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. Special thanks go out to Jim Lane and Coyotyee for their help in editing this project!

Identity Crisis
Act II
Chapter 19

A high-maintenance life style.

  I was falling and had no way to stop myself. Reality after reality spun by me as I fought for control of my existence and failed. What the heck is going on here? I couldn't control where I was going. A flash of light blinded me just before I slammed into a hard surface.

  "Ahhh, the prodigal son has decided to drop in." The voice was insanely cheerful and practically dripped with sarcasm.

  With a low groan I forced my ursine sprit to its feet and looked around, dismayed at the visage before me. I was standing on top of a huge pillar, thousands of feet in the air. Below me was spread out a panorama of fire and magma that was the epitome of hell.

  As I panned the horizon, my sight fell upon a small table with a silver tea set on it and two wrought iron chairs. Sitting in one chair was a human male of average height, wavy black hair and a devastatingly charming smile dressed in a quite conservative business suit. He was unnaturally beautiful. Perfect in every way, he was the ultimate culmination of grace, stature and beauty. The only thing to mar this perfection was an intangible aura around him that turned my heart to stone.

  "Oh yes, Nanuk sure picked a big one," he commented giving me a salacious smile as he stood. "Yes, you will do quite nicely." I didn't like the way he was looking at me. It gave me the willies.

  "Just what the hell is going on here?" I asked, trying to maintain my distance as he circled me, eyeing my physique. This guy was definitely freaking me out.

  "Cute and observant. I like that," he said, giving me a wink. Approaching me directly now, he placed his hand on my chest, rolling his eyes at the feel of my fur. "My oh my but that does feel fine. Tell me," he said conspiratorially, "did it bother you at all when you screwed the bitch for the first time?"

  I growled and grabbed his hand, forcing it backwards almost to the breaking point enjoying the pained look on his face as his knees buckled. "Don't talk about her like that," I said in a low, dangerous voice.

  He practically swooned with pleasure as his hand slipped out of my grasp despite my best efforts to hold on. "Oh, please. No rough stuff. We'll save that for later," he said with a smile as he crossed his arms and looked at my scowling face.

  "Just who the hell are you?" I said, worried that I already knew.

  His face fell as the disappointment pushed aside his glee. "And here I thought you were going to be a little brighter then the others," he said, sulking a little. "Well, if I must spell it out, I'm Lucifer. Prince of Darkness, Lord of Hell, Father of Lies, yada yada yada..." he sounded quite bored as he listed off his titles. "And, just ask around if you don't believe me, one of the most popular party animals since the big guy set the game in motion."

  "Like I care," I said flatly. "What do you want with me?" Arms crossed, I waited for his answer. I just hoped that I wasn't going to be his new play toy. Unless the Duke had decided to kill, then I shouldn't be down here.

  Lucifer scowled at me for a second then snapped his finger. It suddenly became obvious to me that I was much smaller. Looking down at myself, I saw that I was a vixen again.

  "Hey! What's the big idea?" I demanded, annoyed that he could do this to me.

  With a sigh, Lucifer shook his head. "You were always such an asshole as a bear, though you'd loosened up quite nicely as a 'foxy lady'," he said with a sly smile at the last part. "I figured maybe putting you back in your borrowed fur suit would lighten you up a little."

  He strutted towards me, staring deeply into my eyes with a smile that would knock over an elephant at fifty paces. Once he was within arms length he reached out and ran his finger along the lower side of my muzzle, rubbing the fur lightly. Annoyed at his attitude, I snapped his finger, biting it hard.

  "Ouch!" he cried out, yanking his injured digit. "Now, now," He said, waving the injured finger at me. "No fun stuff right now, remember?" Man, what did it take to discourage this guy?

  I just crossed my arms and stared at him trying to appear nonchalant. "I assume you dragged me down here for a reason. Mind telling me what it is?" I asked, trying to sound as if I had all the time in the world.

  Lucifer let out a deep sigh, shaking his head. "I do not need this shit," he said to himself before looking up at me. "Here I am, trying to be a congenial host and what do you do? You stand there and give me a hard time about it." He turned and walked back over to the table and sat down, gesturing for me to do so also.

