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!
The early light of the sun peeking over the lip of the window was enough to rouse me. I didn't want to wake up. I was wonderfully comfortable as I lay on the floor with Sheila curled up behind me, cuddling as we slept.
I woke up completely with a start and rolled away from Dane who had been startled awake by my sudden movement.
"What's going on?" Dane asked in a bleary voice.
"Do you have any idea what time it is?" I demanded angrily.
Dane blinked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and squinted out the window. "Yah," he said with a yawn. "It looks like it's a couple of hours after sunrise."
I gave a small golf clap. "Very good, Dane. And just where should we have been hours ago, rather than snoozing away in here?" I asked sarcastically.
Dane rubbed his neck as he twisted it about, trying to get rid of the kinks. "Any damn place we wanted to be?" he replied snidely.
"Damn it, Dane, I'm serious," I growled in an annoyed voice. "People are going to want to know where we've been all night."
Dane gave a light laugh as he waved off my complaint. "Then just don't tell them," he replied. "Remember, Arden, you're an Elite. Elite answer only to the Emperor and the Arcanum."
That part still hadn't quite sunk in yet. Such a high level of autonomy scared the hell out of me. I couldn't quite understand how an organization like the Spirit Warriors could exist outside the conventional rules.
I just shook my head as I gave Dane a hand up. "That won't work with Thomas," I said, still annoyed with myself at having fallen asleep. "I have no doubt he'll be concerned that I didn't show up, and he'll go tell Lord Sheen."
Dane started to make another off-handed comment, but caught the dangerous look in my eye and reconsidered. He knew how I felt about Sheila and didn't want to press his luck.
I reset the windows and lights with the control panel on the arch before making my way back across the darkened room to the pad and its pillar. Again I used four fingers and spoke the activation phrase that took us back to the keep's central point. Nobody was in the room to challenge us. Hopefully the guards at the door wouldn't bother us either. I made it a point to leave my shoulder uncovered to display the Elite badge I wore.
The guards at the door took one look at the badge and snapped to attention and allowed us to pass unquestioned. I didn't like abusing the power I had been given this way. It was dishonorable, but I saw no other way. Once away from the guards I pulled the cloak over my left shoulder.
"It really bothers you, doesn't it?" Dane asked. "The fact that we hold the Elite in such high esteem, that is."
I shrugged. "Its not that. It's what they represent," I said, trying to understand my feelings on the subject. "They have so much power and so few restrictions. What's to prevent one of your Elite from abusing their power for personal gain?"
"That's a good question," Dane admitted. "As I understand it, all Elites must return to the Arcanum and face a tribunal; there they answer for their actions during their time away from the capitol. A ritual magic is involved that allows the council to review their actions without having to rely on testimony or any corruptible source."
I thought about that during our walk back to my room, and it did make a sort of sense. If I had the ability to give my memories to someone, then surely there must be a method of pulling the memories from a subject, although the thought of them doing that to me was terrifying. They could learn my entire history that way. What if they decided that I wasn't worthy to be an Elite, despite my having saved Gwen? Or worse, if they considered me to be a danger to the Elite, then they'd have to try to destroy me. It definitely wasn't giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling.
As we stopped in front of the door to my room I turned to Dane and smiled. "Thank you for last night. I enjoyed myself tremendously."
Dane smiled and nodded. "Thank you for showing me the retreat. It will be something I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said dreamily. Just as I thought he was about to turn, Dane reached out and cupped my cheek as he leaned forwards and gave me a gentle kiss.
Startled, I placed my paws against his chest and pushed him away as I stepped back. "I wish you hadn't done that," I said, not really meaning it.
Dane gave me a sly smile. "I know," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I must be off. I have an appointment with the Count and Countess this morning and I shouldn't be late." With a quick bow he turned and hurried off to his own quarters.
I watched his retreating form for a few seconds before I turned and entered my room, latching the door behind me. The drapes were open and Thomas was sitting by the window, a book in hand.
"Miss Arden," he said excitedly as he put the book down and started towards me.
"Good morning, Thomas," I replied wearily as I sat down on the bed. It must have been three or four in the morning before we had fallen asleep. Though it had been restful, it wasn't nearly as restful as it would have been if I hadn't been in armor.
"Is there anything I can get for you, Miss Arden?" Thomas asked excitedly as he stood in front of me.
