A week after Beth’s father disappeared into a history book, he still hadn’t returned.
“I can’t go back to school though,” Beth said. “What if de Rais comes for you while I’m gone?”
“Do you think 15th century french nobleman is going to be a threat in the 21st century?” her mother asked. “A guy like him walking around with a sword? He’ll be lucky if the only thing they do is shoot him.”
“What if he doesn’t bring a sword though?” Beth asked.
“Well then it’s just not going to be a fair fight at all,” her mother said, placing the cutting knife she was cleaning back in its butcher’s block home.
“Is there something that troubles you about your school?” Lagressa asked, looking up from one of the earlier novels that was written about her world.
“No, school’s fine,” Beth lied.
She’d been ‘home sick’ the previous week while they waited for her father to return. Normally that required a doctor’s note to excuse the absence but her mother had proved both surprisingly willing and capable of forging the required documentation.
“Then we should go to there so you can continue your studies,” Lagressa said. “If you hide your whole life away because enemies are searching for you then they have as good as killed you without laying a finger on you.”
Lagressa had moved into the house in the same manner as a large wild cat might. She claimed a small amount of space as her own, provided her own meals, and wasn’t overly concerned about asking permission for anything.
“School is only for people Beth’s age,” her mother said.
“Hmm,” Lagressa said and drew a few glowing letters in the air in a script never before seen on Earth. The writing started out a deep red and blazed brighter into a shining orange and finally a dazzling gold.
With a twist of her wrist, Lagressa wrapped the words up into a ball and swallowed them. The spell’s effect was instantaneous. Lagressa’s body shimmered and rippled like a stream. Her features didn’t so much change as shrink and reconfigure themselves, her old self vanishing to be replaced with a younger version that was still recognizably her despite showing none of the blue scales which her true form possessed.
“You can do magic here?” Beth asked.
“I can’t decide if that’s a good sign or not,” Beth’s mother said.
“That means that the Hidden Page is still unfolded right? Dad must still be working on it.”
“Yes, that’s probably what it means,” Beth’s mother said.
“That means I could go after him,” Beth said.
“No, either he can handle whatever’s happening or he’ll come back and get help,” her mother said. “You going after him would just mean one more thing to resolve before things could be wrapped up.”
“But what if he can’t get back to get help?” Beth asked.
“If someone was capable of trapping him, when he’s got decades of experience with all this stuff, don’t you think they’d be able trap you too? And think what he would be willing to do to keep you safe? You can’t give his enemies that kind of leverage over him.”
“There is one additional consideration,” Lagressa said. “You’ve said you don’t read the same sort of books that he does. Going where he did is not an option for you.”
“But I could try reading some of his books…” Beth began.
“No, Beth, just no,” her mother said. “He’s ok, and he will be back. If you try to twist your gift to follow him…nothing good is going to happen.”
“It’s been a week though,” Beth said.
“Sometimes it takes a while to fix what’s wrong,” her mother said.
“How much longer will it be? Do we wait another week? A month?”
Beth didn’t want to name a time span longer that that. She thought her hope could survive a month, longer than that and she would start to get upset.
“We wait however long it takes,” her mother said.
“How can we do that! It’s been a week already!”
“We have faith,” her mother said, her voice gentle and calm. “We believe in your father. Henry is stronger than you know. He’ll come back to us.”
“But you can’t know that,” Beth said.
“That’s what faith is,” Lagressa said. “It’s believing in someone when you can’t know what the truth is.”
“That’s too easy,” Beth said. “It’s just playing make believe with what makes you feel good.”
“Oh it’s far from that,” Lagressa said. “Real faith doesn’t seek to deny reality, it asks for belief when believing is the hardest. When we can’t know and hope feels like a weapon that’s been turned against us.”
Beth looked at the bookcase at the far end of the living room. No one had noticed the volumes on French history that were missing. Taking them had felt dangerous when she snuck down for them, but in the light of Lagressa’s words reading her father’s books felt like a betrayal too.
Maybe if she hadn’t failed. Maybe if she’d been able to find the kernel of joy that he did in reading about people and places that belonged to a world that was not only dead and buried but an even worse place than the one they lived in. Her books offered something greater than the real world. Even the darkest ones still held bits that would have been amazing to interact with. Not even with the coolest time machine ever built would Beth want to travel back to the gross and disgusting years before she was born though.
Before she knew it, her mother had drawn Beth into a deep hug,
“I just want him to come back,” Beth said.
“That would be good,” Lagressa said.
“Well that’s something we all agree on,” Beth’s mother said, letting her daughter go.
“No, I mean it would be very good if he returned right now,” Lagressa said.
Her gaze was locked on the window in their front door.
The window that three of the Burners stood on the other side of.