Read The Iron Trial Online

Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

The Iron Trial (7 page)

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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Tamara turned back to Master Rufus, taking a deep breath as though steeling herself to do something she didn’t particularly want to do. “Do you think you would ever reconsider about Jasper? I know it was his dream to be picked by you, and there’s room for more in our group —” She stopped speaking, probably because Master Rufus was looking at her like a raptor bird about to bite off the head of a mouse.

When he finally spoke, though, his tone was cool, not angry. “The three of you are a team. You’re going to work together and fight together and, yes, even eat together, for the next five years. I have chosen you not just as individuals, but as a combination. No one else will be joining you, because that would alter the combination.” He stood up, pushing his chair back with a solid thwack. “Now, rise! We go to our first lesson.”

Call’s education in the use of magic was about to begin.

for a long and miserable walk through the caverns, but Master Rufus led them down a straight corridor to an underground river instead.

It looked to Call a little like a subway tunnel in New York; he’d gone to the city with his dad on the hunt for antiques and remembered looking down into the darkness, waiting for the glow of lights that signaled a train. His gaze followed the river the same way, although now he wasn’t sure what he was looking for or what it might signal. A sheer rock wall rose behind them, and water flowed swiftly past them into a smaller cave where they could see only shadows. A damp mineral smell was in the air, and along the shore were seven gray boats tied up in a neat row. They were constructed of wooden planks, each overlapping the other along the side and meeting at the front, affixed with copper rivets, all of it making them look like tiny Viking ships. Call looked around for oars or a motor or even a big pole, but he couldn’t see any way to propel the boats.

“Go ahead,” said Master Rufus. “Get in.”

Aaron scrambled into the first of the boats, reaching out his hand to help Call inside. Resentfully, Call took it. Tamara got in behind them, looking a little nervous herself. As soon as she was settled, Master Rufus stepped into the boat.

“This is the most common way we get around the Magisterium, using the underground rivers. Until you can navigate, I will take you through the caves. Eventually, each of you will learn the paths and how to coax the water to take you where you want to go.”

Master Rufus leaned over the side of the boat and whispered to the water. There was a soft ripple across the surface, as if the wind had stirred it, even though there was no wind underground.

Aaron leaned forward to ask another question, but all at once, the boat began to move and he fell back into his seat.

Once, when Call had been a lot younger, his father had taken him to a big park with rides that started like this. He’d cried through all of them, totally terrified, despite the cheerful music and the animated dancing puppets. And those had been rides. This was real. Call kept thinking about bats and sharp rocks and how, sometimes, in caves, there were cliffs and holes that dropped down like a million feet below sea level. How were they going to be able to avoid stuff like that? How were they going to know if they were going the right way in the dark?

The boat cut through the water, into darkness. It was the darkest darkness Call had ever experienced. He couldn’t even see his hand in front of his face. His stomach lurched.

Tamara made a tiny sound. Call was glad it wasn’t just him who was freaked out.

Then, all around them, the cave came to glowing life. They passed into a room where the walls shimmered with pale, bioluminescent green moss. The water itself turned to light where the prow of the boat touched it; when Aaron dragged his hand through the river, it lit around his fingers, too. He flicked water into the air and it transformed into a cascade of sparks. “Cool,” Aaron breathed.

kind of cool. Call started to relax as the boat slipped silently through the glowing water. They passed walls of rock striped in dozens of colors, and rooms where long pale vines hung from the ceiling, trailing tendrils in the river. Then they would slide again into a dark tunnel and emerge into a new stone chamber where quartz stalactites sparkled like knife blades, or where the stone seemed to grow naturally into the shapes of curved benches, even tables — they passed two silent Masters in one chamber, playing checkers with pieces that flew through the air. “Got you!” said one of them, and the wooden discs started to rearrange themselves, resetting the board to the beginning.

As though it were being steered by some invisible hand, the boat docked itself near a small platform with stone steps, rocking gently in place.

