Story (c) 2000 by Hikaru Katayamma/Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. The character Sheila Vixen (c) Eric W Schwartz. All other characters are (c) Hikaru Katayamma.  This story contains adult situations and language. By reading it the viewer agrees not to hold this or any other person responsible for any content they may find objectionable. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Identity Crisis
Act II
Chapter 15

Wrongly Accused

  I awoke in the morning, sprawled out over most of the bed. Sheila was gone. From the look of the sun I had slept well past dawn. I wondered how late I got in last night. It was kind of hard to keep track of time without a watch..

  I uttered a low moan as I crawled out of bed and stretched. I had not slept well last night. The revelation about my scent, combined with what I had learned about Gwen's daughter, had haunted my dreams.

  My life was so out of control, and yet so in control right now. For the first time since I started this bizarre journey I was seriously beginning to wonder just who or what I was, or even wanted to be. I wasn't even sure about my quest any more. The path of the bear or the dragon no longer bound me. If anything, I was simply following their lead out of habit.

  As I sat down in front of the mirror I examined my image. This wasn't Sheila's image any more; it was now mine. Even when I, my spirit, had returned to the studio, I had maintained this form. There was something basic here that I was missing. Just what the hell was happening to me?

  I picked up a brush and began to work on my hair. Had I changed so much? Is this all that I am now? What if I never recover my old form, would that be so bad? Would it really be such a tragedy if Nanuk ultimately passed? Maybe it was time for such to happen. All things do pass in time. If it wasn't intended to be so, then why had the creator made the spirits so limited?

  And then there was Sheila. I hated to admit it to myself, but I wasn't sure what was happening to our relationship. Was it right to have blamed him for what had happened to me? He had just thought that it was the enhanced sense of smell that was affecting him. I had blamed him for not warning me, but would I have known to do so in his place? I know I had forgiven him, but did he forgive me for turning on him? His not waiting for me before retiring to sleep had bothered me a little. Not waking me up in the morning, or waiting for me to wake up had definitely screwed with my day. This was the first night I could ever remember where we hadn't even spoken to each other, and it disturbed me. Something was definitely wrong.

  Finished with my fur, I replaced the brush on the table and walked over to the armoire. Neatly hanging within its confines were what clothing I had. Four dresses, one gown and the housecoat that had been there comprised the inventory. I claimed to be a warrior, but when I had commissioned some clothing from the three sisters I hadn't even thought about my ability to fight in them. How could I have made such a simple mistake? It didn't make sense. I would have to see if there were any women warriors and find out about getting better equipped.

  I picked a simple dress that laced up in the front. Pulling it over my head, I fought with it for a little bit as I worked to get my tail through the slot. Putting on a pullover was a real pain without help. Lacing up the front was a heck of a lot easier than fighting with ties behind my back though.

  Again returning to the mirror I checked my appearance. It was satisfactory but somehow didn't feel right. No, for some reason I didn't look right. I don't know why, but there was just something that was out of place. Maybe it was just because I was coming down off of the hormones. I only hoped it wasn't the hormones that had made me so happy and content. Last thing I needed was to become a prick again.

  With a bit of a sigh I ran my paws through my hair one last time as I checked it out in the mirror, then headed out the door. I wasn't particularly hungry, and I wanted to find Sheila. I was in dire need of a hug right about now and he was just the bloke to do it for me.

  After fifteen minutes of asking around I discovered that Sheila was out in the garden. Another five minutes of searching found him standing near the entrance to the hedge maze. As I approached I gave him my best 'I see something I want' walk, along with a big smile. He made it a point not to watch me directly as I walked up. He was playing hard to get. That was fine with me. I know how to play this game, too.

  As I sidled up to him I turned around, swishing my tail under his nose as I prepared to sit on his lap.. "Don't touch me," he spat, batting my tail away. I turned around, hurt at the tone in his voice. As my eyes locked onto his I knew fear from him for the first time. He was angry, and I could feel it.

  He stood up and glared at me, forcing me back with his anger. "Don't you ever touch me again!" he commanded, raising his voice. As I slowly backed away I tried to think of how I might have offended him, but I failed. "What did I do?" I asked weakly as he started to turn.

  His head snapped back around at me, a snarl of teeth showing. "You have the balls to ask me that?" he demanded not waiting for an answer. "You, the person who ripped me a new asshole because you couldn't trust me. You want to know what you did wrong? What? Do you think I'm stupid or something?"

  His eyes were literally glowing, forcing me down towards the ground as fear overwhelmed me. "You two-timing slut! Don't you think I would know if you were cheating on me?" he demanded.

  My god, he must have found out about what happened with Gwen! "Sheila, please! You don't understand. I didn't intend for it to happen!" I said, pleading as he started to turn away from me.

