Hidden Pages – Chapter 21 – On the Precipice


Beth could tell when Lagressa woke because the scaled woman stopped breathing.

“It’s ok,” Beth said. “We’re safe here. For the moment at least.”

Lagressa was silent, but her eyes were open and scanning the room. She relaxed and took in a breath when her gaze fell on Beth.

“The sentries marked us as intruders and disabled you because they registered you as an ‘activated combatant’.”

“Their estimation was correct,” Lagressa said. “Where are they now and how long have I been unconscious?”

“You were out for about ten minutes and the sentries are back on patrol. It took them a while but they eventually accepted that we’re legitimate visitors here,” Beth said.

“And why would they accept such a thing?” Lagressa asked.

“Because I have a library key!” Beth said, producing the small metal cylinder she’d conjured from the margins of the narrative.

“Ah, the summoning capability your father spoke of I presume?” Lagressa asked.

“Yeah. It seemed safe enough to use it now,” Beth said. “Especially after the Burners used a much broader version of the same thing to open the portal to one of the Reilian worlds.”

“Didn’t your father say such conjurations are unstable though?” Lagressa asked.

“I think so, but he was being cagey there,” Beth said. “If you remember, his words were ‘I’m careful with how much conjuring I do because I’ve had the items fail on me at odd times’. I think that was another area where he was concerned that my gift might not be quite the same as his.”

“It seems it was sufficient to buy us safe passage in this instance,” Lagressa said. “Though you mentioned our safety may be only temporary?”

“Less ‘may’ and more ‘definitely will be’,” Beth said. “Before they left, the Burners summoned a stellar gate to the homeworld of the Reilians. The Reilians decided that warranted more than a cursory response, probably because a Sand Lion ate their rapid response team.”

“They’ve sent a second force?” Lagressa asked.

“You could say that,” Beth said and swiveled a monitor out from the wall.

Lagressa was lying on one of the reading couches, so there were a variety of monitors nearby displaying live statistics from various worlds. The one Beth repositioned showed a Sand Lion in the medium distance from the camera and an enormous web of frozen lightning pulsing in the sky above.

“I presume this is a view of the land above us?” Lagressa asked.

“Directly above us as it turns out,” Beth said.

“And the spell web in the sky is what exactly?” Lagressa asked.

“Not a spell. Not here at any rate,” Beth said. “That’s a Grand Stellar Warp. Basically a teleportation portal that lets people move from one star to another.”

“That looks large enough to move more than people,” Lagressa said.

“It is. Regular Stellar Warps are fine for moving personnel around, or even small forces and regular vehicles. Grand Stellar Warps are when you want to move more than just a ship. Those are for bringing in entire fleets.”

“I see no crafts in the sky. How long does it take to form?” Lagressa asked.

“Without resistance, they can appear almost instantly,” Beth said. “Most civilized planets have shields though that prevent Grand Stellar Warps from opening close by them.”

“The Reilians are testing the shields here then I take it?” Lagressa asked.

“Testing and overcoming them,” Beth said. “Those bolts of light you see represent the cracks in spacetime that the Reilians are forcing through the planetary shields. Once they spread far enough, the shield will shatter and the Reilians will be able to move in with whatever forces they want.”

“Was an invasion by the Reilians part of the original narrative?” Lagressa asked.

“No, and that’s the problem,” Beth said. “If the invasion occurs, I think the narrative of the story will collapse.”

“And that would kick us back to your world,” Lagressa said.

“Where the Burners are waiting for us,” Beth finished.

“We’ve seen three of them destroyed by the Sand Lion here though,” Lagressa said.

“Yes, but there were four at our house, and that’s only counting the ones we saw. According to my dad, if they considered our house a serious target they would have brought more than one team to deal with me. Also the destroyed Burners were probably just kicked back to my world the same as we would be.”

“Your mother remained behind,” Lagressa said. “Will they try to use her against you?”

“She said they wouldn’t. Or more specifically, that they couldn’t,” Beth said. “I think normal people are off limits to them for some reason. Unless, of course, she was lying to me so I wouldn’t worry about her.”

“I cannot imagine a family member placing themselves in peril to spare an offspring, but that perhaps speaks more to my upbringing than the common course of action a parent would take,” Lagressa said.

“I’m pretty sure my mom would lie her head off if it meant keeping me safe, but I don’t think she needed to this time. If the Burners could make trouble for her directly, I think she would have insisted on coming along with me.”

“To be safe from the Burners?” Lagressa asked.

“No, to make sure she could do to them what she did to de Rais,” Beth said. “The Burners may not be able to directly menace my mom, but if they have me as a hostage they’d have a lot of indirect leverage over her.”

“We need to remain here for everyone’s safety then,” Lagressa said.

“I think we can do better than that,” Beth said. “I picked this spot because it’s the site of an enormous amount of collected knowledge. Specifically everything that’s ever been known by anyone in the Measureless Stars.”

“The Burners aren’t part of the Measureless Stars universe though. At least no more so than you or I are,” Lagressa said.

“Maybe not, and maybe this is just me clutching at straws, but I’m thinking that we might not be the first people from my world to have visited the universe of the Measureless Stars,” Beth said. “It’s a popular series and it caught a lot of people’s imaginations. If even one other person who read it could journey into the Unread, then I’m certain they would have come here.”

“And this library should know about that?” Lagressa asked.

“In theory? Yes. The difficult part is finding a record of that in the endless sea of information stored in the library,” Beth said. A tremor shook the room they were in, rattling the monitors on the walls and ceiling. “Correction; the trick is finding the info we need in an endless ocean of data before a war fleet sends the place crashing down around our ears.”