"Ah, well," Magolor sighed, resting his cheeks in his palms through his hood, "she's gone for good now."

It was hard to argue with that. LOR Starcutter had taken to the deep blue skies for the first time in centuries and now she was most likely at the bottom of the deep blue ocean. True, she'd been doomed to a future of little usage from damage she had sustained years ago, and couldn't be fixed, not on Pop Star, but keeping her as a memorial had been nice. Now he couldn't even see her.

The orange dragon next to him was small, with only a single head and two small clawed feet. You can always just pull it up again. That is what you did the first time.


Magolor had retrieved Starcutter from a rather troublesome place on Halcandra, and while she had been very much worth the effort, it was by no means easy. He tugged at the hems of his gloves; underneath them, just barely hidden by the cloth, metal shackles were locked in place.

"It'd be hard to, now that I don't have freedom anymore."

The dragon snorted. You deserve it for trying to be a thief after a legendary treasure.

"Yes, my point exactly. Your curse makes it quite troublesome for me to get to Starcutter again." Magolor paused thoughtfully. "Though, I suppose you could always grant me permission to, couldn't you?"

No. We would rather you not have that ship with you.

Magolor sighed. "You still don't trust me?"

You have very clearly proven yourself to be greedy, even if it was many years ago. Creatures change. But not easily.

"So you don't trust me."

We do not.

"Aw. You really don't think I've changed?"

You have, Landia corrected. You used to be much more spritely. Lively. Now you are much more resigned and calm. And you have yet to play a prank in almost ten years. Yes, you have changed, but that does not warrant our trust.

Removing his hands from his cheeks, Magolor shrugged and inspected his coat. "Hard to be energetic when you've been stuck in a holey cave for… how many years, now?"

We do not keep track.

"I figured not."

Blue waves lapped at the base of the cliff Magolor and Landia were resting on. Dream Land had a nice landscape. On Halcandra, a grassy cliff with the wind billowing and the gentle roars of the ocean echoing could never be found. Plants, in general, were a rarity on Halcandra. And with him being stuck in a cave for much longer than he'd like, the feeling of grass underneath him was bizarrely refreshing. He could rest here for a long, long time.

Squinting out over the ocean again, Magolor tried to catch a glimpse of Starcutter, again, but found nothing but rolling tides and the still horizon. He couldn't see the enemy's ship, either. They'd both sunken deep into the waters, likely to never be found again… or maybe they would, a few thousand years down the road. Or if the ocean dried up. A wind stirred again and Magolor shivered.

"Remember that little dee with the bandana?" Bandana Dee with the blue bandana, but Magolor wasn't sure if Landia could see the colour blue. He was pretty sure Landia could, but it'd been so long since he'd read up about the different types of colour blindness he wasn't absolutely sure.

The blue one, yes. Oh, he could.

"He asked me about what I thought about being in power."

Landia raised a brow, scooting backwards and laying down on the grass, chin flat along the ground. You had that much time to chatter?

Landia wasn't directly facing him, but Magolor shook his head anyway. "Just before the takeoff. It was a short talk."

And what did you reply with?

"I didn't."

The dragon looked wholly unimpressed. You have no manners. As expected.

Landia was sort of right. "He told me to forget it and he looked like he didn't want to talk about it, so I wasn't being rude." And like Landia had said earlier, they actually didn't have that much time to talk. "If I had to guess, he asked out of curiosity, so even if I answered it wouldn't have changed anything."


"I wasn't being rude," Magolor protested. He shifted and dusted his cloak. It was already tattered at the edges, but that was just par for the course. As gross as it sounded, he hadn't actually changed ever since he got shackled to Landia for his attempt to nab the Master Crown, since ever since they'd been living in a crappy cave that obviously did not come equipped with any change of clothes.

Plus, Landia was a dragon who didn't care for clothes, just like most creatures in Dream Land. Magolor would have lost the clothes, too – if he wasn't busy freezing. Halcandra was ridiculously hot, and his species had gradually grown to adapt to its heat, so as warm as Dream Land might have felt to most, it felt like an iceberg to him. Landia? He didn't know where Landia came from, but Landia was a dragon. He was probably cold-blooded and all that. They were completely different, in more ways than just their adaptability to temperature. Magolor thought it'd be nice to hear an opinion from someone that wasn't like him at all.

You want to know what we thought about the waddle dee's question.

Magolor rolled his eyes. "I knew you could read minds."

Only to an extent and we can be tricked by it or interpret it wrongly. We can only pick up on surface thoughts. This dragon had way too many abilities… Moreover, we did not read your mind. We inferred it from your words.

"Sure, sure."

Believe what you will. Landia got up and gazed into the ocean. Power is a privilege, a benefit, a responsibility. A burden. It is desirable and undesirable at the same time. There are many who seek to attain it. They fail. And for the better.

Magolor joined him in looking out into the ocean. This time, he didn't look for Starcutter.

"Was that a jab at me? That's awfully rude."

No. You are rude. Though less so than back then, we must admit.

Magolor guffawed. Landia glared at him and he stopped. "Aren't you the rude one? I've asked you three times since we landed about why you helped us in taking down that ship in the end, but you haven't answered."

Mouth opened by a fraction, Landia breathed out, a puff of smoke and heated air escaping. That question is also just to satiate your curiosity. It is no different from when you refused to answer the waddle dee.

It was different, actually. They had time now, and it wasn't like with Bandana Dee when they were never going to see each other again. Magolor was stuck with Landia, and he was going to be stuck for a very long time. Wasn't it more agonising if the dragon was actively hiding things from him while he was forced to follow Landia around?

Maybe at that point Landia decided to use his tricky, mind-reading powers because he followed soon after.

We used to be the guardian of a village.

Magolor bobbed his head slowly. "You told them that." Kirby and Bandana Dee, when Landia let them go for the first time.

It was a long time ago, before we discovered the Master Crown. On another planet. The villagers were born and adapted to travelling in the galaxy, which many chose to do so when they grew old enough. A pause, like he was debating whether to continue. Magolor didn't speak to encourage him. The villagers were puffballs –

"Oh, like Kirby!" Magolor snapped his fingers. "So you were biased because you used to protect them, that's why you helped that fella!"

Again, Landia glared at him, but it was much less threatening than before. And Magolor was used to having eight eyes give him a death stare all at once, so only having two glower at him was easy to deal with.

Not only that.

"Oh? Really? You can admit it, your favouritism – "

The leader of the enemies they were fighting was also a puffball.

The knight. Magolor's hands dropped to his sides. "...Right." He'd almost forgotten that Landia had seen him up-close when they came to ask to request for Landia's assistance. "How does that relate now? You were fighting against him."

Landia raised his head, poised upright, regal even in his small form.

He was on the wrong path.

"Do you do prophecies now, too?" This dragon had way too many abilities.


"Okay. Sorry."

He was on the wrong path, and we were once their guardian. It is still our duty to set them right. That is why we helped. Are you satisfied now?

Magolor sucked in a ball of air. It was cold to his nostrils and the sea breeze smelled raw, but still rejuvenating. Dream Land had too many hidden charms.

Really. Too many.

"You said power is a responsibility," Magolor started slowly, and trailed off, but Landia didn't respond in the slightest. "And you have that. You have power. And you take care of it and run away to a different place every time someone discovers it because it'll be bad if it gets stolen no matter how attached you are to the place, and you use it to help and save people and… and… andIthinkIcantrustyoutoholdontothatpower."

You are speaking too fast.

"Am I? I'm sorry, I'll repeat that. You're a big dumb deaf dragon. There you go. Happy? Could you hear that?"

Now Landia rolled his eyes. Calm yourself.

