In the back of his mind, Daroach knew he never should’ve gotten out of bed this morning.
Invading Floralia on foot was not unlike bringing a brigade of ice cream trucks to Dreamland while King Dedede was in the midst of a diet. Horribly ill-conceived, marginally insulting, asking for trouble, and only leaving to ruination for all parties involved. Nevertheless, Daroach had desired the Triple-Star ever since he’d heard of Lord Taranza’s recovery of the item and had convinced his crew that they’d be able to slip under the spider’s nose (or lack thereof) if they eschewed the airship.
And to his credit, it had worked getting them in. Getting them out was a different beast altogether. Daroach had no idea how to operate the Triple-Star proper, something that even he kicked himself for not thinking through as the troupe dashed through Royal Road, and they were hopelessly outgunned with the advanced tech of the Queen’s goons.
“If anybody has an I told you so speech or anything to that effect, say it now!” Daroach yelled, pinning himself against the wall as the Lollipop tank fired another cannonball.
“Oh, I have several!” Doc chimed as he hovered next to Daroach. “In fact, I’d begun preparing one right before we left! Would you like to hear the first draft or the second?”
“No time!” Spinni called as he darted around fallen Sectra Dees, Storo and the Squeakers following in hasty pursuit. “Me ‘n Storo found a way out through the caves under this place! We dug a big enough hole in the old ballroom to squeeze through! Y’know, that kinda confuses me. I mean, we’re on top of clouds already. Why doesn’t the cave just fall through?”
Storo opened his mouth to say something, but quickly shut it and nodded.
The squad of mice sped down the seemingly endless hallway, each shot fired at them a hair’s breadth from a direct hit. It seemed that the tank’s operators noticed this and went for a different approach; aiming directly for a load-bearing pillar above the Squeaks and firing. The roof collapsed, bits of concrete and spackle pending down on the thieves’ heads, as the rest of the structure began to buckle and collapse. Leading the back, Doc took the brunt of the damage, even having to eject from his saucer in a vain attempt to ask. But it was to no avail as the roof came crashing down atop him.
“DOC!” Storo shouted.
The three remaining Squeaks ran over to the pile of rubble and began to pull it apart, hoping and praying that it was just an impasse and not burying their poor friend alive. The sound of the tank reloading for another shot became all too apparent, and Storo strong-armed Daroach out of its path and away from the fallen rocks. He attempted to rush back, but the big blue mouse blocked him at arm’s length.
“Just go, boss!” Spinni cried. “We can get him out fine on our own! You just bring the Triple-Star to the caves, we’ll meet you there!”
“No! I refuse to leave you guys behind! We’re a crew, and-!”
Spinni cut him off with a ninja star flying past his head and kayoing a Sectra Dee that he hadn’t noticed rising up behind him. “If we all get caught, we’re all toast! Just go!”
Daroach hesitated for only a second and then turned and ran towards the ballroom. A lone red Squeaker looked between his own kind and his leader, and then bounded after him. Daroach held the Triple-Star close to him as he burst into the ballroom and tumbled into the hole in the ground. The squeaker landed in his lap with a cheery chirp, something the thief regarded with a friendly smile and a gentle pat on the head. But the sound of a massive electric attack followed by Storo’s roar of pain and a sickening period of silence quickly dashed any chance of a happy ending from the two of their minds.
Daroach’s blood ran cold as he slowly rose to his feet. His ears twitched as he heard the sound of marching soldiers, but he couldn’t hear a sound from his crew. The Squeaker, now resting on his shoulder, whimpered and buried its face into his neck as he trudged forward. To Daroach, the Triple-Star didn’t even look worth it anymore, not if it got his crew hurt… or worse. But he kept going forward until he reached a dead end with a high ceiling.
“Okay, squirt. Listen up. Our buddies are in danger and I need you to help ‘em!” He took the Squeaker off his shoulder, placing him on the ground and handing him the golden bell that had been tied around his neck. “Take this with you. They’ll know you got it from me. Be sure to ring it when you find them! And no coming back until you’re all together, okay?”
The Squeaker sniffled a bit, but Daroach gave him a reassuring head scratch, which was apparently enough to cheer it up. It hopped away to complete its mission, the bell softly jingling with each step. Daroach waited until the bell’s dining was fully out of earshot and then deeply sighed as he looked down at the Triple-Star. He had no clue if the rest were even alive at this point, but he needed to find out of here first… and that would require learning how to use the accursed weapon he’d sacrificed all his friends for.
The first shot he took with turned out to be his last; for when he fired it, the resulting knockback pinned him to the ground. The beam that came out only further complicated matters as it ricocheted off the rocky sides of the cavern until the force from the blast finally bored a hole into the wall. Daroach barely had time to react as the room began filling up with water, rising far too quick for him to escape the way he’d came. In a matter of seconds, he was already halfway up to the ceiling.
It was becoming increasingly clearer that he was going to die.
“Oh, hey. What’re you doing here?” An unfamiliar voice rang out in the cavern, slightly muffled by the sound of rushing water. Daroach looked up still treading water and saw what appeared to be an onion-shaped wizard atop a broom. The lack of air in here must be starting to get to him, so he remained silent as he stared.
“That’s pretty cool,” the wizards continued as he looked at the Triple Star still firmly clenched in Daroach’s paw. “Where’d you get that from?”
“Look, I really haven’t got the time!” the thief said, pinning himself against the wall. “How’d you even get in here?”
“My name’s Gryll.” The wizard stated, fully ignoring Daroach’s actual question.
“Good for you! Now, if you’d please, I’d like to spend my final moments not wondering what some hippie dippy wizard is doing in an abandoned cave!” Daorach yelped as his claws slipped, the walls getting wetter and wetter as the water continued to rise.
