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Greatest Warriors

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There’s been something nagging at the back of your mind for a while now—years, even—a feeling that won’t go away no matter how hard you fight, or how much you train, or how many enemies you plunge into oblivion. You accepted a long time ago that you were never going to defeat Kirby. That’s just a fact. No person’s victory against Kirby is ever final, and every day you fight alongside him, you’re grateful that this incredibly powerful pink boy is on your side, on an eternal crusade to bring justice—and, paradoxically, friendship—to the whole galaxy. If he were someone else, anyone else, his remarkable abilities might have turned him sour, megalomaniacal and yearning to tear the world to tatters. Not unlike you once were, you realize, and shudder at the thought.

And yet there’s still that drive to become better, partly a healthy motivation for self-improvement… but then there’s that part of your brain that tells you every day that you’re not good enough, worsened by the defeats and the betrayals and the corruptions of your mind. The day (was it a day? longer?) when the fabric of space-time was stitched together with yarn, re-weaving your body and heart and setting your mind upon an objective you’d abandoned long ago. Awakening from that possession with an aching head and blurry memories, Kirby’s round figure coming into focus beside you, and realizing that he’d bested you once again (without using his copy abilities, even!) —the defeat stung even more. You’d later justify it by telling yourself that the yarn changed you, made your aim careless and your body fragile, but then you’d wake from nightmares in which you recalled every second of the fight, in which you may have been blind to your morals but were very much awake and confident in your strength.

Or (recently, a wound that had not yet healed) when the gigantic spaceship descended from the sky, sending armies to steal the land, drain its resources, and enslave its people. You’d fought so, so hard. You had a cause that you truly believed in; you were strong and valiant… and it wasn’t enough, in the end. Not against an extraterrestrial invasion. And it wasn’t enough for them to just defeat you, was it? They dragged you, kicking and screaming, into a horrific laboratory, ripped you open and put you back together again, once, twice, an amalgam of flesh and metal so carefully integrated that you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. Suddenly, you felt powerful, and it almost didn’t matter that they were talking about you as if your body was an object, a tool for them to unleash at the right moment, and if you crashed and burned then the only thing down the drain would be their experiment. A product, said your tormenter as she giggled, it’s been completely updated with the newest technology. (The newest technology, which clawed its way into your skin, your muscles, your bones, set your nerves ablaze and told you to feel grateful for it.) It’s been programmed to be a merciless fighting machine.

Again there was instated in your mind an artificial drive to kill Kirby. And you tried. And you failed. And you woke up, later, back in your fully-organic body, the intrusive metal pried off by your crew, with only scars to show for what they had done to you, and agonizingly clear memories.

You despise the fact that, even with such an upgrade, you still lost. But you suppose that defeat was written in the stars—did you really think you could win against Kirby, the pink terror? No, what you despised even more was that the moment you’d felt the most powerful was a moment where you were not in control, where that power was forced upon you and you weren’t yourself.

The obvious answer to this problem isn’t to seriously re-examine your priorities, or to stop repressing your trauma, or anything like that, of course. The answer to this problem is, naturally, to get even stronger, so that nothing will ever be able to control you or possess you or overpower you again. (Well. Except Kirby. You’re just going to… continue to accept that Kirby has some unfair advantages that you will never be able to best.)

There’s one foolproof way to do this that will not only make you a better warrior, but give your ego a nice boost too. It’s worked before—it’ll work again.

 

*

 

You find yourself floating in space before the enormous, mechanical comet, without a shred of doubt in your mind.

“Ready,” says Nova. “I will grant you one wish.”

There’s an air of displacement around them, as if they’ve been ripped from one universe to another, scattered across spacetime and reformed more times than you can count. You recall an explosion—two explosions—that you thought were sure to kill them, but an omnipotent, artificial mind is difficult to destroy.

You watch them. The face of Star Dream stares back at you, and you shudder. Perhaps trusting them is too great of a risk. Nevertheless, you press on.

“I wish to fight the greatest warrior in the galaxy,” you tell them.

Nova blinks, their gaze seeming to look past you and peer through the walls between dimensions, timelines, universes. “The greatest warrior in the galaxy is dead,” they intone. “Would you like me to resurrect him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. 3… 2… 1… go!”

There’s a burst of light, a tunnel of void swirling in the air in front of you, then your opponent materializes, shining like an ancient star and absolutely magnificent. His magenta eyes are set on you, and it makes your heart flutter in your chest—with excitement at the battle to come, of course, not the fact that someone so resplendent is looking at you like that. There’s something about him that’s impossible to read—he’s every bit as mysterious and fascinating as you’ve always aspired to be, and it just makes you itch to beat the crap out of him again. You wonder if he remembers your previous brawl, and hope to god that he does, so you can both recognize your second victory when it inevitably rolls around.

Galacta Knight raises his wings, and in a single swoop he’s off, plummeting gracefully towards the planet that Nova has constructed for you as a battlefield. It’s delightfully alien, with its jutting spires of blue rock, and the hexagonal formations that dot the ground.

You hit the ground running, and you’re off, drawing your sword and charging at him. The fight rages on, with all the fury and the passion you’d dreamed of for this sort of encounter. If Galacta recognizes you, he doesn’t show it, just continues his barrage of attacks, diving and lunging in a perfect rhythm. It’s almost a dance. (And part of you wants to grab his hands and spin him around and around—not that that would do anything to help the battle but satiate your desire for the rush that comes with the intimacy of close combat.) He whirls into a tornado, shoots lasers from his lance, sends bolts of electricity screaming across the arena with little more than a thought. He is the greatest warrior in the galaxy, and by god does it show.

So when it’s finally over—when you strike the final blow, and Galacta freezes, his figure glowing bright white with the sudden release of pure, uncontained energy—you begin to wish this wasn’t the end. He doesn’t grant you a moment of eye contact, simply takes off, electricity crackling across the length of his body. In the sky, you see a couple blinks of white, then a brilliant explosion as Galacta Knight shatters, the dangerous nature of his power finally getting the best of him.

You wonder if his demise was painful. A second later, you banish the thought, concentrating on the stinging of your own wounds. There’s a gash on your side that will make a great scar. More dignified than the ones you got in the Haltmann laboratories.

As you fly back to Popstar, you pretend that your victory has instilled in you more confidence than regret, that it has made you a better warrior, that you don’t feel exactly the same as before. That killing a faceless foe for the sake of self-improvement is the same as striking down a villain in the name of justice.

“I defeated the greatest warrior in the galaxy for the second time,” you tell Kirby, later, and he, at least, seems wowed by your accomplishment, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

 

*

 

The third time, a month later, Nova is a little more hesitant.

“I have granted you a wish already,” they tell you, and there’s no hint of anger in their voice, but they somehow manage to exude an air of indignation. “I am only allowed to grant one wish.”

“It is the same wish as last time,” you argue, knowing very well how ludicrous the request is. “I want to fight the greatest warrior in the galaxy.”

Nova pauses, considering this. “Okay. I will allow it. 3, 2, 1, go!”

And there’s Galacta Knight again, good as new, radiant and tantalizing and in perfect shape for a good duel. He throws everything he has at you, and then some, always keeping you on your toes. At times you can hear his breathing, rough and labored through his mask, and you almost pause because it makes him seem more like a living creature, not just a legendary warrior from the depths of space and time, who floats on the air and unleashes crackles of energy everywhere he steps. Not for the first time, you wonder about his origin—where is he from? Who trained him? Where did he get his armor and mask? How and why was he sealed away? (You also wonder about his wings, specifically their texture and how they would feel wrapped around you.)

This time, right before he dies, he locks eyes with you, and you think you can see an emotion hidden in their swirling, turbulent pink. Something like fear.

 

The fourth time, it’s almost out of habit. Summon Galacta, destroy him, make Nova bring him back. It’s like a training regime. Practice, is how you justify it to yourself. Keep practicing and you’ll get stronger.

The fifth time, it really has become a routine. The battle is exhilarating as always, but it also feels static. Galacta never adapts to your fighting style, never learns and exploits your weaknesses, never changes his own attacks. Does he really not remember the other times you’ve fought him? Or does he simply not care?

The sixth time, it’s different. As soon as you arrive on the familiar blue planet, Galacta stays put, hovering in the air with his shield and lance in a defensive position. You lunge at him, quick and deadly. He blocks it. You try another angle. He deflects that attack too.

“Fight back!” you yell. It’s the first time either of you has spoken to the other, but you’re becoming increasingly frustrated at his stubbornness.

“No,” says Galacta quietly.

You point your sword right at his face. “Coward.”

