The raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore,
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

The room was completely empty, every visible line of color totally drained. The air was coated in a thick musk that left blankets of clouded gloss on the floor.

There were no walls or doors...no form of division that signified this place could even be considered a single room, as opposed to a giant, infinite world. It had no opening and no ending. It stretched on perpetually, fading off into a curving horizon.

In the center of this room that lay in the cold darkness, a silver bulb that dangled from the nonexistent ceiling suddenly hummed and illuminated to life.

It lit the small space underneath it with a rounded glow, letting off a low and dying hum. Its frequency raised and distorted, slipping in and out of earshot. The reaches where the light didn't hit, the white floor blended to gray and then bled further on into the jet black of the shadows.

From deep within those shadows, there emerged an unnaturally slender girl, adorned in a gray dress that cut off below the knees. The dress itself looked stiff as cardboard, limiting her movements, with the hem painfully scratching at her legs.

Her eyes were hard and distraught. Her mouth pressed into a thin, cautious line. Her light eyelashes twitched back and forth as she burned apertures into the scene in front of her, solidly concentrating on it as she expected something...anything to happen.

She was prepared. Or, so she wanted to believe. Every last small force of strength trickled down into her enclosed fists.

The girl appeared to be extensively calm, yet somehow, on the verge of breaking down at the same time. Her discomfort became further evident as she walked forward inflexibly, drawn towards the light like a curious moth to a flame. Her nose nipped at the strange odor that sauntered about. She kept her dainty and youthful face as fierce as possible.

Since all the color ceased to exist in this foreign universe, the natural pigment in her features was completely gone. Her porcelain complexion brightened in the presence of the light bulb's glow, shining her pale wavy hair as it grazed past the knobs of her elbows and fell in frazzled ripples down to her thighs. Her corset dress was colored like pepper, and the lacing that descended down the chest seemed to messily ricochet off the edges of its ties, rather than cross over in x's like it was meant to. Her feet were compressed into a pair of shiny flats. They clopped softly against the barren floor as she stepped forward. Her dense eyes focused in on what lay underneath that strange, flickering bulb.

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing...

She then squinted slightly and leaned her head to the right with curiosity. The bulb was acting almost as a spotlight for the bizarre object that lye underneath it. Yes, there was in fact something else in this room besides her.

A dark, inky object that was frayed at the edges.

But the girl noticed the 'object' seemed to flutter and breathe softly, moving mildly in place. She stalled in her steps, feeling her bravery rattle.

It wasn't just some sort of item after all.

No...it was breathing...sighing even...It was very much alive.

From where she stood, it was impossible to make out its form completely, but she noticed it dwelled on top of what looked like a metallic black pole that jutted up from the ground. Its feet clung to the tip of the pole with a stature similar to that of a bird.

...To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;

The creature's eyes flashed to life, peeling open like a pair of unfolding circles. They were a dull, bloodless white. There was no pupil or iris present. Just two cloudy marbles that glowed incandescently on its face.

A faint, inky white mist suddenly poured out of the eyes and intertwined throughout the stuffy air, going off in repelling directions. She could see through the smoky matter that this bird-like animal was eyeing her, frowning at her intrusion. She could tell that it was becoming increasingly angry.

Her mouth went dry and she stepped back with a tight breath, instantly feeling cold all over.

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore.

The girl couldn't deny that she was afraid. Her heartbeat was quaking her entire body and her teeth threatened to chatter. But she remained where she was, and stared the strange being down while freezing in correspondence to the ice that was now flushing through her veins.

She wanted it to be the first to look away. She knew this game.

To her, avoiding eye contact was finalizing defeat, or admitting to weakness. She didn't want it to know how scared or weak she was, even though fear was easily distinguishable in her wide and curious eyes. She wanted to be strong, no matter the circumstances, and reflected its hate with the same unforgivable daggers, and the glare of the light bouncing back off her empty gaze.

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

More smoke drifted in from the edges of the girl's peripheral vision, branching in and out through the room as if it were something brewing underwater. Before she could avert her attention towards it, she suddenly felt like she'd lost control of her body, and found herself being dragged closer towards the monster. She gasped soundlessly, and the noise seemed to reverse back into her chest.

Despite her objection and mental commands, she couldn't bring herself to halt. Within mere seconds, the animal's outline became more and more distinct until she could see with sure confirmation that it was a bird after all. But not just any bird. A scrawny black crow.

As she approached, it slowly uncoiled its spidery wings, clicking its shiny ebony beak and watching her icily as if she were a savory morsel, willingly beckoning him to devour her. It was waiting for her to get closer. Closer. Closer.

`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore.

By now she was wracking all over with uneasiness. But she couldn't turn away despite her churning effort. Those misting eyes were drawing her in like there was some sort of magnetic attraction. Her dress flowed behind her as she stepped closer, as if trying to retreat when she would not.

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven,

The raven opened its beak again, this time letting out a slow and sickeningly vile screech that rang the girl's ears raw.

She exhaled more softly, knowing with fear but reassurance what her fate would be. It would all be over soon. She knew it.

As if to speed up the process, her voice came out in small whisper that echoed off the wall-less rims of this world, involuntarily uttering the only word drifting through her head.

"...Nevermore..."

"Miss Archibold!"

Her face contorted with shock as she was yanked out of the darkness all at once. Some unseen force had grabbed a hold of her and pulled her by the back of her collar.

She could see the light as it faded away. But before it completely disappeared she watched the bulb burst open, sending sparks raining down on the crow as it glared after her.

The atmosphere disintegrated, fading to an intense white.

And the nightmare was over.

