Nightmare Hunters

((Author's notes:

- I like calling Ness and Lucas by their more poncy names, its fun.

- I realise there are tons of reasons why Lucas and Ness couldn't be alive at the same time and place. Its because of time travel. Yes.

- I suspect Will/Helen and Claris/Elliot couldn't be alive at the same time and place either. Its also because of time travel. I don't care that there's no time travel in NiGHTs. No, seriously, its an AU world, its allowed to not work.

- I apologise if I've got anyone's proportional age wrong or made the timeline in any other way unfeasible.))

"Imagine, if you will, a figure flying gracefully through the air. A carefree, playful personality, dressed like a jester, performing acrobatic loops in the sky."

"Like a clown?"

"No, not a clown. Clowns are terrifying. Everyone's scared of clowns." she said, possibly a little more brusquely than she would have liked, as the mental image was totally ruining the mood of her presentation, "The figure has a friendly face. You can trust him not to lead you into a nightmare. You can fly up into the sky with him – you can think of it as male or female, I find it best to imagine it as androgynous and child-like, its not there to be attractive, that'll only distract you – and out of your body, up into the world of sleep. When the jester flies, he doesn't doesn't try and fight against the wind currents, neither does he blindly surrender to falling. He knows what kind of dream he wants to go to. You can do that, too – you're not restrained by your physical shell in your dreams, your imagination is limitless, so anything can happen."

Another hand went up.

"Mrs. Sinclair... I'm Professor Johannes Franklin from the University of Eagleland."

Johannes was a young-looking man with dark hair that looked like he had expended a great deal of effort trying to comb it and utterly failed. Like Elliot, he had the look of an athlete. Elliot was much taller and more broad-shouldered, though, a basketball player's physique rather than a baseball player, and he had spiky blue hair.

"The Professor of Paranormal Studies?"

"I'm glad someone here's heard of me." he said, "I didn't think I had a following as far out as Twin Seeds!"

"Are you joking? You're Ness! You're like the star every baseball player in Twin Seeds Uni aspires to be!" interjected Elliot. A few members of the audience laughed nervously. Johannes broke out into a warm smile. Claris sighed. Elliot was never this outspoken when it came to actually doing his fair share of answering questions or making presentations at conferences. He claimed to get nervous in front of crowds. Claris was the one who used to have nightmares about stage fright as a child and now she was a respected academic and a member of the University choir! What kind of a nickname was 'Ness' anyway? Was it supposed to sound like a contraction of Johannes? Elliot's nickname was 'Ike' – the reason for which was even more of a mystery to Claris.

"Well, I'm not here today to talk about baseball. I specialise in psychic phenomena. What are your views on psychic phenomena related to sleep and dreaming? For instance, I've heard you speaking of lucid dreaming, shared dreams... "

"I have experienced lucid dreaming, yes, and I could explain to you all how to train the mind to be more likely to lucid dream. Its mostly an extension of the techniques I've been talking about already. I also occasionally have the same dreams as Elliot here."

She looked over at him and caught him blushing. Relationships was another topic that Elliot wasn't good at talking about. They had been married for almost a year now. It wasn't entirely true to say that their closeness was the reason they shared their dreams; it was actually the other way round. Since their experiences in Nightopia ten years ago, both linked to NiGHTs, both fighting for the future of Nightopia and the waking world, they had met increasingly often, at first by chance, then by design. They transferred into the same class at school the next year, then went to the same college. They found themselves drawn to the same course of study, although that was only natural, considering their experiences. Finally, they realised their relationship was serious and after a fairly long time dating - neither were the impulsive type - Elliot proposed to her. They had taken Claris' surname as Claris Booker just sounded like some kind of abandoned idea for a word processing package, while Elliot Sinclair sounded continental and stylish. The bond formed between them in Nightopia had linked them at a fundamental level of their being.

There were lots of things she didn't quite tell the truth about. Not to an open audience, anyway.

"However, I don't see either of these as anything unusual. People very close to each other can share many of the same thoughts and ideas. Its no different to twins finishing each other's sentences."

Claris noted that Johannes' companion flinched at those words and wondered if she had said something offensive. She hadn't recently noticed the younger man before now. He was quite handsome in an unassuming way, with his soft blonde hair and nervous expression. He looked frail, a little lost. There was something in his eyes that made Claris worry about him and want to protect him.

"As for lucid dreaming, we can all do this. Its just a matter of entering a deep enough sleep and using a few tricks to actively stay asleep. The main trouble is knowing you're in a dream without waking up."

