Parker Fawkes, undercover.
“Three, two, one…” Kiara counted down, a spoonful of mashed potatoes in her hand. “Blast-off!” She flicked the potatoes at Parker, who threw his head to the right to catch the potatoes in his mouth.
“Ack!” he gagged as the fluffy white stuff choked him. The gorilla-satyr to his left patted him on the back between his wings, and Parker managed to swallow. “Thanks,” he said, turning to the satyr who had helped him. “Scott, right? Scott Prince?”
“Yeah,” said Scott. “You know me?”
“Only by reputation,” Parker answered carefully. “I met your sister the other day.”
Scott’s eyes widened in alarm. “You met Haley?” he asked nervously.
Parker knew why. Haley Prince was a Watcher in the Asylum, who was better known around the city by her moniker “Outlier”. The Asylum was making a name for itself in the underworld by bringing criminals in, and the Fauns – a terrorist group by anyone’s definition – had standing orders to take members of the Asylum down by any means necessary.
“That was the drunk chick, right?” Kiara asked, loading her spoon again. “What happened to her?”
“I sent her home,” Parker said, raising his eyebrows at Scott. “No point in waylaying bakers, right?”
“Right,” Scott said weakly. “Thanks, Fallen.” He used Parker’s nickname among the Fauns.
“So Fallen,” Kiara said sweetly, arming another scoop of potatoes, “Rumor has it that you’re going to take over Eon City when Claw leaves. You’ll be in charge of all of this!”
Parker shrugged, shaking his shoulders to loosen them. “That’s the rumor,” he agreed. “I haven’t heard anything from Claw about it, though. I know he plans to leave the city soon, but I don’t know where or when.” With any luck, it’ll be to jail within the week, he thought.
Another satyr slammed their plate down next to Parker. “Did you hear?” Lizard asked them. “The House just passed the Leash Law!”
“What?” Parker jumped up from the table. “When?” The Leash Law had been a bill in contention for more than a year: if ratified, then all non-citizen satyrs would be required to be kept on a leash in public areas. Satyrs already needed a special license before they could become citizens, and unlike humans and Third Gens, they weren’t born with their citizenship – they had to go through the naturalization process when they turned twenty-five, unless they opted for government service when they turned eighteen, as Parker had done. Some states already had the Leash Law (or laws like it) in effect; the current threat was the law becoming a national standard.
“Last night,” Lizard reported. “If the Senate passes it, then we’ll all be reduced to nothing more than animals.”
“I can’t believe it,” Kiara said, her spoon prepped to fling another scoop of potatoes at Parker. She had frozen in position at the news. “How could they do that? How could anyone vote for that?”
Lizard rolled his eyes. “King,” he said simply.
The CEO of King Enterprises, Jonathan King was a vocal opponent of satyr rights. The Fauns had been at war with King Enterprises for years, protesting the unethical treatment the company gave satyrs, but King was an influential force and had the resources to lobby for the Leash Law.
“Of course,” Parker muttered. “When’s the Senate vote?”
“Next week,” Lizard said, before taking a big bite of his lunch. “If we want to stop it, we’ll have to move fast.”
Parker nodded at Kiara, who began clearing his plate. Without another word, he was off to find Claw.
Claw took his meals in his War Room – a large meeting place where he briefed his lieutenants on the Faun’s strategy. He was alone when Parker found him, pouring over maps of the city. “Parker,” he acknowledged without turning around. “Just the guy I want to see.”
Parker came up next to him, looking at the maps for himself. “I just heard about the House vote,” he said. “I came straight here.”
There were five maps spread out on the large table, each of a different sector of the city. Different spots were marked with exes, marking areas where crowds were known to gather. Claw studied these, his eyes narrowed in concentration.
“The vote is troubling,” he said. “We’ll have to move up our timetable.”
“What’s the plan, boss?” Parker asked, every bit the picture of a loyal Faun lieutenant.
Claw looked at him. Parker knew that Claw was suspicious of his motives, and rightfully so – he might not have known about Parker’s double life as an Asylum Watcher, but he did know that Parker was in contact with his sister. Natalie was a well-known Watcher in Eon City, going by the moniker “Trick” in the Asylum. Parker had so far earned Claw’s trust by being the model Faun, and he was considered the next logical choice to run the organization in Eon City, but he knew how precarious his position was. He could see all of the doubts flashing through Claw’s mind as the crocodile-satyr considered.
“Okay, Fallen,” Claw finally said, moving over to give Parker a better view of the table. “I think it’s time to let you in on the big picture.”
* * * * * * * *
Natalie Fawkes, training.
“Damn!” came the shout from across the room.
Natalie had been training on a Wing Chun dummy, and the shout was just distracting enough to let her get hit by one of the spinning arms. “Hey!” she cried, marching over to the bench where Haley sat. The new girl was checking her phone, taking a break from her workout. “What’s the big idea?” Natalie asked, shoving Haley’s shoulder as she rubbed the spot on her arm where the dummy hit her. “That’s going to bruise!”
Haley looked up. “Did you hear about this?” she asked, ignoring Natalie’s ire. “The House just passed the Leash Law!”
“What?” Natalie snatched the phone out of Haley’s hand, her bruise forgotten for the moment. “When?”
“This morning,” Haley said as Natalie scanned the article. “The Senate vote is next week. How could they do this?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Natalie said, tossing the phone back to her. “What matters is that it’s done. We need to be on our toes for the next week – the Fauns have been pretty quiet lately, but shit’s gonna hit the fan sometime before the Senate vote. Be ready.” She walked off, grabbing a towel to dry off.
“Where are you going?” Haley called after her. “Training’s not over!”
“I need to talk to Agent,” Natalie called back, not turning around.
She headed up the stairs to Agent’s office, not bothering to knock as she barged in. Agent was sitting at his desk, staring intently at his surveillance screens. “I had a feeling you’d be here, Nat,” he said. “The answer’s still no.”
“This is going to blow up in our faces,” Natalie said. “The Leash Law is the biggest issue on the Fauns’ agenda – they already trashed a bunch of DMVs in the state because of the licensing; what do you think they’ll do after this?”
“I’m hoping they’ll focus their efforts outside of our city for once,” Agent said. “I’m planning on them starting some kind of riot, though. That seems to be Claw’s pattern – hit multiple areas at once to spread police forces thin, and then run and hide.”
“Parker’s still undercover,” Natalie pointed out. “He needs to be out of there before Claw makes his move, or he could get hurt!”
“Nat, we’ve been over this,” Agent said. “Pulling him out now would only put a target on his back. Parker’s doing well where he is – he’s one of Claw’s closest lieutenants now, and this is the exact opportunity we need to get enough evidence to take down the ringleader. You think Claw’s going to sit this one out? If Parker can tell us where he’ll be, we can catch him red-handed, and send him to Zatvor where he belongs.”
