Watching her father vanish into the Unread was one of the strangest experiences in Beth’s life. He’d spoken with her for well over an hour, trying to cram as much of what he knew as he could into the lesson while speaking in general enough terms that his experiences could be applied to her.
And then he was gone.
His last lesson had been about entering the Unread intentionally and it started with a book.
“Your mother and I talked a lot about what to tell you if you ever showed a connection to the Unread that I have,” he said, turning a plain grey covered book over in his hand. “The best protection against the Unread is not knowing about it at all, but once that’s not an option, the next best is having some control over how and when you go there.”
“I thought you were going to tell me that I could never read a book again,” Beth said. “But I guess that wouldn’t fix things would it?”
“You’re not broken,” her father said. “So there’s nothing to fix. Just capabilities that it’s better to be in control of than not. If you let the books draw you in, you’ll wind up wherever their narrative leaves the biggest gaps. If there are multiple gaps, which is true in most stories, then where you wind up will be random.”
“The Blessed Realms are an agreeable place, but there are definitely spots you would wish to avoid,” Lagressa said.
“You mean like the forest of Elgamire?” Beth asked.
“The forest is friendlier than a dragon’s den,” Lagressa said.
“I thought the dragons of Paxmer were under control though?” Beth asked.
“That doesn’t mean they’re friendly. And they are not the only dragons to reside in the Blessed Realms,” Lagressa said.
“And that speaks to one of the biggest problems with letting the book decide where you wind up,” Beth’s father said. “Even with history books, the kind that I have an affinity for, there are still all sorts of details that aren’t mentioned or that no one ever knew about. We may not be easy to kill or permanently harm within the Unread but that doesn’t make it any more fun to fall into a pit of spikes.”
“So how do I choose where I want to go?” Beth asked.
“You start by listening,” her father said. “It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know it once you’ve consciously made the transition once or twice.”
“What am I listening for?” Beth asked.
“The book speaking to you,” her father said. “I know how that sounds, but the kind of book that you can travel into is one that resonates with your heart and mind.”
“How he described it to me is that a boring book can’t hold your interest at all,” her mother said. “A decent book will grab your attention enough to pass the time though and a good book will wrap itself around your mind and make you think about the questions and conflicts it raises. A truly exception book however? Those will fire your imagination!”
“The books you really connect with become a part of you,” her father said. “You look at the world and wonder how the characters you read about would see it. You express elements of your life in terms of the story, repeating a quip from one character when you need a joke or a motivational speech from another when you’re finding it hard to carry on.”
Beth nodded. Getting that deep into a book was what drew her back to reading time and again. Some authors were better at crafting stories that could do that, but it was always a bit hit or miss with each novel, or short story, or novella, whether the same magic would be there.
“Once you find a book like that, if you can quiet your mind and listen, you’ll hear the narrative running through you,” her father said. “Then you speak to it.”
“Like with words or…?” Beth trailed off.
“Like with words,” her father said. “They don’t have to be spoken, though Grandma Ruth always recited hers like a prayer. All you really need to do is to start telling the narrative a story of where you could fit into it. Offer it something to fill in the unread spaces, something that resonates as true for you and for the story, and you’ll feel a charge start to build.”
“How long does the story need to be?” Beth asked.
“It differs. Sometimes a quick few lines is enough to get your idea across and bridge the gap. Other times you can go on and on forever and never quite make it into the book.”
“So it’s not great for a quick escape if someone like de Rais comes after me?” Beth asked.
“It can be. Desperation tends to make the story more compelling and unfurls the Hidden Pages faster,” he said. “But don’t count on it.”
“That’s good to know,” Beth said.
“I wish I could explain more to you,” her father said. “I wish I had all the answers you’ll need, but I think a big part of this is discovering your own answers to questions you’re faced with and the problems you encounter. I can go places your Great Grandmother never could, and you can travel to places that I can never reach. Once you’ve figured out a bit more about how things work for you, we’ll need to compare notes, but for now, I have to go.”
“You’re going to track down de Rais?” Beth asked.
“And any others that managed to wedge their stories open,” he said. “If I can get to them first I can make sure they don’t trouble anyone here and keep their stories from being burned.”
“How can stories be burned?” Beth asked.
“It’s what the Burners do,” her father said. “They don’t like us because we can endanger this world, but they view stories that host entities who can move between the worlds as unquestionably perilous and to be annihilated with no questions asked.”
“What happens to the people inside the story?” Beth asked.
“They and their world are just gone,” her father said. “I’ve tried to travel into a story like that and all I found was a field of ash. No people. No land. No sky. Just ashes. Everywhere.”