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 39

Hell hath no fury

  OK. So Hiram isn't a total idiot. The first thing he had done on his second visit was to gag me so I couldn't taunt him. He had won that round though I didn't give him the satisfaction of responding. For all practical purposes he could have been screwing a carcass.

  Afterwards he had a disappointed look on his face. The last time he had successfully raped me I had been in heat and it had affected us both. This time around there was nothing to enhance the experience. Once I figured that out I started laughing, which was just the wrong thing to do to him. He went ballistic thinking that I was laughing at his performance, and he proceeded to beat the hell out of me. I may have lost that battle, but not by much.

  The last round of healing had been a bonanza. If I could keep taunting these twits into beating the hell out of me, it would only be a matter of days before I could get out of here. I had actually been able to draw off healing magic before it affected me. The healers had given no indication that they had noticed the added drain on their resources.

  I hadn't really expected anyone for the rest of the day. Oh sure, Luci or Morgan might come by to gloat, but I think I scared them a little. How often do you find someone masochistic enough to take a severe beating just so she can get some satisfaction from denying someone else some personal satisfactions? On the surface, Morgan was right; I was insane. My only concern was that someone would figure out the real reason behind my antagonistic tendencies.

  A cold shiver shot down my spine as the inner doors started to open. Had the healers caught onto what I was doing? I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it was only Marduke, limping along with a heavy cane. Apparently neither Morgan nor Hiram had bothered to have the schmuck healed.

  I closed the book I had been perusing and stood up. "Well, if it isn't numb nuts himself," I quipped. "Back for another round?"

  Marduke held up his hand to show off Hiram's ring. "That's right, bitch," he spit out vehemently. "I'm back and its time to play."

  I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "Fine. Let's get it over with, but I'll warn you, you'd be better off finding some bar wench that will at least pretend to enjoy it."

  He smiled and gestured, forcing me to walk towards him. "No, I don't think you quite have a grasp on the situation," he said. He stopped me just as I was about run into him. "In fact, I think you're going to be quite receptive."

  With a snort of derision, I started to make a smart comment when I suddenly felt flush. I took a deep breath and shook my head to clear it, but that only made the feeling worse. It was a disconnected feeling, like I was in some kind of dream.

  Marduke reached out and caressed my breasts, eliciting a moan from me. "Feels nice, eh bitch?" he asked.

  "Yessssss," I hissed out between clenched fangs. It felt wonderful. My entire body was alive with sexual energy.

  He stepped back. "Or maybe I should just go now," he teased sadistically.

  "No, please," I begged in a low voice, still entranced by the high I was feeling.

  Marduke chuckled. "Dane was right," he commented to himself. "Separated from the dragon's power you're no different from any other female."

  His mention of Dane intruded on the feeling, but it didn't quite register. I was busy concentrating on the feel of his touch as he ran his fingers through the fur along my face and up to my ears. I inhaled again, this time noticing a familiar smell. I almost dismissed it until I remembered where I had smelled it before. It was the same smell that I had picked up on Dane the night he tried to seduce me by the fire.

  I tried to fight the feeling and was only partially successful. While Marduke was busy manhandling me, I closed my eyes and concentrated on a simple spell that should block the effects of any herb or pheromone. While I waited for the effects to dissipate, I pretended to give into the feelings. I wrapped my arms around Marduke and began to gently nip at his neck and ear.

  "Oh yah," he moaned in a low voice.

  I pulled my head back, opened my jaws wide and clamped down on his throat. Marduke's eyes flew open in terror as I clenched my jaws---or rather I tried to. As far as I could figure, that damned collar was keeping me from ripping his throat out. I thought for a second and released both my jaws and my grip on his back, causing him to stumble away.

  He looked up at me warily and rubbed his throat. "What the hell?" he asked.

  I smiled and stepped towards him. "Did that get your heart pumping?" I asked in a deep husky voice. "Did that....excite you?"

  Marduke blinked and swallowed. "What?" he asked, confused.

