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Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

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BOOK: The Iron Trial
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His dad put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Call, it’s okay. You were
supposed
to mess up.”

“I know, but I thought I’d be —” He jammed his hands in his pockets, remembering all the lectures his father had given him about how he was going to have to try to fail. But he hadn’t had to try at all. He’d failed at everything because he didn’t know what he was doing, because he was bad at magic. “I thought everything would be different.”

His father dropped his voice low. “I know it doesn’t feel good to fail at anything, Call, but this is for the best. You did really well.”

“If by ‘really well’ you mean ‘sucking,’ ” Call muttered.

His dad grinned. “I was worried for a minute when you got full points for the first test, but then they took them away. I’ve never seen anyone
lose
points before.”

Call scowled. He knew his father meant this as a compliment, but it didn’t feel like one.

“You’re in last place. There are kids without any magic who did better than you. I think you deserve an ice-cream sundae — the biggest one we can get — on the way home. Your favorite kind, with butterscotch, peanut butter,
and
Gummi Bears. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Call said, sitting down. He was too bummed even for the thought of peanut-butter-and-butterscotch-covered Gummi Bears to cheer him up. “Okay.”

His father sat again, too. He was nodding to himself now, looking pleased. He looked even more pleased as more scores came in.

Call let himself look at the whiteboards. Aaron and Tamara were at the very top, their total scores exactly identical. Annoyingly, Jasper was three points beneath them, in second place.

Oh, well,
Call thought. What did he expect? Mages were jerks, just like his dad said, and the jerkiest jerks of all got the best scores. It figured.

Although it wasn’t
all
jerks on top. Kylie had done badly while Aaron had done well. That was good, Call supposed. It seemed like Aaron had really wanted to do well. Except of course that doing well meant you went to the Magisterium, and Call’s father had always said that was something he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy.

Call wasn’t sure whether to be happy for Aaron, who had at least been nice to him, or sad for him. All he knew was that he was getting a headache thinking about it.

Master Rufus strode out of one of the doors. He didn’t say anything out loud, but the whole crowd fell silent as if he had. Scanning the room, Call could see a few familiar faces — Kylie looking anxious, Aaron biting his lip. Jasper looked pale and strained, while Tamara appeared cool and collected, not worried at all. She sat between an elegant dark-haired couple, whose cream-colored clothes set off their brown skin. Her mother wore an ivory dress and gloves, her father an entirely cream-colored suit.

“Aspirants for this year,” said Master Rufus, and everyone leaned forward at once, “thank you for being with us today and for working so hard in the Trial. The thanks of the Magisterium also go out to all of the families who brought children and waited for them to finish.”

He put his hands behind his back, his gaze sweeping over the bleachers.

“There are nine mages here, and each of them is authorized to choose up to six applicants. Those applicants will be their apprentices for the five years they will spend at the Magisterium, so this is not a choice that a Master undertakes lightly. You must also understand that there are more children here than will qualify for places at the Magisterium. If you are not selected, it is because you are not suitable for this kind of training — please understand there are many possible reasons you might not be suitable, and further exploration of your powers could be deadly. Before you leave, a mage will explain your obligations of secrecy and give you the means to protect yourself and your family.”

Hurry up and get this over with
, Call thought, barely paying attention to what Rufus was saying. The other students were shuffling uncomfortably, too. Jasper, seated between his Asian mom and white dad, both sporting fancy haircuts, drummed his fingers against his knees. Call glanced at his father, who was staring at Rufus with an expression Call had never seen on his face before. He looked as if he was thinking about running the mage over with the remodeled Rolls, even if it would break the transmission again.

“Does anyone have questions?” Rufus asked.

The room was silent. His dad spoke to Call in a whisper. “It’s okay,” he said, though Call hadn’t done anything to indicate he thought it
wasn’t
okay. His father’s grip on Call grew firmer, fingers digging into his shoulder. “You won’t get picked.”

“Very well!” boomed Rufus. “Let the selection process begin!” He stepped back, until he was standing before the board with the scores on it. “Aspirants, as we say your names, please rise to your feet and join your new Master. As the senior mage present after Master North, who will not be taking any apprentices, I will begin the selection.” His gaze swept out over the crowd. “Aaron Stewart.”

There was a scatter of applause, though not from Tamara’s family. She sat incredibly still and rigid, looking like she’d been embalmed. Her parents appeared furious. Her father leaned forward to say something in her ear, and Call saw her flinch in response. Maybe she was human after all.

