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The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial: Page 45

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For having a Chaos-ridden animal, for not running for the Masters the second something happened to the Makar, for everything. Big trouble. And if it's going to land on one of us, it should be me."
Tamara was silent. Call couldn't read her expression in the shadows.
"You're the one who has parents who care if you stay at the Magisterium and who care how you do here," he said, feeling weary. "Not me. You're the one who scored high in the Trial, not me. You're the one who wanted help sticking to the rules and not cutting corners - well, this is me helping. You belong here. I don't. It matters to you if you get in trouble. It doesn't matter to me. I don't matter."
"That's not true," Tamara said.
"What isn't?" Call realized he'd made quite a speech and wasn't sure which part she was objecting to.

"I'm not that person. Maybe I wanted to be, but I'm not. My parents raised me to get things done, no matter what. They don't care about rules, just appearances. This whole time I've been telling myself that I'm going to be different from my parents, different from my sister, be the one who stuck to the straight and narrow. But I think I had it all wrong, Call. I don't care about rules or appearances. I don't want to be the person who just gets things done. I want to do the right thing. I don't care if we have to lie or cheat or cut corners or break rules to do it."
He stared at her, dazzled. "Seriously?"
"Yes," Tamara told him.
"That is so cool," Call said.
Tamara started laughing.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. You just always surprise me." She tugged at his sleeve. "Come on, then."
They went down the hill quickly, Call stumbling a few times and fetching up hard against his walking stick, once nearly impaling himself. When they reached the highway, they found Havoc waiting by the side of the road, panting anxiously as a truck rumbled by. Call found himself staring after it. It was strange to be near cars after so long.
Tamara took a deep breath. "Okay, no one's coming, so - let's go."
She darted across the highway, Havoc at her heels. Call bit his lip hard and went after them, every running step sending jolts of pain up his leg and through his side. By the time he reached the far side of the road, he was soaked with sweat - not from running, but from pain. His eyes stung.
"Call …" Tamara put her hand out, and the earth stirred under their feet. A moment later, a thin jet of water sprang up, as if she'd knocked over a fire hydrant. Call put his hands in the water and splashed his face as Tamara cupped her palms and drank. It was good to stand still, just for a moment, until his legs stopped shaking.
Call offered Havoc some of the water, but Havoc was pacing back and forth, looking between them and what appeared to be a dirt road in the distance. Call dried his face on his sleeve and set off after the wolf.
He and Tamara walked in silence. She had dropped back to match her pace to his - and also, he imagined, because she was probably getting tired, too. He could tell she was as anxious as he was; she was chewing on the end of one of her braids, which she did only when she was really panicked.
"Aaron will be okay," he told her as they joined up with the dirt road and started along it. Hedges rose on either side. "He's a Makar."
"So was Verity Torres and they never found her head," said Tamara, apparently not a believer in the whole staying-positive thing.
They went on a little farther, until the road narrowed to a path. Call was breathing hard and trying to pretend he wasn't, hot pain shooting up his legs with every step. It was like walking on broken glass, except the glass seemed to be inside him, stabbing from his nerves into his skin.
"I hate to say this," Tamara told him, "but I don't think we can stay out in the open like this. If there's an elemental up ahead, it will spot us. We're going to have to stick to the woods."

The ground would be more uneven there. She didn't say it, but she had to know Call would go slower and it would be harder for him, that he was more likely to trip and fall, especially in the dark. He took a shaky breath and nodded. She was right - being out in the open would be too dangerous. It didn't matter if the going was harder. He'd said he wasn't leaving her or Aaron, and he'd stick to his word.
Step by painful step, his hand going to brace against the trunks of trees, they followed Havoc as he led them on a path parallel to the dirt road. Finally, in the distance, Call spotted a building.
It was massive and looked abandoned, the windows boarded up and the black carpet of an empty parking lot spread out in front of it. A sign towered over the nearby trees, picturing a huge unlit bowling ball and three pins. MOUNTAIN BOWLING, it said. It looked like the sign hadn't been lit in years.
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" Call asked, wondering if the pain was making him delusional. But why would he dream up something like that?
"Yeah," Tamara said. "An old bowling alley. There must be a town not too far from here. But how could Aaron be there? And don't say something like 'working on his score' or 'maybe he's in a bowling league' or something like that. Be serious."
Call leaned against the rough bark of a nearby tree and resisted the urge to sit down. He was afraid he wouldn't be able to get up again. "I'm serious. It might be hard to tell in the dark, but I have my most super-serious face on." He'd wanted the words to come out light, but his voice sounded tense.
They crept closer, Call straining to see if light spilled out from beneath any of the doors or the boards over the windows. They made their way around to the back of the building. It was even darker there, the bowling alley blocking the streetlamps along the distant road. There were Dumpsters back there, looking dusty and empty in the faint moonlight.
"I don't know …" Call began, but Havoc jumped, pawing at the wall and whimpering. Call craned his neck back and looked up. There was a window above their heads, almost completely boarded over, but Call thought he could see a little bit of light between the boards.
"Here." Tamara pushed at one of the Dumpsters, inching it toward the wall. She clambered on top of it, then reached down to help Call up after her. He dropped his walking stick and scrambled over the side, hoisting himself entirely with his arm strength, his boots bumping the metal, making an echoing noise. "Shhh," Tamara whispered. "Look."
There was definitely light coming from between the boards. They were held to the wall by very large, very sturdy-looking nails. Tamara looked at them dubiously.
"Metal is earth magic -" she began.
Call slid Miri from his belt. The blade seemed to hum in his hand as he worked the tip under one of the nails and pulled. The wood parted like paper, and the nail rattled down onto the lid of the Dumpster.
"Cool," Tamara whispered.
Havoc leaped onto the trash bin as Call cut the rest of the nails free and threw the wood aside, revealing the smashed remains of a window. The glass panes were missing, along with the muntins. Beyond the window, he could see a dimly lit corridor not far below. Havoc wiggled through the gap, dropped the few inches to the hallway floor, and turned around, looking expectantly at Tamara and Call.
Call slid Miri back into his belt. "Here we go," he said, and climbed through the window. The fall was slight, but still jarred his legs; he was wincing as Tamara joined him, landing noiselessly despite her boots.
They stared around them. It looked nothing like the inside of a bowling alley. They were in a hallway whose floor and walls were made of blackened wood, as though there'd been a fire. Call couldn't explain exactly how, but he felt the presence of magic. The air of the place seemed heavy with it.
The wolf set off down the corridor, scenting the air. Call followed him, his heart thudding with dread. Whatever he'd imagined when they first set off after Havoc from the Mission Gate, he'd never imagined they'd wind up in a place like this. Master Rufus was going to kill them when they got back. He was going to hang them up by their toes and make them do sand exercises until their brains bled out their noses. And that was if they managed to save Aaron from whatever had him; if they didn't, Master Rufus was going to do much worse than that.

Call and Tamara stayed dead silent as they passed by a room with its door slightly ajar, but Call couldn't help peeking inside. For a moment, he thought he was looking at mannequins, some standing upright and others leaning against the walls, but then he realized two things - one, that their eyes were all closed, which would have been very strange for mannequins, and two, that their chests rose and fell as they breathed.

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