A/N: The lovely cover art for this story is by warpy, a fellow fanfiction writer, troper, and avid stargazer. Thanks warpy :D Check out her other artwork as well!
Story is in GIJINKA, which means the characters are HUMAN. Stop asking.
Everyone knew it was not safe to cross the borders of their peaceful town, for Dreamland housed the legendary Star Rod, which protected the villagers from the plague of nightmares and demons. However, its protection extended no further than their borders, and there was no knowing what might lay beyond their safe haven.
Some too curious children had questioned this law. They had looked out to the horizon, thinking to themselves that the outside world did not appear so much different than their own home. Peaceful valleys, green forests, and clear blue skies were tempting, not threatening, and inspired curiosity rather than fear. They thought, surely it couldn't any more dangerous than their village, which looked so alike? But those children that left never did return home, and no one dared to venture after them.
Only one person truly knew of the outside world. He would have been bombarded with questions, had his aura not been half so intimidating. Dark clothes always shrouded his figure, and a deep purple cape was customarily wrapped around his body. Furthermore, the stranger never went anywhere without wearing his black shoulder armor or without his gleaming gold broadsword at his side. His face had never even been seen by any of the villagers, for a cold silver mask perpetually covered it, and only his slit-like yellowish eyes glinted through the V-cut. Those eyes had the chilling habit of glaring as though reading your soul and finding themselves displeased with the result.
His arrival happened sixteen years previous, when he stalked through the gates like an unholy storm, seemingly driven by some unknown destiny for a purpose beyond their knowledge. Had the villagers not been so awestruck and frightened by the bold entry of a stranger from the outside, they might have found it amusing to see such a dark character prowl up the streets with a small pink bundle clutched protectively in his arms. As it was, they could only stare and back away from his path as he advanced on the castle like a man possessed.
It would be days before the villagers learned of the circumstances that then transpired: the man entered the castle and demanded a position as a knight, which was promptly given to him: even the gluttonous king couldn't deny it would be much better to have such a figure as an ally rather than an enemy.
For sixteen years, he uttered not a word of the outside world. Few dared speak to him at all, and those that did rapidly learned it was a topic he preferred to ignore. Even the child he had brought with him remained frustratingly oblivious, until the very day that child, now a teenager, stood by the gates...
Stood by the Dreamland's gates, sword at his own side, and prepared to cross the border himself.
A harsh cry rang through the hallways of the castle late that night, long after the sun fell but long before it would rise. When it sounded a second time, Fumu snapped awake. She sat up in bed, trying to rub the sleep from her green eyes. In the adjoining rooms, she could hear the unmistakeable shuffling of her family members getting up as well.
Thankfully, there was no movement from the bed against the opposite wall. The only sign of her brother was the bluish green tips of his messy hair sticking out from a bundle of blankets. Good - he needn't lose any more sleep over this.
Fumu hurried over to her dresser and picked out a simple band to tie up her own long dirty blonde hair. No time for neatly combing it back, or even changing from her baggy pink pajamas - everyone else would be similarly dressed, anyway.
She quietly closed the door behind her and tiptoed to the living room, where both her parents were already waiting. They looked just as exhausted as she.
"Do you know who is it?" she implored, though she knew they wouldn't. The Cabinet Minister and Memu shook their heads in response, and all three slipped out into the castle hallway.
The unnatural, terrified shriek was not repeated, and they found themselves standing cluelessly in the dark hallway without any idea where it had originated.
"Oh, this is so worrisome," Memu stressed. "It could be anyone, and we don't know!"
Parm, meanwhile, made an effort to look both directions in the hopes that one would somehow give him a signal which way he should take. "I think it came from the left... or maybe it was the right..."
"We can't see anything this darkness. King Dedede does need to turn on some lights," said Memu anxiously.
"Hmm..." Fumu took a step forward, when two glowing golden eyes appeared with eerie abruptness in front of her. She yelped and jumped back. "Sir Meta Knight!"
"My apologies, Fumu-san," he replied smoothly. "I take it you heard the cry?"
"Yes, do you know-?"