Natalie folded her arms. “You know this for sure?” she demanded. “Or is this just you trying to placate me again?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Agent asked.
“It means I know you’ve been lying to me!” Natalie grabbed his shoulder and spun him around to face her. “You’ve been lying to me for months! Parker’s been missing check-ins, and he’s all but gone off the grid. You told me everything was fine!”
Agent looked surprised, which was rare for him. “How did you – oh.” He closed his eyes as he realized. “Haley told you. I thought she didn’t remember anything from when she was under the drug.”
“She has an eidetic memory, remember?” Natalie reminded him.
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Agent said dryly.
“Parker acted like she had been down there to see him,” Natalie hissed. “He admitted to missing his check-ins. Now tell me – are you refusing to extract him, or is he the one refusing to get out?”
Agent looked away, saying nothing. His silence told Natalie everything she needed to know.
“I need to see him,” she said. “You need to set up a meeting – ”
“Absolutely not.” Agent looked straight into her eyes, glaring intensely. “And don’t you dare go behind my back on this one, Nat. I mean it. If you talked to Haley, you’ll know that the reason he’s been ghosting us is that he’s being watched. Haley got away with that little excursion because she’s still new enough that some people don’t know her face on sight. You’re much more recognizable, especially to the Fauns. They have kill orders out on all of the Asylum Watchers; I’ve had to use my other resources to keep an eye on that side of the city.”
“Fine; so send one of them,” Natalie demanded. “Get him a message from me.”
Agent stood up, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know you’re worried about him, Nat,” he said, “but Parker’s an adult, and a Watcher. He’s not defenseless – he knows just as many illusions as you do, and he’s also a hybrid. He can fly, and he has super-strength; he can handle himself.”
Natalie took a deep, shuddering breath. “I like you, Agent,” she said, “but if my brother gets hurt, I’m holding you personally responsible. Got it?”
“That’s fair,” Agent said, nodding. “Can you keep a cool head?”
“Always,” Natalie said wryly.
“Then let me bounce some ideas off of you.” Agent turned back to the screens, pulling up a map of the city. “Here’s what I think they’ll do.”
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Park, Two A.M.
Parker Fawkes, deeply concerned.
“Come on, pick up,” Parker muttered to his burner phone. He had to sneak out of the Fauns’ headquarters, which was made harder by the tension in the air. None of the Fauns seemed to want to sleep with the news of the Leash Law hanging over their heads. While Claw only shared the details of his plans with his trusted commanders, all of the satyrs in the organization knew that something big was coming.
The line clicked, and a voice came through the other end. “Hello?” Frank said sleepily.
“Frank! Thank god,” Parker said. He ran a shaking hand through his hair as he nervously shook his shoulders out. “I’ve got news; it’s pretty bad. Can we meet?”
“Parker?” Frank asked. “Where are you? What’s wrong?”
“Frank, it’s bad. Please,” Parker pleaded. “I need to talk to you. I couldn’t call Agent because it’s too risky, but you can sneak in a lot better. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“No problem, buddy,” Frank said, sounding a lot more alert at Parker’s tone. “Meet me at the last place I saw you.”
“Thanks,” Parker said. He suddenly realized he had been pacing. “Twenty minutes?”
“See you there.” Frank hung up. Parker shrugged his shoulders again, taking off in the direction of the docks. It took him exactly twenty minutes to run there – he didn’t dare fly.
The shadows on the dock were dense at this time of night. Parker couldn’t see Frank and Natalie approach until they were right in front of him. Both were dressed in their full Watcher gear; the Asylum Watchers were all quick-change experts out of necessity.
“Parker!” Natalie ran over and hugged him. She had been worried – it was obvious from her relief at seeing him. Parker hugged her back, just as happy to see his twin as she was to see him, until she pulled away and began hitting his arm. “You idiot!” she said. “Why won’t you let Agent extract you?”
“Ow!” Parker cried, rubbing the spot she had hit. “What are you even doing here? I called Frank!”
“Sorry buddy,” Frank said, shrugging. “She wouldn’t leave me alone until I brought her.”
“You have news?” Natalie asked, folding her arms in front of her and tapping her foot impatiently.
Parker shook his shoulders out, and Natalie’s face softened at the familiar gesture. “Yeah, I’ve got news. It’s pretty bad,” he said again.
“Spit it out,” Natalie said.
“Claw’s planning multiple riots around the country,” Parker told them. “The Fauns have grown so much lately that he basically has an army at his command. They’re going to form up the day after tomorrow, posing alongside peaceful protesters, and then Eon City will be turned into a war zone – along with five other major cities in the country.”
“A war zone?” Frank asked. “I mean, riots can get pretty bad, but that has to be an exaggeration…”
“No, it’s not.” Parker began pacing again. “The Fauns as an organization are bigger than anybody realizes, even other Fauns. I just found out how big this afternoon; Claw has other Fauns coming in from the rest of the state for this. We’re expecting around ten thousand people, and most of them are going to be Fauns with weapons. They’ll outnumber the police three-to-one. I think ‘war zone’ is the right term.”
“How do you organize a riot?” Natalie asked. “Aren’t they usually just protests that get out of hand?”
Parker shook his head. “Mob mentality isn’t that hard to control,” he explained, “especially when you have the numbers to back it up – which Claw has. And that’s not the worst part.”
“Gen Juice,” Frank said, a note of accusation in his voice as he raised an eyebrow at Parker.
“You saw that, did you?” Parker said, dropping his eyes.
Natalie looked between the two of them. “What’s he talking about, Parker?” she asked.
“You want to tell her, or should I?” Frank asked.
Parker let out a sigh. “I was under orders from Claw,” he said by way of excuse. “I was supposed to grab a vial of the stuff they used on Miranda and bring it back to him. It was a test of loyalty, and I’d never have been able to help Frank get her out of there if I didn’t take it. I swear, Frank,” he added, looking his friend in the eye, “I had no idea what it was at the time, or what Claw had planned.”
“I couldn’t believe it myself,” Frank replied. “I heard what it was from Jaunt, after all.”
Natalie looked between the two of them, putting two and two together. “Agent doesn’t know about this, does he?” she asked. “This… ‘Gen Juice’, whatever it is – neither of you told him that Claw has it. Why?”
“It’s a Third Gen power enhancer,” Frank explained. “Kind of like Elutherios – it makes Third Gen powers stronger for a time, but all of the satyrs who had been given it turned feral.”
“Even your sister?” Parker asked, worried.
Frank waved a hand dismissively. “No, not her,” he said with relief, “but all of the others had to be taken to the nature preserve in California. The powers faded, but the psychological damage is permanent. I can’t believe Claw would use something like that on his own people.”
