The summer wind brought blast furnace winds from across the wastes. Even the coming of night seldom offered a respite. Cynder’s shirt stuck to her back as she wandered the streets. Many things had changed since those cold days of winter when she first became aware of the hunters and death and resurrection of seed withdrawal, but the wandering the streets at night had not. In fact, there was a new dimension she found amongst the crowds as she walked, her mind brushing against theirs, the sights and smells, the briefly passed words; she found herself feeling more of a connection than she could ever remember. She knew the lama would smile if she mentioned it, which she resolved to the next time she visited the temple.
He was her ever-patient teacher with her mind, in dealing with being one of the hunters’ simian. It was because of the lama that Cynder was taught how to communicate with them better. Although, there was still a spoken language barrier, and one existed in thought and emotion, it seemed like she could almost have what passed as a conversation with one of them.
The hunters certainly had their distinct personalities. Poison was the trickster, although it was difficult to always understand how his sense of humor worked. There was one thing he could say in the human languages with eerie accuracy; “’will you walk into my parlor?’ said the Spider to the Fly.” Although he never said it in a malicious way to Cynder or the lama, and it was probably an attempt at a joke, it would still give her chills.
Eclipse was a scholar of sorts. It seemed like she was always studying something, whether it was the behaviors of the creatures she either had as companions or preyed on, or a random rock she found. The game of chess fascinated her and she was delighted when she discovered Cynder not only knew how to play, but was fairly accomplished at it. Strangely, Eclipse never took winning a game well.
“No! Wrong!” She would snap. “Cynder clever! Again!”
Out of the three of them, Scarecrow seemed to a leader of sorts. He was also a stargazer. There were plenty of times Cynder would find him standing atop his silo staring pensively into the night sky. It always pleased him when she would sit with him. Once, while running his talon through her hair, he gave her the sensation that the stars were the thing that equalized them.
After the last of the addiction left her, it was implied that she could live at the silo, but Cynder declined. She still wanted her own space. Shortly thereafter, found employment at refugee shelter, liking the work, although the pay was not very much. Every so often, when she saw one of the hunters, they would give her money, obviously acquired from one of their victims, to help her get by. Scarecrow would even attempt to bring her clothing, even if it didn’t always fit or was not a color she liked. Despite having been away from the seeds since winter, she found she still liked gorging herself on burritos occasionally, finding it reminded her of when she returned to the world of the living.
It had been so long since she walked by the gaming-house, she’d forgotten it was even there. At first she avoided it for fear of falling back into old habits. Then she just lost interest in its existence. Walking by without really noticing until after it was behind her she felt was a big step.
“Cynder!” A familiar voice, one from some time ago now, called after her. “Hey! Where’ve you been, girl?”
She turned to see Bigsby Tran, her former source for the seeds. Once upon a time, she might have rationalized she was his friend, but the truth was more he was her dealer and either occasional lover or pimp. She felt a part of her become excited at seeing this tall, dark-skinned, well-dressed man, but another aspect, the one that had been away from the seeds and the gaming-house for so long, felt uneasy. There were sensations of betrayed abandonment and lecherous hopes of reestablishing something sordid coming from him.
“Hello, Bigs,” she said coolly. “It’s been awhile.”
“’Awhile’?!?” He snorted. “Try like six months. You going to tell me where you been?”
“I…um, met someone,” Cynder said, slowly edging back.
“Must be someone special,” Bigsby winked slyly. “This someone keeping you in seeds?”
“I quit,” Cynder repeated, she was almost to the alley adjoining the gaming-house. If she needed to, she could make a break for it. “Crashed, burned, and came back. I came walking this way without really thinking about it.”
“Well, you’re here,” Bigsby said, reaching for her. It was then she backed into the alley. He followed effortlessly. “What the fuck, Cynder? After everything we been to each other? You’re just going to walk away?”
“You would sometimes sell me for seeds and a little extra money in your pocket,” she shot back. “I’m not your property anymore.”
“Shut up!” Bigsby roared, drawing back his hand.
It was only in the heat of the moment that she realized something else had been watching this exchange. With savage and impossible quickness, Scarecrow sprung from the shadows, pinning Bigsby to the ground. He hissed, his forked tongue tasting the air with its scents of fear and desperation. From his talons, he began to spin his webs.
“Don’t do it, Scarecrow,” Cynder said with incredible calm.
“Why?” He didn’t even look at her. “No mercy. Remember?”
“Seeds,” she replied.
Scarecrow stopped spinning his webs. He leaned closer to Bigsby, his tongue flickering out, brushing the terrified man’s sweating flesh. Scarecrow sniffed the air loudly. Then, with a disgusted hiss, he pushed Bigsby away.
“Rotten! Bad! Not food!” He spat. “Cynder good. Thank you.”
“Holy shit!” Bigsby whimpered as he pulled himself free of the webs. He was reaching into his jacket, both Cynder and Scarecrow could sense what for. The hunter drew himself up to spring once more.
“I wouldn’t, Bigs,” Cynder said calmly.
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because I got him to spare your life once,” she replied. “I might not be able to do it again. You better just get away from me.”
Free of the webs, Bigsby ran back to the street. He didn’t even look behind him, which was probably for the best. Feeling Scarecrow’s talons running through her hair, Cynder heaved a heavy sigh, watching a part of her past better left dead running from her.
Even as the lama emerged from his meditation he could tell he was not alone. He reached out with his mind, trying to discern the identity of the presence he felt. It was worrisome when he realized it was no one he knew. The intentions he sensed were nothing like the hunters he was familiar with.
He turned to see a hunter watching him from a darkened corner. His mane and talons were as white as his skin. His tongue was black as it tested the air. His blood red eyes leered at him maliciously.
“Frightened?” The red-eyed hunter inquired as webs shot out, ensnaring his prey.
“Of you? Terribly,” The lama replied as he was drawn closer. “Of death? Never.”