The Blade of Shattered Hope 1r-3James Dashner
The Blade of Shattered Hope
( 13th Reality - 3 )
The Blade of Shattered Hope
Bryan Cannon looked at the catfish-its bone-like whiskers, its slimy skin, its dark, unblinking eyes-and he saw death. For the creature, of course, not himself. Dinner would be fine and tasty tonight.
The day was beautiful. A slight coolness crisped the air, balanced perfectly by the brilliant sun shining down on Bryan’s boat, sparkling off the waters that surrounded him, dancing like fairies of light. Too bad this fish wasn’t enjoying things as much as he was.
Bryan had caught the fish in the little body of water in which he floated-called, quite pretentiously, Lake Norman. But if that tiny spit of rain-washed sludge was classified as a lake, then Bryan’s toilet at home constituted a big pond. He chuckled to himself, as he often did at his own jokes, and spiked another squirmy worm onto his hook. Bryan shifted to get comfortable then he cast the line.
His small canoe rocked at the movement, sending gentle waves rippling across the lake’s surface. He watched the outermost wrinkle, enjoying how it traveled along like it didn’t have a care in the world. Bryan always loved it when he could keep his eyes trained on the tiny wave until it actually hit the shore. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded, and his eyes watered with the effort.
There it goes, he thought, getting smaller and smaller, smaller and smaller… there! It hit right over by that sandy Splash!
A disturbance in the water, right where the lake met the shore. Then another splash, a huge one, that sprayed droplets all over the small beach. Bryan had been staring right at the spot, so he knew no one had jumped in.
Yet another splash. Then another. It looked like some kid thrashing about with his arms, trying to douse all of his friends in the face. Bryan used to love doing that when he’d been a kid.
There was only one problem. There wasn’t a kid anywhere in sight. Or an adult, for that matter. Nobody.
The disturbance continued. Curious, Bryan laid his fishing pole along the length of the canoe and reached for his paddle. Never taking his eyes off the white-water display, he lowered the tip down into the lake and began paddling his way over to check things out. He figured only one of three things was possible.
One, they had themselves a ghost right here in Lake Norman.
Two, some vicious sea monster had found itself a way to the lake from the ocean.
Or three, Bryan Cannon had finally flipped his lid and gone bonkers.
The closer he approached, the worse the splashing. Great cascades of water shot up everywhere-five, ten feet in the air. A curtain of spray unfurled next to him as he rowed along, the water soaking him and sluicing down the sides of the boat. For the first time, terror crept through Bryan’s innards, and he realized it might not have been the smartest thing in the world to come so close to whatever thing was under the water.
He stopped paddling, slowing to a drift. As he did so, the splashing abruptly ceased. In a matter of seconds, the surface of the lake grew relatively calm, the small waves lapping against his canoe the only evidence anything had happened at all. If anything, the sudden stillness only scared Bryan more. He stared at the spot.
Something started rising out of the water.
Bryan shrieked as he saw what looked like an upside-down glass bowl break the surface of the lake like a bubble, shimmering like wet crystal. The bubble formed into the rough shape of a head, although there were no eyes or nose or mouth. Rising higher, the thing had a neck, and then shoulders, all made out of water. Up and up it rose, forming itself, growing out of the lake’s surface like a demon rising from its grave. Before long, a human-shaped creature of water stood in front of Bryan, floating on clear feet, the sun casting spectrum-colored glimmers of light as it shone through the apparition.
Bryan sucked in a huge gulp of air, ready to let out the biggest scream of his life. But before he could do it, the watery ghost held up its arms and a sudden wave of water exploded from under its feet, crashing forward and down toward the canoe. Hundreds, maybe thousands of gallons of water, slammed on top of Bryan like a deluge from ancient and angry gods.
Bryan Cannon would never eat a catfish again.
If the waterkelt had a brain, it might’ve been impressed with its display of power. If the creature had a heart, it might’ve felt ashamed for causing the death of an innocent person. It had neither, so it simply walked its way to the shore and up into the surrounding trees, leaving behind a wet and muddy trail.
It knew where to go and what to do when it got there. So did its companion, which had been created on the other side of the lake. Their bodies sparkled and flashed in the sunlight like glistening quicksilver as they marched toward their duty.
Only their creator, Mistress Jane, understood the irony of the situation as she observed from a place very far away. Water, the basic element which sustains all human life, was about to be used for quite the opposite.
First stop, the Higginbottom house.
The Dark Basement
Two Very Different Missions
Sato shivered, then grimaced. His rain-soaked clothes felt icky against his skin; it felt as if an army of leeches clung to him for dear life. He’d stood in the open for barely a minute, trying to figure out where he’d arrived exactly. Drenched already, he looked about, confused.
The air had the feel of twilight, though he knew it was almost noon in this Reality. The reason for the darkness floated above him-massive, heavy clouds of gray-black that were emptying their contents on his sopping-wet head. The clouds seemed close enough to touch. George had warned him that this Reality was a dreary, dreadful place where it rained constantly. Sato couldn’t have agreed more.
