The morning was bright – blindingly so. Leora groaned as she opened her eyes. She felt as if she had just fallen asleep when she was rudely awoken. In fact, it couldn't have been more than four hours since her eye lids had closed. She squinted through those eyelids now, trying to make sense of the white mass around her. As her eyes slowly adjusted she noticed it wasn't all white. It wasn't really white at all. The forest around her was gold and silver. She stared in awe as light glinted off shiny leaves and flashed everywhere around her. Then her eyes fell on the form of Kylan, still slumped over on a log beside her. She laughed a little at the way his mouth hung open lazily.

She stretched her arms over her head and then dropped one to sit atop it on her auburn hair. She scratched her head and then stood up and walked over to Kylan. He looked peaceful, vulnerable, and… well, quite frankly he looked adorable. A smirk which had made its way onto her lips at the site of his open mouth turned into a smile unconsciously as she approached him quietly. However, as she drew within two feet he sprang up and caught her by the wrists, causing her to jump. He seemed disoriented at first and gripped her wrists too tightly for comfort.

After a moment the fog in his mind cleared and he noticed Leora in his grasp. He loosened it and she could see his shoulders visibly relax. "Sorry." He muttered, sounding a little miserable or embarrassed, perhaps both. "I thought you were… I thought you were someone here to kidnap you."

Leora nodded slowly and he let her wrists go entirely. She rubbed her wrists and gave him a small smile to show that she forgave him. "Is this why you said I'd like the forest in the morning?" She motioned around to all the gold and silver surrounding them.

"Yeah… was I right?" He asked, quirking an eyebrow at her. Leora looked around once more and then shrugged and nodded a little.

"It's magnificent."

Kylan laughed. "You shrug and then pair that with 'it's magnificent'? You're so strange."

"Yeah well… you sleep with your mouth gaping like a fish." Leora huffed and crossed her arms. Kylan couldn't help but laugh at her stance. She even tried pouting, but it just looked too comical on her.

"That look doesn't suit you. You look… silly." That only made Leora flush and grimace at him. She wanted to smack him. "Ah, that one is much more you."

"Shut up." She said through gritted teeth.

Kylan had never seen someone look so… enticing while being outraged. He smirked and shrugged as he picked up his cloak from the forest floor where he had laid it out for the girl to sleep on. "We should get moving again. How did you sleep?"

Leora was quiet a moment, warring with whether she wanted to answer him or not. Finally she gave up with a frustrated sigh. "I slept fine considering the conditions."

"Good. I was a little worried you'd complain until I wanted to stab myself with a blunt object. It seems you're less of a princess than I expected."

"Naturally," Leora hissed, not pleased at his assumptions. "Back home I'm no one special. I'm not a princess and I have no desire to be one… and I'm not prissy. I can handle sleeping on the ground and being dirty, you know."

Kylan chuckled and nodded slowly. "If you say so," He looked her up and down. "That's a good thing because you look like a nightmare right now." It was a lie, but he wanted to test her reaction. She didn't fail to amuse him. Though she tried to act cool he saw the blood rush to her cheeks and even the tops of her ears.

"A nightmare, really? Well I hope I look bad enough to scare you to death." Her voice was stiff and cold. Kylan threw his cloak around his shoulders and started walking with a satisfied smirk turning up the corners of his lips.

"No such luck. You look like a nightmare, but I've seen worse." He jerked his head to indicate she should follow, which she did reluctantly.

"At least I don't look like a fish."

"More like an ogre."

"Can I eat you then if I'm an ogre?" She glared at him.

"I never said you were an ogre. I said you look like one. So no, you cannot eat me. Well, I suppose you could try, but the outcome would be unfavorable."

Leora rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you'd taste awful anyway and all that arrogance in you can't be healthy."

"On the contrary, all of the confidence in me would probably do wonders for whoever ate me." He shot her an amused look before lengthening his stride and walking ahead.

"Why are we talking about eating people again?" She asked with a mildly disgusted tone.

"Because you're an ogre." Kylan said with a laugh. However, his laugh was short lived as Leora came up beside him and smacked his bicep sharply with the back of her hand.

"I am not an ogre!" She said forcefully, giving him her own rendition of the evil eye which was basically just a glare and her lips pursed tightly. Kylan burst out laughing again at the sight. "Stop laughing!"

"I can't!" He said through several gasps and breaks in his laughter. "You just look… so cute when you do that. I can hardly find you intimidating!"

That statement made Leora stop walking stare at him as if he were mad for a moment. Then rage overtook her and she punched him square in the jaw. "Am I so funny now?!" She asked, her voice cracking a little.

