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Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

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BOOK: The Iron Trial
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“What?” Tamara turned on him, icy fury on her face. “What did you say?”

“Nothing.” Call sat back with his arms crossed. He knew from her expression he’d gone too far.

“You’re unbelievable. Your mother died during the Cold Massacre, and you joke around about her sacrifice. You act like it was the mages’ fault instead of the Enemy’s.”

Call looked away, his face hot. He felt ashamed of what he’d said, but he felt angry, too, because he should know about these things, shouldn’t he? His father should have told him. But he hadn’t.

“If your mother died on the mountain, where were you?” Celia interrupted, clearly trying to make peace. The flower in her hair was still crumpled from her fall at the Trial, and one corner of it was slightly singed.

“In the hospital,” Call said. “My leg was messed up when I was born and I was having an operation. I guess she should have just stayed in the hospital waiting room, even if the coffee was bad.” It was always like this when he was upset. It was like he couldn’t control the words coming out of his mouth.

“You are a disgrace,” Tamara spat, no longer the chilly, restrained girl she’d been throughout the Trial. Her eyes danced with anger. “Half the legacy kids at the Magisterium have family who died on the mountain. If you keep talking that way, somebody’s going to drown you in an underground pool and no one will be sorry, including me.”

“Tamara,” Aaron said. “We’re all in the same apprentice group. Give him a break. His mother died. He’s allowed to feel any way he wants about it.”

“My great-aunt died there, too,” Celia said. “My parents talk about her all the time, but I never knew her. I’m not mad at you, Call. I just wish it didn’t happen to either of us. To any of them.”

“Well, I’m mad,” said a guy in the back. Call thought his name might be Rafe. He was tall, with a thicket of curly dark hair, and he wore a T-shirt with a grinning skull on it that glowed a faint green in the dim light.

Call felt even worse. He almost said something apologetic to Celia and Rafe, until Tamara turned to Aaron and said fiercely: “But it’s like he doesn’t care. They were heroes.”

“No, they weren’t,” Call burst out, before Aaron could speak. “They were victims. They got killed because of
magic
, and it can’t be fixed. Not even by your Enemy of Death, right?”

There was a shocked silence. Even people who had been involved in other conversations in other parts of the bus turned around and gaped at Call.

His father had blamed the other mages for his mother’s death. And he trusted his dad. He did. But with all of their eyes on him, Call wasn’t sure what to think.

The silence was broken only by the sound of Master Rockmaple snoring. The bus had turned onto a bumpy dirt path.

Very quietly, Celia said, “I hear there are Chaos-ridden animals near the school. From the Enemy’s experiments.”

“Like horses?” Drew asked.

“I hope not,” Tamara said with a shudder. Drew looked disappointed. “You wouldn’t want a Chaos-ridden horse if you had one. Chaos-ridden creatures are the Enemy’s servants. They’ve got a piece of the void in them and it makes them smarter than other animals, but bloodthirsty and insane. Only the Enemy or one of his servants can control them.”

“So they’d be like evil-possessed zombie horses?” Drew asked.

“Not exactly. You’d know them by their eyes. Their eyes coruscate — pale, with spiraling colors inside of them — but otherwise they just look regular. That’s the scary part,” put in Gwenda. “I hope we don’t have to go outside much.”

“I do,” said Tamara. “I hope we learn how to recognize and kill them. I want to do
that
.”

“Oh, yeah,” Call said under his breath. “
I’m
the crazy one. Nothing to worry about at the ole Magisterium. Evil pony school, here we come.”

But Tamara wasn’t paying attention to him. She was leaning out from her seat, listening to Celia say, “I hear there’s a new type of Chaos-ridden where you can’t tell from the eyes. The creature doesn’t even know what it is until the Enemy makes it do what he wants. So, like, your cat could be spying on you or —”

The bus stopped with a jerk. For a second, Call thought maybe they’d gone to another gas station, but then Master Rufus rose to his feet. “We’ve arrived,” he said. “Please file off the bus in an orderly fashion.” And for a few minutes, everything was really ordinary, as if Call were just on a field trip. Kids grabbed their luggage and bags and jostled toward the front of the bus. Call got off just after Aaron and, since he didn’t have to collect any baggage, was the first one to really take a second to look around.

C
ALL WAS STANDING
in front of a sheer mountain face. To the left and right was forest, but in front of him was a set of massive double doors. They were a weathered gray color with iron hinges that turned into curved swirls, bending inward on one another. Call imagined that from a distance or without the glow of the bus headlights, they would have been nearly invisible. Carved into the rock over the doors was an unfamiliar symbol:

Beneath it were the words:
Fire wants to burn, water wants to flow, air wants to rise, earth wants to bind, chaos wants to devour.

