He padded down the hallways, ears high, tail flicking behind him. A girl cooed, and he looked up, nuzzling into her hand as she ran it down his lithe body. "Such a good kitty," she murmured, standing again. He stood and batted at her leg with his paw, and she laughed and bent down to pet him again. "Aww, kitty. How'd you get in here?"
Her arms coiled around him, and he hopped free at the last moment and fled down the hallway, darting out the door into the cold night. "Whose cat--" a boy bellowed, as he laid eyes on Tom, but then he was gone. Into the night, where he belonged.
The earth felt cool beneath his paws, the earth chilled in preparation for the snow that threatened to fall at any moment. Tom looked around, supreme in his kingdom. So where was it from here? The place he had to go. It shouldn't be far.
Stretching, he yawned, breath misting in the cold air. A comfortable trot turned into a jog, turned into a flat out run, lungs burning with cold air and life and legs stretched as far as they would go, ears high in the air. It wouldn't be so bad if he played a little, would it? There was always another night.
Noise and bustle drew his attention, ears perking, and he dashed into a nearby crevasse. A trio of girls passed by, their perfume painfully strong, voices loud and high, giggling in the clear, cold air. Tom watched them go, eyes glittering, then slid out from the crevasse and ran along his way. Now was not the time to get distracted. He had to find it. He had to get there. Tonight would be the night.
Something dark lurked nearby. He could feel it instinctively, though he couldn't see it or smell it or hear it. Head high, he pretended as though he didn't sense a thing. He wasn't about to be intimidated by such an unimpressive presence.
Barely ten steps along the sidewalk, a delicious smell distracted him. Curious, he trotted over to find a man in a white chef's uniform carrying a bag of trash. Still warm, the bag steamed in the night, and he watched eagerly, waiting for the man to go. The man dropped the bag in a can, but it was too big, the can too full, and the bag drooped over the edge; Tom's eyes widened, his tail twitching. Voices called the man back into the kitchen, and Tom was left alone with the trash. He wasted not a moment in digging into it, claws shredding the plastic bag open. The delicious smell of leftovers filled the air, and he dug into the hot food, spilling scraps all around with enthusiasm.
Other strays arrived, drawn by the scent of food, and one of them dared to try and shove Tom out of the way. He yowled and batted at the black cat, and it hissed at him; the other cats backed away, sensing a fight. He and the black cat eyed one another, each trying to scare the other away with yet louder yowls, when suddenly a broom interceeded in their conversation. "Shoo!" the chef snapped, scattering the cats. Tom ran off, though not without a last pause and superior look over his shoulder at the black cat. Ha, lesser cats thinking they could compare to him! He'd show that black cat. The next time it saw him, it had better watch out.
A blow to the behind from the broom elicited a yowl from him, and he scampered off into the night.
Some hours later, he limped back into the apartment, covered in fresh wounds but victorious. That black cat wouldn't dare show his face around here again! At the door, he peered around, but no male voice bellowed; with a flick of his tail, he darted in, trotting down the hall and up the stairs.
"Oh my god!"
Tom peered up as a female voice cried out. The girl squatted beside him, then gently picked him up. His first instinct was to thrash out, but something in him resisted, and he allowed himself to be carried, leaning back against soft breasts. This wasn't so bad, after all.
"Poor kitty...let's go make sure you're okay!" she crooned, cradling him close to her. He thought he should maybe tell her that he was fine, but the sensation of those pillowy breasts was quite marvelous, so he didn't fight it. He let himself be carried up to her room, and deigned to let her tend to his wounds and set her on her pillow, even allowed her to cuddle up beside him to sleep. What a kind fellow he was, honestly. They ought to hand out awards for this kind of service.
Thomas woke abruptly in an unfamiliar bed, surrounded by the scent of an unfamiliar perfume. He blinked around, confused. What...where? He was--he was naked. And behind him, that warmth--a girl. A girl he'd never seen before.
Very, very carefully, he extracted himself from her bed. If he woke her now--he didn't even want to think about it. He needed something, anything. There! A robe. It was pink and fluffy, but it was better than nothing. At least it was early, and Christmastime. Most of the other students were home, and the apartment was mostly empty. Mostly.
At the door, he peered both ways, then bolted for it. He was on the third floor this time--at least it was close. The staircase was a nightmare, but somehow he made it to the fifth floor, found his key where he'd left it under his mat. He didn't like being so unsafe, but there really wasn't another option--unless he wanted to continuously humiliate himself with having to knock and wake his roommate to open the door and let him in, in various forms of undress. The first two times were enough, thank you very much.
Only once he was back in his bedroom and the door locked behind him did he consider himself safe. But--what on earth was happening to him? He locked all the doors. He locked the windows. Even--he looked at the bed, where a handcuff hung empty from the bedpost. Even chained himself to the bed! How the fuck did he keep waking up naked in random people's beds, or outside, or--any number of terrible, awful places? He grabbed his hair and fell to his knees, trying not to have a breakdown in a pink, fluffy bathrobe. He was going insane. He had to be. What else? What else could explain this?
Aster looked up as the pair entered his tea shop, a gentle smile unfurling on his lips. "Welcome," he said, leaning forward from behind the countertop, blonde hair falling in natural, gentle curls over his shoulder. Some people took him for a woman, the first time they came to his shop; he liked wearing makeup and jewelry, loose pants and ornate blouses, and he wore his hair long. He didn't mind it. Some days, he even wore dresses--though today he was wearing a pair of pinstriped trousers, a loose-fitting cream blouse with ruffles at the neck and wrists, and a vest that matched the trousers, accessorized with layered necklaces and gold earrings. Some people were disgusted by him, but it didn't matter. They came to his shop anyways, because he was the best at what he did--and what he did wasn't just make tea.
"You look like you need to relax," he purred to Velen, pushing his curls back with a distracted yet flirtatious manner, eyes flicking coyly to Imogen, drinking her in, then dismissing her as his like. "Might I interest you in a nice chamomile?"
Of course, being half-inccubus didn't hurt business.
The city streets paled at the sun's drooping eyelid. Each flicker sent a rainbow hue glittering downward towards the sidewalks. The lights blinked awake like Christmas tree lights, shuddering at first until everything was lit in a yellow facade of sunlight.
Between each beacon, the darkness all but engulfed the surroundings. A faint glimmer of red light shimmered through its bleakness. Ash littered the floor as he flicked at it with his thumb, glittering the air with sparks.
The city was chilled with the promise of winter, buildings creaking and cracking to accommodate the weather. Even bundled, the crisp bite of the air invaded onto his skin. A shiver ran up his spine as he nestled into his coat. Mist and smoke emanated in a plume from his winter-kissed lips. He wrapped his scarf around his face, almost hiding the blush on his icy cheeks.
The morning had been rather uneventful as if even criminals learned to lay low during the holiday season. As if they had a family to bundle around and sing of Yuletide and wrap ornate gifts for friends. Aside from the occasional last minute shopping parking violation, most of his subordinates were let go rather early in the day as an early Christmas present from him. The clock had ticked down rather indefinitely until he too was sent off by his captain and a few others who'd rather spend their holiday filing paperwork than meeting with their emptiness inside a box they barely called home.
Usually, he'd of joined their dismissal as well, but his cat at home had been less than pleased when he'd left for more than a day without dropping by home. The mewls of anger as he turned the locked signified just that, and the small creatures didn't take but a second to weave and bat through his legs as he tried to enter his apartment on the ninth floor. He smirked and bickered slightly at her, shooing her as he reached to grab a can of wet food from the cabinet.
“I know. I know. I'm a horrible excuse for an owner, Pooka,” he chimed in between her endless mewls as if she were disciplining him in the worst way. She weaved between his legs again as he smacked the glob of pate onto her plate and smoothed it out with a spoon. “Bon appetite,” he muttered, walked away as she began to chow down.
He disrobed and stripped down to a gray, long-sleeved shirt and jeans. His hands pet over Pooka before he walked into the bathroom and looked at her as he closed the door one last time. “Be back soon,” he told her as if she were listening. The door shut. Behind him, a porcelain toilet and a mirror reflecting himself nodded back towards him. The glass box shower sat in the corner, and the room was rather cramped and discomforting. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes. He grasped the door handle and opened it, the door swinging the opposite direction. He backed up towards the opening, and as he did, the apartment had changed. The room was darker and larger. It carried more furniture, was embellished with beautiful, expensive paintings, and seemed too high of class for a policeman. In that same corner where he'd let Pooka stay, a woman stood, barely dressed hung against the cabinet.
“Good night, Velen,” she greeted, smiling with her entire face as she sauntered and hung over his shoulder with her arms. “It is good to see you here so soon,” she whispered into his ear. His face was transparent and nonchalant, even as her beautiful figure danced on his own.
“Hello, Imogen,” he nodded, stepping forward even as she clung to him as if she were weightless. “I see you've still been keeping your eye on me,” he chuckled, leaning his back against the wall and turning face to face with her. He laid his hands on her hips as she grasped her hand around his neck.
“Well, little Pooka does love you quite a bit,” she whispered, blushing softly, “and you know I do, too.” A smile formed on her lips, but he shook his head.
“But every cat in the neighborhood, Imogen?” he questioned, a brow raised in response. She released him and blushed harder, shocked of his awareness.
“You are as quick as a cat,” she sighed, shrugging. “I'm jealous,” she stated briefly as if she had no denial of the situation. Even so, she knew, as he told her many times, that he didn't love her the same.
“I'm sorry,” he spoke, gently, as if letting her down. She chuckled and shrugged again, unimpressed with his answer.
