Star Allies, Unite!

Chapter 5
What Matters the Most

(Uploaded on April 4, 2020)


Summary: Sometimes, as chaos upends the stability holding your life in place, all you need to do in order to stay grounded is to remember the things that keep you fighting. Adeleine, Ribbon, Dark Meta Knight, and Daroach know this fact well—and so long as their hearts stayed connected, braving Another Dimension may be possible for them to see through to the end.

(Elsewhere, on all fronts, the dimensional flux continues to build and build, despite the Star Allies' best efforts. And though it remains localized to Jambandra Base, that doesn't mean the danger is decreasing at all…)

Notes: This chapter covers all of Heroes' third level, Dimension III. (Happy late second anniversary to Kirby Star Allies! Sorry for the wait, y'all!)


"Bonjam! Welcome, dear sisters, to Jambandra Base! It is my humble lor—or, as you would say in your language, my paradise!"

"Wh-Whoa…"

"Alright! This is cool!"

"Is—Is this… real…?"

Before Hyness and the three elemental sisters was an absolutely breathtaking sight: they were at the entrance to a huge, technological stronghold, which could best be described as a massive downward spire with several red blinking lights. Orbiting around the spire were rings comprised of full circles or half-completed ones, and these odd fortresses could be seen doing the same. The top of a tower hovering high above where the roof should be, giving the place a little bit of mystique despite its high-tech exterior.

It was unlike anything the trio had ever seen in their lives.

"This… This is your home, Mr. Hyness?" Francisca breathed, her arms falling slack by her sides. "It's—It's incredible!"

"Man, you could fit, like, a dozen planets in here and still have room to move more!" Flamberge said. "Maybe even the entire galaxy, too!"

Zan Partizanne didn't have any words, herself—Jambandra Base had utterly floored her in more ways than one.

Hyness chuckled good-naturedly. "Impressed, are you? It is not goppoko vun. One does not come across a home of this magnitude every day." He started to walk through the doors, gesturing for the girls to follow him in. "Come, now—there is much I wish to show you! Don't be shy!"

Shaking off most of their shock, they proceeded to do as he requested, practically tripping over themselves in their rush to catch up to their personal savior. Down a circular elevator they went, the length of the descent helping to add to the sheer size of this virtual palace. The sisters couldn't help but whisper excitedly to each other about it—what kind of rooms were in here? How many floors were there? Did Mr. Hyness have a super-secret hidden lair?

what? That was a perfectly reasonable question to ask!

Anyway… as they continued through the fortress, they noticed a few other people hanging about: little orbs with big purple caps and scarves, and limbs detached from their main bodies. They were noticeably performing a variety of menial tasks, and were something of a surprise to see, given the sisters' impression of Hyness living alone.

Speaking of whom, the mage had perked up when Flamberge brought it up. "Ah, these are my servants, the Jambelievers! They have been with me for quite a long time! Upkeeping this place is difficult, since it is so big – so I am glad to have had them helping me with these tasks."

"You have your own servants?" Francisca asked, twinkling stars in her eyes. "And you work alongside them? You're even greater than I thought, Mr. Hyness!"

"W-Well, it is not anything too special," he humbly said. "We are merely doing our parts so that we can continue engaging in our livelihoods."

"That's still a lotta crap to go through!" Flamberge replied, though not without a hint of awe herself. "Seriously, it'd take me a month to clean this castle all by myself!

"Like you'd even want to do it in the first place," her twin sniped.

"Hey! I can do chores when I have to! I—I just think there's b-better things to do with my time, that's all!"

Zan quietly giggled. Despite everything they've been through, her younger sisters were the same as ever. That… That was a relief.

Though, looking around at the Jambelievers in this glorified fortress, she couldn't help but feel as if everyone's eyes were on her. Observing her, judging her—seeing her as nothing more than someone to place pity on. She may have had mastery over electricity now, but she was still so unproven—did she truly deserve the honor of being invited here by Hyness—?

Eventually, the quartet of mages reached the core of the station, wherein they found the most wondrous sight of all: a humongous altar, blooming with flowers and vines situated at the edge of the circular platform around them. At the end of the altar lay a cradle themed after a butterfly's cocoon, and a beautiful night sky helped to illuminate the area, helped along by a symbol lit up and pulsating on the ground.

The three newcomers were speechless.

"This is the most important room in the entire galaxy," Hyness said, voice tinged with passion. "This is the Divine Terminus—the sanctuary sanctioned by the high progenitor god himself! It is a gift given from the depths of his heart, to reward the followers who remember him still."

"High pro… progen… pro-whatsit god?" Flamberge repeated, an eyebrow thoroughly raised. "Heck is that? He your dad or something?"

"Berge!" Zan hissed. "Don't say that to Mr. Hyness!"

"It's fine, it's fine," Hyness laughed it off. His amusement at Flamberge's confusion was very palpable. "The galaxy has long since forgotten the tales of his time, so it is not surprising you have not heard of him. I myself do not get many opportunities to speak of his grace… so I hope you will not mind if I go on a little tangent here."

"Oh no, we'd love to hear it!" Francisca butted in, interest levels about as high as her twin sister's skepticism. "You've been so nice; it's only right that we listen to what you have to say!"

The redheaded girl shrugged. "Eh, we've already seen how weird you can be. Hearing out a little more weirdness won't hurt!"

Zan hesitated for a moment, before silently agreeing to let her savior talk. She didn't know why, but her heart… her heart told her that this was the right thing to do.

"Jamanke, you three. Now, let me begin my tale." The mage cleared his breath, and filled his voice with an mystical air.

"A long, long time ago, before the galaxy as we knew it came to be, an Astral Birth brought a powerful deity into being. In his short time in this universe, he introduced many of the concepts of our universe: most importantly the matters of Dream, Dark, Soul, and Heart. He disappeared soon after conceiving them… but my ancestors never forgot his legacy. They set up a religion to honor his legacy, vowing to live in the art of magic rather than science." He seemed a little grumpy, remembering that last bit, but continued on without missing a beat.

"For a time, we of the Jambandra religion co-existed with the Ancients of Halcandra. They regarded our god, Void Termina, as nothing more than a possible Destroyer of Worlds—and treated us as trash for embracing his ways! And then… even though the Jambandrans never stopped aiding their technological brothers, even though we helped stop that repulsive nightmare of a galactic crisis… the Ancients had the audacity to banish us to the far reaches of the universe! Can you believe that!? How RUDE!"

"Yeah, you tell 'em!" Flamberge piped up.

Hyness was getting truly worked up now, his passion for his subject captivating the audience in front of him. "And if that wasn't bad enough, the records of both us and them were erased—all because of their own shortsightedness! It makes me FURIOUS! I shall never forgive them! I shall never forget their transgressions! But…" He allowed himself a few seconds to calm down. "…the Age of Eternity has long since ended. We live in better times. We can redeem the reputation of Void Termina, spread his teachings to different planets, and let his generosity rain down over the Gamble Galaxy. Th-That's what I want to do, at least."

"So…" the lightning-aligned girl whispered. "You do what you do… all in his name?"

Hyness nodded. "Oh, jes jes! He would want his followers to be kind and helpful to all—it would give him much jorrow if we weren't! I am vun jhappy to do such jhappy things, as I think everyone deserves to have a little bit of kindness in their life." He beamed proudly. "And I am glad that you three get to have that, too."

Francisca and Flamberge gave off a similarly wide smile, reaching as far as their cheeks. Zan's was more subdued, but it was just as present as her siblings' ones.

"Wow… That—That sounded sooooo cooooooool!" Francisca gushed. "You're like a regular everyday hero, Mr. Hyness!"

"I suppose I am! I just wish that there were more of us in this galaxy." He sighed, and started slouching in long-worn loneliness. "The Jambandra Religion is much smaller than it used to be. There is only me now, and my faithful servants to keep me company throughout my travels. Perhaps one day, we will be able to rise again—but until then, I will continue to aid people however I can. That… will have to be enough."

The wizard went silent in contemplation, and the three colorful sisters looked at each other with a combination of concern and curiosity.

Zan Partizanne was warring with herself. On one hand, this was Hyness's problem—and he had stated that he was more or less okay with his current circumstances. He didn't need a clueless child like her to muck things up, to ruin everybody's happiness with her own mistakes—

And yet… there was a burning desire within her to become worthy of Hyness's gratitude. To give her efforts to those who deserved greater than what she was worth.

(Better that than to be a waste of space, eating up all his resources.)

So, with that in mind…

"I'll help."

Hyness blinked. "Juh?"

Zan stepped up, her petite face stepped in a frightening determination. "I—I'll help you. With whatever it is you want to do."

"You don't need to do that, Zan Par!" he assured her. "You are still so young, and it can be so very dangerous out there! No one would think any less if you simply spent all your jaitties here instead…"

"I—I don't want to be a burden, Mr. Hyness. You saved all three of us, s-so I should at least try to repay you." (That way, you won't see how big of a mistake you've made, taking her in.) "A-And besides, you gave me lightning magic; I—I can protect you and my sisters with it! If you can help me learn how to use it, then th-things won't be so bad!"

"We'll join as well!" Francisca chimed in, with a great big smile on her cheeks. "We can't let our older sister do this alone!"

"Yeah, that's right!" Flamberge agreed, her fiery enthusiasm contrasting nicely with her twin's cheerful demeanor. "Plus—I can literally be on fire now! Do you know how awesome that is!? No way in heck I'm skimping out learning how to do that!"

"Berge, you are not going to be setting yourself ablaze!" Zan whirled on her. "That's—That's just irresponsible!"

"Come on, Zan! Wouldn't you like to be able to be all laugh-y and firing thunder from your hands?"

"It's lightning, and—a-and that's not the point!"

Meanwhile, Francisca looked like she was considering the advantages of being able to summon a cold blast wherever she went.

It should be noted her eyes were sparkling about as much as her siblings'.

"I do suppose having control over your new powers is a necessity," Hyness relented. "And Void Termina would most certainly appreciate more people following the ideals he set. Very well, then!" He with clapped his robed hands. "I will teach you three how to be exquisite, jawaii mages—and then we shall travel the galaxy together, giving friendship to whoever is in need. Does that sounds good?"

"Yes, Mr. Hyness!" the children replied, simultaneously.

Hyness's eyes lit up in happiness. "I have little experience in being a teacher, I will admit—and even less in being a guardian. But for you three, who have brightened up my life with your mapop… I do believe that this will be an experience I shall never forget!"


Jambandra Base
The Divine Terminus – Altar

"Hey—look, everyone!" Chef Kawasaki pointed a finger at a suddenly spawning Warp Hole; the Helpers at the entrance to the altar jolted and whipped around to look. "Kirby's comin' back!"

"Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!" Poppy Bros. Jr. cheered. "Ooh, ooh, I wonder what friends he's bringing this time! Do you think we'll get to see Vividra, or Como, or—or maybe Driblee!?"

"I don't think it matters, so long as we get to see our friends again," Waddle Doo supplied. "Not to mention, we could really use their help keeping a hold over Jambandra Base…"

"Tell me about it," Burning Leo muttered. "I haven't been this tired in a long time, Fire powers or not…"

Just like before, the sixteen Star Allies elegantly dropped out of the portal, looking no worse for wear than last time. "Phew—this adventure hasn't been all that shabby!" the lead puffball exclaimed. "We'll get things done today and be back for a nap in no time!"

"Woooooooooo!" Ribbon cheered. "Sweet Kirby pillow, I'm coming for you!"

"I like naps," Gooey said, drooling per usual. "Spending naps with friends is the best. We should take a nap when we're done with this."

"I—I think th-that'd be nice," Taranza sighed. "It's been a l-long few hours already, and I'd really p-prefer it if we—wh-whoa, what the heck happened here while we were gone!?"

In contrast to the more subtle alterations from last time, the Divine Terminus had radically transformed: the interstellar skies had turned golden and cloudy; and the background architecture, bizarrely enough, had flipped upside down, fragments of it falling down into the abyss below. Some kind of light was shining down onto the altar, drawing notice toward the blooming flowers and red crystalline protrusions decorating the outer rim of the arena.

It was this spectacle that the four Helpers set on Another Dimension exploration duty—Ceri, Gim, Bugzzy, and Driblee—returned to, accompanied by Blade Knight and Bio Spark, the latter two having been re-recruited on the way back to the fortress. For a moment, they confusedly wondered what it was their friends were staring at—and once they caught a glimpse, they too were stunned silent by the sight.

"Guh—!? This is—how!?" Dark Meta Knight gawked.

"I—I c-can't—" Ceri stammered. "H-Has NOVA cursed us to be followed by Another Dimension everywhere now!?"

"DOES-NOT-COMPUTE. DOES-NOT-COMPUTE," Gim intoned, mechanical eye whirling wildly. "READINGS-OF-AREA-REPORT-MAGIC-LEVELS-OFF-THE-SCALE. THIS-PLACE-LOOKS-LIKE-GRAVITY-AND-THE-SUN-HAD-A-FIELD-DAY-WITH-IT. WHAT-IS-GOING-ON."

It didn't take Magolor long to explain this abnormality, once he opened his custom 3DS again. "We're closing the rifts, but that can't stifle what's already leaked out from them," he hypothesized. "Add in the pre-existing latent energies from the Jambandra Cult's past endeavors…"

Bandana Dee gulped. "P-Please tell me th-that's not gonna make things worse…!"

"Th-That's not all, lads," Coo breathed, his gaze pointed at the floor. "Look down—isn't that…"

The most startling change of all, perhaps, was the pool that had emerged in the center of the platform, surrounded by now indigo tiles… a pool depicting a dark blue sky with soaring black clouds.

"…the Hyper Zone?"

A variety of words went unspoken as those in the know came to terms with what they were seeing.

"…it is," Kine confirmed, equally disturbed. "Dark Matter, Void Termina, Another Dimension… wha—just what exactly did Hyness do here?"

"Kirby! Ceri, Gim, Bugzzy, Driblee—everyone!"

The backup crew charged onto the scene, reuniting with their fellow Helpers.

Bugzzy, in spite of his earlier shock, broke out into a grin and embraced his friends. "Oh ho ho ho! I knew I'd be seeing you youngins' eventually!" he chuckled, clicking his pincers enthusiastically. "How's life been treating y'all?"

"Pretty good, actually!" Waddle Doo answered. "Aside from the whole world-ending crisis going on, of course. I could do without that."

"Poppy!" Driblee was hugging Poppy the tightest, tears literally streaming from his eyes—the former being an impressive fact, given his lack of upper body strength. "Oh dear NOVA, it feels like it's been forever!"

"Whoa, whoa, Dribs! You're—You're a lot clingier than normal!" Poppy replied,happily reciprocating his action. "Something happen while you were in there?"

He sniffled. "K-K-Kinda…"

"Right!" King Dedede clapped his hands, and everyone immediately snapped to attention. "Looks like us three parties have a lot of stuff to catch up on—Another Dimension's influence on the outside world, any information may our scouts have picked up on, why there are suddenly Jambandra people again…" He pointed a thumb at the circle of Jammerjabs and Jambelievers watching from the edges of the platform.

(Rick blinked, him and the twenty-one other recent arrivals realizing their presence. "Gee," he grimaced, "and here Ithought we had it rough. They're 'bout ready to dash!"

Adeleine's eyes glimmered with pity. "They're still here, despite everything… do they owe that much to Hyness, even if he's so—so terrible?")

"So, yeah. We're gonna need all the goods—'cause I don't know about you, but I'm tired of stuff catching us off-guard."

"Like the weather, or Gem Apples raining from the sky," Susie snarked.


"So, while we were looking after Jambandra Base, we started to wonder where all the Jambandra people went," Waddle Doo began. "We got some of His Majesty's Dees and Squeakers on the job, and lo and behold, we found them holed up in the basement, waiting out the storm and praying for survival.

"Apparently, they were ordered to keep to their usual schedule by the Three Mage-Sisters at all costs, but the gathering storm made them too panicked to… well, even function properly. Jennifer—say hi, Jen!—" The aforementioned Star Ally waved next to one of her old squadmates, still wearing her friend's Staff ability hat in lieu of her old beret. "—was close by when she heard what was going on, so she went back in and herded them to the lower levels for safety. She'd help them leave, but… for some reason, they don't want to."

"Forever devoted to their duties, I see," Dark Meta Knight said. "Commendable, if foolish."

"So, behind our enemies' exterior lies some traces of honor…" Blade Knight considered. "It doesn't excuse what they've allowed to persist, but I suppose not everyone is a one-dimensional villain."

"They're—They're sticking w-with what's familiar, 'c-cause… it's all they've got," Taranza quietly mused. "I think I can sympathize. Sometimes, life can—can just feel like a burden weighing on your soul. And… wh-who knows if there'll be anyone else to give you hope…?"

King Dedede and Bandana Dee shared a glance at each other, and then at the circle of mooks trembling and looking like they wanted nothing more than to run, loyalty to their masters staying their feet. The Jambelievers' eyes were darting back and forth between the Warp Holes and their erstwhile enemies, and the Jammerjabs appeared to be barely persevering past their fears as they tightened their grips on their staffs.

"Talk about a twisted mirror…" the regent muttered, flashes of a worn sunset path coming to mind. His faithful assistant shivered, the same thought ringing through his own head.

And that's not the only thing bugging me. Kirby thought. I can tell—they've got no idea what to do about any of this.

On our end, we've been dealing with stuff like this for over twenty-five years, Helpers included. And I'd wager even the employees at the Haltmann Works Company would have a good grasp on things, given all the technology at their disposal.

These guys… they're just ordinary minions caught up in something far beyond them. And they don't have Hyness or the Mage-Sisters to give them any aid, either.

"…nobody should have to go without a helping hand like that," Kirby said aloud. "Nobody."

"G-Gee, I'm feeling pretty sorry for them now," Driblee gulped—"and th-they haven't seen all the stuff we d-did…!"

Everyone turned to the six Helpers previously sent off to search, who were shuddering in fear from his words. "We nearly ran afoul of magical monstrosities," Ceri insisted—"a host of winged behemoths with a scream that could pierce the heavens. We only saw their shadows, b-but… I could tell they were not to be trifled with."

"It took all the skills I and Ceri had in covertness to keep us hidden from their observant eyes," Bio Spark added.

Susie recognized that description instantly. She clenched her hands into fists and struggled to keep her composure. "Sphere Doomers…" she hissed.

"Crap, that's right," Kirby recalled. "Sphere Doomers are naturally-forming entities in Another Dimension—of course they'd start acting up as a result of everything going on."

"W-Was—Was it too much t-to hope that we'd—we'd never have to see them a-again?" Bandana Dee groaned. "There were—There were way too m-many of them before…!"

"I'm… gonna guess they'd wouldn't be receptive to having a meal and leaving us alone," Chef Kawasaki frowned.

Daroach lowered his top hat over his eyes. "Sadly for us… hearts are not stolen so easily, especially those that are blackened and crusted. We have our work cut out for us, it seems."

"That is unfortunate," Meta Knight cut in. "Our own stint through this latest dimension was already no cakewalk—Between the devious puzzles and platforming, the likes of which would stifle even the hardiest adventurers. And that is not even speaking of the powered-up Kracko awaiting us at the end, a far cry from the expected mindless shadow of the Jamba Heart." He closed his eyes and hummed lowly. "We must stay vigilant, more than we've already been—lest we find ourselves in an untenable position."

"Eh, we'll just take things as they happen," Marx shrugged. "Nothing we can do about it, so let's not waste time thinking about boring 'what if's'!"

"Couldn't have put it any better myself, mate," Rick said.


Two. A simple, innocuous number. A number that, in any other situation, wouldn't mean much more than 'greater than one' or 'sequel' or et cetera.

In this case, though, two was the quantity of Warp Holes still open for the Star Allies to close. Two additional dimensions to traverse and triumph over—each towering with their own terrible trials and terrors to face.

"Are you sure you guys don't want to have a quick lunch break before you go?" Chef Kawasaki asked, his cooking pot boiling beside him and emitting a strong, delicious scent. It was almost enough to make the frontrunning team of heroes want to stop and savor it, if only for a little bit. "It's good to take care of yourselves, y'know!"

"Even battle-hardened warriors need rest to freshen their bodies and minds," Bugzzy sagely advised, a half-eaten apple in his mouth.

"Yeah, what he said!" Poppy piped up.

"Hey, we'll be fine!" Dedede grinned, his trusty hammer slung over his shoulder as usual. He and the other Star Allies were opposite of the third Warp Hole of the day, mentally preparing for the journey ahead. "Time's of the essence, as Meta Knight would put it—" The Lone Swordsman grunted, Galaxia gleaming in his hand. "—so we'll deal. 'Sides—if our hunger levels get that bad, Kirby and Adeleine's got things handled!"

The aquamarine artist nodded, waving her paintbrush around with a smile. "I've got enough paint to last us an eternity, don't you fret! I can spare the time to draw a few snacks, if we really need it!"

Kirby had something in his hands, as well: an ordinary frying pan and a rather thick cookbook, the former being noticeably clean and clearly well-cared for. "Don't forget 'bout me~!" he sing-songed. "I know a ton of recipes myself, and I've got a magic pot of my own! I gotta be using that specific Copy Ability first, but—details!"

"…why are you carrying those two items around with you?" Susie asked, flummoxed in spite of herself. "Surely, it would be simpler to carry prepackaged provisions or so…"

"Food is universal," Gooey drooled. "Food is everywhere. If you have a kitchen wherever you go, you can make good food wherever. That's how I see it."

