Chapter 16: Couldn't Put Carby Together Again

My Adventure Log, Entry #9: Family Woes

Well… this is awkward. Veryyyyyy awkward.

Like, even more awkward than 'running around Popstar while trying to take back a stolen treasure chest from the Squeaks, but then Meta Knight got nosy and turned it into a game of hot potato, however it turned out that said chest wasn't really my precious strawberry cake but in actuality an ancient demon oops LOL' awkward. We're talking that level of awkwardness.

So yeah, now Bandana and I have front-row seats to seeing family ties between father and daughter implode in a manner befitting that of the Crash Ability. And that was before Fake King decided to show his arrogant face and bring 'Mr. Shine & Mr. Bright, Haltmann Works edition' into the picture.

There's also something I'll like to add about Carby too… but seriously, by this point, I'd better save that for another journal entry before this turns into a thesis paper. It looks like things are really heating up…

Awkward Bystander,
Kirby


Heartbreak and betrayal.

It didn't take a genius to realize that this was what Lololo and Lalala were currently feeling at the moment.

But really, could one even blame the two for acting in such an emotional daze? That crushing feeling of knowing that your whole life was a lie… that everyone in the know had covered up the truth from them for years on end…

…it was utterly soul-wrenching.

While most in the vicinity was trying to control their shock, Dedede on the other hand was cackling wildly, not even bothering to mask his glee. "Ah ha ha ha ha! What do you have to say to that, Minister Parm?"

There was a damning silence that followed Dedede's cocky remark, a silence that probably answered the question better than if Parm had actually mustered up the courage to legitimately respond to Dedede's question.

Lololo twiddled his gloved fingers together. "I can't believe this…" he finally managed to say. He remained silent after that, not fully trusting himself to say anything else without completely breaking apart.

Though the two newly-revealed demon beasts—a good portion of the people gathered around were willing to spill blood to dispute this status—were composed outwardly, Fumu on the other hand shattered like a pane of tempered glass.

What Dedede and the giant robot had just revealed completely rocked her entire world, tearing everything she knew apart in one blow. After seeing the ravenous demon beasts that Dedede had ruthlessly unleashed on Cappy Town and hating all of them with a fiery passion, she never once considered feeling a shred of sympathy for anyone who was associated with Holy Nightmare Corporation.

That octopus demon beast that gobbled up all the sheep? Deserved to be turned into sashimi after being blasted by Kirby's vicious flamethrower.

Blocky? She bet he was moping about at the bottom of the sea if erosion or the immense hydraulic pressure hadn't done him in already.

Bugzzy? Was now infamous amongst the Cappies as the fool who dared to withstand a Sword Beam from Sword Kirby. It didn't work, and the fool payed for underestimating his foe by being sliced in two and subsequently exploding into smithereens.

Kracko? Fumu took special glee in watching Kirby and Dyna Blade's hatchling work together to tag-team the lightning cloud, obliterating the smug little bugger with a burst of fiery plasma — a sweet taste of its own medicine.

It wasn't hard to hate them and cheer at their demise when everyone's morality alignment was either black or white. King Dedede's demon beasts were evil, and Kirby was good. There were no complications, no issues, and Fumu was perfectly fine with that. The girl would dehumanize them as enemies meant to be struck down if it meant keeping Cappy Town safe and ruining Dedede's petty schemes as an added bonus.

And everything worked out well up until now, the whole concept appearing perfectly sound until this double whammy had slammed into her life.

"You two were once one singular being known as Lola — indisputably, the single most useless demon beast to ever have the dishonor of being birthed from Lord Nightmare's hand."

Nightmare.

Fumu involuntarily shivered despite herself.

Birthed from Nightmare's hand. Those were the exact words that the callous machine had used to define Lololo and Lalala's conception. The cold-hearted robot was exultant and took sadistic pleasure in revealing to everyone that the duo had been created to be monsters.

Her two precious friends and helpers had been created by the enigmatic figure who Meta Knight had repeatedly built up and emphasized to her as Dream Land's mortal enemy — the man who had been pulling King Dedede's strings behind the scenes by sending all of his demon beasts to Popstar in a bid for power and conquest.

That little tidbit turned everything Fumu thought she knew on its head. Now, uncertainty and doubt reared its ugly face to her.

"You were asking who Nightmare was, correct? Well, allow me to tell you. He is the creator of the demon beasts, creatures who are imbued by hatred, born only to cause chaos and destroy everything around them."

And yet, this was contrary to what she'd been told. Lololo and Lalala were the antithesis to what Kabu had told her about the demon beasts — that they were mindless monsters who existed only to kill.

She'd interacted with the both of them on a personal level, and could firmly say right away that not only were they not mindless, they were far from being of malicious intent as well. Both Lololo and Lalala both actively and willingly helped out with chores, errands, and other menial affairs her Mom and Dad tended to delegate to others, deeming such tasks as something which was inappropriate and unbefitting of their upper-class family to constantly do when they had servants to help.

This behavior went against everything she knew and had seen prior about demon beasts. Not only was their personality demure, but it appeared that Lololo and Lalala didn't even know about their status as demon beasts, which destroyed any possibility of this being an act under deep cover.

So how did Lololo and Lalala end up so benevolent while unaware of their dark origins? Hadn't Kabu said that demon beasts could only bring senseless devastation? Well, everyone who knew Lololo and Lalala could attest that they were the complete opposite — they always helped out others in need. Even Fumu would wholeheartedly admit that she had taken the two for granted when she was much younger and in desperate need of attention. They truly were two diamonds in the rough.

Herein lay the question — if Lololo and Lalala were demon beasts, how had they turned out the way they are today? Were other demon beasts perhaps also capable of redemption? Could they be more than senseless beasts fulfilling their purpose as destructive bringers of anarchy, who without changing were otherwise likely to meet their ends through a Star Warrior like Kirby?

Fumu shook her head, gripping her temple with her nails. Those were dangerous thoughts. She could look past their destruction if she saw them as nothing but mind-controlled slaves, but the instant she characterized them and saw a person underneath, that was when her inner compassion would threaten everything.

No! She had to yell at herself. They're the bad guys! All those demon beasts knew what they were doing when Dedede got ahold of them! They actively sought destruction and mayhem! Just because there exists the possibility of them having more than a one-track mind doesn't mean you should sympathize with them!

Why couldn't everything be like the cold robot who was standing by Dedede's side? At least there was no doubt that she wouldn't feel the slightest shred of sympathy if she were to get Kirby to pull the plug of the mechanical beast in front of her. At least then she wouldn't feel guilty over Kirby taking a life.

But alas, there were far more implications and nuances that this uncovered secret brought to the surface than what she'd originally thought. And not for the first time, a question which she had posed to Meta Knight in the conclusion of his duel with Kirby at Kabu Canyon came rushing back to her head.

"Is it really true? Is Kirby actually Nightmare's failed creation?"

She had said it to Meta Knight as a plausible suggestion with Kabu's tale of Nightmare and the Star Warrior legend fresh in her mind, but never truly considered the possibility because she was unable to reconcile the image of the innocent Kirby with that of what Kabu—and later Meta Knight—had told her of Nightmare. They were about as different as night and day.

Of course, that argument didn't hold any water now, given that it was just like how she couldn't see Lololo or Lalala as demon beasts no matter how hard she tried though her opposition had all the proof to the contrary. It just wasn't fair — her family's two kind-hearted servants didn't deserve to be lumped together in the same subset of true savages like Kracko.

Her inner turmoil regarding the situation was so obvious that Dedede eventually snapped Fumu out of her introspection with an ill-timed comment.

"Doesn't it hurt, Fumu?" Dedede's expression was so smug that his face could win in a 'whose face is the most punchable?' no-holds-barred contest. He'd even resorted to calling Fumu by first-name basis instead of using derogatory terms just so that he could strike her where it hurts by making the Lololo and Lalala debacle feel more personal as it hit her close to home. "Ain't it ironic, ya' sap? Here you were, preaching about demon beasts being pure monsters and all the like… but yet there were two of them living with you from the very moment ya' learned how to crawl! Ah ha ha!"

Fumu jolted upright at Dedede's taunting, stomping her foot as she glared at the king ferociously. "You… you knew about this all along!" she vented, lashing out at Dedede in a fit of anger as she fought herself from breaking down. "You knew about Lololo and Lalala and yet you kept silent this entire time!"

Lololo and Lalala. Her father's two trusty servants.

This couldn't be happening. This just couldn't! How could those kind sweethearts possibly be demon beasts? How!?

"Yes, I knew about your two flying little friends and their true heritage. I've known from the start," Dedede shrugged, not even trying to hide the fact as he confirmed her accusation with a chortle. "But then again," he murmured with a sly voice, "so did your father…" His gaze swept over to Memu. "…and your mother. Don't think that she's innocent in all of this."

Memu flinched as she saw everyone's eyes falling onto her. "Uhhhh…" she raised an arm, before futilely lowering it down with a sad sigh.

"Are you kidding me!?" Fumu was livid now, glowering at Dedede with righteous anger. "Not you too, Mom!?"

"Heh…" Lalala finally spoke, a whimper leaving her mouth. "So you both knew about this from the start…?"

The accusation at their masters hung in the air, causing everyone to gaze around the hallway awkwardly. No one who was privy about the subject wanted to bring up the elephant in the room.

That was, except for Dedede.

"Heheheheh! Don't bother trying to keep it from your children. Afraid to admit your faults, Minister Parm?" Dedede cackled, holding his belly as he rejoiced in seeing Parm and Memu freeze up. "Save it for the paparazzi. I've been holdin' this info back as blackmail for far too long, and now that the cat's out of the bag, I'm gonna enjoy watching the lot of you squirm! That's what ya' get for defying the great King Dedede!"

There was a silence which permeated the room as everyone gaped at Dedede's and his self-centered words. Too dense—or willfully ignorant—to realize that everyone, inclusive of his subordinates, was judging him, Dedede folded his arms and continued with his tirade once he realized that Parm wasn't going to admit to anything.

Well, two could play at this game. Dedede would soon have the Cabinet Minister begging him on his knees for mercy, the perfect retribution for always standing by and letting his troublemaking daughter run amok. "You may invoke your right to remain silent," Dedede began, "but you're forgetting that I know about everything that happened as well, Minister Parm." The unspoken threat was on the tip of his tongue — if you don't explain this, I gladly will.

Lololo and Lalala went rigid as Dedede's smile grew wider, his eye sliding from the two demon beast helpers to his shivering subordinate. "So what will it be, Minister Parm?" he pressured.

"N-No!"

Dedede paused as he heard Parm splutter in terror, the Cappy minister flailing around and jumping back on his feet, stretching an arm out to stop the king. Before he could get close however, Dedede reached into his robe and held his hammer out to warn the man to stay back.

"What's the matter, Minister Parm?" he smirked, twirling his mallet with his hand as he played innocent. "Afraid to let your sins see the light of day? Come on, you didn't think that you could keep this under wraps forever, didcha? Even a wrapped burrito has to be eaten one day!"

"Right you are, your majesty." Escargon nodded, the snail drooling unintentionally at the comparison, much to the disgust of the two Kirbies, two Cappy children, and two newly-revealed demon beasts.

Before Parm could send Dedede another plea, Fumu ran up to Dedede. "How did you know!?" Fumu hissed, fully shifting her anger from her father to the king, making this once again yet another typical day in her eternal war against the corrupt tyrant.

"I didn't." Despite Fumu's look of incredulity at his declaration, Dedede staunchly maintained his stand. "Don't look at me like 'dat, girl. I really didn't know about this. I just happened to make an educated guess, and it turned out to be correct."

"You're so smart, your majesty," Escargon preened in support. "Why, you're probably smarter than everyone in all of Dream Land!"

