The little girl followed the river for a good ten minutes, until it joined with a clean and beaten path through a thinner part of the jungle, where the trees were large, yes, but left wide open space in between to navigate through. It was only when they joined with this road, that the dragon woke up. Quite suddenly. Everyone turned when Azure let out a demonic banshee scream, only to see that the dragon was flapping its wings on his back and snapping its jaws on every bit of fur it could find. Azure whirled around and around, rocking his body back and forth violently, trying to shove the flying lizard off of him, but the beast held on tightly, thinking he was an enemy. Arthur and Dragato both ran over, but so did the little girl, and before they could act, she stopped a few feet away from the fray, looking terrified.
“Landy!” she yelled. “Stop it! He’s a friend!”
The dragon’s bright eyes looked up, and it stopped thrashing about, almost immediately, and to Azure’s satisfaction. Still, the Wolfwrath bounced one last time, this time managing to throw the dragon off of his back. The two beasts stood two meters away from each other, the Wolfwrath growling with his broken leg against his chest and the dragon thrashing its tail around furiously. Maëlle walked up to Azure first, and surprisingly, the wolf didn’t bite her; instead, he laid down on the ground, settling his growling jaw between his paws and keeping his red eyes set on the other predator as the girl caressed his fur. He let the little Kiridan pet him, and when Kirby and Ribbon both joined him to make sure he was okay, Maëlle ran over to Landia, who seemed to suddenly smile as he flapped his wings happily. The others watched as she hugged her friend around the neck, surprised at how gentle this dragon was with her. When she separated, Landia went back to walk with his wings’ claws and looked up at everyone else, blinking his double eyelids curiously.
“Are you okay?” Maëlle asked him, to which he nodded. “These are friends! They saved you! Come on, don’t be shy! Go talk to them, they’re very nice people!”
The dragon clearly hesitated; for a long moment, he simply stared at them, not growling, but cautious yet curious. His head turned to each of them, tongue flicking and picking up their scent, and it was only after Maëlle pushed him in their direction that he moved, although slowly. Azure was the only one the dragon seemed scared of, but the wolf still had his head on the ground, keeping calm only thanks to Kirby’s relaxing touch. Landia trudged closer and closer, almost moving sideways like a wary crab. Keeping his glare on Azure, the dragon moved his muzzle closer, and closer, until his forked tongue sniffed the Wolfwrath’s snout. The two great beasts stared at each other, silently communicating, and when their muzzles touched, everyone smiled. They both raised their heads, and Landia went on to smell everyone else, quicker and more trusty with each of them.
“See?” Maëlle said as Landia walked up to Arthur and looked him over. “Landy’s very nice! He wouldn’t hurt a fly!”
Arthur took this moment while Landia was sniffing his face to look into his eyes, searching for any signs of a Dark matter presence. The pupils were dilated, the irises the brightest blue, without a single trace of black shadows. Usually, Dark matter could be seen through someone’s eyes only thanks to a faint, dark mist that went through the possessed’s eyes. In this dragon’s case, Arthur saw no Dark matter, not in his eyes, not in his behaviour.
“He’s clean,” he said to the others as Landia snaked all around, meeting all of them.
When the dragon was done, Maëlle ran back to him at the front of the group, bouncing around happily with him. She waved her stub of an arm.
“Come on, home is just over there, behind those trees!”
The little girl turned around and began running down the road, with the dragon right behind her, soon followed by everyone else calling her to wait for them. At the far end of the road, the trees she spoke about formed a gigantic, natural belt around a wide perimeter, so large that the rest disappeared into the jungle. The branches and roots of the titans curved naturally like an arch above the end of the road, which faded through a veil of loose branches and vines. Whatever lay behind this arch was fairly well hidden, both from above thanks to the canopy and from the ground with the trees. Maëlle and Landia both disappeared beneath the vines when they ran through, and the rest of the group curiously followed them. As soon as Arthur pushed the vines away, another world was revealed.
