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 18

We know all about you.

  I didn't want to get up, but I knew I wouldn't be able to get to sleep again. Opening my eyes I was surprised to see that I wasn't in my room. This one reminded me of Gwen's private chambers without all personal touches. It was huge.

  As I stretched out in the bed I felt someone beside me. It was Sheila, asleep. I rolled over and reached out to put my arm around him, only to be stopped by the pain in my shoulder. I had to settle for brushing my right paw through his hair as he slept. I could tell that healing Gwen had really taken it out of him.

  "Miss A... Um, Lady Arden, you're awake," I heard a small voice say. Rolling back over I saw Thomas sitting in a chair over by the corner, book open in his lap.

  "Hey, Thomas. Where've you been hiding?" I asked, having not seen him for quite some time.

  Thomas hopped off the chair, closing the book and walked over to the bed. "Lord Tines has had me working with the other squires of late, Lady Arden," he explained. "Do you need anything? Some water or food?"

  Water or food, I could sure use some of both. I hadn't had a chance to eat this morning, and it was really biting me now. "I'll have a little of both, but not here," I responded. "Get me one of my dresses, please, preferably the one that laces up front, ok?"

  "Yes, Lady Arden," he said, putting the book down on the table next to my bed.

  As Thomas went over to the armoire to get a dress I sat up in bed, slipping my legs over the edge and allowing the covers to fall aside. Curious as to what he had been reading I picked up the book and examined it. It was an illustrated manual of arms showing various fighting styles and techniques. Thomas probably couldn't read the text, but he would certainly be able to study the images.

  "Umm...Miss Arden?" Thomas' voice caught my attention. He was standing over by the armoire holding a dress, his back turned to me. "Is this good?" he asked.

  "That's fine, Thomas. Bring it over here would you?" I instructed. The kid started walking backwards towards me. "What are you doing, Thomas?"

  "I'm bringing you the dress, Miss Arden," he replied, continuing to back up.

  I was about to ask why when it occurred to me. Grabbing a hand full of sheets I pulled them over me. "It's safe to turn around now, Thomas," I informed him. Nervously he glanced over to verify I was covered, and then hurried over with the dress.

  Taking the outfit from him, I tossed it on the bed beside me, ignoring it. Thomas just stood in front of me, nervous at being subject to my undivided attention. Oddly enough, I had actually forgotten about being female even as I asked him to bring me a dress. This was something I hadn't thought out in advance. If I were to take on Thomas as a squire I would have to figure out how to handle getting dressed around him.

  It was time to decide if I was serious about this whole thing. Not really sure about his age, I asked, "Thomas, how old are you?"

  "I just passed my eleventh year, Miss Arden," he replied still looking unsure of himself.

  Damn! Eleven years old. And all along I thought he was seven or eight. He obviously hadn't hit his growth yet. I guess he figured out my train of thought as he elaborated on his answer saying, "My father was a Dainalin. I'm already taller than he was before he died, Miss Arden"

  Dainalin? That was a new one. I guess they were the equivalent of kinder or dwarves. Whatever he was, he certainly was old enough to handle the responsibilities of being my squire.

  "All right, Thomas. I want you to list the responsibilities of a squire for me," I directed.

  He straightened up, standing at a kind of attention as he answered, "A squire is responsible for the care and maintenance of a knight's animals and equipment, obtaining and preparing provisions, and helping his lord prepare for battle as well as aiding in his defense to the realm."

  Good answer. "Let's take a close look at your answer. Specifically the part about helping a lord prepare for battle. Expand on that section," I directed, taking an instructor's tone.

  "A squire must ensure that all his lord's armor and weapons are ready for battle, as well as to assist him in putting the armor on," he stated, his answer straight out of the text book.

  "All right. As my squire, is it reasonable for me to expect you to assist me in preparing for battle?" I asked, handing him a loaded question. As I watched, he floundered, looking for a way out of the question. He hadn't considered that aspect.

  "Thomas," I said quietly, getting his attention, "I'm not going to have anyone other than you and Lord Vic to help me out once we leave here. Either you've got to commit yourself to my service, without reservation, or tell me now that you want out." I watched him think about it. I didn't want him to go, but I wasn't going to coddle him, either. If he stayed, I would have to let him in on the truth about Sheila and myself. He was going to have to get used to us doing weird and funky stuff.

  I saw Thomas come to a decision. Straightening back up he nodded to me. "I want to be your squire, Miss Arden. No matter what it takes," he declared.

  I smiled at him. He hadn't disappointed me. "All right, let's make things a little easier for you," I said holding out my arm. "Put your arm next to mine."

  Thomas extended his arm next to mine. His pale skin showed in sharp contrast to the orange and black pattern of my fur. "Now, which of us has a naked arm?" I asked.