Her eyes instantly flew open. Her head launched upward from the bony pillow she'd made with her overlapping arms, and she let out a gasp. The fluorescent lighting immediately poured in, washing out the previous peachy black darkness that the seal of her eyelids had created as she blinked over and over.

She was back in the real world, taking a few gasps of air as a glaze formed on her forehead.

I'm...awake. I'm really awake now. It was just a dream. Yes, just a dream. It was all just another stupid dream.

Once her mind had fallen back into focus and her rapid breathing subdued, she slowly looked up and came face to face with one of the last people she would've wanted to see after barely waking up from some unusual horror of a nightmare. Her strict and elderly English teacher, Ms. Bordeaux, who was every bit as terrifying as what she saw when she was asleep. If not a bit more.

The old woman loomed over, scrunching her apple-green eyes at her slumbering and borderline hyperventilating student. The canyons of her wrinkles deepened slightly around her hooked nose. Her chalky red lips puckered before dividing to speak.

"What seems to be the problem, Miss Lydia Archibold? Have I awakened you?"

It took a moment for the taunting message to sink in. But once it did, Lydia only pouted back, her regular personality back intact.

Instead of answering, she darted her eyes away and took a moment to scan the surrounding students through the corner of her vision, knowing that they had to have all been staring at her by now. And just as usual, her suspicions were right.

She could see they were all watching her from their desks, some fighting back snickers and others sinking down in their seats, momentarily relieved that the teacher had turned her attention away from the lecture to get onto her instead.

Lydia then caught sight of Christy Chamberlin, her least favorite person out of all the egotistical snobs she'd ever encountered during her short time in the tenth grade.

She gawked back at Lydia for a moment before rolling her candied eyes and turning away from the scene, picking something out from under her thumbnail. Lydia huffed quietly in annoyance.

Yes, Christy certainly was a pleasure to have around.

People like her always believed that everyone and everything in the world was beneath them. And in a way, Lydia felt bad for people like them, because she always expected that the real world would one day give them a well-deserved slap in the face.

But in Christy's case, that, of course, never happened. She wasn't nearly as upfront about her superiority, but you could tell she was thinking it all the time. She probably garnered more kisses on her arse than she did slaps in the face.

Wham!

Lydia jumped and returned her gaze to her teacher, who had slapped a ruler down onto the desktop

She knew that was the cue to explain herself before things took a turn for the ugly, when Ms. Bordeaux would decide to use the ruler on her. She sighed, not liking the diverse attention on her, but figured there was nothing left to do but say something now or never.

"I-I'm really sorry, Miss Bordeaux. Really, truly, sorry," she said apologetically. But people who knew her better would've been able to detect the faint sarcasm that twined through her drawn-out voice. She shook off the arrogant persona and began speaking with more genuine regret.

"I honestly didn't mean to...you know...just doze off in the middle of class. It's just I didn't get much sleep last night and-"

She stopped right there, out of intimidation from Ms. Bordeaux's burning glare.

"Miss Archibold, you know as well as anyone else that I will not tolerate this consistent laziness in my classroom. If you want to sleep, then perhaps you should go to bed earlier. Naps are for kindergarten students. You're in high school, so I would expect you to have more discipline and self-control."

She then softened, releasing an irritated breath.

"Consider this your first and final warning. Because if there are any more disruptions or misconduct, which includes your little siestas during my lesson, it'll result in a week's detention for you. Is that understood?"

Lydia's nose twitched as she looked down. Leave it to Ms. Bordeaux to go from a warning to a week's detention.

"Sure..."

"Sure..?" Ms. Bordeaux pressed on, lifting her graying eyebrow.

"...I mean yes ma'am."

Ms. Bordeaux nodded. "Excellent. That's more like it. Alright, now that that's taken care of, let's get back to our lesson shall we?"

The entire class stiffened, reluctantly pulling out their pencils to continue jotting down notes.

The teacher reached for the paperback poetry book that lay half-open on her counter, licking her index finger before sifting back through the pages as she folded her other arm around the spine.

"Ah yes, this is where we left off," she said, pausing on a page somewhere in the middle of the book. "The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe. But I take it none of you happened to forget the title, seeing as you were supposed to have written it down."

She cleared her throat then began reading.

"Prophet, said I, thing of evil, Prophet still, if bird or devil,
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted,
On this home by horror haunted, tell me truly, I implore,
Is there...is there balm in Gilead? Tell me, tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore."

Lydia found her eyes wandering to the ceiling and reeling across the beige walls, as the words that kept rolling out of her English teacher's mouth moved to the back of her mind. She took in the plain environment of the classroom, somewhat thankful for all the bright lights, small hints of color here and there, and the window, where there was sweet sunshine pouring in from outside. It was much more pleasant than what she had to endure previously when she'd fallen asleep.

Now that she thought back on it, she knew that this poem by Edgar-What's-his-face had obviously somehow melded into her nightmare. The story was something about a raven, and low and behold, she had met a crow in the dream. It wasn't a coincidence. This kind of thing happened quite frequently, actually. To lots of people, not just her. She was no special case.

But the thing about her that was a tad unusual, was not her 'consistent laziness'. It was her consistent nightmares.

She'd been having these frightening dreams continuously every night, ever since the previous Sunday. And it was Friday now.

Even when she crashed for only five minutes in the middle of English class, all the bloodcurdling images were still making their way into her subconscious. While Lydia wasn't the kind of person who woke up screaming between hours of the night after a nightmare, once she did awaken, she always found herself too disturbed to even think about going back to sleep. She would just sit there in her bed, with the filtered moonlight basking on her from behind the curtains on the window, which overlooked a rather brilliant view of Bellbridge, and sometimes she would shake a little.

