The Golden Tower – Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

FOR THE FIRST time in Call’s life, the house he had grown up in looked small. Alastair brought the car to a stop and they piled out along with Havoc, who ran along the edge of the grass, barking. Alastair glanced at Call once before locking the car — there was no suitcase to carry out, no duffel bags or luggage to worry about. Call had come home from Master Joseph’s with nothing. Not exactly nothing, said Aaron’s voice in his head. You’ve got me. Call tried not to smile. It would be weird if his dad saw him grinning at nothing, especially since lately there hadn’t been much to smile about — Master Joseph and his forces had been defeated by the Magisterium, but there had been a high death toll. Call’s best friend, Aaron, had been raised from the dead only to die again. As far as anyone knew. “Are you all right?” Alastair squinted at Call. “You look dyspeptic.” Call abandoned the attempt not to smile. “Just glad to be home.” Alastair hugged him awkwardly.

“I don’t blame you.” The house looked smaller inside, too. Call went into his bedroom, Havoc panting at his heels. It was still weird to see Havoc with regular green wolf eyes instead of the coruscating eyes of the Chaos-ridden. Call reached down to scratch Havoc’s ears and the wolf yawned, his tail thumping on the ground. Call wandered around the room, picking things up almost aimlessly and putting them down. His old Iron Year uniform. Smooth, pebbled rocks from the caverns of the Magisterium. A picture of him and Aaron and Tamara, grinning ear to ear. Tamara.

His stomach clenched. He hadn’t spoken to Tamara since she had been kneeling over his body on the battlefield outside Master Joseph’s stronghold. In that moment, it had seemed possible that she cared about him the way he wanted her to, but the silence that followed let him know where he stood. After all, it was one thing to not want someone to die; it was another thing entirely to want to talk to them once they were alive. Tamara hadn’t wanted Call to raise Aaron from the dead in the first place, and once he had, she hadn’t thought that Aaron was himself. To be fair, Aaron hadn’t been acting like himself. It turned out that bringing a soul back into a slightly rotted body did weird things to it. Ironically, Aaron was much more himself now while rattling around in Call’s head. But Tamara didn’t know Aaron was still around, and Call was sure, based on her previous reactions, that she would be highly suspicious if she found out. She already thought Call was an evil sorcerer, or at least evilly inclined.

Which Call didn’t really want to think about, because of all the people in the world, Tamara had always believed in him the most. We’re still going to have to tell her, you know. Call startled. Despite Aaron being there with him in the Magisterium infirmary all through his healing from the aftereffects of using too much chaos magic at the battle with Alex, another person hearing and responding to your thoughts never stopped being unsettling. There was a knock on the door and then Alastair opened it. “You feel up to some dinner? I could make some grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. Or we could get a pizza.” “Sandwiches would be great,” Call said. Alastair made them carefully, buttering up the pan so the bread got nicely toasted and opening a can of tomato soup. Call’s dad had never been much of a cook, but eating dinner at the table with him — and sneaking crusts to Havoc under the table — was way better than the most delicious feast Master Joseph could conjure.

“So,” Alastair started, once he’d sat down and they’d both started eating. The tomato soup was salty-sweet, just right, and the pimento cheese perfectly spicy. “We need to talk about the future.” Call looked up from his soup, puzzled. “Future?” “You’re heading into your Gold Year at the Magisterium. Everyone agrees that you’ve, um, learned enough magic for your Silver Year to be considered complete. You’ll be walking through the gate as soon as you get back to school in the fall.” “I can’t go back to the Magisterium!” Call said. “Everyone hates me.” Alastair pushed back his dark hair absently.

“Probably not so much anymore. You’re a hero again.” Call’s dad was a great dad in many ways, but his bedside manner still needed a lot of work. “Anyway, you only have to make it through one more year of study. And with Master Joseph gone, it ought to be pretty quiet.” “The Collegium —” “You don’t have to go to the Collegium, Call,” Alastair said. “And I think it would be better if you didn’t. Now that Aaron’s gone, you’re the only Makar left. They’ll try to use you, and they’ll never trust you. You can’t have a normal mage’s life.

” Call thought privately he wasn’t sure any mage had a normal life. “Then what’ll I do instead? Go to regular college?” “I never went to any kind of college,” said Alastair. “We could take some time off, travel a little. I could teach you what I do — we could set up a business somewhere, father and son. Like California.” He poked his soup with his spoon. “I mean, we’ll have to change our names. Avoid the Magisterium and the Assembly. But it’s worth it.” Call didn’t know what to say.

Right now the idea of never dealing with the Assembly and its views on Makars, or the hatred people held toward Constantine Madden, the Enemy of Death, whose soul lived in Call’s body, sounded ideal. But … “Look, there’s something I’ve got to tell you,” Call said. “Aaron’s not really gone.” Alastair’s brows furrowed in concern. Uh-oh, Aaron thought. I hope he’s not going to freak out. “What do you mean?” Alastair said carefully. “I mean, he’s still in my head. Like, he’s living on in me,” Call blurted out. There’s really no need for you to tell him this, Aaron said.

Which was pretty rich coming from him, since he’d just gotten through saying they had to tell Tamara. Alastair nodded slowly, and relief made Call’s shoulders dip. His dad was taking this well. Maybe he’d have some ideas for what to do. “That’s a good way of looking at it,” Alastair said finally. “You’re dealing with all of this really well. Grief is hard, I know. But the best thing to do is to remember the person you lost and —” “You don’t understand,” Call interrupted. “Aaron talks to me. I hear him.

” Alastair continued nodding. “I felt that way sometimes after we lost your mother. It was almost as though I could hear Sarah’s voice scolding me. Especially one time when I let you crawl around outside and you ate dirt while I wasn’t paying attention.” “I ate dirt?” Call asked. “Helps you build immunities,” said Alastair, slightly defensive. “You’re fine.” “I might be,” said Call. “But that’s not the point. The point is that Aaron is really, really with me.

” Alastair put a gentle hand on Call’s shoulder. “I know he is,” he said. And Call didn’t have the heart to say anything after that. 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 stuf . 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 stuf 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. I am not going to say that! Call thought back. If I tell her I care about her, she’ll laugh at me. But if I don’t say anything else, maybe this will all blow over. All he got from Aaron in return was silence. Sulky silence. “I care about you,” Call said, and Tamara stood bolt upright.

Both she and Havoc looked at him in surprise. “I made bad choices. Really bad choices. Like, the worst choices anyone has ever made.” Don’t go overboard, buddy. Aaron sounded alarmed. “I wanted Aaron back,” Call said, and Aaron, in his head, was silent. “You and Aaron — you’re the best friends I’ve ever had. And Havoc. But he doesn’t judge.

” Havoc barked. Tamara’s lip twitched a little, as if she was trying not to smile. “I don’t want to pressure you,” Call said. “Take all the time you need to decide how you feel. I just wanted you to know I was sorry.” Tamara was silent for a long moment. Then she walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek. Energy zinged through Call’s body and he fought off the urge to put his arms around her. Yikes, Aaron said mildly. Tamara pulled back.

“That doesn’t mean I totally forgive you or we’re back to where we were,” she said. “We’re not dating, Call.”

.

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