Suddenly, and very quickly, he moves, bringing his lance up to knock your sword out of your hand. Caught unawares, you begin to retreat, but Galacta’s foot connects with your face, lightning-fast, and you slam into the ground, feeling something crack and a spike of pain as your back hits the hard rock beneath you. Your opponent towers over you, extended wings blocking out the sky, his boot pinning you to the ground. Electricity ripples through the air.

He leans in, and you can feel his hot breath, feel the weight of his body as he presses against you, feel the sharp point of his lance digging into your side. Holy shit, he is so close.

“I refuse to become your plaything,” he whispers.

His voice is rough, fractured, and very careful—the voice of someone who hasn’t spoken in thousands of years. It sends a shiver down your spine.

And then, before you can attempt to speak, or your reeling mind can begin to comprehend the situation, he plunges his lance deep into your chest, and the world goes black.

 

You wake on Planet Popstar, the echo of a wound still aching where Galacta landed his fatal blow. An attempt to push yourself onto your feet fails spectacularly, and you fall back down, leaves of grass digging into your back like blades on tender skin. You let out a soft groan and close your eyes, letting your wings splay out on the ground.

He defeated you. Not after a long, drawn-out, blood-pumping heart-stopping electric fiery battle, not one that a valiant warrior deserves—but a trick, a catching-off-guard. Betrayal, that’s what it is. It’s not fair. He calls himself the greatest warrior in the galaxy, and for what? For his ability to blind you with frustration?

You leap to your feet, draw your sword, and with a single slash, chop a nearby small tree clean in two. The upper half shudders, then begins to tip, falling to the ground with a rustling crash. It makes you feel a little better, and you sheath your sword, wings fluttering back into a cape.

Of course, you have to go back. Galacta Knight is too dangerous to let loose on the galaxy. You have to finish what you started.

But—as your legs threaten to give out beneath you, and the pain of your injuries clouds your mind for a split second—you figure that would be best wrapped up another time.

 

*

 

Days later, Nova is still there, floating serenely in space. So is their constructed planet, sitting on the edge of reality. You wonder if they designed it themself, or if they plucked it from another galaxy to serve as your battleground.

You give Nova a curt nod. They don’t respond, but their eyes follow you.

As you approach the planet, you begin to feel like something is wrong. Your arena looks different, somehow, but it’s difficult to discern the details from all the way up here. You swoop down, sword in hand, static electricity creeping across the sensitive fabric of your wings.

The arena has been completely demolished. Jutting blue spikes that once towered over you are reduced to blackened rubble, and the landscape is even more barren than you remember it, scorch marks crisscrossing the ground. Galacta floats in the middle of it all, sitting in the air, wings barely needing to beat to keep him aloft. His mask is charred, and you think you notice a couple conspicuous scars that you know didn’t come from your blows. His lance and shield lie in the rocks a few feet away; the shield is cracked in two, its edges burnt. Energy pulses through the still air.

“You returned,” says Galacta. His voice is hoarse.

“You certainly kept busy,” you retort, pointing your sword at the debris.

“I was… bored.”

You run your gloved hand over one of the cracks in the ground. It’s the same sort of damage created from the electric bolts he summons when he fights you, but it would take something much larger than that to shatter the earth in this way. This was not the product of boredom. While you’re looking down, Galacta lands lightly, tucking in his wings.

Neither one of you moves. His defenses are down, but it would be in bad form to attack him now. Besides, it’s not like he’s going to raise a finger against you; he hasn’t even picked up his lance again. If you finished him off now, it’d be no fun, not to mention incredibly rude and unfair.

“Why do you continue to summon me?” Galacta asks finally, and man, you’re so glad that he’s decided to speak again, because his voice is wonderfully alien and yet fits him perfectly. “Is it revenge?”

You straighten up, shaking out your wings until they transform back into a cloak, which you wrap around yourself in an attempt to look distant and haughty. You think you just end up looking stupid, and let your cloak fall behind you, distinctly aware that Galacta has not moved at all and that you’ve potentially embarrassed yourself by playing so much with your clothes instead of answering his question. Okay, maybe just… ignore the cloak for now. It looks fine how it is.

“I wished to fight the greatest warrior in the galaxy, so that I could become stronger.” Your voice is way too loud; you’ve no hope of emulating Galacta’s sharp, pointed calm. You only notice afterwards that you’d spoken in past tense.

“Am I the greatest warrior in the galaxy?”

You narrow your eyes. “You don’t know?”

“Being sealed in a crystal for countless years has done strange things to my memory.”

“According to the Galactic Nova,” you say, “you are. I asked for the greatest warrior in the galaxy, and you are what they gave me.”

Galacta Knight is silent for a long time. You think you see him trembling ever so slightly.

“I do not know that it was wise to release me,” he says quietly.

“Why?”

“It could be… dangerous for someone with my degree of power to wander freely on this level of reality.” Electricity sparks across the surface of his skin, illustrating his point.

You finger the hilt of your sword. Finally, here is a reason to fight that goes beyond your own silly motivations. “Then destroying you would be a service to the galaxy.”

“I suppose so.”

Despite everything, you hesitate. No matter how many times you’ve done it before, to creatures you knew were your enemies, it feels wrong to strike down someone who isn’t attacking you. He isn’t even trying to defend himself.

“Well?” he says. It feels like a test, a challenge. And you know you can’t resist a challenge.

You take a couple steps towards him. Even with his tattered wings and scarred mask, he’s still breathtaking, the last remnants of majesty not faded from his countenance. He’s visibly shivering now, and you can’t tell if it’s from the latent energy coursing through his body, or any number of other factors. Has he slept in the days since he defeated you? Has he just been stranded here? Has he eaten or drank?

“At least give me a good fight,” you say, and you realize how selfish that sounds, but you don’t regret it. Better to go out with a bang than weak and helpless, in submission to your enemy. Give him some sort of chance to save himself.

Galacta says nothing. His eyes go to his lance, then back to you. “My health is very low.”

But you hardly got a single hit on him last time you were here—has time drained away his life force? Whatever the case, you understand his implication. He is not fit for a proper battle. Killing him now would be merciful.

You make up your mind. You ready your blade and lunge at him, finishing off the motion with a quick swipe that would be sure to cleave him in half were he a young tree. Energy explodes out of the wound, dancing across his body.

This time, you don’t watch as he launches himself into the air, spiralling out into space. The supernova he creates is bright enough to see even with your eyes averted.

 

*

 

You tell yourself you won’t go back. Navigating the tricky route to Nova isn’t worth it, and besides, they’ve probably gotten tired of your constant rehashing of the same wish. You’ve done what you came for. You defeated the greatest warrior in the galaxy. You don’t need to do it again.

One night, you’re sleeping on the Halberd, and your dreams are filled with robots and starships and wires worming through your flesh. Your vision glows red, as if artificially enhanced, computer readouts blinking before your eyes, which are set on the round, pink boy before you—labelled only as “TARGET” on the screen in your mind. Not “Kirby,” not “friend.” You are a machine and you are strong and your purpose is clearer than it has ever been before.

The fight continues as it did that first time. Kirby’s poisonous vomit works its way through your implants and into your skin and you wake up screaming from pain that faded months and months ago.

I need to be in control, you tell yourself, half-awake, half-crazed, footsteps uneven and heart pounding so hard it deafens you. You flap your wings and marvel at how light they are, not weighed down with rocket launchers. This is you doing this, you choosing to move your own body, the joints and muscles that are firmly yours and nothing can take that away from you.

And yet you weren’t good enough to defeat an army, weren’t good enough to wrench that control back from the people who took it away, weren’t good enough to be able to shrug the incident off and forget about it once your scars had healed.

You still aren’t good enough to fix your own problems, so you put on your mask, sling your sword over your shoulder, and go find the only being who can.

 

“Ready,” says Nova.

“I want you to fix me.”

If the clockwork star were a living being, you suppose they might sigh. “I am only allowed to—”

“Why? Do you follow those rules because you want to, or because granting one person multiple wishes is outside the range of your power?”

Nova is silent, their eyeballs shifting upwards as if deep in thought. It’s slightly unnerving. Finally, they respond.

“In what way would you want me to fix you?”

“I want to forget about… about Mecha Knight.” The name that is not yours creates a sour feeling in your stomach.

“Are you sure that that would constitute fixing?”

“Yes,” you say because you are nothing if not stubborn.

They watch you, as if deciding whether or not to speak, then blink, and their detached placidity returns. “I cannot do that. Instead, would you like to use the same wish as before?”

“Fighting Gala—the greatest warrior in the galaxy?”

“Yes.”

You promised you wouldn’t go back. He’s dead; he can stay that way and not harm anyone. Bringing him back is just a disservice to everyone, him included.

