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WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: just in case.

OOC: Takes place on the 20th in the Halcyon Mountains.

The last time Blood recalled Grisha Darkleaf was when he helped him and Argive tend to the Garden. He had received a good enough impression from the man then, but that did not say much. Blood was easily satisfied with someone as long as they did not attack him or anyone else that did not deserve it. Others, like Mind and Soul, were more difficult to please. Like it or not, Blood was Egregore today. And Egregore liked Grisha.

Grisha was an Associate that day, but now Egregore realized he was a Confidant. A single rank below his own. Soul was unhappy that their seclusion had cost them advancing a rung on the ladder, which Blood did not entirely understand still. As a member of the Central Ring, they had an extremely good life. This was especially so when compared to the typical life that most half-dead loners lived. The Confidant had conversed with Egregore previously (at least according to Egregore's journals) about venturing out into the wilds. He was interested in making maps, and whomever was in control that day was apparently impressed by his work. Now it was Blood's job to carry out someone else's decision. He would be bitter if the company and the location were worse.

The Halcyon Mountains was a range that Egregore new well. This was where he had hidden to nurse his wounds following a fight for his life and immediately before Eden sponsoring him into Salsola. He had stayed here for more than two months, paranoid and out of his fractured mind. Soul avoided this area as much as possible, but Blood found it familiar and comforting.

"I missed zese mountains," Egregore sighed, turning his eye on Grisha. His blue eye was covered by his eyepatch once more, the crimson hue being the only one remaining visible now. "How arrre yourrr notes, Confidant? Good enough forrr map?"

Blood was useless when it came to things such as illustrating maps. His brother Lev would no doubt be better at it than he, and would certainly lord that over him. Not that Lev knew where anything was, the fool. The only way he had avoided growing lost on the way to Salsola was purely because he followed Innokentiy there. Oddly enough, Innokentiy's personality was similar to the way Grisha conducted himself: calm and logical. Still, he believed Grisha was a better fit for this type of occupation. Argive had chosen his sponsor well.

As they observed the rocky vista together, Egregore glanced to and fro. He analyzed where the jagged earth met the sky and where it met the more flat ground. He wished he could see through every tree and other obstacle. He was looking for Polymorph, but they were nowhere to be seen, and had not for some time now. His heart sank when he did not see them.

He needed to forget this thought for now in order to remain relaxed. He looked back at Grisha once more. His brilliant olive eyes were focused sharply on the task at hand, or at least it would appear they were. His darker, sleek locks moved as a curtain whenever he did. Egregore thought to say something, so as to avoid any resultant awkwardness of staring too long.

"Vhat ozerrr places have you made maps of?" He had no clue what other lands this man had seen, but he spoke with the faint tones of a vague European impression. Not every foreigner chose to include that in their speech as he did, understandably. Still, it made him curious about the fellow.
[Image: sl_corank.png] Vedetto Prompt [ 779 / 1,200 ] Using your skills in tracking, find the source of a set of tracks, piece of evidence, sound, or scent trail that should have otherwise been difficult to trace back to its source (because of time, elements, weather, etc.). […]
Optime | Halcyon Mountains | Dated: July 20th

Thanks for starting! <333

Grisha’s scent is disguised.
The longer he stayed in Salsola, the more that he found that he liked the idea of it as a “home.” All of his life, he’d spent traveling, adventuring, constantly moving, and never in one place for more than a month or two at a time. In the Kingdom, he could, truly, enjoy his passion of map-making without worry of food or a safe place to put his head. It helped, too, that his talents were recognized. While certainly not arrogant, being appreciated and noticed for one’s hard work was a feeling many enjoyed to some degree.

It was nice to see that his works were useful, and to more than just bandits and scoundrels looking for their next big heist. His life—and company—in the Kingdom was much different than it had been in the previous summer.

That day, he’d enlisted the aid of Tradesman Egregore in his venture beyond the Kingdom’s borders. A Mietitore and an Assassino, Grisha felt that the man had much to offer with his company. As Grisha’s maps were meant to help their own, Egregore could possibly point out good places to find certain plants, or, where to best set up or avoid an ambush. Either would make for useful notations.

As luck would have it, Egregore was apparently quite familiar with the paths of the Halcyon mountains as well. It was a boon that Grisha eagerly took advantage of for his notes and sketches as the grey-furred male led them along. They’d traveled some ways into the Halcyon Mountains before his companion let out a nostalgic sigh before asking a question of the Confidant.

Having been in the midst of making an important notation on a landmark, Grisha finished his train of thought before he clapped his field journal closed and returned it to his belt bag. “Your guidance has proven most useful, Tradesman,” he replied smoothly as he gave Egregore an appreciative nod to express his gratitude. “I have more than enough notes to create a decent map from thanks to you. Once it’s complete, I’m sure those of the Merchant, Ranger, and Shield Factions will greatly appreciate your insight today.”

He took the moment to turn and taken in the view, letting his eyes rove and appreciate the mountainous forest around them. As he quietly admired it all, his apple green eyes fell upon something curious amongst the leaf litter just a short drop below where they stood. His brows furrowed and his lips formed a small frown as he moved to investigate the matter.

