Star Allies, Unite!

Chapter 4
If You're Here, I'll Be Fine

(Uploaded on June 20, 2019)


Summary: The first Parallel Boss has been vanquished, and the first Heart Spear has been obtained. The Star Allies have completed one dimension – but three more remain to traverse, each coming with their own set of puzzles and peril. Rick, Kine, Coo, Marx, and Gooey—the second-eldest squadron of the Star Allies—have their own battle to face, now.

(And that's not all: sure, they're staving off Another Dimension's encroachment on reality… but if that's the case, then what's going on with the Divine Terminus's appearance…?)

Notes: This chapter covers all of Heroes' second level, Dimension II. There are heavy implications of depression and suicide ahead, so be warned.

(Might wanna pack a snack and a drink for this, too. This chapter's long as all heck…)


Lightning flashed through the darkened sky, followed summarily by the loud, booming sounds of thunder – both of which did nothing to relieve the world of the ominous, turbulent atmosphere that Gabbel Moon currently had. Combine that with a harsh rainstorm that would leave anyone soaked, regardless of what clothes they wore or what umbrella they had over them, and here was yet another candidate for 'the worst weather conditions in the galaxy'. Under normal circumstances, no one would consider even walking out of their front door into this terrible, terrible weather—

And yet, one girl didn't seem to care.

Clothes dirtied and tattered, hair unkempt and frazzled, eyes tired and welling up with tears—this girl was clearly on the end of her rope, and one could see an aura of desperation emanating from her entire being. She trudged through the stone pathway, an arm up to shield her eyes from the storm, barely even flinching at the torrent battering at her. And then, she came to a stop, and looked up.

A tall tower gloomily stood raised before her, a winding set of stairs wrapped around a solid tube; the stairs, it must be noted, were looking extremely treacherous to traverse, thanks to the lack of a fence or any sort of structure holding them up. It was likely—no, absolutely certain that there was nothing of any worth up there, that anyone who attempted this climb would find their efforts utterly futile.

…there's nothing left for me to do, she thought, but… put an end to this.

The girl stood and stared into the sky for a good long while, as if she were silently contemplating the events in her life that had led her thus far to this conclusion. And then, without any further hesitation, she took her first step forward, toward the fate that she knew was coming.

(The fate that had been coming for quite some time now.)

At first, it was a slow walk, her gait cautious in contrast to her resolution – but before too long, it had blossomed into a full-on sprint up the spiraling tower. This was it – this was the final stretch.

One would question why someone like her was so stained and sore and scratched; why she was lost and companionless—and most frightening, filled to the brim with despair.

well.

Put simply: everything she knew—everything she had cherished, held so close to her heart—had disappeared not too long ago; been tossed aside to the wind to the point where she could no longer feel their presence. Her father, her younger twin sisters, her home… they had all—just—disappeared. They couldn't lift her up whenever she felt down; they couldn't frolic and laugh and be happy together.

Once upon a time, these aforementioned elements made up her whole life: the four of them traveled throughout the Gamble Galaxy, scavenging whatever they could, exploring the cosmos beyond, and generally living a nomadic existence. Sure, the starship she and her family used was not exactly the best around, and their life couldn't at all be described as 'luxurious' in any way—but she was happy, and that was all she needed.

That was all she ever wanted.

It didn't matter what elected to stand in her way of her own contentment; it didn't matter that half the time she was too exhausted to even drag herself out of bed, much to her father's worry. All the dark whispers and uncomfortable images that wanted to creep into her mind—the times spent with her family could washed them all away, letting the rainclouds in her head open up and let in that wonderful sunlight.

But now, all of that had changed. In an instant, her comfortable reality had been uprooted from its place, and now she was here, on a satellite too remote for anyone to know she was here, and too far from any system of planets which she was actually unacquainted with. And that wasn't the worst part.

Her support base had completely fallen apart in the ensuing chaos.

Her father? Gone, in a sacrifice meant to protect his children.

Her home? Destroyed, in an attack she didn't know the cause of.

Her sisters? Missing, somewhere far off and unlocatable under her own power.

She was alone now, in a cruel world unsympathetic to her misery.

And all that remained… were her tears.

I… I have to keep going. I have to get up there. I have to reach the top.

Because… I can't keep going on like this. I can't keep believing when there's no hope to be found.

(…I can't.)

Footsteps echoed from the unsteady ground in rapid succession as the girl rushed up the tower as fast as she could. Raindrops splattered constantly against her exposed skin, agitating her bruises to a nearly unbearable extent, and it didn't help that a particularly strong wind threatened to blow her off at any opportunity. More than once, she nearly slipped and stumbled off the precarious cliff (and a part of her wanted to let herself go, because honestly—what was the point…? It was more than she deserved for failing her duty to her siblings)—but she managed to stay the course and kept ascending the thin staircase.

Lightning streaked down from the sky. Thunder rumbled from every direction. The storm got worse and worse as seconds turned to minutes turned to a half-hour at the most, becoming a torrential downpour unceasing in its emergence.

The girl continued on anyway, almost oblivious to the raging devastation about her.

The stretch upward seemed to last an eternity. Every step onward seemed to lead absolutely nowhere, further accentuating that belief.

The girl trekked on in spite of that, forcing herself to go and give it her all to make it to the top, by any means necessary. It didn't matter what stood in her way; she would reach that summit.

What followed was a practical hurricane, in her eyes.

Another step up the stairs—

The wind howled past her ears—

A memory flashed back—

Her father yelling at his children to run—

Herself holding onto her siblings' hands tightly, running away from the disaster at the same pace she was going now—

(And yet, it was all for naught anyway…!)—

She shook her head—"Don't think about them, j-just keep going—"

Was she halfway up? Three-quarters? Not even a quarter?—

The way ahead was getting darker, harder to see—

Instinct was all that was pushing her forward at this point; her feet barely able to step on the narrow stone walkways—

It has to be enough, it has to be enough—

And then.

And then, and then, and then, and then—

She made it.

The last of the steps had been conquered, and after what seemed like a long delay, the girl stood above them all, panting heavily as she felt the weight of several pattering raindrops dripping off her back. She slouched over for a bit, her energy reserves nearly depleted from the effort it took to arrive. But that fact didn't diminish the bittersweet relief that flourished throughout her young, yet worn body. Finally, her trials were over. Finally, the arduous days she had led could be a thing of the past.

Finally, she could be with her sisters again.

"…this is it," she said to herself, determinedly. "This is it."

The top of the tower was not very interesting, despite the tempest that was currently surrounding it: it was a circular arena of sorts, fenced off by a pattern of elevated and unelevated stone blocks – tall enough to allow no accidental falls by any would-be visitors… but also short enough that anyone could climb over it—and set their fates in stone, so to speak.

Slowly and shakily, the exhausted girl made her way from the stairs to the other side of the roof, and then—with her hands touching the rim of the hard fencing—she brought her gaze downward and facing the ground. Notably, it looked as though the drop below was a very, very steep one; the rocky pathway which she had traversed earlier couldn't even be seen from such a height anymore. It would be enough to make any sane person gulp and think twice about what they were staring at – but she wasn't able to have any of those indulgences on hand, unfortunately.

Closing her eyes briefly and taking in a deep breath, the girl lifted her leg—and placed her foot on the pedestal above her. In just a couple of seconds, she was standing precariously on her two feet on the platform, certain doom less than a few inches away.

Go on, that ever present and familiar voice murmured into her ear, placing a sinister, compulsive effect on her already addled brain. Take the leap. There's nothing more to greet you if you stay in this realm. The burden of living—of constantly taking away time from the lives who actually matter—will no longer have to be your worry.

This is what your family would like you to do—and after all… if they're smiling upon you up in heaven… wouldn't you like to join them, and be free of the torment that haunts you forevermore? (Unstated was the fact that it was this voice which was the 'torment' that refused to leave its residence inside her thoughts.) All you have to do… is be willing to act.

There won't be any more pain. There won't be any more suffering.

Go on. Take the leap… and at last—

Reach out to your freedom, with your own two hands.

"…no more pain," she repeated tearfully, "no more suffering. I-I'll be—I'll be… f-f-free." She sniffed hard as she composed the final words she wanted to say on this moon. "E-Everyone, I'm—I'm—" She choked back a sob as she struggled to keep her entire body from vibrating erratically. "I'm s-sorry I couldn't do anything to—to protect you, like I—I p-promised you. B-But—I won't fail you again. I won't let my w-worthless self… hinder you, or this b-beautiful world any longer.

"…s-so… g-goodbye. Goodbye, Gamble Galaxy. I'm going… going to a better place now."

It wasn't as if hopping off this clifftop wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. It would certainly be a simpler death than anything else she could've come up with.

And besides—people always said that 'it's not the fall that kills you.' If that was true… then she wouldn't even get to feel the impact.

Wouldn't that be a kind exit, after all that had occurred in her short life?

She was here, all prepared to raise her foot and send herself careening down, down, to a place that she knew would grant her the wishes she desired—

But alas, chance had a way of fatally wounding even the noblest of actions.

Just as she began to do it, the sky flashed white once more, something seemingly noticeably wrong as it did, and the girl had barely enough time to spin around mid-walk and see a sparkling white thing arcing straight toward her—

(And if she was looking at things right, there was something up in the clouds where the bolt came from, seeming to glare at her with this one eye)—

And then, all the girl knew…

was pain and absolute suffering.

"AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

An ear-splitting shriek hit the sky, its octaves far higher than most people could expected to produce on a regular basis—and sounding incredibly agonized beyond anything anyone that could come into a person's imagination. Several thousand—if not more—volts coursed throughout her weak, fragile body, a sharp and very persistent torture that felt like it was punching into every weak spot within her internal system. Her limbs became limp and unmoving, her body charred and broken, her mind nearly fractured by this last stroke of bad luck—

and as the electrifying bolt finally dissipated, her whole self, where it was briefly suspended in midair… tumbled from the rooftops—and into the great void below.

Time seemed to slow as her form fell through the sky—and as battered and bruised her mind was, and as her nerves continued to ache and strain in suffering… the girl began to contemplate her life thus far, as both her consciousness and her breathing gradually faded away to nothingness.

Is this… Is this a cruel joke…? she internally wheezed, unable to comprehend reality as she knew it. Was my life… nothing more than someone's plaything…? A toy… for the gods' amusement…?

Ha ha ha—Ha ha ha ha… Of course.

Of course… it was.

There can't be any other answer.

Why else… would they let me get my hopes up… only to further grind them into dust… as they flutter about in the wind…?

That's why… I can't even have a peaceful end.

That's why… I'm dying alone, in pain, at this young age.

That's why… I'm here on this blasted moon to begin with.

It was like the worst of nightmares, all her most twisted, most devastating dreams made manifest; an unwelcome truth she once would've tried so hard to deny. Fate just had it out for her—and that was that. There was nothing more to it.

Dad… Franny… Berge…

I… I wish I wasn't so far from you, as I am right now.

If you could see me… wherever you are… what would you think of me? Would you be disgusted with me? Pity me, empathize with me?

Well… whatever your answer is… I'll be coming to see you again, soon enough.

We won't have to suffer, we won't have to grieve—it'll just be you and me, together again.

That's… what I've always wanted…

That's… all…

With one last tear dropping from her eye, and her soon-to-be corpse having fallen halfway down the tower, Zan Partizanne, eldest sibling to a sibling team of three and a long-tormented soul… breathed—her—last…

but then…


"M-M-Mr. Hyness! I—I can see Zan, over there! She's—she's falling!"

"Wh-Wh-Wh-WHAT!? Zan's is—H-HUH!? F-Franny, we—we have to—!"

"Do not worry, little girls! We shall rescue her, you have my word!"

"B-But—we're too far away! At the rate we're going, we won't make it in time!"

"Do not fear! If I use my magic, there is mapop that I can reach her! But I will need a strong boost if I can do it!"

"You want us to lift you—and throw you!? We're—We're just kids! Are you NUTS, Mr. Hyness!?"

"Your enhanced powers should allow you to give me the velocity I need! Though you two are untrained, if you will it to be possible, then it should be enough! But we must act quickly!"

"We don't have time, Berge! If we work together, then Mr. Hyness will be able to save Zan! We can't afford to argue now!"

"A-Alright, fine! If it's for Zan, I'll do it! HUUUUAHHHHH—!"

(Something was thrown—something that seemed to fly with the paradoxical combination of water and fire.)

"Zan Par! Can you hear me? I am coming! Please, return your bastion to us…!"

"Is he gonna make it!? Is he gonna make it…!?"

"B-B-Berge! Look! H-He's…!"


Wh-Where…

Where am I…?

Am… Am I…

…am I alive…?

At a sedate pace, Zan's eyes fluttered open, her weary demeanor clear to see in her empty gaze. The soft dripping of raindrops resounded against her skin as a cloudy, dark grey sky greeted her sight.

…how is this… possible? she thought. I was… I was struck by lightning. I—I fell off the tower. I shouldn't be here; I should be dead—dead and with my family again, away from this twisted world. So why…!?

Why am I still…!?

"Oh, jamanke the Void! You are alive! So jhappy! So jhappy vun!"

It was then that the girl noticed that she wasn't lying on the floor, as had been her first impression – she was actually being carried by someone in their arms. Huh…? But who…? She tilted her head to her side, and couldn't do much else but stare at the crazy-eyed, robe-wearing individual with a rather relieved look on his face. "Ah, japologa. I must not be what you were expecting, yes?" Even his way of speaking was a little more unorthodox than the norm.

"Wh-Who… Who are you…?" Zan quietly asked, her voice nothing more than a worn-out whisper. "Wh-Why did you…?" '…save me', went unsaid.

The stranger smiled. "Bonjam. My name is Hyness, an officiant of the gods above. I am but a simple traveler, helping out others whenever I am in needed, in service of the deities that granted this galaxy life. I saw the turmoil you were going through—and even if I had not gained a new mission as of recently, I could not sit by and allow you to die so cruelly."

There were… still people… willing to a lend a hand, out of the kindness of their own heart?

That was… that was nice, but… "…what was the point, though?" she dejectedly mumbled. "I've got nothing to tie me to this world anymore. My home's destroyed. My father's gone. My sisters aren't here, either. I'm the only person left." She sunk further into Hyness's arms. "I don't deserve to live. I don't want to live. I get that you were trying to help, but… all you did was make everything worse." She didn't know how he managed to heal her, but honestly, it didn't matter. "…what use is there in living without purpose?"

"I dare say your life still has purpose. You are not alone in your endeavors. Believe me—" He idly turned his head off toward the distance. "—you very much still have allies on your side."

"ZAN!"

"ZANNNNNN!"

Her ears perked up, and her eyes widened in a slow realization. It can't be…

Following Hyness's gaze, she let her head drift away—and there, dashing closer to the duo—she saw them.

Flowing blue hair, fluffy red hair, and two equally concerned faces—they were just as she remembered.

"Francisca…? Flamberge…?"

All of a sudden, her two siblings (who, despite all the odds they had faced, were actually alive! Alive!) slammed into her—somehow, Hyness didn't drop her; he merely chuckled in amusement—and practically smothered her in a double-blend of sheer relief and excitement. Tears streamed down their cheeks as they looked to their elder sister. "Zan! We found you! We—We actually found you!" Francisca cried.

"Oh-ho-ho, man!" Flamberge was just as ecstatic, most of her usual stubborn nature having receded from the limelight and replaced with simple joy. "It's been a tough few weeks, I'll tell you that—but finally, we're together again! Ha! It's—It's great!"

this was real.

This was—this was real.

Like Hyness had said—she wasn't alone. Not at all.

Much like her sisters, a volley of tears freely gushed from her eyes, the glimmer of hope that had once been lost now returning and sparkling like a diamond. She returned the embrace as tightly as she could, audible sobs coming loudly from her throat. "Y-Y-You're here," she wept. "You're here…" She found herself unable to say anything else as she let her emotions entirely overtake her.

She was so emotionally overwhelmed, in fact, that electricity began to sparkle around the trio of sisters (and one officiant). It danced and pranced about, representing all of Zan Partizanne's renewed happiness as it vibrantly lived, to an extent that Hyness had barely ever seen before in his life. While the reunited siblings didn't seem to notice, and were instead content with just enjoying having each other's company again, Hyness could see the magical potential brimming within her, somehow amplifying the others' powers through her sheer presence. And to think, it was all because she had been rejuvenated in body and spirit…

Hyness smiled. These moments, seeing those he helped sing in simple delight… they were what he lived for, clear as day. He was not entirely certain where his favored gods would lead him next, now that his self-imposed goal to rescue this trio was complete. He could not, under any circumstances, leave them alone in this harsh galaxy—he had already seen for himself the damage that had occurred as a result of the tragedies in their lives.

Perhaps… he could care for them himself, training them to use their newfound skills – and even help spread the word about the gods above that had given him this opportunity to begin with. It would do very well for the girls to have some semblance of a cheerful childhood, after all.

Yes, he thought. I believe… that would be wise.


Jambandra Base
The Divine Terminus – Altar

Sixteen Star Allies exited from the Warp Hole and back into the Divine Terminus, each of them managing to land on their feet with little adjustment to their stance needed. "Alrighty, everybody!" Kirby said, adjusting his baseball cap. "That's one dimension down…" He looked up, just as three more Warp Holes formed into place nearby. "…and three more to go. Joy!"