"I am calm – oh, so that's why you let Kirby and Bandana Dee escape the first time they saw you even though they saw the Master Crown! 'Cause you have a soft spot for puffballs and you didn't wanna kill – "

Three loud splashes interrupted him, the other three dragons bursting above the surface of the waters, fish wriggling in each of their mouths. They circled above Magolor and the last Landia before descending onto the ground of the cliff. When they landed, flames burst out of their mouths for an instant. The wriggling ceased and the fish were scorched a burnt brown. Magolor wrinkled his nose at the smoke.

Landia – the one who had been accompanying him while the other three were… fishing – looked at him pointedly. Eat.

"No, thanks."

We are well aware that Halcandrans digest meat much better than plants, and we will not stop to go hunting again if you are hungry. He growled in addition to his telepathic message.

"We also don't do too well with seafood," Magolor attempted.

We are well aware that is a lie.

Right, so the blasted dragon knew. Magolor picked at his gloves. "I don't have the appetite. Just eat it yourself. I won't complain later." Watching Starcutter sink before his very eyes was enough to offset his appetite for a week, he was certain, and he knew he wasn't going to do without food for a week but… not now. The food wouldn't even make it to his stomach.

Landia didn't even raise his brows, just tilted his heads up and gobbled the fish down in seconds. Magolor made a stink-eye, but he was sure Landia didn't care.

The sun was still high in the afternoon sky. The battle in the skies hadn't actually taken very long – less than an hour, even – but it'd felt like an eternity. Magolor had spent the years he was living in the mountain cave with Starcutter, even if he couldn't fly her because of his psychic chains to the dragon, and he'd never lost his touch with navigating her controls, but the battle had challenged that. He'd never had a chance to rest, all the while configuring the ship's cannons and checking and rechecking damage levels as for when everyone onboard should parachute off. He was hardly as good as a captain as he thought he was.

He was thoroughly exhausted. So thoroughly exhausted he could just lay back and take a nap right at that moment. Landia would probably stomp all over his face and scold him, though. Maybe not stomp all over his face. Landia didn't show it, but he must be tired, too.

What were Kirby and Bandana Dee doing? Probably resting up back in the castle. If they were alive. Just because they won didn't mean they didn't suffer any losses. Magolor hoped they were; they were a funny pair. By that he meant intriguing. Bandana Dee had a pitiful amount of self-confidence, but only in some areas; he was perfectly capable of leading troops, he had proven. He also came off as naive and overly trusting. Who followed a stranger whose companion was an ill-tempered, four-headed dragon just for help against an enemy? This dee, apparently.

Kirby was on a whole other level Magolor couldn't even hope to start to explore. The puffball didn't hide anything, but he was still unreadable. He acted childish, but behind those pair of sapphire eyes was a brain that was too perfectly wired.

The pink puffball was a prodigy, if Magolor really had to put it into words.

The chomping of the fish was interrupted by another message from Landia. We are more surprised that you chose to help.

"...Me?" Magolor squinted and pretended he didn't know what Landia was talking about. It wouldn't fool anyone, definitely not Landia, but.

You were extremely selfish and self-centred when you first approached us to steal the Master Crown. You were inattentive and uncaring to others' feelings on the majority. Hence, we did not expect you to voluntarily help creatures you barely even knew.


That is the truth.

"Well, they were just," Magolor started, unsure of how he would finish, "...a funny pair."

That was the best way to describe it.

Landia didn't reply to that, so either he didn't care for the continuation of the conversation or he was expecting more out of Magolor's pathetic, low-effort answer. Just in case it was the latter, Magolor continued.

"They just felt genuine. I couldn't feel any bad intentions, or something." Magolor shrugged. "Like you could trust them to fight for their own just cause, or some noble thing like that… especially from Bandana Dee. Right? He came off as nervous, but he didn't back down in approaching us. He has this kind of character that makes you trust him – "

Oh, boy. Was that why Kirby dragged Bandana Dee along to talk to them?

Kirby never ceased to amaze, not even after they stopped interacting.

Landia shifted again. The crunching had mostly died down.

We think you have changed.

Magolor scoffed. "What? I also wanted to test Starcutter since I hadn't for, you know, years."

We think you have changed, Landia said again, flatter this time.

"Uh, sure, suit yourself. Oh – was Halcandra ever known as the Land of Ruin?"

If Landia noticed the sudden swerve in topic change, he didn't address it. We were only Halcandra's guardians, not its rulers. We only protected it. What went on within the planet itself, we were not acquainted with. Pause. Why do you ask?

"That's Starcutter's prefix, you know. LOR. Land of Ruin." Landia stared. Of course the dragon didn't know about these kinds of things. "Ships have prefixes, and the ones made for battle or war normally have prefixes before their names which reflect ownership. So a country or kingdom or nation has their own prefix for all their ships. Starcutter is her name, and her prefix is Land of Ruin, so she must come from this Land of Ruin place, and any other ship that comes from this Land of Ruin place all also have the prefix LOR. Did you get that?"


Magolor sighed deliberately loudly.

Landia did not look the least bit remorseful. We have not heard of the Land of Ruin prior to this conversation. It does not change anything. The ship is still at the bottom of the ocean now.

"I know, but…" But what? Magolor didn't know what he was sulking over. "I used Starcutter for so long. I thought it'd be nice to know where she at least comes from."

There was a great chance that she was invented by Halcandrans, after all, but there was no saying anything definitive. Magolor was a Halcandran, but he'd never dug deep into history. He wish he had when he still had the chance. They couldn't return to Halcandra now – or, Landia refused to do so, but it was completely Magolor's fault Landia insisted on that.

Landia did not agree. The ship is still at the bottom of the ocean now.

Magolor sniffed. "You're not a very good conversationalist."

The chewing stomped. All four Landias stood up straight in sync, then dove at each other – with a momentary flash of light, the four dragons had recombined back into one, great four-headed dragon. Landia shook himself the way a dog would, and remaining water that hadn't dripped or dried off flew off in waves as droplets. Magolor scrunched his face and blocked it with his hand.

Dragons are born to be guardians. To protect, regardless of any sacrifices made. Landia's eyes flickered to the Master Crown for a moment, almost sullen, but Magolor never got to address it. We are leaving.

"Already?" Landia began to trudge forward without answering; Magolor was more surprised he wasn't flying. He must've been tired. He'd taken part in an aerial battle, so it was no surprise his wings were puttered out. "Where are we going? Are we leaving Pop Star?"


"What? I thought you said we can't go back to that cave anymore."

We cannot. Once we are found, we must change locations immediately. No one is to know the location of the Master Crown at any given point in time. We are leaving Dream Land. Magolor stared at Landia, still uncomprehending. But leaving the entirety of Pop Star itself is not a necessity.

"Oh," Magolor drawled. "You actually like Pop Star, don't you?"

It is entirely inconvenient the leave the planet altogether. Those who interacted with us did not even know of the existence of the Master Crown. It can be assumed that they remain unaware of its powers, hence, it is not an emergency. Landia flared his nostrils. Unlike the time you tried to steal the Master Crown, in which it became evident that there were those on Halcandra who knew of the Master Crown and had intentions to purloin it for your own benefit.

"Okay, okay. No need to shame me. I like Pop Star, too."

Landia did not acknowledge that. Move, or we will leave you behind. Which of course he actually wouldn't, for more reasons than just the fact that Magolor was bound to the dragon by invisible, intangible chains.

Magolor floated after him into the dense forest. The mountain had been a fantastic hiding spot, and it even came with a natural water source – too bad they'd been found. And it wasn't his fault this time. How had that knight found them? They'd done absolutely nothing to give themselves away. Landia had never taken a step out of the cave, and Magolor only strayed into the forest for food, only when he had to, not that it mattered because by right, no one should know his relation to the Master Crown. The knight must have had his own methods. He had lost, but he'd done a jarringly good job in putting up a fight.

They fail, and for the better, huh…

Magolor cast one last look at the castle. He wondered what the knight was doing now.

