A/N: Hello everyone.
This is Lethe, the sequel to my story Leech. It takes place about one year from Leech. For those that have not read Leech, you can either go back and read that story, or you could start here and try to catch up ;] Sometime I might get a suitable summary for Leech to spare you guys from reading through that story, but until then, those are the options.
"Are you and I perchance caught up in a dream from which we have not yet awakened?" - Chuang Tzu
"There's something on the radar."
No, please go away... He squeezed his eyes shut tighter. With his knees hugged to his chest and his back pressed against the cold metal wall, it was impossible to sleep. This did not stop him from trying.
"Kirby, I said, there's something on the radar." Danger in each syllable.
"Is it an asteroid?" Kirby forced himself to say.
"Planet," Marx replied excitedly, again proving his moods were as malleable as water and could, in a heartbeat, transform from calm seas to catastrophic storms and back. As if there hadn't been enough proof in the past.
Dully, "is it taken by Dark Matter?"
With an escalating tone, Marx answered, "newp! Kay, it's civilized!"
Kirby's head jerked up, he suddenly wide-awake. There was never a civilized, non-hostile planet. For months, not one. They needed one though: they were running out of everything. He hurried to Marx's side, whom leaned fixedly over the controls, palms flat on the dials, and his purple eyes eagerly scanning the Halberd's radar. There was a certain natural joy in his demeanor which Kirby had not witnessed for a while, and he was instantly yearning to share in it.
"What's the planet?" he breathed. "How have they held out so long?"
"A lot of planets have held out all this time; otherwise there would be no resistance," Marx snapped, "we just haven't come across them. They must have better defenses. It might even be a base for the GSA." Thoughtfully Marx navigated the control board with his thin fingers, hunting for the information needed.
"A GSA base? I thought we were avoiding alliances in the war. What if we're attacked?"
"Psh, then we annihilate them. Have you seen the ship we're in? Although..." Marx frowned and trailed off.
Unspoken, the previously uplifting mood soured sharply. A coil of tension settled in the pit of Kirby's stomach, and he didn't dare reply quite yet. Only the tapping of buttons and the ceaseless hum of five engines pervaded the room.
"...Nashira," Marx finally said. "That's the planet name... Hm, the major city... run by an earl..." Something was off; Marx looked uneasy.
"How far?" Kirby whispered.
"It's... I don't..." Puzzled, he reverted to fiddling with the controls again. His eyes, narrowed in confusion, flicked between the radar and the windshield. "There's something wrong."
Cautiously Kirby stood on his toes and peered over Marx's shoulder. He didn't understand as much about the ship as Marx did, but after spending so much time on this deck with him, he'd gained a basic grasp on the controls. He, at least, comprehended what the two radars were supposed to be doing, and the appearance of various items on them. One was a weaker radar; giving general impressions of where things were, but also sensing objects at much greater distances and at much higher masses - like planets. The other was for shorter distances but precise coordinates, and was more often used when detecting other nearby ships or navigating the surface of a planet.
Soon Kirby located the planet Marx must be talking about; it appeared as an enormous yellow mass against the green background, positioned at the far right and top of the general radar.
Then, even as he watched, it blinked out. Startled, Kirby squinted at the display. The dot reappeared, this time at the bottom left side of the screen. Much in imitation of Marx, Kirby glanced at the windshield. Endless black space, as usual... Though there was a lighter spot, directly in their path.
The dot changed again, this time blinking directly in front of the ship's location. According to the radar, they were about to collide with a planet.
Kirby reeled away reflexively, eyes jerking up - and seeing nothing in the space. If they were about to collide with the planet, then it was completely invisible. And lacking an atmosphere and gravity, since the Halberd's movement didn't change.
"Well," Marx said flatly. The dot on the radar moved to the far left again. "Apparently... we have a migrating planet."
"What does that mean?"
A stern female voice, projecting over the intercom, interrupted Marx before he could provide a snarky response.
"You have entered Neutral Territory. Unregistered alien warships will be shot down without hesitation unless you provide certification. You have one minute."