“Wait, hold up,” Natalie said waving her hands to get the boys’ attention. “Claw has some of this Gen Juice that turns satyrs feral?”
“Yeah, but just a vial,” Frank said, shrugging. “He’ll probably make our lives harder by dosing a few satyrs and letting them run amok, so the police would have to handle the riots without the Asylum.”
“It’s worse than that,” Parker said, fidgeting. “I only took one vial – but Claw has scientists of his own. They managed to duplicate it and turn it into a gas that Claw plans to release throughout Eon City during the riots.”
Natalie stared at him. “The protest isn’t going to just be Fauns,” she whispered. “He’s organizing a real protest with civilians that he’ll turn into a riot by dosing everybody in the city with the Gen Juice!”
“And it won’t just be satyrs turning feral,” Frank added, horrified. “Third Gens will lose control of their powers. Humans might start developing powers of their own. It’ll be chaos!”
“The riots will take place in five other cities around the country – I don’t know which ones, but it’s a good bet that any protests organized over the Leash Law are at risk of turning violent,” Parker told them. “But here in Eon City, it’ll be disastrous. And it’s all my fault.”
“But we know now,” Natalie reminded him. “We have a day and a half to figure out how to contain it. Claw would have gotten his hands on the Gen Juice whether it was you or someone else making the pickup – but by telling us, you’ve just saved a bunch of lives.” Parker looked away again, so Natalie grabbed her brother’s jaw and forced him to look at her. “You’re a hero, Parker,” she insisted. “You’re a Watcher, like us, and you just saved the city. And now you’re coming home.”
Parker pulled away. “I can’t, Nat,” he said, shaking his head. “Not yet. All we have on Claw right now is circumstantial, and he’ll be leaving the city soon. If I pull out now, we’ll never get him – but if I wait until after the riots…”
“Parker!” Natalie was the only person who could make Parker feel guilty, reckless, and ashamed, all at once, just by saying his name. He saw his own blue eyes reflected back in her identical ones – eyes that were worried about him – but he had his own goal in mind and he wouldn’t abandon it, even for his sister.
“Here,” he said, pulling a sheet of paper out of his pocket. “I copied the map of Claw’s plans. I put exes over the spots where the riots will concentrate, and circled the spots where he plans to release the gas. If you guys can be waiting there for him, we can stop this.”
“Who else did he show this to?” Frank asked, frowning. Parker didn’t answer, so Frank continued, “Nobody, right? You’re high enough in the Fauns now that he expects you to lead this, so you’re the only one who knows the full plan.”
Natalie punched Parker on the shoulder again. “You idiot,” she said. “If we take this to Agent, if Claw sees that we were ready for him, he’ll know that you’re our informant. He’ll kill you, Parker!”
“Maybe,” Parker admitted. “But this is our last chance to get him, Nat. All I have to do is place him at the center of the riots, and he’ll be charged with reckless endangerment, incitement to violence, the full monty. I just have to grab his plans from the war room, along with the tapes from the security cameras in there, and we’ve got him!” He turned a pleading look on his sister, knowing that she would understand. “This is the guy that killed our mom, Nat. He’s killed so many people without even a moment of guilt, and I can bring him – and the Fauns – down once and for all. Then I can come home – you’ll see.”
“Or you’ll die,” Natalie said bluntly. “Claw will go free, and I’ll be left to tell Dad why I let you do this alone.”
“I don’t intend to die,” Parker said, giving her a cocky grin. “Count on that.” He looked at his phone, checking the time. “I have to get back. Promise me you’ll show this to Agent,” he said, looking at both his sister and his best friend.
“You need to get rid of that phone,” Frank pointed out. “You’ve had it for too long. If this works, then you won’t need it, and if it doesn’t…”
“Then I won’t need it,” Parker finished, nodding. He handed the phone to Frank, adding, “I have some pictures on there that put Claw at the center of it all. If something happens to me, you still might be able to bring him in.”
Natalie gave him a swift hug, growling, “Nothing better happen to you, idiot. If you die, I’ll kill you myself.”
“Always with the death threats,” Parker grinned. He gave them both a jaunty wave and turned to walk back to the Fauns’ headquarters. He wished he felt as confident as the show he had just given them, but deep down he had a feeling that this would end badly for him. He only knew one thing for certain:
One way or another, this assignment would end with the riots.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City, the next evening.
Trick, Shadow, Nightmare, and Granny.
“You sure about this?” Earthborn asked as they headed down into the tunnels. “I know that Parker’s info said that they’d be releasing gas from the sewer lines, but it seems… I dunno, too complicated to be one of Claw’s plans.”
“Blackbird risked a lot to get us the information,” Trick said. “He sounded sure.”
“Earthborn has a point, dear,” Granny told her. “The riots sound real enough – the Fauns have pulled similar things before. But I don’t see how they could have replicated that Gen Juice stuff to cover the whole city in just a few weeks, especially from only four points underground. Something seems off.”
Shadow shrugged, bringing up the rear. “Dale confirmed it,” he said. “Apparently it’s possible, so we have to assume Blackbird’s info was right.”
“We’re heading underground, splitting up, and we left Nightmare back at base in case she’s affected by this stuff,” Earthborn pointed out. “Since when have these tunnels ever been nice to us? This smells like a trap.”
“If something goes wrong, you can collapse the entire tunnel network, E.B.,” Shadow reminded him. “What are you so worried about?”
“We left Nightmare, Reiki, and Outlier to take care of the riot,” Earthborn said practically. “Nightmare’s powers would only make a mob that big worse, Reiki’s powers don’t work so well after dark, and Outlier’s human and a newbie. Agent’s last update put the numbers at close to fifteen thousand protesters throughout the city; I’m worried, that’s all.”
“It’s not just them,” Granny said, pulling her wolf doll out of her bag and touching her knitting needles to it. As Louise the wolf grew to life-size, Granny said, “Agent is calling in all of his seconds and mercenaries. Every Watcher in the city will be helping to quell the riots – Holmes, Vulcan, Butterfly, all of them.” She mounted her wolf, smiling down at the others. “They can get along without us for a few hours.”
“Besides,” Trick added, “Outlier and Reiki are just going to keep an eye out for anyone who needs shelter. Nightmare’s going to keep an eye on things from a distance, and Agent’s going into the field for this one. Agent knows what he’s doing.”
“We can hope,” Earthborn muttered. He knelt down, putting a hand to the ground. “I don’t feel anything unusual down there, but it’s hard to tell. We all know where we’re going?”
“We all have copies of the map,” Shadow said. “What do you mean by ‘unusual’?”
“There are people down there,” Earthborn said, “but there are always people down there. I can count them for you, but I can’t tell you which ones are usually there and which ones might be Fauns.”
