DJANGO WEXLER The Mad Apprentice: Book 2

ISBN 13: 9780552568685

The Mad Apprentice: Book 2

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9780552568685: The Mad Apprentice: Book 2

The dark and thrilling sequel to the book Kirkus called, "Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and Inkheart all rolled into one"

When Alice's mysterious Uncle Geryon sends her to help capture a rogue apprentice--a boy who has the same ability Alice has to Read himself into stories--she knows to expect a wild and unpredictable trip. But even though Alice has visited the magical realms inside libraries before, this adventure is far more dangerous. Because Torment, the magic creature holding this library together, has gone mad.

But he might also have information about Alice's missing father.

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About the Author:

Django Wexler is the author of The Forbidden Library, as well as the adult fantasy series, The Shadow Campaigns. He lives near Seattle, Washington.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

THE SWAMP WAS HOT, moist, and silent. For a long time, nothing moved except groping tendrils of fog, playing over the muck and twisting between the hunchbacked trees. An occasional dragonfly skimmed through the reeds on crystalline wings. Overhead, the sun was fat and orange, motionless as if it had been nailed to the pale blue sky.

Then, in the distance, there was the sound of raised voices, and the rustle of someone moving through the underbrush. The dragonflies scattered. A moment later, one of the fogbanks quivered and disgorged a girl, picking her way with caution along a spit of what passed for solid ground.

She was twelve or thirteen, dressed in practical trousers and a leather vest, with her hair tied up to keep it out of the way. She was sweating freely, her pale, freckled cheeks already reddening in the sun, but her eyes were alert, scanning the trees and hollows around her.

Sitting on her shoulder was a small gray cat. His claws were fastened into her vest with desperate strength, as though he was terrified of falling off. Insofar as a cat can have an expression, this one looked very unhappy.

The girl and the cat were named Alice and Ashes-Drifting-Through-the-Dead-Cities-of-the-World (or Ashes, for short), respectively. When they reached the top of the hummock, Alice stopped and turned in a slow circle, while Ashes lashed his tail in an irritable sort of way. It was the cat who finally broke the awkward silence that had grown up between them.

“What,” he said, “are we doing here?”

“We’re looking for some kind of monster,” Alice said. Her master, Geryon, had told her what it was called, some complicated Latin name, but she hadn’t committed it to memory. “I’ve got to fight it. You know.”

“I know why you’re here. This seems like exactly the sort of place you would visit, all mucky water and mud and monsters. What I want to know is why I should have to be here. I’m half cat, after all. I should be above this sort of thing.”

You are here because you did your business in Master Geryon’s slippers,” Alice said. “Again.”

“He has no proof of that,” Ashes said, tail whipping against the back of her neck.

“There are hardly a lot of suspects,” she said.

“Hmph,” Ashes snorted.

“You should be glad Geryon didn’t turn you into a toad.”

“If he had to send me to babysit you,” the cat said, “why did it have to be somewhere so . . . wet?”

“You should have seen the last place,” Alice muttered. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to get into a swimming pool again. “Now be quiet. I need to concentrate.”

There was a rustle in the bushes, farther on, and a small creature emerged. It looked a bit like a wingless bird, with an oval body balanced on two clawed feet and a long, pointed beak. The sleek black coat that covered it was fur, though, and not feathers.

It was called a swarmer, and Alice knew that it was not, in fact, a separate creature at all, but only a part of a larger entity, like an ant or a bumblebee. The Swarm had been the first creature she’d bound, back when she’d known nothing of Readers or magic and she’d accidentally stumbled into a prison-book. The individual swarmers could be almost cute, but she couldn’t quite forget the sound of hundreds of them running after her, claws tiktiktiking on the stone floor as they quirked for blood.

Right now she was using a few of them to scout, since the creature that occupied this prison-book was not being terribly cooperative. She could, after much practice, peer through their eyes without letting her real body fall over, but she still wasn’t good at dealing with more than one of them at once. It didn’t help that they were poorly suited to the swamp—they were heavier than they looked, and every time one of them stepped into a puddle, it sank to the bottom like a stone and had to scramble to get out.

Alice herself was far from keen on the swamp, as a matter of fact. It was like the water and the land had gotten mixed up, somehow. Even the dry bits were covered in thick, sticky mud, and the innumerable channels and shallow ponds were covered with floating weeds that made them look just like land until she put her foot in them and muddy water poured into her boot. To top things off, the mosquitoes were eating her alive, and her sunburned skin stung whenever she squashed one.

She checked her swarmers, one by one, but all they could really see were more weeds, a disadvantage of being only a foot high. This isn’t working. She sighed and let them pop out of existence.

At least now I can do something about the mosquitoes. At the back of her mind were the threads of magic that led to her bound creatures. A silver thread for the Swarm, a deep nut-brown one for the tree-sprite, and a deep blue one for her latest acquisition: a big, toothy creature Geryon had called a devilfish, which could let her glow in the dark or breathe underwater.