  He gave a little shrug and answered, "I guess mine, Miss Arden."

  "Now you're getting the picture, Thomas. With my fur I'm never truly naked, not like you humans are. Now do you understand why I didn't anticipate your reaction to seeing me without clothes?" I asked Thinking back, I remembered the day they had captured me and hauled me to the mews. "In fact, I remember you seeing me without anything on before, back when they captured me. Isn't that so?"

  "But that wasn't the same thing, Miss Arden!" he complained, and rightfully so. It's quite a different thing to help a lady get dressed, than to watch helplessly as she's stripped and hauled away like an animal.

  I nodded in concession. "You're right, Thomas. It isn't the same." Allowing the covers to slip aside, I stood and picked up the dress, shaking it out before me. Thomas, to his credit, managed not to turn away, though he was most definately nervous.

  Hanging the dress over my arm for a moment I did a little runway walk, batting the boy's head with my tail as I turned. At the end of my little walk I folded my arms in front of me and cocked my head to one side. "Well? Now do you see what I was saying about having fur?" I asked.

  Thomas gave a sheepish nod. "Ya. You don't look anything like my sister!" he declared, stating the obvious.

  The comment took me by surprise and made me laugh out loud. That was the last thing on earth that I expected him to say. I stifled my humor as I heard Sheila moaning in bed. I had no intention of waking him.

  I grinned at Thomas and gave him a sly, accusatory look and asked, "Have we been peeking in on our older sister?"

  Suddenly realizing what he had said, Thomas floundered for a moment while he sought in vain for an answer that would proclaim his innocence. "It's not like that at all, Miss Arden!" he finally announced. "Really!"

  "Ya, right," I said, still laughing as I unfolded the dress and slipped it over my head. "Help me with my tail, will you, Tom?" Out of the mouth of babes. I wondered what other pearls of wisdom he would drop on me.

  Once I was dressed, I wandered across the room to a large dressing table. It resembled the one in Gwen's chambers. As I sat down I saw that the brushes and other items were of silver rather than polished wood had been the ones in the other room. I looked up at Thomas in the mirror and asked, "Where the heck are we, anyway? This isn't our old room."

  "You're in the royal guest chambers, Miss Arden. The Duke ordered you and Lord Vic to be moved here after what happened this morning," he replied, filling me in on the details.

  I picked up a brush and handed it to him.

  "What's this for?" he asked, looking at the brush like it was evil.

  "It's for you to do my tail while, I do my hair," I explained, picking up another brush and starting on my hair.

  He just started at me for a moment like I was crazy. I stopped brushing and raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you going to help me or not?" I asked sternly. "I'm not planning on having a maid, so you're going to get 'fur duty' just like Lord Vic. Either get used to it or get out." That got through to him. With a shrug, he began brushing out the fur on my tail while I worked on my hair. He really was a good kid. A little rough around the edges, but I felt I could whip him into shape.

  "Miss Arden?" Thomas said, getting my attention. "Is it true? What they said you did today?"

  Oy. I guessed it was time for some spin control. Lord only knew what kind of rumors would be flying about. "And just exactly what would that be, Thomas?" I countered neutrally.

  He didn't take his eyes off of mine even while continuing to brush my tail. "They said that you brought the Duchess back from the dead."

  Oh ya, this place was a regular spin city. "No, it's not true," I replied, wanting to set the record straight. "She never died. Her spirit however, had become lost. I was able to help the Duchess find her way back." I watched him mull that over as he continued to work on my fur.

  "Oh no!" he said, looking up, horrified. "I was supposed to tell the Duke as soon as you woke up!"

  I laughed. "Don't sweat it, Thomas. You work for me, not the Duke. I'll let him know when I'm ready, and not a minute before. A lady must make herself presentable before appearing before a duke, wouldn't you agree?" I asked, giving him a smile.

  Thomas laughed with me as he resumed brushing my tail. "Absolutely, Miss Arden."

  Satisfied with my general appearance I replaced the brushes on the table and stood, then lead Thomas to the door. "I want you to go get me a platter of meats and some of those honeyed pastries. Not a lot of food though. Just a small plate and a mug of ale," I directed. "You'll be able to find me with the Duke."

  As we stepped out the door I sent Thomas on his way while I headed for the guard standing at the door to the Duke and Duchess' chambers. "Pardon me, but where may I find the Duke?" I asked politely.

  The guard smiled and nodded down the hallway. "You may find the Duke in his library, Lady Arden. It's the last door on your left," he replied formally.

  Thanking him with a bow, I proceeded down to the designated door. There was no guard there so I could only presume that the other one was to ensure Gwen wasn't disturbed. Reaching the door, I rapped lightly with my knuckles on the hardwood panel.

