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A Meeting Of Like Minds…

Claris picked absently at the fine embroidery of her quilt. The doctors had given her the all clear and sent her home, but her mother was still fussing over her in a typical over-protective fashion. Normally she would have adored the attention. She would have loved the fact that she got to lounge around all day, her every whim attended to with a smile. Not to mention that she didn’t have to go to school.

But for the first time in her life, all Claris wanted to do was get back to her studies, and to her exams. She wasn’t keen on the work, she just wanted to see Elliot. She missed him and she had so much to tell him, about what had happened to her, what she’d seen, and about the new friends she’d made.

She knew Elliot could never meet the beautiful Yume, but Kuraido was in Nightopia somewhere, and she knew her friends, both in the waking world and the dream realm, would be thrilled to meet him. In truth she knew little about the black clad dream creature, she didn’t even know what type of dream creature he was, Pian, Maren or some other type she knew nothing about, but she had sensed something about him. He was something of a kindred spirit, a being out of place. And though he had not spoken of it, somehow she knew he had no love for Wizeman.

She smiled to herself. She couldn’t wait for her friends to meet him.

Elliot sighed as he walked up to the Sinclair’s front door. Mrs Sinclair had phoned to let him know that Claris was awake and had returned home. That had been fairly late last night, and he’d had to go to school today.

It had been possibly the longest day he’d ever have to endure. When Claris had taken ill he’d been worried enough, but when he’d learned that Wizeman had returned, and that the most powerful of the Nightmaren was responsible for Claris’ condition he’d gone from worried to downright terrified.

He’d met Roger on the way to class. The older teenager was equally troubled by the news of Wizeman’s return, but tried to shrug it off, though Elliot could tell that the news had effected him far more than he was letting on.

“You beat him once, you can beat him again.” He’d pointed out.

But that had been with the help of their red Ideya, which they had both sacrificed to save NiGHTS’ life. Could Wizeman be beaten without it?

He quickly checked his appearance in the glass panels that framed the Sinclair’s front door. Brushing his hair back from his eyes and hefting the large bouquet of flowers he’d bought to one arm, he knocked purposely on the door.

“Elliot!” Mrs Sinclair beamed as she opened the door scant seconds later. “Claris will be so happy to see you!” She threw her arms around the boy, which embarrassed him immensely, even though he guessed it was due to the relief of knowing that her daughter was going to be all right.

She released him and ushered him in. “You know where it is.” She said gesturing up the stairs.

Elliot glanced at her a little sheepishly. It felt kind of weird for Mrs Sinclair to be happily admitting a boy into her daughter’s bedroom, but the two had known each other for some time now, and he had proved himself trustworthy.

He took the stairs two at a time, only stopping as he reached Claris’ door. It was decorated, as it always had been, with clefts and crotchets, the emblems of her love of music. But more recently a selection of stars and a new moon had been added. He knocked gingerly.

“Come in.” He heard Claris’ voice come from within.

He opened the door slowly, a relieved smile slowly curling his face as he took in the bright and beaming Claris, sitting up in her bed, surrounded by her collection of stuffed animals.

“Elliot!” She all but squealed. He held out the flowers, which delighted her even more.

“Man, you had us worried.” Elliot sighed as he sat down on the chair at her desk.

“Us?” She quirked an eyebrow.

“Me and Roger…” he lowered his voice, just in case her mother was anywhere nearby. “And our…other friends.”

“I can’t say that I blame them…” she sighed. “Considering who it was that…” she trailed off, shivering at the memory.

Elliot’s eyes widened. “You know…?”

She nodded, realising from Elliot’s tone and expression that he knew as well.

“It was Wizeman.”

“Yeah,” Elliot sighed. He rose from the seat and moved over to sit on the edge of her bed. “We saw him. NiGHTS and I confronted him…”

The door burst open suddenly. Elliot leapt off the bed as Mrs Sinclair entered with a large vase full of water. “I couldn’t have those lovely flowers wilting.” She explained, plopping the bouquet in the water-filled urn. “Oh…” she added as a beaming Roger entered the room. “And I found THIS downstairs…” She gave him a stern look as she left the room.

“Was it something I said?” He raised a brow as he watched her go, leaving the door opened behind her.

“I don’t think she trusts you.” Elliot chuckled.

“Can’t imagine why…” The blonde teen frowned. “You’re the one that spends a month’s allowance on flowers, and I’M the one she doesn’t trust.” He smirked suggestively at Elliot.

“Give it a rest, Roger.” Elliot shot him a look.

Roger shrugged it off. He dug about in his knapsack for a moment. “I brought you a little something too.” He winked at Claris. She smiled brightly until he tossed a wad of papers onto her bed.

“What’s this?” She asked, eyeing the pages dubiously.

“You’re homework.” Roger grinned.