"W-Wow…" a voice echoed from behind the Star Allies. "This is—This is what the Divine Terminus looks like…? Creepy!" Several of them looked back to the Helpers Kirby had restored—Poppy Bros. Jr., Burning Leo, Waddle Doo, and Chef Kawasaki (and boy, was it weird having this Kawasaki back after spending so long with Cappy Town's Kawasaki)—jumping out into the altar, the wormhole they came from dissipating into cyan flames immediately afterward. Guess they're done exploring Another Dimension for now, Kirby thought. "These cult guys, they really know how to do their thing… y-you get me…?"

"It's probably wouldn't be too great as a cooking environment," Kawasaki noted. "Terrible as a dining room, too. I'd be physically uncomfortable just sitting here, whether it be with a plate or my big pot."

"I think it'd be better to just torch the whole thing myself," Leo suggested. "But we can save demolitions duty for later. We've got other things to do, right?"

"Yep, you got it. Three more to go, huh…?" Dedede did some mental math, counting off on his fingers. "Well, I guess that means we've got 120 Friend Hearts total to collect," he stated. "Four dimensions, each with thirty Friend Hearts… we really have our work cut out for us this time."

"At the very least, it will be an interesting exercise in both our physical and our intellectual skills," Daroach mused, a clawed hand on his chin. "It has been a good while since I've gotten the chance to put both of them to work like this. Finding treasure chests is most certainly not quite as intensive as this."

"To be fair, I was the one that got to most of those treasure chests first," Kirby recalled. "Man, those were pretty weird—I mean, I found some in a volcano, underwater, on the Halberd—" (Meta Knight muttered something under his breath; "We were on high-alert for intruders for a week…") "—and somehow, they even got to space! It was the weirdest, you get me?"

"…space?" Doo repeated. She seemed fairly confused by what the Hero of the Stars was discussing. "And here I thought those Puzzle Pieces were something else…"

"As much as I would love to sit here and listen to you guys' fascinating tales," Susie drawled, a hint of something sarcastic to her voice, "we have business to take care of. If we're only one-quarter of the way to our ultimate goal, than it is imperative than we get there as soon as we can, based on the information the mage here—" She pointed a thumb at Magolor, who waved back—"gave to us. Besides…" She warily glanced at the three open Warp Holes, all oozing with equal amounts of unpleasantness. "…I would rather not have those open any longer than they have to be."

"Hmph. We agree on that front, at least," Dark Meta Knight stated. He looked around the altar, his finely honed darkness detector ringing in his mind. (He was a denizen of the Mirror World; everyone there, at minimum, could sense negativity from several feet away.) "Something's… different about this location, now," he noted. "There is an air of… unmistakable change in the general vicinity."

The fifteen other crew members (and four Helpers), intrigued, looked around—and indeed, the Divine Terminus had subtly transformed: a crimson tint colored all the structures surrounding the altar, and transcendently blue flowers had blossomed at the edges of the area. For a moment, the memory of the Hyper Zone transforming from black-and-blue to yellow with red-and-blue clouds midway through the fight with Zero came to Kirby's mind. Knowing the Jambandra Cult and the nature of their 'gods'… there's more to this than what meets the eye. (It always works out that way.)

Poppy put a hand on his chin. "It—It's a bit hard to see…" he admitted, "but… yeah, something does feel a little more ominous than before…"

"Hey," Adeleine realized, "this place…! It looks like it does when we were fighting Morpho Knight! The color scheme's the exact same!" Quickly, she summoned her easel and painted the scene of the altar pre-transformation, in order to properly compare between the scene before them. "L-Look here; it was a lot more blue the first time around, and now it's completely red! I-I'm an artist, I can see that!"

"Ah!" Kawasaki snapped his fingers, despite the fact he didn't really have fingers. "I get what you're talking about! It's like somebody accidentally added a bunch of spicy peppers to a previously tame bowl of noodles!" (Funny how you should say that, Kirby thought, thinking about a past incident involving the chef's counterpart in Cappy Town. Guess you two are more alike than expected.)

"Hmm… Spooky, mates," Rick commented. "Too bad Halloween was last month; it'd be great atmosphere otherwise."

"Ain't that charming?" Marx said, narrowing his eyes. "They're really trying to live up to their reputation, eh?" He scoffed. "Tryhards. They have no idea what real villainy should be. I've got half a mind to really let 'em have it for that!"

"Is that really what we should be focusing on?" Kine slowly deadpanned.

"Maybe not—but it's fun! You have to admit that, at least!"

"…I can't admit that, no. I'm not exactly a villainous individual, you see."

"Phooey. You all stink, you know that?"

"If those are your standards for 'we stink', then that is a perfectly acceptable condition for us," Dark Meta Knight stated.

Magolor brought out his 3DS and opened it up, the antenna sticking out of it spinning around wildly as the device scanned the altar around them. "There's a strange reading I'm getting from this place," he said. "It's definitely that of Another Dimension, like before, but… somehow, it's gotten worse than when we came in." He frowned behind his mask. "That… really doesn't bode well. If it's able to do this to its surroundings in such a relatively short timeframe, then I can't say I know what else it'll be able to do."

"Hmm… You said the whole dimension was unstable, correct?" Meta Knight recalled. "Perhaps this is a side-effect of what the Jambandra Cult has unleashed upon us. They have opened Pandora's Box, so to speak, and now everything is suffering because of it. That means we must act fast, lest there be more devastation brought into the galaxy."

"W-Well, th-that's comforting…" Taranza bit his lip.

"D-Did you have to talk about it that way…?" Doo shifted in place. "Th-That sounds pretty scary…"

"Really? I thought it sounded like rotten food," Gooey drooled.

"And rightfully so," Coo grumbled. "Everything these Jambandra crazies do never fails to get on my nerves…" He brought his wings together, akin to somebody smashing a fist into their palm. "But I guess that'll make their eventual beatdown even better!"

"Th-Then that means we need to step up our game," Bandana Dee said. "We can't let—let—all that happen to our home now!" He tightened his grasp around trusty spear, a resolute look holding steady in his features and eyes. "We're already a quarter of the way there; we've just gotta keep this up, and we'll save the galaxy before long! A-At least, th-that's what I hope…"

Kirby smiled at his close friend. That's the spirit, Dee! "In that case, we better get back to work!" he declared, spinning his weaponized yo-yo around in a rather large circle. He brought his gaze over to the remaining three Warp Holes, still floating around in the air. "We've already gotten a taste of Another Dimension for ourselves – so I hope you guys are ready to dive back in. It's gonna be the largest dinner of our lives."

The rest of the group looked to them as well; they swirled and rotated in place like stars in the night sky, each of them emitting that same aura of incredible darkness – and all three of them together only added exponentially to that effect. Marx and Dark Meta Knight both glared into the wormholes; their respective limbs shook with something resembling anticipation and determination. "It's gonna be a heck of a dinner, then," Marx remarked. He turned to his Vitriolic Best Bud and grinned. "Think you can last the whole way through? It'd be pretty terrible if you 'got full' halfway through and had to retreat~!"

The doppelganger warrior scoffed, raising his head and emanating a sense of smugness with his posture. "I would have to say much the same to you, jester. Do try and keep up… if you don't drown yourself in those accursed balls first."

"Hee hee hee—bring it, Darky."

Daroach raised an eyebrow, taking out his Triple Star Rod and idly smacking it in his palm. "I don't think you have any reason to fear," he stated, a smile coming from seeing the aforementioned two interact. "We've all been prepared, on some level, from the day the Jamba Heart shards shot across the galaxy. We've seen the horrors within, and we'll gladly face it again for the sake of our home."

"That's right!" Ribbon cheered. "What are we waiting for? Let's get this done, together!"

"And besides—if this 'meal' ain't up to our standards, then I suppose we'll have to correct it our usual way," Dedede joked. "Cook it with our special 'techniques' 'til it's absolutely perfect! …that's probably not the way the metaphor works, but whatever!"

"Glad to hear it!" The puffball looked to the four Helpers awaiting orders. "Poppy, Leo, Doo, Kawasaki – the rest of us aren't gonna be able to look over this fortress, so who knows what else'll be happening here in the meantime. I'm gonna be trusting you guys to keep track of things, and organize all the other Helpers we end up bringing back from Another Dimension. That alright with you guys?"

The four Helpers jokingly saluted. "Gotcha!" they said simultaneously, Poppy adding on, "We'll do our best! We're Star Allies, after all!" He smiled, his party hat shuffling about atop his head. "We can't do anything less!" With that, the squad of friends marched off and away from the Divine Terminus, making their way to the rest of the rest of the Jambandra Base in a relatively excited manner.

With that out of the way, Kirby turned his attention to the leftmost Warp Hole, briefly shooting his yo-yo toward it. "Over there's gonna be our next destination, guys. Everyone in agreement?"

Fifteen Star Allies nodded in unison, same as last time.

"Perfect! Now c'mon guys, let's show 'em what we're made of—again!" Once more, the combined group of sixteen hopped into the portal to Another Dimension – and so, the marathon began again.


Another Dimension
Dimension II

The celestial chaos that came packaged with Another Dimension was still a spectacular sight to see, all things considered. In another place and another time, it could be properly appreciated for its gorgeous amounts of scenery porn – but here and now, in the middle of a threat to the entire galaxy, that simply wasn't an option. But amidst the levitating blocks and the technicolor environment, the Star Allies would find time to talk amongst themselves, come into their own as true companions of the highest order.

Taranza floated along as the Star Allies descended down the entrance elevator, the blocky pieces of land starting and stopping their descent at regular intervals. Nervously, he glanced around at all of his companions, each of them offering a snarky quip or a casual conversation toward the person that so happened to be closest to them.

"Hearts and sparks and so many arcs—there's a lot of things going on right now!" Kirby remarked, a wide grin reaching his cheeks, his yo-yo practically flying all about. "There's so much of it, we could have a full course meal with it and there'd still be plenty of leftovers!"

"And all the while, you would still be hungry for more even after the rest of us have long since been defeated by its enormity," Meta Knight threw in his two cents. "Truly, your endurance for things know no bounds."

"Um, why are we still using food metaphors for stuff like this?" Kine quizzically asked. "I like food as much as the next Star Ally, don't get me wrong, but it… kind of starts sounding dumb after a while."

"Yeah—not everything has to be food-related," Ribbon stated.

"Pfft! Speak for yourself! I think it's perfect! Food's my secondary passion, after all!"

They… certainly seem like they're having fun, he mused, even in this type of situation. He watched their smiles and smirks before looking down with a frown. …I wish I could really join in.

As much as the others were trying, there was no denying that Taranza was a bit of an outcast in this little community: he hadn't joined in for the initial Jamba Heart crisis back in March; and unlike Magolor, he mostly kept to himself up in the islands of Floralia, with Kirby and Dedede serving as his only real forms of communication – and even friends – in relation to the lower world. Everyone else was so tight-knit already, it felt intrusive just to even hang around them.

Don't get him wrong; a part of him did want to explore having friendships with everybody else. It had been a long time since he'd had words of kindness thrown his way It was just that—after what happened with Sectonia…

…even now, it was still hard to think about.

Do… Do I even deserve to—to have friends in the first place…? he wondered, looking rather somber. After what I've done… how can anyone want to be near me at all? (They may not know, but—s-surely, they suspect it, at least…)

"You're the other new 'recruit' of sorts—Taranza, correct?" The spider jolted a little. Slowly, he turned his gaze around—and there was Susie, walking alongside him with a hand clasped over the other.

"O-Oh! Y-Yes, I—I am!" he stammered out. "Wh-Why do you ask…?"

It was hard not to be intimidated by Susie, what with her dynamic entrance and cold demeanor. Blunt, aloof, a fair bit technical at times – and that wasn't even mentioning her status as CEO of a massive technological corporation. Taranza could best classify her as an incredibly daunting woman – and he had experience being around those type of people, depressingly enough. He had to physically fight to keep from crumbling under her gaze—never the most fun of things to do.

"I merely wanted to discuss business with you," she said clinically, her eyes looking rather bored by the exchange. "Simply get an idea as to how you are holding up, given our current circumstances. It would be most troublesome if I were to have to lend this excavation my efforts while working under less than optimal conditions."

Taranza twiddled his thumbs, laughing a little nervously after hearing that explanation. W-Wow… she—she r-really doesn't pull her punches, huh…? "I—I've just been fine, th-thanks," he replied, a hand rubbing the back of his head. "It's been a bit chaotic, s-sure, but it's nothing we can't handle. We managed to take down that b-big guy before, didn't we…?"

Sure, Taranza hadn't had much in the way of combat prior to this current incident, and his teamwork skills was similarly just as undeveloped – but hey, they managed to take the guy down without any major issues! B-Boy, did that guy hit hard though… I'm glad everyone else was here—it wouldn't have been very fun otherwise…

"Point made." The two waited in silence as the Star Allies continued their trek back into the depths of Another Dimension. It was cleanly obvious that the arachnid was struggling to make any decent small talk, and Susie wasn't exactly keen on assisting him with that. He shuffled about, eyes moving left and right.

This is, uhh… p-pretty awkward… Th-Then again, I guess she got all th-that she came here for, so it makes sense for her to j-just cut the conversation off right there…

h-how long is she… j-just gonna stand there with me? S-Surely, there's o-others more interesting than me to be around?

okay, I—I should really just s-say something right now… Th-This is getting really uncomfortable…

"You're one of those type of people, aren't you? Someone who feels as though they're responsible for something terrible – and as a result, it shapes their entire personality going forward." Taranza's head jerked toward Susie, a look of surprise etched on his face. "I suspect it is most closely related to the death of a loved one. Through indirect means, perhaps, and maybe not with the worst of intentions—but hard-impacting all the same." There was noticeably something more meaningful being displayed in her expression, something he'd even label lightly as 'understanding', even. (But why would she—? I—I mean…! She—She wasn't—She wasn't the one accidentally killed off their only—!)

"Wh-Bu-I—" He rapidly began blubbering again, his brain not quite able to properly comprehend wherever it was the CEO had coming from. "You—How d-do you know th-that's even true…?" he asked, his hands coming together and trembling in place. "Th-That's not anything you can just—say to p-people out of the blue…!"

"If you put all the pieces together, it's honestly not that difficult to figure out," she stated. "It helps that I've interacted with a number of individuals who carry a similar standing to you, in my time doing business in the Gamble Galaxy. I know their traits." She brought out an open hand and counted off on her fingers: "You exhibit regret. You're hesitant to approach others. Your self-esteem is notably absent." Every thing she listed off made Taranza flinch harder and harder. "…I see that resonates strongly with you."

"…is it that obvious?" he muttered.

"You hide it rather well, actually," Susie granted. "I imagine the loss wasn't a recent affair. Just as my own wasn't that long ago. That's… why I wanted to talk to you."

"…you lost somebody too? H-How? Wh-When?"

Susie hesitated to answer. "…it was two years ago," she began to explain. "During a… certain incident involving my company and Kirby." That sounds familiar, Taranza realized. "My father – the old CEO – was activating this old program, and—I didn't like it, so I interrupted him." She scowled. "Worst mistake I ever made. The accursed thing malfunctioned and took control of him, using him as a sort of vessel. There wasn't any time to figure out any solution other than the immediate one, so—I lost him. Forever." Her darkened eyes glared toward the ground. Her voice sounded bitter (and very pained) as she professed, "Things… just haven't been the same since. And all I was really doing until now was… just going through the motions."

She fell silent afterward, letting all that she relayed sink in. It wasn't a very long explanation, nor did it go into too much detail – but it didn't need to. Taranza was already sympathizing with her. And if she, for whatever reason, trusted him enough to talk about such an intensely personal topic…

"…I used to be the assistant to the former queen of Floralia," he started to recall. "No, more than that—I was her best friend. She used to be excitable, adventurous, daring; she dragged me along a lot, but… I never minded it. When I was with her… I always felt like I could do anything." Gradually, his tone became more wistful—"I wanted to get a gift for her one day, so I went out alone, for the first time. And I found a mirror.

"It seemed innocent—just a mirror, waiting for anyone to take it. But—it changed her. Made her into something she wasn't: vain, obsessed, arrogant… it was if it was all her worst elements became all she was. And by the time I finally figured out what was wrong… it was too late for me to do anything about it."

"A mirror, you say?" Susie noted. "Doesn't Dark Meta Knight happened to use an excess of reflection-based techniques? I recognize a majority of them as derived from what Kirby uses with his Mirror ability, based on some old recordings I have from two years back." Unsaid was how much he literally reflected Meta Knight, on more than just a skill-based level.

Taranza scowled. "Yeah. I noticed." The fact that the mirror warrior was alive and able to be redeemed, able to stand alongside Kirby and the rest of the heroic Star Allies whereas Sectonia never got the chance… he hated to say it, but it honestly did weigh on his already-battered soul. Yes, Dark Meta Knight did help save the galaxy, and yes, he wasn't the same person anymore as the corrupted, raving madman Dedede had described to him years earlier – but that didn't change what seemed to him to be an absolutely unfair trade.

and the worst part is that it's all my fault, he dejectedly moped. And—and there's n-nothing I can do about that. I have to live with it. I have to keep remembering this. Even if I wanted to try for a miracle, the way Kirby does; even if I want to head toward that bright light—I can't. I just can't. It's impossible.

I wish it wasn't.

