Read The Iron Trial Online

Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

The Iron Trial (8 page)

BOOK: The Iron Trial
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“I — I —” Call wanted to say he was sorry, but he bit down on the words. He knew they wouldn’t matter. “It just happened.”

“I’m going to kill you,” Tamara said very calmly. “I am going to sort your guts into piles.”

“Uh,” said Call. He kind of believed her.

“Okay,” Aaron said, taking big calming breaths, hands in his hair, like he was trying to press all that rage back into his skull. “Okay, we’re just going to have to do it all over again.”

Tamara kicked the sand, then crouched down and began the tedious work of moving single grains with her mind. She didn’t even look in Call’s direction.

Call tried to concentrate again, eyes burning. By the time Master Rufus came and told them they were free to go to dinner and then back to their rooms, Call’s head was pounding and he’d decided he never wanted to go to the beach ever again. Aaron and Tamara wouldn’t look at him as they made their way through the corridors.

The Refectory was full of kids chatting away amicably, a lot of them giggling and laughing. Call, Tamara, and Aaron stood in the doorway behind Master Rufus and stared blearily ahead of them. All of them had sand in their hair and dirt streaks on their faces. “I will be eating with the other Masters,” Master Rufus said. “Do as you like with the rest of your evening.”

Moving like robots, Call and the others gathered up food — mushroom soup, more piles of different-colored lichen, and an odd opalescent pudding for dessert — and went over to sit at a table with another clump of Iron Year students. Call recognized a few of them, like Drew, Jasper, and Celia. He sat down across from Celia, and she didn’t immediately dump her soup on his head — a thing that had actually happened at his last school — so that seemed like a good sign.

The Masters sat together at a round table across the room, probably brainstorming new tortures for the students. Call was sure he could see several of them smiling in a sinister way. While he was watching, three people in olive green uniforms — two women and a man — came through the doorway. They bowed shallowly to the table of Masters.

“They’re Assembly members,” Celia informed Call. “It’s our governing body, set up after the Second Mage War. They’re hoping one of the older kids turns out to be a chaos mage.”

“Like that Enemy of Death guy?” Call asked. “What happens if they find chaos mages? Do they kill them, or what?”

Celia lowered her voice. “No, of course not! They
to find a chaos mage. They say it takes a Makar to stop a Makar. As long as the Enemy is the only one of the Makaris alive, he has the advantage over us.”

“If they even
someone here has that power, they’ll check it out,” said Jasper, moving down so he was closer to the discussion. “They’re desperate.”

“No one believes that the Treaty will last,” said Gwenda. “And if the war starts up again …”

“Well, what makes them think anyone here could be what they’re looking for?” Call asked.

“Like I said,” Jasper told him, “they’re desperate. But don’t worry — your scores are way too lousy. Chaos mages have to actually be
at magic.”

For a minute, Jasper had acted like a normal human being, but apparently that minute was over. Celia glared at him.

Everyone launched into a discussion of their first lessons. Drew told them that Master Lemuel had been really tough during their lessons, and he wanted to know if everyone else’s Masters were like that. Everyone started talking at once, with a bunch of others describing lessons that sounded a lot less frustrating and more fun than Call’s had been.

“Master Milagros let us pilot the boats,” Jasper gloated. “There were little waterfalls. It was like white-water rafting. Awesome.”

“Great,” Tamara said, without enthusiasm.

“Jasper got us all lost,” Celia said, serenely munching a piece of lichen, and Jasper’s eyes flashed with annoyance.

“Only for a minute,” Jasper said. “It was fine.”

“Master Tanaka showed us how to make fireballs,” said a boy named Peter, and Call remembered that Tanaka was the name of the Master who had chosen after Milagros. “We held the fire and we didn’t even get burned.” His eyes sparkled.

“Master Lemuel threw rocks at us,” said Drew.

Everyone stared at him.

“What?” said Aaron.

“Drew,” hissed Laurel, another of Master Lemuel’s apprentices. “He did not. He was showing us how you can move rocks with your mind. Drew got in the way of a rock.”

That explains the big bruise on Drew’s collarbone
, Call thought, feeling a little sick. He remembered his father’s warnings about how the Masters didn’t care about hurting students.

“Tomorrow it’s going to be metal,” said Drew. “I bet he throws knives at us.”

“I’d rather have knives thrown at me than spend all day in a pile of sand,” said Tamara, unsympathetic. “At least you can dodge knives.”

“Looks like Drew can’t,” said Jasper with a smirk. For once, he was picking on someone who wasn’t Call, but Call didn’t get any pleasure from it.

“It can’t be all lessons around here,” said Aaron, an edge to his usually peaceful voice. “Right? There’s got to be something fun. What was that place Master Rufus told us about?”

“We could go to the Gallery after dinner?” Celia said, speaking directly to Call. “There’s games.”

Jasper looked annoyed. Call knew he should go with Celia to the Gallery, whatever that was. Anything that made Jasper mad was worth doing, and besides, he needed to learn to navigate the Magisterium, make a map like you did in video games.

He needed an escape route.

Call shook his head and forked up a mouthful of lichen. It tasted like steak. He glanced down the table at Aaron, who looked weary, too. Call’s body felt leaden. He just wanted to go to sleep. He’d start looking for a way out of the Magisterium tomorrow.

“I don’t think I’m up for games,” he told Celia. “Another time.”

“Maybe today was a test,” Tamara said as they headed back to their rooms after dinner. “Like, of our patience or our ability to take orders. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get to do real training.”

Aaron, trailing one of his hands along the wall as he walked, took a moment to respond. “Yeah. Maybe.”

