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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.
Even with the skull being covered and on the table in the kitchen, something in the pit of Dom's stomach was still screaming at him that keeping it anywhere other than the manor was only going to cause for more awful happenings. His eyes moved over to where it sat on the table and he sighed, finding the mug touching his lips again so the coffee would give him some form of comfort and ease the growing dread. Magic wasn't his forte, but he'd been in the game long enough to know that cursed objects don't stay dormant. They want to be found and they want to cause havoc.
Liam's voice broke his eye contact from the ominous item as he looked over to the younger male. His eyebrow raised as he mentioned that he was going to head out instead of going back to the manor, but if it was family related, he guessed the skull could wait to be transported until the morning. "Well, be here bright and early then. Like I said, I don't want this thing in my house." Dom tossed the beer the guard was drinking in the trash and leaned against the door frame, watching him head out. Dom stared off into the darkened woods for a few moments in deep thought of the hidden caves before feeling the need to look behind him at the covered skull and cursing lowly.
After about half of his mug was gone, the therian still didn't feel much better afterwards, despite coffee being one of his more healthy go-tos. Pulling his shirt over his head, Dominic tossed it on the floor and collapsed onto the couch feeling the heaviness of the night weigh on him. He took a final glance at the covered skull with hesitancy before feeling comfortable enough to close his eyes.
It didn't take long for sleep to come, but the dreams that came with it were disturbing to say the least. It was as if he were looking through the eyes of the skull during the rituals performed by the cult. Beads of sweat formed along his brow and when he finally woke as the sun peeked through his windows, Dominic woke up with a tightness in his chest that felt like someone was constricting his heart. He pushed the hair that clung to his face back and tried to calm his breathing. The images from the nightmare still clung even on his waking mind. His hues fell to the skull which still remained at the table where he'd set it down last night, but frankly he didn't know what else he was expecting. Reaching for his phone, he dialed Liam's number to see how far away he was. Dominic couldn't get rid of that occult crap soon enough.
Liam never had problems with sleep. Often, he was so active during the day that when his head hit the pillow, it was lights out; but tonight, there was at least a little bit of tossing and turning before he finally surrendered to the sunrise at 6 am. He'd have to depend on coffee and adrenaline to get him through the next day, but with all of the work that had gone into scouting the underground rebels, that didn't feel too unusual. The young guard walked to work with his mug in his hand as he contemplated the bright reds and yellows that were chasing the green away from the local trees. It seemed like July had turned to October in mere moments.
The cup of coffee was soon drained to the dregs. The three mile walk to Dom's house on the edge of the woods didn't seem nearly as long or tiring as it had a few weeks ago. At least his physical body was adjusting to the exercise, even if the hours of sleep were hard to come by these days. Liam took a moment to settle his frustrations, leaving them as best he could at the gate and outside of his mind. The work that they were doing was both heavy and important. He didn't need thoughts of women at coffee shops or his sister's cat floating into the forefront of his mind.
After a brief, but firm knock, the apprentice entered and felt the same heebie jeebies as the shirt wrapped skull stared him down from the mantle. Belinda's Bananas, he didn't believe Dom could have gotten a wink of sleep with that thing in his house. "Hey, wolf man." Liam raised his voice a bit, wondering if Dominic was already digging a trench somewhere. "What are we doing with this....this..."
There wasn't a quick reply, but moments later, his cell started ringing. "I beat you to this one. Let's get rid of this...ugly head."
Dominic walked into the living room as Liam came in the door, making him shake his head as he ended the phone call. He pulled the toothbrush from his mouth that was covered in the minty toothpaste so he could speak, but who knew how well the words would even be understood as he was in the middle of brushing his teeth. "That's a good way to get yourself killed, bud," he muttered and walked over to the kitchen sink to spit, turning the faucet on. Grabbing the nearest dish towel, he wiped his mouth and tossed it aside with a sigh. Immediately the heaviness in his chest continued to feel like he was being dragged down. His eyes moved over to the covered skull which was somehow beckoning to him, but also making him want to toss it as far as he could into the river out back. "Let's just bring the damn thing back to the manor. Hopefully one of the diviners on the Guard will be around to check it out. Possibly found out more clues about it. Maybe I'll even bother Malva."