Aaron was out of the boat first, followed by Tamara, and then Call. Aaron reached out a hand to help him, but Call deliberately ignored it. He used his arms to flip himself over the side of the boat, landing awkwardly. For a moment, he thought he was going to fall backward into the river, making a huge bioluminescent splash. A large hand clamped down on his shoulder, steadying him. He looked up in surprise to see Master Rufus watching him with a strange expression.

“I don’t need your help,” Call said, startled.

Rufus said nothing. Call couldn’t read his expression at all. He took his hand off Call’s shoulder.

“Come,” he said, and stalked up a smooth path that cut through the pebbly shore. The apprentices scrambled to follow.

The path led up to a blank granite wall. When Rufus put his hand to the stone, it turned transparent. Call wasn’t even surprised. He’d come to expect weirdness. Rufus walked through the wall as if it were made of air. Tamara ducked after him. Call looked at Aaron, who shrugged. Taking a deep breath, Call followed.

He emerged into a chamber whose walls were bare rock. The floor was completely smooth stone. In the center of the room was a pile of sand.

“First, I wish to go over the Five Principles of Magic. You may remember some of these from your first lecture on the bus, but I don’t expect any of you — even you, Tamara, no matter how many times your parents have drilled you — to truly comprehend them until you have learned many more things. You may write these down, however, and I do expect you to think on them.”

Call scrambled with his pack and tugged out what appeared to be a hand-stitched notebook and one of those annoying pens from the Trial. He shook it lightly, hoping it wasn’t going to explode this time.

Master Rufus began to speak and Call scrambled to transcribe fast enough. He wrote:

Power comes from imbalance; control comes from balance.

All elements act according to their nature: Fire wants to burn, water wants to flow, air wants to rise, earth wants to bind, chaos wants to devour.

In all magic, there is an exchange of power.

You can change a thing’s shape, but not its essential nature.

All elements have a counterweight. Fire is the counterweight of water. Air is the counterweight of earth. The counterweight of chaos is the soul.

“During the tests,” said Master Rufus, “all of you displayed power. But without focus, power is nothing. Fire can either burn down your house or warm it; the difference is in your ability to control the fire. Without focus, working with the elements is very dangerous. I don’t need to tell some of you just how dangerous.”

Call looked up, expecting to be the one who Master Rufus was staring at, since Master Rufus seemed to always be looking at Call when he said something ominous. This time, however, he was looking at Tamara. Her cheeks flushed and her chin went up defiantly.

“Four days a week, you three will train with me. On the fifth day, there will be a lecture by one of the other mages, and then, once a month, there will be an exercise in which you will put what you have learned to use. On that day, you may find yourselves either competing against or working with other apprentice groups. Weekends and nights are yours for practice and further study. There is the Library as well as practice rooms, and the Gallery, where you can waste time. Do you have any questions for me before we begin your first lesson?”

No one spoke. Call wanted to say something about how he’d love some directions to that Gallery place, but he held himself back. He remembered telling his father back at the hangar that he was going to get himself thrown out of the Magisterium, but he’d woken up that morning with the sinking feeling that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Trying to flunk the tests in front of Rufus hadn’t worked, after all, so acting out might not either. Master Rufus clearly wasn’t going to let him communicate with Alastair until Call settled in as an apprentice. As much as it galled him to do it, he probably had to be on his best behavior until Rufus relaxed and let him contact his father. Then, when he
finally talk to Alastair, they’d plan his escape.

He just wished he felt a little more enthusiastic about running away.

“Very well. Can you guess why I’ve set up the room this way, then?”

“I’m guessing you need help fortifying your sand castle?” muttered Call under his breath. Even his best behavior apparently wasn’t all that good. Aaron, standing beside him, stifled a laugh.

