Searching Part 1

Joint post with T4HJ3R1U5, Enderslayer & myself

Shel knelt down to examine a print left in the mud. “Okay, this definitely looks like one of Kalena's heeled riding boots.”

“Yeah, those are her tracks,” Lafayette confirmed. “After all this time I'd know them anywhere. But I still don't know how she can move in those boots so well. It's like she was born walking in them.”

“Or running in them,” V observed, pointing to the ground. “She clearly was running.”

“How can you tell?” Lafayette asked.

"Animals and people leave footprints that are deeper in the front than at the back when they run,” Shel answered for V, gesturing down at Kalena's tracks to indicate how the impressions were.

V nodded in response to Shel's comment, though he never took his eyes off the prints, “These other ones here must be Solandriel's,” V said. “They were both running. But why? Were they being pursued?”

Shel stood and looked around the filthy stretch of alleyway. “I don't see any other fresh tracks. Nobody seems to have been chasing them.”

V turned and also surveyed the terrain with all the skills he had picked up from his legendary father and mentor. “Yeah, you're right. They came through here in a hurry… If they weren't running away from something… could they have then been running to something?”

Lafayette frowned, trying to wrap his head around that. “What would they be running to? Kalena wouldn't want to be running at all with a broken arm.”

Shel tilted her head looking at the tracks again. “We can’t rule out that they weren’t running together. They did not leave together.” she said. “So it’s possible she was the one chasing him.” She pointed to the tracks again. “Notice the spacing. His just seem hurried, her’s appear as if she was trying to cover ground quickly. Her strides are longer than his, and not due to a height disparity.” Shel stood back to her full height. “Seems more complicated than it would first appear.”

Willa knelt to the mud as well, "I would agree with Shel, the spacing doesn't match as if they were together, but rather if one was chasing the other." She tilted her head to the box as it softly glowed in the makeshift bag she created for it, "He is asking if this Solandriel would have any reason to run, or had issues."

"The box is a he?" V said, turning from the waist up with folded hands.

"It isn't so easy to explain." She turned her head to V.

“Would we be able to discuss this after we find them?” Lafayette asked. “But if you’d rather sit and chat, Shel and I can keep looking.”

"When it's someone they know, they're in a rush all of a sudden…" V muttered, watching the two turn away.

“Feel free to follow.” Shel said as she and Lafayette began down the alley. Her eyes scanned the displaced refuse, and the occasional remnants of mud from Kalena’s riding boot. “She went this way.” Shel waved Lafayette over.

“Why did they come this way?” Lafayette wondered aloud, “All that’s back this way are buildings that got ruined in that storm a few years back. Nothing but rotty wood and rubble.”

Back with the others the silence was suddenly broken by a loud slurp, “Whatcha looking at?” Asher said standing over V and Willa, as he drank the foam off the top of the drink he was holding. “Just nipped off for a pint and when I come back you’re all huddled around a mud puddle.”

“We’re searching for signs of Kalena and the elf.” Lafayette said.

“Oh.” Asher said, leaning forward a bit. “And you’re a tracker? Hunter of men?” Asher asked V, “Well I look forward to seeing your skills.” He said, flashing a sly grin before he took another drink.

"Not always men," V replied with a knowing smirk, "but all of them dangerous."

Willa approached the ruins without warning, however nothing but the flowing wind seemed to greet her. "The tracks end here. Like they disappeared, right here." She pointed at the last of their footprints. She turned to others, "I don't understand how this could have happened, it's strange. Tracks don't just disappear."

V turned to the spot Willa stood, his brows beginning to furrow as he made his way over to her.

"You know they usually don't…" He said, dropping into a crouch as he surveyed the area around him.

"Not unless foul play is involved." He said finally.

"What exactly are you suggesting?" He heard

V simply shook his head, a possible idea of the sequence of events forming in his head, but nothing clear enough to put his finger on it.

"The tracks stop here. So either they rose into the sky, or for some reason, someone doesn't want us to find them. Does Kalena get snatched up often?" V said, turning to Lafayette with a somewhat puzzled look on his face.

“Not typically.” Lafayette said. “Her skills are sharper than that. Plus, look around.”