She knew that no matter how long she waited before attempting to sleep again, no matter how much she comforted herself and told her that none of it was real and that it was all in her head, all those monsters that she saw before were still there in her dreams. Waiting for her to return.

Bvvvvt.

Lydia's maple brown eyes dropped suddenly once her thoughts were interrupted, widening at the sound of vibration in her handbag which lay propped against the side of the chair.

It was her phone. She'd received a text message.

She briefly looked at Ms. Bordeaux and waited for her to turn away from the students so she'd have the opportunity to pull her cell phone out.

Once the frail English teacher had spun around to write down an essay prompt on the chalkboard, Lydia reached down and dove her hand into her handbag, her fingers combing through gum wrappers and loose change, until she could feel the bulky phone case.

She quickly pried the Jurassic-aged device out and hid it under her desk, pressing the home button on the front to bring it out of idle mode. The lights initiated, and a white plane filled the rims of the screen with a pixelated envelope unfolding in the center.

1 New Message from Evangeline Sawyer

Lydia smiled.

Evangeline Sawyer. The two of them were so close they were practically sisters. In fact, Evangeline happened to be in this class sitting just a few rows behind her. Texting her during class wasn't out of the ordinary. They always had these silent conversations with one another despite being mere feet apart. After all, talking out loud wasn't permitted.

She clicked the View button to read the text.

Wowwwww...that was just...omg wowwww...You never cease to amaze me, sweetheart. You are incredibly fearless to have gone to sleep during the dragon lady's lesson. I applaud you. No really, I am clapping ecstatically on the inside.

Anyways I hope you had a nice nap, oh and make sure you didn't drool on yourself.

Lydia rolled her irises playfully. She could practically hear her friend's voice as if she were right next to her. She checked to make sure Ms. Bordeaux was still occupied at the board, before typing out and sending a reply.

Oh come off it. It shouldn't be THAT surprising that I managed to fall asleep. Said dragon lady could put a ravaging tiger to sleep. But everyone in here knows not to try it, seeing as she'd slit their throats with that ruler.

After she sent the message, she hid the phone under the hem of her baby blue skirt, which was part of her mandatory school uniform, resting it on top of her leg.

Ms. Bordeaux removed the stump of chalk from the board and examined the prompt she wrote, before shaking her head and extending her arm towards the eraser.

Bvvvvt.

As Ms. Bordeaux gave instructions and swept the eraser wedge across the board, Lydia immediately pulled out her phone again, using the desk as a sneaky, yet obvious cover.

You couldn't be more right. Feel lucky that you survived. Oh and I thought I'd let you know, that guy Stephen, you know the one who sits by me, is currently staring at you. It isn't creepy, but it's not quite charming either. He's just STARING like this o_O. I've had my eye on him this whole time. He's sort of making me feel awkward about it.

Lydia blinked. She honestly wasn't sure how to respond to that. Everyone knew Stephen was the socially awkward guy with glasses larger than his face, who rarely talked to anyone, not counting the guys in his band class. People said he was a quote unquote 'Prodigy' when it came to the saxophone...of all things. But other than that, she didn't know much about him.

It's okay. I wouldn't worry about it. I'm sure he's not the only one staring at me after I embarrassed myself the way I did.

No sooner did she reply, did she hear the familiar hum of vibration. Evangeline had the advantage of being closer to the back of the room where the teacher didn't see her. Her replies were quick, long, and she conveniently never got caught.

Well now that you mention it, Josh is looking your way too! ;) Except, HIS stare happens to very charming. Sexy even. It's like he's deep in thought...about you or something ;) Pretty adorable if you ask me, Lydia ;)

Lydia smiled and shrugged it off. So honestly didn't really care if this Josh guy was looking her way. He was nice as far as she knew, but he was someone Evangeline found to be easy on the eyes, with his shaggy brown hair, six foot two-ness, and chiseled abdomen that Evangeline swore would probably sizzle if you touched it. It was evident she got butterflies just by the sight of him. But Lydia, on the other hand, wasn't interested in the slightest.

Again, probably because I just made myself out to be the class idiot. Now please don't abuse the winky face icon, dear.

The dismissal bell rang. Everyone who'd been watching the clock leapt up and instantly filed out the door to sophomore lunch, while Lydia, too drained to be in a rush, slowly bent over and began collecting her pencils to store in their own compartment inside her book bag. Christy strutted past her, chin up and arms intersecting. Her skirt slapped against Lydia's cheek as she walked by.

Lydia hissed quietly, recoiling back and glaring at Christy's backside as she left the room. Evangeline appeared at her side, her own bags already slung over her shoulder as the two of them watched the queen bee disappear down the hall in unison.

"What a tramp," she said with distaste. "I saw what she did. That was completely uncalled for."

She waited patiently for Lydia to gather her belongings as she got up and walked out of the room, neither of them paying attention to Christy's show of witchiness any longer.

Once she had rhythm in her steps, Lydia started to feel slightly dizzy from the movement due to her lack of energy as they both strode at each other's side.

"Woah. Not meaning to offend, but you know you kind of look...like death right now," Evangeline said matter of factly. "Just putting that out there."

Lydia lowered her head and continued walking, dodging around the students who were going in the opposite direction. Walking through Bellview High in a straight line for more than ten seconds between classes was unheard of. It was like a big game of Frogger.

"I heard that it's bad to get less than eight hours of sleep every night," Evangeline pressed on, figuring that if Lydia wasn't in the mood to talk, she could take both sides of the conversation and keep it from dying before it even began. "That could be wrong, but to me it makes a lot of sense. I don't know about you, but I can't hardly function if I get less than five hours. If it's any lower, then I would definitely take a sick day."