"…how come you're even talking to me, anyway?" he asked. "I'm—I'm not the strongest, and I'm not the m-most worthy, either. W-Wouldn't others here b-be a better choice…?"

"I don't really know," she surprisingly admitted. "A-Again, I've—I've just been going through the motions all this time, so… excuse me for my rather experimental actions at this moment. I… wanted to at least try reaching out to someone new. My father made the mistake of allowing himself few allies on his side." She looked away. "And I know this now: you can't fight without anyone by your side and call yourself fine."

That… honestly resonated a lot with Taranza. After all, he himself had basically willingly isolated himself for the past four or so years – and everyone else was doing their best to befriend him, so…

…what could be the harm in trying to mend his shattered heart?

(It'd be what Sectonia—the real Sectonia, before her fall—would've wanted him to do. Kirby and Dedede, too.)

"I… I guess you're right." He decided to offer out a hand (of six) to Susie. "I'll start here, then. Do—Do you wanna be friends, Susie?"

Susie, for all her philosophical talk, didn't really know what to do with the outstretched flag of friendship at first – if Taranza didn't know any better, he would've thought she was apprehensive as well – but eventually, she decided to take it.

She looked into his eyes. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Taranza. Let's see where this new relationship of ours will go—shall we?"


Dimension II – First Hero Trial

Kirby had used a large variety of weapons over the past millennium: swords, cutters, bows, horns, bells, brooms; you name it, he's probably handled it at some point. While he was pretty partial to swords and hammers himself – they were the two of the strongest and most versatile of his abilities; plus, Meta Knight and Dedede used them the most – he had to admit, the Staff ability had rapidly grown on him since he first acquired it.

It had a lot more utility than just being a glorified plastic stick – and no offense to Bandana Dee, he preferred it a lot more than using a spear. And I mean—who doesn't love bouncing on it like a pogo stick? Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy—c-c'mon, you can't say no to that! (Just like a strawberry shortcake!) Even Jennifer—their own Jammerjab friend—had learned to appreciate it, once they broke her off from her high horse.

Of course, this type of situation was not exactly what Kirby had in mind when the Hero Door gave him Staff… which is to say, half-panicking and hyper-focusing on trying not to slip face-first into a pile of Gordos. Atop a pool of water, in a cramped room. Amidst a slew of Glunks shooting at him.

Definitely his idea of a great time.

"This place has got some ridiculous challenges," Kirby grumbled, his Zap-tipped staff in the middle of bending at an angle. He sprang upward, electricity dancing across the surface of the water, shocking a nearby Glunk into unconsciousness. "What kind of Friend Heart deserves this amount of dexterity—and Gordos? I'm beginning to miss the crazy balls of Waddle Dees already…" …and considering they were only an hour ago, that's saying something!

There weren't even just Glunks in the water; there were several situated on the ceiling, too, and they were all too happy to blast away at the crew. "I must share your sentiments on that," Daroach said, kicking one off its place with a well-aimed ice beam. "There are a tad few too many of these aquatic creatures for my liking." He briefly glanced toward the other two Star Allies in the room. "I trust you three are at least handling our current predicament well?"

Bandana Dee, frantically tossing his spears everywhere and basically jumping all about in the air… wasn't quite able to say that. "N-N-N-Not really!" he shouted, narrowly avoiding a torrent of projectiles shot his way. "I—I think I'd l-like some help here, p-please!"

"On it!" Magolor warped into range, hoisting Bandana Dee onto his back (like Dedede was wont to do) and summoning a star-shaped black hole above him. Suffice to say, the Glunks nearby never stood a chance. "And that's a few more debts repaid by yours truly." He looked to the self-proclaimed 'Assistant of the Stars'. "You doin' okay, Dee?"

"Yes! I'm—I'm fine!" he replied. "Probably! Maybe! …okay, somewhat!"

"Good enough for me," the wizard stated. He fired a few Magic Spheres around him, clearing out the area a little more. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gooey floating in his Mock Matter form close to the wall of metal blocks at the end of the corridor. Every so often, he would expel bolts of purple lightning and take out a few unsuspecting Glunks, though exactly what he was supposed to be doing, Magolor couldn't tell.

I suppose that's Gooey for you… he thought.

A click indicated the activating of a switch nearby; sure enough, the bottom of Kirby's staff was now situated right over where the telltale rim of a switch was. And based on the familiar sound of a few doors opening, that meant their way to the Friend Heart was clear. "Finally!" Kirby exclaimed, letting his makeshift pogo stick hop up and down in place. "That took longer than it needed to! Okay, guys—can one of you clear those metal blocks outta the way? I'd prefer if I hadn't had to bounce around like a madman for nothing."

"I w-wouldn't call it 'b-bouncing like a m-madman, myself…" Bandana Dee said. "You—You did pretty well, a-actually…"

"I will admit, that was a rather excellent show of athletics," Daroach stated, twirling his signature cane in his hand. "Grounded though you may have been, it was certainly no easy feat to pull off."

"Aw shucks, you guys are gonna make me blush! Well, harder than I usually do, anyway."

Magolor's attention turned to where Gooey was flying. His tongue seemed to be—of all the possible things it could be doing—licking the metal blocks, as if they were made of gravy instead of cold, hard material. "Mm," his voice 'shrugged' in a Gooey-like way, "I don't like the taste. It needs more flavor." And then he stuck his tongue through the wall – and somehow, he managed to hit a Bomb Block and clear away the metal blocks, leaving only a set of doors behind where they used to be.

Magolor blinked. "…that 'lil blob never fails to surprise me," he commented.

"He always did play to the beat of his own drum," Daroach supplied. "He'll do it at a very off-tune octave and definitely not even at the same rhythm – but his efforts are commendable nevertheless. He steals everybody's hearts just by existing with innocence."

"Can't argue with that—you wouldn't believe how much Adeleine and Ribbon have to protect him." Kirby bent his staff as far back as he could go and flung himself halfway across the pool of water, reaching the Friend Heart and barely managing to avoid crashing into the wall. The crew flew with him out of the cramped room and back on the way forward. "Friendship stuff aside," he continued, "we should probably go catch up with everyone else. Hopefully, they shouldn't have gotten too far ahead of us while we were busy."

"That'd be rude of them," Gooey pointed out, in his typical airheaded manner. "Friends aren't rude. They're just looking ahead, I think. Good friends help others look out for danger."

"Speaking of everyone else… I wonder if they've encountered anything since we split up," Magolor mused. "You never really know what you might find in Another Dimension. There was this one time I ran afoul of a humongous strawberry spider in its 'treasury'…" He shuddered. "Lemme tell you—that wasn't fun. And neither was the cleanup afterward."

Daroach furrowed his eyebrows, and idly licked his lips. "…I won't lie, I would want to see that for myself," he confessed, "if only to steal whatever treasures it was guarding for myself."

"If we ever encounter it again—and I do thoroughly hope we don't—then you'll get first crack at it. Preferably on the Lor. I've still got that miniature Lor to summon."

"Yes, yes, I recall you summoning that during our clash with that boss from earlier. I would not be adverse to captaining it myself. Say…" The red-clad thief smirked. "…what's the top speed of your little craft, anyway? If it's anything like my own, I bet it'll be a treat."

"Oh, I'm glad you asked! Though it may be just a miniature rendition of my vessel, I can proudly say that its wings and propulsion systems work near identically to it!" The redeemed wizard and the treasure hunter proceeded to launch into a conversation all about ships and specifications and a boat-load of things that just flew over Bandana Dee's head. I think my head's spinning from all this techy mumbo-jumbo… We're—We're not gonna have a p-pop quiz over this stuff, a-are we?

"Disregarding the delicious-sounding-ness of that spider, I'm sure they're fine!" Kirby proclaimed. "I mean—we're the greatest heroes in the galaxy, and they're literally a team of eleven right now. What could possibly be troubling them?"


Not too far away from Team Kirby…

"Let me just say this," Dedede loudly grouched, his voice slightly muffled by the water (and the snorkel he was using), his hammer at work batting away a Mamanti from getting too close, "I. Hate. Fighting. Underwater."

"I don't get why it's so problematic," Kine said, very much in his element. Already, two poor Blippers had already become ice cubes floating toward the ceiling. "I get that water's more of a relaxation device for you guys, but it really is an excellent environment for combat under the right conditions."

Rick and—surprisingly enough—Coo nodded assent. "Yeah, mates," the hamster said, briefly spitting a water-resistant fireball at a nearby Squishy. "Once you get used to it, it's really not that bad!"

"Says you," Marx grumbled, swimming out and snatching another Friend Heart that happened to be falling. "You two have spent NOVA knows how many hours playing 'round in a lake or whatever—excuse us if we like to stay dry!"

"So declared by one who enjoys plunging the contents of water-logged containers into the faces of your slumbering allies," Dark Meta Knight mumbled. "Repeatedly."

"I suppose it is something of a blessing, then, that you are not alone in experiencing the… tremendous wonders of our favorite prankster," Meta Knight stated, slashing away a different Mamanti who looked far too interested in the Friend Heart he himself was carrying. "Be them Star Ally, Cappy Town resident, or Ultimate student… hmm, those are certainly some wide-ranging categories. Perhaps a support group is in order."

"That, I will agree with you on. Weekly meetings would be paramount."

"Hey, hey, hey—what's that sarcasm I'm sensing when you say 'tremendous wonders'? You're talking about me like I'm an epidemic!" Marx complained with a pout. "You should have more faith in me! I'm not thaaaat bad!"

"Yes, you are," the two knights responded simultaneously.

"Can we please stay focused on our current targets!?" Susie yelled at them, her exasperated voice loud and clear despite the rather waterlogged environment. "We can have a fascinating debate about the merits of each other later!"

"Fine," said three Star Allies, two resisting the urge to roll their eyes (and one who most certainly was indulging in said urge).

Under her breath, she muttered, "So unprofessional…" (But somehow, she felt right at home with them.)


[Rick]

Dimension II – Second Hero Trial

It's a familiar routine, goin' through this obstacle course. You'd think it wouldn't be, considerin' the huge gap between the second Dark Matter invasion and our last 'venture back in March – but even so, I still remember those days fondly.

Adventures. There's nobody in Dream Land who'll complain about 'em. Sure, the whole 'big bad thing-a-ma-jig coming for our planet' practically every time is a big bummer, but that doesn't change how much of a blast they can be.

Even now, those old-fashioned instincts still come easily to me. Run forward and up and down and even backwards here and there, swap out with Kine and Coo whenever the situation calls for them, give these enemies a good stomping—or sizzling—whenever we need it… y'know, the works! I mean, it ain't rocket science!

"C'mon, mates!" I grinned. Me, Kine, and Coo were currently takin' the lead and swimming through yet another watery corridor. "We've got a whole dimension to get through, and plenty of those Friend Hearts to find!"

"We heard you the first time, buddy!" Dedede yelled back.

"And we'll hear you the next few times after that," Coo snarked, just like he always does. Awwwwthat's our buddy for ya!

As I've grown accustomed to, there's a bunch of stuff in our way: burning logs, walls of spikes, those squiddy guys – but it's nothing we're not able to handle! Like a well-oiled machine, we danced through all of 'em – and hit a few switches I pointed out 'long the way; experience tells me they probably do something to help us out.

"You know, mates… I've missed doin' this," I admitted, as we (ridin' as a trio) swerved below to avoid smacking into a face full o' spikes. "I kind of wish we hadn't been absent for everything past Dark Matter." I popped open a parasol in front of one of those squids, knocking him unconscious in an instant. "All this talk about other dimensions and saving the galaxy—it makes me wonder just how much crazy Kirby's been through. You—You guys get me?"

"Pretty much. You're not the only one thinking that," Kine replied. "Here I was, content to believe Dark Matter and hostile robots were the worst we could see… and then we get this. It's a bit whiplash-y… though I suppose it was always going to happen at some point."

"We should've been there for 'em," Coo expressed. "We're Kirby's friends, after all! We shouldn't be out of the fight entirely! If our friend needs us, we should always be there to beat whatever enemy he's facing!"

…Coo's got a point.

People in Dream Land, we're naturally pretty sleepy (sometimes, in the literal sense). A lot of us prefer keep to ourselves, occasionally joining up with Kirby for a fun 'lil friendship gathering. A lot of us Dream Friends have stayed out of Kirby's journeys for the most part, 'cause he's usually been enough to save Pop Star from its crises.

That's long since changed.

This wild ride of ours… how does Kirby go through this type of thing almost every year, alone or accompanied by few of his friends? Does he ever wish we were around to ease whatever loneliness he might have—because I know for sure I wouldn't want to be without Kine and Coo?

…maybe I should think about that later.

"Nothin' we can do about it now, mates," I said, a little more solemnly than I liked. "Let's just keep goin'."

In any case, we soon managed to reach the end of the tunnel, surfacing to see one of those one-way platforms right above us. Coo flew me and Kine upward where we could see two routes: a left route cordoned off by a column of ice blocks, and a right route free of any of that hogwash. It took me and the crew approximately five seconds to figure out where all the collectibles were. (Again, old-fashioned instincts at work.)

Without hesitation, we began trekking to the left. The usual business resumed: Kine took care of stray enemies, I burnt down all those blocks of ice, and Coo flew in and grabbed any nearby food or trinkets he could get his fins on. And all the while—wouldn't you know it—our favorite pink puffball joined us on our way, giving some other wandering foes a good poke with his 'lil staff.

"Twenty-five years sure flies by when you're making friends and having fun with friends," Kirby commented, tossing his staff up and down in the air. Coo and Kine were ahead, letting us have a simple conversation together. "When I first landed on Pop Star, I couldn't have ever imagined something like this happening. So many friends here, all for the sake of our shared galaxy… it's almost like a miracle in three dimensions, really."

"Fun way to put it, Kirby," I replied. "Wouldn't be the first 'miracle' you've helped put together. Blimey, it's not even the first time you've helped others become better friends." All I need to do is look around and see the influence of our three 'newest' guys for proof of that.

"When you're shaped like a friend, things like that tend to just kind of… happen!" he casually dismissed. "It's what I live for. It's what I'll fight for." He twirled his staff some more with his eyes closed.

"…y'know, you've always found a way to be pretty chill about 'ventures like these," I stated. "Like—even when you were all serious at the beginning, here you are, happy and stoked. It's really somethin' else!"

"It helps that I've got the whole squad here this time. The crew members I know best, across the galaxy and even across dimensions… it makes me wish everyone at Cappy Town could see us now."

Right, the crew back at Cappy Town – the villagers and our alternate selves, plus the sixteen Ultimates we've befriended. I found myself smiling, remembering them. Sure, they've been at the center of some of the craziest events to happen to us – but even so, I can't help but feel fond over them.

I still remember when Kirumi and Ryoma first appeared—the latter in our Great Forest, the former after being dropped off by Meta Knight. 'Twas kind of bonkers, if I'm being honest: I mean, people randomly showing up without warning? That's weird, even by Dream Land standards. But in spite of that, they've become pretty good friends of ours – they may be somewhat quiet, but that's alright with me. Peace and quiet's a thing we tend to appreciate 'round here.

Same thing with our Cappy Town counterparts. You'd think interacting with a guy who's basically the same as you would be a most bizarre experience – but it's not that bad, honestly. They haven't gone through as much as we have, but they're still fun to hang around. Other me's like the brother I never knew I had – ain't that saying something?

Man, if only everybody knew about the quest we were undertaking…

"…thinking about their smiles gives me strength," Kirby suddenly said, after a little bit. "Sure, it gets a little lonely sometimes, and it's not fun and games all the time on Pop Star. But…" He stopped spinning his staff, instead holding it out like a hand reaching out. "…then I remember all that I'm fighting for, and all my fears fade away." He glanced at me. "You were probably wondering about that, weren't you?"

E-Eh!? "W-Well," I said, scratching the back of my head, "I—I can't say I wasn't, n-no—"

Kirby laughed. "Oh come on, I could see it in your face from a mile away. And that's okay! It's only natural to be worried over your friends. I'd be in the same position if it was me having to watch from the sidelines." He smiled. "I don't blame you for 'not being there' or anything. I want you guys to be happy, above all else. I think that's something everybody would want for their friends—right?"

…and there he goes again, doing what he does best: showing us the power of friendship.

That's why we like him, really.

Y'know, it's been a huge year for us. From big Cake Royales to galaxy-wide adventures to even a whole different Dream Land – our world's changing, and though there'll always be a place for us to just relax and take a nap, we can't look away from danger anymore. (Not like we were the type of people to do that in the first place.) And you know what? That's okay. I think we're all ready for a bit of change – and we'll gladly the chance to team up again with our adventuring buddies.

'Sides, we've got plenty of friends to look out for too. Pick, Mine, Chuchu, Pitch, Nago, even Kirumi and Ryoma… they'd all want us to fight on, even if they couldn't be there to lend a hand themselves. Everyone else here feels the same way, I know that. It doesn't matter that we've sat out the previous dozen-or-so adventures – what matters is that we're here, and we're willing to give this our best shot. We're united now, more than we've ever been before, and with everyone else lifting us higher – well mates, I can tell you these religious hooligans won't ever see it comin'.

