Their ship travelled down through the clouds at tremendous speed, leaving behind a trail of starry dusts as the ether reservoir in the engine was switched to fuel, entering the atmosphere. Through the windshield, all they could see were grey and darkened rain clouds; one could hear the thunder raging all around them, and Kirby was afraid the lightning bolts would hit the ship, even though Blade assured him the shields would protect them from anything of the sort.
As soon as they crossed the last layer of clouds, they arrived in sight of a most foreboding scene. The land below was stricken with rain and violent winds; the large castle of Ripple Star’s capital was settled in a field, with close to no forest nearby, in the open, thus allowing the storm to rage to its heart’s content. Despite the storm, Kirby was amazed by the structures that rose higher and higher as they approached; this castle was even taller than Dedede’s! With more towers and remparts, it was nothing like the penguin king’s home. It wasn’t even secluded away from its town; the village was built all around it, like a ring of houses, buildings and marbled streets. In the sunlight, this town must be so beautiful, with gardens blooming and the white stone of the streets reflecting the light like shining mirrors.
As they closed in on the town, the ship slowed considerately much, made a slow turn around the place, then stopped, facing this huge castle.
“Here we are,” Blade said from one of the pilots’ seats. “We’re just above the main square, in front of the castle. I saw the other’s ships here, so we probably can land.”
“Perfect,” was Arthur’s response. “Then let’s go.”
“Commencing descent,” Sword said briefly.
Just as he spoke, the starship slowly closed the space separating it from the ground, and the more they went, the higher the castle became. The rain was pouring against the windshield, distorting an image that should have been peaceful and beautiful into a gruesome and almost menacing one. As soon as the ship touched the ground, Kirby saw the others undo their belts and did the same, standing up to grab his backpack. Arthur lead the way toward the only exit of the ship, a large ramp in its cargo hold that opened to piercing winds, which took them by surprise by their coldness. The others went out, but Kirby saw Azure remaining immobile, ears stuck to his lowering head. He hated the rain, of course… Stepping outside, Kirby watched Sir Arthur look up at the sky, almost with a worried glow in his purple eyes. He didn’t speak, and instead headed directly toward the castle’s entrance. The two large doors stood at the end of a small marbled path, decorated with fountains and fancy shrubberies that should have been filled with flowers. The group was suddenly passed by a large running wolf that quickly made it to the doors, where a balcony right above it offered protection from the rain. Already the beast was steaming… Looking around, Kirby indeed saw the ships Blade mentioned; they were lined up on the other side of this large space, beyond a rather strange fountain… It had water, but nothing flowed like the others. It had a pedestal, like it was supposed to hold something. Kirby told himself that whatever was on there must have been destroyed by the Dark matter during the invasion. The town did seem to have gone through a lot…
The young Star Warrior was taken out of his reverie by Sir Dragato, who walked past him while tapping him on the shoulder. He ran after him quickly, noticing that he was walking without the help of his cane, despite the limping pace he always had. Ribbon was at the front of the group with Arthur, and she was almost running like Azure; the rain was probably not doing any good to her wings. When the group massed in front of the doors, they opened almost immediately; they were greeted by two fairy soldiers, both dressed in armor, with their wings buzzing silently on their back. They bowed down, floating to the sides offering them a way in, both saying in unison:
“Welcome back, Lady Ribbon. We have been expecting your return.”
‘Lady?’ Kirby repeated to himself as he entered with the others.
With finally a shelter from the rain and winds, Kirby noticed how cold he had been and greeted the warm air inside the castle with a relieved smile. The guards watched everyone walk by, and even stood with mouths opened when the large Wolfwrath made its way in as well. The wolf shook the water and steam off of its fur, making it splash on all the unfortunate ones around him. The castle interior itself was wonderfully different from Castle Dedede. The floor was carpeted in crimson velvet, the walls were covered with huge paintings and banners both containing flashy yet eye-pleasing colors, and the entrance hall was a large corridor that had at least a dozen of doors leading to many other rooms; at the end of the hall, there was a particularly large painting, one representing a female fairy, dressed in formal clothing, with a beautiful golden crown on her head. Her hair, the blackest there could be, was long and neatly braided, hanging above her shoulder. She was holding a scepter whose end looked like a crystal shaped like a tear-drop. He couldn’t see many more details from here, but still this young chap was impressed by the size of the portrait, let alone this simple room. He couldn’t wait to see this queen in person!