Lydia internally shook her head, not having the energy to do so physically. Like her father would ever let her stay home just because she was too fatigued to go to school. She played the scenario out in her head. If she refused to get out of bed, he'd probably laugh in a 'you're joking...right?' kind of way, and then proceed with dragging her out by her ankles.

"So what's been keeping you up every night?" Evangeline asked over the chatter of surrounding ninth graders as they passed the freshman hall. "Homework? Phone calls? Phone calls with a boy?"

Lydia smiled a bit at this. Her best friend was so guy crazy, it proved to be pretty entertaining at times. But that was one thing they didn't have in common. Lydia paid no attention to boys.

"No," she answered. Her voice was a bit croaky, but it was still understandable. "It's...er...it's been these nightmares actually."

Evangeline turned to face her as they walked, narrowing her eyes. "Explain?"

Lydia sighed. "I've been having loads, and I mean LOADS of nightmares when I go to sleep now. It's happened every single night, over and over again all week long. You may think I'm just being a huge wuss. But it's...complicated I guess you could say. The only way you would understand is if you saw what I saw in these dreams. They're really, really disturbing. It's always things like dark stuff, blood, natural disasters, rabid dogs...etcetera."

"Are there any clowns involved?"

Lydia paused. "Uh no, not that I can remember. No clowns."

"You shouldn't be having any serious problems then," Evangeline said with a shudder.

She herself had made it clear that she had a pathological fear of clowns. There was even a story about a time she went to a circus when she was seven or eight, and a clown walked up to her asking if she would be interested in a balloon animal. She responded with kicking him in the shin, then running away screaming bloody murder. And the funny thing was, she would probably react the same way now, even being sixteen.

Lydia searched for a quick response to her comment, but her brain wasn't working well due to her level of exhaustion.

"I don't know," she finally said. "This isn't the first time this has happened to me. And last time, it took about a month before the nightmares stopped coming and everything went back to normal. I know I won't die from having bad dreams or anything...but it's still annoying. And scary too."

"This has happened before?" Evangeline inquired, sounding a bit like a concerned parent or counselor. "When?"

"Er, around twelve years ago I think," Lydia answered quietly.

"So you were three?"

"Yeah."

"How can you remember that far back?"

Lydia grew tense and turned to look at Evangeline dead in the eye, trying hard not to come off too strong.

"It was the year my brother was born. So, yeah. Kind of hard to forget."

Evangeline's eyes widened, and she went silent instantly. "Oh...right. Michael... he is three years younger than you. Huh. I forgot about that."

Lydia could feel the guilt radiating off her friend. They both knew the memory that was being implied, even though nothing about it was said. Things got awkward for a minute.

"Lyds, I swear I didn't know," Evangeline said quickly, tugging on a strand of her straightened, synthetically red hair. Lydia couldn't help but roll her eyes to herself.

Great, she thought, here we go.

"I know I need to think before I speak," Evangeline went on. "I'm so sorry I even brought it up."

Lydia softened, flashing a smile to save the mood before it turned sour. "Oh stop it, I'm not about to hold anything over you," she stated with forced sincerity. "Don't you worry about it. The last thing I want is for you to pity me over nothing."

Her eyes glazed over. "If you want to feel bad for me, then you probably should feel bad right now... since I have to walk all the way to the cafeteria when I'm operating on two hours of sleep. It's like, oh I dunno, fifty thousand miles away! Not to mention I must look like a zombie."

"Well...I can't argue with you there," Evangeline said teasingly, the twinkle in her eyes returning. "I'm surprised your dad sent you to school, and not to a morgue."

Lydia giggled and looked down. Even if it was a joke, it was still partially true. The dark circles under her eyes were starting to weigh the rest of her face down.

But then, she suddenly felt herself getting scooped up off her feet, and thrown over a soft, tan shoulder blade.

"Woah!" she screeched in surprise, knowing that it was Evangeline after being momentarily blinded by the tuff of scarlet locks. Her arms balled up in her friend's black school shirt. She was having fearful doubts that someone as slim as her could even support her weight.

"Evangeline! What in the world are you doing! Put me down you moron!"

"Out of my way people! Move it!" Evangeline shouted, ignoring her and dramatically bolting past more students with Lydia and her bag dangling off her shoulder like rag dolls. "Best friend in distress here! Don't be the cause of her downfall!"

The only thing Lydia could do was giggle as she clawed onto Evangeline's back for dear life. If there were to be any sort of downfall, it would definitely be her, falling down.

"Come on, you're going to drop me!" she shouted.

"No I won't!" Evangeline digressed. "I work out!"

"Stretching in dance class is not considered working out!"

"Sorry, I can't hear you over my muscular build! Now hang tight and don't fidget!"

Lydia sighed between her laughter. After knowing a person for five years, one would think they had them all figured out. But some people were totally unpredictable all throughout, as they were unforgettable.

Evangeline Sawyer was one of them. She was a girl who knew her manners well, but also wasn't afraid to step outside the comfort zone and drag others along with her. It was no wonder she'd been Lydia's best friend for so long.

She felt her energy swell from inside. She went from quiet chortles to laughing so hard she was desperately gasping for air. Her exhaustion was left behind as they both whisked down the hall together to lunch. Instead of being shocked, onlookers watched with smiles, totally understanding of the two high school girls' unbreakable bond.