That's how Kirby's operated since forever, and that's how the Star Allies'll operate as well. Our favorite puffball's really influenced us in that way, and I can't say I don't like how everything's turned out at this point. So long as he stays friendly and I stay at our side, I think everything'll be just ripper. Sure, I'm not as amazing a fighter as, say, Daroach or Susie, but who says I need to be? I'm Kirby's friend, and that's all he needs me to be!

"You're right, mate!" I exclaimed. "Strewth, you always know what to do in a situation like this." I scratched my fur a little. "Well, 'nuff chattin'—I should catch back up with my other mates. Leaders can't do everything by themselves, y'know!"

"That's fine with me. Whatever you feel is right, I'll stand by it!"

With my resolutions restored, I marched on back to my two best friends, who were over at the end of this corridor in front of this treasure chest. Whatever comes up ahead after this… I know it'll be a real rage for us.


[N/A]

There was a door.

There was a door, several feet off the ground.

There was a door, several feet off the ground, above an alcove.

There was a door, several feet off the ground, above an alcove, with no visible platform to get to it.

And the best part was…

Right below it just so happened to be several sharp-looking spikes orbiting an elevated piece of land.

And unfortunately, said piece of land was still too far away from the aforementioned door to be of any help.

(It should be mentioned that the Star Allies had already re-befriended the NESP hanging nearby.)

Kirby—and most of the other Star Allies—had experienced puzzles that required the usage of a key to open a locked door before. It had become a regular thing to see as of late; if there wasn't a door by the time they reached the second 'level' of an adventure, then something was clearly wrong.

But none of that experience – not even the Friend Bridge dilemma involving keys and a veritable avalanche of Waddle Dees literally a dimension prior – could help them deal with this.

"Well, this just sucks," Rick succinctly summarized the situation. The key for the door lay on the ground in front of him as he stared upward at what was assuredly impossibility incarnate.

"I couldn't have put it any better myself," Kine added.

"Clearly, this place is taunting us," Coo griped. "It's right there! The confounded contraption is plainly visible to all our eyes and yet—it is impossible to get to! That's—that's simply—hogwash! Absolute hogwash!"

Experimentally, Ceri the NESP brought up her hand, and attempted to use PK Shift on the door. It didn't work. "Okay," she said cheerfully, "I'm outta ideas."

"THAT-DIDN'T-TAKE-LONG," Gim snarked, spinning his yo-yo around. "YOUR-'MAGIC'-CLEARLY-NEEDS-WORK. MAYBE-YOU-SHOULD-TRY-GOING-TO-MAGIC-SCHOOL-OR-SOMETHING."

"Hee hee hee…" Ceri giggled creepily. "You sound like you want to be a test subject for my studies. Shall I grant such a request?"

"Calm down, guys," Kirby tried to soothe the crowd. "I'm sure there's a solution to this… admittedly mind-bending puzzle. We just gotta think a little bit, that's all!"

"That might be a problem for at least half of us here, then," Susie drawled. ("Hey!" shouted a number of Star Allies in response.) "Is there a reason why we can't just fly up to the door with the key in hand? Many of us are quite capable of doing that, be it with wings or simply hovering."

"It's… not that easy, mate," Rick slowly said.

"Unfortunately, he's right," Coo grumbled. "These blasted keys disable flight if you're even holding 'em! I'd love to carry it with my claws, but it's just impossible!"

"You wouldn't believe how troublesome that factor was," Meta Knight stated, recalling images from the 'Lor Reconstruction' quest in his mind. "The Ancients had a twisted sense of humor, it seems. Making tools only able to be held by hand and grounding its carriers in the process… it is truly an exercise in excessive uselessness."

The CEO scoffed. "That can't be right. You must be exaggerating. Such a key surely can't exist, even in Another Dimension." Intent on proving the knight wrong, Susie grabbed the key and whipped out her Transporter. The rotors on top of the flying device spun around for a moment… before unceremoniously spluttering and promptly coming to a halt.

"…huh?" she said dumbly. She brought the Transporter in front of her, seemingly trying to comprehend what just happened—and then she proceeded to whack it with a wrench several times. (Not even seasoned creators of technology are immune from using percussive maintenance, I see, Meta Knight noticed.)

"You can't be breaking down now!" she hissed. "I gave you an update to your systems last week! I personally saw to your bug-testing back at the facility! Get back to work already!"

Adeleine walked up to Susie and moved the key a fair distance away from her. All of a sudden, the blades of her Transporter suddenly 'got back to work', as she commanded it to do. The former secretary flitted her eyes back and forth between it and the key.

She took the key in her hand.

The Transporter stopped working.

She put the key down.

The Transporter started whirring again.

She repeated this process a couple more times.

The exact same result occurred.

"…what," she finally said.

"Yeah, keys are weird," the artist said, a sheepish smile on her face. "You're not the first one to be like that about 'em."

"No kidding," Ribbon muttered, annoyed. "I can't carry them at all – or pick up Addie while she's carrying one!" She frowned. "I don't like it. I'm a fairy! If I can't fly, then there's not a whole lot I can do!"

Susie stared blankly at the fairy for a bit before throwing her hands up in the air. "Fine. Fine!" she groused. "I don't even know why I'm surprised anymore. What else can this insane obstacle of a place throw at us?"

"It can throw us a bone," Gooey randomly said. "Sometimes I hear people say stuff should do that more often. So maybe this place will do that."

A brief silence aired through the area, as was wont to happen in the blob's presence. Susie buried her face into her palms, her whispered grievances too low a volume for anyone to hear.

"That is… farfetched, to say the least," Dark Meta Knight replied.

"If it was willing to do that, we wouldn't have gotten Parallel Woods as a boss fight," Dedede opined.

"IT-IS-DISAPPOINTING," Gim intoned, "HOW-SIMPLE-LOGIC-FALLS-TO-SUCH-SAD-PARLOR-TRICKS. I-WOULD-DOCUMENT-THIS-IN-MY-MEMORY-BANKS, IF-I-WEREN'T-SO-INSULTED."

"And I'm insulted by your insistence on ignoring almost anything mystic," Ceri griped quietly.

"Back to business," Kine sighed. "Anything will go, I suppose."

And so the suggestions continued. "We could try painting a cannon, like we did before," Ribbon tried. "Shoot the key all the way to the door. So long as it gets there, it shouldn't matter how it does!"

Adeleine shook her head. "My paintings are a bit too limited for that," she refuted. To demonstrate, she drew a Waddle Dee and sent it toward the key on the ground. No matter what it did, it didn't seem to affect the key in any way. "They can attack enemies, and I can ride 'em, but they're not so good at interacting with objects."

"I wish they were," Marx bemoaned. "There are just so many opportunities for prank setups otherwise…"

"O-Okay," Bandana Dee interjected, "h-how about we stack together a-and carefully balance toward the door? I—I think we've—we've got enough room t-to do it…"

"It… It could be done," Kirby replied, "but…"

"…we're more coordinated in battle than we are in athletics," Magolor finished for him. "In addition…" He looked up at the missing clifftop; it was vertically quite the distance away. And there were still the spikes to worry about. "…we'd run the risk of stumbling and destroying the key entirely. Which… wouldn't be good. At all."

"It's still an actual idea, though," Dedede said. "Probably our best one right now."

"Me, Kine, and Coo have enough experience in stackin' up to give it a shot, anyway," Rick shrugged. "We'd just need maybe a couple other dudes to join us and we'd be golden."

"I'd be more than willing to do it," Ceri volunteered immediately. "I haven't gotten a chance to practice using my ESP while keeping my balance on somebody else… Hee hee…"

"O-Okay," Taranza stammered, officially creeped out, "do—do we have a-any other ideas? Ideas th-that don't involve c-creepy magic girls?"

Just then, a ball of ESP inexplicably exploded close to where the Star Allies were standing. They jumped and instantly turned to look at their resident psychic girl. As unnerving as she could be, she had the sense of mind to hold her hands up in the air and say, "That wasn't me. I have better control than that."

The sound of PK Shift charging up got them to move their eyes toward the platform surrounded by spikes – and lo and behold, there was another NESP floating right above it, clearly hostile to the group. "Ha ha!" he melodramatically declared. (Not all NESPs acted the same, like how not all puffballs had the same abilities.) "You all have fallen into my trap! I will defeat you interlopers, here and now, and reap all the rewards for my masters—!"

That was as far as he got before he was blasted with an ice beam, courtesy of Daroach. (Ceri shivered. That was ruthless, even by her standards.) "So, enemies respawn even here," he noted, putting away his cane about as quickly as he had whipped it out. "I suppose we will have to keep that in mind as we continue onward."

The eyes of Rick, Kine, and Coo visibly lit up with these words, the gears in their brains beginning to rotate at a faster rate than before. Their gazes gradually turned toward each other, and a wicked smile soon sprouted on each of their mouths. Just what we needed, mates, the hamster thought.

"Teleportation was always really fun to do," Marx recalled; by this point, the majority of the Star Allies were huddled together again, with the Animal Trio allowing themselves to sink into the background. Just for show, the jester disappeared and reappeared several times, a joyous grin hanging off his cheeks as the likes of Gim and Taranza struggled to keep track of him. "I could teleport all day and never get tired of it. So maybe we should teleport the key into the door! Like Mags here would teleport lasers into portals!"

"I'm beginning to regret telling you about that."

Ceri suddenly looked far more interested in the conversation.

(In the background, the Animal Trio had backed away a fair distance away from the 'spike pit of collectible doom', as more playful minds would call it. Kine's back was to his two friends, a plunger propped out of his mouth to defend against any would-be attackers. Rick and Coo, notably, looked to have a plan already figured out in their minds.)

"If the key is warded against any and all forms of flight," Daroach began, "then warping is likely out of the question as well. Though I myself have experience in using magic, as does our wizard friend—" Magolor nodded, in acknowledgement—"I do not believe either of us can use it so effectively as to break time and space wide open."

"It'd probably just add to our already existing problems," Dedede said. And I see enough teleport spamming out of Soul Bosses as it is, he thought. A moment passed, and then he added, "Not like these Friend Hearts aren't already enough of a headache for us…"

"Alas, these Friend Hearts are too vital to ignore," Meta Knight half-lamented. "But you know we'd gladly hunt for them, again and again. They're important for Kirby, after all."

"You've—You've got th-that right!" Bandana Dee proclaimed.

(The plan was remarkably simple, once they remembered and often forgotten trait of Rick's admittedly large feet. And of course, Star Allies being Star Allies, there was no way they couldn't go through with it without a little flair to spice things up. Even Kine, as calm and composed as he often was, couldn't wait to see the result of this next act.)

"Awwww," Kirby rubbed the back of his head, his blushes becoming a little more red. "Thanks, guys! You really know how to make a guy blush."

"AMUSING-AFFECTIONS-ASIDE," Gim spoke up, "WE-STILL-REQUIRE-A-SOLUTION-TO-OUR-CONUNDRUM. I-REQUEST-A-CONSENUS-TO-BE-MADE-BEFORE-I-DECIDE-IT-FOR-YOU-ALL."

"Maybe one of us could just… throw the key really hard?" Adeleine suggested, a hand beneath her chin. "And we have a bunch of us waiting beneath the door in case the key ends up dropping?"

(All the Animal Trio needed to do now was wait for that devout NESP to warp back into the scene. Coo jumped onto Rick's back while Kine carefully positioned himself behind the two. It felt kind of ironic to Coo, honestly, considering what he had ended up pulling off the previous dimension. I guess that just goes to show how great my ideas are! he internally beamed.)

The fourteen other Star Allies in the huddle considered that idea for a couple moments. Then Kirby did his best impression of a shrug and decided, "Well, we've gotta try something eventually. So sure, let's do this!"

"I refuse to be standing in front of this door any longer than necessary," Dark Meta Knight said. "If, in some way, this method allows us to finally progress further into this dimension, then at the very least, it is a method worth my consideration."

"What Darky said, minus all that fancy fluff," Marx chimed in. "Now, how about we key in our success already?" He flamboyantly spun on his feet to where the key should've been, only to find empty air. "…eh? Did we get pranked while I wasn't looking?"

Out of the blue, a very familiar curling stone bearing Rick's face shot forward, straight toward the spike pit of collectible doom. Fifteen faces watched in varying degrees of awe and interest as Coo—riding atop the unorthodox vehicle—somehow managed to lift Rick up with the help of a parasol and send him flying. Rick returned to normal as he soared, hopping off a conveniently placed ball of energy from the returned NESP (who was also gawking in shock), then the NESP himself, and finally—he reached the door itself.

It became unlocked at last.

The tan hamster comfortably landed inside the newly opened corridor and picked up the three Friend Hearts waiting within. "Well mates," he exclaimed to everyone else, "it's done! Wasn't that an ace performance, or what?"

Another brief silence passed between the group.

Marx was the first to break it. "…wow," he said. "Y'know, when I said 'do it again, but better,' I wasn't expecting you to actually take my advice." The grin he had before returned in full force. "I should start giving advice more often!"

The remaining Star Allies gathered had various reactions to the 'ace performance': Gooey obliviously tilted back and forth; Susie loudly groaned in exasperation; Dedede, Meta Knight, and Bandana Dee just looked confuddled; Daroach had an approving expression. And as for verbal responses…

Ribbon looked disappointed. "I wanted to ride a flying rock this time…" she quietly said. She sat on Adeleine's shoulder, crossed her arms, and pouted. (It was a rather petulant act, sure, but—Hey, it was cool! She could be forgiven after missing out twice, right?)

"Don't worry, Ribbon," the artist soothed her best friend, "you'll get a chance after we finish this whole adventure. I guarantee that."

"Okay, Addie… You better make sure Rick and Gooey make it happen, alright? I don't wanna miss out on it again!"

"ERROR," Gim suddenly announced. "ERROR. PLAYING-BACK-RECENT-FOOTAGE. ATTEMPTING-TO-ANALYZE-RECENT-EVENTS. CURRENT-VERDICT: WHAT-IN-NOVA'S-NAME-JUST-HAPPENED."

Ceri looked vindictive. "How's that fancy tech of yours doing for you there? Can't match up to the mystic arts, right? Hee hee hee…"

Overall? It wasn't too bad a scene. "See, guys? I told you we'd find a way to win this!" Kirby grinned. "Let's give it up for our temporary leaders, everyone! WOO!" He tossed his staff in the air again—and accidentally let it bonk him in the head. "Yowch! Gotta be more careful there…"

Coo preened proudly. "Beautiful, ain't it? We've still got it! I bet you thought we couldn't do it—but we did! Ha ha,take that!"

"You don't need to go that far, but… I won't dispute that it is something worth celebrating, at least a little," Kine said, smiling.


Dimension II – Third Hero Trial

It took approximately twenty seconds into Marx's stint as Hero Trial lead for him to actually get serious.

This wasn't because he was temporarily in command and he understood the consequences for failure (though he definitely wouldn't argue the latter) – it was because he had ended up kicking a ball into a random Bomb Block first thing and had a piece of land come crashing to the ground. The poor Blipper sacrificed in the process would… probably be missed. Probably.

Marx had shuddered – actually shuddered – upon seeing it happen. Whatever jokes and aggravations he had immediately fell by the wayside as a result. (It was easy to forget the danger of Another Dimension when you could find time to have fun with your friends.)

In any case, none of the Star Allies wanted to become street paste by random falling fragments from the sky. They were too big to move, and it was too much of a risk to rely on the sporadically-appearing Dream Rod in the case of reviving any Dream Friends. So that necessitated some more careful planning.

The lead jester warily looked up; a very thin layer of metal blocks was the only thing stopping another glorified crusher from falling. He spawned a watery beach ball beneath his feet and tentatively kicked it toward the Bomb Block at the wall. It exploded, and so did the rest of the metal blocks connected to it. Before too long, the terrain came careening down, its impact compounded with a heavy thud.

"I… don't like this," Marx confessed, biting his lip. "This whole place is a hazardous nightmare. There's evil—and then there's monstrously evil." He popped off another ball and tossed it at the Driblee that had descended with the platform. "This is so clearly the latter type that it's not even funny."

"Are those second thoughts I'm hearing from you, Marx?" Dark Meta Knight inquired. "Not that I don't agree with you, but last I checked, you were not the type to so cautiously tread forward in this manner."

"Maybe I'm just putting on this front as façade for comedic effect," the clown suggested, though his heart wasn't in it – the mirror swordsman could tell, based on his more quieter tones.

He hummed. "That is a lie, and you are more than aware of it."

"…guess I'm not the only one good at reading people 'round here." Marx spread out his wings and ascended, gesturing for his Vitriolic Best Bud to follow. Several flaps of the dark knight's black and tattered wings later, the two moved on to the next floor of the makeshift tower, everyone else following in suit.

"I think about my own death, sometimes," he continued. "About drifting in space in a virtual coma for something like twelve years. I dunno about you, but—that really taught me a lot about… that type of stuff." (Remarkable use of language, Dark Meta Knight commented internally.) "If—If there's even a chance of—of anyone here having to go through something similar…" Dark Meta Knight didn't miss how his friend-slash-irritating-pest's eyes briefly shot toward the piece of now-elevated land. "I… don't think I'd react well. Not after everything."

There was something far more insecure in Marx's expression, he could see. For somebody who relished in prodding through trickery as many people as he could, and generally being a rather noisy nuisance, it was a foreign sight to witness. And it was only here, at the front of the lines, with an ally who he had somehow gotten close to, where he was letting his previously-understated nervousness leak through. That spoke wonders of how much he trusted him.

