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.

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Dominic was gazing up at the stars that twinkled in between the leaves of the tree as the brisk wind blew through the forest. As much as he wished he was home and doing this outside with Sio, a beer in hand, in the hammock by the fire pit, he couldn't complain too much since this mission he was currently on was so close to home. Perhaps if this intel assignment was over soon enough, he could do just that, but then again, nothing ever went so smoothly when it came to Guard work. If he wasn't getting into a fight at some point, that usually meant something went sideways.

His leg dangled from the very large branch he lay on, rather precariously some would say being as high off the ground as he was. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the bag of peanuts he was munching on while waiting to hear back from his current partner. Liam was eager and wanted to prove he was ready for the field. Dominic admired the guy. He had passion and drive, but tended to dive into a situation too fast without assessing the facts which was why Dom had given the guard in training a chance to prove himself with a easy task of surveillance. However, it truly wasn't easy at all, at least for Liam and Dominic knew it. Tailing people was probably harder for Liam then actually being in the middle of a battle scene. Boring work, in fact. Dom was much the same when he first joined the Guard too and it had taken him a while to learn the importance of patience and fact gathering before flying in with punching fists. Perhaps that's why he liked Liam so much. He saw a bit of himself in the man.

As the last peanut went out of his hand and into the air, before falling into his mouth, Dom stuffed the plastic back in his pocket. He lifted his cell phone off his chest and looked at the time. Two minutes passed deadline. Liam was supposed to call with a check in and he hadn't. "Shit." Pocketing his phone, the therian swung his legs over the side of the tree limb and lowered himself from the branch, hanging for a moment before dropping to the ground. His supernatural instincts took over as he tried to pick up on Liam's scent which was still faint as this was the last place the two stood before he was told to head out on his scouting mission. It had taken them weeks to finally get a lead on where this so called cult was bringing victims and Therian woods had seemed to be where their base was. 

Dominic hurried in the direction of Liam's steps. It had only been his fellow guard's scent for some few minutes before that of two more seemed to join. A sigh escaped his lips as he was now becoming a little more concerned, quickening his pace. The smell of another therianthrope hit him hard and his hues zeroed in on a female silhouette before he had even seen the black panther that was stalking closer to some bushes. Dom let out a whistle before pulling his knife from his belt to grab the giant cat's attention as well as the woman who now faced him. He spun the blade in his hand and gave a wave, averting his eyes from the bush, no doubt where Liam was currently hiding. There wasn't a chance the cat hadn't picked up on Liam's scent by now, but the therian decided to distract from his partner's location as much as possible, his eyes flashing white from his Omega status. "Any chance you two know a good place to eat out here? Been walking a mile or so and I'm starting to think I got bad directions." The panther immediately turned his attention to Dominic and darted for him as the woman pulled out a small handgun and took aim.

Liam saw the exact moment that everything went wrong. It played out in his head only seconds before it happened, only to be shoved off as a case of the nerves. His intuition was known for being flighty, but this time it hasn’t abandoned him to run down a rabbit trail; instead, it looked more like his target was going to make dinner out of him any moment. It wasn’t a good feeling to be staring down the nose of a giant cat, wondering which he’d lose first, his nose or the hand that he’d wrapped over his moth to keep any obvious breath from escaping. His heart was racing and the meditation exercise that he had learned were the furthest things from his mind. This was actual danger and like some crazy person, Liam had signed up to be in the middle of it!

Just as the cat came within twelve inches of him, there was a rustle in the bushes that turned the head of the giant canine to the left and away from the rookie spy. Before his supervisor fully appeared in his vision, Liam wondered if he was going to watch someone else earn the fate he’d rolled only moments ago. He certainly didn’t have it in him to stand by, but his fighting skills were below par at best. He didn’t have time to go all worst case scenario before a familiar voice rang out into the underbrush. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Dom was following him: reverse their positions and Liam would tail himself. He was impulsive and although he hadn’t 

technically made any missteps this mission, it was only moments away from being too much for him to handle.