Dedede smirked upon hearing his subordinate's praise. "Right you are, Escargon."

"First of all, that is objectively untrue," Bun refuted as he held up his middle and index fingers. Before Dedede could respond to him by whipping out his mallet, Bun lowered a finger—his index one, of course—as a disrespectful gesture and proceeded to face the king's second-in-command. "And secondly, you totally just shot yourself in the foot with that remark, Escargon."

Ouch, burn. It probably hadn't occurred to Escargon that 'all of Dream Land' was inclusive of him when he had made that sweeping remark. Despite the grim situation, Fumu had to stifle a giggle when she saw the snail shaking with anger at her brother's wily comments.

"Why, you insolent little—" Escargon ranted, before being cut off by Dedede holding out one of his hands to halt his subordinate's outburst.

"Calm yourself, Escargon," he purred at the feisty Escargon before turning to Slice n' Splice. "I'll explain the first portion, and you'll add on from your perspective."

The demon beast gave a curt nod. "Of course, sire."

Parm's face went paler than before. "You can't do this, King Dedede—"

"No!" Lololo interjected, flying up to Dedede's face. "Don't listen to what Minister Parm says." It sounded like it physically pained him to say those words, even though for better or worse he had finally managed to steel himself to speak. "You're going to tell me and Lalala everything you know, your majesty," he demanded in a tone which caused Parm's resistance to falter. "Starting from how you knew we were… we were…"

"…demon beasts," Lalala finished Lololo's statement when she saw her partner unable to finish articulating his thoughts into words. "You're going to tell us how you were privy to this information, King Dedede," she spoke calmly, though her weary eyes showed that her inner world was distraught and filled with turmoil.

"Duh, that's simple!" Dedede gloated at his dissenters. "It's because I told Minister Parm that you two brats were demon beasts in the first place!"

Silence filled the corridor once more as the people around parsed and processed the information that they have been provided. That was starting to become a common occurrence for tonight.

Fumu might have been attuned to a lot of King Dedede's more outlandish antics, but never in a hundred years had she expected that he'd go as far as to personally target her father! He worked in Dedede's ministerial cabinet, for Pete's sake! And because of Dedede's actions, Parm was currently slumped on the floor, and it didn't seem like the dejected man would be getting out of his self-induced funk anytime soon.

"On one fine day ten years ago, I ordered you two fine fellas from—somewhere… but unfortunately for everyone involved, it turned out to be one giant scam," Dedede continued. By this point, those meddlesome kids—and all of Cappy Town, actually—knew that he ordered demon beasts from Holy Nightmare, so he had nothing to hide. Like what that infuriating Meta Knight had once insisted to him, it was an open secret.

Lalala slowly prodded Dedede on when she saw the king pause, his expression frozen in annoyance. "Please do continue," she said, snapping him out of his stupor.

"Turns out all you two could do was fly, so I handed you over to your current master." Dedede made sure to gloat at Fumu as he spoke his next words. "Parm and Memu knew that ya' two were demon beasts, but in spite of all that, he went ahead and accepted you readily anyway. Now don't ya' agree that there's a tad bit of double standard here?"

"Now that's a lie, your majesty, and you jolly well know it!" Parm snapped, gaining his confidence back for the first time since the conversation had started. "You threw Lololo and Lalala off the castle watchtower and practically abandoned the both of them with me! I do recall that you didn't grant me a say in the matter!"

Upon hearing the retort, Fumu felt her shoulders relax as she breathed out a sigh of relief. Despite all her anger towards her father, she was inclined to believe him. After all, this was more in line with the regular theatrics and stunts she'd seen Dedede pull. Doing something like this was right up Dedede's alley.

"Even so, you took those two chumps in without complaint," Dedede pointed out, his eyes gleaming in the candlelight that lit up the dim hallway. "Not once in ten years did it ever occur for you to tell them that they used to be monsters! That part is on you, Parm!"

Parm groaned when he realized that when Dedede had put it so eloquently, it did seem like keeping mum on the issue had been an egregious decision made on his part. Nevertheless, he felt his heart clenching when he saw Lololo and Lalala's hardened faces. They seemed so distraught about the situation that there was likely nothing which he could say to them at the moment to reassure their aching hearts.

"So… why didn't you tell us?" Lololo looked his master in the eye, shooting the armor-piercing question like a 9mm round fired at the heart. Although Lololo was well aware that Dedede was psychologically taunting him by deliberately putting him and Lalala through the wringer, he was still unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"Oh, dearie…" Memu managed to compose herself to speak, following her husband's lead. "We honestly didn't find it that important. How you two act has nothing to do with your past, Lololo. That goes for Lalala too," she said, beckoning both flying orbs to be by her side. "So that was why we opted not to tell you. You've both been great helps to our family, regardless of what you were… or might have been. It doesn't matter now, does it?"

Parm inhaled sharply, bemoaning this macabre situation. He had never wanted this specific secret to come tumbling out into the open like this, but the best thing that he could do by this point was damage control. This whole disaster was beyond salvation, and it was all his majesty's fault… unsurprisingly.

"I… see…" Lololo managed to say, breaking eye contact with Parm to nuzzle against Memu's cheek, pressing against her soft skin with a sob. Lalala promptly followed his lead with the other cheek, turning Lady Memu into the equivalent of a Cappy sandwich garnished by two different colored anchovies.

"What's this?" Dedede grunted at the show of affection. "You can't seriously be thinking about going back to them?"

Lololo sharply snapped his head around, glaring daggers at Dedede. "Why are you so interested in driving a wedge between me and my masters, your majesty?"

"Because you can't possibly still treat Minister Parm or Lady Memu with respect knowing that they've been keeping your past a secret for the sole purpose of exploiting the two of you!"

Both Lololo and Lalala gawked at him. "You're wrong, King Dedede." Lalala finally spoke with a sigh. "You're the real monster here."

"We're not saying that Minister Parm is free from blame," Lololo clarified, causing the man in question to wince slightly. "But unlike you, he didn't try to selfishly keep the knowledge for his own gain!" he raged, pointing furiously at the Dream Land ruler.

"Yeah!" Lalala concurred. "You're just trying to divert our anger towards Minister Parm and smear his name with libel! I mean, you knew about this as well, but you actively chose to keep silent out of… spite?" she paused slightly before continuing, "Spite at getting yourself scammed, of all things!" Lalala had to say the words out simply because it sounded so ridiculous in her head.

"That is incorrect. It wasn't out of spite or pettiness, Lola. If anything, I'll wager that it was shame which stilled his tongue."

Both orbs turned silent and faced the box-shaped robot, who had interjected with a confident strut. It took them a second more to realize that he'd referred to Lalala as Lola — who it'd stressed about three minutes ago used to be their combined form.

Lololo and Lalala stared at him for what seemed like the first time. Although Dedede had been the instigator regarding the whole "Lololo and Lalala have been demon beasts all this time, you lot are blind AHAHAHAHA" mess, it literally dawned on everyone after the robot had interrupted their rant that it had been the one who had spilled the beans regarding the matter in the first place.

Lalala placed a hand to her chin as she mused. "Wait, if you're the robot that splices objects apart…"

"…that means that you were the one who made us this way in the first place!" Lalala finished, glaring hatefully at the beast.

Slice n' Splice mechanically clapped his hands as he applauded the two, gleefully smirking at both Lololo and Lalala before he continued speaking. "Took you this long to put two and two together? I mean, I practically spelt it out for you!" It then stopped clapping and gazed at the two balefully. "But even so, the fact that you had a minor breakdown and vented to your temporary owners… I suppose that means that you two really don't remember being one? How very disappointing." The robot shook his head. "Here I was thinking that we could have a glorious reunion. I guess it wasn't meant to be…"

Lalala let out an eep in terror, but Lololo huddled her protectively, speaking out against their aggressor. "I might not be able to remember you in the slightest, but even I can tell that you're a jerk right off the bat from the tone of your voice alone!"

"Hmph! So very brave of you. Do you think you're her knight in shining armor?" Slice n' Splice jeered. "Or perhaps, you just want to protect her because of selfish reasons, knowing that she's a part of you?"

Lololo gnashed his teeth together, letting go of Lalala to point at the machine aggressively. "That has nothing to do with this! I'd protect Lalala to the ends of Planet Popstar even without knowing what you and King Dedede just told me!"

Lalala teared up slightly at her partner's statement. As she wiped her tear away, she noticed that the others in the vicinity were also nodding at her and Lololo in support — Fumu, Bun, the pink-colored Kirby (the white half of Kirby was acting rather aloof, though), Captain Waddle Doo, the Waddle Dee who had a cute marine-blue bandana tied on top of his head…

…even Minister Parm and Lady Memu. The guilty look that previously plagued the couple had completely vanished, now replaced by a look of repulsion and disgust which was aimed towards the mechanical menace.

For what it was worth, not once did the robot flinch or show the slightest bit of emotion except for a savage, perverted pleasure when it was trying to corner them both. Even Dedede got flustered at times, but this "Slice n' Splice" truly wasn't human — it was a cold-hearted machine, through and through.

"Can you still feel a throbbing bruise at the back of your head? When you dream, do you still suffer from occasional sharp migraines?" it finally prompted, leaning forward and staring at Lololo and Lalala with a sadistic smirk when it observed that the support of the other bystanders regarding the floating duo were slowly treading towards the side of acceptance. "If you do, then I suppose that your subconscious won't let you forget so easily."

Lololo folded his arms, obdurately trying to stand his ground despite the robot looming over him. "Forget about what?" he questioned.

"Still so obstinately stubborn… you never change, do you?" Slice n' Splice murmured in a coy voice before properly answering Lololo's query. "I suppose that your inner subconscious won't let you forget that this moon staff right here—" the machine held it up as it spoke, gently touching the duo on the crown of their heads with the weapon. "—was what I'd used to slice you into two… by bringing it down on the back of your head!"

He then mimed the motion, raising the moon staff slightly. But before he could bring it down at them again, Lololo and Lalala had frantically scrambled away, reconvening a safe distance away. Before either of them could compose themselves and angrily storm a reply, Fumu beat them to it, running up to the giant robot and kicking it in the leg. Although she immediately cried out and clutched her foot thereafter, she still managed to get her message through to the demon beast in between gasped breaths.

"You monster! You did that to Lololo and Lalala on purpose!"

Slice n' Splice glowered down at the girl and extended his joint so that the arm holding the moon staff was poised to strike the incumbent brat. "Perhaps you'd like to join those two in the realm of separation, girl?" it threatened, waving the sharpened edge at Fumu.

Fumu wisely chose not to risk being torn apart and backed off, limping away on her injured foot and mentally scolding herself for letting her emotions get the better of her. Being this hasty was very unlike her usual self, but witnessing Lololo and Lalala being harassed by the vile beast after it and Dedede had admitted to messing with their psyche for close to the length of her entire life really set her off.

All that being said, she still made a mental note that kicking at something which was hard and metallic with an unprotected foot that was significantly less hard was definitely a dumb idea. Doing something of that caliber was more befitting of her idiot brother Bun, really.

"As I was going to say before this pesky girl rudely interrupted my speech, all of this happened about a decade ago. A lengthy span of time to you mere mortals, but like the blink of an eye to me," Slice n' Splice recounted, its irises rolling upwards—green dots suspended in a sea of velvet red—as it accessed its memory banks for details of that fateful day. "Never have I had greater pleasure than to be the one to mete out the punishment of what is indisputably one of Lord Nightmare's most useless creations…"

There was a palpable silence as everyone waited for Slice n' Splice to speak. But when he did, no one expected the words that would come out of his vocal processor.

"Hickory, dickory, dock," it hummed with a processed tone, voice devoid of any emotion. "The mouse went up the clock…"

Just then, Lololo and Lalala blinked and glanced at each other, the two flying helpers beginning to visualize a faint memory from a time long past tugging at both of their synapses.