"Buuuuuuuuut—that's not something you need to worry about, Darky!" …he is certainly doing his best to conceal it in spite of that, though. "I'm a big boy, I know how to take care of myself! And I'm sure you are, too! You wouldn't end up beneath one of these things, after all!"

"Of course not. It would be unacceptable if I succumbed to such an embarrassing fate. The same applies to the rest of our companions, I believe – the ones you seem to be immensely concerned for." Marx shifted his eyes away as he kicked a ball toward another Bomb Block—mercilessly, one that only dropped three Rockies onto the scene. "Amusing – I distinctly remember you telling me to 'have more faith in you', and yet here I am, convincing you of the same thing. You are not so careless as to spell the doom of the Star Allies. In that regard, these crushers should not be unnerving you so deeply."

"Hey, they doooooon't," Marx unconvincingly lied.

"You would not be conversing with me like this if that was true."

"…okay, they do." Blowing up the trio of Rockies with a ball bomb, he continued, "It's—It's a lot of responsibility to handle. And I'm… not responsible. At all."

"I believe you are responsible enough to handle this. As do all of us." As they waltzed on over to the nearby ladder, Dark Meta Knight concluded by saying, "You and I are both more than capable of rising above our own faults – you yourself, however intentionally or not, taught that fact to me. Peasant though you may be, you are also my—our proud trickster. Do not let this challenge get the better of you." He began to arise once more, leaving Marx there to contemplate his words.

He smiled. "…y'know, I think I've really gotten through to him," he said, his luster returning to him. "He's right. I should be more confident 'bout this, crushers or not! I'm the Ultimate Jester of the Gamble Galaxy, after all! Hahahahaha!" And with that, he shot off into the sky, following his sort-of best friend.

("…is anyone here going to inform those two we could hear their conversation perfectly clearly?" Susie wondered, an eyebrow duly raised.

"Nah!" Kirby instantly replied. "They're enjoying themselves, so we should just let them be!"

"Yeah! It's cute!" Adeleine collaborated. "And if you wanna disturb it, you're gonna have to go through us!" Ribbon nodded in unison with her.

Susie's eyes noted both their determined expressions – and the way the former was holding her paintbrush. "…very well. I will just watch from the sidelines, then.")


Dedede grit his teeth as he dove out of the way of an incoming Bugzzy EX. "More EX Mid-Bosses, huh…!?" he hissed. "Only good thing 'bout this guy is that he's not a big bad boss!" Though that's not saying much!

The Bugzzy flew far, reaching Bandana Dee on the other side of the room. "E-Eep!" yelped the self-proclaimed 'Assistant of the Stars'. The poor boy panicked and started flinging spears at the mid-boss in rapid succession. And while they did damage him… they didn't really do much to deter him from attacking.

The master of the Suplex ability promptly grabbed him and threw him at the wall. "Ow-wow-wow-wow-wow—!"

"Dee!" Dedede exclaimed. How dare you target my precious assistant…!

"Don't worry, I got this!" Kirby charged in—adorned with the Water ability, this time—and sent a whole wave of water washing over the oversized bug. It didn't take him long to reach his friend and hoist him onto his back.

Phew! Now that that's done… Dedede flung himself back into the fray, bringing down his hammer hard on Bugzzy's head. In response, the wrestler (or rather, wrestling fan) jumped high and started repeatedly slamming into the ground, intending to crash into the regent. He braced himself with his hammer—and took one of the hits head-on. "Man," he said, being pushed backward, "you're even tougher than before! What the heck have you been eating!?"

Being more of a construct than an actual living being, the enemy Bugzzy huffed and glowered into his opponent's eyes. He crouched and promptly summoned a pack of Bugzzy Jr.'s onto the scene.

"…based on how quiet you're being, I'mmm gonna guess it wasn't Superspicy Curry." And that was how Dedede had to fight off a swarm of fast-moving angered ladybugs with just his mallet.

Amidst the sounds of battle up top, Dedede could also hear the rest of the Star Allies—Marx included—shuffling below in the water. Marx's voice came to the surface: "C'mon, guys! I can hear the Friend Heart coming down this way!"

"Th-There's a lot of e-enemies here, though!" Taranza's voice echoed back. "D-Does—Does anybody know what's with the giant whale!?"

"Addie and I do!" Ribbon replied. "Long story, but I dunno how he got here either!"

"That doesn't matter!" Meta Knight barked. "He is assaulting us; we must keep retaliating in kind!"

"You know," Dedede grunted, swatting away the bugs, "when I think about it… you're not… doing a very good job… of trying to stop us…! I mean—everyone else… is kind of below us as we speak…" He shot a tired but cocky smirk at his foe. "Really, all you are is just a glorified distraction!"

Bugzzy could best be described as 'officially ticked off' now. He rose into the sky and started divekicking toward Dedede – only to be intercepted by Kirby pulling off Rainbow Rain right in his face ("Woo-hoo!" was his joyous cry), accompanied by Bandana Dee unleashing a series of thrusts with his water-tipped spear. "T-Take that!" the latter exclaimed. "I'm—I'm not just a pretty face, s-see!?"

Dedede's mouth tipped upward. "That's my boy!" he said warmly.

The EX Mid-Boss hopped back a few steps, venomously glaring at the reestablished trio. It was clear he wasn't pleased by this change in circumstances.

"This takes me back," Kirby casually stated. "It's you two and me against a guy from Another Dimension who really doesn't like us. All we need is Meta Knight and the whole gang's complete!"

"I can't believe how long ago that was…" Bandana Dee muttered. "We've—We've come so far, h-huh? I d-don't think I could've ever imagined us being here like this…"

"Neither did I a few hours ago, but life just loves to prove us wrong," Dedede responded. "I'm starting to wonder if we should start a betting pool for this type of stuff. The one we did for Shuichi and Kaede's relationship worked pretty well!"

"I call for fighting Void Soul Soul next True Arena," the puffball jokingly put forward.

"I wouldn't consider it out of the question to have another battle tournament or something in our future," Dedede offered.

"M-Maybe we'll visit a b-bunch more dimensions, like with that Ultimate Academy place…" Bandana Dee mentioned.

The sounds of pincers clashing alerted the three Star Allies to Bugzzy getting ready to perform a Turbo Dash Grab, a horde of more Bugzzy Jr.'s buzzing right behind him. "Looks like we'll have to place our bets later," Dedede said, his hammer once more slung over his shoulder. "I think this guy's been standing long enough!"

"True that," Kirby agreed. The waves on his crown seemed to twirl at an excited pace. "Let's show 'em what for!"

"Yeah! Together!" Bandana Dee rallied, his spear pointed directly at the sky.


[Gooey]

Dimension II – Fourth Hero Trial

My name is Gooey. I like being Gooey. Gooey is Gooey.

Gooey is a friend, and a friend is me.

Are you a friend, too?

Yes? That's good. Friendship is nice. I like having more friends. Kirby says more friends are good, so it must be true.

Can I be your friend? You look like you could use a friend.

Thank you. I've made a new friend today!

Let's talk. How are you today?

Oh, that's good.

Today for me is okay. We're in this dimension place trying to save the galaxy, I think. It sounds kind of dangerous, but if everyone's here, we should be okay.

Oh, right – everyone is here, too. There's Ado and Ribbon and Kirby and Dee and Marx and Dark Meta and everyone. There's also that robot-making lady from two years ago. There's lots of people today helping us and each other. We're all becoming better friends and I think it's very nice.

I don't really understand everything that's going on. This place feels weird and chaos-y and kind of like Dark Matter from before. There's these really strong bad guys that want to stop us from being friends, I think. We also keep finding these heart thingies that Kirby likes to use. There's a lot of stuff happening – but I guess it's alright. We just need to 'do our thing' and then it'll all stop being a problem.

That's what usually happens in Dream Land.

You think it's good too, right? That's good. Everyone deserves to be happy and to eat food. I like eating. Fish is yummy. So are apples. All foods are good for your soul. Food helps you do a lot of things – like make friends. Nobody can say no to eating a good lunch.

Unless you're a very bad person. I hope you're not a very bad person.

The Ultimate kids weren't very bad though – so you shouldn't be. I like it that way. You should like it that way, too.

You do?

Then… I think I like you.

What am I doing right now? Oh, I'm helping to explore this place that 'only I can take the lead on'—that's what Ado says. (Ado's a good friend of mine. I like the way she makes food. And she's cute when she smiles. Her face goes red when I say that to her though; I don't know why.)

There are wood stumps and burning wood here, but it's easy to take care of them. You just need to turn into a rock and use an umbrella. This makes the floor go up. I don't know why, but my friends think it's a good thing, so I feel nice for doing it. We even get some of Kirby's pink hearts. They taste like friendship. Like those fancy doors taste like doors. I should try more stuff in here. They don't taste bad.

We go up and up and up. There's even a ladder for everyone else to climb. Everyone looks like they're having a lot of fun. They're laughing and talking and jumping and drawing and lots of friendly things. It makes me happy to see my friends being good friends. Even if some of them were bad guys before, Kirby says everybody can be a friend if they really try – so it's good for the whole world.

It's a good thing to believe in that. You should, too. No matter where you are or what you've been, that's a thing that will never change. That's Kirby's motto.

…what about me? Mmm…

I'm not sure if I can tell you, but I can try.

I don't remember anything from before Dream Land. I woke up one day. Then, I became hungry. So I walked to some water and ate some fish. They were some very delicious fish. Those were the first foods I ever tasted. That's why I like to fish a lot. It's relaxing, and you get free food out of it, too. (It's even better when you're with your friends.) Then I forgot what time it was, so I sat there and thought about questions.

I thought about a lot of things. Who am I? Where am I? When is it time to eat again? Should I close my eyes and sleep? What does it mean to be 'cute'?

(I still think about them sometimes. Everybody thinks about questions – it's not really a weird thing. Kirby asked questions about himself a few months ago. He found answers to them – and he seems to be happy even after that, so it's okay to do.)

I was still by the pond when Kirby found me.

Kirby's a very nice guy. He likes friendship – out of everybody here, I think he's the person who likes friendship the most. He's my best friend, next to Ado and Ribbon. He taught me a lot about what friendship means, and how good it can be for both a single person and the people around them. It's a good feeling. I like it a lot. So I adopted friends—and food—as my favorite things.

I met a lot of people, thanks to Kirby. Dedede, Rick, Kine, Coo, Chuchu, Nago, Pitch—I became friends with all of them. It took a while for Dedede, but even then, when he acted like a bad guy—he was still a friend. (You just had to look for it.) I even made friends with Ado and Ribbon. Ado's real name is Adeleine, but that's long, so I just call her Ado. We met in Cloudy Park, and she fought Kirby because she was scared, I think – but eventually we became friends anyway because friendship is better than fighting.

I spend a lot of time with Ado and Ribbon. They're good at drawing things. I like to draw with them. My tongue is good at holding crayons and paintbrushes. I do my best and I'm not sure if it's enough, but they like it and tell me it's perfect and great, so it makes me smile anyway. Sometimes I wonder what it means when they stop me from doing something or say 'you're too innocent sometimes, Gooey,' but they do their best, so maybe that's enough.

Whenever I spend time with my friends, I get this bouncy feeling in my bounciness. It's a feeling everyone should be able to feel. Like Kirby, I try my best to share it with as many people as I can. Sharing food's a good way to do that, I learned. So I have big lunches and dinners a lot and that's okay with me.

I also spend time with friends on adventures. I don't go on a lot of them, but they're still fun. There was the time Dark Matter invaded the second time. I don't remember the first time, but I helped Kirby and all the Animal Buddies take them down and get all the Heart Stars. (Heart Stars are like Kirby's heart thingies. I dunno too much about them, though.)

We found out I'm a piece of Dark Matter during that.

You look surprised. Don't worry; everyone else looked like that as well. But Kirby didn't care. He said I was still his friend—and that was it. Nobody else cared about the fact that I was a part of a big evil thing, either. They understood I am Gooey, and Gooey is a true friend, and a true friend always stays a friend, no matter what happens. You understand too, right?

…yes? That's good. That's really good.

You're a true friend, just like Kirby.

I said before, I like friends. I'm here for my friends. I'm here because my friends need my help; because they want to protect me and everyone, I think. I don't understand everything about what's happening, but for my friends, I'll go anywhere. If this whole place wants to cause a problem for everyone, I'll help stop it with my friends. Kirby would do the same thing, so I'll do it too.

When I'm doing nothing except thinking about questions by the waters in the Great Forest, sometimes I find myself thinking about Kirby. Kirby makes a lot of friends. He makes so many friends and Helpers and Dream Friends, you could fill a whole city. We could call it Dream Friend City. (He'd like that.) He makes other people friends with each other, too—there's Taranza and Susie, Marx and Dark Meta, Ado and everyone, Magolor and Daroach, Tiff and Dedede… and I don't think we can forget about the Ultimate kids. (Kaede would agree, I think.) Kirby always knows how to make someone happy, to make them someone they can be proud of. I like to be like Kirby – and I believe you have the power to be like Kirby, too.

There's no reason to be a bad person. There's no reason bad things should touch you. You're somebody good, I can sense that. I can't tell what troubles you have, or why you're here, looking into our world. I don't know who you are, or what you think of us. But… I think there's something about us that makes you happy.

There is something, right? I don't think you would be here otherwise.

If Kirby could see you now, I think he would agree.

We do a lot of things, but we can still help others while we do things. So I hope we can do something to make your life better if you need it. Everyone needs a good friend in their lives – so let us be your friend. Let me be your friend. It won't hurt. That's a promise.

There's nothing wrong with having a lot of good friends.

…I'm happy I can be a friend to you, then.

Everyone's counting on us to do the right thing, so…

Let's do our best to save the galaxy, okay?


[N/A]

"I think I made a new friend today," Gooey randomly stated as he ascended the vertical corridor.

Kirby raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yep." Something about Gooey's voice, although dreamy as always, seemed perfectly satisfied—an expression the pink puffball recognized as one of his own, whenever he managed to at last reach out to a friend. (Dedede, Dark Meta Knight, Kaede, Tsumugi, Knuckle Joe… there were a lot of faces that could testify to that.) "I think they're happy to see us, wherever we go. I think they're a little worried, but I think that's okay. If we can make them happy, then we'll be able to make their lives better. We'll be able to assure them. That's what a friend does, right?"

Kirby didn't hesitate to nod with a mighty smile as they reached solid ground. "If you can then," he said, "tell 'em not to worry about us, alright? We'll get through this crisis intact. We're the Star Allies, after all." He pumped his fist into the sky. "So long as we stick together, our bonds'll be enough to conquer the cosmos!"

"That's good. They'll be happy to know that." And so Gooey floated off, beckoned by a column of rocks blocking an alcove to the right.

"…again, you've certainly assembled quite the collection of friends." Kirby looked to his sides to see both Magolor and Meta Knight walking up to him, watching Gooey stick his tongue up in the air to use a Friend Ability. Magolor brought a hand beneath his chin. "What do you think he means when he says he's made a new friend? As far as I can tell, most of everyone here is already more than acquainted with each other."

"The inner workings of a mind such as his can rise to places we cannot fully see," Meta Knight mused. "Perhaps it was always meant to be that way. If he has stumbled upon a person who he deems needs a friend, through methods only he can access… then we should accept his decisions, however strange they may seem."

"Gooey's a bit weird, sure—but then again, we're all weird in some way," Kirby stated. "He's a good friend either way, so let's let him do friendly things however he so pleases! I'd do the same thing, in his place!"

"You would, wouldn't you…" Magolor closed his eyes. "…maybe's that all we need, in the end. Maybe that's all anybody needs."

"A true statement, if there ever was one," Meta Knight agreed.


Dimension II

As inconsequential as they may seem, the Helpers were still an important part of the Star Allies. The main sixteen members were formidable fighters on their own – especially Kirby, Meta Knight, King Dedede, and Bandana Dee – but who says a little more assistance here and there isn't something to appreciate? (That was why Kirby and Magolor had this gathering of heroes and villains to begin with, after all.)

Plus, for as relatively simple as things may seem… the instability of Another Dimension stretched far, even within its own confines. There was simply no telling what its influence could do undetected while the Star Allies continued their journey – especially since the Lor and its advanced systems were all the way back at the Jambandra Base's entrance.

The answer then was simple. With a threat as large a caliber as this, it was only natural that there be scouts to explore the limits and unknown dangers of this unbounded dominion. And who would be better for the task than the Helpers?

"Come on, gang!" Driblee excitedly shouted, riding a wave of water down an unexplored road. "We've got a lot to do while we're here and only so much time to do it!"

"YOUR-EXCITEMENT-IS-BECOMING-GRATING," Gim mechanically grumbled. "I-ADVISE-YOU-TO-LOWER-IT. MY-AUDIO-RECEPTORS-ARE-TOO-IMPORTANT-TO-BE-TEMPORARILY-TURNED-OFF-FOR-THIS."

"Come now, Gim," Bugzzy said, his champion headband perched proudly atop his head. "You needn't be so bothered by him." Much like Driblee, he radiated confidence in both himself and the situation. "We're all friends here, are we not? After all the trials we have faced together, we should more than understand each other's tastes! Ho ho ho."

"Well, I suppose that is partially true," Ceri interjected. Though her eyes were masked by her hood and her baseball cap, one got the impression that she was glaring daggers into Gim's robotic form. "I certainly understand how much I dislike those overly focused on stupid technological junk."

