One of Eon City’s DMVs.
Parker Fawkes, AKA Blackbird.
Parker Fawkes was bored.
He had been sitting in the DMV office for over an hour now, waiting for the clock to strike noon so that something a bit more exciting could happen. His wings cramped, and he was getting thirsty. The long black trench coat he wore was hot and scratchy, which was made more uncomfortable by the warm day and many people surrounding him. It was a testament to the disorganization of the office that he could be sitting there with a coat on for that long without anybody thinking that anything was out-of-place.
He hated waiting.
Across the gray-walled room he saw Reg, a dog-satyr, scratching his ear. That flea-bitten mutt better not screw this up, Parker thought, snorting in annoyance. He knew that Reg was only there to make sure that he stayed on task.
“What’s taking so long?” came a voice directly behind him, echoing his own thoughts. Parker glanced at his watch: ten minutes left. He couldn’t wait that much longer.
“Quit whining, Chris,” said another voice, this one female. “You know the DMV always takes a while.”
With nothing else to keep him occupied, Parker turned around to see who was talking. A young monkey-satyr (who looked barely fifteen years old) was slouching in a chair next to an older girl. They didn’t look related – the satyr had sandy-colored hair and wide ears, while the girl was a human brunette – but Parker still guessed that they were brother and sister. He remembered with a slight pang of longing how much his twin sister looked different from him. It had been a month since he had taken this assignment, and a week since he had last been at Headquarters; Natalie was probably getting worried by now.
Or else she was preparing to hit him while pretending not to be worried.
“I don’t get why I have to get a license, anyways,” the boy complained. “You never had to carry one.”
The girl rolled her eyes, as if she had been hearing this all day. “I told you,” she said, “Until you’re twenty-five and can pass a citizenship test, you have to have a license. I don’t, because I’m not a satyr; it sucks, but there you go.”
“I’m with you, kid,” Parker spoke up. “Satyr licensing laws are the worst.” He wasn’t lying; he only got citizenship as early as he did because he became a Watcher straight out of high school. Unless they became government employees, satyrs weren’t considered citizens until their twenty-fifth birthday; until then, they had to get a special license, like the animals they resembled. Even though it didn’t affect Parker nearly as much as other satyrs, the unfairness of it all still rankled him.
The girl looked startled, not having noticed that Parker was listening. “I’m sorry,” she told him automatically, “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Not at all,” Parker replied, spinning his seat around to face them. “I’m as bored as you guys. My name’s Parker.”
“Jane,” the girl told him, “and this is my brother Chris.”
“Nice to meet you,” Parker said, shaking Jane’s hand. “The people behind the counter seem to get paid more if they take their time, am I right?”
Jane giggled, Parker had another pang of homesickness for the Asylum; Rina had a laugh like that. “I think that’s the manager on his lunch break,” Jane pointed to a portly man behind the counter who was eating a sandwich. His badge was slightly bigger than the others’, so Parker agreed with Jane’s guess.
Beep-beep-beep-beep went the alarm on Parker’s watch. He glanced down at it, shutting it off as he said, “Ah, show time.” He stood up, shaking Jane’s hand again. “It’s been nice talking with you, Jane,” Parker told her, “a real break from the people I live with. I really hope you’ll forgive me.” He pulled out a mask from his coat’s inner pocket and put it on, pulling up his hood to hide his features.
“Forgive you for what?” she asked. Parker took off his trench coat, revealing the large knives he kept hidden underneath and allowing him to spread his wings theatrically.
“This is a stick-up,” he shouted, jumping up onto his chair. His voice echoed through the mask, but the slits in the front allowed his words to come through clearly. The people around him began to laugh, but at that signal fourteen other satyrs jumped up, revealing a similar array of weapons along with claws and teeth. They had all trickled in over the course of the morning, hiding amid the throng of the Saturday rush.
Some of the humans gave short, high-pitched shrieks. Parker grinned as he caught sight of Reg’s face; the sound was clearly annoying the dog-satyr’s sensitive ears.
“What do you want?” the pot-bellied manager called out, standing in indignation while brushing crumbs off of his shirt. “We’re a DMV; there’s no money here.”
“Perhaps ‘stick-up’ was the wrong term,” Parker grinned behind the mask, “I’ve just always wanted to say that. ‘This is a terrorist attack’ doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.”
