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 33

Substitute Artillery

  I followed Sheila back to his tent and entered hot on his heels. "Sheila, come on, babe," I pleaded.

  Sheila spun about to face me so quickly I almost ran into him. "Don't give me that 'Come on, babe' crap. You killed a man out there!"

  I felt my lips tighten as I started to get angry. "Don't you think I know that? What do you want me to do? Drop to my knees and cry to the heavens about what a travesty of justice it is that he's dead and I'm not!"

  "No, I don't!" he replied venomously. "I expect you to at least show some sign that you regret taking a human life."

  "The asshole tried to kill me, for God's sake!" I shouted back. "If I hadn't taken the precaution of having a defensive spell up, I---would---be---dead---now!" I lowered my voice to a growl. "Is that what you want? You want me dead?"

  The shock of what I said hit Sheila like a slap in the face. "No!" he replied with disgust. "Good lord, Arden, what the hell has gotten into you?"

  I took a step forward so I was only inches from him, staring up into his face. "Do you want to know what my problem is?" I asked in a low, dangerous voice. "My problem is that you're more worried about the son of a bitch that tried to kill me than you are about me. I haven't heard you asking if I'm all right. Nor do you seem concerned with the welfare of our child, who also would be dead now if I hadn't struck back. Just where the hell do your priorities lie?"

  Sheila took a step back, looking down at me in horror for what I said. I don't know if it was my words or the simple fact that I had unconsciously begun to collect energy around me. Either way, he just backed away without saying anything.

  I, on the other hand, was too pissed to notice or care. "You better make up your mind where your loyalties lie. If you're not going to back me up, then you had damn well better stay out of my way until we're ready to leave this place."

  I turned and stormed out of the tent. Why the hell had I said that? Christ, I had gone after him to try to patch things up and I had completely lost it. 

  I looked around and headed for the edge of the clearing. There were some saplings about an inch or so in diameter that looked perfect for me to take some of my aggression out on. As I got near them, I drew my Katana and charged, slashing cleanly through each of the trees. I spun from tree to tree as they slowly fell, trimming branches and further dividing the trunks until no piece longer than four or five inches remained. I stood, sword held low and to the side, cocked to swing at targets no longer in existence. A leaf slowly floated down in front of me, and its graceful dance on the still air mesmerized me for a second. Then my training kicked in, and with several quick strokes I reduced the leave to confetti that quickly scattered on the breeze. I heard the sound of applause behind me.

  "Very well done, Drijen," I heard a man's voice say.

  I turned and saw a tall, dark skinned man with black hair pulled back in a ponytail. He almost looked like an American Indian but the eyes were wrong. If I had to guess, I'd say he was in his thirties, but there was something about him that said he was older. He wore the same fancy uniforms that the other warriors had been wearing. I shifted my sight and confirmed that he wasn't some peon. His armor had powerful defensive spells woven into the material and the sword he wore had an enchantment beyond my ability to read.

  He took a step forward, making no move that would be considered offensive or defensive. "I had heard stories of your prowess with that weapon from the members of the Dukes' court, but I had dismissed them as having be the result of an enchanted blade," he said as he waved a casual hand toward my Katana. "But that blade's not enchanted, is it? The speed and power is all in you, isn't it, Drijen?"

  What was he getting at? "Yes, it is," I replied cautiously. "I have a natural power that grants me extraordinary speed and strength."

  He nodded and stopped about three feet away from me. "So I had surmised. If the tales are correct, you and your lord are the first arcane creatures to walk these lands in centuries. But I'm being rude." He removed the armored glove that he wore and held his hand out. "My name is General Maus Romero. I am in command of this detachment of Imperial Guardsmen"

  I looked at the hand for a second before I sheathed the Katana and took it. His handshake was firm without him trying to overwhelm me. This was no test of strength with him. "It's good to meet you General. My name is Arden."

  "Please, call me Maus," he said with a pleasant smile as he took his hand back. "Would you mind accompanying me as I tour the camp? I must show the flag as it were, and it will give us time to talk."

  Taking my nod for acceptance, he led me around the perimeter of the encampment. "I must apologize for what happened back there. We had no warning of your arrival and were not expecting any portal, much less a demon gate." He stopped long enough to salute a pair of perimeter guards before continuing to walk. "Your reaction was quite impressive. To be able to target your spell at a caster while flash blinded came as quite a shock to the mage. According to his apprentice he hadn't even bothered to fully raises his defenses."