The boy had stopped laughing once his footing was broken and he stumbled back a few feet, gripping his jaw tenderly in his left hand. "What the hell is your problem?! Can't you take a joke?" It was his turn to glare at her menacingly. She just glared right back, hands perched on her hips. He rubbed his jaw, surprised at the strength in her punch. She wasn't a small girl, probably about five foot eight inches. She wasn't stick thin, though she wasn't chubby either. Fit seemed the right word. So really it shouldn't have been too surprising that she could pack a punch, but in her Lolita dress she looked so innocent that it still seemed to come from nowhere.

Leora growled as he stared at her. "I don't like being viewed as weak. Remember that for the future. And stop staring!" She turned briskly and began walking again, her gait determined, though a little awkward.

Even though she said to stop staring and he realized he was doing it and that he should stop, Kylan couldn't help but continue to stare after her a moment as his hand finally dropped from his sore jaw to his side. With a sigh he shook his head to break his seemingly mesmerized gaze before he caught up to her. "Sorry. I don't think you're weak. Your glare just doesn't intimidate me when you're dressed like that."

"We're dropping the subject. I don't want to hear it because I'll just remain annoyed."


"I wouldn't continue it if I were you - unless you want me to punch you again." Her tone was one of warning as she deliberately kept her eyes forward.

"What happened to not being one to kill or injure someone unnecessarily, huh?" He asked, amusement tinting his voice once more.

Leora scoffed. "You're not someone. You're something. Besides, I have every right to change my views whenever I want."

"Right." Kylan rolled his eyes and looked over at her sourly. "I think you're a lot more violent than you let on."

"Maybe I am… or maybe I just like beating you up. What does it matter?" Her tone had grown from bored to amused as she looked over at him too from the corner of her eye.

"You just want to touch me. Admit it." He sounded cockier than ever as he puffed out his chest a little, drawing an unladylike snort from Leora.

"Oh yes, I simply can't keep my hands off you. Look at where they are right now! Oh… wait… they're at my side. Hmm…" She rolled her eyes and smirked a little before pointedly raising an eyebrow at him, tilting her head to the side, and then relaxing and turning forward.

"Yeah, yeah. One day you'll admit that I'm irresistible." Kylan replied with a toothy grin.

"You'll admit it first."

"That I'm irresistible? Already have!"

"That I am." Leora said with a hint of exasperation in her words. She knew that he knew what she meant. He wasn't that dense… or she hoped he wasn't. Her amber eyes drifted over to him involuntarily and she sighed almost wistfully before checking herself and averting her attention to the shining forest around them.

"Do you want me to find you irresistible? You know what that would mean, don't you?"He asked suggestively. Leora blushed and turned her face promptly away from him to hide the fact. "If you wanted me to find you irresistible it would mean you harbored desire for me."

"Or that I wanted to use you for some purpose which any sane person would refuse to perform, but which someone blinded by desire would eagerly complete." Her voice was hardly steady as she spoke, but she tried to sound confident.

"Mhmm. I wonder just what 'purpose' that would be." He chuckled and just barely dodged the forearm that swung at his abdomen heavily. "Getting defensive, are we?"

"Shut up!" She all but screeched in frustration. "Why are you being so… weird today? Stop. Please." He was driving her mad. Her heart was hammering in her chest at words. Words! It was unfair that he could unnerve her so easily, but she hardly affected him – she didn't even know how to.

"I'm being weird? This is how I usually am. I guess that makes me weird, but if that's the case it'll be a little hard for me to stop." Kylan mused. Leora gave out an aggravated sigh and marched forward, but Kylan had no trouble keeping up. "You're being weird too. What happened to the cold, quiet, innocent girl of yesterday?"

"What happened to the helpful, quiet boy of yesterday?" She retaliated without sparing Kylan a glance.

"I… don't know. I feel comfortable with you now. I suppose being attacked does that to people."

"We weren't really attacked. I mean… there was hardly a fight at all."

Kylan rolled his eyes, but nodded. "Yeah, yeah. He still came with the intent of kidnapping you which can be considered attacking."

"If you say so."

"I do say so." Kylan's voice was firm and agitated.

"Then I guess that's how it is." Leora replied equally annoyed. She turned toward him, pausing in her walk. Kylan stopped as well, squaring his shoulders off and facing her.

"You're infuriating, you know that?" He asked, his eyes locking with hers. It was the first time she really took in his eyes and the reflecting light of the forest made it all the easier. Their vibrant blue color stood out, framed by thick, dark lashes. If it hadn't been for the irritation clearly visible in them she'd have probably thought them gorgeous. Scratch that – even with the irritation she found them gorgeous. The irritation just pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind.

