Reala cried out as NiGHTS managed to hit him with another paraloop. He wobbled, dizzy before recovering. There was no way that he would allow NiGHTS to defeat him!

After he had suffered so much humiliation, so much pain, all because of his wretched counterpart. NiGHTS had died the day that he betrayed Wizeman, so Reala had told himself countless times. There was no NiGHTS. His companion, his brother was dead. He was the only true Nightmaren First Class left in Nightmare.

"There is no NiGHTS!" He screamed, enraged.

NiGHTS yelped as he was struck and started to go down. He caught himself and flew back up and ahead of Reala. "So you keep saying, Ree! How do you explain me being here, then?!" Reala snarled and strained for greater speed. He was stronger than NiGHTS, he would destroy this NiGHTS imposter. "You are a shadow of your former self! A weakling posing as my brother! And I despise weakness almost as much as I hate traitors!"

NiGHTS looked stunned. "You really hate me, Reala?"

Reala answered by paralooping. NiGHTS put on a burst of speed to escape. The purple Nightmaren sighed sadly. "Okay, I understand how it has to be. I'm so sorry, Reala. . ."

Reala blinked, his senses screaming at him to stop. NiGHTS had either lost his mind, or knew that he was going to win! Reala glared, telling himself to shut up. Hadn't he sworn to serve Wizeman until his own death? And he would! "It ends now, NiGHTS!"

NiGHTS nodded, looking strangely grieved. "Yes. . ."

That said, NiGHTS stopped and turned to watch Reala streak toward him. "Goodbye, Reala." NiGHTS paralooped, capturing his counterpart in the shimmering strands of his startrail.

Reala screamed, a sound that echoed from every corner of his domain. The green, flickering torches fizzled and died, the tiles became dull, and the magnificent throne in the center of the room seemed to wilt, as if grieving the loss of its master.

Reala was sent flying and hit the floor, where he remained.

NiGHTS turned away as his brother fell. "I'm sorry, Reala . . . I really am." He seemed to hear someone speaking to him, and nodded. "You're right, he did choose his path. Wishing won't change that. Yes, we'll go now. You're ready? Okay."

And then NiGHTS was gone.

Reala listened, feeling despair welling up. He had failed, and now NiGHTS would face Wizeman. Reala's eyes slid closed as darkness took over. He had failed.

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Consciousness returned sometime later, after what seemed like an eternity of darkness. Reala opened his eyes, blinking dazedly before pushing himself into a sitting position. It took him several minutes to remember where he was and how he had come to be laying on the floor of his lair. Golden claws clenched tightly as Reala remembered the battle with NiGHTS. Anger was swiftly replaced with alarm as Reala realized what he had been trying to prevent. "The Master!"

Straining, Reala managed to stand up, and took flight, soaring at top speed. All was dark - not a good sign. Reala's apprehension grew with each passing moment. What had become of Wizeman? A sharp turn here, a duck to avoid some debris there. Reala was no longer seeing the path ahead, dodging obstacles out of reflex as his mind came up with a number of possibilities of what he might find in Wizeman's chamber.

And then he was at those doors. Reala landed and hesitated before reaching out. He knocked on the doors. No response.

Reala was at a loss. To simply enter Wizeman's chamber uninvited was certain doom, but . . . what if Wizeman was no more? he had to know.

He knocked again. "Master Wizeman!" His tone was plaintive, he needed a response. Nothing.

Reala stared at the doors as if he could see through them. It took most of his courage to make him reach for the doors with both hands, and push them open. Once inside, he instantly fell on one knee, head bowed as he prepared to apologize for the intrusion. And then he saw him. . .

One enormous hand lay directly in front of Reala, the eye unfocused and dull. Dead. Beyond the hand lay two others in similar condition. Reala felt a strange emotion grab hold of his heart and squeeze tightly, preventing clear thought or breathing.

Reala forced himself to look. Beyond the hands he saw what he had dreaded. Wizeman's cloak lay on the ground, empty. Atop the cloak was the familiar, unusual helm. Wizeman's remaining three hands lay beyond it.

If it had been possible, all of the blood would have fled from Reala's skin. As it was, an expression of shock and some undefined emotion spread across his painted face.

