Read The Iron Trial Online

Authors: Cassandra Clare,Holly Black

The Iron Trial (9 page)

BOOK: The Iron Trial
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“Absolutely,” said Aaron. The cloud of sand broke apart into two halves, one composed of lighter sand, the other darker. Tamara raised her hand and drew a lazy spiral on the air. Call and Aaron watched in wonder as the sand swirled into different patterns above them.

The wall opened. Master Rufus stood on the threshold, his face a mask. Tamara made a little squeaking sound, and the hovering pile of sand crashed down, sending up puffs of dust that made Call choke.

“What have you done?” Master Rufus demanded.

Aaron looked pale. “I — we didn’t mean —”

Master Rufus gestured sharply toward them. “Aaron, be quiet. Callum, come with me.”

“What?” Call began. “But I — that’s not fair!”

“Come. With. Me,” Rufus repeated. “

Call rose gingerly to his feet, his weak leg stinging. He glanced at Aaron and Tamara, but they were looking down at their hands, not at him.
So much for loyalty
, he thought as he followed Master Rufus out of the room.

Rufus led him on a short walk through some twisting corridors to his office. It wasn’t what Call expected. The furnishings were modern. Steel bookcases filled one wall, and a sleek leather couch, big enough to nap on, stretched along the other. Tacked to one side of the room were pages and pages of what looked like scrawled equations, but with odd markings instead of numbers. They hung above a rough wooden workstation whose surface was blotched with stains and covered with knives, beakers, and the taxidermied bodies of weird-looking animals. Beside delicate, geared models that looked like mousetraps crossed with clocks, there was a live animal in a small barred cage — one of those lizards with blue flames running along its back. Rufus’s desk was tucked into a corner, an old rolltop that was at odds with the rest of the room. On top of it was a glass jar holding a tiny tornado spinning in place.

Call couldn’t take his eyes off it, expecting it to burst out of the jar at any moment.

“Callum, sit down,” said Master Rufus, indicating the couch. “I want to explain why I brought you to the Magisterium.”

After two weeks of sand sorting, he’d given up on the idea that Rufus was ever going to be forward or direct with him. In fact, he realized, he’d given up on the idea that he’d ever really find out why he was at the Magisterium at all.

“Sit,” Rufus said again, and this time Call sat, wincing as his leg twinged. The couch was comfortable after hours of sitting on a cold stone floor, and he let himself sink into it. “What do you think of our school so far?”

Before Call could answer, there was the sound of rushing wind. He blinked, and realized it was coming from the jar on Master Rufus’s desk. The small tornado inside it was darkening and condensing into a shape. A moment later, it had taken the form of a miniature olive-green-uniformed Assembly member. It was a man with very dark hair. He blinked around.

“Rufus?” he said. “Rufus, are you there?”

Rufus made an impatient noise and flipped the jar over. “Not now,” he said to it, and the image inside became a tornado again.

“Is that like a telephone?” Call asked, awed.

“Something like a telephone,” said Rufus. “As I said before, the concentration of elemental magic in the Magisterium interferes with most technology. Besides, we prefer to do things our own way.”

“My dad is probaby really worried, not having heard from me in so —” Call started.

Master Rufus leaned against his desk, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “First,” he said, “I want to know what you think of the Magisterium and your training.”

“It’s easy,” Call said. “Boring and pointless, but easy.”

Rufus gave a thin smile. “What you did in there was very clever,” he said. “You want to make me angry because you think that if you do, I’ll send you home. And you believe you want to be sent home.”

Call had actually given up on that plan. Saying obnoxious things just came naturally to him. He shrugged.

“You must wonder why I chose you,” Rufus said. “You, the last of all those ranked. The least competent of all the potential mages. I suppose you imagine that it is because I saw something in you. Some potential the other Masters had missed. Some untapped well of skill. Maybe even something that reminded me of myself.”

His tone was lightly mocking. Call was silent.

“I took you on,” Rufus continued, “because you do have skill and power, but you also have a great deal of anger. And you have almost no control at all. I did not want you to be a burden on one of the other mages. Nor did I want one of them to choose you for the wrong reasons.” His eyes flicked toward the tornado, spinning in its upside-down jar. “Many years ago, I made a mistake with a student. A mistake that had grave consequences. Taking you on is my penance.”

Call’s stomach felt as if it wanted to curl up inside him like a kicked puppy. It hurt, being told that he was so unpleasant he was someone’s punishment.

“So send me home,” he burst out. “If you just took me because you don’t feel like one of the other mages should have to teach me, send me home.”

Rufus shook his head. “You still don’t understand,” he said. “Uncontrolled magic like yours is a danger. Sending you home to your small town would be the equivalent of dropping a bomb on them. But make no mistake, Callum. If you persist in disobedience, if you refuse to learn to control your magic, then I will send you home. But I will bind your magic first.”

“Bind my magic?”

“Yes. Until a mage passes through the First Gate at the end of his Iron Year, his or her magic can be bound by one of the Masters. You would be unable to access the elements, unable to use your power. And we would take your memories of magic, too, so that all you would know was that you were missing something, some essential part of yourself, but you would no longer know what it was. You would spend your life tormented by the loss of something you didn’t remember losing. Is that what you want?”

“No,” Call whispered.

