Deep in the dark forests of Nightmare, leaning back against one of countless dead trees, Reala stretched out in front of a fire, and a soft, contented sigh slipped from his lips. For him, life was a constant exercise in self-control and censorship; so many irritants incessantly bothered him there, in the heart of Nightmare, but here, he was alone. Never could he relax as fully as he could here; never could he allow his instincts the free reign they craved. With a devious chuckle, he licked the blood from his claws and grinned, eyes slightly hazy from the satisfied bloodlust. No, no 'maren dare venture into this black pit of a forest, none but the most stupid of Minions, those whose intelligence struggled to outwit a human dog. He would not be disturbed here. He had made sure of that long ago.

His eyes had just begun to close when they snapped open again, suddenly alert to the fumbling and crunching of someone bumbling through the forest. "What forgetful fool dare disturbs me now?" he thought, growling softly. He brought up a leg, about to get up, but when the caped 'maren stumbled into Reala's campsite, he put it back down and eyed Jackle cautiously. That 'maren had so many facets that Reala never knew quite what to expect with him. Some days he was a giggly child, others a raving lunatic, and on the rare occasion, someone Reala could almost call a friend.

But when Jackle looked over at Reala with wide-eyed innocence, apparently having just noticed he was there, the Nightmaren general knew which side of Jackle he was dealing with. Sighing, he dropped his head and rubbed the spot between his eyes where the bridge of his nose might have been. Today, it seemed, Jackle chose to be a child. "What to you want?" he snapped, but only after waiting a few moments and receiving no answer did he look up.

Jackle wasn't even looking his way anymore. The caped 'maren sat with his back to the fire, hunched over, playing with what Reala only could assume to be his ever-present cards. Reala huffed. Was he to stay there all night? At least he was being quiet. Still... Quiet was not in Jackle's nature, or at least, it didn't use to be. His mind seemed to deteriorate further with every revival of Wizeman. With a soft sigh, he shook his head and leaned back again. Eyes closing, mind drifting, he murmured, "Where have you gone, old friend?"

Consciousness hit Reala like an avalanche; his senses exploded: The roar of a waterfall filled his ears—and, it felt, his head—the air tasted muddy and damp; he knelt in cold mud; and, when his vision cleared, all he saw was the stone his head rested upon. He groaned softly and closed his eyes tightly; slowly, he exhaled, clearing his mind. One detail at a time. His blue eyes opened once more.

First, he examined his forearms, and upon the sight, his pulse jumped right back up. His gauntlets were gone, replaced with a similar, but more crudely built pair that chained him to the rock before him. A voice floated through his mind, vaguely recognized as a long-past memory, "Eheheheh~! What do you think, Reeree~? I made them just for you~"

He shook his head quickly, and a look to his knees confirmed the metal that bit into his thighs and calves, the chains that linked to the same place as the ones that held his arms. He was trapped, bound... Both sets of chains were just short enough to prevent his standing; he could see that much. However, that wouldn't stop him from trying to break them. Ignoring the pessimism of his memories, he fixed his face in a snarl and jerked viciously against the chains that held him; indeed, he put up a valiant effort: Ferociously, he struggled against the metal, bucking and pulling, but even his legendary strength succeeded in freeing nothing but the blood from his veins. Warm blood cut through the cold air as it trickled down his legs and knees as he collapsed back down, deflated. Resting his head back upon the boulder before him, he panted softly, and another memory floated up from the same long-past place in his mind...

Breath blew hot on Reala's cheek with each whispered word spoken."Whenever I've watched you, you've always seemed so proud, so strong, so independent... Heheheh~! But now that we're alone, in the dark, with my hands at your wrists… things are different here, aren't they? Now, I see you for what you really are~" His pale skin flushed scarlet, and he shuddered as laughter echoed throughout the room.

He shivered now as he shuddered then, and cast a glance around. He was still alone. Was that really for the best? Probably not... He hesitated, then shouted, "Jackle! Show yourself!" Hackles up, he growled and whipped his head around sharply, but after a few minutes of waiting and seeing no one, he slumped and sighed. Apparently, Jackle would come when whimsy suited him. Of course. At least he had found his gauntlets. He cast his gaze across the river, where his precious golden claws waited. Unable to do anything else, he, too, waited.

Hours passed before Reala finally caught sight of that orange devil, or rather, felt him as he wrapped his invisible arms about Reala's waist. "Mmm, Reeree..." Jackle sighed dreamily as he leaned on Reala, but only for a moment, as he cackled and leaped back the second Reala swiped for his arms. "So naughty~" Jackle cooed with a grin before whipping around and facing the trapped first-level, just out of reach. For all his whimsy and unpredictability, Jackle measured his spot carefully: When Reala again swiped for him, he didn't even flinch as the claws grazed just inches from his flesh; instead, he sighed, an adoring, silly grin spread across on his face. "Oh, Reeree~ Always the fiesty one." His eyes glimmered with devilish intent. "I missed you~" he purred. "This outfit too~" He swung up onto his feet and traced a gloved finger over the back bottom edge of Reala's vest. "Do you remember? You wore this the first time we were together, after NiGHTS left~ Jackle remembers." As if to emphasize his words, he nodded.

Reala sighed, rolling his eyes. It was so long ago, yet how could he possibly forget? Jackle's voice echoed back to him, rising from the depths of memory, "Look, Reeree, look! I left a mark! Now you'll remember me forever~" The memory brought hyperawareness to the small jagged scar on his lower back, and as if in sync with his thoughts, Jackle's gloved fingers stroked over it as they meandered their way up under his vest, to his shoulders. He shuddered. "I missed you," Jackle repeated, undisturbed when Reala tried and again failed to claw at him, the chains again stopping him short. "Did you miss me? I bet you did~ You always play so hard-to-get, but Jackle knows better~" Jackle nodded, entirely certain of himself. "Poor Reeree... I hear the Master's been ignoring you lately. He's had no need for his oh-so special first level~ That's why you came here, isn't it? You're frustrated, aren't you?"

Jackle paused, but Reala did not answer, coiled tense under Jackle's feather light touches. He wanted so dearly to deny every word, but his black lips stayed sealed shut. Master Wizeman was plotting, planning; his only order for Reala, given so many long months ago, was to keep things as they were. No more. Scarcely enough to keep the General busy. There was, however, one retort he could give: "I did not miss you."

Jackle cackled. "You can't lie to me, Reeree~!" He crouched down beside his prisoner, and his voice dropped with him, low and enticing. "Jackle knows better, you see~ Deep in your core, he knows what you've longed for~" Briefly, he rubbed Reala's shoulders, but the reflexive attack came far too late. His voice sunk almost to a whisper. "Jackle can do it. He's done it before. Trust Jackle. Don't you want it? Haven't you missed that feeling? It's not hard. Jackle can make you feel useful again~ Trust Jackle."

Jackle leaned in as he spoke, and Reala could feel the hot breath on his shoulder's bare skin, contrasting sharply with the cold air all around. He shivered, his only movement. Those sacchrine promises had entranced some rarely seen part of him, called it to action, and he felt kisses along his stunned shoulders as it waged war with his pride.

"Dammit Jackle, no!" Reala snarled, suddenly lashing out at his captor and struggling against his chains. He snapped his jaws; he turned to claw, but Jackle fell back, safely out of reach, and only laughed. Reala's chest heaved and he growled, but he knew that this game was not over. Nowhere close.

After all, he was still winning.