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Liam bounded across a stream deep within the woods. This was Therianthrope territory and he'd spent many hours exploring it with Dom, but he still had to pay attention in order to recognize the markers that had been grilled into his brain over the last year. Tonight, he wasn't following his own path, but the trail of two suspected members of a clan who was turning citizens against their will. The regular police force in Evermore didn't handle species disputes; that was left to the guards. However, tonight, he was only on surveillance. He was gathering information in hopes of finding out where their leader was keeping captives. This was his first solo mission, which was a long time in coming. Granted, it probably wouldn’t have taken Liam over a year and a half to earn his freedom from his trainer if he didn’t have the tendency to let his feet do the thinking instead of his brain. He could be reckless and it showed. He wasn’t very good at slowing down and thinking before jumping headfirst into a situation, completely certain he could handle it on his own. Sometimes, it turned out fine and the young Ailward Guard came out of a scuffle with nothing more than a few bumps and bruises, but sometimes there was a lot more mess for Dominic Howlett to clean up and Liam knew that he had to get his act together if he wanted to stay in his superior’s good graces. Despite the fact that he’d passed his initiation, it didn’t mean he shouldn’t be trying his best.
It was a cool night and nearly the end of November, and the end of fall was dragging out in biting wind and falling leaves. The branches of the trees above him were just beginning to be bare and allow moonlight to pass through. It only made disguising oneself in the forest another level of difficult. He had to focus his limbs in order to keep from his excessive movement. The crackling leaves and branches under his feet would make it especially easy to have noise be the thing that alerted the shadowy people he followed to his presence, but Liam hunkered down in the bushes and remained still.
The two people ahead stopped walking. They appeared to be a man and a woman, but in Evermore at night, anything was possible. “Do you smell that?” The first voice was low, quiet, almost a whisper. “Someone’s following us.”
“We checked three times before we came from the meeting, brother.” The other voice replied. It sounded female and younger, about the age of Belle. Although, it was hard to imagine his younger sister wrapped in a swirling criminal enterprise. “We won’t lead them to him.”
“You can never be too sure.” The first voice was more of a growl than actual speech, as he turned towards where Liam hid.
Before the human could gather his thoughts, the shadows before him morphed into the shape of a giant cat. Caught by surprise, he stumbled backwards. No matter how many times he saw evidence of the supernatural in this city, it still seemed like the first time. Only now, a large black cat was only feet away from where he was hiding. When it came down to it, he was never one to freeze in the moment, as the panther’s green eyes came closer and closer staring deep into the shrubbery, Liam drew his knife and prepared to defend himself. However necessary.
Not so fond memories began creeping to the front of his mind as the view around them changed. The further they went away from the city and towards the edges of Evermore, the more questionable their surroundings became. Dominic hadn't been to this side of town in a long time, but it had been a place he'd frequented often when he'd first came to the Eternal City. Being part of the Guard in the beginning wasn't a quick switch in his dubious behavior from what his life had become since leaving home and wandering the country. Somehow he'd been able to discover the seediest places of Evermore where a certain level of comfort found him. Reus had encouraged him to stay at the manor, but living in a place like that was so not his style. In fact, he'd been sleeping in his truck more often than not until he found his own slice of paradise in therian territory.
Once they arrived, Dom's eyes scanned the place. It was still a complete shithole. Not that he expected anything else. The last time he'd been here ended with him getting a black eye, but leaving the other two who attempted to rob him in far worse condition. He would rather deal with that again than having to be back in his truck with that skull. The more distance he put between him and it was a relief, even as they stepped into the bar where nearly every pair or eyes landed on them as they walked in. He knew they were going to draw the attention, after all, every single person in there was a therian and would know almost immediately that Liam was very much not. Dominic sighed out and knew this was probably going to end much like his last time here as he nodded to the bar in response to his fellow Guard. "I say we grab a drink."
Even as he sat in the stool, Dominic could still feel the gaze of the other patrons on his back. The bartender was a large man who stood in front of them, leaning forward onto the bar as he stared at them expectedly. A large scar ran from the top of his head and over his eye which apparently had blinded him as the pigment had nearly gone while his other eye was a dull blue. The therian had the feeling they wouldn't be getting much out of him despite probably being the best person in here to get any information from. "Two of whatever bottled beer you have." Dom wasn't going to take a chance on anything coming from these taps first and foremost or giving anyone the opportunity to put something in their drinks.
As the bartender popped the two caps off for them, he didn't seem to mind continuing staring at them for a few more moments to ensure they remained completely uncomfortable before finally walking away to help some of the others further down the bar. "Have to say I haven't missed this place," Dom said lowly under his breath before taking a long sip of the beer. His gaze casually moved about the place to see the other people inside until landing on a few of the younger therians that remained towards the back near the jukebox. The two they had encountered in the woods last night were also young and perhaps might be part of the same pack. If they could maybe catch one of them alone...
He turned back around to face the bar. "See that group over there by the jukebox? Thinking they may be our best bet. When one of them heads to the bathroom, we can have a private chat there."
