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 22

Whoa there, doggie.

  Capitol Trip Log: Day 1
  My ass hurts. No, that's not right. My ass throbs. And to make matters worse, Sheila, who has NEVER ridden a horse before, isn't bothered in the least by all the riding we did today. It must be that damn dragon regeneration ability that lets him get away with it.

  To add insult to injury, the saddles weren't designed for someone with a tail. Gwen has the local livery guy working on modifying my saddle, but that didn't save me from almost thirteen hours of abuse. I should have swallowed my pride and ridden in the carriage with Gwen and Leo, or at least hitched a ride with one of the wagons in the train. Anything but trying to prove that I could still ride a horse.

  I swear, if that healer doesn't hurry up and do something about this pain I'm going to do something irrational...

  I was lying on a small bed in the room that had been assigned one of Gwen's handmaidens and myself. The girl was so painfully shy I hadn't been able to get a name out of her. A petite little thing, she stood barely five feet tall. I would have sworn she was an elf except that she had round ears. The large, almond shaped eyes and fair hair made her a dead ringer for one, though.

  Lucky for the Healer Reskin, he had managed to come up with some salves that soothed my poor, abused flesh. That, combined with an hour of healing meditations, had put the world to right again. I was tempted to lie there for a while and relax, but I knew I'd have a hard time sleeping if I didn't get a move on.

  After climbing off the bed I did a few stretches to make sure I wouldn't be walking funny, then I proceeded to don my chain shirt. Lady Ann had been kind enough to braid my hair this morning, which allowed me to easily thread it through the hole for my head. Fully armored, I made quite an impressive sight. With a quick addition of the cloth belt and my swords, I was ready to head down stairs. I was tempted to head up to see Gwen, but figured I'd drop by after dinner when things were winding down. Undoubtedly, she was entertaining the local magistrate and his entourage.

  Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs I discovered that the party was in full swing. When the Duke and Duchess come to visit they get all kinds of folks coming by to pay tribute. The best part is the food. These folks went out of their way to prepare a spread that would feed a small army. Considering the size of the entourage that Gwen and Leo were traveling with, all that food would be needed.

  The sound of the conversation became muted as I walked across the room, giving my best "Sheila strut"; after all, I was a vixen. Casually I scanned the people around me as I strolled towards the end of the line, inwardly pleased as the crowd divided, allowing me to pass. Once again I was an unknown, only this time all the doubts and fears were gone. I was again in control.

  The young man standing at the end of the line was holding a forgotten plate in his hand, about ready to drop it as he watched me approach. I smiled as I took the platter from his limp fingers, and winked. "Thank you," I said pleasantly, before turning to the table.

  First thing I did was to grab a bundle of flatware that was wrapped in a cloth napkin. As I proceeded down the table I stopped for tidbits of meats, desiring to sample them all. I was restraining myself fairly well until I came to some marinated liver. The aroma set my mouth to watering and I had to take a full slab. I loved broiled calves liver. I could only hope that this would be as good.

  With my plate well loaded I stopped once more to snag a couple of slabs of bread and a chunk of butter. Now fully provisioned, I began to look for a place to sit, and spotted Thomas who was waving for my attention from across the room. As I proceeded over to where he stood I saw that he had reserved a table for me in the corner by the fireplace. He had obviously remembered I had chosen such a table when we first met.

  I set my plate on the table and prepared to sit down, only to find Thomas holding the chair for me. Chuckling to myself, I allowed him to seat me, scooting the chair in close to the table.

  "What would you like to drink, Miss Arden?" he eagerly asked.

  "Grab me some ale," I directed. "Make it a some local stuff. Whatever they're bragging about." Thomas nodded and ran off, disappearing into the crowd.

  Briefly I looked around, wondering where Sheila was until I remembered that he wouldn't be joining me for dinner. Determined not to allow that to spoil my mood, I unrolled the flatware, laying the napkin across my lap before attending to that delicious looking liver.

  As I popped the first bite of liver into my mouth I was pleased to find it incredibly tender, with the marinade creating a panorama of taste that complimented the meat. I closed my eyes as I chewed, concentrating on the symphony being conducted on my palate. Now this was good food.

