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Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

The Iron Trial (10 page)

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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Call dropped his bowl back on the table, and a few minutes later found himself part of a laughing group of Iron Year students making their way toward the Gallery. Call noticed that as they went, the glittering crystals on the walls made it seem like the corridor was covered in a fine layer of snow.

He wondered if any of these corridors led in the direction of Master Rufus’s office. Not a day went by that he didn’t think about sneaking in there and using the tornado phone. But until Master Rufus taught them how to control the boats, Call needed another route.

They walked through an unfamiliar part of the tunnels, one that seemed to slope gently upward, with a shortcut over an underground lake. For once, Call didn’t mind the extra distance, because this part of the caves had a bunch of cool things to look at — a flowstone formation of white calcite that looked like a frozen waterfall, concretions in the shape of fried eggs, and stalagmites that had turned blue and green from the copper in the rock.

Call, moving slower than the others, was in the back, and Celia dropped back to chat with him. She pointed out things he hadn’t seen before, like the holes high up in the rocks where bats and salamanders lived. They passed through a big circular room with two passages leading from it. One had the word
Gallery
picked out above it in sparkling rock crystal. The other read
The Mission Gate
.

“What’s that?” Call asked.

“It’s another way out of the caves,” Drew, overhearing, told him. Then he looked weirdly guilty, as if he wasn’t supposed to tell.

Maybe Call wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand the rules of magic school. When he looked closer, he saw Drew looked about as exhausted as Call felt.

“But you can’t just leave,” Celia added, giving Call a wry look, as if she thought that every time he heard about a new exit, he was going to consider whether or not he could escape that way. “It’s only for apprentices on missions.”

“Missions?” Call asked, as they followed the others toward the Gallery. He remembered her saying something about them before, when she’d explained why all the apprentices weren’t at the Magisterium.

“Errands for Masters. Fighting elementals. Fighting the Chaos-ridden,” Celia said. “You know, mage stuff.”

Right
, Call thought.
Pick up some deadly nightshade and kill a wyvern on your way back. No problem.
But he didn’t want to make Celia mad, since she was pretty much the only person still talking to him, so he kept those thoughts to himself.

The Gallery was huge, with a ceiling at least a hundred feet above them and a lake at one end, stretching off into the distance, with several small islands dotting the surface. A few kids were splashing in the water, which steamed gently. A movie was playing on one crystal wall — Call had seen the movie before, but he was sure what was happening on the screen hadn’t actually happened in the version he’d seen.

“I love this part,” Tamara said, rushing over to where kids had arranged themselves on rows of oversize, velvety-looking toadstools. Jasper appeared and plunked himself down directly next to her. Aaron looked slightly puzzled but followed anyway.

“You have to try the fizzy drinks,” Celia said, pulling Call over to a rocky ledge where an enormous glass beverage dispenser, full of what looked like water, rested beside three stalactites. She picked up a glass, filled it from the twist spout, and stuck it beneath one of the stalactites. A spurt of blue liquid splashed down into the water, and a mini whirlpool appeared inside the glass, spinning the blue liquid and the clear liquid together. Bubbles rose to the top.

“Go on, try it,” Celia urged.

Call gave the drink a suspicious look, then took the glass from her and swigged down the liquid.

It felt like crystals of sweet blueberry and caramel and strawberry were bursting inside his mouth.

“This is
fantastic
,” he said when he was done swallowing.

“The green is my favorite,” Celia said, grinning around a glass she’d poured for herself. “It tastes like a melted lollipop.”

There were piles of other interesting-looking snacks on the ledge — bowls of shiny rocks that were clearly spun out of sugar, pretzels wound into the shapes of alchemical symbols and sparkling with salt, and a bowl of what looked like crispy potato chips at first glance but were darker gold when you looked at them closely. Call tried one. It tasted almost exactly like buttered popcorn.

“Come on,” Celia said, grabbing his wrist. “We’re missing the movie.” She drew him toward the velvety toadstools. Call went a little reluctantly. Things were still fraught with Tamara and Aaron. He thought it might be better to avoid them and explore the Gallery on his own. But no one was paying attention to him anyway; they were all watching the movie being projected on the far wall. Jasper kept leaning over to say things in Tamara’s ear that made her giggle, and Aaron was chatting with Kai on his other side. Fortunately, there were enough older kids around to make it easy for Call not to sit too close to the other apprentices in his group without it seeming intentional.