“Lady Ribbon?” Kirby heard Arthur repeat toward the fairy girl, making him look down at them again.
Ribbon looked nervous as she tried not to notice how much attention she was drawing.
“Um,” she murmured before clearing her throat. “I mean, yes, ‘lady’… I may or may not have told you about this, but I’m Queen Isabelle’s niece. Since she doesn’t have any, um, children, that makes me the heir… to the throne… Yeah…”
Kirby’s eyes widened. She was the heir to the throne and yet never told them?! How cool was that! Arthur didn’t seem very pleased to hear of this now and as he opened his mouth to object to the lateness of this information, he was cut off by none other than Galacta Knight’s sudden voice as he appeared from one of the doors to the side.
“Hey! You guys are already here! Good to see you didn’t loose any time!”
Arthur forgot all about the heir to the throne and turned his attention to the approaching mercenary.
“Does the Queen want to meet us?” he asked him without caring for all the younger knight had to say.
Galacta had his mask raised on his head so he rubbed his nose much like Knuckle Joe’s habit and pointed a thumb behind him.
“Yep, they sent me to get you guys. Apparently that every servant here is busy helping around, but Sirica’s had us help too. The Queen’s in the throne room with the others. Come with me!”
And he turned around to walk back the way he came, this time with their whole group behind him. Kirby was at the end of the line with Sir Dragato, who was slower than the others but didn’t mind being last. The halls were quiet, weirdly enough… Even with the invasion, he would have thought the hallways to be filled with townspeople or even guards. The guards were there alright… Behind them, they were being followed, and more guards had joined them at the front to lead them too, as if they didn’t trust Galacta to do it. The air here was so different from what Kirby had in mind… He was honestly disappointed, but not too surprised still. He had been told that fairies did not look kindly to his species… for some reason. He really needed to ask Ribbon about it.
Suddenly, it felt like something brushed against his mind, like a cloth was being wrapped around him, the same whispers he had heard in his room. His ears tickled annoyingly.
“My name is…”
“Do you want…”
“-ture? Past? Or maybe bo-hhn…”
Kirby was stricken with a sudden chill and he froze in his tracks, making Sir Dragato turn back as well. Kirby almost ignored him and wiped his head back to the end of the hall behind him; beyond the two floating guards that stood a ways behind them, he saw a shadow, quickly retiring behind a corner. There was someone else there.
“Kirby?” Dragato said softly so it wouldn’t echo in the hallway. “Are you alright?”
The young Star Warrior turned back, blinking with an almost dumb look on his paling face. It took him a moment, but he shook his head and resumed walking with his leader, this time holding him by the arm to help him walk; Dragato had pretended to be asking for help so the others wouldn’t notice, and Kirby was thankful for that.
“It’s,” he began to stutter silently before sighing. “Can I talk to you about it later…?”
“Of course,” he answered kindly. “We will probably stay here for the night considering how late it is, so you’ll have plenty of time later.”
Kirby felt thankful not only for this opportunity to talk about what he had seen and heard, but also to have such a kindhearted mentor like him. He had been lucky to have him as mentor and not someone else who could have been very different and possibly less understanding. Nevertheless, he let go of these thoughts for the moment, for they were arriving in a very odd room. They had climbed a set of stairs and passed through a corridor, and now they were going through a sort of garden… It was a rather large room, that looked nothing like a throne room of sorts, but it was still odd yet amazing. It looked like there was sun, but there was nothing, just a ceiling painted like the sky. We could no longer hear the storm outside, and there were even a few birds swinging from the few tree branches. Everything was green and flowery. And to top it off, there were many fairies here, sitting in the grass, probably villagers who had taken refuge in the castle. They left the room as quickly as they entered it, trying to ignore the strange looks the fairies were casting toward them.
