The sound of running water cut through the silence of the forest, adding noise to the coulisse of birds singing and the quiet rustle of small mammals. The source of the noise was a small brook, surrounded by thick bushes and lush, green grass. The flow of the water had been blocked downstream, causing it to flood the surrounding undergrowth. The blockade lay sprawled and unconscious in the streambed: A body.
Limp and soaked, with ribbons of blood forming around it, before the running water carried them away. A pair of feathered wings, once white and now grey from the water, lay bent under his form. The bushes on the banks were crushed and even the brook's pebble covered bed had a slight dip in it, a sign that the body had hit the ground with a lot of force.
A small bird landed on the fallen one's chest, on the platinum armor that was covered in dents and scratches. It hopped forward and carefully picked on the shoulder-long, dark pink hair that had fallen over the masked face, then moved on to the golden horns protruding from the warrior's head. A sudden twitch of the seemingly dead person startled the small animal and it flew off with a loud alarm call. The warrior twitched again. Subtle, barely noticeable. But his chest rose and fell steadily, an obvious sign he was alive after all.
His eyes opened with some difficulty, and he let out a small hiss, half from the brightness, half from the pain. He had to focus!
Moving seemed like an impossible task, and having both his clothes and wings soaked and heavy didn't make it any easier. At least he didn't seem to have broken any bones - or maybe they had healed already, he had always been one to recover fast. Slowly, very slowly and with his face distorted in a pained grimace, he braced both hands against the pebbles under him and, ignoring the unpleasant feeling of cold water and mud between his fingers, pushed himself into a sitting position.
His head spun and it took a lot of physical and mental strength not to just collapse again, but he managed. He looked his body over - the parts not covered by the armor had been bruised and cut, the armor itself showed obvious signs of abuse, too. Not good.
He scanned his surroundings: Trees, spaced far apart and their branches covered in thick, green foliage. Bushes and flowers growing under them in the lush, cool grass. Sunlight filtered through the leaves brightly. The air felt sweet and warm, almost suffocatingly dusty, too. As beautiful as the scenery was, he still sat in a brook, wounded and awfully vulnerable. He would have to do something about that.
Some of the water had dripped out of his wings and clothes by now, so it was a little easier to get up. He swayed and stumbled, dizziness filling his head and he just barely managed to grab a low-hanging branch of a nearby beech to lean on.
'Dammit,' he cursed silently.
It took almost five minutes - maybe longer, he couldn't be sure - for his head to stop spinning. Once he was sure he wouldn't fall again, he let go of the branch and stepped out of the brook. The sun had already begun to dry him and the warmth was a pleasant relief for his aching muscles. He needed to find a way to deal with his wounds though. Those wounds...
His memory was hazy, but he could recall being... immobilized of sorts, enclosed by something hard and cool. Then he was fighting, but that wasn't unusual. He fought a lot, he had to defend his title as the Greatest Warrior of the Universe. He froze, wings tense. If he was here like this...
A cold feeling of dread slowly grew in his belly and not even the hot sun could warm it: If he had lost a battle, he had lost his title. The king would reject him, his comrades would shun him, he would lose everything.
His head started to spin again, but he refused to let go of those worrying thoughts. He could... go and reclaim it, perhaps? If he found the new Greatest Warrior of the Universe, he could challenge them and take his title back. Yes. He would do that. And quick, before the message of his defeat reached his home.
A few confident steps later showed him that this wouldn't be so easy. He nearly doubled over in pain, head going light from blood loss again. He needed to get his injuries sorted out first. Once more he scanned his surroundings and found that only a few meters to his left, the trees seemed to thin out. Getting out of this forest would mean progress. With a careful, slow pace, he started walking.
Occasionally, he would have to grab branches or tree trunks, but all in all, this worked out better than he had thought. Then he reached the last tree.
In front of him lay a wide, open space of dry grass, criss crossed by dirt paths. His gaze found a village, houses that looked like they had huddled together at the foot of a small hill. And on top of that hill, a castle. The warrior almost sighed in relief. A castle meant knights. Knights following the code of chivalry meant he would find help. And as ungraceful as it might be for the former Greatest Warrior of the Universe to ask for assistance, he didn't wish to die from blood loss, alone in some woods far away from his home. He briefly considered the possibility that the knights on this planet might not follow the Code; he hadn't been here before, he couldn't be certain... Then his wings bristled and he pushed the thought aside.
His king had taken control of the majority of the universe and enforced the law that knights had to follow the Code. He nodded slightly to himself, then started walking. The sun burnt down on him, but at least it dried him. He felt thirsty soon, and tired also, but instead of taking the shorter way through the village, he walked around it and directly to the castle. One might call him foolish, but his already badly damaged pride wouldn't let him be seen publicly.
He reached the foot of the hill; a broad, sandy road led upwards. He paused for a moment to catch his breath; he had started sweating and a small voice in his head told him that the sun wasn't the only thing that caused it. He really didn't need a fever from an infected injury on top of it all now! But no, his pride wouldn't let him show weakness anyway; he forced his body to straighten, even lifting his wings a little, before he started to walk again.
