The Madness Project (The Madness Method) (3 page)

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
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All at once his smile faded.  He drew up, his eyes flashing
to focus on something behind us.  I spun around just as a couple of aviators
and a handful of mechanics in grubs streamed from the clubhouse, shouting and
pointing.  The boxy stood frozen, his camera forgotten, as Griff’s plane
streaked from the clouds with its nose wreathed in flames.

For an endless moment I stood paralyzed, watching the wings
dip and jerk as Griff fought to bring the plane down.  An acrid stench of fuel
oil gusted across the aerodrome in the raging wind.  And suddenly I realized
what was happening.

The blood drained from my face.

I vaulted over the fence, Zagger dogging my heels, his
shouts muffled by the rush of blood in my ears.

The plane sagged and convulsed.  Black smoke poured from the
engine.


Griff!
” I screamed.  “Land the damn plane, Griff!”

I hit the muddy ditch that edged the landing strip, my feet
slipping in the sludge.  Then Zagger was on me.  His arm flashed around me,
driving me behind him in one dizzying motion.  I spun away but he grabbed me
again.  This time he pinned me against him in a grip so tight I could barely
breathe.  I struck at him, swearing, screaming at him to let me go, choking on
rain and horror and fear. 

The plane slammed hard onto the ground with a noise like
hellfire.  It rocked and swerved as it skidded past us, a flaming coffin to
bury my best friend.

 

 

Chapter 3 — Hayli

 

“Hayli, you made it!  I dan’ believe it!”

Jig’s voice drifted into my grey-blurred world a half tick
before my vision focused.  I couldn’t feel a grobbing thing yet.  It always
took a minute after I Shifted, a terrifying minute of nothingness like the
world had disappeared out from under me.  I waited, and didn’t move, counting
one to ten.  I didn’t even breathe. 

Then all at once feeling buzzed through me like a horde of
wee ants.  I felt each one of my ten fingers, felt my boots planted on rough
wet rock, felt my face catching the drizzle on my bare skin.  Sometimes I
imagined I could still feel the prickle of feathers even after they’d faded,
but not today.  Today I only knew the cold, cold rain and the wind in my hair. 

I made it. 

I perched bird-like atop the high Oval Wall, and as
everything came clear around me, I got a good goggle at two whole different
worlds. 

On my right, the city street threaded away between rainy
buildings and rainy trees, with inky newspapers stuck like skin to the
cobblestones and lampposts.  Not many people out today.  Too wet, too cold. 
Sensible folks stayed in when the weather turned, come bleak autumn and all its
bad attitude.  At least, the folks who had a place to go stayed in.  Maybe they
were sensible, or maybe just rich and spoiled.  I sure couldn’t say.

I shifted to the balls of my feet and peered to my left,
trying to get a better look onto the palace grounds.  The half-bare elms and
beeches crowded my view of the avenue, a twisty kaleidoscope of golds and
coppery reds.  I could see bits of the street and the walkway well enough, and
somewhere past the shaking branches I glimpsed the sprawling palace itself, gleaming
palest blue and white in spite of all the rain. 

I was fair sure I’d only ever seen it in pictures before,
and now I stared and kept staring, because it was bigger than I’d ever
dreamed.  Fancy stone buildings with ribbed columns and black-slate roofs
scattered around far as I could see.  I guessed they were Ministry buildings. 
Useless spaces for useless people, Jig would say.  I reckoned he thought a king
was too much law already, without a mess of Ministers mucking up the works.

Derrin had told me once that the palace was like its own
little world.  I didn’t believe him then, but I did now.  I switched my gaze
back and forth a couple of times for the full effect.  To the right, everything
sulked grey and sullen as a wet cat.  And to the left, the fallen leaves made a
glimmery carpet, as if rain inside the Oval Wall was made of fire instead of
water.  They even smelled fine, too, not like the manky, musty stench of leaves
too long in the gutters.

I bet the folks palace-side don’t reek much either.  Lucky
devils.

“Hayli, d’you see it?” Jig called up from somewhere below,
city-side, grey and wet.

I didn’t answer, because I’d been too busy staring down to
remember to look up.

“Hayli!”

“Shut up, Jig!” I said, talking through my teeth.  “Give me
a second.”

I peered north and east, scanning the skies.  I’d seen the
aeroplane swooping about just minutes before—or, at least, I hoped it was
minutes before—but it had disappeared now.  Maybe I’d missed it.  Maybe I’d
taken too long trying to get up onto the Wall.  But Jig was still here, which
meant I couldn’t have taken forever Shifting.  Jig had the patience of a flea,
and the fact that Kantian had forced him to pair up with me again likely had
him fitsier than ever.

I squinted at the sky and wished I still had my bird-sharp
eyes. 

And then I saw it.

The aeroplane catapulted from the clouds, streaming smoke
like a banner.  A knot twisted my stomach.  That beautiful plane was crashing. 
The aviator…

“He got him,” I choked.  “It’s gannin’ down.  Why’d we have
to…”

My voice died as the plane disappeared beyond the trees. 
But I kept staring, my breath clenched in my teeth, waiting for the telltale
plume of red flame and black smoke.  But none came. 

I turned about carefully on my narrow perch.  Jig had
climbed up onto the roof of a hack stand and crouched there like a lean black
cat, watching me through those wild dark eyes of his, his ebony hair slashing
his vision into ribbons.

“He landed it!” I whispered, too excited.  “It div’n crash!”

Jig swore and flicked his hair from his eyes.  “Any sign of
an alarm?”

I scanned the palace grounds, but didn’t see any rush of
activity streaking for the air field.  Heard no wailing siren.  No panic.  None
of the things we’d expected.

“No,” I said.  “It div’n work.”