The only person who wasn't moved was Christy Chamberlin, who stood at her locker along with a flock of other sophomore bimbos. She flipped her hair over her shoulder distastefully at the sighting of them passing by. Lydia picked herself up off Evangeline's back and sarcastically winked at her as they grew farther apart. She then plugged her nose and made a noise of disgust, signifying that their cotton candy perfume and hairspray was overbearing enough to gas out the entire school. Which it was.

Christy yelled a profanity after her, and all Lydia did was laugh some more.


Well, it couldn't be any bigger of an annoyance than actually going on and dying this way. THIS way. Of all ways. In a way I can't even describe or understand.

I still don't know what's going on, or what's happening, or where I am or even who I am. All I know is that I somehow went through an unnecessary transformation that left me looking utterly ridiculous, and now I'm descending into Nightmaren Hell.

Isn't that great? Isn't that just...just bloody fantastic?

Reala's eyes cracked open, the black slashes through his lids finally parting. All he could see was black. His hands fidgeted little by little as he absent-mindedly felt around to see if there was anything within his range of touch. When he found himself raking in handfuls of absolutely nothing, he gave up and breathed out silently.

...I swear, If I had known I would go like this, and this soon, I would've made...I guess more of an effort to fulfill every last one of my wishes. And I know I would have an overwhelmingly long list. A Nightmaren Bucket list, perhaps.

Killing NiGHTS would've been at the top. No doubt about that.

He pondered for a moment.

Number two would be...erm...terrorizing some weak little children?

He internally shook his head.

No, that's something I've done too many times for it to still be nearly as enjoyable. Hmm, but what else could there be?

Come on, this was meant to be a long list. There's got to be something else I've never done but desired to fulfill.

But then, Reala felt a pang of realization hit him.

Wait...I'm...I'm thinking.

He squinted.

I'm thinking thoughts.

I'm no expert on the afterlife, but isn't it impossible to think if you're dead?

One of his eyelids twitched.

And have your eyes open and blinking?

Suddenly, a gust of soft, velvety wind encased the Nightmaren just as he became swallowed in his own endless confusion. It caused him to writhe slightly, and out of instinct his pupils shifted vertically.

He found himself staring at a small, glowing blue marble.

Reala's mind went blank. All his thoughts and worries escaped him. He kept his widened gaze plastered on the peculiar object, digging his eyes deeper and deeper into it until he could make out some other colors. There were patches of bright green, some rusty brown, and even stark white colors splashed across the rims of the marble. Traces of shadows carved in and out of it, creating a texturized illusion.

Reala noticed that it was actually very...enchanting. He even felt an urge to reach out and grab it in his hand, but didn't have the strength. He just watched it carefully, analyzing every last detail...until the most inevitable happened.

The marble started to grow.

Reala recoiled a little, squinting his eyes in rough concentration. He was struck with fatigue, and a pulsating numbness that continued to linger throughout his body. He didn't quite understand what he was looking at, and then tried piecing together the information. His weak conclusion was that the blue dot was supposed to be the light everyone was meant to see before they died.

Never proven, but always foretold, every poor soul on his way to death was supposed to see that infamous light, and go to it.

But for some reason, he wasn't reacting to it in a way that hinted triumph or even dependence towards the object, despite that it was technically the only thing standing between him and the peaceful world of the dead. If anything, he felt it was growing too fast, and its enchantment was quickly lost. He wanted to shrink away from it in fear that it would make a painful collision with his face.

But then he realized that the marble wasn't growing.

It was moving.

It was getting closer.

No, he was getting closer.

Its form slowly became superior to the depth of surrounding blackness. The gravity around it worked at a feverish speed, reeling Reala's body in with suction that was impossible to rip away from. Reala almost made an attempt to struggle, but knew that doing so was entirely worthless. Where was he supposed to go if he managed to break away from the cyan sphere's powerful grasp anyway? He didn't know where he was, how he could get out...he couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. He even questioned if all this was just a figment of his imagination, playing him with a euphoric hallucination to make him believe that something interesting was about to happen, when in reality, he was being led to his demise.

That cold, painful word ebbed away at any ounce of hope he had left.

Reality.

Nonetheless, his thoughts got lost in the curious beauty of the marble. The blackness around him receded, and for the second time he was unsure of what would happen to him.

But he was about to find out.


While bidding her friends goodbye outside the school, Evangeline placed a hand over Shannon Kaybury's shoulder and shook it cheerfully.

"Don't forget! My house, tomorrow!" she reminded her, a grin spreading across her pink lips.

Shannon giggled and nudged the girl standing next to her, Molly Wilhelm, before turning back to Evangeline.

"How could we not remember? It's going to be the best night of our lives!" she said.

Molly smiled along. "I know right! There's no better way to end the summer than with the four of us going to the biggest teen club Bellbridge has to offer."

Lydia only smirked lazily at all of them.

"We'll both be there around six thirty-ish. And you make sure not to forget to bring her," Molly said, gesturing towards Lydia. "After all, she's our new project."

Lydia's smile faltered slightly and she shot Evangeline an annoyed glance. She already knew what Molly was referring to, and what this whole project thing was about. They had all discussed it during lunch. Shannon, who aspired to be a hair-stylist, and Molly, who was training to be a make-up artist, wanted desperately to poke and prod at Lydia's pathetic little half-arsed appearance. And that's exactly what they were going to do, against her consent, so she would be all done up in time for the teen club they were attending.

"I won't particularly enjoy that part, if I'm being honest," Lydia stated, jutting her bottom lip out.

Evangeline just laughed and waved Shannon and Molly off. "Whatever, you'll get over it. Bye you guys, see you later!"

They returned the bidding before strutting away. Evangeline took Lydia by the shoulders and turned her around.

