Author's Note: Hullo, all. Oya oya---it's been more than two months since I've posted anything. However, I'm back. As is obvious. *cough* Anyway, I'm terribly sorry to be babbling at you yet again, but there are a few important things I need to get through, so please let me spit them out quickly and then I'll shut up, m'kay? Thanks.

After several failed attempts, I have finally achieved the Most Important Experience For All NID Fanfiction Writers: I have played the game. And, after going through it several times and closely observing what happens, I have come to the same conclusion as what every other NID fan has been telling me for years.

When it comes to canon, boy do I have a problem.

I'll explain a bit so you know what to expect. I'm following the game's storyline faithfully, for the simple reason that it won't have any bad effect on where I want to go afterwards, which was why I was contemplating departing from it in the first place. My universe, however, is slightly different from those belonging to most writers---my ideas for dreamers, deaths, and dreams are different than others, simply because I can make a better story that way. I'm not saying that what I state in any of my stories is true; it's just the way it is in this particular little universe. (I have several.)

My nightmaren are not so much dream creatures as they are reality dwellers; unlike other maren, who fly all the time or don't need to eat or have no hair or can take a billion blows and come back smiling, my nightmaren are earthy; human-like; blood and flesh. They're made of energy and they inhabit the dream world, but the focus is grounded firmly in reality when it comes to the way things work. Maren bleed, starve, sweat, and die, and while what they are is purely fantasy, many of their connections are real. Willow bark was often used as a headache relief back when herbal remedies were all the medicine available; ergo Jackle's violent search for it after leading a scouting mission with Clawz.

Why on earth did I go off on this entirely human road when I could have been far more canon? I'm not sure. Maybe I felt more comfortable writing about creatures that were more like myself. Maybe they had a closer place in my heart because they showed human tendencies. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. Either way, you should know that this story shall not and will not follow the norm when it comes to Nightmaren theory and so forth---so please keep that in mind when you find something that doesn't apparently fit, such as a nightmaren staying on the ground for long amounts of time. It's just the way this universe is. I will be following the game faithfully, down to every last blue chip and Ideya Capture, but I am not being canon---everything that any fan, Sega representative and Archie issue being what I consider 'canon'.

*coughs* Okay, that's said, we won't have to see it again. Other issues you need to know about: where this story fits in on the timeline. Currently, I have several NID stories around, but only three of them are part of this timeline, and they go in this chronological order: The Lights In The Sky, The River Shall Flood, and Out Of The Dark Change. This story is the next in line, the beginning of the next trilogy; it begins only a few hours after OOTDC ends. We're that close, yes.

There was something else, I KNOW there was something---ah yes. Levels. In the past, I have used terms such as First-levels, Second-levels, and so on; however, from this point on I'm discarding the traditional use and definition of the words in favor of my own. I'll be using them as titles of rank, not as different types of beings---I refuse to place Clawz and Jackle on a lower level of life value than NiGHTS and Reala, and Puffy, Gillwing, and Gulpo lower still. I've been told that there is a Japanese form of the levels in a game manual of some sort, and it's actually different than the English-version ones…either way, I'm no longer following the orthodox definition, because I find it insulting and cheap for any creature who's not a First-level to be insinuated as worth anything less, especially because the level system seems to be based heavily on the 'coolness' factor. Ergo: First-level = high rank, Second-level = lower rank than First-level, etc. This may take some time to get used to, but please bear with me while I try to insert a form of personal principles into the format of a kid's story about a video game that came out years ago. Thank you.

That said, I do hope you enjoy this. Comments, complaints, and criticism are most helpful, and I'm very thankful for anyone who takes the time to point out what's wrong or could have been better---how else will I improve? ^_^ I'd prefer them to be on the writing side of things, however, and not the canon---I've had enough of those already. As I've already said, this is not a canon story, so please do keep that in mind.

A large thank-you is owed to all of those who reviewed steadily and patiently throughout my last story, taking the time and effort to explain what they did and did not like---for every chapter, no less! The absolute perfect model reviewers, Nightdragon, Nix, Fang, Dusk and Yami all reviewed as often as possible, and I appreciate it more then you all know. It's for you that I wrote this story, so I hope you find it amusing.

And so you know, 'statu quo ante' is Latin for 'the way things were'.

Enjoy.