Kirby and Marx's gazes met with rivaling expressions of shock.
"One minute?" Kirby said hoarsely.
"It's not a GSA base!" Marx declared, oxymoronically happy considering the situation.
"But they're gonna kill us!"
Marx's hand lashed out and he brought the small intercom close to his lips. His eyes narrowed, his entire focus suddenly directed at the current task. He said into the machine, "I suggest you rethink that decision."
The apparent malice and superiority, even directed at someone else, sent a shiver down Kirby's spine. He didn't dare ask what Marx was doing, even though he was sure resisting these 'Neutral Territory' policies was suicidal.
A pause. Marx's self-assured smirk remained.
The female voice sounded less mechanical when the intercom next crackled to life. "Identify yourself."
"I'm just a messenger - there's important information for the earl."
Instantly, the voice retaliated, "Messengers do not come with threats, nor warships. Twenty-six seconds to turn around."
Marx laughed brusquely. "I was instructed to use any means possible to get on the planet. On short notice, I had no choice but to take an ally's warship. This is very important information."
"Who do you consider your ally?" the tone still had not changed, and if Kirby was not so frightened he might respect the operator for her inability to be convinced.
In no hurry to answer - despite Kirby whining softly at his side - Marx leaned against the control board casually. "The minute is up. Either let us pass or shoot us down - if you choose the latter, then don't blame my dead body for the destruction of your planet!"
"Cease advancing and we can talk," the operator relented, albeit with an angry undertone.
"I don't think you're in any position to negotiate."
"Marx," Kirby hissed under his breath. "Just stop! I'm sure she'll let us go when we-nnfffrhhg." Kirby glared fiercely when Marx slapped his free hand across his mouth.
"There are five K-31 warships with canons trained on yours. Rethink your position," the operator flatly replied.
"Ohh," Marx's eyes widened. "Did I not make my position clear? I'm on top."
A crack tore through the air, louder than lightening, and perfectly audible even through the Halberd's hull. The entire ship lurched violently to the right. Marx rapidly let go of Kirby and grabbed the control board; Kirby, meanwhile, crashed to the floor and had to scramble up again.
"Idiot!" Kirby said the word before thinking about it, and decided all things considered, he'd rather get Marx angry at him than be blown to pieces in space.
"Warning shot," Marx snapped back, his thumb hovering over the button to speak to the operator again.
"Warning shot? They're gonna kill us!" he grabbed the intercom.
Marx growled at him. "Hey! I can't help it they have a terrible sense of humor! You just - that's mine!" The intercom was nearly pried from Marx's fingers when the jester grabbed his throat and twisted around so Kirby was pinned to the control board - narrowly avoiding the button that released missiles.
"Stop advancing!" the operator shouted. "We will not hesitate to shoot you down!"
Trembling, Kirby choked out, "please, s-stop... they'll kill us."
Marx leered at him. With one hand still loosely holding down Kirby, he replied, "I'll only repeat myself one more time. I have critical information to give to the earl. There's no time to wait. It must be immediately. If you stop me, your planet will be destroyed."
Though he spoke to the operator, his purple eyes remained uncannily pinned on Kirby throughout the entire message.
There was a tense silence. Kirby didn't dare move yet, wildly imagining that the last thing he'd feel was Marx's hand wrapped around his throat.
Then, at last; "follow the marker on your radar. It's the fastest way to the earl. Soldiers will be waiting."
The connection ceased, and it was silent in the Halberd.
"She believed you?" Kirby squawked.
"And you doubted me. What else is new?" Marx shoved him away from the controls so he could study the radar. Nashira had reappeared, along with the much smaller marks of numerous ships around them. The Halberd's computers also now displayed a small section of the planet, complete with a black dot marking where they ought to land.
Kirby exhaled slowly. The threat of imminent death had passed, though his trembling lingered. "Now you have to speak to this king, though..."
"Earl. You're still doubting my powers of persuasion?"
Not providing an immediate response, Kirby considered if he wanted to ask the difference between an earl and a king, or if he should ask what exactly he planned on telling this earl.