  "And that's why the fool is dead now," I replied flatly. "That and his penchant for shooting first and asking questions later."

  He placed a hand on my shoulder and stopped me. "Please, Drijen, understand what happened from our point of view," he implored quietly. "You opened a demon gate and stepped through haloed in an aura of flame. What was he to think? We had no warning of your arrival. He didn't know what to expect. He thought that you were simply another summoned creature sent to wreak havoc. That's why he put all his power into a banishing spell as opposed to using a spell designed to person to person combat."

  He was trying to banish me? It felt like he was trying to obliterate me. Of course, how do you banish a demon but to obliterate it. I could see what he meant. I hadn't realized the side effects that my spell may have. The manner of my arrival along with the spell's pyrotechnics could have made me look like some kind of Creature from the Black Lagoon. "I guess I see what you mean," I said somewhat humbled. "I'm sorry about your sorcerer. I guess he didn't quite deserve to get toasted like that."

  Maus nodded grimly. "Thank you, Drijen. I appreciate the apology, but that doesn't change the simple fact that right now we no longer have a Combat Magi with us," he said quietly as we passed a small cluster of people. "With the exception of yourself and the other Drijen, there is only one person of Sorcerer rank in the camp, and he's a healer."

  I winced. My killing of the mage had done some serious damage here. "I can see your concern, but do you really think that you'll need a Combat Magi? Come to think of it," I said as an epiphany hit me, "just why are you here? I didn't see you back at the keep."

  He shook his head. "We were sent from the palace to intercept the caravan. We had word that the Iced Landers may stage an attack. We're to escort the Duke and his retinue to the capitol and ensure their safety." He grimaced slightly as he saluted another set of guards. "Unfortunately, if we are attacked, we will most certainly need someone of that caliber of magic to aid in the defense." He looked over at me and smiled. It looked genuine. "Fortunately, we have you with us now. If your reflexive spell casting power is any indication, you should be able to fill in nicely for him. Besides, another Drijen is always welcome."

  I put my paw out and stopped him. "Maus," I said, pausing for a breath. "There are two things you need to do. First, stop calling me Drijen. My name is Arden, OK?" I waited for him to nod before continuing. "Second, don't plan on my being here for the trip. I must return to my master and continue my training."

  Maus got a concerned look on his face as he considered what I had just said. "Is there no way you can delay your training until after we return to the capitol, Drijen?"

  I shook my head. "I'm sorry, but no," I replied in a tone that brooked no argument. "However, I will make arrangements so that my lord will be able to summon me at a moment's notice."

  Maus nodded and turned to continue walking but stopped when I grabbed his arm, hard. "And Maus, it's Arden, ok?" I looked up at him and batted my eyes.

  He laughed and nodded. "You know, Arden, you are quite an interesting and provocative creature. It's too bad about your eyes," he said through pursed lips. "You would be rather attractive but for them."

  My eyes? I laughed as I remembered that as long as I was using the dragon's powers I would have his eyes. Since it didn't look like the guard was going to try to whack me again, I figured I could drop my shield. Once I had release the last of the dragon's powers, I opened my eyes and smiled back up at Maus, "Is that better?" I asked, again batting my eyes at him.

  He laughed and smiled. "How did you do that?" Maus asked incredulously. "Is it an illusion or a true transformation?"

  I slipped my arm in with his and prompted him to walk. "It's a true transformation," I replied without further explanation. Keep the sucker guessing was my motto.

  Maus and I had continued to talk for a couple of hours before we decided it was time to take care of our respective responsibilities. I suddenly realized that I hadn't eaten yet and tracked down the cook's tent for a late night snack. Fortunately there was still plenty of cooked meat left over from dinner that was being kept piping hot in steamers. It didn't take me long to fill up on roast beef and hardtack bread.

  Sated and drowsy, I headed back towards Sheila's tent. I still needed to try and work things out with him. I entered to find him sitting at a table with a book, writing. Next to him was a fancy lamp that illuminated the desk and surrounding area. He looked up, saw me and hastily blotted the sheets before closing the book.

  "What were you working on, love?" I asked as I strolled over and sat in the chair opposite of him.

  Sheila held the book in front of him with both hands, like he was afraid that I would snatch it. "It's a diary," he said nervously.

  I cocked an ear and an eyebrow in his direction. "Oh," I replied somewhat stunned. "I didn't know you kept a diary. May I see?" I held my paw out to see if he'd hand it to me.