"Bah! It's 'cause that kinda stuff's for plebeians, obviously," Marx waved off. "Why do that when you can be extra! Go the distance; crash the stars! Reach as high as you can go!"

"But not so high that you end up floating aimlessly through space," Magolor chirped.

"Uh-huh! That would suck, especially if you can't fly," the clown sniggered.

"And if you run out of gas partway through a cruise."

"That's… a rather suspiciously specific situation," Ribbon noted, eyes narrowed.

"…I don't wanna talk about it."

"To answer your question, Susie," Kirby spoke up, "I only have so many Copy Essence Deluxes to go around," he said. "All things considered, they're pretty rare to find; most Copy Essences are bolted where they stand. So I work with what I have. A spare microphone for Mic, a bar of soap for Bubble, a stethoscope for Doctor—"

"D-D-Don't forget a p-pillow for Sleep!" Dee sassed him.

"…yyyyyyeah. That too." He shot a deadpan stare at his third best friend. The little assistant giggled in response, briefly imitating the puffball sleep-fighting.

"I see," the secretary-turned-president muttered, conveniently ignoring the other responses. "That certainly lends greater context to your leadership position, aside from what I've already identified."

"Anyway," the hero nodded, "we'll be fine. Helpers, you know the drill—stick together, don't go it alone, and keep watching out for any danger coming outta here. We'll be back in another hour-and-a-half, so stand your ground 'til then!"

A confident grunt of affirmation echoed from the eleven present Helpers, in addition to some of the nearby Jambandra troops courageous enough to answer. "Just make sure you do the same, guys," Waddle Doo said, looking stern in spite of her cyclops appearance. "I'm serious—I'd rather not have to patch you up; same for everyone else."

"AND-PLEASE-DO-BRING-LESS-ANNOYING-ALLIES-WITH-YOU," Gim droned, very pointedly not looking at Ceri. "I-WOULD-RATHER-NOT-HAVE-TO-DEAL-WITH-MORE-TRICKSTERS-AND-PERFORMERS-THAN-NECESSARY."

"I do hope you aren't talking about me. I can still affect you with my powers, you know."

"Well, we can't guarantee either, exactly," Kine said, "but we'll do our best to come out without attracting too much trouble."

"If it makes you feel any better, we can have a party together, once we get back to Pop Star!" Ribbon smiled—"A party with an all-you-can-eat buffet and as many party games as we can get set up!"

Ooh's and aww's filled the air; parties involving Kirby's friends, be it only some of them or all of them, were always the highlight of the year, whenever they occurred. (Taranza was notably nervous but hopeful about this; Susie was simply curious at what this entailed.)

"We'll hold you to it," Burning Leo said. "Good luck, everyone, and show this cult what you're made of!"

"Can do!" Kirby replied. "Alright, Star Allies! You know what they say… third time's the charm!"


Another Dimension
Dimension III

Long acclimated to the dazzling disorder of Another Dimension's fluctuating environment by now, the Star Allies wasted no time in rising up toward the first of their next five Hero Trials. The passageway this time, much to the adventurers' collective annoyance, took the form of a fragmented, zigzagging elevator, moving up and up and forcing them to stay on their toes… lest they accidentally be left behind.

Oh, and did I mention that they had to do it on tiny, ascending platforms?

"Ughhhhhhhh," Coo groaned. The sixteen party numbers had thus far spent the last few minutes starting and stopping and waiting and… well, just waiting, honestly. "Jeez, if you're going to make an elevator," he grumbled, "actually make a proper elevator. Can't we fly up instead and skip dealing with this nonsense?"

"It's best not to tempt fate with worse possibilities to put in our path," Meta Knight hummed. "We could attempt to chart a course up using our own strength—but there, we run the risk of something attacking us while we have little time to react. It's better to endure a few minutes of anticipation than a few minutes of unprepared panicking."

"There's a certain charm, anyway, in being able to gather your thoughts like this," Daroach said, calmly tapping his feet against the floor. "It's a luxury we can ill afford—after all, it's the prerogative of all treasure hunters and Star Allies to stay focused in any situation."

"Right… 'focused'…" The Animal Trio's eyes moved to King Dedede… who had, in his boredom, whipped out a Nintendo 3DS. And unsurprisingly, it was booted up to—of course—Dedede's Drum Dash Deluxe. He had attracted an audience as well; Star Allies being Star Allies, a good chunk of them—Kirby, Dee, Gooey, Adeleine, Magolor—had gathered around to watch his performance.

"There's a lot of drums," Gooey idly remarked. "Those drums are very bouncy. Shouldn't they break from the bounciness?"

"They technically do," Kirby replied—"those purple ones certainly aren't up for this kind of challenge. For that matter, I don't think I'd be up for this kind of challenge – I prefer my experiences to be either casual or competitive. Or cooperative. One of those three."

"You said it, K-Kirby!" Bandana Dee chimed in. "It's—It's pretty a-amazing, then, h-how Great King can handle this! I, uh… think I'd need plenty of help for that…"

"Ooh, I'm actually in this! Look there!" Magolor pointed out his cameo, swinging on-screen to obscure part of the play area. He squinted his eyes and tilted his head. "Huh. I don't remember having any carpets like that. Strange colors, too—purple definitely isn't my thing."

Adeleine put a hand to her chin and pondered the color scheme for a moment. "Mmmmm… yeah, it's kind of garish," she agreed. "Might be better if it was blue, or at least a darker shade of violet. I'd need a closer look at it to tell, though…"

"I have no idea what y'all are saying right now," Dedede deadpanned, his brain solidly centered on his little session. He walked off the platform he was on and onto the next, eyes not moving from the screen—and then he flinched, his likeness in-game tumbling off a skewer and into a bottomless pit.

"Dang it!" he grumbled, his fairly decent run ruined in an instant. "So close! This unholy dimension's screwin' with my concentration! …eh, I'll give this one more try."

Three pairs of eyes looked back to Daroach, who was chuckling at the sight. "Well, I never said that wasn't a 'situation' in and of itself," he said.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say our victories were the result of a fluke rather than skill," Meta Knight similarly acknowledged. "I see it as… a testament to the strength of our hearts, that our friendships can synthesize with our abilities; that we can allow ourselves such distractions and still remain capable of saving the day."

"Heh heh—when you put it that way, I s'pose it ain't the worst thing in the world," Rick said. "It's like a little bit of home came here with us."

"A little bit of home we'd fight tooth and nail to keep," Kine added, his eyes closed in contemplation. "We may not be the best animals for this job—but no matter how small our contributions may be, I know there's nowhere else I'd rather be."

"I think the same can be said for all of us," Daroach smirked. "After all—nobody ever said the heroes have to stand alone in their mission." The heads of his loyal Squeak Squad—Doc, Spinni, and some other Squeakers—popped up behind him, reaffirming the ideals sparkling from his soul.

Meta Knight smiled behind his mask, their expressions reminding him greatly of the Meta-Knights he found himself so proud of. "That much, we can agree is correct."

For the world that they cherished, for the friends that they'd give their all for… there could be no hesitation aligned in their hearts—not at all. So that everyone could continue living as happily and carefree as they loved to be, even if the universe at every turn sought a different outcome altogether… they'd stop the Jambandra Cult in their tracks, or die trying.

As Star Allies, they couldn't do anything less.

"I'd still rather us be flying past these platforms, though."

"We know, Coo. We know."


Dimension III – First Hero Trial

Powerful gusts of wind blew through the corridor, pushing the Star Allies forward and leaving them on the verge of face-planting if they didn't hold their ground. Above, a layer of lava lay plastered on the ceiling, raining down hot fireballs on their already-unbalanced feet – not the best combination to bring to the table, as the crew was rapidly discovering.

"A-And here I th-thought Dangerous Dinner had fireballs to spare…!" Bandana Dee cried, covering Kirby and Dedede with a Chumbrella held tightly in both hands. "Wh-Why is there always something up with this dimension!?"

"'Cause no one can resist the allure of the almighty Sizzle element, not even non-sentient dimensions!?" Dedede growled, gritting his teeth. He prayed that the upscaled Parasol would serve as sufficient protection—there wasn't a whole lot of room to use his Bluster'd hammer, much to the king's chagrin. And he didn't fancy getting torched while huddled up against those stone block barriers. "Kirby, how's your Geokinesis stint doing!?"

The aforementioned puffball had his eyes closed and his hands raised, electrical energy emanating from his body. "I'm doing my best," he said, features pressed into a stressed scowl—all this careful movement is so not my thing! "I dunno how much you can see, but it ain't easy getting Gooey through this little strip!"

Gooey, currently taking the form of a stone statue, was being levitated through a veritable valley of lethal lava and rhythmic crushers. As usual, there was a discernably joyful look on his frozen face; either he was simply ignorant of the incredible danger, or he implicitly trusted Kirby to get the job done – both choices which said a lot about his character.

In any case, all Kirby needed was enough time to get the adorable little blob through this claustrophobic mess. And speaking of which…

"We shouldn't have too much longer to go, though!" the puffball said. "If I can get Gooey past this last set of crushers, we'll be home-free!"

"P-P-Please hurry up…" Bandana Dee trembled—"this is g-getting bad for my nerves…!"

From behind the trio thick as thieves, the rest of the Dream Friends were gathered up and fending off the onslaught however they could.

Meta Knight was extinguishing the fireballs with Galaxia-powered slashes, such was his strength as his galaxy's greatest warrior. Rick had taken the form of a giant stone statue of himself and his friends, coated by various technicolor paints, under which Kine and Coo were taking shelter.

Adeleine and Ribbon were taking cover behind their large canvas, Dark Meta Knight covering them with mirror shards from above. Marx and Daroach were nearby, warping every now and again to dodge a misaligned projectile—and also a Rocky was with them, having been summoned into the fray by Kirby.

Finally, Magolor had his guard literally up; a star-shaped shield was over his head, acting as a barrier for both him and Taranza, who was ill-suited to defend himself against the fiery storm. As for Susie, she was tanking everything via her Business Suit, helped along by her mech splashing water everywhere she spun.

Unsurprisingly, none of them were having that much fun.

"What in the name of Galactic NOVA is that canvas made out of?" Marx asked. The canvas, at present depicting a serene, grassy backdrop from Dream Land, was somehow qualified to take a direct hit from multiple fireballs and come out without a scratch. "I've seen Rockies that are less resilient than that! And Gem Apples, and actual rocks, and maybe Gonta—"

The nearby Rocky detransformed briefly, purely to say, "We get it," before transforming back into a statue of three of Pop Star's resident artifacts (the Star Rod, the Triple Star, and the Magical Paintbrush, to be specific).

"Honestly, I couldn't tell you," the beret-wearing girl shrugged. "It's just another quirk of my Artist powers, and that's all I've ever needed to know."

"It's been really helpful either way!" Ribbon said, her head poking out from the other side of the canvas. "You never know when you'll need a sturdy shield, or find something cool to paint!"

Dark Meta Knight snorted—a strange sound, coming from him. "Most would not consider such an object well-suited to those dual purposes—not via the methods as puzzled out here. Truly, you two have these incredibly fascinating mindsets." He grunted as a fireball bounced off one of his barriers, harmlessly splashing off against the ground. "Shame that there is little time for us to practice our artistic skills any time soon. I must remember to ensure our adversaries pay for depriving me of time with my precious crayons."

"And you wonder why people find it hard to take you seriously," the jester sniggered. He warped atop his favorite victim-slash-companion, happily sitting on the disgruntled knight without a care in the world. "'My precious crayons'? That's like, the least edgiest phrase I've heard out of your mouth yet!"

"Guh—! Marx! Get off of me, you cretin!" Appropriately rattled, Dark Meta Knight started swinging his limbs and wings wildly at a totally controlled pace. "Y-Your asinine shenanigans are not appreciated at this moment!"

"Oh c'mon, Darky!" he cackled, crystalized wings colored cyan lifted high into the air. "You don't need to panic! I just wanna take ya out for a ride! It's not like you're in any danger; those shards of yours'll keep us perfectly saf—WAH!"

Of course, as soon as he said that, a stray fireball – larger than the norm, it must be noted – snuck between the cracks and struck them head-on, sending them tumbling to the ground… and right toward the frontline trio.

Adeleine and Ribbon stared with unamused and amused faces, respectively, as Dedede blocked their trajectories with his hammer. "Hey!" he shouted, the duo's dizzied expressions smushed down on the floor. "Save the flirty horseplay for later!"

"Well excuse me, Triple D…"

"I hate all of you, I hope you realize that…"

The artist sighed, though not without some hint of fondness. "Boys…" she said. "Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

"Tenko'll owe me once they finally get together," Ribbon bluntly mentioned. "She's gonna regret betting those 300 Gem Apples with me."


"Lightning, ice, fire, wind—they certainly pulled out all the stops to make this as bird-unfriendly as possible," Coo groused. "Won't somebody speak for us!? This is animal cruelty—animal cruelty, I tell you!"

"I'll put up a complaint for you, once we get back to the Lor," Magolor quipped, magic coursing through his hands. "Might need a time machine to tell the Ancients 'bout that, but I'm sure we can get it done!"

"Perfect! Good to see you're up for the task of hearing nature out," the owl approved. "While you're at it, I think I'd like a good 'ol-fashioned blaster, too. Those Mage-Sisters deserve to get a taste of their own medicine!"

Kine sighed. "Coo, you seriously need to tone down that blustery streak of yours. Like, I get that you'd prefer to be napping right now—I mean, we all would—but sometimes it can be a bit… much."

"Pah! I've got a right to be a little peeved, methinks! My Cappy Town counterpart would agree with me, honestly—it's just something I gotta do!"

"Actually, he'd tell you not to be so aggressive. Wise owls shouldn't be so eager to rush into the fray."

"Wisdom's subjective, Kine! That's my logic!"

"Hmph. If you're feeling that discontent, I can design a heat-resident suit for you, or at the very least a device to better defend yourself against assaults like this," Susie clinically said, not very bothered by the havoc from above – though, that might be due to her mech taking care of her maneuverability issues. "The Haltmann Works Company has had many years of experience, tailoring our products to meet certain individuals' needs—on first glance, a handheld able to generate a protective field around you might fit you the best. I'd need to perform an in-depth survey to be precise, but—"

"Wow, you sure know your stuff!" the Halcandran mage interjected, eyes twinkling in interest. "Y'know, we oughta stage a get-together sometime, bond over our shared hobbies in technocraft. Wizardry and science united, and all that jazz~!"

The President lifted her visor to gaze at her fellow Dream Friend—he who was equally as influenced by the Ancients she so vehemently despised, however different said influence may have been. Her eyes also fell upon who he was protecting: Taranza, shaking and nearly stumbling, but standing upright all the same. He's… brave. Braver than his disposition would infer, much in the same vein as that king's assistant. It's contradictory, and yet… there's something about it—about him—that I'm drawn to.

The three of them could assemble into quite the triumvirate, now that she thought about it: her, the stoic secretary and technological specialist; Taranza, the former queen's aide and a nervous, if capable magician; and Magolor, a mix of both their talents, confident and intelligent enough to fill in the gaps between the two of them. Put together, they'd be able to reach accomplishments she couldn't have dared to dream of—

But he also partially represented what she hated the most.

He's like them. Like the Ancients. The Ancients who, however indirectly, destroyed my childhood.

and at the same time, he… can't be. Not entirely. Otherwise, Kirby wouldn't accept such a person into his life.

So, I wonder… what secrets lie behind that scarf—behind those eyes…?

("…hey, are we gonna get back to our discussion? Blasters, anyone?"

"Coo, not now. I think they're having a moment.")

"Yo," Magolor shuffled closer to the CEO, "are you okay?" Both curiosity and concern were evident in his eyes, and for some reason, Susie's heart was clenching because of it. "You're, uh, being a little more silent than I expected…"

Her breath hitched. "I was… I was simply considering the pros and cons of the proposition you laid out."

"That's not what it looked like to me," he replied, brows raised.

She crossed her arms, feeling a little bit prickly. "Oh yeah? What did it look like to you, then?"

"Past traumas welling up and coloring your thoughts and impressions."

Taranza and Susie's gazes whirled toward the mage in shock.

Am I—are we that easy to read…?

"I've made my fair share of mistakes, much like you two. Yours are more personal, admittedly, but no less painful as mine." His eyes glazed into the distance, past the already-opened barrier ahead. "Now's not the best time to discuss things, but… I do know hurt, and regret—and what it's like to feel like an outcast."

He put down his star-shaped shield and started floating forward with the rest of the crew. "If we get another lull in all this action, then… I'm up for a chat with you guys. Maybe a little one, maybe a long one. Your pick."

As he departed, Taranza and Susie glanced at each other.

After a bit, Susie broke it off. "We'll… consider it, for later," she muttered. "L-Let's go. We have… business to take care of."

"R-Right. Business! Business business! I—I can do that!"


Dimension III – Second Hero Trial

"Oh dear NOVA, no! No!"

"This is… unfortunate."

"Cripes, not this nonsense again!"

"Squawk! You can't be serious!"

"Oh, look—it's diamond guy! I missed him."

Five figures from the second Dark Matter crisis cried out in unison—four in exasperation, one in oblivious fondness.

Behind a set of bombable blocks, the image of a diamond—a diamond crafted out of pure gold blocks—stirred up memories of two very specific Heart Star puzzles (one fairly basic, if initially perplexing; the other absolutely infuriating). And given that this had shown up at the start of Adeleine and Ribbon's Hero Trial…

"No, no, no—wh-why is this still a thing!? I get that this adventure's gimmick is being absurdly difficult, but that doesn't mean you have to bring the HB twins' stuff back!"

The painter-fairy duo stared worriedly at the ranting pink puffball, the Animal Buddies clustered nearby with similarly contrite expressions. Taking notice of the red-colored door above, they flew to the platform it was on and peeked through it—and as they had expected, the diamond structure was replicated on the other side, only with a few Star Blocks either replacing or adding to the existing model.

"…a matching puzzle, huh?" the two observed simultaneously.

"That doesn't seem so bad," Ribbon tilted her head, finger placed on her chin. "So why is Kirby so peeved? I mean, there'll be harder variants, sure, but that's nothing we can't handle!"

"Well, back then, Kirby didn't have us to keep track of the differences," Adeleine shrugged. "I was around when he and our Animal Buddies were gathering the Heart Stars—you wouldn't believe how long they took to get some of the ones in the Ice Mountains." Metroids, Chef Kawasaki, Angelica—and I've heard of plenty more trials from before they got to Cloudy Park.

"Oh. That makes sense!"

The artist hopped to the ground, where the four Dark Matter veterans were winding down and looking more resigned now than anything else. Kirby panted, "S-Sorry about that. I—I just have a lot of… bad memories, when it comes to some collectibles."

"Us, too," Kine grumbled. "The only thing left to solidify this as a true nightmare is the Heart Stars popping up for real. I'm not even kidding, that'd literally be the worst—worse than even the Parallel Bosses."

"That sounds like a slight exaggeration, but I'll take your word for it," Dedede said.

Adeleine went up to her rose-colored ally and patted him on the back. "Hey, you four don't need to worry! Things are different now—you've got us, for one, and a whole party's worth of heroes to help you out!" She got out her trusty sketchbook and a sharpened pencil, tapping the latter's tip against an open page. "Between the sixteen of us, I'm sure we can figure this zone out—and if they aren't enough, I can always sketch out the examples myself!"

"Yeah! So let's stay positive!" Ribbon chimed in, a little pink crayon twirling in her fingers. "Artful Adventurers for the win!"

"Positivity is good," Gooey agreed. "Ado is good. We should listen to Ado. She makes the best cakes."

Kirby breathed in. Kirby breathed out. "Right. Positive. Times have changed; times are… more populated." He performed those two actions in a loop, Rick and Kine noticing and following his lead. "I suppose that's something I oughta remember more, considering what I preach."

"Just don't take longer than fifteen minutes a pop to solve 'em," Coo griped. "Any longer, and my feathers'd be likely to burst."

"I'll do my best!" Adeleine smiled. "If it makes you guys feel any better, we can stop for a group painting instead. I think it'll be worth it, refreshing our bonds with a break session."

"Sure, that's alright with me," the puffball resolved. "Dunno if you can find a good place to do that, but hey! You do you."


And then they found a metallic whale, and Adeleine's imagination roared to life.


[Adeleine]

"Okay! Dark Meta, a little to the right! Daroach, claws on your hat! Magolor, don't wink so hard! Kirby, hold that Friend Heart higher!"

Creativity comes in many forms.

I'd know—I've done a lot of experimenting over the last few years!

When you're an artist, you tend to look at the world with a different viewpoint; doubly so when you're a magic artist.

The environments you're standing on, the friends by your side, the liveliness of the world around you—inspirational masterpieces can be glimpsed from just about anywhere, so long as you know where to look.

I've always been fascinated by that. It's why I've stayed on Pop Star for over two decades now. In-between all the peace and quiet, and the semi-annual chaos I've come to call routine… there'll forever be something beautiful and heartwarming around the next corner.

And yes, that's the same even in Another Dimension.

"Come on, everyone!" Ribbon called, a tiny megaphone close to her mouth. "We can get this done! All together now!"

Dutifully, Dark Meta Knight followed our suggestions. "I expect this illustration to depict me at my best," he preened, his silver Galaxia tilted toward the sky and gleaming brightly. "It will be a suitable reward, for a knight of my caliber."

"If you say so, mate," Rick said, pointing a single paw up from where he lay. "Adeleine's art's good and all, it really is!—but personally, I just need to rest for a bit."