The loose earth made crunching noises under his feet; grass hoppers chirped in the grass on both sides of the path. The warrior kept his gaze locked on his goal, the castle. He stumbled, head spinning once more, but something - his pride again, most likely - made him able to catch himself before he could fall. His vision swam with black dots. Just a little further now.
The draw-bridge came into sight. Conveniently, it hadn't been pulled up, so he could cross easily. The lack of guards puzzled him, but he decided that it wasn't his job to criticize how things were run around here. With his gaze set straight ahead, he continued walking. A fountain came into sight and on the grass around it, two boys were playing ball. Something about the smaller kid, one with light pink hair, seemed oddly fascinating to the warrior. But he had to focus on the matter at hand for now. Neither child paid him much mind and he proceeded.
"Hey, you there!," a voice called out.
He frowned at the unrespectful address and turned around. A girl glowered at him; she couldn't be older than ten or eleven, she was significantly smaller than him, yet didn't show any signs of being intimidated.
Instead, she looked up at him through her blonde bangs and asked: "What do you think you're doing here?"
The warrior's frown deepened, but he bit back an angry reply. In lieu thereof, he used his best diplomatic voice to talk.
"I wish to speak to the head of this castle's knights."
The girl didn't seem very fazed. Her arms unfolded and she rested her hands on her hips instead: "Sir Meta Knight, I guess. And what should I tell him who is asking for him?"
The warrior stiffened. Meta Knight? That name! He had fought - lost to - Meta Knight! The images flashed in his light, feverish mind clearly and he let out a small growl of anger. As usual, his pride got the better of him and as arrogant as he could muster in his state, he said: "Tell Sir Meta Knight that Galacta Knight is here."
And then the physical exhaustion got the better of him. He fought it, he had to stay awake, he-
But his knees gave in, Galacta Knight collapsed and the merciful waves of unconsciousness swallowed him.
Meta Knight sat in his room in castle Dedede, on the very edge of his bed. Bright sunlight fell through the window; he guessed it was quite the warm summer day, but the inside of castle was cool as always, sheltered by the thick stone walls. Sword and Blade had been sent out to patrol the castle already.
Meta Knight was glad they didn't let their curiosity show too much. After all, he had been gone for weeks and only returned the previous evening, but he was not yet sure just how much he really wanted his knaves - or anyone for that matter - to know about his 'adventure'. And most of all, he didn't want to be watched while he changed the bandages on his wounds. He felt it would make him... vulnerable, even if the ones watching were those closest to him.
Meta was not a very trusting person.
An open box stood next to him and gauze, tape, bandages, a bottle of disinfectant and a few other things lay scattered around on the sheets. He listened carefully for a moment and, when he was sure no one would barge into his room unexpectedly, took off his armour and the shirt beneath. His fingers ran over his bruises, most of them probably turning yellow already. They littered his arms and a few also marred the scarred skin on his upper body. Surprisingly enough, his legs had made it with little to no wounds.
He had gotten a few slashes, now covered in bandages that had become soaked with blood in some parts, on his arm - not the one he used to wield Galaxia with, luckily - and a single deep gash that led from his shoulder down to his rib-cage further over his side to his back, where it quickly grew more shallow before ending. A lance beam had caused it while he had been busy avoiding a tornado the other warrior had summoned. Meta Knight frowned under his mask.
Galacta Knight, if he remembered correctly. He had been strong. His hand went up to brush a few strands of blue hair out of his face, then he set to work. He started with the arms and carefully peeled off the blood-stained gauze, tossing it into the bin that stood by his feet. Of course Galacta Knight would have been strong, he had been the Greatest Warrior of the Universe.
And that title, it was his now. When exactly had it been created? He had lived for thousands of years already and never heard of it until now. It had to be ancient.
The knight flinched slightly at the sting of the antiseptic when he cleaned out the cuts with a small piece of cloth drenched in the liquid. His nose wrinkled at the smell, so sharp and unnatural. Ignoring the unpleasant sensation for now, he started to re-wrap the injuries, then took off the old bandages crossing his chest.
What did the title even mean? He was the strongest now, obviously, but he supposed it wouldn't make much difference around here. He was still debating if he should even tell anyone; as proud as he was, telling everyone what he had done might very well cause people to pester him, get careless or even fear him. None of that sounded appealing to him.
His thoughts were interrupted when his fingers brushed over a specific part of his now exposed skin, right below his ribs. It felt cold, almost as if it was a chunk of dead flesh stuck in his body. All thoughts of his new achievement were forgotten. Meta Knight ran his fingers over the spot again and again, not caring that the motion was re-opening the gash next to it. Shame, hot and prickly like thorns, seared through his mind. His fingers arched, digging into the flesh.
A small, half-repressed gasp of pain escaped him, but it came from the wound, not the cold part. He couldn't feel anything there, nothing at all. Shame. It filled his heart, making it painful to think, to even breath. His head dipped slightly. He would never lose this mark, yet he wasn't even strong enough to turn his face toward it, this proof of what he had done in the past...
