The Madness Project (The Madness Method) (8 page)

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
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If folks ever looked twice at the old place, they probably
just thought it was a factory with a vasty storage basement like all the other
factories had.  They had no notion that it was like a little army base down
underground.  And so many people.  Between the Hole—our half of the
building—and the Clan’s headquarters on the other end, you were never really
alone.  Maybe that’s why I stuck to the streets much as I could.

Nobody paid me any mind as I crept down into the Hole and
headed toward the barracks.  I’d got all the way past the mess hall and the
infirmary and had my bunk in sight when a hand landed on my shoulder, ending my
run of good luck.

Large.  Calloused.  Ring on the second finger.

“Hullo, Link,” I said, not turning.

The hand fell away.  “How d’you always know it’s me?”

I turned around and grabbed his hand, holding it up by the
ring.  “Gives you away every time.”

He grinned, his mop of dark curls sagging across his broad
face.  “Say, what’re you doing back, Hayli?  Did you and Jig get inside the
palace?”

I dropped his hand and scatted the last few steps to my
bunk.  Like all the girls’ beds, it backed onto the mid-room partition and had
an itty bit of privacy—just a raggedy grey curtain strung up on a wire, like a
glorified insect net for driving off the
boy
species of pest.  I’d
strung mine with chains and broken bits of gears so they rattled nice and loud
whenever the curtain moved.  I liked my privacy.  And in the Hole, where
everyone was always in everyone else’s business, the privacy of my bunk was
sacred.

I shoved back the curtain and flopped onto my cot.  The
ticking wheezed in the straw-thin mattress so I lay still, staring straight up
at the ceiling.

“Is Jig back yet?” I asked.

Link hesitated, awkward-like, his black caterpillar brows
wriggling down over his eyes with the effort of thinking.

“Dan’ na,” he said, twisting his brown cap.  “Thought I
heard someone tag him, back ten minutes ago.  Not sure if they were talking to
him, though, or just about him.”

I sighed and tapped my teeth.  Soon as Jig got back, he’d
head straight to Kantian to tell him about my failure.  Because that’s just
what people did, especially if it was me they could get in trouble.  And then
Kantian would call me in…and the last person in the world I wanted to see was
Kantian.

“Hey, Li!” someone called, rounding my curtain.

Vim
.  I glared at him, saying, “That was old the
first time you said it, Vim.”  I threw my pillow at him.  “
Three years
ago.”

He just smirked and pitched the pillow back at me, spooking
a few half-eaten feathers out of it.

“Heard Jig got back,” he said.  “He was mad as a rat.  Any
idea why?”

The question slid out, sly, nasty the way everyone was nasty
when someone else’s neck hit the block.  And Vim could be nastier than most,
too.  That always surprised me some, since his brother Link seemed kinder than
most, even if he was a bit dafty.  When I’d first got to the Hole, that’s how I
told them apart—Vim was the vicious one, Link the likable one.  Now Vim had a
good five inches on Link, though Link had muscles like a dog and Vim moved like
an overgrown squirrel.  They were good fighters, far as I could tell.  Not much
else between their ears than ballast for their feet, though.

“Nope,” I said.  “I got no idea.”

Vim snorted.  “What’d Kantian expect, sending
you
on
with Jig?”

I sat up jackstraight, planting my hands on the cot. 
“What’d you just say?  You saying I couldn’t do aught useful?”

“Well?  You ain’t Coins and you sure ain’t—”

“Hey, shut it, brother,” Link said, slugging him in the
arm.  “Hayli’s learning.  We all got to start somewhere.”

I gritted my teeth.  The boys didn’t know about my magic so,
far as they knew, I didn’t have any useful skills.  And much as my face went
red with shame at being called useless, it was nothing to the shame of being
called a mage.  Even on the low streets most mages just wanted to be ordinary
folks, not set apart as something odd. 

“Say, you weren’t here when Bobs went on the get, were you?”
Link asked, perking up suddenly.

“What!” I cried.  “Bobs, no!  What’d he do?  Did the coppers
catch him?”

“Not a chance.  They cornered him back round Middock Street,
but right as they went to grab him, Bobs—”

A shadow fell across my bunk, and the voice scrammed from
Link’s flapping mouth.  I flinched as I glanced up.  Not because I was afraid,
but because some little part of me was ashamed.  Ashamed of being excited about
Bobs and the coppers.  Ashamed of talking to the Meats.  Ashamed of how I
looked.  I knew I had a look of failure on me, like grease or soot.

