The Center Will Not Hold

From the Story Arc: Hunting High And Low

Previous Story in the Arc: Things Fall Apart by Victoria Victrix (Saturday, January 10, 2009)

Next Story in the Arc: Flight by Victoria Victrix (Saturday, January 10, 2009)

(posted Saturday, January 10, 2009)

They were elven-shaped, but so shrouded and enwrapped in shadows that was all that could have been told of them. It had taken them only a moment to administer their drug—and drug it had to be, even with minimal shielding, Victoria Victrix was well armored against any magic. Even now, her protections struggled against the drugs. They were very nearly sentient, those protections, enhanced as they were with the things she had learned to adapt from technology, and unpredictable to elves, who were so very bound by tradition.

Which was, of course, why they had chosen drugs. It was a potent cocktail of hypnotics, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, paralytics and hallucinogens. It would have killed anything, anyone, without those magical protections, without her healing powers.

And now they had her here Underhill, not in Unseleighe lands, where she would be sought maybe, nor in Seleighe lands where she certainly would have been found, but in the lands devoted to Chaos and the neutral creatures. In this case, lands that for all intents and purposes were identical to the ancient forests of the Stone Age of earth, before ever Man learned to master metals and so master his surroundings. Here there were still Dire Wolves, Aurochs, Dodos, and the great Irish Elk, and many other creatures long since extinct in the World Above. And other things…things that had never walked that World, except when they had been brought there by pitiless masters and left to ravage until they were defeated and destroyed.

“Is it ready?” one asked the other. The second nodded. The first chortled with glee. It had taken him a very long time to find this thing, this talisman. And it would have done very little against this woman he hated, if she had been fully human.

But she was not. She was half werewolf blooded, though she had never in her life manifested her father’s traits. Which again, was what the elven lord counted upon. She would have nothing to guide her. He nodded and the second clasped a belt made of wolfskin around the woman’s waist. She moaned a little, lost in the drug-haze.

“Step back” said the first, and raised his arms. A magic circle flared in a sickly yellow-green, surrounding her. The first elf began intoning the words of a French ritual that had been old at the time of the Black Plague.

And against all probability, her eyes opened. Glazed, not completely lucid, but she was in there, fighting. The elven lord was overcome with a mixture of impatience, anger, and reluctant admiration. He had not counted on this, that she would manage to fight her way free of the drugs, and begin to fight the spell.

“—what—“

“I am going to kill you, Victoria,” the elf said smoothly. “Your body, last. Your mind. But first, your spirit. I am taking away everything that you value until all you have left is life, and then I will take that, but by then, you will not even be sentient enough to realize it.”

“—they’ll come. Red—“

He laughed. “Oh, I don’t think so. After that argument? He’s happy enough to see the last of you. I believe at the moment there is nothing in his heart for you except anger.“

“NO!” She struggled to make words come. “—he could never--we could never—must’ve been you—made that happen--“

“Oh we intended to, but in the end, we didn’t have to.” He chuckled. “You mortals think your so-called ‘love’ will last forever, but you and he were slowly breaking apart, and that was just the death-throes of what was doomed from the beginning.”

He saw the doubt in her eyes; saw the pain, and drank it in like the fine wine that it was to him.

“You don’t believe me?” He smirked, and released some of the magical restraints on her. Just enough so she could look, try to reach the Red Djinni herself, and see what he was doing at that moment. “Use your magic, that bond you cling so closely to. See for yourself.”

A few moments of flailing, and she had called up a scrying spell. Here, Underhill, where magic energy was as readily available as air, it was easy, even in her drug-fogged state. A kind of mirror formed beside her, a window into the apartment she had just left, into her office.

And the elven lord knew what she was thinking. Her computer was beeping. Of course it was beeping. This was her own personal alert, her own personal tracking program that kept tabs on every CCCP member via the implanted hospital tags that Bella inserted in all of them. Vickie not excepting. And the computer was showing the alarm—the alert that Loss Of Signal had been recorded on Victoria Victrix, and the last known place in Paragon City she had been. Red would see that, Red would know when he saw it was under the bridge in AP, that she’d been taken out via Elven Gate. Red would come. Red would—

“F-ing BITCH!” Red screaming, Red coming through the office door, ablaze, Red throwing a fireball through the monitor.

The scrying mirror collapsed as the light of hope in her eyes went out, as she curled up in an instinctive reaction to a Red of her worst nightmares.

A part of Victoria shattered.

The elf drank that in and hit her with another drug-dart.

Now, had Victoria Victrix been human, even this probably would not have been enough—but her protections could not help her when her faith slipped and her blood itself responded. Her body began to writhe, to spasm, to change.

All her protections could do was this: her enemy wished her to be transformed to wolf, a form in which she would not be able to work her magics, a form in which she had no lupine experience, no memories, no practice to protect and guide her.

So they thought.

But her protections reached out, found the memories, the instincts of the packs of Grey and Dire Wolves around them. It seized on these things, sifted through them with the swiftness and surety of any good sorting program written by a genius hacker, then…downloaded them.

Just as, with a tearing of cloth and a final spasm, the transformation was complete. Where there had been a woman, there was a blonde-haired wolf, still drugged, but slowly fighting her way out of the haze, her body burning through the drugs with the unnatural swiftness of any supernatural creature.

“Well done,” the first shadow-elf said with satisfaction. “Let’s go raise the Hunt. By the time we’ve got them organized, our quarry should be ready to course.”