The Copper Gauntlet Page 2

“Harsh,” he said. “Everyone dances until they collapse. We eat only raw-egg smoothies and wheat protein. Every Friday we have a dance-off and whoever is left standing gets a chocolate bar. Also we have to watch dance movies constantly.”

She was about to say something in return, but she was interrupted by Havoc pushing out of the bushes. He was carrying a stick between his teeth, and his eyes were wide and coruscating — shades of orange, yellow, and hellfire red. As Kylie stared, her own eyes popping, Call realized how huge Havoc must look to her, how very obviously not a dog or any kind of normal pet he was.

Kylie screamed. Before Call could say another word, she bolted out of the yard and tore down the street, her white mop of a dog barely keeping pace with her.

So much for making nice with the neighbors.

By the time Call got home, he’d decided that between lying to Kylie and scaring her off, he had to take away all the good points he’d gotten for picking up after Havoc.

The Evil Overlord column was winning the day.

“Is everything all right?” his father asked, seeing the look on Call’s face as he closed the door.

“Yeah, fine,” Call said dejectedly.

“Good.” Alastair cleared his throat. “I thought we might go out this evening,” he said. “To the cinema.”

Call was startled. They hadn’t done much since he’d come back for the summer. Alastair, day after day, seeming sunken in gloom, had been wearing a path from the TV room to the garage, where he fixed up old cars and made them shine like new, then sold them to collectors. Sometimes Call grabbed his skateboard and skated halfheartedly around the town, but nothing seemed like much fun compared to the Magisterium.

He’d even started missing the lichen.

“What movie do you want to see?” Call asked, figuring that Evil Overlords didn’t consider the movie choices of others. That had to count for something.

“There’s a new one. With spaceships,” his dad said, surprising Call with his choice. “And perhaps we could drop that monster of yours at the pound on the way. Trade it in for a nice poodle. Or even a pit bull. Anything not rabid.”

Havoc looked up at Alastair balefully, his eerie eyes swirling with color. Call thought of Kylie’s wig dog.

“He’s not rabid,” Call said, rubbing Havoc’s neck ruff. The wolf slid down and rolled on his back, tongue lolling, so Call could scratch his belly. “Can he come? He could wait for us in the car with the windows down.”

Frowning, Alastair shook his head. “Absolutely not. Tie it up out in the garage.”

“He’s not an it. And I bet he’d like popcorn,” Call said. “And gummi worms.”

Alastair checked his watch, then pointed to the garage. “Well, perhaps you can bring some back for it.”

“Him!” With a sigh, Call led Havoc out into Alastair’s workshop in the garage. It was a big space, bigger than the largest room in the house, and it smelled of oil and gasoline and old wood. The chassis of a Citroën rested on blocks, tires missing and seats removed. Stacks of yellowed repair manuals were piled on antique stools, while headlights dangled down from the rafters. A coil of rope hung above an assortment of wrenches. Call used the rope to fasten a loose knot around the wolf’s collar.

He knelt down in front of Havoc. “We’ll be back at school soon,” he whispered. “With Tamara and Aaron. And then everything will go back to normal.”

The dog whined like he understood. Like he missed the Magisterium as much as Call did.

 

Call had a hard time keeping his mind on the movie, despite the spaceships, aliens, and explosions. He kept thinking about the way they watched movies at the Magisterium, with an air mage projecting the images onto a cave wall. Because the movies were controlled by the mages, anything could happen in them. He’d seen Star Wars with six different endings, and movies where the kids from the Magisterium were projected onto the screen, fighting monsters, flying cars, and turning into superheroes.

In comparison, this movie seemed a little flat. Call concentrated on the parts he would have done differently as he downed three Extreme! Sour Apple Slushies and two large tubs of buttered popcorn. Alastair stared at the screen with an expression of mild horror, not even turning when Call offered him some peanut clusters. As a consequence of having to eat all the snacks himself, Call was buzzing with sugar by the time they got back to Alastair’s car.

“Did you like it?” Alastair asked.

“It was pretty good,” Call said, not wanting Alastair to feel like he didn’t appreciate his dad dragging himself to a movie he would never have gone to see on his own. “The part where the space station blew up was awesome.”

There was a silence, not quite long enough to be uncomfortable, before Alastair spoke again. “You know, there’s no reason for you to go back to the Magisterium. You’ve learned the basics. You could practice here, with me.”

Call felt his heart sink. They’d had this conversation, or variations of it, a hundred times already, and it never went well. “I think I should probably go back,” Call said as neutrally as possible. “I already went through the First Gate, so I should finish what I started.”

Alastair’s expression darkened. “It’s not good for children to be underground. Kept in the dark like worms. Your skin growing pale and gray. Your Vitamin D levels dropping. The vitality leeching from your body …”

“Do I look gray?” Call rarely paid attention to his appearance beyond the basics — making sure his pants weren’t inside out and his hair wasn’t sticking up — but being gray sounded bad. He cast a surreptitious glance at his hand, but it still appeared to be its usual pinky-beige color.

Alastair was gripping the wheel in frustration as they turned onto their street. “What is it about that school that you like?”

“What did you like about it?” Call demanded. “You went there, and I know you didn’t hate every minute. You met Mom there —”

“Yes,” Alastair said. “I had friends there. That was what I liked about it.” It was the first time Call could remember him saying he’d liked anything about mage school.

“I have friends there, too,” said Call. “I don’t have any here, but I do there.”

“All the friends I went to school with are dead now, Call,” said Alastair, and Call felt the hair rise up on the back of his neck. He thought of Aaron, Tamara, and Celia — then had to stop. It was too awful.

Not just the idea of them dying.

But the idea of them dying because of him.

Because of his secret.

The evil inside him.

Stop, Call told himself. They were back at their house now. Something about it looked wrong to Call. Off. Call stared for a minute before he realized what it was. He’d left the garage door closed, Havoc tied up inside, but now it was open, a big black square.

“Havoc!” Call grabbed at the door handle and half fell out onto the pavement, his weak leg twanging. He could hear his father calling his name, but he didn’t care.

He half limped, half ran to the garage. The rope was still there, but one end of it was frayed, as though sawed through by a knife — or a sharp wolf tooth. Call tried to imagine Havoc all alone in the garage, in the dark. Barking and waiting for Call to answer. Call started to feel cold all through his chest. Havoc hadn’t been tied up a lot at Alastair’s, and it had probably freaked him out. Maybe he’d chewed the rope and thrown himself against the door until it opened.

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