“If I believe that you’re holding back the others or that you’re untrainable, you’re done here. But if you make it through this whole year and pass through the First Gate, then no one can ever take your magic away. Make it through this year and you can drop out of the Magisterium if you want. You’ll have learned enough to no longer be a danger to the world. Think on that, Callum Hunt, as you sort your sand the way I instructed you to. Grain by grain.” Master Rufus paused, and then made a dismissive gesture, indicating that Call could go. “Think on that and make your choice.”

Concentrating on moving the sand was as grueling as ever, more so because of how pleased Call had been with their cleverness in coming up with a better solution. For once, he’d felt that maybe they could really be a team, maybe even friends.

Now Aaron and Tamara concentrated quietly, and when he looked over at them, they wouldn’t meet his gaze. They were probably mad at him, Call thought. He’d been the one who’d insisted that someone come up with a better way of doing the exercise. And even though he was the one who’d been dragged into Rufus’s office, they were all going to be in trouble. Maybe Tamara even thought he’d finked on her. Plus, it was his magic that had scattered their piles that first day. He was a burden on the group, and they all knew it.

, Call thought.
All Master Rufus said I had to do was get through this year, so I’m going to do it. And I’m going to be the best mage here, just because no one thinks I can be. I never really tried before, but I’m going to try now. I’m going to be better than you both and then, when I’ve impressed you and you really want me to be your friend, I’m going to turn around and tell you how much I don’t need you or the Magisterium. As soon as I pass through the First Gate and they can’t bind my magic anymore, I’m going home and no one can stop me.

That’s what I’m going to tell Dad, too, as soon as I get to that tornado phone.

He spent the rest of the day moving sand with his mind, but instead of doing it the way he had the first day, straining to capture each grain, pushing it with all the desperate effort of his brain, today he let himself experiment. He tried a lighter and lighter touch, tried rolling the sand instead of lifting it into the air. Then he tried to move more than one bit of sand at once. He’d done it before, after all. The trick was that he’d thought of it as one thing — a sand cloud — instead of as three hundred individual grains.

Maybe he could do the same thing now, thinking of all the dark grains as one thing.

He tried,
with his mind, but there were too many and he lost focus. He gave up on that idea and concentrated on five grains of dark sand. These he was able to move, rolling them together toward the pile.

He slumped back, amazed, feeling he’d done something incredible. He wanted to say something to Aaron, but instead, he kept his mouth shut and practiced his new technique, getting better and better at it, until he was moving twenty grains at a time. He couldn’t do better than that, though, no matter how hard he struggled. Aaron and Tamara saw what he was doing, but neither one of them said anything, nor did they try to imitate him.

That night, Call dreamed of sand. He was sitting on a beach, trying to build a castle for a naked mole rat caught in a storm, but the wind kept blowing the sand away as the water grew closer and closer. Finally, frustrated, he stood up and kicked at the castle until it came apart and became a huge monster with enormous sand arms and legs. It chased him down the beach, always about to grab him but never quite close enough, as it shouted at him in Master Rufus’s voice,
Remember what your father said about magic, boy. It’ll cost you everything.

The next day, Master Rufus didn’t drop them off and leave as usual. Instead, he sat down in a far corner of the Room of Sand and Boredom, took out a book and a waxed paper packet, and started to read. After about two hours, he unwrapped the packet. It was a ham-and-cheese sandwich on rye bread.

He appeared to be indifferent to Callum’s method of moving more than one grain at a time, so Aaron and Tamara started doing it, too. Things moved faster then.

That day, they actually managed to sort all the sand before dinnertime. Master Rufus looked over what they’d done, nodded in satisfaction, and kicked it all back into one big pile again. “Tomorrow, you’re going to sort by five gradations of color,” he said.

The three of them groaned in unison.

Things went on like that for another week and a half. Outside of class, Tamara and Aaron ignored Call, and Call ignored them right back. But they got better at moving sand — better, more precise, and more able to concentrate on multiple grains at once.

Meanwhile, at meals, they heard about the lessons the other apprentices were receiving, which all sounded more interesting than sand — especially when those lessons backfired. Like when Drew set himself on fire and managed to burn up one of the boats and singe Rafe’s hair before he was able to put himself out. Or when Milagros’s and Tanaka’s students were practicing together and Kai Hale dropped a lizard elemental down the back of Jasper’s shirt. (Call thought Kai might deserve a medal.) Or when Gwenda decided she liked one of the mushroom cap pizza things so much that she wanted more of it and inflated the mushroom so large that it pushed everyone — even the Masters — out of the Refectory for several days until its growth could be tamed and they could hack their way back in.

Dinner the night they were able to use the Refectory again was lichen and more pudding — no mushrooms at all, anywhere. The interesting thing about the lichen was that it never tasted the same — sometimes it tasted like steak and sometimes like fish tacos or vegetables with spicy hot sauce, even if it was the same color. The gray pudding that night tasted like butterscotch. When Celia caught Call going back for fourths, she tapped his wrist playfully with her spoon.

“Come on, you should come to the Gallery,” she said. “There’s great snacks there.”

Call glanced up the table at Aaron and Tamara, who shrugged agreement. The three of them were still being stiff and silent with one another, only talking when they had to. Call wondered if they planned to forgive him ever, or if this was it, and it was going to be awkward for the rest of the time he was here.

BOOK: The Iron Trial
8.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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