Ten years ago, hundreds of light years away…

"Phew! That oughta do it…"

Said voice then switched to a proud, haughty tone as the speaker gloated good-naturedly. "Hah! Did you really think you could stump me? Good try, but I'm the puzzle champion! You'll have to do better than that!"

The tiny round 'monster'—by name only, as he looked more like a plush toy and was arguably as threatening as one too—grunted as he nimbly pushed a shiny green block in front of a stone statue.

With the Medusa statue blocked, he would be able to avoid its line of sight and walk through the obstacle safely, nabbing the last Heart Container to claim the jewel box for himself. Truthfully, the purple orb could simply fly over it to avoid being detected regardless, but there was no fun in taking the easy way out.

He wiped a trickle of sweat off his brow as he unlatched the jewel box and took the lustrous gem kept within. Holding it up to the ceiling, the exit door to the room that he was currently in swerved opened.

Just another day in the life of the Framer Demon Beast, Lola.

He whistled as he approached the exit door, readying himself for yet another puzzle that would test his wits. It was a mundane task, but really, what else could he do? Unlike many of the others who greatly enjoyed their primary job, being a demon beast just wasn't a role which was cut out for him.

Lola recalled being told once before that he had been created for the sole purpose of experimenting with an event that had taken place at the climax of a great war fought out eons ago. He was not privy to any of the details however, summarily tossed into his new life with barely any knowledge of how the world worked and expected to survive nonetheless.

That said, his creator hadn't given up on him entirely. As such, ever since a few months ago, he had been tossed into a training labyrinth and forced to tackle an onslaught of increasingly brutal puzzles. They were challenging at first, but over time he'd slowly gotten used to it all — fire-breathing dragons, monsters which fell asleep permanently upon a single touch that could be positioned in a way which blocked off escape routes, those pesky Medusas, and all.

At least the Snakeys were harmless, a silver lining in the constant turmoil that was his daily life.

Just as Lola strolled forward to exit the room, a door hidden in the side wall swung open without warning. The unexpected movement shocked the poor purple beast as he promptly fell on his back and rolled over one complete revolution due to his spherical shape. Hesitantly getting back onto his feet, he warily acknowledged the intruder who had coolly strutted in from the newly created entrance.

"Who are you?" he asked, pointing a shaky finger at the mechanical intruder, "How did you get in… no wait, what are you doing here?"

"Kit-ta-ri… hat-ta-ri," it responded, pointing at itself with a moon-shaped staff that it held in its glossy arm.

Lola furrowed his brow. "Ok-ay…?" he muttered, confused.

The robot narrowed its eyes when it heard Lola's vexation and proceeded to abruptly chant the first verse of a nursery rhyme at him. "Hickory, dickory, dock…"

Lola quirked his head, completely befuddled by the newcomer's actions. 'Hickory Dickory Dock'? Why the children's nursery rhyme? Just what was it blabbering about?

"…the monster flew up the clock…"

This time, Lola raised a brow as he heard the verse.

"…the clock struck one…" it continued, causing Lola to instinctively look at his gloved wrist, the round mauve-colored ball clicking his tongue when he remembered that he wasn't wearing a watch.

The robot appeared impassive at Lola's mistake, continuing on and ignoring his faux pas. "…the Lola fell down…"

Lola gave the robotic beast an annoyed look. "Excuse me?" he mouthed.

"…hickory, dickory, dock," it concluded, taking a bow before grumpily straightening up when he saw Lola's stony expression.

"Do you, like, expect me to give you a standing ovation for that?"

"Sass me all you want," the robot deadpanned. "You still don't get it, Lola? Let me spell it out for you then. I'm afraid that your time is up," it said cryptically, before proceeding to lean down, quadruple leg joints hydraulically bending down so that it could hiss to Lola in a wry voice.

"You have been officially summoned to the command center."

The purple demon beast gasped upon hearing the mechanical robot's drone-like announcement, fidgeting with his blond hair as he fought the urge to tear his spiky strands apart. Those were the words which no demon beast ever wanted to hear. "M-me? T-to the… c-command center?" Lola managed to stutter in fright.

Everyone knew about the command center. The command center of Holy Nightmare Corporation was a tall tower which was at least a hundred meters high, accentuated by eight diagonal supporting pillars and located in the very heart of the megastructure. It was incredibly well-protected, conveniently poised in a position that made it nearly impossible for any intruder to break through without getting pulverized from both land and air — an inner stronghold within an already fortified fortress. The crystalline-colored tower served as the center of operations for the entirety of Holy Nightmare, a control hub where the eponymous Nightmare himself could oversee daily affairs and intervene if he deemed fit.

In short, outside of official business, no demon beast ever wanted to be summoned there.

Lola had no idea why he was being brought to the command center of Holy Nightmare Corporation, but he already knew in his heart and from the tone of the guard that had given him the news that it wasn't likely to be anything positive — he doubted that he was being sent there to collect a prize.

Today looked like it wasn't going to be a good day after all.

The guard must have noticed that he was backing away, because the next thing Lola knew, he saw that a long shadow had been cast over his body, the shade looming over him like a bad omen. "You cannot refuse." The robot droned as it casually raised the staff, the tip of which was decorated with a crescent moon. It stepped forward and pointed the sickle-shaped blade at Lola's neck, the threat very clear. "I have been ordered to use lethal force if you resist. Comply and come quietly, or face the consequences."

Lola obliged with a gulp. He trudged along reluctantly, unable to muster the strength to fly. Not that he would have flew even if he could — which person in their right mind would hurry to their own execution?

It was tantamount to an execution anyway. Being summoned to the superior's office felt like that, especially when said superior had complete and absolute power over you.

"Why are you taking me to the command center, anyway?" Lola eventually demanded, his voice grouchy.

The robot did its best imitation of a shrug, causing Lola to sigh. It appeared that his escort had no clue either.

A few minutes later, Lola was marched onto an elevator. As the elevator rapidly ascended upwards, he allowed himself a cursory glance at the marvelous sight below him.

It was a pretty view of lights surrounding reinforced titanium metal, stretching as far as the eye could see — beautiful, yet cold and sterile. Dead. Not for the first time, Lola found himself pondering as to why this was the life he had been born into.

To this day, he still had no answer.

When he and his guard reached his destination, he was forced out of the elevator with a shove from the robot escort. Before he could retort, he was immediately greeted by a polite voice.

"Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in."

Lola's eyes bugged out. "C-Customer Service!" he exclaimed.

There was not a single demon beast around who didn't know Customer Service by name or sight. The diminutive public face of the company might appear relatively weak and puny as compared to his contemporaries, but the smartly-dressed man had defied the odds with the help of his charming words and quick wits, quickly rising up the echelons of Holy Nightmare until no one could deny that he was indisputably Nightmare's number two, even if Nightmare himself had never officially conferred him the title.

"I must say, it is a pleasure to see you again." Customer Service placed a cube of sugar into his beverage and stirred his cup of coffee, taking a sip of the caffeinated drink as his eyes regarded the newcomer who had just been thrown into the operations room. "What do you have to say for yourself, Lola?"

"I-I swear that I'm improving!" Lola stuttered, trying to keep the nervous tremble out of his quivering voice. "I managed to clear an entire floor worth of puzzle rooms today, sir!"

Customer Service removed his drink from his lips, merely shaking his head in bemusement. "Settle down. There's no need to get your pants in a twist. If you're so confident about your progress, then how about you tell that to the boss…" he offered, using his hand to swig the mug towards the back of the room.

"Indeed." A reverberant voice rang out, immediately causing Lola's blood to freeze. Even the robot guard, who had been leering and taunting Lola throughout, immediately fell into a respectful bow when his audio processors discerned the newcomer.

No one could mistake that voice. It was Nightmare, the progenitor and creator of all demon beasts, also known as the CEO of Holy Nightmare Corporation and #1 on the list of people whom one did not want to anger. Wreathed in darkness as he lingered around a darkened corner of the operations hub, the cloaked Nightmare slowly raised a skeletal finger at Lola, the crooked appendage the only visible part of his body that left the black shadows which seemed to swallow him entirely.

"You disappoint me, Lola." The four words curtly fell from Nightmare's lips, causing a chill to run down Lola's spine. The darkness engulfed the man completely, giving him a truly intimidating edge even though he remained unseen by his subordinates. "Since I have completely crushed the Galaxy Soldier Army, I was thinking that I would be able to succeed in claiming their final trump card in a most posthumous fashion…"

Nightmare's eyes flashed, revealing the outline of an inky black visor surrounding the man's face for a split second before he proceeded to lash out at the hapless Lola. "But it is all for naught, because you're useless… absolutely useless!" he shouted, losing his calm and collected edge in a rare display of brashness. He then inhaled, toning his voice down before continuing forth. "You can't do anything malevolent, you worthless cretin."

The harsh condemnation rang throughout the command center. Even though the internal PA system wasn't on, everyone who happened to be nearby knew that some poor chap was getting their butt kicked by Nightmare and wanted to stay far, far away from the scene.

Fearing for his life, Lola fell to his knees, clasping his hands together as he choked out a desperate plea for mercy. "Please! Lord Nightmare, I beg you! One more chance… just one more chance! I swear, I won't disappoint you… I promise!"

Nightmare cackled at Lola's fervent plea, before further extending his bony finger outwards from the blackness which veiled him. "I already have given you a second chance," he stated bluntly, causing Lola's heart to sink, especially when he carried on, "and that is already far more than I'm usually willing to grant to my subordinates." His voice turned sour, his pitch lowering even further. "You were supposed to be my salvation — Gamble Galaxy would have finally been under my control with you in my possession! But then something went wrong, and now all you can do is possess some mild critical thinking skills and hover around aimlessly."

Out of nowhere, Nightmare retracted the finger he had been pointing at Lola, balling the digit into a fist which he then slammed into the wall out of resentment. Everyone scrambled for cover as the impact caused the entire command center to shake.

"Your position in my organization is pitiful and valueless. You're not even considered an asset worth keeping — I have no use for a novice strategist within my ranks when I have an entire wing of intelligence gatherers who are much more efficient at their job." Nightmare had lowered his voice as he cruelly made his thoughts on Lola bluntly known. The megalomaniac was still simmering, but a dangerous aura now radiated from his concealed figure. "You only have yourself to blame. I have very high standards, and all who do not meet them shall be disposed of like trash."

Lola darted his eyes about unnervingly, suppressing his fight-or-flight instinct. He knew that Nightmare would certainly kill him—very painfully, too—if he were to flee in the middle of his lecture.

"To quote an example, have you heard of Yamikage?" Nightmare asked, his voice booming as something that almost sounded like glee entered his words. "Now he set the bar high. I recruited that ninja as a double agent in the height of my scuffle with the Galaxy Soldier Army, tempting him away from those foolish do-gooders with an offer which he accepted quite readily. It was an investment well worth the price, as Yamikage has since contributed much to Holy Nightmare. I'll wager that his value in my organization is worth more than a pawn in this game of cat-and-mouse. Unlike you."

The last two words were emphasized, spewed out of Nightmare's mouth with disgust. The villain paused as he watched Lola cower in terror, a sly hitch in his mouth as Nightmare finally decided to quit beating about the bush and punish the failed experiment accordingly.

"You have failed me for the last time, Lola."

Nightmare relished the abject horror on Lola's face before giving the failed creation his sentence. "I assure you, I will learn from the mistakes that I've made with you. You can take solace in the fact that your descendant will not have to suffer the same pitiful fate which now awaits you…"

Nope.

Nope, nope, nope.

