The Bronze Key Page 3

Or at least he looked happy until he saw Call and did a double take.

“You okay?” Aaron asked. “You look a little green around the gills. You don’t have stage fright, do you?”

“Maybe,” Call said. “I’m not used to people looking at me a lot. I mean, people look at me because of my leg sometimes, but it’s not a good kind of looking.”

“Try to think of it as the end scene in Star Wars where everyone cheers and Princess Leia puts medals on Han and Luke.”

Call raised an eyebrow. “Who’s Princess Leia in this visual? Master Rufus?”

Master Rufus was the teacher of their apprentice group at the Magisterium. He was craggy, gruff, and wise, and had a lot more gray hairs than Princess Leia.

“Later,” said Aaron solemnly, “he will wear the gold bikini.”

Havoc barked. Alastair held up his car keys, triumphant. “Would it help you boys if I promised that tonight is going to be boring and uneventful? The party is supposed to honor us, but I guarantee that it’s mostly for the Assembly to congratulate itself.”

“You sound like you’ve been to one of these before,” said Call, standing up from the table. He smoothed his suit anxiously — linen wrinkled fast. Already he couldn’t wait to get back into jeans and a T-shirt.

“You’ve seen the wristband Constantine wore when he was a student with me at the Magisterium,” said Alastair. “He won a lot of awards and prizes. Our whole apprentice group did.”

It was true that Call had seen the wristband. Alastair had sent it to Master Rufus the first year Call had been at the Magisterium. All students were issued wristbands of leather and metal: The metal changed whenever the student entered a new year at the school, and the wristband was also studded with stones, each one representing an accomplishment or talent. Constantine’s had more stones than Call had ever seen before.

Call reached to touch his own wristband. It still showed the metal of a second-year Copper student. Like Aaron’s, Call’s gleamed with the black stone of the Makar. Call’s eyes met Aaron’s as he dropped his hand, and he could tell Aaron knew what he was thinking — here he was, getting an award, being honored for doing good, and it was still something that made him just like Constantine Madden.

Alastair shook his car keys, jangling Call out of his reverie. “Come on,” Alastair said. “The Assembly doesn’t like it when its honorees are late.”

Havoc tailed them to the door, then sat with a thump and a thin whine. “Can he come?” Call asked his father as they walked out the door. “He’ll be good. And he deserves an award, too.”

“Absolutely not,” said Alastair.

“Is it because you don’t trust him around the Assembly?” Call asked, though once he did, he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer.

“It’s because I don’t trust the Assembly around him,” Alastair replied with a stern look. Then he headed out the door, leaving Call no choice but to follow.

THE COLLEGIUM, LIKE the Magisterium, was built in such a way that it was concealed from non-mages. It rested beneath the Virginia coastline, its corridors spiraling deep below the water. Call had heard of its location, but still wasn’t prepared for Alastair to stop them as they were walking along a jetty and indicate a grate at their feet, partially concealed under leaves and dirt.

“If you put your ear close to that, you can usually hear an incredibly dull lecture. But tonight, you might actually be able to hear music.” Although Alastair’s words weren’t particularly complimentary to the Collegium, he spoke in a wistful way.

“You never went here, though, right?” Call asked.

“Not as a student,” Alastair said. “There was a whole generation of us that mostly didn’t go. We were too busy dying in the war.”

Sometimes Call thought, uncharitably, that everyone should have left Constantine Madden alone. Sure, he’d done terrible experiments, putting chaos into the souls of animals and creating the Chaos-ridden. Sure, he’d reanimated the dead, looking for a way to cure death itself and bring back his brother. Sure, he was breaking mage law. But maybe if everyone had left him alone, so many people would still be alive. Call’s mother would still be alive.

The real Call would still be alive, too, he couldn’t help thinking.

But Call couldn’t say any of that, so he said nothing at all. Aaron was looking out over the waves at the setting sun. All summer, having Aaron at the house had felt like having a brother, someone to joke around with, someone who was always there to watch movies or destroy robots. As the drive to the Collegium had gone on, though, Aaron had become quieter. By the time Alastair had parked his silver 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom near the boardwalk and they had passed a giant weird statue of Poseidon, Aaron had pretty much stopped talking entirely.

“You okay?” Call asked as they walked on.

Aaron shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just that I was prepared to be the Makar. I knew it was dangerous and I was scared, but I understood what I had to do. And when people gave me stuff, I understood why. I understood what I owed them in return. But now I don’t know what it means to be a Makar. I mean, if there’s no war against the Enemy, that’s great, but then what do I —”

“We’re here,” Alastair said, coming to a stop. Waves crashed on the black rocks around them, kicking up salty spray and frothing in little tide pools. Call felt the light rain of it, like a cool breath across his face.

He wanted to say something to reassure Aaron, but Aaron wasn’t looking at him anymore. He was frowning at a scuttling crab. It crossed a braid of seaweed, tangled with a piece of old rope, the threadbare ends floating in the water like someone’s unbound hair.

“Is this safe?” Call asked instead.

“As safe as anything connected with the mages,” Alastair said, tapping his foot on the ground in a quick, repetitive rhythm. For a moment, nothing happened — then there was a grating sound and a square of rock slid aside to reveal a long spiraling staircase. It wound down and down, like the one in the library of the Magisterium, except there weren’t rows of books here, only the curving staircase and, at the very bottom, a glimpse of a square of marble floor.

Call swallowed hard. It would have been a long walk for anyone, but for him, it seemed impossible. His leg would be cramping by the time they got halfway down. If he stumbled, it would be a very scary fall.

“Um,” said Call, “I don’t think I can …”

“Levitate yourself,” Aaron said quietly.


“Levitation is air magic. We’re surrounded by rock — dirt and stone. Push down on it and it’ll lift you. You don’t have to fly, just float a few inches off the ground.”

Call glanced toward Alastair. Even now, he was a little wary of doing magic around his father, after all the years Alastair had spent telling him that magic was evil, that mages were evil and wanted to kill him. But Alastair, glancing down at the long stairway, just nodded curtly.

“I’ll go down first,” Aaron said. “If you fall, I’ll catch you.”

“At least we’ll go down together.” Call started to back down the stairs, putting one foot carefully in front of the other. Call could hear the noise of voices and clinking silverware far below. He took a deep breath and reached out to touch the force of the earth — to reach into it and draw it into himself, then push off, as if he were pushing off from the side of a swimming pool into the water.

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