Story (c) 2000 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved.
Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen
Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character
John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters
Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis,
Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and
Vixen(c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley.
ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris.
Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard and Marvin
James Bruner. Character John Silverback (c) Himself Character Kittiara
restaruant "Callahan's" (c) "Kittiara" Character Katja (c) Herself
Mark the cheetaur (c) Mark White Eric W. Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs.
Michael Jones (c) Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge (c) Keith
Dickson. All rights to additional characters
reserved by their respective owners.
Returning to her apartment, Tigger sat down to relax. It had been a most productive night. Thanks to her wiretap on Khansman's phone, she knew about the rodent's imminent demise. The fact that the Detective had gotten to him first was a bonus.
It did however force her hand. Keeping an eye on her competitor, she had watched as he wired up the detectives car. That cat was too important to her plans to get blown up now. Removing the package, she a put it in the front seat with a 'Wild Cherry' sticker on the top. The look on his face when he opened the door was priceless. Her only regret was that she didn't have a telephoto camera at the time.
Climbing onto the hammock that she kept strung up by her monitoring equipment, she checked the locater beacon she had placed on her competitions car. Showing that he was at his hotel, she programmed the monitor to go off if it left a two-mile radius. Flipping the security system from monitor to armed mode, she then curled up. A good catnap would go over well about now. She would be busy later tonight.
As I lay on the soft bed, I smiled at the memory of Zig Zag's kiss. This was a hell of a time to be dedicated to one female. Reaching up with my hand I touched the place on my muzzle where her lips had locked onto mine, and realized something was wrong. As my eyes flew open, I looked down at my hand and it was normal.
Looking down, I could see that I was back in my old body, naked sitting on a soft moss. Gazing at my environment, I saw that I was walled in on all sides by a tall, greenish looking barrier. Standing, I walked over to it so as to get a better look. As I approached, I saw that it appeared to be made up of scales, each as tall as I was, overlapping. Moving closer I saw my reflection in one, it was myself as a bear. Moving along the barrier, I saw different images of myself, human, dog, bird, as fire. Stopping, I reached out and touched the reflection. As my hand came into contact with the surface, I felt heat. The warmth wrapped me in a cocoon of protective energies. Looking down at myself, I saw that I was covered in light blue flickering flames, similar to that of natural gas when it burns. Removing my hand, the flames flickered and vanished.
Backing away, I looked around and saw that the barrier tapered off towards the distance. Setting off along the wall, I watched my reflection and it went through infinite variations of a theme, showing me the possibilities that existed. Nearing the end, I saw it move. It curled towards me. It wasn't a barrier! It was a tail! Spinning around I followed the top back up and saw that I had been sleeping in the curl created by the tail of an enormous dragon.
As my eyes eventually reached the head, I saw it swing back to look at me. The long, sinuous neck undulated with massive muscles as it moved the head towards me. Panicking I backed away, tripping over my feet.
The laughter wasn't something I heard as much as felt. Paralyzed with fear, I was unable to move.
As the head got within ten or fifteen feet of me, I felt the hot wind as it exhaled through it's nose. The mixture of odors was so overwhelming that I almost gagged at the smell. Turning away from me, the head settled on the ground, it's eye looking down at me, "You have nothing to be afraid of little one. I did not expend my energies to bring you here just to eat you."
Gasping for breath as the adrenaline pumped through my system, I swallowed and asked, "Who are you?" I saw the lips at the back of it's mouth curl upwards in a parody of a smile. Without opening it's mouth, I once again felt the voice wash over me like a physical presence, "We are the Dragon Eternal. We are not one being, but all Dragon spirits united so that we may perform this function."
Getting a better grip on myself, I sat up, crossing my legs in front of myself. "I take it then, that I'm back in the spirit realm. If so, why you? Why am I not with Nanuk?" I felt the air flowing from behind me as it began to breathe in, "Bear no longer has sufficient power to bring you to her. By bringing your woman across the barriers this morning to save your life, she used the last of her remaining power. Even then, the dragon of that realm had to help her return. She now rests, trying to regain power for the next stage."