He wasn't just going to stand there and take this. Damned if you do, damned if you don't… but he was practically dead anyway, so what difference did it make? Quite frankly, the ones who had absolutely nothing left to lose were the most dangerous and unpredictable creatures of them all.

Letting out a primal cry, Lola attempted to escape by taking off to the air. The spherical purple beast actually managed to remain airborne for a paltry two seconds before reality ensued.

"You ungrateful scamp! You dare defy me!?"

Nightmare promptly sent out a barrage of razor-sharp energy stars at him, five-pointed star outlines which were colored a pale variety of every color that there was under the color spectrum.

"Arrrgghhhhhh!"

Lola quickly learnt that the attack was deceptively unremarkable. They were significantly more deadly than how they initially appeared, which was admittedly quite appropriate for a move that had been unleashed by the King of Darkness himself. The stream of stars which Nightmare had let loose hit him dead center and left multiple gashes on his body, courtesy of the sharpened points as the stars rapidly spun about.

Finally unable to take the pain as more and more projectiles struck him, Lola fell out of the storm of stars, collapsing to the ground as Nightmare let out an amused chuckle, halting the attack that he had discharged from his index finger. "So you actually have the guts to go against me, Lola? I suppose I can scrub 'being a spineless worm' off of your list of flaws," he said curtly, voice darkening. "But unfortunately for you, it is too little, too late…"

Lola managed to pull his face off the hard ground, using all of his energy to look at the darkened corner of the room where Nightmare dwelled.

"…and thus, your fate is now sealed, you miserable whelp! I'll be sure to make an example out of you, Lola! Muhahahaha!"

He managed to let out a groan, rolling on his back as he peered up to the ceiling. He hadn't had the energy to do anything else. Squinting his eyes shut, Lola let a tear fall as he accepted his cruel fate.

Until a savior came in the form of a most unlikely source.

"Well, it looks like you happen to be in luck."

Lola opened his eyes and turned his blurry vision towards Customer Service, who proceeded to flash that smarmy smirk which was on his face ninety percent of the time. He shot one last grin to Lola before twirling around to address his boss. "Sir, I've just got a memo that King Dedede of Planet Popstar is requesting for a new demon beast." His sunglasses glinted as he chortled, shooting a glance over to the helpless Lola. "With your permission, I think we can kill two birds in one stone."

"Yes," Nightmare concurred, a cruel chuckle permeating the area as he directed a glare at the offending Lola. "Instead of condemning you to death, now I have a far worse fate planned for you."

All of a sudden, Lola wasn't sure if he had been saved after all. It was probably the sneer he could hear in Nightmare's voice that caused his heart to sink.

"KittariHattari. Slice n' Splice," Nightmare referred to the mechanical demon beast by both names, making it clear that they were aliases.

The robot immediately went taut, sharply saluting as he sent his superior a salutation. "Lord Nightmare, sir! To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Nightmare laughed, a chilling cackle that caused Lola to shiver. "Since you're so useless, I've decided to divide your impotency. Yes, giving him two in a combination package should keep that fool Dedede sated for now…" he murmured before barking out an order. "Slice n' Splice. Divide Lola into two so that I can sell him off for double the price!"

Lola felt a sense of panic grip him. Divide me into… two!?

A shadow fell over his face, causing Lola to shield his eyes before he could analyze the statement further. "It looks like it's curtains for you after all." He recognized that as the robot–no, as Slice n' Splice's monotonous voice. "Your time has run out, peasant."

Although his broken body refused to obey his attempts to flee, Lola was still able to beg. "Please…" he whimpered.

The demon beast simply glowered ruthlessly at his soon-to-be victim. "Hickory, dickory, dock…" it chanted in a haunting voice as though the words were a mantra, raising the moon staff that it had been holding all this time up to the ceiling.

Though his ears were ringing, Lola could still perceive the sound of Customer Service and Nightmare laughing at his plight.

I-I don't want to be cut in half! Someone… anyone… please help me!

His desperate plea went unheard.

"…this mouse's time is up!"

Lola saw the sharpened blade fall upon him and squeezed his eyes shut for the final time.


"Lololo!"

His other half gripped him tightly, a fervent tone in her voice as she looked him in the eye. "Do you…?"

"…remember? Yep, I sure do! The nursery rhyme which Slice n' Splice just hummed was a trigger phrase for that memory…" Lololo confirmed, rubbing his forehead. "…the moment that jerk said the words in the verse, I can clearly remember the chaos that went down in the command center."

He left out the part where he could remember nothing but their execution day. After all, if he could only recall so much, it stood to reason that Lalala wouldn't have any other recollection either.

"So that's why we've always resonated well with one another…" Lalala started forlornly, a shy smile on her face as she held her counterpart's hand.

Lololo held her like she was his lifeline, seamlessly continuing off where Lalala had left off. "…and it's not because we're cousins or siblings or twins…"

"…it's because we're one person, Lola!" they both chimed as one.

The poignant moment was ruined when they heard a clanging sound, narrowing the noise to Slice n' Splice stepping towards them with an expression of incredulity. "So you do remember, eh?" it sneered, "How delightful, Lola! I can't wait to destroy you once more after our little ten-year hiatus, you useless excuse of a demon beast!"

Lololo and Lalala scowled simultaneously. "How about no?" they both retorted to the robot almost instantaneously.

"How cute," Slice n' Splice casually twirled the sun staff around. "The two of you talking in unison like that… it's almost like you're back together again," it said, narrowing its eyes.

Captain Waddle Doo raised his broadsword, aiming it at the moss green robot in a blatant show of defiance. "Oi! Tell your demon beast to rein it in, your majesty! This is outrageous!"

Fumu felt her heart soar when she saw Waddle Doo take her family's side in spite of being Dedede's infantry commander. As she had butted heads with him before, Fumu knew that even though Waddle Doo wasn't as extreme as Escargon, to her great displeasure he was stubbornly loyal and almost never went against Dedede.

But it appeared that even the hardened soldier had a soft spot for Lololo and Lalala — arguably in lieu of the fact that all three of them were indentured servants.

"Perhaps you'd like to know what it's like to be cut into two?" Slice n' Splice purred, scraping his two staffs against each other like a butcher sharpening their knives.

Waddle Doo flinched, but stood his ground. "Do your worst, robot scum," he challenged, single eye unwavering.

"Captain Waddle Doo! What is the meaning of this insubordination?" Dedede howled furiously, belly bulging as he yelled. "The left hand isn't supposed to attack the right hand! You may be the brigade commander, but you have no right to talk down to my demon beast!"

Bandana Dee prepared to strut towards his new superior in a show of support, but Kirby subtly held him back. "Hold up, Bandana," Kirby whispered. "Looks like he's managing fake King quite well. Let your Waddle Doo captain handle it, okay?"

Just as Bandana nodded, Kirby heard a cough coming from his back. The puffball turned around, only to see his chalk-white counterpart impatiently tapping his foot.

"Poyo," he said wryly. I abhor distractions. We haven't finished our conversation, have we? Let's get down to business…

Kirby was smarter than to take the bait. He huffed and ignored him, instead paying attention to Waddle Doo and alternate Dedede each shouting at the other.

"Don't make me mad, Waddle Doo! I'm the only thing standing between you being sliced apart like a banana split!"

"With all due respect, your majesty, you can tell that demon beast of yours to shove it," Waddle Doo glowered. "It could have simply terrorized Cappy Town and caused general mayhem like all the others… I'm saying it didn't have to make things personal!"

"Poyooo…"

Oh, wait… that last one wasn't from either of the two.

Giving me the silent treatment? Now that's rather uncalled for. Tsk, tsk… how rude. I mean, here I was, just about to give you a snazzy little tip. And yet, you choose to treat me like this?

Kirby found his curiosity piqued at the other puffball's words, turning his head ever so slightly in the other puff's direction as he mumbled out another poyo.

You're awfully carefree, you know? You should be on guard. I mean, wouldn't it be a shame if my other half showed up right about now?

Kirby widened his eyes, whirling around at his split-half counterpart. Right as their eyes locked, chalk-Carby stealthily hid behind a mask of faux idiocy in response, feigning ignorance and taking refuge in audacity. Namely, he willfully took full advantage of the fact that people were too distracted of the robotic demon beast and the fact that there were two Kirbies to scrutinize his actions closely.

That shrewd, conniving little puffball. Kirby almost respected him.

The worst part was that chalk-Carby had a point. The whole façade would fall apart if his alternate counterpart's other half were to come waltzing in — surely the Mr. Shine and Mr. Bright wielding monster only remembered splitting a Kirby into two.

So if three were to appear, questions would be raised. Questions which Kirby did not want to answer anytime soon.

Kirby grit his jaw. The milky white puffball's tone had gone far too smug for his liking. A look of amusement was etched on chalk-Carby's face. He appeared to be taking the whole thing like a joke.

Nevertheless, he signaled Bandana Dee to follow him while everyone else was distracted by the impending brawl. Bandana saw Kirby's gesture and gave a not-so-coy shrug in return.

The duo slinked away silently, using the cover of the argument to leave the area unnoticed. Right as they turned the corner, Kirby and Bandana gave the other a sigh of relief, knowing that they've succeeded in giving the others the slip.

"That was… surprisingly easy," Kirby deadpanned. "I almost thought I would have to turn into Ninja Kirby to get away from them."

Bandana agreed with a satisfied grin. "I concur! I guess they were all distracted by not-Great King reprimanding Captain Waddle Doo." He then looked apologetic, fervently gripping onto the handle of his spear as he started climbing down a set of stairs. "I feel sorry for him…"

"It's okay to feel that way. I personally think that he's really brave to stand up to fake Dedede like that." Kirby's eyes hardened. "But don't forget that the individual who is ultimately culpable for this mess is that robot."

"Someone who attacks by splitting their enemies apart…" Bandana trailed off, taking the lack of witnesses to finally get off what had been pestering his mind. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Kirby?"

Despite the grim situation, Kirby allowed himself a chuckle as he left the stairwell and ended up on a lower floor. "Be a tad bit more specific, Dee. Are we talking about Dark Meta Knight or Necrodeus here?"

"Well… Great King told me that Dark Meta Knight did it with his sword, so I suppose that's more relevant to what's currently happening here… but I must admit that I was not physically there when the original Dimension Mirror incident took place," Bandana admitted abashedly. "You know, when you were split apart into four different Kirbies five years ago?"

"To be fair, Dedede wasn't there when it all went down either. Meta Knight probably told him later." Kirby then paused, placing his hand to his jaw as he mused. "Hm… Dark Meta Knight… split up into different Kirbies… I wonder…"

Bandana furrowed his brow. "Wonder what, Kirby?" he asked, quirking his head.

"Oh, nothing. I'm probably just overthinking things," Kirby shook his head. "Still, I can't help but admit that this whole ordeal just seems so familiar. All that said, I never want to go through the horror of being split into four again. The person who best knows how to mess with you… is yourself," he confessed with a shudder. "I can't even begin to tell you how many times they ghosted my calls when I desperately needed them by my side," Kirby groaned, taking out a small pink flip phone for good measure. "Yikes…"

Bandana quickened his pace to catch up with Kirby, who was walking briskly. "Not a good time?"

Kirby dragged his feet, letting out a sigh as he pocketed the phone. "Not at all, Bandana. It wasn't fun, and I don't expect you to comprehend why I feel this way. I don't mean to offend you, but you just won't be able to understand the torment of seeing another you taunt yourself by showing up with some fancy ability like UFO." Kirby involuntarily clenched his hands, grumbling under his breath. "Stupid Green Kirby… always steals my good powerups."

"Wait… Green Kirby?" Bandana echoed.

"Yep. Green Kirby. Persistent lil' tryhard always wanted to prove that he was the best out of all of us," Kirby said, before zipping his mouth shut when he saw his friend doubling over in laughter.

