Genre: Action/Adventure, angst
Warnings: Dark themes, graphic content, child abuse and death, implied character death
Pairings: RaexBB, RobxStar, KFxJinx, CyxBee, SpeedyxAqualad
Summary: Neko's return hails a new reign of terror, and her latest plot shows itself to be more terrible then the Titans could have ever imagined.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait. I've had writers block on and off for months, and finally decided to just rush the ending of this chapter (which I hate doing) in hopes that I'd find inspiration again. So...the ending sucks, and there is no really happy scene in this one. It just kind of sucks all together. --;;
"Why are we even bothering? She's going to be long gone by the time we get there. We should just sit and wait until the next report comes in, then have Rae teleport us." Beast Boy Sat by glumly, steeling himself for the upcoming teleportation. That feeling always unsettled his stomach, and he that the description he had just heard would be helping any. Robin, Cyborg, and Starfire stood gathered around Raven as she meditated, waiting tersely for her to be calm enough to focus on the new move, and only the changeling noticed Trickster's mounting terror. "Um…dudes?"
"Quiet, BB. Rae's gotta focus."
"Yeah, but Trick –" Before he could finish his sentence, the six were enveloped in blackness. When the shadows dissipated, they stood at the mouth of a cave, an eerie and ominous sight. Beast Boy was the first to realize that the sudden and never before experienced feeling of the teleportation had knocked Trickster out. "Guys, I think we gave Trickster a heart attack."
Raven's harsh voice answered first, echoing back as she entered the caves without hesitation. "Good. God knows he tried to do that to me enough."
The metallic Titan sighed and hoisted the villain up onto his shoulder, holding his like a sack of grain. "C'mon y'all. Rae'll leave us behind if we let her."
The caves in question were the Carlsbad Caverns, one of New Mexico's biggest natural attractions. The latest victim had been found in a tunnel appropriately titled 'Slaughter Canyon Cave', and the labyrinth was bad enough without the unsettling name. Added, it made the gloomy atmosphere three times worse and created a deep aching sensation of fear in the pits of their stomachs.
Of course, Beast Boy was probably right. The call had been sent out the day before, but unprecedented circumstances had led to them stopping for the night, giving Neko an atrociously large amount of time to escape the scene of the crime. Still, there was a certain obligation to visit the latest sight in her death spree, and it would give them something to do while they waited for the next report.
About twenty feet away from the mouth of the cave, the waning light finally began to give up it's battle. Starfire summoned a starbolt and held it aloft, watching as green shadows flickered around the intricately rock structures, knowing it would be beautiful if it weren't so scary. "Friends…I do not like it here. I wish to wait somewhere else. "
Robin's mouth pursed tighter and he walked forward determinately. Neko was making a mockery of them without even breaking a sweat; he was not going to make that worse by shirking his duties, even if he felt the same way his girlfriend did. "No, Star. This is our job, and we're going to do it right."
"Rob, where'd they say they found the kid?" Cyborg's voice was muted in an attempt to lessen the echoes. The only result of this was soft whispers bouncing off the walls before returning, becoming disembodied and inhuman.
Beast Boy shuddered and shifted into a bat, coming to a rest on Raven's shoulder, who was so caught up in her thoughts that she barely even noticed. Robin smiled wanly at the sight, then turned to his teammate. "We still have a ways to go. They think he got separated from his family fairly quickly, but she dragged him in deeper."
"How did they lose track of their child?"
"It was a family reunion. His mom thought she was dragging him around, but it turned out to by one of the other kids with him. They all went back looking for him and…well…" He blanched and trailed off, tactfully discontinuing the story. The 6-year-old's family had found the boy all right, but he hadn't been intact when he was discovered. All of him had been there, but it was no longer all connected.
Farther in, they began to hear voices and see a large glow. The still-fresh crime scene was teeming with officials, and the green light called their attention to the Titans immediately. A tall, balding man separated himself from the group and came forward, holding out his hand to Robin and nodding to the other Titans. "Thank you for coming. I'm Commander Rose, and I'm in charge of this investigation."
"Commander." The masked boy nodded curtly and lowered his voice. "We believe this case is connected to a string of murders. The victim fits the pattern and –"
"Hold it." Rose cut through Robin's carefully prepared speech and yanked him away from the other officers. "Are you telling me this is part of Neko's path?" Robin nodded and the man rubbed at his temples, sighing softly. "Shit. I'd heard the rumors, but I was hoping to not get mixed up in that. It sounds messy."
Raven stepped forward, noticing without much surprise that her presence seemed to make him even make more uncomfortable "It is. Literally and figuratively."