He pushed a button on the coffee maker and nodded to it for Liam to help himself if he liked before heading into the bedroom to change, but not before giving the covered artifact side eye in his passing. They would still have to find out more information about the cult and what they were doing in these rituals in the first place. The bones at the bottom of that cave's path he'd wandered down indicated that quite a few people had lost their lives to the crazy beliefs of these psychos and they didn't seem as if they planned on stopping any time soon from when he and Liam had found them. With any luck, one of the diviners on the Guard could at least give them some more information.
Dom grabbed a backpack from the back of the sofa as he came back out to the living room having changed his clothes. Not hesitating, the therian quickly put the covered skull in the bag and zipped it up, not even bothering to shoulder it. He tossed the backpack into the backseat of his truck after walking outside and climbed into the driver seat. The engine rumbled to life and he thoughtfully drank from his mug of coffee. "What are the chances that this case will be easily wrapped up today?" he darkly joked, knowing that whatever was to come, it wouldn't be good. Putting the truck into reverse, he headed down the long dirt path and through the woods, driving as fast as he could on the main road to get to the manor where he would feel better about not ever handling that skull again.
"I will keep that in mind." Liam chuckled, as the grump Therian emerged from the back of the house. On second thought, it did seem like a not-so-great idea to just walk in, but he spent the majority of the time winging things and using adrenaline to recover from his half-baked plans. He knew that Dominic was trying to help him become a better thinker and see things through each step at a time, but Liam was not sure that his impulsiveness something he would grow out of - it was starting to become habit. He thought best on his feet and his ability to plan or stage a long investigation were not his strengths. It made him a talented fighter, but violence wasn't in his nature. Being a guard was constantly stretching his interpretation of himself and forcing the young human to learn new things. He spent one half of the time confused and the other half exhausted as hell, but at least he was earning a productive living. It made him feel good to know that the missions they went on were helping protect the people of Evermore. They were helping keep his family safe, which was something he'd realized recently that was impossible alone.
Liam reached for a cup of coffee, thankful for the early morning jolt to his brain. He was not a morning person and caffeine had become a habit by the time he was fourteen. By then, he'd been in charge of the family home, the bills, his own grades, and keeping his little sister fed. It hadn't been a choice to walk through life half-asleep. "Thanks." He nodded, taking it with them as the strange artifact was loaded into the back of the truck and it sped down the city streets.
He shouldn't have been surprised that Dom was a crazy driver. Not a bit. The human hadn't learned to drive until he'd turned twenty-one. He'd lived in Chicago, in the heart of the public transportation system, and having a car was only an extra expense. He'd taken what he'd learned while navigating subways and bus stops and used it in Evermore while tracking down people. Now, they were headed to the Ailward manor. It was a location that Liam was already familiar with and the property sat back on a wooded lawn, with manicured gardens, and a brick exterior. It was clearly a family home, but also well maintained. His mouth hardened into a frown. The tall windows and carefully cut grass reminded him of his childhood home, before everything went wrong, but he didn't want to think about that right now.
Right now, he was on duty, and being on duty meant everything else came second. It was an excuse, perhaps, but a good way to let all of the worries or thoughts that came into his mind take a back burner. By now, he'd met most of the guards and the aspects, but he still found Malva intimidating. The aspect of magic was not the most warm of people, for sure. "Do you think she'll have any idea what we got ourselves into?" He asked Dom, as the truck pulled to a stop in the driveway. Frankly, Liam was not sure he wanted to know, but it looked like he didn't have a choice.