  I hacked off a larger chunk of meat and popped it into my mouth before sitting back and relaxing. While I chewed, I noticed that a fair number of people were staring at me outright. Although this was expected, it still made me feel a little nervous. Just to make things lively, I would give a smile and a wink occasionally to someone who was staring and note their reaction. Most folk would just turn away, but a few would smile back and wave. It appeared to be a friendly enough crowd.

  About half way through the slab of meat, I was beginning to get a little annoyed with Thomas. He still hadn't returned with my drink and I was seriously getting thirsty. I was almost ready to go get something to drink for myself when I finally spotted him. He was carrying a tray with several different mugs on it, carefully avoiding traffic in the room while he worked his way over to my table.

  With great care Thomas set the tray down on the table and removed a mug, placing it before me. "There you go, Miss Arden. A mug of the local specialty," he gleefully announced. I didn't trust him. The way he stood back and watched me made me suspicious.

  Cautiously I picked up the mug and took a sniff. It appeared to be safe enough, though there was a bit of an odd smell to it that I couldn't place. I took a small sip, letting it roll over my tongue, and I regretted it almost immediately. Every muscle in my snout contorted as the concoction invaded my palate. I shot Thomas a dangerous look as he began to laugh, trying to cover his mouth.

  "Blech!" I said with a shudder. "What the heck was that crap?"

  Thomas gave up on maintaining control and laughed. "That was the local barkeep's personal brew. He's very proud of it," he said, amused at my reaction. Undoubtedly he'd endured the same flavor. He somehow managed to contain himself as he took the drink from me, handing a different tankard over in its place. "Try this," he suggested.

  I accepted the container and again sniffed the contents before tasting. This time I found it to be a pleasant mead that quickly flushed the last traces of that awful brew from my mouth. "Not bad," I commented as I saluted with the mug before putting it down on the table. "Thanks, Thomas."

  "You're welcome, Miss Arden," he replied with a curt bow. "Will there be anything else right now?"

  "Nope. That'll do me for now. How about grabbing yourself some grub and joining me?" I offered as I gestured to an empty chair.

  "No thanks, Miss Arden. I already ate," he explained, declining my invitation politely. "However, if you don't mind I'd like to check up on your saddle and make sure everything's going right with it."

  I took another sip of my ale and nodded as I set it down. "Sure thing. When you're done, go ahead and take the rest of the night off," I said with a smile. Thomas bowed again and ran off. He was a nice kid. I was lucky to have him for a squire. A girl could really get used to being treated this way.

  Dinner had been fabulous. I couldn't resist going back for more of that liver, and now I was stuffed. While I had been eating I could hear little snippets of conversation about me. Much of it was pure speculation, though there were some of the Duke's people trying to correct certain misconceptions. This went on for about an hour before a group of young men managed to screw up the courage to come over and ask me about my tail.

  After people figured out I wouldn't bite them for asking questions I drew quite a crowd. They asked everything from "Do you eat vegetables?" on up to very intimate stuff that I wouldn't have answered on a bet.

  About half an hour into my interrogation the innkeeper approached and asked if we'd move over by the bar. At first I thought he was just looking to profit from the situation, but then I noticed a lot of people standing around, waiting for a place to sit. My audience wasn't letting that happen.

  With the promise of free libations I packed up and headed over to where the bard was performing. Since he took breaks fairly often it gave me a chance to tag-team with him and answer questions. It also gave me an opportunity to sit and chat with him for a couple of minutes during our switchover.

  I took another sip of my spiced rum and smiled as I watched the bard Danedajin performing for the crowd. As humans go he was one skinny guy. Standing about five foot nine, he must have weighed barely one hundred and twenty pounds. I could probably picked him up without too much strain. With his long black hair, narrow chin, brown eyes and dark complexion, he resembled an American Indian. The only thing to mar his rugged appearance was the fact that his nose had obviously been broken and not set properly. It had healed in such a way that it drew a crooked line down from his brow to his lip.

  I joined the crowd in a round of applause as Dane finished up his last set. We had both declared an end to the evenings entertainment and I now looked forwards to just relaxing with some casual conversation.