"Better here than never, I figure," Dedede laughed. "Whatever—if we can get something frame-worthy outta this, then I guess it doesn't matter what excuse you need! Mmm, I wonder if this drawing'd fit better in the dining room or the hallways…"

Most of everyone was posing either on top or in front of the blocky silhouette of a whale spouting water. Dedede being… Dedede, he was spread out on his side on top of it, a smug expression all over his features. Dee was, true to form, standing by his side, completely nonplussed by his shenanigans.

Honestly, I think Dedede only does it to get a kick out of our reactions.

"Great King, you've hung up so many pictures that I don't think it honestly matters," Dee deadpanned, unusually for him. (He can be sassy when he wants to be—it's just… buried deep down, sometimes.) "Any more and—a-and the walls'll probably f-fall down."

"Eh! That just means we've got to reinforce 'em with more friendship!" he crowed. "If a picture says a thousand words, I'll make those words be a strength in and of themselves!"

Does… that make any sense?

ah, who cares? It's Dedede being shaped like a friend, what more could I ask for?

"Save some for me, then," Magolor said, casually leaning on the 'head' of the golden whale. "The Lor could do with a few more decorations to show, and I'm in desperate need of more friend crowd shots." He briefly hummed, looking himself over. "My belt's aligned nicely over my mouth, right? I wouldn't want to make a bad impression here…"

"You're fine, totally fine!" I quickly interjected—it's a lot harder to get this piece finished when everyone's trying to chat and move like this! "Stay as still as you can, and things'll be perfect! Trust me!"

"You heard Addie!" Ribbon happily shouted. "Just a little bit longer, everyone! Let the artist paint in peace!"

"Alright!"

"Okey-dokey!"

"For you two, I'll submit to this…"

And so I continued painting my picture in silence, Ribbon checking over my work and the scene to make sure things matched up seamlessly with each other. Again, Dedede and Dee were atop the whale; Taranza and Susie sat jointly on the 'water' spout; Marx, Gooey, and the Animal Buddies laid around Kirby, who was standing centerstage with a Friend Heart held high; Dark Meta and Daroach were on the whale's back and tail, respectively—

There was a sort of beauty, in the way everything aligned perfectly for this very moment. It's hard to describe, but… it's like a five-star meal, lovingly crafted and wonderfully delicious, stretching up to the skies and dazzling you with how much there is to eat.

…I am so lucky I had a canvas big enough to paint this.

"We're almost there," Ribbon said, adding her own small touches here and there with a small brush. "I think this might be our best painting yet!"

I lightly giggled. "That's a bit of a lofty prediction, don't you think?"

"Maybe—but we've never painted anything like this before. Not with so many friends here, and definitely not in Another Dimension!" Ribbon tapped the tip of her brush against her chin, a warmhearted smile touching her cute cheeks. "It's new, it's gorgeous, it's—it's something I wouldn't trade for the world."

"You and me both, Ribbon." I closed my eyes and let a sense of calm wash over me. "You and me both."


Fireworks were going off in the air; balloons and streamers were floating without a care. Freed at last from the control of Dark Matter, the citizens of Ripple Star were celebrating through the night, joined by the five who had saved them all. Food was eaten, party games were played – and the Gamble Galaxy could now rest easy, knowing that they were rid of one of their greatest threats.

On a hill overlooking the festivities, I couldn't help but smile. This scene—This scene existed partially thanks to me. Me, a simple artist, deciding to help a few friends repair a shattered Great Crystal.

"Everyone's so happy," I observed, sketchbook lying flat on my lap. "I've never… seen people party this hard, ever. And… it wouldn't have been possible without me. Without Kirby."

It was… a nice feeling. One I hadn't known existed.

It was nice.

"Hey, Adeleine!"

I blinked, and turned my head. To my delight, there was Ribbon, hovering in front of me with a chipper smile.

"Oh. Hey there, Ribbon!" I greeted my friend. "What are you doing here? I thought you'd be out celebrating with everyone."

"Well, I didn't see you anywhere," the fairy replied, "so I decided to come find you! We've been through a lot; I didn't want to leave you outta things!"

Aww, she's so thoughtful! "I just needed to take a break, after everything—but thanks for checking up on me." I scooted to sit closer to the nearby tree, resting my back on its trunk. She joined me soon after in watching the party play out, the moon shining brightly upon all of us.

"Has it really been only a few weeks since I left…?"

"Hmm?" I shot a glance at Ribbon, who was looking a little wistful.

"The Dark Matter invasion started only three weeks ago. And we managed to stop it, all by ourselves—me, you, Kirby, Dedede, and Dee."

"We did, didn't we?" Honestly, it feels like we're still back on Pop Star, coming together for the first time. "We've seen so many places, defeated so many enemies—and we became friends like no other. I… I don't think I'll forget the experience, not as long as I live."

Ribbon nodded. "Me neither." She pulled out the crystal… blaster… thing I saw her use with Kirby, and fired a few Crystal Shards into the air. "I even got a cool souvenir to remember it by—Her Majesty said I could keep it, 'cause I was such a big help to everyone."

"You deserve it," I said—"without you, we probably would've missed half of the Crystal Shards hiding away." And I'm not even kidding; some of them were ludicrous, like the one in Aqua Star way high up. "You're like, the biggest MVP among us – of course you get to keep something like that."

"You're an MVP too, Adeleine!" she replied. "Your picnics are the best—the food here's good and all, but it's nothing compared to what you can paint up. This adventure wouldn't have been half as amazing without you, and you deserve every bit of praise for it!"

I blushed and hid my face with my hands. "They're—They're not that special…" I denied. "H-Honestly, they could be a lot better than they are now…"

"They're still yours, though. And that's what gives them so much heart! 'Cause… you're my best friend." She said it with absolute earnestness, the kind of which you couldn't fake. It… It made me tear up, just a little.

"…th-thanks, Ribbon. That… means a lot, coming from you."

Ribbon sighed contently. "It's too bad that we won't get to have another one, though. Our adventure's over—you'll be heading back to Pop Star soon, once we're done celebrating."

"Yeah…" I said quietly. As much as I loved exploring new planets with Kirby and Ribbon, it can't last forever. Rick, Kine, Coo, Gooey—I've got a life on Pop Star I can't, I won't leave behind. They'd miss me, as much as they'd miss Kirby.

"I don't… really want this to end," the fairy admitted. "I want to stay by your side, see all the new things the galaxy has to offer! I want to paint pretty pictures with you, eat delicious picnics with you… I wanna keep being your friend, A-Addie."

She—She has a nickname for me, just like Gooey does…

…I can't say no to that adorable face, can I?

I ruffled her head and gave her my biggest smile. "Well, things doesn't have to end. You can come live with me in Dream Land if you want to!" I opened up my sketchbook and with a pencil, quickly outlined the exterior of my house to show her. It was small, a far cry from King Dedede's castles, but it's a nice place nevertheless. "It can be a little lonely living by myself, so I don't mind having a roommate!"

She looked up to me, eyes twinkling widely. "You'd do that for me?"

"Of course! You're my best friend, too."

When we crossed that threshold, I don't know.

But I've never been more proud to have someone in that role.

Ribbon bit her lip nervously. "What about Her Majesty, though? I've been with her for so long…"

"I think she'd understand. Now that Dark Matter's gone, there shouldn't be anything to worry about." I mean—as far as I can tell, they haven't had the misfortune of going through three consecutive Dark Matter crises… "So, what do you say? Let's be Adeleine and Ribbon, Artful Adventurers!"

"Hmm… okay!" she perked up. "Artful Adventurers we'll be, then!" She flew up to my head and sat atop my beret happily. "I can't wait to learn the ways of art with you!"

I grinned. "Me too, Ribbon. Trust me—it won't be boring!"


Has it really been eighteen years since that fateful day?

It's hard to keep track of the days when you're living your life in a World of Peace.

But I wouldn't have things any other way, to be honest.

Ribbon's brave, sassy, carefree at times—and though she can be equally as afraid as I am, she doesn't let it affect how courageous she can be. She likes picnics, flying around in the air, drawing with her friends… she's someone I'm proud to call my best friend. And I know she feels the same way.

We've seen a lot together, from robot apocalypses to interplanetary invasions—and through all the ups and downs and all-arounds, she's been the one constant I can always count on (and vice versa in turn). There's not a word in the dictionary that can describe the way we feel about each other—or how grateful I am that I've been given the chance to make so many friends alongside her.

Kirby, our shining, friendship-loving Super Tuff Pink Puff.

King Dedede, our reigning king and loving uncle-esque figure.

Bandana Dee, kind, nervous, stuttering, and brave beyond compare.

The Animal Buddies, six colorful forest dwellers who I'll forever be appreciative of.

Gooey, the cross-eyed blob with a heart as big as his tongue is long.

Marx, a trickster who expresses his love through good-natured pranks.

Dark Meta Knight, reclusive, certainly edgy, but no less loyal and true.

Daroach, our Phantom Thief with a knack for flair and good times.

Every single Star Ally here – plus those that are staying back home… they're so much more majestic than any artistic masterpiece can be by itself. United, our souls contain a brilliant whisper of light, gleaming faintly as they light up the darkness.

Dream Land wouldn't be Dream Land without them.

I know I can't imagine living without Ribbon, Marx, Dark Meta, Daroach in my life.

(Not to mention Cappy Town, with 'Lil Kirbs and our brigade of Ultimates…)

Like Kirby, I kinda have a… penchant for making friends wherever I go, regardless of the who's and why's of the situation. Marx got some much needed affection; Dark Meta's ice-cold heart warmed up; Daroach took us all under his wing… before I knew it, we were a close-knit quintet, as much as our four 'Core Star Allies'.

And that was cemented in full by our post-mortem journey through the Gamble Galaxy.

It really goes to show how a little drop of friendship can go a long way. If you're kind to others, you'll get kindness back—and so much more.

That's something Kirby taught me, so long ago.

I mistakenly attacked him and Gooey during the second Dark Matter crisis, and yet, he never held it against me. He helped me find my bearings in an unfamiliar world, and became the first friend I've ever known.

He brought all of us together, just by following that ideal through and through. And it's that reason why we're here to help him save the world, despite the increased difficulty and danger prevailing this time around.

We may be disparate and dysfunctional at times, but in the end, we're so much greater than the sum of our parts. As Kirby would say, we're friends, first and foremost – and that'll never change, no matter what tries to get in our way.

Zero(-Two), the Jambandra Cult, Void Termina, Monokuma… they can try all they want to bring us down—we'll come out on top, so long as the Power of Friendship continues to stand by our side.

That's a promise.

"And I'm done!"

I stepped back from my canvas, putting away my brush and palette. In an instant, fourteen Star Allies dropped down and rushed over to my side, eager to catch their first glimpse at my newest painting.

They weren't disappointed.

"Heck yeah…!"

"Oooooh—I love it!"

"Satisfactory work, Adeleine."

As expected, it was great: in front of the backdrop of a real whale, all my friends could be seen smiling and posing with gusto. All the stress of Another Dimension had melted away, leaving behind what could only be described as sheer, unadulterated bliss. A fitting way to encapsulate everything that made us… well, us.

"Great job as always, Adeleine!" Marx said, his teeth glistening brightly. "I knew I could count on you to capture my amazing visage!"

"Don't forget mine," Magolor seamlessly added.

"Aaaaaaahhhhh, it's amazing!" Dee gushed. He waved his hands in the air as he looked at the painting from various angles. "I—I dunno how to explain it, b-but it's just—perfect!"

"It's your best work yet, girl," Dedede agreed. "Definitely worth joining my hall of framed pictures."

"I'd like to have a copy to place inside my airship as well," Daroach smirked. "If there was ever a treasure I absolutely needed, this is it."

"I appear… acceptable in this," Dark Meta decreed. "I give it my approval. Do as you will with it."

Closest thing to a compliment I'm gonna get from him.

I rubbed the back of my head and blushed deeply. "Heh heh heh… th-thanks, everyone! I'm glad you guys like it!"

"When it comes to us, there's nothing we can't make look good!" Ribbon declared. "We're the queens of art, no doubt about it!"

"It's pretty cool, don't get me wrong," Kirby said. "It's probably my favorite piece to come from you yet. But… there's one small thing that's missing from it—two somethings, actually."

"Huh?" Ribbon and I blinked, looking over my painting to try and see what he was talking about. So did everyone else. "That's… odd. I don't see anything off. Are you imagining things, Kirby?"

"Hold on," Marx squinted, two claws brought to his chin. "Now that I'm looking more carefully… yeah, there is something left to add!"

Huh? Huh?

"Well, that ain't a corker at all," Rick said. "The spirit of friendship means everyone here should be gettin' in!"

Gooey nodded sagely. "Nobody should be left out. Ado and Ribbon worked hard on it."

I'm confused.

"Here, lemme make a quick edit. Adeleine, mind if I borrow a brush?"

"O-Okay!"

I handed Kirby a spare paintbrush, and seconds later, he had transformed into Artist Kirby. He brought out a palette of his own, made a few brushstrokes, and that was it! "There we go! Take another look, guys!"

I peered over the edited drawing—and my eyes widened.

For the most part, it was roughly the same…

"Ah! Addie, look!" Ribbon pointed.

…save for the image of me and Ribbon waving and cheerfully floating above the whale.

A light bulb went off inside my head. "Oh!"

"That's right!" Kirby chirped. "You two matter as much as the rest of us, y'know! There's no way I could leave you guys outta the proceedings after all we've been through!"

"Indeed," Daroach agreed, one paw lifting his hat, the other being slung around my back. "Every single person here, accomplished or not, deserves their place in our ranks through some fashion or another. We are a team, so don't forget—we'll always care for each other, come what may."

"Yeah! We're not buttheads!" Marx cheekily added. "Just guys that like to be fed every now and again!"

"Speak for yourself, runt…" Dark Meta groused.

I beamed through my own flushing emotions. "Hee hee—we'll—we'll be sure to remember that!" I replied, cheeks red.

The painting sparked to life right then and there, and all of a sudden, everyone drawn on the canvas was acting as if they were the real-deal Star Allies. Everyone stared in awe as the scene took place, even imitating some of their duplicates' actions. They jostled each other, they talked with each other—but most of all, they—we—were friends with each other.

This is why I fight. This is why I live.

This is the world that makes me smile wherever I go.

This… is my World of Miracles.

I love you guys.


"Do you truly believe that friendship is the way to go?"

"Hm?" I tilted my head at our resident Ultimate Anthropologist, popping another slice of cake into my mouth. "Whatcha talkin' 'bout, Kiyo?"

The eight of us—me and my friends, plus Tenko, Angie, and Kiyo—were plopped down on a blanket, having a nice picnic in the Mirror World. Cakes and sandwiches and bagels were placed all over, as fresh as if they had come from an oven.

"You better not be planning to be all creepy again, degenerate!" Tenko hissed—she hadn't entirely gotten over… what brought her here yet, unfortunately. "There's no way I'm gonna let you get your hands on any girl ever again!"

"Kehehe… there is no need to fear," he replied. "I wouldn't have the stomach to attempt such a cruel act more than once, in any sense—not after that corruptive spirit was excised from me. I simply want to know how one can be so optimistic despite seeing the worst of what humanity—and moreover, the universe—has to offer."

"That's easy," I said, my cheeks still full. "It's 'cause there's nothing you can't overcome, so long as you have a friend to help you out!"

"Uh-huh," Ribbon interjected, chowing down on a cookie. "We'd know; me and Adeleine have been together for, like… forever!"

"I see, I see!" Angie nodded, looking as if she'd at last gained an understanding. "Friendship is your calling, in the same vein being Atua's vessel is mine! Atua is very, very impressed!"

"Well, that's one thing we can agree on, Angie," the Aikido Master muttered. She sighed, her normally boisterous face drooping a bit. "I wish that our world believed in such pure ideas… Himiko's out there alone, and I can't protect her anymore. How am I supposed to protect anyone like this…?"

I shuffled over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, Tenko, it'll be okay," I assured her. "We'll figure things out, somehow—you've got us and Kirby by your sides! Just believe in us!"

She sniffled. "Ahhhhhhh… You're so cute when you say that…!" She was blushing now, but at least she looked a little happier. "Okay, then! I won't give up hope! For girls everywhere, I'll keep praying! HI-YAHHHHHH!"

Ribbon giggled. "That's the spirit," she said.


[N/A]

"Magician EX, Evil Knight EX, and Great Dragon EX are preparing a special attack!"

"Oh, goodie! A special attack! Haven't seen a virus pull that off before!"

Sixteen Star Allies were locked in combat with something odd, even by their standards: a random witch, a demonic black knight, and a violet dragon, with the former two riding on the latter as it soared around the impromptu arena. The Magician and the Evil Knight were both charging up a mighty spell and technique, respectively, out of reach of the lower-level Dream Friends.

"Then again, they never tried anything other than sending one guardian out at a time," Kirby continued, gazing at the enemies above, highly-energized plasma radiating from his form. "So I guess all those system updates had to go somewhere!"

"That, by itself, implies a virus can receive updates mid-transit," Meta Knight said. "Which is a rather odd idea, considering this virus isn't even connected to anything."

"Guess the firewalls in this place aren't the greatest," Dedede snarked, gripping his mighty mallet tightly. "Not like that matters—if experience is any indication, this ain't gonna be a breeze to dodge! Brace yourselves, gang!"

"This is gonna hurt…!" Bandana Dee squeaked. "N-Not moreso than everything else, b-but… eeeeeeeee…!"

The quartet of core Star Allies carefully divided their attention between the message box in the background—"The Star Allies collectively raise their defenses!"—and the classical fantasy triad, waiting for their Limit Break to be unleashed (or whatever they're calling it nowadays, Dedede idly thought). At last, the trio began to move—and a cacophony of attacks billowed through the battlefield.

The Great Dragon flapped its wings, sending strong gusts of wind to unbalance the Star Allies. The Magician raised its staff, and suddenly there were huge shooting stars falling from the sky, each of them being fueled by one of the five main elements—Sizzle, Blizzard, Splash, Zap, and Bluster. And the Evil Knight had his own twist to bring to the table: a hexagonal barrier surrounding him and his teammates, supplemented by sharp-looking knives surrounding that—which he was also throwing at anyone who got too close to him, because why not?.

Kirby… despite himself, was actually kind of impressed. In-between swapping to Wing and weaving around the mishmash of multi-element missiles, he stated, "Okay! I admit! That's a pretty neat Friend Combo. If we weren't on opposite sides, I'd approve of it." A Condor Dive narrowly allowed him to dive under a falling star, and he hastily added, "A bit of a conceit, but—still!"

"Good thing approval's not on the menu, then!" Dedede replied, doing a decent job at standing his ground. A star bashed here, a star bashed there; one could compare his performance to that of two plumbers who were well-versed in the art of counterattacking. (Shame that the shield was blocking his attempts to do so.) "I'm not gonna let this out-of-genre party upstage us in the spectacle department—how 'bout we do a special attack of our own!?"

Bandana Dee—having been busy doing what can only be described as 'borderline dancing'—hopped on his regent's back, pointing a spear to the sky in affirmation. "You said it, Great King!"

"Hmph." Meta Knight unfurled his cape, permitting his wings to flourish in the air. "That shield may appear to be impressively impenetrable… but we are not the four of Pop Star's strongest for no reason. Are you ready?"

A brief flash of light, and a hat themed after a jetpack rested on his pink colleague's head. "Of course I am! Who do you take me for?" he grinned. He took his fellow allies' hands and started charging up an Ultra-Jet Jump. "Now, let's show 'em what a real Team Attack looks like!"

"Yeah! Together!" two other voices cried in unison.

The three shot off into the air, and Meta Knight dutifully followed.

Team Computer Virus noticed the four's efforts, and moved to intercept them before they could get to them. Knives and shooting stars alike were directed their way—but Meta Knight was faster, Galaxia blazing a trail for his friends to zoom through.

And zoom they did: Kirby whizzed by everything with a carefree smile, undaunted from carrying both Dedede and Bandana Dee. Soon, they made it to their enemies' faces—and Dedede raised his mallet, bolstered by his two best friends being on his side. "Get ready for a clobberin', y'all!" he declared.

The computer window in the background changed its text appropriately.

"The Star Allies use a Team Attack: Core-tet Crash!"

The royal penguin dropped the hammer as hard as he could—and the barrier literally shattered into pieces, humongous glowing stars flying from the impact. Kirby wasted no time in swinging his teammates onto the Great Dragon's back, Dee unleashing spears wrapped in light one after the other at both the witch and the wannabe knight.

"EEEEEAAAH—!"

"URGH—!"

Caught off-guard, they tumbled off their steed and onto the floor. The dragon veered about in shock, and was subsequently blindsided by the Star Allies regrouping to smash into it at the same time.

"YAHOOOOOO!"

"Come—meet your doom!"

And so the great beast was sent spiraling down with his comrades, the flurry of stabs and slams and energy blasts proving to be too much for it to handle. Gathering into a circle, the quartet charged up a final attack, Kirby taking the lead—

"SUPERSTAR FRIENDSHIP BEAM!"

—and then, a brilliant rainbow laser extended from his hands, engulfing the enemies whole.

Their Hit Points ticked down to zero in record time.

Star-themed expressions were expelled from their bodies, and soon enough, they were gone entirely.

"And that's how you do it, folks!" Kirby exclaimed, to much fanfare. "Chalk another victory up for the Star Allies!"

"You go, guys!"

"That was pretty. Lots of pretty lights. I like it!"

"W-W-Wow! That was really—w-wow!"

The text boxes in the back celebrated this victory, in their own way.

"Kirby and his friends defeated all the enemies!"

"You gained 5040 EXP! (Not that it matters.)"