The young guard sighed, biting his lip. How was he ever going to prove himself when he didn’t have the chance? Yet, what if his only chances were too much to handle? He waited, silently, until the enemy theriantheope morphed once again into a human, revealing his face in the moonlight. “Catrina, I told you we were being followed.” The same green eyes shot daggers at the young woman in the shadows of a giant willow tree.The long path between the three figures closed as the two strangers eyed their new companion. "I think you may be lost. Perhaps you should go."

Liam tilted his head, wondering what Dom was planning. If he’d even been following remotely, he’d heard the same conversation that Liam had. The human felt an amount of courage building in his chest, although it was tempered by the closeness of the beast he’d only just seen. With a sharp whistle that resembled a local owl, he moved toward the back of the pair, as quietly as possible. This situation could be redeemed. 

Dominic lifted his hands up slowly as the gun trained on him, glaring at the woman. "See, now that's just cheating." He watched as the fellow therianthrope transformed back into a man again, fully naked. Well, grabbing their attention seemed to work fair enough, but then again he wasn't exactly faster than a bullet. She in fact made good meaning of the phrase, 'bringing a gun to a knife fight'. He slowly motioned that he was putting his blade back in its sheath before raising his arms in surrender again. "Look, bud. I'll just be on my merry and you two can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing out here. In the middle of the night. Not being suspicious at all." Dom's hues fell on the woman with a nod. She didn't seem to have any indication of playing fair. "I'd appreciate it if you'd lower that now."

"Not a chance, big boy. Why are you following us?" she responded, widening her stance. Clearly she had no intention of letting him move along.

Dominic shrugged nonchalantly. "Following is a strong word."

"Stop playing games!" She moved a few paces forward, closing the wide gap between them. "Answer the question or I pull the trigger."

The lycan sighed and hung his head slightly before meeting her eyes. "I sensed some fellow therians out here. As you can see, I'm an omega and was just curious why there was a pack nearby. We're deep in the woods and I normally don't get visitors around my lands." Some of it was true, anyway. 

A familiar whistle suddenly rang out and to them it wouldn't mean anything, but Dominic knew that sound well. Liam was giving a signal and though he couldn't see the fellow Guard, he knew he was making at a play. Time to stall a little longer. "Not buying it, mutt." Dominic placed a hand over his heart in mock of being hurt by her words. The man's head suddenly snapped around. He was eyeing the trees behind him. Dom had a feeling Liam's position was being compromised and something needed to be done. Now. "What is it, brother?" Caterina's eyes glanced to her kin and that was all Dominic needed.

He pulled the dagger quickly from its home and launched it at the very naked male. It landed directly in the man's upper back making him scream in pain. The female looked back to Dominic who was already on the move and hid behind a tree as she opened fire. The sound of the gun was deafening in the quiet of the woods, but it was clear she was moving away from them. Her concern was more for protecting her brother than it was for killing him.

When the gunfire stopped, the therian moved out from cover and saw Liam doing the same. "You alright?" He surveyed over the trainee quickly before looking back into the darkened wood. "Well, that didn't go according to plan, did it?" They still couldn't let this opportunity go to waste and he beckoned with his head to follow. "Come on. They're probably heading to their base camp and I plan on getting my fucking knife back."

Watching from the sidelines as the action happened was never ideal in Liam's eyes, but he commanded his limbs to still and to his surprise, they obeyed him. The only thing that remained was a subtle tremor in his left hand. He'd never appreciated being tailed by his superior, before, but as the weapons were drawn, the young man felt a surprising amount of fear lodge itself in his chest. He'd been a fist fight before, but only ever a fist fight. In the real world, people didn't stop and ask before they fired a bullet. He took a deep breath, his blue eyes carefully watching the triangle of tension radiate between the poplar trees. If he saw an angle, he would take it, but only once the moment arrived. The two siblings who Dominic was facing rotated, with their weapons raised. The sister, clearly the weaker of the two, turned towards the bushes where Liam hid and for a moment her torso was exposed. Liam reached for his weapon, but saw Dom lowering his and knew if he reacted, that his mentor would be instantly stabbed, shot, or both. That would do him no good. Very likely, he'd end up bleeding on the forest floor only moments later. The younger guard tilted his head and instead of fingering his knife, grabbed a slim metal tracker from his pocket and slid it under the leaves. Just as he suspected, Caterina stepped two feet backwards and landed directly atop it allowing a sealing agent to attach to her boot. 