  As I thought about ignoring him he shot me a hard look that froze my soul. This wasn't someone I wanted to be dicking around with. I decided that discretion would be the best idea right now and took the seat opposite him.

  "Much better," he said, smiling as he picked up the teapot and began to pour. "Tell me, do you take one lump or two?" This was unreal. I was sitting at a table in Hell with Lucifer who was pouring me a cup of tea and asking how I wanted it fixed. Maybe this was just some kind of LSD flashback.

  I accepted the prepared cup of tea and took a sip, surprised at the taste. It tasted like Black Ceylon and Pekoe mix.

  "You seem surprised at my choice of tea," he said, enjoying my reaction. "What were you expecting, brimstone-flavored tea or something?"

  "I must admit, I wasn't expecting such a good flavor. This is supposed to be hell, after all," I said with a sheepish smile.

  Lucifer laughed and snapped his fingers, changing the setting to one of a tropical garden. The air was light with the scent of flowers and fresh cut grass, and it carried with it the sounds of cheerful birdsongs.

  "As you can see, Hell can be as pleasant or as unpleasant for any given person as I care to make it," Lucifer commented, taking another sip of his tea.

  I looked around, impressed at what I saw, until I remembered that he was the lord of lies, too. It was very probably an illusion of sorts, but I suppose I could play along. "Impressive. It makes one wonder what Heaven has over Hell," I commented, baiting him a little.

  "Very good question," he replied with a polite nod, grinning at my admission. "They want you to believe that everything down here is all horrible and nasty when in fact it's not much different from the life you led on the material plane. I really don't see what the big deal is anyway.  Sure, we still have disco down here," he admitted with a shrug. "But hey, they are people that still enjoy it.  Not to mention more than a few people that deserve it too."  The last part was spoken with an evil smile.

  I smiled and nodded, agreeing. "I can see your point, however I don't think that's why you brought me down here, is it? Just to show me the fašades of Hell, that is," I asked wanting to cut to the chase.

  Lucifer just sat and glared at me for breaking his jovial discourse. It scared the crap out of me. "Next time you fuck up, I'm going to leave you for that asshole Gabriel to deal with," he finally said, spitting at the archangel's name. "I don't need to put up with an ungrateful shit like you."

  "I beg your pardon," I said rather indignantly. "Would you mind explaining that last little bit?" How did I manage to screw up this time?

  Lucifer leaned back and created a lit cigar, which he proceeded to puff on for a second. "I saved your immortal soul from destruction a few minutes ago."

  I just stared at him, cocking an ear in his direction, and invited him to continue. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

  He stood up and stepped away from the table, pacing with his hands behind his back. "I'm sure your Nanuk warned you about overuse of your power without being able to draw from it," he said, looking at me to confirm that I was paying attention. "Well, I got news for you sister, you've been pissing your life force away."  His tone was as derisive as the look on his face.

  As he turned to give me a view of his profile I saw he sported a large erection, which he was waving around with one hand as he urinated. "Yep, pissing it all away just like your morning water," he commented. "Over here we have you tracking down your mistress and binding her to her body," he said, creating a small pool. "And over here, we have you screwing around with old Leo's head, giving him a mind fuck he ain't gonna' forget any time soon," he said, creating a large pool of urine.

  As he concluded speaking, the flow of liquid dribbled to a stop and the erection shriveled up and disappeared. "Oh my, look at this," he said, feigning shock at his vanished member. "I wonder what happened?" Now he slapped his cheeks with both hands, a horrified look on his face. "I wonder if I used it all up? Oh my!" he cried out, slowly melting into the ground.

  With a swirl of vapors, bits and pieces of his body floated into the air. "Oh no. My soul is dissipating. Someone please help me. Won't anyone save me?"

  As the drama unfolded, I realized what he was getting at. I had been overusing my powers and had stripped my spirit of its energy.

  As the gaseous body was about to dissipate, I saw another incarnation of Lucifer appear, this time flying around looking like Tinker Bell, tapping the gaseous form and causing it to reform, dropping to the ground before the small apparition disappeared.

