The Dark Side of Wonder

From shadows come all things,

To shadows all things must one day return.

The glass shimmered restlessly in the deep golden light that streamed through the windows. The sun was setting and soon it would be time to turn on the lamps. In fact, some lamps were already lit in the hall from what Leora could see as she peeked out from behind the great wooden door of the study. No one was out there now, but she knew it was only a matter of time before someone came to check up on her. Thus she made the decision to act quickly.

Leora closed the door and pushed a couch against it. It wouldn't stop anyone for long, but if she started now by the time they got there she may already be gone. Racing over to the glass on the floor she picked up a rather large shard and began to slice at the anklet resting atop her foot. Sweat broke out across her brow after a minute or two since she was using a lot of effort and strength trying to break the anklet quickly. She gritted her teeth as she applied a last burst of pressure. The anklet snapped and her hands and the glass shard slipped forward, cutting through the pale, delicate flesh on the top of her foot. She cried out momentarily, but was distracted as the anklet burst into flames.

She knew that that couldn't be a good sign so she tucked the shard of glass into one of the front pockets of her dress and rushed to the window. Already she could feel the castle shaking a bit as men bounding down the halls to the room she was in now. As she pushed open the window a gust of salty but fresh air met her face. She was stunned for a moment, but shook it off and climbed out quickly. The voices of the running soldiers now met her ears and she knew they were only a short distance down the hall. Leora looked down and then jumped from the second story to the ground. Her feet stung and her ankles hurt, but she started running the moment she got her bearings.

Behind her soldiers had kicked in the door and couch; she knew by the cracking and commotion that was slowly growing out of earshot. Instead a new sound was growing stronger in her ears - it was the sound of crashing waves. Before she knew it the trees opened up and Leora stood at the edge of the royal territories looking out at an endless blue ocean. She knew there was a bridge to the west. It was the only bridge off these lands; however, Leora couldn't risk trying to cross it. Guards stood at either end so she was sure she would be captured and dragged back. There was absolutely no question in her mind. So what was she to do?

In a split second she was in the air without much thought. A moment later the young girl was plunged into the cold waters unprepared. It rushed into her mouth and nose, causing her to choke and splutter when she resurfaced. She gasped for air as she tried to struggle back to the rocks safely. Except safety was not an option it seemed. The waves gladly carried her to the rocks, but roughly. She slammed into them and felt the wind rush from between her lips. Back above her men ran along the cliffs searching for her. They shouted random commands to each other.

Searching around herself, Leora saw a small overhang to her right that could do to hide her if the men chose to look into the waters since currently she was exposed for anyone to see. She swam the best she could, trying not to make any noise even when she was violently thrown against the rocks over and over again by the waves coming in. It took a while, but in the end she reached the overhang and slid beneath it, waiting silently for her pursuers to depart.

They did not depart quickly. Leora floated in the chilly waters for twenty minutes before she heard the hollers above her die out. Then she cautiously looked to see if it was clear before doing her best to swim along the rocks without being seen. She was shuddering violently not even halfway to the bridge, but she managed to get there despite that. The bridge expanded over her from the royal lands to the main country. She looked across the channel feeling as if it were hundreds of miles away instead of just five. She dreaded having to swim across, but if it was a choice between that or going back to her prison she would gladly swim.

It took her quite some time to get to the other side between her constant convulsions and the fact that the current kept trying to drag her out from under the cover of the bridge. In the end she had to climb out onto the rocks when she reached the other side to give herself a breather. Overhead she could hear carts crossing the stones and the guards changing positions. She looked back over the water with a heavy sigh. How did it come to this? She couldn't understand, so instead she slipped back into the water and swam along the rocks again, looking for a good spot to climb up to dry land from.

"Hey! Hey, you!" A deep male voice startled her. She turned and looked up, fearing that a guard had caught her, but she had swam so far that that couldn't be possible. Indeed, it wasn't possible. There atop the cliffs stood a boy holding a lantern – well he was young, but perhaps in years he was a man – staring down at her in curiosity and awe. "What are you doing down there? You'll freeze to death if you don't have your head bashed in first. Did you fall in? Climb up a bit and I'll help you the rest of the way."

