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AW, ecologist mastery #8

There were signs of pronghorn and mountain goats in the low, rocky terraces of the Crag but the prey were not the only beasts to call the low rise home. Lótë could smell the faded odors of at least one or two cougars in the area. She kept a close eye out as she explored, hoping she might come across one of the lions from a safe distance in order to observe it without endangering herself.
He came across her scent by accident. Rather than turn and leave the trail, Raimo moved to follow the path; lured as much by his attachment to Lote and Moonglow as to the lingering mark of Kukutux, despite his misgivings. It struck him as odd that Lote would be this far from the spine. He told himself it was for her benefit that he track her down to ascertain the reason for her dispersal — in truth he was doing it for himself, selfishly clinging on to the last vestiges of his precious story.
The herdstalker was busy investigating the marred trunk of a tree when he came upon her, its bark rough and ragged where one of the territory's big cats had sharpened its claws by raking them along the trunk. Lótë shuddered to think what a mountain lion might be able to do her, reminding herself to be vigilant. That was what prompted her to scan her surroundings -- optics of light emerald locking on a flicker of movement as the shadows shifted and the wind brought a familiar scent to her.

"Raimo," she greeted with a vague hint of surprise once he had revealed himself, feeling again that familiar sting of guilt. She told herself that she hadn't played any part in his leaving the village but still, she wondered. Perhaps if she'd just agreed to be the former sivullik's second, he wouldn't have dispersed from their tribe. But then again, she might not have been set to wed the current huntmaster if that was the case. Perhaps the same spirits that had spoken to Adrastus when he hunted the lynx had woven their fates together in such a way. 
As he drew nearer he was identified. Lótë carried one scent heavier than that of the moon who ruled the tribe - the huntsman Adrastus. Finding that scent lingering anywhere would have spoiled Raimo's mood - but to find it here, on the woman, made his fur stand on-end.

You have come far. He remarks; as much an observation of her tracking as it is her position in the tribe, if she holds the sivulliks attention.
"So have you," the girl remarked, though she was not completely sure that he was talking abut their location. He had always made her nervous from the moment they first met but it was true enough that she had never wished him harm. The herd-watcher had hoped that by remaining neutral she could avoid choosing sides between the two men who seemed to be constantly butting heads, not unlike warring rams fighting for the rights to the women within the village. But somehow that only seemed to complicate things further, if Raimo's simmering ire was any clue. Still, she hoped to keep the situation light as anxiety whirled through her bloodstream in response to his dark tone.

She edged a step backward, pale emeralds never moving from his two-toned gaze as she put on an air of calm nonchalance -- despite the fact that alarms were sounding in her mind. "What brings you to the Hinterlands?"

While she has elevated over time, he has fallen and made himself a distant, unreachable thing. No longer at home upon the mountain nor around it; back to the life of a wandering collector of tales, rather than the author of his true fate.

Raimo is jealous. Maybe that is why he lingers in conversation with the girl.

I am not here by choice, he clarifies. The look on his face is somewhat predatory somehow. It was his decision to leave Moonglow and his decision to remain away from it, but he lays blame, taking none for himself.

I have no place beneath Adrastus. And evidently, no place atop Kukutux either.
tags for reference

The dove’s brow furrowed the slightest bit. She had always assumed that Raimo had departed from the Spine after his relationship with @Kukutux ended. Had she been wrong, had he and @Adrastus fought — the spiritbear forcing the dark he-wolf from the ring of mountains? 

The herbalist’s dusk-rose lips thinned into a tight line, fighting the desire to defend her betrothed. The tundrian was a good man, this she knew even without knowing the entire story of what had conspired between the two huntsmen. Regardless, it seemed foolish to argue with her former tribe member.

Already, adrenaline had begun to trickle through her, the doe’s heart racing a familiar, frantic beat — her fight-or-flight instinct beginning to rear its head at the equally thunderous expression etching itself upon Raimo’s features. 

Uncertain what else to say, she edged another step back while murmuring: “That is unfortunate.”
He doubted she would show him any kindness, and he was right. The woman was standoffish; she was loyal to Adrastus and had been for a while now, plus, with the knowledge that they were sharing space - or perhaps one another - Raimo knew he would not get through to her.

How else could Adrastus' scent cling to readily to her body? Raimo was not jealous of the sivullik for that; he did not covet Lote the way he did Kukutux, and was in fact glad that the pale man sought affection from someone other than Raimo's fixation. But all the same, Raimo knew he could not go back there.

Not unless he was willing to challenge Adrastus for his position, and in so doing, ruin his relationship further with the moon-woman.

The panther considered these things while Lote spoke. He kept his ruminations private as he moved, first towards her, then around her, his features dark. He had nothing else to say and as the air crackled with a certain tension, he felt it better that he leave anyway.
As quickly as he came, he was leaving -- skirting her with the same clouded expression, causing the mouse to cast her gaze aside as he brushed by. Her head ducked but she turned, keeping him in her peripherals until the shadow of him had disappeared and she was left alone with the hollow whistle of the wind blowing through the gorges and mountain passes. 

Lótë hadn't wanted to assume anything but she'd been sure the onyx he-wolf would attack --  the air charged with the same aggressive static as when they first met and he snapped at her. Her heart was still racing for a long time after Raimo had departed but once it stilled, the two-year broke into a hasty trot -- taking a different path home, her quest to observe the cougars forgotten.