An Ugly Fact of Life.
"As for me I've been petty and unkind, but I know my own mind and since it seems clear there's no one leading us here, the only thing left, it appears, is to task ourselves to be better each time than those before us. We'll be an army of thieves, of self-freed slaves, of mild-mannered maids. We'll fight with whispers and blades, so get ready. A new day is dawning. Welcome to the New Wild West; Each Man For Himself." (Jewel, The New Wild West)
Cade awoke at moonrise that day. He hadn't meant to sleep that late, but he'd been so worn-out. He'd actually only woken up because of a loud grating sound his ears had suddenly become subjected to.
Rubbing stiff hair out of his eyes, Cade sat up and glanced around, surprised to see Cheyenne already up. She was standing next to the basin full of water, pouring in handfuls of wet clumps of dirt. The pickaxe lay nearby, where she'd already begun work on another wall for their shelter. Dirt had been scraped clean from around him, leading Cade to believe that she was completely serious about building these houses.
"You want some help?" he called, almost concerned about her. Cheyenne glanced up at him from the basin, her eyes dull but alert.
Every since she'd fallen asleep, Cheyenne had known this was the last stretch for her. The power that she'd been given was flickering inside of her, barely able to stay alive within her frail, ever-humanizing body. She'd become a candle at wick's end; nothing in the entire world, in the entire universe, could stop her now. Hell, even the Hunters were coming. They must have been able to sense her weak state, or else they would have never dared venture into the dead land of The Angels. It was like playing in a memorial for them; a glorious, parched battlefield.
"Yeah," Cheyenne said breathlessly. She was using all strength she had that was human, still trying to conserve the extra power. "Try and get that next wall up. I made it already for you, so it should be easy to get into place. Once that's done, we'll put on the mud, and it will be a house." And then, she added silently to herself, those fuckers can come and kill me or do whatever they want.
"Why are you in such a rush to make this?" questioned Cade innocently, already up on his feet and bending down to grab hold of the last wall. "We've got a lot of time, don't we?"
Cheyenne waited until he'd strained and pulled with all his might to get the last wall in place. Only when the four walls became one connected room that could be considered somewhat of a house did she say anything.
"We did," she explained, "but I messed that up. But here's the good thing; you're done with your work if you want."
Cade turned to the wall with the entrance, scrutinizing it. She was kidding, obviously.
"Yeah, right," he finally said, almost laughing. "So where should the next house be?" Cheyenne stopped mixing the mud, water and dirt together and stared at him seriously.
"No, I really mean it," she told him. "This is all we need. I'm going to be dead soon, so it doesn't matter."
"What?" Cade managed to choke out. He turned back to her. "That's bullshit. You're not going to die, Cheyenne. You're a fucking lure."
When, Cade wondered to himself, did I become the one with the sailor's mouth?
"No, you don't get it," she answered patiently. "I'm not a lure anymore. They took it away. Once everything that they gave me goes away, so will I. I'm too old; a human body physically cannot live for as long as I have. I can guarantee you I'll be either dead by midnight, or turned into one of those motherfuckers. Oh, by the way, they're coming to gather me I suppose. You might want to get lost soon."
Cade couldn't help himself. He marched right up to her, slapping her across the face. How could she lie like this to him? He was doing everything—everything!—that she asked of him.
"You're not dying," he said, glaring at her venomously. Cheyenne hadn't even flinched when he hit her. All of a sudden it occurred to him that the scars on her face were probably from the same type of cruelty; a necessary, if evil, jolt. "If you were dying, you would've been dead by now. Things don't happen like this!"
Cheyenne thrust her left palm in front of his face for evidence. "Do you see that?" she asked, each word clipped and sharp. Cade leaned in close and studied her palm. The skin was taut and dry, even though it had been raining earlier. Her hands should have been wrinkly, or even leathery. Underneath the skin, blue veins could be seen clearly, as if they were aching to be released from her skin. They looked too large, in his opinion.
"My blood is hardly moving," Cheyenne explained, trying to control the shake in her voice. She couldn't let it happen. "If blood doesn't move…" She let Cade fill in the rest with his own imagination.
Cade whipped away from her, frustration clouding his mind. He had never thought of the possibility; that Hunters could rip everything away from their own lures. And now they were coming back for her. But…but she said she was dying. What if they killed her themselves? For some reason, he had a hard time believing she would ever let that happen.