And yet you lack so much closure. Again, it’s selfish. But at least you’re not planning to use him as a punching bag.

“Sure,” you tell them.

“Okay. 3, 2, 1, go!”

A flash of light, and Galacta appears before you, his injuries healed and armor shining. Your heart aches at the sight of him, and it’s only then that you realize you kind of missed him. His eyes are set in a questioning gaze.

Without further ado, you beckon him towards the brand new planet, and he follows suit, easily keeping up. The arena is back to normal—there are no signs that the area was ever used for battle, or torn to pieces by beams of energy. You land, skidding to a stop on the hard rock ground. Galacta stays hovering. It seems to be the most comfortable mode of transportation for him.

“I will not fight you again,” he says.

“Why not?”

“There’s no point. I do not believe we are enemies.”

“Why did you attack me, then, the first time I summoned you?”

“I assumed we had some ancient quarrel that I could not recall. Besides, I am never opposed to a good duel, no matter who it may be with. But this is simply pointless.”

“It’s not,” you argue.

“Because you wished to learn from me?” His calm voice has turned sharp, biting. “By forcing me into multiple battles without my consent?”

He has a point. Maintaining your cool, you respond. “What do you want from me? An apology?”

Galacta pauses, beautiful wings beating up and down, eyes narrowing in concentration. For once, he looks truly lost. Finally, he lowers himself down until he’s sitting on the ground in front of you.

“Was I truly the greatest warrior in the galaxy?” he asks instead of answering your question.

“I suppose so.”

“But you have defeated me time and time again. Surely that makes you the greatest warrior in the galaxy.”

You almost laugh. “I have been defeated many times as well. I don’t deserve that title.”

“Then who does?”

“Nova must have chosen you for a reason. Perhaps you were an even greater warrior before you were… sealed away.”

Galacta’s brow furrows, and you find yourself again drawn to his eyes, and their raw, electric pink intensity. “I have mere shards of memories left from before I was sealed in the crystal. I could not make such a judgement. If I could better control my power before…” He shivers, almost violently. “Perhaps it was that power itself that designated me the greatest warrior. But I think that might be more of a curse than a blessing.”

You recall the great cracks in the ground, the scorch marks, the destruction and the rubble. “Can you not control it?”

“Not well.”

A spark of pity ignites in your heart. You imagine energy exploding from Galacta’s body as he failed to keep it contained, wrecking the landscape and blasting his health in the process.

“I do not blame them for sealing me away,” he says quietly.

You don’t know how to respond to that. After a moment of deliberation, you walk over, seating yourself next to him. Neither of you speaks, but Galacta seems to recognize your gesture of solidarity, and you feel the quick, light brush of feathers on your arm. You freeze, blushing, and hope that your companion hasn’t noticed your change in demeanor.

“Who is Nova?” Galacta asks suddenly.

“They’re a, uh, a comet, apparently.” The question catches you off guard. You jab your sword at the sky. “I think you may have seen them. They’re omnipotent and they grant wishes.”

“Grant wishes?”

“Yes, but only one.”

“I see.” Galacta leaps into the air, beginning to hover once more. “In that case, I will ask them to seal me again. There is no longer any purpose for me in this world. Thank you, Meta.”

Before you can protest, or ask how the hell he knows your name (or notice how your heart skips a beat when he says it), he’s off, gleaming feathers trailing behind him. He’s gone before you can even try to follow.

You wait on the planet, rolling a feather between your fingers, for minutes, hours. Galacta Knight does not return.

 

*

 

He’s happy now, you tell yourself, days and weeks and months later, a mantra to counteract the thoughts that settle in your brain anyway, like you didn’t do enough to stop him and this can’t be the only way. He made his choice. He used his single wish to seal himself back in the crystal that sucked away his memories, instead of staying and fighting to survive. It’s cowardice, really.

Your ongoing quest to banish Galacta from your mind succeeds, at least for a little while. That is, until a pounding on the door of your quarters rips you from sleep one night on the Halberd.

“What is it??” you cry, bolting upright. An attack? An invasion? Some other type of disaster??

The door creaks open, and Sailor Dee waddles in, tears streaming down his face. He slowly closes the door and leans against it, taking deep breaths. Your racing heart calms slightly at the sight of him. It’s only him.

“S-sorry for waking you, sir,” he whispers. “I… had a nightmare.”

Yeah, you feel that all too much. You nod. “I understand. What about? If you would like to tell me.”

“I—I—” Sailor Dee stops, collects his thoughts, rubbing an arm across his wet eyes. “I dreamt that you wanted to destroy the Halberd! It was so horrible, it was like… do you remember that time, before Kirby was our friend, when we were launching for the first time, and he came in and blew everything up? Well, it was like that… except it was you, and you wouldn’t listen to us, and….”

He chokes up again, and averts his eyes, cheeks reddening. You walk over, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” you say quietly. “I would never do something like that.”

But even as you say it, a string of memories appears in your mind’s eye, crystal clear and fleeting. A battle arena, a fight with a masked king. A spectacular bird and its chicks. A never-ending cave. The sight of your beloved ship sinking into the sunset, engines smoking, hull ripped up by your own sword.

“I would never do that,” you repeat, but it’s more uncertain this time. When did that happen? Where are these memories coming from? Another timeline?

Another timeline. That must be it; you’ve heard your friends describe such things before. A single day, long, long ago, when Kirby eyed King Dedede with mounting suspicion, refusing to believe his friend Gooey’s constant assertions that the king was not possessed, that they’d defeated Dark Matter years ago. Eventually, Kirby remembered, and grew cheery again, but you wonder how that felt—knowing there were two endings to the same story, separated by time and space. One happened—Kirby really did kill the Dark Matter swordsman and his master Zero—and one, in which the world was never truly saved, festers in the backends of spacetime, almost forgotten.

Has Sailor Dee caught a glimpse of one of these alternate timelines? You don’t dare ask; it would imply the incident occured in some capacity, and that would likely frighten him.

“I’m sorry,” you tell him. “It’s okay. You are safe.”

That seems to calm him, and he nods, giving you a quick hug and then trotting back to his own room. You exhale, unable to shake the images his story has planted in your mind.

Then… then what happened, after you destroyed your own ship? Your memories seem to become more lucid after that; the timeline shifts in ways you cannot wrap your head around, but you suddenly have a strong sense that whatever followed that actually did happen to you, this version of you. You… you travelled to a couple different planets, collecting colorful stars, and then—

Nova. That’s what you did. You went to Nova and you fought Galacta and you defeated him for the first time and he exploded in a shockwave of energy. A product of a pocket timeline that, for some reason, you remember so, so clearly. And apparently so does Nova, and so does Galacta. Did it happen, then? You wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing was Nova’s doing, pulling an event that was supposed to be relegated to another part of reality into, well… into the main timeline, for lack of a better word. Just thinking about it makes your head hurt.

You need answers, you tell yourself as you pack up for a journey you’ve taken far too many times. You’re not going to bring back Galacta. You’re just going to talk.

 

“I will not grant you any more wishes,” is the first thing Nova says when they appear, and the fact that that is their immediate response to your presence, rather than their usual “Ready,” really tells you something about how far you’ve pushed them.

“I’m not here for a wish,” you say.

“Okay. Then why have you summoned me?”

“I want to know about all the…” You gesticulate aimlessly. “Timeline bullshit.”

“Timeline bullshit,” they echo. “Please be more specific.”

You don’t think you can be more specific. Damn, you should’ve thought up a better question on the way here.

“I know that… sometimes events occur that contradict the way everything went before, or that simply make no sense, and no one remembers them afterward.”

It’s a convoluted statement, not a question, so you don’t expect Nova to answer, but, to your surprise, after a couple seconds, they do.

“Are you asking about how Galacta Knight was first sealed in the crystal?”

You blink. That’s rather… random, isn’t it? It’s not like you haven’t wondered, but what does that have to do with timeline shenanigans? “What?”

“Do you not remember the first time Galacta Knight fought you?”

“Of course I do,” you reply, indignant. “I wanted to fight the greatest warrior in the—”

“No,” hums Nova. “That was the first time you fought him, but not the first time he fought you.”

You are so done with the time travel bullshit. You give Nova a pointed look that you hope, even through your mask, conveys your irritation.

“In the Access Ark,” they prompt. “The final test.”

They watch you, gaze unwavering, and for a second their voice sounds exactly like Star Dream.

Let us bring back a legendary swordsman from a forgotten time.

You remember.