"What's wrong, Bandana?" The corners of Kirby's mouth threatened to break into an infectious smile. "Can't picture me as any color other than my pristine shade of taffy pink?"

Bandana shyly nodded his head. He simply couldn't imagine his best friend as anything other than pink. It was simply inconceivable.

"Heh. That's amusing," he chortled, pleasantly surprised by Bandana's answer. "You see, back when I wasn't as skilled with managing and controlling Copy Abilities, inhaling certain abilities would actually meddle with my skin color."

Bandana blinked at him. "Really?"

"Yep. Ice would turn me an azure blue, Beam would make me a sunny yellow, Plasma would coat me a dazzling shade of malachite green—"

Kirby suddenly trailed off, nearly biting his tongue in shock. "…just like Carby!" he exclaimed in excitement. "I just remembered! He was colored that exact hue of green when he transformed into Spark Carby to fight against Kracko! Oh man, this might be big!"

"Does that mean anything in the long run though?" Bandana queried, waiting until Kirby had calmed down before posing the question to him.

"It might… though I'm not actually sure myself." Kirby admitted, filing the knowledge away for now. Just more evidence for him to compile until he built his case.

Although honestly, at the rate this was going, he could probably just close the case already. A pro bono defense lawyer wouldn't be able to save his opponent from his onslaught when he let this literal mountain of evidence loose on them. No flurry of frenzied objections could save them, no siree!

The sound of their footsteps clacking against the tiled ground were suddenly drowned out by a cool voice reverberating from downwind, the voice echoing from beyond the corner of the corridor.

"I highly recommend for you to throw in the towel and quietly come with us, hero of the lower world! Surely even you can tell that the odds are against you! This is now two-against-one!"

Bandana gasped, his eyes expanding. "I recognize that voice! It's Taranza!"

"…Taranza?" Kirby almost performed a double-take.

The de facto Floralian ruler who'd unintentionally gotten yanked into this world when Kirby had been forced to activate the Dimension Mirror in a bid to escape? "What's that guy doing here in the castle? And from the sound of things, it appears as though he's talking to someone as well," Kirby mumbled in disbelief, unable to believe what he was hearing. Wasn't Taranza the one who had been tenacious and constantly on edge about maintaining the lack of interaction between both worlds?

So why was Taranza disregarding and going against the very stance which he'd obstinately preached to him and Bandana? That was very unlike the normally shrewd and forward-thinking arachnid…

The scared voice of a little girl rang out next. "Ki-Kirby will never give in to someone like y-you!"

Kirby and Bandana shot the other a knowing glance. That settled it, then. The other half of the split Carby was right here, in this very wing of the castle.

Taking care to remain unseen, Kirby poked his head around the corner so as to get a closer look. He regretted doing so almost immediately — the sight which greeted his eyes was not a pleasant one. Taranza had his back to him, but that was the least of Kirby's concerns. A gaping hole in the wall at the far end of the corridor was a hint that things had not gone well here, and the fact that Taranza was twirling a sword in one of his hands—the glinting blade juxtaposed against the drab, dimly-lit walls—while staring down a puffball who was colored a distinct magenta hue was yet another clue that things had gone catastrophically wrong.

With a jolt of familiarity, Kirby spotted the three young Cappies who had dragged him to play a game of hide-and-seek on the first day that he'd arrived here. They were now huddling together in support, leaning back against the side wall. Frankly, Kirby didn't blame them. The three looked very ill-equipped to deal with the craziness that he'd had to deal with on a daily basis as Dream Land's eternal hero. Those poor, unfortunate souls should've stayed safely behind at home.

Kirby's gaze then wandered over to Webby, his faithful partner who had his personality shaped the moment the puffball had hit the Como with a Friend Heart. He supposed that the Sword Knight who was trapped in a silk pod was Webby's doing, then.

Frankly, Kirby was genuinely surprised that Webby and Taranza were together, and if he were to be honest, he felt a pang of envy. After all, all four of them had been separated when Taranza had accidentally knocked them into the planet's atmosphere. What were the chances that they had ended up together while he and Bandana were flung apart?

"Who's that other guy, anyway?"

Kirby clicked his tongue as he heard Iroo's boyish voice. Yep, this was definitely what he'd call interaction. There was no way around it — the way that Iroo had phrased his question, it could only have been posed to Taranza.

"Didn't you hear me say his name earlier? This fine lad is my Como chieftain, Webby," he heard Taranza answer, a hint of pride in his voice. "But to you kids, I suppose you can simply refer to him as my reinforcement."

But before anyone could say anything, Webby marched forward to Carby, who instinctively held a defensive stance. "How dare you, Kirby!" Webby started, his pincers opening and closing in rapid succession as he proceeded to blow his gasket. The Como looked positively riled up, causing Kirby to be taken aback — not once had Kirby ever remembered seeing Webby this furious before.

Webby then breathed in heavily before continuing to ramble, gesturing around wildly with his six upper limbs as he paced about. "You've been gallivanting around this alternate Dream Land for all this time and now is the first time that you even attempt to try and explain yourself!? To my boss and not to my face, no less?"

That was when it struck Kirby.

He didn't know.

Webby didn't realize Carby wasn't 'him'! And judging by the looks of things, Taranza hadn't noticed either. They'd both confused his alternate counterpart for the real deal!

Kirby grinned. This was a potentially huge development. Needless to say, it was worth keeping up the façade for a little while longer — he did not wish to fight Taranza one-on-one. That would be a spectacular, albeit devastating showdown that would probably cause lasting collateral damage to the battleground and its surrounding areas.

"You really have a propensity to have trouble following you wherever you go. That was exactly why I went through a considerable amount of trouble to seek you out." Taranza rubbed the back of his injured palm with another hand as he joined his second-in-command in glaring daggers at purple-Carby. "Always trying to help others in need. It stands to reason that you wouldn't be able to leave this planet without a little… push."

Kirby sniggered, using his free hands to hold in his boisterous laughter. Taranza wasn't exactly wrong about that statement, per se.

Taranza shifted his eyes from the Cappies to Webby and back to the sword-wielding puffball, extending the arm holding the sword out and admiring the blade as he spoke to who he assumed was Kirby, but in actuality was Carby. "Last chance, Kirby. You can't beat us both, so it looks like we're back to the hostage situation with those Cappies. Come quietly with us, or else. And although I'm loathe to attack children…" He focused his attention to Iroo, Honey, and Hohhe, "…my lieutenant is an infantry commander and has significantly less qualms about it."

After Taranza made his threat, no one so much as dared to say a word. The atmosphere in the castle was now tumultuous and turbulent, so much so that even despite the godforsaken time, not one person was anywhere close to snoozing off. The Cappies were all jolted awake, suffocating from the cold and heavy air that seemed like it was crushing them from pure tension alone.

"The ends justify the means." Webby finally broke the uncomfortable silence as he agreed with a nod, though he averted his eyes slightly.

As though those words were a trigger, Bandana finally picked his jaw up from the floor. "Taranza's actually going to attack those poor children?" he asked. His knuckles went white as he gripped his spear tightly, getting ready to launch a Spear Throw attack. "Th-that's terrible!"

Kirby shook his head. "He's bluffing," he said immediately, before finding himself forced to explain things to a concerned Waddle Dee when Bandana remained unconvinced. "Look. I know Taranza. He would never harm an innocent bystander or delegate a task to someone who's unwilling. Take Webby, for instance," Kirby gestured at the Como, "he wouldn't harm a fly unless he's explicitly ordered to do so. Basically, Taranza is lying about threatening to do those kids in, he's just trying to force Carby's hand using deception — Master of Puppetry, remember?" he sagely quoted Taranza's formal title as Bandana let his shoulders sag, loosening his grip on his trusty spear.

"Isn't that going a little too far just for an act?" Bandana mumbled. "This sounds like a really, really desperate move to me. Even Great King wouldn't resort to this!"

"Forgetting about Revenge of the King there, Bandana? I did push Dedede into a corner with that one!" Kirby teased. "But you are right about one thing. Taranza is desperate." He patted Bandana in support, his voice lowering an octave. "We have to settle this now before he snaps and does something drastic. If he were to possess them like he did to Dedede in our final showdown at Royal Road, I…" he tapered off, unable to finish. "Anyway," Kirby changed the topic, "saving those children is our top priority… we have to evacuate them!"

Bandana gave a nod so firm that his bandana popped off before it gently fluttered back onto his head. "How should we do that, Kirby?"

"Simple, Bandana. You distract Taranza and Webby…" he answered, before running back down the corridor and stopping by a knight statue. Kirby then inhaled the sword that the statue was holding, transforming into Sword Kirby.

"…and now that I have the Sword Ability, I think it's time for a little sneaky switcheroo!" Sword Kirby grinned, adjusting his green cap. "Not to brag, but I do think that I'm more suited for handling Taranza's ire."

Bandana gave a thumbs-up, though he followed it up by quirking at Kirby in confusion. "But how are you going to switch yourself with Carby? Wouldn't he be able to tell that you two are inherently different?"

"For starters, if neither he nor Webby had noticed that anything was amiss up till now, I doubt they will now. Besides, Webby is a Como, so he doesn't have the best eyesight… it comes with the cost of being part of the arachnid family. I'm banking on the fact that he won't notice the minute differences between the two of us."

Bandana relaxed. "What about Taranza, then?"

"Hmph, that's simple." Kirby chuckled mischievously. "He won't even notice the subtle color change. Taranza once told me that his eyes have evolved to capture more blue light due to living in a palace where the surroundings are ethereally night." He pointed his sword to the ceiling. "In this dim corridor, the lighting conditions simulate that of Royal Road's, so to Taranza, my shade of pink will look like half-Carby's pale purple — pink and blue meshed together makes purple, after all. Adeleine taught me that!" he giggled, smiling fondly at the memory.

Bandana could only gape at Kirby. He didn't think that there would be an actual explanation. Gosh, Kirby was really smart.

"As for how we're going to switch places, that's your job, Bandana. A Waddle Dee with a bandana popping by will be far less suspicious than another Kirby," he said, laughing heartily. "Get everyone to follow you—inclusive of Carby, of course—and I'll use their escape as cover to confront Taranza and Webby. They'll both think that I'm Carby and that I've made a U-turn, so I'll be able to stall them while all of you make your getaway."

Bandana gazed around nervously, but otherwise said nothing. Taking his silence as an agreement, Kirby beckoned him to the corner of the corridor, just out of sight of Taranza and his lackey. "On three."

"One…"

"Two…"

"…three!"

A spear went flying through the air, the tip sinking into the hand which Taranza was using to hold his sword.

"Gragh!" he cried, weapon clattering to the ground as the arachnid whipped around. "Who the—"

Eyes went wide in understanding. "You…!" Taranza hissed.

Bandana waved nervously in response.

Taranza ripped the spear out of his hand with a wince, letting it clatter to the ground. "Where did you get that spear!?" he fumed, "I thought you'd lost it!"

Instead of answering, Bandana let out a whistle to the Cappies and beckoned them towards the end of the corridor.

Far too late did Taranza realize what was going on. "You… geh!" he instinctively prepped a Taranza Ball, but because his top two arms were injured—one by Kirby, and one by Bandana—the attack fizzled out unspectacularly.

The three Cappies immediately seized their chance. Though they weren't too fond of Waddle Dees because of King Dedede, they scrambled over to their savior.

Blade also took the opportunity to roll Sword away, spinning the pod that the knight was trapped in around like a barrel despite Sword's muffled protests as Blade fled.

And seeing everyone fly the coop, Sword Carby did the same as well.

"Don't you dare!" Taranza shrilled, his voice livid. "Come back here!"

The outcome of his request was a no-brainer — not a single person obliged. They rounded the corner, following the Waddle Dee who had irrevocably come to save them.

