into molten slag, but the light pushes through as though they were nothing more substantial than a breeze.
Bowser’s last thoughts are of his son, of his princess, and of his most hated and respected enemy. The Pokémon Trainer is forced to watch the light take his beloved Squirtle, his Ivysaur and his Charizard before it bears down on him.
Attacking an enemy that has no solid form is an exercise in futility, and so those that have survived the first few seconds of the onslaught quickly adjust their tactics. Mewtwo concentrates, three-toed paws molding pure psionic energy into a barrier as Zelda conjures a prism of magic to shield herself. It’s too late for Link, but perhaps she can buy time for her comrades to regroup.
Violent flashes of thought from those around him burst into the man-made Pokémon’s consciousness like firecrackers- fear, anger, despair, confusion- and as the light envelops him the last thought that enters his mind is not his own, but Zelda’s.
I’m sorry, Link.
Another change in tactics is needed. The light can no more be attacked than it can be stopped, and so the only option that remains is to run. Run, and pray to whatever higher powers may or may not be listening.
Sonic isn’t smiling any longer. It’s all he can do to stay ahead of the light, pursued by a single beam that took Yoshi and Donkey Kong right in front of his eyes before forking, one branch lancing toward him as another spun skywards to chase Falco’s Arwing through the clouds. The air behind him sizzles, but he dares not look back. He doesn’t need to. He can feel its approach.
Keep moving. Just keep moving.
Their line is crumbling, the attackers and defenders becoming little more than a panicked rabble. A flock of bats that used to Bayonetta takes to the skies, squeaking and flapping, but the beam of light that had been chasing her simply expands to swallow them all.
The ghosts of Olimar’s Pikmin shriek and wail like mourners at a funeral as their master is swept into nothingness, and then they too simply fizzle out of existence. Nana feels the line connecting them to Popo go slack, but barely has time to turn to where their fellow Ice Climber was stops just seconds prior before the same fate befalls them.
Sonic keeps running, leaping over beams of light that stab at his legs and dropping into a spin dash without breaking stride to avoid the ones that come at him from above. All around him, shouts and screams mark the loss of friend after friend.
“Fox, come in! I got multiple bogeys right on my tail- I can’t shake ‘em-”
“Snake?! Snake! SNAAAKE!”
“Mr. Mayor?! Mr. Mayor, where are- oh, no-”
Their ranks are growing thinner each second, but the light is not satisfied by the already bloated list of victims it has taken. It wants more, and it will not be sated until it has consumed them all.
Captain Falcon leaps for the cockpit of his ship, but the light snatches him out of the air before he’s even landed. Perhaps thinking along the same lines, Wario twists the throttle of his motorcycle and barely has time to curse the sputtering engine before the light envelops him too, bike and all.
The Villager is panicking, terrified beyond the capacity for all rational thought, running in useless circles like he’s just knocked a beehive out of a tree and can’t find a house in which to seek shelter. Beside him, a Duck tries valiantly to heave the unyielding weight of the Dog beneath it to safety, wings flapping a frantic beat on the air.
Like the Villager, the Dog makes no effort to save itself, for unlike the Duck, it can see the light coming. It knows what’s going to happen next.
The blank, feminine silhouette of the Wii Fit Trainer stiffens as she feels her heartbeat accelerate from a canter to a gallop. She, too, is resigned to her fate, but in her final moments she resolves to face it with dignity. A personal, private victory. Ultimately meaningless, but it makes her feel a little better.
Straighten your back. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
The light surges forward. The Villager continues making crazed circles, eyes wide, mouth open in a silent scream. The Dog shields its eyes with its front paws. The Trainer stretches.
Push out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles-
The Trainer lets out a long, slow breath; the Dog lets out a whimper.
...and salute the sun.
The light is upon them in seconds. The Duck’s unwillingness to abandon its companion dooms them both.
Sonic keeps running, hating himself for his inability to do more to help. He’s never faced an enemy like this before. Metal Sonic, Shadow, and even Jet have managed to match his speed, but he’s never encountered anything that obliterates its enemies with such merciless speed and ferocity.
He wonders if this is how Eggman’s robots feel when they see him preparing to launch a spin attack.
Then, in the corner of his peripheral vision, a four-legged flash of yellow scampers through the dust kicked up by the passage of his red-shoed feet, the light bursting forth through the makeshift smokescreen, inching toward the tip a lightning-bolt tail.
Pikachu’s round, black eyes meet Sonic’s own, silently pleading with him. The little Pokémon’s cutesy features are a picture of despair.
Sonic grits his teeth.
No. No more. I’m not losing any more friends today.
A white-gloved hand hovers before Pikachu as Sonic reaches for him, straining to make contact while maintaining his momentum.
Come on, come on-
The mouse Pokémon’s rosy cheeks crackle with static electricity as he struggles to keep up. Sonic’s fingertips begin to tingle. He’s mere inches away, still just out of reach. The hedgehog’s legs are a blur. He wills himself to slow down just a fraction.
Just a little more, buddy, you can do it-
For a moment, all four of Pikachu’s feet are off the ground.
Then the light hits him, and a cut-off trail of little pawprints is the only remaining testament to the fact that he once existed.
Sonic bites down on a scream of frustration, and realizes too late that the light is catching up.
The world goes white, and as the heat washes over him he feels himself being pulled to a halt, trapped in an abyss of light. His legs are still moving, but it feels like he’s swimming through syrup.
Then he feels himself being unmade.
The light immolates his mind, his body and his soul, scrubbing him out of existence, and he is acutely, agonizingly aware that every atom of his body is being dismantled. He can’t move. He can’t run. He can’t even scream. He wishes he could stop thinking, but the light cruelly allows his consciousness to remain intact, as though punishing him for his hubris.
It takes mere seconds, but to a creature who can move at the speed of sound and react accordingly, a single second is an eternity.
The darkness that closes in when the light is done with him is a merciful release, but not before one final thought comes to him, a cruel, mocking echo of a voice that is no longer his own.
You’re too slow.