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Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

The Iron Trial (2 page)

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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“Yes, she did,” Call’s father told him. “And it’s because of magic that she died. When mages go to war, which is often, they don’t care about the people who die because of it. Which is the other reason you must not attract their attention.”

That night, Call woke up screaming, believing he was trapped underground, earth piling on him as if he were being buried alive. No matter how much he thrashed around, he couldn’t breathe. After that, he dreamed that he was running away from a monster made of smoke whose eyes swirled with a thousand different evil colors … only he couldn’t run fast enough because of his leg. In the dreams, it dragged behind him like a dead thing until he collapsed, with the monster’s hot breath on his neck.

Other kids in Call’s class were afraid of the dark, the monster under the bed, zombies, or murderers with giant axes. Call was afraid of magicians, and he was even more afraid he was one.

Now he was going to meet them. The same magicians who were the reason his mother was dead and his father hardly ever laughed and didn’t have any friends, sitting instead in the workroom he’d made out of the garage and fixing beat-up furniture and cars and jewelry. Call didn’t think it took a genius to figure out why his dad was obsessed with putting broken things back together.

They whizzed past a sign welcoming them to Virginia. Everything looked the same. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but he’d seldom been out of North Carolina before. Their trips beyond Asheville were infrequent, mostly to go to car-part swap meets and antique fairs, where Call would wander around among mounds of unpolished silverware, collections of baseball cards in plastic sleeves, and weird old taxidermied yak heads, while his dad bargained for something boring.

It occurred to Call that if he didn’t mess up this test, he might never go to one of those swap meets again. His stomach lurched and a cold shiver rattled his bones. He forced himself to think about the plan his father had drilled into him:
Make your mind totally blank. Or focus on something that’s the opposite of what those monsters want. Or focus your mind on someone else’s test instead of your own.

He let out his breath. His father’s nerves were getting to him. It was going to be fine. It was easy to mess up tests.

The car swung off the highway onto a narrow road. The only sign had the symbol of an airplane on it, with the words
beneath it.

“Where are we going?” Call asked. “Are we

“Let’s hope not,” his dad muttered. The street had turned abruptly from asphalt to dirt. As they bumped over the next few hundred yards, Call grabbed on to the door frame to keep himself from flying up and whacking his head on the roof. Rolls-Royces were not made for dirt roads.

Suddenly, the lane widened and the trees parted. The Rolls was now in a huge cleared space. In the middle was an enormous hangar made out of corrugated steel. Parked around it were about a hundred cars, from beat-up pickup trucks to sedans almost as fancy as the Phantom and a lot newer. Call saw parents and their kids, all about his age, hurrying toward the hangar.

“I think we’re late,” Call said.

“Good.” His father sounded grimly pleased. He pulled the car to a stop and got out, gesturing for Call to follow. Call was glad to see that his father seemed to have forgotten about the crutches. It was a hot day, and the sun beat down on the back of Call’s gray T-shirt. He wiped his sweaty palms against his jeans as they walked across the lot and into the big black open space that was the hangar entrance.

Inside, everything was crazy. Kids milled around, their voices carrying in the vast space. Bleachers were set up along one metal wall; even though they could hold many more people than were present, they were dwarfed by the immensity of the room. Bright blue tape marked
’s and circles along the concrete floor.

Across the other side, in front of a set of hangar doors that would once have opened to let airplanes taxi out onto runways, were the mages.

about a half dozen mages, but they seemed to fill the space with their presence. Call wasn’t sure what he’d thought they were going to look like — he knew his father was a mage and he seemed pretty ordinary, if tweedy. He figured most of the other magicians would look much weirder. Maybe pointy hats. Or robes with silver stars on them. He’d hoped that someone would be green-skinned.

To his disappointment, they looked completely normal. There were three women and three men, each wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved belted black tunics over pants of the same material. There were leather-and-metal cuffs around their wrists, but Call couldn’t tell if there was anything special about those or if they were just a fashion statement.

The tallest of the mages, a big, wide-shouldered man with a hawkish nose and shaggy brown hair shot through with threads of silver, stepped forward and addressed the families in the bleachers.

“Welcome, aspirants, and welcome, families of aspirants, to the most significant afternoon of your child’s life.”

, Call thought.
No pressure or anything.

“Do they all know they’re here to try to get into magic school?” he asked quietly.

His father shook his head. “The parents believe whatever they want to believe and hear whatever they want to hear. If they want their child to be a famous athlete, they believe he is getting into an exclusive training program. If they hope she’ll be a brain surgeon, this is pre-pre-premed. If they want him to grow up to be wealthy, then they believe this is the sort of prep school where he’ll hobnob with the rich and powerful.”