Over his shoulder, he heard Egregore ask after his maps. “The Kingdom, mostly,” he grunted as he leapt down. “I’ve only recently started venturing further out. I have some of the coastline on the northern side of the mountains finished, and then a bit of Amherst.”

Grisha knelt down at what had garnered his attention and tentatively brushed a hand to sweep off some brown pine needles.

“The Shadow wants me to explore further east…when I…can…” His voice trailed as his eyes took in what he’d found.

The glinting silver that had caught his eye had, apparently, turned out to be a blade. And a bloodied one at that, he realized as he put it back down onto the ground. Now that he was investigating matters, he realized that there was actually quite a bit of staining on the dried leaflitter around him. His nose twitched as he leaned a little closer to the ground.

A fresh scent of another Luperci wafted up amongst the tang of stale iron.

Sitting back on his feet, Grisha glanced back at Egregore. “Looks like someone’s been out here recently,” he commented dryly as he picked up and held the knife to show his companion. It looked like it had been well taken care of before it’d been abandoned. A bit of cleaning to remove the blood, and the weapon would be good as new.

Standing up, Grisha’s frown considerably lengthened as he assessed the splattered blood marks amongst the leaflitter. While they’d traveled some ways, they were still relatively close to the Kingdom’s northern borders. Though the mountains afforded some protection with its difficult terrain, the tradeoff was that it was also harder for Salsola to patrol. Blood and weaponry found this close to the borders was something that likely should be investigated to ensure it wouldn’t become troublesome.

It wasn’t exactly what he’d come out there for but…

“Think we should see if we can find the source?” He asked the higher-ranking male.

Grisha snapped his book shut, giving Egregore cause to startle. It was moments like those that made him realize how on edge and like a livewire he typically was. It was uncomfortable to say the least, but it was better than winding up dead. Grisha could pull all the faces or say whatever he wanted, but there was little that would change Egregore's jumpiness from such sudden noise. 

The Confidant answered his attempts at conversation, giving Blood a strange sense of feeling appreciated. He did not realize his help was so valued. Blood, specifically. Grisha only knew him as Egregore, but it was Blood who was doing this today. It was a foreign feeling to be praised again, something that made him feel warm in his chest yet full of dread in his head. Though he did not realize it now, it was due to his mother Lyuba having praised him... And how she had tried to kill him.

"Ze Shadow vants you to map ze east? I could underrrstand vhy. Vhat arrre you - ?"

Egregore's eye sharpened with focus when he saw Grisha stoop down to investigate something glinting among the earth. He bent down somewhat himself and caught a whiff of spilled blood. Lo and behold, the Confidant produced a blade covered in the dried substance. Its crimson flakes betrayed a wounding. Egregore curled his lips in alarm.

"Is too close to Salsola forrr comforrrt. Ve should investigate and rrreporrrt vhateverrr ve find."

He swept his head left to right, scanning the landscape with a new context and scrutiny. He reached outward for further clues, and inward as well. He felt the edge of his consciousness brush someone else's.

"<Mind?>" Blood called.

"I'm here, what is it?" Mind answered, ever stubbornly in English. Now was not the time to fight over this, Blood did not care.

"<Grisha and I just found a bloodied knife near the Halcyon Mountains. Did you carry out a mission here?>"

Instantly curious, Mind snapped into co-conscience. His perception extended somewhat to the uncovered eye of Blood's, somewhat disoriented by the lack of depth perception and having to share the face temporarily.

"No," Mind said. "I'd never be so sloppy. What a terrible job. Is this a trap?"

Blood was disappointed that it was not just Mind dispatching a target, but he knew to take more into account the new point that Mind made. It was possible that they were being lured, so he sought to voice this.

"Zis could be trrrap of sorrrt, orrr could brrring us to Luperrrci zat may try to harrrm us." 

Egregore stated this rather plainly to Grisha. The Confidant was intelligent enough that saying 'we need to be careful' should go without saying. There were two of them regardless. If it were just one enemy, things may be alright. If it were more, they may have to escape - if successful in finding anything. He gave the leaflitter a closer look, his brows furrowed. The blood spatter was in a pattern that meant that the wound was not exactly fatal, at least not to him. The amount was not too exorbitant, else they would have noticed this sooner. The pool peaked with droplets leading in another direction, intermittently broken up with empty spots. When scented, the air and the ground could connect these broken patches. Egregore followed the trail for a moment, but stopped and straightened his posture when he could not see a clear direction of where to proceed.

"Mm," he hummed, low and deep in his chest. "Vherrre...?"

He turned his attention to Grisha once more, wondering if he could find where the trail continued.
[Image: sl_corank.png] Vedetto Prompt [ 1,552 / 1,200 ]
Feel free to make assumptions of what else they find or if they stumble across the individual!
It seemed, with the peculiar discovery, neither of them would be returning to their previous topic of conversation or task. The knife, the blood spatter, and their relative proximity to the Kingdom’s borders were too much for any responsible Salsolan to ignore. Individuals they might have been, but, in the end, they were all part of the same community, all pledged their loyalty and servitude to the same Thistle Crown. The Kingdom had not thrived as long as it had because of negligence or cowardice amongst their people.