“You'll come around, I'm sure.”
The door he exited which usually led to a hallway and led to the elevator that he'd descend each morning instead greeted the open sky. Except the world was warmed, aside from a bare chill that hung in the air. His long sleeves covered him from the intensity as he walked down the sidewalk, attached with the woman as his side. Faces, unlike the human ones he greeted each day faced him. Some mocked the face of a human, except as he passed, the corner of his eyes could see the horns or the luminescent eyes flash back at him.
A few greeted him, as she had, waving or touching his shoulder. Another kissed his cheek gently, in their race's greeting. Ever so popular, Imogen scowled at each affectionate greeting, as if he betrayed her with every kiss. He, per usual, ignored her.
“Jealousy is unbecoming of a lady,” he quipped, smirking in her direction as she stuck her tongue out towards him.
They walked down to a building that held many windows and seemed just small enough for one floor, yet as they entered, the vaulted ceiling seemed as high as a skyscraper. He walked through, looking towards all the shops. Some were selling little trinkets of magic, others selling creatures in a black market trade. Some had humans – those made his heart race in fury, yet there was little he could do. Most of the time, they were taken care of pretty well. He had to relinquish the need to save them all, as if they didn't buy them legally, people would go missing of the street in a more gruesome way.
However, humans were not his specialty in this world. Creatures in the Inbetween were on an endless teeter-totter, balancing the human world with their own. Some lived constantly in the Inbetween, feeding off the human world. Each had a vice that linked them in that never ending cycle, yet it was those who fell off that teeter-totter that Velen had to find.
Creatures were much more deadly when they lost themselves. If Boogeymen lost their children, they'd become beasts of death, killing all in the path of their rage. If Vampires went without blood, mass murders occurred, humans and creatures alike.
There were words of an Imp that began to worry Velen. They played pranks on humans and monsters alike and could be compared to a delinquent child. Yet, for some reason, this Imps practical jokes began to darken with fury. They went from harmless pranks to cutting a succubus's arm off, or switching a human's blood with vampire's blood and giving it to a vampire. They drank it and burst into flames, which occurred if the vampire did not first give permission. The Imp also went into the human world and stole babies from cribs, leaving them in the open air to die of frostbite, but luckily, a few concerned citizens found them – but, it was hard to dissuade that the parents hadn't tried to murder their babies at Christmas.
Velen followed through the crowd to a shop owner who had said to know everything a person could know. This man, maybe not necessarily always a man, knew what was, would be, and where all things lie. Where'd he not give information for free, the price he'd pay would be something of equal value. Information - and that was something Velen had been rich in.
He peered at Velen when the other man sat up suddenly on the bed. They had to find the Boogeyman again? Of course they did. He sat up as well, scratching the back of his head. He had to admit, the whole having-fingers thing was a pretty nice bonus of being human. "Are we going now?" he asked, grabbing Velen's chin to get him in the here and now and hold his attention fully. They couldn't go off to fight a monster if Velen was in lala land. Not least of all because Velen attracted danger like it was his business. He needed to be in the here and now if they were going to fight anything.
Speaking of which, he didn't feel like putting clothes on, and they'd have to go outside to hunt this Boogeyman out. He shook himself, turning cat from the head down, then hopped down from the bed. Like this, he could smell the Boogeyman and seek out the path he took through the Inbetween. He glanced over his shoulder to see if Velen was following, then scratched at the door for Velen to let him out. Once the man had opened the door even a crack, he slid through, leading the way at a trot. They didn't have any time to waste, if they wanted to keep track of the Boogeyman. They'd lose him if he got too far in the Inbetween; even Tom's nose wasn't good enough to chase him through the infinite-possible realities of the Inbetween.
His nose led him to a secluded space behind the house he'd infiltrated earlier. Tom looked up at Velen, then drew his claws and batted at the air. It wasn't a natural path, the way the one Velen had stumbled onto so long ago had been, but one that the Boogeyman had ripped for his own convenience; Tom had to reopen it to use it. A shimmer opened in the air, barely visible even to his superior eyes, and he slid through into the Inbetween.
"I'd ask you," Tom said, "but you've clearly no clue."
This man was hardly lucid at the best of times, and at the moment, he was far from his best. Tom watched dispassionately as he struggled to rise and failed utterly, flopping against the bed, leaning against Tom. "If you'd spent those years fighting, maybe you'd be able to defend yourself," he told the man, thoroughly unimpressed with his complaining. Mewling just like the kitten he was acting like. Honestly, was he even aware that he was a grown man?
Tom glanced over his shoulder and dismissed the women with a wave of his hand. As they left, he picked up Velen and laid him back on the bed, putting a hand on his chest as warning. "You'll die if you move too much," he told him. "And you're not human. I've been telling you. You're a magician. Will be one. Though you keep denying it, for no reason at all."
He shook his head. "You could've told her to stop like you did before. Like you did to me." He drew himself up for a moment, indignant at the very memory. "Why didn't you? Why not use your powers? You let yourself get ripped up." He shook his head. "You're a kept man. A house--man. Don't know how to use your claws."
"I marked you as my property," he informed Velen. He put his hand on Velen's chest, the same as he had back in the alley. "When you get dragged through mud, [i I] get dragged through mud. When you lose, I lose. When you're weakened...I'm weakened." He leaned on Velen's chest, putting his weight on some of the more painful-looking scars. "I'll teach you how to use your claws. You don't have the right to refuse me."
He removed his hand, then smiled gently; the first real expression he'd shown on his face this morning. Sometimes he forgot the human him had that ability. "But for now, rest," he said, putting a hand to Velen's forehead to check for fever. It reminded him of something; a pink nightdress, gold curls stained with sweat, eyes fluttering with fever. He'd watched over her. Watched over her bedside. He'd...curled up on her chest and wished her well, carefully pushed her curls back and put a damp towel on her forehead. He'd--Tom blinked, a hand to his forehead. It hurt, again. He was thinking too much. He only did that when he was human. So he switched forms, simple as thinking. Velen might run off again, so he climbed up and sat on his chest, purring.
Now he'd teach this magician-imbecile how to fight.
An ear pressed against the door, he held his breath and listened. There weren't any noises aside from the groan of a creaking rocker. It screeched like children on a teeter-totter, back and forth. The last croak echoed through the house and reverberated off of the empty hallways. Footsteps clicked on the boards, each step gaining in distance. They stopped before they reached the door, but it didn't take a moment before he'd ripped his head away from the door and climbed underneath the rags of bedding.
A crisp cough and swish of liquid were heard through the door, followed by the grasp of the metal knob. Again, he stilled his breath, almost suffocating himself, slumped beneath his covers. He didn't need to witness the figure to know that he peered at him in the darkness, trying to figure his state. Bemused, the monster closed the door and began to shuffle away without noticing him. A smile fell on the victor's face, a relieved breath of air escaping from his lungs. He peered out of his sheet and looked into the darkness.
However, as it usually stared back with nothingness, eyes reflected out, instead. Yellow orbs with shards of red in an embrace. A chuckle began as a soft mewl turn into obnoxiousness. It alarmed him, making him grasp the covers and tremble. The teeth of the beast were pearl and sharp. It stumbled forward and staggered towards him. At first, it clutched around his neck with its spiny fingertips and squeezed. It lifted him from his covers and held him in the air until his gasps for air diminished. His feet dangled and kicked, but the monster held its grasp. It laughed, harder this time, without apprehension, at his struggle.
The beast lifted his other claw, armed with a glass bottle, and slammed it against his face. Yellow and red sparks ignited in his vision. He cried out, but the air began to siphon from his lungs and he no longer could make a sound. His mouth gaped as his face was once again pelted by the bottle. The monster chuckled as the crimson dripped from his temple. He'd never felt pain like this before, but it vanished suddenly.
The angel from his dreams stood behind the monster. It touched his shoulder softly, with beautiful, delicate fingers. It reminded him of his mother before the monster took her. Without a moment more of his anguish, it grasped his outreached fingers and ripped him from the clutches of the monster. He peered back once to see his body slump at the monster's face. The monster's eyes widened, almost as if in shock. First, in shock, then in pity. It grasped around the doll and fell to his knees. It rocked, wailing in sorrow at its actions. He repeated words, but they were muffled as he and the angel left this place. His eyes narrowed to still keep sight of the monster and doll, holding the angel's hand as he walked away.
“'m so sorry,” the beast whined through sobs, cradling the puppet. It hung in his arms, lifelessly. “M'boy! What 'ave I done?” he bawled even louder, for all to here. “”enry! Wake up!” he begged, shaking the shell, vigorously. But, it didn't regain life in its eyes. The angel tugged onto his hand, and he followed in suit peering at the scene of the only love he'd felt from his father.
Velen felt a jolt suddenly. It wasn't anything that resembled pain but felt of enormous energy. It snaked his stomach in knots and made him feel the urge to vomit. He sat up beside Tom and stared out the window for moments, in thought. A somber feeling waved over him, disturbing his tipsy stupor from earlier.
The Boogeyman brought another into the Inbetween. He felt the energy of innocence, which wasn't oft retained there. It would shrivel and disappear or turn horrid and rank. He turned to look at Tom, a glazed look in his eyes.
“Tom,” he muttered, “it is time we find this Boogeyman again,” he spoke, though his mind seemed elsewhere.
