Chapter 1:

White nights

A blink away

The rhythmic ticking of the mechanical clock is perfectly in sync with the slow battering of the rain against the Gothic house. Beyond the window, laid a ground so arid that the simple fact that trees were able to emerge from it was a miracle, albeit they were pale and barely breathing. Above this macabre scene, was a sky that matched the same color palette; a shade of blue that evoked nostalgia for events that have yet to happen, as static grey clouds were glued onto the background.

Emyr contemplated his neighbor, an old lady who used to always greet him with a wide smile that could repel sorrow of any kind, going through a photo album under a tent outside in the light rain. They've been neighbors ever since he moved here back when he was four; often she'd look after him while his parents were away on business trips.

As his parents settled down and their important meetings became more scarce in between, so did visits from his Welsh neighbor, Mrs. Ceri Howell. Her group of friends used to have lunch and have loud and long conversations in her backyard, undeath that same tent; sometimes they'd go inside and listen to her play upbeat and joyful pieces of piano that could be heard by the neighboring houses as well. But the company she used to have over at her big red house slowly disappeared, now leaving her alone with just her brother. All Emyr got to hear from her piano nowadays was sorrowful tunes which made him think of the lamenting of an angel, late in the middle of the night, whilst the moon and stars shined brightest.

On the rare occasions he got to see her, Mrs. Howell's expression was weighed down with blatant sadness, like a face set in stone. Emyr never mustered up the courage to offer comfort to her. As he ponders on various reasons explaining why his neighbor became a loner, an awful feeling crept up his spine the moment he realized that sooner or later, everyone he cares about will either leave him to pursue their own life or simply leave this world.

- "A sad fate indeed."

As the clock rang seven times, the last beam of sunlight of the day managed to slip through the thick satiny clouds, and as it goes through the window, it gets engulfed into the room's darkness. The night reached them much faster than it used to a season ago. The rain stopped and the ghastly breeze of fall made the few remaining leaves on the trees dance and twirl on their thin branch.

As Mrs. Howell went back into her house, Emyr sighed melancholically and exited his room as his mum called for dinner. While he was walking in the hallway to reach the stairs, as if in a painting straight out of the Expressionism movement, he noticed that the objects in his field of view were more vibrant, in a way they seemed more, real; they stuck out like a sore thumb against the dimly lit surroundings. The contour of each object was more defined and yet paradoxically, did not, in any way overshadow the other brilliant aspects of the object. His eyes felt like they were slightly popping out of their sockets, begging to be freed, all in a silly attempt to get a better view of this thrilling phenomenon that contrasted very much with Emyr's dull and repetitive summer break customs, which deep down, he knew himself. And just as Emyr finished that thought, it all vanished as if the colorful spotlight were turned off in a puppet show. Emyr blinked multiple times, but in vain, the effect did not come back.

- "I should rest for longer tonight."

His mom, dad, and younger sister were all enjoying spaghetti meatballs in a big pot at the center of the wooden table. His mom and sister, both called Ymir, could've easily been mistaken for being twins, aside from an identical facial structure, they both had hazel hair. His dad, Arthur, had a big bushy beard and was very muscular, the complete opposite of his son. Not feeling especially hungry, Emyr contorted and winded up the spaghetti on his fork, as he stared into a fuzzy point in space only he could see. When he got out of his daydream, he heard a buzzing sound. At first, he fooled himself into thinking it came from everywhere all at once, but when the initial surprise passed, he noticed the buzzing came only from whatever he was staring at. But ordinary objects like a cookie jar shouldn't make such noises! And believe it or not, a buzzing cookie jar was not the strangest thing in all of this madness. It was his family. They kept eating their spaghetti as if nothing was going on.

With the ever-growing fear that he was losing his mind, Emyr gobbled down the meatballs, barely even chewing on them, and rushed through the stairs to get ready to sleep. After shutting the curtains, all that was left for him to do is to lie comfortably on his bed. And to fall asleep. A few minutes in and he hears his parents call him to do the dishes but he ignores them. In the dead silence of the house, he could very clearly hear his father's footsteps on the creaking stairs. Click. The hallway's lights get much brighter and light oozes into Emyr's room through the small slit under the door. As his father enters, the slow creaking of the door broke the silence. Arthur's wide back made an even wider shadow, which blended instantly with the room's darkness. He stood there for a bit until leaving while muttering: "Stupid kid...". Emyr was very irritated, not from being called dumb, but because his dad left the door slightly open. The streak of light protruding from the hallway does not prevent him from sleeping, but Emyr is a person that cares for such small details, such unevenness makes his toes curl, thats just who he is, and always has been.