Dom glanced up to the manor as he pulled the truck up the long driveway. He parked next to one of the many more expensive vehicles that the Aspects kept making it a striking contrast to his old and beaten up beauty. "Malva is and will always be a mystery to me, but I do know that woman has more insight about magic and its varying forms of crazy than anyone else I've ever met. Finding her is another story though." Lately the Aspect of Magic seemed to always be in hiatus which had become somewhat of a worry to her brothers and sisters, even if they weren't saying it aloud. Not that they weren't all in some kind of fog lately. The strange happenings of Evermore were making everyone a bit on edge when answers weren't coming to help ease the growing number of questions.
Taking the bag from the backseat, the therian slung it over his shoulder and glanced up to the large doors making up the entrance as he jogged up the steps. Even though he'd been over the threshold countless times, somehow he always expected this would be the day the magical barrier would finally not let him through as if to say they'd made a mistake in bringing him into the Guard. It never happened of course and today was no different as his hand pushed open the door which led into the grand entrance. It was fairly quiet inside which wasn't surprising. Mostly everyone had a mission nowadays. Weird and awful events were in greater numbers and they only had so many people in the Guard to go investigate. The Aspects were even getting more involved with field work now that Evermore was under some slow and calculating attack.
His boots echoed heavily over the floors as he peeked his head into what he affectionately called the war room where the Guards met to talk missions. It was empty, however. "Great..." Dominic pulled his phone out and sent a text to Bexley to see if she was around and could maybe help pull some information on the magic's footprints that might be linked to the skull. He made his way through the large home to Malva's room which proved empty and then to the greenhouse which gave him the same results. "Perfect," he grumbled just as an alert came back on his phone. Glancing at the text, he saw a reply from Bexley which said she wasn't in town, being on a mission herself.
Moving back into the main part of the manor, Dominic leaned on the doorframe to the war room and sighed at Liam. "Well, looks like we might be doing this the old fashioned way." He dropped the bag onto the table, but didn't take the skull out. Keeping it wrapped and in the dark was plenty fine with him currently. His hues moved over the space and to the many books that lined the shelves, all of which could possibly hold more information on their newly acquired artifact. Dominic's fingers moved over the titles of the books before stopping on one he thought could have some answers. "Welcome to the not so exciting part of the job. Research." He pulled one of the several chairs at the table back and sat down, heavily dropping the book down and flipping it open. "We're definitely going to need more coffee."
The last time Liam had been in this library he'd gotten jinxed -- twice. It taken seventeen showers with special shampoo to remove the green hair and and an amused glare from Malva to remove the way his feet kept skipping in time to every song that he heard. The young man couldn't help but shudder as he peered over the old books. That was not an experience that he would enjoy repeating, but as far as first day on the job hazing, it hadn't been the worst he'd ever gone through. College sororities really did put the scaring in daring and he''d never go back to that lifestyle. Not even if someone paid him. Getting paid to delve into books and read about the oddities that surrounded the world was something that he didn't mind. The information inside the books still had a tendency to surprise him, even after a full year of interacting with every species inside the city. However, as Liam cornered himself off in a section of the library which was marked 'the dark arts' he wondered how long it would take him to truly learn even the basics about the supernatural. Probably years; today, he didn't have that advantage and beginning with the appendix in a book always seemed like a good idea.
He licked his finger, trying to separate the thin pages which were handwritten in a delicate scrawl. This book was not only older than he was, but most likely preserved by magic and would have been falling to pieces without the extra layer of protection. The English inside it was very old; some of the words and letters were Latin and the letter s was entirely missing. He scrolled to the back of the leather-bound copy to the reference page and stopped his finger underneath the word 'cult'.
Reading aloud, he transliterated the words into modern text. "Underneath every magic culture lies the much deeper ability to find a crowd of people who are susceptible to the seduction of dark magic. This applies not only to the supple mind but also to the man who is most practiced and takes care with the nebulous nature of the craft. It roots in the mind and shifts the spirit so that only the strongest survive."
A shiver ran down the back of his neck. Still, he continued. "Those who seek knowledge often find themselves with the irresistible burden of curiosity, only to vanish into a darkness that cannot be overcome."