Aaron rose to his feet.
Totally unexpected choice
, Call thought sarcastically. Aaron looked like Captain America, with his blond hair, athletic build, and goody-two-shoes demeanor. Call wanted to throw his father’s book at Aaron’s head, even if he was nice. Captain America was nice, too, but it didn’t mean you wanted to have to compete with him.

Then, with a start, Call realized that though other people in the audience were clapping, Aaron had no family sitting on either side of him. No one hugging him or slapping him on the back. He must have come alone. Swallowing, Aaron smiled and then jogged down the stairs between the bleachers to stand next to Master Rufus.

Rufus cleared his throat. “Tamara Rajavi,” he said.

Tamara stood, her dark hair flying. Her parents clapped politely, as if they were at an opera. Tamara didn’t pause to hug either of them, just walked steadily to stand beside Aaron, who gave her a congratulatory smile.

Call wondered if it annoyed the other mages that Master Rufus got to pick first and went straight for the top of the list. It would have annoyed Call.

Master Rufus’s dark eyes raked over the room one more time. Call could feel the hush over everyone as they waited for Rufus to call out the next name. Jasper was already half out of his seat.

“And my last apprentice will be Callum Hunt,” Master Rufus said, and the bottom fell out of Call’s world.

There were a few surprised gasps from the other aspirants and confused muttering from the audience as each of them scanned the whiteboards for Call’s name and found it, absolutely dead last, with a negative score.

Call stared at Master Rufus. Master Rufus stared back, entirely blank. Next to him, Aaron was giving Call an encouraging smile while Tamara looked at him with an expression of total astonishment.

“I said
Callum Hunt
,” Master Rufus repeated. “Callum Hunt, please come down here.”

Call started to get up, but his father shoved him back down into his seat.

“Absolutely not,” Alastair Hunt said, standing. “This has gone far enough, Rufus. You can’t have him.”

Master Rufus was looking up at them as if there was no one else in the room. “Come now, Alastair, you know the rules as well as anyone. Stop making a fuss over something inevitable. The boy needs to be taught.”

Mages were ascending the bleachers on either side of where Call was sitting, his father holding him in place. The mages, in their black clothes, looked as sinister as his father had ever described them. They looked ready for battle. Once they reached Call’s row of benches, they stopped, waiting for his father’s first move.

Call’s dad had given up magic years ago; he had to be completely out of practice. There was no chance the other mages weren’t going to mop the floor with him.

“I’ll go,” he told his father, turning toward him. “Don’t worry. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll get kicked out. They won’t want me for long and then I’ll come home and everything will be the same —”

“You don’t understand,” Call’s father said, hauling him to his feet with a clawlike grip. Everyone in the whole room was staring, and no wonder. His father looked unhinged, his eyes wide and bulging. “Come on. We’re going to have to run.”

“I
can’t
,” he reminded his father. But his father was beyond listening.

Call’s dad pulled him through the bleachers, hopping from bench to bench. People made way for them, dodging to one side or jumping up. The mages on the stairs rushed toward them. Call staggered along, focusing on keeping his balance as they descended.

As soon as they hit the floor of the hangar, Rufus stepped in front of Call’s father.

“Enough,” Master Rufus said. “The boy stays here.”

Call’s dad came to a jerking stop. He put his arms around Call from the back, which was weird — his father practically never hugged him, but this was more of a wrestling grip. Call’s leg was aching from their race through the bleachers. He tried to twist around to look at his father, but his dad was staring at Master Rufus. “Haven’t you killed enough of my family?” he demanded.

Master Rufus dropped his voice so that the mass of people sitting on the benches couldn’t hear them, though Aaron and Tamara obviously could. “You haven’t taught him anything,” he said. “An untrained mage wandering around is like a fault in the earth waiting to crack open, and if he does crack, he will kill a lot of other people as well as himself. So don’t talk to me about death.”

“Okay,” said Call’s father. “I’ll teach him myself. I’ll take him and I’ll teach him. I’ll get him ready for the First Gate.”

“You’ve had twelve years to teach him and you haven’t used them. I’m sorry, Alastair. This is how it has to be.”

“Look at his score — he shouldn’t qualify. He doesn’t want to qualify! Right, Call? Right?” Call’s father shook him as he said it. The boy couldn’t get any words out even if he’d wanted to.

“Let him go, Alastair,” said Master Rufus, his deep voice full of sadness.

“No,” Call’s father said. “He’s my child. I have rights. I decide his future.”

“No,” said Master Rufus. “You don’t.”