"Are you awake?"

The world was blurry. Bandana Dee blinked his eyes, once, twice, several times blearily. White walls, pale yellow curtain, a shamefully stiff bed… oh, he was in Haddle's clinic.

When had he – ? He remembered flinging that pincer into the cockpit, hoping it would hit Meta Knight, before Landia, under the reasoning that the Lor Starcutter was going to fall soon, delivered him back to safe ground instead. Though dazed from battle, he'd managed to round everyone up, watch Meta Knight's ship sink along with the Lor Starcutter into the ocean, and marched (or as much as they could march) back to the castle. Then… he couldn't remember.

Bandana Dee flipped to his side. It was Turan. And Scar, nearer to the end of the curtain.

"How did I end up here..?" Wait – if he couldn't remember… had he been dreaming it all up? Was that not how it went? Maybe he'd passed out in front of Landia. "Did we defeat Meta Knight? Where is he? What about every – "

Scar turned to face whatever was on the other side of the curtains. "He's awake."

"All right." Haddle. He must still be working.

Turan started to answer Bandana Dee's questions. "We did defeat Meta Knight… you led us back to the castle after checking that everyone was back on the ground and recalled the aerial force, and we all got back with no problem. You passed out as soon as we got back so we brought you here – oh! One of the members in the air actually caught Meta Knight, although he was unconscious, I think – " He turned to Scar. "Was he unconscious?"

"He was," Scar affirmed. "We checked for his pulse and then his sword. The pulse was there but his sword wasn't. He was still a threat so we restrained him and carried him back."

Meta Knight's sword was missing? It was a legendary sword, if Bandana Dee remembered right. It was called Galaxia. He didn't know how Meta Knight had obtained it and he had never asked, although it had bugged him a few times. If he wasn't holding onto Galaxia… Bandana Dee doubted any of his underlings had any time to retrieve it, wherever it was. None of them were near the cockpit – Kirby would have taken them out if they were. It might've fallen out somewhere, or it might've sunk with the ship.

Sunk with the ship…

Bandana Dee looked at Scar first. "I'm sorry for thinking you're a male."

Scar deflated. "I don't really care. I was surprised, though. 'Scarlet' is a name more common for females."

What. "Your name is Scarlet?"

"Did you not know that?"

No..? He did now. "...Um, right." Bandana Dee wiggled and pressed on with the question he'd just thought of. "So – Meta Knight's ship sunk, didn't it?"

"It did, along with the ship we used."

The Lor Starcutter. They both sank, just as how Bandana Dee remembered it.

"Did…" Bandana Dee started slowly, rubbing his arms, jolting when he moved his injured wrist too much. Oh, no… "Did you rescue Meta Knight's crew too? When the ship sank. Did our aerial force try and rescue them? Did we throw them off-board so they could be caught..?"

Turan froze. Scar didn't reply. Bandana Dee knew the answer.

"We… didn't?"

"No, we – we didn't know, we were just – " Turan was blurting, "we were focussed on winning, so when the ships started crashing we just left without thinking about – I didn't know, I'm sor – "

"No, it's fine." Bandana Dee swallowed. "I didn't – I didn't give the order."

It wasn't a war, but in a full-blown battle like that, he knew there were going to be casualties. It was inevitable and unavoidable – he had to accept that, even though he didn't want to. It was the only way to win. It was the only way to resolve the conflict.

Was it? Maybe there had been another way. A more peaceful way. If he'd discovered earlier, maybe they could've talked it out with Meta Knight after all. And Meta Knight got flustered and evacuated all because he had caught someone – namely, Bandana Dee himself – infiltrating his room, so maybe – maybe, if Bandana Dee didn't get caught, they could've –

Bandana Dee sank in the bed. This was hard.

Scar ended the silence. "Most of them should be able to swim. Meta Knight is the type to be picky about how capable his subordinates are."

Yes, he was… Scar was right about that.

"But there were a lot of unconscious people, they can't swim – " Turan's voice was barely above a hesitant squeak.

Scar stared at him.

"Um, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said – "

"It's okay. You didn't say anything wrong." Bandana Dee had already realised it himself, anyway. And stating the truth wasn't wrong. That was, realistically, how it had ended. It had ended with dozens of unconscious fighters on the ship sinking down into the ocean in Dream Land. Phrasing it doses of sugar or tiptoeing around the subject wouldn't change that.

He could hope those who were awake would save as many as they could before the ship sunk below the waters. Yes, he would hope for that. Didn't it feel ironic? He was on the side that was the reason for their loss, and the direct reason as to why their ship had been blown out of commission and out of the skies and into the water.

He hadn't ever meant to hurt anyone. He just wanted to protect his home. But in doing so, he…

It was funny, since he was a soldier, and the leader of soldiers, at that, but he wasn't used to death. Killing people. Should he get used to those? He should, but he shouldn't – that was the feeling he got.

Bandana Dee perked up again. "What about Magolor?"

Turan didn't say anything. Underneath his helmet, he probably blinked blankly. Scar frowned thoughtfully.

Did he ever introduce Magolor to them? Or did they just forget? Everything felt woozy. He couldn't remember. "He was the captain of the ship we used. He steered it."

When Turan spoke, it was slowly. "Are you asking if we saw him afterwards..?"


"Um… we…"

"We didn't," Scar answered shortly. Bandana Dee looked at her, withdrawn. "We didn't see him leave the ship, and we didn't see him after the fight was over. The minions that were on board with him told us that he told them to evacuate the ship once it started showing signs of instability."

"He waited for everyone to get off first?"

"Yes. Apparently, he stayed on board to steer the ship closer to the ocean so it wouldn't land on the ground and start a fire somewhere." Scar halted, maybe to let it sink into Bandana Dee, but only for a short while. "I assume the effort to push the enemy's ship into the ocean was his, too."

Magolor had done all that…

But they were strangers. They didn't even know each other. Why'd he go so far? He might not even be alive, if the situation called for it. With the damage it took, wasn't there a plenty high chance that some part of the Lor Starcutter had caught fire, collapsed, and trapped him in, leaving him with no escape until he reached the bottom of the ocean?

Bandana Dee had just woken up, but he was already feeling sick again.

"...It was really nice of him to help us," Turan finally added after moments of deliberation.

Bandana Dee nodded, though he didn't register that he had.

He could hope. He would hope. It wouldn't be fair, right? It wouldn't be fair if Magolor helped them for free and had to pay with his life for it. That didn't make sense. It just didn't. Someone always could've rescued him. Landia could have.

Right. Landia could have. Bandana Dee breathed out. Magolor was fine.

...He tried to convince himself that, but he knew he'd never be able to make the nagging worry go away until he saw Magolor for himself.

Bandana Dee tried clearing his throat. It sounded like he was choking. He grabbed the cup of water sitting by the bed and took gulps out of it. Turan and Scar remained quiet while he did.

When he put the cup back down, the next question tumbled out immediately. "What about our own soldiers? Were there any casualties?"

He heard Turan's quiet breath and knew he was about to reply, when the curtains were drawn back forcefully. Haddle raised a brow at him.

"We didn't suffer any casualties. We do have several major injuries that we're looking through. We suspect a few may become handicapped in some way after this, but all should pull through."

Bandana Dee brightened. "Haddle!"

"Good afternoon to you, too." Haddle gestured to Turan and Scar. "Thanks for the help. You can leave now if you'd like."

Turan edged forward and looked like he wanted to stay, but Scar nudged him and shrugged a shoulder towards the door. Sullenly, Turan pulled back, nodded, and they both got up and started towards the door. From personal experience, Bandana Dee guessed they still had their appointed duties. Able-bodied minions always had duties, regardless of whatever had just transpired. Actually, because of whatever had just transpired, they were needed on the job more than ever, what with the significant amount of injured soldiers.