“Well, we aren’t getting anywhere standing around here,” Trick said. “Keep in touch over coms, and let’s get started.”
The others nodded, and they all headed off in different directions.
* * * * * * * *
Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.
Parker deployed the Faun teams according to Claw’s plan, still playing the role of the good lieutenant. He watched the clock, waiting for his chance to go into the war room to steal the plans. Claw was watching Parker from his throne in the main meeting room, lazily sprawled over the armrests as he listened to Parker addressing the team leaders.
When he finally dismissed the Fauns to the protest, Claw finally spoke up. “Scott Prince, could you stay back a moment?” he said in his soft voice. Scott looked around, confused, but stayed back in the room while his team left. Despite phrasing it as a question, Claw had given an order – and nobody disobeyed an order from Claw.
“I think we should talk in private,” Claw said, jumping up from his seat at the front of the room. “Meet me in my war room, both of you.”
Parker walked silently beside Scott as they headed for the room, wondering what Claw wanted with them. This was his chance, though – all he needed was a moment of distraction, and he could get everything he needed to take down Claw.
Scott nodded to him as he entered first. They both stood at attention in the dim room, in front of Claw; Parker was dwarfed next to Scott, but he kept his wings unfurled to show his status as a satyr.
“You both are wondering why I called you here.” Claw didn’t look at them. He was standing at the table, looking over his plans as he spoke. “I’m sure you already know what you two have in common.”
A chill went down Parker’s spine as Claw spoke. He was Natalie’s brother, and Scott was Haley’s – what they had in common was the fact that their sisters were both Asylum Watchers. He knows, thought Parker, fighting back a shudder. Any sign of weakness from him, and Claw would kill him before he could blink. Waiting for confirmation was his best bet for survival.
“Tonight’s operation was carefully planned,” Claw continued. “Every piece was in place, and every team leader knows their part. I have teams of Fauns mobilizing to create chaos in different sectors of the city. So imagine my surprise when Erinyes reported that the Asylum was waiting for us in the sewers, to stop the gas from being released.”
He turned around to face them. “It doesn’t matter too much,” he continued. “There is no gas to release. But I do wonder why the Asylum thought there was.”
Parker’s eyes widened slightly as he realized what was happening. The story of the gas had been a trap, and he had walked straight into it – leading his friends in, too. “What happened to the Asylum, then?” he asked, trying to feign nonchalance.
“Erinyes’ team is taking care of them now,” Claw answered. “But there’s a bigger issue to address. I know that I was betrayed,” he hissed, baring his teeth in a crocodile smile. Walking slowly over to Scott, he added, “I know exactly who it was, too.”
“I didn’t betray you!” Scott cried. “I swear! I haven’t seen my sister in months, and I only knew where my team was going to be stationed, nothing else. Honest!”
Claw put one of his claws up against Scott’s chin. Scott gulped, looking like he was about to cry; he knew as well as Parker did what would happen if Claw didn’t believe him. Parker had to do something.
Terrified, and knowing that it would kill him, Parker said, “It was me.”
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Tunnels.
Natalie Fawkes, AKA Trick.
“I’ve got nothing,” Trick said to her comm unit. “Anybody else see anything?”
“No,” came Shadow’s voice over the comm. “There’s no movement here, but it feels like I’m being watched.”
“That’ll be the people who usually stay down here,” Earthborn added. “Are we sure that Parker’s intel was good?”
“Granny?” Trick asked, ignoring the question. “What about your side?”
“All clear here, dearie,” she replied. “Earthborn, would you mind checking the tunnels again? Louise is getting a bad feeling, too. I think there are more than the natives down here.”
There was a brief pause while Earthborn used his powers to scan the tunnels again. “That’s weird,” he reported. “There’s a crowd of people at all four of the spots on the map. Guys, check your six – I think we should meet back up at the entrance and get out of here…”
Trick looked up, just in time to see a large bat-satyr jumping towards her. Jumping out of the way just in time, she spun around to find five more satyrs facing her. Trick backed down the tunnel, knowing that the five-on-one fight was very bad for her.
“Oh, come on,” said the bat-satyr. The girl had short, dark hair and black eyes, but her teeth were bared in fangs. Her arms were leathery, and extended down to make bat-like wings. Her long fingers ended in claws, which were currently poised as weapons.
“How could you miss, Erinyes?” one of the other satyrs asked. “She’s a sitting duck!” The satyr’s own webbed fingers made it almost a joke, but Trick wasn’t laughing.
“Shut up,” the bat-satyr – Erinyes – said. “The squad in tunnel C shouldn’t have let Earthborn get off a warning. But no worries – we can still take them all down.”
Trick pulled her scarf out of her front pocket, along with another packet. “You’re all welcome to try,” she said to distract them. “But I doubt you’ll be much more than a nuisance to us. After all, you couldn’t even surround me properly.” She grinned at the Fauns, and threw the packet to the ground. It exploded in a cloud of colored chalk and glitter, making the Fauns cough and buying her a minute’s head start.
Trick ran back towards the entrance, where the team was supposed to meet if anything went wrong. She had the closest position to the entrance, as the others all had powers to draw on; Granny could easily out-distance the Fauns on her wolf, Earthborn could travel underground, and Shadow could hide himself in the dark tunnels.
It was a three-minute run for Trick, but she could hear the bat-satyr screeching from behind her. Despite the twists and turns in the tunnels, Erinyes could at least keep up with the Watcher – though the other satyrs in her group seemed to be falling behind.
Just as Trick turned a corner to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Erinyes slammed into her back. Trick gripped the scarf she still held, twisting around to wrap it around the bat-satyr’s neck. She yanked it downwards, slamming Erinyes’ head against the cold concrete floor. Erinyes fell off of her, dazed, allowing Trick to jump to her feet and reach another pocket.
“Echolocation, huh?” she asked, pulling out a small pellet. “Try this on for size!” Trick closed her eyes and threw the pellet down next to Erinyes’ head, where it exploded with a flash and a loud BANG. Erinyes screeched, and Trick ran to put some distance between her and the rest of the Fauns that were starting to make up the distance.
Erinyes recovered quickly – at least enough to continue the chase as the rest of her squad caught up. The five Fauns raced for the tunnel entrance, only to find Trick stopped there, facing them with her arms crossed.
“Giving up so soon?” Erinyes spat at her. “I’m disappointed. Fallen made you out to be some kind of demi-god with the tricks you have up your sleeves, but you’re just a lowly human after all.”
“‘Tricks up her sleeve’,” the duck-satyr sniggered. “I see what you did there.”
“Shut up, Lou,” Erinyes rolled her eyes.