"I suspect it is Captain Doo. Hurry; we must get there quickly." He spun on his heel and stalked down the hallway, cape fluttering after him.
Fumu hastened after him, knowing that if she fell behind he would not be likely to wait for her, and with the hallways so dark, she certainly didn't want to get lost.
She faithfully followed the sound of his footsteps and rippling cape, often checking to make sure her anxious parents were following along as well.
Dim light began to filter into the darkness as they approached a lit portion of the hallway - the servant's quarters. A new, hideously distorted scream rent the air. The chilling sound could be felt in one's bones, and made Fumu shudder as freshly as the first time she had heard it. The scream gradually tapered off to a choked whimper. Over their footsteps, Fumu could at last hear the panicked voices of the multitude of the servants.
They rounded another corner, and the scene opened up to them. Perhaps hundreds of the servants were gathered in the hallways, crowding into each other, whispering, and adding to the general chaos. By requirement, they all wore simple faded orange pajamas that were often too big for them. Packed so closely together, they made a sea of orange.
"Clear a path!" Meta Knight's deep voice commanded over the servants. They jumped and muttered, but recognizing the knight's voice, backed away without question. With their backs pressed tightly against the wall, it was an easier matter to push through them and enter Captain Doo's room.
Fumu skirted around Meta Knight to peer into the room. Meanwhile, her parents went about the business of calming the nervous servants in the hall.
The Captain himself lay in his bed, drenched in so much sweat that his dark brown hair was slicked to his forehead. Though his eyes were clenched shut, she could still see how rapidly they moved underneath his eyelids. Two faithful servants were at his side, trying to hold down his arms.
Their efforts were hardly successful, as he thrashed and moaned and fought their grips wildly. As if something wholly demonic and monstrous had taken command of his limbs, he expended all his energy to blindly fight off his own comrades.
Meta Knight swept up to his bedside, shooing the young servants away. Immediately Captain Doo let out another hideous, wrenching scream. The knight seized his shoulders and shook him roughly. "Captain! Captain, wake up!"
"Ah, don't hurt him," Fumu squeaked.
Teeth clenched, Doo blindly clenched his fingers around Meta Knight's wrists and dug his nails in deep.
Only by twisting his wrists could Meta Knight free himself, and then Captain Doo clawed at the air like a possessed animal.
Meta Knight drew back, glaring at the amassed servants with his fierce golden eyes. "Bring me a bucket of water."
A few made small 'eep!" noises and scurried around in the room cluelessly before Meta Knight demanded, "Now!"
They bolted from the room. It was all Meta Knight could do to hold down Captain Doo while they waited for water. Several times Meta Knight made attempts to wake up the captain, between calling out to him and shaking his shoulders. Nothing was successful.
After what seemed like hours, but truly only had been a minute or two, the servant rushed back in again. In his hands was a metal bucket so full of water that some had splashed down his front.
Meta Knight immediately seized the bucket and threw the water over the captain's face. It soaked his bedspread, clothes, and hair. For a single moment, those in the room thought that it had worked. His desperate thrashing stilled as his mind retreated from the nightmare. Yet still, it was unwilling to release him from its clutches.
His tense muscles never relaxed, and his eyes never opened. His teeth were clenched, and his body trembled uncontrollably. His face possessed the pallor of death. Their fear only mounted upon realizing he would not wake.
Then Meta Knight growled under his breath. He raised one white-gloved hand brought it sharply across Captain Doo's cheek, causing most of the other servants to jump in astonishment.
The captain's startled caramel-colored eyes at last snapped open. Like a marionette had released his bindings, Doo relaxed and lowered his hands. Slowly, he looked around the room and observed those watching him, quickly putting together the scene. Breathing out in relief and exhaustion, he leaned against the headboard. Color swiftly returned to his pale cheeks.
"Is there any chance you can remember what it was you were dreaming about?" Meta Knight pressed immediately, studying Doo with an inhuman intensity.
"A nightmare," Doo corrected, his voice hoarse from screaming. "Not a dream."