"No more than you are."

"At least twenty times more than I am!" Kylan protested angrily. Leora grinned and rolled her eyes dramatically.

"Keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep at night." She turned abruptly, flicked her hair at him, and then sauntered ahead. Kylan gaped a moment and then strode up to her and grabbed her by the arm.

"Don't you go flicking your hair at me!"

"Don't you go touching me!" She pulled away and sneered as she brushed her dress off.

"What was that for?"

"What was what for?" She asked in a bored tone.

"Why did you just brush your dress off like my touch was diseased?"

"Maybe it is." Her tone turned harsh to match his.

Kylan growled and turned his back to her as he walked off. "You know what… I don't like today's you. I think I'm going to leave you here."

"I can just follow you, you know." Her voice started indignant, but seeing his determined gait, her voice began to waver. He wouldn't really leave her, would he? She hurried to catch up, but he quickened his pace as well.

She wasn't scared to wander alone, but for some reason her chest tightened at the thought that he would leave her. She started jogging to keep up and he began running. Her chest tightened more and she ran as fast as she could, but he only ran faster. She tripped on a branch and went sprawling onto the forest floor. Looking up, she realized she couldn't see him anymore. Panic washed over Leora as she sat up more, only to find Kylan standing at her side. She jumped at his sudden appearance. "Don't scare me like that!"

"Aw, were you afraid to be left alone?"

"I meant appearing out of nowhere, idiot!" She muttered darkly, glaring up at him. He just smirked down at her, glee evident in the sparkle of his eyes. He extended a hand which she tried to refuse, but as soon as she tried to get up on her own he grabbed her arm and helped.

"I wouldn't really leave you." He said suddenly, looking at her with an expression that was clearly trying to display some form of sincerity.

"I bet." Leora looked away and brushed her dress off.

"I'm not that awful. I told you… I have a soft spot for damsels in distress."

"I'm not a damsel in distress!" She yelled, shoving him back a foot. Kylan's smirk grew and he shook his head.

"If you say so."

"I do!"

"Then that must be how it is." He grinned brightly as he turned her own sarcastic words from earlier against her. She frowned and narrowed her eyes, but as he laughed she turned away. "Oh come on now. If you get to be like that then so do I."

"I don't believe in equal rights." She said shortly, causing Kylan to laugh more. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close against his side.

"I feel like I've known you forever and we've only been acquainted a day or two. You must have one of those personalities."

"Is that a good or a bad thing?" She asked, her frown deepening.

"Good." He replied, his grin growing into a soft smile. He released her and started walking again, but slowly. Leora followed alongside him quietly, her eyes scanning around her and, more often than she'd admit, landing on the boy. "It's like we're old friends, you know?"

"Old friends fight as much as we do?"

"More so! Old friends are people who fight all the time, but when it comes down to it they care too much about each other to just part company."

"I care nothing for you." Leora denied.

"So why were you chasing after me?" He eyed her curiously, his smirk back on his lips.

"I… don't know." It was fairly true. She was chasing him because her chest felt tight and uncomfortable seeing him walk away, but why it felt like that was a mystery to her. She furrowed her brow and then sighed as she shook her head.

"I see…" Kylan looked her over and then shrugged. "Well, whatever the reason, you didn't seem to want me to leave. I think somewhere deep down you like me. You know I'm amazing. One day… you'll admit it." He chuckled as Leora rolled her eyes at him.

"The day pigs fly is the day I admit you're amazing."

"Can I hold you to that promise? Get it in writing perhaps?"

Leora shot him a withering look. "No."

"Too bad, I'm holding you to it anyway."

"Do what you want. Pigs won't fly so I don't have to worry about it."

"So you think…" Kylan replied cryptically, his smirk wider than ever. Leora looked at him curiously and then sighed when she couldn't judge if he was just trying to get a rise out of her or not.

They walked in relative silence after that. Leora just drowned herself in the beauty of the silver and gold forest around them while Kylan found himself entranced by the girl walking beside him. Before either of them knew it the forest ended abruptly at a river which separated the forest from softly rolling green hills and a town situated between said hills.

It was after midday as they reached the bridge which crossed over the river. By the time they entered the town it was clear to them that it had to be very close to evening. The sun was giving off more golden and orange light than white and the merchants were shouting out end of day sale prices. Leora took in the sights of some very strangely decorated cakes. One was in the shape of a chair that was cut in half, but still standing. She remembered how when she had first come to this world it had puzzled her, but now the strange things she found there seemed almost normal.