Trick raised an eyebrow at them. “I’m no god,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I just happen to know something you don’t.”
“Oh yeah?” one of the other Fauns sneered. “What’s that?”
A burst of electricity shot through the corridor, hitting all five Fauns in a chain of lightning. “Earthborn’s right behind you,” Trick said dryly as the Fauns all fell, unconscious, to the ground.
“You okay?” Earthborn asked. As Trick opened her mouth for a sassy reply, he staggered.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” she asked instead.
Earthborn shook his head. “That’s the fourth time I’ve done that in the last few minutes,” he pointed out. “Granny and Shadow are tying up the other Fauns now – I need to see Dale.”
“Dark David?” Trick asked hesitantly.
“Yeah, he’s… argh!” Earthborn clutched his head as he cried out in pain. “He’s trying to break out. I need to get to Dale, now!” He looked up, and his eyes glowed red in the dim corridor.
“Granny, Shadow, come in!” Trick called over her communicator.
“On our way to the entrance,” Shadow reported. “Granny’s got her wolf and dragon carting the Fauns that tried to ambush us.”
“Shadow took a beating, but he should be fine,” Granny added. “How are you doing?”
“There are five more Fauns lying at the entrance to the tunnels,” Trick told them, helping Earthborn to his feet. “E.B.’s in bad shape; I’m going to take him back to Dale. Can you guys handle clean-up?”
“I’ve already called it in to Agent,” Shadow said. “We’ll pick up those others on our way out; we should be there in a minute or so. You go on ahead.”
“Got it,” Trick said as she helped Earthborn into the car. She didn’t like leaving the five Fauns unattended, but they didn’t have any time to waste. Granny and Shadow could handle themselves against a bunch of tied-up satyrs, and they could get a ride back to Headquarters from Granny’s dragon if need be, after they brought the Fauns to the police.
Trick drove as fast as she could through the city, needing to get Earthborn help as soon as possible. The protest was already in full swing, with satyrs blocking off many of the streets downtown – Trick had to take three detours before they pulled up into the Asylum tower’s motor pool.
* * * * * * * *
Parker Fawkes, formerly Blackbird of the Asylum.
Claw looked at Parker from the corner of his eye, not moving a muscle for a long minute after Parker admitted to betraying the Fauns for the Asylum. Slowly, he smiled. “I know,” he said, taking his claw away from Scott’s neck and giving the kid a fatherly pat on the cheek. “I just wanted to see if you’d come clean.”
The scary part was that he wasn’t angry. Claw seemed almost gleeful that Parker had confessed. He turned to look at Parker, putting an arm around Scott’s shoulders. “You were a Watcher,” he continued. “It stands to reason that you would tell Agent what I had planned. I had to test your loyalty, see; I told each of my lieutenants something different about tonight’s operation. So yes, I knew that you were the one to betray me as soon as I saw where the Asylum Watchers were headed.”
“So why’d you call us both here?” Parker asked, confused. Now that his charade was finally over, a calm settled over his nerves. He knew that he would die before he could leave this room, so now his only concern was Scott’s safety.
“Fallen, you’re a hybrid,” Claw said, as if explaining to a child. “Hybrids are rare when born. So far, any attempts to create them have had problematic consequences – they go insane, or they have serious drawbacks. You’re unique, and I can’t just throw you away that easily.”
Parker’s heart skipped a beat. There was a chance he might get out of here alive, if he played his cards right. “What do you want from me?”
“Loyalty,” Claw said, shrugging. “But since you’ve already proved yourself a traitor, I’ll settle for insurance.” His left arm still around Scott’s shoulder, Claw used his right hand to point at the table, where a small box sat. “Open it,” he instructed.
Parker didn’t hesitate. He went over to the table and picked up the box, opening the lid. He hadn’t seen it when he first came in the room, but first Claw had been standing in front of it and then his attention had been on Scott. It was a reasonable oversight, and if Parker had not been scared out of his wits he might have seen what was coming.
The cardboard popped open easily. Inside was a small, metallic cylinder with a small, unassuming red button on one end. “Pick it up,” Claw told him.
Parker gingerly took the detonator out of the box with a shaking hand. His heart was racing, and his apprehension made it seem like the walls closing in. Tossing the box to one side, he turned back to face Claw, who gave him a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes. Claw pulled a remote control out of his pocket, and as he pressed a couple of buttons on it he told Parker, “Stay right there. I’m just turning on the cameras.” Parker looked into the corners of the room, noting the security cameras as little red lights blinked on.
Claw took a few steps backwards out of the camera’s sights, still hanging onto Scott. “To leave the room, all you need to do is push the button,” Claw said. “But first, I want to make sure you know all of the consequences.”
He ran a claw under Scott’s chin pointedly. The gorilla-satyr’s eyes were wide, and he gave Parker a pleading look as Claw silently threatened his life. Parker gripped the detonator as his heart beat faster.
“That button is a remote detonator,” Claw continued. “My associate has planted bombs on the top floors of the Asylum tower, where the Watchers live. Three bombs, to be precise – one in the medical bay, one in the weapons lab, and one in Agent’s office, where all of his spy equipment is based.”
He raised his eyebrows at Parker, who said, “It’ll destroy the Asylum’s infrastructure. They’ll be crippled for months until they can rebuild.”
“Yes,” Claw confirmed. “Now, the time is currently…” he checked his watch, to be accurate, “twelve-forty-two in the morning. At this time of night, the building is closed to their regular workers. The only people in the building would be the Watchers – except at this moment, the Watchers are currently spread out across the city, dealing with the riots that have broken out.”
“Nobody should be in the building,” Parker clarified. He didn’t doubt Claw’s word – the Faun’s leader was ruthless, but he was no liar.
“Correct,” Claw said. “Nobody should be in the building. Now, to be fair, we have no way of confirming that. So pressing the button is taking a chance with people’s lives. If you press it, you might kill or seriously injure someone. At the very least, debris from the explosion will fall out onto the street, and any civilians walking by could be injured or killed.”
Claw was careful not to say it, but another stroke of his claw against Scott’s neck showed Parker the ultimatum: either Parker pressed the button, or Claw would kill Haley’s brother.
Parker hesitated. If he pressed the button, chances were that nobody would get hurt. If he didn’t, then he and Scott would die here and now. Parker took a deep breath to calm his nerves. If it had just been him in the room with Claw, he would have broken the detonator and thrown it as far away as possible – but he wasn’t alone. Scott’s life also hung in the balance, and Parker couldn’t be responsible for the other guy’s death.