A hard smack against his face brought him down onto the ground, rattling his teeth and disorienting him. His thin, bony arms fought to lift his skinny body and succeeded only to be throttled again. Words were slurs and insults, each bringing down a fist or foot onto his self. He curled into a ball and covered his face with his hands. He felt his lips swelling, and snotty blood dripped into his mouth. He didn't cry, felt like he couldn't even have the thought. His mind wandered to other places, where faeries and sirens sang to him. Where two-headed wildebeest trampled through icicle forests and the fae folk lived high up on castles of snow.
An angel loomed farther from him where he was assaulted and gave an outreached hand, like a Valkyrie. He let his lower arm extend towards her, but it was pinned by a stomping foot. The angel frowned suddenly as a door swung open. A man entered, and she departed, leaving him to himself and his attacker. The man slammed his hand across the lioness's face, relieving the pressure he felt on his body from his assailant. She slammed down onto the floor, growling at the man with displeasure.
“He s'mine!” she hissed, hackles raised. The man denied her any emotion and hoisted his body up in a cradle. His eyes opened then, blackened and bloodied, to peer closely at the rescuer.
He had a beard that was silver and pepper. His eyes were a deep blue, crow's feet and dimples depicting his hardened life. A smile holding decaying teeth reflected towards him. He smiled back, his two front teeth amiss and lips cracked from the lioness's claws. He turned to peer back at her as they distanced themselves from her and began to leave the hut.
“You shuld be dead!” she screamed at him, making him flinch and burrow his face into the chest of the man as he carried him away from his mother.
There were places that time didn't move at all. It floated adrift a sea of darkness or basked in the heat of day. Creatures were fond of the shadow times; other regaled in the heated hours of noon. It made no difference to them which temple they lay haven. They'd been wanderers, as any parasite to humans were. They'd come any go to any which place they'd so desired.
Though, they'd stay in this place many moons longer. The tie-in to the human world threaded so closely to that town she'd come to obsess. Nights she'd nearly rip out her hair in frustration before sleep consumed her. Days where she'd pace in the halls of their great abode in silence, protesting with herself.
He'd watch but never speak, as any good twin would, but felt all of her anger. It came to no surprise when she finally snapped and plucked the feather she'd twiddled with for so long. He watched her bleed him, in torture from her pain. How she swayed the man with her beauty and grace? But, she didn't take his life. She never stole his soul through the lustful dance. Instead, she left him, unlike many other victims at her hands.
Even through his words, he'd usually receive no response. She'd continue until she captured her bounty's soul in bed. As many as she needed in a night. But never had she willing allowed one to live. That angered him. No man should be so important to her than him. He was her everything.
She followed him back to the Inbetween and left the creature behind. He lay writhing in pain, the tie to his sister very apparent. She glanced back at him many times, which caused a pang of jealousy to make him seethe.
The moment they'd entered the Inbetween, the tie had begun to fade and the soft sadness loomed on her face. It enraged him. She'd all but fallen for a human who she hated.
The pain was shocking. It felt like electricity was being bolted through his veins. It began to dissipate after time, but he still could feel it though it had long since passed. A cold, wet feeling replaced it. It started on his chest and covered all the places she once assaulted. It took him moments to pry his eyes open. As the shards of light in his vision were replaced with the picture, he could see Tom tending to him inside once more.
Velen shot up, gasping as if he had a nightmare seconds before. He frantically looked around, but only saw the disturbed faces of the girls and Tom. She hadn't followed him, that much he felt certain. He looked over at the girl who seemed to be alert and waved her away.
“That woman nearly killed me,” he exclaimed, trying to steady his breath. “What for?” he asked, peering at his hands and balling his hands. Fear didn't course his vein, only fury. He recollected her face from his memories, a grasp of the soft fur peeking through also. “Stop,” he muttered, looking at the shocked face of the woman once more. “She was the woman from before,” he spoke, looking towards the cracked window towards the yard.
“Why would she be angry?” he questioned himself again, looking towards Tom snapping from his tangent. “Tom,” he sighed between his teeth, trying to rise past the seated naked man suddenly. His head swam in an ocean of nausea, and he dipped back onto the floor suddenly. He clutched the couch and tried to regain himself from his dizziness.
“This is awful,” he whispered, a smile forming on his face. “I tried to run all these years from this, and now, I can't escape,” he laughed, letting himself fall against the couch with his back. He sat on the floor, letting his head fall back against Tom's thigh. He looked up towards the half-man and frowned.
“Why? What did I do to deserve all of this?” he pitied himself, laughing again and pulling his head from Tom's lap. “I'm not like you. I can't defend myself against someone like you. I'm just a human.”
/ 1y 131d 10h 11m 10s
He made a displeased grumble at being displaced, then settled into a sunny place to sleep longer. There was nothing pressing to do today. Velen had been rescued, the girls had been rescued , there was nothing at all to do. He could laze around and enjoy himself.
...Or so he'd thought. But Velen attracted danger like a siren attracted ships, and it wasn't long before a too-familiar scream rent the air. His head went up, ears perked, and he stared in the direction of the scream, then climbed to his paws and hopped up to the window. Velen was having extraordinarily violent sex with a succubus. Tom blinked, not sure he ought to watch. The man seemed to be enjoying it, anyways, and he was definitely in need of some love. Or was he not enjoying it? It was hard to tell. It was a bit odd that her brother was watching, but...succubi and inccubi were odd folk.
They sounded like screams of pain, but how was he supposed to know? Lady cats liked to scream, too, but it didn't mean they didn't like it.
Yes, it definitely sounded like pain. Still, he didn't want to come in between lovers. He wasn't going to be the one to judge how Velen got off. And if she, a succubus, was angry, Velen must have done something extraordinarily stupid to make her angry. He hopped down from the window and pranced downstairs, going to check on his charge.
Oh. That was anger, not lust. Velen was in a bad way. But alive. It was better than most came away from an encounter with a succubus with. The girls were attending to him, and Tom almost walked away. After all, who would want a man to attend to their hurt when they had a whole coterie of women? Though the women were being less than helpful, what with the screaming and fainting and gasping. And then Velen cried out for him.
Having been supplicated so pathetically, he couldn't turn the man down. He strode nobly past the women and licked the man's wounds, then turned to human. This provoked yet another scream from the screaming girl, which he quieted with a hard, bored look. She'd never land a husband if she hollered every time she saw a naked man. Then he turned to the man before him. "You are an extraordinarily stupid man," he informed Velen. "What did you do to anger that succubus?" It was truly difficult to anger them. There was little that enraged them that didn't also arose them--though he supposed, given the way she'd reacted, maybe he had.
Well, there was no point waiting around outside, un-decent, where Velen might attract more trouble. He picked up Velen, then gestured at the one girl who didn't look like she was about to collapse of shock. "You, take your friends inside," he ordered. "Then find me clean water and some cloths."
The girl jumped, realized he was talking to her and that the other two were out of commission, then jumped to, rightfully obedient. He carried Velen inside and laid him down in the first room he came to, atop a dusty couch. "Quiet," he told Velen, hushing him like a kitten. There was a sound at the door, and he looked up to find the useful girl, carrying water and cloths. She blushed to see him, but he ignored her and took the cloths instead. He damped them, then wiped him down gently, cleaning the poorly-healed wounds. Honestly, what had the man done?
Tom was suddenly assaulted by Velen, arms wrapped around him as Velen rubbed his stubbly chin over Tom's own stubbly chin. "Oy," he complained, struggling without drawing his claws for a minute before he remembered he didn't even have claws. Velen released him, and he sat up, straightening his hair back into place indignantly. "The ladies never complain," he muttered. "Besides, I'm not your cat. I'm no one's cat but my own."
"So we wait for the boy to die, then strike?" Tom commented callously. Didn't bother him. Usually Velen cared about that more than he, but the man seemed to be in a different mood tonight.
"My what?" Tom asked, rolling onto his back beside Velen in a way that asked the man to rub his belly, forgetting that he was a man again.
A touch was all she had needed to feel the power, the control of her everything. A simple feeling overwhelmed her, like a rope coiling about her form. Struggling free was unaccomplished, and instead made her greet pain along her flesh even as no physical markings were left. It bit into her skin like a vampire and drained her of energy and will. She sunk beneath its pressure, and her arms flopped to her hips.
She rejoiced at her brother's presence at her side, him cushioning her stiffness at his chest. He cooed at her, assessing her affliction. He dragged her from her assailant, yet before a second had passed, the monster's attention drifted from her form and regarded the feline, and her stiffness faltered.
Her angry sweltered in her chest at her revival, shooting daggers at her attacker. That human would pay.
The feline was buried upon his chest, which was bothersome as the weight became unbearable. He shifted the cat off of his form and sat up. He pet the cat atop his head and briefly looked around, trying to regain the memories of the night before. The sun peeked its eyes through the tattered clothes of the cracked window. It pierced into the shade of the room, fragments creating shapes of glow across the walls.
He stood at attention, rubbing his face with his palms. It had been a while since he'd gotten a rest so fulfilling without being drunk as death. He walked out of the door, swinging it half shut as the knob was rusted firm. He stepped over the cracked wood and down the steps into a great hall of sorts, though its only furnishings were of cob webs and tattered wall paper.
The women were still asleep, though one was amiss. He left his post to check where she had gone, though it didn't matter if she had left. Why would she stay? He'd of left long ago if not tied to the cat. Velen stepped into what was the overgrown garden behind the house. He looked towards the well, stepping towards it with apprehension.
With a few swift pulls, Velen brought to his level the vilest pot of water he had ever witnessed. It smelled of rot and debris swam in its pull. He gagged and let it fall down into the pit once more.
