- The Void of Mist and Thunder
Tick wiped them away with nothing but his thoughts, exploding Chi’karda out of himself. Jane did the same.
They made it to the blindingly bright core, its pulsing blueness as hot as the thrusters on an alien spaceship. Tick couldn’t look at it directly. He screamed as loud as he could and sent out one last detonation of pure Chi’karda, obliterating every single gray creature and monster within sight.
And then there was only the light and the roar of the core.
Jane quickly stepped next to him and grabbed the cube from his hands. For an instant, he wanted to rip it away from her, but he knew what she was doing. What she had to do.
“It’s the only way!” he yelled at her.
“The only way!” she shouted back. “Atticus Higginbottom! Don’t you dare forget your promise! Don’t you dare!”
She backed away from him until she was at the very edge of the core, the shaft rising above and below her to infinity, visible as if they stood on a plane of glass surrounding it. Then she turned and thrust the cube directly into the light.
A concussion of sound and power rocked the air, making Tick fall down. Jane’s robe burst into fire, and she screamed, an awful noise of things ripping and tearing. Tick had to shield his eyes. He could barely see what was happening, but he knew her entire body was being consumed. She kept screaming. Louder and louder. Then she suddenly turned back to him, her mask gone, her face a mess, her whole form burning. Where the cube had once been was now a spinning vortex of blue and gray and white lights.
“Now!” she shouted with a strangled, ruined voice.
Tick got to his feet and ran to her. He put his hands into the swirling lights. They immediately jumped out and began to spin all around him, growing brighter and thicker, encompassing every inch of his body. He barely had time to see Jane’s destroyed body fall backward into the core and disappear forever. Then he was consumed by light and energy and a million other things he didn’t quite understand.
Time stretched forward before him. He felt himself breaking apart, dissolving into molecules and atoms. There was a great rushing noise, and there was pain. He suddenly saw the entire universe before him, all at once. He saw the eyes of every person in every Reality, all at once. He saw fields and houses and forests and mountains and waterfalls. Oceans and deserts. But he had no eyes—his body had been ripped apart, thrown to the very edge of existence.
He and Reality—the fabric of Reality itself—were becoming one. The transformation lasted for infinity, yet was instantaneous. He was everything and nothing. Everywhere and nowhere. He was the space that filled the gaps, the barriers. He was matter and antimatter. He was Reality.
Tick had no idea how it worked. Not yet. But he knew that understanding would come soon.
A thought formed in his head. He pictured the core of the Void, the Fourth Dimension, the rips in Reality, and the link between them all. The chaos that reigned throughout all the worlds—even the countless ones that had yet to be discovered—filled him. His consciousness brought it all in, saw it all before him. The things that needed to be healed and the things that needed to be severed. Like the answer to a riddle popping into his mind, he knew how to heal and sever.
With powers no human had ever known before, Tick started fixing the wounded universe.
An Absence of Sound
Paul sat on the ground, holding Master George in his arms. Sofia was there, too, weeping just like Paul. The battle still continued around them, but Paul could tell it was almost over. Most of Chu’s inventions had been obliterated by the new armies brought in by Rutger, and everyone had now turned their forces on the monsters from the Void. They were being destroyed almost as soon as they came out of the churning hurricane of mist. But the Void still raged, still grew. How could they ever stop it?
Master George barely had any life left in him. Each breath was a struggle, and his body was well past healing. Their leader was about to die.
The old man sputtered a cough, and his eyes blinked open. They focused on Paul, then Sofia, then filled with tears.
“I’m so sorry,” Paul whispered. His heart crumbled inside of him.
“Master George,” Sofia said through a lurching sob.
“No . . . no . . .” the man said through another coughing fit. “It’s . . . okay. My good friends . . . you’ll carry . . . on.”
“Why?” Paul asked, feeling a sudden bubble of anger. “Why didn’t the Karma work? The Void’s still there! And . . . look at you . . .”
Sofia squeezed his arm but didn’t say anything.
George reached out and grabbed both of their hands, seeming to gather one last surge of strength. “Oh, but Master Paul. I believe it did work. I have no doubt of it. You’ll see soon enough.”
The leader of the Realitants exhaled his very last breath.
Sato had just begun to feel some comfort. The influx of armies had turned the tide, at least in the short term. Chu’s machines were defeated. The creatures of the Void were being destroyed almost as soon as they emerged from the spinning vortex of mist.
Now they just had to pool their resources and figure out a way to attack the—
The Void disappeared. The entire thing disappeared in an instant.
An abrupt absence of sound popped Sato’s ears as if he’d just been sucked into the vacuum of space. His brain tried to process what he suddenly saw before him—empty air and distant mountains and fields and sky. Sunlight.
There was no more wind. No lightning. No thunder. No mist. No creatures of gray.
