[P] So nah nah, honey, I'm good
Optime | The Waste (La Estrella Roja) | Foredated: March 2nd; night | NPC: Cedar

Kamari’s scent is disguised.

For Krios!
Never been one to stay still for too long when she had her duties to perform, Kamari had been the one to suggest their outing that night. She and Krios had left the pack’s borders at sunset, and had taken a winding, arduous course across the plains of Drifter Bay to ensure their scent trail could not be traced back to its origin. Their destination had been the lucrative La Estrella Roja, and that night would have been their first appearance at the establishment since things had changed in their relationship a little more than two weeks prior.

Their development was still new to her, and Kamari still found herself being shy and awkward at times around Krios. However, even still, Kamari had been confident that their relationship would not have affected their teamwork on a job. They were professionals, and had been for years. If anything, perhaps they would have come out stronger for it with the two of them no longer having to dance around the…complications that they had had previously.

With the sun having long since slipped firmly below the distant horizon at their backs, there was a noticeable chill to be had in the night air. Snow and ice still covered much of the land, and, with the dark, moonlit hour, it hardly felt like spring was just around the corner. Kamari readjusted the hood of her cloak as an icy breeze raced by them, her nose twitching as she smelt the scents she had come to associate with La Estrella Roja on it. And, sure enough, as the horses wove their way around a small copse of evergreens, she spied the familiar building in the distance. With the light that bled through the boarded up and shuttered windows, the building sat like a lonely beacon out in the middle of the snow-covered Waste.

She shifted in her saddle, glancing over at her husband. Their horses’ strides were close enough that she could speak with him without yelling. “<How do you want to go about tonight?>” she asked him in French. Would they split up the place or did he want to enjoy a few games together? After all, they weren’t hunting for any specific target or individual that night, merely testing to see if anything new had popped up in the way of local rumors. They were there to listen and eavesdrop under the guise of being there simply to have a good time.

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Krios had never expected for life to change quite as drastically as it had with the sharp turn their relationship had taken. He had no complaints, but it had been far beyond the scope of his comprehension that an actual marriage was simultaneously as similar as it was dissimilar to their previous relationship. He quite enjoyed the awkward Kamari and her unexpected responses to him now that they were actually together. It amused him to no end and he basked in the flustered reactions he managed to get out of her; he knew that time would temper it and he had to take the potshots he had before she could retaliate fully.

It did mean that his mind was decidedly full of seedy and wildly inappropriate thoughts, like a dam had burst and the flood waters never stopped rising. But they had work to do and for all the stupid, cutesy things he wanted to do, he had to put them aside when they went to work. Krios enjoyed the quiet meander they took to reach the Estrella and was almost a little sad to smell the familiar scents that warned them of its proximity.

<Let's split up at the start and meet up at the end of the night. Can cover more ground. Did you want to start at the tables or the Showroom?> he asked in reply, picking up her cues. French was not uncommon, but it seemed far less common in their neck of Canada. There seemed to be a generous collection of people at the Estrella that night, likely brought out by the mild weather.

As they came closer, Krios dug out some of the smoked venison he had prepared those handful of weeks prior before traumatizing Kamari into admitting she loved him. He looked suddenly smug - wildly out of place - as he grinned crookedly at his wife.
NPC: Cedar
She considered her options, weighing which would be the easiest for Birch to transition from with the number of individuals that seemed to be visiting the establishment that night. There were a few more horses than usual left outside the building, and few bodies lingered here and there outside of it too, some looking to have just arrived, others with a slight stumble to their gait. Some part of her idly wondered back to Arbiter Aani at the sight of some of them.

“<I’ll take the Showroom,>” she decided after a beat. With how busy it looked that night, it would be easy for her to slip in amongst the crowd. Once her presence had been established, she’d be less likely to receive much fuss when she eventually worked her way to the tables. Smirking as she looked away from her husband, she added, “<I might buy you a drink if I’m feeling overly lucky tonight.>” If she found anything of great importance that couldn’t wait, that was.

Kamari swung down from Cedar’s saddle with her usual, light grace when they finally arrived at the old schoolhouse. She made a quick check of his saddlebags before pulling out two raccoon pelts from one of them. A few, softly spoken words were whispered to her horse as she patted his muscular neck before she turned to look at her husband. She frowned at the wide, satisfied grin that had spread across his face, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously at his seafoam blue gaze upon her. “What?” She asked defensively, her lips twisting in a mildly flustered way. She wasn’t sure what had crossed his mind to look at her like that, but, if it was something inappropriate that starred her in it, she hoped he kept it to himself.

Closing her eyes, she let out a loud, trying sigh before reaching out and turning him by the elbow, urging him to just walk to the door. “Come on, Apollo.”

At the door, she paid her entrance fee before making her way inside. The building was certainly busier than it had been during the past few visits of hers. The hall was full of lingering patrons as they conversed, flirted, and argued with one another. The din of voices was broken by the occasional shout from one of the game rooms or a barking laugh from someone who had had one drink too many.

With one last fleeting, subtle glance over her shoulder to Krios, Kamari bid him luck with his rumor hunting with a small, ghost of a smile and a wink before she slipped between the throng of bodies on her way towards the Showroom at the end of the hall.

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Krios laughed, knowing well that Kamari was the last person in the world likely to ever buy him a drink. She had been the one to help him go sober and she was not about to risk his sobriety by getting him the thing that nearly unraveled his life. Maybe they had something weak and sweet to at least refresh him, but he doubted that there was much selection at the end of winter before any plant life even started appearing under the melting snow.

As they approached the schoolhouse, they dismounted their horses. Krios settled Seduction relatively quickly and turned to eye his wife as she whispered to her horse. He couldn't help himself, though, as his eyes snapped to places hidden by her androgenous attire. He wanted nothing more than to rip off the disguise and ravage her, but they were in .. well, not civilized society, but it would have been quite the spectacle.