"Your Happy Smile went up by 5!"

"Your Mask Shine went up by 4!"

"Your Leadership went up by 9!"

"Your Appetite went up by 7!"

"Your Roundness went up by 6!"

"Your Friendship went up by 100!"

Kirby couldn't help but grin, seeing the 'stat increases' scroll across the screens. "Ooh, and we got some extra Happy Smile points, too! That's always nice!"

"The additional Mask Shine points are appreciated," Meta Knight added, entirely seriously. "It will go a long way toward lowering the amount of polishing sessions I need to perform."

"Do these points apply to all of us, or just some of us?" Dedede asked. "I don't mind having a boost in Leadership and Friendship—and wow, that is one heck of a boost in Friendship—but… I don't think I have a use for Roundness. Like, not at all."

Bandana Dee held up a hand. "U-U-Ummmm… Better question: are—are these stats even r-real? I know Attack and Defense and M-Magic are things, b-but…"

Kirby took a moment to think, before beaming and shrugging it off. "Eh, who cares? They matter to me, and that's what matters in the end! Look, my smile's gotten wider even as we speak! Can't ya tell!?"

"No."

"Kind of? Maybe?"

"You smile all the time," his bestest-best friend pointed out, "how the heck are we supposed to tell?"

"By… telling? I've got, like, a dozen different smiles for a dozen different situations! Hanging out, eating, winning a Mario Party, losing a Mario Party, meeting new friends, glaring daggers into whatever latest Eldritch Abomination's come to chow on us—"

Each description the puffball gave out made the other three laugh out loud with increasing intensity, to the point where even Kirby ultimately broke down and laughed alongside them.

They were friends. The closest of friends. The core of the Star Allies, and nothing would ever change that.

Another Dimension could try all it wanted—they'd blast through it at sonic light speed, no doubt about it.

And if in the process they got about a thousand more Friendship points, that'd just be the icing on the cake.


Dimension III – Third Hero Trial

"I don't trust this. Not one bit."

"N-N-Neither do I! It looks easy, b-but—one wrong move…!"

"T-Tell me about it… I've dealt with enough Wonkees to last me a lifetime!"

"How irritating… Dees shouldn't be so—so uncouth like that!"

Bandana Dee, Taranza, Gooey, Parasol Dee, and Wester stared semi-nervously at the puzzle before them: a key next to a cliff too steep to reach in a single bound (or two); a Wonkee waiting in a tunnel below, walking unaffected by gales that would push anyone else back to the start. Past that, there was a pool of lava at the end of the tunnel… and high above that, a door accessible through two mid-air platforms, locking away a single Friend Heart.

Dedede's faithful assistant put his hands together. "We're gonna have to c-coordinate our efforts, th-then, while e-everyone handles business outside." He steeled his spine and got into his second-in-command stance. "Gooey, Wester, you're next to the lava pit—I'm c-counting on you to catch that guy in time. Taranza, P-Parasol Dee, you're on the platform up there—w-watch out for anything that could come our way! I'll drop the key down the hole, so just wait for my signal!"

The gathered friends nodded – except for Gooey, who simply twirled his tongue in the air. They split toward their respective zones, aiming to succeed in their assignments however they could. Bandana Dee took in a deep breath, and reluctantly picked up the key.

"Here we go again…" he muttered.

As the third-recognized Dream Friend prepared to kickstart the puzzle-solving process (Does this actually count as 'puzzle-solving'? the experienced aide wondered), the other Star Allies made light conversation with one another.

"Soooooooooo…" Wester drawled out, rubbing his hand against the side of his veiled head, "whatcha in for, buddy? Anythin' you'd like to go get after we finish dealin' with this fine mess?"

Gooey curled his tongue in such a way that it was poking at his chin. "Ehhhhhhhh… I'd like a sandwich. A sandwich-y sandwich, with pickles and onions and all the stuff that sandwiches have."

"Fan of the classics, aren't ya?" the cowboy chuckled. "I can respect that. There's peeps like good 'ol Dedede—and wannabe Dedede—and their fancy high-class courses, and then there's those that don't mind what they eat. I reckon you fall in the latter category, huh?"

"Mmm." Gooey tilted left and right. "That's-a nice." He turned to face Wester and gave him a wavy smile. "You're a fun guy, Wester. You kind of remind me of Daroach. You two should work together sometime. I think it'd be nice."

"Daroach, you say? Well, I can't deny that I have considered it a few times since March. Perhaps a joint expedition is in order—they say that things get more entertaining with more people around…"

Over atop the cliff, Taranza kept casting his gaze toward the entrance to the puzzle room, a deep frown creasing on his face. He was uncomfortable, undoubtedly so; even Parasol Dee noticed, what with the constant fidgeting of his six hands.

"You're, uh—you're pretty jumpy right now," she noticed. "You sure you up for this task? I mean, if you wanna take a break, I can do this on my own…"

The arachnid hesitated for a moment, before he shook his head. "N-No! No, I'm—I'm fine!" He summoned an electrified web ball above his head, shakily grinning at his temporary partner. "S-See? I can do sings—err, things! N-N-No worries!"

It was hard to forget how eagerly he volunteered to help handle getting this out-of-the-way Friend Heart, she recalled. The minute the pathway here was opened and Kirby had asked for volunteers, Taranza had practically bolted in like he was hyped up on Invincibility Candy. It was almost as if he was trying to get away from something…

…or someone.

If Parasol Dee had a mouth, she'd be frowning herself. She had her own suspicions about what was going on—you didn't come this far as one of Kirby's Helpers without learning to be at least a little observant—but it wasn't her place to bring it up. Not here, anyway.

She sighed. "I'll take your word for it, Taranza."

Taranza shook his head up and down, seemingly trying desperately to convince himself he was peachy as a… as a… as an insert-metaphor-here. "Okey-dokey! W-We're—We're all good, I s-see! We c-can get through this, n-no problem!"

"…the more you say stuff like that, the more I get worried, y'know…"

The four of them waited for their leader's signal – some patiently, some not-so-patiently. Seconds passed in what felt like minutes – and then…

"Okay, everybody!" Bandana Dee's voice echoed from the drop-off point. "Key's going down in three… two… one!"

Three pairs of eyes narrowed, another pair going cross-eyed – and so, another miniature challenge began in earnest.


Back in the main hallway, with Team Kirby/Dark Meta Knight…

Destruction rained down on the poor, poor minions of Another Dimension.

"HAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This is the end for you, pitiful creatures!"

"That's riiiiiiightttttt~! We're gonna turn ya into rolls of toilet paper! WAHOO!"

You could take the malicious menace out of a reformed villain, but you could never take away the beatdown-happy frenzies that otherwise characterized them so. And while Taranza and Susie weren't ones to take part in such… pointlessly passion-filled plays, Marx and Dark Meta Knight had a very different outlook.

Silver swords were summoned from tears in reality, each blazing like a furious inferno.

Beach balls dropped from a jester's mouth, accompanied by ferociously swishing wind cutters.

Bombs were cut and their fuses were lit; ground barriers and fiery blocks were broken into pieces.

It was a spectacular sight: this duo, at once totally at odds with one another and yet completely in sync…

…truly, it was another happy contradiction fostered by the Ultimate Friend Maker.

"Having fun?" Magolor sided up to them, shooting swaths of Revolution Orbs from his magic hands.

"Hee hee hee—of course!" Marx sniggered, kicking away an unfortunate Scarfy. "I didn't get 'nuff entertainment outta my own Hero Trial, so I might as well piggyback off of Darky's! He doesn't mind, don't you?" He edged his wing into his companion's face; Dark Meta Knight lightly shoved it away in turn.

The mirror doppelganger fluttered in place and briefly sent a shadow of himself to slash away a charging Burning Leo, replying with only a "Know your place!" toward the hapless mook. Once he managed to get some leg room, he turned to Marx and snarked, "Don't be so egotistical, jester. You should consider yourself fortunate that I am in the mood to be so generous, earlier heart-to-hearts notwithstanding."

Magolor laughed heartily. "I can see why you two make for such the duo," he remarked—"few can complement each other so well, let alone mix their battle styles in such a fashion. Speaking of which, I'm gonna bet you guys get a lot out of these… therapeutic battle sequences."

The trio hopped over another solid magma block (and oh boy, were those kind of weird), . It was somehow impressive, how they were able to have coherent discussions in the middle of delivering such heated curb-stomp massacres—marches.

"I will admit: it is relieving, in a sense, to be able to release my emotions in such a manner," the dark knight said, in-between bombastically fending off the hordes of enemies ahead. "I may no longer seek the destruction of all that exists, but the visceral satisfaction that comes from cleaving through your adversaries still remains."

"Yep, yep, yep, wouldn't you know it!" Marx chimed in. "We all gotta get our thrills from somewhere, like Darky says! He gets 'em from being a sadist—" ("How… endearingly demeaning of you, Marx…") "—I get 'em from pranking all the time, good 'ol Mety and Maki get 'em from being a giant stick-in-the-mud…" He gave out his signature giggle, that which at higher intensities could frighten a dragon. "Makes me wonder how you deal with things, Mags! Hey, why don't you tell us? Come onnnnnnnn…"

Chaos continued in the interim, helped along by the continuous stream of enemies. As Deadly Needles and Wind Cutters danced around the formerly-villainous trio, Magolor replied, "If you must know, strategizing and management sims have become pastimes of mine, as of late. Planning things out in a nice, controlled setting is relaxing to my nerves—the perfect go-to approach after a Master Crown memory-induced funk."

"Huh. Fascinating!" Marx replied, spitting several balls at a pair of Dekabus. By this point, they had reached a split in the path, a ladder high up leading them to a corridor directly above where they had already traversed. "We oughta play a game of Mario Party sometime, then!—not chess, 'cause that's boring. It sounds like it might suit both of us well!"

"I insist that you do not," Dark Meta Knight grumbled. "Your influence should never, ever expand beyond these know boundaries. Ever. It would be the ultimate sin."

At the top of the ladder, where a one-way platform greeted them (as they had expected, based on the similar scene from earlier), a collection of hanging ropes lay before them—four they knew to cut, one they knew to leave the heck alone.

"Heh heh! Look at these little strands of poly-roly!" the jester pointed out, a teal-colored wing directed at the aforementioned fuses ahead. "Hey, Mags, you still got that launching ship of yours, right?"

"Way ahead of you, Marx." A few seconds later, the miniature Lor Starcutter had been summoned back into existence, looking no worse for wear from its prior endeavors. Magolor, Marx, and Dark Meta Knight jumped onto the deck, the latter standing in the front and duly prepared to light up the night, so to speak.

"The Starcutter Express is back for another flight!" the self-appointed captain crowed, clearly enjoying himself. "Please fashion your seatbelts and turn on the Airplane Mode on your phones; we're going for a ride, and it's gonna be mighty glorious!"

"Hmph," Dark Meta Knight sneered, dramatically pointing his sword toward his targets. "It is time these pitiful constructs learnt their place in the hierarchy of our order. Captain… let us begin our conquest, here and now!"

The engines of the celestial starship flared up—and with a velocity rivaling the stars themselves, it shot off through the passageway, three voices crying out incredibly different things at roughly the same time.

"FACE THE DARKNESS!"

"TO THE UNCHARTED SKIES!"

"FOR MY TASTY NAPTIMES!"


In the corridor below the Fuse-Enflaming Fanatics…

"Welcome back to the Weather Channel, Dream Landers! Today's forecast: stormy with a side of sizzling smashing!"

"You heard it here first, folks! As your ruler, I hereby decree: all who stand in our way, prepare to be burnt to ash! HEH HEH HEH!"

On the opposite end of the hero-villain Large Ham spectrum, there was Kirby and Dedede, acting like a well-oiled machine (if that well-oiled machine was well-versed in teamwork and enemy). The king was twirling around with his hammer in front of him, fire and lightning—the latter being supplied from Kirby—surrounding their spinning forms and flying everywhere.

"BURN, BABY, BURN!"

"TASTE THE LIGHTNING—ALLLLLLL THE LIGHTNING!"

"Mates, I won't lie: they're kinda scarin' me," Rick blithely stated.

"They scare everybody sometimes," Kine reminded him. "There's a reason very few people can beat 'em in a contest."

Situated in the back, waiting for the next key to become available, the Animal Buddies couldn't help but sit back and watch as Kirby and Dedede single-handedly clobbered as many foes as they could get their hands on. Meta Knight, Daroach, and Susie (in her Business Suit) were also observing the calamity with interested eyes.

"Terrifyingly effective," the warrior of them commented. "It is truly extraordinary, how adding elemental effects can increase the intensity of a technique."

"It's not that impressive," Susie scoffed. "Anyone could do that, with the right pieces in place."

"They'd have to be pretty good to do it well, though!" Coo replied. "Like, I can't lift a hammer to save my feathers!"

"Unless you use your feet, maybe," Rick suggested. "You could probably get some mileage outta it that way."

"And have to pick it up again and again each drop? No thanks!"

Daroach's fine senses proceeded to go off—specifically, in relation to the explosives hanging above. "Heads up, crew," he alerted them. "I do believe the you-know-whats are about to drop."

Coo immediately hurled himself at least six feet back. "I'm not getting my feathers torched, I'm not getting my feathers torched—!"

"Slow down, Coo, slow down!" Kine breathed, trying to catch up to him. "You know I can't move that fast on land—!"

As the Animal Trio unwittingly pushed themselves farther and farther back, Adeleine and Ribbon chasing after them—"Coo, you don't need to panic so much! Rick, Kine, can't you beat some sense into him—!?"—Meta Knight and Daroach took out a pair of sunglasses and put them on. (How Meta Knight could with his mask in the way, who knew.) Susie brought down her visor in accordance.

And so the unlikely trio got a front-seat ticket to the puffball-penguin partnership putting on a good show—

KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM!

…in spite of the fiery and explosive backdrop that was suddenly encircling them.

"Ooh, explosions, explosions, EXPLOSIONS! NOVA's smiling down on us!"

"HEH HEH HEH HEH HEH! Look at us, we're kicking butt like nobody's business!"

"I've never understood you natives' obsession with such barbaric tactics," the CEO said, shaking her head from within her cockpit. "There is a plethora of other, less… unprofessional techniques that could be used instead."

"Sometimes, professionalism can take a backseat to wanting to enjoy yourself, regardless of circumstances," Meta Knight replied. "We all have our own different styles that we won't change. Perhaps, once upon a time, we could've bonded over our own shared analytic minds—but instead…" He went silent, unpleasant memories once more coming to the forefront.

For once, Susie actually seemed regretful about that. She brought her hands together and looked down. "…Another Dimension took a lot out of me," she admitted lowly. "You—You wouldn't like… letting go of things, if… if it meant the alternative was losing everything that ever mattered to you."

"…just make an effort to grow past it," the honorable knight acknowledged. "We may never be friends, but… acquaintances is something I can handle."

Susie hummed. "I… will try."

"And for what it's worth… know that we are here to aid you, should you ever be in need of something to keep you balanced."

"…much appreciated of you."


[Daroach]

Dimension III – Fourth Hero Trial

It was time.

Time for the Squeak Squad to perform our grandest heist yet:

The heist of the Friend Hearts deep within Another Dimension!

"Doc, Spinni, Storo, Squeaks—let us begin the game!"

"Gotcha!"

"Yes, boss!"

"Mwehehe—time for zcience!"

"Squeak, squeak!"

Plugs for Doc to electrify through his UFO.

Tunnels small enough for Spinni to crawl through.

Stumps and enemies for Storo to stomp on.

Space for my little Squeakers to cheer us on.

My—our—Hero Trial was exactly what I expected.

And I couldn't have asked for anything else.

With a point from my staff, an ice beam froze a series of enemies solid—a Broom Hatter, a Waddle Dee, etc. In short time, Spinni and Doc gave them their just desserts, claws and electric charges taking them out of the fight.

With two Friend Hearts already under our belt, we continued up the ladder and toward the next section of land. More enemies attempted to strike from the wings—but dealing with opposition was well within our abilities, given our day jobs.

Star Bullets bounced around the terrain and into enemies, with more still coming from my Triple Star. Storo was using his gut to knock the dizzied into dreamland, with the Squeakers and Star Allies cleaning up after the rest. I grinned, backflipping through the air and narrowly dodging a fireball from a massive Galbo.

"You're mine~!"

I brought out a bomb—one of my smaller ones, to be precise—and threw it at the unsuspecting minion. The force of the explosion lifted me up, high above the ensuing mook battle on ground level. I spun around and raised a hand into the air as I soared, intending to come down in style—

—and then I noticed I had flew right into a den of overhead Scarfies.

We stared for each for a hot minute as I came to a stop.

Eyes were blinked. Expressions were shared between each other.

Finally, a few moments later… they morphed into their cycloptic forms.

I raised an eyebrow. "Distorted much?" I commented.

They responded by swooping in for the kill.

I warped out of the way and shot several ice shards at the horde; this seemed to inconvenience them, but not by a whole lot. Another Scarfy shot at me like a missile, likely believing me to be an easy target – of course, I quickly dissuaded him of that notion with two hard slashes from my claws.

We played a little game of keep-away for a bit, dancing through the air as if we were spies leaping across buildings. Try as they might, the Scarfies couldn't catch me – they were no Kirby, that was for sure. Eventually, I decided enough was enough and dropped straight down to the ground, landing with my signature aplomb.

"Mighty vicious today, aren't we!?" I shouted, tipping my hat up to see them. "If your corrupted hearts were any darker, they might manifest in this realm all by themselves!"

Hmm… I wonder if I should stop referencing Persona 5 so much.

nah. Masterpieces deserve to be beloved through such means!

"Hey! Daroach! Need a hand?"

Much to my own pleasure, Adeleine and Ribbon crashed onto the scene, the fairy's Crystal Gun unsurprisingly being held in her tiny hands. My smirk grew as I pulled back out the Triple Star Cane. "I thought you'd never ask, Adeleine."

"Pew pew! Time to shoot!" so declared Ribbon.

The Scarfies started surrounding us above our heads, refusing to leave us be—but with our backs against one another and our respective weapons in hand, we knew we had the upper hand. We spun around in a circle, Star Bullets and Crystal Shards firing one after the other. Each enemy sustained a multitude of hits and fell soon after—at which point I called, "Storo! They're yours!"

"Got it, boss!"

The big lunk wasted no time in barging into the fray and slamming into the fallen Scarfies. While he cleaned up shop for us, I held a palm into the air and high-fived the artistic duo.

"Woo-hoo!"

"That was perfect!" Adeleine pumped her fist in the air. "When we're united, there's nothing we can't accomplish!"

"Indeed," I laughed. "Friendship makes for a fine tool of the trade, if I do say so myself."


"Well, that was… unpleasant."

I found myself sitting next to Kirby as he relaxed on a hill in Dream Land. He was chowing down on a giant slice of strawberry shortcake, acting as if he hadn't just turned Dark Nebula into space bits.

"Mmm, you wouldn't be the first one to say that," he said, taking another bite of his cake. "Dedede, Dee, and Adeleine know what it's like, too. You could probably form a support group 'bout it, actually!"

"Our esteemed king, you say?" I brought my hand to my chin and closed my eyes. "He does seem like the sort to attract such demons. Though given the way he acts, I imagine it'd be hard to tell the difference…" If he was any more avaricious, there'd be no end to the amount of heists I'd be pulling on him.

"Hey, he's not that bad! He's a perfectly fine friend once you get past his greed… and his arrogance… and his insistence that we're not friends…"

"You have an odd concept of friendship," I said—"and priorities in general. Most normal people wouldn't be chasing others across the planet for the sake of cake."

"Heh heh…" The puffball rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Sorry 'bout that. I reaaaaaaally like eating—and eating strawberry shortcakes—and I just… took things the wrong way. Thieves showing up right after my cake was stolen? Pretty suspicious, if you ask me! And it didn't help that Meta Knight sucks at explaining things."

I laughed. "You needn't fear next time, then—us Squeaks seek far more valuable objects than simple foodstuff… though admittedly, Dark Nebula was not one of them." That was part of the danger, if I am being honest: you never know if the contents of a chest is safe unless you open it up yourself. "I'd prefer to not discover such despicable beings, but the life of a treasure hunter is what it is."

"Sounds dangerous!" he remarked, voice muffled from the delicacy wedged in his cheeks. "Then again, my whole adventuring schtick is basically that. Maybe we should get-together sometime and help each other out—gotta return the favor, y'know?"

To my surprise, I found myself considering the offer. I smirked outwardly and replied, "Perhaps. You certainly have the skill to back up your sass. It'd be nice to have assistance when raiding some more ruins."

It's… a little strange, I must admit. Before now, I haven't put much stock into the other residents of Dream Land.

King Dedede, as previously mentioned, is… not a very good king, and has been that way for as long as I can remember. His antagonism toward his 'kingdom', let alone us, has made him thoroughly unpleasant to interact with, and thus the only capacity our interactions take is him being the victims of our heists.

Meta Knight is a different case: he is at once powerful and enigmatic, and it can be hard to catch him even on a good day. I hear he and his little army gets involved in crises wherever they can, but beyond that they keep to themselves. His serious nature would likely make him a poor candidate for casual conversation, anyway.

Those two alone are disinteresting to me—and I haven't had much of a reason to interact with the Animal Buddies (or the artist I hear about from time to time). But Kirby…

Kirby has a spark. He is determined, creative, upbeat—and definitely a fighter to the end. Anything my crew could throw at him, he could handle with minimal problems. Doc had a lot of fun coming up with inventions to throw at the little puffball, and I myself found excitement from the duel we had back in the Ice Palace.

