Wizeman hovered atop the still form of the defeated Countdown.
All four of the legs of its throne had been snapped off and it lay face up in the barren dust and rock, as if gazing up at its conqueror, pleading for mercy. Nightmaren did not know mercy. Wizeman had already shattered the glass covering its face and wrenched off its single twisted hand, and was holding it like a sacrificial dagger above the gargantuan clock's key while Nightmaren of all ranks formed a circle around their prey and chanted a victory fanfare, all except those who were still hunting down and destroying any surviving Alarm Eggs. Puffy led the victory cry, her powerful operatic voice loud enough to penetrate every corner of Twin Seeds. Wizeman's booming voice joined her in a duet from the very abyss itself. The Nightmaren began to chant in unison as they became lost in the rhythm, and as it reached its climax, as the atmosphere of the ritual reached fever pitch, Wizeman plunged the clock hand down...
The basketball hit the disembodied hand square on the knuckles, causing the fist to unclench and drop its weapon. Wizeman spun around and the eyes on his hands all opened at once, glowing a baleful red. A meteor narrowly missed Claris as she drill-dashed towards him, stopping inches from the Lord of Nightmare with her arms folded. Reala and Clawz both reacted in an instant, making a grab for the two children, but they were taken by surprise when Elliot darted away from Reala at the last second, drawing him into a paraloop as he had seen NiGHTs do, while simultaneously summoning another basketball to throw at Clawz.
"What do you idiots want? Can't you even leave me be when I'm fighting and winning a battle against our mutual enemies? Or do you truly mean to show mercy to this abomination?" hissed Wizeman.
"I just want to see the body before you destroy it," said Claris, "NiGHTs helped you win, you know. We saw him. He was fighting Selph the whole time!"
"And why would I care about NiGHTs or you any more? You know, Nightmaren don't make lasting alliances. You should run away before I remember that we're enemies again."
"I won't stop you winning, or from killing your enemy. You don't have any reason to stop me. I just want to see the power source."
"Don't be preposterous. Look at that thing. It's stopped moving. It isn't still powered."
"NiGHTs told me the time shards were still in there, and that I had to get them out. I've got to try, even if it doesn't work."
"The reactor core is cracked. If it's still powered and you mess with the power supply, it might explode. Do you know what a temporal explosion does to everything standing in the same year as it?"
"So you think randomly stabbing it will be a better idea?"
"You know, you're right. I think yourself and those despicable bureaucrats being in the centre of the explosion while I am somewhere far away is an excellent idea."
"Master! If the time shards can be retrieved, we will attain near immortality!" said Puffy.
"I am Nightmare. I am already immortal," he said, "Come, we must celebrate our victory, then I must rebuild all that I have lost. Maybe tomorrow we will take Twin Seeds, eh?"
Reala and Clawz dropped Elliot and followed their master as he led a victorious but battered army out of Twin Seeds. For the first time, Elliot was glad to see the sight. He imagined it would be the last ever time.
"How do you get to the power core of this thing?" asked Claris.
"A clock's battery is in the back, underneath the key," he said.
It was a tight squeeze, but there was just enough space to fit underneath the clock, where it had fallen backwards onto a jagged trench in the hill that had been made when its key was dragged along under it. They saw the power supply through one of the many cracks, where the icy blue light shone through. It was making a disconcerting, angry humming noise like a wasp's nest. NiGHTs wouldn't have asked you to take them out if they killed you when you touched them, Claris told herself as she carefully pried loose the case so that she could fit through by flying. The time shards floated in glass tubes inside the array of cogs, tubes, levers, dials and thick cables that was the mechanism of the Countdown. They were like perfect crystals of order embedded in a rough ore of chaos. Claris' heart sank when she realised she had no idea how any of the machinery worked, never mind how to extract the power source from the reactor. A lot of the machines were covered in flashing red lights and blaring alarm bells, some were emitting gouts of grey smoke and some looked visibly cracked or had parts snapped off. The temperature was steadily rising. Any suspicions that Wizeman was making up the whole story about the core exploding were gone from her mind.
"How do you get batteries out of clocks?" she asked Elliot.
"Well, they normally have to not be big enough for you fit inside, and not made out of alien technology," he shrugged, "Sorry."
REACTOR IS IN CRITICAL CONDITION. PLEASE EXTRACT POWER SOURCE AND LEAVE THE MAINTENANCE BAY AT ONCE.
Elliot jumped back from the set of brass pipes from which the loud announcement came, "Who's that? Are you the enemy?"
"That's the Second Wise Man's voice," identified Claris.
CORRECT. I AM ON REPAIR DUTY. THE COUNTDOWN IS FITTED WITH MANUAL OVERRIDE CONTROLS. THEY ARE FOR THE USE OF SELPH, BUT OTHER HUMANOIDS CAN ALSO USE THEM. I WILL GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE PROCEDURE.
"Why are you helping us?" demanded Elliot, "We won't obey you or give these to you or anything! NiGHTs told us to..."
