Mothball was almost to Annika, screaming at her to keep running. Though Mothball was bigger than the usual rider of a Windbike—leaving no room for another passenger—she felt sure she could somehow lift Annika up and away from the monsters. Of course, the disgusting things could just leap into the air with their warped Chi’karda-melded wings, but she’d deal with one thing at a time.

About forty feet away, Mothball realized she was too late. Several fangen had caught up with Annika, flanking her to make sure she couldn’t fight her way out again. Her eyes met Mothball’s, and they seemed so full of fear that Mothball worried Annika might drop dead of it.

Determined to fight her way into the melee and save Annika and the Wand or die trying, Mothball surged forward.

She was almost there when Annika threw the Barrier Wand into the air as hard as she could, the shiny rod glistening in the morning sun as it windmilled end over end toward Mothball. An instant later, Annika disappeared under a mass of writhing yellow skin and claws.

Mothball reached out and caught the Wand with her right hand, screaming with fury at the beasts below her, knowing it was too late to save her friend.

Tick and Sato watched the entire ordeal play out from dozens of feet behind Mothball, flying in to help. Tick didn’t know if he should cheer or cry when their tall friend caught the Barrier Wand in her hand.

He had time to do neither.

A pack of three flying fangen attacked their Windbike in a swarm of sharp claws and spiky fangs and flapping wings.

Paul screamed when the claws raked down his back, trying not to picture in his mind what it had done to his skin. On instinct, he gripped Sofia harder for support and kicked behind him with his right leg. He felt a solid thump as his foot connected, followed by a hair-raising shriek that faded as the creature fell to the ground.

Sofia gunned the Windbike forward; it smashed into a flying fangen and sent it reeling to the side, hissing in frustration. Paul felt himself slipping backward and had to pull himself back onto the seat, all the while looking below them at the unbelievable sight. Everywhere he looked, more and more of the nightmarish creatures appeared, snapping at the air with their vicious fangs.

“Use the thing Mothball gave us!” Sofia yelled from up front, pulling it out of her pocket as she spoke.

“Sound Slicer,” Paul whispered to himself as he grabbed his own.

Together, they aimed the little cylinders at the nearest pack of fangen and pushed the buttons. A low sound vibrated through the air, barely discernible but heavy, rattling Paul’s bones as if he’d been standing next to tolling cathedral bells. Below them, the fangen suddenly plummeted toward the ground like they’d been hit with an invisible tidal wave.

“Whoa,” Paul said.

In tandem, he and Sofia swept the area below them, firing the Sound Slicer at anything in sight. Hordes of fangen fell from the sky.

“Find Mothball!” Paul yelled in Sofia’s ear.

Tick had never really been in a fight his entire life. He’d always walked away from them or taken the punishment or avoided them. But now he had no choice. With one hand clutching Sato’s shirt, he punched and kicked with his other three limbs, thrashing wildly as he frantically tried to avoid the fangs and claws of the fangen.

Sato swerved back and forth with the Windbike, alternately accelerating and slamming on the brakes, popping up and down, trying his best to get away from their attackers. But for every one that fell away, two more seemed to show up.

Tick felt his elbow connect with something solid, heard an eerie yelp. His feet kicked away a fangen on each side of the bike at the same time. He punched another one square between the small slits of its eyes. More of the beasts swarmed in. Tick reached into his pocket and pulled out the cylinder he’d received from Mothball, only to have it knocked out of his hands, falling to the ground below.

He felt something sharp on his shoulder blade, turning around to see that one of the fangen had grabbed his scarf, pulling itself closer with jaws wide open. Tick had to let go of Sato with his other hand as he swung his elbow up and around as hard as he could, slamming it into the beast’s neck. It screamed and fell away.

At that very moment, Tick’s stomach shot up into his throat as the Windbike suddenly plummeted toward the ground. He just barely grabbed the edges of the seat, turning toward the front of the bike.

His heart skittered when he saw that Sato had disappeared.

He looked up just in time to see two fangen flying away, Sato firmly in the grasp of their claws.


Double Doors

Frazier Gunn watched the action from his perch high atop the walls of the Lemon Fortress. Seeing the swarms of fangen descend on the few Realitants—especially the big one who’d kidnapped him in the Alaskan cemetery—gave him a grim sense of satisfaction.

His place in Mistress Jane’s hierarchy would surely skyrocket after this victory.

He saw the tall woman, grasping the useless Barrier Wand, dodging and weaving through hundreds of fangen as she tried to escape. He worried slightly she might break it—even though it couldn’t be used without the Chi’karda Drive, the shell itself was a complex instrument in its own right that would take months to replace—but the army of creatures had direct orders to retrieve it safe and sound. Everything would be fine.

Surprised by a sudden yawn, Frazier decided he’d had enough; the fangen were already boring him. He turned around and went back into the castle proper, hoping Mistress Jane might call on him for congratulations very soon.

Tick knew Sato’s fate was sealed if Tick couldn’t gain control of the Windbike before it crashed into the ground

below. The bike twisted and pitched back and forth as it

fell, throwing his senses into complete chaos. He steeled himself, forcing his eyes and hands to focus on the leather seat, pulling himself toward the handlebars. Though he didn’t dare look, he could feel the lawn and river rushing up to smash him to bits. He only had seconds to live unless he . . .

With one last grunt, he yanked himself upright and squeezed his legs on both sides of the bike’s body. He quickly grabbed the handlebars and bent them toward the sky. With a lurch that almost made his stomach implode, the Windbike slowed to a halt then shot straight back up into the air. As dozens of fangen repositioned themselves to attack him again, Tick looked in the direction Sato had been taken. He could just see his flailing body, resisting the two creatures that’d whisked him away.