[P] Nature Has Left this Tincture in the Blood
For Egregore; Drifter Bay
They could see Wolfville across the bay, its facades in varying states of disrepair. The waterfront village was looking much better in recent days, however—in no small part thanks to Joern’s care and diligence. Seeing Casa reminded them of what they were here for—to take their own approach to protection and defense, which were part of the pack’s tenets.
The marshy plains of Drifter Bay had been the perfect place to seek Aster’s target, and their consultation with Casa’s text, Detailed Healing, had not led them astray. Oftentimes, medicines and cures were the same as poisons, except with the dose adjusted. That statement glossed over many nuances, and Asterope knew it, but it had been useful in guiding their interests toward more concrete experimentation.
The undersides of the bog Labrador tea felt furry and strange—almost like leather, gritty and grippy. Asterope got chills each time their sensitive finger pads grazed it, but they weren’t about to let that stop them from the task at hand. Aster was carefully collecting the sticky, pallid flower clusters. They followed the procedures they’d use when collecting any herb, taking whole clusters so that the plant would be encouraged to re-direct energy there, making new blooms and ensuring the plant’s overall longevity. Aster twisted and clipped carefully with dexterous hands, adding bunches of flowers to a cloth bag, which they would place in their pack when finished. They ignored the bees, which were mostly harmless, and were really just trying to enjoy an afternoon sup; fussing with the fuzzbutts would only agitate them, so Asterope opted to work in companionable silence with the whirring, bobbing orbs.
Anyway, the flowers did smell lovely, and Asterope had read that the plant had a variety of uses, from cooking to tea. But Asterope’s interest was in what happened at higher dosages.
The oaken wolf had come to terms with several things as of late: one, that this world was a dangerous one, and two, that they didn’t like the idea of killing. At this stage, poisons allured Asterope as a third option—what if one could incapacitate from a nick or cut, creating an opportunity to escape that didn’t end in death for anyone? Perhaps this was a pipe dream, but there was only one way that Aster knew to find out whether that was possible, and it started with gathering the necessary materials.

WC: 399
[Image: 9rLHrpe.png]
Art by Pabs!
OOC: Egregore’s scent is disguised.

Blood often wondered just who Soul and Mind thought they were.

Their life as Egregore was just fine, functional even, before Mind split off from Soul. Their third iteration took to the killing business like a boat to water. Blood loathed this more and more with each passing day. Mind and Soul enabled each other. They schemed together. Corrupted together.

Blood steamed and embroiled himself deep into the feeling. Mind and Soul endangered his children, no, his whole family. Lev drifted from Egregore, a happenstance that hurt Blood uniquely. Soul and Mind did not understand Blood’s bond to Lev as his brother. It changed nothing.

Egregore furrowed his brows at the earth. From the position on his knees, his nose was much closer to the flora. He scented the air for herbs. Much to his chagrin, only plants that Mind would like were numerous in this patch.


Egregore was not the only one that came here that day. Another had a similar idea. He saw a dark furred luperci working amid the greenery. Their markings reminded him of his first servant.

”Good evening. Arrre you gazzerrring herrrbs as vell, zen?”

His steely eyes remained trained on them. He could never be certain if an outsider was friend or foe until he understood what he was working with.
Nimble mahogany fingers twisted and clipped. They’d been able to keep from making a face at their discomfort for a few moments out of sheer determination, willing themselves not to shudder at the tiny clinging hooks furring the bottoms of the plant’s leaves. Deep in the flow of their work, a small rustling clawed at their attention. Their ears flicked, and their eyes turned, elegant hands stilling to see a stranger approaching.
”Good evening. Arrre you gazzerrring herrrbs as vell, zen?”
Asterope took in the stranger all at once—a scarred fellow with a single red eye. The other eye was covered with a patch, so Aster naturally assumed he was blind in that eye. His fur was silvered, and he was well-groomed, with a curling mane and a slight beard to match. His clothes and jewelry made him look very fine.
This was not the first time Asterope had encountered a well-dressed, manicured stranger with apparent resources meandering out around Drifter Bay. His tone seemed friendly, which was promising, but his appearance and origin nagged at the oaken herbalist, like that niggling feeling one got when peering into a hole dark enough be truly uncertain of what was within.
“Good evening. I am gathering herbs,” Asterope confirmed, their own accent coming into contrast with the stranger’s trilling Rs. They offered a friendly smile. “Just some Labrador tea.” Aster put the cluster of leaves they’d been holding up to their nose to breathe in the sweet scent before putting it in the sack. “There’s plenty here! I’m Asterope, by the way, of Casa di Cavalieri. Do you do much herb gathering?” Asterope wouldn’t have guessed it by the other’s polished appearance, but he could be dressed to impress—not to do work. This concept—dressing for occasions—was still something relatively new to them.

