NiGHTS ducked, letting the large sphere fly past her head. As soon as it was clear, she shot upwards again, towards another globe she knew would be hanging there. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Reala flying to grab a sphere of his own. NiGHTS caught hold of the globe and swung around, using her momentum to move the heavy object around. When it was aimed just right, she gave it a sudden push, sending the sphere flying towards her sibling. Her sphere hit Reala's and exploded, sending the red harlequin reeling backwards. She smiled with satisfaction; this was an activity that depended on agility in addition to strength, and so she could get the better of her sibling more often at this than in other exercises.
"Impressive," a deep voice rumbled.
NiGHTS whirled around. "Master," she gasped, not having realized that Wizeman had been watching them.
"Come with me," said the Lord of Nightmare.
NiGHTS nodded and glanced back at Reala, who had recovered from the explosion and was staring with a mixture of awe and envy. Then he was gone, or rather she had gone, and now stood on the floor of her master's tower.
"You have made much progress, NiGHTS," Wizeman said, his six hands turning their gaze on her from all angles. "I find your improvement most satisfactory."
"Thank you, Master." NiGHTS bowed her head, trying to be humble although on the inside she was absolutely elated to get his praise.
"I have decided that you shall be the first to utilize a new ability," Wizeman continued. "You will test this technique and report to me on its effectiveness in dominating the humans that continue to trespass in my realm. If it is useful, I will grant this ability to Reala, as well."
"What is this ability?" NiGHTS asked, looking up at him.
One of Wizeman's all-seeing hands slowly lowered towards NiGHTS. There was something cupped in it; when the hand was close enough, NiGHTS peered over the fingers to see a small, red gem.
"This is a shard of a Red Ideya," said Wizeman. "With it, you will be able to Dualize with Visitors; that is, you will control them by taking them into your own body. Hold the shard to your chest."
NiGHTS reached out and picked up the shard. She could feel its power, a sort of humming against her palm. As she placed it against her chest, Wizeman made a motion with his hand.
The purple harlequin felt a sudden, painful jolt through her body as the gem firmly latched to her skin; no, not just to her skin; she could feel its energy coursing through her veins, changing something in her makeup—
—and then the sensation was gone, just as quickly. NiGHTS tentatively touched the gem. It seemed to be a part of her body now.
"Now, go to the Dream Gate," Wizeman ordered. "A Visitor has opened the door to Nightopia. Dualize with her, take her Ideya and crush her, and then report back to me."
"Yes, Master," NiGHTS bowed, and then she turned and flew out of the tower.
She quickly reached the Dream Gate. There was indeed a door there, and she slid through it, entering the Nightopia on the other side. NiGHTS flew high above the ground, taking in the landscape. There was a mountain range splitting the land in two. On one side there was a green valley with small islands floating in the air. On the other side she saw a line of hills descending towards a pretty beach with park benches on the shore.
NiGHTS would have liked to explore this Nightopia further, but she was on a mission. Scanning the mountains, she found the Visitor, who was climbing over the rocks. It was a small, dark-skinned human girl. NiGHTS swooped down and came to a halt hovering behind the girl.
The Visitor turned around, gasping when she saw the Nightmaren. NiGHTS reached a hand out towards the girl, touching her shoulder. The gem felt warm against her chest. There was a bright light, and NiGHTS felt the girl combining with her, felt the power of the girl's Ideya adding to her own, felt the—
—Oh my god, oh my god, what is it? It's in me! Oh god! Who are you? Let me go! Let me go! Help me! Mommy! Oh god! Oh god! Oh god—
NiGHTS reeled back, separating from the girl and tumbling down the mountain a few yards before coming to a halt. Her heart was racing, her breathing was rapid and shallow, and she was trembling uncontrollably. She stared wide-eyed at the Visitor above her, who was staring back with an expression of confusion and fear.
NiGHTS pushed away from the mountain, desperate to distance herself from the Visitor and from this strange fit that had come over her, but the terrible sensations lingered. She landed roughly and staggered over to a tree, where she sat, huddled and shaking.
So this was fear. It was the Visitor's fear, and she had felt it, was feeling it.
She heard a flapping sound, and then a voice whispered her name. She looked up to see Owl sitting on a branch of the tree.
"What is the matter, NiGHTS?" he asked softly.
"I… I don't know…"
NiGHTS stared at her gloved hands, which she couldn't seem to keep still. Her mouth was dry; she licked her lips to try to soothe them, but it didn't change much. She felt absolutely awful. No, the girl had felt absolutely awful, when NiGHTS had attacked her.
"The Visitors, the Nightopians… They don't like being frightened, do they?"
Owl shook his head slowly. "No, NiGHTS, we don't."
NiGHTS looked down at her hands again, which had curled into fists.
"I never thought…" she tried to say, but her breath was coming out in odd gasps. "I couldn't… I couldn't have known…"
She broke off, sobs wracking her form. Her eyes were squeezed shut, but tears were sliding out from under her eyelids, rolling down her cheeks, leaving dark spots on the grass. She felt wretched and pathetic; she wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there forever. And this was how she made others feel, she realized. This was how she had always made others feel, for her own amusement and her master's gain, and it was absolutely horrible.
She felt ashamed with herself.
Gradually, her sobs quieted and her tears slowed. NiGHTS leaned back against the tree. Her eyes felt hot and her persona was damp, sticking uncomfortably to her face. She reached up and took it off, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I can't do it," she whispered, her voice barely audible.
"What?" said Owl.
