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Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

The Iron Trial (6 page)

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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Rufus reached into his pocket, bringing out a package of bologna and then a loaf of bread, two things that couldn’t possibly have fit in there. “So they are. But not for long.” He opened the bologna and made three sandwiches, placing each one on a plate and then carefully cutting them in halves. “Now picture your favorite meal.”

Call looked from Master Rufus to Tamara and Aaron. Was this some kind of magic that they were supposed to be doing? Was Master Rufus suggesting that if you pictured something delicious while you ate a bologna sandwich, the bologna would taste better? Could he
read Call’s mind
? What if the mages had been monitoring his thoughts the whole time and —

“Call,” Master Rufus intoned, making him jump. “Is anything the matter?”

“Can you hear my thoughts?” Call blurted out.

Master Rufus blinked at him once, slowly, like one of the creepy lizards on the Magisterium ceiling. “Tamara. Can I read Call’s thoughts?”

“Mages can only read your thoughts if you’re projecting them,” she said.

Master Rufus nodded. “And by projecting, what do you think she means, Aaron?”

“Thinking really hard?” he answered after a moment.

“Yes,” said Master Rufus. “So please think very hard.”

Call thought about his favorite foods, going over and over them in his mind. He kept getting distracted by other stuff, though, stuff that would be really funny if he pictured. Like a pie that was baked inside a cake. Or thirty-seven Twinkies stacked in the shape of a pyramid.

Then Master Rufus brought up his hands, and Call forgot to think of anything. The first sandwich began to spread, tendrils of bologna unfurling, coils growing across the plate. Delicious smells rose from it.

Aaron leaned in, clearly hungry despite the chips he’d eaten on the bus. The bologna coalesced into a plate, a bowl, and a carafe — the bowl was full of macaroni and cheese covered in bread crumbs, steaming as though it had just come out of an oven; the plate held a brownie heaped with ice cream; and the carafe was full of an amber liquid that Call guessed was apple juice.

“Wow,” Aaron said, astonished. “It’s exactly what I pictured. But is it real?”

Master Rufus nodded. “As real as the sandwich. You might recall the Fourth Principle of Magic —
You can change a thing’s shape but not its essential nature
. And since I didn’t alter the food’s nature, it was truly transformed. Now you, Tamara.”

Call wondered whether that meant Aaron’s mac and cheese would taste like bologna. But at least it appeared Call wasn’t the only one who didn’t remember the principles of magic.

Tamara stepped forward to take her tray as her food formed. It held a big plate of sushi with a lump of green stuff on one end and a bowl of soy sauce on the other. With it was another plate with three round pink mochi balls. She’d received hot green tea to drink and actually looked happy about it.

Then it was Call’s turn. He reached for his tray skeptically, not sure what he would find. But it really did hold his favorite dinner — chicken fingers with ranch dressing for dipping, a side bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce, and a peanut butter sandwich with cornflakes for dessert. In his mug was hot chocolate with whipped cream and colored marshmallows dotted over the top.

Master Rufus looked pleased. “And now, I leave you to settle in. Someone will be along soon with your things —”

“Can I call my father?” Call asked. “I mean, is there a phone I could use? I don’t have one of my own.”

There was a silence. Then Master Rufus said, more gently than Call expected, “Cellular phones don’t work in the Magisterium, Callum. We’re too far below ground for that. Nor do we have landline phones. We use the elements to communicate. I would suggest we give Alastair some time to calm down, and then you and I will contact him together.”

Call bit back any protest. It hadn’t been a mean no, but it was a definite no. “Now,” Master Rufus went on, “I expect the three of you up and dressed at nine tomorrow — and furthermore, I will expect you to be sharp-witted and ready to learn. We have much work to do together, and I would be very sorry if you didn’t live up to the promise you showed at the Trial.”

Call guessed that he meant Tamara and Aaron, since if he lived up to his promise, it would mean setting the underground river on fire.

After Master Rufus left, they sat down on stalagmite stools at the smooth stone table to eat together.

“What if you get ranch dressing on your spaghetti?” asked Tamara, glancing at Call’s plate with her chopsticks poised in the air.

“Then it will be even more delicious,” said Call.

“Gross,” said Tamara, dabbing her wasabi into her soy sauce, without splashing a drop outside the dish.

“Where do you think they got fresh fish for your sushi, since we’re in a cave?” Call asked, popping a chicken finger in his mouth. “Bet they took a net down to one of those underground pools and nabbed whatever came up. Glurp lurp.”

