Mistress Jane glared at Frazier Gunn, who knelt before her chair by the window, like a criminal begging for his life. Surprisingly, Jane felt more intrigued than angry about this new development. Maybe she would let Gunn live after all.

“I don’t know how it happened, Mistress,” Gunn grumbled, sweat covering his face. “The Realitants disappeared and took the Barrier Wand with them.”

Jane reached over and lifted the Chi’karda Drive from where she’d placed it on the stone ledge of the windowsill. “How, exactly, could they do that when I’m holding the heart of the Wand in my hands?”

“George must’ve winked them out somehow.” Gunn kept his eyes fixed on the floor.

“Impossible,” Jane said immediately. “I have firsthand reports that George’s Wand broke in half. Plus, you’re the one who said their plan was to go back to the ancient Plague battlefield and get winked hours from now.”

“Then how did—”

“SILENCE!” Jane had endured this stupid man for quite long enough. “Leave me. I don’t want to see you for a very long time.” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

“Yes, Mistress.”

Jane watched him get to his feet and shuffle away, murmuring incessantly his thanks for her gracious decision to let him live. He was lucky—losing the Wand was a major loss; its parts and mechanisms were equally as important as the Chi’karda Drive itself—but she had much more important things flying through the recesses of her brilliant mind.

How had they done it? How had they manipulated the Chi’karda powerfully enough without the Drive? And in the heart of her personal fortress at that? Did it have something to do with the twisted version of the mysterious force that existed in the Thirteenth Reality? Jane tapped a sharp fingernail against her lips, thinking.

Did one of those bratty kids have some kind of special power over the Chi’karda? Many questions indeed.

The implications were vast, the possibilities endless.

Despite the setback, Mistress Jane smiled.

To any outside observer, it would have seemed as though Tick and his friends had just won the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Championship in one fell swoop. Having been through so much, and after having hundreds of creepy yellow fangen within inches of tearing them to pieces, winking away to complete safety seemed reason enough to jump up and down, screaming and hugging and cheering and then to start all over again.

“What took you so long!” Paul yelled, whacking Tick on the back with a huge smile on his face.

“I was trying to decide if I wanted to take you or leave you behind,” Tick replied, grinning.

They celebrated inside a room very similar to the one they’d left in the Bermuda Triangle, though a much smaller version—a couple of couches, a chair, a cold brick fireplace. A single window was placed directly across from the fireplace, and it looked out upon a dry palette of colors—oranges, reds, browns.

Tick brought his giddiness back to reason and walked over to get a better look at the view. Beyond their room was a huge drop-off that led to a brown strip of river far below. Sheer walls of striated rock rose up from the valley on all sides, stretching in all directions as far as Tick could see. This was the satellite location Master George had said he’d send them to?

It was a canyon. No, it was the canyon.

“Are we inside the Grand Canyon?” he asked to no one in particular.

“That we are,” Mothball answered. “This big crack’s brimming over with Chi’karda, it is.”

“Then where are Master George and Rutger?” Sofia asked.

A fallen mood filled the room like a sluggish oil spill, and no one said a word.

Master George worked furiously on his Barrier Wand, welding and wiring and hammering. He and Rutger had managed to repel the attack from Mistress Jane with an odd assortment of weapons, but not before the creatures had smashed his Wand in half with an axe. At least they’d missed severing the Chi’karda Drive.

Knowing his deadline to pull the Realitants out of the Thirteenth Reality was only a couple of hours away, he wiped the sweat off his brow and doubled his efforts.

“Master George!” Rutger yelled from the other room, followed by the quick series of heavy thumps that always marked the little man running on his short legs.

“What is it, Rutger?” Master George asked, annoyed. “Can’t you see I’m under considerable duress?”

His friend stopped in the doorway, panting like he’d just run three miles. “Master George!”

“Speak, man, and be quick about it!”

“The nanolocators . . . Mothball, Tick . . . everyone—they winked to our station at the Canyon!”

His old friend’s news made Master George regret the harshness of his words. “That’s wonderful, Rutger! Wonderful, indeed!” He went back to work on the Wand, very encouraged indeed.

Three hours after Tick and the others arrived at the Grand Canyon—three long and boring but happy hours—Master George and Rutger suddenly appeared by the fireplace without any warning, disheveled and dirty, but faces beaming.

Tick didn’t know how to react; he felt shocked, relieved, elated, confused. He jumped up from the couch, his emotions swirling from all the highs and lows he’d felt since he’d awakened that morning. Mistress Jane’s Barrier Wand lay on the couch next to him and he picked it up, excited to show Master George, who was already talking a mile a minute.

“I can hardly believe my eyes, old chaps! You did it, you really did it, indeed! I couldn’t be more delighted if Muffintops bore twelve kittens this very instant. Why, I—” He stopped, catching sight of the now-filthy and battered Wand in Tick’s hands. “Master Atticus, I simply knew you were up to the task. Congratulations to all of you.” He focused on the Wand, holding his hands out timidly. “May I, er, see it?”

Tick handed over the golden cylinder, glad to be rid of it.

As soon as Master George took it in his hands, he frowned, his brow crinkling in confusion. “Why, it’s so . . . light. Has Mistress Jane altered the construction somehow?” He turned the Wand over and unscrewed the bottom until it popped off. He then held the now-open cylinder up to his eye like a telescope, closing his other eye as he examined its insides.

Master George dropped the Wand to his side, a look of complete bewilderment on his face.