--Chapter One: With A Madman, With A Future--
Nothing had stirred the cool, damp air in hours. Condensation clung to each thin branch of a withered old oak tree, it's limbs reaching down to the earth with brittle fingers, dew glistening from the watery light of a waning sliver of a pale-white moon. Frost was threatening to encase the scraggly grass that spread, more weeds than anything, over the cracked dirt. The ancient gray blocks of stone stuck irregularly up from the ground, pale and flecked with moss and the cruel, jagged cracks that hundreds of years would let mar the names carved into the broad faces of the slabs. Vines crawled like serpents over the green-gray patch, set into a clearing in the middle of some long-forgotten forest, giving the place the illusion of some grotesque, satanic mockery of Eden.
A small figure perched on one of the stones, delicate feline body tense with cold and the long wait he'd endured. A vile, metallic-smelling substance had collected on the worn-out cloth of his paws, making him flare a small pink nose at the stench, muzzle pulling back over jagged, savagely-sharp teeth and a sandpaper tongue. His tail lashed out behind him, segments of exposed bone clicking together where fabric had been torn away. Bits of cotton fluff littered the clearing, soaked in the same foul liquid so that it's owner refused to collect it, even to piece himself back together. Thin, fine thread was coming loose all over his slender frame, in the folds of cloth on his slim shoulders and around his ankles and the cross-stitch over his right eye. Claws kneaded at the stone below them. He was growing impatient.
With the tip of his tail, he flung off a tattered black top hat from his patchwork ears, tossing it into the air and watching it sail down through a glittering button eye, only to catch it in his jaws before it hit the ground.
Then there was sound.
Seemingly from nowhere, a man appeared, blending seamlessly into the shadowed graveyard in his dark suit, jet black hair laying in disheveled tangles just past his slightly-pointed ears. Only the twin scarlet orbs of hit eyes stood out. His lips pulled back in a wolfish grin, striding slowly to the headstone where the patchwork Cat had settled, watching the man intently.
"You look well," the small creature murmured, accents tangling in unharmonious disarray on his tongue. He got to his paws, giving the man a slow nod, never dropping his gaze.
The man stopped just before he reached the creature, scarlet irises alight with familiarity, something akin to unease flickering in their depths. "Good t'see ya, Dreamcatcher."
The sewn Doll winced at the sound of his name, lilted by some unidentifiable accent. "Likewise, Mor-"
"Ah," the man interrupted, making Dreamcatcher flick his tail in pointed irritation. "Been promoted. Boys've been callin' me Marshall. Di seems t'think it suits the position well." He puffed out his chest. "M'leadin' a pack, Catcher."
"Congratulations," the creature replied shortly.
"Anyway," the man, a Hellhound, continued. "She sent me'da pay ya. An' give ya another job."
Catcher flicked his tail again, stepping forward, about to fall off of the headstone, paws hitting the ground. But just before he fell, there was the sickening crack of bones re-arranging themselves, cloth transitioning with the soft hush of fabric to human skin, eyes forming out of stitches ad a button. He set the top hat on feathery, white-blond hair, a dangerous smile curving lips as delicate as petals beyond the faint white scars of cruel needles. Clothing covered most lines of patchy stitching, all but one that crawled up the back of his hand to wrap around his wrist, disappearing beneath the sleeve of an old, brown leather jacket. It appeared again at the nape of his neck, snaking around to his left ear. Two thin lines marked a cross-stitch over his right eyes, which was a bright, brilliant green. As he held Marshall's gaze, it faded and then brightened again to a pale violet.
The Hound shivered. "Y'know I hate it when y'do that, Catcher."
Dreamcatcher prowled forward slowly, eyes hooded, the tips of his fingers resting on his lips thoughtfully. He moved in a circle around Marshall, making the Hound tense up in apprehension as the Demon touched his shoulder and stopped by his side.
"How much is she offering this time?" He studied his fingernails with the utmost interest.
Marshall swallowed nervously, the muscles under Catcher's hand straining with the urge to flinch, which Marshall fought valiantly. He shuddered once, lips pulling back into something that was nearly a snarl. "Twen'y."
Catcher's eyebrows raised. "Twenty? Honestly? This must be an easy job. Or it had better be, for just twenty
The Hound blinked. "'S
"S'only a normal one, mate. 'E's not that much've a problem, jus' th'same as th'rest of 'em."
"So like the one I was told to take out just tonight." The Demon gestured to the blood pooling on the ground, a small, broken while figure on the opposite side of the cemetery, wings spread out on the blood-soaked grass. "Who she offered me fifty for."
"It isn't my choice!" Marshall yelped, sidestepping away from Catcher. "Di jus' told me'da find ya." He ran a hand through his hair, brushing over the small nubs of white horns hidden in the dark, wavy locks. "N'she said twne'y."
Catcher sighed. "That's hardly enough to keep me functioning, Marsh."
"Don' call me that."
"You know," the Demon continued. "It isn't just me I'm looking out for."
Marshall scowled. "I'c'n raise it t'thirty , but that's all Di c'n offer. You'll hafta get buy on that."
"Damn," Dreamcatcher murmured. "Looks as if I'll have to turn my sights upward for proper payment. Odd
Something in their ridiculous moral code prevents them from skipping out on my pay." He turned away with a forlorn sigh, fingers reaching up to brush along the brim of his hat.
"Wait!" Marshall called, taking one faltering step after Catcher. The Demon stopped, still smiling, and looked over his shoulder at the Hound. His eyes flitted to an icy blue.
I'c'n talk t'Di 'bout the fifty, you sadistic
Catcher laughed. "Good dog, Marshall. You know
That name really doesn't work for you."
"Ya changed, Dreamcatcher." Marshall sighed. "Old you would'a done this f'the fun of it. I miss 'im." He began to turn away, not reacting in time to stop the blow to the side of his head, what was little more than a gentle cuff rattling in his skull and making him yelp. "What the shit!"
Catcher's grin had left him. Claw-like fingers hooked themselves under Marshall's ribcage, dragging him upward and drawing a breathy, pained snarl from the Hound's pale lips. Catcher hissed, anger swirling in his predatory, furious yellow eyes.
"Are you suggesting," he said, deadly quiet, face only inches away from Marshall's, "that I'm no longer good at what I do?" He dug his fingers in deeper, loving the squirm that Marshall gave.
"N-nah, mate, never! Jus' sayin' things're dif'rent now, that's all! You're still bloody terrifyin', now put me down!"
Slowly, with a heated glare, Catcher lowered him to the ground where he stood, massaging his ribs.
"S'that wench'a yours, anyway. In't your fault."
Catcher whirled around and delivered a blow to the side of the Hound's head, watching a cut graze across his cheek at the blow. Marshall yelped, Catcher snarled, enraged.
"Take it back!"
Marshall hunched his shoulders, slinking back. "It-"
"Alright, alright! I take it back, mate."
Catcher studied Marshall though narrow eyes for a moment, fighting back the anger threaten to reach out and slam his friend to the ground. Finally, with an aggravated little huff, he hit the Hound across the face again, watching him fall into the dirt. He turned sharply on his heel. He had a wench to visit.
He glanced over his shoulder at the sputtering Hound.
"Fifty, or nothing gets done. Bring me my pay and he'll be dead in a week. Good hunting, Marshall."