He gulped. It turned out that there were a lot scarier things in this collection of reading than gentle hexes. The human shut the book and set it gingerly on the chair. He surveyed Dominic, who was sipping a cup of coffee and reading another volume from the same set across the room. The skull sat in between them and Liam could almost feel himself drawn towards it. Instead, he forced his feet towards the coffee, pouring the black liquid into a cup and wondering what on earth he had gotten himself into now.
There seemed to be more questions than answers and apparently curiosity for the dark could be a deadly thing.
Now that he had it...there really was no turning back, was there?
Still, he felt a little safer coming to sit in the chair next to his mentor, far away from the creeping artifact. The blonde sipped his coffee and found the next point of reference and began reading again, "Human sacrifice is a ritual..."
He shut the book again and looked towards his partner. "Got the creeps yet?"
The words on the pages of the books were starting to blur. Not because the volume was giving him some effect from its text full of dark spells and other strange things he'd rather not know, but because he was just plain tired. It also didn't help that his attention kept getting pulled back to the bag which had the artifact in question still wrapped up from viewing. He couldn't help but continue to feel as if the thing was drawing him towards it. That it needed to be used by someone so its true power could be put into the world.
A shiver ran down his neck just as Liam's question pulled his gaze away from the bag. "Every damn time I have to read about this crap," Dominic muttered in response, taking a sip of the coffee and closing the book. He rubbed his eyes in an attempt to focus again and force away the ever present whispers that seemed to be coming from the skull as it felt like it was beckoning to him. "I hate magic. Sure, it does a lot of good, but usually I only see that come about when it's to battle back the really bad. And I mean really bad." He'd been in plenty of circumstances where some cursed person was foaming at the mouth trying to hurt him or another or even themselves because a diviner decided cursing someone would prove useful. Not to mention he'd been under a powerful curse himself and hurt someone he cared about greatly. "Could also be that as a therian, which I'm sure you can understand as a human, magic users have a pretty big upperhand against me."
His hand moved over to the next book on the stack of volumes he'd grabbed, opening the cover. After finding the chapter about cults linked to magic purposes, Dom looked over to Liam briefly before continuing to skim the page. "Not what you expected Guard life to be?" A smirk formed at the corner of his mouth before taking another sip of the coffee that he hoped would keep him awake and focused. "If it makes you feel any better, I certainly wasn't expecting anything like this when I joined. Or should I say was recruited." What a time it had been in his life when he was found by Aureus. "Despite the crazy it can be sometimes, it did get me focused on doing something better with my pathetic existence." Dom wasn't exactly one to delve into the past of his life, so he left it there, but if Liam were to ask, he wouldn't mind sharing some of the details.
His eyes continued scanning the words on the pages, but nothing was proving useful. Why in the world would therians be using a cursed object? It made no sense to him. They weren't magic users in the first place. The only logical thing would be that they had obtained it for someone else who could use it and must be getting something in return. What that would be, Dom hadn't a clue yet.
Liam had long suspected that the adventure they'd fallen into had darker implications than what he'd originally thought. It had been first a jaunt through the woods for the mentee to practice his skills, but had shortly turned into an infiltration. He'd never seen himself as a front-liner. He was more brain than brawn. The young human had to work twice as hard at the gym in order to keep up with the rest of his magically inclined co-workers, but it was worth it. Despite the strange culture that he had fallen into there were parts of Liam that were more at peace than he had been only months ago. Realizing that true magic existed would terrify most people, but for him it helped all of the gaps in his knowledge make sense. He could see now how magical history lined up with the one he'd always been told and find the places that it intersected. As they studied, he did his best to keep the ideas of the rituals he'd just found at the back of his mind. There was not a way to make sense of them, just as Dom had said. Therians were creatures to whom magic was more dangerous than many and yet the thing that their undertaking had discovered literally reeked of it. He glanced uneasily at the blanket wrapped device. Out of the corner of his eye, it almost seemed to be surging something into the air. There was a ripple around the light. Maybe, his imagination was just playing with him. Or, he was in way over his head.
