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 40

From hell's heart I spit at thee!

  "Oh SHIT!" I cried out, seeing just how high I was. It wasn't just a couple of hundred meters, but rather easily half a kilometer from the ledge to the ground. I hadn't really paid attention to just how tall that damn building was when the dragon landed. Now that little detail had suddenly become a priority. I had been forced to learn how to parachute from an aircraft in the military and had hated it. This time I had jumped out the door without the safety of silk on my back. To make things more interesting, I had leapt out into a battle zone.

  I now knew why there weren't any dragons left in the tower. They were all outside fighting another group of dragons. The sleek black wyrms that had been part of the Black Cabal were fighting a motley assortment of elder wyrms of various breeds. Blue, white, gold, silver, green, all different color dragons, all were ancient and all were fighting with the blacks for control of the air. Although the younger dragons were more nimble in the air than the older wyrms, they lacked the experience that came from a lifetime of combat. I was just glad that they were too busy fighting to notice me.

  Or rather, that's what I thought. I was about to start bitching at Lakash to hurry up and tell me how I was supposed to survive a one-kilometer fall without a parachute when I heard a huge roar behind me. I rolled over on my back and got an eyeful of bronze dragon that was swooping on me with his clawed hand extended. I hadn't just fought my way out of that snake pit to become some lizard's lunch, so I began to summon up an attack spell to deter him from dining on doggy.

  "Don't! He's your ride out of here," I heard Lakash say.

  "Great," I quipped to myself, "Welcome aboard Air Draconis. Please fasten your seatbelts. This is going to be one hell of a ride!"

  I enhanced the shielding around myself to act as a buffer. He was going considerably faster than I was and this looked like it was going to hurt. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. At the last minute he dodged to the side and snatched me out of the air as a black dragon blew through the space he had been headed for. I thought he had avoided the attack completely but saw the black's tail slash down, catching the bronze in the side, wounding him.

  "Protect him! He can't fight properly while carrying you!"

  Oh yah! Like I was going to be able to shield something the size of a B52? "The best defense is a good offense," I mumbled to myself. If he couldn't fight with me in his claws, then maybe I could keep the other dragons off his ass a little, though that would be more literal than I had intended. Being held close to his body, about all I could see was his ass, tail and wings. His body blocked a majority of the sky.

  "Hey! You!" I shouted while banging on one of his talons. "I need a target! Give me something to shoot at!"

  I suppose he heard me since he did a quick barrel roll. It was too fast for me to really target anything, much less shoot. If anything, all he had accomplished was to make me dizzy and nauseous.

  "Yo! A little slower if you please!" I shouted back up to him.

  "PREPARE. ONE ATTACKS FROM ABOVE," I heard resonate in my head. It felt like he had used a bullhorn at point blank range.

  Taking advantage of his warning, I began to summon a ball of electrical energy. I didn't trust anything fire-based and wasn't sure how well-protected they were from mana. If nothing else, maybe it would act kind of like a big Tazer and stun them.

  The wyrm snap-rolled over so hard I almost lost concentration on the ball. As I got my wits back, I saw a large black stooping on us with his talons out to rake the bronze. I gave the spell one last goose of power and fired it away, flying it like a remote-controlled missile. The black spotted the spell and twisted far harder than I had believed possible, causing my spell to slip by him. I detonated the spell just behind him, catching his flank and tail in the explosion of electricity. The black roared as he tried to recover from the sudden deviation in flight caused by the muscle spasms in his tail. 

  I summoned another sphere of electricity as the bronze began to roll back over again. The black pulled out of his dive below us and began to pump his wings to climb back up to our altitude. Once again I fired off the spell, but this time I was better prepared for his agility. Although I missed the main body, I managed to bring the sphere up into the shoulder joint and detonate it there. As I watched, the powerful muscles in the wing convulsed, snapping the hollow bone and sending the dragon in an uncontrolled spin towards the ground below.

