Dawn of the Asylum, Issue #14 – Complicated

Eon City, four months ago.

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 Frank 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!”

“‘My future’?” Frank asked.

“Yes, your future,” Janus said. “I’ve brought you a few years into the future. You need to talk to yourself.”

Frank shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around what had happened. “So your Third-Gen power is time travel?” he finally asked. “Who even are you?”

Janus gave an exasperated noise before answering. “Seriously?” he asked. “Are you really that slow? I told you already, my name’s Janus. And I’m not a Third Gen,” he added as an afterthought.

“So what are you, then?” Frank demanded. “Are you a Fourth Gen like Nightmare?”

“I’m what will eventually come to be known as a Fifth Gen, if you’re going to obsess about it,” Janus said. “My parents were both Fourth Gens, and their powers mutated – kind of like what tends to happen in your time when Third Gens and Satyrs mix. You have Hybrids – we have Fifth Gens.”

Frank was lost. “What?” he asked again, his eyebrows narrowing in confusion.

“I’m not going to explain it again,” Janus said. “Look, if you want answers, you’ll go into the Asylum building and talk to yourself. The you of this time,” he added slowly, as if Frank wouldn’t understand.

Which, to be fair, he didn’t.

“This is the future?” he asked.

Janus put a hand to his forehead. “Come on, man, the concept isn’t that hard to get,” he said. “This is a few years into your future. I’m not giving you the exact date because then it all might start getting messed up, but there are some things you need to know about what’s coming for you if you’re ever going to survive it.”

“Where do you fit into all of this?” Frank asked, still suspicious.

“I’m a traveler,” Janus said. “I’ve been running around time since I was born, the way you ran around the construction site when you were a kid. I can’t change anything, but I have a little influence if I can push people in the right direction.”

“You ought to talk to Casey,” Frank muttered.

“Sparrow’s powers aren’t the same,” Janus said. He apparently knew exactly who Frank was talking about. “She gets limited visions of the future, kind of like she’s skipping to the last page of a book. And most everybody around her doesn’t believe a word of it, because her powers influence them, too. I travel through time, so I can see everything – as long as I know when and where to go. People believe me when I tell them what’s coming, at least as much as they would believe anybody else. Right now, I’m trying to get you to talk to yourself so you have an inkling about what’s going to happen.”

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to know?” Frank demanded. “Why bother bringing me here?”

“It’s complicated,” Janus said, shaking his head. “If I interfere with things directly, then other stuff starts changing until what’s supposed to happen happens anyways. If I want to take steps to change the world – to, say, save everybody on it – then I have to work indirectly. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can take you to the guy who knows; namely, you.”

Frank stared at him. “Say I believe you,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. “Isn’t that… I forget the word for it, but isn’t there some kind of physics law or something that breaks?” he asked.

“You mean a paradox?” Janus asked.

“That’s the word,” Frank said. “Isn’t that a paradox?”

“Of course it is,” Janus shrugged. “Paradoxes are kind of my specialty. I’m a time-traveling kid who messes around the universe in six dimensions – I’m a paradox. This,” he added, gesturing around them, “is nothing. Now, are we gonna stand around yapping all day, or are you going to go inside?”

Frank thought for a moment, before nodding and walking to the edge of the alley. “Thank you,” Janus said, walking right behind him.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, four months ago.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

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.”

“You can’t be serious,” Parker scoffed, folding his arms in front of him. “Why would I ever work for you?”

“There’s a lot more going on here than you know,” Jaunt shrugged. “I think it’s time to fill you in on some of the more… finicky details.”

Parker rolled his eyes as Jaunt clapped his hands together to summon a portal. “‘Finicky details’?” he repeated. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m not,” Jaunt admitted, throwing his hands apart to tear a hole in space. “It’s a gross understatement, I know. But take a look through here, and I think you’ll have too many questions not to follow me through.”

Parker peered through the portal, seeing a blue haze on the other side. “What the…” he trailed off, his eyes widening as he saw what lay beyond Jaunt’s portal.

Jaunt smiled beneath his mask, putting an arm around Parker’s shoulders. “Like I said,” he repeated as they stepped through to the other side, “there’s a lot more going on here than you know.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, three months ago.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

Not him,” came Reiki’s insistent voice over the comms. “I don’t care who we get, just not him.

“Trust me,” Outlier said grimly, “he’s far from my first choice, too. But once we locate David he’ll be our best bet of getting him back. Name one person half as accurate with a blow gun.” She walked down the sidewalk, shaking her head as she began listing to one side.

I don’t see why we can’t just do it ourselves,” Reiki grumbled. “He might not even show up – it’s not like we can pay him.

“David’s a powerhouse,” Outlier explained for what felt like the millionth time, stopping to lean against a building. “He can level the tunnels if he wants to, and right now he doesn’t have any inhibitions. He’s why we’ve been having all the earthquake tremors this last month, and we need to stop him before he causes serious damage – he’s already been delaying work on rebuilding the tower. Now, half the team’s down, and we’ll only get one chance at getting him Dale’s treatment. If we miss, then he could disappear for good. You and Granny can take him on head-to-head while I run interference, but we’ll need somebody else to shoot him with the blow gun, to get the treatment into his system. With David’s powers, he’ll probably protect himself with his usual rock shield; we need somebody who can make a bull’s eye shot through any crack in his defenses.” She sighed, hating to be right, before adding, “That means we need him. He’ll show up.”

I don’t trust him,” Reiki growled, sounding even more surly than usual. “Ten bucks says he won’t show. Are you sure there’s nobody else? What about Holmes?

“I’ll take that bet,” Outlier said. “And Holmes hasn’t been seen since the riots. A lot of Watchers were hurt that day, not just Natalie and Rina. Either that, or she can’t get away from her day job. That’s why the three of us have been on overtime since the curfew was lifted.”

Which begs the next question,” Reiki muttered – though since he was speaking into his comm unit, he must have wanted Outlier to hear him.

