A body lay up ahead, its arms and legs sprawled in impossible positions. Lifeless. A silver cube was perched in a pile of rubble right next to it.

Tick walked up to the spot and stood over the dead form of Reginald Chu.

Paul heard the shouts and cheers first. Then he noticed that most of the machines had stopped in the middle of whatever havoc they’d been inflicting. His soldiers turned to look at something in the distance.

Haggard, beat, exhausted. That was Paul. His arms and legs felt like rubber, and he hurt in roughly seventy-five places. He’d run and jumped and dodged and dove and shot both of his Shurrics almost to their limit. He’d been hit and swept aside by machines. A spinning Ranter had almost taken his head clean off, but Sofia had saved him with a quick burst from her Shurric. It had been her last charge, because she then tossed the weapon aside and started throwing the few Ragers she had left.

It was a miracle, but both of them were still alive. And now something new was happening. Something was going on.

He ran up to her, grabbed her by the hand. She was filthy and bloody and bruised. But she didn’t protest and went with him as they zigzagged their way through the crowd of tall soldiers from the Fifth Reality. It was as if the very air had changed—gotten brighter. The mood had visibly lifted.

He saw why, when they finally made it to a break in the people and machines. Hundreds and hundreds of people—dressed in oranges and reds and browns and blacks and turbans and robes and jeans and sandals and every color and type of clothing he’d ever imagined, and many that he hadn’t—were charging the enemies on both sides. Somewhere in the middle of all that, he thought he saw Rutger.


He and Sofia exchanged a glance, then turned to look at the churning hurricane of fog and mist and lightning. It was still growling and angry. Getting bigger.

Then Paul spotted Master George, lying on his stomach.

Not moving.

Sato had been on the verge of giving up. He hated to admit it to himself, but the truth was the truth. Cold, hard Reality. They were outnumbered, outmanned, and almost out of weaponry. The creatures from the Void kept coming, shooting their beams of flame. The world rocked with thunder and screams.

But now they had help.

A sea of people, dressed in all kinds of clothes, surged forward. They carried all kinds of weapons, some of which Sato had never seen before: red tubes looped around shoulders, connecting a backpack to nozzles held in both hands; long poles with electricity sparking on the end; cubes of blue metal that glowed with a brilliant light. The people came down the slope to join the battle, most of them roaring, eyes aflame. Sato saw Rutger in their midst, cheering them on.

The tide had turned.

Jane limped up to Tick as he stared down at the lifeless face of Reginald Chu. She slipped through the protective bubble of his Chi’karda and put a scarred hand on his shoulder. He turned to face her and saw the mask, which was half-melted. There was only one eye now, half a mouth. Everything else was a smeared ruin of metal. He probably would’ve gasped from shock if he hadn’t felt so numb inside.

“He never had a chance,” she said.

Tick looked over at the silver cube, a third of it buried in a pile of rock and dirt. Something had taken ahold of him inside. A presence. An unmistakable feeling in his heart and unexpected thoughts in his mind that he knew weren’t his own. It was pure power—a lot like Chi’karda in how he could sense it. Where it had come from, he had no idea. But a clear path had suddenly opened before him. It hurt him—hurt him deeply—but he knew he couldn’t stray from it.

Karma. Sofia had called it Karma. He touched a finger to the bag she and Paul had tied to his wrist. Everything in the world was now crystal clear in his mind. He knew his destiny and how to find it.

He walked over and picked up the cube. He turned to Jane.

“I need your help!” he shouted.

She nodded, and he wondered if she felt the power’s presence as well. It was like electricity in the air, and warmth in his veins. Unmistakably there.

Jane pointed to her right. “The heart of the Void is that way. We’re close now.”

Tick and Mistress Jane headed for their destiny—and their doom.

Chapter 69

Becoming One

The ground trembled and shook as they walked across it. Tick’s mind was more focused than ever now, as if some miracle drug had been pumped through his veins. His hold on Chi’karda was absolute.

He was ready for anything.

The winds swept past in torrential gusts, but they did nothing to even stir his clothes. Without hardly thinking about it, his bubble of protection stayed true, as did Jane’s. They’d even learned to control the earthquakes beneath them, squashing their force before they could lift their feet off the ground. The Void noticed, and quit trying. Fists of fog continued to form in the mist, pounding at their shields, thumping and bumping. Nothing broke through.

They kept walking. Tick hugged the silver cube to his chest. That unseen presence that had filled him left him with no doubt that the object was vital to what awaited. Everything was about to come to a head.

A brightness began to lighten the air, like the beginnings of dawn. It had a blue tint to it, and it either thinned out the fog and mist or just made it easier to see. But the feel of the air around them was changing. And then it appeared before their eyes. Not gradually, and not from a distance, growing in size. It was suddenly just there, as if they’d been catapulted three miles forward without feeling anything.

