The air was that of incense and the chanting of prayers. Esoterica and enlightenment. Butter lanterns lit the room, casting ominous shadows across the brightly colored murals, which covered the walls. It was a large chamber; the figures within seeming so insignificant in its scope.
The lama listened to Cynder’s tale with rapt attention. His and then’s and please continues placed at the appropriate times. She felt bad; when speaking of Scarecrow, she couldn’t bring herself to speak his name. Her descriptions included words like it and monster, neither of which she truly felt about the white-skinned creature that was so kind to her in their brief encounter.
“And then it just disappeared,” she concluded. “I wonder if I’ll ever see it again. I mean, it said so, but who knows?”
“You will,” the lama said softly, in an almost distracted tone. “Were you given a name?”
“Scarecrow,” Cynder replied, almost feeling like she had just betrayed a secret. The lama merely chuckled.
“He’s always been choosy about his simians,” he said. “That’s what they call us; simians.”
She started to open her mouth; thousands of questions clawed their way from her throat, begging to be answered. The lama merely smiled gently. It was then she began to receive sensations of familiarity, images of reptilian eyes and flicking forked tongues. Part of her was comforted that someone else in this world possessed the same ability as were, but another felt frightened and betrayed, like she should’ve been told earlier. Perhaps she should have been warned.
“You…you knew?!?” She exclaimed.
“You weren’t ready,” the lama replied. “And just because you have the gifts that you do does not guarantee a hunter might take a liking to you. Most people go through their entire lives without any real knowledge of them. Others, end up in the hunter’s webs.”
“Hunter? That’s what something like Scarecrow is called?”
“It’s the most apt term, but they’ve been called many things since they first appeared; rakshasa, barghest, windigo…”
“Vampire?” Cynder interrupted and the lama’s eyes narrowed.
“Only if you want to insult them.”
“Where did they come from?”
“It is said they first started appearing when things were falling apart, back around the First Great Famine,” the lama said. “Some believe they were an experiment that turned upon their creators; the amalgam of a spider, a komodo dragon, and perhaps a hyena twisted up into something sort of humanoid, but not a human being. It is thought whoever created them did so because humans had no natural predators, other than themselves, and after what we’d helped do to the world, perhaps we needed to be kept in check.”
“But Scarecrow didn’t want to hurt me,” Cynder argued. “I could sense it.”
“Of course not,” the lama agreed. “People like me and you, who can sense things, are able to communicate better with the hunters than other people. They sometimes choose us as companions; their simians.”
“You mean pets? Like a dog?”
“More like a cat, I’d say. The hunters like how human beings can have an independent streak, that we sometimes fight back and ask questions. It might be hubris that our species exacerbated what happened to the world, but it’s that sometimes stubborn refusal to just go with the natural cycles, which at least amuses them.”
“Are there others here besides Scarecrow?”
“Two more,” the lama replied. “Even in the most populous city, there is usually no more than three or four hunters. It’s all a matter of their food, after all. Since Scarecrow’s chosen you, you’ll eventually meet the others.”
Cynder said nothing, instead trying to make sense out of what she was being told. Until a few days ago, this sort of thing was just a spook-story. Something a parent might tell a child to keep them in line. Now, she was faced with the fact there was monster of sorts in her world, and it was very real.
She stood up to leave. The urge to walk aimlessly while she processed the information held appeal. Even as she stood, a wave of nausea swept over her. Suddenly, she felt very hot. Sweat beaded upon her brow and she fought to stay standing.
“How long?” The lama inquired.
“Since what?” Cynder asked back.
“Since you took the seeds.”
“Three days, I think,” she replied. Another wave of nausea soaked her frame. She desperately wanted to get outside, into the cool air.
“You’re starting to go into withdrawal,” the lama observed. “Perhaps you should stay here. We can help you through the worst of it.”
“Thank you, but no,” Cynder said. “I’ll be okay. I just need to walk.”
It seemed like she was walking through tar, but she made it to the door. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she could see little flashes of light, like fireflies. The hallucinations were beginning. If she could at least make it to her alleyway, she’d be safe. Part of her mind uttered Scarecrow’s name almost like a mantra.
“Be careful,” the lama said. “If you crash out there on the streets you may fall prey to something worse than a hunter.”
“I’ll be okay,” Cynder repeated, knowing she was lying, but she couldn’t stay at the temple. It was too hot and the images in the murals were leering at her, whispering evil things. “Do you think I’ll see Scarecrow soon?”
“I would wager he will find you soon enough,” the lama replied with a concerned smile. “Just as he promised.”