“We’ve been over this, Reiki,” Outlier said patiently. “The city needs the Asylum now more than ever. We can’t just give up on it.” She noticed some people walking towards her, so she ducked down an alley and began climbing up a fire escape to scope things out from a rooftop while she finished the call. Agent had once told her that the point of patrols was to show the city their faces, to gain the public’s trust – so it wouldn’t do any good for people to see Outlier collapse from exhaustion.

Why not call the team quits?” Reiki asked. “We went from a team of ten down to a team of three in one night. Even Agent gave up on us; why won’t you?

Outlier bit her lip and counted to five before responding as she climbed up a fire escape. Yelling at Reiki wouldn’t help matters, even if it was the hundredth time she had to answer the same question. “I told you,” she said, “the city needs us. Even if we’re not at full strength, it gives people hope to see our faces.” Pulling herself up over the top of the building, she added, “Besides, what would you do without the Asylum?”

Probably go to the Watcher board myself and take a paying gig,” Reiki answered immediately. “It’s easier to be idealistic when we have a place to live and a steady paycheck coming in.

“Agent will be back,” Outlier told him. “He just… needs some time.”

Haley,” Reiki started, but Outlier interrupted him.

“I’m Outlier when we’re on duty, remember?” she said.

Fine, Outlier,” Reiki grumbled. “Agent’s probably not coming back. He’s been through this before with Team Ark, and they didn’t lose so many people.

Outlier sighed. “We didn’t lose anybody, Reiki,” she said. “We know exactly where most of them are, and once they get back on their feet, things will get back to normal. We’ll get Earthborn back, Rina and Natalie will heal, Agent will snap out of it, and we’ll find out where Frank went. We’ll rebuild the tower, and it’ll be how it was.”

I sometimes forget how new you are,” Reiki said dryly. “Things will never ‘get back to normal’ for us. Even if everything goes according to your plan and the others get back to Watcher work, we lost Parker.

“Parker isn’t dead,” Outlier pointed out.

No, he’s not,” Reiki agreed. “He’s a traitor, which is worse. We worked with the guy; he was on my patrol shift before you came along and he went on that undercover thing. He’s Natalie’s brother, and he was Frank’s best friend. No wonder Frank ran off.

“Frank didn’t run off,” Outlier said. “His family hasn’t even seen him since the day of the riots. He used to go see them every week; he wouldn’t have left without at least talking to them.” She shook her head. “No, something happened to him, and as soon as we get Earthborn back, we’ll find out what. In the meantime, you and I’ll patrol the city and keep people from taking advantage of our lack of manpower.” She dropped to a knee on the rooftop, still watching over the city while giving in to her fatigue.

“When was the last time you slept?” came Reiki’s voice from behind her. Outlier shut off her comm and spun around to face him, ignoring the slight tilt in her vision as she stood up.

“I’m fine,” she said, folding her arms. “You’re supposed to be patrolling the other side of the city.”

“Haley, go home,” Reiki growled. “I can handle things until dark; you can pick back up after you eat something and sleep for eight hours.”

“I told you, I’m fine.” She took a step forward, and her vision swam. “You can cut out your light tricks, too. I’m not falling for it.”

Reiki scoffed. “Fine,” he said as Outlier’s vision cleared, “but I’m not the one making you lean to one side. You were doing that before I came up.” He raised an eyebrow. “You patrolled yesterday, you stayed out patrolling all last night, and you’re still here this morning. Haley, you’re human – you need breaks at some point.”

“Just because I’m human doesn’t mean I can’t keep up with the rest of you,” she shot back.

Reiki raised his hands innocently. “I’m not saying you can’t,” he told her. “I’m a Third Gen, and I need to sleep, too. That’s where I was while you were patrolling last night – sleeping. Like a normal person.” He put a hand on her shoulder, adding, “You’re not immortal.”

Outlier took a deep breath, steadying herself. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll go home and take a nap. I’ll be back to take the night shift.”

“Good,” Reiki said, letting his hand drop. “That gives you nine hours, at least.”

“And then I’m making that call,” Outlier added rebelliously. “We need him.”

“Fine,” Reiki growled. “Call the merc. Natalie won’t be happy about it, though.”

Outlier shrugged, stepping back down to the fire escape. “She doesn’t have to be,” she pointed out with an innocent smile. “Trick’s in no shape to go up against Dark David, so she won’t even have to know we called him.”

Reiki rolled his eyes. “She’ll know,” he called after her. Outlier just gave him a jaunty wave as she descended the ladder.

Haley Prince, also known as the hero “Outlier”, found her way home somehow. She didn’t remember much of the drive once she got back to her motorcycle, but she had made it home without crashing so she must have been awake.

“Damn,” she muttered as she took off her helmet. “I guess I do need sleep.”

But she didn’t go to bed right away. Since the Asylum building had been blown up, she was staying at her parents’ house in the suburbs. Her mom had left a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches out for her and her brothers, with a small note.

Kids, the sandwiches are to share.

Dad and I will be home at 5 o’clock to start making dinner.

I love you!

Since Haley was the youngest at twenty-one years old, her mom didn’t need to go through the trouble of taking care of them – but ever since Haley and her brother Scott moved back home, they regularly found their mom treating them like they had never left. Haley shook her head, grabbing a sandwich and moving to the living room to eat.

Scott was sitting on the couch, staring at the blank TV. Haley took one look at him, then returned to the kitchen to grab the plate of food and brought it back with her. “Scott, Mom made sandwiches,” she said, putting the plate down on an end table next to him. “You need to eat something.” she flopped back into the recliner, taking a big bite of her own sandwich.

Barely moving his head, Scott’s eyes moved to look at Haley. He raised an eyebrow as he took in her uniform. Haley looked down before rolling her own eyes and turning back to her sandwich. “No, I didn’t bother to change,” she said between bites. “I’ve been out on patrol for thirty-six hours straight, and I’m hungry. So sue me.”