Devour
. The word sent a shiver through him.
Last chance to run
, he thought. But he wasn’t very fast and there was nowhere to run to anyway.

The other kids had gotten their gear and were now standing around like he was. Master Rufus walked to the doors, and all of them grew quiet. Master North stepped forward.

“You are about to enter the halls of the Magisterium,” he said. “For some of you, this may be the fulfillment of a dream. For others, we hope it may be the beginning of one. To all of you, I say, the Magisterium exists here for your own safety. You have a great power, and without training, that power is dangerous. Here, we will help you to learn control and teach you about the great history of mages like yourself, dating back through time. Each of you has a unique destiny, one outside the normal path you might have walked, one you will find here. You may have guessed this when you saw the first stirrings of your power. But as you stand at the entrance to the mountain, I imagine at least a few of you are wondering just what you’ve gotten yourselves into.”

Some of the kids laughed self-consciously.

“Long ago, in the very beginning, the first mages wondered much the same thing. Intrigued by the teachings of the alchemists, particularly Paracelsus, they sought to explore elemental magic. They had limited success, until one alchemist realized that his young son was able to easily do the same exercises with which he struggled. The mages discovered that magic could be performed by those with an inborn power and was performed best by the young. After that, the mages found new students to teach and to learn from, seeking all over Europe for children with power. Very few have it, perhaps one in twenty-five thousand, but the mages gathered up those they could and began the first school of magic. Along the way, they heard stories of untrained boys and girls who had set fire to houses and burned in the flames, who had drowned in rainstorms or had been drawn up into tornados or pulled down into sinkholes. With teaching, the mages learned to walk through lava unscathed, to explore the deepest parts of the sea without an oxygen tank, even to fly.”

Something inside Call leaped at what Master North was saying. He remembered being very small and asking his father to swing him through the air, but his dad wouldn’t and told him to stop pretending. Could he really learn how to fly?

If you could fly
, whispered a small, treacherous part of his brain,
it wouldn’t matter so much that you can’t run.

“Here, you will encounter elementals, creatures of great beauty and danger that have existed in our world since the dawn of time. You will shape earth, air, water, and fire, bending them to your will. You will study our past as you become our future. You will discover what your ordinary self would never have had the privilege to see. You will learn great things and you will do greater things.

“Welcome to the Magisterium.”

There was applause. Call looked around: Everyone’s eyes were shining. And as much as he fought against it, he was sure he looked the same.

Master Rufus stepped forward. “Tomorrow, you will see more of the school, but for tonight, follow your Masters and get yourselves settled in your rooms. Please stay close as they lead you through the Magisterium. The tunnel system is complex, and until you know it well, it’s easy to become lost.”

Lost in the tunnels
, Call thought. It was the exact thing he’d been scared of since he’d first heard of this place. He shivered as he remembered his nightmare about being trapped underground. Some of his doubts were creeping back, his father’s warnings echoing in his head.

But they’re going to teach me how to fly,
he thought, as though arguing with someone who wasn’t there.

Master Rufus held up one large hand, fingers splayed, and said something under his breath. The metal of his wristband began to glow, as though it had turned white-hot. A moment later, with a loud creaking that sounded almost like a scream, the doors began to open.

Light poured out from between them, and the kids moved forward, gasping and exclaiming. Call overhead a lot of “Cool!” and “Awesome!”

A minute later, he had to grudgingly admit it
was
kind of awesome.

There was a vast entrance hall, bigger than any inside space Call could have ever imagined. It could have held three basketball courts and still have room left over. The floor was the same glittering mica he’d seen in the illusion back at the airplane hangar, but the walls were covered with flowstone, which made it look like thousands of melting candles had slicked the walls in dripped wax. Stalagmites rose up all along the edges of the room, and huge stalactites hung down, nearly touching one another in places. There was a river, a bright glowing blue like luminous sapphire, cutting through the room, flowing in through an archway in one wall and out through another, a carved rock bridge crossing it. Patterns were cut into the sides of the bridge, patterns Call didn’t recognize yet, but they reminded him of the markings on the dagger his dad had thrown to him.

Call hung back as all the apprentices from the Trial flooded in around him, forming a knot in the middle of the room. His leg felt stiff from the long bus ride and he knew he would be moving slower than ever. He hoped it wasn’t a long walk to where they were supposed to sleep.

The huge doors closed behind them with a crash that made Call jump. He spun around just in time to see a row of sharply pointed stalactites, one after another, drop from the roof and thud into the ground, effectively blocking off the doors.

Drew, behind Call, swallowed audibly. “But — how are we supposed to get back out?”

“We’re not,” Call said, happy to have an answer for this, at least. “We’re not ever supposed to get out.”

Drew edged away. Call supposed he couldn’t blame him, though he was getting a little tired of being treated like a freakazoid just for pointing out the obvious.