Beneath them all, at the very edge of her mental reach, a final thread coiled in rings of darkest obsidian. That one led to the Dragon, which had remained stubbornly impervious to her every attempt to summon or command it.

Alice mentally wrapped the Swarm thread around herself, giving her skin the tough, rubbery resilience of the little creatures. The next bug that tries to take a bite out of me is going to be very surprised. Then she opened her eyes and stared around the fetid, baking swamp, frowning.

“This isn’t right,” she said. “The creature isn’t supposed to hide. In every other prison-book the thing was champing at the bit for a fight.”

“Perhaps this one’s shy,” Ashes said. “Or perhaps I shouldn’t have come with you. It may be deterred by my magnificent presence. I am very intimidating, after all.” He yawned. “Yes, that’s probably it. Why don’t you leave me in that tree, and you can get on with things while I have a nice little nap?”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Can’t you . . . sniff it out or something?”

The cat’s fur bristled. “I think you may have mistaken me for some sort of hound.”

“Don’t be silly,” Alice said. She put on a sly smile. “I just figured that whatever a stupid dog could do, you’d be able to do better. Being half cat, and all.”

“I can see what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work,” Ashes said. “Don’t think you can bait me.”

“Fair enough, fair enough. I’ve been thinking of asking Geryon if I could have a puppy anyway.”

“A puppy?” Ashes sputtered.

“A golden retriever, maybe. You two would look so cute together. I can just see him licking your face with his big slobbery tongue—”

“All right, all right,” Ashes said. “You don’t have to get gruesome.”

“Then you can smell something?”

“In this muck? Not a chance.” His whiskers twitched, and he shut his eyes. “If you’ll be quiet for a moment, though, I may be able to hear something. We half-cats have excellent ears.” One eye cracked, just slightly, so he could glare at her. “Much better than any canine.”

Alice suppressed a giggle, and stood in silence while Ashes’ ears twitched and pivoted, like tiny searchlights. Eventually he raised a paw and pointed.

“I don’t know if it’s what we’re looking for,” he said, “but I can hear something big breathing, over in that direction.”

“That’s probably it,” Alice said. “These prison-books never seem to have much life beyond the prisoner.” Though why this one included mosquitoes was beyond Alice. She started down the hillock in the direction Ashes indicated, probing ahead of her with the toe of her boot to make sure of her footing. The mud sucked at her feet with every step, but fortunately Geryon had provided her with a pair of very fine leather boots; her ordinary shoes would have been lost to the mire long ago.

She came to a stream, a channel of deeper, fast-running water moving through the muck, and hopped across it on a pair of convenient rocks. Ahead, the plants grew taller and closer together, forming an impenetrable thicket. Alice glanced at Ashes, and he nodded in that direction.

“I don’t see anything,” she said.

“It’s in there somewhere.”

“Are you sure?”

The cat only sniffed haughtily. Alice sighed and pulled the Swarm thread a little tighter around herself for protection, then crept forward.

There was something in there, deep inside the curling branches. A solid dark mass, like a hump of stone. But it was watching her. She edged sideways, and saw the shape move, a fraction of a degree.

“I see it,” Alice said. “Hold on.”

Ashes didn’t bother to answer, but his claws were tiny pinpricks against her skin, even through the vest. Alice took another step forward, and another, then halted when the half-hidden creature shifted. It gave a low chuff, like a car engine starting up.

Then, all at once, it exploded into motion. Alice hadn’t expected it to be so fast—it crashed out of the thicket in a blur of frantic motion. She got the sense of something gray and compact, with legs working frantically and wicked, pointed horns aimed directly at her.

The Alice of a year ago would have panicked. She’d only read about ferocious creatures in books or seen them at the zoo, safely behind bars. But that Alice no longer existed. This Alice was a year older and had spent the last six months as a Reader’s apprentice. In that capacity she’d been squashed, drowned, frozen, and otherwise nearly killed more times than she could count, and it took considerably more than a charging monster to faze her.

None of this meant that she was stupid, however, and she threw herself to one side at the last moment, giving the thing no time to adjust its path. The creature took quite a while to slow down once it realized it had missed, skidding through the mud and sending up a wave of dirt and pebbles as it slewed to a halt.

It was, she saw, now that she got a good look at it, a dinosaur. Not a terribly large one, certainly—its shoulders were a bit higher than Alice’s head, which put its eyes just about level with hers. It had a lumpy, pebble-skinned body and four stumpy, powerful legs, with broad flat feet like an elephant’s. A short tail whipped back and forth, like an excited dog’s. Most notable, though, was the massive crest running back from its head, from which sprouted four long, curving horns that stretched out past its beady black eyes and bird-like beak. Most of it was a dark gray, but the horns faded to pure white at the ends, and the tips looked very sharp.

One foot pawed the ground, which put Alice in mind of a bull, getting ready to charge. She got to her feet, slowly, brushing chunks of mud from her trousers.