Scott shook his head slightly, grabbing a sandwich from the plate. After another few seconds of awkward silence between them, Haley sighed. “You’re going to have to say something to me eventually,” she told him. “I know you can – you were pretty chatty with Mom the other day until I came in the room. What’s the matter?” she added, taking a bite of her sandwich and talking with her mouth full to hide the tremble that came into her voice. “You still hate me for becoming a Watcher?”

“That had nothing to do with it,” Scott muttered.

“Excuse me?” Haley raised her eyebrows. “Did you just deign to speak to me?”

“Haley,” Scott sighed, resigned to his little sister’s attitude towards him. “It wasn’t about you becoming a Watcher.”

“You could have fooled me,” Haley said. “The last time we spoke, you called me a ‘blood-traitor’ and said I was no sister of yours. You said the Watchers and the police were arresting the Fauns – whom you called ‘activist seekers of justice for the satyr community’, if I remember correctly.” The last part was redundant; they both knew that Haley had an eidetic memory, and never forgot details. “Then you ran off to join the Fauns, cutting off contact not just with me, but with the rest of the family, too. Mom and Dad were worried sick!” She was nearly yelling at this point, pointing at him with her sandwich. “Then, a month ago, the day after the riots, you come crawling home with your hat in hand asking Mom and Dad for a place to stay, but not saying a word to me. You wouldn’t even stay in the same room as me for two weeks!”

At the end of her rant, Haley was panting – she really needed sleep, if she could get that worked up. Scott raised another eyebrow at her as she sat back down and took a defiant bite of her sandwich.

“Like I said,” he told her, “it had nothing to do with you being a Watcher. I said those things because I was taken in by the Fauns’ ‘equality for all’ message.” He shoved the last bit of his own sandwich in his mouth. “I was wrong, okay?” he said with his mouth full. Swallowing, he added, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I’m sorry for all the stuff I said before leaving.”

Haley stared at him, dumbstruck. Scott had never apologized to her before, not even when they were little and he had pulled the head off of her favorite stuffed animal. Not when he had broken her arm while sparring in high school. Haley’s memory was close to perfect, and this was the first time Scott had ever apologized for something.

All she could think of to say was, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t mean to snub you when we got home,” Scott continued. “I just didn’t know how to face you after… you know, the riots and stuff.”

He was clamming up again. Tired as she was, Haley didn’t want her brother to stop talking. “You’ve been different this past month,” she told him. “What happened with the Fauns? Why’d you leave?”

“You sure you want to talk about that?” Scott asked, resting his elbows on his knees and putting his head in his hands. “You and me, we never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of stuff, but the Fauns were at the top of the list.”

“You were so gung-ho about joining them,” Haley said, polishing off her sandwich. “Then the riots happened, you left them, and now you’re apologizing for what you said.” She shrugged, dusting her hands of crumbs as she stood up to get the vacuum from the hall closet. “I’m curious.”

Scott rolled his eyes as she got the vacuum out, but didn’t say anything about it. Their mom would lecture them for an hour if she came home to find crumbs all over the carpet. Instead, he said, “It has to do with Parker. You know, the Asylum guy?”

Haley stopped dead in her tracks when he mentioned Parker’s name. “You mean the traitor who blew up our tower?” she asked carefully, starting to regret her line of questioning but too curious to stop. “What about him?”

“He saved my life,” Scott said, standing up and taking the vacuum from his sister. “The night of the riots, Claw was going to kill me, but Parker stepped in. Then that video went viral, but it didn’t show the whole story. Claw and I were off camera, and if Parker hadn’t pressed that button, I’d be dead now.”

Haley shook her head. “Wait,” she said, “you’re telling me that Parker sold out the team to save you?”

“Yeah,” Scott said, looking away. “Pretty much.”

Haley sat down hard in the armchair, the vacuum forgotten. “That… that changes things,” she muttered, before suddenly standing back up. “I need to go, there’s way too much to do – ”

“You aren’t going anywhere, baby sister,” came another voice from the doorway. Apparently Haley had been so caught up in Scott’s revelation that she didn’t hear the front door open. Dean, her oldest brother and a bear-satyr, marched over to her and pushed her back down into the chair.

“Hey!” Haley cried. “Dean, what’re you doing here?!”

“That friend of yours, Reiki, stopped by the bakery,” Dean said. “He asked if I could make sure you got home and got to sleep. Good thing I came by, too, since you seem to want to run yourself into the ground.”

Haley jumped up. “I’m fine,” she insisted. “I have to get some things together, and I need to talk to some people about tomorrow. This is important, Dean!”

“You’re no good to anyone if you collapse from exhaustion, Haley,” Dean pointed out, sounding annoyingly like Reiki. “You get to bed and get some sleep first, then you can go.”

“This can’t wait,” Haley insisted. “If I’m going to talk to Parker – ”

“You are not just going to walk into Faun headquarters,” Scott piped in, his eyes going wide. “That’d be suicide!”

“Not necessarily,” Haley shot back. “Have a little faith.”

Dean folded his arms. “Okay, tell you what, baby sister,” he growled. “If you can get past me to the door, I’ll let you walk out of here. But if you can’t, then you go to bed and sleep for at least six hours before you go gallivanting off somewhere.”

Haley balanced her stance and raised her arms, preparing for a fight. Dean raised his eyebrows – he never could raise just one, even when he tried – and the fight drained out of her. She couldn’t take Dean on in her current state, which meant that walking into the Fauns’ lair without a plan and before getting some sleep was a stupid idea. Slumping a little in defeat, she muttered darkly on her way to her room.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, a few years in the future.

Frank Mejia, very confused.

“This is supposed to be the Asylum building, right?” Frank asked Janus as the elevator took them up to the top floor. “Where are the licenses? They used to be hanging in the entrance hall.”

“Only copies were ever hanging there,” Janus said. “Besides, you all don’t need them now.”

Frank shook his head. “‘Don’t need the licenses,’” he repeated. “I’m not even going to ask. So, the future, huh? You can travel through time.”

“And space,” Janus told him. “To me, it’s like walking down the street is to you. I go where and when I want.”

