Dreamland University was very different from the idyllic paradise that the brochures and commercials promised. While all the advertisements displayed lush gardens, Neo-Classical architecture, and a stunning library, the reality was half-dead hydrangeas, construction, and a library covered in plywood, where the windows had been busted out during the spring semester and never replaced. Kirby, as he stood on the sidewalk, noticed none of this. He was too enamored by the small lake, sitting innocently between the library and the humanities building. It was a very pretty lake, with a large, sprawling tree beside it.
Kirby pulled his backpack strap up higher onto his shoulders and continued past the library. The visual arts building, his destination, was somewhere over there—past the instructional laboratory building. Or was it the math building? Surely, it couldn't be too difficult to find, could it? Kirby had thirty minutes, after all. Maybe twenty-five, after pausing in front of the tree. Kirby glanced at his pink watch, even though he knew the battery was long dead. The watch was cute and had stars on it, though, so Kirby wore it anyway.
With a spring in his step, Kirby headed towards the cluster of buildings. He'd lost his map and hoped that the buildings would be labeled in some way, but that didn't seem to be the case. It was a bit puzzling since the chemistry building had been labeled; he'd almost walked in there by mistake before seeing the sign. The building to his right had a mural of the ocean, so he assumed it was for marine biology or something like that. That would make sense.
Kirby wandered on, pausing haphazardly in the middle of the cracked sidewalk to admire the blush-pink azaleas.
He continued walking until he reached a parking lot. It was labeled as North lot, which Kirby vaguely recalled as being at the bottom of his map. He was certain the visual arts building had been somewhere in the upper left corner. With a frown, he turned around and looped back. There was another building. He approached it, put his hand on the door handle, and noted that there was a paper sign advertising math tutoring. Probably not the visual arts building. Okay.
Kirby turned around and trekked back towards what he had dubbed as the ocean-mural-probably-science-building. From the other direction, he could see through the front, glass doors, and it became apparent that there was some sort of fossil collection inside. Definitely not the visual arts building. Geology, maybe? With a sigh, Kirby admitted that he was lost and would have to ask for directions if he wanted to find his class in any reasonable time.
Fortunately, there were many people around to ask for directions. Unfortunately, after asking three different people—none of whom seemed to know where they were going either—Kirby was beginning to wonder if he’d make it to class at all, much less on time. Hopefully, his art professor would be in a charitable mood with it being the first day of school.
“Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear. You said visual arts, didn’t you?”
What a lovely voice! It was dark and elegant like a star-filled night. Kirby turned around to face the speaker and see if the face was as lovely as the voice. He wasn’t disappointed. The man behind Kirby was about his age, maybe a year or two older. His long, blue hair was pulled back at the nape of his neck, and it looked so fine and silky that Kirby felt a spark of envy; his own hair was fluffy, thick, and utterly unmanageable. The man’s skin was the brown-gold shade of moonlight peeking through cloud-cover, and his eyes were a soft, lovely gray. He was possibly the most beautiful person, male or female, that Kirby had ever laid eyes upon. “Meta Knight de Brillante Armadura,” the man said, extending a hand.
There were pale, thin markings on his hand like those left on people who’d been struck by lightning. Kirby wondered how far up those markings went; they disappeared beneath the sleeve of Meta Knight’s long sleeve shirt. “Kirby Stellarum,” he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets.
When Kirby touched people, he copied whatever they were best at, but magic wasn’t something discussed in polite company. If living in a small village had taught Kirby anything, it was that different was synonymous with bad and that his magic was best kept a secret. Magic was deemed acceptable for people like the Great Queen Alera and Crown Princess Sectonia, whose magic was granted by the goddess Nova. It wasn’t appropriate for someone like Kirby, without a drop of royal or noble blood, to have. And even then, someone with Kirby’s common blood shouldn’t have something nearly as powerful as Copy, the power once wielded by the Great King Bikaia.
Meta Knight seemed to take the hint, for he lowered his hand and smiled graciously. “I could walk you there if you like. My Lord is minoring in art history, so he spends a lot of his time over in visual arts. I know right where the building is.”