"Nothin'," he replied dismissively, raising his brows and sniffing like it had been nothing. His smug-ass grin probably revealed the filthy nature of the thought, though he would not share such gems with strangers nearby. Kamari would have kicked him right in the groin if he tried. Krios let her lead him from their horses with their goods secured to their persons. "As you wish, Birch, darling," he replied as her firm hand on his elbow put a stop to any sort of flirtatious grabbing he may or may not have been thinking of doing.

Dried meat handed off and Krios found himself back within the warm interior of the Estrella Roja. It was crowded, shockingly, and overly warm. The mild weather had really brought the folks out in droves. It would be a boon, certainly, but it was almost shocking how many people milled about talking. He nodded at Kamari and turned toward the gambling parlors as she disappeared off to the Showroom. Someone was warbling there and he was somewhat sad to miss the song.

Oh, well.

In the den, he joined the Pharaoh game after a spot opened and he was dealt his chip. The four other players were ribbing each other and talking between quick throws of the cards. There were stories and murmurs rumbling all around him as they played, laughing and yelling at wins and losses. Something echoed from one of the other tables about trouble. Someone said something about a guy looking for tough folk and his willingness to pay for fighting work. Krios turned slightly to eye the table, wondering who had said that and what they meant by fighting work.

Suddenly, a warm hand touched his shoulders and a horrible familiar sound trilled by his ear. "Oh, my god. I didn't think it was you, but wow, it is!" Krios knew that voice, even if it had been years since he had heard it last. His heart sank right into his belly and he had to contain his expression before he turned in his stool.

Claire Duvont, pretty as a pale peach, grinned at him. "I knew it! I thought, no way is this him. No way, no how. But look at you. Not as much of a gangly scrap are you?" she cooed at him, eyes decidedly as interested as they had been the last time they had met. Well. No, the time before last since the previous one had involved a brawl with her boyfriend.

"A-ahh, I'm sorry? Do I know you?" he asked her, feigning obliviousness as he quickly pushed aside his cards and bet, accepting the loss of some decent antlers as justified. He rose, trying not to seem like he was rushing away, but Goddess he was trying to rush away.

"Goose! I'm pretty sure you do. Magnus, that was your name, I think." She giggled prettily at him as she followed him out of the parlor, clearly intent on keeping up the conversation despite his reluctance.

"Ah, sorry, no. I'm Apollo," he replied as he brushed around a pair lingering in the hallway as they talked. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. He debated just leaving but that would have been even worse. The situation was just.. not great, not great at all.

Krios slipped into the Showroom, trying his best to look relaxed and not at all panicking that the first girl he had ever slept with had somehow appeared nearly three years after the fact and mere weeks since he finally slept with his wife. Why was the universe so unkind to him?

"Are you sure? Maybe I forgot," she mused as she followed him to a table that had been vacated moments prior. Even as he sat himself down and looked at her with confusion - Go away - she sat at the empty chair beside him and scooted right next to him. She started to reach out to squeeze at his arms and he wanted to die a thousand deaths. "You've bulked up. I bet you've got a lot more practice in since we last met, hmm? Is your friend here, too? My sister is at the Salad Bar." As she looked up to see if her sister returned, Krios looked up to try to see if Kamari was there, too, and if she hadn't seen what was happening.

Goddess above, please, don't let Kamari be in the Showroom.

I'm sorry this is giant >___>
The Showroom tables were largely full that night. Quite a few individuals lingered around the outskirts or hovered in groups around particular tables, conversing with each other in a low murmur as the Bard sang on the stage. Some of the other patrons played a private game of cards, and the rest that were not otherwise distracted with their joints or cups of alcohol stared at the Bard as he sung a beautiful tale. The night looked about as it usually did, and, with no strong direction to pull towards, Kamari did her best to merely blend in.

She retrieved her complimentary drink—something light and greatly watered down—from the Cantina in order to make her not stand out as much. She made a show to take a sip here and there as she slowly and casually worked her way around the room. Most of the conversations she overheard were useless drivel or too personal to be of any use to the Kingdom. Sifting, sifting, she didn’t find much; a few new merchants in the area, a unique-looking moose that a hunter had frustratingly lost, and a case of a wildly deranged coyote haunting an old fire-ravaged village at the foot of the Halcyon Mountains further east.

Not believing there to be anything else to glean from the Showroom’s patrons, Kamari had been about to leave when her tall ears picked up on a conversation between a stocky, doggish male and large wolfdog that had entered into the room.

“—he’s already got it all planned and scoped out, don’t worry.”

“Tch, how? Everyone knows those borders are a death trap.”

Kamari stepped aside, practically molding with the other Luperci around her as the room’s excitement climbed with the upbeat shanty that the Bard took up. Her sharp eyes quickly swept over the two conversing men as they made their way over to the Cantina.

The more dog-blooded one of the two was tawny with darker markings brushed in around his muzzle, across his brows, and down the back of his neck. He was thickly built, with short, floppy ears; a fat, muscular face; a broad snout with oversized lips; and with no noticeable tail. He wore a single, leather shoulder pauldron that was lined with thick fur. The strap crossed over his thickly muscled chest, wrapping beneath a bulging pectoral before wrapping around the back of his broad shoulders. A leather bracer wrapped one of his brawny forearms and a simple, wood-beaded bracelet wrapped around the other. At his waist, he wore a thick, wide belt made of leather and fur which bled down almost seamlessly into a matching tasset that covered his outer thighs and groin. Two additional belts crisscrossed over his armor. One had a knife secured to it, and looked as if it might have also been meant to carry a large weapon—something that might have likely been confiscated at the door—the other belt, meanwhile, was occupied with small pouches.