Bandana Dee shuffled in his bedsheets. He appreciated their company, though. Especially now that it was just Haddle and him. Especially since he'd directly gone against Haddle's warning.

Thankfully, Haddle didn't address that first. "I see that you're still worrying about others instead of yourself, as usual."

Bandana Dee smiled feebly. "Is that a bad thing?"

"You'll die one day because of it and I already warned you." Haddle sat on the chair Turan had been in. "You're their leader, so I figured you should hear. No casualties, but we have major injuries and two want to retire. A burning leo and somebody. I expect they'll approach you themselves so I didn't bother remembering them."

"Yeah, they will."

Resignation requests were something he heard every other day. Minions streamed in and out of the castle. It had always been like that. He expected even more requests to go home temporarily would downpour on him later. After big incidents like this, namely battles, a lot of minions wanted to head back home for some family time. Well-deserved, too.

Bandana Dee wanted to go home, just for a short while, too – but he couldn't afford to. They needed someone in charge here, and no one could fill the gap, especially now that they just lost Meta Knight to betrayal. He settled for writing letters.

Haddle scribbled on the clipboard he always carried around when he did medical checkups. "So far, all injured can still move – or they will be able to do so after they have recovered – but we anticipate a handful have lost their fighting capability on the battlefield."

"Oh." Bandana Dee felt like he had been saying that a lot lately.

"Yours included."

"Oh." Guilt settled into his chest. Then he wriggled and protested, "I can still fight! It's only one wrist! And I can still move it." It only hurt a little.

"Permanent damage. I couldn't heal everything." Bandana Dee shrunk back. "I doubt you'll understand even if I explain it to you. You can still move it, yes, and use it for non-strenuous activities, but don't expect it to be as obedient during combat anymore. You might want to switch to a one-handed weapon."

But Bandana Dee liked the spear… and he could use it with one hand. Sort of. He looked down at his wrist.

Had it been necessary for him to fight so hard? Would Scar and Turan have been able to fight and defeat the metal lobster on their own? He had carried most of the battle, but if it was just the two of them maybe they would have figured something out on their own, eventually, even if it took a little longer.

He'd never know. He'd really never know. But out of everything he felt, regret was not one of them.

It was as Magolor had said. Maybe his extra effort had been unnecessary. But what if it hadn't been? What if Scar and Turan couldn't deal with the lobster on their own? What if, if he never threw that pincer as a last-ditch assist, Kirby wouldn't have been able to defeat Meta Knight?

...He really doubted that, actually. Kirby had reassured Bandana Dee he didn't need to overexert himself, but Bandana Dee had re-reassured him that he was going to do his best anyways. The pink puffball must've just acted accordingly. After all Kirby had planned, it just didn't seem Kirby-like to bank on Bandana Dee only.

Or maybe he had. He'd never know. He wish he would, but Kirby would probably answer vaguely.

Well, it was done and over. They'd won. He was happy with the result and he couldn't change the means he had taken to reach it. It was always good to look back and reflect, especially after a battle, but in the end the only way to move was forward. Most minions learned that within their first few days of working in Castle Dedede, if they hadn't already.

He jolted backwards when a plume of feathers whapped him in the face, but it was so soft he barely felt any impact. "Uh – y-yes?"

Haddle looked like Bandana Dee had just told him a lame pun. "What were you spacing out for? I was talking to you."

Right… that was rude of Bandana Dee. "Sorry. I was thinking."

He half-expected Haddle to ask him Thinking about what? Haddle just smoothed the ruffled feathers on his wing down with his free hand. "Save the thinking for later. This is important."

"I know. Sorry."

"Stop apologising." Haddle sighed. "Are you sure you don't want to reconsider switching to a sword, or something else?"

No, never. Bandana Dee knew he was just being stubborn, but the spear was his weapon. He was talented at it and he'd worked hard to master fighting with it. He really, really didn't want to back out of it now after so many years of working with the spear. Especially not for the sword, which he already knew he had no compatibility with.

But if he said that, he would just be elongating this conversation, because Haddle wouldn't stop at prodding him. He had just woken up, but he didn't feel ready to talk about this at length. So he settled with a, "I'll think about it."

Whether Haddle picked up on his dishonesty, the doctor didn't remark about it. "If you say so." He lowered his clipboard onto his lap and placed both hands on it. "I also trust Kirby sent you my message."

Message..? Bandana Dee's face was all scrunched up with confusion and he knew it because Haddle was raising a brow at him. "What message?"

"He didn't tell you?"

"No..? I don't remember." He hadn't talked to Kirby ever since they were launched off the Lor Starcutter onto Meta Knight's ship.

"About your wrist? I told him when I passed him the spear for you."

"Oh!" Just before they boarded the Lor Starcutter. Bandana Dee remembered now. He had been directing minions into the ship and Kirby had approached him. And Haddle had said… "Um… if I strained my wrist, you'd… uh. Punch me?"

Haddle looked at him flatly. "Yes."

So… right. "...I guess you'll punch me, then?"

Haddle sighed, shaking his head and looking down at his clipboard and scribbling on it. Maybe he was writing patient has suffered brain damage. Bandana Dee hoped not. "I will. When you're better."

That was usually Haddle-language for no, I won't, I was just concerned about you. If Bandana Dee ever said that aloud, he'd be kicked out of the clinic and charged the fee when he normally wasn't because he was one of Haddle's closest friends and also his roommate. Bandana Dee wasn't exactly low on money, but he'd been hoping to increase the amount he sent back to his family, so he obediently stayed quiet.

So instead of that, he looked at Haddle and said, "Thank you for requesting a new spear for me."

"If you must know, it was that clown's suggestion."

Bandana Dee blinked. Haddle called a lot of people clowns.

Haddle stopped writing, folded his arms and amended, "That pink puffball's roommate."

Kirby's roommate? "Marx? How did he know?"

"He said he noticed you didn't have it when he found you… wherever you went off to." From Landia's and Magolor's cave, presumably. "He told me while you were out cold after falling on your face like an idiot. He didn't know where to get a new weapon forged, so I put in the request on his behalf. You should be thanking him instead."

That surprised Bandana Dee. Marx wasn't uncaring towards his friends, but he wasn't really… proactive in showing his affection towards them. He didn't seem like the type to notice. Clearly, he was wrong on that front.

"Still," Bandana Dee pressed, "thanks for bothering to put in the request."

Haddle huffed. "You're welcome, I suppose. You should help me thank Kirby for delivering the spear and the message when you see him."

"I will."

He'd have to go see Kirby sooner or later. A thank-you would only take ten seconds. Bandana Dee had his own lot to thank Kirby for, too; for choosing to protect the castle even though he'd barely been working there for two weeks and the king was superficially unpleasant. More than anyone else, Kirby had put in the effort to thwart Meta Knight's plans. And he'd shown some concern for Bandana Dee, even though it wasn't a lot…

Bandana Dee fiddled with the edge of the sheets. "Do you think Kirby got angry?"

The question caught Haddle by surprise, clearly. He tilted his head. "Why on Pop Star would he be? We just won a big battle."

"We did, but… he kind of advised me not to overuse my wrist, too." Haddle was giving Bandana Dee an I-told-you-so face. Bandana Dee didn't even need to look at Haddle to know that. "I did anyway. Do you think he'll be angry?"

"Why would he be angry about it?"

"You're angry about it," Bandana Dee replied, although he knew Haddle was very much not angry about it.

Haddle narrowed his eyes. Maybe he noticed Bandana Dee was trying to goad him into saying no I'm not. "He and I are two completely different beings. You can't compare people like that."

And Haddle was right. Not only that, comparisons between people just left a lot of negative emotions laying around behind. It was never a good idea.

Bandana Dee just shrugged.

"Besides," Haddle continued, like he still had to defend himself, "I don't think Kirby's capable of getting angry."