Before he realized it, Reala had stepped onto the nearest hand, and sat down, as if expecting to be lifted and addressed. Of course, he was disappointed.

After a few moments, Reala tried looking into the eye of the hand, but saw only his own reflection. He barely recognized the grieved face that stared back at him. He didn't possess such emotions, did he?

Reala leapt from the hand and flew across the cloak, to the helm. He landed and leaned hard against it, pressing his clawed hands tightly against the shining surface.

"Master!" Reala sagged, not noticing as a different word escaped him. ". . . father. . ." When it became clear that he would not get an answer, desperation took over. Reala threw his arms wide and screamed. "WIZEMAN!!!"

The scream echoed throughout the chamber and through the castle. Outside, a flock of desolate Hollows took flight, flying aimlessly toward an unknown destination.

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When Reala next opened his eyes, he was greeted by a faint scrabbling sound. Blinking exhaustedly, he wondered how he had fallen asleep.

The scratching came again, demanding attention. Reluctantly, Reala rose from where he had curled up in one of Wizeman's hands. He looked around, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.

A muted yowl came from the direction of the door, followed by a more persistant scratching. Reala blinked. There was only one cat in Nightmare. Could it be. . .?

Reala forced the doors open, and watched as Clawz raced in, fur on edge as he took in every detail. the hulking cat gave a pitiful yowl as he spotted Wizeman on the ground, and turned to look at Reala, mewling again.

Reala nodded, glad to have someone to share the moment with. He didn't protest when Clawz returned to his side and brushed against him for comfort. Strangely enough, he welcomed the gesture. It was good to not be alone.

Reala sighed and sat down, absently scratching Clawz between the ears. Clawz erupted into a deep throated purr in response, closing his eyes. Reala smiled a little. "So you have survived, Clawz. I wonder, have the others?"

Clawz opened his eyes and looked up at Reala yowling a response. Reala rose, glancing sadly at Wizeman before nodding to Clawz. "We will look for them, then." He flew out, with Clawz padding behind him.

GillWing, Puffy, Gulpo, and Jackle each had their own lair. It seemed that those lairs would be the most logical place to search first, especially since that was where Reala had revived.

GillWing's lair was in ruins. Stalagmites and stalagtites had crumbled, and there was no sign of the great dragon fish. Reala flew once around the ruined pillar in the center of the lair before giving up. He was heading out when Clawz yowled loudly for his attention. Turning, he found the Nightmaren cat scrabbling at one of the larger rock formations. Reala started to turn away again, but curiosity took over. He drifted closer, and noticed that the "boulders" were actually GillWing's monstrous head! A jagged line of boulders had come down on top of the unfortunate beast, pinning a wing, and only the tip of GillWing's tail remained. Reala knew that NiGHTS had taken GillWing's tail off himself. GillWing had been busy regenerating.

Reala landed in front of GillWing and laid a hand on the monster's head. "I suppose you'll want me to free you."

GillWing shifted slightly, and rumbled in response, sending bits of dust raining down from the ceiling. Reala grimaced and took flight, circling lazily overhead before spinning into a Drilldash. He smashed through the boulders, and turned to watch as GillWing pulled free, roaring triumphantly. Reala's expression hardened. Now was not the time to celebrate a victory of any kind! Flying up, he gave the stupid beast five deep gouges on the snout. GillWing roared and recoiled, coiling up like an injured snake. Reala flexed his claws. "You mindless monstrosity. The Master is lost to us, and you dare to celebrate! NiGHTS should have killed you!"

GillWing uncoiled a little, and blinked, grunting something that could have been "Master?" if one had had enough imagination to decipher it. Reala's eyes were like an icy flame, terrible to look at. "The Master is dead! Do you understand that?!" And then, Reala was gone.

Clawz padded over to look at GillWing, mewling a little before following Reala out. With a sigh, GillWing managed to form more of a tail, and rubbed at the slashes before curling up again. In the depths of GillWing's prehistoric brain, a terrible feeling of grief and helplessness was quickly taking over. Soon, the entire castle shook with GillWing's wails.

To Be Continued. . .