Leora stared at him a moment, glancing back the way she came briefly. She shakily started climbing out of the frigid waters and onto the rocks. She slipped a number of times as her shoes were slick against the wet stone. When she got up as far as she could climb herself two hands dropped down to grasp her arms and haul her up the rest of the way. They almost immediately dropped her the minute she was over solid and dry land though.

"So why were you down there?"

She couldn't honestly answer him. Instead she chanced a quick look at his face and then shrugged.

"Can't you talk? You know… speak!" He motioned to her, inviting her to say something.

"I can. I prefer not to." Leora said shortly. Her words drew a chuckle from the male.

"I see. So you like to be difficult. Well, if that's the case I suppose I'll just leave you here. I can only assume the worst in a situation where a person won't give a good reason." With that the man turned to leave, but Leora caught his arm at the elbow.

"Wait, could you at least direct me to the nearest town?" She asked, shivering as a sea breeze swept over her damp form and chilled the water running down her spine further.

"If you tell me why you were down in the channel I might even take you there myself to see that you're safe on the way. The forest really isn't a good place for girls to be, even if they use the road." He looked her up and down and turned his eyes away rather rapidly. "Especially not girls who are drenched to the bone and have their garments clinging to their curves. There are a lot of lewd men out there that would be driven into action at the sight of you."

Leora looked down at herself and thanked the Gods that her dress was dark red and not a lighter color such as white. It also helped that the fabric was rather thick; however, she could still see that it framed her too tightly to be appropriate. She blushed and tugged at it gently, listening as it made a suction sound when it was removed from her skin. It fell back to her thigh quickly though with its water-logged weight. She couldn't travel like this, the man was right. With a groan she decided she might as well make up some story, or give him part of the truth. "I was trying to escape someone. They were chasing me for a while and I had nowhere else to go but into the channel if I hoped to get away. So I jumped in and they lost me. So few are insane enough or desperate enough to do what I did that I don't think they'll ever assume anything."

It was mostly the truth. She just never mentioned who she was running from or where. Thankfully the boy seemed to buy it. "There are a lot of creeps out there these days. Not just strangers, but even people close to you can become dangerous in an instant. With the amount of poor families increasing more and more parents are selling off their children, husbands without children are selling their wives. It's horrendous."

"That is terrible. The royals are out of control." She felt sick just thinking about the royal family. She didn't want to think about them. Instead she changed the topic. "So, could you take me to the nearest village or town?"

"Mm, sure. Here," He unclipped the cloak around his broad shoulders and handed it to Leora. "Wear this so people can't see those clothes and so that you'll be a little warmer."

"Thank you." She managed to mumble out as she fiddled with the cloak to put it around her shoulders and clasp it. She then hurried along behind the man she was set to follow. "Your name?"

The man looked back at her briefly and then turned forward once more. "Kylan. You?"

"Leora." She stared at the back of Kylan as she heard 'hmm' from him. In the light of the lantern she could barely see that his hair was a dark brown color, but there was a patch of white behind his left ear that caught her attention. She wanted to ask about it, but felt that she had no right to. It could be a touchy subject, so rather than bring it up she'd just leave it for now.

They walked to and along the forest road for several hours. It had been dark for a while when he pulled her from the rocks so now as they stopped the sky was becoming lighter. "We'll rest for a bit here. I need to refill the lantern and you surely need rest since you swam in the channel. Not only must it have been freezing, but it must have been strenuous too. The current's strong in there."

"It is." She muttered, sitting down on the root of a tree and leaning back against the trunk. She closed her eyes and listened as Kylan shuffled things around and poured oil into the lamp.

"When it's light enough out to see without the lamp we'll continue on. Rest for now. Sleep even. I'll wake you when we're leaving."

"Uh, ok. Thank you." Leora said slowly, peeking her eyes open slightly to glance over at him. He was also propped against a tree, but his eyes were open and roaming the woods occasionally or staring up at the sky through the thick canopy over him. She closed her eyes again though and attempted to drift off into a light slumber until he was ready to move once more.