Call’s father jerked back, but not fast enough. Call felt arms grabbing at him as two mages wrenched him out of his dad’s grip. His father was shouting and Call was kicking and pulling, but it didn’t make a difference as he was dragged over to where Aaron and Tamara stood. They both looked absolutely horrified. Call flung a sharp elbow out at one of the mages who was holding him. He heard a grunt of pain, and his arm got jerked up behind his back. He winced and wondered what all the parents in the bleachers, here to send their kids to aerodynamics school, were thinking now.

“Call!” His father was being restrained by two other mages. “Call, don’t listen to anything they say! They don’t know what they’re doing! They don’t know anything about you!” They were dragging Alastair toward the exit. Call couldn’t believe what was happening.

Suddenly, something glinted in the air. He hadn’t seen his dad’s arm pull free from the mages’ grip, but it must have. A dagger now soared toward him. It flew straight and true, farther than a dagger should be able to go. Call couldn’t take his eyes off it as it whirled at him, blade first.

He knew he should do something.

He knew he had to get out of the way.

But somehow he couldn’t.

His feet felt rooted to the spot.

The blade stopped inches from Call, plucked out of the air by Aaron as easily as if he were plucking an apple off the low-hanging branch of a tree.

Everyone was still for a moment, staring. Call’s father had been pulled through the far doors of the hangar by the mages. He was gone.

“Here,” said a voice at Call’s elbow. It was Aaron, holding out the dagger. It wasn’t anything Call had ever seen before. It was a glinting silver color, with whorls and scrolls in the metal. The hilt was shaped like a bird with its wings outspread. The word
Semiramis
was etched along the blade in an ornate script.

“I guess this is yours, right?” Aaron said.

“Thanks,” said Call, taking the dagger.


That
was your father?” Tamara asked under her breath, without turning her face toward him. Her voice was full of cool disapproval.

Some of the mages were looking over at Call like they thought he was crazy and they could see how he got to be that way. He felt better with the dagger in his hand, even if the only thing he’d ever used a knife for was spreading peanut butter or cutting up steak. “Yeah,” Call told her. “He wants me to be safe.”

Master Rufus nodded to Master Milagros and she stepped forward.

“We’re very sorry for that disruption. We appreciate that you all remained in your seats and stayed calm,” she said. “We hope that the ceremony will proceed without any further delays. I will be selecting my apprentices next.”

The crowd quieted again.

“I have chosen five,” said Master Milagros. “The first will be Jasper deWinter. Jasper, please come down and stand by me.”

Jasper rose and walked to his place beside Master Milagros, with a single hateful look in Call’s direction.

T
HE SUN WAS
beginning to set by the time all the Masters had picked their apprentices. Lots of kids had gone away crying, including, to Call’s satisfaction, Kylie. He would have traded places with her in a second, but since that wasn’t allowed, at least he got to really annoy her by being forced to stay. It was the only perk he could think of, and as the time to leave for the Magisterium drew closer, he was clinging to any comfort.

Call’s father’s warnings about the Magisterium had always been frustratingly vague. As Call stood there, singed and bloody and soaked with blue ink, his leg hurting more and more, he had nothing to do but go back over those warnings in his mind.
The mages don’t care about anyone or anything except advancing their studies. They steal children from their families
.
They are monsters. They experiment on children. They are the reason your mother is dead.

Aaron tried to make conversation with Call, but Call didn’t feel like talking. He played with the hilt of the dagger, which he had stuck through his belt, and tried to look frightening. Eventually, Aaron gave up and started to chat with Tamara. She knew a lot about the Magisterium from an older sister who, according to Tamara, was the best at absolutely every single thing at the school. Troublingly, Tamara was vowing to be even better. Aaron seemed happy just to be going to magic school.

Call wondered if he should warn them. Then he remembered the horrified tone in Tamara’s voice when she’d seen who his father was.
Forget it
, he thought. They could get eaten by wyverns traveling at twenty miles an hour and bent on revenge for all he cared.

Finally, the ceremony was over, and everyone was herded out into the parking lot. Parents tearfully hugged and kissed their kids good-bye, loading them down with suitcases and duffel bags and care packages. Call stood around with his hands in his pockets. Not only was his dad not there to say good-bye to him, but Call didn’t have any luggage, either. After a few days with no change of clothes, he was going to smell even worse than he did now.

Two yellow school buses were waiting, and the mages began to divide the students into groups according to their Masters. Each bus carried several groups. Master Rufus’s apprentices were put with Master Milagros’s, Master Rockmaple’s, and Master Lemuel’s.

As Call waited, Jasper walked up to him. His bags were as expensive-looking as his clothes, with initials —
JDW
— monogrammed onto the leather. He had a sneer plastered on his face as he looked at Call.