It had been early on that Liam had learned that Dominic was a man of few words. The majority of the ones that he'd heard were perverse or considered socially inappropriate, but he knew more about the woods and operating in the dark than anyone else that Liam had met. The few times that he'd heard, "Good job, kid." After a training session, a raid, or an hour of research stuck with him. His mentor had a golden side that was shown to few. Liam looked up to him and certainly respected his dedication to a craft that was more often painful than rewarding. This journey was certainly unexpected. He woke up in the morning never knowing if they were to take down an enemy, or peace together a contract, but he liked it. It kept him on his toes and that uncertainty was slowly starting to break down his impulsive streak. He wondered what it would have been like to have grown up in Evermore, where a group of people with such history and pain all tried to exist together for mutual good. It reminded him of the way the rest of the country was divided. Perhaps, cultural segregation existed in every community. It was simply a part of the condition in living.
"I never thought that I'd be the one to take up a sword." Liam admitted, wryly. "I never participated in school yard fights. I was more likely to be scamming second graders out of their lunch money." Until duly punished by his mother, that had been an elementary ritual. After that, his father had gone and his mother had too. Her disappearance was slower, though, and her ghost still haunted his home. He'd learned to live on the left side of the rules, after that. There hadn't been anyone to stop him or tell him the right way to do things, anymore. He sighed, leaned back on the couch, and rubbed his eyes. There was a headache forming just below his temples.
"I was offered a choice." Liam reached for the book again, with a shrug. "I could either pay for my civil disobedience in jail or try to make amends. I didn't want to leave Beth with the same struggle I had at her age. But, I suppose that you weren't called to arms over a petty grudge, eh?"
Liam had many regrets, but at least now he had someone to listen to them and, begrudgingly, make him change. There was a lot that the human didn't know about the world around him, even after being deeply involved in it for an entire year. His time with the Guards had begun changing him. He hoped for the better. At least now, his frustrations had a direction.
Though Dom's eyes remained on the task in front of him, he smirked from a corner of his mouth at the thought of a much smaller and younger Liam conning bigger and older kids. The therian would've been the one in the school yard fights that Liam mentioned avoiding. That was a time when life wasn't so bad. He could never complain about his childhood. The trouble he got into later in his life wouldn't be the result of something that happened to him in his adolescence. The world came tumbling down for him after the sudden death of his mother. Everything fell apart shortly after and his once close knit family had all become strangers.
"You would be right," he answered, finally pulling his weary gaze over to his fellow Guard. Dominic paused for a few moments in thought back to those years when he was at his lowest before being given a chance at some form of redemption. "I had gotten out of jail by the skin of my teeth. By all rights, I should've probably served attempted murder if it wasn't for the fact that the victim was the one who killed my mother." At the time, Dominic wouldn't have even cared whether or not his life would be forfeited over to the state. He wanted to make sure that man who murdered his mother would never breathe air again just as she couldn't. "Fast forward a bit and I was wandering the country, getting into more trouble, looking for it, and somehow avoiding death in the process. I should've died, to be honest. Then Reus found me in some dive in the middle of nowhere America. Offered me a shot to turn my life around. I'm pretty sure I told him to 'fuck off' and he just laughed. I thought he was crazy, but he was persistent in a not pushy way. He could see through my bullshit. Gave me the address and I walked through the boundaries when I whole heartedly expected to be repelled into space. I don't know... I guess the universe decided to throw me a bone that day." His eyes moved back to the book in front of him with a slight grin appearing. "Many of us are wayward. Seems the Ailwards like that sort of thing."
As the time continued on with them buried in books, Dominic could continue feeling the oppressive weight from the presence of the skull. Concentrating was proving to be more difficult than he was letting on until finally something seemed promising. "Here," he said, taking the heavy book from his lap and placing it down on the table flat. "Sacrifices made to an Incan God in a region of South America were thought to be from a small village of therians. The members of the group would sacrifice animals, adults, and even children in hopes of attaining immortality as they already knew they outlived the humans from neighboring tribes. This process was thought to work only after a certain number of deaths would occur as the souls of the victims would pass their life's energy into the skull." The pictures in the pages showed that of mass burial sites as well as a few skulls which had similar markings to the one they were currently in possession of.