Marx didn't wait for a reply. "Hm, I guess this means you'll have to get the food yourself," he remarked, striding to the captain's seat and sticking his tongue out thoughtfully as he tweaked the Halberd's direction. As they neared, the round yellow-blue planet also came closer into sight through the windshield.
Marx's last comment, however, entirely distracted Kirby. "I'm not going with you? To talk to the earl?" he asked anxiously.
"Oh no," Marx laughed, "you might mess it up."
"I wouldn't mess it up," Kirby protested, well aware of how childish he sounded, but uncaring of that fact. For the moment, at least. Marx couldn't just drop him in the middle of a completely different planet. He had absolutely no experience with anything outside of Dreamland, besides the Halberd and empty space. Just under a year ago, his entire world had consisted wholly of Dreamland's town and fields. Since Marx had told him the truth about the immensity of the universe, he'd obtained a certain level of comfort with the concept of it - but he was no where near comfortable with its reality.
By Marx's lack of response, he seemed to have disregarded this fact entirely. "Consider it an honor. You are Kirby, the Great Hero of Food. Bringer of Snacks. Without you, we would surely starve."
"We could go talk to the earl, then get food," suggested Kirby.
"Except you'd mess it up then we wouldn't get food."
"Mess it up how?"
Marx waved a hand dismissively. "Just look at the intercom thing! I had this amazing excuse for the woman and you almost interrupted me. If I hadn't got you to shut up, we'd be floating bits of dust in space by now."
"That wouldn't have happened if you'd told me you were planning on acting like a messenger!"
"Because 'you have one minute before you get shot down and die' definitely puts me in the mood to explain my idea," retorted Marx sarcastically. "While I'm at it, would you like my entire life story?"
Kirby hesitated. Admittedly, Marx had a point there. But... "You could tell me now so I won't mess up with the earl."
"Or I could not." Luckily, he seemed to find the argument more amusing, granting Kirby more confidence and sparing him the imminent danger of pushing Marx too far. Unluckily, it meant Marx wasn't taking him seriously at all.
"If you told me what you were doing, there'd be no problem!" Kirby lashed back.
"If you knew what you were doing, there'd be no problem!"
"What-? What am I doing?"
"Food shopping!" Marx threw up both hands happily and giggled.
"No, Marx, seriously!" There was no way he was serious. He had to be kidding. But this was Marx, and Kirby was no idiot. "I don't know what to do!" he moaned. "What if they try to kick me out, since I'm from a different planet? Or... or... I dunno..." he hunted for words, sure that there was a million different ways this could go wrong.
"Or don't take our currency or don't speak our language? Myep, I'm sure you can figure it out." Marx smiled brightly and his attention reverted back to the Halberd.
"Wait, currency? And... Marx, there aren't... other languages, are there? Marx, listen to me!" The greater fear of the unknown bolstered Kirby's bravery with Marx, and he grabbed the other's sleeve angrily.
"Of course there are!" Marx snapped back, shoving Kirby away. With a brief, annoyed glare, he added, "Che; you're so irritating. Ignorant or not, you can figure something out for yourself, can't you? Now shut up. I'm busy." Without waiting for an answer, he turned back to the controls. Within seconds, he began humming a cheerful tune to himself, seeming to have completely forgotten his annoyance.
Kirby bit his bottom lip lightly to restrain any further questions. The confirmation that other languages existed was none too comforting... And he could only imagine stepping through gates (that, in his mind, were fashioned after Dreamland's gates) and coming face-to-face with a citizen who jabbered at him with jumbled words and phrases he didn't understand. What could he do if that happened? Find someone who spoke his language?
Suddenly it occurred to him that the earl might even speak another language - surely Marx didn't know another? ... Or did he?
Kirby groaned quietly to himself.
