The Void of Mist and Thunder (The 13th Reality #4)(11)


by James Dashner

He was so anxious that his fat fingers hit the wrong key twice, but he finally opened up the attached picture.

There were trees—lots of them. And down the middle of the photo, a gash, as if someone had painted over the forest scene with an image of a beach. And on that beach was Mistress Jane, looking toward the camera with her menacing red mask. Over her shoulder, standing a ways behind her in the sand, was another figure.

Rutger quickly zoomed in, leaning forward to get a better look. His gasp echoed throughout the entire Realitant headquarters.

It was Tick.

Chapter 10

Probing

The air around Tick hummed.

He, Chu, and Mistress Jane had been holding hands for more than an hour, eyes closed, the campfire slowly dying. Tick could barely hear the last flickers of its flames over the thrumming sound that came from the Chi’karda that burned between the three linked humans. Anyone who might have observed the group from afar would have seen a massive cloud of tiny orange lights, a fiery mist that churned and boiled around them.

Chu, of course, had no power whatsoever over the realm of quantum physics. He had never known any kind of power unless it was manufactured with technology. But Tick and Jane were a different story. They both had control over the mysterious force that ruled all existence—Jane, because she’d been forever melded with the largest Barrier Wand ever created, and Tick, because of reasons no one had quite figured out yet. Master George had merely said he was on to something that might explain it and that it involved soulikens.

But they’d never really had a chance to talk about it, had they?

Tick couldn’t allow his mind to wander. He pushed away the thoughts trying to barrel their way in and focused on the task at hand. Escaping the Nonex.

Jane and Chu had agreed to his plan without argument. It seemed they both had grown desperate to get out and were willing to rely on Tick’s idea. He had, after all, worked directly with the Haunce and saved the entire universe.

And that’s what Tick was banking on. Mistress Jane had channeled her Chi’karda—every last drop that she could muster—into Tick for him to use as he needed. Tick had gathered it in, mixing it with his own until he had more of the natural force around him—and within him—than any human should be able to endure. A few weeks ago it would’ve killed him instantly.

But he had learned so much.

The Chi’karda raged. It was pure power, collected into one place like a newborn star ready to explode with heat and energy. But Tick kept it at bay, probed it, felt it, soothed it in some way. The feel of it was pure and clean, like an inferno burning inside his chest.

He didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, but he had a good idea. A sense more than anything. Tick felt like someone was standing right behind him, just inches away. His eyes couldn’t see them, but he knew someone was there all the same.

The Haunce had taught him a valuable lesson. Reality spoke to you in interesting ways—not in the formulas and equations of mathematicians and scientists, nor in the dry, lengthy descriptions found in dusty old textbooks. Reality was on another level altogether, at one with our minds. It spoke to you in the best way your own self can speak back. And that’s what Tick wanted as he probed things he didn’t understand with the power of Chi’karda.

He was looking for a riddle.

Lorena Higginbottom knew her stuff.

She’d suspected from the very second they’d appeared on that rain-slicked grass that her Barrier Wand had winked her and Lisa into the Thirteenth Reality. Something about the smell and feel of the place had been her first clue. The big forest—with no signs of technology or civilization around—had been her next clue. And then, when they’d stumbled up to the top of that ridge and had seen Mistress Jane’s ruined castle, any remaining doubt had vanished.

She knew that castle because she’d been there before. Just once. But that had been enough.

Now it was a collapsed shell of its former self, broken and crumbled. Fangen and other creatures swarmed what still stood, but they were too far away to know exactly what they were doing. But if she could help it, Lorena wouldn’t take her daughter one step closer to find out.

They’d sneaked back down the hill until the castle was out of sight and entered the outskirts of the forest they’d been trying to avoid. They needed cover, and time to think. The dark depths of the woods chilled her, though, and she kept a wary eye out for intruders.

“So what are we going to do?” Lisa asked. They’d been whispering back and forth for a while now, but no solid plan had solidified yet.

“Well, like I said,” Lorena answered, “my first instinct is to get ourselves back to that place we winked into and get out of this scary Reality.”

“But?” Lisa prodded.

“But there has to be some reason we were pulled here. I was trying to isolate Atticus’s nanolocator, pushing the Chi’karda levels to the extreme, and somehow, instead of bringing him to us, it brought us here.”

“But why?”

Lorena had to refrain from giving her daughter an impatient look. “Well, dear, that’s what I think we need to figure out. If we just wink back home, we’ll never know.”

Lisa opened her mouth to answer, but she didn’t say anything as a sound came from deeper in the woods, like the whoosh of wind blowing through an open door.

Lorena searched the darkness between the trees but saw no sign of movement. The strange noise stopped after several seconds.

She and Lisa didn’t say anything—they didn’t need to. They were in the Thirteenth Reality, after all, a couple of miles from Mistress Jane’s castle. Caution had already been strong, and now things were on full alert. They both stood up, slowly and quietly, reaching out to take each other’s hand. Lorena held the Wand in her free hand, ready to club something if she had to. The Chi’karda levels weren’t quite high enough to wink away from where they were.

Something crunched up ahead. Twigs cracked on the ground. Then again. And again. There was no sign of the source of the sound, but it was coming closer.

“Just step away,” Lorena whispered. “Quickly now.”

They faced the forest as they began to walk backwards, their footsteps also crunching through the underbrush. Lisa’s hand was shaking, and sweat slicked her palm. The noises continued, but Lorena still couldn’t see who was approaching. The mystery stranger picked up its pace, heading for them. The time for caution was gone.