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 8

Safe in the arms of my protector.

  Hearing the clatter of metal on metal, I was jarred from what little sleep I had managed to get. Waking to my pain-racked body was a relief compared to the nightmares that had tormented me. Looking towards the door to our cell, I saw that a bucket had been deposited just inside. All the cats in the room had risen with the sound and approached it.

  Picking it up, the large tabby that had cared for me, carried the bucket into the center of the room. As the others lined up, he scooped a pile of meat out with his paw, handing it to them, ensuring each got an even amount. Giving the last his share, he brought the bucket over to me and set it down.

  Reaching in, he sorted the contents, pulling out a long strip of raw meat. Holding it in front of me, he gestured for me to eat. Closing my eyes, I turned away. Surprise and shock hit me as he lightly cuffed my head. Growling, he gestured for me to eat again. Again I shook my head and closed my eyes. "Heeeeeeeat," I heard him hiss. Opening my eyes, I stared at him. Forcing his mouth in an unnatural shape, he again hissed, "Heeeeeat." So they could talk, just not well.

  Bringing the meat up to his mouth, he bit off a small amount, then again pressed it to my lips. I could see the pleading in his eyes as he tried to get me to eat. He cared for me. Undoubtedly he had seen his own females treated this way. Opening my mouth, I accepted the meat. Chewing it mechanically, I watched as his eyes softened. Gently brushing his paw across my muzzle, he watched as I ate. I rubbed my muzzle against his fur, inhaling his scent. The touch combined with his musk caused my blood to boil.

  I reached out with my left paw and rubbed it against his cheeks, feeling the texture of the whiskers that protruded on each side. I slid it gently along the side of his head as he leaned into my hand, feeling the silky texture of his fur. With a shudder, I surrendered to my body's demand for physical contact, pulling him close, pressing my muzzle to the side of his neck and reveling in his texture as he rubbed his snout over me. I forced myself to keep my tail close in between my legs as I rolled onto my back, taking care not to jar my arm.

  He laid his ears back and pulled away from me. His eyes showed confusion or fear. He gently pulled my hand away from his neck, and returned it to my injured arm. He shook his head as if to clear it then reached into the bucket again and withdrew meat for me.

  He sat there, feeding me, until I was full. Not until I was sated, did he then eat the remainders. I could tell by looking that he had given me the choicest of meats. Finished eating, he again brought me the bucket of water which had been renewed and helped me to drink.

  Sated, I lay back on the hay, watching him as he ensured that the others in his charge drank. He was the largest of the cats and obviously the leader of the group. Far from home, he had assumed the role of leader. Now, an alien in his midst, he had adopted me into his clan without reservation. I was a kindred soul. Taken from my love, abused and discarded. Though we couldn't talk, I felt I knew him. I had been him for a short while. I pitied him that his only release from this nightmare would be the same as mine, death.

  Finished, he lay down in the hay beside me with his back turned. I snuggled close to him in my desire for some physical contact. I scooped out a small space in the hay for my injured arm. Gently, I rolled onto my side, allowing the pressure of the hay against my body to immobilize it. I snaked my good arm between his elbow and his chest, hugging him tight to me. At first he tensed at my touch, but soon relaxed. I felt him lift my paw and thread his fingers through mine, holding it close to him as we both drifted off to sleep.

  Sheila lay on a soft patch of moss in the forest as I knelt over him. Kissing his face, I felt him caressing my breasts. I reveled in the feel of his touch, the smell of his scent, and the feeling of him as we made love. I was the one setting the pace to our love, timing it to the metronome of my hearts desire.

  Heart pounding, the dream slipped from my grasp as I awoke to reality. Breathing hard, my body was alive with sexual tension, demanding a release. Realizing that I was rubbing against something hard, I looked down to see my protector's tail. I had been humping it in my sleep. Laughing to myself, a thought occurred to me, "That's one way to get a piece of tail."

  Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax. As I lay there, I felt my protector shivering. Pulling my good arm away, I used his body to try to leverage myself into a sitting position. Crying out as my broken arm shifted, I fell back, hugging it to my chest. Sitting up, my guardian turned and put a paw out onto mine, concern clear in his eyes. I could see why he had been shivering. In my dream's attempt to find release, I had driven him to frustration.

