Finding her enemy within the pages of the War of the Worlds was easier than Beth had expected. He was the one cheering on the Martian walkers as they incinerated the troops in the British countryside.
“I find it amusing that for all of the endearing and cute depictions of aliens that followed, Wells caught their essential character in one of the first stories of creatures from beyond our world,” Biers said. “Faceless invaders, bringers of death, with technology far beyond our own. Oh wait, perhaps I’m speaking of the conquest of the Americas. I always get those confused.”
Beth knew five things wrong with Biers’ statement but there wasn’t going to be anything to gain by pointing out his shortcomings at this junction. In fact she was relying on Biers’ blind spots to be in full effect, so encouraging him to question his assumptions was not on her agenda.
“Do we really have the time to watch this play out?” Beth asked as one of the Martian walkers exploded a tank with its heat ray.
“I suppose not,” Biers said. “If we let the collapsing worlds get too close, we might run out of road to walk before we can get to Avalon. Still, this is a magnificent sight is it not? A work of genius that has inspired generations.”
It was that. It was also a cautionary tale about the human history of colonization which Biers seemed to be intentionally ignoring, just as he was ignoring the possibility of Beth having plans that reached beyond his own.
“We need a story that will lead us to a fairyland right?” Beth asked.
“Yes, I trust you’ve found one?” Biers asked. “It will need to be one which you can walk to the farthest extents of and, and then farther still.”
“I think I have just the thing,” Beth said, showing him a book with the title ‘The Hollow Half’.
Biers sneered and rolled his eyes.
“I suppose Le’ Mort du Arthur would have been too much to ask for,” Biers said. “Will we at least be spared from sparkly pixies and pastel ponies?”
It wasn’t surprising that Biers hadn’t read the book, but Beth felt a wave of relief pass through her anyways.
“The faeries in here aren’t like that,” she said. “They’re a little more on the terrifying end of things.”
“And you wish to venture into their realm?” Biers searched Beth’s expression for signs of the trap she was laying.
“You’re going to bring an army down on them if I mess it up. I’d rather have you machine gun a path through people who deserve it if that happens,” Beth said, doling out the truth with care. The Shadow Court faeries who inhabited the pages of the Hollow Half were the kind of characters that machine guns were meant for, so it was an easy lie to sell.
“Then let us begin!” Bier said, offering Beth his hand.
She dropped the copy of War of the Worlds that she was carrying. She wasn’t going to need it where she was going.
Pulling herself directly from one book to another was jarring. Her mind tried to form connections between the two narratives, but the crossovers between a 19th century novel and one from the 21st century were few and far between.
Both stories held antagonists that remained largely unseen for the duration of the narrative. Beth felt a link form along that though and chased it.
In both stories, the cold reaches of space made an appearance. Beth grasped that straw and wove it in to the folds of the narrative she was tugging towards herself.
“There’s a remarkable chill to the story you’re pulling us towards,” Biers said. “This isn’t a variation of the Snow Queen myth is it?”
“No,” Beth said. “But there is a Fairy Queen within the pages. I don’t know if you want to meet her though.”
Queens. The Hollow Half had a Fairy Queen and War of the Worlds had the Queen of England! Beth tried to pull on that narrative strand but it didn’t hold. The two roles were too dissimilar. The Queen of Shadow Court was nothing like England’s monarch either in form or purpose to the story.
Warships!. Both stories had warships! But again they were too dissimilar. The warships in War of the Worlds were ineffective, serving as nothing more than target practice for the Martians. The one in the Hollow Half was essentially a character in its own right and played a decisive role in the resolution of one of the story’s many issues.
The narrative folds she was gathering began to run from her hands like quicksilver. She’d been ridiculous to think she could make the trip she’d planned. She was going to lose her grasp on the Hollow Half and lose her connection to it. Ever as she scrambled to hold on, she felt a wave of confusion rising within her. Why had she thought she had enough connection to the story to make it work? Everything in it felt distant and weird, like it was speaking to someone living a life that had nothing to do with hers. Each event she remembered felt flat and tasted like ash.
Both stories had a moment when everything was hopeless. The Martians were undefeatable. Jin, the Hollow Half’s protagonist, had stepped into Oblivion. All was lost.
But neither story had ended there.
Beth clung to that. Hers wasn’t going to end in despair either. With a deep breath, she let go of the reservations that were holding her back. This was her path. This is what she needed to do to save her mother, her father, and her whole world. Whatever it cost, it was worth it, and knowing that brought a smile to her face as she pulled the folds of the Hollow Half forward at last.
Darkness reached out. It blotted out the sky, and swallowed the Earth. Everything around them went silent, and everywhere there was emptiness.
Just like Beth had planned.
“Where are we?” Biers asked.
Beth felt his hand still holding hers, but the darkness that had swallowed them would allow no light to pierce it.
“Somewhere you probably shouldn’t be,” Jin said with wry amusement.