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Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

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BOOK: The Iron Trial
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As he furiously pondered what to do, he picked up the pen, shook it, and tried to mark the paper.

It didn’t work.

He tried again, pressing harder. Still nothing. He looked around and it seemed that most of the other kids were writing fine, although a few were struggling with their pens, too.

It figured that he wasn’t going to fail the test like a normal nonmagical person — he wasn’t even going to be able to
take
it. But what if the mages made you take the test over again if you left it blank? Wasn’t that like refusing to show up in the first place?

Scowling, he tried to remember what Milagros had said about the pen. Something about shaking it to get the ink to work. Maybe he just hadn’t shaken it enough.

He tightened his fist around the pen and shook it hard, his annoyance at the test putting extra force into the snap of his wrist.
Come on
, he thought.
Come on, you stupid thing, WORK!

Blue ink exploded from the tip of the pen. He tried to stop the flow, pressing his finger against where he thought the crack might be … but that just made the ink shoot harder. It splattered against the back of the chair in front of him; the blond boy, sensing the inky storm that had just been unleashed, ducked to get out of range of the mess. More ink than seemed possible to come from such a small pen was spurting all over the place, and people were starting to glare at him.

Call dropped the pen, which immediately stopped spraying. But the damage was done. His hands and desk, his test book and hair, were covered in ink. He tried to wipe it off his fingers, only succeeding in leaving blue handprints all over his shirt.

He hoped the ink wasn’t poisonous. He was pretty sure he’d swallowed some.

Everyone in the class was staring. Even Master Milagros was watching him in what looked alarmingly like amazement, as though no one had ever managed to destroy a pen so thoroughly. Everyone was silent except the lanky kid who’d been talking to Tamara before. He had leaned over to whisper to her again. Tamara didn’t crack a smile, but from the smirk on the boy’s face, and the superior glint in her eyes, Call could tell they were sneering at him. He felt the tips of his ears pinking.

“Callum Hunt,” said Master Milagros in a shocked voice. “Please — please leave the room and clean yourself up, then wait in the hallway until the group rejoins you.”

Call staggered to his feet, barely registering that the blond boy who’d almost been soaked with ink threw him what looked like a sympathetic smile. He could still hear someone giggling as he banged out through the door — and still picture Tamara’s scornful look. Who cared what she thought — who cared what
any
of them thought, whether they were trying to be friendly or mean or not? They didn’t matter. They weren’t part of his life. None of this was.

Just a few more hours
. He repeated it to himself over and over as he stood in the bathroom, doing his best to scrub off the ink with powdered soap and rough paper towels. He wondered if the ink was magical. It sure wanted to stick. Some of it had dried in his black hair, and there were still dark blue handprints on his white shirt when he emerged from the bathroom and found the other aspirants waiting for him in the hallway. He heard some of them muttering to one another about “the freak with the ink.”

“Nice look with the shirt,” the boy with the black hair said. He looked rich to Call, rich like Tamara. He couldn’t have said why exactly, but his clothes were the kind of tailored casual-fancy that cost a lot of money. “For your sake, I hope the next test doesn’t involve explosions. Or, oh, wait — I hope it
does
.”

“Shut up,” Call muttered, aware that this was hardly the greatest comeback of all time. He slouched against the wall until Master Milagros, reappearing, called them all to order. Silence fell as she called out names in groups of five, directing each group down a corridor and telling them to wait at the other end. Call had no idea how the airplane hangar managed to house such a network of hallways. He suspected it was one of those things his father would say he was better off not thinking about.

“Callum Hunt!” she called out, and Call shuffled along to join his group, which also contained, to his dismay, the black-haired boy, whose name turned out to be Jasper deWinter, and the blond boy he’d spattered ink on earlier, who was Aaron Stewart. Jasper made a big show of hugging Tamara and wishing her luck before he sauntered over to join his group. Once there, he immediately started talking to Aaron, turning his back on Call as if Call didn’t exist.

The other two kids in Call’s new group were Kylie Myles and a nervous-looking girl named Celia something, who had a big mass of dirty blond hair and had clipped a blue flower behind her bangs.

“Hey, Kylie,” Call said, thinking now was the perfect opportunity to warn her that the picture of the Magisterium that Master Milagros was conjuring for them was merely a flattering illusion. He had it on good authority that the real caves were full of dead ends and eyeless fish.

She looked apologetic. “Would you mind … not talking to me?”