  "Dear me! Look at what's happened! Some kind entity has given me an infusion of life force, saving me from oblivion," he said, jumping up and dancing with joy. "Thank you, you most wondrous of all his creations, for saving my pitiful, meaningless life..."

  "All right!" I cried out. "I get the idea already!" This guy was giving me a headache. I was not in a good mood, and he wasn't helping. I couldn't believe that I hadn't realized I was draining my spirit of its life force.

  As I watched, he strolled casually back over to his chair and sat down, sucking on that stogie again.

  I watched him sitting there, blowing smoke rings for a little bit, ignoring me. "OK. I've got the 'why am I here?' part down. How about covering the 'why did you do it?' part now," I said wearily.

  He looked over at me and winked. "I'll give you three guesses, cutie-pie, and the first two won't count," he offered.

  I thought about it. I was on a quest to restore bear. So far I had been lucky and gotten some rather esoteric help. Help from everyone but Lakesh. That bastard kept demanding more and more from me. And Illiam did say that Lakesh had pissed both Heaven and Hell off.

  "Lakesh," I said, the word dripping with venom.

  I was almost startled out of my chair as a mariachi band began to play Mexican music behind me. "Give that fox a cigar!" he shouted with glee. I winced at the piercing sound of the trumpets, trying to burry my ears beneath my paws. Lucifer saw this and laughed for a few seconds before making the mariachi band from hell vanish back into the ether.

  "Here's the scoop. Lakesh has pissed me off for the last time," he said, taking another deep draw on the cigar and blowing it out again. "In fact, he's been screwing with the game so much that I've actually agreed to work with...Heaven." As I watched, he gave a small shudder of revulsion at the concept of cooperating with the divine. Our surroundings trembled as they echoed the disturbance in his soul.

  I was shocked. Lucifer was actually conspiring with Heaven against Lakesh? Oh man, I smelled trouble brewing, especially since I was going to be stuck in the middle.

  "Here's a bit of information for you that even your little dragon bud, Illiam doesn't know," he said, leaning towards me a little. "Lakesh has stacked the deck in his favor. If you win, he gains a big chunk of extra power from the renewal. If you fail, he gets all of Nanuk's power. However, in order for the pact to be enforced, he has to do everything in his power to ensure you succeed."

  Oh, man. I couldn't believe it. It was bad enough thinking that if I failed that Nanuk would be lost, but to know that Lakesh would absorb her powers was just too much. I really needed to get my furry butt in gear and end this thing.

  "All right, I'll accept that we're on the same side, for the moment," I acknowledged watching as Lucifer gave a small pout at my attitude. "What do I have to do in order to get out of this world and into the next?"

  He turned so as to face me fully and held his hand out. Within there appeared the image of a glowing band of platinum, inlaid with an intricate scrollwork of gold and silver that I couldn't read. "You need to obtain the Chro'nisphorum from the Magus Arcanum," he explained. "Once you have it, you'll be good to go."

  Isn't that what Illiam said Sheila could use to go back in time and restore Bjorn? But he said that doing so would destroy the quest. I smelled a rat.

  "Ummm, not to sound stupid or anything, but just why should I get the Chro'nisphorum?" I asked, curious as to what he'd say.

  He let out a small chuckle of amusement. "Trust me, my dear. You're going to need it when you make the jump into Husaquahr."

  "Not to be a dick or anything, but you're asking me to trust the 'Lord of Lies'," I said with a small laugh, hoping I wasn't going to piss him off.

  He shook his head, scowling at me. "You really are making this difficult," he complained.

  "I'm making it difficult?" I asked indignantly. "Let's see if I got this straight. I'm sitting here in Hell at a table drinking tea with Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, party animal extraordinaire, and you wonder why I'm having a bit of a problem believing you?"

  He pursed his lips, considering what I said, eventually nodding in concession. "All right, you got me there, babe. How about this," he said, starting an offer. "You get the Chro'nisphorum for the jump. If it doesn't save your life while you're in the realm of Husaquahr, I will grant you one request for anything within my sphere of influence."