In a wide clearing, surrounded by tall, endless trees, numerous stone domes laid all around the area, like many eggs cut in half, like… Kirby’s home. They were of many sizes and shapes, some wider, some taller, but Kirby wouldn’t mistake them for something else. However, while Maëlle and Landia were running through the small village’s entrance, everyone else stopped in their tracks; people were coming out from all around, some looking at them, some passing by, some even pointing to them. These people were Kiridans. All of them, adults, children, teens; there were more and more, more than they had ever seen. None of them could speak, especially Arthur and Dragato, the elders, those who saw their species decline… or so they thought.
A woman quickly caught their attention when they saw her running up toward the little girl. Her skin was a dark purple, her feet magenta, while her white eyes glowed brightly against her face.
“Maëlle!” she called to her daughter as she caught her in her arms. “There you are! I’ve been searching all over for you! Landia, I thought I asked you to look after her!”
While Landia dropped his head sadly, Kirby could only stare at the woman. He had seen her. He knew her. He was sure of it, but… where? Where, oh where had he seen her? He wasn’t quite sure, couldn’t quite put his finger on it… And his attention was taken once again when Landia spoke, clear as day, with a voice croaked with growls and hisses yet clearly friendly. His speech was strange, as if he were speaking for numerous people.
“Forgive us… We were by the river when we fell and hit our head. Those people saved us!”
The dragon moved and turned his head to look at everyone else farther behind them, and it was only then that the woman noticed them. She was very beautiful, Kirby thought as she settled her child down and looked them over, her glowing eyes looking cautious. She walked closer, slowly bringing her hand to her mouth.
“Knights…?” she mumbled to herself, blinking in honest surprise.
Arthur stepped up and bowed down like a gentleman, taking off his mask.
“We apologize for our sudden arrival, madam. We are knights from the Demon Hunter Agency. We were on a special mission here in Gamble Galaxy, but unfortunately our ship crashed.” Putting a hand on his heart, he added gently: “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Arthur, and this is my colleague Sir Dragato.”
The lady appeared greatly surprised, and as he spoke more people came closer; all of them, Kiridans, some simply round and colorful, some with wings like Galacta Knight. The lady didn’t seem to know what to say for a moment, but still she cleared her throat and bowed down as well in a polite way.
“We are well met. I am Kia, and… I don’t know how to thank you for your help. Could you… possibly be… Star Warriors?”
Before Arthur could answer positively, a soft gasp, coming from behind, made him stop, then slowly turn. Dragato stepped forward, his eyes large and shocked. Kirby and Ribbon both stepped up to the sides as well, wondering what was happening.
“Kia?” the knight asked toward the lady. “Is that really you?”
Seeing her squint her eyes in doubt, he took off his mask, and almost immediately, she gasped, bringing her hands to her mouth, as if she had suddenly remembered something critically important.
“Dragy! By the stars! You’re alive!”
They both ran up into each other’s arms, laughing in a sudden blissful joy, and Kirby couldn’t help that big smile from stretching his face. Looking at Ribbon, he saw she had the same smile.
“Well then,” Arthur laughed when the two old friends separated. “Care to introduce your lady friend, Dragato?”
The knight laughed out loud while the lady giggled and picked up her daughter, who clung to her tightly.
“Kia’s a childhood friend of mine,” he answered, looking his old friend over. “Stars, I almost didn’t recognize you!”
“Same here!” she laughed. “You changed so much… Oh, Az is going to be overjoyed to hear this! Please, come, all of you! The Elder will want to meet you all.”
With a wave of her hand, she turned around and led them further into the village, only stopping near someone to send them running into the village’s depths, probably to tell that Elder about them. Dragato walked right next to her to catch up to old times, while the others followed right behind, listening to their conversation while they observed the village. The citizens grouped around them, curious, and Arthur calmly answered a few questions thrown his way. Kirby, Ribbon and Azure were right behind, silent yet excited. What was this place? Why was it here of all places? It seemed Dragato had the same questions, for they heard him ask:
“What is this place? A colony?”
