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Read by Aaron Landon
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At Earth Ranch, Clay encountered a haunted library, a castaway boy, and a fire-breathing dragon–not to mention incredible magic. Now he faces his most dangerous foes yet: the mysterious white-gloved members of the Midnight Sun, whose scheming leads Clay to a dragon reserve. Up against impossible odds, will Clay and his Secret Series Allies be able to triumph over these villains once and for all?
Packed with action, humor, magic, mystery, and dragons, Pseudonymous Bosch answers long-simmering questions as he delivers his most exciting adventure yet.
THE SECRET IN THE CRATER
There wasn't supposed to be a moon.
It was just a sliver, barely a crescent. Still, it cast more light than she would have liked. Even in her black clothes, her face smeared with soot, she stood out against the rocks that spilled down the sides of the giant crater.
Pausing in the shadow of a boulder, she pulled her night-vision goggles off her head—she wouldn't be needing them after all—and considered how best to move forward. In a few moments, she would reach the top of the ridge. And she had no idea what or whom she would find waiting for her. Rather, she had several ideas, none of them cause for optimism.
If only she'd gotten there two days earlier, she would have been making her ascent in perfect darkness, as planned. The problem was that instead of the anticipated four days to cross the Kalahari on foot, it had taken six. Or six nights, to be more precise. Traveling by night was cooler. Also safer.
Of course, she'd met with her fair share of mishaps anyway, hadn't she? The scorpion that fell out of her hat. The herd of Cape buffalo that forced her to walk three miles out of her way. The "water hole" that was really a mud hole. (Luckily, she'd spent a good portion of her childhood reading about quicksand.)
And then there were the humans—nomadic San people. They couldn't believe she was traveling alone. No guide. No camel. No cell phone. Her cover story about being an ultra-marathoner did not convince them. Running a hundred miles in the hot desert just because? So instead she told them she was a student from the university, studying the effects of drought on local animal populations. This they could believe. Although they still had a big laugh over her experimental sweat-conserving jumpsuit. They were right about the jumpsuit; it made her so hot that she sweated out more water than she saved. (Her experiments with urine were another story. A story better left untold.*) In the end, she'd spent an entire evening listening to their observations about the Namib Desert beetle—a fascinating creature, to be sure, but she lost precious time.*
Never mind. Survivalist rule number one: Don't dwell on what can't be fixed.
She felt around in a side pocket of her backpack, where she kept her energy bars—she'd packed a few as a special treat, despite the excessive sugar and nonbiodegradable packaging. There was only a half bar left.
"Well, you wanted to travel light," she muttered to herself, breaking the half in half.
She popped one piece into her mouth and then stowed the rest for later.
Hoisting her backpack onto her back, she resumed her climb.
She would just have to summit as fast as she could and hope to find cover on the other side.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she got to the top. There were no sentries pointing guns at her, just a narrow plateau surrounded by jagged rocks. She was exposed for only a moment before she was able to crouch behind a ledge and look around. No sign of cameras or motion detectors, she noted. Maybe they assumed that nobody would be foolhardy enough to come up there.
Below her was the crater proper, a three-mile-wide bowl protected on all sides by walls of rock and miles of desert. An impressive sight, even in the dim light of the moon. What bribes or tricks the enemy had employed to lay hold of this vast natural fortress in the middle of nowhere she did not care to know. What concerned her was why they wanted it in the first place. They claimed in public documents to be building a "nature preserve and resort hotel," but there was very little nature to preserve. All life at this location had been destroyed by a meteorite thousands of years ago. As for a hotel, the crater would be nearly impossible for most tourists to reach.
Why, then, were they there? What nefarious activity required such an enormous and remote location?
She'd been trying to answer that question for months when she heard a rumor about a secret and very technologically advanced breeding program. The rumor sounded far-fetched, yes. But when it came to them, nothing was truly far-fetched. Her colleagues had urged caution, but she felt there was no choice: She had to investigate.
She put a scope to her eye and peered down into the distance. The satellite photos that she'd studied before her trip must have been older than she thought. Or else construction was proceeding very fast. Twinkling lights revealed at least three more buildings than she remembered. And she was nearly certain that the lake hadn't been there before. Not to mention all those trees. Tens of thousands of them, it looked like. Where are they getting the water? she wondered. Talk about environmental irresponsibility. It was as though they were trying to create their own tropical ecosystem in the middle of a desert.