In what felt like only moments, but turned out to be about two hours, Kylan woke Leora up with a gentle tap to her shoulder. She jolted awake and looked around, her eyes finally landing on Kylan's face beside her. "It's daylight now. Did you rest enough?"

"Yes, thank you." She was lying, but she didn't want to ask for more time. She could get that later when she wasn't out in the open so much. She looked briefly over the feature's of the man who helped her the night before, briefly because he turned away to gather his belongings. She sighed and stood, pulling the cloak he had lent her tightly about her still-damp frame. "Did you rest at all?"

"And leave us unguarded? No. Besides, I didn't do anything too tiring yesterday and I can rest when we get into town." He smiled at her reassuringly, but she still felt guilty about him not being able to rest while she slept rather peacefully for the first time in months.

"And how long will it take us to get to town?"

"Well, we can't go into the nearest town as I heard that it's been quarantined. So we'll go to Dovire, which means we'll get there around mid-afternoon."

"Quarantined? The people aren't well?"

"They're fine. There was just some chaos there and the royals closed the town off until they decide to settle down."

"Tyrants." Leora murmured darkly.

"That they are indeed." Kylan laughed shortly and then rubbed the back of his neck. "So, let's get moving. If we keep up a good pace we might get there sooner. Who knows?"

Leora stood and once again followed him. The walk was quiet despite the fact that several times Leora tried to change that. Kylan just wouldn't talk to her about much of anything. True to what he did say 

though, they reached Dovire in mid-afternoon. The streets were bustling with stalls and customers, the shops were crowded with people searching through goods. "It's a lot bigger than the last time I was here." Leora said softly, but Kyland picked up her words and gave her a quizzical glance.

"Bigger? It's been a major city for over fifty years now. You're hardly old enough to have seen it before that."

"I… maybe I was in another part that looks more intimate than this?"

"Hmm." Kylan shrugged as he gave her another weird look and then kept walking, weaving his way through the crowd and muttering apologies to people he bumped into. Leora did her best to keep up with him, but eventually the crowd cut her off and she was lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces. People pushed and shoved her until she was backed up against the bare cement side of a building. She rolled her eyes, not wanting to believe her horrible luck. She was about to slide down the wall without even attempting to reenter the mass of shoppers when a hand grasped her wrist. "Honestly, can't you keep up?"

Her eyes shot up to see it was Kylan holding onto her. "S-sorry. Too many people."

"Mm. Well, come on." He continued to hold firmly to her wrist as he made his way through the crowd again. This time, with his hand connecting them, Leora managed to stay with him the whole time. He finally released her from his grip when they entered an open square. "We'll check the inn over there. Do you have any money on you?" Leora shook her head while looking down in shame. "Eh… well I was going to have to buy myself a room anyway and two can stay in one room for the same price so I suppose I can forgive you this time. Plus, I doubt money was on your mind earlier, huh?"

Leora nodded solemnly.

"Stop looking so ashamed and dreary." Kylan hit her gently on the top of the head and then started off for the inn. Leora followed after a minute, a little dazed by his understanding.

Inside the inn Kylan booked a room for the two of them and asked to have dinner delivered shortly. A bellboy lead Leora and Kylan up to their room and left them in peace after Kylan tipped him. "Only 60 klera per night, not bad for such a nice place." The man walked around the room briefly, observing the wood paneling and carved furniture. He then dropped his bag beside the desk and sat on the end of the bed closest to the door. "What do you think, suitable?"

"Of course, anything is more suitable than where I was before." The palace was lovely, but the people within it? Not so much. "Thank you, for helping me."

Kylan looked up and locked gazes with Leora. He smiled and nodded. "No problem. I have a soft spot for damsels in distress." He chuckled. "You should go shower or bathe while I have your clothes cleaned and dried. We can't have them wet any longer. You've probably already caught a cold."

"Uh, thank you again. I'll go do that."