  "Did that excite you?" I repeated as I slowly moved towards him, undulating in a provocative manner. "Tell me the thought that I could have ripped your throat out hasn't increased your desire for me."

  Marduke was like a trapped animal under my gaze as he tried to figure out what was going on. He flinched as I reached out to touch him, but stopped and eyed me cautiously. I gently caressed his face as I stepped up to him. Convinced that I wasn't trying to kill him, Marduke smiled and straightened up from a defensive posture. "Damn," he said excitedly. "You sure had me going there for a second."

  I smiled as I began to undo his shirt. Once it was open I made a big show of running my paws around his skin. After removing his shirt, I trailed my claws lightly over his body, tickling him lightly for a minute or so before undoing his pants. "I've got a secret," I whispered in his ear as I reached inside his undergarment.

  "What's that," he asked, distracted, while running his hands down my back.

  "Your herbs aren't doing shit for me, asshole," I replied quietly. I watched the expression on his face as my words sank in. Before he could pull away, I grabbed his balls in my claws and squeezed as hard as I could.

  Marduke let out a small, high-pitched squeak as the pain hit. For a second he looked into my eyes in utter confusion at this sudden turn of events. His brow furrowed and the next thing I knew he was curled into a ball on the floor in front of me, holding himself.

  I glanced down at my paw and saw blood. It didn't appear that I had actually taken any meat with me when he had exerted control with the collar. That was unfortunate, though not unexpected. I laughed out loud at him, knowing he was going to lose control as soon as he made sure everything was still attached. A glance at the guards verified that they were thinking the same thing since they had moved away from their posts just in case he got too overzealous with his punishment.

  "You BITCH!" he shouted as he looked up at me. Before the guards could intercede he snatched his cane from the floor behind him and swung it at me, catching me in the shoulder. The guards charged, but not fast enough to prevent him from swinging it again, this time catching me in the neck.

  My head snapped to the side from the blow, dropping me to the floor as the guards grabbed him. It was as if a puppeteer had cut the strings that held me. At first I thought he had simply lost concentration, but I suddenly realized that my movements weren't restricted. The idiot had damaged the collar that bound me, breaking the spell.

  I concentrated for a second to make sure he hadn't done any real physical damage before I unsteadily stood up. I made a great show of moving slowly, as if still restricted by the collar.

  Marduke shook himself free of the guards and re-secured his pants. Some words were exchanged between him and the guards before they started to back off. Marduke nodded, then spun around and clobbered one of the guards across the temple with his cane, dropping the man to the ground. The other guard started to draw his sword, but he got the same treatment from Marduke. He then stood there and pounded on both of them for a few seconds before turning to face me. "Now, bitch," he said between heavy breaths, "it's your turn, and there won't be any fucking guards to stop me this time."

  I smiled at him and just shook my head. "You want to know another secret, numb nuts?"

  He snarled as he picked up the fallen guard's sword. "Sure," he replied with an offhand sneer. "The condemned is allowed a last request."

  I beamed a large, toothy grin at him as I held out my hand and summoned a ball of fire in it. "I've been playing possum!"

  Marduke's jaw dropped as he saw the fiery globe appear. "Oh, shit," were the last coherent words he spoke before he was engulfed in flames. He stumbled around the room for close to half a minute, screaming and banging into things before he dropped to the ground. The flames went out with a small pop as I released the spell, leaving only the rising smoke from the smoldering corpse that was once my tormenter.

  I stared at the body for a few seconds. He was the second person I has killed with magic, and the first one I had done intentionally. It had been a total power rush, and I had felt like a god as I watched him burn for his crimes. I could guarantee that he'd never rape anyone or anything again.

  It occurred to me that all the activity in here might be noticed by someone, so I started working on the collar to get it off. Now that I could actually grab on to the thing without the bracers screwing with me it was pretty simple to break the catch on it. I tossed the ruined collar and four bracers onto the bed. It was tempting to reduce them to absolute rubble, but that would take time and effort I didn't want to spend.