  I was too busy gloating over my victory to notice that we were approaching the perimeter of the guardian towers. Liquid fire invaded every cell of my body, forcing a scream from my muzzle. The bronze dragon convulsed, squeezing me dangerously as we passed through the barrier spell that had been erected between the towers. I gasped for breath as I looked back and marveled at the sheer amount of power they could generate to support such a huge spell.

  I was even more amazed when I saw the top of the tower obliterated by a huge explosion. As I watched, a shockwave swept outwards from the complex towards the guardian towers, battering dragons with the force of its power. To my amazement, the shockwave rebounded from the guardian towers back towards the complex in the center, again smiting the wyrms with its impact. After a few seconds I saw the central tower begin to lean and fall in slow motion. It shattered into huge fragments, which scattered out towards one of the towers, striking the crystal on top and destroying it. In a flash of feedback, the energy in the shield snapped away from the destroyed tower, causing a chain reaction in each crystal it encountered as the uncontrolled power fed back to the opposite side, finally detonating in a flash that blinded me.

  All I could see was a bright orange spot in front of my eyes as we were hit by the shockwave. I'll give that bronze credit. Although we went on one hell of a roller coaster ride as he tried to ride out the blast, he never dropped me, for which I'll be eternally grateful.

  After a few seconds, I started to get my sight back and saw that we were dangerously low. The dragon wasn't pumping for altitude any more. I don't blame the guy; he had been through a hell of a lot.

  From the rate of descent, I figured that he was going for a landing on the far side of a small lake. As we came in low over the water near the shore, he began to slow down and pull into a stall. I just figured that he was going to land and set me down, but got quite a surprise when he dropped me into the water from about fifty feet up without warning.

  I surfaced, sputtering for air as I coughed up a lung full of water I had swallowed. "You stupid son of a..." I let the rant trail off as I spotted where the dragon had landed. Actually, landed wouldn't be the right word, it was more like crash-landed. There was a trench in the dirt and loam for about twenty meters behind the dragon as it lay, sprawled out in the high grasses.

  It only took me a couple of minutes to swim to shore from where he had dropped me. I shivered, trying to shake the water out of my fur after reaching dry ground. Sometimes I really missed having a full-body fur dryer, or being human.

  Once I had shaken off most of the water I made my way along the prone body of the dragon, amazed at the amount of damage he had taken and survived. As I watched, he took in a ragged breath, releasing it noisily. I could see a huge sliver of stone imbedded in his back just below the shoulder blades. No wonder he hadn't been able to fly properly. Just the fact that he had made it this far at all was incredible.

  I quickly worked my way around the outstretched wing and cautiously approached his head. For a moment, I thought he might have been unconscious, but the huge eye opened and looked out at me.


  I didn't know what to say. I wanted to remove the stone and heal the wound, but I knew that was beyond my powers. Maybe, if I had Nanuk's help and was able to tap her power I might be able to do something, but not now, not like this.

  "Thank you for rescuing me," I finally said rather lamely.

  He took another long, rattling breath. "SUCH A SMALL CREATURE. SUCH A LARGE...DESTINY..." He closed his eyes as the breath wheezed out of him.

  "Destiny?" I asked. "What destiny?"

  The eye opened again, but didn't focus on me. "THE PROPHECY."

  "Prophecy?" I repeated. "What prophecy?" Nobody had said anything to me about a prophecy!

  "YOU WILL RESTORE THE GREAT DRAGON TO HIS FORMER GLORY." I could almost see the light go out in the huge eye as his spirit passed from this world.

  I walked back over to his wing as I thought about what he had said. Apparently there was some kind of prophecy that I was going to restore the great dragon, which confused the hell out of me since the great dragon looked pretty damned good. It's not like Lakash was short of power or anything, so I didn't think that was what he was talking about.