Shel gestured. “Right. No places to ambush.” She pointed across the small mostly vacant dilapidated garden. “They’d have to clear some distance before they could get to her. Plenty of time to get away or for her to deal with them. And if she’d run, there’d be tracks going the other way as well. And if she fought there would be plenty of signs of that too. But there is no blood. Nothing.”

As the others spoke, Willa's box began to thump faster than usual, like an animal realizing it was in danger. It was almost as if a dangerous presence loomed just out of reach or sight.

Annoyed, Shel scratched her head as she tried to put the pieces together nicely. “I don’t mean to be rude but could you quiet down with that thumping. It’s making it harder to think.” Her keen half breed ears picking up the incessant noise coming from the box.

Quel bruit? What noise?" Lafayette asked, not hearing anything with only his human ears.

“Should we file a missing persons report with the City Watch?” Asher asked between the last few sips of his ale. “They may have gotten to her themselves.”

“No they haven't. Not unless the City Watch has found a way to float off the ground and not leave tracks.” Lafayette stated.

“The more clues we find the less this seems to add up.” Shel said in a huff. “How… how can two people just vanish into thin air? I know about teleportation magics and whatnots, but that usually leaves some indication it happened right?”

“Yeah.” Asher said. “Magic chalk, scorch marks, things like that. But it’s just nothing. Like poof.”

Shel paced for a moment before looking at the wall of the nearest building. “I still can not make heads or tails of this,” She pointed at the wall “It’s too steep to climb, even if her arm wasn’t broken even Kalena couldn’t have climbed to the roof. There are no extra side paths in this alley or even doors. Just a line of walls and an old stone fence.” she turned back around “V, what do you make of it? My speciality is hunting animals, not people, and my tribe never hunted animals that could just vanish.”

"Hmmm…" V hummed, putting his hand on his chin. "What's more, if a spell as powerful as a teleportation spell was used here, I should be able to sense some sort of remains of it, but I'm not picking up anything really."

Standing from the spot, he looked at the others.

"No matter how you slice it, what or whoever's responsible for this is extremely skilled and or powerfu--" V trailed off, his brow furrowing, and as he stopped talking, the sound of a single set of footsteps became much more obvious. Someone coming. The more acutely aware of the group would have spotted the man before now, stark white hair, white business attire, and crimson eyes. He was devoid of his smirk as he approached.

"You don't have to stop talking." He said, raising his eyebrows, his posture entirely passive.

“I think it would be far more interesting if you started talking.” Lafayette said, glaring. “Why are you following us?”

“Who is this?” Shel whispered to Lafayette.

“I don’t recall his name but he knew an awful lot about some of our private conversations when we met him during our breakfast.” Lafayette replied. He turned his attention back to the man who’d suddenly made himself known. “Well.” he gestured, “Start talking. You seem interested in us, so what do you know about any of this?”

Willa stepped away from the area, joining with the others, “Are we even sure he knows what’s going on? He is an odd fellow, I’ll give you that.” She narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out exactly what the mysterious man was packing, seeing if it was behind the box’s beats.

“Trust me.” Lafayette said, “I was taught to spot these things and I can tell he knows a great deal.”

Asher put his hand on Lafayette’s shoulder, “Don’t lose your head kid. If you’re getting a bad feeling don’t forget to think.”

Ponce raised his hands, his constant need to show the group he had no intentions of harming them possibly a power move in of itself.

"The simple fact of it is that you all are getting mixed up into some pretty serious business, and I wish to lend you a hand. And I know what you're probably thinking, 'What's in it for you, what do you want?' Is that close?"

Ponce paused for seemingly dramatic effect, but also gave the others an opportunity to respond.

V shrugged, "Well I mean, I am kind of curio-"

“No.” Lafayette said bluntly. “That wasn’t at all what I was thinking. I don’t care what you want to be frank.” he added. “If I had wanted your help I would have taken it back at the pub. So the answer is still no.”

Ponce raised his eyebrows at this, the slyness that he always seemed to have about him seeming to mellow. Folding his hands behind his back, he took a step forward, planting himself right in front of Lafayette.

