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Home > Talon (Talon #1)

Talon (Talon #1)
Author: Julie Kagawa

PART I Observe. Assimilate blend in.

Ember

“Ember, when did your parents die, and what was the cause of death?”

I stifled a groan and tore my gaze from the car window, where the bright, sunny town of Crescent Beach shimmered beyond the tinted glass. The air in the black sedan was cold and stale, and, annoyingly, the driver had engaged the child safety locks so I couldn’t roll down the window. We’d been stuck in the car for hours, and I was itching to get out of this moving prison and into the sun. Outside the glass, palm trees lined the road, and charming villas shared the sidewalk with weathered gray shacks advertising food, T-shirts, surfboard wax, and more. Just beyond the pavement, past a strip of glistening white sand, the Pacific Ocean shimmered like a huge turquoise jewel, teasing me with its frothy waves and countless beachgoers splashing freely in the glittering water.

“Ember? Did you hear me? Answer the question, please.”

I sighed and settled back against the cold leather. “Joseph and Kate Hill were killed in a car accident when we were seven years old,” I recited, seeing the driver’s impassive gaze watching me from the rearview mirror. Beside him, Mr. Ramsey’s dark head bobbed in affirmation, not looking back.

“Go on.”

I squirmed against the seat belt. “They had gone to see a Broad-way musical, West Side Story,” I continued, “and were struck by a drunk driver on the way home. My brother and I went to live with our grandparents, until Grandpa Bill developed lung cancer and could no longer take care of us. So we came here to stay with our aunt and uncle.” I snuck a longing gaze out the window again, seeing a pair of human on surfboards, gliding down the waves. My curiosity perked.

I’d never gone surfing before, not in my dusty little corner of desert.

It looked nearly as much fun as flying, though I doubted anything could compare to soaring the air currents, feeling the wind in your face and beneath your wings. I didn’t know how I was going to survive the summer completely earth-borne. Humans were lucky, I thought, as the car sped on and the surfers were lost from view. They didn’t know what they were missing.

“Good,” muttered Mr. Ramsey, sounding distracted. I imagined him scanning his ever-present tablet, scrolling through our files and background. “Dante, what is your real objective while in Crescent Beach?”

My twin calmly pulled his ear buds down and hit the pause button on his iPhone. He had this uncanny ability to zone out to music or television and still know exactly what was going on around him.

I did not have this talent. My teachers had to smack me upside the head to get my attention if there was anything remotely distracting around. “Observe and blend in,” he stated in his cool, unruffled voice.

“Learn how to engage with humans, how to be human. Assimilate into their social structure and make them believe we are one of them.”

I rolled my eyes. He caught my gaze and gave a small shrug. Dante and I weren’t really twins, not in the truest sense of the word. Sure, we were the same age. Sure, we looked very similar; we had the same obscenely red hair and green eyes. And we’d been together as far back as I could remember. But we didn’t come from the same womb. We didn’t come from a womb at all, really. Dante and I were clutchmates, which was still highly unusual because our kind normally didn’t lay more than one egg at a time. Making us strange, even among our own. But Dante and I had hatched together and were raised together, and as far as anyone was concerned, he was my twin, my sibling, and my only friend.

“Mm.” Apparently satisfied that we had not, in fact, forgotten the made-up backstory drilled so deep into my head I could recite it in my sleep, Mr. Ramsey went back to scrolling through his tablet, and I went back to staring out the window.

The ocean receded, the sparkling horizon dropping from view as we turned off the main stretch and entered a subdivision with impressive, white and rose villas lining the streets, surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns and palm trees. Some of these dwellings were truly enormous, making me stare in amazement. I’d never seen such huge houses except on television, or in the documentaries the teachers made us watch years ago, when we were first learning about humankind. Where they lived, how they acted, their behavior and family units and language; we’d studied it all.

Now, we would be living among them.

Excitement rose up again, making me even more impatient. I wanted out. I wanted to touch and feel and see the things beyond the glass, to finally experience it. My world, up until now, had been a large underground facility that I never saw the outside of, then a private school in the middle of the Great Basin, with no one around for miles, and only my brother and teachers for company. Safe, protected, far from prying human eyes…and possibly the most boring spot on the face of the planet. I squirmed against the seat again, accidentally hitting the back of the chair in front of me.

“Ember,” Mr. Ramsey said, a note of irritation in his voice, “sit still.”

Scowling, I settled back, crossing my arms. Sit stil , calm down, be quiet. The most familiar phrases in my life. I was never good at sitting in one place for long periods of time, though my teachers had tried their hardest to instill “a little patience” into me. Patience, stogy Mr. Smith had told me on more than one occasion, is a virtue that holds especial y true for your kind. The best-laid plans are never conceived in a day. You have the luxury of time—time to think, time to plan, time to calculate and see everything come to fruition. Talon has survived for centuries, and will continue to survive, because it knows the value of patience. So what’s the blasted hurry, hatchling?

I rolled my eyes. The “blasted hurry” was that I rarely had any time that was truly my own. They wanted me to sit, listen, learn, be quiet, when I wanted to run, shout, jump, fly. Everything in my life was rules: can’t do this, don’t do that, be here at this time, follow the instructions to the letter. It had gotten worse as I got older, every tiny detail of my life regulated and laid out for me, until I was ready to explode. The only thing that had kept me from going completely nuts was the day I turned sixteen. The day I would “graduate” from that isolated corner of No Man’s Land and, if I was deemed ready, begin the next stage of training. I’d done everything I could to be “ready” for this, and thankfully it must’ve paid off because here we were. Observe, assimilate, and blend in, that was our official mission, but all I cared about was that I was out of school and away from Talon. I’d finally get to see the world I’d studied all my life.

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