To Name a KillerDisclaimer: to see how much is not mine, see chapter one :)
Author's Note: and here's the beginning of all the answers I've been promising to answer since the start, thanks so much to everyone who's hung on from the beginning and joined along the way, your patience will now start to pay off.
Dawn drifted in the twilight realm between sleeping and waking where dreams and visions were plentiful. She could feel her physical body curled on the big bed she and Ghost shared in their room under the Circus of the Damned, could feel the comforting heat of the witch at her back and the other tigers piled together on the large mattress but at the same time she lay upon hard rock in the half-light of her den, the soft grunts and mewls of her cubs filling her ears. She leaned down, swiping her long rough tongue over the soft blue fur of the nearest baby before a sound at the entrance of their den caught her attention.
Another cat stood at the opening of the den, tawny in color with a short mane surrounding its head and long curving fangs extending well past its bottom jaw. It stood perfectly still as the green tigress surveyed it with lightening kissed eyes, eyes that no natural tiger would ever possess. But then again, the tawny cat wasn't really natural either. The green tiger recognized the cat before her and lay down on her side, inviting the visitor closer. The tawny took the invitation, padding closer on silent feet, her blocky cat's body changing as she drew near until it was a dark-haired human female crouched there in the dark with the green and her family. She greeted the green, rubbing cheeks with the massive cat as the new mother took in her night-walker scent of rain and flowers. The night-walking spirit daughter turned her attention to the cubs with a smile of delight, picking up the black and cuddling him as he yowled in protest at being removed from his mother's warm side.
Slowly, the dream faded, taking with it the scent of rain-drenched flowers that would normally send Dawn's heart pounding in fear and was replaced with the here and now which consisted of Ghost curled against Dawn's back and the Key's nose buried in Domino's messy white and black curls. She blinked as the dream, if that was what it was, faded into the back of her consciousness and the present reasserted itself. It wasn't often that she dreamed of her time as the Key and wasn't sure if what she'd just saw was a real memory or something her brain had come up with after listening to so many of the tigers' legends. It had felt real though.
"There's a cat on my head," came the grumbled complaint from behind her and Dawn frowned, sure she couldn't have heard that right. Turning over, an action made difficult by Crispin's arms wrapped around her middle as he used her belly as his pillow, Dawn discovered that she had heard correctly after all. Sometime in their sleep Georgie had joined the pile and was curved around the back of Ghost's head, his tail draped over her neck and a paw resting on her forehead.
"How has he not been eaten yet?" Domino questioned, reaching out an arm to tap his finger against Georgie's nose. The big housecat twitched at the contact and slit his eyes open to glare at the weretiger pestering him.
"He's gonna smother you in your sleep," the witch mumbled, pulling the cat out of her hair and into her arms. Domino rose up on an elbow, his orange-fire eyes locking with the cat's unconcerned yellow.
"Him?" Domino asked, brow arched. "He'd never get the chance. Two bites, tops." Then he licked his lips.
"Stop threatening the cat," Dawn instructed.
"If he is a cat," Ghost muttered and, at Dawn's look, said, "You've seen him in the dreams."
Georgie had turned and fixed her with his unblinking stare.
"Yeah," she said, "I'm on to you pal."
Georgie responded by settling on the pillow and raising a back leg over his head, tongue licking at the base of his tail.
"Gross," Ghost complained, shoving the animal's butt away from her face as Domino snorted.
"Yeah, he's terrifying."
"Or smart," she shot back. "Just wait, he's gonna turn out to be some demon or something then I get to say I told you so."
“Okay, children,” Dawn said, grinning as she attempted to extricate herself from amid the pile; nature was calling. Crispin grumbled sleepily but released her, latching onto Ghost instead and snuggling in. Dawn saw the witch tense at the contact but force herself to relax. After the disastrous attempt at magic two days previous, Dawn had cajoled, bribed and threatened the witch into spending time with her and the rest of the tigers. Ghost hadn’t gone gracefully but she was making an effort, spending time and sharing sleeping space with the other weres. Dawn knew that Ghost still hadn’t completely accepted her new lot in life but she was trying, which was all Dawn had asked.
