As the Crow Flies

On a cold December evening in Houston, a masked mercenary was busy running from someone across the rooftops.

"Come on, kid. We've been running for 15 minutes, and you're still chasing after us?"

"Sorry, Killspot." The figure giving chase was a petite, acrobatic teenager with a mask that has a pointy beak, and a cape made of birds' feathers. "I'm not gonna stop chasing you until you tell me everything about that night. Why did you let me live?"

The one called Killspot continued to run, but the agile teenager managed to catch up to her and pin her to the wall. "Geez, Crow, what gives?"

The one called Crow pulled of her mask, revealing a rather sweet looking dark-skinned redhead. "Now talk, damn it! That means you too, Caitlin."

The aggressive woman was seemingly replaced by a much kinder one. "Of course, Merle. I'll make sure Killspot behaves herself."

---

About two and a half years ago, while on vacation, Leila and Scott went to see a family of performers who have come to town.

"I can't believe you brought me here, Leila." Scott groaned as they passed through people who were anticipating action on the rooftops of the adjacent buildings.

"Sorry I'm keeping you from securing your theoretical net that prevents the Lich from ruling us all." she quipped. "You know I haven't seen one of their performance shows and--."

"Yes, yes. You've told me all about the couple who you befriended and took a babysitting job for while I was away."

"So you know I want to meet up with them after so long." She spotted a couple who were just leaving from a crowd and headed their way.

"Well, I'll be. Is that Leila Ross?" The man asked.

"Hey, Leila! Over here!" The woman shouted.

“Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Dawson.” Leila waved to as they walked to them. “How's it going?”

"I take it this is the couple you're talking about?"

"Yep! Rick, Nisha, this is my friend Scott Macbeth. And Scott, this is Rick and Nisha Dawson."

"Pleased to meet you." Scott said, shaking their hands.

"We haven‘t seen you in ages, Leila.” Rick hugged her “You've grown on us.”

"It's only been 7 years." She blushed, then noticed a little girl who did a double front flip in the air, impressing several boys about her age who looked in awe. "Hey who's the kid? Wait, don‘t tell me that's…"

"Yes, that is Merle. Honey," Her mother called "come meet our friend."

"Okay!" The little girl walked up to meet Leila. "Hi!"

"Hey, there." Leila chuckled and shook her hand. She remembered back when Merle was about two years old, and what a nuisance she had been for the babysitting Leila.

At that time, 2 figures began to walk up to them. Nisha's eyes narrowed as she motioned her husband. "Merle, dear," he asked "can you go show Leila and her friend around? Your mother and I have business to take care of."

"Okay!" Merle giggled as she ran off with Leila and Scott following her.

---

They turned their attention to the figures; a woman in her early-mid 30s and another, younger woman.

The older woman spoke first "Rick. Nisha"

"Ozborn." Nisha cautiously replied.

"Ms. Cassidy" Rick also said with hesitation.

"Oh, come on. What's with the tension?" the younger woman energetically asked "call me Caitlin. I'm not the one with a grudge against you."

"Look, Ashley" Nisha wondered "are you still planning on getting me back for teasing you in high school? I've apologized for it."

"No. In fact, I've come to make amends. For just a mere $500, Caitlin here will keep guard for any assailants that may be on guard"

"I thought you were paying us five thousand! What the hell?"

"You'll get it tomorrow." Ashley muttered to Caitlin, then turned back to them "Now what do you say?"

"No thanks," Rick insisted "We'll be fine. Besides, who would want us dead?"

"It's just a suggestion. I wouldn't want my new friend to die just after we've made amends. Give me a hug, Nish." She hugged the confused mother. "I'm sorry for the hostility, break a leg out there. Well not really, of course." She giggled.

"Wow, Ashley" Nisha smiled "I never knew you were so friendly."

"Well, you never got to know the real me. Anyway, we should be going. Come along, Caitlin."

"Okay. Bye-bye, Mr. and Mrs. Dawson!" She waved good bye as the two made their leave.