Cicadas were only just beginning to sing in the trees as the sun set. Along with them, several nightingales were humming above Liam's head. In two short spurts, he whistled. It was nearly indecipherable from the birds to anyone who didn't know to listen for it. However, one of the first things that he'd been taught was how to communicate in the wild and rule one was to never expose yourself apart from nature. As soon as their code was exchanged, everything else went down before Liam could blink. One moment, the weapons were lowered and the next Dom's knife was lodged between the shoulders of the assailing lycanthrope. Liam had studied enough anatomy to know that a punctured lung was deadly, unless treated with immediate medical intervention. As the siblings retreated in a hail of gunfire, Liam climbed out of the bushes and quickly followed, eager to stretch his legs. "I put a tracker on her boot. Let's go!" 

His hand met Liam's shoulder, giving him a quick and heavy pat in approval as well as letting him know it was okay he'd been discovered. He was at a great disadvantage when it came to being around supernaturals, but if Dom didn't think Liam was capable despite being human, he wouldn't have let him start doing missions in the field. Gazing off into the trees towards the direction they would soon be heading in, a small smirk appeared on Dom's features. "Good job, rook." He nodded his head in a gesture to follow along as they moved through the woods. A tracking device was good and all, but Dominic was as old school as old school could be. He followed his nose; literally. Being a therian had its advantages when it came to finding someone and he was as good as it comes to being the person to contact when someone needed finding. The Ailwards relied heavily on his skill to do so when other types of magic failed. Magic was something Dominic was always wary about, but he knew the usefulness it carried when certain spells could find someone within a few minutes of trying. The art of tracking someone the way he did required a lot more skill.

The sun had fully disappeared beneath the horizon as the moon began its journey to take its place in the sky. Therian woods could change so dramatically within a few minutes as nature's lighting altered the mood. Despite its massive size, Dominic felt like he had a good idea of everything that was going on within her borders, but with the chaos of this new threat in Evermore, he couldn't be certain anymore. It was already hard enough dealing with the loss that was currently gutting the Ailwards by losing Vlad and no matter how many of them were working on figuring out the mystery, it seemed the person or persons responsible were always a step ahead. The fact that he was unable to locate the missing Ailwards because they were guarded by some type of magic was infuriatingly frustrating. Dom was a practical person and when magic failed to locate them along with his own capabilities, he knew it was most likely going to end badly. And so it did. 

It was easy enough for him to follow the blood trail the brother was leaving. The siblings that were in a desperate attempt to escape were not exactly being careful of their steps. They might as well have large neon signs in the shapes of arrows pointing them in the direction of their base. As they came upon a small clearing, he could hear the sound of a waterfall. He motioned to Liam to wait as he placed his back against the tree and peered out. There was no movement, but the scent of a few others was now mixing with the blood of the injured therian. Dominic's brow furrowed in confusion as if his eyes were deceiving him. The clearing was empty. He glanced over to Liam who was checking the receiver for the tracker, no doubt wondering if the technology was also failing him. 

A few more moments and the Guard nodded once to his partner to move forward slowly. Nothing moved save them and the rushing water of the falls. Dominic could smell the pooling of blood from the man he'd injured as if the two had stopped and then completely vanished. His eyes wandered around the space slowly, looking for any clues until a vibration from underneath his feet made him glance down. Kneeling to the earth, Dom placed his hand on the ground and felt movement that was below them. "You're kidding," he said softly, signaling to Liam that he thought he may have figured out where their would-be cult might be congregating. Now that the lycan had a good idea of where they were hiding, the question was how. How were they getting underground? The roar of the falls called to him then and his gut pulled him towards the river. Along the edge of the shoreline, a small and narrow path edged around and seemed to lead behind the wall of water. This was only meant to be a surveillance mission, but Dominic knew they would possibly pack up and leave after tonight knowing there were people looking to find them. The Ailwards couldn't risk losing them again and he knew that. Plus, he really liked that knife. His determined hazel hues fell on Liam with the hopes he wasn't making a bad decision by going in without much knowledge of who or what could be behind that waterfall, but he had some faith in the trainee beside him. "Ready for this?"