He pulled out two foot-long knives, brandishing them at the people around him. Hopping up onto his chair, he called out to the entire room. “You all can call me ‘Fallen’,” he announced, “You might know my family here,” he gestured to the other satyrs wielding weapons, “and I as Fauns. We demand equality for all satyrs, and we will use force if necessary. Please don’t make us use force,” he sighed, looking at the security guard who looked as though he meant to be a hero, “I’d really like to avoid bloodshed.”
“Down on the ground!!” growled Reg, firing a shot from his revolver into the ceiling. The people all cried out and slid off of their seats in fear. Parker saw Jane drag her brother off of the seat onto the ground.
“Now, as I said, this is a terrorist attack,” Parker continued once the clamor died down. “All we want is to destroy the computers and burn the paperwork – you know, cause a little chaos. Ten DMVs are being hit simultaneously around the state, so I wouldn’t count on the Watchers,” he spat the word, as expected of a Faun lieutenant, “to come quickly. If you all are good, and stay down, we’ll let you live. Say anything to annoy us, or lift any part of your body off of the ground, and I’ll let Fido over there rip your throat out.”
Reg growled menacingly. The people might think he was emphasizing Parker’s point, but Parker knew better. Reg was growling at him for calling him “Fido”.
“Why are you doing this?” Chris asked in a semi-loud voice. Parker sighed as Jane hit her brother on the back of the head; at least one of them knew to keep their mouth shut. “Ow,” he whispered, “I just want to know why they’re at a DMV.”
“Shut up,” Jane hissed at him. Parker walked back over to them, keeping one eye on Reg as he did so. Around them, the noise of satyrs smashing computers and ripping paper continued.
“Lucky for you, that’s a good question,” Parker said. Speaking loudly again, he told the room, “Satyrs shouldn’t be licensed like animals. We’re attacking the DMVs around Eon City to show the Fauns’… disapproval of that law. Destroying your archives will show you how futile these oppressive measures have been.”
Crouching back down, he hissed at Chris, “Any more good questions, kid?”
He could tell by the look on her face that Jane wanted to hit her brother again when he asked, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to just come in and smash everything at night? You know, without all of the people here?”
Parker’s eyes widened in alarm. He stole another glance at Reg, unconsciously raising his wings to hide the kid from view; Reg had looked over, licking his lips. Parker didn’t want any bloodshed, and he knew that he couldn’t keep Reg in check much longer.
“This is a terrorist attack,” Parker hissed, hoping that Chris would get the hint, “We did it in the middle of the day because people would be here. Now shut up before someone less kind hears you.”
He stood up and began to walk away, thinking that was the end of it.
“What do you mean, ‘someone less kind’?” Parker could have killed the kid himself for opening his mouth again.
Reg strode over, giving them a deep-throated growl. Parker stepped between them, raising his wings again to hide the kid from view.
“Did I say you could come over here, Lassie?” he asked, holding one of his knives in front of his chest defensively.
“I heard him,” the dog-satyr growled, “talking out of turn. We need to make an example.” He licked his lips, “And besides, I’m hungry.”
“I said, back off,” Parker snarled. “I’ll deal with it. You go back to your corner, Wishbone.” He put on his normal fighting expression, masking the fact that he was worried about a fight with the dog; Reg was bigger, and had been working for Claw for more than a year while Parker was still pretty new. This was Parker’s first time leading an operation for the Fauns, which was a sign that he was gaining Claw’s – the leader of the Fauns’ – trust. His rapid promotion over the dog-satyr was mainly due to his unique abilities, as Claw valued Third-Gen/Satyr hybrids more than anyone else, particularly feral satyrs like Reg. But Reg still saw Parker as the newbie who displaced him; Parker had thus far avoided a fight with his rival, and so had no idea what the outcome of such a battle might be.
He would rather not learn. Reg’s teeth looked sharp.
The dog-satyr bared his wolf-like teeth, as if reading Parker’s mind. “Fine, Fallen,” he spat, saying Parker’s street name as if it were an insult. “I’ll tell Claw how merciful you’re being, and then we’ll see who’s in the corner.”