  I climbed up on to the leading edge of the wing and leaned back against the joint as I thought about what had happened. I had been stunned by the destruction of the tower. I knew that mana ball that Lakash had me fashion would be powerful, but it shouldn't have been able to do that. Not all by itself anyway.

  "It didn't," came Lakash's voice in my head.

  "Damn it Lakash!" I complained. "Would you quit listening in on my thoughts."

  "Stop thinking about me and I'll stop listening in," came the response.

  I let out a sigh of exasperation and rubbed the bridge of my snout. It was times like these that I really missed ibuprofen. "Ok, if the spell didn't do it, then what did?" I asked aloud.

  "That's kind of complicated."

  I scowled and replied, "I seem to have plenty of time now."

  I could hear Lakash getting annoyed. "If you must know, Morgan had opened a gate to Lucifer's realm and was in the process of summoning a couple of heavy hitters to capture you. I simply made sure that the mana ball came in contact with the gate."

  "How did you do that?" I asked confused. "There's no way you could direct the ball without manifesting."

  "Correct. I didn't manifest. Illiam did. He controlled the ball all the way to the circle, then fought with the magi to prevent them from stopping it before it could contact the gate."

  Oh no. I had a bad feeling about this. "What happened to Illiam?"

  "He was destroyed, of course."

  Son of a bitch! He had thrown away Illiam's life like it was nothing. Used him as a pawn in the game.

  "I don't see what you're getting all worked up for. It's not like he was a living creature. In fact, I've already created a replacement for him."

  I pushed myself upright and paused to look at my left paw. It was covered with blood that was trickling down from the wound in the dragons back. Thinking back, I realized that Lakash had thrown away the lives of all the dragons he had sent to raid the tower when the bomb detonated. There was no way any of them could have survived that explosion.

  With a casual wave of my hand, I summoned a gate and stepped into Lakash's realm. The bastard gave me a cheerful smile, so I nailed him with a mana bolt. Unfortunately he had been prepared for it. The bolt reflected harmlessly off of his defenses.

  "Come, come now, Arden," he said "With all the people you've sacrificed over the years for one reason or another. You don't seriously think that they could make a dent in all the beings I've had to sacrifice over the ages, do you?"

  I was about to argue, but he continued talking. "Besides, you have other matters that are more pressing." With a wave of his hand, a large window into the real world appeared.  Through it, I could see Sheila standing with a couple of guards behind him. In the distance, through the haze of the scrying spell, I saw a large circular room that almost resembled a coliseum.

  A small man was standing a short distance in front of Sheila, talking. "Withholding the location of someone wanted for sedition is a treasonous offense," he said.

  "Arden has committed no sedition," Sheila replied steadfast.

  The small man approached a couple of steps and shook an ornate stick at him. "We have the testimony of William tu Shodan ri Aleska, a member of the Imperial Personal Guard that she tried to attack and kill the Crown Prince while at the Duke's castle during the time you were a guest there."

  "The little bastard raped her!" he shouted back in defiance.

  The small man turned to face someone we couldn't see. "You see, my liege? He shows contempt for the crown just as his bitch did. I demand that he be charged with sedition, also!"

  Lakash dismissed the image. "Just what do you plan on doing about this?" he asked with a knowing smirk.

  I frowned at him and thought for a second. "Where are they keeping him?"

  His smirk changed into a smile, possibly of approval. "At the Arcanum in the capital city."

  I nodded. "Well, it's not like I didn't need to go there anyway," I replied thoughtfully. "I guess I'll just have to go and make an appearance."

  Lakash gave a little chuckle. "Looking like that?" he said as he waved to me.

  He had a point. I looked like a mess. Fortunately that was easily corrected. In a matter of seconds I had my fur cleaned, groomed and looking like new. I summoned up the same pattern of silks I had started out with last time, and donned them.

  "Nice fashion statement," Lakash commented. "However, I think that you would look better wearing this." At his gesture, a manikin appeared with some armor on it. I examined the texture and found that it felt like some sort of cured silk. It was tough and resilient while still light and flexible. The surface was embroidered with rampaging dragons.