"BITE-ME, WITCH."

"Oh, I can oblige you that."

"Hey, d-don't do that!" Driblee pouted. "Why are you two always like this? Every time you're together, you two just keep fighting! We're supposed to be a team!"

"TEAM-IS-A-STRONG-APPELLATION. 'TEMPORARY-PARTNERS'-IS-A-MORE-ACCURATE-DESCRIPTION."

"That is perhaps the most agreeable thing you've said all day."

Bugzzy laughed again. The other three Helpers promptly turned to him. "Oh ho ho ho—you know, this is beginning to take me back." He closed his eyes as he reminisced. "You should remember too, Gim—Birdon and Simirror shared a similar connection to you and Ceri here." Somehow, the image in Gim's robotic lens seem to shrink as his memory banks brought up the relevant information into his mind. (Ceri tilted her head, oblivious.) "She was brawn, he was brains, they often clashed… you two remind me of them before they finally got together. Makes me wish I found my own sweetheart long ago. Ah, to be young again…"

Ceri got it that time. She and Gim slowly turned to look at each other.

"Hee hee hee hee hee…" Ceri giggled darkly. She turned back to look at Bugzzy. "Oh, that's funny. Almost as funny as you volunteering to be my next training dummy."

"ERROR. ERROR. INFORMATION-INCOMPATIBLE-WITH-DATABASE. ATTEMPTING-TO-DELETE-MEMORY-FROM-RECORDS… WHY-IS-IT-FAILING."

"That sounds crazy… but also totally believable!" Driblee decided, his eyes sparkling. "I should tell everyone else about this when we get back! They'd want to hear it, too!"

Two voices simultaneously shot back, "Not a chance."

But before the conversation could continue—

"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!"

The four paused in their tracks.

"Wh-Wh… What was that…?" Driblee slowly asked.

"I… I cannot say that I know," Bugzzy replied, his eyes narrowing to the point of utter seriousness.

For several moments, they didn't move a single muscle. Driblee dared to dream that, perhaps, they had just been imagining things. Th-This place may be a little creepy, but that d-doesn't mean it's a s-sign of anything…

Y-Yeah…! That—that has to be right…

"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!"

N-Nope! Not right, not right at all!

"…ANALYZING-EXTERNAL-INFLUENCES…" Gim's lens rapidly shot about the general area, the gears in his body whirring loudly with his systems. "THE-GENERAL-ENERGY-READINGS-OF-THIS-LOCATION-HAVE-SPIKED-DRAMATICALLY. SENSORS-INDICATE-AN-UNKNOWN-FLUCTUATION-MOVING-ABOUT-THE-AREA—BUT-IT-IS-MOVING-TOO-FAST-TO-ANALYZE-ANY-FURTHER."

"…N-NOVA himself must be signaling something to us," Ceri chose to interpret. Her hands were clasp together and noticeably shaking. "He—He must be informing us that we need to stop wasting our time and get a move on. That is the truth. My—My psychic sensibilities will it to be so."

(In all honesty, she could've said 'I feel like my biscuits are on fire' at that exact moment and she wouldn't have been bothered over it.)

"There is a good chance that this is the type of worst-case scenario that the Star Allies anticipated," Bugzzy surmised. "We knew from the start that this locale was a dangerous sort. It appears we must stay cautious, lest we find ourselves unexpectedly overtaken." There was a great deal of wisdom in his voice, and everyone instinctively felt like letting him take the lead. "I may be old—but it will take a mighty storm before I fail to protect you all. That much, I swear."

"P-Please do!"

"…THOSE-ARE-ACCEPTABLE-TERMS."

"You—You better not let us down, bug."


Dimension II – Fifth Hero Trial

"CHOO CHOO! ALL ABOARD THE FRIEND TRAIN!"

The parade of people barging through Another Dimension's latest trial was a sight to behold. Kirby was excitedly running forward with his hands up in the air and headwear mixing together a conductor's hat and a train whistle. And of course, following behind him – and linked together by bonds made out of stardust – were the rest of the Star Allies.

"WHAT HE SAID!" Dedede exclaimed, a humongous grin hanging brightly off his cheeks. His hands were similarly waving around in the air. "We're ridin' a highway to stardom today! HA HA!"

"W-WAHOO!" Even Bandana Dee was getting in on the action. "Let's go, everyone, let's go!"

"I should go on more of these adventures, if I get to experience events like these," Magolor calmly mused, somehow managing to remain unflappable through the wind soaring past his ears. "It's quite fun."

Each of the Star Allies had their own feelings about the events that were unfolding: plenty were whooping in unison with their leader, some were struggling to stay as stoic as possible, and a select couple had almost no idea what was going on. (Five guesses who the last two were, and the first four don't count.)

"Wh-Wh-Wh-Whoaaaaaaaa—!" Taranza's hands, rather than energetically cheering, were more or less frantically panicking at the speed of sound. "This is—This is going way too faaaaaaaast—!"

"Dare I even ask how this—this spectacle of yours even came about…!?" Susie's voice barely managed to float past the chaos. "I can barely keep up with it…!"

Kirby's response couldn't have been any more expected: "It's 'cause of the power of friendship, of course!"

"…why am I not surprised by your answer?"

"You should be going with the flow, instead of trying to fight it!" Meta Knight advised from the frontlines. "Stay focused—we have a loop approaching us at rapid pace!"

"A what?"

"Oh NOVA, here we go…" quietly went Dark Meta Knight.

The improvised Friend Train hopped up into a suspended loop-de-loop (that, it should be noted, bore little resemblance to anything hedgehogs typically went through) and began running around and around it. Along the way, they activated a switch that made the piece of land start to horizontally scroll—though the majority of them would be hard-pressed to notice.

"I-I'mmm—I'm getting dizzzzzzzzy…" Taranza babbled, his eyes swirling.

"You think you have it rough? Imagine what it was like for me the first time around!" Coo grouched. "You think birds are meant to go through this type of thing!? Of course they aren't!"

"But spinning around in the air is fun," Gooey said. "It makes you feel tingly inside."

"…ain't that somethin' you typically want to avoid?" Rick wondered.

"When it comes to Gooey, you can never be too sure…" Kine sighed.

Kirby's voice kicked back in: "Going down!" The Friend Train descended down the go-through platform onto a conveniently placed slab of land, collecting another glimmering Friend Heart on the way.

"Oh, jeez—there's waaaaay too many bottomless pits 'round here!" Marx groaned. "Those are, like, the worst! The joke material in this place is awful beyond belief!"

"You presume there is even humor to be found in the first place," Dark Meta Knight espoused as the parade of Star Allies bounced back into the loop.

"I believe there is," Daroach interjected. A smile entered his face. "You need only look at those closest to us."

In front of the trio of friends, Adeleine and Ribbon were clearly having the time of their lives. "Wheeeeeeeeee~!" the Ripple Star fairy squeed. "Look at us go!"

Adeleine was similarly glowing. "Friend Trains are the best! I feel like if we keep going, we're gonna touch the stars in no time!"

"…well, you're not wrong," the mirror knight admitted. "It's… a strange feeling, being able to have that feeling of levity through times of crisis. I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to it."

And then: "Heads up, guys—we're going down again!"

Right behind them, Magolor quickly said, "Well, I believe you will have to get used to it fast then. This dimension appears to stop for no one!"

"Oi, oi, oi—these next platforms are even smaller than the last!" Coo's voice squawked loudly. "What the heck!"

"Eh, it's nothing for us!" Kirby responded. "We'll press those switches and snatch those Friend Hearts with no trouble at all! Just watch me!"

"Fine—but if this gets us killed, I reserve the right to scold you 'til we reach the depths of the Underwhere!"

"I'll keep that into account, don't you worry!"


Dimension II – Temple Haven

"Why do you think there are these havens in here?" Kine asked, as the crew of Star Allies walked through the virtual rest area at the end of the dimension. Whereas the previous area had featured clumps of golden trees, forming the image of a vibrant forest, this zone represented a lost temple instead, resembling the types Kirby and co. had seen on both Planet Towera and Gabbel Moon. "I can't imagine that there'd be anyone willingly coming here and building it."

"Perhaps the current situation with this dimension and ours works both ways," Meta Knight hypothesized. "Through the now unstable link between them, the Gamble Galaxy may be imprinting elements of its own terrain into each dimension we face. It would certainly explain the environment that preceded Parallel Woods."

"It's—It's strange to think about…" Adeleine said. "How could something so beautiful result from some place so… so dangerous? I almost can't believe it…"

Magolor had a different theory. "…it could be the work of the Ancients," he voiced. "In their prime, they had creations able to warp time and space as they saw fit. And powering some of them were Energy Spheres that came from this dimension. In that regard… these might be what's left of their efforts to colonialize this place."

Susie was silent, staring at a particular spot on the nearby wall instead of spewing her dignified snark. Her hand brushed up against an old and worn drawing – a happy mustached man and a similarly happy little girl, as rendered by a young child – and she began uncontrollably shaking.

Taranza and Meta Knight noticed easily. "S-Susie?" the arachnid called. "Wh-What are you—?"

"…this used to be the closest thing I had to a home," the CEO admitted, "back when I was trapped here."

"Hmm… You mentioned Another Dimension 'taking so much from you', before we left for Jambandra Base," Meta Knight recalled. "Is that, perchance, part of what you were speaking about?"

"You—You had to live in… in a p-place like this…?" Taranza nervously asked.

Silence, for a couple of moments. "…not by choice."

She walked away, leaving the relic of her past behind – and giving the other two Star Allies a good look at it. Meta Knight and Taranza gazed at the image for longer than was necessary. It didn't take them too long to figure out what it was depicting.

"…she—she still thought of him, huh…?"

"So even a witch like her had something to hold onto…"

Ahead of the pack, Kirby decided to trade his ice powers for the Parasol ability. Call it instinct, I guess. "Okay, guys," he said aloud, "let's get back to business." Once again, the boss gate awaited them at the very end, the unsettling aura it was creating contrasting wildly against the holy nature of the setting around it. The puffball took out his parasol from his back and propped it open. "It's time for round two."

"Bring it on!" Coo exclaimed. "We're not gonna stop for anything!"

"Heh—can't say I don't feel the same," Dedede smirked. "What are we waiting for? Let's get this show on the road!"

"Y-Yeah! No mercy!" Bandana Dee chimed in.

With those words of encouragement, Kirby smiled—and opened the door to renewed chaos.


Location: ?

Like the cold blue forest that Parallel Woods had been found in, the second battle arena bore almost no resemblance to anything that had come before. A sinister red-orange sunset illuminated the atmosphere above, oppressively hanging over the ruined purple tower that sat atop the void of Another Dimension. And despite the clear skies, it felt like there was a storm on the horizon, just waiting to come and irrevocably ruin somebody's day.

The Star Allies stared warily at the dark violet smoke gathering in the middle of the air. The clump of smoke pulsated wildly, eventually splitting into two clouds which expanded at a startlingly fast pace. Kirby knew immediately who it was.

"Of course…" Kirby hissed. "You'll never leave me alone, even when the storms have receded and the weather's perfectly fine…"

More smoke expelled from the both of them with every second, until at last, sharp red spikes formed on their outer edges – complimented by the addition of one angry red eye on the both of them, with disturbingly yellow sclera.

"…isn't that right, Kracko!?"

Unearthly Storm Front
Parallel Twin Kracko

"Bugger!" Rick cursed. "It had to be him, didn't it mates?"

"The Cloud Demon of the Skies…!" Taranza recognized. "B-But… there's—there's two of him…!?"

"No time to talk!" Ribbon shouted, waving her hands in the air. "He's coming for us! Get ready!"

The two cycloptic stormclouds roared – and thus, the clash with Kirby's life-long skybound nemesis began anew.


VS. Parallel Twin Kracko

All worlds—whether in another dimension or some far-flung galaxy—are bound by earth and sky. And where there is sky, there is Kracko! Made of fallen tears and the scattered mists of his enemies, Kracko roars with a dark power. Stay on your toes, Star Allies!


[Marx]

Kracko, Kracko, Kracko… aren't you just a familiar face?

I know 'bout this calamitous cloud – who wouldn't? He's persistent, he's trigger-happy, he's just as determined as good 'ol Pinky himself. The guy's always trying to get at Kirby, even more than Dedede here used to be. And he'll go through anyone so long as he has the chance to bring him down.

I admit, I respect that type of willpower – I mean, I'm kind of the same way. But I don't like it when it's being used against us!

I've seen this guy before and what he can do. The True Arena from March showed us how ruthless he'll get when it comes to fighting his rival. (…or would it be 'they'? He kind of likes being a crowdy cloud half the time…) And that's why I know exactly what the two of him were doing when they started floating up and up and up.

"Hey, hey, hey," I nervously chattered—"Kirby, now would be a really good time for you to use that big umbrella of yours!"

"You don't have to tell me twice!" Kirby raised his parasol up in the air, and it inexplicably grew to a massive size. "Whoever can get underneath here, do so! Everybody else, take to the skies!"

Dedede, Bandana Dee, Adeleine, and Ribbon didn't hesitate in going for cover – Susie hesitated briefly, but she eventually went for it too. Me, I brought out my currently lime green wings and flung myself toward the edge of the battlefield—just as the two Krackos grew a little larger and began spewing a crapton of rain on Kirby.

Kirby can hold up to a lot of things; it's how he defeated my S-S-Soul Form all those years ago. But even he seems to be barely handling the terrible torrent terrorizing him.

And that's something I can't allow. I'm Marx, the second Final Boss of the Star Allies – and I don't let my minions (actually my friends, but shhhh!) get battered by any bad guy lesser than me!

Electrified arrows started firing on all cylinders from my wings, blasting straight through the Twin Krackos' waterfalls and giving them a good shock all the while. Magolor and Taranza were similarly blasting plasma shots and bolts all about; Rick, Kine, and Coo had ascended and were wildly flinging feather boomerangs – but somehow, Kracko seemed most pissed by my presence. One of his two selves, instead of continuing the assault, chose to target me – but that was fine.

Seriously. Kracko hyped up on steroids this may be, but in the end, this is still Kracko – and I know exactly how to get on his nerves.

He should've just bolted on outta here while he had the chance!

"Yo! How're you doin', grape puff?" I cheekily taunted him. He leered at me, unamused. Yeah, that's right, look at me! "Gotta say, you're looking not that great today! You should really get some eye drops – though, I guess it's not like you'll be able to use it, eh?"

The ethereal cloud screeched incoherently and didn't hesitate to start rushing at me. I took off toward the sky, rapidly dropping zap-tapped balls down at his incoming mass. Gee, it didn't take very long to aggro him. Looks like I haven't lost my touch! "That's right—come and get me!"

You know… it's still a little surreal to find myself here, properly alive and able to feel again. It's… It's a feeling you don't learn to appreciate, until you find it taken away from you. It's even worse when you know it's the result of something you did. Something bad.

…I lived in Dream Land before Kirby came. It was pretty quiet back then – there wasn't a whole lot of interesting people to prank either. Just me, the oaf we called king, the Animal Buddies – oh, and Meta Knight too. (He's always fun to mess with.) Everyone else was either off the radar, or wasn't even on Pop Star to begin with.

There was a time I used to dislike it. The peace, the sleepiness, the same things just going on day after day after day. That's… part of why I'm such a big trickster.

I don't like seeing stagnancy.

(Because I think people can be so much more than the same boring person all the time.)

…that's also part of why I tried to take over Pop Star.

And speaking of stagnancy, though…

I've got one Kracko off Kirby's back – but that means I've got one to deal with myself. And he's got plenty of rage to spare!

Spheres of electricity shot forth from Kracko's eye, and I found myself having to swerve a lot to avoid 'em. I've never spun around like this before, and honestly, I think I'm getting a little sick! I flew as fast as I could to the top of a nearby pillar (it's not like these ruins were going to be anything other than 'more ruined' by the end of this) and rapidly started kicking balls toward him.

Oh, don't get me wrong, they were affecting him to some degree – but it was more like chip damage right now. "Gee, it's just shocking how much you wanna thrash me!" I sniped. "You oughta be more polite. Lemme show you how it's done!"

He was coming in closer and closer fast, so I jumped off and dove straight through him, soon after becoming a shadow on the ground. I could sense him wildly looking around, trying to find my location.

Perfect! He won't see this coming!

I gathered my strength—and threwmyself into the air, shadows bursting from around me and slamming into that crazy cloud. I front-flipped through the air and landed on the ground. And then, I beamed, spreading my wings like one would spread out their arms. "And the crowd goes wild!"

"Showing off again, Marx?" Magolor asked, floating over to my side.

"Of course! I gotta have flair, even in the worst of times!" I replied. "You know depression ain't my character schtick!"

"It would be depressing if we had to be all serious, all the time," Daroach agreed. His cape furrowed behind him, his trusty magic cane spinning in his hand. "We are the Star Allies; 'Moon Allies' would've been appropriate if we were less bombastic of a group."

"Heh – like we could be, Dar-Dar! I prefer rainbows to rain, if you get what I mean!"

"That's true of all of us," my favorite wizard noted. The sounds of sparks alerted us to the angry Kracko still on the battlefield. Mags' eyes twinkled. "Now… shall we let Kracko know that fact? I think all of us are itching to show 'em a thing or two."

