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 37

An old enemy returns.

  I awoke to a numbing sensation over my entire body. I could feel everything below my neck, but it felt oddly detached, as if in a dream. The giddy feeling of detachment extended to my surroundings as I realized that I had been strapped to the back of a dragon which was now flying high over the darkened landscape. My arms and legs were bound to the dragon on the saddle in such a way that made me laugh. It reminded me of the old western movies where a bad guy would be brought into town dead, dumped over the back of his horse and tied there, only I wasn't dead. Was I?

  I tried to reach out for the power, but found that I was still screwed. Lakash had taken the bait and I was left without his power. I turned my sight inwards to seek my own power and was shocked to realize that I couldn't reach it. Something was blocking my access to all magic. It figured. They would have been nuts to have tried to capture a warrior mage without some way to block their access to magic.

  I shivered from the cold wind blowing over the back of the dragon as its icy tendrils drew tears from my eyes. I had relied on the dragon's power to keep me warm and now I was paying for it. My fur wasn't thick enough for this crap and I was slowly freezing.

  I closed my eyes and let myself fall asleep again. If I was going to freeze to death, I didn't want to be awake for it.

  I awoke to the sudden feeling of falling as I slid from the back of the dragon. The bastards had simply cut the cords that bound me to the saddle. My body screamed in agony as I landed hard on the cold ground. I'm not sure what hurt more, the landing, or the fact that my muscles which had been stretched for so long, could now move. I wasn't in any mood to judge the contest, so I simply curled up into a ball in the tall grass and shivered.

  "You fools!" I heard the voice of the magician say. "Look at it. The damn thing is half frozen." There was the sound of something hard hitting something soft, followed by a body hitting the ground. "By the gods, it's no wonder your kind have never mounted a successful campaign against the Empire. Don't you realize that if it dies, none of us will get paid?"

  There was the sound of muttering around me, as nobody seemed willing to answer his last question. "Get a fire started, we need to warm it up."

  After a few minutes, I was roughly lifted and dragged over by a fire. The pit was the same style that I had found before, with a high berm around the outside to shield it from prying eyes.

  As I slowly thawed out, I took inventory of myself and saw that I was wearing some form of manacles with very intricate carving engraved on it. Although there was a loop for a chain or lock, they were unbound. I also found that I had a fancy collar that zapped the hell out of me when I tried to take it off. This amused my captors to no end.

  One of the guards came over and shoved a tankard of low-grade ale and a chunk of hardtack into my hand. My old training took over and I began to eat. You never turn down food, as you never know when your next meal will come from, or if they'll even bother feeding you again.

  A little while later the mage came by with a bowl of stew and handed it to me as he sat down. "Are you feeling better?" he asked casually.

  I looked over at him and nodded. He was a small man who probably didn't stand over five feet tall. He had a shock of bright red curly hair on his head that would have made him look like a child if it hadn't been for the scars that covered his face. At some point in time he had been horribly burned, the scars ran down his neck and under his cloak. His hands also showed sings of having been damaged at one time. He wore no obvious jewelry though I did notice that he had earrings on other then, and of course, the robe with its emblem on it. A gold dagger plunging downwards through five silver rings. It reminded me vaguely of the Elite badge with it's silver sword pointing up, piercing three gold rings.

  "What's the significance of the emblem?" I asked as I pointed to it with the spoon.

  He looked down and sighed. "It's too bad we didn't find out more about you before taking this commission," he said longingly, "otherwise we probably would have recruited you rather than kidnapping you."

  He had me confused and knew it as he continued. "Unlike the Elitist," he said with a derisive snort, "we don't suppress magic. We're all for the learning and usage of magic, all magic. Where they only have three golden circles representing the three sanctioned arts, we embrace all five of the known magics." He gently caressed the emblem. "If we had recruited you to teach us the lost art of arcane magic, we would have added a sixth ring to our emblem."

  I took a bite of the stew and forced myself to eat it. It wasn't all that bad, but it wasn't very good either. About the quality you'd expect to get from McPuck's or something. "I take it you and the Elite don't get along."

  He shook his head as he watched me eat. "No. Not by a long shot."

