The handsome prince rode swiftly to the girl's rescue, almost too late. Before she realized it, Belle was falling into the spell, trapped between the pages of her book.

"Ah, you're home, could you—"

"Sorry, Papa; I'm busy."

Day in, day out…always the same excuse. The only change in her appearance was the leather-bound material she held between her hands.

She grabbed Gaston's arm, reaching for the book he'd taken so quickly.

"Give me that!" He'd refused, claiming what she held was dangerous, and threw her treasure into the mud.

The dark brown stain obscured the beginning of chapter twenty-three. She was infuriated; the spell was marred.

But still, she kept pushing, devouring book after book. Titles passed in a blur through her ravenous hands…the machine kept going.

The prince called out for his beauty, but she was nowhere to be found. She was trapped in quicksand where no one could find her. Her screams of agony went unheard.

Now she was imprisoned, never to see blue skies or her father again. Her life was gone; she lay in bed, listless, refusing food and drink. Her jailer paced outside her bedroom, concerned for her condition. Not until his servants cajoled him into letting her outside did she crack.

The fresh air hit her face like brick. The pain of breathing cold, sharp air stung her eyes, made them water.

He was ugly, horribly scarred…the mud had sunk in too deep. The book was ruined.

She cried herself to sleep that night, knowing that her dreams were dead; there was no prince to save her. The sun could shine, she could eat, sleep, exist…but there was no life.

He brought her to the library a week later. When her eyes opened, she saw trillions of tiny sanctuaries, places for her to hide and rebuild the dream.

For the first time, she thanked him. But the mud never came completely off.

The prince knocked down the brick wall and carried the girl away from the dark chasm. She clung to his neck, whispering, "My, but you're dark."