Finally, Tick pulled away, looking at each of his family members in turn.

“I’ve had a crazy couple of days.”

Later that night, well after dark, Tick stood in the front yard under a sky thick with black clouds, not a star or moon in sight, thinking.

He thought about everything that had happened to him, but his thoughts kept returning to the bizarre incidents of the letter reappearing in his Journal of Curious Letters after Kayla had burned it, and how he’d made the Barrier Wand work even though Mistress Jane had broken it. Somehow, the two events were linked, but Tick couldn’t begin to understand why or how. Did he have some kind of weird, freaky power? Or did Mistress Jane do something to the Realities, altering how the Chi’karda functioned?

Master George’ll figure it out, Tick thought, trying to ignore how much it scared him.

He turned to walk back inside when the ground around him brightened, the slightest hint of a shadow at his feet. To the east, the full moon appeared, shining through a brief break in the clouds.

As if it were a sign, Atticus Higginbottom, Realitant Second Class, pulled out the Barrier Wand pendant from beneath his shirt and squeezed it in his fist.


The Thwarted Meeting

Reginald Chu, the second best inventor and greatest businessman of all time, looked at his skinwatch again. He sat atop a park bench made from the new Plasticair material his company had created, growing more furious with every passing second. The person who’d asked to meet him here was late.

And no one was ever late for the founder, owner, and CEO of Chu Industries.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the odd note that had been mailed to him several weeks ago, without any kind of return address or postmark. He unfolded the wrinkly paper and read through the handwritten message once again.

Dear Mister Chu,

You don’t know me, but we must meet very soon. I know you are aware of the Realities, but that you have never had much interest in them because the Fourth is so much more advanced than the others. But I have a proposition for you that I am certain you will accept. I know of your love for power.

As a measure of my sincerity, I will come to your Reality. Meet me in Industry Park by the Lone Oak at noon on the thirteenth of May.

Your future partner,

Mistress Jane

Reginald crumpled the note up into a ball, squeezing it in his fist. The audacity of this woman. Commanding him to meet her like he was some errand-running schoolboy—and then having the nerve to not even show up? Who called themselves Mistress anyway?

He looked at his skinwatch one last time, then stood up. The lady was obviously not coming.

As he walked back toward his building, Reginald threw the mysterious note into a roving Recycabot, angry about the time he’d wasted. There was much to be done, things he’d mapped out and set in motion long before he’d received a letter from today’s no-show, Mistress Jane.

Reginald was a very busy man.