"Listen darling, you should at least try to not to be stubborn. They're doing this for your own good. So please cooperate. In my opinion I think they'll be doing you a huge favor."

She then looked at her a bit closely. "For example, I know for a fact that your blonde eyelashes drive them mad. You should really invest in some kind of dark mascara."

Lydia laughed. "Okay first of all, they're not blonde," she said, batting her eyes before pointing to her head. "Try again. They're light brown. Just like the hair on my cranium, if not a more brownish color. And I should know about darkness and shading techniques. I've worn down more pencils with my sketching than I can count."

She nudged away. "Second of all, I don't see the point in getting all dressed up for one night. Can't I just go as myself? Isn't saying 'Yeah I look like a disaster and don't give a single damn' the better message?"

Evangeline huffed. "You will be going as yourself. You'll only be a tiny bit more gorgeous. Now I'll be over tomorrow morning so I can take you out to shop for outfits. Be sure not to tell your dad anything, or else we'll all be toast."

"Trust me, I won't," Lydia said, reminding herself that all the adults, including Evangeline, Molly, and Shannon's parents had no idea that they were spending their Saturday at a teen club in downtown Bellbridge. She knew if her father found out where they were going, he wouldn't just blow a circuit. He'd blow a circuit and then proceed with blowing out his entire framework.

"Well I should get going now. My bus is here." Lydia said, stepping away from her best friend.

Evangeline sighed. "Alright, again I'll be there to get you tomorrow! Bye, Lydia!"

Lydia laughed and waved back. "See you later."

After she was alone, she walked off in the direction of the bus and climbed aboard the one that was bound for her street, which was right along the outskirts of Bellbridge in second-class suburbia.

Her eyes met the driver's for a split-second. She was a scruffy middle-aged woman with a dented grin and greasy black hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. She nodded at her as she stepped past the leather cushions of seats, sitting in one that lye a few rows away from the entry door.

"Nice to see 'ou again, Miss Archibold," the driver said in her heavy accent, watching Lydia in the mirror as she sat down. " 'Ow's yer brother doing then? Still under the weather, is he?"

Lydia sat down and laughed awkwardly, smoothing out her skirt and placing her bag by the window.

"No, ma'am. He's actually much better. We gave him this medicine that killed whatever was left of his flu. He finally came to school today, a little tired but able to manage. So he should be at the usual stop by the middle school."

The driver emitted a hearty chuckle while cranking the stick shift to start driving, right as the remaining students filed on and the door folded shut.

"Well I'm glad to 'ear. Could be the weather changin', eh? It is September after all, and there's nothing nastier than a late summer cold. I 'ope to see him in good health soon."

Lydia nodded. "Thank you. And me too. He should be fine now."

As soon as the bus started moving and the driver turned her attention towards the road, Lydia slumped back in her seat and breathed heavily, feeling every tense muscle in her body crumble in defeat. The toes of her feet pressed in between the ridges carved throughout the floor, pushing against the vibrating ground until it sent itches up her ankles. Her head lolled over in the window's direction. The sun sent down heated rays that bathed over her ecru-tinted cheeks, while the rest of her lay in the lukewarm shade.

With every passing shadow that dimmed the sunshine, her eyes grew heavier, until she gave in and allowed them to finally flutter shut.


Everything was gray. Gray. Black. Red. And then more gray.

The small girl rose from the blood splashed sheets on her bed and moved towards Lydia in a broken motion, her body creaking like an old rocking chair. The same crow from the last dream was present, now perched on the bedpost and flapping its wings in steady beats.

"Lydia..." the girl said in a quiet sing song voice, parting her torn and tangled white hair away from the center of her face. She revealed her severely disfigured features. Her eyes turned red as chunks of soggy black matter poured from her opening mouth.

Wake up.


Lydia awoke with unusual adrenaline. She could feel the air breeze past the new moisture that crept across her tussled brows and down the back of her neck. Her breathing came out in quick, yet quiet puffs. And just as the golden shimmer of the sun blinded her, and the slowing of the bus' wheels caused her to move forward little by little, she looked up and was met with a blurry figure sitting directly across from her. When her vision finally came into focus, she found a pair of familiar hazel green eyes staring her down.

"Sis?" Michael spoke almost in a whisper. "Sis, are you alright? You're all sweaty and stuff."

Lydia brushed her fingers past the middle of her scalp, the crankiness sinking into her system. But when she re-opened her eyes and took a good look at her younger brother, who had just been picked up from his junior high, she was enveloped in sugary sweetness. With his brown bangs dripping down the bridge of his nose, and those dark, lengthy lashes blinking back at her in childish curiosity, she couldn't help but forget about her nightmares, her worries, and anything else there was to be angry about at the moment. She reached forward and bumped the bottom of his chin with her knuckle.

"Hey there," she greeted warmly, forgetting his question completely. "How was your day? Are you feeling any better?"

Michael was about to ponder on her sudden mood change, but ignored it and swatted her hand away playfully. "Eh, it was alright. And I'm alright as well. My throat's been a little sore, but after lunch it felt loads better."

The brakes came to a hissing stop. Lydia leaned over to look down the aisle.

"Alright, 'ere we are. Red Orchid Drive. This is yer stop, luvs," the driver said after meeting back with her eyes in the mirror.

Instead of getting up, Michael turned to look out the window. He peered at their plain little home as it awaited them uninvitingly.

"That was quick," he noted, rising with his blue and red backpack and stepping away from the seats. His sister followed closely behind as they walked down the narrow aisle together, stepping through the entry door one at a time.

"Oy, look at that kid leaving. He's practically connected to his sister at the hip!" Michael heard some boy remark behind him.