WC: 304
[Image: 9rLHrpe.png]
Art by Pabs!
The Cavalier seemed nice enough. He liked their smile, it was a genuine and warm one. Blood did not mind foraging near them. He smiled back in return, no hint of threat or teeth behind his lips.

”Labrrradorrr, you say? Hmm.”

Egregore’s nose twitched at the same time the outsider’s did. Innokentiy always needed more tea stock. Not that he cared much for labrador tea; Egregore drank nothing but black tea. That was something Lev loathed about him. Not that any part of Egregore cared. Lev could have his refined taste with their cousin, he could drink all the unnecessary flowers he wanted to, and he could keep his mouth shut about it too.

They asked if he did much herb gathering. The faint echo of Mind’s laughter tickled the edge of Blood’s focus. He twitched his ear in annoyance.

”<Go away. I’m trying to make a friend for once. Not that you would understand that, Mind.>”

”...You could say zat I do, yes.”

Egregore bent close to the earth again. He curled his fingers around his own cluster. He severed the stalks cleanly with a short knife. He straightened back up and sorted the plant matter away into his dark coat.

”Vhat about you, Asterrrope?”
There was a pause, and a careful response—not a direct answer, but something more slippery, hinting at some adjacent possibility. In the corner of Aster’s eye, they watched the fellow clip his own herbs and secret them away into his coat. This surprised Aster; the finery of his clothes hadn’t seemed immediately practical, but this fellow’s attire was either multipurpose, or he intentionally flouted convention by making them so. Asterope found this oddly charming, and they felt the curl of a smile at the corner of one side of their mouth.

No name was given in response, which the herbalist noted, but Asterope didn’t want to jump to conclusions about what that could mean—at least not yet.

Candid as ever, they said, “Well, honestly…” Their brows drew together, forming a little worried crease, a sign that whatever they were about to say was something they’d turned over and over again in their mind. “Yes. Recently. I am trying to find a… sideways solution.”

Asterope stopped clipping for a moment. “Admittedly, this is a weird thing to talk about. It’s a philosophical problem and a practical one. We live in a world of violence. That’s always been true. But we haven’t always had access to so many instruments of death.” Asterope gestured at their dagger as a kind of catch-all for weapons. “But what if I didn’t have to kill? I don’t think I can avoid conflict. Or change the way of the world. I’m not that naive. But I can control myself and what I do. If I could just… paralyze someone instead—stop them, end the violence and leave…” They looked wistful, and it was obvious that Asterope wasn’t yet certain that this could be a reality. “Well, that isn’t irrevocable. And that matters to me.” Aster had thought about all of the possible retorts—what if your enemies only came back stronger? What if it didn’t change anything? What if, what if, what if? Aster always asked the same thing: What if it did matter and a cooler head prevailed for having been given the opportunity to survive? What if the gesture of mercy could change something?

Aster’s ears flattened, and they suddenly felt very embarrassed. Their intentions had, up until this point, been opaque to anyone else. This stranger was bearing the brunt of Asterope’s quiet inner grapplings, and they didn’t deserve that. “I’m sorry—I am rambling.”

WC: 402
[Image: 9rLHrpe.png]
Art by Pabs!

Egregore’s hum burbled deep in his chest in thought. This Cavalier intrigued him more and more with each word they said, and this time, they had many words to offer him. He soaked in the information gladly like a sponge and picked over it. Blood was nowhere near interested in the levels of diabolical and egomaniacal mind games that Soul was running, but Blood was still a careful man. All of Egregore had the same goals – at least on the surface. Of all of Egregore, Blood was perhaps the most loyal to the Mafiosi. He would have to remember the details of this encounter for them and for the Spymaster later.