If Liam hadn't fallen in with the guards, he wasn't sure that he'd ever considered himself someone who would spend hours following a trail, disappearing into the woods, standing guard, and searching out clues. He had a heart for justice, that was true, but his college degree wasn't much use when it came to the skills required to be a warrior. It was essentially...useless. The knowledge about the law and the way systems worked which had been drilled into his head for the past four years was having to be abandoned for something much more instinctual. He'd never before had to act in the moment. It wasn't something that he considered himself to be very good at. When it came down to fight, flight, or freeze, Liam usually spazzed. His actions weren't predictable. They never followed a due course and had very little meaning behind them. His training had previously been focused on hammering patterns into his psyche and finally it was time to set those things to the test. He knew that he was disadvantaged when it came to being human in this city. There were people around who could do many things that he could only dream of, which a year ago had only been the stuff of fantasy, but he had to adapt. He'd spent almost as many hours shut in a library as he had in the gym. If he was going to be on a supernatural police force, he needed to know what he was up against. It had been mindblowing to understand that all of these things had existed under the noses of human beings for thousands of years, but it didn't scare him. It was exciting. 

The moon was high in the sky and the pair stayed mostly under the shadow of the trees to block light from illuminating their faces. Liam was careful to follow, step, by step, minding to watch for mud and branches. He didn't want to leave a trail like the one they were following. As they approached a lake, the tumble of water down a nearby hill was almost deafening. It seemed like a bad idea to enter an entire hideaway of enemies on their own, but he also trusted Dominic. Surely, the older guard knew what he was doing. Liam had some faith in himself as a fighter, but he knew that the large brunt of the capability and strategics would be coming from his superior. If there was a reason that they needed to act tonight, surely, there was also a plan. 

The young man stretched his legs and waited until he was given the signal to wade into the water and behind the deafening sound of the falls. Just behind it there was a wooden door to a concealed cave. There were no guards posted and everything was eerily quiet. Goosebumps paraded up Liam's arms all the way to the back of his neck, but he did as asked and carefully pulled his lockpick from the door, working it between the levers. After some fiddling, it came free. The cavern ahead was dark and only a dim glow emanated from about twenty yards in. Nearby, a passed out guard held a whiskey bottle in his hand and snoozed away. Clearly, the clan was not expecting to be followed home. Liam waited momentarily, before deciding on the non lethal option of quietly knocking the man's head against the wall. With the combination of a concussion and the alcohol, he'd be asleep for several hours. The human pulled his dagger from his waistband and nodded. "After you." 

Dominic let his senses push out again and there was a faint scent of the blood moving along the pathway and further ahead where he could not see behind the waterfall. It was rather impossible to hear anything over the sound of the rushing water falling from above, but there wasn't much choice than to see what was waiting on the other side with his own eyes. If they were lucky, very, very lucky, they could get in without being noticed, but he also knew the cult would be on high alert now that the Guards had attacked some of their own.

His boots splashed lightly in the water as he came up to the waterfall. Breathing deeply, he could pick up the scent of the blood that belonged to the man they had encountered in the woods. Dominic placed his back against the rocks and lowered himself to kneeling. He slowly looked around the wall and saw the door that would lead them inside, noting the blood droplets that lead up and disappeared behind the entrance. When this was all over, he'd definitely be making a recommendation to the Ailwards about using this place as another safehouse for those they rescued and needed to keep in hiding. 

Dominic waved a signal for Liam to move up and join him as he stood and walked into the cave. He could hear beyond the door some activity and the murmurs of voices farther away. This fellow guard was passing him in moments, quickly handling the locked door to get inside which would need more finesse than a boot to break it down if they wanted to do this the right way. Liam was impressively fast with the lockpick and soon they were entering the darkened cavern.

His eyes began to adjust to the darkness, but it was soon not needed as the lights from the lanterns glowed softly ahead. Dominic had placed an arm out to stop their approach as he picked up the scent of someone close by until he saw the passed out man slumped against the wall. Liam swiftly ensured the man would not be waking any time soon with a blow to his head which made Dom smirk in approval and turned to him. "Now that is a lesson in the field there. No sleeping on the job." The therian reached down for the whiskey bottle and tilted it back, only getting a swig or so that remained in disappointment. 

