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


by James Dashner

As he got closer to the spot of blue, it grew in size, but not just because he approached it. It literally grew, expanding outward like a drop of food coloring on a paper towel. Tick stopped and watched as its leading edge came toward him, then stopped at his feet. He could see that it was frozen water, but the icy lake seemed unnatural, as if it were made up of that nasty colored stuff used to create small ponds at the miniature golf place.

Tick dropped to his knees, knowing this was what he was supposed to do. Crystals of snow plumed out from behind him, dancing across the surface of the deep blue ice. Somehow they avoided a portion of the lake, forming a perfectly white rectangular frame. Tick knew what would happen before it did.

The rectangle flickered like a television coming to life, and then a moving image appeared on the ice, replacing the blue.

Tick leaned forward, placing his hands on the outer edge of the cold, frozen lake. What he saw stopped his heart for three full seconds. His mom and his sister, marching toward a huge wall of broken stone. They were led by two creatures that he’d run into before—long, gangly things that seemed to be made from coils of solid smoke.

Sleeks.

Chapter 12

Creatures

Lisa had felt terror before. When she and Kayla had been taken to that strange house with those strange women and the earthquake had hit. The storm of lightning and thunder. That had been her first true taste of fear.

And now she was experiencing it again.

The creatures that had taken her and her mom were ruthless and brutal as they dragged the two of them down the slope and across the grass to the broken castle. Their grip was hard and their pace furious.

They walked along a stream, the rushing water sparkling and glinting in the sunlight, the sound not doing a thing to help soothe Lisa’s nerves. She remembered Tick telling the story of his first visit to the Thirteenth Reality and the battle that had been fought here with the fangen. At the time, she could never have imagined that one day she’d be in the same place, in the same kind of trouble.

“What do you want with us?” Lisa’s mom asked for the twentieth time. And for the twentieth time, the creatures said nothing.

Lisa looked at the Barrier Wand that was still in her mom’s clutches, surprised that one of the monsters hadn’t taken it from her. If she remembered Tick’s tale completely, the castle of Mistress Jane was another hotspot for Chi’karda, so her mom would need only a free minute to switch the dials and instruments and wink them out of there. They just needed the right opportunity.

Finally, they approached the ruins of the once-grand structure, the stream disappearing under a stone wall. Now that they were closer, Lisa could finally get a good look at the different types of creatures that had been crawling all over the crumpled and half-standing walls of the castle. Some matched Tick’s description of the nasty fangen: blackish skin, splotchy green hair, giant mouths full of spiked teeth, thin membranes of wings stretching out from their backs. There were others. More of the smoky-rope kind that had captured Lisa and her mom. Some that were small and hunched and charcoal gray, like grotesque statues come to life. Some that looked like a cross between an alligator and a bull, with massively strong arms. They all blended together into one display of horror.

And their purpose was obvious. They were trying to rebuild the castle, stone by stone.

Their current captors stopped them by one of the more solid sections of the ruins, about thirty feet from where the stream slipped under the wall. A huge wooden door stood next to it—or what used to be a door. Now it was mostly shredded, chunks and splinters hanging off around the edges. Darkness lurked behind the opening.

The monstrous pair threw Lisa and her mom to the ground in front of the door. The two of them immediately crawled to each other and huddled together, the Barrier Wand snuggled between them, its surface hard and cold. Lisa’s mom started slyly turning the dials and switches.

The creatures floated up into the air and flew over to the wall of the castle, their wispy figures like streams of smoke whipping through the wind. They landed on the hard stone and used their long arms and legs to crawl up its side, mixing in with the rest of the other dark and twisted creatures.

“Get us out of here,” Lisa whispered to her mom.

“I’m working on it.” Her hands slowly turned a dial until it clicked. “But I don’t want them to notice. And I’m not even sure I want us to wink out of here just yet.”

“What? Why?”

Her mom looked disappointed. “After all we went through to get here in the first place? There has to be a reason that Chi’karda and Reality pulled us here when we tried to grab Atticus. Maybe we’re on his trail or something. Or maybe we’re being guided to his nanolocator, and this is a stop along the way.”

Lisa was a little ashamed for wanting to hightail it out of there, but being dead wouldn’t help Tick much either. “Or maybe we’re about to be eaten for dinner by all of these monsters.”

“Maybe. Don’t worry your little heart, girl. I have the Wand all set, and if worse comes to worst, I’ll click the button and wink us away. We can start all over again. From the beginning. Without any hope.”

Lisa groaned and rolled her eyes. “Okay, Mom. I got your point loud and clear.”

There was movement in the darkness behind the shattered door, and a figure appeared, like a shrouded ghost. Lisa wanted to get up and run, but she kept her eyes focused on the person who approached. As the figure came into the light, Lisa could see a robe made of a coarse, off-white material, its hood pulled up and over the face, hiding it. Two hands emerged from the arms of the robe, the fingers folded together in front. Lisa had expected the hands to be gnarled and ancient, but the skin looked young and healthy.

A woman’s hands.

The robed stranger walked to where Lisa and her mom sat. She was tall and thin, and the image of her hooded head gave her a commanding presence, like an ancient oracle or druid.

“You can wink away if you wish,” the lady said, her voice a hollow ring. “But I ask only that you allow me to tell you one very important thing first.”

“What is it?” Lisa’s mom replied, cautious.

The woman reached up with those young hands of hers and pulled back the hood of her robe, revealing a homely, stoic face framed by short, black hair. She had a nose that pointed straight out like a carrot.

“We brought you here,” she said, “because you’re trying to find Atticus Higginbottom. And so are we.”