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A Haunted Past

Wizeman paced the length of his main audience chamber, or rather, he floated the length of the vast space. He found recent events difficult to accept. He hadn’t been entirely surprised when NiGHTS had rebelled, the bright-eyed Maren had always been soft, far too playful to truly be considered a creature of Nightmare.

But Reala was an entirely different matter.

Reala was darkness made flesh. A Maren after his own heart.

Unlike NiGHTS, Reala had enjoyed bringing fear and suffering to others. And he was good at it, even turning on his own kind when it suited him, or amused him. Yes, Reala was evil. Evil to the core…or so Wizeman had thought. Reala’s desertion hurt Wizeman more than he cared to let on. He had always lavished attention on his darkest creation. Reala had been the closest thing to a son that Wizeman had.

What could have changed him so?

True, he’d been imprisoned for failing to catch NiGHTS quickly when he’d first rebelled, but Reala had seemed to agree with Wizeman’s decision at the time. He deserved to be punished for his failure. He had almost welcomed it.

Wizeman sighed and hung his heavy head as his thoughts turned to memories of long ago…

He had just defeated Yume. Nightopia had been his for the taking. But he had wanted more. He had wanted the Waking World. And he knew just how to do it.

It had taken a lot of time and effort on his part, but finally, they were ready.

He had ordered Yume brought to him. He hadn’t been able to destroy her. He had decided to send her to the realm between realms. There she could do nothing.

But not yet.

He had wanted to show them to her. He had wanted to gloat when she saw what he had accomplished.

She had looked at him defiantly as Jackle and Clawz brought her into his presence.

“What do you want, Wizeman?” She had sneered at him with such spite it made him smile. So out of character for the oh-so-gentle Nightopian Master.

“I have something to show you.” He had nodded to Puffy, who had deposited a pair of small, wide-eyed creatures at the hem of Wizeman’s cloak. One of them cuddled a Snip, the other just glanced about with curious eyes.

“Relax, my little ones.” Wizeman had said to them.

A worried frown had creased Yume’s forehead as she studied the pair. Each was of a humanoid shape, with the size and body approximately that of a five-year-old child.

Human shape was not one found in a Nightmaren.

Each had large, expressive eyes, though neither possessed a nose. If they had hair she couldn’t tell, as each wore a strange, double crested cowl, the long tails of which fell down their backs and reminded Yume of horns.

They settled on the floor at what would have been Wizeman’s feet, if he’d possessed any. The one with the Snip began stroking its pet. The other, pale skinned with distinctive facial markings, reached a tiny clawed hand up towards Wizeman.

“Are they not wretchedly adorable?” Wizeman had smiled as he lowered a massive finger to the tiny being the reached for him. The white-faced creature’s face had split into a wide grin as its tiny claws gripped the finger.

“What have you done?” Yume had whispered as she began to realise with a growing fear just what these two tiny creatures were.

Wizeman had smiled and gloated. “I have remade Waking matter. I took these…” he had gestured at the creatures. “From the Waking World. But as you can see, they are no longer what they were. They have been reborn as creatures of Nightmare. They are Maren now.” He had delighted in Yume’s expression. “And you said I could not do it.”

“I never doubted that you could, Wizeman.” She had shot back. “I questioned whether you SHOULD. Look at them…” She had pointed at the pair. “Their hearts are not Maren. They each possess the most precious of human commodities…a soul.”

She levelled her gaze at Wizeman’s face.

“Mark my words. Wizeman.” She had said coldly. “In these two you have sown the twin seeds of your own destruction.”

“The twin seeds of my own destruction…” he mused quietly.

He frowned. He had remembered Yume’s words when NiGHTS had been lost to him, but had not been too concerned. After all, he still had Reala, and Yume’s prophecy could not come true while the twins were against each other.

But now Reala was lost to him as well.

He doubted that NiGHTS and his friends would accept the chalky-faced Maren, at least not right away. Reala’s reputation was far too dark, and he had done terrible things to NiGHTS’ Waking World allies, as per Wizeman’s instructions and by his own hand. He knew NiGHTS, soft as he was, would eventually forgive his sibling, and the pair would then be a threat to him.

But that forgiveness would be a long time coming. And Reala was a proud one. It would possibly take just as long for him to accept it.

Wizeman still had time to act.

He glanced at the empty chair at the right of his own.

“My Maren…” he said to his gathered creations. “I know you all covert the position recently vacated by the traitorous Reala…” he spat out the name as he gestured towards the ornate throne. “I set you this task. Fly to Nightopia, search it, and who so ever returns with either one of the renegade Nightmaren, NiGHTS or Reala, as their prisoner, will win the position as my second in command.”

“In chains?” Jackle queried with a wicked grin. “Or in pieces?”