Liam hadn't had a lot of spare time to explore Evermore since he'd been here. Most of his time had been spent training, researching, or trying to keep his little sister out of trouble. He didn't have a lot of extra time these days to sit down and grab a beer. Bars had been one of his favorite places to study in college. He'd never been the friendly type, but the adrenaline rush that came from pledging to a fraternity had been interesting. It had helped him forget about all the troubles that he'd left behind at home. He accept Dom's offer of a beer and followed his mentor's gaze towards the jukebox in the darkest corner of the room. The two men who surrounded it were locked into a tense discussion. It was obvious to anyone reading the room that the pair had more than a little bit of bad blood.
He took the cold drink and popped the cork, but waited to see what would happen before he drank any. He may have liked the occasional bottle, but he didn't so much fancy what it did to him. He tended to be a reckless person without the influence of alchohol and drinking on the job only made that instinct stronger. It was tempting, but he'd been trying lately to act less like a child. It seemed to really irritate others when he jumped head first into a situation without taking the time to guage the temperature of the waters. Luckily, the guards were patient; but, Liam didn't know how long it would be before that patience wore out. Sometimes, he felt like the burden of expectations was heavier than he could bear. It was frustrating. It made him understand why so many people spent their days and their nights in small, underground pubs. It was nice to hide sometimes.
He leant closer to Dominic as the situation by the side door continued to heat up, but before he could say anything, the larger of the two men threw up his hands and walked out of view. There were more chambers in the back. Clearly, whatever had been said was not the end of the argument, but it just might be their chance to confront someone without getting stopped. The ambience of the entire place wasn't exactly friendly. "They seem to have reached an impasse." He said quietly. It did not seem like the best idea for the bartender to overhear them. "It looks like the older one had enough with his firend's reckless bull."
Liam snickered. "I can't say that I blame him, but perhaps we should step in?"
Looking over his shoulder to the arguing men, he watched along with Liam as they dispersed towards the back. "How are your flirting skills?" Dominic asked with a bit of a mischievous grin as he stood without saying another word and nodding his head to follow. He put the beer to his lips again which was absolute shit causing him to make a face of disgust. Thinking he was going to get anything digestible from this place was his own fault, really. His expectations were entirely too high. The people that came here weren't exactly going to be paying to find themselves a decent beer. Or decent company. His company, however, was going to have to do another thing Guards needed some training on; Gathering information.
Dom leaned on the side of the jukebox and looked at the table of younger therians who he had a feeling would be the ones that could tell them something about the cult if they weren't part of it themselves. His eyes moved from the group and went to flipping through the different songs the player had to offer, speaking low to Liam. "We know they are taking people for sacrifices, right? Think you can present yourself as bait? There are more girls at that table than guys, so one of them is probably single. You might be able to talk your way into being an easy mark, especially once they realize your human." Dom pulled a quarter from the loose change in his pocket and slipped the coin into the machine, putting on the Rolling Stones. "They aren't gonna talk to me. One, I'm an outside therian and they seem to be a pack and two, I'm older. I'll head to the back room and see if one of those guys feels like talking." He gave Liam a hard pat on the back before walking off to do just that and not giving him the choice to argue it. Sometimes you just had to learn things in a crash course when the moment was presented. He turned back and mouthed a few words for a vote of confidence. "You got this."
The music began to fade out as he made his way to where the restrooms and a few separate rooms were in the bar. He slowly opened the doors and saw they were mostly used for storage, but then noticed one of the men heading outside through another door as the second went into the bathroom. Dom doubted they had any loyalty to the much younger therians out there and would possibly be willing to give him some of their own information. Questioning a man while he was using a urinal was never the right option, so Dom chose door number one.
Making his way outside, the therian noticed the man was pacing as he smoked on a cigarette like it was his source of oxygen. Dom could relate to that feeling well. Especially when there was a lot going on in his mind like it seemed his target's was too. "Got an extra?" he asked, hoping to maybe spark up an easy conversation, though it wouldn't surprise him if this man was just as unfriendly as the bartender was to strangers.
When it came to being a guard, Liam had some natural traits that made it easy to slip into the role. He was observant. Always had been. Ever since he was young, it had been easy to pick up pieces of conversation in a place like this. Part of that came from overhearing his mother and father get into so many arguments and the other was simple curiosity. It made him feel that he had a small advantage over others to know privileged information. Coming from a world where he’d faced many a disadvantage, this was comforting. However, his habit of listening behind doors had gotten him in trouble more than once. The last time it had lead to him waking up in a large mansion with a red headed girl passed out beside him.
The other patrons of the bar were clearly not used to strangers. Nor were they thrilled by it. The looks on their faces varied from caution to contempt, although a few of the younger crowd simply seemed curious. Like him. Liam took a sip of the beer, noticing Dom’s disgust. If his mentor was anything, he was a connoisseur of fine alcoholic beverages. It tasted the same to him, but finery had never exactly been his area of special interest.
