Guilt

From the Story Arc: Hunting High And Low

Previous Story in the Arc: Echoes of the Past by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, January 22, 2009)

(posted Thursday, January 22, 2009)

“F-ing hell.” Moira backed away from what looked like an innocuous clearing, gagging. Something had certainly happened there; there were the remains of a circle of colored powders, scuffed and now indecipherable, and a place in the middle where all the grass was gone.

Grey made hairball-hacking sounds, but managed around them, “She was here. She was here. They did something to her.”

Driven by urgency, all of them had pushed on long past the point where they were ready to drop, and still they were too late. Whatever had happened, or been done, to Vickie, she was long gone now. Red couldn’t tell how much time had passed since they’d gone through the Portal. Hours? Days? Without sunrise and sunset to guide them, no way of telling.

“I can’t get near that—“ Moira said desperately. “It’s…it’s wrong.”

“I can.” Hosteen motioned for his duffle, and Red passed it to him. “Alexie, Djinni, I can use you.”

“For what?” Red asked, a dullness of exhaustion over his mind. “I mean—“

“I make the past visible, but I need real connections to her. Djinni, you’re her husband, Alexie is her father. Besides, three is a good number. Should be three, four, or five to work this sort of thing.” Hosteen was already down on his knees in the grass beside the dead place. He drove a knife deep into the center of it, and motioned to Alexie and Red to come to his right and left hand. “Right for blood, left for the heart. Moira, come as close as you can and watch. You too, Grey.” He took out some more things; a fan made of a bird wing. A bowl and some dried stuff. Four little spikes of wood, like thin chopsticks, with feathers on the end, that he plunged into the turf in a square around the knife, and jars of what looked like colored sand. He took out flint and steel, then looked at Red and put them back.

“Light that up,” he commanded, “Don’t set it ablaze, I want smoke, not a fire.” Red was too tired to take exception to his giving orders, he just snapped his fingers and dropped a spark-sized fireball into the dried stuff.

Hosteen began to chant—in Navaho, Red presumed. First he fanned the smoke over the area, then he began to trickle sand onto the bare place. A lot faster than Red would have thought, he outlined something, then filled it in with color…

And as he trickled the last bit of sand between his fingers, the area rippled, went as shiny as glass, then vanished entirely, and it seemed as if they were looking down at themselves.

“Spirits, show me what happened,” Hosteen murmured, “Not what is.”

The place rippled again. This time they were looking down on a scene that wrenched at Djinni’s heart. Vickie, still in the t-shirt and scrubs she’d left in, dazed, clearly drugged, but fighting. Someone was buckling a strange-looking belt made of fur around her waist.

“—what—“

“I am going to kill you, Victoria,” said someone else out of range of the image. “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. You don’t believe me? Use your magic, that bond you cling so closely to. See for yourself.”

A kind of mirror formed beside her, a window into the apartment she had just left, into her office.

Her computer was beeping.

“F-ing BITCH!” Red, screaming, roared through the office door ablaze, and threw 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.

Her body began to writhe, to spasm, to change. 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.

Red had never felt so much like scum in his life. Not when the Fury broke up. Not when his best friend betrayed him and turned out to have been a Paragon Protector. Not when Vic Summers left him. Alexie turned a face full of fury at him—but whatever misery he saw in Red’s face seemed to take the fire out of him.

Hosteen, impassive as always, fanned smoke over the area again, scattered the sand, and began to put his “tools” away.

Strangely, it was Grey who came to Red and patted his knee with a paw. “You didn’t know, you big moron,” the Familiar said. “How could you have known?”

It didn’t help, but it did take more of the anger out of Moira and Alexie’s eyes.

Yeah but I was too f-ing drunk to remember about her alarm system. I shoulda known, remembered, about that. I shoulda known something was wrong. If I’d had two working braincells instead of feeling sorry for myself and getting hammered….

“There may be some clues as to where she has gone in your memories, Red Djinni,” Hosteen said with great formality. “Have I your permission to walk through them?”

He was still wrapped up in self-blame. How could that help? Ah hell with it. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled.

There was a gleam in Hosteen’s eyes as he said, “Then let us move away from this tainted place a little, secure a camp, and get some rest. We are all too far exhausted to go any further.’

Moira made a little sound of protest, but Alexie overruled her. “He’s right. I can barely see, and I still don’t have the juice to wolf-out and try and track her.”

It didn’t take them long to find a place where they could defend themselves and make a rough camp. It was Hosteen who asked, as they were all settling, “What was that evil thing they put on her? And why did she transform?”

“It’s a medieval French magic to make someone a loup-garou,” Moira said wearily. “It’s the blackest of black magics. It wouldn’t have worked on her if she didn’t already have Alexie’s blood in her; generally the sorcerer has to want to transform.”

Hosteen shook his head. “I am not sure what this was intended to accomplish—“

“Two possibilities,” Moira sighed. “Either it would turn her into pure animal, or it would leave her aware, but in an animal’s body. In the second case—she doesn’t have Alexie’s decades of dealing with the form, and no wolf instincts. She doesn’t know how to hunt, how to find shelter—hell, even walk and run on all fours. And in the first—she won’t really be a normal wolf, she’ll be a rabid one. A loup-garou is created to be a killing machine, a Terminator-in-fur, the kind of werewolf you see in movies.”

Oh god. Red didn’t know which was worse. There was an ache inside him that felt as if someone had torn out his liver.

“Probably even that elven sorcerer didn’t know which it would be,” she concluded, with a sound like a sob.

“Honey, she’s still alive. And she had a crapload of her own protective magics on her, and you know that’s going to eff-up whatever that bastard did.” Alexie gathered his wife into his arms, where she curled against his chest. “We’ll find her. As long as she’s alive, we can find her and once we have her, pulling that belt off will bring her back. Right?”

Moira nodded, and buried her face in her husband’s chest.

Grey plopped himself down next to Red. He seemed like the only creature here who’d be willing to talk to him right now. Especially with what had just happened, and the question he wanted to ask. “How do they know she’s still alive?” he whispered.

The Familiar opened one eye. “Me,” he replied. “A Familiar is part of the mage. If she dies, I’ll know. I might even die. Didn’t she ever tell you?”

He shook his head. The Familiar put his head down on his paws, and appeared to go to sleep.

Red closed his eyes, held his pain in, and for the first time ever, wished he could reach Ouroborus. He’d pummel every one of those frikking Menders until they gave him a do-over….