The Bronze Key Page 2

But Aaron didn’t know that. He was looking around, smiling hesitantly, and Call’s heart sank. This was going to be even worse than JL Dimes. What had started out kind of funny was starting to make Call feel a little sick inside. He knew his dad was “eccentric” — which was a nice way of saying “weird” — and he’d never really minded, but it wasn’t fair that Aaron had to look “eccentric,” too. What if all Miranda had was red velvet tuxedoes or something even worse?

It was bad enough that Aaron had spent the summer drinking lemonade from a powder mix, instead of from fresh lemons the way they made it at Tamara’s house; sleeping on a military cot that Alastair had set up in Call’s room; running through a sprinkler made from knife holes in a garden hose; and eating regular old cereal for breakfast instead of eggs cooked to order by a chef. If Aaron showed up at this party looking stupid, it might be the final straw. Call might lose the Best Friend War for good.

Alastair got out of the car. Call followed his dad and Aaron inside with a sense of foreboding.

The suits were in the back of the room, behind the tables of odd brass musical instruments and the jadeite bowl of rusty keys. It was a lot like Alastair’s own shop, Now and Again, except that the ceiling was hung with fur-collared coats and silk scarves, while Alastair specialized in the more industrial end of antiques. Miranda came out of the back and talked to Alastair for a few minutes about what she’d brought back from Brimfield — a huge antiques show up north — and who she’d seen there. Call’s dread grew.

Finally, Alastair found his way to telling her what they needed. She gave each of the boys a sharp evaluating look, as though she were looking through them and seeing something else. She did the same thing to Alastair, her eyes narrowing before she disappeared into the back.

Aaron and Call amused themselves by wandering around the store, each one of them trying to find the weirdest object. Aaron had discovered a Batman-shaped alarm clock that said “WAKE UP, BOY WONDER” when he pressed the top, and Call had unearthed a sweater made out of taped-together lollipops, when Miranda reemerged, humming, with a pile of clothes that she stacked on the counter.

The first thing she pulled out was a dressing jacket for Alastair. It looked like it was made from satin with a subtle, deep green pattern to it and a bright silk lining. It was definitely old and weird, but in a not-embarrassing way.

“Now,” she said, pointing at Call and Aaron, “your turn.”

She handed each one of them a folded linen suit. Aaron’s was the color of cream and Call’s was dove gray.

“Same as your eyes, Call,” said Miranda, looking pleased with herself, as Call and Aaron threw the suits on over their shorts and T-shirts. She clapped her hands and gestured for them to look in the mirror.

Call stared at his reflection. He didn’t know much about clothes, but the suit fit him, and he didn’t look bizarre. He actually looked kind of grown up. So did Aaron. The light colors made them both look tan.

“Is this for a special occasion?” asked Miranda.

“You could say that.” Alastair sounded pleased. “They’re both getting awards.”

“For, um, community service,” said Aaron. He met Call’s eyes in the mirror. Call guessed it was only sort of a lie, though most community service didn’t involve severed heads.

“Fantastic!” said Miranda. “They both look so handsome.”

Handsome. Call had never thought of himself as handsome. Aaron was the handsome one. Call was the one who was short, limped, and was too intense and sharp-featured. But he guessed that people selling stuff had to tell you that you looked good. On a whim, Call pulled out his phone, took a picture of his and Aaron’s reflections in the mirror, and sent it to Tamara.

A minute later the reply came back. Nice. Attached to the message was a short video of someone falling off a chair in surprise. Call couldn’t help laughing.

“Do they need anything else?” Alastair asked. “Shoes, cuff links … anything?”

“Well, shirts, obviously,” Miranda said. “I have a lot of nice ties —”

“I don’t need you to buy me anything else, Mr. Hunt,” said Aaron, looking anxious. “Really.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Alastair said with a surprising lightness in his voice. “Miranda and I are in the business. We’ll work out a trade.”

Call looked over at Miranda, to find her smiling. “There was a little Victorian brooch at your store I had my eye on.”

At that, Alastair’s expression stiffened a little, then relaxed almost immediately into a laugh. “Well, for that, we’re definitely taking the cuff links. Shoes, too, if you’ve got them.”

By the time they left, they had huge bags filled with clothes and Call was feeling pretty good. They drove back to the house with barely enough time to take showers and comb their hair. Alastair came out of his bedroom reeking of some ancient cologne and looking snappy in his new jacket and a pair of black trousers he must have unearthed in the back of his closet. Muttering, he immediately started hunting around for his car keys. He barely looked recognizable to Call as the dad who worked around the house in tweed and denim overalls, the dad who’d spent all summer helping them make robots out of spare parts.

He looked like a stranger, which meant Call started to actually think about what was soon to happen.

All summer he’d been feeling pretty smug over the Enemy of Death’s demise. Constantine Madden had been dead for years, preserved in a creepy tomb, waiting to have his soul returned to his body. But since no one had known that, the whole mage world had been waiting for Constantine to start up the Third Mage War again. When Callum had brought the Enemy’s severed head back to the Magisterium, proof that he was incontrovertibly dead, the whole mage world had breathed a sigh of relief.

What they didn’t know was that Constantine’s soul lived on — in Call. Tonight the world of mages was going to be honoring the actual Enemy of Death.

Even though Call had no desire to hurt anyone, the threat of a Third Mage War was far from over. Constantine’s second-in-command, Master Joseph, had control of Constantine’s Chaos-ridden army. He had the powerful Alkahest, which could destroy chaos wielders like Aaron — and Call. If he got tired waiting for Call to come over to his side, then he might attack all on his own.

Call slumped down at the kitchen table. Havoc, who’d been sleeping under the table, looked up with his disturbing coruscating eyes, as if sensing Call’s distress. Although it should have made Call feel better, it actually made him feel a little worse.

He could almost hear Master Joseph’s voice: Good job getting the whole mage world to lower their guard, Call. You can’t escape your nature.

He pushed the thought back firmly. All summer he’d worked on not constantly checking himself to see if he was showing signs of maybe turning out evil. All summer he’d been telling himself that he was Callum Hunt, who had been raised by Alastair Hunt, and he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes Constantine Madden had made. He was a different person. He was.

A few minutes later, Aaron came out of Call’s room, looking dapper in his cream-colored suit. His blond hair was brushed back and even his cuff links shone. He looked just as happy as he ever had in the designer suits that Tamara’s family had given him.

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