They say that he'll be friendly with everybody.

I think I'm… not entirely adverse to that.

"Be glad to be onboard sometime," he said. He stuck out a hand and beamed. "So—friends?"

I stretched out my own hand and shook it firmly.

"Friends."


"I sense three Friend Hearts behind the curtain, everyone," I announced, nose sniffing the air. We—Kirby, my crew, and I—had dropped down from a precipice into an isolated zone, letting the other Star Allies handle the enemy front over the counter. (A good thief knows how to delegate duties.) "Storo, be a good mouse and open the way for us, will you?"

And with a mighty stomp, Storo squashed the stump blocking the solution to this next puzzle. Behind the blocks of steel lay a fuse, extending off and into the floor below. Through the transparent texture, I could see it split into two—one path leading to an assorted stack of dynamite, the other…

…I wouldn't be surprised if it was poised to terminate the collectibles we were seeking.

"This looks tricky," Spinni said, paw raising his sunglasses. "We're gonna need perfect timing to get this right, and that ain't gonna be easy."

"Business as usual here in Another Dimension," Kirby shrugged—it's a wonder he can stay so flappable, if these are the type of tests he's regularly besieged by. "The Waddle Dee Ball couldn't stop us a few hours ago; we can definitely get past this!"

My Squeakers squeaked in agreement.

As usual, I rested a paw on the rim of my hat. "I see, I see," I said. I twirled my staff behind me and fired an ice laser from it, freezing the waterfall flowing from a pipe. "Well, there's no time like the present. If it's do or die, we'll just have to make sure we do and fly!"

"Roger, roger!"

"I hear you loud and clear, boss!"

"To mighty explozzzzions!"

"That's the spirit!" the hero sang. He literally lit up and equipped the Fire ability, wearing an unmistakably cheeky grin. He hopped next to the frozen waterfall in preparation to melt it, Spinni and Doc making their way toward the dynamite—best to be in place to snatch up the Friend Hearts in time. "Ready when you are, Daroach!"

Crises were not a scarce commodity in Dream Land, as odd as that should likely be to the Gamble Galaxy at large.

For as peaceful as our kingdom could be, such a lifestyle paradoxically came with some unique caveats: hostile forces and all-powerful artifacts is only half of the story. There are relics to be found and justice to be doled—the perfect place for a would-be treasure hunter and phantom thief such as myself.

…well, I'm not entirely a phantom thief, but aesthetics are what they are.

Besides, phantom thieves are cool; no further argument is needed.

It's sometimes still hard to believe that my road has taken me this far; that I could gain so many friends and even a family—my Squeaks—after these long years. But in the end… I don't regret having met them, or taking the route that I did.

And the feeling is mutual.

I reached into my pockets and unveiled a massive bomb, adorned with red stars and covered in flames. Unfazed by the heat, I casually tossed it onto the fuse—and watched as a pillar of flame rose up and hit the ceiling above it.

My eyes turned to the ground below the out-of-place drainage pipe. Thankfully, the two fuses had become misaligned, the one we needed burning faster than the one we didn't – all we had to do now was time this right.

Kirby prepared his mouth to fire.

Spinni and Doc prepared to dash in.

We watched with unabated eyes as the fuses continued on.

Three…

Two…

One…

"Kirby, go!"

The fires were belched out.

The waters came down.

An enormous explosion filled the air.

I heard Spinni and Doc fly into action—

—and before I knew it, they were back, with three Friend Hearts in hand.

Spinni snickered as he held up his two relics. "Got 'em," he said.

"And that makes seventy-nine total Friend Hearts!" Kirby raised his hands into the air and danced around, the fires in his hat almost bellowing in excitement. "Ha ha, we're going places, people! Awwww, yeah!"

I grinned and spun my cane around in the air. "We're looking cool, aren't we? Just a little bit more to go."

Only forty-one left, and our collection will be complete.

Until then, the work of the Squeak Squad continues on.


This was a rather… unusual scenario.

We had come to the Popopo Islands in search of treasure: specifically, the Medals that my Squeakers had scouted out. I had expected the expedition to go off without a hitch—the only possible issue there was King Dedede in his resort, and he had long since reformed (or so I hear). What was there that could go wrong?

That was before we ran into the Skull Gang and their boss, Necrodeus.

Suddenly, we had to pull double-duty, fighting off the Skull Gang and their terrorizing actions while still keeping a lookout for those Medals. They were crafty foes, appearing wherever they wanted and trying to pick us off one-by-one.

But I'd be danged if I let them do as they please and smother Pop Star into eternal darkness.

Luckily for us, Kirby happened to be around to counteract Necrodeus' efforts—how coincidental, that he would be vacationing in the archipelago while all of this was going on. So it only made sense that we would team up to accomplish each other's objectives.

He just had a… small Necrodeus-related status effect to deal with.

I sat at the front of my airship and watched the scene before me. Kirbies and Squeaks were scattered about. The Squeakers were playing with some of 'em; Storo was sleeping with two on him; Doc was doing his own thing while they pestered him…

"You can be quite childish in your free time, I see," I observed, a twinkle in my eyes. "A far cry from your stint of chasing after cakes—or maybe not too dissimilar."

Kirby—the one next to me; my friend—sighed and leaned against the wall. "Tell me about it. If it wasn't for my heart—" A star-shaped spirit spawned in front of him, spinning and glistening brightly. "—then we'd never get anything done. It's like my younger years all over again, except weirder!"

I smirked. "I certainly don't envy you. I have my hands full coordinating the Squeak Squad alone. Having only a fraction of your strength each must be a struggle—though I imagine the ability to mass attack your adversaries is fun in its own right."

"You're not wrong," he admitted—"I do get a bit of a satisfaction from taking enemies down like this. I… still can't wait until I get to restore myself, though."

I hummed and peered out the window. Dedede's wondrous resort awaited outside, a tropical paradise of splendor and seaside serenity – and also a castle made entirely out of candy. (I have no idea why our esteemed king built that. Or even how he could build it in the first place.) It wasn't my cup of tea, but at the very least it wasn't exactly harming anybody.

"Y'know, I oughta thank you for being such a good friend!" Kirby said, staring out the glass with me. "I thought I'd be alone out there, having to save the world and myself—so I really appreciate you being here for me! …or us, as the case may be."

"I think it should be me thanking you instead," I replied good-naturedly. "After all, we wouldn't have made half the progress we've done without you."

"That's just how I am!" he smiled. "Food may be my passion—but friendship will always be my calling. I'm happy to help out a friend, and that's all I need."

"How humble of you."

Curious was the arrangement we had going on; in exchange for allies and hints toward furthering his quest, Kirby would give to us as much help as he could offer, be it in Medals or simple menial work.

Perhaps it was fate that led to our reunion here on these islands, or simply good fortune. Either way… it is nice, having Kirby as a partner in our escapades this month. He complements my squad in unexpected ways, being so resolute in his heroism and able to get himself through danger while scarcely batting an eye at it.

He's brave. A very special kind of brave.

That's part of what makes him, him.

I'll admit it—he's not just an acquaintance to me, not anymore.

He really is… a friend.

"Hey, I wonder how Dedede'll react once he seems me," the split puffball began to wonder. His smile widened at the thought. "Betcha his jaw would drop all the way to the other side of Planet Pop Star!"

"Hmm…" He would be here, considering this is his resort. "There are good odds that he'd react in a humorous way. 'Reformed' as he is, I imagine few things would surprise him more." I showed my teeth. "He'd never see it coming, that's for sure."

"Yep, he wouldn't! It might be even easier for me to win a Gourmet Race like this! Can you imagine it? That trophy would be mine in no time!"

"Would that be with a shortcake at the end or without? You seem to be more motivated with one in the equation."

"That's a tough question, actually…"


"So you wish to take on all of us at once, do you?"

A large Bonkers (EX) towered in front of me and my assorted allies. He was different from the other ones I've seen; he wore a black armored jacket with flame-esque trimmings adorning his sleeves and red pants, and there was a star laying on top of his crimson helmet. His hammer was very large, metallic, and bearing a red-gray color scheme, and his entire form seemed to be glowing like a star.

The entire Squeak Squad was assembled to this makeshift battlefield. Spinni, Storo, Doc, and I were in the frontlines, with the Squeakers acting as distractions should we need it. Not only that, several figures stood by my side—Kirby, King Dedede, Adeleine & Ribbon, and Susie.

"This opponent appears to be a strong one, gang," I remarked, tapping my cane in my palm. "We're gonna need some clever athletics to get past him, methinks."

Dedede snorted, slinging his hammer over his shoulder as always. "What else is new?" he said. "He may have a pretty hefty mallet there—but so do we!"

"You and Kirby, to be accurate," Susie stated. "I prefer using auxiliary technology and armor myself—and artist girl there is most certainly not up for wielding any sort of heavy weapon."

"I don't need one!" Adeleine declared. "I'm fine using what I've got—and what I've got is art to fight a thousand monsters!"

"And don't forget my Crystal Gun, too!" Ribbon chimed in.

The Super Bonkers roared his displeasure at us, forcing us back to attention.

"Welp, this guy may as well be a thousand monsters," Kirby quipped, his own wooden hammer in hand. "Everybody ready to rock and roll?"

"Of course," I replied. "You needn't even ask, Kirby."

We've come so far, and grown to understand much about the natures of our hearts.

Friendship is something very powerful. Something that brings people together, highlighting both their strengths and flaws—and even adding onto said strengths.

Kirby, Hero of the Stars. King Dedede, ruler of Dream Land. Adeleine and Ribbon, my two artistic friends. Everyone here has been affected by the Power of Friendship in some way—even Susie, the secretary-turned-CEO. Our compassion has become a shining star in and of itself, and as it grows, others can find comfort in its light. And that… has led us here.

I know myself. I am Daroach, leader of the Squeak Squad, self-scribed phantom thief and treasure hunter. If there's ancient mysteries to be unearthed, if there's a villain that needs to be defeated, I will be there to take their treasures—with my friends by my side.

I bared my fangs.

"Let us reveal his true form for all to see! Star Allies, to battle!"


[N/A]

Dimension III

None of the Helpers had any idea how the heck they got into this situation.

But what they did know was that it sucked more than Kirby after eating a Miracle Fruit.

"Go, go, go, go, go go go go GO—!" Parasol Dee screamed, flailing her arms about in typical Waddle Dee fashion. "Don't let it catch us, don't let it catch us!"

"Bonkers doesn't like this," Bonkers said, his voice notably still stoic and stalwart. "Bonkers would prefer to fight enemies instead!"

"Wouldn't we all like to," Rocky said lowly. He wasn't the Helper you'd normally consider for a leadership position, but he could work with what he had. "Keep moving forward, Helpers—we'll find the end to this place eventually!"

The five friends—Rocky, Bonkers, Brianna, Parasol Dee, Wester—had decided to split from the Star Allies to scout out the edges of Another Dimension ('Better us than you guys out there,' was the justification they had used—'You've got business to take care of!'). They were… coming to regret doing that, seeing as they had been trapped in this hellhole zone.

And it came free with an Advancing Wall of Doom; wonderful!

A perilous obstacle course lay ahead of them—or below them, as the case may be. As the crimson crusher descended upon them, they rushed to hit the next switch and drop down to the next area. A cavalcade of things blocked their way, from almost impassible blocks (thank NOVA that Bonkers and Brianna could deal with them) to spikes and icicles practically littered about the floors and ceilings.

They didn't know quite what would happen if that wall managed to get them – in Another Dimension, you couldn't be sure of anything. But it wouldn't be pretty, and that was enough to keep them moving.

Wester snatched a few pieces of food from the air, tossing some of them to his partners. "Here!" he shouted. "Don't waste it; share it if necessary!"

Brianna the Broom Hatter—flying on her vehicle of choice, naturally—caught the plate of food in her hand. She ended up juggling it a bit thanks to its trajectory, but managed to keep her hold on it. "Don't throw it so hard!" she protested, looking at the cowboy with a somehow stern expression. "You'll turn it into a mess! That's no way to do things!"

"That is so the least of our worries!" Parasol Dee said, letting the breeze carry her past a bed of spikes. "Food is food and heals are heals, no matter how you cut things! So long as we have some, that's one more thing we don't have to worry about!"

Bonkers, meanwhile, simply took the ice cream cone now in his hand and stored it in his inventory for later. He wasn't the brightest of creatures, but he understood the importance of saving stuff for later. Though, there was one thing he noticed that he was quasi-curious about…

"Friends argue about a lot of things," he idly noted to the living rock. "Arguments with smiles sometimes, heated other times. It kind of confusing."

If Rocky could shrug, he would (and if he had the leeway to do so). He briefly slid into a statue form to get through a den of hazards, and replied after detransforming with, "That's just how us Star Allies function, it seems. Best not to question it – it's a good foundation to have, anyway."

Brianna flew to them at a faster pace. "You can say that again! They may verbally fight a lot, but they always get the job done! They're reliable for spring cleaning, at least!"

"Spring cleaning much more relaxing," Bonkers said. "Maybe no hammer, but better for heart to handle."

I'd bring up the fact that we're in fall right now, but somehow I don't think it matters. As they reached a relatively empty straightaway, the Stone Helper said, "Speak about your hobbies later. If I'm right, we shouldn't have much more to go—"

"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!"

Everyone temporarily froze.

"Oh, what now!?" was their general reaction.

The sound was… unsettling, to be sure, but it was hard to really feel the impact thanks to all the chaos going on around them.

"This excursion is getting worse by the day," Wester grumbled. "I think I appreciate peaceful Pop Star a lot more now."

"Wh-Whoever's there," Parasol Dee stammered, "d-don't come any closer! I've got a parasol, a-and I'm not afraid to use it!"

Of course, that didn't stop it from going off a second time – and at a louder volume, too.

"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!"

Rocky snapped out of it. "Deal with it later, folks!" He got back to moving toward the next section of level. "We can't afford to be frozen in fear!"

"Bonkers agrees," so replied the hammer-totting monkey. "Bonkers wants safety today!"

"If we get back home, I swear, I will volunteer for whatever clean-up duties I can find," Brianna vowed—"anything to soothe my nerves after this crazy journey…"


Dimension III – Fifth Hero Trial

Meanwhile, at the other end of Another Dimension, eight figures led the charge through an almost familiar platforming track.

"Come on, guys!" Chuchu cheered, having latched onto her old spot atop Kirby's head. "We've got one last adventure to pull off together!"

"Yay! Adventure!" Pitch chirped, himself riding atop his oft-times babysitter.

"Yay, adventure," Gooey drooled, sludging side-by-side his oldest friend.

"Yeah, adventure!" Kirby repeated their words, brandishing his broom in his hand. "You can't argue with that, baby!"

Nago sighed—her enthusiasm could prove to be exhausting sometimes, especially for a lethargic layabout like him. Trailing behind the old Dark Matter guard (he refused to have three people on his back at once), he said, "Chuchu, you know we won't be here that long, right? This is only a small part of this 'Another Dimension' place—and we'll be headin' back to the Great Forest once Kirby's done."

"I know, but… hey!" She smiled, brighter than she'd been over the past few hours. "Even if we can't be here forever, we can at least do our best to lend a hand!"

Her smile was almost infectious, based on how Nago's mouth twitched at the edges. "I suppose."

As of late, Cleaning had turned into something of a curiosity for the Star Allies: so long as they were willing, Kirby could summon three specific Animal Buddies—Chuchu, Pitch, and Nago—to help him out, just like old times. Dedede, whilst the gang was in Friendly Field, had commented about it being more of Kirby's 'friendship magic' doing its work – which, as a testament to the puffball himself, was probably the most accurate answer they were going to get.

Nevertheless, the Zero-crisis veterans were more than happy to be here, if only for a few minutes at best.

"This is all pretty ace, if you ask me," Rick said. "Goin' on huge quests is fillin' on its own, but it's even better with all your mates."

"Hope it hasn't been too lonely for you guys back in the forest," Kine added. "I know we can be out and about for quite a while…"

"I think it's okay," Pitch tweeted. "You're doing all you can. We may worry, but we know you'll make it out."

"Dang straight!" Coo preened. "We're the Star Allies, after all! Losing isn't in our dictionary—and neither is being outmatched, even if it doesn't always feel that way!"

"That's not how things were last week," Nago cut in. "I dunno about you, but it's kind of hard to forget you placing 12th after an entire cup in Mario Kart—"

"We agreed never to speak of that again!" the owl cawed indignantly.

"No, Chuchu and Pitch did. I never actually said anything aloud."

"Oh. That's right!" Chuchu realized. "You… didn't." She turned her body to face the cat and scolded him. "You should try to be a little more sympathetic, Nago—everyone has their off days, and that includes Coo!"

"Pfft—you think that was an off day?" Kine snickered, a fin drawn to his lips. "You haven't seen anything yet. Me and Rick have plenty of stories about Coo's not-so-spectacular moments."

"Correct-o-mundo!" Rick piped up. "Hey, did ya hear 'bout the time where Pick and Mine—"

"Rick, Kine, don't you dare!"

"This is fun," Gooey drooled as he trudged on over to the next room with everyone. Even through the cotton candy-flavored haze that was his own mind, he could recognize the personal significance of this event. "Everybody is fun. I like it when everyone is here—it's no fun when we have to leave behind friends."

"You're not wrong, Gooey," Kirby grinned, "you're not wrong."

Someday, I need to set up a reunion party with everyone invited, he idly mused. Helpers, Harmony Crew, Cappy Town—Gryll, Prince Fluff, Elline, Claycia… it'll be an all-out slam jam with nobody left out, just the way we'd all like it.

Oh, and I'd make sure Chuchu, Pitch, and Nago get their time in the spotlight, too. It may have been decades since our last proper adventure together, but that doesn't mean I'm not glad to have me them.

They're precious to me. They're friends I couldn't have done without.

They deserve to be celebrated, even if it's only a little bit.

Soon enough, the eight Star Allies reached a long, vertical tower, with enemies lying in wait on each new floor. The hero raised an eyebrow for a moment, before putting his broom beneath his feet. "Oh ho ho—looks like this is gonna be a fun 'lil trip!" He tilted his head back, confidently asking, "You guys ready for this?"

Pitch fluttered over to Nago and transformed into a bucket of water in his paws. "I'm ready!" he replied, flapping his tiny wings in enthusiasm. "Take me up, Nago, take me up!"

"Alright, alright," Nago said, the edges of his mouth twitching upward. "Just don't get too excited now…"

The tower rumbled and began to descend into the pit below, but that didn't deter the group at all. Chuchu lifted a tentacle into the air and hollered in delight. "I've always wanted to say this—let's go, Star Allies!"

And just like that, several of them flew into action. Kirby and Chuchu rode a broomstick up together, gusts of wind shielding them from harm; Pitch and Nago ascended the old-fashioned way, the cat dishing out watery pain via Pitch to enemies that got too close. It was obvious to onlookers that the three Animal Buddies were having the time of their life, exercising their old skills as they were.

Rick couldn't help but smirk himself. To the rest of the Great Forest crew, he said, "Well, what are we waiting for, mates? We can't let them hog all the spotlight!"

Kine and Coo quickly grouped up with the hamster, Coo carrying the other two up with feathery boomerangs ready to fire. (Gooey, on the other hand, entered his Mock Matter form and merrily floated on up.) "Heard ya the first time, buddy!" the owl said, shooting off after his fellow forest dwellers. "Don't fall outta my claws now; I do not wanna hafta pick you up again!"

"I think it should be you worried about dropping us…" Kine muttered.

"I like flying," Gooey drooled. "Flying is fun with friends."


"You spin me right 'round, baby, right 'round; like a record baby, right 'round, 'round 'round~"

Some would call this specific action a Friend Circle. Others would refer to it as a Friend Wheel.

But no matter what the appellation used, the scene going on in Another Dimension's latest trial remained the same.

Barreling across yet another hazardous highway were four wheels of people, formed from the sixteen Star Allies (plus three extras) activating the Friend Platform in separate groups.

Kirby, Meta Knight, King Dedede, and Bandana Dee were unsurprisingly in the lead, none of them being phased at all by the dizzying motion. The Great Forest residents followed behind them in a comically large bundle; Team Adeleine took to it like a cat took to chasing yarn around; and finally, Magolor, Taranza, and Susie were in their own wheel, unfortunately one short thanks to the logistics of the group divisions.

As with the Friend Train from earlier, this particular event inspired a lot of… interesting feelings from each Star Ally. Case in point…

Dedede was singing a rather antiquated melody—"You spin me right 'round, baby, right 'round; like a record baby, right 'round, 'round 'round~"

Kirby laughed, a smile stretching to his cheeks. "Somebody's got affection for those old memes," he teased his best friend. "Got any more to bring back to the surface? 'All your base', Shoop da Whoop—the Rick Roll's still a good candidate, methinks…"

"D-Don't you have a b-bunch of memes of your own?" Bandana Dee brought up. "You use them all the time, a-actually! You with a knife, you looking sad, you being a friend…"

Meta Knight snorted. "Kirby's memes seem to be more centered around his own character, though. Dedede has his 'always perfect' catchphrase, yes, but his repertoire of available memes typically have a much greater variety to them. I've looked through the records of our Discord server, and if one takes a closer look at specific areas of conversation, it is easy to see—"

"Okay, somebody's got too much free time on his hand!" Dedede sniggered. "Aren't you the one who's always sayin' to get more serious to us?"

"Yes. Yes I am," the knight bluntly said. "If that means treating even otherwise irrelevant topics with the utmost importance, then so be it. Besides…" His eyes held a glimmer of amusement. "…the reactions I receive from the rest of our band provides decent entertainment value, wouldn't you say?"

