Beth threw the salt shaker at the man behind her father. It wasn’t a calm or pleasant thing to do. The glass vial was old and heavy. It struck the man on the bridge of the nose and splattered salt in his right eye. Before he had a chance to yell out, beth had her hand on the dull knife that passed for cutlery at the dinner and was tensing to scramble out of her seat.
“Hold on,” her father said, stretching his hand on to her.
With her heart pounding at a thousand beats a second, Beth felt like her thoughts had accelerated too. She noticed, for example, that the man was smiling in an unpleasant manner. She noticed that her father didn’t look angry or surprised, just cautious. And she noticed that Lagressa was holding a steak knife poised ready to strike.
That final detail made her feel oddly comforted and then concerned.
She wasn’t a violent person. She never fought, and she didn’t like pain at all.
So why had she thrown the salt shaker?
Because for as wrong as the Burners had felt, the man sitting behind her father was just as bad. They were all things that had some connection to the Unread, and none of them wished her any good will.
“Isn’t it cute how the young ones take after their parents?” the man asked.
“What are you doing here Gilles?” her father asked.
“Someone opened a page, someone from your bloodline, so I thought I’d drop by and say hello. Get to know them a bit,” the man said without taking his undamaged eyes off Beth.
“Kokumo, why don’t you take our daughter out of here,” her father said. “I need to have a few words with Mr. de Rais here.”
Beth understood what her father was doing. The man was dangerous, and her father was protecting her from him.
That wasn’t ok though.
She didn’t mind being protected. In the face of all that had gone on, she was a big fan of that idea in fact. Leaving her father alone with ‘Mr. de Rais’ was wrong however. Visions of waiting outside the Crossroads and seeing de Rais leave with her father nowhere in sight swam through Beth’s mind.
She recognized the fear as it splashed over her. It was the same sensation she felt in a nightmare, when she knew she was in danger and could sense both the present moment and the point in time in the future when things would be revealed to be even worse than she originally imagined.
“Come along,” her mother said and stood up from the booth. “You’re father will be fine.”
“Do you really think so?” de Rais asked, the sickle slash smile on his face widening to show a set of poorly cared for teeth.
He was about to start laughing. Or he was going to make promises that would fill Beth’s nights with terror for years to come. She knew him, without recognizing the name, she knew what he was. He was a thing masquerading as a person. He wanted nothing more than her suffering, and he knew all sorts of weaknesses that he could exploit to make it happen.
Then her mother stabbed him in the eye with the fork she’d taken from the table.
It wasn’t a timid strike.
One second she was standing there and the next her hand was flush against de Rais’ cheek and eyebrow, the fork buried as deep as it could go.
Gilles de Rais twitched, made a strange gurgling noise, and then popped like a soap bubble, black film raining down onto the seat he was sitting in before it puffed away to vapor.
Beth tried to make a sound but the sudden violence had stripped her breath away.
“He was not a friend I gather?” Lagressa said.
“No, and he shouldn’t have been here,” Beth’s father said adding to her mother, “Thank you.”
“We need to train her,” Beth’s mother said.
“Later,” her father said. “If de Rais is here then the page is more open than I thought.”
“Or he’s as much of a slippery bastard as before,” her mother said.
“How do you know him?” Beth asked.
“That’s better explained somewhere else,” her father said.
“We’re not going home,” her mother said. “Not yet. There’s too many books there.”
“Or not enough,” her father said.
“Where are you thinking of?” her mother asked.
“The campus library will still be open,” her father said. “We can take one of the study rooms.”
“Will that be safe?” her mother asked.
“If anyone else like de Rais tries to show up? Nowhere safer really.”
Their conversation didn’t fully make sense to Beth but she could hazard a few guesses about the pieces she was missing. In a library there’d be a lot of books nearby and if her father could pull Lagressa out of one book there were probably all manner of other people and things he could pull from a library.
She focused on that to help push away her fear as they drove away from the diner. It wasn’t until they were a few blocks from the college where her Dad worked that fog swirling in Beth’s mind drained away.
Beside her in the car, Lagressa stirred and looked over.
“You’re feeling better?” she asked.
“Yeah, I feel a bit clearer,” Beth said.
“That’s a good sign,” her father said. “The tide of the Unread that swept you away must have receded.”
“And yet I am still here?” Lagressa asked.
“You don’t have to be if you would prefer to return to your home,” her father said. “I know this must all be fairly strange for you.”
“It is, but I believe I will remain for a while longer,” Lagressa said.
“Was she a good person in the story?” Beth’s mother asked.
“Yeah, she was,” Beth said.
“In the interest of honesty, whatever story you read about me likely wasn’t that accurate,” Lagressa said. “But it pleases me that you see me as such and so I will stay to look after you for a while.”
“You barely know her though,” Beth’s mother said.
“True, but I am familiar with the sort of people who oppose you if they are anything like the man in the diner,” Lagressa said. “I grew up with monsters, and it gives me a special sort of joy to do to them what you did him. With luck, if I tarry here, another such opportunity will present itself.”
It was a simple motivation, but if it meant that Beth got to her have her own pet monster as a protector, she was more than happy to accept it.