  I walked over and picked up the sword Marduke had dropped, then went to the doors and examined them. There was a single rune on each door that I had observed them touching to cause it to open. I was about to touch the rune when the door started to swing inwards, forcing me to back off to the side in order to conceal myself from whoever was coming in.

  "Marduke!" I heard a voice shout. "What in...the...?"

  The voice trailed off as its owner saw the carnage. I stepped around and brought the sword point up under his chin. It was Lucifer.

  "Hello, Luci," I said in a mocking Ricky Ricardo voice.

  "Arden," he said with a big smile. "I'm glad I'm not too late. I was just coming down here to let you out."

  I used the tip of the sword to back him into the room. "Now why don't I believe you?" I asked as I backed away to a relatively safe distance. I didn't trust him. He probably had that body pumped up with spells. No sense in taking any chances.

  "Come on, Arden," he whined. "Why can't you be reasonable about this? As soon as I heard that Hiram gave that idiot Marduke the ring I came down here."

  I nodded. "Of course. You had to protect your investment," I countered.

  Lucifer darted over to the guard that still had a sword and drew the weapon. "I've tried to be reasonable with you, Arden, but no matter what happens, I'm not about to let you walk out that door."

  I was right. He was so fast that it was obvious he had pumped that body full of augmentation spells. You could do a lot with that kind of magic, but you couldn't build in magic defenses, and that was where I had him. I leaned casually on my sword and chuckled. "I don't think you're quite grasping the situation here." I gestured over to the still smoldering body of Marduke. "Tell me, Luci. How did he get fried?"

  Lucifer peered at the corpse for a second before glancing around to see what could have done it. He looked back at me, obviously confused. "No," he said with a weak smile and a nervous shake of his head. "That's impossible."

  A simple telekinetic spell ripped the sword from his hand and sent it flying. Another simple binding spell had him at my mercy. "Still think it's impossible?" I asked as I casually approached him.

  "You know, Arden," he said nonchalantly , "You continue to amaze me at every turn. How about we work out a deal that will make us both happy?"

  I narrowed my eyes as I glowered at him. "And just what are you going to offer me?" I asked sarcastically. "Are you going to let me raise my son in peace? Maybe you're going to let me keep my memories, is that it? Just what the hell do you have to bargain with? Give me one good reason not to kill you right here and now!" I could smell his fear. He was trapped in that mortal body. He couldn't use his magic to escape back to hell. I had him just like they had trapped Lakash all those years ago.

  "You wouldn't dare."

  I smiled and stuck my snout within an inch of his nose and grinned. "Try me."

  "All right," he said, shaking. "If you release me and allow my avatar to live, I'll personally grant you three wishes. As long as it's within my powers, you'll have it."

  Now that's what I called a tempting offer. "No more trying to block me from my quest in any way?" I appended to the bargain.


  I nodded and release the spell holding him.

  Lucifer staggered for a second before regaining his balance. "You see," he said, all cheerful and light, "we can both be most reasonable when we want to."

  I nodded and walked towards the door with Lucifer behind me. "One last question, if you don't mind," I said over my shoulder as I pressed the rune to open the door. "Did you have anything to do with Lakash's avatar getting trapped and killed in here?"

  He laughed as he straightened up his outfit. "Are you kidding? I planned it all."

  "That's what I thought." I replied as I thrust my sword backwards into his stomach.

  Lucifer grabbed the blade out of reflex and looked up at me with an astonished look on his face. "But...we had a bargain," he croaked.

  I twisted the sword a couple of times before pulling it out. He dropped slowly to his knees as his life's blood poured out onto the stones. "I lied."

  He groaned something I couldn't make out and finally collapsed. I stood over the body for a few seconds thinking about what I had done. If I had kept the bargain, I would have been assured that he wouldn't try to interfere again. But then again, who's to say he would have kept his side of the bargain? I shrugged off the question since it had become a moot point. The deed had been done and now would have to live with it.