“Yes, it is actually,” Kia answered as they walked down a paved road between large dome buildings. “You know our family was one of the last remaining ones in the universe. We couldn’t stay in place, otherwise Nightmare’s forces would have slaughtered us. So we kept moving… until we heard that the Galaxy Soldier Army had disbanded. A lot of us thought that it was over, that Nightmare had won. But we didn’t. We knew there were still Star Warriors out there, somewhere; I knew my son was still out there. So, since then, we’ve been gathering as many families and individuals as we can find, and bringing them here, where the Neons gladly allowed us to build this town.”
“You plan to revive our species?”
“Yes, well, at first we just wanted to save as many of us as possible, you know, to preserve them as long as possible, but now that Nightmare is gone, we can stand up again! You can’t even begin to guess how overjoyed everyone was when the news came to us!”
Kirby couldn’t help but smile brightly as he imagined the cheers and tears of joy that these people had shed, as well as a bit of pride. It was thanks to him that these people could be free again; that his people was free. He was looking around, and seeing children of his age, some even younger, like Maëlle who was now walking up ahead with Landia and some other kids who were looking at them curiously. Some even stared at him, and he couldn’t help but smile and wave his hand, watching them wave in return before scrambling away. It was so strange, to see so many people like him and the knights. Here he had thought that the seven of them could have been the last pure ones… Or rather the six of them.
The group suddenly stopped, and Kirby turned his eyes back to the front, where he saw that the kind lady leading them had stopped in her tracks. Dragato was looking at her, but she wasn’t. She sighed, then turned her head to him, then to the rest of the group, eyeing them with a sadened gleam in her white eyes.
“He’s… not with you, is he?”
Dragato slowly shook his head, but before he could explain, Maëlle came running back, taking her mother’s hand.
“Mama, look here! Kirby’s just like big brother!” she said cheerfully while pulling her mother toward the young Star Warrior.
Kia appeared confused when she lifted her eyes on him, and while she stood there, trying to see what her daughter was seeing in him, he was sure, now more than ever, that he knew this lady. Slowly, she shook her head and patted her daughter on the back.
“I’m sorry, mister Kirby,” she apologized with a small smile. “You do have his face, but you still look very different from my son. I’m sorry Maëlle was confused. She has quite the vivid imagination.”
He smiled back and waved his hand nonchalantly.
“It’s okay!” he said. “If you would permit me, uh… May I ask who your son is?”
She hesitated a short moment, but still she nodded and smiled.
“His name is Meta. I believe he was called Meta Knight in the army, if I remember correctly.”
Kirby froze and his smile vanished almost instantly. This was Sir Meta Knight’s family. Kirby looked down at the little girl. Maëlle was his little sister, a sister he probably never knew he had. They didn’t know he was no more.
“Are you alright?” Kia asked him, but he couldn’t answer.
“S… Sir Meta Knight is… your son?” was what he said.
She nodded, a gleam of pride glowing in her eyes. Before he could say anything else, Arthur stepped up.
“I am sorry, milady, but it would be better if we discussed Sir Meta Knight’s situation in private… away from the kids.”
When she stared at him, she also lost her smile, but she didn’t say anything and nodded. Before turning back, she looked at Kirby one last time, and offered him a new smile, one that was so familiar he stopped breathing for a second. He watched her go back to the front with Maëlle, who was still looking confusingly at him and her mother. He could only stand there, even when the group started walking once more. Again. Again. Meta Knight was everywhere. What, oh what was he trying to tell him? Ribbon touched his arm softly, and he turned his gaze to her and Azure, who were looking at him sympathetically.
“Are you okay, Kirby?” she asked. “You look pale…”
A bit confused, Kirby rubbed his face and nodded quickly, forcing a smile back on his face.