“I only know of one other person who can go where he wants, when he wants,” Frank said. “Jaunt. Any relation?”

“Oh please,” Janus said, waving a hand lazily in the air. “That hack? His portal-jumping isn’t even a Third-Gen power. He gets it from… but I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. I really shouldn’t have said that,” Janus began muttering to himself. “The timeline needs to be handled carefully. Stupid!”

The elevator dinged, and the doors opened onto a large living area. It looked identical to their home before Parker had blown it up, and Frank looked around in awe.

The only difference he could see was the people. Instead of his team, there were about twenty people in the different rooms, hanging out as if they were at home. Frank had known that the Asylum was supposed to grow over time, but seeing how many members there were in the future shocked him a little.

“Who are all these people?” he asked his guide. “How did the Asylum expand so much in just a few years?”

“Shit happened,” Janus shrugged unhelpfully. “You recruited a lot over time, and more people began stepping up to follow your team’s example. Come on, this way.”

Janus began leading Frank to the lounge, but they were stopped by a few people along the way.

“Hey, Shadow,” asked a young guy with a scottish accent. “Merlin and I were wondering if you’d like to join us for dinner. We’ve got a lot to talk about lately, what with Avis’ – ”

“Not now, Duck,” Janus cut him off.

“Janus,” the one called “Duck” greeted, “didn’t see you there. So today’s the day, huh? Shadow’s been waiting.” He looked Frank up and down curiously.

Janus nodded. “Yep. He’s in the lounge, right?”

“If I knew where he was, I wouldn’t have mistaken this one for him,” Duck replied, nodding back at Frank.

“Thanks anyways,” Janus said, continuing to lead Frank.

Frank had a million questions about this time, but he started with, “Who was that?”

“Oh, Duck? You’ll meet him in a couple of years,” Janus told him. “In your time, Duck, Merlin, and the rest of Avis are a group of Scottish heroes who basically do what the Asylum does, just in Scotland. Ah, here’s Shadow!”

They entered the lounge, and Frank had a disconcerting moment when he first saw himself. The other version of Frank – the one from this time – looked older, and had a few more scars. One in particular ran along his jawline, which the younger Frank didn’t have yet. Frank rubbed his goatee, noticing that his older self had changed the cut.

The older Frank looked up from the papers he had been pouring over. “Janus!” he cried, standing up suddenly. “Today’s the day, then?” He looked over at the younger Frank, looking him up and down. “Dang, this job’s aged me,” he muttered. He gestured for the younger Frank to take the seat opposite him. “Let’s get to it,” he said. “You have a ton of questions; I’ll try to answer them.”

Frank sat down across from himself, and began to hear about his future.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Hospital Rec Room, a little less than three months ago.

Natalie Fawkes and Sabrina “Rina” Dawson.

“Hit me,” Natalie said, tapping the table between herself and Rina. Rina dealt a card face-up, shrugging as she did so.

“Not sure why you’re obsessing,” she commented. “They’re going after Dark David tomorrow because he’s a danger to the city until they get him the treatment. They can’t wait for us.”

“Easy for you to say,” Natalie scoffed. “Your powers just got a little out of control. You might be down for weeks. I’m fine; the stupid doctors just want to keep me here for ‘observation’.”

Rina raised her eyebrow at her. “You think this is easy for me?” she asked. “My powers imploded. I’m kept in isolation at night so I can get some sleep without the entire hospital freaking out over imaginary monsters from my nightmares. I can’t even use them the way I normally would to help during the team out during the day, not accurately. I have to stay behind because I’m powerless to help my friends – that’s far from ‘easy’.”

“You know what I mean,” Natalie muttered by way of apology. “I never had powers. I’m used to going out exactly like I am right now – tricks up my sleeves and cards in the air.” She threw her hand down and pulled a card from the top of the deck. Tossing it up, she caught it by making it float between her fingers. “I could help right now, if the doctors weren’t so… so mother hen-ish.”

“That’s a neat trick,” Rina admitted, having seen her friend pull it many times over the last few weeks in the hospital. “Let’s see you do the scarf-throwing one. You know, like you’d actually do in a fight.”

She grinned at the annoyed look on Natalie’s face. Natalie had been trying unsuccessfully to toss her scarf around a practice dummy in her room for weeks – her shoulder hadn’t quite healed enough to use that particular trick, which is the real reason the doctors were keeping her in the hospital. Dale had done his best with his Third Gen power, but some things would only heal over time.

“I just can’t believe Haley’s in charge,” Natalie said, changing the subject as she put the card back in the deck. “Agent left the team in the lurch.”

“Agent’s dealing with his own stuff,” Rina said, shrugging. As Natalie picked her hand back up, she added, “You know this isn’t the first time he’s lost a team.”

Natalie pursed her lips. “Don’t make me say it,” she warned. Rina just smiled knowingly. “Seriously, I hate agreeing with Haley on anything, but it’s like she and I are the only ones who haven’t given up on the team. We’re not lost, we just had a setback. A big setback,” she admitted, “but not insurmountable. Agent needs to pull his head out of his ass and realize that, because Haley’s not a leader.”

“She’s not doing a bad job,” Rina shrugged.

“Did you not hear what Reiki said earlier?” Natalie asked. “Haley’s running herself ragged trying to do everything instead of delegating anything. That’s not a leader.”

“You should be happy,” Rina pointed out dryly. “We finally found something that Haley’s bad at. You don’t have to call her ‘Little Miss Perfect’ anymore.”

Natalie rolled her eyes. “I liked calling her that,” she said. “When the team fell apart, it was comforting to know that Little Miss Perfect could hold everything together.”

“Except that it’s been a month, and she’s barely hanging on to it all,” Rina added.

“Right,” Natalie said, showing her royal flush and raking in the chips. “I need to get back out there, and so do you. We can get Earthborn back, and when the team’s back together Agent will come back.”

Rina nodded, twisting her mouth as if she didn’t want to say the next words. “And what about Frank and Parker?” she asked.