As Call relaxed into his seat, he realized that the movie wasn’t being
projected
exactly. A solid block of colored air hovered against the rock wall, colors swirling in and out of it impossibly fast, creating the illusion of a screen. “Air magic,” he said, half to himself.

“Alex Strike does the movies.” Celia was hugging her knees, intent on the screen. “You probably know him.”

“Why would I know him?”

“He’s a Bronze Year. One of the best students. He assists Master Rufus sometimes.” There was admiration in her voice.

Call glanced back over his shoulders. In the shadows behind the rows of toadstool cushions was a taller chair. The lanky brown-haired boy who’d brought them sandwiches for the past few days was sitting in it, his eyes intent on the screen in front of him. His fingers were moving back and forth, a little like a puppeteer’s. As he moved them, the shapes on the screen shifted.

That’s really cool,
the little, treacherous voice inside Call said.
I want to do that.
He pushed the voice down. He was leaving as soon as he passed through the First Gate of Magic. He was never going to be a Copper Year or Bronze Year or any other year than this one.

When the movie ended — Call was pretty sure he didn’t remember a scene in
Star Wars
where Darth Vader made a conga line with Ewoks, but he’d only seen it once — everyone jumped up and clapped. Alex Strike shook his hair back and grinned. When he saw Call looking at him, he nodded.

Everyone soon spread out through the room to play with other fun stuff. It was like an arcade, Call thought, but with no supervision. There was a hot pool of water that bubbled with many colors. Some of the older students, including Tamara’s sister and Alex, were swimming in it, amusing themselves by making little whirlpools dance along the surface of the water. Call stuck his legs in it for a while — it felt good after all the walking he’d been doing — and then joined Drew and Rafe in feeding the tame bats, which would sit on their shoulders while they fed them pieces of fruit. Drew kept giggling as the bats’ soft wings tickled his cheek. Later, Call joined up with Kai and Gwenda to play a weird game involving batting around a ball of blue fire that turned out to be cold when it struck him in the chest. Ice crystals clung to his gray uniform, but he didn’t mind. The Gallery was so much fun that he forgot to worry about Master Rufus, about his father, about bound magic, or even about Aaron and Tamara hating him.

Will it be hard to give this up?
he wondered. He imagined being a mage and playing in bubbling springs and conjuring movies out of thin air. He imagined being good at this stuff, one of the Masters, even. But then he thought of his dad sitting at the kitchen table all by himself, worrying over Call, and felt awful.

When Drew, Celia, and Aaron started back toward the rooms, he decided to go with them. If he stayed up any later, he’d be cranky in the morning and, besides, he wasn’t sure he knew the way without them. They retraced their steps through the caves. It was the first time in days Call felt relaxed.

“Where’s Tamara?” Celia asked as they walked.

Call had seen her standing with her sister when they left and was about to answer when Aaron spoke. “Arguing with her sister.”

Call was surprised. “What about?”

Aaron shrugged. “Kimiya was saying that Tamara shouldn’t be wasting her time in the Gallery in her Iron Year, playing games. Said she ought to be studying.”

Call frowned. He’d always kind of wanted a sibling, but he was suddenly reconsidering.

Beside him, Aaron stiffened. “What’s that noise?”

“It’s coming from the Mission Gate,” Celia replied, looking worried. A moment later, Call heard it, too: the tread of booted feet on stone, the echo of voices bouncing off rock walls. Someone calling for help.

Aaron took off, running up the passage toward the Mission Gate. The rest of them hesitated before following him, Drew hanging back so much that he kept pace with Call’s hurrying. The passage started to fill up with people pushing past them, almost knocking Call over. Something clamped on to his arm and he found himself pulled back against a wall.

Aaron. Aaron had flattened himself against the stone and was watching, his mouth a thin line, as a group of older kids — some of them wearing silver wrist cuffs, some gold — came limping through the passage. Some were being carried on makeshift stretchers strapped together from branches. One boy was being supported by two other apprentices — the whole front of his uniform looked like it had been burned away, the skin underneath red and bubbly. All of them had scorch marks on their uniforms and black soot streaking their faces. Most were bleeding.

Drew looked like he was going to cry.

Call heard Celia, who had pressed herself to the wall next to Aaron, whisper something about fire elementals. Call stared as a boy went by on a stretcher, writhing in agony. His uniform sleeve was burned away and his arm seemed to be glowing from the inside, like a piece of kindling in a fire.