And just as he'd told Bandana, Kirby used their getaway as subterfuge. He hid behind the knight statue that he had pilfered from earlier, only stepping out when the others were all safely out of sight.

Alright, there was no going around this now. It was time for a long overdue chat with an overeager spider.

He poked his head around the corner, only to snicker when he saw Taranza berating Webby.

"Why didn't you do anything!? Now Kirby's escaped, and even worse, those Cappies got away with valuable information! I know I told them a fair bit about me, but I only did it as a gambit so that Kirby would take this seriously. I did tell them that no one is likely to believe them because they're kids, but I told them all of that in the first place in hope of forcing Kirby to his senses… gah, I'm such a moron!" Taranza looked so dejected as he whined that Kirby couldn't help but feel sorry for him.

"What did you expect me to do, sir?" Webby cried indignantly. "I was caught off guard as well! I haven't even so much as caught a glimpse of Bandana Dee since I've arrived here!"

Taranza grabbed onto his curved horns out of frustration. "I dunno, get after them or something! Even that Blade Knight managed to use Bandana's distraction to get away with his friend! And to add insult to injury, he was injured, his armor's dented, and his Sword Knight friend was trapped in multiple layers of thick webbing! How did he manage to limp away when you and I were distracted? That's utterly inexcusable!"

Webby looked at the ground apologetically. "Sorry, sir… I had a long day. Used up all of my energy earlier. Geez, I almost ended up as a giant bird's snack…"

"Oh, whatever. There's no point crying over spilt milk," Taranza grumbled. "Let's just come up with a plan to salvage this travesty—"

"Well…" Kirby drawled, walking towards the two of them with an impish twinkle in his eye, "instead of racking your brains and wasting your time pondering about all that, you could instead try looking behind you."

Both arachnids spun around, glaring at the puffball nonchalantly strolling in their direction.

"…Kirby." The word fell like a curse from Taranza's fangs.

He regarded Taranza cautiously. "Yes?"

"Let me preface this conversation by saying that you're a jerk."

Ouch. Blunt and to the point.

"Thanks for the compliment, Taranza," Kirby's voice was pensive, although his expression was serene.

"You don't understand!" Taranza cried, his voice choked with emotion even though he was struggling to remain cool. "You're still treating this whole thing like a joke even though it's anything but!"

Kirby shrugged, an apologetic look crossing his face. "Is this for accidentally launching you to this alternate Popstar? I mean, I'm truly sorry for that. But really, can you blame me for being curious?"

"Curiosity killed the cat," the beleaguered Taranza muttered, glaring at Kirby as he spat the sour remark.

"…but satisfaction brought it back," Kirby countered, completing the adage as Taranza spluttered, his cough a mix between amusement and agitation.

"Kirby!" Taranza fumed, squinting as he swooped over to Kirby. The nerve of that Kirby… the hero of the lower world had refuted him immediately. "Why you… that's not what I meant in the slightest, you petulant little punk!"

"Ye-yeah!" Webby spoke up, pumping a limb up to the ceiling. "What Taranza said!"

Taranza glanced at the shaky spider, letting out an exhausted sigh. "Webby," he muttered, causing the Como to jump to attention. "I'll handle Kirby. You retrieve Bandana Dee."

Webby saluted with a leg, before scurrying off in the direction that the Cappies had run off earlier.

"Aren't you going to go after Commander Webby, Kirby?" Taranza asked after his subordinate had rounded the corner and ran out of sight.

Kirby tightened his grip on his sword. "Between you and him, I'd say that you're the bigger threat to those children. And besides, I have faith in Bandana to protect them. Nice try, Taranza, but I'm staying here!"

"Hmph! Like this was ever about those clueless kids." Taranza shook his head, before letting a growl escape his throat. "You have some nerve, Kirby. Trying to drag children into this little game of ours by deliberately befriending them…"

"Right back at ya, pal," the puffball shot back. "Why even attack children in the first place? Have you stooped that low, Taranza? You didn't even go to that extent when you were taking orders from Sectonia!" he accused, knowing that casually name dropping his former ruler in-conversation would send Taranza into a frenzy.

And indeed, it did just that. Taranza had to suck in deep breaths just to avoid an outburst. "It is exactly because of Sectonia!" he finally admitted with a swipe of his sword. "She was thoroughly corrupted by the Dimension Mirror… with just a simple gaze, the Queen Sectonia who I knew was gone forever! Forever!"

He used the back of one of his gloved hands to wipe away a tear. "And now, just think about what would happen if one of the hapless locals hailing from this Planet Popstar happened to find that mirror." Taranza gritted his teeth as he saw Kirby ponder about the possibility. "Possessed against their will like a ragdoll… their life would be ruined… completely and utterly destroyed! I told you back in Floralia that I refuse to let anyone else be controlled by that mirror, and my point still stands!"

Sword Kirby felt his grip faltering for just a second. Taranza actually had a legitimate point. So even despite everything, Taranza did care… in his own special way.

"Didn't you quote me a legend that says that one pure of heart will cleanse the curse when I visited you in Floralia?" Kirby managed to ask.

"Well, I'm not taking any chances! Not when the Dimension Mirror can be anywhere on this planet!" Taranza snarled, his eyes hardy. "Aren't I a most benign ruler? Unlike you, I genuinely care for the wellbeing of my kingdom, dammit!"

"Yes? You're a great leader, Taranza… but that's no excuse to hold those children hostage!" Kirby decided to let a hint of sarcasm into his voice, relishing the downcast look on Taranza's face after he spoke.

"It was your fault that I had to hold them for ransom in the first place, Kirby!" Taranza raised his voice to assert dominance, almost as though he feared that he was susceptible to Kirby's persuasive counter-argument if he didn't completely crush the puffball's stance. "You practically revealed yourself to them even after I insisted not to! I won't let you be friends with those clueless Cappies when every passing second you spend playing around with them could compromise both our existence and theirs! It's for the greater good!"

Kirby eventually decided to concede, not wanting to exacerbate the situation further. He couldn't tell Taranza that it was really Carby he saw, and Taranza did make some valid pointers. "Touché, partner…" he huffed, "…touché."

But in the blink of an eye, his expression lit up. "Hey, Taranza. Do you wanna see a fun trick?" Kirby offered, a sly hitch by his jawline.

"I've no time for your games, Kirby!" Taranza furiously rebutted, admonishing the cheeky hero.

"Well, I'm not giving you a choice! Teehee!"

Sword Kirby dropped his ability, making a dash for the room inside the smoldering hole down the other end of the hallway. There, he grinned when he saw what had caught his eye — a flipped-over table with a deck of cards scattered all over the floor. The inhabitants of the room must have left a game of cards on hold before they went to sleep. He quickly sucked in one of the playing cards—the Ace of Hearts, for good measure—and swallowed it, smirking when a black silk hat materialized on top of his head.

"Magnifique!" Kirby took an exaggerated bow, twirling an imaginary mustache. "Get ready for the show of a lifetime, 'cos Magic Kirby's on the scene!"

"Magic Kirby?" Taranza cocked his head, staring at the oversized top hat propped atop of Kirby's head. "Now that's new! I've never seen that Copy Ability before," he commented, curiosity overwriting his innate cautiousness.

Kirby shot Taranza a rambunctious grin. The Floralian had clearly forgotten about the trick that the puffball had pulled on him in Royal Road — using the newfangled Spider Ability to catch him off guard and completely entangle every last Como in Taranza's defense force. He'd actually felt sorry for all of the terrified Comos when they realized too late that one of their brethren being knocked into their trailing webs would wind up being their downfall. He had yet to have the chance to apologize to Webby for that fiasco.

Well, if it truly had slipped Taranza's mind, it was his loss. Since Taranza forgot all about how he'd pummeled an entire platoon of his Comos, it was time for a distraction so that Kirby could land a second sucker punch on him.

"It's not a new Copy Ability. It's actually quite old." Magic Kirby pulled a grouchy face. "Have you even went and visited the Kirby Museum that Dream Land built in my honor? They have a database of every single Copy Ability and wacky adventure that I've went through in there! If you'd so much as kept your head out of the clouds and dropped by even once, you would know this!" he accused.

"Hey, hey," Taranza raised his arms an in attempt to placate the irate Kirby. "Don't blame me for being ignorant. I have stuff to settle up in Floralia!"

"You could try to come down and visit more often," Kirby said with a sour face, "or at least be like Ribbon and give me a call every once in a while."

Taranza perked up, looking at Kirby slyly. "Ribbon?" he repeated, brows furrowed. "The fairy from Ripple Star?"

"You know about Ribbon?" Kirby stared at Taranza in surprise. "I don't recall ever mentioning her to you before…"

"We've met," Taranza stated, his eyes growing distant as a hazy mist gathered around his irises. "A couple of times," he added dismissively.

Magic Kirby smiled, pulling out a spread of cards from his palm. "Hm, if that's the case, then perhaps you might not even need a revision." His smile proceeded to grow wider, gaining a cunning edge to them. "Alright, if you're so confident… how about a pop quiz!" he challenged, smiling as he saw Taranza pale.

"Wh-what? A pop quiz?"

Kirby chuckled. "That's right!" he responded, picking the top card off the deck and reading it aloud. "Alright, looks like we got an easy one this time. Name the six Animal Friends whom I befriended in chronological order!"

"Six?" Taranza scratched his head in befuddlement, confusion etched across his features. "I thought it was just Rick, Coo, and Kine!"

"…they always forget the other three," Kirby muttered disappointedly.

Taranza at least had the decency to look abashed. "Well, sorry…"

Magic Kirby strode towards Taranza, his face softening. "There, there, it's okay," he said, pulling the stunned Floralian into a hug before he could protest.

Although Taranza's eyes widened, he eventually leaned into the embrace, closing his eyes in melancholic bliss. "Please, Kirby…" he mumbled, gently massaging Magic Kirby's hat. "Why are you doing this to me? Just return to our Popstar quietly. Leave this Void Termina thing be… it's not our problem…"

"It will be our problem if we don't solve things and make them right."

"Kirby, please. Don't make me use force just to get you to see reason. You know that I hate doing that! Let's us make amends and call this whole thing off as a misadventure. I plead with you, hero of the lower world…"

Kirby lowered his tone as a cautionary warning. "Taranza…"

"…just come back. You don't have to do this," Taranza lay his head down on the top of Kirby's hat.

"If you really feel so strongly about this, Taranza… then regrettably, it would seem that I'm now at my wit's end."

WHAM!

The top of the silk hat was forced open, and without any warning a spring-loaded giant goofy clown popped out of the hat like a jack-in-the-box. It scored a direct hit on Taranza, flinging the arachnid to the end of the corridor in a rather comical fashion as the clown continued to bob up and down.

"Clown Spring," Magic Kirby murmured the name of the attack, shaking his head in amusement. "He never learns. That geeky spider always lets curiosity get the better of him…"

As the clown returned back to his hat and he prepared to walk away, the magician gave a final passing glance over to Taranza.

"I'm truly sorry, Taranza," Kirby apologized sincerely, despite knowing that the groaning spider couldn't hear it. He genuinely felt bad for the sneak attack, but Taranza was stubborn to the bitter end, so he had been left with no choice. When the opportunity to land a direct blow arrived, he took it… no matter how distasteful it was.

"…but for Carby's sake," he mumbled, taking off his hat and solemnly holding the headgear by his belly, "I need you to stay low in the meantime."

Guilt welled up within the puffball. Kirby knew that he should have just explained things to Taranza, but unfortunately he was now too late, firmly caught in the web of mistruths which he had carefully weaved himself due to extenuating circumstances.

And with what chalk-Carby had let slip to him earlier, he couldn't tell Taranza or Webby the truth without everything falling apart like a stack of dominoes…


"Don't look behind you, Honey!"