Parker smirked at him. “And I’ll be sure to tell him of your insubordination,” he replied. “Who do you think will impress him more? His right hand man,” he gestured to himself, “or Rin Tin Tin?” He pointed at the dog-satyr, hoping that Reg wouldn’t call his bluff.
Reg growled, seeming to think about it. Then he spun on his heel and marched back to his place on the sidelines. Parker watched him for an extra second, before turning back to Chris. “That,” he emphasized, pointing back at the dog-satyr, “is someone less kind. Shut up.”
Much to Parker’s relief, Chris kept his mouth shut. The siblings kept their faces pressed to the ground for the next few minutes, as Parker paced the rest of the DMV. Nobody else spoke up, much to his relief.
Suddenly, the fox-satyr standing watch at the door called out, “We’ve got Watchers.”
“How many?” Parker asked, “and which ones?”
“Looks like three of them,” the sentry replied, “From their outfits, I think… yeah, it’s definitely Trick and Nightmare. I don’t recognize the other.”
Parker swore. “Fauns, we’re leaving. Now.”
“There’re only three,” Reg growled, “We can take ‘em.”
“Trick by herself, or the other one, maybe,” Parker told him, “but as a group we’re no match for Nightmare. Move!!”
He heard a loud crash near the main entrance. As he rushed to get his people out the back door, two figures strode in. Parker recognized Trick and Nightmare at once; they were his old teammates, after all. Sabrina “Rina” Dawson, otherwise known as “Nightmare”, was a small woman in her mid-twenties. She had short white hair and blood-red eyes, and her white outfit covered most of her body from the sun. She glared at the Fauns, her eyes widening when she caught sight of Parker’s wings.
Trick’s expression matched hers. Her long blonde hair was dyed black, tied in a braid that Parker knew had spikes embedded in it in case someone grabbed her hair in a fight. She wore all black, and Parker knew from experience that her trench coat held many nasty surprises. Her bright blue eyes glared accusingly at Parker, and her jaw was clenched in anger. Even with her smaller frame, inches shorter than the two Watchers beside her, she was intimidating.
Trick’s real name was Natalie Fawkes, and she was Parker’s twin sister.
“Wow, look at them scurry,” Nightmare said, glancing at the last of the Fauns running out the back door. “Like mice.”
Parker saw Trick pull a small dart out of her sleeve. “Why are you here?” she asked him, also recognizing him through his mask.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Parker said, trying to warn them with his eyes not to blow his cover.
The new Watcher followed the others through the door. This was another girl who stood taller than the others. She wore a simple outfit – sleeveless, blue with red trim and a gold utility belt – but Parker knew better than to assume anything about her; this had to be the new recruit that beat Natalie in a fight last month.
“Guys,” the newbie said, “Are we going to fight? They’re getting away.”
“That all depends on… Fallen, was it?” Natalie asked sweetly. Now Parker was glad that he wasn’t going back to the Asylum tonight; the murderous look in his twin’s eyes would give him nightmares for a week.
Parker flipped his knives around, trying to appear jaunty for the Fauns. “Not today, ma belle,” he said, stalling for time. He already felt his pulse starting to race – though he couldn’t be sure if it was nerves or the sheer proximity to Nightmare. “I think our work here is done.”
He gave a hand-signal, and the Fauns stopped trashing the office and gathered in the middle of the floor. Parker could hear multiple vehicles pulling up outside.
Nightmare held up a hand. “Don’t even think about running,” she warned the Fauns. “We have police and other Watchers standing outside taking your friends into custody.”
“Oh please,” Parker rolled his eyes. “The police don’t mobilize that fast. Besides, you can’t use your power in here. You’d hit the civilians.”
Rina flinched, looking down. She must have forgotten about the hostages, Parker thought. He knew that she wouldn’t have risked coming in if she had known. Natalie, on the other hand…
He turned to Trick, just in time to see her move. She flicked her wrist, and Parker had to react quickly to keep from being cut by her playing cards. He deflected them with his knives as his heart started to beat faster.
Suddenly, a blow hit him from behind. The new Watcher had an arm around his neck, kicking him in the back of the knee to drop him to his knees. Parker gasped for air, but the choke-hold would soon make him pass out if he didn’t do something. This girl was strong, but she obviously hadn’t been told about Parker’s Third Gen ability.