  That surprised me. "I thought the Elite just enforced the law. Nobody said anything about suppressing magic," I commented between bites.

  He nodded. "Of course not. They wanted you to join," he explained. "You must understand that if any magician uses his powers against any non magician, no matter the provocation, it's a capital offense." He paused to let that sink in before continuing. "On the other hand, if you join his Arcanum, then you become part of his military, and that law doesn't apply to you."

  I nodded as I ate. I could see his point. You could get burned for being a witch or you could defend yourself and get hanged for using magic. Either that or join the Emperor's forces and become untouchable by the masses. It was a pretty sweet way to control the use of magic.

  "Unfortunately," he continued without prompting, "my masters took the contract for your abduction before we knew enough about you--otherwise we would have met under different circumstances."

  "Tell me about it," I quipped back. "So who's this patron that's paying for my capture?"

  He shrugged. "I'm afraid I'm not allowed to say," he replied honestly. "All I can say is that he's going to have to pay a hell of a lot more for you now than he had anticipated." The look of confusion on my face prompted him to continue. "You cost us two dragons, one was an elder wyrm. No, he's going to pay a heavy toll if he wants you."

  I finished up the stew and handed the empty bowl back to him. "Well," I said drawing the word out. "I can't say as I would have accepted or turned down your proposal, but I must admit that I wouldn't be too keen on wearing any black robes. That's just not my style." I flashed him a big smile as I posed in my somewhat dirty outfit.

  He laughed for a second and then shook his head. "You know, that's the last thing I expected from you. A woman maybe, but not you" he said between chuckles.

  I blinked in surprise at that. "I beg your pardon," I said, as I propped my breasts up in my paws for emphasis, "but where I come from, only women have these, honey."

  He nodded. "True, but I know for a fact that you weren't originally born to that body and in fact were a man before you came to our world."

  How in the hell did he know that?

  He stood and brushed off his robe. "I suggest you rest and warm up. We'll be taking off again in a few hours," he said while pointing to an empty bedroll. "This time, though, I'll make sure you're properly warmed."

  I watched him as he left and wondered how the hell he knew so much about me. He must be getting inside information, but from whom? There was an extremely short list of folk who knew that I hadn't been female until I came to this world. Just who had been talking?

  The dragons were pissed at me. I was the reason that two of their numbers were now dead, and one of them had been an ancient wyrm. Ras'palendak had been the head of the dragon clan that was allied with the Alliance of Free Mages. I had almost taunted one of the dragons into removing my collar so we could prove just who was the most powerful, but that mage intervened. I was cursed with bad luck like that. Without that collar I would have at least been able to gate out.

  I will admit that riding on the back of a dragon was exhilarating. Even with four riders on its back, the beat of the dragon's wings ate up the miles like candy.

  Towards the end of the day we were approaching the western rim of the Basin Mountains that line the northwest edge of the Empire. At first I thought that they were going to fly over the mountains, but instead we descended into a rather inhospitable looking portion of the foothills that was filled with jagged rocks and spires. Or so it appeared. As we got close to a rather large outcropping of rock, we passed through the illusion spell that hid the tower revealing a mirror of the Arcanum in the capital city.

  I compared the image to Gwen's memory of the original and found them virtually identical. A large central tower surrounded by clusters of lower buildings, guarded by a ring of six lesser towers, each topped with a large crystal that I couldn't identify.

  The dragons flew directly for the center tower and a slit opening near the top that apparently served as a landing bay for them. What I had taken to be a narrow opening turned out to be a huge gap measuring easily eighty feet in height and over one hundred feet wide. With practiced boredom they stalled out just as they entered the opening, folding their wings and quickly moving out of the way for the next wyrm behind them.

  The riders lowered me to the hands of waiting guards who quickly attached chains between the ankle and wristbands to hobble me. They also put a muzzle on my face that was a perfect fit. Someone definitely had the inside dope on me.

  "Well, if it isn't the bitch," I heard a familiar voice say from behind.

  I spun around and saw Marduke standing there, plain as the muzzle on my face. "Marduke," I said surprised. "What are you doing here?"