“Yeah,” he breathed out. “Don’t worry, I’m good. It’s just… you know.”
The fairy kept her smile of compassion and patted him on the arm, the three of them turning to continue walking. Azure remained silent during the whole conversation, but every word that had been spoken was now etched into the Wolfwrath’s mind.
Soon, the group came in front of a small decorated dome house, covered in paints and fabrics. There were even more people in front of it, and one of them immediately caught Kirby’s eyes. For a second, his heart stopped, but it calmed when he saw the man hold out his arms to Kia, then to Dragato. This man looked just like Sir Meta Knight; or maybe it was Sir Meta Knight who looked just like him. The only clear difference was that his eyes were a bright green and his feet almost a blackened blue, and he was clearly taller.
“Dragato!” he laughed when he embraced his old friend. “My stars, I knew you were still alive, you crazy old fool!”
After a bit of a talk between the two, Dragato turned to the others and gestured toward the man.
“Everyone, this is Azure, Kia’s husband.”
While he told the names of each of his teammates, Dragato stopped when he came to introduce the Wolfwrath; the beast was growling a bit, and before he could say his name, Azure said in a low voice:
“There can only be one Azure. Me.”
Surprisingly, instead of being intimidated by these growls, the man laughed and said:
“Don’t worry, Azure! Everyone calls me Az anyway, so there won’t be any confusion between the two of us. Is that alright?”
And while the large wolf scoffed and mumbled something about it being acceptable, Kirby realized quickly why Sir Meta Knight accepted that he named the young pup Azure. It was the same name as his father…
Kirby blinked out of his spacing out when Az gestured to everyone to come inside, saying something about the Elder wanting to see them. Kirby followed closely behind Sir Dragato as they all entered, and he found the home to be wider inside than what it looked like outside. It was a two room house, the first one being the entrance, where many strange objects from the forest were hung on the walls next to multiple furnitures of all kinds, while the second dome was hidden behind a veil of bright fabrics. Before they could pass through, however, the veil was slowly pushed aside, and someone walked out. Kirby was the only one to gasp out in surprise. That man again! The one from Ripple Star! The man’s black yet starry eyes were recognizable among a thousand people, and Kirby could only stand there, with that man’s name on the tip of his tongue.
“You!” he immediately called, stopping everyone in their tracks.
Sir Arthur and Dragato both parted ways to look back at him, then back to the mysterious man, who was only standing there, hands joined in front of him, with the same, constant smile plastered on his face. Instead of answering Kirby, he simply lifted a finger to his lips, slowly, hushing the young Star Warrior.
“Please, be quiet,” he said gently, his familiar voice banging against his head as the memories of the Warp Star were triggered. “The Elder has been expecting you all, especially you, Kirby of the Stars. Please, come in.”
He walked to the side, gesturing the doorway to the group, and though Arthur first hesitated, staring at the man as if he knew him, the leader did not say a word and walked inside, followed by everyone else. Kirby waited until they were all inside before walking up to the man, looking at him in the endless voids that were his eyes.
“You’re Vei, aren’t you?” he said, unaware that the others could hear him even inside.
The man only smiled more, squinting his eyes in a joyful way.
“I see you are remembering well. Please, Kirby, we will talk later if you do not mind. It is impolite to make an elderly woman wait.”
Again, his hand gestured to the door, and with a sigh, Kirby obliged. They both walked in after the others, only to find a wider dome room. Even though the decoration here seemed more humble, there was an odd smell lingering in the air, probably from the countless drying herbs hanging from the ceiling and against the walls. The two windows on either sides of the dome were covered with fabrics, but instead of covering the light, they only gave it a warm glow, as if it was constantly evening. The room was comfortably warm and dry even though the jungle outside was humid and rainy. And sitting on a large cushion on the other side of the room, was an old woman, unlike anything Kirby had ever seen. She was a Kiridan of course, but unlike others, her face actually looked old, with wrinkles, freckles and a faded skin color. She was wearing colorful scarves as clothes, but her eyes, a faded white, looked blind. She was looking ahead, and a young Kiridan was standing next to her, probably to see to her needs. She smiled when the whole group settled in an arc a few feet in front of her seat, a kind smile that relieved them, somehow.