But he saw no tombstones, no plaques planted in the ground to mark graves. He stood on concrete-or something like it. Hard and flat, the ground was dotted with regularly-spaced holes to drain away the water as quickly as it fell. Sato was glad for that. He didn’t relish the idea of standing in a deep pool of water.
Why do I always get stuck with these jobs? Sato thought to himself. If it wasn’t a windy, snow-swept mountaintop insane asylum, it was a rainy parking lot supposedly full of dead people. Fun stuff.
He noticed a small, square building about forty feet away, a scarce shadow in the wet darkness. No lights shone from any windows or outdoor fixtures. Seeing nothing else in any direction except the flat expanse of hole-dotted pavement, Sato walked toward the dark building.
As he sloshed his way across the ground, he wished he had a companion with him. Grumbling alone was no fun. Why hadn’t George at least given him an umbrella? Maybe next time the red-faced geezer would send Sato to the middle of the ocean without a boat, or maybe to the desert without water, or skydiving without a parachute.
Sato shivered and kept walking, his socks soaked through from the rain. The squishy chill felt like he was smashing hundreds of iced shrimp below his feet. If no one answered at the building, he’d send the signal immediately for Rutger to wink him back. They might have found their first dead-end in Sato’s latest mission. A mission that creeped him out and left him in awe at the same time.
Oh, man, Tick, he thought. What in the world does this all mean?
As Sato got closer to the building, he noticed it had absolutely no markings of any kind-not a door, a window, or anything else he could see. It was made up of the same drab, no-color material of the ground, but smooth and unblemished. It was a perfect square, maybe ten feet in height and width.
/> He walked right up to the cube and put his hand out. Rain cascaded down the sides of the building in sheets, and when his hand made contact with the cool, hard wall, the water parted and washed across his skin, down his arm, and spilled onto the ground in tiny twin falls. Sato pulled his hand away and whipped it back and forth in a futile attempt to dry himself.
He was just about to call out the inevitable “Hello?” when he heard a loud thump and felt the ground tremble below his feet as if some giant beast from the underworld was trying to break free from its lair with a massive hammer. It happened only once, but Sato’s feet tingled from the vibration of the impact. Surprisingly, he didn’t feel afraid. Not yet, anyway.
There was a loud hiss, muted by the pounding rain, and then the wall directly in front of him began to move outward, toward him.
Sato felt anxiety grip his heart for the first time since arriving, and he stepped back, almost turned to run. But he quickly collected himself, reminding himself that George must have known where he’d been sending him after all. He had nothing to be afraid of.
He realized that it was only the bottom edge of the wall that was moving, swinging out and upward like an old-fashioned garage door. To his left and right, the side walls were doing the same, the groan of metallic hinges a faint squeal in the background. A soft light shone out from an unknown source, turning the thousands of raindrops into silvery sparkles. Sato could see through the cube to the other side where the fourth wall opposite him was opening up like its counterparts. Seconds later, the four walls locked into position parallel to the ground, and all movement stopped with a loud clank. Just a few feet above him, a wide shelter from the weather had formed, the doors and middle sections together now shaped like a square cross supported by four large metal pillars.
His fear gone, Sato stepped out of the rain toward the middle of what used to be a closed building and was now just a really fancy covered patio. He half-expected to see a picnic table or maybe a barbecue grill, but what he found instead surprised him greatly.
A round hole, with a spiral set of stairs leading down into its depths and an iron handrail fastened to the wall. The light he’d noticed before was coming from somewhere at the bottom of the hole. Everything in sight was surprisingly dry. A small metal sign was bolted onto the floor right next to the first step, and several words had been stamped onto its surface:
Grace of Her Heart Cemetery
A prickle of fear raised bumps on Sato’s flesh, but reason calmed his nerves soon enough. In a place where rain was the norm, it made perfect sense for the dead to be buried in some kind of vault or tomb instead of within the spongy, soaked, muddy earth. Dead people would be floating all over the place if they’d made that mistake. It was a cemetery after all-a normal, peaceful, full-of-bodies graveyard.
And over the last few weeks, Sato had become very used to graveyards.
Blowing a breath through his lips, he squeezed as much water as possible out of his clothes and hair, then set off down the stairs. With each step, an audible squish sounded, inexplicably making him want to laugh. Step by step, round and round, he descended into the hole. With every full circle he made, he saw a square light set into the wall, casting a warm glow-literally. Things heated up quickly and considerably.
After what felt like ten or so floors, Sato reached the bottom the of stairs and stepped through an open doorway. Unable to hold back a gasp of wonder, he gaped at the massive chamber in front of him. Row upon row of metal containers stretched as far as he could see, fading away into a shadowy mist in the distance. Large pillars supported the roof thirty feet or so above him, standing like iron angels guarding the dead.
For that’s what filled the room. The dead. In metal caskets, stacked five high, with barely enough room between them for Sato to walk. Sato calculated there had to be thousands of deceased in the underground cemetery. Thousands upon thousands.
It took him four hours and forty-five minutes to find what he was looking for.