“Did you want some water, sir?” The voice came from behind him, making his hair stand on end as he turned to face the woman.
Had he seen her before? She must have come with the other two women, though his memory began to fog with recognition. Yes, she had been with them that last night. Of course, she had. Where else would she have come from?
“Uh, yes, thank you,” he regarded as he grasped the clutched mug from her palm and swigged it gently through his mouth. He spit the first onto the ground and then drank another mouthful before gulping the rest down. He'd rather ale or mead, but none seemed to be present within the house.
The woman was quite beautiful. Her curvaceous figure was accentuated beneath the tight red dress that fell past her feet and drowned among the weeds. Her hair was splitting red and had highlights of the sun. Her lips were naturally perky and red, her cheekbones defined and pink. She appeared as if out of a painting, nothing like he'd seen before.
The woman's gaze didn't falter beneath his gaze that hungrily traced her body. She smirked at him, licking her top lip as if enjoying his look of dishevelment. He inhaled slightly at her touched, which seemed to cause his heart to race. It made his bones tremble, and he felt his energy overwhelm him. He hungered for her unlike any other, enough that he couldn't withhold from grasping her arms in his hands. They gripped her, almost too tightly that she gasped out. He released his fingers hold, only slightly, before leaning towards her.
“You are very beautiful. What is your name?” he spoke, in breaths as she touched his chest this time with the softness of her fingertips. She let one slip beneath his unbuttoned shirt and rubbed it against his skin.
“Vyloria,” she spoke, the name making him raise a brow. That wasn't very English. It sounded from a land far from this one, but even so, it was the most beautiful name he'd ever heard. Actually, anything she said made him revel in her. What was it that made her so coveting?
Without a second thought, he leaned down towards her and pressed his lips against hers. He grasped her neck in his hand and the small of her back in his other. He groaned as she crept her tongue into his mouth and played with his own. She wrapped her hands around his neck and pulled herself closer, grinding against him as if they were at a dance only she was attending.
Even though that had been the most amazing kiss he'd ever experienced, his body began to feel heavy. As if he'd never slept, never felt completely whole. His skin felt transparent, his heart seemed to race and slow at the same time. He grasped her hand and pulled it from his neck, but suddenly she grasped hard in a death grip, all the while continuing to kiss him. She trailed against his tongue with her own. He gasped out in need of breath, but she took it as an invitation to once again explore his mouth. He grasped both hands and shoved her away, slapping the back of his hand to his mouth to regain himself.
“Enough,” he whispered through breaths as he fell to his butt and weakness engulfed him. Her body didn't waste a second before she pushed him to the ground and straddled him, her dress revealing her thighs. The thoughts raced through his mind. She was so damned attractive. He wanted to touch everywhere. Actually, he was touching everything he could until she swatted his hands away.
“How does it feel, Velen?” she asked, causing him to tremble beneath her. How did she know his name? “How does it feel to be powerless?”
He tried to push her off of him, but his arms felt like the bones had turned to mush. “Who are you?” he asked, trying to remember her face.
“You have no clue, huh? I guess you were a drunkard at the time.” she laughed, digging her claws – when had she gotten claws – into his forearms. He screamed out in agony as she pierced into his skin and bubbles of blood drained out and littered the weeds crushed beneath him. She retracted her grip and licked his wounds causing him to once again pierce the silence of the morning. She laughed, almost too melodically for what she did. It rang like church bells. She sounded like singing angels. His eyes watered, and tears dripped down the sides of his temples. Her claws traced his blood across his shirt, staining it with his blood. It was like a mosaic as the goblin's blood hued with his own.
She ripped through his shirt with one swipe, not taking care before slicing his chest open. He cried out, throwing his hands out and grasping her arm, trying to hold her back. But his strength was drained at her kiss, and he faltered as she grasped his neck.
“You stopped me that night. With just your words, you made me succumb. But I don't succumb, you see. I was born to make incredible fools like you bow down at my feet, grovel at my beauty, want to revel in my body. Even now, you stupid fool, you are dying and you want to take me,” she laughed as his eyes glared at her though lust glimmered in them.
“Succubus do that to you humans, you see, though you aren't like other mortal men. They don't ignore me. Don't tell me to stop. They give me their souls, willingly, for a night in bed,” she chuckled, squeezing his neck between her hands. He coughed and air filtered from his lungs until he couldn't breathe and lips turned blue. She released just before he fainted and backhanded him across the face. He groaned and his eyes continued to weep. She smiled at his bare, bloody form beneath her. It matched her red dress as it pooled onto her clothes. He started to pale.
“Oh, no you don't, Velen,” she shook her finger at him. “No dying on me now. I want much more from you before you die,” she devilishly grinned and planted a kiss on each wound. The skin rejoined at her touch, leaving nasty, crimson scars in her wake. It was the worst thing he'd ever felt. The welts were on fire, almost as if ember danced on his skin.
“Sister,” the voice from the garden called. “We must leave before the cat comes,” her brother told her, grasped her arm in his iron grip as she growled at him.
“I'm not done, Teryn,” she snapped but was hoisted back into the nowhere he'd only thought he saw. There, he lay alone, bloody and in searing pain, in the garden. He cried out again, the flash of pain ripping his arms open again and his chest splitting once more. Though, when he looked at his wounds, they stayed tightly shut by her skin. He couldn't breathe as if her hands still grasped his neck. Just then, the three girls, the real girls, ran to his aid, as if they only just heard his wails. They gasped, and one screamed, another fainted again.
“Tom,” he cried out, another flash of pain. “God, it hurts,” he whined, rolling, gripping his arms.
Tom patted his face with his soft kitty feet, though he smelled of dander and fish, which made Velen's nose curl. He opened his eyes and was met with the human who shifted on the bed. He nodded his head as if taking in new information. He'd often consoled Tom's necessity of being better, more kingly than everyone around him. He accepted his self-assurance long ago, so he didn't say much as to his findings. He listened to Tom and thought to himself.
The boy described by the bartender was mirrored in Tom's words. Poor child never stood a chance for a good life. Even so, Boogeymen didn't save the children, only their souls. The child would have to die first. The fates were harsh beasts, though there would be nothing they could do, even if they tried. If the Boogeyman was at his door, it would be too late for the boy. He'd probably be gone by morning, his soul taken from its dark existence.
Velen yawned and grasped around Tom's neck in a stretch, yanking him down next to him. “Turn into my soft little kitty cat,” he harassed, rubbing his face against Tom's chin and neck and squishing him. “You are not very comfortable as a human,” he groaned, releasing Tom from his hold and laying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling. He seemed to get serious, for a moment.
“In any case, we can't do anything tonight. We have to wait for him to have the child. It isn't the taking of the children that is possessing the Boogeyman,” he told Tom. If all magical things need something to make them whole, to confine their souls to themselves, did Velen have something? He wondered for a moment, thinking of what it could be. He peered over to Tom and smiled.
“But what is yours?” he asked Tom, but didn't expect an answer to his vague question.
/ 1y 140d 7h 47m 14s
He navigated Velen back through the in-between and to his world, following his instinct as much as anything; the in-between didn't have the kind of solid, sure shape you could map, and changed from one day to the next. It was one of the reasons why humans and wanderers like the man got lost here--because they didn't have the instincts to guide them back, or the nose to scent the way. Velen was lucky he had Tom.
They arrived at his palace. Velen placed the girls in the one room that still had a bed. Tom sniffed. He didn't usually take girls back to his place. There wasn't anything nice to show them, and human girls weren't impressed by his killing prowess, either. But there was no helping it, he supposed. They didn't have anywhere else to go back to.
Rather than reassuring the girls, and maybe playing with them a little, Velen retreated to Tom's room and went right to sleep on Tom's bed, like [i he] owned the place. Tom hopped off his neck as he laid down, sniffing at Velen again to be sure he wasn't injured, and the man petted his head. It stopped too soon, and he nudged at Velen's hand, but the man was asleep.
With a sniff, he hopped away. The girls would treat him better, they would. Girls liked him. And he'd just saved them. He trotted back into the girls' room, only limping a little on his bad leg. He'd even been wounded for them, they should fawn over him. He peered inside. Doing well, it seemed. Well, of course. He'd saved them, after all.
One of the girls saw him, and he flicked his tail and stepped a little inside, looking up at her. Now she was going to come and pet him, like he so deserved. It was the only reasonable response.
"Monster!" she shrieked, and ran to slam the door; only his reflexes saved Tom from being caught in the door. Taken aback, Tom hissed at them, then ran, back to Velen. He batted at the man's shoulder, trying to get his attention. They'd saved some hopeless girls. They should go sell them back to the goblins, they were no good at all. But Velen was asleep, so he blinked and climbed up on top of him, curling around the center of Velen's warmth. If the girls wouldn't take him, they couldn't have Velen, either. Velen belonged to him.
The town was a feast of sights and smells, and it didn't take long for Tom to get sidetracked. A few cats thought they were better than him, and had to be put in their place in a whirl of hissing and screaming, claws and fangs; then there were fish to steal, fishermen to evade, roofs to sun on, pretty women to beg cream from. Once or twice, he caught scent of the death-decay smell of the Boogeyman, but when he chased it down, it faded to nothing or something distracted him, and he was off the trail again. It didn't matter. The sun was high, and the town was rife with living to do. He'd play while he had time to play.
From a high rooftop he caught sight of Velen, a mere glimpse. Hanging with a wrinkly old man, eh? He flicked his tail in disapproval and superiority. That was Velen, for you. A fuddy-duddy. An old man in a young body. A waste, it really was a waste. Movement caught his eye, a rat slipping through a hole in the wall, and he was off, Velen forgotten once more.