“Okay,” she said. “Now we know what we’re dealing with. Are you all right?”

There was a silence. Alice felt the distinct absence of weight from her shoulder.

“Ashes?” She kept her eyes glued to the dinosaur’s, waiting for it to make a move. “Where are you?”

“Here,” came the cat’s voice, a bit higher than normal.

“Where?”

“Here.”

Alice finally spotted him. One of the lumps on the creature’s pebbled gray skin moved, revealing itself to be a small gray cat hanging on for dear life. All his fur was standing on end, and his tail stuck straight up like a flag.

“How did you get there?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Ashes said. “I thought you might get clobbered, so I abandoned ship, so to speak, and grabbed the first thing I could get a hold of.”

“Your faith in me is astounding,” Alice said.

“I thought perhaps getting clobbered was part of your plan,” Ashes said. “You always come up with the cleverest plans. Now will you please get me down from here?”

Alice took a step to the left, and the dinosaur turned to face her, still pawing the ground. She could see its hindquarters tensing as it prepared to charge.

“That . . . may be a bit difficult,” she said. “Can’t you jump?”

“I would really rather not.”

“In that case, hang on tight.”

Always the cleverest plans—”

The dinosaur charged. Ashes’ rear legs lost their grip and he scrambled madly to stay on top, his claws making no impression at all on the creature’s thick hide. Alice guessed the needle beaks of the Swarm would have a similar lack of effect, so she kept that thread tightly wound around her. She jumped aside again, like a bullfighter, letting the creature sweep past her and into the long, tangled branches of one of the reedy swamp trees.

Before it could turn, Alice yanked on the tree-sprite thread in her mind and grabbed a branch, extending her power through it and into the main body of the tree. It was a thin, unhappy plant, eking out a bare existence in the drowned soil and constant fog, but it responded to the tree-sprite’s magic and came alive under Alice’s hand. The long, wispy branches snapped out and lashed themselves around the dinosaur, wrapping its thick body in green. She guided them around Ashes, who had maintained his perch by virtue of sinking his fangs into the back of the creature’s neck.

The dinosaur struggled, tossing its head and snapping branches with its horns, but more and more limbs cocooned it as the tree bent forward like a vegetable spider. It gave a frustrated roar and turned, laboriously, toward Alice. The thing’s strength was incredible; even the little swamp tree could have torn the arms and legs off an ordinary human, but the dinosaur fought its way forward inch by inch. It pulled the branches as far as they could go, straining like a dog at the leash, beak snapping. Alice almost felt sorry for it, trying so hard and getting . . . nowhere . . .

There was a crack, and the dinosaur inched a foot forward. Another branch tore with a wet snap, then two more. Ashes, who had been cautiously examining the possibility of making a jump to the ground, leaped back and grabbed on with all four legs. Alice moved away as far as she could while maintaining her focus on the tree, throwing all her power into pulling the dinosaur down.

But it was tearing free. No matter how tight she held on, the endurance of the little dinosaur seemed endless. One by one, and then in bunches, the fronds gave up the unequal struggle and tore. When half of them were gone, the trunk of the swamp tree, as thick as Alice’s thigh, started to bend. Then, all at once, it broke in half with a crack like a gunshot, and the creature was free.

“Time for another plan, I think!” Ashes shouted.

The dinosaur shook the ragged ends of the tree branches off itself and glared at Alice with small, dark eyes. Alice stared back at it for a moment, then turned and ran.

“What are you doing?” Ashes shouted.

“Thinking!” Alice shouted back.

“Think faster!”

Branches whipped at her face, but her Swarm-toughened skin kept her from feeling the impacts. She was more concerned about tripping on the slippery, muddy ground. The dinosaur was pounding along behind her, and rubber skin wouldn’t help if it got her with those horns.

In a straightaway, the race would have been no contest. In ...

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Descrizione libro Random House Children s Publishers UK, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Old Readers are supposed to live for ever, magically inhabiting the spaces between stories. They re not supposed to die. But they can be murdered. When an ancient Reader is killed, seemingly by his own apprentice, the hierarchy of the magical world tumbles and its spider web of alliances begin to unravel. Now it s up to Alice and the remaining apprentices to sort out the mess and catch the murderer. But the world is changing all around them. Things are not as they seem. It s almost as if they are trapped in a strange sort of labyrinth. Codice libro della libreria AAZ9780552568685

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Descrizione libro Random House Children s Publishers UK, United Kingdom, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Old Readers are supposed to live for ever, magically inhabiting the spaces between stories. They re not supposed to die. But they can be murdered. When an ancient Reader is killed, seemingly by his own apprentice, the hierarchy of the magical world tumbles and its spider web of alliances begin to unravel. Now it s up to Alice and the remaining apprentices to sort out the mess and catch the murderer. But the world is changing all around them. Things are not as they seem. It s almost as if they are trapped in a strange sort of labyrinth. Codice libro della libreria AAZ9780552568685

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