  "Come." I heard from within. Opening and stepping through the doorway I entered a rather cluttered looking room filled with a scattering of books, maps, tomes and various models of different castles. Though at first it appeared rather disorganized, I quickly recognized the method of his madness. He used the "heap-sort" method.

  "Ahh, Lady Arden, please come in," the Duke said warmly, waving me to an empty seat near the table where he was sitting. "I wanted to thank you for what you did today. What you did was far beyond anything I would ever have expected of one such as you."

  I'll be damned if that didn't sound like a back-handed compliment. "My honor demanded nothing less, my lord," I said flatly, taking the chair. My attitude was totally lost on him as he stood, then walked across the room to get something. I was composing a suitably sarcastic compliment of my own when I realized he looked obscenely happy as he returned, holding something behind his back.

  "I believe these are yours," he said, holding my swords out to me.

  Standing, I took the swords from his hands and drew the Katana to examine the blade, not believing that they had finally been returned. I sheathed the Katana in its scabbard and set them on the table beside me, then turned back to the Duke. With all thoughts of sarcasm lost, I grabbed the Duke and kissed him, reveling in the shocked look on his face as we broke.

  "Thank you, my lord," I said giving a deep bow of gratitude for returning my swords.

  "Don't you ever do that again!" he snarled, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. .

  I laid my ears back and glared at him. "We've never known you to be particularly choosy in your preference of women to kiss," I stated angry, Gwen's personality popping up to the front of my mind.

  The Duke's face turned red with rage. "You know nothing about me! Don't you dare speak to me like that again!"

  "We know all about you," I declared, pulling forth Gwen's memories. "We remember meeting you for the first time when you were but nineteen, fresh from the war with the Iced Landers, having driven them from the empire. We remember you courting us at your father's estate by the lake. We remember the first time you made love to us, under the willow tree three days before we were to be wed. We know all of this for we now share Gwen's memories of you." The shock of realization on his face was emphasized by its pale color as the blood drained away. "So trust me, my lord," I said sarcastically, "when we say that we're well aware of your taste in females."

  The Duke was visibly shaken at the revelation that I knew things he never imagined anyone other than Gwen would know. "You overstep your bounds," he finally stated. "You may have helped our Gwen return to us, but that does not give you the right to speak thusly to us."

  "Help her return?" I said, allowing a small laugh to echo my disbelief. "I didn't help her return. I dragged her back to you, kicking and fighting all the way."

  The Duke leaned forward, his fist clenched, "You lie!" he stated angrily. "Our Gwen would have no reason not to come back to us!"

  "No reason? No reason? Are you that obtuse?" I asked, realizing that he truly had no clue.

  The Duke stepped forward, hand raised to strike me, but I was already backing up, lifting a sword from the desk. With a flick of my wrist I discarded the scabbard from the Wakazashi and brought it up in front of me, enjoying the shocked look on his face as he suddenly backpedaled.

  Lunging forward, I pinned him against the wall, my sword a hair's breath from his neck. "Gwen can not tell you these things, so I do it for her. It's time you knew the pain you have caused those you claim to love." My voice was but a low growl as I put my left paw to his head. Looking deep into his eyes, I used what Nanuk had taught me about connecting to another's soul, and I gave him Gwen's memories.

  I started with the memories of the birth of their child, and of the joy that it had brought to her. Her fondest memories of raising the child were tainted with bitterness as she became aware of his cheating on her. Then I made him relive that fateful day two years prior, when he had discovered Elaine had taken a Pantos for a lover.

  Gwen had tried to stop him as he ordered the guards, Theolin among them, to break down the door, catching them in the girl's chambers. Enraged at the sight, he had ordered Theolin to slaughter the cat on the spot. Though he had resisted, Theolin had no choice but to obey his lord.

  Elaine, horrified at what he father had done, struck Theolin with a lamp, burning him, before fleeing the room with Gwen in pursuit. Together they raced to the roof where Elaine climbed up upon the stone from which she so often viewed the city, and to Gwen's horror she cursed both her and the Duke before plunging to her death. Were it not for the quick thinking of the guards who had followed them, Gwen would have followed her daughter.

  "This is how you show your love?" I demanded, stepping back from the now sobbing Duke. We now stood in a lit circle, surrounded by absolute darkness. This was the spirit plane. This was my domain.

  "This is what you have done to your daughter and wife! How could you do such a thing to your own blood?" I again challenged, enraged at his actions.

  "It was an animal!" he shouted in defense. "I could not stand by and let my daughter be defiled by an animal!"

  "Animal? What the hell do you know about being an animal? Let me show you what it means to be an animal under your rule!" I shouted back, this time assaulting his psyche with my own nightmare memories.

  I showed him our first encounter with slaves and the prince, and then the next morning, when Marduke came for me and carried me to the mews. I let him experience the way the men in the mews abused me and the other animals, treating us with less respect than they would a pet. He cringed at how I was whipped for not moving fast enough, and then locked in an unlit room.