Taking in a deep breath, he turned back to her coldly. He supposed he should have felt warm towards her, since she was another human—a dying one, no less—but he couldn't. She had betrayed him. She'd dragged him across the country, and sent him into an exile of black, burnt lands which he couldn't leave.
Not when the Hunters probably knew he was already there.
"What are we going to do then?" Cade finally asked, watching Cheyenne as she stirred the mud mixture together with slow, slow hands.
"Well, if you want to live, then I suggest you start running now," she warned. "Hunters usually don't like the coast, so I'd run down by the beach if I were you."
"That so?" Cade answered wryly. "So where's that leave you? Here all alone so those fuckers can eat you alive?"
He remembered the Hunter's jaws vividly. They were so powerful, so much stronger than his own body. When Cade had been held up to those jaws, he had literally lost control of his actions. All he wanted to do was get away and live.
Cheyenne had saved him that night, in a somewhat twisted way. She'd gotten him into the situation in the first place, but by saving him…
"What are you going to do?" Cade repeated himself, forcing the words out differently in a harsh tone.
"Let them come," Cheyenne replied absently, pulling her hands out of the mud concoction. Black dirt dribbled down her hands and onto the shiny wet blacktop. "It's not like I could have avoided this forever."
"But you would have tried!" Cade burst out, frustrated not with himself precisely, but her as well. "Fuck Cheyenne, if things hadn't turned out like this, you would have made me build an entire city!"
"You still can if you want to," she interrupted quietly. Cade ignored her, however, pacing back and forth in front of the shelter in a rage.
"I haven't known you for long, but I know what you would've done. You would've never given up this easily! Death can't be such an easy thing for them to obtain! You're human, Cheyenne! You just can't let them take you!"
"Who said I wasn't going to fight back?" Cheyenne quipped smartly. "I may not be able to live through this, but I'm not completely stupid. Might as well kill me some Hunters before I take my last breath."
Cade hated her. He hated that she could talk about her death so easily, as if she'd never had to think about it. Well, she hadn't, so what was the point in worrying about it now?
He hated that she was being so calm about it. He hated that she acted like she had a plan, when it was clear her only plan was being made up as she went along, and that was in order to stay alive to make a stupid house.
"Look," sighed Cheyenne tiredly, "the Hunter's aren't waiting to give you a head start. Either you stay here and go back to sleep or whatever, or you leave. So what's it gonna be?"
"Stay," came Cade's automatic reply. He reached back for his gun and estimated how many shots he had left. He hadn't been able to steal that much ammunition. Still, if he had to, he could probably kill off a few Hunters. "When do you suppose they'll come?" He hadn't smelled death on the air yet.
Cheyenne wiped her hands off on her jeans and turned her head to the left, towards the mountains. Hunter's always came from inland. She closed her eyes and took in a deep, terrified breath; they were coming soon. They were just waiting to get her on her own first.
As much as she tried to keep her calm and collected front, Cheyenne was far from it. Inside she was quaking, because what human wasn't scared of death? Actually, what human wasn't scared of death when they knew their sentence was about to be carried out in probably a matter of minutes?
It was like wishing for blood to spill; be done and over with this. At least she'd die where she'd been born.
"It'll take them a while," she lied. "In the meantime, I'm going to get some more water."
"Liar." Cade called her out on it instantly, crossing his powerful arms with one of the guns in hand. "Don't pull that kind of crap with me. Let's go get the fuckers."
"Whatever," Cheyenne said, submitting to his wishes way too easily. Cade backed off immediately, wondering what the hell was wrong with her. Why had she suddenly become so afraid?
Well, that was quite easy. She was human. She was about to die.
And there was nothing in the world that could stop it from happening. Not even if a Hunter decided to make her a fellow Hunter. No, she wouldn't become one of them.
She would die with the grace and dignity that was given to her at birth.
The broken moon had tried. It vainly attempted to cover up Cheyenne and Cade's scent with rain and clouds but to no avail; nature was no match for Hunters. It sent storms of dust and ice through the mountains, hoping against all hopes, that it would be enough.
But it wasn't. Even nature couldn't help them now.