Subdued, he watched as the surface of the planet grew nearer and nearer. Even his gnawing worries could not prevent the curiosity that welled in his chest. Stepping lightly so as not to disturb, he approached the windshield, stopping at his companion's side - though at a safe distance. To his soundless awe, things began to take shape on the yellow skin of the planet: muddy greens and grays seeped into existence in patches. The Halberd shifted ever lower, descended into the clouds and then beneath them, soared like a giant predator over landscapes that rushed by as soon as they took shape. Shrubs, dark brown and gray brush, scraggly trees, small lakes of off-color, steaming water.
Kirby had seen this process only once before, in reverse: when they had left Dreamland five months prior, when he had watched the lush green grass and wood huts fall away through his tear-blurred eyes. The experiences felt drastically different. In one, the Halberd did not seem to be moving - rather, it was Dreamland that had fallen away, leaving him disconcerted and detached, broken off from reality and time.
Now, he felt the opposite effect. Nashira was solid, unmovable: it was he who moved closer, who sought to land on the steady ground. The sight of the sun-baked sands below alone provided him again with a sense of time, showed him it was day, and that Nashira was not timeless, like space. He'd almost forgotten the cycle of day and night. On the Halberd, there was only sleeping and awake.
It was as if the clock hands had begun to move again.
The Halberd decelerated. In the distance, a walled city emerged from the foggy yellow horizon. The walls were dark grey, made of stone. Outside the city was parked several other ships, though none as large as the Halberd. They all were of squatter builds, designed to carry cargo rather than fight. A nearby path wound by the ships and led to the gate.
Kirby's anxiety returned full force. This wasn't just going beyond Dreamland's borders. This was an entirely different planet, and he must face it virtually alone. Silently, he allowed his finger tips to rest on the back of Marx's hand; a gesture which was thankfully ignored.
When the Halberd reached nearly a crawl in the air, only a mile or so from the sprawling city, Kirby could see the soldiers that the operator had spoken of, standing off the path and beside an empty spot between two ships.
Marx stuck out his tongue in concentration. "Alrighty - landing. About that..." His eyes hunted over the controls, his hands occasionally ghosting over a button or dial only to retreat. His confusion at last prompted Kirby to speak;
"You know how to land, right?"
"It's just taking off in reverse."
Not the most reassuring answer. Kirby rephrased, "Have you ever done it before?"
After another moment of thinking, Kirby corrected himself, "Have you ever landed a ship before?"
Marx shot him a withering look. "I've done that too. A few times. I crashed the last time!" He looked a little too delighted about this fact.
"Oh." Great. Kirby glanced around hurriedly for something to hold on to, which Marx managed to notice.
"Hey!" he snapped surlily. "I'm not that bad. Look, I got us over a good spot... This is probably fine. The real problem," he continued, fiddling with the levers, "is that Meta Knight designed this ship badly. Oh, it's great for explosions and destruction, yes - but landing? Pfft. I mean, how am I supposed to see where I'm going? Could be landing on the city and I wouldn't notice."
"Could we be?" Kirby said worriedly.
"Mm, maybe not. Those soldiers better get out of the way, though. This conversation with the earl will not go well if the first thing I say is 'oh hey, I squished-'"
A grating thump of metal cut off Marx's words. The jester cringed and stopped the Halberd.
Kirby sucked in a breath. "Whatwasthat?"
Marx laughed. "Oops. Um. I'll just... scoot over a little bit..."
"Did we hit another ship?!"
The Halberd hovered up, and moved over the slightest bit. "One thing Meta Knight did right was making the hull so strong," Marx nodded, "we probably don't even have a dent."
So, yes, we hit another ship.
The Halberd began to lower again. For the second time, there was a dull thump, and the ship jolted to a halt, eliciting a loud cackle from Marx. "Ahah - I can't drive! This is like bumper ships!"
"Marx!" Kirby groaned, now clutching his face. "That's other people's property! Just because we don't get dents doesn't mean they won't!"
"You act like I'm doing it on purpose," answered Marx, sounding wounded.
"Of course not. It's their fault for parking so close together. Now they'll be more careful in the future, and they have me to thank."
"Can we please land now?" Kirby said in a small voice. 'Hopefully without damaging any other ships,' he added privately to himself.