“That spot in Master Rufus’s group,” Jasper said. “That was
my
spot. And you took it.”

Although it should have made him happy to annoy Jasper, Call was tired of people acting like getting picked by Rufus was some great honor. “Look, I didn’t do anything to make it happen. I didn’t even mean to get picked at all, okay? I don’t want to be here.”

Jasper was shaking with rage. Up close, Call saw with bemusement that his bag, though fancy, had holes in the leather that had been carefully and repeatedly patched. Jasper’s cuffs were an inch or so too short, too, Call realized, as if his clothes were hand-me-downs, or he’d almost grown out of them. Call bet that even his name was a hand-me-down, to match the monogram.

Maybe his family used to have money, but it didn’t seem like they had it anymore.

“You’re a liar,” Jasper said desperately. “You did something. Nobody winds up getting picked by the most prestigious Master at the Magisterium by accident, so you can forget trying to fool me. When we get to school, I’m going to make it my mission to get that spot back. You’re going to be
begging
to go home.”

“Wait,” Call said. “If you beg, they let you go home?”

Jasper stared at Call as if he’d just spouted off a bunch of sentences in Babylonian. “You have no idea how important this is,” he said, gripping the handle of his bag so tightly that his knuckles turned white. “No idea. I can’t even stand to be on the same bus as you.” He spun away from Call, marching toward the other Masters.

Call had always hated the school bus. He never knew who to sit next to, because he’d never had a friend along the route — or any friend, really. Other kids thought he was weird. Even during the Trial, even among people who wanted to be
mages
, he seemed to stand out as strange. On this bus, at least, there was enough space that he got a row of seats to himself.
The fact that I smell like burning tires probably has something to do with that
, he thought. But it was still a relief. All he wanted was to be left alone to think about what had just happened. He wished his dad had gotten him a phone when he’d begged on his last birthday. He just wanted to hear his father’s voice. He just wanted his last memory of his dad not to be of him being dragged away screaming. All he wanted to know was what to do next.

As they pulled onto the road, Master Rockmaple stood and began talking about the school, explaining that Iron Year students would be staying through the winter because it wasn’t safe for them to go home partially trained. He also told them how they’d work with their Masters all week, have lectures with other Masters on Fridays, and participate in some kind of big test once every month. Call found it hard to concentrate on the details, especially when Master Rockmaple listed the Five Principles of Magic, which all appeared to have something to do with balance. Or nature. Or something. Call tried to pay attention, but the words seemed to wash away before he could commit them to memory.

After an hour and a half of driving, the buses pulled into a rest stop, where Call realized that in addition to not having luggage, he also didn’t have any money. He pretended not to be hungry or thirsty while everyone else bought candy bars and chips and soda.

When they reboarded the bus, Call sat behind Aaron.

“Do you know where they’re taking us?” Call asked.

“The Magisterium,” Aaron said, sounding a little worried about Call’s brain. “You know, the
school
? Where we’re going to be
apprentices
?”

“But where is it exactly? Where are the tunnels?” Call asked. “And do you think they lock us in our rooms at night? Are there bars on the windows? Oh, wait, nope — because there aren’t going to be any windows, right?”

“Uh,” Aaron said, holding out his open bag of cheesy-garlic-bread-flavored Lays. “Chip?”

Tamara leaned across the aisle. “Are you actually deranged?” she asked, not really like she was insulting him this time, but more like she honestly wanted to discuss it.

“You do know that when we get there, we’re going to die, right?” Call said, loud enough for the whole bus to hear him.

That was met with a resounding silence.

Finally, Celia piped up. “All of us?”

Some of the other kids snickered.

“Well, no, not all of us,
obviously
,” said Call. “But some of us. That’s still bad!”

Everyone was staring at Call again, except Master Rufus and Master Rockmaple, who were sitting up front and not paying any attention to what the kids were doing in back. Being treated like he was nuts had happened to Call more times that day than it had happened to him in his entire life, and he was getting sick of it. Only Aaron wasn’t looking at Call like he was crazy. Instead, he crunched a chip.

“So who told you that?” he asked. “About us dying.”

“My father,” said Call. “He went to the Magisterium, so he knows what it’s like. He says the mages are going to experiment on us.”

“Was that the guy who was screaming at you at the Trial? Who threw that knife?” asked Aaron.

“He doesn’t usually act like that,” Call muttered.

“Well, he obviously went to the Magisterium and
he’s
still alive,” Tamara pointed out. She’d lowered her voice. “And my sister’s there. And some of our parents went.”