It was just the two of them, solemnly striding across the dead, defenseless cement like the soldiers they'd become. The shards of the moon made one last offer of peace, shining as brightly as it could upon them.
Cheyenne had only glanced back at their shelter once; she wasn't going back to it. Cade never looked back, because neither was he, and he already knew it.
The Angels had failed the moment Cheyenne lost all will and determination to rebuild it. She'd done enough. She'd raised a house. A house, albeit technically, could be considered part of a city, even if the city was dead. Who knew? Maybe a wandering nomad would take shelter in their house and take a fancy to the region. Maybe, if it was at all possible, The Angels would be revived someday without her help.
As they walked, Cheyenne asked Cade about himself. She wanted to know about life now, and since it seemed she was going soon, she'd better learn some history now instead of later. Cade was only too happy to oblige, telling her everything in detail, from growing up in PXD, to joining the Gunslingers, to training and killing his own sister.
Cheyenne didn't even balk at him when he said he shot his sibling. In fact, she was more or less impressed.
"It takes a very special person to see through others like that," she'd remarked gently, almost as if reflecting on her own life. "Sometimes…sometimes there really isn't anything you can do about others."
Once she got all the information out of him that she could, Cheyenne began talking about herself. She had to tell someone about the past. Someone had a right to know the truths of history, and to be able to tear away from the lies they were told.
She told him about growing up in The Angels. About how everything was so clean and bright, so immaculate. Fruit trees which had grown by sidewalks, buildings taller than mountains almost. And finally, she told him about electricity. How it had a negative and a positive charge, and if you did something to both sides of a wire with both those charges, you would get either heat or light.
Cade decided that if he lived past tonight, he would rediscover electricity.
Cheyenne told him about all the people she'd killed in her life. She described in detail the many faces she remembered, and the lies she'd told people in order to gain their trust.
She'd gone through countless amounts of weapons and artillery, never keeping anything for more than a year or two. Keeping it longer than that meant shoddy, worn-out defenses.
As a lure, she'd always gone and killed people, but not because she wanted to, per se. She thought humans were okay, but they still needed to be controlled. Too big of a population meant too many problems for the earth to handle.
But Cheyenne wouldn't have killed anyone if she'd been told not to. That was the problem with her choices probably. She'd been told to kill, so she slaughtered en masse. If she'd been expected to, say, tickle someone with feathers, she probably would have done the exact same thing; tickle anyone in sight.
And so, by the time they stopped far from their shelter, each knew as much about the other as they possibly could within the time constraint of perhaps an hour. Cheyenne didn't know why they'd stopped. It just seemed like a good place.
The black pavement under their feet seemed good a place as anywhere to put up a fight, or to willingly accept what the Hunter's wanted. High above them, pale white clouds floated across the moon's many surfaces. The whole world stood for them, waiting to see what would happen.
"So this is really it?" Cade's low tone interrupted their silence after a while. Cheyenne glanced at him uneasily, her red eyes nearly to the point of glazing over. Never in her life had she wanted to cry so badly, but she couldn't. She couldn't show her fear, not when Hunters were nearby. They fed off emotions like that.
Cade couldn't bear to look back at her weakening form. He'd watched her deteriorate drastically, even though they'd only been walking for an hour or so. Her skin, scarred and dark, had quickly become pale and tight. It was as if the blood inside her was drying up, and she couldn't do anything about it. Her jeans, once easily able to stay around her waist, now hung off her hip bones. Without her gun or knife, it looked as if she'd lost inches off her already small abdomen.
It was the same story for her corset. Thankfully, corsets were form-fitting and it wouldn't be slipping down her chest anytime soon.
Cheyenne, on the other hand, saw Cade's vitality clearly. He hadn't changed much since they'd met. Maybe a few more scrapes and bruises on his skin, but nothing more. His black hair, albeit a little stiff from his dunk earlier, still shone even in the dark. His skin was still a healthy tan, and his steel grey eyes remained attentive. He was not going to be the one dying, obviously.
"I think so," Cheyenne finally replied, indicating that yes, this was it. "This is the end of the line. If you're having second thoughts, I advise you to start running for the ocean as soon as possible." Cade smirked but shook his head. He reached out and gripped her right hand in his left, squeezing it gently. It took a while for him to feel a pulse, but eventually he felt it.