Master Rufus raised a single brow but didn’t otherwise acknowledge what Call had said. “I want you three to sit in a circle around the sand. You can sit any way that you’re the most comfortable. Once you’re ready, you must concentrate on moving the sand with your mind. Feel the power in the air around you. Feel the power in the earth. Feel it rise up through the soles of your feet and in the breaths you take. Now
it. Grain by grain, you are going to separate the sand into two piles — one dark and one light. You may begin!”

He said it like they were in a race and he’d given them the green light, but Call, Tamara, and Aaron just stared at him in horror. Tamara was the first to find her voice.

“Separate out the sand?” she said. “But shouldn’t we be learning something more useful? Like fighting rogue elementals or piloting the boat or —”

“Two piles,” said Rufus. “One light, one dark. Start now.”

He turned around and walked away. The wall became transparent again as he approached it, then turned back to stone as he passed through.

“Don’t we even get a tool kit?” Tamara called sadly after him.

The three of them were alone in a room with no windows and no doors. Call was glad he didn’t have claustrophobia or he’d be chewing off his own arm.

“Well,” said Aaron, “I guess we should start.”

Even he didn’t manage to say it with any enthusiasm.

The floor was cold when Call sat and he wondered how long it would be before the dampness made his leg ache. He tried to ignore this thought as Tamara and Aaron sat down, making a triangle around the sand pile. They all stared at it. Finally, Tamara stuck out her hand, and some sand rose into the air. “Light,” she said, sending a grain spinning toward the floor. “Dark.” She sent that one on the floor, too, a little distance away. “Light. Dark. Dark. Light.”

“I can’t believe I was worried magic school was going to be dangerous,” Call said, squinting at the sand pile.

“You could die of boredom,” said Aaron. Call snickered.

Tamara looked up at them miserably. “The thought of that is the only thing that’s going to keep me going.”

As difficult as Call had imagined it to be to move tiny grains of sand with his mind, it was even harder than that. He remembered the times he’d moved things before, how he’d accidentally broken the bowl during his exam with Master Rufus and how it had felt like a buzzing in his mind. He concentrated on that buzzing while he stared at the sand, and it started to move. It felt a little like he was operating a device with a remote control — it wasn’t his fingers picking up the sand, but he was still making it happen. His hands felt clammy and his neck strained — making a single grain hover in the air for long enough to see whether it was light or dark was tricky. Even worse was setting it down without messing up the pile already there. More than once, his concentration slipped and he dropped a grain into the wrong pile. Then he had to find it and pull it back out, which took time and even

There were no clocks in the sand room, and neither Call nor Aaron nor Tamara were wearing watches, so Call had no idea how much time was passing. Finally, another student showed up — he was tall and lanky, dressed in blue, with a bronze wristband that indicated he’d been at the Magisterium three years. Call thought he might have been sitting with Tamara’s sister and Master Rockmaple in the Refectory that morning.

Call squinted at him to see if he looked particularly sinister, but he just grinned from under a tangle of messy brown hair and dropped a burlap bag of lichen and cheese sandwiches, along with an earthenware pitcher of water, at their feet. “Eat up, kids,” he said, and headed out the way he’d come.

Call realized he was starving. He’d been concentrating for hours and his brain felt fuzzy. He was exhausted, much too tired to make conversation as he ate. Worse, as he studied the remaining sand, they’d made it only a small part of the way through the pile. The heap that remained seemed enormous.

This was not flying. This wasn’t what he’d pictured when he’d imagined doing magic. This stank.

“Come on,” Aaron said. “Or we’re going to have to eat dinner down here.”

Call tried to concentrate, focusing his attention on a single grain, but then his mind slipped sideways into anger. The sand exploded, all the piles flying sideways, grains splashing the walls and settling into a giant, unsorted mess. All of their hard work was undone.

Tamara sucked in her breath in horror. “What — what did you

Even Aaron looked at Call like he was going to strangle him. It was the first time Call had ever seen Aaron look angry.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
11.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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