The Madness Project (The Madness Method) (10 page)

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
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“Ah, Tarik.”

“You wished to speak with me?”

He gave me a long look, his glass poised halfway to his
lips.  “Mm,” he said, and took a sip of the liquor.

I kept my hands at my sides and tried not to squirm as he
calculated my worth.  It took me a moment to remember that I’d only just heard
him speaking to someone else.  I paced a few more steps forward, hunting the
shadows and trying to ignore my father’s dead cold stare.

“Where is he?” I asked finally.

“I asked him to give us a moment.  He’ll be back.”

I scowled.  “There’s no door.”

“Did you even know this room existed five minutes ago?”

That silenced me.  I stood carefully, not exactly facing him
but not turning my back to him either.  My father was the sort of person I
never wanted to face head on, not if I could help it.  If I had to, it usually
meant I was in trouble.  I remembered a time when I didn’t feel that way, and
it made my heart hitch with a shred of nostalgia.

That was so long ago.

He waved his glass at me again and asked, “Drink?”

I slanted him a strange glance, giving him my mother’s
raised brow.  My father reserved it for threats; for my mother it was
punctuation.

“You’re old enough to drink with me, Tarik,” he said with a
sigh, and poured a trickle of amber liquid into another glass.

I uprooted myself to take the drink from him, and swallowed
my first sip under his scrutiny.  When I didn’t cough he suppressed a smile
that surprised me more than the brandy.

“Griff?” he asked.

I couldn’t hide a faint grin as I remembered the first time
I’d slipped Griff a flask of brandy.  He’d retched in the carriage house and
tried to blame it on my hound when our old chauffeur Seelar found the mess. 
Then he’d tried to accuse me of poisoning him when someone (
me
) told
Samyr the tale.  He’d never forgiven me for it.

But I didn’t tell my father any of that.  I just cleared my
throat a little and shrugged, and said, “No.”

My father laughed, one short laugh of surprise when all I
expected was his fury.  And the thought struck me that I didn’t really know my
father at all.  I’d spent the last twelve years of my life lamenting that he
didn’t know me, and I’d never turned my judging eye on myself.

“So.  Seventeen,” he said, talking to his liquor.  “You’ve
done well for yourself.  There were a few years when I worried about you, but
you seem to have come through all right.”

I bristled.  “No offense intended, but how can you say
that?”

“I see you with my own eyes.  Your tutors speak highly of
you.  The public certainly appreciates you.  Seems like every day I see some
new picture of you decorating the front page of the Herald.  Boxing, crew,
polo…quite the sportsman, aren’t you?”

I grimaced.  There were few things I despised quite as much
as having my picture taken, but Mother insisted I never back down from a boxy. 
And I’d never been very good at spotting their bulky cameras before they pinned
me down, especially during sporting events.

“You miss my meaning,” I said, the brandy making me bold. 
“You’ve never given me more than a passing glance, and no more concern than the
footman.  And now you say I’ve done well, and you expect your praise to mean
something to me?”

“As your King at least, yes, I do.”

“The only thing that you ever cared about me doing was not
doing the one thing I was born to do.”

He slammed his glass onto the table, stabbing his other hand
at me—the whole hand, like the head of a spear.  I backed a step, and hated
that I did. 

Then he sighed, raking his hand through his silvering hair,
and said, “This is not how I wanted this conversation to go.”

I drank brandy and didn’t answer.

“Tarik, it’s precisely because of that…ability that I called
you here.”

I stopped mid-sip, the fiery liquid turning caustic in my
mouth.  I swallowed before it choked me, and slowly lowered my glass.

“I’ve never used it,” I said.  “If anyone’s told you
otherwise, they lied to you.  I did as you asked.  Buried it.”

“And now
you
misunderstand me.”  He paused, and I
didn’t dare meet his gaze.  “I’m revoking that command.”

“Beg pardon?” I asked automatically, almost dropping the
glass in my surprise.

“Listen.”

But then he just leaned back against the table, staring at
the ground, hands clasped between his knees.  A minute slipped by, then
another.  I shifted and sat down in one of the tall-backed chairs, balancing my
glass on my thigh and trying not to notice his discomfort.

“I need your gift, Tarik,” he said, low, reluctant.