  I stepped into the antechamber and pressed the rune on the outer doors and waited for them to open. There were two robed healers standing outside the door chatting. After it opened they turned towards me and one spoke, "That was quick..." His words trailed off as he realized that it wasn't Marduke or Lucifer leaving.

  "Surprise!" I said as I leapt forward, swinging the sword. Both healers went down without defending themselves. I almost felt guilty for having killed them, but I scolded myself for that. I couldn't leave anyone behind me that might interfere in some way.

  I took a second to assess the corridor and verify that there wasn't anyone else around to deal with. It was at that point that I realized that I was still cut off from Lakash. Without the amulet my only choice was to open a demon's gate to his realm. I only hoped that I had enough power in reserve to accomplish it.

  I concentrated on summoning the gate and felt the energy flow from me at an alarming rate. This wasn't as easy when I had to do it on my own. The gate had barely formed when something from it slammed me in the chest, knocking me on my ass. I lost control of the gate as the power of the dragon flooded back into me. The blur I had seen was the link to the dragon that Lakash had taken control of and forced to manifest in order to get his revenge. Again the power of the dragon was mine!

  I stood and reveled in the glory of the dragon's energy as it filled every nook and cranny of my body. I was totally revitalized now and I brought up my defensive shields as I prepared for combat.

  "Kill them all, Arden!" I hear Lakash's voice say. "Slaughter every last one of them!"

  "Yes, Master," I replied and set off down the corridor. Somewhere in this building Morgan and Hiram were lurking. They probably had no clue that death was stalking them at this moment, but I had no doubt that the shit would hit the fan soon and let them in on that little secret.

  I proceeded down the hallway to the door for the elevator. I hadn't seen any stairs around, so I presume that the elevator was the only way out. So be it. I noticed a pull cord dangling from a hole in the ceiling. A couple of tugs to summon the elevator and then I'd just have to wait.

  After a minute or so I heard the carriage come to a stop on the other side of the door. As the door opened, I gave it a helping paw, surprising the young man who stood inside. I backed him up against the wall at sword point as I made sure there was no one else in the boxy structure.

  "Do you want to live?" I asked with a snarl.

  The boy just nodded.

  "Do you know where Morgan is?"

  Again he nodded.

  "Take me there and I will let you live."

  I withdrew the sword and watched as the kid closed the door. He then spoke into a tube, telling someone "top floor." A couple of seconds later the elevator began its rise. While we rode the kid just stood in the corner and watched me. I made a point of not obviously paying attention to him while watching him out of the corner of my eye. After several minutes, the elevator lurched to a stop.

  "Are we there yet?" I asked.

  The kid glanced at a counter on the wall. "No. We're still a couple of floors shy of the top level."

  Damn! They had to be onto us. I grabbed the door and yanked it open. We were between floors, and they were thick, too. There was about two feet of space between the roof of the elevator and the next floor. A simple force spell blew the shaft door out and gave me a clear path into the tower. I clamped the sword between my fangs and jumped up to grab the edge with both hands. The claws on my feet scraped against the rough stone as I pulled myself out of the shaft and into a hallway.

  A loud snap caused me to turn back just in time to watch the elevator plummet down the shaft with the boy's scream of terror echoing its fall from grace. The severed cables that had supported the elevator passed by the doorway a few seconds before the box hit the bottom of the shaft. Someone had figured out I was on the loose. Oh well, it had to happen sooner or later. This just made things a little more inconvenient.

  I examined the interior of the shaft to see if I could climb it. It was relatively smooth with the exception of structural bracing that I could see every ten feet or so. I could climb the bracing, but if I did I would be vulnerable to attack. The shaft was out of the question for now.

  A quick look around showed that I was at the T intersection of two corridors. One was a circular corridor that led around the inner circumference of the tower, the other led outwards directly from the elevator shaft.

  "Left," I heard Lakash say in my head.

