Story (c) 2000 by Hikaru Katayamma/Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. The character Sheila Vixen (c) Eric W Schwartz. All other characters are (c) Hikaru Katayamma.  This story contains adult situations and language. By reading it the viewer agrees not to hold this or any other person responsible for any content they may find objectionable. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Identity Crisis
Act II
Chapter 6

Don't tell me they have dogcatchers here.

  It was getting dark. Sheila still wasn't back and I was beginning to get worried. He had left while I slept, not leaving any word as to where he was going. How was I supposed to protect him when he runs off?

  As I watched the people in the street, I kept a sharp eye out for Sheila. I would practically have sold my soul for the dragon's sight, but that was denied me. A banging on the door interrupted my observation.

  I opened the door and saw it was Fish carrying a platter of food and a huge mug of ale. "Hi, Miss Arden," he said cheerfully. "I got Mickey to let me bring your dinner up to you." Happy to see the little runt, I opened the door wide for him. Struggling with the platter, he carried it over to the table and carefully slid it on, making sure not to slop the drink. Closing the door, I walked over and watched him unload the tray.

  "How in the world did you carry that up those stairs?" I asked, amazed at the feat. Smiling he finished unloading the tray. "I'm a big boy. I can do stuff like this when I put my mind to it," he said proudly. As I sat down at the table, I saw that there was a large steak that had been grilled with some mixed vegetables on the side, and a small mincemeat-looking pie was set to the side. The huge mug of ale had to hold a quart.

  "Good lord, Fish! Think you got a big enough mug?" I asked laughing. Taking the chair opposite of me, he laughed. "I didn't want you to have to run down stairs for refills," he answered. This kid definitely was restoring my faith in humanity. Smiling at him, I spoke very softly, "Thank you Tommy, that's a very nice thing for you to do." He shrugged with a sheepish look. "After what my step mom did..." he let the rest trail off.

  Reminded of the hag, my ears wilted. Seeing this Fish aimed for a quick recovery. "Hey, you better eat that steak," he said, changing the subject. Cutting a chunk off it, I popped it in my mouth and chewed. It was nice and tender, not to mention rare. A dreamy smile spread across my face. "This is wonderful, Fish. I can't believe they're serving this for dinner," I told him, savoring the flavor. He just smiled and laughed. I took another bite, watching him and chewing. "What aren't you telling me?" I asked. Now hardly able to contain himself, he leaned forward. "It's not what they're serving for dinner. It's what my step mom was cooking for herself."

  Laughing at what he told me, I almost choked on the meat in my mouth. "Aren't you afraid of what she's going to do to you when she finds out?" I asked. He got an absolutely disgusted look on his face. "Not in the least. She's a total bitch and I hate her," he said vehemently. Struck by the violence of his words, I realized just how much the term bitch hurt me. I had tried to claim it for my own, but that didn't make it any less hurtful.

  "You realize that technically I'm a bitch too?" I quietly asked. I watched his expression changed as what I said sank in, then stood and walked over by the window. Looking down, I strained against the last twilight of the evening, looking for Sheila. "I'm not even a person here. I'm just an animal. A freak that can talk." As I sat on the windowsill, I looked at him. He was almost crying. "You've got to be careful what you say, Fish. She may be your step mom. She may even be a total and complete bitch. The fact is, you're words can hurt more than just her," I told him.

  He hung his head and let out a little sniff. "I'm sorry, Miss Arden. I didn't mean to hurt you," he said contritely. I hopped off the windowsill and walked over to squat down in front of him. With my paw, I reached out and wiped a tear from his face. "Don't cry, Tom. It's all right. I just wanted you to be aware of what you were saying and how it made me feel," I explained. "You're the only friend I have here, Fish. I don't ever want to risk loosing you. I've already lost too many friends." As he looked up at me, he gave a brave smile.

  "You know, Tom, you're the only person I've ever let pet my tail," I stated solemnly. His eyes got a little wide at this. "What about Vic?" he asked. Smiling, I shook my head. "He's never petted my tail," I told him honestly. Of course, the poor kid didn't know I'd only had this body for two days, but that was just a technicality.