He looked like he’d seen a fight or two, and was certainly dressed to engage in one at a moment’s notice. The man’s wolfdog companion that he pestered, by comparison, looked more like a casual traveler, donning only a thick, leather jerkin and some pants. Despite his comparably casual appearance though, there were two knives at his waist.

The Shadow watched the pair in her peripherals, her gaze remaining idly on the performance on the Showroom’s stage.

“He’s not your average thief,” the dog snorted as he paid for his drink. “He’s already mapped out a safe way in, even showed it to a few of us. All he needs now is some more muscle.”

His companion shook his head, letting out a dismissive exhale. “No, I don’t think I’m interested. Luperci have been killed going in there. Whatever riches they have, they can keep them as far as I’m concerned.”

The dog growled. “Feh, your loss then.”

The two parted ways, and the dog took a deep swig of his drink. Kamari waited a beat, letting the wolfdog meander off into the crowd before she casually wove her way over to the Outsider. “Did I hear something about riches?” She asked, quirking a brow up at the dog hybrid.

His dark eyes fell onto her with a doubtful stare as he took another drink. “Depends, can a runt like you even hold a knife?”

Kamari stepped within his guard, her deft hands plucking the knife from his belt and twirling it until the point rested a few inches from his sternum. The dog blinked and nearly choked on his beverage. “I’d say so,” she smirked.

He placed his drink down and coughed, running the back of his arm over his dripping jowls. “Shit, boy,” he barked, clearing his throat. Kamari flicked her wrist, handing the blade back to its owner handle-first. The dog took it, replacing it back into its sheath. “You’re quick.”

“I have to be,” she said, taking a step back, before prodding once more, “I heard that wolfdog mention riches?”

The dog grabbed his drink again, though, made no attempt to drink it just yet. “Yeah. I got a friend who knows of a place. It’s a bit dangerous, slight chance of death, but, cheh, what doesn’t in this world nowadays, eh? Anyway, he’s got the brains, and me and a few others have been tasked to look for some more brawn.”

“What?” Kamari scoffed. “Are you not enough?”

The dog laughed. “Not quite, no. It’s a job that’s bigger than me, surprising as that may be.” He flexed subtly.

“Bigger? What’s the place?”

He quirked one of his thick brows at her. “Danger and death don’t scare you, kid?”

“What isn’t dangerous and deadly in this world nowadays, hmm?”

The dog chuckled into his drink as he brought it up to his lips. “I like you.” He took another deep swig before pulling his cup away, his tongue slipping out and noisily cleansing his jowls. “Y’know that place out west that they sometimes sing about here?”

Kamari nodded as her senses suddenly sharpened. Surely, surely he didn’t mean…?

“That’s the one,” he smirked arrogantly. “My friend, Fish, already has a few Luperci on-board with the plan he has. Just need to find a few more blades for safety reasons.” He looked her up and down as he patted the sheathed knife at his waist. “You have some skills to you and seem interested in a payout, you in?”

He did. He meant Salsola.

“What is the payout?” She asked, keeping in-character despite the confirmation of a hit being placed on the Kingdom.

“Whatever you can carry or take. You’ve heard the rumors, haven’t you? High quality furs, soft fabrics, glittering jewels, superior weaponry and armor, flawless horses? Whatever you want. For you, for trade, we help each other, we all win.” He smirked, taking another drink.

Kamari reached out, slipping a finger beneath the bracelet on his hand and tugging it easily over his large hand. “So, more stuff like this?” She asked, holding the accessory up for emphasis.

The dog nodded, tilting his head back. “Fancier.”

She forced a smile. “So, where is this…friend of yours?”

“Stick around until the end of the night, and I’ll tak—”

Something tripped her senses, and Kamari sidestepped, narrowly avoiding a large wolf that stumbled passed her and into the stout dog that she had been speaking with. Their collision spilt the dog’s drink all over him and the patron next to him, and both let out a startled snarl at the surprise. The dog kicked the wolf off of him, and, sensing a brawl about to ensue, Kamari quickly slipped away.

If she wanted to continue using La Estrella Roja as a place for information gathering, she couldn’t be involved.

The music stopped, angry shouts began, and Kamari tucked the lifted bracelet into the folds of her tunic as she wove her way through the quickly gathering crowd, putting as many bodies between her and the brawl as possible. She found a partially empty table to sit down at, though, none of the other guests paid her much mind with their eyes focused on the source of the sudden commotion. A few moments later, the establishment’s guards came through, broke up the fight, and dragged out the offenders, the dog among them.

With the brawl stopped, the Showroom quickly resumed where it had left off, the Bard restarting the song and the other patrons returning to their games and idle conversations. Kamari watched it all with a look of nonchalance, looking every bit the part of someone who had just been a casual and disinterested bystander. It was unfortunate, that she had lost the source of the rumor, but, at the very least—she thought as she subtly touched the hidden bracelet—she had a way to track him down.

She mentally counted down the minutes as she sat there, trying to look innocent and invested in the show on stage. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a dark movement crossing through the threshold of the Showroom. Thinking the dog had come back, she casually flicked her gaze to the source. She didn’t find the dog.

She did find her husband, however, and she found him with a pretty female in tow.

Kamari unconsciously straightened in her seat. Her brows furrowed, and her face turned fully towards the pair as they sat down at a table a little ways from her own, the lingering bodies of the other patrons obscuring her in and out of direct view of the table and its newest occupants.

The woman…she knew her face. It picked at something in her memories, and her thoughts raced to try to place where she’d seen the female. Kamari felt something sink in her chest as she watched them—the woman scooting closer to Krios, pawing at his arms, leaning and speaking to him in an overly friendly way—she knew that woman from somewhere.


