Story (c) 2001 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 35

Talk about screwed.

  My attention was pulled away from Zig Zag as the cook's wagon rolled to a stop. Curious about what was happening, I climbed out the back just in time to see half a dozen mounted guards riding at a gallop towards the front of the column. As I took a look around I realized they weren't heading towards the front of the column, but more like continuing on ahead while the rest of the entourage stopped in a large clearing. A glance at the sun told me that it was almost noon, time for lunch.

  I lent a hand to the cook's crew as they opened up the back of the wagon and converted the gate into a ramp. It was only fair to help them since I had spent the morning riding around in the back of their wagon while scrying for information on Zig Zag. I just hoped there was some way I could do something about what I had discovered.

  On a whim I twisted the amulet's power and stepped over into Lakash's realm. For once he didn't have any particularly grandiose spectacle prepared for me. He simply reclined against a tree as windows to other worlds floated in front of him. Amusingly enough, one world showed him leaning against a tree, viewing windows to other worlds. He had obviously been watching.

  "Arden," he said abruptly as he stood. "What brings you here?"

  "Zig Zag" I stated directly. "I need to return Sheila to our world so that we can clear her name."

  Lakash summoned up a couple of chairs and gestured for me to sit. "I'm sorry, Arden, but you know I can't allow that."

  I sat down in the chair despite my desire to stand and argue. "I know you can do that," I challenged back calmly. "The spell I use to gate between here and the real world must have some component that will allow it to cross the world barriers, otherwise Maus wouldn't have called it a Demon Gate."

  Lakesh nodded and crossed his legs. "You're right; I could give you the secret to crossing the world barriers, but I won't." I was about to argue when he calmly held up a hand to stop me. "Please understand, Arden. Getting Sheila back to your world is the strongest card I have to keep you on this quest. If you return with her, the only thing I'll have left is the geas, and to be frank, there's no guarantee that one of the other powers in the game wouldn't remove it from you."

  Arrrgh! He was being so damn logical! "Look..." I said as I tried to desperately think of something. "I give my word, my sworn oath, that I'll return to you and finish up the quest. I promise."

  He got a bit of a pained look on his face as he rubbed the bridge of his nose before looking back over at me. "And just what do you expect to accomplish?"

  I shrugged. "What do you mean? I want to clear Zig Zag's name. Prove that Sheila and I aren't dead."

  Lakash nodded. "Have you forgotten about your appearance?" he asked candidly. "You are now in Sheila's body, and Sheila is a human. You plan on taking a human back into your last ream?"

  Erf! I hadn't thought about that. "Wouldn't the amulet change us to fit the realm?"

  Lakash shook his head. "You can't use the amulet to return there, you know that." He stood and walked over to squat down in front of me and rested a hand on my knee. "I know how much Zig Zag means to you, but you can't help her."

  I stood up suddenly, forcing him to back away. "Don't tell me that! If I can't take Sheila with me, then I'll go as Sheila. That should be enough."

  He again shook his head. "It wouldn't work, Arden. Too many people know Sheila. You'd never pull it off."

  He paused for a moment as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I really am trying to be patient here," he said in a low voice. "I know for a fact that just telling you 'no' doesn't work. Without a doubt, you'd run off and do something stupid just to spite me."

  As painful as it was to admit, he was right. I always did have a problem with being told I couldn't do something.

  Again he walked up to me, this time putting both hands on my shoulders. "I'll tell you what. If you don't believe me, go talk to Nanuk and see what she has to say about it. Then, if you still want to return, I'll show you how."

  I nodded. Nanuk would have the answers I needed. "Thank you, master," I said before I bowed and stepped into Nanuk's realm again and was promptly bowled over as something slammed into me. I looked up into the smiling face of a small white fox with black tipped ears.

  "Miss Arden!" he exclaimed with a smile as he gave me a hand up. "Sorry, I wasn't expecting you to drop in."

  I shook my head and looked down at the small anthro fox that stood before me. The voice was definitely that of Thomas. He was pure white except for black on the lower half of his limbs, the tips of the ears and tail. "Thomas?" I asked confused. "What the heck happened to you?"

  Thomas glanced down at himself and shrugged. "Miss Nanuk says that all the parts of my spirit have finally been reunited. When that happens in a totem realm, a person reverts to their natural totemic aspect."

  I gave a little laugh until it suddenly occurred to me what he had said. "Wait a minute. How can all the parts of your spirit be here? You don't mean..." I let my voice trail off.