“You are here at last,” she spoke, her voice like that of a broken instrument yet quite similar to old cappy ladies from Dreamland. “Please, sit down. Make yourselves at home. It is the least I can do for our saviors.”
While they all looked around for a place to sit, as there were many cushions around the place, she lifted a hand, stopping them in their movements, toward Arthur.
“Please, come here, my son. Give me your hand.”
While the others sat down, Arthur completely took his helmet off, then walked up to the lady, in silence. He gave her his hand, felt her old paw-like fingers fiddle with his glove to take it off, and he gave a courteous bow, one that she felt through his movements.
“Arthur of Ripple,” she said. “I’ve heard many things about you, my boy. Many of us elders had high hopes that you would lead the Star Warriors to victory and save our kind, and I see now why we did. I see so many battles in your hand… both outside and inside. I have a good feeling about you, my boy. You will continue to lead us, I’m sure of it.”
He smiled to her, and bowed down again, lifting a fist to his heart.
“It is an honor, Elder. I will do my best to protect what remains of us, I swear it.”
“I know you will.”
With a short nod, Arthur walked back to his seat, and they sat in silence while the Elder gestured a silent order to the young Kiridan next to her. She spoke slowly when he started serving tea to everyone.
“So,” she started. “Vei here told me about your mission in the Gamble Galaxy. You left Ripple Star a few days ago in search for the Crystal that will save the fairies. I must say, I am quite surprised to see you here, darling,” she said as she turned her blind eyes to Ribbon, who appeared quite out of place here in this group of Kiridans. “For a long time your species has pushed us away. But now, it warms my heart to see fairies with Kiridans once more.”
“If I may ask,” Ribbon started, clearing her throat quickly. “The fairies have been coming on this star for many years. How come we’ve never found this colony?”
The old lady smiled.
“The Neons have helped us, of course. Wonderful creatures, they are. They hid us when we needed it the most, even now they are. It is in my hopes that one day the fairies will accept our presence here, as you have.”
She turned her head to each of them, but her eyes never focused on anyone. How she could tell where they were exactly in the room, Kirby didn’t know. Finally, she stopped on him, and her smile grew, stretching her old, parchment-like skin into more wrinkles.
“And of course, Kirby of the Stars. The Vanquisher of Nightmare. Vei also told me about you, although very little. From which family do you come? Your essence feels… familiar.”
Kirby started shaking his head, but stopped when he remembered she was blind.
“I don’t know, madam,” he answered. “I woke up in my starship one day, and crash landed on planet Popstar. I was just a baby then, and I don’t remember anything beyond that. Sir Meta Knight was the only Kiridan I knew for a long time, but even then, he didn’t tell me anything about where I’m from, or even our species, except some cryptic stuff as always.”
“Ah, yes, Meta… My grandson’s grandson. It was him we sent to destroy Nightmare, with the Copy abilities that were needed, and yet it was you who emerged victorious. How is this?”
Kirby looked at Sir Arthur, as if pleading for answers, and to his happiness, the leader answered for him.
“Sir Meta Knight lost his abilities after a terrible accident. He was captured by the enemy soon after, but when our rescue team brought him back, he was with Kirby. We don’t know where he found him exactly, and I’m afraid this secret disappeared with him. He was the one to teach Kirby how to destroy Nightmare.”
Her head dropped a little, and she slowly brought her teacup to her face, closing her eyes halfway.
“I see… May the stars watch over him…”
Kirby stopped listening. Meta Knight found him when he was captured? When did that happen? Why did nobody tell him that? Staring at Sir Arthur, the young Star Warrior was speechless. He had so many questions, but he could not ask them; he didn’t need to throw a fit in front of an old lady he respected.