And then he could smell it. The death in the air. It ran through his body like ice, but it was there. Hunters were coming.
"I'd just like to say," Cheyenne babbled, "before I go, that I'm actually kind of glad I met you. I mean, even though this is mostly your fault, I probably didn't deserve to live this long anyway."
"Everyone deserves to live," protested Cade, hesitating. Did he dare say anything else?
"Yeah, bet those Nazi's would have loved to hear you say that," Cheyenne joked, wishing that the Hunters would come soon. Who knew what other asinine stuff she had stored up in her mind to babble about? "Or all those Holy Freaks and lures you've killed."
"Okay, okay, I get the point," said Cade, turning his eyes to the sky for a while. "What I mean is…if you're still alive, it's for a reason. You said you've got stuff left to do, right? So who knows? Maybe you won't die tonight." Even he didn't believe himself.
"Yeah well anyway Cade," Cheyenne continued bluntly, "it was nice knowing you. You're a hell of a lot better than some of the company I've kept."
"I wish I'd known you longer," Cade replied quietly, almost incoherently. "I wish…I wish I'd known you back when there was electricity and all. It sounds amazing to me."
Cheyenne sighed, taking in another ragged breath. It was already getting hard to breath. The last sputtering flickers of her lure gifts were dying inside her rapidly. "I have a feeling you'll see it someday. Just give it a while. Somebody will figure it out."
As if on some unspecified cue, Hunters swiftly appeared out of nowhere in the expansive fabric dubbed air by humankind. This time they weren't playing, however. First a dozen or two appeared, and then a few more dozen. The parade of Hunters seemed endless. Cheyenne lost count when she estimated over two hundred, and immediately wished that she had just died when her "boyfriend" had brought her out for that first Hunter to devour.
"No matter what happens," Cheyenne whispered to Cade rapidly, "Just go along with whatever I do. But, if it's possible, then I want you to get out of here."
"Not a chance," replied Cade gruffly, already reaching for his gun with his right hand. Cheyenne stopped him though, motioning for him to wait instead.
"That's not what I meant," she continued patiently. "I mean, if I go before you, I want you to leave immediately. There's no sense in having both of us killed off in the same day."
Cade didn't have the heart to reply, partly because he didn't want to acknowledge what they both knew was coming, and partly because he was afraid to.
"It is time," came a loud grumble. Both Cade and Cheyenne glanced behind them, nearly scared witless momentarily; they were completely surrounded by Hunters.
One Hunter stepped forward in the ring around them, beckoning to Cheyenne with one long, knobby hand. Its pointy, cruel fingers had lost all fear for Cheyenne, but still it curled the digits at her.
"You have killed too many of us, servant," it continued slowly, each word pronounced with as much weight as it could be worth. "It is time you were put in your place."
"Oh yeah, cos I'm totally gonna go for that," Cheyenne muttered under her breath. In any other circumstances, she would have been hoping that would get a laugh out of Cade, but it didn't. She didn't expect it to, either. Louder, she tacked onto her incoherent muttering with, "What if tonight's not my time? What if you're all wrong?"
Cade stayed silent next to her, hardly concerned with what she was saying. He was more concerned with all the Hunters who seemed to be closing in on them endlessly.
"We are not wrong." It was as simple as that, and the humans knew it. Hunters, in this day and age, were the supreme beings. Neither she nor Cade had a choice in the matter.
But that didn't mean they couldn't try.
"Oh yeah?" Cheyenne taunted, not daring to move yet. "Well, we'll see about that."
Then she moved.
Inside every human being, there is a reserve of energy. It's the last defense against anything that could possibly ever happen to a human. You've probably heard the tale of the weak mother who rescued her baby when it was in danger, removing a log off the child or some other heavy object. Adrenaline kicks this reserve into high gear, quite simply because it is the last thing your body can give you.
Cheyenne's own body had been flung into that state, but it was accompanied with the remnants of the gifts she'd received from the Hunters. It was like she'd become superhuman.
She reached for her crowbar without hesitation, and launched into her attack. Any Hunter that was close enough to her was not subject from the onslaught.
They did not waver, however. Hunters have never been flimsy cardboard soldiers. Thus they defended themselves dearly. They were not about to let a puny human break them.
