The Golden Tower Page 2

The night before leaving home for his final year at the Magisterium, Call lay awake in bed as the moon made a white path over his bedclothes. He had packed a duffel for his trip to the Magisterium the next day, where he’d be putting on the deep red uniform of a Gold Year. He remembered looking at Alex Strike in his Gold Year uniform, seeming so cool and confident with his friends. Now Alex was dead. Call was glad, too. Alex had murdered Aaron and deserved everything he’d gotten.

Call. Aaron’s voice was a whisper. Don’t think about this stuff. You just have to get through tomorrow.

“But everyone will hate me,” Call said. He knew his father disagreed, but he was pretty sure he was right about this. He might have come out on the right side in the last battle, he might have saved the Magisterium, but he was still the bearer of Constantine Madden’s corrupted soul.

Havoc gave a whine and nosed at Call’s hand, then began trying to crawl under the covers. It had been cute when he was a pup but was downright dangerous in a full-grown wolf, even if he wasn’t Chaos-ridden.

Havoc, quit it, Aaron thought, and Havoc jerked his head up, blinking. He can hear me! Aaron sounded delighted.

“You’re imagining things,” Call said.

There was a knock on Call’s door. “Call? Are you on the phone?” Alastair asked.

“No!” Call yelled. “Just — talking to Havoc.”

“Okay.” Alastair sounded dubious but his footsteps receded.

You’ve got Tamara, and Havoc, and me, said Aaron. As long as we all stick together, we’ll be all right.

SITTING ON THE passenger side of Alastair’s silver 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom, headed toward the Magisterium once again, Call thought about his trip to the Iron Trial four years earlier. He remembered the way his dad had told him that, if he just flunked the tests, then he wouldn’t have to go to magic school — which was good, because if he did go, he might die down in the tunnels.

Now Call knew what his dad had really been worried about — the discovery that Call was the repository for Constantine’s soul. And everything his dad had been afraid might happen had come to pass, except for the dying-in-the-tunnels part.

It wasn’t too late for that either.

Do you just think about the worst stuff possible? Aaron asked. Like this Evil Overlord point system. We really need to talk about that.

“Don’t judge,” Call said.

Alastair looked over at him oddly. “I am not judging you, Callum. Although you have been very quiet on this trip.”

Call really needed to stop responding to Aaron out loud.

And Aaron really needed to stop poking around in his memories.

“I’m fine,” Call told his dad. “Just a little on edge.”

“Only one more year,” said Alastair, turning onto the road that led to the caverns of the school. “And then the mages can’t claim you’re dangerously untrained or any of that hogwash. One more year and you’ll be free from mages forever.”

A few minutes later, Call was getting out of the car and slinging a duffel over his shoulder. Havoc jumped out after him, scenting the wind. A bus was letting out other students, young ones fresh from the Iron Trials. They looked really small to Call and he found himself worrying for them. A few peered over at him nervously, pointing and whispering to one another.

He stopped worrying and started hoping Warren, a weird lizard that lived in the caves, would lead them into a crevasse.

That would definitely earn you some of those Evil Overlord Points, Aaron said.

“Stop poking around in my brain,” Call muttered under his breath.

Alastair came around and gave him a parting hug and a pat on the shoulder. With a start, Call realized they were basically the same height now.

He could hear whispers all around them, was conscious of eyes staring at him and his father. When Alastair stepped back, his jaw was tight. “You’re a good kid,” he said. “They don’t deserve you.”

With a sigh, Call watched him drive away, then made his way into the caves of the Magisterium. Havoc padded along behind him.

Everything felt familiar and not familiar. The scent of stone, intensifying as he wended his way deeper into the maze of tunnels, was familiar. The sound of small scuttling lizards and the glow of the moss was familiar. The way the other students stared at him and whispered behind their hands was familiar, too, but much less pleasant. Even some of the Masters were doing it. Call caught Master Rockmaple gaping at him as he approached the door to his rooms, and made a face right back.

He tapped his wristband against the door and it popped open. He ducked in, expecting the room to be empty.

It wasn’t. Tamara was sitting on the couch, already in her Gold Year uniform.

Why did you think she wouldn’t be here? Aaron asked him. It’s her room, too.

For once, Call didn’t answer Aaron out loud, but that was only because there was a roaring in his ears and all he could think about was Tamara. About how pretty she looked and how shiny her hair was, braided in one heavy plait, and how everything about her seemed perfectly ordered, from the sharpness of her brows to the spotlessness of her uniform.

That was weird, Aaron said. Your whole mind just went up in smoke or something. Call? Earth to Call?

He had to say something. He knew he had to say something, especially because she was still looking at him, like she was waiting for him to do exactly that.

But he felt shabby and awkward and completely foolish. And he didn’t know how he was going to explain that he maybe hadn’t made all the right choices, but they’d worked out in the end and he wasn’t mad at her for running off with Jasper and leaving him at Evil Overlord Central with Master Joseph and Alex so she probably shouldn’t be mad at him for raising Aaron from the dead….

Nope, you can’t say any of that, Aaron said firmly.

“Why?” Call asked, and then realized he’d done it again, he’d spoken out loud. He resisted slapping his hand over his mouth, which would only make things worse.

Tamara stood up from the couch. “Why? That’s all you’ve got to say to me?”

“No!” Call said, but then realized he hadn’t worked out what he should say.

Repeat after me, said Aaron. “Tamara, I know you’ve got reasons to be mad and I know I’ve got to regain your trust, but I hope we can be friends again one day.”

Call took a deep breath. “I know you’ve got reasons to be mad,” he said, feeling even more foolish, if that were possible. “And I know I’ve got to regain your trust, but I hope we can be friends again one day.”

Tamara’s expression softened. “We can be friends, Call.”

Call couldn’t believe what he’d said had worked. Aaron always knew what to say, and now, with Aaron in his head, Call would know what to say, too! That was great.

“Okay,” he said now, since he wasn’t receiving any other instructions. “Good.”

Tamara bent down and ruffled the fur around Havoc’s throat, making the wolf’s tongue loll with happiness. “He really seems fine, not being Chaos-ridden. He doesn’t even seem that different.”

Now tell her that you care about her and you’ve made some bad choices and you’re sorry about them, Aaron told him.

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