“We are forever in your debt, young Kirby,” she spoke again to him. “However, as you all must know, it is not yet over. Nightmare and his demon-beasts may be gone, but the Dark matter are ever present, now more than they ever were.”
“Were they… always there?” Kirby asked, now curious as to that detail.
“Yes,” she nodded. “Although not as active as they are now, and that is only because Zero is stirring. They are always there, hiding in the darkness of our hearts. No matter how hard you may try, if you harbor dark thoughts or feelings, you will be a target for the Dark matter. Needless to say, that leaves us all open for them, does it not?”
Kirby’s head dropped; he was reminded of his own feelings, of his own anger, and wondered… What would happen if he was taken by the Dark matter? Would it just be… over? Just like that, would the light he carried just… vanish? It was a puzzling thought…
“Now,” the old lady said to them, “what are your plans, Star Warriors? What will you do to stop these attacks from getting worse? The Dark matter are already here on Neo Star…”
“The Agency is looking relentlessly for Zero’s dwelling place,” Arthur said seriously. “Be it between dimensions or on a faraway star, our plan is to first assure the protection of the targeted stars, and to find where the Dark matter come from. Be assured, Elder, that we will succeed.”
She smiled an old and tired smile, and closed her eyes.
“It is good to see such strong hearts standing for our universe…,” she whispered.
Seeing that she was getting tired, the young Kiridan standing watch next to her took a quick peak, before saying to them:
“Please, I would like to ask you to come back later. The Elder is tired and needs to rest. I believe we have a free home for you to sleep in tonight. Sir Vei, can you show them the way?”
The man with black-holes for eyes bowed down, before gesturing for them to follow, and he walked outside. There was still a crowd in front of the house, even bigger than it had been, and there was an awed silence when they walked out. They whispered among each other, the children were excited and had to be held. They made a path for them to pass through, but still they watched the warriors, the fairy and the demon-beast, led by the strange man that often came to their town. It was already evening, and the vacant house the group was shown was very welcomed. Kirby, of course, was starving, but still he stared at Vei as he presented the home, as he said what food they would bring for them, as he said that they were welcome to stay for as long as they needed. Kirby watched him leave the house, without saying more, and made a mental note to find him again later that night. He needed to talk. He needed answers. But, for now, he wanted to eat.
And as he ate, he was unaware that, in his backpack, the two Warp Stars, the golden and the blue, were glowing brightly, silently communicating.
The light that Lady Hailan saw was farther away than she had thought, but that only rose the excitement; for if it was that bright, then there was a high chance that either many crystals were there together, or that there was one, larger crystal shard. No matter what it was, the group was determined to get to it first. Sword, the pilot, was red with anger; since Sir Arthur’s call about an impostor, all he wanted was to find these pirates and make them pay. Although his brother was also angry, he took this with a much calmer attitude. Bun, on the other hand, had to side with Sword. Such an injustice couldn’t keep on going like this, especially since these pirates were throwing nothing but shame on Sir Meta Knight’s name. Still… despite all that, the young cappy was still curious. Who were these pirates? Why were they doing this? Where Sword only wanted to stop them, Bun and Blade could only wonder the reason for these pirates’ actions. Why were they after the crystal shards? Was it to hold a ransom against the fairies to get the remaining pieces back? Or something darker? As for Hailan, she focused mainly on the mission. She hadn’t known Sir Meta Knight that well, mostly by name and reputation, and even though she found the situation at hand most disgusting, all she could do was support her companions on the way through. If these pirates were dangerous, it was her duty to stop them. It was unacceptable that these people put shame on a fallen comrade’s honor.
The ship was now nearing its destination; Hailan was almost blinded by the light and could barely keep her eyes open.