I grinned. "Oh, you know us so well!"

We flew up, narrowly dodging another wave of plasma balls washing over the area, and started dropping a volley of projectiles – beach balls, fire bombs, magic spheres, you name it! And ma-a-an… from this angle, you can really get a good view of the battlefield! Look, you can see everyone practically dancing! Kirby's twirling in his parasol and bouncing across the arena, Meta and Darky are doing that parrying thing again, Taranza and Susie (I need to get nicknames for them sometime) were jetpacking and… exploding, I think…

…I love seeing everyone like this.

I appreciate them so much more than I used to. (It's a surprise how they appreciate me, too.)

For so many years, I had sat and watched as nothing ever really changed on Pop Star, as everyone was content with what they had. Even Kirby showing up didn't do much to shake things up. I didn't understand it. I didn't understand it at all. I didn't understand anyone at all.

I know once upon a time, Meta Knight didn't either.

Funnily enough… he was my catalyst, in a way. I remember deciding, shortly after he tried taking over Dream Land… I should try doing the same thing he did: make a world unbound by an ugly 'status quo'. A world where I can be free to shake up people's lives however I want. And to that end, I tricked Kirby into giving me the opportunity to do that – and thought that'd be the end of it.

Kirby, I found, was a much more formidable foe than I had anticipated.

…there was always a reason he's Pop Star's premiere protagonist.

I had dismissed him at first, based purely on his friendship-loving nature and his tendency to help anyone at any time. I hadn't seen him being able to halt Galactic NOVA's advance in spite of the odds, or him truly showing off the strength that allowed him to cast Dark Matter back to black – on me.

And despite that – he still offered me his hand in friendship when he brought me back.

It's stupid, yeah, but… right then and there, I finally understood what I had been blind to all this time.

It's funny how death can change your perspectives. It's also funny how miracles can reach out to those you believe don't deserve it.

Magolor knows that as well as I do.

There's a reason he lets me call him 'Mags' without any complaints.

Everyone here – from Kirby, to Adeleine and Ribbon, to Darky, to Mags – and everyone beyond… We're partners in crime, minions in mischief, and there's not a chance I'd give them up now. Not after everything.

I know now it's not stagnancy I saw all those years ago – it's simply life being life. And for the sake of keeping that liveliness intact… and to be able to happily prank as many people as possible… and to keep eating all that good food (okay, I have a lot of selfish reasons, sue me)… I'm gonna feed these wannabe villains their own medicine!

And it's gonna be great!

"Is that the best you've got!?" I taunted Kracko again, landing on the ground. "Must be hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice even for you, huh!?"

"That implies he could even do that once," Magolor commented, summoning that big purple sword of his to clash with Kracko's… weird yellow drills. (What even are those?)

"His heart might be too steeped in rage for that," Dar-Dar stated. "One does not become so blackened without any distortions inside of them."

"Well, that's his problem, not ours!" I dismissed. "Hey, Dar-Dar—hand me something to throw at him! I think he could use it!"

Dar-Dar obliged, tossing a large red bomb my way, and I proceeded to kick it hard at Kracko's open eye. A pillar of flame erupted from the ensuing explosion – and based on how the cloud fell to the floor after that, it was quite the critical hit. "And he's down!" I sniggered. "It's almost scary how good I am!"

I could tell Magolor was smirking, too. "You mean how good we are, right?"

"If that's how you want it to be, sure!"

Some of the other Star Allies ran on up to us when they saw our 'lil downed Debbie. "Kracko looks dizzy," Gooey said (he says stuff like this a lot). "He should get a bag of ice. I think it helps."

"I don't think I've ever seen Kracko so… unsteady before," Adeleine noted, colors looking like they were weaving into a spire of flame on her paintbrush. (Wait, where'd that come from…?) She smiled. "Can't say he doesn't deserve it, though!"

"Let's hit 'im while we have the chance!" Ribbon loudly exclaimed. "All together now!"

"It appears this irritating irritant has finally fallen to our forces," Darky chimed in, flapping in with his sword pointed at Kracko. "Give the word, and we shall strike!"

There was only one thing we could do, really! "What are we waiting for, then?" I said. "It's time for some mischief!"

"Right you are," Dar-Dar agreed. "Let us ravage them, full-stop!"


[N/A]

Kracko was unrelenting; Kracko was unending. Kracko was a force that couldn't be contained by any means – and he was going to make sure all of the Star Allies knew that intricately.

Quickly, he swooped downward and attempted to ram into Kirby. The pink puffball narrowly slid under him and jammed his closed parasol up his foe's… cloudiness. (It's not a sword, but it's good enough! he thought.) Kirby drilled out of the way once he was out from under Kracko, just as a purple Chilly and Waddle Doo dropped from his mass.

"Where does he house those minions of his?" Dedede asked, both hands clutching his hammer tightly. "You can't tell me he's got his own hammerspace!"

"I wouldn't be very surprised, honestly," Kirby answered. "Cannons, drills, bombs—he's got everything in there!" He opened up his parasol to deflect a Wave Beam flying his way. "Who knows what he picks up when we're not 'round?"

Spears rained from the sky close to the two Mooks, courtesy of Bandana Dee's infinite supply. The blackened Chilly and Doo jumped back to avoid them – before Meta Knight cleaved through them at lightning fast speed.

"Hmph. Compared to facing Parallel Woods and his children, this is underwhelming," he stated. He leered at the lone Kracko in front of him. "I expected a challenge, not a simplistic training session."

"I wouldn't put th-that way, but—y-yeah, I kind of expected more too," Bandana Dee admitted, managing to land on Dedede's back (again). "I feel kinda disappointed."

Unamused by these declarations, Kracko bounced up above and covered the crew's general area. Lightning bolts started coming down "Ooh, I think you two made him mad!" Kirby remarked, his feet dancing past several such bolts, each coming down one after the other. The Chumbrella came back up, but parasols – even strong shield-esque parasols – were hard-pressed to withstand lightning. "Jeez," he winced, "how many volts are these—!?"

Meta Knight batted a few bolts away with Galaxia. "Too much," he replied curtly.

A few blaster shots distracted the terrible thunderhead from continuing his assault. He turned to see Susie and Taranza in front of a pillar, the former's blaster pointed directly at him. "Don't make a move, or I'll exterminate you," she promised.

This particular half of the Unearthly Storm Front didn't take kindly to the CEO's threat. Two of his topmost horns extended up and started forming a big ball of electricity, sparkling aggressively as it grew. Taranza stepped back a bit, noticeably startled – "S-Susie? Are—Are you sure about—?" – but Susie took the action as a challenge.

"If that's what you desire, then so be it! Prepare to be destroyed!" She suited up, and Taranza could only sigh resignedly and latch on before the two fired on all cylinders.

Meanwhile, high above Kracko, Coo was carrying Rick and Kine as far up as he could go. "This better be enough for you, Rick!" the old owl grouched. "You and Kine aren't exactly light!"

"You don't need to ruffle your feathers so much, mate!" Rick replied – looking down, he could see they were directly above the EX Boss, just as he wanted. "This is ace 'nuff for me!"

"Don't mess this up, Rick," Kine simply said. "We're lucky we haven't been spotted yet, so you have to make this count."

"I will!" he assured. "Now—drop me, Coo!"

Despite the bird's reservations, he did as his friend said. The orange hamster transformed into a boulder themed after his appearance immediately afterward – and gravity did the rest for him.

Susie's Business Suit skid on the ground after holding back the aforementioned plasma ball with its own arms. "It's almost a shame I couldn't have analyzed this creature in full for our Holo Defense API," its driver lamented. "These attacks would've made for excellent security."

"I dunno 'bout that…" Taranza said. "I wouldn't want th-this guy to guard anything of m-mine…"

The lone Kracko kept glaring, his needles getting ready to materialize another deadly projectile. Then he stopped. Some instinct of his led him to look up instead.

What he saw… His iris briefly shrunk in size right before Rick slammed into from above at terminal velocity, squashing the purple cloud flat on the ground. The stars that exploded from Kracko from the point of impact made it clear that he was down for the count. Shame, Susie thought. Done in so ungracefully… perhaps he isn't fit for my envisioned job after all.

"I think I'm gettin' used to these type of drop-ins!" Rick lampshaded, turning back into his usual form. "I could do this dozen of times and never get tired of it!"

"G-Great job, guys!" Bandana Dee shouted. "That was… great!"

"That means only one foe remains!" Meta Knight declared. "Let us go assist our allies in their current endeavor—!"

Then, two voices cried out: "What are we waiting for, then? It's time for some mischief!"

"Right you are. Let us ravage them, full-stop!"

The nine Star Allies looked to the other side of the battlefield. Plumes upon plumes of smoke were engulfing it, and they could see glimpses of their seven companions' heads poking out as the sounds of a boss getting massacred reached their ears. Coo floated down, Kine in two, to see the scene. He was admittedly impressed.

"Now that's something I can get behind!" he proclaimed. "Where do I sign up for it?"

"I swear I've seen that kind of thing before on the Internet…" Dedede muttered, putting a hand to his chin. "But where…?"

A death cloud erupted from the ensuing beat-up, and the other Kracko flew away and laid close to his 'brother' of sorts, his lone eye swirling in disorientation.

"…ah, whatever. It doesn't matter!" he decided. He cupped his hands to his mouth and hollered, "Yo! Not too bad, guys! Seriously, that was pretty explosive!"

"Glad to hear it!" Marx replied, he and his crew rejoining their other partners. "It was a real blast! Kracko was too shocked to see it coming!"

"Ignoring our companion's irksome diction," Dark Meta Knight interjected ("Hey!"), "I assume you have managed to triumph over your own foe?"

"In a sense," Kirby answered, "but we can't let our guard down yet." He cautiously pointed a closed parasol at the Krackos' trembling forms. "Kracko won't go down that easily!"

As the Super Tuff Pink Puff spoke, the two halves of Kracko coalesced back into one, and he started to rise into the sky. He started to inflate to even bigger levels, quickly becoming more than twice as large as his two halves were before. Bandana Dee and Taranza had only one thing to say: "Eep!"

"…eep is more than an appropriate response here, I believe," Magolor acquiesced.

When at last Kracko had finished growing, his single eye opened up again – and somehow, he looked even more menacing than before.

Unearthly Thunderhead
Parallel Big Kracko

The humongous dark crimson cloud trembled violently—not in fear, but with an undying rage—and with his gaze fixed furiously on a certain someone in particular, he roared.

"KIRRRRRRRBYYYYYYYYYYYYY!"


VS. Parallel Big Kracko

How do you defeat that which is ethereal? Reborn from pure hate and the terrible power of a jet-black sky, Kracko lives again! Tasked with keeping the gate, Kracko is bigger, badder, and more dangerous than ever. Be warned…


Half the Star Allies jumped at his bellow, but Kirby wasn't alarmed.

"It really is you…!" he simply stated. "Only you would react to me like that!"

"Oh, great!" Dedede groaned. "It just had to be the real him, didn't it…!"

The Unearthly Thunderhead, at last fully coherent and whole, seemed to rumble at the sight of his arch-nemesis. "I have waited all this time for this moment, puffball. Did you think I would forget all those times I was humiliated!?

"That time you smashed into me with your Hi-Jump… that time I was betrayed by Helpers… that time I was replaced by that mechanical cloud…!" (Inexplicably popping up behind Daroach, Doc looked rather shifty.) A tear threatened to fall from his eye. "Sniff… I think there's something in my eye… but NOW!"

The sound of thunder echoed through the area, causing the Star Allies to jump again. "Now, I can at last regain the dignity you stole from me! The dignity you and your accursed friends took away! AND YOU WILL FALL HERE," his whole self began to crackle with electricity, "CONSUMED BY THE DARKNESS OF THIS ETHEREAL DIMENSION!"

Kirby opted to exchange his parasol for a katana, using his Copy Essence Deluxes to make the trade. "Sorry, Kracko – you haven't beaten me before, and I'm definitely not going to be beaten now! Bring it, you terrible lightning rod!"

Kracko once more swooped in toward Kirby, but the currently-a-ninja puffball poofed away a fair distance and threw bunches of kunai at him. He performed a dual Revolution Beam that almost covered the entire arena, and its sheer range meant that plenty of the Star Allies ended up thoroughly shocked by the EX Boss.

"A-ACK—!"

"You—You little…!"

"MY FEATHERS!"

Kirby, King Dedede, and Bandana Dee all looked at each other, and nodded. Kirby began hopping from pillar to pillar, his elevation rising with every wall jump he took, whereas Dedede Super Jumped between the tops of relatively smaller totems.

"BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Fear the unparalleled power of the CLOUD DEMON OF THE SKIES!" the thunderous troublemaker cackled, sending intense lightning bolts down at random individuals. He was tanking hits left and right from all about, but he could afford to take it (for now). "The Lola Twins and Kabula have NOTHING on me! You hear me? NOTHING!"

"It looks like Kracko's heart is more corrupted than I had foreseen," Daroach remarked. He brought Storo into the fold, using his subordinate's muscle to power through the devastation. "We may be in for a troublesome affair."

"Don't worry, boss!" the big mouse declared, pumping a fist into the air. "If that happens, I'll protect you!"

"That's fine and all," Coo said, "but that doesn't exactly help us!" He and Kine were using Rick's boulder form as cover (with Gooey acting as a stopper), given that neither of them had any real resistances against Kracko's… Kracko-y-ness. Sticking by Kine's side as he fired a few crescent lasers was the best he could do, while he tried to brush off his being shocked. "Does anybody here have anything to use against this guy!?"

"Please say yes," Kine pleaded, in-between lasers. "I'm a fish. I'm very watery. I'd rather not get zapped to death, thank you."

"Hmph. Allow me." Dark Meta Knight rushed forth to the Animal Buddies' sides, and summoned a large mirror shard above them. Lightning struck it, only to immediately get reflected back into Kracko. "If you shalt need cover, I believe my skills are more than adequate."

"Erk…! You vermin are more formidable than last time!" Kracko conceded. He dropped several fire bombs onto Dark Meta Knight's barrier, to no avail. "When will you learn that you have no chance against this newfound power of mine!?"

"We won't, because that is a lesson that cannot be taught in the first place," Meta Knight sniped, a well-placed upward stab from the air dealing a fair amount of damage. The demon cloud's eye moved to glower at him as he landed in front of Adeleine, Ribbon, and Marx. "It's you who should learn to become more benevolent."

"What's your beef with all of us, anyway!?" Adeleine demanded. "We've done nothing wrong to you!"

"Ha! You believe yourself innocent, but you are all blights upon the sky itself! You walk amongst the clouds, ignorant of my presence, acting as if it belongs to you. And as if that weren't bad enough, you continue to disgrace me at every turn! No more!" He fired a big plasma laser at them, only to be countered by Marx with his own laser beam.

The jester managed to bring the clash to a standstill, the both of them dispersing their attacks soon after. "Disgrace you? Don't make me laugh!" Marx stuck out a tongue at the EX Boss. "You do 'nuff of that with every attempt at 'revenge' you make! Whatever delusions you have, shove it up wherever you keep all your crap! I don't care!"

"That's right!" Ribbon chimed in. "Now leave us alone—" She brandished her Crystal Gun dangerously. "—or we'll make you!" (It wasn't very threatening, but it got the job done.)

"As if just you four would be enough to defeat me this time!" Just then, Kracko noticed something. "…hey! Weren't there more of you here before!? Where the heck did they go!?"

It took a few more seconds for Kracko to notice his most hated enemy (and two of his most infuriating allies) were missing. He didn't get any more time to think about it before he was slammed from up top by three things at once: Kirby's Blossom Storm, King Dedede's weight, and Bandana Dee's sharp spears made for a potent assault.

"WHAT!? WHAT IS THIS—!?"

"Just a bit of checkmate, buddy~!" Kirby sang, cherry blossoms flowering around him. Unfortunately for Kracko, his increased size meant he was both a sizeable target and a sizeable platform – meaning the trio of core Star Allies could wallop on him easily with everything they had. Between katanas and hammers and spears, there was a lot of that to go around.

"T-Take this, and this, and this, and this—!"

"Bam! Bam! Bam! You feelin' this deluxe package yet!?"

("How savage," Susie drawled. "Ironic, how they prove my late father right."

"Eh, it's not really 'savage'," Magolor interjected. "More like… pragmatic. Like you.")

About half a minute of this later, Kracko began to sparkle dangerously. "ENOUGH!" he boomed—and he electrified the trio atop of him. They went flying off the cloud, unceremoniously crashing to the floor in front of their allies.

"Kirby! Dedede! Dee!" Meta Knight dashed to his best friends' side, Adeleine and Ribbon staying back with Marx. "Are you all alright!?"

"We're—We're fine," Dedede panted, pushing himself back up with the pole of his hammer. "Gee, he's really stepped up his game today…!"

"Th-That's saying a lot…" Bandana Dee said, rolling back onto his feet and slouching. "I—I don't wanna know wh-what else he can do…!"

"You have darkened my doorstep for far too long, Kirby," Kracko hissed. "Every year, every planet, you continue to stand against me. Why is it that you refuse to die!? Through the gardens, the mirrors, the towers, and the odysseys—WHY CAN'T YOU EVER STAY DOWN!?"

"Same reason you can't," was Kirby's answer. "I'm too stubborn to let you defeat me for good, ever! Whatever you do, we won't let it stop us from saving the galaxy!"

