The first time Beth had drawn into the Unread she’d been crushed in the grip of fear. She wasn’t any calmer as the Burner advanced on her, but unfolding the Hidden Pages in The Century Walk pushed her fear away under a flood of exhilaration.
Calling on the Hidden Pages wasn’t easy at first. She called to mind her brightest memory of the book, the one she was able to dream about in detail because it held her imagination. She let the image of a far off world quicken her pulse and began to fill in her senses, one by one, with the experience of being there.
The sound of an alien wind, the scent of a world where no humans had ever roamed, the heavy embrace of a planet more massive than the earth. It called to her and she called back, inviting the distant, foreign shore to be real for her.
Beth’s world gave a sigh and where the walls of her house had once stood, she saw stars, brighter and closer than she’d ever seen them before. Through her, she felt a stream of possibility flow connecting her not just to the universe within the Hidden Pages but, briefly, to all of the universes that existed or could exist.
And then gravity changed and she stumbled down onto the sand.
The air was sharp and cold, scented with a faint trace of ozone, She felt heavier, and she felt the chill of the fine sand under her hands.
“Where are we?” Lagressa asked.
“I did it!” Beth said and whirled to explain where she’d taken them.
Except only Lagressa was behind her.
Her mother and the Burners were absent. Left behind.
Beth saw what she’d done wrong. She was so busy trying to call the Hidden Pages and so concerned about not letting them get out of control that she’d closed them up too soon. The unfolding hadn’t had a chance to grow large enough to take her mother in too.
“Oh no! I left her behind with those things,” Beth said. “We have to go back!”
“Wait,” Lagressa said. “Tell me about this place.”
“But my Mom!” Beth said and tried to imagine a path back home.
“She is fine,” Lagressa said. “There was no concern in her eyes when she faced those things.”
“I need to get back to help though!”
“This may be the most helpful thing you can do,” Lagressa said.
“No! If I can do this, I need to go back and save her!” Beth said, pulling harder at her memories. She felt like she was wading against the waves of a mighty ocean. The ocean couldn’t hold her back though. Nothing could.
Except from Lagressa.
Beth felt the cool touch of Lagressa’s hand on her shoulder. No sensation of drowning accompanied it, which meant Lagressa was holding back her curse with an effort of will.
Beth stopped trying to return home, the awareness of what Lagressa was enduring breaking the mania that had gripped her.
“Your mother is as capable a person as I’ve met,” Lagressa said. “Without you to protect she will be able to fight or flee as she wishes.”
Beth sighed and let the words sink in.
“You’re right,” she said. “I know she’s probably dealt with guys worse than them but they were in our home!”
“Likely a mistake on their part,” Lagressa said. “If there’s anywhere your mother will have her defenses in order, it will be inside her own home.”
“She’s fighting three of them alone though.”
“Perhaps not,” Lagressa said. “Your departure captured their attention. I think we are more likely to see them again than she is.”
“I don’t think they can find us here,” Beth said.
“Where is here?” Lagressa asked. She’d regained her blue scales but still appeared as a young humanoid.
“The is Talantel IV,” Beth said. “It’s one of the worlds from a book called ‘The Century Walk’.”
“A world makes from a good hiding place,” Lagressa said. “But your father said there is a scent to what you do. If they can track you with you then it’s hard to say how long it will take them to find us.”
“It’s more than a world,” Beth said. “The Century Walk covers a hundred thousand years of time and a thousand different planets. And it’s not the only book in the series, so even if they get close to finding us here, we should be able to move over to the Hidden Pages in one of the other books.”
“What is unique about this world then?” Lagressa asked. “How did you pick it out of so many?”
“Well, most of the planets aren’t detailed that much,” Beth said. “The Clockwork Keeper, they’re the main character of the story, stops here about halfway through the book. They’re about twenty thousand years into their “long walk”, and Talantel is the place they come when they’re not sure if it’s worth the trouble to go on. Talantel is a refuge, a place most people don’t know about, so the Clockwork Keeper is able to unwind and go still here for a long time without being bothered.”
“Some danger pushes them forward eventually I imagine?” Lagressa said.
“Not a danger, a young girl,” Beth said. “She restores the broken gear that had disconnected the Clockwork Keeper from the memories of friends and family. She travels the rest of the Century Walk at the Keeper’s side and becomes the next Keeper when the long walk in the book is done.”
“So this world is safe then?” Lagressa asked.
“There are a few dangers here,” Beth said a moment before a giant beast rose from the sands.
It looked like an enlarged version of a house cat that had been sculpted entirely from sand. It’s eyes were green gemstones and it’s teeth were long daggers of shining steel and it looked like eating Beth and Lagressa was the first thing it had on its mind.