“What?” They had started moving off down the hall, and Call limped faster to keep up. “Seriously?”

She shrugged. “You know how it is. I’m trying to make a good impression, and talking to you isn’t going to help. Sorry!” She skipped ahead, catching up with Jasper and Aaron. Call stared at the back of her head as if he could drill into it with anger.

“I hope the eyeless fish eat you!” he called after her. She pretended not to hear.

Master Milagros led them around a last corner, into a huge room that was set up like a gymnasium. There was a high ceiling, and from the center of it dangled a big red ball, suspended high over their heads. Next to the ball was a long rope ladder with wooden rungs that reached from the roof to brush the floor.

This was ridiculous. He couldn’t climb with his leg the way it was. He was supposed to be
throwing
these tests on purpose, not being so terrible at them that he’d never have been able to get into magic school in the first place.

“I will now leave you to Master Rockmaple,” Master Milagros said after the last group of five had arrived, indicating a short magician with a bristling red beard and a ruddy nose. He was carrying a clipboard and had a whistle around his neck, like a gym teacher, although he was wearing the all-black outfit the other magicians were in.

“This test is deceptively simple,” said Master Rockmaple, stroking his beard in a way that seemed calculated to look menacing. “Simply climb the rope ladder and get the ball. Who would like to go first?”

Several kids shot up their hands.

Master Rockmaple pointed to Jasper. He bounded up to the rope as though being selected first were some kind of indication of how awesome he was, instead of just a measure of how eagerly he’d waggled his hand. Instead of climbing right on, he circled the apparatus, looking up at the ball thoughtfully, tapping his lower lip.

“Are you quite ready?” Master Rockmaple asked, eyebrows raised just slightly, and a few of the other kids snickered.

Jasper, clearly annoyed at being laughed at when he was taking the whole thing so seriously, launched himself violently at the dangling rope ladder. As soon as he’d climbed from one rung to another, the ladder seemed to lengthen, so that the more he climbed, the more he had to climb. Finally, it got the better of him and he toppled to the ground, surrounded by coils and coils of rope and steps of wood.

Now, that was funny
, Callum thought.

“Very good,” said Master Rockmaple. “Who would like to go next?”

“Let me try it again,” said Jasper, a whine creeping into his voice. “I know how to do it now.”

“We have a lot of aspirants waiting for their turn,” Master Rockmaple said, looking as if he was enjoying himself.

“But it’s
not fair
. Someone will get it right and then everyone will know how to do it. I’m being punished for going first.”

“It looked to me like you wanted to go first. But very well, Jasper. If there’s time after everyone else is done, and you’d still like to try again, you may.”

It just figured that Jasper would get another chance. Call assumed that from the way he was acting, his dad was probably somebody important.

Most of the other kids didn’t do any better, some making it halfway up and then sliding back down, one never even hauling himself off the ground. Celia got the farthest before losing her grip and falling onto a practice mat. Her flower hair clip wound up a little mangled. Although she didn’t want to show she was upset, Call could tell she was by the way she kept anxiously trying to fix the clip back into place.

Master Rockmaple looked at his list. “Aaron Stewart.”

Aaron stood in front of the rope ladder, flexing his fingers like he was about to jog onto a basketball court. He looked sporty and confident, and Call felt that familiar ache of jealousy in his stomach, quickly smothered, that he got whenever he watched kids play basketball or baseball and be totally at home in their skin. Team sports weren’t an option for Call; the opportunity for embarrassment was too great, even if he’d been allowed to play. Guys like Aaron never had to worry about things like that.

Aaron jogged toward the rope ladder and flung himself onto it. He climbed fast, his feet pushing as his arms pulled him upward in what looked like a single, fluid motion. He was moving so quickly that he was going faster than the rope was falling. Higher and higher he went. Callum held his breath and realized that all around him, everyone else had grown hushed, too.

Aaron, grinning like a maniac, reached the top. He hit the ball with the side of one hand, knocking it free, before slithering back down the ladder and landing on his feet like a gymnast.

Some of the other kids burst into spontaneous applause. Even Jasper seemed happy for him, going over to clap him grudgingly on the back.

“Very good,” Master Rockmaple said, using exactly the same words and tone he’d used with everyone else. Callum thought the grumpy old mage was probably just annoyed that someone had beaten his stupid test.

“Callum Hunt,” the mage said next.

Callum stepped forward, wishing that he’d thought to bring a doctor’s note. “I can’t.”

