Chapter 1: A Knight's Tale
I felt myself falling, a straight drop downward with a blackness that wrapped
around me and roared in my ears, my own screaming the only other sound. I never
felt the impact of hitting the floor, but the world erupted into grey and then,
I then awoke sometime later amid a pile of books. From where I lay they reminded me of skyscrapers stabbing into the sky, but instead of filling me with awe, there was just confusion. Frowning, I slowly pushed myself up, my elbow bumping into a stack that toppled over onto the floor. Before the terror of falling, all I could remember were the sound of horns blaring and bright lights coming towards me, as well as a weird lingering smell of poppies, but beyond that my memory was fuzzy. Rubbing my eyes, the other scenery around me started to become clearer. The pile of books walling me in like a castle had been placed in the middle of two long bookshelves, and no matter which direction I turned the shelves seemed to stare back at me.
“What…where am I?” I asked aloud, getting up from the ground and causing more books to slide off their neat piles.
I walked towards one shelf and pulled a random book off it, noting its blue color, with silver writing on the front and a picture of an ocean on the cover. Turning it over, I noticed the book had a price tag on it.
“Huh…how did I end up in a bookstore?”
Walking further down the aisle, what I initially thought was one giant wall of shelving turned out to be divided into smaller sections and aisles. At entering a new aisle, I saw a table in the distance with built in bookshelves surrounding it. Heading towards it, I passed by all the rows and couldn’t help being impressed by how many there were.
“This place must be huge,” I whispered.
I don’t know why I whispered; it was completely silent, and nothing could be heard but my own feet thumping on the green carpeted floor. Maybe I secretly feared that someone would overhear me, but I had nothing to worry about. It seemed a lot quieter than the bookstores I had been to for sure, and the store did have an eerie quality to it because of the dimmed lighting, but it shouldn’t have made me so nervous.
As I reached the table, I noticed that several others surrounded it, and at one of them sat a girl with a stack of books next to her. She had long, wavy auburn hair, and she looked like she was around nineteen or twenty in age. Usually I didn’t notice what girls chose to wear, but her outfit caught my attention. It suited her well. She wore a simple blue dress with white polka dots on it and black tights underneath. Red, pointy flats adorned her feet, and as I approached her I noticed that she stared intensely at the table, a sad expression etched onto her face.
“Is everything alright?” I found myself asking her.
Her head shot up when she heard my voice. Staring up at me with a shocked expression on her face, her hazel eyes widened in fear and her mouth formed a small “O.”
“Who are you?” she asked.
I approached her table carefully, trying to conjure up my name. Images flickered across my vision of get togethers in dorm rooms with friends, and who I thought was my mom yelling up to me as I listened to music in my room. A muffled name kept ringing in my ears, then it came to me. “David. And you?”
“Emma. Why are you here?”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t be?”
“Well I just find it weird since this is my dream and all. I’ve never had an actual person with a name pop up in here.”
“What are you talking about? I’m a real person you know,” I said. Or at least, I thought I was real. Memories at least tried to filter back into my brain, a lot of the most recent being of college; of dimly lit lecture halls and an off campus apartment. My apartment?
“Are you now? Do you know how you got here then?” she said, smirking slightly.
“No, but just because I don’t remember, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t a person before this moment,” I said, getting annoyed by her accusation.
“Fine, fine, I’ll believe you. For now. This is all just very weird.”
“You’re telling me. Why do you think this is even a dream?” I asked.
She sighed, reclining back in her seat to stare up at me. “The same thing happens every time. I regain consciousness, get this sudden urge to look for a book, and go roaming along the shelves in search of one, but get frustrated every time. In vain I’ll try to pick up random books—hoping it’s the one I’m looking for—only to be transported into the book not long after opening it. Every story is so strange, and as I try to get through the new world something always happens. I either get stabbed, fall off a cliff, die in some other horrific way…and as soon as I snap out of it, I’m back here among the books.”
“Well…that sucks,” I replied lamely, not sure what else to say.
Emma laughed mirthlessly. “No kidding. What’s strange is that I’ve searched this whole bookstore for any sign of life, but the cash registers are always empty, and I haven’t seen any employees wandering around here. Sometimes I bump into strange creatures or random characters that come out of the stories, but besides that, there’s been nobody. I’ve even tried to leave through the front door, but the door is locked. I just want to wake up so all of this can stop.”
