The songs were poor and their playing wasn't much better, but Cynder applauded the band as they exited the stage anyway. They probably wouldn't come to anything but at least they had the courage to get out there and perform. Courage was always worth applauding even if the effort was misplaced, and Cynder was attracted to it. It wasn't like she had any herself.
She downed the last of her drink, smacking her tongue to absorb the taste of every last drop. She wasn't sure if she was old enough to drink alcohol, but she wasn't really sure of anything. Life had gone in a blur; her memories were patchy, random events strung together in no particular order. There were gaps...no, chasms of forgotten information in her mind, times where things had happened but could not be recalled. She had tried desperately to explore these forgotten worlds and shine a light into her past, but every attempt failed. She knew her name, her species and certain things she had done. That was it.
She got up to order herself another glass and was promptly tripped by the outstretched leg of a passing dragon, sending her face first into the sticky floor of the bar. The room laughed at her expense.
"Whoops," he sneered, "Sorry, Terror, didn't mean to cause you trouble."
"It's okay," she said, ignoring the sarcastic tone, "No damage done."
The laughs that rose afterwards made her heart throb. Every day was like this: go out and get kicked around. She deserved a bit of grief for what she had done, certainly, but everyone had jumped on the bandwagon. Nobody talked to her, they all gave her a wide berth and/or screamed abuse her way. Some even spat at her, and while it wasn't unjustified it was still unbelievably hurtful. She just wished that the people would listen to what she had to say before they gave judgement on her, but she knew they never would. The only other option was to lash out and stand up for herself when the bullies came for her, and that would hardly improve her reputation. The Terror of the Skies had become an abject coward, and there wasn't much she could do to change that.
The bartender frostily delivered her another drink and she lapped at it with lazy flicks of her reptilian tongue. Murmurs of conversation had returned to the room after the brief pause to laugh at her expense. This suited her fine, as the less people noticed her the more she could try to adapt. Domestic life was something she had struggled to cling to, having lived most of her days in what might as well have been a dark void. All of a sudden she had been thrust into a world where people had careers and lived routines that never changed. She couldn't understand how these people were content with that, to do the same things day in day out and still consider themselves happy. There was no way she'd go running back to Malefor but at least with him there was never a dull moment, but here dull seemed to be the well from which the population drank.
She felt a hand slam down on her shoulder and she spilled her drink out of shock. The room seemed to stop again, not out of amusement or anticipation, but fear. She slowly turned her head to look at the owner of the unwanted claw, and she gulped at the sight of a male roughly twice the size of her leering in her direction.
"Terror?" he grunted. She could smell the alcohol on his breath.
"I prefer the name Cynder," she replied coolly. That was the trick – say little things, things that won you no allies but lost you no support either.
"Same difference," the male replied, a small wisp of smoke departing his nostril, "Anyway, I've got a bone to pick with you."
"You killed my mother," he said bluntly. Cynder could feel the entire room become her enemy once more.
"My apologies," she said, eyes darting frantically for an exit through which she could beat a hasty retreat, "I was a different person back then and I'm very sorry for what I did."
"Sorry ain't good enough, Terror!" the man barked, sending a ripple down her spine, "You've had your way for too long! You ruined us all with your mad ideas but you get more respect than you deserve! Even now you walk through the streets without getting a scratch!" he paused momentarily to replenish is supply of anger, "Someone needs to turn the tables and drill you into the dirt like you deserve, and I want to be the one to do that!"
A few mumbles of agreement rose from the crowd. Cynder felt her senses numb.
"Please, I don't want any trouble," she said as calmly as she could muster. This drew a laugh from the male.
"You don't want trouble? Funny seeing as you dished it out for years on end!" he sniggered, "Come on, Terror, let's see how you fight now that you're not a giant anymore."
Cynder sized up her opponent. Could she take him? Bigger he may have been but he looked slightly drunk, and that gave her an advantage even if it was only a slight one. Yet as she saw the malice in his eyes she couldn't help but feel that the tables were turned in his favour. Anger may be blinding him but should he get on top she knew that by the end of the night she would no longer be breathing.
"Please, I don't want to fight you. I want to make things up to you for what I did but there's better ways to do it than letting you pummel me."
"Maybe, but I ain't interested in hearing them," he grabbed Cynder by the throat and a collective gasp echoed across the bar. Cynder raised her claws to resist but the strength of this man's hand on her windpipe drained her power. She croaked as the pressure increased, shutting out oxygen from her system. "That's right, Terror," he cackled, "Suffer in front of me like you made my mother suffer."