  Holding my arm tight, I attempted to sit up again. Seeing what I was trying to do, he placed a paw behind my shoulder, helping me. Now vertical, I dug the claws of my right hand into my fur, suspending it from my chest, allowing me to free up my left arm.

  Reaching forward, I grab his neck and pull him towards me. He resists at first, only to realize that I won't be dissuaded. Rubbing my face against his, I gently nipped at the fur along his neck. Frozen like a deer in the headlights, he just quivers at my attention. Nipping along the bottom of his muzzle, I come to the front of his face. Backing away, I see anxiety and desire mixed with fear in his eyes. Turning my head, I press my muzzle to his in a human-style kiss.

  Uncomfortable, I pivot on one knee so that I now sit on his thighs. Pressing myself against him, I barely feel the pain of my arm as it comes in contact with his body. Rubbing my muzzle along the left side of his face, I continue down along his neck, resting my chin on his shoulder. His nip on the side of my neck sends a shiver down my body. I tingle with anticipation.

  Putting my good hand on his shoulder, I pull myself up so I am kneeling above him, poised to seek the relief we both so desire. Looking in to those large black pupils ringed in yellow and froze with the shock of what I saw. Within his eyes I could see my reflection. Beaten and bloodied, it is still the face of my love, of Sheila.

  My god, what am I doing? What's happening to me? I feel the need for this cat, this man. I seek comfort and solace in his arms, but what about Sheila? He is my love? How can I be doing this? Shivering at the turmoil in my mind, sit back down, hugging myself, and begin to cry. I don't understand what's happening to me. I feel as if I'm losing my mind.

  His hands gently take my shoulders and pull me to him. Careful of my arm, he hugs me to his chest. Rocking gently, he sings an oddly soothing chant in a quiet voice. Weeping quietly, I fall asleep in the arms of my guardian.

  I spent most of the day trying to talk to my guardian. Their language is very difficult. Consisting of grunts, growls, hisses and yowls, all of which are tonal in quality, it was quite hard to get even the basics. I had learned that his name was RRRRan'eee. With some practice, he managed to wrap his mouth around Arden, though it sounded more like heart-den. Hard though it may be, I was picking up small bits and pieces. Water, food, hay, get, put, male, female; they were all basic words that I could almost reasonably pronounce. It was difficult, and my throat was sore from trying to talk, but it was better than nothing.

  Often, while I was trying to learn a new word, I would see stable hands standing outside the cage, watching the animals. I blocked them from my mind. Some day I was going to get out of this cage and when I did, the floor would run with their blood.

  Later that day, I don't know when as I never saw the sun, they came. There were about half a dozen of them, carrying whips. Seeing this, the cats gathered around me, protecting me. Using their whips, they began to drive the cats away from me, breaking up the group. Skittering on three paws, I stayed behind my guardian and two others as they tried to protect me. The stable hands, however, knew their jobs well and soon had me isolated.

  "OK, pooch. We can do this the easy way or the hard way, it's up to you," the leader said. He was carrying new chains and my muzzle. "You bastards aren't touching me again," I said with a low growl, "I'd rather die first." Shaking his head, he waved to the other trainers. "Sorry, that's not one of the options," he said, shaking his head. "Take it."

  As he backed off, two of the handlers moved forwards. I remembered them. They had enjoyed slapping the wounds on my back to make me yelp as they raped me. Growling, I dropped into a combat stance. The wounds on my back screamed as the muscles twisted to support me. I reveled in the pain and the adrenaline it brought. Soon the endorphins would kick in and the pain would lessen.

  As they approached, the one on the left was a couple of feet ahead of the other. Short whip in hand, he snapped it at me, testing my responses. I waited. He would have to try to grab me. When he did, he would be too close for the whip. His friend hung back, using his whip to try to distract me.