"I can't do it," NiGHTS repeated, more loudly. "It hurts too much. I won't make anyone feel terror again. But…"
She trailed off, having caught sight of the persona in her hands.
"But if Master Wizeman orders me to chase down a Visitor, and take her Ideya, I'll have to," she said. "I'll have to do it, or else. And it will make them feel like that. They'll feel fear…"
She paused. An idea was beginning to take shape in her mind.
"What's the point?" she said, suddenly turning and looking up at Owl again. "He tells us to scare you all, to destroy happiness, to take your Ideya. And all it does is add to his power, so he can make more of you afraid, and get rid of happy things, like playing and music.
"And I like those happy things," she continued, getting up, her feet a few inches above the ground. "I like playing. I like music. I like exploring and flying around, just doing things because I can. So why am I helping Wizeman destroy those happy things? Maybe I shouldn't help him!"
There. The idea had been given voice. It was outrageous, unthinkable, even. To defy Wizeman, the most powerful being in all Nightmare! Impossible.
But could she bear to follow his orders, now that she knew what they caused?
"I'll never follow orders again!" NiGHTS declared, throwing her persona to the ground. "No one will be the boss of me, especially not some cruel, six-handed, overbearing bully! I'm done being his puppet. From now on, I'm going to do things my way!"
She grinned at Owl, who smiled back.
Then the enormity of what she'd just decided hit her.
"He'll come for me when I don't report back," she realized. "And he'll be angry…"
She and Owl glanced at the sky, half expecting to see the Lord of Nightmare bearing down on them.
"You should go," said Owl. "Quickly!"
NiGHTS nodded. "Right. You get out of here, too. I don't want you caught up in all this."
"I get the feeling I'll end up caught up in all this anyway," the old bird replied, flapping his wings and rising off the branch.
They left in opposite directions, Owl going towards the Dream Gate while NiGHTS headed deeper into the Nightopia.
NiGHTS knew Reala would find her first; the siblings knew each other as well as they did themselves. Or at least they had known each other; now, neither the purple harlequin waiting on the cliff nor the red harlequin flying up to her were so sure of that anymore.
"You've gone too far this time!" Reala announced as he came up to hover beside NiGHTS. "The birds found your persona. Master Wizeman has all of his third-level Nightmarens out searching for you. If you hurry back with me now and apologize—"
He reached for her arm and gaped in surprise as she backed away from him, shaking her head.
"I'm not going back to Wizeman," she said.
"What?" Reala gasped. "You can't be serious!"
But NiGHTS was being serious. Reala could see it in the way she held herself, in the tilt of her head and the steady gaze of her eye. The Nightmaren had known her for her entire life, but she had never appeared this serious about anything before. But how could she be serious about leaving their master, about provoking his wrath?
"NiGHTS, this is madness," Reala insisted. "You're not thinking clearly."
"Reala, for the first time in my life, I am thinking clearly," NiGHTS replied, trying to make him understand. "I'm seeing us for what we really are, and I'm seeing Wizeman for what he really is. Reala, what he's having us do is wrong."
"No, Reala, please, listen to me." NiGHTS took his hand in hers. "We don't have to hurt or frighten others to have fun. And we do hurt them, Reala; I know that now. But we don't have to. There are so many happy, wonderful things in the world, free for us to use without harming anyone else.
"Come with me, Reala," she pleaded. "Leave Wizeman. We're strong; together, we could resist him. We won't have to follow orders ever again! We'll be free to play whenever we want, and I'll teach you about all the wonderful things I've discovered, like music, and friends. Oh, you'll like having friends, Reala, I know you will! Just come with me, my sibling. Please."
Reala stared at her, and NiGHTS wondered if anything she had said had made any sense to him. Always, when she had done something against Wizeman's rules, it had been Reala who had covered for her slips and taken her aside to remind her of how to act. In just a few sentences, she had denounced everything that they had lived for up to that point; how would he react to a transgression this big?
But she had to try to get him to see things the way she now saw them. They were siblings. They had been together forever. Maybe they could be friends, too.
He just had to come with her, and then everything could be perfect.
"Reala?" she prompted, her voice barely above a whisper.
The red harlequin reached out and took her other hand. NiGHTS felt a flicker of hope.
Then Reala grabbed her tightly, pinning her so that she couldn't move.
"I have her!" he shouted. "She's here!"
NiGHTS heard the flapping and screeching of the other Nightmarens, responding to his call.
"No!" she gasped, struggling against Reala's grasp. "Let go! Reala, please!"
Reala raised a hand, and a cage sprouted from the ground. He shoved NiGHTS inside, and it closed around her.
"Master Wizeman granted me a new technique, as well, once he realized what you'd done," he said.
NiGHTS leapt to her feet and rushed at the cage wall, only to be knocked backwards. She pulled herself upright again, confused. She wasn't as strong as her sibling, but she should have been strong enough to break out of such a flimsy prison! She reached for the power of the stored Ideya but found nothing there. Wizeman had severed her link to the Ideya; without that power, she was helpless.
NiGHTS stared out through the cage at Reala. Their eyes met. They had the same bright blue eyes, but that was not all their eyes had in common that day.
How could you do this to me? their eyes asked, expressing the betrayal that they both felt. You are my sibling.
Both harlequins turned away then, each unable to hold the other's gaze. As a result, NiGHTS did not watch her sibling leave her to her Nightmaren guards, and Reala did not see the blue-haired boy and pink-haired girl standing on opposite sides of the mountain, staring up at the cage.