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Spotlight: The Secrets of the Pied Piper 3: The Piper’s Apprentice by Matthew Cody

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The epic conclusion to the trilogy bestselling author Adam Gidwitz called “a wild fantasy adventure” find siblings Max and Carter embroiled in the final battle against the evil Grannie Yaga!
 
On the mysterious Summer Isle, siblings Max and Carter discovered the magical land where the villainous Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin centuries ago. They were trapped outside of time in a never-ending clash against a vicious rat army. After a desperate battle with a cruel soul-stealing magician, Max and Carter found themselves separated: Max with their newfound allies (human and trollson alike), Carter with . . . the Piper. 
 
Now Max is determined to reunite with her lost brother, restore her parents’ stolen souls, and escape the Summer Isle once and for all. But the wicked Grannie Yaga doesn’t intend for the siblings to leave without a fight.
 
But what role will the Piper play when all is said and done—and can he redeem himself from his own dark choices when his secrets are finally revealed?

Excerpt

Chapter One

The ogre might not be able to see Carter, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t smell him. The great brute snuffled and sniffed its way through the underbrush below. From his hiding place in the branches of a tall pine tree, Carter could just make out the creature lumbering about as it scoured the trees for its missing meal. The ogre would stop, take a whiff or two at the base of the trunk, grumble in disappointment, and then move on to the next one. Sometimes it’d knock the disappointing tree over for good measure. Ogres were stupid--really stupid--but this one was at least bright enough to know that boys couldn’t simply vanish. And what its beady eyes could not find, its enormous honker just might.

It was all the Pied Piper’s fault.

If the Piper hadn’t gotten a craving for dessert, and if he hadn’t insisted that Carter conjure him up a cherry pie out of thin air, then Carter wouldn’t have accidentally conjured said pie with such force that it exploded in his face.

Then Carter wouldn’t have left the safety of their camp to find a stream to wash it all off. And he wouldn’t have picked one that happened to be an ogre’s favorite watering hole. That in itself was extremely odd--finding an ogre this far from the Bonewood. After escaping the elves, Carter and the Piper had emerged from the northeastern edge of the Deep Forest. For days now they’d been hugging the coast as they traveled south along the bluffs and crags of the Summer Isle’s eastern shore. This ogre must’ve left his own forest and wandered until he reached the ocean. After shouting at it for a few days, he would have finally realized that the water wasn’t about to move out of his way, and so he must’ve traveled south along roughly the same path as Carter and the Piper.

Lucky for Carter.

Ogres were big but slow, and this one carried a few extra folds of fat around his middle, so he hadn’t been quick enough to snatch Carter up right away. He was, however, persistent enough to keep up the chase. He’d pursued Carter right into a copse of fir trees bordering a deep grotto. The trees were thick enough that the ground was mostly free of snow, so the ogre wouldn’t be able to follow Carter’s tracks. Carter had only needed to decide on climbing up or going down. So he’d scrambled up the tallest tree he could find, one far taller than even the nine-foot-tall ogre, and hoped the beast would ignore the trees and search the grotto. Then Carter would quietly climb down and make his escape.

It would have worked, too. Because they towered over most other creatures, ogres weren’t in the habit of looking up, save during rainstorms. And then it was only to roar at the sky in confusion.

The ogre would’ve stomped right past Carter, unaware that the boy was hiding in the branches only a few feet overhead. It would have worked, if Carter hadn’t still smelled like pie.

The Piper’s fault. All of it.

But blaming someone else wouldn’t keep Carter from becoming snack food. The ogre would find him eventually, by process of elimination if nothing else. There were only so many trees to knock down.

The only option now was magic. Carter would magic himself out of this mess. The problem was that since beginning his lessons with the Piper, Carter was turning out to be a spotty magician--the cherry pie debacle proved that. The Piper claimed it was Carter’s lack of focus that made his magic so unpredictable, and that by the way, he’d have an easier time teaching a mayfly. It was true that Carter’s magic did what he intended only about half the time. The other half, well . . . exploding pies.

The whole process of casting a spell hadn’t turned out to be anything like Carter had imagined. There was no hand waving, no incantation in the Piper’s magic. Recipes and rules were for hedge wizards and warlocks--strictly amateur stuff. Real magic was about finding your focus, like the Piper with his music. Once you had that, it was just about using magic to stack the odds in your favor. Magic was power and pure chaos. It was, by the Piper’s definition, the unlikeliest of possibilities made to happen. Some places possessed more of it than others, though. So the Summer Isle was far, far richer in magic than, say, Carter’s bathroom back in New York City. But no matter the location, the basics were always the same--use your focus to bring order to chaos, and make it obey. Change the odds.