  Dane set his instrument gently on the table as he sat down, letting out a tired breath as he lifted his mug and took a drink. "You know, Arden, as much as I enjoy entertaining people I really find it difficult to play in a busy place like this," he said, looking around at the crowd. Although it was getting quite late there were still a large number of people in both rooms. "Normally I enjoy a nice, quiet inn where I don't have to raise my voice to be heard," he explained waiving his mug around. "There's so much background conversation tonight, I almost have to shout to be heard."

  I nodded knowingly as I took another sip of rum. "Well," I said, drawing the word out, "you can always look on the bright side..." I waited to make sure I had his attention before continuing. "You've only got two more weeks until we reach the capitol."

  He winced as he set his mug down, pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers before looking up at me, peering out from under his brow. "That was cold, lady," he said with a tight lipped expression.

  Oops... Time to try for a quick recovery. "You know, Dane," I said, trying to think of something. "Where I come from, we have an expression: 'Misery loves company.' I think that would apply here." Dane cocked his head as he looked at me trying to figure out what I was getting at. "Or haven't you forgotten that I've also got two more weeks of this to look forwards to?" I asked innocently.

  Dane leaned forward, propping himself up on the table with his mug held between his hands and smiled. "Yah, I guess that's true," he said. "That will give us plenty of time to know each other better, eh? Learn all about each other?" He had a mischievous gleam in his eye.

  I laughed as I set my cup down and reached out for his instrument. "May I?" I asked, pausing before I picked it up.

  Dane got a panicked look on is face for a second before he realized I wasn't going to touch it without his permission. He looked at my innocent expression and then nodded. "Please be careful with it," he implored, worried for his treasure.

  I was tempted to fumble with the instrument for a second, but decided I had picked on the guy enough for one night. For the most part it was a six stringed instrument that appeared to be fretted like a guitar. Though it didn't have the traditional figure eight body of a guitar, I found its long, oval shape comfortable to hold.

  I tested out the strings and verified that it was tuned like a regular acoustical guitar. I tried a couple of cords with my left paw and found that though my fingers were smaller now than I was used to, they still had plenty of reach. The only bad thing were my claws, I had to make sure they didn't rub the adjacent strings. My claws did make for good picks and allowed me to pluck multiple strings with ease, something I had never gotten the hang of as a kid.

  I pursed my lips for a second before trying to think of something to play. I hadn't touched a guitar for over fifteen years. I had broken my left hand in an accident, making it impossible to finger the strings properly. It didn't make any sense to torture myself trying to play something I no longer could manage.

  I closed my eyes, thinking of what to play. With a sly smile I decided on the first song I ever learned to play, Stairway to Heaven. I managed to pick my way through the opening phrase of the song and transition into the cords without screwing up too badly. I couldn't count how many times I'd played this song for my friends as well as myself. It brought back memories of home, school and the karaoke bars I used to hang out at between missions. For a few minutes the song transported me from the vixen I had become and back into my youth.

  As I ended the song, I tried to hold onto the memories but felt them chased away by the pain in my left paw. I rubbed the tips of my fingers against my fur, trying to dull the pain I felt. This body had never learned to play the guitar and thus had no calluses.

  "That was very beautiful," Dane said as he accepted the instrument back from me. "Where did you learn to play like that?"

  I took a sip of my rum, welcoming the distraction for a second. "My father gave me a guitar for my thirteenth birthday. It was the first song I learned to play," I replied, the memories fresh in my mind.

  "Indeed. So you were apprenticed to become a minstrel before you became a warrior?" he asked, trying to place me.

  I shook my head and smiled politely. "Where I come from, people don't apprentice. They choose what profession they wish to pursue," I explained.

  Dane got a far away look as he thought about it. "What an amazing place you come from," he finally said, looking back at me. "Every time you talk of your homeland I see a place that's so different from ours. So many different forms, so many different ideas; its all very intriguing."

  I used the claw on my right index finger to draw some patterns in the liquids on top of the table as I thought about home. "You know," I said quietly, "in a way I miss it dearly, but in other ways I'm glad I'm not there."

  Dane smiled at me as he looked into my eyes. "Maybe some day you'll get a chance to go back," he said in a low voice, placing his hand on my paw. "If you do, I hope I'll be with you so I can see it for myself."