“The choice is yours, Parker Fawkes,” Claw said, licking his lips. The psychopath didn’t care what Parker chose – if Parker chose to die, it would be done in a flash, and if he pressed the button then Claw would gain a new lieutenant, as no sane person would testify against Claw as long as he had proof that they had committed this level of terrorism. Even if nobody was hurt in the blast, Parker would be facing twenty to life for his role in detonating the building. Since Claw had this on camera, while carefully keeping himself and the ultimatum out of it, he could use it any time he thought Parker might turn on him again.
Parker narrowed his eyes at Claw, hating the Faun’s leader for putting him in this position. He glanced at Scott, seeing the fear on the other guy’s face.
Closing his eyes, Parker made his choice.
* * * * * * * *
Natalie Fawkes, AKA Trick.
Outlier was there with a few civilians. “Trick!” she called as they opened the car doors. “What happened? You guys stop the gas already?” The civilians crowded around the car, looking the worse for wear. Nobody seemed injured yet, but all of them were frazzled by the commotion outside.
“There was no gas,” Trick explained, helping Earthborn out of the vehicle. “It was a set-up. Shadow and Granny are cleaning up now, but we need to get E.B. his treatment soon.”
“Maybe the whole riot rumor was a set-up, then,” Outlier said hopefully. “Reiki and I have been getting people off the streets who are just caught up in the crowd; apparently the motor pool was designed as a bomb shelter. They should be safe down here until it blows over. There hasn’t been any violence yet, though, so maybe – ”
Reiki chose that moment to come crashing down, leading a young mother and her two toddlers while flashes of light burst behind them. “It’s starting!” he called over. He checked to make sure the civilians were okay before coming over to the others. “Some kind of signal went off. Sounded like gunshots, and suddenly people began pulling out weapons – molotovs, knives, stuff like that. The police are already out in riot gear, but there are way more protesters than there should be.”
“Better get out there, then,” Outlier said grimly. “Agent’s downtown at the city capitol building, protecting the government officials – he’ll need our help.”
“No,” Trick told her. “You and Reiki keep doing what you’re doing. Agent can take care of things down there; right now, the important thing is to save the civilians. Earthborn and I will join you after Dale sees him.”
“Better get going,” Reiki said, looking at Earthborn. “He’s in bad shape.”
“No duh,” Trick said. “Good luck out there.”
“You too,” Outlier told her, before she and Reiki ran back out into the fray.
It took only a few minutes more before the elevator reached the fourteenth floor. “Dale! Glad you’re here,” Trick said breathlessly, helping Earthborn to a medical table as she greeted the doctor. “He’s used too much electricity – he needs treatment!”
Dale’s eyes widened as he shut the lid on a box. “I have to treat patients downstairs,” he said, grabbing a medical kit and heading for the stairwell door. “Please, take him and follow me down.”
“He can’t wait,” Trick insisted. “Look at him!”
Earthborn’s rock armor had crumbled, leaving David’s face exposed. They could see his eyes burning red like Nightmare’s, and static electricity crackled around him. Trick’s hair was frizzing from being in contact with him, and David’s face was screwed up in concentration as he fought back against his alternate personality.
“I’m sorry, Trick,” Dale said, heading for the stairs. “Now that the riots have started, there will be people in the motor pool who will also need immediate treatment. I’ll treat him on the way down, if you can follow me.”
“It’s fourteen flights down,” Trick pointed out. “Wouldn’t the elevator be faster?”
Dale looked around, as if dazed. “Maybe. We don’t have time to debate this, Trick!”
“Dale, come on – he just needs a shot. You treat Earthborn, and I’ll go stock up on my supplies. I’ll meet you two downstairs, and we can get back out there.” Trick opened the door to the stairs despite Dale’s protests, and started up the stairs to her room where she kept her spare tricks.
A flash of heat hit her from behind, and a roaring sound filled her ears. She was dimly aware of rubble falling around her, before a piece of the building hit her head and she blacked out.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City, night.
It took fifteen minutes for the rest of the team to make it back to the tower. Firefighters were already at the scene, helping Outlier and Reiki evacuate the civilians from the lobby where they had been waiting out the riots. They needed to get people as far away as possible, as debris was still raining down from the top floors.
“What happened?” Nightmare asked, looking up in shock.
“Someone planted bombs in our living quarters,” Agent told her, coming from the direction of the Police Chief. “I was just debriefed. I’ve got the rest of the team helping the evacuation – Granny’s up on the top floors trying to find survivors, and Shadow’s helping get people out down here.”
Nightmare took a deep breath, trying to get her emotions – and her powers – under control. The last thing they needed in the current atmosphere was more panic and fear. “What about the others?” she asked. “Outlier and Reiki were supposed to be guarding civilians here.”
“They’re fine – a little shaken up, though,” Agent told her. “Outlier took a hit from a beam that fell, but aside from a nasty bruise she should be all right. Reiki’s already helping Shadow. You okay?”
“Fine,” Nightmare told him. “How can I help?”
“Probably not with the evacuation,” Agent admitted. “I need eyes – my main server was destroyed. You can help by getting me my data pad from the car.”
Nightmare nodded and ran for the back entrance to the motor pool. The motor pool was underground and reinforced, meant to act as a bomb shelter for the building. Most of the civilians that Reiki and Outlier had saved from the riots had been bunkered down there, and none had been injured. Nightmare dashed down to Agent’s car and grabbed the pad for him, avoiding contact with any of the civilians or rescue workers. Her powers would only hurt the situation, and they made her feel useless in times like this.
She ran back to Agent, staying close in case he needed something else. Agent turned the data pad on, scanning the many cameras around the city to assess the damage. At his side, Nightmare grimaced when she saw images of looted businesses and rubble in the streets. It would take them weeks to clean up the damage. It almost didn’t seem real, watching it through a computer screen – if she hadn’t been out during the riots, seeing the writhing mob destroy everything in its path first-hand, she might have thought it had been a television show.
The sound of a roar brought her back to reality, as Granny landed her dragon in front of them. Nightmare’s breath caught as she saw the dragon set two bodies down at the medical station. One stirred, and Nightmare saw Dale’s face screwed up in pain as he slowly sat up. The other body lay deathly still. Nightmare felt Agent tense up next to her as they recognized Trick.
Granny motioned frantically for everybody near the building to move. She brought the dragon around, pointing up at the top floors. A loud rumbling started, drowning out anything she might have said. The dragon began picking people up from around the building, setting them down a ways away from the building as the rumbling grew louder.
“Oh, no…” Agent muttered. He shoved the data pad into Nightmare’s hands before running to help. Nightmare looked down at the pad, which showed the view from the news chopper circling the tower. There was no sound, but she could see a figure standing at the top of the shattered floors.
David swept rubble out of his way with a flick of his hand as he made his way to the edge of the building. He looked into the camera for a second, grinning maniacally. Nightmare flashed back to the memory of Dark David impaling her as she recognized the expression on his face, and the red eyes that shone in the predawn darkness.