Carter had asked the Piper if it wasn’t like the butterfly effect, whereby quantum physics stated that the flap of a butterfly’s wing could set off a series of seemingly random events that led to a hurricane on the other side of the world. A hidden connectivity to the universe.

The Piper had blinked at him and said, “I prefer magic.”

But Carter thought he saw a connection. For example, at that exact moment it would have been wonderful if the ogre down below simply took a nap. But what were the chances of that? Ogres didn’t just fall asleep standing up, especially not when they were this close to a meal. The odds had to be a million to one. Or more.

That’s where magic came in. Magic evened the odds, or better. The more unlikely a thing was, the harder the “spell” was to perform, but being a magician meant beating the odds. The really powerful magicians could do the impossible, like causing a cherry pie to appear out of nowhere.

With this in mind, Carter hoped that putting the ogre to sleep would be easier. Child’s play compared to pie conjuring.

And yet Carter’s palms were already sweaty despite the winter air, and his stomach roiled with nerves. He had no focus. The Piper had told him so again and again.

He could do this. He had to.

Despite the growling and the sniffing going on below him, Carter tried to relax, to breathe deeply like the Piper had taught him to. He closed his physical eyes and opened his mind’s eye to “see” the magic all around him--auras, ley-lines. It was beautiful and unordered, an unrelated series of possibilities. Carter reached out and touched the magic, like plucking a guitar string, and the magic hummed in response. The air around him vibrated with it. He started a chain reaction.

He pictured the ogre. Pictured the beast’s eyelids getting heavy. He conjured up a lullaby his mother used to sing to him when he was little:

Good night, my sweet.

Go to sleep.

In the morning,

I’ll be here.

Carter opened his eyes and pointed at the ogre.

“Sleep,” Carter commanded.

And he did. Carter fell fast asleep.

He awoke with someone’s hand clamped over his mouth. A shape leaned above him, a patchwork cloak pulled low over the person’s face.

The Pied Piper held a finger up to his lips. “Shh,” he whispered.

The fat ogre was lying on his back a few feet away, snoring contentedly. Carter nodded to the Piper that he understood the situation, one that was fairly easy to grasp--mustn’t wake the ogre. Slowly, the Piper took his hand away. As Carter sat upright, he winced. He must’ve landed on his backside, because his butt felt like one enormous bruise. It was lucky, he guessed. He’d fallen ten feet at least out of that tree and slept through the impact. He could’ve broken his neck. But the spell was wearing off now, and if Carter was awake, then the ogre could wake any minute.

The Piper offered him a hand up, and for once Carter took it. Not far from where he’d landed, a squirrel lay curled up in a cozy ball, snoozing, too. And over there, a pair of robins slumbered, their heads tucked beneath their wings.

Carter had accidentally put himself to sleep with his own spell and, it appeared, every other creature in sight. It could have been worse. Carter looked at the snoring ogre, at the crooked teeth protruding from the beast’s overly large mouth. Yes, it could have been much worse--Carter could’ve woken up in a cooking pot.

Did ogres bother with cooking pots? Probably not.

Gesturing for Carter to follow, the Piper padded noiselessly away. As Carter limped after him, he massaged his leg, to make sure nothing was hurt other than his bruised bottom. He adjusted his pack, feeling the shape of the plastic-and-metal leg brace tucked beside his rations and other supplies. There was a time not too long ago when Carter had limped everywhere, when he’d been trapped in that leg brace because of a foot that curled the wrong way. He still favored that leg and worried over his foot even though it had been magically healed.

The Piper sometimes teased him because he hadn’t thrown the now-useless brace away, but he couldn’t. Though he wouldn’t admit it to the Piper, Carter lived in fear of the day that the spell might be broken. He lived in fear of being a cripple again.

Carter shook his head, trying to dislodge the ugly word from his brain. He’d been born with a bad leg, but he’d never been crippled. It wasn’t Carter’s word, and it never had been.

The Piper waited until they were safely back at their campsite before turning on Carter. “So, practicing on ogres now? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Carter met the Piper’s angry stare. It was always unnerving because, though he was tall and lanky, the Piper looked barely more than a boy himself--fifteen perhaps. But those eyes of his were centuries old. Still, the days of the Piper being able to wither Carter with his ancient gaze were long past. The two had been through too much since then. Carter wasn’t the Piper’s prisoner anymore; he stayed with him out of choice. Which meant he didn’t have to stand for the Piper’s verbal abuse.

