Hidden Pages – Chapter 34 – Already in Progress


Looking for trouble has the obvious downside that you are likely to find substantially more than you were intending to.

“I appreciate the challenge of finding your father when he could be anywhere on this world, but doesn’t this seem a bit violent of a milieu for his tastes?” Lagressa asked as a cannonball shattered the wall of a house beside them.

Shrapnel from blows like that caused more fatalities than the cannon shots themselves, but thanks to the form fitting space suits from Starshine’s ship the wore under their disguises, none of Beth’s companions were impaled by the flinders of wood that rained around them.

“I looked up the guy he’s tracking,” Beth said. “Gilles de Rais. Total monster. I can see why my Mom stabbed him in the eye. For someone like that? Yeah, I think my Dad might get about this violent.”

The battle around them was still mostly confined to the docks of the small french port town they’d air dropped into. It had been the fighting that drew Beth’s attention. Plenty of places in France could support a good cannon battle but few of them had active cannon battles occurring between a ship that was still in its dock and one that was desperately heaving ho to leave the port.

The dive from orbit had been exhilarating – a long free fall without a parachute. Just soaring downwards with only the flight systems in the space suits to provide a gentle landing.

The suits didn’t have the same stealth capabilities that Starshine’s ship did, so there’d been the added risk that someone might see them, which would in turn probably cause their space suits to fail for violating the integrity of the local narrative structure. Beth guessed she could survive the fall. Worst case, hopefully, would be something similar to waking from a dream of falling, except she’d be back in her home, but with a better understanding of how the Burners worked and what their limitations were.

Lagressa and Starshine would probably survive too, though maybe not the versions of them that Beth currently knew. The laws of “Crossover Continuity” were an area even her father hadn’t been too clear on.  All he’d been able to say is that they’d wind up back in their own narratives for sure. Whether they would remember Beth if she returned to Pact Knight Chronicles or the Measureless Stars was another matter though. One Beth wasn’t willing to take too many risks with.

She had an elaborate story worked up in the back of her head therefor to deal with any push back from the Unread. It covered how they would be mistaken for shooting stars by the locals if anyone saw them flying. Starshine’s ship would be the narrative device to get them back onto safe ground, probably returning them to the Measureless Stars domain since that would have the least trouble incorporating time travel and world hopping weirdness.

None of her story was necessary though. By an entirely predictable twist of fate, the people below them didn’t spend much time gazing at the cloudy sky overhead when there were literal bomb blasts going off around them.

Beth, Lagressa and Starshine managed to touch down inside the city without anyone catching even glimpse of them. They landed far enough from the docks to be seen by a crowd, but close enough that it was easy to tell when direction they needed to go without asking for any local help.

That was fortunate because Beth’s mastery of French was limited to a few song lyrics and the odd word that was similar enough to its English counterpart that she could recognize the common root.

The docks were easy to find, but a safe route to the ships was another matter.

“I always forget how much damage primitive chemical weapons can do,” Starshine said, as she fussed with a something resembling a matchlock pistol she’d brought from the ship. From the arms borne by the locals, Beth didn’t think Starshine’s weapon was strictly accurate for the period but it was close enough that the Unread didn’t seem interested in arguing about it.

“Your father is on one of the ships fleeing the port isn’t he?” Lagressa asked.

“I think so,” Beth said. “Probably the one that’s chasing the other. He’s here to stop de Rais, so he’s not going to be the one running away.”

“It will be a challenging swim to catch up to them,” Lagressa said.

“But if we try to fly for it, someone is pretty sure to see us,” Beth said, picking a path for them onto the dock itself.

Stepping onto the creaking wood of the docks brought them into the heart of the fighting which it made it hard to tell exactly what was going on. All Beth could make out from the cries and shouting was that there were at least three groups of fighters, two of whom were viciously interested in killing each other and the third was focused on keeping the other two out of the town.

She closed her eyes for a moment and listened to the explosions and clangs of swords, tuning into the world and letting it drop away at the same time. The story surging around her spoke in a wordless voice, letting her know what it was she’d landed in the middle of.

One side was her father’s. People who knew de Rais for who he was and were committed to ending him by any means necessary. Actual history had other ideas for the monster than dying at the hands of a mob, but the Unread was willing to allow the attempt on his life it seemed. Possibly because there was the another side ready to thwart the first, soliders who were committed to de Rais from his time as a war hero. In the grand scheme of things there weren’t that many fighter on either side, so at best the battle would show up as a footnote in a history book, if it was mentioned at all, and that wouldn’t happen because of the last side, which was the town’s guard who viewed the other sides as warring ruffians who all needed to be corralled or put down.

Beth was working up a plan for getting past them all, weaving a narrative of daring do when Starshine pulled on the sleeve of Beth’s barely adequate French period costume.

“That thing floats right?” Starshine asked, pointing at a single sailed sloop that had been hoist over the water.

“Sure, but can you pilot it?” Beth asked.

“Darling, I can pilot anything,” Starshine said, before breaking into a run towards adventure on the high seas.