"Why do you disturb me?" Wizeman's voice was annoyed, "What have you done wrong? I trusted you not to fail me!"
"Wizeman, there have been complications!" he protested, "One of your Nightmaren attacked me! You told me you had forbidden the others from interfering on pain of annihilation!"
"That was not one of my Nightmaren, that was NiGHTs." said Wizeman, "I had warned you about him. I expected you to be able to defeat the idiotic thing in battle. Ah, but you are a flawed creation too! You are pathetic. I don't need flawed Nightmaren."
"But you do need Nightmaren who can channel Selph! I'm your only link to him! If you don't save my life..."
"Do you think I didn't make plans for the eventuality of your death? I made another pact with Selph, while you were away. You do not only act as a summoning vessel. You can act as a sacrifice."
"A sacrifice? You mean..."
"If you die, the energy released would also create a tear big enough to summon Selph. Dead or alive, you are still useful to me. I only kept you alive in the hope that you would possess the psychic. However, you are obviously not as capable as you claimed to be."
"This is in clear violation of our contract!"
"You should have read the small print."
"I did! You said that I would be given a path from the Prototype Realm to the world!"
"Death is a path from the Prototype Realm. Technically, you would still exist as part of the world, you would just be a dead part of it."
"I'm not sure that would hold in a court of law." Claris interjected.
"Hold your tongue, mortal! I shall consume your souls and destroy this psychic boy's mind once I am done with this incompetent fool!"
"You probably shouldn't stand in-between the incompetent fool and the Chimera like that." Will pointed out. Wizeman looked around, then floated out of the way. He looked around again, just in case the Chimera had decided to make a bee-line for the larger and potentially tastier Nightmare Lord. By the time he had turned his attention back to the doomed Nightmaren, he was gone.
His face was the last thing they saw as he disappeared through the floor. Except that it wasn't the floor any more, it was a strange, dark rift, with a deep crimson scar the shape of a fissure in the Earth as it was rent asunder in the fires of Armageddon on Judgement Day. The others stood well back, making sure they weren't stepping on the cracks, except for Luykas, who ran forwards. NiGHTs tried to pull him back but the boy dismissed him with a wave of his hand, which caused the light rigging to fall from the ceiling, almost crushing the jester beneath it. Luykas stared into the rift.
"There are people in there." he whispered, "People who look like me and my brother, except there's more than one of each, and they look all wrong. There are even weirder-looking people. Where is that place?"
"Its the Prototype Realm." said Wizeman, "The fool has gone back home. He's sealed the rift shut behind him. I didn't know he was powerful enough to do it on his own. He must have had help on the other side."
"So Selph can't come out any more?" asked NiGHTs.
"Don't count on it, my wayward child." said Wizeman, "The border between his world and ours is crumbling. The difference between prototype and dream has always been narrow. He will come to us first. Our world will change, NiGHTs, it will be warped beyond recognition, and the waking world with it."
"People have been prophesying the end of the world for millennia and it never happens." said Claris, "I think you're just being a bad loser."
"You do, hm? We'll have to wait and see." said Wizeman, "Now, Luykas? I suppose you're wondering why there are so many prototype versions of you and your brother down there. Do you know what else has prototypes? Lab experiments. And your brother was a lab experiment, wasn't he? Maybe they tried a few things that failed. Nobody gets it right first time. What you're seeing is probably all the experiments your brother was subjected to. As for why you're down there... it probably some awful suppressed memory. Are you sure you weren't a lab experiment too?"
"Luykas, don't let him goad you! Stay in control!" yelled Claris.
"I suppose the best way to find out would be to go there and ask them. Or bring them here." said Wizeman, "Either way would mean opening the portal again. I think you can do that. You're already linked to it enough."
"Don't listen! He's a master of deception! Didn't you hear what he did to the Nightmaren?" yelled NiGHTs.
Luykas looked around at them, unsure.
"Your Ideya's weakening, isn't it? You've become uncertain. You'll have to do something, or you'll be possessed," said Wizeman, "Then I'll make you open the gate anyway. Maybe you should just try and destroy me. You must be really angry with me by now."
The boy looked at NiGHTs. He clutched his head as though he was in pain. Then he threw his arms back and stared at the sky. His eyes were glowing yellow.