They went through two other set of stairs that climbed in a spiral, and on each of these two floors, they found a new room similar to the first, yet set differently, with different lighting, like different times of day. The second room looked like it had been set for a late-afternoon, and it even had a small stream of water flowing across it and disappearing through a hole in the bricked wall, with a tiny wooden bridge to cross it. Here, too, were fairies scattered around, huddled in groups with women and children. The last room to be set with a sort of time theme was the third, and this one was very special. Set at night, with a pale moonlight shining down on a large, circular room, this one had a pond, shaped almost like a teardrop, with a lone tree sprouting right beside it, its roots plunging silently in the still waters. At the bottom of the pond was… something. It looked like a glowing blanket of dust or sand, or even flattened and smooth crystal. Its light shone through the transparent waters, giving it multiple hues and colors that seemed to reply to the moonlight. This room had very few people surrounding the pond; in their eyes, one could easily see great fatigue and almost distress. They never looked up at them, nor did they seem to acknowledge them. They were sitting there, their feet in the waters, unmoving… As the group went passed, in complete silence, Kirby wanted to approach the waters, but a hand stopped him, making him look up. Sir Arthur silently shook his head and his hand on his back made him walk away. No words were needed. Kirby wasn’t allowed to be near this, for reasons he would maybe understand another time.
Finally, the last stairs lead them directly to large doors which opened to an immense room that could even be compared to a ballroom. The pale, pastel-coloured walls were lined with tapestries and paintings, separated by impressively long windows that allowed one to see the whole kingdom and the storm-stricken landscape. Tables were lined along the walls, filled with food and drinks of all sorts, but there weren’t only dignitaries or the usual people one would find in a royal court feeding off of these mouth-watering meals, but also a lot of villagers; children were running and flying all around like little bees, and the rest were once again huddled in groups, chatting in low voices. Some group was playing music somewhere in here, strings, guitars and flutes, a simple tune that blended quite well with the mood.
The moment their group walked in, surrounded by more and more guards, silence filled the room and everyone gave them their undivided attention. A guard floated forward, announcing their arrival in a loud and clear voice:
“General Arthur and his soldiers have arrived.”
Interestingly enough, the soldiers that had been stationed here, including Sirica, who was joined by Galacta Knight, were in this very room; they even walked forward through the crowd and saluted Sir Arthur when he was lead through an opening. It was hard to say who people stared at the most; the Kiridans, the men in armor harbouring the star-shaped badge of the GSA/Agency, or the huge fire wolf that walked behind them silently, his red eyes proof of his origins.
At the end of the room, in front of two large stained glass doors, which represented some sort of crystal formation with winged beings floating around it, was a throne, beautiful and upholstered in blue velvet cushions. And on this throne, sat the Fairy Queen, the woman that lead this star from its capital.
When Arthur walked forward, he bent down on one knee, silently gesturing for the others to do the same. Even kneeling down, Kirby couldn’t help but subtly look up, too curious for manners. The Queen stood up, her wings quivering on her back with a small noticeable buzz.
“Sir Arthur,” she started politely, slightly bowing while joining her hands together; the sleeves of her kimono were so long one couldn’t even see these hands. “I will start simply by thanking you for your help. Without the Agency’s intervention, I am afraid the capital might have fallen. Please, stand up and show me your faces.”
The Queen was as beautiful as on the painting in the main hall, if not even more. Much like Ribbon, her skin was as pale and perfect as a porcelain doll, and her delicate eyes were framed by a pair of glasses she hadn’t been wearing in the picture. She wasn’t as tall as the picture had made of her; she was barely taller than Sir Arthur, even though he was certainly taller than most Kiridans. Everyone stood up and did as they were asked, the masked ones taking off their helmets, and in Sir Arthur’s case, the lower half only, permitting to see his eyes and face. They both stared at each other for a short moment before Arthur politely bowed again.
“Your Majesty,” he said gently. “It was our duty as Star Warriors and members of the Universe to come to your help. As you may know by now, the Dark matter is a universal threat, and no star should be left behind.”
“Again, I thank you for your actions, Sir Arthur,” she replied simply. “Your soldiers have informed me that you asked of them to help in the restoration of the capital. Is this true?”
“Yes, and I insist you accept, Your Majesty. Take it as an apology for being too late to preserve the Crystal.”
“Mh… I will consider it, but not before we talk more. I have arranged a private meeting with you and your generals so we may discuss the matter at hand. Now please, make yourselves at home. It is late, and rooms have already been arranged for you all. Kalan will show you the way. You are all dismissed for the moment. Thank you. And welcome to Ripple Star.”