Dawn had tried her hand at the location spell but it had worked out just as well as Ghost’s attempt, leading the two to conclude that their killer may be using magic to conceal his location, which lined up with the suddenly disappearing scent trail Spike had followed. Yes, they were in a large city but Spike had had to admit that trails didn’t just suddenly go cold like this particular one had seemed to. Dawn figured that with both herself and Ghost working together they may be able to see past the spell being used but that would only happen once the witch’s magic and beast stopped trying to tear each other apart.
Damian was working tonight at Danse Macabre, Connor and Anita would be raising zombies most of the night, Jason, Nathaniel and most of the other dancers were all appearing on stage at Guilty Pleasures for a special Halloween show, and Spike was buried in paperwork dealing with the serial killing hyena they’d tracked in Bedford that was now apparently threatening Anita. She and Ghost appeared to be the only ones with nothing to do tonight but there was a prickle under her skin that was telling her that tonight was not going to be uneventful. Back home, Giles had always claimed that the forces of darkness took the night off on All Hallows Eve; they hadn’t been in this world during Halloween before but Dawn doubted that that was the case here as much as it had been back there. In her experience there was just no way that Halloween could be boring.
She found herself proven right not even two hours later when she caught Caleb sneaking out of the Circus underground with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Moving as silently as she could, Dawn followed the wereleopard up the steps to the surface, keeping out of sight, pausing as he exchanged words with the guards on duty and left through the big metal door to the outside, then she slipped through as well. It was a rat and a wolf on duty tonight, most of the hyenas scouring the city for any trace of their missing Oba and Dawn smiled a greeting as she breezed past, saying she just needed some air.
She caught up with Caleb in the parking lot. He jumped when she called his name, dropping his bag and whirling to face her. She took in the defensive stance, his too-wide eyes and the minute shake in the hands he held up as if to ward off a blow, and frowned.
“Caleb, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said a little too quickly, dropping his eyes from her gaze and scooping up his dropped duffel. “It’s just… I gotta go, Dawn. I need to leave St. Louis. It’s just… it’s too weird here, I need a change of scenery and a Nimir-ra who doesn’t hate my guts.”
“Caleb, please don’t lie to me,” Dawn said softly. She could actually feel the fear pouring off of him in waves, could smell the acrid stink of it thanks to her suddenly enhanced senses, which had been off the charts lately, and there was a small voice in the back of her mind that whispered to her that his fear was something she could use. Dawn had a moment to wander if maybe Connor hadn’t been the only one of Spike’s servants to share the vampire’s new feeding ability before there was a dark shape in her periphery. Caleb called a warning but the darkness was already rising up to claim her.
Caleb watched Dawn slump to the pavement, fear freezing his limbs in place as Darren stood over her unconscious form, still the blond-haired, green-eyed, charming man who had swept Stacy off of her feet after Chimera had taken over their two small groups.
“Hello, Caleb,” he said, grinning wide. “Fancy meeting you here.”
The door to the Circus had flung open at Caleb’s shout and he could see Theo and Graham running toward them, guns drawn, and he felt a flicker of hope. Darren glanced back casually.
“Guess we’ll have to cut this short,” he said, scooping Dawn into his arms then the hyena grabbed Caleb’s arm and, in a rush of magic like a hot wind over a sun-baked grassland, they were gone.
“What do you mean gone?!” Spike roared, his features altered to his demonic visage as he paced the few feet between cars in the parking lot, running both hands through his hair. Several feet away, Ghost was attempting to find the signature of the magic used, but it looked like a loosing battle.
“Just what I told you before,” Graham said. “We heard Caleb call Dawn’s name, when we got outside there was a blond guy with him and Dawn was on the ground. We felt the power rise and then they were just gone, all three of them!”