“Oh, great…” She sighed. “That’s a gift I could have done without.”

“Sorry” he said in a tone of voice that clearly indicated he wasn’t. “But Mommy insisted. And lover boy here doesn’t go to the right school, now does he?” He jerked a thumb at Elliot.

“I’ll worry about it later.” She sighed, tossing it on her bedside table. “I’ve got something major to tell you guys.”

“If it’s about Wizeman, Smelliot already told me.” Roger interrupted.

“It’s not.” She smirked. “You guys wondering how I got back?”

The pair exchanged a glance.

“Well, we kinda figured NiGHTS must have…” Elliot began.

She shook her head. “Wizeman dumped me in this place, gloating that there was no way that NiGHTS or you guys could ever find me…”

“Where?” Roger interjected, subtly closing the door so her mother didn’t hear them talking about the Nightmaren.

“It was a place without a name,” she admitted. “But it wasn’t without inhabitants.”

“Yeah, Wizeman said they were dangerous.” Elliot nodded.

“To him, maybe.” Claris chuckled. “The place has a guardian named Yume, she’s kinda an angel or a fairy or something, she reminded me a lot of a Nightopian actually. And she had this guy with her…maybe he’s a Nightopian of some kind too…named Kuraido…he was like this knight in shining armour…only it was black…and not shiny.

“Anyway, he needed some of my Ideya…the yellow one, he said it was for hope…to get through this sorta tornado thing that links where we were to Nightopia. And so we got back to Nightopia, and I woke up.”

“Wait!” Elliot stopped her. “What happened to this…Kuraido?”

“He’s in Nightopia.” She told him.

“You just let him run loose? You don’t even know what he is.” Elliot protested. “How do you know we can trust him? He could be even worse than Wizeman.”

“It’s okay,” she smiled. “He’s a good guy.”

“But how do you know that?”

“I just got this feeling…” she frowned. “I can’t explain it…he WAS kinda scary, but I know he’s good.”

“He DID bring her back.” Roger pointed out.

“Maybe…”

“Can’t you just have a little faith?” Claris asked. “At least meet him before you condemn him.”

“Meet him?” Roger queried. “How?”

“He’s in Nightopia remember…he agreed to meet me in Spring Valley tonight. You’ll be able to meet him there…”

“In Nightopia?” There was concern in Roger’s eyes. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean, with Wizeman back…” He turned away, sighing heavily. “Can Reala be far behind?” He whispered.

Elliot and Claris exchanged a look.

They could understand Roger’s trepidation. When they bonded with NiGHTS, the Maren became privy to all their darkest secrets. All their dreams…and their nightmares…

But Roger had bonded with NiGHTS’ dark doppelganger. A being only slightly less evil than Wizeman himself, who was now fully aware of all of Roger’s deepest fears and phobias.

“I wouldn’t worry about him…” Elliot began.

YOU don’t have to worry about him!” Roger pointed out. “You weren’t the one who was feeding him your dream energy…I was! And by denying him that energy, I was instrumental in his defeat. And he kinda strikes me as the type of guy who harbours a grudge!”

“But he’s not about.” Elliot told him. “NiGHTS and I confronted Wizeman about Claris and he offered NiGHTS his job. That’s why he snatched Claris in the first place…he wouldn’t tell us where he’d stashed her unless NiGHTS agreed to take Reala’s place. So even Wizeman’s not holding any hope of seeing him again.”

“Maybe…” Roger admitted, without a hint of true conviction.

“Besides, NiGHTS’ll protect you, if worse comes to worse.” Claris smiled. “You’re one of the good guys now.”

“You do realise that NiGHTS has never beat Reala without help?” Roger pointed out.

“Will you relax?” Claris was still smiling. “He’d be facing NiGHTS AND Kuraido.”

“You vouch THAT much for this guy?” Elliot asked.

“He IS my knight in shining armour.” She beamed.

“Claris!” NiGHTS swooped down and scooped up his teenage friend. “You are okay! You got away!”

“I had help.” She admitted to him as he twirled around with her in his arms. His enthusiasm was threatening to make her ill.

“What sort of help?” Snuze asked suspiciously.

“Jeez,” she giggled as NiGHTS set her down. “You’re as bad as him.” She jerked a thumb at Elliot.

“She made a new friend.” Elliot said with a sigh, folding his arms across his chest. “You should hear the way she talks about him.”

“Why, Elliot...” She smirked. “Are you jealous?”

Elliot’s lip curled. “You’ll notice he hasn’t turned up.”

“You seem to be lacking in faith.” A soft voice said from behind him.

Elliot almost jumped out of his skin. They all turned to face the black clad creature that had apparently materialised out of the grassy Spring Valley fields.

“Kuraido!” Claris cried happily. She ran over and threw her arms around the lanky creature. He returned the hug, eventually, a little awkwardly.