  It took me a second to realize what was happening before I pulled my paw from his grasp. I felt a confusing swirl of emotions as I looked back up into his face, not sure what to say. Unable to maintain eye contact, I looked down into my drink, studying my rippling reflection within.

  Once again Dane put his hands back around his drink as he spoke to me, "I'm sorry if I startled you."

  I took a sip of my drink before answering. "That's all right. I...I just wasn't expecting it," I replied, still not looking up from my drink.

  "I've offended you," he said quickly, "I'll go."

  I looked up as he lifted his instrument. "No, wait." I used my paw to trap his guitar against the table. "Please, don't go." I said, looking up at him. "You didn't offend me. I... I... Please, just stay." I wasn't sure what to say. I enjoyed being with him, but hadn't expected any of this to happen. I had never thought about anyone other than Sheila being interested in me.

  Dane slowly sat down and released the grip on his instrument. "What's wrong, Arden?" he asked, his eyes searching for an answer. "Am I so hideous to you...?"

  Hideous? How could he think that? But of course, he doesn't know that I, too, once was human. "No, you are far from hideous," I said, wrapping my paws around my mug so they wouldn't shake.

  "Then please tell me what's wrong," he said, leaning forward. "I know you've been assigned a room with one of the Duchess' maids, so you must not be spoken for. So please, tell me what's wrong."

  I looked at him for a moment before looking over to where Sheila sat at the bar, surrounded by a small group of women. They had been clustered around him all night. Each time I looked over there, a small piece of me died.

  "It's not that," I said, looking back at Dane. "It's my lord..."

  Dane expression showed an odd mixture of confusion and humor as he smiled at me. "Your lord? What? Do you have to get his permission or something?" he asked incredulously.

  I again looked over at Sheila who was kissing one of the females draped over him. I dragged my eyes away from him and looked again at Dane. "It's not that. I...I love him," I explained quietly.

  Dane's face showed consternation for a moment, as he looked over where Sheila stood and back to me. "I'm sorry, Arden," he said gently. "I know what it's like to love someone unobtainable. If you ever need someone to talk to, or just a shoulder to cry on, please feel free to call on me." Again Dane stood and lifted his instrument. With a brief, sad glance back at me, he turned and walked away.

  Once more I looked at Sheila and the female he was holding close, the one taking my place, and felt my hackles rise. I rose and took a step towards them before stopping. Making a scene here wouldn't help anything and would only hurt my standing further with Sheila.

  The need to get away sent me out of the inn and into the street. I looked around to see who, if anyone, was still about, but I saw only the Duke's guards. I looked up at the night sky, once again reminded by the alien stars that I was a stranger in a strange land.

  I walked back over to the railing in front of the inn and hopped up onto it, balancing myself so that I sat somewhat uncomfortably in the middle. I looked down at my paws and thought about what had happened. Sheila was obviously taking advantage of his freedom; who was I not to do the same? That was a stupid question to ask myself, considering I was the one who started all this. It was my wish that brought me to him in the first place.

  "Well, well, well. Old Sheila sure is enjoying himself in there, eh Arden?" I heard the honey sweat voice say behind me.

  I knew that voice. "Lucifer," I growled. "What do you want now?"

  A dark figure separated from the shadows to lean on the railing next to me, the red ember of the cigar matching those in his eyes. "Now, is that any way to greet someone who's just looking out for your interest?" he asked with an injured voice.

  I turned and glared at him. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Lucifer. I had no idea your cup runneth over with good will," I said sarcastically.

  "Yes, yes, I know. It's so rare for me to be in such good form," he said drearily. "It's fortunate that I don't have many days like this or all hell would go to... hell."

  It took all my will not to smile at that. For some god-forsaken reason it actually made a sick sort of sense to me, and it was funny. I hated him for breaking my mood.

  "Yep," he continued, ignoring my reaction. "I saw the way you were pining over your old boyfriend and figured I'd just offer to lend you a hand."

  Great, that's all I needed now. "Look, thanks for the offer, but I think I'd like to muddle by without you screwing with Sheila," I said flatly, turning away and ignoring him, hoping vainly he'd crawl back under the rock.