Cheyenne smacked and rammed at the Hunters, battering their bodies, vying for blood to spill before she grew too tired to fight back. Through gritted teeth and a rapid heartbeat she bruised then. She wasn't doing it for herself anymore.
She was doing it for humankind.
The Hunters, from that day forward, would know the limits of human strength, and they would come to fear it. They could come to cower, and eventually they would slink back to the underground they'd come, jaws shut tight in remorse.
But Cheyenne had yet to do anything permanently damaging. Oh no, she was just getting started. See, a brilliant idea had suddenly popped into her mind.
She'd bled when she'd become a lure, so what if she bled now? Suppose, hypothetically, if she were to get a little of that Hunter blood inside her? Would she be able to live as she'd always lived, or would she turn into an ugly beast the second the tainted blood wormed its way into her own bloodstream?
There was only one way to find out. Determination quickly grew inside her chest, giving her a small shred of hope. Cheyenne quickly turned her head to Cade, finding him in the midst of a pack of Hunters, doing his best to keep them away.
"Shoot somebody!" she shrieked at him, her voice cracking with effort. It was quite sad, really, to know that even her voice was ready to give out soon. "Anybody!"
"I'm trying!" Cade shouted back, struggling to aim his Barretta at anyone in particular. Finally he set target on a slow moving white blur and pulled the trigger without thinking. A shot rang out, followed by a Hunter's dying moan. Cheyenne followed the noise with roaring ears, abandoning her current punching bags.
She reached the fallen Hunter swiftly, falling to her knees beside it as it fell on its' face. Her hands, trembling more violently by the second, felt all over the Hunter until she found the bloody wound that had killed the Hunter. Jamming her fingers into the wound, Cheyenne dug under the Hunter's skin before pulling out her right hand. It was covered in the thick, unnatural blood all the way to her wrist.
Without a second thought, Cheyenne brought her right hand to her left wrist, poising her nails to bite into the skin. She just needed to see if it would work. If it didn't and she turned into a Hunter or something…well, she'd tried her best.
Her nails broke open the flesh easily with pressure, and Cheyenne stared at her new wound. Her own blood poured out quickly, as if by its own accord. She slapped her right hand over the injuries, hoping the Hunter blood would mix well.
If the moon could, it would have cheered. It would have sent dazzling beams of light down upon Cheyenne that very second. But alas, it couldn't do such a thing. Instead, it let Cheyenne marvel upon her own discovery.
Cade watched it all happen. In fact, he dropped his gun and collapsed down onto the ground, unable to take his glassy steel eyes off her. Hunters stopped their assault, pausing for Cheyenne. It was as if the whole world had been put stopped, just so they could see the impossible happening right in front of them.
Well, only Cade could see technically, but all Hunter's had their faces turned towards the girl anyway.
The girl who, for a very short amount of time, was a Hunter without the features. She'd done it, all by herself.
She'd taken the blood from an abnormal source, and she'd fed it into her own body. She had transformed herself, not a Hunter. It was perhaps the only reason why she was not a hideous white monster yet. That had yet to take effect.
Cheyenne might not have been dying that night, after all. Her body still ached, and she was still worn out, but it felt different. She felt…alive.
Turning back to the Hunters, she slowly made her way towards Cade, strolling across the blacktop as if it had been made for her. Made to bear her weight, her presence, her very entity.
"We are leaving," she announced, her voice ringing out loud and clear. Any Hunter near her stepped back when she drew near. "The human and I are leaving, and you will not stop us. You will never harm us, you will never track us. You are to never come here again, either. This is sacred ground, and you will not trespass."
"You are nothing in that human body," a Hunter from the crowd spoke up in protest. Cheyenne's red eyes scanned the mass of white bodies meticulously, but she let it go.
"A human body, brethren, is the best body you can have. It is the only body on this entire planet that I can occupy as myself, a Hunter."
"Surely you are not a Hunter," another exclaimed incredulously. Cheyenne's upper lip twitched; in a flash she reached out and grabbed the closest Hunter, yanking its arm with the strength of a hundred men. The arm came off cleanly, disconnecting at the socket in a perfect cut. Cheyenne tossed the arm to the ground, watching the armless Hunter's jaws contort in pain.
