Lord of Monsters


By John Claude Bemis

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Pinocchio can’t believe the Moonlit Court is his home! With royal banquets, a regal wardrobe, and a whole new set of rules, Pinocchio has a lot to adjust to in his new life as prester alongside Princess Lazuli.

But before they can get comfortable in their thrones, a fancy dinner at the palace is interrupted by an unwelcome guest-a monster! And this isn’t just any monster; it’s a manticore, a beast that was imprisoned centuries earlier. Desperate to locate the prison and make sure none of its other monsters were able to escape, Lazuli, Pinocchio, and their Celestial Brigade set out to save Abaton from these ancient beings.

Their journey requires intelligence, strength, and a dash of the magic only presters control. But when Pinocchio tries to use his powers, they have an unintended effect: he is turning back into a wooden automa. And if he’s not careful, he may lose his human form forever.

The second book in the Out of Abaton series continues John Claude Bemis’s reimagining of Pinocchio in an action-packed adventure that celebrates friendship, tolerance, and the power of being yourself.

Praise for The Wooden Prince

“Wow! John Claude Bemis hides new magic in old stories.” — Tom Angleberger, New York Times best-selling author of the Origami Yoda series


Text copyright © 2017 by John Claude Bemis

Illustrations copyright © 2017 by René Milot

Cover illustration © 2017 by Risa Rodil

Cover design by Maria Elias

Additional images © Shutterstock

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

Designed by Maria Elias

Interior illustrations by René Milot

ISBN 978-1-4847-0947-4

Visit www.DisneyBooks.com

For Amy and Rose

Every day is a glorious adventure!

The Four High Nobles of Abaton gathered in secret. These lords and ladies would never have done such a thing when Prester John was on the throne. But Prester John was dead. And their new rulers were young and unaware of what was being whispered about them.

“Children. They have their place, of course.” Two ribbons of smoke snaked out from the lord of the djinn’s wide nostrils. “But on the throne? I think not.”

“I find I’m in agreement,” said the lady of the undines, the words escaping her green lips in a fountain of bubbles. “It’s not just their youth that worries me. The boy is a human boy…a Venetian boy, no less. The humans of the Venetian Empire are perfect savages, are they not?”

The tiny lord of the gnomes nodded. “True. All you are saying is indeed quite true. But Prester John gave the boy the Ancientmost Pearl before his death. And we can’t forget that Princess Lazuli was His Great Lordship’s only living child. So by right, the rule of Abaton belongs to them.”

“Aren’t you troubled by this?” the lady of the undines asked.

“Of course I’m troubled!” the gnome lord said. “Grievously troubled! We don’t know if this Pinocchio can even use the Pearl. How do we know whether they’ll keep our people safe?”

“We don’t,” the djinni lord snarled.

“But what is there to do about them?” the gnome lord asked helplessly.

The djinni lord narrowed his eyes until they were slivers of molten orange. He seemed to be considering various possibilities.

Before he could share any of them, the lady of the undines spoke. “I propose we establish a regency council to take over the rule of Abaton. Once the children are older and have proven they can be worthy presters, maybe then we can return them to the throne.”

“But…” The gnome tapped his small earthen fingers together anxiously. “Do we have the authority to replace them with a regency council?”

“Most certainly we do!” the undine replied. “We four lead the elemental houses. Our people—all our people, elementals and lesser races alike—look to us for guidance. They respect us. With Prester John gone, there is nobody our people trust more.” She shifted inside the glistening bubble that surrounded her, her long green hair dancing in the watery gloom. “Who would argue if we took possession of the throne?”

Until now Lady Sapphira of the Sylphs had not spoken. She wasn’t given to pointless chatter. But at the lady of the undines’ question, she felt it necessary to answer.

“I will,” she said.

Her expression remained calm. But her words seemed to draw all the air out of the room, as they often did when the lady of the sylphs had something important to say. The other three High Nobles shifted in their seats.

“Lady Sapphira,” the djinni lord said with a sneer, “let me speak honestly. Your love for your niece Lazuli blinds you to the best interests of our people.”

Lady Sapphira’s cool crystalline gaze met his. “Love is precisely what allows me to see what is in the best interest of our people. Better than you, lord. My greatest love is for Abaton and it gives me keen sight. The rule of our land should not be in the hands of a regency council, but in the hands of whoever commands the Ancientmost Pearl.”

“And you feel these children—your niece Lazuli and this Venetian boy Pinocchio—are capable of this?” the lady of the undines asked. Her skepticism wasn’t lost in the fount of bubbles.