Kirby’s mind went blank; he’d suddenly forgotten how to speak in light of the unexpected offer. He’d never had friends before. Kirby’s childhood had been very lonely, and Meta Knight’s generosity caught him off-guard. He wanted to accept. They'd have to walk across campus together. Kirby would have to talk to this person. It sounded like a chance to make friends. But what if it was a trick? What if Meta Knight was going to pickpocket him or something? What if he was a serial murderer? Then, again, Meta Knight did have an astrophysics textbook held in one hand; that surely indicated that he was—at least—a fellow student. And he didn't look like a serial murderer. Not that Kirby had met any, but he'd maybe glimpsed a scene or two from a couple of horror movies. And Kirby had to start trusting people if he was going to make friends, right? Besides, Meta Knight was pretty and had blue hair. “Um…yeah. It’s over there. Ah, Professor De la Fuente’s art history class,” Kirby finally said, toying with the strap of his backpack.
“She prefers Drawcia.”
Kirby frowned. “I’m sorry?”
“She prefers her first name. Her students address her as Professor Drawcia,” Meta Knight replied. “My liege took her class last semester. She's fun.”
“Oh. Drawcia. Okay. Um…are you sure you don’t mind showing me, though?”
Meta Knight shook his head. “Of course not. I wouldn’t have made the offer if I minded.”
“Oh. And your lord is…? Sorry, I’ve never met anyone that, um, worked for a lord.”
Meta Knight pulled a thin, silver chain from beneath his shirt. Hanging from it was a large, bejeweled signet ring. It bore the image of a rabbit’s head. “Lord Dedede, Heir of the Stars,” Meta Knight said. “His mother is Duchess Delilah, Lady of the Stars.”
Kirby didn’t follow the aristocracy much, but he knew that the titles of duke and duchess were just beneath those of king, queen, prince, and princess. Meta Knight’s lord must be in very high esteem. “Oh,” Kirby said.
Truly, Kirby’s eloquence knew no bounds.
Meta Knight beckoned for him, and Kirby scrambled awkwardly to follow his newfound acquaintance. Meta Knight wasn’t even really walking very quickly. Kirby just felt over-eager to engage in camaraderie with someone his own age. If Meta Knight noticed anything, he had the grace not to comment. “Meta Knight…um…can I ask you a question?” Kirby asked, wondering if he should break the ice somehow first.
What was the proper etiquette for making friends? Should Kirby just blurt it all out and ask to be Meta Knight’s friend? Was that how it worked? Or was there some sort of time period that had to pass first? Maybe Kirby just needed to show interest, but he didn’t want Meta Knight to think he was asking him out. Dear Nova, this was hard.
“I’m half-Halcandran,” Meta Knight said. “That’s usually the first thing people wonder about. Usually, they're confused because my skin color and last name indicate I'm Halcandran, but they can't figure out how I have eyes that aren't gold or red. It really confused people before I began dyeing my hair.”
"What's the natural color?"
"Blond," Meta Knight replied. "The one hair color no one would ever associate with Halcandra."
“That…wasn’t actually what I wanted to ask,” Kirby said, “Although I did wonder a little. Mostly, I just think you’re very beautiful, though. I mean, you have a gorgeous face, and your symmetry is amazing!”
"In your face," Kirby explained. "It's hard to tell, but my left cheekbone is a little lower than the right one. I mean, most people are a hair uneven. But you—just wow."
Meta Knight’s smile was bemused, but not unfriendly. “In that case, I apologize for being so presumptive. What did you want to know?”
“How hard was it to dye your hair?” Kirby asked. “I really want to go pink, but I’ve never dyed my hair before. My mom wouldn’t let me, and—dear Nova—I’m rambling. She meant well! She just thought pink was…odd. For a boy. You know.”
Meta Knight hummed and glanced askance at Kirby. “Since your hair is white-blond and short, you shouldn’t have a hard time with the color taking. If you like pink, go for it. I imagine many people will think it’s very…cool on you. Dyed hair is in, after all, since Fluff of Patchland dyed his sky blue.”
Kirby nodded. He had heard of Fluff, heir to the annexed kingdom of Patchland. The prince had vanished from his palatial residence a few months ago and left no trace. Theories were bountiful, ranging from dark and serious to silly and absurd. Some said he’d fled in shame, unable to live with the fact that his father had sold the Patchlandic monarchy to Dreamland. Most Patchlanders, who’d adored their young prince, insisted that he’d been abducted, while others whispered that he’d been assassinated for expressing displeasure with Queen Alera’s treatment of her newly-bought province. The Dreamlandic Enquirer famously insisted that he’d run off with one of the maids and was living in secret in the Floralia Islands. Whatever the reason, though, every search for the ex-royal had turned up fruitless. “Did you ever meet him?” Kirby asked. “Prince Fluff?”
“Several times, but we never spoke,” Meta Knight replied. “He seemed like a good man. He’d have made a good king. It’s a pity he won’t get the chance to try.”