“Stars,” she breathed out, “this one is much larger than I anticipated…”
The light was coming from a cliffside, by a large ravine that dug into the earth, like a violent tremor had opened the land to a new area underneath. Vegetation was scarce here, and the earth was made of nothing but rocks. The ravine was dark, and one would need to be careful when venturing out here. As they were following the cliff in search of the light, Hailan finally pointed ahead, her eyes squinted.
“Right there,” she said before rubbing tears out of her eyes. “Ugh, I can’t look at it, it’s too bright. It’s just over there, on that ledge.”
And when the ship descended a little more against the cliff, the others also saw it. It was a large crystal formation, embedded against the wall on the edge of the precipice. From what they could see, it could have been as large as Kirby at most. It was definitely larger than the other shards they had found. By Nova, how big was the original Crystal? If they could bring this back, they said to each other, a large part of the Crystal would be recovered and few would remain. If they brought this back to the others, they would be ahead of these impostors.
Sword volunteered to go retrieve the crystal, since he didn’t want to see his brother endanger himself again. Without giving any of his reasons to go, he gave the commands to Hailan, who took his place as pilot, and went to the cargo hold at the back of the ship. While Hailan steered the ship to have its back facing the ledge, as slowly and carefully as possible, with Bun’s help Sword attached himself with a rope, as a safety measure. The rope itself was tied to the back of the room, and Sword pulled on it, testing if it was actually secure. The dragon walked in the cargo as well, but remained silent, and sat down next to Bun, watching the knight walk to the ledge of the open trap door. Sword tried not to look down into the ravine; he wasn’t afraid of heights, but it did make him nervous that he couldn’t see the bottom of the ravine.
“Can you reach it?” Hailan asked over the radio.
“Just… a bit more,” he said, holding out his arm toward the crystal formation.
Following his words, the ship slowly hovered closer, and the gusts of warm winds coming from the engines near the wings flew up into the cargo hold, making Bun squint his eyes. Sword’s feet slid a bit more toward the ledge, and while he held himself to a handlebar near the trap door, he was still being very careful. He wiggled his fingers, almost touching the glowing crystal…
And the ship suddenly jerked sideways, sending everyone flying. Sword slid off the ledge with a surprised cry, but instead of falling to his doom, the rope pulled around him, holding him back, but still he couldn’t stop rocking back and forth, hitting the wall of the ravine. Trying to look up, he witnessed a blinding explosion on the ship’s side and it jerked again; this time, Bun slid off the cargo hold, screaming. Sword had barely a second to think. He held out his arm, and felt it jerk back when Bun held on to it, stopping his fall. They both hung there, the youngest holding for his life and the eldest biting the pain of his dislocated arm in silence.
“Bun!” he called in a groan. “Hold on, climb up! I can’t hold it!”
“Gaah!” Bun cried out when the ship moved, sending them both flying around at the end of the rope.
They dangled around, spinning while the ship moved about in the ravine, and when he tried to get a good look, Sword could only see a gigantic shadow, appearing at the other end of the ravine, beyond the cliffs. In the light of the setting sun, he could barely see it. He held out his other arm, taking hold of Bun until the kid could wrap his arms around his waist. There was a sound, like roaring thunder or a titan, echoing in the valley and deafening his ears.
“Hailan!” he screamed in the radio, closing his eyes while they dangled around above the void below. “What’s going on! What is that!”
“The pirates! Nng! Hold on!”
The ship spun around a few times after another shot on its hull, but soon Hailan managed to stop it and realign it so it faced the enemy. Sword heard a few shots, but when he spun around again, both he and Bun saw it. It was like seeing the past being played in front of their eyes. The Halberd, as massive as it ever was, perhaps even more, was right there, with its wings open and all of its cannons directed at them. The battleship didn’t stop, and headed straight for them, the familiar v shaped mask at the front looking like a bullet. The two ships collided brutally in a cold, metallic embrace, and suddenly, the rope snapped.
