"Truly an impressive victory, if I don't say so myself." Master Hand loomed over them, casting all nine of them in his massive shadow. "Truly sound and decisive. If there's something these guys were going to do, I don't think they'll get it done."
After their... bizarre encounter with whatever that was, they had run outside and found Master Hand waiting for them, a squad of Subspace Soldiers standing right behind him.
"Yeah, yeah, don't patronize us," Mario said, waving his hand. "We know we won, you don't have' ta tell us."
"Our payment," Samus said. "Where is it?"
"Worry not. Your payment will be digitally deposited into your accounts, or if you do not have them, it will be delivered by mail. Although..."
Mario groaned. "Oh boy, here comes the sales pitch."
"Any there's a good reason for it, my boy. This threat is the first of its kind, and, I fear it will not be the last. When the prison ships went down, the escaped convicts scattered all across the galaxy. It won't be long before we might face a similar threat."
"Any that's where we come in, right?" Fox said.
"Correct! If we have a team such as yourselves to fend them off, the galaxy would be safe for years to come." Master Hand paused for dramatic effect. "So. Who wants to join?"
There was a moment of silence. A few of them exchanged looks.
Mario spoke first. "As fun as saving the galaxy sounds, I've got family back home I need to take care of." He moved away from the group and stood at the other side of the clearing.
"I understand." Master Hand turned to the rest of them. "Anyone else?"
Donkey Kong walked over to Mario without a moment of hesitation, making his choice clear. He gave a low grunt, mumbled something about bananas, and stood behind the red plumber.
Fox, however, was much more clear in his choice. "It's been so long since I've worked with a team," he said. "I'm not about to lose that again, even if I might be out of practice. I'm in."
Link moved in next to Fox. "I might not know that much. I'm still learning a lot about what I need to do, but Ganondorf is still out there. I'm not going to be able to protect anyone if I stay out of this. I'm in."
Pikachu couldn't say anything, but he didn't need to. His red cheeks lit up with electric sparks, and he scowled, the memory of his imprisonment still fresh in his mind. His paws carried him over to Fox's side, and he plopped himself down.
Samus said nothing for the longest time, staring into space instead. When she finally came back down to earth, there was a certain steel in her eyes. "A bounty hunter works alone," she said. "I don't want to tie myself down to a team. That's just not what I do. I'm out."
At last, the spotlight fell on Yoshi. His choice should have been obvious. To everyone's surprise, though, he hesitated.
The dinosaur took a step toward Mario, then stopped. His eyes flicked between Mario's side, then Fox's side. His eyes met the plumber's, and when Mario nodded, Yoshi nodded back.
Without a word, Yoshi took Fox's side.
"Well, Mario, Donkey Kong, Samus," Master Hand said, sweeping over each of them with his gaze. "I am terribly sorry none of you feel you can join the team. You'll still receive your payment."
"You think you could give us a ride back too?" Mario said. "All the ships we came in got blown up."
"We can provide those too." As a few Subspace soldiers stepped forward, motioning for Mario, Donkey Kong, and Samus to follow, Master Hand turned to the group that was left. "As for the rest of you, welcome aboard! I can promise that you'll be paid well for your work. Fox. Link. Pikachu. Yoshi. I have the feeling this is the start of something great."
A pink hand tapped his side. Master Hand glanced down to see Kirby standing beneath him, looking up with pleading eyes.
"Do you want to come too?" Fox said, tilting his head.
"Poyo!" Kirby said with a nod.
Fox looked up at Master Hand, and Master Hand sighed.
"He can join as well."
A glowing red eye drifted in a dark chamber. In the darkness, it was the only thing visible, but the soft light it gave off managed to illuminate an outline of its surroundings.
*There was no need to engage them,* a voice came from it, broken and crackling like radio static.
Ganondorf didn't answer, standing at the front of the room with his back facing it. As the silence stretched on, the red eye narrowed. It didn't like being ignored, especially when it was trying to speak.
*Your enemy may not know what they've stumbled upon, but the Star Warriors will not be so easily fooled. Revealing our alliance is highly illogical.*
Ganondorf held up a hand, and the voice went silent. "All good things come to those who wait," he said, "and it would not have taken long for them to identify the Dark Matter clone. My reveal will do little to impede our plans. You wanted a field test for your experimental Matter creation, so any results that might have brought would progress your research much farther than my reveal could have slowed us down."
The voice was silent for a moment. Then the eye relaxed. *Your reasoning is logical. Though tell me, why is it you decided to place yet another one of our cards on the table?*
"To raise the stakes for our game. Had I not, there would be no guarantee that little Star Warrior would join Master Hand's brigade of enforcers."
*I still believe he is an unnecessary element. As long as you can keep him from interfering with me, though, I shall allow it.*
The red eye closed, disappearing into the pitch black. Ganondorf crossed his arms, and as all light faded from the room, he just stood in place. Waiting.
He didn't have to wait for long. A tone cut through the silence, and a call flashed in his face. Ganondorf flicked a finger, pressing a button on the console in front of him with a spark of dark magic. The screen broke out into a fizz of black and white before a picture emerged from it bit by bit.
"You're really something, you know that?" Wolf's voice came through, etched with cracks in the poor transmission. "You couldn't have sent us reinforcements? You just left us out to dry!"
"Spare me your complaints, Wolf," Ganondorf said. "From the fact that you are speaking to me right now, I take it you have escaped?"
"The Meta Knights roughed me up a bit, having no idea how to handle a prisoner, but yes, once they made the transfer to a subspace shuttle, I was able to hijack it for myself."
Wolf growled, perhaps unnerved by his lack of a reaction. "Did you really have to let us get blown around by those amateurs?"
"I had to make sure they could put up some semblance of teamwork. They'd hardly pose much of an imposing threat otherwise."
"And what about Miracle Matter? Did they beat it?"
"You don't sound very surprised."
"I'm not. Give a hundred idiots a hundred sticks and lock them in a room with a monster, and, given time, they will find a way to kill it."
"Yes, that all sounds very nice. Did you at least get what you needed? I don't want to hear that I got thrown out of my own ship for nothing."
"Don't worry. Master Hand has his team. And now, we can make a team of our own."
At once, Ganondorf's face was lit by a wall of screens. Each screen proudly displayed the faces of Mario, Link, Fox, and everyone who had gone against him, holding their own against Miracle Matter's onslaught of attacks. Seeing every one of them, watching them work together to bring down the beast.
His lips split into a grin, and he chuckled. From the console in front of him, he picked up a letter with a familiar red seal stamped over the envelope, and he held it before his face.
"Call the brotherhood to arms," he said.
And the room fell back into darkness.