  Thomas shrugged and nodded. "Yah, but it's not like I hadn't had a chance to get used to being dead," he said casually. "Though it was a bit of a shocker to suddenly be able to remember all of my lives when it happened. Nanuk helped me sort out my memories and what had happened." He glanced down at himself and shrugged again. "This is the result."

  I had remembered her asking why he was in her realm since his spirit was fox. Now I understood what she had meant. It saddened me to think that my Thomas was now dead in every reality he had existed. I guess he just wasn't fated to have a long life.

  I sat and visited with Thomas for a little bit, getting caught up on what had been happening while I was gone. From the looks of the realm, he was doing a bang up job of maintaining it. I could almost sense a hint of spring in the air as he slowly revitalized things. Nanuk had been instructing him on how to use the power I had shunted to him. He had been quite frugal with it considering how much he had accomplished. As we sat, I made it a point to recharge his stash of energy.

  Once that was done I excused myself and went in to see Nanuk. She was lying on her cot as usual. Even thought the room looked like new, I could see that Nanuk had gotten weaker. I took a stool and sat down beside the bed and took her hand. "Hello, mother."

  She looked over at me and smiled. "Hello, my child," she said quietly. "So you have not forgotten about Nanuk quite yet, eh?"

  I smiled again and shook my head. "There's no way I could forget about you, mother."

  Nanuk sighed and closed her eyes. "Though Nanuk may be your mother, you now call Lakash master." Before I could reply, she continued, "Nanuk knows this must be, child, but do not fall into his trap. The power he gives you is tainted."

  I nodded and gave her had a squeeze. "I know that, mother," I replied. "But that's not why I've come. I need to ask for your guidance on something."

  She simply nodded to me.

  "My friend Zig Zag is in trouble and I wish to help her," I explained, pausing for a second. "The problem is that Lakash doesn't want to let me return and help her." I leaned close and squeezed her hand gently. "Mother, I must help her. She is a friend to me. If it weren't for me, she wouldn't be in this mess."

  Nanuk shook her head. "If you return, all will be lost, child," she said in a whisper.

  I blinked and sat up in surprise at that. "But, why?"

  Nanuk gave a small snort of derision and cracked an eye at me. "After all this time, you still question Nanuk when she tells you something?" she scolded.

  I nodded the affirmative. "Absolutely," I stated somewhat petulantly. "There's no reason I shouldn't go back, help Zig Zag and return. Not now that I have Lakash's spells."

  Nanuk got a pained look on her face for a second. "Lakash should be telling this to you, not Nanuk," she replied finally. "That realm has no magic. You won't be able to create a gate with the dragon's power and the amulet won't work for you there since you've already used it once."

  I shook my head. "That wasn't me, that was Sheila."

  Nanuk snorted again. "Oh? And what body do you wear now? Or have you forgotten that both of you were transported by the wish?" She gave a couple of dry coughs and then continued. "You must follow through on the quest. My time runs short, child. Although Thomas has taken much of the burden on his shoulders, he cannot stop the drain on my spirit. You must focus on your quest and complete the wish."

  I nodded. Zig Zag would just have to hold on until I could get the lamp of Lakash. Once I had that in my hands, we would be able to restore Nanuk as well as return to help Zig Zag. I only hoped her lawyer could keep delaying any legal action long enough for us to ride in like the cavalry.

  I sat on a stool by the cooking fire as I idly stirred the stew for Sarge. Sheila came up behind me and gave me a hug and a kiss. "Hey, lover. What are you doing over here?" he asked as he sat down on a stool nearby.

  "Stirring the stew," I said solemnly.

  Sheila shook his head. "That's not what I meant and you know it," he replied. "And from your expression, I take it you found out what happened to Zig?"

  I sighed and nodded. "I was right, I'm the cause of Zig Zag being in jail," I stated.

  Sheila scooted his stool closer so that our conversation could be a little more intimate. "Just what happened after we left?" he asked quietly.

  I concentrated on a spell that shut out the sounds around us. We could now talk privately without anyone hearing unless they broke the circle. "Zig Zag has been charged with obstruction of justice, armed criminal action, assault, kidnapping, felony murder and reckless driving."

  Sheila blinked at the list. "Reckless driving?" she asked incredulously.

  I nodded and looking up. "From when she hit me during the storm," I explained. "It's still on the books." I could tell he was stunned by the news. His slack jawed expression made it clear for anyone who bothered to look his way.