Nanuk had been responsible for what happened with Sheila. But how is it that a force of nature such as Nanuk could have depleted herself. Answering my unasked question, Dragon explained, "Unlike Dragon, Bear is not an eternal force. No creature is as Dragon. All must be renewed. For many years Bear as searched for a emissary capable of doing this. In you she has placed all hopes."
Giving me a few moments to let that sink in, "From before you were borne, Bear conspired with Dragon and Spider to ensure that the path of the healer and protector would not be lost. In these days of man, your world has all but lost touch with the spirits that guide your kind. Our power is diminished to a point where only a scant few may feel us. It was Spider who convinced Eagle to get the talisman to the doctor. It was Dragon who got snake to cause him to become female in your world. It was Bear who convinced her to give the talisman to you. You are here at great costs to the spirits. If you fail, much will be lost."
I felt the weight of his words as they sank into me. I remembered from the totemic writings that Spider was the schemer, the planner, but Dragons were an anomaly. There were so many different texts on them. "Dragon is many things. Right now we are all dragons combined. Dragons are the guardians of the realms, protecting them from the chaos caused by the dark. They are the ones who guard the spirit realm and ensure that none go but to their proper places. The talisman that you have is a key to this barrier that we cannot deny. You must use the talisman and get to the next phase of our plan before Bear is lost to us all." Shaking my head, I let it hang, "I no longer have the talisman."
Again it chuckled, "The talisman will be returned to you soon. You shall continue your journey. Dragon has too much power invested in this for you to fail us." Curious, I looked back up at him, "What is you're relationship with Bear? Why do you care so much."
I felt the warm breeze of it's exhale, "Dragon is an agent of change as well as a guardian. By your nature you change those around you for the better. This in turn gives Bear more power to work with as it is a healing act. It also gives Dragon power as it is a change for the better. In this, Dragon and Bear are closely related. If Bear is lost, Dragon will be greatly diminished. For this reason, Dragon now must now devote more power to you than he will for his own children. Though you are a child of Bear, it is Dragon's path you must walk. For this reason Dragon has brought you here. As you walk the path of Dragon, you must beware rage. Bear is mighty and will attack only to protect. Dragon has no such qualms, and is easily enraged. You must guard from this lest you be consumed by the power we must grant you."
That would explain this morning with Sheila. I shouldn't have reacted that way. It was the influence of the Dragon that was partially responsible. I always had an extremely long temper, but when it finally broke, I tended to get extremely violent. A lot of money had been spent replacing broken computer equipment after one of my rages. God help anyone around me now with my temper shortened. "That is not true." The voice brought me out of my thoughts. "Your patience will not be lessened. But you must guard against the rage. As bear, you would not have attacked your woman, you would have taken it out on something inanimate, as you did the table outside."
Nodding I understood, "I understand, but you said I had a mission. What is this mission." I got a feeling of immense satisfaction from the dragon, "Duty and Honor, these too are traits of Dragon. Bear chose well for us. You must go to the realm of the Sorcerer Ruddygore and obtain the Lamp of Lakesh from him."
Thinking I tried to remember the name, it was familiar. With a snap of my fingers I had it, "Throckmorten P Ruddygore! That's from Jack L. Chalker's 'River of the Dancing Gods' books." Again, the breeze as he inhaled, "Yes, he is the chronicler of your world that has seen that reality. Though he has shown you a window into the realm, beware for he has not shown all that is there and some of it was changed to be more.... palatable to those in your world. Do not presume you know something to be the truth simply because of his chronicles."
Nodding, I could understand that. I had already made a grievous mistake with James; I didn't intend to make the same mistake. Thinking about Ruddygore it occurred to me that I should verify what I know, "Is Ruddygore the servant of the light as Chalker has written? Or did he gloss the character over for the book?" The eyes closed slightly on the dragon as it thought, "He is very powerful in his realm, and is no friend of the guardian, but we believe him to be trustworthy. Although he deals with the dark forces on occasion, his actions have always been for the betterment of the light."
