Chapter One – Life Behind Bars

Peach looked out over the vaguely familiar hills that melted away into the burning sunset. It ate away at them like fire licking up small scraps of paper that had been lined up across a canvas. Below, Moo Moo's slowly headed back into their pens whilst their owners set about making sure all the animals were back in for the night. Several chickens kept jumping out of their homes, but experience had told Peach that that was to be expected. Almost at her feet was the rest of the castle – branching out in all different directions. Slowly, lights started to glow out of the windows. Presumably they were candles but Peach never really took the time to notice. Truth be told, in recent months Peach had been feeling slightly cut off from the world. It had been last week when she was last captured by Bowser, and in that time she had to spend with herself inside a cage suspended over boiling magma, it struck Peach how tedious her life had become. Every month some dark villain would try and use her in their evil plan and then Mario, Luigi or perhaps Mario and Luigi would rush to her aid. Sure there had been a few wild cards out there (a vision of Count Bleck flashed before her eyes momentarily) but she no longer got surprised by it all. In recent months, her cries of fear and worry had been replaced by hollow moans. Occasionally she would throw in a, "get it over with already!" but she quickly learnt that not a lot of villains found that amusing. Looking over her kingdom now, it dawned on Peach how little she actually knew about the Mushroom Kingdom. She relied on Toadsworth to inform her on happenings in the outside world. Part of her wanted to go and explore the many nooks and crevice's her kingdom had to offer.

"Tell me, Toadsworth, what is it like beyond the castle walls?" asked Peach over dinner. A long, oak table stretched down the length of the main hall. It was flanked by lots of small toads carrying all sorts of containers. Perched on the opposite end of the table was Toadsworth. He never ate in her presence but always sat with her to talk about whatever she so desired. Unlike Peach, he travelled across the kingdom as a representative of the royal family. Now, though, he wasn't quite sure what to tell her. There were strict rules about how much Peach could be exposed to – especially since she was prone to getting herself into trouble.

"Well, it's certainly green…" began Toadsworth cautiously, choosing his words precisely, "and there are a lot of dainty little towns!"

"No, Toadsworth, what is it really like?" asked Peach again stubbornly. It was clear that we was just trying to cover up for something. When you knew someone for quite as long as she had known Toadsworth, it was blatant when they were acting strangely.

"It's just like I said. And I'm sure when you come of age you will see all of it and more!" said Toadsworth, sliding his spectacles back up his nose. He was sweating like crazy and he really wanted to just leave before he said something he shouldn't say. "Excuse me, there's something I need to deal with." He hobbled away from the table in a hurry and slammed the door on his way out. It was unusual to see Toadsworth acting in such a manner. It made Peach uneasy: did the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom hold some deadly secret? No matter how hard she focused on other things it kept finding its way back into her mind throughout the rest of the day. Even wrapped up in bed that night it nagged her. The bed chamber smelled of rosewater and everything was a shocking pink. On the walls hung countless pictures of her various escapades along with the Mario brothers. Every time she felt lonely Peach would simply glance at one of these mementos and cast herself back to a happier moment. Even now she found herself looking towards them for inspiration less often as if they were a symbol of a past life that lingered in the back of her mind. She looked at them now and wondered what the Mario brothers were up to at that moment. No matter how dull everyone else's lives got, their lives were exciting enough to make up for the otherwise bland goings on around the Mushroom Kingdom. She wondered if Mario was still thinking about her as well.

"Time for bed, Princess. See you in the morning," recited one of the toads assigned to the highest floor of the castle. He headed over to the last remaining candle to blow it out.

"Toad?" asked the princess before he had a chance to extinguish the light.

"Yes, Princess?" replied the toad solemnly.

"What is it like outside the walls?" she asked.

"I wouldn't really know about that, Princess. I haven't been home in years now. There's not much of it left anymore though – it was destroyed by Bowser on a quest to locate Toadsworth. As if he'd bother to hang around our little town…"

"Yes, but what was the town like?" asked Peach once more, attack slowly working its way into her voice.

"You've been to a normal Mushroom town before, Princess, and believe you me this one wasn't much different. Now, I must insist you get some sleep," announced the toad, and without further ado he blew out the last candle and left the room. Peach wasn't satisfied.