Instantly, a fellow servant drew close to him and muttered under his breath to his captain. Fumu watched this exchange with great curiosity, for despite the fact she lived in the castle, she still knew very little about the servants' enigmatic ways. They were short, pale and thin, always with large caramel eyes and messy hair. Their matching clothes made it impossible to tell them apart, and they never spoke English. Communicating solely with their leader, one never knew exactly what they were thinking or saying.
Captain Doo, however, understood the others' speech without a problem. In response to the servant, he nodded and smiled gratefully. "Y-yes, please."
The servant nodded and darted out of the room, brushing past Fumu without a side glance.
"A nightmare, then," Meta Knight corrected.
"Of my comrades," Captain Doo confessed. "It was my duty to protect them from some unknown danger, but..." he shuddered again.
"If it is any assurance, I know you would never fail them in life."
Another servant - or perhaps the same, Fumu couldn't tell - swept past her again, holding a cup of water. They had an unnatural ability to be extraordinarily quick when ordered by Doo. He carried it to Captain Doo's side and offered it.
"Ah, thank you." Doo accepted the cup and drank like a man dying of thirst. He handed it back empty, and the servant rushed off to fill it again. His eyes curved up to Meta Knight. "And thank you, sir. I owe my life to you."
Meta Knight gave a small nod and withdrew from the other's bedside, allowing the other servants to crowd up again and express worry for their leader. He slipped to the back of the room.
"This is the third this week," Fumu uttered. It had started a few months ago - around midnight, a villager had screamed out as though tortured. When others tried to wake them, the villager remained trapped in their nightmare. It was growing increasingly difficult to wake the sleepers, and the occurrences were becoming more and more frequent. Those that suffered from the nightmares recollected themselves reliving whatever they were most afraid of.
"Something must be done," replied Meta Knight calmly, though his appearance should've suggested the opposite. Though he had clearly changed into his usual outfit before coming, the left shoulder plate was slightly crooked. His black hair, usually immaculately knotted back, was now falling loosely over his mask and sticking up in various places. The dark tips just barely brushed over the slit in his mask. His cape hung down in a tired manner, matching his somewhat slumped shoulders - though as soon as Fumu thought this, she dismissed the thought. It was just a cape, and couldn't reflect his own tiredness.
"But what can we do?" said Fumu.
Meta Knight didn't reply immediately, appearing lost in thought. These pauses were something Fumu had grown used to - if he didn't immediately have a sufficient answer, he tended to not reply at all until one was found. She fiddled with the tips of her hair impatiently. "I just wish we knew what was causing these nightmares."
Fumu eyed him thoughtfully. "Unless... you have some idea?"
His regard flicked to the room behind him. The servants were still occupied over their leader - others were far too distracted to be noticing their conversation. In the hall, Memu and Parm were guiding more servants back to their rooms. His cleared his throat and murmured, "I believe the protection Dreamland has grown to rely upon is faltering. The Star Rod is not keeping us safe from the nightmares."
Horror overtook Fumu's expression. "The Star Rod isn't working anymore?"
"It still works - but for how long, I cannot say. Until we find out more about the source of this change, we need to delay the effects for as long as possible."
He had perhaps just said the most frightening thing Fumu had ever heard, for she had grown up knowing the same rule as the other children - the Star Rod kept them safe and alive, so long as you stayed within the borders. Yet he delivered the news in much the same way he would order at Kawaski's restaurant.
Though shocked, she felt foolish 'overreacting' in front of him like she wanted to. Instead, she tried to imitate his nonchalant attitude. "Y-you're right. So, what will we do?"
"Have you ever heard of the plant Narcao?"
"I've come across that in a book before... Isn't that some kind of medicine for sleeping?"
"Yes; the crushed leaves of a Narcao plant, if ingested, will bring a long, dreamless sleep. It may be exactly what we need."
"It's not native to Dreamland, though... Doctor Yabui might have some, but I doubt it would be enough."
Meta Knight looked surprised - or at least, as much as the knight was capable of looking surprised. "There should be no problem in getting it. I will send Kirby to retrieve a sufficient supply from beyond Dreamland's borders."