  "I don't get it," he said after a moment. "How could that happen?"

  I let out a sigh and tried to explain it. "Apparently when we were on top of the hill, Khansman recognized Zig Zag's voice while were talking. He used that along with the police investigation to have them do some digging on Zig Zag." I paused for a breath before continuing. "The real clincher is the pistol I gave to Zig Zag at the studio. It's ballistics matched up with one of the guys in the helicopter. To make matters worse, they've charged her with murder for our disappearance."

  "WHAT?" Sheila demanded.

  I nodded. "Yep. When we disappeared, Zig Zag decided to cover for us in case we made our way back. I guess she figured nobody would believe her if she said we vanished in a puff of smoke."

  A glance at Sheila showed that he was taking the news hard. "From what I read on a report, Zig Zag ditched your car and purse at your house while hanging onto the keys, then told everyone that we had decided to go 'walkabout' like you had mentioned. The thing is, you didn't take out any money prior to our trip to the studio, and your purse with all your ID and stuff was at the house. Worse yet, they had Zig Zag's pawprints all over them."

  Sheila let out a small choking sound. "Oh my god, Arden! We have to find a way to go back!" He grabbed me and shook me to make his point. "We have to go clear Zig Zag's name."

  I put my paw on his hand and gave it a squeeze. "I've already talked to Lakash and Nanuk about this and it can't be done."

  Sheila stood up with his hands clenched into fists. "I don't believe it! That son of a bitch is holding out on you!" he declared angrily.

  "No," I said flatly, getting his attention. "The fact is that I could return and try to help Zig Zag, but I would have to leave you here." I held up a paw to stop his obvious objection. "AND there's no way I could return to this realm to complete the quest. You would be stuck here, Nanuk would perish and I would have lost everything precious to me."

  He dropped bonelessly back onto his stool and stared at me. "So Zig Zag's screwed?" he asked in disbelief. "There's nothing we can do?'

  I shook my head. "There's nothing we can do right now," I explained. "Once the quest is done, we'll be able to return and clear Zig Zag's name. Until then, I have to concentrate on finishing my quest. The sooner that's completed the sooner we can get back."

  Sheila just sat and stared at the cooking fire as he thought about what I had said. When it became obvious that the discussion was, for all intent purposes over, I allowed the barrier of silence to drop. The sounds of conversations around us filled the silent void where we had talked, but couldn't do anything for the voice inside of me that kept accusing me of betraying Zig Zag.

  I'm not quite sure how long I sat by the fire that evening after dinner while I looked for more information about what was happening with Zig Zag and James before the feel of cold steel against my neck rudely interrupted my musings. My attention snapped back as I resisted the urge to jerk away.

  "Do you want to live?" I heard whispered in my ear.

  I inhaled through my snout and realized that it was Yoseph. "Sure I do, Yoseph. Do you?" I asked back casually.

  I heard him chuckle as he pulled the knife away from my neck. "Of course I do. Just like I want to see you survive this trip. But you're not going to do it while skulking around the camp fire."

  I shot him a sideways glance before returning my attention to the fire. "I'll be fine," I replied lamely.

  Yoseph laughed. "Sure you will. Considering that I called your name three times before I got your attention the hard way..." He let his statement trail off, his point made.

  I nodded. He had definitely scored a point there. "I suppose you're right."

  He sat down next to me, picked up a long, thin stick and began poking the fire with it. "So, is it anything you want to talk about?" he asked nonchalantly.

  I shook my head. "A friend of mine is in trouble and I can't help her out," I replied with a sigh.

  "Ahhh," he replied noncommittally. "And why can't you help this friend?"

  I thought about how to answer and figured that I could fudge the facts a little. "She's in a realm that's out of my reach," I finally replied.

  Yoseph nodded again. "I see," he replied as he continued to stir the embers. "That's pretty tough." We sat like that for a minute before he tossed his stick on the fire. "Can I make a suggestion, Arden?" he asked as he stood. "If you're going to mope about it, do it some place a little safer than the middle of a camp out in the wilderness."

  I watched him walk away and realized he was right. This wasn't the place or time to be lamenting Zig Zag's situation.

  I stood and headed for Sheila's tent to see if he was there. Sure enough, he was behind that desk, writing. I walked over to the table and sat down in on the stool as Sheila closed the book.

  "You don't need to stop writing on my account," I said offhandedly.

