“Kick your body to the right!” Sato yelled as he pulled his Shurric around and took aim. The thing was heavy and hard to hold steady with one hand, but the noise and chaos of the battle still raged, and there was no one to help him. He risked another quick glance behind him and saw fire and gray bodies flying through the air.

Tick was doing his best to follow the order. Sato, with a shaking hand, pointed the Shurric at a spot that seemed clear of his friend and pulled the trigger. A soundless thump rocked the building, and water shot up in great spouts as if a meteor had just splash-landed. Tick suddenly tore loose and swam forward, almost leaping out of the river.

Sato dropped his weapon and grabbed Tick by the torso, pulling him the rest of the way. They collapsed on the ground, both of them soaking wet, sucking in and blowing out deep breaths.

Sato remembered that they could be incinerated at any second. He flopped over onto his stomach and surveyed the scene. Even in the last few seconds, everything had changed drastically.

There wasn’t a gray creature in sight. To his left, Jane was standing stiffly with her arms held out in front of her, looking as haggard as any person Sato had ever seen. Her shoulders slumped, and she was struggling to breathe. Her mask was tilted on her exposed, scarred head, and its expression showed pure exhaustion. To his right, the Fifth Army appeared even more disheveled. Bodies lay scattered on the floor, many of them horribly injured or dead. Those standing seemed like wilted flowers, hoping for water and sun.

Sato’s eyes wandered upward. Dozens of tightly wound clouds of gray mist hovered by the ceiling, lightning flicking and striking both within and between them. He was about to get to his knees, order everyone to flee the castle, when all the clouds suddenly collapsed into one, like some sort of separating membrane had been whipped free. The entire mass began to spin, a whirlpool of thick, gray mist churning in the air. A funnel formed in the middle and started lowering toward the ground. A breeze picked up, grew stronger, whipped at Sato’s wet clothes.

Something terrible was about to happen.

“Run!” he screamed. “Everyone get out of here!”

Chapter 28

A Mighty Wind

Tick was sopping wet. And freezing cold. His ankle hurt from whatever weird creature had been gripping it, trying to pull him under to his death. He was exhausted from using Chi’karda to defend against those beams of fire and to fight back at the Voids.

But something odd was happening above him. His relief at seeing that the Voids were gone lasted all of two seconds. Looking up, he saw that the small, electricity-filled clouds from earlier had grown in number until they’d gotten too big, collapsing into one giant, churning mass of gray. As the funnel cloud began to lower to the ground, the wind picked up measurably, making his already wet skin grow even colder. When Sato screamed for everyone to run, Tick didn’t waste any time pondering the command.

He jumped to his feet, feeling the sogginess of his clothes, the weariness of his bones and muscles. Sato grabbed him by the arm and pulled him along as they ran together toward the giant door with its frame of broken wood.

The wind was increasing in speed by the second, whipping the air in a frenzy. Tick’s clothes flapped like flags on a speedboat, almost hurting his skin, and it felt as if every one of his hairs might rip out and fly away. The spinning funnel of the gray tornado descended rapidly as Tick and Sato ran, and Tick saw Mistress Jane standing on the other side of it all, motionless.

Her body disappeared behind the tornado as its leading point crashed into the stony floor. Lightning arced and arrowed through the cloud, the rattles of thunder sounding like detonations, deafening. The moment when storm met stone was violent, as if the cloud had been a giant fist of steel smashing down, shards of rock vaulting toward the ceiling from the shattered surface. The entire castle jolted, the floor jumping into the air and crashing back down again. Tick sprawled across the floor, still dozens of feet away from the exit. Others fell all around him, and tiny splinters of stone flew through the air, smashing into people.

Tick felt pinpricks of needles on his cheeks and threw his hands up to protect his face. Struggling against the wind and the still-shaking castle, he stumbled to his feet and leaned forward, making it several steps before he crashed to the ground again. He caught sight of the funnel that continued to twist like a giant drill digging into the hard earth below the layer of stones it had already destroyed. Rock chips flew in all directions, and with a broken heart, he realized that even more bodies littered the ground, many of them still moving, still trying to get up.

Like him.

He couldn’t let this destruction continue. He had to do something. It had yet to become his instinct to use Chi’karda, to use his powers to fight instead of running away. But how? How could he fight a giant tornado filled with lightning?

His mind focused on the air around him, on the particles, molecules, atoms. Surrendering to his instincts, he created a wall, a shield from the countless chips of rock flying through the castle like tiny daggers. The wind suddenly decreased, and he saw the rocks bouncing off an invisible barrier inches in front of him. He stood up, his fists clenched, his brain working in overdrive. The exhaustion that had been consuming his body seemed like a distant memory as the pure fire of Chi’karda burned inside of him, raging as strongly as the winds that swirled around his shield did. Speckles of orange swam along his skin and thickened into a cloud, but it didn’t obscure his vision. He was looking at the world through different eyes now.

The tornado of gray mist spun, churning like it was digging a hole to the other side of the earth, thickening at its core. Debris spun out from the ground and was caught in the mighty winds until everything was a fog of dust and stone.