  "But I thought that you and Vic were... you know, lovers," he said, curious. Chuckling, I gave his nose a little lick as I stood up. I sat back down in front of my steak and cut off another piece as I thought about his question. "I love him with all my heart, Tom," I confessed, "but we're not lovers, not yet." As I paused to chew the steak, I thought about what I wanted to tell this kid. "I wasn't always like this," I said, "I used to be human like Vic. I'm this way because of a curse. Until...until I'm human again...if I'm ever human again...I just don't know."

  "Wow," Fish said, "A curse! Was it an evil sorcerer or something?" With a chuckle, I cut another piece of stake and popped it into my mouth. "Another time maybe...I think that's enough about me for a while," I said with a smile.

  Fish watched me eat for a little bit. When I had almost finished my steak he asked, "Arden, what's it like to be someone's vassal?" Good question. We were roll playing. "On my world, I would be called a Samurai, a warrior who serves a liege lord without question to the death. If Vic were to tell me to fall on my sword tomorrow, I would do it. I live and die at his command. He is my reason for living. Without him I would become Ronin. I would be a warrior who is disgraced and without purpose." I could see him soaking this up. "Of course, in other places being a vassal is different. You still pledge yourself to someone's service, but they may not demand your life. Some do not even demand absolute obedience." I could see him soaking up everything I said. "Why do you ask, Fish?"

  He just sat there, looking down at his hands and shrugged. "Come on, Fish, I answered your questions. Don't I deserve an answer?" I asked. Reluctantly looking up at me, he gave a little nod, and then hung his head again. "It's like this. All I got for family is my step mom and her relatives, and they don't really like me. I'm just what was left over after my dad died," he said dejectedly. I leaned back in my chair and took a drink of the ale. "Your step mom sounded like she was worried about you yesterday," I observed. Barking out a laugh of sarcasm, he shook his head. "No, she was just mad that I ignored her. She's always bossing me around, giving orders. She never asks polite, like she does with my stepsister or uncle."

  He looked up at me with those wide, pleading eyes. "When you go Arden, will you take me with you? Let me be your vassal?" I had to smile. He was such a sweet kid. Before I could answer, he continued. "Don't make up your mind right now. Just agree to think about it, all right?" he begged. He was so damned eager. I knew how he felt. He felt trapped and saw me as a way out. Nodding, I agreed. "All right, I'll think about it."

  Finished with the meat pie, I piled up the dishes and pushed them away. "That was wonderful. Please thank your step mom for me," I said with a laugh. Laughing with me he leaned back in the chair. "No thank you. Why do you think I'm hiding out in here?" he queried me.

  After a couple of hours sitting around chatting with Fish, I was really getting worried about Sheila. I equipped just the Wakazashi, and headed down stairs to the bar. He was probably chumming around in there. I looked first in the commons first and saw a few people still scattered around, chatting, but no Sheila. Turning into the bar, sure enough, there sat Sheila down at the end. The bartender saw the look on my face and asked, "Hard or soft?" I remembered what happened last time I got drunk and decided to take it easy. "Make it soft. Ale will be fine," I replied. Mug in hand, I tried to pay the barkeep. He refused saying I owed nothing.

  I took a look around and saw that there were a fair number of people in the room. A seven-string guitar was leaning against the stool on the stage. Still unhappy with Sheila I walked over to where he was busy chatting with an old man. I saw him look up as I approached and smile. "Hey Arden. How you feeling?" he asked, cheerfully. With a neutral expression, I bowed to him. "I am well my lord. Is there anything that you require of me right now my lord?" I asked. Bewilderment flittered across Sheila's face. "No. I'm fine, thank you, Arden," he replied. "Very well my lord. Since you have no further need of me..." I said, trailing off. After giving a small bow, I turned and walked to an empty table near the wall where I could see the stage clearly.

  I became aware of someone sitting down beside me as I took a sip of my ale. "All right, what did I do now?" Sheila asked wearily. "Do you realize that I've been going out of my mind, upstairs, in that cage, worried about you? You were gone when I woke up and that was at least six hours ago," I complained. "Hey, you didn't have to hang out in the room. There was nothing stopping you from coming down and socializing," he stated flatly. Sitting up, I smiled and batted my eyelashes, holding my paws in front of me like a dog. "So all the people can watch the trained doggy?" I asked sarcastically. Glaring at me, Sheila became angry. "Knock it off. Quit wallowing in self pity and accept the fact that some folk around here don't see you that way," he said in an angry voice.

