For a moment, the sounds of the battlefield around Beth drifted away. The fighting and chaos around her wasn’t real, even if it once had been. In the folds of the Unread though, danger was absent. Nothing could hurt her there. Or her family.
The man resting against the tree opposite her in the small clearing though wasn’t restricted to the Unread. He’d already sent Gilles de Rais from the pages of a book into the real world. And he’d been to one of Beth’s scifi worlds.
Kevin Biers, her father’s old friend and long time enemy, had access to the worst monsters imaginable and had demonstrated a willingness to use them. His threat had teeth that Beth hadn’t foreseen.
Her father was probably safe from whatever Biers could throw at him. Maybe? Her mother though? Beth remembered how her mother had responded to de Rais first appearance. She’d struck without hesitation or mercy. That was how someone who understood their own vulnerability fought.
That kind of mindset would keep her somewhat safe. Beth felt reasonably sure de Rais wouldn’t be able to get the drop on her mother for example. It wasn’t his style and he wasn’t that deadly a warrior. Most of his victims had been children, so all he needed was to get them alone somewhere, usually in the castle he controlled. If he got Beth’s mother alone, she would probably rip his throat out if there wasn’t a more painful option readily available.
That wouldn’t be an option with a cyborg though.
Maybe Beth’s father could protect her mother? He had all while Beth was growing up. But Biers hadn’t been so close to making his plans come true, so had he really been that much of a danger before?
“I assure you, I bear no ill will towards Henry or Koku,” Biers said. “But the fact of the matter is that they, along with all of the rest of this broken, pathetic travesty we call existence, will soon be no more. Everything is going to come tumbling down so that a better, more perfect world, the one we were supposed to be given, can rise in its place.”
“I like my world just fine thanks,” Beth said.
“Now we both know that isn’t true,” Biers said. “No one who walks in the Unread as we do can love the world they fought so hard to escape. Saving your parents is the excuse you can use for what we have to do, but the real reason, our reason, is that the world we came from is one that we had no choice but to escape.”
“I didn’t want to escape my world,” Beth said, but the words rang with a hollow note in her ears.
She had wanted to run away. The first time she’d crossed over, she’d been trying to hide, to disappear, in order to get away from Amy and Kelly. That wasn’t the first time she’d felt like that either. Books had always been gateways to better worlds, even before she could literally walk into them.
Was he right? There’d been days when destroying the world hadn’t seemed like such a terrible idea, but that desire wasn’t what had finally pushed her out into the Unread was it?
“What you wanted, or think you wanted, doesn’t matter,” Biers said. “All that’s important now is what you choose to do next.”
“Well, blowing up my home is not going to be on the list,” Beth said. “I wouldn’t have anywhere to live then, which would be stupid.”
“Indeed it would,” Biers said, his smirk taunting Beth, saying he held a secret that should have been obvious but which she hadn’t guessed yet.
“You know somewhere that’s going to survive what you’re planning to do?” she guessed.
“Precisely,” Biers said. “That is the coin I will buy you with. Play your part and you and your parents with have a place in Avalon. We shall wait out the apocalypse of all worlds and, when paradise is at last restored, we will take our rightful place in the land where we were meant to be born.”
“Avalon? You think we can go to fairyland and everything will be ok?” Beth asked, even as her mind whirled around the possibility.
Could she make it to a world like Avalon? Sure, maybe. She was as fond of fairy tales as any other fantastical story. If she could find the right book, it might be easy to get there.
“Avalon is not just any fairy tale land,” Biers said. “Fairy tales are lies known to be unreal and yet believed nonetheless. Avalon, the true Avalon, lies at the heart of such stories and it is a gateway.”
“To where? I thought you said you were going to destroy everything?” Beth asked.
“I will destroy everything that is and ever was,” Biers said. “Not everything that could be, or everything that can be imagined. When you start working with the worlds that we do, you have to expand your definitions of things a bit. Avalon is a gateway to those places, to lands that cannot be imagined.”
“If Avalon can stay then why can’t everything else? Why destroy anything at all? Just make your perfect island resort or whatever and leave the rest of us alone,” Beth said.
“Avalon isn’t real. Not like your stories aren’t real, but in the sense that it can’t be real, even within the confine of the stories where it’s written about,” Biers said. “It doesn’t limit what the our worlds can be like because it doesn’t reflect any of them. It is a place apart. All of the rest? They taint the worlds the touch on with the history that created them. Only Avalon is pure, because it touches nothing else.”
“So if you know all this, why do you need me?” Beth asked.
“You connect to different worlds than your father does,” Biers said. “I thought he could lead me to Avalon through the histories he follows. I hoped I could leap from the tales of the people of the past into the tales they told, but his gift proved too limited.”
“But you think I can get you there?” Beth asked. “What happens if I don’t? You’d be stuck here with the rest of us as the world fell apart wouldn’t you?”
“There are more paths to Avalon than the gentle one you would use,” Biers said. “Even in fairy tales there are wars.”
“You’d invade them?” Beth asked.
“Avalon is the closest thing to a real heaven I have ever seen a reason to believe in,” Biers said. “My path to it involves drowning that heaven in a river of blood. That is not something I wish to do that but rest assured it is a price I am willing to pay to see my new world dawn.”
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