Kirby saw everyone bow down and he did the same, somehow finding their words strange. He dismissed it as his imagination and watched as Sir Arthur gestured for them to follow him back to the exit. When the young boy turned to the doors, he saw a fairy man, tall, dressed in formal attire yet rich, with a black coat and golden trims and decorations.
Sir Arthur didn’t seem fazed by his appearance however, and simply walked toward the man and shook his hand, like he already knew him. Boy, did Kirby have so many questions to fire at Sir Dragato that evening…
Ribbon stood there, watching her new friends leave the room with Kalan. She couldn’t follow them, not when the Queen was just behind her, watching her as well. Her feet were numb as she breathed in and slowly turned around. She couldn’t look up; she couldn’t bring herself to face her aunt after that failure. She heard the buzzing of wings come closer and the whispers of the townspeople go back to their usual rumor, meaning the Queen had left her spot. Two gentle and warm hands were put on her shoulders, and her voice made her realize she was far from angry at her.
“Oh, Ribbon… I’m so sorry I sent you out there… Your wing…”
“I-it’s nothing, Aunt,” she stuttered, her face flushing from the nervousness. “The Crystal… It was… shattered… I couldn’t…”
She was suddenly pulled in a hug that caught her by surprise; the Queen was careful not to touch her injured wing with her sleeves.
“Don’t worry about the Crystal for now,” she said softly, caressing her hair. “You’re alive, and that’s what matters. Please, I insist, go see the healers, they might be able to repair your wing better than this. I must say, those Kiridans did a good job…”
Ribbon wanted so much to just stay there and hug her for more time, but the court was there, and she had to keep her composure, so she pulled away and bowed down politely, breathing in silently.
“Yes, Your Highness, I will. Allow me to say, the people at this Agency took great care of me, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”
The Queen smiled and joined her hands, nodding her head.
“If Arthur is their leader, then I don’t doubt it. Now go, Stella should be near the Morning Room by now.”
When Ribbon crossed the doorstep and walked in the corridor, she breathed out. It went far better than she expected! After all, she thought, it wasn’t like her aunt to be angry. Why would it start now?
‘Because you allowed this to happen,’ a tiny voice spoke at the back of her head, nagging at her new good mood.
Kirby, Bun and Azure weren’t allowed in the private meeting; only Arthur, Dragato and Sword had went. Blade had stayed back to go check on the ships with Sirica, while Galacta Knight was… somewhere in this huge castle. Who really knew what the winged mercenary was doing in his free time? It wasn’t like they really cared. After this long day, even if they were excited about this new place, they were still tired. Before departing for the meeting, Dragato had asked of them to go around and help any who asked for help, so they did just that. It appeared that it was worse than they thought. The most things they had to do was to help in reparations around the castle; it seemed that the Dark matter had destroyed a whole tower during the invasion. Now they had to help clear the ruins, but in the rain, this task alone sapped all of their remaining energy. Not to say that Azure didn’t even help, under the excuse that he couldn’t stand in the rain without steaming.
The Agency soldiers and themselves were installed in a large room filled with small simple beds on the floor, lined along the walls. There were many other beds, where other people, mostly townspeople, slept in. Maybe this room had been a sort of refectory or training area, seeing as it was on the first floor and devoid of any sort of decoration saved for the banners on the walls and the windows in the back. Kirby could only confirm this by the smell; the Star Warrior Kirby couldn’t make a mistake when he smelled food. It was mandatory, fact.
“I’m hungry,” he said tiredly.
“There’s food on the table there,” replied his Cappy friend.
“But it’s over there, and I’d have to stand up.”
“Azure, can you get the food?”
Kirby moaned in exaggerated pain as he buried his face in his pillow. He looked up from the mattress and looked at his canine friend, who was busy cleaning himself; running his claws slowly and gently through his fur, he didn’t leave a single parcel of fur unclean. Sometimes, that wolf looked like a cat, Kirby thought.
“My goodness,” a familiar voice spoke nearby, “what did you guys do? You look exhausted!”
They both looked to the side, to see that it was Ribbon who had arrived in the room. She was dressed in a white simple dress, probably a sort of gown for the evening, and she of course still had her usual red ribbon on top of her head, decorating her hair. It seems she couldn’t do without it. She walked toward them, taking a bowl of fruits on the way. Kirby’s mouth drooled as the food approached and it made him sit right up right as Ribbon went to sit between him and Bun’s beds.