She barely had time to shout before Dark David clenched his fist. The building shook, rumbling for one long minute before it collapsed. Nightmare saw through the data pad that David dove off the building, and looked up to see the ground rise up to meet him. There was a roaring in her ears – someone was screaming, and it almost felt like her own voice. She was dimly aware of Agent running towards her, until a sharp blow to her head left everything mercifully dark.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City, the next day.
Parker kept his hood up in the crisp fall air as he watched the cleaning crews clear the rubble that used to be a building. He had spent the morning trying to find some kind of news source – he had dumped his burner phone after warning Frank and Natalie two days before, and he had left the one he had gotten as a Faun behind after last night. The city was still under curfew from the riots, so the papers hadn’t been distributed yet. Aside from the cleaning crews that the government and big businesses in the city coordinated, there was nobody out on the streets.
He closed his eyes, clenching his fists as he tried to remember something – anything – that made sense.
Scott’s safe, he thought. Claw let him go once I… once it happened. As soon as Parker had pressed the button, Claw turned off the cameras and released his hostage. Scott ran for the door without looking back, and never came back to the base. If he’s smart, he’ll go home and forget about the Fauns, Parker thought bitterly.
He couldn’t do the same, no matter how much he wanted to right then. His home had been destroyed when he pushed that button.
Until he saw the rubble of the tower for himself, Parker had hoped it wasn’t true. The last few days – the last few months, even – had to all be just a bad dream, and he would wake up any minute. When he opened his eyes, he’d be on the Asylum’s couch, and Natalie would be giving him grief for napping so long just before their patrol. He couldn’t have gone through all of it – living in the Faun’s squalor, alongside feral satyrs, trashing a DMV, committing crime after crime, and pressing the button that – it couldn’t have all been for nothing.
A sudden, sharp pain to the back of his head made him open his eyes, bringing him back to reality. “You have a lot of nerve showing up here,” came Frank’s voice from behind him.
“Frank!” Parker cried, spinning around. “Thank god!” He stopped suddenly, seeing the state his best friend was in.
Frank was still in his Watcher gear from the night before. He was covered in dust and bruises as he glared at Parker from behind his goggles. He held his phone in his hand, letting the news clip play for Parker.
“ – an anonymous source. The video shows Parker Fawkes, formerly a Watcher of the Asylum known as Blackbird, detonating the bombs that destroyed Asylum Tower. The Asylum had been using the Tower’s underground parking levels as a shelter from the riots. Rescue teams pulled twenty-one injured people from the scene before the building collapsed, killing eleven. Bodies have been identified as – ”
Frank stopped the clip there. “Eleven dead,” he repeated. “Four were night shift security guards, and seven others were firefighters and EMTs who were checking to make sure people got out. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“I can explain,” Parker said, closing his eyes again in shame. He opened them again to say, “I had to do it, Frank. Nobody was supposed to be there, and – ”
“Maybe I wasn’t clear,” Frank interrupted, clenching his fists at his sides. “Do you have any idea what all of this has done to the team?”
“They weren’t up there,” Parker pleaded, his heart beating faster as the bottom dropped out of his stomach. “They couldn’t have been. You guys were supposed to be handling the riots, and the rest of the building is closed at night…”
Frank shook his head, not taking his eyes off of Parker. “Earthborn needed treatment,” he explained. “Nat had taken him back to see Dale in the medical center – where one of the bombs went off.”
“No,” Parker said, shaking his head. “No, Nat couldn’t… They aren’t…” He refused to finish the thought.
“Dead?” Frank said the word for him, and Parker hung his head. “No. They’re not.” Parker glanced back up, hope rising in his chest. “Earthborn was in enough of his right mind to cover them from the blast. Granny pulled Dale and Nat out of there with her dragon.”
“And David?” Parker asked. Frank’s tone was making him dread the next words out of his mouth, but he had to hear it.
“He didn’t get the treatment in time,” he said.
Parker shook his head, trying to deny the accusation he heard in his friend’s voice. “You said they weren’t dead,” he countered.
“Oh right, you weren’t here for that part,” Frank said. “Turns out that when he uses too much of his electric powers – like he did in the tunnels last night – David turns into a supervillain. I mean full-on, stab-Rina-in-the-chest type bad guy. He brought the rest of the tower down before he disappeared.”
“Rina?” Parker asked.
“The stabbing thing was last month,” Frank explained. “She got better. But right now they have to keep her sedated – between the riots and the building coming down, she’s lost control of her powers. Agent had to knock her out to keep her from starting another riot last night, and every time she wakes up, she causes a stampede in the hospital. Have you ever seen injured and terminally ill people try to run for cover?” He let out a short laugh, and Parker’s mouth twisted up at the mental image until Frank added, “It probably would have been funny if it didn’t rip IVs out and break bones further. The hospital staff had to work overtime last night strapping the worst cases down in case it happened again.”
“Where’s Nat?” Parker asked. “I need to see my sister.”
Frank shook his head. “She’s still unconscious,” he said. “Earthborn hit her with a literal ton of bricks while he was saving her life. She has a bad concussion, and a lot of broken bones.”
“What about the others?” It was like watching a train wreck – the more Frank told him, the worse the news got. Parker couldn’t stop listening.
“The riots disbanded when the building came down,” Frank said. “People who had just been throwing molotovs came to help us dig through the rubble. Even the protesters knew you’d gone too far.”
“The others?” Parker asked again.
“There was no gas,” Frank continued, ignoring him. “I don’t know what Claw plans to do with the vial you gave him, but the riots here were the same as the others around the country. Mob mentality struck, and five cities are now trying to clean up the mess. I don’t know what you thought this would do, but the anti-satyr feeling is only growing. Mom’s keeping my sister at home for now – ”
“What about the others?!” Parker was shouting now, his own fear and guilt crushing him like a weight.
“Granny lost her zoo,” Frank said. “Those stuffed animals she had knit? She only had the dragon and the wolf on her last night. The rest of them were in her room, which went up in flames. I’d steer clear of her if I were you,” he added wryly. “She’s pissed off, and she still has the dragon.”
Parker bit his lip as Frank continued. Granny loved her zoo; they were living creatures when she was around, after all. But there was more to worry about. “Reiki’s fine,” Frank said, “but he’s worried about the girls, who are all in the hospital right now. Haley was hit in the shoulder by a falling cinderblock in the first explosion – her collarbone is broken, but she’s still looking to patrol today because apparently she’s a masochist. Let’s see…” he began counting on his fingers. “I told you about Rina and Nat. And David. Chip wasn’t there last night. Dale was dazed, but he’ll be okay – he says he was right next to Earthborn when the bomb went off, but Nat was on the staircase. E.B. didn’t need to throw rocks at Dale like he did her. But Agent’s only barely keeping his head above water.”