Carter took a deep breath. It wouldn’t do to get into a shouting match, either. “I wasn’t looking for an ogre. An ogre found me.”

The Piper folded his arms across his chest. “And what was that bit of magic you used back there? Putting all those creatures to sleep with a single spell, including yourself! That’s not something I’ve taught you.”

“I wasn’t . . . I was just trying to put the ogre to sleep so that I could get away.” Carter pulled a clump of sticky pine needles out of his hair. “The rest were just collateral damage, I guess.”

“You guess? Can you imagine what would’ve happened if the ogre had woken up first?”

Carter could imagine it. Quite vividly, and there was no cooking pot involved this time. “I didn’t have any other choice, okay? It’s not like another exploding pie would’ve done me any good.”

“One minute you can’t summon up a decent pie, and the next you practically put an entire forest to sleep with one spell.” He studied Carter for a moment, his expression inscrutable. “What are the odds?”

“I failed again.” Carter threw up his hands. “I was only aiming for the ogre. And I definitely wasn’t trying to put myself to sleep.”

“You need to focus--”

“I know.”

“Dig deep, Carter. Where does your strength come from?”

“I eat my spinach.”

The Piper stuck a long finger in Carter’s face. “This is serious! You were nearly ogre food back there because you refuse to acknowledge the simple truth.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

With a smirk, the Piper shrugged. “You’re just like me. All our lives, it’s been us against them. Me, because of who my mother was, and you, because of your lame foot. It’s our anger at the world that focuses us!”

This again. Though Carter could barely follow his twisted logic on most things, the Piper had made it very clear that he saw Carter as some kind of kindred spirit. And while it was true that Carter had struggled with his disability, he hadn’t experienced anything close to the Piper’s tragic childhood. Banished from his home, losing his mother--the Piper had a lot to be angry about.

But Carter wasn’t the Piper.

With a frustrated sigh, he stomped over to the cold remains of their campfire and plopped down. He let out a yelp as his bruised butt hit the ground.

“Darn it!” Gingerly this time, he stretched out his legs and tried to scoot himself into a more comfortable position. It wasn’t working, so eventually he gave up and rolled over on his side. “My butt's going to be black-and-blue in the morning.”

“Healing is the trickiest of all.” The Piper shook his head. “Witch’s magic, or black magic as you like to call it, can’t even touch it. But that doesn’t mean healing’s not dangerous, especially healing oneself. When a magician turns his magic upon himself, well, let’s just say there’s little room for error.”

“I think I’ll live with the bruised butt.”

“Then again”--the Piper’s eyes nearly twinkled with curiosity--“someone healed that leg of yours. Or something?”

Carter had been born with a clubfoot, and after several failed surgeries, he’d resigned himself to living his whole life with a brace around his leg. The Piper claimed that it was a sign that Carter was a child of prophecy--the last son of Hamelin and a descendant of Timm Weaver, a child who himself had suffered a lame foot. Timm was also the only child of Hamelin left behind by the Piper. Regardless, his disability was something Carter had learned to accept. But then he’d come to the Summer Isle and, after some time, his leg had miraculously healed.

“Okay,” said Carter. “So are you saying that neither one of us healed my leg? That it just healed itself?”

The Piper shrugged. “No, but I wonder if a single child has gotten sick after coming to this isle. Has there been one cold? So much as a sniffle? I’m over seven centuries old by your measure, and yet I look like a young man in my teens.” He leaned in close and winked. “I wouldn’t put it past the isle to have fixed that leg of yours, too. Not such a bad place after all, eh? And they call me a villain for bringing the children of Hamelin here!”

“We’ve been over this. The word you’re looking for is kidnapping--you kidnapped those children just like you kidnapped me and my sister.”

“Bah.” The Piper threw his hands up. “You sound like a mockingbird. The same thing over and over and over . . .”

But Carter was just getting started. “Look around this place. It’s winter in the Summer Isle, and the days have gotten so short, I’m afraid they’ll disappear altogether. And you still insist this is some kind of paradise!”

Excerpted from The Secrets of the Pied Piper 3: The Piper's Apprentice by Matthew Cody. Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Cody. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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About the Author

Matthew Cody is the author of several popular books, including the Supers of Noble’s Green trilogy: Powerless, Super, and Villainous. He is also the author of Will in Scarlet and The Dead Gentleman, as well as the first book in the Secrets of the Pied Piper series, The Peddler’s Road. Originally from the Midwest, he now lives with his wife and son in Manhattan. Learn more about Matthew and his books at matthewcody.com and @matthew_cody.

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