“So,” she started as Kirby began eating like a vacuum, “how do you three like Ripple Star?”
“It’s cool so far,” Bun answered while rubbing the sleep from his face to appear at least a little bit awake. “It actually looks a lot like our home star, Popstar. Except with a clearly better royalty than Dedede, hehe!”
“It’s watery,” came Azure’s monotone voice as the giant beast came to lie down in front of the fairy girl, between the beds. “It’s making my fur look like a wig. Plus the holes each raindrop does in my skin. It’s irritating.”
“Oh,” the fairy girl sympathized, “don’t worry about the rain, it usually doesn’t rain that much here, especially in this season. Tomorrow should be alright to show you guys around the town, if you have time before you leave.”
“We’re leaving already?” Bun asked, lifting his head from his pillow. “Didn’t Sir Arthur say something about staying to help with the restoration?”
“Oh, no one came to tell you?” she answered, widening her eyes before placing a stream of stray hair behind her ear.
“Nope,” Kirby replied. “You were at the meeting, right?”
“Yes. I guess it did just end after all… Well then I’ll tell you what’s the plan in that case!”
One hour ago…
Everyone sat circled at a round table, each at their own chair; beside the Queen sat Ribbon, on a much more modest chair than her, and on the other side was Kalan, her most trusted Counsellor, while the others sat all at their respective places, the fairies on one side and the guests at the other end of the table. Sir Arthur was sitting right across from Queen Isabelle, with Dragato and Sword at his sides. In the shadows behind the Queen’s side of the table, Dragato knew that there was someone there, and that this someone was a Kiridan. He could feel it, feel their presence and their familiarity. Now, if only that person would show themselves, it would help in identifying them… Still, he listened as Arthur finished explaining the situation with the Dark matter.
“Now,” the green knight continued, “the Dark matter seem to have more of a plan than we had thought. Until now, they were seemingly attacking at random, choosing different stars to which we would send soldiers to clear them out. This is the second grand scale Dark matter invasion I’ve seen in three years, the first being on Popstar.”
“And how, if I may ask, did Popstar fair against the Dark matter?” asked a woman counsellor whom Dragato forgot the name.
“The invasion on Popstar was at a much slower pace,” answered Sword, as he had been there to witness it. “It wasn’t as sudden as the one here, but we did lose… a Star Warrior to the Dark matter there.”
“He’s right,” Arthur continued. “This isn’t the time for comparison however, for the threat is still the same. Your Majesty, you must know by now that the Crystal protecting this star has been destroyed to pieces.”
“Yes, and I was told that you had one piece with you?”
Arthur nodded as he searched in his cape to pull out the said shard. He held it up for all to see, and put it gently on the table, as far as his arm could, but still in his reach. The Queen and her counsellors looked horrified to see it in such a pitiful state, but none uttered a word.
“From how Miss Ribbon described the attack,” Arthur continued, “it is likely the pieces have been scattered all across the nearby galaxies, counting Gamble Galaxy and its surroundings, maybe even farther, considering we found her far from there.”
“I have to say I am also concerned about those pirates Miss Ribbon told us about,” Dragato intervened without cutting off anyone. “They were after the Crystal as well, but did they ever say why?”
“No,” Queen Isabelle answered with a grave look about her porcelain face. “They came here and threatened us to surrender it to them willingly, then left, and chased after Ribbon when the invasion started. We never even saw their leader, one they only named as their ‘Lord’. Whoever they are, they are dangerous and not to be reckoned with.”
“We can’t allow them to get the Crystal before we do!” a counsellor man cried out, wings picking up the pace. “We all know what would happen if it fell in the hands of evil-doers like the Dark matter or worse!”
“We are not as familiar with this Crystal or your folklore as you are, unfortunately,” Dragato said. “What exactly would it do?”
“The Crystal,” the Queen started, “is the keeper of life on Ripple Star. As long as it’s complete, even away from the planet it will keep it alive, but if it is destroyed, it won’t keep us alive for long. We have time before the effects take place, but we will need to hurry. The Crystal is also a powerful source of natural energy. You could compare it to the core of the star. It is said that whenever the Crystal was used against darkness, it succeeded in purifying it. However, if darkness reaches the Crystal and corrupts it…” She shook her head, rubbing her forehead. “I don’t know what it will do. I can only guess that this is what the Dark matter wanted to do; to corrupt it and use it in their quest to conquer the Universe.”
