The Silver Mask Page 2

“No,” Master Rufus said. “But this may be your last chance to unburden yourself. And it may be my last chance to be able to help you.”

Call thought of Anastasia Tarquin and how she’d revealed herself as Constantine’s mother. At the time, he hadn’t known what to think. He was reeling from Aaron’s death, reeling from feeling like everyone he’d believed in had betrayed him.

But what good was telling Master Rufus that? It wouldn’t help Call. It would only hurt someone else, someone who’d put her trust in him.

“I want to tell you a story,” Master Rufus said. “There was a mage, once, a man who very much liked teaching and sharing his love of magic. He believed in his students and he believed in himself. When a great tragedy shook that belief, he realized he was lonely — that he had dedicated all his life to the Magisterium and that it was otherwise empty.”

Call blinked. He felt pretty sure this story was about Master Rufus himself, and he had to admit he’d never thought of Rufus as having a life outside the Magisterium. He’d never thought about Rufus having friends or a family or anyone to visit on holidays or make tornado phone calls to.

“You can just say this story is about you,” Call told his teacher. “It’ll still have emotional resonance.”

Master Rufus glared at him. “Fine,” he said. “It was after the Third Mage War that I faced the loneliness of the life I had chosen. And as fate would have it, I fell in love soon after — in a library, researching ancient documents.” He smiled a little. “But he wasn’t a mage. He knew nothing of the secret world of magic. And I couldn’t tell him. It would have broken all the rules if I’d told him how our world worked, and he would have thought I was insane. So I told him that I worked abroad and came home for holidays. We spoke often, but essentially, I was lying to him. I didn’t want to be, but I was.”

“Isn’t that a story about how it’s better to keep secrets?” Call asked.

Master Rufus’s eyebrows made another of their unlikely moves, lowering in a truly impressive glower. “It’s a story meant to show you that I understand about keeping secrets. I understand how they protect people and how they can hurt the person keeping them. Call, if there’s anything to tell, tell me, and I will do whatever I can to make sure it helps you.”

“I don’t have any secrets,” Call said. “Not anymore.”

Master Rufus nodded, then sighed.

“Tamara is fine,” he told Call. “Lessons without you and Aaron are lonely, but she is coping. Havoc misses you, of course. As for Jasper, I could not guess. He has done some strange things with his hair lately, but that might have nothing to do with you.”

“Okay,” Call said, a little dazed. “Thanks.”

“As for Aaron,” said Master Rufus, “he was buried with all the splendor accorded a Makar. His funeral was attended by the entire Assembly and all of the Magisterium.”

Call nodded and looked at the floor. Aaron’s funeral. Hearing Master Rufus say those words — hearing the pain in his voice — made it feel more than real to Call. This would always be the central fact of his life: If it hadn’t been for him, his best friend would still be alive.

Master Rufus headed for the door to let himself out, but he paused on the way, just a second, and rested his hand on Call’s head. It made Call’s throat tighten up in a way that surprised him.

When Call was escorted back to his cell, he had the next surprise of the day. His father, Alastair, was standing outside, waiting for him.

Alastair gave a little wave, and Call wiggled his cuffed hands. He had to blink a lot or the devastatingly villainous charms of the Enemy of Death were going to dissolve into tears.

Call’s guards brought him into his cell and uncuffed him. They were older mages, dressed in the dark brown uniform of the Panopticon. After undoing his hands, they fastened a metal cuff around his leg, one that connected to a hook in the wall. The chain was long enough to allow Call to wander around the cell, but not long enough for him to reach the bars or the door.

The guards left the cell, locked it, and retreated into the shadows. Call knew they were there, though. That was the point of the Panopticon: Someone was always watching you.

“You’re all right?” said Alastair roughly, as soon as the guards were gone. “They haven’t hurt you?”

He looked as if he wanted to grab Call up and run his hands over him for injuries, the way he used to when Call fell off a swing set or knocked into a tree on his skateboard.

Call shook his head. “They haven’t tried to hurt me physically at all,” he said.

Alastair nodded. His eyes looked pinched and tired behind his glasses. “I would have come sooner,” he said, settling himself on the uncomfortable-looking metal chair the guards had placed on the other side of the bars, “but they weren’t allowing you visitors.”

The wash of relief Call felt was incredible. Somehow he had managed to convince himself that his father was happy they’d locked him up. Or maybe not happy — but better off without him.

He was so glad that wasn’t true.

“I tried everything,” Alastair told his son.

Call didn’t know how to respond. There was no way for him to say how sorry he was. He also didn’t understand why all of a sudden he was allowed to have visitors … unless he’d outlived his usefulness to the Assembly.

Maybe these were the last visits he’d ever have.

“I saw Master Rufus today,” he told his dad. “He said they were done interrogating me. Does that mean they’re going to kill me?”

Alastair looked shocked. “Call, they can’t do that. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“They think I murdered Aaron!” Call said. “I’m in prison! Obviously, they think I did something wrong.”

And I did do something wrong, he added in his head. Even if Alex Strike had been the one to actually kill Aaron, keeping Call’s secret was the reason he was dead.

Alastair shook his head, dismissing Call’s words. “They are afraid — afraid of Constantine, afraid of you — so they’re looking for an excuse to keep you here. They don’t really believe you were responsible for Aaron’s death.” Alastair sighed. “And if that doesn’t comfort you, think of this — since they don’t understand how Constantine transferred his soul to you, I am sure they don’t want to risk you transferring your soul to someone else.”

Call’s dad hated the mage world and wasn’t much of an optimist to begin with, but in this case, Alastair’s grimness made Call feel better. He definitely had a point. It had never even occurred to Call that he could transfer his soul to someone else, or that the mages might be worried about it.

“So they’re going to keep me here, locked up,” Call said. “And then they’re going to throw away the key and forget me.”

Alastair was silent for a long moment after that, which was a lot less reassuring.

“When did you know?” Call blurted out, afraid the silence might drag on longer.

“Know what?” Alastair asked.

“That I wasn’t your real son.”

Alastair frowned. “You are my son, Callum.”

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