Disclaimer: Unfortunately for me, the characters from the show belong to someone else. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: Tweeter's writing again... run away, Tony, run away! Blessings upon my lovely beta Rinne, who's being inundated by the fruits of my manic writing.

Sacrificial Rites – Chapter One

The atmosphere in the squad room was tense. Special Agent Gibbs was in a particularly foul mood, his senior field agent's absence from his desk darkening the mood considerably. Special Agent McGee and Officer David had been sent to find the AWOL agent when Special Agent DiNozzo did not answer the repeated calls made to his cell phone and land line. The two young people were happy to escape the path of Hurricane Gibbs, hoping to find their teammate and praying he had a good reason not to have called in to the office.

Getting no response when they knocked on Tony's door, McGee started to go to the building manager's office for a key. He was called back by Ziva, who had picked the lock on the apartment door. Her expression entirely unrepentant, Ziva stepped into the darkened apartment, looking around curiously. A quick search of the place did not reveal a hung over DiNozzo, draped over the toilet, or any form of the missing man.

McGee pulled out his cell phone and dialed Gibbs. "Boss, Tony's not here. His car isn't in his parking space and it looks like he hasn't been here for at least a day, there are five messages on his answering machine."

"Is there any sign of a struggle?" came the sharp reply.

"No, Boss, no sign of anything. Tony's a lot neater than I expected; if he came home to change before he went out on a date he didn't leave any work clothes or towels lying around."

"You and David ask around, see if any of the neighbors saw him recently. Check his messages, see if there's any clue of what his plans were. I'll have a BOLO put out on his car. Get back here as soon as you can, McGee." Gibbs broke the call without another word.

"Yes, Boss," McGee said to the dial tone.

Four hours later they received a call that Tony's car had been found abandoned in an alley in Georgetown, near a strip of trendy clubs. There was no sign of a struggle within the confines of the vehicle; the keys were on the floor, under the driver's seat. Gibbs had the Mustang towed back to headquarters to be examined for fingerprints and other forensic evidence. He and his two remaining subordinates canvassed the nearby clubs, hoping to get a clue about Tony's movements before he disappeared.

It was too early in the day for any of the evening staff to be on duty. The three NCIS agents were frustrated with the lack of information and evidence, knowing that each hour that passed lowered the chances of finding the missing man alive, if at all. They went back to headquarters to try to follow up other leads before they could return and question the people working evenings at the various establishments.

Abby worked on checking Tony's car for fingerprints and any other evidence while McGee and Ziva made calls to local hospitals, checking for any John Does that had been admitted. They did the same check with the state and local police.

After a few frustrating, fruitless hours Gibbs, Ziva and McGee started to return to the possible crime scene. As they waited for the elevator they met FBI Agent Tobias Fornell coming off.

"Gibbs," the agent looked grim, "I need to talk to you."

"Not now, Fornell, one of my agents is missing." Gibbs started to push past the agent but the smaller man grabbed his arm.

"It's about DiNozzo."

Gibbs stopped in his tracks. Fornell had pronounced Tony's name correctly, which didn't bode well.

"You know something?"

"Let's go back to the squad room. I have some information to give you."

Gibbs led the way back to his desk. Fornell handed McGee a CD and told him to put the photos from it up on the plasma screen. The NCIS agents watched as five pictures appeared, all male, all of similar appearance.

"They could be brothers," said Ziva. "Is this another serial killing?"

Fornell started explaining. "The FBI has been investigating a cult that was operating in Wyoming. We don't know much about them, just that they're into some sort of demon worship. They'd been stealing livestock and killing them as sacrifices. It wasn't a major concern for us, until men started disappearing, then showing up dead."

"You think they graduated to human sacrifices?" Gibbs asked, his eyes never leaving the plasma screen.

"We do," confirmed Fornell. "We think they started with their human offerings in Wyoming, then moved on so they wouldn't attract attention. The victims were all similar in age, looks and lifestyle. They were last seen at a bar or party before they disappeared. These are just five that we know of; we think there could be a lot more victims out there. We've only recovered two bodies, so far."