"What, you don't like when I do this?" Marx jerked the wheel, and the Halberd lurched to the side. Crunching metal resounded through the deck. Kirby had to latch onto the back of Marx's chair to stop from falling over.
Kirby paled. "No, I don't! Seriously, stop!"
"Oops!" Wheel twisted the other direction.
"OH MY GOD WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING?" With one hand, Marx pulled his hair in agony; with the other, he directed the Halberd to crash into the merchant ship again.
"They're gonna arrest-"
"I just can't control it!"
Kirby dove at the wheel. His hands slammed down next to Marx's and when the jester next tried to jerk the wheel, he resisted the movement. "They are going to think you are a lunatic," he said sternly, looking back over his shoulder to glare at Marx.
He sneered back. "Then I can plead insanity if they charge us for destroying property."
"That might not be far off from the truth."
"So they'll believe me," Marx said, looking pleased with himself. "Now... Give me my steering wheel back."
"Don't hit any more ships."
Smirking, Marx reclined back in the chair. "Technically, I only hit two. Multiple times."
"You know what I mean."
Something of the mischievous spark in his purple eyes was suddenly suppressed. Not gone entirely, but rather darkened through a translucent window. "Oh, I'm sorry," he mocked, a grin twisting across his face, "were you being serious? Were you... ordering me?"
Even if Kirby hadn't become so attuned to the signs evidencing Marx's sadism, he easily would have known this wasn't something he should argue... not with that tone.
He let go of the wheel as if it had burned him. "Sorry."
Marx looked faintly disappointed, but pried no further.
The remaining few yards that the Halberd had to descend went smoothly. Marx then shut off the warship, which silenced the comforting hum of the five engines.
For a few seconds it was deadly silent, then the jester smiled mildly, standing from his chair. "So. These soldiers don't know about you, and I would prefer to keep it that way. It's just more work to have to explain you too. I'll go with them, you wait here until we're long gone. They probably won't search the ship, so you don't have to worry about being found. If so... well, come up with a good lie or something."
He strode towards the exit, clearly done talking.
"Wait," Kirby hurried after him, "you can't help me at all?"
"Go to the city," Marx rolled his eyes. "You can figure it out from there. You're not hopeless. I think." As if seriously contemplating this statement, he studied Kirby carefully before shrugging and dialing in the code to open the hatch to leave.
He shoved him back. "Ah ah - can't let you be seen." He dug coins out of his pocket and dropped them on the floor. "There. There's money. Remember - wait 'til I'm out of sight." He pointed at Kirby meaningfully. "You are my top secret weapon."
Kirby paused. "I'm a weapon?"
"You're whatever I want you to be. But, I couldn't think of a better word. Stop asking stupid questions." With this affectionate final remark, Marx pushed Kirby away again and opened the hatch before strutting out. As the door closed, Kirby heard him say something about being used to messenger ships, not battleships, and bemoaning how awful they were to land. Kirby didn't even know if messenger ships existed. Sighing, he collected the coins from the floor.
Then, from the windshield, he watched as Marx and the soldiers departed. It was an unusual sight: six or seven soldiers clad in grim gray armor with long silver swords at their sides. Even their helmets covered any variation in hair color they might have. Marx, meanwhile, was a rainbow of color compared to them. The black of his hair was mostly hidden by his blue and red jester hat, so only the purple tips and bits of black stuck out at odd angles. In addition, his multicolored outfit stood out like a banner.
It was with a deep sense of unease that he watched him walk away. He didn't doubt that Marx could worm himself out of any situation he'd gotten himself into - but he did doubt his own ability to do just that. Mostly because he morally hated to resort to Marx's tricks and deceit - not that he had any ability in that department anyway. As Marx loved to tell him, he made a horrible liar. This was something Kirby interpreted as a compliment or an insult depending on the situation (not that he would admit it to himself later if he found himself wishing to be a better liar). He tried to pride himself on his inability to lie or omit the truth, but this was one such situation where it might be helpful. There was no telling what questions he might asked for being a foreigner, and what if the truth would not be favorable?