"I'll be," Rick grinned "she's really been kind to us. You think it might be a little suspicious?"

"Of course not, hon." Nisha chuckled. "I'm positive, deep down inside, Ashley Ozborn is..."

---

"...nota nice person! Ack!" The brunette said scornfully as she stuck her tongue out of her mouth as if she tasted something awful. "Being all friendly-friendly with that preppy little... ugh, it made me sick to my stomach! Another minute of that mush and I would've puked all over them."

"So do you think they bought it?" Caitlin asked as she skillfully walked on her hands.

"Of course." They were in an area free of any witnesses or surveillance as she recited her plan. "Once they start what's to be their final act, you have Killspot go up in the balcony and shoot all three of them. Make it as clean as a headshot can be, though."

"'all three'? You're not insinuating she kill their kid, do you?"

"I do if you two want that $5k." Ashley snapped back.

The young red-head groaned "Fine. But..." she leaped high in the air as she rapidly flipped forward and, while in mid-air, put her hair into a ponytail. She then went into the alley and changed into a black and pink bodysuit.

"I don't have to like it."

---

Merle had put on the suit she wore while trick performing, with a cape made of feathers on the back.

"Merle," Nisha shook her head at her daughter's attire "we've been over this: Your father made that for you to use on a special occasion."

"But Mom, are you saying this isn't special? It's the first time I've gotten to perform in front of a crowd larger than a hundred people."

She sighed "Fine, but he'll have a fit if he finds out-"

"It's fine, hon." Rick chuckled "Anything for my little Crow."

"Daddy..." she blushed "I'm too old for that nickname."

"You're only eleven. Besides, you're never too old for it to me."

"Come on, you two." Nisha rolled her eyes, bearing a playful grin. "We're up soon."

---

For their first act, with bright lights in the night sky to make the family clear to everyone, Merle dashed across several rooftops as the crowd watched her father run ahead and her mother lift her into the air as Merle did several front flips in the air as her dad caught her with ease. She did a back flip across a large rooftop gap and gracefully landed. Everyone applauded at the tremendous act.

Meanwhile, Killspot was on a rooftop parallel to them, aiming a sniper rifle around their heads. She spoke to an earpiece. "Do I kill 'em now?"

"No" Ozborn said, secluded in a shadowy area. "Wait until the end."

After 15 minutes of several other amazing stunts, they got ready for one final performance: Merle's parents got a head-start running as she readied her self to run after them. She ran, jumped incredibly high, and saw her parents running back with their arms in the air as they were ready to catch her. She began to lose distance mid-air just as her parents stopped at the edge of the last rooftop.

However, as she fell, she noticed a lens flare and spotted it as a rifle scope. "Mom! Dad! Look out!" she pointed in the direction of the flare and they turned to see it. "It's a gun, someone's about to--!"

She looked in horror as two shots rang out and her parents fell to the ground. She fell next to them on the ground of the rooftop. She felt a few bones break but, as far as she knew, she was alive. In great pain, she struggled to see her parents one last time. The corpses still bore confused looks from when she told them about what was going to happen. She wanted to cry as hard as she could, but she didn't have the strength. All these different thoughts ran through her head as she grew lightheaded, her vision fading until she passed out.

The last thing she heard was the sound of an ambulance.

---

Killspot, undetected, easily fled the scene.

"I only heard two. What about the child?"

"I think she fell to her death. Didn't feel the need to waste a bullet."

"Excellent. Come meet me at the rendezvous point and I'll give you the money."

"Okay, just let me confirm that the kid's dead. I don't wanna be gettin' sloppy" She sighed and thought to herself "What have I done?"

"What have you done? Oh, not much, just destroyed an entire family in one fell swoop" Her other conscience, Caitlin, berated her for this action. "You make me sick, I thought you were better than this."

"Hey, you made me specifically so your mental state would be intact when doing things like this."

"I know you're suppose to be ruthless, but I figured you had at least a little heart in you."

Killspot groaned as she racked her brain on this predicament. "Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!" She cried over and over, lost in her duality.