Because Derrin stood there, all dark and quiet and
thoughtful.  He didn’t look at me much.  Just waited, his head canted to the
side, black hat slouched low, hands in his pockets.  Link and Vim exchanged
glances., then they mumbled a goodbye to me and fumbled a salute at Derrin, and
stumbled over each other as they got clear of my bunk.

Part of me wished I could run after them, but I couldn’t. 
I’d already done enough to disappoint Derrin—I couldn’t add running away from
him to the growing list of my failures.

So I stood up and put my hands behind my back.

“Evening, Hayli,” he said.  He paused, his dark eyes fixed
on mine.  “Kantian wants to see you.”

“You’re sure?” I gulped, though I knew how stupid I was to
ask.  Derrin was always sure.

He smiled faintly and nodded.

“Is he mad, Derrin?” I asked, and bit at my fingertip. 
“Please say no.”

“Not for me to say,” he said.

He backed a step and held a hand out toward me, an
invitation or a summons, I couldn’t tell.  I didn’t really care if Kantian got
furious at me so long as Derrin didn’t.  But I could never tell with him
because he never looked mad, not even the second before he’d opened another
man’s jaw the week before. 

“Did Kantian tell you what happened?” I asked.

But Derrin just turned and walked away.  I followed, trying
to wrestle away my fear. 

Kantian had a room all to himself—a big one, with a desk and
furnace and a bright-woven rug that Derrin told me came all the way from
Meritac.  I’d only been inside Kantian’s chamber once in all the time I’d lived
there, and just remembering it made me shudder.

Me and the Meats had got in a scrap with some dandies up
topside near the palace, and with the coppers on our tails, we did the stupid
thing of running straight home like a pack of rats.  Almost got the whole base
caught out.  Kantian was furious with us.  I didn’t get food for four days that
time, besides what Derrin brought me.  That was when Derrin started looking out
for me, keeping me out of trouble.  That was when he saved me.

I trailed close behind him now, hands shoved in my trouser
pockets because they wanted to shake, and I would never let Derrin know that. 
When we got to Kantian’s room, Derrin just gave me a quiet glance and
disappeared into the shadows like only he could.

I swallowed and stepped inside, blinking at the darkness. 
One gas lamp purred and sputtered on a wall, but it was a fickle thing and half
the time the only light came from the red-glowing furnace.  Kantian stood
behind his desk, and I could see the steel in his eyes from clear across the
room.

“Hayli,” he said, beckoning me with a finger.

Never a good sign.  If he was happy to see you, he’d wave
his whole hand.  One finger was death.

I crept forward, but halfway through the room I stopped so
fast I near tripped myself, because there in the shadows, perched in a stern,
narrow chair, Clan-Master Rivano watched me.

“Come,” Kantian said, his finger a hook, reeling me in.

“Master,” I whispered.

“You’ve met Brother Rivano, haven’t you?”

My head wobbled on its own, somewhere between a yes and a
no.  I’d seen him before, of course.  Mostly he kept to the east wing of the
Hole, because he was a living target with a price on his head big as you like,
but I’d only seen him once or twice.  I’d never tried to avoid him, just hadn’t
tried overly hard to put myself in his way.  Somehow he looked younger than I’d
expected, but he had a light as old as stars in his eyes.

“Three more steps, Hayli,” Kantian said.  “I can’t see you
in the shadows there.”

I took two long steps and stopped in a flush of firelight
from the furnace, almost touching Kantian’s desk.  He studied me a good long
while, brows lowered, thumb rubbing the flesh on his jowls, until I got a mite
fidgety.  Then he turned and exchanged a glance with Rivano, and still Rivano
said nothing.

“Sit down,” Kantian said.

I obeyed, swallowing hard.  Kantian didn’t sit, which made
me twitchy as a canary.

“Had a bit of an accident, did we?”

“How’d you hear that?” I asked.  “Jig couldn’t have seen
it.”

“No need to get tetchy, Hayli.”  Kantian pointed at his own
face.  “You look more tattered than usual, and you’ve got a cut on your head.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling a bit daft.

“You care to explain what happened?  Jig said you never
showed up to let him in.”

I let my breath out through my teeth, too fast, making a
hiss.  “Told you,” I said, though I hadn’t.  “It was just an accident.  Lucky I
got hurt or maybe I’d’ve got copped.  But they just bum-rushed me out the
gate.”