  Ok, the boss says left, I go left. I turned and ran down the hallway. There were doors on either side of the corridor but I couldn't worry about them. I wouldn't have much time before the alarm went out, and then I would have to deal with the magi.

  The sound of running feet echoed faintly down the corridor from ahead, giving me warning that someone was coming from the other direction. I stopped next to a support pillar and began to wrap an illusion around myself. Anyone who wasn't paying very close attention shouldn't see anything out of the usual. Just in case though, I held my acquired sword at the ready. A few seconds later a squad of four guards ran past my position. The two in the rear were scanning the sides of the hall as they ran, but failed to penetrate my illusion. I stepped away form the wall, breaking the spell and continued running, only now I took the precaution of silencing my footfalls against the floor. Sound had saved me from a run-in with the enemy, and I didn't intend to give them that advantage in return.

  Lakash had me pass up several minor cross-corridors by simply telling me to continue on at each one without explanation. After several hundred meters and a couple more close calls with patrols, I heard the sound of a large group of people moving around.

  I slowed my advance and kept a wary eye ahead to see what all the commotion was about. As the corridor curved, I could see another, much larger intersection ahead. This one was a main thoroughfare, and from the number of people running around I'd say this is where Lakash wanted me to be.

  A red-robed wizard was giving directions while numerous squads in armor kept entering and leaving the area. I was still trying to get and idea of what I would be up against when I noticed a black robed mage glance down the corridor and freeze. I silently cursed and fired a single mana-dart that struck him squarely in the chest, dropping him like a rag. The others around him looked at his body in confusion until the red robed wizard began shouting directions.

  As I watched, a good dozen or so armed men charged towards my position. Thanks to the curvature of the corridor I was a good hundred or so meters away from the intersection. That gave me plenty of time. I stepped out of sight so they wouldn't be able to nail me with a spell and summoned a fireball. I counted to five as I pumped power into it, then turned and fired it down the hallway. The sphere rapidly grew in size as it shot down the corridor, catching most of the guards in its path. A couple of guards, however, had managed to avoid the attack by diving out of its path. I steered the fireball around the curve and into the center of the intersection before I detonated it.

  The explosion was tremendous, sending flames shooting back down the corridor well beyond my current position. Maybe I used a little too much mana. Fortunately, my defenses had held, though it had gotten a bit hot even for me. I made a mental note to be careful about pumping up spells. In the spirit realm it's pretty hard to kill yourself accidentally. That's not true about screwing up in the real world.

  Once the flames cleared, I set off at a trot towards the intersection while keeping an eye out for any movement. That wasn't an easy thing to do since there was a lot of smoke floating around. I had to be careful not to trip over any bodies as I proceeded.

  The fur on my back ruffled as a wind sucking the air from behind me and towards the intersection. While I watched, the smoke streamed around the corner and down the hallway to the right. Someone had set up some ventilation to clear the air.

  I picked up the pace and stopped at the corner of the intersection. A quick glance around the corner showed the two mages still standing, but they were the only ones. They were about ten feet down the hallway to the right, the same way the wind was blowing. I double checked my defenses and charged around the corner. One of the mages had obviously been expecting me and I got nailed by a very powerful electrical attack that set up a spider web pattern over my shield as it was deflected. Three steps took me to within striking range. My first blow bounced off his shield. The second swing I augmented with magic and penetrated, striking down the red robed mage.

  The other mage backed away, holding his hands up. "I yield and swear non-allegiance."

  Huh? What the hell did that mean? I didn't have time to figure it out. "Sorry, but the boss says everyone dies." The look of betrayal on his face bothered me as I took his life. What kind of rule had I just broken here?

  There was no time to worry about that. I looked further down the corridor and saw daylight. It was then that I realized that this corridor lead to the hangar area of the building. I started off in that direction, but Lakash ordered me back. There were people he wanted dead inside.

  I started down the hallway at a trot and came to a set of stairs that lead up in a broad, three-cornered rise that would make it easy for any porters carrying a heavy load. I paused before stepping on the stairs and listened. I could hear the distant rustle of armor. Someone was setting up an ambush.