He slid through the hole after the rat, shouldering his way through the tight spot and knocking some of the rotten wood away to get in, but he stopped short in the house. The scent was overwhelming. Decay and death and rot, all mixed together; he backed away, nose wrinkled. The Boogeyman. It was here.
The sound of a sharp slap came from another room, followed by a child crying out. "If I tol' ya once, I tol' ya a thousen' times, ain't yer listenin'?" a man shouted, angry. The child whimpered, and Tom crept around the corner, taking a look. A big man with a potbelly and a broad chest was glaring at a small, pale boy, sickly and thin.
"I...I'm sorry, 'm sorry!" the boy exclaimed, cowering. "I won'--I promise, I won'--"
"Better not," the man growled, stalking back to his chair. His eyes alighted on Tom, peering around the corner, and he growled, stalking towards Tom. Sensing a fight he couldn't very well win in this form, Tom backed away, hackles raised, and hissed a warning. "Another one! How many cats yer bin feedin'?"
"I--I never seen that one!" the boy insisted. The man glared at him, then kicked at Tom, and Tom hightailed it and fled, back through the hole. He'd found that place Velen had wanted him to.
The rest of the day wasn't wasted, but spent in high style, cavorting about rooftops and back doors, playing and fighting and stealing. Only as darkness truly fell did he remember Velen, and reluctantly leave to go attend to the man. Hopefully he'd brought Tom's clothes from the house; Tom certainly hadn't.
He found Velen by scent; it wasn't difficult, when Velen's scent oozed magic like a ripe blackberry oozed juice. The scent led him to a little inn not far from the docks, and he ascended the nearest wall to an open window and hopped inside, landing on Velen. A few test bats at the man's face told him Velen was still awake, and he hopped off the man and shifted back. "I found the place," he said, sitting beside Velen on the edge of the bed. "A few places that way," he pointed, "a skinny little stick-boy. Looks like a strong breeze'd blow him over." Ha! See? He was the best at finding people. He bet Velen hadn't found the boy.
The man shape-shifted to a cat with ease and curled about his neck. His fluffy cat hair pressed against his skin like a scarf. The orange feline got comfortable and dismissive despite being through a harsh battle seconds before. Velen figured that it was the way of life around here, as no policemen came to illicit justice after the feud and murder. The man peered towards the women who shied in their cage, even as the door had been open.
“You two need to walk if you want to live. I will take this one,” he motioned to the limp girl who he hoisted into his arms bridal style. The woman was light, as she seemed to be the youngest of the bunch. With ease, he stepped off the platform that he had been presented on seconds before and trotted down the path that he had been on seconds before. The glares and beams of passerby didn't elude him. He saw how some were disgruntled, those faces he'd recognized in the crowd. Their ugly, wicked grins as he passed made him slightly uncomfortable, but the curl about his neck made him feel... safe.
He followed the path as the cat motioned with his gaze, hoping that he still held conscious in cat-form and wasn't just staring at lightning bugs. The woman in his arms began to feel heavy, rather his entire body felt heavy.
Sleep often swarmed him, even if he didn't want its graces. His eyes dropped more often than they were open, and he shook his head trying to keep himself alert. The things around him would be glad for him to lose his guard. The woman to his right grasped onto his bicep, leaning onto him as she frantically looked around. The lady to his right stayed almost too near that he felt claustrophobic in the presence of so many ladies. He smirked passively.
Moments passed and he looked up to see the run-down home of the cat he'd been at a week earlier. He should have figured he'd of brought them here. How was Tom supposed to know where these women lived? Maybe a city or town away. Maybe even across the country. Who knew how far the goblin could have come. They would have to make due, just like him.
He left the woman on the dusty remains of a bed in the upper rooms and pointed the girls to that direction.
“I'm not sure what there is but make due, I suppose,” he told them, nearing the room that Tom had once brought him to. His first response was unsettling. He remembered the feelings that overwhelmed him. But now, as the feline encircled his neck, he felt better. Maybe it was the human that dissolved his resolution.
Regardless, his body felt too heavy to hold up any longer and he neared the tear of blankets that Tom had lounged in. He fell forward onto his knees and eased himself down onto his stomach. The cat wasn't wrapped around his skin anymore. He peered at him with half glazed, exhausted eyes and touched between his ears fondly.
“Thank you,” he murmured before losing himself into sleep.
The day had past slowly, almost boring to the man. Though, nothing could ever be boring. His first notion was to speak to the woman who first appointed them the job, but describing the reasoning of their boarders disappearance seemed difficult. Instead, he found himself enthralled in their local record and history keeper's residence.
“Again, I'm very gratuitous for allowing me this information!” he regarded, beaming his warm face towards the old man who seemed enlightened to have company.
“Nigh! Not many are a scholar around here! It's nice to be with others who enjoy knowledge,” he smiled, pouring a hot coffee into a cup and passing it down to Velen who sat on the other end of a large birchwood table.
“What is this, sir?” he questioned, sniffed the cup apprehensively.
“Coffee, dear boy. The tradesman bring it with the hull for the city's market. We can buy a swig or two if were are lucky. I only drink it on occasion, and hell, there'nt be a better occasion than this!” he laughed wholeheartedly, patting Velen on the back.
Velen took a small swig, swishing the dark liquid in his mouth and judging its taste. “Well, it isn't tea, but it's quite delightful,” he laughed, sipping it again.
Velen had departed the scholars home before midday, sauntering down the brick path steadily, looking about at the trade and bustle of townspeople. Children ran rampant throughout, playing games of catch and war. He'd made sure to keep a handle on his wallet. The scholars home held the census of the people who lived in the town. It confirmed his suspicions. This Boogeyman had been here for decades; however, only children had disappeared until recently. Only within the last year or so, parents had become victims, though none who notice with the trade and ships passing through daily.
He come into the bar, peering at the barkeep for moments before he was aided.
“'aving some ale?” he asked, drying off a mug he'd pulled from the wash. Velen's shake of the head disregarded him.
“I need some information,” he mentioned, flashing a silver piece to the barkeep before looking back and forth as if judging ear distance.
“What kind of information?” he spoke, grunting, placing his glass on the table and pouring ale in anyway.
“Know of any children treated badly by their folks?” he bluntly asked, sliding the coin over to the man. He looked taken-aback, as if he had expected something far worse.
“E'vry child gits their fair swat, but I ain't heard of no misdoing with the children,” he spoke, raising a brow. “Why? You think someone doing them missing kids in?” he asked, leaning forward.
“No, sir, not at all. But I think it might be a start, you know?” he shrugged, the barkeep sliding over the ale. Velen touched it, drinking only after minor contemplation. It had been a while since he had drank.
“Ah, okay. Well if you ask me, Mulligans down the road, they've a boy named Henry. Boy's always bruised and sick. Maybe a start, huh?” he admitted, turning away. “On the house, sir. May you safe travels,” he nodded before walking over to help another man who'd stepped over. Velen sipped once more from his ale and stood before leaving the bar.
The inn that he'd taken a room was quaint, but even with the windows shut tight, the smell of fish still wafted in. He stripped down to his underwear before opening the window and retreating to the bed. Normally, he'd of closed it, but he figured Tom would eventually make his way back, if not tonight or in the morning. He laid in the bed that was hard on his bones, but they were a long way from home so it was better than the rock hard carriage he'd slept in on the way. He relished in the warm embrace of the linens and closed his eyes, listening to the waves crash onto the beach not far from him. The smell of sea salt lingered in the air, and the cool breeze invaded the room.
/ 1y 152d 1h 49m 19s
Velen shivered when Tom touched him, but Tom ignored it. He was okay? Good. Then the blood he smelled belonged to someone else. Not much of a surprise. Plenty of creatures had reason to be bloody. Him included.
Velen stood, and he backed off. What he deserved was to be carried through the streets on the shoulders of his pallbearer, but instead, he had to carry women? What was this injustice? He stood victorious, and his reward was hauling a heavy-ass woman around town? No thank you.
Unless. Yes, it had to be. The women were his property now too, weren't they? Since he'd killed their owner, they became his. So Velen was right. He had to recover his property, the same as he'd recovered Velen. "If I must," he said, peering at the women. The one that wasn't sobbing or fainted was desperately averting her eyes from his tempting and shapely form, which was an utter pity for her. Maybe they really were virgins. They shouldn't be. Virgins were worth more. Could be used for more rituals. Besides, sex felt great. Tom had no idea why anyone would chose to be a virgin.
But they weren't ugly, so maybe he'd present to them the pros of losing that bothersome virginity--first and foremost, the chance to sleep with him. "They don't want to be touched by a naked man," he said, nudging Velen. "You carry that one," pointing at the fainted one, "and I'll protect you and point the way."
Velen was averting his eyes too, which annoyed Tom. Why wasn't he taking the chance to feast his eyes? It wasn't often an absolute paragon of handsomeness appeared before him. He put both hands on Velen's shoulder and shook himself, shifting up to his front hands--paws--and hopping the last bit to curl around Velen's shoulders. He'd carry the girls and Tom, that was simply the way it was going to be.
Velen seemed a bit hysteric. It amused Tom. He followed the man to the kitchen, settling into a chair and tucking his legs up under him neatly before he remembered he was human and put his feet on the floor instead. Velen sure was comfortable making tea in a newly-dead woman's house. It always confused Tom, what bothered him and what didn't. Milk was put before him, and he sipped at it politely, watching Velen move with a predatory stare.
