The Bronze Key Page 1

Author: Holly Black

Series: Magisterium #3

Genres: Fantasy

CALL MADE A few final tweaks to his robot right before sending him into the “ring” — a section of garage floor outlined in blue chalk. He considered it the fighting zone for the robots he and Aaron had painstakingly built out of car parts, metal magic, and a lot of duct tape. On that gasoline-soaked floor, one of their robots would be tragically rent to pieces and the other would emerge victorious. One would rise and the other would fall. One would —

Aaron’s robot chugged forward. One of its little arms shot out, wobbled, and beheaded Call’s robot. Sparks fizzed in the air.

“No fair!” Call yelled.

Aaron snorted. He had a smudge of dirt on his cheek and some of his hair was sticking straight up after he’d run his hands through it in frustration. The relentless North Carolina heat had left him with a sunburned nose and freckling on his cheeks. He didn’t look at all like the polished Makar who’d spent the previous summer at garden parties, chatting with dull, important grown-ups.

“I guess I’m just better at building robots than you,” Aaron said carelessly.

“Oh, yeah?” Call replied, concentrating. His robot began to move, slowly at first, then faster as metal magic reanimated its headless body. “Take that.”

Call’s robot lifted an arm, and fire shot out like water from a hose, spraying Aaron’s robot, whose whole body began to smoke. Aaron tried to summon water magic to douse it, but it was too late — the duct tape was burning. His robot collapsed in a pile of smoking parts.

“Woo-hoo!” Call cried out — he’d never taken any of his dad’s advice about being a gracious winner to heart. Havoc, Call’s Chaos-ridden wolf, woke suddenly when a spark landed on his fur. He began to bark.

“Hey!” Call’s father, Alastair, yelled, running out of the house and looking around with slightly wild eyes. “Not so close to my car! I just fixed that thing.”

Despite the scolding, Call felt relaxed. He’d felt pretty relaxed all summer. He’d even stopped assigning himself Evil Overlord Points. As far as the world knew, the Enemy of Death, Constantine Madden, was dead, defeated by Alastair. Only Aaron and Tamara, frenemy Jasper deWinter, and Call’s father knew the truth — that Call was Constantine Madden reborn, but without any of his memories and, hopefully, without his penchant for evil.

Since the world thought Constantine was dead and Call’s friends didn’t care, Call was off the hook. Aaron, despite being a Makar, could go back to goofing around with Call. They’d be heading back to the Magisterium soon, and this time they’d be Bronze Year students, which meant they’d be getting into some really awesome magic — fighting spells and flying spells.

Everything was better. Everything was great.

Also, Aaron’s robot was a smoking wreck.

Really, it was hard for Call to imagine how things could get better.

“I hope you guys remembered,” said Alastair. “Tonight is the party at the Collegium. You know — the one in our honor.”

Aaron and Call looked at each other in horror. They had forgotten, of course. The days had gone by in a blur of skateboarding and ice cream and movies and video games, and both of them had completely blanked out on the fact that the Assembly of Mages was throwing a victory party at the Collegium, in recognition of the fact that the Enemy of Death had been defeated after thirteen long years of cold war.

The Assembly had chosen five people to honor: Call, Aaron, Tamara, Jasper, and Alastair. Call had been surprised that Alastair had agreed to go — Alastair had hated magic, the Magisterium, and everything to do with mages for as long as Call could remember. Call suspected Alastair had agreed because he wanted to see the Assembly clap for Call and for everyone to agree that Call was on the side of good. That he was a hero.

Call swallowed, suddenly nervous. “I don’t have anything to wear,” he protested.

“Neither do I.” Aaron looked startled.

“But Tamara and her family bought you all those fancy clothes last year,” Call pointed out. Tamara’s parents had been so excited at the thought that their daughter was friends with a Makar, one of the rare mages who could control chaos magic, that they had practically adopted Aaron, bringing him into their house and spending money on expensive haircuts and clothes and parties.

Call still couldn’t quite understand why Aaron had decided to spend this summer with him and not the Rajavis, but Aaron had been very firm about it.

“I grew out of those,” Aaron replied. “All I have are jeans and T-shirts.”

“That’s why we’re going to the mall,” said Alastair, holding up his car keys. “Come on, boys.”

“Tamara’s parents took me to Brooks Brothers,” Aaron said as they headed toward Alastair’s collection of refurbished cars. “It was kind of weird.”

Call thought of their tiny local mall and grinned. “Well, get ready for a different kind of weird,” he said. “We’re going to travel backward in time without magic.”


“I think I might be allergic to this material,” said Aaron, standing in front of a full-length mirror in the back of JL Dimes. They sold everything — tractors, clothes, cheap dishwashers. Alastair always bought his work overalls there. Call hated it.

“It looks fine,” said Alastair, who had collected a vacuum cleaner somewhere along their travels through the store and was examining it, probably for parts. He’d also picked up a jacket for himself but had failed to try it on.

Aaron took another look at the alarmingly shiny gray suit. The legs bagged around his ankles and the lapels reminded Call of shark fins.

“Okay,” Aaron said meekly. He was always very conscious that everything bought for him was a favor. He knew he didn’t have money or parents to get him things. He was always grateful.

Aaron and Call had both lost their mothers. Aaron’s father was alive, but in prison, which Aaron didn’t like for people to know. To Call, it didn’t seem that big of a deal, but that was probably because Call’s secret was so much bigger.

“I don’t know, Dad,” Call said, squinting into the mirror. He was wearing dark blue polyester that was too tight underneath his arms. “These might not be our sizes.”

Alastair sighed. “A suit’s a suit. Aaron will grow into his. And yours, well — maybe you should try something else. No use getting something that’s only good for tonight.”

“I’m taking a picture,” Call said, pulling out his phone. “Tamara can give us advice. She knows what you’re supposed to wear to stuffy mage events.”

There was a whoosh as Call texted Tamara the photograph. A few seconds later she texted back: Aaron looks like a con man who got hit with a shrink ray and you look like you’re going to Catholic school.

Aaron looked over Call’s padded shoulder and winced at the message.

“Well?” Alastair asked. “We could duct-tape the legs. Make them look shorter.”

“Or,” Call said, “we could go to a different store and not embarrass ourselves in front of the Assembly.”

Alastair looked from Call to Aaron and gave in with a sigh, putting back his vacuum cleaner. “Okay. Let’s go.”

It was a relief to get out of the airless, overheated mall. A short car ride later Call and Aaron were standing in front of a thrift shop that dealt in vintage stuff of all kinds, from doilies to dressers to sewing machines. Call had been here before with his dad and remembered that the proprietor, Miranda Keyes, loved vintage clothes. She wore them constantly, without much respect for matching colors or styles, which meant she was often seen wandering around their town in a poodle skirt, go-go boots, and a sequined tank top with a pattern of angry cats.

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