Dominic slid the book across to Liam and rubbed his face before leaning back in the chair to glance over to the still covered skull. "Maybe there is some lunatic diviner that's trying to get his hands on this imbued skull and promising these dumbass therians immortality in return?" His mind tried to piece together what they might've stumbled on to make sense of it all. "The diviner wants his or her hands clean, so they get this cult together to perform the ritual and with each new death the skull gains more power. After the certain number of people required have died for this, the therians hand over the skull and the diviner gets what they want." With a great amount of effort, Dominic tore his gaze away from the artifact to look back to Liam. This immense pull he was feeling was starting to make more sense if it was meant to provoke his kind. "What if it's the same damn diviner? Perhaps immortality hasn't been reached yet, so when their stolen life force is fading, they come back out of hiding and start this process all over again." Dom thought he might've been onto something as he sat up a little straighter in his chair, hoping that his ramble off was coherent enough for Liam to follow. "What do you think?"
Liam definitely understood the urge to both fight and flight. It had been in that position that he'd been most vulnerable only a year ago. The family that he'd built up in the meantime had become the best one that he'd had in years. His own biological family was unsteady at best and at worst contemptuous. For a long time, he'd been playing adult and dealing with the problems that his parents or guardians were too hesitant or busy to address. He'd never really had the opportunity to be a child. His early days had been spent caring for his parents and his middle ones getting lost in a drunk stupor while trying to forget them. There was not a lot that he wanted to actively bring with him from Boston. The transition from place to place had not been easy. There had been a few weeks where he'd almost doomed himself and Annabeth to be homeless. Damien, the captain of the guards, had found the two of them at their darkest. A second chance was not something that the young human would ever turn down, but it didn't mean he deserved it either.
Most of the time that he had spent with the guards was while trying to prove his worth to their leaders. His mentorship had eventually been passed down from Damien, to Dominic. So far, Liam liked the grouchy old therian. Even if they disagreed sometimes, he could appreciate the other man's honesty. It took guts to be yourself in a world that had no respect for authenticity. Liam had always struggled to speak with tact, but when he was around Dom, it didn't matter. They recognized their differences and more often than not, used them to form an advantage over adversaries.
"I do have to admire the Ailwards," Liam said. "It can't have been easy to have lived through nearly all of the messes that humanity keeps creating and still manage genuine relationships."
He peered over the table at the book which Dominic had placed down. The writing was in old English, with manuscript text, and dusty as hell. He furrowed his brow, trying to make sense of the scribbles, but found himself in luck as his mentor explained.
"That's not at all creepy," He noted sarcastically and sipped his coffee. "Personally, I don't get the whole thrill of immortality. Life is better because it ends. If you knew that you'd wake up everyday until the fibers of existence exploded, I feel like it would all become one great big blur."
He leaned back in his chair and tried to organize the presented concept before speaking. "I can't say it doesn't fit, for sure, but I think the most pressing thing is making sure that no other humans get scalped for their skulls. Do you have any contacts who connect with the outsiders in your clan? People see and hear a lot more than they think. Observation might be necessary before we act."
Dominic gave a quiet scoff in agreement when Liam shared his beliefs on the idea of immortality. It was a conversation he heard plenty of times in his life being a part of the supernatural world. He of course was not immortal. Therians had an extended life, sure, but by no means would ever continue on lingering through lifetimes forever. He wasn't sure if it was engrained in him since being brought into this world by his father, but the idea of forever was something he wasn't exactly excited to be a part of. Somehow it cheapened the experience of what life should really mean. He couldn't really imagine an immortal bonding with anyone that also wasn't one too. That, of course, was a conversation he and Siobhan had spoken about on a couple of occasions where they'd reach a wall of indecision and uncertainties. The solution could be a simple one; The Ailwards had the means to keep any Guard immortal if they so chose by simply wearing the magical ring that was available to them, but Dom did not want it. With his gaze on Liam, he realized the two had more in common than he believed.