Kylan came up beside her and looked at the cake as well. The merchant came over and smiled warmly. Leora looked up and stiffened as she tried to hide her surprise. The woman seemed to be a cross between a rabbit and a human. Leora had seen strange things like that in the castle, but she still wasn't used to it. This world was so very different from her own. She forced a smile onto her own lips.

"How much for the cake?" Kylan's voice broke through the tension Leora felt. She looked over to him and tilted her head slightly to the side. "You like it, right?" She nodded mutely. "And it's food, right?" Once again, she nodded. He seemed to think those questions should tell her everything. "So how much is it?" He asked again, turning back to the rabbit woman.

"Five klera."

"I'll take it." He dug out five shiny, thin metal pieces from a pouch and handed them over to the merchant as she boxed up the cake and handed it to him. Kylan then passed striped box off to Leora with a smile and nodded to the woman before continuing on.

"Uh… thank you."

"No problem. We need to eat some time, don't we?"

"Usually it is imperative that humans eat, yes." Kylan nodded, as if everything made sense, but Leora frowned. "Cake isn't usually the most nutritious of foods though. You could have better spent that money on bread or something."

"You liked the cake, cake tastes good, and it's sustenance. I don't feel it was a waste at all."

"You have flawed logic, but alright."

"Do you not want the cake?"

"No, I do."

"Then stop arguing." He sighed and took the cake from her, but she snatched it back quickly. He grinned and raised his eyes to the sky a moment.

"I'm not arguing."


"I'm not." Leora said defensively.

"I said ok." Kylan replied with a shrug. Leora huffed and stayed quiet. "Do you want to stay the night here? I'm not sure how far away the next town is or when we'll reach it."

"I… um… If you want to stay here that's fine."

"I asked you because I'm fine sleeping in the forest. I want to know what you're comfortable doing."

"I'm ok sleeping in the forest."

"Then, do you want to continue?"

Leora nodded. "Yes." Kylan looked her over and then nodded as well.

"Alright. We'll keep going then." He paused for a moment and then stopped walking and turned to Leora a moment. "Just to warn you, the next forest isn't like the last. It's darker. It's stranger. There are creatures in it and not all of them are friendly."

The auburn haired girl looked up at him, worry clouding her eyes briefly before diminishing. "It's ok. I can handle it. I'm not a baby."

"Of course you're not. I just thought you should be warned."

"It's fine. Let's go." She started walking again, leaving Kylan to stare after her retreating form before shaking himself out of his daze and running to catch up.

His words weren't anything worth worrying over for long, or so she thought until she saw the forest. When she saw it, Leora had second thoughts about her decision. The trees were warped and there was darkness just meters in. The canopy overhead was so thick not an inch of sky was visible. No noise emitted from the tree line, which was honestly creepier than if she had heard animals prowling. She could see a faint path, which looked like it wasn't often tread, stretching out before Kylan and herself. She swallowed a lump growing in her throat and unconsciously moved closer beside Kylan as they started in.

She wouldn't lie and say she wasn't apprehensive about this length of the journey. Who wouldn't be nervous to enter a pitch black forest where the wind stopped at the entrance, leaving the space between the trees stale and stuffy? Kylan lighted a lantern as he walked beside her. It helped, but not much. The light seemed muted by the oppressive dark.

"Are you sure you're ok with this?" He asked, looking over to her with concern etched on his face – a face that looked more handsome now that it was thrown into sharp relief by the golden glow of the lantern flame.

"Yeah, it's fine." Leora nodded and tried to put on a smile, but gathered that it wasn't very convincing as Kylan eyed her suspiciously and then sighed. "Really."

"I don't believe you, but since you won't admit it… we'll keep going." He murmured, his eyes staying locked ahead on the overgrown trail. "If you feel uncomfortable, let me know and we'll turn around, ok?"

"I said it's fine. I mean it. I'll be ok." Leora assured him, while hoping to also assure herself. Kylan grunted, but didn't argue with her. Instead he moved closer until his arm brushed against hers occasionally as they walked. She took it to mean he wanted to remind her he was beside her. It was comforting; especially as the deeper in they got, the weirder the forest got. The trees became gnarled and Leora could have sworn that more than once a watchful pair of eyes peered at her from out of the darkness.

It was absolutely unnerving. It even caused a shiver to run up her spin, which did not go unnoticed by Kylan. "Are you sure you're ok?" He asked, clearly exasperated with her.

"I'm fine. I'm just… cold."