The mage went on, explaining how the afternoon was going to go, how long it would take. “Some of you have traveled a great distance to give your child this opportunity, and we want to extend our gratitude —”

Call could hear him, but he heard another voice, too, one that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.

When Master North finishes speaking
all aspirants should rise and come to the front. The Trial is about to begin

“Did you hear that?” Call asked his dad, who nodded. Call looked around at the faces all turned to the mages, some apprehensive, some smiling. “What about the kids?”

The mage — Call guessed he must be Master North, according to the disembodied voice — was finishing up his speech. Call knew he should start down the bleachers, since it was going to take him longer than it would take the others. But he wanted to find out the answer.

“Anyone with even a little power can hear Master Phineus — and most of the aspirants will have had some kind of magical occurrence before. Some have already guessed what they are, some already know for sure, and the rest are about to find out.”

There was a shuffling as kids got to their feet, making the metal stands shake.

“So that’s the first test?” Call asked his father. “Whether we hear Master Phineus?”

His dad barely seemed to register what he was saying. He looked distracted. “I suppose. But the other tests will be much worse. Just remember what I said and it will all be over soon.” He caught Call’s wrist, startling him — he knew his dad cared about him, but he wasn’t touchy-feely most of the time. He gripped Call’s hand hard and released it fast. “Now go.”

As Call made his way down the bleachers, the other kids were being corralled into groups. One of the female magicians waved Call toward a group at the end. All the other aspirants were whispering to one another, seeming nervous but full of anticipation. Call saw Kylie Myles two groups over. He wondered if he should yell over to her that she wasn’t really here for ballet school tryouts, but she was grinning and chatting with some of the other aspirants, so he doubted she would have listened to him anyway.

Ballet school tryouts
, he thought grimly.
That’s how they get you.

“I am Master Milagros,” the female mage who’d directed Call was now saying as she herded her group expertly out of the big room and down a long, blandly painted hallway. “For this first test, you will all be together. Please follow behind me in an orderly fashion.”

Call, almost at the back, hurried a little bit to catch up. He knew that being late was probably an advantage if he wanted them to think that he didn’t care about the tests or didn’t know what he was doing, but he hated the stares he got when he lagged behind. In fact, he hurried ahead so quickly that he accidentally banged into the shoulder of a pretty girl with large, dark eyes. She shot him an annoyed look from underneath the even darker curtain of her hair.

“Sorry,” Call said automatically.

“We’re all nervous,” the girl said, which was funny, because she didn’t look nervous. She looked completely composed. Her eyebrows were perfectly arched. There wasn’t a speck of dust on her caramel-colored sweater or her expensive-looking jeans. She wore a delicate filigree hand pendant around her throat that Call recognized from antique store visits as a Hand of Fatima. The gold earrings in her ears looked like they had once belonged to a princess, if not a queen. Call immediately felt self-conscious, as if he were covered in dirt.

“Hey, Tamara!” a tall Asian boy with floppy razor-cut black hair said, and the girl turned away from Call. The boy said something else that Call couldn’t hear, sneering as he said it, and Call worried it was about how Call was a cripple who couldn’t help lurching into people. Like he was Frankenstein’s monster. Resentment bubbled in his brain — especially since Tamara hadn’t looked at him like she’d noticed his leg at all. She’d been annoyed with him, like he was a regular kid. He reminded himself that as soon as he failed the exams, he’d never have to see any of these people again.

Also, they were going to die underground.

That thought kept him going down an endless series of halls and into a big white room where rows of desks were laid out in lines. It looked like every other room Call had ever taken a standardized test in. The desks were plain and wooden, attached to rickety chairs. Each desk had a blue book labeled with a kid’s name and a pen laid on top. There was a hubbub as everyone went from desk to desk, searching for his or her place card. Call found his in the third row and slid into the seat, behind a kid with pale wavy hair and a soccer team jacket. He looked more like a jock than a candidate for mage school. The boy smiled at Call as though he was genuinely happy to be seated near him.

Call didn’t bother smiling back. He opened his blue book, glancing at the pages with questions and empty circles for
, or
. He had been expecting the tests to be scary, but the only apparent danger was the danger of being bored to death.

“Please keep your books closed until the test has started,” Master Milagros said from the front of the room. She was a tall, extremely young-looking Master who reminded Call a little of his homeroom teacher. She had the same sense of awkward nervousness, as if she wasn’t used to spending a lot of time around kids. Her hair was black and short, with a streak of pink in it.

Call closed his book and then looked around, realizing he’d been the only person to open it. He decided he wasn’t going to tell his father how easy it had been to avoid fitting in.