“In that case,” Arthur said seriously, casting glances at both Sword and Dragato, “we can’t allow them to get it. It is our duty to help in their search.”
“I agree,” Sword said, Dragato nodding in response. “If all this is true, then we’re toast if we let it happen.”
“So you will help us?” The Queen sounded surprised.
“And how can we trust that you won’t use the Crystal for your own needs once it’s complete?” let out a rather mistrusting counsellor, eying them suspiciously. “For all we know, you Kiridans have always looked for objects of power, so it would be no wonder that this one would interest you so much.”
“Hian,” the Queen snapped, “I won’t have this sort of speech here at this table. These people saved us.”
“With all due respect, Your Majesty,” the counsellor looked at her, “we can’t forget what happened the last time a Kiridan messed with the Crystal. Now if I may propose to send a group of soldiers with them-”
“This won’t be necessary, Mister Hian,” Sir Arthur interrupted, annoyed at the way he spoke about his species. “I can guarantee that we will bring the pieces back here and that we won’t have any use for it except to save this planet.”
These words didn’t seem to calm the counsellor, and as he opened his mouth to object some more, Ribbon spoke up.
“I can go with them.”
She attracted all their undivided attention, and the Queen’s eyes widened.
“Are you sure?” she asked in worry. “You just came back…”
“It’s my fault the Crystal was broken,” she answered, looking at all the counsellors and soldiers. “The least I can do is help in retrieving it and repairing it. Besides, you need a fairy to bend the pieces together. When they’ll be too many, it will be more useful than to carry them all around. I know how to use the shard we have here to find the others. I’m sure I’ll be of some use.”
Arthur took a moment to think this through. For him to have grown up here, he knew just how important the Crystal was, to both this planet and to the Universe. But, with the invasion at hand, he also knew that this place needed all of its protection, its soldiers, so none could possibly accompany them. It was useless. The Agency had to prove itself, and it would.
“Well then,” he said, suppressing a sigh. “I suppose Miss Ribbon can come with us. You need your soldiers here, and they would hardly work with our ways of doing things, considering most of our generals are Kiridans. Worry not, Your Majesty,” he added when he saw her eyes fill with worry, “we will take good care of your niece. She seems to be doing well despite her injuries. She’s a strong princess.”
There was a moment of silence as people waited for the Queen’s decision; she had her eyes closed for a long minute, then sighed deeply.
“Very well. Ribbon will go retrieve the Crystal shards in our name. But I insist you leave tomorrow and not immediately.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this meeting is adjourned. You may take your leave.”
Later that night, Arthur wandered the halls of the castle, alone. He couldn’t tell if it was good to be back here or not. His thoughts couldn’t focus on his surroundings, no matter where he looked at, no matter the painting he stared at for minutes or the window he stood in front of. What had transpired in the meeting still unnerved him. With Miss Ribbon with them, yes, they would be able to find the pieces more easily, but she was defenceless, so they would need to protect her at all times. The pieces had probably travelled to many planets, but they couldn’t afford to lose time searching each and every one of them. The stars in Gamble Galaxy weren’t as massive as Ripple Star, but, even with a ship, it would take time to scout the surface in search of tiny crystal pieces. They would need to separate in groups.
The day after, they would head back to the Agency and make the groups there. This was the best thing to do. With a sigh, Arthur realized he had arrived in a corridor he recognized; at the end of this hallway, he could see a soft, pale light coming in through the sides of a door. Without hesitation, and hoping that no one was there, he walked forward and reached the door in just a few steps. Entering it, the Night Room stretched before him, completely vacant, just as he had hoped. The room’s pale moonlight shone softly on him as he walked through the grass toward the shimmering pond. He stood there for a few, long minutes in complete silence, staring at his reflection in the water. There had always been something odd about this place. It made something to the mind… It was hard to say if sometimes it was good or not, but he remembered easily the people that had been here earlier that day. These people had been possessed by Dark matter. It was easy to see in their eyes, in their auras. They were recovering, and this place could only help them clear their mind.