Laughing harshly, Rose turned back towards the crime scene, motioning for them to follow. "Oh, you don't have to tell be about the literal. My team was one of the first here, and we got to drag the mom off of the body. That wasn't the most pleasant experience in my career."
Beast Boy shifted back as they joined the police and began examining the scene. "So…what have you guys found?"
Looking slightly unnerved by the green boy speaking to him, one of the officers shrugged helplessly. "Nothing. This section of the cave is all rock; no sand or clay to catch any footprints. All we found was some poison in the kid's body, and I'm sure you guys have enough samples of that."
"Yeah." Cyborg dropped Trickster's body outside of the police tape and went to join his teammates. "More then we ever wanted."
The cop snorted derisively and went back to work, trying to pick up prints. "Any of that shit is too much. It's pretty fucked up."
Rose nodded sourly, glaring around the crime scene as if he thought a clue would magically appear in front of him. "While I appreciate you making the effort to help, there's nothing you can really do here. Hell, there's nothing we can really do here. We've found enough DNA evidence to convict, but we can't convict something we don't have."
"We've been on her trail a week now. Hopefully, she won't get much farther." Robin crossed his arms and sighed. He wasn't terribly surprised by what the commander had just told him, but it still irritated him that there was nothing to do. "Maybe if we check the cave we can find something."
"Maybe. But I wouldn't advise going any further without a guide. It's easy to get lost."
Starfire smiled slightly and glanced at Raven. "Do not worry. If we get lost, we will still be able to escape."
Waving his hand in a distracted 'go on, get out of here' way, Rose nodded. "Fine. If you're willing to take the risk, I wish you all the luck in the world. Maybe you'll find her back there somewhere. Just don't forget to take your trash with you." He jerked his head towards Trickster as he spoke, and then returned to work, breathing a sigh of relief as they finally left the crime scene. He had no problems with the Titans, but the last thing he needed was five teenagers ruining some potentially useful evidence without meaning too. It was better that they went on their wild goose chase; it would give them something to do that wasn't involved with his job here. Besides, what harm could they do?
"Friends, I must repeat my earlier statement." Starfire's voice echoed around them softly, the cave walls turning her normally sweet voice into a horrible distortion that growled at them from every shadow. "I do not like it here."
"It's not exactly my idea of a fun morning either." Raven's reply was curt, and colder then she meant it to be. Wincing, she turned to the alien and gave her an apologetic look, breathing a sigh of relief as she received a smile in return. It was a weak one, but it was there and that was a relief. Starfire always seemed to be smiling because of some new discovery, and to see her without that content expression was always a bit unnerving.
Robin's voice broke through the empath's thoughts easily. "Raven's right. This isn't fun, but we have to do it. This cave is pitch black and filled with offshoots. For all we know, she may have gotten lost in here after killing the boy."
Cyborg's voice was the next to break through the gloom, his voice bouncing off the walls and joining the sounds of their footsteps. "Trickster's wakin' up. Rae, you ready to tie him up again?"
"Then you might want to do it soon."
"Dude…" Beast Boy had tucked himself into the middle of the group, staying as close to Star as he could, obviously comforted by the light. "She's not here. C'mon, we all know she's not! Let's just get out of here, okay? Please?"
"Never woulda pegged the runt as being afraid of the dark." Cyborg, realizing the villain was now quite obviously awake, dumped him on the stone floor, resisting the urge to kick him as he scrambled to his feet. Huffing indignantly, Trickster carefully went about wiping the dirt from his trench coat. "Good morning to you too, asshole."
"Don't call BB a runt, or Rae'll muzzle you again." The metallic Titan gave him an icy glare and pushed him into the middle of the group, making sure he was in plain sight.
"Yeah, yeah. Be good or you'll set your trained demon on me. Say, how did you guys manage to train her? Are there little demon treats out there, or –" The rest of his sentence cut of abruptly as shadows stole around the lower half of his head, uncovering his nose again almost grudgingly.
A hand dropped on his shoulder, and a voice breathed into this ear menacingly. "Let's get a few things straight, Trickster. Raven is not our trained demon, Beast Boy is not 'the runt', Cyborg is not R2-D2, Starfire is not 'the stupid whore', and I am not a 'flaming Batman knockoff'. Do you understand?"
His only response was a highly muffled 'yes' and frantic nodding from the villain as he tried to get himself loose from Robin's grip. The Titans exchanged digusted looks and resumed their trek, silence falling over the group. For the next ten minutes, there was no sound except for the distorted foot steps that echoed until it sounded like a battilion was wandering around with them. Suddenly, Starfire tripped, falling with a yelp and loosing control of the starbolt. Light flashed, the nearest wall shattered, and they were plunged into total darkness.