You remember the need for revenge boiling inside you, the need to destroy every last scrap of the company that hurt you and your friends, its spaceship somehow rebuilt as if Kirby had never torn it down. As if your defeat, and all the events up to the final, climactic battle, had never happened. A do-over, almost, although the scars from your implants still stung, and Star Dream’s cries still echoed in your ears. Time worked strangely, and you didn’t question it, simply continued your crusade across the land. You showed Susie you were powerful without your forced upgrades, powerful enough to defeat her. You ripped to shreds the now-autonomous mecha suit, the reminder of your pain and trauma, and it was a relief to see it from the outside rather than feel it integrated with your body. And you kept going, up against the clones of your friend and clones of your enemies and the company’s CEO himself.

And Galacta. Freshly plucked from the wormholes of long-vanished days, appearing through a star-shaped tear in the universe, bright and new and dangerous. His ever-present energy was enough to destroy Star Dream in a single hit, and you recall how effortlessly he summoned every sizzling bolt of electricity—no, it wasn’t so much summoning as simply letting it loose, draining a small fraction of his likely-infinite supply. He swooped and twirled and ripped open the fabric of spacetime to blast you with a current of plasma and star-stuff. The energy twisted itself into shining swords which surrounded him, raining down upon you, magnificent and deadly.

That was Galacta Knight before he was sealed, before you dealt the final blow, before the last flickers of Star Dream’s consciousness formed an unbreakable crystal around him, trapping him for an eternity in a forced stasis. That was the greatest warrior in the galaxy, perhaps even living up to his full potential. You have no doubt that, if he had wished, he could have killed you with a single, intense cascade of energy. Maybe he was going easy on you. Maybe he wanted a fairer—or more fun—fight. You’ll never know now.

Floating before Nova, you suddenly realize that you’re shaking, tears threatening to creep into your eyes. You don’t even know why—because it’s a deluge of information, and emotion, you guess, enough to overwhelm anyone.

You desperately want to see Galacta.

“If I, in one timeline, was the admin for Star Dream,” you begin, quietly, “does that give me some authority over you?”

Nova considers this. “Although we share memories, and some programming, I am not Star Dream. I have no admin. However, you do hold some sway over me. Whether that be from your previous admin status, or your numerous visits, I am not sure. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to restore your wishing privileges.”

Their eyelids crinkle in the suggestion of a smile. Sounds like Nova is giving you a frequent buyer pass. “Thank you.”

“I assume you would like to fight the greatest warrior in the galaxy?”

“Maybe just talk this time.”

Nova’s face seems to nod sagely. “I see your courtship ritual has moved onto another phase. Okay, I will awaken him once more.”

Excuse me, your what?? But Nova’s eyes have started to glow bright white, and the rippling void opens in front of you, depositing Galacta mere feet away. Your heart leaps. He blinks, disoriented, then fixes his eyes on you, and they narrow into slits.

“You are making a mistake,” he says, voice dangerously low.

Before you can answer, he takes off towards the planet, tucking his wings close to his body so he can dive in a clean arc. As soon as you both land, he begins to pace in the air. You wrap your cloak around you, watching him from the ground, waiting for him to speak.

Suddenly, Galacta raises his lance and lunges at you. You step away, whipping out your sword just in time to parry the blow. He aims a swipe to the left, right, top, and you block each, taking a step back for every one of his advances.

“Are we back to fighting, then?” you ask between strikes.

“Clearly you refuse to listen to anything else.” The next swing of his lance sends you toppling backwards, crashing into the ground, flat on your back. You don’t even try to sit up.

“What is your obsession with me, Meta?” Galacta’s voice drips disappointment, laced with a seemingly genuine curiosity. He plants his boot on your chest, the sudden weight crushing the air out of your lungs, enough to be uncomfortable (and to make your heart beat madly) but not enough to suffocate you. “Are you not content to let me go until you’ve killed me a thousand times?”

“We’re not enemies,” you grunt. “You said it yourself.”

“If we were friends, you would trust me to make my own decisions.”

“To do what? To shut yourself back in that crystal?” You try to yell, and your voice cracks with the effort. “Like a coward?”

Galacta releases you, and you take a huge gulp of air, sitting up, head spinning. “I am not a coward,” he says softly. “I am simply doing what’s best for the galaxy.”

“Do you even know how you were sealed?”

He stops. A pause. “I remember a fight. I do not recall if I won or lost. Either way, the crystal was formed around me.”

“That was me,” you tell him, and delight in watching his eyes widen, shoulders arching in momentary shock. “I defeated you. Nova—remember them? —they sealed you before you could explode, like you did all those other times.”

He stays silent. You can almost hear the thoughts churning inside his head, the frantic search for scraps of lost memory. “I was summoned here, then? Why?”

“They were… testing me. It’s not important. It happened years after I fought you for the first time. Well, the first time from my perspective, that is. Time travel is confusing.”

Galacta seems lost for words. He crouches down next to you, eyes searching the sky.

“And to think,” he says quietly, “that I imagined the tale of my initial sealing would yield more answers.” He looks at you, chuckles weakly. “We seem to be destined for each other, don’t we, Meta?”

You know he’s joking; you know he doesn’t mean it in that way, but you feel your cheeks grow warm under your mask. “Maybe so,” you murmur, in the most noncommittal tone you can muster.

Minutes pass. There is no breeze on this planet, no shooting stars, no chirping birds or scampering animals, nothing alive save you and your companion. Nothing to distract you.

“What do I do now?” asks Galacta.

“You could visit my planet,” you suggest.

“What is it called?”

“Popstar.”

“I cannot say it rings a bell.”

“It’s…” You search for a word. “Nice.” Not a good word, or an intelligent word, but an adequate word.

“Thank you for the offer, but…” Galacta shakes his head. “I would have no place there.”

“You could stay on my ship.”

“That is not what I mean. I am displaced, both figuratively and literally. I am not sure if reality can sustain me beyond this… constructed realm. And, more pressingly…” He grasps his lance, watching as sparks fly across its length. “There is still the problem of my incorrigible powers.”

“There must be some solution.”

“Perhaps. But can you see why I would rather be sealed away? I am a danger to myself. I am a warrior from an age that even I cannot remember. I told you before; I have no purpose.”

“Must you have a purpose?”

“If one has no purpose, what reason is there to continue?”

“I would miss you,” you blurt.

He smiles, a tiny, soft expression. Your chest aches, and you can’t tell if it’s from a bruise that his foot left, or a sudden, surging emotion. “Thank you.”

Once more you settle into silence. You imagine yourself as you were when the Mecha Knight armor was first wrenched from your body—weak and afraid, terrified of what you had done and what you could do in the future. The lives you almost took in pursuit of a hollow goal. You wonder if that’s how Galacta feels now.

“You don’t need to stay,” says Galacta suddenly.

You give him a questioning glance.

“I believe it might be best if I had some time to think alone. Not that I don’t enjoy your company, but….”

It’s a polite way of telling you to shove off. You rise to your feet. “Will you be okay?”

“Alone? I have been alone for countless years in stasis. A day or two will be no matter.”

“I’ll be back.”

“I look forward to it.”

You don’t move for a second, drinking in his suddenly-peaceful demeanor, wings folded and mask tilted in such a way that you can almost see his smile.

Unable to bear it any longer, you raise your wings and take off, not looking back until the blue, rocky planet is a speck in the distance.

 

*

 

Days pass, and all you can think of is Galacta, Galacta, Galacta. When should you come back? How much is enough time to reflect on one’s own identity and history? You’ll give him space, of course, but inevitably you know you will be drawn back, as a moth to a flame, slowly and inexorably orbiting his blinding light. There is something spellbinding about him that goes beyond just his physical looks—perhaps it’s the fact that you really do seem to be connected in some cosmic way, whatever that means. Spacetime keeps conspiring for you to meet.

You try to hold out two days, three, but it’s very rarely that something actually exciting happens in Dreamland, and by the time you’ve spent four days pacing around your ship, practicing your swordplay, and even letting Kirby teach you how to make fondant, you’re itching to leave. Before you head out, you fill a bag with fondant and sling it over your shoulder.

The blue planet comes into view, and you fly faster, swooping down into a low orbit and scanning the surface for the familiar barren plains of a battleground. It’s not a planet, really—it’s not even big enough to be a proper moon, but the universe doesn’t always comply with your petty laws of classification, and frankly you don’t really give a shit.

Galacta has constructed a sort of makeshift cave by balancing stones on top of each other, tilting the already-existing spires so they lean against larger rocks. Either he’s ridiculously strong (which you would not doubt one bit), or he somehow channeled all his energy into moving them telekinetically, which would be even more badass. Bundles of stripped branches cover holes in the roof, and you wonder where he found trees. There are certainly none to be seen as you scan the landscape.