"Just place the clothes outside the door when you've finished with them so that I don't have to come in there and get them." Leora nodded and headed for the bathroom, doing as she was told and undressing and putting the clothes outside the door. She then sank into a hot, steamy bath to relax for a while. A knock about an hour or two later snapped her out of the trance she had been in. Her weary eyes drifted from the creamy ceiling to the door. "Your clothes are clean and dry so I've put them outside the door again, alright?"

"Yes, thank you. I'll be finished soon if you'd like to use the bath as well." Leora called back, but there was no reply. She sighed and finished up before stepping from the tub, emptying it, and drying herself off with a soft green towel. She wrapped it around her, retrieved her clothes quickly, and then dressed. Her hair was a mess so she ran her fingers through it the best she could before she gave up and left the bathroom.

"So… if you had this, why didn't you use it? Why did you run instead?" Leora was caught off guard as Kylan spoke up suddenly. She turned to see that he was holding up the shard of glass she had used to cut herself free from of the anklet that kept her in the palace.

She blanched at the sight and looked away. "I took it in case of a dire emergency, but I'm not one to kill or injure anyone unnecessarily so I did what I could so that I wouldn't have to use it."

Kylan looked between the shard and the girl carefully. He then nodded and threw the piece of glass in the garbage. "I understand. It's good that you prefer not to take a life if you don't absolutely have to. In a situation like yours most would have jumped straight to taking out the problem, rather than running from it." He sighed and then looked Leora up and down, his eyes lingering on her foot. "When did you hurt yourself?"

Leora didn't have to look down to know he meant the gash on her foot which was red and inflamed. "I think it must have been when I was swimming in the channel."

"You should clean that up then. It looks like it might be infected. Sit down, I'll help you out." Leora did as she was told while Kylan dug through his bag for his first aid kit. He came back to her when he found it and immediately got to work on cleaning and dressing the wound. When he was done he gently patted her knee and stood up. "There you are. It should be fine now."

"How many times must I thank you?"

"Once was enough." He shrugged and walked away to put his kit back.

Leora walked to the window and looked out at the flood of people coming from the market and now making their way home. She played idly with her auburn hair and sighed. "I want to go home."

"Do you trust going back there?"

"Where I was before wasn't home. My home is beyond the southern mountains in a different world entirely. It's peaceful there. It's safe. It's like how this country was years ago, before everything fell apart." Tears brimmed in her eyes at the corners and she wiped them away quickly.

Kylan came up behind her and looked over her shoulder. "It sounds great. I wish I lived somewhere like that. I have these dreams sometimes, dreams where I live a quiet life with the woman I love. Who doesn't have dreams like that though… it's just that these feel so real. Like memories. I guess I've just dreamed the same thing so often."

"The woman you love, is she beautiful? Your home, is it grand?"

He chuckled at Leora's questions. "I know she has hair the same color as yours… I've never seen her face in my dreams though. Our house is grand though. It seems to be a mansion or something. I only see clips, snippets."

Leora smiled softly and touched her hand to a pane of glass. "I'm very happy back at home. I too live a quiet life with my family. Here I am a captive. I am stared at, lectured, all manner of unpleasant things. So now I am free and I wish to return home and be happy again."

"I'll help you… if you promise to take me with you." Kylan said, leaning forward so he could look at her face. Leora tried to hide her sadness and decided to once again tell him the truth, but not the whole truth.

"I'll take you with me. I promise."

Kylan smiled brightly and pulled away, walking to his bed and flopping down on it. "A peaceful country, I can't wait."

Leora's lips fell into a deep frown as she continued to look out the window. She knew that unfortunately he would have to wait. He would have to wait a very long time. He might not even see peace in his lifetime. "Well, try to. It's a long way from here."

"Alright, I'll try." He laughed and then sighed. Leora turned toward him and then she too plopped down onto her bed and laid back. "Is it safe to rest now?"

"Yeah, I think so. Sleep well." Kylan scooted up his bed and pulled a pillow under his head before trying to sleep. Leora took a little longer before she too crawled to the top of her bed and drifted off.