Abruptly, he stopped himself and shoved all these thoughts into the furthest corner of his mind - he had no time to deal with them now. With a jerky motion, he pulled his hand back. Blood stained the fingertips red and he frowned at the wet feeling. He had to keep himself under control, actions like this would do his healing no good and the citizens of Dreamland needed him strong.
With quick, skilled movements, he cleaned the gash, then wrapped it in a new layer of gauze. He slipped into his shirt, put on the armour, his boots, the gloves. There, all set. Just as he finished packing up the medical supplies, something caught his attention. A foreign presence close by?
Like all Star Warriors, he could sense when another one of his kind came close to him. Kirby's presence was a bright dot in his subconsciousness - sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, depending on how close the boy was to him. He had gotten used to it, but now something way more powerful had shown up. Had it been a light, it would have been a glaring, harsh one, something that demanded admiration and had an effect similar to the one a lamp had to a moth.
Meta Knight felt something, an ancient instinct, pulling him toward this new presence. But he and Kirby were the last Star Warriors around. The last except for...
"Galacta Knight," he said aloud, an obvious sign how unsettling he found this to be; he wasn't one to talk much unless needed. If Galacta Knight was here, did that mean he wanted revenge? That would put the castle's residents in danger, and they didn't even know who they were encountering!
That thought was enough to send Meta Knight running. He didn't even take time to wrap his cape around himself as he usually did. A few Waddle Dees crossed his path, staring up at his taller frame with large, black eyes. The knight didn't pay them any mind. He tried to locate where exactly Galacta Knight was in the castle, but while he did, his presence grew... weaker? He wasn't sure if this was a good sign, or if it meant anything at all, but he had no time to think about that now. He concentrated as good as he could without losing focus on running - he didn't want to run head-first into a wall, that would have been more than humiliating - and ah, yes, the courtyard, somewhere at the fountain.
The courtyard was lined with archways that would provide shadows he could hide in and assess the situation. Good. There, the large opening to the courtyard lay directly in front of him. He slowed down a bit and quickly grabbed the corners of his cape to wrap it around himself; much better. With quiet steps, he walked over to the closest archway and stood in the shadow it granted generously. He peered around the corner carefully and blinked against the harsh sunlight that shone warm and hot onto his face, blending him at first.
"Tell Sir Meta Knight that Galacta Knight is here."
The knight stiffened ever so slightly. He still couldn't see anything but due to the glaring light, but he would recognize that voice anywhere: Galacta Knight, doubtlessly. A voice a bit like a snake dozing in the sun, soft, but ready to lash out any second. To hear it again after their battle sent a small shiver down his spine, one he wasn't sure if it was pleasant.
His hand strayed toward Galaxia's hilt, cape falling open in the process. He wouldn't attack unless Galacta showed open hostility, but he would not be unprepared either. To his surprise, the winged warrior did not say anything else. Instead, a dull thud was heard as he wobbled and collapsed. Meta Knight took a step forward.
"What-? !," whoever the winged knight had been talking to exclaimed and the knight recognized the voice as Fumu's, the Cabinet Minister's daughter. Meta couldn't help a small sigh - this girl always got herself into trouble a child her age should stay away from, didn't she? He jumped down from the paved path around the archway and landed on the grass below. With quick, but calm steps, he approached the girl and the fallen Star Warrior.
Galacta's presence had turned into a weak glimmer in Meta Knight's mind, an obvious sign he was passed out for real. That was... good, in a way, at least he could be sure that this wasn't a trick of some sort.
The girl turned around, ponytail flying: "Sir Meta Knight, I-"
He held out a hand to silence her and, surprisingly enough, she obeyed and fell quiet. Meta Knight crouched down on one knee and examined the other, one hand running over the limp form quickly. Galacta wasn't in a good shape. His wings hung limp and dirty, streaked with mud and leaves stuck between the feathers. He had landed face-down and for a moment, it seemed as if he wasn't breathing.
But when Meta Knight checked, the glimmer, though weak, remained in his mind and after a few seconds, he spotted the weak rising and abrupt falling of Galacta's back. His fingertips brushed over the other's armor briefly - it was battered, probably just like his arms and legs. The wounds didn't seem like they had been cleaned in any way and suddenly Meta Knight felt guilty for not thinking of his opponent's fate at all after the battle. Surely the Greatest Warrior of the Universe would be supposed to have the inner greatness of offering help to his defeated opponents?
But if Galacta decided to reclaim his title, helping him to recover might prove to be a fatal error. He didn't know anything about this warrior's personality. For all he knew, he could be a ruthless, egoistical psychopath. But still...
He glanced back at Fumu. The girl stood in the same spot as before, wringing her dress in her hands now. Hidden under his mask, his inner struggle showed on his features. Dear NOVA, why didn't the Code of Chivalry cover the time after battles?
"Fumu," he said finally and forced all hesitation out of his voice, "Please go and get your mother and if you can, a few Waddle Dees who have experience in the medical area. Take them to the guest room on the third floor." He heard her open her mouth and breathing in to protest, but she seemed to think better of it. With a firm nod, she turned around and ran off; her sandals made loud, clacking noises when she reached the stone path that led inside.
Meta Knight watched her go, then turned back toward Galacta. He really hoped he hadn't made a mistake.