  Then came my encounter with the prince. I could feel the Duke's horror as he endured my cruel degradation, and the senseless beating I had received afterwards. Then came the time in the mews. I made him suffer each and every assault his men inflicted on me. He was their lord and master. Since he was ultimately responsible for everything they did, it was high time he learned what atrocities were being done in his name.

  Then we came to the time I spent with the cats. He was terrified at what he expected them to do to us, but he soon realized, as I did, that they meant no harm. He felt the gentle strength as RRRRan'eee convinced me to eat, haltingly speaking the human language despite claims to the contrary that the cats were unable to do so.

  He experienced the fight as Darren came to take me away, not bothering to tell me why he came. The Duke felt my pain as I fought for survival against what I perceived to be even more abuse. He knew, first hand, the loss that I felt as I watched RRRRan'eee and the rest of the Pantos die trying to win my freedom. And lastly he felt the painful bite of cold steel as I slit my own throat.

  I fell to my knees as I broke from him, the memories ripping the wounds afresh in my mind. "Now, my lord, tell me which of us is the animal," I said, grasping his tunic and lifting his face up to mine. "Answer me!" I demanded, shouting.

  "I'm sorry," he sobbed, feebly grabbing at my fur, his eyes filled with the soul-wrenching horror of what he had experienced. "I didn't know! I couldn't know! Please, I beg of you, no more! No more!"

  As I examined the terror in his eyes I realized the extent of what I had done. I had intended to show him the pain he had caused, but in doing so I had lost control of myself and committed a crime as vile as any which had been done to me. I had never wanted him to endure the rapes and other abuses.

  I held him to my chest, stroking his head as he cried into my fur. "I'm so sorry. I should never had done that to you," I soothed, trying to think of some way to redeem myself. My god, what had I done?

  Horrified with my actions I broke the link, stumbling away from him as a terrible weakness took me. Unable to maintain my balance I collapsed to the floor, losing grip of my sword. As I lay there I watched the Duke huddling against a pile of books, his arms wrapped around himself in a protective embrace.

  "Oh god, I am so sorry. Please forgive me," I said weakly, trying to get through to him.

  He looked up at me with haunted eyes. "No," he said shakily, "you owe me no apology. It is I who has done you wrong. I am responsible for these atrocities." He crawled shakily on his hands and knees over to me. "You have shown me the evil in my heart, and now I understand," he said, lifting my sword. "There is but one way to cleanse this stain from my soul."

  I grasp his wrist with my paw, holding the sword away from him. "No! This is not the way!" I beseeched him, but I knew it was useless. He no longer saw the life around him. I had shown him my desire for death and he, too, now desired its kiss.

  Once again I dragged us back inside the circle of light. "I cannot allow you to kill yourself, my lord," I said, exhausted by the strain of what I had done.

  "No! Please! After all that has happened, how can you force me to go on with the shame of what I have done?" he demanded, not understanding why I would stop him.

  Within my mind I called up the faces of the dead, all the people I had killed through the impersonal touch of my rifle. Scattering them around us I grabbed his hair and made him see my private nightmare. "Look at these people. All of them died by my hands. None of them were warriors," I stated, baring my soul. "I was no warrior, though I like to think I fought for my country. I was a mere assassin, murdering for an abstract ideal set by men who thought to govern but did not rule. Look at my accomplishments and tell me that my crime pales next to what you did!"

  The Duke looked around, stunned at the bodies arrayed around him. Hundreds were piled one upon the other, the stench of death embracing us, gagging our psyches.

  "But this is no longer me," I said, allowing the corrupt vision to fade. "Now I serve the light. Through the power of my totem, I have become a healer. To atone for the death I have brought into the world I now work to save the lives of those around me, redeeming myself with each success."

  "And who will redeem me?" he asked, his tortured soul searching my eyes. "Who will be the first to forgive me? Will it be you?"

  I smiled. "I never blamed you, but I do know of someone who had a message for you." With my head I gestured over to the memory of Elaine as I began to take Gwen away.

  "Tell Daddy I forgive him, ok?" Elaine said before stepping into the light and vanishing.

  "Elaine!" he cried out, reaching for his daughter who was now beyond his grasp. He reached down, hauling me up close to him, his face next to mine. "Tell me that was no lie! Tell me that was the truth!"

  I reached up and caressed his face, looking deep within his eyes. "In this place there can be no lies. What you have seen, what you have experienced, is all echoes of our memories. If you don't believe me, ask Gwen. She'll tell you that all I have said, all I have shown you, has been real."

  Unable to maintain the connection I found myself again on the floor looking up at the Duke. " more death," I whispered as I felt a cold wind blow across my spirit, sending the world spinning away from my grasp.

Chapter 19