I couldn’t tell what surprised me more—that he claimed to
need it, or that he called it my
gift
.

“What if I’ve lost it?” I asked.  “It’s been a long time.”

“Don’t give me that hogwash.”

I met his gaze evenly for about half a moment before my
nerves failed me and I turned away.  The worst thing of all was the absolute
silence.  Not even the radiators were ticking or hissing in the background. 
Just pure, cold silence that turned the blood in my ears to a crashing surf.

Finally, to say something, I asked, “Why?”

“Rivano.  You know what the problem is with people like
Rivano?” my father asked.  “They think they’re God’s avengers.  As if they have
every right to do whatever they need to do to accomplish their
divinely-ordained mission.  And
somehow
, they can convince people it’s
true.”

I eyed him over the rim of my glass.  He must have realized
he hadn’t explained anything, because he sighed heavily and slumped his
shoulders.

“I’ve come to believe that the IC has been compromised.”

“You mean he’s got someone on the inside?”

“Yes,” he said, dryly.  “That’s what that means.”

I rolled my eyes and buried myself in the back corner of the
chair, trying not to laugh at the irony of an Intelligence Committee who knew
everything about everyone but didn’t know which of its members were real. 

“Well?” I asked.  “That’s their problem.  Can’t they figure
out who the operative is?”

“Not so easily.” 

“Isn’t that their
job
?”

He met my gaze.  “You obviously aren’t considering the sort
of people with whom Rivano likes to surround himself.”

For once I didn’t look away.  “People like me.”

“As you say.”

I tried to imagine what exactly that meant.  Did Rivano have
people who could shift their appearances, like me?  Or did they have other
gifts?  How had he gotten spies inside?  A corner of my mind remembered the
Jixy girl I’d met, but I pushed her aside, gently.  The tramp kid was just a
coincidence.

“And you’re sure about all this?” I asked, regarding the
empty depths of my glass.

“Some of my informants have alerted us that certain secrets
have been spread in the underground.  Secrets that no one outside the
Intelligence Committee could know.”

I swallowed, pitying the poor bastard who had been rash
enough to challenge the IC.  Must be he had a death wish. 

“And it has to be one of Rivano’s pets?” I asked.

My father considered that briefly.  “Honestly, no.  But from
all we’ve been able to discover, he’s the only one in the south streets who
seems to have any connection to the anarchist movement, so it’s our best
guess.”

I studied him thoughtfully, struck by just how strange it
was that we were having this conversation.  How strange that he spoke to me
almost like an equal…or that I spoke to him like one.  It had certainly never
happened before.

“Father,” I said, the word tasting foreign in my mouth.  I waved
my glass at him.  “Has something happened that you’re not telling me?”

“We found another body, the fifth this year.  My
investigators tell me they suspect the Clan’s involvement.”

I frowned.  The city suffered well more than triple that
many murders in a year; something was special about these five.

“Who was it?”

“They…couldn’t tell.”

I shuddered.  “I don’t understand how this concerns me.”

“If you can bring me proof that the Clan is murdering
people, that is all the reason I need to bring the full weight of the law down
on them.”

“Banish them?  Or execute them?”

He sighed and looked away with a frown, not bothering to
answer me.  I ground my teeth and leaned forward to slide the empty glass onto
the table.

“Are you worried because they’re murdering people, or
because they’re anarchists?” I asked.

“You should be worried that they’re anarchists.  If they
take it into their heads to go the way of Cromis, or Tulay, then we’ll have a
bloody war on our hands, and that will put you right at the heart of it whether
you like it or no.”

I swallowed.  The Herald had printed a story just the week
before about the bloodbath in Cromis, where some of the citizens had decided
after a century of peace that their king and his laws were illegitimate.  At
the end of the day, the whole royal family except some second cousin of the
queen’s had been slaughtered, and the army had stepped in to restore order—a
pale, fragile kind of order that had left hundreds of innocent citizens dead in
the streets.  When Tulay’s Grand Duke, my grandfather, tried to send aid, his
own people threatened to revolt. 

Sometimes it felt as though the world were coming apart at
the seams.  I’d just never dreamed it would tear so close to home.

“So, what exactly do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Learn the truth.”