Another chimed in with a laugh. "Wow. What a weak little imbecile. Has no friends, follows his older sis like a lost pup. How can something so puny be such a gigantic loser?"

Michael shrugged off the comments, even though they sank deep into him with their spiked heads. His sister was already off the bus, and didn't hear them at all.

The moment their shoes hit the curb, and the humid warmth set in, Lydia couldn't help but feel her nausea building as her eyes scanned over the house.

There was nothing particularly wrong with the outside. Every shingle on the roof was still in ship-shape. Every brown brick was completely free of chips and decay. Every window was set with glass, so lustrous they could substitute mirrors. There were bushes with dewy dark green leaves bordering the lot, some sprouting magnolias while others were home to spotted geckos and the worms that buried themselves deep in the rich earth.

And then, overshadowing the house with its pathetic shade was one scrawny tree; tall enough to scrape the walls of the second story, but not abundant enough to block the view of the two windows up there, which led to Lydia and Michael's rooms.

Lydia must have stared a little too long, because before she knew it the bus was leaving them in its swirling dust. Michael stepped ahead of her and proceeded towards the front door.

He opened it slowly, and as Lydia stepped onto the porch, she could feel the dry, chilling air inside contrasting with the summer gusts. Her skin retaliated with a few prickling goose bumps as she stepped in and slammed the door behind her, cutting herself away from the world outside.

Now entering what was meant to be her sanctuary.

"Hello? Dad? You in here?" Michael called out. He walked over to the archway that led into the living room, leaving a cautious Lydia behind. His feet paused at the opening, and he stared inside. The color in his face shifted.

"Dad."

"Mmm...who's there...what is it," said her father's unseen voice. It lingered with unusual gruffness. He had probably been taking a nap. "Michael? Lydia?"

"Yeah, dad. It's just us," Michael said. "We're home from school."

Her father, Richard Archibold, remained silent after that. Lydia tossed her purse and book bag by the stairs, a few of the contents spilling out halfway, and went over to stand closely at Michael's side.

"Hey, I'm starved. What are the plans for dinner?" she asked a little too stiffly.

The sound of his daughter's voice caused the forty-two year old man to rise up from the leather couch, opposite the direction of the television, and turn to face them both. His dark blonde hair stood up on the side, his drooping brown eyes were dull and bloodshot. He groaned as he stood, then pressed one callused palm against his blonde whiskers and pushed until his neck cracked.

"Erm, I dunno. How does spaghetti sound?" he said tiredly. It didn't sound much like a question.

Lydia's nose wrinkled. "That's disgusting. You mean leftover spaghetti?"

"...Right, Dad, you do know that spaghetti's almost two weeks old," Michael said sheepishly.

"Should still be edible, little spoiled kids," their father replied hastily. "You both know I've been working overtime at the shop. My arse is tired enough as it is, the last thing I want to do is cook right now. Come on, you two just heat yourselves up a few bowls and you should be good to go."

He instantly became annoyed with his children's reluctant glares. They both knew putting their exhaust ridden father to work at the stove was begging for disaster. But still, they couldn't help but be displeased.

"Ah, don't give me those looks! It could be far worse!" he declared, stumbling past the couch towards them. "We're not talking gourmet meals here. It's just something to fill your bellies. Fresh food, rotted food, it should all do the trick, eh?"

Neither of the siblings answered. They just turned and exchanged a mutual glance of frustration, Lydia's a bit stronger than Michael's, and the two turned and headed upstairs to their rooms without another word.

After they left, Mr. Archibold plopped back down onto the couch, feeling between the seats in search of the remote.

"Blasted kids," he ranted. "So ungrateful, they are."

He laughed a bit to himself.

"Mhm. So, so ungrateful."


"B-But I...I don't...this really is...and I..."

Owl shuffled around in place, unable to control his movements. He was too flabbergasted to even notice that he was talking, and flapping, like he'd gone completely senile. Which he pretty much had.

"BUT THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!"

NiGHTS didn't even bother interrupting him. He just hovered in a sitting position, arms crossed and cobalt eyes turned into slits. His mouth lifted and formed a very satisfied smirk.

This was exactly the reaction from Owl he'd been expecting, and even anticipating. It wasn't out of cruel intention, it was simple innocent amusement. The only implied 'danger' that ocurred from him not stepping in to calm the bird down was that said bird was losing a significant amount of his feathers from all the pacing and scrambling.

"I-I thought you were dead!" Owl rambled on. "Er...of course I didn't actually want you to be dead, but I found it was safe to assume after you failed to return, yet the balance of Nightopia was somehow miraculously restored! There are no nightmares, no cases of stolen ideya, and certainly no Nightmaren. And I understand if there can't be a Wizeman, then there very well can't be Nightmaren, since they were created from his power! If he's gone...then they go with him! Unless nature's laws decided to defy themselves and have a selective few remain alive, and that could be why you're still here."

NiGHTS scratched the back of his jester, still beaming proudly.

Owl was now flying in repetitive circles. "But then that doesn't answer my other questions. Such as, why do you look like that! Where are your gloves, what happened to your clothing, and more importantly how is it you're the only one who lived! Are you the only one who lived? When did you come back! Did you even leave at all in the first place? How-"

"Owl!" NiGHTS interrupted him. "Owl, breathe."

Strangely enough, the old bird obeyed and inhaled rapidly until his feathery chest puffed out, before releasing it in a short puff.

"NiGHTS..." he said, in a softer and less frantic voice. "I need answers. And I mean right now, please, before I implode on myself. Don't get me wrong, it's good...no great to have you back and I'm glad you are indeed alive, but I'm still so...so...confused."