Jig didn’t move for a bit, and he didn’t say a word.  He had
that dark, stony edge to him, the kind that made me want to keep away from
him.  He was a knife.  Thin and cold and sharp.

Finally he hissed a sigh and said, “Damn.  We’ll have to try
anyway.”  He tilted his head back and fixed me with a stare.  “Can you get me
in?  There too many guards?”

I frowned and shifted about for a peek.  A guard paced the
sidewalk below, rain water streaming off his helmet, the once-white plume all
scraggly as a stray dog’s tail.  He wore a grey wool greatcoat that I wanted
bad, but one look at the rifle on his shoulder and the muscles in his neck
convinced me I didn’t. 

Jig could’ve taken him out, but Jig couldn’t get onto the
Wall, which was precisely why I was up there and he wasn’t…why I’d finally had
to let him in on my secret.  And it was pretty near a miracle that I’d got up
there at all.  First time I’d ever managed the likes of it—planning where I
wanted to go after I Shifted and actually getting there the first try, and not even
taking days to do it.  The thought got me all giddy with pride, and all I could
think was how I couldn’t wait to tell Derrin I’d done it.

“Come on, Hayli,” Jig said, interrupting my bout of
self-congratulations.  “Gan on and get me through sometime the year, like!”

I ground my teeth and focused.  Through the golden mesh of
beech leaves I already glimpsed the next patrol coming our way.  His steps
matched the first guard’s so perfectly, they were like copies of each other. 
Left, right, left, right.  And I was supposed to fly down there in the grey
daylight and find Jig a way onto the palace grounds. 

I could just glimpse the rain grate I’d spotted some hours
ago from outside the wall, with its interior padlock that I’d sworn I’d be able
to pick.  Only trouble was, the guards
should
have left when Scorch
zotzed the aeroplane, so I could work at the lock in a bit of peace—because
honestly, lock-picking wasn’t my greatest skill. 

That was the plan.  Of course, nothing ever went according
to the plan, not to mention the plan was pretty rubbish anyway.

“Can’t,” I told Jig.  “Too many guards.”

He arched one black brow and waved both hands like that
could push me over the edge.  I knew he had a mind to run up the wall at me,
but he’d be an idiot to try.  Nine feet was his limit, and only then if he had
some handholds.  Maybe he was two years older than me, but even at eighteen he
was hardly a hand taller.  Not that anyone would slag him about it, because
he’d tear them to pieces and never even blink. 


Shift
, Hayli,” he insisted.  “That was grobbing
fantastic!  Turn bird again and they’ll never see.”  He paused, dark eyes
glittering.  “I’ll lend you my knife.”

I shuddered and leaned far as I could over the edge of the
wall, hoping the guards wouldn’t hear us yapping.  “I
dan’
need a
knife.  And I dan’ want to Shift again.  I barely made it this time!”

“Well,” he said.  “You’ve got to do something to get down
again.”

I jutted my lip and scowled.  He had a point.  I hadn’t
exactly thought that far ahead.  Derrin’s advice for the first stage was to
start small—flying from the ground up to the wall.  He’d said that maybe if I
had a tiny goal, I’d be able to manage it, and of course he was right.  Because
if I was a lousy lock-picker, I was an even lousier Shifter.  Kantian just had
to use me because I was the only shape-shifter around.

I jerked my felt cap down hard over my hair.  Sometimes I
hated my gift.  Sometimes it made me feel shoddy as a second-class mage with a
second-class gift.  What good was a gift you couldn’t control, anyway? 

Jig wasn’t a Moth.  He’d never understand how I couldn’t see
with my own eyes or remember where I’d been…or where I meant to go.  Because
maybe I’d end up in the right place, or maybe I’d wake up in Ridgemark two
weeks from now after spending a romping time as a crow, eating dead things or
whatever it is crows do.  Maybe I’d die a crow somewhere out there and no one
would ever know how I’d ended.

I shuddered.

I didn’t want to fail again.

“Jig,” I whispered.  “What if they catch me?”

He narrowed his eyes.  He might’ve looked angry, only he was
chewing his lip the way he did when he actually felt an emotion and didn’t know
quite what to do with it.

“We’ve been through all that,” he said finally.  “You’re on
the run…you snuck in with a carriage…”

I didn’t want to panic, but my heart started thrashing at
the notion of prison bars and…court rooms. 
Memories
of court rooms, and
my mum and dad…  I shivered, then pounded the heel of my hand on my forehead to
knock the images out.  Wiped my hands on the thighs of my trousers, but the
rain had soaked the worn tweed so bad it didn’t do a jot of good.

“This is a bodgy idea,” I groaned.  “Why’d we have to shoot
down the plane?  Why?”

Jig glared.  He could crush your soul with a glare like
that.

“Just move it, before we’re completely out of time!” he
hissed.  “Unless you want to tell Kantian why you div’n get me in?  Or Derrin?”

I jerked back like he’d smacked me.  I’d displeased the boss
before, but I got all wilty inside at the thought of disappointing Derrin. 
Funny.  It should have been the other way around, really.

“Fine,” I snapped, but I said it too loud.

The guard below must have heard me.  His gaze yanked upward
just as I plunged off the wall, my fingers stretching to wingtips.

 

 

Chapter 4 — Tarik

 

Black smoke blanketed me, choking me, blinding me.  And
Griff…Griff was somewhere at the heart of all the fire and chaos, somewhere I
couldn’t reach.  The wind battered us and I heard myself scream, thrashing
against Zagger’s iron grip.  But I couldn’t move my arms so I kicked out at
him, wincing as my shoe slammed against bone.  Zagger hissed in pain but didn’t
even flinch.

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
12.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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