  Relaxing, I picked up the mug and took a drink while counting heads. Of the twenty-three people, eighteen were watching me. Waving with my mug, I swept the room. "Eighteen out of twenty three people in here disagree with you," I said, imitating a commercial. Gazing around the room, Sheila saw what I was talking about. "Ok, so they're staring at you," he conceded. Leaning forward, he got a very conspiratorial tone. "I hate to break it to yah, babe, but even if we were back in my home world, people would still be staring at you," he said smiling.

  After thinking about for a second it I nodded, but wasn't willing to surrender the fight. "That still doesn't explain where you've been all day," I stated. With a sigh, Sheila shook his head and spoke, "I've been doing some research on those cats. Apparently they were discovered about thirty or so years ago on a continent that's a fair trip from here. They do have rudimentary speech of sorts and can understand commands, but don't speak English." Taking a deep drink, he set the mug down and shook his head. "Of course, the collars are what we thought. They are slaves," he stated flatly.

  Looking up at him, I pleaded with my eyes. "Let's get out of here." I said agitated, "Let's take off, tonight." With a shake of his head, Sheila disagreed. "We can't leave yet. We're supposed to see the Duke and Duchess, day after tomorrow. Until Junip gives us the money for the clothes, we need to stay," He explained. I was confused. How had he known about the meeting? Then it occurred to me that he must have run into Junip.

  "Please Sheila," I said as his head snapped up from the drink, "I've got a very bad feeling about this. I don't want to stay. Something bad is going to happen." He put his hand on my paw and gave it a squeeze. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be all right. You're just feeling nervous because you're out of place...and other reasons," He said smiling. I thought about it, I could see what he meant. I was definitely feeling a heavy dose of angst. It didn't make things any easier thought. I had learned to trust my intuition for trouble and it was barking at me.

  I woke up in the morning with the comfortable feeling of Sheila as he spooned with me in the bed, his arm hugging me as he slept. Sheila had been incredibly patient with me. Last night, he had just snuggled up to me and gone to sleep. It was a relief and frustrating at the same time. I decided I was going to spend some time today and work on my hang-ups. I was going to work towards making tonight the most memorable night for Sheila. I knew for a fact it would be one for me.

  Carefully slipping out from under his arm, I snuck quietly over to the wardrobe. Slowly opening it to avoid a squeak, I took out a dress. This one had split sides and would show off my legs. Slipping it on, I tied off the straps. Looking down, I realized that it reminded me of a very wide and long loincloth that was split from just below the hips down. I wrapped the cloth I was using for a sword belt, and then tucked the Katana and Wakazashi into it. Retying off my hair in a ponytail, I headed down stairs, feeling refreshed.

  At the bottom of the stairs, I spotted Fish bussing tables. I returned to my preferred table and plopping down in a chair, I greeted him as he came over. "You want some breakfast, Miss Arden?" he asked. I got a very serious look on my face and leaned close. "Please don't call me Miss Arden. It's just Arden, OK?" I asked. With a smile he nodded. He said that for breakfast there were mostly cold meats, breads, jams and some pastries. Hungry, I had him bring me a plate of mixed meats and some ale. I leaned back in my chair and scanned the room seeing only a few folk there. The ones that were paying attention smiled and nodded to me. Smiling back, I returned the nod. I guess they weren't all that bad.

  After Fish delivered my food, I sorted through it and found cured ham, roast beef and some summer sausage. There was a lot more food than I could eat. Hungry I dug in and ate a little bit of each type of meat, managing to consume about a third of the platter before starting to feel full. Content, I sat back and sipped my ale.

  After a little bit, Fish came around. "All done?" he asked. I nodded in agreement and gestured for him to sit. "Have a seat, finish it off if you want," I invited. After glancing back to the kitchen, he shook his head. "I'm not allowed to eat until I'm done with the breakfast chores," he said dejectedly. I used my paw to push him gently into the chair and then shoved the platter over. "Don't worry about your mom. If she objects, I'll take care of it," I stated.