---

Beeping sounds were what Merle had awoken to. As she slowly opened her eyes, she saw Leila who was looking mournfully out the window.

Once she remembered what happened, she flung her upper body up and gasped. "Where are they?"

Leila turned around, looking highly relieved. "Merle!" She ran up and hugged her tightly. "Thank god, you're alright! Don't get up, you're still hurt."

"Mom and Dad! My parents, I tried to save them. Are they okay? I saw someone shoot them but they survived, didn't they...?" Leila was silent. "didn't they??"

Leila sadly shook her head. "I'm sorry, they--"

"No... I-it was all just a dream. It had to be" Merle said in denial, tears running down her face. "I had this terrible nightmare about how we were doing our final performance of the night and then they suddenly died, I hit the ground and... and... and..." She covered her eyes over her hands and cried as hard as she could. Leila, doing what she knew was best, hugged her and stayed to comfort her.

---

Several hours later, after Merle calmed down, she and Leila had spent the time talking to one another.

"I see. So you were trying to find the people who killed your parents."

"Yeah... but after some thought, I figure it wouldn't be worth it. I could catch them, but nothing I can do will ever bring them back."

"I thought your friend was a necromancer. Don't they bring people from the dead?"

"They can, but reported resurrections are... not very pretty."

"Thank you for staying up so late to talk with me, Miss Ross. Honestly, I don't remember you very much from I was little, so you're kind of a stranger to me."

"Please, call me Leila."

"Okay, Leila" she chuckled.

"Huh. For someone who's parents just died, you're awfully quick to be in a good mood."

"My parents always told me no matter what, even when worse comes to worse, don't lose hope and keep smiling."

"Well, that's good." Just then the door opened.

"Hey, Leila?" Scott appeared at the door. "A man needs to have a word with you." Leila left Merle alone and walked into the lobby, greeted by a man in a suit. He introduced himself as the Dawsons' attorney and handed her their will.

"Let's see..." she read the words in red, "'In the event of our untimely demise, we entrust custody of our only child Merle to Leila Ross'? Wait, why me?"

"Guess they didn't expect to die so soon." She glared at Scott. "...Sorry."

"Thank you." She told the man as he took his leave. She sat on a chair and contemplated her situation. "A 25-year-old woman having to raise an 11-year-old girl? I mean, it's not very rare around here, but I'd rather treat her as the little sister I never had, as opposed to attempting to emulate her mother."

"Well, this is one of those things I can't really help you with. You have to decide on your own how you're going to raise her."

She nodded and sighed "This is just all so sudden..."

---

Meanwhile, Killspot looked across a nearby building to spy on Merle. We look into her subconscious and see her two personalities talking "Thank god she's alive; I need to start a new policy. Take a note, Caitlin: from now on, I will refuse to kill any child under 16."

"It's too bad Ms. Ozborn probably won't give us the money for the hit though."

"Eh, I didn't really like that Ashley woman anyway. Something about her, she felt like... walking poison."

"Well, what do we do now?"

"Let's pay a visit to that new crime boss who left us an e-mail for wanted help."

Caitlin grinned, "Sounds like a plan."

---

Merle sighed, having learned most of this in May when she confronted Ozborn on her own. "So the only new intel I get is, you felt guilty so you spared my life?"

"Hey, we told you all we know."

"I believe you." She groaned. "Well, it's getting late, I better be headed home." Crow put her mask back on and was about to leave before asking, "Caitli- no. Killspot? You're an excellent fighter, why not use those skills you have for good instead of for yourself?"

The mercenary shifted back to her Killspot persona. "You know you're the first person to ever ask me that." She paused, then began to walk away. "I can't make any promises, but Caitlin and I might come up with something." Just then, she threw a dagger at Crow, who managed to dodge it with ease. "Heh heh, not bad, kid. Catch ya later." She threw a smoke bomb and vanished out of sight.

Crow chuckled. "Always with the dramatic exits with that one." The now-fourteen year old heroine jumped off the roof, wall kicking and pole swinging her way home.

The End

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