You approach the structure a little cautiously, tilting your head to peer inside. Galacta is fast asleep on a bed of leaves, his head turned away from you, lavender wings folded around himself. From this angle, you can see how they sprout from his back, the smallest feathers at the base, then widening into broader, sturdier ones at the tips. You don’t think he’s wearing his mask.

“Galacta?” you whisper.

He starts, sitting bolt upright and turning toward you. Before you can catch more than a glimpse of his face—pink, round, with surprised eyes and a surprising lack of horns—he fumbles for his mask and slips it over his head, awkwardly rising to his feet. So the horns are, in fact, part of his mask. There’s the answer to something you’ve been wondering about.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” you say.

Galacta ducks under the beam positioned over the tiny doorway, straightening up once he’s outside. “No matter. I’m glad to see you.”

“How are you doing?” you ask, trying and failing to ignore the rush that comes from his words.

He sighs. “I am glad to be able to sleep properly again. I had missed having dreams.”

“Good dreams, I hope.”

“Sometimes. Not always.” He yawns, stretching his wings out to their full extent, then drawing them back in towards him. “And sometimes dreams can show you memories that you would have otherwise forgotten. But then again, it can be difficult to distinguish a dream from a vision of a world eons in the past.”

“Have you remembered much else?”

“Not much.” He perches on a rock, inviting you to sit across from him. “I recall a great many battles, but with whom I cannot be certain. It’s images, mostly, but rarely any that make sense. The heart of a volcano, for instance. But I cannot tell what it might mean.”

“Do you remember me?”

“Of course I remember you. You and Nova are the only people that this incarnation of myself has met.”

“No, I mean, our fight on the Access Ark. Before you were sealed.”

He’s quiet for a second, before shaking his head. “I know nothing more than what Nova has told me.”

“I see,” you say, and nod, curbing your disappointment. (Some selfish part of you wishes he’d gotten yet another chance to see you in action, able to defeat even a legendary warrior in his prime.)

Another pause. Again there’s the nagging feeling that you’re intruding, that despite Galacta’s hospitality, he doesn’t really want you here. That maybe he’s feigning it—as a trap, perhaps, or simply an attempt at courtesy. That he still considers you a rival. You don’t know why he wouldn’t; you’ve given him more than enough evidence to prove your (previous) animosity. The fact that he can somehow put all that behind him is astounding to you.

“How long would you like me to stay?” you ask.

“As long as you’re able and willing. Save Nova, I do not exactly have another companion.”

“And you still won’t take me up on my offer? There are plenty of friendly folks on Popstar.”

Galacta just shakes his head, and you don’t press him. Instead, remembering the bag of fondant you brought, you remove it from your shoulder and set it on the rock before you.

“Have you eaten?”

He blinks. “I am not sure that I need to eat.”

“Is that a side effect of all your energy, or…?”

He shrugs.

“Anyway, I brought you, a, uh.” You hesitate to call it a gift. “Something.”

You hold out a fondant. The little batch has survived its journey through space, but is unfortunately a great deal colder than it should be served, ideally. Curious, Galacta takes it from you, the chocolate smearing onto his gloves.

“Is it food?”

“Yes. A type of sweet desert.”

Galacta tilts his mask upward, enough to expose his mouth but not his eyes, and pops the entire thing into his mouth. His cheeks puff up, eyes widening as he tastes it.

“Do you like it?” you ask once he’s finished.

“Yes,” he replies, with an enthusiasm you’ve never heard in his voice before, and it makes your heart soar. “Do you have more?”

You show him the rest of the bag, and in just a few minutes, the two of you have finished the entire thing. You realize too late that you probably should’ve saved some for later, but impulse control is not exactly your strong suit, especially when it comes to chocolate. Galacta laughs when you mention this—a deep, hearty, genuine laugh, and again you marvel at the friendliness of the situation. Never would you have guessed you’d be sharing fondant with the greatest warrior in the galaxy.

For your budding friendship, it’s a huge step.

 

*

 

You bring fondant the next time too, wrapping it in foil because you heard somewhere that it’s good at keeping food warm, along with a whole host of other sweets that Kirby was delighted to pick out with you. Galacta loves each one, from the lollipops to cakes to chocolate bars. He makes sure to comment on every flavor, using words like “bright” or “loud” that you’ve never heard applied to food but that work surprisingly well.

You bring him supplies as well: a blanket, a pillow, materials to reinforce the precarious rock structure that he’s starting to call home. It’s better than a crystal, but despite his assurances that he likes it here, it seems to you that “alone, on a tiny blue planetoid constructed by an omnipotent comet” should be fairly low on a list of best places to live. You bring him some books to pass the time, but quickly realize that he can’t read—any written language he has knowledge of died thousands of years ago. Besides, he claims that boredom doesn’t come easily to him. A notebook and a sketchpad turn out to be better gifts, as does a video game console, which he takes a special sort of delight in—he has no clue what it is, at first, but when you show him how to use it, he’s utterly fascinated. It’s almost like watching a child discover the world for the first time, solely through artifacts from a planet that he swears he cannot visit.

“Why would it be so bad for you to leave?” you ask for perhaps the hundredth time.

“I do not know what damage I might do,” is his answer, and your gaze floats to a field far to the right of Galacta’s encampment, absolutely scorched, riddled with cracks and scars that will not heal.

 

One day, when you’ve lost track of how many times you’ve visited, Galacta has a proposal for you.

“You first fought me because you wanted to become a better warrior, did you not?”

“Yes, that’s what I hoped.”

Galacta picks up your sword, which has been lying on the ground in front of his house, and tosses it to you. “It seems you have many things to teach me as well. Shall we learn together?”

A surge of determination rushes through you, and you grip the sword as tight as possible. As much as you’ve promised not to fight, there’s no denying it—Galacta is a fun opponent, and at times you think you’d even settle for simply watching him slice through the air, intense and lethal and beautiful.

“I would be honored,” you tell him.

He bows his head, then raises his lance, jumping into the air. You follow suit, and the two of you circle each other like birds of prey, keeping your eyes keen and your attention focused. Your swordplay is like clockwork, and his shield adds a challenging element that you’re quick to use to your advantage, knocking it into his chest at an angle that briefly incapacitates him. It’s not a new realization, but really thinking about the style of his attacks—imitating them and iterating on them and discussing it afterward when you’re worn-out—they’re remarkably similar to your own. He has a certain way of spinning his lance that could have been directly copied from you, except you know it can’t have been. You suppose that all swordsmen think alike.

Galacta tries not to use his energy bolts in these controlled fights—he sees them as an unfair advantage, even though you’re getting better and better at dodging them. However, in the heat of the moment, he sometimes can’t help but let loose a shower of sparks, or a blast of crackling electricity that whirls through the air and narrowly avoids singeing the tips of your wings. He can’t help it, so he utilizes it, working the energy-based moves back into his arsenal of attacks as your battles get more advanced.

Then, when you’re done, exhausted and panting but still alive, you collapse on Galacta’s bed of leaves and blankets and debrief. What worked well, what didn’t. What you should improve or adapt and what you should throw away. He compliments your fighting style, and you, sheepish, compliment him back.

He falls asleep on your wing one day, knocked out from a hard couple hours of constant battle, pressing up against your side. His breathing is slow, and the air around him is filled with static electricity. At that moment, he doesn’t look like a powerful warrior. There is no combat instinct blazing within his closed eyes. He just looks like a person, just like you, so similar in both physicality and mentality. Two knights on a giant rock in space, healing and helping each other. He means more to you than you will ever have the courage to tell him.

 

*

 

You stop by Nova more than once, just to pay your respects if nothing else. You’re kind of glad you don’t have to keep begging them for wishes, now that Galacta’s alive again, free from the crystal, and intending to stay that way.

“What were your criteria,” you ask them one day, “for choosing the greatest warrior in the galaxy?”

They blink, slowly and lazily. “A great warrior is exceptionally skilled at fighting.”

“But is that it? Is skill what makes a great warrior?”

“They must be powerful enough to prove a challenge.”

It makes sense, especially given the purpose for which Nova chose Galacta, but something about their definition doesn’t sit right with you. You’ve faced off against countless skilled, challenging, powerful foes, but how many of those fought fairly? How many had a code of honor? How many were fighting for justice in the galaxy, and how many for an evil master?

“Do you have a wish for me?” says Nova suddenly, interrupting your thoughts.

“I thought that I didn’t get any more wishes.”

“Correct, you do not. I am speaking only hypothetically.”

Interesting. But okay, you’ll go along with it. What do you wish for? You wish you were stronger. You wish you were more resilient. You wish you could forget all the horrifying things that have happened to you. You wish you could better help your friends, especially the one who has exiled himself to a small blue planetoid and refuses to leave.

