Beth wasn’t lost. She knew exactly where she was and that scared her more than anything else could.
She’d spent a hundred and twenty two pages reading about the world of the Blessed Realms and a chapter and a half being introduce to the forest of Elgamire. She knew about the Root Dwellers that lurked under the barrow trees. She knew about the Night Pixies that were the true terror of the woods. Most importantly though, she knew she didn’t want to be where she was.
Parell Prep was gone when she turned to look for it. She knew that would be the case though. She’d felt the pull of the worlds, and she recognized the still darkness of Elgamire from this image she’d had of it while reading.
Part of her wanted to deny that being drawn into a book was possible. It sounded like ridiculous nonsense. But the forest was real. It was all around her. She wasn’t sleeping, and she didn’t think she was hallucinating. The world wasn’t shifting. It was steady and solid and persistent no matter how much she blinked, or poked herself, or tried to wish it away.
The soft glow from the barrow trees left after-images on her vision when she tried to peer into the darkness that engulfed them. In the fragile silence, Beth couldn’t hear anything moving, but from the point she’d read to in the book, she knew that didn’t mean she was either alone or safe.
A laugh almost burst from her lips when she thought of how far out of the frying pan and into the fire she’d fallen. To escape from some high school bullies she’d manage to tumble into a place where piranha faeries would strip the flesh from your bones in seconds. Oddly though, as the moments passed by, Beth felt her panic drain away, drop by drop. If she had to choose between Amy’s crew and a pack of bloody mouthed Night Pixies, she wasn’t sure the murder faeries were the worse option.
For one thing the Night Pixies didn’t have a personal grudge against her. For another, they followed certain iron-clad rules. Most importantly though, they weren’t going to find her, because Beth understood how to deal with them.
In the story, the heroes hadn’t ventured into Elgamire themselves. They’d skirted its edge and tricked the scouting party that was following them into trying to cut through the woods. The bad guys had met a gruesome end because they blundered through the forest unthinking and uncaring of the damage they did or the creatures they upset.
Beth wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. If anything, she was more likely to make the opposite one. Even the idea of crashing through the forest was anathema to her. Standing still so long she that became one of the trees though? That she could imagine doing all too easily.
She thought about things too much. Her father called it “paralysis by analysis”, though only when he was lamenting his own struggles with it. Beth was too familiar with what he described not to see it in herself though, which, unfortunately, didn’t make dealing with it any easier.
The threat of imminent death should have helped there. It should have cut through her natural hesitation. In practice though, having her life in peril made Beth hesitate more than ever. An ocean of uncertainty rolled within her, even as the wild fear of being stranded in a new world drained out.
Except, it wasn’t a new world.
Not to her at least. After reading books one through four in the series, Beth had snapped up the latest volume in the “Pact Knight Chronicles” the moment it was available. The story covered new ground but it felt like coming home too. Even with new characters and new locations there was a sense of returning to a place she was already familiar with from the first page.
That familiarity was what she embraced. She wasn’t in a part of the story that she knew. The details of what happened inside Elgamire weren’t spelled out, so she didn’t expect to meet any of the characters she’d spent tens of thousands of words reading about. It felt instead like she was off in the margins somewhere, walking through a part of the story that wasn’t there on the page for everyone to see.
Despite that, her familiarity gave her a core of strength to draw on. She didn’t know where things were going or what would happen next, but she knew the world of the Blessed Realms. Better than she knew her own in some ways. There was magic in the land, and monsters in the dark corners, but they could be defeated or mastered. All you had to be was clever enough.
Beth took a step forward.
She didn’t pause, she just walked slowly and carefully ahead. She didn’t know where she was going, but moving at all was a declaration that cast aside the doubts that were gnawing at her.
The forest was impossible to see through.
With each step, the doubts she pushed away tried to surge back.
Was she walking towards the forest’s edge or deeper into it? She had no idea.
Was it safe to move without being able to see where she was going? Possibly not, but being seen could be fatal, unless she was very lucky.
It was tempting to use the flashlight app on her phone, but that would draw the attention of everything even vaguely near her, and, worse, it would disturb the forest.
The book had been clear on the notion that the forest was a living, thinking entity, and one which preferred the darkness that lay under it’s canopy to any form of light, no matter how small.
Respect its boundaries, both literal and metaphorical, and it wouldn’t trouble you. The same was true for the Night Pixies and the Root Dwellers to a degree.
The tiny pixies lived in the branches of the trees and only swooped down if something rustled their lodging. The Dwellers slept in the soil, one per tree and would wake if anyone tripped over their roots. Avoid the branches and the roots and you avoided the worst of the dangers that Elgamire had to offer.
The worst, but not all.
The barrow trees thinned out as Beth moved cautiously forward, sending a wild hope tingling through her that she’d found the forest’s edge. As she stepped into the clearing however, she saw that she’d reached the shore of a small pond.
Above the water, the forest’s canopy stretched and blocked off any view of the sky, leaving the pond as a black mirror in the middle of a wide clearing.
The pond wasn’t what drew Beth’s attention though.
Seated at the edge of the water, glimmering with a pale blue light that flowed over her turquoise scales, a woman was polishing a beam of moonlight into a long thin blade.