Master Rockmaple looked him over. “Why not?”

Oh, come on. Look at me. Just look at me.
Call raised his head and stared defiantly at the mage. “My leg. I’m not supposed to do gym stuff,” he said.

The mage shrugged. “So don’t.”

Call fought down a blaze of anger. He could tell the other kids were looking at him, some with pity and others with annoyance. The worst part was that, normally, he’d have jumped at the chance to do something physical. He was just trying to do what he was supposed to and
fail
. “It’s not an
excuse
,” he said. “My leg bones were shattered when I was a baby. I’ve had ten operations, and as a result, I’ve got sixty iron screws in there holding my leg together. Do you need to see the scars?”

Callum fervently hoped Master Rockmaple would say no. His left leg was a mass of red incision lines and ugly bunched tissue. He never let anyone see it; he’d never worn shorts, ever, since he was old enough to know what strangers’ glances at his leg were all about. He didn’t know why he’d even explained as much as he had, except that he was so mad he had no idea what he was saying.

Master Rockmaple, who had been holding his whistle in one hand, twirled it thoughtfully. “These tests aren’t all obvious,” he said. “At least try, Callum. If you fail, we move on to the next one.”

Call threw up his hands. “Fine.
Fine
.” He stalked toward the rope ladder and put one hand on it. He deliberately put his left leg on the lowest rung and braced his weight on it, reaching up.

Pain shot up his calf and he dropped back down to the floor, still gripping the ladder. He could hear Jasper laughing behind him. His leg ached and his stomach felt numb. He looked up the ladder again, toward the red rubber ball at the very top, and felt his head start to throb with pain. Years and years of being made to sit on the bleachers, of limping behind everyone when they were running laps, rose up behind his eyes and he glared furiously at the ball that he knew he couldn’t reach, thinking,
I hate you, I hate you, I hate —

There was a sharp boom, and the red ball caught on fire. Someone shrieked — it sounded like Kylie, but Call hoped it was Jasper. Everyone, including Master Rockmaple, was staring as the red ball burned merrily away like it had been full of fireworks. The stench of burning chemical nastiness filled the air, and Call jumped back as a big lump of melting plastic meteored to the floor. He scrambled away as more of the goop began to drip from the burning ball, a little of it splattering the shoulder of his T-shirt.

Ink
and
goop. This was a great fashion day for him.

“Get out,” Master Rockmaple said as the kids started to choke and cough on smoke. “Everyone, get out of the room.”

“But my turn!” Jasper protested. “How am I going to get my second turn now that the freak has totally destroyed the ball? Master Rockmaple —”

“I SAID GET OUT,” the mage roared, and the kids surged from the room, Call bringing up the rear, intensely conscious of the fact that both Jasper
and
Master Rockmaple were glaring at him with what looked a lot like hatred.

Like the smell of burning, the word
freak
carried through the air.

M
ASTER ROCKMAPLE
marched angrily, leading the whole group down a hallway, away from the testing room. Everyone was moving so fast there was no way for Callum to keep up. His leg hurt more than ever and he smelled like a burning tire factory. He limped along behind them, wondering if anyone had ever messed up this badly in the history of the Magisterium. Maybe they’d let him go home early, for his sake and for the sake of everyone else.

“You okay?” Aaron asked him, dropping back so he could walk alongside Callum. He smiled good-naturedly, like there was nothing strange about talking to Call when the rest of the group was avoiding him like the plague.

“Fine,” Call said, gritting his teeth. “Never better.”

“I have no idea how you did what you did, but that was
epic
. The look on Master Rockmaple’s face was like —” Aaron tried to approximate it, furrowing his eyebrows, widening his eyes, and making his mouth gape.

Call started to laugh but stifled it quickly. He didn’t want to like any of the other kids, especially not super-competent Aaron.

They turned the corner. The rest of the class was waiting. Master Rockmaple cleared his throat, apparently about to scold Call, when he seemed to notice Aaron standing beside him. Biting off whatever he had been about to say, the mage opened the door to a new room.

Call scrambled into the room along with the rest of the group. It was a boring industrial space like the one they’d been in for the first test, with rows of desks and a single sheet of paper resting atop each one.

How many written tests are there going to be?
Callum wanted to ask, but he didn’t think that Master Rockmaple was in the mood to answer him. None of these desks had names, so he sat at one and folded his arms over his chest.

“Master Rockmaple!” called out Kylie, sitting down. “Master Rockmaple, I don’t have a pen.”

