The spray on Beth’s face from the flapping sails left the taste of salt on her lips and a growing dread in her heart. Above her, a seagull screamed on an eastward wind that chilled the soaking clothes Beth wore. It had been night, but in the new world, or in the real world to be exact, it was daylight.
“How…how are we here?” she asked, turning to face her father, seeking an explanation for what she already knew had happened.
“New psychoplane?” Starshine asked. “Neat. What’s this one like?”
“It’s familiar,” Lagressa said, sniffing the air and twirling a scale-free finger through it like she was gathering up cobwebs.
“This is new,” Beth’s father said. “De Rais patron has tried a lot of things before, but he’s never tried coming to the real world before.”
“Real? So this is your psychoplane?” Starshine asked.
Beth’s father looked up, his eyes widening as he took in Lagressa and Starshine’s presence.
“You may want to send them back to their stories,” he said with a glance towards Beth.
The sailing vessel had changed around them as they passed from the textbook on French history to the real world. The burned timbers and blood splattered decks were clean. The sails were no longer smoke stained. Strangest though was the crew.
Most of them looked the same but gone were the ragged and soiled clothes worn by people who’d fought through a series of battles. In their place, the crew wore the crisp costumes of a theatrical reenactment troupe.
“We’ll be putting into our dock in twenty minutes Mr. Candler,” the ship’s captain said, in English, addressing Beth’s father.
“Excellent, how long will you be in port?” Beth’s father asked without missing a beat.
“At least a day or two,” the captain said. “Need to do some repairs after that last trip.”
Beth looked around, trying to grasp what had happened. She didn’t have to look outward though. In the back of her mind she already knew why things were different.
“The crew has changed,” Lagressa said, more observation than question. “We have not though?”
“Speak for…well, not yourself, I guess,” Starshine said, gesturing at the pure human form which Lagressa wore.
“Adaptive morphology is part of who I am,” Lagressa said, her hair changing to include streaks of blue and green which could have been a fashion statement any of Beth’s classmates might have made.
“That’s roughly what happened here,” Beth’s father said.
“Instead of 15th Century sailors, the transition converted them to their modern equivalents?” Beth asked.
“I suggested that this was an incarnation that would fit within our world’s reality,” Beth’s father said. “Without it, they wouldn’t have transitioned over and we would have been left bobbing in the sea.”
“What’s going to happen to them?” Beth asked.
“Once we make it to land, I’ll close the fold they’re part of and they’ll be back home within their book.”
“You can just send them back like that?” Starshine asked.
“And you wish Beth to do the same with us?” Lagressa asked.
“Seems like an unsatisfying way to end an adventure,” Starshine said.
“This isn’t a world where there’s much adventure to be had,” Beth’s father said.
“Seems like the bad guy we’re chasing might disagree with that assessment,” Starshine said.
“We don’t know why he’s come here, but it’s not going to be for anything exciting,” Beth’s father said. “He’s going to be much more limited, and he’s going to stand out a lot more than he did in de Rais’ native narrative space.”
“Won’t he transform to fit this world as your crew did?” Lagressa asked.
“Yes, but there’s a core element to people and things from outside this world,” Beth’s father said. “It stands out for anyone who’s looking for it, and there are people who’s entire existence is focused on looking for things that aren’t naturally part of this world.”
“The Burners,” Beth said.
She was only half listening to their conversation. Too many other thoughts were crowding through her mind.
They’d traveled into the Unread and emerged somewhere other than where they’d left. The implications of that were staggering. On her trip into the world of the Pact Knight Chronicles, Lagressa’s home realm, she’d returned to her starting part, so she’d assumed that no significant changes would occur while she was ‘away’. She’d pictured it like her physical body was sleeping while her mind wandered, but that couldn’t have ever been the case.
When she traveled into the Unread at school, she’d been sitting in the courtyard. If her body had remained behind someone would have found her when school let out.
Even that wasn’t as important as understanding that she could change places when she came back. She wasn’t vanishing into a little pocket of reality. She was traveling, in every meaningful sense of the term.
She could go places she’d never been.
She could go places no one was ever supposed to go.
How powerful was she?
“That’s why Beth needs to send you two back to your home worlds,” her father said. “There are some very unpleasant people who are going to be able to track us down too easily if you stay here.”
“I have walked in this world before,” Lagressa said.
“Yes,” Beth’s father said. “You were meant to act as a distraction. Beth’s fold wasn’t closing. I hoped if someone from that fold was present in our world when the Burners found her, they would see you as the primary cause of the distortion.”
“I was meant to act as cover for your daughter?” Lagressa asked. “That was a good strategy. Why change it now?”
“Because now, the Burners know that she’s like me.”
“Sounds like all the more reason for us to stay,” Starshine said.
Pieces fell into place, and Beth reached a decision she didn’t know she’d been considering until the answer hit her.
“No, he’s right,” she said. “It’s dangerous here. My Dad was going to handle de Rais. I just wanted to find him and make sure he was safe. Mission accomplished, so we should go back and let him handle this.”
A brief glimpse of surprise passed over Beth’s father’s face before a smile broke though.
“I am lucky to have you,” he said. “Have I ever told you that?”
“Yes, Dad,” Beth groaned and hugged her father.
Lagressa and Starshine were less sanguine about Beth’s announcement, at least until she met their gaze and gave them a smiling nod her father couldn’t see.