Egregore was in agreement that the matter should be investigated, and Grisha nodded. While the Tradesman appeared to let his lonesome eye search further abroad, Grisha focused on the evidence they’d found and what he could read of the immediately surrounding area. The blood wasn’t fresh, but, neither did it look old either. It still retained some of its crimson color, even if it was in the process of growing darker. He estimated it to be a few hours old, enough to hint that the injured individual might not be in the area anymore.

His sharp eyes scanned the ground around them, searching for clues amongst the leaflitter and dirt. The Other could have gone in any number of different directions from the bloodstain and forgotten knife. He noted trampled greenery, and some disturbance in the earth, but, it wasn’t much to say what had happened there other than someone had been passing through. The ground was too dry to leave any distinct footprints.

A pity.

He flicked an ear when Egregore brought up valid concerns to be aware of as they went forward, and he offered a hum in acknowledgement as his eyes continued to flick about the area. The Tradesman spotted the blood trail first, and, as Grisha rose to his feet to follow after Egregore, he procured one of his knives just in case. He was not fast on the draw—not like the Emissary, or even Mirko, was—so, it would have done him good to be prepared before danger presented itself.

From the looks of it, the larger blood spatter might have been where the individual had been attacked, or, perhaps, had stupidly pulled out the knife from a wound. After having worked closely alongside his Sponsor, Argive, Grisha had learned the importance of fighting the instinct to do such a thing. The droplets would have been easy to miss had they not already been looking for them. The wound they’d dripped from had apparently not been something major, but, had still bene enough to leak the crimson liquid all the same at broken intervals.

As they followed along, Grisha made sure to keep his wits about him. As Egregore had pointed out, they could have very well been walking into a trap. As well, an animal was most dangerous when it was injured. He listened, watched, and took subtle, quiet sniffs at the air until Egregore stopped. The obvious droplets had seemingly just…stopped.

Grisha looked about the ground, searching hard for where it might have continued. When that failed, his eyes searched further up, checking above them before finally landing on a tree some ten feet to their left. He squinted at it at first before tentatively moving towards it. “Over here, maybe?” He suggested as he passed Egregore.

The bark was rough and dark, but, a tuff of fur clung at an unusual height. It was much too far from the ground to be from a lower animal like a fox or raccoon. Grisha took a sniff at it, even if it wasn’t much to go off of. Beyond the heavy, earthen smell that surrounded it, he made out the familiar scent of a Luperci.

Standing back, Grisha eyed the level of the tuff before moving forward, testing a theory. “I think…” His voice trailed as he looked back to where the blood had stopped and then back to the tree trunk. “They might have realized they were leaving a trail of blood and tried to staunch it.” He turned his attention back to Egregore before nodding to the tuff of hair and demonstrating his thoughts on what had happened. “When they went this way, they stumbled into the tree like this.” His shoulder collided into the tree trunk.

Scrutinizing the forest beyond, he gestured with his nose. “The vegetation going that way has been trampled a bit. See how the broken bits leave a faint trail?” He moved forward and pointed to what he had been referring to.

Looking back at Egregore, he said, “I think they went this way.”

Egregore could have bitched and moaned about how inconvenient this mystery's appearance was for his day, but he could not ignore this concerning evidence. There was an incident of some kind, one that was relevant to them. This was an unknown and he did not feel comfortable forgetting about it. Not so close to the borders of the queendom. As much as he may dislike or mistrust some of his pack-mates, he wanted none of them to come to any harm, including the Bambinos. There were many of them at current, and they would be easy to pick off. Vulnerable little buggers.

As the two of them continued their investigation, Grisha unsheathed a blade in preparation. Good. He was not out here with a fool, at least. There was safety in there being two of them.

Grisha picked up where Egregore left off, thankfully. He was appreciative that he was able to find where the trail continued. Even on the best days, Egregore was still dissociated to a significant enough degree that derealization distanced him from his surroundings. That made it difficult to notice features of the scenery, such as the snagged tuft of fur on the tree's bark and the clumsily trampled undergrowth.

"Mmn. I see. Says to me zat zey verrre injurrred, most likely." He nodded in approval. "Good vorrrk. Ve vill keep trrracking zis."

He followed the trail further, his nose scenting the air and his paws carrying him over the crushed vegetation. They seemed as though they were in a hurry. Maybe they were escaping something, or someone. Whatever the case, he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He grimaced and grit his teeth, recalling times he had not been wary enough. Any errant tuft of fur like the one Grisha had found, if overlooked, could lead to one's death or injury. He kept his eyes peeled.

Fortuitously or not, he spotted something. A strange necklace glinted at him from the earth. He stooped down and lifted it by the leather thong the pendant was attached to. The string had snapped, and the polished glass it wrapped around was cracked. He held it aloft for Grisha to inspect himself.

"Looks like someone lost somezing. Vhat do you zink?"