A thick shaft of pure blue light, blinding in its brilliance. It came from the sky and tunneled into the ground, running in both directions as far as Tick could see. The perfectly round cylinder was at least fifty feet wide, the radiance within its core pulsing like a heartbeat.

Tick squinted and held up his hands, peeking through his fingers. It was impossible to look at the light for more than a second or two, but there was something incredibly beautiful and mesmerizing about its steady beat of flashing brightness. The purity of its blue. The hum and buzz emanating from it. Tick felt it in the air and in the ground beneath his feet. The steady roar and pounding of a thousand waterfalls.

It was energy and life and power, unlimited and daunting. Tick had to fight to not lose himself to the awesomeness of it all.

“The core of the Void!” Jane shouted.

Tick nodded. He knew that already. Just as he knew what needed to be done. Just as he knew that Mistress Jane would never leave this place, and that he’d never be the same.

He turned to her, finally breaking his trancelike state. “I need your help to harness its energy! I need you to break apart the cube. And . . . me.”

Her half-melted mask stared back at him, saying nothing. Showing nothing.

“You know it’s the only way!” he yelled. She had to know.

“It’s going to fight us,” she finally replied.

Tick nodded.

She paused again. “You have to promise me, Atticus! Promise me!”


The roar of the Void shook the air.

“You know!” she shouted. “You know what my heart has always envisioned! It’s always been about the end, Atticus. Tick. Always the means to the end!”


“Utopia!” She stepped closer to him, only inches away. “I need your word if you want me to do this. Otherwise nothing matters!”

“I give you my word that I’ll devote everything to it. But in my own way.”

“Swear it!”

“I swear.”

She stared at him a long time before nodding. “Then let’s go.”

She didn’t wait for him to respond. She turned and sprinted for the blinding, brilliant shaft of pulsing blue light. Tick ran after her, hefting the cube in his arms. The Void immediately retaliated.

Things started flying out of the core, all shapes and sizes, some alive and some not. Dozens of man-shaped creatures like the Voids who’d attacked them at the ruins of Jane’s castle came first. Their mouths gaped open as soon as they appeared, yawning wide to reveal the furnaces that burned inside. Beams of lava and flame shot out all at once in an organized volley of heat.

Jane stopped to face the threat, as did Tick. With flicks of his eyes, he directed the power of Chi’karda—bursts of brilliant orange—to shoot forth and meet the attack in midair, obliterating the streams of lava before they could fall toward the ground. The two forces met in a shower of sparks and a burst of explosive sound. Jane and Tick swept their gazes left and right, destroying them all. Then they focused on the creatures themselves, wiping them from existence with one brutal assault of Chi’karda. Wisps of fog flew in all directions.

Jane moved forward again, and Tick followed. They’d only taken a few short steps when all kinds of animals made from the same gray substance emerged from the blue core. There were tigers and dogs and snakes and mad bulls. Alligators. Giant scorpions. They mixed together into a crowd of monsters, scurrying about the ground, all of them bent on attacking the two humans close by.

Jane and Tick stopped again and fired away with Chi’karda. The creatures’ eyes had that same bright look of flames, vicious and angry. Snakes slithered across the ground; tigers leaped forward; everything came at them.

Tick could feel pressure mounting inside him as he picked apart the unnatural creations with his power. Sweat poured down his face. Every blast that took down one enemy seemed to reveal three more—they just kept coming and coming. Jane’s arms were whipping around, back and forth as she aimed and fired, like her hands were weapons. Tick just looked, killing with a glance. Zap, zap, zap. The sounds of explosions and the roar of the core filled the air.

Heaving deep breaths, Tick wiped away all of the enemies on his side then helped Jane destroy the last few on her side. They ran a few steps closer to the blue light.

A massive tree trunk, gray but looking solid enough to smash a truck, came hurtling out of the core, end over end. Tick dissolved it into wispy nothingness with a burst of Chi’karda. Next came a huge chunk of steel and concrete, the jagged and broken remains of an old skyscraper. Jane destroyed it. Cars came flying out. Busses. More trees. Homes, ripped from their foundations. Boats. Planes. Telephone poles.

Now yelling with each blast, Tick attacked the objects coming at him, annihilating them all. Nothing came within ten feet of him. Jane seemed just as strong, throwing her spurts of power out like grenades. Chaos reigned, noise battered the world around them.

Still the core continued to throw things at them, and on some level, Tick understood that the Fourth Dimension sucked things away from the Realities and transformed them into these projectile weapons. All of the matter they were fighting against had once been real and whole in a world somewhere.

He’d had enough. He couldn’t keep it up forever. Exhaustion was creeping in.

“Jane!” he yelled. “We need to rush the core! This has to stop!”

She answered by moving forward, still waving her arms as she directed her powers. Tick followed, taking step after slow step as he focused with all his might. One slip, and he’d have a crushed head.

Still enemies flew at them, relentless and unstopping. Huge rocks. Giant Dumpsters. More beasts and man-like creatures. Some monsters shot back with streams of lava flames.