  Worried that someone might dump something on me as I passed through the opening, I summoned a shield of force overhead and then proceeded onto the stairs. No such attack came. I looked up at the balcony and couldn't see anyone. Apparently they had decided to set their ambush up a ways back from the stairs. That would be wise. It would allow their mages more time to try and counter my magic.

  I quickly made my way up the stairs, stopping just shy of the top. Quickly, I poked my head over the edge and glanced down the hallway before ducking again. There were at least a dozen archers at the ready about thirty meters down the hallway. Behind them were mages in various robes as magical defense and possibly offense. Damn, this was going to be hard.

  "Arden!" That was Morgan's voice. "I know you're there. Let's try and settle this like reasonable sentient beings."

  I shook my head. "How about I act like an unreasonable female who's had someone try to steal her memories and manipulate her and her unborn child against her will!"

  "Come on, Arden," he pleaded back. "That was all Celion's idea, though I must admit it sounded pretty good to me at the time."

  I laughed. "You want to know a couple of interesting facts about your boy, Celion?" I asked cheerfully.

  "Such as?" Morgan asked back cautiously.

  "Such as the bastard's real name is Nalboljia!"

  "That's not true!" he shouted back defiantly. "They're two entirely different creatures!"

  I chuckled. "You want to hear the other little secret about your boy, Celion?"

  "Sure! Why not?" The way he said it lent no illusion to the fact that he thought I was crazy.

  I felt a large grin grace my face. "Your buddy Celion made the mistake of coming into the chamber after I had freed myself from Hiram's collar." I paused for a second to let that sink in. "You know where I'm going with this, don't you?" There was no answer. "OK, Morgan! I'll spell it out for you. I killed his avatar! Slaughtered the bastard just like your people did Lakash. Your buddy Celion is history, Morgan, HISTORY!"

  "No!" It was barely a horse whisper. "That can't be."

  "That's right, asshole! I banished his ass. So now it looks like you're up the creak without a demigod, eh?" God, I was enjoying this way too much.

  "Hold this position. Make sure she doesn't get by," Morgan said to someone near him.

  "Yes, sir," came the answer.

  Morgan wasn't about to get away now that I knew where he was. I summoned up another fireball and stoked it like I had before, this time for a full ten count. Once again I popped up for a second and lobbed the ball down the hall and then maximized my shields. The sphere reached their lines and detonated. I smiled as I waited for the flames to clear. That smile vanished as I peeked over the upper step and saw their line intact and unscathed. The mages were protecting the line. OK, so this wasn't going to be that easy.

  I shifted my sight and looked at the magic that supported the barrier. It was an ingenious spell. It would stop anything coming from my direction while allowing the archers to fire unhindered by the barrier. Each of the mage was responsible for supporting a section of the barrier. It was ingenious, but not foolproof. They didn't have enough full sorcerers to do the trick so they had conscripted some of the younger magi. I could see where the other magi had tried to cover for their lack of ability, but not quite managing. I would concentrate on the weak spots.

  I summoned another fireball, but didn't bother pumping it up and left it floating beside me. I then prepared two mana-darts of normal strength and a third one that I pumped. Once the preparations were done I lobbed the fireball down the corridor and watched as it detonated against the shield. I then took that opportunity to blind-fire the two normal darts at a younger magi on the left side of the barrier. As soon as I could see my target on the opposite end I slammed the remaining dart with all my strength at the third mage from the right. As expected, they had almost all concentrated on reinforcing the mage to the left, leaving my real target on the right exposed. The dart shattered his shield and blew a hole through his chest. That side of the shield collapsed.

  I summoned another fireball, stood and hurled it down the corridor. Bowstrings twanged as several archers took a shot of opportunity. I twisted to the side, more out of reflex than any concern for getting hit. All the arrows passed harmlessly by my shield except for one, which passed through as if it wasn't there and nailed me in the left thigh.