"Children shouldn't have the gall to fight their parents," Tom declared, scowling. Honestly! Children were to stay quiet and humble and prostrate themselves before their parents, that was the way it was. When they got roused up, it was the parent's job to knock them down a notch.
He sat up straight at Velen's question, drawing his torso to its full height. "Of course I can," he said haughtily. Velen dared to question him? Did he think Tom really was a mere cat? He could do something like that with absolute ease. The next house should reek of the monster too; Boogeymen often staked out their places before they made a move, lurking in closets and under beds. This one was twisted, but it would still echo its old ways. He shook his head, and his clothes collapsed over him as he took on his feline form; he scooted out from under them and dashed towards the window. If Velen was going to question him, he'd show the man just how good he was.
Blood of a different color splattered everywhere, sloshing to the ground with chucks of meat wading in its pool. The weight bounced off his neck that pinned him down, and he peered towards the commotion to see the feline smash against the glass, shattering into the window. Velen gasped, lurching forward towards the fallen cat, but before he even crawled a man flew out in its place. It pinned the goblin to the floor and assaulted him with teeth and claw. The goblin never stood a chance, many could tell. The show was welcome to some, as not much intensity occurred in the Inbetween. However, to Velen, this horror wasn't exciting nor terrifying. The goblin, to him, deserved a harsh execution.
The naked man turned to him, touching his skin with his murky fingers. A shiver ran through his body that caused him to tremble for a moment. His skin burned beneath the man's touch, but the feeling didn't engross him as it once had. He felt more control over the tribulation, even though his heart raced and breath caught in his throat.
The half-man leaned towards him, sniffing the air like an animal, checking on his well-being. Velen touched the spot that the cane had smacked, revealing his hands to Tom thereafter. His hands shone clean aside from the spot of chartreuse from the pool of goblin's blood.
“I am okay. Thank you, Tom,” he spoke, embarrassed that he had needed saving at all. Truly, he felt that if he had tried to stop the goblin, he could have. But his ability, it did something to Velen that he didn't understand. It caused his hairs to stand on end. It made his stomach turn and body tremble. His mind wouldn't settle, and thoughts would run wild. The sense of urgency would make him want to run. He'd feel claustrophobic and aware of everything. He feared it.
Velen pulled himself away from Tom and turned to the cage, looking at the frightened girls. One had fainted, making Velen shake his head.
“We can't leave them here, Tom. They won't survive,” he spoke, making one of the girls sob at the realization. He walked to the dead goblin and pulled the chain of keys from his loincloth and unlatched the bolt on the cage.
“We need to help them home,” he told Tom, turning towards the naked man and averting his eyes. The nakedness, he'd never get used to that. A lot of the monsters were naked, but none so human as Tom. Even as his feline attributes were present, it didn't help hide the face that his human side was attractive.
“Could you help me with this, Tom?”
The beast enthralled him. Of course, he had read countless tales of such creatures in novels from the Inbetween, but to see one in his midst was gratifying. Though, as quick as he came he had left. Though, without the devils he had brought. The man sighed heavily as he turned towards Tom in the empty house that still reeked in remembrance.
“Well, wasn't that exhilarating?!” he exclaimed, passing Tom to make headway into the kitchen. “I think I'll fix some tea. Would you like some milk?” he questioned, helping himself to the utilities in the kitchen. It wasn't as if anyone would be needing them for some time. The man grasped the pot and set it on the stove. He filtered in the gas and used the matches nearby to light it. He set the kettle with water on its face and leaned over to grab a biscuit. He leaned against the counter and nibbled on the tea biscuit in thought.
The Boogeyman was broken, that was obvious without Tom's reassurance. Though, what burned in his mind was the state of the children's souls. They were dark and far from innocent. In the tales he had studied, the Boogeyman, though demonized in popular culture, saved the innocent. Why had the children become so evil?
Velen peered up at Tom as he grasped the milk jug in his hand and poured a glass and pushed it towards him before preparing his tea.
“They said she was the witch. This Boogeyman is different I think. Those children he found were going after the witch, who was their mother. They said no dinner. She abused them, and maybe, without knowing it, he allowed them the will to fight her back.”
The thought unsettled him, but it seemed only just in his mind. She abused them in their innocence, so they killed her. Even so, this beast couldn't be allowed to be changed. If so, something worse than abusive people disappearing would befall the town.
“We need to find the children who will be targeted next. I think it will be your turn, Tom. Can you do this?” he asked, sipping his tea.
/ 1y 153d 4h 53m 35s
He followed the man from a distance, after that day. His curiosity was overwhelming at the best of times, and now it possessed him. Everywhere Velen went, he followed like a feline shadow, always far enough away that Velen couldn't see him or sense him. A wanderer, this man was a wanderer. It wasn't a good thing to be. A magician who denied his powers, who had yet to come into them, that was a wanderer; and this one hovered on the fringe of both worlds, protected from neither, vulnerable to every thing man and monster had to throw at him. It was almost painful to watch, but things were less painful when he was a cat, so he could bear it.
As wanderers were wont to do, this one made his way into a passage, a between-places where monsters gathered to trade, neither firmly in this reality nor in the uncertain, wavering realms of the next. Tom followed, flitting atop stalls and rooftops, closing his distance as the man went deeper, worried he might have to step in. He had decided; the man was his, his property. If anyone stepped in, it would be a matter of pride to protect what rightfully belonged to him.
He should have predicted it; it was Velen who stepped in, interrupting a goblin's sales. The goblin wasted no time in putting Velen on sale as well, hawking him to all and sundry, and Tom's eyes narrowed. That was [i his] property. No goblin was allowed to put its warty paws on [i his] property! And--wasn't that the same goblin that'd been hounding him all week? This ended. Now.
A few bids went up, and the goblin smiled a mouth of rotten teeth at the crowd, pleased by the reaction. He chuckled and pointed at one of the creatures, and just as he did, a ball of orange fur flew into his head from above, claws and teeth flashing, fury given feline form. The goblin cursed and scrabbled at his head for a grip; his hands found one in the cat's nape, and he threw it to the ground. Fast as lightning, Tom rebounded teeth-first and launched himself at the goblin. Gripping the cattleprod hard, the goblin planted his foot and swung with all his might, and the cat went flying sideways and crashed through a window. A few in the crowd cheered, and the goblin bowed, flashing a second rotten grin--but the cheering was immature. A nude half-man flew back through the window and tackled the goblin to the ground, body traced here and there with orange-striped fur, a tail still flicking at his rear. Claws now man-sized lanced sizeable chunks from the goblin's body and yellowish ichor spilled onto the ground, mixing with the dust to make mud. The goblin squealed and battered Tom with the prod, but a single blow from the man sent the prod flying away. Fangs closed around the goblin's throat, and Tom shook his head; ichor flew as the goblin's throat was ripped out, and the goblin kicked once, then went still. Tom turned and regarded the crowd with yellow eyes, blood dripping from his mouth, and spat the flesh onto the ground. The crowd backed off, a few murmuring amongst themselves. New rumors of the bravery and savagery of Birchwood Tom, no doubt. Satisfied, he turned to Velen and put an ichor-stained hand on the man, marking him. This was his. Anyone who wanted to deal with him, would have to deal with Tom. Another gaze at the crowd confirmed it; they understood. As quickly as it had formed, the crowd dispersed, hurrying here and there and pretending to see nothing.
"You aren't hurt?" Tom asked, turning Velen's chin. The fur and fangs retreated, body becoming more human as he checked Velen for marks. A dark bruise was already starting to spread down his flank, and he clutched the arm on that side close to his body, another bruise halfway down the forearm, but he ignored both the injuries. They would heal in time. Humans, though--humans were much more delicate. He sniffed Velen. He thought he smelled blood, but...it could always be the virgins.
Tom shrunk back before the beast; if he'd been cat, his hackles would have raised. It was wrong. Rotten. Dying. It shouldn't be like this, but something had polluted it. Turned something pure into something terrible. "It's broken," he said aloud, keeping a step behind Velen as the man followed it. He wasn't sure his words reached. Velen sometimes fell into a trance around powerful things, and this thing was powerful, no doubt about that.
He watched with a hint of misgiving as the children led the beast into their mother's room, then disemboweled their mother, blood splattering willy-nilly. He had children, somewhere...they'd better not try and disembowel him one day. Though cats didn't have such nasty little fingers.
"He's wrong," Tom said, to Velen more than anyone else. "He's twisted himself up. He's forgotten." He looked at Velen. It was important, what he was saying, did the man understand? He'd forgotten. If a creature forgot what they were, they ceased to be what they had been and became something else. That was why silly things were so important to them, bridges and counting and wells, whatever it was that defined them; because if they lost those things, they ceased to be, and became something else.
The beast turned, at that, regarding the pair of them for the first time. "If I have forgotten," he grumbled with a voice as low as granite, "then so have you."
And then it vanished, wafting away like cobwebs on the wind. There were no more children. Nothing to keep it here. It would only exist as long as there were children, Tom knew that much. It was a Boogeyman. So was their existence. Its children had gone, so it had as well. They had to try again. Catch it with the next children--and be ready this time, ready to destroy it.
The night became homely. Butterflies used to settle in his stomach when he ventured too far from the bars or the inns he kept to. The aura used to contaminate his mind and dull his humanity. Now, it clung to him in a fond embrace as if to coddle a long time disassociation.