Parker grabbed her wrist and yanked – not hard enough to break her arm, but enough to pull it away from his neck. In one motion, he stood up and yanked it around her back, telling Trick and Nightmare, “Back off, or your friend here gets it.”
He knew that Agent was on the coms; he had to be. Trick put a hand to her ear with a furious glare at Parker, and then pocketed her playing cards. Nightmare closed her eyes, turning down the pressure in the room and allowing Parker’s heart to slow down. He felt like he had just run ten miles, but he would recover.
“That’s better,” he said, letting the new Watcher go and tossing her back to her teammates. “Now, I’d love to stay and chat, but I have to go. Tootles!”
He waved jauntily at them as he hopped down from his chair and ran out the back door after the other Fauns. He saw that Nightmare had been bluffing about having the building surrounded so quickly: his team had escaped in the getaway vans that had pulled up while he was stalling the Watchers. As the police pulled up to the DMV, Parker dodged them by jumping from the ground – it was hard to take off like that, but it got him out of reach of their tasers. Flapping his wings as hard as he could, he slowly gained enough altitude to catch a thermal and glide away.
So now they know, he thought as he flew. Agent’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.
* * * * * * * *
Agent’s in trouble.
“You WHAT?!” Natalie shouted at Agent. “Without telling me? What the hell were you THINKING?!”
“Natalie, please,” Agent said, “calm down. Parker’s an adult; he made his own choice…”
Natalie scoffed, but she stopped yelling. Her voice turned icy as she continued to rant. “My idiot brother is not undercover material, Agent,” she said.
“He’s been invaluable to us,” Agent argued. “He’s given us a lot of information on the inner workings of the Fauns. We even know where their headquarters are because of him.”
“Great,” Natalie said. “So now we can raid the whole place and Parker can come home.”
“It’s… not that simple,” Agent said, looking away.
The rest of the team was back from their own DMV calls, and looked between the two like a ping-pong match. Granny was the only member missing, flying patrol while the rest of the team were cleared for duty by Dale’s team. David was currently getting his exam, leaving Frank, Reiki, Rina, and Haley to watch the verbal sparring match between Natalie and Agent. They all knew better than to interrupt, though Reiki had popped a bowl of popcorn and passed it around in a pointed gesture.
“How is it not that simple?” Natalie demanded. “You know where they are; they just admitted to being behind all of the DMV attacks today, so what’s the problem?”
“We’re trying to take down Claw,” Agent said quietly.
Natalie said nothing for a minute. The mood in the room darkened at the mention of Claw’s name, so much so that Haley had to speak up for the first time since they got back. “Who’s Claw?” she asked, shivering.
“Rina, could you…?” Agent asked her. Rina blushed, and the dark mood around the team lifted. “Thanks. As for your question, Haley, Claw is the Faun’s leader.”
“More than that,” Rina said. “He’s a zealot. He’s a crocodile-satyr who believes that satyrs and Third Gens are the next evolution of humanity, and that humans should be wiped out.”
“I forgot,” Agent said, walking over to Rina and putting a hand on her shoulder. “He tried to recruit you once, too, didn’t he?”
Rina moved away from him, lifting her shirt to show a long scar down her side. “If I’d been any slower, he would have cut me in half,” she said. “He did that because I said ‘no’ to him. Not because he was angry, though.” She let her shirt fall back down as she crossed her arms at Agent. “Claw doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t panic, or fear anything. He doesn’t feel much at all; my powers don’t work on him. He hurts people because he can. I saw him behead one of his lieutenants just because he disagreed with him; it’s the main reason why I refused to join in the first place.”
“And you put my brother in this psychopath’s inner circle.” Natalie was shaking with rage. “You think you can take down the Fauns’ leader with one guy on the inside?”
“One hybrid,” Agent corrected her. “Parker’s not an ordinary satyr; we received intel a few months ago that Claw was looking for satyrs with Third Gen abilities. Parker’s not in his inner circle yet, but with his super-strength he has a much better chance than anyone else we’ve placed in the Fauns before.”
Natalie grabbed Agent’s tie and yanked his face close to hers. “Oh good,” she hissed. “Parker’s got a good chance of getting close to the one guy who can rip him apart in seconds, and he has no backup. And in the meantime, he’s sticking up DMVs and has to pretend to hate us. Did I miss anything?”