“Did you find anything?” he asked as the witch walked up to him. Ghost shook her head.
“It’s hard to tell with the cat raising a fuss every time I try to do something but that definitely sounds like our brand of magic. If it’s our guy then he had Carmichael for nearly two months, you can teach a lot in that amount of time if given proper motivation.”
Spike snarled, whirling to stalk off with purpose except he had nowhere to go. He couldn’t reach Dawn through their bond, which meant she wasn’t conscious but he could feel a flutter, almost like a heartbeat, when he focused on their connection that told him she was still alive. He spun again, his foot catching on something and he glanced down, crouching to grab up the worn old duffel he’d kicked, half-hidden behind a tire.
“That’s Caleb’s,” Graham said, “I saw him with it when he left the Circus.”
Setting the duffel on the nearest car hood Spike unzipped the thing and dug through it in an attempt to find anything that might tell him where Dawn had been taken but all he found was clothing and an old pair of tennis shoes. Spike frowned at his findings.
“Why did Caleb pack all of his clothes?” Ghost asked beside him.
“Dunno,” he replied. “He seemed spooked earlier, thought maybe he’d peeked at the photos on my desk but…”
“Well, that’s a clue,” Ghost said hopefully. “Do you remember what he was looking at? Maybe that’ll at least tell us why he was leaving.”
There was a stubborn set to his jaw and she could almost see him gearing up to demand why she wanted to waste their time so she cut him off before he could open his mouth.
“One clue at a time, Spike. We’ll get her back but we’ve gotta start somewhere.”
Apparently ceding to her line of reasoning, Spike led the way back to his room and began leafing through the pile of files on his desk. One after another the vampire flipped through the horror stories laid out in unfeeling black and white print and full color glossies, setting each one down a little harder than the last as the pile thinned.
“I don’t even know what I’m looking for!” he snarled. “Any one a these could’a set him off; God knows they’re all terrible enough! Are you sure you can’t do magic?” he asked, fixing her with pleading eyes. “Can you just try, one more time?”
Ghost was caught, she wanted to find Dawn, really she did but she didn’t know if she could take the pain of her beast and her magic fighting for control of her body either. It felt like she was being ripped apart inside.
Georgie had slipped into the room at some point in the search and was perched on Spike’s desk beside the pile of reports. Neither witch nor vampire paid him much mind until he stretched out across the surface and knocked several of the manila folders off of the desk in the process. Spike swore at the cat, gripping him by the scruff and tossing the big feline toward the bed as Ghost stooped to gather the fallen reports. One of them had slid out of its protective folder and the name typed across the top caught her eye. Thompson, it read. That was Caleb’s last name and those were Caleb’s eyes staring up at her from the face of the dead girl in the attached picture.
“Oh, my gods.”
“That’s Caleb’s sister,” Noah confirmed after Ghost and Spike had scoured the Circus for members of Caleb’s old pard, the ones who had been with him under Chimera’s rule. “She disappeared years ago, we never found out what happened to her.”
Ghost narrowed her eyes at the leopard and his swirling aura.
“You’re lying,” she said and Spike let out a low menacing growl from the corner she’d ordered him into when he wouldn’t stop hovering over Noah. The wereleopard glanced nervously at the game-faced vampire and swallowed hard. “Please, Noah. The shifter who killed this girl has Caleb and Dawn. We need to know who he is and find him before he does this to them.”
Noah shook his head, beginning to shake. “He’ll kill me,” he whispered. “Like he killed Stacy and the others.”
“Noah,” Ghost caught the leopard’s face between her hands, forcing his eyes to meet hers. “Believe me, when we find him, he’ll never kill anyone ever again.”
She let her eyes go dead and empty, letting just a hint of what she’d become fighting for her life every day for three years filter through and felt a wash of triumph when Noah’s eyes showed that he believed her.