Kracko huffed. "That's what you think. You'll be nothing more than scattered mists when I'm finished with you! Now dance to my deadly music, or FRY LIKE A MOTH! KRRRR-RACKK!" He moved to the edge of the battlefield, alerting the rest of the Star Allies into gathering together. With his power over weather, a strong wind was trying to push them into falling off the arena entirely – and to make matters worse, smaller clouds were sweeping the field with numerous bolts of lightning.

"Scatter!" Meta Knight commanded. The sixteen Star Allies weaved in and out of the airstrike, their enemy guffawing all the while. Again, several cries were going out from them:

"Curse this empowered knave…!"

"H-How am I supposed to fly in this weather!?"

"A-A-A-AHHHHHH! S-Sectonia, SAVE ME!"

Adeleine brought out her canvas and rapidly attempted to draw something to ride. "C'mon, c'mon…!" she frantically muttered. "I gotta get this done…!"

Ribbon clung tightly to her shoulder, her eyes cautiously looking up at the clouds washing over the Star Allies. Her eyes suddenly widened. "A-Addie! W-Watch out!"

Three clouds clumped together—because of course they were; why wouldn't they be—were closing in on their position, and the artist rushed to finish her drawing of Kracko before it came over them. She barely made it. "Let's go, let's go, let's go—!"

Elsewhere, Magolor was evading the intense voltage and evaluating combat strategies. The Starcutter Express tactic won't work this time—or anymore, probably, he thought, mind whirring with ideas. My Deadly Needles won't reach him, and I don't have the space to summon a Black Hole. So that leaves…

A virtual light bulb went off in his head. He quickly glanced at Adeleine and Ribbon flying in the air, and then at Kirby zipping throughout (like a ninja, appropriately). He warped to his friend's side and tapped his nonexistent shoulder. "Kirby!"

It was a testament to the hero's stay focused that he didn't jolt in surprise. "You got a plan, Magolor?"

"Yeah, hear me out. And see if you can get some of the others aboard…"


"Cower in fear, mortals! Surrender to your superior!" Kracko was drunk on power, unsurprisingly, and was milking it for all it was worth. More and more miniature clouds were on the horizon, set to overwhelm the Star Allies before him – but he wouldn't quite be able to get that far.

"Hey, buddy!"

He turned around and saw Marx and Gooey, airborne and seemingly taunting him with their mere presence. "Man, you're one lazy lout," the jester mocked. "You're a pretty cruddy 'ruler of the skies' if you're just gonna sit there all day! Come on and face us properly!"

"We have apples and oranges, if that helps," Gooey drooled.

"You DARE insult me such…!? Very well—prepare to perish!" Kracko dissipated his thunderstorm in favor of chasing after the two – which was exactly what Magolor wanted.

"You ready for this, Kirby?" he asked. The mage was standing next to both his 'best friend' and Taranza—the former of which was holding an Ultra Sword Magolor summoned, and the latter of which had a Bouncy Web ready to go. Above their heads, Adeleine and Ribbon were riding on their Kracko construct, ready to catch Kirby while the cloud demon wasn't looking.

"Of course!" Kirby replied happily. Unsurprisingly, he was wielding the borrowed Ultra Sword as naturally as anything else, despite the fact he was currently using the Ninja ability.

Magolor nodded, and turned to his other companion. "You ready, Taranza?"

"U-Umm… y-yeah! Yeah, I can do this!"

"Alright, then. Kirby, Taranza, let's launch!"

With all his strength, Taranza pushed Kirby upward, the heroic puffball soaring like a dream. It didn't take too long for him to land with Adeleine and Ribbon – and from there, they flew as fast as they could at the EX Boss's exposed back. "Let's show 'im what we're made of!" the fairy promised.

"Persistent fools…!" Kracko hissed, plasma orbs shooting straight out of his eye. "Stop moving and submit to your destruction already!"

"I'd be a terrible trickster if I just did that~" Marx sang, warping out of the way of said plasma orbs. "You're so invested into this, you don't even realize you've just been tricked!"

"Is that what we were we doing? That sounds interesting."

"…tricked?"

Three Crystal Shards suddenly slammed into his back. He whirled one-eighty degrees around—and came face-to-face with the Pink Terror of the Gamble Galaxy himself, beaming as if he wasn't in the middle of a confrontation with his cloudy adversary. And riding alongside him were Adeleine and Ribbon, the former holding the puffball up, the latter clutching her Crystal Gun from before – and both of them fixing their foe with a furious frown.

It was then that Kracko made a startling realization: he was done for.

"You…! KIRBY…!"

Kirby's eyes sparkled. "Sayonara, Kracko! Don't get shocked on your way back to Pop Star now!"

"Go, Kirby!" Adeleine tossed him as hard as she could at the demon—and as elegantly as could be done, Kirby slashed Kracko with the humongous blade several times, ending off with one final swing downward through his singular eye. Starlit explosions once more streaked from every crevice of his puffy exterior, it in itself shrinking until only his eye was left. He had just enough time to stare terrified at nothing in particular, a tear again threatening to fall, before he disappeared – presumably, returning all the way back to Pop Star.

Another Heart Spear, cloaked in that familiar florescent pink aura, appeared right where he used to be – and Kirby didn't hesitate to grab it out of the sky as he descended back to ground level. "And that makes two dimensions down!" he triumphantly exclaimed, flipping the ancient artifact into the air. "We're already halfway through this adventure, everybody!"

"H-HALLEUJAH!" Bandana Dee proclaimed, his squeaky voice sounded utterly exhausted and elated. Like the previous EX Boss, he collapsed onto the ground, panting. "P-Please tell me Kracko is the worst we'll have to face…!"

"I can't promise you that, Dee," Dedede said, wiping some sweat from his forehead. "But I don't think that matters right now. What matters is that he's out of the way, and we're one step closer to victory!"

"You said it, Dedede!" The two best friends held up their fists and bumped them together.

"If—If you say so, G-Great King…" The assistant's eyes were drawn to the glowing spear in Kirby's grasp. "H-Hey…" He reached out a hand toward it. "Can I…?"

"Hmm? Oh, sure!" Casually, Kirby tossed the Heart Spear to his headscarf-wearing comrade, whose hands started juggling it in an attempt to keep from dropping it. "I think it's only fair that each of my best friends get to have one of these, so it's yours!"

"U-Umm—Th-Th-Thanks, Kirby!"

"No problem! What are friends for?"

Magolor clapped his hands, eyes closed in happiness. "So—mission accomplished, everybody! Great job, all of you—and great job to me, too. We all did fantastic!"

"And I thought I was the one with the ego," Marx sniggered.

"I can't say he doesn't deserve it, just this once," Dark Meta Knight admitted. "His plans have a habit of improving our situations immensely."

"He is a classic strategist, isn't he?" Daroach agreed. "I wonder what other tactics he can come up on the spot. NOVA knows the next few bosses will probably require more of that expertise…"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it!" Coo retorted. "Can we please stop talking about bosses for a moment? I'm feeling sore all over—thanks, Kracko—and I'd like to relax again before we have to go get beaten up! …again!"

Gooey trudged up to Coo with his tongue out. "Do you need a massage?" he casually asked. "I can give a massage if you need it."

"…you can give massages? Since when?"

"Oh, since Dark Meta taught me."

Several heads whirled to face the mirror warrior. A heavy blush was somehow visible through his scarred mask, though he tried to hide it using his gauntlets. "…s-so what? He asked politely, and it is a skill I felt he was worthy to be bestowed. There is nothing else to it!"

"I didn't know you could perform such a vaunted task," Meta Knight said, his tone conveying the idea of an eyebrow being raised. "Interesting."

"Ooooooooh…" Marx dragged out. "Can I have one of those massages of yours, then? I'd love to see your talent, and I'm sure all the Ultimates back home would love to, too~"

Dark Meta Knight's reply was direct: "No."

"What about us?" Ribbon asked, making the cutest expression she could right in front of her friend's covered face. (Adeleine giggled, seeing the way she was trying so hard.) "Would you do it for me and Addie?"

"…maybe."

"Fascinating…" Susie was jotting down this information with fervent interest. She was not doing so very subtly. "It might be worth adding that feature to our newest model of Stock Mecha Knights…"

And now the two knights were perfectly in sync with each other: "Don't you dare."

Dedede laughed boisterously. "Ha ha ha ha! Man, we're all really something else, aren't we?" He smiled brightly. "I think there's one more thing we oughta do before we break for another half-hour, though. You guys agree with me, right?"

Smiles broke out again on many of the Star Allies' faces. Oh, they knew exactly what he was referring to, considering they did it not a dimension prior.

"Do you really have to ask, mate?" Rick rhetorically stated. "You know what we think 'bout it!"

"Guess we should get to doing it, then," Kirby perkily expressed. "C'mon, everybody—let's get in position now!"


Elsewhere, in Another Dimension…

SLASH! (BA-DUMP!)

There was nothing else to it.

SLICE! (BA-DUMP!)

She was going to get to her Lord Hyness, whatever it took.

SCHWING! (BA-DUMP!)

And there was nothing that would keep her from accomplishing her goal.

"HAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

With a stab of Zan Partizanne's spear, she effortlessly tore through the defenses of the rabble that dared to face her, black electricity circling dangerously around the tip of her weapon. The EX Mid-Boss went down in seconds, a noticeable contrast to the minutes-long battles that the mid-bosses had necessitated before.

Red eyes – eyes that were once a soft blue – stared coldly at the unconscious form of the fallen Grand Wheelie EX, watching it spark and sizzle and be unable to stand at all. "Hmph. Pathetic." She cast it one last glance before deciding to move on. She didn't bother looking to see if her sisters were following; if they know what's good for them, she thought, they'll do as they're told.

She hadn't been this unsympathetic before. Once upon a time, she would've shown a level of concern for most, thanks to her mental condition back then, but time—and more prominently, her darkened heart—had long since changed that fact. Lord Hyness wouldn't have accepted giving kindness to anyone, and she had learned to be the same. (But wasn't his kindness how she got here to begin with—?)

Her black uniform and cream skin were a thing of the past: an angelic attire, blackened skin, and a crimson gaze adorned the once-fragile girl—a showcase of just how far she had fallen in her pursuit of 'what mattered the most'. Her soul, however unintentionally, had been touched by the core of Void Termina – and that gave her a power-up she was more than happy to utilize on her quest.

This was borne of the Dark Lord of Despair that Lord Hyness so idolized, after all; and as she herself idolized the savior of both herself and her sisters (though idolized wasn't quite the word she'd use herself), it was only appropriate that she used her newfound authority to annihilate her adversaries. Only she and her sisters were significant in her eyes, and there was no room for additions. And then, she'd show that interfering interloper that she didn't need any of his so-called 'friendship'. She didn't; not at all!

What does that jamblasted demon know, anyway? she stewed. He didn't have to go through a literal living hell. He wasn't the one torn away from everything he's ever known! He dares to think he could ever understand what we went through…? He, who lived on a pretty and peaceful planet all his life…?

Well, he DOESN'T!

A group of more EX Mid-Bosses—what looked like a group of EX Dubiors—approached the unstable general. With her inner hatred for all things pink flaring up, Zan raised her partisan, and a massive storm cloud surrounded its tip. "No mercy!" Lime-green electricity—tinged with some of that earlier darkness—came out and violently electrocuted the gatecrashers, leaving them twitching on the ground in pain.

That wasn't enough for her, though. She brought out her thunder drums and assaulted them with a litany of electro balls, screaming incoherently all the while. Again and again she blasted the already downed foes, until she was abruptly pulled back by two pairs of hands: Francisca and Flamberge.

"Zan! Zan, stop!" Francisca pleaded, her expression conveying a lot of desperation. "C-Can't you see they're already defeated!?"

"This isn't like you at all!" Flamberge yelled, looking rather strained (Was she trying to fight the influence? Couldn't she see how empowering it was…?). "I—I'm supposed to be the battle maniac here! Wh-What's up with you!?"

"'What's up with you'…? Shouldn't it be me asking that question?" The twin siblings stepped back, their elder sister seeming to tower over them—a fact not helped by the fact her thunder drums were still strapped to her back. "I'm trying to make sure our enemies don't come back for a second round. They won't give you any clemency. Nothing gave us clemency before Lord Hyness. None of these worthless fools deserve it, can't you see!?"

Francisca and Flamberge were visibly hugging each other in fear now.

"S-Sis—th-that's…!" Francisca seemed to have problems spitting out her concern. "You can't just—just decide that all on your own…!"

Flamberge had no such problem. "You can't be that blind to yourself!" she shouted. "Look at yourself—you look completely different! That's not normal!"

"I feel completely fine, Flamberge," she sneered. (Sneered! At her own sisters! The two almost couldn't believe it…) "And you better be, too. Because we're not going to be stopping for anything." She turned back around and continued on her way, ready to brutally slam down every other EX Mid-Boss—or even EX Boss—that stood in her way. She let an aura of darkness flare up from her skin, concluding the 'conversation' by saying, "So you better learn to use that power we have—or you'll be left behind."

So what if being on the precipice of Another Dimension was warping her very core, in a way she couldn't articulate? Lord Hyness awaited her at the end of the line, and when she found him—when he saw her unwavering determination—he'd most certainly appreciate her efforts. And then, everything would be worth it at last.

It's the only thing you're good for, you know, that voice—that very, very familiar voice—cooed in her ear. Being your master's servant. That's all you'll ever be—and don't you forget it.

(Meanwhile, the aura Zan Partizanne had expelled had caused Flamberge's already-volatile darkness to start spreading rapidly. The red-haired girl clutched her hand and tried to will it back down. "No, no, no, no, no—!"

"B-Berge! H-Hold on, I'll…!" Francisca tried to help too, soothing her beloved sibling wherever she could—but the floodgates had been unleashed. It was growing too fast – and it was only a matter of time before the darkness consumed them the same way it did Zan Partizanne.

"She—She's not even using nicknames for us anymore…" Flamberge muttered. "Wh-What's happening to us? To Zan…?"

"I…" Francisca could barely respond. "I don't know… I don't know at all…")


We're halfway to the end, folks! And just before the one-year anniversary of the Make a Friend 'verse, too! Hoo boy, how time flies!

I'm really getting into the swing of things now – though it's definitely gonna take a while longer to reach the end. I'd like to get back to Are You a Friend, Too? sometime and all, but there was a lot of stuff preventing this chapter from coming out earlier. Like a whole list of other stories that came first. And schoolwork. Lots of schoolwork. And we can't forget Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth finally coming out. (That game is a lotta fun, lemme tell you.)

Zan Partizanne's backstory is really depressing, seriously: in the middle of a freak storm, she climbed up a deadly tower, desperately pursuing some sort of purpose (implied in her JP bios to be suicide—yikes!)—and in the end, she was struck by lightning and nearly killed right then and there. And it's explicitly stated she was on her last breath before Hyness came in. That's… really something else, even by Kirby lore standards. I hope this flashback sequence captures the depression and anxiety I'd wager Zan was feeling – and don't worry. Things'll… lighten up a little, for the next couple of chapters.

I don't give enough of a spotlight to the Animal Buddies, and that's by no fault of their own – it's just that I've got more of an affinity for every other Dream Friend, and their dynamics and character beats are so much more interesting to write in my opinion. In spite of that, I hope I've managed to do them justice with this fic, to make up for my focus on everyone else. This is a Star Allies fic, after all, not a 'Star Allies minus the Animal Buddies' fic. Admittedly, it was pretty difficult to write Rick's POV this chapter, so I hope his inner struggles and hopes come across well enough.

as a side note, that dumb door puzzle is just… really dumb and poorly communicated. If you've read OwlsCantRead's Double Jump of Destiny, then you'll probably understand what I'm talking about. I had to cheese it by abusing co-op and off-screen teleportation, which is not good at all.

Speaking of writing character beats: Gooey's status as a Cloudcuckoolander and Marx's prankster-slash-gadfly were really interesting to write, something I haven't really touched upon in my other first-person POVs (except maybe Marie in the A Goddess in Reality series, in relation to the latter). If there's anything good about writing so many perspectives, it's the chance to experiment and really delve into the minds of each and every Star Ally, examine the nuances in the way they think. And I've still got at least six more Dream Friends to go~

Parallel Kracko was a surprise on my first encounter with him—first a reprise of the twin part of the original fight, and then a gigantic Kracko at his absolutely deadliest. That hit me and my brother hard—and much like Parallel Woods, we lost our fair share of lives at him. He definitely deserves his place as the Gamble Galaxy's ruler of the skies – and his clash with the Star Allies was as fun to write as it was fun to play. (…wait, that doesn't sound right…)

You might have noticed that he also gets dialogue compared to Parallel Woods. That's because, as the boss descriptions hints, Parallel Kracko is Kracko, not an Another Dimension counterpart. As Kirby: Triple Deluxe says, "As long as the clouds still hang in the sky, Kracko will never give up the fight!"—so it's only natural I showcase that by properly bringing him into the fold. Hey, it makes for a more interesting boss fight, so no complaints here!

Also: last chapter, as you could tell, had a couple references to Sonic Forces. Can you guess what piece of fiction I ended up referencing here…?

Well, that's all for now – tune in next time when we move on to the third dimension—and subsequently, the Wave 2 Dream Friends! HECK YEAH!