Natalie’s face turned stoney. She didn’t say another word, but stood up and left the room. Rina watched her go, not surprised at her reaction. She sat back in her chair, wondering how her friends could have left them like that.

“Agent, we need you,” she muttered to no one.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, Faun Headquarters, four months ago.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

Parker was battling cabin fever.

He had never been good at waiting around, and that’s all he had been able to do for the last month. Sure, Claw left him in charge of Eon City, but he was still on the ECPD’s Most Wanted list. He had been holed up in the Faun’s headquarters since the riots, and he was going stir crazy from it. He had taken to working out in the afternoons, just for some sort of movement – and because sitting around gave him too much time to think.

“You know, I don’t understand your obsession with push-ups,” Kiara remarked from the doorway, crossing her arms and smirking at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be super-strong, or something? What’s the exercise supposed to do?”

“Did you want something, or are you just here for the snarky comments?” Parker asked, standing up and dusting his hands off.

Kiara raised her eyebrows, coming further into the room. “Can’t I just be here to admire the view?” she asked, grabbing his shirt from the chair and holding it out to him.

“Thanks,” Parker said, grabbing the shirt and putting it on. “Sorry I’m being a grouch. I can’t stand being cooped up like this.”

“I’m surprised you came back here after Claw leaked that video,” Kiara said, shrugging as she sat down on one of the room’s folding chairs. “How can you trust him after that?”

“Didn’t have much of a choice,” Parker said, fitting his wings through the slits in his shirt and sitting down across from her. “He leaked that video to make sure I had nowhere else to go.”

“I’d have just flown away,” Kiara said, “just to spite him after a stunt like that.”

“Then I’d be dead.” Parker shook his shoulders loose, his wings feeling heavy. “Law enforcement, Watchers, and the FBI are all hunting me – I couldn’t run from them and the Fauns, too.”

“But then he put you in charge here,” Kiara added, a curious tone creeping into her voice.

So this was why she was there. “Well, you almost went a month without bringing that up,” Parker remarked, standing back up and stretching his arms.

Kiara stood up, too. “You’re at the top of the Eon City police’s list for blowing up the Asylum building, and Claw put you in charge of the Eon City Fauns.”

“Is there a question in there?” Parker raised an eyebrow.

Kiara threw up her hands. “Only the obvious ones,” she said. “Why the hell are you now the leader here? Why didn’t he send you someplace else until the heat cooled? How does he trust you enough to put you in charge of the city?”

“It’s complicated,” Parker answered, shrugging. “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you, too – I almost didn’t believe it, myself. But the short answer is that Claw’s not the only one calling the shots.”

“Oh, come on,” Kiara said, twirling one of her whiskers with a clawed finger. “You can’t say something like that and not give me any details!”

“Kiara, you once told me that you kept your head down around here because that was the only way to stay safe,” Parker said, leaning against a table. “Trust me when I say that asking questions about this will bring the wrong kind of attention.”

Kiara sighed, but said, “Point taken.”

She might have continued the conversation, but Lizard chose that moment to interrupt. “Fallen!” came the cry by the doorway. “We have company!”

“What?” he asked, following Lizard into the hallway. “What do you mean, ‘company’?”

“She just showed up,” Lizard explained. “Walked through the front door like she owned the place. Under Claw we would have just killed her on sight, but she’s… she’s asking for you, Fallen.” Lizard shook his head. “By name, too. I thought we ought to let you see her before we cut her throat.”

“We’ll see about the whole throat-cutting thing, Liz,” Parker said. “That’s how Claw does things, but I’m not Claw.”

“If she knows you’re here, then chances are she’ll tell someone else if you let her go,” Lizard warned.

“If she knows I’m here, then others might already know, and it’s a moot point.” Parker shook his head. “Just take me to her,” he instructed.

They came to the room Claw had once used as a throne room. Parker was still uncomfortable taking Claw’s usual seat on the dais, so he entered the room intending to stand in front of the intruder…

… and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw who it was.

“Is she trying to get us both killed?” Parker muttered.

“Who is she?” Kiara asked from behind him. Apparently she had followed them to the throne room.

Parker sighed in defeat. “Kiara, meet Haley Prince, Scott’s little sister,” he said. “Otherwise known as Outlier of the Asylum.”

“She’s an Asylum Watcher?” Kiara repeated. “I thought they were disbanded.”

“Not quite yet,” Haley said with a cocky grin. The Fauns had tied her hands behind her back and forced her to kneel in front of the dais, but she didn’t seem bothered by it.

“There’s only two of you left,” Kiara shot back. “The night of the riots we took your team down.”

Haley shrugged. “Sure, we’re running on fumes,” she admitted, “but we are still running. I’m making sure of that.”

“What the hell are you doing here, Outlier?” Parker asked tiredly.

“I had an interesting chat with Scott this morning,” Haley told him. “Should I keep talking, or do you want this conversation to be more private?”

Parker paused for a second, before telling the Fauns, “Clear out.”

“Fallen – ” Kiara started, but Parker cut her off.

“Whatever else you all might think right now, I’m in charge here,” he said. “Clear the room.”

The Fauns all looked confused, but they obeyed. Haley watched them go with raised eyebrows. “I honestly had no idea if that would work,” she admitted once they were alone. “So the rumors are true; you are in charge here.”

“So you had a chat with Scott,” Parker prompted, impatiently.

“I did,” Haley said. “He had an interesting story to tell me. He said the only reason you pressed that button was to save him – not just to save your own skin, like the video implies.”

“And you walked into Faun headquarters to confront me about it,” Parker finished for her. “That was probably the stupidest thing you could have done. You realize that I can’t just let you go.” He started pacing, shrugging his shoulders to loosen them. Of all the idiotic things…

“Since the video, you’re labelled as ‘unreliable’ to the team,” Haley pointed out. “You think I walked in here without an exit strategy?”

“What team?” Parker asked, suddenly coming to a stop and rounding on her. “You and Reiki are all that’s left, and Reiki won’t stick around forever. As for the others…” he trailed off, wanting to ask about his sister and his friends, but dreading what Haley might tell him.