He watched as the wheels turned in the trainee's head, waiting to hear his thoughts. As he shared them, Dominic smirked. "Clan? I'm an Omega. My clan is the Ailwards. Being part of a pack is no longer on the table now that I'm here. Not that that bothers me any. I haven't been a part of a pack in years and never plan on it again." Dom wasn't going to go into the specifics of why that was, but that had died with his mother those many years ago. "Though, I know where we can start looking. Come on." He stood up and downed the rest of the coffee, pulling his jacket back on. He was going to reach for the bag with the skull, but stopped in his tracks. "Maybe it's best you take it. I don't think it's wise for me to be near it." His gaze held fast to the spot where the skull's outline could be scene from where it was being housed as the words left his lips, almost trance like, until he forced himself to look away and blinked. He quickly retreated from the room without waiting.
Stepping outside was a relief. The fresh air he took in with a few deep breaths was clearing his muddled thoughts from the magic of the skull, but he could feel it getting closer as Liam approached. Dominic looked back to the human once before continuing on towards the truck and climbing inside. He wasn't going to let this thing sway him. Starting the engine, the therian kept his focus on the destination ahead, and explained more about where they were headed.
"The outskirts of the city have a lot of shadier places. There's a bar there that therians frequent day and night, even as early as this," he began, glancing to the clock and seeing that it was turning mid afternoon. "I doubt anyone in the Evermore pack is behind this. Their Alpha seems to have things under control, but this place is for the ones passing through or the therians that are secretly branching off to form their own packs for questionable reasons. I'm thinking we can maybe find someone there that might know something. They just might need a little.. convincing." Dominic hadn't been to the ramshackle looking bar in a few years, but he had the feeling it would still be a place where they would have to keep on their toes and watch their backs.
Convincing seemed to be Dom's word for coercing, but Liam didn't mind that. He admired his fellow guard for being able to take action that made sense and was deliberate. He'd never been the best at planning. His actions tended to be spontaneous, reckless, or disorganized. In some ways, despite being in his twenties, Liam was still fully convinced that he'd entered a post-education rebellious phase. There hadn't been any tattoos or leather jackets yet, but seeing as some of his fellow guards made fun of his "eager-to-please lawyer" wardrobe, perhaps it was time for some change.
Liam took the wrapped skull in his hands, noticing a smidge of relief on the other's face when it left him. Although he felt eerily disturbed by the relic, it didn't seem to sway him the same way. It made him wonder what kind of magic ran through the bones and what it's intended use was. He looked down, feeling the heavy piece, and a horrific thought entered his mind. Who's head was this? Some poor person had lost their head in order to be turned into a curio of nefarious agents. He'd have to remember to update his will to include normal burial. Despite all of the fascinating customs around death, Liam knew that when he went, he would much prefer to just surrender to the earth like all of his ancestors before him.
The sun was bright and the morning had faded into a warm spring afternoon. With some apprehension, the junior guard put the creepy old head in the back of the truck under an empty box. Perhaps, at least, with that much space, his mentor would have better luck. The road was quiet and as they drove further out in the country, the only stations on the radio that would play were either country or blues. Both seemed to have a lot of sad stories, in his mind. He didn't often listen to music. He preferred silence, or a good conversation. The outskirts of the city came on quickly and old brick buildings with broken windows and 'keep out' signs became more common than the regular fair only a mile away. He didn't understand that side of life. It mystified him. If anything, his parents came from enough money to hide their children away from the shadows of poverty. In that way, he'd been extremely privileged.
The truck rolled to a stop outside a bar. There were a few, rusty motorcycles parked outside and the sound of a crowd, even early in the day. Liam looked over his shoulder as they left the truck with a lock and entered the room. The roof was low to the ground and at 6'1, he almost had to duck through the door. The patrons were brawling over a broken down Juke Box in the back of the room. He had never quite felt so out of place. "Well," He broke the silence and looked from the barkeep to the people. "Where do we start?"