“What’s the matter?” Mothball asked. “Look like a mum what’s lost her kiddies, ya do.”

Master George looked at Tick, dark thunderclouds gathering in his eyes.

“What?” Tick asked, taking a step back.

“Have you taken any pieces out of this Wand?” Master George asked, his tone accusatory.

“Huh?” Tick looked over at Sofia, then Paul. Both of them shrugged their shoulders. “No. I didn’t even know you could open it up.”

Master George looked like he didn’t believe him. “Young man, you are telling me you used this Barrier Wand to wink yourself and these good people to this place?”

“Um . . . yes, sir,” Tick stammered, worried he was in serious trouble.

Master George harrumphed and paced around the room, mumbling to himself, throwing his arms up in frustration as if he were in a great argument. He looked like a gorilla on a rampage.

“What in the name of Reality Prime’s wrong with ya, Master George?” Mothball asked.

Master George stopped, turning sharply to face the group. “My dear fellow Realitants—because you are all most certainly full-fledged members now—you have all witnessed something that could very well change the Realities forever. Tick, my good man, have you ever had anything remarkable happen before in your life? Something quite . . . miraculous, if you will?”

“Why? What do you mean?” Tick thought of the incident with the letter from Master George that Kayla had burned, and its magical return as though it had never happened. But he didn’t want to say anything about it, feeling suddenly very embarrassed and confused.

“I don’t know what I mean, actually,” Master George said. “But you’ve just done something that defies logic.”

“What are you talking about?” Paul asked. “What did Tick do?”

Master George held up the Barrier Wand for everyone to look at. “This Wand is missing its Chi’karda Drive.” He paused, waiting for a response, as if he’d just revealed a mystery recipe stolen from the Keebler elves, but only Mothball and Rutger reacted, exchanging a startled glance with each other before turning to stare at Tick.

“Good people, this thing is completely useless without the Drive. It cannot work without the Drive. Better off using a turnip to wink between Realities.”

Tick was stunned, his mind on the cusp of realizing what had happened, but resisting its huge implications.

“Then how did Tick make it work?” Sofia asked.

“I have no idea! All I know is that the only way he could’ve winked here is by a deliberate control of Chi’karda the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life.”

Master George walked over to Tick, put a hand on his shoulder.

“You, sir, are a walking enigma. This changes everything.”



The next day and a half were a complete blur for Tick. Mothball broke the news of Annika’s death to Master George and Rutger, neither of whom bothered trying to hide their emotions, weeping like children on each others’ shoulders. Not much was said after that, except that Annika’s courage in sacrificing her life to steal the Barrier Wand would never be forgotten. Tick hadn’t known her at all, but he still felt sad she was gone.

As for how Tick had winked them away to safety, no one understood what had happened, least of all Master George. He kept saying that the amount of conviction Tick had channeled, the sheer energy of his desire to wink himself and the others back to Reality Prime should’ve killed him. It must’ve been such an unusual display of Chi’karda that the instruments back in the Triangle didn’t know how to measure it or surely Rutger would’ve noticed an anomaly.

Eventually, everyone grew tired of so many questions without answers, and looked ahead to what came next.

Going home.

Master George said that even though Mistress Jane had kept her Chi’karda Drive, it was useless without the Wand casing. It would take her several months to build a new Barrier Wand capable of using its power. For now, she—and her newfound dark and twisted magic—were trapped within the Thirteenth Reality. The new Realitants’ successful mission had bought them considerable time, time which Master George needed to repair his headquarters, plan for the future, and think about the potential meaning of Tick’s unexplained ability.

As young as the Realitants were, with worried families, Master George thought it best that they return to their homes, explain their futures, and continue their studies—all until such time came that Master George needed them again.

And need them he would, he assured them over and over.

And so late that night, Tick, Sofia, Sato, and Paul stood in a circle by the roaring fire—Master George loved fires, even in the middle of the desert in summer—with Master George and his two assistants, Mothball and Rutger. Everyone was silent, the reality of saying good-bye a heavy weight on their hearts.

As for Tick, he felt like his soul hurt. Though he’d only known these people a short time, the experiences they’d been through had solidified them as the very best friends he’d ever had. He felt excited to see his family, but dreaded the thought of going to bed tonight, alone in his room, not knowing how long it might be before he’d see any of the Realitants again. It took every ounce of will in his bones to keep from crying.

“Sato, my young friend,” Master George said, finally breaking the somber silence. “I’d like to invite you to stay with us, to help us at the Triangle. These others have families to return to, but, er, well—I think you’d likely agree that joining us at headquarters may be in your best interest. Your, er, guardians will barely notice you’re gone, I expect.”

Tick looked at Sato, shocked. The quiet boy from Japan hadn’t said much since their return from the Thirteenth Reality.

Sato looked up, trying to hide the relief on his face, but failing. “I will stay.” He looked at Tick, then the others, as if he wanted desperately to say something. Instead, he folded his arms and looked away.

Tick’s whole perception of Sato changed in that instant. What mysteries are hidden inside that brain of his?

“We’ll be simply delighted to have your help,” Master George said. “Now, then, it’s almost time to wink everyone back to their homes. But first, I have something to give all of you.” He reached into the folds of his suit and pulled out a handful of thin gold-link chains, a heavy pendant swinging from each one. “These will forever mark you as official and bonafide Realitants.”