Instead, what comes out of your mouth, entirely unthinkingly, is “I wish that Galacta felt the same way about me as I do about him.”

What the hell, Meta Knight?? Blood rushes into your cheeks, and you bury your face in your hands. Why does Nova have to have this horrible tendency to make certain buried thoughts bubble to the surface of your mind—from forgotten, wandering memories to repressed desires?

“How do you feel about him?” Nova says, voice entirely too casual.

You trip over your words. “I—he—we are friends, and I wish to become better friends.”

“I hope you are successful in that goal.”

There’s something in their expression that tells you that, had they a proper mouth, they’d be barely suppressing a grin. Wow. And you thought omnipotent clockwork comets weren’t supposed to have emotions.

“Do you talk to him at all?” you ask.

“Yes, we have spoken quite a few times.”

“About what?”

“He asks me about his past. I do not know everything, but I have relayed to him a couple of the legends I have heard.”

You’ll have to ask Galacta about that later. Still blushing, you take a deep breath to clear your mind, and head down to the planet below.

 

“I was thinking,” says Galacta, once the pleasantries are out of the way—the “hello”s, the “how are you”s, the ritualistic consumption of chocolate sweets, and the ever-present social awkwardness that comes with small talk— “that perhaps today I could try to get a better grip on my powers.”

Hasn’t he already been doing that? But okay, it looks like you’re in for an especially electric day. When you cross over to the designated battlefield, one of the particularly large rock spires, usually sitting on the horizon line, is missing. Galacta pointedly avoids looking in that direction, and you suddenly understand why he requested that particular topic.

For you, it seems, today is about dodging. The first thing that Galacta does is conjure a ring of pulsing swords, bright and glowing, that ricochet around the arena and sting when touched. Using his lance, Galacta directs them in a swarm towards you, and you fly in a spiral around the area, white-hot blades of energy whizzing by you. You fight your way through the hail of swords and land a couple hits (mere touches) on him as he focuses on the momentum of the spinning blades. Seconds later, he thrusts his lance into the air, a beam of concentrated energy shooting from its tip. The air around the beam crackles, the electricity within threatening to break free of its form, but Galacta holds it steady, sweeping the arena. His body is beginning to glow with the same aura you’ve seen in a couple of his fights, most notably the one in the Access Ark—pink and yellow light dancing around him, illuminating his wings and glinting off his mask. If you weren’t in the middle of a battle, you’d stop and stare.

Galacta slices his lance downwards, and a column of lightning erupts into being right beside you, sizzling violently. You throw yourself to the other side, only to be met with another energy blast. These are not the coordinated lines of lightning strikes from the Access Ark battle. These pop up at random, each larger than the last, sparks flying all over the arena. Galacta’s eyes are wide and distant, the glow around him pulsing, writhing, almost seeming to dictate rather than follow his frenzied slashing motions.

“Galacta,” you say, but the crash of another lightning bolt tears through your call. Your heart beating wildly, you root your feet into the ground, throwing your arm out before you in a guarding position. “Galacta! Stop!”

He doesn’t. He can’t. He’s stopped moving, the hum of electricity in the air turning to a scream around you.

It all happens so fast. The blinding burst of light that fills your vision. The resounding crack that accompanies it. An explosion of pain as you’re thrown backwards, every inch of your skin on fire. A second later it’s gone, the world seeming pitch-black in comparison, colors streaking across your eyelids. Deathly silence and a throbbing, all-encompassing pain.

You are ready to black out, to fall headfirst into oblivion and never resurface, but when the pain lessens briefly and you crack open your eyes, you notice two things.

First, Galacta is sprawled on the ground, the center of a blackened crater of debris. Smoke billows around him.

Second, your mask has split cleanly in two.

This is the final straw, a true symbol of defeat, and suddenly you’re shaking, your brain beginning to short-circuit as a memory claws its way into your mind, its dark substance blacking out every other feeling save the pain. Your name is Mecha Knight and you are malfunctioning, wires snapped, signals fried, the mask that sustains your artificial mind fighting to regain control. It slips, grip loosening, but as it falls it manages to rake its talons across your soul.

“Meta!” screams a voice, far-off, from another world, high-pitched and tinny as if processed through robotic ears. That’s your name, isn’t it. That’s your name. You’re not gone, not yet.

Footsteps, fast as your beating heart and panicked breaths, getting farther away and then closer and closer. Then a gloved hand on your face, pushing away the halves of your mask, and something sticky shoved into your mouth. A fondant. Not a tomato, but it’ll do. The pain subsides, feeling returning to your back and lower body, but not even sweets can still your whirling mind.

“Meta. I’m sorry. I am so sorry.” His wings block out the pinprick lights of the stars, fiery eyes like two pink suns, the only things your vision can properly register. “Please say something.”

You open your mouth to speak, but nothing comes out, your brain too jumbled to produce a single coherent word. You gradually become aware of a trembling hand squeezing your own.

“Breathe,” commands Galacta.

You take in a gulp of air, release it. Repeat. Listen to your friend as he inhales and exhales with you. Shaky breaths synchronize. Focus on the air in your lungs and the hand in yours.

It feels like a lifetime before you can sit up, drawing your cloak around you, the ringing in your ears reduced to blissful silence. The air is cool and still. The ground is burnt, Galacta’s house half-destroyed. One of his wings wraps around you, protective, its soft pressure on your back helping you calm down.

“Are you feeling better?” he asks.

You nod.

“Good.”

Pause. Galacta scans the landscape, and shivers, feathers rustling as he draws you closer to him.

“This is why I cannot stay on your planet,” he says quietly.

This time, you don’t even try to argue.

“Is this what it means to be the greatest warrior in the galaxy? A constant trail of destruction following wherever I go? I would like nothing better than to call it an accident, but in the moment it is difficult to tell where I end and the energy inside me begins.”

An amalgam of something living, breathing, feeling—and something else, something powerful. You nod again.

“I understand,” you croak.

“You do?”

Should you tell him? Are you even able to put it into words? But as you struggle to find an apt way to begin, Galacta speaks again.

“I am sorry for hurting you, Meta. I have no excuse.”

“Thanks,” you say, and it doesn’t feel like enough, not nearly, but Galacta exhales beside you. You’ve accepted his apology. That’s enough for him.

“I am also sorry about your mask.”

“It’s fine. It is not the first time it has broken.”

“Still. I would be devastated.”

The realization hits you much too late. That’s right, you’re not wearing your mask. He can see your face in its entirety now, each of your emotions splashed across it for anyone to see. (Except that here, now, it’s just him, and you’re kind of okay with that. Just a little.)

“Meta?” he says quietly, after a second.

“Yes?”

“Are you scared of me?”

“I—no, of course not.”

“I… I see.” He sighs. “Forgive me. I suppose it was simply the situation that prompted your panic, then.”

“Yes. It wasn’t your fault. It just… reminded me of something.”

“Oh?”

You train your eyes on the horizon, willing yourself to keep your voice steady, any latent anxiety stowed away within your mind. “A little less than a year ago, a corrupt corporation invaded my home. We tried to defend ourselves, but I was taken prisoner, and… they tortured me, and turned me into a cybernetic organism, and used me against my friends. That is why I came here to fight you again. I wanted to become stronger. I wanted to feel strong without all the intrusive, artificial upgrades. I wanted to feel in control. And then, today… you lost control, and I lost control, and it was intense and overwhelming, and being defeated meant I was weak again, that they could come and hurt me again if they wanted to, and… and…”

You stop. You’ve talked too much; you never talk this much, especially not about your feelings. You keep your gaze fixed on a point in the distance.

A gentle hand takes your own, feathers brushing softly against your back, soothing.

“I am sorry that happened to you,” says Galacta.

It’s not much, just a few words, a few touches, but it’s so genuine. Anything more would be excessive. He knows exactly how you feel, and you can see the pain in his eyes as he looks at you.

Silence. You rest your head against Galacta’s shoulder, the moment killing any fears of intimacy you might have harbored up until this point.

Galacta shifts his position, and now it’s his turn to speak.

“Nova told me…” His voice is barely above a whisper. “Nova told me the legends about my life before. It was eons ago; not much is known. It is generally agreed that I was something of a vigilante, though whether I fought for the good of society or simply for myself is unclear. I had no army, nor any strong interpersonal connections; I was aloof and ruthless. Some saw me as a hero, some as a terror, a demon, a scourge. No one knows where my power came from. Perhaps I was born with it; perhaps I acquired it through some other means.”

He pauses. You can feel his heart pulsing rapidly in his chest.