“Really? Are you sure it wasn’t just one of those really heavy doors?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve tried it multiple times. What’s worse is that I have no clue how long I’ve been here, but something isn’t right about all of this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know this is a dream, but I don’t know why it’s lasted as long as it has. I need to find a way to get out of here, and I have a feeling the only way out is to find the right book,” she announced, getting up from her seat.
When she went to stand next to me, I noticed she reached to about my chest. She must have been taller for a girl because I vaguely remember being tall myself. As she gazed up at me with a serious look on her face, my eyebrows furrowed in confusion. There was a part of me that didn’t want to believe Emma. Mainly because I felt so solid standing there, with more memories taking shape in my mind, that it didn’t feel like a dream.
At the same time, the way everything around me looked kind of blurred and faded on the edges reminded me of a lot of my own dreams. The surreal feeling of being solid but also distant, of not knowing what to do but knowing it would be better to let it play out took hold of me, and I felt uneasy. Whatever happened, I knew it would be better to go along with her so the uneasiness would go away. I didn’t have the energy to argue with her, a total stranger, anyways.
“Well, I can help you look for it if you want. I probably won’t be able to get out myself if I don’t help find this book,” I said after a while.
Emma’s face brightened at that idea. “Really? You would help me?”
“Sure. We would probably find it faster anyways if we worked together.”
“Awesome! Thank you so much,” she cried, pulling me into a quick hug.
I was a little taken aback by the suddenness of it, but I hugged her back, surprised by how nice it felt, and how real. When we broke apart, she turned back to the table and gestured to the books that were there.
“These are the stories I’ve already been in. Every time I make a failed attempt, the book ends up here. As you can see, I’ve already tried to go into ten books.”
“Wow, that’s a lot already. How are we even going to know which book it is? There are probably over a million books in here,” I said, running a hand through my dark brown hair.
“I don’t know, intuition I guess? It’s the only thing we have to go off of right now. Just follow me, I’ll lead the way through here. I already know this place pretty well by now,” she said, pulling me with her towards one of the shelves.
I let her drag me along. She seemed confident enough, and I really had no clue how to navigate through there. A trance seemed to come over as soon as she approached the shelves, and she slid along almost as if in a fervor, stopping on occasion to read the spines of each book. As we walked I tried to help her the best way I could, but I really didn’t know what kind of book she was even looking for. Was it a science fiction book, fantasy, general fiction, romance, historical?
She didn’t seem to know what to look for herself, because she kept grunting every time she thought she had the right book. To try to keep her temper down, and because of my curiosity, I decided to ask her something.
“So how do you think you ended up in this dream? If this is a dream I mean.”
Emma frowned. “I actually don’t know. I could have sworn I was driving before this, but suddenly I woke up and I was here.”
“Huh, that’s like me. Interesting,” I mumbled.
Emma turned to me then, her eyes boring into my own. “Maybe we’re somehow connected,” she said.
“Maybe. There’s no way to know right now though, is there?”
“No, I guess not.”
She then stopped suddenly, and stared intensely at the bookshelf in front of her. Finally, she pulled out a big yellow book from the shelf, and clutched it tightly in her hand. I looked over her shoulder and saw that the book’s title read A Knight’s Tale. Personally, I never heard of the story, but Emma smiled at it, rubbing a hand over the cover fondly.
“My mom read this story to me when I was a kid. I used to think it was very romantic since the knight risked his life for the maiden he loved. She was captured by the townspeople, and was going to be fed to a dragon as a sacrifice so that their town would be spared from its rampage, but the knight swooped in and saved her at the last minute.”
“Wow, that’s really cliché,” I said. “That’s like the tale of every knight story ever.”
Emma glared at me. “Shut up. I liked it as a kid okay? It made me happy.”
“Fine, I’ll stop. So, do you want to go in it?” I asked.
Emma pondered over it, staring at the book for the longest time. After a while she just sighed and nodded. “I think there’s a reason I found this book. I mean, it’s a book from my childhood and it somehow ended up in my dream. That must mean it’s important, right?”
“I guess so,” I said. “I mean, what do we really have to lose?”
“Then that settles it. Let’s go! Grab onto my hand. I don’t think you’ll be able to go into the story with me otherwise,” she said, outstretching her free hand for me to take.