  "Very nice," I commented as I ran my fingers over the surface, "but why the fancy duds?"

  "You are my Paladin, and as such you should be properly outfitted," he replied walking over to the armor. "This armor has been fashioned to match your eastern martial arts fighting style. I have woven spells into it that will help protect you from magical and non-magical attacks alike. It will also enhance your speed, strength and stealth. It will serve you well in combat."

  I took off the top and slipped it on. Once I got it on, I could hardly tell that it was there. With a smile, I began to don the rest of the outfit. "What about swords?" I asked as I put on the leggings.

  "Swords?" Lakash echoed. "Where are your swords?"

  I looked up at him with an expression that shouted 'DUH!' "Do you see my swords anywhere?" I asked sarcastically. "They were taken from me when I was captured."

  Lakash began to rub his chin. "I hadn't taken that into account. After all the time you spent remaking your swords, I had expected you to keep them."

  Giving the last tie a hard yank, I strode angrily over to Lakash and spun him around. "Look, asshole. I wouldn't have been captured if you hadn't screwed me over and left me in a lurch."

  He blinked and realized that I had him at a disadvantage. "You had better go take care of your mate," he replied, changing the subject.

  Damn him. I wanted to kick his ass, but Sheila was in trouble. I summoned up my defenses and prepared for the possibility of battle. "This isn't over," I said angrily and started to summon a gate.

  "Arden," he said, interrupting my spell. "Remember, you're entering the central chamber of the Arcanum. There will be hundreds of mages there. You can't win if you start a fight."

  He was right, of course. I had managed to pull off a few tricks and get the better of a dozen or so. There was no way I would stand a chance against the combined might of a hundred or more magi.

  "Once you've crossed over, I want you to leave the gate open," he directed. "No matter what happens, you must anchor that side of the gate and keep it open."

  I gave him a look that mirrored my confusion. "Why?"

  "The Arcanum has defenses that prevent such gates from being opened," he explained as he turned back to the image of Sheila. "It's only because your mate wears my amulet that you can channel through it and create a gate. If he were not there, you would have to appear somewhere outside their shields and make your way inside."

  I nodded with understanding. "And if I let the gate collapse, I won't be able to summon up another one," I said, completing his explanation. "You're not going to do anything stupid, are you? No sending the dragon through, or something similar that's going to leave me screwed, are you?"

  He laughed and shook his head. "No. I have other help that can be sent through if needed. And it will provide you and your mate an escape route if needed."

  That was an aspect that hadn't occurred to me. If the feces hit the oscillating rotary atmospheric motivator, it would behoove us to have an escape route that the Arcanum couldn't block.

  "Remember," he said approaching me, "your purpose there is to get the Chro'nisphorum. Without it, your ability to complete your quest will be in doubt."

  I pinched the bridge of my snout again. I could feel a real tension headache starting to work its way up the back of my neck. I had completely forgotten about that damn trinket.

  "All right," I replied as I adjusted my outfit. "I'll try to be a good, calm little vixen and not start any wars."

  Lakash nodded and summoned up the image of Sheila and his surroundings again. "Good. I'll keep an eye on you from here in case you need backup."

  Hmm. For a second there, I almost got the feeling that his concern for me was a kind of apology for screwing up so bad, until I realized just how bad off he would be at this juncture if I died. Lucifer had nailed it right on the head when he said that Lakash had a huge amount of time and energy invested in me. My death now would cost him dearly. That would also explain his investment of mana in the creation of protective armor.

  I derailed that train of thought and shoved it away where I wouldn't worry about it. One thing I couldn't afford while dealing with the Arcanum was the distraction of worrying about his motivations. With a deep breath I centered myself, summoned a gate and stepped through it and into the Arcanum.