“Guys,” said Aaron in a long-suffering way. “You’re putting me off my macaroni.”

“Glurp lurp!” said Call again, closing his eyes and waving his head back and forth like an underground fish. Tamara picked up her food and stalked over to the couches, where she sat down with her back to Call and began eating.

They finished the rest of their food in silence. Despite hardly having eaten all day, Call couldn’t finish his dinner. He pictured his father at home, eating at the cluttered kitchen table. He missed all of it, more than he’d ever missed anything.

Call shoved back his tray and stood up. “I’m going to go to bed. Which one is mine?”

Aaron leaned back in his chair and looked over. “Our names are on the doors.”

“Oh,” Call said, feeling foolish and a bit creeped out. His name was there, picked out in veins of quartz.
Callum Hunt.

He went inside. It was a luxurious room, much bigger than his room at home. A thick rug covered the stone floor. It was woven with the repeating patterns of the five elements. The furniture seemed to be made of petrified wood. It shone with a sort of soft golden glow. The bed was huge and covered with thick blue blankets and big pillows. There was a wardrobe and a chest of drawers, but since Call had no clothes to put away and no stuff coming, he flopped down on the bed and put the pillow over his face. It only helped a little bit. Out in the common room, he could hear Tamara and Aaron giggling. They hadn’t been talking like that before. They must have been waiting for him to leave.

Something was poking into his side. He had forgotten about the dagger his father had given him. Pulling it out of his belt, he looked at it in the torchlight.
Semiramis.
He wondered what the word meant. He wondered if he would spend the next five years alone in this room with his weird knife while people laughed at him. With a sigh, he dropped the knife onto the bedside table, kicked his feet under the blankets, and tried to go to sleep.

But it was hours before he did.

C
ALL WOKE UP
to a sound like someone screaming in his ear. He threw himself sideways and fell off the bed, landing in a crouch and banging his knee against the cavern floor. The horrible sounds went on and on, echoing through the walls.

The door of his room flew open as the screams began to die away. Aaron appeared, and then Tamara. They were both wearing first-year uniforms: gray cotton tunics over loose-fitting pants made of the same material. Both of them had their iron cuffs clamped around their wrists: Tamara’s on her right wrist, Aaron’s on his left. Tamara had done her long hair in two dark braids on either side of her head.

“Ow,” Call said, sitting back on his heels.

“It was just the bell,” Aaron told him. “It means it’s time for breakfast.”

Call had never been woken up for school by an alarm before. His father had always come in and woken him by shaking his shoulder gently until Call rolled over, sleepy-eyed and grumbling. Call swallowed hard, missing home fiercely.

Tamara pointed behind Call, her perfectly tweezed eyebrows raised. “Did you sleep with your
knife
?”

A glance back at the bed showed that the knife his father had given him had been knocked off his bedside table — probably struck by one of his flailing arms — and onto his pillow. He felt his cheeks get hot.

“Some people have stuffed animals,” Aaron said with a shrug. “Other people have knives.”

Tamara crossed the room to sit on his bed, picking up the blade as Call pulled himself to his feet. He didn’t hang on to the post of the bed to keep his balance, even though he wanted to. With his clothes crumpled from sleeping and his hair sticking up everywhere, he was conscious of them watching him and of how slowly he had to move to avoid twisting his already hurting leg.

“What does it say?” Tamara asked, holding the knife up and turning it at an angle. “Down the side. Semi … ram … mis?”

Upright, Call said, “I bet you’re pronouncing it wrong.”

“And I bet you don’t even know what the name means,” Tamara smirked.

It hadn’t even occurred to Call that the word on the blade was the knife’s
name
. He didn’t really think of knives as things that had names. Though he supposed King Arthur had Excalibur and in
The Hobbit
, Bilbo had Sting.

“You should call her Miri for short,” Tamara said, handing it back to him. “She’s a nice knife. Really well made.”

Call searched her expression to see if she was mocking him, but she seemed serious. Apparently, she respected a good weapon. “Miri,” he repeated, turning the knife over in his hand so that light sparked off the blade.

“Come on, Tamara,” said Aaron, tugging on her sleeve. “Let Call get dressed.”

“I don’t have a uniform,” Call admitted.

“Sure you do. It’s right there.” Tamara pointed to the foot of the bed as Aaron pulled her out of the room. “We all got them. They must have been brought by air elementals.”