All right, I could accept that. He was a good guy for the most part though he did occasionally deal with the dark. But how was I supposed to use the amulet to get there? Just as I was about to ask the question, the dragon piped up, "The talisman works by granting a wish, similar to that of the lamp. It's curse is that it grants the wish by transporting the person into another reality where the event can come true." Thinking back to when I got moved over, I remembered my off handed remark about 'wishing that Sheila could talk'." The result was it's bringing me to this world. "Yes, you understand now. The curse is that it will never take a person to the same reality twice. No matter how many times you may use the amulet, you can never use it to get home." That was a curse all right. I could see how a person might want to eventually go home. They might get a close copy of the world, but never the original thing.
The warm breeze of the dragon's exhale captured my attention for a second. "Beware though, the amulet must rest between uses. It takes time for it to gather the power for each event. If you make a mistake and are transported to the wrong reality, you must be prepared to wait for it to become ready once again." That made sense, "How will I know it's ready?" "You will feel an itch upon the mark which it has inflicted upon you."
Looking down, I saw that again the mark was missing. Remembering what Nanuk had said about it, I could understand why the dragon didn't want it here either. Looking back up, I asked, "I presume that if I need guidance, I should come to you?" It's eyelid drooped for a moment, as a kind of nod, "Yes, I have granted you a portion of my power, but do not waste it. If nothing else be true of us, we hoard our power as we do that which we treasure. For us to grant you this thing is in itself proof of our dedication."
Nodding, one last thing occurred to me, "I realize you've granted me power. But when I went to sing Nanuk's song this morning, there was no power behind it. Not until I used that, which was my own."
Rearing up, his body shrank, changing into that of a slim, dark colored human male. Sitting down across from me, he smiled, "We were getting a headache from focusing on you." I had to laugh. I knew exactly how he felt after spending hours working on lead figurines, painting them. With a wave of his hand, he continued, "Our powers are not attuned to the path of Bear. Bear was most proud of you when you used your own light to give power to the song. But you must be careful, for this use can bring a terrible price. It is the reason you were so weak afterwards, and also why you're body had trouble healing the damage done to you. Each person has a finite supply of power available at a given time. If you draw too heavily on it, you could destroy yourself. Heed this warning, for in your journey, your healing powers will most likely be used."
I understood why I had been in so much trouble after singing to Zig Zag. Before hand, I had barely felt the wounds. Heck they had practically stopped bleeding by the time I was tending to them in the bathroom. Afterwards though, when I re-injured them, they continued to bleed. In my desire to help Zig Zag, I had unknowingly done grievous damage.
Following my train of thought, the dragon waited for me to finish my thoughts. "Now it is time to teach you that which Bear did not. You're first attempt at harnessing your power was a valiant one, but you wasted much energy. It is time to teach you how to properly tap your spirit as well as draw power from outside yourself, so that you may accomplish your role without inviting your demise."
As he began to explain the process of manipulating the energies of the spirit, a part of my mind was already ranging afar, trying to prepare itself for whatever challenges may come.
As Doug drove up to James's house, he didn't see anything particularly out of the ordinary. Parking, he walked up to the front door and pressed the doorbell. There had been no answer on the way over, and that had worried him. Peeking in the window, he saw that everything looked normal, though all the lights were off.
Waiting a few minutes, he rang the doorbell several times in a row and waited. Once again there was no answer. Heading around to the back of the house, he came to the back porch. Reaching up under a planter, he detached the spare key that James kept there incase he ever got locked out. Using it on the back door, he entered the house.
Looking around in the dining area and kitchen, he saw that nothing was out of place. There weren't even dirty dishes from breakfast. Walking back towards the master bedroom, he caught a whiff of alcohol as he neared the study. 'Not again.' Looking into the study, he saw an open bottle of scotch, still partially filled, sitting sideways on the desk. On the wall, remnants of the gun case that James had built so long ago. Stepping in the room, he saw that it had been systematically destroyed with a baseball bat, now discarded on the pile of rubble. Leading away from the room, was a small trail of blood.