“He has backup,” Agent said, twisting his tie out of Natalie’s grip and straightening it. “You think you guys are the only licensed Watchers in the city? In the country? We’ve got spies in every hideout the Fauns have ever built. None of them can get close to Claw, but they can back Parker up no matter where he goes.”
“You need to get him out of there,” Natalie said. “Now.”
“Natalie, he can’t,” Rina told her softly. “Claw doesn’t let anybody go. If Parker tried to quit, we’d find his body in an alley somewhere.”
Natalie stormed off without another word. She slammed the door to the stairs behind her with shaking hands – but none of the team could tell if she was shaking from rage or fear for her brother. Agent watched her go with honest regret in his eyes. He sighed and took the elevator, but they couldn’t tell if he was going to his office or to talk to her.
Frank was the next to break the silence; he had hidden in the shadows until the argument was over. “Parker can take care of himself,” he said. “Nat’s just worried because he’s impulsive.”
“She thinks he’ll do something reckless?” Haley asked. “I mean, I don’t know the guy, and I only fought him the once, but he had a lot of control for a guy with such a big mouth.”
“People do some crazy things when they get emotional,” Frank shrugged, grabbing a handful of Reiki’s popcorn. “Claw killed their mother; that’s probably why Parker agreed to this in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised if going after Claw was Parker’s idea to begin with.”
“Claw killed their mom?” Rina repeated, sitting down on the sofa and drawing a fuzzy blanket around herself. She was trying hard not to let her powers run away from her again. “That’s awful.” Reiki sat next to her, letting her lean her head on his shoulder.
“They could never prove it,” Frank continued. “My mom told me once that they found her body in an alley, ripped to shreds.”
“That’s right,” Haley said. “Agent mentioned that your mom and their mom were teammates once. Team Ark, right?”
“Yep.” Frank jumped over the back of a chair before sitting down. “Mom says that Lyta’s death was what started the team breaking apart.”
“‘Lyta’?” Haley asked.
“Hippolyta,” came Natalie’s voice from the doorway to the stairs. “Queen of the Amazons, with a belt that gave her super-strength. Mom was a Third Gen,” she explained. “She was strong enough to lift a tractor over her head, just like Parker is.”
“You okay?” Frank asked her.
Natalie nodded. “‘Course I am,” she said. “It’s Parker I’m worried about.”
“Parker’s wicked fast with those knives of his,” Frank reminded her.
“I know,” Natalie said, sitting down on the armrest of his chair. “I just hope that Claw isn’t faster.”
* * * * * * * *
Parker Fawkes, keeping his head down.
Parker was going to be sick.
He winced as he saw Reg eat, trying not to stare. The dog-satyr was chowing down on a live pig, and the squeals of the dying animal were making Parker turn green. He pushed his own plate away, even though the meat on it was already dead and cooked. Even after a month of living with these people, Parker could never get used to the more feral eating habits. At least there was a place to sit, and a few utensils for those satyrs who didn’t give in to their animal side; the run-down building where the Fauns made their home base was a sty, and the blood left behind by the feral satyrs’ feasting would never come out of the floor.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” came a voice on his right. He looked over at the speaker, a striped cat-satyr who spoke with deliberate precision. “I mean, I know Claw takes in the feral satyrs for more firepower, but they could still kill their food before they eat it.”
“The squirming makes it taste so much better,” Reg answered with a mouthful of pig, pausing for only a second before resuming his feast. Parker noticed the cat-satyr’s plate also went untouched.
“You’re new here?” he asked, having never seen her before.
She grinned at him, “Nah. I just don’t usually make myself noticed. The name’s Kiara.”
“Parker,” he said, holding out his hand for her to shake.
Kiara took it, saying, “I know who you are, Fallen. You’re making quite a name for yourself around here. Claw’s protege, right?”
“Currently,” Parker admitted. “I don’t know how long that’ll last. One slip-up and…” he drew his finger over his throat, grimacing.
“Why do you think I stay in the shadows?” Kiara asked him rhetorically. “Claw is very nice to his underlings, unless they’re in command.”
“So, Fallen,” Reg piped in, taking a huge swallow of pig and wiping his mouth on his arm. “What happened at the DMV after we left? You didn’t come back for hours.”