Then it clicked, and that sinking feeling only sunk further.

Krios’ seafoam blue eyes finally caught her own from across the room, and Kamari quickly forced herself to look away. Her ears flattened against her hair and she swallowed thickly, her heart beginning to hammer in her chest. Had it…had it all been a lie…? She bit her lip as she closed her eyes, trying to focus on keeping her breaths even and emotions in check.

She was on a job. She was the Shadow, the Emissary, a spy of Salsola. She was Birch Kaid, a Loner huntsman that occasionally showed up at La Estrella Roja with a man named Apollo.

But, was he Apollo that night? Or had he become Magnus again?

Kamari was torn. She knew…She wanted to trust Krios. With any other random woman, perhaps she would have been more inclined to brush it off, to assume it to be nothing more than a persistent tail chasing after him. Her husband was handsome, after all, and undeniably charming, his alias was bound to be much of the same.

That woman though…she had been intimate with Krios, had been the woman he had pleasured before they’d been betrothed to one another. All of Kamari’s insecurities swelled up at once, threatening to choke her.

Should she leave? Run? The likelihood of running in the dog was high, but, at least she could fumble out an excuse with the stranger to save her cover. If she stayed…Kamari wasn’t sure her heart could take the sight of Krios acting intimately with someone else, not after…

She swallowed, her teeth clenching.

She wanted to trust Krios.

Taking in a deep breath, she let it out slow, steeling her nerves as she scooted her chair back. She stood and made her way over to where Krios and the woman sat, forcing a small smile on her lips despite wanting to do anything but. She wanted to trust Krios.

She donned the mask that she needed to; neutral, calm, showing only what she wanted them to see.

“Hey, the guys at the table said you left in a hurry.” Her cornflower blue eyes flicked to the pretty female of their past. “Who’s your friend?” Would the woman remember her? Or was the only reason why she acted so friendly with Krios was because of their romp together?

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Well, he really loved the shocking realization that there truly was no Goddess. In that moment, he had no doubt whatsoever that she did not exist, because what kind of sadistic Goddess would force him into the hideous situation he had found himself in at that moment? If she was there, she was laughing at the misfortune she threw in his path time and time again. She must have really, really, really loved watching him suffer.

Claire continued to coo at him as she returned her incredibly unwelcome attention back to him. Meanwhile, Krios wanted to crawl out of his skin just so that he could escape the situation. He roved his sight all over the Showroom, praying that his wife was not there and, oh, Goddess, there she was, sure as the sun rose in the east.

HIs gaze was pleading, begging, screaming at her to help him. He doubted that she would do any such thing.

Krios felt fortunate that Kamari didn't throw him daggers before leaving, since that would have been a worse sign than anything. But - if she had - he could have escaped with so much ease.

Claire's hand was overly familiar on his leg as she chattered at him. "I haven't been back here in a while and Biff's was gone, can you believe that? Well, I'm sure you could but you're more of a local, right, Magnus?" "Apollo." "Right, Apollo, sorry," she said dismissively. Krios delicately grabbed her hand and lifted it out from under the table to plop it down on the scratched up wood. She giggled at him but before she could so much as move her hand back, Kamari appeared in front of them with that ridiculously calm, professional expression on her face.

He was definitely dead.

"Ahh, Birch. I was feeling rather unlucky, so I cashed out," he explained, grinning at her despite his screaming eyes. Claire ceased her clearly handsy attempts to reacquaint herself with someone who should have been a stranger. "I think this one lost her way from the Salad Bar. Keeps calling me Magma or something." "Magnus." "Whatever." He waved his hand dismissively, quickly slapping his palm over her decidedly unsubtle attempt to glide it off the table. She giggled as she carefully retracted it back to her person and gave Kamari a good, hard look.

She blinked. Once. Twice. "Oooh! I remember you, too. You were totally there last time. Oh, wow, I thought you were like.. a kid then or something. Though, you are kinda small so maybe you weren't, huh?" She giggled once more and Krios was definitely sure she had been taking a hit too many from the green grass.

He either hadn’t made it clear—or hadn’t bothered to say—that he wasn’t interested in the woman’s advances. Either that, or, the woman was highly persistent in continuing things where they’d left off. Kamari’s sharp gaze fell to the woman’s hand that had been replaced onto the table before flicking back up to her husband’s face. Krios played along smoothly with her intervention, grinning and acting otherwise in control of things. With them standing closer when their eyes met a second time, Kamari could clearly read the pleading panic in his seafoam blue gaze.

The sight soothed the terrible insecurities that lurked in her chest, as it became quite obvious in that brief moment of eye contact that Krios had not wanted the company he had drawn.

“Unlucky, indeed,” Kamari hummed as her attention shifted back to the pretty female.

It was unfortunate that it seemed the woman remembered his previous alias, though, it was perhaps more unfortunate that the woman seemed unable to take a hint. Her wayward hand tried to slip under the table a second time, and might have succeeded had it not been for Krios keeping an eye on the straying, playful thing that had wandered once before. Staring at the giggling woman, Kamari surmised she was inebriated to some degree. The last time Kamari had seen her, she had not been a tittering mess like she was that night sitting beside Krios.

She had been quiet and cowardly.

Perhaps feeling the Shadow’s gaze, the Outsider looked at her for a long moment before recognition slowly spread across her face and into her eyes. Kamari feigned confusion at first, her brows knitting and her lips turning into a slight frown. The woman brought her height into the conversation, and Kamari blinked before her lips parted as if the stranger and her words finally jogged something in her memory. “Oh, you’re that woman that cheated on your significant other and almost got me killed.” She let out a dry chuckle.