She glanced at her watch. She had to get down there, survey the site, plant the hidden cameras and chemical-emissions sensors, and then climb out—all before daybreak. Less than three hours…
EEEYAHYRR! A terrible screech pierced the silence.
What on earth—?
She stood still for a moment, then heard it again. EEEYAHYRR! It was not a human cry; nor was it like any animal cry she'd ever heard. Nevertheless, it was a cry of distress—of that she was certain.
It sounded quite close, but she couldn't tell where it was coming from.
Cautiously, she made a circle, looking above and below and in the surrounding rocks. She saw no signs of life, not even a weed. Perhaps the creature was farther away than she thought.
She was on the verge of giving up the search when a new sound caught her attention. It was a softer, hissing sound this time. And it was coming from directly beneath her.
Suddenly very nervous, she turned on her flashlight.
And then she saw it. About four feet down. Stuck in a crevice. Its yellow eyes staring, unblinking, into the flashlight's beam.
It was about the size of a small dog or maybe a very large owl. And its wings and tail were twisted together so that it looked like nothing so much as a bat being attacked by a snake.
And yet there was no mistaking it for anything other than what it was.
She studied the creature in mute astonishment.
So the rumors were true; she had suspected as much, but it was another matter entirely to see the evidence in real life.
How could anything be at once so fierce and so fragile, so earthly and so unearthly?
It screeched again, its mouth opening to reveal several rows of sharp teeth. She took a step backward. She couldn't tell whether the screech was an angry warning or a desperate plea, but either way, the creature was likely very dangerous.
Moving slowly, she leaned in again. One of its wings was torn. There were almost certainly some broken bones.
It couldn't have been very old. It looked like it was still a baby.
Without assistance, it would probably die where it was. But how to help?
She had a first-aid kit, of course, but she wasn't sure whether human medical supplies would work on fairy-tale animals. Or even whether she could pull the creature out of the crevice without it scratching her eyes out.
She had to earn its trust. But there was hardly time for that.
"Are you hungry? No nut allergies, I hope," she whispered, reaching around to her backpack and pulling out the remaining bit of energy bar. "Normally, I wouldn't feed machine-made food to a wild animal, but this isn't really a normal situ—"
Her words were interrupted by a decidedly machine-made roar. She looked up to see a helicopter heading straight toward her.
She swore under her breath.
How could she have been so careless? In her concern for the injured creature, she'd forgotten to stay out of sight.
By now the helicopter was hovering low in front of her. It looked slick and new, like a helicopter one would expect to see ferrying executives to an office tower rather than patrolling a desert. Except, that is, for the extensive weaponry jutting out from either side. If it was a helicopter for executives, they were executives in a war zone.
She hesitated. The ledge where she'd taken cover before would hardly protect her from cannons like those. Maybe she should jump over the side of the crater and scramble down the rocks, hoping she could lose her pursuers. In her mind, she went over the supplies in her backpack. She had ropes and grappling hooks. Flares that might provide a moment's diversion…
No, it was too late. Only a magician could disappear fast enough. She had many skills; vanishing into thin air was not one of them.
Besides, if they shot at her and accidentally hit the baby dragon, she would never forgive herself.
The helicopter's floodlight hit her eyes, temporarily blinding her. The pilot's voice boomed over the sound of the spinning blades:
"Put your hands over your head and don't move."
Cornered, she did as ordered.
She thought about the various cover stories she'd used before. None seemed to explain why she was infiltrating their half-constructed nature preserve in the middle of the night, dressed like a ninja.
As her eyes adjusted to the light, the helicopter landed in front of her on the small plateau, blowing sand in all directions.
A woman leaned out of the passenger side, her platinum hair gleaming in the darkness.
"Mon dieu. Is that who I think it is?"
Her pale face registered only the slightest surprise.
"It's been ages, darling, but I would know those pointy ears anywhere. How kind of you to visit, Cassandra.…"
Cass's pointy ears tingled in alarm at the sound of her name. It had been well over a decade since she last heard that chilling voice; and yet suddenly she felt as if she were a young girl again, forever caught in the clutches of Ms. Mauvais.