Moving forward, Dominic could distinctly hear more voices becoming clearer as there seemed to be a heated discussion among the people occupying the cave. The man who he had injured was frantically telling the others they needed to prepare themselves and leave now, but it seemed their leader was against the idea. The guard ignored them for now as they came upon a fork in the paths. Dom nodded for Liam to take the right while he took the left. "Stay low. Stay quiet. Intel first. We meet back in five," he whispered with a another nod before making his way down his self assigned path.

Liam had already gotten himself into a conundrum once already tonight. The last thing he needed was to be unable to be unsupervised for more than a few minutes. He could manage that, right? As long as he didn't get distracted, didn't miss any obvious signals, and for Pete's sake, didn't walk straight into a group of enemies...he'd be fine. Just fine. Still, the young man crossed his fingers as he shoved his hands deeply into the pockets of his denim jeans. They were black and blended in with the cave. Ahead of him, there was a soft glow emanating from a fireplace that had been left to burn. The smoke made the air thick in his lungs. The roof of the underground hidey-hole was not tall enough to allow much ventilation. It was a wonder more people were passed out. For as well hidden as the cult was, they did seem to know very little about surviving in the wild. Not everyone was suited to being on the run for good reason. Most species had people groups that were highly acclimated to things like supermarkets and air conditioning. Convenience often took high prize over knowledge. 

It made Liam thankful for his training. Granted, he probably wouldn't be the last man standing in a zombie apocalypse, but if he paid attention, he could hold his own against a couple of Therians with less than perfect IQs. It was a starting point, considering his humanity already put him at a disadvantage. His gray-blue eyes swept over the storage room until landing on a large barrel in the back of it. The lid was sealed tightly. Curiosity made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It didn't look like they were storing food here, so what else could it be? He crept forwards, knife in hand. Very carefully, he wedged the blade between the rim and the seal. He sheathed the knife and lifted the lid. Underneath was a skull. It had been bleached white and there were strange runes carved into the temple, cheeks, and nose. An eery vibe filled the room as he stared into the eye sockets and nothing looked back. Before he could inspect it further, or look underneath, there was a sharp bird call from the front of the cave. Not thinking twice, Liam grabbed the artifact, stowed it under his jacket and went to find his leader. Perhaps, one of the other guards would know why someone would want to engrave another's head. It gave him the heebie-jeebies. 

The man they'd left unconscious had shifted in his sleep and Dom was standing over him, fully masked in his furry persona. It had taken a few times to get used to, but now Liam barely blinked. "I found something strange...you may want to take a look."

Dominic walked along the darkened path of the cave, keeping close to the wall and feeling the extent of his height as the ceiling seemed to be growing shorter and shorter. He softly grumbled at the situation, annoyed with the fact that he was usually taller than most places could hold him; even when he wasn't sneaking into hidden caves behind waterfalls. He'd always have to duck his head through entrances, move the seat in a car all the way back, and reach for things that smaller people couldn't grab. A book could be written about the latter for how many times he had to do that at home. 

The light was becoming dimmer as the cave became more shallow and he was thinking that perhaps he was simply in an area of the hideout that this so called cult didn't use until a single lantern at the end told him differently. It was significantly colder back here and his ever vigilant sense of smell immediately picked up on blood and a lot of it. Coming to the end of the hall, Dominic could see that it led to a small path and a ledge which he peered over into nothing but darkness. The scent that was hitting him was even more pungent and he knew immediately what the rotting smell was without needing light to see it.

He sighed and looked to the path which was entirely too small for a human to walk. If he had to guess, the cult that was here only came down here in animal form. "Goddammit," he grumbled, pulling his shirt off first followed by the rest of his clothes. The bones in his body began to shift and the sharp pain he mentally pushed aside until he was soon in his lycan transformation, carefully padding down the bloody path that led below. The smell was even stronger in his wolf form. The blackness below was only cut by the small flickers of the lantern in the hallway above and he could see the rotting corpses of people who'd been thrown here or dragged from the blood that trailed down the steps. His eyes scanned the mountain of bodies and he could see the ritualistic cutting that many of them had on their wrists along with what he assumed were carved runes in their heads. That was plenty enough for him.