"I won't lie, I've overheard what you and your friends were saying. The box, like you, doesn't trust me. Your young friend here," He motioned to Willow, "would have gotten a warning from it no doubt, I heard it. So did you," He then turned to Shel. "Right? You would have known then that I was close. And because I was, I know you have a friend, or is it two, who have gone mysteriously missing, and I know that none of you can honestly expect to find them anytime soon." This time, he spoke with a serious and straight expression, with the conviction that he spoke fact.

"So you don't want to dive headfirst into a cold, dark, and unknowable shadow realm to save the life of someone you barely know. Understandable. But this someone, is it someone you can simply forget about? Will you all go on with your day, your lives, peacefully, knowing this person or persons could be in mortal danger. I don't know your exact relation to them, but considering you're all outside scouring the backstreets as if you were looking for a runaway child, I assume they're important," He then looked directly at Lafayette," Or am I wrong again?"

“You keep saying a lot of vaguely threatening things, you know that right?” Shel asked.

“She’s right, you aren’t really pointing the judgement away from yourself.” he added, “You stalk us, you eavesdrop, creep up on us, then want to make a deal. If that creepy box the girl has reacts to you, it must mean you’re something to take note of. So what would we have that could possibly interest you?”

Willa stepped before Ponce, eyeing him closely, “You want them for something, but you refuse to tell them. It might be because you know they won’t agree with, let me guess, you plan to trick them, don’t you?” The box loudly beating in her bag, Willa prodded his chest with a finger, “So maybe you quit going in circles, and get to your point, keeping quiet about a deal is not something that will work out for you.”

Ponce nodded wryly, "Yes, you've all made it perfectly clear that this isn't going to be easy for me."

He took a step back, taking a breath, and seemed to relax a little bit. It almost seemed as if Lafayette put him on edge, if only just a little bit, but with the others now willing to listen, he seemed much more comfortable.

"So, with that in mind, I suppose introductions would be in order. I am Ponce de Gezzadro, an agent of the Church of the Fair Lady, and someone is trying to kill my benefactor."

Willa simply tilted her head at him, “Why are you stalking them then? I didn’t think The Fair Lady as a stalking type.”

“I don’t believe she is the type to send stalkers to people who’ve never interacted with her.” Lafayette agreed with Willa. “So what are you really doing here. Because it's not protecting The Mother.” he added. “I’ve seen her guards. You don’t look like one of them.”

Ponce raised an eyebrow, "I don't believe I said I was a guard. I said I was an agent. As in, while her guards sit around eating crumpets or whatever they do, I actually go out to find the route of the problem. At the end of the day, her personal guards are her last line of defense; if an attacker is allowed to get close enough to provoke them, it's already too late."

"And as for your other concerns, regardless of whether she has interest in or knowledge of you, I do. From your descriptions from the wanted posters being circulated I know you were the ones at the warehouse. It might also be helpful to note that said warehouse was the hideout of a band of assassins that would have made my job very hard were they not dealt with. I thank you for that. But I need to figure out who these killers work for. And I believe you all are still much more involved than you think. One of your cohorts being magiced away by someone incredibly powerful not long after you unknowingly unravel a plot of assasination? Some might say it's coincidental, I say it's retribution."

“You are suggesting these assassins had a mage in their employ?” Lafayette questioned Ponce. “You might just be onto something.” he added looking in Ponce’s eyes.

“That would explain why the tracks disapparated seemingly out of nowhere.” Shel said

“Fine.” Lafayette said, “You wanted something from us. Spill it, what could we have that you want, or what help we could be. We’re nothing special.”

Asher finished his pint and turned to the Merovingian "Lafayette, you're making this complicated when clearly he's saying you help him and he'll help you. And why would he want your help? Because you're local to the area and he isn't and you've got a dog in the fight"

“Alright…” Lafayette said, “Makes sense.” he said and Asher replied with a grin.

Willa narrowed her eyes at the man for a small moment, “The stalking is still a bad way in my book.” She took herself away from the conversation by stepping behind Asher.

“Well if you want our help, start talking, you seem to have more knowledge about this than we do so we can only help if you are transparent about all of it.” Lafayette said, listening intently.

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