“That’s actually the real reason I’m here,” Haley said, raising an eyebrow. “We’re going after David.”

Parker blinked. “David?” he repeated. “You and Reiki are going after the guy who can shoot lightning from his fingers? You’ll never be able to take him down.”

“We have help,” Haley said, “but it would be even easier if we had a super-strong bird on our side. Especially one who knows what David can do.”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Parker crossed his arms. “But right now, you have bigger things to worry about. How do you plan to get out of here? You’re tied up, and I can’t hold back the Fauns forever. Claw still has a kill-on-sight order out on you guys.”

Haley held up an arm, showing him the rope that had previously been holding her. “You mean this?” she asked innocently. “I told you months ago, Natalie’s been teaching me some tricks.”

“Impressive,” Parker said dryly. “That still doesn’t tell me how you’re getting out of here in one piece.”

Haley shrugged, standing up. “Like I said, I’ve got an exit plan.” She looked at the watch on her wrist. “In fact, I’ve only got about a minute left. You in, or what?”

Parker shook his head, smirking. “Okay, tell you what: if you can make it out of here alive, I’ll help you guys get Earthborn back,” he said.

“Awesome,” Haley said. She held up a hand and started counting down the seconds on her fingers. “Three, two, one…”

Right on cue, there came a loud BANG from outside the throne room. The sounds of panicked Fauns mingled with loud animals roars from behind the closed door.

“What, exactly, was your exit plan?” Parker asked, staring at the source of the commotion. His tone was unconcerned, but his eyes were screwed up with worry.

“I like to call it, ‘Little Old Lady With Dragon,’” Haley said, grinning proudly.

Parker raised an eyebrow at her. “Granny?” he asked.

“And Herchel,” she confirmed.

“They sound pretty pissed off,” Parker observed as a loud roar shook the building.

“You did blow up her zoo,” Haley pointed out.

Parker put a hand to his forehead. “Fine,” he said, waving his free hand in the direction of the door. “Go on, get out of here.”

“We’re going after Earthborn tomorrow at noon. Meet us at the caves,” Haley told him, heading to the door. “Oh, and Parker?” she said, her hand on the doorknob.

“What?” Parker looked up at her.

“It’ll work out. You’ll see.” Haley turned the doorknob, then stopped and looked back at him again. “I’m glad we didn’t lose you,” she added, then opened the door and raced through it.

Parker watched her go, dumbfounded. “She’s either the bravest or the craziest person I’ve ever met,” he observed to the empty room, “and I grew up with Natalie.” Shaking his head, he waited until the sounds of roaring had faded before checking on the Fauns.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Tunnels, four months ago.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

“You made it,” Haley said, biting back a grin as Eli Howard, also known as Butterfly the mercenary, strolled up. Reiki was standing next to her, rolling his eyes. He silently handed over a ten-spot, and Haley took it with a satisfied smirk.

“Well, I wouldn’t have missed this fiasco,” Eli said, grinning at her. “Besides, I have a different revenue stream for this gig. You’re in luck.”

“As long as you can use that thing,” Reiki growled, nodding at the blow gun Eli had strung across his back.

Eli shrugged. “I’ve never actually used one before,” he admitted. “But how hard can it be?”

Reiki started protesting, but Haley cut him off. “We need him,” she reminded her teammate.

“So when’s the party going to start?” Eli asked, nonplussed.

“As soon as the other two members get here,” Haley answered evasively.

Reiki turned towards her in surprise. “Two?” he asked. “I thought we were just waiting for Granny.”

“Right.” Haley bit her lip. “I didn’t want to tell you, because then you’d tell Natalie and it was bad enough that I called Butterfly…” she started babbling, talking around the answer.

Reiki saw through her mumbling. “Who is it?” he demanded.

“Yo,” came a greeting from behind him. Reiki spun around, his eyes narrowing as he saw Parker walking up.

Him?” he cried, getting into a fighting stance. “What the hell is he doing here?!”

“I asked him to come,” Haley said, shielding her eyes from the sun as she glanced upwards. “Hey, Granny’s coming now.”

“Don’t change the subject!” Reiki barked. “What’s he doing here?”

Haley gave Reiki a patient stare, one she often used to let him know that he was being testy. “There’s more to the story than the video showed,” she explained. “Parker’s not a bad guy; he was just put in a difficult spot. He’s here to help.”

“Don’t worry, sonny,” Granny called over, dismounting from her dragon as it landed. “Herchel and Louise will keep him in line. Bird-boy’s not going anywhere.” She took her plush wolf doll out of her bag, tapping her knitting needles to it and whispering something. Louise the wolf sprang forward towards Parker, hackles bared. Granny laughed as Parker stumbled backwards in surprise.

“I forgot how big she is,” Parker said defensively, flapping his wings to get his balance back. “Look, I’m sorry about the tower. Nobody was supposed to be there.”

Reiki relaxed his fighting stance, but crossed his arms as he glared at Parker. “‘Nobody was supposed to be there’?” he repeated. “Natalie, David, and Dale aren’t ‘nobody’. And the security guards. And the people we were saving from the riots. And the rescue workers from the riots.”

“And my zoo,” Granny piped in, giving Parker a disapproving look.

“And Granny’s zoo,” Reiki agreed. “You know the riot drills: the tower was a designated safe area for civilians!”

“And the bombs were on the top floor,” Parker snapped back. “The garage was reinforced, and the whole building wasn’t supposed to come down on top of it! I took a calculated risk to save the life of the guy in front of me, and I stand by it!”

“Reiki,” Haley warned as her teammate opened his mouth to respond. “He saved my brother’s life.”

Reiki turned to stare at her. “It’s true,” she told him. “So just… stop. Okay?”

He nodded and turned towards the tunnels. “Let’s just get this over with,” he muttered. Granny followed, with her wolf and dragon shuffling behind her. Louise gave Parker another growl for good measure before stalking off after Granny.