THE VIEW FROM NOSE PEAK
Although located on an island, and thus by definition surrounded by water, Clay's summer camp, Earth Ranch, was tucked inside a valley, with mountains separating it from the ocean on all sides. If you wanted a glimpse of the ocean, the closest vantage point was a rocky hill called Nose Peak in honor of the unique geological formation on top. Nose Peak was steep and slippery, and, strictly speaking, campers weren't supposed to climb it (or "peak the nose") without special permission. But it was an open secret that Clay made the twenty-minute climb every day at dawn, usually returning only after the sun had risen well into the sky.
This morning, like most mornings, he sat with his legs straddling the big rock proboscis, staring at the horizon. Price Island was home to a volcano, Mount Forge, which regularly belched smoke into the air and blanketed the island with a hazy layer of vog (volcanic smog). The volcano had been especially active lately. As a result, it was difficult for Clay to see very much.
Still, every so often, something would catch his eye—a dark cloud, a large seabird, a shadow on the ocean—and he would get to his feet, an expectant expression on his face, only to sit down again a moment later, evidently disappointed.
Nearby, a llama sat with his legs tucked underneath his body so that he looked almost like a second, smaller rock formation. The llama never moved from this position, but whenever Clay stood, the llama would shake his head, as if disgusted by the behavior of his human companion.
"I know, Como, you think I'm totally loco," said Clay, after the llama had shaken his head especially vigorously. "But I swear, Ariella's coming back. El dragon viene aqui."
The llama, whose full name was Como C. Llama and whose first language was Spanish, regarded Clay with undisguised skepticism.
"So what if it's been over a year—that's just like uno minuto for a dragon," continued Clay in his broken middle-school Spanish.
The llama snorted dismissively.
"Es verdad," Clay insisted. "They have this whole other idea of time."
The llama yawned and nibbled on a stray wildflower.
"Admit it: You don't want Ariella to come back." Clay looked at Como, daring the llama to contradict him.
The llama looked back meaningfully.
"What?! Dragons don't eat llamas," Clay protested. "And, uh, okay, even if they do, Ariella knows you're mi amigo. Ariella would never eat you."
Como sniffed and turned away.
"Come on, bro. You know that's not what I meant. You probably taste awesome.… Oh, whatever. I'm not hablo-ing with you anymore."
An old book lay beside Clay, weighed down by a small rock. Covered with a tough, scaly hide that had yellowed with age, the book was called Secrets of the Occulta Draco; or, The Memoirs of a Dragon Tamer.
Sighing, Clay removed the rock; immediately, the book opened, then closed, then opened again, pages fluttering noisily. Before the book could fly away, Clay gripped it firmly, and the pages settled into place.
He'd read the whole book three times already, but there was one passage in particular that he kept going back to:
Let not a dragon leap when you're astride, lest you lose your mind on the other side.
What kind of leap? Just a jump, or something else? And what "other side"—the other side of what? The counselors at Earth Ranch spoke often of some mysterious and powerful Other Side—an Other Side with capital letters—by which, as far as Clay could make out, they meant the magical side of the world. A fourth, magical dimension. But it seemed doubtful that a guy who was writing more than four hundred years ago would be swallowing the same mystical hogwash as the counselors at Clay's hippie summer camp. And even if the two Other Sides were one and the same, what did it have to do with dragons?
Clay's reflections were interrupted by a loud spitting sound; Como was trying to get his attention. Standing, and not looking particularly happy about it, the llama nodded toward the horizon.
Clay squinted. The wind had changed direction, blowing most of the vog away from this side of the island, and now the morning sun reflected dazzlingly on the water. The view was almost impossibly bright, but in the middle, directly below the sun, was a small dark spot. It was not much more than a dot, but the shape of wings was unmistakable. Far out over the ocean, something—something big—was flying toward them.
"No way!" Clay's heart thumped with excitement. "I mean, do you really think…?"
Not responding, the llama sat down again, duty done.
With his hand to his forehead, Clay strained his eyes, waiting to see if the unknown flying object really was Ariella.
A moment later, he looked down, shoulders slumped. It wasn't a dragon; it was an airplane.
Figures, Clay thought bitterly.