This story is dedicated to someone nobody here knows; and yet, if it weren't for her, this story could very possibly not have been written. For my very good friend Laura, who encouraged me, inspired me, and helped me through some very tough times, whether she knew it or not. Both her words of wisdom and her friendly help were wonderful for me to hear, and it was her encouragement and warm-hearted assurance that she would stand by my work through any non-canon horror that gave me the strength to continue writing during the one time in my life when I seriously contemplated giving up and flipping burgers for eternity. Her prayers and her faith have encouraged and inspired me when I thought I was alone. This isn't much, Laura, but I've worked very hard on it, and I hope it helps you realize just how much you mean to me as a friend, even in the short time that we've known each other---I honestly believe that our meeting was no coincidence, because it was your entering into my life that made me keep from giving up in despair. This dream is dedicated to you. God bless you, friend.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas

She was being chased. The thing behind her panted with horrible snarling breath, fire wreathing out of its nostrils and smoke trailing from the horns on its head. She could only run.

As usual, she found herself unable to move. Her feet felt like concrete. Looking down she realized that she was embedded up to her knees in a solid mass of it, and she was about to be thrown off a cliff by several mobsters.

The cliff was in Ireland, so there were lots of seagulls and leprechauns flying about. As she fell several of them gathered underneath her and softened her fall; they only wanted to eat her arms, though, and not save her, and so she tried to get away. She began beating at them with desperate swipes.

They beat her back, and she nearly had her wrist broken by a seagull's wing; it was as hard as a bat. Looking around she realized that all the leprechauns were holding one in each hand, and were hitting her with it. She had to run all the way to first base before she could lose them.

Now she was in the middle of a ball diamond, and it was on a lady's necklace. Looking around, she admired the fantastic costumes and masquerade dresses that the people around her were wearing; feeling her own face, she realized she was also wearing an animal mask. Luckily she was only a cat, so she didn't have to worry about her clothes being dirty from the seagulls and leprechauns.

The host's dog began chasing her, and she ran through the tables, knocking chairs in its path; the dog, instead of falling behind or avoiding them, trampled right over them. She could hear wood crunching beneath its feet.

She was getting desperate. Her sneakers pounded against the tiled dance garden without a sound, and behind her all the dancers covered their ears and began singing. The dog was growing larger and larger, and when she looked over her shoulder at it it grinned, showing huge teeth the size of daggers. Its skin was solid rock.

She put her head down and ran hard, muscles straining tight from exertion, but the thing kept getting bigger, until finally it was the size of her family's van. She would have gotten in the van and driven away, but the monster dog crunched it under one foot. She could hear her brother scream as the metal was crushed into a tin can.

She screamed too, and a dancer picked up the can and threw it at her head. She staggered and fell. The monster towered over her, a paw planted on either side of her waist, and grinned at her.

With a gasp, Emily sat upright, sweat beading on her forehead and fingers grasping her blanket in a death grip. Her room was bathed in moonlight and absolutely silent.

Only a nightmare.

She blinked fuzzily at her surroundings, eyes focusing on the bright neon numbers that declared it was one forty-two. After a moment of silently assuring herself it had only been a nightmare, she got up and began padding her way to her brother's room; she knew it was silly, but she wanted to make sure he was all right.

Peeking in through a crack in the door, she found him lying peacefully on his bed, one small hand next to his face, blankets drawn up around him with a mother's care. His expression was calm and content. He was fine. Only a nightmare.

In the Dream World, the nightmare had faded as she did, becoming nothing but memories as she awoke. Surroundings melted away, dancers and dance garden becoming shrubs and rolling hills. All of the fearful, twisted shapes had disappeared.

The monster had not. With a satisfied grin, it turned and padded for Mystic Forest.

Only a nightmare.

Rosemary for remembrance.

(The star's shining blue.)

A jonquil for color.

(The stream's kissed with dew.)

A moon for a symbol.

(The storm's made its round.)

A prayer for his passing.

(The world's fallen down.)

Chapter One:

Statu Quo Ante

Noon in the Dream World.

Despite their names, Nightopia and Nightmare were not necessarily dark and frightening. Especially at the moment, during broad daylight, when the woods of Mystic Forest and the far-off glistening snowcaps of Frozen Bell looked more like a scene from a postcard than a stage on which peoples' deepest fears and desires were played out. A few clouds wisped across the gorgeous sky, and Nightopians frolicked in Spring Valley, having mud fights and playing tag. Birds sang from the forest's eaves. Minions were fairly docile, relaxed after a night of powerful storm and content to perch on rocks or branches, allowing their usual prey to play unmolested. Peace reigned.

Inside Nightmare Castle, however, it was an entirely different story.

That story will now be told.

"What the heck is going on?"

It was a sentiment that expressed the emotions of every maren alive, Luna noted mentally. She swirled her cup, watching the hot tea inside spin in a miniature whirlpool. "I don't think anyone knows, Terrance. Even the higher-ups."

Corbeau inclined his head towards the archery teacher. "Is that why you asked us to come, Tessa? To see if anyone knew anything?"

Tessa nodded. "Comparing notes seems to be a good idea. I need something to tell my students."