"Shit! Grab Trickster!"
"I've got him. Don't worry, Robin."
Shapes flickered around them, and sounds echoed as they all tried to get their bearings. Trickster stumbled as Raven caught his wrists and ankles in aura, and Cyborg fell into him, yelping. Robin joined the group on the ground as he tripped over Cyborg's arm, landing with an 'oomp!' on top of Starfire. Raven got to work sorting it out, and Beast Boy shaped himself into a bat. A flicker from a near-by corner was caught by his echolocation, and he recognized the shape immediately. If he paused to warn the others, she would be gone. So, without a second thought the changling charged into the darkness, determined to catch the cat-girl before she could escape.
She ran, traversing the caverns effortlessly. Five minutes, ten, twenty. Time began to blur, and all too quickly, the muffled sounds from his friends were left behind. As the last murmers faded he felt a pang of fear and had to force himself to keep moving. Neko needed to be stopped, no matter what, and right now he was the only one who could do it.
So they played cat and mouse, her normal position usurped. The idea that he, Beast Boy, who's only claim to fame was lame jokes, might catch the notorious Neko single-handedly got his adrenaline pumping, and his fear began to disappear. That, ultimately, was what doomed him.
A voice behind him caught his attention and he realized two things at once; one, that he had fallen into a trap, and two, that he was hopelessly lost. This could not end well for him.
"The green freak. Wonderful." Neko's voice was mocking as she circled him, gold eyes narrowed dangerously. She couldn't see in the pitch black cavern, but the soft rush of air as he shifted back to human form gave him away rather quickly. "I was hoping for your precious leader, but I suppose you'll do for a start."
The changeling stumbled back, hoping to escape; running was his only option. He had no chance against her, considering the only forms big enough to take her out could trigger a cave in. So, he was left with no option but to simply try to get away. "W-what do you want with Robin...?"
The killer reached up to touch her left ear, tracing it gently with a claw. The movement was a distracted one, as her eyes focused on a point in the distance, her tone becoming thoughtful. "What do I want with Robin? Well...that's a good question. That toy already has a crack; if I play too roughly he'll break right away. Of course, all the Titans have a few cracks." The brightness came back to her eyes, and even though he couldn't see her, he could feel it as they focused on him again. "I suppose you're just as good."
Her claws whispered over his cheek as she walked by, and with one swift movement he was on the ground. Under any other circumstances, a simple push wouldn't have knocked him over, but in the pitch-black cave she had all the advantages. He landed and bounced on his tailbone painfully, causing a hiss of pain and a giggle from her. As that pain slowly faded, another burst up as she suddenly lit a torch. Wincing back from the too bright light and willing his eyes to adjust quickly, Beast Boy scrambled for plan, realizing regretfully that none was going to come.
With yet another giggle Neko dropped to her haunches in front of him and smiled sweetly. "Is anyone in your team competent on their own? Or do I have to resign myself to a series of boring battles?" Seeing no satisfactory answer in his face, she feigned a sad sigh and pushed him again. "Pathetic, all of you."
Beast boy was reeling and scared, and as she leaned closer, a horrifically predatory grin on her face, he collapsed back onto his elbows, gasping as her claws brushed against throat. 'Oh man, the poison, if she cuts me I'm dead, where is everyone?' His thoughts were an incoherent babble threaded through with pure fear and adrenaline, and in a sudden bolt of instinct he kicked her away and jumped to his feet.
"Finally, a challenge!" The catgirl climbed to her feet eagerly, seemingly more pleased then angry. A quick dive, and she was pinning him, claws once again playing at this throat. However, this time they weren't quite playful, and he paniced. His powers burst out, and in a horrific moment for both of them, she found herself looking at a male duplicate of herself. "You...what...how?"
Unable to answer, he simply lashed out with his newly aquired claws, and sudden voices in the distance combined with this strange new form of his caused her to jump back. "Well...it appears we didn't get to play as much as we wanted. However, I'm sure your friends will finish my work for me." With a strange smile she bolted, leaving him with a smoldering torch and a lot of doubts.
However, he never got a chance to reflect on these doubts. Within seconds, his teammates were upon him, seeing only cat features in the green glow of Starfire's star bolt, which never gave his natural color a chance to appear. In the ensuing chaos he was attacked by his nearest and dearest, and the true enemy escaped once again, never prouder of herself then she was at that moment.