He quickly ascended the steps and took his clothing in his jaw, hurrying back down the path to meet up with Liam. The guard didn't even want to take the time to shift back until he was far from that gory scene he'd just left. He couldn't get back soon enough and felt like death was almost lingering on him. Dominic shook his whole body out, much like a wet dog as he got to the front of the cave and saw the drunken man who had fallen asleep on his watch had moved, but was still out like a light. The familiar scent of Liam was approaching and as the guard spoke to him about his find, Dominic shifted back into his human form, pulling his clothes on again. As the trainee showed him the found skull, Dom's brow furrowed. "What the hell.." He was no expert when it came to cults and the like, but he knew they could find more answers back at the manor. "Yeah, that's not creepy at all," he said sarcastically, feeling the chills run down his arms as his gaze was pulled into the hollow sockets of the skull. "The tracker you put in place will hopefully hold. I don't want to leave, but we have to report back and see what we can learn about our findings and from the sound of things they plan on leaving here soon. We definitely don't wanna be caught when that happens."  

Liam was quick on his feet heading out of the hideout with Dom. He had to be, because he was following behind a big cat who took strides that a man could barely make at a light jog. The early days of jumping through the forest behind his Therian partner had been the fastest that he had ever gotten into shape. After spending four years neck deep in a college library studying business and law books that were a thick as his forearm and as dusty as relics, Liam hadn’t come to Evermore at the peak of physical fitness. He was pretty sure that the half of the time he spent catching up to Dom while catching his breath was how he actually figured out the lay of the forest. Sometimes getting lost was the best way to find your way back, figuratively and literally. Maybe that had been purposeful on the part of his mentor. Despite the muscles and growling, there was a lot of logic behind their plans. It was one of many reasons Liam admired the other man so much. The human endured another soaking as they emerged from the other side of the waterfall and slipped into the shadows. The formerly bright moon had slipped behind a shadow and the only thing Liam had to follow was the sound of cracking twigs and the casual presence of something much bigger than himself a few steps ahead. He couldn’t see, so every decision and every footstep he made was made by instinct. It was like stumbling in the darkness long ago during the days of playful Marco Polo and hide and seek. 

He’d always preferred running to hiding and squishing himself into small places; on the contrary, his younger sister had excelled at t. There had been several times that she’d disappeared for hours. At first, he’d panicked, but over time, had learned it was just something she liked doing when she felt overwhelmed. Arabella had never made total sense to him. He’d long suspected there was an underlying reason and his Psychology class only broke his heart in introducing the word Autism into his vocabulary. To him, she was just special and needed extra help. It wasn’t that he’d always appreciated the specialness, though. There were still days he struggled to accept his sister’s differences and others he would have killed to protect her. 

That was how he’d ended up charting the stars and strangers through the woods. It seemed like hours before the edge of the trees transitioned into his vision. Light was already coming up around them. It was almost dawn. His legs were tired and a glass of water and some rest seemed terribly appealing, but Liam knew there would be a long debrief before he could fall into bed for the night. As the approached the house, he leaned against the porch, catching his breath. Although he wasn’t very good at communicating, the blonde sheepishly stuck out his hand to his superior. “Thank you. I could have really...you know.” Screwed it up? Gotten killed? 

He didn’t like either option. Liam scratched his ear. “I’ll do better next time, I swear.” 

Dominic took a quick look behind them once more at the dark tunnels of the cave before nodding in confirmation of his decision to leave. Something about turning his back on those bones at the bottom of the cavern felt wrong, but he knew there was nothing to be done about it now. Once the cult had moved out, the Guards would be able to get in and do a proper sweep of the cave, find more clues, and put those innocent people to rest properly. 

He led the way back through the waterfall, turning his head as he could hear the others starting to gather. Therians had incredible hearing and other senses that could give the two Guards away and he didn't want them to linger any longer. The way back was long and tiring after the night they'd spent during the stakeout, but they at least didn't come away empty handed. If they had at least thrown a small wrench into the cult's plans, that was always worth the discomfort of being physically drained. Perhaps they had even saved another person's life tonight who might've become a victim in those sacrifices.