Following it, he realized that James must have cut his paw on the glass and been too drunk to notice it. Pushing open the door to the room, he saw James laying on the bed, curled into a small ball. The sheets under his right paw were crusted with dried blood.
Approaching his friend, Doug checked to make sure he was breathing all right. Seeing that James was in no imminent danger of suffocation, he looked at the cut paw. There was a good-sized cut on the side of his paw where he had brushed against some broken glass. Probing it to make sure there was no glass embedded, James stirred, "Ouch, what the hell? Doug? What are you doing here?" Seeing that the wound didn't have any glass in it, he let it drop back to the bed.
"Ouch." James sat up quickly reaching for his paw, then got an odd look on his face, 'Oh god, I think I'm going to puke." Shaking his head Dough grabbed James by the waist and hauled him over to the bathroom. Setting him not too gently on the floor, he watched as his friend emptied the remains of his stomach.
Shaking his head, he asked, "You just don't learn do you?" James mumbled something incomprehensible in-between heaves. "Either build up some alcohol tolerance, or give it up. You're no good at being a drunk." Turning to leave, Doug headed back out to the bedroom. Going to the phone, he saw that James had yanked it out of the wall.
Dropping the cord, Doug went back to the study. Sitting down at the desk, he lifted up the bottle and screwed on the cap. Picking up the phone, he called up Kelly. He'd need her help to get things cleaned up here. As he listened to the phone ring, he thought about James, hoping that the guy was going to get through this relationship in one piece.
Sabrina was back on campus, and it felt kind of strange. No longer taking classes, she wasn't used to coming here any more. Walking into the library, she went down to the basement. She had emailed a friend that was still working on his degree about the photocopies. He had recommended the old man downstairs who was the caretaker for the old books and manuscripts they kept in the special research section.
Finding his office she knocked on the door. Standing there nervously, she waited for someone to answer. Looking around, she saw a young raccoon coming down the hall carrying a bunch of books. Knocking again, she wondered if he was there.
As the raccoon, got close, he asked, "Looking for old man Jacobs?" Checking the name on her notes, Sabrina nodded, "Yes, do you know where he is?" As the raccoon came even with the door, he shifted the books then suddenly kicked the door, hard. Jumping back, Sabrina gave a small "Eeeek" of surprise. A voice from in the room yelled, "What?" Giving Sabrina a smile, the raccoon nodded towards the door, "Yep, he's in. He was just asleep. The old man's a little hard of hearing. Go on in." With that, he scooted around Sabrina and continued on his way.
Watching the raccoon for a second, Sabrina just shook her head. Opening the door, she peeked in, "Are you Mr. Jacobs?" The old man behind the desk looked up at Sabrina. His eyes widening slightly, he started to clean up his desk, "Why yes my dear, I most certainly am. Please come in, come in! It's not often I get visitors down here. At least not pretty ones." Taking a pile of old books off of a chair, he dumped them in the corner on top of a larger pile. Watching for a second to make sure the pile didn't collapse, he turned, smiled and then slid into his chair, "How may I be of service young lady?"
Taking out the photocopies, Sabrina passed them over, "I understand that you might know something about this." Taking the photocopies, he picked up a pair of small glasses and clipped them to the bridge of his nose, "Ahhh, yes. Let us see here." Examining the papers, he "OOOoo'ed" and "AHHHhhh'ed " several times. At one point he took out a magnifying glass, "Too bad you don't have the originals, there is much detail that a photocopy doesn't catch."
Picking up a pencil, he took an old notepad and upon finding a blank page, began taking notes. "This is a most interesting document," he said distractedly. Glancing over his spectacles, he stopped writing, "This is for some kind of comparative religion class?" Not sure how to answer, Sabrina figured she'd wing it, "Well, a friend asked me if I could find something about them. I'm pretty sure it's not for a comparative religion class though. I don't quite think she's the type." Cocking his head for a second, he then nodded and returned to his notes. Again speaking in a distracted voice, he commented, "There are at least twelve different religious symbologies represented here, probably more. There are glyphs and runes from several different iconic languages too. This is most interesting."