“Well, that was entertaining,” Eli said jauntily, putting his hands behind his head in a stretch. “Parker, glad we’re on the same side.”

“Shut up, Butterfly,” Parker growled at him, shaking his shoulders to loosen his wing muscles. He followed behind Granny, keeping a safe distance back from Herchel and Louise.

Eli shrugged, saying to Haley, “You’ve got yourself quite a ‘team’ here,” he said. “Everybody’s got each other’s backs, in any case. Just need to know if it’s help or a knife coming.”

“We can work together long enough to get David back,” Haley said hopefully. “We may not trust each other, but we can get the job done if we all stay professional.”

“Not sure where you got that idea,” Eli muttered.

“So, you have an ‘alternate revenue stream’?” Haley asked, changing the subject as they all headed into the tunnels.

“Yep,” Eli said. “Somebody seems to like you, in any case. They paid for me to help you get Earthborn back.” He peered ahead as the dark of the tunnels closed around them. “How did you say we were going to find him?”

Haley marched on. “He’s in here,” she said. “I got reports through Agent’s network of crackling lightning down here, and a commotion involving new tunnels being created. He’s definitely holed up here.”

“So… you have no idea how to find him,” Eli translated. “Great.”

“Have a little faith,” Haley said. “I have a plan.” Eli said nothing, waiting for her to continue. “Okay, I have part of a plan,” she finally admitted.

“There it is,” Eli said.

“It’ll work!” Haley insisted.

“Milady, you are an excellent fighter, and I have great respect for your lack of fear,” Eli told her, “but a leader you are not. When’s Agent going to start calling the shots again?”

“He’ll be back,” Haley said. “I’m only here for now. We can do this!”

Eli shrugged, barely visible in the dark tunnels. Haley found her flashlight in her utility belt and switched it on as Eli continued, “You rely a lot on faith, milady. People aren’t all good, and life isn’t made of sunshine and rainbows.”

“I know that,” Haley said. “I just think there are more good people in the world than bad, is all. And I know that Agent will be back before we know it. Natalie’s looking after him, after all.”

“Oh, Natalie’s got him,” Eli said in mock surprise. “That’ll fix everything!” He grinned, teasing her. “What’s with you two, anyways? I can’t tell if you’re friends or what.”

“Me and Natalie? We work together,” Haley said. “She and I came to an understanding, and we help improve each other.”

“So you’re rivals,” Eli said.

Haley shrugged. “I guess, if you want to put a label on it,” she said.

“Hey, you two in the back,” Reiki growled from farther ahead in the tunnels, “this works better if we’re quiet.”

“Reiki’s mad,” Eli whispered, teasing Haley.

Haley took a deep breath. “One more mission, one more mission…” she began repeating under her breath. The familiar feeling of being watched crept up again, and Haley shuddered in the dark. The tunnels were creepy.

The team came to the opening where they planned to set up their ambush. Haley pointed Eli to the pile of rocks where they had captured Dark David the last time. Eli mimed a salute, and hid behind the rubble.

The rest of the team took positions with their backs to the wall – which was pointless, since they didn’t know where David might appear. They all looked at Haley expectantly.

“What now?” Reiki asked in a whisper.

Haley responded in her normal tone. “Now we get his attention,” she said. “David, I know you’re there. Come out where we can see you; we just want to talk!”

“That’s your plan?” Parker scoffed, rolling his eyes. “‘Come out and talk to us’? You know, I thought you were gutsy for barging into Faun Headquarters like that, but you really are just making this up as you go along, aren’t you?” He shook his head and started back towards the entrance to the tunnels. “I’m out of here.”

Louise jumped in front of him, baring her teeth in a snarl. Parker jumped back in alarm as Granny laughed. “Nobody leaves until we see Earthborn,” Granny said. “At least give her a chance.”

She nodded at Haley, who took a breath and continued. “David, you told Natalie last time that you felt trapped,” she called. “You said you just wanted your freedom. If you talk to us, we might be able to work something out!”

“This is stupid,” Parker muttered, eyeing Louise warily. “It’s not going to – ”

“Last time I trusted one of you, you just trapped me again,” came a growl from behind Haley. “Why should I trust you now?”

Haley turned around to face him. Dark David’s face stuck out of the wall, but the rest of his body was still behind the brick of the tunnel. “Because we just want our friend back,” Haley told him, keeping her hands in view so that he could see she wasn’t carrying anything. “We’re tired of chasing after you, and you’re tired of running from us or you wouldn’t be here. Let’s work together to find a compromise.” She gave a hand signal to Reiki, and he lit up the tunnels so that they could see.

“What compromise is there?” Dark David spat, squinting in the sudden light. “Either he’s in control, or I am. We both can’t be there!”

“Help me understand,” Haley said, trying to keep him talking. “Why not?”

“It just doesn’t work that way!” Dark David said. His head came out of the brick wall, as if he took a step forward. “He’s got different plans, different goals. When he comes out, I get locked up! It’s not fair!”

Haley kept her eyes on his, showing him that she was sincere. “I want to help you, David,” she said. “We need you.” She took a step back.

Dark David followed, stepping fully out of the tunnel wall. “You need me?” he repeated, disbelieving. Electricity began crackling around his hands. “You brought the traitor, the mercenary, the grouch, and the Djinn all because you need me?”

“How did you know about that?” Granny asked, surprised. “I never told Earthborn; I never told any of the team!”

“Oh please,” Dark David smirked. “It’s so obvious. You have one of the talismans. Those needles – am I right? You meet some interesting people in the dark places of the city.”

Haley stepped between them. “David, we all want to help you,” she began again, but David cut her off.

“Help me? Then why does the mercenary have a blow gun?” he demanded to know. “You plan to trap me again.”

“If that were true, then he would have fired already,” Haley pointed out. “You don’t exactly have your armor on.”

Dark David looked uncomfortable. “That’s the only reason I’m still here,” he said. “I can pull up my armor faster than he can shoot.”