Kamari’s gaze casually shifted around the Showroom as if searching for someone. “Is he around tonight, that man you were with back then? Or are you looking for a new conquest that he can beat up again?” She glanced to Krios before looking back at the woman. Her expression was carefully cold and neutral. “Regardless, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t get my friend here involved. He doesn’t seem like he’s interested in your advances anyways.”

The fact that Krios had yet to verbally tell the woman to stop concerned Kamari somewhat, but, perhaps he had gotten flustered about something before he had arrived in the Showroom, either that, or maybe his thoughts had been distracted with trying to maintain his alias…amongst other things. She considered that he might have been trying to be civil and polite as well to not cause a scene.

Whatever the reason, she hoped the woman left him alone rather quickly with Kamari's call to his lack of receptive attention to the Outsider's advances.

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
The very faint smell of weed beneath the general wafting scent of alcohol that pervaded the Showroom was more than enough to tell the Striker that the woman had been a patron of the Salad Bar. The way her hands kept attempting to slide from the table to his thigh was the bit that sealed that verdict with big red letters screaming "case closed". If he focused, he could smell it from her whenever she spoke and it clung to her clothing and fur despite an attempt to wash out her mouth with alcohol. It lingered, sharp and muddy.

He could forgive her for her altered state, but the insistent way she tried to cup a feel of him eroded any amount of innocent good will he could have had. Even if his wife were not sitting across the table from him, they were in a room full of eyes that could easily see her obvious attempts. No matter how much he liked theatrics, Krios was no voyeur.

Claire's expression faltered somewhat but quickly bounced back. "Oh, no, he's long gone. Dumbass got lost out to the east and never came back," she explained, shrugging off the loss of a boyfriend a bit too easily. She didn't seem to notice the tone Kamari used, either.

Kamari was so pissed off, too. The ice coming from her voice would have frozen over rum in a heatwave. Part of it felt like it was directed toward him and he could feel the horrible misplaced guilt flooding in. They had only been friends when he had slept with Claire and he hadn't really thought twice about doing it then. Afterward, he had been more upset that Kamari had wound up in the crossfire because of Claire's wandering hands...-

-Which continued to wander where they shouldn't. Krios grabbed her wrist when his guilt-laden mind failed to catch its motion in time. She had managed to squeeze at his inner thigh, touching a bit too closely to offer any more forgiveness.

"My goddess, woman, can you take a fucking hint or not?" he cried, exasperated as could be when he slammed her hand on the table. Claire visibly flinched, recoiling back even as he lifted his hand away from her wrist and rapidly rose. The chair made a sharp scraping sound against the floor and the nearest patrons of the Showroom gave him an annoyed glance. He threw them an apologetic glance. "Let's go. I've had my fill of this place for tonight," he said without looking back as he took a few steps away from the table.

"Oh, I, but, I thought, you?" she stammered, looking from Krios to Kamari and back again. "Are you like, together? Like you? And..," Claire trailed off and squinted at Kamari. "Her? Like, really? How hasn't he ripped you in half?" she giggled at her obscenity and Krios rumbled off a warning growl.

"Enough of your mouth. Go feel up someone else," he warned, voice low, as he turned his gaze away from Claire to the door. "Stay if you want, Birch. I'm going." He felt his skin crawl and his body tighten with a sick feeling that was too off for guilt and not strong enough at the same time. He felt wrong and sour.

Without waiting, he wove around the tables and disappeared from the Showroom to where the air was fresh and clean.

The Shadow blinked in an almost irritated manner at the woman’s flippant dismissal of her previous boy toy. “You look heartbroken,” she deadpanned. She had never thought too highly of the woman after their first encounter, and their second encounter wasn’t proving to be much better in improving the impressions created by the first. The Outsider had no apparent guilt for almost getting two teenagers killed because of her selfish desires, and seemed to care even less of her lost lover. The fact that the woman had been actively and brazenly trying to cop a feel of Kamari's obviously uninterested husband made something dark turn in Kamari’s gut. Had Krios just been another notch on her bedpost?

When the woman made no effort to remove herself at Kamari’s frosty suggestion, Kamari opened her mouth to reiterate herself. Perhaps she had needed to be more direct with the Outsider to make her understand?

Krios suddenly slammed the woman’s hand onto the table though, and even Kamari found herself flinching at his sudden outburst. Her eyes flicked between them, moving from the woman’s face, to her offending hand, to Krios as he suddenly stood up from the table. Something had happened to make him snap, and, if the Emissary were to guess, the woman had likely grabbed or touched something she shouldn’t have beneath the table. Whatever she had done, it had definitely crossed a line.

The reaction definitely got the woman’s attention where the previous ones had not, and some part of Kamari found a small satisfaction at Krios' very obvious and loud rejection to the Outsider’s attentions. The woman deserved it as far as Kamari was concerned, inebriated or not.

Kamari moved to follow after Krios when he made his intentions to leave the Showroom clear, though, she paused when the woman spoke again, fumbling over her own words as she tried to make sense of things. It became apparent that she hadn’t thought that they were together—as it should have been. Birch and Apollo weren’t formal lovers as far as La Estrella Roja and its patrons should have been concerned—and her further giggling nearly made Kamari’s careful mask falter with a sneer at the reminder that they had both been with Krios.

Her husband took care of the matter before something venomous and cruel could drip off of Kamari’s tongue though. She sensed something off with him—he was obviously irritated, but, he was usually good at holding his composure—and it drew her attention much more sharply than putting the woman in her place. Kamari settled the Outsider with one final cold stare before she trotted after Krios, determined to not lose him amongst the crowd.

He moved fast, and Kamari was thankful for her smaller size. It made threading through the ever-changing gaps between the bustling guests of the establishment easier. When she finally managed to return to his side, she tentatively reached out to touch his arm, unsure if he might lash out at her after his previous run-in with the woman. “Apollo? Hey,” she tried to grab his attention, though, it was hard to speak softly when the place was alive with noise and voices. “Do you…want to talk?” Outside went unsaid.