Looking up at Sabrina again, "You don't have access to the originals do you?" Shaking her head, she shrugged, "I don't but I'll ask the person who got them for me." Nodding, he put the papers down, "I will need to do some research on this text. It will take some time. If you don't mind, I'm going to hold on to these photocopies." Taking out a business card, he held it out to Sabrina, "Call me back tomorrow. This is indeed a most interesting text. I will give it my full attention tonight." Thinking to herself that this guy had gotten farther than anyone at the anthropology or archeology department, she might as well let him hold on to them.
Taking the card she stood up, 'Thank you very much. I will be in touch." Turning she walked to the door until she remembered something. Turning back, she asked, "Ummm, will there be any charge for this?" Looking up in confusion, it took a second for the old man to digest what she said, "Normally yes. We can't have slackers coming to us for their homework, but you have brought me something quite unique, yes, quite unique. No charge for you." Smiling, he dove back into his work.
Closing the door behind her, Sabrina looked back at it for a second. That has got to be her weird encounter for the year. At least she hoped so. Shaking her head, she walked quickly to the stairs. She still had to stop off at the graphics company and pick up the new proofs before going back to work.
I don't know how long I spent being instructed by the dragon, but it felt like days. Even though we hadn't taken any rests, I still felt refreshed. Ending the lesson, he told me it was time to return. Taking his old shape again, I walked along his tail, examining the reflections until I reached the one I wanted. Putting my hand out, I touched it. The warmth enveloped me. Pushing hard, I felt it give like a plastic sheet.
Passing through the scale, I found myself standing in the bedroom. There was a familiar form sitting in the armchair, but he didn't look right. There was an aura around him. It didn't look like it belonged here. It made him look out of place. Turning to the bathroom, I saw Zig Zag cleaning the shower. I guess the blood had been given a chance to dry.
Walking over to the bed, I looked down at the damage to my chest. It was bad, but it could be healed. I just had to be careful how I did it. Closing my eyes, I breathed in, willing myself back into my body. Feeling the silk against my fur, I let my eyes open.
Looking into the corner, I saw Detective Jones again, "Hello Detective, how are you feeling today?" His head snapped up from the paper he had been reading, "You're awake." Nothing gets by this guy. Standing he walked around the bed to where I lay. Squatting down next to the bed, he got a very serious look on his face. Nodding to the wounds, he asked, "Who did that to you?" Gesturing for him to come closer, I whispered, "Take it from me, never pull on Zig Zag's tail. Never."
As he leaned back, he gave me an odd look. I couldn't help but to chuckle. Seeing my smile he frowned a little. Some people just couldn't take a joke, "I'm sure you didn't come here to inquire about my health." Nodding, he glanced at Zig Zag to verify she wasn't listening, "Do you have any idea who's trying to kill you yet?" This guy never gives up, "Nope. Still no idea." Seeing his expression, I suddenly got the idea he did, "But you do don't you. You know who it is."
Glancing at Zig Zag again, he leaned closer, "I don't have anything that would stand up in court, especially as their both dead. I've discovered from two different sources, that the District Attorney has put a contract out on you." Seeing the disbelief on my face, he continued, "Not only on you, but on me also. He's found out about my investigation. You remember the news yesterday about the raccoon parts that had been found all around town? He was one of the people."
This guy was serious. That SOB had a contract out on my ass. If that was true, then everyone around me was in serious danger. This wasn't just some crackpot doing a drive by, or a couple of stalkers, but professional hired killers. Watching the play of emotions on my face, he continued, "I'm going to give you a username and password to a system on the Internet. I'll be sending encrypted copies of all the information I dig up, as I find it, to that system. If anything happens to me, I want you to take the user ID and password to someone in the press, someone you think might be sympathetic. They can pull down the information and deliver it to the public. Nodding I asked, "What kind of encryption? And what's the password?"
Taking a floppy from his jacket pocket, he flashed it to me. The label was from ZZ Studios. It was a sampler diskette they sent out, "Good camouflage." Opening the drawer next to the bed, he put it inside the phonebook that lay at the bottom of the drawer. Closing it, he whispered, "The password is 'revenant'." Thinking, I remembered, "An avenging spirit."