After a few more moments in silence, Arthur took off his helmet completely, and set it down in the grass behind him. After that came his shoulder pads, shoes, belt, and his scabbard, which he set against the tree with all due respect. When all was done, he slid against the shore of the pond and slowly dipped in the water, trying to be as immobile and careful as he could. It was not recommended to disturb the waters if one had no good reason to. When he was sitting comfortably on a soft rock and half of his body was immersed, he allowed them to unfold; two feathered wings, quite similar to Galacta’s, except they were pure white, with no differing hue. These wings, however, were of no use to him. The right one was but a feathered and scarred stub that barely stretched, while the other had most of its primary feathers ripped off, as well as most of the secondary. These mutilated wings could no longer take him anywhere, could no longer… make him fly with her… Stretching out what remained of them, he dipped the longest one in the water, hoping it would purify the animosity their thoughts constantly brought to him.
He looked up and turned his head, heart rate suddenly picking up. It skipped a few beats when he saw it was her… Queen Isabelle stared at him, her body engulfed in the pale moonlight shining from above. Stars, she was beautiful… Seeing as she was only wearing a night gown, Arthur’s face flushed and he turned back, trying to hide it.
“Isabelle,” he murmured back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you would come here so late.”
“But you remember,” she replied, silently floating toward him. “We used to come here at night. I haven’t lost that habit. I find the air so serene here…”
He wasn’t looking at her, but he froze and tensed when a soft, delicate hand brushed against his left wing. For a short moment there, he found it hard to breathe.
“When I heard the Galaxy Soldier Army had dispatched, I… I knew that something had happened to you… And I… I won’t hide that I cried… a lot…”
She continued to stroke his wing, travelled to the skin between both of their roots, where she caressed the few scars that resulted from the mutilation.
“I missed you, Arthur…”
He closed his eyes, breathing out to try and keep calm. And yet, deep down, he was beaming with joy and love for this fairy.
“I missed you too, Isabelle.”
He turned his head to face her; she was kneeling down behind him so they were the same height. Her gown stretched around her, hiding her feet.
“I understand if you’re angry at me for not coming back,” he said softly, eyes looking down.
“I have to admit that… when I heard you were still alive, and leading a new army at that… I wondered why you never came back, or… or even sent a letter…”
“I’m a terrible friend, I know… The thought of coming back, when the GSA dispatched, never occurred to me. To me, the war wasn’t over. It was just paused… We were gathering our strengths. And the result? Nightmare was destroyed more than a dozen years ago. Since then, I was busy reviving our forces into another group, the Demon Hunter Agency.”
“And because of that,” she continued, “you saved us by sending your soldiers here… I don’t know how I can thank you, Arthur…” Slowly and carefully, her fingers brushed against the stub of his right wing, causing it to flinch a bit. “What happened to your wings…?”
“A demon-beast,” was his reply. “I was cornered and alone, there was barely a way to get out of it alive. Sacrificing my wings was what allowed me to survive this battle. I wasn’t leader of the GSA yet when this happened… I can barely remember how it felt to fly…”
There was a moment of silence, in which the fairy queen sat on the shore next to him, dripping her feet in the water. The light shone up on her pale face, making her soft skin look like it was made from the purest material this universe had to give. Again, he found himself enthralled by her beauty, and his love for her only deepened. Her hand stroked his cheek, following the pale line of a scar from his cheek to his lips.
“Stars,” she murmured, “puberty did you well.”
He laughed suddenly without having the time to stop himself.
“I’m just saying!” she laughed back. “Your voice is so different! And your face! You look… You look…”
“You’re beautiful,” he sighed dreamily, the smile stuck to his face. “You look just like the queen I was sure you’d become. I’m surprised you aren’t married yet.”
“Me?” she repeated. “Married? I don’t think I’d be able to, really… My heart…”
She sighed, and to his surprise, she leaned against him and laid her head on top of his, like he was a cushion… like she used to do. She took her glasses off to be more comfortable. Her hand was just there, on the shore, next to his, her arm against his own…
“Tomorrow you’ll leave again.”
She sounded so sad…
“I have to, when our home world is at stake,” he replied. “This star is mine as much as it is yours. I have to protect it.”
