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The Blade of Shattered Hope, Page 4

James Dashner

  Sofia couldn’t help but be intrigued. It’d been years since they’d had such a conversation. “What is it?” She didn’t look at her mom, but kept her eyes on the distant, brightening horizon.

  “Well,” her mom started, then hesitated. “It’s hard to know how to say it, so please hear me out. Your father and I never intended for you to be born. I mean, we’d made a decision early on to never have children. We never meant to have you.”

  Sofia almost choked on the lump that blossomed in her throat. “That’s what you came up here to tell me?”

  “Now, now, I told you to hear me out,” her mom quickly responded, patting Sofia’s arm. “Listen to me—we never intended to have you or any child, but you came anyway. Unexpectedly. And even though it was against all of our plans, even though it hindered your father’s career and made it difficult for us to travel and accomplish the goals we’d set out before getting married . . . Well, I think you can see that despite all that, we accepted it and raised you and have always provided you with whatever you needed. And, above all else, we made sure to love you.”

  Sofia shifted her hands so she could grip the edge of the railing, squeezing hard to prevent her arms from shaking. Something terrible formed in her chest, something bulging and hurtful and full of bad things. It seemed to reach through her heart, through her throat, grabbing her mind and soul, begging her to cry. That was it. Every piece of her wanted to bawl her eyes out, sob until she felt nothing.

  But she refused. She didn’t understand how she did it, but she refused to let the tears come. There was no way she would let her mom see such a thing and misinterpret it, think that she’d finally bonded with her only child. Mistake her tears for love.

  Concentrating with all her might, Sofia forced the heavy feeling away and took control of her emotions. Finally, she relaxed her hands.

  “Well?” her mom said after a long few seconds. “Do you understand? Is everything okay now? Better?”

  “Yes,” Sofia said, pushing the word out of her mouth, praying it was over and her mom would walk away.

  “That’s wonderful.” She patted Sofia’s arm again. “You know I love you, right?”

  “Yes, Mom.”

  “And you love me?”

  “Yes, Mom.” That’s all Sofia could manage. Just those two words. She clung to them, hoped they’d be enough to end this conversation.

  “And your father?”

  “Yes, Mom.”

  “Great. I’m so glad we had this talk. Aren’t you?”

  “Yes, Mom.”

  “Okay, then. Your father and I are going away for a few days. We’ll be leaving tonight. Bye, now.”

  And with that, she turned and walked away.

  Sofia thought about the fact that they hadn’t even hugged. She knew it should bother her as much as everything else, but it didn’t. Sadly, it didn’t bother her at all.

  When she was absolutely sure her mom wasn’t coming back, Sofia finally gave up the internal battle and decided to let the tears flow.

  But nothing came.


  An hour passed. Maybe more. She couldn’t really tell. She felt like she was in a haze, numb to the world. Eventually the cold got to her, and she went inside, though in some ways, the house felt chillier.

  For awhile she wandered the large house, completely ignoring the paintings and vases and tapestries and wood paneling and plush carpet that marked it as a mansion. She wandered, dreading her afternoon lessons with Lolita the private tutor. Sofia longed for the weekend, for two full days of nothing and no one—even though she knew she’d spend it sulking and checking the computer every two minutes for e-mails from Tick or Paul.

  She entered the massive kitchen, all marble tile and shiny silver appliances, hoping a snack from the fridge would jump-start her from the doldrums. Frupey—his blond hair slicked back as usual—and the head cook were there, planning meals for the few days Sofia’s parents would be gone. When that was the case—which was often—Frupey and the cook schemed to make dinner a little more tasty for Sofia, a little less healthy. Sometimes they even spoiled her with hot dogs, a secret she’d never dare tell her friends back in America.

  “Sofia,” Frupey said when he noticed her. “I was just going to come for you. I’ve received word that you have a friend coming within the hour.”

  Sofia felt a tinge of excitement, and the dull blahs inside her vanished. A friend? Her immediate thought was it had to be a Realitant. Maybe Mothball or Rutger.

  “Really?” she asked, trying not to sound too eager. “Who is it? And what do you mean you received word?”

  “Well, it’s rather strange.” Frupey stood straight, arms clasped behind his back. Ever the butler. “A metal tube came flying through a window. It thoroughly shattered the glass and required quite the cleanup. Based on your stories of, well, you know, your new friends, I thought it must be from the adventurous science people.”

  Sofia’s heart soared. It was them. She couldn’t wait to give Master George a hard time about his less-than-apt abilities at placing his message tubes when winking them.

  “What did it say?” she asked. “Where is it?”

  Frupey bowed and pulled a small piece of white cardstock from his jacket pocket and handed it over to her.

  She snatched it out of his hands with a quickly murmured thank you and read it:

  Sofia, we’ll be there straightaway to pick you up. Within the hour. It’s most urgent!


  Unable to hide a grin, and now thrilled that her parents were leaving, she ran from the kitchen without another word to Frupey so she could pack a few things for her trip.


  Master George came alone.

  Sofia had been standing on the large brick porch for thirty minutes, the strap of her bag digging into her shoulder, staring down the long paved drive, waiting anxiously. When she spotted the old man shuffling along with an almost comical, hurried gait, she sprinted out to meet him.