  I cried out and fell back, sliding painfully down the stairs as I clutched my leg. How the hell had that thing penetrated my shield? The arrow had passed all the way through the thigh, leaving the head sticking out the back. I reached back and snapped the shaft and looked at the head. It was made of a pewter-colored metal and inlaid with gold and silver.

  "That's a dragon slayer. Your magic can't stop it!" I heard Lakash say in my head.

  "Now you tell me," I replied sarcastically.

  I yanked out the shaft while cursing at the pain. That hurt! The sound of running feet got my attention. Where there was one bad-assed arrow, there surely were more. But that meant that they had left their magic protection behind.

  It was time for a change of tactics so I summoned a ball of electricity and pumped it while I listened to the feet getting closer. After four seconds I fired the ball up the stairs and detonated it at the top. Arcs of electricity shot from the sphere, striking the stone and ricocheting off of it and down the hall in a spiderweb of pyrotechnics. The incoherent sound of screams echoed as the unprotected warriors felt the bite of my magic.

  I climbed unsteadily to my feet. That leg hurt, damn it! That was another thing I would have to thank Lakash for not mentioning. I checked the bleeding and saw that it wasn't severe. The dragon's regenerative ability had kicked in already, though it would still be quite some time before the wound was totally healed.

  Cautiously I made my way up the stairs and peeked over the top. I had been right. The warriors couldn't resist the chance to take me out and had charged. Their corpses littered the hallway leading to the stairs. One had actually fallen less than two feet from the first step. It had to have sucked to be him.

  I didn't see any signs of the mages. They must have fallen back to where Morgan waited. I stopped at an ornamental weapons display on the wall and took down a halberd. It would make a serviceable walking stick as well as a decent weapon.

  Painfully limping, I continued to make my way down the corridor while listening for voices. Someone could be heard giving orders, but I wasn't quite sure where it was coming from. I stopped at each intersection and listened until I finally found the right one. They were down the last intersection on the left. Past that, the corridor went on another fifty feet where it terminated at a balcony that overlooked the hangar area.

  I peeked my head around the corner and ducked back as a mana-dart shot past where my head had been and smacked the far wall, putting a fairly large hole in it. Damn, someone big was down that corridor; they were fast and they were good.

  Paranoid about taking more damage, I reinforced my shield and peeked my head back around the corner while preparing a mana-bolt. There were three mages, and the one in the middle fired a dart at me, causing me to tighten up my defenses even more. The bolt struck my shield, and rather than being deflected it detonated, knocking me on my ass.

  "What the hell?" I muttered as I shook my head to clear it.

  "That was a necromancer," Lakash said.

  "Christ!" I responded vehemently as I got back up. "How the hell did he nail me so hard? I had my defenses up at maximum."

  "A necromancer's magic is dynamically opposed to arcane magic. Your magic and his will react violently whenever they meet. You are both screwed for defense against each other."

  I rubbed the bridge of my snout and took a deep breath to clear my head. "Great, so I can just nail the guy with a mana-ball and be done with it?" I asked knowing it wouldn't be that easy.

  "Not with the other two mages protecting him, no."

  Oh man, this is NOT what I needed to hear. "So I'm going to have to find some way to take out the two sorcerers protecting him first while not getting my ass kicked by him then?"

  "I'm afraid so," Lakash replied solemnly. "Unless....."

  "Unless what?" Anything would be useful now.

  "Did Nanuk teach you her song of harmony?

  I thought about it for a second. "Yah, she did. Why?"

  "That song can act as a barrier between your magic and his. Nanuk's magic isn't quite the same as the rest of the arcane."

  I nodded. "OK. So I use that to augment my shield and that will protect me," I said to confirm his logic.

  "No," he responded. "The force of the bolt would penetrate the song. However, you could use the song to augment the spell you used to capture my mana-darts when we were sparing in the spirit realm, and do the same with his."

  Now I was confused. "What's the point?"

  "Trust me."