Tamara was right. Someone had left a neatly folded uniform, exactly Call’s size, on top of his blanket, along with a leather school bag. When had that happened? When he was asleep? Or had he really not noticed it the night before? He put it on warily, shaking it out first in case there were any sharp bits or buttons that might stick him. The material was smooth and soft and completely comfortable. The boots he found resting beside the bed were heavy and held Call’s weak ankle in a vise grip, steadying it. The only problem was that there was no pocket to put Miri in. Eventually, he wrapped the knife in his old sock and stuck it in the top of his boot. Then he pulled the strap of the leather bag over his head and went out into the common room, where Tamara and Aaron were sitting while a glowering Master Rufus stood over them with his arms folded.

“The three of you are late,” he said. “The morning alarm is a call to breakfast in the Refectory. It’s not your personal alarm clock. This had better not happen again or you will miss breakfast entirely.”

“But we —” Tamara began, starting to look toward Call.

Master Rufus swung his gaze to her, pinning her in place. “Are you going to tell me that you were ready and someone else made you late, Tamara? Because then I would tell you that it is the responsibility of my apprentices to look after one another, and the failure of one is the failure of all. Now what was it you were about to say?”

Tamara lowered her head, braids swinging. “Nothing, Master Rufus,” she said.

He nodded once, opened the door, and swept out into the hall, leaving them to follow him. Call limped toward the door, hoping fervently that this wouldn’t be a long walk and hoping even more fervently that he could avoid getting in more trouble before he got something to eat.

Suddenly, Aaron appeared next to him. Call almost yelped in surprise. Aaron had an amazing habit of doing that, he thought, clicking into place beside him like a determined blond magnet. He bumped Call’s shoulder and looked meaningfully down at his hand. Call followed his gaze and saw that there was something dangling from Aaron’s fingers. It was Call’s wristband. “Put it on,” Aaron whispered. “Before Rufus sees. You’re supposed to wear them all the time.”

Call groaned, but he took the band and clicked it on to his wrist, where it glinted, gunmetal gray, like a handcuff.

That makes sense,
Call thought.
After all, I’m a prisoner here.

As Call had hoped, the Refectory wasn’t far away. It didn’t sound that different from his school cafeteria from a distance: the din of kids talking, the clatter of cutlery.

The Refectory was in another large cavern with more of the giant pillars that looked like melted ice cream turned to stone. Chips of mica sparkled in the rock, and the roof of the cave disappeared into shadow above their heads. It was too early in the morning for Call to be overly awed by the grandeur, though. He really just wanted to go back to sleep and pretend yesterday had never happened and that he was home with his father, waiting for the bus to take him to his regular school, where they let him wear regular clothes and sleep in a regular bed and eat regular food.

It certainly wasn’t regular food that waited for him at the front of the Refectory. Steaming stone cauldrons along one side held an assortment of bizarre-looking food: stewed purple tubers, greens so dark they were almost black, fuzzy lichen, and a red speckled mushroom cap as large as a pizza and sliced up like a pie. Brown tea floating with pieces of bark steamed in a nearby bowl. Kids in uniforms of blue, green, white, red, and gray, each color denoting a different Magisterium year, were ladling it into carved wooden cups. Their wristbands flashed in gold and silver and copper and bronze, many with various colored stones attached. Call wasn’t sure what the stones signified, but they looked pretty cool.

Tamara was already putting a scoop of the green stuff onto her plate. Aaron, however, was staring at the selection with the same expression of horror that Call felt.

“Please tell me that Master Rufus is going to turn this into something else,” Aaron said.

Tamara bit back a laugh and looked almost guilty. Call got the feeling she didn’t come from a family where people laughed very much. “You’ll see,” she said.

“Will we?” Drew squeaked. He seemed a little lost without his pony T-shirt, now dressed plainly in the high-necked gray tunic and pants that was the uniform of the Iron Year students. He reached dubiously for a bowl of lichen, knocked it over, and then edged away, pretending it hadn’t been him.

One of the mages behind the tables — Call had seen her, and her elaborate snake necklace, at the Trial — sighed and went to clear it up. Call blinked as her snake necklace seemed to move for a second. Then he decided he was seeing things. He probably was suffering from caffeine withdrawal.

“Where’s the coffee?” he asked Aaron.

“You can’t drink coffee,” Aaron said, squinting as he took a slice of mushroom. “It’s bad for you. Stunts your growth.”

“But I drank it all the time back home,” Call protested. “I always drink coffee. I drink
espresso
.”

Aaron shrugged, which seemed to be his default move when presented with some new Callum-related craziness. “There’s that weird tea.”