I hesitated for a second—not sure if I should follow her—but eventually I plucked up the courage to place her hand tightly in mine. Emma smiled at me and opened the book with her free hand. The two of us turned to the first page of the book and began reading. We probably hadn’t read more than a paragraph before I felt us being sucked into the book like a vacuum cleaner picking up dirt, a tight, wrenching feeling in my chest that threatened to suck all the air out of me, and soon disappeared into the story.
When my senses returned to me, I found myself lying on the ground, staring up into a blue sky. Emma’s head loomed over mine, a grin on her face. Her clothes were different now; she wore a simple medieval styled dress with long sleeves in an emerald color that went all the way to her ankles. Glancing down, I was shocked to find myself dressed in a suit of armor with a crest of a dragon covering the front of it.
“Well this is interesting,” I said, hitting a hand on the armor to feel how strong it was.
“You’re a knight. Ha, you actually look nice like that,” Emma giggled.
I rolled my eyes. “Sure. So what are we supposed to do now?” I asked, looking around at where we ended up.
The two of us sat in some kind of forest, with light barely filtering through the trees to illuminate the place with sunshine. The ground itself was thick with nettles and dirt, and the whole area had a strong, earthy smell.
Emma frowned. “I really don’t know. I wonder if we’re replacing the characters that were already here,” she muttered to herself, her eyebrows furrowing.
“Well every time I’ve been in a story, I always end up replacing one of the characters that was already here. I wonder if we’re supposed to play the maiden and the knight.”
“I said I think we may be playing the part of the maiden and the knight,” she repeated. That time she rolled her eyes.
“No, I understood that much, I meant what does that mean for us? And better yet, why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” I asked, glaring at her.
Emma was about to answer when we heard something rustle nearby. The two of us stopped to listen, our eyes widening in fear.
“What was that?” Emma whispered, moving closer to me.
Before I could even speak, a group of about twenty people jumped out from behind the trees and ambushed us. All of them carried some kind of weapon; either pitchforks, axes, torches or swords from what I could tell, and all of them wore similar medieval styled clothing to us.
“Sacrifice her! Sacrifice is the only way!” they yelled.
“What’s going on?” Emma asked.
“Shouldn’t you know? You read this before,” I said, my heart speeding up in my chest when I noticed the angry expressions on the people’s faces. My hands dug deep into the dirt under me to prevent them from shaking, but it didn’t help much.
“Yeah, but it’s been a while,” Emma said, trying to huddle against me.
Instinctively I began to pull her behind me, but the ambushers grabbed a hold of her arms and started tugging her up from the ground and away from me.
“Stop! Leave me alone,” she screamed, trying to yank away from them.
“Hey, she told you to leave her alone! Respect her wishes,” I said, fumbling to get up and get her out of their clutches.
“You know this is the only way to save our town, Eric,” one of the people yelled at me as they continued to drag her away. “She must be sacrificed to the dragon!”
“Help me! Please don’t let them do this to me,” Emma pleaded.
She looked absolutely terrified, and I wanted to help her out the best I could. Noticing a sword hanging from a strap around my hips, I pulled it out from its sheath and brandished it at them.
“Let her go!” I said, trying to intimidate them.
In truth, I had no clue how to use a sword, but I couldn’t let them know that. The others ignored me, but as they walked away from me, I lunged for the closest person, a middle aged man. Sadly, he actually knew how to defend himself, and I soon found myself falling on my ass back onto the dirty ground. The armor didn’t make it feel much better either. I scrambled to get up fast enough to keep up with them, but the armor weighed me down because of how unused to it I was.
They fled with Emma by the time I got myself up off the ground. I stood there in disbelief, staring off in the direction they had taken her. That was bad, really bad. What was I supposed to do? Kicking at the ground in anger, when I looked up again I saw a boy running up to me. He looked about a few years younger than me—probably around fifteen or sixteen years old—with curly blond hair and blue eyes. When he stopped in front of me, I noticed he was only a couple of inches shorter than myself, and he had a panic stricken look on his face.
“Did you see it Eric? They took her,” the boy panted.
Eric? My name wasn’t Eric, but I remembered one of the townspeople calling me that too, and remembered what Emma said. Then I realized that like an actor, I had to role-play the knight. That must have been his name.