NiGHTS CONTACTED US AGAIN, WHEN WE INFORMED HIM OF HIS BANISHMENT. WE MADE AN ARRANGEMENT. THE TIME SHARDS ARE TO BE USED ON THE CLOCK TOWER, TO RESTART IT. THERE WILL ALSO BE TIME LEFT OVER FOR REPAIR WORK TO MADE ON NIGHTOPIA BEFORE IT IS TIME FOR VISITORS TO USE THE FACILITIES AGAIN.
"NiGHTs said that to you, even though you banished him?"
WE BOTH WANT WHAT IS BEST FOR NIGHTOPIA. PLEASE TRUST US OR WE CANNOT BRING THE FUTURE ABOUT. WE HAVE PLANS TO COMPLETELY RENOVATE NIGHTOPIA WITH THE TIME WE HAVE BOUGHT. IT WILL BE BETTER THAN EVER.
"I feel kind of dizzy, Elliot, it's getting very hot in here..." said Claris, "Just trust them. Please. NiGHTs trusted them."
"Claris, get out of here," warned Elliot.
"Okay, but I'm not leaving Twin Seeds. I want you to promise me you'll do what's right."
VERY WELL. LET US BEGIN. THE SECOND LEVER TO THE LEFT MUST BE IN THE DOWN POSITION...
A light flared, a bright blue, radiant and all-encompassing as the sky itself.
Nine minds, powerful as Gods, patient as trees, neutral as machines, joined together as one. As their thoughts hovered over the Town Hall Clock, cogs poured back up its walls and slotted into place, chains wrapped themselves around it, cracks in bells sealed, bricks piled themselves up into stout walls. A shower of glass sprinkled into the sky before the clock face, its bright brass hands sharp-edged and new, its paint still wet, and a glorious golden sun reflected off the spotless glass panel that was suddenly there.
Then the hands began moving, slowly at first, then they sped up, the bells tolling jubilantly. Clouds sped past, grass grew, the park fountain erupted, sending water through the Plaza's many water features. The bandstand was unfurled and music began to play.
Gradually, after several months had gone by, Nightopians flooded in, as well as the occasional visitor, someone or other who had met NiGHTs and had inside information about Nightopia. They all remarked that the new, improved Nightopia looked and felt better than it ever had.
"It's a lot prettier, but the content is pretty much the same as before," commented Claris as she carefully ate an ice cream she had bought from a Nightopian street vendor.
"Maybe that's the point," said Elliot, dribbling a basketball on the pavement, "You saw how much energy they were channelling. They could have easily changed this place beyond recognition. But then we wouldn't recognise it. It wouldn't be Nightopia. This is the one place of stability in a very chaotic place, you know. And why change something that's already as amazing and wonderful as... well, as Nightopia?"
"You're right about that," said Claris, "You know, the Nightopians are most excited about all this. I don't speak much Nightopian, but I get the impression they've been waiting for something like this for a long time. They've asked and asked, and they've been told it might happen one day if they wait patiently. Some of them were even about to give up and assume it wouldn't happen."
"Where've I heard that story before?"
"I guess it can affect people differently, waiting that long. Some people react badly to that much waiting. It's no excuse to go around trying to destroy the world, though."
"I didn't mean Selph. I meant the end of our world," he said, "You know, the one that didn't happen. Maybe it did. Words like 'Apocalypse' and 'Ragnarok' can mean a massive change, one that means the world can never be the same again, not just the end of everything."
"You think the prophecies were talking about Nightopia? About... this?"
"I don't know. Nothing much has changed," he said, "But, at the same time, everything's changed."
"I wish NiGHTs was here to see this," said Claris.
"NiGHTs!" screeched a high-pitched voice in broken English. Claris looked around to see that the ice-cream-selling Nightopian was following them down the road, flying as fast as its little wings could carry it, a look of abject fury on its cherubic face, "NiGHTs... where?"
"NiGHTs... thrown out!" explained Claris, pointing in the direction of the door with a mock stern expression on her face. She hoped she was getting the correct impression across. She wasn't sure if Nightopians even had a concept of banishment.
"Too right, NiGHTs thrown out get!" he screeched, "Cake gone! NiGHTs steal!"
"I don't think the cake will still be there now..."
"Cake there!" he pointed to his stall, "NiGHTs up tree, fly down, take! I find! I bash face!"
"Are you sure it wasn't Reala?" asked Elliot.
"Elliot, do you really think Reala would steal someone's cake when he could assassinate them and eat their soul?"
"But NiGHTs isn't allowed through the main portal, and the only other portal closed."
"Did you see them close it? And... Elliot, what do you think happened when Nightopia was remade? A lot has changed. A lot has been taken out... and some things have been put back in! Where do you think they came from? Where's the only place they could possibly have come from?"
"NiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiG HTs!" screamed the Nightopian, grabbing a rock and throwing it at a tree. The branches rustled and a purple jester flew out, made a face at the Nightopian and drill-dashed straight upwards to rest atop the spire of Twin Seeds Clock Tower to eat his cake in peace.
((Dedicated to the NiGHTs HD Remix. Our sun has already set, so may our dreams last forever. Thank you, Sega.))