Besides, this outsider tickled him.

He fingered the handle of his blade thoughtfully. The skin pads on his fingertips smoothed over the hilt in a ritualistic repetition. It comforted him to have a blade in hand, though he realized a Cavalier might not feel so comfortable at the sight of it remaining in his palm. He sheathed his knife at the dark leather belt around his waist and folded his arms.

When he swept his coat open again to access his blade’s sheath, more weapons, herbs, and only god knew what other secrets lurked in there were briefly visible. He let his coat fall back and any brief peek Aster could have managed vanished. His eyes met Asterope’s after.

Egregore’s smile softened with endearment. Asterope’s pelt reminded him of his first servant’s fur, but the way their curious mind twisted around so many questions reminded him of Eris when they were younger. They did not ask nearly as many questions given their increasing silent nature and proximity to adulthood… Hell, Soul managed to betrothe her to an Eternity of all Houses. Salsolan politics wound its serpentine fingers around things in a way that enabled Soul to do what he did best: tie his puppetmaster strings around everything he could get his diabolical hands on.

Asterope was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

”Nozing to be sorry forrr,” Egregore finally said.

His voice broke the silence that fell pursuant to Asterope’s piece with few words. He lifted one of his hands from its previously folded position to scratch thoughtfully at his beard.

”Is… interrresting topic. You do not have to kill, no,” he elaborated. ”Is easierrr and cheaperrr to incapacitate target viz poison zan kill zem. Only attempt if you know vhat you arrre doing. Vhy do you need sidevays solution, is someone bozerrring you?”
Asterope’s impassioned diatribe had distracted them fully from seeing the wonders to behold in this stranger’s cloak. This was a blessing for both of them, as it would have only stirred up a storm of curiosity resulting in awkward questions wrapped in polite pretense that were also inappropriate to be needling new acquaintances with. Their silvery companion excused Aster’s already poor behavior, and for that, they were grateful.
The conversation suddenly turned practical, which surprised the mahogany herbalist, if only because Asterope wasn’t concerned with whether paralyzing someone was easier and cheaper. However, they supposed those were undeniable benefits—if they ever needed to make a case concerning it to someone more utilitarian, those factors could be useful if they proved true.
The warning the nameless stranger provided was a genuine one, followed by a question of his own.
“I guess that’s part of it—I know a little bit about what I’m doing. I know, for example, that this is a potential paralytic,” they said, gesturing to the Labrador tea they’d been pruning. “I have been mixing and experimenting, but I haven’t had any expert guidance, unfortunately. As to why—no one is bothering me now, happily. But I came from somewhere… smaller than this. And I think a bit kinder. I know that the world is dangerous, and I just want to be as ready as possible for that reality, and prepared to handle it… slightly differently than with the usual methods.”
Asterope wasn’t an expert with a dagger or any weapon—under Odysseus’s tutelage, they were passable. But if confronted, even if they could land a single poisoned strike and live, that could protect them and anyone else long enough to eject from the situation without a dangerous pursuer. And without causing death.

WC: 296
[Image: 9rLHrpe.png]
Art by Pabs!
Aster opened up to him. It hurt Blood like nothing else to know he could not do the same. Not to the same extent.

Not yet.

”Ze vorrrld is morrre dangerrrous zan you vill everrr know.”

Blood spoke this with a hollow and haunted tone.

”Meet me herrre in forrrtnight’s time. I vill teach you zing or two."

Egregore turned and vanished.
Asterope had heard this not for the first time from someone who had seen darker things. Had they even had opportunities to begin with balanced strength and perspective? If they had, were the trials and tragedies of the world so terrible as to wholly dash all the goodness out of them? Asterope feared the answer, but hoped it wasn’t as grim as the worm of dread curling in their guts hinted.
With that, the stranger vanished into the brush, leaving Asterope without a name or another word—nothing except a fortnight. It was wildly mysterious—somewhat worrying, even. But the scholar’s curiosity would not allow them to miss the date.
[Image: 9rLHrpe.png]
Art by Pabs!

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