Honey glanced at her friend in worry as she ran. "Why not, Iroo?"

"Because I think that there's somebody chasing after us!" Iroo panted as the petite boy sprinted.

"Eeekk! Ohhhh… now look at what you've done, Iroo!" Honey scolded, rolling her eyes. "You made me look back!"

Hohhe held onto his straw hat as he ran. "Is there anything there?"

"Yep!" Iroo answered on Honey's behalf. "A giant spider is chasing us, hot in pursuit at our five o'clock!"

"Which one?" Hohhe grumbled, a look of worry spreading across his face. "Are you talking about that insane melodramatic Taranza, or the other guy who showed up less than two minutes ago?"

Honey answered him in a shaky voice, pausing to catch her breath. "The other guy… the one wearing the fancy bowler hat!"

Hohhe clutched his straw hat even more possessively, finally catching up to the other two. "Man, I wish I had a hat like that… that shade of indigo looks amazing."

"What was his name again?" Iroo asked, stopping to check on Honey.

Honey pursed her lips. "I'm not entirely certain, but I think he was called Webby!"

Iroo held back a laugh. "You know, that name sounds really dumb," he snarked.

She folded her arms before continuing to run. "Well, you won't be singing that tune if he manages to catch us! Did you guys see what he did to Sword Knight?" Honey fretted. "He encased him in web from head to toe!"

"Did I hear someone mention Sword?" Blade raised his voice from around the back, drowning out Sword's scream of protests as his partner continued to spin the pod that he was in around and around. The only reason Sword wasn't protesting more about this wild ride was because Blade was injured and thus not spinning him at his worst. Nevertheless, it was a merry-go-round ride he could do without.

"Blimey!" Blade panted, stopping to catch his breath. "It's terrible, absolutely disastrous! Lemme tell you — those two are definitely with Holy Nightmare! And from the look of things, they're probably quite high-ranking, too!"

"Who's Holy Nightmare?" Iroo asked, causing Blade to freeze on the spot. "I thought the guy said that he's from Flo-ra-lia," he muttered. "Or something along those lines, I dunno."

Blade blanched, realizing that he'd accidentally let slip some important info to people outside of the loop. "Um, nothing! Nothing at all," he tried to casually play it off. "Just talking to myself, that's all."

All three Cappies stopped running just to shoot Blade an expression of incredulity. "Yeah, sure…" Iroo said sarcastically, his eyes boring into the knight's faceplate.

"Ugh!" Honey let out a moan as she fiddled with her earrings. "I don't care what Bun said, I knew that I should've just stayed at home!"

Meanwhile, Sword Kirby held out his blade, the purple puffball looking behind him to see an irritated Webby quickly gaining onto them.

"What the… how did you get ahead of me!?" Webby mumbled in surprise when he caught sight of the Star Warrior, before sighing and shaking his head. "Never mind. I've learnt since a couple of weeks ago that there's no point questioning you, Kirby. You always find a way…"

Just as Webby marched up to the group, the Waddle Dee who had helped them out—Kirby decided to nickname him Handkerchief due to the special blue cloth wrapped around his head—held his hands out to stop the errant Como, urging the others with a frantic gesture to continue their escape without him.

Webby stepped back, appearing reluctant to confront Handkerchief. "You don't even have a spear now. You launched yours at Taranza," he reminded him, stroking his fang in thought. "It wouldn't be in good sport to attack someone who's defenseless."

The Waddle Dee simply stood his ground. Man, did Handkerchief have guts.

"Castle… armory…" Blade rasped, his injuries finally taking a toll on him after the second wind during his escape slowly petered out.

Handkerchief widened his eyes, before disappearing into a nearby room and reappearing with a fresh spear.

Normally, Kirby would refuse and stay to protect the poor fella. However, his logical mind quickly overwrote his natural instinct to help in this case. He had never managed to win a fight against Commander Webby since they'd first met the previous day. And now that he was weakened after his duel with Taranza, Kirby had a gut feeling that he'd fall in battle against his foe if he were to fight.

And if there was one thing that Kirby was absolutely certain about, it was that he did not want to be captured by Taranza after hearing him flippantly bring up Void Termina. It wasn't worth the risk, especially since he'd only just met this Waddle Dee… come to think of it, had any other Waddle Dees wore a handkerchief around their head?

By contrast, he knew Bun's friends for a slightly longer period of time. He had to protect them—and himself—first.

With a heavy feeling in his heart, Kirby thus left the brave Handkerchief behind with Commander Webby, fleeing alongside the other three children.

Schluck!

Sword Kirby turned back to see Handkerchief freeing Sword from his cocoon. The agitated knight immediately drew his sword once he was free and prepared for revenge against his captor.

Ah, at least now it was two-on-one, if Kirby were to count Blade as out of commission for being in a similar situation as him. That was significantly better odds.

Letting go of his last regrets, he ran up a flight of stairs with Bun's pals in tow… and came face-to-face with a new set of problems.

"Look here, ya' little stubborn sapsucker. This argument has gone on far too long! If you don't relent right this minute, I will demote you! How would you like to be Lieutenant Waddle Doo instead?"

"But your majesty!" Sword Kirby saw Waddle Doo dragging his feet while addressing King Dedede. "I was just stating what I felt!"

"Well, your opinion sucks! End of discussion," Dedede spat. "Say one more word out of line, and I'll strip you not just of your rank, but your post as well." The dictator raised a brow, daring Waddle Doo to challenge his authority again.

Waddle Doo flinched, gazing longingly at his broadsword with an expression of concern. "No, your majesty…" he relented begrudgingly, "I won't defy you again, sir."

"Good!" Escargon smirked, twirling his facial hair. "It won't do well to show such signs of insubordination to his majesty. You should be thankful that the great King Dedede decided to be lenient despite such subversive behavior coming from you," he said haughtily.

Dedede clapped his hands with a laugh, before giving the snail a hard pat on his shell. "Now, back to business… hey, what are those meddling kids doing here!?" he shouted, pointing at Honey, Iroo, and Hohhe.

Bun's face lit up as he waved enthusiastically at his close friends. "Yo! So you guys received my call after all! Glad you could all make it!"

"Bun…" Fumu glowered at her brother, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that this was somehow all his fault.

"Hey, when da blazes did Kirby get his lousy mitts on a sword!?" Dedede pointed at Sword Kirby in agitation, before glaring at his one-eyed commander. "Argh! This was your fault, Waddle Doo! That little twerp must've snuck off when I was busy yelling at you!"

Before Waddle Doo could protest his innocence or Dedede could carry on reprimanding him, Fumu cupped her hands around her mouth to throw her voice at Iroo, Hohhe, and Honey. "You have to get out of here!" she shouted as a warning, "King Dedede's really got a nasty one this time!"

"Hear you loud and clear, Fumu!" Honey shivered, quickly beckoning the other two boys to leave by tugging on their arms.

"Let go, Honey!" Hohhe cried, trying to pry his hand free from Honey's iron grip. "If we've gone through all this nonsense already, shouldn't we at least stick around until the end?" he tried to justify.

Kirby was about to walk over and mediate both parties when an eerily familiar voice spoke up, chilling the Star Warrior to the core.

"Poyo."

Hmph! So you're finally back. What took you so long, Kirby?

Horrified eyes caught sight of his wretched other half, the aloof white puffball watching from the side.

Void.

Not now. Not like this. For crying out loud, Bun, Fumu and even King Dedede was here! Kirby did not want any of them involved in this.

But despite the terrible situation, Kirby found himself cocking his head in confusion. Void had spoken to him normally this time, instead of transmitting and translating his poyos telepathically.

"Oh, sorry. Kindly forgive my tardiness, I thought that you were someone else for a moment. Pleasure to be of acquaintance again, Termy."

Oops, he'd spoken too soon.

"Poyo!" he shot back. No thanks to you!

"You should thank that demon beast instead," Void pointed a stubby arm at the box-shaped robot. "He was the one who freed me from your inner consciousness, after all."

Kirby saw red when he realized that despite all his gloating, Void was right. That robot by Dedede's side was the one who had attacked him on sight earlier that night.

"Pooyoooo!"

He dashed at the robot without thinking, striking at the robot's knees with a swipe of his sword to release his pent-up rage. The machine's eyes widened as its front legs crumbled, causing it to lose its balance and fall forward. It flailed its two arms about, sun and moon staffs swirling about violently as it attempted to break its fall.

"Eeekk!"

Two concurrent cries suddenly alerted Kirby that his attack might have been a bit too hasty.

Both Lololo and Lalala were rooted to the spot, a large shadow falling across them. The moss-colored machine had been in front of them the entire time, and now that it was falling, they were in range of being flattened by it.

"Lololo, Lalala!" Fumu yelled, frantically jumping up and down. "Get out of there!"

They both snapped out of their trance just in time, attempting to fly off. However, their escape route ended up coinciding with the paths of the erratically spinning staffs.

Schluck!

Both Lololo and Lalala were accidentally hit by both rods simultaneously as Slice n' Splice fell, two rounded orbs roughly flung off to the side.

Three plomps were heard as they hit the ground.

It was at that exact point where just about everyone realized that they registered the sound of not two, but three impacts.

Lololo and Lalala both stiffened as they caught sight of the third figure that had been forced out of their bodies after Slice n' Splice had hit them both with the sun and moon staffs.

The third figure that had materialized from thin air after the strike was only able to merely stare around in befuddlement, squinting his eyes. "Where am I? What's going on? Ow… my aching head…"

Lalala grasped onto Lololo's hand. "Lololo… wh-who is that?" she stuttered when she saw a different colored ball which looked exactly like her and Lololo.

"What's this? It can't be…" The robot got to its feet, its pupils widening as it refocused its vision on the dark purple figure. "Lola!" it spat, his mechanical eyes whirling.

Lololo and Lalala were stunned speechless, their thoughts all over the place.

Did he just say Lola?

But I thought that… we were Lola!

The purple Lola blanched before whipping around so fast that he almost had whiplash from the abrupt motion. "Y-You… Slice n' Splice!" he snarled in fury.

"You!" the machine acknowledged with a growl, storming towards him. Lololo and Lalala both hid behind Lola as Slice n' Splice stared down all three of them. "How are you here!? How can it be that you're back as one and yet those two split counterparts are still around?"

Lola cocked his head, raising an eyebrow as he floated upwards. "Split counterparts? What are you blabbering about—oh, I'll be a Snakey's uncle," he groaned as he turned around and finally registered his blue and pink colored lookalike for who they actually were.

The machine grinned at his former colleague in a wily manner. "Surely you remember, Lola? Had it really slipped your mind that I was ordered to slice you apart as a fitting punishment for your complete lack of talent?"

The purple beast scowled at the machine, undaunted by Slice n' Splice even though his body was shaking. "You think I'll ever forget that moon staff of yours!?"

"The moon staff…?" Slice n' Splice repeated. The size of its pupils diminished to pinpricks as the gears in his mental processor began to churn out information. A smug smile slowly formed on its face as it closed its eyes in thought.

"Ah, I've worked it out."

All eyes were on the demon beast as it began to speak.

"You see, I was created to split others into two using this moon staff," Slice n' Splice stated plainly, holding out the crescent-tipped weapon before retracting it in favor for the rod that was emblazoned with the blazing sun. "But after you were split apart, Nightmare refurbished me with an updated feature for use in case of emergencies."

Green eyes focused on the sun staff as the robot held it up in wonder. "Kit-ta-ri! This sun staff turns anything I split apart back into its original state. Kind of like an undo button, you can say?"

Lololo stared in confusion. "But if what you say is true—"

"—then why are we still like this?" Lalala finished up where he left off.

"And furthermore, why are they here!?" Lola added on, folding his arms as he regarded the duo with unease. "Aren't they supposed to be part me?"