  He sounded like Joe Isuzu, but I didn't have much choice in the matter. I systematically began setting up the spells that would capture the bolts, slow them down and merge them together while I was singing Nanuk's song. It was slow going, but I soon got the hang of combining the two magics and completed the spell. The pisser was that Nanuk's song was draining my native reserves. If I got captured again, I was screwed for sure.

  Satisfied with my work I layered my defenses to give me some protection if I got nailed again with one of his spells, and then I got ready for action. I began summoning mana-balls and hurling them down the corridor at odd intervals. The mages managed to counter the first few I threw before the mage on the left fell. Meanwhile, the necromancer had good reflexes, and was returning fire and getting pretty damned close. I hurriedly formed the next mana-ball and popped around the corner to toss it while the one mage was down, but saw that another had moved in to replace him. I cursed as I let go of my spell as I realized that the necromancer had anticipated my reaction. His spell slammed into my outer defenses and detonated, throwing me backwards against the wall on the far side.

  Dazed for a second, I slid down to the floor as my knees buckled beneath me. I shook my head to clear it and saw the necromancer throwing another spell my way. I smiled as I extended the catcher field and watched the bolt get sucked off to the side and stored with the other mana. The necromancer got a confused look for a moment and fired off another spell which also got diverted into my catcher. For the first time, he could see his spells being diverted. I smiled and rolled out of the way. I didn't want him to catch on too quickly.

  "That's enough mana. Now I want you to use Nanuk's song as a buffer between his magic and your own as you encapsulate it in a mana sphere."

  Ok, he's the boss. I collapsed the catcher spell while singing Nanuk's song. The necromancer's mana hung suspended in front of me as I slowly layered in more and more arcane energies, until it had almost doubled in size.

  "Enough! Now, gently throw it so that it will just miss the left wall. You want it to go as far as possible before detonating."

  "Why?" I asked confused. "If I miss the mages then they'll have a chance to deflect the blast." Now I was really confused.

  "Stop asking stupid questions and do what I said."

  "Yes, Master. Whatever you say, Master. Right away, Master," I continued griping as I maneuvered myself so as to be able to launch the ball. I lobbed a fireball down the hallway to act as a distraction without actually looking at where it would hit. Before it even detonated, I stuck my head out and slung the combination ball towards the far end of the hallway and was rewarded to see it slow down to a speed not much better than a fast walk.

  "What the hell?" I asked, too confused to do more than stare.

  "I suggest you get to cover, Arden!" Lakash directed.

  I ducked back just as a mana-bolt went tearing by where my head had been.

  "Actually, I would suggest that you exit the building." he said as an afterthought.

  "Exit the building? How the hell am I supposed to get out of here?" I asked as I tried to remember if I had seen any other staircases.

  "I would suggest that you jump out the opening in front of you," he replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

  "Are you NUTS?" I responded at the thought of jumping out the hangar door. We had to be several hundred feet up.

  "No, I'm not nuts. And if you value your life, I suggest you get your tail in gear and get out of there before that sphere hits something!"

  I thought about the sphere for a second and cursed. I didn't even bother trying to dodge anything the necromancer might throw as I sprinted across the intersection while trying to ignore the throbbing pain in my leg. Fortunately he had assumed that I was going to snipe him again and missed me by a large margin.

  Once I reached the railing I leapt over it without slowing down. The landing was hard, but I hit and rolled to absorb the shock. Unfortunately my left thigh wasn't up to the strain and my attempt to hop up from the roll failed miserably as I fell flat on my face. Cursing and struggling back to my feet, I favored that left leg. Fortunately there wasn't anyone in the large open area to bother me as I made tracks for the exit.

  "You do realize that you never bothered to teach me how to fly, right?" I asked as I approached the opening.

  "Yes, I am well aware." The son of a bitch actually sounded annoyed that I would ask.

  He had better know what he was doing, I thought grimly. Squinting against the sunlight as I reached the edge of the opening I shoved off for all I was worth, praying that Lakash wasn't going to get me killed.

Chapter 40