NiGHTS raised a brow as he studied the newcomer. He was roughly the same size, perhaps a smidgen taller, though far more powerfully built, despite his slender body. The build was no doubt necessary in order for him to move in the dark suit of armour he wore. He was actually standing on the soft earth, but he was obviously a dream creature, which meant he could also fly. NiGHTS knew he couldn’t stand in the armour, much less fly in it.

His glowing red eyes followed NiGHTS as the purple clad Nightmaren circled him curiously, but he uttered not a word.

“So what are you?” Snuze asked, flying right up into his face, baulking slightly as the red eyes focused on him.

Kuraido shrugged. “I am what I am.” He said simply.

“Could be a First Class Nightopian.” Napp suggested.

“I dunno, Napp…” Snuze circle Kuraido cautiously. “He’s a little…well…bland…for a Nightopian. And a little too…dark…could be another renegade Maren…”

“Never heard of another…” Napp shook his head. “Only him.” He jerked a thumb at NiGHTS. “I still say he’s a First Class Pian.”

“Is there such a thing?” NiGHTS asked.

“There was.” Snuze said sadly. “Wizeman wiped ‘em out ages ago.”

“Probably before he even made you.” Napp added.

They all noticed Kuraido stiffen at the mention of the Lord of Nightmare.

“Don’t care much for the Wicked One, huh?” Roger asked. He’d been eyeing his surroundings rather nervously, but finding nothing to really worry about, and feeling a little safer in the presence of NiGHTS and this strange newcomer, he decided he had little to worry about and could now comfortably join in the conversation.

“Wizeman is a blight on the dreamscape that should be wiped from existence as painfully and permanently as possible.” Kuraido snarled.

“Good answer.” NiGHTS said. “A little bit more brutal than I would have liked, but a good answer.”

“I believe in blood for blood.” Kuraido said softly. “Wizeman has caused me great suffering and I will see him repaid in kind.”

“Personally?” Claris asked, feeling a great sadness for her strange new friend.

Kuraido nodded his heavy head. “And by association.”

“So what do you think of him?” Elliot asked. He glanced back towards Kuraido who was absently watching some Nightopians filtering about in a nearby waterfall. He had distanced himself from the others, but Claris still sat nearby, chatting with him occasionally, though his replies were always brief.

“I don’t trust him.” Snuze said. “He won’t come clean about anything.”

“It’s like he’s trying to hide something.” Roger nodded his agreement.

“He doesn’t seem all that threatening.” Napp said, glancing towards him as he heard Claris laugh. “And with Wizeman back, we need all the help we can get.”

“You reckon he’ll help?” Elliot asked. “I don’t think he’s really a team player.”

“But he’s got a major hate going for Wizeman.” Roger pointed out. “You know…‘the enemy of my enemy’, and all that…”

The quartet looked to the so far silent NiGHTS. He was still watching Claris and the object of their discussion. “He DOES appear to be hiding something.” He admitted. “But Claris vouches for him…and that is good enough for me.”

Claris looked back towards the others. NiGHTS had asked her to keep Kuraido occupied for a moment or two while they discussed her new friend. She hadn’t been happy about it, she trusted Kuraido implicitly, he had after all, saved her life. But, she had to admit, there was a lot they didn’t know about him.

“Do you think they have finished their discussion about me yet?” He asked suddenly.

“What do you mean?” She asked, a little taken aback.

“Tell me they did not ask you to keep me out of the way.” He challenged.

“Well…” she began.

“I do not blame them.” He sighed. “If I were they, I would not trust me either.”

“Kuraido?”

The pair turned to find NiGHTS approaching. The Maren paused as Kuraido’s fiery eyes focused on him.

“You have no love for Wizeman?” NiGHTS asked.

“None whatsoever.” Kuraido confirmed.

“Will you join us in our fight against him?” NiGHTS asked.

“Do you truly believe that three humans and four dream creatures can stand against the Lord of Nightmare and all his minions?”

“We have been doing quite well so far.” NiGHTS shrugged. “And our numbers are far greater than that. We have all the Nightopians with us as well.”

Kuraido glanced briefly at the angelic creatures happily cavorting about the fields of Spring Valley. “Well, that makes a world of difference.” He muttered.

“They may not appear very ferocious.” NiGHTS admitted. “But they are great in heart, and even greater in numbers.”

Kuraido stroked the metal chin of his faceplate thoughtfully as he once again studied the tiny winged creatures. “Perhaps…” he mused. “With the proper training…they may yet be shaped into a formidable fighting force…”

“So…you are with us?” NiGHTS smiled.

“Why not?” Kuraido shrugged. “I have little better to do.”

NiGHTS grabbed Kuraido’s black-gloved hand with both of his, and began shaking it furiously.

“You will not regret it.” He beamed.



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