“I dunno,” Gryll scratched his head. “I don’t want you to like, perish or anything. That’s just not good at all.”
“Then why don’t you do something about it?” Daroach was getting desperate, and he knew it. He didn’t even know if he was seeing things or not, but it was worth a shot. “I’ll do anything!”
“Well, why didn’t you just say so?” Gryll asked.
He dove into the water with an elegant swan dive off his broomstick, only resurfacing to motion for Daroach to follow him. The rat hesitated but reasoned that it was either this bonkers plan the stranger had in mind or to drown slowly. The two swam down to the hole Daroach had bored and swam through. Spinni’s apt thought suddenly began to make a bit more sense, albeit in a different sense; if Floralia was on a cloud, where was this copious amount of water coming from? Whatever the case, Daroach’s lungs ached as he held his breath and Gryll swam onwards until they could see the sunlight peering above the waves. He was so close, and yet…
Daroach awoke in bed. He looked down at himself, examining every inch of his body, his cloak, his fur; everything seemed to be perfectly untouched and in place. The Triple Star sat upon his bedside table, though he could see that it was worn and dented, as if he’d been using it for years prior. And of course, he had- no, wait! Hadn’t he just found it?
He hopped out of bed, putting his hat back on and gazing out the window. He didn’t recognize the town they were in, but at least they were as far away as possible from that blasted floating kingdom. Stepping out of the room, he could hear his crew going about their daily business, the Squeakers happily bounding around, and his heart felt softer. They were all okay! He snorted at the sight of one of the Squeakers still covered in whipped cream from that cake they tried to make for Kirby.
Wait, Kirby? They’d never met- until the time they stole a chest which he mistook for his cake- no, what? That’s absurd! But Daroach vividly remembered the entire adventure, the misunderstandings, the chasing, Meta Knight, the monster teleporter, the possession…
He needed to clear his head. New towns were perfect for a breath of fresh air, he reasoned, and he left the ship without saying a word. He bounded atop the thatch-covered houses merrily, feeling the wind in his fur and a spring in his step. Never more had he appreciated life until this moment, even if his memories were a bit scrambled. Daroach skidded off the top of a restaurant and landed gracefully, stopping only to get a good view of the town at eye level.
“Pretty cool, huh?” There that voice was gain. Gryll! The little guy was sitting behind a stand selling mirrors. The rat cautiously walked up to him as the onion wizard grinned. “Do you like it?”
“Being alive? Yeah, I’d say it’s fairly good.” Daroach stretched for a second, and then reconsidered what Gryll was asking. “Or are you talking about being here?”
“Both, I guess. It was kinda hard to figure out where I wanted to put you, but I guess here isn’t so bad.” Gryll shrugged and kicked his feet up on the counter. “Even threw in a little something extra, just so you wouldn’t be lonely.”
Daroach narrowed his eyes. “I don’t follow.”
“Well, y’know how you were drowning because you wanted the Triple Star? I took you from that timeline and put you in this one!” The wizard cheerfully said. “In this one, you’re totally okay and you’ve had the Triple Star for years! Of course, you did die in this one, so I swapped you two out and got rid of the other timeline. I think that just about clears everything up.”
There was a very tense moment of stunned silence.
“I died?! Did my crew know about that in this world? Did you plop me in without them even noticing? How do you think they’d feel about that if they knew? What happened to all the people that were minding their own business in that world and didn’t feel like not existing because of me?” Daroach grit his teeth. “Who do you think you are?!”
“Who are you talking to?” a feminine voice called out behind him, with a noticeable tone of worry in their question.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Daroach half-screamed back at the stranger. “I’m talking to the wizard!”
He shot a glare at Gryll, only to find that he had either vanished or had never been there to begin with. A mirror is what currently caught his eye, one he’d apparently been shrieking at for the past 5 minutes. The mouse gaped open-mouthed at the pane of glass and rested his paw upon it. His brain began to get a tingly, uncomfortable feeling as he grabbed the side of his head and growled. Oh, yeah. He must have looked utterly bonkers to whoever this was.
Daroach looked over at the source of the query and found a young girl, looking no older than eleven. She wore a pink and green dress with puffy sleeves and her cream-colored hair was pulled back into a ponytail with a bow. She held a book close to her chest with one arm, the other resting on her hip as she cocked a confused eyebrow at the thief.
Even better! He’d embarrassed himself in front of a child!
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” She asked, a question that Daroach could infer was rhetorical.
The rat huffed and smoothed his cape in the mirror, attempting to play off his previous freak-out as if it were the norm. “Never better. In fact, I was looking around for someone that could help point me around town! Think you’re up for it?”
“Err,” Surprised by Daorach’s total 180 in personality as well as mental stability, the girl blinked a few times in disbelief. But then shook her head and replied. “Where would you like to go? Do you need somewhere to stay, or someplace to eat? Or maybe a doctor?”
“Well!” The amount of snark on that last question didn’t go unchecked by Daroach. He turned up his nose and sneered before a mansion with green and purple trim in the distance caught his eye. The entire place was covered in swirl-patterned architecture, plenty of which looked utterly priceless. Perfect. “How about over there?”
“Manor Escargot?” she asked. “I don’t know. Our Lord doesn’t exactly like visitors, especially if they didn’t send a letter first.”
“He sounds like he could use a friend! And I know just the guy to help him out!” Now fully invigorated with the inklings of another heist, the thief gave an over-dramatic bow, taking his hat off with a wink. “The name’s Daroach, little girl, and I’d be happy to head on over and extend the olive branch, or… whatever.” He popped his hat back onto his head and merrily floated in the direction of her Lord’s demesne.
“My name isn’t little girl, you know,” she grumbled as she followed the rat towards the manor. “In case you were wondering, it’s Tiff.”