Sword and Bun both fell, their screams echoing in the valley with the roars of the battleship they thought had fallen, and they fell through the darkness of the ravine, fast. Sword felt Bun’s arms let go of him, and he spun and spun until he couldn’t see anything. Then, something else, stronger, clasped around his waist, and he gasped, both in pain and in surprise, when he was suddenly pulled backward. The landscape flew by again, this time until he was out of the ravine, and it suddenly stopped. He quickly realized what had happened. He was between the metallic pincers of a mechanical arm that had grabbed him as he had fallen… a mechanical arm that had brought him directly above the battleship’s deck. On the other side, he saw another arm, with an unconscious Bun clasped in between its pincers. There was no one out here but strong winds blowing from all directions, but everywhere he looked, Sword could only recognize every detail he laid his eyes on. The deck, the cannon, the control room right above, watching over everything… He stared at it, trying to see, to know if someone, up there, was watching them right now. It was too far to see, and when he turned his head, he saw their own ship, immobile, facing the Halberd, a meaningless bug compared to its massive size. What was going on? How was this possible? Only the three of them ever had access to the Halberd’s blueprints or model; there wasn’t supposed to be another one. It was impossible. He heard his radio screech, and a new voice, loud and sudden like a parrot’s, blew in his ears.
“This is Captain Vul speakin’. We have two of your crew mates as hostages. Give us all of your crystal shards and we’ll let them go, skwack!”
Sword’s eyes widened and he tried pushing against the pincers, since his arms were free, but nothing budged.
“Hailan! Blade!” he called in the radio attached to his neck. “Don’t do it! We can get out of here, but don’t do it, the fairies need those!”
“I’m givin’ you thirty seconds to decide,” the voice threatened. “Then we’ll jus’ break those two and blow you up. Make your choice, skwack!”
Just as he spoke, the pincers reacted; they clasped harder, suddenly, and Sword gasped, feeling them dig in his waist through his armor. He struggled, trying to loosen them with his hands, but it did nothing to relieve it, and even just closed in more and more, a little at a time. Then, it stopped moving, and he took this moment to breathe again. There was a roar, different from the one he had heard before, and when he lifted his eyes, he saw the dragon, Landia, fly out of the ship from the back at tremendous speed. The small flying lizard flew around, evading and dodging beams after beams skillfully, until he plunged down toward the closest hostage, Bun. The dragon bit down on the mechanical arm, breathing his lava-like fire like an acidic gust that made the arm jerk around trying to shove him off. The arm that held Sword moved again, but this time as a weapon; with the knight still clasped inside, it threw itself toward the dragon, but missed when Landia jumped at the last moment. While he flew around again, Sword watched as the arm holding Bun melted off, until it fell brutally back on the deck, with the young cappy still unconscious between its loosening pincers.
Sword looked up again at the dragon, but his eyes strayed off to the control room when they caught something odd. There was a light, flashing through the windshields… What was that? And then, it disappeared, and appeared again outside, right above the control room, like it had warped out of another dimension. The light wasn’t big; it was more like a ball of bright, purple light, unmoving. The Halberd, or so Sword thought it was still called even from impostors, stopped firing, and Landia flew straight at the light, mouth breathing a ball of fire. The light moved suddenly to the side, dodging, and moved again, this time straight at the dragon. They both collided with each other, and the light kept pushing him back, until they disappeared behind the battleship, but still Sword could hear Landia’s roars and chirps. He blinked when his radio screeched again.
“You gone and did it,” said the enemy captain’s voice. “You angered our Lord, and it won’t go unpunished! These crystals are ours!”
The remaining mechanical arm started moving again, and Sword felt it rock back and forth, with more and more strength… until it suddenly let go of him. Again, he fell into the ravine, flailing his arms and screaming a scream that echoed against the walls of the cliffs. Again he heard the battleship open fire on their ship, but he couldn’t see, and soon he stopped hearing. The walls flew past him, and he recalled hearing Blade’s voice in the radio, but nothing else… And the knight watched the bottom of the ravine draw closer and closer, until everything turned black.