Luna groaned at the remembrance of her own tutoring duties. "That's going to be interesting. What are we supposed to tell them if we don't know anything ourselves?"

"That's what I asked you here to figure out." Tessa blinked quietly at the sparring instructor. "We need to understand as much as we can so we can retain a sense of order."

"Giving the students the day off without warning didn't help much," muttered Terrance.

"Lord Reala said it was Wizeman's order. There must have been a reason for it."

"Oh, yes, and that makes it sensible? He's not always the brightest leader, Morgen."

The Armory tender gave Terrance a look. "You'd be wise to watch your words, Terrance."

"I didn't mean it that way. What's best for the mission or the better good might not be the best for the masses. He doesn't make his decisions based on how people will take it."

"I sense that we're getting off-topic."

"We ever had a topic, Dysdane?"

"We had a reason for being here in the lounge instead of watching over the students who are currently sitting around in various states of shock or holiday. And that reason was to pool what we know and make sense of it." Her narrow face took on an expression of long-suffering. "So unless you all plan on continuing your verbal sparring matches, I would appreciate returning to our original subject."

"O' course."

"You're right."

"Sorry, m'lady."

Tessa cleared her throat delicately. "Ahem. First of all, let's run over what we know. Plans were made to step over into the Waking World."

"And we were sent on a wild hunt because Wizeman realized later on that the Courage Ideya we needed were only available once every hundred years," added her brother. "All of a sudden, too, so obviously he didn't know about it earlier."

"Both of them were found," she continued, ignoring his input. "By NiGHTS and Reala, no less."

"Which is a blessed coincidence, or I'm a cob," murmured Stella.

"…true." Tessa nodded once to show her acknowledgement of the healer's observation. "Both of the dreamers were taken into Wizeman, and we were all told to prepare for our takeover of the Waking World."

"And then everything went to pot," finished Morgen. There was a moment of silence as the gathered teachers and older maren thought over the past day, several taking sips of their drink or nibbling at some scones set out on the table. Luna spoke up first.

"We know that they brought the Ideya to Wizeman, because NiGHTS flew out of the window carrying both of them."

"Tha' was right about th' time Wizeman yelled fit t' burst some maren's eardrums an' Reala came out lookin' like he'd been slapped in th' face," inserted Stella dryly.

"Guess we can say that NiGHTS was probably stealing them, then." Corbeau sighed, running a hand through his long brown hair. "This just gets messier and messier."

"So NiGHTS heads for Mystic Forest, and Reala follows him." Terrance inspected a scone closely. "Neither of 'em came back for awhile. We sat around in the rain."

"Wonderful observation. That helps explain what happened," muttered Dysdane.

Terrance, now chewing thoughtfully, ignored her. His eyes wandered to the ceiling as he thought aloud. "The High Seekers came out of the Great Hall a little later and headed back for the master's room. I saw them. They came out a few minutes afterwards with Reala, an' he said that NiGHTS was no longer one of Wizeman's servants and that we had the day off to rest and bring things back to normal. He said the mission was delayed for a century. Clawz said that NiGHTS was in the Ideya Palace in Spring Valley. And that was it."

"Well, he was certainly informative," muttered Luna irritably. "What in the Ideya does he expect us to tell our students?"

"That NiGHTS is on vacation?" suggested Terrance sarcastically.

"You can't just let them figure things out on their own?" Amaranth's own underling, Apathy, was here with them now; he had no students to worry about.

"No," snapped Luna. "NiGHTS has obviously gone against Wizeman's will. But if we just let things fall as they may, then we risk the chance of losing what little order and respect we have."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, Morgen, it is." Tessa gave the albino maren a patient explanation. "NiGHTS has, to all appearances, stolen the Ideya, been run down by Reala, and is now incarcerated for eternity."

This last sentence brought on another stretch of silence. Luna heaved a sigh and picked up the thread. "Students hearing this will obviously wonder what it was all about, and why NiGHTS went against his master's will, and why he's sealed in a little glass box for the rest of eternity. Some will wonder about it, some'll ask why he wasn't killed, someone's inevitably going to ask why he was punished in the first place, a whole bunch will probably think it was a horrific thing to do, someone's going to ask why the heck any of this happened. It's bad enough to have maren questioning their existence---always throws off their personality for a bit---but with all the tangled threads we have running through the story now, it's five times worse. We have a potential full-scale rebellion on our hands."

"Lord Reala?"

"What?"

Clawz bobbed his head respectfully, as all of the larger High Seekers often did instead of bowing. "What are our orders for today?"

"Nothing as of yet." Reala turned away, his face tightening for a moment with an unsaid emotion. "I am going back to speak to Lord Wizeman alone. Orders will come later."