Call didn’t say anything. He was too tired.

Magic, he was finding, was hard work.

The next day, Tamara’s hopes were dashed when they returned to the place that Call had dubbed the Room of Sand and Boredom to finish sorting. They still had plenty of sand to go. Call felt guilty all over again.

“But when we’re done,” Aaron said to Master Rufus, “we can do other stuff, right?”

“Concentrate on the task at hand,” the mage replied enigmatically, walking out through the wall.

Heaving sighs, they sat down to work. Sand sorting went on for the rest of the week, with Tamara spending all her time after classes with her sister or Jasper or other expensive-looking legacy students, and Aaron spending his time with
, while Call sulked in their room. Then sand sorting went on for another week after that — the pile of sand to sort seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, as if someone didn’t want this test ever to end. Call had heard there was some kind of torture where a single drop of water hit a guy’s forehead over and over again until he went insane. He had never understood how that worked before, but he understood it now.

There’s got to be an easier way
, he thought, but the scheming part of his mind must have been the same part used for magic, because he couldn’t think of anything.

“Look,” Call said finally, “you guys are good at this, right? The best mages in the tests. Top-ranked.”

The other two gazed at him, glassy-eyed. Aaron looked like maybe he’d been hit on the head by a falling boulder when no one was looking.

“I guess,” Tamara said. She didn’t sound too excited about it. “The best in our year, anyway.”

“Okay, well, I’m terrible. The worst. I was in last place and I’ve already messed things up for us, so obviously I don’t know anything. But there must be a faster way. Something we’re supposed to be doing. Some lesson we’re supposed to be learning. Is there anything you can think of?
” A note of pleading had entered his voice.

Tamara hesitated. Aaron shook his head.

Call saw her expression. “What?
there something?”

“Well, there are some magical principles, some … special ways of tapping into the elements,” she said, her black braids swinging as she moved into a different sitting position. “Stuff that Master Rufus probably doesn’t want us to know about.”

Aaron nodded eagerly, the hope of making it out of this room lighting his face.

“You know how Rufus was talking about feeling the power in the earth and all that?” Tamara wasn’t looking at them. She was staring at the piles of sand like she was focused on something far away. “Well, there’s a way to get more power, fast. But you have to open yourself up to the element … and, well, eat a grain of sand.”

“Eat the sand?” Call said. “You have to be kidding.”

“It’s kind of dangerous, because of that whole First Principle of Magic thing. But it works for the same reason. You’re closer to the element — like if you’re doing earth magic, you eat rocks or sand, fire mages can eat matches, air mages might consume blood for its oxygen. It’s not a good idea, but …”

Call thought of Jasper grinning around his bloody finger at the Trial. His heart started to pound. “How do you know this?”

Tamara looked at the wall. She took a deep breath. “My dad. He taught me how. For emergencies, he said, but he considers doing well on a test an emergency. I’ve never done it, though, because it scares me — if you get too much power and can’t control it, you could get drawn into an element. It burns away your soul and replaces it with fire, air, water, earth, or chaos. You become a creature of that element. Like an elemental.”

“One of those lizard things?” Aaron asked.

Call was relieved he hadn’t had to be the one to ask that exact same question.

Tamara shook her head. “Elementals come in all sizes. Small like those lizards, or big and bloated on magic, like wyverns and dragons and sea serpents. Or even human size. So we’d have to be careful.”

“I can be careful,” Call said. “How about you, Aaron?”

Aaron ran grainy hands through his blond hair and shrugged. “Anything is better than this. And if we finish faster than Master Rufus expects, he’ll have to give us something else to do.”

“Okay. Here goes nothing.” Tamara licked the tip of her finger and touched it to the pile of sand. A few grains stuck. Then she put her finger in her mouth.

Call and Aaron copied her. As Call jammed his wet finger into his mouth, he couldn’t help wondering what he would have thought if a week ago someone had told him he’d be sitting in an underground cavern eating sand. The sand didn’t taste bad — it didn’t taste like anything, really. He swallowed the rough grains down and waited.

“Now what?” he asked after a few seconds. He was starting to get a little nervous. Nothing had happened to Jasper at the Trial, he told himself. Nothing would happen to them.

“Now we concentrate,” Tamara said.

Call looked at the pile of sand. This time when he slid his thoughts toward it, he could sense each of the tiny grains. Minuscule pieces of shell sparkled in his mind, beside crystal pieces, and yellowish stones honeycombed with crags. He tried to imagine picking up the whole pile of sand in his hands. It would be heavy, and the sand would spill between his fingers and pool on the floor. He tried to blank out everything around him — Tamara and Aaron, the cold stone under him, the faint rush of wind in the room — and narrow his concentration down to the only two things that mattered: himself and the pile of sand. The sand felt completely solid and light, like Styrofoam. It would be easy to lift. He could lift it with one hand. With one finger. With one … thought. He imagined it rising and separating….

The sand pile lurched, spilling a few grains from the top, and then drifted upward. It hung over the three of them like a small storm cloud.

Tamara and Aaron both stared. Call fell back on his hands. His legs were prickling with pins and needles. He must have sat on them wrong. He’d been concentrating too hard to notice. “Your turn,” he said, and it seemed to him that the walls were closer, that he could feel the pulse of the earth underneath him. He wondered what it would be like to sink into the ground.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Deep Down True by Juliette Fay
Rising Darkness by Nancy Mehl
The Best of Edward Abbey by Edward Abbey
Bound by Honor by Donna Clayton
Destiny's Path by Frewin Jones
Chosen by the Sheikh by Kim Lawrence
Hot Pursuit by Jo Davis