Then they all felt a sudden lurch that threw them back into the waking world. They opened their eyes to discover that they were in a vast desert.
"What the...?" muttered Claris, "Will, is this your dream?"
"Its not a dream. Look, I'm really sorry. I had to use it. His eyes went a funny colour, then he went straight through my mind-shield."
She groaned and sat up. Everything hurt.
"There was a bit of a drop, my accuracy isn't great in an emergency." added Ness, "There's a bit of a hole in your wall as well. Helen might be in a bad mood when we get home. Helen and Will aren't here, by the way, I could only take the four of us."
"What the HELL is a BIT of a hole in a wall? Where are we? Is anything on fire this time?"
He shook his head, "I Brainshocked him just in time. He was going to do worse than set something on fire. What happened in there? His eyes hardly ever go yellow!"
"It would take a long time to explain," said Claris, "But we sorted the worst of it. We'll still need to protect him and we need to keep an eye on the other psychics too. It'll be easier now. Wizeman can't do what he's planning to do any more. Also, NiGHTs knows what's going on, so he can fight Wizeman."
"I have no idea what you're on about, but if you're going to fight something evil, count me in."
"The best thing you can do is carry on protecting your friend." said Claris, "He's a lot stronger than he looks – he kept us alive through the entire battle – but Wizeman was preying on his weaknesses. He'll be a lot stronger if he gets counselling to work on some of his issues."
"Counsellors don't like seeing clients who set fire to their offices with their minds every time you hit a sensitive spot, not matter how much you pay them."
"You have a point." said Claris, looking down at Luykas' unconscious form, "Say... Johannes... this question might sound weird, but do you know if there are any clones of Luykas or his brother?"
"Clones? I don't think so. His brother was a victim of some kind of unethical experiment but it involved cybernetics, not genetics. Why do you ask?"
"It doesn't matter. I wouldn't mention it to him, the same thing will probably happen again."
"I'm thirsty. Can we go now?" asked Elliot.
"Sure." Ness shrugged, "But... really, Helen is probably going to kill me."
"Just how big was this 'bit of a hole in the wall' again?"
Train looked up.
Several people were staring down at him. One was like him but with permanent wide, staring eyes, like he was a particularly creepy doll and they were painted on, the other was like him but naked, yet another was like the dreamer he had been visiting. Two were much taller, one with wings, one dressed in a grey suit that covered him, two were stranger entities still, patterns on the walls and floor.
"Clayman. Rope Snake. Snow Bunny." he said. They didn't move. They were watching him as though he was the scene of an accident.
"Train." pronounced the tall one with wings. The tone in his voice said that he had done something wrong. It was a tone he rarely used.
"I'm sorry, Tent Person." he said, "I had no idea any of this would happen. Will you forgive me?"
"I forgive you." he said, "You're people. I can't forgive Selph."
"I thought he could be trusted. He is one of us. He's here for the same reason as us."
"We were judged wrongly. He wasn't. Besides, he's a danger to us, like the floors that you can sink into. If there are those floors in the area, you go to a different area were there aren't any. We don't make deals with Selph from now on."
"What if he comes after us?"
"Then we fight him." said Tent Person. The grey man took a gun from the belt of his suit and examined it as if it was just another piece of equipment that may or may not be on the correct setting.
"... Train's okay?" asked Rope Snake, "He's people?"
"We can play?"
"Don't get into any more trouble, or I'll find a hole and leave you all dangling halfway inside."
"Talking of holes, we found a wall you can walk through! There's all weird stuff inside! Its like the rest of the house, except its all upside down!"
"Its probably not been built properly. Don't let it fall on you!"
Tent Person watched the children run off to play. They weren't children in terms of years in the world – Snow Bunny had been there the longest – but they never aged or changed their habits. Time didn't work. Sometimes space didn't work either. He wondered what it was like in the world outside, where time and space worked a lot better, because they had been finished. Train had been there – sort of – but in short order, he would have forgotten. It would be a distant memory, maybe just a fancy, and he wouldn't be able to work out which order it had happened in relative to all the other weird things he saw and did.
There was a word for that, in the world outside. He vaguely remembered hearing Selph use the word, last time they met. It was called a dream.