  Sure enough after about five minutes, the little woman came out. "Thomas Livingston Brant! What do you think you're doing?" she asked, stomping over. Standing up, I blocked her path. "He's eating," I said simply. Surprised, she took a step back from me. I could see she was torn between arguing with me and berating her stepson. Decision made, she planted herself firmly and looked up at me. "He's got chores. He's old enough he needs to earn his keep," she stated. Annoyed, I leaned forward and got right in her face. "He's earning his keep. I've hired him as a guide," I informed her. Startled at my tone of voice, she took a couple of steps backwards. "That's right. I'm paying him to act as my guide while I'm here," I restated.

  After regaining her composure, she looked me over again. "And just how much are you supposedly paying him?" she inquired. I thought about it as I sat back down. "We're going to be in town for a few more days. We've negotiated a price of one gold Imperial for four days of his undivided service." Her eyes blinked at this, causing me to smile. "And just where is this gold Imperial you've agreed to pay?" she asked. Rolling my eyes, I reached into my blouse and removed a coin from the bag. While holding it up, I snatched it away as she reached for it. "Thomas gets the money," I stated, handing it to him.

  He smiled from ear to ear, as he looked at the coin. I doubt he had ever held one before. "Thomas," his stepmother said, getting his attention. "Give me the coin boy," she directed. Reluctantly, Fish got up and handed her the coin. Rubbing it in her hand, his stepmother carried it greedily back to the kitchen.

  Depressed, Fish walked back over to the chair and plopped down in it. "Oh well, it was nice while it lasted," he said most philosophically. I dug out another Imperial. "Hey Fish," I said, getting his attention. With my thumb, I flicked the coin in the air, watching as he caught it. He looked at the coin and then gave me a confused look. "What's this for, Arden?" he asked. "Because I believe that you deserve the money," I explained. He held the coin for a long minute, and then put it on the table in front of me. "I can't take it," he said, "It wouldn't be right. You've paid my step mom. You shouldn't have to pay a second time."

  As I watched him, I realized that I really liked this kid. Most any other kid in his place would have snatched the money. He returned it because he felt it was wrong to accept. That was rare, especially for someone his age. With a smiling, I pushed the coin back. "Pick it up," I instructed him, "You just earned it." He gave me a curious look and shook his head. "You just passed your first test. I wouldn't want a squire that I couldn't trust. Take the coin," I again instructed. I could see he didn't quite trust what I was saying, but didn't want to refuse me. With a small smile, he picked up the coin and placed it in his pocket.

  I sat at the table for a bit longer and finished off my ale while he ate. After Fish declared himself full, I made him leave the dishes for his stepsister. He was working for me now and not the hotel. After we walked out side, I took a deep breath, enjoying the early morning air. I thought about what I wanted to do and decided I needed a morning workout. Fish showed me a short cut that lead to an open area outside of town. It was in the buffer area between the commercial buildings and the woods. After surveying the area to ensure there was enough room, I declared it suitable for my exercises.

  Worried that the dress may cause a problem, I took the ends and tucked them under my belt. I then spent the next few minutes working on stretching my muscles, trying to loosen them up. Sheila's body was pretty limber to begin with, but it didn't hurt to get things warmed up first.

  Standing stiffly erect, I closed my eyes and spent a moment centering myself. Once I reached a neutral state, I drew the Katana and took up the starting pose in my exercise routine. Cautious, I started out with slow fluid movements and began to get the feel of this new body. I was having a real hard time dealing with both my tail and my breasts. Sheila was one buxom vixen and it hampered my movements, interfering as I crossed my arms over my chest. I wasn't used to having this kind of mass moving around, and in such a free manner. I now realized why every woman I'd ever sparred with always wore a bra and padding even if they normally went without.

  About the third pass I had gotten the feel for my new body. I didn't find my stride being thrown off by swinging anatomy. I picked up the pace and started to work through a pass at full speed. I mentally smiled at Fish as his mouth dropped open. Mesmerized by the flashing steel as it whistled around my body, he stood frozen in awe while I danced in combat with a shadow.

  The routine completed, I stopped, panting. Lifting the sword in a salute, I slapped it on my hand and sheathed it. As I stood there sucking wind, I was greeted by the sound of Fish's applause. "That was great! Can you show me how to do that?" he asked? I smiled and nodded. "Maybe tomorrow. We'll have to see. One step a time," I said between breaths. Sheila's old body was pretty athletic, but it wasn't conditioned for this. My left arm ached from the bruise I'd gotten two days ago and both arms felt like lead.