  I looked at him wearily, not trusting his intention. "Sounds like you're looking to make a bargain. What do I have to give up if you win?"

  He took another drag on his cigar, flicking the ash aside as he exhaled. "If you win, I get one request from you for anything within your sphere of influence."

  That sounded too good to be true, unless he expected me to be in a position to accomplish something for him. Like maybe change the wish I was going to make so it benefited him rather than Nanuk. "Naw, I think I'll pass on that bargain. I appreciate it though," I said declining his offer. "However, I will go ahead and get the Chro'nisphorum."

  He smiled and nodded. "Well, my dear. The tea is gone, my cigar has been smoked and it's time to send you back to where you belong," he said as he stood. Walking around the table he held his hand out to help me up. "And if you see my dear old friend Lakesh," he said with a pleasant smile, "tell him to fuck off and die."

  I laughed at that. It fit him so. "Well, I must admit that I've rather enjoyed my stay here and I hope you won't take it personally if I say I hope I won't ever see you again," I said with a smile.

  He laughed a good belly laugh for a few seconds. "Darling, you can plan on seeing a lot of me. Maybe not in the near future, but definitely in the long run."

  I didn't like the sound of that. "How do you figure?" I asked, worried at the answer.

  "Are you kidding?" he said, laughing again. "Let's see... You've killed hundreds of people, murdering them in cold blood, lied, stolen, committed adultery and a slew of others nasty things that the divine don't approve of," he said, listing off but a few of my sins.

  I tried to swallow as I realized he had me, finding it difficult to accomplish.  Knowing that I was doomed to eternity in hell was something I never wanted to be faced with.  "Yah, well maybe I'll get lucky and redeem myself in the eyes of Heaven somehow," I replied nervously.

  "Don't worry, hon," he said, giving me a wink. "You help me screw Lakesh over and I promise you a most pleasant stay in Hell should you find yourself here permanently." With a gesture of his hand I found myself flung away from him, spinning out of control again through a flickering panorama of realities before finding myself back in my body, lying in bed.

  I sat outside on the stone railing that surrounded the balcony, watching the sun as it set. The dark, wet clouds overhead reached out, extending almost to the horizon where they terminated, allowing light from the setting sun to set fire to the sky beyond. The cool wind brought with it the kiss of water, blown on the wings of its breath as a light mist blew by the window. It was a cold, damp and gray day while still allowing a glimpse of the wondrous beauty that lay past its edge to the west.

  The low rumbling sound of thunder as it echoed in the distance almost drowned out Thomas' voice as he spoke, "Miss Arden?" Without looking, I nodded to acknowledge his presence.

  "I spoke to Lady Ann. She says that there's no need for you to stop by, and that she'll send over a variety of outfits that should suit your needs," he reported. Lady Ann was one of the few female warriors in this world. She was slightly smaller than I, though she definitely wasn't in my league as far as cup size was concerned. I could only hope she wasn't expecting me to wear a corset or something so I could fit into one of her outfits.

  Thomas saw me nod at his report and continued, "I checked and there won't be a formal meal tonight. Food will be served in the commons in an hour if you care to dine, otherwise I'll bring something up for you."

  That was no surprise. After what I had done to the Duke I wasn't sure I wanted to stay beyond the night. I'd have to talk to Sheila about setting out for the capitol without the Duke and Duchess. As much as I love Gwen, I felt the shame of my crime and did not want to have to face her or her husband.

  "Is there anything else, Miss Arden?" Thomas asked after my extended silence.

  "Yes. I want you to go find Lord Vic and get enough money from him to buy three horses and outfit them for travel." I paused and thought about Thomas' ability to find what we needed. "You'd best find one of the older squires and get him to help you," I directed, turning to look at him. "Make sure they're equipped for a trip to the Imperial Capital City. I want to leave here first thing in the morning."

  "But, aren't we still traveling with the Duke and Duchess?" he asked. It was an honest enough question.

  "No, Thomas," I replied, dismissing him. "Now see to the horses and provisions."