  He turned, raising a fist to strike me. I was stunned by his actions, frozen, kneeling on the ground, unable to defend myself. "No, not you," he said with a low growl. "No. Maybe I should go take it out on your lover. Since you didn't intend for it to happen, it must be your lovers  fault."

  "No!" I cried out. "Please, not Gwen. She couldn't help herself," I pleaded, praying that he wouldn't do something stupid.

  I saw Sheila's jaw drop in surprise. "Gwen?" he asked, confused. "As in Gwendolyn, the Duchess?" His face a mask out disbelief and outrage he spun around, looking for a target for his rage, only to find me again. "That's just peachy. Tell me, is there ANYONE in this castle that you haven't slept with?"

  As he started to walk away I climbed to my feet, chasing after him. "Sheila, please!" I said grabbing his arm. He stopped and spun, backhanding me with the arm I had grabbed, sending me flying. I landed hard, stunned by the blow to my muzzle, as the world spun around me.

  Forcing myself to roll over, I tasted blood. As I reached for my snout, I suddenly sneezed blood, clearing my sinuses. All I could do was lie there, dripping onto the manicured grass as I watched Sheila storm away, wondering if I had lost him for good.

  I sat on a bench by the entrance to the hedgerow, trying to figure out what had just happened. I was at a total loss. If he didn't know about Gwen, then what the hell was he upset about? There hadn't been anyone else for him to be jealous over. I hadn't betrayed his trust. Not intentionally. Maybe that's what had been chewing me up this morning. Somehow I doubted it.

  As I sat there, my emotions in turmoil, I became aware of the fact that Gwen had sat down next to me. All I could do was to look at the blood on my hands and dress. I was still terrified by Sheila's anger and its physical manifestation.

  "Arden," she said quietly, placing a hand on my shoulder. "What happened here? Who struck you?" I could hear the concern in her voice as she tried to find out what had happened to me.

  I looked up from my hands, my eyes still haunted by what had happened. I could see the echo of my pain in her eyes. "It was Sheila. He thinks I've been cheating on him," I said quietly. I could see the thoughts passing through Gwen's head as she assumed it was her. "Not you," I said interrupting her train of though. "He thinks I have been with another man."

  Gwen nodded. "Did you speak to your mate last night?" she asked, clasping her hands in her lap.

  I shook my head. "No, he was asleep when I returned, and was gone when I awoke," I explained.

  Once again, Gwen nodded. "We didn't have much time to talk last night," she stated. "Otherwise I would have mentioned that I saw him watch as you followed your decoy out of the room."

  Oh god, he didn't think I had humped the stable hand, did he?

  "After my husband and I were finished with our initial encounter," she continued, "we returned to the commons. Your decoy showed up not to long after. Sheila made it a point to walk by him on the way out. His expression wasn't one of pleasure afterwards."

  My god, he must have smelled my scent all over the guy and assumed I had slept with him.

  "I sent Theolin to locate you, but he obviously didn't find you before you retired," she finished, telling of her attempt to warn me and failing.

  So that's why Theolin had come looking for me on the roof. Only he had been so shaken by what he had seen that he had forgotten all about his mission to find me. Christ. I'd really done it again, hadn't I? In my enthusiasm to help Gwen I had inadvertently made Sheila think that I had betrayed him.

  Gwen read the expression of total despair on my face and tried to cheer me up. "Don't worry. He will calm down soon and we will try to bring him around to his senses. Surely he can't stay mad with you forever," she said not understanding the depth of my screw-up.

  "I suppose you're right, Gwen," I said without enthusiasm. "There's only one little problem with that." I turned and looked her in the eye. "I thought Sheila had found out about you. When he threatened to take his anger out on my lover..." I shrugged.

  There was nothing I could do as I watched my words sink in. Gwen now realized how badly I had screwed this up. Side by side we sat, contemplating what had happened.

  "Tell me, Arden,' Gwen said. "When you were a man, how would you have reacted if Sheila had slept with another man?"

  I didn't have to think hard on that one. I had been ready to kill Bjorn when I had first found out about him. "I would have been very jealous," I replied tersely, not wanting to dwell on Bjorn's memory.

  "And how would you have felt if you had found her in bed with another woman?" she asked, a small smile on her face.

  I thought about what she said. I don't think I would have been very mad about it. Heck, it was almost a stock fantasy for most guys to watch a little lesbian action, or even better to get invited in on the action. Gwen laughed as she saw the expression on my face change. I was grinning like a fox in the chicken coop.

  "I thought so," she said, smiling. "I'm sure Sheila was more upset at the thought of you cheating with a man than with me. I doubt he'll hold a grudge against us."

  Gwen stood and held a hand out to help me up. I accepted it, embracing her, thankful that I had such a friend in this world. As we separated, she smiled and reached up to wipe a tear from my face.