The casket looked like every other one in the vast tomb. Made from a dark steel, the slightest shade of silver prevented it from being utterly black. The final resting place of two other souls lay on top, two more beneath, with hundreds to either side. A dirty bronze plaque named the person whose body was inside the casket. Sato reached forward and wiped away the dust, more out of respect for the dead than anything else; he could read the words imprinted on the tarnished plaque just fine.
This was the seventh Reality in which he’d read such words.
It was the casket for Atticus Higginbottom.
Frazier Gunn had grown weary of prisons.
He’d now visited eleven of them, each one more foul than the one before it. Dirty. Grimy. Full of people with no self-control, no humanity. Full of thieves and murderers.
Now, walking down the dark, damp, smelly stone tunnel, escorted by two massively strong Brazilian guards with machine guns, he wondered how much more of this he could take. It didn’t help that Mistress Jane had refused to tell him the purpose of the mission he’d undertaken, only the whats and wheres. The hows. None of the whys.
He’d long since gotten over the shock of finding his prey in prison, each and every time. Without fail, his searches had ended at some sort of jail, penitentiary, detention center, or, in three memorable cases, a hospital for the criminally insane. Always in shady institutions run by shady men and women. Always in places where the right price could buy you anything. Were there places in the Realities where this was not the case? He doubted it.
They came to a wooden door, heavily bolted and re inforced with a thick chain and lock. The guard to his right grunted something in Portuguese, but Frazier understood him well enough. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of cash, obtained that morning at a local bank, in the local currency. He was amazed how easy it was to come up with money when you had someone as powerful as Mistress Jane backing the operation.
When the guard reached for the cash, Frazier pulled his hand away.
“The prisoner,” he said, keeping his voice as empty of emotion as possible. “Get me the prisoner.”
The man grunted again. Frazier was fully aware that these two brutes could simply take the money and leave him for dead. But he’d been sure to fill their heads with hopes of future deals, future bribes, future money-making opportunities. They’d be idiots to jeopardize such possibilities. It was, of course, a complete lie. Frazier would never, not in a million years, return to this country in this Reality, certainly not to this wretched cesspool of lowlifes. He needed one thing here, and one thing only.
After a long stare-off, the guard finally pulled out his jangly ring of keys and unlocked the chain and the three bolts of the door. He swung the door open, the hinges squealing like tortured rats, then disappeared inside, making it clear with a scowl that Frazier should wait for him to return. Frazier was more than happy to wait, having seen more than enough prisoners and jail cells in the last few weeks.
He stood next to the other fellow, a sour-faced, bearded giant of a man, who looked at the floor and never spoke a word. Frazier could only imagine what darkness lurked inside the man’s brain, what memories haunted his dreams at night. For the slightest of moments, Frazier felt sorry for the man.
Several minutes passed, the only sounds that of breathing and a constant, echoing drip of water somewhere down the tunnel. Finally, the guard returned with the prisoner for which Frazier had paid handsomely. The eleventh such prisoner, the eleventh such bribe. And, according to his boss, worth every penny.
The woman stepped forward, still shackled at the wrist. Her black hair was a nest of greasy strings, her torn clothes were filthy, and her long fingernails were crusted with black dirt. For a moment, she refused to meet Frazier’s eyes. Irritated, he reached forward and put his hand under her chin, tilting her face up so he could get a good look.
Despite her pale complexion, the smudges of grime, the cracked lips, and the way her skin seemed to squeeze
the sharp bones of her skull, he had no doubt, none whatsoever. She was still beautiful to him.
Frazier handed the money to the guard, who then passed over the key to the chains around the prisoner’s-the former prisoner’s-wrist. Frazier nodded once, curtly, then took hold of the woman’s arm.
Without saying a word, he turned and escorted the Alterant of Mistress Jane down the long and dark tunnel.
The Kyoopy Quiz
Okay,” Mr. Chu said, leaning both his elbows on his desk at school and staring down at the open physics book. “If you get this one right, you are The Man. That’s capital T, capital M.”
“Hit me,” Tick responded. Even he could hear the tiredness in his own voice. He’d been studying with Mr. Chu for more than an hour, question after question. Tick was schooled at home now since Master George had insisted that it was too dangerous for Tick to be out and about with classmates and the general public every day. But enough time had passed that Tick had finally convinced his parents and Master George to let him visit Mr. Chu three times a week in the afternoons. Any break from the house was welcome, even if it did involve his former teacher grilling him with questions about physics. Mr. Chu glanced up before continuing, a grin spreading across his face. Tick faltered a moment, hating how much the man looked like his Alterant from the Fourth Reality. Like Reginald Chu. The evil Reginald Chu, who was stuck-uncomfortably, Tick hoped-in a place called the Nonex. Too bad Master George didn’t have a clue as to where the Nonex was, or what it was, or anything else about it at all.
“Okay,” Mr. Chu said, speaking slowly. “How does the wave-particle property paradox contradict the theorems related to radiation damping and nonlinearity in the pilot wave interpretation of quantum mechanics?”