The silence disturbed him - just to provide sound he walked around the Halberd and listened to his own footsteps while he waited: from the control room, the hallway, the kitchen, the bedroom, storage rooms...
When he completed several laps, he peered out the windshield again.
Marx and the soldiers had vanished within the city gates, likely several minutes ago. If any time was ideal, it would be now. Squeezing the coins in his pocket anxiously, Kirby opened the door and stepped out.
Without Marx at his side, the sensation of being extraordinarily small and alone overcame him and tethered him firmly to the very place he had stepped off the ramp. Forfive months he had not seen nor spoken to another soul. Even his dreams, infrequent and obscure as they were, had begun to confine themselves within the Halberd's metal walls.
Kirby's next reaction, then, was merely to look. He squinted at the clear blue sky; a forgotten sight, then lowered his gaze and studied the city. It was enclosed with large stone walls, blocking his view. The wooden gate, however, was not far, flanked by two enormous stone towers and watched over by two guards in full chain mail armor and gleaming silver swords. A wide dirt path, marred by two ruts from the crossings of wagons, weaved through the dunes before meeting with the gate.
The open space was intimidating after so long in a ship. The city would be better, Kirby thought to himself; to be inside the stone walls, where the sky would not be so visible and the horizon nothing more than blank stone.
With this in mind, he hurried onto the path and followed a group of traveling merchants towards the gate. The merchants were heavily laden with sacks upon their backs, which clattered with their wares. Each seemed to sell something different, from cast iron pots, to heavy wool clothes, to various spices. They talked cheerfully amongst themselves and Kirby found himself falling silently in step behind them, happy to follow their lead but unwilling to engage in their loud conversation. They didn't seem to notice him. He, however, noticed how dramatically he stood out.
The merchants all had light chestnut skin, and friendly dark eyes. They wore simple - possibly leather - outfits with multiple layers, despite the heat. Meanwhile, Kirby had bright blue eyes, sun-deprived pale skin, and blonde hair. Not to mention his bright red T-shirt and blue jeans.
As such, he was nearly slinking in their shadows by the time they reached the gate. 'Sticking out' was the worst thing someone could do in Dreamland... He had no reason to believe any other place would be different.
The merchants seemed to recognize the two guards, and the group started up a jovial conversation. After much back and forth exchange of light-hearted bantering, the guards finally opened the gates and gestured the merchants through with pats on their backs.
Kirby glimpsed possibly one of the most frightening sights as the merchants were ushered in - the enormous, busting city, with a crowd of people so thick he couldn't imagine how the merchants had managed to squeeze into that crammed space. It wasn't that the city was small - but that there were so many people. He heard the rumble of hundreds of voices speaking at once, mixed with the squeaking, shrieking, and barking of animals, and the rattling of carts, and perhaps a hundred other sounds that couldn't be distinguished with the overall cacophony of noise.
Then the thick wooden gates shut in front of his stunned eyes. The sound ceased. The guards surveyed him oddly.
"What're you wanting in the city for?" one asked, not unkindly.
Still, Kirby shrank back a little. Surely they were now thinking of how strange he looked - how unusual - for they had the same chestnut-like skin as the merchants, and Kirby was quite clearly different than them. Was there a punishment for being of a different planet? "I'm sorry," he choked out, though he didn't know what he was apologizing for.
"I j-just... I need food. I mean, supplies and stuff."
"That ship yours?" the second guard asked abruptly. Kirby glanced back to where he was gesturing.
"It's the Halberd," Kirby nodded uneasily. Was something wrong with it?
The second guard chuckled. "Was watching you come in. Wish I had something like that." He whistled and grinned. "Lucky man, if you wern't such a awful pilot. Hope ya have the money to pay for that." He clapped Kirby's shoulder, eliciting a small flinch.
"Y-yeah," Kirby responded.
"A'ight, I see you're in a hurry. Here ya are."
Both guards turned and pushed open the wooden doors. Once more that crowded, alien world opened before him. And this time, Kirby stumbled into it. The wooden doors shut behind him with decided finality.