“Nor will you need one,” said the mage. “This is a test of your ability to control your magic. You will be using the element of air. Concentrate on the paper in front of you until you are able to lift it off the desk, using only the energy of your thoughts. Lift it straight up, without allowing it to wobble or fall. Once that is accomplished, please rise and join me at the front of the room.”

Relief washed through Call. All he had to do was make sure the paper didn’t fly up into the air, which seemed simple enough. His whole life, he had managed not to make pieces of paper fly around classrooms.

Aaron was sitting across the aisle from him. He had his hand on his chin, his green eyes narrowed. As Call darted a sideways glance toward him, the paper on Aaron’s desk rose into the air, perfectly level. It hovered for a moment before fluttering back to the desk. With a grin, Aaron got up to join Master Rockmaple at the front of the room.

Call heard a chuckle to his left. He glanced over and saw Jasper take out what looked like a regular sewing pin and prick his finger. A drop of blood appeared, and Jasper shoved his finger into his mouth, sucking on it.
What a weirdo
, Call thought. But then Jasper slumped back in his chair, in a casual, I-can-do-magic-with-my-hands-tied kind of way. And it seemed like he could, since the paper on his desk was folding and crumpling — rolling itself into a new shape. With a few more folds and tucks, it became a paper airplane, which zoomed off Jasper’s desk and flew across the room, hitting Call directly in the forehead. He swatted it away and it dropped to the ground.

“Jasper, that’s enough,” Master Rockmaple said, though he didn’t sound as annoyed as he could have. “Get up here.”

Call returned his attention to his paper as Jasper sauntered up to the front of the room. All around him, kids were staring and whispering at the papers on their desks,
willing
them to move. Call’s stomach tightened uneasily. What if a gust of air came along and picked up his paper? What if it just … fluttered on its own? Would he get points for that?

Stay put
, he thought savagely at the paper on his desk.
Don’t you move
. He pictured himself holding it down against the wood, fingers splayed, preventing it from twitching.
Man, this is stupid
, he thought.
What a thing to do with your day
. But he stayed where he was, concentrating. This time, he wasn’t alone. Several other kids were unable to move their papers, including Kylie.

“Callum?” said Master Rockmaple, sounding weary.

Call sat back. “I can’t do it.”

“If he can’t, he
really
can’t,” said Jasper. “Just give the loser a zero and let’s go before he creates a blizzard and we all die from paper cuts.”

“All right,” said the mage. “Everyone, bring me your papers and I’ll give you your marks. Come on, let’s get this room cleaned up for the next group.”

Relieved, Call reached for the paper on his desk — and froze. Desperately, he scrabbled at the edges of it with his fingernails, but somehow, he didn’t know how, the paper had sunk into the wood of the desk and he couldn’t get a grip on it. “Master Rockmaple — there’s something wrong with my paper,” he said.

“Everyone under the desks!” said Jasper, but no one was paying attention to him. They were all looking at Call. Master Rockmaple stalked over to him and stared down at the paper. It had well and truly become fused to the desk.

“Who did this?” demanded Master Rockmaple. He sounded flabbergasted. “Is this someone’s idea of a prank?”

Everyone in the class was silent.

“Did
you
do this?” Master Rockmaple asked Call.

I was just trying to keep it from moving,
Call thought miserably, but he couldn’t say that. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the paper is defective.”

“It’s just paper!” the mage shouted, and then seemed to get control of himself. “All right. Fine. You get a zero. No, wait, you are going to be the first aspirant in Magisterium history to get a negative score on one of the Iron Trial tests. You get a minus ten.” He shook his head. “I think we can all be grateful that the final test is one you do alone.”

By that point, Callum was most grateful that it would all soon be over.

This time, the aspirants stood in the hallway outside a double door and waited to be called inside. Jasper was speaking to Aaron, looking over at Call like he was the subject they were discussing.

Call sighed. This was the last test. Some of the tension drained out of him at the thought. No matter how well he did, one last test wasn’t going to make that much of a difference to his terrible score. In less than an hour, he’d be heading home with his dad.

“Callum Hunt,” called a mage who hadn’t introduced herself before. She had an elaborate snake-shaped necklace wound around her throat and was reading off a clipboard. “Master Rufus is waiting for you inside.”

He pushed off the wall and followed her through the double doors. The room was large and empty and dim, with a wooden floor where a single mage sat next to a large wooden bowl. The bowl was filled with water and there was a flame burning at its center, without wick or candle.