"That's true." Bandana Dee stared up at the white ceiling for a few moments. His neck cramped up in protest, so he lowered his head again. Ouch. He was getting stiff. "No, actually. That's not true."

Haddle scoffed. "Which is it?"

"I think he did before. Get angry."

"Can't imagine it."

That was one thing that had always bugged Bandana Dee ever since it happened – when Bandana Dee had insisted on chasing Meta Knight even after Kirby had very clearly dubbed it pointless. It'd been a very brief moment and Kirby only opposed him for less than a minute, and then they never brought it up again, and Bandana Dee was guiltily relieved they didn't because his decision blew half of Kabula up and a hole in the wall. He had brooded over it, and came to the conclusion, yes, Kirby had been annoyed. The way his expression changed like a light switch that had been flicked off – it was more impressionable than Bandana Dee thought.

But it was strange to become irritated over something like that, especially when Kirby had never expressed any emotion that was remotely negative before. Now that the entire castle wasn't at stake and Bandana Dee was in a bed, albeit uncomfortable, smaller things like that began to nag at him again. Maybe he'd been under pressure and the irritation got to him easily? Maybe he didn't like it when things were out of his expectations.

Maybe Bandana Dee was just blowing this out of proportion.

He turned, wincing as his back ached as he did so, pushed the sheets off him and with the anchoring of his hands, swung his feet of the bed and hopped onto the floor. The stable ground felt welcoming to him.

Hopefully he wouldn't have to ride on Kabula, if it was ever completed. Hopefully and if.

"What, are you going off to find your manners?" Haddle scowled impatiently. Bandana Dee turned back to him with an apologetic smile. "We were talking."

"I know… Sorry." Ouch. His chest hurt a little. "Don't you have other patients?"

"No." Really? Haddle always had other patients. He was never free. "Everyone is injured after the battle, not sick, so the castle's actual medical forces were activated. They're taking care of most of it."

"Oh." Did he really not have any other patients, though?

Haddle tapped the rim of his clipboard with his pen. "So? Where did you plan on going to go?"

Bandana Dee chewed on the inside of his mouth. "...I wanted to see if I could find Kirby."

"Whatever for? You're not married to him, are you?"

"No, I'm not." He just… had a lot to say. Thank you, I'm sorry… how are you doing..? "I want to… There's a lot to talk about, now that everything's settled down."

Haddle tilted his head backwards. "It can wait, can't it?"

Bandana Dee breathed out loud enough for Haddle to hear. Ouch, yes, his chest did hurt a little. Or very much. He couldn't even tell anymore. His lungs hurt to breathe, but it felt more like a dull ache than anything else. It probably wasn't a problem, but he clearly hadn't fully recovered from the fight yet.

"Well…" He edged around the bed and leaned against the mattress for support. The cotton was cooling. "I want to try being his friend."

Evidently, Haddle was not expecting to hear that. It showed on his face, that blank-eyed expression. "You're already his friend, you dimwit."

"I'm not," Bandana Dee sighed. He could understand if Haddle didn't get it. Pressing a hand to his chest and hoping he was subtle about it, he explained, "We've just been comrades or allies. The whole time we were working together, Kirby knew about Meta Knight and was plotting a counter against Meta Knight's ploy, so… I've supported him. As a comrade. Not a friend. I know I can trust him, but I don't know the first thing about him."

No – he had never truly known Kirby. The most they had between them was comradeship. Kirby wasn't by any means a bad person, but to some degree it felt like he hadn't… warmed up to anybody. Bandana Dee wanted to try being friends with him – and he would try. Kirby had already put in so much to save their castle; it was Bandana Dee's turn to make an effort.

Haddle's expression did not change. "So you want to make friends with him?"

"You don't like him?"

"He tries to eat my equipment. No."

Bandana Dee laughed softly. It was more likely Haddle didn't feel inclined to tolerate Kirby's strange behaviour patterns rather than actually disliking him. Haddle wasn't that petty.

"Anyway," Haddle continued without leaving gap for Bandana Dee to talk, "lie back down."

Bandana Dee stiffened, smile vanishing. "But – "

"You're not well." And before Bandana Dee could interject: "Nobody who's well grabs at their lungs like that. You clearly need to rest more. You can have a long chit-chat with that pink ball later."

"But I'm fine," Bandana Dee protested, but he still scooted back towards the bed and clambered back on it. Little point arguing with Haddle. And he'd already mistreated his wrist, so he shouldn't go around mistreating the rest of his functional body parts, either.

Haddle stood up and slid the clipboard onto a table outside of the curtain, reversing his grip on the pen. Bandana Dee had thought so when he first saw the doctor, but now he was sure. Haddle did look tired. The bags under his eyes were more prominent than before, darker and rounder, and the snarky fire in his eyes was missing. Even if the castle's medical force was activated, he was still being overworked. Bandana Dee's guess was that he had lied about not having any remaining patients. He probably still did.

And yet he took the time to talk to him.

Bandana Dee swallowed.

"Thanks, Haddle."

His reaction was funny. Weird type of funny. Haddle stared at him, then shrugged. "Whatever."

Then a short silence, then Haddle mumbled something quick, then strode away immediately like he hoped Bandana Dee didn't hear it at all.

A crooked smile broke out on Bandana Dee's face and he crawled under the sheets again. It was the same bed, but it felt a million times more comfortable than it had just been. That was right; they had won, and he was alive. That was all that mattered right then. He could worry about everything else later. The whole ordeal had lifted. Everything that hadn't made sense from the past two weeks had been resolved. It was like a huge weight in his mind that he hadn't even known was there had gone away. Now it was just time for some well-deserved rest.

"Welcome back."

It was weird that there was such a place in the castle where all the noisy commotions from above in the actual castle and below in the Minion Hallways existed, but now Meta knew it did. Coming from an ex-knight who served in the castle long enough to be a veteran, it sounded stupid, but upon reflection, he had only visited the jail cells once or twice during his knighthood.

And that's why he hadn't noticed the cells were so disgusting, he supposed. The floors and walls were grimy and cold, there were stains splattered every few inches of the cubicle, and three, unsettling large scratch marks on one of the walls like they had contained some beast in there at some point. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead, and the inconsistency of light was giving him a headache. He couldn't even move anywhere in there without getting some slime on him. (He hoped it was slime. The cell was clearly left unattended for years and he didn't know what impurities had compiled in there.) Of course the cells would be so neglected. No surprise, seeing exactly who was on the throne at that point in time. Worse still, they'd confiscated his torn cape so he couldn't even use it as a shield against the chilly and unhygienic surfaces.

At the very least, he still had his mask. When he woke up inside the cell, the first thing he noticed was that his mask had been wrenched away from him and he spent hours demanding for it back. Anyone could tell the waddle dees on guard were disturbed – disturbed to see their once highly regarded knight act so savagely, Meta spitefully thought – and they held their ground for a good while before hesitantly returning it to him, after checking it was just a simple mask made of metal with nothing that could assist in an escape. If there was anything notable about waddle dees that Meta had to point out, it was their ability to empathise that was beyond the comprehension of any other creature. Admittedly, Meta never appreciated it before. Not until then.

He was in a cell being monitored by waddle dees he had once commanded, at their complete mercy. How pathetic.

He was pathetic.

He leaned against the wall, numb to how it gave him goosebumps, and started counting how many times the light flickered on and off within sixty seconds.

One, two, three –

Ah, he was already bored. There was absolutely nothing to do. There weren't any prisoners apart from him; the castle never kept prisoners, not for long. Well, even if there were, he would refuse to speak to them. They'd just laugh and mock at his failure. And he couldn't, anyway. His throat was parched.

