The Void of Mist and Thunder (The 13th Reality #4)(2)

by James Dashner

It was a lady, though Jacob could only tell that from the ratty, filthy dress she wore; a hood was pulled up over her head. A red mask, seemingly made out of metal, covered her face. The expression on the mask was one of anger.

She saw them just as they saw her, and she stopped to stare, the features of the mask shifting to create an expression of absolute shock.

Jacob took a step backward before he realized what he was doing.

“Who are you?” the woman asked, her voice raw and scratchy, like it came out of a throat scarred with acid. “Do you know how this happened?”

Jacob’s mouth had turned into a bucket of dust, and he couldn’t remember how his tongue or voice box worked. He tried getting words out, but nothing came except the slightest hint of a croak.

Surprisingly, Chip spoke up. “Lots of bad sounds came from over here, and the whole place is stinky. Me and my grandpa were just trying to see what happened.”

Such bravery from the kid meant Jacob had to speak. He found his voice. “Where you from, miss? Um, if you don’t mind me asking.”

The lady’s mask melted—literally, by the looks of it—into a frown. “I’m from the Thirteenth Reality. Where are you?”

Jacob swallowed a lump the size of his big toe. “Um . . . Kentucky?”

Before the lady could respond, her image and everything around her suddenly spun into a tornado of colors that quickly merged and transformed into a mass of gray. It swirled and swirled, picking up speed and creating a wind that tore at Jacob’s clothing. And then the sound of terrible thunder seemed to come from everywhere at once, shaking the forest and splintering Jacob’s skull with pain.

When the spinning mass of gray mist expanded and took him, he had the strange thought that although he certainly wasn’t a cat, curiosity had killed him all the same.

Chapter 2

A Formidable Foe

Mistress Jane winked herself a thousand yards down the beach as soon as the first sign of trouble appeared with the strange gash into another reality. She’d been talking to an old man and his boy, just beginning to wonder if she dared try to step through and escape the Nonex, when the whole thing collapsed into a spinning vortex of gray mist. It was all gone now, the echoes of the detonating thunder that had accompanied its short but catastrophic end just now rumbling away to oblivion.

Interesting. That was all she could come up with to describe what she’d witnessed. Very, very interesting. She had the faintest spark of an idea as to what had actually happened. It gave her something to contemplate while trapped in her bizarre new world.

She turned away and resumed her long walk down the never-ending beach. The salty breeze coming off the ocean waters stirred her robe, and she wished she could take off her mask and feel the wind against her cheeks once more. But it hurt to remove the thing, and even if she did, the result would be disappointing. The nerves of her skin were mostly burned away, replaced by the particles of Chu’s Dark Infinity weapon. She felt things in a different way now. Not unpleasant, necessarily, but not the same.

Chu. Reginald Chu. Why did she have to think of the man?

She’d spent the last week with him and that upstart boy Atticus Higginbottom. In the Nonex, there was nowhere else to go. They were on an island that sometimes seemed small and other times, gigantic. Nothing made sense in this place. You could begin eating a piece of fresh fruit and have the thing turn rotten before you finished. Fish flew through the air, and birds swam underwater. Trees shifted in the night—or what passed for night. It had been three days since the sun last set below the horizon. Everything here was wrong.

Not to mention the bad company. Chu was nasty—always grumpy, always degrading in how he spoke to her, always arrogant. Atticus was nice enough, considering the three of them were bitter enemies, one to another, but he had his own kind of arrogance, as if his innocence and goodwill were tangible things that floated around his body, pointing out how everyone else wasn’t worthy to be in his presence. The boy made her ill. And angry. And thirsty for revenge.

But none of that mattered right now. None of it. They all had the same goal at the moment, and that was to get out of the blasted nowhere they currently called home.

A flicker of movement to her right caught her attention. She stopped just in time to see the boy come out from behind some trees, carrying some stray wood. He dumped it on the ground.

How sweet, she thought bitterly. He’s making a campfire. What a Boy Scout. Same team or not, they all tried to keep their distance from one another as best they could.

When Atticus noticed her, a look of sheer disappointment painted his features. This both hurt Jane and made her angry.

“Where’s Chu?” she asked, as though the boy were her servant and not her mortal enemy.

Atticus shrugged. “I don’t know.” He knelt on the ground and started arranging the logs in an orderly pyramid.

“You find some matches I don’t know about?” Jane asked. “If you think I’m in the mood to help—”

The logs burst into flame, all of them. An instant bonfire.

Atticus stood up, gave her a glare. But then his look changed to guilt, as if it were against his nature to be mean. Then he smiled, which made Jane angrier.

“Altering the physical state of wood from a solid to a gas?” he asked with another shrug. “You think I can’t do that by myself? Come on. That’s as easy as lighting a match, Mistress Jane.”

He didn’t wait for a response, just turned and walked away, disappearing back into the woods.

Igniting fire. Such a simple thing, really. And yet, for some reason, it terrified her to see the boy do it without any obvious effort whatsoever. She flopped down onto the sand, staring at the waves as they lapped onto the beach and tried to ignore the icy fear trickling through her veins.

Atticus—the boy known as Tick—was a foe to be reckoned with.

Jane had been sitting on the beach for hours, staring out at the wondrous ocean that wasn’t really an ocean, when suddenly the horizon jumped up and down. The water turned from blue to green to black, then froze into ice, crackling; then it was hot and boiling. A fish popped out of the shifting water and spread its fins like wings, hovering a few seconds before exploding into a spray of rainbow-colored sparkles. Lightning shot down from a cloudless sky and hit the water, creating huge splashes of something dark and thick, like oil. She looked down at the sand, and within a matter of seconds, it had changed color three times.