"I am a Hunter," she stated, her voice echoing over the crowd like a general's—or a dictator's. "I am a Hunter in a human body. This isn't possible, yet here I am in front of you. If you dare question me, I will kill you fuckers. Now leave us at once, or face the consequences."
This can't be happening, thought Cade to himself while he was still on the ground. Cheyenne was only a few feet away from him, but he knew it was not she who was talking to the horde of Hunters. She was changing inside of herself, and they both knew it.
A deadly silence reigned for nearly a minute, but one by one, Hunters began to disperse into the air. Once most were gone, Cheyenne knelt down by Cade, holding out her hand to him. This time, it did not look like that of a dying human's. It was becoming vibrant and alive, but it was paler than before. Cade studied her curiously; most of Cheyenne's body was glowing a soft white.
She would not last long as a Hunter when she was trapped in a human body.
"Come on," she said to him softly, her hand still outreached. "We must go now."
The words seemed strange, coming out of her mouth like that. Cade had never before witnessed such a serious, deadly Cheyenne before. Surely she must have like this most of her life, however, in order to have killed so many kids.
Cade shakily took her hand and she helped him up to his feet. He stared at her all the while, noticing her features as they changed ever so slowly. First it was her hands, and now it was her arms. Scars and shiny marks from wounds were disappearing, turning into the bluish white skin that was starting to cover her body.
The scars on her face were only deepening, however. It was, Cade had come to realize, the reason why she had been a lure in the first place. They marred her for life as a tainted, soulless body.
Yet even now, she still had a soul. He couldn't figure out how she'd managed to keep it for so long, but she'd done it.
Hunters wavered and vanished in the air around them as they started to walk away. Each step they took, a new feeling came over Cade. First it was confusion, then it was victory. It gradually came around to despair, however, when he knew their victory wasn't going to last long. Cheyenne still had yet to make the change.
"What's happening?" Cade asked, watching as the last of the Hunters disappeared. "What did you do, exactly?"
Cheyenne couldn't bear to look him in the face. Not when she knew what was about to happen. She had to figure out a way to destroy herself before it happened, too, and she had a feeling that Cade wasn't going to kill her willingly.
"I uh…I made myself a Hunter I guess," she explained vaguely, hoping he'd drop the subject. Thankfully, he did, but only because he had other questions.
"So that means you're not doing to die?"
"Well, that depends." She cringed, waiting for him to ask what that meant. Cade didn't go on though. He knew what she meant already; he didn't have to ask.
But that didn't mean he had to acknowledge it yet. Cade grasped Cheyenne's hand tighter, grinning at her gently.
"How about this?" he proposed. "You use those wonderful powers they've given you, and take us to the beach. That way, even if you…you know, go, it'll be easier." He wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but Cheyenne got the point. She took in a deep, cleansing breath and squeezed his hand back.
"All right. You ready?" she inquired. Raw energy was surging through her veins, pushing her to do something with it. This was the perfect outlet.
"More than ever."
And then they were off.
They tell me I was born that fateful night. I was born out of her hatred, out of her love, out of her blood, and out of her body. I remember what she remembers, but strangely enough, I can't recall how she died.
It wasn't that night though. It took her a while. She waited until her body couldn't take the human constraint anymore, until the very last minute.
She and the human built ninety-nine more shelters on this godforsaken land before she forced her heart to stop beating.
All I know is that I woke up one day with that human beside me, watching me curiously. He wasn't afraid of me like he should've been.
No, he told me what he knew about me. About who I had been before I'd changed.
He told me how he was heading north again, and how he was never coming back. He told me to stay here, and watch over it.
That is all she wanted.
So I stay here, in The Angels. I build more of their shelters. I become a better architect by the day, and one day The Angels will be complete. My toils will not be for nothing.
The others do not dare come to visit me. I am the only one allowed on these sacred grounds. But I have gone and visited them.
And they told me. They told me that I am her, and she is me.
She was a lure, I was a lure. Nothing could have changed this. But she did, and so did I.
She let me have her Hunter's body, and now I live for her. I do not kill, like Hunters are destined to. I build.
And I will always build, for the rest of my time on earth. Because I am the impossible Hunter, the one who shouldn't have been, but became anyway.
Nothing can change that.
XX Fin XX