  As I shift my eyes between the two, I was forced to flinch as the whip cracked near me. Seeing me flinch, the left one rushed. Moving a hair too slow, I leapt high in the air, rotating as I swung my left leg around with all my might at his head. I saw the fear in his eyes as I attacked. Raising an arm to try to block my leg, he managed to deflect it slightly. My mistiming of the attack caused my foot to miss his head, but fortunately it allowed my shackle to be in the right place at the right time. Deflected from its target of his jaw, the shackle smashed into his temple instead with a rather satisfactory crunch.

  I had a hard time with the landing and maintaining my balance because of my broken ribs and arm, but I managed somehow to remain standing. Taking a glance at the still form before me, I grinned as I watched the blood flow from his head. "Who's next?" I asked with a small laugh. I could barely stand, but they didn't know that. That landing had ripped open my back again.  I could feel the blood running down my back.

  I watched the other trainers. Most of them were now paying more attention to me than their charges. Their fearless leader was backing towards the cell to the door. Giving a little "come hither" motion with the fingers of my left hand, I glared at the other guard. "Come get some," I invited. Bearing his teeth, he lashed out with the whip, catching me across the shoulder despite my attempt to dodge. Clenching my teeth against the pain, I straightened up.

  "Oooo. We're a real man aren't we? Using a whip on a lady?" I taunted. His face turned red as he became enraged. This was going to hurt. As he lashed out with the whip again, I stepped forward, bowing so the snap of the whip would be behind me. I found I hadn't moved far enough. Wincing as the lash slashed up the back of my shoulder, I grabbed it with my left hand, wrapping it around the wrist. Pulling hard, I was rewarded by the fact that he pulled against me.

  With all my strength I yanked, I launched myself at him, kicking out with my leg, aiming for his stomach. Assuming I was aiming for his head as I had the other, his arm was nowhere near my foot when it landed just below his ribs. With a surprised look on his face, he doubled over. Stepping forward, I brought my knee up into his face, smashing bone and cartilage. Screaming, he released the whip and fell back. Their leader, having seen me dispatch the second man, bolted out the door.

  Encouraged by my performance my guardian let out a screech and charged the tamer nearest him, prompting the others to attack also. Dropping to my knee, I sobbed against the pain. As I watched, they began to rip the stable hands apart. Covered with blood, some of it their own, most from their handlers, they lifted me.

  As they carried me out the door, we heard the sound of running feet echoing within the confines of the basement. Now with a sense of urgency, we made our way towards the stairs. As we were about to reach them, we saw the leader of the stable hands come around the corner, followed by some of the Duke's guards. Enraged, the cats released me and charged the guards screaming, heedless of their swords. As I watched, the first two cats smashed into the guards before they could react, bowling them over. As they ripped and clawed at them, they were slashed and stabbed from behind.

  I fought to stand as I watched my friends die. These human animals were slaughtering them. At last, getting to my feet, I charged the stable hand. He was standing away from the group. As I leapt, I howled my rage, for it was demanding blood. He turned and managed to block my good hand from grabbing his throat as he fell to the ground under me. My mouth open wide, I lunged for his jugular, only to have him block my jaws with his other hand. Locked together, he fought to keep me from killing him. I was too light. I was too weak. I couldn't kill him.

  Grabbed from behind, I was bodily lifted and thrown against a wall. Unable to stop my forward momentum, I slammed against the stone. Reeling away, I felt hands grab me and throw me to the ground. I could hear someone yelling orders. My hands were grabbed and pulled behind my back causing my arm to explode in pain.

  Looking up, I saw my guardian, hand out stretched towards me, eyes wide, blood bubbling from his mouth. "RRRRan'eee!" I cried out as I watched the light go out from his eyes. "NO!" I yelled, screaming until a blow to the head sent me into the darkness.

  I blinked in slow motion while I listened to the sound of the air flowing through my snout, my heart as it pumped and the marching steps of the men walking alongside of me. I saw the six guards that had slaughtered my clan, my family in the mews escorting me. Again I was hogtied, my snout bound shut with a leather strap to keep me quiet. Suspended in a net that was carried by two stable hands, I felt the pain of the bone in my arm as it protruded through the skin and fur.