  I was startled by the sound of birds taking off from the hedgerow next to us. Turning, I was shocked to see a man with a crossbow taking aim. Pushing away from Gwen with all my strength I tried to separate us, destroying his aim, only to see the bolt fly as he released the catch.

  Dipping my knees I arched my back, dropping my body down below the flight of the quarrel. As it passed by I twisted towards the assassin, turning to charge him. The assassin, seeing that he had missed me, turned and fled into the maze, discarding the useless crossbow. He had a small head start, but I was quicker than him. When I caught him he would pay for his actions.

  Digging my claws into the soft grass I used them like cleats to give me extra purchase as I charged after him. Rounding a corner I found I was hot on his heals. With a last burst of speed I dove forward, tackling his legs from behind, dragging him to the ground.

  As we came to a stop I tried to scramble up onto his back, but was again foiled by that stupid dress as it snagged on the ground under my knees. Using my paws to yank the hem up away from my feet, I leapt forward only to have him roll over before I could try to pin him.

  He saw my attack and countered with a right cross to the muzzle, striking my already injured nose and causing the pain to flare. Momentarily stunned, I felt him knee me in the ribs, driving me off of him. I barely regained my wits in time to see him draw a stiletto as he straddled me and prepare to strike.

  Now as I fought in defense of my life I grabbed the wrist of his dagger hand as he swung it down, stopping it inches from my neck. There was no way I could stop him with one hand so I tried to reach my other paw over to help only to have it captured by his left hand and held at bay.

  I looked into his rage filled face and recognized him. He was the man in the mews who's nose I had broken. It was still purple and discolored. With a quick lunge of my head, I tried to strike his injured face, but he reacted too quickly, laughing at me.

  "His highness will pay me well for your demise, bitch," he bragged, forcing the stiletto down slowly towards me, drawing out his attack. There was no way I could support his weight behind the dagger, and there was no way I could throw him off.

  Frantic for a solution I remembered the basics of self-defense. I would have only one chance, and it would hurt me almost as much as it would him, but it was my only chance at life. "I don't think so, asshole," I spat back.

  With a deep breath, I exhaled through my shout, spraying his eyes with blood, causing him to flinch and lift up a little. Now blessed with a little room, I brought my knee up behind his groin as hard as I could while pulling my arms down and outward, forcing him off balance.

  I screamed as the stiletto pierced my shoulder, impaling me onto the grass, but I was ready for it. His neck, now down next to my face, was perfectly positioned. I turned my scream of pain into a war cry as I sank my fangs into his neck, my jaws encompassing his windpipe all the way around behind the ear.

  Biting down, I was rewarded by a choked gagging sound as he tried to cry out. I tried to concentrate on maintaining the pressure as he twisted the stiletto dagger, trying to cause me to scream out in pain. Now totally committed to the fight for my life, I began shaking my head from side to side like a wild animal, trying to rip his throat out.

  I momentarily gagged as a stream of blood burst forth into my mouth, choking off my breath. Looking down my snout I could see that he knew he was dead. His eyes, betrayed the fear I couldn't smell. He had tried to kill me and now was paying the ultimate price.

  I continued to shake and rip at his throat even after I watched the light fade from his eyes and he collapsed on top of me. It wasn't until I realized that the blood no longer flowed that I released him, spitting blood and flesh from my mouth as I gagged, gasping for breath.

  Using my right arm I managed to slide the corpse off of me, freeing me from the dead weight of my would-be assassin. Now able to sit up, I supported myself on my good arm and retched the blood and other contents of my stomach, trying to purge myself of his filth.

  Once I was sure I wouldn't start puking again, I sat up and tried to remove the stiletto. Although I pulled with what remaining strength I had, I was unable to budge it. The damned thing must be wedged between the bones or something.

  I gave up on trying to remove the stiletto and just sat there, waiting for someone to come. After a few minutes of this though, it became apparent to my pain-dulled mind that I didn't hear anyone coming.

  Concerned, I forced myself unsteadily to my feet and retraced my path back to the entrance of the maze. As I stumbled around the corner I was stunned by what I saw. Gwen lay on the ground; the quarrel was buried in her chest.

  Hastily I staggered over to where she lay and kneeled by her side, checking to see if she was alive. My heart knew some joy as I felt a pulse and saw her breathe, though the large wet pool of blood on her chest proved that she was in mortal danger.

  Once again I staggered to my feet and began walking towards the castle, shouting for help. As I approached the outer corner of the hedge maze I saw two guards come scrambling in my direction. I could see the shock and dismay on their faces as I collapsed into their hands.

  I felt the world spinning around me as they lowered me gently to the ground, careful of my wound. The last thing I remembered as the darkness took me was begging  them to save Gwen.

Chapter 16