Raising an eyebrow, I could tell that his respect for me went up a bit, "For now, avoid open spaces. Make sure you aren't near any cars when they are started; one of his people was killed last night like that. Lastly, be careful of any packages that you receive. Since nobody supposedly knows who you are, assume that nobody should send you anything. Even an ordinary envelope can be lethal." If this guy was for real, then the secretary at the Studio was in serious trouble. Frowning a little, I looked beyond him. Zig Zag was done, "OK. I've got your number in my cell phone. If anything strange happens, I'll let you know right away. I expect you to do the same for me."
Standing up, he put his paw out. Taking it, we shook hands. Nodding to Zig Zag, he turned back to me. "I'll give you a call every few hours. If you don't hear from me in six.... well, you know what to do." Following Zig Zag, he left the room.
As soon as they were gone, I tossed the covers back and got out of the bed. Swaying for a second, I steadied myself and took a deep breath. Moving into the bathroom, I checked myself in the mirror. Philippe was going to kill me, that or he'd maul Zig Zag. Her claws had trashed the fur along with the skin. The doctor had to cut some away in order to close the ragged tears. Continuing over to the john, I relieved myself, then headed back out into the bedroom. Taking a pair of shorts from my bag I was putting them on as Zig Zag came back.
Standing in the door, she made a 'Gack' sound. Shaking my head, I pulled the trunks up, pulling the fur out from around the band. Walking over to me she grabbed my arm, "What do you think you're doing out of bed?" Looking down, first at her hand, then her face, "I'd say I was getting dressed. And just to be fair, since you insisted on watching from the door way, I expect you to give me the same opportunity next time you're getting dressed."
For a second she had the most indignant look on her face until she caught on, "Don't try to change the subject mister. You're supposed to be in bed." Shaking my head, I wind milled my arm quickly to break her grip, "I'm all right Zig Zag. Like I said before, I heal fast." That was an understatement. I felt totally renewed by the powers of the dragon. I'd have to be careful not to over do it.
As I started to move around her, she grabbed my arm again and squeezed hard. Her claws didn't puncture the skin, but they got my attention. Reflexively I wind milled my arm again, this time sidestepping towards her I pinned her arm between my arm and my body. Bearing my teeth, I brought my other arm back in preparation for a palm strike. The look of terror on her face brought the dragons warning back to me.. Relaxing I let her go, "Please, don't ever grab me like that again. It's a trained reflex I have to fight."
Backing away from me, she hit the bed and fell back, "Who the hell trains people like that." Turning, I walked to the doorway. Changing my mind, I stopped. Still not looking at Zig Zag, I answered her question; "I got a Visa to go to Japan as an exchange student when I was in high school. When I graduated, I wanted to stay and go to college. They agreed to extend my Visa if I would join the SDF... Self Defense Force, their version of the military, when I graduated. I spent four years in their version of special operations because of certain aptitudes I had. That and I was a gaijin, an outsider. I would be useful where their own people would be easily recognized. After almost ten years I resigned and came back to the states. I had had my fill of Japan and it's politics." Looking back at her, I saw that she had calmed down, "They trained me to kill by reflex. When you used your claws, you triggered the reflex because I didn't expect it."
Getting off the bed, she walked over to me, "How much do you remember of your old life?" Looking down at my palm, I thought about it. "Let's go sit down in the living room, this is going to take a while."
Driving back from the hospital, Sheila had stopped by the apartment. The carpet people had her room all torn up, the furniture was in the living room. Going to the vanity, she picked up the box that held the medallion. Taking it out, she slipped it around her neck, and tucked it in her shirt. Closing the box, she replaced it on the table. Taking some extra clothes from the dresser, she placed them in the grocery bag she had brought.
According to the guys working on the carpet, they'd be all done tomorrow. As much as she loved Zig Zag as a friend, she'd be glad to get back in her own bed. Heading back out to her car, she climbed in and backed out. Driving away, she looked forward to tonight. She had a lot of making up to do, and the outfit she had just gotten out of the drawer would certainly help set the stage.