  “Why didn’t you just have me go to the usual cemetery?” she asked when she reached his side.

  Master George stopped walking, bent over and put his hands on his knees to catch a few deep breaths.

  “I don’t mean to wink you back to headquarters for now,” he finally responded. “Believe it or not, I’ve left Sally in charge of the Barrier Wands back at headquarters. I came to pick you up personally so we could travel together to our next location.”

  “Which is?” Sofia urged. She could hardly stand the

  anticipation; the desire to get away from her large and dreary house was almost overwhelming.

  Master George stood straight again, fixing his gaze on her. His ruddy face framed eyes full of concern. “Sofia, I don’t quite know how to say it. We’ve received an . . . invitation. A very odd one, at that.”

  “Really? From who? For what?”

  “Let’s just say it frightens me greatly. Come on. We need to make our way back to the cemetery so we can wink to Florida and pick up Paul. I’ll explain along the way.” He turned and started down the drive.

  Sofia, baffled but full of excitement, followed.




  Finger on the Pulse

  Tick suspected he’d probably think the whole incident

  hilarious a few years down the road. They’d killed two monstrous water creatures with a vacuum cleaner and a dozen toilet flushes. But that night, lying in his bed, all he could think about as he stared at the dark ceiling was how close it had been. What it was like to see his mom’s face behind that deadly mask of water and his dad’s big body thrash around on the floor. What it was like to see his parents—both of them—almost die.

  It hurt. It haunted. And he couldn’t get the images out of his mind. People always used the phrase “too close for comfort,” and after all he’d been through, and more than ever tonight, he understood what that meant on a very deep level. Especially when he considered how lucky they were Lisa and Kayla had gone
away for the weekend. He knew there’d be no sleep for him tonight. Even if there were, it’d be full of nightmares.

  Sighing, he rolled over onto his side and looked at the closet. The door was shut. He hadn’t consciously thought about it before, but he was pretty sure that door had been closed every night since the Gnat Rat had shown up and attacked him. Compared to the things happening to him now, that incident almost seemed funny. Almost silly.

  Compared to his . . . problem.

  That was the word he’d started using when referring to whatever was wrong with him. Somehow, for some reason, he had a natural surplus—an extreme surplus—of Chi’karda, that quiet force that explains and controls the world of quantum physics and therefore everything in the universe. The fact that Mistress Jane had pulled it out of him, shown it to him, burned the visual in his mind forever, only made it more terrifying.

  He had enough Chi’karda inside him to power a Barrier Wand. He had enough to disintegrate a spaceship-sized weapon of metal. Enough to destroy one of the largest buildings in all of the Realities. He’d said it before, and he felt it now, for the millionth time.

  He was a freak. A dangerous, out-of-control freak.

  But then he felt the slightest glimmer of hope, almost like a visible light in his shadowed room of nighttime. In the garage, when he had started to lose control, he’d been able to pull back, make it stop. The more he thought about it, the better he felt.

  He’d stopped. He’d controlled the power. That was a huge thing. The realization hadn’t really hit him until now—he’d been too preoccupied with the aftermath of the attack by the water creatures—but the Chi’karda had almost exploded within him, and he’d made it go away!

  Tick sat up in bed, wrapping his arms around his knees. He had to tell Sofia and Paul. And Master George, of course. He looked over at the digital clock on his desk and read the time—just a few minutes before midnight. No way he could wait until morning.

  Swinging his legs off the bed, he stood up and headed for the computer downstairs.


  The house was dark and silent, the faint swooshing of the refrigerator the only sound. Tick knew his odds of making it downstairs without his dad hearing him were tiny, but he tried all the same, creeping along on his tiptoes, hitting all the quiet spots in the floor and on the stairs he’d scouted out long ago. If Dad did come down, surely he’d understand why Tick wanted so urgently to tell his friends about what had happened. And to make sure nothing had attacked them.

  Once in his e-mail program, and after feeling a little disappointed that he had no messages waiting for him, he created a new one for Paul and Sofia. He started typing.

  Hey guys,

  I don’t even know where to start. Crazy day. Horrible day. Worst day since that stuff in the Fourth. Guess I’ll just tell it how it went.

  It started while I was walking home from school after my normal visit with Mr. Chu. (Sofia, I know you hate him, but he’s not the same guy as Reginald. He was being controlled when he kidnapped us. Get over it!)

  Anyway, I got hit by this weird feeling, like a huge electrical charge, like some kind of invisible power, hitting me in waves. Then things got worse.

  Tick went on to tell them about the run home, finding his parents under attack by the water creatures, fighting the things, killing them with the vacuum. Flushing them down the toilet.

  He winced when he typed that part, already imagining the response from Sofia. It was like handing your enemy a thousand rounds of ammo so they could shoot you with more ease. And glee. She’d have a field day with that stuff.

  He paused for a moment, wishing he could make the fight sound tougher, scarier. Like it had been in real life. In an e-mail, it sounded completely stupid. Might as well write, Hey guys, you should’ve seen how I wielded that vacuum cleaner! I was invincible!