“I cannot speak for Pinocchio’s capacity to rule,” Lady Sapphira said. “But my niece is the last of Prester John’s children. Lazuli is Abatonian royalty. You don’t know her as I do, my fellow lords and lady. My niece is no unruly, impulsive child. She might be only fourteen, but she has grace far beyond her years.”

Lady Sapphira rose to her feet, hovering ever so slightly. “And she is our prester. She will show you how capable she is on the throne.”

Lazuli stood high on the back of the throne and drew her sword. She unleashed a savage cry and leaped.

Her blade met Pinocchio’s in a clash of steel on steel that rang through the great domed hall. Lazuli smiled. There was nothing quite so wonderful as a good battle.

Pinocchio blocked her blows, but then turned on the offensive, driving her back until Lazuli felt herself bump against a table laid out with a sampling of the cakes and frosted desserts that were to accompany the evening’s banquet.

“Yield!” Pinocchio said.

Lazuli lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

She summoned a gust of wind that carried her gracefully into the air. Lazuli landed on the table and ran to the far end, her silk-slippered feet dodging the platters. Pinocchio made a less graceful bound onto the table. His right foot landed with a perfect splat in a coconut-cardamom pudding. Lazuli shook her head. At least it hadn’t been the spiceberry cake.

The cricket Maestro fluttered about on his tiny wings, crying in his tiny voice, “Come now, Your Majesties! Someone will hear you. I beg you, please stop this silliness!”

Pinocchio smirked as he blocked her next swing. “Did you hear something, Lazuli?”

“Maybe,” Lazuli said, “our royal musician is working on a new song?”

Clang! Clack! The metallic noise echoed off the high curved ceiling. The throne room was at the very top of the towering palace of the Moonlit Court. Like the rest of the palace, it was more space than substance. Archways encircled the room, opening out to breezy balconies that overlooked jungle and a distant turquoise ocean. The marble ceiling was impossibly delicate—thin as eggshell and just as white—and the bright tropical sunlight seeped straight through, glistening across the polished floors.

The noise was only slightly muffled by fluttering tapestries along the walls.

“Ah, that must be it,” Pinocchio said. “Maestro’s writing a new sonata. Yes! About our upcoming mission. How Abaton’s valiant new rulers, Prester Pinocchio and Prester Lazuli, will lead their army of celestial knights in a daring rescue mission back to the Venetian Empire.”

Ping! Clack!

“Or maybe,” Maestro chirped, his antennae trembling furiously as he clung to one of the twisting pillars, “he’s composing a piece about an insolent pair of presters who acted like perfect barbarians when they should have been getting ready for their banquet!”

“Hmm,” Lazuli said. Sweat dripped from her blue hair onto her nose as she drove Pinocchio farther down the table. “Which version do you prefer, Prester Pinocchio?”

“Well, Prester Lazuli…” Pinocchio parried her blow. “I’d have to say the first.”

“Agreed,” Lazuli replied.

“Incorrigible!” Maestro said. “I’ve come to expect this kind of unruliness from Pinocchio, but you, Prester Lazuli! You never used to behave like this!”

“I blame Pinocchio,” Lazuli said. “He’s a corrupting influence.”

“I take that as a compliment,” Pinocchio said.

Lazuli gave a nod of appreciation as she hammered her sword against his.

“Go on. Laugh at Maestro. Mock his burden. But you won’t be laughing if one of your nobles comes through that door and sees you—” Maestro grew quiet, tilting his tiny head. Then he issued a sharp squeak. “The door! Someone’s at the door!”

Lazuli was off the table in an instant. She slipped her sword behind her gown and brought her face into that mask of regal pleasantness that she had learned so well.

Pinocchio stood panting on the table, half-frozen with indecision. He managed to get the sword clumsily behind his back just as the great red-and-gold doors to the throne room swung open.

A tall man with a mane of silver-streaked hair and a curly mustache entered.

“Father!” Pinocchio smiled.

“Geppetto!” the cricket said, leaping to the man’s shoulder. “At last! Implore these two to end this rumpus. Tell them this is no way for proper presters to act, especially before this evening’s banquet.”

Geppetto deposited himself in one of the chairs at the table and reached for a piece of candied mango before eyeing the frosted footprints beside the plate. With a shrug, he took the candy anyway and popped it in his mouth.

“Our noble guests are down in their chambers, and the servants are setting the tables in the gardens. We’re fine. Besides, the throne room is by far the most sensible place for our presters to keep up their skills.” Geppetto waved, encouraging Pinocchio and Lazuli to continue.

Maestro’s antennae drooped with defeat. “Why did I ever think palace life would civilize you, Geppetto? Have I ever told you that you’re a hopeless rapscallion?”