“His name was Darren,” the leopard began. “He’d been the Oba of a small cackle somewhere in Montana before Chimera found them. I don’t really know much about him except what I overheard but I know that his wife was pregnant when Chimera took over and she was human. Chimera infected her and she lost the baby and then she died too.
“When we were with Chi-him, Darren was obsessed with getting his wife and baby back, he would always talk about her munin and finding the right girl and he kept trying to get the women pregnant. It didn’t matter what kind of shifter they were, he just wanted them to have his baby. Chimera made a game out of it,” he said bitterly. “When Darren did manage to knock somebody up, Chimera would rape her until she lost it; he always told Darren that it was the girl’s fault, that they didn’t want his babies and that’s why they kept losing them.
“Darren was his favorite but he tortured him as much as he did the rest of us. I think Caleb thought he’d been killed when Anita took out Chimera but I knew that he’d joined the cackle here, changed his name to Casey or Cassidy or something, I don’t know.”
“Okay,” Ghost said after Noah had finished his story. “Okay, so we’ve got a name; Darren and Casey or Cassidy. That’s good, names have power, and we can do something with that. Thank you, Noah.”
“Don’t thank me,” Noah mumbled. “Just kill him.”
Ghost had attempted another tracking spell and it had gone about as well as the last one, ending with her curled into herself on the floor as beast and magic tried to tear each other apart. It was nearing daylight, which meant that Dawn and Caleb had been at the mercy of this Darren/Casey/Cassidy person for a good six hours and no one was any closer to discovering his whereabouts than they’d been when he’d first made himself known. Ghost had called Asher down from managing the Circus to see if he could help to direct her magic without interference from her tiger as a sort of familiar, but the tigress had liked that idea even less, lashing out at the vampire Ghost had chosen as her magical anchor.
Everyone was frustrated, scared, angry at their inability to do anything to help their own. Damian was continually opening doors in an attempt to jumpstart the ability he’d gained through Dawn’s blood to go to his lover through any obstacle but the ability was too new or the magic blocking their location too strong or even a combination of the two, but the red-head refused to give up. The hyenas on duty had revealed that Cassidy was the name their serial killer had taken when joining their clan, apparently a big tradition among the hyenas, and that he had been Narcissus’ lover for nearly as long as he’d been with them. When Ajax let slip that their Oba was attempting to conceive again, the hyena’s identity was confirmed. Which was great except that they still had no way to find him!
Ghost was curled on the sofa with Asher, even the cat too tired to protest too much, as she nursed the bone-deep ache of another failed search attempt when the vampire holding her close went statue-still. Moments later the sounds of Anita demanding to be let past and yes Connor knew these people and no she wasn’t going to take no for an answer filtered through the curtained walls surrounding the living room. It wasn’t long after that that Anita pushed through the curtains, followed by Connor, both of whom went straight to Spike, both demanding to know why he hadn’t contacted them right after Dawn and Caleb had gone missing. Asher extracted himself from behind the witch and stood just as two new people pushed through the curtains as well.
“Mon trésor,” he said by way of greeting, “I had hoped that our first meeting would be under better circumstances.”
“Yeah,” Faith said. “Well, life’s a bitch. Once he heard that Dawn’d gone missing, I couldn’t keep him outta the car, it was either go with him or get left behind.”
“What the buggering fuck ‘re you doing here, Harris?” Spike demanded of the man that had entered with the woman that Asher called 'treasure'.
“Could ask you the same thing, bleach boy,” the man replied. There was something off about his eyes but Ghost couldn’t bring herself to care as a third person pushed through the curtains behind them, followed by the Master of the City who had been making his appointed rounds about town for the holiday. She’d seen the card in Marianne’s tarot spread all those months ago but she hadn’t believed…
“Holy,” Connor said as he too caught sight of the newest person. For Ghost it was like looking into a mirror, the only difference being the color of the other young woman’s eyes.
“Ellie?” she breathed and her cousin smiled. “Hey, Lynn.”