  Groaning, he continued typing.

  Well, it was a lot worse than it sounds. Trust me. I just wish I knew where they came from, what they were, and who sent them. And what those weird waves of power I felt were. Has anything happened to you guys? We better be extra careful, really be on the lookout.

  I think we should talk again on the Internet phone-thingy Sofia’s butler helped us all set up. Since tomorrow is Saturday, what about in the morning (for me)—9:00? Let me know.


  Realitant First Class

  Tick always signed his e-mails that way, purely for one reason: it bugged the heck out of Sofia. He clicked send, then sat back and folded his arms, watching the screen as it confirmed the message had been sent on its way.

  His thoughts wandered. He saw his mom, encased in water, writhing on the floor. His dad’s face growing purple. Remembered the terror of those few moments in the garage, before they were safe. He felt as if his heart had turned to lead.

  What if it happened again? Almost certainly, it would. Something like it. Or worse.

  A yawn leaked out, almost surprising him, and he snapped out of his stupor. Stretching his arms high above his head, he stood up from the chair, then leaned forward to shut down the computer. Once finished, he turned to head up for bed, already dreading the dreams that might await him.


  Tick sucked in a breath, reaching out to grab the back of the desk chair. The burst of energy had swept across him, throwing off his balance. Once he was sure he was stable and could stand, he looked around him, searching his surroundings. All he could see were shadows draped across more shadows, a faint light coming through the windows, another small glow from a nightlight down the hall. But the house was mostly dark, and everything seemed a great hiding spot for a monster ready to spring for him.


  Again. This time he realized how much smaller the energy wave was than those that had hit him earlier that afternoon on the road home from school. It had only been remembering that experience that sent terror pumping his heart when he’d felt the burst of energy this time. He calmed, just a little.


  Definitely smaller. Weaker. Whatever the word was. Barely there, almost a vibration. A sound that was not quite a sound.


  A pulse. That described it better than anything else. He was feeling a pulse of energy, sweeping through the air, through his skin, rattling his insides like a tuning fork. He could sense its source, just like he’d be able to tell from which direction he heard a radio or piano playing.

  Womp . . . womp . . . womp . . .

  Again and again.

  It was coming from the basement.





  Tick’s racing heart eased when he realized the pulse was far less powerful this time, felt less dangerous. But having it come from the basement—the unfinished, cement-floored, dark and cold basement? That was way worse than a closet.

  He had to investigate. He had no choice on the matter. He was a Realitant, and he’d brought this danger—if it was a danger, and it didn’t take a genius to jump to that conclusion—to his family, to his home. Responsibility for that hung like a huge sack of rocks, draped with ropes across his back. Despite what he’d experienced so far with the mysterious power within him, despite what he’d done to Chu’s palace and the weapon called Dark Infinity, despite what he’d done to—

  He cut off the thought. The point was, he didn’t feel powerful. Not in the least. Having a gun does you no good if it’s missing the trigger.

  Womp . . . womp . . . womp . . .

  But none of that mattered. Something weird pulsed in his basement, and he was going down there to figure out what.

  He realized his hands were clasped tightly into fists. If he’d had long nails, his palms would be bleeding like geysers. He forced himself to relax, flexing his fingers and taking several deep breaths. Then he headed out of the room, down the hall, toward the door to the basement.

  He hesitated in front of it, as though the black shadows of the hallway clung to him like a gluey mass.
He stared at the knob, a stub of gold that was the only spot of color in the darkness. The throbs of the unseen force continued, a small vibration in his skull.

  He opened the door and stepped through it onto the landing of the stairway that led below. If he’d thought it had been dark before, the bottom of the stairs was a lightless abyss. He fumbled for the switch, found it and turned on the light, banishing the shadows. Before him lay the wooden staircase, surrounded with bare white walls with a cement floor at the bottom. He couldn’t see anything else yet.

  Womp . . . womp . . . womp . . .

  The pulse strengthened slightly, calling to him from the basement. He had the sudden and terrifying thought that maybe he’d been hypnotized, that he was acting irrationally. He stopped before taking the first step. Was he nuts for even thinking about going down there? The first time he’d felt this energy pulse, something terrible had happened.

  But he had to do it. He had to. He wondered if he should get his dad, but pushed the thought away. The hairs of his arms standing on end, he started down the stairs. Even treading lightly, each footfall still made a deadened thump. He wished the steps had carpet. He descended further, running his right hand along the wall, making a soft scraping sound, almost a swish.

  Womp . . . womp . . . womp . . .

  He reached the bottom, then darted toward the long string that fell from the ceiling, attached to a single light bulb. He pulled the string, waiting in dread to see what the light would reveal. When the bulb clicked on and the room brightened, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The single room in the half-basement was maybe twenty feet wide, and Tick couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

  The room was cluttered with boxes, bags, plastic tubs full of old clothes, a horizontal pole holding up dusty coats on hangers, a rack of shoes which hadn’t been worn in years, a pile of Christmas decorations that hadn’t quite been put away yet. He wondered if his mom even knew her wonderful and faithful husband had neglected that duty for months now.