  He just looked at my paw, at the book then back at me. "Um, I don't think you'll like what I've written in it," he said rather sheepishly.

  I nodded, putting my paws down on the table and staring at them. "I can understand that. I have been a bit of an asshole lately," I said as I looked up at him. "I'm really sorry about what I said earlier. I was totally out of line." I shrugged and gave him kind of a hurt puppy dog look. "Can you forgive me?" I held my breath while he thought about what I had said and only released it when he finally nodded.

  "Yah, I guess so," he said though it didn't sound like he was convinced. "But I just want you to know, you scared the hell out of me today." I could see a haunted look in his eyes as he stared at me. "I don't know what got into you, but I didn't know who you were earlier. Don't ever do that to me again. OK?"

  I nodded. "All right, my love," I agreed. "I'll try to keep my attitude in check, ok?"

  Sheila nodded and put the book back down. "I'm going to keep writing for a while, OK hon?"

  I smiled, stood and gave him a kiss across the small table. "Sure, love. Take as long as you need. You'll know where to find me." I flashed him a big toothy smile then turned and sashayed over to the portable bed while making a big production of stripping off my clothes. As I bent over to pull back the sheets I made sure to hold my tail up high, making the gesture as provocative as possible. Just as I started to climb under the covers I heard Sheila chuckle and blow out the lamp. I guess I still had it.

  I smiled as I lay there waiting on Sheila to come to bed with my paw over my womb. We still were a family and would stay that way if I had any say about it.

I was standing at the edge of a small island with waves of odd-feeling water lapping up near my feet. On a pedestal at the center of the island sat a plain looking bronze lamp. On the far side of the island was a large stone archway that glowed with magic runes. Between the pedestal and myself appeared an angel, right out of the biblical texts.

  A flaming sword appeared in his hand as he stepped towards me. "You will never reach the lamp. I can not allow it," he said, his voice echoing in my head.

  "I must get the lamp," I replied drawing my Katana and Wakazashi. "It is my destiny."

  The creature walked towards me, changing his form until the classic image of a devil remained. "Sometimes destiny isn't all its cracked up to be," Lucifer said. "Destiny has a way of turning out to be whatever you make of it."

  "Fine," I replied, trying to ignore the illusion. "Then I'll make that lamp my destiny. Now get out of my way." I struck at him with my Katana and watched him fall. I stepped forward to stand over the bleeding body of Nanuk. "Nanuk!" I cried out and knelt by her.

  "Be careful of what destiny you make, child," she said weakly. "You must not destroy that which you desire to save in your quest for the lamp."

  I put my hand to the wounds, and tried to heal them, but the power wouldn't come. "Mother, no!" What had I done?

  Nanuk reached up to me "My dear, sweet child," she said as her form changed to that of Lakesh. "Don't you realize that without the power of the dragon, you will never succeed? You must give yourself to the dragon." He pulled me down close to him. "You must give the dragon some sugar, lover."

  I fought his embrace as he kissed me, struggling futilely to break away from him. Frantic to be freed I drew my Tanto and plunged it into his ribs. I pulled away, gasping for breath as his grip failed.

  "Arden?" Sheila said as she lay before me, my Tanto buried deep in her chest. "Why?"

  I sat up, gasping for breath. I looked over at Sheila and verified that he was sleeping, safe and sound. It had all just been a dream, and a pretty psychotic one at that. What the hell had all that been about?

  I carefully slipped out of bed, doing my best to make sure I didn't wake Sheila. My dress lay on the ground where I had discarded it earlier in the night. I quickly slipped it over my shoulders and tied it off in the back. There was some dirt and grime on it from lying on the ground. With a chuckle, I used a spell that Lakash had shown me to displace the dirt and grime. I looked down at the now pristine skirt and smiled. I could make a fortune in the dry cleaning business back home with that trick.

  I slipped out of the tent and began to wander the camp. I didn't have any destination in specific as I walked. I simply wanted get some air while I tried to figure out that weird dream. The thought of having killed Sheila, even as part of a nightmare, haunted me. Was this some kind of warning that I would be responsible for his death? My path took me to the central fire pit.

  The fire was burning low, barely illuminating the immediate area. There was a pile of wood off to the side that was to be used to keep it burning. I sat down on a log near the fire and casually used a spell to add wood to the fire. I don't know, maybe I was being lazy. I liked to think I was practicing. I have to admit, casting spells was getting to be kind of fun.  Plus it was good practice for casting spells without drawing on the dragon's power.