The High Seekers exchanged glances; Jackle rolled his head to one side, giggling childishly. "Well, then, guess there's no use moping about like frogs in a bog, eh?" With that he hopped off down the hall, alternately bounding in short, quick jumps and then skimming across the shir-coated floors. The other High Seekers stared after him.

Clawz cleared his throat. "What the Ideya's with him?"

"Jackle?" Reala lifted his head momentarily. "I was told he's gone insane. Judge for yourself." Without another word he left the hallway they'd gathered in.

Clawz and Puffy exchanged glances; behind them, Gillwing shifted his weight uncomfortably. "What did Reala mean?" he finally asked, his dull voice thick with worry. "Did he mean Jackle fell on his head?"
"No, that's not what he meant," assured Clawz quickly, unsure as to why he actually cared. "He was just joking around."

"Oh." Gillwing's wings, which often acted as his equivalent to an animal's ears when showing his moods, perked up slightly.

With a strangled noise, Puffy turned and began bouncing for the Great Hall. Clawz, with a twisted feeling in his chest, followed her.

Gillwing looked about him confusedly, suddenly finding himself deserted.

In Spring Valley, as in the rest of Nightopia, the land was reveling in the quiet after last night's horrible storm. Plants watered by the rains now reached towards the sun with lush leaves, their branches bouncing as Nightopians flitted through with their games. High, birdlike laughter could be heard among the rustling of leaves. Several Minions lolled about on the grassy knolls or perched in the spreading trees, but their usual antics of Nightopian chasing and personal fights were strangely subdued in the face of the relaxed day. One or two were asleep.

In the middle of this spring jubilee stood a small, stone-wrought building of four columns and a rounded top. Surprisingly, the curious, chattering Nightopians and sleepy Minions paid no attention to it; it was a well-known piece of the landscape. It wasn't until a bit of movement gave away the presence of life within the structure that a Nightopian fluttered near.

"Whoa, there's someone in here!" he cried out, bringing his friends running and attracting the attention of a few Hollows and Shleep. A nearby Shleep twitched an ear interestedly, but made no other movement to interfere. The Nightopians were too busy crowding about the building and its occupant to notice. A high-pitched discussion on the nature and origin of the unknown person immediately ensued.

"It's a nightmaren!"

"He's asleep…"

"Is it a he?"

"I think."

"No, it's a she! Look at her eyes!"

"They're closed, dummy!"

"But they look like girls' eyes…"

"How can you tell? The guys and girls look the same!"

"It's a guy!"

"Girl, Nip! It's a girl!"

"Is not!"

"How did it get in there? Nightmaren can't get in those things, can they?"

"Maybe she's different!"

"Can you touch her?"

The Nightopian named Nip hesitantly put out a stubby hand toward what looked like open space between the stone pillars. Without any warning a sheet of light flashed into being between the columns and, with a surprised shriek, he was thrown back several feet. The Nightopians scattered instantly, some taking to the trees with frightened whistles or screams, others huddling in little groups. The watching Shleep chuckled.

Nip raised himself dizzily from where he'd landed, shook his round head, and then declared, "That was fun!"

This brought the others out of hiding, albeit rather slowly. A few remained in the trees, peeking out at the strange building and its invisible shield; the braver ones gathered around their comrade, spilling questions. "Are you all right?"

"What happened?"

"What was it like?"

"That was fun?"

Nip got up woozily, rubbing his eyes with balled hands to try and clear his vision. "Yeah! Did you see me? I went flying!"

The assembled group looking towards the building once more, and now one of the braver ones fluttered his way closer. He looked at the empty space between the pillars for a long time, the others all watching in breathless anticipation. Finally he reached out tentatively.

"Yeeeeeeeeow!"

Nightopians ducked as he went flying back overhead, crashing into a tree with various sounds of branches snapping and leaves rustling. After a moment, his dizzy but triumphant face looked back out from the branches. "Whoooo…that was fun!"

Several more Nightopians began heading for the building, reassured now that two had survived the trip. The nearby Shleep, joined soon by a pair of Hollows, began laughing as Nightopians were hurled far and wide with assorted cries of excitement. Soon the entire group was busy taking rides by throwing themselves at the invisible barrier.

Pain in his head, pain in his wrist, dark…thick dark. He felt like he was drowning in the black around him. He struggled to reach out, find light, find something solid; anything. He felt a rush around him like he was heading towards the surface of a pond, and he thought he could distinguish daylight rippling above the surface. With a heave of effort he broke through.

NiGHTS moaned as he opened his eyes, sound rumbling through his head and pain in his wrist. The first thing he saw was several Nightopians rushing at him, only to be hit with a flash of something bright and ferociously propelled backwards with yells of happiness. An entire group of them followed suit.

After a moment of staring blankly, he closed his eyes again. 'By the fifth Ideya, I really shouldn't have bothered getting up.'