"Have you ever experienced anything that you thought couldn't be explained by science?"

"Where human consciousness and thought is concerned, science is still shamefully underdeveloped. Psychology is a very primitive science compared to, say, physics. I'd be very surprised if science explains anything about dreams satisfactorily." she said, "But you mean psychic phenomena, such as astral travel, yes?"

"Or prophetic dreaming..."

"I can't say that I don't believe there's a mystical or spiritual aspect to dreaming. It certainly is an amazing thing." said Claris, noting that the younger man had left his seat and walked out of the room, "I've had many reports and personal accounts of such activities during my research and they're all fascinating. Personally I've never had such an experience and my research doesn't really focus on them all that much. My specialities are the science of sleep and practical techniques to help people sleep."

"I was just interested in your opinion..."

"If the idea helps you to enjoy your dreams and to have better dreams, that makes it useful. I don't think it has to have any mystical explanation, though. Once we find out exactly how it works, like any other part of dreaming, we can use the knowledge to benefit everyone who wants to have the same experiences and be able to control them, or who wants to stop having them, as the case may be." One of the conference organisers walked up to her, coughed and handed her a small folded-up note. She unfolded it and read it, then nodded, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to cut this presentation short. Elliot will finish for you and you can ask him any questions you may have."

"Uh... does anyone else have any questions, then?" asked Elliot as he watched his wife and research partner leave. A few people raised their hands. Claris left him to it and walked, briskly but as unobtrusively as possible, out of the conference hall.

In the corridor, she saw the young man who sat at the same table as Johannes earlier. He was staring at his reflection in one of the ceiling-to-floor mirrors, seemingly lost in thought.

"Excuse me, there..." she began. He flinched, "Sorry to disturb you, I don't think I know your name."

"Luykas." he said, "Luykas von Tazmilly. I'm working with Johannes on some research."

"And how long have you been having the nightmares?"

"H... how did you know?"

"You look terrified of something, your eyes are really haunted, and you don't look like you've slept for several days, yet you haven't touched a drop of coffee and you haven't tried to get any work done, so you can't be a workaholic." she said, "I'm good at spotting these things. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? Don't worry, I don't want any personal information off you. How long have you been having the nightmares?"

"F... fifteen years. But they've got worse, just lately."

"More vivid? Like they're more real?"

He nodded.

"Have you felt less... well, yourself, lately? Less inspired? Less courageous? Less pure?"

"Wh... what do you mean, less pure? What are you suggesting about me?"

"Okay, scrap that. Have you ever seen any of the following things in your nightmares – giant goldfish, multicoloured dragons with spikey tails, opera-singing space-hoppers with rabbit ears..."

"N... none of these things! Its my twin brother... ever since he died..."

"I'm sorry for your loss." she said, "And I'm sorry if I brought back any painful memories. I just needed to check something."

"Its okay. Its n... not like I don't think about him every single waking moment of my life anyway." he said, bowing his head, "He was like p... part of me. I was g... going to ask you for help dealing with the nightmares, once we could talk in private..."

"I promise I'll fit you in some time later on. I'm actually on my way to a meeting..."

Suddenly, she stopped. She heard somebody humming classical music. Another voice was talking excitedly.

"Oh, I must be later than I thought. They've come looking for me."

She waited for them to arrive – a tall, slim, graceful blonde-haired woman and a boy who looked around eighteen, with short-cropped blonde hair. Helen was as immaculately dressed as always in a white blouse with ruffles at the sleeves and hem and a denim skirt, her blonde hair tied back neatly – Claris was a little jealous of her sense of style, as well as the small fortune she obviously had. Will was dressed more modestly in brown shorts and a red T-shirt.

"Hi, Claris!" piped up Will, "We've found a really large... oh, there's someone listening." He looked at Luykas and broke off, disappointed.

"Its okay, I think he's the source of the reading." said Claris, "You were going to say reading, right? Not pizza?"

"You think Will would have found a really large pizza and not eaten it already?" Helen pointed out, "Claris, you say you've found the source?"

"Source of what? What really large reading?" asked Luykas, becoming increasingly flustered by all the attention suddenly directed at him.

"I'm sorry, we haven't introduced ourselves, have we?" said Helen, offering Luykas a hand, "I'm Helen, this is Will, I assume you've already met Claris and Elliot. We hunt Nightmaren. And there's a Nightmaren-possessed human somewhere in this building. A very strong one - at least a Second Class!"