NiGHTS and Reala spent years, all day and night, with their respective trainers, creatures created for the sole purpose of instructing the youths. If the pair wasn't sharpening their fighting skills, then they were working on their flight skills; if not flight, then pure academics; if not academics, then strategy; if not strategy, then they were out hunting with the other Nightmarens. Any playtime the two once had was lost to them now; as a matter of fact, they barely saw each other anymore. Their time together became precious.

Wizeman watched. His Imperfect Nightmares were faring better than expected: They held up to separation well and advanced quickly in their studies, but he was already beginning to notice a disparity between them... Truly, he witnessed just how very much they were two halves of a single whole: Where Reala excelled in strength and lacked in agility, NiGHTS excelled in agility and lacked in strength; where, to his surprise, Reala excelled in academics, the learning and manipulation of the mind, and lacked in actual wartime strategy, NiGHTS's abilities were inverted. He found Reala more prone to rash, impulsive behavior and NiGHTS to taking no action at all. The whole scenario frustrated him immensely: If only his Perfect Nightmare had come to fruition! He would have had all their proficiencies without any of their failures! He needed to try again. He needed more power, more Ideya. Next time, he would not fail. His demands doubled that day.

Seven... Eight... Nine... NiGHTS sighed as she ticked off the weeks on her fingers. It had been over two months since she had last seen anything more than a passing glance of her twin, the longest they had ever been apart. Of course she could handle it; she would never let those pangs in her heart interfere with her work, but... It was lonely. When on simple, mindless errands like this, she found a rare gem of time where she was free to think, and that was when she missed him most. "Maybe we'll both get injured and we can spend time in the infirmary together," she thought dryly, rolling her eyes—and froze. Up ahead, in the intersection of halls—A rush of red and black caught in her peripherals, as her eyes had rolled? "Reala?" She raced to the intersection and cast her gaze about wildly, but... Nothing. There was no one there. Sighing softly, she continued on her way, off to finish her task. She could have sworn...

Two weeks later, it happened again. She hadn't even been thinking about Reala that time; her mind was far too busy trying to work out some wartime scenario her trainer had challenged her with. Once she caught sight of the blur, however, all was forgotten: She gave immediate chase. "Reala!" This time, her reflexes paid off: She caught sight of a red and black boot disappearing about another corner. Now, she was sure. It was him! She cried out joyously, chasing again, but as she rounded the corner and looked around, she saw not a soul in sight. Curse the twisting halls of Castle Nightmare! But, with a small huff, she knew she could not blame the castle alone for keeping her brother from her. An idea had slowly begun to fester deep in the pit of her belly, and she didn't like it one bit.

Nearly two months more passed without incident. Today, she sat in the library, trying to study a book splayed in front of her, but her mind was far away. Increasingly, she found focus harder and harder to come by; her thoughts kept returning to the whereabouts of her brother and that nasty, persistent idea that twisted in her belly. When she heard the crash and cheers of a fight breaking out in the halls outside, she was on her feet in a moment and racing towards the ruckus. "Thank Wizeman: A distraction!"

Several hours later, with a small sigh, NiGHTS pushed open the library door, cheeks still burning from the chewing-out her trainer had given her for forgetting her book. "Still can't believe..." she grumbled to herself as she cast her gaze about the library; she passed over him at first, but her focus quickly shot back and locked onto the red and black 'maren where he lounged, balancing on the back two legs of his chair, flipping through one of the many books that surrounded him. All the discipline she had thus so far acquired evaporated in a moment, and she squealed with joy, leaping forward and very nearly tackling him out of his chair in a hug. "Reala!"

Reala cried out in surprise, and blood rushed to his cheeks at being caught so off-guard like that, the first two legs of his chair thumping back down onto the ground. "NiGHTS? What are you doing here? You're supposed to be done in the library for the day!" Did he sound... angry? She looked up at him wondrously and blinked, but his face, though oddly red, was serious, even annoyed. He honestly expected an answer. The idea in her belly suddenly solidified into a cold stone, chilling her through and through. She didn't want to believe it, but given how he acted now, what other answer could there be? He had been avoiding her. "Um, well... I forgot a book," she mumbled, withdrawing from him and clasping her hands in front of her, and stood straight, then, after a moment's pause, demanded with sudden irritation, "Reala, have you been avoiding me?" She had to know.

"Yes," he answered curtly, and she winced.

"Why?"

"I have no need for distractions like you anymore." As if that was explanation enough, he turned from her, returning attention to his book, and now it was her turn to colour.

"Is that all I am to you? A distraction?" Anger welled up in her chest. All the time and energy she had lavished on missing him, on wondering! All wasted! He, fortunately, picked up on this, at least slightly, and turned again to look at her. He would grant her that respect, at least.

"Look, NiGHTS, the adventures we had when we were small were fun, but we're older now. I don't have time to play such frivolous games with you anymore." He waved her off, which did absolutely nothing to soothe her emotional storm.

"That's not the point, Reala!" she shouted, stomping her foot on the ground and startling the few other 'marens in the library. "I don't care about having more adventures; I just want to—to be able to talk to you! To be friends!" She half-reached for him and the air, simultaneously desiring to tear him to shreds and hold him close. He, however, took little notice of her hysterics, merely sighing wearily.

