“What’s going on?” Lisa asked.
“It has something to do with Tick,” her dad replied. “I know that much. It has to.”
Lisa’s mom patted her husband on the arm. “Let’s not get our hopes up, Edgar.” Her face showed she wasn’t following her own advice.
The dancing orange lights suddenly stopped, winking out of existence. Lisa was shocked to see a piece of paper resting on top of the logs—she was certain it hadn’t been there a second ago.
“Grab it,” she whispered to Kayla.
Her little sister ran to the fireplace and picked up the paper, took a look then ran to their mom and handed it to her. Everyone crowded around to see.
It was a letter. Lisa’s mom read it aloud.
Dear Mom. And Dad. And Lisa. And Kayla.
You’re probably wondering right now how this letter was created. Or how it got to you. More importantly, you’re probably wondering where I am and what I’m doing. What I’ve become. There are things in the universe that are beyond our comprehension—I’ve still got a lot to learn myself. Someday I hope to understand it enough to explain it fully.
Something amazing has happened. A combination of so many things. The soulikens of an infinite number of my Alterants somehow bled to me. Filled me up. The power of Karma was involved. So was the unbelievable energy of the Void from the Fourth Dimension. The inventive mind of Reginald Chu and the sheer will of Mistress Jane. It all added together to make this possible—I’ve become an entity, like the Haunce, a force to help watch over the Realities.
But the details and the complexities of it all don’t matter. Not right now.
This is what matters:
Know that I’m alive in so many ways. That I will always be with you in some form or another. That I’ll devote every ounce of my energy to making life better in all of the Realities. Great things await us in the future. But most important of all, know that I love you. All of you. More than the infinite power of Chi’karda and Karma combined could ever express. I love you. I love you guys so much.
I will always be near. Always.
Your brother and son,
Lisa’s mom finished reading, and silence filled the room except for a few sniffles, most of them coming from Lisa’s dad.
“Go get Tick’s Journal of Curious Letters,” he said. His voice trembled a bit, but there was a smile on his face and the unmistakable spark of life in his eyes. “It’s under his bed. This letter will make an excellent last page to the collection. Don’t you think?”
The First Meeting
Paul sat at the large conference table, feeling a little bit as if he’d finally awakened from a long, long dream. Things felt surreal and kind of strange. Different. But good. Mostly good. Today’s agenda had an item listed that would never be forgotten. He took a second to look around the room at his fellow Realitants.
There were a few people here he didn’t know very well. Not yet, anyway. People like red-haired Priscilla Persiphone, a doctor named something-or-other Hillenstat, or the dude that couldn’t speak named Jimmy—the guy didn’t even have a tongue. Ew. There were others: Nancy and Katrina and William. A couple more he couldn’t remember. All of them had come just in time to save the Fifth Army—along with Paul and Sofia—from being completely wiped out in that last and final battle. So they were definitely his new friends.
And then there were the others. The ones who’d become family.
Mothball, still marked with wounds from the terrible battle in the Thirteenth Reality, but with a smile planted on her long and weary face. Rutger, sitting taller than ever; he’d done the impossible and gathered together all the missing Realitants. Sally, who’d been wearing the same shirt since that fateful day, saying that it’d be bad Karma to put on anything else.
Sato’s face was actually a little less stern than it had been of late. Paul knew he was thinking of all the soldiers he’d lost, and the promise he still planned to keep. To take what was left of his army and reclaim the Fifth Reality from the Bugaboos. They’d be leaving soon to do just that.
Her eyes met his. She didn’t say anything, and neither did he, but a lot passed between them in that gaze. The months that seemed like years, the pain and hurt and terror, the thrill of winning mixed with the sorrow of all that had been lost along the way. The ache for those who were no longer there. And an unspoken bond that could never be taken away from them. She smiled, and he smiled back.
And finally, he looked to the head of the table.
To the place where Master George had always sat with his flaky red scalp, his loyal Muffintops on his lap, his three-piece suit, and his Barrier Wand usually somewhere nearby. The old man with the proper speech and the constant twinkle in his eyes. The old man who’d brought them in, trained them, encouraged them. The old man who’d chosen to fight by their side in the end, though he had to know his chances of surviving were slim. Paul had a lump in his throat at the thought, and wished he could say good-bye one last time.
Someone else was sitting in the leader’s chair now. Someone very different, having just appeared in a blaze of sparks and the sound of static charges.
A being, roughly in the shape of a human body, a cloudy mix of blue and white light swirling through and around each other, occupied the seat where Master George had once reigned. Little flashes of orange danced throughout the ethereal substance, along with zigzags of bright electricity, like miniature strikes of lightning. The otherworldly apparition glowed warmly and gave off a humming sound. Paul could feel a vibrating buzz in his bones.
There was a face projected on the surface of the wraithlike figure’s head. A familiar face that was smiling at the moment. Tick. It was good to see him again. Oh, man, it was so good to see him again.
Atticus Higginbottom, in a form that no one else in that room would ever understand, leaned forward and put his ghostly elbows on the table.
“Let’s get this meeting started,” he said.