  The room was a large, circular affair about 75 meters or so in diameter. Directly in front of where Sheila stood, on the other side of the room, was a podium similar to what you would see a council or panel sitting on. Behind them on a fancy, raised chair sat Hiram, all gussied up in his official trappings as Prince Regent and heir to the throne. Around the central ring were rows and rows of seats that rose in concentric rings away from the center. A good third of the peanut gallery was populated.

  Half a dozen guards crawled out of the woodwork and clustered around me with polearms aimed in my direction. The small man with the bad haircut backed hastily away from my general vicinity. I guess he hadn't been expecting me.

  "I understand you folks have been looking for me?" I commented in a theatric voice to make sure everyone in the room could hear it. "You'll have to excuse my tardiness, but I was unavoidably delayed."

  Hiram's knuckles turned white as he gripped the arms of his chair. There was a brief look of horror and amazement on his face before he got his emotions under control. There was no way he could know what I had done to his buddies yet.

  The little man regained his composure and returned to his small stand near where Sheila was being held. "Are you the creature known as Arden?" he asked in an officious tone.

  I gave a derisive snort. "What do you think?" I asked sarcastically.

  "Just answer the question," he replied in an annoyed tone of voice.

  "I am that very creature," I said with a toothy smile and a shallow bow. "And just who may you be?"

  He gave his own snort of derision, as if I should know who he was. "I am the High Judicial Prosecutor."

  "Nice to meet you, Mr. High Judicial Prosecutor," I replied politely. "Now, care to explain what the hell my lord is doing in chains?"

  "This is an official inquiry into whether or not you should be charged with sedition and making an attempt on the life of the crown," he replied. "Your lord is to stand trial as your accomplice."

  I glanced over at Sheila then back at the prosecutor. "My actions are my own. Release him." My voice was hard as steel and brooked no argument. Unfortunately he either didn't recognize it or decided to ignore it.

  "Absolutely not," he emphatically replied. "And I suggest that you make things easier on yourself and don't try to resist arrest."

  I heard a jingle off to the side. It was another guard carrying a set of manacles. "No way in hell am I letting him put those on me," I said with a low grow, backing the little man up with my anger. "Twice I have been captured and put in chains. Both times as a result of the orders of that man." I pointed up to the prince and noticed that he was sweating. "Each time I was beaten and raped by him." I looked back over at the small man and snarled. "So you can take your god damned chains and shove them where the sun doesn't shine!"

  "This is an outrage!" Hiram shouted out as he stood. "I will not sit here and be accused of such heinous acts by that---that---thing! I demand that it be destroyed at once!" The robe he was wearing flapped open for a second, giving me a glimpse of the hilt for my Katana as it stuck out of his belt. The little shit had my sword!

  "Please, your Highness," the sorcerer in the center of the bench pleaded. "There are forms which must be followed, even with a case such as this."

  "That's right, Hiram," I said, mocking his name. "You aren't going to get rid of me that easily! You're going to pay for your crimes!"

  He sat back down on his throne and tried to wave off my accusations. "I have no idea what this creature is talking about. I had nothing to do with anything that has happened to it. The thing is obviously delusional."

  "No, you just gave the orders," I replied sarcastically. "First time around you had Marduke do your dirty work. This time you conspired with the Black Cabal to abduct me. Too bad you have a history of hiring losers, otherwise you might have gotten away with it."

  The prosecutor looked shocked at my last statement. "You have had dealings with the Black Cabal?"

  I stared at the idiot for a second in disbelief. "If you consider being attacked, knocked out, shackled and held captive against your will, as well as made available for his hornyness over there to rape as dealings with the Black Cabal, then I would have to say yes."

  He narrowed his gaze and scowled at me. "And just what kind of bargain did you make with them in order to buy your freedom?"

  "Bargain?" I asked back. "No bargain. Unless you consider sending every last one of them to hell any kind of a bargain." I thought about it for a second. "Well. I guess that would make it a bargain for you guys since you didn't have to lift a finger."