“Yes, daily, I think,” Geppetto said, chewing the candied fruit and giving Pinocchio and Lazuli a wink.

“Father, watch!” Pinocchio called from atop the table. “I was just about to disarm Lazuli.”

“Were you, now?” Lazuli summoned a gust that not only lifted her onto the table but also blew Pinocchio back into several platters of desserts.

“Lazuli!” Pinocchio regained his balance, kicking off the custard stuck to his foot.

“What?” she said innocently.

“It’s not exactly fair when you use your powers.”

“Who decided that?” Lazuli replied. “I don’t recall the imperial airmen caring what was and wasn’t fair. Besides, you’re quite welcome to use your own powers.”

Pinocchio furrowed his brow. He stretched out a hand toward Lazuli and closed his eyes. Geppetto and Maestro grew quiet, watching. Pinocchio’s face turned as red as a pomegranate. His arms started to shake.

Lazuli waited, ready to dodge in case he happened to summon something potentially dangerous.

Nothing appeared.

Pinocchio opened his eyes. He looked at his hand like it had just called him a nasty name.

Geppetto sat back with a sigh. Even Maestro sagged. The cricket might have been perpetually exasperated with Pinocchio’s antics, but Lazuli knew Maestro was devoted to him in his own funny way. Those two had been through too much together for him not to be.

“Why won’t it work?” Pinocchio said. “I keep trying, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!”

“The Ancientmost Pearl is a most curious object,” Geppetto said patiently. “Its magic will take time to learn, son.”

“But our people expect me to command the Pearl! They expect…” Pinocchio waved a frustrated hand at the tapestries on the walls. They showed Prester John’s first meeting with the four primordial guardians of Abaton. Prester John uniting the warring elemental houses under the banner of the Moonlit Court. Prester John sleeping on the shore of a white-sand beach while dazzling creatures seemed to be emerging from his head, scattering into the seas and jungle.

“I don’t even understand what your father’s doing there,” Pinocchio said, pointing to the last tapestry. “Was he working magic even when he took a nap? He makes it look so…effortless!”

“I’m not sure how much of what’s on these tapestries has been exaggerated,” Lazuli said. Her father’s life had been shrouded in such mystery, even to her. And his death, just three months earlier, still left her wishing she’d known him better, wishing he hadn’t been so secretive and remote, wishing he could have been more like the adoring father Geppetto was to Pinocchio.

“It doesn’t matter!” Pinocchio complained. “The people of Abaton believe them. They know how powerful your father was.”

“He had centuries to master the Pearl,” Geppetto reminded him. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Be grateful for the gifts we have.”

Lazuli knew he was right. Pinocchio had much to be grateful for: he’d brought her and Geppetto, along with Maestro and their friends Cinnabar, Sop, and Mezmer, safely to Abaton. They had this extraordinary life now in the Moonlit Court. But more importantly, he was alive—not a mindless, mechanical servant in the Venetian Empire, but a living human boy. Being an automa was behind him now. None of their people here in Abaton need ever know what he’d once been.

Still, Lazuli hated seeing Pinocchio like this. There really was only one way to keep his mind off his worries about the Pearl. She lunged with her sword.

The corners of Pinocchio’s mouth turned up as he parried lightning quick. But in his hurry to secure his grip on the sword, Lazuli’s strike sent the weapon clattering to the floor.

“Sorry,” Lazuli said.

Pinocchio smirked. “I guess airmen don’t warn you when they’re going to attack either.” He leaped from the table to retrieve the sword.

Geppetto pulled a watch from his waistcoat pocket. “It’s probably best you two get ready for the banquet. The noble lords and ladies will be joining you in the gardens within the hour.” He glanced at Pinocchio. “And, son, please make sure your attendants find you a pair of boots without pudding stains.”

“Who’s going to be looking at my feet?” Pinocchio asked.

“Everyone!” Maestro chirped. “You are the presters. So present yourself properly. No splattered boots, and certainly no swords!”

“I can’t wear my…” Pinocchio held up his arms before dropping them in defeat. As he followed Lazuli out of the throne room, he grumbled under his breath something about crickets squashing all the joy out of life.

Beyond the throne room’s golden doors, a grand marble staircase wound its way through the palace’s atrium interior, spiraling to the distant foyer far below. Lazuli and Pinocchio only had one flight of stairs down to the floor, where one direction along the curved gallery led to Pinocchio’s chambers, the other to Lazuli’s.

They smiled at each other before parting. “See you in a bit,” Lazuli said.

Pinocchio gave a nod, a pinch of nervousness in his brow.