“First of all, I want to welcome you all to the Iron Trial,” Master Milagros went on, clearing her throat. “Now that we’re away from your guardians, we can explain in more detail what is going to happen today. Some of you will have received invitations to apply for music school, or a school that concentrates on astronomy or advanced mathematics or horseback riding. But as you may have supposed by now, you are actually here to be evaluated for acceptance into the Magisterium.”

She raised her arms, and the walls seemed to fall away. In their place was rough-hewn stone. The kids remained at their desks, but the ground beneath them had changed to mica-flecked rock, which sparkled like strewn glitter. Shimmering stalactites hung from the ceiling like icicles.

The blond boy drew in his breath. All across the room, Call could hear low exclamations of awe.

It was as if they were inside the caves of the Magisterium.

“So cool,” said a pretty girl with white beads on the ends of her cornrowed braids.

In that moment, despite everything his father had told Call, he wanted to go to the Magisterium. It no longer seemed dark or scary, but amazing. Like being an explorer or going to another planet. He thought of his father’s words:

The magicians will tempt you with pretty illusions and elaborate lies. Don’t be drawn in.

Master Milagros went on, her voice gaining in confidence. “Some of you are legacy students, with parents or other family members who have attended the Magisterium. Others have been chosen because we believe you have the potential to become mages. But none of you are assured a place. Only the Masters know what makes a perfect candidate.”

Call stuck his hand up and, without waiting to be called on, asked, “What if you don’t want to go?”

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to go to pony school?” wondered a boy with a mop of brown hair, seated diagonally from Call. He was small and pale, with scrawny long legs and arms sticking out of a blue T-shirt with the faded picture of a horse on it.

Master Milagros looked as if she was so annoyed, she’d forgotten to be nervous. “Drew Wallace,” she said. “This is not pony school. You are being tested to see if you possess the qualities that will lead you to be chosen as an apprentice, and to accompany your teacher, called your Master, to the Magisterium. And if you possess sufficient magic,
attendance is not optional
.” She glared at Call. “The Trial is for your own safety. Those of you who are legacies know the dangers untrained mages pose to themselves and others.”

A murmur ran around the room. Several of the kids, Call realized, were looking at Tamara. She was sitting very straight in her chair, her eyes fixed ahead of her, her chin jutting out. He knew that look. It was the same look he got when people muttered about his leg or his dead mother, or his weirdo father. It was the look of someone trying to pretend she didn’t know she was being talked about.

“So what happens if you don’t get into the Magisterium?” asked the girl with the braids.

“Good question, Gwenda Mason,” said Master Milagros encouragingly. “To be a successful mage, you must possess three things. One is the intrinsic power of magic. That, you all have, to some degree. The second is the knowledge of how to use it. That, we can give you. The third is control — and that, that must come from inside of you. Now, in your first year, as untaught mages, you are reaching the apex of your power, but you have no learning and no control. If you seem to possess neither an aptitude for learning nor one for control, then you will not find a place at the Magisterium. In that case, we will make sure that you — and your families — are permanently safe from magic or any danger of succumbing to the elements.”

Succumbing to the elements? What does
Call wondered. It sounded like other people were just as confused: “Does that mean I failed a test?” someone asked. “Wait, what does she mean?” another kid said.

“So this definitely isn’t pony school?” Drew asked again, wistfully.

Master Milagros ignored all this. The images of the cavern slowly faded away. They were in the same white room they’d always been in.

“The pens in front of you are special,” she said, looking as if she’d remembered to be nervous again. Call wondered how old she was. She seemed young, even younger because of the pink hair, but he guessed you had to be a pretty accomplished magician to be a Master. “If you don’t use your pen, we won’t be able to read your test. Shake it to activate the ink. And remember to show your work. You may begin.”

Call opened the book again. He squinted at the first question:

A dragon and a wyvern set out at 2
from the same cavern, headed in the same direction. The average speed of the dragon is 30 mph slower than twice the speed of the wyvern. In 2 hours, the dragon is 20 miles ahead of the wyvern. Find the flight speed of the dragon, factoring in that the wyvern is bent on revenge.

Call goggled at the page, then flipped it. The next one was no better.

Lucretia is preparing to plant a crop of deadly nightshade this autumn. She will plant 4 patches of common nightshade with 15 plants in each patch. She estimates that 20 percent of the field will be planted with a test crop of woody nightshade. How many nightshade plants are there in all? How many woody nightshade plants were planted? If Lucretia is an earth mage who has crossed three of the gates, how many people can she poison with the deadly nightshade before she is caught and beheaded?

Call blinked at the test. Did he have to actually put effort into figuring out which answers were wrong, so that he didn’t accidentally get them right? Should he just put down the same thing over and over, figuring that had to get a low score? By the law of averages, he’d still get about twenty percent right, and that was higher than he wanted.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
6.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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