  "This is insane!" Hiram yelled. He was sweating profusely now. "Do you hear it? The damned thing is claiming to have destroyed the Black Cabal single handedly."

  "I never said that!" I replied angrily.

  I took a step forward and hastily dodged a pike that had been thrust into my path. The guard with the pike feinted with it again to drive me back. I grabbed the shaft and held it firm as he tried to pull it away. "If you try to stick me with that thing again, I'm going to break it over your head," I said in a low, quiet and angry voice. "Do you understand me?"

  I watched as the guard's eyes widened as he swallowed, before I let go of it. The man staggered out of my way, making sure that the weapon point wasn't near me, though he still kept it at the ready.

  I looked back over at Hiram and continued my rant. "I never said I did it alone. I had a lot of help. Over thirty elder wyrms gave their lives in the fight that ultimately destroyed the Black Cabal's tower." Ok, so it wasn't quite the truth. It was close enough for government work.

  "You have had dealings with dragons?" the little man asked incredulously.

  Who was this guy? Forrest Gump? "Are you stupid or something?" I almost expected him to come back with 'stupid is as stupid does' but it didn't happen. "I happen to be Lakash's Paladin. I represent the embodiment of the spirit of the Dragon Eternal."

  There was a loud banging as the central sorcerer banged a gavel. "There will be order in this courtroom. These outbursts will end right now." He gave me a hard look and then glanced up at Hiram to see if he was going to object. Hiram didn't bother to notice.

  "You, madam, are accused of sedition against the state. How do you plead?" He was definitely taking a no nonsense approach to this.

  "You have not told me exactly what acts that I have committed which constitute sedition." Let's see just what I had put my foot in.

  The sorcerer glanced at a parchment then removed his specs. "The attempted murder of the Prince Regent as well as slander of the crown. Both of which are considered sedition against the crown, punishable by death."

  I smiled and shrugged. "Well, to be honest, I wasn't trying to kill him. I was just going to castrate him," I said it like it was a good thing, which it was to me. However it got a gasp from the crowd as well as a shocked look from the sorcerers behind the bench, along with another round of banging on the gavel.

  "As for slander, if you people use the same definition of slander, then what I say about Little Lord Rapes-A-Lot up there would have to be untrue." Again I shrugged. "Since its are all true, then I guess the charge of slander is out."

  "And just what proof do you bring us that his highness has committed these crimes," he asked, spreading his hands towards the empty bench. "You claim that he conspired with the Black Cabal. You also claim that they have been destroyed. How convenient for you that there are none left who can be interrogated to determine the voracity of your statement. Still, if you can show some proof, this council is willing to listen."

  I smiled. "You want proof. Look behind you," I said pointing to Hiram. "That little twit is wearing my sword. Ask him how he got it. I would love to hear that tale."

  Hiram's hand went to the hilt of the sword as the sorcerers turned to look. "The explanation is quite simple," he said stalling for a second. "They were given to me by... the bard Danedajin when he arrived. I had no idea where he got the weapons. I simply assumed they were a gift to the new regent."

  The sorcerers talked excitedly amongst themselves for a second while Hiram sweated. The lead sorcerer spoke again. "Guards. Find the bard, Danedajin and bring him forth."

  A couple of the guards hightailed it out the door behind me. From the looks of the council, they weren't paying much attention to me so I decided to talk to Sheila. I walked up to him, giving the guards the evil eye when they started to interfere.

  I put my paw on his chest and looked up at him. "Are you ok?" I asked in a low voice for privacy.

  He nodded and glanced around before answering. "Yah, but I wish they'd take these damned chains off. They make my entire body itch."

  I looked closely at the manacles and collar. They were the same style that the cabal had used when they captured me to block my access to magic. They were of a heavy-duty construction and would be almost impossible for anyone to break. Fortunately, they were only designed to thwart someone inside the chains.