“Yeah, but my mother is dead,” said Call. “And my father hates everything about the school. He won’t even talk about it. He says my mom died because of it.”

“What happened to her?” Celia asked. She had a package of root beer gummies open on her lap, and Call was tempted to ask her for one because it reminded him of the sundae he was never going to get and also because she sounded kind, like she was asking him because she wanted him not to worry about the mages, rather than because she thought he was a raving weirdo. “I mean, she had you, so she didn’t die at the Magisterium, right? She must have graduated first.”

Her question threw Call. He’d lumped it all together and hadn’t thought about the timeline much. There had been a fight somewhere, part of some magic war. His father had been vague about the details. What he’d focused on was how the mages had let it happen.

When mages go to war, which is often, they don’t care about the people who die because of it.

“A war,” he said. “There was a war.”

“Well, that’s not very specific,” said Tamara. “But if it was your mother, it had to be the Third Mage War. The Enemy’s war.”

“All I know is that they died somewhere in South America.”

Celia gasped.

“So she died on the mountain,” Jasper said.

“The mountain?” asked Drew from the back, sounding nervous. Call remembered him as the one who had been asking about pony school.

“The Cold Massacre,” said Gwenda. He remembered the way she’d stood up when she’d been chosen, smiling like it was her birthday, her many braids with their beads swinging around her face. “Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you heard of the Enemy, Drew?”

Drew’s expression froze. “Which enemy?”

Gwenda sighed with annoyance. “The
Enemy of Death
. He’s the last of the Makaris and the reason for the Third War.”

Drew still looked puzzled. Call wasn’t sure he understood what Gwenda had said either. Makaris? Enemy of Death? Tamara looked back and caught sight of their expressions.

“Most mages can access the four elements,” she explained. “Remember what Master Rockmaple said about us drawing on air, water, earth, and fire to make magic? And all that stuff about chaos magic?”

Call remembered something from the lecture at the front of the bus, something about chaos and devouring. It had sounded bad then and it wasn’t sounding any better now.

“They bring something from nothing and that’s why we call them Makaris. Makers. They’re powerful. And dangerous. Like the Enemy.”

A shiver went down Call’s spine. Magic sounded even creepier than his father had said. “Being the Enemy of Death doesn’t sound that bad,” he said, mostly to be contrary. “It’s not like death is so great. I mean, who would want to be the Friend of Death?”

“It’s not like that.” Tamara folded her hands in her lap, clearly annoyed. “The Enemy was a great mage — maybe even the best — but he went crazy. He wanted to live forever and make the dead walk again. That’s why they called him the Enemy of Death, because he tried to conquer death. He started pulling chaos into the world, putting the power of the void into animals … and even people. When he put a piece of the void into people, it turned them into mindless monsters.”

Outside the bus, the sun was gone, with only a smear of red and gold at the very edge of the horizon to remind them how recently it had become night. As the bus trundled along, farther into the dark, Call could pick out more and more stars in the canopy of the sky out the bus window. He could pick out only vague shapes in the woods they passed — it was just leafy darkness and rock as far as Call could see.

“And that’s probably what he’s still doing,” said Jasper. “Just waiting to break the Treaty.”

“He wasn’t the only Makari of his generation,” said Tamara, as if telling a story she’d learned by rote or reciting a speech she’d heard many times. “There was another one. She was our champion and her name was Verity Torres. She was only a little older than we are now, but she was very brave and led the battles against the Enemy. We were winning.” Tamara’s eyes shone, talking about Verity. “But then, the Enemy did the most treacherous thing anyone could ever do.” Her voice dropped again so that the Masters up in the front of the bus couldn’t possibly hear. “Everyone knew a big battle was coming. Our side, the good magicians, had hidden their families and children in a remote cave so they couldn’t be used as hostages. The Enemy found out where the cave was and instead of going to the battlefield, he went there to kill them all.”

“He expected them to die easily,” Celia added, jumping in, her voice soft. She’d obviously heard the story lots of times, too. “It was just kids and old people and a few parents with babies. They tried to hold him off. They killed the Chaos-ridden in the cave, but they weren’t strong enough to destroy the Enemy. In the end, everyone died and he slipped away. It was brutal enough that the Assembly offered the Enemy a truce and he accepted.”

There was a horrified silence. “None of the good magicians lived?” asked Drew.

“Everybody lives in pony school,” Call muttered. He was suddenly glad that he hadn’t had enough money to buy any food at the rest stop, because he was pretty sure he would have thrown it up now. He knew his mother had died. He even knew she’d died in a battle. But he’d never heard the details before.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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