She had already managed to obtain interesting intel, and, even if she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have cared in light of Krios’ mood. They could leave the establishment if he wanted, and could talk freely with one another once they’d put some distance between them and any eavesdroppers.

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Krios figured that somewhere behind him Kamari followed along through the crowd of bodies. Or, he had somewhat hoped that she had chosen to leave with him. He had no clue if she had gathered anything of any sort of value to her role and he had gleaned enough of a tidbit to feel satisfied with the evening. It was nothing great, nothing grand, nothing shattering, but it was something. More than enough. He wanted out more than he wanted any more information.

Her voice made him pause in the hallway, nearly flinching at her hand touching his arm. Krios had been afraid for a split second that Claire had decided to follow, too, and that he would find no respite from her addled attempts at wooing him. Mercifully, it was his wife and he visibly relaxed his tense shoulders. Her concern helped to ease the oscillation of his bad mood and he gave her a faint smile.

"No, not really, but I do want to leave," he admitted, wishing he could reach out and take her hand in his as they left. But that was not something they could do, not with Kamari's role as Birch on full display. They were not supposed to be more than frequent visitors who were obviously friends and nothing more. He wanted to pull her close to try and stop the way his skin insisted on crawling with every thought that went rogue in the wrong direction. He couldn't, but he could take them away from the Estrella.

Krios led the way out, nodding at a disheveled looking Gaston who had clearly been part of ending a brawl. The stark difference in air hit him the moment his feet touched compacted dirt instead of scratched-up wood board. The world around the former schoolhouse was a wall of dark past the bits illuminated by the torches, candles, and fires of the Estrella. Star in the dark sky, clearly.

He moved past a lone man walking up to the doorway, heading for their horses and for the sanctity of solitude.

Never had he felt so out of sorts, not in a position he had always been so comfortable and a role he had been more than capable of managing. For whatever reason, Claire's appearance rattled him and got under his skin like no Outsider ought to have.

"I'm sorry. I didn't..," he trailed off, unsure how to finish his thought. He didn't - what? He didn't think she would have shown up? He didn't want to talk to her? He didn't want to have her try to feel him up while his wife watched? He didn't think a lot of things.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" he asked after a beat, casually inspecting his mare with as light of a tone as he could manage.
NPC: Cedar
He was clearly worked up about the woman and whatever had transpired between them before Kamari had happened upon the scene. From the way his muscles subtly tensed to how stiff his stride was to the force, half-hearted smile he offered her at her question. Kamari immediately felt guilty for initially doubting him when she’d seen him with the Outsider. It was obvious to her in that moment that she had let her fragile insecurities override her judgement and ability to properly assess the situation at hand.

“Let’s call it a night then,” she agreed with a small nod and a glance over her shoulder at the Showroom. It didn’t appear as if the woman had made to follow them. She’d probably found another handsome male to be handsy with, some sardonic part of Kamari scoffed.

She followed her husband out, being sure to keep her senses sharp as she crossed through the front entrance. The night air was cool compared to the warmth of the schoolhouse, and Kamari felt the hairs along her neck stand up at the shift in temperature. Pulling her hood up, she padded beside Krios as they made their way to their horses. Her eyes made a discrete sweep the area as they went, searching for any of sign of the dog still lingering in the vicinity. Thankfully, it looked like he’d either forgotten about the bracelet in the wake of the fight, or, he’d considered it an acceptable loss and had gone on with his night. Either way, it didn’t look like the man was about.

Upon arriving at their mounts, Krios spoke up again, though, he seemed more distracted and unsure than anything. It was unlike him, and it bothered her. She wanted to call him by his name, but, they were still too close to La Estrella Roja, too close to break their covers just yet. She glanced back at the schoolhouse and let her eyes linger on the other Luperci that meandered about in the darkness. “It wasn’t what I was expecting, but, yes, I did.” No one seemed to be paying attention to them.

Holding Cedar’s reins, Kamari stepped closer to Krios. Grabbing onto his shirt for balance, she reached up to try to plant a quick, chaste kiss on his cheek. You don’t need to apologize.

She stepped away from him just as quickly, swinging up into Cedar’s saddle with a graceful ease. “Let’s get away from here though. I’d rather talk and walk before it gets too late tonight.” Once Krios was in Seduction’s saddle, Kamari led them away, taking a deceptive direction outward from the schoolhouse on the off chance they had someone try to follow them. The path she took was winding and double-backed twice. And, only once she was sure that they had no one pursuing them, did she stop Cedar and dismount.

It was a small, clearing within the dark woodlands. Moonlight beamed down in places, but, Kamari did well to keep to the shadows, even if they were alone. She readjusted her cloak as she waited for Krios to join her. “Someone named Fish plans to steal from us, and they’re recruiting fighters in the area.” she announced in a whisper.

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Kamari hadn't questioned him when he had said no. She hadn't looked at him knowingly and hadn't narrowed her eyes with the look that said she would bother him later about it. She had merely nodded and agreed, seemingly letting it go. Krios was shocked, only because he had figured she would have asked and pressed, despite his reluctance to say anything.

He wanted to articulate it, but the words were jumbling around in his head as he thought about what he would even say to start off explaining himself. He was normally quite good at expressing himself and he felt so disjointed knowing it was suddenly a struggle to piece together a few simple words to explain. He was so distracted he barely noticed Kamari sweeping the area and checking to make sure they were safe. He should have been mortified.

Krios could only focus on the dull golden sheen of Seduction's neck as Kamari's hands tugged on his shirt and he felt her pull him down. He scoffed slightly but let her pull him down within reach and the brief, terribly fleeting display of affection warmed him. She was not inclined to do such things in public in the security of Salsola, and certainly had put her foot down about such things when their names were hidden behind masks. Clearly, she noticed the way he was acting and didn't want him to think she couldn't tell.