  He laughed as he walked up to me. "I'm here for round two, bitch," he replied as he pulled out a knife. For a second I thought he was going to stab me, but instead he cut the silks I had used to clothe myself and discarded them to the side. "There we go, bitch. Now you look just like the play toy you were meant to be." A malicious grin made itself known on his face as he raised the dagger to the base of my neck.

  "Marduke," the sorcerer barked. "Your master wants her in good health and undamaged. You will refrain from abusing her until he arrives."

  Marduke looked over at the sorcerer and growled before he put his blade away. "You will be mine again, bitch, and when you are, you'll pay for what you did to my face!"

  I smiled with false bravado and laughed. "Tell me, Marduke. How are the family jewels?"

  He roared with rage and slugged me. I fell back into the guards and caused us to domino to the floor. After I cleared the stars from my head I saw Marduke on the ground writhing in pain. The sorcerer stood over him, a sadistic smile on his face.

  "I warned you, Marduke. She's worth a hell of a lot more to us than you are," he explained after he stopped the spell. "One cut. One bruise. One piece of fur out of place, and I promise that you'll be feeling the effects of that spell for a long time."

  Christ! This guy was like Charles Manson. He almost had me convinced that the Emperor was wrong to control the mages. After seeing that little display, I could suddenly see hundreds of little Darth Vaders running around using malicious spells to get their way.

  The sorcerer looked over at the guards. "Take her to the sphere. We'll deal with her later."

  Guards on either side of me grasped my arms and forced me along a series of corridors that led to an elevator. We rode down into the lowest of the sub basement levels. They then led me down a cold and dark passageway to an odd looking set of doors. They were bowed out, as if part of a huge sphere. When the outer doors were opened, it showed an egg white colored room about five by five in diameter with inner doors that were closed. Both sets of doors were intricately inlaid with runes and glyphs that created a mosaic that left no part of the stone untouched.

  As the outer doors closed behind us, the tingling sensation faded from my body. I sill couldn't access any magic, but now I didn't have that constant tickling sensation. They opened the inner doors to reveal a room that did indeed appear to be the upper half of a sphere. Within the room were a bed, pillows, table with food and drink on it as well as a basic squat privy with flowing water. There was also a basin with a tap that would run cold water. Illumination was created by a series glowing spheres that were hung around the room. The air circulated through a series of tiny vents, each of which was covered again with those runes.

  One of the guards removed my muzzle and chains and then shoved me into the room before he backed out. Two guards remained and took up positions next to the door as it was sealed.

  "OK then," I said more to myself than anyone else as I started to examine the room. I recognized the symbols and glyphs as being some sort of blocking and protective wards. Without being able to call on the sight, I wouldn't be able to figure it out any time soon so I concentrated on other things.

  The only other points of interest in the room were the vents near the doorway, and the guards wouldn't let me get near them. I went over to the table and poured myself a drink. The wine was of a far better quality than the crap we had put up with on the trail. I downed a chalice of that and then climbed into bed. I wanted to be rested for whatever was to come.

  One of the things I had learned in my training with the SDF was that you could easily lose track of time in a room where the illumination didn't change. The only thing I had to measure time with was the changing of the guard and delivery of my meals. I guessed that they were rotated out about every four hours or so. Given that fact, I estimated that I had been in the room for the better part of two days before I had visitors.

  Marduke entered the room, flanked by the sorcerer and two more guards. I noticed that the sorcerer was wearing a light gray robe that was embroidered with gold and silver colored thread creating a tapestry of symbols and runes.

  "Get up, bitch," Marduke ordered as he strode into the room. "It's time to get you ready to meet your new master."

  I climbed out of the bed and casually stretched my muscles. "Give it a rest, dickless. I serve no human," I replied in a derisive tone.

  I could see that my taunt had hit home from the expression on his face. Marduke balled his fists as he approached me. "I think it's high time you had another lesson in discipline."

  I laughed as I moved away from the bed and the table to get some room. "And a child like you is going to teach me?" I asked with a quirky grin on my face. "I don't think so."

