The campus library had always reminded Beth of a castle. Old stone architecture, windows that were narrow enough to be murder slits and a series of imposing gargoyles on the exterior balconies added up to the kind of solidity that a building meant to repel an invading horde might envy.
“If things can come at us from inside books, why are we going near a giant stack of them?” Beth asked as they passed through the front door.
“You get more good things than bad from books,” her mother said.
Beth nodded, absorbing the info and filing it away for future reference. Questions as to how one drew good things like Lagressa out of a book seemed like they could wait till they had some privacy.
Her father led them across the main reading area, passed the periodicals rack and to the study rooms at the back of the first floor. As part of the faculty, he had a key to the rooms, which cut down on the questions from the librarians which would have been troublesome to answer. Things like “how long with you need the room”?
“So, are we safe now?” Beth asked.
“I should hope not,” Lagressa said.
“As safe as we can be,” Beth’s father said. “You’ll be ok here.”
“You can’t leave yet,” her mother said.
“If de Rais got through then the fold was larger than we expected,” he said. “Others might have gotten through too.”
“I know that,” her mother said. “But I also know that our daughter needs you.”
“If she’s here with you, she’ll be safe,” her father said.
“From de Rais? Is he still…alive?” Beth asked, searching for the right word and feeling like she came up short.
“Yes and no,” her father said. “The man you met is a version of the real historical figure Gilles de Rais, but he’s the version that exists in one of the biographies of Joan of Arc’s life.”
“Joan of Arc?” Beth asked. “What does she have to do with this?”
“Historically, Gilles de Rais fought in Joan’s army. Later, he became one of the worst serial killers history has ever known,” her father said. “The Gilles you saw was a copy of the man from somewhere in between those time periods.”
“But he was just as evil as he would ever be,” her mother said.
“You knew him?” Beth asked. “You’d met before?”
“Yes,” her mother said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve killed him either. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to stick.”
“We think it’s because the book, and others like it, are still out there,” her father said.
“Wait, I thought you were the one who could travel into the Unread?” Beth asked, looking at her father, “So how has Mom met him before?”
“I’ve traveled with your father,” she said. “Many times.”
“We were young,” her father said. “Well younger, but older than you are now.”
“Are you from a book?” Beth asked, looking at her mother.
Her mother laughed.
“No. I wished a thousand times that I was, but I’ve never even been able to figure out how to do what your father does,” she said. “And there was a time I would have given up everything to live in my books.”
“But then you had me?” Beth asked.
“We had you long after we decided to limit our trips,” Beth’s mother said.
“What made you stop?” Beth asked.
“We saw how dangerous it was, or could be anyways,” her father said.
“When your father’s friend was lost, we searched everywhere we could for him,” her mother said.
“Including a number of places we should have avoided,” her father said.
“Is that where you met de Rais?” Beth asked.
“We ran into him while we searching for Kevin, but I’d met him when I was younger,” her father said. “I was trying to reach your Great Grandmother and I thought Joan of Arc might be close enough to a saint that I could make it to the places where she walked.
“And that didn’t work at all I guess?” Beth asked.
“No, and unfortunately it opened a door,” her father said. “Now I need to go close it once again.”
“How do you do that?” Beth asked. “How do you make it so guys like him can’t pop up out of the blue?”
“You go into the story they came from, and try to get close to the central narrative. Whatever is holding the door open will be something that’s amiss and is holding up the events that are supposed to occur. Remove that, and get out, and the Hidden Pages will be hidden again.”
“That sounds less than simple,” Lagressa said.
“It can be challenging sometimes,” Beth’s father said. “But the alternative is letting people like de Rais roam free in both worlds.”
“If he’s from a book, can he do any real harm here?” Beth asked.
“Psychologically? Yes. Things from books can leave terrible scars, some of which may never heal. Physically the answer is more complicated. Anything someone like de Rais does in this world will fade when he’s banished back into the book. It can be very confusing sometimes, but the world sorts things out however it needs to. The one exception to that is people like us.”
“What kind of special treatment do we get?” Beth asked.
“Wounds we take are only as real as we chose to let them be,” he said. “It makes us the ones most able to fight things that come from books, while at the same time being the ones most likely to release dangerous things into this world.”
“And that’s what you’re going to do now?” Beth asked. “Go and close the pages I opened? And fight de Rais?”
“You didn’t open this page,” her father said. “Not intentionally, so none of this is your fault.”
“But you still have to go, and it’s possible you won’t come back for a while?”
“It’s possible it will take a while but I will come back,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time now.”
“Do you have to go with him?” Beth asked, turning to her mother.
“I’m staying right here with you,” her mother said. “I might let Ms. Lagressa deal with de Rais if he shows up again, but I make no promises in that regards.”
“I will consider it a competition then,” Lagressa said.
“Before I go though, your mother is right, I need to show you how you can keep yourself safe,” her father said.
“You’re going to train me?” Beth asked.
“Better, I’m going to teach you how to train yourself,” he said.