Lying on his bed, he wasn't exhausted to the point where he could fall asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. Thoughts of various natures walked in and out of his mind as he attempts to fall asleep, creatures such as winged elephants, and alternate scenarios of what would happen if he did such and such differently. After what could've been an hour, Emyr did not feel a single bit tired. Was lack of sleep a symptom of insanity? He wiggled, turned, and curved on his bed, desperate to fall into the land of slumber. Pointless, all of it. He blinked once. Then once more, and got up to look at his curtains. They were, "glowing". Unbeknownst to him, over 15h just passed, and he still does not feel an ounce of rest in him.

Emyr got up from his bed and walked to the park, without eating breakfast. Several days have passed since Emyr's first white night, and just like the first one, all the countless hours passed in a matter of seconds. All of his senses were numb; his vision was blurry, his nose dry and stuffed, a metallic taste in his mouth, and in a sense, his sense of touch and hearing got swapped. His ears felt the dry air but could not hear any sound, his skin could feel every vibration, but he'd be rendered speechless if he was asked about the texture of the bench he was sitting on. People passing by saw him as just another angsty teenager, nothing more; from the outside, along with the dark rings around his eyes was a blank expression. And his expression wasn't the only thing that was blank; his mind was too. Not a single thought passed through, not a single observation came by. Very typical for people who haven't slept a wink in several nights. His first thought arrived, he checked his watch. In an instant just like the previous night, several hours passed which to him, felt like a second. As if a robot being controlled, he very unnaturally got up from the bench and went back home. All these events ran on repeat for several more days, any sense of free will was thrown out the window. Every day he felt gruesomely more tired, every step was tenfold heavier, and every breath was taken like he was underwater. But he couldn't sleep, couldn't rest, couldn't sleep a wink. On the tenth night, after his dull and repetitive routine, as he laid on his bed flat on his stomach, his eyelids felt like they were attached to bricks, like every other night for the past ten days. He took a deep breath and blinked. He was finally released, from himself.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a fountain made out of stone bricks, about 3 meters in radius. He was half submerged in a blueish-green liquid, and interestingly, he wasn't wet. Not his arms and legs, or his sleeves and pants. All around the fountain were a crowd of people, and chimeric creatures. Since every creature and person disappeared out of thin air as soon as he laid eyes on them, Emyr only had time to recall the last one since it lasted a bit longer than the others, a nine-horned turtle, barely making it above his belly button. Before vanishing, it said to him:

- "We use that fountain to drink, bachgen."

He was not home, the sky was too clear and the temperature was too warm. Unlike back home, the sky was spotless and a monochromatic shade of blue. As for the land, it was clear how fertile it is, and yet, just like the sky, it was completely empty; aside from thick soft grass, nothing else grew on it. Nothing besides a tree on a hill, which oddly enough, looked a lot like the one he had in his backyard, except, leafier. And had an elderly face on it.

Emyr walked towards the tree and as he turned around, noticed that the pond disappeared. As he kept walking, every step he took got intensely heavier. As he got within 30 meters of the tree, it made a mumble; 20 meters from the tree, and all its green leaves fell to the ground like apples and turned into green birds. They all simultaneously flew right into his face and up toward the sky, blinding his vision momentarily. As he looks up, the clear blue sky was no more, in its stead was a blood-red ceiling. All of a sudden he was sucked into the ground, only leaving his upper body intact. A horde of knights on jet-black horses emerged from the ground all around the tree, pointing their spears at him. They were all adorned with birds of prey on their helmets and dark blue capes whose bottoms were clearly burned to a crust. Their armor had multiple layers, each having a golden edge.

- "I said not one more step." boomed a deep voice.

Stunned by fear, Emyr did not know what to do. Despite being in a dream, he could not get out of the ground or make the knights disappear no matter how hard he tried. Incidentally, as if a genie was listening in to his wish, he was, quite literally, uprooted from the ground; the tree was dangling him in the air, with a root cuffed around his ankles. Earlier, Emyr was glad he fell asleep, now he doesn't want to do it ever again.

The shadow of a round figure got closer to him, without him even noticing.

"Didn't think he'd make it this far, did you grumpy? I sure didn't."

Emyr knew that voice.