  Sheila frowned and began to clean the pin. "Good point," he said with a miffed voice. "It's not like you can't just stick your snout in and read it any time you want."

  I winced at that and nodded. "True, but I don't think you really need to worry about me doing that again." I shrugged as Sheila shot me a querying look. "I don't need to read that book to tell me about you. I already knew what was going to be in it."

  Sheila frowned again and asked, "Am I that predictable?"

  I shook my head and leaned on the table. "No, love, I am," I replied, taking him by surprise. "I knew most of what was in there to begin with, I just never wanted to admit it."

  His expression softened a little as he continued to clean the pen. "That still doesn't excuse you from sticking your snout in when you knew I didn't want you reading it."

  I just nodded and sat there for a minute before I got up. "You go back to writing. I'm going to go to bed," I instructed. Without any flair or teasing, I removed the dress I had been wearing and climbed into bed.

  Sheila sat at the table for a minute and watched me before he decided to open his book and continue writing. I let a small smile cross my muzzle as I closed my eyes. Hopefully writing things down would help him deal with being in love with me.

  You know, I have come to the realization that I hate dresses. No, that's too severe, I just don't feel right in them. Now I understand why Sheila was always running around in shorts and a T-shirt.

  I thought about what to do for a bit and decided to take the cheap and easy way out. Using the amulet, I stepped over into Lakash's realm again, this time intentionally not looking to show up near him. I had no doubt that he was watching, but no sense on flaunting it.

  I concentrated on summoning what I wanted and caused a couple of yards of silk to appear in my hands. The Imperial Gold coloration combined with the shimmering effect that silk naturally had, made it look quite exotic. A little more work with a spell and it had long, Chinese looking dragons running rampant over its surface.

  Now I'd seen women do this before, so I was reasonably sure I'd be able to figure it out. By wrapping the cloth around my waist from the front then crossing the ends in front so they covered my breasts, I could then tie off the cloth behind my neck and have a serviceable if not provocative top. It took three tries before I was happy with the look as well as comfortable with the pressure. Once again I wondered why I had to fall in love with a vixen that wore a D cup.

  Again I manifested some silk, this time putting a pattern of fire on the surface and used it to tie a modified breechcloth. By flaring out the wide fabric I completely covered the front while splitting the fabric in the back allowed it to hang over my tail while creating a provocative split. Not that anyone managing to sneak a peek would be able to see anything, of course.

  I summoned up a mirror and checked out my appearance. Damn, I looked good. This was definitely going to turn some heads. The dragon embroidery on the chest piece was such that a dragon was running rampant up from my stomach to the shoulder on each side. The effect was perfect. Now I remembered why I had fallen in love with a vixen that wore a D cup!

  A chuckle behind me got my attention. I turned and saw Lakash standing there, applauding. "Arden the Bimbarian, eh?" he said with a grin.

  I laughed as I dismissed the mirror. "What can I say? It's me." I struck a little pose similar to some I'd seen Sheila do in the pictures she had shown me so long ago.

  Lakash shook his head as he approached. A large smile still creased his face as he stood in front of me. "I take it that the entire purpose of this little exposition is to have something to wear in the real world?" he asked as he walked around me to check the outfit out from all sides.

  I nodded. "Yep. I was just about to stabilize the manifested material so that it could exist outside of your realm."

  Lakash gave another nod. "Very good work, Arden. You're coming along well in your training. When do you think you'll be back to continue it?" Lakash leaned back against an invisible wall with his arms crossed as he awaited my answer.

  I shrugged. "I was planning on returning this morning, after breakfast," I replied. "My only concern is for Sheila's safety. I killed their one combat mage. Without me there, they are vulnerable."

  Lakash again nodded and gestured to the amulet. "Give your mate the amulet. That way we can keep an eye on what's happening. Just have him call my name and we'll become aware of the situation."

  That sounded reasonable. "Thank you, Master. I'll do that," I said with a small bow. "Now if you will excuse me, I must return to break fast with my mate."

  Taking his nod as a dismissal I stepped back into the real world and out of the tent. The reactions were immediate. I don't think I'd seen so many stunned looks since the day I first walked into town. I made a great show of sashaying my way over to where the Duke and his retinue were having breakfast. Sheila had mentioned that we were invited to breakfast with them, and I was having a hard time keeping a full-toothed grin off my snout.

  This was going to be very entertaining.

Chapter 36