And it was that statement that got Kirby to give out a most sincere smile. "We've really corrupted you over the years," he said. "Ten years ago, you'd be a totally different story."

"Good thing our stories have evolved since," he chuckled. "Much like the memes we use, hopefully."

"U-Uh-huh," Bandana Dee nodded. "That's us! That's the way we work, memes included! …wait, wh-why are we focusing so much on memes?"

It was worth noting that they were having this discussion while in the midst of jumping over a cluster of perilously placed—and spaced—upward ramps.

How they were making it look so easily, nobody really knew. Even the rest of the Star Allies were having a hard time not focusing on the situation at hand.

Speaking of which…


Team Great Forest

"Wow, wow, wow," Gooey said, "there's a lot of spinning now. I feel very tingly."

"You sure that isn't just all the Dark Matter rushing to your head!?" Nago yelled.

"This feels like sleeping in my nest with Mama," Pitch supplied, somewhere in the ball the seven Dream Friends were clumped up in. "It's comfy."

"Glad someone can be that way," Kine mumbled—"I gotta deal with the ground on-and-off pressing into my sides…"

"Look on the bright side, Kine! This ain't as bad as it could be," Rick tried to reassure him. "We could be dealin' with Nature's Navel or Star Lavadom again."

Coo shuddered. "That'd be almost worse than the rest of this place…!" Razors and red-hot meteors immediately came to mind—any more of that, and he'd be hesitating to continue this journey!

"Pay attention, everyone!" Chuchu interrupted them. "I can jump for us, but not all the time!" She hoisted their ball up as she spoke, their jump arc barely making it onto the next piece of ground. (Thank god for whatever friendship magic was keeping them together like this.) "Don't make me take on all of the load!"

"Sorry!" Rick apologized. "Gettin' back on it!"


Team Adeleine

"I can't say I've missed being stretched out like this," Daroach admitted, he and the rest of Team Adeleine trailing after the two elder group of Star Allies. "It's unsettling, especially when you've got limbs like mine."

"Try the experience without any hands, then," Marx replied. "I have no idea how I'm staying on this wheel like this."

"Flummoxed for once, are you?" Dark Meta Knight observed with hints of glee. (Finally, something I can capitalize on!) "I see even your rapturous mouth has limits—what a delightful discovery to make."

"Oh, and tell me Darky, how comfortable are you in this?" the ex-final boss retorted. "Don't think I don't see your wings wrapping 'round yourself~"

"G-Guh—!" I need to stop underestimating his intellect…! "Th-That is—! That is a ridiculously bold-faced lie!" he insisted, as he not-so-subtly unwrapped himself from his burrito-esque phase. (Ribbon rolled her eyes; she saw this coming from a mile away.) "At least I have more methods available for comfort!"

"Does comfort really matter at this point?" Adeleine lightheartedly snarked. "I mean, we're all equally kinda uncomfortable for various reasons. Ribbon and I survived puberty ourselves, so…"

"What was that like, by the way?" Marx asked, curious.

"A crisis all on its own," as Kirby and Dedede often say it was. "I don't recommend it."

"There was a lot of screaming," Ribbon supplied. "Also dying. Metaphorically dying."

"My condolences," Daroach stated. "Growing up can be awkward in its own right. It wasn't too painful, was it?"

"Let's just say we needed to pull in Peach and Samus for help and leave it at that. L-Look, I think I see a Friend Heart up ahead…!"


Team… Redeemed? Galaxy? Magolor? (…we'll think of something later.)

"And here I thought things couldn't get more degrading than the 'Friend Bridge'…" Susie grumbled, her eyes half-lidded in irritation. "Does some higher power wish for me to suffer? Is this my penance for… whatever crimes I've ended up committing?"

"Well, I heard your Heel-Face Turn was essentially only a few hours ago," Magolor commented, notably more 'used to things' than his other two companions. "So that might be a factor."

"It—It could be worse, I th-think!" Taranza chimed in. "You could be—could be doing menial work! Like, u-uhh… chores, and weed-plucking, and… I'm out of ideas already."

"That was fast," Magolor quipped.

"Hmm… You have a point, Taranza," the CEO replied. "I suppose Pinky could've subjected me to worse. And that king I cloned. And my… former security guard…" She paused. "…suddenly, I feel intensely fortunate about my lack of severe punishment."

"They're a rather forgiving sort," the mage affirmed. "The Harmony Crew was accepted pretty easily, despite everything—though, I think that was because of… all the regret and bad hands dealt." Underneath his scarf, he sighed. "That's a topic for another time, though—c'mon, it's almost time to get busy again."

"I—I thought we were already b-busy as it was," Taranza interjected.

"Yeah, but… there's busy and there's busier. Trust me, you'll learn to decipher the difference soon enough!"

"…do we really want to?" Susie deadpanned.


Dimension III – Sacred Haven

At last, the Star Allies had arrived at the end to this dimension, where another temple lay pristine and untouched by the madness of its home realm.

This one, notably, stood out from the previous one by being far more vertical: column and pillars rose high above the Star Allies' heads, with the background structures overall being far less haphazard in their presentation. Plant life seemed to be growing over the walls, somehow adding to the holy aura the locale was emanating.

It was a… welcome reprieve, if an inevitably short one.

"Phew! We made it!" Kirby exclaimed, wiping some sweat from his forehead. "Took us like an hour or two more than last time, but we made it all the same!"

"Talk about chaotic…" Magolor muttered. "This place has got to be half-sentient, I swear – there's no way there should be so much going on, dimensional fluctuation or not."

"Perhaps that is a consequence of the Jambandra Cult's primary goal," Dark Meta Knight guessed—"they seek to revive Void Termina, and thus his corrupted soul is tainting the entire realm."

Coo squawked. "That's too terrifying for words! As if being an all-powerful Destroyer of Worlds wasn't enough…!?"

"I desperately hope that isn't true," Kine gulped. "I dunno how we're gonna fight that without a literal god helping us out…"

Chuchu frowned as she listened in. "Void Termina… jeez, that's really an ominous name," she noted. "He sounds like if Zero and… some other evil bad guy had a baby."

"You mean every villain isn't just Dark Matter under different names?" Nago snarked.

As the Star Allies trekked up the virtual tower, a sense of familiarity became ever more palpable to Meta Knight.

"This place… it's a direct match for the Sacred Square," he spoke up. "I would recognize those aesthetics anywhere—I was even training there with my Meta-Knights prior to this new crisis."

"Hmm… I think I can see the pattern developing here," Kirby said. "You, Whispy, Kracko—all three of you were infected by the Jamba Hearts. And that's led to your Parallel forms being turning up in Another Dimension."

"So that means we've got mirror matches of me and Meta Knight waiting in the wings," Dedede grimaced. "That's… not good. Alone, the two of us are pretty strong—two of the strongest guys here, in fact. Add in all the buffs Another Dimension has been giving everyone…"

A silence briefly washed over the party.

"Good thing we'll be outnumbering him sixteen to one," Marx said, after taking a moment to think. "Or would that be sixteen to four? Mmm… what a tough question!"

Bandana Dee breathed in and out, in and out – by this point, he was more resigned to this kind of stuff happening than anything else. (There were limits to how far one's trepidation at the end of the world could go, especially after repeat occurrences.) "It doesn't matter," he said, spinning his electrified spear over his head. "We've still got work to take care of, a-and it's not gonna go away 'til we g-get it done!"

"You said it," Adeleine agreed. "We've conquered two Parallel Bosses already; we can conquer two more!"

As they came to the first set of Copy Essences, the three auxiliary Animal Buddies smiled on their friends' behalf. "Good luck with your boss battle, then!" Chuchu cheered them on. "We'll be praying for your safe return!"

"Make sure you show the bad guys how to be a friend!" Pitch chirped. "Mama would like that a lot."

Kirby grinned in response, holding the Ability Star for Cleaning up high. "Hey, you know who we are! Come what may, we'll get through this the same way we always have!" He tossed the star over his shoulder, and—given the unique nature of that specific Copy Ability—it transformed into a Warp Hole back to Jambandra Base. "We'll see you guys again in a bit."

Nago grunted. "Don't die on us now, Kirbs."

The trio hopped on into the Warp Hole—and with that out of the way, it was back to business.

Kirby elected to pick up Sword for the fight ahead (Meta Knight and Dark Meta Knight instinctively nodded in approval). It's no Master, he thought, but I can make it work either way. A moment extra to give it the Sizzle element, and he was off.

He hit the nearby switch and moved up the set of stairs that appeared, the other Star Allies following his lead. Before too long, they reached the boss gate, standing on its lonesome on an isolated island.

There was nothing more that needed to be said. The stakes had been long since established, and they knew exactly what to expect.

"Once more unto the breach," the puffball said quietly. He opened his eyes. "Alright. Let's go!"


Location: ?

Ominous pink clouds hovered overhead, blanketing the sky in crimson-touched darkness. Mountains and rock spires – with a color scheme made up of purples and blacks – could be seen in the background, a large chasm between them and the circular arena the Star Allies had walked into.

It felt like there was something sinister in the air, a promise of devastation waiting to come out from around the corner.

And if one happened to look up… they'd find out that they were right to worry about that 'promise'.

A little northwest of the Star Allies, there was a pillar—a pillar with a small platform attached near its top. A small figure with a white cape stood atop the cliff, his back facing the associated Dream Friends. Sixteen pairs of eyes laid upon his form, watching carefully for the slightest trace of movement.

A few seconds passed.

He turned around.

His cape turned into wings, and revealed himself to be Meta Knight, clad in golden armor and bearing a pitch-black body. He pointed a twisted version of Galaxia at the Star Allies with palpable menace, red-hot eyes glowering straight into their souls.

You, he seemed to say without words. Prepare yourself.

Otherworldly Frost Blade
Parallel Meta Knight

The two real Meta Knights (and their allies) glared back, Bluster-wrapped weapons at the ready.

"Another counterpart to clash my blade against…" Meta Knight mused. "Fate loves to deliver to me trials like no other, it see."

"That is fine by me," Dark Meta Knight smirked. "No target can resist the call of death—if he wishes to fall by our hands, then so be it!"

"Brace yourselves, everybody!" Kirby shouted, as the warrior took off from his platform and let it crumble into dust—"he's coming on in, fast and furious!"


VS. Parallel Meta Knight

Even Meta Knight could not resist the power of the Jamba Hearts—and as a result, a deviant corruption of his usual chivalrous form is now in Another Dimension. As an agent of chaos, this warrior will do all he can to defend his territory from intruders!


The third Heavenly King landed in the middle of the arena and wasted no time in letting his opponents know of his distaste for them. With a quick, horizontal slice of Galaxia, he sent out a large sword beam rushing at the crew, and had them flailing about to avoid the attack in time.

"WAAA-A-A-A-A-AAAH—!"

"Too fast, too fast, too fast—!"

"No fair, you little douchebag—!"

The various Star Allies reacted by either dramatically jumping away or using their flight to avoid the sudden attack (or, if they were like Gooey—and by that, I meant only Gooey did this—they just simply ducked under it). The sharp weapon-users retaliated by coming at Parallel Meta Knight four-on-one, attempting to press him through their clear numbers advantage.

Alas, their foe had far too much battle prowess to let such an epic drawback hinder him in any way—and he proved himself quite capable of taking on the sixteen alone by managing to block each blade and spear-point with little difficulty.

TANG!

CLANG!

TANG!

CLANG!

"Somebody ate too much chocolate before bed today," Kirby said, a puzzled frown on his mouth. Each crash of their swords created miniature explosions thanks to Kirby's chosen element, with similar things transpiring with his three companions' own Power Effects. "He's moving as fast as Zan Partizanne, and that's saying something!"

A sweatdrop fell down the side of Bandana Dee's head, as he put his focus toward repeatedly thrusting his spear at the doppelganger. He was getting a few hits in, but nowhere near as much as he'd like. "Ugh…! He's—He's like G-Galacta Knight and Morpho Knight, b-but on steroids…!"

Meta Knight grunted. "This is only the beginning of our battle," he got out in a clipped voice—"there are plenty more strategies to try. With luck, we will be able to outlast his defense—I guarantee it!"

"Will that take ten minutes, or fifty?" the pink puffball asked. "'Cause you can never really tell with these… crazier-than-normal True Arena candidates!"

"Alone, I'd place good odds on at least thirty," Dark Meta Knight said. "Luckily… we aren't alone."

A sea of Crystal Shards and Revolution Orbs began to fly at Parallel Meta Knight, working in tandem with the four Star Allies' efforts. From higher up, Adeleine, Ribbon, and Magolor were firing their respective weapons while staying on the move. They were joined by Marx, Gooey, and Daroach, acting as a makeshift protection force for them.

"Pew pew, pew pew!" Ribbon smugly pronounced.

"They say never to bring a gun to a sword fight," Magolor said aloud, eyes gleaming, "but that doesn't mean magic can't factor into the equation!"

"I don't think that's how the phrase go," Marx amusedly noted.

"Who cares? So long as you can get a retort in, you can say practically anything!"

Approximately a dozen shots splashed off the EX Boss before he decided to counterattack. He briefly charged up energy and unleashed it as a massive tornado, blowing away the four warriors close to him in three seconds flat. Meta Knight and Dark Meta Knight easily rebounded through flapping their wings, but not in time to prevent their counterpart from going after the airborne crew.

Four faces expressed shock, despite themselves. Gooey spat out purple bolts at Parallel Meta Knight, Daroach staging a similar action with his Triple Star Cane—the doppelganger deflected the Star Bullets and tanked the Dark Matter blob's sparks, and sped up his movement to mitigate the damage.

"Marx, go!"

"On it, Addie!"

The jester shot off in a Rush, eyes narrowed in utmost seriousness (for once). Farther out, Meta Knight and Dark Meta Knight were diving toward their target at a similar velocity. The moment his and the Meta Knights' gazes locked, they knew what to do: double-team the incoming adversary, and keep him from the rest of their friends.

Once Marx reached him, Parallel Meta Knight screeched to a halt and performed a vertical spin attack at him. Unimpressed, the clown barrel-rolled out of range and shot several electrified arrows; the false warrior raised his guard and let the majority of them ricochet off his blade. Meta Knight showed up soon after, to which his opponent replied by giving to him a vicious Hyper Rush.

"G-Guh—!" The cerulean knight held his ground, but fell victim to a well-placed thrust hitting its mark. Parallel Meta Knight had little time to relish in it, though, before Dark Meta Knight made his entrance through a shimmering mirror shard.

"It is almost commendable, what your skillset has allowed you to attain," he acknowledged—"but I decree, here and now, that you shall accomplish no more!"

The EX Boss swung his sword twice and sent a volley of fast-moving Crescent Shots his way. Dark Meta Knight spun his sword and promptly formed a barrier around himself, turning the projectiles into reflected shots hurtling back at their creator. As the interdimensional entity occupied himself with Shuttle Looping over them, Marx made his move: he latched onto him tightly with his claws and dovetailed to the floor.

"We're going flying!" cackled the jester. "Wooooooooooo~!"

They hit the ground in no time at all—but whereas Marx sank into the shadows without harm, Parallel Meta Knight ended up being slammed hard against the stone surface. This was followed up by the ex-final boss bursting out and essentially uppercutting him like an echidna would a hedgehog.

A low growl came from his mouth. As Marx came down, he dashed forward and caught him in an upward slice. A brutal combo of aerial slashes ensued, the knight seemingly warping from position to position with every cut. Finally, he returned the favor to the clown and smashed him onto the pavement – and then, he zipped to the rest of the grounded Star Allies, delivering a devastating slash to Susie's Business Suit as it came cycling in.

The former secretary grit her teeth. "All of his skill, none of the honor…" she noted, her analytic mind rotating its gears. "If I had the time, or was equipped to do so, I'd be collecting a lot of battle data right now."

"You're—You're gonna have to—h-hold off on that, Susie!" Taranza said, desperately erecting Dreamstalks as shields (which Parallel Meta Knight was cutting through). "'Cause right now, I—I just wanna have my everything intact!"

The airborne Star Allies landed next to Dedede and the Animal Buddies, joined by a recovered Kirby and Bandana Dee. "He's good at cycling 'tween us all," Rick said. "I don't think we could come the raw prawn with him."

"As if we could do anything without getting sliced 'n diced to oblivion," Coo grumbled.

"He's a lot more aggressive than Meta Knight ever was," Kirby agreed. "And it doesn't help that he's a much smaller target than Whispy and Kracko."

"That means we gotta look at this problem differently," Adeleine said, gripping her paintbrush firmly. "If we keep at it, we'll come out on top—it's just a matter of figuring out a new strategy!"

And then another, and then another, and then another, Dedede internally snarked.

They returned their attention to the ongoing fight. Marx, the Meta Knights, Taranza, and Susie were simultaneously engaging Parallel Meta Knight, and the latter was noticeably having trouble dealing with their differing battle styles at once: beach balls and magic spheres were coming from one direction, and two attacking blades from the other. Susie was hanging behind and firing several Drillbits, aiming to trip the Parallel Boss by limiting his movements.

Kirby held his sword to his side, his frown turning into a more-and-more-determined smile by the second. "Good news, I've got a strategy already: gang up on him with everything we've got!" He ran back into the fray, exclaiming, "Hey, guys! Got room for a few more Star Allies?"

King Dedede and Bandana Dee both blinked, before jumping in after their best friend. "H-Hold up, Kirby!" the regent said. "Don't leave us outta this!"

"Y-Yeah! I—I wanna fight this not-Meta Knight, t-too!"

Chaos reigned in no time flat. No matter how experienced you were or how much strength you wield, fighting sixteen opponents at the same time was a daunting task, especially when they knew how to work together. Damage was taken on both sides of the equation, naturally—but luckily for the Star Allies, they had the luxury of having Adeleine and Ribbon on hand for emergency healing.

If Parallel Meta Knight had only himself (and one version of himself, at that) to even the odds, chances were high that he'd get curb-stomped into the void.

That wasn't all he had on hand, though. Not by a long shot.

Approximately three dozen different hits sustained later, the EX Boss wrapped himself with his cape and flew above the chasm in the background. That familiar purple aura, characteristic of the Jamba Heart that had given him form, had flared up and was growing to cover his entire form.

"Oh, he's cloning himself again," Gooey pointed out.

As noted by the blob, the fireball that their challenger had become had split into four—and they were coalescing into being at a fast rate. Soon enough, there were five Parallel Meta Knights on the field, each equal in power to the lone knight.

"F-F-F-Five!?" Bandana Dee panicked. "Why five!?"

"So, this is where the real fight begins," Daroach said. "Five bosses for us sixteen to steal victory from."

"How… pedestrian," Dark Meta Knight said, blasély. "One more clone will not give him any more of an advantage."

"It's nothing we can't handle, anyway!" Ribbon piped up, Crystal Gun pointed at the new quintet. "We did this 11-v-4, so we can totally do 16-v-5, EX Boss or not!"

The gathered heroes tensed, prepping themselves to split into their usual groups and get to work. The Parallel Meta Brigade, instead of swooping in to continue the conflict, simply raised their swords to the air and grunted in unison.

Behold, Star Allies, they seemed to announce—our power, without rival!

Out of the blue, the ground began to rumble intensely, accompanied by the intensifying the sound of turbines and the like. A shape emerged from over the cliff—that of an airship with an elongated hull and four bat-like wings, a familiar mask attached to its front. It wasn't the largest aircraft in the world, being roughly the length of the chasm—but it mattered little, given the relative size difference between it and the Star Allies.

"This… suddenly got a lot more troublesome," Kine said, dismay in his voice.

"I know that ship," Susie realized immediately. "I've seen it twice before…!"

"Whoa whoa whoa, what the heck!?" Dedede flinched. "Are—Are you kidding me!?"

"Im—Impossible!" Meta Knight gawked—actually gawked. "It cannot be…!"

Otherworldly Battleship
Parallel Halberd

"The Battleship Halberd, here!?"


VS. Parallel Halberd

Heavenly Kings do not stand alone: Parallel Meta Knight, in order to even the odds, has summoned his own minions to fight our heroes, complete with a fully functional Battleship Halberd! Watch out for that devastating Combo Cannon—it'll wreck you in seconds!


"…okay, new plan," Kirby said—"we need to split up! That mini-Halberd needs to go down, and fast!

"Adeleine, get your crew over to the ship's main deck—that Combo Cannon'll give us a hard time, if we let it fire its laser blast at us! Bring the Animal Buddies and Gooey, too! Everyone else, stay with me and deal with this glorified palette swap times five!" He swished his flaming sword and steadied his feet on the ground. "No more games—it's time to get really serious!"

"Gotcha!"

"On it, Kirbs!"

"Serious is delicious."

Nine Dream Friends nodded as one, and took off toward the now sky-high Parallel Halberd. One of the Parallel Meta Knights noticed, and chased them to the battleship; the other four remained where they were, staring down the oldest and newest Star Allies.

"This makes, what, the fifth knight of your kind we've encountered, Meta?" Dedede casually mentioned, slinging his frozen hammer over his shoulder. "I mean, there's the other you, Dark Meta, Galacta, Morpho…"

"Yeah, the universe seems to like you the same way it likes seeing Dedede get possessed," Kirby blithely stated.

"To be fair, I did stylize myself after the knights of yore," Meta Knight replied, without missing a beat. "Though, I… didn't expect these side-effects to occur."

"Conclusion's the same, either way," Magolor quickly said. "Four evil dudes' gotta die, and they ain't gonna do it themselves!"