  Detached from reality, I saw, smelled, felt and heard my surroundings, but they didn't quite register on me. Each thought took great and deliberate effort to occur. It was easier to just exist.

  As I was carried through a doorway, I saw guards standing at their station. The room we had entered was tremendous. Huge vaulted ceilings with enormous elaborate chandeliers suspended from upon high were first to catch my attention. We passed through a crowd of finely dressed people. I suddenly realized that they were courtiers. Their finery, while tasteful, was nothing more than secret attempts to look better than their neighbor. The animals had preened themselves.

  Carried out into the center, I felt myself dumped none too gently on the ground, face down. I became aware of yelling. Turning my head I saw Sheila, Fish and Junip. Sheila seemed to be floating towards me, bouncing lightly on his feet as he came. His eyes glowed red as they caught the light. Two of the guards escorting me made the mistake of trying tried to intercept him. Lashing out with a palm strike, Sheila sent one guard flying backwards.

  Shadows danced around me as the other four guards, drawing weapons, moved forwards to stop Sheila. Enraged, Sheila snapped out a kick, catching the second guard in the neck. Holding his ruined throat, the man stumbled backwards and fell. Sheila turned towards the other guards as they lunged towards him.  I saw him snarl, eyes glowing like hellish red embers. A wave of fear flowed over me, not connecting with my mind as I watched the guards skitter to a halt, and began to back away.

  Tanto in hand, Sheila approached me, eyeing the guards with unmistakable hatred as they stepped past my prone body. Reaching me, I saw him kneel out of the corner of my eye, his face filled with horror at what he saw. Sheila used the dagger to cut away the bonds that held my arms and legs in place, allowing me to unfold from my cramped position. As Sheila rolled me over, I heard myself cry out as my shattered arm was pressed beneath  my body.

  I lay on my back, looking up at the roof and its intricate pattern of tiles. I felt Sheila brush his hands gently along my face, avoiding my bruised and battered eye. Realizing that Sheila was calling my name, I looked at him, seeing the pain at what he saw. Reaching out with my good paw, I gently caressed his face. In his eyes, I saw RRRRan'eee dying as he fought to protect me.

  "Kill me," I begged, asking for release. Sheila's eyes reflected his disbelief in what I asked. "Please, my love, kill me," I begged. The tears in his eyes cast an eerie reflection of that which was around me. As he looked up I could see the Mardukes image locked in his gaze. Leaping to his feet, Sheila charged the man. His hands locked around the stable master's throat, Sheila began to strangle him.

  Tired from twisting my neck to watch Sheila, I let the muscles relax and began to look around. Beside me, I could see the Tanto that Sheila had used to cut my bonds as it lay on the floor. With my good hand, I lifted the blade. Reflections danced on the surface as I turned the razor-sharp edge so that it faced me. I could feel the cold steel as I placed it against my neck. Closing my eyes, I whispered "Goodbye" to Sheila and began to drag it around my neck.

  I felt the pain of the blade as it bit into the muscle and sinew of my neck, and the warmth of the flowing blood. They followed the blade as I drew it forwards around my throat. 

Prepared for oblivion, I was unexpectedly surprised to find the blade no longer at my throat. Opening my eyes, I saw Fish kneeling next to me, both hands pulling on my arm as he yelled, tears in his eyes.

  "Please, Miss Arden," I heard him beg, "You can't die!" 

  Fish. The one true friend I had in this miserable place. With all his strength he fought with me for the Tanto. He had wanted so much to be my squire, to have a chance at a life better than he had been given. If I died, so would his dreams. So would Sheila. How could I leave Sheila, alone in a strange world, forever denied a chance to go home? Releasing the Tanto, I watched as Fish threw it behind him.

  The young boy frantically pressed his small hands against the side of my neck, vainly trying to staunch the flow of blood while yelling for help. I could feel myself dying, just when I had decided I wanted to live. 

  Behind Fish I saw Bjorn. His soft, glowing form looked down on me with sad eyes as he shook his head.

  Crying softly, I felt the darkness nibbling away at my mind until it swallowed me whole.

Chapter 9