  "Sheila?" he said, sounding confused. "Who said anything about messing with Sheila? You're the one I was gonna fix up. Or rather un-fix up."

  "What do you mean, un-fix up?" I said, immediately regretting the fact that I had fallen into his trap.

  Lucifer took a drag on his cigar and blew out a smoke ring before answering. "Simple, my dear. When you made your little wish, oh so long ago, back when you were human, part of the wish was for Sheila to love you, right?" he asked, covering the basic details.

  "Yah, that's right," I acknowledged cautiously.

  He just chuckled at me. "Well, honey. Did it ever occur to you just who is inhabiting your lusty target's body right now?" he asked, his eyes roaming my body.

  I was in Sheila's body. If the magic of the wish that made her love me was still bound to this body, then it's what was driving me to distraction. It would also explain why Sheila had always been so ready to forgive once she calmed down, just as I had.

  "So, here's what I'm gonna do for you, babe. This is a one-time offer, now or never," he said, taking another drag on his cigar. "I'm gonna break the spell that you're under, freeing you from Lakesh's influence."

  That got my attention. Lucifer had a definite grudge against Lakesh. The question is just exactly what he was planning on doing. "Give me specifics. What will you do?" I asked.

  "Why that's simple, my dear. I'll break the compulsion that makes the inhabitant of that body love the inhabitant of your origional body. Nothing more, nothing less," he stated.

  There was no doubt that I wanted to get rid of the spell for my own sake. It also wouldn't be fare to force Sheila to have to contend with it if she ever got back into her old body. There was only one question now. "What do you want in return?"


  "Yah, right. You're doing this out of the kindness of your heart," I said halfheartedly.

  Lucifer grabbed me by the scruff of my neck with his hand, the nails on his fingers digging in as he pulled me towards him. "Listen, you fucking bitch! I don't need this shit from you!" he said with a snarl. "You know perfectly well I'm doing this to fuck with Lakesh. Now you can be graceful and accept it with a smile, or I'll bend you over and you can take it up the ass. Either way, you're going to help me put a major hurting on Lakesh."

  The pain where his fingers dug into my fur burned like nothing I'd ever experienced. I kept forgetting just who I was talking to. Playing with this guy was definitely playing with fire, and it was time to suck up to him. "You know Luci," I said, imitating Ricky Ricardo, "I love it when you talk dirty to me."

  Lucifer's expression hardened for a second before finally cracking, and he began to laugh. He released the fur and smoothed it out as he smiled. "If I even had an inkling that you were telling me the truth, babe, I think I'd kiss you," he said, relishing my attempt at humor.

  Just as I started to relax, he grabbed me again and kissed me. As I pulled away, I elbowed him in the face, which knocked him back from the railing and putting a severe hurt on my arm. "Don't you ever do that again!" I shouted at him.

  I spun around looking for him, but he had vanished. I started to draw my sword, but found my arms pinned as pain lanced through my right ear as the bastard's bit it causing me to cry out in pain. I brought the heel of my right foot up between his legs, smashing it into his groin, causing him to let loose of my ear with his teeth.

  "Oh baby, you know what I like," he said with a laugh, as he let me go.

  I whirled around, drew my sword and slashed it through him and struck nothing. The bastard was immaterial.

  "Enough fun," he said, as he wiped a tear from his eye while he tried to stop laughing. "Yes or no babe. I gotta get going. You know, things to do, people to corrupt, souls to steal, that sort of thing."

  Yes or no. It always came down to the lesser of two evils. Leave the spell, or let the devil break it. Either way I was screwed, but there was only one answer I could give. "Yes," I hissed out between my fangs.

  Lucifer made a slashing motion with his hand, passing it across my torso as if he were trying to cut me in half with an axe, and it felt like it. I was struck with a sudden dizziness that drove me to the ground and forced me to retch.

  Once my stomach was empty I crawled away from the mess I had made in the street, gasping for breath. I was trembling, not so much from the fading dizziness but from the sense of loss. There was an emotional gap where the warmth of my love for Sheila used to reside, buoying me and sustaining me.

  Dear God, what had I done?

Chapter 23