"We should just turn around and worry about this tomorrow." He turned and then stopped in his tracks abruptly. Leora turned too and stiffened, her hand darting out and gripping onto Kylan's forearm.

The way they had just come had changed entirely. The trail was gone. Instead there was a fat old tree behind them and in that tree sat a man… or was it a cat? It was a cat with a man's body. Leora had been caught so off guard that she couldn't help the look of terror that passed over her features. The cat-man laughed bitterly and leaned forward. Then she noticed how his eyes glow a soft yellow – his eyes were the ones that watched from the shadows!

"Now, what are you two doing here?" He drawled, his eyes masked with mischief.

"We're simply passing through." Kylan replied hesitantly.

"Passing through what?"

"The forest." Kylan said, as if it should be obvious.

"What forest?" The cat-man cocked his head in interest.

"This one." Kylan muttered, obviously thinking the creature was an idiot.

"How do you intend to do that without a path? You should follow a path you know."

"We are following a path."

"I don't see a path."

Kylan started to retort, but Leora tugged on his arm as she looked behind them - the way they had been heading. He looked where she did and his eyes widened as he saw the path was gone. A wall of trees stood behind them instead. "Where did the path go?!" He asked, turning back to the creature angrily.

"What path?"

"Don't be an idiot! Where did the path go that we were just on?"

"I don't know."

"How do we get back to it?"

"Well… you could go left." He pointed left and a small path appeared. "I wouldn't recommend it though."

"Is there no other way?"

"You could go right." He pointed right and a path appeared there too. "Of course… that way really isn't much better."

"Is there any way that is good to get back to the path?"

"It depends on which path you want."

"The path that leads out of the forest."

"They all lead out of the forest."

"The path that leads out of the forest to a safe place close to the southern mountains."

"What about it?"

"How do we get there?!" Kylan shouted.

The cat-man smirked. "Get where?"

Kylan stepped forward angrily and the creature started laughing. Leora grabbed Kylan by the arm to stop him. The cat-man was disappearing before their eyes.

"Wait!" She called. His eyes and grin lingered though the rest of him was gone.


"How can we get to the path that leads to a safe place near the southern mountains?"

The disembodied grin grew wider. "Just use the door."

"Use what door?"

"The one in the tree, obviously." He laughed - a sound that chilled Leora to the bone, and then the grin and eyes vanished. She looked to the tree and saw that there was suddenly a door there. She furrowed her brow and moved forward. Kylan grabbed her arm before she touched it. He moved in front of her and opened it himself. It creaked and then slowly revealed a dark hillside with mountains in the distance.

"This wasn't here before, right?" He asked slowly, not turning his eyes away for fear that the door would disappear.

"It wasn't." Leora confirmed. He nodded and then took a deep breath as he stepped through. Leora followed quickly. The two stepped out onto the hillside and turned to see nothing but more hillside behind them.

"Uh… well… that was an experience."

"Yeah…" Leora looked to Kylan with a worried expression. He forced a smile and then chuckled and sighed. "I guess that's why they call this world Wonder. It's full of awe inspiring things."

Leora nodded slowly and then put on a weak smile herself. "Awe inspiring… if not a little nerve wrecking." Kylan laughed more strongly at her words and then took a deep breath.

"Let's find somewhere to rest then, shall we?" He asked, turning to scan their surroundings. "Or we could just stay here for the night. I don't see a town… so…"

"That's fine. Let's just rest here. We should get a good night's rest, right?"

"Yeah." Kylan sat on the grass and was quickly joined by Leora. She placed the striped cake box on her lap and then opened it. She offered it to Kylan who broke off a chunk of cake and took a bite of it. Leora followed his example and smiled as the sugar passed over her tongue.


"Yum indeed." Kylan agreed, grabbing another chunk after finishing his first. They ate half the cake and then saved the second half for the next day.

Leora curled up, using Kylan's cloak as a blanket and her arms as a pillow. Kylan lay on his back, staring up at the sky with his hands folded under his head for a while, but once he was sure Leora was asleep he too allowed himself to relax and drift off until he was rudely awoken.

His eyes shot open to see six guards standing around him. Leora was gone from his side. He stood hastily and found a spear pointed at his throat. Freezing on the spot, his eyes scanned the areas behind the guards and saw two guards harassing Leora as they tried to get shackles on her wrists. He pushed the spear away and surged forward, but his attempt to get past the guards was short lived as he was hit in the head from behind. Blackness filled in his vision as he stumbled forward and then fell forward with a grunt. The last thing he saw was the shackles successfully encircling Leora's wrists and the pieces of cake that were strewn at her feet where she had dropped the cake box in her struggles.