Several peaceful hours of sleep passed before there was any disruption. Dinner came, but both were fast asleep so they missed receiving it. What ended up waking them was the sound of glass shattering. Kylan woke quickly, but Leora was up just seconds after him. He already had a dagger drawn, pointing it at the lone figure which stood silhouetted by the moonlight streaming in from outside.

"What do you want?"

"The girl, Leora." The man said shortly, glancing at Leora momentarily.

"Well, you can't have her so you'll just have to leave."

"I don't think you understand. I'm taking her and there's no question about it. Put down the weapon, I'll take her, and no one will be harmed."

"You won't harm her when you take her? I can't believe that. How did you even know she was here? Why do you want her? Who sent you?"

"You ask too many questions." The man raised a hand and then clenched it tightly. Kylan let out a shout and crumpled to his knees. Leora's eyes widened.

"What are you doing to him? Stop!" She rushed to Kylan's side and fell beside him. She looked over to the man who walked slowly toward her. "I refuse to go back! You can't make me! I'm going home!" She cried as his hand reached toward her. Suddenly, just as it was going to grasp her hair, it was caught by Kylan's hand first. He groaned in agony as he stood against the will of the intruder.

"She said stop." He grunted out through gritted teeth. "Stop means stop!" He shoved the man backwards and watched him slip on glass and fall into the mess. Kylan then put his dagger to the man's throat.

"Wait, Kylan… don't kill him."

"Leora, this is one of those times you don't have a choice."

"He could have killed you, but instead he chose not to. Show him the same curtesy!"

"Leora…"

"No! I won't have you trying to persuade me otherwise. Make him take a blood oath if you must, but don't kill him!" Leora pleaded against the fear welling in her chest rapidly.

Despite his obvious displeasure, Kylan relaxed the hand that held the dagger to the intruder's throat, but did not remove it. "Well, you heard the lady. You're going to make a blood oath that you'll never try to take Leora away and that you'll never try and harm her." The man he threatened groaned, but otherwise remained silent. "It's that or I can kill you."

"I swear I will never try to take Leora away and I will never harm her in any way." He muttered darkly. He then held out his hand and flinched ever so slightly as Kylan drew the blade over his palm. Blood welled from the wound and Kylan quickly cut his own hand and joined it with the man's.

"If you ever break that promise you will die so unless you want to commit suicide I would advise against betraying us." Kylan's eyes were sharp and cold as they looked the man over. He pulled his hand away and went to his bag to find things with which to clean his own wound and dress it. Leora looked on as the intruder stood and walked to the window.

"You'll regret not killing me." He chuckled and then in an instant he vanished out the window.

Kylan turned to Leora with an expression that clearly said 'I told you so' as he sighed. "We can't stay here. He will no doubt tell whoever he works for our location and they'll just send more people to come get you. So, let's go."

"Right now?"

"Yeah. If we wait until daylight who knows how many others could be sent by then to retrieve you. Even if they don't send others we'll be easier to track the longer we stay here because the closer behind us they'll be." Kylan hefted his bag onto his shoulder and tossed his cloak to Leora. "I know your clothes are dry now, but they still draw attention to you so you'll have to cover them while we're travelling."

Leora nodded and tagged along behind him as he left the inn by a back door and lead her down empty alleyways. "Where--"

Kylan held up his hand for silence. "Just stay quiet for now, ok?"

She nodded and followed in silence. They made it out of the city before daybreak and found themselves in another forest. Once they were a good way in Kylan stopped and turned to Leora. "You can talk now if you'd like." Leora nodded, but said nothing. Kylan sighed and hooked an arm around her shoulders. "Did you think this was going to be easy?"

"No, but I had hoped it wouldn't be this bad."

"You call this bad? Wherever you live must be really wonderful if this is bad to you." Kylan laughed, but Leora just frowned deeper. "Well, let's keep walking. You know… I think you'll like this forest in the morning."

"Hmph."

"Hey, don't be like that! Women. Honestly, you're all so moody."

Leora elbowed him sharply and stalked off. It proved his statement, but she didn't care. She had every right to be moody. Kidnapped, held captive, chased, drenched, frozen, saved only to have to walk for ages, and attacked in the night. She was fairly sure those were all good reasons to be moody.