His eyes fell on the tray that had been slipped through a tiny slit in the bars, just small enough for a tray with food on it to pass through. A waddle dee had brought it in and pushed the food into the cell. How long ago was that? As if he knew. There wasn't a clock around that he could see. He didn't have a watch. Even if he did, they would've taken it away. Regardless, he knew it'd been hours since the battle ended, maybe even a day. His stomach was rumbling and his throat was dry.

On the tray, a sandwich made of something he didn't bother to check and a disposable cup of water lay.

They remained untouched.

Yes, he was hungry… and thirsty. Yes, it would be a good idea to ingest those. But no, he would not. That was like accepting their sympathy. He didn't need any of that. It would be better for him to die and be done with it. Prolonging any of this was just a waste of time. Food and water were just hindrances now.

Why wasn't he already dead? First they chose to save him – ah, maybe they wanted to spare his life for public execution. Castle Dedede had never done such a thing before, but they certainly could start now. Meta sucked in his spit and slid down against the wall. Befitting. He was a high-ranked knight who betrayed them all in pursuit for the crown himself. He'd even roped in unassuming minions and coaxed them to join his cause. They would think he deserved it. Yes, that made sense. Just a countdown to a closer death. Lovely.

Soon he was lying on the floor. The waddle dees were staring at him, he knew. He didn't care. He was so tired. But he couldn't fall asleep no matter how long he closed his eyes.

Because it kept bothering him.

Where had he gone wrong?

He'd plotted it for years. He started working in the castle for that very reason. Everything he'd done was to seize the throne himself. Years of putting on a noble act, years of days where he studied up on books to achieve his goal – sleepless nights, heavy days he continuously pushed through. Taking precautions to eliminate the slightest threat that appeared. Nerve-wracking moments where he had to improvise on the spot so he wouldn't get caught. Years, it been years, and yet –

Why? What had he done wrong? All he wanted to do was replace Dream Land's ruler with a more capable one – himself. It sounded pretentious. Maybe he wouldn't be the best ruler out there. But whatever it was, it was better than – it had to be better than the king right now. All that fat penguin did was sit on his throne and watch some dated television program and no one could deny it. He didn't care for the village or anything that happened outside of his throne room! Reports from the village went uncared of, not for weeks, not for months, not for years but forever! He probably wouldn't even care if the village crumbled! How exactly was it fair? To anyone? All he had was his birthright, simply because he'd been fortunately born into royalty. He never truly deserved it.

Never mind not being an apt ruler – Meta wouldn't have even given revolution a second thought if the king actually cared. Even if he was running the kingdom poorly, as long as he had the spirit to do his best and try to fix what he had to, then Meta would be more than willing to help him, instead of flat-out overthrowing him. But there wasn't any of that. None at all. The king was just selfish. Meta hated him. He hated him, he hated him, he hated him

Hot liquid trailed down his face. He almost choked.

That hadn't happened to him in years.

He reached under his mask and rubbed them away furiously.

It was his fault he'd lost. He thought he could win, even after that pink puffball Kirby showed up, he knew Kirby was a threat but somehow, for some reason, he thought he could deal with the newfound problem. Stupid. (Who was stupid?) It was because of Kirby that he lost, but it wasn't Kirby's fault he lost. It was only his own fault he lost.

He just wasn't competent enough. He wasn't good enough. As usual.

That was why.

Meta squeezed his fist.

He hardly trusted anyone? "That's why you'll lose." No, it wasn't, it didn't work that way. He did trust his subordinates, he did, it was just – if he didn't do it to his utmost best, then he'd regret it later. That's why he had to do his best, if he relied on others again and failed again it would do no good, he just had to try, try and do his –

He'd done his best and he'd still lost.

The air smelled stagnant.

His best just wasn't enough.

He was tired. He wanted to sleep.


"...Er, Meta?"

Meta cracked his eyes open. He didn't even know when he had closed them. The lighting was horrible, but he would recognise that damned form anywhere. Oh. Lovely.

Everyone must be ragged and worn out from the battle… ah, everyone who participated. The king looked as hearty as ever. He probably just got up from the throne after an hour-long snack rest.

Why, if it isn't His Majesty, Meta wanted to spit, but his throat only cracked. Begrudgingly, he crawled over to where the tray was, picked up the glass of water, and downed it in one gulp.

An awkward laugh from Dedede, who stood not directly in front of the cage, but to the side. "You… y'must be thirsty."

As if that wasn't sinfully obvious.

"If you need more water…"

"I do not," Meta cut in firmly, standing up to meet Dedede, despite their perennial height difference. He hated that he couldn't look intimidating. He couldn't even change that. It was just the way he was born. Behind his mask, his mouth opened, but amongst a sandstorm of words he could say, he couldn't choose. His voice didn't come out.

Dedede just nodded. Dumbly, like he wasn't sure what he was doing. But he never knew what he was doing. "I – "

"Just say what you need to say and be done with it," Meta hissed. He considered slamming the cup down, but it was plastic and wouldn't have any menacing effect anyway. He put it back onto the tray. "I do not need you to prolong this."

Wasn't it easy to say? Eternal imprisonment, public execution… what other forms of punishment were there? Meta didn't know. No one had gone against the castle hard enough for punishment to be inflicted, not that he knew of. And it wasn't relevant. He had lost. This would only determine his ending.

Why did the king still seem so nervous? Was he still intimidated by Meta, even though the latter was weaponless and behind bars? No wonder he wasn't acting all cocky. He truly wasn't meant to be a king. It was never for him. Nothing admirable to respect, no leadership skills to follow. Haha. Ha…

Meta sunk back. He was the one who'd lost, not that undesirable king.

I don't really want to die.

It wasn't his choice anymore, though.

Dedede cleared his throat, shaking Meta back to reality. "Ehem… I should remind you of your… position." The way he stumbled over his words was just so stupid. "You are the prisoner here."

"I have noticed." What else was he going to point out? How horribly maintained the cells were? Anybody with a pair of working eyes would know that.

"But I'll be quick about it, since… since y'said so." Oh, the king was finally listening to him? Now, of all times? Joy. "I'm sorry."

Meta froze.

Out of a million things Dedede could have said, that was… not something Meta had expected.

Then the gears in his head stopped turning and he stared at the king blankly, completely thoughtless, as Dedede continued to ramble on.

"I'm sorry I gotta keep you in there for this long, but castle's a mess and it's difficult ta dump you anywhere else. Once we're done… solving… everything, we'll have a proper talk. Promise." Dedede was chewing on the bottom of his beak. "I'm sorry I can't return you your stuff right now. I will, once we're done talking. I promise that one, too."


Dedede looked surprised. "What?"

Meta's snark swung back into action, never mind the fact it was unneeded in this situation. "We're going to have a talk? A talk about what?"

"A-About what y'gonna do next, obviously!"

Meta couldn't believe it. "Are you even hearing yourself?"

Dedede scoffed in an exaggerated attempt to look unbothered. "Look, I 'unno if you wanna continue being a knight or anythin' like that, okay?" Bandana Dee had once said the king slurred his words when he was nervous. Now Meta understood. "If you don't wanna, then we gotta work something out so… so everything works out. That's why we gotta talk!"

Was he serious?

Was he serious?

"You are pulling my leg," Meta said flatly.

And Dedede, predictably, just looked confused. "I ain't even touching you, Meta. I can't be pulling your leg."

"You are saying you would consider letting me back into the workforce, and as a knight, no less?"

"Erm…" Now the king stopped to think. Only now. "Maybe not as a knight. That's kinda complicated. That's why we gotta talk. But if you really wanna, we can arrange for you to continue worki – "

"You're considering that after all I've done?" Dedede wanted to reply. Meta didn't let him. "You listen. And listen well. Do you know why I chose to work in the castle when I clearly would have gotten better pay as a mercenary or anything else?" A shake of the head. Obviously he didn't… "Because this was my plan. From the very beginning. I never wanted to work for you and serve as your loyal knight. I was after your gaudy throne from even before you knew of my existence. All this time I plotted against you and planned to betray you. I deliberately didn't deliver some reports, I deliberately caused a ruckus in the village so they would grow a grudge against you. I spent my entire time here building a battleship for the sake of bringing your reign to an end. A battleship, Your Extreme Majesty, is not easy to make. I even made all the trouble of befriending a village outside of your control so I could dock the battleship there, out of your radar. Did you know that?"