"As am I," NiGHTS responded, his knees dropping as he glided forward a little. "I have as many questions as you do, and haven't had a lot of time to put the pieces together on my own. All I know is that I awoke to my own melody, in the middle of the sky. That's where my memory begins." He gestured up at the stars.

Owl followed his hand and stared deep into the navy blue night, his beak still hanging open.

"What do you mean, your own melody?"

NiGHTS just chuckled and dismissed his question, flying over to the fountain. The water cast rippled blue lights all over his limber body.

"We can do the math later, old bird. But for now, we should ready ourselves to greet the Dreamers. Don't you agree?"

Instead of answering, Owl only watched him in sheer bewilderment. Why NiGHTS wasn't more curious on how he was supposedly resurrected from the dead with no logical explanation, was completely beyond him. But after seeing the purple jester's intent expression as he flew above, eyes cast towards the Dream Gate, he knew that the only thing NiGHTS had on his mind now was spending time with his beloved Dreamers, since in the Waking World it was always night-time somewhere, and he wouldn't get anywhere by pestering him until he was ready to figure out the answers himself.

So Owl did the only thing he could think of doing, which was reluctantly returning to his perch and trying his best to relax, even though the embers of his confusion burned brighter than ever before.


Three-thirty A.M.

In a few hours, it would be morning. The sun would be peaking out between the city buildings, casting halos into the orange grass, and bringing fresh moisture of the ripening sky along with it.

Despite that it was a Saturday, and she was usually allowed to sleep in, Lydia had to get up early. Evangeline would be over to take her shopping for new clothes. She'd already run the heavily edited plan by her father, keeping out the part where she was indeed spending a night in the city with friends. Believing she would just be staying over at Evangeline's house, he said it was fine. He didn't mind her going somewhere and getting her out of his hair for the day. But then again, he also didn't care about the poorly aged food his children were ingesting. The crusty pasta that had nearly twisted her and Michael's stomach inside out was good enough proof of that.

That was her sole worry. If her brother would be okay...alone with their father until Sunday afternoon.

But that's not why she couldn't sleep.

The nightmares aren't real. Lydia tried to reassure herself. They never were. They were always just pictures in my head. They shouldn't scare me so much. But still, I wonder my mind can conjure up such horrid things.

Lydia was beyond exhausted, even though her eyes surprisingly weren't sagging. She was becoming used to the sleep deprivation. She lay there silently, her frizzy hair splayed out in runaway waves across the pillow, and the gray comforter pulled up to her chin, as she stared up at the fan and counted the rotations.

Two thousand and seventy three. Two thousand and seventy four. Two thousand and seventy five. Two thousand and seventy six.

She suddenly flipped over and grabbed the pillow from underneath, screaming into the cotton. She remained there limply with her face buried for a few minutes.

After a while, Lydia finally turned back over and sniffled. Her eyes stared upwards before drifting to the curtains on the window, as the thin material flowed out with the current of air drafting about. And before she could stop herself, she had pushed the blankets back gently, sat up and moved her legs over the edge, then picked the rest of herself up completely.

She wobbled mindlessly towards the window, her eyes squinting as the lights in the distance seeped through her vision. She made her way to the sill, nightgown blowing around her thighs, and looked straight ahead with an envious gaze.

Bellbridge was lit up in all sorts of spectrum colors, some of the red and white ones that were owned by cars moving through the maze of buildings like tiny insects, other lights blinking in bright neon letters for signs that drew the town towards bars, dances, and all sorts of parties and events. The city was just as alive and awake as she was. It just looked...well...prettier than her.

Her elbow hit the sill and her face leaned into the connected hand with sorrowful defeat.

If only I didn't need sleep.

If only I could just go through life with my eyes open all the time. I wouldn't miss a single thing.

Her eyelids started to fall shut. She began to give in to the creeping fatigue.

But that didn't last long.

Because something bright and red caught her attention.

Lydia's eyes lifted tiredly up towards the stars, but widened immediately. The surprise hit her with rampaging strength, and her mouth fell open on cue.

There, appearing at the faraway edge of the atmosphere, a dash of glowing crimson was falling from the sky and dashing towards the city, leaving red sparkles behind in its wake.

Lydia's elbow dropped as she grabbed the edges of the sill and pressed her forehead against the glass, watching intently. Her breath got caught in her throat.

"What is that?" she whispered to herself, her eyes following it as it fell lower and lower.

Was it a meteor? A comet? A falling star?

But nothing about it suggested something, or anything relating to space. Nothing about it appeared astrological. No. It looked almost...magical. Like it was out of place for its time and setting.

It was beautiful.

The young girl couldn't bring herself to tear away, or even blink for that matter. She watched the light fall into Bellbridge, between the layered buildings, and waited for the ground to quake from its impact.

But nothing happened.

Not a single sound was heard, and not even the tiniest rumble was felt.

She was stone still for a few seconds, but then ripped away from the window all at once, her hands cupping over her mouth in disbelief.

Did that just happen?

It couldn't have been my imagination. No matter how sleepy I am, that was definitely NOT something made up from my mind.

It looked too real.

It was real.

If she thought she was having trouble sleeping before, Lydia knew there was no way she was catching a wink now.

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(A/N) Long chapter is long. Not to mention SLOW. Even I think parts of this had horrendous pacing. But, it's an introduction after all, so please go easy on me.

I'm going to put this out right now. This story won't be continued for at least a few months. If I decide I want to work on two stories at once, then maybe I can make time to update. But until then, I want to finish my first story, which is nearly done. In the meantime, tell me what you like, don't like, all critism is favored.

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned and if you have time, please review.