He could have swept her up princess-style right then and there if he wasn't so sure she would kick him square in the face. Her little limbs were quite mighty for one so short and he had been at the receiving end of more than a few blows from her.

Kamari was out of reach too quickly, mounted on her stallion, insisting on leaving. He frowned at her as he settled himself onto Seduction's back and finally glanced at the Estrella, remembering quite late what he should have been doing while distracted and dazed. She led their way in a meandering, confusing route that told him more than any words could have said; she had found information that was a lot more important than her husband's high one-night-stand.

When she dismounted - after a sufficiently winding and utterly confusing path - Krios did, too. No one was around them but Kamari still hid in the shadows and spoke in hushed tones. He pulled his own hood up and pulled her toward him, into the curve of a tree.

"Fighters? Did he say how many?" he whispered back at her, glancing about him. Nothing but the creak of bare branches and the rustle of pine needles echoed back at them. "Surely they know what's waiting for them if they even think to target us?" No one could be that stupid, no one. "One of the other tables mentioned something about a guy looking for toughs," he said, blood slowly draining from his face. How long had it been going on, that recruiting? How long had someone been trying to gather a bandit brigade? He should have known.
NPC: Cedar
He pulled her to him and towards the cover of a tall pine, and she allowed it. Though much of the woods were still barren, even the leafless brambles and brush helped hide them from plain sight. With their cloaks on and hoods up, it would have only made them harder to spot. The horses might have given away their presence in the area, but, at the very least, they would have not been seen by any passerby or otherwise. It was for the best, particularly, given the subject on which they spoke on.

There was a certain risk, of course, with speaking so freely out in neutral territory, but, Kamari had thought things to be safe enough. She hadn’t smelt or seen another Luperci in quite some time, and she’d not seen any obvious signs of the spot that she had chosen to stop in to be a heavily trafficked area. They should have been safe to talk freely, and she thought it important while the information—and anything else that they might have, belatedly, realized that they’d noticed—had still been fresh on their minds rather than after hours of silence and stewing.

Besides, she wanted to make sure her husband hadn’t become trapped in his own head. Distracting him with the mission would hopefully do the trick.

She shook her head at his initial questions. “No. We got interrupted by a stumbling drunk before I could learn too much. The man I spoke with made it seem like they had a few onboard with Fish’s scheme already, just, not enough for whatever plan he has in mind though.”

A grimace spread across her lips. “The guy warned Birch of the heist being dangerous, but, the promise of the reward to be gained seemed to outweigh that detail.” Either that, or, the terrible and deadly rumors about Salsola had not scared the group, or, rather, didn’t scare them enough. It was unfortunate, but, not unheard of, as Kamari had discovered over the years. She had dealt with a few groups of Luperci that had been brave and stupid enough to trespass on Salsola land, and each and every one had met their end in one way or another.

Krios mentioned that he’d overheard a similar rumor while he’d been at the tables, and Kamari nodded, holding her chin as she stared down in a contemplative way. “The dog had likely spoken to quite a few people before I came upon him. Either that, or maybe he had an ally there tonight.” It was worrisome, the detail that this mysterious group was looking for fighters with skills to them. The man Kamari had confronted had alluded to the requirement when he had initially challenged her, and, hearing that Krios’ source had apparently mentioned as much too? It didn’t bode well for Salsola, whatever these Outsiders had in store.

Looking up at him, she saw the worry and dread creeping at the edges of his face. She reached out, letting a hand slip beneath his cloak and trail down his muscular arm until her small fingers wrapped loosely around his own. “Hey, don’t kick yourself over it. I haven’t noticed anything either, and I hadn’t heard of the rumors when I visited the place before…” She chewed her lip, finding her tongue twisting in reference to the romantic change to their relationship. “…things, so, this Fish guy likely hasn’t been recruiting in this area for very long; especially if they’re still in need of bodies.”

She looked down. “I’ll come back out tomorrow to see if I can find the source and see if there’s any truth to the dog’s words. I managed to snatch a bracelet off of the guy before the brawl happened, and I think Morrow might be able to help find its owner.” Absently, she let her thumb run over his knuckles. “You could head a few patrols with Brocade while we’re gone, just to make sure this Fish person doesn’t get antsy and try to attack sooner?”

With their combined talents, it would have made more sense to have her, Morrow, and Krios search the wilds for this Fish individual, but, Kamari thought it best to keep her husband out of neutral territory, if only briefly. The Outsider woman might have still been in the area even after that night’s events, and the Salsolans would have needed to make another pass by La Estrella Roja to pick up the dog’s scent. Kamari didn’t particularly care to have Krios’ boundaries violated again, nor to watch either.

If she was lucky, he wouldn’t try to read much further into her suggestion, not unless he wanted to breech the subject he seemed uncomfortable to speak on.

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Kamari knew better than he the inner machinations of the people that wished Salsola ill. His duty bound him to protect the place, even if it ate away at everything that made them who they were and stole their lives from them. If Victoire or Garsea had still remained among them, he would have rushed back to the Estrella to gather more information, Claire be damned. As it stood, the only person he really cared about was standing beside him with the same concerns. They had the benefit of time and knowledge, the two things that mattered the most in the situation.

Her smaller hand ran down his arm and slipped into his fingers. Krios instinctively clenched them together to find the comfort in her hand entangled in his. "I haven't been lingering around after the sun went down. He probably didn't try during daylight hours and making little trades is easier when the Estrella isn't as lively." He shook his head, trying his best to not kick himself per her suggestion. But he couldn't help it; he had the chance to learn more, to hear more, and he had chosen to rush home instead. Guilt was an entangled mass in his chest.