Call stopped and stared, feeling a little prickle against the back of his neck. He’d seen plenty of weird things that day, but this was the first time since the illusion of the cave that he’d really felt the presence of magic.

The mage spoke. “Did you know that to obtain good posture, people used to practice walking around with books balanced on their heads?” His voice was low and rumbling, the sound of a distant fire. Master Rufus was a large, dark-skinned man with a bald head as smooth as a macadamia nut. He stood up in one easy motion, lifting the bowl in his wide, callused fingers.

The flame didn’t waver. If anything, it shone a little more brightly.

“Wasn’t it girls who did that?” Call asked.

“Did what?” Master Rufus frowned.

“Walked around with books on their heads.”

The mage gave him a look that made Callum feel as if he’d said something disappointing. “Take the bowl,” he said.

“But the flame will go out,” Call protested.

“That is the test,” said Rufus. “See if you can keep the flame burning, and for how long.” He held out the bowl to Call.

So far, none of the tests had been what Call expected. Still, he’d managed to fail each one — either because he’d tried to or because he just wasn’t cut out to be a magician. There was something about Master Rufus that made him want to do better, but that didn’t matter. There was no way he was going to the Magisterium.

Call took the bowl.

Almost immediately, the flame inside leaped up, as though Call had turned the knob on a gas lamp too high. He jumped and deliberately tilted the bowl to the side, trying to slosh water over the flame. But instead of going out, it burned through the water. Panicking, Call shook the bowl, sending more small waves over the fire. It began to sputter.

“Callum Hunt.” It was Master Rufus looking down at him, his face impassive, his arms crossed over his wide chest. “I’m surprised at you.”

Call said nothing. He held the bowl with its sloshing water and sputtering flame.

“I taught both your parents at the Magisterium,” Master Rufus said. He looked serious and sad. The flame made dark shadows under his eyes. “They were my apprentices. Top of their class, the best marks in the Trial. Your mother would have been disappointed to have seen her son so obviously trying to fail a test simply because —”

Master Rufus never got to finish the sentence, because at the mention of Call’s mother, the wooden bowl cracked — not in half, but into a dozen splintered pieces, each sharp enough to stab into Call’s palms. He dropped what he was holding, only to see that each part of the bowl had caught fire and was burning steadily, little pyres scattered at his feet. As he looked at the flames, though, he wasn’t afraid. It seemed to him, in that moment, as though the fire were beckoning for him to step inside it, to drown his rage and fear in its light.

The flames leaped up as he looked around the room, shooting along the spilled water like it was gasoline. All Call felt was a terrible sweeping anger that this mage had known his mother, that the man right in front of him might have had something to do with her death.

“Stop it! Stop it right now!” Master Rufus shouted, grabbing both of Call’s hands and slamming them together. The slap of them made the fresh cuts hurt.

Abruptly, all the fires went out.

“Let me go!” Call yanked his hands away from Master Rufus and wiped his bloody palms on his pants, adding another layer of stains. “I didn’t mean to do that. I don’t even know what happened.”

“What happened is that you failed another test,” said Master Rufus, his anger replaced by what seemed like cold curiosity. He was considering Call the way a scientist considered a bug pinned to a board. “You may go back out and join your father on the bleachers to await your final score.”

Thankfully, there was a door on the other side of the room, so Call could slink through that and not have to face any of the other aspirants. He could just picture the expression on Jasper’s face if he saw the blood on his clothes.

His hands were trembling.

The bleachers were full of bored-looking parents and a few younger siblings toddling around. The low buzz of conversation echoed in the hangar, and Call realized how strangely quiet the corridors had been — it was a shock to hear the noise of people again. Aspirants were exiting through five different doors in a slow trickle and joining their families. Three whiteboards had been set up at the base of the bleachers, where mages were recording scores as they came in. Call didn’t look at them. He headed straight for his dad.

Alastair had a book sitting on his lap, closed, as though he’d meant to read it but had never begun. Call noticed the relief that started on his father’s face as he got close, immediately replaced by concern once he got a true look at his son.

Alastair jumped to his feet, the book falling to the ground. “Callum! You’re covered in blood and ink and you smell like burned plastic. What happened?”

“I messed up. I — I think I really messed up.” Call could hear his voice shaking. He kept seeing the burning remains of the bowl and the look on Master Rufus’s face.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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