Similar to their previous opening move, the quartet of Parallel Meta Knights barraged the seven Star Allies with Crescent Shots galore.

"Time for a real mirror match!"

In a flash, Kirby decided to eschew the traditional sword-to-sword gimmick and activate Mirror. He brought up his hands and summoned a large rainbow barrier to cover his crew—and though he was successful at deflecting the projectiles, it strained him considerably.

Luckily, he didn't have to hold it up for any longer than that. It faded soon after—and his call of "Go!" promptly got everyone soaring into action.

Meta Knight dashed in and took on a counterpart on his own. "I've got this one!"

Dedede and Bandana Dee jumped off to the side and lured another to them. "Alright—me and Dee'll deal with this one, then!"

"What Great King said!"

"Hee hee hee…" Susie made her Business Suit hover in the air, Taranza latching onto its back. Its arms were whirling around, generating some incredibly strong winds. "Taranza and I will be more than enough for one." She glared at the third EX Boss, drawing him away from the others.

"Y-Y-You got it! I mean, we—we got it!"

"And I guess that saves the last one for me and Kirby!" Magolor said, tossing a Gem Apple up and down. "Good odds, I say!"

"You know it, Magolor," Kirby said. He pointed his prismatic wand at the lone remaining target. "Okay, here we go!"

Parallel Meta Knight the Fourth spun in a revolution and Drill Rushed at the alien duo. Both warped out of the way, Kirby reappearing directly behind him and firing glass shards into his back. Two clones of Kirby—illusions, sharp as mirrors—spawned beside him and initiated their own stream of attacks, two more appearing after them to help reflect beams of light at him. The EX Boss recovered swiftly with a Mach Tornado and swerved into all of them—but none of them proved to be the real Kirby, instead shattering into pieces.

A trio of Gem Apples landed on his head and exploded. Irritated, he looked to the sky and saw Magolor, cheekily waving with a few more stacked on his palm.

"Looking for me?" he asked.

The knight glided speedily to his position, unleashing a series of thrusts and slashes, which the mage blocked with his own Magic Barrier. He promptly sidestepped it and physically grabbed him ("That—That didn't stop you—!?"), supplying a three harsh diagonal slashes before sending him away with an equally harsh kick.

Which was when several illusionary Kirbies, making a drill formation, came down and struck him dead-on. They dug painfully into him, spinning about rapidly like a… well, a drill, and didn't stop until they hit the floor. They jumped off just as he started to spin himself and summon a vicious red-and-yellow tornado (which was also electrified, because of course it was).

It quickly picked up gales and almost threw the pink puffball off his feet. "Wa-Wah—!" he yelped, undignifiedly. "He's got—that technique, too!?"

Parallel Meta Knight then had said technique—the Super Mach Tornado—split into three separate tornadoes and shoot off in opposite directions. Kirby's eyes widened—"Oh boy…!"—and he himself divided into two mirror copies, in time for the cyclone to just barely whiz by him.

The lone cyclone traveled relatively far, making its way toward a king and assistant's corner of the battleground. As the royal duo braced themselves against the hurricane, Parallel Meta Knight the Second let himself be drawn to its epicenter, taking over control of the twister entirely.

"Wannabe force of nature, aren't ya?" Dedede snorted. "Dunno where you got that crazy twister from, but it ain't gonna do you a lick of good!"

"You better listen to Great King!" Bandana Dee cupped his hands and yelled. "We're not afraid to give you the beatdown of a lifetime!"

Parallel Meta Knight created half-a-dozen tornadoes of the same size, all whirling at the same velocity. They circled around him and his two enemies, the latter warily watching their trajectories.

The dimensional doppelganger's next move was to drop the Super Mach Tornado and swoop straight into Bandana Dee.

"No no no no no—!"

"Bandana Dee!"

The assistant squealed and was thrown into the air, right into one of the tornadoes rotating around. It spat him back out vertically, where the false warrior succeeded things with several quick divebombs in a row. He finished by kicking the poor Dee across the field and into another swirling tornado, intending to keep his chain of attacks going.

He did another Drill Dive toward him—but was interrupted midway by Dee's Great King jumping and rolling his hammer into him. He dropped to the ground in surprise.

"Sorry, Not-Meta," Dedede said—"but your beef's with me!" He leaped high into the air and squashed the clone of his friend, then hit him a few more times with a spin cycle. The last hit he dealt flung him away like a golf ball at Dedede's counterpart would-be country club.

"Ha!" the king preened. "How's that for a combo?"

The knight righted himself in moments flat, and aimed his Galaxia at the penguin.

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow. "Not impressed? Well, aren't you drier than old Meta?"

He took a step forward, only to be interrupted by several spears being tossed his way. Deflecting them, he saw Bandana Dee hopping from twister to twister, somehow managing to keep his balance as he hurled spear after electrified spear.

"I'm—I'm not just another pretty face!" he exclaimed—"I'm as strong as Great King, and don't you forget it!"

"Up and at 'em, Dee!" Dedede jumped close to Parallel Meta Knight and—to further distract him—started dishing out his own string of hammer strikes. "C'mon, buddy, see if you can keep up with the both of us!"

While the four Star Allies and two EX Bosses were preoccupied on land, a different battle was taking place in the air. Taranza had borrowed two of Susie's blasters and had taken the job of blasting away at Parallel Meta Knight the Third, while the ex-secretary maneuvered them around both the knight and his attacks. "S-S-Stay still!" the arachnid shouted to him. "D-Don't make this h-harder than it needs to be!"

Susie leaned hard in her seat, moving her Business Suit above a fired Crescent Shot from Parallel Meta Knight. Her bulky mech wasn't exactly situated for fights like this—i.e. facing off against Lightning Bruisers, flying or otherwise—but it was sturdy enough to endure their opponent's fury, at the very least. Still…

"He's moving at too fast a speed," she stated, hitting a few buttons on her control panel. A barrage of Drillbits emerged from her mech and rocketed at their golden adversary; his defending against them left him wide-open for the upward twisters from her blasters. "I can barely keep up with him as it is."

"A-And we can't attack him a-as easily as he can attack us, e-either." Taranza's lip trembled as he made his frustration clear. "I should've t-trained more in swordplay," he lamented—"then we wouldn't b-b-be in this s-situation!"

Susie paused. Hmm… Maybe… She dug through her pockets and handed her colleague a strange-looking hilt, with the crossguard themed after her armor's arms. There was even a miniature cockpit atop it, just like the real thing.

"Huh? Susie, what's…?" He pressed a button, and was startled by a plasma blade shooting out of it. "A-Ahhhhhhhhh!?"

"I understand swordplay's not your forte, Taranza, and it's… fine that it isn't." Susie's face radiated discomfort – reassuring people wasn't her greatest strength either – but dang it, she was a Star Ally; she had to try! "But if we're gonna get through this, we need multiple angles of attack. I'm trusting you with my Bolt Blade. Don't mess up."

To his credit, Taranza didn't hesitate to adapt. "O-Okay, Susie!" He dropped the blaster into her cockpit and flew off, two out of six hands gripping the lightsaber tightly. With a mighty cry, he teleported to Parallel Meta Knight and began wildly flailing her custom weapon at him. Luckily, the knight was caught off-guard by this, allowing the arachnid to get a few good hits in.

Susie's brow furrowed, but just rolled with it. "Sloppy performance, but… I suppose it'll do." She kicked her mech into gear, launching Drillbit after Drillbit as she went. "Time for Extermination by Blaster!"

Further away, an explosive high-speed duel was occurring. Two blurs were repeatedly crashing into each other, the sounds of metal swords clashing echoing off the walls.

"Hngh! You are quite formidable," Meta Knight conceded, locking blades with Parallel Meta Knight the First. "If I didn't know any better, I could mistake you for having Galacta Knight's level of power."

He backflipped and dove into his foe, attacking in a rapid yet controlled fashion. His golden counterpart flinched and actually took damage from some of the strikes, and an attempted Counter Slash missed its mark thanks to Meta Knight's quick dodging. He kept at it, using every bit of his thousand-plus years of skill to upend their short-lived stalemate.

"Unfortunately for you," he continued, "I still recognize my own abilities, perverted as you've made them. And I can neutralize them as easily as I can match them." To demonstrate, he masterfully broke through Parallel Meta Knight's guard with the tip of his sword and used a Mach Tornado combined with a downward thrust on him. "You have not my heart, nor the friendships that drive me to fight on. There is no chance that you will achieve victory."

Parallel Meta Knight the First didn't respond verbally. Instead, he attempted to plunge into the Dream Friend from above. Meta Knight swerved out of the way and sent a simple Sword Beam his way. That was swiftly offset by several energy swords being summoned at him Galacta Knight-style, dissipating the Sword Beam as they went.

The azure knight deflected a few of them away. "You will struggle until the bitter end, I see. Not surprising. I am much the same way." He narrowed his eyes and leveled Galaxia at the masked menace. "No matter—the Star Allies and I have a mission to accomplish, and we won't let you get in our way. En garde!"

The two Greatest Warriors in the Galaxy resumed their one-on-one duel, veering all over the battleground at frightening velocities. They danced around the other nine attendees, everyone fiercely fighting to defend what they held most dear. Projectiles and weapons flew about wildly, from mirror shards and magic spheres to hammers and spears—but that wasn't all that was going on.

A gleam could be seen from the Parallel Halberd—specifically, where its Combo Cannon was situated. That gleam soon got brighter and brighter, until it became almost blinding—

Meta Knight's eyes briefly widened. "Kirby! Everyone! Incoming!"

Kirby and Magolor tilted their heads to the sky, as did the rest of the Star Allies. Their instincts immediately flared up, and they zipped to the edge of the battlefield… right as a massive laser blast collided with the arena, narrowly missing them by inches.

"And there it is!" Kirby flicked his hand. "Yeah, I really don't wanna get hit by that – it's bigger than I remember!"

"I want that!" Magolor gaped. "I—I could do a lotta things if the Lor had that!"

Dedede grit his teeth. "Another thing to add to the pile, huh…!?"

"I hope Adeleine and everyone else has things handled up there," Bandana Dee said—"'cause I'm not looking forward to dealing with that!"

Taranza reeled back as Parallel Meta Knight the Third struck his Susian Bolt Blade. "I—I hope so, t-t-too!" He called on a Taranza Burst and warped to temporary safety. "The faster th-they do, the better…!"


[Dark Meta Knight]

Parallel Halberd – Main Deck

Onboard the replica of my counterpart's trademark battleship, my allies and I faced our own tumultuous trials.

The Combo Cannon (EX?)—or so Kirby called it—was at the moment another nightmare atop an already-present one. A triad of extendable arms were emerging from its behind, lobbing bombs at us as if it were a Poppy Bros. Sr. having consumed far too much chocolate for my liking. The laser cannon fired intermittently, forcing us to break off our assaults and take to the skies to avoid it—and the barrel had a habit of rapid-firing cannonballs at us as well, further elevation our caution levels.

Not to mention… that dratted duplicate refused to leave us alone.

Rick, Kine, Coo, and Gooey had undertaken the task of diverting his attention to them instead, but it was only another part of our careful balancing act.

Everything in this skirmish was designed for us to know the upper bounds of our limits—and to survive as they are put to the test.

Failure was not an option.

Adeleine summoned her painter's canvas and managed to stop another series of cannonballs, though she suffered decent amounts of recoil from it. "Come on…!" she hissed, peeking out to splash some damaging dye onto a hapless Gim. "Are we doing anything to that humongous hunk of junk!?"

I vertically sliced a periwinkle Plasma Wisp where he stood—these fools would be better served working to keep this vessel operational, however fruitless those pitiful efforts will become. "Do not lose faith, Adeleine," I told her—"this contraption shall fall, for I forbid it to do otherwise!"

"Don't make promises you'll have hard time keeping, Darky!" Above us, Marx was kicking beach balls into our target; I suspect that he was attempting to obstruct its firing mechanism. (The damned thing was swiveling too quickly for him to achieve the perfect shot, however.) "It's been several minutes and this thing isn't even close to running outta steam!"

"It's hard to get close to it too, what with the way it's protecting itself," Ribbon added.

I shot three Crescent Shots at the cannon's main turret. As was expected, that failed to visibly put even a scratch on this otherworldly device. In fact, its controllers reacted by accelerating the rate at which it chucked explosives in our direction. "Even so, we must prevail!" I growled. "The fate of our galaxy rests upon our ability to withstand that which would down weaker opponents! Should this cannon remain standing evermore, then that simply necessitates that I personally rise up and move Mirror Galaxia right into their orif—"

"Wow, aren't you edgy today?" The jester dropped down and snuggled up to my mask. "And here I thought you were going to shower them in sunshine and lollipops!"

We momentarily fought back-to-back, engaging a quartet of Burning Leos in harmony. Sword slashes and wind cutters flowed elegantly from our respective forms, giving unto our enemies a taste of our unbridled fury and passion—that which is seeped in the art of war.

"As if," I replied to him, batting away one of the flung bombs. That would be the dichotomy of the rest of the Star Allies, barring my counterpart and Susie's atypical characters. "There is a place for diplomacy and 'friend-making', as you know, and this is not it."

"Action always was more my fancy, anyway." Daroach teleported into range and tossed a few pieces of food to the four of us, which we ate without question. Never does he fail to make good use of his thieving abilities; as uncouth as they are, I can appreciate the pragmatism he brings to our roster. "Best we move quickly to steal this army's hearts—or else that cannon of theirs might actually hit their targets."

He didn't need to detail anything more—the ever-present threat of the other four Parallel Deviants was enough. "A renewed assault should be the solution," I decided. "Sturdy this Combo Cannon may be, but it has nothing on our combined might! We shall have lightning crash through their souls, and fire scorch their limbs to ash!"

Adeleine spun to the front of her canvas and equipped her signature palette alongside her paintbrush. "Yeah, we'll do that! Just not so violently." She swiftly drew Kracko's visage and mounted the appearing construct. "We'll go on three, everybody."

The turret and laser cannon both aimed at us.

"One!"

The conscious parallel troops started to surround us.

"Two!"

Elements and weapons of all types were readied.

"Three!"

We launched ourselves into the air, dodging the flurry of explosions and attacks erupting from our previous positions. With wings and magic keeping us airborne, we charged toward the cannon's barrel and stormed it in true Star Allies fashion—together, with emotion.

Adeleine and Ribbon used their vehicle to strike the device with lightning bolts. Marx laughed and dropped beach ball after beach ball, each a miniature inferno. Daroach alternated using his Triple Star Cane and his supply of bombs.

And I?

I utilized my years of experience to tear the thing to shreds as best as I could.

Which was quite the high ceiling, obviously—as if I could accept any other result.

As I had predicted, significant amounts of damage were at last being done to the Combo Cannon EX. If we stuck with this method of attack, then there should be no reason why wouldn't be able to triumph.

But then…

"SQUAWK!"

"INCOMING!"

Something impacted me from behind, and I ended up sprawled over the floor. "G-GUH!? What—What is…!?"

I turned my head to see Rick, Kine, and Coo lying on me, eyes in a dizzied state. (Gooey was rolling around nearby.)

"Yow-wow-wow…" Rick muttered.

"Weapon carrying's looking more like a good idea every minute…" Coo grumbled.

My heart dropped—if they were here now…

Before I could continue that train of thought, that Parallel Deviant dove into me.

"Grrrrrrr…! It isn't enough that you insult me and my counterpart by existing—you dare to approach me in such a way…!?"

We engaged each other with our respective Galaxias, I desperately trying to get him off of me, him determined to take me out by any means necessary. His blade moved fast and furiously, a true challenge to deal with. My being caught off-guard didn't help the situation, either—and even worse…

CLANG!

…he had even more assistance on his side.

A humongous machine—a silver-colored Heavy Lobster, bigger than the one my counterpart had—descended from the sky and landed on me, trapping me beneath its weight. "Agh—! N-No…!"

"H-Hey! Wh-Where did you—!? Huh!?"

"How careless of me, to get caught like this…"

I looked up, and witnessed Marx and Daroach caught in the robot's two massive claws. It had a strong grip based on what I could see, strong enough to leave my two friends unable to escape it. I struggled and struggled, but it merely crushed me further underfoot.

Ugh…! This can't be…!

"Marx! Daroach! Are you still well!?"

"Kind of, Darky!" the jester wheezed, visibly trying to extend a wing. Unfortunately, it didn't help him much. "I… I can't believe this is what I was defeated by…"

I dimly hummed. "Not the most graceful of falls…" I agreed.

"Marx! Boss! Dark Meta Knight!"

The Squeak Squad attempted to step in and rescue us, but red lights and smoke billowing from the Heavy Lobster's claws indicated that would be a bad idea. As such, it kept them at bay—and dealing with the false Meta-Knights instead.

The Parallel Deviant fluttered just a little ahead, with only Adeleine and Ribbon left standing. The Animal Trio was still recovering, as was Gooey. The artistic duo's gazes flitted to us, but with him in the forefront, they didn't have a choice but to face him.

The Combo Cannon EX readied three more bombs to be thrown.

He rushed toward them and forced them on the defensive, Adeleine's paintbrush providing no reprieve from his vicious strikes. The three of us watched helplessly as he effortlessly beat them about the battlefield, treating them like a training dummy.

Eventually, all action ceased to be. The Parallel Deviant flapped his wings and flew higher into the air, holding Adeleine up by her collar. Ribbon pulled at his hand with her fairy-sized arms ("You jerk! Let go of my best friend!"), but it wasn't doing anything to him.

"Adeleine…!"

He looked into my eyes, and glinted maliciously.

This is what your misguided hope has led to, he seemed to declare. The end of all you have ever known.

Then, he moved back his sword—

—and prepared to finish her.

No, this cannot be…!? I thought.

It… can't end here…!


"Aaaaaaaahhh…! It's beautiful…!"

"It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, I'll admit."

"…hmm."

A beautiful sunset was being draped over the sky, shining brightly amidst the clouds.

Ordinarily, it'd be naught more than an above-average sight. But… there was a greater context to this moment.

On the roof of Carrot Castle, the three of us—me, Shadow Kirby, and Shadow Dedede—sat and watched the sun descend over the horizon. My other four companions were elsewhere, at the moment – for this was a memory I asked to have purely with my oldest friends.

Despite everything, Shadow Kirby's eyes were sparkling as brightly as the day I met him. "I know this isn't anything too special, but… it's just…" He sniffed. "It's just been so long…"

"…indeed." I knew exactly what he was referring to. 'Tis was hard to forget, when it had consumed so much of my life for the previous decade-and-a-half. "I'd… almost forgotten myself—the days I spent with you two, before… we all changed."

"Tch." Shadow Dedede frowned and tapped his finger against the sill. "You say that, but… I hope you remember it was more you than anyone else."

That was… an understatement, to say the least.

"Hey, Dedede!" Shadow Kirby pouted. "You don't have to be so rude! D-Dark Meta Knight's trying his best!"

"Just because he's 'trying his best' doesn't mean I'll fully forgive him yet," the Mirror World king retorted. "He didn't just break our fragile peace—he betrayed the friendships we held dearly. Fourteen years of heartache won't simply go away in a flash."

I grimaced. "I know."

I had sought Dark Mind's tutelage to destroy the weakness I believed inherent to my soul—weakness supposedly inherited from my Dream Land counterpart.

I had been taught that devastation was my calling, that friendship would serve only as a detriment to my ability to reach my 'true potential'.

I gave up everything for the allure of darkness, for a sense of confidence and security that I had desired for all of my life.

I… I let Dark Mind corrupt me for far too long—and it has left consequences that I can't dismiss as easily as I'd like.

"There… is little that I can do to truly express how apologetic I am," I replied. "I understand that I'll never be as easily trusted again in this realm. All I can do… is hope to set things right in the future."

A stillness permeated the atmosphere.

"…you're sincere, at least." Shadow Dedede noted. "You wouldn't have said any such things even back in the heydays of our friendships." He leaned back and frowned—but in a thoughtful way. "I imagine we have your new friends to thank for that."

"Adeleine, Ribbon, Marx, and Daroach, right?" Shadow Kirby listed off. (Hmph—he memorized their names quickly.) "I didn't know that my Dream Land counterpart so many… friends! They must've helped you out a lot, Meta!"

"They were certainly… very stubborn about it, yes." We didn't have the most elegant of meetings, that was for sure—I had nearly attacked on sight, so influenced by Dark Mind I was. "I can't say I'd be where I am without their presence during this last adventure."

Shadow Kirby shuffled closer to me. "I'm… happy that they were there for you, Meta. But I—" He sniffed. "—I… we're still your friends too, right? Like, me and Dedede?"

I blinked. "…yes?" I answered, confused. "Of… course. It may have been over a decade, but I wouldn't forget you two—not for anything."

"But you're so much… happier with them!" he argued. "Happier than—than when you were with us! I… I don't want to feel like we're—I'm—getting in the way. Like I'm obsolete."

He shivered and looked away, plainly attempting to hide his discomfort from my eyes.

I… I have a lot to make up for.

For the days when you could be carefree…

I put a hand on his shoulder. "Shadow Kirby. I promise you now, you and Dedede, I will be here for you. A confidant—maybe a protector—for however long I—" I breathed. "—I can be one."

He sniffled, struggling to hold back a tear. "Do—Do you really mean it…?"

I nodded. "I do."

Next to me, Dedede gave me a sharp look. "Just make sure you don't lose your way, this time. We won't recover from that."

"Well… that's you and my other allies are for," I replied. "Isn't that right?"

"…yeah. Good to see you're learning."


…no.

No, I refuse to let things in this manner!