"And you think Tony could have been grabbed by these people?" McGee asked.

"Yeah, we think so. DiNozzo fits the profile, he appears to have disappeared under similar circumstances, and," Fornell paused, "the cult's last victim disappeared in West Virginia."

"They're moving east." Gibbs looked at Fornell for confirmation, and got a nod in reply.

Ziva asked, "So you think Tony was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

"And happened to fit the bill, yes. They appear to make their sacrifices monthly. It's been 23 days since the last disappearance."

Gibbs asked, "How much do you know about this cult?"

"I'll tell you everything we know, Jethro, this is going to be a joint investigation and I won't hold anything back from you."

Gibbs nodded, "You better not."

"I won't. Understand that this is our case. You're going to be allowed to work with us because of your experience and because it's your guy, but you're too emotionally involved in this. We lead the investigation. Got that?"

Gibbs nodded. "You're right, this is personal. But you can't hold out on us, and you can't keep us away from any rescue."

Fornell nodded his agreement. "One thing you should know, Gibbs. This isn't a matter of the victims being put on some altar and stabbed. They were tortured first, probably over a period of days. I'll make sure your Medical Examiner gets the autopsy results from the victims we recovered, but our ME says they appeared to have been ritually cleansed, most likely in order to make them pure enough to be offered as a sacrifice."

Ziva cursed softly. "So Tony could be going through torture right now, if he's still alive?"

"Probably," said Fornell. "Do you know when he was seen last?"

"At least 20 hours ago," replied Gibbs.

"How do we know that Tony's been kidnapped by this cult?" asked McGee. "Maybe there's another explanation."

"We don't know," Gibbs replied, "but if there is an explanation, it can't be good. DiNozzo would never stay out of touch."

Gibbs turned to Fornell. "Tell us what you know about this cult."

Fornell pulled a chair up and sat down, pointedly avoiding disturbing anything at the missing agent's desk.

"They're not your average devil worshipping cult. As a matter of fact, we're not sure who they worship, just that their leader is the embodiment of this demon. None of our experts in the occult has heard of the demon, and they can't find the name in any of their research. Basically, we think we're dealing with some delusional psychotic who's able to entice people into believing whatever he says and doing whatever he wants."

"Another Charles Manson?" asked McGee.

"Yeah, sort of," replied Fornell. "Only more prolific with the killing. They used to have a compound in Wyoming, in the middle of cattle country. The neighboring ranchers complained about the bonfires and loud music. When livestock started disappearing, some of the local cowboys went to the compound and found mutilated carcasses. Shortly after that the first victim disappeared from a local tavern. Another one disappeared a month later from a bar in a neighboring county. After that, the cult pulled up stakes and moved out. We traced a path going east. We assume the sacrifices were monthly, but we don't know that for sure, we don't have positive missing person reports for each month."

Ziva asked, "How long has this been going on?"

"Two years." Fornell looked embarrassed. "These are smart people. They know how to cover up their tracks. We haven't been able to get a single concrete piece of evidence linking them to any of the disappearances."

"Can you get the bodies over to our lab?" Gibbs asked.

"Our Medical Examiner is very good," protested Fornell.

Gibbs nodded. "I'm sure he is. I'd just like to have Ducky go over them as well."

Fornell sighed and said, "Okay, I'll get the bodies over here within the hour."

"Thanks, Tobias." Gibbs rose suddenly. "We've got to canvas the clubs, find out if anyone saw Tony last night."

Fornell stood as well. "I'll go with. We can spread out, you and I can team up."

Gibbs shook his head. "I think you should go with McGee, I'll team up with David."

"Boss?" asked McGee, nervously.

"Relax, McGee," said Fornell, "I won't bite. Too hard."

McGee looked over at Gibbs, his expression pleading. Ziva was staring at Fornell, dislike obvious in her expression. Sighing, Gibbs said, "Okay, Fornell, you're with me."

As he and Fornell left the room, the FBI agent looked over at McGee and mouthed, "wimp" to the younger agent, a cocky smile on his face.