The truth was, Clay had no real confidence he would ever see Ariella again, only a desperate hope. Sure, he'd rescued Ariella the previous summer when the dragon was chained inside a storage container and about to be shipped away like a circus animal. But the proud creature had made it clear that this brief episode did not mean they were friends in any sense that a mere human would understand. Afterward, Ariella had barely said good-bye, let alone anything about returning to Price Island. And yet, for a few precious minutes, Clay had been allowed to fly on the dragon's back—by far the best, most electrifying (and also most terrifying) experience of his life. Joined with the dragon, he'd felt at one with himself for the first time. He couldn't bear the thought of never having that experience again.
Clay looked over his shoulder. His friend Leira, who had an annoying talent for treading softly, had crept up behind him.
"Do you always have to do that?" Clay griped.
"Hmm. Let me see.…" Leira took off her cap and scratched her short red hair, pretending to ponder the question. "Yes."
She looked up at the sky. The airplane—a seaplane—was circling the island, getting ready to land in the shallow water. They could hear the whir of propellers in the distance.
"So I guess you figured out that Owen's on his way."
Clay nodded grumpily. "I thought he wasn't back for another three days."
Owen, the seaplane's pilot, ferried campers to and from the mainland, and he made biweekly trips to deliver supplies.
"I know, it's weird. You're supposed to go meet him."
"Me? Why?" said Clay, surprised.
Leira shrugged. "No idea. Buzz sent me to get you.… Well, not me, exactly. I just tagged along for fun."
She gestured behind her, where a small hive's worth of bees were hovering in the air. They spelled out these words:
As Clay watched, the bees flew out of formation, making one big, buzzy, blurry cloud. Then they divided once more, forming three very emphatic exclamation marks:
"Okay, okay, I'm coming—chill!" Clay shouted at them.
"Hey, can I ask you something?" he said to Leira as they started walking down the hill.
Leira smirked. "No, I won't be your girlfriend."
"Do you think Ariella will ever come back?" He nodded toward Como, who was plodding along the trail ahead of them. "That guy thinks I'm crazy."
"I don't know, Mowgli. Some people might say it's crazy to talk to a llama."*
"Don't call me that. And you're not answering the question."
"What question? That reminds me. Missing anything?"
"Why, what did you take this time?" Clay asked suspiciously.
Leira, who was an incredibly skilled pickpocket and thief, frequently stole things from Clay—for sport. She smiled innocently. And held up the Occulta Draco.
"That book is, like, four hundred years old and maybe the only one in the world!" Clay complained, irate. "Do you know what Mr. B would do to me if anything happened to it?"
"If it's so priceless, why'd you leave it on that rock?" said Leira, handing it over.
"Oh, I did?" said Clay, grimacing. "Sorry—"
"Or maybe I lifted it from your backpack." Leira grinned. "Can't remember."
Clay laughed. "Why am I friends with you…?"
Ahead of them, two old garbage-pail lids with rope handles had been left leaning against a rock. Wordlessly, they placed the garbage-pail lids side by side and sat down on them.
"Ready?" asked Leira.
"You know it," said Clay. "Eat my volcanic dust."
Together, they pushed off and started sledding down the scree-covered slope, spinning and bouncing as they went, the llama trotting behind.
THE MEETING IN THE TEEPEE
Have you ever been called to the principal's office without knowing why? (Or perhaps knowing why but not knowing what your fate will be?) Clay, I am somewhat reluctant to report, had been called to the principal's office more than once. At Earth Ranch, the director's teepee was the closest thing to a principal's office; so it was with a familiar sense of dread that Clay landed at the bottom of Nose Peak.
As Clay handed over his garbage-lid sled for Leira to return to his cabin, she made him promise that he would tell her what the meeting with the director was about. "Maybe they're finally kicking you out!" she said brightly.
Then she ran off, the two sleds on her back clanking against each other.
What had he done wrong lately? Clay played back the past few days in his head.… The previous morning, he got caught skipping out on weeding, but everybody was expected to skip once in a while, right? And then he was busted for putting chocolate chips in his oatmeal, but again, nobody could exist entirely on the camp diet of seeds and sprouts. The day before, he had skateboarded on top of the picnic tables—a more serious offense, no doubt. But serious enough to get him sent home? Not when everyone, including the counselors, had laughed and applauded. And anyway, Pablo, not Clay, had made the skateboard.
