Mothball was first, wrapping her huge hand around the very top of the cylinder. One by one, the others followed her example, clasping the Wand in quick succession—Paul, Sofia, Tick. All eyes went to Sato, who turned and spat on the ground. Then, with all the enthusiasm of putting his hand into a cage full of rattlesnakes, he grabbed the lower edge of the Wand.

“I’m very sorry indeed we didn’t have more time to talk,” Master George said, his tone solemn. “I expected a few more hours at least, but we must move on, mustn’t we? Remember the plan, and remember your courage. May the Realities smile upon you, and may we see each other again very soon.”

Without waiting for a response, Master George pushed the golden button.


The Thirteenth Reality

Mistress Jane sat on her throne, eyes closed, deep in thought as she waited for her next visitor. What a life mine has become. So many people hated and despised her, wished she were dead. But they simply did not understand. All of her cruelty and harsh rule had a purpose, and someday the Realities would know of her goodness.

All she wanted was to make life better.

What a poor existence the wretches of Reality Prime eked out from day to day. It was a marvel they continued on despite the drab bleakness of their lives—no power, no joy, no color. Jane would change all of that. The new and improved version of Chi’karda made every second a wonderful moment, and it must be shared. It must be spread. The Realitants had always talked about finding a utopian Reality someday, a paradise on Earth; Jane could make it happen.

She was so close to implementing her plan. One by one, she would fragment and destroy the branching Realities until only Prime and the Thirteenth remained. Then, with an army such as never before witnessed in all of history, she would take over Reality Prime, consuming it with the mutated Chi’karda. Only then could the universe be rebuilt, one world at a time, a better place for all.

In a million years, her name would still be remembered with love and worship.

She needed help, of course. She’d sent a letter to a very important person, setting up a meeting on May thirteenth—a meeting that represented the final and most important part of her plan. Only one more week, she thought. If Reginald Chu agreed to her terms at that meeting, nothing could stop her. Nothing. Especially not the pathetic and laughable Master George and his dwindling Realitants. Just hours earlier, she’d finally initiated the attack on his headquarters, an act for which she’d shown much patience, having wanted to do it for years.

One more week until the meeting with Chu. The final piece of the puzzle.

Jane opened her eyes. It was time to speak with Gunn.

Frazier felt sweat seeping into his eyebrows from his forehead, as if the skin itself were melting.

He stood before the huge wooden door with its iron bindings and handle, barely able to breathe as he waited for the horrible thing to open. He had failed, miserably, and there was no telling how Mistress Jane might react. Sometimes she was very merciful to her failures—allowing them to die with a quick snap of her odd abilities in this place. At other times, she displayed much less kindness. Jane had immense amounts of control over the mutated Chi’karda that existed in the Thirteenth, and she loved to . . . experiment.

A muted thump sounded from the other side of the door, followed by the odd sound of something dissolving, like the scratchy rush of poured sand or the amplified roar of a million termites devouring a house. A hole appeared in the middle of the door, expanding outward like a ripple in a pond, devouring the wood and iron of the door as it grew until the entrance to Jane’s throne room was completely open.

Why can’t she just open the door, Frazier thought to himself. Always has to show off her twisted power.

Frazier steeled himself, promising himself he would remain dignified as he met his fate. He knew he had only one chance to redeem his folly and perhaps to save his life. Smoothing his filthy shirt, he stepped forward into the gaudy and ridiculous throne room of Mistress Jane.

From top to bottom, side to side, the room was a complete sea of yellow.

Tapestries of yellow people on yellow horses in fields of yellow daisies. Yellow padded chairs on yellow rugs on top of yellow carpets. The walls, the couches, the paintings, the pillows, the servants’ clothing, the lamps, the books—even the wood and bricks of the fireplace had been painted yellow. It made Frazier sick to his stomach, and reminded him once again that the woman he’d chosen to follow was completely insane.

But Frazier knew one day Jane would snap, and someone would need to replace her. That’s where I come in, he thought. If I can only survive this day.

A buzzing sound from above made him look up to see two large insects flying down toward him.

Snooper bugs, he thought. Could she be any more paranoid?

The enormous winged creatures flew around him in a tight circle, their cellophane wings flapping in a blur, their elongated beaks snipping at his clothes and poking at his skin. Frazier winced, but kept still and silent, knowing the vicious things could get quite nasty if you didn’t submit completely. Finally, after inflicting dozens of tiny wounds all over his body, the two Snoopers flew back to their nests. They didn’t need to communicate anything further to Jane—if Frazier had been holding any poisons or weapons, he’d be dead.

“Come forward,” a gruff voice said from the side. Frazier looked over to see a grotesquely fat man who looked like a hideous cross between a dwarf and a troll, hovering ten feet in the air, his plump legs dangling. His head, face, and chest were covered in dark, greasy hair, and he wore nothing but a wide skirt around his middle, proudly displaying his disgustingly bloated skin. “The Mistress will see you now.” He held out a flabby arm, gesturing deep into the throne room. “Hurry. She is a busy woman.”

Frazier shuddered and followed the guard’s instructions, staring straight ahead. He didn’t stop walking until he reached the Kneeling Pillow of Mistress Jane, where he did as countless others had done before him, dropping to his knees and kissing the ground before him. Then, daring to show some boldness, he leaned back on his legs and looked up at the preposterous throne.

It was black.

Mistress Jane had never explained to anyone why her throne was made from completely nondescript, heavy, black iron, nor had anyone ever dared ask. But Frazier thought it must be a symbol that her seat of power was so important, she wanted it to stand out among the world of yellow.