“Why?” Parker jumped on the news. “What’s wrong with him?”
“What do you think is wrong with him?” Frank asked. “A teammate turned on the rest of us, another one disappeared, and half the remaining team is down for the count. This isn’t the first time it’s happened to him, too – Team Ark disbanded for less!”
“I had a reason…” Parker said weakly. After hearing about the fallout, it sounded bad to him, too.
“Eleven people are dead, Parker,” Frank reminded him. “Your own sister was nearly one of them. Your team could have been on that list, too. The country wants to blame you for the nationwide riots last night, too. Please tell me you at least got what you needed on Claw,” he added. “Something had to have come from all this.”
Parker hung his head again, clenching his fists by his side. “No,” he admitted. “Claw left the city this morning, and all evidence against him was destroyed before I could get to it.” He nodded towards the phone in Frank’s hand, adding, “He wasn’t even on that video. He thought everything out.”
So we lost him,” Frank said. “Parker, if you’d come back with us the other night…”
“Then none of this would have happened, I know!” Parker shouted. “I was stupid, okay? Is that what you want to hear?!” He could feel his fingernails digging into his palms, but he didn’t care. Frank was staring at him calmly as he ranted, and that just made him hate his friend more. “I thought I could take down Claw; I was so close to getting him, too! Except I wasn’t,” he spat bitterly. “He knew everything. He saw it all coming, and planned around it, and I stepped right into his trap. And I brought the Asylum down with me. Is that what you want to hear me say?” he demanded. “I screwed up, it’s all my fault! And nothing anybody says will compare with how hard I’m kicking myself right now, okay?”
Parker wasn’t crying; he was still shaking from the shock of the news. Frank just stood there, silently waiting for him to finish. When Parker stopped his rant, they stared at each other in silence for a minute before Frank said, “Agent already gave the order to arrest you.”
Parker had to laugh at that. “Arrest me?” he repeated, rolling his eyes at the irony. “In the aftermath of Claw’s riots? They’d throw the book at me!”
“Claw wasn’t on the video,” Frank said, shrugging. “You were.”
“You know I was being coerced,” Parker said, almost asking. “Claw would have killed someone right then and there if I hadn’t pressed the button. The building was supposed to be empty – I traded the building for Scott’s life.” He put a hand on Frank’s shoulder. “You believe me, right?”
Frank looked away, staring at the rubble heap that had once been Asylum Tower. Pulling out of Parker’s grip, he said, “I want to believe you, buddy. I can only see it from hindsight – but there’s just so much damage… I don’t even know if the team can recover from this.”
Parker let his hand drop to his side. “Are you going to take me in?” he asked.
Frank hesitated. He pressed his lips together, coming to a decision, before saying, “I’m supposed to. I got banged up in the riots last night, too – I couldn’t force you to come with me. I won’t fight you, buddy. At least, not now.” He turned around, calling back as he walked away, “I’ll have to arrest you if I ever see you again.”
Parker watched his old friend until Frank rounded a corner. He put his hands back into his hoodie pockets and turned to get away from the rubble. As he wasn’t watching where he was going, he nearly ran into a man in a suit.
“Excuse me,” he muttered, moving to walk around him.
The man grabbed his arm with a gloved hand, making Parker look at his face for the first time. The well-dressed man was wearing a mask, smiling kindly at him. “Parker Fawkes?” he asked.
“You’re Jaunt,” Parker said, freezing in his tracks. “You broke up Team Ark!”
“And you just broke up the Asylum,” Jaunt reminded him. Parker hung his head, all the fight leaving him for shame. “The whole country is calling you the worst criminal since… well, since me. Everyone knows your face by now, because you broke their heroes. You have no place to go, and nothing to do – except, of course, run from the law.”
Parker sighed. “What do you want?” he asked. “Here to rub it in?”
“No,” Jaunt said. “I’m here to offer you a job.”
* * * * * * * *
Eon City, outside of the former tower.
Frank Mejia, AKA Shadow.
Frank walked away from Parker with mixed feelings. On the one hand, everything was falling apart around them, and it was all Parker’s fault. On the other hand, Parker had been one of his best friends since middle school. Injuries and exhaustion aside, Frank couldn’t fight him. So he had let him go.
As his stomach rumbled, Frank realized that he hadn’t eaten yet. His body was screaming at him to find someplace to sleep – he had been awake for nearly two days now. His muscles were on fire, and it hurt to move. His eyes kept closing, too – so he didn’t see the kid until he ran into him.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his eyes snapping open. “I didn’t think anybody was out now. Curfew, and all.”
“Not a problem, Shadow,” the kid said. He was a teenager, at least – obviously younger than Frank, but not yet fully grown. Frank was used to people recognizing him, so the kid calling him “Shadow” wasn’t out of place.
“Look, you should go home,” Frank told him. “The Asylum is still patrolling, but law enforcement is stretched thin right now. It’s not safe.”
“Oh, I agree,” the teenager said. “It isn’t safe right now. But it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”
Frank frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, wondering if the scrawny teenager knew something he didn’t.
The kid looked him up and down. “I’d have preferred to get you at your best, but you’ll have to do as-is,” he said cryptically. He held out a hand for Frank to shake, adding, “My name is Janus, by the way.”
“Shadow,” Frank said, shaking the kid’s hand reflexively.
Janus grinned, tightening his grip. “Good to officially meet you, Shadow,” he said. “On your side, anyways. Now, please come with me.”
It wasn’t a request. As Janus’ grip tightened, the air around them turned opaque – as if a thick fog had settled over everything. It cleared in what felt like only a few seconds later, but when he looked around, the sun had set.
Looking to his left, Frank saw that the Asylum Tower was suddenly whole again. It looked a little different from before, but there was a building where only seconds ago there had been rubble. The air smelled different; there was a distinct odor that hadn’t been there before, and Frank saw trash lining the streets.
Janus began pulling him back towards the tower. “Come on, Shadow,” he said. “You need to meet yourself.”
“Wait, what the heck just happened?” Frank asked, pulling his hand out of the kid’s grip. “This is Eon City, but it’s not – where am I?”
Janus turned back and gave him an exasperated look. “I keep forgetting this is your first time,” he sighed. “I know you’ll need a warning or five about what’s coming, but it still should be obvious.”
Frank just glared at him until he answered the question. “Oh, all right,” Janus said. “You’re right – this is still Eon City. Just, for you it hasn’t happened yet.” He grinned, throwing his arms out in a ta-da gesture. “Welcome to your future,” he added. “Hope you enjoy the show!”
* * * * * * * *
The Asylum will return after the mid-season break.
Next: Issue #14 – Complicated