Dominic's cabin finally came into view which gave him a slight sigh in relief. He briefly looked through the treeline to make sure they hadn't been followed, but all his therian instincts were telling him it was safe. His eyes went over to the bedroom window where he knew Siobhan would be sleeping before jogging up the few steps. Dom's hands went over his pockets to find his keys, but he noticed that Liam had paused against the porch. Listening to his words, he gave the trainee a small smirk and shook his hand, ending it with a fist bump; Something they always did between each other. "Listen, Liam. You did great. We all have our slip ups. A lot of the time I'm using my fists before my brain even to this day. You're a human in a supernatural world. As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather have you around than a lot of the other scumbags walking about that are my own kind." He clapped him on the back and put a finger to his lips to indicate to keep quiet which Liam would understand knowing that Siobhan was staying with him.

Opening the door, Dom nodded for him to feel free and take a seat on the couch to relax, heading over to the coffee maker and turning it on. He opened the cabinet to take down a couple of the mugs and then moved to the fridge to get creamer. Grabbing a water, he whistled to his partner to get his attention and motioned to the mug or the bottle as a choice. The coffee machine light went off indicating it was finished and the smell of the brew was immediately comforting. What he wouldn't give to knock out immediately after the cup of joe and a big breakfast. 

Dom tossed the bottle of water to Liam before sitting down next to him. He motioned with his head to take the skull out while sipping from his cup. The markings on the skull were unknown to him and the immediately sickening feeling that followed gave him such an uneasiness, he turned his gaze away. "That thing is cursed," Dom quietly remarked, heading over to the small linen closet and pulling out a pillow sheet. He quickly moved back to Liam and wrapped the skull inside, making sure to avoid touching it. "We get this back to the manor in a few minutes. I don't even want this thing in my house." Everything in his being when screaming the skull was bad news. "Malva might have a better idea on its origins. I wonder how this cult was even using it."

It was beyond a relief to be able to stretch his sore limbs on the couch and accept the offer of a beer. Liam knew it wasn't always the best choice, but perhaps it was one of his vices. Being able to numb your body and your thoughts from pain and anxiety was something that everyone needed sometimes. As much as there was the urge to close his eyes and fall asleep on Dom's couch, the way that black holes in skull's empty expanse stared back at him was disturbing enough to let the hair stand up on the back of his neck. It almost felt as if some kind of presence was waiting for him to move. He didn't like it. A shudder crept over his shoulders as his trainer wrapped the creepy artifact in a towel and placed in the back of the room. All the same, he felt some urge to look over his back every few moments. If it was enchanted, maybe it could see through walls. It seemed like there were other things at play. It clearly went deeper than they had originally thought. If he was thankful for anything, he was thankful for his own ability to think. Sometimes it seemed that people under persuasive leadership stopped to have that ability. Losing his brain would be far more terrifying to Liam than having a wounded body. A wounded mind took a lot longer and lot more healing power to repair. 

The young man took a sip of his beer and thumbed with the TV remote, settling a soccer match that was almost over. After all, not a lot of stations were streaming live at past midnight. The Italian hosts dialogue mostly passed over his head, but he picked out a few words here and there. He'd spent one summer abroad and though a full foreign language had never stuck with him, he'd picked up pieces of French, Italian, Swedish, and Spanish. It was mostly useful for listening in on grocery store conversations, but at least it kept his brain active. After a few moments, he tuned out the words and began watching the gameplay, letting his thoughts takeover in the quiet that drifted between them. Conversation was good between friends, but sometimes silence was golden. He wondered what would happen to the person who had slept through him stealing the skull. It seemed valuable.

He wondered how sore his legs would be tomorrow. 

And if it would be worth walking to the training room to see Tatiana.

Images of her cheeky smile and tight form while boxing flashed into his brain and a half-smile lingered on his face.

The celebration of a GOAAL over the television set drew him back and he cleared his throat. Hoping to disguise his thoughtful trip of fantasy into sleepiness, Liam stretched his arms over his head and yawned, pulling his boots back onto his feet. "G'night, sir. I'm gonna check by my sister's place on the way back into the city."

He just had to observe, from a distance, make sure the creeps were staying away.

Bella was too innocent to let November happen again.

"I'll report back in the morning." 

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