Fire wants to burn,
Call thought.

“You! You, Iron Years! You shouldn’t be here!” It was Master North, scowling as he detached himself from the group of the wounded. Call wasn’t sure how he’d spotted them or why he was there.

They didn’t wait to be told twice. They scattered.

T
HE NEXT DAY
was more sand and more tiredness. That night in the Refectory, Call slumped down at the table with his plate of lichen and a pile of cookies that appeared to sparkle with crystalline chunks. Celia bit into one and it made a sound like cracking glass.

“These are safe to eat, right?” Call asked Tamara, who was spooning up some kind of purple pudding that stained her lips and tongue a deep indigo.

She rolled her eyes. There were dark smudges under them, but she was, as always, otherwise composed. Resentment twinged in Call’s chest. Tamara was a robot, he decided. A robot with no human feelings. He hoped she shorted out.

Celia, seeing the ferocious way he was looking at Tamara, tried to say something, but her mouth was full of cookie. A few seats down, Aaron was saying. “All we do is divide sand into piles. For hours and hours. I mean, I’m sure it’s for a reason, but —”

“Well, I feel sorry for you,” Jasper interrupted. “Master Lemuel’s apprentices have been fighting elementals and we’ve been doing awesome things with Master Milagros. We made fireballs, and she showed us how to use the metal in the earth to levitate ourselves. I got almost an inch off the ground.”

“Wow,” said Call, his voice dripping contempt. “A whole inch.”

Jasper whipped around on Call, eyes bright with anger. “It’s because of you that Aaron and Tamara have to suffer. Because you did so badly in the tests. That’s why your whole group is stuck in the sandbox while the rest of us get to hit the playing field.”

Call felt the blood rush up into his face. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. He saw Aaron, down the table, shake his head and start to speak. But Jasper wasn’t stopping. With a sneer, he added, “And I wouldn’t be so snotty about levitating if I was you, Hunt. If you could ever learn to levitate yourself, maybe you wouldn’t slow down Tamara and Aaron so much, limping along after them.”

The moment after the words left his mouth, Jasper looked shocked, like even he hadn’t expected to go so far.

It wasn’t the first time anyone had ever said something like that to Call, but it was always like a bucket of cold water being thrown in his face.

Aaron sat up straight, eyes wide. Tamara slammed her hand down on the table. “Shut up, Jasper! We’re not sorting sand because of Call. We’re sorting sand because of me. It’s my fault, okay?”

“What? No!” Jasper seemed totally confused. Clearly, he hadn’t meant to upset Tamara. Maybe he’d even hoped to impress her. “You did really well at the Trial. We all did, except him. He took my spot. Your Master felt sorry for him and wanted —”

Aaron stood up, gripping his fork in his hand. He looked furious.

“It wasn’t
your
spot,” he spat out at Jasper. “It’s more than just points. It’s about who the Master wants to teach — and I can see exactly why Master Rufus didn’t want
you
.”

He’d said it loudly enough that people at nearby tables were staring. With a last disgusted look at Jasper, Aaron threw the fork he was holding onto the table and stalked off, his shoulders stiff.

Jasper turned back to Tamara. “I guess you have two crazy people in your group, not just one.”

Tamara gave Jasper a long, considering look. Then she picked up her bowl of pudding and turned it upside down on top of his head. Purple goop ran down his face. He yelped in surprise.

For a moment, Call was too shocked to react. Then he burst out laughing. So did Celia. Laughter broke out up and down the table as Jasper wrestled the bowl off his head. Call laughed even harder.

Tamara wasn’t laughing, though. She looked like she couldn’t believe she’d lost her composure so thoroughly. She stood frozen for a long moment, then stumbled to her feet and ran for the door in the direction Aaron had gone. Across the room, her sister, Kimiya, disapprovingly watched her go, arms crossed over her chest.

Jasper threw his bowl onto the table and shot Call a look of pure, anguished hatred. His hair was coated with pudding.

“Could have been worse,” Call said. “Could have been that green stuff.”

Master Milagros appeared at Jasper’s side. She shoved some napkins at him and demanded to know what had happened. Master Lemuel, who had been sitting at the closest table, rose and came over to lecture everyone, joined halfway through by Master Rufus, whose face was as impassive as ever. The babble of adult voices went on, but Call wasn’t paying attention.