Haley narrowed her eyes, taking in the scene. He was hiding something; she silently thanked her brother for making her get a good night’s sleep so she could see it. “I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “I think you and our David are more symbiotic than you let on. He controls the earth, and you control the lightning, right?” She stepped towards him, making him back up, but he didn’t retreat into the wall like before. “That’s why your own mud armor held you down when Natalie faced you. That’s why Earthborn has such a hard time keeping his lightning straight – you two are fighting each other, so neither of you can use all of your power.”

“No,” he said. “I can use the earth powers just fine on my own.”

Haley took another step in. “I doubt that,” she said. “I think the reason you aren’t running right now is because our David won’t let you.”

“Haley…” Reiki warned. She held up a hand to quiet him.

“Eli could shoot you right now, and you couldn’t stop him,” she said confidently. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“You want to find out?” Dark David said, raising a brick off of the floor with his powers. “Try me.”

Haley took in the scene, calculating the odds. He could raise a brick, but could he escape? “You’re bluffing,” she decided, reaching out to grab his arm.

Dark David let the brick drop as he shot her with a bolt of lightning from his hand. Haley fell to the ground, a burn mark on her uniform where the lightning had hit it. Her arm twitched from the voltage, but she was otherwise motionless. “Clever,” he said, stepping towards the rest of the team. “But not quite clever enough.” He raised his hands, readying another lightning bolt, but Parker darted forward, grabbing his arms and holding them behind his back.

“Now, Butterfly!” he cried.

Eli used the rocks to keep the blow gun steady and fired. In seconds, Dark David stopped struggling against Parker’s super strength and fell limp. Parker let him fall, then turned to help Haley. She had fallen against the tunnel floor when the lightning bolt had hit her, and her shoulder had a large burn on it right above her heart.

“Outlier?” Parker said, almost afraid to touch her. “Come on, you can’t die. Outlier!” Reiki and Granny came over, pushing him aside as they checked their teammate. “Hey!”

“Haley,” Granny said, picking up her hand. “Come on, dear, wake up.”

“Ugh,” Haley groaned, opening her eyes. “That hurt more than I thought.”

“You freaking idiot,” Reiki muttered at her. She tried to sit up, but he pushed her back down. “Stay down,” he ordered. “You’re lucky that blast didn’t kill you.”

“Chip does a good job,” Haley pointed out, pulling some of the torn fabric of her uniform away from the scorch to reveal an insulated layer underneath. “My uniform took most of it.”

Eli came over next to Parker. “You didn’t think a little thing like that would kill her, did you?” he asked, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Haley’s made of tougher stuff than that.”

Parker shook his head. “I can’t decide if she’s insanely brave or bravely insane,” he admitted. “She took that bolt on purpose?”

“One thing I’ve picked up on, working with the Asylum,” Eli said, “is that you all have your roles. Haley’s role seems to be taking whatever beating is necessary for the rest of the team to do their job.”

“So why did she even need us?” Parker asked.

Haley sat up, shaking off Reiki’s worrying as she looked at Parker. “I had no idea until we were down here that he didn’t have the same rock armor as Earthborn,” she admitted. “Reiki was here to light up the scene, and Butterfly was here to take the shot. Granny’s now going to get him out of here and back to Dale, before the tranquilizer wears off,” she said pointedly. “I’m fine, Granny. Go.”

Granny shrugged, and whistled for Louise and Herchel. The big wolf darted forward to Granny as the dragon walked over to David and picked him up in his jaws. As Granny’s animals moved David out of the tunnels, Haley continued.

“When my brother told me what you’d done for him, I figured we could trust you enough to help hold David while Eli took the shot,” she said. “That would make it easier for us. Then we got down here, and I found out that he didn’t have full control of Earthborn’s powers, and it suddenly got much easier. I love it when that happens,” she added with a sigh.

Parker stared at her. “So your plan really was to just come down here and ask him to talk?” he said disbelievingly.

“Yep,” Haley grinned as she stood up.

As Parker stood blinking at her, Eli and Reiki looked at each other and shrugged. “You get used to it,” Reiki said, turning down the tunnel to head outside. “Come on, Outlier; you should see Dale about that shoulder.”

As they left the tunnels, Parker just shook his head. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that level of insanity,” he said, unfurling his wings in the sun, “but thanks for getting me out for a morning.”

Reiki glared at him. “This doesn’t mean you’re forgiven, Fallen,” he spat, using Parker’s Faun name. “Next time we meet, you’re fair game.”

Haley elbowed Reiki in the ribs, but Parker just flapped his wings. “I wouldn’t expect any less,” he said. Giving Haley a cheeky grin, he took a running start to fly back to the Fauns.

Haley shook her head as she turned to Eli. “You know,” she said, “even with Earthborn back, we could use an extra hand on the team.”

Eli considered it for a moment. “Let’s let Agent get back first,” he answered. “Sorry, Milady, but your particular brand of insanity isn’t something I can take on every mission.”

“Offer’s always on the table,” Haley said.

“Don’t push it,” Reiki growled. “Natalie will be back any day now, too.”

“She’s still upset about the whole ‘I shot her’ thing?” Eli asked. “She really needs to chill out.” He gave a jaunty wave as he jogged off.

Haley turned back to Reiki, grinning. He stared back with a questioning look. “How are you this happy?” he finally asked.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” Haley said. “We got Earthborn back – that’s a huge victory. Rina and Natalie will heal, Agent will snap out of it, and we’ll find out where Frank went. We’ll rebuild the tower, and it’ll be how it was.”

Reiki just sighed and walked away. Haley looked back at the tunnels before following him.

Things really could get better.

* * * * * * * *

Next: Issue #15 – In Another Time

Dawn of the Asylum, Issue #4 – The Watcher in the Darkness

One of Eon City’s DMVs.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Blackbird.

Boredom.

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 comms; 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.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

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.”

* * * * * * * *

Faun Headquarters.

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 hairs 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, more commonly known as Claw, stood at five feet eight 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.

* * * * * * * *

Faun Headquarters.

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.

* * * * * * * *

Next: Issue #5 – Flown the Coop