  "You see the portal I came through?" I whispered into Sheila's ear and waited for his nod. "I'm going to remove these. If things get hairy, make a dash for the portal. You'll be safe on the other side."

  I waited for Sheila's nod again before I shifted my sight and looked around the room. There were extremely powerful barriers in place around the perimeter between the peanut gallery and the floor. There was also a barrier between the council and where we stood, though it wasn't nearly as powerful. A look at the guards showed that they wore magic armor to help protect them, and they wielded enchanted weapons, but they didn't appear to have any active spells on them. The only person near us with any magic ability appeared to be the prosecutor.

  "Showtime," I said and began to cast the spell.

  "Stop that!" the prosecutor ordered as soon as he noticed my casting.

  Another second and the spell was completed. With a flick of my fingers, the rings of force I had summoned expanded, shattering Sheila's bonds. I then turned to the prosecutor. "I told you before. He had nothing to do with my actions. I will not allow harm to come to him."

  My actions hadn't gone unnoticed by the council. They were heatedly discussing something when the guard brought Dane in. Or rather they escorted him in. The way they walked respectfully behind him along with the fact that he was still armed told me that something funky was going on here.

  The council settled down as he stopped a respectful distance from their bench. "Are you Danedajin ra Atole?" the lead sorcerer asked.

  "Yes, I am," Dane answered back sharply.

  "We have some questions we need to ask of you."

  "As the representative of K'Mar Dynasty, I remind you that I have immunity and may not be magically probed in accordance with the treaty between our two empires." Dane rattled it off as if it were something he had memorized from childhood. "Given those restrictions, you may ask your questions."

  What the hell? He was some kind of ambassador?

  The sorcerer nodded. "That is understood, Danedajin ra Atole. Our question is about the swords that are currently in the possession of the regent. Do you know where those swords came from?"

  Dane nodded. "Yes I do. They belong to her," he replied, pointing to me.

  "And did you give them to the regent?"

  I knew in that moment that I was screwed. I could almost feel Hiram at my back with an impact wrench driving it in.

  Dane shook his head. "I did not."

  "What?" That one word came not only from myself, but also from the sorcerer as well as Hiram. Dane's testimony set the room abuzz.

  "I did not give those swords to his highness, Prince Regent Hiram te Shodan ra Aleska." Dane turned his stone cold face to me and stared me in the eye for a second. Then, for the briefest of moments, I saw a sly smile appear on his face before the mask of impartiality returned.

  The central sorcerer banged his gavel for silence. "Do you know how he obtained the swords?"

  I could see Hiram, and he was sweating bullets. I bet he regretted having blown Dane's cover while at the cabal's tower.

  Dane nodded. "Yes I do."

  I could tell the sorcerer was getting annoyed with the answers. "Would you please care to enlighten us?"

  Dane again nodded. "He obtained them from Morgan te Shodan ra Aleska, leader of the Black Cabal during his visit, to pay them for having captured the female for him."

  The room almost exploded with the sound of voices screaming. Not unexpectedly, one of them was the voice of Hiram as he drew my Katana then leapt over the bench and charged Dane. Dane drew his sword and parried Hiram's blows as he fell back under the onslaught. The spell on my sword that helped to increase the attackers speed proved to be Danes undoing as Hiram first disarmed him and then ran him through. Dane dropped to his knees, clutching his stomach as Hiram prepared to make the final cut.

  "No!" I shouted and cast a spell, snatching Dane from where he knelt and sent him skidding across the floor away from Hiram. He may have betrayed me to the prince, but he had paid his dues by telling the truth and screwing Hiram in return.

  Movement out of the corner of my eye warned me of a guard's attack. I leaned back as a spear point passed through the space my head had just occupied. My training kicked in as I grabbed the spear. By reflex I sent a bolt of lightning down the shaft and frying my attacker. I then brought the spear to the ready in case someone else decided to attack.

