Her mom was close, the Barrier Wand in her lap. She sat up and stared at Lisa, dazed.

“What . . . ?” Lisa began.

“I have no idea,” her mom replied. “All I did was try to latch on to Atticus’s nanolocator and pull him in. It shouldn’t have sent us somewhere else.”

“Well, unless we went back in time to before trees grew in Deer Park, it sent us somewhere. We were sitting in the woods about three minutes ago.”

Lisa hated the feeling of the wet grass soaking her pants, so she tried standing again, this time much slower. Her legs wobbled a bit, and the endless sea of grass tilted a few times, but soon she was steady.

She turned in a slow circle, taking in the view of the place to which they’d been winked. Super green grass stretched in every direction, running down a slope toward a stream that splashed and sparkled as it cut across a rocky bed. On the other side of the stream, trees dotted the land, growing thicker and taller until they became a huge forest. There was no sign of civilization anywhere.



“Where in the world are we?”

Three hours of searching didn’t answer that question.

They walked together to the stream, crossed over at a narrow spot where large rocks jutted out of the rushing waters, then explored the other side. They eventually made their way to where the trees thickened into a dark, ominous forest. They’d found no clues or signs of life—human, anyway—and when they stood at the wall of pines and oaks, it was almost as if they were stopped by an invisible barrier.

“Why can’t I get myself to go any farther?” Lisa asked.

Her mom’s answer didn’t help. “Because we’re in a strange land, and there might be hideous monsters in there.”

“Good point. Let’s just walk around the edge of it; maybe we’ll stumble across something eventually.”

“As good a plan as any.”

They set off, Lisa right behind her mom, who still hefted the golden rod of the Barrier Wand in her hands.

“Tell me more about the old days,” Lisa said. The clouds still churned above, dark and heavy, but it had yet to rain again. At least the air was nice and cool.

“The old days?” her mom repeated.

“Yeah. You used to be a Realitant. How’d you go from that to being a stay-at-home mom? Seems kind of lame.”

“Lame? You wish you had a different woman stomping around the house telling you what to do?”

Lisa snickered at the image. “No, you’re way too good at it. It’s just . . . being a Realitant seems so cool and adventurous. What happened to make you give it up?”

The land started to rise up, and the walk was getting a little harder. Lisa saw the crest of the rise a few hundred feet ahead. She hoped they’d see something there. Something helpful. Her mom still hadn’t answered.

“You awake up there?” she asked her.

“Oh, I’m awake. I’m just thinking about your question. It’s more complicated than you know. It’s making me remember a lot of things, and I’m not even sure where to start explaining.”

“How’d you join them? How’d they recruit you?”

Her mom laughed softly. “It wasn’t much different from how they recruited Atticus. Some letters, clues, and riddles. It was kind of easy, actually.”

“How long were you a member?”

“About four years, maybe a little longer. It wasn’t all the exciting adventure you think it was—and nothing like what our poor boy has gone through—except for . . .” She trailed off, and there was something dark in her words, like the storm that brewed far above them.

Lisa pushed her. “Except for what?”

“I wasn’t actually there, but I was still technically a Realitant when . . . when Sato’s parents were killed. Mistress Jane had been getting more and more suspicious. Acting weird. And it all came to a head that night, when she started using the powers she’d stolen from the Thirteenth. She crossed a line, and Sato’s mom and dad paid the price for standing up to it. Nearly all of them there that night did.”

“What happened?”

“Jane burned that poor boy’s parents to death.” She said it so simply, but the words were horrible enough. “I didn’t know the world could be so evil. I wanted out. I’m ashamed in many ways—for abandoning the Realitants, abandoning my friends—but I don’t regret it. There’s a difference, you know. I chose my family, and I’ve never once regretted that.”

Lisa felt guilty, like she’d stirred up feelings her mom didn’t deserve to have. “Well, Tick and I are glad you did. And think about it—if you hadn’t done such a good job of raising him, he would’ve been a stinky Realitant instead of a good Realitant, and he wouldn’t have saved the world. See? Makes perfect sense.”

“You’re a sweet little thing,” her mom replied.

“Yeah, I know. I’ve gotta have some way of making sure I stay your favorite.”

They reached a sudden rise in the slope that was steeper than before, which made Lisa feel even stronger that some kind of revelation waited on the other side.

She trotted ahead to pull even with her mom, who hadn’t slowed a bit. “We better be careful,” she whispered. “There might be something over this hill that we don’t want to see us.”

Her mom nodded. “You’ve got the caution of a Realitant. Maybe old George will make you one after we save Atticus and bring him home.”

“Maybe. Come on.”

Lisa dropped to her knees and started crawling up the steep rise. Her mom crawled right next to her, holding the Barrier Wand awkwardly on her shoulder.

“You want me to take a turn with that?” Lisa asked.