“I destroyed planets. I slaughtered thousands. Collateral damage, perhaps, or something more sinister. Everyone feared me. I cannot tell which is worse—the thought that I never had true control over the energy in my body, or that I did, and I used it for evil. Maybe I called it justice. I have no context for these events, nor memory of my motivations.

“But today, I am different, and I am horrified, not only because some version of me once caused such suffering—even if it was for a good cause—but also because I feel I have the potential to do it again. You have seen what happens when my power level becomes too great. Perhaps it is not a lack of control but rather a reversion to destructive instincts that once controlled me.”

Perhaps the energy tapped into his mind and augmented the primal urge to fight, just as the wires and circuits in your brain had done to you. You wonder how many of his dreams of the past have been nightmares.

“Then again, I could have truly been a hero. I could have saved far more than I killed. The planets I destroyed could have been corrupt to the core, swarming with evil. I could have made mistakes, accidents. I do not know. The greatest warrior in the galaxy is an awful role to fill.”

“Maybe,” you say, “you don’t have to abide by Nova’s definition of a great warrior.”

He blinks. “How do they define it, then?”

“Someone who is powerful and skilled. As you are, of course. But I think that you’re a great warrior for more reasons than just that.” His story has filled you with a kind of determination, a resolution that is only now becoming clear to you. “I don’t know what you may have done in the past, when you were effectively… not yourself. If it is anything like what I did, you will regret it, and it will haunt you with images of what happened, what you did, what more you could have done had you not been stopped. I… I don’t think I will ever be able to forget the Haltmann laboratory. I have tried. And maybe, even if I did, it wouldn’t help. Maybe the best we can do is to swear that we will improve. Not necessarily to get better at fighting, but to get better at what we’re fighting for.”

“What we’re fighting for,” Galacta muses. He closes his eyes. “Justice, freedom, the like. It is a nice sentiment. But how can I do that when I barely know who I am?”

“I think you… have the opportunity to create your own identity. Be who you are, now. See where it takes you. The more you are yourself, the less you are that other person, who destroyed planets, who was feared for his immense power.”

“But that was me. I cannot change what I did. I cannot separate myself from him.”

You imagine your mind corrupted by a program, by a thread of yarn, by an instilled hatred or prejudice. You remember the crushing defeat when the invaders overpowered you. Your quest to become physically stronger. To project your problems onto your enemies and slice them up with a sword and pretend that they’re dead and rotting, while in reality they live on in your own brain.

“I don’t think it’s about fighting at all,” you say slowly.

He looks at you, questioning. Your response doesn’t match his statement.

“No, that’s not what… how do I say this. I believe that we are—that I am—going about this the wrong way. What if it is not about becoming the greatest warrior in the galaxy? What if it’s about accepting that I am not, and will never be? I know I am strong. I know what I fight for. I have to try, and I have to take responsibility when I make a mistake, and I have to keep going. But I don’t have to beat myself up when I fail. And I don’t think you do either.”

Galacta considers this. “I see. What do you propose I do, then?”

“I—I don’t know. I don’t have a solution to your problems with your powers. But maybe we can frame it in a more productive way.”

“What if I lose control again?”

“Then you will amend the damage you have done, and you will keep going.”

He sighs, and the hint of a smile appears on his lips, visible through the lower crack in his helmet. “You are very wise, Meta.”

“I am not,” you protest, but that just makes him laugh, a deep, billowing sound that fills your chest with a sudden warmth.

“Even a fool’s ideas can have some merit to them.”

“Are you calling me a fool?”

“You said you were not wise.”

“That doesn’t make me a fool!”

“It certainly does. You are an absolute clown, Meta Knight. Perhaps you should paint your face and learn to juggle.”

You bristle and draw your cloak around you, fully aware that Galacta can tell just how hard you’re trying to fight back a grin. “My face is fine as it is.”

“Your face is very fine,” he agrees, and you have no way to hide your scarlet cheeks. He laughs again, playfully tapping his wing against your shoulder.

There’s more to be said on the topic of power and responsibility and acceptance of failure, but the conversation has burned itself out. You’re feeling better now. So, for now, you just lean into Galacta’s embrace and watch as the dust and smoke fades from the sky, revealing the twinkling stars.

 

*

 

Your crew is shocked when you return without your mask, but you brush it off—there was an accident, that is all, no, you aren’t hurt and neither is your pride, you don’t need any more comforting for now. Just a new mask. By now you’ve learned to keep a whole stash of them in the armory; it’s more efficient than repairing all the old ones.

On the way back up to the bridge, you run into Sailor Dee, and a sudden thought crystallizes in your mind, an idea you’d been considering but forgotten until now.

“May I ask you a favor?”

“Of course, sir,” he replies instantly.

“You know my friend that I’ve been meeting with.”

He most certainly does. You can’t help but mention Galacta, even if you try to keep descriptions of your activities as vague as possible.

“Yes?”

“Would you like to meet him as well?”

Sailor Dee’s eyes widen. “I… oh my gosh, would he… would he be okay with that?”

“Of course.”

He bounces on the balls of his feet, pressing his little hands together in excitement. “I would be honored, sir!”

You nod. “We’ll leave tomorrow. On the way there, I’ll tell you what I’d like you to do.”

 

Kirby lets you borrow the Warp Star, since Sailor Dee can’t fly, and you set off. You know that the Star is much faster than any other option, but this time the journey seems to take twice as long, just because of your anticipation. Sailor Dee knows better than to ask every couple minutes if you’re there yet, but you can still feel him fidget beside you as you soar through the system of distant planets and approach the Galactic Nova.

“I have to talk to that?” whispers Sailor Dee, gaping at Nova, whose eyes are closed.

“If you would prefer not to, I can request—”

“No no! Don’t worry, sir, I can do it!”

The Warp Star sends you hurtling past Nova and down to the planetoid that is beginning to feel like a kind of second home to you. Your heart races.

“What if he doesn’t like your idea?” asks Sailor Dee, quietly.

“He will,” you assure him.

You land on the rocky earth just a few steps away from the remains of Galacta’s hut. The structure, hastily rebuilt after its destruction in a blast of energy, is lopsided, parts of the roof missing and almost every surface scarred. You’re about to cross over to the entrance when you feel your companion pulling at your cloak, a pensive expression on his face.

“You said he didn’t want to leave.”

You open your mouth to echo your previous response—he will, he will want to leave once you’ve explained your plan—but a voice from behind you exclaims “Meta!” and you whirl around, all traces of the previous conversation shoved to the back of your mind as your thoughts are overtaken by a surge of joy at the appearance of your wonderful Galacta.

He isn’t wearing his mask, and with a start you realize that this is the first time you have truly seen his face. His skin is smooth, but crisscrossed with the outlines of scars. Without the mask, his eyes have lost their electric hue and instead seem a softer, rosier shade of pink. They’re fixed not on you, but on Sailor Dee standing beside you, with a look both surprised and inquisitive.

“Whoa,” says Sailor Dee, and his reaction makes Galacta’s eyes crinkle in amusement.

“Hello,” he says, stepping forward and reaching out a hand to grasp Sailor Dee’s. “You must be a member of Meta’s crew.”

“I am!” he squeaks, and Galacta chuckles. Somehow, in this instant, he manages to perfectly balance the physique of a powerful warrior with the visage of a kind stranger, gentle and polite. For a split second you almost regret bringing Sailor Dee, selfishly craving Galacta’s undivided attention (why are you like this? snap out of it, Meta; let the kid have some fun too!) —but then he looks at you and your insides turn to jelly, or perhaps the creamy chocolate of fondant filling. You desperately wish you’d left your mask at home; it doesn’t feel right to be subject to his unfiltered gaze without letting down your own guard as well. But you can’t exactly remove it now.

“I’m glad to see you,” says Galacta, with a warm smile.

“How are your repairs going?”

He glances back towards his house. “I am making do. I think I may need to request from you some more supplies, though. But that can wait. I am excited to have another visitor.”

Realizing that Galacta means him, Sailor Dee beams.

You clear your throat. Now that it’s actually time to propose your idea, the nerves have come back, stronger than before. “I thought he might be able to help you.”

“How?”

“Everyone gets one wish from Nova,” you say. “You have used up your wish. I have used and reused my wish more times than I can count. Sailor Dee has not made a wish yet.”

You pause, letting the implication settle in. Galacta blinks. Even without his mask, his expression is impossible to read. His eyes flick back and forth between you and Sailor Dee.

“Does he not want to make a wish for himself?” he says quietly.

Sailor Dee shrugs.

“Dee—is that your name? —if you could have anything in the world, what would it be?”

He thinks about this for a second, then shrugs again. “I don’t know. I guess there isn’t really anything I want that badly!”

Galacta is unconvinced. His brow furrows, and he turns to you again. “What is your purpose in this?”