  Imperial guards began to flood into the room from the entrances. "Kill them!" Hiram shouted, while pointing to me.

  I turned, grabbed Sheila by the arm and started to drag him towards the gate. I was almost to the threshold when they started to emerge. Dragons. Not the big ones mind you, but the smaller, guardian dragons like Illiam had been.

  "I have drawn the guardian dragons from other realms to fight for you. Let them take care of the guards. Kill the Arch Magi. He is the target that you swore to kill for me."

  Damn. Lakash had given me a small army. Well, since there were only about thirty, it wasn't a big army, but considering their power it would certainly do for the moment. I looked at the Arch Mage as he made for the exit, then Hiram.

  "All right. Just as soon as I off Hiram," I replied and started towards the prince.

  I could hear Sheila yelling at me, but I ignored him. He was safe and Hiram wasn't. It was time to finish off the little bastard once and for all.

  Hiram saw me charging and charged in return. I threw up the spear to parry a downward slash, only to have the spear sliced in two. Damn, that enhanced edge was going to be a problem unless I got something steel to fight with.

  I backed up while using both halves of the spear to parry while striking at him. The enhanced speed of the sword, along with the defensive combat spells I put on it, gave him a slight advantage. Right now there was no way I could win in melee combat. I leapt back and threw the spear at him as a distraction. He paused long enough to dodge the spear and giving me enough time to get a spell off. The force spell struck him squarely in the chest, sending him flying backwards.

  Now I could concentrate. I summoned up a ball of electricity and tossed it to him as he got up. Hiram spotted the ball and drew my Tanto, wincing as the sphere contacted the short blade and exploded, leaving him untouched.

  Hiram laughed. "He was right. The sword can stop your spells."

  "Let's see it stop this," I replied as I cast a different spell. The same spell I had used to capture Lucifer now enveloped Hiram, holding him immobile. He shouted his rage as he tried to free himself from the magical bonds. "Don't you think I would know how to defeat my own weapons?"

  I reached down and picked up a sword from one of the fallen guards as I heard a dragon scream in agony. I turned and watched as is form crumbled and dissipate.

  "What the hell?" I asked, more to myself than anything. I then saw crossbowmen taking shots at the dragons. They were using those damn dragon slayer arrowheads that the cabal had. I fired off three rapid mana darts, killing each of the archers. Nobody killed my dragons and got away with it.

  I turned, raised the blade and charged Hiram. I was going to end this now. No more pussy footing around. I got all of three steps when something hit me hard in the back. I stumbled forward, barely keeping my balance as I was hit two more times. I looked down and saw a bloody arrowhead protruding from my chest, just over where my heart would be.

  I was screwed.

  A glance over my shoulder showed Dane kneeling next to the fallen body of a crossbowman I had shot, holding one of their repeating crossbows. The son of a bitch had a predatory grin on his face. I had saved his life, and he repaid me by shooting me in the back.  A simple mana dart assured me of the fact that he would never betray anyone again.

  I looked back at Hiram. The little bastard was laughing at me. I lifted my sword and aimed for his heart as I staggered the remaining few steps towards him and drove the blade in.

  Hiram looked down at the sword and then back up at me with a look of disbelief in his eyes. He tried to speak, but nothing would come out as I yanked the blade from his chest. A few seconds later, his eyes rolled up in is head, and he slumped against the magical bonds.

  I looked down on him. He was dead, but then again so was I.

  "Get to the gate, Arden! Cross back over now, before it's too late!"

  The gate? I was feeling light headed from the adrenaline and shock. It was getting hard to think clearly. The gate. I turned and looked for it but saw Sheila instead as he grabbed me before I could fall.

  I looked up at him as the world spun around me. "We've got to get to the gate." I tried to stand, but the strength had fled my limbs.

  He glanced over to where the gate was. "The gate's gone, Arden. It just collapsed."

  Aw, hell.