She thought about calling over the balcony a few words of assurance, something to help ease his anxieties about the banquet and having to dine with all those stuffy nobles. Maybe the promise of spiceberry cake would do the trick. But when she turned, her gaze caught on movement below.

The palace was unusually quiet. On a normal afternoon, servants and palace attendants would be flooding the central staircase or hurrying busily along galleries and hallways. Not today, however. They were all out in the gardens getting ready for the banquet.

But half a dozen floors below, three figures were huddled together in the shadows of a gallery.

A voice rose in anger: “Of course Lady Sapphira would!”

Lazuli narrowed her eyes, trying to see who was arguing about her aunt.

Another smaller voice said, “Please, Lord Smoldrin. You’ll be heard.”

She knew Lord Smoldrin. He’d been high lord of the djinn since before Lazuli had been born. Probably since before her mother had even been born. She wondered if the other two were Chief Muckamire of the gnomes and Raya Piscus of the undines, and leaned a little farther over the balcony to try to find out.

She’d long heard of the intense rivalries and jealousies among the Four High Nobles. Aunt Sapphira prided herself on staying above their petty squabbles. But this sounded like more than a mere squabble.

“Your Majesty?”

With a start, Lazuli turned to see one of her attendants behind her in the hall. The sylph maid gave a quick curtsy. “If you’re ready?”

“Yes,” Lazuli said, pulling away from the balcony and adopting an expression more fitting to a prester. She shouldn’t have let her attendant catch her skulking like that. “Yes, I’ll be right there.”

The attendant made another curtsy and headed toward Lazuli’s chambers.

Lazuli looked once more over the balcony. The three High Nobles were gone, leaving an ominous quiet hovering over the halls of the Moonlit Court.

Pinocchio felt naked without his sword. Not naked exactly. If anything, as he ran down the endless, circling stairs that wound through the palace, he felt overdressed in his long ivory coat, embroidered silk leggings, and red leather boots.

But he didn’t feel like himself without a sword on his belt.

However, as he’d been reminded again and again since his arrival, Abaton was a peaceful kingdom. Its people frowned on warfare. They wanted nothing to do with “loutish savagery,” as Maestro put it.

Pinocchio didn’t feel he was a savage or a lout—whatever a lout was. But he didn’t feel much like an Abatonian yet either. Certainly not the prester of Abaton.

When Pinocchio came panting to the bottom of the staircase, Lazuli was already waiting in the foyer. She looked like a real prester in her pearl-emblazoned gown and her crown shining from atop her blue hair. Even with his own golden crown, Pinocchio couldn’t help but think he must look like someone merely dressed up as one.

“Are you ready?” she asked. “You look a bit jittery. Is everything—”

But before she could finish, the front doors opened. An owl chimera in a billowy green caftan suit entered, making a quick bow. “Your Majesties! Very good. You’re both here.”

Dr. Nundrum was the highest-ranking palace official and oversaw the daily affairs of the Moonlit Court. Short and squat with mottled brown feathers, Dr. Nundrum had a perpetually surprised, wide-eyed look, which Pinocchio decided must be the result of being part owl.

Dr. Nundrum adjusted his glasses on his beak, before gesturing to the door. “The guests are all seated. If you’ll follow me.”

Pinocchio took a steadying breath. Then he exited with Lazuli.

Outside, the sun threw its last radiant shards across the grounds. The gardens were organized in lush, manicured beds of spectacular soaring flowers, ornamental palms, tamarind trees, and topiaries shaped like dancing animals, which actually danced. Funny little naiad faces peered up from the gurgling fountains. The towering palace behind them glowed with otherworldly hues of twilight pinks and purples.

It was an extraordinary sight. Pinocchio could still hardly fathom this was his home.

Three months ago, he’d never have believed he’d be here in Abaton—certainly not as its ruler. It was Wiq who had inspired Pinocchio to dream of escaping from the Venetian Empire to Abaton. Wiq: his first true friend. Wiq: a slave back in Al Mi’raj’s theater in the empire. Wiq: who he’d left behind.

Pinocchio hadn’t forgotten the look on Wiq’s face as he spoke of Abaton back then, braiding jasmine vines up on the theater’s terrace in the starlight, just the two of them alone with their secret plans and emphatic promises.

“It’s going to be more wonderful than you can possibly imagine,” Wiq had said, his big brown eyes growing bigger. Wiq was a chimera—called a “half beast” in the empire—but his features were more human than most of his kind, except for the soft tawny fur covering his skin and the long, flopping ears. His boxy black nose would twitch when he got excited. It always twitched when he spoke of Abaton.