This world, that I have come to appreciate, that I have come to even love

—I shall not permit it to present such a half-baked, overrated destiny!

Gathering my strength, I willed my body to rise up against the Heavy Lobster's feet—and with an ardent cry, I escaped its grasp and sliced it up with three large Galaxias, summoned from tears in reality. As soon as Marx and Daroach were free and it was rendered to scrap, I turned into a mirror shard—

—and warped to Parallel Meta Knight.

"Dark Meta!" Adeleine brightened up. "You're…!"

"Hmph." I glared into my golden doppelganger's eyes. "Begone!"

I lunged forward to him and caught him in an upward slash, separating him from Adeleine and Ribbon. I ascended as I spun about, fiercely swinging my sword until I sent him to the ground with another summoned silver Galaxia from above.

And for my final attack, I spawned two mirror clones and sent them to push him back. And they did; he crashed into the Combo Cannon EX's barrel, destroying it in the process.

Marx dashed to my side, looking impressed. "Wow, Darky! That was… actually pretty cool! Guess you do have some bite beneath that tsun-tsun status of yours."

"This blade of my isn't just for show, jester," I retorted. "Besides—it wouldn't do to let my allies die here."

"Either way, I'm… glad you made it!" Adeleine said, hand held over her chest. "That was a… little too close… for comfort…!"

"Tell me about it…!" Ribbon sighed. "If I had a sword myself, I'd love to stick it up that jerk's butt!"

Daroach raised his hat and smirked. "In any case, the Combo Cannon's been destroyed, and it looks like it's time for us to move on to the next area of the Halberd. I do recall from the blueprints that there's a reactor powering the entire ship."

I nodded. "That is correct. Should we manage to take it out, the rest of this operation will be… 'better sailing'." I glanced at the wrecked cannon, noticing the Parallel Deviant rising from its debris. "Let us get a move on—that deviant won't leave us be for much longer!"

Everyone nodded. "Got it!"

We took to the skies and flew off, making sure to inform our other four companions of our actions. They were recovered to follow us, thankfully.

And though our nemesis began to chase us soon after, I couldn't help but have a small smile appear on my mouth.


Even now, I will admit this:

Kirby is… complicated for me.

He and King Dedede brought me down on separate attempts, but they were (mostly) amicable to me after I came back to life as a Star Ally. The puffball is, as he says, a friend first and foremost—and that is made clear in the way he interacts with all of us, in spite of whatever history we may have had.

…I still don't fully understand him, even with the wisdom I have gained.

But… perhaps, that is fine.

I understand enough.

His friendships are his power—and they're beginning to be mine as well.

He is a true hero of the stars.

He helped me open my eyes again…

…and for that reason, I shall fight for his and everyone else's sake.

Now…

Let us turn victory into our destiny!


[N/A]

Dimension III – Distorted Square

Below the rose-tinted skies, things were building up to a climax.

The battle had more than made its mark on the arena, what with the broken tiles and newly-made craters littering the surface.

The four Parallel Meta Knights were standing on ground level, as was the seven Star Allies that were their opponents. They were heavily panting, waiting for the other to make the next move.

"I think we're almost there…" Kirby said, holding himself up with his Mirror Wand.

"You—You sure 'bout that, Kirby…?" Bandana Dee asked, piggybacking off his Great King. "I honestly can't tell myself…"

"This fight has lasted long enough," Dedede said. "We should be hitting a turning point eventually…"

"Hmm…" Meta Knight wrapped himself in his cape. "Perhaps…"

He directed his attention above the faux Sacred Square, where the Parallel Halberd still sat. The other six Star Allies turned to look as well, their own curiosity flaring up.

The laser fire had ceased a while back, but that hadn't stopped all of the fortress's weapons from firing upon the lot of them. Depending on what happened up there, the Star Allies would either be that much closer to victory… or that much closer to defeat. It was a gamble—but would it pay off?

"Come on… come on…" Kirby prayed.

At first, all that greeted them was further silence.

But then…

One explosion.

Two explosions.

Three explosions.

Suddenly, the whole ship began to fall apart at the seams, dropping out of the sky faster than Kirby in his Stone form. Down and down it went, until finally it hit the ravine below—and didn't get back up.

"C-C-Could it be…?" Taranza dared.

"They did it…! They actually did it!" Magolor cheered.

"So they did," Susie nodded, one hand on top of the other. "An entire battleship, taken down using only their wits… an impressive feat, I must say."

"I did the same thing, too, back in good 'ol '96!" the pink puffball grinned. "It's not that difficult, if you know what you're doing!"

Meta Knight stared deadpan at his friend. "Kirby, you are a monster even amongst monsters. They could throw three Soul Bosses at you at once and you'd still come out on top."

"Heh heh… I guess when you put it that way…"

Nine figures could be seen soaring away from the wreckage. In short time, they arrived to aid their friends again, smiling at the partial victory they had achieved.

"We're back again!" Ribbon declared, a bright smile stretching to her cheeks. "And about time too!"

"We had lots of fun," Gooey drooled, globs of orange circling on his Mock Matter form. "You should have been there to play with us."

Adeleine dropped down and immediately painted up a picnic. Several pieces of food promptly flew from her canvas and landed in the mouths of both Team Kirby and Team Magolor. "Mmm," the puffball pronounced, "just what we needed! Thanks, Adeleine!"

"Don't mention it!"

"So, what's up next?" Kine asked, plopping down on the floor. "The Halberd's gone, so there shouldn't be any more tricks left…"

"Well…"

It was then that the fifth Parallel Meta Knight reappeared, a little behind his four brothers. Together, they rose into the air, the ground rumbling as a result of whatever magic they were using.

"…their last-ditch attack, for one thing!" Kirby finished.

Boulders of all shapes and sizes rose alongside them, all shrouded in the violet aura of the Parallel Meta Knights. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of them, enough to cover the ground twice over.

"That is… way too many rocks…!" Dedede gawked.

"Th-Th-This isn't g-gonna be good…!" Taranza squeaked.

"Scatter!" Daroach yelled. The sixteen Star Allies did as commanded… right as the rocks came down like a meteor shower.

They were thrown rather haphazardly, with no regard for any precision – which was perfect, for the heroes were having trouble weaving through the mess.

Screams and shouts filled the air. A volley of techniques were thrown back at them—Magolor was desperately using Black Holes; Taranza and Susie relied on her Business Suit's Spin Cycling; Rick, Kine, and Coo were borderline panicking—

"Cutter them, Coo, cutter them!"

"What do you think I'm trying to do, Rick!?"

—Team Adeleine was doing their own thing—

"Don't worry, boss! I'll break these rocks!" Storo declared, bouncing about the arena.

"You do that, Storo," Daroach said, claws on his hat's rim.

"Woo-hoo! We're dancing!" Ribbon cheered, her and Adeleine twirling around with their hands together. It was a very effective technique, somehow.

—oh, and the Parallel Meta Knights decided they wanted to join in on the fun, too.

Two of them zipped about while the Star Allies were distracted, attacking lightning-fast with long-reaching slices. Two others were also using electrified orbs as whips,

Marx was panicking, warping like he'd never warped before. "Ack! No! Get away! This isn't fun!" He narrowly dodged a sliding dash from one of the clones. "Go bother somebody else!"

"This is annoying," Dark Meta Knight grumbled, keeping the force beam at bay. It was… way too persistent. "Why do these cretins get to use elements with such methods?"

Kirby had whipped out the Suplex ability, tossing rocks into each other with unholy strength. "Not how I wanted to get my exercise today," he quipped. "Would've preferred much less… calorie-consuming."

"You're not the only one," Dedede said, batting away another boulder with his hammer. "After today, though, I think I'll just sit out in the sun and relax instead!"

Meta Knight, meanwhile, easily noticed the lone EX Boss clone fluttering above the abyss. With adrenaline running through his veins, he shot toward his doppelganger, bypassing the chaos of the battlefield entirely.

"It's time to end this," he vowed—"put the shadows of my past to rest once and for all! Parallel Meta Knight! Prepare yourself!"

Parallel Meta Knight the Fifth raised his sword—and he and the other four duplicates became shadows, fusing back into a single whole. With his attention now wholly on his namesake, he dashed at him—

—and the two knights proceeded to clash like the Brawl tournament had never ended.

Meta Knight's arm moved as a blur, too fast for everyone else to properly make out. Several sparks showered down from the air, so furiously were they fighting. It was mesmerizing; the Lone Swordsman had never pushed himself this far before.

"It is pointless to resist," the golden knight said. "I am your superior—your ultimate foe. Even Galacta Knight would see me as such."

Sweat was pouring down the other knight's head. Evidently, even he wasn't sure if he could keep this up.

"You are weak. You choose to relish in peace, to let your skills stagnate from negligence. There is no point in continuing like this. Give up!"

"…that is where you are mistaken." The azure warrior initiated a block, which then transitioned into a Galactic Counter. His eyes were briefly drawn to his audience—all of whom were cheering him on as loudly as possible.

"Come on, Meta Knight!" Kirby hopped up and down. "Show that EX Boss what you're made of!"

"You're too skilled to fall here!" King Dedede shouted, hands cupped around his mouth. "By my royal decree, I command you to win!"

"Fight! Fight!" Bandana Dee added.

Meta Knight smiled. "I told you before—my friendships give me the strength to be here, fighting as long as I can move my limbs. So long as you lack those… it is you who cannot hope to outmatch me!"

Abruptly, a second pair of wings erupted from his back, accompanied by electricity surging from his body. His eyes flashed red as they glared with determination.

"Now… know my power!"

He sliced his doppelganger from multiple angles, creating large blue-purple speed trails as he went. Again and again he struck, draining evermore the EX Boss's last few Hit Points, until…

…he warped in from the top, and drilled through him, landing in front of the Star Allies shortly afterward.

"Come back when you can put up a fight," he taunted him, one last time.

White streaks of light came from Parallel Meta Knight's form…

…and at last, he exploded in a burst of purple smoke.

The third Heart Spear made itself known soon after, wrapped in the same florescent pink aura as the two the Star Allies already had. Meta Knight wasted no time in plucking it out of the air and placing it in his inventory.

"Great work, buddy," Kirby patted him on the shoulder. "I knew you had it in you."

"It was nothing too extravagant," Meta Knight dismissed. "It was a team effort, in any case. Everyone helped contribute to our combined victory here. Even Susie."

Susie snorted. "No need to call me out—I know I did a spectacular job, thank you very much."

"I think we did an even better job, though," Adeleine argued—"I mean, we blew up a battleship! It's hard to top that!"

"Ninety Friend Hearts and three Heart Spears have been collected thus far," Daroach noted, his eyes closed. "That should leave us with thirty more Friend Hearts and one more Heart Spear—oh, and one last Parallel Boss, of course."

"Thirty more, huh…?" Rick muttered. "Gee, mate… When you put it that way, it sounds… pretty possible!"

"Possible is our middle name," Gooey said. "Impossible is just a myth."

"Ha! Gooey's got that right!" Marx grinned. "No myth can ever hope to defeat us—never! You hear me! Never!"

"Now that I think about it, all the myth-busting we've been doing might mean we'll become myths ourselves," Magolor pointed out. "As in, legends for the next generation to surpass." He rubbed his hand on his chin. "Being a Halcandran myself, that is… admittedly an odd feeling."

"You said it…" Bandana Dee chimed in, rubbing the back of his head. "Like—me? Famous? It feels weird as heck!"

"S-S-Same here…" Taranza muttered.

"I know I wouldn't mind it," Dedede laughed—"heck, I already am famous out on the Internet! You can't beat perfection, and everyone knows it!"

"My reputation's even bigger, though," Kirby cheekily replied. "I mean, I destroy gods and demons for a living!"

"And eat like there's no tomorrow!"

"Yeah, that too!"

And so it was that the Star Allies triumphed over the third big foe of the day. Though the skies above them ominously cloudy, the road ahead was looking clearer and clearer.

One more dimension, and then they'd be in the homestretch.

One more dimension, now.


Elsewhere, in Another Dimension…

it was cold.

She… was cold.

So cold.

But that didn't matter to her as much as the mission.

A trail of bodies lay on the ground, scattered about as haphazardly as breadcrumbs in the kitchen. They were twitching, their bodies spread out in unenviable positions—and even from far away, one could see the after-effects of darkness flaring from their bruises and injuries.

And for as the environment around them… craters and debris littered the ground, the bright yellows of Another Dimension noticeably losing their shine from the careless carnage. If one followed the evidence to its endpoint, however apprehensively…

they'd find naught but even more devastation, derived straight from the root of darkness.

"HEEEEEEE-YAHHHHHH!"

With a swing of her heavy labrys, Francisca laid into the Grand Wheelie DX, shattering its armor in a single blow. It went flying into a nearby wall at breakneck speeds, bouncing onto the floor with a dizzied expression. As is, it was utterly defeated, unable to do much else to the Frozen General in terms of damage—but that wasn't enough for her.

"Bahahahaha… BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

She leaped toward the downed enemy, and started ripping it to shreds. Again and again, she tore into it with heavy slashes, showing no trace of her usual sympathy or pragmatism. It was to the point where the rubber in the poor Grand Wheelie's tire was gaining massive tears.

However, it wasn't until it was unconscious and wrecked beyond repair that the berserk mage finally deigned to stop.

"Hmph," she coldly scoffed, completely unlike her usual mannerisms."Pathetic."

She knocked the Wheelie into a pile of defeated enemies behind her—just like Hyness would shove Zan out of the way—and hovered over to her next foe, an unfortunate Miasmoros EX. He burbled in panic, likely able to be translated as something akin to 'Get me away from this crazy witch!'.

Unfortunately for him, there was no one to save him from the hell she would inflict on him.

Yes, that's right, a voice sinisterly whispered into her heart. Show no mercy to this lot. Give to them what those wretched Star Allies deserve to feel.

By now, the Three Mage-Sisters had shrugged off any idea of holding onto the ideals that made them… them. And they were showing this rather effectively through their current means of combat: what could best be described as extremely long and drawn-out execution reels.

Flamberge, in the background, was much the same as her frigid twin—the darkness from before was halfway covering the both of them now, bringing with it partially blackened skin, whitening gold apparel, and eyes as red as a certain angel's blood. The fiery fighter was bellowing in rage, taking on two Telepathos EXes by herself with six flaming swords surrounding her. She was like a sun blazing in the heat, well-befitting her epithet as the Bringer of Flame—but even she could not compare to the spectacle that was Zan Partizanne.

Unlike her sisters, Zan had let the darkness consume her whole from the outset. And with unlimited darkness, came unlimited power.

"Rot in ruin!"

The Lightning General was single-handedly destroying a battalion of EX Mid-Bosses. Her spear was pointed upward and summoning an incredibly thick storm cloud, raining down a salvo of lightning bolts down on their unprepared little heads. Thousands of volts coursed through each bolt, taking them out in no time at all.

To Francisca's corrupted eyes… it was glorious.

Oh. So. Glorious.

BA-DUMP!

Deep down, a part of her wanted to fight this corruption. The child that still knew nothing of pain, of suffering; of freezing in a frosty blizzard, alone and almost an afterthought—she screamed at her to stop this, to remember the person she used to be.

BA-DUMP!

'Don't succumb to it!' came as a faint whisper to her mind. 'If—If you keep going like this, you'll… you'll never come back! Berge, Z-Z-Zan! Please… help—!'

BA-DUMP!

But it was smothered just as fast as it came into being.

'No, no, d-don't! We—We—We…! We can't go out like this—!"

BA-DUMP—!

…sorry. But I'm afraid I'll have to put you on ice… forever.

The Miasmoros she was facing screamed again—how irritating, she thought.

Deciding that she was done playing games, Francisca got out her soda gun, shook it a few times, and fired it point blank into the slime monster's mouth.

It flailed about in agony, gurgling and gurgling and growing louder in volume. She blocked it out of her ears, letting it wash away in the dirtied ocean that was her soul. Her attack continued on, and on, and on… until the Miasmoros was naught but a shadow of its former self.

She proceeded to stick her axe into its messed up form and freeze it solid.

It's a shame I won't be able to add this to my trophy collection, she idly mused.

But then again… there'll be plenty more opportunities for that down the line.

On another note… Now that she had allowed the shadows to creep into her heart… she could sense him.

Hyness.

Unmoving, unwavering.

Waiting deep within the depths of Another Dimension.

She regrouped with her fellow Mage-Sisters, once they were done with their respective bands of would-be bosses.

"He's getting closer," Francisca said.

Zan nodded clinically. "He is alone at the precipice of this dimension. We must hurry, before we find ourselves unable to aid him in his mission."

Purple flames enveloped Flamberge, the girl giving out a smile as wicked as her bite. "Well, I'm not gonna let that happen! We'll reach 'im faster than Stubby Pink Thing can eat a meteor! RARRRRRRRGH!"

With their objective reaffirmed, the trio of sisters continued deeper into the mysterious realm, linked inexplicably to Pop Star and the legacy of the Ancients.

(Little did they know… they were treading a very delicate path—a path with only a steep cliff to mark its end, instead of any true paradise.

And their determination would inevitably lead them to fall down its slippery slope, into a grave extinguishing their light.

With all this in mind, there was but one question left to ask:

If somebody came in and gave them the hope they had long been looking for…

Could they still achieve… the happiest ending…?)


Jambandra Base
The Divine Terminus – Altar

Below the crowd of Helpers and Dream Friends, the pool of darkness rippled vibrantly.

"H-Huh!?" Eleven startled faces—accompanied by similar expressions from the assembled Jammerjabs—jumped back and pointed their weapons at the shimmering lake. In front of their eyes, a touch of red appeared in the center and gradually grew to fill the entire image, black patterned bars replacing the splotchy clouds from before.

"Oh no," Waddle Doo gasped, her iris shrinking. "The Divine Terminus—it's changing again!"

"By the will of Galactic NOVA…" Ceri swore, jaw dropping open in palpable trepidation. "This is—This is beyond anything my studies prepared me for…! No spell I have can protect us from this…!"

"Everyone, don't let your guards down!" Jennifer commanded. She carefully rallied the group closer to the entrance, in an attempt to negate any positional disadvantage they may have had. "Whatever we see, we can't let it frighten us here!"

"Jennifer's right!" Chuchu said, Pitch and Nago standing faithfully by her side. "Just hold on tight…!"

The pool began to glow and pulsate, unnerving the crew even more as it expanded past its old borders. It shone brighter and brighter with every passing beat, until at last—

—massive globes of black-red energy exploded from the surface, circling about and going who-knows-where, being absorbed by the decorations around the arena—

—and a tremendous amount of panic filled the air.


How is it that this dang fic keeps getting several months long-gaps between chapters? Sheesh, I've really gotta cut back on the side fics I post after every major update…

For this chapter's flashback, I wanted to emphasize the type of person Hyness used to be, and further establish how the Mage-Sisters became devoted to him and his cause. There's a reason why the Officiant of Doom was able to convince so many to join his cult—once upon a time, he did have altruistic intentions. It was just overshadowed by the encroaching darkness in his own mind.

And of course the Mage-Sisters, with nowhere else to go, would help the man who saved their lives in whatever way they could. He showed them kindness; to them, it's only right that they return the favor. That, unfortunately, gave them no real way out when things got bad again (i.e. Hyness letting his insanity take over) – and combined with their undying loyalty to him… well, you're seeing where things are going from here.

Back on the subject of Another Dimension, I'm pretty sure the one thing that everyone remembers about it is its mid-bosses. Namely, the Sphere Doomers. Oh, how I hate the Sphere Doomers. And given how attached they are to said dimension—not to mention how much stronger they are compared to the non-Star Allies populace—it's only natural that they'd be a part of the danger the Star Allies are trying to stop (as I stated back in Chapter 1).

Hence, them starting to show up more.

Quiver in fear.

To celebrate her role in these fics of mine, Adeleine gets an especially long POV piece, much like her friend Ribbon. She's the character I've arguably become the most enamored with, and I hope her segment appropriately conveys all the reasons why I care for her and her faithful fairy friend. For everything they've contributed toward 'this verse, this is—in a way—my thank-you gift to them. Keep on adventuring, you two.

I've already touched upon our artistic angel numerous times before, but this is my first real time delving into Dark Meta Knight and Daroach's psyches. I've always had the impression of DMK being hilariously edgy, as well as even more steely compared to normal Meta; and Daroach strikes me as somebody who enjoys being as utterly flamboyant and stylish as possible. I hope I managed to convey their unique characters in their thought processes—oh, and the way their friendships with everyone else have enriched their lives. I mean, that's the whole reason I'm doing this…

Speaking of friends, I couldn't go off and leave the other Animal Buddies in the dust! Chuchu, Pitch, Nago—they'll never be major players, sure, but they're still a treasured part of the Gamble Galaxy. In a way, I guess you can consider this an appreciation piece for them, a way to commemorate their legacy despite the fandom at large considering them tertiary characters at best. Kirby's Dream Land 3 may elude me personally, but never let it be said that I don't try my best to include everyone I can.

Parallel Meta Knight is business as usual, compared to Parallel Kracko. Being a copy of the so-called Greatest Warrior in the Galaxy, it's no surprise that he can match a team of sixteen despite his relatively short stature. Of course, that doesn't mean it'd be practical to have all the Star Allies after him at once—so I threw in a twist with a miniature Halberd, piloted by parallel versions of the Meta-Knights. Why not? I've gotta give 'em some semblance of a challenge!

Well, that's all for now – tune in next time for the fourth dimension, and the Kumazaki-directed trio of Dream Friends! (Hopefully without another massive nine-month delay… Jeez…)