Mandy washed ashore. The sun roused her awake gently like a mother’s kiss. Her graduation robes were covered in a strange sparkling sand. When she looked closer it appeared as though each grain was a tiny diamond that shimmered brilliantly in the warm light. She slowly got up on her knees and looked around pleasantly dazed. She let the sounds of the sea wash over her, the seagulls’ cry, the waves lullaby, and the sound of a gentle breeze as it passed through coastal trees. She closed her eyes and almost fell back asleep.
“Heavens! This isn’t the place for a princess to be slumbering. Unless you are under some witchery. Come now, we mustn’t tarry long, these are shores of the Poison Eaters.”
Mandy gazed up at a handsome stranger with blond hair. He was clad in golden armor from head to toe and rode a white horse. She knew instantly who it was from her days spent reading. It was Prince Chad Goldwind, of the rich and illustrious Goldwind Kingdom of Eversparkle. A sharp realization hit her like an arrow to the head. She was in the book. She was somehow sucked into the book.
“I’m in the book! Just like how Julia got magically transported there in volume one!” she shouted out at the horsed man.
“Just as I thought, it’s that drunken witch of the Westwind Woods. Always enchanting the most beautiful of the young princesses to disappear or throw themselves into the sea. I’m glad I caught you when I did, child! Now come with me and we will return to my kingdom before these Poison Eaters show their cowardly faces!”
Chad’s horse reared up to the sun and he threw out an open hand to Mandy. She was stunned and speechless, and Chad was one of her favorite characters in the book, so she grabbed his hand immediately. He pulled her up on to his horse in a fluid motion and spurred the beast to haste.
“Hold on tight, maiden princess. You are safe now. For I am Chad Goldwind of the Goldwind Kingdom!” The horse jumped over a series of sand dunes and onto a roughly paved trail. After riding along the coast a good distance, the horse slowed down and Chad dismounted. He walked over to a hedge along the trail and began picking berries.
“Here, eat these, you must be starving. These are Sugarberries, they will give you energy and clear you mind, and sometimes give you visions of the future.”
As Mandy took the morsels from Chad’s gloved hand, memories rushed back to her. She was deeply infatuated with Chad from the books, and was a huge fan of all of his adventures. He had slain the Bullbeast that terrorized Gnomes of the Mudmore Caves. He had won the heart of the most beautiful Fish Queen of the southern oceans, only to be heartbroken on his wedding day when she was slain by her jealous pirate-lover, Poison Eater Peter. That must be why he was in this realm, she thought, he was hunting him down for revenge! Mandy swooned audibly.
“I fear that you may faint, maiden!” Chad gasped after hearing Mandy’s cry and seeing the dreamy expression in her eyes.
“I must say, I fear for your safety,” he continued. “Never have I met such a beautiful woman. My eyes are like flowers unfurling at their first sight of the sun. My heart is some overgrown forest, tangled in the vines of despair. Upon seeing you a wildfire burns away the stagnant weeds, revealing an ancient monument of love!”
Mandy couldn’t grasp what she was hearing. She felt dizzy. Not only was she breathing the air of Eversparkle, the world she only dreamed about all her life before falling asleep, but the man of her dreams was falling in love with her at first sight. This was all too much to take in. She felt as light and exhilarated as a humming bird. It was all happening so fast.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Chad Goldwimp,” a dark and brooding voice came from the nearby beach. A man dress in a black tunic and cape appeared with a rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other.
“Poison Eater Peter! You worm!” Chad reached for his sword by the sound of bow strings being pulled made him freeze.
“If you move an inch more you will have enough poison in you veins to kill a Whale God,” Peter approached and removed a black mask. “I’m surprised you recognized me, you old wretch.”
Mandy gazed on another man, who in her eyes, was even more striking than Chad. He had silver hair that curled down to his shoulders and a perfectly groomed moustache. He was younger, but his face had perfectly placed scars to give him the appearance of a weathered adventurer. Poison Eater Peter was only a minor side-character in the book, so she never considered what he might look like. He glanced at Mandy and gave her a wink.
“What do you say I finally get what I deserve, Chad,” he said as he approached Mandy. “You stole away the heart of the one I loved most, and I shall steal away something of beauty from you as well.”
“Don’t you dare touch her you scoundrel!” Chad erupted with anger. “Besides, you have that habit of killing what you think you love. Extinguishing hearts that never belonged to you!”
A shadow passed over Peter’s face. “You would never understand how much I loved Barcella (the Fish Queen, Mandy noted).”
“Then let’s settle this for good,” Peter continued. “A duel. If I win, I will take this fair maiden of yours as my bride, if I lose, then you may marry her in your ruins you call a castle!”
Before Peter could finish his statement Chad had already unsheathed his sword and thrust at him. In a puff of smoke, however, Peter vanished. Chad could hear Peter’s gang of bandits laugh around him. This was an old trick. Peter, being a Poison Eater, was always bleeding from his ailments. The price to pay for being immune to the world’s poisons. He examined the dirt floor before seeing a tiny trail of blood leading to a nearby outcropping of rocks.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve fought, Peter, I know your slimy tricks,” Chad said as he raised his sword, preparing for the kill.
“Then you still haven’t learned the difference between blood and berry juice!” Peter shouted as he appeared behind Chad with the spin of a cape. He thrust a dagger deep between Chad’s armor plating. A hollow gasp escaped Chads lips and he stumbled towards Mandy with the dagger still in his back.
“I love you,” he said. “You must flee, but if I somehow survive, come and find me and we will be married in the old Church of Goldwind,” he then let out and terrible groan and collapsed face forward into the sand. Peter’s gang cheered and he bowed to his audience. Mandy was hyperventilating. She thought back on her health and nutrition class in college. About ways to slow her heartbeat, methods to control her breathing, but all that she could think of was curling up into a ball and crying. In her dizziness all she could manage was to hold on to the horse as it bolted away from the scene of violence. She closed her eyes, and eventually lost her grip of the horse’s mane. Everything went dark.
She awoke to the sound of a crackling fire. There was an old woman hunched over a small cauldron. She was clothed in a simple monk’s tunic and had a large gourd flask that hung from her side. She occasionally laughed to herself and drank from the gourd.
“Where am I?” Mandy asked.
“Eversparkle, child. The land of dreams, love, and absolute fools,” she cackled back.