Well, did he?

Dedede blinked, as if confirming whether Meta was done or not. The waddle dees on guard duty looked dazed from his long rant.

"I knew that."

Painfully, Meta drew in a sharp breath. This king was hopeless.

"...That pink lump," Dedede began to explain, "I met him just now. He gave me a brief rundown of all those… and a few others. Sure, he didn't tell me everything, and I didn't know you docked your ship in a village outside of Dream Land, but mostly everything else. Yeah, I do know that."

"No, you don't," Meta quietly muttered. He was denying it just for the sake of denying something.

"And I still don't mind if you want to come back into the castle's workforce."


"'Cause, you know…" No, he didn't know. Even Dedede sounded unsure about his own words. "At first, I was pissed, believe me, that you up and betrayed us. And at that time, I never had any plans to let you back in to work here. But I cooled down afterwards and… well, y'know, thought 'bout it. Maybe you ain't such a bad person. That's what I thought."

This was starting to get uncomfortable. Meta looked down at the sandwich and pretended to pick at its crumbs with disinterest. "And how, pray tell, did you jump to that conclusion?" His face still felt sticky from before. It was hard to wipe his face, with the mask – but he was eternally grateful he had it on at that moment.

"I thought about it – " Dedede abruptly paused, and maybe decided that that wasn't a good enough of an answer. "We… Actually, the soldiers captured some of your minions back from the ship for questioning."

"Question what?" For protocol, Meta knew, even if it absolutely wasn't necessary. He just felt like edging on the king.

"I – look, I dunno, okay? We just did." Meta rolled his eyes. "One of 'em was a red bio spark." Ah, Ragnus. His skills had been undeveloped, but he had talent. Give him a couple more years, and he would've been a formidable enemy on his own. Did he have the choice to anymore, though? "He wouldn't tell us anything, if you wanna know. Nothing that we asked him about. But he did say that he respected you tons, and he tried to be like you and act like you and whatever. That's why, when you asked him to join you, he was scared, that guy, but he agreed to help you anyway."

Meta rolled a bread crumb into a squishy ball between his hands.

He remembered when Bandana Dee was carrying out orientation and he'd slipped in, while Bandana Dee was busy, to recruit some of the recruits into his cause… well, recruiting one recruit was his aim. Ragnus had caught his eye since day one. And of course he remembered the wavering fear in his eyes, and Meta had been prepared to silence him if he refused – no one could know about Meta's plan, after all, but the bio spark had agreed in the end. It surprised him. Of course he remembered.

But. "What's your point? You are stating things that I already know because I experienced those myself."

Dedede sighed. He wasn't annoyed at Meta's lack of understanding, was he? He'd done a horrible job at explaining.

"He said that he wouldn't tell us anything 'cause he didn't want to 'betray his loyalty' or something. We didn't need any info anyway." Meta scrunched his face at Dedede's words. They didn't need anything from any of his allies or him post-battle – that was a sign he'd been utterly crushed. Still, he appreciated Ragnus' sentiment, no matter how much of it was in vain. "Dude respected you."

"You have told me that already."

"Yeah. And t'me, if he could respect you, then you can't be all thatta a bad person."

"That does not make any sense. I could be an awful person, and he simply could have respected awful people. You lack decent judgement." It was almost like Meta was trying to put away Dedede's offering of forgiveness. He didn't need any pity.

"I thought about that too," Dedede protested. "But I couldn't… I think y'could say it wasn't my place to decide that yet. I barely even know you. Y'know – " A hesitant, abrupt pause. "I overheard that pink lump and Bandana talking a short while after you turned on us. Kirby told Bandana he didn't look shocked about your betrayal. You know what Bandana said?"

How was he supposed to know? He wasn't there. But instead of riposting with that, Meta stayed quiet.

And Dedede correctly chose to continue without an answer. "Because you were never close to anyone. That's why it was a bit of a shock, but most of 'em weren't too badly affected by it. No one trusted you completely because you never opened up to anybody."

Was he – was he lecturing Meta now about his past habits now that he was behind bars and Dedede had all the means to talk down on him? "Oh, opening up was in a knight's job description? I wasn't aware – "

"No, it's not." Dedede looked so… solemn that it felt unreal. "That's another reason why I said I was sorry, just now. I am sorry. Maybe I shoulda made an effort to get to know you better… or something. It's my fault."

Meta shrunk back. The floor was pleasant to look at now, for some reason.

He could see the shadows of the waddle dees. They were shifting their weight from foot to foot. The king? He didn't even look in Dedede's direction.

No – why was there any feeling of the need to get to know each other? That was unprofessional. They had an employer-employee relationship. Meta did his job, and the king paid him to do his job. There was no need to become friendly with each other. And it had always been better that they hadn't. Opening up was opening up his weaknesses, plain for others to see – he could not stand that. He couldn't stand that, but –

Maybe because Meta didn't say anything, Dedede awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, turning. "I'll… I'll talk with you later, then." Then he returned up the staircase. To Meta, it looked like the king's robe rippled more than usual.

The waddle dees on guard stepped back to guard the steps.

Meta scooted backwards and turned away from outside his cell. Nuisance of a king. Wasting his own time and wasting Meta's time. To top it off, at the end of the conversation Meta hadn't gained anything but partial knowledge and he was still stuck in a miserable cubicle with none of his belongings and no shot of escaping and a couple of silent-as-statues dees as company.

He pretended the room didn't feel a little less darker.

"Sixty-three, sixty-four, sixty-five…"

Even at a glance, Bandana Dee already knew the batch of recruits was much larger than it usually was. Well. It probably had something to do with that whole fiasco a few months back, where Sir – er, Meta tried to usurp the throne. Right after that, the villagers had rioted a little, but then their quality of life suddenly shot up thanks to the castle's sudden excellent management of the village, and they all quietened down.

Heck, some of them had been deluded by that into thinking that the castle was a fantastic place to work in. Bandana Dee hoped that wasn't the case. Many things had changed. The castle's working conditions was not one of them. Unfortunately.

"Seventy-seven… seventy-seven are present." Then Bandana Dee recounted them all quickly, scribbling down his tallies with a pencil and rechecking for the third time that there were indeed seventy-seven of them. Phew. It'd be trouble if he'd counted wrongly. He nodded to the burning leo next to him. The burning leo was a junior minion of his, training to be the next… trainer of the recruits. Training the trainer. Wasn't that a bit funny? Oh, Bandana Dee was nervous being in front of so many people and he was letting his thoughts run much too far. Oops. Oops. Wait, he had to pay attention. What was he going to say again? Oh, right!

The burning leo interjected before Bandana Dee could speak. "So… all the recruits are present?"

Bandana Dee nodded again. Was he nodding too much? No, right? "Yes, they all are. You can start with the opening speech."

"Oh. But…" But? But? Ah, he knew he had forgotten something! Or he missed something. Bandana Dee wanted to fret with his bandana. "Not all the senior workers are here yet. Since they're helping out, I think it'd be a better idea to wait for all of them to arrive."

As if on cue, Bandana Dee's eyes fell on the sole empty chair, in between Scarlet and Midori. Inwardly, he gurgled at himself for not noticing earlier.

"R… Right," he said dumbly.

He'd just screwed up in front of his junior. He hadn't looked too dumb, right? Hopefully not. First impressions were important. Hopefully the recruits hadn't even been looking. By experience, the burning leo wasn't very judgemental, but maybe he secretly was. It was always the quiet ones. ...Oh, the burning leo wasn't very quiet, though. Did that mean he was safe?