He'd feel their eyes caress his body, as if the mere sight gave them a taste of his flesh. Though, even through their curiosity, they'd keep their distance. They knew – heard the whispers. Word traveled fast among them. Everything in their world was normal, but this man was strange. And even more, the cat seem to claim him.
Velen felt no fear anymore, no sickness. That which thwarted him dissipated, and he finally felt release. The cat had caused this, he assumed as he thought about it hard on his walks. His mind had become sober, and it raced with curiosity. The cat – Birchwood Tom was key. That he knew, but he mind wouldn't settle on why.
The sickness had passed so suddenly, he almost felt transparent without it. The nagging feeling still sat present in his stomach, wrenching any time a person who was abnormal brushed his skin. It lingered there through the night, but no longer disabled him.
Birchwood Tom. Tom. It must be Tom. His thoughts were absorbed in the name. He hadn't caught wind of him still. Maybe that had been the reason he patrolled these streets that seemed uninviting. The glares and widening eyes of the folk about him didn't startle him. He'd accepted that he was different. Maybe like them. Did he belong to the creatures around him? Was he like a shape-shifting man – or was he normally a cat? What were these others? Some looked human, but out of his peripherals, their shapes changed into grotesque beasts. Others lingers in the shadows. Others seemed to be shadows.
The street he was on seemed overflowing with them, knocking him out of his trance. He peered up, realizing he'd never been to this part of town. The world about him was bustling, like a market, but instead of food, items and trinkets were sold like an exchange. People weren't carrying gold, but items that glistened with evil or were drenched in darkness. He blinked to try to focus on that darkness, and his mind began to trance until he began to lose vision. Something smashed into his shoulder, knocking him forward and out of the sight of the object. Someone growled at him as they past, another deeply scented him. He shrugged away and pulled his overcoat over his head farther so none could see his human face.
“Tom,” he finally spoke softly, looking to and fro slowly as he sauntered about the roads. A woman's cry in the distance caught his attention, snapping his chin towards its awful sound.
“Virgin women! Freshly nabbed from their beds!” a chuckle laugh spat out of the man – no, not a man, a creature of green whose body held little clothing and was covered in warts and minimal hair. His abnormally long fingers outstretched with long claws and grasped the metal bars with his fingers and shook the cage holding the three women inside, much younger than him.
His pace quickened as he gathered in the pack that seemed to be bartering on the females. However, they bartered in coin.
“Please! Don't do this!” One woman with brunette hair sobbed, receiving a poke with a prod from the slave driver. Velen knew he was no hero, but his body moved before he could stop himself and he pulled him onto the truck and into the goblin's face.
“Stop what you are doing, sir. This is very unbecoming,” he spoke quietly between them. The goblin laughed wholeheartedly, jabbing Velen in the stomach with the cattle prod. The man fell against the bars and grasped the bar pressing into his skin. He grimaced and pushed it, but the force from the goblin seemed to withhold his attempts. The goblin leaned in and inhaled, his nose inches from Velen's face.
“Ah! A human male! Ha! Stoic! Like a lil' knight, tryna save a petty wench. Pretty aren't they boy. Fortunately for you, I be a kind goblin! For sale! Pretty male for sale!” His voice rang out among the crowd. The goblin smacked the prod against Velen's face, knocking him to the ground. The shorter beast grasped the overcoat from his head and yanked it off his body, revealing his face and frame to the crowd.
“Ah! A youngin! Tasty and fresh, yes?! 'ow bout a thousand silver to start? This boy is brave. The brave ones tasty!”
Their ribs poked out against the tattered clothing, and arms held barely any fat. Hair plastered against the faces that held their sunken expressions. Their faces were ashen and sadness aged them more than it should have. They were young once, maybe eight or nine, but now age abandoned them. Caked upon them was an evil he'd only seen once before. It reeked of vengeance, and even without a keen sense of smell, it singed his nostrils. They spoke together, in a singsong way. The voices caused his hairs to stand on end at his neck. He stood as stared at them, before hearing Tom speak behind him.
Almost as if he brought it by his words, a creature passed into the hall. The darkness dripped off of him, and gathered at his feet circulating his body. Its face was aged with time and creased with worry. It held a long nose at the center of its face and its eyes were crescents and black. The mouth upon his visage was a thin line of lips, though when opened only darkness escaped. It was draped in its shadow and only a hand outreaching seemed to escape its vastness.
Whereas the children cause his body to tremble as his feelings regarded him, this beast didn't illicit the same response. It peered towards them for moments, though no gravity of hate shone through. The smell from this beast was of rotting, as if he was withering away before them. His eyes widened, if only slightly at the sight of them both, but snapped back to the children before him without saying anything.
“They are not!” The child said at the left.
“The witch!” The other followed.
They began to walk down the hall without the beast and his outstretched hand seemed to follow, as if trying to catch them.
They traveled down the hall to the woman's bedroom and opened the door. It creaked loudly, and a cry escaped the room but seemed muffled and not heard through the walls. Velen followed to peer over the beast's shoulder.
“Witch!” the children cried at the same time. Their small hands clasped together as they skipped into the room, breaking away to go to either side of the bed.
“You were naughty, mommy,” the little boy chastised.
“You git no dinner,” the little girl followed.
“A week!” the little boy finished.
“No! A month!” the girl exclaimed.
“Never again!” they chanted together, clapping their hands.
Both of their small frames pounced on the fear stricken woman, jabbing into her body with their hands. Her body stiffened and convulsed. They ripped into her clothes, drenching the bed in blood. The skin flapped off her body were their nails ripped into her. They laughed and giggled, finally ripping her stomach out right before their eyes. Together they clapped and turned to look at the monster they'd left in the hall and the two men.
“No.” The thing finally spoke, its voice vibrating the room. The children's expressions fell dull. They looked almost confused, astonished at the word. They dropped off the bed and stepped towards the beast. It's face was hidden from Velen's view, but with the children's faces of horror, he knew it wasn't a good one. The beast's hands touched the head of each child and shook his head.
“Wrong, children,” he spoke sadly. Almost as if this closed the decision, their bodies erupted in a green flame. It started at their feet, causing them to scream. They danced, trying to extinguish the flames with their bloodied hands. Their arms ignited in that green flame that slowly absorbed their forms.
“But why! Boogey! Why!” they cried as they fell to the floor. As the green flame died, nothing was left in its wake. The beast neared the bed of the disemboweled woman and touched her forehead. Her eyes ripped towards him as the blood gagged her. She followed the same pattern as her children and the green flame digested her. The beast only turned as every drop of blood disappeared, leaving a clean empty room of abandon.
The monster's face seem to deepen in age, the smell of rotting strengthening even more so. A single tear dropped down his face and his eyes closed gently.
“Children,” he wept.
/ 1y 155d 3h 31m 47s
The man's face contorted, but his hands explored Tom's body, and his heart raced, thumping against Tom's chest so loud it was almost like his own. Tom ruffled his hair. Mixed signals? He was used to that. Especially from the men. Sometimes it took them a minute to comprehend that they could, actually, even needed to, bed another man. He didn't care. Didn't have a preference. Women were as good as men. Cats as good as people, so long as he was in the matching form. It hadn't always been this way, no, but he couldn't remember why he'd held himself back before. Something stupid, surely. Back then, his head had been all tied up in knots. Now, everything was simple. It was better like this.
Velen whimpered. Like a baby kitten. "It's okay, shhh," he said, holding him gently. There was no need to take this quickly. They were all alone, no one was going to interrupt them.
And then Velen shoved him away, slammed onto the floor, chanted no at the ceiling, and ran away at top speed. Tom stared after him, dumbstruck. And then he started laughing. First a chortle, then a giggle, building into full-belly laughter, and he fell back onto his own back, but more gently and gracefully than Velen had.
"A simple 'no' would have sufficed," he told Velen's long-retreated back.
Seemed he'd pushed the poor dear too far today. He'd let him sleep it off, calm down. Hope nothing else set its eyes on that tasty, defenseless tidbit.
Not defenseless. He'd stopped Tom, somehow. That, he was curious about. Did he just think anyone could order Tom around, and he'd roll over like a dog and show his belly? Hardly.
Still. It was dangerous for him to be alone. He wasn't sure why it was bothering him, but it was. Maybe because Velen was a helpless little kitten, full of self-denial, and...it resonated with some half-forgotten part of him.Or maybe because the man had been stalking him, then had the gall to think he could just push Tom aside. Yeah, that was it. Who was he to decide when he didn't want Tom's company any more? That was Tom's decision, not his. Tom stepped out of his clothes and shook himself into cat form, then darted out the window. He'd keep an eye on Velen. Just in case.
Velen's coy little glances didn't escape Tom, though he pretended not to notice. Since their first night together, when his advances had been so overwhelmingly refused, he'd kept his hands to himself. If Velen wanted some of this, he'd have to come to Tom. He wasn't desperate for love. He found new lovers in every city they stopped in, while dreary old Velen shivered in his hotel room, or whatever it was he did when Tom went out.
He didn't bother with clothes. He wouldn't be human for long, anyways.
Not much love? "I suppose," he said blankly. It looked like plenty of love to him. The children had houses, right? Toys? Beds? That was more love than he ever showed his offspring.
Watch the woman tonight? He had better things to do. Like fraternizing with the local cats and teaching them who their new boss was. But if Velen insisted. "Who'd take her anyways? She looks like a warty potato," he mumbled to himself. He picked up the toy Velen had tossed aside and sniffed it. The reek was strong enough he could smell it even in human form, and he grimaced. This was going to be interesting.