“I gave my report to Claw,” Parker said, stiffening. “If he doesn’t choose to share the details with you, Rover, then you’re shit out of luck.”
“Still,” Kiara put in, bringing their conversation back to the original point, “at least Claw treats us like people. You know that the state’s trying to pass a leash law for satyrs? Not to mention the Senator calling for the death penalty for anyone even suspected of being a Faun.”
“Most people are going to vote against the leash law,” Parker pointed out. “That’s just the extremists’ bellyaching. Satyrs work for too cheap for us to be tied down on the job. As for the death penalty, they’ll have to catch us, first.”
“And they also know that we’ll retaliate if they try,” Reg grinned, showing his pointed teeth dripping with blood. “That is, if Fallen there doesn’t chicken out.”
“What is your problem?” Kiara asked the dog-satyr, the short hair on the back of her neck sticking straight out.
Reg gave a short, barking laugh. “Don’t you know? Fallen actually likes humans. Stood between me and one the other day.”
“First of all, that wasn’t a human. That was a satyr kid who just asked a question – you were the one out of line.” Parker stood up, flaring his wings behind himself in a gesture of superiority. “Second, it was a tactical decision as well. If he’d been the only casualty, then our message about fighting for satyr rights would be meaningless.”
“And those Watchers that you refused to fight?” Reg asked, standing up and closing the distance between them. “There were fifteen of us there against three of them – but you retreated like the coward you are.”
“Don’t ever call me a coward,” Parker snarled, his eyes flashing with anger. “Nightmare can create panic with a thought. We wouldn’t have been fighting them; we’d have been fighting each other.”
Reg raised his fist, which was nearly as big as a football. Suddenly, a deep, hissing voice called out, “That’s enough!”
Parker and Reg backed away from each other immediately; that was one voice that they knew to obey without question. Parker came to attention, turning ninety degrees so that he could see Claw as the leader of the Fauns walked into the room.
Marcus Ford, also known as Claw, stood at five feet eleven inches. From the waist up he was mostly a human male, with short black hair and a frizzled beard. His eyes were slightly too big for a humans’, however, and his teeth were as sharp as a carnivore’s. His fingers ended in claws that could cut through steel girders (Parker had seen him demonstrate before).
Below the waist, Claw’s legs were thick and scaly, like a lizard’s. His feet were little more than claws, and his long reptilian tail swung back and forth as he waddled forward. Parker knew better than to think that he was slow just because his gait was awkward; a lot of people mistook him for a lizard, but Claw was actually half-crocodile and the fastest person in the room. Nobody was certain if Claw was feral or not; he wore clothes and used utensils like a normal person, but preferred his meat raw.
“What is going on here?” Claw asked, coming to a halt in front of Parker and Reg. “I walk in to find two of my lieutenants about to brawl in the middle of the dining room. Explain.”
“Sir, Fallen started it,” Reg said before Parker could talk, “He – ”
“I didn’t ask who started it,” Claw snapped. “Fallen, what happened?”
“Sir,” Parker stood up straighter, hoping that his answer would be better than Reg’s. “My loyalty was being questioned. I was about to demonstrate my devotion to the cause.”
“By in-fighting?” Claw shook his head in disapproval. “No, that won’t do. Tell me, Fallen,” Claw lifted one of his clawed fingers up to Parker’s neck, “are you loyal?”
“Of course,” Parker said without hesitating. He learned to say everything that Claw wanted to hear; it came naturally to him even when his life was threatened. Especially if his life was threatened.
“Good,” Claw replied, patting him on the cheek and walking away. “That will be the end of it,” he called to all of the Fauns in the room. “Fallen, follow me.”
Parker made a face at Reg behind Claw’s back, and then ran to follow the crocodile.
“I hope you have an explanation, Fallen,” Claw said as they walked. His voice was surprisingly soft for his appearance.
“We were interrupted,” Parker said, trying not to sound like he was making an excuse. Claw was flexing his hands lazily, but at any moment he could strike. “The Watchers came in. The Nightmare girl was among them – I wanted to get my team out before she made us all panic.”