"I know that's not your point, NiGHTS, but you're missing mine." Looking her dead in the eye, he articulated each word. "I have no interest in being friends with you anymore. Friends are a distraction; they get in the way of my goal." He smirked. "And I can't afford a single loss if I want to be the very best."

NiGHTS's mouth dropped open. Just like that. Just out of nowhere. He had thrown her—his precious twin, the once-special relationship they shared—away, like bare bone after a meal. Like they never even mattered. She felt tears prick her eyes as her jaw clenched shut, and her emotions exploded outward, manifesting in an abrupt swipe of her claws across his face. He cried out—but she was already gone, out the door and down the hall, shameful tears streaming down her face, book forgotten once more. The door to her room slammed shut; her trainer didn't matter. She needed time alone, and wept.

Eventually, inevitably, she recovered. She couldn't stay in her room forever. On the inside, she still felt torn up, angry, and raw, but on the outside, she floated cool and composed, head held high. Though the hurt remained, her sorrow had largely faded, and her temper had cool—no. It had concentrated. She was absolutely furious with him, she realized, as she approached the library door and paused. Could she face him again? She still needed her book. He was probably gone... No. She hadn't the slightest idea of what she would do if she saw him again right now and couldn't bring herself to take the risk, so she floated on. Besides, books and academia were not what she needed at the moment. Nightmaren only ever learned two ways to cope with anything like the pure iron ball of wrath that sat in the midst of NiGHTS's chest: Store it away as spite, or spend it in the form of violence. She opted for the second choice.

Just because her claws weren't quite as long and jagged as Reala's gauntlets didn't mean that they were any less dangerous: Claws and teeth ripped minions to confetti; drill dashes forced them into spheres that created another victim for her wherever they collided; and paraloops sucked away even their screams, but their lives meant nothing. Stupid Reala! How dare he treat her this way, like some kind of filthy peasant he can just use and throw away without a single backwards glance! She was a Prince of Nightmare, same as he! Well, if he could just crumple up their relationship and set it on fire, so could she! If he didn't want to be friends, then neither did she! It would be easy. She would simply stop caring about him.

Easier said than done, NiGHTS quickly learned. Especially early on, she would catch herself thinking or moping about her situation with Reala... and quickly berated herself for it. Occasionally, she allowed herself a single thought—was it this hard for Reala? was this why he had worked so hard to avoid her?—but no more than that. She refused to indulge herself. And, eventually, largely, it worked. The effort became harder, however, when her trainer began to request that she, a weaker fighter than her brother, watch him and take note on how she could improve to match his skill. For those first few times, painful longing bloomed in her heart; she needed to find a way to squash it! The problem of quashing that emotion consumed her thoughts more than any technical ability she could pick up from watching him, until suddenly, an epiphany. What about him? Couldn't he improve? That boy was far from perfect; she knew that. She should see what she can pick up from watching him fight? How about she avoids the mistakes he makes? Yes, that would do. He was so imperfect. Why should she want anything to do with him! She watched with new found determination.

"Come on, Reala; watch your back! That's Basic Training 101!" NiGHTS shouted irritably from the sidelines, then started slightly to see Reala look her way, eyes wide and shocked. She had been watching him for a while now, but never had they exchanged a single word. All her criticisms had been in her head... until now, apparently. She scarcely realized she had spoken aloud. They held surprised gazes for a moment until Reala was struck again, and the spell was broken. He growled and attacked with new fervour, and NiGHTS frowned in disapproval, shouting again, "What did I tell you? Watch your back! You're so careless!" She saw his expression tighten with irritation, and was surprised to find a small tendril of pleasure slink into her heart at the sight. Perhaps this whole spectating thing could be... fun. She smiled and readied herself to point out his next error.

Initially, Reala had been thrilled to have NiGHTS as a spectator. Of course, he would have been happy to have anyone—he loved the attention—but NiGHTS understood his efforts best. He no longer worried about old affections resurfacing—they were buried deep enough—and gladly put on a show for his new found audience. Unfortunately, that audience soon turned against him. Several shows in, she began to criticize him! As if he didn't condemn his mistakes enough as it was. How dare she! Sure, everything she said was true, but she didn't have anyone doing that to her while she practiced!

NiGHTS was not surprised when Reala began coming to her practices and shouting criticisms back at her. In fact, in the beginning, she laughed.

(Oh, look, non-gendered titles~! Gotta remember, those pronouns are just there for ease. ;3 Also, brownie points to anyone who can recognize the 3 allusions/references I've (purposely) slipped in so far. Here's a hint: There's one anime, one manga, and one Disney movie. Good luck~ =w=

Funny thing about this chapter: I never intended it to exist. Three paragraphs into what was going to be the next chapter, I realized that this totally would be an interesting excerpt that could easily be expanded upon. Originally, it was going to be a passing incident I summed up in a few sentences. But I sure do like this better; don't you~? And no, they're not quite adults in this chapter, not yet. They're still adolescents here.

Oh, and review! Tell me! What do you like? What don't you? What/Who do you want to see more of? Less of? Are there any grammatical errors? Does it flow? I can take criticism, so bring it on! Tell me what you think!)