Status: once upon a time, there was a co-write...

Broken Illusion


Sharp pain tore through her feet with every step. Kira bit her lip and fought a grimace off of her face in case Thane noticed. They had been walking for three days, keeping to the trees and off the main paths in case the queen had people searching for them. The thin servant's shoes Kira wore were not made for such a trek.

"You all right, Princess?" Thane called over his shoulder. "You seem to be lagging a bit behind."

"I'm fine," Kira said sharply, forcing her weary feet to move faster. She drew up beside her guide, shoulders back and head held high with righteous indignation. "And stop calling me princess," she added, shooting him a glare. Her aggravation only grew when Thane laughed at her. Kira jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

"We're almost to a town," Thane said.

"This is good news?" Kira asked. "What if someone recognizes you?"

He waved a hand dismissively. "They won't. It's not a town I travel to often."

Kira felt a desire to argue and ask more questions, but she held her tongue and walked on in silence. The shadows were lengthening, shrouding the world in twilight as they entered the small village nestled among the hills. Despite her misgivings, Kira's spirits lifted when Thane secured them rooms in the quaint inn. Despite its size and location, the town was nearly as modern as the castle and she was relieved to not have to heat her own water. She stood under pounding, scalding spray for a long time, scrubbing her hair and skin with floral soaps until she was fully satisfied that the grime of the road was washed away. She barely had time to slip into a night dress that Petra had packed for her before tumbling into bed and falling fast asleep.


The world swirled with gray-violet fog. Her steps made no noise as she walked along a path dimly lit by the three moons overhead. The Dream Realm. Kira sighed. She hated looking into other people's dreams, but she had no control over the annoying habit.

"Most people would be grateful, you know. Most people would kill to know what others dream about."

"Hello, Meldry," Kira said dully. Meldry was a spirit. Sometimes they got trapped here when they refused to go on to...wherever dead people went. Meldry was a girl, about Kira's age. She regarded Kira now with disapproving eyes that had once been dark brown, but now were nearly colorless, retaining only a little of their former color. The same could be said of Meldry's hair, and her pale skin was bathed in a bluish glow and was almost transparent.

"It's been a while since you came to see me," Meldry said, crossing her arms.

"I've told you a hundred times, I can't control when I do or don't come here. If I could-"

"Yeah I know, you'd leave other people's dreams alone." Meldry heaved a dramatic sigh. "I don't understand you, Kira. You have a gift."

Kira rolled her eyes. This was a conversation she had had with Meldry a thousand times. Not only did Kira not like spying on other people's dreams; which ranged from embarrassing to terrifying; but there was much more to the Dream Realm than the subconscious minds of the sleeping. All sorts of spirits and other things not quite of the living world roamed this realm, and not all were as benevolent and harmless as Meldry. Kira closed her eyes, tuning out Meldry's prattling, and took several slow, deep breaths. Sometimes she didn't make it past this point. Sometimes, if she focused hard enough, she didn't get sucked into a dream, or drawn further into the Dream Realm where the monsters lurked.

At first, she felt that familiar sensation in her stomach; like someone yanking a string. She panicked and her eyes flew open. She soared upward, and Meldry leaped up to grab onto her arm. Her ghostly face was filled with excitement. At least they were headed back toward the village and not further into the mist. It appeared Kira was in for another restless night.

Sunlight streamed through the window, touching Kira's eyelids. Groaning, she flipped over and buried her face in her pillow. She must have seen the dreams of nearly everyone in town last night and learned far more about them than she ever wanted to know. Thane hammered on her door.

"Are you alive in there?"

"I'm coming!" Kira flung a pillow at the door then dragged herself out of bed, winding her black curls into a braid and donning soft black pants and a pair of knee-high gray boots that Petra had packed in her bag.

"Should've looked in here sooner," Kira grumbled, thinking of her aching feet. She descended the stairs to find Thane waiting impatiently by the door. His frown faltered when he saw her striding towards him but she couldn't read his look and then he was muttering something about women and their beauty sleep. They stepped outside to discover that the seasons had shifted again, and there was a bite in the air as vibrant red and gold leaves littered the streets. Kira and Thane both slipped into warm cloaks before setting off.

"Pull your hood up," Thane muttered after a while. Kira threw him a dubious look. "Why?" She caught sight of the blacksmith across the street, and cringed. She had witnessed his dream last night. It involved the innkeeper's daughter and would have made a prostitute blush. The situation was made worse by Meldry, who had laughed so hard she fell over while Kira covered her ears and squeezed her eyes shut until she had been yanked into another dream. Kira hurriedly turned away from the blacksmith, cheeks hot.

"Just do it," Thane said.

"Stop ordering me around," she snapped.

"You're attracting too much attention," Thane said. "Just put your damn hood on."

"How am I-"

"Kira, do you want news of you being here to reach the queen? None of these people will know who you are, but the queen knows you. If she hears about someone looking like you being here she'll know where to start searching for us."

Kira pulled her hood up, her heart in her throat. The two of them moved swiftly, soon leaving the village behind and ending up in the woods again. A twig snapped and the bushes rustled behind them. Thane shoved Kira behind him as he turned, sword drawn. Kira pulled free the dagger that Petra had given her, breath held. Could her stepmother's henchmen have already found them?

"I'm sure they went this way," a voice said. It didn't sound like one of the queen's guards. Thane crept in the direction of the voices.

"Are you sure you're not holding that map upside-down?"

"What do I look like, an idiot?"

"Is that a trick question?"

"Shut up, the both of you."

"We know you're there," Thane called out, and the arguing voices became startled yelps and three figures fell out onto the path. Shouting and cursing, they scrambled to their feet.

"I told you two all your squabbling would attract attention," one of them scolded.

"You''re dwarves!" Kira exclaimed, throwing her hood off and marveling at the three miniscule men in front of her.

"Bless my beard!" the elder of the three gasped. His long white beard nearly reached the ground and was tied into several braids with beaded leather cords. He took Kira's hands in his and stared up at her with wonder in his dark gray eyes. "It's you," he breathed. "I have been looking for you, child."

"Do you work for the queen?" Kira asked, alarmed. She tried to pull her hands away.

"No," the dwarf assured her. "We most certainly do not work for the queen, my dear. My name is Maksim, and my traveling companions are Leit and Fenen. I was sent a vision of you, from a powerful and trusted source. I have been searching since the sign came, and now, after all these years, here you are." He beamed.

"Why, exactly, have you been searching for me, Maksim?" Kira asked warily.

"Because you are chosen for a most important destiny. You are the one who is going to save this kingdom." He gave Kira a solemn look while her heart thundered in her chest. "You, Kira, are the one who is going to defeat the queen."