In his whole twelve years, Call couldn’t remember anyone but his dad ever defending him. Not when people kicked his weak leg out from under him during soccer, or laughed at him for being benched during gym class or picked last for every team. He thought of Tamara dumping the pudding on Jasper’s head and then of Aaron saying
It’s more than just points. It’s about who the Master wants to teach,
and he felt a little warm glow inside.

Then he thought about the real reason Master Rufus wanted to teach him, and the glow went out.

Call walked back to their rooms alone, through echoing rock passageways. When he got there, Tamara was sitting on the couch, her hands curved around a steaming stone cup. Aaron was talking to her in a low voice.

“Hey,” Call said, standing awkwardly in the doorway, not sure if he should leave or not. “Thanks for — well, just thanks.”

Tamara looked up at him with a sniff. “Are you coming in or not?”

Since it would be even more awkward to linger around in the hallway, Call let the door swing shut behind him and started toward his room.

“Call, stay,” Tamara said.

He turned to look at her and Aaron, who was sitting on the arm of the sofa, dividing anxious glances between Call and Tamara. Tamara’s dark hair was still perfect and her back straight, but her face was blotchy, like she’d been crying. Aaron’s eyes were troubled.

“What happened with the sand was my fault,” Tamara said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I got you in trouble. I’m sorry I suggested something so dangerous in the first place. And I’m sorry I didn’t say something sooner.”

Call shrugged. “I asked you to come up with an idea — any idea. It wasn’t your fault.”

She gave him a strange look. “But I thought you were mad?”

Aaron nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we thought you were angry with us. You didn’t say practically anything for
three whole weeks
.”

“No,” Call said. “You didn’t say anything to
me
for three whole weeks. You guys were the ones who were mad.”

Aaron’s green eyes went wide. “Why would we be mad at you? You got in trouble with Rufus; we didn’t. You didn’t blame it on us, even though you could have.”

“I’m the one who should have known better,” said Tamara, gripping her cup so hard her knuckles turned white. “You two hardly know anything about magic, about the Magisterium, about elements. But I do. My … older sister …”

“Kimiya?” asked Call, puzzled. His leg was aching. He perched himself on the coffee table, rubbing his knee through his cotton uniform.

“I had another sister,” Tamara said in a whisper.

“What happened to her?” Aaron asked, his voice hushing to match hers.

“Worse,” said Tamara. “She became one of those things I was telling you about — a human elemental. There are these great mages who can swim through the earth like they’re fish or make stone daggers shoot out from walls or bring down lightning strikes or make giant whirlpools. She wanted to be one of the great ones, so she pushed her magic until she got taken over by it.”

Tamara shook her head, and Call wondered what she was seeing as she told them about this. “The worst part is how proud my dad was of her at first, when she was succeeding. He would tell Kimiya and me how we should be more like her. Now he and my mother won’t talk about her at all. They won’t even say her name.”

“What is her name?” Call asked.

Tamara looked surprised. “Ravan.”

Aaron’s hand hovered in the air for a second, like he wanted to pat Tamara on the shoulder but wasn’t sure if he should. “You’re not going to wind up like her,” he said. “You don’t have to worry.”

She shook her head again. “I told myself that I wouldn’t be like my father or my sister. I told myself I would never take any chances. I wanted to prove I could do everything the right way and not cut a single corner — and I would
still
be the best. But then I did cut corners — and I taught you how to cut them, too. I didn’t prove anything.”

“Don’t say that,” said Aaron. “You proved something tonight.”

Tamara sniffed. “What?”

“That Jasper looks better with pudding in his hair,” Call suggested.

Aaron rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I was going to say … although I sure wish I’d seen it.”

“It was pretty great,” Call said, grinning.

“Tamara, you proved that you care about your friends. And we care about you. And we’ll make sure you don’t cut any more corners.” He looked over at Call. “Won’t we?”

“Yeah,” said Call, studying the toe of his boot, not sure he was the best person for this assignment. “And, Tamara …?”

She scrubbed the corner of her eye with her sleeve. “What?”

He didn’t look up and he could feel the heat of embarrassment creep up his neck and make his ears pink. “No one’s ever stuck up for me like you guys did tonight.”

“Did you actually say something nice to us?” Tamara asked him. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I don’t know,” Call said. “I might need to lie down.”

But Call didn’t lie down. He stayed up talking with his friends for a good part of the night.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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