“My purpose?”

“Yes. What would you have him wish for?”

“I thought Nova might have a solution to your problems with your powers.”

An emotion flashes across his face, too quick to catch, and then it returns to that infuriating blankness, his eyes slightly wider than before.

“I cannot agree to that.”

“Why not?”

Galacta sighs. “I will not ask a child to make such a sacrifice for my sake.”

“It’s not a sacrifice—”

“Still—”

“Um.” Sailor Dee pipes up, and you both look at him. “I… I really would be happy to help you! I know that it’s important to Sir Meta Knight, and it really isn’t such a big deal—if it makes him happy, I’ll be happy too!”

Galacta is silent for a long time. You begin to get the feeling that there’s more to his objection than simply questions of Sailor Dee’s willingness.

“I do not know that I deserve that,” he says finally.

“What?? Why not?”

“To ask Nova to help me tame my powers—would that not constitute a kind of cheating? I have fought incredibly hard to regain my control. To be completely honest, I cannot tell whether or not it has worked. I have hurt myself and I have hurt you. But I cannot admit defeat just yet. I must keep trying to—”

Something clicks within your brain.

“No. Galacta. Listen to me.”

He stops, looks up at you, agitated.

“This is just like what we discussed last time. It is okay to admit defeat. It’s okay to ask for help. You asked me to help you train, and learn to fight better.”

“But Nova is a miracle worker. I—I cannot be satisfied with something I haven’t worked to achieve.”

“You have,” you insist. “You have tried so hard.”

“I don’t think I have tried hard enough.”

You know exactly how he feels. You can see it in his face—the same terror that’s possessed you a thousand times. And it is so, so frustrating. In a sudden, impulsive motion, you push your mask up over your forehead, grab his shoulders, and stare him in the eyes. Face to face, properly.

“You have tried,” you whisper. “And now it is time to try something else. I will not let you keep denying yourself the opportunity to leave this planet. I know you are scared, and I know you feel like an outsider. But I swear that I will help you. Please let me help you.”

You could lose yourself in the swirling pink of his eyes, bright and wide and tantalizingly close. You keep your gaze fixed, pleading.

Galacta nods.

“I… I’m sorry, Meta. You are right, once again. I am scared. But I do trust you.”

You exhale, shutting your eyes tight and releasing his shoulders. Damn, you are so close; you hope he can’t feel how warm your cheeks are from inches away.

“Are you guys okay?” comes Sailor Dee’s voice, and you leap away from Galacta, straightening up. Galacta’s eyes are on the floor.

“Yes. I think we’ve figured something out.”

Galacta looks up at you again, and his face is filled with genuine gratitude.

“Let us visit Nova,” he says, and, as an afterthought, grasps your hand, squeezing it gently. “Thank you. Both of you.”

 

Nova opens their eyes, regarding the three of you with a curious sentiment that registers to you as some sort of cross between bemusement and interest. Their gaze is no longer detached, but sharp and intent, and it would probably terrify you if you didn’t know they were on your side. Sailor Dee, clinging to the Warp Star between you and Galacta, gulps.

“Ready,” says Nova.

Sailor Dee takes a deep breath, glances at the two of you, and addresses the clockwork star in front of him.

“I want to help Galacta. Meta Knight’s told me that he’s had a hard time controlling all the energy inside him, and it’s dangerous and scary for everyone. I don’t think he wants to give up that power though, just be able to use it better. I want him to be happy, and I want him and Meta to be able to be happy together! So, my wish is for Galacta Knight to have more control over his powers.”

He looks at Galacta, who nods in encouragement.

“Okay,” replies Nova, and there’s a hint of a smile in their voice. “3, 2, 1, go!”

Their eyes begin to glow, and Galacta is engulfed in a shimmering swirl of light. A second later it dissipates, leaving him much the same as before—a little brighter, perhaps, a little fresher—and with a grin that radiates pure delight. He raises his lance, and sparks fly across it, a globe of white-hot energy forming at the tip. When he thrusts it forward, it sends a bolt of electricity streaking through space.

“Perfect,” he whispers, and stows away his lance, placing a gentle hand on Sailor Dee’s shoulder. “Thank you. And you, Nova. All of you.”

Nova says nothing, simply inclines their head slightly.

“If you will excuse me,” continues Galacta, “I must attend to some matters. Farewell, Dee. I hope we will meet again someday.”

With that, he raises his wings, taking off towards the planetoid once more. Sailor Dee waves frenetically, but the finality of his words doesn’t sit right with you, your elation twisting into anxiety.

“Stay here,” you command Sailor Dee. “I will only be a minute.”

He nods, and you follow Galacta, wings tucked at your sides in a graceful dive.

 

He’s waiting for you in the center of the battlefield where you first met, mask and lance slung over his shoulder, hands folded in front of him. You land lightly, heart pounding. Further away, what was once his house has reverted back into a pile of rocks.

“Are you coming?” you ask, and try to keep the nervousness out of your voice, but without your mask you can’t hide it altogether. Galacta’s face softens, and he takes one of your hands, holding it between both of his.

“Meta. Do not misunderstand my purpose. I would love nothing more than to return to your planet and spend my days as a loyal member of your crew. It pains me to tell you this, but…” He sighs, casting his eyes to the ground.

“You’re… not coming, then.”

“No. I made my decision long ago—that, should I ever be given the opportunity to travel this galaxy, I would take the chance to learn about it. Its history, my place in its past and its future. As the… the greatest warrior in the galaxy—” He laughs at the title, a watery sound. “It is my duty to do what I can. I know you understand that.”

You do. You absolutely do. But the reassurance does nothing to relieve the ache in your chest.

“But our paths will cross again—?”

He grins. “If we are truly connected so cosmically, I would count on it.”

“You once said we were destined to meet.”

“I cannot deny it. You have done more for me than I would ever expect of a former rival. Thank you again.”

You nod, unable to speak. What are you going to do without him? Yes, there are others you can train with, and they are your dear friends, but none of them are Galacta. You have fought and bled and healed and told your stories, loosened up, opened up, seen the darkest depths of each other’s minds and come out smiling.

Galacta releases your hand, taking a few steps backward, eyes trained on the sky. “Well.”

“Well?”

“I suppose I should get going, then.”

He turns away, but doesn’t move, magnificent wings still folded behind him. He presses his hands together, then rings them out, starting to pace around the arena. You stand completely still, watch him figure it out. It’s as if you can hear the frantic gears turning in his head.

Suddenly, he turns on his heels and walks back towards you, expression determined, stopping a foot away. He studies your face, hand resting on your shoulder.

“Before I go,” he breathes, and kisses you. It’s slow and tender and gentle and nothing like you would expect from the kiss of a powerful warrior (hell, you never in your wildest dreams would have expected you’d one day be kissed by a powerful warrior), and it makes your heart do a somersault and your brain short-circuit, but you press closer to him and drink it in because you never want to let him go. It’s not until he pulls away that you realize his wings are wrapped around you, holding you in a protective cocoon, shielding you from the rest of the world.

You take a deep, shuddering breath, try and fail to speak. There is nothing you could say in this moment that would properly convey the emotions swelling up in your chest, feelings you have tried endlessly keep at bay but ultimately found impossible to suppress.

Galacta smiles, and stretches out his wings, starlight glinting off the feathers. He is confident and powerful and absolutely stunning.

“Farewell, my love,” he says, and the words make your breath catch in your throat. “Until we meet again.”

He leaps forward and takes to the sky, soaring into the vast expanse of space above you. You watch him until he’s a flicker in the distance, a single spark that shines like a newborn star.

 

*

 

Months later, you again make the journey that you know so well—you think you could summon Nova blindfolded if you ever needed a reason to show off. Although they share Star Dream’s face, today they seem like an old friend, pleasantly surprised at your sudden appearance after so long. At least, that’s how you interpret their placid expression.

“Ready,” they say, tone almost serious.

“I wish to fight the greatest warrior in the galaxy.”

It’s a futile hope; you’ve known that from the moment you set out, plagued by memories of the addictive adrenaline of your battles, of your conversations, of Galacta’s hand in yours. But at the very least you want to know the mechanical comet’s answer.

“The greatest warrior in the galaxy is unavailable at the moment,” intones Nova. Once, they were willing to wrench him from death for your sake. You think you prefer this response much better.

“Exploring, I presume.”

“Yes.”

“Will he return?”

“Eventually.”

Eventually. It’s good enough for you. You hesitate, then ask, quietly: “Is he happy?”

“He is.”

You let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Nova.”

As you drift back through the endless reaches of space—stars all around you, smiling at you, lighting up the void—you find that you’re happy as well.