“But I love coffee,” Call told the green sludge in front of him, plaintively.

“I miss bacon,” said Celia, who was behind Call in line. She had a new bright clip in her hair, this one a ladybug. Despite how cheery it looked, she appeared woebegone.

“Caffeine withdrawal makes you crazy,” he told her. “I could snap and kill someone.”

She giggled like he’d made a really funny joke. Maybe she thought he had. She was pretty, he realized, with her blond hair and the spray of freckles across her slightly sunburned nose. He remembered that, along with Jasper and Gwenda, she was one of Master Milagros’s apprentices. A wave of sympathy swept over him that she had to live in the same room as a weenus like Jasper.

“He
could
kill someone,” Tamara said casually, looking back over her shoulder. “He has a huge knife in his —”

“Tamara!” Aaron interrupted her.

She gave him an innocent smile before heading back to Master Rufus’s table with her plate. For the first time, Call wondered if he had something in common with Tamara after all — an instinct for troublemaking.

The whole room was filled with stone tables at which groups of apprentices sat on stools, some Second and Third Years with their Masters, and some without. The Iron Year students were all clustered with their Masters — Jasper, Celia, Gwenda, and a boy named Nigel with Master Milagros, the pink in her hair very bright today; Drew, Rafe, and a girl named Laurel with grouchy-looking Master Lemuel. Only a very few students in the white and red uniforms of Fourth and Fifth Years were present, and they all sat together in a corner, having what appeared to be a very serious discussion.

“Where are the rest of the older kids?” Call asked.

“On missions,” said Celia. “Older apprentices learn in the field, and some grown-up mages come here to use the facilities for research and experiments.”

“See,” Call said in a hushed tone. “
Experiments!

Celia didn’t seem particularly worried. She just grinned at Call and moved off toward her Master’s table.

Call thumped into a chair between Aaron and Master Rufus, who was already seated before an austere breakfast containing a single clump of lichen. Call’s plate was covered in mushrooms and green stuff — he didn’t remember doing that.
I must be cracking up
, he thought. Then he took a forkful of mushroom and shoved it into his mouth.

The taste exploded over his tongue. It was actually good.
Really
good. Crispy at the edges and a little bit sweet, like the way maple syrup tastes on sausages when everything runs together.

“Huh,” Call said, taking another bite. The greens were creamy and rich, like porridge with brown sugar. Aaron was shoveling spoonfuls of it into his mouth, looking astonished.

He expected to see Tamara snickering at him for being so surprised, but she wasn’t even looking. She waved across the room at a tall, slim girl with the same long dark hair and perfect eyebrows as she had. A copper wristband glittered on the girl’s wrist as she lifted her hand in a lazy wave. “My sister,” Tamara said proudly. “Kimiya.”

Call looked over at the girl, sitting at a table with a few other students in green and Master Rockmaple, and then back at Tamara. He wondered what it would be like to be happy here, to be glad you were chosen, instead of its being a terrible accident. Tamara and her sister seemed so totally confident that this was a good place — that this wasn’t the evil lair his father had described.

But why would his dad lie?

Master Rufus was slicing his lichen in a very strange way, segmenting it like individual pieces of bread in a loaf. Then he cut each of those pieces in half, and half again. This freaked Call out so badly that he turned to Aaron and asked, “So do you have any family here?”

“No,” Aaron said, glancing away from Call as though he didn’t like talking about it. “No family anywhere. I heard about the Magisterium from a girl I used to know. She saw this trick I did sometimes when I was bored — make dust motes dance around and form into shapes. She said she had a brother who went here and even though he wasn’t supposed to tell her about it, he had. After he graduated and she left to go live with him, I started practicing for the Trial.”

Call squinted at Aaron across his pile of mushrooms. There was something about the too-casual way he told the story that made Call wonder if maybe there was more to it. He didn’t want to ask, though. He hated it when people pried into his life. Maybe Aaron did, too.

Aaron and Call lapsed into silence, pushing their food around their plates. Tamara went back to eating. From the other side of the hall, Jasper deWinter was waving his arms, clearly trying to get her attention. Call nudged her with his elbow and she scowled at him.

Rufus took a small, precise bite of lichen. “I see the three of you have grown very close already.”

No one said anything. Jasper’s gestures at Tamara were growing somewhat wilder. He was clearly urging her to do something, though Call couldn’t tell what. Jump in the air? Throw her porridge?

BOOK: The Iron Trial
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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