“We both have our duties…”
“I will protect your niece. I swear it.”
“Thank you, Arthur… She’s like a daughter to me. She’s all that remains of my sister…”
“More reasons to watch out for her then.”
As she smiled and made herself more comfortable, his hand, itching for her warmth, inched closer and closer, until his glove wrapped around her fingers tenderly. She didn’t take it back; instead, she intertwined her fingers with his. Despite all the time that had passed, the friendship they had nourished as youngsters was as solid as ever, if not even stronger. Arthur could only wonder… Did she love him back?
Their love was forbidden, and most would call him a fool. But, as a Star Warrior that had survived the great war against Nightmare, he had learned to latch on to the smallest of hope, even if that light was weak…
“I remember, I was in my room,” Kirby started, “and I started hearing voices…”
“Do you know what they were saying?”
He and Sir Dragato were outside on the closest balcony from the refectory, where everyone was asleep. The rain had stopped, leaving the light of the moon shine down on a beautiful land that stretched far and wide into distant fields. The air was fresh and refreshing for Kirby, who shook his head.
“Barely… They were whispers mostly, so I couldn’t make out what they were saying… But then I heard my name… and I found myself… somewhere else.”
Dragato raised an eyebrow in surprise, but still he listened.
“I was in an office, in a ship… I just knew where I was, and why I was there. The ship was called the Star-Chaser, it was my ship, I knew it… But I’ve never heard of this name before… Then, I saw a man, Joe’s father, Sir Jecra… We were talking about… me. I mean, me as… well, me. Ugh, it’s complicated…”
“It’s alright,” Dragato encouraged. “Go on. Just explain what you saw.”
“Alright… So, we were talking about where I had found… me, well he asked it, but I didn’t want to say it, because I wanted to keep it secret. But the problem is, I don’t know what this secret is! I didn’t want to say it for a reason, but I don’t know this reason! I don’t… understand…”
“Just a question, Kirby. Do you know who you were? Were you… you? Or someone else?”
“Sir Jecra… called me Meta.”
He paused for a moment of silence that allowed Kirby to think. He remembered a certain detail that explained quite a lot about this…
“The vision started when I touched his Warp Star which he gave me. But I heard the voices before that, so… I don’t know…”
“I don’t know much about Warp Stars,” he replied, seemingly as confused as he was. “Not all Star Warriors have one, only those with great power like you and Sir Meta Knight. I heard they were like sentient beings linked to their Star Warrior, or more precisely to their soul. Maybe it wanted to show you the memories it was linked to. Tell me, what about in the hallway earlier today? What did you hear?”
“It was weird there too… There was only one voice, but the sentences were cut off, I couldn’t make out what he was saying… Then I sensed someone else behind us.”
“So you’ve seen him too.”
Kirby looked up at him, blinking in surprise. Dragato looked serious, staring ahead. His mask off made it easier to read his face. He had seen that man hiding in the shadows too.
“Do you know him?”
“I asked Arthur about it, and he said he sensed him as well. Galacta down right talked to him during the invasion. We do not know his name, none of us really saw him since, but I believe he is some sort of advisor. Considering he is Kiridan, it is actually surprising he lives here with all these racis-… Forget I said that. Nevertheless, I hope to catch him before we leave. If you have another vision, Kirby, tell me about it. I wish to know. Alright?”
“Of course Sir. You knew Sir Meta Knight for longer than me, so you’re actually better placed to understand what’s in these visions. Do you know about the Star-Chaser?”
He nodded, a small smile finding its way to his face.
“Yes actually. It was Meta Knight’s first starship as commander, a small frigate with a moderate crew. It lived a good life before it had to be abandoned during a battle that went wrong. I believe Meta Knight took inspiration from it in designing his Halberd, which is a nice touch.”
Kirby smiled as he explained these small details of his old mentor’s life. Somehow, with the vision still fresh in his mind, these words spoke truth in his ears and resonated inside, connecting to old memories contained in the Warp Star in his bag. He only hoped he could control these visions…
While they talked, always hiding in the shadows of another balcony further above them, the lone Kiridan of Ripple Castle smiled brightly, his black hole eyes shining with distant galaxies and stars.
“Aah,” he sighed to himself. “So it is this future that will happen. So many possibilities have opened from now. This will be interesting indeed.”