“Huh. I don’t think I could meet with people like that,” Kirby said. “I’d probably say something embarrassing.”
“It’s something you become accustomed to very quickly. Most of the charm is lost once you spend some time with high society.”
“Not a fan of the royals and nobles, then, huh?”
“I like my liege,” Meta Knight replied, “And his mother. The Crown Princess is…an interesting lady, which is more than I can say for most of them, but no...I'm not overly fond of them.”
“Hm.” Kirby let his gaze wander across the sidewalk and the nearby buildings. “Ever meet the Queen?”
“Yes,” Meta Knight replied, clenching his jaw.
Kirby took the hint and decided to move to safer ground. “So how did you meet your lord?” Kirby asked. “Are you nobility yourself?”
“No, I’m common. I met Dedede…well, he’d escaped his very incompetent bodyguard and wandered somewhere he shouldn’t have. The short version is that someone tried robbing him at knifepoint, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. He tried to give me a job, then, but I didn’t trust his intentions.”
“But you accepted anyway?”
“He won me over,” Meta Knight replied ambivalently. “It took him two years, but he did it.”
They’d arrived at a small, square building, and Meta Knight stepped forward to hold open the door. “Here you are—”
“Mety Knight! Yo, Mety Knighty!” The voice came from just out of view of the glass doors and sounded like a Kracko spirit roaring in the clouds.
“Speak of Dark Matter,” Meta Knight replied. “That’s my Lord.”
Kirby stepped inside. It wasn’t difficult to find Meta Knight’s lord, as he was the only other person standing in the hallway. Kirby had been expecting Meta Knight’s liege to fit the typical noble profile—pale skin that had never seen sunlight, perfectly groomed hair, lithe muscle, and clothing that cost more money than Kirby would ever see in his life. Kirby’s assumptions were only partly correct. Dedede was, indeed, richly dressed with perfect hair. But his skin was ruddier than expected—unfashionably red across his cheeks and too tanned to meet the high standards set by Queen Alera—and Dedede was quite pudgy. Still, he was an attractive man with stunning eyes and perfect teeth. He was also uncommonly tall, and Kirby had the distinct feeling that Dedede could break him in half with ease. Fortunately, the Heir of the Stars only seemed interested in breaking Meta Knight in half, if the force of his sudden hug was any indication. “Dedede, can you get away from the door, at least?” Meta Knight asked.
Dedede relented, but he still refused to release Meta Knight, resulting in an awkward shuffling and in Meta Knight dropping his astrophysics book on the floor. Kirby considered picking it up, but he didn’t want to risk being stepped on. “Mety Knight!” Dedede boomed. “I cain’t believe you came all the way here just to see me! It’s been forever!”
“I saw you this morning.”
“That ain’t enough!” Dedede peered at Kirby over Meta Knight’s shoulder. “Oh! It’s not about me, is it? So this is how you’re spending your class-free day, Meta? I’m pretty sure I gave you a list of chores, and loafing around with cute boys wasn’t on the list.”
“Your list of chores included buying a thirty-pound bag of scarfy food—Nova knows why when we don’t have a scarfy—and washing your weeks’ worth of laundry from your vacation in Raisin Ruins.”
“So you have read the list! Good for you. Add ‘learning to respect my beloved liege’ to it, won’t you?”
“It wasn’t really his fault,” Kirby said, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. “I was—um—lost, and he agreed to help me. Please, don’t blame him.”
Meta Knight finally managed to squirm free of Dedede’s hug, or Dedede decided to be merciful and let him; Kirby wasn’t sure. Dedede roared in laughter, while Meta Knight picked up his abused astrophysics book and dusted the cover off. “Aren’t you cute, pipsqueak?” Dedede asked. “Valiantly rushing in to make sure I’m not too hard on poor ol' Mety Knight.”
Kirby was taken aback at being called pipsqueak and even more so by Dedede’s disarming grin. “Don’t worry about him none. Meta’s always been a wayward servant, but I reckon I’m stuck with him,” Dedede said, adding a dramatic sigh.
“He’s being facetious,” Meta Knight offered. “Sometimes, he forgets that not everybody is in on the joke, so to speak.”
Kirby nodded, still confused by the behavior. He’d never really met anyone that…joked like that. Then again, he’d never really met many people his age before. Maybe Meta Knight and Dedede were the normal ones, and Kirby was the odd man out. “So…what exactly is your job, Meta Knight?” Kirby asked.