I shook my head as I started to twist my hair into a ponytail. "Just help me out of this armor," I directed. With a little help from Thomas to keep my hair from catching on the chain links, I managed to shuck the shirt without the loss of too much fur. After that, getting rid of the leather coat and shirt along with the war skirt made me feel almost alive again.
Thomas carefully laid out the chain and leather in the corner as well as placed my swords on the dresser before returning to find me flopped face down on the bed. One look at my fur was enough to send him scrambling for a brush. The feeling of the stiff bristles on the matted fur was enough to almost get me to purr. If I had been a cat you probably would have heard me in the hall.
"Do you know where they have the baths in this joint?" I asked dreamily.
It took me a minute to notice that he didn't answer. "Thomas?" I asked as I turned my head to look at him. He had an almost scared look on his face. "Spit it out," I said tersely.
Thomas rolled his head for a few seconds before giving in to my command. "I was told by the Chamberlain that animals should be cared for down in the stables," he stated reluctantly.
I felt myself getting angry, but quickly squashed that. It wouldn't help. I started to tell him to find out where they were when it occurred to me that I already knew. Some day I'd get it through my thick skull that I knew all about this keep. Unless things had changed, I should be able to find my way there with no problems.
"Don't worry about it, Thomas. It's not your fault these people are a bunch of back-woods hicks," I commented snidely.
I was almost asleep again when a pounding on the door snapped me back to full awareness. As Thomas went to see who was at the door, I tucked my tail between my legs and crossed them. No need to give anyone a free peek.
"Is she in here?" I heard Sheila demand as he pushed his way past Thomas. "There you are! Where the hell have you been?" he demanded.
I turned my head back and glowered at him for a moment before looking over to Thomas. "Thomas, leave," I directed in a cold, harsh voice. The boy swallowed as he glanced at us and then quickly fled the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
I climbed off the bed and faced Sheila with hands on my hips and asked in an angry tone, "Just who the hell do you think you are barging into my room and making demands?"
"Don't try to get all prissy with me," Sheila retorted as he stepped towards me. "Where were you last night?" he again demanded.
I crossed my arms and looked up at him. "It's none of your damn business where I was last night," I said flatly.
Sheila's face furrowed with anger. "You were with that bard, weren't you? You slept with him, didn't you?" he demanded as he hovered over me.
I started to deny it, but he was right, we had slept together. "Yes, I was with Dane, and yes we slept together," I replied, enjoying the hurt look in his eye.
Sheila gave me a pained look of revulsion. "How could you?" he asked simply.
I straightened up, my fists at my side as I snarled at him. "How could I?" I shouted . "How about you, picking up every whore we've seen from here back to the Duchy. Who the hell are you to talk to me about who I sleep with!" I angrily pushed by Sheila and went to the wardrobe.
"They aren't whores! I'd never sleep with a whore," Sheila said in a weak defense.
I took out a robe and put it on, tying the front closed as I turned back to him. "All right then. You picked up every bar slut from here to the castle. They were stuck to you like VelcroYou sure have a double standard...I meet one person that I enjoy being with and you get all jealous!. You didn't see me going ballistic every time you .copped a feel." Again I pushed by him as I moved to the other side of the bed, putting it between us.
"Sure, I had some fun with them in the bar, but I never slept with them," he confessed.
Really? Could I have been so wrong? It was true that I had never actually seen him take one up to his room. I had only assumed from the way he was acting he would do that.
"I wanted to," he continued quietly as he sat down on the bed. "But every time I was about to do it I kept thinking of you and...and I just couldn't." Sheila shrugged, as he tossed his arms up for a second. "I was just trying to get a reaction out of you, but you never seemed to care."
"I cared," I said quietly. "Every time I looked at you with one of them draped all over you, it was like a dagger going straight into my heart."
Sheila turned and looked at me with a sad expression on his face. "Then why didn't you show it? " he asked. "Every time I looked at you all I saw was a blank expression, as if you just didn't give a damn."
I walked back around to the end of the bed and leaned against the post. "You told me that you needed some space. You made it clear you didn't want to have to deal with me, so I used my training to hide my emotions," I replied , resting my head against the unyielding wood.
Sheila hung his head as he tried to find something to do with his hands. "I was wrong," he finally admitted as he looked up at me. "I guess I just got scared. I've never felt like this, Arden. I've never...needed anyone before."
