Tick was about to say something when Mothball shushed him, holding up a hand as she perked her ears, looking around for signs of mischief. At first, Tick couldn’t hear anything, but then the faintest sound of giggling and high-pitched chatter came from everywhere at once, bouncing along the lawn in front of them and from the trees behind them.

“What is that?” Paul whispered.

The creepy cacophony of hoots and howls and wicked laughter grew louder.

“That can’t be good,” Sofia muttered, her eyes wide in her frightened face. “Mothball, what’s going on?”

“Methinks we’ve been found out, I do,” she answered, standing to get a better look at the Lemon Fortress. “Sounds like the fangen to me, and they be comin’ fast. We may have to fight a bit after all. Don’t worry, the lugs are still blind and clumsy so all ya’ll need to do is move a lot and shoot ’em with these little gems.”

She pulled out several dark-green cylinders from a side pocket on her backpack and passed one to each of the kids. They were thin and several inches long, one end tapering to a point. Tick took his and examined the shiny surface, noticing a small button toward the thicker end.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“That there’s the Sound Slicer,” Mothball answered. “Point the narrowed bit at the beasties when they get close and push the button. Keep ’em off ya, it will.”

“What does it—” Sofia began.

Before she could finish her question, the sound of wood scraping against stone echoed through the air. Everyone turned in unison to see the wide double doors of the castle opening outward like the gaping jaws of a monster. The seam in the middle had barely grown a foot wide before a woman with long black hair shot out of it, dressed in a bright green dress, running with strained and frantic effort. In her right hand, she held a long golden rod.

The Barrier Wand.

“It’s Annika!” Mothball roared as she jumped back onto her Windbike. “Quick! Fly to her—fly to her!”

She shot into the air and down the path of the river, toward the running woman, who kept looking behind her, terrified. She shouted something as she ran, but they were too far away to hear. As Tick scrambled onto the Windbike behind Sato, he saw tall, gangly figures pouring through the castle doors, more and more as the exit opened wider. He couldn’t tell what the creatures were, but they seemed . . . wrong somehow. They were basically human in shape, but all comparisons ended there.

Sato shot through the air and pulled up beside Mothball as they drew closer to Annika. “What are those things?” he yelled.

The creatures’ skin was a putrid hue of yellow, like they’d been infected with a horrible disease. Clumpy patches of hair sprang from their bodies in random places and they wore only scant, filthy clothing that looked like tattered sheets that barely covered their thick torsos. Their eyes were mere slits, burning red pupils peeping out like a glimpse of hot lava. And their mouths . . .

They were huge, full of pointy spikes of enormous teeth.

“Them’s the fangen,” Mothball shouted. “Nasty beasties, they are. But we can fight ’em off with a bit of effort.”

Even as she spoke, the hackles and cries from the fangen grew louder. Tick looked around in horror as he saw more of the sickly creatures appearing from everywhere, out of ditches, over the crests of the surrounding hills, out of the forest. They came from all directions, some bounding along on all four of their skinny arms and legs, others running upright; still others had things sprouting off their backs, membranous extensions resembling dirty sails, tautly flapping in the wind. With horror, Tick realized they were wings.

“By the way,” Mothball yelled, readying herself to dive for Annika. “Fangen can fly.”

High above the grounds, safe in her room, Mistress Jane sat next to the open air of her window, listening with glee to the horrific sounds of her attacking army. Amazing what the power of this twisted and evil Reality could create. This was her first practical use of the fangen. How wonderful.

But with so many against so few, it hardly seemed fair.

She looked down in her lap, where she cradled the Chi’karda Drive like a newborn baby. Without it, the pathetic band of Realitants could never use her Barrier Wand to escape. And she had already received word that Master George’s Wand had been damaged beyond repair in the battle at the Bermuda Triangle. Good news, all around.

She did feel a little saddened by Annika’s betrayal. Jane had trusted her with so many trivial and demeaning duties. What a pity she’d have to be done away with.

Mistress Jane screamed for something to eat. She had a show to enjoy before she sat down to strategize for her meeting with Reginald Chu in a few days.

Her plan to make the universe a better place had officially begun.

Sofia had fallen far behind the other two Windbikes, too shocked by the sight of the onrushing creatures to push ahead any faster. She spun in a slow circle as she took it all in. The fangen were everywhere. The sight of the tall, awkward creatures, with their bony arms and legs attached to a thick, solid torso and their disgusting skin and patches of greasy hair, made her sick.

“Man, what are those things!” Paul shouted from behind her.

“Your long-lost cousins!” Sofia yelled back, knowing there couldn’t possibly be a worst time to make a joke, but unable to stop herself.

“Hilarious—now hurry and catch up with Mothball!”

Sofia was about to push forward on the handlebars when something appeared right in front of them, shooting up from the ground.

One of the creatures, its enormous mouth baring fangs the size of small knives, hovered in midair, blocking their path. It looked hungry.

Sofia saw the wings for the first time, furled out behind the fangen like a horrific version of giant palm leaves.

From behind her, Paul suddenly screamed.

The fangen moved twice as fast as Annika could run, and they were almost on top of her as Mothball dove toward the ground like a hawk on a field mouse. Her heart hurt at seeing the terror on her old friend’s face as she ran, the fierceness in Annika’s eyes enough to turn water to stone. Mothball leaned on the handlebars, willing the Windbike to move faster. She wasn’t close enough to use a Sound Slicer, and even if she were, she couldn’t use it; the thing would turn Annika’s brain to jelly.

A fangen jumped on Annika’s back, throwing her to the ground. Annika rolled, gripping the Barrier Wand with both hands and swinging wildly. She hit the creature in the face, a strange bark coming out of its mouth as it reared back in pain. Annika scrambled to her feet and kept running, the horde of fangen right on her tail. The clumsy things constantly stumbled over each other, but never lost ground due to sheer numbers.