“A reasonable course of action,” Claw agreed. “The data was destroyed, and your team made it back. The results speak for themselves.” He paused, but Parker knew better than to speak out of turn. Claw would get to the point in his time, and no one else’s.
As they rounded a corner, Claw continued, “You’re a very promising recruit, Fallen.” He scratched his chin with one of his pointed claws. “What are your aspirations here?”
“Sir?” Parker asked, not quite understanding the question.
“How far would you like to rise in the Fauns, Fallen?” Claw asked again.
“As far as I can,” Parker answered. He knew that was the only answer he could give; if he stopped rising, chances were that he’d be dead.
Claw nodded. “Good answer.” He stopped in the hallway outside the door to his room. “I have another assignment for you,” he said. “We’ll be hitting the Eon City museum tomorrow after hours. Get a team prepared.”
“I can choose my own team?” Parker ventured to ask. He didn’t want to deal with Reg this time.
“I trust you, Fallen,” Claw said, smiling. Showing his long, sharp teeth, his smile was somehow more threatening than his frown. It certainly seemed insincere.
Maybe that was just Parker’s nerves. He smiled back, saluted, and turned back to the common area to pick his team. As Claw watched him round the corner, he said, “I want you to follow him.”
Reg stepped out of the room behind him, also saluting. He bared his teeth and left after Parker.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Park, later that night.
Parker Fawkes, also in trouble.
Parker waited in the dark, pacing. He had managed to slip away from the Fauns’ base after everyone else had fallen asleep. Most of the night guards that Claw had patrolling after dark were inept, so it was easy for a Watcher-trained vigilante to sneak past them – especially if they thought he was one of them. Once he had flown to the park, there was nothing left to do but wait.
Parker hated waiting.
Luckily he didn’t have to wait long. Something sharp flicked him in the back of the head, making him spin around. “You idiot,” Natalie hissed, keeping her voice down. You never know who might be listening from the shadows. “What the hell are you thinking?”
“Good to see you too, sis,” Parker said dryly. “How’ve you been?”
“Worried sick,” she snapped. “This is exactly the kind of stupid thing Dad made us promise not to do when we became Watchers!”
“What, join a cult?” Parker joked, trying to lighten the mood.
Natalie refused to laugh. “It isn’t funny, Parker,” she said. “I thought that your ‘secret mission’ for Agent was just some recon; so imagine my shock when I find you leading a raiding party on a DMV!”
Parker snickered at that. Seeing the glare Natalie gave him, he said, “Come on, you’ve got to admit that was absurd. ‘This is a stick-up!’ Priceless!”
Natalie looked like she was holding back a smile. “This is serious, Parker,” she said. “He killed Mom.”
“Exactly,” Parker said, the humor falling from his voice. “He killed Mom. And he’s been killing countless others before and since. Claw needs to be taken down, and we can’t do that legally without someone in his inner circle.”
“So why does it have to be you?” Natalie asked. “Can’t some other Watcher or Agent do it?”
Parker paused before answering. “It takes a certain commitment to the part,” he said. “I won’t lie to you, Nat; there’s a risk involved. What I pulled at the DMV would’ve cost me jail time if someone had gotten hurt, Watcher license or no – and I had to pull that off while pretending not to care about the consequences. There aren’t many people who could catch Claw’s eye like I did, and then go as far as it takes to get the evidence we need to bring him down.”
Natalie pursed her lips; Parker knew that face. She could see his point but didn’t want to admit it. “Just – just come home safe, okay?” she said quietly.
Parker pulled his sister into a hug. “Claw won’t kill me,” he told her. Looking over her shoulder, Parker saw a familiar flash of movement in the shadows. “I promise,” he added. “Stronger together?”
“Stronger as one,” Natalie finished. With that, Parker let her go. He watched as she walked away, before going to take care of the problem.
He could handle trouble.
* * * * * * * *
Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.
“Reg tells me that you met with a Watcher last night,” Claw said. He didn’t sound angry; his voice was as soft as ever. “Care to explain yourself, Fallen?”
They were back in Headquarters, in Claw’s – for lack of a better word – throne room. Claw sat on a small raised dais, surrounded by his lieutenants. The room was lined with onlookers, satyrs who took interest in seeing Parker’s fall from grace. Parker had been preparing for this moment since he’d first seen Reg following him the night before – the only unknown factor was how much the dog might have overheard.