“I want them whole, Jackle.” Wizeman said to the sniggering Maren. “But beyond that, use you imagination. Go now…” He pointed with his six hands in six different directions.

“Go now, and do not fail me.”

NiGHTS sighed as he looked at his reflection in the cool fountain water of Splash Gardens. He dipped a finger in the dark, wet soil at the fountain’s base and drew two short strokes down from his eyes and extended his mouth in a painted smile. The resemblance was eerie.

“We are so much alike.” He said softly.

Snuze raised a brow at NiGHTS makeshift make up job. Even though there was a physical similarity, the Pian knew that was where it ended.

“Pul-lease.” He rolled his eyes. “This is Reala we’re talking about. Wizeman’s Number One fan. He’s incapable of genuinely feeling for anything.”

“I am not so sure, Snuze.” NiGHTS sighed. “I know him better than any here, and he seemed truly hurt by our rejection of him.”

“So, he’s a good actor.” Snuze snarled. “We don’t need him.”

“Against Wizeman we need all the help we can get.” Napp spoke up.

“We don’t need HIS help.” Snuze was adamant.

“Why is it so impossible to believe that he has changed?” NiGHTS asked. “I know what he has done. HE knows what he has done. He made no excuses for it. But what about what he did as Kuraido? He helped us…he saved Claris…”

“He kicked ass.” Napp smiled.

“He lied to us.” Snuze pointed out.

“He withheld the truth.” NiGHTS corrected.

“Whatever.” Snuze growled. “And why are you two defending him anyway?”

“I’m half Maren.” Napp shrugged. “I know what it’s like to battle the dark side of yourself.”

“And I used to be just like him.” NiGHTS said softly.

“You were never like him.” Snuze shook his head.

“Yes I was.” NiGHTS countered. “We were exactly alike. Two peas in a pod. Each trying to outdo the other to gain Wizeman’s favour. I realised the folly of it…perhaps Reala has too…”

“So what do you want to do?” Snuze asked. “Go out there and find him and welcome him with open arms?”

“No.” NiGHTS said softly, shaking his head. “He has done too much, to too many, to just be forgiven. But I believe he should be given the opportunity to prove himself.”

“Aren’t you forgetting one thing?” Napp asked. “He said he no longer wanted anything to do with us.”

“He also said he wanted nothing more to do with Wizeman.” NiGHTS sighed. “If he truly has changed, he will return to us. He may be powerful, but even he cannot take on Wizeman alone.”

In a cave hidden deep within the chilly snow capped peaks of Frozen Bell, a piece of black armour hit the snow. Reala watched with a sigh as it began to sink into the frigid blanket, then peeled of another piece and tossed it aside. He saw little point in retaining the armour now that his identity had been compromised. It was bulky and cumbersome, and it restricted his manoeuvrability in flight.

He had always planned to reveal his true identity to NiGHTS and the others, but at a time of his choosing. What Wizeman had done had seriously compromised their trust, but that was no doubt what Wizeman had been aiming for.

He removed what was left of the face guard, turning it over in his hands for a moment before it too joined the growing pile in the snow. He lowered his head with a deep sigh, his long dark hair falling into his pale blue eyes.

He unwrapped his forearms, watching dispassionately as the golden star trail once again began to flow from his wrists. The tiny orbs of light circled him, warming him, but offered little comfort.

Beneath the chain mail he still wore his familiar outfit of red, black and white. Wizeman had given it to him, and that alone was enough for him to want to discard it, but he had nothing else to change into. And besides, he was still a being to be feared, both in Nightopia and Nightmare, and that could come in handy.

He knew that Wizeman had probably set orders to the others to track him down, but Reala had never been a foolish Maren. He had planned, as much as he could, for this contingency, and had searched Nightopia for hiding places in his time spent here as Kuraido. Though he detested the idea of hiding, and he knew he could take on, and defeat, and Maren save Wizeman himself, he also knew that the other Maren knew that. They would not be hunting him on their own.

He reached into the breastplate of his dark armour, where his cowl had been stored. He unrolled it carefully, placing the object that had been stored within gently in the snow beside him. He pushed his hair back from his face, coiled up his loose braid and pulled his red and black hood into place.

He looked at himself in the mirror of a sheet of ice. Despite the painted smile, it would be obvious to anyone that he wasn’t happy. That he didn’t like what he saw there.

“I guess Reala is truly back.” He said softly as he ran a clawed hand lightly across the smooth surface.

He turned and picked up the object he’d placed so reverently in the snow. It was an amulet. Made of blue metal and set with an equally blue stone, which Reala couldn’t even guess as to the type. He held it up by its long thick chain, studying its smooth, curved surface.

“So, Yume…” He spoke to it. “What do I do now?”

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