“The truth,” I echoed.  “About Rivano and these murders? 
About your intelligence advisors, or the anarchists, or…?”

“All of it.”

“Me.”

“Listen, Tarik, you’re the only one who can do this.  Are
you saying you won’t?”

I sat back, hooking one ankle over my knee.  “I’m just
surprised that you esteem me that highly.  I haven’t exactly distinguished
myself in the subtleties of the Court, you know.”

He snorted.  “And that’s exactly why I need you.”

He pushed away from the sideboard.  I frowned, watching him
flick a switch on an unassuming grey box set into the wall.  Some sort of radio
call box, I figured, and was satisfied when static scraped across the empty
space.  He tapped a small button, snuffing out the hiss.

“Kor.  Now.”

I raised both eyebrows.  “
Kor
?” I echoed.  “That’s
his name?  Where’d you find him, the boxing ring?”

He just speared me a sharp glance and backed away as the
lines of a door materialized out of the pale stone.  It groaned and sighed and
finally staggered open.  A moment later a man appeared in the shadows, looking
half shadow himself, with all his edges melting into uncertainty.  He didn’t
walk into the room so much as conquer it with one ground-devouring step.

The corner of my mouth tightened into something between a
smile and a grimace.  Kor stood like a thundercloud where his single step had
landed him, shapeless in a long coat, bald head shining in the grim light.  His
dark eyes shifted, turning to me with disconcerting disinterest.

“Kor,” my father said.  “The Crown Prince, Tarik.”

One small muscle twitched at Kor’s jaw, but he said nothing
and didn’t even grace me with a smile.  Something about him made me feel about
half my age.  I wanted to seem strong and undaunted, but somehow I couldn’t
budge.  Couldn’t even straighten up and offer a polite
how-d’you-do
.  If
anything, I slouched a little deeper into the chair, hoping I looked nonchalant
and not just insecure.

But I gave him the hardest stare I could and asked, “Who the
hell are you?”

My father gave an exasperated sigh.  “Tarik.”

But to my surprise, Kor just laughed—a huge, indiscreet sort
of laugh that belonged to bars and boxing rings.

“I’ll take him.”

My breath hissed out.  “I’m sorry, what?”

Kor gusted toward the sideboard, decanting a tumblerful of
brandy into
my
discarded glass and downing it in one gulp.  In the
flighty shadows, I had a hard time getting a good gauge on him.  He wasn’t
terribly old, perhaps in his mid-thirties, but nothing about him seemed young. 
And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how my father knew him, or why he
would have him in his bunker instead of his prison.

Kor flicked his coat back to shove his hands in his trouser
pockets, and leaned on the table.

“Not what I expected,” he said, speaking over his shoulder
to my father.  “From the papers.  I’ll take him.”

My hand tightened convulsively.  “Care to explain?”

“Take you on.  Teach you.”

“What?”

He grinned, savagely.  “It’ll take some work.”

I shot to my feet, kicking the heavy chair back an inch or
two in the process.  But I just glared at him and then passed him to confront
my father.

“What is going on here?” I hissed.

“I asked Kor to get you ready for your assignment.”

“My
assignment
?  What assignment?”

“You just asked what I needed you to do.  I need you to
learn from Kor.  And then I need you to disappear.  I need you to become one of
them.”

I recoiled, hard.  “You brought
him
here to teach me
to be…to be what, a slum rat?  Is that what this is?”


Listen to me!
” he bellowed.  The walls rang the
words back at us.  “Listen carefully,” he added, low.  “I need you to do this. 
Can you do it?”

I just stared at him for a good minute, too stunned to
answer.  It felt vaguely like surgery or betrayal, this being excised from
everything I loved.  And yet…he trusted me. 
Me
.  He wanted me to leave
everything I knew, everything I was, and become…something else.  Become the
very thing he had always taught me to hate.  Suddenly I didn’t know what I
felt, not a bit.

“No one else is aware of this plan,” he murmured, with an
earnestness that took me utterly by surprise.  “I wouldn’t betray your secret. 
Not like that.  And believe me, I would never have asked you to do this if I
didn’t absolutely think it was necessary.  Or if I didn’t believe you were
capable.”

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
12.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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