Balancing duty to his Kingdom and to his wife seemed to become more of a challenge each day when all he wanted was to sequester them both in the privacy of their home. Neither one was young enough to justify it, nor could they ignore the red flags popping up like spring daisies. He was falling victim to the exact thing that had weakened his father, his mother, everyone. Even his grandmother – iron-willed and indomitable as steel – had bent at the weight of it, even if it had not shattered her. What would the price of it be for him? What debt would the Goddess call in by giving him what he had wanted?

Krios looked at Kamari, feeling a faint flutter of confused panic in his chest. The only thing that the scales of the universe could weigh against him was Kamari.

But he would never give her an order to stay home, stay away from the violence. He couldn't. She would never listen to him and it would only feed resentment into their lives. She could not be contained like a bird as much as he couldn't be either. Stubbornness had run in both their lines, after all.

She seemed to think in a similar way as him, though. He managed a weak grin as he leaned to rest his chin atop her head. "Are you trying to make sure I don't come back out here to see a certain wretched creature?" he asked as he reached up to her hood with his free hand to fiddle with the hem. "I can promise I won't. If it wasn't so pitiful, I would even let you encourage her away," he added, swallowing the suggestion that he would let her make her disappear. Permanently.

It wouldn't solve anything, especially since Claire was an innocent Outsider – at least when it came to Salsola. The rest of it was unfortunate, even if it had almost killed them both.

NPC: Cedar

We can end this with your post? :O
She nodded before continuing in her attempt to dissuade his self-blaming thoughts, “If Fish is as smart as the dog seemed to think, I doubt he would have been seeking fighters for very long anyways. Or, at least, not this close to us. We would have likely heard about it sooner later, especially with how they seem to be going about their recruitment process.” The dog had not exactly been discrete, even if he hadn’t mentioned Salsola’s name directly. Even a few hours ride away, La Estrella Roja was still close enough for the rumors to eventually find their way to the Thistle Kingdom.

Kamari returned his hand squeeze and offered him a reassuring smirk despite the darkness surrounding them. “We caught wind of it tonight, and before they could attack us, so, I think we did good.” Salsola had an advantage now where they would have been caught unawares before.

Despite her words, Kamari decided to hold her tongue from mentioning that the group had apparently already discovered a safe way through their borders. With no concrete evidence as much, the notion would have only served to upset the Striker more and make him doubt his abilities. It was easy to forget sometimes, with their level of skills, that, sometimes, there were others out there that were just as good at the same things they were, if not better. If she had to guess, the rogue group had acted recently in their testing attempt. During the events of the recent Last Supper would have been an ideal time, as the entire pack would have been gathered in one place and oblivious to foreign invaders lurking at their far-reaching borders.

She was surprised at the grin he gave her, though, more so that he decided to talk about the woman from his past that he had been hellbent on escaping from. The Shadow did well to hide this, instead, chose to scoff at her husband’s suggestion for her reasons of making him stay behind in Salsola. She moved her head out from beneath his chin and gently batted away his hand that played with the hem of her hood. “Your reaction to seeing her again tonight was proof enough to me that you want nothing to do with her.” I trust you. “I’m just merely looking out for what’s mine.”

Smirking up at him, she stepped closer until she was flush against him. “I would gladly fight for you if you wished it.” She untangled her fingers from his and let her hands ghost over his chest until they came up to his neck. Her fingers hooked together loosely behind his hood, pulling gently to make him bend down to her. “However, though I’m sure you and every other male in that place would have loved to see a good catfight—” She reached up to place a kiss against his lips. “ —I don’t think it would have been fair to her when I’ve taken down men twice her size,” she hummed confidently.

“Anyway, we have a new mission to worry about now. Let’s forget about what Magnus did and focus more on Apollo, hmm?”

Kamari Kaiser
— The Shadow —
[Image: k4f73A1.png]
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Avatar art by Alaine · Sig art by Despi
Remember your youth, in all that you do, the plank and the passion
Kamari was right, but she was also right quite a lot of the time when it came to their security and the secrets that wafted on the winds outside Salsola's borders. She had been so wildly pigheaded and wrong in other things, but he could always trust her to be levelheaded when it came to her work as the Emissary. That was why she held onto the rank so well, after all. "True. Now, it's just a matter of finding where they're squirrelling themselves away." If he or Kamari found out the location of the bandits the whole game would be over. No matter how many people were potentially readying to attack Salsola for petty wealth, Salsola had an army of its own throw at fools who failed to heed the warnings.

Krios gave a genuine laugh. Kamari had made such leaps and bounds from the thing that refused to allow them to have a relationship to a possessive wife. He ought to have been so proud of her for it, especially when she had been so uncertain and hesitant at the start. "I better wear a warning label somewhere, just in case," he teased as shivers ran over the surface of his skin, making the hair on his neck rise.

What sort of monster had he helped unleash? He couldn't help but marvel as she pressed tightly against him and pulled him down to her level (a true feat). He made an exaggerated attempt at snapping at her lips. A coy creature who quickly learned to tease was not exactly someone he was used to dealing with, especially under his roof and in his bed. "Minx," he replied under his breath, remembering where they were and that they were not safe just yet.

"We should head home, tell my dear uncle what we found out today," he sighed, forced to peel himself away from her no matter how much he wanted to do very terrible things, all because she was learning exactly what needed to be done to get a rise out of him. She had all but offered him her forgiveness and that was more than he had wanted. "I have a feeling we don't have a lot of time to relax," added the Striker as the grim line reappeared on his face and he turned back to his horse.

Heading back to Salsola was quiet as both of them thought of what needed to be done. Heads were going to roll. He knew there would be blood but he hoped that the Outsider were not such fools to linger when the jig was up.

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