"What about Bjorn?" I asked, regretting it almost immediately. "You did accept his proposal for marriage," I reminded him.
Sheila gritted his teeth at the memory before he shook his head. "I knew that you would be leaving me soon, and I didn't want to be alone. That's why I accepted his proposal," he quietly explained.
I moved over to next to Sheila and sat down beside him. "You know, I gave up everything to be with you," I said, reminding him of my first wish. "I thought I'd live some bucolic fantasy life with you, raising a couple of pups, maybe have a pet Countess in the yard," I said lightly.
Sheila laughed at that last part. "God, she is ugly isn't she?" he asked with a smile.
I shook my head sadly before replying, "You don't know the half of it."
We sat like that for a few minutes, lost in our own thoughts before Sheila spoke again. "So what do we do now?" he asked, looking over at me.
"I'm willing to give it another try if you are," I replied hopefully.
"What about the bard?" he asked.
I shrugged as I shook my head. "What about him?"
Sheila got a sour expression. "You slept with him. Don't you think that counts for anything?" he asked.
I laughed, enjoying the confusion that brought to his face. "Sure I slept with him," I admitted lightly. "But that's all that happened. We fell asleep looking at the stars last night."
As the realization hit Sheila, his face lit up. "So you didn't...?"
"No!" I said as I reached over and gave him a big hug. "Nothing happened."
Sheila lifted me up and sat me on his lap before wrapping me in a strong embrace and kissed me. All the fears, worries, and stress of the past few days melted away. Just being in his arms again was euphoric.
"Let's not do that again," he said seriously.
I gave him a confused look. "What? Kiss?" I said, teasingly.
"No, silly---fight! I don't ever want to have to go through that again," he said.
I kissed him again, giving my answer the best way I knew how.
As we broke from the kiss, I was reminded that everything wasn't quite settled yet. I disentangled myself from Sheila's arms and walked over to the corner where I turned and faced him.
"What's wrong now, Arden?" he asked noting the way I carried myself.
"I need you to answer a couple of questions as honestly as possible," I said gently, hugging myself as I thought about the subject.
"Sure. I'll answer anything you want to know," he said, genuinely concerned for me.
I looked him in the eyes, my ears flat against my head. "Did you know I'm pregnant?" I asked.
Sheila's jaw dropped for a second before he turned away and nodded. "Yah, I knew." he admitted.
"And just how long were you going to wait to tell me that?" I snarled.
Sheila got a sheepish look on his face as he shrugged, "Never, if things went right."
I couldn't believe what he was saying, and I visibly bristled as I stormed over to him. "Did you really think I was so dense I wouldn't figure it out? Nine months down the road you'd just tell me I'd passed one hell of a kidney stone?" I asked, venom dripping from my voice.
Sheila shook his head and avoided my gaze. "It's not like that," he said, embarrassed at his predicament. "I figured that in a couple of weeks we'd have the doohickey that you needed for the next wish. Then, when we made the next transition I'd get my old body back, and you'd never need to know."
He had planned to keep this from me? Not even tell me that there was a child? I dreaded the next question, "Whose is it? Bjorn's?"
Sheila's head snapped around, and he had the strangest expression on his face. "No," he softly replied. "It's your...our child."
"How can you be so sure?" I asked, worried he might just be trying to placate me.
Sheila stood and caressed my face with his hand as he answered. "It was to be our last night together," he gently stated. "I had planned on giving you the amulet the next day. That's why I intentionally didn't bother with any contraceptives."
Sheila had talked about having other methods than the pill for contraception, but never said that she had used them. I felt like a sap. "And you weren't going to tell me about my child? You were just going to take it from me and never say a word?" I asked, hurt at the thought.
I could see that this was hurting Sheila as much as it hurt me. "I knew you had to leave, to complete your quest," he explained tenderly. "If I had told you, you would have wanted to stay, and I couldn't do that, not to you."
I understood. He had lost Bjorn and was about to give me up, too. In some strange way, what he had done made sense to me. I reached out and gave him another hug, not wanting to let go. "Just promise me one thing," I said into his chest. "Once this quest is over, promise that we will be together to raise our child."
Sheila held me tight against him. "Nothing will ever separate us again," he promised.