  "It looks like it may rain. You want me to get you a coat or something first, Miss Arden?" Thomas asked. He would make a good squire.

  "No, Thomas. I require nothing further tonight other than what I've instructed you to do. You are excused," I replied, emphasizing the last part. I heard him hesitate, not sure if he should leave or not, then turn and exit the room.

  I sat there and watched the lightening as it danced in and around the clouds, wondering how I would be able to avoid the awkwardness of begging out of traveling with Gwen and Leo.

  Thomas was turning out to be a better squire than I had ever imagined. He had realized that there was no way he would be able to take care of purchasing horses, equipment and supplies while at the same time ensuring that I didn't go hungry. Using his initiative he had conscripted one of the younger houseboys to get me a platter of meat and a huge mug of ale. That, combined with the Duke's ordering of the fires to be lit due to the cold wind that had blown in, left me curled on the rug in front of the hearth, casually gnawing on a rib as I watched the flames dance.

  I've always enjoyed watching a fire. Sometimes, if you stared at them long enough, you could see echoes of reality. You might see someone or something from your past. A place you once visited but haven't seen in a long time. Or even the occasional glimpse of the future. Tonight though, I wasn't looking to the fire for anything more than just heat and the flickering comfort of its light.

  The rib, now bereft of meat, was a tempting target for me to break open. I had found that the taste of the marrow inside was delicious. I now understood why dogs enjoyed cracking open bones that were fresh. With a glance at the remaining food on the plate I set the bone aside. If I were still inclined after the meal, I would make the marrow my dessert.

  The sound of the door opening shifted my attention away from the fire. It was Sheila, returning from whatever had occupied his day. I smiled and reached out to him as he walked over, kneeling to give me a kiss.

  "So, you've been hiding out in here all day eh?" he asked as he sat down on the rug beside me.

  I shook my head, disagreeing. "Not all day. I did get out for a bit to talk to the Duke," I admitted, not elaborating.

  Sheila ran his hand through my hair, stroking it absent mindedly as he talked, "Must have been a heck of a talk, considering he brought you back here unconscious. What happened?" I could tell he was genuinely concerned rather than possibly jealous.

  The last thing I wanted to do was to admit that I had emotionally raped the Duke. "I guess you could say that I overdid it today. I had exhausted my reserves and wasn't ready to deal with Leo," I replied, answering honestly yet still hiding the truth.

  "Leo?" he said, incredulously, "As in Leopold? Since when are you on a first name basis with the Duke?" His tone was light, but I could feel the change in the way he stroked my hair.

  I rolled over onto my back, resting my head in his lap and looked up into his face, watching the flickering reflection of the fire in his eyes. "Ever since I returned Gwen to her body," I replied, answering his question. "Part of the process gave me all of her memories and her feelings towards Leo. I wasn't prepared to deal with that yet. It was all still too fresh in my mind." I hugged myself unconsciously, feeling a chill that I knew wasn't really there.

  As I looked into Sheila's eyes, I could see that he misunderstood what happened. I smiled as I reached up to brush his cheek. "Nothing happened, my love. I just wasn't ready to deal with it," I said allowing the smile to fade at the memory. "They have such great pain between them. I fear I may have only made it worse."

  Turning my head away from Sheila's gaze, I stared once more into the fire as Sheila resumed stroking my hair.

  "What exactly happened, Arden? What went on today?" he asked, knowing I was keeping him in the dark.

  I couldn't face him. "Please, I don't want to talk about it," I pleaded, hoping he wouldn't push.

  "All right," he conceded. "Then tell me why you had Thomas come and get three hundred gold Imperials from me?"

  Oy. "I sent him to buy horses, equipment and provisions for us," I explained. I considered leaving it at that, but knew he wouldn't be satisfied. "I want to leave in the morning."

  Sheila stopped stroking my hair. "What? Leave now? Without the Duke and Duchess?" he demanded, stunned by what I had suggested. "Damn it, Arden! What are you not telling me?" I cringed at the anger in his voice.

  I looked back up into his eyes, begging with mine. "Please, Sheila. I can't face him-Leo. Don't make this any harder for me than it is," I again beseeched. "Do you seriously think I want to leave Gwen? After all we've been through together?"