A slow song played on the jukebox and Liam’s eyes wandered from his partner to some of the tables in the back of the room. A few of the younger people weren’t drinking, but instead were gathered around a pile of large books with mugs. One of them was quite pretty, but Dominic’s suggestion of flirting still shocked Liam enough that he sputtered. There was not yet any defined relationship with Kaelynn. Nothing was against the rules. He’d certainly picked up a woman in a bar before, but doing it for work seemed slightly outrageous. “Sure. Why the hell not?”
The younger man stood from his barstool to stretch his legs. He didn’t hear the other half of the plan until he had turned. So as Dom proposed his idea, Liam shrugged. He had no trouble being the fall guy. It was only after thirty seconds of reccolexfion that he’d realized what he’d agreed to doing. His voice was low to conceal their conversation, as he turned back. “Are you serious? That is your plan? Have me butter up some stranger, follow them into a damp cave, and just wait?”
His mouth contorted into an irked line. “I swear to God, Dom. If I get turned into human steak because of you…I will come back and haunt you as an incredibly annoying ghost.”
Did ghosts exist? That was yet to be confirmed. Even with his frustration, Liam knew that the idea was solid. Taking down this ring was a critical part of keeping Evermore safe. Including his sister. He reached for his beer, taking a large swig before heading towards the table. If he was going to be kidnapped, at least he could do it with the numbness of alcohol distorting his discomfort.
When it came down to it, who wanted to die on a dinner plate?
The man stopped pacing for a moment and eyed Dominic. The look of annoyance that came from him felt like a physical attack nearly, but then his features softened slightly. Perhaps the random company soothed whatever wild thoughts he seemed to have going on. He pulled the pack out of his pocket and held it out. Dom slid one of the few that were left out, reaching for the lighter in his pocket. Cigarettes were a habit he'd mostly kicked though the stress of the last couple of years had him sliding backwards in that regard. Frankly, most of his decision making hadn't been made up of great choices lately, but being on a mission he couldn't be stupid either. Especially when there was someone else that counted on him being the guide.
Dom lit the end of the cigarette and inhaled deeply. He couldn't deny how it instantly relaxed him. Blowing the smoke out, his gaze moved to the man who was now leaning against the building. "Thanks. Been a shit kinda week." Would small talk work? No, the stranger remained quiet, but he also didn't move away to not deal with frivolous words. He knew the look on the man's face. That look was one that had probably been on his a lot at one time. "What's her name?"
This seemed to surprise the other therian. At first Dominic thought he was still going to be ignored, but the man flicked the ash of his cigarette and looked away from him to stare ahead at nothing in particular. "Brian."
The events that occurred inside moments ago began to play back in his mind as the two men were arguing. Man, had he been way off. The passion behind their arguing before the one stormed off to the bathroom was starting to make a little more sense with context. He hadn't really thought passed that familiar look when he recognized it. Dom didn't want to get too personal, so he lead the conversation as best as he could to get the information he was hoping for. "I don't recognize you guys from the Evermore pack. New in town?"
The man nodded and pulled from the cigarette, breathing out with a sigh. "Yeah. Not looking to really join one, but he wants to. I didn't want to come to this city to begin with."
"I know the feeling." The shift in his eyes was subtle and only for a few moments to show that he was an Omega. The clouded whiteness pooled over his normally hazel hues before dissipating just as fast. This might be just what he needed. "Not really my thing either. Hope you weren't thinking of joining with those kids in there."
"Fuck no." His answer was firm that paired with a look of near disdain. "Those pups are into weird shit. They sit at that table day in and day out looking through some magic books. Had some creepy ass skull with them at times too. Seems these younger generations don't heed to 'avoiding magic at all costs' speech from our parents anymore." A visible shiver went over the therian's shoulders and Dom recognized that feeling instantly. That skull made him squirm too.
Dom nodded in agreement. "Amen to that." He took a long drag of the cigarette that filled his lungs before tossing it in the weathered looking metal milk jug that was the communal ashtray for all those seeking some sort of refuge from the bar. Blowing the smoke through his nose, the familiar burn was comforting. "The Evermore Pack is a good one should you ever decide to budge. They don't expect much more than keeping out of trouble and they don't pry into personal lives."
"Why didn't you join then?"
He stayed quiet for a moment. His gaze watched the dying embers of the cigarette flicker to nothingness and the wisps of smoke vanish. "That's a story for another day and a lot more alcohol. Thanks for the smoke. Hope things work out here in Evermore for you and yours. Place ain't so bad." Minus the psychotic cult that pops up every now and again.
Dom pulled open the door to head back inside, happy to have more confirmation that they were on the right track. Maybe Liam didn't have to play bait after all and they could just follow the therians when they finally left this shithole. As he stepped into the main room again, he noticed the group was now gone, including his fellow Guard. "Shit..." he murmured, looking around before just catching them outside of one of the dirty windows as they seemed to be heading to their cars. His pace quickened to hurry to the main door, wondering if Liam was with them.