  I took a few minutes to stretch again and then sat down in the grass. "Man, I'm out of shape," I declared. Fish plopped himself down in the grass opposite me. "Naw, you look great," he declared. Laughing, I shook my head. "That's not what I'm talking about. I need to work on my stamina. A warrior should never have gotten this winded this fast," I explained.

  Smiling, Fish was about to say something when his expression changed, his face dropped. "Uh oh," he said. I stood up and turned to see six warriors escorting a large man. All wore uniforms with an insignia. "Who are they?" I asked "They're from the royal stables," he replied. I didn't like the sound of that.

  Worried, I reached back over my neck, removing the amulet and the pouch, passing them to Fish. "Put these away," I directed, blocking their view of him with my body. We stood there and watched as the group approached, my combat senses screaming.

  "That's close enough," I said when they were about fifteen feet away. Holding up a hand, the man in the lead stopped the group. The men spread out on either side of him forming a loose wedge. Their leader was a tall, thin man. Bald, the only hair on his face were the two caterpillar-like eyebrows on his face and a small goatee. With an earring in the right ear, he reminded me of Cipher from the Matrix, only tall. "What do you want?" I asked.

  "I have been ordered to detain you. You are a dangerous, unlicensed animal. You have not been properly restrained and are in possession of lethal weapons in violation of Ducal decree," he stated. I simply shook my head. I knew something like this would happen. "I'm no animal. You're decree doesn't cover me," I stated. With a shake of his head, he waved to his men. "Take it," he ordered. Drawing the Katana, I looked for options. My best bet was going to be the woods.

  Ordered to capture, the others started to draw swords. "Our orders are to bring it in alive. I'll break the man responsible if it dies," he ordered. That would give me some breathing room.

  With my free paw, I pushed Fish away. "Get out of here, Fish," I ordered. As he hesitated, I growled, "Damn it, Fish, get the hell out of here. That's an order!" Torn for a second, Fish decided to obey me and fled the scene. As one of the men move to intercept him, I leapt forward in an attack posture causing the man to flinch away and give Fish room to get by. Now fearing for my freedom, I fled into the woods. I raced through the woods, cursing the branches as they grabbed at my fur and dress.

  Reaching the other side, I turned towards the edge of town opening up my stride. I had gotten maybe twenty meters when I felt something wrap itself around my legs, causing me to stumble and fall. I landed hard and out of control. Scrapped and bruised, I rolled onto my back and looked down at my legs. There was a large set of bolos wrapped around my legs. Cursing my lack of a Tanto, I sliced the ropes with my Katana. On the third stroke the ropes parted allowing me to move again. I pulled my knees to my chest. I kicked up and out with all my strength, I used my arms to help push off and throw my body forward. Landing on my feet, I barely deflected a flat bladed blow from one of the guards. I squatted low and extended my leg while spinning. I swept his feet out from under my first attacker in time to deflect a second attacker. I backpedaled, realizing I was overmatched. I couldn't let them flank me.

  As I parried his blows, I tried to find an opening to disarm him. Once I found his timing, I was about to break and run when I was struck from behind in the back. Pitching forward, I ran into a right cross from the guy I had been fighting, his pommel adding power to the blow. Stunned, I stumbled backwards, dropping the Katana. My legs tangled, I spun trying to catch my balance, instead receiving a heavy kick to my stomach, dropping me to the ground. For the next few minutes, I felt like a soccer ball as they proceeded to beat me, yelling at me.

  I became aware of another voice driving them back. As I lay on the ground, I felt rough hands rolling me over onto my stomach. Removing the scabbard for my Katana and my Wakazashi, they began to cut the clothes off of me. Weakly fighting them, I was struck in the face and ordered not to resist. Using rough, hemp rope, they tied my hands and feet together, hogtying them behind me. I looked back towards the forest and saw Fish standing there, watching what was happening.

  Someone grabbed the fur on my head and yanked back as they tied the cloth I had used as a belt around my muzzle for a gag. It would keep me from biting anyone. Lifting me up, they dumped me in the middle of a net that was tied to a pole. They hefted the pole onto their arms, carrying me away.

  As I whimpered softly from the pain, I prayed for some miracle of deliverance.

Chapter 7