I winced.  Maybe I shouldn’t have said
bum-rushed
in
front of Rivano.

“No one saw you enter?”

I shook my head and Kantian arched a brow at me, like he
knew I hadn’t told him everything.  I bet he never imagined it was that I’d met
the Prince. 

I shifted my weight.  I knew I stood on the edge, but I
couldn’t help saying, “But it’s not my fault Scorch div’n get the aeroplane
down how he was supposed to.  If—”

“Enough,” Kantian said.  “Scorch will be dealt with.  But
his task was only part of the mission.  Doesn’t excuse your failure to do your
own.”

My face went prickly with cold, thinking of what might
happen to Scorch.  I’d only ever seen him from a distance, and he’d scared the
blazes out of me, but the way Kantian said
Scorch will be dealt with
, I
shuddered to think what he meant.  I wondered if I should feel guilty for being
so relieved that he wasn’t talking about me. 

Rivano sat forward, flames reflecting in his dark eyes. 

“This is the Moth,” he said, voice warm and low as amber.

I jumped and stared at the knot of fingers in my lap.  I
wanted to protest, to deny it, to run away, but it was too late.  Somehow,
Rivano already knew about me.  Rivano.

“I got in and I can do it again,” I told Kantian, lifting my
chin.  “I just timed it bad this time.”

Kantian made a short noise and I fell silent, pressing my
tongue between my teeth.

“You’ve had your chance.”

“My chance?” I echoed, anger prickling up my neck.  “I can
try again, right?  I know you’re like to bedpost me, and I’m fine with that,
but what about after?”

You’ll be dealt with. 

He would say it.  I knew he was about to say it.

“No.”  Kantian leafed through some papers with an
ink-stained finger.  “If they’d arrested you, they would have made you talk. 
You’re a liability.”

I gritted my teeth.  For some reason I kept hoping that
Rivano would jump in and tell Kantian off, but he just sat all silent and
thoughtful, chin resting on his steepled fingers.

A minute and I realized that my hands were crumpled up in my
waistcoat, and I’d been holding my breath.  I let it out, slow, trying not to
let it shake.  That “no” sank in suddenly, and I kept waiting for the building
to start quaking, because it was my whole world and I could feel it collapsing
around me.

“Are you ganna give me the boot?” I whispered.

“No,” Kantian said, the word trailing away on a wisp of
boredom.  “You’ve got a skill, Hayli.  It will be useful in time.  But you need
to learn to control it before we can let you use it here, or for the Clan.”  He
gave me a hard look.  “Make sense?”

“Um,” I said, because I couldn’t think of aught proper to
say.  “I think so?”

Kantian slammed his palm on the desk so hard that I jumped. 
“You will not use your ability outside these walls until Derrin says you are
ready. 
Is that perfectly clear
?”

“You’re a Moth,” Rivano said, gently.  “That’s a rare and
valuable gift.  We’re not going to let you waste it.  But Kantian is right. 
Clearly you need some work controlling your ability.  That comes with much practice. 
You do practice, don’t you?”

I bit through my shame and said, “I’ve tried.  But it scares
me because I never know when or where I’ll come out of it. So I don’t do it
much.  But today I got where I wanted to gan and Shifted back right away, so…” 
If I were Jig, I’d toss my head and let them know how amazing I was, but I just
stared at my hands and mumbled, “I’m getting better.” 

“I know you didn’t intend it, but you put us all at risk
today,” Rivano said after a bit.  “For now Derrin will teach you his skills. 
You may be useful yet, while you learn to manage your Shifting powers.”

My heart wilted.  What would Derrin think of me now, if I
got stripped of the only usefulness I had?  I was back to being a rookie,
untrained, unschooled.  Worthless, just like Vim said.

“Tell me,” Rivano went on.  “What is your animal nature?”

I shrugged, digging my thumb against a wrinkle in my
trousers.  “A crow.  Just…an ugly old crow.”

“Crows are intelligent birds,” Rivano said.  “And
inconspicuous in their way.  Hm.”

He leaned forward again, the firelight shining full on his
face now, glinting on the silky darkness of his hair.  He didn’t wear it
cropped short and slicked back like the society dandies, but tied in a low
braid, just long enough to fall over his shoulder as he brooded over his knees.

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
13.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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