  "You may have gotten a lucky shot in on me at the mews, " Marduke replied as he cracked the knuckles of his fists to intimidate me, "but you'll find I'm not one to trifle with. Without the strength you got from the demon, you're just another whore

  Whore? Did he call me a whore? "I was just going to kick your ass, Marduke," I replied in a low voice. "Now you're going to die."

  Marduke smiled as I dropped into a fighting crouch and began to maneuver towards him. He fell into his own version of a defensive posture, but I wasn't impressed. His leading leg was too far out and he was off balance to the right. This was going to be easy.

  We circled each other, probing defenses. He was painfully slow and tended to telegraph his punches. The fool should have stuck to being a stable master and stayed out of the warrior business. Then again, when all you deal with are helpless creatures that have been beaten and cowed, I could see where his swollen head came from.

  Once I got his timing down, I lashed out with a quick heel kick to his chest that drove him back a couple of feet. I had intentionally aimed high so as not to knock the wind out of him. I didn't want him to feel to discouraged too fast.

  "What's the mater, Marduke, can't you block a simple kick?" I taunted while laughing.

  Marduke grunted. "Your blow didn't even hurt, bitch. Now I'll show you what pain means."

  He stepped forwards and feigned a punch combo then dropped to a spin kick designed to sweep my feet out from under me. I lightly hopped over his kick and danced around him as he recovered. Now he gave up all pretense of being fancy. Moving in, he lashed out hard with his fists, forcing me to back off while trying to deflect them. He finished his attack with a quick sidekick that I would have dodged had it not been for the chair that I tripped over.

  I landed on my side and rolled away as he proceeded to land a couple of kicks to my ribs. Fortunately I was able to roll under the table and out the other side before he could do any serious damage. I stood and grabbed the lip of the table, flipping it over onto him. Marduke cursed as the table slammed into his head and forced him away.

  I decided that it was time to stop playing around. I moved forward, running up the underside of the table as Marduke was pushing it off of himself and reached the edge just as it began to drop freely to the floor. A quick scissor kick nailed him in the middle of the forehead and drove him backwards. I landed with the table as it hit the floor with an explosive crack and charged forwards as he regained his balance.

  Marduke saw my charge and managed to lash out a kick that caught me in the ribs. Rather than try to roll away from the hit, I trapped his calf between my arm and ribs and proceeded to do my best to break his knee with a palm strike. I was rewarded with a rather loud crunch followed by Marduke screaming as he twisted away.

  Hobbled, Marduke tried to distance himself from me, but he couldn't move fast enough. A spinning back kick to the chest slammed him against the wall and stunned him as his head bounced off of the ornately engraved surface. I didn't give him any chance to recover. I stepped forward and put everything behind a solid shot to the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him and dropping him to the floor.

  I stood there for a second and looked down on his prone form as he gasped for breath. I was breathing harder than I had expected after our little tussle. Marduke glared up at me and spit. I lost it and began to kick the hell out of him. The next thing I knew I was flying backwards as some unseen force held me high in the air.

  The sorcerer stepped forwards while holding a fist in the air. "That will be enough," he said to both of us. "I don't think our patron would appreciate it if I let you kill each other."

  "Then why did you let us fight in the first place?" I managed to gasp.

  He lowered his hand and opened it, releasing me from the spell. "I wanted to see if the rumors of your combat abilities were true," he replied as he looked down on Marduke. "If this fool was stupid enough to challenge you, I had no objections. Just as long as you weren't permanently damaged."

  "What about me?" Marduke coughed. "The bitch broke my knee!"

  "So?" the sorcerer said with a sarcastic chuckle. "Your master isn't paying me to keep you healthy or intact. You should be grateful that I stopped her when I did." He turned and looked me over to make sure I hadn't been injured. "Our patron will soon be here. I suggest that you clean yourself up so that you will make a good impression."

  I put my hands on my hips and scowled at him. "You've got to be kidding!" I said in disbelief. "I don't give a damn about your patron. In fact he better pray to the gods that I don't manage to get free, or his ass is going to be mine, big time!"

  The sorcerer glanced towards the inner doors as they began to open. "I believe it is now a moot point," he commented, glancing back at me. "Your new master is here."

Chapter 38