  I was so involved in playing with the fire that I almost missed someone coming up behind me. I started to raise  my defenses when I recognized the sound of their walk. It was Dane. I gave a sly smile as he sat down next to me and held his instrument in his lap. The scent of roses, honey and something else, something I couldn't name, followed him.

  "Couldn't sleep?" he asked in a cheery voice.

  I nodded and flashed him a smile. "Yah, I guess you could say that."

  Dane started picking out a little ditty on his instrument. It wasn't anything particularly special, just a little something to lighten the mood. "That was some show you put on this evening," he said dropping the pitch of the tune a little.

  I nodded and stared at the fire. "You could call it that."

  "I guess you've been learning magic while I've been busy, eh?" he asked, kicking the song up an octave.

  I smiled and concentrated on the dirt around the fire, working on a spell. Out of the ashes arose two small figures made of dirt and coal. They weren't anything lifelike in any way, but you could tell one was supposed to be female. My smile grew larger as I heard Dane laugh at their appearance. This was the most complicated manipulation I had ever tried. At first it was difficult, but eventually I got the figures to prance about the fire in a dance to Dane's music. As he picked up the pace of his playing, I, too, picked up the pace of their dancing. I'm not sure which on of us missed a beat first, but we both dissolved in laughter as my figures flew apart in a cloud of ash and dust.

  As our laughter faded Dane leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "That was wonderful, Arden," he said with a smile.

  I stared at him, more than a little shocked at his actions. I had forgotten that he had put the moves on me before. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. "Why did you do that?" I asked in a confused voice.

  Dane smiled warmly at me and replied in a low voice, "Because I like you." He paused for a second and continued. "Because I find you fascinating. Because when I look into your eyes I can feel my heart beat faster. Just sitting here next to you makes me lose all sense of propriety and reason." He reached out and brushed the fur along the side of my muzzle. "Just your touch sends shockwaves through my entire body. Whenever I see you, all I think about is being with you."

  I swallowed, unable to take my eyes off of him. I could feel the blood pounding in my chest as adrenaline hit my system. The last time I felt like this was when I was in heat, but there's no way that could be the reason. I tried to reply, but words just wouldn't come out of my mouth. Before I could do anything, he leaned forward and kissed me. The touch of his lips on my muzzle was electrifying. I wanted to resist, but instead felt myself relaxing into it. As we broke from the kiss, I looked up into those big brown eyes as the fire danced in their reflection.

  Dane moved forwards to kiss me again when I managed to finally break the spell that held me. I turned my muzzle and pushed him gently away. "No," I whispered quietly. "I can't do this."

  Dane ran his hand through the hair on my right side, brushing it past my ear. I wanted to lean into the physical contact, but resisted the urge. "Why do you fight it?" he asked in a low melodious voice. "I can see you struggling to maintain control." He leaned closer and brushed his lips over the fur on my cheek. "Let yourself go and join me in the ecstasy of the night."

  I unsteadily forced myself to my feet and stepped away only to find him still behind me, his hands on my shoulders.

  "Why do you resist?" he asked gently. "What's holding you back?"

  I turned and faced him, again looking up into those huge brown pools of reflected firelight. "I must stay faithful to my lord, Dane," I stated, trying to force some tone of resolution behind it.

  He took my paws in his hands and held them tightly to his chest. "What do you owe a man who barely acknowledges your existence?" he asked. "You yourself told me once he doesn't care for you. What could bind you so tightly that you won't let your feelings go for one night?" His eyes darted back and forth as they searched for an answer in mine.

  I inhaled and summoned strength of the dragon, knowing that it would change me. As my vision shifted, I saw Dane's expression change slightly with the shock. "He's not just my lord, he's my mate," I explained. "I bear his child. Now do you understand?"

  Dane was speechless for a second. "You're carrying his child? But how? You're.... He's...."

  "We're both children of the dragon, Dane," I explained, interrupting his shock. "We are unique in this world. Soon we will finish our work here and leave this world for the next one in our quest. That's all I can say."

  That left him completely speechless. I smiled, gave him a light peck on the cheek, turned and walked out towards the perimeter. I desperately wanted to just grab on to him and take him for the ride of his and my life, but I couldn't let that happen.

  The big question on my mind at the moment was simply: Why am I so attracted to him?

Chapter 34