“Where are they going with her?” I asked.
The boy frowned at me. “To the dragon on top of the hill. The one perched up there for three days now demanding the sacrifice of a maiden, remember?”
“Oh, yeah I remember,” I lied. “Who are you again?”
“Cedric. I know I am only a lowly squire, but I would like my name to be remembered every once in a while,” Cedric said, an annoyed expression on his face.
Well that was awkward. Without meaning to I managed to insult the only non-hostile person I met in the story so far, so I had to make things better.
“I’m sorry,” I said, looking down at the ground.
“It is fine, sir,” Cedric said, turning away from me.
“I just…I don’t know what to do,” I admitted.
Cedric sighed then, kicking a stone away from him. “Well, all we can do is try and stop them. We need to intercept them before they feed Mina to the dragon. There has to be a more sensible way to appease it.”
“How about we just kill it?” I suggested.
Cedric gasped in horror. “Did the events of yesterday get completely wiped out of your mind? We already tried that, and it almost burned down our whole town.”
I winced, imagining people screaming in terror as their houses burned down and the dragon cackled down at them. For not knowing the details of the story, I felt a little sympathetic to the townspeople. They only wanted to quell the dragon’s anger, but sacrifice was never the best option. I had seen too many movies and read too many books about that to know.
“Well either way I’m going after Emma. I mean, Mina. I’ll take on the dragon myself if I have to,” I said, waving my sword around for emphasis.
Cedric smiled sadly at me. “You must really love her, huh?”
I blushed. “Let’s hurry.”
Cedric just grinned. We started running in the direction the others had taken off in, my armor weighing me down the whole way there. I wanted to take it off, because it hindered me too much as I hurried to keep up with Cedric.
Soon the town came into sight, and I finally understood what Cedric talked about earlier. Most of the houses we passed were either utterly destroyed or scorched, and some simply looked like they had been swatted by a giant dragon paw. People lingered about the streets moaning in despair, and I couldn’t help feeling bad about their plight, even though I knew it was just a story.
In the distance I could see the big hill Cedric mentioned, and gasped when I noticed its occupier. The dragon was huge, with glowing yellow eyes and a ferocious set of fangs that dripped with crimson blood. Its scales appeared as mostly purple, but on some parts it had a red hue, and the spikes that went all the way from the top of its head to its tail also shone red. I could see its wings spread out beside it, and looking at them made me realize the enormity of it. We were really going to be in trouble if we didn’t save Emma in time.
“Where are the other townspeople?” I asked, not seeing them anywhere.
“Over there. They are heading towards the hill,” Cedric said, gesturing to its base.
I saw them carrying Emma towards the dragon as she struggled against their hold. “Hurry then,” I said, increasing my speed.
Cedric simply followed. By then the townspeople threw Emma onto the ground and yelled dramatically at the dragon, asking it to spare them now that they had a maiden for it. I rolled my eyes at their theatrics. Trying to act unworthy in front of it wasn’t going to make things any better for them. The dragon glared down at them, the glare turning into a sinister grin when it noticed Emma. She backed away from it, but the townspeople kept pushing her back towards the dragon.
Cedric and I reached the crowd of people and began to shove through them to get to Emma. We eventually broke through to the front of the crowd after getting elbowed in the face more than once, and startled the dragon by joining Emma, but after the initial shock it actually laughed at us.
“Foolish knight! Did you honestly think you could save her singlehandedly? Even your fellow townspeople would rather have her be sacrificed to me than try and defeat me,” the dragon snarled, staring down at us.
For a split second I seriously thought I was going to piss my pants, but I composed myself and said, “They may take the coward’s way out of this, but that’s not my style. Surely there has to be another way of handling this. I’m pretty sure a cow would fill you up much better than she would.”
The townspeople glared at me at that suggestion, but the dragon just growled.
“I want human blood you fool! Nothing tastes sweeter than a virgin’s blood,” the dragon hissed.
Emma blushed crimson when it said that. “Um actually—” Emma began to say.
“Silence! I want my food, and I want it now! Step aside knight or you shall die too,” it roared, advancing on us.I tightened my grip on the sword, and after letting out a battle cry, charged at it. That was when the dragon swatted me out of the way, and I slammed into a boulder. Then everything went black.