“No, thanks. I made this one, and I want to keep it nice and close right now.”

“When did you make it?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

They reached the top of the hill, where the land flattened for a couple of feet then dropped again, plummeting down another slope to the land beyond. When she saw what awaited them, Lisa forgot she was supposed to be careful, and she poked her head up, gawking so that anyone within miles could see her if they looked hard enough.

In the middle of a flat plain, there was a castle. Half of it had been destroyed, with stone and rock and wood collapsed in heaps around the edges of the destruction. Black figures crawled over the ruins like ants.

“What are those things?” Lisa whispered.

Her mom answered in a deadened voice. “Creatures of the Thirteenth Reality. Creatures of Mistress Jane. Just as Atticus described them.” She turned to Lisa, her face pale. “How did we end up here?”

Chapter 6

Poor Mr. Chu

Tick sat on a rock and stared at the ocean.

Though it wasn’t any normal ocean. The color of it changed about every three minutes, going from blackish-blue to red to orange, morphing in waves as though someone flew along the surface, spilling huge buckets of food coloring. Fish leaped out of the waters, but sometimes land animals did as well. Deer. Lions. Elephants.

The Nonex made no sense whatsoever. And things seemed to be growing even more unstable lately, sharp upticks in the madness. Like the thumping sound and earthquake attack of the day before. It was all a mixed soup for the senses, and it was beginning to make Tick want to hit somebody. Namely a grumpy, arrogant man named Reginald Chu.

Tick hated the man. Far more than he hated Mistress Jane, for whom he still felt an enormous amount of guilt—he’d scarred the woman for life, after all. And despite her evil ways, she’d shown moments where she doubted the path she’d chosen. If anything, Tick had driven her more toward the darkness.

But Chu was different. The man seemed crazy, and crazy wasn’t an excuse for being bad. Every single thing he said or did pointed to one thing for him—power. Dominating others. Ruling. Just the other night, the three of them had been sitting around a fire, talking about theories on how they could make it back to Reality Prime. The conversation hadn’t lasted ten minutes before Chu went off about how they needed to hurry, take some risks, because he might be losing his stranglehold on the Fourth Reality. With all the destruction and chaos happening, he feared someone else might be trying to take over what had once been his.

Tick had stared him in the eyes and told him to shut up. And Chu did. Which made Tick feel like king of the world, at least for a little while.

Jane and Chu were scared of him; Tick had no doubt about that. He’d shown them that he had more control of his powers over Reality and quantum physics—lifting firewood, igniting fires, making the sand leap into the air and swirl into shapes—than ever before. One time, as a joke, he levitated Chu, spinning him in a circle a few times. Even Jane had laughed, and when Chu came crashing back to the ground with a loud flump and a grunt, Tick had expected the man to be enraged. But instead, he simply stood up, brushed himself off, and told Tick he hoped the boy would come work for him some day, that a boy with such power was destined to do great things.

That was Chu, though. Always thinking about power. Always planning his next step to world domination. What a big, fat jerk. Tick didn’t like the feeling that such hatred gave him—like his insides were rotting—but he couldn’t help it.

There was the crack of a broken twig in the woods behind Tick. He turned to see Chu leaning out from behind a tree, staring at him.

“That’s kind of creepy,” Tick said. “Spying on a little boy like that.”

“Spying?” Chu replied. “What exactly am I spying on? You sitting like a frog on a log, staring at nothing? We’re wasting time. Jane agrees with me.”

Chu walked out of the woods and approached Tick, coming to stand next to him. Tick didn’t bother standing up or offering to slide over for the man to sit down.

“What exactly would you want me to be doing right now?” Tick asked him, returning his gaze to the ocean, which had turned a pinkish color. “Building us a log cabin so we’ll have a place to mope about while we’re stuck here?”

“We need your power, and you know it. Jane is willing to take some risks. You should be too. We’re all getting a little crazier with every passing day. We need to do something!” The man’s voice had risen with each word until he was shouting.

Tick stood up and faced him. “I know. We’ll do it when I’m ready. I trust my instincts a lot more than I do your mad desire to get back and stomp on people. Chill. Please.”

Chu looked utterly stunned, and it was a beautiful thing to see. Tick had to hold back the smile that wanted to leap across his face. He almost felt sorry for Chu, and decided to throw him a bone, out of guilt.

“Tomorrow,” he said, sitting back down. “We’ll try something tomorrow.”

Chapter 7

Tricks on the Beach

Things had changed for Tick when he battled Mistress Jane outside the Factory in the Thirteenth Reality. They’d changed drastically.

He’d been driven by pure and absolute desperation. He’d done what he needed to do for the Haunce, healing the damage done by Jane that would’ve ended Reality and the universe. And when he’d had to fight Jane afterwards, he’d known more than ever that death was his reward if he messed up. Though maybe he’d learned some things from the Haunce that he hadn’t realized.