"Exactly! That is the point, Lola. They are part of you. But going by that logic, you can't possibly exist in unison, because those two are inherently you."

"So what gives, then!?" Lola shuddered nervously, twiddling his thumbs as he glanced at Lololo and Lalala, the two looking back at Lola uncomfortably.

"It means that I've underestimated the scope of my very own ability," it laughed. "Let me explain. Identical twins are created when an embryo splits into two, and from then on they exist as two separate entities, albeit with the exact same genetic structure. However, my ability differs from that — my moon staff rewrites the source DNA—that's deoxyribonucleic acid to you imbeciles—to form two fraternal copies instead of two identical copies. The reverse then happens when I undo a splice. The sun staff changes both copies back to their original DNA."

The robot then coldly gazed upon all three of them. "But it appears that there is a lag period mid-strike where the two split counterparts' DNA are being transcribed onto a strand of messenger RNA—ribonucleic acid, in case you're still lost—on the fly to match their original protein. And if I were to interrupt that process by attempting another splice, the results are as shown!" it said, gesturing at Lola and his two counterparts.

"The DNA of the two split copies gets spliced apart once more, but the mRNA will finish its transcription that started during the combining phase and eventually be able to reform the original protein strand… in essence, duplicating the original copy off its split counterparts! It is amazing, it is miraculous, it is… the dawn of a new era!" the machine declared. "The ability to create an infinite number of copies from splicing others apart without losing the original copy. It means that the limit of my power isn't actually splicing… but cloning!"

Fumu backed away in shock. She had a rough idea as to what Slice n' Splice was saying given her general knowledge about science, but his explanation truly highlighted just how disastrous things actually were.

There was a cocky, conceited edge to Slice n' Splice's voice, something which was frankly, quite impressive considering that the robot's voice was simply a monotonous drone. However, it was so ecstatic by its discovery that its mechanical voice now had a slimmer of cruelty embedded in it.

Slice n' Splice broke into a robotic drone-like laughter as it held both rods up to the ceiling. "Muhahaha! It appears that even my own creator has underestimated my true potential! With this newfound power of mine, I will be indispensable to Lord Nightmare! He needs me so that we can make an infinite army of demon beasts!" the machine declared, raising both staffs up to the sky. "Holy Nightmare Corporation will be unstoppable… absolutely insurmountable! Oh, great Nightmare!" it hummed, taking a step forward as his eyes glinted with sardonic glee, "I will rule the universe by your side!"

It didn't take a genius to realize that this was very bad.

"Oi!" Dedede snapped, angrily marching right up to his demon beast and prodding it in the midriff. "What kinda nonsense are you yapping on about? Just do yer job and get rid of Kirby already!" he ordered.

Fumu facepalmed. Dedede couldn't possibly be this stupid, could he?

As if to answer her inner thoughts, Slice n' Splice laughed coldly, suddenly brandishing his moon staff at the king. "Excuse me… get rid of who? I don't think you understand. I don't take orders from you anymore, peasant."

Dedede turned pale, his widened eyes staring at the blade by his throat. "S-say what?"

"I was only putting up with you and your nonsense because Nightmare sent me here, but now that I know that unlimited power surges through my circuits, greater things await me than being your pitiful slave. From now on, I will take my orders from Nightmare… and Nightmare alone!" Slice n' Splice hissed as it lunged at Dedede, who immediately yelped and scampered away in fright, his tail between his legs.

"Wa-wait for me, sire!" Escargon yelped, dashing away as he found himself being the secondary target.

Fumu simply stared at the scene, her mind reeling as she bore witness to Dedede's demon beast turning against him.

"Even the very thought of opposition against Nightmare shall not be tolerated. Everyone on this planet will soon bow before Holy Nightmare Corporation!"

Sword Kirby could only stare, kicking himself inwardly. Damn it all! Just like with Dyna Blade, this was all his fault!

A snort from nearby caused Kirby to look at Void. "I must say, I wasn't planning for that to happen. I simply wanted to trick you to instigate the demon beast into combining us back together with the sun staff and attempt to wrestle for conscious control over you when you were off guard," Void blatantly admitted his plan to his split half with a shrug, before rubbing his arms in glee. "But this is a far better outcome. Infinitely better!"

Kirby simply blinked in shock. It had been a trap all along? Drat, he should've known!

"Don't you get it, Termy?" His other half strode up to him with an expression that could only be described as pure exultance. "If we get hit by the sun and moon staffs wielded by that demon beast, the two of us will remain as we are, but just like those two, our former merged self will be welded into existence…" He let the words hang in the air before clenching his hands and looking up to the starry skies above.

"But you see, herein lies the issue — you were already split off from me in the aftermath of the final battle that went down at the Divine Terminus! So, if we get struck by both staffs, our former body will exist in tandem to us. We won't go back to your cutesy Star Warrior form… we will revert to the form that we originally took as a deity!" Void didn't even bother to conceal his glee as he raised his arms up to the sky. "In other words, our true essence will be called forth from the void — that of the Destroyer of Worlds, Void Termina!"

At those words, Kirby froze, his jaw agape as a blurry image of an enormous winged beast with a crimson bright-red and inky black coloration was superimposed onto his mind. Even when he squeezed his eyes tightly shut and rubbed them vigorously, he could still see that horrible picture. It was almost like he was hallucinating.

Void took this moment to gesture at the blue, pink, and purple spherical demon beasts, letting his arm hover over to Lola to let the implications sink in.

With Slice n' Splice's dual sun and moon staffs slashing at two split counterparts at the same time, a former unsplit body would be spliced back and immediately sliced up again, allowing it to exist in unison alongside its split counterparts. It was like an oxymoron, a paradox. It was almost like their split counterparts existed in parallel to their original bodies. An unintended bug or feature, one could say.

Unfortunately, it didn't take Kirby long to figure out why this was very bad.

Lololo and Lalala. Lola.

Void and Termina. Void Termina.

"Muhihihi!" Void laughed darkly, relishing the look of unadulterated terror on the face of his gentler half as the purple Kirby slowly comprehended his words. "With our full power restored, we will lay waste to this miserable planet. And the best part is that there's nary a thing you can do to stop it, Termy! Our hatred… no, my hatred…" he corrected, "…will be roused from its prolonged slumber once more!"

Not happening, Kirby thought, feeling queasy. This is so not happening.

"Whichever imbecile took a gamble on you to stay in this world shall soon regret it! Soon, you will fulfill your destiny and be the harbinger of mayhem to your ignorant benefactors! It won't be long before all of Dream Land… will cease to exist!" Void paused to let Termy contemplate the mental picture he had painted him before letting out a soft introspective murmur, "It's amazing just how quickly people can turn on each other given the situation. You think that they actually care for you? Don't make me laugh! You'll soon see firsthand that your precious mortal 'friends'—" he hissed the word out with pure vitriolic hatred, "—are worth nothing!"

Kirby's eyes flitted over to Fumu and Bun, fear flashing across his eyes. "Poyo!" he retorted. Y-you're wrong! You're lying! They'll never abandon me!

"You really think that? Poor thing. You weren't there when those two were revealed as demon beasts, were you?" Void shook his head in mock pity, though his discombobulated voice screamed of apathy. "That girl with the ponytail looked sooooo conflicted. She appeared like she wanted to kick herself. Doesn't sound like the kind of people who would support you when the ugly truth hits her like a wrecking ball, eh?"

Kirby looked downwards. He had no answer to that.

"It is such a darn shame…" Void lamented with a contemptuous voice that really made it seem as though he was being mocking and sarcastic instead of actually showing concern. The subsequent shake of his head only confirmed it. "…but I have deemed this planet and its inhabitants to be beneath us. And the only fitting end for such lowly worms… is complete eradication!"

Sword Kirby gulped. Yep, it was official. This was the worst day of his life, hands down.

Void broke his cocky composure to let out a truly terrifying cackle, his laugh reverberating throughout the corridor, almost like a chilling wind that sounded like death itself… to Kirby, at least. It was simply an innocuous-sounding 'poyo' to everyone else.

"Everything came from the void, and henceforth everything shall return to the void! The die has already been cast, Termy! Now, it is Popstar's turn to be cast back into nothingness! Once that incognizant demon beast manages to land a strike on the both of us using the two staffs that it holds, our sovereign amalgamation shall coalesce together from its two equal halves—me and you—and manifest as the Destroyer of Worlds!"

The white puffball placed his hands by his sides, laughing madly at his frightened counterpart as he placed a foot forward, eyes twinkling with madness. "Once that happens, Termy… you will be powerless against me!"

Further down the hallway, Slice n' Splice inadvertently followed up onto Void's statement. "Everyone will be powerless against me!" it articulated, eyes glowing a crimson red.

Although they didn't know it, both Void and Slice n' Splice then proceeded to make an irrevocable vow to the skies at the exact same time. The metallic sun and moon staffs were salvations to them both, albeit for very different reasons.

Though the overall context of their glee and the communication channel which they used to exalt their narcissism and joy at the discovery of the combined rods' power greatly differed for the two, both machine and puffball had—much to the dread of their respective audience who they had been subjecting their tyrannical speech to—unintentionally proclaimed an oath which was virtually identical to the one that the other had said through sheer coincidence.

"I will have—"

"—absolute power!"


Author's Note:

Little late to the party, but here's Owls wishing a happy 27th anniversary to best pink boi, Kirby!

And now with that out of the way…

Oh, dear. What's this? It looks like I've "accidentally" upped the threat level of a throwaway demon beast ten-fold. But given all the parallels about Slice n' Splice's power with the Void Termina situation, is it really that much of a surprise?

Kudos to anybody who can figure out the Lola reference in the Nightmare flashback, it is very, very obscure. And from a quick Google search, I highly doubt that anyone on the entire web has done anything significant revolving around pre-split animeverse Lololo and Lalala before. Might I ask… why? I'm pretty certain that after this episode, nobody mentions Lololo and Lalala used to be one, or even their status as a former demon beast… which is such a waste! So much potential down the drain…

The anime does have some neat ideas… which it unfortunately tends to squander in favor of slice-of-day stories instead of having an overarching plotline. The flaky excuse that was the GSA myth arc suffers from this fallacy hardcore, by the way — even before 4Kids butchered them by cutting the GSA out of the dub and changing them all to Star Warriors, they rarely appeared and their 'plotline' was very hastily wrapped up in the middle of the finale!

Well, I won't stand for that. Instead, I'll oblige and attempt writing a take on Lola up as a challenge… famous last words coming from the person who gave Dyna Blade character and headcanon lore. Seriously, who writes for Dyna Blade when you have a multitude of more popular characters to choose from? Me, duh — because I'll do and write whatever I want and nobody can stop me!

Still, given how vastly different the first three chapters in this arc were from the source material this fic is adapting, it must be nice for this chapter to at least have some similarities to the way that events actually play out in the original episode… at leasttttt until the cliffhanger. Muhahaha, I'm so evil… bet you didn't see that one coming, eh? This is arguably the first true "brown sludge hits spinning blade" cliffhanger that I've concocted for this story. Yeah, all the others that came before this? None can even compare, haha!

…this cliffhanger was also planned since, like, the very conception of this fic. It has been a long time coming… can you imagine the torment of having to write close to 200,000 words just to get to the meat of things? Nevertheless, we've finally made it, and hence the next chapter will be the long-awaited climax of the Fofa Factor arc!

Can Taranza's grudge with Kirby end amiably? Will Lololo and Lalala—and their former combined self—get their happy ending, or will Slice n' Splice's upgrade lead to disaster? More importantly, will Void Termina end up reborn with the dual sun and moon staffs?

And perhaps the biggest question of all — will Owls ever stop being a teasing troll? All those answers and more, next time!