“He’s my personal assistant,” Dedede answered. “He does anything I tell him to! That includes the list of chores—”
“The list that says I’m supposed to make you a three-tier chocolate cake?” Meta Knight asked, crossing his arms. “I assume you’ve already warned the fire department?”
Dedede blanched. “I forgot about that one. For Nova’s sake, please, don’t bake anything. Okay, so I didn’t really expect you to do all the chores. That was just me trying to ruffle your feathers. But really. Please, do my laundry?” Dedede asked. “I’ve tried before, and you know I’m terrible at it. If you do, I’ll take you out to eat tonight. My treat.”
“Deal. Kirby, do you want to come?” Meta Knight asked. “Dedede’s paying.”
Kirby started. “Um…I guess, if it’s okay. I’ve never really went out before. With friends. I mean…”
“Meta, I didn’t say…” Dedede trailed off.
“I’m doing weeks’ worth of your laundry. I get to bring a friend. You bring friends all the time. When you were dating her, I had to awkwardly third-wheel with you and Fae for ten months. Same thing for when you had that fling with Escargon,” Meta Knight said.
“Pareces inquieto," Dedede said, giving Kirby an indecipherable look. "¿Qué te molestar, Meta?”
“Te molesta. No se preocupe usted," Meta Knight replied. “Let me see your phone, Kirby. I’ll put my number in and text you once we finalize plans. It’ll be fun.”
"Are you sure it's okay? I don't want to intrude," Kirby said. Dedede didn't seem to like him very much, after all.
"Yeah, sure," Dedede replied, waving a dismissive hand. "We'll invite Dee, too. Have a guy's night out."
Kirby hastily produced his phone from his coat and awkwardly offered it to Meta Knight. Belatedly, Kirby wondered if he should’ve opened the contacts to make it easier, but Meta Knight seemed to have figured it out.
"So Meta's gonna be an astrophysicist, and I'm studying anthropology with a minor in art history. What’re you majoring in?” Dedede asked, after a beat of silence.
“Studio art,” Kirby said, quickly taking his phone back once Meta Knight was finished.
No one had ever given him a phone number before, and it filled Kirby’s stomach with butterflies. He still wondered vaguely if this was some sort of trick. If it’d turn out that Meta Knight and Dedede were just using him for something. Playing tricks on the naïve university freshman. Kirby had never been able to make friends, and he wanted to so badly. But being lonely had made him too aware and too nervous of everyone else. Still, the chance of having friends was too good to pass up.
“He’s taking Professor Drawcia’s art history class,” Meta Knight said.
"Oh! The one that starts in, like, two minutes? We're classmates, then!" Dedede declared, beaming.
“I thought you might be," Meta Knight replied.
“Yeah! And Bandanna Dee's there, too. He swapped periods, so we could take it at the same time. You oughta register for it, Meta! You know Art History I is all about the Classical era to the Golden Age of Dreamland. You could learn all about my great ancestors,” Dedede said, puffing out his chest. “Did he tell you that I’m a descendent of ol' Bikaia, Kirby?”
Nova’s grace. He was descended from Bikaia, himself? Kirby swallowed thickly, suddenly wondering if he should’ve bowed. Meta Knight hadn’t bowed, but maybe it was different because Meta Knight actually worked for Dedede? Or because Dedede had tried to break every single one of Meta Knight’s ribs when he entered the building. “You don’t have to tell that to everyone we meet,” Meta Knight said wryly.
“Hey, all I got is my name, Mety! You know that. But there’s a ton of stuff on Galaxia in this class,” Dedede added.
“Are you interested in Galaxia, Meta Knight?” Kirby asked. “My dad is really interested in the stories about her, too.”
Dedede burst into laughter. “Oh, yeah, he’s real interested in Galaxia,” Dedede said, still stifling chuckles. “That’s one way to put it!”
Kirby smiled even though he didn’t get the joke.
“At any rate,” Meta Knight said, “You both best get going. You’re going to be late to class.”
“Right! See you later, my favoritest pet knight!” Dedede said, heartily clapping Meta Knight on the back.
“Not a word, not your pet, and not a knight,” Meta Knight replied.
“I ain’t got time to argue. I’m gonna be late,” Dedede said. “C’mon, Kirby!”
Dedede didn’t wait to see if Kirby was following. Instead, Dedede simply strode past Meta Knight. Kirby hurried after him, giving Meta Knight a quick wave. “Thanks for the help!”
Dedede held the door open, and once Kirby stepped inside, a thrill of excitement jolted through him. This was it. He was finally here. This was a place where he could be someone else, someone better. University was going to be the best thing that ever happened to him.