In the end, he got dressed. If they were going to lie in wait in this room, he couldn't do it in cat form; he'd choke on the smell. He settled down in a comfortable position on one of the cots, even though it groaned under his weight, and watched Velen, for lack of any other entertainment.
Of when this was done? "No," he said bluntly. He didn't think about tomorrow, let alone when the job was done, let alone when their duties were finally complete. He had, once. But that was a long time ago.
Little feet. He sat up, eyes wide. The stench was growing stronger. Velen grabbed the door handle, and threw it open in time to find two children--except they were not children. He knew it instinctively. They were pale, hair knotted like they'd been out all day, smudged with dirt from playing, angelic smiles on their faces, and they were not children.
Their shadows were dark. Pitch black. And clung to them like tar. And their eyes...their pupils were huge. Big enough they all but swallowed up the iris and whites.
"Hello," one of them said, matter of fact. "You're in our room."
"You touched our toys," the other said.
They looked at each other, then giggled. "They aren't the ones," the first said.
"They aren't the witch," the second replied.
Together, in sync: "Won't you help us hunt the witch?" Angelic smiles were beamed at them.
The stench was still growing stronger. "Velen," Tom warned him. "There's more. Something else."
"Don't worry," said the first.
"He's our friend," the second finished.
"He showed us the witch!" In chorus.
The man had gorgeous eyes, and his lips were almost enticing this close up. Even so, his mind couldn't relate this moment to anything sexual. He felt sick again, too much contact between their bodies. He wanted to retch, but he held it back – or his body couldn't anymore today. He wanted to flee again, escape this room that made him suddenly feel claustrophobic. Though, his hands didn't mirror his thoughts, and he tumbled back against Tom's skin. It burned. It was like a blaze danced across his skin where he felt the man.
His chest hurt, almost as if it was stopping. Or maybe, it was racing to quickly. He heard himself whine, but couldn't embody the sound. His hands finally found hold, and he pushed off from the man beneath him, slamming his back to the floor next to Tom. He pressed his palms against his eyes, panting.
“No... no.... no...” he kept repeating, trembling as he regained himself. The feeling was awful. It wasn't tasty, nor light and airy. It didn't feel happy. It made him want to die. Tom's relation to magic was something he couldn't relate to.
Before he knew he was standing, he began to run away. Just like he had always done. He jolted himself away and bolted down the stairwell, tripping only on the lose board sticking out from the ground floor. He ripped the door open, and into the new morning he left Tom.
They stood in the room, comprehending the situation. The light glances towards Tom were noted in his mind. Yes, he always peeked. It was habit. The man [i did] have a gorgeous body. He always wan- No, back to the situation. Velen shook his head and examined the room.
“I feel like something else is going on here,” he ascertained, examining the beds as if they held clues. The room felt empty, which meant it was void of [i them]. “Not much love, don't you think?” he spoke, though he knew Tom wouldn't understand. The bedding was comprised of straw and a thin piece of linen. Beneath, as he searched, he found small pebbles barely noticeable beneath. A small doll looked like it held up through centuries. He grasped it in his hand. It reeked of death. His nose wrinkled as he tossed it aside.
He stood to attention and caught a glimpse of a child staring at him through the window. By the time he had turned to face it, they had disappeared. His brow raised in thought before he looked back at Tom.
“I think the children are not the only ones disappearing,” he noted, thinking back on what the woman had said. “The parents would disappear just as fast as the children. Maybe, this thing isn't just taking children, but the entire household. I think we should watch this woman tonight, as much as I don't think she deserves it.”
Velen heard the boards creak in the other room, a large sigh, and a slam on the headboard as the woman went to sleep. The cots in the room for the children were the only place to rest their heads, even though they'd not be resting in the night. Most unexplained things would happen when the candles were out and not a soul was about. His eyes followed outlines in the dark. His blindness quickly adjusted, though only shapes were vivid. He leaned against the corner of the room, looking toward Tom whose eyes seem to shine like little candles in the moonlight. It was amazing.
“Tom,” he whispered, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. “Do you ever think of when we stop all this?” he asked, opening his eyes to meet the moon in the window. It was bright, but fogged over by a cloud or two. Even so, it peeked its orb to grace his sight ever so often.
The floor croaked in the hall behind him. His hairs stood on end, and a feeling turned his gut into mush. The feeling nearly overwhelmed him. The pitter patter of footsteps proved his notion that there were not just one thing with them. He motioned over to Tom and grasped the handle of the door in his hand. He swung it back and there were two children, staring back at them. Though, they were not ordinary looking children.
"Oh, aren't you pretty!" Blonde curls bouncing, blue eyes alight. Lofted into the air, ears twitching. "Hello, kitty!"
"Ma'am, your mother doesn't like cats, you [i know] that."
"She'll change her mind once she meets him, I know it." Ribbons bouncing, basket swinging, fear and confusion tensing in a tiny body.
"Ma'am, please. Let me carry the poor dear."
A giddy smile, cheeks rosy, teeth white as pearls, knowing she could get away with it even though she ought be reprimanded. "If you insist."
"Means I'm king," he said. It made him remember something strange that he couldn't quite place, that seemed to fit in his head wrong, and his brow furrowed. What was it? What was wrong? He rubbed the side of his head, trying to focus. It felt like something was trying to come through, like a voice trying to make itself heard...but what?
Oh, there it was. "Why do you think you aren't?" Tom replied with a smirk. "Besides, you smell like it. You smell tasty."
What an odd description. A sickness that made him feel like he couldn't breathe? A memory filtered through, gasping for air, propped up with pillows, the nurse patting his brow down; he blinked at the man, but that didn't seem right. "So you're running from something that you can't run from," he muttered. "Stupid. Shouldn't be a coward. You should fight it and kill it." He raised a hand and curled it in midair, claws sliding from fingertips that shouldn't have claws. Sometimes he forgot which form had what, and things got a little muddy. It'd been happening more often lately, the cat bleeding into the man. He wasn't sure why, but he'd used to be worried about it. There'd been a notebook, with tiny tiny little notes so dense on its pages that the pages almost looked black. He still had it, tucked away in some coat or another; only, the last pages were all blank. He hadn't touched it for years.
"I don't feel like that," Tom said. "But I'm not a magical person." The man rose, and Tom watched him come, a bit confused when a hand was placed on his cheek. This wasn't so bad. He liked being petted. Humans didn't usually pet each other, which was a loss, in his opinion.
He could feel the man's heartbeat racing through his palm. He wanted to be around Tom? Well, who didn't? "Don't worry, there's enough of me to go around," he said comfortingly. He could be around everyone who loved him. He was just that versatile.
Wait. Tom blinked, considering. A sickness that confused him. That came from people, and drew him towards people. That felt like a pull in his gut. That made it feel like he couldn't breathe--Tom knew what it was. He gave the man a yank, pulling him down on top of himself. "Are you in rut?" he asked, grinning. Only humans did stupid things like try to run from rut. There was only one solution to that affliction, but luckily it was easy enough to attain. And he'd stayed in the town this long because he wanted it from Tom? What a silly man. He could have asked. "I can fix it for you. I'll even do it free. It's a good deal, isn't it? The ladies on the street make you pay loads."
Tom perked up at the wave of scent that assaulted them as they stepped off the carriage. A town for him, indeed. He heartily approved of anywhere with so much fish. Where were the fish? Could they stop by later and borrow a few?
He rode nobly on Velen's shoulders as they walked through the town, taking everything in. Aside from the lovely fish and raucous birds, there weren't any of his usual handservants--which was to say, local children. Had that many been taken, then? No wonder the townsfolk had been desperate enough to call for them. The scent of fish went a long way towards masking it, but there was a second, less pleasant scent riding along underneath. Something musty and dark. Something that reeked of acrid anger and sour resentment. Something bad. He raised his hackles, suddenly on guard. Whatever was here...it was just as bad as he'd suspected.
And then Velen was handing him over as this brat's personal petting zoo. He meowed his displeasure and dug his claws in so Velen's dipping didn't shake him free entirely, but acquiesced to let her pet him. Any petting was better than none. Velen ought to know, though; only those [i allowed] to pet him could pet him. He hadn't allowed the girl yet. He probably would have, but it wasn't Velen's place, as his personal coach-slash-butler, to make that decision for him.
Then again, she was a pretty good petter.
He let up on the claws once Velen was sitting up properly again, and swished his tail, bored, as the lady prattled on about something or another. A bit of loose string caught his eye, dangling off Velen's jacket, and he reached down and batted at it to entertain himself while the humans babbled. What was there to say? If they had such vital information, they should have put it in the letter.
Eh? It'd gotten easier? He took the opportunity to nab a clump of Velen's hair for chewing on. Well, that was good. The sooner they could finish this and he could go back to napping, the better.
They were bustled into a house that absolutely reeked of the creature he'd smelled earlier, and he gagged, nose wrinkling. No doubt about it, what he was scenting was the thing that'd taken the kids. It was almost too thick to breathe. And it only got thicker as he was taken into one of the kids' rooms. It was a relief to finally hop off Velen's shoulder and take human form, where his senses were considerably dulled. Like that, the scent was almost bearable.
"I've smelled it since we got here," he said, rubbing his nose. "Ah, it reeks in here, though." He shook his head and wrinkled his nose again. "Phew. It's been everywhere. All over this town. I don't know if I could track it back, it's been so many places." He shrugged. "We've got bait, though," he said, nodding back towards the kids. If it was taking kids, it'd be easiest to lure it out.
All posts are either in parody or to be taken as literature. This is a roleplay site. Sexual content is forbidden.