Tick needed to help those who hadn’t been able to escape. Sato was on his back, his face cut up, his eyes wide as he stared at Tick in disbelief as if he were a freak.

Tick’s heart almost broke at the sight, but he knew what he had to do. He threw his hands out, threw his thoughts as well. Sato’s body suddenly leaped from the ground and flew like a tossed football, tumbling end over end and out the broken doorway. Tick swept his vision and his hands across the passageway, doing the same thing to each person he saw, whether alive or dead. Body after body catapulted into the air and went sailing through the exit, ripped from the ground as if a giant string had been attached to them, yanked by a puppet master. Tick didn’t know how he was doing it, but he did it all the same. Instinct ruled his powers now.

He sent the last few people flying out of the castle. He didn’t know if they’d land safely out there, or if they might break bones, or worse, but he knew they’d die if they didn’t leave this place; that was all he could do.

When he was finally alone, he turned to face the massive cyclone of fog, its bolts of lightning flickering down the edges and smashing into the stone. It was almost like the energy from the bolts was trying to help dig the hole even wider. Thoughts rushed through his mind then, wondering if he should just turn and run. The people were safe; they could run or wink away and let this thing do whatever it wanted to do to Jane’s precious castle.

She appeared to his right.

Wind tore at her robe as she inched along the far wall of the passageway, her back to the stone as she moved, her red mask tightening into an expression of fear as she stared at the tornado ripping apart the ground. Water had been sucked up into the churning funnel as well, sending a spray of mist in all directions and adding an odd blueness to the gray core. Jane was soaked.

A terrible thought hit Tick. What if this thing really didn’t stop? What if the Fourth Dimension kept throwing all of its power into the Realities, growing and growing until it consumed everything? A spinning mass of material as big as the universe? He had to sever the link. Somehow he had to stop this; he knew it without any doubt.

He put out his hand toward Jane, manipulating the world with his thoughts. Her body jumped up into the air and flew toward him, landing right beside him. The look of shock on her mask gave him the smallest bit of satisfaction.

“What are you doing?” she yelled over the terrible noise.

“We have to stop this thing!” he shouted back. “We have to break the link!”

Jane’s mask wilted at the suggestion. “I don’t know if I can do it! I’m spent, Atticus! I have nothing left in me! I need to rest!”

Tick had to hide his shock. For her to admit to that . . .

“We have to try!”

Jane stared back at him through the eyeholes of her mask. Then she gave him a reluctant nod.

The two of them turned toward the tornado and held out their hands as if they were going to walk in and embrace the spinning thing.

“Try to collapse it!” Jane yelled. “Throw all your Chi’karda into collapsing its mass then we’ll blow it apart! We have to hope that ends it and seals the breach into the Fourth!”

“Okay!” Tick screamed, his heart pumping. The power was an inferno inside his chest, and he was ready to unleash it. “Let’s do it!”

He pushed his hands toward the spinning beast and released the Chi’karda that had been building and building. Streams of orange fire exploded from his fingertips and into the tornado, getting caught in the spin. Jane was doing the same. Soon the gray funnel was colorful and bright; the lightning was more brilliant and sharp, the thunder louder.

Tick screamed with the effort as he pushed more and more of his powers at the Fourth Dimension, trying to envision what he wanted, trying to make it happen. His body began to shake, his muscles weak. Chi’karda poured from him and Jane in spouts; the streams were almost the same color as what had come from the mouths of the Voids.

Now everything was shaking—the ground, the castle, his skull. The funnel of the tornado was white-hot, blinding. Impossible noises erupted from its form, and the wind was torrential, ripping away the shield Tick had built around himself.

He screamed again and threw all of his strength into the storm.

There was a sudden concussion of pure energy that ripped away from the tornado like the blast of a nuclear bomb. Tick felt his body be jerked into the air, and then he was flying. What remained of the castle exploded, every last brick of it cracking apart and flying right along with him.

He didn’t hit the ground until he’d been thrown a thousand yards. A chunk of rock landed on his head, and all he knew was pain.

Chapter 29

Joints and Eardrums

Lorena held Lisa close, and it broke her heart to feel the trembling of her daughter’s bones. The girl had always been strong-spirited and tough, but no one could be expected to hide their fear after the last few days of their lives.

Mordell had brought them back to the Great Hall, whispering something about its natural powers and it being the best place to protect them. They found the farthest corner of the chamber carved from black stone and huddled together while Mordell sat nearby; she had a look on her face as if she wanted to be closer but had to maintain her dignity as a Lady of Blood and Sorrow. There wasn’t much for the three of them to do except be scared and listen to the sounds of battle.

They were distant, but terrible: the swooshing of fire, screams of pain, shouts of command. Soon it all changed to a great, rushing noise, like wind passing through a narrow canyon, or a tornado. The screams intensified. And then the worst sound—breaking rock. It wasn’t the loudest noise, but it made the entire castle quake and tremble. Lorena felt the vibration in her joints and eardrums.