It seemed far likelier that an emergency of some sort had brought Owen back to the island. Had something happened to Clay's parents? Or to his brother? Yes, Clay decided, it had to be his brother. His brother the hypercautious hypochondriac.* Despite (or because of) his excessive efforts to stay safe, Max-Ernest had always been accident-prone. Images of hospital beds and funeral parlors swam around in Clay's mind.
The atmosphere at camp did nothing to reassure him.
Earth Ranch was built on the shores of Lava Lake, a long, crescent-shaped lake that was normally a brilliant tropical turquoise; today, though, the surface was dark and moody, and swirling like an oil slick. At the far end of the lake, smoke rose in a steady stream from Mount Forge, roiling the sky with ominous gray clouds. Vast lava flows, black except where the edges burned orange, slowly advanced down the sides of the volcano.
Meanwhile, the camp's ever-changing but previously omnipresent rainbow kept flickering in and out, sometimes vanishing for minutes at a time, only to come back brighter than ever. According to the counselors, the rainbow acted as a sort of supernatural "barometer," measuring the level of magic in the island's atmosphere.* At the moment, this level appeared to be extremely unstable.
As Clay led Como into the barnyard, a random assortment of chickens and turkeys and goats and sheep crowded around Clay. Nudging him in the leg and other less comfortable places, they snorted and bleated and honked and squawked.
"Don't bust a gut, guys," said Clay. "I fed you already, remember?"
A man in a beekeeper suit—Buzz—addressed Clay from outside the gate. "Did you get my message?"
"Yeah, I'm on my way.… Do you know why I'm supposed to see Mr. B?"
Buzz shook his head. "No idea. But it sounds urgent."
Clay swallowed. He didn't like the sound of sounds urgent.
Around him, the animals continued to complain noisily, scratching the fences and pawing the ground. "What are they saying?" asked Buzz.
"I can't tell—they're all talking at once," said Clay.
"Then tell them to speak one at a time," said Buzz, as if this were a perfectly obvious solution.
Buzz was the only person at camp who could relate to animals in the way that Clay could, although Buzz's particular gift was an ability to communicate with bees. Clay, on the other hand, seemed to be able to talk to most species, at least to some degree. He simply spoke and animals understood him—not his words exactly, but the intent behind them. It was the same when they spoke to him. He couldn't have done a word-for-word translation of barks or neighs, but he always seemed to understand what the dog or horse was trying to say.
Praise for Bad News:
"Bosch's Bad Books trilogy roars to a fiery close...[and] Bosch's patented sense of humor runs through the action-packed plot and comical footnotes....Series fans will doubtless be sad to bid these characters adieu, but they certainly go out in style."
Praise for Bad Luck:"Readers will be thoroughly entertained by this second installment in the Bad Book series."—Booklist"Bosch employs, to great effect, his signature irreverence and hilarity... a delight to read. Bad Magic is a clever and playful novel. An excellent addition to middle grade fiction collections."—School Library Journal
- "This second volume has plenty of Bosch's signature cheekiness and footnotes, and it's chock-full of intrigue, danger, secret missions, betrayal, a magical library within a library, and a creature straight from legend. Longtime Bosch fans will be thrilled at the reappearance of characters from his "Secret Series," but the good fun and solid adventure will delight new readers just the same. An excellent addition to middle grade collections. —School Library Journal
- Praise for Bad Magic:
- "Enjoyable...Bosch's arch narrative voice carries over from his previous books...From The Tempest and Lord of the Flies to shows like Gilligan's Island and Lost, cultural allusions abound as Clay tries to understand the island's many mysteries and meets his fellow campers. Gilbert's watercolors bring in additional humor."—Publishers Weekly
- "[Bad Magic] contains threads of mystery, magic, word games, and snark... It is suspenseful, humorous, clever, and most importantly, fun. Bad Magic is definitely entertaining for a wide range of readers."—Voya
- "...Bosch's mix of slapstick silliness, sly authorial asides, and magical adventure will appeal to readers of Lemony Snicket and M. T. Anderson's Pals in Peril series."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Mar 28, 2017
- Hachette Audio