  At the mention of Gwen I saw Sheila's expression soften. "No, I don't suppose you would," he admitted, remembering what I had been willing to do for her. "So what's the deal with the Duke? I can't imagine you're simply avoiding him because of some second-hand emotional angst," he declared, reading me like the proverbial book.

  I took his hand from my shoulder where he had been stroking my fur and held it tight. "Please, my love. Don't ask this of me," I implored of him. "If you never grant me any other privacy, please give me this one thing." I watched his eyes as they reflected the anguished look on my face while he searched for some clue from me.

  Finally, Sheila nodded to me. "All right," he conceded. "I'll talk to the Duke in the morning and let him know we're leaving. It's the right thing to do," He added quickly seeing my expression. He was right, of course. There was no easy way to leave without one of us talking to them unless we tried to sneak out.

  I closed my eyes, enjoying the feel of Sheila's hand as he ran it through my hair. That, combined with the food, fire and ale, had all but put me to sleep. I would have dozed off too if it wasn't for my right ear. Something kept tickling the fur on the tip, causing it to twitch in response. After about the fourth or fifth time, I let out a low groan and looked up at Sheila.

  "Are we having fun yet?" I asked, clearly annoyed.

  He smiled down on me with sinister glee. "We're enjoying ourselves tremendously," he replied, again tickling my ear.

  "That's no fair. Your ears don't do that," I complained, laying my ears flat so he couldn't tease them any more.

  "True," he admitted with a sly smile. "But I remember a certain bear whose ears weren't ticklish tormenting me in exactly the same manner." Payback was a bitch.

  "Mercy, my lord," I cried out, playing up the part. "What must I do to earn your forgiveness?"

  Sheila's traced his hand down the front of my dress, lightly brushing it between my breasts. "I'm sure you can think of something," he said coyly.

  I let out a false sigh of exasperation. "Jeez. Is that all you guys ever think about?" I said, trying to concentrate on my whine rather than what Sheila was doing with his hand.

  "You certainly should know," he answered back with a laugh. "After you finally got that stick out of your ass you turned out to be pretty fun guy." He leaned forward and gave me a little peck on the end of my snout. "Not to mention a most willing partner."

  I was now having a bit of trouble concentrating out our little sparing match, but I wasn't ready to concede quiet yet. "As I remember it," I said, between clenched teeth, "I was nothing more than an over-sized, fluffy dress-up toy that was a fun distraction in bed."

  Bingo! Sheila had a look of righteous indignation. "A fun distraction?" he demanded, giving me a chance to catch my breath. "I'll have you know I spent a lot of time and effort into turning you into a good lover! I don't waste my talents on distractions."

  I let out a non-committal 'Ah' as I thought about my repost. "I suppose that's true, though you were definitely holding out on me," I said, sounding unconvinced by his arguments.

  "And just how was I holding out?" he demanded.

  Hook, line and sinker. "Nothing you can say will convince me that the tricks Gwen showed me are anything new to you," I said with a sly smile.

  That got Sheila. At first he looked indignant, then gave a sly smile and nodded. "Ok, you got me there," he admitted to my bark of laughter. "But a girl's got to keep a few things in reserve. You don't want to give away the show on the first night."

  I clasped my hands over my stomach and gave him a small smile. "And what's your excuse for holding back on me since I became the vixen?"

  Sheila started to answer then stopped a couple of times. I had to laugh as he looked for a way out. "Don't laugh, that's not funny," he complained, a broad smile on his face.

  "That's all right," I said, consoling him. "I'm sure you'll think of a way to make it up to me."

  As I watched, Sheila got a bit of a confused look on his face. "Hold on a second here," he said, trying to think. "Just how in the heck did we go from you owing me, to me owing you."

  I let out another bark of laughter. "Good lord, Sheila. You've been a man too long if you can't figure that one out," I said, enjoying the look on his face.

  "So," I said, unlacing the front of my dress. "Think of anything yet?"

  Sheila definitely knew how to make an apology.

Chapter 20