He fidgeted for the next few minutes.

The burning leo looked increasingly impatient.

"I know I said we should wait, but should we go ahead with the program?" he asked. Bandana Dee blinked blankly with a half-smile, not computing. "We are twenty minutes overtime."

"That's…" True. "Okay. We'll start." Bandana Dee stepped up to the microphone. "We're terribly sorry for the delay, but – "

"Wait! Hold on! I'm here! I'm late but I'm here!"

A pink blur balled onto the stage, rolling right into the burning leo, who stumbled upon impact, but ultimately winced and supported the pink puffball in standing up. Kirby smiled brightly like he hadn't done anything wrong, although his eyes had a cheeky, sparkling gleam to it.

Bandana Dee wasn't ruffled in the least, surprisingly. "Kirby… you're twenty minutes late."

"Sorry," Kirby chirped, looking characteristically unapologetic. "I got lost. Big castle."

The burning leo stepped aside, looking a tiny bit miffed but nothing more. He was quite professional but not stone-like, in that sense.

Bandana Dee rubbed one of his eyes. "You've been working here for seven months."

"Big castle."

All right.

Bandana Dee gestured to the empty seat reserved for Kirby, in between Scarlet and Midori. "Okay. You can have a seat first, for the time being – "

Kirby hopped up on his toes and bounced on them. "I thought I was gonna do something! What did I come here for, then?"

If this was the first time Bandana Dee had met Kirby, he would've been atrociously horrified that Kirby came down to do a job he didn't even know the details of. It was part of his schedule and he'd been briefed about it. Except it was not Bandana Dee's first time meeting Kirby, and he was already used to it.

"You're here to make a small speech and give advice to the recruits as a senior." Probably not a very good idea for Kirby, but it hadn't been Bandana Dee's suggestion. It had been at Marx's stubborn insistence.

Kirby tilted his head. "Now?"

He'd really never change. "No, um, later. We're supposed to do introductions first, so sit down for now and – "

Kirby beamed. "Introductions?" Then he jumped up to the standing mic and hollered into it.

"I'm Kirby! Nice to meetcha."

3 March 2019

It was an epilogue of dialogues. Diaepilogue.

Sorry. I said I'd finish this in mid-January... uh, that didn't happen, clearly. In fact, Prodigal Pink is almost a year old. Ummm. Well - just for posterity, according to Google Docs, this chapter has 11870 words, not counting this A/N and all, since, y'know, I'm writing it now. On the FFN doc editor. Yippee for 11k almost 12k! The lag was awful. Also, I'm sorry. I rushed the last portion a bit because I really wanted to get the chapter out.

Yes, Magolor's jazz about ships and their prefixes is a real thing and I came up with it because I played too much Azur Lane at that time I came up with the idea. I'm not playing it anymore, though I miss my shipfus.

Okay, that aside... here we are. At the end. There are a lot of things I want to say, so I'm not sure where to begin, and as a forewarning it's probably going to be quite a long A/N. Cut me some slack; this might is the last time you'll hear me grousing.

I'll just come out and dump it as it is: I'm pretty sure I came up with the idea and started writing Prodigal Pink during the same biology class. Yes, I thought about it and then ten minutes after I was chuting out chapter one. Yes, this basically means that I didn't plot anything, I only knew my beginning and that Meta was going to be a traitor and they were going to trounce him at the end, and I completely bluffed my way through the middle. So if the chapters seem disjointed: they are. If they don't, then I've done a good job at bluffing, I guess. I also can't tell how seamless or seam-ful it is.

I mean, of course the plot points weren't all just very nice coincidences. I did intend for all the plot points to twist into Meta is the traitor, but what I mean is I probably only planned it the chapter it was written or the chapter before. At chapter one, I had no idea I was going to write all of that - that's what I mean.

Including that whole colour blind thing. Which had a really good reception, by the way. I was really happy most of you liked it. I put a lot of dumb world-building into this story - so I'm horribly sad to see it end and I wish I had put more effort and seriousness into it. I'm not sure how good you think Prodigal Pink is. I think it's fairly decent, but it definitely could've worked with some improvements and I know it could've, especially because I didn't give it my 100%. I regret that, but there's actually nothing I can do to help that. 2018 was not a good year for me to start writing such an ambitious fic, because of my whole national exams and whatnot, but I did, so... the quality suffered a bit. I'm upset. It's upsetting, but that's how it is.

Speaking of the national exams, let me brag a bit? I did well and I'm super happy about it. Even though a good portion of Prodigal Pink was written during my classes. Phew.

Gee, I'm barely done with this A/N and it's this long. How long-winded am I..

And now I forgot what I was going to say. I wrote Prodigal Pink with the intention of writing a story that 1. had an end, since completed multi-chaptered fics on the Kirby archive are few and far between, and 2. updated consistently and frequently. I achieved the first, the second... er, at first, yes. Afterwards... well.

I guess I should talk about the characters. But if I talk about everything I had in mind while writing each of them, we'd be here forever, so I'll just gloss over some parts I want to mention.

One of the most striking things is that Bandana Dee is probably relatable to some degree to a lot of people. I wrote every character and tried to keep them as fictional characters but with as much realism as I could while still keeping them as characters, but if I had to say Bandana Dee is probably the most realistic and Kirby is the least. Bandana Dee is a ball of anxiety but that's not all he is; he wants to look after people well and takes his position as a leader seriously. When he's around people he's comfortable with, he can even get a bit playful. Because people usually aren't defined just by one trait. Right?

Kirby... I hesitate to say he's unrealistic, but maybe he is. I think one of the most unrealistic things about him is his awfully high tier confidence. You need more than a truckload of confidence to pull off such a plan. We can all only hope to aspire to be as confident as he.

There are actually many things about Kirby I want to talk about, but I guess you should make your own opinions of him. The story is quite literally mainly about him, amongst others.

Every character has their own background and backstory that's just never written in Prodigal Pink. I told you, I put too much thought into world-building and it's all gone to waste.

Another thing: the story is told in POVs. They're the characters' opinions, not mine. There are actually a few bits I disagree with the narrating character's views. Take this epilogue's scene with Dedede and Meta as an example - I disagree with Dedede's decision, too. While I'm not sure if I would've sent Meta to the death row immediately, I definitely wouldn't even have been half as forgiving. But that's how I was writing Dedede, you know? Huge, naive dolt with a heart just as big.

Okay, that's enough about the story, I should think. There's definitely something I've forgotten to write down, but that can't be helped.

Now, people normally do this at the start of the A/N, but - thank you so much for all your support. Yes, every one of you. I'm grateful to everyone who's left a review, fav, follow, or even those ghosts who followed the story without interacting with it at all. I'm sure I only completed Prodigal Pink because I had so many people's support. I really can't say it enough. Thank you so much!

Honourable mentions to Jet Engine, who reviewed basically every chapter within one or two days of the chapter's release - thank you tons. And to Destiny Willowleaf for supporting me for, what, almost six years? I don't think I've ever told you this before, but I appreciate you. And to Denizen of Dreamland! You came in halfway, but you wrote really long reviews every time and they made me really glad someone liked this story so much. You're so sweet. Thank you!

I withheld from responding to reviews for the most part as the story was ongoing now, but I'll probably reply to them over PM now. Except guest reviews. :v To guests - don't worry, I read every single review and I'm grateful for you too.

I complained about the process a bit but the truth is, I'm satisfied with how Prodigal Pink turned out and it's saddening, but I'm also glad it's completed. I really don't know what to say to thank you all - I'm an author, but I can't put it into words... how funny. You've been that much of a great audience.

Well, with all that said, it's time to say goodbye, for now. Hopefully I'll see you guys again!