She looked across the room desperately, hoping someone would leap to her defence, but no-one was coming. Nobody cared about her and she knew it. She was going to die right here and her body would end up amongst the bins outside.
"Let go of her!" a familiar voice snapped. Every head in the room turned to face it and a few cheers rose when they saw who it belonged to: Spyro. The male noticed him too and reluctantly let go of his prey, unable to disobey the realm's saviour and letting her land back on the barstool with a painful plonk.
Spyro approached him and glared into his eyes.
"Picking on a lady, very brave of you," he seethed.
"She's getting what she deserves," the male replied, but Spyro was having none of it.
"She's done a more valuable service to our kind than you realise," he said, "Alright, she still has sins to repay but killing her won't solve any of them. She's changed, and while you may not see that I do, and the fact that she's willingly changed entitles her to something better than death."
There was an awkward silence as the male stared at his purple opponent, deliberating over whether or not it was worth it to fight back. All the watchers were still, the gentle rise and fall of chests as they breathed the only movement. Cynder watched herself, teeth locked firmly together out of fear and excitement at what would happen next. What did happen was the male backing down.
"Fine," he huffed, "Since it's you saying it I'll let her off, but you're making a fool of yourself by mixing with her kind."
"The only fool here is you," Spyro retorted, "Picking on a dragon minding their own business. You should be ashamed of yourself."
The male skulked back to his chair and the bar slowly returned to normal, the chatter hastily returning to mask the event that had just taken place. It didn't matter that the scene was over, it was all stored safely away in the customers' heads for the next time the relatives visited.
Spyro approached Cynder and raised himself up to her height.
"You okay?" he muttered, maintaining his gruff tone from before.
"Yeah," Cynder nodded, "A little shaken but I'm fine. Thanks for that."
"It's nothing." He looked over his shoulder, "Let's get out of here. You shouldn't be in places like these, not with a reputation like yours."
He began to scuttle away and Cynder took off in pursuit, departing the bar and stepping out into the blackened city streets. This was another thing she hated about civilisation: the looming shadows the buildings created. Every street was perfect for an ambush, and even with Spyro at her side she didn't feel secure. Then again, with the scowl locked on his face she couldn't feel secure even though she knew he was a friend. Why did he look so dispirited? As they walked along she could see his claws scraping against the pavement and tearing thin gashes into it. She began to worry about him, and having just got her out of a scrape she didn't wish to deny him help.
"Spyro?" she said innocently.
"Is there something wrong?"
"Yeah there is."
The words stung her.
"I'm sorry?" she said feebly.
"There's something wrong, and it's you," he growled back. He stepped into her path and turned around so that he faced her, his narrowed eyes piercing her own, "You still go around like you're in charge."
"What are you on about?"
"Don't lie to me!" he hissed, "You whine about how no-one give you any respect, but I see you wandering openly in this city, going wherever you want whenever you want, including to the places which have a past connection to you! How can you expect to receive respect when you don't give any yourself?"
"Well I can hardly spend my life cooped up indoors, can I?" she protested. Her voice was straining through hurt, not at what Spyro was saying but due to the fact she could feel her only ally slipping away from her.
"It's not about that," Spyro said, calmer now, "You don't know how to act in a city. You've lived your entire life on a high horse and now that you've fallen off it you need to learn the new rules."
"Well teach me them!" Cynder said, unwilling to snap at a friend she had clearly disillusioned, "Ever since I arrived the people abuse me and never listen to my story! What have I got to do to make them listen? Tell me Spyro, or else I might get into a scrape that I won't get out of."
"I'll tell you later," he said, examining the dim moon overhead, "Right now I'm going to get you home in one piece. Don't get me wrong Cynder, I don't want you being ripped to shreds, but after tonight I'm struggling to look you in the eye. Your naivety makes me sick, it really does."
Cynder only nodded as she started walking again, following a few respectful paces behind her colleague. Was she really as bad as he said she was? Alright, so going to a bar may have been a mistake but that didn't mean she was acting inappropriately in front of the people around her.
She sighed to herself. This world was backwards – this world of shops and towers and strict timekeeping, it just wasn't natural. Worlds weren't meant to revolve around being to meetings on time, yet these places somehow succeeded in distorting reality so that it was near unrecognisable. Cynder wasn't sure of anything here, not least how she had managed to disillusion everyone, though through the jumbled heap of this town there was one thing that was absolutely clear: city life wasn't for her.