The Void had vanished.
It was gone.
Paul sat in the flattened, ruined grass with his eyes closed, feeling the warmth of the sun against his cheeks, still stunned. Somehow Tick had done it—he’d defeated the Void—but there’d been no sign of him after its disappearance.
The Void was gone. But so was Tick.
The lifeless body of Master George lay a few dozen feet away; the soldiers of Sato’s army lined up to pay their respects. Mothball, kneeling next to the old man, sobbed uncontrollably as Sally and Rutger both rubbed her back.
Mixed feelings would be the order of things for a while.
Sofia was sitting beside Paul, and he opened his eyes when she nudged him with an elbow.
“Hey,” she said softly. “You okay?”
Paul wondered how to answer that. “I think so. I still feel kind of weird, and sad, and . . . weird. There’s no way I’m going to accept that Tick is gone. It has to be like the Nonex or something. He’ll find his way back.”
Sofia’s eyes fell a little, but then she seemed to catch herself, as if she was trying to stay strong for Paul. “I hope so. I mean . . . he made it all go away—the Void, the rips in Reality. He couldn’t have done that if he was dead, right? Maybe he’s stuck in the Fourth Dimension, battling his way out.”
Sofia leaned her head on his shoulder, which made everything just a little bit brighter.
Paul suddenly had a rush of thoughts that he couldn’t keep to himself. All his words came spilling out.
“I’m going to be more serious, work harder. Make a bigger difference. Help the Realitants get back to what George was talking about—strong and rigid and organized top to bottom. We’ll start recruiting again, find the best of the best. We can build more headquarters, make sure we have a presence in every Reality. I think we should maybe even go public soon, work with governments and universities—make a real difference in people’s lives. And I think we should start exploring, see if we can discover and name new Realities. The Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Twentieth, Thirtieth. We’ve got a lot of work to do, Sofia.”
He’d been staring at the empty fields where the Void of Mist and Thunder—and before that, the castle of Mistress Jane—had once stood. But he noticed that Sofia had lifted her head and was staring at him. He looked at her, loved seeing the awe in her eyes.
“I mean it,” he said. “I really do.”
“I know,” she whispered back. “And we’re going to do it together, with Mothball and the rest. It’s going to be great.”
“Lots of fun.” Sofia pointed out into the distance. “I think we should build something right there. A branch of the Realitants. Not a gaudy castle—something simple. We should use the power of the Thirteenth like it was meant to be used. Before Jane messed it all up.”
“Brilliant idea, maestro.” Paul still had a heavy heart, but he couldn’t deny the excitement he felt for the future.
Sofia took a deep breath and let it out. “So. We’ve made some pretty grand plans. What should we do first?”
Paul found a smile. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”
One Month Later
Lisa sat on her front porch and stared out at the trees as the morning sun broke through in the distance and lit everything up. She wished she felt that way on the inside. She wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but she missed Tick more and more with each passing day. It wasn’t getting any better.
He’d vanished from their lives. Again.
But Atticus Higginbottom—her stinky little brother—had somehow stopped the Void before it could destroy everything. Tick had saved the universe. Again.
Despite her worry, she laughed at the thought. It seemed so absurd and ridiculous, and she knew Tick would laugh, too, if he were there. But it was true. Totally true. Tick was a hero for the ages. At least she had that to hold on to.
The front door banged open, and Kayla came sprinting out onto the porch, her head swiveling left and right as she looked for something. When she finally spotted Lisa, a look of excitement spread across her face.
“Come inside!” the little girl yelled. “Quick!”
Lisa was tempted to be annoyed—she’d just gotten comfortable and wanted some time to be alone outside. She wanted time to think about things. How the world was slowly but surely getting back to some sense of normalcy, how people were rebuilding and laying foundations for an even better future. The Realities were sharing information through the now very-public assistance of the Realitants. The universe would never be the same. Things were changed forever.
But she wasn’t annoyed. She couldn’t be. Kayla was smiling for the first time in a long time.
“Li-sa!” her little sister insisted with a stomp of her foot. “Daddy said come inside right now! Something’s in the fireplace!”
That picked Lisa right up out of her chair. The look in Kayla’s eyes showed that this wasn’t a silly game. The two of them went through the front door and into the living room, where their mom and dad were standing arm in arm, staring at the fireplace. Inside the dark hole within the brick frame were hundreds of orange sparks flashing and snapping, crackling like a fire, though there were no flames.
Lisa stepped up beside her parents and looked at their faces, which were filled with awe. Lorena and Edgar Higginbottom had tried so hard to put on a brave front since Tick had gone missing again, to be strong for Lisa and Kayla. But they hadn’t been able to hide the devastating sadness within them. It was in their eyes. Like death itself.