So, I thought I’d give you guys a little teaser excerpt from The Madness Project, because, well, it’s Tuesday and cloudy and I’m a nice person in general. Enjoy! This is where Hayli meets Shade.
I turned onto a wide back street, littered with smeared newsprint and rotted boxes, and stopped, because there on the stoop of an abandoned old shop sat a boy.
He had his face tipped back, eyes closed and face pale as stone, and for half a second I got all panicky that he might be dead. Maybe he was just swacked. He wore a fine set of rags—black trousers and a black waistcoat, faded a bit to grey around the edges. Nothing to get green about, but I did want his boots bad.
I edged closer to him. Somewhere along the way my hand found the knot I’d made in my canvas wrap and tugged it free. Instantly the rain attacked me, but I didn’t have a mind to do a thing about it.
When I’d almost reached him I stopped, because my nerves had gone fitsy and I couldn’t stir my legs again. The boy wasn’t any as I’d ever seen around the Hole, and I knew all the kids there by sight at least. He wasn’t one of the toughs from the local mobs, either. I’d never seen him at all in my life. The city was full of strangers, but they were my strangers. This boy wasn’t. And somehow that thought had me all giddy with excitement and a tad bit of fear.
He sat up suddenly, his eyes locking straight on me. My heart launched into my throat and I jumped clear across the street, crouching back by a crate. A minute and I reminded myself to breathe, because at least he wasn’t chasing me down with a knife. He just sat there staring at me like he thought he was still asleep.
And I stared right back. He had a tattoo around his right eye like nothing I’d ever seen. White and bright as ice, even brighter because of the dark storm of his eyes. I couldn’t imagine how much it must have hurt to get it made. Still, a mark like that meant only one thing. The boy was a mage, and worlds more powerful than a mage like me. More than that—he was worlds braver than me, flaunting what he was to the wide world, when so many of us just tried desperately to be ignored. I almost envied him that.
With the muscles in his arms and that strong still face, I wondered if maybe he was a sellsword. He had the look, though he couldn’t have had more than a year on me.
“You alive?” I called across the street to him, when I figured he wasn’t apt to knife me.
“Alive?” he said. “I don’t know.”
His voice sent a shiver through me. It was low and solid, with a wild lilt that called to oceans and cliffs, not the hills and trees of Cavnal. He tilted his head back, the grey light shining on the sharp lines of his cheekbones, throwing the rest of his face into shadow. His hair must have been nearly as pale as his mark, but it had been shaved short like a mercenary’s. The rain caught on its fuzzy edges and glittered like bitty shards of glass.
“You lost?” I asked.
“You from around here?”
He narrowed his eyes, closing his lips just enough so I thought maybe he was smiling.
“No,” he said, finally. “You going to keep shouting at me from over there?”
I shrugged and picked my way toward him. He hadn’t stirred much, just enough to see me better, and he still had his arms all wrapped tight around his legs. Everything about him looked cold.
“What’s your name?” I asked him. He got that narrow look again, so I shrugged and added, “I’m Hayli.”
“You’ve got a name.”
“Wasn’t always on the street,” I said, and clacked my jaws shut.
“Mm,” he said.
Then he just turned his face back to the rain.
I shifted, impatient, and finally dropped to a crouch beside him. “So, you ganna tell me, or should I give you one myself?”
He twitched his fingers. I guessed it was like a shrug. For about two seconds I contemplated walking away and leaving him to himself, but curiosity had got its claws in me good and tight, and I couldn’t make myself go.
“Ice,” I said. “Icy.” He cocked an eyebrow, squinting at me sideways. “Bald…y.”
That got a quiet laugh from him. “Taumir,” he said, and closed his eyes. “Means Shade.”
I giggled. Didn’t mean to, it just popped out.
“Is it funny?” he asked, sounding a bit tetchy.
“Nope. It’s perfect. Just…are you trying to sound spooky and dangerous, or is that just how you are?”
He made a short noise like a snort and didn’t answer.
He kind of glared at me. “Taumir.” Then, slow and deliberate, like maybe I couldn’t hear too well, “Taw-meer.”
“What sort of language is that?”
“Mine.” He dropped his gaze and flicked his fingers again. “Or it was.”
“You got somewhere to stay?”
“Oh.” I sat back on my heels, scowling at him. “Dan’ talk so much. You’re giving me a headache.”
His mouth twitched, and I grinned at my victory.
“What’s your story, Hayli?” he asked suddenly. “Why’re you out in this damned rain?”
“You must not be from hereabouts,” I said. “We’re all used to the rain.”
I waited for another minute. The rain perked up, hearing itself talked about, and turned icy cold, and the wind took to howling in the alley corners. The boy, Shade, pulled his knees in closer.
“You sure you’ve got a place?” I asked. “Because I was ganna say you could come back my way if you like.”
Kantian had never told me I couldn’t recruit folks on my own. I never imagined we had endless food stores or jobs, but…surely he wouldn’t mind just one more. And a mage at that.
The thought jumped out on my tongue. “You’re a mage?”
He opened his eyes and fixed me a gaze as stern as Derrin’s. “What gave you that idea?” he asked. It came out a growl, but I caught a flicker of humor in there—dark, bitter humor.
“You’re a Mask, right?” I asked, gesturing at my own face. “I’ve never known any Masks.”
“What about you?”
I froze up. “What about me?”
He tipped his head, giving me a look like rebuke. “You’re a mage too.”
“I’m not—” I started, but he just raised an eyebrow, so I sighed and said, “How you ken?”
“I’m smart like that,” he said dryly, making me smile.
“I’m a Moth.”
“What are you, a cat?”
I laughed. “I wish.”
But I didn’t tell him what my animal nature was. I still couldn’t get a gauge on him. Couldn’t tell if I ought to trust him. I wanted to, somehow, but a lifetime on the streets had left its mark on me.
“What’re you doing here in Brinmark?” I asked.
“Do you ever stop asking questions?”
I grinned. “When I know what I want to know.”
“God help me,” he said.
“Are you an assassin?”
He jumped a little. I couldn’t tell from how he squinted at me if he thought I was right, or crazy.
But he just said, “No.”
He straightened up, getting that sharp, thin look in his storm-grey eyes again. “I’m looking for someone. Once we’ve had our words, I’m gone.”