“But how do you know?” Pinocchio had asked. “You’ve never been there.”

“It has to be!” Wiq had said firmly. “There are no slaves, no conniving alchemists…”—Pinocchio had winced at this—“…no imperial airmen or soldiers of any kind. Abaton is perfect because there are no humans. Only my chimera people and the elementals and, well…more variety of creatures than anyone here in the humanlands could even dream of, all living together as equals under His Immortal Lordship Prester John’s just rule. Wait until you see it all!”

Wiq had been right about most of that. Pinocchio had seen creatures here that looked like hybrids of different animals. Creatures that looked like ordinary animals, but spoke. Creatures that didn’t look animal at all, but like living snowflakes or walking shrubbery or humanoid gemstones. And they all lived together in such harmony.

If only Wiq could see them and all of the other wonders Abaton held. Pinocchio slid a hand to the jasmine bracelet around his wrist. One day…One day soon.

Dr. Nundrum led Pinocchio and Lazuli down the winding path into the garden. They reached a central lawn ringed with hedges, where a long banquet table was already surrounded by chattering guests. Tiny pixies served as the illumination, hovering over the scene, their twinkling lights glinting off the gold and glass table settings.

Maestro stood on a small raised platform at the table’s center. Seeing his presters approaching, he flexed his antennae and began conducting a miniature orchestra of birds, insects, and baritone frogs. The topiaries nearest to the table swayed to the chirping, croaking chorus.

Pinocchio’s heart beat a little faster as the guests rose in unison from their seats.

Wiq might have been surprised to know that everything wasn’t perfectly equal for Abaton’s citizens. In fact, if Wiq had been here now, he wouldn’t have been allowed at the banquet. Even Mezmer and Sop had been told they couldn’t come. It was probably for the best that the crass cat Sop remained in the palace, where he wouldn’t offend any of these dignified guests. Mezmer, however, should have been there, in Pinocchio’s opinion. She was the general of the Celestial Brigade and a descendant of one of Abaton’s most revered heroes, the warrior-fox Mezmercurian. But she wasn’t a noble or an elemental.

The servants carrying trays and crystal decanters were chimera, but the guests at the table were exclusively elementals: Fiery djinn with their horns and mottled yellow skin. Tiny, earthen brown gnomes who could split apart into multiple smaller versions of themselves. Green, reedy undines—who were never out of water back in the Venetian Empire—but here were walking about, covered in sloshing shrouds that were somewhere between an oblong bubble and a wearable bathtub. And there were sylphs, who were the most similar to humans, except for their bright blue hair and their complete disregard for the laws of gravity.

A beaming sylph came from the table to greet them. “Your Majesties!” She was graceful and lovely and so similar to Lazuli that she could have been her mother.

“Aunt Sapphira,” Lazuli said, taking her hands. “The journey from the Mist Cities is so far. Thank you for coming.”

“My dearest, I’m here anytime you need me,” Lady Sapphira said. She kissed Lazuli’s cheek. Then she turned to Pinocchio and curtsied. “Prester Pinocchio, I trust you are adjusting well to life at the Moonlit Court…and the heat.”

Pinocchio realized he was dripping sweat. How was he expected to wear these royal vestments in a sweltering jungle and not sweat?

“I’m sorry,” Pinocchio said, wiping his sleeve across his forehead. “Yes, fine…finely. Adjusting finely.” Did his speech always have to get so garbled when he was expected to act like a prester?

Dr. Nundrum directed him toward the table. The nobles were bowing, eyes fixed on him as Pinocchio took his seat beside Lazuli’s at the head of the table. Geppetto, midway down the table, gave him a wink. A lump caught in Pinocchio’s throat. He’d hoped his father would be seated closer, rather than down with the lesser nobles. But the nearest seats were reserved for the four high lords and ladies.

The closest one to Pinocchio was the little gnome lord with his bushy white beard and face like smashed granite. “Prester Pinocchio, the people of Grootslang Hole send their warmest wishes, Your Majesty!”

Pinocchio felt his heart thundering. “Ah, yes, th-thank you, Chief Muckamire. How…uh, are things in your hole?”



    "Wow! John Claude Bemis hides new magic in old stories."
    Tom Angleberger, New York Times best-selling author of the Origami Yoda series

On Sale
Jun 6, 2017
Page Count
320 pages

John Claude Bemis

About the Author

John Claude Bemis is an award-winning author, musician, and educator. His novels include The Prince Who Fell from the Sky and the Clockwork Dark trilogy. John was chosen as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate for Children’s Literature. He lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC. Visit him online at johnclaudebemis.com.

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