Kylan followed her now, staring after her figure though he tried not to. "So, where you were running from… it's a rich home?"

"Mm."

"Great answer. I was just wondering because they paid to have someone come after you and your clothes are very expensive. That Lolita style, especially in velvet, is normally only available to those with large coin purses. Unless you made it yourself, but the velvet alone would have cost a lot." Kylan crept up on her and placed a hand on her waist.

"They have money, the people I ran from."

"So why were you running then? If they have money they weren't going to sell you…"

"They were keeping me hostage. I didn't want to be there, but they wouldn't let me leave. I couldn't even get out of the house into the yard."

"Wow. So they bought you from someone else then?"

"Mm."

"Another vague answer. You're so helpful."

"I try." Leora said apathetically. She sighed and looked Kylan up and down as he frowned at her. "I just don't want to talk about it, ok? I'd rather forget them, put them behind me. I want to forget the feeling of being a prisoner. Instead, I want to bask in the glory of freedom." She exaggerated her tone a bit on the last words which made Kylan smirk a little.

"Alright. Okay. We'll put thoughts of them behind us, at least until someone else attacks." He had yet to remove his hand from her waist, but as if remembering himself he let his arm fall to his side like a dead weight.

"Thank you." Leora cracked a smile at him which he returned.

"It's nothing." He shrugged and turned forward again. "So what would you prefer to talk about?"

"Do we have to talk about anything?"

"I… suppose not. Usually travelling is faster when you're distracted though."

"It feels faster, but I don't think it really is. Besides, I'm sort of tired." As if to stress this fact she let out a yawn behind her upraised hand. Kylan cocked an eyebrow and then nodded.

"Alright, well we can stop soon. Let's just go another mile or two." He tilted his head at the girl as if asking for her approval. She just nodded in reply and kept moving forward. Kylan shook his head as he followed after her.

They ended up walking over four miles before they finally stopped. The sky was beginning to lighten from a rich indigo to a sort of dusty cobalt. Morning was fast approaching and it was obvious from the way she staggered over fallen branches that Leora was exhausted. Kylan couldn't blame her. He himself was finding it hard to keep his eyes open and stay alert to the presence, or lack thereof, of others around them. As a clearing came into his view he grabbed Leora's arm, successfully preventing her from walking into a bush, and pointed to the clearing.

"Let's rest there, alright?" Leora followed an invisible line from his fingertip to the clearing and then rubbed her eyes and nodded.

They made their way over, Kylan helping Leora, who seemed to have finally given up the last of her energy and had trouble staying upright, get to the clearing in one relatively unscathed piece. He then let her sit down on a fallen tree trunk while he cleared some rocks off a spot on the ground and laid his cloak over it. He motioned to the cloak, but Leora was already half-asleep where she sat. With a chuckle he picked her up and set her back down to lay on his cloak before repositioning himself where she had sat moments before.

It didn't take long for Leora to fall asleep. In fact, it was an almost immediate reaction the moment she was lying down. Meanwhile Kylan sat on the fallen tree trunk and watched the forest around them transform as the sun rose overhead until his eyes could stay open no longer then he too drifted off into dreamland as he slouched over himself in his seat.


A/N: Klera – obviously the money used in this world. 60 klera is about equal to 30 dollars. Klera is the name for the largest denomination of money. Smaller denominations (like change) are called reko. 60 klera is equal to 6000 reko. So reko as you can see is like pennies/cents. Engraved coins are used for reko and engraved thin metal plates (with rounded and smoothed edges) are used for klera. Due to the fact that metal weighs a lot it isn't uncommon for people to carry their money in enchanted pouches which make it feel weightless.

Just a little something I thought you'd all like to know... haha. Anyway, this started as a sort of rendition of Alice in Wonderland... but I don't know what it's going to be anymore because as I've been writing it I've been changing a lot of my initial ideas. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

By the way... reviews are nice if you liked the story or see errors or... anything. Mhmm. Ok. Going now. dashes off