Time to commit to the part.
“I met my sister last night,” he said. “She’s a Watcher, yes, but she’s still family.”
“You claim to hate the Watchers,” Reg growled, “but your sister is one. How’s that work?”
Claw held up a hand, so Parker swallowed his comeback. “Fallen,” he said. “Real name: Parker Fawkes. Also known as Blackbird – of the Asylum.” He stood up, walking down the dais to stand in front of Parker.
There was a collective hiss from the onlookers. Parker saw Kiara out of the corner of his eye; she shook her head, like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. He could believe it, though – he knew that sooner or later the Fauns would figure out his true identity. There weren’t that many bird-satyrs with black-and-white speckled wings and super-strength. Parker had known this moment would come since he had first agreed to take the assignment.
Now all he could do was tell the tale he and Agent had spun for just this occasion, and hope they believed him.
“Formerly of the Asylum,” he corrected. “I left them to join the Fauns when the government began cracking down on the licensing laws.”
“A Watcher in our midst,” Claw said. “Pretty gutsy, to infiltrate our ranks.”
Parker looked Claw in the eyes, schooling his features into giving nothing away. “I never lied to you,” he said. “I’m Fallen now – fallen from the ranks of the Watchers, fallen from the Asylum, fallen from everything. What Reg saw in the park was me trying to convince my sister that I had done the right thing by leaving them.” Pause for dramatic effect. Add a small tremble to the voice for emotion. “I can’t sit by and watch my people be treated like slaves,” he said, “and I really can’t work for the government that not only allows it, but encourages it.”
His speech got the reaction he was hoping for: satyrs all around the room began growling their agreement. Parker continued, “These are my people.” He gestured to those around the room, flaring his wings for dramatic effect but keeping his eyes on Claw. “I believe in the cause. I fight for the cause – like anyone else in this room.”
Claw looked around at the satyrs riled up. Parker could see on the psychopath’s face that Claw realized what he’d done – the Fauns in the room believed Parker, and accepted him as one of them. If Claw executed Parker now, it would cause dissent among the satyrs watching. He might have to kill more, and the Faun’s numbers weren’t so large that he could afford a massacre of his own people. Any word of it getting out would set other Fauns against him – they might rebel, rather than risk Claw killing more of them. To kill Parker now would be to dismantle the Fauns from the inside, and as crazy as Claw was, he wasn’t stupid.
“You talk a good game,” he finally said. “I’ll give you just enough rope to hang yourself with. Prove your loyalty, and you’re one of us – fail even once, and your life is forfeit. Sound fair?”
The Fauns in the room quieted as Parker nodded. “I only want to prove my loyalty to you,” he said, dropping his eyes as he bent a knee in fealty to Claw. With that gesture, the Fauns now associated them together; Parker would be in Claw’s inner circle soon enough.
“No!” Reg stepped forward. “You can’t possibly believe him,” he said to Claw, baring his teeth at Parker. “Let me – ”
He couldn’t finish the threat. Claw, needing to reassert his power, whipped a claw across the dog-satyr’s throat, beheading him in one clean motion. Parker paled, only a few feet away from the body, realizing that had nearly been him.
“Clean that up,” he commanded, his voice as soft as ever. Two Fauns rushed over to take the body away as Claw ascended the dais again. “Never question me,” Claw told the others in the room. “Parker – Fallen – has earned the opportunity to prove himself. Until he succeeds or fails, no one will speak of this.” He sat back down on his throne, adding, “Dismissed.”
The Fauns filed out of the room. Parker stood, his legs shaking. He had never been that close to an execution before; he could still smell the coppery scent of Reg’s blood where it pooled on the ground. As much as he hated the feral satyr, the calm, cool way Claw had killed him shook his resolve. The danger had never before felt so real.
“Fallen, you coming?” Kiara called for him from the doorway. They were the last ones left in the room. She looked slightly disgusted, but not shocked like Parker.
Parker looked at Claw on the dais, who smiled that crocodile grin back at him. The message was loud and clear: if you fail me, you’re next.
Parker hid a shudder as he followed Kiara out of the room. He had committed to the role, and he couldn’t fail. All he could do was play his part and wait for the outcome.
He hated waiting.
* * * * * * * *