A hand took hold of his sleeve. “Come on.” It was Aaron.

Call turned and saw that Master Rufus and Tamara were already starting to move. Tamara had a swagger in her step that hadn’t been there before, under the watchful eyes of her parents. Muttering under his breath, Call followed the three of them through one of the archways and into the tunnels of the Magisterium.

Master Rufus held up one hand, and a flame appeared in his palm, flickering like a torch. It reminded Call of the fire resting on the water in the final test. He wondered what he should have done to really fail — to fail in a way that wouldn’t have meant his coming here.

They walked one by one through a narrow corridor that smelled faintly of sulfur. It spilled into another room, this one with a series of pools, one of which bubbled away muddily and another full of pale, eyeless fish that dispersed at the sound of the humans’ footfalls.

Call wanted to make a joke about how Chaos-ridden eyeless fish might be undetectable if they were servants of the Enemy of Death, because, well, no eyes, but he managed to creep himself out instead, imagining them spying on all the students.

Next they came upon a cavern with five doors set into its far wall. The first was made of iron; the second, copper; the third, bronze; the fourth, silver; and the last of gleaming gold. All of the doors reflected the fire in Master Rufus’s hand, making flames dance eerily in the mirror of their polished surfaces.

High above him, Call thought he saw the flash of something shining, something with a tail, something that moved quickly into the shadows and was gone.

Master Rufus didn’t lead them into the cavern and through any of the doors but kept them walking until they came to a big, round, high-ceilinged room with five arched passageways leading in as many different directions.

On the ceiling, Call spotted a group of lizards with gems on their backs, some seeming to burn with blue flames.

“Elementals,” Tamara gasped.

“This way,” Master Rufus said, the first words he’d spoken, his sonorous voice echoing in the empty space. Call wondered where all the other magicians were. Maybe it was later than he thought and they were asleep, but the emptiness of the rooms they’d passed through made it seem that they were all alone here, underground.

Finally, Master Rufus stopped in front of a large square door with a metal panel on the front where a door knocker would usually be. He raised his arm, and his wristband glowed again, this time a quick flash of light. Something clicked inside the door, and it swung open.

“Can we do that?” Aaron asked in an awed voice.

Master Rufus smiled down at him. “Yes, you certainly will be able to get into your own rooms with your wristbands, although you won’t be able to go everywhere. Come inside your room and see where you’re all going to spend the Iron Year of your apprenticeship.”

“Iron Year?” Call echoed, thinking of the doors.

Master Rufus went inside, sweeping his arm around what looked like a combination living room and study area. The cave walls were high and arced upward to a dome. From the center of the dome hung a huge coppery chandelier. It had a dozen curving arms, each carved with designs of flame, each holding a burning torch. On the stone floor were three desks grouped in a loose circle and two deep, plush sofas facing each other in front of a fireplace big enough to roast a cow in. Not just a cow, a
pony
. Call thought of Drew and hid a sideways smile.

“It’s amazing,” Tamara said, turning around to look at everything. For a moment, she seemed like a regular kid rather than a mage from some ancient mage family.

Veins of bright quartz and mica ran through the stone walls, and as the torchlight hit them, they became a pattern of five symbols like those over the entrance — a triangle, a circle, three wavy lines, an arrow pointing up, and a spiral.

“Fire, earth, water, air, and chaos,” said Aaron.

He must have been paying attention on the bus.

“Very good,” said Master Rufus.

“Why are they arranged like that?” Call asked, pointing.

“It makes the symbols into a quincunx. And now, these are for you.” He lifted three wristbands off a table that seemed carved out of a single piece of rock. They were wide leather bands with a strip of iron riveted into the cuffs and fastened with a buckle of the same metal.

Tamara picked hers up as though it were some kind of holy object. “Wow.”

“Are they magic?” asked Call, eyeing his skeptically.

“These wristbands mark your progression through the Magisterium. Providing that you pass your test at the end of the year, you’ll earn a different metal. Iron, then copper, bronze, silver, and finally gold. Once you complete your Gold Year, you will be considered no longer an apprentice but a journeyman mage, able to enter the Collegium. In answer to your question, Call, yes, these are magic. They’ve been made by a metal shaper and act as keys, allowing you access to classrooms in the tunnels. You will get additional metals and stones to attach to your cuff, signifying your achievements, so that by the time you graduate, it will be a reflection of your time here.”

Master Rufus went over to a small kitchen area. Above an odd-looking stove with circles of stones where burners usually went, he reached into a cabinet and brought down three empty wooden plates. “We generally find it better to let new apprentices settle in their rooms the first night instead of getting overwhelmed in the Refectory, so you’ll eat here this evening.”

“Those plates are
empty
,” Call pointed out.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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